Disclaimer: Everything Xena, Warrior Princess-ish in this story is copyright USA Studios/Renaissance Pictures. The story itself is copyright October 1998 to WordWarior. This is an 'alt' story, but not explicit.
Heat rose in shimmering waves, rising lazily to the horizon, the baking sand limitless. Two figures trudged wearily, bits of cloth on their heads, covering the backs of their necks. One wore dark leather -- an entirely inappropriate choice for a trek across the desert. The other had far too much bare skin showing, all of which was lobster red.
"Inky dinky blinky doo. I know a secret -- but do you?"
"Itchy, witchy, bitchy lass. I don't give a Bacchae's--"
"Xena! That is NOT a proper response!"
"I'm sorry. I just can't play a game that uses words like 'dinky blinky doo.' If you make me, I'll fall on my sword, right here and now."
"You could have just said so."
"I did. Fourteen dunes ago."
Gabrielle sighed heavily, squinting at the horizon with eyes shaded by a blistered hand. "I think I see something!"
"No, really. Look!"
Xena glanced up briefly, saw where Gabrielle was pointing then returned her eyes to her next step. "Mirage."
"There's palm trees... and birds and, oh, Xena -- water! I can see it clearly!"
"Mrrarr," said Xena, Gabrielle's hand suddenly covering her mouth.
"Please don't say, 'mirage' again," said the bard in a reasonable tone.
Xena removed the hand, spit out some sand and glared at her companion. "Illusion."
"What if it isn't?"
"And if it is? It's a coupla miles detour and when we get there, there's gonna be nothing but sand. We'll have lost that much more time without water. We have to keep going east, Gabrielle. It's our only hope."
"Do you see it? Just tell me if you see it. If you can honestly say that you see nothing but sand, I'll stop talking about it."
Xena glanced toward the area where Gabrielle was pointing then looked away quickly. "Whether I see it or not has nothing to do with anything. Mirages are like that. It's the light and the heat playing tricks on our eyes."
Gabrielle was silent. She stared at the possible oasis, licking her lips hungrily. After several minutes she said, "I think there are some date trees. They look like date trees. Not that I'm a date tree expert or anything, but yep, those look like the date trees we saw near Cleopatra's. Remember how yummy those dates were? Sweet, succulent, juices dripping down your chin..."
"...eeerraaaAAARRGH!" Xena stomped her feet in the sand, then turned to the north, muttering under her breath.
"Inky dinky blinky doo--"
"Play this game again, and I'll kill you," said Xena, finishing the rhyme.
"Then you suggest something."
"I suggest we don't take any more gigantic detours that turn out to be piles of sand -- which were remarkably like every other pile of sand we've seen."
"It was a mistake. Could've happened to anyone."
"It happened to us. And we're running out of water and there's no oases in sight."
"I said I was sorry."
Xena glanced at her contrite companion and her face softened. "It happens," she mumbled.
Gabrielle dug some sand out of her ear, her eyes on the water skin at Xena's waist. "What if we don't find water?"
"We'll find some."
"But... well, how long can we last without it?"
"Let's not worry about that until we keel over dead, okay?"
"Interesting attitude," murmured Gabrielle, licking her dry, cracked lips. "So when is our next sip?"
"Let's go a little further. Try to go as long as we can until we sip again. Stretch it."
"Okay. I'm not desperate or anything," lied Gabrielle.
Xena studied the bard for a few seconds, then stopped, uncorking the water skin. "Here. No sense being miserable."
"I can last."
"I know. But it'll help keep your strength up. Go ahead. Drink."
Gratefully, Gabrielle took the skin and did her best to take only a small sip. Xena nodded her approval, drank the same amount then stoppered the skin. Wordlessly, they continued to walk east.
Xena tried to avoid looking at it, but it was difficult to ignore the giant monolith blocking half the stars. "Let's sleep for a couple of hours."
Without a word, Gabrielle fell to her knees on the sand, shivering in the cold, desert night. The sand beneath her was still warm from the day's heat and she sighed as she flopped onto her stomach.
"Feels good, huh?" said Xena, her voice telling of her own exhaustion.
"We can use it as a blanket, of sorts. Bury our bodies in the sand to stave off the cold."
"G'idea." Gabrielle didn't move.
"Allow me," said Xena, smiling, though the night hid it from view. Carefully, she pushed sand over Gabrielle's legs and torso, the bard moaning contentedly at the feel of the soft, warm granules. When Xena finished, she did her best to cover herself and the two women lay side by side, half-buried in the desert.
"What's wrong?" asked Gabrielle after several minutes.
"Hmmm? Nothing. Go to sleep."
"Something's bothering you. I can tell."
Xena glanced up at the dark shape in the distance. "I don't know what that is. It's huge, though. And directly in our path. We're either going to have to climb it or go around it and I don't know if we have the strength to do either."
Gabrielle looked at the mysterious silhouette then back at her companion. Xena's features were barely discernible in the pale light of the stars in the moonless night. "We'll be okay. It's just heat and thirst, right?"
Xena tore her eyes away to meet those of the bard. "I'm sorry."
"Everything. I'm always getting you into trouble, putting you in harm's way."
"I chose this life, Xena. Don't apologize."
Gathering her courage, Xena said, "It isn't just outside forces, though. I've hurt you. Badly. We've hurt each other and I don't know why. You didn't sign up for that, Gabrielle."
"Xena, I ran off with an ex-warlord. Yes, I was young and a little naive, but I was never stupid. I knew the risks. And you -- you accepted me. Even when I betrayed you, you continued to accept me. We've made some lousy mistakes. Done some stupid, dangerous things to each other. Am I supposed to stop loving you? Because I can't. Maybe I should, but I can't."
"What if it happens again?"
"Don't let it."
"But what if--"
"Stop it, Xena. Just stop playing 'what if' games in your head." Gabrielle furrowed her brow, reaching out one hand to gently push the bangs out of Xena's eyes. "What's really going on? Why the sudden attack of conscience? More importantly, why the sudden loss of faith in yourself, in us?"
"I feel like I've led you to your death," she whispered after a long hesitation.
"Look at me. I'm fine. Yeah, got a bad sunburn and I could use a few quarts of water, but I'm not ready to give up. Why are you?"
Xena turned her head away, no longer able to look at the bard. "It's just a feeling. A premonition of sorts. I think I've pushed the fates one too many times and this time, I've overextended things."
"So you're an oracle now?"
Xena whipped her head back, angrily, erasing the grin on Gabrielle's face. "Don't make jokes. I'm serious."
"You are serious," Gabrielle whispered. "What's behind it? We've gotten out of far worse scrapes than this, Xena."
Xena was silent for several minutes, staring at the silhouette in the dark. "It's like it's talking to me. Mocking me. Telling me that I've already pushed my luck too far. I've beaten armies, oceans, fire, wind and gods. But here there are no gods. There's just sand, heat and... emptiness." Xena turned her head away from the horizon and looked at Gabrielle's pale features in the starlight. "I feel small here. The desert makes me feel small."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What if I told you that you aren't small to me? That I still see the Fury who saved me from Draco's men. The tornado that ripped through the Persian army. The tsunami that defeated Poseidon at his own game with Cecrops." The bard squirmed in her sandy 'bed' to face Xena squarely. "You are many things. But small? Never. Not in my eyes. If there are no gods here it's because we don't need them. We never have. You never have. You can lead us home without help from anyone or anything. You're Xena, Warrior Princess." She paused a moment, picking up a strand of Xena's hair that lay near her own head. "Besides, I need you. I always have and I always will."
Xena shook her head, trying to rid herself of her thoughts. "Forget what I said," she said, her voice stronger. "Just a momentary lapse. I'm over it."
"Maybe you just need sleep. In the morning, we'll find an oasis," Gabrielle said, knowing that Xena was just putting on a brave face. But then, she thought, that's all Xena really needs. Her brave face back again. She can do anything if she tells herself she can.
"Yeah, sleep," Xena muttered, staring at the spot on the horizon where there should be stars. Instead, she saw only the huge shape of whatever blocked them.
The gigantic dune stretched above them, seeming to reach all the way to the sun. Walking around it would add hours to their journey.
"If we climb it, we'll have a great view. Maybe we could spot an oasis," said Gabrielle.
"No, we're walking around it. I'm not letting you anywhere near it."
"You're being ridiculous."
"The decision is made. Come on." Xena began walking, but Gabrielle stood firm. After several steps, the warrior turned back to look at her companion. "Are we having a little mutiny, Gabrielle?"
"You're not my 'superior officer', Xena. We're a team. And my vote is that we climb this thing. You know I'm right. Under any other circumstances, you would have demanded we climb it."
Xena slowly walked back to the bard, staring at the dune. "It's too steep. The energy we'll expend climbing might be all we have. We could die before we ever reach the top."
"My, but you're giving up easily. This has nothing to do with 'expending energy'. It's all about your 'premonition,' isn't it?"
"What if it is?" snarled Xena, defensively.
"I'm willing to take the risk. Why won't you let me?"
"Because I'm not going to allow you to die from my stupidity."
"Correction: my stupidity. I'm the one who wants to climb." With that, Gabrielle attacked the base of the dune, digging in both feet and hands. Xena stood for several minutes, watching her. With a frustrated growl, she threw herself at the dune and began to climb.
An hour later, both women still clung to the dune, trying to keep their tenuous grasp on the shifting sand. Wind whipped grit into their eyes, ears, mouths and clothes -- blasting them like sharp, hot needles. Xena stayed as close to Gabrielle as she could without interfering with the bard's hands and feet.
"Why don't you go ahead," said Gabrielle, stopping for a moment to pant weakly. She wasn't about to admit that Xena was right, but the truth was unmistakable: the dune was too much for her in her weakened condition. She hadn't eaten in two days, had sipped only a few drops of water in untold hours and her skin was blistering off her body because of the relentless desert sun. "If you get to the top, you'll be able to see if there's an oasis on the other side. It would give us both strength to know that."
Xena examined Gabrielle closely for a few seconds then wearily shook her head. "I'm not leaving you."
"Xena, if we're going to survive, you need to be the strong woman you are. Staying here with me does neither of us any good. Show me that strength now: climb to the top and see what's out there."
"Xena, please. I need it. I need to know. I can make it if I know."
In a small voice, Xena whispered, "What if there's nothing there but more sand?"
Gabrielle swallowed, her saliva barely plentiful enough to call it such. "Then we'll know that, too. It's the wondering that I can't take. I'm right on this, Xena. Trust me."
Xena nodded once, leaned over and kissed Gabrielle gently on the cheek. "All right. Shouldn't take too long, we're almost there."
Quickly, the warrior attacked the dune with renewed vigor, vowing to get to the top as fast as possible, so that Gabrielle was not alone for long. Finally, she was able to peer over the edge of the dune, laying flat to keep the curved lip from crumbling beneath her weight. What she saw erased the fatigue and heat as if by magic.
"Gabrielle! Trees... water... tents... people! It's a genuine oasis! And not too far away! Oh Gabrielle, we're gonna make it!"
Gabrielle lifted herself off the face of the dune and waved at Xena, to acknowledge having heard, when a sudden gust of wind knocked her sideways. She lost her grip on the sand and began tumbling down, whole chunks of dune falling with her as she gained momentum. Xena looked on in horror as her friend was lost in a gigantic cloud of swirling sand. In a controlled scoot, Xena slipped back down the dune, trying to spot the green of Gabrielle's top or a flash of the pale pink cloth that covered her head. But the cloud was impenetrable.
The sand had begun to settle as Xena reached the bottom, the wind rerouted by a jutting section of the dune. Gabrielle was nowhere in sight.
"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted, her voice dry and cracked. "Gabrielle! Can you hear me? Where are you?" Nothing.
Frantically, Xena raked the dune with her eyes, looking for any clue that could tell her where to dig. Her eye caught a flash of color and she attacked the dune, unearthing the pale pink headcloth. "Gabrielle! Hold on, I'm coming!" she shouted, digging with renewed vigor.
Soon it became obvious that the cloth must have come off in the fall and that the bard was not beneath the sand where Xena was digging.
Tears threatened Xena's eyes as she frantically assaulted a new area, then another and another. "This can't be happening," she whispered as yet another hole filled in even as she clawed at it. "Gabrielle! Help me find you!" But the dune was silent.
Gabrielle lay still, surrounded by sand, floating in it. At the last moment, she had wrapped her arms around her face, forming a pocket, and it was because of this tiny stock of air that she was able to breathe. She knew she didn't have long. Already the air tasted stale and used. Her head was swimming, and she knew one leg was broken -- she'd heard it snap in the fall, could feel the shooting pain. She desperately wanted to wipe the sand out of her eyes and nose but didn't dare move her hands. Instead, she remained perfectly still, praying that the tenuous pocket of air would hold long enough for Xena to find her.
How is she going to find me? she asked herself. "Xena!" she said, her voice loud in the confined area. Several grains of sand sifted through her arms at the slight movement her shout had caused. No good, she realized. I can't yell. I can't move. What am I supposed to do?
She knew she couldn't relax even for a moment because the slightest lessening of the tension in her forearms caused sand to sift through, stealing her precious stash of air. The muscles in her arms started to sing in protest at the tightness with which she held them, but the bard kept them from shaking. She knew she had to distract herself from thoughts of the pain in her body.
Closing her eyes, she concentrated on calling to Xena with her mind. Not that she expected it to work, but it was something to do, something to give her focus. She didn't want to think about dying beneath the great desert. Better to think of Xena and the miracles that woman could accomplish.
Xena had stopped digging holes and was now poking her sword into the sand, hoping to hit something. She did it gently, so that she didn't wound Gabrielle if she found her. But her desperation to find the bard made this a difficult exercise in self control.
Poke, withdraw, step, poke, withdraw, step...
Suddenly, she cocked her head, moving up the dune several steps and began her search again. She wasn't sure why she felt the need to change spots, she just knew that she did. Careful, Xena, she told herself, not wanting to miss the bard in her eagerness to cover more ground.
Poke, withdraw, step, poke, withdraw, step...
What if she's already dead? The thoughts came unbidden to her mind. What if I miss her by inches as I search? What if I find her and it's simply too late? It's all my fault. If I hadn't insisted we track that idiot into the desert... And then what do I do when I see the oasis? I shout at her. Making her lose her concentration and then...
Gods. Poke, withdraw, step, poke, withdraw, step...
"Gabrielle!" she shouted, her voice raw again. She wanted to take a sip of water but wouldn't allow herself that luxury. Best to save it for Gabrielle, when she got out of the sand. She'd need every drop they had.
It was the tiniest of movements. Only a few grains of sand dislodged about four feet above and in front of Xena. At first, the warrior thought a beetle had disturbed them, but a closer inspection showed nothing nearby. On a chance, Xena carefully jabbed the sword into the sand...
...and hit something solid.
"Gabrielle! Hang on! I'm coming!" she shouted, her voice suddenly alive again. Frantically, she tore at the sand, unmindful of the new sand pouring in. If she could just get a hand on her, she could pull her free, she knew. Attacking the dune like a dog unearthing a bone, Xena continued to talk to her friend, praying her voice was being heard.
The muffled shout woke her. Gabrielle had blacked out for a moment, her leg shifting slightly as her consciousness had left her. Now she could hear Xena's voice and it was coming closer. Sand had sifted through her tensionless arms and was dangerously close to covering her mouth and nose. Quickly, the bard tightened her forearms, but the damage had already been done. Stars danced before her eyes in her black tomb and she willed herself to stay conscious just a little longer. What little was left of the stale air was all but useless now, but she knew that in minutes there'd be a lifetime of breaths if only she could hang on. And even as that thought gave her hope, Gabrielle took the last of the air into her lungs.
Suddenly, Xena felt leather with the tip of a finger. Gabrielle's boot. Xena pushed away some more sand, grabbed the bard's ankle firmly in both hands and pulled with all her strength. For several seconds, nothing happened, then suddenly, the sand began to give way. With a final, muscle-straining pull, Xena forced the dune to release the body of Gabrielle.
"No..." whispered Xena as the bard lay unmoving on the sand, her chest still and without breath. "Gabrielle... no..." Putting her mouth over the bard's, Xena pushed air into the younger woman's lungs. The warrior took another deep breath and tried again. And again. And again.
For an eternity, nothing happened. Then suddenly, Xena felt the lips beneath her own move against her. "Gabrielle!" she said, shaking the bard. A gasp and Gabrielle's eyes opened, blinking in the strong sunlight.
"Xe..." she rasped.
Quickly, Xena held the water bottle to Gabrielle's lips and the bard drank greedily, taking the first satisfying gulp she'd had in days.
"Careful, don't choke," said Xena, smiling even as tears made dark tracks in the grit that covered her face.
"Xena..." whispered Gabrielle, coughing as her lungs got used to breathing fresh air again.
"I'm here. You're okay now, Gabrielle, you're safe. I'm here." Xena started to examine the bard for injuries when a feeble hand stopped her. The warrior tenderly brushed some sand off Gabrielle's cheek, her eyebrows furrowed with worry. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I... I thought I was... dead. Saw... the oth...er side..."
"Shhh, you're back now. Gods..." whispered Xena, realizing how close she'd come to losing her yet again. "Thank you for coming back."
"Should have... walked around it..."
"Don't think about that. Don't worry about a thing. I'll take care of us." Xena offered her the water again and Gabrielle drank deeply.
"It's almost gone," said the bard with a slightly stronger voice.
"Over that dune is a caravan. And an oasis. Water, dates, trees, people, tents to keep the sun off of us -- everything."
"What if it's a mirage?" she asked, regret clearly in her eyes for having drunk so much of their water.
"It's not. It was real."
"How do you know?"
"I could hear them. The people. The sound carried up to the top of the dune. And it was like no mirage we've seen. The details, the colors, the activity -- they're there. An entire caravan of help, just a couple of hours away. I just need to get over that dune and we'll be safe, for good."
"My... my leg..."
"Is broken. I know. I need to go alone, Gabrielle. It'll be faster. I'll get help and bring it back. Water, food, shelter, everything. Shouldn't take me too long."
Looking around, Xena noticed a small niche in the dune, carved by the wind. Carefully, she dragged the bard over to it until the sun was blissfully off her skin. "Just stay here. Keep the water. You should be okay, the sun isn't directly on you."
"Take a good drink first. You need it."
"No, I can--"
"Xena, be logical." Gabrielle's strength was fading fast but she rallied to get this one point through. "Long walk. You... haven't been drinking. C'n go faster if you..."
"Okay," said Xena, taking a quick sip. Both women knew she'd barely taken any of the small amount left in the waterskin, but Gabrielle could no longer fight. She closed her eyes, her breathing relaxed now.
"What's this?" Xena asked, noticing a small gash on Gabrielle's calf for the first time.
"I dunno..." whispered Gabrielle, her eyes closed. "Broken..."
"No, that's the other leg. Must have done this with my sword," muttered Xena. She wrapped the cut with the pink cloth, wishing she could spare water to clean it. Soon enough, she thought. "I'll be back as fast as I can."
Gabrielle didn't answer. But the slow rise and fall of her chest told Xena it was only sleep, and not eternity, that had claimed her friend.
"Inky dinky blinky doo. I know a secret -- but do you?"
"Wicky, wacky, wocky woo. May I guess? Oh please, a clue?"
"That's it! I knew you could do this," said Gabrielle.
She was lying on a mountain of pillows inside a Bedouin tent. Her leg had been set and splinted, both women had been fed and clothed in the long, flowing robes of the desert people and although it was still bakingly hot, the sun was no longer directly on their skin.
A man entered the tent carrying a tray of dates. "A runner has been sent to the queen. Are you in need of anything else?" he asked.
"No, we're fine," said Xena, smiling. Good, she thought. Cleopatra can stop worrying.
Two weeks earlier, Xena and Gabrielle had answered a plea from the Egyptian queen, to intercept an assassin, Tybulous, bent on killing her. After three days of tracking, Xena had cornered him in a small village on the edge of the vast desert. The assassin had set the homes on fire as a diversion and had escaped into the Sahara. As soon as the fires had been doused, the two Greeks followed their quarry into the dunes. For days they had tracked him and just as they had been closing in on him, a sandstorm trapped them all, making it impossible to travel. Xena had managed to find some shelter in a tiny oasis, so both she and Gabrielle had been able to weather the storm, but the assassin hadn't been so lucky. They'd found his corpse, half buried, when they had begun the long trek back to Egypt.
Xena later learned that Cleopatra had sent several tribes of her beduin subjects out to search. Unfortunately, the Greeks had traveled much farther into the heart of the Sahara than anyone had suspected and the Egyptian queen had begun to despair of ever hearing from them again. Now, Xena knew, even as they both sat lazily in the tent, nibbling dates, that Cleopatra had probably saved their lives, just as they had saved hers.
"It's your turn!" said Gabrielle, breaking into Xena's thoughts.
"I hate this game."
"In rhyme, please!"
"While you get your yucks, I'll say this game sucks. Better?"
"Marginally," grumbled Gabrielle. "You told me that you'd do anything to make me happy. Why won't you play right?"
"Can we do it without rhyme? I won't complain all the time," Xena rhymed peevishly.
"Okay, fine. Now guess my secret."
"You're happy to be alive."
"I am, but that's not it."
"You'll never go to the beach again."
"Good point. But nope."
"Gimme a hint."
"It's about you."
"Me? You're mad because I cut your leg?" asked Xena, checking the wound again, though it was healing beautifully.
"Hardly! C'mon, Xena, you're not even trying."
"It's because I let you down," said Xena, suddenly serious. She placed two fingers on Gabrielle's lips to keep her from interrupting. "Even when I saw it coming, I still managed to let you get hurt. I should've insisted that we go around the dune. Should never have left you alone once we were on it. I'm forever leading you into danger and then failing to protect you once we're there."
Gabrielle sighed in exasperation. "You know where you went wrong? Just now, when you decided only to remember what you did and nothing at all that I said or did. Xena, you didn't make the mistakes on the big dune -- I did. I'm willing to acknowledge that -- why aren't you?"
"No, listen to me. You can be demanding and overbearing and autocratic. Sometimes you make decisions that leave me no voice whatsoever. You make up your mind and then pursue whatever it is with blinders on." Gabrielle took a deep breath, calming herself, then took Xena's hands into her own, squeezing them gently. "It felt good to have you listen to me, Xena. Even though I sort of forced your hand... it still felt good."
"But you almost died."
"This time. But maybe next time, my ideas will keep us from dying." Gabrielle shook her head, trying to translate into words the thoughts that were streaming through her mind. "Look. I just want to have a voice, okay? I insisted on doing things my way in the desert because I was tired of always following your plans, no matter what. So maybe I went a little too far and stopped thinking logically. I just wanted a victory, and nothing else mattered. But I wouldn't have been that way if you'd listen to me more. Is being right more important to you than I am?"
"No," Xena whispered, her brow furrowed. "But we should have gone around the dune. Am I supposed to pretend your way was the right choice?"
"No, that time you were right. And a lot of other times as well. But there have been times when you weren't. Out there, under that desert sky when we were buried in the sand trying to sleep, I thought maybe you were changing a little. You were apologizing for past hurts and I thought you were saying that not every decision is a good one. Like following Tybulous into the desert in the first place. That's what I thought you were thinking about. I didn't want to do it, but you insisted."
Xena looked away from Gabrielle, a muscle in her jaw working. "I explained that to you before. If we'd let him get away--"
"He'd have died in the sandstorm, same as what happened to him when we followed him. He was a Roman, Xena. City born and bred. He wasn't dressed for the desert -- didn't even have a waterskin! He wasn't coming back. He was a fool and died a fool's death. I saw that, but you refused. Wouldn't even listen to my reasoning. You just wanted to make the kill because he was one of Caesar's friends and you knew it would be a coup that you had been the one to defeat him."
"We had to save Cleopatra--"
"Xena, you aren't listening to me. He would have died after you chased him into the Sahara. You'd won. Cleopatra was safe. But that wasn't good enough. You wanted to personally stick your sword in him, because of Caesar. You know I'm right."
Xena waved a dismissive hand, not quite willing to concede. "So why did you go with me if you were so certain it was a bad idea? You could have stayed behind." Xena avoided the bard's eyes, the truth of Gabrielle's assessment now clear in the warrior's posture and the sudden pressure in the hands that held hers.
"No. I couldn't stay behind because we're partners. Where you go, I go. This isn't about that. This is about giving me a voice in that partnership."
Finally, Xena met her eyes again. "I did want to be the one to kill him," she admitted quietly.
"Thank you," said Gabrielle, knowing what the admission had cost. "But you have to be careful not to let vengeance cloud your thinking."
"Vengeance..." whispered Xena, remembering a cliff overlooking an ocean and the weight of Gabrielle, held aloft.
Gabrielle could read her thoughts and stroked Xena's cheek softly. "You see? Look what it can make you do. And look what jealousy made me do." It took all of her strength not to duck her head, remembering how she had almost gotten Xena killed because of this crippling emotion.
"We're quite a pair, aren't we?"
"But that's the key, Xena. We're a pair. Between us, we'll do just fine. As long we allow ourselves to temper each other." Gabrielle paused a moment, collecting her thoughts. "Xena, you are very forceful and stubborn. And sometimes, I just give up fighting you. I go along because it's easier to do that than to stand up for what I believe. That's what I did when you said you wanted to follow Tybulous into the desert. I gave up, even though I knew your thinking was clouded."
"You weren't so amenable about the dune."
"No, but tell me the truth, Xena. You thought it was better to climb it, too. Right?" Gabrielle poked her gently. "Right?"
"Under ordinary circumstances, yes. If I'd been alone, that's what I would've done. But I knew that it was wrong for you, and therefore wrong for us."
"But you let me talk you into it. Why?"
"You said you could do it. I try not to underestimate you, so I believed you. And you could have. If things hadn't happened as they did, you'd have made it." She thought a moment. "And I was angry. At myself, at the desert, at the dune, at you -- I wanted out. I wanted to get out as fast as possible and that was the quickest way to do it."
"Because you knew you had been wrong to follow him."
"Yeah. I knew I had been wrong."
Gabrielle could see how difficult it was for Xena to admit that, and looked with sympathy at the pain on her features. "Maybe it wasn't," the bard whispered.
"What? Five minutes ago you said--"
"I know. It sounds contradictory. But we don't know what might have happened. Maybe he wouldn't have died if we hadn't chased him. Maybe he would have found the oasis, survived the storm and then gone back to kill Cleopatra. We'll never know."
"Do you believe that?"
"No," said Gabrielle. "But that doesn't matter. The point is that maybe I was busy blaming you for making a wrong decision that wasn't wrong at all. Maybe I need to take more responsibility. It's easy to let you decide things. That's part of the price of having a voice, isn't it? Knowing that I could be wrong." Gabrielle picked up a date and examined it's shiny skin. Thoughtfully, she bit into it, the juices trickling over her lips and onto her chin. She wiped the traces absently as she looked speculatively at her friend. "Xena, you can handle anything the world throws at you. Alone. You don't need me. So why am I here?"
Xena didn't answer right away, giving the question the thought it deserved. No pat answers would do. "I give the appearance I can handle anything alone simply because you're here."
"Gabrielle, think about it. Before I met you I was as alone as anyone could ever be. I don't mean that I didn't have people around me. I was usually in a crowd. Leading an army, conquering villages and nations. Surrounded at all times but empty. Alone. Did I handle everything the world threw at me? Yeah. Did I handle everything well? No, I didn't. I handled some, botched others. I drifted and flowed on a river of mindless conquest. Every once in awhile, someone would try to reach me. Would throw me a line and say, 'Grab it and I'll save you!' And I would laugh because I didn't think I needed saving. I was fine, all by myself. Powerful and unbeaten."
Xena dabbed at a tiny spot of date juice on Gabrielle's chin, smiling tenderly. "I don't think you saved me, Gabrielle, any more than I saved you. I think that we were just... not whole without each other. That we both were living with emptiness. Yes, I could have left you behind and gone into the desert alone. I could have killed Caesar's man, climbed that dune and returned to Egypt in safety. But only because I would have known you were waiting for me. And if, for some reason, you were gone, as I'd thought you were when you fell into Dahok's fire, well, I would still have been able to do it. Because you would have been in here," she said, putting her hand over her heart. "You've dispelled the emptiness and given me a vision of myself as someone who can do anything. Not drift, not float, but with purpose and fire. Alone. With you."
"I did all that?" whispered Gabrielle, awed.
"You wanted a voice. You have it. You've always had it with the important things. But I'll make sure you know it in the details as well." Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms and lowered them both back to the cushions, holding the bard close.
"You never guessed my secret," said Gabrielle, snuggling her head against the warrior's shoulder.
"Why don't you just tell me. Without the rhymes."
"All right, here it is: I love you."
Xena smiled. "Not much of a secret, is it?"
"Guess not. You complaining?"
"Not even a little bit," said Xena, placing a sweet kiss on Gabrielle's lips. "Maybe it's not such a bad game after all."
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