DISCLAIMERS: Xena and Gabrielle are not mine, no copyright infringement is intended here. The other characters are mine to torture as I please. There is violence here, as one would expect with a certain Warrior Princes around.
Note to readers: I had a difficult time with the end of this, and I'm not sure how well it flows. If you have any comments, suggestions, or constructive criticism in general, I would gladly like to hear it. I hope you enjoy.
The Past Tense of Love
Hours later Sarah finally succumbed to consciousness. Her head was throbbing and she'd had the strangest dream...
Yawning hugely, she rubbed her eyes and paid attention to her surroundings. Her body stiffened as she realized she was not in her bed or on the floor of someone's living room. She was staring down the night sky in all its glory and whatever was beneath her was awfully lumpy. Squirming uncomfortably, she noticed the flicker of firelight that danced on the sagebrush surrounding her.
"Great. Where am I this time?" she asked herself, remembering the many times of late she'd awoken to strange surroundings. "It's time to lay off the bottle," she commented on her twelve pack a day beer habit.
"You're awake," a voice dripped with sarcasm beside her. "It's about time."
"Give her a break," a gentler voice cut in on the other side of her.
Turning her head, she found the ill-tempered woman she'd hoped to escape from as she'd mounted the wandering horse. As she met with ice blue eyes her heart sank, drowning with it the hope that the whole thing had been a dream.
"You," she stated simply.
"Me?" the dark headed one returned as she lay aside the sword she'd been sharpening.
Sarah reached for her temples and groaned as a horrible pain flared up in her right arm. She winced as she noticed the fresh trickle of blood making its way out from under her short sleeve and down her arm.
"You'll want to be careful with that."
"You think so?" Sarah snapped. "I'm not stupid," she mumbled as she climbed to her feet and wove her way through the sage to find a place to relieve herself. As she squatted down, the voices of the two strangers drifted on the still night air to meet her ears.
"You know, you could try being a little nicer," the one the tall woman had called Gabrielle began. "All she did was try and help, not mention save me from harm."
"I told you I don't trust her! Look at how strangely she's dressed. And those symbols on her body. One of them is Egyptian, the other from Chin. I"ve been to those places and they dress nothing like her."
"And I told you, if she meant any harm she had the perfect opportunity to do it by letting that man get to me or by doing harm herself when I was knocked out. Now when she gets back, be nice or you can eat your own cooking for the next moon."
An exasperated sigh from the warrior made it clear the conversation was over and Sarah smirked. She found it highly amusing the way the blonde had just scolded the killing machine. And what was even funnier was how she took it from the young girl.
Wiping the smile from her face, Sarah returned to the fireside and plopped down on the fuzzball that once could have been mistaken for a blanket. Her nose wrinkled as the smell of it wafted up to her nose.
"Something wrong?" the warrior asked with a raised eyebrow.
Ignoring her, Sarah turned to the blonde. "So you're Gabrielle?"
Taking the hand the stranger offered, she nodded.
"I'm Sarah. I just want to tell you that even though I don't know you, I think you must be a remarkable woman to put up with this." She nodded her head in the direction of the warrior.
The warrior's dark brows pulled together in a frown of warning and Gabrielle swatted at her.
"This," she began, "is Xena. You'll have to excuse her. Sometimes she forgets her manners and doesn't say thank you. And by the way, I want to say thank you for stopping that man. You might have saved my life." She smiled and gave Sarah's arm a squeeze before nudging Xena with her elbow.
"Thanks," Xena muttered and found something interesting on the ground to look at.
"What do you want from me?" she hissed at Gabrielle.
"At least try and act like you mean it."
Xena snorted, but relented. Looking into Sarah's green eyes she started over. "Thank you, Sarah, for helping my friend."
Sarah, who was about to say something about how she'd risked her life to try and help her as well, changed her mind. Grinning wickedly, she gave her own thanks.
"No prob. It was worth it to see this!"
Unable to stand it any longer, Xena jumped to her feet and stalked away from the two women.
"I'm going to check on things," she muttered.
"Is she always like this?" Sarah giggled.
"Only around strangers," Gabrielle answered through a grin.
"I guess I owe you my own thanks." Sarah's face turned sober. "Judging by the golf ball growing out of the side of my head, I really did a number when I fell off that horse. I don't know how you two found me but I'm glad you did."
"We'd have found you sooner but Xena had to run through her scroll of a thousand and one reasons why we shouldn't go after you." Rolling her eyes and waving her hand she continued. "But I convinced her to at least let me say thank you, so she tracked you and that's when we found you lying on the ground."
"Why doesn't she trust me?" Sarah asked, remembering the conversation- or rather tongue lashing- that Gabrielle had given Xena moments before.
"Look at you," she answered apologetically. "It's clear that you're not from around here."
Sarah looked down at herself. Her jeans were filthy and her T-shirt was covered in dust and blood. She grinned sheepishly. "I'm not usually this dirty. And speaking of not from around here, I don't know if you''ve noticed or not but Halloween is over. And most people from these parts don't go chasing after each other with swords. In fact, no one uses a sword these days."
Gabrielle's eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. "That's strange, because those men who attacked us are from a village a few miles back. And what is 'Halloween'?"
Sarah chuckled. "That's funny. 'What's Halloween?'" She playfully hit Gabrielle's knee. "You had me there for a minute!"
"I'm serious Sarah."
She searched Gabrielle's face, finding not even the scent of a joke there.
"You know, it's not funny to mess with people with head wounds."
"She's not 'messing' with anyone"
Both heads turned to see an irritated looking warrior standing next to the fire, arms crossed over her chest.
"Xena, I hate it when you sneak up like that," Gabrielle whined, holding a small hand over her heart. "You nearly scared me to death."
Sarah lunged to her feet, ignoring the way everything looked like she was on a merry-go-round. She marched straight for Xena, who towered over her own five feet and a few inches, not in the slightest bit intimidated.
"I know you don't like me. And I don't even care about that. So let me just say that it doesn't come as some big surprise that you would go to whatever length it took to get me away from you."
"What are you trying to say?" Xena growled, eyes narrowing.
"I told you before that I'm not stupid." Sarah didn't even try to hide the anger in her voice. "I know this whole 'you're not from around here' thing is just something to make me feel crazier than I already do. So do yourself a favor and don't even waste the breath that it takes to lie to me. I never wanted your company anyways!"
Sarah spun on her heel and stormed off into the darkness. She couldn't believe the audacity that woman had to try and play her like that. But what pissed her off even worse was that Gabrielle had joined in as well. Tears of anger made their way down her cheeks and she wished more than anything that Melissa was by her side. No, take that back- she wanted more than anything in the entire universe to be in her arms at that moment. Thinking of her only made Sarah's plight worse and she began to sob. Her whole being ached over the loss of her love.
The only thing she could do was run. Run from the pain, from the two freaks at the campfire, from the thought that her strawberry-haired love was resting in eternity while she roamed the world in eternal misery.
Sarah ran blindly for miles across the desert floor, her breath ripping from her chest in ragged gasps. Her face and arms were covered with scratches from the prickly arms of the sagebrush and her arm was bleeding heavily.
"I don't care," she thought. "Let me die. It couldn't be any worse than this."
Her foot caught on something and she found herself flat on her face, tears still streaming down her reddened cheeks. Her legs burned so bad that she couldn't get up. So she slumped back into the dirt and cried until there were no more tears to be shed.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet to go after the young woman but Xena's hand on her shoulder stopped her. Green eyes flashed angrily at blue, but she stopped.
"Let her be." She squeezed Gabrielle's shoulder softly. "She's upset about something other than me, that's obvious."
"Yeah, you just bring it out in her." Her eyes still had a fire in them.
"Look, I know I was a bit... harsh. But I still don't know if we can trust her."
"No, you don't know if you can trust her. She helped me when she could have gone the other way. I won't repay the favor that way. Why don't you go ...check on things... and I'll go see if she's alright."
Xena's heart stung with the sharpness of the words as she watched her friend grab her staff and go off into the darkness.
Sarah sat up a short while later and wiped the dust from her face. She felt horrible. Her head and arm were throbbing and her heart was aching more than it had in a long time. She ran her hand through her dark hair and yelped when her hand caught in a tangle.
"I'll bet I look like shit," she murmured to the stillness around her.
Her wobbly legs finally allowed her to stand and she peered into the darkness, trying to get some bearing on where she was. The landscape had changed, much to her chagrin. There were trees scattered in the distance and what appeared to be quite a bit of low-growing vegetation. But on the horizon she thought she could make out" lights? She squinted, trying to see better. Yes, that's what it appeared to be. But from what? There was no town around here for miles! Her chocolate eyebrows drew together in a frown. She'd wandered around this area her whole life and had never seen anything like this. She chuckled. Maybe it was a UFO. Some of the locals used to talk about it when they got really drunk.
"...those men who attacked us are from a village a few miles back..."
"No way. Not that craziness again."
There were no villages and certainly no men wearing tunics in these parts. Apparently the two women had taken some better knocks to the head during the fight today than she had. She'd rather believe it was aliens then that. Sarah's feet began to move towards the lights of their own volition while she argued with herself.
So then, smart one. Where did those men come from? They obviously weren't locals. And those 'friends' of yours. They were dressed just as strangely, don't you think?
"I know!" she yelled at the darkness. She didn't want to think about it anymore. She didn't want to think of anything.
Her arm began to itch and she realized with dismay that it was the dried blood from her wound that was causing it. She felt around the wound in the darkness and felt the swelling that had started. She figured that it was getting infected, especially after she'd layed there in the dirt wallowing around.
"I need water and I need it soon," she told herself. She sighed and looked at the lights glowing softly in the distance. Strange place or not, she'd have to go there if she wanted to get the thing cleaned up.
Sarah's feet stopped moving. What was the point? It didn't matter that there was something really weird going on. It didn't matter that she was just a tiny bit curious about it. What did matter was that Melissa Main was gone from her life forever. The only reason she'd ever had for living was not there anymore and all that was left in the wake of it was Sarah's empty shell.
Really, that's all she had been recently, if someone were to get technical. She'd gone through the motions after Melissa's death, going to work, going home, the same thing day after day until she realized that that was all there'd ever be.
So she just stopped going to work. And found the bottle. Getting falling down drunk every waking moment after she'd discovered the numbness it brought had been good enough for the time being. But after awhile that didn't even work and the pain burned right through the intoxication, not leaving her no matter how drunk she was. But she did notice that when she passed out after getting like that, the complete blackness that held her in its grip didn't let anything by. No dreams, no pain, no memories.
After her resources were tapped and she couldn't afford the alcohol anymore, Sarah had made up her mind. She'd decided that the blackness was the only thing that could save her. Which led to why she'd been out in the desert today. She was contemplating how she would force the blackness to come, forever.
A noise snapped her out of her thoughts. She wasn't sure what it was or where it had come from. Cocking her head to the side, she listened.
There it was again. A sound like footsteps trying to conceal themselves.
As she turned to see what direction it had come from she nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw a figure beside her clap its hand over her mouth.
"Don't yell!" the voice hissed quietly at her. "It's me, Gabrielle."
Sarah pried the woman's hand roughly off her mouth. "What are you doing here?"
Gabrielle grimaced at the ferocity in her voice, then bent down to pick up her staff.
"I came to see if you're alright." Her voice was concerned.
Sarah scowled, trying to make out the details of her face in the darkness. She seemed genuinely worried.
"As you can see I'm quite alright." Her tone with the woman didn't change.
"You won't be if you keep going towards that village."
Sarah looked again at the lights flickering in the distance. She could make out several people milling around, and a horse or two around the periphery. There were no vehicles, no horse trailers. An uneasy feeling crept up her spine and she looked nervously at Gabrielle.
"Come with me back to the camp. We'll figure out what to do with you in the morning," Gabrielle's soft voice pleaded.
Sarah jerked away from the hand that had tried to touch her arm. "I'm not going anywhere with you! If I never saw you and that- that-" she spluttered as she tried to find a word to describe Xena. "That beast you call a friend, it'll be too soon!"
She turned away from Gabrielle and marched straight for the- village? Well she'd prove to Gabrielle as soon as she got there that it wasn't a village, but maybe some ranch or something normal like that.
Gabrielle rushed to catch up with her, knowing that reason would be the only thing to get her to stay away from there.
"Sarah you'll get hurt if you keep going. Those men are dangerous."
"Sarah they'll kill you!"
When Sarah stopped walking and turned towards her, Gabrielle thought that she'd finally gotten through. That was until she saw her eyes. They had glazed over and seemed to be looking a thousand miles elsewhere, even though they were looking into her own. It was as if all that were left here was Sarah's body.
"Good." The hollowness in her voice left Gabrielle chilled to the bone.
Sarah resumed her pace towards what she thought would be peace. If indeed those men had come from here then it would be a blessing to die by their swords. The blackness was all she could think of.
Watching helplessly as Sarah walked toward what would be her death, Gabrielle fought with herself. She knew that the majority of the men there had died that day, but she knew there were still enough of them that if she were to try and protect Sarah she'd most likely die as well. She could try and get back to Xena for help, but she knew by the time she returned Sarah would be long dead.
Shifting her weight nervously back and forth on her feet, she gripped her staff. The only thing her conscience would let her do was go after the young woman. And hope that Xena would be right behind her like she usually was.
She hurried to catch up with Sarah but was too late. She watched in horror as she walked right into the village, drawing the attention of three men sitting at a table to herself.
Sarah saw them rise, swords drawn. Suddenly she knew that she'd been wrong. She was the stranger here. Something had happened and she was not in Kansas anymore. She looked at the ground, almost expecting to see Toto there.
She found herself laughing uncontrollably. She was soon out of breath and on her knees and when she opened her eyes she was looking at the tip of what appeared to be a very sharp sword. She continued smiling and looked up at the bearded man who bore it.
"You gonna use that or stand there all night?"
He looked mildly confused and glanced at the mustached face of the man next to him, who shrugged and said something in another language.
"Well?!" Sarah yelled and felt a boot in the small of her back knocking her face first into the dirt. Another boot followed into her ribs and she heard them laughing, calling to her in a taunting tone.
She tried to get up and was knocked back in the dirt, now with a bloody nose for her effort. This time the third man said something and she flinched as she waited for a blow to fall. What she got instead was pulled roughly to her feet. The man behind her was holding her arms so tight she thought she'd lose the feeling in them. She looked up to see the lecherous eyes of the bearded man roaming over her body. And it was then that she finally felt afraid.
Gabrielle had watched this turn of events with great trepidation. Not only did Sarah not make an attempt to defend herself, she was encouraging the abuse. She knew if she didn't make a move soon Sarah would get her wish. She couldn't let that happen. She'd seen something in Sarah, something she couldn't quite put her finger on. The girl had a wall up around herself the size of the known world and she'd be damned if she was going to let her get herself killed before she could do anything about it.
Eyeing her surroundings nervously, Gabrielle watched as two more men emerged from a nearby hut. She knew the odds were stacked terribly against her and Sarah. She needed a distraction.
Gods, where was Xena?
First thing was first- she needed to know exactly how many people she was dealing with and where they were. She needed to get to that hut to see if anyone remained there.
Gabrielle moved as quietly as she could, thankful for all the times she'd seen Xena sneak up on her enemies. Within seconds she'd made it unseen to the rear of the hut. She peeked through a gap in the thatched reeds that made up the walls, squinting as she peered in. Good, it was-
"Oh no," she whispered to herself. "Great Hera, no!"
A young woman, asleep or unconscious she wasn't sure, was lying at the foot of a cot on a mat. Naked. And badly bruised.
Gabrielle pulled away from the sight, bile rising up in the back of her throat. Clasping both hands over her mouth she willed herself not to make any noise. She looked wide-eyed about, making sure she hadn't been seen. And that's when she got the distraction she'd been looking for- only it was not what she'd expected.
Sarah saw the vile man's eyes glaze over and what was supposed to be a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. Her heart began to race and adrenaline flooded through her veins causing her already tired legs to quiver. The man chuckled and traced her jaw line with the tip of his calloused finger.
She closed her eyes and let loose with a ball of spit, She smiled until her head flew to the side from the force of the blow he gave her and she saw stars winking behind her eyelids.
Conan the barbarian, as she'd come to think of him, said something to his counterpart and she felt herself flung to the ground. Sarah opened her eyes, saw the man standing at her feet raising his tunic, and that's the last thing she clearly remembered.
Gabrielle's eyes widened in horror as she watched the scene in front of her turn to complete chaos. The control the men thought they had dissipated with a well placed kick to the groin. As the apparent ring leader doubled over in pain Sarah let loose with another kick to the knee that sent him sprawling in pain to the ground.
In surprise the man that had here-to-fore been holding Sarah down loosened his grip and she rolled to her side, using the momentum to lever herself to her knees. With a carefully placed punch the attacker was on her knees and at her level. She went straight for the sword sheathed on a leather belt at his side.
Gabrielle watched in revulsion as Sarah unsheathed the sword, rose to her feet and spun around with the sword at waist level in one motion. The headless body toppled to the ground, spilling blood over Sarah's strange boots. She turned, waiting for the next attacker to take her on and wasn't let down when another one charged her with his sword drawn.
Sarah waited until he was almost upon her before dropping to one knee and planting the blade firmly into his gut and using his momentum to hoist him up and over her shoulder.
The sword, however, remained where she'd put it, leaving her defenseless.
Seeing this a third man grinned and sauntered slowly towards her. He tossed his sword back and forth in his hands and appeared to be saying something to her. Gabrielle decided that she'd better get in there and do something. As soon as her feet started in Sarah's direction, the cocky warrior made his move. Time seemed to slow down as he jabbed the tip of his blade at Sarah, metal puncturing skin just to the left of her stomach. Her eyes grew wide in disbelief and she looked at her blood soaked hands trying to cover the wound.
Gabrielle froze in her tracks at what happened next. The look of disbelief left Sarah's face, replaced quickly with a hideous grin and a blood curdling scream. Momentarily surprised, the man was not quick enough to gauge what she would do next and promptly found himself on his back with Sarah's hands around his throat.
The other two men rushed towards him from different directions. Gabrielle cut off the one closest to her and prayed to whatever god might be listening that Sarah could handle the other. It was then that she heard Xena's battle cry and she focused on taking the man out in front of her.
Making quick work of him with her staff, she turned to see what was happening behind her. Sarah's fingers were still wrapped around the man's throat and she was bashing his head over and over into the ground. Xena had just disabled the second man and was yelling at Sarah to stop.
She didn't listen. Her face and upper body were covered in blood and a grayish-white substance. When Xena tried to pull her away, Sarah turned on her like a rabid dog. Arms flailing and going for any vulnerable place she could find, Sarah continued the onslaught until Xena took the pommel of her sword and cracked her over the head with it. The young woman's eyes rolled up into her head and she collapsed on top of the third man she'd killed.