Disclaimer: Gabrielle, Xena, Artemis, and all other immortal characters mentioned belong to Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. They are being used without permission and no profit will be made from this use. The rest are the creation of the author, and may be used by anyone who wishes.
Episode Disclaimer: No woodland animals of any age group were harmed during the production of this bit of fanfic. However, all other characters signed waivers for life-threatening or terminal injuries prior to the writing, and the author takes no responsibility for any injuries they suffer. Suckers!
Random notes: this is a revised posting of my original story of the same name. There's a bit of full-frontal nudity, and consensual sex and very committed love between two women is implied, so if this is offensive to the reader or illegal in your home state you'd best go read something else. There is some violence (both merciful and malicious) which takes place, though mostly off-stage and involving people who deserve it. Finally, this story takes place in Katrina's "Blood and Roses" universe, which can be found at her site; this probably won't make much sense unless you read the canon pieces to it ("Bite Me." And "The Fonder Heart.") first.
All comments (flames will be ignored) can be directed to the author at email@example.com
The Ancient huntress waited for the first rays of dawn to creep over the land before going for her ritual hunt. The urge came less frequently now, these millennia since her birth, and she'd come to suspect she'd long ago passed having the actual Need. Yet, for nearly a century now, it was on this day that she would hunt.
It was fitting, marking the passage of seasons from summer to winter, the day her Celtic cousins and children named Samhain.
She might go the full year without once feeling the slightest twinge of Thirst, and without fail awake to this day to find its return. An old friend, one slipping into her consciousness with ease and familiarity with the lifting of Morpheus' veil.
It was fitting for it to come on this day, when the veils between light and darkness were all but gossamer, she would hunt. Artemis herself had virtually decreed it so, when the goddess had shared table with her chosen's Queen centuries earlier. There was a nobility to the huntress, one infinitely more genuine than any that might have been found in Olympus, and the goddess loved her for it.
The goddess of the hunt was not the only one.
She slipped from her love's arms, her body instantly screaming for the loss, though she'd been awake for nearly an hour. This time, at least, she hadn't awaked weeping her eyes out over some dream.
Gabrielle felt at once compelled to both flee the woman spread out upon the bed, lest the Thirst make a meal of her(Gabrielle's secret, most chilling fear...one not borne out once in over two millennia), and to return to the warm nest of her arms. She'd slept alone for over a century, and now could not so much as doze unless next to her raven-haired lover.
It was both good and bad that this was not her Xena, merely a mortal child(she, who was millennia old, couldn't help the thought) who bore uncanny resemblance. Gabrielle had chanced upon such visions before over her centuries of life: a priestess here, an aristocrat there, even a timorous socialite. This one, in who's arms she'd now found rest, had been a whore. An impossible coincidence of met glances and unresolved emotions, a meeting of supposedly cheap passion and release in exchange for currency...all evolving in the course of hours into devotion between the two. No longer whore and client, but lovers.
Insane, but no more so than the rest of her life.
Oh, she'd planned to offer the child a way out the existence Gabrielle had found her in. Upon hearing her name, well...at that point Gabrielle would have willingly thrown her over her shoulder carried her to the home they now shared, nobility be damned.
But this child, this Xena, had come willingly. She'd forgone the payment or any talk of compensation for their first encounter. Gabrielle had tried to offer her some manner of payment, a position, extravagant promises of a new life. This Xena listened to it all, face utterly neutral, Gabrielle becoming terrified that she'd offended this vision of her lost love. The result was an increasingly incoherent string of sentences, which caused the child to smirk and place two long fingers on the redhead's lips, instantly silencing her.
"I will wash your dishes." Xena said simply. "I will scrub your floors. I will do anything, anything, you ask of me, so long as I can stay close to you."
With those words, all of Gabrielle's heart melted and reformed itself in the child's hands. To another's ears, this was doubtlessly suspicious, a child of the streets taking advantage of a rich woman's grief. Her attorney and secretary, a competent and understanding man by the name of Peter Marcous, had suggested as much. But Xena refused all payment, did whatever Gabrielle bade(little as that was), made no demands upon her wealth, and in fact showed almost no interest in it whatever. She allowed Gabrielle to purchase clothing for her, but quietly argued against the jewelry and meaningless accessories the smaller woman wished to shower upon her.
Her argument was succinct: "I have you, and I have myself, and that's enough." She demonstrated this time and again, night after night, for hours on end. Gods, the child's stamina and passion easily matched her twin, as did her devotion. Still, she bent to the superior will and proved a gracious loser, allowing Gabrielle to spoil her a little.
Just a little, though. Her will stronger, her wits far sharper, than she let on, winning through argument where she could not by plain stubbornness.
The house staff were minimal, and underworked at that. Xena took over their supervision, and attended personally to the dozen-odd repairs needed to ancient house. She never asked what needed doing, nor did she so much command the staff and suggest (and very gently at that) where service to their employer might be improved with minimal effort on their part.
As a result, the house became more of a home, the meals tastier, the company less...sullen. Gabrielle was a true empath, and one could not remain in a century-long funk of mourning and avoid it impacting upon others. Even Peter proved more accepting of Xena's presence, treating with if not familiar care he did of Gabrielle, then at least with the respect he afforded the rest of the staff.
Gabrielle herself had become almost oblivious to all this. The merest thought of their nights together, skin-to-skin, absent any cover and in the full light of Luna, was quite enough to wipe out all other thought. They'd had no need of a quilt to keep the chill at bay, even in midwinter, for the full year now.
Even the chill of her nightmares, most centering on her lost warrior and nights long ago, were but the charred remnants of their shared heat.
And if this wasn't her Xena, she was enough.
Gabrielle was glad this wasn't the old Xena, otherwise she'd have never managed to slip out without awaking her love. The old Xena, after she'd pried the secret from her, had been understanding. This new one was too much a mystery for Gabrielle to willingly chance it. This new Xena simply rolled over unto her side and grasped a pillow to her, as though it were a ready substitute for her missing savior and willing partner.
With the smallest of sighs (though whether of relief or sadness it was impossible to know), Gabrielle turned and strode out of the bedroom dressed only in her skin. She needed only collect a knife from the kitchen and she'd be ready.
She didn't dare so much as glance back at the bed, knowing her will too fragile, and Thirst slowly gaining strength.
It was only after the door closed, and sharp ears confirmed the smaller woman was well away, that the taller one dared to open her eyes. A similar, ambiguous sigh escaped between her lips, carefully muffled by the pillow beneath her.
Gabrielle stood in the open field behind the house, whispering her ritual words of thanks and promises of respect to the forest beyond. Even in this modern age of poisons and small deaths she still ate the flesh of her prey, though she never dared risk feeding her guests or staff on it, and of course slaked her Thirst upon the blood. What she didn't eat raw (thank the gods she had a solid digestive system) was left as a gift for the rest of the forest's denizens.
They, at least, understood.
She took off in a run, intent upon finding her prey with all the speed of Hermes. No challenge today, so she concentrated on finding and providing a mercy.
And consequently utterly oblivious to the signs of those awaiting her.
Those who followed the darker paths, who could not stand the sun and hated this powerful Ancient, had learned her ways and habits with relative ease in recent years. They knew she no longer hunted with any frequency, hunted only on this single day, and kept the hunt to her private estate. She had no attendants or retainers to guard her, as had been the habit in the old days, and carried only a simple knife.
Easy prey they thought, and the market for assassins had changed little over the centuries. Upwards of a dozen killers awaited the blond woman in the woods, armed with the oldest of weapons (no Driad bones needed for her, only sharp steel and enough damage done to overwhelm her) and trained through hard experience. They'd been in position for over a day, and the woods had all but forgotten they were there.
Gabrielle made it no secret of her presence, laughter of abandon echoing off the trees. She passed each of them by, totally unaware of their eyes upon her sleek form. A few admired her sensual appearance, others the economy of motion coupled with her obviously-wild passion. All moved to follow her slowly, to position themselves for when she ceased running, and await the moment for the kill.
So intent were they upon their target, not one so much as sensed the approach of the small woman's appointed protector. Even if they had, it would have made scant difference.
And, to a one, each never made it past the first movement.
The first eight were dispatched quickly, their necks broken in various angles, none making a sound. Their executioner knew there was no time to interrogate them, not if the huntress was to be protected.
The next three were simply left paralyzed. If they later provided useful information on their employers...perhaps their deaths would be made quick. Perhaps. It was quite simple, really; nerve clusters were one of those absurd drawbacks about belonging to the human race that most didn't know about.
The last one, who by sheer chance had found himself at the rim of the planned 'circle', likewise went down in silence. Though in his case, an offer was whispered into his ear, offered so softly it might easily have been the wind.
"You have thirty seconds to tell me your employer's name, or I'll let you expire slowly." The question he could not ask, his vocal cords as frozen as his the flow of his veins, was communicated through his eyes, which had clouded over and couldn't see a damn thing. In answer, the voice said "Tell me, and you'll go quick."
The killer was a professional, and professionals work to a code a conduct, the canon of which is never reveal a client. This likewise must have been communicated through his now-sightless eyes, because the presence of his attacker was suddenly gone.
Thirty seconds is a long time to take to die. One can reevaluate their entire lives in such a span. So it was with the four assassins, none of whom gave up the requested secret, none of whom crossed over a Charon's barge without each having a lifetime's worth of regrets, all going unmourned.
Gabrielle saw and heard none of this, and completed her hunt without incident.
There was unspoken agreement between her protector, who watched her rituals from cover, and the Life around them that she would be protected from this knowledge for the time being, all evidence of those who would rob the forest of its dearest and most blessed friend was taken away, hidden by the denizens there. The protector then likewise disappeared from view. The presence, as powerful as that of the huntress herself, was simply there and then...not. The forest didn't understand, and didn't try to. It had an ally now, perhaps even a second friend, and could now defend its first and best friend far easier than in the past.
Gabrielle went through rites and rituals as old as herself. Skinning the tired old hare that had surrendered itself to her, gutting and cleaning the animal for those denizens of the woods who needed the meal. She herself had drank her fill quickly, not wishing to profane (as if she were even capable of such a thing) a place she thought of as sacred, and was anxious to return to both bed and love.
Still, she was careful to observe all her rituals. She might hurry her actions, she never skipped a one.
The work was done, and seemingly in record time. The air was chill to lungs, winter definitely approaching fast. Gabrielle could already feel the forest readying for its seasonal slumber. Something was amiss here, nothing dangerous but nothing she could immediately identify either. A feeling of deja vu, calling to something deep within her.
It made her long for her lost love as never before, almost enough to lead her to seek out a driad dagger and...
But no, she could no longer do that. She had another life now. Not necessarily a better one, but one as full of passion and love as ever before, and that was enough for now.
Gabrielle fairly floated back to their bed. The dawn's light only just creeping onto the grounds and illuminating their bedroom and its single, giant window-for-a-wall. She felt alive as never before, and it was only through an effort of centuries-hardened will not to through herself atop her still-slumbering love upon returning.
Xena was still in the same position as when she'd left. Not wishing to awake her sleeping 'Princess'(an endearment whispered for her ears alone, while Xena would always rejoin 'my Queen' with absolute reverence in her voice), Gabrielle pressed herself against the brunette's back, spooning her and enveloping her with all the love and warmth she could summon.
Her nostrils flared slightly as she caught whiff of a new scent. Fresh soil, autumn leaves...Could Xena have followed her? Could she have...seen...
No, Gabrielle shook her head, not willing to entertain such a possibility. She would have heard. These were probably her scents she caught, for she'd given herself only the most cursory of washings downstairs before returning to bed.
The instant she'd wrapped herself around her love, Xena let go of the pillow and with practiced easy (and a healthy bit of deliberative sensuality) enveloped the redhead in her own arms. "You're back," she purred, her eyes still closed.
"Needed a snack," Gabrielle said, the excused practiced and recited to perfection.
"You're cold." Xena's arms drew her tighter. "I have," she said, placing a soft kiss on her forehead "just the thing" another, more insistent one placed over her right eye, "to warm you" a third, on the bridge of the nose, "right here." She concluded with a deep, searching kiss on the smaller woman's lips. The heat, the passion, the love as clearly transmitted as if it communicated mind to mind.
Gabrielle did not try to resist, loosing herself in their morning heat, Helios' light warming the room with them.
For Michele DeFrance, my own companion in all things, all times, and all places.
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