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DISCLAIMER: This story contains graphic violence. If violence bothers
you, please don't read further.
NOTE: This story is a continuation of The Mist. If you haven't read that story, you may want to do that first.
Story ideas by chem1 and steelmagnolia Xenasteel@aol.com
Deep inside her mountain lair, a cloaked figure muses over the plan
that she has just formed. If it works, the world will lose a servant of
justice, and she will gain an ally.
Argo picked her way among the rocks on the path carefully, as if she knew that jarring her riders would cause them pain. Xena sat behind Gabrielle, with her arm around Gabrielle's waist to prevent her from falling off. It would be several days before she would heal sufficiently enough to resume walking from place to place on their journeys.
Xena was glad to be leaving this strange place behind. Their encounter with Ate had almost cost Gabrielle her life.
The sun rose high above the valley and Xena was grateful for the warmth. Her body was tired of spending
cold nights on the ground. Gabrielle reclined and rested the back of her head on Xena's shoulder. Xena turned her head slightly, touching Gabrielle's head with her cheek. She closed her eyes as a wave of emotion engulfed her heart. She had taken a major step with Gabrielle today, letting her see what no one else has, the heart of the Warrior Princess.
As they approached the clearing where she had encountered the huge spider, Xena guided Argo to the right to avoid the place.
Gabrielle had been unusually quiet and Xena was growing concerned.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?"
"Huh? Yes, I guess, but my head really hurts."
Xena stopped Argo, "Gabrielle, hold on."
Xena slid off Argo, but kept one hand on Gabrielle's back. With the other hand, she grabbed a pouch out of the saddlebag.
"Now, stick out your tongue."
Xena placed a small amount of powder on Gabrielle's tongue and handed her a waterskin, "Drink."
Xena climbed back on Argo and they started down the path again.
"Gabrielle, it will be dark soon, we should stop and make camp."
"No! I want to go on, I don't want to stay in this forest another night!"
Xena breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't like the idea of traveling through the forest at night, but she liked the idea of camping there even less.
Soon, Gabrielle was asleep on Xena's shoulder. In the dark of night, they rode though the countryside without encountering another soul. Half way through the night, Xena felt Gabrielle shivering. Without stopping Argo, she reached around and grabbed a blanket, gently covering Gabrielle up. With the first light of day breaking over the horizon, they entered a small village. She stopped Argo in front of an inn.
"Gabrielle, wake up," Xena said, gently shaking Gabrielle. Gabrielle didn't move.
"Gabrielle?" Xena tried shaking harder, still no response. Shifting Gabrielle's wait forward a little, Xena pulled the blanket tight and slid off Argo's back while she held Gabrielle up with one hand.
"I can take your horse for you."
Xena turned toward the sound of the voice and saw a young boy standing there.
Seeing the look of confusion on Xena's face, the boy repeated himself, "I can take your horse for you. I'm the innkeeper's son and there is a stable in the back."
Xena didn't speak to the boy, she simply turned around and lifted Gabrielle off. Cradling Gabrielle in her arms, she nodded to the boy and he took Argo by the reins. Kicking the door open, she carried Gabrielle into the inn. A kindly looking, older woman turned around at the noise. Xena didn't wait for her to speak.
"I need a room," she said briskly.
"Up the stairs, first door on your right. Is your friend sick?"
Xena ignored the woman and carried Gabrielle up the stairs. The door to the room was open. She carefully placed Gabrielle on the bed and touched her forehead and cheek.
"There's no fever," Xena mumbled to herself as she looked out the window. She could see the innkeepers son leading Argo into the stable. She quickly left the room, closing the door behind her. As she silently approached the stable, the boy was taking Argo's saddle off. She grabbed the saddlebags and the rest of their gear. As quickly as she came, she left.
Back in the room, Xena carefully felt Gabrielle's skull around the bump on her head. She could find no indications of a fracture. The worry in the back of Xena's mind began to grow. Gabrielle was fine earlier that day, why is she unconscious now? Has Ate done something to Gabrielle that I don't know about? She uncovered Gabrielle and pulled the sling off her arm. Next, she untied her top and slipped it over her shoulder. She then removed the bandage and looked at the wound. Rolling Gabrielle on to her side, she checked the back of her shoulder. The wound appeared to be free from infection. Something was bothering her though. Closing her eyes, she visualized finding Gabrielle hanging in the tree. She looked at Gabrielle and then she looked at the tree. Xena opened her eyes and realized that she may have made a serious mistake. The bark from the tree that Gabrielle had fallen into contained a potent drug. Healers would use the bark to make a strong sedative. A piece of bark the size of a thumbnail could make enough potion to put an entire village to sleep. If a piece half that size had been left in her shoulder, it could be a fatal. Xena put her ear to Gabrielle's chest and listened. The strong heartbeat that she had heard yesterday was now slow and faint.
There was a basin and a pitcher of water on a table next to the bed. Xena poured some water in the basin and washed her hands. Sitting next to Gabrielle on the bed, she carefully probed the wound. Deep inside her shoulder, she felt something hard and rough. Cautiously, she pulled the piece out and dropped it in the basin of water. After checking the wound for other debris, Xena placed the last clean bandage on her shoulder and applied pressure until the bleeding stopped. She pull Gabrielle's top back up, but did not tie it. Carefully she placed her arm back in the sling.
Xena picked up the piece in the basin and swirled it to rinse the blood off. It was a piece of bark the size of a fingernail. She closed her hand around the bark as the anger welled up inside of her. How could she have missed it! Xena slammed her fist into the table, spilling the blood-tainted water. If Gabrielle died because of her carelessness, she would never be able to forgive herself.
Xena moved the only chair in the room next to the bed and dropped heavily into it, knowing that there was nothing she could do but wait and watch. If Gabrielle didn't wake up on her own in 24 hours, she would have to try something drastic.
She tried to get Gabrielle to drink some water in order to flush the drug from her system, but Gabrielle would not respond and she did not want her to choke. She sat by Gabrielle's side the rest of the day and though the night, moving only to stoke the fire. In the middle of the night, Xena lightly placed her hand on Gabrielle's chest, to see if she was still breathing. Her skin was warm to the touch and Xena took comfort in the rhythmical rising and falling of each breath.
Morning found Xena by Gabrielle's side, with her hand still resting on Gabrielle's chest, just below her neck. As the sunlight poured through the window, she noticed how small her friend looked. She gently took Gabrielle's hand in her own and continued her vigil. An hour or so after sunrise, the innkeeper knocked on the door and opened it.
"I came to see how your friend is. Is she all right?" the woman asked timidly.
"I don't know," Xena said in a flat tone as she turned to look at the woman. The sincere expression on the woman's face softened her heart.
"What is your name?" Xena asked.
"My name is Synaea," the woman replied smiling. "Can I get you anything, some food or drink?"
"Some more water, and some fresh bandages if you have them."
The woman nodded and left the room. She returned momentarily with a fresh pitcher of water and some fresh bandages.
"You two are very close," the woman said as she placed the pitcher on the table. Xena looked at the woman in surprise but said nothing. "I can tell by the way you look at her," the woman replies as if she read Xena's mind.
Synaea smiled and handed her the bandages.
Xena managed a slight smile and a 'thank you' as Synaea left the room.
It had been more than 24 hours and Gabrielle was still unconscious. Xena listened to her heart. It was beating very slowly. She knew what she had to do. She put a small amount of a water in a cup and placed it near the fire to warm. Digging in a saddlebag, Xena removed her medicine pouch. She carried many healing herbs, but there was one that she had often used in battle to keep her mind and body alert. Ingesting small amounts would stimulate the body, eliminating fatigue. Xena knew that she would not be able to force Gabrielle to swallow the herb, so with the warm water, she made a thick paste and placed it underneath Gabrielle's tongue.
Under normal circumstances, the herb was safe, but in Gabrielle's condition, the shock of the stimulant could kill her. Xena placed her hand over Gabrielle's heart. If her heart started to pound too hard, the paste would have to be removed. Xena could feel Gabrielle's chest rise and fall with increasing frequency as her breathing became rapid. Slowly, her heart began to pound harder and harder. When Xena thought she could wait no longer, she removed the paste. If Gabrielle was ever going to wake up, she would do it now.
"Gabrielle!" Xena cried, "Gabrielle, can you hear me?" She placed her hands on Gabrielle's arms. The little bard's body was shaking uncontrollably.
"Gabrielle!" Xena's voice was bordering on panic.
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered and then opened.
"Xena?!" Gabrielle closed her eyes again, trying to understand what was happening. Her body was on a rollercoaster ride. The drug from the bark was trying to calm her central nervous system while the herb was trying to stimulate it.
Xena wrapped her arms around her friend and gently lifted her up. Gabrielle's body would have to battle this on it's own. Xena held her until the shaking slowed to a tremor, trying to comfort her own troubled heart as well.
"How do you feel?" Xena asked with tenderness.
"Sick, my stomach's doing flip-flops."
"Some food might help, are you hungry?"
"Yes, but I don't know if I can keep anything down," Gabrielle replied weakly.
Xena helped Gabrielle sit up and then left the room. As Xena talked to Synaea, she didn't see the cloaked figure in the corner of the inn.
She returned in a few minutes with a cup of warm broth. Gabrielle tried to hold the cup, but her hand was trembling too much. Xena took the cup and helped her drink the broth. With the warm broth working through her system, the trembling stopped.
"You get some rest while I take care of Argo," said Xena as she gently brushed Gabrielle's cheek with the back of her hand.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and sank back into the bed, falling asleep instantly. Xena tucked the covers around her and quietly left to tend to Argo. She found that Argo had been well taken care of. The innkeepers son had given her plenty of fresh hay and oats. He had also bushed her mane and tail, cleaning the burrs and dirt out. Xena was very pleased and made a mental note to thank the boy.
The rest of the afternoon was spent close to the inn so that Xena could keep an eye on Gabrielle. She picked up some supplies and other necessary items. To all, her outward appearance seemed consistent with that of a warrior: all business. In her mind however, she kept going over finding Gabrielle in the tree. How could she have missed the type of tree? How was she going to explain what had happened.? How could she tell her best friend that she has almost killed her with a stupid mistake?
With dusk approaching, Xena returned to find Gabrielle sitting up, looking out the window. As Xena entered the room, Gabrielle turned around and smiled.
"You look better," Xena said, trying to return the smile as she sat down in the chair.
"I feel better!" Gabrielle said, and then the smile disappeared from her face, "Xena, what happened? I remember riding on Argo and then nothing until earlier today."
Xena broke eye contact and looked out the window. Gabrielle knew not to push, so she sat there patiently and waited. Xena sat there for a long time trying to find the right words to explain how she had almost killed her. When she looked at Gabrielle again, her eyes were brimming with tears.
Xena held up her hand, telling Gabrielle not to speak.
"Gabrielle, I am so sorry!" Xena swallowed hard and tried to keep her voice from quivering. "I.......," her voice trailed off. Gabrielle placed her hand on top of Xena's. Xena swallowed again and continued, "I missed something, and it nearly cost you your life!"
"Xena, what are you talking about?"
"Healers use the bark of the tree that you landed in to make a sedative. Somehow, I missed a piece of bark that was left in your shoulder." As Xena turned her head away and looked out the window, Gabrielle saw a single tear roll down her friend's cheek. Gabrielle squeezed her hand, knowing that her friend's heart was wracked with guilt.
"Xena," Gabrielle said gently, "I would have died in that tree if you hadn't found me. You SAVED my life!"
Xena did not turn around.
"Xena, please don't torture yourself!" there was a pleading quality in her voice that went straight to Xena's heart. She squeezed Gabrielle's hand and tried to calm her pounding heart.
"Now, what do I have to do to get some food around here?" Gabrille asked with a big grin on her face.
Xena laughed and wiped a tear from her eye.
"You stay off that ankle and I will bring you some food, okay?" she smiled faintly and then her expression changed to that of a warrior, as it always did when she was about to face people.
The cloaked figure melted into the shadows as Xena came down the stairs. Synaea was behind the bar, attending to the needs of her patrons when she saw the Warrior Princess take a seat at the bar.
"How is your friend?" she asked.
"She's fine now. I need to take her some food." Xena turned her head toward the motley looking man who had been eyeing her since she sat down. One look from those icy-blue eyes sent him scurrying to the safety of a table.
Synaea placed a tray full of food amd drink on the bar. Xena paid Synaea for the food and room and told her that they would be leaving early tomorrow.
Synaea nodded, "Your horse will be ready at sunrise."
Xena took the tray and started up the stairs. Half way up she whipped her head around, feeling the eyes of someone watching her. She saw nothing suspicious, but knew she would have to stay alert.
After a nice meal of stew, cheese and crusty bread, Xena stripped her armor and leather off to do some repair work. The armor needed to be cleaned and polished and the holes from the spider needed to be mended. As Xena worked, Gabrielle worked on her story of their encounter with Ate, embellishing small details here and there. Every once in a while, Xena would roll her eyes in mock disbelief as she listened.
Xena changed the bandage on Gabrielle's shoulder and they settled in for the night. With her chakrum on the table and her sword in her hand, Xena sat back in the chair wearing only her shift.
It was a quiet night and Gabrielle slept peacefully while Xena dozed lightly. With the first rays of daylight illuminating the room, Xena dressed and woke Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, come on, it's time to get up."
The bard stirred and opened her eyes. The morning sunlight was glinting off of Xena's armor, shining almost as brightly as her blue eyes.
"Let me check your ankle, you may be able to wear you boots now."
Gabrielle sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Xena gently examined her ankle and found the swelling had gone down. She slipped the boots on Gabrielle's feet and laced them up.
"Uh, Xena, there's one more thing." Gabrielle said looking down at her chest and then at her useless arm.
Xena smiled and tied Gabrielle's top.
"I'll be back in a minute to help you down stairs," Xena said as she collected their belongings and left. Momentarily she returned and helped Gabrielle downstairs. Deftly, Xena scooped her up and placed her on Argo's back. Synaea and her son stepped through the door just as Xena was about to mount Argo.
"I brought you some fresh biscuits for breakfast," said Synaea smiling.
"Thank you very much!" Gabrielle said, extending her good hand.
Xena turned to the boy, "Thank you for taking such good care of Argo." The boy beamed at the praise coming from the Warrior Princess.
Xena put one foot in the stirrup and easily mounted Argo. The village was tiny and they soon found themselves wandering though the lush countryside. The mood was light and Xena gladly listened to
Gabrielle tell stories, as long as they weren't about her.
At midday, the forest opened up into a beautiful green meadow. Xena guided Argo into the meadow and stopped her near a small river at the edge of the forest. She easily slid out of the saddle and then helped Gabrielle down. Xena prepared lunch while Gabrielle rested against a tree.
Gabrielle fell asleep after lunch, exhausted. The small river had a deep pool and Xena thought it would be nice to take a bath. Stripping her armor and leather off, she placed her sword within easy reach and slipped into the pool. The cool water felt refreshing and invigorating. If she could only wash the guilt away as easily.
After a lengthy time in the water, Xena crawled out and let her body soak up the warm sun. The wounds in her sides were healing nicely and caused little pain now. When her body was warm and dry she donned her leather and armor. Gabrielle was still sleeping, so Xena gathered some wood and then sat down and relaxed. She watched Gabrielle sleep and reflected on the past week. So many things had happened. She could deal with the physical things, but the emotional aspect of almost losing Gabrielle was tough. Xena closed her eyes and drifted off, her hand touching the hilt of her sword.
Several hours had passed, and Xena's eye's snapped open when she heard Gabrielle whimper in her sleep. She jumped to her feet and was by Gabrielle's side in an instant.
"Gabrielle," Xena said softly as she touched her shoulder.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked confused. She jumped slightly when she saw Xena kneeling next to her.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?"
"I......nothing," she said mustering a small smile.
Xena looked at her quizzically, but decided not to question her.
"It will be dark in a while, we will stay here tonight."
Gabrielle didn't say anything, she just looked at Xena with an odd expression on her face. Xena raised an eyebrow, wondering what was going on. She split some wood and started a fire after removing her saddlebags and saddle off of Argo's back.
"I'm going to get dinner. Will you be all right?" Xena asked as she handed Gabrielle her staff.
"I'll be fine."
Xena sheathed her sword and unhooked her chakrum. Gabrielle watched as she crossed the meadow with the prowess of a cat. Momentarily, the glint of sunlight off the chakrum caught her eye. In another few minutes, she saw the chakrum fly again. She marveled at the skill Xena possessed with such an unusual weapon. Xena
returned with two rabbits in hand. In a matter of minutes, the rabbits were dressed and ready to be cooked. Taking several small, green sticks, she made a makeshift spit and put the rabbits on to cook.
While the rabbits were cooking, Xena prepared their beds. She moved in front of Gabrielle and extended her left hand.
"Would you like to sit by the fire?"
"Gabrielle took Xena by the wrist and slowly stood. Xena slipped her right arm around Gabrielle's waist and helped her over to her blanket by the fire. Xena sat down and turned the spit, staring into the fire. Periodically she would glance up at Gabrielle, who seemed lost in thought. She knew Gabrielle would talk to when she was ready.
The roast rabbit tasted good, along with the left over biscuits from this morning and a few apples that Xena quartered. After dinner, Xena changed Gabrielle's bandages an then took her sharpening stone and ran it down the blade of her sword, starting at the hilt and working toward the point. Gabrielle listened to the scraping sound while she stared into the fire. She had been uncharacteristically quiet since waking from her nap. Xena had waited long enough.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?"
"Nothing Xena, I'm just tired." Gabrielle looked up from the fire and caught Xena's gaze. Xena could see confusion and something else in her eyes, something that looked like fear.
Xena let the subject drop. Gabrielle sighed and settled into her blanket, still staring at the fire. Xena watched her for a long time until she fell asleep.
Late in the night, Xena was jolted awake by a blood curdling scream. She jumped to her feet with sword in hand to find Gabrielle sitting up with her eye's wide open, staring into the darkness. Xena spun around, surveying the perimeter of the camp but found nothing. She turned back to Gabrielle, who was still staring into the night.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and a terrified expression crossed her face. She jerked her arm out of the sling and scrambled backwards, away from Xena. Xena took a few steps toward her and she continued to back up. Dropping her sword, Xena ran to Gabrielle and grabbed her by the arms.
"Gabrielle!" Gabrielle struggled to get free but Xena wouldn't let her go. She wrapped her arms around her friend and tried to keep her from moving and damaging her shoulder.
Gabrielle looked at Xena again and screamed in sheer terror just as she passed out. Xena picked her up and carried her back to her blanket. She tossed a couple of small logs on the embers and blew on them. The logs flared, and in the light she saw Gabrielle covered in blood. Xena's mind raced as she dug through the saddlebags looking for the fresh bandages. The warrior in her was in control, for only she could handle the situation. She knelt next to Gabrielle, grabbing one side of her top in each hand she yanked it apart, breaking the laces. There was blood everywhere. Xena tore the old bandages off and used the clean ones to apply pressure to both sides of Gabrielle's shoulder. In a matter of seconds, the cloth was soaked with blood. It wasn't working. Blood poured out from between Xena's fingers and ran across Gabrielle's chest and arm. Xena retrieved her sword and stuck the tip in the fire. When it was sufficiently hot, she touched the tip to the wound in Gabr!
ielle's shoulder. She could smell the searing flesh, but the flow of blood did not stop or even slow down.
Xena tried it again with the same results. She couldn't understand it. It should have worked! ' 'This can't be happening!' her mind screamed. She dropped the sword and tried to apply pressure again. No matter how hard she pressed, the blood kept coming. She looked at Gabrielle's face and saw the pale color of one who has past into the next world. Hot tears streamed down her face and dropped onto Gabrielle, mixing with her blood. The warrior was gone now, leaving only the friend to deal with the grief. Xena raised her hand to touch Gabrielle's face, only to realize that her hand was covered in blood. At that moment, her heart broke and nothing else in the world mattered any longer. She laid down next to Gabrielle and covered her friends body with her own, instinctively still trying to protect her. Burying her face in Gabrielle's hair she let go of any remaining self-restraint. Her sobs echoed through the valley as her grief came spilling out.
The morning sun broke over the treetops, sending a shaft of light to illuminate Xena's face. She woke with a start, with an image of Gabrielle covered in blood engraved in her mind. Her heart was pounding and sweat
dripped down her body even though the morning air was cool and crisp. She looked over at Gabrielle, wondering when she had covered her body with a blanket. Anguish and pain ripped through her as she relived the night before.
"Oh Gabrielle," she said softly, "How can I live without you?" Xena stared at Gabrielle's body for a moment and then tossed some wood on the embers and waited for it to start to smolder. Soon, tiny flames flickered on the sides of the wood. She placed a waterskin on a large, flat rock by the fire and left to fill another one. She wanted to clean Gabrielle's body before she took her back to Potidaea. Xena filled the waterskin and set it on the bank. Cupping her hand, she dipped it into the water and brought it up to her face. The cold water ran over her face and down her cheeks, washing away the tears. She picked up the waterskin and turned around. Her eyes focused on the empty blankets and she was suddenly aware that she was screaming.
Xena dropped the waterskin and drew her sword, running the short distance back to camp. She looked around frantically, searching for who ever or what ever took Gabrielle. Her back was to the forest when she heard a noise behind her. Spinning on her heals, she turned around and leveled her sword. A very confused Gabrielle stood before her. Xena's eyes went wide with shock. Her hands dropped to her sides and her legs buckled beneath her. She landed hard on her knees, but didn't notice. She stared at Gabrielle, unable to speak or move. Xena closed her eyes tightly, hoping the cruel illusion would go away. Her sword slipped from her hand and her head dropped down, in the posture of defeat. Why was she being tortured like this?
"Xena?" Gabrielle limped toward Xena and knelt down in front of her, placing her hand on Xena's shoulder.
With the soft touch of Gabrielle's hand an involuntary shudder shook her body as a sob escaped her lips.
"Xena! What's wrong?" Gabrielle put her hand under Xena's chin and lifted her tear stained face.
She felt the touch and heard the voice but was still unwilling to believe. She opened her eyes to see Gabrielle's beautiful face. Through her tears she looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes, trying to reconcile the scene before her with the memories from last night. She reached out a trembling hand and touched Gabrielle's cheek.
"Yes, Xena, it's me. What is it, what's wrong?" Gabrielle's voice was tinged with panic.
Xena looked dazed and confused. "You.......You died last night! You were bleeding, there was so much blood and I couldn't stop it! I tried Gabrielle! I tried so hard but I couldn't do it and... you slipped away from me...." Xena's voice trailed off.
Gabrielle saw the pain on Xena's face and knew this was the worst nightmare yet. The degree of pain in her eyes was unfathomable, and it broke Gabrielle's heart. She reached her arm around Xena to pull her close. Xena resisted at first but then gave in and buried her head in Gabrielle's chest, sobbing uncontrollably. Several times Gabrielle heard her mumble 'but you died, I saw you die'.
She held Xena tightly and tried to reassure her that it was only a nightmare and that she was okay. Her words seemed to have little affect. She let go of Xena and gently wiped her tears away.
"I'm all right Xena! It was just a nightmare! Look at me Xena!" Gabrielle forced Xena to look at her, "I'm all right!" Xena held her gaze and slowly pushed the nightmarish scene of Gabrielle's lifeless body out of her mind. She saw the change in Xena's eyes and smiled. Xena stood and helped Gabrielle to her feet. With one arm around Gabrielle's waist, she helped her over to the blankets. Wanting to be sure that it was just a bad dream, Xena sat her down and carefully examined the wound in her shoulder. It was healing nicely and there was no sign of bleeding. She sighed with relief as she adjusted Gabrielle's top and tied the laces.
Gabrielle caught Xena's hand with her own and squeezed it, "Are you ready to talk about it now?"
Xena closed her eyes, fighting back the tears. She held on tightly to Gabrielle's hand but said nothing.
Gabrielle could tell that she was unable to talk about it.
"It's okay Xena, I'll be here for you when you're ready!"
Xena stood and took a deep breath. The warrior had returned and Gabrielle knew that the moment had been lost. Xena sheathed her sword and went to retrieve the waterskin she had tossed. Gabrielle watched her walk over to the river bank and pick up the waterskin. The usual sureness in her movement was not there. What
ever had happened last night had left it's mark. Xena has had nightmares before, but none had ever had this effect.
Xena packed the camp up while Gabrielle ate an apple. With Argo saddled and everything stowed away in it's proper place, she helped Gabrielle up and then slid into the saddle behind her. Gabrielle felt an arm slip around her waist and hold her tight. An almost imperceptible shudder shook Xena's body and she knew that Xena was thinking about last night. She rested her arm on Xena's, interlocking their fingers as a means of reassurance for her friend.
They rode in relative silence. Gabrielle tried to get Xena to talk about something, anything, but it was useless.
After stopping for a simple lunch, they continued on. The sun was poised to set when Xena found a place to camp. Gabrielle was a little concerned. Xena hadn't said more that 10 words all day.
Gabrielle helped set up camp as best she could with a bad ankle and shoulder. She watched Xena prepare a simple stew of dried meat and some vegetable that she had picked up in the last village. Gabrielle watched her closely, noting her posture and facial expressions. Periodically, the warrior facade would crumble for just a moment and she could see the pain on Xena's face. For some reason, she was having a hard time getting over this nightmare.
When Xena was hurting emotionally, she turned inward and that drove Gabrielle crazy. How could she work things through if she didn't talk about them?
The stew was delicious and Gabrielle's hunger was temporarily satisfied. As was becoming their routine, Xena changed Gabrielle's bandage after dinner. Gabrielle sat in silence and watched Xena hone her sword. The blade did not need to be sharpened, but it gave Xena something to do. A long time passed without either of them speaking. Gabrielle was tired, but she didn't relish the idea of going to sleep. She was having her own nightmares about Xena pushing her into the canyon.
Xena felt Gabrielle's eyes on her, silently asking when she would open up. She put the stone down and looked across the fire at Gabrielle. Her mind flashed between the present and memories of last night. It had seemed so real!
Gabrielle saw the struggle in Xena's eyes, "I'm here for you!"
Such a simple phrase, but it touched a very tender spot in Xena's heart. Gabrielle was here, now, but what about tomorrow? How could she tell Gabrielle about the fear she had of losing her? She opened her mouth to speak, but the words would not come, so she stared into the fire instead.
Gabrielle didn't know what to do. She wanted to comfort Xena, to make her pain go away, but that was a difficult thing to do when she wouldn't open up. She moved around the fire and sat down next to Xena. She didn't say anything, she just looked into her eyes for a moment and tenderly placed her hand around Xena's.
They sat there for a long time, holding hands and staring into the fire. Even if she couldn't find the words to help, she knew her presence would.
Xena wanted to tell Gabrielle everything. She wanted to feel Gabrielle's arms around her and she wanted to hear that she would never leave her. She wanted to feel loved, but she had been a warrior too long and her ability to let her emotions flow had been compromised long ago. Now, she was learning to *feel* all over again because of Gabrielle's love. She didn't know that it would hurt this much.
The exhaustion and almost losing Gabrielle twice in one week was taking it's toll on Xena and the nightmare had been the culminating factor. Xena closed her eyes as the tears spilled out and ran down her cheeks. She couldn't take much more of this.
Gabrielle glanced at Xena and saw the tears. How long had she been crying? She slipped the sling off her shoulder and put both arms around Xena. At Gabrielle's touch, Xena gave in and collapsed into her arms. Gabrielle pulled a blanket around them both and held her Warrior Princess all night. For Xena to show her vulnerability was a big step and it warmed Gabrielle's heart to know that she had finally made it past the tough exterior of her friend.
As the sky started to lighten, Gabrielle's eyes slowly opened, straining to focus. She realized that she had made it through the night without a nightmare. Xena's head was cradled in her lap. Her injured shoulder was sore and stiff, but well worth the price of helping her friend. She studied Xena's face, noticing how tranquil and young she looked when she was sleeping peacefully. It saddened her to know that peaceful sleep was a rare occurrence for Xena. As she brushed a strand of hair out of Xena's face, the warrior stirred.
"I didn't mean to disturb you," Gabrielle said softly.
Xena sat up and stretched. She noticed Gabrielle's sling hanging empty off her shoulder, "How's your shoulder?"
"It's okay," Gabrielle said as she pulled the sling back around her arm. She knew that Xena would not talk about what had happened last night and she was okay with that.
"My ankle doesn't hurt as much. I should be able to travel on it in a few days."
Xena nodded as she pulled some apples and cheese out for breakfast. She didn't say much, but there was an easiness about her that indicated she felt better.
The next village was about a half day's ride away and Gabrielle was anxious to get there. She didn't remember much about the last village and she never had an opportunity to tell any of her stories. Besides, they could use the money she could earn as a bard.
Xena was riding Argo with Gabrielle in front when Gabrielle felt Xena's body tense up. They had only been on the road for a hour or so and had not seen another person. Xena pulled back slightly on the reins and Argo stopped. Coming around the bend in the road where five armed men. The men wore leather and swords but not a lot of armor. It was obvious to Xena that they were small time ruffians and shouldn't be much trouble. Xena hopped off Argo's back and took her reins. As Xena led Argo up the road, she had a wicked smile on her face.
The men, who had just spotted them started leering and snickering at the two women. The largest man, and obviously the leader, approached Xena.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" the man asked, puffing out his chest and trying to look tough.
"We don't want any trouble," Xena said smiling.
"They don't want any trouble!" the leader said turning around, looking at his men and laughing. All of the men
started laughing. The leader turned around and pulled his sword. "Trouble is just what your going to get!" he said snarling.
"You shouldn't make her mad," Gabrielle piped up.
The men laughed, having no idea who they were dealing with. Xena had enough and in one quick motion, kicked the sword from the leaders hand and dropped him to the ground with a solid punch to his chin.
"Who's next?" Xena asked sarcastically. Gabrielle saw the bright look in Xena's eyes and knew that the men didn't have a chance. It had been too long since Xena had 'time to play'. In a matter of minutes, Xena dispatched the men. She didn't even break a sweat and her sword and chakrum had not been touched.
"You and your little whore will pay for this," the leader said as he rubbed his jaw. Xena took a small step toward the men, who scattered into the woods at the thought of another beating.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, "What did he mean by that!"
"I don't know, but I'm sure we will find out," Xena said as she scanned the tree line.
As they approached town, they saw more people on the road. Every person they saw was scowling or arguing with someone, but they all stopped and stared when they saw Gabrielle. As they neared the town, more arguments could be heard.
"I don't like this," Xena said as they entered the village and people turned around and stared.
This kind of thing had happened before, but then it had been Xena that they were staring at. This time, it was clearly Gabrielle.
"Have you ever been here before?" Xena whispers in her ear.
They stopped in front of an inn and went inside. Xena went in first with Gabrielle directly behind her. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she spotted a diminutive man who seemed to be in charge. Xena and Gabrielle made there way to a corner table and sat down. The little man came over to talk to Xena.
"I'll serve you," he said, "but *she* has to go!" he continued and jerked a thumb in Gabrielle's direction.
In a flash, Xena stood, reached out, and lifted the man off his feet, "She goes where I go. Understand?" The little man nodded. "Now, I want some food and a room," Xena commanded. The little man nodded again and scurried off.
"Xena! What is going on here!" Gabrielle asked in a hushed voice.
Xena didn't answer her. Her skin was starting to prickle and she felt a familiar set of eyes on her. Slowly she scanned the room, but could find nothing.
"Someone is watching us."
"I don't know."
The little man came back with their lunch and a key to a room. Xena paid the little man and gave him a look that said 'don't mess with me'. As they ate their lunch, Xena kept looking around to see who was watching them.
"Come on Gabrielle, you need to rest."
Gabrielle was about to protest when those blue eyes flashed a silent warning not to do so. The room was modest and looked like every other room in any other inn. Gabrielle hobbled over to the bed and sat down.
"Gabrielle, get some rest."
Gabrielle opened her mouth, but Xena shot her a look that quickly closed it. She settled back into the bed, mumbling something about Xena not being her mother. Xena leaned Gabrielle's staff against the bed and left, locking the door behind her.
Xena stabled Argo and left to roam the village. Somewhere there was an answer to what was going on. Everywhere she went, she saw people arguing. Several times she had to break up fights. She even had to draw her sword a couple of times.
"You want to know what is going on, don't you."
Xena whipped around at the sound of the voice. An old man with white hair and a full beard stood before her.
"Do you know what is going on here?" Xena asked suspiciously.
"It's that friend of yours," he said.
"Gabrielle? She's never been here before." Xena eyed the man closely.
Xena couldn't tell if that was a question or a statement.
"What are you talking about?" Xena was becoming impatient.
"Your friend arrived in our village several days ago and things have not been the same since. Everywhere she goes, the men lust after her and the women hate her. The women thinks she's sleeping with their husbands and the men are fighting over her. This village was peaceful until she arrived."
Xena looked hard at the old man and decided that he was telling the truth. She moved through the streets and headed back toward the inn. As she approached the inn, she saw the innkeeper talking to a group of people. As soon as they saw Xena, they all hurried on their way. She caught a glimpse of a cloaked figure disappearing behind a building. Something seemed familiar, but what?
Gabrielle heard the lock turn and jumped to her feet in a fighting stance. When Xena entered the room, she relaxed.
"We've got a problem," Xena said as she locked the door behind her. "Someone who looks like you has been stirring up trouble."
"Someone who looks like me?"
"Who do you think it is?"
The color drained from Gabrielle's face and she sat down heavily on the bed. Ate had almost killed them both before. What would she do now?
"What kind of trouble?" Gabrielle asked though she really didn't want to know.
Xena looked uncomfortable, "You....er...she has been *tempting* the local men."
"Tempting the local men?" Gabrielle's eyes grew wide as she realized what Xena was saying.
"But I never! Perdicus was the only one I..."
"I know Gabrielle!"
"Xena, why is she doing this?"
"Retribution." They shared a glance and Gabrielle tried to read Xena's expression but it was impossible, Xena had her warrior mask on.
"Now what?" Gabrielle asked.
"We wait. Ate will follow us if we leave and this is as good a place as any to make a stand."
Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes, knowing that she might not be able to protect her from Ate and felt guilty because of it.
Xena moved to the side of the window and looked out. A large crowd had gathered in the street below and they looked very angry. Some of the villagers held torches.
"We want the girl. If you give her to us we'll let you go," said a large man with an ugly cut down one cheek.
"Why do you want the girl?" Xena asked.
"Do you see this?" the large man said, pointing at the cut on his face. "My wife did this to me when she thought I was *with* that girl! That girl has been nothing but trouble and we know how to take care of trouble makers
around here!" the crowd roared in support.
"She's a whore!" one woman shouted.
"Kill her!" another shouted.
The crowd started going crazy, throwing rocks and sticks at the window. Xena turned and looked at Gabrielle and then back out the window. A cloaked figure in the middle of the crowd was laughing. Ate! CRACK, they heard something hit the door. The door was made of solid wood and it would take much more than that to break it in. Suddenly it was quite. Xena looked out the window again. The crowd of villagers was standing there silent, as if they were waiting. But, what were they waiting for?
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted, "There's smoke coming under the door!"
Xena tuned around to see billows of smoke pouring out from under the door. "Come on Gabrielle!"
They grabbed their stuff and Xena felt the door. It was cool. She yanked a curtain down and tore it into strips. Wetting the cloth, she tied one strip over Gabrielle's nose and mouth and another over hers. Xena opened the door and they entered the smoke filled hallway. The fire must have been started in the kitchen, which happened to be directly under their room. Xena felt movement to her left and quickly landed a side kick in the chest of someone coming up the stairs. A loud groan and a series of thumps followed as the attacker bounced down the stairs. Moving down the hallway, the smoke lessened a bit. She kicked a door open and shoved Gabrielle inside. She disappeared into the smoke and returned a minute later with several blankets. Two men entered the room just behind Xena. With a spinning back crescent kick, she caught both men across their face and they flew into hall, landing against the wall unconscious.
Tying the blankets together, Xena made a rope and tied one end around Gabrielle. With out a word, Gabrielle knew what Xena was doing and moved over to the window. She climbed out and let Xena lower her to the ground. Xena tossed their stuff down to Gabrielle and jumped out the window, performing a forward summersault and landing next to Gabrielle.
"They're over here!" the cloaked figure yelled.
Xena jerked her head around and caught a glimpse of Ate as the villagers swarmed around her. Instinctively she placed herself between Gabrielle and the villagers as she drew her sword. Gabrielle slipped her sling off and gripped her staff. Few of the villagers were armed with swords. Most had large sticks or farm implements. It didn't take long for Xena to drop most of them. The rest scattered for the time being.
Behind the inn, Xena quickly saddled Argo and helped Gabrielle up. Another group of villagers came around the corner as Xena was about to mount Argo. An arrow flew past Gabrielle's head and embedded in a post.
With a quick flip of her wrist, Xena sent her chakrum flying and cleaved the archers bow in half. She grabbed the returning chakrum and leapt into the saddle behind Gabrielle. Taking Gabrielle's staff, she leveled the first of the approaching villagers as Argo bolted for safely. The villagers tried to pull the women off as they flew past on Argo, but most only succeeded in getting a booted foot in their face. As they approached the edge of the village, Xena heard the familiar whine of spears flying through the air. She smashed Gabrielle's face into Argo's mane and folded her own body over Gabrielle as the spears went sailing past them. For some reason, the villagers did not pursue them into the forest. Glancing over her shoulder, Xena saw Ate surrounded by villagers. They appeared to be listening intently to what she was saying.
A secluded campsite was found and the friends set up camp.
"Won't the villagers come find us?" Gabrielle asked.
"No. What ever is going to happen, will happen in the village," Xena replied.
"Why don't we just leave?"
"Gabrielle, we can't. Ate will just follow us and cause trouble in what ever village we pass through. We have to stop it now, before more innocent people get hurt."
Gabrielle looked nervous, "How do we stop a goddess?"
Xena looked at her without answering. She didn't know either.
They ate a quiet meal of bread and cheese. There was little conversation as each woman was absorbed in her own thoughts. Gabrielle kept thinking about how Ate had tricked them both into following their lovers into trouble. If Ate took on Xena's form again, would she be able to tell the difference? Gabrielle shivered and wrapped herself tightly in a blanket.
Xena looked up and watched Gabrielle stare into the fire. If I couldn't protect her before, how can I protect her now?
"Gabrielle, I want you to stay here while I deal with Ate."
"No Xena, my place is by your side. What if Ate changes into me? Will you be able to tell us apart? She might trick you into being captured. The only way to prevent her from fooling us is to stick together."
Xena knew that Gabrielle's logic was sound, but she didn't like the idea of putting her injured friend in more danger.
They settled in for the night and Gabrielle was soon asleep. Xena watched her for a while and then fell into a light sleep.
Gabrielle awoke with a start and it took her a minute to realize where she was. She had been having that dream again and she woke up just after Xena pushed her into the canyon. She knew that it was really Ate that pushed her, but the dream was unnerving none the less. She glanced over at the sleeping form of Xena and slowly closed her eyes, praying that Morpheus would send pleasant dreams.
The mist watched the women from it's hiding place in the forest. As soon as it was sure that the women were soundly asleep, it crept along the forest floor and entered the camp. It divided in half and each half approached a sleeping form. Instead of waiting to be drawn in, the mist forced itself into the sleeping women.
Xena felt the mist penetrate her nose and she opened her mouth out of reflex. She grabbed her sword, but it was too late and the last of the mist disappeared into her mouth. She tried to make her way to Gabrielle when
the burning sensation at the back of her brain caused her to collapse next to an unconscious Gabrielle.
Xena woke up in the village, chained to a wall in the market place. Her head ached and her wrists hurt where the shackles had cut into them while supporting her weight when she was unconscious. She struggled to her feet to relieve the pressure on her wrists. She inspected the shackles and the chains, noticing the rust that had built up on them. She looked for Gabrielle and found her bound to a pole in the middle of the market place. She was crumpled at the base of the pole, with her head turned toward the ground and her hands tied behind the thick pole. On top of the pole hung Xena's chakrum and sword, as a reminder of who was really in charge here. Other than the two women, the market place was empty and Xena could not hear any sounds indicating people were close by.
Gabrielle lifted her head slowly. Xena could see the dark stain on Gabrielle's right shoulder. Her wound had been reopened. Xena strained at the chains, but they wouldn't budge.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?"
Gabrielle shook her head, trying to clear it.
"Xena, what happened?"
"What are they going to do us?"
Just then they heard many voices approaching.
"I think we're about to find out."
A large crowd of villagers started to pour into the market place, forming a semi-circle around Gabrielle. The open side of the semi-circle faced Xena and she could see the anger on their face's. The man from the night before, the one with the cut down his face, stepped forward. The crowd quieted down as he approached Gabrielle.
"You are a harlot and have been found guilty of committing crimes against this village! The penalty for your crimes is DEATH!" The crowd roared with approval.
"Noooo!" Xena cried in anguish.
Gabrielle eyes went wide and she turned to look at Xena. The pleading look in Gabrielle's eyes tore at Xena's heart and she strained against her chains. It was no use. Xena scanned the crowd, searching for someone, anyone who would help. It was then that she noticed the cloth sacks that everyone carried. The sacks were bulging with round objects. Xena's heart missed a beat as she realized that they were going to stone Gabrielle. She looked back at Gabrielle and saw the man with the cut face move behind the pole. The villagers completed the circle around Gabrielle and partially cut off Xena's view. She saw the ropes that held Gabrielle drop to the ground as the man walked away. Gabrielle stared at the crowd of villagers in disbelief.
Xena strained at the shackles that held her prisoner. She watched the crowd and thought for a moment that no one would actually go through with it until she heard a dull thud and Gabrielle scream.
Gabrielle was able to dodge the first few stones, but as more people raised thir arms, she knew there was no way out of it. As a torrent of rocks came flying, she turned her face to the pole and covered her head with her hands. As each rock hit her, she uttered a small gasp in pain. A hard thump to her head, just above her right eye sent waves of pain through her head. Blood trickled down her face. Her body was being pummeled from every direction. She knew she couldn't take much more and in one last desperate attempt, she called for help.
"Xeennnaaa!" Gabrielle's voice faded away as a crushing feeling exploded in the back of her head. She slumped to the ground, unconscious.
The villagers continued throwing rocks as Xena strained against her shackles. She saw Gabrielle collapse to the ground and something inside of her snapped. A raging hate welled up from deep inside of her gut and she pulled against the shackles with renewed strength. Punching her left arm straight out, she broke the chain. She did the same with her right arm, uttering an animal like growl that every villager heard. At the sound of the growl and the breaking chains, the villagers stopped and their arms dropped to their sides. Xena shoved the villagers aside as she made her way to Gabrielle. The sight of her bruised and bleeding friend almost made her heart stop. She knelt down and tenderly rolled Gabrielle on to her back. Everywhere there was exposed skin, Gabrielle was cut and bleeding. Xena gently wiped the blood off of Gabrielle's face with her hands. She turned the palms of her hands up and looked at the blood. A wave of anger flooded her body. In one swift moti!
on, she jumped into the air and retrieved her weapons. Throwing her chakrum so that it bounced off of the walls of nearby buildings, Xena held both wrists high and let the chakrum cut the shackles off. She caught and hooked the chakrum and drew her sword. Slowly she twirled it around and around as she moved in a small circle around Gabrielle. The villagers just stood there. Xena glared at the people with hate filled eyes, looking for Ate. She wanted to kill every person there. She wanted them to suffer the way they made Gabrielle suffer. She wanted to eviscerate them while they were still alive and let the vultures pick at their internal organs.
"Go ahead Xena, give in to the hate. Kill the villagers and avenge Gabrielle's death," Ate whispered.
Xena whirled around to see Ate standing there in the now familiar black cloak. A battle raged in her heart. She WANTED to kill everyone, but she knew Gabrielle wouldn't want her to. Xena lunged at Ate, slicing with her sword. Ate simply disappeared and then reappeared in a different spot. Xena spun around as her rage increased. She moved to one of the villagers and raised her sword above her head. As she was about to bring the sword down and liberate the villager's head from his body, she heard Gabrielle's voice echo in her head.
"There's only one way to end this cycle of hatred and it's through love...and forgiveness. "
Xena realized what Ate was trying to do. She walked toward Ate. When she got to Gabrielle, she stopped and slid her sword back into it's sheath.
"I won't do it Ate. I won't give in."
"Kill them!" Ate screamed.
Ate looked into Xena eyes and found only pain, the rage and hate were gone. Ate turned to face the villagers.
"Kill this woman, she is a friend of the harlot's and she is just as guilty as her friend!" The villagers raised their rock filled hands.
"No!" Xena shouted, "It's a trick! You said that my friend has been in town for several day, causing trouble."
The crowd murmured 'yes'.
"Well, did the woman have an injured shoulder? Was she wearing a sling on her right arm?"
"No," several of the villagers said.
"No, because it was not my friend that was here, but the goddess Ate!" Xena said pointing at Ate. The crowd looked confused. "She took the forum of my friend to stir up anger in your hearts and turn you against each other. She was trying to get back at me and you people happened to get in the way!"
"She's lying!" Ate screamed.
"Am I?" Xena said as she bent down and raised Gabrielle's head and shoulders up. She struggled to maintain emotional control as she lifted the bard's body. "Look at the wound in my friends shoulder and you will see that it is several days old. She was not here, but with ME!" Cautiously, an old man stepped forward and examined the wound in Gabrielle's shoulder.
"She's right," the old man said. "This wound is several days old. It's not the same woman."
Ate shrieked as she realized that her little game was over and the hatred that she fed on was gone, so she turned into mist and disappeared. The crowd stood there in silence. They looked at Gabrielle and Xena and then at the rocks in their hands. With a sickening realization of what had just happened, the villagers dropped their sacks and rocks. With her rage spent, Xena dropped to her knees next to Gabrielle. She gently lifted the lifeless form of her friend and cradled her in her arms. No one could have survived this kind of a beating. She put her ear to Gabrielle's chest, but heard nothing. She stood up with Gabrielle in her arms and looked at the villagers. The familiar numbness that had protected her heart for so long returned. In a state of shock, Xena started walking toward the edge of town. Silently the villagers parted to let her through. The women had tears in their eyes and the men cast their face's down as Xena passed through them.
She walked and walked unable to think or feel. She didn't know where she was going, she only knew that if she stopped, her world would end. Xena heard a whinny and looked up to see Argo. She had wandered back to their camp. Looking around in a dazed confusion, she spotted their blankets and carefully laid Gabrielle down. Gathering some tinder and wood, Xena started a fire. Just as she had several days ago, she prepared to clean Gabrielle's body, the difference being that this time it was real.
She could have used cold water to clean the dirt and blood from Gabrielle's body, but that didn't seem right. With a clean rag and warm water, she cleaned the smeared blood from Gabrielle's face. She fought hard to keep the tears back and concentrate on the task at hand. Tears blurred her vision as she gently wiped the blood away. Working down Gabrielle's neck, she started to clean the blood off of her chest and shoulders. As she cleaned the blood off of Gabrielle's right shoulder, it came back. She wiped the fresh blood away, but more well up from the reopened wound instantly. That shouldn't be happening. Xena blinked the tears away to make sure she wasn't just imagining it. Again she wiped the blood away and it instantly reappeared. A flicker of hope flared in her heart. She put her ear to Gabrielle's chest and listened. At first she could hear nothing but the pounding of her own heart, then she could hear it! The faint beating of Gabrielle's heart! Fresh tears!
led up in her eyes. She bent down and touched her cheek to Gabrielle's.
"Hang on Gabrielle, just hang on!" she whispered.
Xena wiped the tears from her eyes. She examined Gabrielle and her fears returned. The bard's body was broken and bruised severely. Even with treatment, she didn't know if Gabrielle would live. She had a lot to do and she needed to do it fast. Gabrielle had sustained several serious blows to the head and she was afraid that her friend may never wake up, if she lived. She was beyond the help that Xena could provide here in the forest.
Before they had encountered Ate, they had been heading northwest from a small village near Eion on the Argolic Gulf, toward Corinth. There was a temple to Asclepius with in a day's ride of their campsite.
Xena quickly made a litter and gently placed Gabrielle on it. The temple to Asclepius might be less than a days ride away, but it was located in a broad valley surrounded by high hills. She would have to drag Gabrielle through those hills in order to reach the temple.
The road from Tiryns to Epidaurus was not far and Xena could follow it east until she reached the temple. The road began to wind into the hills as the sun started to set. With the black of night descending, Xena found a place to camp. She was afraid if she continued on, that she would bounce Gabrielle around in the dark, aggravating her injuries. She unhooked the litter and gently laid it down. Quickly she started a fire to keep Gabrielle warm and then she tended to Argo.
It was a long night for Xena as she drifted in and out of sleep as well as in and out of the nightmares. She slept next to Gabrielle, needing to be close to her. As soon as the sky started to lighten, she stirred the dying coals of the fire to spread them out so they would cool down. She saddled Argo and hooked the litter up. Dropping down on the other side of the hills, she could see some of the buildings in the temenos of Asclepius. They would be at the temple soon.
As Xena approached the temenos, she could see two small rectangular building with the ruins of the old temple
to Apollo behind them. A small temple to Artemis is on her right. Looking to her left, she sees the thymele and the Temple of Asclepius. Heading in that direction, she passes the Altar of Asclepius as she approaches the
temple. A priest sees her coming and rushes out of the temple. Xena slides wearily out of the saddle.
"What happened?" the priest asks as he kneels to examine Gabrielle.
"She was stoned," Xena said flatly.
The priest looked up at Xena. Her voice was flat, but look in her blue eyes was that of genuine concern.
"She is near death," the priest said. "Only Asclepius himself can heal her now."
Xena reached into a saddle bag to get her coin purse. She knew that she would have to make an offering to the god if Gabrielle was to be healed. As she tied the saddle bag, the priest noticed her wrists.
"Your hurt," the priest said gently taking her hands in his. Xena instinctively pulled her hands away.
"I'm fine," Xena said as she looked at the priest with an intense gaze. The priest understood that Xena was worried about Gabrielle, but he had caught sight of something on Xena's forearms that concerned him.
"No you're not," the priest said as he took Xena's left arm and peered under her gauntlet. The cuts in Xena's wrist were infected and red streaks were spreading up her forearms. "Your wounds are infected," he said.
Xena looked at the priest and tried to quell her anger. She took a deep breath and realized that he was trying to
help both of them.
"Tonight, your friend will sleep in the Abaton, to wait for Asclepius to visit her in her dreams."
"WE will sleep in the Abaton," Xena said.
"But you have to finish the proper rites before you can sleep in the Abaton," the priest said.
"What rites?" Xena asked him.
"The proper diet, purgation, baths, and prayers have to be preformed before you can be allowed the treatment
of incubation. We will make some exceptions for your friend, but you must go through the rites first."
Xena looked at the priest, flashing him a look that caused him to take a step back.
"Perhaps we can make an exception for you too," he stammered. "How long since you have eaten?"
"A day and a half," Xena replied.
"Very well," the priest said, "we can forgo the diet and purgation, but the prayers and baths are required.
We will look after your friend if you would like to offer a sacrifice to Asclepius now."
Xena took the money and headed for the Altar of Asclepius. She placed the money on the long narrow altar and knelt to pray.
"I am not much of one to pray to the gods, but what I ask for is not for myself, but for my friend." Xena took a deep breath and tried to calm her shaky voice. "Asclepius, I ask that you would heal Gabrielle. I have not much to offer, but I will give you all that I have." Xena closed her eyes as she prayed that her offering would
Returning to the Temple of Asclepius, Xena found the priest had left, but several young women in knee length white tunics stood around Gabrielle. She eyed them cautiously as she approached.
"It is time for your bath," one of them said.
"Where to?" Xena asked as she took Argo's reins.
The young women lead Xena to a building east of the temple. When several of the women bent to pick Gabrielle up, Xena stopped them.
"I want to take her myself," she said. The young women watched Xena tenderly pick Gabrielle up and they knew that this warrior had a great love for her companion. The inside of this building was simple, with a marble floor and plain walls. Xena carried Gabrielle into a small room and gently placed her on a bench that was built into the side of one wall.
"We will take care of your friend now," one of the girls said smiling. Xena was reluctant to let them take care of Gabrielle, but she didn't want to interfere, so she stepped back. Across the room from Gabrielle, was a similar bench. Xena backed up and sat down heavily on it. Several more young women came out of a door that Xena thought must lead to the bathing area.
"We will help you undress."
The attendants helped Xena remove her weapons, armor and her leather. Getting the gauntlets off was painful, but Xena only cringed slightly as they were pulled off. After slipping her shift off, a soft white garment was placed around her shoulders. The garment was sleeveless and came to the middle of Xena's thighs. It had a slit on each side that ran from under the arm to the waist. The left side of the garment wrapped around to the right side and was tied to the inside of the garment. the right side folded over the left and was tied with a fine gold rope that was sewn to the garment. The material was light-weight, but warm. By the time Xena had tied the gold rope, Gabrielle's clothes had been removed and she too was in a white garment.. One of the attendants took their clothes and Xena's weapons. She was assured that she wouldn't need them for the duration of their stay. The attendants taking care of Gabrielle turned to look at Xena. She took it as a cue and picked!
Gabrielle up. Walking through the door at the back of the room, they entered a large room with several different sunken, round pools. Xena's acute senses picked up the scent of various oils and liniments. It seemed that each bath had a different purpose and thus a different smell. An older woman dressed in a flowing white robe greeted Xena as she entered.
"Androlus, the priest you spoke to, said that you wanted to take care of your friend."
"Yes," Xena said, "but I don't want to interfere with the rite."
"There are certain things that you will not be allowed to do, however we will let you do as much as possible."
Xena nodded yes and the woman extended her arm, indicating that Xena should take Gabrielle into the pool on her right. The pools were made from marble. Around the edge of the pool the marble was polished and smooth. The walk ways and the steps leading down into the pools had a slightly rough pattern cut into them to prevent slipping. Xena carried Gabrielle into the pool. The waist deep water was warm and smelled slightly antiseptic. In the middle of the pool was a barely submerged marble slab. Xena placed Gabrielle on the slab which sunk slightly with her weight. She looked up at the woman in the flowing robe for instruction. Xena felt movement behind her and turned her head to see a young woman with a bottle and two soft, golden sponges in her hand.
"In the bottle is a special soap that will cleanse and protect any external wounds on Gabrielle's body and on your wrists."
The girl put one of the sponges down on the side of the pool and uncorked the bottle. She poured a small amount of the soap on the golden sponge still in her hand. The soap had the same antiseptic smell that the pool had, only stronger. The girl worked the soap through the sponge. Xena held out her hands and the girl gently cleaned the wounds on her wrists. The soap didn't burn, but tingled and then Xena's wrists felt numb, but only
where she was injured.
Xena untied the gold rope and the other tie on the white garment that Gabrielle wore. The slits on the side allowed the garment to slip over Gabrielle's arms. Xena picked up the other golden sponge and the soap. The young woman in the pool had moved to the other side of Gabrielle. As Xena stepped back to the marble slab, it rose slightly out of the water, making it easier for Xena to tend to her friend. With the attendants help, Xena tenderly washed away the blood and dirt that remained on Gabrielle's skin and hair. It was not that Xena didn't trust the attendants, she simply wanted to take care of Gabrielle herself. As she washed Gabrielle's right shoulder, the little bit of blood that was seeping from the wound stopped and the wound sealed. Xena looked up in amazement at the older woman, who simply smiled. When she was finished, the slab sank back down, immersing Gabrielle in the water once again. Xena slipped the garment back in place and tied the gold rope. She !
ed up at the woman in the flowing white robe for further instructions.
"Take her into the pool over there," she said, indicating the pool in the very back of the building. The woman's
voice had such a soothing quality. that Xena follow her instructions without question. She picked Gabrielle up and carried her over to the pool. There was steam rising from the bubbling water and it had a sweet fragrance.
This pool was made from marble also, but it had many marble slabs instead of just one. It also had a ledge that ran all the way around the pool. Xena carefully descended the steps.
"This pool will prepare you to sleep in the Abaton tonight. It's waters have a calming influence that will not only effect your body, but also your spirit. You may sit or lay down on one of the slabs, it does not matter which. You are to remain in the pool until I return for you later. If you need anything, please ask one of the attendants." The woman turned and left the bathing area. Xena tenderly placed Gabrielle on a marble slab.
Looking down at Gabrielle's bruised and battered body, guilt flooded her heart. She gently traced the bruise over Gabrielle's right eye with her finger.
"I'm so sorry Gabrielle!" Xena uttered in a heart felt whisper.
She gently kissed Gabrielle's forehead.
They were alone in the bath except or a few attendants in the far corners. The bubbling water was very soothing and the fragrance reminded Xena of a lush green field full of wild flowers. She inhaled deeply and felt her body relaxing. She slipped onto the slab that was next to Gabrielle. The warm, fragrant water covered her body. A light, peaceful feeling enveloped Xena and she reached across to take Gabrielle's hand.
Closing her eyes, the events of the past week came flooding back, but this time she saw things in a new light. There was a clarity in her memories that allowed her to see the positive things. Instead of seeing only anger and pain, she saw love and understanding. Ate had tried to pull her and Gabrielle apart, but the reverse had happened and their love for each other had deepened. As Xena drifted into a peaceful, safe place in her mind,
she could hear Gabrielle's words ringing in her ears, 'I'm here for you'.
"Xena, it is time."
Xena opened her eyes to see the woman in the flowing white robe standing beside the pool.
"How do you know my name?" Xena asked.
"Many of the people who have come here have told stories of the Warrior Princess and her traveling companion. They say that you have changed, and that your companion has taught you to love again."
Xena looked from the woman to Gabrielle and then back at the woman, "She has," Xena said quietly.
"We must take Gabrielle now. You cannot preform this part of the rite. I assure you, we will take good care of her."
Several attendants placed Gabrielle on a stretcher.
"If you will come with me, we will continue," said the woman.
Xena followed the woman into a small room next to the one where Gabrielle had been taken. There were several attendants in the room who helped Xena out of her wet garment and into a long white robe. Uttering a prayer in a language Xena had never heard before, they anointed her forehead, chest and feet with a fragrant
The woman in the flowing white robe returned.
"It's time for one last prayer before you retire to the Abaton."
Xena followed the woman out of the room. She looked around for Gabrielle, but did not see her. Sensing
Xena's concern, the woman spoke up.
"Gabrielle will be taken to the Abaton, you will join her there."
The woman lead Xena out of the building and up to the Temple of Asclepius. A platform of three steps lead up to the temple. The inside of the temple was dimly lit, except for the gold and ivory statue of Asclepius. He was
seated on a throne holding a septre, with a dog at his feet. Xena marveled at the beauty of the statue.
"You now must offer a prayer up to Asclepius. When you are finished, one of the priests will show you to the
Abaton. Sleep well Xena, and may Asclepius heal you and Gabrielle in your dreams." The woman turned and
left the temple.
Xena knelt before the statue and offered up a prayer for Gabrielle. Praying was something that she was not used to, especially twice in one day, but she would do anything to help Gabrielle. After the prayer, a priest
lead Xena to the Abaton where she found Gabrielle had been placed on one of the beds. She was dressed in
a long white robe like the one Xena wore.
Xena lifted Gabrielle's head and shoulders and sat down on the bed with her back to the wall and Gabrielle's head in her lap. The affects of the pool were still with her and she felt calm and peaceful. She slipped her left hand around Gabrielle's. With her right hand she gently stroked the bard's hair until sleep overcame her.
The light was very bright and Xena had to shield her eyes to see. She was in a beautiful field, lovely wild flowers of every conceivable color adorned the lush green grass. In the distance she could see the shimmer of
light upon water. A figure of a man carrying someone was approaching the water. Instinctively she moved in
the direction of the figure. The air was sweet, and the fragrance familiar. She felt as if she were floating
instead of walking. As she approached the man, she could tell that it was the god Asclepius and he carried Gabrielle in his arms. The water was brilliant blue and crystal clear. There were steps leading down into the water. Xena watched as Asclepius carried Gabrielle into the water. He waded in until it was chest deep and then he completely submerged Gabrielle. Xena watched in fascination as the cuts and bruises on Gabrielle's
body started to heal and disappear. After the cuts and bruises had healed, Asclepius still held Gabrielle
beneath the water. Xena was starting to grow concerned at the length of time that she had been under the
water. She descended the steps and stood so that she was facing Asclepius. She looked at him but he never
acknowledged her presence until she tried to touch Gabrielle. As Xena's hands touched Gabrielle, the water around her arms hardened. She tried to jerk her arms out of the water, but they wouldn't move. She looked
up at Asclepius. His mouth never moved, but she could hear his voice in her mind.
"Leave her be. The damage to her body was greater than you know. She is not yet fully healed."
Xena let go of Gabrielle and the water around her arms returned to a liquid state. She pulled her arms out and
looked at her wrists. They were completely healed! She looked at Asclepius in awe and whatever reservation
she had about his treatment of Gabrielle disappeared. He lifted Gabrielle out of the water. Xena laid one
hand along side her head and smiled. Asclepius spoke to her again.
"Your friend has been healed. Take her and she will be fine. I have others I need to tend to." Asclepius laid Gabrielle in Xena's arms and disappeared.
The sky brightened to the point that Xena had to close her eyes. When she opened them again she was in the Abaton, with Gabrielle's head still in her lap. She looked down at Gabrielle. The bruises and cuts were gone! She pulled the robe back from Gabrielle's right shoulder. Her shoulder was completely healed and there was no scar. Tears of gratitude welled up in Xena's eyes and she silently thanked Asclepius. A tear fell on Gabrielle's cheek and she stirred. Xena wiped her eyes dry and smiled at Gabrielle. Gabrielle sat up and looked around the Abaton.
"Where are we Xena?" she asked looking confused. She turned around and looked at Xena. Xena had the biggest smile on her face that she had ever seen.
Xena looked into Gabrielle's beautiful green eyes and smiled and even bigger smile. Drawing Gabrielle close, she hugged her tightly.
"I missed something, didn't I?" said Gabrielle, her voice muffled by Xena's robe.
Xena loosened her arms and simply shook her head and laughed.
Androlus, who had heard the laughter, approached the women.
"You look much better now, Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle looked at Androlus and then at Xena, obviously confused.
"Androlus is one of Asclepius' priests," Xena replied.
"Asclepius? The god of medicine?"
"Yes, Gabrielle, we are at the sanctuary of Asclepius outside of Epidaurus."
"I'll explain later. Right now, I think Androlus would like to talk to us."
"Gabrielle, do you remember how Asclepius healed you in your dreams?" Androlus asked.
"I don't remember any dream," she replied.
Androlus looked concerned.
"He healed her by submerging her in a small lake," Xena said.
"How would you know that?" Androlus inquired.
"I was there."
Androlus looked very surprised. He stood there for a moment, lost in thought while Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a quick glance.
Androlus spoke up, "Gabrielle, do you remember anything at all?"
"No," came her honest reply.
Androlus seem lost in thought again.
"Is something wrong?" ask Gabrielle, who was thoroughly confused by this time.
"Not wrong, just unusual. If Gabrielle cannot remember anything about her healing, then she was not healed in her dream."
Now Xena looked confused, "What are you talking about? She was healed!"
"Yes, she was Xena, but not in her dream. She was healed in YOUR dream."
"My dream?" asked Xena, sounding incredulous.
"Yes. I have never heard of this happening before, but it is possible. The bond between you two is so strong, that you pulled Gabrielle into your dream and she was healed there."
Xena looked uncomfortable, as she always did when someone else was discussing her relationship with Gabrielle.
Androlus sensed her discomfort and quickly changed the subject.
"You are welcome to stay in the sanctuary as long as you like. You must stay a few day for Gabrielle's strength to return. Come. I will show you to your room."
As they walked toward the end of the Abaton, Xena slipped her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders and pulled her
close. The bard looked surprised at the public display of affection, but was not about to question it. She wrapped her arm around Xena's waist and smiled at her friend.
Androlus lead them south from the Abaton through a grassy open area where several people were exercising.
A large building loomed ahead of them and Androlus said it was the gymnasium. Gabrielle looked inside to see a rectangular peristyle court with rooms surrounding it. She caught a whiff of cooking food and her stomach growled. Just east of the gymnasium, they entered a mud-brick building. The building had four peristyle courts with rooms surrounding the courts on two levels. Androlus lead the two upstairs to their room and then returned to his duties.
They had a corner room that faced west and a small balcony that overlooked the gym. There were windows On he south and west sides. The room was nicely furnished, and Gabrielle relished the idea of staying here for a few days. There were soft shifts, clean white tunics and light-weight sandals placed carefully on the beds. Someone knew there job well, for the tunics and sandals fit perfectly.
"Gabrielle, are you hungry?"
"I'm starved. I feel like I haven't eaten for two days."
They left the room and headed for the gymnasium. Xena walked with her hand resting lightly in the small of Gabrielle's back. They enjoyed a nice breakfast and the conversation was light. After the meal, they returned to
their room so Gabrielle could rest.
"Xena, are you going to tell me what happened?"
"Later, you need to rest now."
Gabrielle thought about pursuing the subject, but the look on Xena's face told her that it was not the right time.
She laid back on her bed and was soon sound asleep.
Xena sat in a chair and watched her friend sleep. She knew that she would only be able to put Gabrielle's questions off for a short time, but for now, she was content to watch her sleep.
Several hours later, Gabrielle woke up.
"How did you sleep?" Xena asked.
"Quite well," Gabrielle replied, "I dreamt that I was in the most beautiful green field that was full of wild flowers."
Xena's eyebrow shot up, but she said nothing.
"I'm starved, is it time for lunch?" Gabrielle asked., sitting up.
Xena laughed and took Gabrielle by the hand, "Come on, you go get some lunch while I check on Argo."
Xena left Gabrielle at the gymnasium and headed for the stables. Her mare was happily being brushed by a stable boy.
"I'll finish that," Xena said smiling at the boy. He turned and handed the brush to Xena. She ran her hand along
the mare's neck and talked softly to her. "She okay, Argo," Xena said, her voice thick with emotion. Argo snorted as if she understood. Xena hummed while she finished brushing Argo. She felt good, despite the events of the last few days. The calm, peaceful feeling from the bubbling pool was still with her. Placing the
brush on a shelf by the stall, Xena left the stable to find Gabrielle.
Entering the huge gates of the gymnasium, Xena found Gabrielle telling one of her stories to a small group of
eager listeners. Staying just out of Gabrielle's eyesight, Xena eased her way toward the group. Gabrielle was
telling the story of how Xena and Hercules had freed Prometheus. The audience was totally transfixed as Gabrielle described how Xena threw the sword down to Hercules who deflected it with a rock to break the chains binding Prometheus. The audience cheered and clapped when the story was finished. Several people were calling for another story, but Gabrielle declined when she saw the worried look on Xena's face.
"I will tell another story later, after I have rested."
The audience said there goodbyes, and then they dispersed.
"That was a wise decision," Xena said with a smile as she approached Gabrielle.
"Well, I am kind of tired," the bard said smiling back at her friend.
"Do you want to go back to the room and rest?" Xena asked, concerned.
"No," Gabrielle replied, "What are you planning to do?"
"I thought I would go exercise outside."
"I'll come watch," Gabrielle replied.
Xena draped her arm across Gabrielle's shoulders as they walked. A colonnade with twenty columns shaded the northern side of the building, so Gabrielle sat down against one of the columns and relaxed. While watching
Xena stretch and workout, Gabrielle wondered what had happened and why Xena had brought her here. She knew nothing save she had been injured, but she didn't know how, or to what extent. Looking across the exercise field, she could see the temple of Asclepius and the Thymele. She wondered again, what had brought her to this place.
Xena came and sat down next to Gabrielle to cool off.
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena, "Xena, how badly was I injured?"
Xena swallowed hard and the color drained from her face. Gabrielle knew from her reaction that it had to have been serious. Sensing the distress in Xena, she relented.
"It's okay, we'll talk about it later," Gabrielle said, lightly squeezing Xena's arm.
Xena was grateful for the reprieve, but knew that she would soon have to answer that question, as well as many others. They sat there side by side for quite a while, watching the other people on the field exercise. The smell of food cooking brought Gabrielle out of her reverie.
"I think it's dinner time," the bard said with a sly smile on her face.
Xena quickly jumped to her feet and helped Gabrielle up. They entered the gymnasium and went into one the rooms where dinner would be served. They took a seat so that Xena could see everyone who came in. Old habits die hard. The dinner was wonderful and they ate their fill and then some. After dinner, some of the people from earlier convinced Gabrielle to tell some more stories. They moved into the courtyard and Gabrielle started to weave an incredible tale, and the audience was soon in awe of the bard and her talent.
It was growing late when Gabrielle finished her last story, and Xena could see the fatigue showing in her face.
"Come on, it's bed time," Xena said as she lead Gabrielle back to their room. A basin and a large pitcher of water had been left on the table. Fresh clothing for tomorrow had been placed neatly on their beds. Gabrielle washed up and climbed into bed. All afternoon she had been trying to figure out how to get Xena to tell her
what had happened. Xena washed up and was soon in bed. She had her back to Gabrielle, but she could feel the bard's eyes boring into her. She rolled over to look at her friend. Soft moonlight fell on Gabrielle, illuminating her features. Xena caught Gabrielle's gaze and knew what was coming.
"Will you tell me what happened?" Gabrielle asked softly.
Gabrielle watched those brilliant blue eyes fill with pain. For a fleeting moment she thought she saw something else too, fear. But what could Xena have to fear? She desperately wanted to know what had happened, but she didn't want to cause Xena anymore pain, and she was clearly in pain.
"It's okay, Xena," Gabrielle mumbled as she settled into her bed and fell asleep.
Xena turned her back to Gabrielle as the silent tears streamed down her face. She didn't want the bard to wake, and see her crying.
Xena woke up with the first rays of light and quietly dressed. She left their room and went to practice in the
field. The morning air was cool and crisp. She focused on moving with self control. She wished she had her sword to practice with. She closed her eyes and focused on her surroundings. She felt someone approach and spun around.
Androlus was standing there with a smile on his face, "Good morning Xena."
"How did you sleep last night?" he asked.
"Well enough," Xena replied dryly.
Androlus looked into Xena's eyes. He seemed different than other men she had known. There was a softness in his eyes that seemed genuine. He reached a hand up and cupped Xena's face. "Your body has been healed, but
not your soul, you are still greatly troubled."
Xena backed away and her features hardened.
"I'm sorry, Xena, I didn't mean to look so deep."
Her features softened when she saw he was sorry.
"She won't bother you again."
"Who?" Xena asked cautiously.
Xena's eye's went wide, "I better go see if Gabrielle is awake," Xena said, looking for a reason to leave.
"Yes," Androlus said, "she needs you, and you need her."
The truth of his words struck a chord in Xena and she hurried back to their room. Gabrielle was changing when she entered. She saw the flustered look on Xena's face.
"I'm fine Gabrielle. Are you ready for breakfast?"
"Yes. but I would like a bath first."
"Sounds good to me too," Xena replied.
On the way out the door Gabrielle slipped her hand in Xena's. She only intended on giving Xena's hand a quick squeeze, but when Xena held on, she didn't let go. After a bath and breakfast, Xena left to go exercise Argo herself, while Gabrielle talked with her new found friends. The bard couldn't resist a willing audience. When Xena didn't show up for lunch, Gabrielle ate with her friends. She didn't really worry since Xena often needed time to herself.
After lunch, Xena showed up and asked Gabrielle if she would like to go over to the stadium and watch some of the athletic competitions. Gabrielle agreed, and they spent the rest of the afternoon in the stadium. As the sun started to set and the people started to filter out, they headed for the gymnasium. It had been a good day and both women were relaxed.
Dinner was delicious and the conversation pleasant. Without her leather and armor, no one knew Xena's true identity, and she was enjoying her anonymity. Gabrielle looked tired, so Xena suggested that they retire to their room. It was such a beautiful night that Gabrielle asked if they could take the chairs out on the balcony.
The night air was warm and peaceful. The two friends sat and gazed at the stars, content just to be near each other.
After a time, Gabrielle broke the silence.
"Xena.," Gabrielle said, turning to face her friend.
"Are you ready now?"
Gabrielle heard the sharp intake of breath and waited.
"What do you want to know?" Xena was hoping that the trepidation she felt wasn't showing in her voice.
"I want to know what happened to me."
Xena sighed heavily and started to recount what had happened.
"Do you remember leaving the village?"
"Well, the mist returned and forced it's way into our bodies. When I woke up, I was chained to a wall in the market place. You were tied to a pole. My weapons were hanging from the top of the pole. Ate placed them there to show that she had beaten me." Xena paused to try to collect her thoughts.
Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's arm.
"The villagers came in a big group and surrounded you. They had sacks of stones...." Xena voice faltered.
She took a deep breath. Gabrielle could feel Xena's arm trembling.
"The man with the scar on his face, do you remember him?"
"Yes," Gabrielle said softly.
"He stepped forward and said that you had been found guilty of committing crimes against the village." Xena closed her eyes. "He said the punishment for your crimes was death." Xena didn't say anything for several minutes.
Gabrielle saw the pain and anguish on her friends face, but she didn't dare do anything for fear that Xena would not be able to continue.
"I didn't think that the villagers would go through with it, until I heard you scream." Tears were streaming down Xena's face. "I couldn't get away! I tried, but the shackles were cutting into my wrists." Unconsciously, Xena held her right wrist with her left hand. "I finely broke free, but you were.........." Xena stood and moved to the edge of the balcony. Images of Gabrielle's bruised and broken body mixed with the images of her nightmare and the image of Gabrielle impaled in the tree. Her heart felt like it would explode. She took a deep breath, trying to quell the feeling that she was about to loose control of her emotions.
Gabrielle stood and stepped closer to Xena.
"No, please don't Gabrielle! If you touch me, I will lose control!" Xena thought as a wave of panic overwhelmed her as she felt Gabrielle touch her back. It is so much easier to fight than to feel. She turned quickly and went back into the room. As she placed her hand on the door, she stopped. I can't do this! I can't leave! Xena sat down on her bed, confused by her desire to leave this intense emotional situation and her *need* to stay.
"Xena?" Gabrielle stood before her, a look of concern on her face. "I didn't mean to hurt you!" Gabrielle sat down next to Xena and tenderly turned her face toward her. "You thought I was dead, didn't you."
Xena nodded her head as fresh, hot tears tumbled down her face. Gabrielle pulled her close and held her tightly. Now she knew why Xena was showing her so much affection, she had felt the same way after Xena had returned from the dead. After the ambrosia had brought Xena back to life, she had felt an intense need to be close to her.
After a time, Xena pulled away., "I think that I can continue now."
Gabrielle looked into Xena eyes, and realized that this was one of the most difficult things her friend had ever done.
"I carried you in my arms back to camp." Xena purposely left the part about Ate out. "While I was preparing your body to take back to Potidaea, I discovered that you were alive, so I brought you here. You were too injured for me to take care of."
Gabrielle heard guilt and pain in Xena's voice and her heart ached for her friend.
"Is this how you felt when I died?" Xena whispered.
Gabrielle closed her eyes as her own pain consumed her. Those memories where still so fresh. Tears ran down her cheeks and tumbled onto her tunic. She opened her eyes and looked into Xena's. Xena knew that the answer was yes. Gabrielle reached out and drew Xena to her. By holding her close, Gabrielle hoped that she could ease Xena's pain as well as her own. Emotionally, Xena was exhausted and she took comfort in the feel of the bard's body next to hers.
When Gabrielle finally thought Xena was asleep, she laid her down and covered her with a blanket. As she was about to step away, Xena caught her hand.
She knew Xena was vulnerable and wanted to be close. It was a need that she understood well, having experienced it herself. She slid under the blanket and snuggled up to Xena. She knew that the Warrior Princess would return soon enough, but tonight, she simply held her best friend in her arms.
They had left the sanctuary of Asclepius earlier that day after an extended stay. Both women felt strong and healthy. Xena had spent a great deal of time with the priests, increasing her knowledge of healing. In their time there, Gabrielle had been able to go through her entire repertoire of stories.
They set up camp and ate the rabbit that Xena had snared earlier. As the dark of night settled on their little campsite, Gabrielle tossed a piece of parchment on the fire. Xena gave her a questioning look.
"It was the letter from Ate."
"Oh," Xena said with a look of amusement on her face. She sat back and looked at Gabrielle. A warm, peaceful feeling washed over her. All was right with the world, for now.
This story is dedicated steelmagnolia.
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