DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena: Warrior Princess and Gabrielle are owned by Renaissance/Universal Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. This is an original story, other than the use of the main characters. This story is intended for ages over 18 who do not object to sentiments of love expressed between partners of the same sex. There is a bit of violence in this so if this should offend please do not continue to read.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Please let me know your thoughts! It would be much appreciated. Xena and Gabrielle are already in a relationship in this story and are very much in love! Can contact me at Lucy.Winchester@Hotmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Darkness After Dawn
By Lucy Winchester
Gabrielle started skipping ahead, scaring Argo as she waltzed past him.
"Come skip with me Xena." Gabrielle said, smiling over her shoulder.
"Gabrielle, I don't skip." Xena replied as she wove her hand through Argo's mane, settling him down. "Look what you did to Argo."
"He'll be fine, come on it's fun." Xena smiled at Gabrielle's ability to make any situation seem like it was part of a play.
"No wonder he doesn't like you much." Xena replied quickening her steps. Gabrielle skipping backwards as she knew what was coming.
"Come and get me my warrior princess!"
"You watch it, I might just do that my bard." Gabrielle quickened to almost a jog as Xena playfully ran after her. When Xena caught up to her she whipped Gabrielle off her feet and spun her around.
"Come on Xena, put me down." Gabrielle said laughing.
"No, my dear friend, I want to hold you forever."
They both collapsed onto the ground in laughter, Gabrielle sprawled out over Xena's lap. "I am so glad to have you in my life Xena."
"I know you are." Xena said almost smugly before bursting out into laughter yet again.
The world had seemed a lot brighter since she had confessed her true feelings to Gabrielle. Since that night, they both had not stopped laughing and having fun together. It was what they both had wanted and needed, a true friend like none other.
Gabrielle rolled off Xena, got up and dusted herself off, still half crying from all the laughter. "How long do you think until we reach a village? I suppose we are probably running low on supplies." Gabrielle said looking around trying to see Argo.
"Come here girl!" Xena cooed at the horse now coming over the hill. "I know of a town not far from here, maybe an hour's ride that should have supplies for us." Xena said turning her head back toward Gabrielle while hoisting herself up onto Argo.
"We won't have any more of this playfulness while I'm up here, will we." Xena said smiling.
"Don't bet on it." Gabrielle said with a sneaky smile.
The pair had been travelling for several days, resting every couple of hours by nearby streams, setting up camp by the side of the road and meeting many people that had come through the area. They had both enjoyed their trip away from the hectic life that they led, but Xena was keen to get back to the life she knew best of all and this time with her companion firmly and forever by her side.
Xena trotted into the town with Argo, Gabrielle trailing behind her.
"Come on Gabrielle, we are here now." Xena said turning around to see Gabrielle ten paces behind her.
"Sure thing Xena, I was just thinking about a scroll that I am going to write about our camping trip." Gabrielle replied. Xena rolled her eyes and turned back to the multitude of houses before them.
"You better not include some things Gabrielle." Xena said over her shoulder.
"Don't worry Xena, I won't include intimate details." Gabrielle giggled though she really did want to write about all the particulars and especially the intimate details. She felt that if she wrote it down she could convince herself that this was really happening, even though she was almost sure of it. A simple smile from Xena assured her that what seemed impossible did happen, a smile that conveyed much more than happiness, it portrayed a shared love that only they could understand.
Xena hopped down off Argo and waited till Gabrielle was in step with her.
"We should probably find somewhere to sleep tonight and give Argo a rest, there is an inn up ahead I think and then we can have a bath and get some sleep." Xena said winking at Gabrielle.
"Sure Xena, whatever your heart desires." Gabrielle said playfully smiling up at her warrior.
Xena and Gabrielle found the inn and tacked up Argo in the stable before letting themselves into the busy interior.
"We would like a room please." Xena said to the barmaid, pushing past the men seated at the bar.
"Don't push it." Xena said under her breathe to them as they eyed her down.
"Sure, just go up the stairs to your right, can I send up anything for you?" The barmaid replied, ignoring the men waiting for drinks.
"Hot water please, for a bath." The surrounding men started whistling and one ventured to touch the leather around her waist.
"You wouldn't do that if you knew what was good for you." Xena scowled, the man retrieved his hand immediately and with one look into her deep blue eyes he ran and cowered behind one of the tables.
"That's better." Xena said to Gabrielle who was patiently waiting behind her. "Now how's about that bath?" Xena took Gabrielle's hand and led her up the stairs.
The steam rose off the water filling the air with a touch of passion.
"Do you mind helping me with my armour?" Xena said knowing that she could very well undo the clips herself.
"Of course, anything for a warrior princess." Gabrielle said looking up at Xena, still in awe of how amazing she was. She commanded control of a room, strategised and led the fight against evil and still was able to love her even after all of that.
Gabrielle helped Xena out of her armour and her leathers, and slowly removed her slip, sliding it clean off her shoulders and letting it drop to the floor.
"Your turn." Xena said turning to face Gabrielle. Gabrielle let Xena undo her top and slide it over her head, she meanwhile removed her skirt. They both descended into the haze that the water created.
Xena rested her head on the side of the basin. The heat had relaxed all her senses, her muscles contracted and she was left feeling full and invigorated. She sat staring at Gabrielle washing her hair; this was the amazing girl that had committed to loving her forever Xena thought. She couldn't remember a time when she felt happier than right at that moment.
"What?" Gabrielle had noticed Xena looking at her.
"Nothing Gabrielle, just noticing how beautiful you are."
"You didn't notice before, Xena?" Gabrielle said smiling playfully.
"Of course, I could never forget it." That was all they needed, Gabrielle moved in toward Xena.
"Thank you Xena." Gabrielle whispered as her lips touched Xena's her hand sliding along Xena's back.
"Anything for my Gabrielle." Xena whispered back.
Their loving embrace was interrupted suddenly by loud pounding on the stairs.
Xena was out of the bath in a flash, Gabrielle following behind her. Barely having enough time to throw on clothes, the barmaid came straight through the door in a panic.
"Slave traders!!! They are downstairs; they want all the young women, come help please. They are taking them all!" Xena grabbed her armour and pulling it over her head she began to leave.
"Gabrielle you stay here, I don't want you leaving here, understand?" Gabrielle nodded. Xena ran down the stairs knocking a guard down as he was climbing up to the room where Gabrielle was hidden.
"Don't you try anything!!!" Xena yelled flipping off the stairs and landing on the bar counter. The guards swarmed in around her, ready to attack. Kicking two of them she reached for her sword. Swinging it around she knocked four down, but more seemed to come. She flipped over the men, expressing her war cry as she landed on top of two of them. A guard came flying at her, his sword above his head, with one wave of her sword he was on the ground.
"Anyone else want a piece of me?" She yelled, excited at the exhilaration she felt fighting again. At that moment they all advanced on her and she did her best to ground them all, one cutting her arm as he fell to the ground.
Wiping the blood away she ran outside into absolute chaos. Men were fighting everywhere, women were crying. She saw the girls gathered in the distance being shepherded away by what seemed like an army. She ran over to a group of fighting men and pulling out her chakram, the guards were all in the dirt within seconds. Xena caught the rebounding ring and ran to help another group. Knocking down man after man, she was unable to see the girls anymore, the men began to retreat. Telling the women to all go inside she gathered up the men. She was ready to stage a counter attack to get the girls back but she knew she could not do it alone not with the amount of guards she had seen. But a thought crossed her mind, there were no more girls around, did this mean that they had got all of them?
"I have to go back and make sure Gabrielle is alright. But wait here, I will return and we will get those girls back." Xena said quickly to the waiting men.
She needed to get back to Gabrielle; she hoped that she was safe. She hung onto this hope as she sprinted back toward their room. Pushing the doors open and letting them crash as she kept running up the stairs, she took one moment to collect herself and pushed open the door.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" Xena screamed, "Where are you?" She circled the room and ran back out the door and down the stairs.
"No! No Gabrielle, come on, where are you?" Panicked, Xena could not think, she must have followed her out. Xena sprinted outside.
"Gabrielle, Gabrielle! Answer me!" Xena yelled sprinting between houses. She saw a group of young men running towards her.
"Are you Xena?"
"Yes, have you seen Gabrielle?" Xena stood looking around unable to concentrate.
"The girl you were with earlier?"
"Yes, yes, where is she?"
She was taken by the slave traders, we tried to save her, but they were too strong, she was dragged off into the woods!" Xena could not believe what she was hearing, this was unthinkable. Impossible!
"Which way? Tell me which way?" One of the boys pointed out over the fields and Xena could not stop herself from sprinting off in that direction.
The guards roughly pushed the girls into the cell including Gabrielle. She reflected upon the many opportunities that she had to escape before she got into this position, but she couldn't leave these girls.
"This is where you'll be staying!" The girls shuddered at the sound of the cell door locking behind the guard.
"Don't worry we'll find good homes for ya!" Laughing heartily as he made his way down the corridor.
"What are we going to do?" One of the girls whispered in a frightened state.
Gabrielle immediately taking charge instantly replied. "Everybody stay calm, my friend Xena is going to come for us."
"And while we wait for her, Zeus only knows what they could do to us."
"I won't let them hurt you!" Gabrielle said reassuringly.
"I don't know if you've realised this but they kidnapped you with ease, what makes you think you can protect us?"
"Trust me; I've been in worse situations than this " As she moved forward putting a hand gently on the girls shoulder. "We just have to stay calm, we won't cause trouble and we'll be out of here in no time. What's your name?" Asking one of the smaller girls in an attempt to make conversation that would distract her from their current state. She must have only been fourteen or so.
"I'm Aris " She managed to stutter as panic had already overwhelmed her.
"I'm Gabrielle, would you like me to tell you a story? I'm a bard you know!"
" Alright." She was able to muster a comforted smile, as Gabrielle affectionately sat down next to her.
As Gabrielle began her tale, the other girls also surrounded her listening to every word Gabrielle spoke. After the tale had finished the fear of the girls had eased, as Gabrielle's voiced soothed their terror.
"I think we all need to get some rest, let's try and get some sleep we'll be okay."
The girls smiled at Gabrielle's reassurance, though she wasn't able to convince herself. She had a feeling that their time here wouldn't end so quickly.
Gabrielle woke up startled as she heard heavy footsteps approaching their cell.
"Shhh." Gabrielle reassured the girls. "Nobody speak."
They soon put faces to the footsteps as three guards began to unlock the cell. Gabrielle instinctively moved in front of the other girls in an attempt to shield them from the imminent violence that was sure to come.
"Look at this! The goods are all awake." One of the guards said, as the others snickered with a level of enjoyment. Gabrielle continued to present a strong impassive front, masking her own fear.
"Now behave yourselves, this doesn't have to be unpleasant." As one of the guards lunged forward and seized Gabrielle's wrist. With an immediate rebellious action she broke away, threatening to further strike back.
"Ooo we have a live one among us! If you know what's good for you, you won't give us any trouble."
"And if you knew any better, you should know that I never listen!" Gabrielle proudly exclaimed.
The guard furious with Gabrielle's answer instinctively raised his hand ready to hit her. Gabrielle blocking his violent attempt with her forearm and sharply meeting his face with her free fist. The guard stumbled back in an effort to cover the blood that now flowed freely from his nose, which ultimately displayed his weakness.
"You little " Another guard pulling out his sword. "Someone needs to be taught a lesson!"
Gabrielle realising this was a futile situation. Yet she was not about to let these men get the better of them. The injured guard signalled to the others to move and accost the young bard, as they both roughly grasped hold of her arms.
"I wouldn't struggle if I were you." Wiping the blood from his face, and drawing his dagger, placing it against the throat of young Aris. "Don't think that I won't do it "
Gabrielle furious with the futility of the situation, knew the best thing was for her to comply, relaxing her tense arms. Suddenly she felt a sharp blow at the back of her head, which caused a wave of darkness to come over her, feeling her legs buckle beneath her, she fell to the floor. The girls looked on as they saw their new friend lying helplessly, as a small gash had formed at the back of the bards head. Blood began to appear and stain the bard's blonde hair, foreshadowing the brutality that was imminent.
"Her spirit needs to be broken if we want a good price for her. Take her into the other cell and you can deal with her there."
With that note a guard roughly seized Gabrielle's arms and dragged her out of the cell, a trail of her blood grazing the stone floor behind her.
The girls could only watch; dismayed they were as the other guard locked the cell door behind them.
Gabrielle awoke with a sudden sharp pain in her abdomen; where the guard had just kicked her showing no sign of remorse.
"Ohhh!" She managed to awkwardly stutter, rolling to her side, as she discovered that her arms had been tightly bound behind her back, denying her any form of a defence.
"This will teach you to talk with some respect!" As the guard came forward and with another hard blow connecting with Gabrielle's stomach. Finding it hard to now breathe, she fearlessly rose to her feet, masking the pain she was feeling staring defiantly at her captor.
"You're asking for it..." The guard maliciously looking at the figure of courage before him.
Gabrielle hoping that her eagerness to be beaten would at least prove to be a distraction for the guard's, from the other vulnerable girls left in the cell, incapable of defending themselves.
"I barely felt that " She strongly stated.
Hearing this sense of boldness the guard lashed out with his fist, connecting with the bard's left cheek. Gabrielle with all her effort remained firm and upright, despite a sharp cut that had now formed on her cheek. The blood ran fiercely from the gash, Gabrielle tasting the blood that dripped its way down to her lips. The taste of her own blood fuelling her audacity.
"Don't you worry I will teach you how to behave!"
As he landed another punch, harder than before, this caused a cut above her right eye. The left side of her face had already begun to swell, though the site of the injured bard did not perturb the guard's eagerness in causing her as much anguish as he possibly could inflict. He then roughly seized the back of her neck, and brutally forced her into the cell wall. Her side meeting the stone wall with a fierce intensity, that caused her to gasp as she felt her shoulder give way, and slip out of place, a surging pain coursed through her left side. As her arms remained tied the torture of not being able to support the weight of her arm was unbearable. With a few more hard punches to her face she stumbled and fell to the floor, the cold stones touching her left cheek, almost soothing the pain that burned within.
As Gabrielle lay vulnerable, the guard delivered one final kick into Gabrielle's stomach, as she was unable to hide the pain of the final blow she let out a short and desperate cry.
"You're lucky that's all you're getting for now "
Gabrielle breathing a painful sigh of relief as her assailant walked away and locked the cell door behind him. At that moment her body ached, yet the agony was veiled by the sudden yearning for her warrior to hold her one last time
She felt the grass beneath her feet turn to gravel as Xena pelted into the outskirts of the campsite. Her head was full, thinking about what they could be doing to her. She knew that Gabrielle would not take this lying down which would only get her into more trouble; this is how she had met her all those years a go after all. Gabrielle had stood up for those that were helpless, and Xena had followed her lead. But all she knew she could do now was to find Gabrielle and get her out of this horrible place and quickly. She had failed in her job of keeping Gabrielle safe from the evils of the world countless times, but she thought that now they were together again nothing could pull them apart. She pushed herself in behind a tree and surveyed the area for waiting guards.
Xena stealthy made her way through the camp, as darkness had now fallen masking her presence. She noticed an area that was most heavily guarded, suspecting that's where the girls were being held.
Creeping in closer she calculated about twelve guards surrounding the cell. Sneaking in behind three of them further away from the cell, she knocked them down with one hit; however the sound of them falling alerted the rest of the guards. She was surrounded and as they beat into her with their swords, she struggled to knock them down. She felt a knock, and her eyes started fading as she fell.
Xena held on, she was not going to leave Gabrielle again; she was not going to abandon her. With the image of her lover firmly in her mind she awakened and fought on. She leapt out of the crowd stabbing a guard straight through the heart as he approached her. Three more men advanced on her but with one strike of her sword, blood was spilled. The men went down one by one and as she beat down the last one with a final kick, all she could taste was the scarlet blood of those who had taken her best friend. Running back towards the cell, Gabrielle was all she could see.
As Xena was approaching the cell she heard the girls frantically talking amongst themselves.
"Is everyone alright?" Xena inquired as she unlocked the cell door.
There was a slight pause as one of the girls finally spoke. "We're alright."
Comforted at the thought that none of the girls had been harmed, her eyes instinctively searched around the cell, unable to see her bard.
"Where is Gabrielle?" She worriedly exclaimed.
"The guard's took her away about an hour ago! She was so brave! Trying to protect us!" Aris exclaimed.
Xena did not hesitate with her response. "Go! All of you and wait for me in the forest. I need to find Gabrielle."
The girls listened and made their way from the camp into the forest, with the protection of the night sky they safely escaped.
Xena quickly but quietly setting off to find her love as she sensed the danger she was in. I'm coming Gabrielle
Xena cautiously made her way deeper into the underground jail, until she came to the last cell with a flicker of light that glowed through the darkness. An instant pain overwhelmed her as she saw her love sprawled on the stone floor unconscious, bloodied and bruised, the real extent of her injuries were masked by the darkness that surrounded them.
She opened the cell door and immediately ran to her love, and knelt down frantically beside her, lifting her loves upper body into her lap, whilst untying her hands and inspecting her injuries.
"Gabrielle I'm here." She gently stroked the cheek of the bard, holding back the tears that formed in her eyes, as she was in a state of disbelief at the condition of her love. This is my fault how could I let his happen to her
"Xena " Gabrielle managed to murmur.
"Shh don't talk, it's best you conserve your energy, everything will be alright now I'm here." Gently cradling the bard and kissing her forehead. "What have they done to you? If only I got here sooner." She continued to gaze at the bards beaten body, as her tears fell from her cheeks.
"You're here now." She whispered managing to conceal the pain in her voice.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!" Xena leaning forward desperately clasping the bard in a strong embrace, yet being careful not to add to the bard's pain. "Your so cold." As she rubbed the bards hands in hers. "We need to get you out of here, can you walk?"
Gabrielle not wanting to worry the warrior answered. "Yes, I should be able to" As she tried to stand she was cut off by a streaming pain that shot though her stomach, along with the burning pain which resided in her shoulder, forcing her body to collapse back into the warrior's arms.
"Try not to move! I'm going to pick you up, steady your arm with the other, this will hurt "
Gabrielle nodded in agreement, displaying her readiness for the imminent pain. As Xena gently lifted the bard, she admired the courage of her love as she showed no indication of the hurt that she was undoubtedly feeling.
"Xena are the other girls safe?" She whispered.
"Don't you worry; they are waiting for us in the forest. They told me what you did for them, I'm so proud of you."
"Oh it was nothing " She managed to smile even though her swollen cheek burned with the movement. "I knew I would have my own warrior to nurture me back to health." Trying to shed some light on her situation.
"You know there are less painful ways of getting me to tend to you." Returning the smile, as she continued to carry her out of the jail.
Xena could not help but feel a sense of guilt which continued to sting upon her heart. Even though Gabrielle was in a great amount of pain, the mere sensation of being in her warrior's arms was comfort enough.
Xena carried the bard safely through the forest where she had told the other girls to meet them. Slowly and carefully they all made their way back to the village.
When they got to the inn, Xena carried the bard up the stairs, finally reaching their room; she placed the bard gently down on their bed covering her with a blanket. Gabrielle had passed out from the amount of pain she was in, or just the sheer exhaustion of the ordeal, or maybe even a combination of both.
With a damp cloth Xena began to wipe the blood off her loves face, taking away some reminder of how she had failed her. Gabrielle stirred with Xena's touch and managed to open her eyes, pleased to see her warrior.
"Hey " Xena whispered lovingly. "Here have a sip of this, it will numb some of the pain." As she handed a small cup to her bard.
Gabrielle sipping from the cup, forcing herself to swallow, cringing at the bitter taste of the liquid.
"The cuts on you face will heal, but I need reset your shoulder."
"I was afraid you were going to say that."
"Here bite down on this." As she handed Gabrielle a piece of leather.
Xena then gently moving the bards shoulder outwards, and with a quick hard thrust inwards she placed the shoulder back in its place. Gabrielle winced slightly as a tear ran down her face. Xena noticing the tear met it gently with her lips, in an attempt to sooth Gabrielle's distress.
"I need to look at that cut on the back of your head."
Gabrielle responding to this slowly leaned forward where she was met with Xena's supporting arms.
Xena inspected the wound, her touch alone helped with numbing the throbbing pain which resided there.
"The cut isn't that deep but it needs to be cleaned." Continuing to wipe away the stains of blood that had turned the bards blonde hair a shade of scarlet red. "You lost a lot of blood, which is why you're so weak, you need rest." As she gently helped the bard lie back once again.
Xena sat on the side of the bed, still unable to comprehend the condition of her love. She could not bear to meet the bards gaze, as shame threatened to seize and overwhelm her heart. Gabrielle reached out to grasp Xena's hand in hers, reassuring her warrior that she was alright. Although the feeling of Gabrielle's hand in hers, inspired a tremor in her own, which was evidently felt by Gabrielle. Xena tried to pull away and hide her moment of weakness, instead Gabrielle only held on tighter, until her loves hand began to steady. With the strength that was conveyed by her bard Xena continued to tend to her.
"I need to have a look at your stomach." Pulling down the blankets that covered her, she allowed Xena to further her inspection.
Xena still shocked at the swiftness of the bruising that painfully outlined the bards stomach. With both her hands lightly pressing against the bard's skin, Gabrielle cringing at the slightest touch. Xena continued to press harder in an effort to see if any ribs were broken, Gabrielle biting down hard on her bottom lip to avoid any stray bursts of pain.
"It doesn't look like anything is broken, just severely bruised." Xena then pulling out a bottle of ointment from one of the saddle bags. "This should help soothe the bruising." As she poured some of the oil onto her hands, then gently applying them to bards stomach.
Gabrielle felt Xena's hands lightly caress her wounds, only to find the majority of the pain that once resided there, be replaced by a warm appeasing sensation, that caused her to sigh in a most contented manner.
"Are you having trouble breathing?" Xena worryingly inquired.
"No " Gabrielle replied, once again taking Xena's hand in hers, whilst continuing to feel the pain diminish. "Thank you "
"For coming for me."
"I should have got there sooner!" As she let go of Gabrielle's hand and abruptly standing, and walking away from the bed. "You shouldn't be thanking me, this is my fault, and I may as well have caused the cuts and bruises myself!"
"Please don't be like that, this was not your fault and I won't let you go on thinking that it is!"
Xena walked back to sit on the bed, as she saw this agitated the bard, and not wanting to risk further exhaustion, went to calm her down.
"We don't need to talk about this now, you need your rest." As she pulled the blanket back over Gabrielle's bruised body.
"No we do need to talk about it Xena it's okay I can still see the fear in your eyes, I'll be fine, and you didn't lose me."
"But I could have! That's what scares me the most, and I wasn't there to stop it, I was helpless, YOU were helpless Look at me!" Holding her hands in front of her. "I can't stop my hands from shaking since I saw you lying in that cell, by the Gods!"
"You can't always be there to protect me, I can look after myself most of the time anyway."
"I love you never doubt that, and the idea of you being hurt kills me."
"It was your love that gave me the courage to not give up in that cell, in a way you were there protecting me you'll always be with me."
With that sentiment, Xena leaned toward the bard and met her loves lips with her own. As she slightly pulled back, she glimpsed into the bards eyes and whispered,
"For eternity "
Xena then slipped herself beside her bard, careful not to make any sudden movements that would hurt Gabrielle. Pulling the blanket over them both, she softly encircled her arm around the bards head, Xena sealing the gesture with a gentle kiss on her loves forehead. Gabrielle yearning to be closer to her love, rested her head on the warrior's chest, feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of her loves chest was comforting and reassuring Xena lay awake until she felt the bard slip into a peaceful state of rest, then allowing herself to close her own eyes and leave the awful memories of the day, fall into a distant past, one that she would never let repeat.
The sunshine streamed through the window, warming Gabrielle's face. She moved her body slightly, still feeling some pain through her abdomen, but it had greatly resided, especially in her shoulder.
Gabrielle then wrapped her arm around the warrior's waist careful not to wake her, as she allowed herself to nestle closer to her love. Xena's arm had remained encircled around her for the entire night. In each other's embrace she cherished the moment's tranquillity. Gabrielle tilted her head upwards as she gazed at her sleeping companion. It was as if Xena felt the bards adoration, as she soon stirred and opened her own eyes where she was greeted by her loves captivating stare. A smile passed between them, as they both were warm and comforted in the others arms. They lay in a contented silence, each not needing words to convey how the other felt. Xena with her free hand, came to meet her loves arm which had resided around her own waist. With her fingers she lightly caressed the bards hand, allowing herself to feel her loves tender skin, then finally coming to rest, clasping her hand perfectly into Gabrielle's.
Gabrielle sighed in response to the warriors affections and once again contentedly drifted off to sleep. A few moments later there was a knock on the door. Trying not disturb Gabrielle, Xena carefully slipped out of bed and made her way to the door. Gabrielle instantly feeling the absence of the warriors warmth, willed her to return.
"Xena come back to bed." She yawned.
Xena opened the door unable to hide her annoyance of the intrusion in her voice.
"Sorry to disturb you, but I have a note for Xena .Warrior Princess."
"Thanks." Taking the note from the inn keeper and closing the door.
Xena unfolding the piece of parchment and began to read the short message. Gabrielle now entirely awake saw the warriors stern expression.
"Who was that?" She inquired.
"No one I have to go. But I'll be back soon." Hastily kissing the bards forehead.
"Make sure you rest while I'm gone! I'll get the inn keeper to bring you up something to eat." Continuing to rush out the door.
Xena rode through the forest and made her way back to the slave traders camp. As she reached the edge of the camp, which now seemed deserted, she hopped off Argo and made her way into the main tent. Startled to see who now stood before her.
"Lectra! You're the slave trader!" Exclaimed Xena.
"Xena it's been a while hasn't it."
"Not long enough "
"Oh come on now, there's no need for that you see we have a bit of a problem. Your little heroic efforts the other day, proved costly as you released three months worth of hard work."
"Sorry for the inconvenience by hard work you mean kidnapping defenceless girls, and selling them to the highest bidder, am I right?"
"Spot on as always Xena, some things never change. We all have to make a living, you of all people should know "
"Lucky for you I have changed."
"Oh yes I've heard all about your reformed new way of life, and that little bard friend that travels with you "
"YOU LEAVE HER OUT OF THIS!"
"Ooo that's right she got a nasty thrashing while she was under my care, pity we didn't hold onto her, she would have sold for a lovely price!"
Xena infuriated by Lectra's sense of arrogance and conceit, seized the woman's throat with her hands, threatening to tighten her grip if another word dared to be uttered about her love.
"Now now Xena I know you won't hurt me, the only reason you haven't so far is well because you owe me . And your pathetic sense of honour prevents that!"
Xena reluctantly letting go of Lectra's throat.
"I was wrong, things do change, you never were so . sentimental. The Xena that I knew wouldn't hesitate to stab anyone in the back without thinking twice."
"Why did you call for me?" She inquired trying to conceal the expression of guilt that now threatened her impassive stance.
"Well you did put me out of business, you disabled all of my men, I have no girls to give to my suppliers. Now, do you see what kind of state I'm in? I'd thought I'd call in a favour you owe me and it's killing you "
" go on."
"It wasn't a coincidence that I kidnapped your precious friend, I wanted you to know the pain of losing someone you love. I knew if I took her you would come, yet lucky for her, you spoiled my plans."
"I can't say I'm sorry."
"When you left all those years ago, you did know I was with child didn't you?"
"Yes I suspected as much."
"Well you can imagine what problems that caused, hiding it from my men, trying to keep up an unwavering facade of strength."
"I understand more than you know "
"When I had my son, Andros, I left him with a good family in a village at first. After weeks of longing to hold him again in my arms, I couldn't continue to pretend he didn't exist. So I went back to that village and I've raised and cared for him ever since. Yeah maybe it was irresponsible to have him around this kind of life, the violence the death. And well now he's been taken I only have myself to blame I guess."
"Yes taken, ironic isn't it? A rival slave trader called Therax has him at his camp. Let's just say I couldn't pay him what I owed him and he saw fit to take my son. I can't get him back on my own, my men have all fled after you attacked, I can't do this alone I need your help."
"If I help you get your son back, you will have to promise me that you will give up this life, not just for you but for your son."
"You have my word."
"Meet me in the village tomorrow morning."
"I'll be there "
Xena turning to walk out of the tent.
"Oh and Xena thanks. I appreciate it, even after what happened to your friend."
"Like you said I owe you."
Xena furiously rode back into the village, keen to see how her bard was recovering. When she entered their room, Xena did her best to inform Gabrielle on the situation, and what had caused her abrupt departure earlier that morning.
"Why do you feel obligated to help this Lectra woman? You weren't involved with her were you?"
"No! Of course not! You have been my only female love." Reassuringly kissing the bards forehead.
"Then why are you compelled to help her? She is a slave trader!"
"She was a slave trader; she will change, like I did. For you to understand I have to tell you about another part of my past. I'm not proud to say it but before I met you, I dealt my fair share of slave deals. That's how I met Lectra; you could say we were business partners for a while. It was good money, but then Lectra fell in love with her partner Damon. He had a taming influence on her and well that wasn't part of my plan. He was getting in the way of Lectra's ruthless ways, business started to suffer as her cunning nature slowly started to fade away."
"What did you do?"
"I killed him I didn't think twice. It had the opposite effect you see, she couldn't trust me after that and well she was blinded by her anger towards me which made her unpredictable. So I left, our partnership was over. That's where my debt began. She became who she is today because of my actions. Her child grew up without a father, grew up in the midst of this violence because of me. And I have chance to help her heal redeem herself to what she should have become if it wasn't for me."
Gabrielle turned Xena inwards, so she was facing her. She leaned forward placing a loving kiss on the warriors lips.
"Hearing you talk to like that I can't help but love you more everyday. You say you're proud of me but I am so proud of you, I'm in awe of your compassion. I understand why you have to help her. And I'll be right there with you."
"I'm not letting you come with me! You're still injured! And I'm not placing you in harms way again. This is not up for discussion."
"Oh yes it is! I'm feeling fine; just a few bruises won't stop me."
"Haven't you learned by now that you're not going to win an argument with me?"
Xena sighed indicating her defeat in regards to the matter.
"This reminds me of when we first met, you didn't listen then and you not listening now."
"But aren't you glad I didn't listen " As she smiled cheekily.
"Yes " Returning the smile and placing a delicate kiss on her forehead. "We'll see how you are in the morning."
"No matter how I am in the morning I am coming!"
Xena awoke the next morning to a smiling Gabrielle who stood in front of her, dressed and ready for an adventure.
"How are you feeling today?" Slowly slipping out of bed, and walking over to the bard, inspecting the bruises on her face. "You're healing nicely "
"I'm feeling much better." Gently pushing the warriors hand away from her face.
"I still think you should at least rest for another day, it couldn't hurt."
"Xena! The pain has almost completely faded away, I can walk fine please let me come with you."
"Alright, alright but we should get moving, Lectra will be waiting for us." Xena making her way out of the room with Gabrielle following closely behind.
They found Lectra waiting anxiously in front of the inn. Xena making eye contact with the woman and went to meet her.
"So this is the famous Gabrielle." She said, putting her hand out toward Gabrielle. The bard nodding in confirmation, yet refusing to accept Lectra's gesture.
"Look I know you have some hard feelings towards me but I really appreciate you helping me to get my son back."
"Let's get one thing straight, I'm not trying to do you any favours, I'm helping because there's an innocent child involved." Gabrielle exclaiming quite defensively, then turning her head toward her love, as she devotedly gazed into the warriors eyes and proudly pronouncing " And where Xena goes, I go."
Xena couldn't help but smile at the bards assertion of her loyalty that she held only for her. Their fondness for one another was not overlooked by Lectra, as she stared at the pair with a hint of curiosity and interest.
"I think its time that we headed off " Xena said quickly in order to calm the tension between the two. The feeling being mutual they all started off toward Therax's camp.
They rode out through the forest and towards the coast. Gabrielle was firmly placed behind Xena on Argo and Lectra bounded along in front leading the way to her son. Xena knew that to Lectra, the path would never seem to end so they rode fast and hard, Xena constantly checking on Gabrielle. As they rounded another hill Lectra began to slow and Xena followed suit. They all dismounted and entered the dense woodland that was before them.
"Are you sure you're alright Gabrielle? You can go back now, we will be-"
"Xena, I'm fine and I'm coming with you." Xena turned to walk giving Gabrielle a worried look as she followed Lectra. "You shouldn't worry about me Xena."
"Worrying about you is a constant state of existence Gabrielle, similar to having to breathe and eat." Xena said giving a small smile in her direction.
"Oh Xena." Gabrielle said moving up next to Xena and curling her arm around her waist with Xena promptly following.
"Well this is a nice gathering isn't?" Lectra interrupted, with a hint of envy in her voice. "Don't forget why we are here though."
Gabrielle shot her a stern look but she did sympathise with her. The loss of Hope was still heavy on her heart and she understood what Lectra must be feeling to have lost her child, if only temporarily, it was still almost impossible to feel out of control where your child is concerned.
"We will be coming up to it soon." Lectra commented as she began to tread more carefully through the leafy undergrowth. Xena became more cautious to focusing on her surroundings, listening for possible attackers.
"Gabrielle, I think you should stay here and wait for us." Xena made one more plea to Gabrielle to remain safe and away from the fighting.
"Okay, but you better stick close and keep that staff of yours handy, this is not going to be pretty." Xena replied, very concerned that Gabrielle had not yet recovered from the brutality that she had suffered. Xena resented Lectra so much for what she had done to Gabrielle, she had endangered the life of her family and she wanted someone to pay for it. However, she knew the irony was that had it not been for Gabrielle, that is what she would have done. Gabrielle had taught her that the greater good was worth fighting for more than revenge and aimless war and feats of destruction.
Xena walked up in close to Lectra.
"I suggest you take the right and scout around to the opposite side, up on that hill and wait there with Gabrielle while I go find your son, that will be safest and will be the least obvious and if I need help you will be able to see."
"I don't think so Xena, I am going to go and find that warlord and give him exactly what he deserves."
"You will draw attention to us being here then, you asked for my help, so I am helping you, if you want us to have any chance at getting your son back you will forget your revenge."
"But Xena, he took my son, HE HAS TO PAY!!" Lectra said, almost yelling.
"Isn't getting your son back more important?" Lectra went silent. "If you go after him, what will you have done? You won't have your son back, we will likely be caught and killed and I am here to save your son, what you asked me to do, so let me do it! You promised that you would change if I did this, so begin that now."
Lectra nodded but stayed silent. Xena understood how Lectra felt, the loss of her own son Solan had caused immeasurable pain and were she in the same situation as Lectra she would have wanted to have done the same thing, had it not been for Gabrielle. Xena turned to find Gabrielle who seemed to be distracted once again.
"Gabrielle, what did I say about keeping close?" Xena whispered.
"Yes Xena, I am right here." Gabrielle replied.
"I want you to follow Lectra around to the other side of this camp and wait for me there. Can you do that?"
"Yes Xena of course, whatever you need." The bard replied loyally.
They began to hear the murmurings of a campsite; all three stayed in close to the trees and navigated themselves around, whist trying not being seen. In the last bit of forest, Xena whipped her head around and gave Gabrielle, who was following closely behind a quick kiss on the forehead. Holding her for that one moment gave Xena the confidence that she could do this for Lectra. Gabrielle smiled up at her and silently wished her good luck.
"What you are doing is right." She whispered, knowing that Xena was probably doubting why she was doing this. All Xena could do was smile and cherish that one moment that she had with her love before she darted off into the assortment of tents.
Xena stealthily worked her way through the camp, avoiding guards and slowly moving toward what was the busiest part of the camp. She knew that, that was where Lectra's son would most likely be.
As Xena made her way into the camp, clouds that previously seemed harmless now appeared to threaten.
"Come on we better find some shelter before the heavens open on us!" Lectra eagerly urging Gabrielle to follow her.
"But Xena told us to wait here she won't know where we are when she comes back." She protested.
"Don't worry as soon as the storm passes, we'll come back. I know of a cave no far from here."
"Alright I suppose we better get moving."
Xena hoped that she had gotten through to Lectra, if attention was drawn to her presence there was little chance that they would get out with her son alive. She hoped that Lectra understood that revenge was not the answer, a bit of time with Gabrielle might convince her of this, if she did not already know this.
Hiding herself in close to a large tent, Xena listened for any talk about Andros and his location. She heard a lot of chatter but nothing to do with Andros. As the sky grew dark with clouds she stealthily worked her way into the prison avoiding every guard, which seemed a lot easier than she thought it would be. As she moved from cell to cell she was surprised to see that none of them could be Lectra's son, none of the prisoners were even close to the age of Andros.
She wondered what she could do next without attracting any attention. She thought that Therax was the next best bet to finding Lectra's son so she quickly crept out of the prison and sought out Therax's tent.
Xena noticed that most of the men were gathered in a large tent on the edge of the camp, so she hoped that she would not be seen or caught.
Knocking out the guard at the front of Therax's tent and quietly dragging him into the grass she entered the tent. All Xena could see was the man huddled over a table at the end of the tent. She slipped up behind him and covered his mouth.
"Where is Lectra's son?" Xena whispered into his ear. Therax began to struggle, but Xena managed to hold him steady.
"If you tell me, I won't hurt you." Xena said holding him tighter as he squirmed in her hands. She began to lose grip. With a quick flick of her fingers he lay paralysed on the ground. Blood began to drip from his nose.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain; if you don't tell me where he is you will die." Xena said coldly trying to extract any information from him.
He began to struggle against the pain but he did not say a word. Xena knew that Andros was not that important, that Therax would risk his life to keep him.
She pleaded with him one more time "Therax, where is Andros?"
"I don't know who he is?" Therax spat out. With another quick flick of her hands she released him and he took in a long breathe.
"You don't know who Andros is? Who Lectra is?" As she covered his mouth again and asked one last time.
"Lectra? Isn't she another warlord? I haven't done any business with her, and why would I have anything to do with her son?"
"You kidnapped him to get back at Lectra?" Xena questioned, getting anxious.
"Why would I want to do that?" Therax replied.
"She couldn't pay you back; she was collecting slaves for you?"
"Whoever you are I have never heard of this Andros or done any business with Lectra, she owes me nothing, I don't know what you are talking about."
Xena quickly tied up Therax, trying to think why he seemed to have no idea what she was talking about. The fear in his eyes usually ensured a confession was imminent but he had sounded seemingly sincerely that he had not heard of Lectra's son. It then dawned on her with a deafening blow that it had all been a trick. She had been betrayed by Lectra, this woman that she thought she could help. She took a moment to correct herself. Then an even worse thought dawned on her as she silently left the camp.
What had possessed her to leave the one person she truly treasured alone with someone that had every reason to seek revenge, to kill her??? WHAT HAD SHE DONE??? She panicked, she could not think. All she could do was run toward the place she had told them to wait. But she knew they wouldn't be there. How could she have left Gabrielle with her? How could she have let this betrayal happen?
She felt that another part of her had gone. The tragedies of the past that had slowly taken her soul away piece by piece were continuing now. Nothing, not even fighting for the greater good had stopped this happening. All the past pain from all the betrayals of the past began running through her mind, replaying, resurrecting and consuming her once more.
She attempted to clear her head and focus her energy on getting to her love as quickly as possible. For that was all she felt she had the power to do.
As they both started out for the cave, Gabrielle felt the rain drops rest on her bare skin. The weather soon worsened and rain drops became heavy blows, accompanied by the roar of thunder. Lectra was some paces ahead of Gabrielle. Lectra stopped and called out to the bard.
"The cave is just up ahead!"
Gabrielle quickened her steps following Lectra into the dark cave.
"By the Gods! I'm glad to be out of that!" Her eyes squinting through the darkness in order to find the woman. "Lectra call out or something I can't see you."
Silence filled the cave as she received no response, and could only hear the furious pelts of rain outside.
"Lectra, where are you?" She said as she continued to walk deeper into the darkness of the cave.
She heard a swift movement behind her, and as the bard attempted to turn around, she felt a blunt blow meet her head, where she had been previously hit only two days earlier. She fell to the floor, darkness overcame her, yet she remained in a state of semi consciousness. She felt herself being dragged through the damp dirt deeper into the cave, unable to display any resistance. She felt her body being propped up against one of the cave walls, feeling her arms being roughly bound in front of her.
She slowly opened her eyes, her vision blurred; squinting to make out the glow of the fire that now lit her surroundings.
"Urgh." She murmured as she could feel the throbbing pain at the back of her head, where her wound had re-opened. She felt the blood trickling down the back of her neck, its warmth almost a comfort. A dark figure now stood before her, as she tried to focus her eyes to gain some clarity.
"Well well finally you're awake!"
Recognising the voice, she instantly inquired. "Lectra what's going on?" She managed to whisper.
Lectra now approached the bard kneeling down in front of her, and firmly grasping Gabrielle's chin.
"Don't you worry your pretty head about such things; it will all be over soon."
Gabrielle shaking her head uncomfortably away from the woman's tight grasp.
"As soon as Xena arrives it will all finally be over." Expressing a most devilish grin.
"But what about your son?" Gabrielle pleaded. "You're doing this even after Xena is trying to get him back "
"Oh for Zeus sake! Shut up! My son died years ago! And now I'm left with the few memories of him and his father thanks to your precious Xena!"
"Lectra it doesn't have to be this way. You can change!" As she struggled to loosen the ropes which bound her.
"Oh don't bother struggling!" As she revealed a dagger, and teasingly caressed the bards throat with the blade. "You know I planned to kill her that day I sent for her, but then I discovered her unique little attachment to you the way she defended you her love! So I think it's only fitting that I slit her loves throat like she did to my loves "
With that final sentiment she pressed the blade firmly against the bards throat threatening to break the skin.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you!" Xena's voice called out from the caves entrance.
"Oh Xena! You have arrived just in time for the show!" Tightening her grip on the blade.
"Let her go, this has nothing to do with her!" Xena defiantly proclaimed.
"IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH HER!...I kill her I get my revenge You feel the pain that I still feel I think it works perfectly!"
Xena looked into the bards eyes which were filled with such fear, causing her to step closer.
"Stay where you are!" Holding the dagger cautiously.
"Let it go Lectra, you'll find your peace, this isn't the way! I won't let you do this."
"What are you going to do? Kill me." She mocked. "You're a sentimental fool! Peace!" She continued to laugh. "This is my peace " As she began to pierce Gabrielle's skin, Xena instinctively drew her chakram throwing it directly into Lectra's chest.
"Consider my debt paid " Xena watched Lectra's body drop to the dirt, the dagger falling by her now lifeless body.
Xena ran to Gabrielle and began to untie her restraints, which enabled the bard to grasp her arms tightly around her warriors neck. The desperate embrace was powerfully returned by the warrior, as they both comforted in their new found safety. Xena pulling out of the embrace desperately kissing the bards forehead, and placing her hands gently against her face.
"Are you alright?" She asked the bard.
"I am now." She smiled.
With this reassurance Xena once again took the bard in her arms and held her. This time this was way too close
"Come on let's get you out of here." Xena helping Gabrielle stand up and then supporting her out of the cave.
When they reached the inn, Xena once again helped the bard up the stairs, as she was still not steady on her feet. Reaching their room, Xena insisted that Gabrielle lie down.
"Now I don't want you moving I think we've had enough adventure for the time being. Don't argue with me now."
Gabrielle agreed with what was said but wanted to remain mischievously optimistic about her situation.
"Hey I'm not complaining the more time in bed the better." As she winked cheekily at her love.
Xena smiled and made her way to sit next to the bard and Gabrielle instinctively taking Xena's hand in hers.
"Thankyou once again for saving my life."
"You're welcome I only wish it could have ended better." A hint of guilt lingered in her voice.
"Xena you did everything you could at least now she might be able to find some kind of peace."
"I hope so I really thought I could "
"Xena please don't do this to yourself." Sitting up and kissing the warriors lips reassuringly.
"Maybe I didn't give her enough of a chance, I just snapped, I saw her threatening you and I didn't care who I had to kill to protect you doesn't that scare you?"
"No it makes me feel safe knowing that you'll always shield me. You didn't have any other choice! Even I felt that she was going to kill me, you only followed your instincts your love for me."
With this sentiment Xena wrapped her arm around the bard and pulled her in close, allowing the bards head to rest upon her shoulder. "I do love you Gabrielle, I would do anything for you, you know that don't you?"
"I know " Looking up at the warrior and gently meeting her lips with her own.
Xena pulled back, noticing the cut on Gabrielle's neck. "Now let me look at that cut on your neck, we don't want that getting infected."
"Xena it's fine." Gently pushing the warriors hand away.
Xena only needed to send a quick glance of concern, which led to Gabrielle's submission.
"Alright, alright You know I could get used to all this pampering."
"Well don't get too used to it." She smiled lovingly. "We'll be out on the road again in no time."
Xena gently cleaned the small wound, each touch a comfort to Gabrielle. She had come so close to once again losing her love, but she knew that she would dedicate her life to loving and protecting her.
"Now enough talk, you need to get some sleep."
"Only if you do to." She smiled.
"After the day we've both had, sleep is the only think on my mind." With a mischievous smile she bent over and kissed the bard tenderly.
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