Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ioleus, Hercules, Callisto, Perdicas, Ming Tien, Lao Ma and Argo are property of MCA/Universal Studios/Renaissance Pictures, etc., etc. I am merely borrowing them and will bring them back none worse for the wear. Any god or goddesses that might appear are in the public realm and therefore are not copyrighted by anyone. The story elements are mine and I do claim ownership of the story elements.
Copyright © 1998 by JS Stephens. All Rights Reserved. Readers may download one copy for perusal offline. Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Tags (except for metatags) may be removed only by the consumer. Please shake, do not stir. Coffee provided by Peet's of California. Please buckle up and read safely. Thank you and have a safe trip.
Note: This story loosely follows the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episodes of "Armageddon Now, parts 1 & 2".
Ioleus stared in horror as the evil Xena taunted Gabrielle, laughing about Gabrielle's attempt to rally the people against her. "Oh, so you consider yourself the voice of the people?" Xena queried. "Take her back to the dungeon!" she instructed the guards.
It was now or never, Ioleus decided as he snuck up behind Xena and snatched the Kronos stone. He managed to elude the guards, finding himself back at Hercules' mother's barn...
Later, Xena sat in her private quarters, wishing for a diversion. She had control of the known world, absolute ruler, but to be honest, she was bored. The last challenge she had faced was when Lao Ma nearly convinced her to stop plundering, but Xena finally decided that it was more fun to conquer and rule than to attempt the path of goodness. She kept Lao Ma as a lover for several years, then had her confined to a house. A richly decorated house, to be sure, but a prison none the less. Xena took Ming Tien as her heir, teaching him the ways of war, and how to be just as cruel as she was.
Sometimes Xena was sad late at night, when she remembered the son she had borne to Borias. The child, whom she named Solon, had died unexpectedly as a toddler, causing Xena to go into a frenzy of grief, and to officially adopt Ming Tien. Lao Ma tried to console Xena, but Xena would have no consolation. After Solon's death, she stepped up her goals from just taking over Greece and the Land of Chin to ruling the entire world. Now, years later, she still woke in the night, sobbing over Solon's death, the grief still fresh. No one knew, however, since she never allowed any of her many lovers to sleep with her.
As she contemplated her past, she cast about for something to rid her of these gloomy thoughts. She then remembered the woman who had spoken against her, whom she had condemned to the dungeon. She motioned for one of her guards to approach. "What was the name of that dissenter?" she queried.
"Her name is Gabrielle, my queen." he answered.
"Gabrielle. Please have Gabrielle cleaned up, dressed in court clothes, then brought here. She should do for some amusement." The guard bowed and Xena flicked her fingers impatiently. "Now!" she roared. The guard left quickly, leaving Xena to her thoughts again.
As Xena waited for the appearance of Gabrielle, Ming Tien entered her quarters. She stared at the young man with a mixture of affection and pride, asking softly, "What do you wish, my son?"
"My lady, I have heard that you wish to bring the rabble rouser, Gabrielle, to your private quarters. Do you consider that wise? After all, she did manage to stir some rebellion, her words could be dangerous."
Xena laughed cruelly as she approached the young man. "Ming Tien, I cannot be toppled by mere words. You have too much of your mother, Lao Ma, in you at times. I wish merely to amuse myself with this Gabrielle creature. Why do you worry? Afraid I won't share?" As she spoke, she lightly stroked his face, ending with an affectionate slap on his cheek.
Ming Tien bowed slightly, then answered, "No, my lady, I do not wish to share, I merely wish to voice my concerns. I have heard Gabrielle and her husband, Perdicas, speaking against you in the market. To the great unwashed, they make much sense."
Xena looked deep into his obsidian eyes, answering, "Never fear, my son. If I can match wits with Lao Ma, who was considered such a great philosopher, then I can match wits with a farmer's wife. Or, do you fear that I will lose my grip and lands before it is your time to rule?"
Ming Tien hesitated, then said carefully, "I do not wish to cross you, my lady. With your permission, I will leave."
Xena waved a hand airily. "Leave, then. I will see you at breakfast in the morning." He bowed deeply over her hand, then left the room. As he left, guards brought Gabrielle into Xena's quarters. "Ah, the little rebel. Guards, you are dismissed." Xena walked over to the young woman, slowly circling, looking her over carefully. Gabrielle's hair was still wet, but carefully brushed, glistening over the brocaded silk gown that Xena's attendants had provided. Xena was pleased to see fire in the woman's eyes, this would be a good challenge, one she looked forward to, breaking the rebel's spirit.
Xena glided over to her private dining table, pouring two glasses of wine from a pitcher. She motioned to Gabrielle to follow her, which the other woman did reluctantly. "Have some wine, Gabrielle," Xena said, handing her a glass. Gabrielle took the glass, sniffing it suspiciously, then simply waited. Xena laughed, saying, "All right, you are wise beyond your station in life. If you wish, I will take a sip first."
Gabrielle held her glass out to Xena. "No disrespect, but I prefer that you sip from my glass first. I do not wish to die from previously poured poison."
Xena nodded approvingly, this woman did have such spirit! She sipped from the glass, then handed it back to Gabrielle, who cautiously took a sip, then sat down at the table. "Oh, queen, why did you bring me here?" Gabrielle asked.
"Frankly, I am bored and you are to be my amusement this evening. You showed such fire this afternoon, speaking against me in public like you did. I decided to match wits with you, to relieve my tedium."
Gabrielle took another sip of wine, then noted acidly, "I thought that you always used young men to relieve your tedium. At least, that is the rumor I hear around town."
Xena took a long drink of wine, then replied softly, "Is that what you thought? That I would play with you in my bed? Or is that what you hoped I would do?" She reached over and took Gabrielle's chin in her hand, leaning closer to the young woman. "Sorry to disappoint you, my dear, but I haven't taken a woman to bed since Lao Ma. You would not want to share her fate, I locked her up and took my pleasure, allowed her to write, then when I was bored, I had her executed."
Gabrielle was not fazed, she had heard this before. "Oh, I see, you cannot stand for anyone to touch your soul, you must execute anyone who can make you feel something besides hatred."
Xena flinched slightly as the barb hit home. A mask of stone dropped over her face as she shouted, "Guards! Take this harlot back to the dungeon!" Four guards burst into the room, grabbing Gabrielle and dragging her toward the door. Xena walked behind them, then suddenly amended, "No, take her to the house that Lao Ma occupied and guard her well."
Gabrielle was surprised that Xena did not order her execution, but instead, allowed Perdicas to visit her at her house prison. "My wife!" he exclaimed as he rushed into the room, the guards slamming and locking the door behind him. He grabbed Gabrielle into an embrace, first hugging her fiercely, then kissing her passionately. "I was so worried, my love," he whispered against her lips.
Gabrielle allowed herself to be swept away by Perdicas. "My husband, I missed you," she whispered as he carried her to bed. Fueled by desire and fear, Gabrielle pulled Perdicas down, kissing him fiercely, trying to implant his body in her senses, in her memory, for fear that this would be the last time she ever saw him. She had heard the guards talking that morning, saying that Xena often allowed one last visit of husband and wife before having the prisoner's spouse executed. She was in a frenzy, hoping that maybe this time, his seed would finally produce a child. She had been pregnant once, but had miscarried after a few months. Perhaps this time, gods willing...
Later, they laid in bed, talking about ordinary things, trying to keep the fear of the future at bay. Perdicas told Gabrielle about the new calf, the litter of puppies and the status of the crops. "I think we will have an excellent crop of barley this year," he said, fingers tracing the swell of her breasts. "The olive grove is in excellent shape, too, I think they will bear well."
Gabrielle sighed, then sat up, looking at her husband seriously. "Perdicas, you are aware that Xena usually allows one last visit between a couple before executions..."
"No, love, let's not talk about that."
"But we must-"
Perdicas sat up angrily. "Gabrielle, your mouth is what brought you here! I supported you at first, but now I see that it was not wise to speak out against the queen. Gods, woman, can't you see that? If I die, my blood will be on your hands! Can you live with that?"
Gabrielle eyed him coolly. "It won't be for long, for I will join you in death soon, unless Xena decides differently."
Perdicas started pulling on his clothes as he spoke. "Gabrielle, that woman is evil, I would rather you not talk to her anymore."
"Like I have a choice!" Gabrielle fumed. "Look, Perdicas, she calls me in at night for an hour, to share her meal, then to debate philosophy with her, that's all. The longer I keep her amused, the longer we both survive. Besides, I see something else lurking in her eyes, a deep sorrow, a pain. I believe that everyone has the possibility of good in them, maybe the gods brought me here to reach that good in Xena."
Perdicas snorted. "Sure, Xena has good in her and I have blue eyes. Gabrielle, please, be careful."
Gabrielle picked up her kimono and tied it on. "I try to be careful, but Xena seems more amused when I challenge her, so I think I am supposed to keep challenging her. Who knows, I might be able to break through."
Perdicas finished dressing in silence, then walked to the other side of the bed and knelt on the floor in front of Gabrielle. "Gabrielle," he said quietly, taking her hands in his, "Xena is a monster, everyone knows that. I am afraid for you. What would happen to me if she tired of you? Would she kill us both?"
Gabrielle said quietly, "I just don't have any answers, Perdicas. But remember, I love you very much." He laid his head in her lap and she stroked his dark hair. "I just know that for some reason, she keeps bringing me back."
Before they could do or say anything else, they heard the door opening. Xena walked into the bedroom, flanked by her guards. She glanced at the scene in front of her, amused. She told the guards, "Take Perdicas back to his farm. Don't harm him, it will confuse my loyal subjects and keep them on their toes." She turned to Perdicas and ordered, "Tell your friends that I am sparing your miserable life. But," she walked up to him and took his face roughly in her hands, "don't expect the little woman back anytime soon. I won't kill her, that would make her too powerful, a martyr. Lao Ma's death taught me that lesson. Go home, raise your crops and be a good little boy. Who knows, I might consent to allow you to come back to bed your little wifey." Ah, the fear in his eyes, wonderful. "Go, take him away, just don't hurt the pretty boy," she said to the guards.
After the guards took Perdicas away, Xena approached Gabrielle, looking her over carefully. "I just don't see what excites him so," she said slowly. Xena delicately sniffed the air, then touched Gabrielle's cheek. "I think you have had a fine afternoon with your little man. Be bathed and ready in an hour, you are to eat dinner with me tonight." She turned to leave, then looked back at Gabrielle. "It smells like a whore house in here," she sneered. Xena flounced out, slamming the door behind her.
Ioleus found himself back in the square where he had seen Xena as the evil ruler. What in Hades' name was going on? he wondered. He got his answer as he saw Callisto in the alley ahead of him, watching a procession of Xena, Gabrielle, Ming Tien, and the castle guards. Another group of guards were putting Perdicas on a wagon, with Xena announcing to the gathered crowd that she was being generous and letting Gabrielle's husband live. Ioleus could sense the confusion and unease in the crowd, hearing mutterings of, "She's never let a prisoner's husband or wife live before." Ioleus cautiously moved forward, following Callisto, who was slipping into the crowd.
Ioleus lost sight of Callisto for a moment, then saw her as she leaped onto the cart, plunging a knife in Perdicas' breast. "Die! Die! Die!" she screamed. She whirled around, pointing at Gabrielle. "Xena doesn't have to kill him, I will!" With that, she vanished into thin air. Ioleus felt himself also vanishing...
Gabrielle watched in horror as the leather clad woman killed her husband, then wink out of sight. She couldn't even scream, she was too numb to react. She heard Ming Tien behind her, saying, "Very clever, my lady, to hire someone else to kill him." She then heard a slap and Xena's voice saying, "I did not hire the bitch to assassinate him, you idiot!"
Gabrielle turned, watching Xena pulling herself up to her full height, staring down at her foster son. "You mock me, you traitor, for the last time. Go, leave my sight!"
Xena jabbed a finger in the middle of Ming Tien's chest. "No buts, stupid. Now he will be a martyr and I will have to explain this." Suddenly, she smiled cruelly. "Maybe you hired her, Ming Tien. Yes, you hired her and I will have my bards spread the news. In the meanwhile, I think you need to be schooled in the art of war. I am sending you to the border lands, to learn more of war up close and personal."
Ming Tien paled, knowing that he was not prepared for war, he was better with words than with a sword. "But my lady," he began. He tried to meet Xena's eyes, but failed. He bowed low, saying, "I will go, my lady." She motioned for a guard to accompany him, then turned back to Gabrielle, who had slipped down to her knees. "Get up," she hissed, "I will not have this type of public display." Gabrielle allowed one of the guards to pull her to her feet but did not reply.
The day had been ruined. Xena went to the stables, dressed in her leather riding clothes, seeking her war horse, Argo. She saddled up, refusing an escort for the first time in years. She rode Argo, thundering over the plains, trying to spend her anger before it made her say or do something stupid. She found herself at the castle graveyard, where Solon, Borias and Lao Ma were buried. She dismounted and first took Argo to the nearby stream, letting her drink her fill, then walked back to the graves, noting the weeds that had sprung up. Xena pulled most of the weeds, leaving a few flowering ones on the graves. She finally spoke quietly, saying, "I loved each of you in my own way. You were all taken from me, deserted me." She rocked on her heels, screwing her eyes shut, willing the tears to dry up. "My son, I tried to replace you, but Ming Tien is a disappointment. Borias, you tried to please me, but when our son died, you died too. Lao Ma, you also spoke of peace, of the necessity to empty my heart of hate, but I could not listen. Your words mock me, your son mocks me." Xena buried her face in her hands for a long moment, then ran her fingers through her raven hair, blue eyes blazing with pain. "It's not fair!" she screamed to the skies.
She sat there for a long time, not moving until the sun started dipping below the horizon. Xena slowly stood up, working the kinks from her muscles, then caught Argo and swung up in the saddle. Numb with pain, she let Argo choose the path, not caring where she went. She hated to banish Ming Tien, but she was so disappointed in him. Hiring someone to murder a man, stirring up trouble in her lands. True, the people had to fear her, but she could not let them think that Ming Tien was challenging her authority, or her rule would be eroded. Xena stopped her musing when Argo stopped in front of a house, then house that Gabrielle was in, that Lao Ma had been in before. She could not turn and leave, the guards had already seen her. Making her face a mask of fury, she dismounted and handed the reins to one of the guards. "Stable her and brush her well, I will be staying here tonight," Xena ordered. The guard bowed and lead Argo away as another guard unlocked the door.
Gabrielle heard the door open and someone stomp in. She stayed on the couch in the dining room, waiting for whoever it was to appear. She heard the sounds of the chamber pot being used, then saw Xena appear in the doorway moments later. Gabrielle refused to rise for the monster, the woman who had condemned her husband. But there was something strange tonight, a wildness that Gabrielle had not seen before on Xena's face, and Xena was in riding clothes, not elaborate silks as usual. She smelled of sweat, horses, and grass, like she had been riding hard, then had laid down somewhere.
Xena stood for a long moment, watching Gabrielle. Finally, she motioned for the guards to leave, then walked over and sat next to the blonde woman and said wearily, "I banished Ming Tien for his disobedience. I feel sure that he hired that assassin to kill your husband against my express wishes."
Gabrielle listened, but did not believe. Rage started welling up in her, telling her that it could not be true. Without thinking, she lunged at Xena, intent on strangling her. Xena caught Gabrielle's wrists easily, staring at her. "Don't you believe me?"
Gabrielle squirmed, trying to break free, causing Xena to tighten her grip on Gabrielle's wrists. Finally, Gabrielle quit resisting and lowered her head to hide her tears. How could this dictator understand the pain, the horror of seeing one's love slaughtered? She trembled with the effort to stop her tears, but they rolled down her cheeks, splashing on her dress.
Xena could feel Gabrielle trembling, trying to hide her emotions. She saw the tears staining Gabrielle's dress and was strangely moved at the sight. She had seen many women scream and carry on as their husbands died at Xena's command, but had never seen such restraint at attempt at dignity. She had kept Gabrielle around for amusement, but this was not amusing. Images of Borias killing himself over the grief of losing their child flashed before her eyes. Lao Ma had consoled her that night, then told her to use her grief, to feel compassion for her people who also grieved, who had lost sons and husbands. Instead, Xena had locked Lao Ma up and had started on her worst round of raiding, anything to deny the grief. She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the muffled sobs from Gabrielle, trying to hold back her own tears, trying not to feel her own grief tearing at her heart again...
"I am sorry," Gabrielle heard Xena whisper, feeling Xena lean her forehead against hers. "I, too, have lost a husband, a husband and a child. Please forgive me, Gabrielle." Gabrielle pulled away suddenly, staring at Xena. She knew that Xena had a husband and child many years ago, but the rumors were that Xena had tired of them and had them slaughtered too. But she saw pain and emptiness in Xena's eyes, heard sorrow in her voice. Could it be? Had the gods sent her to touch Xena's heart?
"Why did you come here tonight?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena let her wrists go and stood up, starting to pace the room. "Argo, my horse, brought me here. I had ridden her to visit the graves of Borias, Solon and Lao Ma, then I let Argo run wherever she pleased. Why she came here, I don't know." Xena rubbed her face, scrubbing the tears away. "My apologies for intruding on your grief." She started to turn towards the door, but Gabrielle got up and intercepted her.
"Maybe," Gabrielle said quietly as she put a hand on Xena's arm, "you needed to grieve. I can barely believe that Perdicas is dead, but I can hope that maybe this time, I will bear his child."
Xena hung her head, allowing the tears to flow freely. She felt Gabrielle patting her arm, then blindly turned to her and grabbed her in a rough embrace as the gates broke and years of grief and pain washed over her in a flood. She was vaguely aware of Gabrielle's sobs, their pain drawing them close. Finally, her own tears slowed and she pulled away. Gabrielle kept a hand on Xena's waist and gently guided her back to the couch. Exhaustion claimed Xena as she laid her head in Gabrielle's lap, emptied of the immediate round of grief. She felt Gabrielle gently stroking her face, murmuring something. Xena drifted into sleep, feeling strangely comforted for the first time in many years.
Xena woke up, dazed by the vividness of what seemed like a dream. She turned to Gabrielle, who was resting more easily than she had the night before. The antidote seemed to be working, she decided, feeling Gabrielle's forehead, the fever was gone and her face wasn't as drawn as the night before. She was just relieved that the Persians had the antidote to their poisoned arrows with them when they attacked, or she could have lost her beloved Gabrielle.
Gabrielle woke up later, watching Xena check her wounded arm. Xena felt Gabrielle's eyes on her and turned, smiling. "How do you feel?" she asked as she leaned over, kissing Gabrielle lightly.
"Better, I'll live now. Xena, you were restless when you slept, did you have another nightmare?"
Xena gently stroked Gabrielle's hair, answering softly, "Yes. It was as if Hercules had never unchained my heart, as if I had never stopped conquering. I don't know where the nightmare came from, but strangely enough, you were there, challenging me, then comforting me in the end." Xena left out the rest, not wanting Gabrielle to know that Perdicas had died in vain again, at least in her dreams. She still felt guilty sometimes, but it could not be helped. She stretched out beside Gabrielle, nuzzling her neck. "I'm so glad that you're here, a part of my life."
Gabrielle smiled. "I can't imagine life without you, Xena. It would be, shall we say, dull?"
Xena laughed. "Dull? Gabrielle, you would manage to be in the thick of something, even if I weren't here. Just promise me one thing."
Xena sat up and faced Gabrielle, face serious. "Just help me stay human, never to turn into a monster again."
Puzzled, Gabrielle nodded. "I promise."
Xena looked relieved. "I love you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle smiled. "I love you too, Xena." She sighed, contended, slipping back into a light sleep. Xena watched her for a long moment, the murmured, "Thank you, my love, for reaching my heart, here and in my dreams." She watched Gabrielle for a moment longer, then stood up to face the day.