You may have noticed that Gabrielle and Xena are not my property.
Alt. Sort of.
Comedy. Drama. Sort of.
This is a prequel to Looking Death In The Eye. It seemed to be the first show that our heroes worked as a team in a while, albeit with a kind of desperation. I am indebted to MK, Sam Ruskin, Susan Rice, the Ex-Guards, and the Tavern Wall.
This story was begun before I helped with three other excellent pieces involving the same subject. After they took all the brilliant ideas, this was all that was left over. <g>Walls and Hurdles
Everything was going just fine in Christos Tavern.
Right up until she came in.
The boys were trying to relax after the successful attack on the warlords castle, and there was a pretty good buzz going on. It was just like old times. Ale was flowing, dinars were being spent, and the owner, me, was happy. But then the door flew open and I could tell by those hardened eyes, that she was there to make trouble.
I sidled over to Xena. She had been sprawled out in the corner in her usual manner, enjoying her third ale of the night. But now I could see all her senses were on the alert. I started to speak, but she just grunted, "I know," and I watched her running a mental check over her options.
The newcomer wasnt dressed like the warrior she was, but I knew it was a disguise. She had already spotted Xena, and the sight of the warrior princess seemed to generate a hostility that provoked waves of menace I could feel from here. Even Xena wasnt immune. I could see she was beginning to get worried.
I looked away from the simply dressed woman in the doorway. "You told her youd be home right after you finished with Desthus didnt you?"
Xena jaw was set. "Uh huh."
"Came here instead, leaving her alone with the kid?"
"Uh huh." Damn, I thought. I had just repaired half the tables in this place from the last rumble.
I looked back to the woman in the doorway. "What do you think shes gonna do?" I asked in a hushed voice.
The disguised Amazon was now moving towards the bar, pointedly ignoring both of us,
Xena was tapping her forefinger on her chin. "She cant be sure that this isnt part of the mission. She wont do anything until shes sure. Maybe you should stop her from talking to your barmaid..."
"Xena, I dont know, if I get involved... she might take it out on me too..."
Those blue eyes seared me and it was like I was a junior officer under her command again. I remembered why so many would rather charge to their deaths than disobey that low, silky voice. "Youre already involved, Christos. Dont get both of us angry. You wouldnt like that."
I unsuccessfully tried to hold back a shudder. "Well, whats the plan?"
The forefinger stopped its percussion. "If we keep her off balance, we can wait her out. Gabriellell never trust Joxer to look after Eve for too long..."
"Off balance?" Great. Just what I wanted in my place. An Amazon with lethal killing skills, off balance.
"Go over and tell her that Desthus men are in the tavern. Thatll slow her down for a while."
So, trying not to show my nervousness, I made my way over to Gabrielle. She gave me a grim smile that did nothing for my blood pressure. She had been such a gentle soul once. I sighed.
She got to the point right away. "Whats going on, Christos? I thought the big bad warrior show would be over by now."
I knew Xena was depending on me, that the continued operation of my livelihood depended on me carrying this off. So I tried to sound casual. "A few of Desthus men followed her...."
That was as far as I got before those green eyes stopped me cold. "Friends dont lie to friends, Chris."
"Friends shouldnt scare friends..." I replied defensively.
"Ill deal with Xena."
"I dont mean Xena. Since the baby, well, shes sort of mellowed, you know. Its you thats..."
Embarrassed, I nodded .
I admit I jumped a little when her hand slammed onto the bar. "Ive about had it with this!...I know Ive changed, but its not like..."
At this point one of the strangers approached with a sloppy smile and I groaned inwardly. "Hey pretty lady, hows about you and me share some time..."
Gabrielle saw the look of fear on my face, and flushed.
She turned and gave the big guy a glare. "Sorry, but Im not interested, and Im talking with a friend."
I dont know where he came from, but one of the soldiers who had been with us at Desthus castle was suddenly draped around Gabrielle, his foul mouth inches from hers. "I wouldnt mind being your friend too."
I also dont know what he whispered into her ear, but her expression became very set. Worried, I looked over to Xena, but she was already out of her seat.
And I dont know exactly what Gabrielle did then. I think it was sort of like that dumb gag my brother-in-law pulls every Solstice. You know, he says "The hand is quicker than the eye," but he doesnt move, right? And then he says, "wanna see it again?"
Well, thats sort of what happened. I didnt see the heel of her foot hit him in the crotch.
If it werent for his Adams apple bulging out all sudden, like thats where his balls ended up, I would of sworn a Gorgon had just turned him to stone. He went all white too, then Gabrielle sort of disentangled herself from him, and he remained in the same position, except I heard a really high squeaking noise that might have meant anything.
I stared at Gabrielle. "Is he going to be okay?"
She looked at my new statuary. "Relatively..."
I noticed a small bead of sweat forming on the ridge of his nose. "Like, will he ever have any MORE relatives?"
Gabrielle didnt seem to like the look on my face. "Hey! That was reasonable force."
"Absolutely." I stopped. This was friend. Even if it was another friend that scared me. So taking my life in my hands, I pulled her over to a chair. She resisted a little. " Gabrielle? I cant fault you just now, but I didnt sweat like this when you walked into the place a year ago. A year ago, I was glad to see you, a year or two ago you told me there was always an alternative to violence."
I saw that weight again on her shoulders. "That was before I came through too many situations where there wasnt."
What do you say? This is a woman whod been through stuff I couldnt begin to imagine. I knew about the soldiers in the Roman prison, the Gods only know to what else she was referring. "Isnt it possible that those are still the exceptions?"
"Youre just saying that because you dont want me to start throwing chairs."
I stared her down. Not something thats easy to do. But we had known each other for a while. She knew I cared.
"Okay." She admitted. "But you tried to lie to me. You arent getting off free."
I laughed. "Longs you dont bust anything, you cant hurt me."
She laughed along with me. It took a few heartbeats before I realized her laugh wasnt the same as mine.
She smiled. I wasnt relieved by it at all.
"You want that innocent bard back? How about if I go up and tell the boys a story?" I didnt know what that meant, but with that smile, I know I started shaking my head.
"Did I ever tell you about the time we were on a ship that was submerged and overturned? You what kind of ship it was? It was a slave ship. And dyou know what ...facilities they dont have on a slave ship?
"There we were, in neck deep water, with ...stuff... floating all around us, no fresh air, pressure from the water outside, and the ship kept tossing from side to side, up and down...."
I looked around worriedly at the tavern of drunks. Guzzling my cheap rot gut. On my newly rebuilt and polished furniture. With all those small grooves that could take days to clean. "Gabrielle...?"
"...And have I mentioned what we had to eat?"
"Gabrielle?" I interrupted hurriedly. "Would you like me to close the bar for a minute, so you guys can be alone?"
She smiled with satisfaction. "You were right. There is an alternative sometimes."
I gave her a sickly laugh before getting up onto a table and bellowing out "Hey! Can I have everybodys attention!"
Not even a chair moved.
"Xena needs some time alone..." There were some raucous cheers.
"Because Gabrielle wants to talk with her."
That did it. The place started to clear in record time.
In the midst of all the rushing for the exits, Gabrielle glared at me, and I stepped back a bit. "You think this is funny."
I shook my head. "No darlin, not at all." She held my eyes for a moment, then wearily closed them. I saw that her partner was attempting to glide out unobtrusively with the rest of the crew.
Not you!" I pointed to the warrior. She stopped and slumped back into an unoccupied chair. Gabrielle remained at the bar so I went and stood over the warrior.
"I thought we had an understanding." She groused to me.
"We do. And its that Gabrielle is scary."
"What did she say?"
I tried my best oriental accent. "She say, the Warrior Princess must be made small."
There was a slight growl. I looked up to see Gabrielle bearing down on us both, and her face was as cold as I had ever seen it.
"So." She began. "Were you planning to tip this babysitter extra, so that you could stay out like this?"
Xena didnt flinch. "I needed some time away."
"Youre always away now. Even when youre with us."
I suddenly realized that I was standing between the two of them, and while trying to extricate myself, I said, "Look, maybe you two lovers need some time alone..."
Gabrielle was facing me when she spat it out "Lovers? Were not lovers anymore. She doesnt even care if I get jealous. Were two people condemned to be together for eternity, and it feels like its been that long already."
I think time stopped right there. I know my heart did.
I know Gabrielle regretted the words before they left her mouth, but she snapped it shut too late. Xena barely stiffened, but we both saw the shutters in her eyes close down tight. The regret in Gabrielles eyes changed to defiance.
I jumped back between them. "Umm, thats a...good point, Gabrielle. Ah, Xena, you know, I noticed that youve been sort of cool ever since India, you think it could be this whole eternity thing has you a bit spooked?"
Gabrielle wasnt finished, damn it. "What, Miss I shape my own destiny?"
Xena muttered, "That was before I couldnt stop us from being..."
The pain in Xenas eyes was enough to mollify Gabrielle. "Which we would have avoided it if I hadnt..."
"STOP IT, RIGHT NOW!" I couldnt believe it was me yelling. They both stared in shock, but I recovered quickly and tried to keep things moving. "We all know you two could keep swapping blame until the end of the day. But lets cut to the chase? Huh?
"Xena, I heard some of the rumours about what went on in Egypt. It didnt sound like you. Could it be that youre freaked out by this forever stuff? Possible? I know I would be. I feel chained, and Im only married in this lifetime. Maybe you could admit that? And Gabrielle? You know youre not leaving. Tell her. Tell her itd rip your heart out."
Silence. I pleaded with her. "Tell her, Gabrielle. You still love her?"
I groaned. "Not of course. This whole thing is because you guys are taking that for granted. Do you love her?"
Looking at the floor, she whispered. "Yes. I love her."
"Xena?" I asked.
She was looking at my fascinating floor as well. "You still..." she couldnt finish it, so I nudged Gabrielle. Thank Aphrodite, but she came through with no hesitation. "I love you. I dont care about forever, I need you now. Right here, the person I am. This lifetime."
The warrior swallowed before speaking. Then she let it out. "Okay. Yes. It feels... sometimes, " She stopped, both of us waiting. "....its like being trapped."
I know it hurt Gabrielle to hear that. It hurt Xena to say it. But Gabrielle slipped into the chair beside her and said. "Can we...do you want to work it out?"
Xena raised her eyes to face Gabrielle. "Yes. Hurting you...feels worse."
But Gabs exasperation broke through again, though. "When? We never have time..."
For the first time, they touched as Xena took her partners hand "Gabrielle, this thing with the Gods, it wont be like this much longer, it cant."
There were tears squeezed out when Gabrielle closed her eyes. "Yes, it will. It never lets up anymore. We keep expecting a break, and something...something worse comes along."
"Shhhhhh." Xena comforted. "No. Not if were together. One way or another were going to settle this. Then were going to take a nice long rest. Just the two of us. I promise."
Gabrielle looked into her eyes. Her voice broke slightly. "Just one more thing, right?"
Xena smoothed the short blond hair, but she heard the defeated note in that statement.
Gabrielle must have gotten some strength from the loving contact though, because her expression firmed suddenly. "Then I want to go right to the source. I want us to go see the Fates. I want to demand to know whats really going on."
Xena was silent for a moment, and then she nodded. "Together? We find out what is really happening...?"
"And we figure out a plan." Gabrielle prodded.
"The two of us."
"Put it all on the table."
"We make it together, or not at all." Xena affirmed.
"You want that? Do you really? Because thats what I need to have again."
"Then thats all thats important to me."
Now, as you can imagine, I was already to congratulate myself. I had done it. Single-handedly, I had kept these two legends together. That was worth every chill Id had today. They were just about to hug, I know it. I was moving to the bar to pour myself a drink and celebrate when Goddamit! Joxer had to show up. Carrying a familiar blue bundle.
Both Xena and Gabrielle stared at his grinning face in horror and nearly collided in their hurry to get to him. As we all anticipated, he tripped over a board and both women managed to catch a piece of the child, before Gabrielle passed her to Xena.
Xena then turned her anger on the hapless one. "Joxer, what have I told you about trying to do two things at the same time, when one of them is carrying EVE?"
"I was trying..."
"Yes. You are." Xena barked out.
Gabrielle raised her hand to calm Xena and laid the other on his shoulder. "Joxer, thank you for looking after her, but Xena and I need to be alone. Could you just go back to the camp and well be along later?"
Joxer looked to both their expressions, shrugged and with his back slumped, left. Gab and I sighed with relief and turned our attention to the just a moment before, furious, Destroyer of Nations. Who was talking to her child. Waving a finger in front of her eyes.
"Now, are you the sweeeee-test baby in the world, huh? Are you, are you?"
Both Gabrielle and I had smothered our smirks before Xena looked up at us, but she stared at our faces suspiciously. Gabrielle raised her hand and caressed the babys cheek with one delicate finger. The warrior raised the bundle and said "Would you...?"
"No. Its okay...cause if youd rather..."
I was rolling my eyes at this Centaur crap, when Xena muttered awkwardly "No... I smell of ale, and my breastplate... and....youre softer to hold...."
Gabrielles smile had always been a wonderful thing. I think Xena had almost forgotten that, because she looked at it like it was sunrise on the Parthenon, only more precious. I saw that force, that love again as Gabrielle cradled their child, and once more everything was right back on track. Until we heard that word.
One word. Clear as a bell.
If our eyes were wide on hearing it, they got even larger when we realized who had said it.
Who gurgled happily at the attention.
"Guess where she picked up that from?" Gabrielle said pointedly.
Xena eyes were a bit furtive. "Why are you looking at me?"
Overjoyed at having discovered this very successful new attention grabber, Eve added. "Bachae!"
"Well..." Xena waffled.
"Basthturd." Eve offered.
Xena folded under our stares. "Sometimes when I fight, and shes with me...."
But Eve wasnt finished.
"Cum!" Both Xena and I backed up a step. Xena looked at me quizzically. "Hey? Thats not one of mine."
"Nnnnnnipppple." That, even I recognized, and we turned to the Bard, but she was already trying to slink away with the evidence.
"Hold it." Gabrielle froze. Xena sauntered over to Gabrielle who was back examining my floor.
"Youve been reading THOSE scrolls to EVE?" she demanded.
That mutinous tone returned to Gabrielles voice "Ive been writing when were alone. You know I work out the stories aloud. I thought she was sleeping!" We were so close, I thought.
Xena was upset. "I didnt even know you were writing again...especially not THOSE stories."
"Its what I do ever since we stopped..." She stopped. Looked up at the warrior. "I only write THOSE scrolls because, we arent, because I want to, I need..."
Xenas voice was softer than I had heard it in a while. "Not much of a substitute, is it?"
"No. But its what I have."
Then the Warrior Princess showed that she too, had a pretty special smile. "I can think of a solution for that."
I figured that it was time to wash down the bar, and whistle very loudly. They both ignored me, but I could still hear them.
"First were going to pay a visit to the Fates, okay?"
"Well do whatever it takes."
"And then a long break? Just the two of us?"
"Just the two of us."
So arms around each other, without another word to me, they left. There was no tip, but I didnt mind. I figured, Id done pretty damned good business that day.
A long break, thats all they needed, I thought.
But I never saw them again.
Now, Im just a tavern keeper, and ex-soldier. But Ive got to believe, theyre still together. That they worked it out.
Because if they didnt, after all theyd been through for each other, and Love didnt survive....?
Love like that is worth believing in, right?
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