Gabrielle et al are the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal.
There is no copyright infringement intended in any way, shape or form.
Characters brought into this story by my own imagination are mine. Not
that anyone would ever possibly want to but just to cover all bases, this
story cannot be used or sold for profit in any way.
NOTES:As always, thank you to Inga for her assistance. Thank you also to Chris and Linda, and to Steph for asking. Idryth@aol.com
Uneasy, pale eyes, framed by frowning slightly darker brows peered intently into the darkness beyond the campfire. A whisper of a breeze touched skin here and there, as a hand slowly snaked out to bring the long wooden staff closer to the owner's now chilled body.
'Come on, Gabrielle. You're just worried about Xena,' the blonde considered that as she went over the patrol that she had gone on just before dark. Lessons that Xena had made sure were firmly entrenched in the blonde's brain had come into play in choosing the campsite. Lessons that made her fairly sure that she'd have, at least, a fighting chance at being prepared if someone rushed the site. Not that there was too much of a chance of that really.
True, she was in the middle of nowhere, but she was also in a place where the fire was shielded, a sheer rock wall was at her back and she had a good view of the approach to the campsite. Still, fully aware that after hours spent close to the campfire, even with keeping her back to the fire, the darkness beyond the fire's tentative warmth would be absolute; she'd carefully checked the entire area before choosing the site earlier that day and then again just before darkness had settled in.
Yet, still, something was niggling and making her obviously uncomfortable. There were times that Xena would test her ability to discern changes in the immediate area around her, times when she knew the tall warrior was right there, watching, unseen by anyone but the animals. But this, this was ... she didn't quite know what it was. Not threatening but ...
Gabrielle held her breath, the sudden dulling of the normal evening noises overwhelming her senses in a wave of awful quiet. Trying to soothe her suddenly dry mouth with a swallow, she winced at the loudness of her teeth clamping together and the noise of her throat in motion. Most of all, the sudden increase in her heart beat was pounding a tremulous beat in her inner ears.
Licking her still dry lips, she felt a curious creeping sensation begin to wind its way up her arms. Breath coming in short gasps; the bard let her eyes roam the dark horizon before slowly dropping her gaze to her arms. Immediately noticeable, the goose bumps on her arms were distorting her skin and the fine hairs had risen in ripples of tension.
Returning her gaze to the darkness, Gabrielle slowly turned her head to the right. The sudden sensation of silky strands against her cheek had her on her feet in a split second, hands frantically brushing away the ... blonde invaders. With a disgust that can only come from the depths of being annoyed at yourself, Gabrielle blew out a long gust of air and pushed her very own errant locks back behind her ear.
Relieved that the silence now seemed less absolute, she muttered, "Thank the Gods that Xena didn't see that!" before stomping over to one of the larger rocks surrounding the campsite. A good three feet long and two high, the rock was in the best position of being able to both feel the fingers of the fire's tentative warmth and keep a watch on the creeping darkness.
As if speaking her name out loud would cause the wayward warrior to appear, Gabrielle once again scanned the inky night as she carefully sat down on the top of the rock and rested the staff against one leg. With the immediate glow of the fire now behind her, she could see that the moon's soft luminescence was mostly diluted by the cloud cover that hung low over the hills.
Trying to calm her overly active imagination and still somewhat pounding heart, the blonde tried desperately to concentrate on a story that she had been working on for the past few days. Definitely not comfortable with diverting her attention to unpacking the several rolls of fresh parchment she had in a pouch, Gabrielle tried to bring her powers of concentration into the fray.
Unfortunately, her concentration wasn't up to par for stories and her imagination was still active enough to keep eyes, almost gray with the lack of light, continuously scanning the seemingly infinite blackness.
'Xena,' she thought as her mind rested once again on the one person that the bard had traveled with for over two years. 'Where are you?' She knew she was in the right place but Xena should have arrived sometime in the morning at the latest. Now several hours overdue, it wasn't completely abnormal but still.
"Snap out of it, Gabrielle," she whispered with a mental shake of her head. "She'll be here."
Suddenly, her heart dropped and blonde hair swayed violently as she jerked her head to the side, eyes immediately tracking what appeared to be a flash of diaphanous light. Then, it was ... gone.
Silence. As deafening as the loudest thunderclap from a summer rain surrounded the bard. Not simply the dulled dampening of noise from earlier, this was a weight of silence so heavy that Gabrielle felt her very knees wobble as she stood, absently grabbing for her staff before it slipped to the ground.
One very shaky step after another, the blonde found herself moving cautiously to the other side of the campsite. Her eyes searched desperately for the light she'd seen. One dragged step followed the other as she slowly felt the now frigid air seeping into the very marrow of her bones. The fire seemed far away but she couldn't spare the attention to look. She had seen it ... hadn't she?
With a, once again, pounding heart; she became a solitary statue in the night. Listening and watching and ... seeing? Another flash of light!
Caution and rationale apparently thrown to the wind, she took a step toward the diffused light source and then another, almost pulled by a force she couldn't name. It seemed to be drawing her on and, soon, she was all but running after something that she couldn't really see and had no idea what it was, and both of those in a pitch black haze of tree limbs and rural nature.
Slightly winded from both the exertion and fear, she tried to control her breathing as she slowed down to trot. Shaking her head, she also tried to clear her mind of the daze she seemed to be in. The trees and vegetation in general seemed to have cleared out somewhat and she took the opportunity to look around. The light wasn't anywhere to be seen and although her eyes had become somewhat accustomed to the dark she still was having difficulty seeing some of what was in front of her.
Coming to a complete stop, Gabrielle turned in a circle. Searching for any sign of what had brought her to this spot because something deep inside felt as if she had indeed been brought here. But, there seemed to be nothing. Taking a step back, she swiveled and planted her staff on the ground where she would take her next step.
Or, at least, she would have taken her next step had not the staff found thin air instead of solid ground. Off balance, she felt herself waver on the edge of a precipice that she had no desire to find the bottom of. Instantly, she dropped her staff, realizing that it was an extra weight she couldn't afford right then and heard it hit something very hard and then she felt her right foot start to slip on the crumbling gravel.
Starting to throw herself to the ground, a sudden weight landed on her shoulder and she screamed a piercing cry into the night.
Frantic now, her boots scrabbled in the loose ground cover as her hands finally found purchase in warm, supple, very familiar leather.
"Gabrielle! It's me!" Xena tried again to get through to the young woman, her previous attempt completely drowned out by the raw edged scream that had deafened her for a moment.
The warrior both heard and felt the utter sigh of relief as the bard collapsed in her arms and held on tightly, shaking.
"It's all right," Xena whispered as she kept watch over the blonde in her arms, her eyes constantly scanning for what had caused her friend to leave a perfectly safe campsite and almost stumble over the edge of a deep ravine. It was just that there didn't seem to be anything. Not even any of the regular night animals, which was obviously unusual in itself.
Her heart was still pounding from the fear she'd felt as she'd tried to catch up to bard, knowing the lay of the land and what the bard had been heading for. Her initial calls to Gabrielle had been ignored and it had only been her knowledge of the land and superior night vision that had gotten her there in time. And, if her own hand was shaking ever so slightly as it absently stroked the fine silk of blonde hair under its fingertips, she wasn't about to notice.
Sensing a slight relaxation in the slight figure not uncomfortably crushed against her, the dark haired woman blew a few strands of errant dark hair from her face, not willing to release even one hand for the task, and asked, "Gabrielle, what happened?"
Gabrielle winced, not sure how to explain her sudden and incredibly stupid flight through the forest. Mostly, she just wanted to enjoy the relief and closeness she felt in Xena's arms. There was no doubt in her mind that it was a place she would stay in forever if she felt she could.
Instead, she forced herself to push backward slightly. Still able to feel Xena's warmth and smell the leather and brass tang that generally accompanied the warrior's own musky scent; she replied slowly, "I'm... I'm sorry. Something was out there and ..."
"An animal?" the ever practical warrior queried as her eyes strayed to the darkness and back again.
"I ... don't know. Something ..." Gabrielle let out a deep sigh and squeezed her arms tightly around the warrior before pulling back. One hand stayed barely touching Xena's arm as the other ran nervously through her hair. A quick glance to Xena's face was followed by an embarrassed, "Thank you."
With that quick glance, the bard noticed that Xena had somehow moved them several steps from the edge of the cliff, without her noticing it at all. "Maybe I was just tired and worried, and ... there was this thing ... I followed it ..."
"And almost fell off a cliff," the warrior finished the sentence dryly.
"Yeah." The bard's face fell slightly.
Xena's sharp eyesight caught the saddened look and she found her hand reaching to touch the bard's far too cool skin in an instant. Blinking once at the unconscious reaction and immediate desire to ensure that the blonde was warm enough, Xena mentally slapped herself upside the head but still asked, "What is it?"
"It's noth..." Gabrielle stopped when her gaze returned to Xena's face and found that the dim moonlight had lit the angled features in a most interesting fashion, creating softness and shadows that were simply a tale waiting to be told. It also made the raised eyebrow of disbelief very apparent. "My staff," the blonde spoke quietly as she indicated the cliff's edge with a jerk of her chin. "I lost it down there somewhere."
Xena's arm fell to her side as she moved closer to the edge and peered over. "Better it than you," she replied succinctly.
That brought a tiny smile to Gabrielle's face. "True," she replied softly. The warrior's appearance had somehow cleared her muddled mind, soothed her and replaced fears with the conviction that things were okay and would remain so. 'Amazing,' Gabrielle mused as her eyes took in the tall form still searching the depths of the ravine.
"You know," Xena said as she stepped a few steps along the edge of the cliff, trying to get a good view. "I think I see it, it's not that far down."
Slightly alarmed at the warrior's obvious demeanor, Gabrielle quickly replied, "No! We can look in the morning maybe."
"Naa, it's not far and there's something else ..."
Without warning, Xena dropped to a crouch, put one hand on the ground and pivoted her lanky body into the depths of the darkness.
Gabrielle's eyes widened and she quickly found herself on her knees, peering over the edge, watching the warrior easily navigate her way down to a ledge probably three or four body lengths down. "Xena, be careful!"
Barely hearing the bard's word, Xena tested a tree root that had somehow found its way through cracks in the rock with a sharp tug and used it to swing down to a ledge just above where the staff was wedged between two rocky crags. Quickly leaning over and grabbing the staff, she stood quickly, turned and leaned it carefully against the rock wall, then turned her attention back to the ledge she was standing on.
When she'd been standing on the edge of the cliff, something on the ledge had caught the warrior's attention. Now, at the location, she immediately dropped to a knee, resting an elbow on the large expanse of other leg now available. And, as the moon peeked a portion of itself out from behind the low clouds, pale blue eyes looked over what they'd observed a few minutes earlier.
Gabrielle straightened slowly from her position atop the cliff. Without having to look, she knew that someone ...or something was with her on top of the cliff. Something that had the skin on her arms rising in tiny bumps and the muscles in her back tensing with aching tension.
Slowly, ever so slowly, her breath now sending small clouds into the night air, Gabrielle turned her head. Her peripheral vision soon caught the same glow that had caused her earlier flight into the forest. As she turned her head more, the sight caused her to take a deep breath and completely freeze, her heart pounding out an impossible beat.
"Hey, there's something here," Xena shouted up. Not waiting for a response, she cautiously moved her hand to the glitter she saw amidst the light stones and poked a finger at it. With an intent that was almost strangely singular, her fingers reached out and touched the curiously warm golden chain.
Unable to do much other than breathe and blink, Gabrielle watched as the mind numbingly transparent figure approached the edge. Not quite floating and not quite walking, the chills running and down her spine screamed at her to get up and run and yet... she couldn't. Even if her muscles weren't frozen in some bizarre tabloid of fear, she certainly wasn't going to leave Xena here alone. No way. No how. 'Oh gods.'
Unusually oblivious to what was going on above her; Xena bent her neck to peer at the obviously expensive piece of jewelry that had been partially buried in debris. Brushing away some of the dirt and leaves, the warrior pulled very carefully and felt the sturdy chain slowly begin to separate itself from the place it had obviously lay undisturbed for a very long time.
Her attention was firmly set on the links in the chain as they revealed themselves to her. Each took on an almost ethereal glow as they greeted the night's crisp air and the few soft and welcoming beams that the moon had somehow pushed through the clouds. At least as long as her arm, the still clasped golden chain was almost fully visible when it appeared to snag on a piece of the light, porous rock that littered the ledge.
Back on top of the cliff, Gabrielle could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rise as the figure coalesced and brought with it a cold worse than the time she and Lila had been trapped in a snow storm and were barely able to struggle home. A hint of a fetid odor brushed by her senses, causing her nostrils to flare in protest and her stomach to rebel, then it was gone. Replaced by an almost ... expectance, as if the whole world was holding its breath.
Wanting so badly to call out to the warrior, she found her mouth drier than the deepest depths of Hades' realm. Licking her lips and swallowing, she tried again and found that her voice had apparently been captured by the same force that kept her frozen in place. She fought it, knowing that an unknowing Xena was defenseless below the cliff's edge.
"Wha... what ... do ... you ... want?" she managed to force the words through her chattering teeth and struggled with the next step of somehow defending the warrior below with her very fists if need be. First, though, her ever helpful mind reminded her silently, she had to figure out how to move.
The figure very slowly turned from its intent regard of the edge of the cliff and the bottomless eyes fixed themselves on the still kneeling blonde.
Careful to not damage the chain, Xena pulled at the ... bone that held onto the chain as if it were part of it. She frowned, finally wondering how on earth she hadn't noticed that the light rocks peeking out of the detritus from many years of nature's hard lessons were bone fragments.
With a gentleness not often seen by anyone, the warrior slid the chain very carefully along the rib bone until, with a slight chink that seemed to reverberate uncannily, the darkness finally revealed a locket attached to the necklace of gold.
And, with a clarity rarely experienced, it was then that Xena realized something was very wrong. Her gaze immediately shot to the location she thought the bard had been. "Gabrielle?" she shouted and winced as her voice echoed around her. As she waited for an answer, she absently dropped the necklace into a pouch at her waist.
With no answer, her heart began to pound furiously and she immediately began to search out a way back up the wall. It wasn't going to be as easy as getting down, but she was sure there wasn't a problem. Her hand darted out and grabbed up the bard's staff, leaning back, she quickly gauged distances and launched the piece of wood into the evening's air, making sure to put enough power behind it to send it beyond where the bard might be standing.
Before the staff had even cleared the ridge, Xena's sure hands began to find purchase in the side of the rock. Muscles only slightly protesting after her very long last few days, she began to climb.
Gabrielle watched as a length of the spectral figure extended itself in a wavering line. When the movement ended, the arm was unsubstantial but obviously just that, an arm pointing towards the cliff. To where Xena was...
With a strength she didn't know she possessed, Gabrielle managed to push away the crippling fear that held her muscles in check and break out of the imitation statue mode she had been in. If the ... ghost was threatening Xena, that wasn't about to be something she was going to allow.
Using one arm to push against the rocky ground, the blonde slowly pushed herself to her feet. Ignoring the sharp pains in her legs, she straightened carefully and moved towards the spot that Xena had disappeared.
Standing directly in the path of the figure, she repeated in a whisper, "What do you want?" Vaguely, she thought she heard someone calling her name but her attention was completely upon the danger this ... thing might bring to her friend.
As the moon finally broke free of the clouds' restraints, Gabrielle jumped as something caught her eye as it flew over her head. The movement was followed by sounds from beneath where she stood but she dared not move her eyes from the phantom before her.
Xena threw an arm over the lip of the cliff and pulled with strong arms as the muscles in her legs tensed for a final push. In one smooth move, she used perfect body coordination to flip over the edge and avoid the hastily dodging Gabrielle. Her hand reached up and smoothly drew the long sword that had been sheathed at her back, and pointed it at ...
Gabrielle breathed a deep sigh of relief as she saw Xena's form explode from the edge of the cliff. Moving quickly out of the way, she looked around for something to help her with the problem at hand but her frantic gaze found nothing at all.
An eyebrow rose high on Xena's brow and she spared a tiny glance at the white faced bard. "Gabrielle?" she rumbled out.
The bard tried to find her voice and swallowed a rock of apprehension, stammering out, "It ... it keeps pointing to ..." Her voice failed her as the figure began to move closer to the warrior's moonlight framed form.
Noticing the movement immediately, Xena brought up her sword again. Not having the faintest idea what, if any, good a sword would do against this creature, she nevertheless had no intention of backing down in the slightest but ...'How about getting away from the edge of the cliff, Xena?'
Slowly, ever so slowly, Xena edged her way to stand in front of Gabrielle. After giving serious consideration to going to the opposite side from the other woman, she realized that, having no idea of the abilities of the foe she faced, she'd rather be close to the bard. Rather be able to protect her. In fact, the thought of harm coming to the blonde was one of the few things that caused the warrior to go into a cold sweat. Not that she was sure she'd ever admit that.
Quickly realizing that one Xena in the hand was worth more than who knew how many staffs or swords, the bard reached out one hand and rested it carefully on the small of Xena's back.
Not sparing a moment to wonder why she didn't spin at the touch on her back, Xena relaxed ever so slightly knowing that the bard was obviously content to stay behind her. Still, noticing that the figure had moved with her, she kept the sword firmly held in two hands and pointed directly at the where the heart of the ... whatever it was should be.
Jaw muscles tensed along with the rest as the figure started to move again. Once again, the spectral visage raised its hand and pointed, bits of cloudy material flickered in and out of existence as if an ancient shroud hung from the length of phantom arm. But, this time, the hand pointed to Xena's midsection and the warrior couldn't help but frown as the fathomless eyes seemed to draw her in and ask a question she didn't know the answer to.
Her brow creasing, Gabrielle watched the movement and tried to understand. "I asked what it wanted and it pointed at where you'd gone. It doesn't want ... you, does it?" the bard asked hoarsely.
Xena kept her gaze intent on the figure, it still looked at her as though she held ... The skin around Xena's eyes tensed as she realized that perhaps she did indeed hold the answers. "Gabrielle," she said quietly. "There's a pouch at my waist, open it up and get the necklace out of there."
A question painted Gabrielle's face, but she stepped forward immediately and began to work at opening the pouch at the warrior's waist. Soon, her nimble fingers had the soft leather purse open and she scooped up the metal in her hand. The gold felt unnaturally warm against her still cool skin and she regarded it curiously for a second.
"Carefully, put it on the ground in front of me," Xena instructed.
As the bard began to kneel at Xena's side, the figure started to almost tremble and the warrior felt a sense of wrongness envelop her. Instantly, she reached out a hand to the blonde head at her side, one hand still easily holding up the sword. "Stop," she said softly.
"Come up here," she continued and waited until Gabrielle stood at her side. "Give me the necklace," she requested huskily.
Gabrielle complied instantly, trusting the warrior with a faith that transcended any she had ever felt. Her hand reached out with the chain wrapped loosely around her fingers, the locket swinging freely beneath.
In the instant that both of their hands touched the metal, two sets of eyes widened as the locket began to emanate an odd glow.
The hair on the back of Xena's neck began to rise as letters formed on the locket's metal skin. Letters that that she understood but didn't understand why they were glowing on the metal in their conjoined hands.
Her eyes flew back to the ghostly figure in front of her, the eyes that had held only blackness before now held a tentative warmth, an almost palpable belief where only coldness had existed before.
"Xena," Gabrielle breathed. "Look."
In the forest's depths another spectral figure began to gain substance as tiny fireflies of light were attracted to its center.
Gabrielle looked on with wonder as the phantom in front of them spun and reached toward the still forming incandescence with almost painful entreaty. And incandescent it was, as cold as the first specter had been, this was the opposite. Expressions of warmth, love and strength washed over the bard in waves of seeming unending power.
Tears formed in the blonde's eyes as she watched the two ethereal beings approach each other, one with complete acceptance and the other with an obviously growing strength of purpose.
A slight hesitation, where Gabrielle's heart almost stopped with her desperate need to see the two reunited. Where she would have rushed to push them together if the tentative figure hadn't made that final move and reached out in a rush of emotion so strong that it almost knocked the bard to her knees.
Xena turned her head and closed her eyes, grabbing Gabrielle and protectively pulling the bard into her body, as a flash of brilliance crashed over them. Wincing from the after flares in her eyes, she blinked a few times, shook the dark hair from her eyes and looked at the ... complete darkness where the two figures had met. They were gone, completely gone. Even the silence was gone as animal sounds started to return in a tentative night time chorus.
"W...?" Gabrielle tried to ask from her spot tucked into the warrior's side.
Xena brought her gaze down to Gabrielle's and simply shook her head, unable to explain what had just occurred. Then her eyes fell on the locket that had been firmly held in their hands and she stiffly opened her fingers from the grip they'd had on both Gabrielle's fingers and the metal.
Noticing Xena's attention, Gabrielle followed Xena's still widened eyes to their hands and gasped as the metal that had been perfectly preserved was now disintegrating into tiny flakes in front of their very eyes. Opening her fingers, she could only watch as the flakes fell in clumps only to be swept up in a sharp breeze that disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived.
They stood there for a very long minute, the warrior's blue eyes roving the horizon constantly and the bard's green not far behind.
Neither minded the closeness of the position that they had remained in. In fact, Gabrielle had decided that she now knew the perfect position to be in when danger loomed and intended to take advantage whenever possible. She started as the warrior's voice rumbled from her chest.
"I think they're gone. Let's get back to the campsite. We'll look for your staff in the daylight."
Nodding, Gabrielle reluctantly moved from the coveted position against Xena's warm body and stepped away. Her voice still seemed to be having a problem returning from wherever it had hidden and she declined to say anything.
Xena, noticing the bard's unease, reached out a hand to the blonde's arm and pulled her a step closer. "Stay close."
"Gladly," Gabrielle finally muttered as they began to move to toward the campsite.
That brought a twitch to the warrior's lips and she spoke into the night air, "So, will you have a story about this?"
Guiltily, Gabrielle looked over at her friend. "Well, I was just running it over in my mind but I'm not sure people will believe it. Then again ..." She looked over at Xena wryly. "They believe the stories I tell about you and they're true too."
Xena shot a glance over to the bard and shook her head.
After a few seconds of walking, the bard's voice cut through the night, "Xena?"
"Do you think they were two lovers separated by some accident?"
"I don't know, Gabrielle. I just hope that everything is okay now," the warrior replied.
They took a few steps toward the camp, Xena not replacing her sword yet and she took another look at the young blonde, noticing the bottom lip pulled firmly in-between white teeth. "What?" she asked.
Gabrielle released her lip. "Well, I just wish I'd known what the locket said," the bard replied as she navigated the forest floor, now assisted by a helpful and mostly full moon.
The dark haired woman thought about that one for a moment before replying pensively, "It read, 'Eternity.'"
Startled green eyes shot to the tall woman. "It did? You could read it? Was that all it said?" Gabrielle shot back, fully in bard mode.
Blue eyes bored into green with an openness not often seen and Xena asked, not unkindly, "Isn't that enough?"
A shy smile escaped and traveled across Gabrielle's lips. Her eyes flicked up to Xena's and then back to the ground and, with a faint flush, she answered, "Yes, I suppose it is."