Summary: The Conqueror leaves Greece to visit Cleopatra and meets a slave/gladiator named Gabrielle but all is not what it seems.
Disclaimer: See Part 1
Authors Note: If you want to email me, my address jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
"I'm not free. I haven't been free since the moment I saw you."
I wanted to laugh but I couldn't do anything but still there in stunned silence. I felt as if everything was moving in slow motion and I could see Gabrielle's lips moving but I couldn't hear a word she was saying. What was she trying to tell me? That she loved me? Was this a trick to lull me into a false sense of security before she ripped my heart out again? I couldn't trust her; she had proved that to me, but Gods, I wanted to.
"I'm getting married," I finally blurted out, a hint of desperation entering my voice as I stared blankly at the blonde Amazon. I gently put my goblet of port down on the table before me, scared that I would drop it with my shaking hands. My heart was beating so hard that I could feel in pounding in my ears and I wondered if Gabrielle could hear it. Did she know what she was doing to me?
"I know," Gabrielle replied, obviously frustrated as tears started to well up in her eyes. Her hands trembled as she ran her fingers through her shoulder length hair. "I know and I thought that it would help make this go away, but it isn't. It doesn't change anything."
"You betrayed me," I stuttered. "You.. You can't. I don't..."
"I know," The Amazon looked at me with large, regretful green eyes. "If I could go back and change things, I would, but I can't. I can't do anything except show up here and tell you that marrying Alexandria is probably a really good idea, but I don't want you to do it. She could and probably would make you really happy, much happier than I could ever make you, but I want a chance to try. I want another chance to not fuck up and hurt you again, because hurting you hurt me even more. I wanted to be free but I only ended up being enslaved completely, mind, heart, body and soul; by you, Xena.
Everything I have, my sword, my body, my life, is yours. I'm yours."
I opened my mouth to speak and found that I couldn't. My throat was too tight and it felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. I tried to take a deep breath and realized something even more horrible than what Gabrielle was saying.
The feeling wasn't emotional. I really couldn't breathe.
"Fuck," I managed to choke out, panic starting to sink in as I grabbed for the table, knocking over my goblet of port in the process. I gasped for breath as I stared down at the dark liquid that was staining my floor and smelt something that had been overpowered by the scent of the former slave. Oh Gods.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called to me uncertainly as I stumbled to my feet. "Are you okay?"
I didn't answer as I staggered across the floor to my desk, feeling sick to my stomach as my vision started to go black. I hurriedly pulled out the draw, scrambling through the contents until I found what I was looking for.
Only to clench it in my fist as my legs collapsed from beneath me, unconscious before I even hit the ground.
The first thing I was aware of when I woke up was the pounding in my head. My entire body felt as if I had been trampled by a chariot and I groaned softly as I stretched. I could hear voices but they seemed a thousand miles away as I fought against the darkness holding me down. Maybe I'm in Tartarus, I thought to myself warily as I attempted to focus on the sounds around me. I heard an annoyingly familiar voice and grimaced; Gabrielle was here which meant I was definitely in Hell.
"Why is she still here?" I heard the deep voice of Palaemon, his tone frustrated. "She was probably the one who put the peanuts into her drink."
That made more sense. It was an annoying thing to be so deathly allergic to, especially when running an army and sometimes having to live off the road. Who would expect that the Conqueror of Greece was allergic to something so common as a couple of nuts? It was also a very worrying thought, considering very few people knew of my allergy, so that attempts wouldn't be made like one obviously had been.
"I didn't do anything," I heard the former's slave voice again, a low growl very close by.
"Well, you were the only one here."
"The port was in the room before I even got here!"
"Yes and probably planted by you several hours earlier."
"She didn't know I was allergic," I finally rasped out, keeping my eyes closed as the room went completely silent. "Where's Alexandria?"
I let my eyes flutter open as the silence continued, wincing as the bright light hit my oversensitive eyes. I squinted around the room, finding several familiar faces, including Gabrielle's who was sitting in a chair beside my bed. My red headed second in command was nowhere to be seen and I frowned as I let my eyes flicker to Palaemon's concerned face.
"Where's Alex?" I asked again, more firmly this time. "I need to speak to her."
"She's in court, my Lord," the blonde haired man replied quietly. "I will send someone to get her."
I frowned as Palaemon left the room, wondering why my court hating, noble despising consort was in court. I turned my head slightly, licking my dry lips with an even drier tongue as I regarded the former slave that was sitting silently besides me, fiddling with a piece of damp cloth in her hands.
"Everybody out," I said softly, listening as several of my captains and my personal healer started to leave room. I caught Gabrielle's skirt as she stood to comply and I used my weak feeling muscles to tug her firmly back into her seat. "Except you."
I waited until everyone had filed out, leaving me alone with the former slave. I took a few moments to study her, noting her nervous habits as her fingers twitched and her left foot tapped on the marble floor.
"How long have I been out?" I asked finally, having noted that it was at least late afternoon, but unsure of what day it was.
"Three days," Gabrielle replied, finally looking up into my eyes as I started in surprise. "You had us worried, Conqueror."
Three days? My head was spinning and I slumped back onto the cool sheets beneath me as I stared up at the ceiling. Well, that at least explained why Alexandria was in court, though I felt a pang of uncertainty in my chest as I thought about my consort in that hall with all those nobles. Something didn't feel right.
I didn't have much time to think as I heard the door to my outer chamber open, followed by the light footsteps of my second in command. I looked up as the door to my room opened and Alexandria stuck her head through the opening. The uneasy feeling in my chest grew with the lack of emotion of my consort's face as she stared at me. I shifted slightly beneath the thick blanket, noting Alexandria's lack of surprise to see the Amazon Queen seated beside me and I felt even more troubled at the lack of suspicion or anger on her face.
"What is that?" Gabrielle's voice broke the silence, a hint of wonder and surprise in her tone as Alexandria pushed the door open fully and moved inside. My eyes dropped to the small ball of fur held carefully in my second in command's hands as Alexandria's grinned brightly.
"This, is a wedding present from Lao Ma," Alexandria answered as she strode towards the bed. She set herself down on the edge of my cot, gently resting the fur covered creature on the sheets besides my hand as she leant over a placed a hand on my forehead. "Your fever has broken, finally. Thank the Gods you're finally awake; I was about to spit myself on that throne."
I hardly even heard Alexandria's words as I focused on the tiny animal cautiously sniffing my hand. I flicked my fingers, raising an eyebrow as the cub stumbled backwards and hid beneath the folds of Alexandria's cloak. "Lao Ma got us a panther for our joining?"
"He's cute, isn't he?" Alexandria chuckled as she picked up the cub, cradling it in her hands for a moment before she gently deposited it in Gabrielle's lap. We watched in silence as Gabrielle gently pet the animal, a look of awe on her face as she ran her fingers through the soft fur before Alexandria returned her attention to me. "Well, I'm glad you're feeling better, Xena. I've got to go talk to Sappho about her reading for the festival but I'll be back with some dinner tonight, okay?"
I watched bemusedly as Alexandria stood up, leaning to down to kiss my forehead swiftly before picking up the baby panther and striding from the room. I stared after her in silence, one brow lifted over wide eyes before turning to look at Gabrielle, who was looking at the closed door with a similar expression.
"She's acting a bit weird," I muttered quietly, more to myself than anything.
"She's been like that since I called the guard to go find her after you collapsed," Gabrielle replied. "She came back in the room, mixed those herbs you hand in your hand, fed them to you and then left again."
The feeling in my chest grew as I contemplated this information. I was worried; really worried over the fact that someone had used my allergy against me. There were only a handful of people that knew about it and all of them I trusted with my life. Or at least I had, until one of them decided to poison me.
My thoughts wandered as I thought about who it could possibly be and I flinched at the answer my mind came up with. It wasn't possible, not after everything.
I looked at Gabrielle out of the corner of my eye, seeing her green eyes watching me intently, full of concern and I winced. Well, maybe it was possible when you thought about it.
"I think so too," Gabrielle's voice surprised me in the silence. I turned my head to look at her, her eyes sympathetic and solemn as she leant forward, resting her elbows on her knees.
Gabrielle shrugged, regarding her hands that were folded in her lap. "When she came in and saw you on the floor, she hesitated. There was no emotion in her eyes when she finally helped you and then she left again. I mean, to be fair, she did come back every single day to see you, but..."
"But you have this gut feeling that she would have preferred to leave me dying on the floor," I whispered, feeling my chest ache as I stared at the former slave. Gabrielle looked up from her joined hands, her eyes sympathetic as she saw tears well in my own. I raised my hand immediately to wipe them away, but she got there first. Her fingers were gentle as she wiped the salty tears from my skin, gently caressing my cheek before standing up.
"Where are you going?" I asked quietly, feeling pathetic as I stared up at her. "Nowhere," she replied with a small smile as she kicked off her boots and pulled down the covers before sliding into the bed besides me. She hesitated for a moment, gazing into my eyes before wrapping her arms around me. "I'm not going anywhere."
I let my head rest on her chest, my mind screaming at me while my body begged me to take the comfort no matter where it came from. My body won as I let myself relax against her, feeling her strong arms squeeze me gently and feeling surprisingly safe with the ex-gladiator wrapped around me. I let out a soft sigh, pushing all my thoughts away as I closed my eyes and breathed in Gabrielle's familiar scent before letting Morpheus take me.
To Be Continued
Return to the Academy