Crusader: Away from the Light
By: Blind Faith
Note to the Readers: Some of you asked me for a sequel to the episode "Crusader." Heres one version of those events. ;-)
Disclaimer: All the characters in the following story belong to Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright violations were intended. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes and not for profit of any kind.
Subtext notice: The following story is about two women who are deeply in love with each other. If you do not like to read this type of story, you should stop here and find a different one to read. The events depicted here are not graphic, but they might be rated PG-13.
Spoiler Alert: These events immediately follow the events at the end of the episode "Crusader" in the fourth season.
Ironically, after the turmoil of the past few days, this night was a peaceful one. The wind, which had been buffeting them throughout the day, had died down to a whisper; the leaves in the surrounding trees were hardly stirring. The night air was warm and quiet, almost abnormally quiet after the past few nights of singing and laughter around shared campfires. There were tiny rustling noises in the surrounding foliage, signaling the normal activity of natures nightlife.
Normal. What a strange word! She had thought that she understood what "normal" meant for her - thought she had some control over the path her life would follow. How wrong she had been! If anything, these past few days had taught her that nothing is guaranteed in this life. Nothing!
She could see Gabrielles shadowy form sitting just outside the ring of light cast by the campfire. The bard was seated on a fallen log, elbows resting on her knees, head resting on her hands. Her shoulders were bent, as though the weight of the universe was resting there. She hadnt moved from this spot for well over a candlemark, and earlier she had refused to eat anything, declaring that her stomach was upset from the days travel.
Xenas eyes filled with unshed tears as she watched her partner. So much had happened to them these past days, and this was their first chance to be alone and to talk. But talking things out was proving to be difficult. Gabrielle had hardly uttered a word to her since they had left the village. The bard had walked beside Xena with her head down, looking at the path in front of her but not really seeing it. The warrior had tried to start a couple of conversations but had finally given up. It had been a long day.
Now the exhaustion Xena had been holding at bay could no longer be denied. Her bruised jaw was throbbing in time with her pulse, causing the whole side of her face to ache. She cradled the injured area with her right hand and stared pensively into the fire.
Najara. The Light.
Even the name brought a bitter taste to her mouth.
Remembered words stabbed at her out of the darkness: "That would hurt (Gabrielle), and I don't ever want to do that. That's your job!"
She could hear Najaras parting words as clearly now as when they had been spoken earlier that day. She had wanted to cram the words down the other womans throat, denying their truth. But then the image of Gabrielles crucifixion from Altis vision of the future had stopped her words of protest.
How could she deny the truth when she herself had admitted it to Najara? How could she deny it when she knew in her heart that she had hurt Gabrielle in the past and probably would again in the future?
So, she had turned her back on Najara and had walked away. The words of her enemy shouldnt have hurt so much, but they did.
Now, she sighed and closed her eyes, leaning closer to the fire, hoping the heat would warm her chilled soul.
Hearing her partners ragged sigh, Gabrielle lifted her head and looked over at Xenas battered form. She could see the fire reflecting off the tears on the warriors face, and the tears she had been holding back now ran freely down her own face as well.
"Whats happening to us? Whats happening to me?" These questions had been plaguing her all day, and she still didnt have any answers. A muffled sob escaped her throat, and she buried her face in her hands, surrendering to the pain.
She heard a slight scuffing noise and lifted her head. Xena was standing and watching her, the love and concern showing clearly in her eyes. Their eyes met and held, the inner torture evident.
And then, Gabrielle stood and began moving towards the warrior, her eyes never leaving Xenas face. Before she had taken more than three steps, the warrior stepped forward and wrapped her in a warm, supporting hug, and all the emotions the bard had been wrestling with came pouring out in great, heaving sobs against her partners chest.
Xena closed her eyes and rested her head against the top of Gabrielles, rubbing the bards back in an effort to comfort her. She felt her own tears release to run freely down her face and into Gabrielles hair.
They stood like that for several minutes until the anguish had run its course. Gabrielle lifted her tear-soaked face and pulled back a little in the circle of Xenas arms. "Im s..s..sorry."
"Sall right. A lit bit of moisture wont hurt these leathers." She gently wiped the tears from the bards face.
Gabrielle reached up to capture the warriors hand. "No." She looked tenderly into her partners eyes. "Thats not what I meant." She paused, her trembling lips finding a small smile. "Well, Im sorry about that too, but thats not what I meant."
She lifted both hands to gently cup the sides of Xenas face, carefully avoiding the bruised jaw. "Im sorry about what happened back there." She lowered her eyes, no longer able to look into the pain-filled blue ones above her. "None of this would have happened to you if it hadnt been for me." Her throat tightened around the words and she had to stop.
Xena gently placed her fingertips under Gabrielles chin and tipped it up, locking eyes with the bard. "Hey, its gonna be fine. Come over here by the fire and lets talk for awhile?" Though not a question, the words were spoken as one.
Gabrielle nodded and began to pull out of the circle of Xenas arms. "Oh no, you dont." Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielles body into her warm embrace, tucking the bards head back under her chin, hugging her close. "I gotcha now."
Gabrielle felt the warriors muscles bunch under her hands, and then the world tipped crazily on edge as Xena picked her up and carried her across to the fire. "Xena," she admonished in mock severity. "Im capable of walking over here, you know."
She looked up into Xenas face and caught just a glimpse of pain in her partners eyes before it was quickly hidden. She cursed herself for speaking before thinking.
"I know, I just just wanted to." The warriors voice was hesitant and somber as she swung Gabrielles legs down and supported her shoulders while she regained her balance.
Gabrielle placed a hand behind Xenas neck and pulled her head down so that their lips met. Xenas lips were stiff at first, but they soon softened and returned the pressure of the bards insistent exploration.
After a moment both pulled back from the embrace. Gabrielle reached forward to trace the outline of the warriors lips, her eyes following the movement of her fingertips. Then she looked up lovingly. "Please, dont ever apologize for looking out for me." She saw Xena take a breath to respond, but she continued before the warrior could speak. "I love you for that." She paused, still looking directly into Xenas eyes, capturing the warrior with her intensity. "Youve always been my champion, and you always will be."
Xena closed her eyes and let the sweet words wash over her, healing and soothing raw emotions. There had been a time during the past days when she thought Gabrielle no longer wanted that from her. Najara had proven that she was just as capable of taking care of Gabrielle, and the leader had convinced both of them that she was filled with goodness and love for others. She had convinced them that she was truly leading an army of "The Light" against the forces of darkness. It was an appealing package, and Xena was sure that Gabrielle would be drawn to that goodness.
In fact, she had encouraged Najara to take care of Gabrielle. Running a hospice might have given Gabrielle the peace she had been searching for. It would have given her a chance to help others to make a difference. It would have given her a chance to get away from Xena and the fate shown in Altis vision.
"And it would have killed me," Xena acknowledged silently to herself.
But all of this wasnt meant to be. The truth of Najaras "justice" was discovered, and then it had turned into a fight for their survival and freedom. A fight that Xena had lost in the first round, but one that she won through perseverance.
She felt a small tug on her arm, and she opened her eyes to look into the concerned green ones across from her. She smiled sadly and reached out to tuck a strand of Gabrielles hair behind her ear. "You dont know how badly I needed to hear that," she whispered. She leaned down and gently kissed the lips of her partner and then tipped her head towards the fire. "Lets sit down here by the fire and talk, O.K?"
It was a request, not a demand. Gabrielle smiled and gently teased the warrior. "I was wondering how long we were going to stand here. I can think of a much more comfortable position if were going to talk."
Xena returned the smile and then grabbed the bard, pulling her a few steps over to a log that had been moved next to the fire. Xena sat down with her back to the log and pulled Gabrielle down onto her lap. Gabrielle squawked in mild protest as she fell, but then wrapped her arms snugly around the warriors neck and briefly lost herself in the warm embrace.
It was some time later that Gabrielle pulled back out of the comfortable warmth and rearranged herself so that she was seated on the ground between the warriors legs, her back resting against Xenas warm body behind her. Xena wrapped her arms loosely around the bards waist and rested her chin against the top of Gabrielles head. Both stared into the dancing flames of the fire in front of them.
"Its weird, you know?" the bard started off tentatively.
"Whats weird?" Xena pulled Gabrielles body a little tighter to her own.
"Well, no matter how well I think that I know myself, theres always something more to learn." Gabrielle began to stroke the backs of Xenas hands that were crossed in front of her. "I was so sure of who I was and what I was doing, but then Dahok " She didnt finish the sentence.
Xena hugged Gabrielle a little tighter in a subconscious effort to protect the bard from further hurt. "Gabrielle, theres something that you need to realize." She took a deep breath. "Youre still recovering from those events."
She purposely lumped all the painful events together in vague terms, afraid that by getting too specific she would just bring additional torment to her partner. The events surrounding Hopes existence were just too painful to discuss right now. For both of them.
She began to trace gentle patterns over the bards muscled abdomen as she continued. "Youve been through so much these past months. Its bound to have changed you changed you in ways that you are yet to discover. And thats as it should be, Gabrielle. Anyone who goes through painful experiences in life is changed by those experiences, and for those who are courageous enough, those experiences result in growth and the existence of an inner strength that would not have been gained otherwise."
Gabrielle didnt respond right away. She sat enjoying Xenas gentle touch, listening to the sounds of the forest, and watching the fire lick hungrily at the logs as she thought about the warriors words.
"I think I know what you mean, Xena. I do feel an inner strength, a sense of confidence because I have survived, but I also feel vulnerable and weak because of the experiences. Thats what Im struggling with, I think. My life seems to be out of my control." She paused so she could turn around to face the warrior.
"Xena, do you think that we have any control over our own destinies?"
Xena winced at the question. How could she answer this one when she had so many doubts herself? She took a deep breath and released it in a gusty sigh. "Ive been asking myself that same question a lot lately, Gabrielle, and Im not sure I can give you a good answer. I know that The Fates control our life threads, determining the times of our birth and death, but I think that the events of our lives are in our control."
A dull ache in her lower jaw reminded her of her injuries and of how she had briefly lost that control. She lifted one hand to rub it gently, but her eyes were still staring sightlessly into the fire. "We can choose to be good or evil, and we can choose with whom we want to spend our lives. I think that all the choices like that are in our power. However, I do believe that the gods, or djinn, or whatever other powers exist in the universe that these forces can and do influence our life paths. Sometimes they help us overcome adversity; sometimes they create the adversity, and its up to us to fight through the troubles and to win. Thats what helps to make us who we are."
Xena briefly closed her eyes as Gabrielle lifted her hand and lightly traced the bruise on the side of the warriors face. The bards sad eyes looked up at her. "So, youre saying that these tough experiences are necessary in life?"
Xena let her lips curl into a wry grin. "Yeah. At least thats my belief. I mean, if life was always as sweet as the Elysian fields, how would we ever know how good it truly was? Sometimes we have to experience the bad so that we can appreciate the good." She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on the end of the bards nose.
"I suppose youre right," Gabrielle murmured thoughtfully. "Like the butterfly."
"You know. The story of the butterfly!" When Xena still looked perplexed, Gabrielle continued, shifting into her storyteller mode subconsciously, her eyes staring out into the dark forest.
" There once was a man who found a cocoon of a butterfly. As he was watching it one day, a tiny hole appeared, and the butterfly struggled to get out of the confining area inside the cocoon. However, it appeared that the butterflys struggles would not be successful.
Its wings were bent and deformed, and it seemed to be too weak to emerge. So the compassionate man cut away the cocoon and freed the butterfly. But the butterfly was not O.K. Its wings were shriveled and its body was swollen, and though the man watched it for a long time, the butterflys wings and body never healed. It was never able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were meant to be. It was the gods way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. The struggle was essential to his survival and would have allowed him to become the beautiful butterfly he was destined to be."
Yes. That was it. Exactly. The struggle was the key.
Gabrielles sad eyes traveled slowly back to the blue ones in front of her. She absorbed the tenderness in Xenas look and returned it with a slight smile. "These tough experiences might be helping us to become stronger people, but I sure wish they would give us a break for awhile." That brought a small smile to the warriors face.
Gabrielle leaned forward and rested her forehead against Xenas shoulder, wrapping her arms around her in a loose hug. The comfort of the embrace soothed her and she closed her eyes.
"I love you, Gabrielle."
She lifted her head and smiled. "I love you too, Xena. Ill always love you." She leaned forward so that their lips met, sealing the promise. Then she leaned back so she could look fully into the face of her partner. Her brows furrowed with concern.
"You know, weve been so busy talking that I havent had a chance to look at your injuries from the fight." Her eyes scanned Xenas blackened eye and bruised jaw. "Hmmm I think we need to try out that theory of yours again. You know, the one where we use cold compresses to reduce the swelling?" Her eyes twinkled with amusement as she made an effort to lighten the mood, and she felt the weariness that had been plaguing her drop away.
"Oh yeah. I know the one, though I didnt think you were a believer in the technique." Xenas face relaxed into a smile as she noted the change of direction in the conversation.
She knew that Gabrielle needed more time to work through her feelings. They both needed time to heal. One night of talk wasnt going to erase all the pain from the past year, but hopefully it would help a little. Already she felt better for having talked things out with the bard, and if Gabrielle wanted to engage in a little light banter as a distraction, she could certainly rise to the occasion.
Gabrielle moved to the saddlebags to look for the healing kit. "Well," she remarked, head nearly buried inside the leather case, as she looked, "we never really had a chance to test that theory. If my memory serves me correctly, the Persian army invaded right in the middle of your medical test." She turned as she emphasized the word "test" and flashed Xena a teasing grin.
The warrior was still reclining near the fire, but one eyebrow was raised, and her lips were pursed in challenge. She reminded Gabrielle of a relaxed but dangerous predator. "My test, as you put it, wouldnt have been necessary if you hadnt tried to do the flip without the staff."
"Ah, ha! I knew it!" Gabrielle stood and began moving threateningly across the clearing towards the warrior, healing kit forgotten. "I knew that you would slip in an I told you so sooner or later. It took you a long time, but you finally did it!"
Xena stared up at her with a wounded look. "Gabrielle, how could you accuse an injured woman like me of doing something as mean as that?"
Neither one of them could hold back their laughter any longer. "Xena, youre incorrigible! What am I going to do with you?" Gabrielle dropped to her knees in front of her partner.
Xena didnt bother with words. She just leaned forward and grabbed both of Gabrielles wrists, pulling the bards body down on her own. She smiled mischievously. "Oh, Ive got a few ideas." She grasped Gabrielles head lovingly with both hands and brought it down slowly. The bards eyes widened with understanding and she mumbled something, but it was smothered in the kiss.
Finally, she managed to lift her head and look intently into the blue eyes so close to her own. "Xena, your injuries!"
Xena smiled in reassurance. "Its O.K. I dont feel a thing." She pulled Gabrielles lips back to hers, determined to erase some of lifes harsher lessons with a few pleasant ones of her own.
I hope you enjoyed this epilogue. J It was a tough one to write because "Crusader" provides so much for us to consider about the characters and their internal struggles. I have tried to find a way to conclude the episode in a way that is true to my view of the characters and the show. Please write and let me know what you think.
Blind Faith (Kfaith2222@aol.com)
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