Chapter Eleven



"Do not fear me but those who would become me." And with a slight bow, the figure moved slowly back towards the fading shadows.

Xena seethed with anger as she cursed her lack of weapons. This man would be hers if only…The room spun crazily and she dug her nails deeper into her right palm. It wouldn’t take much more to have her flat on her back, out cold. She needed a weapon, and needed it now.

She snorted softly. If she took her eyes off him, he’d be gone. And that would never do. She needed to learn everything she could before he vanished.

She took in his true height, his slender build, his grace and fluidity of movement, and the clear sense of bushido he seemed to wear as a second skin. Yes, this man was no ordinary thug sent to murder them in their sleep. Why had he come in so quickly after trying to kill them the first time? Surely, it would have been far better to attack when she was busy with the Captain? She tried to concentrate on whether it was Low Mountain dialect or rural low Chinese the man had spoken, and found her thoughts suddenly filled with Ming Tsu.

Her attention had wandered slightly, and she barely managed to look up in time to catch the man’s final gaze at the bard before he dropped from the window ledge. Stumbling towards his last point, Xena knew it would be futile to even consider going after him let alone trace his escape route. If her present condition was any indication, she’d be dead within the hour.

The Conqueror’s frustration began to recede as two soft hands were placed at her hip and then the bard molded herself to her, causing small tremors to be ignited across her back.

"I thought…" Gabrielle swallowed a sob and then squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

Every breath the Conqueror managed to drag into her lungs seemed composed of molten lead. When her knees began to vibrate with the strain of maintaining her upright stance, Xena gripped the bard’s wrist and pulled her close.

"I need you…"

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Not that again! Don’t you ever quit? Just because I thought you were dying, being murdered before my very eyes…Well, I really couldn’t see, but you know what I mean."

‘What was she blathering about? She had to listen…’

Leaning heavily against the stone wall, Xena pulled her robe open and tried to place the small hand over the tender flesh at the top of her right breast.

"Now look, Conqueror. I really don’t think this is the time or the place. Say, you don’t look very well." Gabrielle peered closer and then her head snapped back as she watched eyes as blue as the ocean begin to roll back into the Conqueror’s head.

"This isn’t a ploy, is it? I mean, you really are hurt?"

Xena began to gasp and her knees buckled suddenly and she slumped to the floor.

"You…push there…hard. Can’t breathe…"

‘Oh my gods, what do I do, maybe if I go fetch Ubris, she’ll know, that’s what I’ll do, yes…’

"Be dead soon…"

"No! Just…just tell me what to do."

Xena found she couldn’t lift her chin and the tiny motes sparkling behind her eyes had gotten quite a bit brighter. She was finding it very difficult to concentrate on the woman in front of her. What was she saying?

Gabrielle flapped her hands in frustration. "I don’t know what to do! Gods, you look so pale, Xena. What did that man do to you?"

‘She has such soft skin,’ thought the warrior, wondering briefly what it would be like to feel those hands caressing her face and see only love shining from eyes as green as fields of fallow pasture.

Part of the Conqueror railed against the cloying darkness, her imagination going on wild tangents as she thought of the young bard being left to fend for herself. She couldn’t leave…

Gabrielle watched with gathering alarm as the Conqueror’s jaw began to sag.

"No, no…Xena…stay with me…tell me what to do! Oh, gods! You said…what did you say? Push here…or there? Help me, Xena! I can’t lose you, not now!"

A sense of peace settled over the warrior as she felt all of the intensity of who she was leave her body. There was no more need for control, no desire to inflict pain. It was all gone. Only the truth of what this young woman had tried to offer her was left.

"Why…would you want me…to live?"

The bard began to cry as the warrior’s words became terribly slurred.

"Because…because I love you! Even though you’re a horribly mean and desperate woman, I love you! Even when all you want is to take, and give nothing in return, I love you!" She cried harder as Xena’s hand inched closer to her leg. She shuddered as the cold blue fingers fell against her, twitching once before falling still.

"No, I won’t let you just give up! Where is that bitch! Where is that woman who wanted to force me to her will, and who tormented me for hours until I all but screamed for release? I’m here, Xena…take me!"

Gabrielle sobbed frantically and began pulling on the collar of the silken robe, her fear and anger igniting within as the Conqueror’s body slumped sideways to the floor.

"Don’t you leave me! Don’t you dare leave me!" She pummeled her frustration upon the lifeless body of her…

"My soulmate, my lover, my life, my reason for being here!" Shaking the woman frantically produced no response at all, and Gabrielle finally sat back on her legs in defeat.

"What can I do? What did she say to do? I don’t know what she said!" She wiped her nose with the back of a shaking hand and then moved closer to lie her head against Xena’s chest.

She was so cold, almost like ice.

Gabrielle’s focus began to recede until the only thing she was aware of was the beating of her own heart. How could that be? Surely it would stop soon? How could it continue to beat when it’s been shattered into a million pieces? But no, it was beating strongly, as if unaware of the misery surrounding it. Each thump of her heart was like a sledgehammer against her soul and the bard closed her eyes tightly, willing the noise to cease and leave her alone in her torment!

Why didn’t she just die, too? She could if her will was strong enough, she reasoned. Concentrating deeply, the bard centered herself and then began to slow the beating of her heart. In her mind’s eye, she could sense each beat becoming less a part of the others. Each inhalation was tuned out, the twitch of her muscles was ignored, and finally all she could hear was a faint drumming in the background. She would concentrate on drowning even that out…and then there would be nothing.

Her nostrils flared and her chest contracted as she enforced her will upon the thriving life within herself. But try as she might, that slight beating wouldn’t go away. Perhaps she only needed to get more comfortable. Leaning against someone making noise was just making it very difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.

Her eyes flew open.

She pushed her ear harder against the soft skin below her cheek. At first she was unwilling to believe that the slight thumping might actually be something other than her own heart. Placing two fingers on her own pulse point, Gabrielle began to count the rhythm. Bump bump…bump bump…bump bump. It wasn’t anything like the one she could hear. That one was more of a bumpbump, bump, bumpbump, bump.

"Alright, Gabrielle. Settle down. And think. Now, what would Xena have been trying to say? She talked about pressure points before. She used them on that Captain. All right. I can use them on her. I don’t know where these pressure points are…but…I could run and get Ubris! She’ll know!"

The bard scrambled to her knees and then screamed with rage.

"No, godsbedamnit! I can’t leave! I have to…I have to…"

She looked down at the beautiful woman in gentle repose. She wasn’t dead. If she could hear a heartbeat, then the warrior was still alive. If only barely. So think.


‘Place your hand there and then press hard.’

Gabrielle blinked in consternation. Her head wiped back and forth as she checked the room. Someone had spoken, hadn’t they?

She swallowed painfully, certain that her heart was the lump sitting there.

Thinking back to the incidents earlier, Gabrielle tried to put her memories in some sort of order.

"Xena had tapped his shoulder gently. Alright, I can do that." She tapped the woman’s clavicle and waited, the small hopeful smile slipping as no change occurred.

"What did she say? Put your hand over there and press hard? But where?"

The bard’s mouth fell open, as her fingers seemed to move of their own volition. There, above her right breast was the spot she needed to concentrate on. Gabrielle bit her lip painfully and then just closed her eyes, offering up anything to those who would listen.

"I’ll give anything, anything at all, if only…let her live, please let her live." And then she took both index fingers and pressed into the spot.


She peered closer, placing her cheek against the lord’s lips. Very faint breath could be felt but it was hardly what the bard would consider an improvement. She poked the spot again, this time a little bit harder.

And still nothing.

Grinding her teeth in frustration, Gabrielle pressed her lips together, squeezed her eyes shut and then brought one tiny fist down hard.

She almost jumped in surprise as the warrior took a slow wheezing breath. Wringing her hands once, she bit her lip and then repeated the action.

When a deeper, much easier breath was taken, the bard decided to throw caution to the wind. She had both hands up high over her head with a gleam in her eye before common sense prevailed.

‘No, that might be too hard.’ She looked at one curled fist, nodded and then brought it down full force towards the Conqueror’s exposed chest.

"Ack!" She screamed as an iron grip settled around the descending wrist, stopping it in its tracks.

"Nuff. Are you…trying…to kill…me?"

With a strangled cry, the bard threw herself on top of the brunette and covered her face with kisses.

Xena began to thrash wildly as the newfound air she was dragging back into her burning lungs was deprived. A harsh breath was squeezed out of her as the bard began to hug her fiercely.

‘At this rate, my savior will kill me with kindness!’

She pushed weakly at the young woman, one hand pushing the bard’s shoulder as the other flailed miserably at her side.

‘Damned thing! Gods, what did that man do to me?’ A prickling sensation seemed to be moving up from her numbed fingers, dragging painful circulation back into parts given up for dead, and she bit back a scream of agony.

She’d been aware that the paralysis that seeped down from her shoulder and moved across her chest had effectively deadened the use of her left lung. If the bard hadn’t performed her deed almost flawlessly…The idea of both lungs being slowly turned into stone, squeezing the life from her, denying her even the reflexive action of breathing filled her with dread. Anything, she could withstand anything but that horrible feeling of being buried alive.

Gabrielle felt the warrior shudder against her and finally loosened her grip.

"I thought you were dead."

The room tilted at odd angles and Xena decided to just lie there, eyes closed, until things were put right again. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so disjointed if she held onto the body beside her.

"Damned fingers."

The smaller woman pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down into the still ashen face of the Conqueror. Taking the lord’s hand, she began stroking it softly.

"That man tried to kill you! What are we going to do? How many attempts have you had in the past few days? Is this normal? And what happened to those…mrphhh!"

Xena pressed her good hand tightly over the young woman’s mouth and pinned her with a very stern look.

"Do you always talk this much or am I being singled out for preferential treatment?"

Gabrielle blinked as the older woman struggled to get her words out. Lord Xena was still feeling the after effects from the attack. She pinched the Conqueror’s hand and waited for a reaction.

The skin twitched a little and the bard bit her lip. ‘What if…?’

Xena frowned as the young woman’s eyes filled with apprehension. Her head still seemed filled with yards of cotton, and she found herself blinking to keep from falling back into the welcome arms of the abyss. Xena began to pant as she struggled into a sitting position.

"Gods, Xena…no, lie back down. You might hurt yourself even more if you…"

"…Don’t get up. I have to. If someone were to come in right now…if he comes back…"

Both heads turned in tandem as the big doors to Xena’s chamber were pushed open.

"Ubris!" The blonde moved over to the servant girl quickly and then both women raced back to where the Conqueror was. Xena mumbled curse after curse as she struggled to drag herself up against the wall. The dark shadows lengthened as the Egyptian set flame to candle and the room was bathed in a soft yellow light.

"Lord, what has happened?" Ubris gestured the bard to help her move some of the furniture back to its rightful place and then she ran to fetch the guards.

"I’ll be back with help, lord!"

Xena struck her forehead with a slap as the words she’d wanted to say sat stupidly on her tongue. ‘I’ve got to get focused. If word gets out…’

"Help me up. Quickly!"

Gabrielle closed her retort with a snap as she saw the helpless rather worried look cross the Conqueror’s face.

"Yes, lord."

She grunted as the woman’s 175 pounds fell against her like a dead weight.

Xena smiled weakly. "Be thankful I’m not in full armour. That’s a bitch to move when a soldier’s injured."

Gabrielle arched one eyebrow thoughtfully, "I’ll try and keep that in mind. You never know when that kind of information will stand a bard in good stead."

She smirked as the warrior tried to roll her eyes. ‘Yes, she’s beginning to feel better.’ Gabrielle pursed her lips as the two of them staggered over to the bed.

"Shall I get something, Xena?" She winced as the Conqueror gritted her teeth against the pain.

"Just…look, girl. You can’t call me that, not in front of others, anyway. And I can’t look to be ailing or unfit in any way." Gabrielle began to feel a bit better as she watched the woman shake some feeling back into her fingers, though from the stiffness present in the rest of her arm and shoulder, it was going to take time before whatever had been done was past.

"I’ve got to think. If Da…if the person I believe is behind this, then he’ll have spies out trying to find the truth of my condition. Quick!"

Gabrielle had time to yelp as she was dragged into the bed. An unsteady hand was pressed against her protestations and then the uneven weight of the Conqueror settled over her frame.


"Quiet, girl…just play along." Xena waited a beat and then swallowed. "Please?"

Swallowing carefully and averting her eyes as the Conqueror wiggled her shoulders out of her robe, Gabrielle flinched as a wave of unchecked passion rolled through her. Her skin seemed to ignite where ever it came into contact with that of the Conqueror’s. Her nostrils twitched as the heady scent that was Xena seemed to permeate every part of her being.

Xena smiled down gently and then took her hand away. "There, that isn’t too bad, is it?" She smirked as she maneuvered her lower torso between the young bard’s legs.

Gabrielle squeaked and shook her head quickly.

"Good." Easing herself down carefully, the Conqueror winced as she dragged her useless hand up beside the blonde’s head.

"Can you feel anything, lord?"

Xena wiggled her hips into a better contact position and one dark brow rose suggestively.

"Oh, I’ve been feeling things for days, bard. It’s you who seems willing to ignore them."

Gabrielle’s jaw fell open. "That’s not true! I told you…"

The door burst open just as the Conqueror’s mouth put a stop to any further discussion.

Chapter 12

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