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Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and Argo belong to Universal/MCA and Renaissance Pictures. Unfortunately I don't own the characters and as such make no profit from this piece of nonsense (if I did I wouldn't be studying feckin' Politics at university - not that I'm bitter or anything...) yadda, yadda, yadda.

Content: No sex, no violence or anything unsuitable like that. Sorry kids. However, there *is* a heterosexual kiss which some people may find offensive ;-) But don't worry, it all works out in the end. Suggested listening: Madonna's new album "Ray of Light", particularly the song "Frozen" (from which the title of this story is taken). Yes I'm coming out of the closet - I love old Madge.

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Frozen
By Pamela Turner (msgolightly@hotmail.com)

The warrior had been wandering for days, stumbling sometimes in her blind haste. Sleep eluded her; every time she closed her eyes she was haunted by one face. She knew this wasn't living, it was scraping an existence. At times she would glance over her shoulder in feeble hope that her friend would be there, merely lagging behind. Then the knowledge that Gabrielle was gone would kick in again. It felt like she was there, her imagined presence almost tangible, the sound of her small breaths, her footsteps treading lightly in the mud. Other times the warrior felt so utterly alone that her heart ached. Either way she turned Gabrielle was there in some form or another.

The wind picked up, whipping insistently at her ear. She was observing the world as if in a dream, not fully participating but her senses still aware. The soft blanket of snow was too smooth, too bright. The chill gripped every fibre of her body, pulling at her muscles, making her bones ache. She tensed and braced herself against the wind as she trudged onwards. Her thin cloak was useless and she wished she had Gabrielle's discerning eye for purchases...The golden mare at her side provided some shelter from the elements but she could sense the horse's own discomfort. Just over the mountains, she kept telling herself. She had been trekking for hours maybe, she had lost all sense of time. Her limbs ached from exhaustion and the cold. Each step became more gruelling. Just. Over. The. Mountains. The warrior fell, blacking out as her face hit the snow, her raven hair spilling out over the snow.The horse lowered its head and grasped the hood of her cloak in its mouth and slowly dragged the woman closer to the sheer mountain face. The horse stood beside her, protecting her from the worst of the blizzard while her eyelids flickered then stopped.

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The young woman stared out of the window at the bleak winter landscape. From here she could see the snow-capped mountains in the far distance. There was a warm hand on her shoulder and she turned to face her fiancÚ. They smiled at each other, as if in reassurance. The woman turned her attention back to the window. She was mesmerised by the falling snowflakes. She was content, happy even, but still there was a nagging ache in the pit of her stomach. Something she couldn't quite place. In the corner a huge fire blazed, filling the room with warmth and a comforting amber glow. A freshly prepared meal lay on the table in the middle of the room, a veritable feast yet the young woman had no appetite for the treats. All she could think about was her friend, out there somewhere on this cold, miserable night with only her demons for company.

"Gabrielle," her fiancÚ said, his voice gentle, drawing her thoughts back to the present. "I really think you should eat something. Or at least sit beside the fire.

The bard shook her head slightly. "I couldn't eat a thing. I know it's silly, but I can't help worrying about her," she said, searching his thoughtful brown eyes for some hint of understanding. She found none but hadn't really expected any.

"I'm sure the Warrior Princess can more than take care of herself," he replied, a tinge of incredulity in his voice. With that he turned to stoke the fire. She didn't like the tone of voice Reon adopted whenever Xena's name was mentioned - perhaps he was jealous of the closeness she shared with Xena and felt excluded. He adopted the same attitude towards her bardic ambitions.

Gazing at his broad back, Gabrielle half-wondered whether she had made the right decision in accepting Reon's proposal of marriage. When she had first fallen for him she was sure that he really was the one for her, but now that Xena's was out of the picture he seemed to be slowly turning into a different person before her eyes. Or maybe she was just seeing things that she hadn't noticed before. She pushed away her doubts, it was just pre-wedding jitters. Besides, it was true - Xena hardly needed someone to mother her.

"I guess you're right." She sighed eventually and approached the food with renewed appetite. But she couldn't help but ponder what Xena would do. Would she find another companion? The thought of the warrior settling down with a husband of her own seemed unlikely. Hopefully, she would continue on the path of justice and good. She was a grown woman, she had travelled alone before she had met Gabrielle, she would be just fine.

Reon laughed heartily as he caught Gabrielle around the waist and kissed her. "Of course! I'm always right. You should know that by now." The bard responded with a sarcastic smile. For a moment she could push Xena to the back of her mind and return the kiss. Tomorrow was her wedding day after all, her friend would not want her to be moping around on such a happy occasion. And Xena had given her word she would try and get here in time for the ceremony. Yet there had been such an unmistakable look of perturbation in the warrior's icy blue eyes while she had dismissed Gabrielle's concern. Once Xena had raised her emotional walls there was no way of getting anything out of her. That had been two long days ago

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Numbness swallowed the warrior's body, first claiming her feet, then legs, arms and finally her head. She could feel the cold wrap claws around her heart now. It's frosty fingers pressed against her temples, crushing her skull. Delirious thoughts pinced through her mind, sharpened by the darkness. They were like icy shards that scissored her consciousness. She pictured herself being buried in the snow six feet under or freezing over like a human ice sculpture only to be thawed by Spring. Perhaps some lonely traveller would discover her by accident one chilly morning and the tale of a warrior frozen in ice would spread through the villages and finally reach the ears of her friend, the bard. That would be some story for Gabrielle to relate to her children and grandchildren.

She could imagine her friend with a brood of children sitting intently at her feet while she wove an eloquent tale. A picture of Gabrielle flashed in her memory. A petite strawberry-blonde with eyes the colour of finest emeralds and the stubbornness of a mule. Inwardly the warrior cracked a smile and for a brief moment there was a small glimmer in her weak and weary soul. The memory dimmed with it. There was a stab of pain in the warrior's frozen heart; she was so cold, so tired. She imagined icicles forming in her bloodstream, crystallising in her veins. The snow continued to fall steadily. She could taste the flakes settling on her lips, melting into the meagre heat there. If she closed her eyes now she might never wake up again.

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Patting her stomach in satisfaction Gabrielle leaned back in her chair. She was glad to have eaten after all. Xena had often teased her about her voracious appetite. The remembrance of Xena's teasing prompted a fond smile. She would miss her best friend. With a sudden pang of loss she realised her life would never quite be the same. Reon caught the smile and assumed it to be for himself.

The bard studied his face and noticed, not for the first time, his physical resemblance to her friend. They shared those wide, sculpted cheekbones, both dark-haired, and of almost the same height. The shape and position of their features were remarkably similar. The difference was in their eyes. Reon's eyes were the colour of melted chocolate while Xena's were like two sapphires. She cast her mind back to the first time she had looked Xena directly in the eyes. It had felt like she was going to expire right where she stood, she had been so intimidated, yet so enthralled and more than a little infatuated. Those few days she had followed the beautiful, mysterious warrior around like a lovesick puppy. In time she had accepted that the attraction was stricly one-way as there had never been any inkling that Xena felt anything more than friendship, kinship.

That chapter of her life was closed and her life was now with Reon. In the firelight his chocolate eyes glistened mischievously and he reached out to take her slender hand in his. "We should get some sleep," He said gently. Hardly the naive little girl anymore, Gabrielle was more than aware of the undertones of his thinly-veiled invitation.

Meeting his desirous gaze she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Reon," She replied in a soft but firm voice. "I'm so tired, and I'd prefer to wait. You know?" She was scarcely a Hestian virgin but she felt it the proper thing to do.

He nodded and smiled faintly but she could tell he was slightly frustrated by her rebuff. Rising from his seat he placed a kiss on her forehead. "Whatever you think is best, Gabrielle," He said sceptically, succeeding in making her feel guilty, and left her alone.

After he had retired to bed, Gabrielle stood and wandered across to the window again. It was a vigil, in her heart she hoped Xena would keep her promise to return though she couldn't shake the horrible feeling that she might never see her friend again. Something, she didn't know what, made her anxious. Intuition maybe. Or perhaps that last slice of nutbread was giving her indigestion. The young bard's green eyes scanned the horizon intently. "Where are you, Xena?" She whispered tersely, half to herself, and wondered why it felt as though the life she had known was slipping away from her.

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The warrior was awoken from her chill-addled dreams by the sound of a faint whimper beside her ear. It was Argo. The horse could've left her for dead long ago yet the loyal beast refused to budge from her side. Stupid animal, she thought savagely, save yourself. She could only hope death would take her horse swiftly, Argo didn't deserve to suffer. The snow fell still, heavy on her eyelids. She tried to shift her position closer to the horse but she discovered in sick realisation that she could no longer move her limbs. A sliver of saliva dangled precariously from her lips. Her facial muscles were frozen rigid. If this was life then she would welcome the heat of Tartarus when it came. She could not suffer any more than she did now.

The last few months had passed in a daze. When Gabrielle had met Reon, a small-holding farmer they had rescued, the warrior had expected the bard's crush to be another flash in the pan. In fact, she had humoured her friend. But then things had taken an unexpected turn: Reon proposed to Gabrielle, and to Xena's astonishment - and perhaps to Gabrielle's own - the bard accepted. It had never seemed real until Xena saw them kiss. She had witnessed their intimacy and felt lost, like she was trespassing. It was the sight of her whole world crumbling before her eyes. For the first time in her life she was utterly powerless and the unassuming happiness she had enjoyed these past couple of years was being silently stifled.

The whole thing had jolted the warrior. She had selfishly expected Gabrielle to be there always. It soon became clear that three was a crowd and the couple decided to settle in Reon's village. Another chill shuddered through the warrior's limp body. She had been trying to escape ever since, not just from Gabrielle, from herself. The arrival of Reon in Gabrielle's life had prompted Xena to notice things that had gone unseen and unheeded before - the true depth of her feelings for the young bard. But how could she face seeing Gabrielle every day and not being able to hold her? She had resolved that she would not stand in the way of Gabrielle and Reon's - the word sickened her heart - love. So she decided to put as much distance between herself and the bard as she could. With twisted humour she mused that she couldn't get much farther away than Tartarus. But death was being so unpunctual, for now only her dreams took her.

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When Gabrielle awoke sometime after dawn the morning sun warmed her sleep-starved limbs. Worrying about Xena had kept her tossing and turning all night. With a yawn she stretched and gazed at her bridal gown with a mixture of excitement and dread. It was at moments like this when she needed Xena to give a reassuring smile and a soothing word. This was the most important day of her life and she was alone, she realised with growing alarm. The persistent knot in her stomach was still making its presence felt. She made a silent mantra to keep calm. After she had donned her gown and elaborately braided her hair she was ready. With one last look in the mirror she hardly recognised herself. It was a far cry from her tatty old green top and skirt. If Xena could see me now, Gabrielle thought with an indulgent smile. The smile quickly faded. All of a sudden she felt inexplicably close to tears but she pushed the feelings away.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Gabrielle departed. Outside, Reon stood leaning against the wall of their hovel. He turned to face her with beaming eyes. To see his relative calmness only made her feel more anxious. "You look beautiful - if a little tired." He said with a hint of reproach and took her hand. He leaned in to kiss her but she subtly backed away with a small smile. "You don't look so bad yourself." She joked, trying to hide her fears. Arm-in-arm they strode towards the temple of Aphrodite, their shoes making little indentations in the snow. At least the blizzard had ceased and the skies were now a clear expanse of blue

As they entered the temple, Gabrielle's heart tightened. The entire village was present, gazing with expectant smiles at the betrothed couple. The bard's head snapped round to glare at her fiancÚ. He gave an impish grin. "My surprise." He0 whispered, inclining his head towards the audience. Her fingers were trembling slightly. Noticing this, Reon squeezed her hand. None of the faces that watched her were familiar, she had spent the past three days solely in Reon's company and she had not had any opportunity to meet her new neighbours. There was no sign of Xena. She was to be married in front of total strangers.

In a daze, Gabrielle allowed herself to be led to the altar like a sacrificial virgin. They stood facing each other at the altar before the priestess and congregation. The bard was beginning to have great difficulty breathing. Come on, she told herself, this is what you wanted. This is what you gave up Xena for. Gave up Xena! Forsook the woman she had considered a best friend for three winters. The woman she loves, yes, loves. When she glanced up at Reon she was hit by the thought like a fist.

"By the Gods!" she exclaimed aloud. "I've just made the biggest mistake of my life!"

Seeing Reon's startled expression she patted his hand and smiled apologetically. "I am so sorry. Reon, you're a nice man and I'm sure one day you'll meet a girl who appreciates and deserves you but - I can't marry you. I can't be with you because I'm in love with someone else." Every jaw in the temple hit the floor. An old woman on the front bench with a weak constitution fainted, almost disembowelling herself on her knitting needles.

Just then Gabrielle heard an eerily familiar sound from outside the temple, as if the Fates themselves had intervened. A horse's whicker...Argo! She recognised the warhorse's cry instantly. Without further hesitation, Gabrielle hastily hitched her gown and raced out of the temple. However, once outside she was not greeted by the glorious vision in leather and breastplate she had hoped for. Argo stood restlessly in front of her yet there was no sign of the warrior. Either Xena was playing a practical joke on her or something was terribly wrong. Her gut wrenched in fear. Casting aside her bridal headress Gabrielle leapt up onto the horse saddle and didn't look back as she nudged the horse into a gallop. Argo led the way and she could see why Xena had so much respect for this animal.

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It was nightfall by the time Gabrielle reached the mountains. They had made double-quick time thanks to the melting snow and the fact that Argo simply refused to stop and rest. More than once she had wondered whether the horse wasn't simply half-deranged to be taking her up here. She didn't even know what they were looking for - surely Xena couldn't be here? There was nothing but snow. When Argo finally came to a halt Gabrielle jumped down and surveyed her surroundings helplessly. Argo whickered impatiently. "What is it girl?" Gabrielle demanded in an exasperated tone. "I can't help you if you don't show me." The horse stamped its hoof in response. "Okay, okay. No need to get shirty."

Then she noticed the pale limp hand protruding from the snow beside Argo's foot. In panic, the bard rushed over and kneeled down. Her heart lurched, she knew it was Xena, she would recognise those callused fingers anywhere - she had studied them in surreptitious glances often. Frantically, she dug the snow with her hands despite the searing coldness. The warrior was almost buried. She kept digging until she could no longer feel anything. As she cleared the snow away she saw, with sickness, how pale the warrior's skin was. Fingers pressed against Xena's throat, she felt for a pulse. She felt blood moving very faintly under her fingertips. The relief was almost too much.

With considerable effort Gabrielle turned her friend onto her back. Raw sorrow surged through her veins as she thought of how Xena must have suffered because of her own selfish actions. The tears that had threatened earlier now flowed unrestrained. With the utmost care she brushed away the damp raven hairs that clung to Xena's face and touched her friend's bluish lips. The bard was consumed with waves of regret and guilt and anger at herself.

Wiping away her tears Gabrielle spoke softly. "Xena," she said, gently stroking the warrior's pale cheek, "Xena, it's me. Wake up. Please." Her voice cracked with emotion. It was some time before the warrior found the strength to open her eyes. In her unconscious state she had heard Gabrielle's sweet voice, drawing her back to the surface. She was unable to focus but as she saw the wonderful sight of Gabrielle before her with growing clarity she wondered whether it was just a cruel illusion. She tried to speak but her voice was gone, her throat frozen and painful. All she could do to show her relief and happiness was to attempt to smile. At this she was rewarded with an overflow of tears from Gabrielle's red-rimmed eyes, the steady cascade streaming down her crumpled cheeks. Suddenly the bard burrowed her head in Xena's abundant raven hair and hugged her friend fiercely.

"Forgive me." The bard wept, "I'll never leave you again." Silently the warrior was pleased and she didn't care if that was selfish. She was too caught up by the proximity of the scent of Gabrielle's hair and the burning of the bard's cheek against her own. Safe now in Gabrielle's warm embrace, the warrior's heart thawed.

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The snow had melted considerably at the foot of the mountain so Gabrielle decided to make a modest camp there for the night. She had managed to hoist the warrior's prone body onto Argo and took her place in the saddle behind Xena, taking the reigns and guiding the horse down the mountain path herself. Perhaps Xena had fallen asleep as she settled easily into Gabrielle's arms - usually she shied away from close physical contact. It felt so good to have Xena so close; she never wanted to let the warrior out of her sight again. With Argo reigned to a tree munching away at the feed bag, Gabrielle quickly had a fire blazing and deposited Xena beside its warmth. The bard made regular trips to collect more firewood, she would make it burn all night if necessary.

Finally, too exhausted to carry any more wood, Gabrielle slumped down beside Xena. The warrior's head was bowed. With a moment's hesitation, Gabrielle touched Xena's shoulder. The warrior roused a little, lifting her head up to gaze up at Gabrielle in a daze. Her breath turned to steam as it met the cool night air. "So you are real," Xena concluded wryly. "It really is you."

The smoke from the fire made the bard's eyes sting and she felt her guilty tears resurface. "Shh, I'm here now."She replied simply. Then she guided Xena's head to her shoulder. They held each other tightly and wept sweet tears of release. They rocked gently, stroking hair, comforting, in a gesture so intimate that, once their tears had dried, neither could break the embrace. That night as the fire slowly died they lay cradled in each others arms.

The next morning Gabrielle woke to find herself alone. For a moment she was consumed with panic then she observed that Xena's sword and chakram were lying beside their shared bedroll. For sure, Xena would never leave without her weapons; they were an extension of herself. Getting up off the hard ground with a groan, Gabrielle noted, with dissatisfaction, that her limbs ached plenty from the exertions of the previous day. Needless to say, she could do without that kind of excitement again for a lifetime.

She was filled with relief when she saw Xena brushing down Argo in utter absorption. The warrior's instincts must have been at an all-time low as she didn't hear Gabrielle approach.

"You should be resting, Xena. " Gabrielle said disapprovingly. The warrior gave a small start then grimaced. There was something unsettling in the shadows of her eyes. Gabrielle was surprised when she was regarded by Xena's cool blue stare.

"I don't need you to take care of me." Xena murmured, her voice quietly strangled.

The bard's face creased with annoyance. "Maybe so but I want to help you. Look at yourself, Xena; your fatigued, mentally and physically." She paused to lay a hand on Xena's arm but the warrior flinched away. The rebuke was not lost on Gabrielle, after the closeness they had shared last night. But that was yesterday and the harsh light of morning cast a different light on things. "You can't go on like this, I won't let you."

There was a moment of awkwardness between them. The warrior's eyes became hard and glassy. "What about your husband? Won't he be missing you?" Xena couldn't believe she was saying this but she couldn't stop herself. "Do you think he'll want you spending your time with me and not him? I'm a bad influence, don't you know."

There was a strange bitterness to her voice and Gabrielle was stunned into silence. Turning abruptly away, Xena stalked towards her weapons and began purposefully picking up her gear. In bewilderment Gabrielle watched. "What are you doing?"

Deliberately, Xena did not look at her. "You're right. I can't go on like this, it's time for me to move on. There are people who need me."

The words cut deep into Gabrielle's soul. She felt panic grip her again. She would not, could not, let Xena march right out of her life. "That isn't what I meant." She struggled to articulate her feelings. "I don't care what Reon thinks, it doesn't matter any more."

"Come on , Gabrielle," the warrior spat incredulously.

The bard followed Xena around desperately as the warrior gathered her belongings. The only option was the truth. "Look, it's true. I didn't marry Reon yesterday, I couldn't do it." She explained rapidly. At this the warrior froze. Gabrielle could only speculate at what Xena thought of her now, jilting her husband-to-be at the altar so heartlessly. "I feel pretty bad about it, but what could I do? I don't love him."

An eternity seemed to pass in the silence between them. For her part, Gabrielle was preparing herself for a verbal lashing on how selfish/insensitive/stupid she was. But it never came. Instead Xena looked at her with sadness. "You had a chance to be happy yet you gave it up. Why?" Her eyes were gentle, there was no hint of judgement in her voice.

The bard avoided Xena's eyes for a moment then fixed on that unsettling azure gaze. She felt the steady heat rising in her cheeks. "I was happy... with you." She hardly knew what she was saying but knew that the words came from somewhere deep inside her heart. "When I'm with you it's like I'm in a place where darkness doesn't exist. There's only sunlight and warmth. And love. Xena, there are people out there who need you but I need you too. I was happy with you and I gave that up. I'm such a fool. I don't expect you to...." The bard stopped suddenly as she stared into Xena's eyes. The warrior's eyes were unreadable yet Gabrielle was unable to break from that powerful stare.

She watched, wide-eyed, as Xena closed the small distance between them. Slowly, Xena reached out to clasp Gabrielle's trembling hand. The bard grew breathless, somehow the air seemed to get thinner when Xena was around. But the danger in her touch was gone; it was familiar, assured. Without a word, Xena brought the bard's hand to her lips and bestowed a delicate kiss on each knuckle. The warrior hooked one arm around Gabrielle's waist and fluidly drew the smaller woman closer still. Mind reeling, Gabrielle felt so light-headed that, if it wasn't for Xena's arms anchoring her to the spot, she though she might blow away. As Xena bent to kiss Gabrielle she whispered "I love you." Before their lips met. It was the most exquisite moment of the young bard's life, she hadn't lived until this kiss. It was so soft, so tender, displaying a gentleness she hadn't thought the warrior capable of. As Gabrielle stepped back she looked down at her hand in Xena's; it was a perfect fit. She was hardly sure where her hand ended and Xena's began. For all it mattered anyway; from this moment onwards in their hearts and souls they were inextricably joined.

The End


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