DISCLAIMER: Xena and the rest of the Xena universe are copyrighted characters owned by Ren Pics and Universal. Lucky bastards!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I was a late-bloomer in watching Xena and then reading, much less writing, fanfic. Now, I'm hopelessly obsessed, and I couldn't get this story out of my head. This is my first attempt be gentle.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The sounds gradually got louder as her vision cleared. A shake to her shoulder jolted the Regent from sleep with a deep moan of aggravation. "Ugh, go away!" Ephiny tried to shrug the irritating hand from her shoulder until the images started to come back to her. No way! It had to be a dream. I'm NOT going crazy! She cracked her eyes open and worked to focus on the piercing blue eyes staring intently at her.
"Alexa?" Oh well, when in doubt, right?
"Yeah," the young warrior looked perplexed, "are you ok? How many fingers am I holding up?"
Ephiny slapped the hand away and tried to sit up on the cot, still in the healer's tent, but the room started to spin so Alexa guided her back down.
The shuffling preceded the stout healer's large frame, "Well, I guess you do have a knock to the head! Best you just lay down now. A few candlemarks and all will be well again." The old woman laid a smelly damp rag to Ephiny's forehead making her feel like she was going to lose her breakfast. As soon as the healer was out of sight, she threw it on the side table.
She tried to sit up again, her white knuckles gripping the cot waiting for the nausea to pass. Alexa, realizing the stubbornness of the elder warrior, placed a guiding hand under Ephiny's elbow, "Here, let me help you up."
She stood on shaky legs and dared not move too fast. The images of Xena taking over Alexa's body were unquestionable. She knew she wasn't imagining things, but how did it all happen and why. She needed Xena back so she could get answers to her questions.
"Do you remember anything that happened?" Ephiny spoke but moved as little as possible until the room stopped tilting.
"No," Alexa paused, a tinge of fear played across her face, "the last thing I remember is you telling me that I made a pass at Ga at the Queen, and you saying that she turned me down, and," she scrunched her dark eyebrows together trying to dig through her memories, "you told me about her and Xena."
"Yeah, that's about it. That's all you remember?" The pieces were starting to fit together. Xena apparently is trying to reconnect with Gabrielle through a mortal body and has chosen this young beautiful warrior as her vessel. Every time she takes over, Alexa blacks out, complete memory loss. Now, she just needs to figure out a way to conjure Xena up so she can get to the bottom of this.
"That's it um, I didn't hit you or something, did I?" Ephiny's deep chuckle only made Alexa's brows crease deeper.
"No, you definitely didn't hit me, but I think Gabrielle will have one Hades of a story to add to her Xena collection!" The warrior stood momentarily bewildered before following Ephiny from the tent.
Later that evening, Ephiny came back to the healer's tent with a full-course meal in tow. If I know Gabrielle, when she wakes up, she'll be starving! At least I can keep her from moving too fast by keeping her occupied.
"Set it down here," she instructed the two chef apprentices as she cleared off the side table of all but the candle. Gabrielle must have smelled the food, or at least her body did, because Ephiny heard the distinctive sound of a stomach growling very loudly. Hehe, bet Xena couldn't surprise you with breakfast in bed! The Regent waved the two women out then set to wake Gabrielle. This should be easy. Ephiny placed a tenderly roasted duck wing under Gabrielle's nose and smirked as she sniffed, the heavy eyes slowly opening, a big grin gradually playing across her lips.
"Hmmmm, breakfast in bed," Gabrielle's voice was hoarse with sleep, "what more could a girl want?" She worked to focus on her Regent.
"No problem," seeing Gabrielle struggling to sit up she placed the food back down, "here let me help you up." She reached out her hand to pull Gabrielle forward so she could scoot back and sit up then moved some pillows from other cots to place behind her.
"How do you feel?" Ephiny returned to her seat.
"Woozy and really, really tired, but I've been worse," a smirk danced on her face.
"It'll take a little while for the sleeping potion to wear off completely."
"Maybe I need to get up and move around," Gabrielle made a move to roll out of bed.
"Whoa, whoa, not yet," Ephiny reached for her friend's arm and pulled her back down, "maybe you should try eating something first." The look on Gabrielle's face told her she won that round.
"Yeah, good idea," the Queen situated herself on the bed again and licked her lips as she checked her food options, finally settling on the duck wing Ephiny had enticed her with before. It was moments like this that Ephiny found it hard to see Gabrielle as anything but the naïve farm girl from Poteidia. The thought brought a smile to Ephiny's face.
"What's that for?" Gabrielle caught the snicker as she looked up from the devoured wing.
"No offense, it's just that you are such as contradiction. One second you're the Queen of the Amazon Nation, all powerful and commanding and the next you're that little farm girl from the sticks I first met. I can see why Xena loves you so much," Ephiny tried not to let her grimace show.
Gabrielle smirked, "No offense taken, Eph."
Whew! She didn't catch the "loves you" part. I just knew I was done for the way Gabrielle is with words.
The friends sat in amiable silence while Gabrielle ate dinner, only occasionally talking of Amazon matters. The Queen was pleased to know that the bandits that attacked them were sent to hard labor with a tribe up north, and not sentenced to death. Since she felt stronger after eating and the healer gave Gabrielle a clean bill of health, the two decided to head back to the Queen's hut.
"Ephiny, there's something I've been wanting to ask you."
"Sure, anything," the reply was lighthearted but her gut gnarled in apprehension.
"All I remember before I got knocked out is seeing a dark-haired warrior charging at me. For a brief second, it was like Xena was here I know it wasn't her, but it felt so real," Gabrielle had stopped short of her hut not wanting the guards to overhear the conversation. She laid her head back and gazed at the stars. "I miss her so much," Gabrielle looked back down at her feet before shaking her head to clear the weight of melancholy beginning to drape over her like a wet blanket. She crinkled her brow in concentration trying to remember where she was going with her thoughts. Oh yeah!
"Anyway, who was it?"
"Huh?" She looked back at Ephiny who looked like she had swallowed a bug.
"Are you okay, Eph? You're looking a bit green. Maybe you need to lie down." Gabrielle touched her gently on the shoulder breaking the spell.
"No, no, I'm fine!" Her voice squeaked out.
Gabrielle's eyebrows crinkled closer together, almost meeting, "Uh, huh," she murmured doubtfully. Suddenly feeling very tired, she decided it wasn't worth dwelling on tonight. Waving her hand dismissively, "Anyway Eph, don't think that my getting knocked out on the field means that you won that round. Rematches are a bitch, my friend!"
Ephiny relieved to have the subject dropped, shook her head at her friend and sighed, "Good night, my Queen."
Gabrielle briefly watched her friend leave before turning to the redhead guard to the right of her hut entrance. Placing a hand to her shoulder she leaned up and whispered, "Bring the dark-haired Amazon who killed the bandit today to me first thing in the morning."
"Yes, my Queen," Gabrielle looked back over her shoulder to see Ephiny rounding the corner heading for her tent. What's got you spooked, Eph? She shook her head but being too tired to think more on it, retired to her hut.
Gabrielle groaned as light filtered into her hut. Her body ached for sleep but her mind kept racing from the previous day's events, making restful sleep elusive. Daylight came quicker than she wanted but she forced herself to sit up. Raising her arms overhead and stretching back she felt her vertebrae slip into place. Oh yeah, that felt good! I may look young but that doesn't mean I always feel it!
Letting go of a long-held sigh, Gabrielle ran her hands back and forth through her sleep-tasseled blonde hair making it stand out even more erratically in all directions. She wandered to the other side of the tent and waded through a pile of garments before settling on a red wrap that left one shoulder exposed. It was one of her favorite pieces because it reminded her of India and her time there with Xena. Besides, it was comfortable and perfect for sitting around her hut reviewing treatises.
Time to get on with the business of being Queen. However, as soon as she sat down her stomach decided to complain. Oh, you would decide to do that NOW! Well, tough, I don't feel like changing clothes. Another grumble answered her. This one more demanding than the last. Fine!
"Guard!" The redhead from the night before stepped through the door.
"Yes, my Queen?" The guard stood ramrod straight, forcing herself to avoid eye contact.
"Would you see to it that breakfast is brought here?"
"Certainly, my Queen, and I've sent word that you wish to speak with Alexa. She should be reporting shortly."
Gabrielle glanced up from her parchments with a puzzled expression, "Who?"
"Alexa, the one you requested to speak with this morning," the Queen silently shook her head in confusion, forcing the guard to look in her direction. "My apologies, my Queen, I mean the Amazon who killed the bandit yesterday on the practice field?"
Understanding finally registering with Gabrielle, she nodded her head and waved dismissively, "Ohhhh, yes, yes. Forgive me, I'm still groggy from sleep." A smile passed between the two.
"No problem, my Queen. I'll take care of your requests," the redheaded Amazon bowed slightly.
"Thank you," the guard turned to leave as Gabrielle returned her attention to the papers before her. She waited until the door had closed behind the guard before letting out the breath she had been holding. She pushed away the papers with annoyance and rubbed the creased brows between her eyes until the tension loosened. How could she have forgotten? Something was annoying her about the "meeting" with Alexa, tickling at her brain, but she couldn't put her finger on why.
A rapping sound on her door drew her back to the present.
"Yes?" The guard pulled the door wide so a young blonde Amazon could enter. The tray she carried was weighted down with an assortment of fruits, vegetables, olives, and cheeses. Gabrielle's stomach grumbled at the mere sight of the delectable food.
"Set it on the table over there," the guard instructed the young girl, "my Queen, Alexa is waiting outside. Should I send her in or have her return when you are finished?"
Gabrielle tensed momentarily and felt her hands start to tremble. Now, what in Hades is that all about? Turning slightly from the guard, she took a calming breath and shook out her hands, trying to release the unexplained nervousness.
"No, please, send her in," she spoke with more confidence than she felt. Without saying a word, the guard bowed and turned back to the door, guiding both herself and the food servant out. Gabrielle heard the muffled voices outside and again shook her hands. What is wrong with me?! Her mind screamed at the absurdity of being flustered by a person she barely knows.
Gabrielle heard the door open but couldn't bring herself to turn around. The warrior stepped soundlessly to within a few feet of the Queen. The air that had rushed in from the opening of the door brought a scent of leather and cloves wafting across the room to assault Gabrielle's senses. She felt lightheaded and her heart sped up slightly. She closed her eyes and reveled in the memories.
"My Queen, you asked for me?" The unfamiliar voice jerked her from her pleasant thoughts.
Gabrielle spoke over her shoulder but didn't turn around. "Yes, come in." Alexa stood silently waiting for an explanation for her presence here. Maybe she's upset about getting hurt. The thought unsettled Alexa, but she tried to remember what Ephiny said about the very real possibility of the Queen being dead if she hadn't acted quickly. She took a deep breath and soundlessly released it, waiting.
"Alexa, right?" Gabrielle turned but didn't look up yet.
"Yes, my Queen," Alexa shifted on her feet and clasped her hands behind her back, not sure what else to do with her hands. She was thankful to not have to look into the intense green eyes she had fallen into on the practice field yesterday.
"Well, Alexa, tell me what happened yesterday," she finally lifted her eyes and emerald green met shimmering blue. Gabrielle felt herself go slightly off balance looking at the dark, leather-clad warrior. She braced herself on the table next to her.
The warrior tried to stall, "Didn't Ephiny tell you?"
"No, actually she didn't," Gabrielle had her bearings back and met the intense azure eyes directly. Alexa could sense the blonde steeling her resolve as she focused on the suddenly nervous warrior.
"Oh," Alexa had hoped Ephiny had saved her the trouble of explaining, "It's kind of hard to explain."
Gabrielle's nervousness manifested itself in pacing back and forth in front of Alexa, making it difficult for the young warrior to concentrate. "Perhaps the best place to start, Alexa, is at the beginning."
"Um, yeah, the beginning of what?" Perplexed green orbs turned in time to see blue jerk back to attention and away from her. Gabrielle cocked an eyebrow. Hmmm, interesting.
Gabrielle stopped directly in front of the befuddled warrior. The blonde willed the warrior to make eye contact. Gods, those eyes! She turned away trying to calm her racing heart. "The bandits, from yesterday, start there. When did you notice them?"
"Well, you had just knocked Ephiny down on the practice field and I saw a light flicker off to the right in the trees. It took a moment to focus on it, but I noticed it was an arrow aimed at you." Alexa paused unsure of what to say next.
"And then?" Gabrielle turned when she felt she had gained emotional control and a safe distance from the haunting eyes.
"I I," frustrated Alexa stopped trying.
Gabrielle noticed the sudden change in behavior, the voice had a slight quiver, "What, Alexa? What's wrong?"
"I I'm sorry, my Queen. I thought Ephiny had told you. This is difficult for me. Amazons are supposed to protect their Queen, not knock her out. I could have hurt you!" Alexa went on in a rush.
"Whoa, whoa, slow down!" Gabrielle raised her hands and took a couple of steps forward. "What do you mean 'could have hurt me'? What happened?"
"Can I speak honestly? You won't think less of me as a warrior?"
"Of course not!"
"I don't remember what happened," Alexa spoke in a rush, "one moment I saw the glint of the arrow in the trees and the next I was sitting beside you in the healer's hut. I I must have blacked out." Alexa looked down subconsciously.
"Oh," Gabrielle was at a loss for words. She remembered those moments of the attack. The wild and feral look in Alexa's eyes, everything moving in slow motion, even the ease with which the warrior flicked her sai at the bandit. Then it all went black. Something was tickling at the back of her brain, just out of reach, like a dream she was trying desperately to remember. She knew it had some connection to these events, but she couldn't place it.
Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair before turning away from Alexa. The young warrior was nervous but didn't dare speak a word or move. With her dark head bent slightly down, she indulged in watching the enigmatic queen pace back and forth while she tapped a graceful finger against her chin, the other hand resting on a nicely curved hip. The stories of Xena and Gabrielle were something of a legend in the Amazon nation. Alexa had heard them all. But it was still hard to reconcile the intelligent, lithe woman in front of her with the innocent farm girl Xena had rescued. The images that flashed through her mind of anything but an innocent farm girl, the images built from rumor and innuendo about the warrior and bard's relationship, caused a sudden flush of heat to race across her face. Alexa closed her ice blue eyes tightly trying to force down the sensation.
When the blonde queen turned to face the warrior, the young woman's eyes were closed and she caught the hint of a blush on her cheeks. If it hadn't been for the nearly invisible quiver she saw run through the warrior's body, Gabrielle would have been tempted to snicker. Damn stoic warriors! Gabrielle shook her head. Whatever thoughts she'd had concerning Alexa's memory loss vaporized.
"Alexa," Gabrielle stepped forward. The warrior, as if coming back from a far away place, snapped her head up quickly. "Thank you for what you did."
Gabrielle quirked a smile at the warrior who let out the breath she didn't realize she had been holding. "You're welcome, my Queen. I'm glad I could be there." The formally timid blue eyes of the warrior locked confidently with Gabrielle's sea green. A shiver ran through Gabrielle's body and her knees felt weak. Gabrielle quickly stepped back and braced herself on her writing desk.
"That'll be all, Alexa. Thank you." The warrior looked at the queen quizzically before giving a slight bow and exiting the hut.
The first rays of light skittered over the rolling hills that surrounded the northern ridge of the Amazon camp. Ephiny sat hunched over on a rock, her eyebrows scrunched in thought. She had tried for several hours to drift off to sleep, but her mind wouldn't stop racing. Now, she awaited the dawn, no closer to the answers for her nagging questions.
More than anything, the Regent wanted Xena and Gabrielle back together, whatever it took, but she feared the outcome. What if Gabrielle thought Alexa was simply crazy or perhaps she'd believe all of this but not be able to accept Xena in Alexa's body? Deeper than all of this, Ephiny wondered what role she was to play here. Should she tell Gabrielle or let things play out naturally? Would Gabrielle be more upset with her for telling her or finding out later that her most trusted friend had kept the truth from her?
Ephiny dropped her head into her hands. She rubbed her temples trying to push the impending headache away. Why was nothing ever easy around here? With a deep sigh of weariness, the blonde Regent pushed herself up and headed back to camp.
Ephiny left the food tent after eating a small breakfast. The camp had come to life with Amazons milling about going through their daily routines. The blonde watched with a sense of comfort that comes from ritual, but an uneasiness was just below the surface, as if a foreboding turn of events was imminent.
She rounded the corner, headed toward the row of officer tents, intent on changing into her practice attire for weapons drills when she saw Alexa leaving the Queen's tent. What in Hades ? By her direction, Ephiny knew she was headed to the fields for practice as well. Weariness and confusion mixed with frustration, and, if the blonde was willing to admit it to herself, anger. She loved both Xena and Gabrielle very much, but Gabrielle is her Queen and her oath was to protect Gabrielle at all times. With new determination, she sprinted to her tent to prepare for training.
The clanging of swords caused a shiver to run up Alexa's back. Her muscles strained under the pressure of holding back her opponent's overhead attack. Sending a forceful kick into the other woman's midsection, she created the needed distance to plan her next move. Facing off, the two women sized each other up. Alexa loved these moments - the concentration, the anticipation, the heightened sense of clarity and awareness that came over her. It wasn't that long ago when envisioning her current life would have been impossible. By now, she would have been married off to a farmer and have at least two children. Amazing how fast our lives can change, she mused to herself. At first she cursed the men who attacked her village. Now, she simply feels an odd sense of appreciation. Seeing the opening she had been waiting for, she crouched down for a leg sweep, knocking her opponent off balance. A roundhouse kick finished the other woman off and she landed hard on her back. Alexa smirked down at her before reaching a hand out to pull her up.
"Nice move!" The woman dusted herself off as Alexa placed her sword back in her sheath.
"Alexa!" The warrior swung around in surprise at hearing her name bellowed by the Regent. Ephiny tossed the extra staff in her hand at Alexa. The warrior caught it one-handed only inches from her face. Ephiny's curly blonde hair was flying away from her face, a mask of concentration barely concealing the rage just beneath the surface. Quickly striding up to the young warrior, she took a quick swing causing Alexa to duck and roll to get away. Son of a bacchae!
The warrior spun her staff into the back of Ephiny's legs effectively knocking her down, "What's gotten into you?" Alexa glared down the staff now pinning Ephiny to the ground. With a thrust to the young warrior's gut, the Regent rolled away and jumped to her feet.
"I'm protecting my friend and my Queen," Alexa looked at her dumbfounded and for a moment dropped her concentration.
"What?! What are you talking about?" The other Amazons had gathered around shocked at the events unfolding. Murmurs of What in Hades and I don't know circled the group. A smack to the side of the head was Ephiny's answer. The dark warrior stumbled backwards but didn't fall. Touching the side of her head, she felt the warm wetness of blood beginning to ooze from the gash over her left eyebrow. When her peripheral vision went dark, she was sure she was on the verge of passing out. Then a wave of rage rolled up from the depths of her soul and exited with a blood-chilling growl.
Ephiny witnessed the transition, feeling her knees buckle slightly as she looked into the ice blue eyes of a killer. Ohhh, boy, here we go! You asked for it, Eph. Alexa, or at least what was the hand attached to the body of Alexa, threw down the staff and curved an index finger in Ephiny's direction, "Come here." At any other moment, the Regent would have considered the gesture playful, even sexy, but now it pinned her uncharacteristically in place. Oh gods! It was the only coherent thought Ephiny could make before the blows were being rained down on her. On instinct, she managed to block the punches and kicks that were coming at her with lightening speed.
The dark haired woman unceremoniously ripped Ephiny's staff from her hands, then grabbing a handful of blonde hair flipped her over effortlessly until the woman was flat on her back and staring into the cold blue of Xena's eyes. I'm getting too old for this!
"What do you think you're doing, Eph?" When she hesitated, two sets of fingers were placed on either side of her neck.
"Whoa! Wait!" Xena looked at her unbelievingly and held her position close just in case.
"Talk," the menace in Xena's voice was unmistakable. What made Ephiny think this was a good idea, she'll never know.
"I had to draw you out, Xena. I have to know what's going on and how I can fix it," the warrior leaned back slightly. The shuffling feet of curious Amazons distracted her. Without looking up, she brought her fingers back close to Ephiny's neck and growled, "Back off!" This wasn't a discussion for the entire village. The murmurs and feet retreated to an acceptable distance.
"It's not for you to fix, Eph. I have to do this alone," The icy blue eyes from before had warmed to a deep ocean blue. The blonde caught the look of sadness that flashed across the usually stoic face.
"Why? You're my friend too, you know?" Ephiny placed a hand on Xena's thigh and realized for the first time that the dark-haired warrior was straddling her. Xena followed Ephiny's eyes until the brush of skin-on-skin slapped her with awareness. Fighting to keep the blush down, Xena moved to the side as Ephiny skittered out from under her.
"Um, sorry," the warrior mumbled.
"No problem really," the Regent stumbled over her thoughts. The two friends looked at each other. She's definitely in there, Ephiny thought. But there was something else in those eyes: uncertainty. Okay, Eph, act fast, Xena won't be able to hold this for long.
She scooted up closer to Xena to look directly into her eyes. They were alone now that the excitement had died down. "Xena, stay with me. What's happening and what needs to be done?"
The dark eyebrows knitted in concentration and blue eyes worked hard to focus on her friend. "She's fighting me. I get a few moments, but then she starts fighting it. She's strong. I picked her for that reason, but it may be my undoing. I only get one shot at this, Eph. One body. That was the deal I made."
"There's no other way?" The fear and concern were evident in Ephiny's voice.
"No, this is it." Xena leaned over as if in pain then straightened back up. "She doesn't realize fully what's happening, but she needs to know and she needs to willingly give up her body her life." Dear gods! Ephiny was lost in her thoughts and didn't notice the warrior brace herself on the ground. "Eph, I've got to make this work. I can't be without Gabrielle."
When she sat back, she was looking around confused, "What happened?" The blonde looked at her sadly.
"We need to talk," she stood up and reached down to help Alexa to her feet. Still dazed, the young warrior got to her feet unsteadily, running a shaky hand through her hair.
"Ow how did ?" Ephiny pulled her along.
"It'll all make sense soon I hope."
"WHAT?!" Alexa paced back and forth frantically. "No way you're out of your mind!"
Ephiny sat on the edge of her bed, cleaning up the blood-soaked cloths after binding the cut on Alexa's forehead. She waited patiently for the truth to finally sink in with Alexa. "Why would I make something like this up?"
The brunette threw her hands up in the air, "I don't know, but this doesn't make any sense. You're trying to tell me that Xena's inside me, and I'm just supposed to shrug my shoulders as if it's nothing?"
"Basically look," the blonde stood up and walked over in front of the frazzled warrior to stop her dizzying movement, "I've seen and heard of much more outrageous things happening to Xena and Gabrielle. I can't tell you how many times they died and came back, so this isn't that impossible. Besides, if there is a way for Xena to get back to Gabrielle, she'll find it."
Alexa shook her head and turned away from the intense look on Ephiny's face. This it's just too much. The warrior crossed her arms over her chest as if trying to hold herself together so she wouldn't fly apart. She had found this home, these women, after losing everything, but now she's expected to give it all up, to lose everything, including herself all over again.
"How can she ask this of me? Why me?" Ephiny heard the anguish in the quivering voice.
"Love, Alexa, that's how," the blonde began her own pacing. Words were not her forte but she had to make the young warrior see how vital her role was now. "The love between Xena and Gabrielle defies explanation. I don't have the right words to describe it, but I know that their destinies are bound for eternity. If one dies never to return, it would destroy the other. We almost lost Gabrielle after Xena died. I heard the stories coming back about how reckless she had become and how she'd given up on life. It wasn't just her life that was at risk, Alexa, but her spirit it was broken, she was broken."
"I can't comprehend that kind of love. I've never known anything like that."
"You don't have to," the dark haired woman turned around to see the desperate look in Ephiny's eyes.
"This is bigger than me. I don't know what to do. Put a sword in my hand and I know how to act, but this " Alexa hugged her arms tighter to her body. Suddenly she felt very tired. Ephiny walked up to her, pinning her with her eyes.
"It's bigger than all of us, but you'll know what to do when it's time," the warrior opened her mouth to say something when a horn sounded on the edge of camp. The two women looked at each other before reaching for their weapons and sprinting from the hut.
"Go find Gabrielle! Guard her! I'll find out what's going on, and come back with a report," Ephiny instructed Alexa as they headed into the center of the camp. The young woman acknowledged her with a nod then watched the Regent veer off in the direction of the horn.
"Over the northeast ridge, our scout spotted approximately 250 soldiers on the move. If my calculations are correct, they'll be at the perimeter by dusk. However, I doubt they'll attack at night. We'll have to be ready by daybreak." Ephiny looked at Gabrielle, who was intently studying a map, as she finished her summary.
"Have we checked the rest of the perimeter to make sure we're not being flanked on another side?" Gabrielle responded. Her years of fighting side-by-side with Xena kicked in automatically.
"Yeah, scouts were sent there as well, but there's been no indication of any other troops."
"Good. Keep the scouts out there through the night. I want reports from each one every candlemark until sunrise." The Queen looked up at her Regent.
Ephiny nodded acknowledgement before Gabrielle continued, "Okay, let's go through what to do come morning."
Alexa wasn't looking forward to the long, quiet night. Ephiny had given her guard duty outside the Queen's hut. In the Regent's mind, she was the best person for the job. If there was a sudden attack, who better to watch over Gabrielle than the Xena-possessed body of Alexa? For the young warrior though, the solitude was torture. After hearing what Ephiny had to say earlier, she was left with some unsettling thoughts.
The possibility of Xena being inside her was ludicrous. She had been a quiet, gangly farm girl, though many of the young men of her village had regarded her as beautiful, until the attack on her village made her snap. The life she had now was far from what she had planned for herself, but at the moment she couldn't imagine being anywhere else. When she had first heard the stories of Xena and Gabrielle, she had simply assumed they were fantastical creations of overactive imaginations. Now, she wasn't so sure. Things like this just didn't happen to people like her. Then again, it wasn't common for a young woman to go on a killing rampage against a warlord, live to tell about it, and ultimately become an Amazon either.
Alexa ran long fingers through her dark hair. She didn't want to give up her life here. What would happen to her spirit? Would she even know what was happening or would everything suddenly end? A realization hit the warrior. These are the same questions she asked herself when she went into her first battle. She was willing to die then, willing to face the unknown. What was different now? She couldn't answer the question because there was no difference. In fact, if what Ephiny says is right, she's playing a role in fulfilling destiny. That thought comforted her for the first time in a long time. Taking a deep breath, she decided to push it out of her mind. Tomorrow was going to be hard. She cleared her mind and focused on the ensuing battle.
A mist drifted over the valley as two women sat on their steeds looking out over the fields below. The sun was starting to rise, soon their line of vision would be clear. Gabrielle listened to the Regent on one side while stretching her hearing for any tell-tale signs of movement below. All that came back to her were the bird's waking with their first calls of the morning. With the haze not yet lifted, it would be an optimal time for a sneak attack. Such a move wouldn't be wise by their opposition with no visibility of what they'd be walking into. She refused to let her guard down. Her eyes continuously surveyed the landscape as Ephiny spoke.
"Until the fog lifts, we won't know exactly what to do. They could be right in front of us for all we know," the Regent sighed. She was feeling uneasy but maybe it was just the dreariness of the morning or the fact she didn't get much sleep last night.
The two had discussed strategy until only a couple of candlemarks ago before agreeing to try and take a short rest. Everything and everyone was in place, but they didn't anticipate the fog. By now, they'd be well into a battle, but the Fates had determined otherwise. There's nothing worse than getting ready for a fight only to have it delayed.
"My Queen Regent," Alexa came up behind the pair.
"How are your troops fairing, Captain?" Under Ephiny's insistence, Gabrielle had given the young Amazon charge of her own troop. It seemed strange to her that her second-in-command would put so much trust into a new tribe member, but Ephiny's gut instincts have never been wrong and she wasn't going to start second guessing her now.
"We're ready, my Queen. One of my scouts came back saying that the mist was lifting to our east and movement is discernable below. It's possible that they'll move on us from that direction first since that's where it's clearing out," the dark warrior paused.
"What makes you think that?" Gabrielle wanted to test the young woman to see if Ephiny's trust was well-placed.
Alexa swallowed hard. She knew she was being tested. "My scout said that the numbers have increased threefold since the last check which would suggest they are building up their troops to attack from this one area."
"Not the smartest move. What's your suggestion?" The blonde queen tore her eyes from the valley below to look pointedly into the unsettling blue of the dark warrior.
"That we increase our troops to the east, enough to sweep out farther to the east and come behind them when they're weakened, but be prepared on other fronts for a similar move from them," the Queen nodded her head in agreement. Not bad, kid!
"Ephiny, split our two troops in half, send them to the eastern front. Establish new commands at both of ours. We're going with Alexa." The Regent looked at Gabrielle puzzled before being greeted with a hard look.
"Yes, my Queen!" Gabrielle turned back to her new Captain. "Ready your troops." The dark-haired Amazon bowed before turning to retreat to her soldiers.
She had caught the questioning look in Ephiny's eyes, but refused to acknowledge it. In a way, she was grateful for the news from the scout. It gave her an excuse to stay close to the new troop leader. She was sure Ephiny thought her leadership decisions were being questioned, but Ephiny was far from the truth.
Little more thought was given to it, when the blonde rode back up, "We're ready."
"Good!" As the two rode off toward the eastern ridge, a horn sounded. A growl came from Gabrielle, "It's started. Let's go! YAH!" Ephiny tore off after her friend, the gnawing pit of worry only growing in her stomach.
The field was littered with the bodies of men and Amazons. It was difficult to move without tripping over arms, legs, and heads, some still attached, others not. Ephiny and Gabrielle were standing back-to-back awaiting the move of over ten soldiers brandishing weapons in each hand.
"Left or right?" Ephiny whispered over her shoulder at Gabrielle. This doesn't look good!
The shorter blonde sized up the soldiers gradually encroaching closer, tightening the circle. One to her left was noticeably limping and the one next to him had a nasty gash on his side that he was favoring. As she started to answer, she saw another group of men approaching from the rear.
"Oh, for Zeus' sake!"
"Oh, just a little more unwelcome company."
"How many?" Ephiny was starting to feel panicky. She and Gabrielle had taken on nearly a dozen soldiers before, but this was asking a bit much! She gripped her sword tighter in reflex.
"Only about six or so."
Xena's flippancy seemed to have rubbed off on Gabrielle too! "Oh, gee, I thought it was bad. Why didn't you say so?" The Regent felt her friend chuckle against her. She just shook her head feeling that gnawing sense of dread getting exponentially worse.
Over fifty yards away, Alexa and about three dozen of her troops were fending off the remaining soldiers. She swung her sword over her shoulder in an arc catching a soldier across the chest before turning and stabbing a man running up behind her. When the sword caught on ribs, the brunette shoved him off with the heel of her boot.
Through the melee she saw a crowd of over a dozen men circling a distance away. Quickly looking around, she couldn't locate Gabrielle or Ephiny.
"Alexa!" A red-headed Amazon yelled the warning just in time for Alexa to send a roundhouse kick to a man's jaw feeling the crunching of bone on impact. She moved to run her sword through the gut of the indisposed man when a blinding pain sent her to her knees.
Thinking she had been hit, she spun on her knees to find no one there. What the ?
Gabrielle needs you. Go to her! She jumped to her feet and brandished her sword defensively, looking frantically for the voice, but no one was speaking to her.
Your fairy godsmother! Who do you think it is?! Alexa crinkled her dark brows in confusion.
Well, it's not Aphrodite!
"What do you want?" Alexa heard the audible sigh and already felt intimidated.
Ephiny already covered this. I don't have time to rehash it. Are you going to save the woman I love or not?
With the battle going, Alexa had forgotten about what Ephiny had told her. The full weight of the circumstances came crashing down on her. Gabrielle was in trouble and no one could save the Queen but Alexa or
The warrior let her sword rest at her side, dropped her head, and took a deep breath. "Xena, I think that job is yours, not mine."
There's only one way I can do it. The voice became gentle, almost tender. Are you sure about this?
"Eph! How you doing?" Gabrielle backhanded her knuckles into a guy who was trying to grab her from behind. She kicked him hard under the chin as he tried to get off the ground to charge her. "Gods! Stay down!"
"Oh, I've been better!" The Regent ducked to avoid a sword coming at her head, then jumped in order to miss a swing from a soldier on the other side of her. It seems the more we take out, the more pop back up! "I don't know how much longer I can keep this up, Gab."
"Auugghhh!" The Queen bent to flip a charging soldier, "Hang in there, Eph. Just keep pushing!" Gabrielle shook her head. Things weren't looking very good and she wasn't sure how they'd get out of it.
"Aiyayayayayaya!" The familiar battle cry caused both women to stop dead in their tracks before feeling the barely noticeable thud of feet hitting the ground between them. Both turned to see Alexa poised in fighting position. "Did I miss the party?"
"What the ?" Gabrielle's unfinished comment was intersected by the dark warrior's fist landing on the nose of a soldier next to her.
"Hiya, Gab. Miss me?" Gabrielle gazed up into mischievous blue eyes when one winked at her. Before the blonde could respond, a feral grin spread across the chiseled face and moved past her. Gabrielle turned speechless to see the warrior grab two men, slam their heads together, and use one to block a sword thrust from a third, effectively killing his fellow soldier. With a spinning kick, she forced both back into a tree, knocking out the attacker.
"Xena?" The dark-haired woman looked over at the blonde with a smirk, before her features changed to fear.
"Gabrielle! Behind you!" Instinctively, she flipped a sai behind her back. A couple of seconds later she felt a body fall at her heels. "Good move."
The blonde tilted her head to the side, "A certain tall, dark warrior taught me well." A smirk danced across her face and she shook her head. "Where in Hades have you been?"
"Missing you." Gabrielle felt a chill run up her spine.
"Yep, gotta be, Xena! That charming persona still has the same effect on me," the separated partners stared at each other.
"Um, guys? I could use a little help over here!" Ephiny had four men approaching from all sides.
Gabrielle and Xena looked at Ephiny's predicament before turning to each other with matching raised eyebrows. "Shall I?" Xena offered.
"Have fun," Xena didn't waste a moment before heading into the fray. Um, um, um, I love to watch her work. The blonde chuckled to herself. The packaging was a little different, but definitely not bad at all. The Regent and the Warrior made short work of the remaining men. The last one standing went scurrying away like a rat.
Ephiny turned to Xena, sheathing her sword, "It's about time you showed up!"
"Hey, I'm here. That's what counts. Saved your butt," she mumbled the last part under her breath.
"What did you say?" Ephiny heard her just fine, but couldn't help herself.
"Nothing," Xena made great show at cleaning the dirt from under her nails, "Besides, your little Amazon here," motioning to herself, "took a little convincing."
"Yeah, those warriors can be stubborn as mules sometimes," the teasing voice of Gabrielle spoke from behind Xena, "So, Eph, when were you going to tell me?" The Regents smile fell when she realized the teasing was replaced with a deadly serious tone.
"I I," the blonde stared at her with a raised eyebrow, tapping a foot and waiting impatiently. Xena chuckled at the woman's predicament.
"And YOU!" The chuckling promptly stopped and perplexed blue eyes focused on the finger being thrust into her shoulder. "Where did you disappear to? You were there every night and I had become used to having you there, and then one day, you're just gone poof. Not a word, not any warning, nothing," Gabrielle turned like she was done, then threw up her arms and kept going, "You should have told me. I thought something had happened to you or if I had done something or needed to do something, but didn't know where to start. Do you have any idea how hard it was to have you there and then suddenly not have you there?" She spun on her heel, the hurt and pain showing clearly on her face, "I thought I had lost you all over again."
Xena's heart ached when she saw the tears start to fall from her partner's face, "Gabrielle," she stepped forward and brushed the tears away from one cheek, "I'm so sorry. I I just wanted to find a way to get back to you." She lifted the blonde's chin to look into the sea green eyes and spoke in a whisper, "I missed you so much, baby."
Slowly, as if reveling in the moment, Xena leaned down to gently capture the soft, red lips. The women moved together effortlessly with remembered familiarity. The bard parted her lips to welcome the warrior that had won her heart so many years ago. A sigh escaped her, relaxing her into the warm embrace of the taller woman, as she let the fingers of her hand wander into dark tendrils. Gabrielle pulled Xena tighter to her, feeling a familiar heat begin to radiate in her belly.
Voices of the returning Amazons invaded the private moment causing both to pull away with a sigh. They continued to hold each other loosely as the world around them came back into focus. Gabrielle traced the moist lips of her warrior with a finger, "I missed you too," then she poked the woman in the chest again, "Don't you ever die on me again got it!" Xena smiled fully at the beautiful blonde, swearing mentally on the altar of every god she could think of.
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