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The Stranger

by Okie

Evening is sweeping across the land as Xena, who is riding Argo, and Gabrielle look for a secluded campsite. As usual Gabrielle's stomach is growling and she glances periodically up at Xena expecting the "not again" look. Not wanting the usual verbal confrontation on the subject, Gabrielle grabs a handful of red berries growing on the side of the road as she passes. Smiling to herself she pops them into her mouth confident they will sustain her until they can prepare a real meal.

Shortly thereafter, Xena turns Argo from the road toward the woods. "This way," calls Xena as she looks over her shoulder to see Gabrielle still walking down the road.

Gabrielle stops and follows Xena's voice with a slow turn of her head, "Right."

Gabrielle starts to follow Xena into the woods when she notices that the cool evening air doesn't seem that cool anymore. Upon entering the clearing Xena has found, she sees that Xena has already unsaddled Argo and is starting to set up camp. Xena glances in her direction as she approaches and says, "Gabrielle, finish setting up camp while I get the wood for the fire and see if I can catch us something to eat."

"Sure," replies Gabrielle softly.

Xena pauses for a second watching her friend. Every other time she had said those same words, Gabrielle had always responded with, "Do I look like a servant to you? No. I'm an Amazon Princess and one of these days you'll be setting up camp and I'll be catching dinner. And don't you forget it!" But tonight she complied without complaint.

"Why?" Thought Xena to herself as she turned away and walked into the woods.

Sometime later Xena walks into the clearing caring firewood in one hand and a rabbit in the other. She notices that Gabrielle is already laying on her blanket apparently asleep. Xena walks over to her and lookes down. Gabrielle's face appears...peaceful. Xena pushes down the familiar fingers of concern as they start to inch up her back. "Get a grip," she tells herself, "she's just tired." Then she smiles as she looks at the rabbit, "But I know how to wake her up."

Xena starts the fire, cleans the rabbit, and soon has the aroma of the meal drifting up into the night sky. She occasionally glances over at Gabrielle waiting for her to come around, but she never does. Xena sits by the fire trying to decide what to do. Should she wake Gabrielle or leave her alone. Deciding that rest is best, Xena eats her meal quietly as she watches Gabrielle sleep.


The first rays of dawn are appearing on the horizon as Xena stretches, trying to release tight muscles. She didn't sleep very well because something in the back of her mind, something she couldn't quit see, kept invading her dreams. Standing, she stretches again and proceeds to restart the fire. By now the warmth of the sun can be felt through the trees and the clearing, bathed in its light, begins to glow.

Xena walkes over to Gabrielle and kneels down, "Ok sleepy head it's time to get up."

No response.

"Come on Gabrielle," chides Xena as she reaches to shake Gabrielle, "at this rate you'll be awake for days."

Xena grabs Gabrielle's shoulder and jerks her hand back with a fast intake of air... Gabrielle is cold. Xena's mind goes numb. She tries to speak but can't and realizes it's because she is holding her breath. Forcing the air from her lungs, Xena half cries, "Gabrielle?!" Xena pulls Gabrielle into her arms, the coldness of her body pulling the heat from her own, as tears start to run down her face. All the while her mind racing trying to figure out what has happened.

"GABRIELLE!" screams Xena from the depths of her heart. Gabrielle does not move or open her eyes.

Xena's heart is pounding in her chest as she rocks Gabrielle, crying into her soft hair. "Wake up....please....please...come back."

Xena pulls away and gently touches Gabrielle's face with her hand. "Why...why...WHY!!!" she screams. The answer to her question comes as her eyes fall upon a round red object next to Gabrielle's blanket. Still holding Gabrielle close to her she pickes it up and looks at it, reality hitting her like a hundred arrows. Looking back at Gabrielle Xena releases a sob as she hugs Gabrielle, crushing the poison berry in a clenched fist.

"Nonononoooooo," she cries as her voice becomes horse and her heart begins to break. "Why didn't you tell me...why didn't you tell me..." she pleads.

Suddenly, Xena feels a chill against her back. She raises her head to see that she and Gabrielle are shrowed in a soft white light. It stays for only a second and then it is gone. Curious about its origin, Xena glances over her shoulder to see a man standing near by. Her first instinct is to grab her sword and fight but she doesn't want to let go of Gabrielle. Doing so would mean accepting the truth that she had lost her best friend. So, without releasing Gabrielle, Xena shifts to face the stranger. "Who are you?" she asks through her tears and pain.

"I'm someone you do not need to fear." replies the man as he slowly walks forward, almost floating.

Xena hugs Gabrielle more tightly. "That's close enough," she says through clenched teeth.

The man stops a few feet from where Xena is kneeling, holding the lifeless body of Gabrielle. Xena looks up into his face, seeing eyes that flash like fire but at the same time are gentle and loving. Next she looks at the robe he is wearing which coveres him from his neck to his feet. It appears to be made out of one piece of material and it shimmers like the stars in the night sky. Xena looks back into the unknown face at a loss. She can neither speak or move.

"Be at peace Xena for I have heard your cries and counted your tears. It is the love in your heart that has brought me."

Xena remains motionless. The conflict within her playing across her face. The man sees it and moves to stand beside her. It takes a couple of seconds for her to realize he has moved, and before she can even think about reacting, he reaches out with his hand and gently touches Gabrielle's head. Then with a smile he slowly turns and walks back to the spot where he was first standing.

Watching him Xena asks again, "Who are you?"

The man looks directly into Xena's eyes and straight into her soul and replys in a voice as strong a thunder but as gentle as a breeze, "Remember Icus."

Xena's brow wrinkles in confusion as she looks toward the gound, "Remember Icus?" Then she feels Gabrielle stir in her arms. Her mouth drops open in utter shock as she jerks her gaze back to the place where the stanger was standing...he is gone. Xena's mind is still reeling when a hand touches her face. Looking down she sees Gabrielle looking up at her. Unashamed Xena lets her feelings come flooding back as she smiles through her tears. Giving Gabrielle a final bear hug she asks, "Hungry?"

Gabrielle returns Xena's embrace, as she looks over to the spot where the stranger stood, and replies, "Always."

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