Sacrifice by Della Street

Xena sat on the ground, her eyes closed. "I shouldn't do this." She looked up at her old friend.

Andrus did not reply. She was right. It was dangerous for everyone, especially him, to carry out her wish. But this woman obviously meant a lot to Xena, and Xena meant a lot to him. "She would want to see you before . . . ?" he asked.

"Yes. But--"

"It's all right. I'll take care of her."

Xena sighed. "I know you will," she said sadly. "You're a good friend, Andrus."

"I'll be back as soon as I can. You'll be all right?"

"Yes. Take those to her. Keep them away from me." Andrus picked up two objects from the ground, then trudged over to the horses and took Argo's reins. "Go with him, Argo," Xena instructed. He mounted and rode off toward the village.

*****

Horse and rider reached the edge of the small berg, and Andrus dismounted. Taking his time, he walked through the village toward the house that Xena had described. He didn't relish his duty, one more difficult step in this whole difficult process, but he owed Xena his life, and he would do anything she asked.

He took the steps one at a time, and rapped on the door. A brunette girl opened it, surprised to see a warrior in full dress on their porch. "Is this the home of Gabrielle?" he asked.

The girl nodded, her jaw hanging down.

"May I speak with her?"

"Gabrielle!" she shouted over her shoulder.

An older blonde version of his greeter came to the doorway with a bright smile on her face. "Hello," she said, curious.

He paused for a moment, surprised at the delicate figure. This was the woman who traveled with the Warrior Princess? He recovered, and began his unpleasant task. "I have a message for you. From Xena," he said.

"Xena?" The pretty girl's eyes lit up, and his heart fell. Her expression changed as she saw his discomfort. "Where is she?" she asked warily.

"She's outside of town. She sent me for you."

Gabrielle studied him suspiciously. She started to shake her head, then glanced over his shoulder. "Argo!" She sprinted past him and ran up to the horse, patting the mare's neck affectionately. She turned back to the messenger, her mother and sister now standing in the doorway behind him.

"What's going on?" she asked.

He stepped over to her and spoke hesitantly. "She's . . . ." He had rehearsed the words on his way to town, but could not say them to this sweet creature. He reached into his pocket and drew out a note.

Gabrielle unfolded the paper. The handwriting was a bit unstable, but definitely Xena's. "Please come, Gabrielle. Do what he says," was all it said. Something else had been written, but drawn through.

Andrus walked over to his horse and pulled two items from a long leather carrier. "She wants you to have these," he said, handing her Xena's sword and chakram.

Sudden fear struck her. "What's going on?" she demanded again.

"Please, just come with me, miss."

"No!" Gabrielle dropped the weapons on the ground and grabbed the messenger's shirt with both hands. "Tell me!" Her family watched from the porch. It would have been comical, their little Gabrielle pulling the large warrior down to her, if it weren't for the look on her face.

"She's . . . not well. She wants to see you."

Gabrielle sensed that he had cut short his last sentence, but she didn't care now. She started to climb onto Argo, twisting round as he caught her arm. "She said to bring your staff," he said.

Gabrielle stared at him, perplexed. "My staff?"

He nodded, but she had given up on him explaining anything. She picked up Xena's weapons and carried them into the house.

"What is it, Gabrielle?" her mother asked gently.

"Something's wrong with Xena," she said. "I don't know what." She retrieved her staff and disassembled it while her mind raced. "I'll be back."

*****

At the edge of town, Andrus checked his mount, and Gabrielle pulled up alongside him. "Why are we stopping?" She watched her escort reach in and withdraw something from a saddlebag. "No," she said firmly.

"Xena�s orders."

The blonde woman shook her head adamantly. "No," she repeated.

"You wear the blindfold, or I don�t take you to her."

Gabrielle glared at him. Her instincts told her not to do it, not to make herself more vulnerable to this stranger, but her heart told her to do whatever it took to be with Xena. She closed her eyes, and he slipped the dark cloth over them. He took Argo�s reins in hand, and urged the animals forward.

After a while, Gabrielle could tell they had left the main road and were now making their way through thick brush. Their wordless trek continued, the painstaking pace intended for her protection, Gabrielle sensed. She needed to hear a human voice soon or she would go insane. "How do you know Xena?" she asked.

"I served under her for many years. She was a magnificent leader."

"What are you doing with her now?"

"I owe her. She saved my life."

"Owe her? Owe her what?"

The soldier did not reply, and they rode on in silence.

Finally, the horses were slowed to a halt, and Gabrielle felt herself being lifted from Argo's back. She tugged the blindfold off, and instantly recognized the woman sitting on the ground in the clearing ahead. "Xena!" She ran to her.

Gabrielle leaned down to kiss her, then froze. Xena's hands were tied behind her back. She looked down, and saw Xena's ankles similarly bound. She straightened abruptly and pivoted to confront the man who was apparently holding Xena prisoner.

"It's all right, Gabrielle," a steady voice said from behind her.

She glanced over her shoulder, then addressed the guard. "Let me talk to her alone."

Andrus shook his head. He had his instructions.

Gabrielle knelt on the blanket next to Xena, but instantly felt the man's strong hand on her arm, hauling her up. She jerked away from him and shouted angrily, "What are you doing? I just want to talk to her."

"Go ahead. From here."

She started to reply, but stopped at the sound of Xena�s voice. "He's just doing what I asked, Gabrielle."

She swung around. "What's going on, Xena?"

A long silence followed as Xena stared at the blanket. Gabrielle again turned to face her chaperone. "If I stay here, will you at least let us speak alone?"

Andrus glanced at Xena. She gave no indication that she had heard, and he backed away a few yards. He waited until the girl turned back, then placed his hand on his sword.

"Xena?"

Dull blue eyes looked up at her. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I just wanted you to know that I love you."

Gabrielle's heart slammed against her chest. "I know that. I love you too. Why are you telling me this?"

"Something . . . happened to me on the way back for you. In Chrylla." Xena shook her head. "I don't know what happened, but . . . ." This was difficult for the warrior to say. "I've lost control."

"What are you saying?"

"I almost killed someone in Chrylla. Almost beat him to death. Andrus stopped me. I don't have control."

"You're in control right now," Gabrielle said, panic beginning to set in.

"No, I'm not. I've taken something to help keep me calm for a while. My mind is clear right now, but these times don�t last long. Andrus has agreed to help me."

"Help you with what?"

A moment passed, and a sick fear started to envelop Gabrielle. She wanted this to stop.

"No."

"Gabrielle, listen to me." Xena searched her young lover's eyes. "I don't know if I'll make it to the Elysian Fields, but I know I won't make it if I turn back now. If I had killed that man in Chrylla . . . ." She held Gabrielle�s gaze. "You've got your whole life ahead of you. You'll--"

"No! Stop it!"

Xena lowered her head. Gabrielle would find someone else. She was too wonderful; everyone would want her. There would never be anyone else for Xena, though. Gabrielle would some day be in the Elysian Fields, and Xena wanted to be there, if only to look at her from a distance. She sighed.

"Gabrielle, please understand. I can't afford to go back. I want to be with -- I want to be in the Fields." She smiled weakly. "Hades owes me a favor, remember? If I try it now, I might make it. Don't take that away from me."

Gabrielle stood silently as tears trailed down her face. "You don't know--"

"Yes, I do," Xena interrupted gently. "I know. I --" She closed her eyes, and her shoulders jerked. "Andrus," she gasped.

A big hand reached out and grabbed Gabrielle, who struggled to free herself from the soldier's grasp.

"Get her out of here," Xena uttered.

"No!" Gabrielle exclaimed, trapped in bear arms. She felt her own arms forced behind her; Andrus tied her hands and pulled her up behind him on the saddle.

"Xena!" She heard no response. "Let me go!" she shouted furiously. She leaned to one side and allowed herself to fall to the ground, scrambling to pick herself up with her legs. Andrus snatched her again, and this time yanked her up roughly in front of him. He put the rag across her eyes again, then circled her waist tightly and clicked his horse into a gallop.

"Sorry," he said. "Xena doesn't want you hurt. Above all, I was to keep you safe."

"Go to Hades!"

The return trip went much more quickly. When they reached the house, Andrus helped Gabrielle down and removed the blindfold. "I am to . . . end her suffering. Should I bring her here afterward?"

Gabrielle stared at him, too emotionally battered to respond. This wasn't happening. She didn't register her mother stepping out on the porch, eyes drawn to the ropes binding her daughter's wrists.

"I'll bring her here." Andrus turned to his horse, then glanced back at her. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm doing what she wants. She said it meant more than anything in the world to have a chance to be with you in the Elysian Fields."

Gabrielle remained mute, tears flowing freely again. She shook her head. Why didn't Xena ever say that to her?

Andrus untied her hands and climbed into the saddle. He took in the sight of the poor girl again, standing helplessly, her heart breaking, and tugged sadly on his horse�s reins. He had one more responsibility to fulfill.

Gabrielle watched the retreating figure for a moment, then stirred and ran after him. An hour later, she knelt in the dirt, her head hanging. She had lost the trail shortly outside the village. All the instruction she had received about tracking had obviously been lost on her, she thought disgustedly. Xena shouldn't have wasted her time.

She walked slowly to the house and climbed the steps without thought, proceeding blindly to her bedroom. She crawled under the covers of her bed and cried into her pillow.

* * * * *

Gabrielle leaned against the kitchen table, wincing at the sting of cold water against her sore throat. Sensing a presence behind her, she set the cup down and turned to see a familiar form propped seductively against the doorway.

"Hello, Gabrielle."

"Xena!" Gabrielle started toward the woman, but something stopped her.

"What's the matter? Don't you want to kiss me?"

Gabrielle stared at her.

"Don't you want me, Gabrielle?" The Warrior Princess took a step toward the younger woman, who backed up instinctively. "You've been a pain in my side since the day we met, interfering, keeping me from doing what I really wanted to do." She took another step, again matched by Gabrielle in retreat. "The only thing you had to offer was your bedroll, and now you don't even want to give me that. I guess I should just get down to business."

"Where's Andrus?" Gabrielle stammered, stalling for time.

Xena smiled. "He was weak. In the end he couldn't run his sword through someone whose hands and feet were tied. Big mistake."

Gabrielle took another step back, and dragged a small table between her and the stranger before her. Xena grinned. They both knew it wouldn�t slow her down. "You're the last obstacle I need to remove, Gabrielle. The only question is how it happens. You've given me a fair amount of pleasure. More than I'd expect from a farm girl." She smiled unpleasantly. "So enthusiastic."

The bard stood speechless, knowing she should run, but unable to tear herself away from Xena's hypnotic voice.

"In recognition of that, I'm willing to get this over with quickly," Xena continued. "But if you irritate me, I'm going to take my time."

Gabrielle's shoulders sagged, and Xena crossed her arms. "Good decision." Suddenly Gabrielle turned and bolted out of the room.

Xena had speed and agility, but Gabrielle had the advantage of knowing her own house. She made it to her bedroom and quickly retrieved her staff. In a few moments, she heard Xena's boots approaching as the warrior tracked her prey. She wasn't bothering with stealth, Gabrielle noticed. She didn't need to.

Gabrielle tore open the bamboo door and raced outside. She looked around desperately, but there were no horses in sight. She had no chance against Xena on foot. She had no chance on horseback either, but she had to try.

The blacksmith's. There were usually a couple of horses there. She took off for the big man's stable. She heard someone call her name as she crossed the common, but ignored it.

"Ayiyiyi!"

Gabrielle had always loved that sound, but now she nearly cried out in fear. The Warrior Princess landed gracefully on the ground in front of her. She had recovered her sword and chakram from the house, Gabrielle noticed.

"I warned you not to irritate me," Xena said angrily. In an almost invisible motion, she backhanded Gabrielle across the face, sending the smaller woman to the ground a few yards away.

Gabrielle shook her head to clear the dizziness a little, then crawled over and picked up her staff. Dark boots crossed the ground toward her.

Another voice called her name from across the grounds. Her mother. "Stay back!" she yelled over her shoulder. Xena would slaughter anyone who intervened. Standing to face her executioner, Gabrielle raised her staff.

"Oh, dear. You�re not going to hit me with that, are you?" Xena mocked.

"Why don�t you just leave me here?" Gabrielle asked. "I�m not a warrior. I can�t stop you from doing anything you want."

"I�m ashamed to say that you�ve had too much influence over me in my weakened condition," the warlord replied. "I can�t figure it, but then we don�t always think with our heads, do we?" She smiled nastily. "And it was �sooo good,� wasn�t it?" she said, imitating her lover.

Gabrielle stared coldly at the woman throwing her own words, spoken in love, back at her. Suddenly Xena lunged at her and grasped her neck with long fingers. Gabrielle choked, gasping for air that wasn�t there, and frantically swung her staff with all her strength. The grip on her throat loosened as the wood connected with the side of Xena�s thigh, and Gabrielle leaned back, temporarily free from her captor�s hold.

Her mind tried to register what had just happened. This Xena was cruel, but she could be distracted. The shift in her emotional balance was too recent, too overwhelming, perhaps. Gabrielle didn�t know why and didn�t care. She backed rapidly away from the creature.

"You know you�re going to pay for that." Xena reached into her armor and pulled out her breast dagger. "Fitting, don't you think?" She took a step toward Gabrielle, who stood paralyzed. Running would do no good. Xena could easily pierce her heart with the blade from that distance.

"I love you, Xena," she said. Was any part of her lover still there?

Suddenly a figure emerged in the common behind Xena. "Leave the girl alone," Andrus called out to her, one hand pressed to a blood-stained tunic. "Not a suitable target for a real warrior," he rasped, each word spoken with difficulty.

Xena turned to look at him. "Guess I'm losing my touch," she said, mildly surprised to see the soldier still alive. She returned her attention to Gabrielle. "Stay here, and I�ll leave it at you. You move, and I�ll slit your mother's throat."

She sauntered over to Andrus and tossed the dagger into the ground beside her, burying it to the hilt. In a fluid motion, she reached back and pulled her sword from its sheath, stepping closer to the wounded man.

Gabrielle watched as the warrior prepared to deliver a death blow to her friend, unarmed and helpless, barely able to maintain his footing. Later she could not remember the voices that flooded her mind at that moment. It means everything to her to be in the Elysian Fields . . . Don�t take that away from me, Gabrielle . . . .

Her legs moved as if of their own accord. She ran up behind the Warrior Princess, reaching down and drawing the small dagger from the dirt. Without warning, she grabbed the long black hair and pulled Xena�s head back, plunging the blade into the other woman�s chest.

Xena whirled around, eyes wide, fingering the dagger in disbelief. "Gabrielle?" Her knees buckled, and she collapsed to the dirt.

Gabrielle gazed into Xena's eyes, seeing in them a transition from shock to realization to calmness. She wiped at her own eyes with her arm. "I'm sorry, Xena," she sobbed, rocking her gently.

Xena spoke quietly, her voice so weak Gabrielle could barely hear it. "It�s all right." Her lover�s hand reached out to her. "Gabrielle . . ." The blue eyes closed, and Gabrielle screamed.

* * * * *

Two figures remained in the common long after the sun had set. Gabrielle cradled Xena's head in her lap, stroking her lover's hair, murmuring to her.

Soft footsteps approached, and she felt her mother's hand on her shoulder. "Come inside," the older woman urged.

Gabrielle shook her head. A moment later, a warm blanket was draped around her shoulders. She pulled a corner of the blanket over Xena's body and resumed her tender caresses.

* * * * *

"Gabrielle?"

She jumped. She had been staring down at the pale face lying peacefully on the bed, touching the cool skin with the side of her finger.

"What? I�m sorry."

"What would she want to wear?" Lila pointed to the other bed. Gabrielle turned and saw Xena�s leathers lying beside a long, blue dress. She walked over and took the cloth between her fingers. Xena always looked beautiful in blue.

She set the soft material down and reached for the leather, pressing it against her face. It smelled like Xena. Gabrielle�s throat caught, and her tears darkened the black material as she wept.

"What have you done?"

She spun around to see a bearded figure standing directly behind her. Before she could react, an angry hand clamped around her throat, pinning her against the wall. Dark eyes burned into hers. "You little bitch."

Gabrielle felt herself losing consciousness, and with it a sense of elation. She didn�t care if he killed her. This pain would finally end.

Ares noticed that the girl had stopped resisting him. "Oh, no, you don�t," he growled, releasing her. "I�ll decide your punishment." He stalked a few feet away, then turned back to her, barely in control of his anger. "I had her back. She was mine."

Gabrielle had to know. "What did you do to her?"

"Xena offered herself to me with my ceremonial wine."

"She wouldn't do that."

"She would if she didn't quite realize she was in one of my temples." He looked at the blonde woman. "When she thinks she's helping one of her precious farmers, she can be almost as naive as you are."

Gabrielle closed her eyes, wishing she could wipe that arrogant sneer off his face.

Ares strode over to the bed and took a corner of the blanket in his fingers, starting to pull it back. Rage surged through Gabrielle, and she threw herself onto the god's back. He pulled her arms away and hurled her effortlessly across the room, then turned his angry gaze to the other women huddled in the corner. "Get out," he said, his voice terrifyingly low.

Lila hesitated at the doorway, and looked back at her sister. "Go," Gabrielle said, one hand pressed against her side. And then they were alone.

Gabrielle wasn�t afraid. She wanted him to kill her. He knew it, and therefore he wouldn�t. She almost smiled at the irony.

"It�s not too late, Gabrielle," he said. "You can have her back." She remained silent, the pounding of her heart overridden by the constant alarm ringing in her brain. The god of war was devious. He would try to trick her. "Wouldn�t you like to be with her again?"

"I can�t."

"Yes, you can. You can be by her side again."

"In your service."

He smiled. "Of course."

"She�d rather be dead."

"And you�d rather be a murderer." At her silence, he continued. "You know, perhaps I�ve been looking in the wrong place. A woman who would kill her lover in cold blood would serve me well."

She met his eyes. She was too numb to rise to his taunting. She -- and only she -- knew what she had done. "I�d rather be dead," she said. He knew she meant it; the girl was already close to the edge.

Suddenly he erupted, shouting his frustration to the heavens. Bottles and jars shattered violently, one by one, spraying tiny shards of glass across the room. Gabrielle moved over to the bed and covered Xena's face. She watched the god dully, ignoring the occasional sharp pricks against her skin.

Ares closed his eyes, furious. If he brought Xena back into his service, the girl would kill her. He had no illusions about her ability to do it. Now that she had made the decision, she would be dangerous. And even under his control, Xena obviously retained some vulnerability to her former lover.

He couldn�t kill the girl either, not at the moment. His foolish uncle was considering allowing Xena into the Elysian Fields, and if her friend was there, she would refuse to return.

His plans, his desire for Xena all these years, couldn�t end now. He turned and stared at the still form on the bed, then vanished.

Gabrielle slid down the wall and rested her head on her knees.

"Gabrielle?"

Her head jerked up. Calm blue eyes gazed down at her from the bed.

Gabrielle rose slowly, her heart pounding wildly as Xena smiled up at her. Gabrielle took her lover's hand and pressed it to her face. "Xena?" she whispered, desperately wanting to believe what she was seeing. She kissed the palm, then clasped the dark-haired woman to her breast joyously.

Xena winced, and Gabrielle pulled the edge of the blanket down. The wound was still there. She looked up quickly, and opened her mouth to speak. Xena pressed her fingers to Gabrielle's lips, then leaned forward and kissed her. "Thank you, Gabrielle. I know how much it must have hurt you." She smiled. "Come here."

Gabrielle lay down on the bed, her face resting against Xena's shoulder, crying softly. Exhaustion and relief overtook her, and within minutes she had slipped into a deep sleep. Xena contemplated her, fingers interlacing with fine blonde hair.

Ares had left the wound, and the eventual scar, to serve as a reminder to her and the woman who had inflicted it. It would do that, but to Xena it would only strengthen their bond. Her love for Gabrielle, already measureless, had reached an impossibly higher plateau when she realized the sacrifice Gabrielle had made for her.

She didn't know if she could express her emotions to Gabrielle, but she would make the effort. The bard liked to hear her put things into words, something Xena wasn't very good at giving her. Xena relied more on physical expressions, which were welcomed by her lover, but it would give Gabrielle pleasure to hear Xena's feelings more often. This time, she would try.

She ran words through her mind, looking for some that could describe the indescribable connection she shared with the woman in her arms. "We're one now, Gabrielle," she began.

END


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