Disclaimers: None of the characters herein belong to me - seriously.  However I can honestly say that story is all mine so.... If you’re still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you’re getting into.  If you don’t have an open mind, why exactly are you still reading?  If you do read it and you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know.  It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better.   Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.

Author’s Notes: Not even beta read.  I literally whipped this out in a couple hours, trying to get something written for Halloween.  Pretty sure this is going to end up as part of the next multi... assuming I don’t die of old age before I actually get to write it.  Thanks to Steph for inviting me to play again – it’s always an honor, Boss! J


Night Rider
By D


“Gabrielle?”  Emma was nervous and shy and self-conscious – something rarely seen in the outspoken, confident young woman - though at fifteen, she was much closer to a beautiful swan than an ugly duckling.  Still, she felt awkward and embarrassed around Gabrielle and Xena, and it showed in almost everything she did and said when they were near.

Gabrielle gazed at her with compassion, remembering her own growing pains and Xena’s patience with her.  She laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and watched a blush travel up her features at the innocent touch.  She squeezed lightly and offered a smile.  “What can I do for you, Emma?”

Emma shook her head, and dropped her eyes to the ground in front of her.  “N... nothing.  I mean... nothing really.  I was just... I was just wondering if you tell us your version of the Headless Horseman tonight.  I… I mean – you’ve told us so many interesting stories, especially Halloween ones, and I was just hoping....”

Gabrielle smiled again, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm and merriment, though she tried to maintain a stern façade.  “Did Xena put you up to this?”

Emma blushed a fierce red, meeting Gabrielle’s eyes with horror in her own. “What?? No!!  No!!  I just... I thought....  Nevermind,” letting her eyes fall to the ground again.

“Hey... it’s all right.  It’s one of her favorites – she asks for it every year. I thought she might have asked you to ask for it, hoping it might get a better response.”

Emma peeked up at Gabrielle.  “What’s your normal answer?”

Gabrielle just rolled her eyes, and Emma laughed.  “In fairness,” Gabrielle continued, “She generally gets a private performance... just to save everyone her theatrics.”

Emma giggled again.  “Let me guess... she acts it out.”

Gabrielle laughed.  “A little bit, yeah.  She really loves to go riding at midnight,” making Emma laugh again at the indulgent face she made.  “However, I think I could work that into my repertoire for the evening,” laughing again when Emma pumped her fist.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together and jumping up and down.  “Thank you, Gabrielle!”

“You’re very welcome, Emma.  Go get everybody together, and we’ll tell ghost stories around the fire before we send everyone to bed for the night.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Emma agreed before scurrying off.

“That was really nice of you,” Xena commented when she stepped from the shadows as Emma ran off to gather the rest.  “She has a crush on you, ya know.”

“She has a crush on us, Xe.  She just as nervous around you.”

“I figured she was afraid of what she thinks I might do if I knew about her crush on you.  It’s kinda well known how protective I am about what’s mine,” arching her eyebrow as her eyes raked Gabrielle’s body from head to toe and smiling at the involuntary goosebumps that followed in her wake.

“I never would have guessed,” Gabrielle replied drolly, though she couldn’t stop the flush that flooded her body at the caress of Xena’s eyes.  “But no, she definitely has a crush on you.  I recognize the symptoms,” eyes twinkling in delight.

“Do you now?” Xena asked as she put her hands on Gabrielle’s waist and pulled them together.  Gabrielle wound her arms around Xena’s neck.

“Um hmm.  I imagine she’ll grow out of it eventually... find someone else to fixate on.”

“You never did.”

“Neither did you.”

Xena nodded her head in acknowledgement, then captured Gabrielle’s lips for a timeless moment.  “I never would have,” she confessed softly, “even if you had.”

“Not a chance, Warrior Princess.  You’re mine... and I don’t share,” allowing their lips to meet again.

“All right, you too,” Helena broke in.  “Get a room.  You’re killing me here.”

They continued to kiss for another minute, then broke apart slowly, leaning their foreheads together for a long moment.  Finally, Xena looked over Gabrielle’s shoulder.  “Don’t be hatin’,” she said slowly, watching the horror dawn on Helena’s face at her verbiage.  She snickered, then sighed when Gabrielle pinched her side in admonishment.  “Aren’t you supposed to be at the bonfire?”

“Yeah.  So are you.  I was sent to fetch you – everyone’s waiting.”

“Go ahead, Helena.  We’ll be there in a minute.”

“All right,” she agreed after a moment.  “I’ll let ‘em know.”

They watched her walk off into the darkness in the direction of the fire beyond the line of trees from where they were.  They could just hear the noise of the women gathered there – chatting and serving themselves from the myriad of refreshments that had been provided.  Gabrielle turned back to Xena.

“I guess you need to go get ready?”

“For...?” as innocently as she could muster.  Gabrielle just arched an eyebrow in her direction, and Xena smirked.  “Oh... heh – no.  Not yet anyway.  I need to be sure people see me.  You know,” shrugging nonchalantly.  “Kinda kills the effect otherwise.”

Gabrielle took Xena’s arms and patted the warmth beneath her hands.  “I know.  Walk me over and stay with me by the fire for a little while.  I doubt anyone will notice when you slip away.”

“As you wish, my Queen,” Xena offered with a slight bow of her head.

Gabrielle just snickered and rolled her eyes before sticking her nose up in the air.  And the two carried on in such ridiculous fashion until they reached the edge of the trees.  When they were noticed, a loud cheer went up and they were welcomed with enthusiasm.  Xena collected food and drink for Gabrielle, then stood silently behind her as she began to tell her stories for the evening.  There had been several requests and she was slowly retelling old favorites.  Only when she got toward the end did she stop to introduce her final story.

“Emma asked for a story I have yet to tell – the story of the Headless Horseman.  Unlike the legend of Sleepy Hollow, which involves a human searching for his head, my story tells the legend of a fallen angel.  Her job is one of protection... as well as one of vengeance.

You see, once upon a time, she was a mighty archangel – one of heaven’s most beloved.  But in her desire to be right, she killed an innocent... someone destined to be a great leader for humanity.  As a result, her head was removed from her shoulders to force her to look at things differently, and she was cast from heaven with a commission.  From that day forth, she would ride a black stallion, carrying her head under her arm or over her head.  She would ride unceasingly, looking for innocents to protect.  When she found them, only then could she stop riding long enough to exact justice.  She would lasso those she found guilty of harming innocents with the spine of the human upon whom she had last wreaked vengeance.

Once her chosen victim was lassoed, she would raise her fiery sword of vengeance against the perpetrator and sever their head, cauterizing the wound without spilling a drop of blood.  Then she would reach in and remove the spine from the neck with a jerk, leaving them wrapped in the old one while their head looked on unseeingly as the body crumpled to the ground.  Only then did her ride begin anew, as she searched for the next victim of the Headless Horseman.”

The women gathered around the bonfire were silent, horrified by the new twist Gabrielle had put on an old, mostly laughable Halloween tale.  The realistic earnestness in her tone made it hard not to take her at least a little seriously despite themselves.

A horse’s whinny in the near distance startled everyone, and they jumped, then laughed nervously at their own ridiculousness.  Then the sound of hoof boots coming closer caused them all to look around in terror.  A red-eyed, black stallion rode toward them, carrying a rider with glowing eyes tucked under an arm and a fiery sword raised in one hand.  From the hip, hung a rope that looked suspiciously to be made of sinew and bone.  It came no closer, merely observing them with a malevolent glance.

Finally, Helena shook her head and turned to Gabrielle, laughing nervously.  “That’s actually a pretty neat trick.  How did Xena do it?” feeling the relief flow through the women around her at her words and relaxing slightly herself.  At least until Barbara grabbed her hand and shook her head as she pointed behind Gabrielle.  There stood Xena where she had been all night, only now she was holding tightly ro Emma’s hand.

“Houston, we have a problem,” Helena muttered

Gabrielle and Xena exchanged glances.  In all the times Gabrielle had shared this tale, nothing like this had ever happened.  They had a feeling this was the start of something much, much worse than simply another ride of the Headless Horseman.



Birds of Prey: Tollin/Robbins Production, The WB, created by Laeta Kalogridis AND DC Comics
Guiding Light: P&G/Telenext Media, CBS, created by Irna Phillips
XWP:  Pacific Renaissance Pictures Ltd/Universal, syndication, created by John Schulian, Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart