Tartarus on Earth

by JS Stephens
Copyright 1997, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: libriscat@yahoo.com

Usual tedious disclaimer:

MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo. Boadicea is a historical figure. Any other characters are my creation and merely interact with MCA/Universal's characters.

Note: this story picks up immediately after the episode "The Deliverer".

Xena had no idea how long she and Gabrielle sat among the ruins of the temple. She sat holding Gabrielle, the scenes of The Deliverer fighting her, Gabrielle's hands covered in blood, Gabrielle with the fire swirling around her running like an endless loop through her brain. Gabrielle had been sobbing for some time and had just now trailed off to occasional hiccups. Xena was aware that her legs were going to sleep from the weight of Gabrielle's body, but she just kept her head against the back of Gabrielle's head, wanting to blot out the day.

She finally lifted her head when she felt Gabrielle shifting to face her. Xena looked into Gabrielle's reddened eyes, hurting inside because she was clueless on what to say or do. Just a few months ago they had stood before the priestess Dorcas and had recited their vows to each other, promising to take care of each other and to love each other always. Now, the world seemed to be crashing around them as the temple had crashed. Finally, Gabrielle whispered brokenly, "Xena, I hurt inside. Please make the pain go away."

Xena gently stroked Gabrielle's face as she shifted her legs, trying to regain feeling in them. "Baby, I need to get to my medical kit to make the pain go away." Gabrielle just laid her head on Xena's shoulder and heaved a troubled sigh.

They both jerked up when they heard slow hoofbeats, like horses picking their way through the shattered stones. As they looked up, they saw Boadicea coming up through the rubble, motioning for her army to stay back. She walked up to them and asked, "What happened? We heard and saw the explosion--I didn't think that you would make it out alive." She noticed the shell-shocked expression on the warrior's and bard's faces. An innocent like Gabrielle, shell-shocked was to be expected. But from Xena? "Come, let's go back to camp and take care of you."

Bodicea helped the women up, then led them to waiting horses. Xena swung up on a horse, then held out her hand for Gabrielle to swing up behind her. Gabrielle swung up and clung to Xena fiercely, burying her face in Xena's hair. Bodicea was disturbed by the whole scene, wondering what happened to make both women so stunned.

Back at the camp, Xena swung down from her horse, turning to let Gabrielle slide into her arms "Bodicea," Xena asked quietly, "is there anywhere private I can take Gabrielle? I need to bathe her and to tend to her wounds."

Bodicea pointed to a tent, saying, "Yes, over there." Bodicea watched as Xena carried the younger woman into the tent, then told her orderly, "Take hot water and fresh towels to Xena." The orderely nodded, then dashed off to do her queen's bidding.

As soon as the orderly came back with the first bucket of hot water, Xena washed Gabrielle's hands, rubbing with soap until the blood was washed off. As soon as the tub was filled with steaming water, Xena undressed Gabrielle, then herself and lowered them both in the tub. She carefully washed the unresponsive bard, then quickly bathed herself, suddenly in a hurry to wash off the dust and sweat of battle. Gabrielle had withdrawn into herself, but let Xena bathe her, dry her off, and put a clean robe around her. Xena put on a clean robe, then gathered their things and led Gabrielle out of the tent.

The orderly was patiently waiting for them to come out so she could show them their tent. After they entered the tent, Xena murmured, "Thank you."

"Will you need anything else?" the orderly asked.

"No, that will be all," the exhausted warrior said. The orderly nodded, then left the women alone. Xena went about the task of putting Gabrielle to bed, which wasn't hard. Their bags were already in the tent, so Xena rummaged around until she found her herb bag. She went to the small fire, brewed some tea, then held it to Gabrielle's lips while she drank. The tea took effect quickly, Gabrielle dropped into a troubled sleep.

As Gabrielle fell asleep, Bodicea poked her head in the tent. "Xena?" she queried softly.

"Come in, Bodicea. I just gave Gabrielle something to make her sleep," Xena said as she stifled a yawn. Bodicea walked into the tent and sat on the chair, watching Xena slowly stroking Gabrielle's hair. "It looks like we got more than we bargained for," Xena finally said. "I didn't pay attention to Kraftsar, had no idea that the one god he kept babbling about was Dahak, not the God of the Israelites. I'm afraid that Gabrielle paid a heavy price for my inattention."

Bodicea sat, watching Xena's tender attention to Gabrielle. This was a far different Xena than she had seen previously, this was a Xena torn by guilt and fear, by love and self-loathing. The Xena she had encountered years ago was cocky, brilliant, a superb actor and out for wealth. The Xena she had encountered yesterday was still cocky and brilliant, but willing to help overcome their common enemy, Caesar. The Xena she saw now was lost, drifting, barely hanging on. "Xena, what changed? You're not the same selfish, arrogant woman I met before." Bodicea asked.

Xena turned haunted eyes to face Bodicea, answering, "Hercules showed me another possibility, a possibility of helping people instead of hurting them. I was run out of women for slaves, so I reacted, defending them and beating him back." Xena offered a tired smile, remembering the day. "Gabrielle, unlike the other women, fought back against her captors. Once we'd run off the bad guys, Gabrielle announced she was following me. I tried to discourage her at first, but she persisted." Xena continued her slow stroking of her wife's hair, then looked up to meet the queen's eyes. "I owe my soul to Gabrielle, she helped me grow until I could face up to my old ways and overcome them. I love her, Bodicea, and it's just tearing me up that she is hurt and I can't help."

The Celtic queen listened quietly, finding it hard to believe that Xena would actually let anyone affect her in such a fashion. Yet, here she sat, caring for the younger woman, love and pain mingled clearly on her face. Bodicea still didn't trust Xena, old memories were hard to squash, but she had to admit that Xena had changed. But, she still wondered what happened in the temple--what changed two vibrant women into emotional wrecks?

Xena seemed to read her thoughts, answering, "Gabrielle was tricked. Krafstar led her astray, leading her into the temple of Dahak, to the ceremony to wake him up. Gabrielle was tricked into sacrificing her blood innocence, tricked into killing another human being. My Gabrielle has now killed, and it has changed us both." Xena hung her head to hide the tears that were finally coming, mumbling, "Please leave, please." Bodicea stood up, touched Xena's shoulder in sympathy, then left the tent. Xena sat, tears streaming down her cheeks, then finally wiped her face and crawled in bed beside her beloved, hugging her fiercely.

The next morning dawned, finding Xena and Gabrielle still clinging to each other, drawing comfort from the other. They laid quietly for a long time, neither wanting to be the first to move. Finally, Gabrielle whispered, "I have to go." Xena nodded, letting the bard leave the tent. After a moment, she left to find her own bush, coming back to find Gabrielle slowly dressing.

Gabrielle looked years older, as if she had suffered from a long illness. Xena quickly dressed, asking, "Would you like me to get some breakfast for you?" Gabrielle shook her head no, then dropped listlessly on the bed. Xena stood indecisively for a few seconds, then announced, "I'm going to find some breakfast for me, I'll be back shortly."

Gabrielle was still laying in bed when Xena came back. Xena laid down beside her, fear and fatigue taking over again. Gabrielle sighed heavily as she turned over, reaching to play with Xena's dark hair, finally asking, "Xena, is this how you felt when you killed the first time? Did your world split open, swallowing you in a maelstrom of emotion, bringing you into a Tartarus on earth?"

Xena pulled the bard into her arms, trying to frame words into a coherent answer. She finally answered, "I killed in anger, defending my village from warlords. You killed in defense, but not anger. My anger sustained me for a long time until Hercules showed me that I could change my ways. Looking back, I wish I had done things differently, but if I had, you would not have been in my life, my love." She traced Gabrielle's face with her fingers, wiping away the tears that had renewed. "Gabrielle, I don't know what to do for you. You have always taught me how to deal with my emotions, how can I teach you anything?"

Gabrielle dropped her head on Xena's breast, listening to Xena's breathing and heartbeat, unwilling to let her mind go any farther. Suddenly, ugly visions overwhelmed her, but she also saw something else--the Amazon village. "Xena, I want to go home to the Amazons," she declared.

Xena merely nodded, pulling her lover's head back to her breast, stroking Gabrielle's golden hair. "Whatever you want to do, I will do, wherever you wish to go, I will go," she promised.

Bodicea saw Xena striding purposefully to meet her. She waited for Xena to speak, afraid that Xena was leaving her to fight Caesar alone. She was right. "Bodicea, Gabrielle wants to go home to the Amazon village. She's a princess. Actually, she was the queen, but she passed the title to Ephiny...gods, I am babbling, I apologize." She drew herself up, painfully in strict control. "I beg your leave, my queen."

"Go. May your gods be merciful, Xena, Gabrielle needs you more than I need you." Bodicea held out her arm, Xena clasped it briefly, then turned and left. Bodicea watched as Xena ducked into the tent, coming back out with Gabrielle and their belongings.

"Maybe," Bodicea murmured to herself, "it is harder to love the living wounded than the dead. My husband and child died so quickly, and I've had to defend my people, never having a moment to properly mourn them." She watched as Xena put her arm protectively around Gabrielle, leading her away from the camp. "Bridgit bless," she prayed.

The End

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