Legal Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo belong to MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. I am simply borrowing these characters and there is no implied or intended infringement of the copyright laws.
Violence Disclaimer: There is some violence in this story though it is not overly graphic. If the idea of one of the main characters falling victim to violence bothers you, you may want to reconsider reading this story.
Sexuality Disclaimer: This story falls under the category of Romantic Friendship. If you are not sure what a Romantic Friendship is, please check out Sherrie Johnson's article on Romantic Friendships posted on the Whoosh! site. This category more closely depicts the kind of relationship that I believe Xena and Gabrielle have. I believe that they are more than friends but not lovers. There is no implied sex nor are any of the actions by the characters sexual in nature. If you read subtext into this story that is your prerogative, but please know that this story was not written with that in mind. What you see in it is what you get.
Note: There are several references to the episode "Is There a Doctor in the House" in this story as well as a few others.
This story is not to be linked without the author's permission.
© May 1998 D.R. Millard
The lightening flashed overhead and everything seemed momentarily frozen in time. With rain pelting her face, Xena strained to see her attacker. The ground had become a muddy mixture of blood, water and soil. Bringing her sword hard across her body, she blocked a thrust from her assailant, a huge man with massive arms. He was a highly skilled warrior and she had her hands full as they parried back and forth.
Another flash of lightening and Xena searched frantically for Gabrielle. They had become separated when the band of thieves attacked. In the flash of white light, she could not find her. With Xena momentarily distracted, the warrior lunged at her. Too late in seeing his move, she barely managed to block the blow as the force drove her backwards towards a steep precipice.
The man started to laugh at his cornered opponent, but his laughter died quickly when he felt the ground beneath him start to give way. A clap of thunder covered any screams that might have been emitted and the two warriors fell into the black of night. Xena couldn't see the ground in the darkness, but she felt it rushing up at her. As her body exploded in pain, she saw a bright light and then nothing...
Gabrielle's head throbbed as she slowly opened her eyes. The last thing she remembered was fighting the thieves that had jumped her and Xena during the thunderstorm. The light hurt her eyes and she raised her hand as a shield. Slowly, her mind cleared and she remembered that she had been searching for Xena and had slipped in the mud and fallen down an embankment, smacking her head on a rock at the bottom.
A slight breeze caused the bard to start shivering. She slowly crawled into the sun, fighting the dizzy feeling that suddenly overwhelmed her. Leaning back on a large rock, she let the sun warm her body and soothe the goose bumps away. She had managed to fight off four attackers, only to be felled by some mud and a rock.
"Stupid, stupid," Gabrielle mumbled as she recalled tumbling down the embankment.
During the fight, she has lost sight of Xena. She had heard the warrior call her name, and turned in the direction of the sound. One minute the Warrior Princess was fighting with the leader of the thieves, and the next they had both disappeared. In her panic to find her friend, the little bard quickly dropped the last attacker with a blow to his head and raced to the edge of the precipice where Xena had disappeared.
In the black of night she could see nothing and there was no way that she could safely climb down, so she took off running to try and find a way to reach her friend. She thought she had found a safe way down when she slipped in the mud.
A knot formed in Gabrielle's stomach as she thought about Xena.
"I have to find her," she said out loud, willing herself to stand.
Another wave of dizziness hit and her head throbbed in pain. Taking a deep breath, she looked around to orient herself. Moving away from the embankment, she spotted hoof prints in the mud. As she knelt to examine the prints, she heard the slow plodding of a horse in the distance. Looking quickly for her staff, she found it half buried in the mud where she had landed. Scraping the mud off on a rock, she gripped her staff with both hands and moved directly into the path to confront the rider. Feeling faint, she struggled to look formidable as the rider approached.
Gripping her staff tighter, she waited. As the rider came around the bend, her eyes went wide in surprise and her heart started to pound wildly in her chest.
"Xena!" she called, more out of shock than surprise.
The Warrior Princess raised her head at the sound of her friend's voice.
The bard stood there, stunned at the sight before her eyes. The Warrior Princess was covered in mud; her hair matted and caked with the dark soil common to the region. She held Argo's reins in her left hand while she held her mid-section with her right. There were cuts and bruises all over her body. The thing that startled Gabrielle the most was the vacant look in Xena's eyes, as if she couldn't focus.
"Gabrielle, is that you?" there was an urgency in Xena's voice that seemed strange.
A sudden fear gripped Gabrielle, and her chest and throat grew tight. Her already pounding heart felt like it would burst. Xena couldn't see her and she was looking right at her!
"Yes, it's me," she said, hoping her voice didn't betray her fear.
Gabrielle quickly moved to Argo's side.
"Xena," she said, and then swallowed hard as she tentatively placed her hand on her friend's arm, "are you okay?"
"Gabrielle, I can't see." Xena's face showed no emotion, but her voice betrayed the fear she was feeling.
Gabrielle moved her hand and placed it on Xena's, squeezing it hard, to try to reassure her friend. Neither woman moved or spoke for what seemed an eternity.
"Where are you hurt?" the smaller woman asked gently as she caressed the hand she was holding.
"I have a bump on the back of my head, and maybe some broken ribs. I don't think anything else is broken."
Gabrielle had many questions, but the first thing she needed to do was get them to a safe place where she could care for her friend. There was a strong possibility that the thieves would come looking for them again.
"I know Gabrielle, we need to get out of here."
Gabrielle took the reins from Xena and led Argo north. They had stumbled across an abandoned village earlier that week, and she thought it would be a perfect place to rest for a while. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw her Warrior Princess sitting tall in the saddle. Even under the worst circumstances, Xena exuded an inner strength that always amazed her.
They walked in silence; each absorbed in their own thoughts.
The abandoned village was well hidden. The villagers had left a long ago, and the forest had almost reclaimed the entire place. Several of the thatched houses had collapsed, but there was one that was in good shape. Gabrielle stopped Argo and Xena gingerly climbed out of the saddle.
Taking her friend by the hand, the little bard led her into the hut. It had a thatched roof and walls like the other buildings, but this one had a sound wooden inner structure and a plank floor. Inside, there were still furnishings. A carpenter must have lived there once, because the furniture was simple, but very well made.
Gabrielle sat Xena down in a chair and opened the shudders on the windows. There was a lot of dust on the furnishings, but at least it had furnishings. The back part of the hut was partitioned off with a couple of blankets. There were marks etched in the floor leading from behind the curtained area to the door. Parting the blankets, she discovered a tub for bathing and a small table with a basin. The tub explained the marks in the floor.
"Xena, there is a tub. I think you would feel better after a bath," Gabrielle said turning to look at the warrior.
"That would be fine," the warrior said in a flat voice.
"Xena..." Gabrielle thought about asking if she would be all right while she found the necessary items to heat water, but decided against it. "I will be back in a few minutes," she said as she left the hut.
Rummaging around the remains of the village, Gabrielle found what she needed. Standing at the village well, she prayed that there was still water in the bottom. Lowering the bucket, she heard a much-welcomed splash. The water was sweet and clear and in no time she had the tub filled with steaming water.
"Your bath is ready," Gabrielle said as she began unhooking Xena's weapons.
"I can do this myself!" the warrior snapped, twisting away from the bard.
"Right, I will go take care of Argo."
"It's already been done," Xena said as she placed her weapons on the table.
Somehow, Gabrielle had missed the saddlebags sitting in the corner.
The bard watched as her friend struggled to remove her mud-encrusted armor. She knew Xena was in pain even though it didn't show on her face.
As the warrior slipped her gauntlets off, dried chunks of mud crumbled in her hands. Even her braces where caked with the dark soil. Exposure to mud and moisture had stiffened her leathers and she was having a difficult time removing them.
"Let me help you," she said softly.
As gently as she could, she helped Xena finish undressing. With am arm around her shoulders, she guided her friend to the tub of steaming water. She eased the sore, stiff Warrior Princess into the soothing water and left to retrieve the soap and sponge they bathed with.
While digging through the saddlebags, she found Xena's shift and the ointment she would need for the warrior's numerous cuts and abrasions. She laid those items aside and went to attend to her friend.
Gabrielle dipped the sponge into the water and rubbed some soap into it, working up a rich lather. As she started to wash the mud from the warrior's face, Xena caught her hand.
"Please, Xena, let me take care of you," she said, her love and devotion evident in the tone of her voice.
Touched by her friend's love, Xena let go of the small hand.
Tenderly, Gabrielle cleansed the mud and blood from her friend's battered and bruised body. As she washed the warrior's left side, a small gasp escaped her lips when she saw the massive bruise that ran from the side of Xena's breast down to her hip. Carefully she sponged the area clean, and while only a small moan could be heard, she knew her friend was in pain.
"I am sorry," she said as she moved behind Xena and wrapped her arms around her friend.
Xena reached up and took hold of the small hands that were clasped around her. Leaning back into the bard, she sighed heavily.
Gabrielle held her close for several moments.
"I have some more water warming over the fire, let me get it and I will rinse your hair."
Gabrielle rinsed her hands off and went to retrieve the warm water. Gingerly sticking in her hand, she tested the water to make sure the temperature was warm, but not hot. She rinsed Xena's hair and upper body with the warm water. As the taller woman stood, Gabrielle wrapped a soft cloth around her shoulders and helped her out of the tub. Gingerly she dried her friend off and wrapped the cloth around her shoulders.
She guided her blind friend to the bed. Stripping off the first few blankets to expose the cleaner ones underneath, she sat Xena down. Loosening the cloth, Gabrielle let it drop down around the warrior's waist. As gently as possible, she applied the ointment to the numerous, minor wounds. Palpating the bruised area on Xena's side, she determined that there were probably 3 cracked ribs, but none were broken. Taking several long strips of cloth from the saddlebags, Gabrielle tightly wrapped the injured ribs to protect them. Carefully she slipped the shift over Xena's head.
"You need to rest," Gabrielle whispered.
Xena could not see the love and concern in the bard's eyes but knew it was there from the tone of her voice. She thought about objecting but instead raised her hand to caress her young friend's cheek. Gabrielle caught Xena's hand with her own and squeezed gently. Gazing into her friend's sightless eyes, a single tear rolled down her face. Stifling a sniffle she dropped the warrior's hand and put her hands on Xena's shoulders. She didn't speak but simply pushed an unresisting warrior back on the bed and then she kissed her on the cheek.
"I think I will take a bath now," she said.
Gabrielle put some more water on to boil and then pulled the tub out of the hut and drained it. Slowly the tub was filled with steaming water. Stripping off her mud caked clothes she slid into the comforting warmth. The water felt good and soothed her aching muscles.
After washing the mud from her body and hair she reclined against the tub and let her mind wander. She was worried about Xena. They had been lucky once before when the warrior had been blinded by sumac oil and had recovered. This time they may not be so lucky.
Gabrielle was pulled out of her pensiveness by a sound from the other side of the blankets.
"Just getting my sword." Xena made the statement so matter-of-factly that it caught her off guard.
She stood and stepped from the tub, dripping water as she dried herself off, and peered out from behind the blankets. Xena was back on the bed with her sword by her side. Gabrielle smiled slightly for she knew what her friend was thinking.
Feeling green eyes on her, Xena spoke, "That band of thieves might come back again. I need to be prepared."
"Right," was all Gabrielle said.
Xena traced the hilt of her sword with a finger as she rested. She did this unconsciously as her mind whirled, racing with the possibilities that could be her future. She drew her lips tight as one possible outcome kept playing through her mind.
"Xena, are you hungry?"
The warrior whipped her head in the direction of Gabrielle's voice. She had not heard the bard cross the room. Silently she chastised herself for not paying closer attention.
"I asked if you were hungry?"
She could hear the concern in her friend's voice and forced a slight smile as she responded, "Yes, I am."
Retrieving some dried meat and vegetables from Argo's saddle bags, Gabrielle set about making a simple soup. While the meal was cooking, she tended to their dirty clothing. First, she scraped the dried mud from Xena's leathers. Working the leather while she cleaned it restored its suppleness. She then moved on to her own clothing, saving their boots and Xena's armor for later.
The aroma of cooking soup filled the hut and made the bard's mouth water.
Hanging her skirt to dry she checked on dinner.
"I think dinner is ready."
The bard placed a bowl of soup for each of them on the table along with a couple of hard biscuits.
Xena carefully sat up and momentarily felt the bard's presence by her side. Gabrielle helped the warrior stand and guided her to the table.
Xena spoke very little during their meal. There was nothing unusual about that except that several times Gabrielle thought her friend was about to speak, but never did. Maybe she was just uncomfortable about trying to eat without being able to see. The little bard chatted lightly as she ate, watching her friend the entire time.
After dinner as Xena lay resting, Gabrielle cleaned their boots and then started on the warrior's armor. Periodically she would look up and catch a glimpse of something dark flashing across her friend's face. Each time her throat tightened and her stomach churned. Finishing Xena's armor, she decided it was time for bed.
The bed was large and as carefully as she could she climbed in and snuggled up to Xena. She didn't want to wake the warrior, but she wanted to be close to her. She found comfort and peace in the intimacy. The young woman fell asleep instantly, the exhaustion of the last two days overtaking her.
The morning sun was high over the mountains when Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open. She slowly cleared the fog from her head. Feeling Xena stir beside her, she rolled onto her side.
"Good morning. How do you feel?" she asked.
"Stiff," came the mumbled reply.
Gabrielle crawled out of bed and started making some breakfast. She started a fire and left the hut to go fill the pot to make some tea. Returning, she found Xena putting her leathers on.
"You should have waited, I would have helped you with that."
Xena simply grunted and said nothing. Gabrielle put the water on to boil and added some herbs to make a tea.
"Will biscuits and tea be okay for breakfast?"
Xena didn't reply.
"Okay, I didn't hear any objections."
The bard put some biscuits on the table and checked on the tea. It needed a few more minutes to reach the desired strength.
The young woman watched the tall warrior standing at the window, seemingly looking out. While cleaning the armor last night, Gabrielle had been thinking about what they would do now. She knew Xena could defend herself against anyone with her sight, but without it how long before she was seriously injured or killed? She shuddered at the thought. Knowing she could never defend herself and Xena, she decided the best thing to do was to take her friend back home to Amphipolis. She knew the warrior would not go for it, but Cyrene deserved to hear the news about her daughter's blindness from Xena and not a stranger.
"I think I should take you home," Gabrielle said softly.
Xena spun around and looked in the direction where Gabrielle's voice had come from.
"What?" Xena's voice was low and tight and had a dark quality to it.
"I think you should go home."
Xena didn't attempt to hide the rancor in her voice.
Gabrielle was taken back by the bite in the warrior's voice, but she believed that taking Xena home was the right thing and she was not going to back down.
"Xena! What are you going to do? Where are you going to go? Wander the countryside blind?" the bard's voice was hard as she was trying to drive a point home to her friend.
Xena said nothing but scowled and turned back around to resume her vigil at the window. She knew arguing with Gabrielle was futile as the bard had a stubborn streak. With more than a week's journey ahead of them, she thought she would be able to convince the bard to see things her way.
"The tea is ready."
Gabrielle's voice brought Xena back to the present and she turned around again. She heard the bard moving toward her and momentarily felt a soft touch on her arm. She didn't say a word, she simply guided Xena to the table. Neither woman spoke as they ate breakfast.
Xena sat at the table while Gabrielle packed their gear.
With Argo saddled and ready to go, the women headed toward Larissa. They traveled in silence. The mare picked up on the tension between the two friends and seemed slightly jittery. She didn't like it when Xena was in such a dark mood.
Argo heard the men first. Suddenly there was noise all around them. Xena knew they were surrounded and quickly slid out of the saddle and drew her sword. With a quick slap to her hindquarters, Xena sent her mare galloping for the forest. Back to back Xena and Gabrielle stood, waiting for the coming attack.
The bard eyed the men. There was something familiar about them. She watched as they stood their ground, waiting for the signal to attack. A solid purple mark on the left temple of one of the men sent a memory flashing across her mind. These were the men they had encountered a couple of days ago.
Xena strained all her senses trying to determine just what was going on. The sound of a voice to her right caused her to turn in that direction.
"You are the one who killed my brother!" a rough voice growled.
"Xena, they are the thieves from the other night," Gabrielle whispered.
The warrior stiffened knowing that anger makes men irrational and therefore more dangerous than normal.
"What do you want?" Xena demanded in a fierce tone.
Xena felt movement to her left and swept her sword in that direction. She felt the blade pass through flesh. She could hear Gabrielle behind her battling with one or more of the men. With a hard backward kick, another man was sent sprawling. The sound of a body hitting the ground meant that Gabrielle had dropped one of the attackers she was fighting with. More thumps and grunts indicated the bard was engaged again.
The sound of a blade cutting through the air instinctively caused Xena to raise her sword above her head to block the blow. She focused every sense on her attacker. She parried blow for blow and was concentrating so hard on her attacker that she didn't feel the second man approach.
Gabrielle was struggling to maintain control of the situation when she saw the man advancing toward Xena with his sword poised to remove her head from her body. With a surge of adrenaline, Gabrielle swept her attacker's feet and a solid blow to his head ensured his further cooperation.
"Now you will have matching bruises," Gabrielle said as she spun around to help Xena.
It all happened in slow motion. As the bard spun around she saw the man raise his sword high over his right shoulder with both hands on the hilt. As he brought the sword downward in a wide arcing motion the little bard screamed in terror.
She whipped the end of her staff at the man's throat. At the moment her staff made contact with the his throat, Xena *felt* an opportunity and stepped in to bury her sword in the chest of the man she was fighting.
White-hot pain ripped through Xena's head as the second man's sword caught her above the right temple and opened a long gash in her scalp. If she hadn't stepped in and Gabrielle hadn't hit the man with her staff, she would have been beheaded.
Out of reflex, she pulled her sword out of the man's chest as she dropped hard to her knees. Blood flowed freely from the open wound and covered the side of her head, spilling down her neck and shoulder. She could feel the sticky fluid making its way underneath her leather as she wiped her bloody sword off and stuck it back in its scabbard.
"I'm here, Xena."
Gabrielle grabbed a soft, clean cloth out of her pouch and held it to Xena's head. The sight of so much blood made her a bit queasy.
"Here, hold this tight."
She whistled for Argo, who came running immediately.
"Come on Xena, we better get moving. The men are waking up."
Xena heard Argo approach and reached out with her left hand to find her mount. One of the men who was just coming around saw Xena fumbling for her horse and realized she couldn't see.
"Hey, she's blind!"
One quick jab from Gabrielle's staff sent the man back to the land of the unconscious.
"We better get out of here," she said as she helped Xena mount Argo.
The warrior reached down with her left arm and pulled Gabrielle up in the saddle. Gabrielle urged the mare into a gallop as she set off looking for a place where she could take care of Xena.
Xena could feel the blood soaking through the cloth that she held to her head. In a short time, she could feel the blood running down her hand and wrist. She pressed harder trying to stem the flow. She did not want to stop and give the men a chance to catch up with them again.
Every time Gabrielle suggested they stop, Xena protested and said they needed to keep moving. The young woman was grateful that they were not far from Larissa.
"Xena, Larissa is up ahead. Do you want to get a room?"
"No," Xena growled, "go around the town and we will camp on the outskirts on the other side."
Skirting the town, Gabrielle found a sheltered place to camp. She helped an unsteady Xena off Argo and sat her down to rest. The warrior had lost a lot of blood but not enough to really worry about if she took it easy.
With water warming by a fire, Gabrielle dug out a needle and thread along with a packet of white powder. With some of the white powder on Xena's tongue to kill the pain, she was ready to suture her scalp. The wound was still oozing blood so she cleansed the area as best she could. It was a clean cut and easily sutured, but it took many stitches to close it.
With the remaining warm water and a clean cloth, she washed the blood from Xena's hair, face and neck. She then wrapped a bandage around Xena's head to cover and protect the wound. The warrior said nothing and did little more than cooperate while Gabrielle worked.
Unhooking Xena's armor, Gabrielle removed the breastplate and then the back plate. Sticky blood covered the armor and the leather underneath. She slipped the braces and gauntlets off of her friend's arms. The brace and gauntlet from Xena's right arm were slippery with blood.
"Come on Xena, we have to get you out of this leather."
It took some work but Gabrielle finally managed to get them off.
"Would you like to wash the blood off or do you want me to do it?" she asked quietly.
Xena didn't answer so Gabrielle assumed that meant she should do it. As tenderly as she could, she washed the blood off Xena's upper body and right arm. Next, she reapplied the healing ointment to the previous wounds.
Xena seemed lost inside of herself. She paid very little attention to what Gabrielle was doing. This bothered the bard and her concern for her friend kept growing. As she attempted to pull Xena's shift over her head the warrior growled and yanked the shift out of her hands.
"I can do it myself!"
"I know Xena, I was just trying to help," Gabrielle said softly.
The warrior didn't say anything; she just slipped the shift on and retreated back within herself. Gabrielle's stomach reminded her that dinner would need to be fixed soon. Using the snares they always carried, she set a couple of traps. Her mind was not on her work and several times she had to set the snares again to ensure that they would work properly. She was very worried about Xena. She had seen her friend in dark moods before but not like this. There was something different about this mood, something very dangerous, something that terrified her.
Xena's mind was racing with dark thoughts. Before, when the oil had blinded her, she knew there was a cure. Now, she didn't know if she would ever see again. Several times, men in her army had been blinded by serious blows to the back of their head and never regained their sight. Anger surged through her veins. She hadn't even felt that second man approach her. She knew she was lucky to be alive, or was she? Hearing Gabrielle enter the camp again interrupted her train of thought.
"Xena," Gabrielle said softly, "would you like to talk about it?"
"There is nothing to talk about." The warrior's voice was flat and totally devoid of emotion.
Gabrielle watched her companion closely and decided not to pursue it. Xena's armor and leathers were covered in blood and she busied herself with cleaning them. It gave her something to do and helped her take her mind off her friend. An occasional glance at Xena told her the warrior was still lost in her own thoughts.
With that task finished, she left to check on the snares. Two plump rabbits not so willingly gave their lives for dinner. Soon they were roasting over the fire and the aroma of cooking meat made the little bard's mouth water. The sun was setting and the temperature was dropping so Gabrielle spread their blankets out by the fire.
Moving to Xena's side she spoke softly to her friend, "Dinner is almost ready, would you like to come sit by the fire and warm yourself?"
Xena said nothing but stood and let Gabrielle guide her to her blanket. She ate little of her dinner. When asked, she said she simply was not hungry.
Gabrielle sat across the fire from her sullen friend. She knew there was nothing she could do until Xena let her in.
The Warrior Princess could feel the little bard's eyes upon her, watching and waiting. She wanted Gabrielle to move to her side, to hold her in her arms, but she knew she had to start pushing her friend away. The one thief knew Xena was blind and soon everyone else would know. She knew there were many who would pay to have her head. It was only a matter of time before they would come after her.
The earlier meeting with the band of thieves kept replaying in the warrior's mind. Try as she might, she couldn't remember even feeling the presence of the man who almost beheaded her. How could she have not felt his presence? Not heard the blade arcing toward her neck? "If Gabrielle hadn't been there..." she let the thought drop knowing that berating herself about the past would accomplish nothing. It was the future that worried her now. She couldn't protect herself, much less Gabrielle.
The young woman watched the scowl on Xena's face deepen and darken. She knew the warrior was beyond her reach right now. She sighed deeply and prayed that the gods might help her reach her friend before something drastic happened.
"I need to check your bandage," the bard said as she moved to Xena's side.
Carefully peeling back the bandage, Gabrielle saw that the wound was no longer oozing and looked good. She tied a clean cloth around Xena's head and retreated to her blanket. Exhaustion overtook the young woman and soon she was asleep.
Xena sat there through the night, her mind wandering over the memories of the last few years. She thought back to the Thessalonian temple and the distress she had felt when Gabrielle had been injured. She felt guilty that her friend had been injured then. She felt guilty for many things that had happened to her young companion. It took almost losing the bard to make her realize how much she cared.
Gingerly she reached out to the sleeping woman beside her and touched her softly. It was Gabrielle's love that had kept her going for so long, and now it was her love for Gabrielle that was going to change everything.
With the sun warming her skin, Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes. She saw Xena sitting next to her, in the same position she was in last night, but now her blanket was wrapped around her. She knew Xena had not slept. Silently she watched. The expression on the Warrior's face was stone cold and Gabrielle shuddered involuntarily. Xena sensed the movement and turned her head in response.
"Good morning," the sleepy bard said, yawning slightly.
Xena grunted but said nothing.
Gabrielle's stomach tightened and her appetite disappeared. When she asked if Xena was hungry, she was met with silence.
"Me either," she mumbled, swallowing hard.
Xena heard Gabrielle's comment and her heart ached. She hated what she was doing to her friend but knew it was for the best.
Gabrielle packed up the camp and saddled Argo while Xena put her leather and armor back on. The silence was almost unbearable for Xena. She was used to her young companion's light-hearted banter in the mornings, and although she would never admit it, she rather enjoyed it.
Standing next to Argo, Xena whispered something in her mare's ear before she slowly mounted her steed.
"Let me take Argo's reins," Gabrielle said.
"That won't be necessary, she will follow you."
Gabrielle looked first at Xena and then at Argo.
They followed the Peneus River northeast toward the Aegean. Xena's entire demeanor was withdrawn and dark. Gabrielle had tried to get her to eat some lunch but she refused. The bard caught sight of Mt. Ossa rising in the distance and knew they were approaching the coast. It had been a long day, not so much for the distance of their journey but for the enduring silence.
They camped on the beach in the shadow of Mt. Ossa. Gabrielle fished for dinner while Xena sat in silence. The bard's concern for her friend's well being was growing at an alarming rate. She was very afraid of the dark thoughts she knew were racing through the ex-warlord's mind.
Xena refused to eat anything for dinner. This further worried her. She was almost sure now that her soul mate was preparing to die. With the fire dying low Gabrielle appeared to prepare for sleep. She snuggled into her blankets but never closed her eyes. She knew Xena was up to something but didn't know just what.
Very late in the night Xena got up and moved to where she knew Argo was tethered. As silently as she could, she saddled her mare. Quietly digging through the saddlebags, she pulled out all the things that Gabrielle would need and placed them in a pile. Xena knew that the terrain on the north side of the Peneus river rose higher and higher above sea level the closer you got to Mt. Olympus. She figured that the cliffs above the Aegean would be a perfect place for her last mortal act.
A quiet whisper in Argo's ear and the mare headed north across the river.
Gabrielle had silently watched everything. As soon as Xena was out of earshot, she packed up the camp and set out to follow the blind warrior.
Xena had to rely on Argo to be her eyes. Slowly the mare picked her way along the coast. From the change in ear pressure and the time she had been gone, Xena knew that they were high on the cliffs above the sea. Dawn was still several hours away and she needed to sort through things and make sure her final decision was for the best.
Gabrielle silently watched from a distance, unsure of what she should do so she did nothing but wait.
Xena climbed off Argo and turned her face to the breeze. She inhaled deeply and let out a long, ragged sigh. Slowly she removed her weapons and her armor. She stowed her chakram and armor in one of the saddlebags and tied her scabbard to the saddle. Pulling out her shift, she removed her leathers and stowed them with her armor. She slipped the shift over her head and removed the bandage Gabrielle had tied there earlier.
Next, she pulled a long dagger out of a saddlebag. She then moved a few feet toward the cliff and knelt down on both knees. Sitting back on her legs, Xena bowed her head and let her arms rest by her sides. Memories flashed through her mind as she recalled the great changes in her life over the last few years. As the scenes played out in her mind, every emotion connected with the events flooded her body. She struggled to maintain control. If her walls cracked and her emotions were released, she knew she would never be able to go through with it.
The warrior wrestled with her thoughts, the battle raging inside as she tried to decide what was best for all concerned. She knew Gabrielle would never leave her. She also knew that she would not be able to protect her bard forever without her sight.
Living with the Amazons was a possibility, but she did not want to jeopardize them either. Velasca had done a great deal of damage and Ephiny had her hands full trying to rebuild. They didn't need bounty hunters interfering, and Xena knew there would be those types after her soon enough. She thought about returning home to Amphipolis too, but realized that option was not viable either. It seemed her choice had been made for her.
It was here, in the land of Thessaly, where she first realized the little bard from Poteidaia meant more to her than life itself. And it would be here, in the same land, where her life would end because of that love.
Gabrielle watched silently as her companion remained in that same position for a long time. Her mind raced with thoughts about her past and how her life had changed since meeting the Warrior Princess. The darkness inside of Xena had been growing the last few days and Gabrielle feared for her friend's life. She knew her friend would rather die than be placed in a position where she would jeopardize her young friend's life.
The sky was starting to get lighter and still the warrior had not moved. Gabrielle watched in silence, hoping and praying to the gods that she was wrong about what Xena was planning. As the sun broke over the horizon, the warrior raised the dagger high above her head. The sunlight gleamed off the blade as it was rotated to stick straight out, parallel to the ground.
Gabrielle felt like she was moving in slow motion as she rose to her feet and started moving towards Xena. Her boots dug into the ground, spitting soil behind her as she raced at her friend, her anger and fear increasing with every step. The short distance was covered quickly and with a flying leap, she tackled Xena. The blade went flying as the bard smashed her friend into the ground, landing directly on top of her.
"Don't you dare leave me again!" Gabrielle screamed as she started pummeling Xena with her fists while straddling the warrior's waist.
"Don't you dare!" she kept screaming over and over as tears streamed down her face.
Xena shielded her face with her arms and hands as Gabrielle continued to strike out at her. She didn't know if she should feel anger or relief that the bard had interfered. With pangs of guilt, she strengthened her resolve and pushed the smaller woman away.
Gabrielle landed hard on her back but quickly rose to her feet. She ran at the warrior and knocked her to the ground again.
"How could you Xena?" the bard's voice was filled with anguish.
Gabrielle glanced to her left, somewhat unnerved at how close they were to the edge of the cliff. She peered over to see the sharp rocks below and the water washing over them.
"I have to do it Gabrielle! I cannot protect you, and your life is more important to me than my own!"
Gabrielle heard the commitment in Xena's voice to still go through with it and her anger grew. The bard struggled to keep the warrior pinned to the ground but Xena quickly rolled over and pinned the smaller woman.
She watched as the warrior searched for the dagger. In one swift move, she kicked Xena off of her and lunged for the knife, scooping it up in with her right hand.
"I have the dagger now Xena, and I will not give it back to you."
Xena turned toward the sound of Gabrielle's voice but said nothing. She stood there a moment as she tried to collect her thoughts, and then spoke softly to her friend.
"Gabrielle, please try to understand, this is the only way!"
"No!" the angry bard screamed back, "It is not the only way! Please Xena, we can go far away from here and I can take care of you. No one will find us and we can live out our lives in peace!"
There was a desperate, pleading quality in Gabrielle's voice that almost broke Xena's heart.
For a fleeting moment she considered the possibility that she could live out her life in hiding with Gabrielle, but quickly dismissed the idea. By now, word of her disability would have spread far and wide. It would only be a matter of time before the bounty hunters would find her.
"No Gabrielle, I can't place you in danger. You deserve to have a life, a home, a family." The last few words were barely audible. Slowly, Xena started backing up.
"Xena, no! You are my family!" Gabrielle screamed as she dropped the dagger and stepped towards the warrior.
As Xena was about to step over the edge of the cliff, Gabrielle grabbed her by the wrist. The momentum of the larger woman proved too great though, and the bard felt herself being pulled over the edge with her friend.
"At least we will die together," Gabrielle whispered as they plunged toward the jagged rocks below.
Xena felt Gabrielle come over the side with her and panic started to rise in her throat. Desperately she started to claw at the face of the cliff. Finally her hand found purchase on a small ledge and the warrior and bard jerked to a sudden halt.
"Gabrielle! Are you okay?"
"Yes." The bard's voice was strained.
Xena tried to get a hold of Gabrielle's wrist but could not with the way the bard had gripped hers.
"Hang on and we will think of a way to get out of this," Xena said.
Gabrielle looked up at the face of the cliff above them and saw that there was no way they could climb up. Looking down she decided that would not work either. She knew that they couldn't stay where they were at for long though. The only way off the side of the cliff was to jump into the rock filled waters below. They would have to wait until high tide to have any chance of surviving the fall.
"There is no way up or down Xena, but there is a ledge just below me that we can rest on."
"Ok," the warrior replied.
"Xena, before I let go, I want you to promise me something," the bard said in a very serious voice.
"What is it?"
"I want you to promise me that you will try to land on the ledge."
"Promise me Xena! Or I will not let go and we will both fall to our deaths."
Xena was silent for several moments.
Gabrielle let go of Xena's wrist and dropped onto the ledge.
"Now it is your turn. And remember, you promised," she said in a very solemn voice.
Xena let go and dropped to the ledge below. She did not know the distance to the ledge and was surprised when she suddenly landed hard. Caught off balance, she started falling backwards.
The terrified bard quickly shot her hand out, grabbing a handful of shift and pulling the warrior back. She drew Xena into a tight embrace and held her close.
At first Xena just stood there, wanting desperately to wrap her arms around Gabrielle. But, she knew if she did, it would make it that much harder for her to go through with her death. The feel of the bard's body next to hers and the tenderness of the embrace caused her heart to melt. She sighed heavily and pulled the smaller woman closer to her.
After a time, they sat down against the face of the cliff. Xena could feel the morning sun beating down on them. She put her arm around Gabrielle and the bard snuggled in close.
"There is only one way down," the little bard said as she rested her head on Xena's shoulder.
"We are going to have to jump when the tide comes in."
"Will the water level be high enough?"
"I think so. Judging from the waterline on the rocks I can see, it should be enough, but just barely."
Xena sighed as she realized that once again Gabrielle's life was in danger because of her.
Neither woman had slept the night before and they were both very tired. They dozed lightly as they cuddled together waiting for the tide to come in.
The sound of the water breaking over the rocks changed, and brought Xena out of her light sleep.
"Gabrielle, I think the tide is coming in," she said, gently shaking the little bard.
Rubbing the weariness from her eyes, the sleepy bard peered over the side. White spray blasted the air as the waves crashed into the jagged rocks. Even at high tide, the rocks were not covered by a lot of water.
"The water is almost at its highest point. We will have to time it just right or we will land on the rocks," the young woman said as she tossed a rock over the side and counted until it splashed into the sea below.
Realizing what she had just said and the implications, she shot a look at Xena. She studied her friend's face, wondering if she would use what she had just been told to attempt to end her life again. The warrior's face was devoid of emotion. Gabrielle had no idea what her companion was thinking and wasn't sure she really wanted to know.
"The water has reached the high mark. We have to time it just right so I want you to hold my hand when we jump, okay?"
Gabrielle watched her friend closely. She wanted them to jump together so Xena wouldn't try anything.
"Okay," the warrior said heavily.
Gabrielle's stomach tightened. From the sound of Xena's voice, she knew she was still thinking about dying.
The young bard slipped her hand into the taller woman's and guided her to the edge of the ledge.
"On the count of three," she said as she tightened her grip.
"One, two, three!"
Together the women jumped off the ledge and plummeted toward the Aegean below. When she hit the water, Gabrielle had the wind knocked out of her and she lost her grip on Xena's hand. With no air in her lungs, she struggled to reach the surface. Just as she broke through and was about to take a breath, a large wave buried her and sent her smashing into the rocky side of the cliff. Instead of filling her lungs with air, she ended up with her lungs full of water. Unconscious, she started to sink into the murky waters below.
The Warrior Princess spit out a mouth full of salty water as she broke the surface.
"Gabrielle!" she called out, unsure of her friend's location.
She was met with only the sound of the crashing waves.
"Gabrielle?" she called again, the panic surging through her body. Again, the little bard did not answer her.
Frantically the warrior dove into the depths of the cold water below, swinging her arms in search for her friend. She knew that the waves would keep the smaller woman close to the cliff, so she methodically worked her way along the rock wall. On her fifth dive, her hand grazed something hard that was not a rock. Diving again she grabbed one of Gabrielle's boots.
Using her hands as a guide, she felt her way up Gabrielle's body. Grabbing the bard's top by the laces, she hauled her friend to the surface. Clinging to the rocks with one hand, she fought the incoming waves to keep them both afloat.
Putting her face next to Gabrielle's, she could tell that her friend was not breathing. She knew she could not help unless she got her out of the water, but without her eyes she had no way of knowing which direction or how far she had to go. Taking a guess, she headed south.
Momentarily she felt ground below her feet. Dragging the bard onto the sandy beach, Xena pressed on her back to expel the water from her lungs. Rolling her over she put her ear to Gabrielle's chest. There was a heartbeat!
Covering her friend's mouth with her own, she puffed air into the little bard's lungs. She continued to breathe for Gabrielle, checking periodically to see if she was breathing on her own. After what seemed a very long time, the bard started to cough and spit up water. The blind warrior rolled her friend on her side and waited for her to finish retching.
"Gabrielle?" she called softly. There was no response.
Xena rolled the unconscious woman onto her back again and put her hand on the smaller woman's chest. The rising and falling told her that she was breathing on her own.
"Gabrielle?" she called out again. Still there was no response.
Very carefully, she used her hands as her eyes and examined Gabrielle. She found no injuries. A sickening feeling started to overcome her. She wondered if Gabrielle had gone too long without air. There was nothing she could do now but wait and see.
She pulled Gabrielle a little further onto the sand and stretched out beside her to dry off and figure out what to do next. The warmth of the sand felt good against her skin as she contemplated how she was going to take care of herself and the unconscious bard without her eyesight or their gear. She knew Argo was probably up on the cliff so she whistled for her mare. Argo would find a way to reach her if it was possible.
As the Warrior Princess lay on the sand waiting for Argo, she listened to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach and wondered how her life had become so complicated. Was this the life the Fates had intended for her to live? For quite a while she contemplated the choices she had made and the resulting consequences.
A whicker in the distance brought her to the present. Carefully she listened and after another whicker, she was sure it was Argo.
"Argo! You found us!" she said as the nuzzled her mare.
Xena searched through the saddlebags and found her leathers and armor. After dressing, she hooked her chakram on her side and placed her scabbard in its customary place on her back. Gabrielle's pouch was not there, and since the bard had not been wearing it when she tackled Xena, the warrior knew it had been left up above.
Stroking her mare's neck, she spoke softly to the animal, "Argo, I need you to be my eyes again. I need to get back up the cliff to wear Gabrielle's pouch is. Can you take me back there?"
The mare snorted in reply.
Gently, she picked up her friend. Cradling the bard in her arms, she sat her across the saddle and then slid onto Argo's back. It was easiest for her to hold Gabrielle sidesaddle, in the crook of one arm. She held Argo's reins loosely in her free hand. She knew the mare would pick the safest way back to the cliff top.
The warrior held her partner and let the mare do the work. The path back up was steep, but Argo was sure footed and took it slow enough that Xena had little trouble hanging on to her unconscious friend.
After a time, the mare stopped. Carefully Xena slid off Argo with the young bard cradled protectively in her arms. Tenderly she placed the unconscious woman on the ground. She knew Gabrielle's pouch had to be someplace close by, so she drew her sword and used it to search with. Momentarily the blade touched something that didn't feel right and kneeling down she found the pouch. She pulled the strap over her head and felt around for a tree.
Working methodically, she cut several soft branches down. Gingerly she worked her way back to Gabrielle. After several trips she covered the bows with a blanket and carefully placed her friend on the improvised pallet. Tenderly she ran her fingertips over the bard's face before gently placing a kiss on her forehead. Her friend's skin felt warmer than normal and she made a mental note to check her temperature later.
She removed Argo's saddle and placed it on the ground so she could tend to her mare. Instead of tethering Argo, she told her to stay nearby and left her free to roam for food and water.
Xena could feel the temperature dropping as the sun settled farther in the west. She knew she had to start a fire to keep them warm. Kneeling on her knees, she gathered some stones into a ring. She then used her sword to search for wood.
It took her a great deal of time to find enough wood to last the night. Her frustration grew as she tried to start the fire. Her sense of smell was the only way she could tell if the tinder had ignited. After many unsuccessful attempts, the Warrior Princess finally had a fire going.
Using the feel of the heat on her face as a guide, she fed the fire as needed until she was sure there was a good bed of coals. Building up the fire one last time, she removed her armor and weapons and placed them within easy reach. She then carefully snuggled up to Gabrielle, gently pulling her into her arms.
In the middle of the night, Xena woke up with Gabrielle shivering in her arms. She could feel the heat radiating from the smaller woman's body. One touch to the feverish brow of her friend told her that Gabrielle was in trouble. Xena fumbled around until she found the pile of wood and tossed some smaller pieces on the coals. Blowing on the smoldering sticks, she heard the flames erupt and tossed some more wood on.
Feeling her way to the saddle, she grabbed Argo's blanket and spread it out over the shivering woman. She then stood by the fire and let her body soak up all the heat she could stand. Quickly, she slipped back under the blankets and pulled Gabrielle close. She knew she needed to stop the bard from shivering or her temperature would go even higher.
Holding her close, she wrapped as much of her body around Gabrielle as was possible. Tenderly, she kissed her friend on the forehead. Slowly the shivering subsided and the little bard's body relaxed. Xena continued to hold her close, wishing she could do more to help.
The warmth of the rising sun woke the Warrior Princess. Gently she felt Gabrielle's face and chest. She was covered in sweat and very hot. "She must have inhaled some of the water," the warrior thought.
Slipping out from under the blankets, she fumbled around and found a cloth and one of the waterskins. Saturating the cloth with the cold water, she gently bathed her friend's brow. Tenderly she moved down the little bard's throat and mopped the sweat off her chest.
Anger was starting to rise in the depths of her soul. Without her eyes, she couldn't properly care for Gabrielle. As she continued to tend to her friend, she chastised herself for letting it come to this. She had been so absorbed in her own thoughts that she had not felt the bard's presence on the cliff the day before. If she had acted sooner this would not have happened and Gabrielle would have been...she paused and pondered this thought, unsure of just what conclusions she should draw.
The growling in her stomach reminded her it had been a long time since she had eaten. She had stopped eating when she had made her decision to end her life. Feeling her way to the saddlebags, she found Gabrielle's pouch. Inside were the things she had left for the bard including what was left of the food supplies. Pulling out a few hard biscuits, she consumed them to sate her hunger.
Xena found the other waterskin and discovered it was empty. The one she had used was only half full.
A low, soft moan caused her heart to pound and she made her way back to her friend.
"Gabrielle?" she said as she used her hands to find the bard. She placed her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders, which where slick with sweat.
Another moan and she realized it was probably the fever talking. Feeling around, she found the cloth and waterskin. She knew Gabrielle's fever needed to come down. Repeating the same process as earlier, she bathed the bard's hot body with the cold water. If she couldn't get the fever to break, at least it would help her friend be a little more comfortable. She also tried to dribble some water into Gabrielle's mouth but was not sure how much she swallowed and how much ran down her neck.
Soon she was resting more comfortably so Xena placed the cloth across her forehead. They needed more water and she was going to have to get it. Grabbing the half-full waterskin, she carefully made her way to the saddlebags and the empty waterskin. Putting two fingers to her mouth, she whistled for her mare.
Shortly the golden animal appeared. Without bothering to put the saddle on, Xena swung up onto the mare's back and told Argo to head for the stream that she knew was back a short distance. The mare obliged and the warrior soon heard the sound of running water. Sliding off the mare's back, she landed with a splash and took several tentative strides upstream before bending to fill the skins.
Climbing back on Argo, she urged her mare back to camp. She had complete trust in her steed. The mare had proven herself, and her loyalty, many times and the bond between woman and animal was strong.
As Xena entered the campsite, she could hear Gabrielle's teeth chattering. In her rush to get to the bard, she jumped off Argo and promptly tripped over the saddlebags, landing in the dirt. Muttering and cursing to herself, she crawled over to her friend.
Assuming that her hands were dirty, she wiped them on Argo's blanket and gently reached out to touch her friend. The young woman's hair was matted with perspiration and her top was soaking wet. Fumbling with the laces, Xena untied Gabrielle's top. Pulling the small woman towards her, she was able to slip the top off.
As she carefully laid the unconscious bard back down, she noticed the bottom blanket was also wet. Pulling Argo's blanket off, Xena folded it so that she could place it under Gabrielle and then unfold it easily. Pulling Gabrielle into her arms again, she folded down the sweat-soaked blanket and replaced it with Argo's. Reclining her friend, she pulled the wet blanket out and the dry blanket down. She repositioned the blanket and stood to find a limb to dry the wet blanket on.
Xena knelt beside the fire pit and used her sword to stir the ashes. Using her hand as a guide, she found a hotspot and tossed some dry grass and leaves on. A whiff of acrid smoke indicated the fire was trying to spring to life. Carefully she placed some small sticks where she hoped they would catch fire. A few gentle puffs and the crackle of flames could be heard.
Carefully she fed the fire, afraid that if she hurried too quickly she would smother it and would have to start over again. After what seemed a long time, she had a nice fire going.
Once again, she turned her attention to the shivering bard. Slipping in behind, the warrior enfolded the young woman in her arms. She was hoping that between the heat from her body and the fire, Gabrielle would stop shivering. As she held the smaller woman, Xena gently stroked her hair and spoke softly in her ear, hoping that her words were making it through to her friend.
Slowly, the shivering stopped and the warrior felt her friend's body relaxing in her arms. She knew she had to treat the infection causing the fever or Gabrielle would continue to grow weaker. Carefully she pulled away and felt her way to the saddlebags.
Finding Gabrielle's pouch, she searched through it until she found her smaller medicine pouch. She had to rely on her sense of smell to identify the herbs she needed.
It had been some time since she had procured medicinal herbs and they were running dangerously low on the necessary items. Finding the pot they made tea in, Xena heated some water and made a tea that she hoped would help Gabrielle.
After the tea was ready, Xena was faced with the challenge of how to get it into the unconscious young woman. Calling to the bard loudly caused a slight response, and Xena took the opportunity to get some of the tea down her friend. The warrior had no way of really knowing how much the bard actually swallowed. She could only hope that it was enough since the herbs were gone. Without her eyes, there was no way she could obtain more herbs from the forest.
She had taken a minute to lay down beside her friend and in her exhaustion, the warrior fell asleep. She had nursed the fever-ridden bard for what seemed like an eternity. Despite the constant sponging off and care, the heat radiating from the bard's body had not diminished.
An unexpected sound broke the silence. Xena tensed until she realized it was Gabrielle crying out in her fevered sleep. The sounds of crickets singing in the bushes and the cool night air told the warrior it was after nightfall.
Reaching out, she touched Gabrielle's sweat soaked brow. The raging fever had not broken, but at least it wasn't any worse, thank the gods. She pulled the covers back over the tossing woman and tucked them snuggly around her. Gabrielle pushed weakly at the blankets and the warrior sighed heavily. She decided to get a little more water into the bard then sleep next to her once again.
"No! Xena!" Gabrielle cried out, causing the startled warrior to drop the waterskin. A whimper from the bard tore at her heart. She couldn't bear her young friend suffering. She crawled down next to her and pulled her close, murmuring soft, soothing words against her hair.
"Xena, why did you leave me?" she cried miserably. The warrior was confused.
"I'm right here, Gabrielle! I'm right here! I'm not going anywhere," the warrior cooed softly.
"Xena, no, no! Please...you can't leave me again...Please!"
Once again, Xena attempted to calm her, but the bard couldn't be comforted in her delirium. She pleaded, cried, sobbed, and thrashed out while the fever burned. She spoke almost constantly, though the warrior couldn't always understand what was said. Xena just held on tightly, unable to ignore the words that poured from her weakened friend.
Sometimes the ramblings made perfect sense. Gabrielle spoke of the time when the warrior was injured by the log trap. She had her own vague memories of that time, brief moments of her friend's worried eyes and shaking voice. The feel of fingers brushing her cheek, the sound of quiet sobs...like the ones she heard now.
They never fully spoke of that time. Xena had given it the smallest of attempts one night, shortly after they had left the Amazon territory...
Xena had watched with concern as the bard picked at her food for the third day in a row. The lack of appetite worried her, as did the silence. It had been many days since Velasca and Callisto had been dealt with, and yet the bard had yet to mention them or the circumstances before them.
Xena had been reluctant to bring up the subject herself, unsure of what she could or should say. How could she explain why she came back, or of the thoughts she had heard from her grieving friend? How could she tell her of the anguish and self-hatred that had consumed her every waking and sleeping moment?
What could she say about M'Lila, the woman who sacrificed her life only to have that gift twisted into hate and bloodshed? The warrior didn't know what to say, so she remained silent, lost in her own thoughts until she realized her friend didn't speak either.
To see the normally animated bard so withdrawn disturbed the former warlord. Gabrielle was accustomed to talking out her feelings and exploring her thoughts and ideas out loud. The fact that she was not speaking indicated she was suffering greatly or too afraid to speak. Xena decided to take the initiative.
"Gabrielle? Would you like to talk about it?" she asked softly.
"About what happened. I know we haven't..."
"No," the bard cut her off, "I don't think so. Not right now anyway."
"So now it's coming out whether you are ready or not, my friend," Xena thought, "I just hope I can take it."
Gabrielle reached out in her troubled sleep and buried her face in the warrior's neck, seeking comfort from the images that haunted her feverish state.
"I love you Xena, don't leave me alone, don't leave me all alone again!" Gabrielle began to cry, hot tears trickling down her face and onto the skin of her friend.
Xena felt her own tears pool in her eyes from the burden she felt. Gabrielle wanted more than she could give. How could she stay with the young woman, knowing that her presence brought danger to them both? Sooner or later, one of her enemies would learn of her blindness and seek her out for revenge. Xena knew without a doubt that her friend would try and protect her and die in the effort.
So, what if they settled in some remote village? What then? Be a burden for her best friend for the rest of her life? Her words from several days ago rang through her head once again. Gabrielle deserved a life. She deserved so much more than being the eyes and caretaker to a warrior who should have died long ago. As long as she lived, the young bard would refuse to leave her behind.
Xena placed a gentle kiss on the bard's cheek. "I love you too Gabrielle, that's why I must leave you," she whispered as the tears spilled from her eyes.
Gabrielle took a turn for the worse just before dawn. Her breathing came in labored, shaky gasps and there was a rattling in her chest. She needed more medicine and she needed it fast.
Moving as quickly as she could, Xena packed up their belongings and saddled Argo. The warrior wrapped the blankets tightly around the unconscious bard and gently raised her off the ground. Carefully she sat Gabrielle on the mare's back and slid into the saddle behind her.
The Warrior Princess only had a rough idea of where there were at along the coast, but she knew if she headed southwest she would eventually run across a trade route or village. Her ultimate destination was the Thessalonian healing temple where Gabrielle had once died.
"You have to be my eyes again Argo," she whispered, "Gabrielle's life depends on it."
Gabrielle was tucked in the crook of her arm, and she could feel the heat emanating from her body. With a click of her tongue, she urged her mare on.
The warrior's senses where on full alert. She strained her exceptional hearing to its limit, knowing they needed every second's notice to any possible trouble. She doubted she could fight her way out of an ambush in her present condition. Their only hope was to avoid contact with people along the way, but without talking to someone she would not be able to find the temple. It was a dilemma that would have to be faced sooner or later.
As Argo was picking her way along a rough stretch of trail, Gabrielle started to moan and thrash. Xena tightened her grip on the bard and wrapped both arms around her to try and contain her movements.
"No, Xena, no," the little bard moaned.
The trashing seemed to lessen and Xena had relaxed her grip on Gabrielle when the little bard jerked violently and threw them both off balance. If Argo had not been trying to make her way up a steep embankment, Xena would have been able to control the situation, but as it were, they both fell.
Xena could tell that they were going to fall, so she twisted her body, taking the brunt of the impact on her left side as they hit the ground. With her arms wrapped around Gabrielle, she tried her best to protect her friend as they tumbled down the embankment.
The two women landed in a heap at the bottom of the steep slope. Xena moaned loudly as the pain in her side forced her to consciousness. Her ribs may not have been broken before, but she was sure they were now. Something warm trickled down her face. Gingerly touching the right side of her head she found her scalp wound had been reopened.
She could feel Gabrielle next to her, silent and unmoving. Grunting in pain, she rolled onto her side to check on her friend. To her relief, her bard seemed uninjured.
Xena rolled onto her back again, gritting her teeth. She closed her eyes and focused on the pain in her side. Breathing slowly and evenly she concentrated until she could control the pain. Carefully sitting up she whistled for her mare.
With dogged determination Xena picked her unconscious friend up and continued on. Blood was steadily streaming down her face but she didn't care. Her only goal was to last long enough to find the temple and get help for Gabrielle.
Only the change in temperature gave Xena any indication of the passage of time. Wearily she focused of her surroundings and felt the area around her open up. She was not sure if it was a clearing or a road. Heightening her senses as much as possible she tried to feel the area out. The sound of a snapping twig to her left caught her attention and she turned instinctively toward the sound.
"Xena?" a familiar voice called.
Hippocrates could not believe his eyes. Before him sat the Warrior Princess on her mare. Blood covered her upper body and the hair on the right side of her head was matted with mud and blood. There were smudges of dirt on her face and arms. Gabrielle was crooked in her left arm, seemingly unconscious. What bothered him the most was the hauntingly vacant look in Xena's eyes. The fire was gone.
"Xena, it is me, Hippocrates."
Xena relaxed slightly.
"Hippocrates? Are we close to the temple?"
His voice was nearer and Xena felt his presence.
"What happened?" he asked, waving his hand in front of Xena's face.
"We fell. I think Gabrielle inhaled some water into her lungs. She is burning up with fever."
Hippocrates put his hand on the bard's head and listened to her breathe. He did not like what he heard.
"Come, we better get you to the temple," he said as he took the reins from Xena.
A ragged sigh from the warrior caused Hippocrates to glance beside him. What he saw both touched his heart and frightened him. Xena now held Gabrielle in both arms, the bard's head cradled just below her chin. It was obvious that the warrior was weary, yet there was something else that seemed wrong.
With a shock he realized what that 'something else' was. Xena didn't look like a warrior any more. She wore her leathers and armor, but the mystique that made her the ultimate warrior was gone.
"Xena," he said softly, "was your blindness caused by the fall?"
"A fall yes, but not the one Gabrielle was injured in."
There was a tinge of bitterness in Xena's voice and Hippocrates was not sure if it was because of her own injury or Gabrielle's.
"There have been many changes at the temple since you were here," Hippocrates stated. "I went to Epidaurus for a while and studied with the priests there. I have learned a great deal about healing thanks to you."
"Yes. When you were here before you inspired me to learn all I can about the art of healing in a hands on manner. We still go to Asclepius for the cases we can do nothing about, but we try very hard to treat everyone."
"Good," Xena replied wearily.
"We're here," Hippocrates said stopping Argo. "Let me take Gabrielle."
Hippocrates carefully pulled the small bard into his arms and carried her into the temple.
Slowly Xena dismounted and was guided into the temple by one of the priests. The smell of burning candles and ointment emanating from the building triggered memories of her first visit. A wave of emotional pain washed over her soul.
"Rest here," he said gently to the weary warrior.
"Where is Gabrielle?" she demanded.
"She is on the next altar, now hold still so I can tend to your wounds."
Xena tried to protest.
"Hippocrates is tending to her, she couldn't be in better hands."
"Yes she could," the warrior thought, "She could be in mine."
Xena bit down on her lip in resignation and let the priest remove her armor and weapons and then her leathers, grieves and boots. The old bindings around her ribs were then cut off. Hands gently pushed her onto her back and started to cleanse the dirt and blood from her face and body. The warm water the healer used was fragrant. She had to admit she felt better after her sponge bath. She could hear Hippocrates tending to her bard close by. Guilt once again racked her conscience as she knew this was all her fault.
Another familiar voice. Democritus.
"What happened?" he inquired of no one in particular.
"They were injured in a fall," Hippocrates answered. "Democritus, grab some of those small skins and place them under Gabrielle's head and shoulders, we need to raise her up to ease her breathing."
Democritus complied with the request while Hippocrates prepared an herbal tea for the sickly bard. Grabbing a hollow reed, the young healer gently coaxed the unconscious woman into swallowing the medicine. With that done he gave her a more thorough examination. He could find nothing else wrong except for some minor cuts and bruises. Tenderly he cleansed Gabrielle's hair and body. With that done he prepared a poultice and placed it on her chest to ease her breathing. He then covered her again with the blanket. There was nothing to do now but wait.
The apprentice healer who was working on Xena in the meantime had stitched her scalp wound back together and was dabbing her smaller wounds with a medicinal ointment. The antiseptic smell of the ointment was familiar but Xena could not place it. It smelled like the water she was bathed with, but much stronger.
"I have done all I can do," said Hippocrates as he moved to Xena's side, taking over the task of treating her.
He checked the work of his apprentice healer and then tightly wrapped her ribs before slipping a clean robe around her shoulders.
The tall, dark woman sighed deeply.
"I know," he said, "You are worried about Gabrielle."
Xena nodded her head.
"How long have you been blind?" he inquired.
"More than a week."
"I fell off a cliff in battle and must have struck a rock."
Carefully Hippocrates felt around the bump on the back of Xena's head.
"The swelling has still not gone down. You may still regain your sight."
The warrior did not respond and the sullen look on her face did not go unnoticed. Hippocrates left to attend to a few other patients, but returned soon with some tea for Xena.
"What is it?"
"It will help calm you and let you sleep."
"I don't need anything to help me sleep," she said bitterly.
"Well I think you do and you are my patient," he said gently.
Xena scowled but drank the tea. She was hoping it was strong enough to let her sleep without dreaming. As she lay there waiting for the tea to work, she listened to Gabrielle breathe. The gurgling and wheezing seemed worse than before.
The water seemed endless. Try as she might she was not able to make it to the surface. The struggle seemed endless, but just as her lungs were about to burst she broke through. The sky was dark and overcast. Lightening flashed in the distance. Slowly she looked around.
Something was wrong; her voice was slow and drawn out.
"Wwwhhhheeerrre arrre youuuu?"
Xena flipped over and tried to swim for the bottom again as fear gripped her heart. She had to find Gabrielle fast because she knew if she didn't, her young friend would die! Her arms would barely move and she felt feather light. When she finally reached the bottom she could not see Gabrielle anywhere. She noticed the water around her getting lighter. Looking up she saw Gabrielle floating in the air, her body parallel to the surface of the water. Pushing off hard she swam for the surface. Her body was very heavy now and she struggled with every upward stroke.
As she broke the surface she found herself back in the Thessalonian healing temple. She was alone and Gabrielle was on an altar in front of her. Her mouth was covering Gabrielle's and she was blowing air into her friend's lungs. Over and over she repeated the process but it was not working. In slow motion she hit the little bard's chest with her fist.
"Dooonnnn't yyyooouuu llleeaavvve mmmeee!"
She repeatedly hit Gabrielle in the chest. Somehow she knew in the back on her mind that this would save her friend. But something was wrong, something was very wrong! Gabrielle should have come back by now! It didn't work! It should have worked...
Xena pulled her bard into her arms; tears flowing freely as she openly wept for the loss of her friend.
Xena's eyes shot open when she realized that it was Gabrielle screaming and not she. Jumping off the altar she stumbled the short distance to Gabrielle. She found her friend sitting up, shaking uncontrollably. Sliding in behind, she pulled the feverish woman close and started talking soothingly to her distraught bard. She knew her young friend had been dreaming about what happened on the cliff.
Slowly Gabrielle relaxed in her arms as she gently rocked her back and forth. Xena reclined back on the altar and shifted Gabrielle's weight so that they were both on their sides. Covering them both with a blanket she curled up around her bard with one hand on the poultice to hold it in place. Heat still poured off the young woman's body; Xena was worried.
She had no idea of how much time had passed when she woke up. Gabrielle was resting peacefully in her arms. There was not as much heat radiating from her body now and she was very relieved. "Gabrielle should wake up soon," she thought. "It's time to leave."
Xena pulled her bard in closer as she thought about what she still must do. Closing her eyes, she buried her face in her friend's hair. She concentrated on the feel of Gabrielle's body next to hers. She would miss the closeness they shared. The physical closeness they shared had been for Gabrielle at first, but soon after they started sleeping next to each other, Xena had realized it was something that she needed too.
"I love you, Gabrielle. Please forgive me," she whispered as she kissed her friend, wishing she could see her face one last time.
With a ragged sigh Xena slid out from under the blanket. Softly she padded over to where she thought her leathers had been placed. Searching with her hands she found them and put them on. She also searched for her boots but couldn't find them. She left her armor and weapons behind. She wouldn't need them where she was going. Carefully she felt her way to the door of the temple.
Gabrielle watched in silence as Xena dressed and searched for the door. Slowly she sat up and removed the poultice. Her chest was sore and tight. Vague memories of Xena removing her top flickered on the edges of her mind. She tried to take a deep breath but pain shot through her chest. Pulling the blanket around her she silently slipped off the altar to test her wobbly legs.
"I won't forgive you, Xena."
The gentle voice stopped the Warrior Princess in her tracks and sent a shiver up her spine.
"You're going to go through with it, aren't you?" Gabrielle's voice changed from gentle to angry. "You are going back to the cliff and jump, that way no one can find your body, aren't you! AREN'T YOU!" Gabrielle screamed, the anger rising from deep inside her soul.
"Yes," Xena hissed.
"No, you're not!" said Gabrielle vehemently as she moved between Xena and the door. "I will NOT lose you again!"
"Yes, I am, and you are not going to stop me," Xena said with grim determination.
"Yes, I will, even if it costs me my life."
The statement froze Xena's heart and she felt icy tendrils snake through her soul. She knew Gabrielle meant what she said. Taking a deep breath she regained control and took a step forward. This would be better in the long run for her dear friend. She was sure of it...well almost sure of it.
Anger and hurt continued to rise in Gabrielle. As Xena stepped forward she shot out one hand and hit the warrior in middle of her chest, knocking her backwards a couple of steps.
"I won't let you go, Xena!"
Xena strode forward sweeping her right arm from left to right. She caught the weakened bard and pushed roughly past her. The sound of her friend falling brought tears to her eyes.
"I thought you loved me?"
The words were soft and filled with great emotion. They tore at the heart of the Warrior Princess, wounding her to her very core. Slowly she turned around.
"I do love you," she whispered as the tears spilled down her cheeks.
"Then how can you leave me again?"
Xena stood there silent and unmoving as the battle raged between her heart and her head. She wanted to live, but thought it was better if she died.
"Because I DO love you," she finally said, barely able to utter the words.
"Then prove it to me!" the little bard cried. "Prove it to me and live! If you can't live for yourself then do it for me...live for me! You are my world, my life, and my home. I can't live without you, Xena." Gabrielle paused for a moment and then continued softly, "I won't live without you."
Xena was stunned by Gabrielle's confession that she would not live without her. The anguish and honesty in her young friend's voice broke her heart and all her repressed emotions overwhelmed her. She sank to her knees in exhaustion and defeat, a sob tearing from her throat.
Gabrielle watched in relief and a little bit of horror as her Warrior Princess dissolved before her eyes into a woman weary from the trials of life. She moved to her friend's side and pulled her into her arms. Xena sobbed and buried her head in Gabrielle's shoulder. The little bard gently rocked her friend back and forth, cooing softly in her ear to quiet her sobbing. Her own unstoppable tears spilled down her face and onto her warrior.
Democritus had watched the entire scene from a short distance away. He knew that Xena had to make the decision to live on her own, so he had not interfered. As he watched the women for a moment longer, he noticed that the blanket around Gabrielle had fallen to the floor. With a sudden flush of embarrassment, he realized he was staring at her partially nude body. Quickly he grabbed a robe and approached the women from behind.
"Come with me, I have prepared a special place in the back of the temple for you both," he said as he slipped the robe around the little bard's shoulders.
The healer helped them to their feet and guided them to an area sectioned off from the rest of the temple. A pallet covered with soft skins had been prepared for them. Gabrielle guided Xena to the pallet and sat her down. Gently she pushed her back on the skins and covered her up. She crawled in beside her companion and drew her into a close embrace, placing the warrior's head on her shoulder.
Xena seemed to be in a state of shock. Tears still tracked down her face but she had stopped sobbing. Gabrielle kissed her on the forehead and pulled her in even closer. She thought she felt Xena shaking, but realized that she was the one trembling. Suddenly overcome with exhaustion, she sighed deeply and drifted off into a troubled sleep. She was vaguely aware of the stream of tears running across her chest as her warrior wept.
Xena's eyes fluttered open but she was still in darkness. She knew from the feel of the body next to her that she was in Gabrielle's arms. A long, ragged sigh escaped her lips as she thought about what had happened. Moving slightly, she traced the youthful features of her friend's face with her fingers. Even by touch the young bard was beautiful.
She rested her head on Gabrielle's chest again. Carefully she listened to the bard breathe. There was still a rattle in her lungs, but her breathing was not labored and came in slow, even increments. The congestion was breaking up.
Haunting bits of their conversation floated through Xena's mind.
"I can't live without you..."
That phrase in particular resounded repeatedly through her mind. She knew that if anything happened to Gabrielle, she would have a difficult time moving on. Her young bard had echoed the same sentiments. By staying alive she risked Gabrielle's life. By dying she would, in effect, prove to the bard she did not love her. And what about Gabrielle's comment that she wouldn't live without her? Xena was afraid to pursue that thought.
A single tear rolled down her cheek as the selfish part she had been quelling unleashed its fury. She DID love Gabrielle and she did NOT want to die. She had never wanted to die, but thought her death would protect her friend. A mixture of joy and guilt flooded her being. Was it selfish of her to want to be with Gabrielle even if it placed her in danger? She knew it was selfish, but she also realized it was something she desperately wanted. A gentle hand on her cheek whisked her tear away and disrupted her train of thought.
"How are you feeling?" asked Gabrielle.
"I should be asking you that," Xena teased, trying to hide the quiver in her voice.
"I asked you first," the bard said softly, cupping a tanned cheek in her hand.
"I am...okay," Xena said. "Or at least I will be with your help."
Gabrielle pulled Xena in closer and whispered in her ear.
"I will always be here for you!"
Xena snuggled into her bard. The friends enjoyed the tender moment until Hippocrates interrupted.
"It is time for Gabrielle to have some more tea," he said.
Xena pulled away so Gabrielle could sit up.
"How is her breathing, Xena?" the healer asked as he handed Gabrielle the tea. "Will she need another poultice?"
"The congestion is breaking up. I don't think she will need another one."
Gabrielle sniffed at the healing brew. After wrinkling her nose at its aroma, she started to slowly drink the medicament.
"And how are you?" he asked as he checked the bandage on her head.
"I'm fine," she retorted.
Gabrielle laughed, almost choking on her tea.
"Yes, I think you will be," the young healer said smiling as he left the women alone again.
The spark of fire he had noticed in his warrior friend's sightless eyes gave him reason to believe that everything would be okay.
Gabrielle finished the tea. Turning to Xena she took her friend's hand in her own.
"I think we need to talk," she said softly.
Xena sighed deeply and squeezed Gabrielle's hand.
"What would you like to know?"
"I want to know why, Xena? Why do you want to die...or do you?" Gabrielle swallowed hard and waited for an answer. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, threatening to explode in trepidation.
Xena stiffened slightly and pulled away from Gabrielle. She did not answer for a long time. With each passing moment Gabrielle's heart pounded harder and faster.
"I don't want to die," she said softly. "But I don't want to place you in danger either. I know bounty hunters will come after me. If I was gone you would be safe."
"If you were gone my heart would be broken," said Gabrielle, as the tears streamed down her face.
Xena heard the emotion in her friend's voice and gently touched her cheek to confirm what she suspected; Gabrielle was crying.
"I thought it was the best thing to do," Xena said as tears pooled in her own eyes.
"You thought the best thing for ME was to live without YOU?"
Xena dropped her head to her chest, "Yes," she said meekly.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her friend and pulled her in close again.
"Xena, you are my life. I would rather die than live without you." Gabrielle tipped the raven head up to meet hers. She knew Xena could not see her, but it seemed the right thing to do. "You don't want to die and I don't want you to die, so let's not talk about this anymore, okay? It might be dangerous for us to be together, but at least we will be together. I would travel to Tartarus and back for you. I love you, Xena."
Those were the words the warrior had been waiting to hear. Tears spilled out and ran down her cheeks and she smiled. The selfish part had won.
"I love you, too."
Gabrielle leaned in and softly kissed her friend.
"It will be okay," she said as she drew her warrior into a close embrace. "I think we both need to rest now."
Xena thought that was an odd statement until she realized she was very tired. The friends slid down the pallet and curled up around each other to sleep. Morpheus sent pleasant dreams and both women slept deeply and peacefully for the first time in a long while.
The sound of soft footsteps and the smell of food brought the sleepy little bard out of her dream world. She smiled at Hippocrates and Democritus as she nudged Xena in the side.
"Wake up sleepy, dinner is here," she said as she sat up, leaning against the wall.
"Hmmmm, yes, I can smell it. Venison stew, right? With crusty bread and tea."
Hippocrates chuckled and Xena had her answer.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior in amazement.
"How do you do that?"
"I focus. I have many skills, remember?"
"In your sleep?"
"Well," the warrior shrugged as she sat up next to her bard.
Their dinner trays were placed across their laps and Democritus and Hippocrates left to tend to some boys who had been carried away playing a game of Capture the Village. The boy playing the warlord took his role a little too seriously and some of the boys were injured.
Gabrielle chatted away about the changes in the temple she could see from their nook in the back while they ate. She told Xena about how the number of candles around the columns had been doubled and how various bandages and herbs had been placed close by for easy access. The place was clean and bright and smelled of antiseptic.
As they ate, the bard watched her friend. She was amazed at how little food Xena spilled. She thought that if anyone could handle being blind it was her Warrior Princess.
The next few days were spent resting and recovering in the temple. Xena spent much of her free time, when she was not practicing with her sword, with Democritus and Hippocrates. They discussed healing and shared the things they had learned with each other. She told them of her stay in Epidaurus and the things she had learned from Androlus and the other priests.*
Hippocrates replenished the supply of healing herbs the friends tried to always carry. He included some special blends for fever and infections. He had found that certain combinations of herbs worked better than the individual herbs alone. He also gave Gabrielle a crash course in identifying herbs and roots as she would be the one gathering them now, with Xena's help of course.
On the fourth day of their stay, Gabrielle could tell that Xena was becoming restless. She had risen earlier than normal and gone out to practice with her sword. The sun was now high in the sky and she had still not come back, so Gabrielle set out to find her. She knew her friend would be in the clearing practicing. Grabbing a soft cloth and a waterskin, she left the temple and headed for the clearing.
"Hi," she said as she approached the clearing.
Xena finished her routine and turned to face the bard as she slipped her sword back in its scabbard. Soft footsteps told her that Gabrielle was approaching.
"You've been out here a long time," she said as she dabbed at the rivulets of sweat streaming down Xena's face and throat. "Would you like a drink?"
The warrior nodded and Gabrielle handed her the waterskin. Xena took a long drink and handed the skin back to the smaller woman.
"Come on," Gabrielle said as she slipped her hand in Xena's. "Let's go sit in the shade and talk about what we are going to do now."
Gabrielle led the leather-clad woman over to a nice grassy spot underneath a large tree and sat her down. Kneeling beside her friend, she continued to tenderly wipe the perspiration off with the soft cloth.
"I think it is time we were leaving," the young woman said softly, "Where do you want to go?"
"I think we better go to Amphipolis first. I need to tell my mother about this before the rumors reach her."
"And then what?"
"After that I am not sure."
"We could always go live with the Amazons," said Gabrielle.
"Are you ready to be their queen?"
"I could be."
"No, Gabrielle," Xena said quietly. "It is better if I...we...live in seclusion. It's safer for everyone that way, at least for now."
Gabrielle sighed, knowing her warrior was right. She turned around and sat down with her back against the tree and snuggled into Xena. The warrior responded by putting her arm around the smaller woman. They sat in companionable silence enjoying their closeness and the quiet of the moment.
After a short time, Gabrielle stretched out and put her head in Xena's lap. The warrior ran her fingers through the light-colored tresses, wishing she could see them shine in the sunlight again. A heavy sigh from Xena brought Gabrielle's senses on full alert.
"Come on Xena, talk to me," she pleaded.
"I was thinking about you," she said quietly.
"What about me?"
"I was thinking about how much I am going to miss your smile, and the way the sunlight plays off your hair in the mornings. I was thinking about how much I will miss looking into those beautiful green eyes and seeing the understanding that only you can give," she said very softly.
"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle said gently as she reached up to stroke a tear stained cheek.
Gabrielle tried to sit up so she could draw Xena into her arms, but a hand on her chest held her down.
"It's okay. I'm okay," she said.
Gabrielle sighed and settled back against her friend. Xena still had a lot of adjusting to do. They both did.
That night they clung to each other, in a sense of almost quiet desperation. Their futures had never been certain, but now the uncertainty seemed to loom over them.
Xena's internal rhythms woke her before dawn. She nudged a sleepy Gabrielle and slipped out of bed. She had carefully laid out her leathers and armor the night before so she could easily find them in the morning.
Argo had been saddled and was patiently waiting for them in front of the temple. They ate a light breakfast and said goodbye to Hippocrates and Democritus. As they were leaving Democritus put his hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and whispered in her ear.
"I am glad she chose life."
Gabrielle smiled at him as tears welled up in her eyes.
"I am too," she whispered.
Xena had already mounted Argo and was waiting for Gabrielle. The smaller woman slid into the saddle in front of her friend and took the reins.
"Come on Argo, we need to take Xena home."
Xena could hear the gulls in the distance and the surf pounding the rocks below. The place felt familiar.
"This is the spot, isn't it?" she whispered as all the emotions came back.
"Yes," answered Gabrielle as she wrapped both arms around her Warrior Princess.
"Thank you," the young woman said, her voice thick with emotion.
"For choosing to live!"
Xena pulled Gabrielle close to her. They stood in silence as they thought about the recent past and what the future might hold. One thing was certain; they would face it together.
End Part I
* This is a reference to my story Ate's Revenge.
This story was very difficult to write and took me a long time to finish. Comments and/or questions are most appreciated as that is the only way I know if my story is being read and possibly even liked. Thank you.
I would like to thank hobbes for adding a few scenes to this story in order to jump start my muse. Without her help this story would have stalled at chapter 7 and died a miserable death.
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