At the conclusion of Season One’s TIES THAT BIND, Xena and Gabrielle ponder personal questions left over from their previous encounter with Ares in THE RECKONING.
“I thought about it for a long time. What could I do to win you back? Money? Power? What was your weakness? And then it came to me – Daddy! It was so glorious. You did everything I wanted. You killed soldiers. You even left your pesky little friend for me. I knew that ruthless warrior was still inside you. And now you’re back where you belong. This is your army, Xena. I had it created – for you. And it feels good, doesn’t it? Leading an army into battle for the glory of Ares!”
Families embraced and danced outside the meeting hall. Children dodged between two high poles in front, while uniformed men milled about on a grassy area close by. Not that extraordinary except for the atmosphere – a strange mixture of celebration, fear and uncertainty – and the solitary figure leaning wearily against a golden mare. Her expression revealed little, the cool blue eyes seeming to take in everything and nothing at the same time, until they finally settled on a redhead walking that way.
“Sure.” The warrior straightened and rubbed her horse’s shoulder. “You about done with your chats?” Smirking, she nodded toward a group of young women. “They finished thanking their new hero?”
“Who, me?” Gabrielle waved at the women. “Hmmm, I wouldn’t say all that. More like questions about my life.” She smirked. “You know, traveling with an … experienced … hero?”
“You’re the one got `em here in one piece. Reunited Rhea with her sister.” Xena chewed her lip. “Not to mention saved the whole village. You know, from the wrath of a certain … experienced … ex-warlord?”
“Um, about that ….”
“No.” Xena rested a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “You saved me too, Gabrielle. From the same warlord. Worth a little whack on the back, hmm?” She glanced at some older villagers who’d continued to watch her warily since earlier events. “Not sure it convinced everyone though.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Kirilus’ guys. They haven’t taken their eyes off you.”
Xena scowled at the soldiers. “Probably wondering when I’ll return to my ‘real’ self. Decide to ‘Take the village!’ after all.” She blew out a long breath. “Can’t blame `em. If nothing else, I make a convincing warlord.”
“Xena?” Gabrielle squeezed the warrior’s arm. “You make a pretty convincing hero too.”
“Mm. Right about now, suspect I’d be more welcome among Kirilus’ ex-army. Guess it’s time I convinced them the old Xena’s retired. Again.” Sighing, Xena adjusted her sword. “Have a feeling they’ll be harder to dismiss than recruit. Hold the fort until I get back, okay?”
Gabrielle watched Xena saunter across the courtyard, the center of both awe and suspicion. The warrior had been through a lot the past few days. Not just the physical – a series of combats, concluding with the God of War. The latter had impersonated Atrius, the father who disappeared when Xena was a child. She’d eventually fallen for the ruse – mistakenly prepared to kill on his behalf one moment, soon after willing to die at his hand when he revealed his true identity. Gabrielle could only imagine what emotions roiled beneath the stoic demeanor.
“Will she be okay?”
Gabrielle smiled at Rhea, who had come up beside her. “After witnessing her defy Ares? They’d be crazy to give her any trouble.”
“I, um, didn’t mean them so much.” Rhea wasn’t surprised at the soldiers’ deference to the formidable woman standing assuredly in their midst, listening to the few who spoke, her responses producing disappointment among some and sullenness among others. “I heard the elders talking. They say …. Well, anyone can see she’s used to leading armies. Seems … natural to her. She must miss it sometimes.”
“Oh, Rhea, you needn’t worry about Xena. She’ll do what’s right. Sure, she’s a warrior through and through, but she fights for good now. Alone.” Gabrielle chuckled. “Well, except for me, of course.”
“The look on her face …. When she thought we’d killed her father?” Rhea shuddered. “I know what it’s like, believing you’ve lost your family. If Areliesa hadn’t understood why I volunteered to go with those slavers, that I wanted to save her from being taken ….”
“What you did took a lot of courage. And love. How could she and her fiancé not welcome you back?”
“I can’t thank you enough for your words of encouragement.” Rhea gazed fondly at her younger sibling. “I missed her so. My grief would have been as great as Xena’s anger. Probably as great as her disappointment at discovering that man wasn’t really her father.” She observed the warrior comfortably interacting with the soldiers. “Weren’t men like those her comrades before? Her ‘old’ life? I just wondered …. Maybe that’s why she … slipped back into it so … easily?”
Gabrielle studied her friend. She’d seen the warrior in battle, learned a little about her military exploits when they were with the Amazons and in Troy. She unconsciously rubbed her jaw, recalling when she’d personally felt the fist of Xena’s Ares-inspired rage. Still, the few times she’d pictured the Warrior Princess of the past, riding regally at the head of troops she’d molded to her will, Gabrielle hadn’t imagined the horror of its reality. Her hero thundering toward them, face contorted, a chilling command unleashing waves of soldiers on unarmed civilians. Herself forced to deliver the wake-up blow after Xena’s crazed “Kill `em all!”
“I can’t honestly say, Rhea. She doesn’t talk about it much, except she doesn’t want that kind of life anymore. She became a stranger to her kin. To herself.”
“Must be hard.” Rhea wrapped her arms around her body. “I felt so … lost, after those slavers took us. So alone.”
“Even with the other girls?”
“They weren’t like
me. They’d been taken against their
will. How could I deserve to be with
them?” Rhea shook her head. “My shame wouldn’t let me accept their
“Yes, that must’ve
been hard.” Gabrielle put her arm
around Rhea. “I can understand why you
felt as you did,” she said, regarding Xena with new empathy. “Even among friends.”
As Xena had surmised, her “easy come” army wasn’t as easy on the “go” part. Kirilus had indeed fulfilled Ares’ goal of turning ragtag ruffians into a disciplined force. Most had little desire to resume their undependable, often more dangerous previous pursuits. Thanks to Kirilus, they’d done pretty well snatching folks for ransom or sale. Thanks to Xena, they’d had a brief moment of glory as a true army – racing toward capture and pillage of a whole village, commanded by the chosen of Ares himself. Most would’ve preferred her any day to the two-bit general she’d dueled to win them and left with his face in the dirt.
Oh, how they’d thrilled to ride with the Warrior Princess. She did puzzle them, when she’d halted them on the hill above their quarry. But then she spotted a white-haired man strung up to die. They could feel the fury oozing from her pores – their mouths simultaneously watering and growing dry at her terrifying order to attack. Never had they seen such bloodlust, bordering on madness, as when she’d cut the old guy down and carried him to confront the villagers. “Who killed my father?” wasn’t so much a question as a sentence of death.
What happened after left them in a daze. Some crazy girl thrust a pitchfork between the avenger and her prey. Whacked Xena from behind. The soldiers gasped with everyone else as the warrior slumped amid a shower of splintered wood. When she rose, it was if they’d witnessed an exorcism – her eyes no longer reflecting a demon, but someone confused about where or who she was. Her supposedly dead father suddenly turned into Ares. Offered himself as the true sire of her soul, the rightful source of her blood. But she refused! Defiantly stood ready to die rather than live as “his.”
And now she was abandoning them too, not quite sure what to do with themselves. Warned they’d have to find other ways to survive, reluctantly under a lieutenant a shade more competent than they and less ambitious than Kirilus. They couldn’t believe how far they’d risen and fallen so quickly. When they did, they slunk off cursing the false promise of the woman Ares claimed his heir.
“How’d it go?” Gabrielle smiled wryly at the men dispiritedly heading up the hill they’d so recently descended in triumph. “They finished crying over losing their new hero?”
“Who, me?” Xena snorted. “More like nagging questions about you. Seems I’m not the only one you left an impression on.”
“Yup. Wondering when I’d swat a certain ‘pesky little friend’ for that whack she gave me. Had to convince `em otherwise. Not the ‘pesky’ part. Ares was right about that.” Xena’s eyes softened. “Which made him wrong about the leaving you part.”
Gabrielle winced. “Yuck. To think he almost succeeded.”
“Nah. Can’t deny his pull, all right. Lucky for me it’s nothing compared to the peskiness that holds me back.”
“Um, not you. Me.” Gabrielle ducked her head. “I thought you deserved time with your … ‘father.’ I didn’t want to come between you.”
“Ah. Good that didn’t work out, eh?”
Gabrielle grinned. “Does put a better spin on my tendency to … um … get in the way.” She noticed Rhea signaling for her attention. “Are you up for staying awhile longer? We’ve been invited to supper. Might be nice spending time with real families after …. ”
Xena acknowledged the smiles of a few villagers standing with Rhea. “I … um …. Why don’t you do the honors for us? Might not be a bad idea for me to check on those soldiers. Make sure they – .”
“Nuh uh. You’re not getting rid of me that easy. Not after all this.” Gabrielle patted Argo’s nose. “Take care of our four-legged pal here. I’ll be right back.”
Xena watched the young redhead hurry off to bid their farewells. She sensed her friend had a few lingering concerns from this last adventure. Xena snorted to herself, admitting she did too. As usual they were about herself, about not letting her past spill unto Gabrielle. Above all she hoped Gabrielle hadn’t bought into Ares’ taunts about Xena’s being “his.” Belonging with him more than some bubbly teenager with a knack for getting in his way.
Xena regarded the one bridge between the home she’d shamed and her new nomadic life of redemption. “Gabrielle, I want you to understand something. We both have families we were born into. But sometimes families change, and we have to build our own. For me, our friendship binds us closer than blood ever could.”
Gabrielle’s smile returned the sentiment. “For me too.”
“I know what’s in your heart. There’s a reason why I play the part of Atrius so well.”
“You’re not my father.”
“What is a father, Xena? A man who guides you, who teaches you how to live your life. I did it all for you. And I’ll never let you go.”
Xena scraped the sharpening stone with greater force against her sword. The sound merely underscored Ares’ boast, replaying it in her mind like a metallic echo of his voice. Scratching the surface of a question that had secretly bothered her since he’d first shown himself to her some months ago. Enveloping her in his mighty arms, his magnetism and desire.
“I burn inside you. You can feel me there – like a fever. Xena will never be answerable to these pathetic creatures. Not the Xena whose army scorched the earth at will. You are remembering it now – the unfettered freedom of it. You're Xena. Unstoppable. Unbeatable. Now summon forth that super-mortal strength of yours.”
If only she’d really needed to see him to recognize who he was. Feel his touch on her skin to believe him real. Hear his admiring words for inspiration to wreak havoc on her captors. She hadn’t. He’d been evidence of what she already carried in her bones. Her blood. Her hands. She shivered, her fist clenching at her memory of striking Gabrielle shortly after Ares’ prediction. Roughly shoving her away just that morning. Both times bringing a madwoman to her senses at a time when ….
“Gabrielle?” Xena took a steadying breath. She put the sword down and reached for her saddlebag. “How’s that rabbit coming?” She pulled out her mending kit. “Smells almost done.”
“Hmmm?” Gabrielle absently stared at the spit she’d been turning over their fire, her thoughts actually back in Lotia. On Ares, morphing between himself and Atrius in his bid to win Xena’s allegiance. On Xena’s sad resignation at guessing the truth – as if not surprised she’d been “played” or that Ares was the one to do it. On herself.
“They killed my father. Now they’ll die too. Get out of my way.”
“No! Look at me! I’m standing up to a murderous warlord, like I saw you do against Draco. But this time the warlord is you!”
She hated violence. Secretly hoped she’d never enjoy it, despite her desire to travel with it as a close companion, to be a warrior for good someday. Xena herself had been a victim that first time Ares popped in. Prepared to sacrifice herself for Gabrielle’s safety, the warrior had thrown down her sword before angry farmers who mistakenly accused her of murder. The vengeful mob struck her from behind, carried her unconscious to a cell, chained her, and threatened to drag her through the streets. Gabrielle had wanted Xena to defend herself, but the warrior reminded her it would’ve been a bloodbath against simple villagers.
“Gabrielle? You having a conversation with that rabbit or what?”
Since then she’d dished out her share of violence along with Xena. Truthfully, got a rush sweeping her staff against bad guys, protecting Xena’s back. Instinctively intervening, impervious to her peril. Except, never expecting it would be like today. A sneak attack – the target a dark head above shoulders she’d come to rely upon. A farm tool in trusted hands bringing the greatest warrior to her knees. The enemy also her best friend.
“Must’ve had an interesting life.”
“Huh?” Blinking, Gabrielle tore her eyes from the flames. “Sorry, what was that?”
“The rabbit. You gonna put `im on a plate or in a story?”
“The rabbit?” Gabrielle glanced down at the spit. “Oh, the rabbit!” She quickly turned the roasting stick. “Xena, why didn’t you say something! That side almost burned!”
“My bad.” Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. “I should know by now, you can find fascination in almost anything.”
“Oh, Xena. I was thinking about ….” Gabrielle busied herself inspecting the subject of their discussion. “Uh, couple more minutes. Why don’t you spread out our blanket? You know, dine sitting on something besides tree stumps for a change?”
Brow raised, Xena got to feet and did a mock curtsy. “More civilized, eh?”
“Uh huh. And … ‘homey.’”
“Ah.” Xena did as instructed. She glanced up from setting out their dishes. “So it wasn’t Mr. Rabbit?”
“What you were thinking about.”
“Oh.” Gabrielle smiled innocently. “Mr. Rabbit had a purpose besides our dinner, you know. He could’ve been on his way to meet Mrs. Rabbit. Maybe make rabbit offspring.” She removed the spit, walked to the blanket and laid the rabbit to rest on one of their plates. She studied him with a serious expression. “Just because he ended up here doesn’t mean he couldn’t’ve had a better … tale.” Smirking, she added, “But I think I’ll start with his leg.”
Later that evening Xena returned to mending her battle dress, torn during her tussle with Kirilus. Uncharacteristically quiet, Gabrielle lay staring once again into their campfire.
“Thought we’d finished with Mr. Rabbit. Maybe not?”
“Mr. Rabbit. Wondered if there were some leftovers I missed.”
Gabrielle repositioned herself to focus on her companion. Xena’s supposed preoccupation with some task, accompanied by casual humor, could sometimes be her way of indicating openness to a sensitive chat.
“Hmmm. I do believe there was more to him than meets the eye.”
“Yeah?” Xena smoothed out the leather she worked on, examining her stitches. “Such as?”
“His elusiveness, for one thing. Unusually fast, wouldn’t you say? Very keen sight and hearing. Almost like a whole different breed.”
Xena gazed at Gabrielle a moment, brow raised. “You think?”
“Might sound crazy, but ….”
Gabrielle sat up, staring at the ground as if imaging something there. She took a deep breath. “What if he wasn’t … conceived … in the usual way? Maybe had some other creature mixed in? You know, to give him uncommon quickness, senses.”
“Mm.” Xena leaned against the log at her back. “Like …‘super-rabbit’ … abilities?”
“Interesting. I can see why you had trouble letting him go.” Xena scratched her chin. “Let’s say he really did run rings around most other rabbits. What if he worked harder? Did bunny pushups every day? Practiced hopping and survival skills while his buddies chewed berries?”
“So … you’re saying he made himself that good? Didn’t have anything to do with being a … mixed breed … or something?”
“Well, some of it could’ve been natural. Whatever, why would it matter?” Xena shrugged. “Far as he was concerned anyway. Probably took it for granted. If he did put in extra effort, he’d figure he earned his superiority. Not be eager to credit some mysterious outside help.” The corner of her mouth quirked. “Assuming, of course, he was anything like me.”
‘Huh. Interesting.” Gabrielle scooted closer. “You do have that in common. ‘Super’ abilities, I mean. You saying you never … um … you know – kinda wondered about that?”
“I’m saying I never wanted to.” Xena stretched out her legs and adjusted her bracers – sometimes her way of allowing a sensitive chat to continue.
Gabrielle leaned forward. “Xena, what Ares said about …. About being your …. It’s not really possible – .”
“No.” Xena straightened with an expression of cold determination. “What he says means nothing to me.” She ground her teeth. “Not anymore.”
“Xena, it’s okay. You don’t have to ….”
“S’all right. Like you said, Mr. Rabbit and I have that in common – who we really are. Why we can do what we do.” Xena snorted softly. “Funny, ‘Atrius’ made things … normal … in a way. Bringing back memories of me as a kid. Carefree and trusting.” She swallowed. “A father accepting what I’d grown into. All I’d done and overcome.”
“Was that such a bad thing? We’ve helped so many families, reuniting some like those girls from Lotia. Why shouldn’t you share a little of the same joy? At least remember you had that too once? Might have again?”
“He was a lie, Gabrielle. To Ares merely a ‘weakness’ in my childhood to exploit. I don’t even know if my father’s alive. Whether it was really Ares who attacked Lotia before, as part of his sick plan.”
Gabrielle frowned. “But why? Why not pretend to be more of a hero? Somebody more suitable to your new path?”
“If I believed Atrius had done bad things too, I’d finally see myself as an apple who hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Accept that inheritance as reason enough for my darkness. To ‘ride for the glory of Ares.’” Xena shook her head in disgust. “And I almost bought it.”
Though Xena’s bowed head suggested further thoughts on the matter, Gabrielle knew the warrior had already exceeded her usual quota of words. She allowed a few moments of silence to pass. “Want me to check on Argo? I bet she’d like a nice brushing.”
“The worst part?” Xena looked up with pained disbelief. “I actually felt relief. Grabbed on to that ‘normal’ possibility as better than … the alternative. Yeah, I figured I’d gotten Ares’ attention in the past. Didn’t care one way or another if his blessing gave me an edge. But learning the extent of his obsession? His possessiveness? Made my skin crawl. I’d rather the bloodlines of a flawed mortal than any god.” She snorted. “Ares used that against me too. Like he really did know what was in my heart.”
“Xena? You said yourself Atrius is still a mystery. If alive, he could be anything now. Not necessarily bad.”
“He was a warrior.” Xena’s eyes hardened. “Abandoned his wife and children. More likely he wouldn’t be up to any good. And considering what I nearly did today ….” She sighed. “Need, desire – whatever, however I got it – it’s in me now. Mine to claim and fight. Maybe always.”
Gabrielle crawled over to rest her hand on the warrior’s shoulder. “What defines you now are all the moments you’ve used your abilities for good. Done everything in your power to protect the innocent. Gone countless extra miles avoiding the danger within.” She grinned a wee bit smugly. “Shouldn’t that make even the best of bunnies proud?”
Xena stared at her young companion. She puckered her lips, mainly to disguise a smile too easily coaxed. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Mr. Rabbit. You judged him among the best, right?”
Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. “Yessss.”
“We still snared him. His … goose … is as good as cooked. So to speak.”
“You seem to be missing something.”
“Lucky I’ve got you, eh?” Xena smirked a wee bit smugly. “So fill me in.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “I will, just like Mr. Rabbit. He got us through the night, didn’t he? Helped fill not just our stomachs, but our hunger for answers.”
“Ah. Served a higher purpose?”
“Exactly. If nothing else, a reason to smile after sensitive chats about what makes us hop one way instead of another.”
The next day the companions set out at a leisurely pace away from Lotia toward “nowhere in particular,” Xena figuring they’d happen upon opportunities for good deeds regardless of their route. They hadn’t gone far before Gabrielle realized she still felt nervous about Lotia’s idea of a militia, given their “Run for your lives!” defense during Xena’s attack. She glanced up at the mounted warrior.
“You sure about not checking on Kirilus’ guys? What’s to stop them from – .”
“There’s only so much we can do, Gabrielle. Folks can’t always depend on us being around to jump in. Even if we do ….” Xena stiffened, squinting into the forest ahead and to the right.
“What is it?”
“Got a feeling you’ll get some answers.” Xena dismounted. “About my former instant army.”
Gabrielle scowled in the direction Xena was looking. “Ares?” Growling, she raised her staff to the ready position. “Let him try getting to you again. This time I’ll whack him if I have to!”
“Heh, maybe another day.” Xena unsheathed her sword. “Show yourself! Or I’ll unleash my friend here!”
A uniformed figure emerged from the trees. Kirilus. He displayed hands empty of weapons. “So that’s your little attack dog. I heard you were more afraid of her than Ares.” He snickered. “From the look of her, hard to see why.”
“Wanna find out?” Xena smirked. “Or the bites I already took outta your sorry hide enough?”
“At least I’m no worse off than before.” Kirilus sneered. “Like you.”
“The army Ares had me create? For … you?” Kirilus spat on the ground. “I took it back.”
“Congratulations. Guess it’s too much to hope Ares threw himself in the deal.”
“I didn’t need him. Not before either.” Kirilus’ lip curled. “Wasted time trying to win his favor. Hades or another god would’ve been better. Appreciated my effort and loyalty. Well, I’m smarter now. Too bad he isn’t. Good thing for me you aren’t either.”
“Ah. You mean his fantasy? About winning me back? Yeah, pretty dumb. As for my lack of interest in his interest in me ….” Xena rested an elbow on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “Have to disagree with you there. I’d bet her against him any day.” She snorted. “Against me too.”
“Can’t deny you’re the best I’ve come across. You could rule wherever you set foot. Take whatever you wanted. Why you’d give it all up, waste it on .…” Kirilus scowled at the women with a mixture of disdain and incredulity. “Must be as crazy as Ares.” He snorted. “Maybe he told the truth. Maybe you are his spawn.”
“Know what I am?” Xena straightened and took a few steps forward. Her mouthed twitched when Kirilus instinctively inched back. “Tired of fantasies. Whatever you crawled here for, say or do it, before I turn into your worst nightmare.”
Kirilus quickly put up his hands. “You and I are done. I’ll heed the advice you gave my men. Plenty of careless warlords to make a living off. Just wanted to hear it for myself –that you won’t get in my way, if I don’t get in yours.”
“Good. Maybe you learned something after all.” Xena relaxed. “You did me a favor actually.”
“A favor?” Kirilus spat again. “Ares said the same. After you left me beaten and bloody.”
“Yeah? And they say no good deed goes unpunished. Well, in this case, you did us both a favor.” Xena joined Gabrielle. “When I went off to discourage your slave business? My friend here almost left me. So I could be with my so-called ‘father.’ Your plan to attack Lotia set everything in motion – me taking your army and meeting up with Gabrielle. Her whacking sense into me. You getting to claim the hand me downs. Best of all, losing Ares. For awhile anyway.”
“Mm. So I really have her to thank.” Kirilus gazed at Gabrielle a moment before shifting his eyes to Xena. “I promised Ares I’d kill you. Turns out he had us both pegged right. You must be the luckiest dead woman alive.” He saluted and disappeared into the forest.
“Whew. That was … strange.”
“Keep hanging with me. This’ll be like peaches and cream.” Xena took hold of Argo’s reins. “C’mon. Let’s see what’s around the next bend.”
“Xena? I don’t expect it’ll be all peaches and cream. You know that, right?”
“Yeah.” Xena rubbed the back of her head. “It shouldn’t be about knockdowns and bruises either.” She turned to brush Gabrielle’s cheek, eyes reflecting regret at the mark she’d left not so long ago. “Not to each other.”
“It won’t,” Gabrielle assured, catching the warrior’s hand. She frowned thoughtfully. “Funny how love can blind us sometimes. You know, make us go against our better instincts?”
“Like me falling for ‘Atrius’?” Xena snorted. “All those clues. Tuned `em out while Ares played me like a lute. So much for that paranoia you’re always accusing me of.”
“Huh. For somebody who acts like I don’t exist, he sure pushed my buttons.” Gabrielle ground her teeth. “No loving father would do that. Make you choose between him and your best friend. Even I shouldn’t’ve fallen for that.”
“You wanted what you thought best for me.”
“See, that’s what I mean.” Gabrielle stopped and faced her friend. “He swayed me because of my own doubts. Because I’d hate holding you back from whatever might bring more happiness to your life.”
“And what about you?” Xena asked, holding the younger woman’s eyes. “The happiness you might find without …. If you’d left like you planned?”
“Um ….” Gabrielle winced. “Talk about fantasies.” She chuckled. “Oh, I had one of you all right. ‘Father’ and daughter roaming the countryside like we do. Except there’d be two warriors with a clue about what they might get into”
“Mm. And what were you getting into? In your fantasy?”
“Honestly? I had no idea where I’d go. The best I could picture was what I’d be leaving.” Gabrielle grinned sheepishly before turning to resume their course.
“Your fertile imagination couldn’t do any better than that?”
“Heh, for once it couldn’t top reality.” Gabrielle bumped shoulders with the warrior. “Seriously, it wasn’t you. Why I almost left, I mean. You tell me in so many ways you’re happy with me tagging along. I need to respect that. Talk less, listen more. Not let my silly insecurities color what’s real.”
Xena nodded, her eyes on the road ahead. “Deal.”
“I can’t worry about the holes in my life. Ones I caused or … simply happened. About bad blood tainting the good I can do. That’s little motivation to get up every day. To persevere. Not compared to a kind word or sympathetic ear. A good laugh.” Xena tweaked Gabrielle’s nose. “A kick in the butt every now and then.”
Gabrielle snorted. “Yeah, well, don’t count on that last one. At least in the form it took yesterday. I’m still not sure where that came from.”
“I am. Took a lot of guts.”
Gabrielle waved a dismissive hand. “Eh, I knew you wouldn’t hurt little ol’ me.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I had faith – .” Gabrielle’s pace slowed. “What did you say?”
“I saw it when I turned around,” Xena stated, continuing her steady stride. “After you hit me.”
“Xena ….” Gabrielle caught up to the warrior. Her mouth moved, but she couldn’t quite decide on the words she should let out. Everything had happened so fast, she’d been so focused on Xena, she couldn’t quite remember what she felt. “If … if I looked … you know, maybe a little ….”
“Terrified. Holding your breath about what I’d do next, same as everyone else.”
“Xena, that doesn’t mean ….” Gabrielle’s heart raced. The last thing she wanted was to disappoint Xena. To disappoint her own commitment to being Xena’s rock when it came to confidence in the warrior’s commitment to do good.
“It gave me more confidence than you’ll ever know. Despite what I said about knockdowns and bruises.” Xena turned a moment to smile wryly at her friend. “Don’t get me wrong – all that other stuff’s important too. But knowing you’ll do whatever it takes to stop me? Until I get the hang of this …. Let’s just say the kick in the butt part may be rare but essential.”
Gabrielle tried to wrap her mind around this information. All the ways she’d pictured helping Xena involved positive reinforcement. Pushing the warrior forward, not jumping in front to stop her. Certainly not physically.
“I’ve known others,” Xena continued, almost as if to herself, thoughts drifting into the past. “Brave, decent, caring – who showed me a better path. Something usually got in the way. Fear, greed, doubt. A different agenda. Even love.” She regarded Gabrielle with deep appreciation. “You do what’s right regardless. It’s in your nature. I’ve seen it backing up those nice words. Felt the truth of it at my back.”
“Wow. I hadn’t ….” Gabrielle struggled for “nice words” to express her mixed emotions. “Your trust means a lot to me, Xena. It’s just, with my ideals about violence and compassion ….”
“I know. The last thing I want is you going against them. Me being the cause.” Xena sighed. “Thing is, that’s your right. As who you are. Who you’d be apart from me or what I want for you. I have to respect that.”
Gabrielle nodded. “And not feel guilty it’s all your fault?”
“Mm. I didn’t say it’d be easy. I just know it’s easier having that to count on in the bad times. Accepting I couldn’t be here otherwise – a crazy ex-warlord partnering up with a crazier pure-hearted farm girl.”
Finally understanding the import of this acknowledgement – for both of them – Gabrielle found herself getting misty eyed. She suppressed the urge to hug her studiously matter-of-fact friend. “I really appreciate that, Xena.” She walked along awhile before adding with a hint of playfulness, “This is good, huh? Us getting to … um … help me practice listening more?”
Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. “If you say so.”
Some moments later, Gabrielle cleared her throat. “You know, I almost feel sorry for Ares.”
“All the trouble he went to. Trickery. Cast of soldiers and villagers. Trying to beat you into submission. Embarrassing, to say the least. Yet still he couldn’t kill you. Couldn’t give up on his ‘chosen.’ Talk about a major case of somebody blinded by ….” Gabrielle shuddered. “Well, whatever you call it, he’s got it bad. Denying him only seems to make it worse.”
Xena came to an abrupt halt. She raised her face to the sky and shouted as loudly as she could, “Ares!? Cut the cord! I’m tied to this pesky redhead for the foreseeable future! Dedicated to disinheriting myself from your worm-infested legacy! I’m not yours and never will be! Can you see me now?!” She smirked at Gabrielle. “How’s that?”
In response, Gabrielle followed suit. “Ares?! You don’t want to see me, but I’m here! And I’m staying! If you forget who I am again ….” She paused to wink at Xena. “Grrr. Ruff! Ruff!” She smirked. “How’s that?”
“Mm. Methinks Mr. Rabbit would be proud.”
Return to the Academy