Birthday Bard

by Verrath

"Here. And here." The warrior carefully guided the bard's fingertips to the correct spots on her neck, just by the jugular.

"Xena, what...?"

"Listen to me, this is important!"

Unsteadily, Gabrielle repeated the gestures. Xena made her do it several times until she was satisfied that the bard had it right.

"Why would you teach me this right now? I donít understand!"

"Thereís nothing to understand. I just wanted you to know everything I know. Letís go. We got a battle to win."

 

Bleakly, Gabby stared out at the empty front yard, where a forgotten pink circular object added a bright contrast to the rain-soaked lawn. Pressing her nose against the window pane, her fingers jabbed at her own neck repeatedly as she envisioned the tale of the warrior. Her breath formed a circle of mist in front of her face, which her fingers soon turned to from their futile jabbing, drawing a frowny face.

What good was a birthday party, when your best friend could not be there? Not only that, but it would be two more days until Sina returned from her grandparents' anniversary celebration. Two whole days! It was, like, forever! Sina might as well have been swallowed by the Underworld.

The time came all too soon to start welcoming her party guests, so Gabby tried to put on a brave face. It would not do to hurt their feelings. They, too, were her friends, after all. Well, most of them anyway. Despite Gabby's vehement protests, her mother had insisted that she invite Alice Parker, too.

And Alice, of all people, was the first to arrive, dropped off by her mother in a huge, very fancy-looking silver car, despite living only a few hundred yards away. She seemed oddly relieved when she learned that Sina was out of town, and almost lost the disdainful sneer she always seemed to wear around others. Almost.

Gabby hesitated to open the girl's present, though she thought she managed not to look nervous about what it might contain...

 

"Open it," Callisto said with an evil glint in her dark eyes. "You know you want to!"

The bard hesitated, one hand on the catch of the small wooden box the blonde had offered her. Callisto seemed awfully eager for her to have a look...

"I don't know..."

"Oh, go on!"

Gingerly, Gabrielle opened the lid, her curiosity finally getting the better of her - and let out a blood-curdling scream as a huge, hairy spider popped out of it, going straight for her face.

 

"Open it," Alice said imperiously. There was an expectant half-grin on her face that could mean anything at all - and Gabby was prepared for anything when she carefully unwrapped the polka-dot paper.

The package contained - unspectacularly - a memory game with pictures of baby animals. It was nice, actually. Maybe Alice wasn't so bad after all.

"Mom bought it," the girl said gruffly, and turned away to inspect the table, where colorful plates and napkins had been laid out.

Oh. Well. So much for that notion. "Thank you, it's very nice," Gabby said, and put it on the little table that had been set up to receive her presents. Alice grunted a reply, but did not turn around.

 

In short order, the other guests arrived (thankfully, because Gabby was hardly keen on being alone with Alice), and after some considerable milling around, talking and giggling, all the children were finally seated in a more or less orderly fashion around the big dining room table, and an expectant silence settled.

All eyes turned when Gabby's mother walked up to the table, and solemnly set down a colorful cake with seven burning candles in front of her daughter.

To much ooh-ing ang aah-ing, the little crowd dutifully admired the cake, before everyone sat back to watch the birthday girl blow out the candles.

Gabby drew a deep, deep breath, squeezed her eyes shut and fervently made her wish. Not that she'd have told anyone, but of course she wished for her best friend to be back soon. And ice cream.

This was when the phone rang.

Her mother went to pick it up, but quickly waved Gabby over. "It's for you, dear," she said with a grin.

Imagine Gabby's delight at the voice she heard on the other end!

"Happy birthday, Gabrielle!"

Gabby's face lit up like a candle at Christmas Eve, and for a moment she forgot she needed to reply. "Thanks!" she managed.

"Grandma said I could call you for your birthday." Sina's voice sounded slightly distorted with static over the phone line. As if she was in another world.

"Awww, that's great," Gabby said. "I wish you were here though."

Sina snorted. "Me too. It's boring here. Whole lotta grown-up stuff, no kids, 'xcept my cousins but they're almost as old as Tom." Gabby could hear her take a breath. "So! Whatchoo get, huh?"

This was all the prompting Gabby needed to rattle off all the gifts her friends (and not-so-much-friends) had given her - Alice's Memory game, a coloring book from Emily (one of the pictures had already been done in untidy green, blue and pink crayons), a Three Investigator's cassette tape from Andy (he loved them, but listening to them made Gabby rather jumpy and nervous); from Jock, a large poster with a mare and foal (the mare was Palomino, Gabby made sure to mention, pleased).

Also, a red leather diary with a real lock and key, from Annika Hansen, a quiet, blond, blue-eyed, tiny little girl who had moved to the neighborhood with her six brothers and sisters only shortly before Alice.

"Six of them? That's loads," Sina said appreciatively.

"Yeah, she says she's Seven of Nine. I'm not sure what it means, but I guess they're nine altogehter if you count the parents. Maybe she's number seven."

"That's so cool."

"I know, right?"

Of course, Gabby had saved the biggest for last. After a pause for effect, she blurted, "So, guess what else I got! From mom and dad!"

"What, what? A sword? A Staff? C'mon, Tell me, Gabrielle!"

 

Following the sound of the commotion brought them into a small copse of trees, where they found a large-boned bay horse, eyes wide and rolling as it struggled frantically, its foot caught in a bear trap. The scent of its own blood only served to heighten the poor beast's panic.

The animal tossed its head in warning as Xena and Argo neared it, flinging flecks of lather at them.

"Gabrielle, come here," Xena said, all business now despite not having quite seemed herself earlier. "Joxer, Amarice, you stay there. Gabrielle - talk to him."

Gabrielle was taken aback. "What do I say?"

"Say anything. See if you can calm him down while I set his leg free from that trap."

Gabrielle squared her shoulders and took a breath. "Ok," she said softly. Then, addressing the horse, she spoke in soothing tones, and the animal actually seemed to quiet down somewhat at the sound of her voice.

"Steady now," Xena murmured as she carefully approached and set about prying open the wicked teeth of the trap.

"There," she said, straightening. She considered the animal's bloodied leg for a moment, rubbing her chin. "We're gonna have to treat that wound before we set him free."

"Set him free?"

The warrior gave her friend a look. "What's on your mind?"

And so it seemed, the warrior and the bard were about to become a two-horse-family... Gabrielle did have to admit she had mixed feelings about the matter.

 

"Yeah, so it's red, and the rims are all shiny and it's got a real bell! And when you push it, the hind wheel makes that little ticking sound - we can say it's the horseshoes!" She fell silent for a few moments. "... if I ever learn to ride it, that is."

"Aww, don't be a sissy, we'll have so much fun now that you've got your own horse!"

"Well... if Xena weren't dead, that is!" Gabby said sulkily. "D - E - D - dead!" she added for good measure. "And by the way, you left your Chakram in our yard."

"Take it when you go play with the kids down the street. I hear they need a girl with a Chakram."

Gabby sighed. "All right. Well, you'll be back in two days. Gabrielle's just gonna have to manage until then."

"Yeah... about that," Sina said in a small voice.

 

It was twilight. Gabrielle sat alone on the mountain top, clutching a jar of ashes to her chest. To her eyes only, a ghostly shape hovered nearby, wavering in the breeze, with a waxing moon shining through her translucent form.

"Xena, the sun is setting. I'm going to bring you back to life."

"No! You can't! You know it would mean condemning all those poor souls."

"But Xena, that's not right!" Gabrielle began to sob. "I don't care! You're all that matters to me!"

"Donít you know how much I wanna let you do this? But if there is a reason for our travels together, itís because I had to learn from you! Enough to know the final, the good, the right thing to do.

I have to stay dead."

"How am I supposed to go on without you?"

"Iíll always be with you, Gabrielle. Always."

 

"So yeah... we can't come home till the car gets fixed. Tom said the guy at the garage said it may be a few days till the part gets there. I have to stay here." Sina sounded miserable, but no more miserable than Gabby felt.

"Well," Gabby said bravely after some hard thinking, "I'll put a plate out for you and some lemonade, and I'll pretend you're here! And you can pretend you're here too, when you are with all those grown ups."

Sina's voice seemed to brighten a little. "Yeah... yeah I can do that! And we'll think of each other real hard, and it will be as if we were together!

"Yeah," Gabby agreed enthusiastically. She smiled, as she looked over to the birthday table, where a ghostly Sina was sticking her finger into the frosting on her cake. She giggled. Her friend could get in trouble even when she wasn't there!

 

The End

 

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