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
Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.
His moment of anticipation was staggeringly crushed. Instead of the long-awaited power flowing into his fingers, Ares felt as though his hands had been cut off with an axe. Pain sliced through his mind and not having felt any hurt at all for centuries, he fell to the ground, crashing, barely remaining on his feet, a short distance from where Gabrielle lay herself, gasping in pain.
“What…?” He staggered again and toppled to the ground, and when he opened his eyes, they met the gleaming smile of Xena, still hanging from the other cliff, blood streaming in rivulets down her body, and yet somehow grinning in triumph despite her own mortal wounds.
“Oh, got an owie? Tsk tsk,” she managed.
“How…?” he asked, before another spasm lanced through him.
The wind caught the warrior and she rotated slightly around the rope, closing her eyes as the movement twisted a few of the arrows, but her smile remained undimmed. “You're wondering what went wrong with the great plan?” Xena raised a blood-streaked arm to point at the fallen bard, trying to keep the tears from rising in her eyes. “Well, she did. What you're feeling isn't brand new suckers to the Great God. Just the reverse. ‘Fraid all those new altars were a bit premature. They're being taken out.” She stopped to gain a breath and then continued, remorselessly. “They're being rededicated to other Gods or just smashed… right where they stand. We played you, Mars. We let ourselves be caught. While you've been playing your sick game, messages were sent out today to all the Empire, by order of the Emperor of Rome, because Gabrielle convinced him that you… were just a rock in the stream of life.” She began to chuckle, and though it was cut off by a spasm of coughing, her smile never left her face.
Seething, and driven to end that grin, Ares struggled to his feet and tried to send a fireball right into the mocking visage, but again, somewhere another altar was smashed and he fell again to his knees in unthinking pain.
Xena forced her eyes a few metres to scrutinize her partner. Gabrielle had somehow maintained consciousness and raised her head so that she could also see across to Xena. Even from that distance, dangling from the cliff, the warrior could make out the charred flesh, blackened and exposed, and knew that the bard had very little time left. The pain, she knew, must be agonising, but at least the fireball had seared her flesh so that there was little blood loss. Their eyes caught, held and they shared an aching gaze across the breadth of the chasm, a gaze that embraced each of them for an age. Xena had almost forgotten what is was like to be so completely absorbed in Gabrielle's eyes, connecting with more than one another's thoughts… until Gabrielle broke the stare, to look downwards. To direct Xena's eyes along the steep downhill slope, down to the river far below. The one place they could conceivably reach to be united.
Xena contemplated the impossibility of Gabrielle, in her condition, crawling that distance to the base of the canyon, or of herself dropping or climbing down the cliff face. But in the face of the determination she could see in her lover's expression, she could only nod her agreement.
Gabrielle acknowledged the pact with a short nod, and closed her eyes to prepare herself for the pain, pulled up her knees into a tuck, biting her tongue as the pressure against her shredded chest tore at her nerves. She grasped the hem of her poncho and pulled it so that it rested under her legs and feet and gripped it tightly, and prodded and pushed at the ground until she began to slide forward. Surely gathering speed, she began to toboggan her way down the steep slope.
‘ Atta girl' Xena thought in admiration. As the bard descended, Xena turned to solve her own small problem.
Xena stared angrily at the smooth cliff walls and then at the immense distance to the ground. For the moment, she had nothing to fear from Ares, as he was still feeling the collapse of another altar and lay on his side, groaning in agony, unable to think of anything but his own defeat and loss.
To drop, even without these injuries, would mean certain death. Any other alterative would take time and Gabrielle clearly did not have long to live. She scanned the length of the sheer cliff, finding nothing that could be used as a foothold, nor did she have anything within reach that could make or be used as one. Or did she? Xena examined the arrows jutting out of her body, each in the few gaps not covered by the Roman armour. They were of a fine hardwood, and most could not be removed without releasing a cascade of blood. She selected two closest to her right arm, arrows that did not appear to be staunching the flow of blood, worked them back and forth until the points released. The pain was severe, but she focussed on the trust she had seen in Gabrielle's eyes, faith that the former warlord would find a way to join her. Finally she had two, firm, unsplintered arrows in her hands. She thrust one into the soft limestone of the cliff and felt triumph in her heart as it held. Then pounded the other into the wall of stone as well. She cut herself loose from the rope and began the laborious task of using the two arrows as handholds to all too slowly, lower herself down into the valley.
“I can do this. I will do this,” Gabrielle muttered to herself. Her ability to maintain her balance was uncertain, and sliding through the sparse underbrush took all of her waning concentration, but she kept the base of the ravine in sight as her final objective, even as the jolts of the underbrush and then jagged rocks caused everything to turn to…
Joxer is shouting, “Xena, what are you doing?”
‘You're not real. You're in my mind ,' she tells herself or is it Calisto again? and then, oh Gods, the rope is catching around her and she's being pulled and the ground is tearing her and the stream and the rocks are cutting into her and the physical pain is almost, almost as terrible as the anguish and regret until it all stops and Xena, but not Xena not her Xena, never her Xena, lifts her above her shoulders and screams “ VENGEANCE !” And she tries to fight but they're falling, falling into…
…of the noon sun was once again blinding her and she realised she was still only part way down the hillside and somehow she'd fallen on her side. The stinging pain of her burned flesh was all she could feel or sense and she was wondering why she had to move and why she couldn't die right there. She lifted her head and saw Xena. Xena, somehow keeping that impossible promise. Making her way down the sheer cliff. Using the bloodstained arrows she had pulled out of her own body. As her mind and eyes cleared, she could see the blood, so much blood, running along her partner's forearms, drizzling down, like a perverse rain.
‘What were those words? If I only had 30 seconds to live…?'
Tears filled her eyes, and inspired once again by the heroics of this woman, she found some last strength inside and twisted herself back upright but even as she began to move down slope again, it was too much and once again it all went…
…from the skies filled with t he snow, fluttering gently, as it kisses her skin it almost seems warm and Xena's eyes and that loving smile are all she can see as the soldiers position her arm for the next nail and Xena says "Gabrielle-- you were the best thing in my life.” And she replies with words from her core, from her heart, but then the nail punctures her palm and through into the wood and then once more and they are being lifted up and her own weight pulls at the nails and the shock of the movement turns everything…
…skin speckled with blood in front of her eyes and it was hers because this was real again and she was back on the hillside and she had to get up because she'd promised and if there was still that chance she had to be there, they have to prove that they can be there for each other and she was damn well not going to fail, and if Xena could make it and Hades, whatever she had to do, dammit, she was going to get down there . All that they'd been to each other, all of the trust, betrayal and yes, love, came down to this moment. “ Gotta stop passing out, gotta get DOWN there….” And she was sliding again and getting closer but it was still out of reach because there was a steep drop just before a hillock that she couldn't avoid hitting and she slammed into it and everything went…
Xena's could feel the blood loss affecting her and she was aware that it was stealing her concentration. She tried pacing herself with a rhythmic chant,
*Thrust into the rock*
‘Get to …'
*pull out /thrust IN*
‘GAB ri ELLE .'
But the cliff wavered before her eyes and her mind shifted to other places and other voices.
“The arrow must've grazed your lung. The poison…”
"I just ran out of time didn't I?”
‘GOT to' *thrust*
‘GET to' *Pull*
‘GAB-ri ‘ *Thrust*
‘ ELLE .'
"You've got to take me with you-- teach me everything you know. You can't leave me here in Poteidaia. I wanna go with you. I've studied the stars--spoken with philosophers-- and I have the gift of prophecy. I can be very valuable to you. Take me with you. I want so much to be like you.”
" And I want to be like you ,” she remembered. There were tears in her eyes as the memories coursed through her mind. She blinked both tears and the past away, only to see that down below, but only two thirds of the way to the stream, Gabrielle had crashed, fallen on her side, her body lying all too still. At the same moment, she could feel, she knew somehow, that Ares had again risen to his feet once more. Xena also knew that she was entirely defenceless, clinging to the cliffside by her fragile handholds. But her luck held again and before he could launch an attack, two small altars in the countryside were deconsecrated and he fell to his knees once more.
She glowered down at where the bard's body lay, feeling her heart clench at the stillness, terrified to her battered soul that she was already too late. The distance was still far too great for her to survive the fall in her condition, so she could only continue her slow descent and her chant:
‘GOT to' *thrust*
‘GET to ‘ *Pull *
She forced her body into the rhythm but the pain and worry threatened to overcome even that discipline. As she tried to close her mind off, once again it meandered to a time with too many echoes of the present.
"Don't you argue with me! I know that I'm going to die—I accept that. Why can't you? A long time ago, I accepted the consequences of our life together-- that it might one day come to this. It has. I'm not afraid.”
And then her own voice, cracking with emotion but firm, so sure.
"You always said that I was the brave one. Look at you now. If this is to be our destiny, let's see it out together. Even in death, Gabrielle—I will never leave you.”
The broken promise hurt as much as the shafts piercing her body. ‘I knew the truth of what we were together. For that one moment, I knew. How did I ever forget that? How did I move away from that? Why? Was I afraid? Or just a fool?'
‘GOT to' *thrust*
‘GET to' *Pull*
‘GAB-ri ' *Thrust*
To be continued...
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