Studies In Light
Chapter One-Separation of Soul Mates
Written By: Caina Q. Fuller
Had anyone been passing by the campsite that night and heard the screams coming from the writhing bedroll they would have sword a woman was being murdered beneath the skins. At least they would at first. It wouldnt take them long to realize the muffled moans were born of pleasure and not pain.
Xena wasnt aware of much more than her animalistic desire as Gabrielles fingers massaged her deep within. Her Warrior Bard had found a place inside her that she had never known existed. A place that produced unimaginable pleasure with each stroke, and Gabrielle was working it for all she was worth. Xenas lover twisted her hand just slightly to the right and increased the pace with her fingers, making Xena moan and her back began to arch with its own free will as the pressure of impending orgasm continued to build. Xena seriously questioned if she would live through it once it came
And came she did. Xena exploded under Gabrielles expert touch and her pleasure was only increased as she felt Gabrielles soft lips drink her down. Her lover had told her on more than one occasion Xenas juices were sweeter to her than nectar from the gods, and she proved it every chance she got.
Unable to breath under the stifling fur of the bedroll, Xena pushed it down, exposing the top of Gabrielles head, which was still buried between the Warrior Princess legs. They were both covered from head to toe with sweat from their labors of loving one another which made it easier for Gabrielle slid her own wet body up and against her warrior until their lips met in a passionate kiss, then Xena took Gabrielle into her arms. After an orgasm like that, she wanted nothing more than to hold the one she loved and bask in the afterglow.
Gabrielle rested her head on Xenas shoulder as she lay a hand over her warriors heart. Xenas pulse began to slow, her breathing relaxed, and as she monitored this she thought perhaps shed heard Xena whispering on more than one occasion.
Xena? Are you saying something?
trying to, Xena finally managed to whisper. After the kind of lovemaking shed just had with Gabrielle she didnt want to fall immediately asleep but she was so relaxed.
Fortunately for Xena, Gabrielle didnt press her to talk. Instead, she played her tongue over Xenas right nipple until it hardened and her hand found its way back to the dark treasure between Xenas legs. The Warrior Princess was hot and soaking wet, and Gabrielle could feel her own desire building again. She didnt know what had gotten into her tonight, but she was insatiable.
Xena knew just what Gabrielle had in mind. Darling, I want to but I just dont think Ive got it in me.
Gabrielle wasnt disappointed. Not tonight. After the entire episode with Apollo, losing her second child (not to mention almost losing her soul) Gabrielle had went to spend some time with Aphrodite, then finally returned to Xena. This was their first night alone, and shed found her desires for her long-legged lover rekindled. Tonight Gabrielle had taken the initiative by undressing Xena and using all the techniques Aphrodite had taught her (hands off of course) to pleasure Xena. She was filled with satisfaction at the site of her soul mate lying half asleep in her arms, exhausted from her touch.
Where did you learn that? Xena asked, having now regained some of her strength. Ive had my fair share of lovers but Ive never had someone touch me like that.
Its a technique Aphrodite showed me, Gabrielle said, knowing how her words must have sounded. She wasnt disappointed by Xenas wide-eyed re-action.
What do you mean, showed you?
Not like that my love. Not on me.
A feral grin split Xenas beautiful face. You mean on another woman? Kinky. I didnt think Dite had it in her.
They shared a quiet laugh while Gabrielle pushed back strands of sweat-matted hair from Xenas face. I love you Xena.
Mmmm, Xena breathed. I love you too Gabrielle. Im so glad to have you back. I thought Id lost you forever.
You nearly did. The power of love saved me.
Eli is mysterious that way.
Gabrielle traced a finger over Xenas lips. How sweet they always tasted No, not Eli alone. It was you, Eve, Perdiccus and Solon. You all worked to save me from myself. Im so glad to have you all in my life.
Dont forget Huron, Xena added to herself. She was still filled with jealousy at the thought of that man taking Gabrielle and making love to her, but she also had to admit his love had slowed down the rate at which Gabrielles soul had been dying. She owed him her gratitude for that.
Are you ok? Gabrielle queried, studying her lovers face closely. She was getting the feeling that something was bothering Xena.
Its Huron. I cant help but to feel threatened by him.
Hes gone Xena. Forever.
I know. Im just uncomfortable with the idea of anyone else having a piece of your heart.
It was important Gabrielle made Xena understand just how much she loved her now. Especially considering theyd almost lost one another. Xena, I cant help that a part of me loved him. A part of me always will but I can guarantee that no one will ever take me from you. When I said I was yours tonight, I meant it. My love is and always will be yours.
I know. Xenas voice was softer than usual, even after passionate lovemaking like tonight, and Gabrielle began to wonder if something still unspoken was troubling her friend.
Xena, is something wrong?
Suddenly Xena stiffened and sat up. The Warrior Princess hand found her leathers and she was on her feet, dressing with incredible speed. This alarmed Gabrielle.
What? Whats the matter?
Trouble. Get dressed.
Knowing Xena meant business with that kind of tone, Gabrielle followed suit, pulling her clothes on somewhat slower and more clumsily than Xena, but finally she was dressed with the exception of her shoes. Sais at the ready, Gabrielle stood back to back with Xena, prepared to face down anyone who would cross them.
The Bard strained all her senses to detect what Xena was picking up on. Though her own senses had sharpened during her travels with Xena they were nowhere near as keen as the warrior behind her.
I dont hear anything.
I dont either. I just feel something.
I dont know, but something or someone is coming. Get ready.
Xena could feel the tiny hairs on the back of her neck rising and goose flesh covered her steadily drying skin. She forced herself to relax and take in the sounds and smells of the night air. Everything seemed to be in place. The wind rustled through the leaves of the trees and the scent of springs flowers was strong in the air. Yet there was something else. Another sound, another scent Xena just couldnt pin down. What, or who, was it?
Gabrielle whispered to her partner. Is it a god Xena?
Maybe, but this is different from anything-
Xenas reflexes forced her to twist and pull Gabrielle down in something resembling a headlock. Good thing she did as four arrows, each from a different direction, came whizzing past them, overhead. No sooner did they dodge the four arrows did several deadly throwing knives came speeding for them from the trees. Xena used her sword to deflect the tiny projectiles and then sheathed the blade. Without wasting time she grabbed her chakram, an arm still around Gabrielle, and hurled it into the trees.
Lets go Gabrielle!
Holding tightly to her petite partner Xena executed an expert flip that landed them in the trees above the campsite. Below them they could hear the chakram dancing about, taking out some of the seeming invisible enemy below.
Stay here. The words sounded more like an order than a request but Gabrielle nodded, completely un-offended. Shed come to understand that Xena didnt doubt Gabrielles abilities to defend herself in the least. The warrior just wanted to go below and size up the situation. If Xena got into trouble, Gabrielle would go to her immediately.
Xena paused before leaping back to the ground where warrior after warrior came rushing into their campsite. Yeah?
Come back to me.
Xena gave her trademark battle cry and leaped from the tree limb. When she landed next to the fire, she held up a hand and her chakram flew to her obediently. Hanging it on her hip, she drew her sword to face the men that came charging from the trees. To Gabrielles dismay, they were dressed in the uniforms of the priests of Apollo. Even after all Gabrielle had been through at the hands of that selfish bastard, hed found a way to torment her from his grave.
Xena handled them with ease at first, but they just kept coming. One right after another they charged from the trees until they seemed to swarm around the Warrior Princess like ants to honey. Gabrielle found herself hoping desperately for Xena to retreat, but she knew it would take a lot more for that to happen. One of Xenas flaws was her stubborn pride, which often caused her to fight when Gabrielle believed they should retreat.
Xena, Gabrielle said nervously, watching her take on guard after guard from the temple. From Gabrielles viewpoint, she could see they werent about to give up. How many were there anyway?
Finally Gabrielle got her wish and Xena leaped from the thick of the crowd to stand beside her on the tree limb.
Theres just too many. Come on.
Xena grabbed a vine and wrapped an arm around Gabrielles waist. They were just about to swing to the relative safety of the forest when the most horrible sight Xena could ever imagine being cursed with seeing filled her vision. At first, the she couldnt believe her eyes, but sure enough it was real.
Just as she had been about to swing with Gabrielle, an arrow planted itself in the center of the Bards chest and Gabrielle looked down at it as if she were seeing something impossible from a nightmare. Xenas heart all but stopped in her chest when she looked into Gabrielles beautiful green eyes and watched the light that was her lovers life fading from within. Knowing she had only seconds of life left, Gabrielle gathered her remaining strength and said her parting words to the one she loved most in the entire world.
I love you Xena, Gabrielle whispered weakly. Saying those words took the last of the Bards strength, and right before Xenas eyes that light Xena adored in Gabrielles eyes faded away
This world was unlike any other shed ever experienced. There was no end to it, yet at the same time it seemed to surround her like water. She floated inside it at times, but if she changed her focus she could feel a substantial surface beneath her bare feet to walk on. Gabrielle looked over her body and realized for the first time she was completely naked, and miraculously her wound was gone.
Like everything in this world she perceived the familiar voice of the goddess of Love depending on her focus. It was seemed to be coming from within her mind and surrounding her at the same time.
We dont have much time.
Whats going on?
In the mists before Gabrielle a light began to shimmer, growing brighter and brighter until it formed a crude passage in which she could make out the landscape of another world. It was a bright and beautiful place, with rolling green hills and towering Cyprus trees. In the distance was a temple that bore a strong resemblance to a temple to Aphrodite.
Theres not much time. Xena has fallen without you. If you wish to save her you must save yourself. Go through the portal and you will know all. Trust me.
Aphrodite, what ?
Aphrodite didnt respond and as Gabrielle watched the portal began to collapse in on itself. Her friend had asked her to trust, and trust was one of Gabrielles strong suits. Before she could change her mind, or the portal collapse completely, Gabrielle dove in headfirst. There was a moment of disorientation before she came to she was standing on a dusty road in the landscape shed seen through the portal before.
Xena stared in numb disbelief as the Amazons danced around Gabrielles funeral pyre in honor of their fallen Queen. Somehow shed always believed that if she and Gabrielle didnt fall together, then she would fall first. Never would she have believed she would be saying good-bye to the one person whod taught her the true meaning of love.
A strong hand came to rest on Xenas shoulder and she looked over to find Varia standing beside her. Xena was struck by the younger womans ability to change from stoic warrior to soft woman in a moments notice. The light of Gabrielles burning pyre reflected in Varias dark eyes the pain tearing apart Xenas heart.
I will miss her. The words were nothing more than a whisper, yet they thundered in Xenas ears. Xenas nerves were raw to the point that everything seemed too loud and too bright to her. She hadnt felt this way since her beloved brother Lyceus had passed on countless years before. Now all she wanted to do was to crawl somewhere and die. Perhaps then she could begin her journey to reunite with Gabrielle in the next life.
Xena could tell from the way the
words were spoken Varia had said her name more than once.
Im sorry, what?
I said why dont you eat something? Ive been watching you since you came to us yesterday. You havent touched a drop of food or drink.
Xena shook her head no. The idea of food or anything else entering her body only served to make her ill. She turned from the dancing Amazons and held her hands to her ears. Their song was too loud, too sad. God she had to get away!
She immediately regretted being so harsh with Varia, but she couldnt help herself. Try as she might Xena just couldnt bring herself to care about the feelings of another person. All she could think was the same thought over and over again. Gabrielle is gone forever. Gabrielle is gone forever.
Come with me. Please.
Xena allowed Varia to pull her away from the services and into the steam hut where the Amazons carried out every ritual from blood-sacrifices to Artemis to relaxing after a day of battle. Apparently the Queen had prepared for Xenas arrival ahead of time. The place was stifling inside and sweat began to pour from every poor in Xenas body.
Without invitation, but with practiced skill, Varia began to pull Xenas armor and leathers away until Xena stood naked before her. Lie down.
Seeing that it wasnt a request, Xena followed Varias orders and laid down on the table in the corner of the room. Once she was comfortable Varia coated her hands in oil and began to rub her down. Immediately Xena could feel Varias touch held a lot more than a friendly desire to comfort a friend in need of a shoulder to cry on. If Gabrielle were watching right now, which she probably was what was she thinking?
Why? Disappointment was clear in her voice.
Its not right.
Varia came to the head of the table Xena lounged on and dropped to her knees so they could communicate face to face. So close was Varia, Xena was almost unable to focus her vision on her.
Talk to me Xena.
Xena found herself chuckling despite herself. Youve never been one for talking Varia. Youre a woman of action.
I am. Gabrielle however was always ready for a good talk.
Youre not Gabrielle are you?
I could be.
Hot anger sparked deep within Xena and it took all of her strength to hold back the insults that came into her mind. Instead she remained quiet until she could gather her thoughts and feelings. When she was satisfied she could handle the situation in a responsible manner, she claimed Varias eyes with her own and spoke.
No one will ever take Gabrielles place in my heart, do you understand that? No one.
Xena sat up and searched for her clothes. She needed to get out of here to some place quiet where she gather herself together.
Knowing shed made a serious blunder that could cost her her friendship with Xena, Varia blocked the older womans path. Xena wait.
No. I dont need a massage.
Im not asking you to wait for the massage. I want to say Im sorry. Really I am. I just thought
You thought I was on the rebound so youd make your move before some other woman beat you to the punch?
No, thats not-
I know you Varia. I know how your mind works and thats exactly what you were thinking.
Xena pulled on her clothes and started for the door but she just couldnt leave without making this woman understand just how much Gabrielle meant to her. Varia, Im not angry that you want me. You need to understand something. I had a younger brother-
Lyceus, I know. Ive heard Gabrielles stories.
When he died my soul was shattered into a million pieces. I fell apart and became a monster. Gabrielle was the glue that held my pieces together.
And now that shes gone?
Now that shes gone I can feel myself falling apart again.
Xena left the hut and the woman that wanted her and ventured into the night. Varias question warranted serious consideration and she couldnt do that in this tribe. Now that Gabrielle was gone there was no question that if a miracle didnt happen soon she would fall apart the same way Gabrielle had after Apollos attack. Her promise to Gabrielle so many lifetimes ago about not becoming the monster shed been before should anything happen to her played over and over in her mind until it threatened to drive her mad, but she knew already she just wouldnt be able to keep that promise and that was what hurt most of all.
All Xena could think about was revenge. She spent every waking moment working out plans in which she could destroy every single follower of Apollo. After that she would
Cross that bridge when you come to it Xena.
Xena continued to walk into the forest and the balmy night air. With each step she took her resolve to avenge Gabrielles death became stronger and stronger until she felt that familiar tingle in her gut that told her the beast she had thought shed buried a long time ago was waking back up. That beast had many names: hurt, anger, rage and fear. He was a hungry creature that had to be fed or it would consume her to stay alive, and she was determined she would feed it every day on the blood of the followers of Apollo. They had taken her reason for living and loving, so now she would make them pay.
They would all pay.
Gabrielle made her way along the dusty road of this strange land Aphrodite had sent her too, questions of all sorts running through her mind. Was this an alternate universe or the afterlife? What had Aphrodite meant when she said Xena had fallen without her? How much time had passed since shed taken the arrow in her chest until now?
As she made her way to the temple which she was becoming more and more convinced had been dedicated to Aphrodite she became aware of the distinct sound of approaching riders on the road behind her. Quickly Gabrielle took shelter in the trees lining the road and crouched down. She wasnt certain where she was or what was going on, and until she was she would stay hidden.
Gabrielle waited for the massive group of riders to round the corner and when they did she found herself breathless with shock. Fifty riders came galloping up the road, all dressed in the distinctive silver uniforms of Athenas Elite Guard, but that is not what shocked her. What stole Gabrielles breath away was that the Champion leading them was Xena.
It took all of Gabrielles willpower not to leave her shelter in the trees and confront Xena. She didnt know why but her instincts were telling her something was horribly wrong and now wasnt the time question Xena, if this was in fact the same woman she knew. The idea that Aphrodite had sent her to an alternate world was becoming more and more feasible to Gabrielle with each passing rider. Since Athenas death the Elite Guard had disbanded and the Athenian army had all sworn their allegiance to their Commander Absyrtis. This group of guards shouldnt even exist, much less be led by the Warrior Princess. It was time to find some answers, fast. Once the riders were past her, Gabrielle stepped back out onto the road to follow their tracks. She would find out soon exactly what was going on.
To stop the heart of any Hestian Virgin all one needed to say was the name Marcus. The price for the flesh of these rare beauties was a high one, and he had become quite wealthy off the misery of so many of these innocent women. No one stood up to him on their behalf and this meant faith in Hestia had become dangerous. She was a gentle goddess and because of it she had done next to nothing to stop this reckless warrior from all but destroying her followers. The effect of this was she was losing worshipers, and without worship she would become weak to the point of becoming mortal.
This prompted Athena to step in to save her sister. Very rarely did gods interfere with the way mortals chose to live their lives in this world, which is why the Hestians were in such a dire situation now. Because Athena knew how dangerous Marcus was, and that he would stop at nothing to get what he desired, she sent in her best. If Marcus went down his army would got to any lengths to avenge him. Athena didnt doubt that would include attempting to kill off anyone, virgin or not, associated with Hestia, therefore his entire army would have to die with him.
This was exactly what Xena intended to do. She had been cooped up on Mt. Olympus with Athena for far too long. She had begun to lose track of time and making love with Athena and sparing with the gods became old fast for the simple fact she couldnt kill any of them. She hadnt seen blood on her blade for well over three months and finally Athena had given her an assignment in which she could shed a little blood to lift her drooping spirits. That, Xena thought to herself, was the real reason Athena was finally doing something about the situation with Marcus.
It felt good to put on her uniform and feel a powerful beast, other than Athena, between her legs again. The wind on her face and the sound of her officers riding behind her as they headed for battle gave Xena a lift she hadnt felt since well since Athena had taken her off her aimless course of being an assassin for puny kings and warlords and given her a good reason to wield a sword.
Every time she thought back to the moment she and the goddess of War had laid eyes on one another a smile claimed her face. She had spent her entire life feeling as if she were missing something important, and perhaps Athena was that something. It had taken them awhile to form a connection but there had definitely been an immediate attraction, and Xena vowed she would force herself to accept the goddess of wisdom into her heart to fill that inexplicable void. On that day Athena had held out her hand as Xena lay in the mud that had been mingled with the blood of innocents shed killed, then offered her the forgiveness she so desperately needed and a new start. From that moment on, life had never been the same for her.
According to Athena the Virgins had taken temporary shelter in Aphrodites main temple, but Marcus and his scouting party had laid siege to it. Aphrodite agreed to seal the doors until Athenas champions arrived but they couldnt remain inside forever, and Marcus had to be stopped once and for all.
Xena motioned for the Elite Guard to stop behind her as they came to road leading to the temple. If Xenas studies of Marcuss techniques were correct, or if the warlord had any common sense, he would have men hidden in the dense foliage surrounding the temple. She allowed her senses to take over to tell her exactly where the men were hiding. As she relaxed the focus of her eyes and took in the world around her as one general picture, the movement of three men in the bush drawing down on her with crossbows stood out. She unhooked her chakram and tossed it into the trees.
The weapon took two of the men out easily and came back to her and Xena was rewarded with the quiet applause of a few of the women closest to her. Though they had been riding with her for over three years now, they still got a kick out of seeing her use the chakram. However, she wasnt finished yet.
One of her women, Penelope, handed her a bow and arrow. Xena lined up the remaining man in her sites and they stared one another down. She could see the fear in his eyes, even from forty paces away, and a tingle of excitement took over her. True, her arrowheads were made from the metal of Hephaestus and therefore superior to his, but there was always the chance he could get off a lucky shot. As they remained there like that, the women of the group began to look at one another in confusion. What was their leader doing?
Xena? It was Amaranda, Xenas second in command. Shed taken up a position beside her leader and was straining to see into the trees. She had good vision as well but she didnt possess the skill and instinct Xena did. That was why she was second.
Im in a draw, Xena whispered, not talking with enough force to move her aim which was dead on his heart.
We must hurry. Those women havent had food or water for two days. Finish him.
Fine, Xena said, knowing her second was right but miffed shed have to end her little game so soon. She let lose just as her opponent did, but her superior arrow split his dead center before it buried itself in his chest. The others finally saw the tree limbs move as his body fell to the forest floor.
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Amaranda was a petite woman with chestnut hair and dark gray eyes as large as saucers. She also had a mischievous streak in her a mile wide and she hated men with a passion ever since she was raped as a child. She lived for the opportunity to kill any man who did so much as look at her the wrong way in punishment for a crime committed long ago. Are you sure about this plan of attack?
Absolutely sure. I will ride in and attempt to negotiate with Marcus, Xena said. She expected this to disappoint her second and she wasnt surprised when Amaranda rolled her eyes.
I dont see what is there to talk about. Athena has sent us to kill him. Lets just ride in and take him out.
I know what Athena sent us here to do Amaranda. Xena liked the younger woman but sometimes her attitude could be tiring to deal with. While I have them distracted you and the others will surround the temple in the trees. When I tilt my head left that will be your signal to attack. Were outnumbered so we need the element of surprise. Now go.
Amaranda motioned for the women to follow Xenas plans as discussed before they left the main temple. Xena had to give her credit for one thing: She followed her orders when given them. That kind of reliability was an asset in the field and it was one of the reasons why Xena had chosen her as her second in command.
Once they were gone Xena kicked her horse into a gallop up the short road to the temple, right into the temporary camp Marcus had made for his men until the siege was broken. She never saw Gabrielle running full speed up the road behind her.
Gabrielle ran until she caught up with the Guard. Once they had disbanded to surround the temple and Xena had gone up, Gabrielle followed suit and kept close to the ground until she found a hiding place behind the base of a tree. She watched quietly as Xena rode bravely into the throng of men camping outside the tent. When Marcus exited the tent all doubts that she was indeed in another world were laid to rest. After all, the Marcus she knew was dead.
Either that or Im in Hell, Gabrielle whispered aloud.
Now here he was, alive and kicking, but what was he doing at a temple to Aphrodite? Was he selling her priests for profit now? Gabrielle put her thoughts aside and listened with rapt attention to each word that was spoken in the deathly quiet camp.
Xena dismounted her steed and sent her trotting back down the hill towards the still crouching Gabrielle. She didnt want such a fine animal wounded in battle against a group of thugs. Besides, she rather liked the animal. When she turned to face Marcus, she also caught sight of the men in the camp that were chuckling and rubbing their crotches, which only served to fill Xena with disgust. Not one of them was worth spitting on yet they leered at her as if she should feel privileged to have their attention. She could barely resist the urge to roll her eyes as she faced their leader.
Im here to negotiate Marcus.
The black mans handsome face split into a wicked grin that gave Xena tingles in places that had gone cold since shed given up a heterosexual sex life to be with Athena. She lifted her chin in as much defiance of her sudden and unexpected desires as to the man who was doing such a fine job inspiring them. Im here, she reminded herself, to put him in his grave. As he placed his massive and no doubt wonderfully calloused hands behind his back his powerful and well-muscled torso was exposed to the glaring sunlight of this hellishly hot day. Sinful thoughts raced through her mind of what she could use him for if she could manage to keep him captive behind Athenas back.
Really? Well, youve found him.
No kidding. A bit of drool moistened the corner of her lip and she reached a hand up to wipe it away. He stiffened at the sudden movement, which caused the muscles of his midriff to harden and bulge even more. Damn she liked the way he was looking at her.
Gabrielle watched the exchange with a small measure of amusement. Even in this world there was a natural attraction between Xena and Marcus, and Gabrielle wondered not for the first time what would have happened had this handsome warrior kept Hades helmet of invisibility and remained on earth. The answer was one Gabrielle didnt like in the slightest. She and Xena would have probably separated and well, never mind all that now.
With the force of her significantly powerful will, Xena pushed aside her lustful thoughts and focused on the mission at hand. Im here on behalf of Athena to negotiate for the release of the Virgins. Athena has authorized me to-
To surround my camp with her elite guard and pick off my men while you kill me.
Xena found herself speechless with surprise, and it was rare anyone mortal surprised her anymore. How had he managed to figure out her plans? She had killed the scouts leading to the temple so there was no way any of them could have gotten here in time to warn Marcus of her presence. He began to laugh with genuine amusement and triumph as he crossed his tree-trunk arms over his substantial chest. Now she wanted nothing more than to wipe that self-satisfied grin off his face.
Marcus snapped his fingers and one of his men shot an arrow towards the scorching sun. Almost immediately the startled screams of her archers as men cleverly hidden in the bush attacked them filled the silent air. Theyd been betrayed and Xena had never seen it coming and didnt have a clue as to who it could be.
What is this?
Its called betrayal. Do you have any idea how much the Salosians would pay for one of Athenas Elite? Especially her champion?
Over my dead body.
Xena moved to draw her sword but before she could wrap her hand around the hilt a distinctively female voice cautioned her against it. I wouldnt do that if I were you.
Xena looked to her right to find Penelope, one of her officers drawing down on her. Penelope! What in Tartarus are you doing?
Saving my man.
Gabrielle watched Xenas plan fall apart as the sound of Marcus men taking the Elite Guards captive wafted over the hot night air. Mentally Gabrielle knew she shouldnt risk her life for an alternate Xena who was a complete stranger to her, but her heart wouldnt allow her to stand by and allow someone who wore the face of the woman she loved to be murdered. She had to save her, or die trying.
As every man in the camp concentrated on the capture of the Elite Guard and their leader, Gabrielle crouched and made her way across the road and into the bush. She continued like that until she came up behind Xenas traitor. She might not be able to save all of Xenas officers, but she could save Xena herself.
Gabrielle made her decision. She hated killing, but as shed come to learn in her time with Xena, sometimes it was necessary. If she were going to save this world's Warrior Princess, she was going to have to get ruthless. She drew her sais and leapt into the clearing, providing just the cover Xena needed to draw her sword.
Gabrielle drove her sai into the traitors back and felt the blade go through the womans back then into her heart. She fell to the ground dead and all hell broke loose, but Xena couldnt have cared if she wanted to. Her eyes looked into Gabrielles, and for the first time in her life she felt the connection shed been looking to make since the day she was born. She didnt know how she knew, but she knew that she was looking into the eyes of her soul mate, and the void shed been seeking to fill with Athena vanished. She was whole.
Gabrielle tore her eyes away from Xena just as Marcus drew his sword and rushed toward the stunned warrior. If Xena didnt pull herself together Marcus was going to kill her instead of worrying about saving her for sale to the Salosians.
Xena, look out!
Xena came to herself just in time to see Marcus upon her. She easily sidestepped and he went flying past, though not clumsily like the average thug that comprised these armies. He twisted back around and managed to duck one of Xenas powerful kicks. She drew her sword and they began to circle one another, looking for an advantage.
I underestimated you, Marcus said, his voice coming out in ragged gasps more from anger than physical exertion. You had a warrior in the bush. Very clever.
You should expect no less from a champion of Athena. Xena allowed her voice to drip with pride but she was filled with a sense of urgency. She wanted to do three things: Take Marcus out, liberate her officers and grab that beautiful blond that had saved her life, possibly in more ways than one. Shed never lay eyes on the woman yet she was absolutely certain theyd known each other for an eternity. It was as frightening as it was wonderful.
Marcus men surrounded the Elite that were being brought in from the trees, but three of them also surrounded Gabrielle. She faced the men, ready to kill them all if necessary to escape with Xena. If they were as incompetent as they looked, she had a good chance of accomplishing her goal.
The first man took a swing at her with his sword and she ducked it easily, and then drove her right sai up and into his forearm as he attempted to cut her on the back swing. He screamed in pain and dropped his sword, then fell back cradling his wounded arm. The other two attacked together by foolishly charging her. With their arms raised high above their heads it was easy for her to drop to her right knee and drive both of her sais deep into their guts.
Meanwhile Marcus and Xena fought viciously sword to sword, but neither was able to find an opening in the others defense. They could go on like this forever but Xena didnt have that long, and she seriously doubted her officers did either. If they believed they were under threat from Athena, they would ransom the Guards lives for their own for as long as they could or worse. There was always the chance they would kill the women with an If-I-die-you-go-with-me attitude.
How does she know my name? Xena wondered, as she kept one eye on her officers and one eye on Marcus. Retreating would allow her to recoup and get more manpower from Athena, but she would also feel like a coward leaving them behind. If her officers died because she left them behind their blood would be on her hands forever.
Its the only way to save them, Gabrielle said. If this Xena was anything like her own lover then she knew the wisdom her suggestion would win out against the pride it would have to war with to make her leave.
You leave, Marcus said, youll have to live with the knowledge I sold them all to their deaths. You know how the Salosians are with their women.
Xena, listen to me. Its the only way.
I dont know who you are, Xena said to the blond stranger, but I cant leave them.
You wont have to.
They all turned to the sound of the new voice to see Athena complete her materialization on the temple steps. Marcus and his men stared up in wondrous fear at the sight of one of Olympus most powerful gods before they dropped their weapons and ran for the trees. Xena turned to the handsome warrior she was facing off with.
It looks like its all over for you now.
Dont be so sure. Marcus executed an amazing flip into the trees, disappearing from even Xenas keen sight in seconds. She considered going after him then decided against it. Right now she had more important things to tend to, like finding out who this woman is.
Rain poured down in torrents as Xena made her way up the grassy slope to for a better view of the town below. As Gabrielle had done before with her army as she sank deeper and deeper into her hatred for Apollo, so did Xena now make plans to destroy another temple to the dead god. There was of course a chance innocent villagers could get in the way of her plans for vengeance against the ones who had robbed her of her only joy in this life, but that was always the chance one took in war. No matter where the battlefield, innocents would always suffer.
She watched as smoke rose from the chimneys of the villagers homes to touch the steely gray sky. The weather had turned unseasonably cold but it still could not begin to match the chill in Xenas soul. She felt lost again, as she had when shed lost her brother Lyceus and her son Solon. She felt a rage eating at her soul and she was helpless to do anything to stop it. What was worse was she didnt have Gabrielle to turn to for the love and understanding she so desperately needed. Soon she would be riding into that peaceful village, and she wondered if she would allow herself to ride out alive.
Of course I will, she thought. If I dont I cant destroy the other followers of Apollo. They will all pay for Gabrielles death with their own blood.
The sound of an approaching rider made the Warrior Princess strain into the thick vegetation of the forest to see who was approaching. She wasnt overjoyed when she realized it was Varia. Would this girl never give up?
What do you want now Varia?
Xena realized how harsh her words sounded. The girl probably only wanted to offer her help, but Xena also knew she wanted more from Xena than she was able to give at the moment.
Do I have to want something?
Of course you do. The last time you came to me you wanted to follow me on my quest to avenge a woman youre happy as hell to see dead.
Thats a very cold thing to say Xena, Varia said, trying unsuccessfully to hide the hurt Xenas words caused her.
Xena immediately regretted being so harsh with the young Amazon Queen. Why did she resent the love Varia was trying to offer her so much? Im sorry.
It hurt, but I understand more than you think.
Varia brought her horse up alongside Xena and she looked down into the village below. She wore nothing to protect herself from the rain so she was soaking wet. Varias hair stuck to her cheek and one cord of it had even been trapped in the somewhat substantial cleavage of her perky young breasts. Without giving it a second thought, Xena reached over and pulled the hair from her chest and lay it on her glistening shoulder.
Varia involuntarily gasped at Xenas touch as something like lightning flooded her veins. Shed wanted the older woman from the moment shed laid eyes on her in the Amazon forests when she, Gabrielle and Eve had arrived just in time to save them from Ares army. Never before had she seen a woman that possessed as much strength as she did beauty and intelligence. Xena was a rare jewel and Varia had envied Gabrielle more and more as time had passed by. Now Gabrielle was gone and Xena Xena didnt want anything to do with her.
Dont be. Im not offended.
Xena shook her head with the first smile Varia had seen since Xena returned with Gabrielles body. Shed done it! Xena had smiled again and it was all because of her. It was small, but it was a start.
Im not sorry because Im afraid Id offended you. Im sorry because Im afraid I might lead you on. It wont happen again.
Fair enough. Ill accept that for now.
Xena shot her a serious look. What do you mean for now?
Varia wasnt about to get into a verbal battle with Xena for she knew the more experienced woman would defeat her easily and find a way to leave her heart bruised and devoid of any hope they would ever be together. Instead she gave Xena a cute wink before she turned and headed back to their camp.
Ill get dinner fixed. Dont be late.
Satisfied that night would be the best time to attack and offer the best chances innocent villagers wouldnt be harmed in the process, Xena went back to the camp Varia had set up beneath a rocky overhang. It offered shelter from the rain on three sides, which was the best they would get considering they didnt have a tent, and there were no caves large enough for them both anywhere in sight.
Is that duck? Xena asked, coming to sit in the small confines of the cave beside her new traveling companion. Where did you manage to find that?
As you used to say, I have many skills.
Varia served her the meat along with a sizable hunk of cheese and bread, then sat back to eat her own, smaller portion. It was exactly what Gabrielle had always done and Xena wondered if it was a fluke or perhaps shed missed that small detail in one of Gabrielles scrolls. Regardless of the reason Varia had done it, she settled back and bit into the meat.
It was delicious. Five times better than anything Gabrielle had ever cooked. Xena looked over at Varia with open suspicion on her face. This is good.
Thanks. It was my mothers recipe.
Xena felt guilty for even eating the food, then chided herself for taking her loyalty to Gabrielle too far. Her lover had often told her that if anything ever happened to her that she wanted Xena to find someone else. It had been so important to Gabrielle that Xena keep love in her life, yet now that it was real Xena couldnt imagine herself looking at another woman or man.
Its still too soon.
Xena looked up at Varia. What are you, a mind reader?
No I just have a small measure of common sense. What else would you be thinking about with your eyes glued to my legs like that?
Xena was duly offended. My eyes were not glued to your legs.
Right, Varia said, sounding completely unconvinced. She continued to eat with an irritatingly triumphant grin on her beautiful face.
Xena was tempted to let it go but she just couldnt. The girl was accusing her of lust that wasnt there. Was it? I was thinking about Gabrielle.
Xena sighed, frustrated. She was going to win this verbal battle and that was that. She had always told me that if anything ever happened to her she wanted me to find love again. She didnt want me to be alone. I just cant
Think of it like this: Youre not alone. Thats just what she wanted. Varia leaned forward with her hand outstretched so fast Xena jumped back to avoid her and bumped her head painfully against the short ceiling of the rock overhang.
Calm down Xena, I was reaching for the water.
I knew that.
Damn that word was annoying coming from her. Would you stop that?
Xena sighed at Varias innocence act. Saying right.
So now you dont want me to agree with you? Varia was feigning innocence for all she was worth but there was a devilish twinkle in her lovely eyes that for a moment almost made Xena smile again, and Varia had seen that smile in Xenas own eyes.
Youre not agreeing with me when you say that.
Then what am I saying?
Just forget it. Xena finished her meal then tossed the plate into Varias lap. The queens mouth practically fell open at the rude gesture and she tossed it back.
I cooked, you clean.
Not a chance. Gabrielle always did both. Xena found herself ending the words on a yawn. Suddenly she was so damn sleepy she could barely keep her eyes open.
Im not Gabrielle, remember?
You wanted to be didnt you? Do what Gabrielle did. Another yawn and Xena found herself almost falling over with the need to sleep. She was more tired than shed thought.
I cant keep my eyes open.
Then go to sleep. Youll feel better tomorrow.
Despite herself Xena crawled into the bedroll Varia had prepared for them. Wake me at night fall. Well attack then.
Sure thing Xena, Varia responded, knowing full well she had no intentions of doing anything of the sort. She had fallen in love with Xena and she would be damned if she would allow her to go down a road to destruction without putting up a fight. She would do all she could to show Xena that life and happiness didnt have to end with Gabrielles life.
Varia leaned over and watched Xena sleep under the effects of the drug shed coated her portion of meat with. The warrior was always beautiful but she was a magnificent creature when her face was peaceful with sleep. She hoped one day to be the woman that gave Xena that same kind of peace during her waking hours.
So, Athena said, looking Gabrielle over with an appreciative eye. The Bard had seen that look before in the eyes of many men and women, but never had it been directed at her from Athena. You saved my champions life?
From the way Athena looked Xena over and the way Xena was returning that look, Gabrielle got the impression the two were more than a goddess and her champion. She had to fight hard to push down the small spark of jealousy that tickled the back of her mind as she reminded herself that this was not her Xena after all.
She certainly did, Xena answered, giving Gabrielle the same once over Athena had given her and the Bard wondered what kind of thoughts the two were thinking about her at that moment. She wasnt so certain she liked the idea of Athena entertaining lustful fantasies about her since shed had plenty of experience with god-obsessions from her own world.
I am quite fond of Xena what was your name?
Athena gave her a smile that came off as false to say the least, giving Gabrielle the feeling of a mouse in the paw of a cat. This Athena didnt seem to like her any more than the Athena from her own world. That could be a problem considering she didnt know how long she would be here, or if she would even be able to return to her own Xena ever again.
Gabrielle. That name has a familiar feel to it. Athenas mind worked to place a face with the familiar name but quickly gave up as she had more important things to worry about, like the way her lovers eyes were all over this strangers body. She would see to it Gabrielle went on her way before Xena became tempted to stray from their own arrangement.
You have earned my favor Gabrielle. Anything you ask, I will grant.
Instead of the usual gratitude or awe these words inspired in the few mortals whod won Athenas favor, Gabrielle only nodded her head. The young warrior was clearly un-impressed with Athenas gift, and this angered the goddess more than she cared to admit. Just what kind of woman was this not to care shed received her favor? She was Athena, not some bum off the street to wave off with such arrogant ease. There was more to this woman than met the eye, and Athena was determined to find out just what that was.
Athena turned to Xena, setting the matter of Gabrielle aside. See to it the Virgins are escorted back to their temple in Corinth will you Xena? After that, come back to Athens.
Thatll take awhile.
I know, but Im sure youre up for the job.
Of course my goddess.
Athena leaned over and claimed Xenas mouth in a passionate kiss, but all the while her eyes bore into Gabrielles, getting her message across loud and clear. This is my woman. Hands off.
Gabrielle gave a slight nod of acknowledgement of this before Athena broke the kiss that left Xena hungry for more. The war goddess stroked her lovers face gently before she stood back and faded away.
Bothered by that? Xena asked Gabrielle. She knew the kind of intolerance some people could manifest toward two adult women being lovers, and she desperately wanted this Gabrielle to like her.
Not at all, Gabrielle replied. If only Xena knew the times she and her own Xena had kissed like that, she wouldnt have asked that question. I understand better than youd think.
Good, because I want you to ride with us.
I cant. I I
Xena waited expectantly for Gabrielle to complete her sentence, all the while fearing shed asked too much too soon. She may be Athenas champion but she didnt have the right to demand this woman set aside her life and ride with her just because shed felt a connection when theyd laid eyes on one another for the first time. A connection shed been waiting all her life to feel.
You dont have to of course. I just thought that since youd saved me you might want to get to know me better.
I know you better than you could ever imagine, Gabrielle said, earning a raised eyebrow from her cryptic answer. Her Xena had a habit of doing the very same thing and Gabrielle had to fight the urge to cry. She was suddenly homesick and looking at this woman who was so much like her own soul mate tore her heart to pieces. Xena saw this pain in her eyes took a step closer, the need to comfort Gabrielle instinctive and comfortable to both of them.
Hey, are you ok?
Im fine. Id love to ride with you. At least for a little while.
Relief like none shed ever known flooded through Xenas entire being. Shed been afraid Gabrielle would decline and she something would happen that would separate them forever. A silly notion, considering they were complete strangers, but it was the way Xena felt all the same. She motioned for Amaranda to come to her, and her second trotted over obediently.
Gabrielle, Amaranda. Amaranda, this is Gabrielle. Shes the reason were all alive right now.
Amaranda shook Gabrielles hand, a quick smile taking over her beautiful face. Dont I know it? The way you charged out of the bush like that. Ive rarely had the pleasure of witnessing a fighter like you outside of the Elite Guard or the Amazon Nation. Thank you.
Gabrielle almost blushed under all the high praise. Youre too kind miss.
Call me Amaranda.
Xena interrupted them and pointed to the members of the Guard lying on the ground either wounded or dead. Do something for me Amaranda. Take our wounded and fallen sisters back to Athens. You can use one of Marcus slave wagons. Theyre big and they ride smoother.
This elicited a sigh and a roll of the eyes from Xenas second. Dont I know it? Zeus forbid any of his slaves gets bounced around too much on the way to their new lives of hardship and misery. With one final look at Gabrielles body Amaranda looked to Xena. Be good Xena. She walked away to carry out her orders, slapping Gabrielle playfully on the rear as she left.
She seems friendly.
Only to women. She hates men more than anything in this world. What about you? Xena asked lightly as she led Gabrielle over to the horses and the Virgins they had rescued. How do you feel about men?
I dont have any particular feelings that are negative toward them, Gabrielle answered, knowing full well Xena was feeling her out to see if there was a chance Gabrielle was attracted to her. If only she knew.
They watched as the rest of the Elite Guard helped the Virgins into the wagons Marcus had intended to use to transport them into slavery with a smile born of irony on Xenas face. Look at them.
From the tone of Xenas voice and the look in her icy blue eyes, Gabrielle got her first glimpse into the real woman behind the beautiful face, and what she saw was someone cold. Amazing, Gabrielle thought, what one could glean from just a look or a word. She didnt know how she knew, but she knew this Xena was hard in heart and cold in the soul because she hadnt found the love her alternate self had found with Gabrielle. The Bard wondered for the first time what had ever happened to her alternate self.
Gabrielle noticed one of the women trying to attend a wound to her leg, but her shaking hands only succeeded in opening the wound further and making it bleed. She went to her immediately to help her and as she worked, Xenas eyes took in every kind movement. This only made the connection shed felt when shed first looked into Gabrielles eyes feel stronger, and she wanted desperately to pull they young woman aside and question her for hours about who she was and why she felt the need to be so kind to perfect strangers. For the first time in her life Xena had found someone she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she could bond with forever, and she was unable to tear her eyes away from Gabrielle.
Xena wasnt the only one watching someone. Invisible to mortal eyes Athena stood close by, watching her lover fall in love with Gabrielle.