A Near Life Experience, Too
by Claire Withercross
Disclaimer : The characters in this story are copyright MCA/Universal
Lyrics copyright Dark Wings/Songwaves Music
Violence/Sex Warning : No more than an average episode.
Thanks : To Ann for putting up with an annoying bard above and beyond the call of sanity. To everyone who wrote and said how much they enjoyed "Waiting To Happen", special mention to Celine Chamberlin for getting in second (so close!). To everyone who read it and didnt write.
And to those who have not yet read it, read it!
Dedication : Id like to dedicate this story to my sister for driving a hundred miles to take me home.
Other ramblings : This is a what if story. If you want to know what what if then read it. Also read the complementary story "A Near Life Experience".
"Take me! Let the others go," she had said defiantly.
It was simultaneously the bravest and stupidest thing I'd seen anybody do. Brave, because she was willing to sacrifice herself for others. Stupid, because she had a snowball's chance in Tartarus of Draco's men accepting her offer. Though I guess she didn't know that at the time.
The warrior part of me wanted to leap across to defend the brave/stupid young woman. To stand and fight by her side. But I had just buried my weapons. I had given up that part of my life; the violent part.
I couldn't go back to that.
My internal struggle was enough to allow Hector time to strike the young woman, Gabrielle was the name I'd heard someone call her. Before I knew what was happening I had resigned myself to not fighting, and I found myself rounded up with the village women.
We were led away to Draco's camp and I ended up in the same cage as the unconscious Gabrielle. I felt somehow responsible for her and sat near her. I begged a damp cloth off of a guard to press to the wound on her head. When she came round and looked up at me with innocent green eyes, I realised I had made a mistake.
I had hesitated in a battle situation. A potentially fatal mistake, and one which Gabrielle and the other women were paying for. I felt revolted with myself. I could've saved them.
She groaned as she tried to sit up.
"Take it easy," I said, trying my best to sound normal.
I pressed the cloth to her head, causing her to wince. I had a sudden flash of hatred for myself for causing her pain.
I apologised to her. "Don't worry, it's not too bad. It'll be sore for a day or so, but there won't be any permanent damage."
"Gabrielle!" I heard a voice call out. It was the young woman in the next cage who I'd noticed silently watching me tend Gabrielle. "Gabrielle! Are you all right?"
Gabrielle turned to look at the woman. "I'm fine," she said. and held out a hand. The cages were too far apart for them to reach each other.
"What's all this noise?" Hector, the head guard wandered into view. "Oh, it's you. I might have guessed," he sneered at Gabrielle. He attempted to kick her hand, but she was too quick for him.
"Keep the noise down, or I'll teach you a lesson in manners you won't ever forget," he threatened unconvincingly.
"Your boss won't like you damaging his goods," I said to him.
He attempted a laugh. "I know ways of 'damaging' without any outward sign."
'Really? I've always preferred the direct method myself,' I thought. Or did I say that out loud?
He looked me up and down, laughed again and walked away.
I glared at him until he disappeared. I turned back to Gabrielle, she was watching me, and by the look on her face I think I was scaring her. I smiled and she seemed to relax.
"I'm Gabrielle," she said. "And you are?"
I was still feeling shame. I wanted to tell her my name, but I couldn't. Despite already being disgusted with myself for my lack of action I did a cowardly thing. I lied.
"Uh...um, I... Serena," I said the first name I could think of.
"That's my sister Lila," she pointed to the other cage.
Lila gave a little smile and waved.
"We'll get out of this, I promise," Gabrielle told her.
I resolved then, that I would get them out, no matter what I had to do.
Hector bellowed for quiet, but stayed away. I must have frightened him.
"What brought you to Poteidaia?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Just passing through."
I looked around outside the cage, trying to formulate a plan. I turned back to Gabrielle and smiled. I didn't know what else to do or say
"Just passing through? In your slip?"
I looked down at what I was wearing. "Long story," I shrugged.
"I don't have anything planned for the rest of this evening."
I smiled ruefully and shook my head. I'd already lied to her once, I couldn't do it again.
It got colder as it got darker. I saw Gabrielle shiver and automatically rubbed her arms to try and warm her.
"Thanks," she said. "Aren't you cold?"
"I'm used to it," I replied. "Here," I gave her the remainder of her my bread which the guards had given us.
"I suppose you don't feel hunger, either."
"I'm used to it." 'Gods, my conversation stinks!'
Fate intervened at that point, and Hector came to take me to Draco. I had seen Draco from a distance earlier, and though he had looked over in the direction of the cages, I wasn't sure if he had seen me.
I allowed the guards to bind my hands behind my back and lead me away. The slave boss was his usual charming self. It might have fooled a casual observer, but underneath that surface charm was a very dangerous man. The charm was not false, but merely part of his overall make up.
"Would you like something to eat, or drink?" he offered generously as any pleasant host would. The fact that I was wearing a dirty shift and had my hands bound didn't appear to register with him.
I told him that before I would accept any hospitality I wanted Gabrielle and her sister put together. As well as the prisoners be given blankets.
"Why should I do that?" he asked politely
"Just do it or I'll rip your stomach out through your mouth."
We both laughed. We both knew what I was capable of, despite being bound I could still hurt him. We both knew that he had a good chance of beating me. He relented, probably under the impression that he could get something from me in return later.
He called a guard and ordered him to get Hector.
A few moments later the head guard entered. Draco ordered him to carry out my request.
"You're joking," Hector said. "Since when do we care about that sort of thing?"
"NOW!" Draco raised his voice.
Hector squirmed and tried to retain a dignified posture, but failed miserably. The way he left the tent could almost be described as a flounce.
Draco followed to see his orders were carried out, leaving me alone in the tent. At the screams, I hurried out.
Draco was striding across the camp to sort out the problem. He pushed Hector away and ordered two guards out of the cage. He calmed down Lila and looked over at Gabrielle. She turned her gaze in my direction. I'm not sure if she saw me, but I hung my head in shame. What must she be thinking?
On his return Draco cut my bonds, and started going on about fantasising being with me in bed or battle. I didn't pay much attention, I was working on a plan. But any plan required getting hold of my weapons.
All night we worked our charms on each other. Him to get me into bed, and I to get him to let me go. The obvious conclusion was to give the other what they wanted. I had promised myself to do whatever it took to gain the release of the women. Besides, that scar I gave him makes him look cute.
I think I came out on top, he let me borrow a horse to take me back to Poteidaia. Gar, the guard who accompanied me in order to take the horse back was not a particularly pleasant riding companion. He kept looking at me with a mixture of fear and loathing. Whenever I caught him looking, I always smiled. For some reason this tends to scare some men, and Gar was one of them. Anyway, I was not after stimulating conversation.
I didn't think it would be wise to get too close to the village with one of Draco's men, so I told Gar to return when we were about five miles away. He took the reins of my horse as soon as I dismounted and rode away without looking back.
As I walked I whistled for Argo. Within a few minutes the golden mare trotted into sight. She shook her head a few times as if annoyed at me for leaving her, but showed no other signs of discontent when I mounted. I recovered my weapons and armour, and went to intercept Draco and his 'property'. I knew where they were going and I knew I could move faster than them, so there was no hurry and I had time to add the finishing touches to my plan.
But things very rarely go to plan.
I got ahead of Draco and waited in the road for him. That much was in my plan the rest wasn't.
Draco approached me, arms spread wide. He was playing it cautious, because he could tell I meant business.
"What do you want?"
"The release of the prisoners will do for a start."
I noticed several of the guards slip into the trees to try and outflank. So I grabbed Draco by the throat.
"Call your men back, Draco," I shouted loud enough for the guards to hear me. "Or you die on the spot."
Draco, called his men back.
"If you want them, you should at least earn them properly, not just take them," he said to me.
"Why not?" I replied. "You took them."
"I have a business to run."
"Very well. I'll fight you for them. If I win, you let them go."
"And what if I win?" asked Draco.
"Hmm. I hadn't considered that possibility," I teased him. "Don't worry, you won't win."
"Okay," said Draco. "I'll fight you for them. But only on my terms."
"What are they?"
"If you win, I'll let them go. If I win, you join them."
I nodded. "Sounds fair."
"We'll fight with staffs. First one to the ground loses."
"That's fine by me."
"And we fight blindfolded."
I smiled, Draco was always a comedian.
"Deal," I agreed.
Draco ordered his guards to bring the staffs and blindfolds. The staff they gave me was adequate I decided after giving it a couple twirls. I nodded to the guard holding my blindfold to put it on me.
"If any of the prisoners speak: kill them." Draco told his guards.
I laughed, he was so predictable.
"I knew you'd say that," I told him. "The same goes for your men. If any of them speaks, I'll kill them."
"If any of them speaks, I'll kill them."
"You spoil all my fun," I chuckled, and took up a fighting stance.
From the outside two sightless fighters might seem impressive, but to a skilled warrior sight is only one of five senses. People make noise, even when trying to be quiet, and body odours and heat are detectable to those attuned to such things. Don't get me wrong, sight is important to a warrior and their effectiveness is diminished by the loss of it, though the very best can compensate enough to beat even a sighted opponent.
I would put myself, and Draco into that category.
I only made one real mistake in the fight, and it almost cost me my freedom. I sensed a guard make a less than subtle attempt to trip me, so I dealt with him and allowed myself a small laugh. That distraction allowed Draco to launch an attack and it was only by chance that his first strike missed me. I happened to move out of the way just in time. His second strike found its target though. it caught the back of my legs and lifted me off my feet.
Fortunately I collected him as I fell. We both scrambled to our feet ripping off our blindfolds.
"I win," declared Draco. "I knocked you over."
"I knocked you over," I countered
"But I knocked you over first."
He was playing the comedian again. Only this time he wasn't funny.
"You hit the ground first," I explained.
"Then we'll call it a draw."
"We fight on until there's a clear winner."
"Hear me out first," said Draco. He beckoned me away to the side of the road, and made me a tempting offer.
One I almost accepted.
"We're evenly matched," he whispered. "We've got nothing to prove by fighting each other. If you call it a draw I'll let you have the mouthy blonde. I'll even throw in her sister if you want."
I stared off into the distance. I couldn't actually believe I was considering the offer. Yet a few short weeks ago I would probably have accepted without thought, or conscience.
"No," I answered.
"What if I don't want to continue to fight?"
"You have no choice."
I grabbed my chakram and threw it. It ricocheted off trees, rocks, guard's helmets and the chains binding the prisoners together. After completing its circuit it flew back into my hand.
"I think it's time for the prisoners to go home. Don't you, Draco?"
Draco scowled, then smiled. "I'll let them go. For old times' sake."
My focus was on the guards and Draco as the women made their escape. But I noticed Gabrielle linger as if she wanted to say something. Curse me probably, who could blame her.
Lila called Gabrielle and the two of them fled with the rest.
I returned to the village a few days later. The idea was to explain my actions, to apologise for not acting sooner. I mentioned about trying to turn my life around and not being able to do it alone, when Lila volunteered her services. A part of me wanted Gabrielle to come, but I couldnt crush the eager look on Lilas face and I found myself accepting her offer.
Over the years I have often been envious of Gabrielles simple life in Poteidaia.
"Xena?" a voice interrupts my train of thought.
I recognise the particular tone of my name and the question that is going to accompany it.
"Xi," I answer gently, and look across at my companion. She is beautiful and charming, and useful in a fight, but after all this time she still hasnt learnt to read and write very well. I guess we all have things we find difficult to do, Lila cant spell my name, and I cant find the courage to go back to Poteidaia.
I havent been back since being captured by Draco.
"Dont let the chance pass you by
youve got to reach out and grab it"
A Near Life Experience - Walkyier
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