Standard disclaimers: Same as always, I don't own the characters but I do own the story.
Subtext warning: Yes it is in here and it is hardly what I would call sub. If the idea of two women being in love and expressing that fact bothers you, this may not be the story for you.
Marion D Tuttle
All comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
It had been several days since Xena had left the village. There had been no word from her and the longer she was gone the more worried Gabrielle became. Ephiny had gone out in search of the warrior but had come back with no results. Gabrielle had not really been surprised by this and had told her friend and co ruler this, but it had done little to lighten the burden of failure she felt. "I feel like I let you and the entire nation down. She had said.
"Ephiny, don't do this to yourself. You and I both know that if Xena doesn't want to be found then her trail is going to be next to impossible to track." She knew what Gabrielle was saying was true, but it did nothing to lessen the sense that she could have done more.
In public and at tribal functions, Gabrielle managed to maintain the dignity of the Queen she was. But behind closed doors, at night, the pain began to close in around her and at times she thought it might choke her to death. She had retired to her hut for the evening in the hopes of trying to get some rest. She messaged her temples with her fingertips, trying to ward off the headache she knew was coming and was powerless to stop. She closed her eyes, going over again for what seemed like the millionth time the events that had lead up to this.
She would have given anything to take back her actions, the actions that had seemed to send a message to her warrior that she didn't think she was the right one to be her champion. She would have liked to take it all back, but she knew in her mind that if the same things were to happen again her reactions would have been the same. Why couldn't Xena understand that her interference had nothing to do with her faith in the warrior? She just had wanted to keep things from getting to a level that would be out of hand.
Being lost in thought she didn't even notice that the dim room light up around her. She happened to look up through bleary eyes and saw Artimiss standing in front of her. "What's happened Gabrielle?"
The tone in her voice when she answered was surprisingly flat. "Artimiss, I was wondering if I would get a visit from the Gods."
Moving towards her choosen Queen, Artimiss noticed that Gabrielle's eyes were lacking their usual spirit. "Tell me what's wrong."
"You mean you don't know either? I thought the Gods were all knowing, all seeing. What's the matter are you less powerful then you would like us all to believe?" The words that were coming out of her mouth didn't sound like Gabrielle. She heard herself saying them and part of her couldn't believe it was really her. But another part, a part that seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds, simply didn't care.
"Gabrielle, all I know is that something is very wrong and that somehow Ares has a hand in it. But I don't know any of the details. Please let me help you."
The young Queen looked at the deity that was the patron Goddess of her people. She felt so many conflicting emotions inside that she didn't know which way to turn. In the first few days after Xena had left she had been consumed with the thought of finding her and making things right. Pain had come after that at the thought that she may never see the warrior again. The pain was still the largest part of what she felt but what was growing now was apathy and a numbness that threatened to block out everything else. "I don't know what you can do." She shook her head sadly "It's pretty much up to Xena now. She's the one that left and she is the one that has some how gotten this idea into her head that I no longer trust her."
Knowing what direction Artimiss' thoughts were going, Gabrielle corrected her. "No not that. Xena has never given me any reason to doubt her love or loyalty to me. That's not the problem, the problem is she thinks that I am convinced that she is no longer worthy of being my champion and protecting me. What I can't make her understand is I don't need to be protected." Lowering her voice she went on "What I mean is I'm not the wide eyed little girl I used to be. I don't need her to jump to my defense at every turn, and more importantly I don't want her to feel like she has to place herself in danger over every little thing."
Moving to stand closer to the smaller woman. "This goes a lot deeper than just an exchange of a few harsh words, doesn't it?"
Gabrielle hung her head and felt as if the air were being pushed from her lungs. "Yes it does. I didn't even realize what I was thinking until after Xena left. I knew that there was something there, we both felt it, but when I tried to bring it up Xena just brushed it off or tried to."
"Tell me what you're thinking Gabrielle."
The walls seemed to be closing in on her, the thoughts in her head didn't seem to her like the even belonged there. She and Xena had been through too much and the fact that she could even think these things felt to her like she was betraying the woman she loved. "It's Ares, Artimiss I know that Xena doesn't want to go back. But how long can she fight him? He is a God after all, and he has proven he is willing to do whatever it takes to get her back. I don't know...."
Feeling that there was still more than she had been told Artimiss pressed the issue. "Is that the whole story? You know that Xena will not give in to him. She has made it clear that no matter how long he persist it will be in vain, and I believe her Gabrielle."
Tears streamed down Gabrielle's face as she finally let out the pressure that had been building up inside her. "It's not Xena, it's me! I'm tired, I don't know that I can keep doing this. I nearly lost her and when I thought she was dead I was sure I was going to die with her. Things are so intense with Xena, Sometimes I think it might be better for us if I just walked away. I could build a life here with the Amazons, and Xena could be free, she could do what she wanted with out having to worry about me." She dissolved into sobs.
"Is that what you really want?" Artimiss asked, a quizzical brow raised at the statement she had just heard.
"I don't know what I want anymore. It just seems..."
"Will you promise me something? Do not make any decisions until you talk to me again."
A bewildered look crossed her face. "Alright but where are you going?"
"Just promise me that you will wait?"
She had been in turmoil this long, a day or two more didn't seem like it would matter that much. "You have my word, I won't do anything until I talk to you again."
With this assurance Artimiss simply nodded her head and disappeared. She had a plan of action in mind but wasn't going to tell Gabrielle, because frankly she wasn't sure what she was going to find when she reached her destination.
The days had seemed to drag for her since she had left the Amazon village. She had spent her days trying to work herself into a state of exhaustion, with sword drills, hunting...anything to keep the image of Gabrielle out of her mind. The only problem with this was when she did fall into her bed roll at night her dreams turned to the bard. Unable to find rest in her waking or sleeping hours the warrior became more and more upset and confused.
When she had first left her main driving force had been shame, she had felt that Gabrielle had shamed her in showing a lack of her abilities to protect her. What was beginning to take over now was anger, and that is what Ares had been waiting for. Once that anger started to surface he took his first opportunity to fan the flames. He appeared by the campfire. It was clear that Xena was upset, it was just the type of mood he wanted her in to move his plan along. "Xena."
She couldn't believe it when she heard his voice, normally she could sense him before he made his presence known. 'Maybe I am slipping.' She thought to herself. She answered him in a wooden voice. "What do you want Ares?"
The smile he gave her never reached his eyes. "What I want Xena is for you to get back on your feet. It's sad really, to see one of the greatest warrior's ever born mooning around over a slip of nothing that doesn't even care enough about you to worry if or when your even coming back."
Even though she was no longer with Gabrielle she felt her protective instincts rise. "What do you know? You don't even know Gabrielle or anything about her!"
"I know more than you think Xena. I know that it didn't take long for her to replace you."
A sickening feeling began to grow in the pit of her stomach, still she didn't want to tip her hand to Ares. "What are you talking about?"
"Your replacement Xena, Gabrielle is after all the Queen of the Amazons and as such she must have a champion. If you aren't going to be there then some one else has to fill the role....In every way I would think."
A dark brow raised over one eye. "Are you trying to tell me that Gabrielle..."
"Of course I don't know all the details, that would be my sister's department. But I do know know right after you left Gabrielle spent a good deal of time talking in her hut with...what is her name? Falia? That's it Falia, I would guess that she is going to be named the Queens Champion at the next tribal council."
Xena felt like her world had just spun out of control. How could Gabrielle do this to her? It was bad enough that she had made a statement that she no longer thought that Xena was able to protect her, but to name that little upstart was just adding insult to injury. Something wasn't right about this, she knew that. Unfortunately her heart was so torn over what she saw as a betrayal by Gabrielle that her normally sharp senses were clouded.
Ares watched the play of emotions across the warrior's face. First he saw confusion. Then he saw pain and despair, finally he saw the emotion he had been waiting for anger. This was something he could manipulate, he needed Xena angry in order for his plan to work. In order for him to lure her back to the darkness that had once engulfed her and to make her once again his lead warrior. "After everything you have done for her Xena I can understand you just wanting to walk away. But you can't do that can you? No you're not made that way, she betrayed you and she has to pay for it."
Despite the love that still tugged at Xena's heart she found herself agreeing with Ares. She couldn't allow this betrayal of her heart to go unchallenged. If Falia wanted Gabrielle then she could have her, but Xena was going to have her revenge first.
Time had passed, as it always does. Gabrielle had gone through the motions of her days. On the outside she appeared normal to everyone, no one would have guessed the pain and torment that tore at her soul.A strange thing had happened in the past week though. At first Falia had been an annoyance to Gabrielle every time she had seen her. Then after many attempts to talk to her Queen Gabrielle had finally relented and agreed to talk to Falia in her hut after the evening meal. She had been fully prepared to tell the girl once and for all that while she did not hold her completely responsible for what had happened with Xena. She would have a hard time forgiving her part in it.
Much to her surprise Falia did not come in with the cocky attitude she had expected. In fact the young warrior seemed almost contrite in her actions. Bowing before Gabrielle she offered a greeting. "Good evening my Queen."
"Good evening Falia, I assume from your insistence that what you have to say to me is of some importance?"
"Yes and I will understand that if after hearing this you want to banish me."
Now she had Gabrielle's full attention, this was the last thing she would have expected to hear. She sat back in her chair motioning to Falia that she should take the chair opposite her. She sat quietly waiting for Falia to form the words she had come to say. "I owe you an apology my Queen...." Tears were spilling down the young womans cheeks. "What happened with Xena...it's all my fault."
The last thing Gabrielle wanted to do right now was rehash that day just to ease Falia's conscience. She started to tell her. "Falia, there is really no point in talking about this anymore. perhaps when Xena gets back you can offer her an apology. She is after all the one you really insulted." She was prepared to dismiss the her when Falia spoke.
"My Queen...Gabrielle, with all due respect you need to hear what I have to say. I'm not here just to ask you to forgive me for what happened that day. That was no accident it was all part of a plan, Xena is in some very real danger. If you don't listen to me now she will never make it back to you."
This caught the bards attention. "What are you saying."
Falia's statement had brought about another torrent of tears. Gabrielle's heart had leapt into her throat at the words she had said about Xena being in danger. Normally she would have had endless patience with someone in Falia's state. Right now her one and only concern was finding out about Xena. She had been wavering, as she had told Artimiss. Wondering if she and Xena both might be better of if she just brought an end to their relationship. She knew of a certainty now that she could never do that, Xena was as much a part of her as her own heart, she knew that Xena was the other half of her soul and that what ever had come between them could be resolved if she could just get to the truth. "Falia, I can see your upset. But right now you need to focus and tell me what you just meant by Xena being in danger."
"Everything that happened, my calling Xena out. Trying to make her feel like she was placing you in danger. It was all designed to drive a wedge between the two of you...I am so sorry."
"Why? Who would want to break Xena and I apart?" Before Falia had a chance to answer the question a look of knowing came into Gabrielle's eyes "Ares, he put you up to this didn't he?"
Falia simply nodded. "He promised me power in the nation. He told me that if you and Xena were apart that you would eventually settle here and he promised that he would pull some strings with Artimiss for me. I had hoped that you would name me as your champion and eventually your consort....I know I was wrong now."
Her first reaction was to tear this young woman before her from limb to limb. Her actions had started something that could be irreversible, she took a deep cleansing breath instead. She had to find out more. "You said that Xena is in danger. How do you know that? Is that what made you change your mind and come to me?"
"In a sense. I knew all along that Ares was not offering me the things he was out of the kindness of his heart. He wanted you out of the way so he could work on getting Xena back. He told me he knew that as long as you were in Xena's life she would never come back to him and her old ways. At first I told him I wanted nothing to do with his plans, then he assured me that it was for the best. He told me all the things that I said to you both in the dinning hall. That if Xena truly cared for you she would not put you in danger at every turn. I have felt a fondness for you ever since I came to this village but I didn't know how to tell you. I thought I was doing what would be best for you." She hung her head, feeling the shame wash over her again at what she had done.
Gabrielle found herself wanting to shake the girl to get her to get to the point. She knew though that she had to handel this just right. She was getting the feeling that Xena's life and their future together might well depend on what she heard here in this hut. "Tell me what his plan was."
"He knew if Xena felt like you didn't think she was fit to be your champion it would lead to problems. By me making waves he hoped that it would lead to arguments between the two of you. But when Xena left Ares came to me and said that things had gone better than he had hoped or planned. He said that all I had to do was get you interested in me and that would give me all the power I wanted. What I didn't tell him is that I had been watching you and had started to really care for you. I was afraid if I said anything...."
"I know Ares can be intimidating." Gabrielle finished for her. "But if you started to care for me as you say, then why did it take you this long to come forward? Xena has been gone for a while now." She wanted to see what the response to this statement was going to be.
"At first I thought that I would just wait, you seemed upset over Xena being gone and I thought if I waited long enough you would eventually need to be comforted over the loss. And then something strange happened. I started listening to people in the village talk about the relationship you and Xena have. You see at first I believed every thing Ares said about Xena... But I started hearing about the love the two of you share, everything you have gone through together. I heard about the times that she protected you and fought for you, and you for her. I started to understand that it was my own selfish desires that had made me listen to Ares and do the things I had done. That's when I knew that I had to come to you and tell you the truth. Ares plans to lure Xena back into her old ways and turn her back into the monster she once was."
The end of her speech coincided with a bright light filling the hut, just as Artimiss appeared before them. Falia feel to her knees in front of the Goddess. "Rise Falia."
Turning towards Gabrielle, Artimiss told her. "I was on my way here to tell you what I had found out. But I see Falia beat me to it and decided to confess."
"We have to find Xena and help her." Gabrielle was frantic at the thought that the woman she loved was in Ares clutches.
"Oh we're not going to have to look for her, she's on her way here. You had better get ready Gabrielle."
To be continued
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