Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
My website is at http://dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm
Minutes later, after a few plans had been made, an unconvinced Aphrodite began to saunter away when she stopped, and flung out her fingers in a familiar motion. Xena immediately froze in place. A worried Gabrielle was about to say something, but at a smile from Aphrodite, she moved to her side, though never taking her eyes off of her all-too-still partner.
“I'm not welshing on the deal we just made,” began the Goddess quietly. “But you do know that if you blow the final exam tomorrow…”
Gabrielle nodded, and whispered, as though afraid that Xena might still hear them. “I know. But you also said you were here to bring us together. I'm assuming that it wasn't just for a sleepover.”
“It's not up to me, I told you. When that last temptation is made, the answer has to be for Love. The big ‘L' one. If not, well, all bets are off.”
“Xena knows His tricks,” the bard said confidently.
Throughout this whispered discussion, there was an unusually sombre look in the Goddesses eyes. As if there was another meaning in her words. “To give the person you love… the chance to have the peace they never had with you, it's a big deal. Hard to refuse, ya know?”
Though she could tell that Aphrodite was being more cryptic than usual, she decided to let it go. “She'll handle it.”
The Goddess only shrugged. “Okay. I tried.”
With that enigmatic goodbye, she left them alone, and at her disappearance, Xena unfroze, unsuspecting that any time had passed. For a long moment, they stood quietly, contemplating the barrier of the collapsed section of tunnel as if it were a physical illustration of their own relationship. Gabrielle decided a change of mood was needed, and as she rolled her toga up her arms to get to work, she joked, “This is typical of you, you know? Why is it you never take me anywhere nice?”
Straight faced, Xena replied, “Nag, nag, nag. Never satisfied. Weren't we just at the Coliseum? The Greatest Entertainment Complex In The World!”
Gabrielle reached into the pile and tossed a section of cement aside. “True. And I did get to see a few nice temples.”
Xena stepped onto the debris to grasp a large piece of cracked tile. “There you go. And now this." She gestured about. "A part of Rome that the tourists never see!”
As Gabrielle snorted, the mound Xena was standing on suddenly began to slide underneath her feet. As she reached to the wall ahead to steady herself, the surge of rocks undermined a support and as it fell, a huge section of the ceiling shook itself loose with a haze of dust. Gabrielle leapt forward to help but Xena shoved her backwards and away.
And then the warrior was gone. Blocks and sections of gravel continued to shower down from the ceiling, creating billowing clouds of dust that filled the tunnel.
Gabrielle scrambled to her feet, trying to see through the dust, finally finding a massive pile of rubble where Xena had been standing, joking, moments before. Pain and anger squeezed through her throat, generating a feral wail.
“ NOOOOO!” Unmindful of the dangers of further cave-ins, she stumbled forward and began scrabbling through the pile, tossing and throwing whatever materiel her hands could grip. She was oblivious to everything; the passage of time, the blood that was soon dripping from her hands and fingers, or the stones still trickling from the ceiling onto her back and sides. Everything, but her rapidly despairing search.
How long it took until she found a powder covered arm she would never know. Struggling to hold onto her reason, she cleared it until she had uncovered a shoulder and fought the desire to pull the still form out before checking as to what might be broken. Instead, she continued to tear away brick and rubble upwards from Xena's chest, noting with great relief that it still rose and fell in hitching irregularity.
But as she uncovered the dust-coated features, the breathing stopped.
Gabrielle hurriedly straddled the body, pulled open the stiff, dust-covered mouth and cleared it of the larger obstructions. Her heart again clenching with fear, she began to try to inflate the unmoving lungs. There was no response, and she stopped to kick aside more rubble, finally remembering to look upwards to see if there was anything else falling. Instead like magic, part of the partition ahead collapsed, revealing a stairway leading upwards. Gabrielle closed her eyes, squeezing out tears and began to half-cry, half-laugh at the terrible irony.
“No time for tears now, Gabrielle,” she mentally ordered, shaking herself from the hysteria that threatened. Once more she tried to blow air into the still warrior.
Nothing. No response.
Now beyond panic, she began pounding on the chest in anger. Words, half remembered from some other lifetime, spilled from her lips. “Don't you LEAVE ME! Don't you DARE… leave me… alone… again!”
She hammered on the chest, dust rising with each strike, shouting in rhythm with the strikes, shrieking at the air; "Xena! Wake UP and BREATHE, damn you! Breathe...BREATHE! WORK with me, here! Do you hear me? BREATHE, dammit! Xena! PLEASE! Not now. Don't…leave me… alone…again...."
Once more, she tried to inflate the lungs, but this time, there was some assisting movement, and she withdrew her mouth hesitantly. Her reward was a ratchety cough spewing dust into her face. The eyes fluttered, but even in the weak light, the brilliant blue contrasted with the grimy face. Gabrielle's relief drowned her senses, and she hung her head in exhaustion. Meanwhile, Xena's trembling hand rose, and stroked various dusty joints. Gabrielle impatiently waited for the inspection to be complete before asking, ‘Anything broken?' and got a weary shake of the head in return. Together they carefully eased the warrior out of the wreckage, before they finally collapsed against a wall. Both were covered in small cuts that bloomed red on their dust-coated skin, and their once white togas were grey creased in black.
Gabrielle began to laugh quietly. Afraid that it was the onset of hysteria, Xena ignored the sound, awkwardly patting her shoulder. “Anything… particularly funny?” she managed through a ratcheting cough, when Gabrielle finally fell silent.
Gabrielle raised a weary hand to a grimy forehead, trying to catch her breath. “Me, as usual. I just got through telling you that being crucified was my greatest nightmare. I forgot there was something else. Something that beats that hollow.” She wheezed and waved a shaking finger under the warrior's nose. “You are NOT doing that to me again,” she instructed fiercely. “No more pushing me out of danger, no more taking stuff on your head—literally or otherwise. Whether we like it or not, we're partners. Got that?”
Xena only nodded while panting.
Gabrielle swallowed. “The way I feel, the ceiling might as well have collapsed on me anyway,” she mumbled.
Xena became aware that the passage beyond them was now cleared. She gestured questioningly at it and her exhausted partner found a faint grin. “Had to do something while you were just lying around.”
“Nice job.” Xena acknowledged, and made to stand up. “Then you deserve a break.”
“Oh no, you don't.” Though still shaking from the emotional shock, Gabrielle managed to grab an arm and pull the warrior back to the ground. “First, before we do anything, we both need to wash up, then we'll go on. Together. You are not leaving me even one foot behind anymore. Or haven't you been listening?”
Xena slumped against Gabrielle. “Doesn't seem that way, does it? I keep having to say I'm sorry.”
There was a silence in the darkness that ached for a long moment. Gabrielle coughed a few times, spitting out more plaster. “As long as we're sure of the rules. We're together, right? Right to the end. As far as it goes.”
The warrior smiled wanly. “Sounds like a plan to me. Though we have been known to get to the same place by different roads.”
“Always. Together. To the end. For as far as it goes.” She reached over to grasp Gabrielle's hand. Gabrielle searched the warrior's eyes to see any hesitation, and Xena allowed her the time, hoping that she'd find whatever it was she needed to see. Apparently she did, for as they gripped each other's hands to shake on the agreement, Gabrielle smiled and they said together, “Different roads, same destination.”
Xena realised it was t he first true, full smile she had seen from Gabrielle throughout this very long day.
So, for what seemed like far too short a time, they rested. Then, moving stiffly and using their precious water carefully, each attended to the other's wounds. Despite their caution, even those movements seemed to stir more of the rock dust, so Gabrielle knelt and began carefully tearing a portion of her toga, until she had a strip the size of a mask for her face. She rose to find Xena staring at her. “Uh uh. You've got your own toga.”
Xena coughed. “Ah… no! I'm fine. I was… never mind.”
Gabrielle smirked when she realised where Xena had been looking. “I'm exhausted, covered with dirt, and you're leering at my legs? One almost kiss doesn't mean I'm easy.”
Xena pursed her lips and continued to look at the discussed body parts. “Even if I'm on a diet, no one says I can't look at the menu.”
“Don't talk about food!” Gabrielle begged. “Not until we're on the other side of this fall.”
“This one,” Xena grumpily replied.
Gabrielle shook her arm free of rubble. “Cheer up, Ms. Optimist, there can't be many more, or we wouldn't have gotten through to tell Aphrodite where we were.”
This didn't cheer her partner up. “I'm very happy all that time line stuff makes sense to you, but…”
“It gives you a headache?”
“Different time lines are like earthquakes. You think the ground under you is solid, and then…”
A few more muttered complaints later, Xena was able to push through into the corridor beyond and Gabrielle was passing the torch ahead, before following right behind her. The torch was hardly needed, for there was another skylight immediately above, radiating heat and sunshine, reminding them that night was still a long way off. Beyond it, they found what looked like the beginnings of stairs, but they were also covered in rubble reaching to the roof.
“Break time?” Xena asked, to which Gabrielle agreed gladly. Xena gave her a sideways glance. “Hey, I just realised. No stomach monster!”
Gabrielle was not amused. “Ha. Ha. Don't worry. It may be silent, but it's still here. We had a big day, you know.”
“I can't believe that horn of plenty you seem to have in the bag doesn't produce food.”
Gabrielle made a face. “Well…”
Xena's eyes lit up. “Weren't you planning to share?”
“It isn't that, it's just when we smashed into the wall on the rope, I think it all got squashed.”
“ Is… It…. EDIBLE? ”
Gabrielle had to laugh at Xena's intense interest. “Who's got the stomach monster now?”
“Just poor strategy to be hungry before a battle,” she stated with a smirk.
They took off their improvised masks and sat down on another of the benches that seemed to mark each section of corridors. At Xena's expectant look, Gabrielle grinned and began rooting through her bag.
“Okay, we got some bread… or it was bread.” She produced a squashed item, with something white oozing from the sides. “I may have grabbed it before it was completely cooked,” she admitted.
Xena looked at it with some distaste. “Moving on?”
“Moving on, we also have a bunch of these things. I wasn't sure which ones were the best for eating so I grabbed a bunch of them. The cooks used them in practically everything.” This time she brought a handful of red mush.
“And the best part, runny, milky cheese.”
“And to think I was really getting to like that bag.” Xena immediately changed her tone when Gabrielle appeared to pout. “But we do want to eat. So hand it over.”
Gabrielle resisted. “No way. This might be our last meal, and I want it to be something decent. Is there anyway we could cook this stuff? I have a few spices and herbs… I don't suppose Nero installed ovens in his tunnel?”
“Nope, but if it's heat you need…” and the warrior pointed aloft and ahead to the sun-dappled air vent and the steaming hot tiles that surrounded it, “The sun's been hitting that all day and that's probably as hot as any oven. But wouldn't it be simpler just to stuff it in the bread?”
“If we want this to be ready anytime soon, maybe if I flatten the bread it'll cook faster. And we also have….” Gabrielle laid out the bread and pulled out a long cylindrical object.
Xena perked up immediately. “Aha! My faith in the bag was right! Sausage!”
“Get your mitts off this. I'm putting it in the … thing.” She placed the sausage on the marble topped bench and produced another item. Xena blanched.
“Oh please, don't tell me you're going to use my chakram to chop…”
“WHOSE Chakram?” Gabrielle asked pointedly.
Xena clenched her hands and eyes. “Arghhh! Yours. But couldn't you use my sword?”
“You're so delicate,” Gabrielle teased, but threw herself into her project with gusto.
Despite her injuries, Xena began to pace, averting her eyes as the slaughter continued. “You're deliberately making this last longer, aren't you?”
“No,” Gabrielle denied. “I want the slices thin. But you wait, I haven't sliced the cheese yet.”
“And here I thought you just needed a bath.”
“For that, I'm slicing the cheese REALLY thin. It'll cover the tomato mush and the sausage, might make it look a bit better.”
One very cheese-smeared chakram later, and Xena having lodged Gabrielle's creation in the chimney between the heated tiles of the vent, they returned to clearing the stairway. The job was quickly done, as it mainly required the rock to be rolled further down the corridor, blocking the passage back to the Coliseum. It was clear, if unspoken, that they wouldn't be returning this way. Or at all.
A torch was used to peer upwards to a further line of steps climbing the hill.
“We must be getting close and it looks pretty good from here on in. We'll take a break now, then follow the steps and see where we can exit. Then wait until dark to go out and start poking around.”
“Sounds good. Wish we could have a bath first. The one thing in Rome that they do well.” Wearily, the two returned to the air vent oven.
“Funny, something smells nice.” Xena reached up and carefully pulled down Gabrielle's creation. The cheese had browned on the top, spreading and covering the sausage and paste except for a few crests and peaks. “It's your whatsit. It looks ready. And smells pretty good!”
Gabrielle pretended to be offended. “You sound shocked.”
“I apologise, Madam.” With a flourish, Xena placed the creation on the makeshift table and while she looked away, Gabrielle again used the chakram to cut the flattened circular pie into triangular sections. There was a moment of hesitation, but at the first bite, they were looking at each other in shock and delight.
“I shouldn't be surprised, ya know? Though I was wondering…. if this is a last meal…” She looked questioningly once more at Gabrielle's bag.
Gabrielle moved to grip it proprietarily. “Xena! Wine? You want me to go hauling a great big heavy bottle of Roman wine in my bag? And it would have smashed by now anyway.”
There was a sigh from the warrior. “True.”
Gabrielle instead produced a small flask. “So it's lucky I wrapped the bottle of tsipouro in the bread.”
Xena's eyes lit up. “Ouzo? You have Greek Spirit?” She grabbed Gabrielle's cheeks and kissed her hard on the mouth before snatching the bottle away. “You wonderful, wonderful woman!”
Half pleased, partly shocked, Gabrielle managed to ask, “Excuse me? I come back from the dead, I rescue your ass from the Coliseum, dig out a tunnel with you, pretty well forgive you for being, well… you. Anyway, NOW you're grateful?”
Nodding happily, Xena poured a few ounces of the spirit down her desiccated throat, before passing it back to Gabrielle, who did the same. With the exception of the fit of coughing that followed. “I guess Vestal virgins don't drink,” she wheezed. Xena was about to say something but just grinned a very lopsided smile. Seeing this, Gabrielle moved in front of her and folded her arms. “What?” she demanded.
“No way. I have my own speeches I prepared for the last hundred years and the first one was always that I wasn't letting you get away with that ever again. Now you tell me right now, this moment, why you have that big dumb grin on your face.”
Xena laughed. A strangely relaxed sound, so Gabrielle settled by her side, and watched the flickering of the torch on her partner's face. Xena took another bite of her bread and chewed it pensively. “Fair enough,” she finally said. “I was just thinking…” she took another shot of the tsipouro and passed it back to Gabrielle, who took the flask, never taking her eyes off Xena. “You know I want to believe we have some sort of hope, but…. I mean, we've been told by the Gods and Fates that tomorrow we fight him the most powerful God and die. While enjoying the wait for that, we're trapped in this dirty tunnel, I have stitches in my butt…”
Gabrielle took a long swig of the tsipouro. “Oh yeah, I can see why you were grinning now.”
“But,” Gabrielle prodded.
Xena gave a shy shrug. “At this moment, this time, this place is beautiful.”
Gabrielle quickly returned the bottle to Xena, hoping to encourage her to continue. “Yes…?”
After a swallow, she did. “This place, this moment is…”
“Transformed?” Gabrielle tried.
“Transformed,” Xena agreed. “Because of you. Like my life.”
Gabrielle took her partner's hand. “No,” she disagreed vehemently. “If it's transformed, it's because we're here. Because despite all of what we've been through, we're here.”
“Then I say, thank you. For transforming my life changing me. Because… because you loved me.”
Their heads seemed to have moved on their own accord, until their foreheads were touching. Xena managed to say, “I do love you, ya know? I always did. I think, I just didn't always know what that meant,”
Gabrielle nodded slightly, feeling the warrior's head shift with the small movement. “Me, too. I mean, I always knew, and maybe I should have gotten the nerve to make sure you knew. Because I knew what love should be and didn't always accept the responsibility.”
“Shush. I screwed it up. But you're here, now. And that's all I care about.”
Gabrielle shook her head. “You'd think that with only one day to live we'd be able to get through it without blaming each other or ourselves.”
Xena laughed. “You get mad if I say we haven't changed that much?”
Gabrielle averted her head slightly, but not moving from the position they had moved into, and cleared her suddenly dry throat, “I am impressed you haven't asked me a rather obvious question. Especially since I made YOU promise not to make any decisions without consulting me.”
Xena smiled. “I'm impressed with me too. But I know you have a reason. And you'll tell me what you changed at the Fates when I need to know, right?”
Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. “I'm still not sure I know what to do with this kinder and gentler Xena.”
“Only for you. We'll see how kind and gentle I feel once we get a shot at that bastard tomorrow.”
“You don't think He'll just want to have a nice chat?”
“Gabrielle, the only time we ever got along was when He was a mortal. If He was bad as a regular God, imagine what He's like now. Even at your best, you couldn't change His mind unless you got your hand inside His skull. Trust me.” There was a slight flexing of her shoulder muscles, and then Xena stood. “Speaking of tomorrow, I think it might be wise if we checked out what these bodies can do. I doubt it's all going to be talking, don't you? Maybe we could do a bit of sparring?”
“Unfair! You still have your sword from the arena! What am I supposed to use?”
“The same things you're gonna have to use when we probably meet up with guys with swords tomorrow.” While Gabrielle was soberly considering this, Xena added with a grin, “anyway, we need to burn off this…?” She picked up a triangle of sausage and tomato paste covered with baked cheese on flat bread. “Whatcha gonna call this, anyway?”
Gabrielle pursed her lips. “I was thinking…” Though at that moment all thinking stopped. She had raised her eyes, seriously considering the question, when her eyes fell upon her partner. Her partner, in the most flattering of torchlight, beginning her stretches before a drill, as though they'd never been apart. ‘ Well, not quite like they'd never been apart' , because her once-again traitorous body was clearly aware of how long it had last been. Yes, it was not Xena; thank the Gods it wasn't Callisto again, but still… if she had ever worried that their spark had disappeared, she was right then being firmly assured that that part of their relationship had not died. At all.
Xena straightened and looked over to the silent bard. “Sounds long. Will it fit on a menu?”
Quashing a lascivious reply involving what she'd really like to see on the menu, Gabrielle shook herself mentally and physically, and joined the warrior in stretching the unused muscles. There was little room for anything but close quarters hand-to-hand, but their combined competitive natures soon had them focussed on nothing but the drill.
But when they had nearly exhausted themselves in the intensity of the exercise, they drifted together and collapsed against one of the walls. Sleep took them both before either could wonder why it seemed so natural that they had ended up in each other's arms.
And Aphrodite's attempted warning was completely forgotten.
To be continued...
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