Standard disclaimers: The same old story applies here, I don't own the rights to Xena, Gabrielle, Any of the Amazons or Olympian Gods. They are merely on loan.
Subtext warning: Let's get real here, this goes way past subtext. If that offends or bothers you than this may not be the story for you.
Authors note: This story is the follow up to Death's Shadow if you haven't, you may want to read that first for this to make sense. As I said before , this story follows it's own time line and has nothing to do with the events that have taken place at the end of the fourth season, or any of the fifth.
As always any comments or questions are welcome at email@example.com
Marion D Tuttle
The normally peaceful surroundings of the Gods mountain home was anything but peaceful as the sun started it's final descent in Apollo's chariot. Artemis stood, her arms folded across her chest. The black mood of her Brother would have scared the very life out of most. But the Moon Goddess was no slouch herself, standing up to the God Of War was not that big a deal to her. "You have no right to be angry Ares, if anything you should be thankful that I was able to restore Xena's life after your hired thug went against your order's and killed her. You should also be thanking you lucky stars that Zeus took pity on you and released you from Tarterus. What you did went against all the rules." She arched a brow at him. "Not to mention the fact that I was within inches of killing you myself for what you tried to do to Gabrielle."
"What is it about that irritating little blonde that makes everyone want to protect her?" He couldn't help but vent his frustration. In his mind Gabrielle was the only thing that stood between him and his ultimate goal of having Xena back by his side as his Warrior Princess. "Just what is it she has?"
"That's a wonderful question dear brother, think about it for a moment. Gabrielle has done the one thing that all the great warriors in the world couldn't do. Ceaser, Borias, even you. She has managed to capture Xena's heart, and rest assured there is nothing in this world or the next that Xena would not do for her." Artemis couldn't help but rub salt in the wound "She was even willing to humble herself to the point of asking me for help in protecting Gabrielle. That says something."
His normal sneer of contempt deepened. "Yeah, its says that hanging around with that little blonde has made her weak and soft. Xena would never have humbled herself before anyone or anything before your little Queen started messing around with a perfectly good warrior."
A small chuckle escaped Artemis. "It still amazes me that you can be so blind. Xena is stronger now then she has ever been before. When she fights now it is for the right reasons, she fights for the people she loves. There is nothing that is stronger than that."
"Watch it Sis, your going to start sounding like our air headed little Sister...."
Shimmering lights appeared before he could finish his statement. "Hey there tall dark and deadly! Watch who your calling an air head!"
"Aphrodite, just what I need. Two females that don't have the first idea of what is important."
"Maybe it's you that needs to think about what's important Brother dear. Find yourself a new play toy. Like Artie said, Xena belongs with Gabrielle. I personally worked my butt off on those two to get them to see that. Nothing would make Xena give that up, Gabrielle has helped her bury her rage and leave it behind. Let it go already."
Ares started to dismiss her comments as romantic drivel, but then changed his mind. "You know something, you may have a point after all." Both woman looked at each other, confusion at their Brother's turn around clearly written across their features. "Maybe I have been wasting my time trying to use violence to turn Xena around. I've been doing that for years now and all it's really done is drive the two of them closer together. It may be time to just give up a tactic that doesn't work. Thanks for the advice." With a wave of his hand he was gone.
"That can't be good..."
"No Aphrodite, I'm afraid we may have started something that is going to cause a problem."
Life was slowly starting to return to normal in the Amazon village. Many well wishers had wanted to stop by and tell Xena how glad they were that she has been returned to them, but Ephiny had held them at bay saying that the Queen and Xena really needed some time alone together.
A soft smile touched her lips as she recalled seeing her two friends the morning after Xena's return to the village. She had planned to surprise them with breakfast in bed. Bringing the tray into the Queen's hut she placed it quietly on the table with a note. She had no intention of waking her friends, knowing that they had most likely had a late night. She had turned to see Xena looking at her with a finger across her lips signaling her to be silent. A very contented Gabrielle curled up next to her, smiling in her sleep. Xena had mouthed "Thank you" To Ephiny who had left, happy in the knowledge that Gabrielle looked happier and more at peace than she had ever seen her before.
That was when she had decided that Xena needed time to 'recuperate' from the ordeal she had been through and had spread the word that the Queen's hut was off limits for a few days. Epinon had tried to contain her mirth when Ephiny had told her of her little ruse. "And just how many people do you think are going to truly believe that Xena is resting from her wounds?"
Ephiny had batted her eyelashes and cast an innocent look towards her lover. "Why wouldn't they? No one except for us and Solari know the whole truth of what happened. As far as the rest of the village is concerned Xena does still have some wounds to heal from." She moved to stand in the circle of Epinon's embrace. "Aside from the fact that Gabrielle being occupied for a few days 'taking care of Xena' gives us some time to ourselves with out me having to be Regent at all those incessant council meetings."
A smile at the thought of having a few uninterrupted days with Ephiny brought a smile to Epinon's lips. "You may have a point there, after all what kind of friends would we be if we didn't make sure that the rest of the village left them alone for a few days. Xena does need some 'rest'."
Early morning sunlight began to filter into the room through the coverings that had been placed over the windows. A small ray of light fell across eyes that were not quite ready to open yet. Gabrielle mumbled something about it being too blasted early for light to be hitting her in the face and snuggled closer to Xena's shoulder.
The warrior chuckled at her bard, it seemed like she was trying to burrow right into the same skin with her. Not that Xena minded of course, she loved being close to Gabrielle. Kissing her brow lightly she stroked her back. "Hey there sleepy head, are you going to join the rest of the world?"
"No." She objected. "I don't want to, I just want to stay here with you." She had expressed her wishes, but her stomach was getting ready to express it's wishes as well. A loud rumble made it clear that the bard was in fact hungry.
"It sounds like your stomach isn't going to agree." Patting Gabrielle on the back she got up from the bed, pulling the covers with her. This action left the bard's naked body exposed to the cool morning air. Opening one eye a crack she looked up at the warrior's smiling countenance.
"Oh you think your funny don't you."
Trying to keep the laughter out of her voice, Xena urged her out of the bed. "Come on sleeping beauty, you know your hungry. Besides if we don't put in appearance soon we are going to be swarmed with Amazons wanting to see how things are. It's been a few days since we have been seen in public you know."
Still not wanting to leave the comfort of their bed, but realizing that Xena might be right Gabrielle dragged herself to her feet. "Your going to owe me later warrior." She waggled her eyebrows in a suggestive manner.
"A debt I will be more than happy to pay my Queen."
An insistent rumble from her stomach reminded Gabrielle that she really was quite hungry after all. A raised eyebrow at the noise earned the warrior a pillow thrown in the general direction of her head. "Hunger must have your aim off. I guess I better get you fed soon."
"Ha ha, Xena warrior comedienne! Think your funny don't you?"
Before the bard knew what was happening she found herself in a strong embrace. Soft lips moved to cover her own. "Nothing funny here my love, just a very devoted warrior whose only wish is to serve and protect her Queen."
The warmth that radiated from Xena's blue eyes actually sent a bit of a shiver up Gabrielle's spine. Feeling the smaller woman's slight tremble in her arms. Raising a dark brow Xena asked. "Is there something wrong?"
"No...not really.. it's just..."
Lifting the face she loved gently to look into her eyes she prodded. "Talk to me, tell me what's bothering you."
"I just had a flash for a second. When I think of how close I came to losing you...."
Xena pulled her close, holding her she smoothed her hands across the bards back. "It's ok, I understand. But that's over now."
"Is it really Xena? Will it ever really be over? All this happened because of one of Ares stupid little games. What is there to say that he won't try something again? You know he hates to lose, he's not just going to let this go."
Words were never Xena's strong suit, but in this instance she could think of nothing to say that would dispel the fears that Gabrielle had expressed. Everything she said was true, and as much as the warrior wanted to assure her that nothing else was going to happen. She knew in her heart she couldn't. "I can't promise that there will never be problems Gabrielle. All I can say is there is nothing that Ares can do that can make me want to go back to what I once was."
They finished preparing to go to the main dining hall, but both woman could feel that there was a tension there that was nearly a physical presence and wasn't going to go away any time soon. They walked into the main dining area of the village, for the first time since Xena's presumed death. There were many unspoken questions among they women of the village. And out of respect for the Queen, most of them would remain that way. However there was one young Amazon that stepped forward and asked the question that had been wonder by a few, but none had given voice to "So it would seem Xena that you managed to cheat death yet again. I wonder how many more lives you have left, or how long it will be before our Queen gets in the way and is lost to us?"
A collective gasp was heard from the room, Falia's boldness was surely going to cost her a sound thrashing at the hands of the warrior princess, if it didn't cost her her very life. The blue in Xena's eyes looked as if the were chips of ice as she regarded the young upstart before her. "Didn't anyone ever teach you respect for your elders little girl?" Xena hissed low so only those very close were able to hear.
"I only respect those that have earned it Xena. It's true you are a great warrior, no one can deny that."
"Then what, pray tell is the problem?"
She felt the weight of stares from every eye in the place. "The problem I have is that you seem to have no guilt what so ever about placing our Queen, the woman you claim to love in mortal danger at every turn. If you loved her half as much as you say you do you would walk away from her and leave her in safety here. At least here she would not be a constant target and perhaps could even find someone else that she could build a life with."
The silence that stretched out while the gathered crowed awaited Xena's response seemed to go on forever. "Can I take it you have someone lined up to take my place as Gabrielle's protector and life partner?"
"I'd challenge you myself, if I didn't think you were too much of a coward to accept."
Before Xena had the chance to give voice to her anger Gabrielle stepped forward and slapped the young woman so hard it snapped her face around. "Don't ever let me hear you speak to Xena like that again! You have no idea how brave she is...." She was so intent on what she was saying to her subject that she did not even notice that Xena had left her side until she heard the door slam. She walked on wooden legs to her chair, sinking down into the seat. A sick feeling in the pit of her stomach 'Gods what have I done?'
Xena's first impulse was to saddle Argo and ride out her anger and frustration. Did Gabrielle realize that she had just shamed her in front of the entire Amazon nation? How could she continue on as the Queen's champion if everyone had lost respect for her? As a normal rule Xena didn't care one way or another what people thought of her. She knew in her own heart what she was and what she believed in. But the Amazons were different, in order for her to be seen as worthy of their Queen she had to command their respect. If she didn't have that then she could never hope to gain tribal consent for a joining ceremony. Years ago things like that would never have mattered to her. But she knew that Gabrielle was very big on commitment and she had wanted to make that commitment to the bard. But by her actions, Gabrielle had just made that impossible.
She alternated between sorrow over what she believed was lost to her now and anger at Gabrielle for stepping forward. Why did the bard feel the need to do that? She asked herself over and over again. She must have know that Xena would be more than capable of handling any confrontation that would come her way. She reached for Argo's saddle, only to find her arm stayed by a familiar hand. "Don't even try it Ep...I need to go."
"Why?" was the simple question.
The fact that the woman that had been a friend to both her and Gabrielle could even ask that question unleashed some of the anger she was trying so desperately to hold inside. "How can you even ask me that? You saw what just happened, by her actions Gabrielle as much as said to the nation that I was not worthy to be her champion much less...."
"I saw no such thing Xena! What I saw was the Queen of the Amazons making it clear that she would not accept any disrespect to be shown to you. I saw a true Queen that was more interested in protecting the woman that she loves than she was in following protocol and allowing things to get to a point where you could have been hurt or worse."
What Ephiny was saying made sense, Xena had to admit that. But her pride was wounded and she was not ready to so easily accept what she was being told. "I'm sorry Ephiny, I don't see it that way. Gabrielle made a statement today."
"And that would be?"
"She has lost faith in me...After this last attack. She doesn't think I can protect her anymore. If that is the case then the council will never allow..."
"Never allow what Xena? What are you saying?"
Turning from her friend she said. "Nothing, it doesn't matter any more any way." She swung up into her saddle, looking down at Ephiny she added. "It's to late to do anything about it now." She sped past Ephiny out into the night leaving The Queen's Regent with a sinking feeling in her stomach that some thing had just gone terribly wrong and that as much as she wanted to she was powerless to stop what was only going to get worse from here.
In the shadows of the trees a lone woman stood smiling to herself. Satisfied that she had carried out her instructions to the letter and would be rewarded for her efforts.
Ephiny walked back to the main hall to try and find a way to break the news to Gabrielle that Xena was gone. And to try and see if she could make some sense of every thing that had just happened. She already knew that this news was not going to be well received, her mind searched for the right way to tell her friend what had happened but nothing came to her. She was barely inside the door before Gabrielle was at her side. "Xena?"
"She left Gabrielle." She hadn't meant to blurt it out like that, she had wanted to find an easy way to tell the bard. But the truth of the matter was that there was no easy way.
"What did she say?"
For the second time that day Ephiny found herself cursing the fates for not only putting this new problem in the path of her friends. But also for seemingly sticking her in the middle of it all. "She didn't say much really Gabrielle... I think maybe she just needs some time." Ephiny was debating in her mind as to whether or not to tell Gabrielle the whole of what the warrior had said. One the one hand she felt that Xena was over reacting and that if she could just have a little time alone she would see for herself how foolish this entire thing was. The other part that worried her though is what if Xena didn't come to her senses? Gabrielle had a right to know what was going on in the warrior's mind. Maybe she could even find Xena and talk some sense into her if she knew.
Gabrielle was not going to accept what she was being told so easily. "Ephiny, I want to know what she said."
Knowing that she was not going to win if Gabrielle pushed the issue she decided to tell her what she knew. "She said that she had no choice but to leave. That by your actions you have shamed her in the eyes of the Nation. I think that Xena was getting ready to ask you to join with her Gabrielle and now she thinks the council will not see her as fit to be your protector and consort so the won't allow it."
Gabrielle felt a mix of emotions wash over her at this news. Surprisingly enough the one that was at the fore front was anger. Anger at Xena for having such a limited view of things that she would revert back to her old way of thinking that Gabrielle was a little girl that needed to be protected. Hadn't she proved time and time again in their travels together that she was a capable woman that could hold her own? "That's insane! Why would she think that?"
This was not a conversation Ephiny wanted to have. She could understand why Gabrielle felt the way she did. But she also understood the feelings Xena was having. She firmly believed that the council, of which she was a member would not even take this incident into account if Xena were to bring forth a petition for the hand of their Queen. Everyone in the village knew Xena as a warrior and more importantly as a friend. They also believed that Xena and Gabrielle were destined to be together and that it was only a matter of time before a bonding ceremony took place. The problem was that there was an Amazon law that prevented anyone from marrying the Queen of a tribe if the could not protect her. It was an ancient law and most Amazons were not even aware of it much less did they uphold it. Leave it to Xena to be an expert on the old laws and ways and expect that it would have an effect on her and Gabrielle. "You know about the protection laws for any Queens consort don't you?"
Gabrielle's eyes flared her irritation. "You don't think for a moment that the council would dust off that old piece of garbage and use it against Xena do you? Especially for something as inane as the fact that I got annoyed with a little upstart and put her in her place. You can't really think that if I had said nothing and allowed that little twerp to goad Xena into a fight she would have had a chance in Tarterus of beating her? I probably saved her life by intervening, Xena would have torn her apart if it had come to that and we both know it."
"Gabrielle calm down. I'm not saying that what you did was wrong, in fact I agree with you. You most likely did save Falia's life, why she would have done something that stupid is beyond me. She is rash and headstrong sometimes but she has never acted like that. The point is Xena is under the impression that you don't think she could have handled it and that is why you stepped in. And even worse she thinks the council will see it that way too."
"I have to find her...She has to know..." All of the anger and annoyance Gabrielle was feeling turned to frustration. Everything that she and Xena had been through, she would not let herself believe that something as stupid as this would come between them.
"You need to stay here and keep a handel on things. If Falia is intent on causing trouble and making the Nation as a whole believe that Xena really is placing you in danger then you need to put and end to it before it starts. I'll go find her and bring her back, maybe she just needed some time to cool off." Even as Ephiny said these words they sounded hollow in her ears.
Gabrielle watched as Ephiny left to prepare to follow xena and try and talk to her. She knew in her heart that the only person that was going to have a chance of reaching Xena was her. She wrestled with the idea of going after the warrior herself, she knew that what Ephiny said about containing things here was true. But she also knew that Ephiny would never get through to Xena if she was still angry. She made the decision to go, at this point she didn't much care about the Amazons opinions or their customs, all that was on her mind was finding Xena and making things right. She was about to leave when Falia entered the hut. "May I have a moment of your time my Queen?"
Her mood had not lightened any, and the last thing Gabrielle wanted at this moment was to have to deal with the young woman that had created this problem. "Falia, I don't really have the time or frankly the interest right now...."
"This is important Gabrielle."
The Queen's eyebrow raised at the familiar address. It was true that Gabrielle had never been fond of the formality that had sometimes accompanied her position as leader of the Amazons but she had gotten used to the fact that it was necessary to a point. Of course her close friends in the tribe did not use the title in private, but in any public setting even they referred to her in the formal sense. She decided that Falia had already overstepped her bonds once today and really needed a lesson in what was and was not considered proper behaviour here. "Falia, have you forgotten who you are addressing?"
A look of contrition passed her face. "I am sorry my Queen, but this is important."
Placing her fingers to her temples to try and ward off the headache she knew was coming she sank into the chair. It was clear this young Amazon was intent on being heard. Short of calling for the guards and having her removed Gabrielle felt she had no choice but to listen to her. "What is it?" She asked trying to keep the frustration out of her voice.
"I wanted to let you know why I said the things I did in the dining hall...I know that Xena plans to ask the council for your hand." This sent a wave of hope through Gabrielle. She had hoped that Xena would want to go through a joining ceremony, but as Queen she had to wait for someone to offer for her, she couldn't be the one to do the asking. Just another bit of protocol that she didn't quite understand and frankly didn't like.
"And what is that to you?" She found herself asking, some of her irritation starting to show through.
"I would also like to petition for that honour, my Queen. I could be your champion and I feel like it should be someone of Amazon blood that...."
Her explanation was cut short by a curt wave of Gabrielle's hand. Normally she had patience to spare. But in this case she felt more anger and frustration then she ever thought possible. "How dare you pull something like that? What makes you think that I would even welcome an offer from you? Everyone here knows that I love Xena and she is the only one I am interested in being joined with! Falia you have gone too far, if you thought that creating a scene with Xena and trying to shame her in front of the nation was going to endear you to me you were sadly mistaken! Get out!" Gabrielle could feel herself shaking with the anger that was building up inside her.
Falia tried to reach out a hand and sooth a trembling arm. Her hand was swatted away for her efforts. "I was just trying to do what I thought was best." She started.
"No you weren't. You were just trying to get yourself into a better position within the nation. The biggest mistake you made though was hurting the woman I love. Let me make myself clear to you so there is no further room for misunderstanding. This information you have given me will go no further than this hut, but once I find Xena and calm her down if you so much as look at her wrong I will not even try to stop her from breaking you in half!"
The young Amazon turned from her Queen, her body language that of a chastised child. But what Gabrielle couldn't see with Falia's back to her was the feral grin she wore. Stepping out into the cooling evening air Falia turned her face towards the sky "All is going according to plan my Lord."
A whispered voice in her ear told her. "It's nearly time for phase two."
To be continued
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