First published: September 2008
DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, its characters and back-story are copyright MCA/Universal, StudioUSA, and Renaissance Pictures. This story incorporating those characters is copyright Ian Hayes.
VIOLENCE WARNING: None!
SEXUAL CONTENT: None!
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The following three short pieces are depictions of conversations that may have taken place between Xena and Gabrielle, instigated by the events that took place during the season one episodes: The Titans, Prometheus and Mortal Beloved.
To set the scene in each case, and for those of us who have somewhat less than perfect memories, each piece has a short preface that describes the significant events within the relevant episode. Note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of the episode, rather it covers only those events that directly relate to the conversation. Consequently, if yours is a perfect memory, you can skip the preface.
During The Titans, Xena and Gabrielle are holed up in a temple trying to figure out how to deal with the Titans that Gabrielle had unwittingly freed. Discovering that reading a mystical scroll would return the Titans to their stony prison, Gabrielle tries to set out to put right what she undid in the first place. Xena won't let her go since she feels it is too risky - the scroll is located in the cavern with the Titans. Gabrielle tries to insist, she is the only one who can chant the scroll correctly anyway, but Xena is harsh and extremely dismissive of her, much to her chagrin. Gabrielle's feelings boil over the next morning after Xena discovers her snuggled up with one of the acolytes from the temple and looks somewhat disapprovingly at her. She feels Xena thinks of her as "just a kid" and although Xena denies it, things are not resolved.
Gabrielle stood up from preparing the fish that Xena had caught earlier in the nearby stream and walked over to the saddlebags that were resting alongside the sleeping furs that had been laid out in the small but well organised camp. She opened the flap of one and delved into its depths to retrieve a small packet. She sniffed at it, nodding to herself and then returned to the almost-ready-to-cook fish. Opening the packet she looked inside and frowned before upending it and sprinkling the last of its contents onto the fish. "Xena," she began, "in the morning I'll pop back into the village. We've run out of those herbs that go really well with fish and I'm sure that they will have some there I can buy."
The warrior's rhythmical stroking of the oil stone along the edge of her sword paused and she glanced up to look at her friend from her seat on a large rock. "I've got to repair one of Argo's bridle links in the morning but once that's done we can go." She resumed dressing her sword's blade, expecting that would conclude the planning for the morning.
"No problem," Gabrielle replied, putting a few final touches to the fish. "I can do that while you're sorting out the bridle. There's no point in both of us trailing back there."
The metallic scraping stopped again but Xena didn't look up straight away. She stared, unfocussed at the blade in her hands for several long moments. Eventually she said, in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. "No! I don't want you going back there alone."
It was Gabrielle's turn to stop what she was doing. Her gaze lifted from the fish and she looked into the fire in front of her. "Why not?" Her voice carried more than a hint of challenge in its tone.
Xena paused another moment before replying. "Some of those villagers weren't too friendly. They might blame you for causing the damage to their property by annoying the Titans."
Gabrielle turned to look at her. "Oh come on Xena," she said. "Where did you get that idea from? It seemed to me that most of them were just really pleased that we had turned the Titans back to stone before anyone got hurt."
Xena looked up to meet the bard's challenging gaze. "I don't want to take any chances. We'll go together." She resumed her sword sharpening again, the discussion at an end.
"That's ridiculous. All the people I saw were decent folk and really quite friendly, they were just frightened. I'm quite capable of going back there to buy some herbs on my own."
The sharpening didn't break its steady rhythm this time. "I said, we'll go together Gabrielle."
Gabrielle stood and paced the three strides to far edge of their camp. She stopped and stared into the woods in front of her. Her shoulders were tense and her hands bunched into fists. She whirled and faced the warrior, her face slightly flushed in the glow from the campfire. "Why don't you have any trust in me Xena?" Her voice was strained and loud with barely suppressed anger. "You treat me like a child, you don't take anything I say or can do seriously. You just have no respect for me at all." She stopped, breathing deeply, staring defiantly into Xena's eyes.
Xena stopped again and put her sword and stone onto the ground beside her. She expelled an exasperated sigh and looked up to meet Gabrielle's eyes, saying in a voice carrying a little more irritation than she intended. "Look, if this is about what happened in the temple, then I'm sorry, I..."
"NO! This isn't about what happened in the temple...well not specifically. This is about how you treat me. I'm starting to feel like I can't take a visit to the bushes without your permission and having you standing guard."
The warrior's patience snapped. "Listen Gabrielle, there are lots of dangers out here and you don't know the half of them. You're young and you don't have any experience of dealing with them."
Gabrielle put her fists onto her hips. "Xena, I'm seventeen summers for crying out loud."
"Yes, 'only' seventeen and this is the first time you've been anywhere other than Potaedia, more or less. It's my responsibility to look after you and make sure you're safe, so let me make the decisions."
The bard's anger was not assuaged. "I thought we were friends, Xena, I don't want another parent." She snapped.
Xena had her mouth open about to issue another retort, but at that she stopped, her mouth closing abruptly with an audible click of teeth. The muscles around her jaw clenched and released as she stared unblinking at Gabrielle. Her next words were spoken so quietly Gabrielle had to listen carefully to hear them over the crackling of the fire. "Perhaps you should return home then, to your real parents." Her gaze stayed locked on the young woman's face.
It was Gabrielle's turn to stop, her anger washed away in an instant by a sudden panic. "Is that what you want?" She said eventually in an equally quiet voice.
Xena read the fear in Gabrielle's face having experienced it on the faces of many of her adversaries over the years. Instantly she regretted her words threatening to send her friend home, but not being able to call them back she wracked her brain for what to say next, conscious of the fact that, if she wasn't careful the argument could rapidly spiral out of control and she would lose the only true friend she had had for almost longer than she could remember. "I just don't want you to get hurt, Gabrielle. It..." She stopped, her eyes dropping to look at Gabrielle's feet, unable to say the words that would betray and confirm the feelings she knew were growing inside her heart.
Gabrielle swallowed the lump that had lodged in her throat, her heart pounding inside her chest. "So, you do want me to go home." A statement, not a question. Tears welled up and spilled copiously down her cheeks as her eyes closed.
Xena's gaze snapped back up to the bard's face, her vision confirming what her ears had told her, her heart melting unexpectedly. "No! No, I don't want you to leave... to go home. I just don't want you getting hurt, that's all."
Hearing the warmth in Xena's voice, Gabrielle's heart jumped as the meaning of the words sank in through her scattered thoughts. She opened her eyes to see... something in Xena's eyes. Sorrow? Hurt? Fear? Encouraged that she wasn't going to be sent away the bard took a deep breath and walked slowly towards the warrior, a small smile adding an extra light to her eyes, already glinting from the fire's light reflecting off unshed tears.
Xena stood stock still as the distance between them reduced to nothing and Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's waist as she pressed herself up against her taller companion. Xena raised her own arms placing them tentatively and gently around the body resting against her. Gabrielle squeezed gently before releasing her and stepping back half a pace, looking up into slightly confused blue eyes. "Thank you." She said.
Xena released the breath she hadn't realised that she had been holding and gazed back into gentle green eyes, taking stock of what had been said during the argument. It dawned on her suddenly that the young girl who had latched on to her a few moons ago had seemingly grown up. She wryly acknowledged to herself that it had been quite some time since anyone had shouted at her so vociferously, and probably even longer since anyone who had done so had remained standing afterwards. She took a breath and gave a small smile of resignation. "You're right, Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I'm used to just making things happen and, if something is bothering me, I just make it so that it doesn't bother me any more. I know I can't... I shouldn't do that with you."
Gabrielle blinked, wondering what had gone on behind those beautiful eyes that had resulted in the warrior giving in and accepting her argument. She stopped herself as her arm moved without her conscious thought, realising that she was about to caress Xena's cheek. She cleared her throat before blurting out the first thing that sprang into her mind to cover up her awkwardness. "Shall we get that fish cooked, I'm starving."
A small frown created a crease in her forehead just above Xena's nose as she noticed the small arm movement and the sudden change of subject covering something up. "Mmm, okay." She said after a moment, one corner of her mouth twitching with an amused smile.
Gabrielle returned to the fish to place it on the fire, her eyes quickly going unfocussed as she delved deep into her thoughts and feelings.
Xena took a deep breath and visibly relaxed. She sat back down on her rock and retrieved her sword and stone, the rhythmic scraping providing a backdrop to her own musings on what had just occurred.
When Prometheus is imprisoned by Herrah using chains forged by Hyphestus, the only thing that can free him is a sword crafted from the very same metal. The unfortunate thing is that anyone who strikes the two metals together will be immediately vaporised. As it turns out, both Xena and Hercules are out to do the deed, unwilling to let the other do it, for obvious reasons - nobility is such a bitch sometimes! On the way there, Iolaus gets himself stabbed and, with Prometheus imprisoned, the god's gift of healing is temporarily suspended so he is slowly dying. The moment comes when Iolaus cannot go any further so Gabrielle stays behind to look after him while Xena and Hercules go off to save mankind, still squabbling over who is going to make the ultimate sacrifice. Gabrielle is well aware of what would happen should Xena "win".
Two pairs of eyes, one blue the other forest green, stared unfocussed into the heart of the campfire, its crackles, along with the sounds of the night, providing the only break to the silence that had rested peacefully over the camp.
"I liked Hercules... and Iolaus too." The owner of the green eyes broke the quiet with a gentle, slightly dreamy reminiscence.
"Hmph, so I noticed." The voice emanating from beneath the blue eyes carried just a hint of irritation.
Gabrielle's green eyes jumped into focus and flicked across to regard Xena, a small frown wrinkling the skin on her forehead between them. "I seem to recall you and Hercules 'liking' each other too." She retorted, the corners of her mouth arcing upwards slightly.
Xena didn't react, her eyes not moving from their study of the internal workings of the fire.
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Xena?"
"Why were you so determined to strike the blow to free Prometheus?"
Xena let her eyes slide over to look at Gabrielle. "You know why, Gabrielle. Prometheus had to be freed otherwise everyone would have been in trouble with even the slightest injury or illness." She continued to stare at Gabrielle with a puzzled look on her face.
"No, I know that. What I meant was, why were you so determined to do it yourself? I mean, we could have worked together to find a way to do it without anyone having to die." Gabrielle looked back into Xena's blue eyes with a compassionate enquiry.
Xena's face softened, the puzzled look melting away. She sat completely still for a moment her own eyes locked into Gabrielle's gaze. A log in the fire cracked loudly and both women looked back into its depths, the moment broken. Gabrielle looked back to Xena but Xena continued to stare at the fire.
Long moments passed and Gabrielle was just starting to think that Xena wasn't going to answer when she spoke, a hint of annoyance in her tone. "I didn't want anyone else to get hurt."
Gabrielle's reply was immediate and gentle. "You would have got hurt."
"I would have been hurt."
Xena started slightly and turned her head to look at Gabrielle again, the look of puzzlement returning to her features. "What?"
Gabrielle sighed. Her eyes dropped to look sightlessly at the ground in front of Xena. After a few moments, she raised them again to find Xena's eyes still looking back at her with no expression that she could define. "You know that Iolaus was pretty badly hurt. He almost died."
The change of tack caught Xena by surprise and the puzzled look reappeared on her face. "So? That's why I had to free Prometheus. I didn't want him to die."
Holding Xena's gaze firmly in her own, Gabrielle said, gently. "How would you have felt if that had been me, and I had died?"
Xena swallowed away the lump that had suddenly lodged in her throat. She tore her eyes away from the intensity of Gabrielle's regard and looked back into the fire.
Gabrielle watched the flickering of Xena's facial muscles, sensing the underlying emotions that were causing them. She smiled inwardly to herself. 'I was right,' she thought, remembering their brief parting in the cave just before Xena and Hercules had left to free Prometheus. 'She does care about me.' Xena remained silent and Gabrielle realised that she really wasn't going to respond this time. "Xena?"
"What do you want me to say?" She replied gruffly, keeping her gaze firmly towards the fire. "I wouldn't have wanted you to die either. It wouldn't have changed what I did."
Gabrielle smiled, not at all surprised that Xena avoided answering the question. "That's not really what I was asking." She said gently, knowing that she was treading a fine line. "I said that I would be hurt if you had died. I wondered if it would have been the same for you." She kept her regard of Xena's face steady.
Xena went very still for a moment. Suddenly, her jaw clenched and she sat up slightly straighter. She turned to look at Gabrielle, her eyes cold and determined. "Listen, Gabrielle, don't try to make me out to be all emotional, okay. I like you, I like Hercules, I like Iolaus. I would be... a bit upset if anything happened to any of you. And that's it!" She turned back to the fire.
Gabrielle also turned to look back at the fire. "Okay." She said, a little nonchalantly. She smiled again as she replayed Xena's final words, at the amount of effort that Xena had had to use to maintain her stoic attitude and at the tiny flicker of pain and uncertainty that had crept into her eyes just before she turned away. 'Okay, my warrior friend.' She thought. 'I'll let you off the hook for tonight, but I can see the cracks and I want to know the soul hidden behind them.'
Marcus, Xena's last love, returns from Tartarus as a ghost to get Xena's help to restore order in the underworld. An evil guy has stolen Hades' helmet of invisibility, which is also the source of much of his power, and has turned the underworld on its head. Said evil guy flees to the mortal world to wreak some havoc there so Xena persuades Hades to give Marcus his life back for 48 hours so that they can go get him and return the helmet back to Hades. After the job has been completed, and Xena and Marcus have refreshed their carnal memories so to speak, Xena wants Hades to rejudge Marcus because she doesn't believe he should be condemned to Tartarus. Hades agrees but in order to be judged again, Marcus has to die again - and Xena has to be the one to do it.
Gabrielle was concerned. Xena hadn't spoken more than half a dozen words or grunts in the two candlemarks since she had emerged from the waters of the lake. Now, Xena wasn't the most chatty of people at the best of times, but even for her, this was a bit extreme. The bard had tried small talk, told a couple of short stories and had even asked a few technical questions about armour and weapons; a normally sure-fire way of getting Xena to string a few sentences together. But, nothing.
She knew what was bothering the warrior. Well, in truth, she had some idea what it was, but Marcus had ended up in the Elysian Fields, hadn't he, so how bad could that be. But without any dialogue, she didn't know for sure. However, sensitive chats with Xena were a somewhat touchy area, not unlike crossing a river by stepping on the heads of a line of crocodiles. One slip or a foot badly placed would result in some serious retribution. But the silence from her friend and the air of tension surrounding her was wearing Gabrielle down. Eventually, she took a deep breath and looked carefully for the first crocodile's head to stand on. She slowed her pace and let Argo draw alongside her. Reaching up she took hold of the stirrup strap and looked up at the impassive face above her.
Xena gazed abstractedly at the road in front of her. Even her usual alertness in scanning the surroundings for possible threats was apparently absent. She did notice Gabrielle coming alongside and felt an unexpected comfort from her friend's closeness when a hand brushed across the back of her boot. She knew that, if she looked down, she would see dark green eyes looking back at her, full of compassion and concern. She wasn't sure that she would be able to maintain her stoic mask under those circumstances so she kept her own eyes firmly on the road ahead.
Gabrielle took another deep breath and asked gently. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Xena's gaze didn't flicker. "Talk about what?"
Gabrielle sighed silently and rolled her eyes. She tried again. "You've had a tough time recently, what with Petracles and now Marcus." She looked back up at the warrior trying to gauge a reaction.
"What do you mean, tough?" This time she did look down at Gabrielle and wrestled a puzzled frown onto her face.
Capturing Xena's eyes with her own, Gabrielle spoke gently. "Oh Xena! You loved them and had to watch them both die."
The warrior tore her eyes away and stared back at the road, her voice firm but with a hint of hoarseness. "I didn't love Petracles. I was infatuated with him a long time ago, when I was a lot younger, but he betrayed me. I hated him for that."
"But you didn't at the end." Gabrielle replied softly, still watching Xena's face, noting the omission of Marcus in the denial.
Xena sighed quietly, her voice relaxing a little. "No, I didn't. It was a long time ago and he was only young too. We all do things that we're not proud of sometimes." She paused for a few heartbeats. "He wasn't all bad." Xena had put a slight emphasis on the word 'He'.
"And neither are you." Gabrielle said firmly, catching the inflection.
"Hmmph!" The simple sound carried a surprising amount of disgust.
Gabrielle spun round and put her free hand onto Xena's thigh. "Xena, come on, you're not. How many people have you helped in the last few moons? How many villages have you protected from warlords? You are not a bad person."
The warrior hauled Argo to a stop and turned to glare down at the bard, raising her voice in anger. "Gabrielle, for god's sake, I killed Marcus."
Gabrielle recoiled slightly from the strong emotion radiating from her friend. She opened her mouth and immediately closed it again, at a loss for what to say. She continued to look into Xena's eyes seeing only disgust and anger reflected back to her, realising that it wasn't directed at her, but it still made her flinch. Eventually, she frowned. "But I thought Marcus was given life back for only two days. Wh... what do you mean you killed him?"
"I took a knife and stuck it in his heart. That's pretty unambiguous don't you think?" Xena replied in a cold, emotionless voice.
"But why? I don't understand." The bard's face wore a perplexed expression.
Xena took a deep breath and looked back to the road. "I struck a deal with Hades. I got Hades to re-judge Marcus but, in order to do that, Marcus had to die again. I had to kill him."
Gabrielle took her hand from Xena's leg and put it over her open mouth. "By the gods," she mumbled past her hand. "Oh Xena, I'm so sorry."
Under the onslaught of Gabrielle's sincere compassion, Xena found that she didn't want to fight it anymore and all of a sudden her resolve crumbled and she visibly slumped in the saddle, a few tears, at last, squeezing from her tightly clenched eyes. With a shaking breath, she whispered. "I did love him, Gabrielle. I did."
Reaching up, Gabrielle took hold of Xena's arm with both hands, tears welling in her own eyes for her friend's distress. "I know." She said gently. "Come on, get down from there for a while." She tugged gently on the arm.
Xena didn't hesitate. She swung her leg over Argo's neck and slid off the horse's back straight into a hug. Gabrielle wrapped her arms as far around Xena as she could reach and squeezed as tightly as she could, ignoring the edges of Xena's armour pressing uncomfortably into her. The tall warrior didn't resist, she wrapped her own arms around Gabrielle's shoulders and just held them there gently, allowing herself the luxury of feeling her friend's warmth, care and acceptance soak into her. She rested her cheek against the blonde head and was surprised to feel the anger inside her evaporate and the pain in her heart start to ease.
After a short while, Gabrielle felt the tension in the muscular body embraced in her arms relax a little and, with some reluctance, which she fleetingly wondered about, she released Xena and moved away slightly. She kept one arm around the warrior's waist and led them both over to a fallen tree to sit side by side in silence.
Xena sat on the tree, placed her elbows on her knees and pressed her face into her open hands, not making a sound.
Gabrielle sat watching her carefully for several moments until eventually she said in a quiet, upbeat voice. "But he is in the Elysian Fields, isn't he?" She tried to make it sound like a confident statement rather than an uncertain question.
Xena sucked in a stuttering deep breath. "Yes. But..." She fell silent with a heavy sigh.
The bard finished the sentence for her. "But it doesn't hurt any less." She paused watching Xena nod slowly into her hands before deciding that she wanted to try to ease her friend away from the immediate pain she was feeling. "Was Marcus your first love?"
Xena sat unmoving for several heartbeats longer. Eventually she sat up, rubbing her face with her hands and filling her lungs with air. She dropped her hands, crossing her arms loosely, and looked with gentle, slightly reddened eyes at her friend beside her, a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "No, but he was the last."
Gabrielle felt an odd ache in her chest and before she even had a chance to think about it, she found herself asking. "How many other men have you loved?" She immediately lowered her eyes, blushing slightly, and almost wincing at the bluntness of her own question, wondering what in Tartarus she was thinking and preparing herself for a rebuke.
A puzzled look crept onto Xena's face as she watched Gabrielle's reaction, wondering at its cause. She waited a few heartbeats considering how to reply. "A few," she said carefully. "Caesar, Borias...Lao Mah."
"Oh!" Gabrielle muttered quietly, then raised her eyes to look directly at Xena, her voice increasing in energy as the names sunk in. "Caesar? As in Julius Caesar, of Rome?"
Xena smiled back, amused and charmed as her friend's natural curiosity overrode the embarrassment that had been so evident just moments before. "The same." She replied, not even realising that all thoughts of Marcus has disappeared.
"Wow!" Gabrielle thought about that for a moment, wondering if she dare ask for more details at the present time. She decided against it but her curiosity was still peaked. "Lao Mah? That sounds like a name from the East. Was he from there?" Her eyes opened widely and looked directly into Xena's, expectantly.
Xena had the sudden impression that she was falling. She blinked to bring herself back to the present and shifted her eyes slightly to think about how she could answer Gabrielle's question, weighing the risk of telling the absolute truth. After only a heartbeat or two she looked back into the searching green eyes in front of her. "Yes," she said quietly, and after a short pause. "She was." Xena swallowed, holding her breath and Gabrielle's gaze in her own.
Gabrielle wasn't sure how long she had simply sat returning the open gaze but eventually she realised that Xena had answered her question and its meaning registered. A small furrow appeared between her eyes. "Lao Mah was a woman?" she blurted out.
"Oh yes," said Xena with a small smile and a chuckle. She waited patiently for a reaction.
Gabrielle seemed to be confused. "Oh!" Her gaze drifted away from Xena, not focussing on anything else in particular.
With a sudden surge of panic, Xena wondered if she had completely misread the situation and had freaked out her friend completely. Desperately she tried to recover. "You have to realise, Gabrielle, in my warlording days I would use any means to achieve my objectives, including sex, and not all of my adversaries were men."
For a few moments, Gabrielle went still, then looked back into Xena's face. "But you said you loved her."
Trapped by her own words, Xena replied quietly. "Yes, I did." Accepting the statement.
Gabrielle wasn't satisfied. "So, what does that mean, Xena?" There was no accusation in her voice, simply inquisitiveness.
Feeling a little awkward, a hint of exasperation crept into Xena's voice. "What do you mean, 'what does that mean'?"
Gabrielle blushed again, realising that she had gone charging down a line of enquiry without realising where it was heading. "Um... well... you were both women." She mumbled, averting her eyes.
Taken aback, Xena blurted "Are you serious?"
Realising that her naivety was showing badly, Gabrielle spoke up, defensively. "Xena, I come from a small farming village. Boys and girls are born, they grow up, get married and have more boys and girls. It doesn't work any other way... does it?" she blushed again as she looked up once more into Xena's blue eyes, noticing the small crinkles appear at their corners as the warrior smiled. "Now you're making fun of me." the bard said indignantly.
Xena's face softened as she saw the hurt in her friend's eyes. "No, I'm not making fun of you, Gabrielle. I just sometimes forget that your experience is a lot less than mine in some areas." She sighed quietly, composing herself before continuing. "It's actually not that uncommon, in some circles, for women, or men for that matter, to love each other."
"Oh, I see." Said Gabrielle uncertainly, not at all sure she did see. "But I thought you loved men."
"I do." Said Xena. "But I discovered that I can also love another woman, if she is special enough."
Gabrielle paused before speaking quietly. "And Lao Mah was special?"
"Oh yes, in many ways." Xena replied a little wistfully, unshared memories playing behind her eyes.
Gabrielle watched the expression drift across Xena's face. "Oh." She said, dejectedly. She turned away from Xena and sat silently with her own thoughts, an unhappy expression settling on her face.
Xena saw Gabrielle turn away and opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it and closed it again. She watched her friend for a few moments and then her shoulders slumped a little. She took a resigned sigh, stood and trudged slowly over to Argo, who stood patiently munching on a tasty clump of grass, oblivious to the interplay of confusion, doubts, fears and misunderstandings that had just taken place.
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