A Friend, In Deed
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without express permission of the author.
This story depicts a loving friendship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it.
To "my" readers at the Tavern Wall for their feedback and encouragement when this first posted at "The Wall" in August 2001.
WARNING: Contains spoilers for "Friend in Need."
With great care, Gabrielle lifted the lid of the bowl-like urn and prepared to pour its contents into still waters that reflected the setting sun. This simple act the scattering of Xenas ashes into The Fountain of Strength would restore the life of her friend and soulmate. Harukata, The Ghost Killer, had thus promised. And Gabrielle trusted him.
Warrior and Bard would cheat death again, and in the process vanquish Yodoshi, Lord of the Dark Realm, freeing the 40,000 souls of Higuchi that he had enslaved.
The Bards entire body resonated with the excitement of the moment. For once, she had done everything right, even using Xenas chakram to dispatch the dishonored samurai who had murdered her Warrior Princess.
"And I caught it!" she thought excitedly.
As Gabrielle tipped the bowl, a strong hand caught hers and held the container, suspended, just above the waters surface. The Bard looked over into the tear-filled eyes of her companion. When Xena spoke, Gabrielles world began to shatter.
"Xena." The Bard scarcely believed her ears. Xena repeated the gentle command.
Gabrielle fought her growing panic as she glanced at the horizon.
"Xena, the sun is setting. I have to bring you back to life."
"No not if it means condemning the souls of the 40,000 who burned at Higuchi."
"The souls are free?"
"Theyre free from Yodoshis grasp. Akemi didnt want to tell me this in case I wouldnt come back to help-- but for those souls to be released into a state of grace, they must be avenged. I must stay dead."
"But if I bring you back to life " Gabrielle was pleading now.
"Those souls will be lost forever," Xena interrupted with resolute sadness.
"But, Xena, that is not right." The Bard choked on her tears. She turned away from the Warrior, trying to comprehend what was happening; trying to find the loophole that might end this sudden nightmare. When she turned back, her voice revealed her desperation.
" I dont care. Youre all that matters to me."
Xena shook her head and continued.
"Dont you know how much I want to let you do this? But if there is a reason for our travels together, its because I had to learn from you-- enough to know the final, the good, the right thing to do. I cant come back." The Warrior paused and looked into the moist depths of the green eyes that would haunt her forever. " I cant."
"I love you, Xena. How am I supposed to go on without you?"
Tear-filled eyes brimmed, then spilled.
"Ill always be with you, Gabrielle. Always."
The Bard heard Xenas parting words as she gazed desolately at the sunset, her heart breaking. She faced the loss of everything she loved. Her breath came in choked, painful gulps. Something told her this wasnt the way it should end.
Suddenly, Gabrielles eyes grew wide and she stared in stark terror at a point just over Xenas left shoulder.
"No! It cant be!" Gabrielle screamed. "Youre dead, Yodoshi. You cant have her!"
"Impossible," Xena growled as she whirled to face her persistent foe.
In that splinter of an instant, Gabrielle grabbed the container from the fountains edge, tore off the lid, and flung Xenas ashes into the water. The ashes floated on the surface and began to glow. A soft light suffused the Fountain of Strength; a tendril cloud of liquid silver snaked from the water and drifted toward the Warrior, enveloping her just as she realized there was no enemy and turned back toward Gabrielle. The sun dropped below the horizon.
Xena stared in wonder at the Bard, who stood open-mouthed, watching the glowing cloud surround her friend. The Warrior threw back her head in a gesture somewhere between ecstasy and pain, then collapsed.
Gabrielle caught Xena and eased her to the ground, cradling her in her lap. The Bard sensed solidity to her partners body that she hadnt felt for several days. The glowing cloud faded.
"Youre back, right?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.
"Gabrielle, what have you done?" The Warrior Princess sounded bewildered.
"I just couldnt let you go." Fresh tears filled the Bards eyes as she helped Xena sit up.
"But, the souls of Higuchi?"
"Souls be damned!" Gabrielle replied angrily. " Xena, you once told me that in everyone's life there's something beyond the greater good. That's what you are in my life. Im not about to let you sacrifice yourself for something that wasnt your responsibility."
"What if it was my choice?"
"I respect your wish, but this wasnt a choice. What happened was an accident. Dont you see?" The Bard struggled for the logic that would convince her companion. "This was guilt by association with a young woman trying to avenge her family. You chose to fight Lord Yodoshi to free those souls, but you didnt choose to start the fire that destroyed Higuchi and enslaved them. Thats all there is to it."
"Gabrielle, you dont understand "
The Bard cut her off, hoarsely.
"You want guilt? You want sacrifice? If thats what it takes..."
Gabrielle stood and spread her arms, turning in a circle and shouting as loudly as her ragged voice would carry.
"I call upon the souls of the 40,000 who died at Higuchi! Know that I, Gabrielle of Potidaea, am responsible that you are not avenged. Xena tried, but I stopped her. If the cycle of vengeance must continue, punish me! My soulmate has paid her debt."
Xena struggled to her feet, shaking off the grogginess that accompanied her latest resurrection. She reached toward Gabrielle, but the blonde backed away. A fleeting movement behind the Bard distracted the Warrior and she froze, peering into the gloom.
Announced only by the "whoosh" of a warm, gentle breeze, the Ghost Killer emerged from the darkness. Behind him stood Kenji, the soft-spoken monk who had carried Akemis message summoning Xena back to Jappa.
Surprised that her self-destructive plea had been answered so quickly, Gabrielle dropped to her knees, waiting But the Ghost Killer looked beyond her and spoke directly to the Warrior Princess.
"Xena, the souls of Higuchi attained a state of grace. You did all that honor demanded."
He scrutinized the kneeling Bard. Gabrielle stared back, a defiant spark lighting her green eyes.
"And you, Gabrielle who would have thought so small a creature could create such chaos?"
The Bard responded with quiet resolve.
"You will not have her, Harukata. She is redeemed. I am ready to pay the price."
The Ghost Killer sighed.
"As for punishing you, Gabrielle, I do not know. Your actions in this matter proved unforeseen. Your heart ruled your judgement." He shrugged. "Perhaps there is nothing we can do to you. Only time will tell. "
Almost on cue, Kenji faced Xena and bowed.
"Thank you, Warrior Princess, for your sacrifice."
He smiled at the two women, but continued to direct his words toward the tall one.
"Your companion follows a different path, for which our concept of fate has no response. I can only surmise that you must leave here as quickly as possible. Depart the mountain at dawn, and journey in peace both of you."
Gabrielle released the breath she had been holding.
"Harukata, Kenji ." Xena whispered their names. The apparitions faded into the twilight.
The Ghost Killers disembodied voice was barely discernable when he issued his final command.
"Be contented, Warrior. Treasure this woman who defied destiny for you."
"Always " Xena said softly, looking down at Gabrielle.
She extended a hand to the Bard -- who refused the offer, and rose heavily to her feet.
"Please dont touch me right now, Xena."
In the fading light, on a cold mountaintop, Warrior and Bard faced each other.
Gabrielle shivered and wrapped her arms about her midsection, trying to conserve warmth. Xena took a step toward the younger woman, but the Bard edged away.
When she spoke, Gabrielle sounded infinitely weary.
"Im angry with you."
"We could talk "
"Its past time for that, Xena. Im tired and cold. And you heard what Kenji said about getting out of here." Gabrielle failed to control the tremor in her voice.
Xenas warrior instincts took over.
"OK. Well talk later. Right now, we need to build a fire and get some rest."
"But Kenji said "
"Gabrielle, theres no way were going down this mountain tonight. Its too dangerous."
The Bard glared at Xena.
"That didnt seem to bother you when it looked like Id be spending the night alone up here."
Xena winced at the young womans sarcasm, but tried to explain herself
"I just meant "
A dismissive wave of the Bards hand silenced her.
Then, Gabrielle remembered the blanket tied to the saddle on the horse that brought the Warriors body to this place; the horse killed by a samurai arrow just a lifetime ago.
"Ill be back," she stated flatly.
The Bard started to walk away, searching the blackness to find a path down the hill to her fallen steed
"What? Afraid I might get lost in the dark?" Her caustic remark floated back to Xena.
Gabrielle sensed how that remark wounded her partner; she almost felt Xena flinch. Silently, she scolded herself for the unnecessary cruelty and mustered a half-hearted explanation.
"Ill find my horse and bring back supplies. Start the fire."
Gabrielle made her way down the treacherous, rock-strewn incline to the flat area where the animal had fallen. She found the horses body and began to remove the saddle and trappings.
The horse wasnt hers. It had no sentimental value. Yet the young woman began to cry as she gathered the items they needed. No quiet tears, these; rather, wrenching sobs of anger, frustration, and relief.
Minutes dragged by, but Gabrielle neither noticed nor cared. She sat on the cold earth and directed her anguish at the star-painted heavens.
"Gabrielle!" Her companions concerned shout echoed in the darkness, but the Bard ignored her companion.
"Let her worry about me now," the young woman whispered.
The Bard heard the Warrior approach. She rose and wiped away gritty tears with the back of her hand.
Xena stood next to her, crouching slightly -- eye-level with the smaller woman.
"Are you crying? You were gone a long time. I got worried and "
Snarling her pent-up fury, Gabrielle unleashed a blazing right hook.
The Warrior barely managed to sidestep the punch. Gabrielle staggered, carried off balance by her momentum, but she recovered quickly. Before Xena could set herself, the Bard spun around and backhanded her across the face. Xenas head snapped to the side. The compact Amazon followed with a left jab that rocked the taller woman.
Frustrated, hurt, exhausted, the enraged Bard hurled herself at Xena, tackling her to the ground. She leapt upon fallen Warrior, pummeling her blindly.
Xena blocked as much of the attack as she could without countering, but her companions strength seemed boundless, fueled by the demons of betrayal and desertion.
"Damn you! Damn you! Damn .you!" the Bard screamed, releasing her demons with each blow.
Xena deflected a few more punches, then dropped her defenses and lay there accepting the full brunt of her soulmates fury.
Gabrielle felt the warm blood on her fists, and the strange softness of beaten flesh. The sensation brought her up short. She raised her wet hands to eye level. By the pale moonlight, she saw the effects of her rage.
The Bard stared down at the motionless form of her friend. She scrambled off Xenas body and lowered her cheek close to the Warriors face. Soft breathing told her the woman lived.
"Thank the gods .Xena, what have I done?"
Gabrielle tried to catch her breath, frenzied anger slowly replaced by overwhelming remorse. Her mind scrambled for a way to erase what had just happened. Then she remembered the Fountain of Strength.
The half-moon cast a cool glow -- just enough for Gabrielle to find a waterskin among the items she had pulled from her horse. Ignoring her own safety, she clambered up the rock-strewn slope to the font, then back down, carrying life-giving water for her Warrior.
She gently lifted Xenas head and trickled a small amount of liquid between bloodied, swollen lips. Her hands shook; water splashed onto Xenas cheeks.
The Warrior coughed once and opened her eyes. Gabrielle sensed Xenas confusion as her partner tried to focus; she fought the urge to turn away in shame.
"Hey " The Warrior Princess sounded as battered as she appeared, but Gabrielle thought she saw a thin smile.
"You know, Gabrielle, I liked it better when you used your mouth to give me that stuff."
The memory of an earlier kiss sent a wave of heat through Gabrielles body. She had used that kiss to give Xena water from the fountain, reviving her to fight Lord Yodoshi. In that frantic moment, Gabrielle had ventured beyond the mere transfer of the water from her mouth to Xenas
A gust of wind chilled the Bard. Her back was still bare where the Dark Lords fireball had burned away her jacket, revealing the dragon tattoo that had saved her. She felt Xena shivering in her arms.
Gabrielle considered remaining in their current location, but found the thought of spending the night near the dead animal disconcerting.
"Lets get back to the fire. Can you stand if I help?"
"Yeah," the Warrior Princess responded in her toughest tone.
The smaller woman used her considerable strength to help her companion up, then gathered their possessions.
"Lean on me," she commanded, and, for once, Xena obeyed.
Somehow, the Bard managed to get everything, including the Warrior, back up the hill to where Xenas well-built campfire blazed. She dropped their equipment and lowered the tall woman to the ground as carefully as she could, despite her own trembling muscles.
Gabrielle gathered soft cedar branches and laid them near some large rocks that provided a natural windbreak. She spread their blankets atop the branches, then helped Xena to the makeshift bed.
With Xena watching, the Bard gathered more small logs and branches to keep the fire stoked. They didnt speak. Gabrielle couldnt meet Xenas gaze as she went about preparations for the long, cold night.
She carried the waterskin to the resting Warrior, who drank deeply, then handed it back. After Gabrielle took a long draught, she soaked the softest cloth she could find and tenderly washed Xenas battered face. When she finished, the Bard turned away and poured the remaining water over her hands, trying to rinse off her friends blood.
Finally, she folded the blanket over Xena and helped her settle in. That done, Gabrielle moved to the other side of the fire.
A short while later, the Warriors quiet voice broke the stillness.
"Join me, Gabrielle. Please?"
"Go to sleep," the younger woman commanded. "Ill come over as soon as I make sure this fires gonna last."
"Gnight," Xena mumbled, and closed her eyes.
Gabrielle watched her companion relax into slumber, then surrendered to her next demon. Tear-filled green eyes sparkled as a confused, weary Bard stared into the fire, contemplating an uncertain future.
Gabrielle awoke to a familiar feeling of warmth. Her next sensation was of soft fingers tenderly tracing the outline of the dragon on her bare back.
"Mmmmm . That feels so nice, Xena. Xena? " She turned over abruptly and found herself eye-to-eye with a smiling Warrior.
"Good morning, Gabrielle."
Xenas face still looked battered, but not as bad as the Bard feared it would. In fact, the dawn light gave her companions countenance a softness, making her even more beautiful, if that was possible.
"Your magic fountain works wonders," the Warrior whispered as she leaned in and kissed Gabrielle on the forehead.
The smaller woman groaned.
"Its not my fountain, and Ill thank you to keep your distance."
"Awwww . Gabrielle "
"Im serious about this, Xena."
The Bard edged away from her companions side and attempted to rise, but strong hands pulled her back onto the bed of branches. Gabrielle sighed as those hands explored the aching muscles of her shoulders and neck. She yearned to surrender to that protective embrace and forget
But the memories of yesterday returned, and with them came the questions and doubts.
Gabrielle rolled to her knees, then stood.
"We have to get off the mountain as soon as possible."
Xena propped herself on an elbow and studied the Bard who began to gather and bundle their belongings for travel. Gabrielle deliberately ignored those piercing blue eyes, fearing they could see into her darkened soul.
"Whats really bothering you, Gabrielle?"
The young woman shook her head and dropped her bundle.
"How can you ask that, after . after yesterday?
"What do you mean?"
"Xena, you died. You left me again. Then, just when I got you back, I tried to kill you myself."
"But you didnt." The Warrior flashed an understanding smile.
"Thats not the point."
"Then tell me, what is the point?"
Gabrielle rubbed a grimy hand across her tired eyes. She took a deep breath and decided to unload her demons.
"I cant take this anymore, Xena."
"Go on," the Warrior urged.
"I cant lose you again, but I cant trust that you wont do this again either. How many times now have you abandoned me for my own good?" The Bard emphasized the last four words sarcastically.
When Xena did not respond, Gabrielle took it as a sign that shed struck a nerve.
"You tell me you love me and that youd choose to spend the last seconds of your life gazing into my eyes, but the next minute, or the next morning, youre gone. Sometimes you leave a note; other times you just take off no explanation, no apology."
"Gabrielle, I only want to protect you "
"How? You know that Ill follow you anyway, and we manage to survive. You call me your soulmate, but you wont share your plans, even when our lives are at stake, and our love."
"I promise " Xena began, but the scowling Bard cut her off.
"Dont make another promise you cant keep."
Gabrielle resumed packing. The Warrior Princess hauled herself off the bed and rolled their blankets; her shoulders slumped. She paused and stared as the young blonde stripped off the torn jacket and donned her traditional two piece outfit, carefully facing away from the tall woman. The Bards tight, strong back muscles flexed, and her dragon tattoo took on a life of its own. Xena swallowed hard -- and tried to focus her attention elsewhere.
The two women continued to work together quietly, preparing for the journey down Mount Fuji.
When they were ready to go, Gabrielle paused to splash her face with cool liquid from the fountain and filled the waterskin. Her stomach rumbled. Xena responded to the familiar sound.
"How long since you ate?"
"I forget maybe one two days .Come to think of it, arent you hungry too?"
"I guess being dead took the edge off my appetite."
Gabrielle tried unsuccessfully to suppress her smile.
"What?" asked a bemused Warrior Princess when she noted a change in the Bards expression.
"Nothing. That just sounded funny "
"I bet we can find some berries or roots along the trail for breakfast. Ready?"
Gabrielle nodded, then took a last look around the site of their latest adventure, capturing it in her mind, in case she started writing again.
They walked together in total silence for over an hour, exchanging furtive glances.
The Bard stumbled a few times. Her hunger affected her concentration. She felt weak and dizzy. Always, Xena was at her side, offering a steady hand, but no words.
Finally, Gabrielle knew she had to rest. Despite the morning chill, she was sweating, and her body ached.
"Lets stop for a moment, please?"
They sat on a large log by the path, sharing the waterskin.
"So beautiful," the Bard whispered as she enjoyed the vista from Mt. Fujis slope.
"Yes," Xena echoed, but Gabrielle noticed the Warriors gaze focused on her. That gaze breached the wall shed built throughout the night and all morning.
"Xena, Im sorry I hit you." Her lower lip trembled, but she held back the tears.
"I could have killed "
"Gabrielle, you would never have done that, but I accept the apology. Lets put it behind us, and think about our future."
The Bard felt her chest tighten. There had been no "us" in the plans shed made during the night.
"So, whats the plan?" Xena asked with a knowing grin.
Gabrielle did not return the look. The Warrior studied her boots while the Bard weighed her reply. She decided to take the leap.
"Xena, I want to go back to the Amazons, and maybe build a home there."
The words spilled out in a rush. She waited for the objection, but her companion remained silent. The Bard decided to give Xena the opening shed need.
"I know that would be boring for you I dont expect youd want to stay."
Gabrielle sighed. She stood up and began to pace. When the Warrior failed to respond, she continued.
"Hey, I hear they need a girl with a chakram in the Land of the Pharaohs. Maybe when youre finished there, you could come visit me?"
Her attempted cheerfulness rang hollow.
Xena just stared. Gabrielle saw deep hurt in those ice blue eyes, but she glimpsed something else too perhaps respect or acceptance. It made her next words easier.
"I once said that your path was my path. It still is. But I need to rest for awhile, and figure out what I want. "
"What you want?" Xenas tone bordered on incredulous.
"Ummm ..yes." Gabrielle turned away and fought to keep her voice even. "Over the years with you, Ive learned who I am bard, warrior, and even an Amazon Queen sometimes." Her eyes sparkled and her voice grew stronger as she said the words. At last, those titles felt right. She had earned them.
"But now I need to make some choices, and that means stopping long enough to catch my breath. Do you understand?"
She turned to face Xena.
The Warrior nodded. Her tone was soft and sad when she spoke.
"Are you suggesting that we go separate ways?"
Despite the decision shed reached during the night, her soulmates question tore at the Bards heart. In over 30 years, they had never been apart voluntarily -- for more than a few weeks. They had lived, laughed, fought, and loved together every moment, risking everything for their bond. Even during their years in Ares frozen cave, theyd rested side-by-side.
Gabrielle started to answer, but the words wouldnt come. They had cheated death again and yet she proposed another parting. She stared into the distance, pretending the answer lay somewhere near the horizon.
Finally, Xena broke the silence.
"Is that what you really want?
"Maybe its not what I want, but something I have to do."
The Warrior shook her head. "Now youre getting cryptic on me."
"Xena, weve been together over 30 years, except for the times that " Gabrielle thought the lump in her throat would choke her, but she swallowed hard and continued.
"I asked you once if I was what you made me. You said no, but Im not so sure. There are times when I dont know where you end and I begin. I love you so much ."
" But?" Xena finished her companions sentence.
"But you still dont trust me enough to make decisions about my own life. You decide for the both of us, and I wind up trying to catch you, or defying you. Do you realize weve spent most of our time together pursuing one another?"
"I didnt know you were keeping score."
Gabrielle flinched, but managed to hold her temper.
"I dont keep score, Xena, but I remember. Its the curse of being a bard."
The Warrior rubbed a hand across her forehead, as if trying to dislodge her next thought.
"I dont know if I can change, Gabrielle, but I am trying. Believe me."
"I do. Im just not sure Ill survive your learning curve." The Bard smiled sadly.
"You realize, of course, that you just did the same thing to me brought me back against my will, and maybe even against the greater good."
"Yeah. Well I guess I learned something from you after all."
Xena stood. For one dreadful moment, Gabrielle imagined the Warrior just walking away. Xenas next statement eased her mind, slightly.
"Lets wait until we get off this mountain, then decide where to go. I dont want to lose you or spend any more time apart."
She hoisted her pack, and set off. Gabrielle followed a few paces behind.
"I do love you."
"I never doubted that, Xena."
By late afternoon the Warrior and Bard approached the last gentle slope that signaled the end of their downward trek. They paused beside a swift brook, trying to decide whether to camp at the mountains base or move on until darkness.
Gabrielle longed to travel far away from Mount Fuji as quickly as possible, her mind racing with memories of loss, thoughts of separation, and old longings. But when Xena suggested they make camp, she gave in to the weariness that had plagued her all day.
While her companion set lines in the stream to catch dinner, Gabrielle prepared their campsite. After starting a small fire, she gathered larger branches for bedding, then began to spread their blankets.
The Bard was studying the sleeping arrangements, debating whether to place the blankets side-by-side, when she heard the soft cry of a night bird. Instinctively, she turned toward the sunset and watched the orb sink below the horizon. From the deepening shadows she listened first to the sound of water, rushing and relentless, then to the rustle of a gentle breeze through the leaves of nearby maples. Again, she heard the birds lonely call, and, in the distance, the yielding resonance of ancient wood as something crossed a bridge. And beneath it all, she sensed a low, relentless beat an insistent throbbing of life moving on. She focused on that pulse alone, closing her eyes, willing its amplification. The pulsation grew and seemed to move closer. With a tiny gasp, Gabrielle identified the sound as the beating of a human heart -- not hers.
"Listen not just to the sounds-- but to whats behind the sounds."
The Bard remembered Xenas lesson at Higuchi and detected the heartbeats source. She turned to face the Warrior, who stood arms length away, staring intensely. For a long time, they remained like that Xena waiting, and Gabrielle studying the bluest eyes in the world.
In the end, Gabrielles own heart betrayed her. She opened her arms, and Xena filled them, claiming her lips with the tenderness and strength that meant "home."
Wonderful as it was, the kiss only kindled their desire. Both women craved more, and now.
Xena led her companion to the blanket-covered bed of branches. In one fluid motion, she lowered the Bard face down and straddled her, humming as her nimble fingers unlaced Gabrielles top, and danced along the edges of the dragon. The young woman moaned seductively as Xena rolled her onto her back and tugged away the first barrier.
After that, they forgot about dinner, and Mount Fuji, and ghosts.
Hours later, the tired, happy blonde nestled her head against a strong shoulder. She turned her face into the taller womans body and kissed soft skin above an inviting breast, inhaling the essence that was uniquely Xena. The Warrior cleared her throat; the Bard waited. After several minutes, her patience was rewarded.
Another long silence followed, but Gabrielle felt no need to prompt her soulmate. She knew Xena was struggling for the right words and decided the best help would be none at all.
"I suppose I could give the Amazons another try I did promise Queen Marga that Id check in on Varia."
Gabrielle propped herself up on an elbow and looked down at the woman she loved, her breath catching at the vision beneath her. Xenas features glowed in the light cast by the embers, her dark hair taking on the reddish tones of reflected fire. Gabrielle willed her voice to calmness.
"That would be wonderful," the Bard responded, relief evident in her tone. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, but no dancing this time, OK?"
She hugged the Warrior and resumed her customary cuddling position.
The Bard had just started to drift off when Xena chose to continue their conversation.
"Oh, and by the way ."
"Yes, Xena?" Gabrielle barely stifled a yawn.
"Can I have my chakram back?"
A sleepy voice in the night answered.
"Only if you agree that we buy another one on the way home, maybe in India when we visit Eve."
"You are so easy, Xena."
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