Deny or Embrace

By joan the english chick
Part 1

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

I know it's a cop-out, but this takes place after the events of Sacrifice II have been resolved.
The story is supposed to be kind of like an episode, which is why this first part is somewhat short, like the teaser before the opening credits.

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, and any other characters you recognize are property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance, and are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. This story is property of the author, namely me, and may not be reproduced, retransmitted, or posted anywhere without my expressed permission.
Warnings: None so far (slight bit of violence but no more than you'd see on the show)
Spoilers: None so far
Xenite Disclaimer for Part One: Gabrielle's culinary expertise was not harmed in the production of this fanfic.

   We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder
   We belong to the sound of the words we've both fallen under
   Whatever we deny or embrace, for worse or for better
   We belong, we belong, we belong together.
      -Pat Benatar


"Gabrielle, look." Dropping Argo's reins, Xena bent to examine a small bush. The patient horse lowered her head and nipped desultorily at grass. A few steps behind, Gabrielle moved to catch up.


Xena plucked a plump berry from the bush and put it in her mouth. She turned to face the bard, and a smile lit her face as the sweet juices rolled across her tongue. "It's the berries you use to make those dumplings."

Gabrielle burst out laughing. "Xena, you're like a little kid about those dumplings." She looked critically at the bush. "Anyway, there aren't enough."

"There's plenty! Hand me a bowl," Xena instructed, dropping to one knee, her slender fingers probing delicately between the tiny branches. Raising her eyebrows tolerantly, Gabrielle turned to Argo.

As the young bard pulled a saddlebag open, something caught her eye from between a gap in the trees. Her hand stilled, and she turned to look.

"Xena, come look at this." Something odd in her voice brought the warrior instantly to her side. Both women stared silently at the side of a distant mountain, where a nearly vertical rockface seemed to be ... giving off light was an inadequate description. It looked, Gabrielle thought, as though a huge sun were glowing inside the mountain, and a tiny opening had been pierced in the rock skin, allowing the brilliance to flow through, but only for an instant. When it stopped, the entire mountainside seemed impossibly dark by contrast. Before the eye could search out the source of the light on the forbidding wall, it flashed again. And again another moment later, the intervals irregular.

"What do you think it is?" Gabrielle asked, her voice hushed. Xena narrowed her eyes and watched for a long moment before replying.

"I don't know. But it's not hurting me, so I'm not gonna hurt it either." She glanced speculatively off to her left, along the mostly overgrown quasi-path they had been following through the woods. "Let's just keep moving."

"What about the berries?" Gabrielle bent over to retrieve the half-filled bowl, which Xena had left on the ground when she rose to see what Gabrielle had spotted.

Two things happened at once.

As Xena took a step away from Argo, toward the continuation of the path, a sudden chill froze her flesh and made her shudder involuntarily. She felt tiny hairs standing up all along her body. Her breathing rate increased, and sweat sprang up on her palms.

As Gabrielle knelt on the ground, reaching for the bowl, her vision suddenly clouded and where the bowl had been there was a body: Xena's. The warrior's head lay in her lap, blood staining both their hands an angry red. Gabrielle's hands were tangled in Xena's armor, hot and slick with the life-fluid that was pumping out of her friend's body faster than either of them could hold it back.

As quickly as the vision had appeared, it was gone, and Gabrielle was left reeling dizzily with Xena's hands on her forearms, the warrior shaking her and calling her name.

"Xe-" Her throat was hoarse, and she realized she had screamed the name in the midst of the vision. "Wha-"

"What did you see?" Xena spoke slowly and carefully, forcing the words out slowly, trying to cut through Gabrielle's anxiety. The bard blinked and blinked, and then her own hands, strengthened and calloused from their years together, closed around Xena's shoulders.

"You. I saw you," she breathed painfully. "You were d-dead."

"Hey, been there, done that, right?" Xena reminded her softly. "Tartarus couldn't keep me." But she could see from Gabrielle's haunted expression that it wasn't enough.

"No, it was different," Gabrielle half-whispered, half-moaned, panic rising in her voice again. "It was ... so real ... and it...." She looked down at the ground and suddenly sprang up, her eyes wild. "It happened *right* *here*! You d-I held you in my arms and you just d-" She couldn't finish the word.

"Gabrielle!" Xena could see the signs of a panic attack building. She had to move fast to get in front of the bard, who was gasping out half-formed phrases of fear and lashing her head back and forth as she raced round in tiny circles as if caged.

"N- Don't-" she whimpered as Xena seized her again. She tried to pull away. Xena gritted her teeth, hardened her heart, and slapped her friend firmly across the face, feeling the sting reverberate across her palm and into her soul. Gabrielle gave a little shriek and fell to the ground again, pressing her hands into the dirt, and sobbed a few times before catching her breath with a gasp and falling silent.

Xena knelt beside her friend and put a tentative hand on her shoulder, braced for anything. Gabrielle lifted her head and met Xena's eyes. Her chest heaved with every breath, her cheeks were stained with tears, but she was calmer. Xena swallowed with relief, wetting dry lips, and moved a heavy hand to brush a sweaty lock of hair from Gabrielle's forehead.

Before either woman could speak again, Argo gave an anxious whinny and they looked up to see shapes melting out of the spaces between trees and forming themselves into people. People holding swords, pitchforks, clubs and torches.

By the time Xena had risen to her feet, taking a protective stance over the still-shaken Gabrielle, they were surrounded.

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joan the english chick
Last updated 14 August 1998