by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1997, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
(Xena & Gabrielle, Mythical Babes series - 7)
Part 1: The Rest of our Lives
Part 2: The Temple Incident
Part 3: Gabrielle
Part 4: The Turning Point
Part 6: Loosening the Chains
Usual tedious disclaimer:
MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. Any other characters are my creation and merely interact with MCA/Universal's characters. There may or may not be relationships between two consenting women.
Xena was miffed. Gabrielle had flitted back to Potadeia after freezing in battle without giving Xena a chance to talk her out of going. Maybe the youngster didn't belong on the road after all, Xena thought, yet she was also fairly sure that Gabrielle would be back. Gabrielle had wanderlust pretty badly, she would be back.
As Xena rode Argo slowly through the countryside, she thought she heard a rustle in the nearby trees. Quietly slipping off the horse, she drew her sword and went to investigate. As she approached the trees, a woman leapt down, yelling, "Xena! By the gods, it's good to see you!"
Xena allowed herself a smile as she re-sheathed her sword and reached out for the younger woman. "Diana, you've grown so much!" she exclaimed as she hugged her childhood friend. She pulled back for a better look, still holding Diana's shoulders. "Diana, you're nearly as tall as I am. Last time I saw you, you were barely up to my shoulder." Still smiling, she released the other woman, asking, "How are you doing? Last time I was in Amphipolis, Mother said you had just left for the Amazon village, that you have been in training there."
Diana grinned broadly as they started walking toward Argo. "I'm doing great, Xena. I've been with the Amazons for six months now. Did your mother tell you that Rebecka died? She had some sort of lung illness. Mom was nearly crazed with grief, she and Rebecka had been partners as long as I have been alive. Anyway, your mother has been wonderful for my mom, making her take daily walks, stuff like that."
"Yes, Mother did mention that Rebecka had died. She didn't tell me that Diedra was taking it so hard." Xena said. She had anticipated it, though, since Diedra had been so eerily composed at Rebecka's funeral. Xena remembered hiding out, watching the funeral, just weeks before her fateful meeting with Hercules and her turning away from her old life. She changed the subject, uncomfortable with not telling Diana that she had been there. "So, where are you headed, Diana?" Xena asked.
Diana replied, "I'm going home on my first leave. It's still a day's walk, but the sun is starting to go down so I thought I'd camp here. I was in the trees scouting around when I saw you. Gods, it's so great to see you!" Diana impulsively hugged the warrior again.
Xena smiled indulgently as she hugged the other woman back. Despite the six year age difference, she and Diana had been close friends until Xena left Amphipolis. Xena's mother, Cyrene, had bought most of her groceries from Diana's mothers, Rebecka and Diedra. "You know, Diana, one of my earliest memories is seeing your mother appearing in our inn, all scruffy from travel, falling asleep at the table. My mom sent her to Rebecka's store since she knew Rebecka needed a new clerk. I was fascinated by your mother, she taught me how to work with the sword and the staff." She broke her trip down memory lane asking, "So, should we camp together? If so, we'd better start pretty soon before the sun gets any lower."
"Sounds good to me, Xena," Diana agreed, "lead on."
Later on, Xena and Diana were still catching up over dinner. "So, we had the soldiers surrounded and they surrendered. Another victory for the Amazon Nntion!" Diana concluded. She leaned back, putting her plate beside her. "Hey, where's Gabrielle? Don't you travel with her? I was at the training camp when she was at the village, so I didn't get to see you, but I heard all about it."
Xena's face darkened slightly. "Gabrielle has gone home for a short time. She froze in battle, then felt like she should leave." Xena abruptly stopped talking and started stacking dishes.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know. I assumed that she would be here, Xena. I'd be pretty pissed if someone left me like that too. Here, let me help with the dishes." Diana reached out, but Xena waved her off, saying that Diana should get her bedroll ready. Diana shrugged, puzzled by Xena's abrupt coldness. She stayed out of Xena's way until Xena had the dishes cleaned and put away, then asked, "Xena? Are you going to shut me out for the rest of the night?"
Xena ignored her friend until she had finished her chores, then abruptly sat near Diana, staring moodily into the fire. "I don't know. Diana, I don't seem to know anything most of the time anymore. I shouldn't be so rough on you, especially since I am glad to see you." She turned and looked at Diana, still shocked to see a young woman in the place of the girl she had left so many years ago. "It's hard to explain, Diana. I don't trust my feelings much." She tossed a stick into the fire, watching it blaze up, then, trying to be sociable again, asked, "So, what all have you done since I left to be an evil warlord?"
Relieved that Xena was at least making an effort, Diana answered, "Oh, this and that. Mom taught me the sword after you left while Mama Rebecka taught me how to run the store. We spent a lot of time with Cyrene after you left, she was pretty heartbroken at losing her children to death and desertion. The other kids picked on me until I took a growing spurt the winter after you left, then they left me alone. Mama was pretty sick for the last year of her life, so I kept the store most of the time. Mom was pretty broken up by Mama's death." Diana looked Xena in the eyes, saying, "But the strangest thing was that Mama told me just before she died that she dreamed that you would seek to do good, that you would enter a battle for your soul. She made me promise not to tell anyone, saying that she had no idea when it would come true."
Xena saw a flash of Rebecka saying similar words to her, when Xena had snuck into the house when Diedra and Diana were out for a short time. "I had no idea that Rebecka was a prophet."
"Not usually, but she was pretty insistent that this would come to pass. I'm glad it did, I missed you a lot," Diana said wistfully.
Xena allowed herself another smile. "I missed you too, little one." She cracked a mighty yawn, then said, "Let's get some sleep. I'm pretty tired."
"Me too. Goodnight, Xena." Diana yawned as she unrolled her blankets.
"Good-night, Diana," Xena replied. She watched until Diana was sound asleep, then reluctantly crawled into her own blankets, finally surrendering to the arms of Morpheus.
The man had Gabrielle in his arms, holding a knife to her throat. "Try to save the bard, warrior princess!" he sneered. Xena calmly measured the distance, then snaked out her whip, flicking away the knife--but it was too late. Gabrielle sank to the ground, bleeding...
...and Xena sat up, squelching the scream that threatened to rise in her throat. She felt a hand on her shoulder and nearly lashed out before she recognized Diana in the dim light from the fire. "Xena, were you having a nightmare?" Diana asked softly.
"Yes. Don't worry, I'll be fine," Xena snapped, angry and embarrassed.
Diana retorted, "Yeah, right, you're fine. What's bothering you? You always made me talk to you when we were young, so turn about is fair play."
Xena looked into Diana's soft brown eyes, realizing anew that her young friend was now a woman, not the girl she had left behind. Diana was an Amazon warrior, and probably had seen death and destruction already. Xena ran her hands through her black hair then rubbed her eyes, trying to banish the residue of the nightmare. "I dreamed that Gabrielle was being held captive and had her throat sliced before I could save her," Xena answered in a flat voice.
Diana moved closer to Xena and put her arms around her friend. "Considering what you've seen and done over the past ten years, I'm not surprised that you would have nightmares," she said. "Gabrielle must mean a lot to you, though, for you to dream that she is threatened."
Xena pulled out of Diana's arms, narrowing her eyes. "What do you mean by that?"
"Don't get huffy on me, warrior. I just mean that you wouldn't have such dreams about someone you didn't care about. Before you left, you always looked out for me, Xena, so I assumed that you'd be looking out for Gabrielle in the same way. Although I doubt that you've ever held her in your lap like you did me when I was a baby," Diana explained.
Xena relaxed, thinking about their shared past. "You were a pretty cute baby, too. Your hair was so blonde when you were born, then darkened to light brown as you grew up. I guess you were the closest thing to a baby sister that I ever had." Xena hesitated, then reached over for Diana's hand. "I'll be okay now, I promise. No more nightmares to disturb your sleep."
Diana squeezed Xena's hand back, then leaned over and kissed Xena's cheek. "I'm here if you need me," she said softly. Xena nodded, then released her hand, burrowing back under her covers.
Xena woke up first the next morning. For a few minutes, she looked at her friend, noticing how compactly she slept. Her hand was near her dagger, body rolled up tightly, unlike Gabrielle, who was always sprawled out, taking up more than her share of the room around the fire. Xena finally cleared her throat and whispered, "Time to get up." Diana bounced up immediately, dagger in hand until she saw Xena. Xena smiled, saying, "Good reflexes, just don't stab me. You wake up much faster than Gabrielle does, sometimes I have to pour cold water on her to wake her up."
"Well, when you have an Amazon for one of your parents, you learn to wake up quickly. Excuse me a moment." Diana walked off into the bushes, then came back a few minutes later, sniffing at the smell of breakfast. "Smells good, I'm hungry." Xena handed her a plate, then filled her own plate.
Xena found herself comparing Diana to Gabrielle all through the meal. Diana didn't eat as much as the bard, ate silently, and immediately started cleaning up after breakfast. Xena was amused at the comparison, but found that she missed the bard's incessant chatter, something she never thought she would miss. She mentioned it to Diana, who smiled mysteriously, saying, "Sorry, I can't fill her boots. I'd like to meet Gabrielle some day, though. Maybe you should bring her to Amphipolis for Solstice this year."
"But she may never leave home," Xena argued.
"Oh, I think she will. Who can resist the chance to walk with Xena, famous warlord turned do-gooder? I'd love to be your sidekick, but I have other responsibilities," Diana said playfully.
Xena turned and started repacking, and a companionable silence fell over them as they struck camp. Finally, she asked Diana, "So, are you leaving right away?"
"Yes, I think so. Should I give any messages for you at home?"
Xena thought for a long moment, then merely said, "Just give our mothers my love." She looked at the tall young woman again, then hugged her for a long time before finally stepping back, tenderly touching Diana's cheek. "Take care of yourself, Diana. I'll try not to make it so long between visits next time."
"Anything would be better than ten years, I might be an old married woman by then." Diana laughed, then waved as she turned to leave. Xena watched her walk away, sad that she had missed her transformation into a young woman, but glad that she had the chance to see Diana again. She mounted Argo and started off, heading vaguely toward Potadeia.
Several days later, Xena heard about Gabrielle's pulling the villagers together for a terrific defense of her hometown. Xena was very proud of her sidekick, for she had defended her town and saved them from the ineptitude of Meleager the not so Mighty. Xena decided to camp about an hour's walk outside of the village, sure that Gabrielle would get wanderlust again fairly soon. Her patience was rewarded sooner than she had expected. Before Xena could finish setting up camp, Gabrielle came walking up the path.
"Xena! Did you hear what happened?" Gabrielle burst out as she ran the last few yards toward the warrior.
"Do tell, Gabrielle," Xena said. She listened as the bard told the tale, embellishing it with demonstrations. Xena was amused at the telling, but very glad to see the Gabrielle again. She realized with a start that Gabrielle was younger than Diana by a few years, but had grown up fast since she first tagged after Xena. When Gabrielle came to the end of her tale, Xena put her arm lightly around Gabrielle's shoulders, squeezing her briefly. "Sounds like you did quite well." she commented. Gabrielle beamed up at Xena, the pleasure of being complimented by the warrior suffusing her face.
That night after supper, Gabrielle fell asleep quickly, sprawling out as usual. Xena stayed up, finishing cleaning and sharpening her weapons, stealing glances at the sleeping bard from time to time. Xena was not sure whether to be amused or chagrined at being so pleased that Gabrielle was back. She thought about Diana, how she realized that she had missed her and felt guilty about not watching her finish grow up, but how, despite Diana's competence and self-reliance, she preferred to see Gabrielle across the fire. After years of equating companionship with favors exchanged or alliances built, it was refreshing to have someone follow her just out of friendship, she decided. She finished with her weapons, then settled into her blankets.
Xena did not have any nightmares that night.
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