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Love and War
This story takes place just before Xena’s showdown with the leader of the horde in The Price. The characters belong to MCA/Universal, the story’s mine. There’s a brief suggestion of violence here, but I want to stress that it is very brief and shouldn’t be a problem. Enjoy!
Xena looked over at Gabrielle’s sleeping form curled up in a corner of the fortress, a soft glow from a nearby torch highlighting her red-gold hair and cherub features. The bard had collapsed from both the physical and emotional exhaustion of tending to all the wounded soldiers—many of whom Xena had been all too willing to abandon to a slow, agonizing death...
The warrior walked over to where Gabrielle lay and quietly knelt beside the younger woman. Xena could only marvel at her friend’s ability to sleep peacefully in any situation. And this day had brought evils to both of them that Xena hoped they would never have to face again. The scenes of the terrifying encounters with the horde came rushing to the surface with brutal force. Xena involuntarily shuddered as she saw herself and Gabrielle running wildly through the forest like hunted game, the savage warriors surrounding them...desperately trying to lose their pursuers across the river and literally keep their heads...the Warrior Princess had rarely known such mind-numbing fear. Fear that quickly became a fierce rage. Her quest to vanquish the horde had consumed her and very nearly destroyed her soul.
Xena’s reverie was abruptly interrupted by faint mumbling from Gabrielle. The warrior wondered what the bard was dreaming about. Shame and sorrow filled Xena’s heart as she remembered how callously she had treated her beloved friend just hours earlier. Xena reached out and gently ran the back of her hand across Gabrielle’s forehead.
"Gabrielle, I’m so sorry," she whispered, her hand trembling. "I was so scared...I didn’t know what else to do...I didn’t know if I could get you out of this alive..." Xena choked back a sob, her mind conjuring up a ghastly picture of Gabrielle laying in a pool of her own blood, awaiting the horror of being skinned alive. The warrior roughly wiped her face with her arm.
"I—I hope you can forgive me." Xena shut her eyes tightly for a moment. "You don’t know how much I hated hurting you. When I found out that those...things had you...if anything had happened to you I never would have forgiven myself..."
"We all do what we have to to protect those we love," a soft voice said from behind.
Xena jumped to her feet to face Menticles, who immediately took a step backward.
"How long have you been standing there?" Xena demanded through clenched teeth.
Menticles swallowed. "Long enough."
"It’s just as well," Xena said coldly, "I need to talk to you about what’s going to happen out there tomorrow when I face the leader of the horde."
Menticles nodded. "Here," he said, handing a blanket to Xena as he gestured toward Gabrielle. "There’s a draft coming through here."
Xena carefully wrapped the bard in the heavy blanket. "Thank you."
"Your friend is very brave," Menticles spoke up quietly.
"Yes, she is," Xena said simply, brushing away a few strands of hair from Gabrielle’s face. "She risked her life to remain true to herself. She’s never lost sight of who she is or what she’s fighting for."
"You think a lot of her," Menticles said solemnly.
Xena’s ice blue eyes locked onto Menticles. "Gabrielle means more to me than my own life."
Gabrielle suddenly began to whimper. Xena was beside her a split second later.
"Gabrielle," the warrior called out softly, "Gabrielle, what’s wrong?" The bard was still asleep. "Menticles, leave us. I’ll come to you when I’m finished here," Xena directed without looking up.
Menticles started to speak, but then thought better of it. Silently he turned to leave, casting one last glance at the warrior cradling the bard in her arms.
Xena slowly rocked her friend. "Sounds like a bad dream," she said in hushed tones. "It’s all right now, Gabrielle. You’re safe here."
Gabrielle’s body gradually relaxed as she once again settled into a deeper sleep. A tiny smile crept across the bard’s smooth face. Xena gently hugged Gabrielle against her chest as tears sprang unbidden to her eyes. For so long Xena’s life had been one long war, never-ending battles with enemies both within and without. There was never room for any tenderness or compassion. Until Gabrielle. The small woman she held in her arms had shown her that love was more powerful than any warlord or army, stronger than any evil. Gabrielle’s love could heal the most wounded of souls.
"I love you, my brave little bard," Xena whispered hoarsely. "Don’t you ever change."
The warrior continued to rock her bard, softly humming a song from her childhood. Tomorrow she would be face to face with another enemy, fighting for her life and the lives of everyone with her. There were no promises that any of them would make it. But for now, all was right with Xena’s world, as she sat surrounded by a wall of love, her heart filled with peace.