DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, and the other canon-characters belong to Renpics. Shana, Mer, Lena, and everything pertaining to the world of Legandia, on the other hand, DO belong to me – they’re from my novel Dragon’s Shadow, which I plan to publish as soon as possible. *fingers crossed* There will be specific song disclaimers later on when said songs are posted.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a crossover of sorts with one of my own novels. Characters and situations of Legandia belong to me - any relationship to persons live or dead isn't intended, etc.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Lions and Dragons
By Rune Traverse
Xena was gone.
Gabrielle sat in silence on the ice-crusted gray rocks beside the Fountain of Strength, staring out over the horizon as the last of the sun's setting rays washed the sky in dark, bloody red-gold. She knew, in a vague sort of way, that she should be leaving. The snow-covered path down the mountain would be difficult in the blackness that was falling. It was already cold, especially with her clothing ripped open at the back, and it would undoubtedly become colder still. And her poor mount was probably going to be frightened and skittish with all the night's predators awakening around it. Besides, she had no more business here. The heavy weight of the round urn cradled in her hands, the fading sunlight made that much plain.
She didn't care. The blonde sniffed, emerald eyes glimmering liquidly in the faint light, her lips trembling. The tears she had fought so valiantly not to shed throughout her last moments with her beloved's spirit traced slow, unhindered trails down fair cheeks, each solitary drop carving yet another searing line of agony through her heart. "Oh, Xena." Her whispered cry was choked, her throat closed with a tightness that echoed the crushing pain in her chest. Xena, Xena, what will I do now? How can I live without you? I never told you you know that I love you, my warrior, but you never knew how very much. I've been in love with you for so many years, and now now I can't even tell you. How can I go on alone, when all I wanted was to spend the rest of my life with you? What do I do?
More tears fell from her chin, pattering hollowly on the lid of the urn and the silk covering her lap. Dripping across the lacquered metal, leaving thin trails on the dark surface. The same surface that housed the last remnants of the mortal form that the bard had loved so. Remembering anew was a fresh stab of bitter anguish. It hurts so much, Xena. It hurts, and I don't know how to make it stop.
For a moment, she wondered what would happen if she simply dropped the urn into the clear waters behind her anyway. Xena had paid her debt, she had stayed dead of her own choice; those souls were avenged, they were free and given over to grace. Why couldn't the Warrior Princess be given her own chance at grace and love? Why couldn't she return now, to live the life she should have had?
But it was a futile thought, and Gabrielle knew that as well as she understood the sacrifice her beloved warrior had made. The time where Xena could have been brought back to life had passed with the setting of the sun. That was the death she had chosen, the hero's end that she had been granted. For all its power, the Fountain could do nothing to help her now.
To help either of us. The blonde's eyes closed. "Xena "
The voice, faint and so familiar, didn't quite register with the young bard at first. Caught in her own helpless grief, it was only after the second call that she recognized the low, smooth tone she had never believed she could hear physically again. Shocked to her very core, Gabrielle jerked and stared up, a gasp escaping. "Xena?!?"
In the lengthening shadows, she could almost have thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. A long, lean form was slowly shimmering into view only a few steps to the left, just feet from where Xena's spirit had been settled when it vanished. The bard sat motionless, frozen in hope and utter disbelief. She knew that sleek, well-muscled frame, the leathers and the armor and sword and the boots, that tanned skin and long dark mane of thick silk. And those eyes, the icy deep blue that had always seemed to reach directly into her soul. She knew them all, as well as she knew her own reflection. It was Xena standing before her, the Warrior Princess, as though the taller woman had only stepped out of sight for a moment before reappearing once more. The only thing missing was the chakram now hooked to her own waist.
Was she going mad? Had losing Xena taken her mind as well? Or was the cold simply making her hallucinate?
"Gabrielle?" Gods help her, Gabrielle thought wildly. The voice wasn't the faint tone of a spirit, the echoing softness of one who wasn't flesh. It sounded as real and normal as the rest of her looked. "Gabrielle, how I'm here? How am I still here?"
The blonde woman drew another shaky breath, hands trembling so hard the lid of the urn rattled. I don't know how. It doesn't make any sense. Atermis, Aphrodite, if this is a dream, I don't want to wake up. Slowly, as carefully as she could, Gabrielle set her precious burden on another stone beside the Fount, gaze riveted on the apparition of her soulmate. Xena's sapphire eyes watched in concern and confusion more than a little of each, if the bard was any judge. Weak legs shivered for a few seconds as she stood, but they held, and Gabrielle stepped tentatively forward. "Xena, you " She stopped, shaking her head. Her own voice sounded less sure than her partner's. "You look normal, Xena. Real, solid."
Hesitant fingers reached out, pausing only inches from a glossy lock of raven hair. Xena made no move to touch her soulmate. She was too stunned herself. When she'd watched the last of the sunset, felt the warm pressure of Gabrielle's head on her shoulder fall from her and her mind fading away, the Warrior Princess had truly believed it was the end. Her path of redemption had finally led to this the burning souls she had so thoughtlessly destroyed would now be at peace, and she herself would at last be slightly redeemed for her dark, cruel past. The fact that her spirit would stay with her beloved Gabrielle was a given, of course, but her life was no more.
So why, then, was she back so quickly? With Gabrielle looking at her, not as though she were a spirit, but as though she were herself? Why did she feel no different?
"Gabrielle " A lean, bronzed hand leapt into the air, trying without conscious thought to catch the smaller, slender fingers hovering there. Xena held her breath, hardly daring to hope. There was a moment of odd resistance, as if she'd brushed against a heavy cobweb or stiff hanging gauze . . . but then it was past, and their hands seemed to merge, hanging in the same space without touching at all. The held-in gasp came out as a choked rush. "I can't touch you. I must be dead."
"But Xena " Gabrielle curled her fingers helplessly, watching as the hand she so wanted to hold slid like water through her grip. "I don't understand. We've seen ghosts, we've seen spirits. You don't look like a spirit, and you don't sound like one. You look real."
Xena had no answer to that. Unless "I swore I would never leave you." Her voice became husky, roughening as she shivered, and her elegant face tightened with pain. "Even even when I was dying, I wouldn't leave you alone. I knew I had to die, but I was fighting so some part of me could stay with you. We're soulmates, remember?"
I would give up my life, Gabrielle, but never my bond with you. That is unbreakable.
"So maybe you look normal to me because your soul is tied to mine?" The younger bard paused and lowered her hand, obviously considering the idea, and Xena breathed a slight sigh of relief. She knew she'd been rambling a bit, dangerously close to admitting the truth she'd kept hidden in her heart for years. I could never tell her, not now. It wouldn't be fair. Still, she'd owed her beloved blonde at least a portion of the truth, no matter what it cost her to reveal the emotions. Gabrielle's shoulders drooped slightly. The explanation was a simple one, after all. Then Xena trembled again, and emerald eyes widened. "Xena, you're shivering."
The Warrior Princess blinked, surprised by the abrupt change of subject. "You are, too." She pointed out sensibly. "It's cold here, and neither of us are dressed for the weather anymore."
"No, Xena, you're shivering!" Gabrielle sounded almost exasperated through her excitement, her entire expression burning with the light of her discovery. "A spirit, a ghost wouldn't feel the cold, but you are. You've got goosebumps and everything!"
A shocked look at her arm confirmed the bard's observation. And "I'm breathing." Xena swallowed hard, the breath in question coming faster. She could feel the sharp, frosty air coming in and out of her lungs, chest rising and falling, for all the world as though she were flesh and blood. Gods, even the rock and snow beneath her boots crunched exactly as the ground beneath Gabrielle's did! Curious, she knelt on one knee, the shock of cold biting deeply into her skin as she reached for a pebble lying a few inches from her boot. Her hand shimmered for a moment, the stone unmoved. Then, with a slight grate of rock on rock, the pebble was captured between her fingertips. She could feel the roughness of the stone! Trying to lift it, she watched intently as the rock rose only slightly before dropping back through her misty grasp. A frown twisted the Warrior Princess' features, that single brow rising slightly in a wry snort as she climbed back to her feet. "If this is dead, it's the strangest dead I've ever seen."
Gabrielle's eyebrows drew together in a frown, and she lifted her hand again, pushing lightly against one tanned shoulder. Again the fingers went straight through Xena's arm, bronze flesh wavering like a reflection in the surface of a disturbed pond. "But what does it mean, Xena?" The bard's question was equal parts pain and frustration, her voice raw, and it drew the dark-haired woman's focus back to her partner instantly. That flawless sea-green gaze turned up into the warrior's face, the mature confidence of the woman she had become laced with the hurt, frightened uncertainty of the innocent girl she had been so long ago. Xena's heart ached to comfort her beloved. To hold her close, to put an arm around her and press a kiss to that soft golden hair . . . even a word of confidence or tender assurance would have helped. But she didn't know what was going on, either . . .
Gabrielle . . .
"Xena." The bard's fingers closed around the pebble, eyes prickling. It felt as though the frozen cold had seeped into her very bones, a raw darkness that swept through her consciousness like an inescapable blanket. The world was growing black
Gabrielle . . . Gabrielle . . .
Gabrielle of Potidaea, Amazon Queen and Battling Bard, jerked awake with a startled gasp, eyes like wide emeralds flying open beneath sleep-tousled blonde bangs. For a few breathless seconds, she lay motionless, honed fighter's instinct taking stock of her surroundings. Low, dappled sunlight, usual woodland noises, the natural scents of growing greenery and dirt a once-banked firepit, smoldering embers recently stirred to life, crackling and popping in their ring of stones the unmistakable noises of a horse whuffing, shaking her head and cropping grass somewhere just outside the clearing her own shift on her body, two familiar sets of furs drawn up around her and the sound of someone moving, breathing near her, a presence she knew in her deepest soul
"Xena - " Pushing up from the bedrolls, Gabrielle half-turned, heart still lodged in her throat as she scanned the camp. She needn't have worried; the waterskin in her returning companion's hand dropped with a thump beside the fire, two quick steps bringing the warrior to her knees beside the bard, long arms wrapping around her shoulders. "It's okay, Gabrielle. I'm here." Tapered, graceful fingers stroked her short hair. "I'm here."
Gabrielle closed her eyes again, breathing in the familiar scent of leather and steel and something else that was Xena alone. Her racing heartbeat slowed, wire-tight muscles relaxing into the welcome embrace. "Xena." The name was breathed like a prayer.
The Warrior Princess in question lifted her cheek from the younger woman's mussed locks, her usual quirky smile filled with soothing warmth. She didn't really need to ask, but "Bad dreams again?"
The bard nodded silently, burrowing deeper against the warrior's shoulder. She'd been having these horrible nightmares for more than two weeks now, since a few days after Amarice and Joxer had left them. Actually, they both had Xena's usually in the dead of night, while Gabrielle's came nearer to morning. No matter when, they all caused the same reaction. A panic that bordered on terror jolting the receiver awake, lanced through with a wracking ache of loss and a desperate need for their soulmate close by.
"Hey, come'ere." Xena set soft fingers beneath a pale chin, coaxing her partner's face up to meet her gaze before cupping a soft cheek. Her free hand moved absently to Gabrielle's wrist, gentle fingertips massaging the almost-invisible scar left by nails only a moon ago. "Was it the cross, or after?"
"Cross, I think." Gabrielle's low voice was rough, only partly with sleep, trembling slightly. Terrifying and horrible as the dreams were, nothing concrete ever stayed behind; only a few scattered fragments, images and emotions and an overwhelming, gut-wrenching sense of fear and defeat. Leaning into the warmth of her partner's touch, the young bard tried to dredge up the few small pieces that remained. "At least, it was snowing. And we were both there. You were shivering."
Xena hugged the Amazon Queen closer, sighing soundlessly. These dreams were beginning to worry her. Not that they weren't expected, at least to some degree. The two of them had been captured, beaten, crucified, then resurrected from the dead in the middle of a battle between Heaven and Hell. And that didn't even count things like her own paralysis or Gabrielle's slaughter of the Roman soldiers, or the whole mess with Callisto. If all that wasn't fodder for nightmares, she didn't want to know what was. Still, shouldn't they have lessened, or at least been a bit easier to bear and remember? Her own dreaming hell the night before had set her warrior's nerves on fire, filling her veins with nameless terror so intense she'd almost gone mad. Thank the gods Gabrielle had come to at the sound of her stifled waking screams. The bard hadn't even asked what was wrong. Instead, she'd shifted swiftly across the edges of their neighboring bedrolls to settle her lean body into Xena's trembling arms, tucking her furs tightly around the two of them and nestling her head against the warrior's shoulder. They'd learned after the first few sleepless evenings that it was the only way for either one of them to manage any shut-eye after the nightmares.
Not that you don't just love that. Her inner voice smirked. It's not quite your fantasy, but damn if it isn't close enough. Her body snuggled up against yours, all nice and cozy
Xena ignored the thought with the ease of long practice, pressing a gentle kiss to the blonde's soft hair. "I'm sorry I wasn't here, Gabrielle. I thought you could use a little more sleep."
And waking up to her beloved bard wrapped around her had been more than her self-control was ready to deal with . . . not that she planned on telling Gabrielle about that particular part of the morning. She'd opened her eyes about a candlemark before to find the Amazon sprawled half on top of her, one warm arm flung across her stomach and both their legs tangled together from the knees down while a blonde head rested snugly at the curve of her neck. Just thinking about it now sent a pleasant tingle through her nerves.
Determined to break that train of thought, Xena released her partner and shifted backward, eyeing the bard critically. "You going to be okay? I wanted to get through the next pass before noon, it looks like it'll be pretty hot."
Gabrielle nodded, mentally waving her musings about the dreams away. They'd originally been traveling along the coast, relaxing and unwinding for a little while after the insanity that had been India and Rome. But almost a week ago, the news from the towns they'd passed had started reporting trouble brewing with the Amazons; even worse, it sounded like it might be spreading toward Potidaea and Amphipolis. Rumors or not, the information was enough to cut their 'vacation' short. Three days later, they were still about half a moon from familiar territory, but they were certainly making decent time.
Xena ruffled the blonde's bangs fondly and stood, heading back toward the fire. "Be careful washing, it's kind of cold." She warned over her shoulder. "I'll make us some tea, and then we can get going."
"Okay." Gabrielle snagged one of the linens they used for towels and headed down toward the stream. As usual, it was fresh and clean a bit chilly this early in the morning, but it definitely helped to shake off the lingering cobwebs. Wiping off her face, the young Queen glanced up, her gaze caught by a flash of purple-blue against the deep green foliage a bit farther down the bank. A second look brought a broad grin, all nightmarish worries forgotten. Blueberries and blackberries! Padding to the dense bushes, she began stripping the nearest branch, dropping the unexpected treats into her folded towel and humming a cheerful tune.
This is gonna be a good day after all. I just know it.
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