Disclaimer : Xena and Gabrielle are copyright MCA /Universal, everything else is mine. Except the lyrics which are published by Charisma Music Publishing / Rondor Music.
Warning : This story raises the subject of a physical relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. If thats not your particular beverage, you have been warned.
RANDOM THOUGHTS - Part 8 : Paper Lies
by Claire Withercross
The cheese was rancid, the bread was mouldy, and Xena seriously considered using the meat to repair her boots. Gabrielle looked up doubtfully through her bangs at the glowering warrior.
"We're going to have to buy some more food," the warrior grumbled.
"We don't have that much money," Gabrielle pointed out.
"Couldn't you sell a story, or something?" asked Xena. She offered some cheese to Argo who turned her nose up at it. "If you didn't waste it on all this rubbish we would have money to get something now," she growled, throwing the inedible food away.
"Actually," said Gabrielle putting her hands on her hips. "You bought that lot. I did tell you not to buy too much, and to haggle to get a good deal. But do you listen to me? No."
"Okay! I'm sorry," replied Xena, slightly irritated by the telling off, and slightly embarrassed for being the cause of the problem. "We'll just have to earn some money so we can buy some food." She tightened the saddlebag and tugged on Argo's reins to get her moving.
"You mean, I'll have to earn us some money," muttered Gabrielle under her breath, and hurried to catch up.
"I heard that," said Xena casually, as the bard fell into step by her side.
". . . . . . . .Did you hear that?"
"No you didn't."
Gabrielle tugged playfully on Xena's hair. "No you didn't."
"Yes I did," the warrior replied with a tug on Gabrielle's tresses. "You said I could sell my armour."
"How did you hear that?"
"You opened your mouth."
"Oh, you... ooh!" Gabrielle punched the warrior on the arm.
The warrior laughed and slung her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder.
Applause and cheers erupted through the crowd, and one person whistled his approval. Gabrielle beamed her thanks and bowed, then stepped down from the stage to walk among the receptive customers of the tavern with a plate.
By the time she reached Xena at the back, she was breathless.
"You were great," said the warrior, smiling with pride at the bard.
"Don't take my word for it," she gestured to the crowded tavern.
"Right. How much did we make?" asked Xena, reaching for the collection plate.
"Pardon?" said Gabrielle, moving the plate out of reach.
"How much did you make? I said, you, honest."
The bard cast a suspicious look at the warrior and tried her best to keep a straight face. She put the plate back down on the table and started counting the coins.
"Brilliant! You were just brilliant!"
Gabrielle turned to look at her admirer. He was a young man, short, thin and had a bald head. "Thank you," said Gabrielle.
"You have an amazing talent."
"Thank you, that's kind of you to say so."
"Oh no! It deserves to be said," the man clapped his hands together. "My name is Agamemnon. I-"
"Agamemnon!" Xena interjected.
"Uh...yes. Not the Agamemnon. I'm just a normal, everyday Agamemnon," he shrugged and offered her a wry smile. "A lot of people have that reaction. I don't know why. Everyone knows the famous Agamemnon is dead."
"Hmm, yeah, I suppose..." the warrior mumbled, and took up studying her goblet.
"I was wondering," continued Agamemnon. "If you'd like to put on a performance my children?"
"I'd be delighted," said Gabrielle.
"How much?" asked Xena, suddenly taking an interest again.
"Ah, that's a bit of a problem."
"Sorry," said Xena. "No money, no show."
Gabrielle shot Xena a quick look which somehow managed to convey : 'You're not my agent. I can take care of my own business. If you're so interested in our finances, you go and earn something.'
Xena scowled and returned to studying her goblet, this time from the inside.
"Ignore her," said Gabrielle. "I'm sure we could come to some arrangement. Perhaps some food."
Agamemnon chewed his lip. "Well, we don't have much food as it is, and very little to spare. The children need all they can get."
"I understand," said Gabrielle. "How many children do you have?"
"Hey!" cried Xena. "We're not taking a kid as payment."
Gabrielle just stared blankly at the warrior, until she returned to her drink.
"Twenty-four," said Agamemnon.
Gabrielle was not very partial to ale, even less so when it was sprayed over her. She wiped an arm across her face and felt very little sympathy for Xena as she watched the warrior choke on her drink.
"Twen-" gasped the warrior. She blew a good proportion of her remaining ale threw her nose. "-ty-four! You have twenty-four children!"
"Yes," replied the bald man, perplexed.
"How old are you?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"How in Tartarus have you got twenty-four kids?"
"I'm in charge of an orphanage," explained Agamemnon patiently, as if there could be any other explanation.
"Oh no!" cried Xena, wide-eyed. "Oh no! We're not getting involved with an orphanage again. No way." She looked at the bard who was quietly counting to twenty to stop herself saying something she might regret.
Gabrielle finished counting and smiled at her companion.
"You wouldn't?" challenged Xena.
The bard's smile grew wider.
"You would, wouldn't you. Oooh, beneath that pleasant exterior you've got a mean streak a mile wide, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle continued smiling, while Xena turned around and punched a hole in the wall.
The smile was as hard as stone and would have required a chisel to remove it from Xena's face. She glanced across at Gabrielle, the bard was kneeling down amongst a small group of children hanging on her every word. It struck the warrior how easy Gabrielle dealt with the children, and how much she seemed to enjoy telling them stories. The bard glanced up at the warrior, winked and smiled, without interrupting her story.
Xena knew how much this meant to Gabrielle and was tolerating it for that reason alone. But she was not sure how much longer she could remain cheerful around these children. Especially the ones clinging to her body like limpets. Some of the boys wanted to test their strength against a mighty warrior and were hanging off her arms, one was on her back, his tiny arms wrapped around her throat. The thin arms were merely an irritation rather than any immediate threat at cutting off her breathing. And one young girl, three or four years old had wrapped herself bodily around the warrior's right leg. She would look up at the warrior with wide, sorrowful eyes, thumb stuck in her mouth, in a silent challenge to the warrior to try and remove her.
The warrior limped and staggered over to Agamemnon complete with her cargo of children. The bald man was still slightly wary of her after her outburst in the tavern, and was concerned for the safety of his charges.
Xena gave Agamemnon a silent plea to rescue her. He scowled and started removing the clinging children from her.
"No!" said Xena firmly. "No! No! No!"
"Please," said Gabrielle.
The warrior growled in frustration. "You had to go and use the 'P' word."
Gabrielle grinned. "Great. I knew I could talk you around to doing it."
The pair were sat on a bench next to the hearth in the orphanage's kitchen, eating a meagre meal for their supper.
"I can't believe I'm letting you talk me into doing this," muttered Xena. "Do you have any idea what it'll do to my reputation?" she asked her companion.
"Don't be silly," the bard chided. "How can acting out some of our exploits harm your reputation. After all, it's not as if you haven't actually done the things we're going to act out."
"You'll owe me big time for this."
"You're enjoying this really, aren't you. I saw you with the children this afternoon, you were marvellous."
"I could cheerfully throttle some of them."
The bard chuckled and patted her friend's arm. They slipped into silence as they finished their food.
A soft thud interrupted the silence.
"Oh, at last!" cried Xena with relief. She looked down at the small girl lying on the floor. "I'd thought she'd never let go."
"Ooh, the poor thing's asleep," cooed the bard. "You should take her up to her bed."
"And what if she wakes up and takes hold again. I can't exactly take her to bed with us, can I."
Gabrielle smiled shyly and blushed.
"You take her," said Xena.
Gabrielle moved to pick up the girl, then paused. "What if she attaches herself to me?" queried the bard with a frown.
The little girl stirred in her sleep and let out a little groan. Both women stood up and rapidly moved away from the recumbent child. They stared down at the sleeping girl trying to come up with a solution.
"You could put a pinch on her to stop her waking up," Gabrielle offered.
The warrior hummed as she considered that option. "Might work."
At that moment Agamemnon came in and picked up the girl. Xena and Gabrielle gave each other a look of utter relief.
"Xena's agreed to help me put on the performance tomorrow."
"That's nice," said Agamemnon with a hint of trepidation.
"Don't worry," Gabrielle told him while flicking a warning glance at the warrior. "She'll behave."
As Gabrielle and Agamemnon discussed the next day's performance Xena slipped away.
The orphanage's director had allowed Xena and Gabrielle the use of his room for the night. It was small and sparsely furnished; a chair, a chest of drawers and a bed. A single bed, the warrior noted, with dismay.
She sat in the chair and poured some water into a bowl to wash her face. As she was drying her face Xena caught a glimpse of herself in the small mirror next to the bowl.
"I'm not an actor," she mumbled, then tried practising her smile for the children.
Sometimes I see a stranger when I look into a mirror. I see a woman with hope, with joy, with love, with life. It's hard to believe that I live behind her eyes.
It is a mask I wear for the world.
I am meant to be a brave warrior, but inside is still the little girl I was, the girl I killed and replaced with the monster. Even that monster is hidden from view behind the mask.
I am scared to let either of them out.
So I go through my life pretending to be something I'm not. The hero that Gabrielle writes about in her scrolls.
I don't blame Gabrielle for the lies, she only writes what I show her. And I only show her lies. Yet as time goes on she has seen more of my darkness than I would have liked. I've told her some of the terrible things I've done, and all she does is love me.
I'm not sure what I'm looking for, redemption, justice, atonement? And while I don't think I can live without Gabrielle's love, I don't think it was what I had in mind when I left Hercules to seek a new life. Part of me wants to be punished, to suffer, to be vilified for what I have done.
What would my victims think if the only punishment I receive is Gabrielle's love?
the end of this bit. to be continued.....
"When you look into the mirror
Do you see a face you hardly recognise"
Paper Lies - Hogarth/Helmer
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