Random Thoughts -
Part 10 : The Great Escape
by Claire Withercross
Disclaimer : Xena and Gabrielle are copyright MCA /Universal, everything else is mine. Except the lyrics which are published by Charisma Music Publishing / Rondor Music.
Warning : This story raises the subject of a physical relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. If thats not your particular beverage, you have been warned.
Gabrielle groaned at the insistent whisper in her ear and the prodding at her shoulder.
"Gabrielle, come on, get up."
Gabrielle forced an uncooperative eye open. "Still dark," she slurred, and buried her head under the blankets. The covers were ripped from her. "Aw," she cried, and curled up in a ball against the chill. She heard some strange noises she couldn't quite recognise, it sounded almost like someone tapping a rusty hinge. She fought her natural curiosity to find out and drifted back off to sleep. A hand grabbed her upper arm and lifted her to her feet. "Mmnnnoo," she whimpered. "Leave me alone." She allowed her head to droop forward and found a soft, warm, leather clad chest. "S'nice," she breathed.
"Gabrielle!" The voice was accompanied by a gentle poking of her ribs.
"Whaa-aat?" she whined.
"I'm awake," she declared, standing up straight and opening her eyes wide.
"Hold this," said the dark form in front of her.
Gabrielle took hold of what was thrust into her hands, and watched the shape of Xena moving to the other side of the room. She yawned, stretched and started to drift off again. She shook herself awake and moved towards the warrior.
"Ha!" Xena exclaimed triumphantly as she peered behind a cupboard. She took the furniture in both arms and pulled it away from the wall. "Stand back," she warned the approaching bard.
Gabrielle side-stepped the warrior and wardrobe. "I'm sure your plan is good," she said. "Very good," she amended. "Excellent, even. But why do we have to do it at this godsforsaken hour? It's probably nearer to the time we go to bed than when we usually wake up."
"Probably," agreed Xena, paying little attention to the bard's complaint. She placed her hand on Gabrielle's back and steered her towards the passage recently concealed by the cupboard.
"So?" persisted the bard while she waited for Xena to pull the cupboard back into place.
"We have to be in position by dawn when the guards change over."
A spark flared in the darkness as Xena lit a torch. The warrior squeezed past the bard and walked down the passage. Gabrielle followed in her wake.
Something that had been crying for attention from Gabrielle's sleep fogged brain finally got through to her.
"Umm, Xena," she voiced her concern hesitantly. "What am I holding?"
"A rat," the warrior informed her matter-of-factly.
Gabrielle jumped, but managed not to scream, or drop the rat. "Why am I holding a dead rat?"
Xena turned to face her. "Who said anything about it being dead?"
"Okay. Why...am... I... holding... a... live... rat," she began slowly. "And can you please take it off me before I scream or throw it away or something else we'll both regret," she finished in a rush. Relief swept over her as her burden was removed.
"Hold the torch," said Xena.
"With pleasure." They started moving forward. Gabrielle glanced at the immobile rodent in Xena's hand. "If it's not dead, why isn't it moving?" she asked.
"I put a pinch on it."
"You put a pinch on a rat?" Gabrielle asked incredulously. Suddenly the strange noises she'd heard while waking up made sense. "She put a pinch on a rat," she muttered to herself. "It makes sense. She has many skills. I should know by now not to be surprised by anything she does." She frowned. "What do you want it for?" she asked.
"Dunno," shrugged the warrior. "You never know what might be useful."
"Ohhh Kaaayyy," said Gabrielle, thinking that Xena had finally become divorced from reality. Rescuing a group of prisoners wrongly incarcerated was acceptable. Getting up in the middle of the night to do it was pushing the limit. Putting a pinch on a rat in the hope it might be useful in the rescue attempt was too much.
The night guard made his last check on the prisoners, the next guard to check would be the day guard. Now was the time to make their move.
One of the prisoners stood up and made his way to the bars of the cell. He stood and listened intently while scanning the darkness. "She should be here now," he whispered to any of his fellow prisoners that were listening. "Anytime now."
He frowned. "Shes a-" He stifled a shriek and jumped back from the bars as Xena appeared before him. "Gods, Xena, have you got to do that?"
"This is an escape, I've got to be stealthy," replied the warrior.
The man beamed and swaggered slightly when a vision of loveliness appeared behind the warrior. "Hi, Gab," he grinned stupidly at the bard.
"Hey, Joxer," said Gabrielle with little interest.
The door to the cell opened and Xena ushered the prisoners out, while Gabrielle led them to the secret passageway. As Joxer left the cell she grabbed him by the neck and pulled him aside.
"I've got a little job for you," she said. "And this little rat is going to help you."
"What little rat?" asked Joxer.
"Hmm? Oh sorry. I was talking to my friend," she held the immobile rodent up for Joxer to see, and smiled.
"Very funny," mumbled Joxer, as Xena led him away and explained the job.
Joxer tugged at the guard uniform he was wearing.
"Leave it alone," said Xena, and slapped his hand away.
"It doesn't fit properly," he complained. "I don't think he was human, the sleeves seem to be in the wrong place."
"The sleeves are fine, quit griping."
Joxer raised his arm experimentally, he wrinkled his nose and hesitantly sniffed the armpit. "Ew, that stinks."
"Joxer!" hissed Xena, and glared at him. "The day guard is coming, don't blow it," she warned him as she slipped away into the shadows.
Joxer straightened up and tried a few guardly poses in which he wanted to be discovered. He ended up knocking his helmet off just as the day guard came around the corner.
From her hiding place, Xena rolled her eyes and sent a silent prayer to the gods.
"Hi!" called Joxer, and waved at the guard. "That time already. Wow, the nights just fly by."
"How are the pri-" the new guard said.
"The pri?" asked Joxer, settling his helmet back on his head.
The guard wrinkled his brow and opened and closed his mouth a few times. "The prisoners," he said slowly. "Do you...... nevermind," he seemed to think better of the question he was going to ask.
"Oh the prisoner is fine. Fast asleep," replied Joxer. "That's prisoner, singular. Not prisoners, plural, by the way."
"Uh?" the new guard shook his head to concentrate on what Joxer said.
"One prisoner only," repeated Joxer.
"I was told there were six."
"Six," snorted Joxer. "Do you think any right thinking person would leave me in charge of six prisoners."
"No," said the guard. He appeared to reach a decision. "Do you know you've got a dead rat on your shoulder."
"What?" said Joxer, and turned to look at his left shoulder.
"No on your right."
Joxer turned the other way, and laughed. "Oh very good," he said turning back to the guard. He grinned and pointed at him. "You had me going for a moment there. That's really funny. Dead rat on my shoulder indeed," he chuckled.
"But, what?" asked Joxer in all innocence.
"It's.....," he pointed at Joxer's shoulder.
"Ho, ho," said Joxer. "It was good first time, but let's not milk it too much, okay." He frowned suddenly. "Unless you're hallucinating. Like the way you thought someone told you there were six prisoners."
The guard considered this, and when he saw the naked woman walk out of the darkness he convinced himself he was not hallucinating. There was no woman. No rat. And only one prisoner.
Joxer removed the rat from his shoulder and was about to throw it away when Xena stopped him. She poked the rat and put it on the floor, where it squeaked weakly and climbed shakily to its feet.
"It was alive!" exclaimed Joxer.
"Uh-huh," said Xena, securing her armour.
"It was alive!" repeated Joxer.
"That's right," confirmed the warrior.
"I had a live rat on my shoulder."
"Hey!" said Xena, and clapped him on the back. "You were really good back there."
"I was? I mean, I was," he grinned. "You can count on me, Joxer the Mighty."
"Joxer, if you start singing, I'll kill you."
"I wasn't going to sing," he denied quickly. "So, you really thought I was good back there?"
"Yeah," said Xena as she walked away.
"I mean, really, really good?" he queried, walking after her.
He came to a sudden halt as Xena turned around and placed a hand on his chest.
"I'm a what?" she asked.
"Back in the cell, you were starting to say something. You said, 'She's a-'. So, I'm a what?"
"I-I-I um, I um....I uhh. I can't remember what I was going to say," he stumbled. "Something nice, obviously," he gave a short chuckle, and moved on ahead.
Xena grinned behind his back. 'Can't let him be pleased with himself for too long,' she thought evilly.
"With any luck it'll be a couple of hours before anyone notices you're gone," Xena said to the ex-prisoners. "There's a boat waiting for you at the river. Gabrielle and I will lay some false trails to throw them off your scent."
Xena accepted their thanks graciously.
"Joxer, you go with them. They may need your services."
Joxer nodded, and led the people away.
The warrior turned to look at Gabrielle, the bard was leaning against a wall, eyes closed, soaking up the newly risen sun.
"C'mon, sleepyhead," Xena poked her friend in the ribs. "No time for sleep just yet. We've got work to do."
They spent the rest of the morning misleading the guards and the afternoon getting as far away as possible.
They were crossing a bridge over a deep gorge when Xena felt Gabrielle slump against her back and let out a gentle snore. She pulled Argo to a halt on the other side and gently lowered the sleeping bard to the floor.
The warrior paused, looked back at the bridge and shivered.
She wrapped the bard up in some blankets, kissed her forehead and made her way onto the bridge.
It's been a long day, a tiring day. My love sleeps peacefully. She sleeps the sleep of the innocent, the gentle, the kind, the just. The last of the day's light reflects in her red-gold hair turning it into a fiery halo.
I kiss her forehead and she mumbles in her sleep.
My life feels out of control. Why? I've never had so much to live for, yet I can't live with the guilt of what I've done. The guilt of living happily when I'm responsible for so many not having that chance.
Gabrielle is the only thing keeping me sane; the only thing anchoring me to this life I don't deserve.
I don't deserve her. She doesn't deserve to be with me, this monster that will taint her, that will destroy the goodness in her.
That will destroy her.
As sure as I breathe I know she will suffer because of me. How? When? I don't know. All I do know is that I must save her from that fate. It will hurt her to do this, but not as much as it would hurt her if I don't.
It's for the greater good.
I make my way onto the bridge and look down to the floor of the canyon below. A hundred feet, give or take. It's not that far to fall considering how far I've fallen before.
Didn't this start with a bridge?
I look straight ahead into the red orb of the setting sun. The wind tugs at my body giving the impression of flying.... of falling. Will it feel like this?
Will I feel?
I close my eyes.
I see Gabrielle.
"Out of the tired world
Out of the upset
Into... the sunset"
The Great Escape - Hogarth/Helmer
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