by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. belong to Renaissance Pictures, etc., etc. I am merely borrowing the characters for a spin around my twisted imagination.
(Note: this story starts during the episode, "Is There a Doctor in the House?")
I'm not sure how it happened, but I am now in the most beautiful place I've ever been. Beautiful blue sky, white fluffy clouds, meadow full of grass and flowers, some shade trees, a stream rippling merrily along and some people. I seem to recognize some of them, but I thought that they were dead. It's so peaceful here, I just feel like laying down and drowsing in the sunshine, smelling the flowers, cleansing the horror of the war wounded from my mind.
What? Yes, I see you all, and yes, I'm glad to be here. Wouldn't Xena be surprised, wait, where is she? Has anyone seen Xena? She's my best friend, you see, tall and strong, black hair and the most piercing blue eyes you ever saw. But is is so tempting to just lay down, to take a quick nap...
"GABRIELLE! GABRIELLE! COME BACK!"
"Xena? Where are you?" I start looking around, frantic, trying to locate my best friend.
"DAMN IT, DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE ME!"
Sorry, people, Xena is calling me. I should go check on her, she sounds frantic. I've never heard her sound frantic before, not even when faced with certain death. I think her voice came from that dark tunnel, maybe I slipped out of the temple of healing through that tunnel. I'm coming, Xena, just hang on a minute.
Oh, Gods, my chest hurts so much! "Xena?" My voice sounds so faint to my ears. Did she hear me? But Xena is crying, she never cries, why is she crying? It hurts to breathe, but I'm safe in her arms, I can feel her rocking me in her arms, feel her kissing my forehead, I'm safe, I know I'm safe, she's here, she's taking care of me.
"Gabrielle, I thought I'd lost you," Xena whispers in a tear-soaked voice. I can breathe a little easier now, but now I can feel my wounded shoulder. I look into watery blue eyes, realizing that something serious happened here. Tears are still coming down her face, I think she's crying for me. Strange feeling, having the mighty Xena crying over a chatty bard. "I'm so glad you came back," she says, voice choking with emotion. I can't really say anything yet, I just wrap my arms around her the best I can, feeling the warmth of her body, feeling her tears on my face, her warm breath on my neck.
It is then that I realize that I was dead, that I was in the Elysian Fields just a scant time ago. Xena slowly lays me back on the slab, still holding my head in her hand. With her other hand she wipes the tears from her face and turns to face Hippocrates, who is standing beside her. She clears her throat and says, "Bring me some clean rags and some water." He hurries off to do her bidding. She is regaining her usual demeanor, but she keeps a hand on my head, gently stroking my hair. When he comes back, Xena gently washes my face, then washes my wound. Last, when no one is looking, she scrubs her own face, guiltily, not seeming to want to admit that she was so upset a few minutes ago.
I find my voice and ask, "Did you call for me?"
"Yes," she says in a husky voice, "I did. But, now is not the time to talk about it, we can talk later, when we make camp tonight. Get some sleep, Gabrielle, I need to check on Ephiny."
I am getting sleepy, but I have to know one thing. "Xena?"
"Hmm?" she says.
"Xena, did you bring me back to life? Did I really die?" The words tumble out of my mouth; I need to know the answer.
She looks at me for a long moment, fatigue showing under her eyes. "Yes, Gabrielle, you died. No, I didn't bring you back to life, you brought yourself back. Now get some sleep, Gabrielle, and I'll bring you some broth later. Oh, Ephiny had a little boy Centaur." Xena gently squeezes my good shoulder, then leans down and gently kisses my cheek. "Promise you'll sleep."
I yawn. "I promise," I say drowsily. As I watch Xena walk over to Ephiny, I think to myself, I do believe I'm an aunt.
I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I woke up once to attend nature's calling, then Xena fed me some broth. She still looked tired, so I made her share my broth. After my second nap, Xena announced that we could leave, that she was leaving the rest of the wounded in good hands. I could tell that she was tired, exhausted, more like it, but was itching to get away from the confining walls of the temple. As we walked away from the temple, I started telling her about the Elysian Fields. She usually seems to barely tolerate my stories, but this time, she listens intently.
I have to lean on her part of the time as we walk to camp, although it is not that far. I am so tired, more tired that I've ever been. But since the camp is already set up, I decide that she must have slipped out while I was asleep and set it up. Xena lights the fire and while she is waiting for it to get hot enough to cook with, I ask her, "Xena, if my wound is not that bad, why did I die?"
She comes over to me and sits beside me. "I don't know, Gabrielle, but I wish I did. I've seen it happen before on the battlefield, warriors who were barely wounded going into shock and dying. I never dreamed it could happen to you, my friend, you are far to stubborn to give in to anything." Her eyes become haunted as she speaks, but her voice becomes flat and unemotional.
I slowly realize that she is in shock herself and that this is her way of coping. She shakes her head, as if to clear her vision, then gets up to check on the fire. Satisfied that it is hot enough, she assembles supper. I drowse as she cooks, then wake up when she brings the soup bowls and a loaf of bread. "Eat slowly, Gabrielle, you don't want it coming back up," she says as I dip a chunk of bread into my soup. I stick my tongue out at her, but comply, eating slowly, watching her as she eats methodically. I'm too tired to make further conversation as we eat and she seems content just to eat in silence.
I finally finish my supper and shakily get to my feet. Xena offers to help me, but I refuse her help. I go to the bushes, then come back after I'm finished. She waits until I'm safely back on the ground before she takes off. I'm so sleepy, my head is nodding and the next thing I know, Xena is gently wrapping me up in my blankets, wishing me sweet dreams. I allow sleep to take over and start dreaming of the Elysian Fields, but this time Xena is with me and we are walking hand in hand, enjoying the sunshine, laughing as we run along beside the creek...
"Hey, sleepyhead, it's time to rise and shine!" Xena crows. I yawn and slowly start to stretch, wincing when I move my wounded shoulder. Xena just laughs, a rich joyful noise to behold. "Gabrielle, you are a stinker," she announces as she helps me to my feet.
"A stinker?" I ask.
"Yup, a stinker. Have you sniffed yourself lately?" Xena's eyes are dancing with mischief. Good, she looked so somber yesterday.
"No," I reply. I carefully stand up with her help. My legs seem to work. I notice that I do stink to the skies. "Okay, I'm a stinker, then you must be a stinker too. What are you going to do about it?" I ask.
Oops. Wrong question. Instead of replying, Xena grabs me and unceremoniously slings me across her shoulder and carries me to the nearby stream. She whistles as she walks, more cheerful than usual. Without warning, I find myself being tossed in a small pool, flailing my arms and legs until I break surface. Xena is laughing as she neatly strips her leathers, joining me in the pool. "So sorry, I didn't mean to get your clothes wet," she snickers, not sounding a bit sorry. I try to lash out at her, but she catches my arms easily. "Bad girl, trying to hit your best friend. Didn't your mother teach you better manners?" she asks with a wicked grin.
I growl at her, but she just keeps smiling at me. She finally lets go of my arms and I walk out of the pool long enough to shuck my wet clothes, then I get back in and start sudsing up with the soap she hands me. The sun is shining though the overhanging branches and I feel a small measure of peace descend on me.
Xena is still smirking, but comes over to check my wound. She peers and it and announces, "It is looking better. I'll clean it and re-bandage it after you finish bathing. Here, let me scrub your back so you won't injure yourself further." I hand her the sponge, grateful for the help. I have to admit, it feels good to have someone scrub my back.
After I dunk and rinse off, she hands me the sponge, asking, "Will you return the favor?" I nod and she turns, lifting her long dark hair so I can scrub her back. I notice a faint latticework of scars on her back, and tentatively trace them with my fingers. She stiffens, but does not comment, so I get back to the task at hand. I scrub her back, then pause to scoop water in my hands and pour it over her back, washing away the soap.
We finally go back to camp, carrying our clothes. Xena surprised me by taking care of scrubbing our clothes, saying, "You take care of dinner and I'll take care of the clothes. First, I would love a cup of tea." I agree readily, I think I can handle tea and leftovers, but not heavy wet leathers. As I stoke up the fire, she arranges our clothes on nearby bushes so they will dry.
She finally is satisfied with the arrangement, then comes over with a blanket to drape over me. I didn't realize that I was chilled until she did, but I am grateful. I also realize that Xena is a beautiful woman. I've seen her nude before, Xena does not have any false modesty. We've changed clothes in front of each other many times, bathed in the same rivers and streams, but this is the first time I think I've really looked at her. Her skin is creamy where it is sheltered by clothes, her breasts firm and full, her muscles gently defined. Without thinking, I blurt out, "You are beautiful, Xena."
"Oh?" A long pause. Then, softly, "Thank you, Gabrielle." She stops to pull on a clean shift, hiding her body from my eyes. For some reason, I blush. I catch her staring at me, knowing that she has seen my blush. Before I can speak, she sits down beside me, reaching over with one long arm to pull the kettle off the fire. "Time for tea, my friend," she says as I scramble to grab our mugs and the tea pouch. Xena waits for me to spoon tea leaves into our mugs, then carefully pours the water, then sets the kettle back on the fire..
Time passes slowly as we sip our tea. Xena finishes hers, and say, "Let me see your wound now." I drop the blanket enough for her to see my shoulder, which she gently probes with her fingers. She reaches for her wineskin, saying, "I'll clean it again, this should help keep it from getting infected." It burns fiercely, but I tolerate it for her sake. Finally, she puts a fresh bandage on it, and then turns to look me full in the face. "Gabrielle," she says softly, looking into my eyes, "what did you see when you died?"
I pull the blanket around me a bit closer, settling my back against Argo's saddle, which Xena has placed for me to lean against. I think for a long moment, then close my eyes to conjure the meadow and start to speak. "Xena, I saw a sunlit meadow, full of fragrant grasses and flowers, with a forest nearby. There was a stream running through the meadow, the sun glinting off the ripples, babbling like fine music. The air was sweet and clean, the sun just right. I saw friends and relatives who I realized were dead. Before I could really talk to them, your voice ripped through the skies, screaming my name. I knew then that I had to come back to you."
"Why?" she asked intensely.
I stared at her. "What do you mean, why?" I respond.
Xena bored into my soul with those blue eyes of hers. "Why, Gabrielle? Why did you come back? You were in the Elysian Fields, you were safe and comfortable. Here, with me, you are neither safe nor comfortable, nor will you be. Why did you come back?" she demanded.
I stared back, trying to phrase my answer eloquently, then answering simply, "Because I heard you call me. You needed me."
Xena jumped up and started pacing anxiously. I waited for her to speak, knowing that eventually she would say something. I was right. "Gabrielle, you came back just because I called you?" she questioned.
"Yes," I answered, boldly. "You needed me back. I wanted to come back to you. Xena, I care about you, you are my best friend, I'd do anything for you!" I conclude, feeling like I was baring my soul to her.
She stopped pacing and sat back down, suddenly looking older and wearier. "Gabrielle, why do you care so much for me? I'm an old warlord, just trying to do what's right. Do you have any idea just how many innocent souls I sent to the Elysian Fields? I killed without remorse, plundered villages, took my pleasure indiscriminately, and loved no one." As she spoke, her fists clenched and unclenched in her lap. "I don't deserve your friendship," she concluded bitterly.
I waited, making sure that she was through before venturing, "Xena, I know all that. I've seen you in the torment of nightmares. I saw you with Marcus, saw how you loved him. I've seen how hard you've worked to undo your past misdeeds, to save yourself."
She tried to interrupt, but I held up a hand to stop her. "But you seem to forget that when my village was attacked, you were there to save us. I always craved adventure, and you were my ticket out." I paused, looking to see if there was any tea left in my mug. I sipped the last drop, aware of Xena's unflinching attention. "Xena, I followed you at first because I wanted out of my little town. Here you came flying in like an avenging goddess, kicking the stuffing out of those thugs who attacked my people. I admit that at first, I saw you as a hero, larger than life, but my view has changed."
"Oh, I bet it has," she said dryly.
I ignored her remark. "Despite the fact that you insist on waking me up far too early each morning," I saw a faint smile at that, "I have come to respect you and to consider you my dearest friend. I know I've been a pest in the past, but Xena, I don't want to leave you. I've never had a friend like you, someone I could trust so completely."
Xena looked at me for a long moment. I started feeling uncomfortable, like I had crossed some unseen line into danger, when she replied softly, "Gabrielle, I don't deserve your friendship. How old are you?"
I stared at her, trying to follow the sudden switch. "Um, nineteen. I had a birthday last month."
"Sorry I didn't know, I'll remember in the future," she said, surprising me. "At nineteen, I was plundering villages and killing anyone who crossed my path. It started with my village being attached by Cortese and his army and my brother, Lyceus and I rallying the village to fight back. When he was killed, I went crazy and started killing, not just attacking."
Xena stopped for a moment, swallowing hard, battling emotion. "I loved my brother dearly, you see. He was one of my best friends, besides Diana and a few others. I could not attend his funeral, could barely admit his death. I started whipping my first army, intending to rally the surrounding villages as a ring of defense. Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring about defense and started stealing and killing to keep up my army, not noticing how it affected people. I ask you, can you still travel with me, call me your friend?"
I reached for her hands, coaxing her to unclench them, held them in mine. "Yes, I can still be your friend Xena. But, I was a liability back there, I ran out to rescue the boy without thinking of the possible consequences. Can you still be my friend?" I asked in return.
"Yes," she said hoarsely, "I couldn't live without you." She squeezed my hands, staring at me. "Gabrielle, I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come back. We are so different, gods, I'm ten years older than you are! But, somehow, I've come to rely on you to help me though, to help me find redemption." She stopped, as if she had spoken too much. Before I could say anything, she rushed to add, "You are the first person I've cared about for many years." She abruptly dropped my hands and took off. I heard her mounting up on Argo, riding the mare gods know where.
Yet, I knew she would be back, somehow knew that she had to get away after baring her soul. Yes, I knew that she had done many horrible things, but I also knew that I would never find a better friend in all the world, or a more loyal friend at that. After all, I had left her twice, once to go the the Academy at Athens, and once to go back home. Each time, she waited for me. The last time, she was camping near the road from home, as if we had agreed to meet there.
The flowers smelled so sweet, the air buzzed with the lazy drone of honey bees. I walked along, chatting with my grandmother, when I came across a young boy who was crying in pain. I stopped to help him whena man grabbed me roughly and spun me away, stabbing at me. I managed to turn enough to not get hit in the heart; his blade stabbed my shoulder instead. I screamed in terror and pain, "Xena, help!" I thrashed, trying to fight him off, screaming her name over and over.
"Gabrielle, wake up!" Xena's voice snapped. I opened my eyes, realizing that I had been dreaming. She was leaning over me, patting my cheek. I grabbed her, sitting up, grabbing her, sobbing against her chest. She let me stay in her arms, speaking to me, kissing my face gently. "I'm here, Gabrielle, I'm here, " she said soothingly. I slowly stopped crying, but stayed in her arms, hearing the reassuring beating of her heart, too embarrassed to look at her. "Are you okay now?" I heard her ask. I nodded slowly, reluctant to leave the comfort of her arms. She merely tightened her arms around me, saying, "You're safe here, I'm not going to let anyone hurt you again, I promise."
"Thank you," I said as I felt myself drifting back to sleep, safe in my best friend's embrace. As I drifted to sleep, Xena usually barely tolerates any touch, but this feels so comfortable, so right...
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