DISCLAIMER: All characters and their backgrounds mentioned in this story which are also present in the television show Xena: Warrior Princess and/or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys are the sole property of MCA/Renaissance Pictures and the author intended no copyright infringement. All other characters not already owned belong to the author and copyright laws apply. This story cannot be archived without permission from the author. If permission has been granted, this complete disclaimer must be attached along with any other general notes and warnings.

HURT/COMFORT WARNING (18+): Okay, I've given it some thought and I've decided to put an 18+ rating on this. I don't like putting age limits on my stories because I like everyone to be able to enjoy them, but I had no choice with this one. There is more than a little violence in here so anyone with an overactive imagination who is prone to nightmares might like to give this story a miss. If descriptions of torture give you the shivers, then I advise you go and buy those M&M's. The torture scenes aren't as graphically descriptive as some other stories I've read, but it is still pretty uncomfortable to read. I would remove it from the story all together, but it's necessary to support the story lines. The most horrendous torture scenes have been cleverly manipulated (if I do say so myself) so descriptions weren't necessary to give the same effect. The author is not responsible for anyone who does not heed this warning.

NOTE: This is my modest tribute to the beautiful movie Ghost that inspired my first Internet nickname. It's also a tribute to a wonderful animated series called Wyrd Sisters.

NOTE II: I needed a name for an Ancient Greek drug, but couldn't find a relevant book in my house. Not knowing what else to do, I let my muse loose and she came up with "Polter". Her definition of Polter is: a powerful, tasteless drug that renders the victim unconscious for a period of 6 hours, no matter how large the quantity consumed. Its only giveaway is the faint aroma of fern leaves (they are a main ingredient). Once the smallest amount has been consumed, the victim loses consciousness. The rate at which this happens depends on the physical strength and overall size of the victim -- the stronger and larger the victim, the longer the drug takes to work.

NOTE III: You may have noticed from the disclaimer that this is my first story with Hercules in it. Let's just say I felt it needed a man's touch.

NOTE IV: There is no subtext in this piece unless you want to read that way. I've written in as closely as I could to the way X:WP treats subtext so it can be interpreted any which way you choose. Aren't I so nice? Now, if only I could cut down on the length of these notes ....

A Shade Less Ordinary

By

Xenrielle
xenriele@ozemail.com.au

1998

"We didn't order these," Xena stated as a young woman, no older than 20 winters but already wearing a metal slave collar round her neck, placed a plate of nutbread and a mug of port on their table.

"I know," she stated, moving to the next table to clear away the plates from the previous customers. "The woman in that far corner did." She nodded towards a smiling villager sitting at a table in the rear of the tavern. The woman waved happily when Xena and Gabrielle looked in her direction.

"I just wanted to thank you again for saving my son," she called across the room.

"No need," the bard called back. "It's all in a day's work for my friend here." She grinned when she saw the warrior's exasperated expression out of the corner of her eye.

"I know, but I'm just so grateful. Thank you from us all!" She stretched out her arms and the group of villagers at her table waved happily. Gabrielle waved back and Xena gave them a small smile.

The bard sighed contentedly and turned back to the warrior, the villagers now engrossed in conversation with each other.

"Doesn't that give you a nice feeling? Did you see how happy those people were?"

"Yeah," Xena said simply.

"And look at this!" Gabrielle looked down at her plate with a huge grin on her face. "Nutbread! I wonder how she knew I love nutbread." She licked her lips hungrily and the warrior chuckled.

"The expression you're wearing now gives it away I think. It's pretty obvious where your taste buds lie." Xena took a generous swig from her mug when the bard shot her a look.

"Mmmuph mmoog phhumt," Gabrielle retorted with her mouth full.

"Hey! I just call it as I see it," the warrior said with a laugh. She took another sip from the mug and closed her eyes for an instant, savouring the feeling as the port warmed her stomach.

"Uh ... Xena?"

"Hmm mmm?" she said, her eyes still closed.

"I ... uh ... don't feel so good all of a sudden."

Xena opened her eyes just in time to see the bard slump forward onto the tavern table, unconscious.

"Gabrielle?" The warrior reached across the table and felt for a pulse, noticing that it was slow, but strong. She picked up a piece of the nutbread the bard had been eating and smelled it; the faint aroma of fern leaves filled her nostrils. Gabrielle had been drugged with what seemed to be Polter and it was more than likely the same drug was in the warrior's Port. A lightheaded feeling soon answered Xena's question and she slumped forward onto the table as everything went black.

* * *

"Wakie, wakie little warrior. Time to rise and shine. You don't want your friend to be tortured alone, do you? Of course not! Now wake up!"

A sharp pain shot through Xena's left shoulder and the warrior cried out in surprise, her eyes opening in bewilderment. She had no idea where she was, or how she got there. And she had no idea why this villager was standing over her with an iron rod in his hand. She struggled to stand up but the chains around her wrists and ankles prevented her from doing so and she only succeeded in making a lot of loud clanging noises as she fought her fetters.

"Ah! Good to see you still have that famous fire left in you after the drugging," said a woman's voice from the doorway. "Yeah, sorry I had to do that, but we both know you wouldn't have come here otherwise."

Xena tried to see the speaker's face, but the light coming in through the doorway cast a dark shadow over the woman and the warrior couldn't make out any features. Except for the metal collar around her neck.

"You're the woman who served us in the tavern," Gabrielle said. She too had noticed the slave collar and was grateful for the chance to divert her torturer's attention. She had been roughly woken up a few minutes before Xena with the same iron bar, but he had hit her a few more times when she had started to lose consciousness again. Never before in all her life had she experienced so much pain. She was certainly not looking forward to going through it again, and any small diversion that would delay the inevitable was fine with her.

"By the Gods, you're quick today," the woman said mockingly as she stepped into the dungeon. She tossed a metal collar to the man standing over Xena.

"Put that on her. I want all precautions taken with the Warrior Princess. We can't have her breaking free while we torture her little friend, now, can we." It was more a statement than a question and Xena struggled violently as three men grabbed her shoulders and head, holding her steady. The first man attached the collar to her neck, then an additional chain to the collar before stepping away. The other men checked that it was secure before stepping away quickly. The warrior was being treated like a wild animal and she acted that way by fighting with all her strength against the cold restraints.

"Good," the woman said with a Callisto-like smile to the men. "Now that that's settled, you can have some fun with the blond." She let out a laugh and turned to exit the dungeon, but not before giving the warrior a look burning with abhorrence. The heavy wooden door slammed shut as the other men left the room.

"Have they all gone?" Hope crept into the bard's voice but Xena's attention was on a particular shadow in a corner of the cell.

"Sorry to disappoint," the man stated as he stepped out into the dim lighting of the dungeon. He was a large man with a large scar across his left eye. He had a short dark brown beard that contrasted severally with his perfectly bald head. He wore torn clothes that had layer upon layer of dirt trodden into them. But it was the perfectly shiny slave collar around his neck that caught Xena's attention.

"I see that they take pride in advertising."

"What do you mean?" He walked past the women to a table in the rear end of the cell. On it lay the numerous tools that were to be used to torture the two prisoners. He rubbed his short beard with a dirty hand as he contemplated which to use first. He looked over his shoulder at the blond woman to his left and decided to use the chains. The club will beat her into a pulp before I get going. I wanna make this last.

"I'm referring to the immaculate condition of the slave collar around your neck. You'd think they would take the time to clean the rest of you."

Gabrielle shot Xena a "What in Hades' name are you trying to do?" look but the warrior continued to taunt the man. Anything to either stall, or divert his attention from Gabrielle.

"Or at least they could let you work out a bit. Look, you may be fooling them, but you and I both know that all of ... that," she indicated to his large body size with a small nod of her head, "is certainly not muscle."

The man let out a laugh and turned to face the shackled warrior sitting against the wall. "I know what you're trying to do, Princess. You're trying to divert my attention away from your little friend here, so that you can spare her the beating she deserves. Well ... okay. If you insist." With that, he swung the chain high above his head and stepped forward, bringing the weapon down in a flurry of silver towards the warrior's body. Xena braced for the impact but couldn't stop herself from crying out when the unforgiving chain connected with her left arm, the momentum causing it to wrap around and hit her a second time on her back. The burning pain shot through her chest and she was left hissing through clenched teeth.

"Hey," he said almost apologetically. "You insisted!" Laughing, he turned towards his initial victim. "Now, back to work." He took two huge steps towards the bard, holding the length of chain in both hands as she watched him fearfully. Her eyes kept darting between the chain in front of her, and Xena who was across the cell, still trying to compose herself. Gabrielle screamed when the harsh metal suddenly bit into her body in the same way it had attacked Xena's moments before.

"Oh! I like that reaction. Much more satisfying than the hissing from your friend over there." He laughed and walked over to the table, exchanging the chain for a short iron bar. He winked over his shoulder at the whimpering bard. "This will be much more fun, don't worry."

"So, you enjoy beating up harmless women, do you?"

Xena's voice was so strong and sure that the man was slightly taken aback and stopped his second advance on Gabrielle to once again focus his attention on the raven-haired beauty chained to the wall.

"It's a living. Why? What do you suggest would be better?"

"Prove to yourself that you don't need to attack fettered women to appear manly. Come on, unchain me and let's have a real fight. I'm already wounded, so that should give you an advantage." The warrior's blue eyes teased the man seductively and he found himself contemplating the idea.

"Are you out of your mind, Xena? He's twice as big as you are! You don't stand a chance! He'll kill you in the blink of an eye!" Gabrielle was quick to pick up on the signs that Xena had a plan and she wanted to make sure this guy did just as the warrior wanted him to. An ego boost was the surest thing.

"Well, there's only one way to find out. Whaddya say ... big boy?" The warrior smiled and inclined her head slightly, as if she were submitting to his magnificent presence but still teasing and beckoning him with those icy eyes.

A shiver slid down his spine and he placed the iron rod between his teeth like a rose, walking slowly towards the warrior. He knelt down beside her and watched her face as he unlocked the fetters and helped Xena to her feet, leaving the collar around her neck. "It gives you a nice edge," he commented as her fingers fluttered over the cold metal uneasily.

"Fine. How do you propose we do this?"

"Bear hands turn me on." He grinned with his chipped and yellowed teeth and tossed the iron bar a few feet away.

Xena suppressed the rising nausea as the unfortunate sexual connotation played vividly in her mind. She exhaled slowly. "Bear hands it is then."

The two fighters circled each other slowly, trying to pick each other's weaknesses and determine the best point for attack. Xena chose an over-the-head-knock-him-down strategy while the man opted for a bowl-her-over-and-crush-her-to-death tactic (well, when you're all brawn ....) He decided to attack first and lowered his head to ram into Xena's stomach. As he did this, the warrior flipped high in the air and struck him deftly on his back with her feet. He landed on the ground with an earthy thud and lay still.

Xena walked over to where he lay and knelt down beside him. "You're faking it, aren't you?" Her question was answered when he opened an eye and shot her a cheeky grin. "Boy, I hate it when men fake it." She lifted his head a few inches from the ground and delivered a shocking punch to his temple. This time he was truly out cold.

Xena quickly searched the man for the keys to Gabrielle's chains and made her way across the cell to free her friend. She knelt down and unlocked the fetters, helping Gabrielle to her feet. A quick embrace to make sure each was all right, and it was time to plan a way out of the dungeon.

"Any ideas?" Xena ran her hands over the thick wooden door as the bard peered through the keyhole to see who was outside.

"Xena, once you execute the plan to free us from the chains, it's considered plain courtesy to make sure you have a plan for the rest of the escape."

"I can't be expected to think up everything. But if you insist." With that, the warrior strode over to the table and picked up a nasty looking sickle. Grabbing the bard, she held the weapon to the shocked woman's throat and shouted to the guards outside.

"Hey! Someone get in here before I kill her too! Fatso's already down. How many more do you want me to get rid of?" Xena held the bard tightly to her body as the door burst open and a group of men ran into the room. They stopped in their tracks suddenly when they saw the situation.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Stop me before it's too late. Do I have to tell you to do everything?" The warrior moved the sickle closer to the younger woman's vulnerable throat and the bard let out a whimper, he body quivering slightly.

Instantly the men ran forward as a group, thinking first of safety in numbers. As they came closer, Xena quickly released Gabrielle who ran straight for the doorway while the warrior punched and kicked her way through the men. In next to no time, every man lay unconscious on the floor and Xena was locking the dungeon door behind her. The two women turned to leave.

"Nice try Warrior Princess," the female voice said behind her. "A very impressive display, but I've had enough entertainment for one day. Take them to adjacent cells. And make sure that Xena isn't released this time!" She looked at the collar that was still attached around Xena's neck and ran a finger gently over her own. "Kinda give us a bond to each other. I don't know if I like that idea." She turned and walked away.

The men did as they were told and placed the warrior and the bard in adjacent cells, making sure that the bonds securing Xena was strong. They left the two women alone in their cells and prepared for the torture session to be held later that day. This time, there would be a number of men in the room instead of one.

* * *

"Oh, no ... no ... no," Xena whispered as the painful scream from the adjacent cell rang out again. The men had decided to torture Gabrielle first so that the warrior would be emotionally soft and therefore easily beaten. So far, it was working and Xena couldn't help but let a tear slide down her face when the racked sobs sifted through the cold rock wall between the cells.

Another tortured scream and it was too much for the warrior to bear. "LEAVE HER ALONE," she screamed into the musty air of her small cell. The thought of what they were doing to her best friend was too much and Xena fought violently against her chains. Even when she felt the warm moistness where the metal bit into her skin, she didn't stop fighting. In the end, it was exhaustion that won her over and she lay still, shuddering weakly whenever the bard screamed. Her wrists and ankles were raw and bleeding but she didn't care. Those men were hurting Gabrielle far more and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Suddenly the screaming stopped.

"Gabrielle?" The warrior's voice was thick with emotion and tears engulfed her eyes when she heard no response. What have they done to you, Gabrielle?

Footsteps sounded outside and the door to her cell opened. Five men entered the room and stopped when they saw the condition the warrior was already in.

"How can we have fun when she's already done our work for us? Look at her wrists and ankles."

"Well, our orders are to torture her, so we may as well get on with it." The men closed the door behind them and one pulled a lever on the wall. The chains that held Xena's wrists began to retract into the ceiling and the warrior was pulled to her feet. She glared at the men with the coldest stare she could muster and succeeded in making a number of them shudder.

"What have you done to Gabrielle?" Xena's voice was filled with controlled, but dangerous rage.

"Oh, she's just had what you're about to get. It left her unconscious, so we have to ... up the dosage when we give it to you. She's so much punier that the Warrior Princess." The men laughed and stood around the shackled woman as she braced herself, waiting for the first blow.

* * *

Gabrielle slowly began to regain consciousness and moaned softly as her body began to regain its feeling. She had more than a few broken bones, that was obvious ... she didn't want to know what else was wrong though. Fortunately, her chains had been removed and she could lie in a more comfortable position.

A scream broke the silence in her cell and she gasped. She had never heard Xena scream so loudly in all her life. Gabrielle started to cry as she heard the intense pain in the warrior's voice as she screamed again. They must be doing to her what they did to me. Oh Xena!

The warrior was still putting up a decent fight as far as Gabrielle could tell. Every once in a while, a man would let out a grunt as Xena managed to somehow strike him. I don't know what she's using to hit them if she's still shackled to the wall. Another scream crushed all the hope that remained in the bard that her companion would be all right and she closed her eyes, wishing herself to lose consciousness again ... unsuccessfully. She listened to the torturous screams slicing through the thick stone wall for what seemed like hours.

Suddenly everything went quiet. Xena's last scream had been cut short and now the men were shouting at each other. Gabrielle couldn't make out what they were saying, so she shifted her battered body closer to the wall and gently pressed her ear to the cold surface. She could only make out a bit of what they were saying, but it was enough and she lay on the floor, frozen in shock. From what she could make out, the men were angry with each other because someone was dead. And from the sounds of it, it wasn't one of their own.

* * *

Footsteps sounded outside and Gabrielle closed her eyes. If they thought she was still unconscious, they might be less inclined to torture her again. The door opened and the footsteps entered the room, dropping something heavy onto the cold floor of the bard's cell before leaving and locking the door behind them. Slowly, Gabrielle opened her eyes.

"By the Gods! No ... no ... no." The bard instantly forgot her own broken bones and scrambled over to the warrior who lay motionless a few meters away. She placed a trembling hand against the warrior's throat and searched for a pulse. Nothing.

"Don't you do this to me Xena!" She placed her ear against Xena's chest and shuddered when she felt the movement of the broken and crushed ribcage. There was no heartbeat.

"No!" She checked again for a pulse or a heartbeat, but she neither felt nor heard anything. Everything inside the warrior was deathly still.

Sobs instantly racked the bard's battered body and she wept openly over Xena. She screamed curses at the men who killed her best friend and vowed to avenge her death. Violent threats poured from her tortured soul and the men outside shuddered in fear. What had they done?

* * *

"You're free to go," the man said as he held open the dungeon door. Gabrielle lifted her bleary eyes towards him and dragged her body up off the floor. Every bone cried out, but the only pain she could feel was the deep hole in her heart -- the hole that had once been filled with Xena.

"Can I take her with me?"

"No, she's wanted here as a trophy. It's not every day a hero is killed."

The bard moved to take the body anyway, but the man knocked her on the back of her head and she lost consciousness.

* * *

Gabrielle woke to find herself in a healer's hut. The aroma of salve filled her nostrils and she opened her eyes wearily.

"Xena?"

"No, child. Xena isn't here. You've been through a lot, but I'm here to make it all better. Agla´e's here to fix everything."

"But ... Xena ... oh, Xena." Tears squeezed out of the bard's tightly shut eyes and her body shook slightly.

"I said I'm here, Gabrielle. Why can't you hear me?" Xena bent down over her friend and placed a hand gently on her forehead. At least, that's what she intended to do. Where her hand should have touched, it went straight through the bard's head and the warrior recoiled in horror.

"It's a shock isn't it. I remember the first time I did that." An old man stepped in through the door and smiled sadly at the dumbfounded warrior.

"Who are you?"

"I'm exactly what you are."

"Excuse me?"

"Xena, you died. You and I are both shades. We're both dead." The man illustrated his point by passing his hand through Agla´e as if she was made out of air.

Xena had heard of stories when she was younger about how people were sometimes trapped between the middle and underworld because they were still needed by someone who was not willing to let go. She had never believed the stories of course.

"You're talking nonsense," she stated, looking at her hand quizzically.

"Oh really? Fine then, pick up that bowl. That one over there one the table."

"I don't have to prove myself to you." Xena hesitated but decided to give the bowl a try anyway. She placed her hands around it but instead of grasping the wood, her fingers floated through like a breeze through autumn leaves.

"See? See? I told you that you were a shade."

"I can't believe this." Xena held a hand over her eyes and breathed deeply. Gabrielle was now sleeping soundly after the healer had given her a potion to calm her down and Xena walked over to her friend. She knelt down next to her, wanting to place a caring hand on her soft hair, but unable to.

"It's hard, I know. I've been like this for ten winters. My son refuses to let me go to the other side and there is nothing I can do. Until he dies himself, I'm stuck the way I am."

"Is there no way to communicate with ... the living?"

"Well, I tried to do that. I wrote him a letter but it only succeeded in scaring him senseless. He has a fear of shades, you know."

"Wait a minute. You wrote him a letter? How?"

"With a lot of practice you can manipulate physical objects. But only things non-living."

Xena looked at the mug on the table and prodded at it with her finger. The old man chuckled and sat down in a chair. He looked closely at the mug for a second before wrapping his fingers securely around it and lifting it a few inches from the tabletop.

"You can't just prod willy-nilly at it, Xena. You've gotta concentrate. Here," he pushed the mug towards the warrior. "Concentrate. Imagine the feeling of the wood as it touches your hand. Imagine the weight of it as you pick it up. Concentrate."

Xena focused on the mug and slowly extended her hand towards it. Suddenly, she felt the wood as her fingers wrapped around it. Effortlessly, she lifted it off the table and placed it back down.

"Well done! It took me months to learn how to do that."

"You say that we can only manipulate non-living things. What about if I used my chakram? It was never alive."

"Well, I've never had one of those to try it out with. Let's go outside and give it a whirl." He rose from the chair and walked out of the hut. He led the warrior out into a paddock and pointed to the wall of a small house. "Think you can hit that?"

Xena smiled at him crookedly and removed her chakram from her hip. Aiming carefully and imagining the sound as her weapon struck the thick wood of the house, she let fly and the deadly weapon sliced through the air. It floated harmlessly through the thick wall and arched back, returning to a disappointed warrior.

"Don't give up so easily, give it another try."

Xena closed her eyes and focused. She lifted the weapon slowly and let it fly once more. A dull thud sounded as the chakram hit the wall and embedded itself into the hard wood. The warrior opened her eyes and grinned, jogging up to the house and yanking the weapon out.

"Wow," the man exclaimed when he reached the house. "Look how it burnt the wood around where it hit! I've never seen anything like it!" He ran his fingers over the charred area in amazement.

"Well, it does come in handy when I have some bad guys to get rid of." She chuckled and placed it back on her hip.

They made their way back to the hut where Gabrielle slept and the man sat down, watching Xena as she knelt beside her friend sadly.

"She's going to be fine. Agla´e is the best healer I know. She's going to make everything better."

"I hope so," the warrior said sadly. She leant forward and rested her elbows on the edge of the pallet. "I just wish you could see me ... or at least hear me."

"You know, I just thought of a way you can communicate with her." The old man walked over to where the warrior knelt and sat down beside her. "If you can find a God who is willing to help, they can appear to your friend and tell her what you want to say."

"You mean ... the Gods can see us?"

"Yes, and any demi-Gods when they're around and have a personal connection to the shade."

"Hercules," the warrior whispered, hope creeping into her voice. "He would've gone to my mother's to tell her the news of my death. He may still be there with her. I can meet him in Amphipolis."

"That might be a problem."

"Why?"

"Well, you can't just go walking around willy-nilly, you know. There's a barrier around the person you're attached to which you cannot cross under any circumstances."

"How big is it?"

"That house was farthest you could've gone."

A plan slowly began to form inside the warrior's head and she clicked her fingers. "Well, if I can't get to Hercules because of the barrier, I'll make the barrier go to Hercules. "

* * *

Over the next few months, as Gabrielle's body healed, Xena found ways to give some of the hope back to her friend. The shop where Xena could buy some scrolls was just outside the barrier, so she'd been forced to improvise. By placing beans on the table to form the words, "I am here," she was able to let the bard know that she wasn't gone. It was a slow and frustrating way to communicate, but she'd finally been able to explain to some minor extent what her situation was, and what the two of them needed to do.

* * *

"Are you well?" the beans said one day to the bard sitting at the table.

"Yes. I'm still a little stiff in places, but I can walk." She waited patiently as the beans rearranged themselves to form a new question.

"Are you ready ... to travel?"

"Definitely. I want to get to Hercules as soon as possible. Do you think he can help us?"

"Hopefully," they said.

"I hope so too." Gabrielle placed her hand next to the beans and sighed. Xena had explained the barrier problem, and how she needed Gabrielle to go to Hercules so that the barrier would follow. Neither woman was sure that the demi-God would know what to do, but they were mildly hopeful.

* * *

Gabrielle traveled along the path to Amphipolis, grateful that Argo had been willing to travel without her master. The palomino had been wary at first, but seemed to settle down when Gabrielle gave her some apples as a treat.

Xena walked invisibly up ahead; keeping a watchful eye for any trouble that may come their way. She carried her chakram in her hand, ready for anything, and her ghostly eyes swept over every inch of the area around her. She just hoped she could strike before it was too late. She'd been practicing with her weapon all night, but there was still a crucial delay necessary if she wanted to hit the target and not float through it.

The warrior mused as she listened to Gabrielle chattering away to herself. Being a shade has some advantages. Attackers didn't stand a chance if they couldn't see what was coming. And her ability to walk through walls came in handy a few times when Agla´e had locked the door to her hut while Gabrielle was still inside. Of course, not everything was great about being a shade.

There were many things that the warrior missed. She had no need to eat ... and couldn't even if she wanted to. She missed the taste of food and drink. She also missed sleeping. Strange as it was, she missed the revitalised feeling when she woke up each morning. Being a shade wasn't all that good now that she thought about it. The worst thing was not being able to touch Gabrielle. She missed being able to place a caring hand on her shoulder. Small things like tickling her in the morning to get her out of bed seemed so insignificant at the time, but she missed them now. So much so, that it hurt.

"Xena?" The bard called, expecting a response. "Oh ... sorry," she muttered when she remembered the problem they had communicating. "I just wanted to say that I think Argo needs a rest. And frankly, so do I." She stopped the horse and slid awkwardly off its back. Taking Argo by the reins, she lead the Palomino to a nearby stream and unsaddled her as she drank. The bard sat down and rested her back against a tree, closing her eyes.

Before Gabrielle could stop herself, she began to cry. All of the frustration of the past few months poured out of her tortured soul and she wept. Every time she sobbed, she felt guilty because she knew Xena would want to comfort her. Unfortunately for both women, she couldn't.

"I'm ... sorry," the bard apologised between sobs. A soft hand touched her shoulder and Gabrielle jumped. She opened her eyes expecting to see Xena standing there, but instead the large form of Hercules came into view.

"Hey, Gabrielle," he said sadly.

"Oh, Hercules," she burst into tears again, allowing him to take her into his powerful yet gentle arms. He held her for as long as she needed and listened curiously to her story as she explained the situation with her best friend.

"So you say that I should be able to see her?" he asked looking around.

"Well, that's what the other shade told her. You don't see anything at all?"

"No ... hey! Wait a minute. Xena, move your chakram around a bit. I think I see something over there. Yes! I can see you faintly."

"Does she look all right?" Gabrielle couldn't help but remember the last time she'd seen her best friend: lying bruised and broken on the cold floor of the dungeon.

"Well," he said, standing up to get a closer look, "from what I can see -- which isn't much mind you -- she looks okay." He grinned when he saw Xena smile. "Try to say something. I'll see if I can read your lips."

"Tell Gabrielle," Xena paused as she thought of what to tell her best friend. So many thoughts had been running through her head. So many emotions coursing through her body. Things like fear, frustration, anger and sorrow had taken up a permanent residence inside her soul. Now that she had the ability to tell her how she felt, without the limitation of some silly beans, she didn't know what to say.

"She says to tell you ...." Hercules raised his eyebrow when the Xena hesitated.

"Tell her I miss her."

Hercules smiled sadly when Xena's shoulders drooped slightly and she lowered her eyes.

"She says that she misses you."

Gabrielle looked at her lap and sighed. "I miss you too, Xena. I really do."

Hercules' eyes suddenly lit up. "Wait! I have an idea! What if my father could help you out? He could get you back to your body ... a little ambrosia --"

"It won't work," Xena mouthed and Gabrielle spoke in unison.

"Why not?"

"Xena's been dead for months. Her body will be of little use to her now."

"Oh, right." He thought for a minute. "But what if my father could somehow get you a new body. Could you inhabit that one?"

"I have no idea. This is first time this has happened ... like this," Xena mouthed.

"What did she say?" asked the bard when Hercules lowered his eyes.

"Hmm? Oh, sorry. She said that she doesn't know how since this has never happened. This shade thing." Hercules put his hands on his hips and thought for a moment. "I'll tell you what, I'll ask him anyway. See what he can do."

"You really think he's going to help her?"

"Well, he does have a soft spot for an Amazon who looks a lot like Xena. Her name's Lysia and her hair's a little lighter. But he's always telling me how Xena looks exactly like her. Strange, but true. I think I could pursued him."

"Done," said an aged voice behind them. Zeus appeared in a flash of light and stood with a grin on his face. "Hi Xena," he waved to the warrior and she smiled crookedly at him. "I have the advantage of seeing you much clearer than my son. Since he's not a full God, he can only see you faintly. You look good for someone who's dead."

Xena shot him a look and he chuckled. "I didn't mean that, I'm sorry. Now, about this body problem of yours ... I can get you a new body, but it has to be someone who's still alive. Someone who's willing to share their body with you." He slowly looked towards the bard. "Someone who's experienced sharing their body with you before."

"You mean Autolycus?" Gabrielle asked.

"No, my child. I mean you."

"Me?"

"Yes."

"Oh, no," Xena said to Zeus. Being a God, Zeus could not only see, but hear her also.

He turned towards her. "What?"

"Gabrielle has experienced what it's like to be me once ... and that's more than enough. I don't want her going through that all over again."

"But from what I saw, she seemed to enjoy it."

"What are you two talking about?" asked an exasperated bard.

Zeus ignored her and continued to argue with the shade. "Look, why don't you let her decide for herself."

"Because she doesn't really know what it's like to be me! She only thinks she does. There is so much more to me than she experienced in that single fight. It would scare her to learn what I am really like inside. I won't allow it. It's my shade we're talking about here anyway. It's not up to her."

"Fine, don't say I didn't try."

"Look, will someone tell me what you two are arguing about. Just because I'm the only mortal here, doesn't mean you have to act as if I'm not around!" Gabrielle folded her arms across her chest and glared and Zeus and Hercules, having no idea where Xena was standing.

"Xena won't allow it," the King of the Gods stated simply.

"But why?"

"Ah, this and that. Basically she's afraid that you'll learn what she's like inside. She thinks you won't be able to handle it."

"Now, I never said that!" Xena warned.

"But that's what you meant," Zeus challenged.

"Look," the bard said as she threw her hands up in the air, "I'm feeling very tempted to kill myself here so I can become a shade and understand what in Hades' name you are going on about! Now will someone please enlighten me!"

Hercules sat down next to the furious bard and replayed everything Xena and Zeus had said. When he had finished, Gabrielle looked at the God and sighed.

"She's right, you know. It is her we're talking about. If she doesn't want it, then we'll have to find another way."

Xena poked her tongue out at Zeus and he narrowed his eyes at her.

"Fine then. What do you suggest we do little bard," the God asked.

"Uh oh," Xena said, her eyes widening as Gabrielle glared at the God. "You've really done it now. I'm glad I'm already dead!"

Zeus looked sideways at Xena with a slightly worried look in his eyes as the not-so-small bard rose and strode up to the God.

"Now you listen here," she said as she poked his chest with her index finger. He stepped back a little as she continued to advance and poke as she spoke. "Listen up and listen good, mister I'm-the-king-of-the-Gods-and-I'm-too-good-for-mortals-but-I-couldn't-tell-a-story-to-save-myself Zeus ... I may be smaller than most, but I can really pack a punch. You better thank your lucky stars I've got other things on my mind than knocking you flat on your butt. You got that?"

"Y-yes m-ma'am," the God stuttered.

"Now," Gabrielle said as she turned away, changing into thinking mode. "We need another way to get Xena back to the ... er ... physical state."

"I guess --" Zeus stopped his sentence short when the bard spun around and glared at him. Hercules put a hand on her arm and her face softened.

"Okay," she sighed. "What's your idea?"

"I could have a talk with the Fates. I may be able to convince them to undo what happened to you two."

The muscles in Gabrielle's jaw tensed and Hercules had to physically restrain her to stop her from knocking down his father -- Godliness and all. Zeus stepped back and looked at the bard and the shade sheepishly.

"Now, I know what you're both thinking," he said, seeing the look the Warrior Princess was getting, "but I didn't want to offer that solution unless there was no other way. The Fates don't like to be told what to do. It might not work."

Gabrielle relaxed slightly as she began to see what Zeus was saying. "Well, okay then. But now that you've mentioned it, you have to go through with it."

"I'll try my best." With that, he quickly vanished.

"I hope it works," Gabrielle sighed.

"My father won't fail. He owes me big time. He wouldn't dare." Hercules smiled and gave the bard a hug. "I'm glad all that rage wasn't aimed at me," he said with a laugh. "You have quite the temper, don't you!" Gabrielle jabbed him playfully in the ribs and he laughed again.

* * *

"We didn't order these," Xena stated as a young woman, no older than 20 winters but already wearing a metal slave collar round her neck, placed a plate of nutbread and a mug of port on their table.

"I know," she stated, moving to the next table to clear away the plates from the previous customers. "The woman in that far corner did." She nodded towards a smiling villager sitting at a table in the rear of the tavern. The woman waved happily when Xena and Gabrielle looked in her direction.

"I just wanted to thank you again for saving my son," she called across the room.

"No need," the bard called back. "It's all in a day's work for my friend here." She grinned when she saw the warrior's exasperated expression out of the corner of her eye.

"I know, but I'm just so grateful. Thank you from us all!" She stretched out her arms and the group of villagers at her table waved happily. Gabrielle waved back and Xena gave them a small smile.

The bard sighed contentedly and turned back to the warrior, the villagers now engrossed in conversation with each other.

"Doesn't that give you a nice feeling? Did you see how happy those people were?"

"Yeah," Xena said simply.

Suddenly, the door of the tavern burst open and a villager was flung into the room, landing on their table.

"Aw no," complained Gabrielle as his muddy head landed face-first into her nutbread. His hand knocked over Xena's mug and all of her port spilled everywhere. The two women rose from the table as the sounds of the battle caught their attention. They left the unconscious man with the food and drink they hadn't been able to touch and ran outside to stop the fight. All in a day's work.

THE END


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