by Alan Plessinger
Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstories used in "Pain" are the sole property of MCA/Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
I try not to judge her. The life she lives, the path she's chosen is hard enough without me sitting in judgement on her, and since I've turned my back on violence she's more alone in her fight than ever before. But I'm only human, and sometimes I can't help but have my opinions of some of the things she does, and sometimes I've thought she's not always been as honorable as she might be, like when she kills an opponent in battle who's clearly no threat to her, and it's obviously more execution than self-defense. But I keep my opinions to myself, because I know how hard it is to live a good life and always do the right thing, when your job is to stand up to evil and try to make a real difference in the world. Sometimes the temptation to take moral and ethical shortcuts is irresistible.
But in the past week I've been more proud of her than ever before. Every time I thought she was about to give in to temptation and do things the easy way, that fiery resolve came upon her, and she was able to channel her anger and lead the way to victory, and to stop just short of cruelty. When I heard her pleading for mercy for the men she'd defeated, when I felt her turning away from the hatred she had for them, I fell in love with her all over again.
I can still be useful, even though I don't fight any more. Finding things to be done is not the difficult part. The difficult part is, when the fighting starts I have to be willing to swallow my pride, and hide from danger. If I'm not willing to kill, I can't be on the battlefield, and if killing needs to be done I can't be a burden to the ones who have to do it.
So I missed seeing my warrior in action, but I understand she was spectacular as always. But this battle took a great deal out of her, emotionally. She fought off Talmadeus's huge army, but she couldn't do it alone. The villagers stood by her. They fought bravely. And some of them didn't survive.
I begged her not to attend the funerals, but I knew she had to. And I knew what she was thinking. Plenty of funerals took place when the Destroyer of Nations left a village in ruins. She never had to learn the names of the men she killed, she never had to hear their friends and family talk about their lives and hear what good men they were, men whose only crime was standing up to a tyrant and fighting for their families and their property.
"These men work 18 hours a day getting a crop in. They don't have the time or the energy to learn how to use a sword. You know what I used to call men like that? Easy pickings."
We were on a hillside, looking out on a beautiful meadow. The battle was over, victory won, and we deserved some time off. Her leathers were in the saddlebag, caked in blood. I tried, but I was never able to get it all off.
"Xena, they were determined to fight. Without you the casualties would've been horrendous, and they wouldn't have won. You did good, Xena. You did good."
"Not good enough."
The villagers were subdued when they said goodbye to Xena. I could tell some of them wished they'd given in to Talmadeus.
"Xena, no one forced them to fight Talmadeus."
"Talmadeus. Every time we go up against him he just seems to keep getting more powerful. I wish I could've faced him in combat. I wish I could've killed him. By the gods, I wish I could've killed him, and I could've any number of times, but not in combat."
"Xena, if you really believe he must be assassinated I won't be the one to tell you otherwise."
She shook her head.
"No. If he were gone there'd just be another rising up to take his place. And another, and another. I used to believe that if I could reform, anyone could do it. I thought I'd be some sort of an example to others, and eventually they'd all follow my lead. Stupid."
She was sitting with her back against a tree, and she unfolded her body and opened it to me, a silent invitation to lie in her arms. I sat in her lap and rested my head against her, and felt her powerful, wonderful body close itself around me.
"It wasn't stupid, Xena."
"Maybe not. But I wish I could see something to encourage me. I wish someone besides me would change his ways. I feel like I'm wasting my life fighting all the evil in the world, and I'm never making any progress. I'm like a crazy woman trying to slice away at water with a sword, like I could cut it into pieces. Futile. Just futile."
"You should've told the villagers that. Tell the next village that needs your help, they can just fight off the warlord's army by themselves. Tell them you're too discouraged."
Xena leaned her forehead on my shoulder.
"I know I can't give up, Gabrielle. I know I don't have the right to give up. But sometimes I just feel like I'm drowning in blood."
"You'll never give up, Xena. Know why?"
"Because you won't let me."
"Don't you ever forget it."
"I won't. Without you to keep me to the straight and narrow I would've lost that fight a long time ago."
I wanted to deny that. But maybe it wasn't the time for false modesty.
Instead, I leaned back into her embrace and said, "You're so wonderful, Xena. I love you so much. I feel so safe and warm in your arms. The things you did for those villagers are things no one else could do. No one else would care enough to do them. There are men working in the fields today who will come home to their wives and play with their children, men who would be dead today if not for you."
I felt a change in her body, the way she was holding me. It felt positive.
"Maybe so. But I wish I could've saved all of them."
"I do, too. But you couldn't. You did everything you could, and I wish you could see that. I wish I could take this pain away from you."
"I want to feel the pain, Gabrielle. It keeps me angry. It makes me strong. I want to keep it with me as a reminder of how much I hate the woman I was."
"I wish you could love the woman you are now, Xena. At least as much as I do."
"Maybe I will, if I can ever figure out how you can love a rotten person like me."
She trembled as she said it. She meant what she was saying, and it killed me to hear the agony and the self-loathing in her voice. I could nearly hear tears. Maybe she did need the pain to make her strong and keep her going, but not this much. No one as good as her deserved to feel this way. No one.
"Tell me one rotten thing you've done in the past week. Tell me one thing you've done that hasn't made me fall in love with you all over again. You can't, can you?"
"I let Talmadeus live."
"Yes, you did. Just like Hercules let you live, and I thank the gods for it every day. And maybe one day there will be a young woman who's very glad you let Talmadeus live, a woman who will help him live a good life."
"Do you really believe that?"
"No. But all sorts of things have happened that I never believed would come true. I met a warrior, once. A most amazing woman who had many skills, a woman who thought she didn't need anyone, not a sidekick, not even a friend. But she let me travel with her and be a part of her life, and she trusted me and let me see sides of her that no one else was allowed to see. She taught me and she shared her courage with me, until I was doing things that were so brave I amazed myself, and it was all due to her. She let me into her heart. And I've never left."
Xena moved her lips close to my ear, and she whispered.
"I tried to kill a woman, once. I blamed her for something that was none of her fault. I dragged her to the edge of a cliff and tried to throw her off. And she forgave me, and she stayed with me because she knew that I loved her and I'd be lost without her. She was willing to sacrifice her own life to keep me alive. I know you can't believe that anyone could be so amazing, so brave and loving and forgiving, but it's true. No one could learn to be like that. It comes from the soul, and her beautiful, forgiving soul is an example I try to live up to every day of my life. I love her so much, and I will never, ever hurt her again. I'd kill myself first."
I pulled away from her. I sat up and looked at her.
I appreciated what she said to me, and I wanted to show it. I smiled at her. I opened my heart and I let all the love I had pour out of me in that smile. I loved her so much, and I would've given the world just to see her smile back.
But she couldn't smile. She looked away. The pain was still there, sitting heavily on her heart. But the frightened, tortured look was beginning to leave her eyes. She was feeling better.
I leaned back into her arms, and shivered. It wasn't a nice day. It was cloudy, cold and overcast. Her arms tightened around me.
"Why couldn't we at least have a nice day, after the terrible week we've had?" she wondered aloud.
"You want a nice day? Close your eyes. Come on, Xena, close your eyes."
She closed them. I whispered into her ear.
"We've been traveling all day, and we've camped right next to a beautiful stream, under the shade of a majestic oak. The sun is shining, there's a cool breeze blowing through the leaves, the water is sparkling. We can hear the stream from where we are. Burble burble burble. Can you hear it, Xena? Does it make you want to pee?"
I checked to see if that got a smile out of her. It didn't. I went on.
"I'm just putting together some dinner for us. I'm making something special for dessert."
"What are you making?"
"Those dumplings with the red centers you love so much. You deserve them."
"Oh, Gabrielle. So yummy."
"Then I head down to the stream for a bath, and you wait for me by the tree. I'm coming back, now. Can you see me?"
She smiled. Finally.
"I'd better not," she said.
"Xena! You're smiling!"
She opened her eyes.
"Oh, like you haven't been trying to get me to smile for the last hour."
I know it was predictable and childish and probably inappropriate, but I just had to do it. I jumped on her and I tickled her.
I knew where she was wounded, and I carefully avoided it. I looked for any sign that she didn't want this, and I saw none.
She shrieked with laughter. She playfully pushed me away, but if she really wanted to push me away I would be on the other side of the meadow by now.
She tickled me back, and I giggled. I'm no dummy, I know what my giggles do to her. I kept tickling her as long as she would let me.
Then something changed, almost imperceptibly. I stopped, because I knew I had to. The pain had returned, and I couldn't stop it. There would be a time when she wouldn't be thinking of all she had done the past week, and the men she thought she had failed. All I could really do was wait for that time, be there to talk and to listen. And love her as much as I could.
I looked at her. She looked a little ashamed.
"I love you, Xena. It's OK to laugh, you know. Even after the week we've had. It's OK to laugh, and to be glad you're alive."
"I know, Gabrielle. But it doesn't feel like it's OK."
I put my arm around her, and my head on her shoulder.
"It will," I said. "It will."
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