~The Gift ~

by Lawlsfan

Mild Alternative Content: No sex, but this short story does depict deep and enduring love between two consenting adults who just happen to be women. I guess this is a bit of a hurt/comfort type story, with a teensy bit of first time as well. In the story, Xena and Gabrielle share a special subtextual hands-on ‘something’ that some may find offensive. Although I really hate having to disclaim this content I suppose I am bound by convention to do so. So if this type of material offends you then perhaps you should read something else. There are plenty of great non-subtextual general X:WP stories out there.

Spoilers: Nothing major, this story follows its own timeline. Hey, this is the Xenaverse! However, tiny plot elements of "A Solstice Carol" and "Return of Callisto" have been borrowed and incorporated.

Xena:Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures 1995-1999. The story idea in "The Gift" is the property of the author (me). Any resemblance to real persons or locations is strictly coincidental. This story may not be copied and/or reproduced in any form without express written consent from the author. "The Gift" was completed and published to this site on 12/11/99.

Feedback is always welcome at: lawlsfan@aschweb.com. Don’t be shy, tell me how you feel.<g>

The bard was starting to fidget and pace. It had been several candle marks since Xena left on her way into the village on her secretive mission, secretive being a peculiar word to actually describe the situation. Gabrielle knew full well what the secret was; nope, the warrior wasn’t pulling any wool over those eyes today, and hadn’t been able to for several winters now. Particularly when every solstice eve since they’d met Xena would suddenly find some excuse to go into the nearest village, always insisting on going alone. By now it had just become a routine and the bard found the warrior’s excuses increasingly amusing every time. The latest version: ‘Gabrielle I’m going to see a man about a horse and ah…well, you and horses don’t get along, remember?’ Now that was certainly stretching it quite far because Xena had a perfectly good horse in Argo, so why in the world would she need to see a man about another. But it was just a game that they’d play, bantering back and forth, the warrior insisting on going alone and the bard insisting she’d need to accompany her. Back and forth they’d mock argue until Xena would throw out one of her off the wall excuses and Gabrielle would accept it as she always did. It was like a signal; I’m going now, end of discussion. Then off the warrior would go, alone of course, and with a grin a mile wide. The bard would wait patiently for her to return.

"It’s always worth the wait," Gabrielle thought as she continued to pace back and forth wringing her hands. "It’s just that the waiting is so hard."

Every once in a while a sound radiated from somewhere in the wooded area to the north of their campsite and the bard would glance in that direction with expectations high. Always she’d be disappointed to find a twittering bird or a wandering rabbit and not the wayward warrior she’d hoped for. Xena had said she would only be a couple of candle marks and here it was now three marks later. Gabrielle’s soft green eyes searched the wood line intently, searching for relief from the concern that suddenly insisted on gnawing at her heart. She was all too familiar with this feeling it seemed to her. Living with a warrior can do that. Yet another sound caught her ears, one more disappointment, a seemingly endless cycle had begun. It wasn’t like Xena to be late, it just wasn’t like her at all. Her concern grew though she fought it gallantly.

"Xena, where are you?" Gabrielle said softly as she bent down to tend the fire and start dinner preparations.

She searched for simple distractions; things that would make the time pass swiftly. For she knew in her heart that if she didn’t keep her mind occupied she’d find herself marching into the village in search of her companion. And just what would she do if she found her? What would she say when she found herself captured in the inquisitive stare of those azure blue eyes? No, this mission was something Xena had insisted on doing alone and the bard knew that if she took it upon herself to venture into town looking for her, the warrior would most certainly be angered. Especially after Xena had been so damned adamant about her staying put here. Tonight of all nights she did not want her to be angry with her; it was solstice eve and it was always a very special night for them. And this night, their fifth eve together, would be extra special. She glanced at her leather travel bag hanging from a low tree branch across the clearing, arched her eyebrow, and smiled. Very special indeed….

*****

Xena wandered through the vendors rather aimlessly; it seemed to her that she had been wandering for days. She knew she wanted to get something very special for the bard this solstice but she hadn’t a clue of what or where to begin. Her piercing blue eyes darted here and there studying the various arrays of woodcarvings, linens, weapons, jewelry, and pottery. But, as yet nothing in this bartering capital captured her sense of that unique gift, the one that would make those green eyes enkindle and dance with joy.

She loved the light in those eyes and anything she could do to keep it there, no matter how small, would be her goal today as every day. It was just that this day was particularly special because it happened that this was their fifth eve together, a milestone of sorts. Yes, a perfect gift was definitely in order. It had to be something that would say for the warrior all the things she found it so hard to put into words. It had to say how grateful she was that the bard had stuck around through all the tribulations that naturally followed a warrior. It had to clearly express how much she felt deep down that they’d be together always. And of course, it had to speak to how much the bard had captured her heart, how much she…loved her. The warrior shook her head at the last thought. "Gods, why can’t I just say that myself?"

Suddenly she stopped in her tracks and stared down at a table in front of her. It was filled with various woodcarvings but there was one in particular that had captured her eye. A smile lit upon her face as she reached down and picked up a carving of a lamb. By the gods, it was just like the one she had given Gabrielle on their first solstice together. She noted with delight that it’s mouth moved when its tail was pulled. Suddenly she felt as though she had been transported back to her own youth, simply spellbound and positively gleeful in the simple act of pulling the tail and watching the mouth move. For a moment the warrior princess was happily lost in her memories and totally oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the marketplace around her. More importantly she failed to notice the set of dark brown eyes that had been studying her progress from across the market.

*****

Magrius watched the tall raven-haired warrior woman intently as she slid between the vendors pausing occasionally to pick up an item and appraise it thoroughly. His rat-like eyes followed her every movement, studied her posture, and gauged her strength in stature versus his own. Yea, he guessed he could take her with some help from his friends. Licking his lips and grinning arrogantly he glanced away from the woman long enough to make eye contact with each of his henchmen who were scattered about the marketplace disguised as vendors. Then slowly his eyes drifted along the edge of the roof above the street and came to rest on a crossbow arrow, drawn back and poised to carry out his evil bidding. He nodded affirmatively at the archer and raised his hand to signal a temporary hold in the plan, then returned his attention to the warrior woman and calmly resumed his intense study.

 

"No need to rush things," he thought as he hunkered down behind the water barrel and waited patiently for just the right moment. "Besides, she ain’t bad to look at. I think I’ll let her keep her head a little longer."

*****

Xena set the lamb back down on the table and looked around. She had sensed…something. Someone was watching her intently; she could feel it, the skin on the back of her neck was crawling. Narrowing her eyes she scanned quickly to her left seeing nothing but rows and rows of solstice shoppers and vendors. Nothing and no one appeared out of the ordinary. She looked to the right and saw more of the same. Shrugging it off as shopping anxiety she started to relax again and turned back toward the table. Then she saw it. It positively jumped out at her; the one special gift she’d been searching for. She picked it up and turned it over in her hand and delighted in her odd luck. "Yep, you’re the one," she said quietly then called for the vendor.

"Yea, what can I get you lady?"  The proprietor inquired as he swiped bits of sawdust from his tunic and trousers.

"This one. How much?"

"Three dinars."

Without hesitation Xena shook her head affirmatively. She was not a haggler like the bard. Just get in and get out as fast as possible, as long as the price was reasonable of course. But this particular item was priceless in her mind and she simply wouldn’t leave here without it, no matter the cost. She glanced at more of the carvings scattered about on the table. The etchings they contained were finely elegant and beautiful and she decided this man was a splendid artisan.

"And for an extra two dinars could I get you to add some things to this for me?"

The vendor shook his head affirmatively.

"Sure, what would you like?"

Xena pointed to the item in her hand.

"Well. Right here I’d like you to…."

*****

Magrius saw the warrior woman hand the vendor several dinars and then watched as she and the artisan discussed the details of the item for a long while. He couldn’t help but notice that throughout this exchange the woman seemed a little…uncharacteristically distracted. He grinned sadistically and his eyes closed to narrow slits as he rose up from his hiding place.

"Well, no time like the present to get me a warrior princess," he thought as he quickly raised his left hand calling the attention of his henchmen while simultaneously drawing his sword with his right. He would have her head, and for his efforts would become a very rich and famous man. Suddenly he dropped his hand to signal the others and leapt with gusto toward a momentarily unfocused and unawares warrior princess. A very rich man indeed. Yea, Ares would surely see to that. What a great offering to the god of war this was going to be.

*****

Gabrielle paused from slicing vegetables to look up at the sky. The sun was rapidly fading and she estimated that Xena had been gone now roughly four marks. She dropped the remaining vegetables and the strips of rabbit into the pot and stirred them briskly for a moment as she wondered what she should do. Something was wrong; the bard could sense it. Xena would never be this late and she sure wouldn’t miss dinner unless she was in trouble. The bard rose and starting pacing, her hands clenching and unclenching while her mind reeled with the possibilities. The warrior had a lot of enemies. What if she had run into one of them? What if she had been caught off guard? What if she had been kill…?

"Oh stop it Gabrielle!" the bard suddenly chastised herself aloud for her wild speculations. "Xena doesn’t get caught off guard. She’s the most focused person I know." She shook her head and sat down again on the log next to the fire. As her thoughts continued to swirl she absently picked up bits of grass and wood and tossed them into the fire, watching as they burst into tiny fireballs and seemed to incinerate into thin air before her eyes.

"She’ll be here. She probably just got hung up in the village. Maybe she decided to stop at the tavern and have an ale or two. After all it is the solstice eve. Or maybe she had problems picking out your solstice gift you nit."

The bard tried to calm her nerves as best she could by turning her attention back to dinner. She proceeded to stir the stew slowly and deliberately, hoping that the aroma would somehow drift its way to the warrior princess and draw her back. After watching the vegetables and bits of rabbit swirl hypnotically in the pot for what seemed an eternity to her, Gabrielle placed the spoon down on the fire ring, pulled her legs into her chest, and let her head drop onto her knees. She gazed into the flames but kept her ears trained intently on the woods for the slightest sound of movement.

"Nope, I know her…she wouldn’t miss dinner." She closed her eyes and waited. "Gods, this waiting is too hard. Next time I’m going with her to see that man about that horse...."

*****

Xena had just finished telling the artisan what she wanted him to do when she heard the faint sound of a sword being unsheathed. She casually placed the gift back down on to the table while keeping her eyes on the vendor in front of her. In his orbs she could clearly see a growing look of fear as he locked onto the rapidly advancing menace somewhere behind her. Although by all outward appearances nothing seemed amiss to any passersby, internally she was kicking into warrior overdrive as she prepared herself both mentally and physically for the battle she knew was about to ensue. Every highly tuned nerve, sinew, and muscle was brought into line and readied. She caught a flash and movements out of the corner of her eye and in lightning quick response drew her own sword and turned to face who ever was rapidly approaching her. But in that briefest of moments something else caught her eye and she hesitated. Within the crowd of solstice shoppers to her left, a figure definitively stood out from the rest: a familiar blonde-haired, leather-clad figure. She felt those intense brown eyes studying her every movement, burning into her. It was all so familiar. It made her cringe. "Ah no, not her again…."

Magrius saw an opening, witnessed the rarest of hesitations and mysterious loss of focus. He took full advantage and lunged at the warrior woman with all the speed and might that he could muster, thrusting his sword menacingly toward her heart. The woman reacted with amazing agility just as he was about to pierce her body and claim his prize. At the last second she spun to her left causing his sword to catch nothing but air. In the same movement she brought her right forearm and the butt of her sword back around and down across the nape of his skull, knocking him into the table in front of him and causing his head to start spinning. As he slowly slid to the ground and his eyesight faded to gray he heard the faint twang of an arrow leaving a bow. Then he smiled and succumbed contentedly to the blackness overtaking him. Yes, he'd be a very rich man indeed.

Xena heard the distinctive zing of an arrow approaching. She immediately sensed from which direction it was heading and prepared to leap out of the way. But again, something caught her attention and she hesitated. In that moment, a time so short that she was unable to think a complete thought, she saw a small form out of the corner of her eye and she innately knew what she had to do. This child was in the direct path of an arrow, an arrow meant for her, and now she did not have time to calculate its trajectory and raise her hand to stop it. She closed her eyes, stood still as a statue, and waited.

*****

Gabrielle suddenly opened her eyes and raised her head. She immediately reached up and rubbed her left shoulder, which had suddenly and inexplicably developed a severe cramp.

"What in Zeus’ name…ouch!" she shouted as she jumped up and shook her arm several times. "Son of a bacchae, my arm fell asleep."

Pacing back and forth beside the fire she continued shaking her arm rather violently trying to get the circulation flowing again. By the severe tingling and ache in her fingers she could tell that it was starting to work. But no matter how much she rubbed her shoulder, the pain in it seemed to worsen rather than be relieved.

 

"Hmm, must have overdone it with all that sparring yesterday. Guess I have to keep in mind I’m not as young as I used to be."

She grinned as she recalled all the young Amazons she had sparred with the previous day. They just kept coming and coming, challenging her, all wanting to learn the many ways of felling an enemy with a staff. And of course she was the queen, and according to rights, designated by all as the master. "I’m darned good to." She chuckled at the thought of her, the little bard from Poteidaia, training young Amazons the art of warfare. She was bemused at how they actually looked up to her even though most of them towered over her in physical stature. Of course the warrior princess had been outright amused by this idolizing of her bard as she stood leaning against a tree at the edge of the field taking it all in and grinning from ear to ear. Gabrielle smiled broadly as she recalled the sight of her there: tall, dark, beautiful, and brimming with pride.

Abruptly another noise erupted from the woods and interrupted the bard’s thoughts. She spun around and gazed toward the tree line.

"Xena?" she inquired hopefully.

Silence. Then she glimpsed a young deer dancing away through the brush. Just as quickly as it had come, her grin disappeared into lines of concern that edged deeply into her face. She looked up at the sky and took note that the sun was dipping closer to the horizon.

"Ok Xena. I’ll wait another candle mark and if you’re not back by then I’m coming to find you whether you like it or not."

She absent-mindedly continued to rub her shoulder and stared into the stew, listening; waiting for a sign as to what she should do.

*****

Xena spun around, stumbled, and fell to her knees. Searing pain rocketed through her left shoulder and into her chest. She glanced down at the shaft of the crossbow bolt protruding from just below her collarbone and slightly to the left and above her heart, suddenly aware of a bloody taste in her mouth and a slight heaviness to her breathing. She wasn’t sure how far the arrow had penetrated but there was not a lot of shaft visible. Stunned and fighting the lightheadedness that threatened to overtake her, she raised her eyes to meet those of one of the most beautiful little girls she had ever seen. She could not have been more than eight winters old and her hair was the color of the sun, her eyes as brown as the earth after a morning rain. Xena’s own eyes misted over when she realized the girl’s entire face was filled with terror at the sight of this woman on her knees in front of her with an arrow protruding horrifically from her chest. No child should have to see this.

 

"Just like no child should ever have to watch her village and her family burn…."

Xena shuddered as thoughts of Callisto abruptly entered her mind. Had it been her she’d seen across the market in that instant? Had the blonde warrior come around again seeking vengeance for something the warlord Xena had allowed her army to do so long ago? Was this, an arrow from a rooftop, to be the ultimate retribution at the hands of her worst enemy? No, it just didn’t seem to be Callisto’s style….

The warrior mustered her strength to smile reassuringly at the young girl as she fought to remain upright. "It’s Ok," she said softly and then watched as the corners of the girl’s mouth slowly curved upward and the terror seemed to dissipate. Then the spinning in Xena’s head abruptly overcame her and she fell backward, coming to rest on her back gazing up at the darkening sky. "Gods, some special present I’m giving the bard this solstice," she thought as her own smile slowly faded into a grimace with the next onset of wave after wave of excruciating pain.

But her pain-induced stupor was to be short-lived when she was suddenly stirred from it by a familiar war cry erupting from the midst of a throng of onlookers. She turned her head in the direction of the gut wrenching sound and caught a blur of blond-haired, leather-clad fury as it made its way though the crowd toward where she lay. At the same time she heard a scuffle and commotion at her feet and turned to see one of the ‘vendors’ draw a sword from under a table. He pushed several bystanders roughly out of his way as he also advanced toward her. Caught in the middle she struggled desperately to get to her feet but the pain in her shoulder and chest caused her head to spin so violently she was forced to fall backward again.

 

"Gabrielle, I know I’ve never told you but…I love you," Xena thought as she heard the blonde warrior remove her sword from its sheath and come closer and closer to where she now lay motionless and helpless in the dirt. "Always."

The warrior princess closed her eyes then. She took a deep but somewhat labored breath and submitted to the blackness and a peaceful silence that drowned out the sounds of that shrill war cry and the swords clashing above and around her.

*****

Darkness was beginning to settle when the bard rose abruptly and glanced toward the woods. She had heard…something. Suddenly overcome with an inexplicable feeling of unease she quickly leaned over, grabbed her staff, and held it at ready in both hands.

"Who’s there?"

Her knuckles turned white as she grasped the staff tighter and waited. Silence. She continued to scan the tree line intently.

"Hello Gabrielle."

The bard felt her heart jump into her throat as she heard the all too familiar voice coming from behind her. It was a voice of venomous lunacy that she had come to hate, to fear, and to dread. Her hands gripped her staff even tighter but otherwise she remained completely motionless and kept her eyes forward as she silently plotted her next move. "Whirl around quickly and with one strategically placed blow to her midsection, take her down. Yes, take her down hard, then…."

"Ah, ah, ah, my sweet."

Gabrielle could feel the presence behind her drawing nearer. She didn’t move and remained silent.

"Don’t even think about it. Now you just put that thing down, turn around here, and give me a proper solstice greeting."

Sensing the brown eyes studying her intently Gabrielle knew that any move she made right now would be read by this woman and reacted to even before she made it. Breathing deeply, the bard forced her muscles to relax. She’d just have to wait for an opening, a moment of distraction. Then she would make her move. That is if she weren’t dead before then. She allowed the staff to drop out of her right hand and brought it up in her left, planted the end solidly into the ground, and then pivoted around to face her intruder.

"Callisto. What are you doing here?!" she said with indignation and a calmness that belied the agitated fear she felt inside. Her eyes shot fiery daggers at the blonde warrior.

Callisto cocked her head and smiled while she continued to study the bard in silence. Her smile broadened into a cheshire cat grin upon noting the bard’s seething expression. It always seemed to pleasure her to no end.

"Hmm, I’ve got a surprise for you little one," she said with an egotistical lilt.

"Callisto, nothing about you could possibly surprise me anymore," Gabrielle said, her voice low and calm but clearly glazed with sarcasm and thinly veiled hatred. Her glare was steady.

"Now Gabrielle, where is your solstice spirit? My, my…if looks could kill…"

"Callisto! What do you want?"

"I don’t want anything…yet. As I said, I have a surprise for you. And I think you’ll like it." She hesitated and looked the bard up and down slowly. "Nope, I’m sure you will like it."

Gabrielle studied the blonde warrior intently. She gazed sternly into her eyes and her face and thought she saw, at least for an instant, a flash of sincerity there. "Nah, that can’t be," she thought as she forced herself to keep her guard up against this woman who had wrought nothing but pain and anguish to both her and Xena. "This is Callisto, and sincerity is definitely not in her arsenal."

"Gabrielle?"

"What!? You know Xena will be back any time now and when she comes…."

"Xena…oh yea. You know I met her in the village. She wasn’t looking too good last time I saw her." Callisto crinkled her nose, then watched and waited with an amused smirk for the bard’s reaction to this news.

Gabrielle cringed and her heart sank as she realized that just as she had speculated, Xena had indeed met one of her enemies in the village. And the warrior had, as Callisto would have her believe, apparently lost the fight. But where had Xena’s best friend and battle mate been? Here in the woods stirring her stew when she should have been at her side waging war against this demon now standing before her.

 

"Xena, I’m sorry," Gabrielle thought and quickly turned her back toward Callisto so that this woman, whom she despised above all of Xena’s enemies, could not see the tears of frustration and rage welling up in her eyes. Her voice was strained to the breaking point as she struggle within to maintain control.

"What have you done with…to her? If you’ve hurt her I swear to the gods I’ll cut you down where you stand."

"Oh Gabrielle, I do love that fire in you." Callisto chuckled with not so subtle rancor. "But please, don’t get that lovely blonde hair of yours in a knot. I didn’t kill her. Matter of fact I didn’t even lay a hand on her…well, not exactly. Oh, and I do know where she’s at so if you kill me…well then, your precious Xena will just have to rot."

Gabrielle spun back around and studied the blonde’s face again. Now she was sure she saw a flicker of sincerity residing there behind all the antagonistic chatter: a faint, barely visible flicker of compassionate candor. Callisto was telling her the truth…perhaps. Or could this just be her own wishful thinking playing tricks with her mind and heart? It didn’t matter; right now it was all she had to hang onto. She had to believe.

"Now, can I show you my surprise?" Callisto inquired dryly.

The bard watched her enemy’s face closely for a sign, any sign that would indicate her intentions or her motivation. She cringed at the wicked smirk that covered Callisto’s face, a face that had haunted the bard in Morpeus’ lair for many winters now. In her dreams she would have plunged a blade through that evil heart and watched with glee as the smirk was washed from her face by a river of blood. But this was not a dream. This was real, and Callisto seemed intent on showing her something, which she had an odd feeling had to do with Xena. And if indeed Xena was still alive it might offer a clue as to her condition or whereabouts. Yes, she conceded reluctantly, she must except this offering from her bitterest enemy…just this once, but certainly never again. No, never again.

"Alright…." The bard responded softly.

Callisto smiled broadly and turned to walk away.

"You wait here. I’ll be back."

Gabrielle watched the blonde warrior stroll arrogantly away and disappear into the woods. Night had fallen around them during their exchange and the bard felt a chill envelop her as she gazed into the blackness beyond the ring of light provided by the campfire. She moved closer to the fire, shivered, and waited.

"Gods I never thought I’d see the day that I’d want to see Callisto return."

As she stood in silence once again, her mind traveled back to that day, the awful day when the blonde warrior mercilessly slew her husband. Perdicus didn’t have to die; it was all so senseless. And she thought about how she had nearly claimed Callisto’s life in vengeance though it would have destroyed her to do it. She recalled the times that this woman had plotted and schemed and in some manner tried to kill either her or Xena, even using her as bait to draw the warrior princess into the wicked one’s snares. The woman was a despicable beast. And now the bard could only marvel at how she stood here waiting patiently for the monster to return, willed her to return as soon as possible and to bring her some clue as to Xena’s mysterious disappearance. It was all she had at the moment and she clung to it desperately; suddenly this monster was her hope. She shivered again, but this time it was not from the cold.

"Callisto, I swear to Zeus in heaven if this is a trick, this time I will have your blood on my hands." Gabrielle hadn’t realized she’d spoken out loud until she heard the response radiate from the blackness behind her.

"No…no tricks my pet. After all this is solstice eve. No tricks.   Uh-uh...just treats."

The bard spun around toward the sound of Callisto’s voice and stared into the woods trying to pierce the darkness with her eyes. She heard what sounded like horses hooves hitting against rock and a familiar equine snort. Her heart began to thump wildly in her chest.

 

"Xena?"

Finally she could make out the form of the blonde warrior leading a familiar golden-colored horse. They advanced slowly into the ring of firelight.

"Argo!" the bard exclaimed and took a step toward them. But as they advanced even further her heart sank and her face fell pale. For in that instant, she could clearly make out a seemingly lifeless form hanging over the mare’s back. And it was despairingly clear who it was; there was no mistaking the raven colored hair that hung out from under the blanket that had been loosely tossed over the body. The bard felt faint and stumbled backward nearly falling into the fire.

"Gabrielle, perhaps you should sit down. You don’t look well my dear," Callisto said casually as she reached up and tied Argo’s reins to a branch near her head.

Suddenly the bard’s rage overtook her senses and her immediate sensibilities. She sprang into action. Without warning or words she rushed headlong at the blonde warrior and swung her staff savagely at her head. Callisto simply smiled and caught the wood in mid air, held it tightly for a moment, and then yanked it from the bard’s grasp and nonchalantly tossed it into the woods behind her. It was all over in a blink of an eye.

"Now, now, temper my little starling. Where is your solstice spirit, huh? I come bearing gifts and this is your response?"

Gabrielle stood seething, her eyes brimming with pure hatred and loathing.

"You bitch! I swear to Zeus I’ll have your heart…."

The bard’s furiously scathing verbal attack was abruptly interrupted when she detected a low moan emanating from under the blanket. She spun toward Argo and saw a bloodstained hand twitch.

"Xena?"

The harried bard rushed to Argo’s side and flung the blanket back revealing the warrior’s face and upper body. She gently cradled Xena’s head in her hands while she quickly tried to assess her condition. There was blood, lots of blood. It had flowed in rivulets down the back of Xena’s neck and over her left cheek. The bard ran her fingers over the warrior’s face and through her hair but found no wounds. Then she noticed the gaping hole next to her left shoulder blade and checked the warrior’s face again. Sure enough there was a hint of frothy blood at the corners of her mouth; the arrow had grazed her lung. Xena wheezed and Gabrielle shuddered.

Callisto stood with her arms crossed watching the bard’s inspection of the unconscious warrior princess. Gabrielle glanced warily up at her. Meanwhile, Xena moaned softly as she became semi-conscious and aware of the bard’s touch. She coughed and a small bit of bloody froth streamed from her mouth and onto the Gabrielle’s thigh. The bard gathered the warrior’s head into her hands again trying to soothe her and ease her breathing.

"It’s Ok Xena, I’ve got you now," she whispered reassuringly into the warrior’s ear. Then she glanced at Callisto again.

"Callisto?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you think you could give me a hand to get her down from here?"

The blonde warrior cocked her head to the side and smirked.

"Oh I don’t know, I just deliver the goods. I don’t…"

"Callisto, please!" Gabrielle shouted in frustration. Totally exasperated and bordering on breakdown, something she simply could not afford at the moment, she brought her forehead down to rest lightly against the side of Xena’s face.

She knew that she must get Xena down off Argo as soon as possible to tend to her wounds. And after a moments pause, she also realized that she couldn’t do it alone, at least not without causing the warrior excessive discomfort in the process. She raised her head and tenderly removed a lock of black hair from Xena’s bloodied face. Then she studied the warrior’s features intently as though searching for inspiration there. Almost immediately she knew what she had to do.

"Please." The bard pleaded in a soft and steady voice. "If you don’t help me she may die. And I know you would not have brought her out here if you had wanted that to happen. I’m sure it would have ended in the village." Without raising her eyes she noticed a slight shift in the blonde warrior’s body language that indicated her words were hitting on some odd truth locked within that deep dark psyche. The bard sighed and continued with her voice now almost a whisper. "Please, Callisto. Help me to help her live."

Part 2

 


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