This story shows my idea of what Xena was doing while Gabi was in Poteidaia in "The Prodigal". I believe Xena and Gabi were heading for Amphipolis at the beginning of that episode (if you want to know my reasoning for that, check out my post on Xena Season 1 Geography on my blog: Xena Season 1 Geography and Chronology - The Eruditegorilla ), so I figure Xena went there on her own and was probably feeling pretty miserable until she got some good advice from her mother. As always, any questions or comments are welcome at email@example.com
“No, I mean, I can’t go with you.”
Gabrielle’s words made Xena’s heart skip a beat, but she kept her voice steady. “Gabrielle, it was a dangerous situation. You’d have been crazy not to be scared.”
“Xena, I froze! If you hadn’t been there—”
“But I was.”
“Today, yes. But what about tomorrow? Or the next day? Can you promise me you’ll always be there?”
Xena was tempted to say yes just to reassure Gabrielle, but her conscience wouldn’t let her. Gabrielle read her silence as confirmation and strode over to Argo, removing some food from her travel bag and putting it in Xena’s saddlebags. Xena’s stomach felt heavy, like she’d swallowed a fistful of rocks. “Where will you go?”
Gabrielle finished transferring the food and tied her bag shut. “The only place I know ... home. Things are simpler there. But even more important, my sister Lila's there. She's just a kid, but when I think of how we used to share our plans and dreams... .” She smiled wistfully. “Maybe it'll help, having someone to talk to about this.”
Xena was surprised how much that hurt and couldn’t keep the pain out of her voice. “You can’t talk to me?”
Gabrielle turned and smiled at her. “I can’t endanger you. Don’t you see? Until I sort this thing out, I’m a liability.”
The concern in Gabrielle’s voice banished the sting of her earlier words. “That’s a risk I can take.”
Gabrielle’s smile disappeared and she gave Xena a sombre look. “The question is, can I? And right now, the answer is no.”
Xena opened her mouth to protest, but Gabrielle preempted her by throwing her arms around the tall warrior and hugging her fiercely. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ve just gotta find out what’s going on with me.”
Xena watched as Gabrielle hoisted her travel bag and grasped her staff firmly in hand. She couldn’t believe Gabrielle was leaving, but she knew this problem wasn’t something anyone else could solve for her ... she had to work through it on her own. “But you’ll be back, right?”
Gabrielle glanced down at the ground, then her eyes rose to meet Xena’s. “Guess that depends on what I learn.” With a parting glance, Gabrielle turned and hurried away, but Xena’s acute hearing caught the sound of a choked sob. For a second, she wasn’t sure if it had come from Gabrielle or herself.
Before they’d run into the bandits in the pass, Xena and Gabrielle had been heading for Amphipolis to pay a short visit to Xena’s mother. As Xena rode away from the pass, she decided she may as well go on with the original plan, even though every instinct in her body was screaming for her to go after Gabrielle. As she rode through the countryside towards Amphipolis, she found herself already feeling Gabrielle’s absence. She recalled all the times, when they’d first started travelling together, that she’d wished for some peace and quiet, but now the silence hung over her like a pall. What would she do if Gabrielle didn’t come back? How would she go on alone, without Gabrielle’s presence to cheer her when she was feeling low, or soothe her when she was irritated? And now she’d be stuck eating her own cooking. She shook her head to banish the dark thoughts. No point in assuming the worst, was there? Gabrielle would spend some time with her family, figure out what was bothering her, and deal with it. Then she’d come back and everything would be back to normal.
Unless Gabrielle’s family wanted her to stay in Poteidaia. Unless she realized how much she’d missed the settled life. Unless ... unless she decided she didn’t need Xena anymore.
Night was falling by the time Xena rode into Amphipolis and she returned a few muted greetings from townspeople as she headed for her mother’s inn. She and Gabrielle had stopped in a few times since the dust-up with Draco and most of the villagers were used to seeing her. They knew Cyrene had forgiven her and most had accepted that and treated Xena with cautious civility. Some had even been rather friendly, though Xena suspected Gabrielle’s storytelling was responsible for that. Every time they came to visit, Gabrielle told a few stories in the inn (always to a packed house) and made Xena out to be some kind of hero. Xena wished again that Gabrielle was with her now ... and not just to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation.
Xena walked into her mother’s inn, nodding to a few familiar faces. Cyrene was talking to one of the serving girls, but caught sight of her daughter immediately and came over to greet her. “Xena, what a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting you.”
Xena hugged her and smiled. “Well, I was in the neighbourhood, so I thought I might as well stop by.”
Cyrene returned the smile. “Well, I’m glad you did. There are a few things I could use some help with around here. And if Gabrielle’s willing to tell a couple of stories, the place will be packed tonight.” Cyrene looked past Xena’s broad shoulder. “Where is Gabrielle? Is she out in the stable with Argo?”
Xena swallowed and looked away. “No, she ... she went home to Poteidaia ... to visit her family.”
Cyrene gave her a look of curiosity. “And you didn’t go with her?”
Xena shrugged and tried to act casual. “Well, her family’s not all that fond of me, so I thought it’d be better if she went alone.”
Cyrene nodded, but had a skeptical look on her face. “Oh, well, I’m sorry she’s not here. I always look forward to seeing her.”
Xena tried to smile. “Yeah, she really likes seeing you too.” For a moment, she wondered if she should tell her mother the truth, but decided against it. Cyrene would want to know why Gabrielle’s absence was affecting her so strongly ... and that wasn’t something she wanted to dwell on right now. “You said you had some stuff that needed doing? I’ll get a start on it if you promise me a good meal afterwards.”
Cyrene laughed. “I guess that’s another reason you miss Gabrielle. You can start by chopping some wood out back.”
Xena spent the next couple of days doing every conceivable chore around the inn. She cut wood, hunted for game, fished in the river, cleaned out the stables and the barn, repainted the outside of the inn, and even laid some new thatch on the roof. The constant labour was her way of keeping her mind off Gabrielle and it worked well enough that she even did a few odd jobs for other townsfolk, and helped the local healer treat a few injuries around the village. The gruelling pace left her so tired at the end of each day that she fell into an exhausted sleep, grateful she didn’t have time to dwell on Gabrielle’s absence.
But no matter how she threw herself into the work, she couldn’t completely banish the bard from her mind. And after a few days, the work ran out and she was left with her thoughts ... and her fears. She spent most of the day trying not to think about Gabrielle, so when her mother served dinner she took a large mug of ale with it. And then she had another ... and another. At first, the ale didn’t bother her much; she did have a pretty strong constitution. But the alcohol pushed at her mental defenses, making her worries about losing Gabrielle bubble up and settle in her mind. She tried to stay logical, telling herself that Gabrielle would come back once she’d sorted out her problems, but she couldn’t stop her thoughts from taking a darker turn.
What if Gabrielle wasn’t really bothered by the brush with death, but had just been looking for an excuse to leave? Xena wouldn’t blame her; after all, the warrior didn’t always treat her well, sometimes ignoring her feelings and ordering her around. Maybe Gabrielle had gotten sick of it all and decided to go home, using the near miss with the wagon as a convenient way out. Xena thought about all the times she’d treated the bard badly, wondering if Gabrielle might not be better off without her. Maybe she was just being selfish wanting Gabrielle to come back. Maybe she needed Gabrielle more than Gabrielle needed her.
And, she finally admitted to herself as she polished off another mog of ale, she did need Gabrielle. She thought about how things had been before, how she’d been tormented by guilt and the memories of all the evil she’d done, until she’d been ready to just give up and walk away from it all. But then she’d met Gabrielle, who’d believed in her unconditionally, even saving her from her from being stoned to death by the people of Amphipolis. Now with Gabrielle gone, Xena felt like she was missing a part of herself, like there was a hole in her soul where Gabrielle fit perfectly.
Xena downed another mug of ale, thinking about that day when Gabrielle had saved her from the mob, right here in her mother’s tavern. Her melancholy took on an edge of anger as she looked around and saw some of those same people sitting here, people who had tried to kill her but now exchanged pleasantries with her like nothing had ever happened. Her eyes narrowed as she looked around the room, lighting on Cyrene when she bustled in from the kitchen. Even her own mother had left her to be killed by these people. Gabrielle was the only one who’d stood up for her, the only one who cared ... and now she was gone.
Xena stood abruptly, knocking the chair over behind her and drawing the attention of everyone in the inn. The room became silent as they noticed the angry expression on her face. “What’re you looking at?” she asked, stepping out from behind the table. She smiled as she saw the fear in their eyes. Yeah, they were still scared of her, like everyone was ... everyone except Gabrielle. She reached down to pour herself another ale, but a voice stopped her.
“Xena,” her mother said, giving her a look of concern, “don’t you think you’ve had enough? Maybe you should go lie down for a while.”
Xena snorted in derision. “Who the Hades do you think you’re talking to? You disowned me for years and now you want to start acting like my mother? Where were you when these people were trying to kill me? You didn’t care! Nobody cared except ... except Gabrielle.”
Cyrene nodded as the other patrons held their collective breath. “You’re right, Xena, and I’m sorry for that. But what would Gabrielle say if she was here now?”
What would Gabrielle say? Xena thought about that for a minute and realized ... she wouldn’t say anything. She wouldn’t have to ... she’d just give Xena that look, the one that laid open her heart and soul, and she’d probably put a hand on Xena’s arm, a touch so gentle she could hardly feel it but so full of meaning she could hardly bear it.
Xena knew she’d been acting like an ass and pushed the ale tankard away from her, walking slowly to the bar and grabbing a pitcher of water. She kept her eyes down as she made her way to her room, drinking half the water but saving the rest for the morning, when she knew she’d need it. She threw herself on the bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what had possessed her to act so stupid. Maybe Gabrielle was better off at home; she’d have been ashamed of Xena if she’d seen her behaving like that.
Xena woke the next morning with a pounding headache. She fumbled through her pack for the proper herbs and dumped them into the half-full pitcher of water, stirring it with her finger. She downed the contents and sat on the edge of the bed, hoping it wouldn’t come right back up. After a few minutes, the ache in her head subsided and her stomach settled. She got up and went out into the main room of the inn, hoping no one was around. But of course her mother was already up; she’d always been an early riser. Cyrene gave her a look on concern as Xena sat at a table near the kitchen door. Cyrene disappeared into the kitchen and returned moments later with some bread and a bit of ham. She set another pitcher of water beside the plate and took a chair across from Xena.
Xena refused to meet her mother’s eyes as she chewed the bread and ham, washing it down with a mug of water. When she finally looked up, she could see the anger on her mother’s face. “Well, that was a fine performance you gave last night. What were you thinking? I’m glad Gabrielle wasn’t here for that.”
At the mention of Gabrielle’s name, a stab of grief hit Xena and it must’ve shown on her face because Cyrene’s expression softened and she laid her hand on Xena’s arm. “Xena, what’s wrong? Did you and Gabrielle have a fight? Is that why she went home?”
Xena shook her head. “No, she ... we had some trouble on the way here and she decided she had to go home to figure some stuff out.”
“What kind of trouble?”
Xena told her about the attack in the pass and how Gabrielle had frozen up when the cart was hurtling toward them. “So, Gabrielle said she had to go home and figure out what was wrong because she was just a liability to me.”
Cyrene nodded. “Well, it seems like she’s more concerned about you being hurt than herself. That’s just like Gabrielle, to put your well-being above hers.”
“I know, but she should know by now I don’t consider her a liability.”
“Xena, it’s not how you feel that matters, it’s how she feels. If you were hurt because of something she did, she’d never forgive herself.”
“Yeah, I know. I feel the same way about her, but she didn’t have to just take off like that ... we coulda worked things out.”
Cyrene smiled. “Well, you’re not exactly one for talking through problems, are you? But her leaving just like that does seem strange. Was it just this incident that was bothering her, or was there something else?”
Xena’s first thought was maybe Gabrielle had just gotten sick of being around her, but then she stopped to reflect on their latest adventure. On Malthus’s island Gabrielle had been captured by Sinteres ... in fact, he’d captured her twice and Xena ended up in that weird pressure-point duel with Sinteres because of it. She’d thought afterwards that Gabrielle had been a little quiet, but she’d just assumed it was residual discomfort from Sinteres’ pain-inducing techniques. But maybe Gabrielle felt guilty for endangering her by getting caught. That would explain why the incident with the cart bothered the young bard so much; it just reinforced the feeling of being a danger to her.
Xena quickly explained about Sinteres and Malthus and Cyrene nodded. “Well, that makes sense. If Gabrielle blames herself for getting you into that duel with Sinteres, that could be why she froze when the cart was coming at her, and why she’s so worried about getting you hurt.”
“Maybe, but knowing that still doesn’t help me much. Gabrielle has to work through that guilt on her own and if she can’t ...”
Cyrene leaned forward. “If she can’t ... what?”
Xena felt a lump in her throat and her voice almost broke. “I’ll lose her.” The simple finality of that statement hit Xena like a battle axe and she clutched her mother’s hand as her eyes filled with tears. “Oh mother, I can’t ... I can’t lose her. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. She’s changed my life in so many ways ... given me back my life, really. If it wasn’t for her, I’d have given up long ago, or gone back to being a warlord, or ...”
“Or been stoned to death in this very room,” Cyrene said, her own eyes glistening. “I really am sorry about that, Xena, but I’m so glad Gabrielle was here to stop it. In some ways, I owe her even more than you do. After all, she gave me my daughter back.”
Xena nodded and wiped her eyes. “Yeah, that’s why I acted so stupid last night. I was thinking about losing her and ... oh, mother, it’s like I’m missing part of myself ... like there’s this huge hole inside me where she used to be, and it just hurts so much to even think about never seeing her again.”
Cyrene squeezed her daughter’s hand. “Xena, have you ever told her that? Have you ever told her how much she means to you, or how much better your life is with her in it?”
Xena swallowed and shook her head. “No, I ... like you said, I’m not great at talking about stuff like that.”
“Well, maybe it’s time you tried. Poteidaia’s not that far away. Why don’t you ride down there and tell Gabrielle how you feel?”
The thought of baring her soul like that to Gabrielle filled Xena with dread and she instantly went on the defensive. “She’s the one who walked away from me, so why should I have to go see her?”
“Oh Xena, that’s your pride talking. I’m sure Gabrielle misses you just as much as you miss her. She’s probably miserable there, hoping you’ll come to see her so you can both make things right.”
Xena thought about that. She knew Gabrielle had strong feelings toward her, since the bard wasn’t shy about expressing those sorts of emotions. And her mother’s words made sense. She did miss Gabrielle, so why not go tell her that, instead of staying here and brooding about it? “Well, I guess I could drop by and see how she’s making out,” Xena said, trying not to smile.
Cyrene came around the table to hug her. “Now that’s the most sensible thing you’ve said since you got here.”
Xena laughed as she returned the hug before standing up. “I’d better get Argo ready and get packed.” She headed toward the door, then stopped and turned to look at Cyrene. “Thanks for the advice, mother. I guess I just needed a good talking to.”
Cyrene smiled. “You were away for so long, I’d almost forgotten how to be a mother to you. I’m glad I haven’t lost my touch.”
As Xena approached the pass, her sensitive hearing caught the sound of rough voices and she wondered if the same bandits had returned looking for more victims. After stashing Argo in some trees, she climbed up the rocks to get a better view, making sure to stay out of sight. By the tense anticipation among the bandits, she assumed someone was nearing the pass and they were looking forward to fleecing the poor victim. The wind brought the sound of whistling to her ears and she smiled as she recognized the tune. Sure enough, Gabrielle came strolling into the pass looking quite happy ... at least until the bandits showed themselves and rolled a rock over one of the paths.
They wheeled out their death cart again, this time with branches tied to the front, so Gabrielle wouldn’t be able to simply lie down and let the cart pass over her this time. Xena pulled her chakram from her belt and prepared to throw it but hesitated, noticing the firm hold Gabrielle took on her staff and the lack of fear on her face. Gabrielle had left because she felt like a liability and needed to find out if she could take care of herself without Xena’s help, so Xena thought she should at least give the bard a chance to resolve things on her own. If it got too dangerous she could always jump down, grab her, and flip both of them right over the cart.
Xena watched in fascination as Gabrielle took down two of the bandits and turned to face the oncoming cart. Xena prepared to move as Gabrielle stared at the cart, but as she tensed her powerful legs to leap down, Gabrielle gave an inarticulate yell and charged straight toward the onrushing cart with a determined look on her face. Xena held her breath as Gabrielle planted her staff and vaulted right over the cart, which slammed into the rocks and broke apart. Gabrielle landed perfectly and her smile of triumph was mirrored by Xena’s own, knowing Gabrielle had found her confidence again. The remaining bandits drew their swords and Xena decided it was time to end the conflict. She threw her chakram in a wide arc, shearing the tips of their swords off and causing Gabrielle to turn and cry out her name with an excited grin. The bandits took off and Xena flipped to the ground, landing beside Gabrielle and just barely refraining from hugging the girl.
They smiled at each other. “When did you get here?” Gabrielle asked.
“In time to see you vault that cart. Gutsy move.”
Gabrielle’s triumphant smile lit up her face. “It was gutsy, huh? I didn’t freeze.”
“No you didn’t. Did you find the answers you were looking for?”
Gabrielle gave her a thoughtful look and patted her on the arm. “Yeah, yeah I did.” She bent to retrieve her staff and they turned toward the entrance to the pass. “You know, it’s kinda funny, don’t you think, that we should just run into each other ... I mean, here?”
Xena hesitated, remembering what her mother had said about telling Gabrielle how important she was. “Not really. I was on my way to Poteidaia just to see how things were going.”
Xena took a breath, intending to tell Gabrielle exactly how she felt, how much she’d missed her, and how important she’d become in Xena’s life. But now that they were face to face, Xena’s resolve crumbled and all she could do was return Gabrielle’s smile. Damn, why did expressing her feelings scare her more than facing bandits, giants, or harpies? Feeling ashamed at her inability to be honest with the most important person in her life, she whistled for Argo and they headed up out of the pass.
“So you liked that move, huh?” Gabrielle asked, a twinkle in her eye.
Xena tried to act nonchalant, but knew she wasn’t fooling Gabrielle. “Yeah, it was all right.”
“All right?” Gabrielle said, with mock outrage, belied by the laughter edging her voice. “Well, I could teach it to you.”
That night, they camped by a stream and Xena caught a couple of fish which Gabrielle cooked to a perfect turn. Gabrielle had stocked up on spices while she was home and Xena found herself relishing the delicate balance of flavours the bard always managed to bring to a simple fish meal. As they relaxed after supper, Gabrielle related everything that had happened in Poteidaia with Meleager and Damon. Xena was impressed, not just with Meleager’s part in the whole thing—she’d heard of him as being quite a fighter—but with Gabrielle’s contributions to her town’s defense. Of course, Gabrielle downplayed her own role as always, but Xena could read between the lines and knew the bard had played an integral part in defeating Damon. Thinking about that made her realize how far Gabrielle had come and how proud she was of her. Cyrene’s words came back to her and she decided she had to get past her fears and take her mother’s advice.
Xena finally spoke, interrupting Gabrielle right in the middle of her story. “Gabrielle?”
The bard stopped, reddening in embarrassment. “Am I talking too much? I’m sorry, it was just so exciting and I wanted to tell you about it, and telling it helps me before I write it down—”
Xena smiled and shook her head. “No, it’s a great story. I just wanted to say ... um, I’m glad you ... came back. I ... kinda missed having you around.”
Gabrielle’s mouth opened in silent surprise and when Xena noticed her muscles tensing, she knew what was coming next. Gabrielle leaned forward and threw her arms around Xena and for once, Xena returned it without a trace of self-consciousness. “I missed you too, Xena ... so much.” Her voice broke as she went on. “I’m sorry I just took off like that, but I had to figure out what was wrong with me before I got you hurt or ... or worse.”
“It’s all right, I understand.”
Gabrielle shifted in Xena’s arms. “You know, the whole time we were apart I felt like ... like I was missing a piece of myself.” Xena drew in a breath and closed her eyes, glad Gabrielle couldn’t see her face. “I guess that sounds weird, huh?”
Xena composed herself before pulling back and looking Gabrielle in the eye. Once again she felt that strange connection between them that she’d first sensed in the hills above Poteidaia ... but now she knew without a doubt that Gabrielle felt it too. “No, it doesn’t sound weird at all.” She wiped a tear from Gabrielle’s face with her thumb and smiled.
“Well, I talked about you the whole time I was there ... drove Lila crazy.” Xena laughed and Gabrielle sat back, smiling. “Now, where was I?”
“Oh yeah. Have you ever used those? They make this funny whistling sound when you throw them, and Meleager put one right through three guys, which was kinda gross ...”
As Gabrielle went on with the story, Xena leaned back, wrapping her arms around an upraised leg. She smiled as Gabrielle described the final fight, letting the words wash over her, content that whatever part of her she’d been missing was right back where it belonged.
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