Ownership: The characters and situations in this piece of fan fiction are not owned by me and no profit is intended from this work. Please don't copy or repost without my permission, unless for private use.
Timeline: This story occurs before and during the first episode of Xena, and refers to the last episode (which occurred before the first episode not to confuse things too much).
Feedback: Is always desired.
Angst warning: It's been a rough week for me, so Xena gets to suffer.
Teach Me Everything You Know
"You'll take me with you; you'll teach me everything you know."
The words wake me. They float away on the wind, and I turn over on the thin sleeping fur, moving my sword and chakram closer to my side.
I close my eyes again and see her. Clear, trusting eyes. Smooth, alabaster skin softened by a layer of baby fat. Innocence and wonder dancing on her face.
You played me like a harp, didn't you? You knew I wouldn't refuse. My ego wouldn't allow it. I could be a mentor like Lao Ma, but better. I knew all the answers, had so much to teach. I could kill with beautiful finesse. I could hate with frozen fury. I could destroy nations without hesitation or remorse.
That's what you wanted to learn, wasn't it?
I didn't ask you for anything in return. I didn't need your gratitude or require your love. You gave that to me freely.
Or was that a game too, Akemi?
I sigh, realizing that my thoughts won't let me sleep any longer. I stoke the fire and then stretch, trying to ease the tension from my shoulders. I pick up the sword and begin my drills. Soon my brain settles, my thoughts only concerned with commanding my body. And once again, I lose myself in the dance of steel and strength.
"Killing isn't the only way of proving you're a warrior."
Did you change me, Hercules? Or did my guilt finally fill my soul and break through the dam that I had so carefully built?
I finish my drills and wipe the sweat from my body with the same rag I use to wipe down Argo. I'll find a spring later and wash the scent of horse and sweat from my body.
Can I wash the blood off as well? I am coated with the blood of so many: fierce soldiers from massive armies, arrogant warlords, desperate militia. But they aren't the ones who dwell in my nightmares. I dream of black eyes. Of a stream of crimson on pure, white snow.
I taught you death, Akemi. Not such a difficult lesson to learn, was it?
I mount Argo and ride away from the rising sun.
"You got any food you could spare?"
I know generally where I am, but I'm still surprised when I find myself in the ruins of the village, still smoldering with memories.
Argo slows to a walk. Her ears move forward and back; her nostrils flare.
Do you remember too, girl? The screams? Smoke filling your nostrils? Your hooves slicing into the head of a swordsman, trampling him underfoot?
A swordsman. I'm playing with words. A man with a sword. A villager protecting his home, in the only way possible, against an evil aggressor. A she-demon. A scourge. Me.
The boy surprises me, since there is no other sign of life in this place. But his words aren't surprising. I've heard them so many times before.
I throw him bread and cheese and platitudes. And he smiles. At me.
Who am I? The demon or the kind stranger?
"Take me; let the others go."
I gasp at her display of strength. It makes my own actions seem even more cowardly. I'd given up, buried my armor and sword and chakram. Like a submissive dog, rolling over and displaying my belly and throat waiting to be eviscerated.
Her spirit is stronger than mine, but not her body. I lend her my strength. It is a simple offering. Like the bread and cheese, it costs me little.
I become the kind stranger again. Don the persona like a cloak. It is as thin and full of holes as my sleeping fur.
"You've got to take me with you; teach me everything you know."
Clear, trusting green eyes. Smooth, freckled skin softened by a layer of baby fat. Innocence and wonder dancing on her face.
A hand clutches my heart. A granite yoke settles on my shoulders.
I want to agree, want to take her hand and discover a new world together. What has made me wish for something so foreign, so impossible? Why do I go to her house? Because she needs to see me see the hatred in my eyes, feel the rage in my touch, see the blood on my hands.
These are the only things I can teach you, Gabrielle. But these lessons are not for you. They are easily learned and never forgotten. They will consume your soul.
I leave her house quickly. Draco and his men become a welcome distraction. I head to Amphipolis for reasons that I don't understand. And at night, I'm haunted by a new face. A face with eyes like emeralds. Precious and radiant and pure.
"You're not alone."
She knows who I am, has heard the stories that the bards tell cautionary tales designed to keep children from straying too far from their homes. Tales of crucified centaurs, of fields of defiled corpses, of villages just like hers burned to the ground.
And yet she says these words as if I'm someone else someone who can feel; someone who can love; someone who can be redeemed.
How can I be this person?
Come with me, Gabrielle; teach me everything you know.
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