by: Katelin B.
Disclaimers and warnings in Part One
--just a quick note to say this part was a pain in the butt to put together, what with my computer crashing, and the Christmas holidays, and might not have existed if not for the constant badgering of two people. Blackfoot and Julie. Heres to you grrls. Blackfoot, please call off the mob, and Julie... put away the gun. :)
psst!!! email@example.com. *G*
...from part two...
The armored man smiled wolfishly and motioned for the guards to take the large Indian to the stream for bathing. Just before they hauled him away, the armored man grabbed Chakotays uniform front and tugged it once for emphasis. My name is Caesar, he said, Julius Caesar.
Chakotay blinked in shock, and let himself be dragged away.
... and now, Part Three...
Xena stared into the small campfire Gabrielle had lit when they stopped for the night, methodically sharpening her sword. A part of her was stunned that she could fall, so easily, into the habits of so long ago. Things she hadnt said or done in 2500 years, all came rushing back when she put on the leathers. They still fit like a second skin, Xena realized, proud that she had kept her figure for so long, but also worried at just how comfortable they made her feel. Like coming home.
She winced as she overextended her arm, her muscles taxed from the fighting earlier in the day. It was a sad admission that she wasnt nearly as fit as when she last wore these clothes, but it had never bothered her until now. For a moment, she wondered why it worried her so much, but chalked it up to just being in the leathers and going into battle. She knew centuries ago that her many skills were slipping, but that was during the time when the musket had been invented. It didnt bother her because she could defend Gabrielles blood from a distance, and not worry about missing a well aimed blade.
Xena paused in her sharpening, the rasping of stone on steel falling silent as a thought came to her. Today she had killed nearly a dozen men. She hadnt deliberately killed anyone since World War Three, and hadnt picked up a sword since the 1940s when she was going by the name of Melinda Pappas. She was shocked that it didnt upset her like it should have. Another strange feeling since putting the old leathers back on. Indifference to those that died under her blade. And that terrified her.
What are you thinking about?
Xenas eyes shot up and regarded Gabrielle as the little bard walked around the fire and sat down beside her on the fallen log. She went back to sharpening her sword, thinking about what to say. Its.... strange, she began softly, keeping her voice low so she wouldnt wake the slumbering Voyager crew, laying all around the clearing they camped in, Being back here.
I know what you mean, Gabrielle sighed, stretching her legs out in front of her towards the fire, I forgot how cold it gets at night. She shivered once for emphasis.
The rasping stopped again, and Xena dropped her sword to the ground, looking over at the little bard. Are you cold? she asked, that old worried frown crossing her face as she reached down and pulled her bed blanket off the ground, Here, put this around you so you dont catch something. Ill build up the fire a little more.
Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. No, Xena, she said softly, pushing the warriors hands away from her, the blanket still in them. Seeing Xena open her mouth to argue, the frown deepening from worry to stubborn determination, the bard held her hand up, placing a finger over the other womans lips. Xena, please dont worry about me, she continued, Im already dead. I died a long time ago, and no matter what Ares reason for bringing me back, Im on borrowed time. I dont know how long I have here with you, and I would rather not spend it arguing with your over protective side. She had grasped Xenas hands while she talked and gave them a small squeeze to take the sting off her words.
Xena bowed her head, eyes closed, while Gabrielle talked, knowing she was right... again... but every fiber in her wanting, needing, to protect the bard. I know Gabrielle, she choked out, struggling to keep her emotions tightly reined. She brought the smaller hands up to her lips and kissed them both gently before looking up. By the Gods, I have missed you so much.
Seeing the tears misting the her blue eyes, Gabrielle was barely able to keep her own from falling as she leaned forward and enveloped the warrior in a fierce hug. Ive always been with you, Xena, she whispered softly, hearing the dark haired woman sniffle as she lost her control over her emotions once again, And let me tell you, youre life has never been boring. She smiled when she heard Xena chuckle a bit, and pulled back, eager to look into those ocean blue eyes again.
Gabrielle gently wiped the warriors tears away, grinning widely. What? Xena asked, confusion marring her lovely features.
I was just thinking, she replied, shaking her head, STARship Voyager, hunh? She was referring to the long conversations during the walk, getting to know those people Xena lived among. Wanting to know them as she did.
Yeah, shes... Xena trailed off with a smirk, finally realizing the jab, Very funny. She knew Gabrielle was thinking about the long, sometimes heated, arguments they used to have about people traveling among the stars. She didnt believe it was possible, but the bard had been sure it would happen some day. Okay, Xena added with a mock scowl, So you were right... this time. The warrior retrieved her sword from where she had dropped it at her feet and resumed her methodical sharpening, but didnt miss the expression on Gabrielles face, nearly laughing out loud with the bard stuck her tongue out and crossed her eyes. But it took you 2500 years to prove it. Xenas last jab got a snort from the red head as she turned her attention back to the fire.
The comfortable silence stretched between them, broken only by the crackling of the fire, and the rasping of stone on steel as Xena sharpened her blade. Finally, Gabrielle chuckled again, her mind lost in thought. What now? the warrior prodded playfully, raising her eyebrow as her attention was, once again, drawn away from her task.
Oh, nothing, Gabrielle snickered, a huge grin spreading across her face. At Xenas unbelieving look she relented. Oh, okay, she continued, I was just thinking that when you do finally make it to the Elysian Fields, youre gonna have some heavy duty explaining to do.
Hunh? Xena was lost. She bit back the remark she was thinking about the possibility of still going to Tartarus to prevent an argument.
Janice Covington. Gabrielles grin became a wide smile at Xenas pained look.
Oh, no, the warrior muttered, dropping her sharpening stone and pinching the bridge of her nose, I forgot all about that. Was she really mad?
Well, Gabrielle said, trying not to laugh, remembering some of the expletives her archeologist descendant had used after the bards explanation of why Melinda wasnt already in the Fields, having supposedly died in a plane crash many years earlier, Lets see. The womans father spent his entire life searching for proof that you existed, then she took up the crusade, *found* said proof in my scrolls, and spent 40 some years trying to piece together your life, sometimes making wild assumptions so far off the mark that even *I* was laughing in the Fields! Then to find out that the *real* Xena was by her side during these discoveries for more than 15 years and never said a word to correct her..... Was she mad? Well..... what do *you* think?
Oh, boy, Xena muttered, and her look of defeat sent Gabrielle into fits of muffled laughter so hard that she fell off the log, flat on her back. Normally Xena would have reached out to catch her, but thought the shock and pain stop the bards mad giggling. It didnt work. Gabrielle only laughed harder at the warriors dark scowl, not even making a move to rise from where she lay on the ground.
Several moments passed before the bard regained control of herself, quieting down to listen to the newly continued sharpening. Remaining where she was, sprawled on the cold ground, Gabrielle allowed her mind to wander back over her time in the Elysian Fields without the warrior. Though she had been surrounded by family, hers and Xenas both, and later by her children and grandchildren, she had missed the dark haired woman terribly, feeling a deep emptiness in her soul.
For a long time after her crossing, Gabrielle had thought about Xenas visit to her on her deathbed, the moment that she realized she wouldnt see her in the Fields. Even though a still young Xena had taken away the pain in her aged and dying body, the pain in her heart had been unbearable. She had wanted so badly to tell the warrior of her love, but kept silent about it, believing that Xena could never return her love. In the 12 years of life they had been together, Gabrielle had thought about telling her many times, having loved her almost from the first time she saw her. Each time she balked, afraid that it would drive Xena away.
After her passing, she saw how truly wrong she had been. She heard Xenas thoughts, finally expressing the love she could never voice, begging forgiveness for not telling her in life. The pain in Xenas heart was mirrored by Gabrielle, making Elysia feel like Tartarus. Cyrene, Ephiny, Solari, and even Xenas younger brother, Lyceus, had tried to cheer her up, but it was no use. The bard knew she would only be happy again when the other half of her soul came to her. When Xena finally passed over and joined her in the Fields.
Many times she had called to Hades, begging him to have mercy and reunite them, pleading with him to send his sister, Celesta, to visit her warrior. It had continued for centuries, the God of the Underworld repeating that he could not change what a God had done. Even one that had once been mortal. Not even Mighty Zeus held that power.
And so she had listened. Listened to the thoughts that came to her from the land of the living. Xena had never been one to talk much, but in her thoughts she almost rambled. At first it had shocked Gabrielle, but as time passed, it became comforting, the warrior holding entire conversations, all though one sided, with her. Xena never forgot, nor did Gabrielle. She listened to the soft, warm, voice every day, and kept writing. She wrote of all Xenas adventures, through the different ages, documenting everything for the day the warrior joined her.
Looking back, there was only one time Gabrielle could remember that she had ever been scared for her warrior. When Janice had unlocked Ares tomb. She hadnt feared Xenas death; she had long wished for it. But it was a God who had cursed her, and a God, especially Ares, could keep them apart forever. She had feared for the warriors soul. Without me there, Gabrielle had thought, what would stop the War God from corrupting Xena once again.
The bard had been pleasantly surprised to see how much Xena had changed in her heart. She had been able to turn away from Ares influence without a moments hesitation, even adding a humiliating knee shot below the belt with the silent thought: Thats for you Gabrielle. Her heart had soared at that, a grin emerging on her face that didnt disappear for several days. Gabrielle had thought the War God buried for good due to her descendants quick thinking, but somehow she now knew that Ares had escaped. And he was back to his old tricks.
Dinar for your thoughts? Xena asked softly.
Gabrielle blinked up at her, realizing that the warriors sword was back in its scabbard. Shaking off the memories, the bard cleared her throat, remaining silent as grasped Xenas outstretched hand and was hauled back up to the log. Nothing really, she commented softly, Just remembering your fight with Ares in that tomb... She trailed off suddenly, looking down at her hands, still wrapped around Xenas larger one. And the day I crossed over. She added, her voice barely a whisper.
Xena remained silent, turning her head to stare into the flames of their campfire. Even after 2500 years, she still hadnt forgiven herself for not telling Gabrielle of her true feelings before the bard had been on her deathbed. She still considered herself a coward for letting her fear guide her, staying silent when they could have been so much more than friends. I-Im sorry, she finally whispered, forcing the words out around the growing lump in her throat.
For what, Xena? Gabrielle questioned gently, keeping her eyes on the warriors face, studying her pained expression.
For never telling you.... how much... how much I... love you. After centuries of silence, the words were finally spoken aloud, hesitantly spilling from Xenas lips just before the tears began rapidly spilling from her eyes.
Catching a glimpse of the wetness on the warriors cheek, the firelight shimmering on it, Gabrielle released Xenas hand and drew her into a fierce embrace, squeezing tightly. After a moment Xenas arms wrapped around her, returning the pressure, as her larger body began to shake, rocked with silent sobbing. Gabrielle made soft hushing noises while she held the warrior, not sure what else to do. She had never seen Xena in such a state. Finally, not sure of herself, Gabrielle spoke the words that she knew her warrior had needed to hear for millennia. Xena, she whispered softly into the dark haired womans ear, There is nothing to forgive.... I love you too. With all my heart and soul.
Gabrielles tears began falling, and the two women, separated for so long, cried quietly in each others arms. Each of their souls connected to its other half, after 2500 years of waiting, finally making them complete. That night, in a make believe world, on a plain where the living and the dead walked side by side, soulmates cried, talked and hugged, oblivious to everything, save each other. Reunited as friends, and finally united in love.
Morning, for once, came far too early for Xena. Wincing at the sunlight that she had grown used to being without in the darkness of space, she squinted her blue eyes to look around the camp, swiveling her head. The warrior refused to move her body just yet, comfortable where she was. Her strong arms wrapped lovingly around warm flesh, her long legs tangled with shorter ones.
Xena looked down at the tuft of reddish blonde hair, peeking out from the top of the blanket that covered them, and smiled widely, hugging her bard tightly. She still couldnt believe that the bard was in her arms. They had both decided anything more than just sleep would be unwise, traveling with so many, but for now it was enough just to hold each other. Still not much of a morning person, Gabrielle mumbled something unintelligible and snuggled closer, trying for a moment to find a patch of skin that wasnt covered by leather, before settling down again.
The warrior bit back a chuckle, though it still shook her form, but Gabrielle didnt respond again. Xena was more than a little shocked when soft laughter did sound in the camp, and whipped her head around, ready to leap to her feet.
Whoa, Xena! A very startled Harry Kim held his hands up, palms out in a gesture of surrender. He immediately hushed his voice to prevent waking the others. Morning, he smiled, sitting back on the log the two women had abandoned the night before, Didnt mean to scare you. He gave one of those sheepish grins that Xena had always thought reminded her of Gabrielle when the bard was in trouble.
Its okay Harry, Xena admitted, not at all angry, now that the shock had worn off, We have to get up anyway. She untangled all her limbs from the immobile bard and stood, glancing down with a shake of her head. Sometimes she wondered how Gabrielle could sleep so soundly, until she remembered that she had slept like that for a long time before ending up back here.
Harrys expression suddenly turned serious. Do you think well get Chakotay back? he asked, worried about the big Indian. He noticed the change on Xenas face, almost immediately, as it darkened with determination.
Even if I have to tear through Alterons army bare handed, she vowed, her voice almost a snarl from her lips. The warrior quickly shook of the dark thoughts of battle that had begun seeping into her mind and her expression softened visibly. Come on, Harry, she said, forcing a friendly smile, Time to get everyone up. Weve got a lot of walking to do. She moved for the tree line, and Harry watched her for a moment before speaking up.
Where are you going? he asked.
Youre hungry right?? Xena responded, unclipping the chakram from her waist and twirling it on a finger, We didnt have replicators in Ancient Greece. She smirked at his blush and disappeared into the greenwood, while the young ensign went about waking his superior officers.
A fierce clanking woke Chakotay out of his precious sleep. Knowing it was the guard making his pass every fifteen minutes, the Indian didnt even bother to open his eyes. He hoped to fall back to sleep again soon, but it was no use. The sounds of a camp waking up had reached his ears, and his survival instinct kept him awake and as alert as possible, considering the circumstances.
He shifted in the tiny cage, trying to plot out the lay of the surrounding land in his mind. He grunted and strained to turn around, but was severely hampered by the heavy iron shackles on his wrists and ankles. They had been placed there after the guards had forcefully scrubbed him clean in the *very* cold stream the night before, along with a thick collar. None of which could be removed except by a blacksmith, once they were hammered closed. With the last ping of the mallet, Chakotay had felt his hope begin to wash away, and it had been a struggle to keep it alive through the night. He was beginning to believe what the guards taunted him with. That his friends would never find him.
The Indian first officer knew he was to be transported to a ship in the harbor of a nearby town, and from there by sea to Rome. When the guards had thrown him back in his cell with a meager dinner of crusty bread and cheese, they had talked about the Coliseum in the great old city, and the Gladiator fights they hoped to see. Neither of them, from Chakotays knowledge of the conversation as his captors moved away, expected the former Maquis rebel to live past the first fight.
He had spent half the night planning, or trying to plan, escape, knowing that in the morning it would be harder, if not impossible for the captain to break him out. Each plan hinged on one small detail; getting out of the cell. That stumped him. Finally, as the fires from the camp flickered with dying light, exhaustion had forced his eyes to close, seeking whatever small amount of sleep he could find.
Now, seeing the sun peeking over the tree tops, Chakotay knew his time was running out. Caesar, or Qs image of Caesar, would be waking soon, and order that his new property be taken to his flagship in the neighboring towns harbor. Chakotay examined the lock on his cage for any weaknesses, and finally gave up. He knew there was no chance of him getting out of the cage, let alone the camp. Not alive at any rate. He would have to wait for his crewmates to show up and rescue him. As the big Indian leaned back, closing his eyes to catch whatever little sleep he could before the guard came back, he hoped Kathryn was all right, where ever she was. And he prayed to the Great Spirits that she would be here soon.
Fat or thin?
Are you Dagnon?
Hmm.... short hair?
Kathryn watched the interaction of the two women in front of her as they walked, listening to the odd conversation going back and forth. For a while, she had ignored it, thinking it none of her business, but as time wore on, her attention had been captured. Slowing her walk to bring her beside Harry, she leaned over and whispered. What are they doing?
Harry Kim flashed her a brilliant smile, the same one he had been wearing since waking them in camp. Actually it had been the wonderful smell of cooking meat that had woken Kathryn, her stomach letting her know that it demanded to be fed. And, surprisingly enough, the fact that it was rabbit hadnt bothered her in the slightest. She had even remarked to Xena that it was better than Neelixs cooking, which had brought a smile to the warriors face.
Its an old game they used to play to pass the time, Harry explained, thrilled that after hearing all the stories from Xena, he actually got to see the two women interact, Xena thinks of someone they know and Gabrielle gets to ask any question she wants to figure it out. Sort of like Twenty Questions.
Oh. Kathryn nodded in understanding, and walked silently for a while, listening to the two women chatter back and forth. She smiled, suppressing a chuckle as the questions became more and more ridiculous, earning the occasional sideways glance by Xena, that eyebrow, Kathryn had come to know so well, trying to merge with the warriors hairline.
After several minutes of silence, broken only by the occasional softly asked question, and similarly stated reply, a clear voice erupted. Hey!, Paris called from the rear of the group, Can we stop for a bit?? My feet are sore. Kathryn spun on her heel to level a glare at him, wondering, not for the first time, how someone so lazy and undisciplined could ever have graduated from StarFleet Academy.
Good idea, Xena piped up, pausing the game she was playing with Gabrielle, From the sounds of it, theres water nearby. Without another word, the dark warrior changed direction and marched off into the woods lining the road they traveled.
Kathryns eyes shifted to Gabrielle, noticing the bard shake her head and set off down the same path Xena had just taken. Lets go, the captain ordered, and the officers ambled forward, wondering where they were being taken.
A few moments later, they emerged into a clearing much the same as the one they had camped in the night before. Except that there was a large creek flowing nearby. Hungry? Xenas voice sounded by the waters edge as she approached them.
Gabrielle grinned widely and gave a soft chuckle. Yeah, she responded, I could eat.
Xena huffed good-naturedly. Big surprise. I see nothing has changed. She smiled and began unlacing her boots.
Xena, Kathryn finally spoke up, Do we really have time for a swim? The warrior merely looked at her with that eyebrow lifted to the sky and removed her boots, wading into the gurgling water.
Gabrielle walked up beside Kathryn and motioned her to sit. The bard lowered herself to a rock on the shore and she did the same. Just watch, Gabrielles soft voice reached her ears.
Kathryn kept her eyes on Xena, feeling the presence of her crew behind her. Gabrielle asked Harry and Tom to collect some dry wood, watching with a smile as they had hurried away to do her bidding. Harry, because he respected her, and Tom because he was trying to make up for the previous days remark that had upset Xena so much.
Gabrielles ears picked up the sound of a splash and a muted gasp from the woman sitting beside her, and inwardly cursed, knowing she had missed Xenas lightening fast reflexes. The bard turned back to the water with her eyes closed, knowing what was coming, just before the cold wriggling fish hit her right in the chest. Nice shot! she called sarcastically, and picked up the flopping fish, tossing it over her shoulder to BElanna.
The Klingon caught it with a startled squawk, juggling its still floundering body in her hands until she finally got a good grip on the tail and slammed its head into a nearby tree. Ugh, she muttered with a scowl, holding the dead trout at arms length, like a poisonous snake.
Kathryn looked over at Gabrielle, her eyes wide with disbelief. How... where?? she sputtered, gesturing to the warrior, still thigh deep in the creek, peering into the water.
Gabrielle merely smiled sweetly. She has many skills, was all she said before turning her attention back to Xena, not wanting to get caught off guard by another cold, wriggling fish hitting her chest.
The cycle continued until Xena had caught enough fish for their lunch, Tuvok even catching some of the poorly aimed tosses from Gabrielle. His reaction was of course much more subdued that the Klingons, but each wriggling trout earned a raised eyebrow that made Gabrielle laugh it was so close to Xenas favorite expression.
Waiting for the fish to cook on the hastily constructed spit, the crew rested and soothed their aching feet. Xena checked the fire occasionally, keeping it hot enough to cook, but small enough that it wouldnt burn the food. Xena had warned them that they would have to eat on the move, and there would be no more stops before finding Alterons camp as they didnt have the time to waste. That was said with a look leveled at Paris, silently expressing that the words were especially meant for him, smirking in satisfaction as he looked down at his feet, unable to meet her eyes.
Smelling that the fish were nearly done, Xena stopped adding branches to the fire, wanting it to burn down a bit before they snuffed it out with sand. She stared into the shrinking flames, hoping that Chakotay was still okay.
Chakotay was awake when Caesar came to collect his new slave, having the guards haul him out of the cage with as much force as possible. The First Officer said nothing as he hit the ground, biting back a sharp retort that he knew would get him the business end of the whip Caesar was carrying. Time to go, friend of Xena, he smirked, gesturing to the guards to pick him off the ground.
Chakotay grunted as he was half carried to the supply wagon and tossed into the back. He watched Caesars Roman guards climb in beside him as the man himself mounted an armor covered white stallion. Before the wagon lurched into motion, Chakotay scanned the trees once more, futily looking for any sign that his crew mates had arrived and were waiting for the perfect time to attack.
He saw nothing, and sighed quietly in defeat, knowing it was soon going to be hopeless for them to attempt a rescue. Chakotay hung his head, staring at the chains that held him prisoner, and idly found himself wondering if he would have been in similar restraints had Voyager made it back to Federation space. He knew it was a moot point now, convinced that he was going to spend the rest of his short life in this strange Q-created world, but the thought still crowded his thoughts. It just wouldnt go away.
Caesar turned his head and must have caught Chakotays defeated expression, because he smiled and started to laugh. You think Xena has forgotten about you? he asked, not really needing an answer. It was plain enough on the Indians face. Shell be here, slave, he continued, his eyes leaving the chained man to scan the woods on either side of the uneven dirt road, She was nothing if not predictable in the time that I knew her.
The way that Caesar had spoken made the First Officer flinch, a terrible thought popping to mind. He studied the Roman Commanders face for any sign that what he had said was true, but couldnt decide before Caesar spoke again.
Youre wondering if Im real, or just another shadow from the minds of the Gods, he stated, that annoying smirk settling on his face again, I am just as real as she is, *Commander* Chakotay. Brought out of Tartarus for the sole purpose of tormenting Xena. But I got a better offer. Im going to make sure the warrior princess is condemned for eternity. The smile that crossed his face nearly made Chakotay lose what little food he had in his stomach. Something in him knew there was more to this whole situation than a foolish prank simply created for Qs enjoyment. It didnt seem like Qs style to attack such a sensitive spot.
Chakotay leaned back in the wagon, seeming to sleep, but under his closed eyelids, his mind was racing with ideas of how to escape and warn the others about Caesar. He didnt know how, but somewhere along the line, this had ceased to be just a prank, and was now a very real threat to his life, and the lives of his crewmates.
Xena and the Voyager crew had barely finished eating their fish by the time they came upon the outer perimeter guards for Alterons camp. Xena had heard movement other than that of her group and with a quick hand signal, gestured them to be silent so she could focus on the sounds.
The warrior princess whispered for them to hide in the trees near the roadside as she crept toward the voices that only she could hear. Moving with the stealth of a jungle cat, she slunk through the bushes, peering ahead to catch sight of her prey. Pleased that some of her skills were just as good as they had been 2500 years ago, Xena allowed a small smile as she studied the men at the guard post.
She heard a soft rustling behind her and spun around, chakram raised for a killing throw. When she caught sight of a shocked Gabrielle, holding her hands up in surrender, Xena rolled her eyes and gestured silently for the bard to go back to the others. She wasnt at all surprised to see Gabrielle shake her head vigorously, pointing stubbornly to the ground she was standing on. Xena had seen that motion and determined expression enough to know that the little redhead wouldnt be sent back, and that she was staying right where she was.
Finally, with a glare of her icy blue eyes, Xena relented and motioned Gabrielle to come up beside her quietly so they could talk. We have to find out where theyre keeping Chakotay, she whispered, pointing to the five guards lazing about the campfire, drinking wine out of a skin. The military leader in her was disgusted at their lack of attention, remembering that no one in her army had dared to be so careless, because they knew the penalty was death. Usually she was the one that did the killing for such laziness, and none of the men wanted to be on the business end of her whip after seeing her flog one of her men to death for letting a slave escape.
With a scowl, Xena forced the old memories away to focus on Gabrielles hushed voice. Is it only the five of them? she asked, gripping her staff a little tighter in her white knuckled hands. It had been a long time since she had used her staff, not having one to practice with in the Elysian Fields, and not really needing a reason to keep her skills up.
Ive only seen the five, Xena confirmed quietly, pointing to the tethered horses at the edge of the clearing, And there are only five horses. She looked over to study Gabrielles expression before speaking again. Gabrielle, you dont have to go out there, she said, placing a hand on the smaller womans shoulder, I know you havent used that staff in a long time.
Gabrielle smiled, wondering at times if Xena could always read her thoughts like that just from the expression on her face. Xena, its just like swimming, she reassured, Once you learn, you never forget. She looked into worried blue eyes before adding. Ill be fine. Hey, it will be just like old times. Gabrielle flashed her warrior a brilliant smile, and Xena couldnt help but mirror it.
Okay, lets go, Xena nodded, taking a deep breath, But...
I know, I know. Be careful, Gabrielle interrupted with a smile. Suddenly her face turned serious and she grasped Xenas hand, staring deep into those blue eyes that she loved to get lost in, You too.
I promise, was the warriors only reply before turning her attention to the group of men around the fire and setting her chakram in motion with a flick of her wrist. She watched it spin, cutting through the air with a soft whine, and grimaced when it missed her intended target as he reached for the wine skin at the last moment, instead hitting the man next to him and ricocheting the wrong way to imbed itself deep in a tree.
Leaping to her feet, Xena drew her sword and screamed her war cry, charging toward the startled men, silently cursing herself for attempting such a stunt after so long without her prized weapon. Swords met with a clash and Xena allowed the men to circle her, making them think they had the upper hand on her. That feral smile appeared on her face as she slashed under one soldiers defenses, splitting his belly in a wide arch, and watching in satisfaction as his innards began to spill forth.
The warrior princess was so consumed in the battle that she didnt even notice Gabrielle enter the fray until she heard the unmistakable sound of metal on wood. Risking a quick glance in between parries with her current opponent, Xena caught sight of the bard, swinging her staff like she had never been without it. Confident that her soulmate was safe for the moment, Xena laughed wickedly, allowing herself to revel in the battle lust that filled her as she continued her fencing with renewed vigor.
The soldier that was her opponent, unable to keep up with her strength and intensity, fell quickly to her blade, and Xena turned to take on the last two fighters. She was more than a little surprised to see that Gabrielle was holding them both off, and gaining ground. The warrior princess watched in mild fascination, and great pride as her bard felled one soldier with a blow to the temple, and continued blocking the wild swings from the only remaining guard.
Xenas eyes darted from Gabrielle to the tree line as a movement caught her eye. Tensed for reinforcements, she held her sword at ready, only to see Kathryn and her other crewmates burst into the clearing, drawn by the sounds of the fight.
A cry of pain reached Xenas ears and she turned back to Gabrielle in time to see the final soldier fall to her staff. Very nice, Xena commented proudly with a half grin, her eyes shining with left over adrenaline. Gabrielles answering smile made her heart leap into her throat. She always looked so beautiful after a fight, the warrior thought, her breathing a little irregular.
Hey! This one is starting to wake up! It was BElanna, her foot pinning the soldier to the ground as he squirmed.
Xena calmly sheathed her sword, knowing he would be of no more trouble and sauntered over, stopping to retrieve her chakram from the tree it had planted itself in, the stone warriors mask firmly in place for the intimidation factor. She recognized him as the first soldier to fall, having been struck with that same, and somewhat poorly aimed weapon. Well, Xena said, making her voice sweet, I take it you know who I am?
A rapid nod from the wide eyed soldier.
Good. Now, why dont you be a good prisoner and tell me where they keep the slaves. One in particular. He has a tattoo on his forehead.
The prone soldiers eyes narrowed, and he shook his head. Apparently he hadnt been told everything about the warrior princess, or just how dangerous she really was.
I dont have time for this, Xena muttered and crouched down beside him, not moving BElannas foot from his chest. Three quick taps on his throat and his eyes began bulging, the tendons on his neck sticking out with strain. I should tell you that Ive just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. Youll be dead in 30 seconds if I dont release you, she informed him calmly, Of course, its been quite a while since I tried this on anyone... Im not sure if I still remember how to take it off. She smiled sweetly. Perhaps if you tell me what I want to know, Ill remember quicker.
He.... was..... sold! the soldier forced out, his face turning red from lack of oxygen.
I want a name, Xena hissed, her determination to rescue Gabrielles descendant growing by the second.
See.... *koff*...... Caesar! The soldiers breathing had become labored, a trickle of blood emerging from his left nostril. Stunned, Xena hesitated for only the briefest of moments before releasing the soldier, who slumped back, resting his head on the hard ground, gasping for breath as the feeling came back to his body. Distractedly, the warrior princess knocked him out again with a solid punch and stood up, dusting off her knees.
Gabrielle had heard the soldiers admissions and stood by her warrior in silence, knowing she shouldnt ask what they were going to do. The bard, after so much time spent learning Xenas expressions, read the pain and frustration on her face, and put a comforting hand on her arm.
Xena spared a glance over at the smaller woman who was her life, forcing a smile. She didnt want Gabrielle to worry about her more than she already did, but this was something she hadnt expected. She never even considered that Ares would sink to this level with her. Xena forced the walls up again, scanning the surrounding area and coming to a decision.
Caesar wouldnt have come this far over land, she muttered, half to herself, Hed have a ship waiting. Walking over to the horses, she untethered one, a deep chestnut mare in good condition and mounted smoothly, thanking the Fates that she had kept up with her equestrian skills. Gabrielle, she said, settling herself in the unfamiliar saddle, Were not far from Potedeia. Wheres the nearest harbor?
Gabrielle blinked at her for a moment, then frowned in concentration, trying to remember a time so long ago. Um, that would have to be Damoria, she replied, About 15 leagues from here I guess. Her question of what they were going to do was cut off before she could open her mouth as Xena kicked the mare into motion and galloped down the path south to the road that would lead her to Damoria.
Hades!! Gabrielle cursed, running for the other horses, I always hated it when she did that! She began untethering them and spared a glance back at the Voyager crew members. Well?? she snapped, her worry for Xena making her patience wear thin, Are you going to help me or just stand there and wait for these guys to wake up??
As one, they ran over to her, mounting the remaining four horses. Kathryn kicked her horse into gear with a loud Hyah!!, the little bard gripping her waist tightly. She didnt have to worry about her crew, hearing the rapid hoofbeats close behind, and having Gabrielle right behind her meant she didnt have to worry about getting lost. She could just concentrate on riding as fast as possible, wanting to catch up to Xena before the fighting began.
BElanna was close behind the captain, Harry sitting behind her, a firm hold around her stomach. Tom and Tuvok, though a little slower mounting their steeds, were riding alone and therefore, closing the distance behind her. None of them spoke, most too concerned with staying on the animals they rode to even try forming speech. The heavy war-horses pounded the dirt, not understanding the need for such speed, but obeying their riders, who urged them even faster down the same road that Xena had taken so few moments earlier that the cloud of dust from her passing still hung in the air.
Chakotay jerked when the wagon stopped, and noticed the buildings around them, realizing that he must have fallen asleep at some point. He had no idea how long he had slept, but the sun looked to be in the same place in the sky, so he knew it couldnt have been very long. All right, slave, one of the Roman guards barked, grabbing Chakotay by the chain that connected the wrist shackles to the collar around his neck, Lets go! A strong tug and the Indian First Officer was dragged off the back of the wagon, landing face down in the dirt with a grunt of pain.
Be careful, fool! Caesars voice reached his ears, Hell be no good as a gladiator if you kill him before we reach Rome!
The guards hauled Chakotay to his feet, albeit a little more gently than they had helped him out of the wagon, and prodded him down the street. Where are you taking me? he questioned, hoping futily to stall for time.
Shut up! the rough guard commanded with a firm shove to the middle of the shackled mans back. Chakotay stumbled, but remained on his feet, and wisely kept his mouth shut. Instead of talking, the First Officer used his eyes for information, peering down the short street between him and the docks. A massive Roman battle ship was moored in the bay, and a wooden launch with the same intricate metal workings down its side was tethered to the nearest dock.
Chakotay knew, with a sinking feeling in his heart, that his time had run out. Not one to give up without a fight, he jerked his arms, trying to struggle with the Roman guards as they shoved him down the dock, toward the launch that waited. The guards only tugged on his chains and shoved harder. In his weakened condition, from too little sleep and not nearly enough food or water, Chakotay was no match for them and gave up, matching their slow pace, resigned to his fate.
Xena pushed the unfamiliar mare as hard as she dared toward Demoria, hoping she wasnt too late to save Chakotay. Reaching the outskirts of the small fishing village, Xena reined back the lathered horse, and leapt from its back, turning to a small boy who had seen her approaching. You, boy! she called, slightly out of breath, Which way to the docks?
Too stunned to speak, the young boy merely pointed down the road and squeaked in surprise as Xena slapped the reins into his hand and took off running. Her feet kicked up the dirt as she sprinted in the direction the boy had gestured, never once looking back. Her determination grew with each step until she was no longer just Xena, the tortured soul who had been forced to live eternally in suffering. She was an avenging force, a harbinger of death for any who dared stand between her and Chakotay.
Rounding a curve in the street, Xena finally caught sight of the Roman armor, and among the soldiers... one StarFleet uniform. A growl of primal rage burst from her throat as she tore down the street toward them, unclipping her chakram from her belt once more. People who saw her coming darted out of her way, afraid of the demon that had entered their town. CHAKOTAY!!! she screamed, putting on an extra burst of speed as she passed the abandoned wagon, and raced down the dock.
Chakotay turned around at the voice, a huge smile on his face. When he saw her, his eyes went wide with shock, realizing that he was indeed seeing the warrior princess from the tale Xena had told them in the story circle. XENA!!! he bellowed back, struggling with the guards again. A look at their faces showed pure fear. Obviously, he thought with grim satisfaction, theyve heard of her.
Caesar laughed heartily at Xenas appearance and stood between her and the guards. Get him to the ship, he ordered, drawing his sword. He stood his ground, sword pointed straight out to stop her advance, rather than be skewered on his short sword.
Get out of my way, Xena snarled, her lips pulled back in anger.
Its been a long time, Xena, he said with a smile, taking a half hearted slash at her midsection, I was wondering when you were going to show up. Youre late. You must be losing your skills after being coddled for so many centuries.
Xenas eyes widened in shock for only a moment before narrowing again, Ares game finally all clear to her. Ive beaten you before, Caesar, she snapped, drawing her sword with graceful ease, I was better than you then. And Im still better than you are.
Lets just see about that, Warrior Princess, he snapped, bringing his sword down heavily on hers, the resounding clash of metal on metal being heard all over town.
Even Kathryn, who had just pulled up her steed, caught the sound, knowing immediately what it was. This way! the Captain called and kicked her horse into motion again, screaming at the villagers to get out of her way. The Voyager crew followed quickly, worry for their missing crewman foremost in their minds.
Kathryn rounded the same corner that Xena had taken only moments before and caught sight of the battle. Looking over Kathryns shoulder, Gabrielle also saw what was happening and squeaked in surprise, leaping off the back of the stopped horse to run the rest of the way.
Xena was unaware of the others arriving, too intent on sending Caesar back to Hades. She parried his blows one after another, never giving ground, but never gaining either. She knew each moment she wasted fighting her old enemy the launch was getting further from shore and she had to end it quickly if she wanted to reach Chakotay before he was too far away for even her to jump.
I really missed never having you beside me in Tartarus, Xena, Caesar taunted, that annoying grin still plastered to his face, You really should see what its like down there.
Xena spotted her opening and thrust her sword under Caesars ribcage, tearing into his belly and twisting the blade savagely. She took in his look of shocked pain and smiled wickedly. Send me a postcard, was all she said before he slumped off her blade, landing in his own blood.
She was off and running before Caesars body even stopped moving, needing to gain enough speed for the impossibly long jump she had to make. Nearing the end of the dock, she bent her knees, her lithe body coiled tight as a spring aching to be released. It was then that she heard it. Xeeeee-naaaaa. A terrible voice that sent shivers up her spine and stopped her dead in her tracks.
Afraid to turn around and confirm what her mind was telling her, Xena stared at the wooden launch, watching it slowly creep through the water, widening the distance between it and the dock. Steeling herself for the sight she was sure to see, the warrior princess put on her emotionless mask again and pivoted around slowly. She was not prepared for the sight that her eyes met.
Oh, it *was* Callisto, her arch-nemesis from days long ago, the mortal-made-Goddess that had inflicted the terrible curse of immortality upon her. Still resplendent in her armor, the insane blonde pinned Xena with her gaze, and cackled evilly. All this Xena knew well. And expected. But what she couldnt bear to see was her precious bard, held in the mad womans grip, her beautiful blue eyes bulging from lack of oxygen as the God empowered hand squeezed her throat tightly.
Xena watched silently as BElanna and Tuvok made a dive at the mad Goddess only to be batted away as if they were flies. Mere insects not worthy of a Gods time. Callisto cackled insanely and warned them all not to interfere. I have no interest in any of you, she hissed, her pale, almost white eyes scanning them one by one, But if you ruin my fun with Xena Ill kill the annoying blonde and then come after all of you. Her eyes crackled with small charges of lightning, emphasizing her promise to them as she gave the bard a little shake to make her gasp.
Gabrielle! Xena shouted in alarm, taking a step forward, only to be stopped by Callistos outstretched hand. Ah, ah, Xena, she grinned, giving the bard another shake, Not yet. She gave a dramatic sigh and rolled her eyes. What to do, what to do, she continued in sing-song fashion, biting her bottom lip, as if in deep thought, Two in danger, only time enough to save one. Such a tough decision. You know, I really missed these games we played Xena.
Im not going to play games with you Callisto, Xena said calmly, her face showing none of the raging fear she felt for Gabrielles safety in the arms of the blonde mad woman. She tensed for a moment, wondering at the next move.
Oh, all right, Callisto sighed dramatically, releasing Gabrielles throat and spinning the bard around to look her in the eye, I guess Xena doesnt want to play. Too bad Gabrielle. A flick of her wrist where Xena couldnt see it, hidden by having the bards back to her, and Callisto stepped back, a small chuckle forming in her throat that grew until it was full throated laughter.
Xena watched with wide eyes as Gabrielles head dropped to look down at something. Only a moment passed before she was filled with a terrible dread from the look of shock she caught on Kathryns face, and raced forward, catching Gabrielle just as her knees buckled. Xenas eyes went wide, finally seeing what the bard had been looking down at when Callisto had moved away. Gods, no.... she whispered, dropping to her knees, cradling her soulmate tenderly, Gabrielle.... please dont leave me again. I love you.
Xe... Xena, Gabrielle rasped, blood already coloring her teeth, the coppery smell strong on her breath, Love..... love you... Her small body spasmed in pain before growing deathly still, her soft blue eyes gazing sightlessly at the warrior.
Xena watched the light leave Gabrielles eyes for the second time in her life and felt the emptiness fill her like a void. The tears came, pouring down her cheeks in rivers as she threw her head back and screamed her pain to the sky, sounding more like a wild animal than a grieving woman.
Kathryn watched, blinking away tears of her own at the pain she witnessed, wondering if such heartache could be survived twice in one life. She felt positive that Xena would go mad from the loss. Wanting to offer some measure of comfort to the woman, the captain took a step forward, only to be stopped by a sudden flash of light and a hand on her shoulder.
Spinning around, trying to ignore the wretched sobbing that filled her ears, she came face to face with Q. Not as he had appeared to Xena in the form of Ares, but the image she had come to know onboard Voyager. What now?!! she bellowed, batting his hand away angrily, blaming him for the bards death, Havent you caused enough pain for one day?!! Kathryn was about two seconds away from taking a swing at him.
I never intended this Kathryn, he said softly, frowning over her shoulder at, the still giggling, Callisto, But I will set it right. He moved around her, toward the mad Goddess, tossing one last statement over his shoulder barely loud enough for her keen ears to pick up. I owe her that much.
Kathryn watched as Q approached Callisto, noticing the anger in his gait, and wondering at it. She had never seen him in anything less than a jovial mood. But now he seemed fairly seething with anger. And it worried her, knowing just how powerful he really was.
Callisto!! he bellowed, stopping between the Goddess and Xena, spoiling the mad womans view, How dare you ruin my fun!!
Hey, Callisto retorted trying to peer around his body at the sobbing warrior princess, still on her knees, cradling the body of her soulmate, I think this is a lot of fun! She cackled again.
Q huffed angrily and waved his arm. Explain that to the Continuum, he said just as another flash of light took her away screaming in anger. He then turned, facing Xenas back and waved the same hand over her head, a little shocked that she didnt even notice him there. Thats the best I can do, Xena, he whispered, and just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone in another flash of light.
Great, Tom blurted, placing his hands on his hips, Now what do we do? I really dont think I was cut out to be a farmer. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the make believe world Q had created for his entertainment vanished around them, a blinding light transporting them back to Voyagers conference room.
A little disoriented, Kathryn blinked and looked around at the faces of her officers, smiling in relief when her eyes found Chakotay, safe and unharmed. The smile quickly vanished, however, when she looked to Xenas chair. The warrior princess was sitting there with them, in her gold StarFleet uniform, but the haunted look in her eyes made Kathryns heart ache in sympathy.
Not knowing what to say to the devastated woman, Kathryn opted for nothing and quietly dismissed her officers to get some much needed rest. Once everyone had gone, Xena included, the Captain leaned back in her chair and sighed heavily. She had watched the dark haired woman leave with the others, her movements mechanical, like she wasnt really aware of what she was doing. Kathryn wondered if that was how she had reacted the first time her Gabrielle had died, but tossed the thought away, wanting to put everything behind her.
She knew it wouldnt be easy to forget what had happened, but she knew she had to try. Kathryn thought back to what Q had said to Xena after sending Callisto back to the Continuum, but couldnt make any sense of it. Maybe Ill think better with some sleep, she reasoned silently, and stood to leave. Kathryn considered stopping by Xenas quarters to see if she could help, but decided quickly that it wasnt a good time. She wondered idly, as she boarded the turbolift, if it would ever be a good time.
Epilogue: Two Weeks Later...
Kathryn entered her Ready Room and tugged at the collar of her dress uniform wearily. Flopping down on the sofa, she closed her eyes and finally allowed the tears to come. Not of sorrow, but of relief. The tears were few as they always were with her, and a small smile accompanied them.
Tugging the pins out of her hair, Kathryn shook it free, letting the natural waves fall onto her shoulders. She hadnt gotten much sleep since the transporter accident, with the investigations pending and finally working half the previous night on a speech she was expected to give being Captain of the ship. There were so many things she had wanted to say, but couldnt. It had been hard to come up with something generic when the woman had been so magnificent.
I thought the speech was fine, Kathryn, a voice floated to her ears. Kathryns eyes shot open and she scanned the room for only a moment before seeing Q, sitting in her chair, his feet crossed on her desk.
What are you doing here? she asked tiredly, quickly wiping away her tears, not really in the mood to fight.
I didnt come to annoy you, Kathryn, he said calmly, holding up his hands in surrender.
Thats a first, she remarked sarcastically, I dont need to argue with you right now, Q. Voyager lost someone special today.
I know. Silence. I came to offer my condolences. How do you think it became *possible* for her to die, anyway?
You know, I wondered what you meant back there when you waved your hand over her. Now I think I understand.
Q removed his feet from the desk and stood, flashing up a bottle of champagne and two glasses. It *was* the best I could do, Kathryn, he said softly, pouring the bubbly liquid slowly into the flutes, I just couldnt bring myself to kill her, even though she used to drive me absolutely mad with her meddling. He smiled at that, and was pleased to see Kathryn smile a little as well. Q offered her one of the glasses and took the other for himself. What should we drink to? he asked, holding up his champagne.
Kathryn thought for a moment about Xena and Gabrielle, and their love for one another. She considered toasting to true love, but it sounded too corny. Even for her. She didnt want Xena kicking her butt in Elysia or Heaven or where ever when she got there. A soft smile emerged as she raised her glass and held it next to Qs as she spoke. To the end of one womans eternal suffering.
Q touched his glass to hers with a grin. Ill drink to that.
Kathryn sipped her champagne and looked out at the stars, smiling. Remembering something shed heard not too long ago about the dead being able to hear the thoughts of the living, Kathryn began to think. Good bye Xena. I know youll be happy with Gabrielle. Rest in Peace, my friends... youve definitely earned it.
In a far away meadow, hidden in the tall grasses, two women tangled around each other, sweaty and exhausted from recent lovemaking, heard the voice that drifted to them on the wind. They opened their eyes and smiled as one, gazing up at the cloudless sky.
--- Comments?? Or even a Thank the Gods its finished!!! can be sent to you know who! *G* Peace and love all!!
The Bard's Corner