by JS Stephens
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Usual tedious disclaimer:
MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Lila, Perdicas and whoever else might cross over from their Xenaverse. Any other characters are my creation and merely interact with MCA/Universal's characters. No warranty is provided, express or implied.
Story copyright © 1998, revised 2013 by JS Stephens. All Rights Reserved.
This story takes place after Gabrielle and Perdicas had their one night marriage. ("Return of Callisto")
Gabrielle was restless.
She knew that she should go home to Potadeia and break the news to Perdicas' parents that he was dead, but it seemed to be too hard of a task to face right now. She also had to face the fact that Xena had let Callisto die to atone for not preventing Perdicas' death. The other soldiers of Perdicas' unit gave him a soldier's funeral, complete with pyre this morning, but now it was afternoon. Gabrielle knew that Xena would want to travel again soon, for that matter, Gabrielle wanted to travel. She wanted to get away from this place of death, to try to figure out her swirling emotions.
"Hey," Xena said softly, breaking into Gabrielle's thoughts, "we can spend the night here, then go to your hometown tomorrow morning. I know of a sheltered clearing nearby, we could clean up then get a good night's sleep."
Gabrielle turned to her best friend, grateful for the tenderness. She nodded silently, taking one last look at the wisps of smoke curling up from the pyre, then turned to follow the warrior.
The next morning, warrior and bard set out to Potadeia on Argo. For once, Gabrielle did not protest riding on the war horse, she merely held on to Xena and hid her face most of the day. Xena could feel occasional tears trickling down her shoulder but was unsure what to do. Gabrielle had barely eaten at lunch, a very rare occurrence in their time traveling together. Xena was somewhat relieved when they rode into town and she could leave Gabrielle with her parents for a few days. Before she could turn Argo toward Gabrielle's family home, Gabrielle stirred long enough to say, "Please take me to to the inn, Xena. I don't think I could take the questions all day and all night."
"All right, if that's what you really want," Xena answered. She felt Gabrielle nod against her shoulder, so she turned the horse toward the local inn. She went in and made the arrangements, then came back out to take Argo to the stable. Gabrielle went inside after Xena told her which room was theirs.
Gabrielle flung their bags down on the floor, then dropped on the bed. She was exhausted, emotionally and physically, and dreaded seeing her family and Perdicas' family. How could she explain that she had been a bride and a widow in just two days? How could she explain that Xena had allowed Perdicas' killer to simply sink into the quicksand, or that she herself wanted to kill Callisto? As these thoughts swirled around her tired brain, she heard Xena come in and start unpacking. She was so miserable that she didn't offer to help, Xena didn't demand help like she usually did. Finally, she felt the bed sink as Xena sat on the side, waiting for Gabrielle to look up. With a heavy sigh, Gabrielle rolled over and looked into the worried blue eyes of her friend.
"Gabrielle, what do you want to do?" Xena asked quietly.
Gabrielle considered the question for a long moment, the finally answered, "I don't know, Xena. I want to hide, yet I want to get this over with as quickly as possible. It all seems so unreal right now, I half expect to walk to the town square and see Perdicas sitting there with his friends, waiting to catch a glimpse of me." She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, then stared at the window across the room. "You'd think that a bard would have the exact words for any occasion. Well, I don't have the words for this and it makes me hurt worse."
Xena tentatively put a hand on the young woman's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Gabrielle, just say what is in your heart. That's all anyone can expect at a time like this."
Gabrielle took Xena's hand from her shoulder and held it in her own. "Thanks, Xena." She sat there, slowly stroking Xena's hand, dreading what she must do. "I'm sure that the families will know we are here before nightfall, so I guess I'd better go see them while it is still light. Will you come with me? Please?"
Xena looked at the teary green eyes, knowing that she could not deny Gabrielle anything. "Yes, I will go with you," she said quietly, "but don't be surprised if your family doesn't want me there."
"Then let's get this over with," Gabrielle conceded.
Gabrielle and Xena went to Perdicas' family home first. "Gabrielle, honey, come on in!" his mother gushed as she ushered the pair in. "What brings you here?"
Gabrielle and Xena sat down at the kitchen table as Perdicas' mother set tea and snacks in front of them. Gabrielle sipped at her tea, then started softly, "Well, I have some news of Perdicas." She swallowed hard, trying to decide how to proceed. Finally, she spoke again. "You see, I ran into Perdicas in Troy, during the final battle in the Trojan War. I didn't know that he had become a soldier. Then, Xena and I ran into him again during another battle. We became reacquainted, then he suddenly proposed during the heat of a battle."
"Oh my. He had written that he had seen you, but didn't mention marriage," his mother said.
Gabrielle nodded, then continued. "I accepted and we were married the following day. The day after we married, a crazed woman, Callisto, tracked us down, threatened me and Perdicas stepped between us to stop her. She killed him in cold blood. He was unarmed, by the gods, and she just slaughtered him! Xena came up about then and tried to reach us in time, but she couldn't stop Callisto from murdering Perdicas." Gabrielle stopped as the tears started again.
His mother sat motionless at the table. Her son, dead, just like that? She had known that he might die in battle, but as a newly wed groom? She looked at Xena for confirmation. Xena shifted uneasily, then spoke. "I couldn't get there in time, although I tried. Callisto is one of my enemies, and she was trying to get to me through Gabrielle. But Callisto won't bother anyone ever again, you have my word."
The shocked woman whispered, "What about his body?"
Gabrielle gulped back tears, replying, "His unit gave him a soldier's funeral. He was burned on a pyre."
Perdicas' mother dropped her face in her hands. "My poor baby," she whispered brokenly, "my poor baby boy."
As they left, Gabrielle told Xena that she wanted to go back to the inn and to wait to see her parents in the morning. Xena nodded her agreement, exhausted as well. She hated dealing with emotions and hers were in nearly as much turmoil as Gabrielle's were at this point. As Gabrielle went on to their room, Xena stopped and requested a hot bath for them. The innkeeper promised a tub, hot water, towels and soap within a short time. Xena tipped him a dinar, then went to their room.
The man was as good as his word, personally overseeing the set up of the bath, then leaving quietly. Xena urged Gabrielle to bathe first. She complied listlessly, then crawled in bed as soon as she was dry. Xena quickly bathed, dressed in a shift, then sat in a chair, watching Gabrielle sleep. At least she seemed peaceful now, Xena thought, looking at her friend's relaxed face. She felt an urge to wrap Gabrielle in her arms, to sing soothing songs to her, to protect her from the recent past. Finally, she blew out the candle and crawled in bed beside the sleeping bard.
The next morning came too quickly for Gabrielle. She dreaded seeing her family and again just poked at her meal until Xena finally said softly, "You don't have to force yourself to eat, Gabrielle." Gabrielle nodded gratefully and watched Xena finish her own meal, unable to say anything for the lump in her throat.
Finally, the two women took off to see Gabrielle's family. Gabrielle stood before her home, steeling herself for the news she bore. Finally, she tentatively opened the door and called out, "Hello? Is anybody home?"
Her sister, Lila, came tearing into the family room shouting, "Gabrielle! You're home!" Lila dragged her big sister into the house, wrapping her in a fierce hug. Gabrielle hugged her sister back, feeling the tears struggling to break loose, but she managed to master herself by the time that Lila finally turned loose. "What brings you back home?" Lila looked over her sister's shoulder and frowned. "Why are you here, Xena?" she said harshly.
Xena softly shut the door behind her, then answered quietly, "Gabrielle has some news. Perhaps we should all go sit down."
Lila looked at the warrior suspiciously, but led them into the kitchen where the family was finishing breakfast. Gabrielle sat down next to her mother and kissed her cheek. She waited for Xena to sit down, then looked at her family. Gathering her courage, she said softly, "I have news for you. Xena and I ran into Perdicas several times lately." She stopped, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. She took several deep breaths, then continued, "The last time we saw him, Perdicas suddenly decided that he was tired of fighting and proposed to me. I accepted."
"Wonderful, daughter, where is he?" her father, Horace, asked.
Gabrielle closed her eyes as the tears started trickling out. "He was killed by an enemy of Xena's and burned in a soldier's funeral pyre."
Her mother, Hecuba, stared at her. "What? Killed? How long were you married?"
Gabrielle opened her eyes and roughly scrubbed away her tears. "We married one afternoon, he was killed the next morning."
Lila turned and glared at Xena. "I suppose that you had something to do with this, Xena!"
All eyes swiveled to focus on the warrior. Xena crossed one long leg over the other and answered, "In what way? Callisto was following me, trying to make my life miserable, but she made Gabrielle's miserable instead. If having an insane woman killing Perdicas to get my attention had something to do with his death..." Xena shrugged her shoulders.
Gabrielle quickly interjected, "Callisto tried to make me angry enough to kill Xena by killing Perdicas. It nearly worked, but not the way she expected. I wanted to kill Callisto, but Xena wouldn't let me."
Just then, a male voice sang out, "Anyone home?" Lila jumped up and dashed off to the front of the house, then brought back a young man. "Well," he said, entering the room, "is this your sister Gabrielle? You have described her perfectly, my love."
Lila quickly made the introductions. "Yes. Gabrielle, this may not be the best time, but let me introduce you to my fiance, Palios. Palios, this is my big sister, Gabrielle and her friend, Xena."
Gabrielle muttered a greeting as Palios politely nodded to her. He turned to Xena and took her hand and kissed it, murmuring under his breath, "Long time no see, princess."
Xena looked at the small man coolly, eyes turned to blue ice. "Palios, what a surprise. I assume that you are still cooking somewhere."
He straightened up and replied, "Yes, I replaced the cook at the inn."
Xena smiled nastily. "I'll have to watch my food, then, won't I?"
Lila watched, puzzled. "Could you two please tell me what is going on here?"
Palios turned from the warrior and put his arm around Lila protectively. "I've met Xena before, darling. I was a cook in her camp several years ago, but left when I realized how cruel she was."
Xena snorted and stood up. "If you folks will excuse me, I need to buy some supplies. Gabrielle, I'll be back later." She turned and abruptly left the house.
Gabrielle watched Xena leave, then turned to Palios. "Her cook?" she questioned. "So, what have you done since you decided not to cook for evil warlords any more?" She stood up and advanced on the man. "I think I have the right to pry into the background of my sister's intended."
"Now, honey," her father interjected, "Palios has already told us that he cooked for several armies, but couldn't stand the bloodshed. I talked to his last commander, a general in the Spartan army, who says that Palios is a fine man. Just get your fur smoothed, little girl."
Gabrielle stared at her father and said in a low voice, "I'm not still your little girl, Father. I just want to make sure my little sister is not making any mistakes." The house was absolutely silent for a moment, then Gabrielle added, "I'll be back later. I need to get away and think." With that, she grabbed her staff and left.
"Hot tempered, eh?" Palios asked no one in particular.
Several hours later, Gabrielle was sitting in her favorite tree, which overlooked a secluded clearing near the river. She and Lila had climbed this tree often in their youth, watching lovers picnicking. The cool breeze caressed her face, lulling her into a light sleep, blending the sounds of feet with the stirring of the leaves. She nearly fell out of the tree when she heard Xena's voice in the clearing, talking to Palios.
"Have you really reformed, Palios? The last time I saw you, you were cooking for me, in more ways that one." Gabrielle carefully leaned over a bit so she could see the two as well as hear them.
Palios tried to put his arm around Xena's waist but was rebuffed. Laughing, he answered, "You didn't mind back then. Gods, Xena, I was never so worn out by a woman! What do you say we do it for old time's sake?" He leaned forward, trying to kiss Xena.
Xena put her flat of her hand against his chest, pushing slightly. "No, Palios, you haven't changed a bit. Suppose I tell Lila what a creep you are?"
He just grinned. "Suppose you tell her how wonderful I am in bed?" He traced his fingers along Xena's outstretched arm. Xena picked his fingers off her arm and started squeezing them until he turned pale with pain. "Okay, you don't want to do anything with me! Fine, I'll leave you alone."
Xena let go of his fingers and said, "Palios, you'd better either do right by Lila, or just go ahead and leave town now. I won't have you hurting her."
He shrugged, turning his palms up. "Who, me? I suppose I'll have to clean up my act, or the mighty warrior princess will ride herd on me. Come to think of it, that might be fun." He grinned wickedly, but stopped grinning when Xena grabbed him by the throat and picked him up, hissing, "I'm serious." She dropped him and watched him rub his throat, then walk back toward town. Xena watched him leave, then called, "Okay Gabrielle, you can climb down now."
Gabrielle scooted down the tree, then went to Xena. "How--never mind, your sharp hearing. So, Palios was someone you knew before?"
Xena nodded as they started walking back to town. "You could say that. He was a cook in my army. He also warmed my bed several nights before I ran the gauntlet."
Gabrielle stopped and stared at her friend. "You mean, you were, um, intimate with him?"
"Yup. I used men for my own pleasure back then." She turned to look at Gabrielle and continued. "Don't worry, Gabrielle, he won't tempt me now, but I am afraid that he won't be faithful to your sister. Look how quickly he tried to come on to me, is that a good trait in a husband?"
"No, I don't think so. Xena, I know that you slept with Marcus, but would you sleep with anyone else? I mean, well..." Gabrielle fluttered to a stop, face bright red with embarrassment.
Xena smiled gently at the blushing Gabrielle. She cupped Gabrielle's chin in her hand and said softly, "Gabrielle, believe me when I say that now I'm not interested in mere physical acts without love. I did love Marcus, but even if he had lived, I don't think I could have made a commitment. I have vowed celibacy until I find the perfect mate. Now, let's go find Lila." She gently rubbed Gabrielle's jaw with her thumb, then suddenly yanked her hand away and started rapidly walking toward town.
"Lila, can I speak with you?" Gabrielle asked when she found her sister. Lila nodded yes and continued to scrub her clothes. Gabrielle sat down and watched her sister for a moment, then finally asked, "How well do you know Palios? How long have you known him?"
Lila stopped what she was doing for a moment, then answered, "Four months. I met him at the winter Solstice feast and we just hit it off. He was new in town, just started working at the inn, and we fell in love immediately. Why do you ask? Just being an overprotective big sister?"
Gabrielle smiled at the description. "Of course, what else are big sisters for?" She serious, explaining, "Lila, Xena knows him from her past, he cooked for her army when she was a warlord and she is concerned that he isn't the best husband material."
Lila squeezed out the dress she was washing, stopping to hang it up as she said, "I know about that, he told me that he cooked for Xena, but came to his senses when she ran the gauntlet. I won't hold that against him, although I still don't like Xena."
Gabrielle picked a blade of grass and started tearing it apart, trying to figure out how to say it. Well, just do it, she told herself. "What would you say if I said I saw Palios flirting with Xena today?"
Lila smiled as she picked up another piece of clothing. "Oh, he's a big flirt, he flirts with all the women in town, Gabrielle. He doesn't mean anything by it."
"No, I don't mean innocent flirting, Lila, I mean really coming on to her, trying to, ah, get her to sleep with him," Gabrielle said.
Lila stopped her washing again. "She must have led him on, then."
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, Lila. I heard and saw it all from the old tree, he was coming on to her pretty good, but she sent him off."
Lila scowled. "You must be mistaken. Palios wouldn't do that, he told me that Xena made him nervous, made him remember his past." She wrung out the garment, then put it on a rock to dry. "By the way, Mom wants you to come to dinner tonight. I suppose Xena can come as well. Will you?"
Gabrielle stood up. "Sure, might as well. You don't believe me, do you?"
"No, I don't. Palios loves me." Lili said proudly.
Gabrielle looked at her little sister for a long moment, then said, "I hope you don't get hurt, then. See you tonight."
"Oh, daughter, you really did that? Why aren't you more careful?" Hecuba asked Gabrielle.
Gabrielle answered, "Mother, Xena and I always back each other up in fights. That's what friends do. If you'll excuse me, I need to leave for a moment." She got up and left for the outhouse.
A moment later, Palios said, "Excuse me, I'll be right back." He left the house and waited beside the outhouse for Gabrielle to come out. When she came out, he stopped her, asking, "What did Xena tell you about me?"
"Palios, I saw you with her earlier today. Lila claims you were just flirting, but the way you had your arm around her waist was not innocent flirting." Gabrielle said flatly.
He laughed. "Ah, Gabrielle, every man has his moments of weakness, especially for a beautiful woman. Yes, Xena and I had our time together in her tent, I loved every moment of it. But, I'm usually more partial to blondes." He moved closer, snaking his arms around her waist. "Do you kiss as well as your sister?" he asked as he tried to kiss her.
Gabrielle tried to shove him away, warning him, "Don't do this, Palios, or I'll scream for Xena."
"Sure, honey, you just do that. Maybe she'll join us in a threesome, that would be fun," he said, still trying to nuzzle her.
"You wouldn't dare," Gabrielle said as she managed to wriggle out of his grasp.
Palios looked at her, grinning. "Sure I would. Fact is, I can hardly wait to get Lila into bed, she seems pretty darned passionate from the kisses we've shared already. Hmm, such sweet lips." He licked his lips suggestively as he stepped closer to Gabrielle. Gabrielle tried to step back, but backed into a tree instead. Palios managed to grab her and started kissing her, trying to get his hands up her skirt. Gabrielle struggled to get loose, only to have Palios swirl her around so that his back was against the tree. He broke off after a moment, saying sheepishly, "Lila, I didn't expect to see you here! I was trying to explain to Gabrielle that we're engaged to be married, that I can't kiss her like that."
Lila grabbed her sister and swung her around. "By the gods, Gabrielle, so recently a widow, now trying to steal my man? How dare you!"
"Lila, it's not what it looks like--" Gabrielle tried to explain.
Crack! went Lila's hand across Gabrielle's face as she hissed, "Just get out, Gabrielle, just get out of here. You lord it over me that you and Xena travel everywhere, doing what you please, and you became an Amazon princess! You got to marry your childhood sweetheart, but I guess he wasn't exciting enough for you. You probably killed him, too. Just get out of town, out of my life! I no longer have a sister, no family but my parents."
Gabrielle stood, staring in horror at her sister. She finally turned mutely toward the house, tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. She walked back inside, motioned for Xena to follow her, and went back to the inn, where she haltingly explained what had happened. Xena listened quietly, then commented, "Lila will find out soon enough that Palios is a good cook and a decent bed partner, but I doubt that there is much else to him. Let's get a good night's sleep, then we will head out in the morning." Gabrielle nodded and started packing. She just couldn't get away soon enough.
The bard and the warrior left early the next morning, as soon as the innkeeper was awake to take their money. Oddly enough, Gabrielle seemed to cheer up once they left Potadeia and by afternoon was starting to tell stories again. Xena was amazed at the difference, but was relieved as well. Gabrielle walked beside Argo, spinning one story after another, editing the tales as she went along, sunlight striking her red-gold hair with a glowing halo.
Xena was also oddly at peace, considering what had happened. It would be good to have Gabrielle back by herself, Xena decided. In fact, she really hadn't been so happy since before Gabrielle met back up with Perdicas. Maybe this was the silver lining in the thundercloud, this peace with Gabrielle, this warmth she felt when Gabrielle smiled.
Night finally fell. Xena and Gabrielle sat around the fire, not really saying much. Gabrielle finished writing and carefully rolled her scroll back up. She looked across the fire at Xena, who was sharpening her sword. Finally, Xena put her weapon down and smiled at her, asking softly, "Did you need something?"
Gabrielle got up and walked over to Xena, then sat down beside her. "Just your friendship and your caring," she answered. "In fact, you are my family, Xena, since I seem to have lost the rest of my family." She leaned her head against Xena's shoulder and closed her eyes, savoring the simple comfort of her best friend.
"Your family? That sounds pretty nice," Xena said softly. "Pretty nice indeed." She wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's waist and pulled the other woman closer. Life was actually good for a change.
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