"This is Tara, My Sidekick"
by Alan Plessinger
Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstories used in "This is Tara, My Sidekick" are the sole property of MCA/Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
This is a "What if?" type of story. The "What if?" should be obvious if you've seen the episode "Forgiven".
Tara dressed quickly and picked up her knapsack with her belongings. Her sister Lila heard her leaving. She sat up in bed.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I'm going to follow Xena. I want to become a warrior, like her. She wants to become a good person, and if I travel with her maybe I can be a good person, too."
Lila got out of bed and stood close to Tara.
"Good riddance," said Lila.
"Shut up!" she said, and hit Tara with her fist right in the mouth, hard enough to knock her down.
Lila stared up at her from the floor. She was so used to being hit by Tara, she hardly even noticed any more.
"I hope you get killed, you rotten little bitch!" said Lila.
"Shut up! I'm gonna join Xena and become a good person!"
"You're off to a slow start," said Lila.
"Shut up! I can be a good person! You freaks keep telling me I'm no good, that's what makes me do bad stuff!"
"Go to Tartarus."
"You're gonna be rotten wherever you go. Don't blame it on us."
"Your way with words is really gonna impress Xena."
"Shut up!" yelled Tara, and ran out the door.
Gabrielle was sitting in the tavern talking to a priest from the temple of Apollo. A valuable and important urn had been stolen, and the priest needed the help of a hero to get it back. He was trying to find the location of Hercules. Bards often talked to each other and kept track of the location of various heroes.
Gabrielle told him what she knew, and the priest left.
Gabrielle sat, working on a scroll, as a goblet's worth of wine came flying from the table nearby and landed all over the scroll.
She looked at the young kid who had thrown the wine.
"Can I help you? Is there something you don't like?"
"Your face," said Tara.
"Then don't look at it," said Gabrielle, and continued working. A handful of oatmeal was thrown by Tara and hit Gabrielle in the side of the head.
Gabrielle stood up.
"Why don't you leave me alone? I haven't done anything to you."
"What kind of a coward are you? Why don't you fight me?"
"I'm not going to fight you," said Gabrielle.
Tara immediately leaped on her and pulled her hair and tried to bite her ear off. Gabrielle yelled and tried to pull off the young kid.
Xena came back in the tavern and separated the two.
"What in Tartarus is going on? Who are you?" she asked Gabrielle. "What did you do to my sidekick?"
"Nothing," said Gabrielle.
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and believed her instantly. She turned to Tara for an explanation.
"It was just a little fun, Xena," said Tara.
Xena took a look at Gabrielle's ear.
"Great. That's gonna need some stitches."
She turned to Tara and backhanded her across the jaw.
"Hey! Don't hurt her!" said Gabrielle.
"Don't you tell me " said Xena, and stopped when she saw the worried look on Gabrielle's face.
"Mind you own damn business!" said Tara.
Xena was about to backhand her again, but stopped.
"I'm Xena. That rotten little kid is Tara, my sidekick."
"Come on. We'll get you fixed up."
Xena took Gabrielle back to the campsite. It was evening, and Xena quickly got a fire going.
"Why were you eating oatmeal in the evening?" Xena asked Tara.
"Nobody eats that stuff," said Tara. "You order it to throw at people."
Xena sent Tara off to gather more wood for the fire, resisting the urge to give her a kick in the butt as she left. Xena took out her supplies and washed the ear, and applied a salve. Then she started sewing up the ear, using tiny stitches. Gabrielle held her hands tightly and tried to ignore the pain.
When it was done, Gabrielle asked Xena, "Are you a hero?"
"Me? A hero? No. Why would you say that?"
"You called her your sidekick. That's a word heroes use."
"I once thought I could be a hero, but I was just kidding myself. Just dreams. I guess I shouldn't call her my sidekick. That's an insult to every real hero. No, I'm the farthest thing from being a hero. I'm a warlord."
There was deep regret in Xena's voice and in her eyes as she said it.
"You don't act like a warlord."
"Why? Have you ever met one?"
"No, thank the gods. Not up close, but I've seen them from a distance. They don't talk to their men, they grab them and yell at them."
"Oh, I know how to do that. I know how to keep my army in line."
"So, where is your army?"
"I lost them."
"You're a nosy little one, aren't you?"
"I'm a bard. That's how I accumulate stories."
"You're a bard?"
"I used to be a traveling bard, but it's too dangerous out there for a woman traveling alone. There are thieves, murders. Rapists."
"You were raped?"
"No. I ran like Hermes. I escaped. But it was close."
Xena looked down at her hands.
"I would kill anyone who tried to do that to you."
Xena picked up a sharp stick and poked at the fire.
Gabrielle asked, "So how did you lose your army?"
"Oh, it's the old story," said Xena, looking into the flames. "Too good to be bad, too bad to be good."
"I have a strict rule against killing women and children in any village. Raping the women, that's different. I had to allow that, or I couldn't keep soldiers in my army. I looked the other way and tried not to think about it. One night I decided I couldn't go along with it any more. Which was stupid of me. My warriors starting deserting me in the night, leaving for other armies. One night I caught one of them leaving, and I had to make an example of him. And the situation escalated. They all attacked me.
Xena snapped the stick in half and threw it in the fire.
"I killed seven of them. The rest scattered like rats. But I'm putting together another army right now."
"And will they rape the women in the villages?"
"Yes. I don't have any choice."
"Xena, you don't want to be a warlord, do you?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle in surprise.
"It's all I know how to do, Gabrielle. If I don't do it someone else will."
"You said you wanted to be a hero? What happened?"
"Gabrielle, this is not the kind of story you can tell in a tavern. There's no happy ending here, unless I get run through by a sword tomorrow."
"Please, just tell me. I'm curious."
Xena looked into Gabrielle's kind, accepting eyes, and realized she had to make it clear what a rotten person she was, because Gabrielle just didn't get it.
"OK. My first act of heroism was to save Tara and the rest of her village from being taken as slaves. The village didn't much care if I saved them or not. They wanted me gone. So I went back to Amphipolis, my hometown. I didn't know that Tara was following me. I heard that a warlord I once had an alliance with was going to take the town, and I wanted to warn them."
"They tried to stone me to death."
Gabrielle tenderly put her hand on top of Xena's fingers. Xena turned and looked at her.
"Was Tara there?"
"Did she say anything?"
"Yes. As soon as the first stone hit me, she yelled, 'You're not gonna take that, are you?' And more stones hit me, and I tried to hold on and stay calm and stay focused, and Tara kept yelling, 'Kill 'em, Xena! Kill 'em all! You're not gonna take that, are you?' And I suddenly realized that, no, I wasn't going to take it. I picked up my sword and killed their leader, the one that did all the talking. The rest scattered."
Xena was silent, waiting for some reaction from Gabrielle.
"What happened then?"
"I saved my village from the warlord. Tara kept telling me not to. She said we could start being heroes some other day, and go somewhere where the villagers hadn't tried to kill me. But I saved Amphipolis, and my mother told me to leave and never come back. And after that, things went OK, for awhile. I was able to save a lot of innocent people."
"And how did that feel?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, how did that feel?"
Xena looked into the fire.
"It felt OK."
Then Xena looked down into her lap and closed her eyes.
"It felt wonderful, Gabrielle. By the gods, it felt so GOOD. I've never felt anything so good before or since. For that short time I was actually proud of my life and proud of what I was doing. It made me wish I had someone to share it with."
"What about Tara?"
"Tara was just looking for an excuse to bust some heads and knock people around. She didn't much care why. She didn't get it. It was just a big joke to her."
"So why did you stop?"
"I didn't count on certain things. I didn't know that Ares, god of war, would be trying to tempt me back to being a warlord again. He impersonated my long-lost father. He made me think that a village was responsible for killing my father. And I lost it, Gabrielle. I took control of an army and I took the village. And my father, the one I thought was my father, died in my arms, and I gave the order I knew I was going to give. I said 'Kill 'em all!' And Tara was right nearby, and she let out a whoop of joy, like it was what she'd been waiting for all her life."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and her eyes were full of anger and pain.
"And they did it. And there was none of this sentimentality, no more sparing women and children. An entire village is no more because I was stupid, and because I could be so easily bent and twisted by Ares. I did more damage as a hero than I could ever do as a warlord."
Xena realized she was about to weep, and she held her hands tightly together and fought off the tears. Just the thought of what Tara would say if she saw her weeping made her angry enough to box Tara's ears.
"So that's it. I decided to stop kidding myself. It takes more than strength and skill to be a hero, it takes character, and I don't have it. I'm a warlord, and that's all I will ever be."
"I'm sorry," said Gabrielle.
"Sorry? For me? Don't you dare be sorry for me!"
"I'm sorry for all those innocent people you never got to help, because you decided to give up."
Xena was about to give an angry reply, but Tara arrived with an armload of wood, and Xena turned her anger on Tara instead.
"There you are! Where in Tartarus have you been? How long does it take to get a few sticks of wood? Get over here!"
Tara dropped the wood and came over to Xena. Xena grabbed both of her arms. Tara knew what was coming and struggled to escape, but Xena held her tightly.
"Gabrielle, get over here."
Gabrielle came and stood before the two of them.
"Hit her hard. Right now."
Tara laughed and tried to kick Gabrielle, but Xena put one foot in front of her legs.
"Don't be afraid of her, Gabrielle. I'll make sure she'll never touch you ever again."
"I'm not going to hit her."
"Gabrielle, this is the only way to get rid of the anger and the hatred. I know."
"I'm not angry and I don't hate her. I'm not hitting anyone, and don't you hit her either, Xena. Stop being so rough on that poor kid."
Gabrielle walked away from both of them. Xena threw Tara roughly aside and went after Gabrielle. She touched Gabrielle on the shoulder, and Gabrielle turned to her.
She touched Gabrielle gingerly on the face.
"Nothing," said Xena, "it's just you're real."
Gabrielle smiled, and it was a beautiful, radiant smile.
"Of course I'm real," she said.
"Listen, Gabrielle, I'm going to make this up to you. How long has it been since you've been in a nice, big hot tub?"
It was Gabrielle's first time in a hot tub. She couldn't believe how wonderful it felt to be up to her neck in this lovely warm water; not too hot, not too cold. She leaned back and enjoyed it.
She tensed up when she heard someone coming, afraid it might be Tara. But she relaxed and smiled when she saw it was Xena.
"Hi," she said to Xena.
"Hello. I just wanted to make sure you're alright," Xena lied.
"Oh, I'm fine. This is wonderful."
"I'll leave you alone, then."
"No, don't go. Join me! All this water for one person, it's wasteful. This thing is huge."
"I don't think that would be a good idea."
"I don't know. Tara's waiting for me."
"Invite her, too."
"That would be an even worse idea."
"OK, but at least you can join me, can't you?"
"Xena " she said, and held out one hand in invitation. Xena smiled, and tilted her head to one side as she beheld Gabrielle, who smiled in return.
"How does she do this to me?" thought Xena as she started to take off her clothes. "It can't be just her smile, or those amazing, incredible eyes. What has she got that makes me want to do anything for her?"
Xena removed her armor and leathers and everything else she was wearing. Gabrielle kept her hand extended in invitation as she waited for Xena to undress. When Xena finally stepped into the tub, she took Gabrielle's hand. Xena froze, and locked eyes with Gabrielle.
"It's just a hot tub," said Xena.
She got in the tub and relaxed, and smiled at Gabrielle.
"Sometimes," said Xena, "I get in a frame of mind where I start to think that things matter a lot more than they really do."
"Like the women of a village being raped?"
"Gabrielle, I don't know why I told you that story. I don't usually talk about myself that much. I know you're a bard, but I hope you won't tell anyone what I told you."
"I won't. Let me wash your back, Xena."
"That's not necessary."
"Please? I want to. I'll wash your back, and then you can do me."
They washed each other, and Xena said, "Gabrielle, I don't want you to think anything's going to happen, here."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, just because we're both naked, you know. I didn't want you to worry that anything's going to happen."
"Like, you know "
"Like peeing in the hot tub?"
Xena turned in the water and looked at Gabrielle.
"Yeah, that's it. Peeing in the hot tub."
Gabrielle looked seriously at Xena, then smiled, and threw back her head and laughed.
"You must really think I'm a three-year-old!" she said. "Like I've never read Sappho! Give me a break! Peeing in the hot tub!"
Xena looked down into the water and smiled. Then she started laughing. Impulsively, she splashed some water at Gabrielle. Gabrielle splashed back, and soon they were splashing each other like a couple of kids.
When they were done they sat and smiled at each other. Xena didn't quite know what to think about what had just happened.
"What was that?" she thought to herself.
With an effort, she stopped smiling and stood up.
"OK, gotta go," she said.
"No, stay Xena. Come on! I love being with you."
"I said I love being with you."
Xena looked at this wonderful young woman, and thought to herself, "This is a life you can have no part of. This is a life you don't deserve. Not even a day in it."
Xena quickly dried herself and dressed in the outer room, left the room and walked down the hall. She turned at the corner and leaned on the corner wall, looking at the entrance to the room.
"Oh, how I envy your husband, whoever he turns out to be," she thought. "And I pray to Ares I never meet anyone like you in any village I conquer, or it will stop me in my tracks. But that's unlikely. There couldn't be another one like you, anywhere."
"There you are. What in Tartarus were you doing?" said Tara from behind her.
"Checking up on her, like I said."
"Your hair's wet. You were in the hot tub with her! You were doing that little bitch, weren't you? Oh, that does it! I'm gonna drown that little twerp! I'm gonna kill her!"
Xena grabbed Tara by the hair and slammed her against the wall.
"You listen to me, you rotten little slut, you are never going to talk about her like that again! I swear by all the gods that ever were and ever will be, if you ever hurt her again I'm going to KILL you, Tara! I swear I will destroy you! I'll drag you behind a horse and throw you off a cliff, and if you want to find out what that's like just you believe for a second that I'm not serious, you hear me?"
"Let me go! Xena, that little creep is making you soft!"
"SOFT?" she said, and lifted Tara off the floor. She held her pinned to the wall by one hand against her throat. Tara pulled at the powerful fingers around her neck.
"Xena?" said Gabrielle's voice from behind her. She was peeking out from behind the door.
"It's OK, Gabrielle."
"Xena, please, just let her go. Don't hurt her. Please."
Xena relaxed her grip and let Tara slide to the floor.
"Sorry, Gabrielle," said Xena, and Gabrielle went back inside.
Tara stared at Xena, her eyes full of hate.
"Sorry, Gabrielle! Sorry, Gabrielle! You try to strangle me, and it's Sorry, Gabrielle! I swear I'm gonna break her neck, that little goody two-shoes!"
Xena hit Tara in the forehead, knocking her head against the wall. Tara walked away from Xena, holding her head.
"Alright, I won't hurt her, but you can't stop me from hating her."
Xena hit Tara in the back of the head again as they walked down the hall.
Tara said, "You watch it, or I'm gonna tell you little boss that you're hurting me. You're gonna be in trouble."
The next night Xena couldn't sleep, and left Tara sleeping to wander into a clearing and look at the stars. Tara had no interest in looking at anything she couldn't maim or destroy.
Staring into the night sky, she heard Gabrielle behind her. Without looking, she said, "Hello, Gabrielle."
"How did you know it was me?"
"It's not difficult to remember what your tread sounds like. What are you doing here? You want another chance to beat up Tara?"
She came around and looked Xena directly in the eyes.
"I want to travel with you."
"But not Xena the warlord. Xena the hero."
"Gabrielle, that's just a crazy dream."
"I want to be a part of the dream."
"Gabrielle, don't waste your time on me. I'm no hero. I never will be. I don't have the character to stick to the path of righteousness."
"I think you do. I believe in you."
Xena shook her head.
"There's nothing for you to believe in. You really think you can become a good person just by wanting to be? That's what I thought, but it's not true. Heroes are born, not made, and I was born to be a warlord and sack villages and kill without remorse."
"You have remorse."
"Oh, that's where you're wrong, Gabrielle. I don't have remorse because I never stopped murdering, and I never will stop. If I stopped I would have to face what I've done and live with it. All the mother's sons I've sent over to the other side, all the blood, all the pain and horror I've caused, and I would have remorse that would never, ever end. It's better to have always another village to conquer, always another battle to plan, because it's either that or face the nightmares every single night of my life."
"You won't face them alone."
"Gabrielle, please, just forget about me. I'm a lot cause. I don't have the kind of forgiveness in me that you have. I'm not going to let you down the way I've let down everyone else in my life."
"Xena, I know that you can do great things. I know that you have good in you."
"How do you know that? Because I stitched up your ear? One little kindness doesn't mean anything."
"I love you, Xena. I know, because I love you."
Xena looked at this woman in astonishment. She had no idea how to respond to this incredible idea.
What would it be like to wake up next to a woman like this every morning? How could she ever be worthy of the happiness that Gabrielle could bring her? Happiness that you could wrap about you like a warm quilt?
How could she ever be worthy of this love?
"Gabrielle, don't even joke about something like that. You don't know me. You've known me for two days. My mother has known me all my life, and she hates me. She told me to leave Amphipolis and never come back."
"You'll be back. She'll welcome you back with open arms one day. I promise. Xena, you're going to have to trust me on this. I know that you want this. I can feel how much you want to be a good person and do good things for people. Remember how it felt? I could feel it too, just hearing you describe it. I want to help you be proud of your life again, because you don't have it in you to be a warlord any more."
"Gabrielle, please, I can't listen to any more of this. Please, just get away from me. You don't want to have anything to do with me. I'm dangerous. I'm a rotten person."
"No, you're not," said Gabrielle, and took a step towards Xena.
"Stop! You think this is a game?" said Xena, and hit Gabrielle with the back of her hand hard enough to knock her down and leave quite a bruise.
Xena looked at the bruised Gabrielle, and expected Gabrielle to look up at her in shock and horror, but Gabrielle looked like there was no reason to be surprised.
"You want to travel with me? You want to know what it's like? Well, that's what it's like, and you ask Tara if it's not true! I've beaten her up and even tried to kill her because she pissed me off, and I could do the same to you, any time, with no warning!"
"I know," she said, getting up.
"What do you mean, you know?"
"I know how hard it's going to be, turning away from your past and finding your way to redemption. But I'm here to help you, and I won't let you give up. And if you lose control and hit me, I'm just going to have to hope that you come to your senses before you kill me."
"And if I don't?"
Gabrielle stepped forward and got as close to Xena as she could.
"Then honor my memory."
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena in a hug. Without thinking, Xena's arms wrapped around Gabrielle, and Xena looked up at the stars and couldn't believe the absurdity of this sweet girl wanting anything to do with her. She hugged Gabrielle tightly, even though she knew she should be pushing her away and fighting against the tears that were coming. She hadn't cried in years. She was afraid that if she started she might never be able to stop.
Xena hugged her even more tightly, and stroked her hair.
"Gabrielle, I "
And the tears came, and Xena dropped her head onto Gabrielle's neck, and her body shook uncontrollably. Tara would laugh if she saw it. Her men would snicker, and she'd have to make an example of one of them. Only with Gabrielle was she safe.
And she felt so safe in this embrace. She felt as though she could trust Gabrielle to guard her soul all the way to the gates of eternity. It felt so right. It felt like after a lifetime of wandering she had finally found a home in Gabrielle's arms.
She pulled away from Gabrielle and looked her directly in the eyes.
"No one has ever believed in me," said Xena. "No one."
Gabrielle touched her tenderly on the side of her face, and Xena decided that no one but Gabrielle would ever be allowed to touch her that way again.
"Why would anyone do this for me?" asked Xena.
"Sometimes there's just something that you know you should be doing. Sometimes there's just a time and place that seems right to you. This is our time and place."
Xena thought, but couldn't bring herself to say, "How did this happen? You own me, Gabrielle. In two days you've taken possession of my heart and soul."
Aloud, she said, "Gabrielle, can I really do this? Please don't lie to me. You have no idea how much I want to do this."
"Xena, it will be alright. You can do it."
"You had better be right about me, or I will never forgive you."
"Oh, Xena," she said, "I'm not wrong."
"Gabrielle, if you're going to travel with me, I can't travel with Tara any more."
"No! Xena, she loves you, too! She's stayed with you through everything! She deserves a chance to find the good in herself."
"Believe me, she has no interest in finding the good in herself. She's been poisoning my soul for years, and I've been doing the same to her."
"Xena, if we're going to be together, there are some times when you're going to have to do things my way."
"Maybe so, but this isn't one of those times. This will be hard enough with just the two of us. I'm not taking her, Gabrielle. I won't do that to you, and I won't do it to me."
"But she's just a kid! At least I'm an adult. Just barely."
"I think I know someone who can take care of her. But she won't go willingly. I'll have to get some sleeping powder. Gabrielle, do you know where the Centaur village is?"
"Meet me at the totem on the outskirts, two days from now at midnight. And be ready to travel."
Tara awoke in an unfamiliar bed. This wasn't the same place she had gone to sleep. What was she doing here? She sat up in bed and looked all around for Xena. She swung her legs to the floor, and sat on the side of the bed. Her head was groggy. She thought about trying to get up.
A Centaur appeared in the doorway. So this was the Centaur village. The Centaur clopped into the room.
"Where's Xena?" she asked.
"What do you mean, gone? Gone where? She wouldn't go anywhere without me."
"She left you a note," said the Centaur, and handed her a scroll. Tara had to stand up to receive it.
Tara thought to herself, "These smelly freaks are built so far off the ground, how do they ever get anything done? Everything has to be built special for them. What are we doing here, anyway? I'm glad we won't be around these animals for long."
Tara unrolled the scroll. She could barely read, and had to sound out the words, her lips moving as she read.
I'm sorry, but we're splitting up. I'm going to travel with Gabrielle. The Centaurs will take good care of you. I left every dinar I had with them. If you're going to hate anyone, and I know you are, then hate me, don't hate Gabrielle. This is my decision.
I know this stinks, and I'm sorry, but I need to do this. This is my chance to do something good with my life. I know you always thought that trying to be good was just a big joke, which is why I can't travel with you any more. I can't expect you to understand this, but Gabrielle is the real thing. She's everything I ever wanted to be, and she's made me think and feel things I haven't felt in a long time. She's given me the courage to try to change my life.
I love her, Tara. Go ahead and laugh, but it's true. I need her. I need to be with her.
I feel rotten about this, and I feel rotten about the way I treated you. At least the Centaurs won't knock you around as much as I did. This is not the right way to start out a life of doing good, but I don't have any choice.
"That little bitch!" screamed Tara, and threw the scroll across the room. "That little red-headed twerp! I'm gonna kill her! I swear I'm gonna kill her!"
Tara sat by the campfire and wondered what her next move was going to be. She only had a day's worth of food, and the nearest town was too far to walk in a day, or even three days.
All of a sudden she wished she had been paying attention when Xena was trying to teach her about trapping and survival in the woods.
She thought back to that night about a year ago, when Xena had abandoned her at the Centaur village. Did Xena actually think she was going to stay with those freaks? As soon as she found out where they were keeping the dinars Xena had left them, she grabbed the money and ran like a thief.
She found a tavern that would serve her, and got absolutely legless. Then she bounced around from one gang of thieves to the next, pulling jobs, gaining their trust, finding out where the loot was stashed, and grabbing it and running. Five gangs in one year.
But eventually word got round about her, and no gang would have her. She should've stashed some of her loot instead of gambling it away or blowing it on liquor and fancy food.
She was just wondering of Autolycus would have anything to do with her when Gabrielle walked into the clearing.
"You," said Tara in a low, menacing tone.
"Hello, Tara. I have a little peace offering."
She carried a cloth bag containing some dried meat and cheese.
"I'd rather starve to death than take anything from you."
"I'm sorry you feel that way. Xena and I have been talking. If you like, we want you to travel with us again."
"There is no 'again', you stupid bitch. It was me and Xena and that was all. And where is Xena, anyway?"
"Good," said Tara, taking one smoking log from the fire. "She can stitch up your ear again."
She attacked Gabrielle with the log. Gabrielle easily blocked the blow with her staff, poked Tara in the midsection, and swept her feet out from under her.
Tara looked up at Gabrielle, amazed. She'd heard stories about Gabrielle and her staff, but she didn't believe them.
"I didn't come here to fight, Tara."
"You think I'm afraid of you, just 'cause you have that stick?"
Tara was on her feet again, and lunged at Gabrielle. Gabrielle knocked Tara's hands aside before they could go for her throat. She stuck her staff behind Tara's knees and pushed her over.
"Stay down, Tara! I don't want to have to hit you, again!"
"You took Xena from me!" yelled Tara, and came directly at Gabrielle. Gabrielle spun around once and connected her staff with Tara's nose.
Her nose gushed blood.
Gabrielle saw at once that it was too much. Tara fell to the ground and started crying. Xena was there in a second, like she had come out of nowhere, and wrapped her powerful arms around Tara.
"I'm bad," sobbed Tara. "I'm no good."
Gabrielle apologized for what she had done, and left the two of them alone together. She was terribly ashamed.
Xena dipped a rag in the nearby stream and washed the blood off of Tara's face.
"Tell me the truth, Tara, did you ever really want to be a good person, or was that just something you said?"
"I don't know. I never really thought about it, I guess. I just wanted out of that stupid town and away from my family, and I wanted to travel with you 'cause I thought you were pretty cool."
"Hey, I'm still cool. You can be a good person and still be cool. I'm a leather-clad warrior, how cool is that?"
"Yeah. So, is traveling with the little beauty queen everything you thought it would be?"
"Well, this past year has been pretty rough. For the most part she's kept me to the straight and narrow, but it's been hard for both of us. I guess you'd be happy to know there was a time when I tried to kill her."
"I wish I could've been there for that."
"Tara, if you'd just open your heart to her you'd realize what a wonderful person she is. All you've ever done is try to hurt her, and all she's ever done is worry about you and stop me from hurting you."
"She just beat the crap out of me, Xena."
"It's called defending yourself. I made sure she was good at it before I let her anywhere near you. Why do you hate her?"
"I hate everybody. And everybody hates me."
"She doesn't hate you. She tried to talk me out of dumping you. She spent most of the last year worrying about you, and asking me if we could invite you back."
"Big deal. I want to travel with you again, Xena, but not with her. But who would choose an ugly kid like me over someone like her? You're both so beautiful, you probably spend all day staring at each other. And me, I have to put out just to get guys to hang around me."
"Tara, you don't have to live like this. You don't have to be this way. You can change your entire life with a single step in the right direction. No one knows that better than I do. But Gabrielle and I cannot be split up, Tara. You wouldn't believe how many have tried. I love her, Tara. She makes me so happy. I can't stand to be without her, so please don't ask it of me. I know I treated you badly, and I'm sorry. I don't know if I treated you rotten because you were no good, or if you were no good because I treated you rotten. Maybe people like you and me start doing good because we've been bad for so long that we're just sick of it, and we're ready to try something else. Maybe you're not there yet, I don't know. But this is your big chance. Come with us, Tara. Change your life."
Xena held out one hand to Tara. Tara looked at it, and was unimpressed.
"Go tell blondie to drop dead, and we'll talk."
Xena left her, and went up the hill to speak to Gabrielle. Tara got up and started collecting her belongings and packing them in her knapsack.
Why should Xena have dumped her? She stayed with Xena when no one else would, and then this little pouty-faced dweeb came along and stole Xena from her.
Oh, for the good old days when Xena was feared and hated. As much as Xena used to knock her around, and as much as she used to hate Xena sometimes, Tara was sure that if she stayed around Xena long enough she could be feared and hated, too.
Now all she heard was, oh, did you hear what Xena and Gabrielle did? Did you hear what happened to Gabrielle? Did you hear what happened to Xena?
It could've been her. She could've been famous.
Gabrielle came back down the hill. Tara speeded up her packing, because she didn't want to face her.
Gabrielle came up to Tara and said, "You win, Tara. She's yours."
And she walked away.
Tara looked back at Xena, who was coming back down the hill towards her. Damn it, there was grief on her face. Xena was trying to hide it, but sadness and anger and even fear were evident on her features and in her body language.
Tara looked at the back of Gabrielle. Gabrielle hadn't looked back, and hadn't stopped walking.
She ran after Gabrielle, and stopped her.
"What do you mean, 'she's yours'?"
"You have what you want."
"She told you to get lost?"
"Tara, you have what you want. What difference does it make how you got it? Just take good care of her."
Gabrielle continued walking.
"Damn it!" yelled Tara. "I am so sick of you!"
She picked up a good size stone and threw it at the back of Gabrielle's head. Gabrielle stopped and held her head, and turned and looked at Tara.
"Ow," she said.
"That's for beating the crap out of me, and always thinking you're better than me! Well, you're not better than me! You hate me, and if you don't you're stupider than you look! I don't need you, and I don't need Xena! I don't need either one of you to be good! I can be good by myself if I wanna be!"
Tara walked angrily down the road, away from Gabrielle. Xena came up behind Gabrielle, and stood and watched her go.
"So the change in sidekicks is postponed?"
"Thank the gods. I don't know what I would've done without you. Were you really willing to leave?"
"If I had to. I was hoping Tara wouldn't let me."
Xena put one hand on the side of Gabrielle's neck, and reached up and touched Gabrielle's face tenderly. Gabrielle leaned into the caress.
"Gabrielle, every time I think you've amazed me more than you ever could, you do something like this. You are just magic, Gabrielle."
"If I'm so magic why can't I get through to that poor little kid? I'm so worried about her, Xena."
"I know. I'm sure we'll be seeing her again. One way or the other. Come on, let me take a look at that lump on your head."
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