By Trisha Von Doss
Standard Disclaimers -
These characters are owned lock stock and barrel by The Powers That Be at Renaissance Pictures, Universal MCA, and their various and sundry associates and affiliates. No infringement on the copyright holders of these characters is in any way intended. My sole wish is to share, through my humble efforts, my hopes, dreams, and fantasies for the Incredible Beings so lovingly created by the staff of Gifted Individuals at Renaissance Pictures. Thank you, PTB, for the loan. :)
Of course there are some pretty dusty hidden corners of this marginally balanced intellect of mine... and who knows... I may even develop a few of my own peripheral characters along the way.
Violence - this is a Xena:Warrior Princess story for goodness sake... I rather doubt I would come close to fullfilling the premise of the characters without a little ass kicking here and there. I'll try to make it pertinent to the story line when it's present. However occassional random acts of violence attributable to other than the feature characters are beyond the scope of this disclaimer... or my control. <BG>
Subtext - It bothers me a bit that I even have to make a disclaimer here. I don't see too many disclaimers for stories with implied heterosexual relationships floating around and I am inclined to follow suit. However, until such a time as people can accept each others sexuality with reciprocal respect, it is evidently expected that we who view the Bard and the Warrior as more than friends warn those of you offended by this of the presence of such a relationship within the pieces we write.
In any case, their's is surely one of the greatest love stories of all time. It is my own personal belief that the emotional integrity of that love should be maintained at all costs, no matter how one views the physical aspect or lack thereof in this relationship. So if you have something against love... this is not the story for you.
Emotional Content- Well I should blessed HOPE
Postive feedback and constructive criticism always welcome. Email me at Xenamour@cs.com
Carrying a chill that warned of the impending winter, the autumn wind whispered its way through the last remnants of the summer's leaves. Brown and dry, they hung on the edge of a frail existence to the branches of the now dormant trees. Blue Jays, ever arrogant, flouted the coming cold and persisted in their antagonistic caterwauling well beyond the annual exodus of their winged brethren.
Once roaring waterways, the rivers and streams, which only three moons before had sourced the earth's green resurrection, now trickled to a slow and peaceful dance across the previously submerged riverbed. A dry and dusty earthen road, half covered in the foliage's fallen remains, wound its way toward the distant foothills, where the thickets of seasonal trees began to give way to evergreens. A golden mare, bearing two riders, slowly picked her way around the road's pot holes and wagon ruts...the only remaining evidence of the summers heavy traffic.
A powerfully built woman with long dark hair and unusually blue eyes rode with one arm wrapped tightly around the fair-haired woman in front of her. Resting comfortably against her taller companion as they traveled, the blonde had fallen asleep and was beginning to mumble her unconscious musings. Her saddle mate woke her a few moments later, sensing fear, and recognizing the escalating tone in her voice as the sign of an unpleasant dream.
"Hey... Hey there... Gabrielle... Come on... Wake up." The darker woman gently shook her friend to consciousness... That's it... You ok?"
"Yeah... I... ...Yeah," the blonde replied, her voice hoarse and slightly unsteady in the aftermath of the nightmare.
The taller woman leaned forward and attempted to make eye contact with her friend. "You wanna talk about it?"
"Yeah... In a bit... Just gotta shake this icky feeling first."
They rode in silence for a few minutes before the smaller woman began to speak.
"I was dreaming about Eve."
Xena's heart constricted tightly. Gabrielle's
dreams had been gifted with prophecy from time to time. And she'd obviously
been having a bad one.
"Past or future?" were the only words Xena could will out, not at all sure she wanted the answer
"Past," Gabrielle answered.
Xena sighed internally as her vital organs unclenched just a little. She pulled Gabrielle closer, needing the contact to reassure them both.
Gabrielle rested her own arms over Xena's. "I had these visions of that last village...those people...her army...I saw her kill them... Xena there was so much rage...so much hatred... It was as if she...as if she was..."
"...Possessed," Xena finished the storyteller's thought.
"Yeah," Gabrielle replied softly, nodding her head.
She grew silent as she remembered what that kind of rage felt like... fury without control... Anger so complete that the desire to draw blood...to inflict pain... was... Overwhelming.
Hunting Calisto after Perdicus' death.
Defending Xena in Gaul, when her back had been broken by her own Chakrum.
Rage born of unbearable pain... soul shattering loss.
She had only visited that kind of rage, that kind of pain. Xena had lived it for ten long years. And Ares had been, in part, the reason. As he was now with Eve.
Gabrielle shivered reflexively. "Xena...do you have a plan? I mean... If we find her... When we find her... What are we going to do if she refuses to listen to us... again?"
Xena's ice blue eyes had grown still, lost in thought over this self same question... trying to crawl back in time... to remember how her own twisted mind had worked under the influence of the God of War's euphoric power.
If she could do that... maybe then she could find the advantage she needed to take back what he had stolen from her. Maybe then she could reclaim her daughter.
"Xena?" Gabrielle, twisted in the saddle toward her non-responsive soul mate. Recognizing the distant look in Xena's eyes, she cupped her face in a gentle hand. "Xena...hey...you all right?"
The same green eyes that had beckoned her back from the dead, back from Hell itself... now pulled Xena back from the past... back to the present. Gabrielle, time and again, by the presence of your light alone, you have refused the darkness it's claim on my soul. But can it save us both... mother and daughter too? She reached up to cradle Gabrielle's hand in her own... And placed a tender kiss in the palm of the hand of the woman who held her heart.
Gabrielle smiled cautiously. "You ok?"
"Mmmm... Just thinking," Xena finally said, "trying to remember what it was like to be Eve. If I can guess her next move...get one step ahead of her... Maybe I can prevent... ..," Xena's voice trailed off.
"More senseless deaths," Gabrielle offered
"...Her death," came Xena's quiet reply.
Though the trade caravans had already moved
toward warmer climates for the winter and there were few travelers through the
area this late in the season, out of long practiced habit, they made camp far
from any view of the road. Years of living with the danger of unannounced attacks
from both Gods and mortals had developed particular patterns in their camp site
Cover of some type was a must. They chose a spot with a tight stand of Cypress trees to their back, providing some protection from the elements and limiting open exposure from potential enemies to the front and to the right of them. A small stream percolated nearby.
Despite the oncoming winter, there had been little rain this far North, and while Xena had an uncanny knack for finding camp sites with access to a fresh water supply of some sort, even the Warrior Princess was one skill short of rainmaking. The nearby stream, nearly spent, now ebbed to its lowest point, trapping remaining aquatic life between long stretches of sand and rock in isolated and shallow pools.
Xena removed Argo's tack and after giving her a quick rub down, led her to the stream bed for a drink, while Gabrielle dug a small pit, gathered firewood, and began trying to light a fire.
"Hey Xena, any chance at a fish dinner tonight?" The Bard called out over her shoulder as she struck the flint over some dry grass tinder.
"Not really...water flow's not much more than a trickle. Unless you wanna choose between the bottom dwellers and the fish that didn't have it in 'em to make it upstream." Xena called back up the bank.
Now busy pulling the cooking supplies out of the saddlebags, the Bard looked up momentarily, shaking her head and crinkling up her nose in response.
Xena chuckled, "Whatsa matter...lost your taste for fish jerky?"
"Very Funny. Gods Xena...just once I wish your memory would fail you. Just my luck...I travel with the one woman in the world who could take countless blows to the head and end up with improved recall."
"I have man..." Xena started to reply.
"Yeah yeah... I know, many skills...put a stave in Warrior Princess." Gabrielle interrupted, trying to maintain a glare only to have it disintegrate into a grin and a giggle as she remembered one of her first real glimpses at Xena's sense of humor... ...
They had been traveling together for just under a year, and were near the end of their first autumn on the road. The wet season had been late in coming and the waterways were even dryer than usual. She had been bugging Xena relentlessly for months to teach her how to catch fish barehanded, and Xena, to her credit, had tried patiently several times over the course of the summer.
She'd been pretty much all awkward and elbows up to that point though, and repeated attempts had typically ended with the Bard in a sour mood over her own incoordination. So naturally Gabrielle had thought her own potentially nasty disposition afterward was the reason the Warrior was reluctant to agree to another lesson.
"Xena... Please... I swear I won't sulk if I don't catch one. Please?"
So she had tried another approach. "Just this once more... I promise... In fact...if we start now and I don't catch one before sundown, I'll give up altogether and you'll never hear another word."
Xena, who had been in the middle of cleaning some of Argo's tack, had abruptly halted her task. That last bit had done it. Crossing her arms she had shifted her weight toward one leg, and stood staring at the Bard for a long moment. Arching a skeptical eyebrow she'd finally asked,
"Why do I have a hard time believing that?"
But Gabrielle had seen her chance and she took it. "Oh come on Xena, I know I can do it! I got so close last time... I had that great big one by the tail, remember?"
"Gabrielle that was a Perch," Xena deadpanned.
Gabrielle had done her best to look terribly wounded in response at that point... Hoping to play on Xena's sympathy.
Instead Xena had rolled her eyes. "Listen, Gabrielle, it's just that most of the fish are upstream now...and the water level is too low, it won't even be a chall..."
Xena had stopped herself just short of finishing the thought, and had looked from Gabrielle, to the stream, and back again, the twinkle in her eye brighter each time.
In her typical exuberance, Gabrielle had completely missed the implication of Xena's unfinished sentence. In those early years, the excitement of learning something new frequently overoad her skills of observation.
Had she been paying more attention at the time, both the water level and the condition of its inhabitants might have been more evident to her. A better tip off yet might have been the mischievous grin that had flashed briefly over the Warrior's typically stoic face.
"Well... Ok... But if you catch anything you have to clean it."
And of course she had caught something. Gabrielle couldn't help but chuckle remembering her own naiveté. How could she not have caught something. The water level was so low the thing practically swam into her hands.
And that fish was old... Ancient old. The biggest, ugliest, toughest bottom dweller of the lot too. She had been so excited to catch the creature she was completely oblivious to the condition of it.
Of course, her traveling companion was all too aware.
"Xena this fish is huge... More than enough for both of us... Why in the world would you wanna go hunting tonight?" Gabrielle offered to share her plunder.
"Oh I dunno... I just think since that's your first catch...you oughta have it all to yourself," Xena had replied, with a strange look on her face Gabrielle couldn't quite place at the time.
So Xena had gone hunting. During which time, Gabrielle had tried to scale her fish.
And when Xena had returned from hunting... after she had skinned and dressed and cooked her rabbit...
And eaten her dinner...
And cleaned her armor...
Gabrielle was still trying to scale her fish.
The carcass was as tough as boot leather. Old boot leather. Gabrielle grimaced at the memory...fossilized boot leather.
Xena had already retired to her bedroll by the time she had gotten the Carp cleaned and gutted and ready to cook. Every time Gabrielle had looked up from her task... Xena had been sleeping, or at least feigning sleep.
Given the Warrior could usually hear a stink bug chewing on a stick at fifty paces, it finally occurred to Gabrielle that scaling that fish had to sound about as soothing as dragging armor plate over gravel.
Gabrielle smiled to herself. She had learned two things that night... First: Push the Princess... Pay the price...if Xena said "no"... Whatever the reason, chances were you were better off leaving it at that. Second: Never fall asleep while cleaning a fish; the smell is virtually impossible to get out of your hair when you've spent all night using one as a pillow.
Gabrielle turned her eyes away from the now healthy fire, only to meet the laughing blue ones of her soul mate.
"Rabbit for dinner?" The voice belonging to those pieces of crystalline sky asked.
Gabrielle's twinkled in answer "Only if you wanna sleep tonight."
Xena crossed her arms over her stomach, leaned
back against the tree, and kicked one booted foot over the other. She had always
loved to watch the Bard in these introverted moments after dinner, as she collected
words into stories, weaving epic tales from the adventures of their not so ordinary
life. Such moments had been few in the last year. They'd been so busy running
or fighting to save Eve from every God on Olympus that they'd had no time for
each other or their individual endeavors.
Now, as the last of the horizon gave itself over to the night, and the smoke of the fire began to fade into the dark, Xena absorbed with fascination every twitch in Gabrielle's expressive face as she scribed.
And she thought back to the day she had finally read Gabrielle's scrolls.
Fleeing from the Gods had found them on the
road toward the Northern Amazon Tribe again. The tribal lands of the Bard's
Amazons had been closer to Amphipolous, but their flight in that direction would
have been predictable, and likely intercepted. Much to the distress of the rest
of Olympus, Gabrielle was Artemis' Chosen and remained under her protection
while on Amazon lands. As the heir to Gabrielle's right of caste, Eve would
become the Sovereign Goddess' Chosen too.
And while they were there, the Shamaness Yakut, as Queen of the Northern Tribes and an equal to Gabrielle in rank, could perform the joining ceremony that would make Gabrielle and she Amazon Bond mates. And then Artemis' protection would be extended to Xena as well.
But Yakut had passed over.
And although Eve had finally received Gabrielle's right of caste, there had been no joining ceremony.
Afterward, in the absence of a true Queen, the Northern Amazon Tribe had asked Gabrielle to consider staying... to rule them in earnest.
And so Gabrielle, in turn, had asked Xena.
Let's stay Gabrielle had said. We can make a home here. Eve will be safe here.
To Xena, it had felt like desertion.
She knew when she met me I could never settle down, she had thought. Isn't she happy with me? How could Gabrielle, if she really loved me, if she really knew me at all, even ask me that? .
Xena had been so hurt, so angry, she had been unable to focus on anything but her own needs.
Gabrielle could have her Amazon's.
She followed me... I never asked her to come.
She'd have taken Eve and left too, if it hadn't been for that little, nearly imperceptible, voice inside her head.
I never asked for her to come... But I wanted her too... Didn't I?
More than I ever wanted anything.
And I needed her too.
More than I ever needed anything.
And she knew... and she came...
And she changed my life forever.
So when she had taken Gabrielle's scrolls, emptied from her saddlebags, into their hut, she had finally read them.
And the tender words of love she found there had poured over her like cleansing rain. They had in one sweeping simple moment washed away the anger, the wounded pride, and the jaded need...and had reached into her heart and made it beat again...made it feel again.
And they reminded her of how much she had been given by this woman...and how little Gabrielle had ever asked for in return.
Gabrielle had always followed her into the darkness, or so Xena had thought. The truth was, the Bard's light had been leading the Warrior through it all along.
Gabrielle was so much more reasonable when she wasn't hungry, Xena mused. Her companion had been grousing ever since they'd broken camp that morning, and it'd taken Xena a little longer than usual to figure out the source of the Bard's cranky mood. So when it had finally occurred to her that Gabrielle had eaten less than her typical breakfast, she had pulled off the trail a little early, to give Argo a breather, and to have a small snack of bread and dried fruit.
Well her snack had been small anyway. Xena took a pull on the water skin and handed it to her companion.
"Guess we'll have to restock in Adin." She shook her head as she watched Gabrielle finish off the last of their traveling rations.
"What? What is it? Bread crumbs?" Gabrielle looked down at her lap and dusted off nonexistent remnants of her food.
"As if you ever leave any." Xena smirked. "Nope, just trying to figure out where all that food you eat ends up."
"You seem to have forgotten our 25 year fast." Gabrielle looked down at her bare midriff. " I'm just trying to catch up."
Xena practically snorted, "Fast or no fast, Amazon Queen, you are a human Silo."
She got a mock glare in return. "You're walking on thin ice Warrior Princess."
Xena held her glare and raised her a scowl. "Oh yeah... And what're you gonna do about it Bard?"
A single prolonged squirt from the water skin was her reply.
"Uh oh." Gabrielle quickly considered her options. "Better... ooomphh..." Xena had her dumped in the dirt and pinned on her back before she had finished her thought or hit her second stride, "... run."
Since they'd landed within a few steps of where the Bard had been sitting, the water skin was still within Xena's long reach. In less than a candle flicker, she held the bag over her victims face and grinned.
One wrestling match and an empty water skin later they both collapsed in a heap of uncontrolled laughter on the forest floor.
"Gods I needed that," the Bard sighed audibly as she rolled onto her stomach and rested her head on the belly of her now reclining playmate.
"Yeah... I guess I did too." Xena held up the once full water skin. "Probably shoulda used a different toy though ...it's still a little to dry up this way to be wasting water like that."
"Oh you'll find more, you always do," Gabrielle replied confidently.
Xena snorted, "Warrior Princess Divining Rod, that's me."
The Bard patted the stomach beneath her affectionately. "Just another one of those many skills."
Xena began idly picking leaf litter and small twigs from Gabrielle's hair as the two woman rested together quietly for a few minutes, recovering from their play and enjoying the release of tension the laughter had allowed.
Without taking her head from its place on her life-size pillow Gabrielle braved a conversation she'd been considering since they'd left Amphipolous.
"Hmmm?" Xena lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the faint fall sunlight dappling over them through the tree branches above.
A deep breath...
"Do you... Do you remember... .. This is maybe gonna sound crazy... But do you remember anything? I mean... The Void... When we were frozen ...do you remember thinking anything... Being aware of anything?"
Xena cringed inwardly. She had known this was coming... With Gabrielle it was no longer a matter of *if* they had these conversations... but *when* they had them.
In their early years together Xena had been able to dissuade her younger traveling companion with a harsh word or a cold stare when she hadn't wanted to discuss something. Which, back then, was most of the time. But as they had become more familiar with each other, ignoring the Bards desire to talk about things they had experienced had become harder to do.
Over time, Xena had come to realize that this kind of sharing was something that was elemental to Gabrielle... as essential to her survival as were air, or water, or food. And as she had grown to know and love the fair-haired woman she had found herself reluctant to refuse her so basic a need.
"What do you mean?" Xena asked, though she fully understood the question. She needed to know how much of her experience during their entombment had been shared by her soul mate before she knew how much to divulge.
Perhaps Gabrielle need never know that Xena had shared
her every thought... every feeling... every fear... for 25 years
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