Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Herodotus and Argo belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended during the writing of this piece of fan fiction. It was not done for profit, whatever that is.

Subtext Warning: Yeah, subtext. This story implies a loving relationship between two consenting adult women. So if you are under 18, it offends you or it is illegal in the state/country in which you live, read no further.

Violence Warning: No, not really, unless you find broken bones ikkey.

Author's Note: Written on a cold spring day (at least they told me spring started in March) in Denmark. Rain, snow, mist, wind blah, blah, blah. I'm only here for two weeks, so I thought I'd take advantage of the depressing weather and write a depressing story before I head back to warmer climes.

P.S. I wrote the ending in a warmer clime.

Feedback: I'm at archaeobard@hotmail.com

I Returned to Poteidaea…

By archaeobard

I returned to Poteidaea because I needed to rest, not because I needed her. At least that's what I told myself. I had left her there before the first snows of winter and had gone. She would be safe, she was with family. I left to aid a small village that had lost most of its men in a raid. They suffered heavily throughout the winter. There was never enough wood cut for fuel or grain stored for food. I assisted them as best I could, but I was only one. When the sickness struck, the village all but died. Not on the outside, but in its heart. The worst kind of death. I could do nothing, my strength, my heart, my fire were useless things to these forsaken people. I left after burying Sidonia, a gifted healer. With her gone, the village closed in on itself, shutting everything, even me, out. Yet winter was by now in its final throws, they would survive.

So, as the clouds gathered for one of their last winter storms I trudged down the well worn, mud engorged path towards home, towards Gabrielle. I have known her for three years. Those are years I will never allow myself to forget, even in the babbling senility of old age. She was my guide in the dead of the blackest night when I thought all the light in the world had gone out. She was there, always there. No matter what I did, how much I hated, how much I strove to destroy myself and her, she was there. How she hated to be left behind when I went to the village.

"But Xena, I belong with you!" she had pleaded.

I had smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Gabrielle, trust me, you will be needed here this winter." I had said warmly.

"Xena, I…"

"No Gabrielle, its only a few months, think of all the good you can do."

She had turned away then, to hide hot tears. I knew they were falling, for I knew the bard better than I knew myself.

I smiled at the memory. How good it would be to see her again. It had been a long winter for me in more ways than one. I had finally come to realise the depth of my feelings for the small bard. It sounds strange for a warrior used to death to admit, but it took the struggle and torment of the village for me to understand just how right Gabrielle was. There was another half to everyone's soul, and in her, I had found mine.

The trees rose around me as ethereal spectres out of the mist. A chill wind blew and I gathered my cloak more closely about me. I had left Argo with Gabrielle, as food, especially fodder was in short supply where I had been. One more mouth to feed was not needed. Yet now, on the return journey, I would dearly loved to have had Argo beneath me. Shaking my head to dispel the thought I concentrated on trail ahead. I began to see familiar land marks and my sorrow of the past few months began to flee. Gabrielle was waiting for me.

After some time I passed into the village. Few were on the streets, but those who saw me gave me down cast looks. I must have looked a sight. I had lost weight, my face almost gaunt. My eyes had lost their lustre and my cloths hung limp and sodden from my body. Still, my heart was light as I trudged up to Gabrielle's door. I knocked once before it opened, and there stood Herodotus, not Gabrielle. It was then that the first prickings of fear snaked into my stomach.

"Herodotus," I said, trying to keep the alarm from my voice, "where is Gabrielle?"

He opened and closed his mouth a few times, pain etched around his eyes. Finally he gave up trying to speak and gestured me in side. I took his invitation, dumping my cloak in the hall. He led me to the back of the house, to where Gabrielle slept. I opened the door to her room gingerly and caught a whiff of something….foul, like rotting flesh long after a battle, of wounded dying, there bodies poisoned by their wounds. There lay Gabrielle, partially propped up on some pillows, her face flushed with fever, her eyes unseeing and clouded in pain.

"She broke her leg." Offered her father.

I ran to her, my heart dying inside. I had seen enough men die from wounds such as this that I dared not think about it. I knelt by her bed and removed the covers over her leg. The foul odour worsened and I had to pull away for a moment. The leg had been splinted, but not nearly so well as it should have been. The wound in her thigh where her bone had protruded was puckered and purple. Someone had tried to stich it but had obviously no idea what they were doing. Long red streaks ran along her thigh. It was poison of the blood.

"Why was this not attended to properly?" I had almost shouted at Herodotus. I couldn’t let myself give way to the grief I felt about to overcome me.

"Our…our healer was called way. There was no one else."

Just then a hand gripped my forearm in a vice-like grip. Wild eyes stared at me.

"Don't you cut if off, it's my leg! I want Xena, oh Gods, Xeennnaaa."

"Shh Gabrielle." I soothed, brushing hair back from her face. "I'm here, no-one's going to cut your leg off."

She whimpered then. I didn’t know if she knew it was me, but she fell silent, her breathing a little easier.

"I've got to re-open this wound, its festering, then we've got to get her down to the river."

"The river? But why?"

"Just get me a sharp knife, some bandages and warm water. Do you want your daughter to live Herodotus?"

That seemed to move him. He returned shortly with the requested items. I heated the knife he provided in the fire and asked him to hold Gabrielle down while I set to work. The wound was ripe and split open easily. A scream broke forth from Gabrielle, I hated to cause her pain, but it had to be done. A bright stream of puss and blood flowed freely. I mopped at the wound, squeezing the sides slightly to remove as much of the foul matter as I could. Gabrielle writhed beneath Herodotus.

"O sweet Zeus, let her be alright." I heard him mutter.

I sent up my own prayer to Artemis at his time, "Artemis, she is your favoured among mortals, don’t let her die."

Once the wound was cleaned I noticed the extent of the rotting flesh. I packed the wound lightly. "The river." I said.

Between us Herodotus and I managed to carry the stricken bard to the shores of the river. There, I unwrapped the wound, gathered Gabrielle into my arms and waded into the freezing water. The cold was so much like pain that I gasped. The body in my arms jerked violently as I submerged it to the waist.

"Its alright Gabrielle." I murmured softly in her ear. For here, in these chilly depths were creatures better suited to the task at hand than any healer I knew. I felt them around us, bumping into my legs, nudging me. Then they found what they sought. Gabrielle struggled and cried out, but I hung on and let the fish do their work. They were eating the dead flesh from her wound. I had used this method dozens of times on my own soldiers, whether it be for a gangrenous wound or an ulcer. The fish would clean the area thoroughly, and the chill of the water would seek to sooth the roaring fever in Gabrielle's blood. After that, it was up to her.

I let the fish feast for while longer. My arms were numb from the cold and having to hold Gabrielle. I dragged myself from the waters and gave the bard to her father. He stared at me in wonderment after he looked to the wound. Now there was nothing but healthy pink flesh. True, a large hole was exposed on Gabrielle's thigh, but the dead flesh was gone.

"How?" he asked, eyes wide.

"The fish." I replied and let him draw his own conclusions.

Back at the house, I made a compress for Gabrielle's wound and re-splinted her leg. I sat with her by the fire, warming her until Herodotus had changed her bed linen. I tucked her in bed and sat next to her, holding her hand.

Herodotus had left the room, but returned shortly with two steaming mugs of soup. I took one gratefully in one hand, not daring to let go of Gabrielle with the other. He sat on a chair near the bed and scrutinised me. He took a sip of his soup and spoke.

"You love her, don’t you?"

I was surprised. "Yes." I said simply, "With all my heart, she is my life, without her I am nothing."

He nodded. "She doesn't know, its killing her, for she also loves you."

My eyes narrowed and I felt a stirring of something, hope? "She told you this?" I asked.

"No, but she wouldn't, would she? I'm not blind Xena, I can see how the two of you are together, like two halves of the whole. Tell her how you feel." He rose to leave the room but I called him back.

"Thankyou." I said. He nodded and walked away.

I sat there for a few minutes, sipping my soup and holding Gabrielle's hand. Even in unconsciousness there seemed to be a life force flowing through her. I rested my head on her shoulder and closed my eyes. I didn't know if she could hear me. I didn't know where to begin, so I began at the beginning.

"When I think of my childhood I think of light and hope. When I think of my childhood, I think of Lyceus. When I think of my childhood I think of Cortese. I think of the death of light and hope, and the birth of hate and destruction. I did not have a childhood. I grew up into a Destroyer of Nations. I can see the face of every life I have destroyed, they haunt me, nameless faces, swirling in a mist of regret. If the dead truly can hear your thoughts, then they should hear mine now. I was not born to kill, I was born to love, but I killed all love. I built up the walls around my heart with corpses, so many. I cannot bring them back. No matter how much good I now do, I cannot bring them back. But Gabrielle, somewhere along the line of death and destruction those corpses I had piled around me for so long began to rot, letting something in. First it was Hercules, then it was you. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but the corpses crumbled to dust at your feet. You got inside, you made me feel. Once I began feeling I could not stop. This tough warrior exterior is nothing more than a fašade now Gabrielle. You are my beacon of light, my life. I love you, you can’t know how much I love you. I would willingly die so you may live. I love you with the entirety of my soul. I know that now. I could never leave you, please, don't leave me." I could say no more, I cried frightened tears onto her shoulder until I finally fell asleep.

I awoke when I felt eyes on me. The room was dark, the fire low. I sat up, instantly alert to any danger, yet none was forthcoming. Instead:

"Hey." Came a soft voice that could only have been Gabrielle's. A flood of relief washed over me.

"Hey yourself." I said in the gloom, reaching out a hand to feel her forehead. It was warm, but not uncomfortably so. Gabrielle's fever had broken. "You gave me quite a scare there." I managed.

"Me too." She said, "My leg?" If I could have seen her eyes I was certain they would have been full of fear, like her voice.

"Its there." I said. A sigh of relief escaped the supine figure. "You're going to have quite some scar, but you'll walk." I did not want to delude her.

"Oh."

I released her then to light a couple of lamps. I wanted to examine her wound. I returned momentarily with the burning tapers and set them by the bed.

"Why did you come?" she asked.

"My work at the village was finished, I was coming home." I said simply.

"I'm glad you're here."

"And I'm glad you're here." I said as I removed the bandage around her thigh as gently as I could. She winced in pain. "I'm sorry Gabrielle, I never want to hurt you."

"It's alright Xena, it has to be done."

The wound was clean and free of blood. The fish had done a good job. I replaced the poultice to stop infection and re-bound her leg.

"Looks like you'll live." I said with a half smile. I sent silent thanks to Artemis. "Do you want some water?" I asked.

She nodded her head and I once again rose to retrieve the requested material. I sat beside Gabrielle and helped her sit up a little better. I held a cup to her lips and she drank thirstily. "There," I said when she had finished, "feel better?"

"Much." She said softly, burying her head in my shoulder. I put my arm around her and drew her close, kissing the top of her head.

"Does it hurt much?" I asked.

"Not when you're here."

I smiled into her hair at that and sniggered softly. "Oh Gabrielle, you always know the right things to say."

"I'm a bard."

"Yes, you're a bard, and I love that bard very much." I said, kissing the top of her head again.

She pulled back slightly, "Wh…what did you say?" she asked as if she didn’t want to believe her own ears.

"I said," I pulled her to me once more, "I love that bard very much."

"You…you love me?" she sounded so innocent.

"Yes Gabrielle, I love you. It's taken me forever to realise it, but now I have, I'll never let you go. Your father was right, I did need to speak to you, even if you couldn't hear me."

"My father!?" she asked in a frightened voice.

I nodded my head against her, "Yes, he's a very wise man Gabrielle, he sees and understands more than you know."

"Oh Gods, my father!" she choked.

"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" I tried to soothe her.

"I…I can't have my father knowing... Dear Gods Xena it's …it's …embarrassing!"

I couldn't believe what she was saying, thankfully I was saved from answering by a voice at the door.

"There's nothing embarrassing about it my dear," said Herodotus, "love is love, you two are meant to be together. Don't fight it Gabrielle, you'll only hurt yourself."

"Listen to your father Gabrielle, he's right. I've spent the last two years fighting against something that was stronger than me. It doesn't work, trust me." I said.

"Two years?" Gabrielle echoed, "You've loved me for two years?"

I nodded, "But I was too afraid to say anything. Somehow, working in that village over winter made me realise that life is too short to ignore what your heart is telling you, so I'm telling you now, I love you Gabrielle, nothing is going to change that."

She looked at me with stunned eyes, she glanced at her father who had the grace to leave the room, she looked back at me. "Oh Xena, I've been really stupid."

"No you haven't, don't you blame yourself for anything, that's my job, remember?"

"No, no I have. I was…in the hayloft with Meg…"

"Meg? What was she doing here?"

"I don’t know, but she looks just like you, and I missed you so much, I loved you so much, and well we…that's how I broke my leg, I fell out of the loft." Gabrielle finished in a rush.

"Hmm," I muttered, I was finding it hard to keep the amusement out of my voice, "So," I said, "you were in the hayloft with Meg and you were….then you fell and broke your leg because you loved me?" I asked.

"Love."

"Oh! Because you love me. It all becomes clear."

"Xena, don't be patronising."

"I'm sorry Gabrielle, I guess I expected something a little more…dramatic to be the cause of your injury."

She looked at me sheepishly, "But I do love you."

"I know." I said as I cradled her in my arms, "but if it hadn't of been for Meg…." I let out a gasp as her fist caught me in the side. "…we may never have found out." I finished with a grin.

THE END


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