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"...and the purple cow jumped over the MOON! Xena! Are you listening to me?!" Gabrielle said, finally put out by her companion's silence.
"Hmm?" Xena said, barely stirring from her thoughts.
"You haven't said a word since we left camp, what's wrong?" Gabrielle asked, worried about her friend's lack of attention.
Xena shook herself out of her brooding and looked at her friend. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I was just thinking." Xena said placatingly.
"About what?" Gabrielle asked curious.
"Never mind. It's nothing." Xena said as a shiver of fright went down her spine. The dreams had been non stop, and every night it had been the same dream. Every night since they had taken this route by the river, Xena had been dreaming about losing Gabrielle to it. The dream always started out harmless enough. They'd be playing by the river, chasing and tackling each other, when Xena would accidently knock her in. The look of horror and fright on Gabrielle's face was enough to make Xena cry out in dismay. She'd jump in after her, but was always too late to keep the raging river from taking her best friend away from her, and long out of sight, her screams carrying back to her until they too were drowned in the sounds of the river. Xena would wake up in a cold sweat, fighting to keep from crying out and waking Gabrielle. After making sure Gabrielle was where she should be, Xena would lie awake for the rest of the night watching her sleep.
Gabrielle watched the emotions playing across Xena's face in silence. She knew something was bothering her but was not sure how to help her. She had woken up one night and saw Xena staring at her, watching her sleep. But knowing that Xena wouldn't appreciate it if she knew that she had been caught, Gabrielle hadn't said a word, and had closed her eyes pretending to sleep.
Gabrielle turned her attention back on the path in front of her. The narrowing of the path was making it hard to walk, and the mountain face they were approaching looked intimadating. The other side of the river was wider and didn't have a mountain in front of it. "Xena, we're going to have to cross this river soon." Gabrielle said looking back at Xena who was leading Argo.
Xena looked at Gabrielle for a few seconds, trying to register what the bard had just said. When the words sank in, she looked at the rock face in front of her, then over at the other side of the river. 'Yes, it would be easier to walk over there.' Xena thought to herself. Then she looked at the river itself with trepidation. 'But do I dare take the risk in crossing it?'
Xena launched herself into Argo's saddle then reached her hand down for Gabrielle's. She hauled the bard up in front of her and wrapped her arm around her tightly.
"Xena, I can't breathe." Gabrielle gasped at the tightness.
"Sorry." Xena said and released the hold on her a little.
She edged Argo down to the river, and urged the horse forward. Argo nervously entered the rapid flowing water. Xena could tell the weight was too much for Argo, so she handed the reins to Gabrielle and eased herself into the water. "Hang on!" Xena commanded to Gabrielle as she started swimming beside Argo, her hand in Argo's mane. The current was strong, and Xena was almost pulled under a couple of times, if she hadn't been holding onto Argo's mane she would've been swept away by it.
They were halfway across before Gabrielle knew it. Before long they would be at the other side. Without warning, a log hit Argo's front leg, she reared back in pain and Gabrielle lost her hold and fell into the water.
"Xena! Help!" Gabrielle called before the water washed over her head.
"GABRIELLE!!!" Xena shouted with alarm. Without stopping to think, she wrapped Argo's reins around one leg, and dove after her friend.
Gabrielle came up sputtering for air and saw Xena swimming after her. She started kicking against the current, trying to make her way to Xena. She kept her eyes on Xena, using her as a focal point, making her struggle to get back to the safety of Xena. When she was almost to Xena she started to smile with relief, she would be safe. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something that filled her with dread, another dead log was headed straight for Xena. She tried to get the word out to warn her, but the breath was caught in her throat. The log hit Xena in the back and Xena sank under the water in pain.
The log, going over the place Xena had been, was now heading straight for Gabrielle. Gabrielle tried to avoid the log, but the current was too strong for her to move much, and the log connected squarely with her face. She was able to throw her arm up, before she lost consciousness and let the water take her.
When Xena awoke, her body was wracked with hacking coughs. She was laying in a warm, soft bed inside a cheerful looking hut. Her head spun as she tried to remember what had happened, and how she had gotten here. With a sudden jolt, she remembered the river and what had happened to Gabrielle. She closed her eyes, and blinked back the tears for what was probably her best friend's fate.
'Why didn't I get to her?' Xena cursed herself silently. 'Why didn't I heed my dreams warning and not go into that river? Now because I didn't, because of me, Gabrielle is d..." She grabbed the blanket in tight fists as the sobs wracked her body. She couldn't even bring herself to say that Gabrielle was most likely dead.
"You're awake." Xena stopped crying, furiously jabbing at the tears on her cheeks when she heard the familiar voice, and looked into the sympathetic face of her good friend Hercules. "How are you doing?" he asked quietly.
"How does it look like?!" Xena asked harshly, angry that she had been caught crying by him. She tried to get up and face him, but felt the piercing pain in her back and fell back gasping on her bed. "What's wrong with me?!" she screamed, furious.
Hercules motioned to somebody outside of her line of vision, and a short, stubby man came forward. "I'm the village healer." the man said. "My good friend Hercules brought you here when he found you hurt by the riverbank. It appears something hit you very hard. We found that your horse had dragged you out of the water. It's a good that your horses reins had gotten wrapped around your leg, your horse must have used that to drag you out of the water.
'Good old Argo.' Xena thought to herself. "That still doesn't tell me what's wrong with me." Xena said.
"Whatever hit you was big." the healer said. "It caused severe bruising and swelling in your lower back. You won't be able to get out of bed for a few days, and even then it will hurt to move around. You should recover fully though if you do what I say, and take it easy on your back."
Xena took his words into consideration, but she needed to find Gabrielle, even if it was to find her body, to give her a proper burial. She needed to be able to put her friend's body by Lyceas' so she could visit it every year, like she did for her brother. "I have to find my friend." She said somberly.
"Iolaus and I will find her for you, Xena." Hercules said, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, and went to keep his promise.
Hercules and Iolaus had been searching for Gabrielle for two hours. "Anything yet?" Hercules called across the river to Iolaus, who was searching the opposite bank.
Iolaus shook his head depressingly at Hercules. "Absolutely nothing." Iolaus hollered back at him.
"Well, I'm almost up to the rock face, I'm going to swim over!" Hercules yelled. As unlikely as it was for Gabrielle's body to have floated up stream they had to give it a shot.
"Be careful on the way over." Iolaus called to him. "I don't need another body of a friend on my hands."
Hercules shrugged and dove into the water. Having the strength of ten men made the journey effortless and quick. 'If only Gabrielle had had my strength.' It felt strange to think of Gabrielle as dead, but the chances of her surviving this was highly unlikely.
Iolaus and Hercules started walking back down stream. They had already been down this way, but felt the need to keep trying, hoping for any sign of the young bard. Maybe, just maybe they had missed something.
"Herc, what are we going to do if we don't find her? What are we going to say to Xena?" Iolaus asked his expression grim.
"Iolaus, for my sake and your's lets hope we find something." Hercules said grimly, "And for Xena's sake let's hope that something is still alive."
Iolaus nodded knowing the high price they would all pay if Gabrielle was not found. For him and Hercules, the worry was of a physical nature, knowing Xena, she wouldn't be all that friendly to the messengers of bad news. For Xena, the worry was a mental one. If Xena lost Gabrielle, the gods alone knew what would happen to her sanity.
"So, how long are we going to stay out here?" Iolaus asked looking at Herc.
"Either long enough to find Gabrielle, or long enough so that Xena's recovered enough physically to handle the bad news." Hercules said.
After walking a couple more hours, Iolaus swore softly to himself. "Gods! It's like she disappeared! Like she was swallowed by Poseidon himself!" Iolaus cried, missing the bard more and more with each passing minute.
"For all we know, she could be playing in Poseidon's playground as we speak." Herc said solemnly, then looked at the sun. They would have to make camp soon. The search would be useless in the dark.
After Iolaus and Hercules had left this afternoon, Xena had been staring listlessly at the ceiling trying hard not to move. The pain in her back was agonizing, which only made her depression worse. If she had been able to move, she would've been out of bed and out the door faster than a hurricane hitting. She desperately wanted to be included in the hunt for her friend. Even though she knew Hercules and Iolaus were doing all that they could to find her, the helplessness that settled on Xena's shoulders now terrified her.
What scared her even more was the thought that she would never see Gabrielle again. Oh how she wished she had paid more attention to her dream, or that she had confided with Gabrielle what she had been dreaming about. Maybe Gabrielle would've taken the dreams for what they were, an omen, or a warning, of what was to come. Maybe Gabrielle would be here with her now, instead of gods knows where, maybe tenaciously hanging onto life. She refused to think of Gabrielle as dead. The thought of never hearing her endearing laugh, or feeling her hand shyly on top of her own when she was feeling bad, was too much to bear.
Stirring from her thoughts, she sensed a presence by the doorway. Looking at the doorway, she spotted the healer watching her cautiously. She had scared him earlier when he had examined her and she had almost taken his head off, when he had pressed on a particularly sore spot. She smiled mirthlessly at him, and gestured for him to enter. "You can come in, you know. I won't bite. At least, not now."
The healer entered the room and hovered nervously over Xena. "Is there anything I can get you? Some food, something to drink?"
Xena shook her head sullenly. The man started to leave the room.
"Wait. What's your name?" Xena asked, finally remembering the manners Gabrielle had tried to instill in her.
"Job." The man said. 'Well, he's certainly got the patience of Job.' Xena thought remembering the stories that had been told about a particular Job. Xena doubted very much that this man was indeed that Job, but he certainly fit the role well.
"There is one thing you can do for me." Xena said slowly. "In my saddlebag, there are some scrolls, bring them to me."
Job nodded and walked out of the room.
Xena stared unseeingly at the scroll in her hand. There were scrolls spread out all over the bed, and she had gone over each one at least half a dozen times, reading the carefully written stories of her best friend. The one Xena was holding had brought tears to her eyes several times.
I sing a song of Xena. eyes of blue, hair like a raven's. Her smile just for me, her arms a strong haven.
Destroyer of nations used to be her name, Now I shed the fears and try to earn her new fame. I know my tales work when I see their tenseness soften, The surprise in her eyes, she didn't see kindness often.
Some ask me how I can travel with her like I do, My answer is simple, If you loved her, so would you.
Now she just lay holding the priceless paper in her hands, thinking of the warmth and the kindness of her friend. It hadn't occured to her until just now how much Gabrielle had done for her, or the reason why she had. Now reading through the stories, she could feel the unconditional love she had received from her. A love so pure, so innocent, that no other could or would ever hope to replace it, or duplicate it.
So moved by this gift, a gift that Gabrielle didn't even know she had given, Xena let go of her pride, for a second time, and prayed to anyone who was listening for the health and well being of her best friend.
As the days passed and there was no sign of Iolaus, Hercules, or Gabrielle, the knot in Xena's stomach grew worse. When she finally was able to get up, with the help of Job, she would pace back and forth in the small hut, for hours on end, until the pain drove her back into bed again.
For Job's part, he was proving to be the epitomy of his namesake. He would stand there patiently and took Xena's ranting and ravings, her screams when the agony of missing her friend and not being able to do anything about it grew too much.
The dreams were ever so much worse now. In them, she could hear Gabrielle calling to her, sometimes urgently, sometimes cajolingly, and sometimes so quiet she could barely hear her. She would whisper in her ear and lead her on a wild goose chase through a maze of tunnels, and each time she felt she was getting close to her, Gabrielle would disappear into the shadows pleading for Xena to come get her, to rescue her from the darkness.
Each time she would wake, sitting up in a cold sweat, screaming out Gabrielle's name, and screaming at the pain that the sudden movement had cost her. Job was there for her through these night terrors. Each time she woke up, he would be there with a glass of water, or something stronger, calming her with his voice and his presence. If she didn't know better, she'd think that he was a gaurdian spirit, sent by Gabrielle, to help her through this time of despair. If she didn't know what that would mean, she might've clung to this fantasy and shown this gaurdian the weakness that was in her heart.
But Xena was a rational person, and she knew that there was no such thing as gaurdian spirits sent to help her. Only one person had been able to see through Xena's walls and into her heart for any length of time. And that person wasn't here right now, and might never be again.
On the fifth day of her imposed rest, after waking from a nap, Xena heard footsteps just outside the door. The door opened and a sober looking Hercules walked into the room. Xena looked at Hercules and knew the answer in a minute.
But still, she had to ask. "Gabrielle, is she..." Xena said her voice wavering as unwelcome tears filled her eyes.
"I'm sorry Xena. We searched all over, but we never found a trace of her." Hercules tired, somber voice filled the air. "She must have drowned and been pulled out to sea."
Xena took the news about as well as you'd expect. It's a good thing Hercules is a demi-god or she'd probably have killed him. After he managed to calm her down they talked about what Xena was going to do now, and what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
First order of business was paying Gabrielle's family a visit, and letting them know what happened. She knew that they would probably hate her for letting this happen to Gabrielle, and wouldn't blame them if they did. She already hated herself, what's a few more gonna do? After packing her and Gabrielle's stuff into the saddlebags she climbed up on Argo, said goodbye to Hercules, Iolaus, and Job and rode off into the night.
Traveling without Gabrielle was so strange. Xena missed the constant chatter of her friend beside her. She missed looking down and seeing her happily walking beside her, wondering at the beauty she saw around her. She had almost been able to get Xena to see the beauty too, but without Gabrielle the colors all blended together, and all Xena saw was grey.
Rounding a corner in the road, she saw a wagon, and a small figure climbing down from it. The person was thanking the driver and had her whole attention on him. That form, that style, that grace, if Xena didn't know any better, she'd swear that the person was Gabrielle. She had the right hair color, and when she turned in Xena's direction, Xena saw the familiar blue-green eyes. Xena's breath caught in her throat. This wasn't the double of a person, this WAS the person.
(flashback to chapter two) Gabrielle saw Xena go under and saw the log heading straight for her. There was no chance to move before the log connected straight with her face. Throwing her arm up at the pain, she blacked out, her arm landing on the log. A rather large splinter of wood, snagged her shirt, keeping her attached to the log. She was propelled along, as she and the log went further and further down stream. Luckily for her, the connection of the log with her face, had thrown her head back, and when she fell unconscious, her chin rested back on the top of the log.
After going many miles down stream, the river widened and became more gentle, the log drifted over to the side where it came to rest on the shore.
A village girl had gone to bathe in the river, and spotted Gabrielle pinned under the log. Calling to several men of the village, they helped get Gabrielle out from under the log, and carried her to the healer.
After a while she regained consciousness, and her heart panged her that Xena had been hurt while trying to save her. The healer wouldn't let her go until she had healed. Gabrielle hated being couped up while her best friend was hurt somewhere, but there was little she could do about it. Every time she tried to get out of bed a wave of nausea and dizziness would hit, and the healer would scold her for trying.
She was treated like family by the villagers, but she desperately missed her friend. When she had recovered enough, one of the villagers agreed to take her with him on his supply run. She figured that she could get back faster if she rode and agreed to go with him.
"Xena?!" Gabrielle asked staring wide-eyed at the warrior. She had thought that Xena was alive, but seeing her alive and well was almost too good to be true.
"Gabrielle." Xena said, her voice full of emotion. Xena hopped off Argo, wincing slightly, while Gabrielle ran the distance to her. Before Xena knew it she was wrapped in the tight embrace of her friend. "Oh Gabrielle, I thought you were..." Xena started.
"I know. Me too." Gabrielle said, squeezing her friend even tighter. Xena was so happy that she almost didn't feel the pain. "Oh, your back!" Gabrielle said, suddenly remembering where the log had hit Xena.
"It's all right, I'm fine." Xena said trying to reassure her friend. She looked down into Gabrielle's impossibly green eyes and noticed the bruising that her friend's face had taken. "Your face." Xena whispered, gently touching the bruises.
"Their all right. They hardly even hurt any more." Gabrielle said, giggling to try and lighten the mood.
"What happened to you?!" They both asked in unison, and then laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. "How were you saved? I saw you go down?" Gabrielle asked when she could talk without laughing.
"I tied Argo's reins around my leg. She pulled me to shore and Hercules found me. He brought me to a healer." Xena said. trying not to think of the days she had been recuperating, worried out of her mind for her friend. "Now what about you. How is it possible that you are standing here in front of me?" Xena asked.
"Well..." Gabrielle said not knowing quite how to begin. "The same log that hit you, knocked me in the face, I passed out and when I woke up I was in the healer's hut. He told me that the girl who found me had found me pinned under the log on the shore, my arm was wrapped around it, and my shirt was held securely to it by a splinter. I guess the same log that almost took my life, saved me."
Xena shook her head in wonder. To think that this girl had been almost lost to her and saved for her by the same instrument that had hurt her. "Gabrielle..." Xena started, and then couldn't find the words. Gabrielle looked at her, a look of patience etched on her face. "Gabrielle, when I thought that I had lost you..."
"Xena," Gabrielle tried to stop her, she knew how hard it was for Xena to express her emotions.
"No, Gabrielle. I have to say this. When I thought that I had lost you I began to think of all the things that I never said to you, things that I wished that I said, and now would never have the chance to say. I realized how lucky I was to have had you, just for that little while. I realized how much you had given me just by being my friend, and never asking for anything in return. Gabrielle, I realized that the unconditional love you gave to me, I returned a thousand fold, but never had the nerve to say it." Xena shook at the release of words she had just said, but continued on. "Well Gabrielle, I'm saying it now. I love you. You are the best friend any person could ever ask for, and I dread what my life would be without you." When Xena stopped talking she suddenly felt very self conscious. She couldn't believe she had said all those words, it was like the flood gates had opened up and everything had come pouring out.
Gabrielle looked at her friend in shock and amazement. In all the time they had been traveling together, Xena had never said this much or shown as much emotion at one time. "Wow Xena, when you decide to open up, you open up." she kidded with her to lighten the moment and get Xena smiling again. And of course it worked. "Xena, you are the best friend I could ever have, you may not believe it, but you are. And I love you too." she said giving her a quick hug.
"Now," Gabrielle said turning briskly around, still keeping an arm around Xena's waist. "what adventure shall we get into today?"
Xena stopped and stared at her. "Home, Gabrielle. I'm going home. I need the rest. You're welcome to come home with me."
"Okay. You know I haven't been properly introduced to your mother yet." Gabrielle said glaring at her.
"What do you mean?!" Xena asked defensively.
"I just mean that..." and the two walked off together, arguing like the best friends they are.
Job sat at his worktable cleaning the items that he used day to day in his practice.
"JOB." came a disembodied voice into the hut.
"Yes, my lord." Job replied meekly.
"THE JOB IS DONE."
"Good, then the friends are together again my lord?"
"That IS good. The poor woman looked so unhappy without her friend. If I may ask my lord, you taught me patience, what exactly were you trying to teach the warrior woman?"
"EVEN THOUGH THE WARRIOR COULD USE A LESSON IN PATIENCE THAT WAS NOT THE LESSON HERE."
"Oh no, my lord?"
"NO. HER LESSON WAS THE LESSON OF FRIENDSHIP AND LOVE, AND HOW TO HONOR BOTH OF THEM."
"I see my lord. And do you think she learned them my lord?"
"I KNOW SHE DID." the voice said and then it was gone.
Job nodded and went back to his work.
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