by: Katelin B.
See Part One for Disclaimers and warnings.
Please email your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to know what you think and constructive critizism is always welcome. Besides, if I don’t get email, I’ll think no one is reading my story, and then I’d stop writing before it’s finished. So stick around and urge me on, this story could get really interesting. :)
Ares slowly approached Xena, a smug grin plastered to his face. Kathryn watched with wide eyes as her security officer stood her ground, not even flinching at the War God’s proximity. Though the Captain knew it was the being she called Q, it was a little more intimidating, standing in the presence of the God of War.
“It’s not gonna work Ares,” Xena said, her fierce expression never wavering, “Nothing you can say will make me put on that armor. Never again.” Her glare met his, each trying to stare down the other and neither giving any ground until Ares threw back his head and laughed.
The entire away team was stunned, Xena included, at his reaction. The raven haired officer was confused by his laughter, and it must have shown, because Ares crossed his arms over his chest and smirked evilly. “I’m not going to say anything, Xena,” he replied, seemingly quite pleased with himself, “I don’t have to. There’s someone else who could convince you far more easily than even I could.”
Realization finally came to Xena, and her sudden fury surpassed the previous outburst on the bridge of Voyager. Fists clenched at her sides, she didn’t even move, but she fairly radiated homicidal rage. So obvious to everyone around her that Kathryn took a step back, suddenly afraid of the dark woman. A quick glance over at Harry Kim, confirmed her suspicions that even he, who had known her secret for more than a year, had never seen her in such a state.
“You leave her out of this,” Xena growled, sounding more like a wolf than a woman, “Or so help me, immortal being or not, I’ll find a way to kill you.” Ares wasn’t even fazed by Xena’s anger, and Kathryn realized that he must have seen it before. Her mind went back over the story told to her in the circle the night before, and shuddered, now believing that it was all true. Every word about the darkness, and evil that had ruled Xena’s life was 100% true.
“Xena,” Ares purred, smiling that sickening smile again, “Now why would I want to break up such a happy couple?” He looked over at Kathryn for a moment, then seemed to remember something and turned back to Xena. “Oh that’s right,” he added, “The ‘happy couple’ never were really happy. You did have a little problem with expressing yourself back then, didn’t you.” Ares stepped even closer into Xena’s personal space, knowing by the expression on her face that he was getting to her. “In those days after she passed on, did you think about her all the time? Did you tell her how you had really felt? Did you tell her that the mighty warrior princess had been a tame kitten in the presence of her bard? She could hear your thoughts you know. The dead always hear the thoughts of the living. Whether they want to or not. Have you thought of how she would feel, knowing you never told her? Knowing she could never answer you? Do you think she wept for the life wasted when you both could have had so much more?”
His taunting voice echoed dully in her ears, the pain of her loss coming, once again, to the surface. Her guilt, her self-loathing, it all became too much for her to bear, and with a strangled sob, her knees buckled under the strain and she crumpled to the ground. Curled over her knees, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, she rocked slowly, her head nearly touching the ground. Gabrielle’s name murmured from her lips over and over.
Kathryn’s eyes widened at the sight of Xena in so much emotional pain, and her instincts to protect her crew came to the fore. Against her better judgement, the captain approached Ares and glared at him, unconsciously placing a comforting hand on Xena’s hunched shoulder. “Leave her alone, Q!” she snapped, still seeing him as the trouble maker she knew, even though his appearance had changed, “You’ve had your fun. Now send us home!”
Ares laughed again, a high pitched, irritating sound that grated her nerves. “I don’t think so my dear Kathryn,” he replied, stepping back two paces. The rest of the command crew gave him a wide berth, stepping around him to be near their captain in case she was in danger. “I haven’t even begun to have fun yet. And this is going to be so good!”
At the sound of Ares laughter, Xena looked up once again, her tear streaked face, red and full of rage. The God of War caught her murderous look and smiled, crouching down to meet her eyes levelly. “I give you a gift, Xena,” he said quietly before righting himself again, “Appreciate it more than you did last time.” He pointed to the edge of the forest where the burning tree still lay and a bolt of red energy shot from his hand, through the smoke.
Xena followed the light with her eyes then looked at Ares in confusion. Seeing her bewilderment, Ares chuckled and stepped back again, looking over at Chakotay, who had moved up to his captain’s side. Kathryn and the others followed his gaze, all of them gasping in shock as a brilliant flash of light burned their vision again. Blinking a few times, Kathryn looked around, expecting Ares to have left them. Her surprise was clear on her face when she realized he was still standing there, but Chakotay wasn’t.
“Bring back my first officer, Q!” she snapped, her patience beginning to wear incredibly thin. She felt rather than saw Xena leap to her feet at the mention of Chakotay’s disappearance, remembering her vow to Gabrielle and determined to keep it.
“Sorry,” he said, looking appologetic, though Kathryn knew it was just an act, “Can’t do that. Just like before with Jean-Luc, I’ve given this place a life of it’s own. The indian stays where he is. It’s the price Xena has to pay for her gift.”
“What gift?” Xena barked, her anger melting the sorrow that had momentarily broken down the walls she usually kept around it, “You can keep your gift, Ares! I don’t want anything from you!!”
“Oh, come now, Xena,” Ares taunted, smiling, “Surely you will change your mind when you see what it is. You can have Chakotay back, you know. You just have to free him from my boy Alteron.” Ares laughed heartily at Xena’s shocked expression and began fading from view, as he had done those many centuries ago. “Oh, and Xena,” he added just before disappearing completely, “Don’t forget to check behind that tree.” Another high pitched laugh and he was gone.
While all eyes had been focused on Ares’ disappearance, Xena had finally managed to compose herself. Staring at the ground, trying desperately to control her emotions, the dark haired woman didn’t hear Paris volunteer to check the spot Ares had indicated. Nor did she notice when B’Elanna joined him and they trotted across the clearing. Xena was struggling to construct walls around her rage and sorrow. Like old friends she hadn’t seen in years, they did their job, locking her emotions down tightly and numbing her to the situation.
In control once again, the old warrior’s mask firmly in place, Xena came back to the present in time to hear Kathryn cautioning her officers to be careful. She darted a look after them, just to be sure of their safety, and frowned, wondering if Ares had truly meant what he said about a gift. The captain’s voice broke into her thoughts, forcing her to deal with the matter at hand, and not long buried emotions that shouldn’t have come to the surface.
“Xena,” Kathryn began once the other members of the bridge crew had moved off to check the area, “On the bridge. Q... I mean Ares...”
Xena chuckled slightly, seeing her confusion. “Just go with it,” she interjected, not really aware that she had used one of Gabrielle’s favorite phrases until after it had left her mouth.
“He said something that surprised me,” Kathryn continued, not really sure how to voice what she was wondering, “It’s been bothering me, and I would like to know the truth.”
The dark haired woman realized what she was talking about, remembering Q’s comment about family line on the bridge of Voyager. “You want to know if we’re related, or if Ares was just messing with your head,” Xena commented, her calm tone barely above a whisper as she surveyed the surrounding trees with sharp eyes for any sign of danger. She had to think about that one for a moment. Not the answer, she already knew that, but what she would say to her captain.
After a pause that nearly made Kathryn scream in frustration, Xena locked her azure eyes on the captains. Taking a deep breath, the dark woman opened her mouth to reply. “Kathryn...” But she never finished. At that moment, B’Elanna came rushing around the still smoldering tree, calling out to get everyone’s attention. “Hey!” she called, waving her arm in Xena’s and Kathryn’s direction, “There’s a woman back here!”
As B’Elanna turned to run back, Paris emerged from behind the tree, a limp figure in his arms. The half Klingon helped to support her as they slowly moved away from the smoldering trunk, and away from the acrid smoke in the air.
Kathryn jogged forward, urging her officers to lay the petite woman on the ground so she wouldn’t be jostled. One look at the red hair and sweet young face was all it took before the captain knew the identity of the unresponsive girl. Noticing that Xena hadn’t come with her, Kathryn looked back to find that the dark haired woman hadn’t even moved from where she had left her. “Xena,” she said, brushing a lock of hair out of the prone girl’s face, “Come over here.”
Xena shook her head and stared at the only part of the woman she could see. Those dark red boots that were so familiar, even after so many centuries, threatened to bring down the walls she had constructed to distance herself from the situation. She kept telling herself that it was just another of Ares’ tricks, and to calm down, but every part of her was aching to run to them. To look into that face again, and see that smile. To touch her, and hug her.
Xena broke those thoughts off angrily and shook her head, mentally chastising herself for the lapse in concentration. She looked up to see that Kathryn was calling her over again. “No captain,” she said firmly, crossing her arms over her chest, “I’m not going to be fooled by one of Ares tricks.”
“Stubborn woman,” Kathryn muttered to B’Elanna and reached in to take the red head’s pulse. Strong and steady. The captain looked up again at the sound of her Klingon Engineer chuckling. “Something funny, B’Elanna?”
“Yes, Captain,” she smiled, taking a moment to look up from the girl’s stirring body, “Now you know how Chakotay feels dealing with you.” The sting was taken off the words by another soft chuckle, and Kathryn smiled sheepishly.
“Point taken,” Kathryn conceded, then turned her attention to the as yet, unnamed woman lying on the ground, “Hey there. It’s okay, come on, wake up.” The woman groaned again and shifted, blinking her eyes a little.
“Xena?” the young woman mumbled sleepily, trying to get her eyes to focus. When she realized the face above her was not the warrior, she jerked and squeaked in surprise. “Who are you? Where’s Xena? Xena!!” Kathryn and B’Elanna tried to hold the struggling woman who was nearly frantic, but it was no good. They didn’t want to hurt her, but the way she was fighting with them, it was either let her go, or knock her out. God, she’s stronger than she looks, Kathryn thought as she finally gave up and released the woman.
Halfway across the clearing, Xena’s emotions wouldn’t let her ignore them any longer. She had been fine until that voice had called out for her. If there was any doubt in her mind after that frantic shout, it was destroyed when she saw the woman break away from Kathryn and jump to her feet.
Xena’s heart swelled, feeling like it would burst out of her chest at the sight of the one person she had ever truly loved stumbling toward her. Though she wanted to run and sweep her up in a fierce hug, her rational mind was still screaming that this was just another of Ares tricks, and her bard wasn’t really there. Her rational side nearly won until she saw the woman falter and drop to one knee. Xena was off like a shot, pushing by Harry Kim and Tuvok, who had approached her when the woman was found, and now stood silently, watching the scene play out before them.
Her heart hammering in her chest, Xena skidded to a stop and held out her arms just as the woman fell, too weak to hold her own body upright any longer. The dark haired woman fell to her knees, cradling the dazed woman carefully, as if she were the most fragile china doll. Soft blue eyes gazed up at her, and a smile lit the beautiful face, making Xena mimick it unconsciously. “Xena?” the young woman said quietly, a look of wonder crossing her face now that she was more aware of her surroundings, “Gods, it really is you, isn’t it?” Tears welled in her eyes and a small hand reached up to touch Xena’s face. “I’ve waited so long to see you again, Xena. Even with Cyrene, and the kids there, the Fields might as well have been Tartarus without you.”
Xena’s eyes went wide with understanding. Ares had truly given her a gift. This was her Gabrielle, pulled from the Elysian Fields and her eternal rest, not just a shade of the woman that had once held her warrior’s heart in the palm of her hand. “G-Gabrielle?” she said softly, finally allowing the walls down again, her rational side finally giving up the struggle, “Gabrielle!” Her heart sang as she hugged her bard close, tears tumbling unchecked down her face.
Kathryn and the senior staff watched the reunion silently, each of them moved by what they saw. The captain looked over at Harry, expecting to see the same tears, knowing how close he was to the security officer. Her shock was clearly visible when she saw that he was smiling widely, like someone just given the best of presents. “Harry?” she questioned, letting the silence hang until he decided to speak.
“Captain, you can’t imagine how this feels,” he said, looking like he would burst with joy, “I’ve seen Xena so depressed when she talks or thinks about Gabrielle. Even after 2500 years, the loss was still fresh for her. To see them reunited...” He trailed off and smiled at his captain, who nodded, and began smiling herself. She could imagine it, because she knew how much she missed Mark when they had first been stranded in the delta quadrant. To have that much pain as a constant for so many centuries would be unbearable.
When Gabrielle finally pulled away from the embrace to gaze into her warrior’s deep blue eyes again, another thought came to her. “Xena, how did I get here. One minute I was having a picnic with the grandkids, and Hades showed up, telling me that you needed me. The next thing I know I’m here. Oh!” She turned her head away, looking over at the group of strangely dressed people standing a respectable distance away.
Xena followed her gaze over to her captain and crew mates, smiling. She helped Gabrielle to stand and motioned them over. Quick introductions were made, Gabrielle liking everyone immediately, and appologizing to Kathryn for the struggle. “Don’t worry about it, Gabrielle,” Kathryn responded, holding up a hand, “I understand. And there is nothing to forgive. I would probably have done the same thing.”
Harry was saved for last. When he came forward, Gabrielle smiled warmly. “I’ve heard about you, Harry,” she said, hugging him impulsively, “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Heard about me?” he asked, genuinely confused, and shot a questioning look at Xena, “How? I mean... you’re dead, aren’t you?”
Gabrielle laughed and Xena joined her. “Yes Harry,” Gabrielle said, “I was dead, but I don’t know if I am any more. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” she smiled up at Xena, who took it from there.
“Harry,” she began, smiling down at Gabrielle before meeting his eyes, “What Ares said was true. When we think of the dead, they can hear our thoughts. I think about Gabrielle all the time, and sometimes hold entire conversations with her. Even if they are one sided.”
Gabrielle recognized the shot at her, and smirked, backhanding Xena in the stomach. “Hey, just giving you a chance to catch up after all the talking I used to do. Now you know what I felt like trying to have a conversation with the Queen of Quiet.”
Xena poked her in the ribs and continued. “I’ve told her about you,” she said, shrugging a little as Gabrielle poked her back with a mock scowl. As Kathryn and Harry watched, the poking continued back and forth, neither of them really paying attention to each other aside jabbing a finger into a sensitive part of the body. Harry wasn’t at all surprised, from the stories Xena had told him, this went on all the time between them, but a quick look at the captain told him she was truly shocked. He just grinned and changed the subject.
“Xena,” Harry said, drawing her attention away from the poking contest, “What are we going to do about Chakotay?” A solemn mood fell over the group, more than one frown showing up.
Xena straightened a bit and sighed. “I don’t know Harry,” she replied grimly, sparing a glance down at Gabrielle before looking back to him, “If Ares has given this ‘world’ of his a life of it’s own, then Chakotay might not be safe for much longer.”
Kathryn’s senses came on full alert at Xena’s words, catching the undertones of forboding. “What do you mean, ‘might not be safe for much longer’ Xena?” she asked, terribly worried about her first officer.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle once again, her subconscious wanting to make sure she was still there, and hadn’t disappeared like a morning mist. “Ares mentioned Alteron, Captain,” she sighed, and paused, wondering how to tell Kathryn the next part. “He’s a vicious warlord. And he specializes in slavery. It won’t be easy getting the Commander out of his camp. Alteron is nothing if not incredibly organized. I should know.”
Tuvok, who had remained silent the entire time, save for the introductions to Gabrielle, finally spoke up. “How is it that you know so much about this warlord, Xena?” he asked, raising his eyebrow in a way that Gabrielle was sure Xena had taught him.
“Because, Lt. Tuvok,” Xena responded quietly, frowning at the memory in her mind, “I taught him everything he knows.” She looked down at the ground for a moment, and seemed to come to a decision, nodding her head curtly to herself. Without a word, she turned her back to the bridge crew and strode purposefully toward the rock face, and the cave entrance at the foot of it.
“Xena!” Kathryn called, watching in muted shock as the dark woman walked away, followed quickly by the smaller red head, “What are you doing?” She motioned for her crew to stay close, and approached the cave, following Xena’s steps.
“I’m going to level the playing field, Kathryn,” she called back over her shoulder as she and the bard entered the darkness of the cave, disappearing from sight. Kathryn stopped where she was, remembering what Xena had said was stored in the cave, and held up her hand when B’Elanna made to continue on.
“No, B’Elanna,” she shook her head, “They’ll be back soon. Mr. Kim, why don’t you give us a quick education on this time period, so we know what to expect.” Harry nodded crisply and, after a quick glance at the mouth of the cave, began his tutorial.
Just inside the mouth of the cave, the roughly carved tunnel veered sharply left, hiding it’s contents from passers by. Not that anyone would see just what the cave was hiding. Even with a torch to light the way, the small hiding place was hard to find, unless you knew what to look for. That was exactly why Xena had chosen it as the resting place for her leathers. Even at her ‘death’, the name Xena was well known, as was the armor she wore, and the weapons she carried. All of them unique, she wanted to prevent some stranger from taking them and using her name. Not for good, and especially not for evil.
Handing Gabrielle the torch that had been convieniently left in the cave, still burning, Xena crouched down at a certain point in the wall, recognising the rock patterns. Even after 2500 years, her memory of these times hadn’t faded. Nothing about them had, which was both a blessing and a curse.
Xena pulled the heavy stones out of the slight depression at the base of the cavern wall and tossed them aside as if they weighed no more than pebbles. Gabrielle watched in awe as a small hiding place was slowly revealed through the dark woman’s efforts. Turning her attention away from the stone, and back to the dark woman who moved them, Gabrielle wondered at the extent Xena had changed. Oh she looked just the same, to be sure, but there was something in her eyes, and her demenor that spoke of her true age. A woman who had seen too much time go by.
Xena stood suddenly, pulling a large sack out of the stone wall. Holding it like a dead animal, she stared at it a moment before setting it on the floor of the cavern and stepping away, her eyes never leaving it’s bulk. Her eyes were wide with some emotion Gabrielle couldn’t place, though she thought she had seen every emotion Xena had cross that beautiful face a one time or another.
“Xena?” she said softly, almost fearing to speak louder, “What wrong?” She walked around the sack to where her warrior stood and placed a gentle hand on her arm.
“Gabrielle,” Xena whispered, never tearing her eyes away from the dark brown sack on the stone floor, “I... uh...” She faultered and her voice, shaky and uncertain, trailed off, unsure of how to explain what she was feeling.
“I understand,” Gabrielle replied, and that made Xena finally look over at her. The confusion on her face was one the bard was well familiar with and held a finger to the taller woman’s lips to silence her before answering the unasked question. “Xena, I’ve heard your thoughts for 25 centuries. I know it’s been a long time since you wore this, since you were this person. I know how much you’ve changed. You are strong enough to do this, because Chakotay needs you.”
Xena smiled that tiny half grin and covered Gabrielle’s hand with her own, squeezing. But in an instant, that expression was exclipsed by one of worry. “I don’t know if I can do this, Gabrielle,” she admitted, feeling the self doubt rise to the surface.
“Yes you can Xena,” the bard replied, drawing the warrior’s hand down and covering it with both of her smaller ones, “I’ve been with you always, my warrior. I’ve seen everything, and I’ve heard every thought. EVERY thought. Right from the start. I know how much you hurt inside Xena. And I know that the struggle has been difficult for you. But you are the strongest person I’ve ever known.” She paused to take a breath and looked deeply into the azure eyes of the dark woman before her. “Now for some reason,” she continued, her eyes beginning to mist, “I have the chance I thought I’d never have. I’ve wanted to tell you something for so very long Xena. I’ve seen the woman you’ve fought to become, and... I’m so very proud of you Xena.”
Choked up by Gabrielle’s words, Xena didn’t trust herself to say anything, just pulled her bard into a fierce hug. She felt the small arms returning the pressure and smiled through her tears. Damn, she thought, pulling back and swiping at her cheeks with the back of one hand, I’m doing far too much of that lately. Xena smiled at her bard then, forgetting where they were and losing herself in the soft blue eyes that seemed so full of love and understanding.
Finally Gabrielle’s words registered in her mind and Xena jerked as if splashed with scalding water. “Every thought?” she asked, her voice a whisper. When Gabrielle smiled and nodded, the dark woman’s eyes went wide, her cheeks coloring with shame. “Gabrielle, I...” she choked out, wanting to appologise, just before the bard’s hand shot up to cover her mouth.
“No Xena,” she said softly, shaking her head, “Not now. We’ll have time to talk on the road. Right now your friends are waiting.” She smiled, and Xena nodded, returning the smile when Gabrielle’s hand fell away from her mouth.
Not another word was spoken as the two women fell into a familiar, if ancient, routine. Xena changed into her leathers, noting that they seemed a little tighter than she remembered, and closed her eyes as Gabrielle moved around to fasten the buckles of her armor without being asked. Yesterday it seemed like a dream, their time together, something the dark woman had only imagined in a fevered hallucination. As the bard cinched the final strap and reached down for her weapons, time slipped away for Xena, returning her to the life she had painfully left behind.
A small part of her worried at the ease in which she slipped back into the role of warrior princess as she strapped her sword to her back, it’s hilt jutting out over her right shoulder, but it was silenced when she thought of Chakotay in danger. Snapping her chakram into place on her right hip, she silently told herself that she had not broken her pledge to Gabrielle in 2500 years, and she vowed with a scowl that she would not let the first time be in front of her bard’s very eyes.
In the middle of the clearing, just where Xena had left them, Harry was just finishing his commentary to the senior staff on Ancient Greek life when the surrounding woods spewed forth a dozen heavily armed soldiers, screaming at the tops of their lungs. Harry squeaked in surprise as the men moved to surround them, moving their swords in teasing swipes and laughing at the crew’s apparent helplessness.
“Mr. Kim,” Kathryn snapped, taking a defensive posture, ready to fight, but hoping she didn’t have to, “In all your lengthy conversations, did Xena ever mention how to deal with a situation like this?” A quick glance at Harry’s appologetic expression answered her question before he could speak. “I didn’t think so Ensign.”
Kathryn turned her head at a deep growl, and noticed B’Elanna taking a more aggressive stance against the soldiers. Great, the captain thought with a scowl, she’s been itching for practice for weeks. She knew her chief engineer wouldn’t dare start anything without her order, but the Klingon half of her was going by instinct and preparing to fight, no matter what her human half wanted to do.
“Captain, I believe a strategic retreat would be logical at this point.” Tuvok’s voice reached her ears and Kathryn found herself nodding curtly. Still focused on their foe, she couldn’t concentrate forming words, and was partially grateful when her chief of security shouted the order for her. “Fall back and regroup!”
“Fall back to where, Tuvok!” This from Tom Paris, his back to the others, keeping an eye on the two soldiers who had circled around them to cut off escape. Kathryn was quickly realizing that there was no where they could go. They wouldn’t even be able to reach the cave before they were cut down.
Just as she was about to give the order to surrender, so they might be spared long enough for her to come up with a plan, a shrill sound pierced the air, sending a shiver up her spine, and making her freeze in place. “Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi!!!” There was a soft whistling and a flash of metal, and suddenly four soldiers were unconscious, their bodies dropping to the ground like lead weights.
“What the...?” Kathryn didn’t get more than that out before a leather clad figure vaulted over their heads in a somersault, landing deftly on her feet between the senior staff and the soldiers. Kathryn’s wide eyes were mimicked by nearly every one, with the exception of Tuvok, who never showed surprise, and Gabrielle, who had seen this nearly every day for twelve years.
Drawing her sword with a feral grin, Xena shouted over her shoulder, “I’ll hold them off! Make for the cave!” Everyone stood transfixed, staring at the warrior’s back until the first clash of metal on metal energized them into moving. Sparing a glance over her shoulder, as the first soldier fell to her blade, she saw them running, Gabrielle defending their backs.
Convinced they were out of harms way, Xena felt the primal rage swelling within her, incredibly strong after being denied for so long. The battle lust she thought was destroyed so many centuries ago had merely been hiding. Waiting for the thrill of the fight to awaken it once again. Another war cry burst from her throat as the power was unleashed, and Xena watched with feral pleasure as her blade seemed to move on its own, tearing into the soldiers until only she was left standing, the last falling with a pain filled scream of agony.
Inside the cave, Gabrielle had moved everyone further down the tunnel than she and Xena had ventured, stepping over the brown sack, now empty, that had held the armor and weaponry. She hadn’t intended to go so far, but her curiosity had gotten the better of her, and something was nagging at her mind. Xena had glanced down the dark corridor several times while digging out her leathers, almost as if she wanted to go further.
Now Gabrielle held her torch high, understanding why Xena had wanted to come here. The flickering light from the flame sent shadows across the chamber, illuminating several objects that she recognised from long ago. Close to where they stood, was Argo’s saddle, resting on the dirt floor, the matching saddlebags propped up against it. A small, roughly constructed cot sat against the far wall, covered by a threadbare blanket with a singed corner.
Gabrielle walked over and crouched down, touching the burn mark and smiling softly. She remembered Xena’s muttered curses when the bard had accidentally kicked the edge of the blanket into the fire, and chuckled. So long ago, she marveled silently, but I remember it all as if it were yesterday.
“Gabrielle?” Harry’s voice cut through her reminising, and she turned around. He was standing at a similarly rough table, staring at a scroll. One of her scrolls. Xena had kept all this when they thought she died. Gabrielle now understood why they had never found Argo. Because the golden mare wasn’t looking for her mistress, Xena had never been gone to the horse. All these things, scattered around the chamber, were their belongings, that had been strapped to Argo’s back and packed away in saddlebags when the horse disappeared after Xena’s ‘death’.
Gabrielle walked over to the table, looking over Harry’s shoulder at the scroll, then taking a glance at his confused face. “Something wrong?” she asked, wondering if he was thinking, or if he didn’t like the story. He seemed ready to say something, looking up at her with a sheepish grin, when a bloodcurdling scream echoed through the tunnel from outside.
She spun on her heel, eyes darting around for the saddlebags. Rushing over, her heart leaping at the thought of Xena in danger, Gabrielle rummaged quickly through both pockets, looking for her staff. She was sure she had left it in there before the final battle with Callisto, but it wasn’t there now. What did she do with it, the bard’s mind raced as she looked around frantically.
“Looking for this?” Kathryn’s voice cut into her thoughts and Gabrielle whirled around to see her standing beside the Amazon weapon. It had been assembled and proped in a corner, in plain sight of the entire room. (when fully lit with torchlight, of course)
Gabrielle snatched it up with a muttered ‘thanks’, and ran for the mouth of the cave, her only concern Xena’s well being. Kathryn was stunned by the bard’s speed for only a moment before she followed. And where the captain went, her crew went. The others ran after her, each of them eager to help. With the exception of Tuvok, who merely wished to keep the captain from any bodily harm.
Though it was only mere moments after they heard the scream, when the crew reached the mouth of the cave, they were stopped by Kathryn’s outstretched hand. She didn’t look at them, her eyes fixed on the two women standing among so many dead. The captain was still having a hard time digesting that the carnage she saw was the result of one person. Twelve men, all dead or unconscious, lying at Xena’s feet. The warrior herself, was standing silently, head down, shoulders slumped, her sword hanging limply at her side.
When Kathryn had seen this, and saw Gabrielle sprinting across the field, even though the fight was over, she knew it was to be a private moment, and stopped in her tracks. She didn’t want to intrude and wouldn’t allow any of her officers to do so either. And the way Gabrielle’s hand rested around Xena’s waist, her head on the taller woman’s shoulder, she knew then that the little bard had always been the stronger of the two. Not even death and an eternity could change that.
Long moments passed before Xena’s posture straightened and Gabrielle pulled away from her. Not a word had been spoken between them, nothing needed to be said. Xena had needed Gabrielle’s reassurances, and the bard had been there for her. It was that simple. It times long past, it had been that way, and Xena had done the same for Gabrielle. They were each other’s greatest strength, and most vulnerable weakness. But neither would have it any other way.
Xena and Gabrielle finally made it back to the cave, stepping over soldiers, or parts of soldiers, that were all that was left of the battle. Another silent testimony to Xena’s skill. “Everyone all right?” Xena asked, her voice sounding a little rough. She had seen Gabrielle clutching her staff, and knew they had found her hiding chamber. She trusted them not to mention it for now, and to her relief, none of them did. She would tell Gabrielle about that time in her life when they were alone.
After curt nods all around, Kathryn spoke up. “What are we going to do about getting Chakotay back?” she asked, genuinely worried about her first officer.
“Alteron’s camp can’t be too far,” Xena replied, gesturing with her head to the bodies in the field, “Those are some of his soldiers.”
“You mean were his men,” Paris remarked with a wry grin, trying to find the humor in the situation, “Man did you ever show them who’s boss.”
Xena glared at him, her blue eyes so angry that he physically recoiled. “What??” he asked, looking innocent. Xena said nothing. She turned on her heel and stormed away from the cave, back over the field of bodies and into the forest the way the soldiers had come.
Gabrielle sighed quietly and shook her head, looking crestfallen, as if Xena’s mood had been aimed at her. “Let’s go everyone,” she said, with a disappointed look at Paris, “Xena’s not going to wait around.” She took the same path the warrior had, calmly stepping over the bodies and toward the forest.
“Nice move, idiot,” B’Elanna growled at Paris, slapping him painfully on the chest as the rest of them followed in the direction the bard had taken. The captain leveled an angry stare at him too before looking away. Even Tuvok seemed to look as disapproving as possible for a Vulcan.
“What did I do?” Paris looked at Harry walking silently beside him, trying to be careful not to step on any bodies, or body parts. He was genuinely confused by everyone’s reaction to him.
“Don’t worry about it, Tom,” Harry said softly, not looking up, “You wouldn’t understand. Just forget it.” With that, he moved off as well, leaving Paris to his thoughts as they all trudged through the dense forest, following Xena’s lead, all intent on rescuing their first officer, but none more so than the newly reborn warrior princess.
Chakotay huddled into the tiny cage the soldiers had placed him in, watching the activity around him. He had just materialized in the middle of the camp, disoriented and confused. Before he knew what hit him, the large indian found himself being thrust head first into this cage, the door snapping shut behind him with a final clang loud enough to wake the dead.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, with nothing to do he couldn’t guage the time very well, other than counting. He had tried that, but the guards were known to walk by and rattle the cages at random intervals, apparently to keep the prisoners awake. There were 13 other cages identical to his, all suspended from treelimbs, and by the looks of the other prisoners, Chakotay guessed they were lucky to catch 15 minutes of sleep at a time. If that.
He knew he should try to get as much sleep as possible, to keep his wits sharp, but found it impossible. Not because of the guards, but out of worry for Kathryn. Captain Janeway, he mentally corrected himself with a frown. He wondered if the away team was safe, and what they were planning to do about rescuing him.
“Oh, undoubtedly Xena will try to bust you out the old fashioned way,” Q’s voice filtered through another bout of cage rattling. Chakotay’s eyes darted around, trying to find him amid the sea of swaying cages.
A bright flash of light, and the image of Ares appeared, hanging upside down, like a bat, from the tree limb. “Q!” Chakotay snapped, grabbing the bars of his cage, “Get me out of here!”
“Nope, sorry.” Ares cackled, that high pitched sound that grated on the first officer’s nerves. “Xena has to do that. If she can. But you see my barbaric friend. I’ve got a little surprise for her, that she hasn’t even told Harry about yet.” More giggling, and Chakotay fought back the incredibly strong urge to throttle him.
“Dammit, Q!!” Chakotay began, but was cut off mid tirade by another flash of light, and suddenly the War God was gone. The big indian muttered curses in his native language, kicking the bars of his cage in frustration until it was rattled by one of the guards.
“You there!” he barked, threatening to put his spear through the bars, sharp end first, “Straighten up! Someone’s here to look at you!”
Chakotay spun his head around to see the leader of the camp approaching with a finely dressed man, wearing the armor of a soldier. But not just a common soldier, one of stature, by the way he carried himself. “These are all you have Alteron?” the man said, obviously unimpressed by what he saw.
“We got the big one this morning,” Alteron said, pointing right in Chakotay’s direction, “He’s a strong one, he is. And also a personal friend of Xena’s.” He chuckled at that, and the armored man smiled, as if the two of them were sharing a private joke.
“You there!” the armored man said to Chakotay, “Is this true? Are you a friend of Xena, the warrior princess?”
“Yes” Chakotay barked, hoping it might intimidate them, “I am a friend of the warrior princess.” It didn’t.
The armored man turned to Alteron. “He’ll do nicely. Have him cleaned up and shackled. I’ll depart in the morning for my ship.” Then he turned to address Chakotay as the small cage was lowered to the ground. “I truly hope Xena comes after you,” he said with a smile, “It would be so nice to see her again after all these years.”
Something about his tone made warning bells go off in Chakotay’s head. “Who are you?” he demanded, pulling his arms away from the guards defiantly as they tried to tug him to his feet.
The armored man smiled wolfishly and motioned for the guards to take the large indian to the stream for bathing. Just before they hauled him away, the armored man grabbed Chakotay’s uniform front and tugged it once for emphasis. “My name is Caesar,” he said, “Julius Caesar.”
Chakotay blinked in shock, and let himself be dragged away.
Continued in Part Three