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Sacrifices Chapter One

This is my first attempt at fan fiction, so be kind. This story contains scenes describing graphic violence. If you are offended by this, please stop reading now. The characters Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo belong to Universal and MCA, the rest of this is all mine. I welcome any feedback, so please e-mail me at jengaf@netins.net Thanks for reading and enjoy.

PART I: THE CAPTURE

It had been several hours since they had fought and defeated Tolmec's army outside Appolonia, and yet the cries of the dying still rang in their ears. It had been a particularly bloody battle with neither side able to claim absolute victory. In the end, it had been Xena and the leaders from both sides working together to broker an uneasy peace. Neither Xena nor Gabrielle felt that it was enough. But now it was over, done. Except for the memories of what they had seen.

Xena gazed over her shoulder to look at her companion. Gabrielle had been unusually quiet along the road away from Appolonia, away from the battlefield.

She has seen so much. Perhaps too much, thought Xena sullenly, feeling guilty. And not for the first time, Xena wondered if Gabrielle might not be better off without her. But as quickly as the thought entered her mind, Xena pushed aside, turning her attention back to the road ahead. No. She's here, with me, because this is where she wants to be. Where I need her. Still, Xena wished there was something she could do to lighten Gabrielle's mood. Then she realized exactly where they were along the road and had an idea.

"We can make camp up ahead. I know of a nice spot not too far." Xena said, turning to see the bard's reaction. Gabrielle merely nodded her assent, her lack of a verbal response concerning Xena even more.

The two women made their way to a small clearing surrounded by enormous trees, the sound of a babbling brook greeted their ears. The clearing was covered with a soft blanket of tiny blossoms of blue, vibrant green, and deep purple that seemed to catch the rays of the setting sun in their petals, the remnants of a long dead campfire inhabiting the center of the clearing. Xena had always loved the quiet serenity of this place and made it a point to stop here whenever she could. This was the first time she and Gabrielle had travelled this way together and she hoped the calm and peace of the small valley could bring some solace to her friend after the events of the last few days.

The last few weeks, actually. Xena murmured to herself. So much had happened to Gabrielle; she had lost her husband, Perdicus, to the madwoman Callisto and then nearly lost her blood innocence in her need for revenge. In the end, Gabrielle had to deal with Xena being trapped in Callisto's body; the body of the one person Gabrielle could truly say she hated, the woman who had stolen her happiness and her innocence. Then she had to deal with my death. Xena thought ruefully. I can't imagine how hard that must've been on her. Xena shook her head slightly to relieve her reverie, turning back to the task at hand.

As they went about setting up the camp, Xena couldn't help but feel sorry for her friend, but also proud of her at the same time. Even after all that she had been through, she still had the courage to go on, when most others would have simply given up.

"Gabrielle, I've been thinking." Xena began slowly.

Gabrielle looked up from her chores, "About what?"

Xena stared deep into the depths of the green eyes that faced her and was shocked to see how weary and old Gabrielle suddenly appeared. Xena silently berated herself for not noticing her companions' exhaustion before now.

"I was thinking," continued Xena, "that maybe we should take a break for a while. You know, relax for a few days." Xena stopped, waiting patiently for Gabrielle's reply.

Gabrielle lowered her head. After a few moments, she looked up to see Xena's eyes still intently on her.

"I think I could really use a break right now. Thanks. That sounds good." Gabrielle replied simply, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, relief showing in her eyes. "This is such a peaceful spot." Gabrielle observed quietly.

Xena saw the look of relief on her friends face. "My thoughts exactly." she replied. "I used to stop here on my way to and from Appolonia. This place always seemed to help me to relax, to focus."

The two finished setting up the camp in silence, but a weight seemed to have been lifted from Gabrielle's shoulders, and the bard visibly relaxed, inwardly thankful for an opportunity to rest. I know Xena is worried about me. I'm just tired. Maybe after I've rested here for a few days I will be able to talk to her about everything. I just need to get it straight in my head first, Gabrielle said to herself.

Xena set out to snare some game for dinner and returned a short while later with their meal. Gabrielle already had a fire going and set about helping Xena to prepare supper. The silence within the camp had begun to unnerve Xena, but she did nothing to break it. Gabrielle will talk to me when she is ready, I just have to be patient, Xena thought, doubt and worry still lingering in the corner of her mind.

After their meal, Xena began her evening ritual, sharpening her sword and caring for Argo. Gabrielle was sitting listlessly, staring into the fire when Xena returned from Argo's rubdown.

"Why don't you get some sleep. Tomorrow I'll take you to a waterfall not far downstream from here." Xena suggested quietly.

"There's a waterfall nearby?" asked Gabrielle.

"Yeah. A nice quiet place to spend the day."

"Sounds good. See you in the morning, Xena." said Gabrielle, as she spread her bedroll out on the ground near the fire.

"Sleep well, Gabrielle." said Xena, settling herself in for the night. She allowed her gaze to wander over Gabrielle's sleeping form, worry again foremost in her mind. "I'm here for you Gabrielle. Whenever you need me, I'll be here." Xena whispered, reaching out to lightly move a lock of errant red-gold hair from Gabrielle's forehead. Her hand lingered softly on the bards' head for a few moments more before she withdrew and settled in for sleep, the night sounds unable to penetrate Xena's inner turmoil.

The next morning dawned clear and warm and Xena rose early to greet it. She had not slept well the previous night, but it was not the nightmares that interfered. Xena's mind was occupied with thoughts of Gabrielle and how to draw her out of the shell she had sealed around herself since Perdicus' death. Try as she might, the warrioress could think of no way to reach out to her friend, except to be there for her, and that was the hardest thing for her to do. Inaction was not in Xena's nature, especially when it came to someone she cared about, but in this case, she simply had to let Gabrielle come to her.

Xena slowly rose from her bedroll and reached for the water skin. She glanced over at her sleeping friend, considering whether or not to wake her. No. She's sleeping so peacefully. She needs the rest. Xena thought to herself as she took the now empty water skin to the stream to refill it.

But Gabrielle's sleep was far from peaceful. She had lain awake for hours after Xena had drifted off, unable to get the images of her dreams out of her mind. Gabrielle had been plagued by horrible dreams ever since Xena's death. But the dreams were not just of Xena, but of Perdicus as well. Dreams of Callisto running her sword to the hilt into Perdicus' unprotected body, and the look of fear and sorrow in his eyes as he looked into hers for the last time, then flashes of herself lighting his funeral pyre. Then her dream would shift and she would once again be kneeling over Xena's lifeless body, sobs racking her slight frame. In the next moment she was standing on the dias, ordering the Amazon warriors before her to light Xena's pyre.

Over and over, the visages would come to her throughout the night. In the morning she would awaken more exhausted than before, each night the struggle to bring herself to go to sleep became more intense. Once Gabrielle had finally drifted off, it was nearly dawn, and she knew Xena would be there to wake her soon. The sooner the better, thought Gabrielle, as sleep finally took her, at least that way the dreams will be brief. But Xena had not awakened Gabrielle that morning and the dreams again came to her unbidden, sending Gabrielle once more into a sea of despair.

When Xena returned to the camp, Gabrielle was tossing and turning, the nightmare taking hold of her, filling her yet again with the terrible memories. Xena immediately dropped to her knees at Gabrielle's side as she moaned and cried out unintelligibly. Xena carefully reached out and took hold of the young bard's shoulder and shook her gently.

"Gabrielle? Gabrielle, come on wake up." Xena said. When Gabrielle did not open her eyes, Xena became more insistent. Taking both Gabrielle's shoulders in her hands, she shook her harder. "Gabrielle! Wake up!" Xena called much more forcefully. "Wake up!"

At the sound of Xena's voice calling to her, Gabrielle awoke suddenly, gasping. Looking around wildly, as if unsure where she was, Gabrielle's eyes met Xena's. Xena was taken aback by what she saw; fear, despair, but also rage. Rage that seemed to be kept barely under control.

"Gabrielle? It's all right. You just had a bad dream." Xena said soothingly, taking Gabrielle into her arms. Gabrielle tried to slow her breathing as the memories of the nightmare slowly faded. She gently, but forcefully, pushed Xena away, not wanting to be touched by anyone, even Xena.

"What is it?" Xena asked, concern showing on her face.

Gabrielle looked up into those steel blue eyes and saw the worry reflected in them.

"I...I'm o.k. It was just a dream." Gabrielle lied.

"Gabrielle, let me help you. Talk to me." Hurt now evident in Xena's voice.

Gabrielle hating shutting her friend out, pushing her away, lying to her.

"I'm sorry Xena. Just give me some time. I promise I'll come to you when I'm ready, o.k.?" Gabrielle said, unable to look at her friend, unwilling to see the hurt on her face.

"I'm here whenever you're ready." Xena said finally. She stood reluctantly and returned to where she had dropped the water skin at the edge of the camp. Xena bent to retrieve it and then turned back to Gabrielle. "I'll always be here for you, Gabrielle. You know that, right?"

Gabrielle looked up, "I know."

Gabrielle tried to slow the wild beating of her heart, taking slow deep breaths. Eventually, she was able to push the memory of her nightmare to the corner of her mind where she kept it locked away when she was awake. Gabrielle knew that soon she would have to unlock that secret place and face the demons that lurked there. Otherwise the memories and emotions they evoked would build until finally they would burst forth and overwhelm her. But knowing what needed to be done and actually doing it were two very different things, and Gabrielle simply could not bring herself to deal with that dark side of her soul just yet.

Xena prepared breakfast in silence, her thoughts in turmoil. How long has Gabrielle been having these dreams? she asked herself. And why didn't I notice? Maybe because I never expected to see her troubled by nightmares. Well, I've been patient long enough. I've got to get her to talk to me. She's drawn the pain and the sorrow from me, it's time I did the same for her, whether she wants me to or not.

Xena, her mind now decided on a course of action, returned to the meal. Gabrielle had risen from her bedroll and began to tidy up the camp, eager for something, anything to do to occupy herself. Otherwise she feared she may not be able to keep the emotions coursing through her soul at bay much longer. She could feel the grief and anger that brewed just beneath the surface, barely under control. Gabrielle consciously attempted to calm herself. She knew Xena was worried about her; she also knew that sooner or later Xena would get too impatient and force the truth of her dreams from her.

Gabrielle glanced over at her friend, wondering not for the first time why she could not bring herself to tell Xena what she was feeling. Gabrielle knew that Xena would understand what she was going through. The simple fact of the matter was that Gabrielle had convinced herself that if she simply ignored the dreams and feelings, that eventually they would go away. Xena was back now, everything was back to normal, right? But the dreams had just gotten worse.

Xena and Gabrielle ate a meager breakfast in relative silence, neither feeling much like talking. Xena resolved to take Gabrielle to the waterfall a short distance away. The area there was so peaceful and tranquil that she hoped the setting would help to draw Gabrielle out of herself so that they could talk. Gods, Xena murmured to herself, I never thought I would be asking for Gabrielle to talk. But she's been so quiet. Xena let the thought trail off. Mentally shaking herself, Xena turned to Gabrielle.

"How about going with me to the waterfall I mentioned?" Xena asked, half afraid the bard would say no.

Gabrielle flinched inwardly at the sound of Xena's voice, afraid she would again begin to press her about her dreams. Relief washed over her when she realized Xena was going to leave that particular topic alone, at least for now.

"Sure, that sounds fine." Gabrielle replied simply, forcing a small smile.

Xena and Gabrielle finished cleaning up from breakfast and then headed south, down river from the camp. They walked for perhaps half an hour before the sound of rushing waters met their ears. Rounding a small outcropping, Xena led Gabrielle onto a small alcove looking out over the most beautiful sight Gabrielle had ever seen. The waterfall towered above them, seeming to reach the sky, it's waters rumbled down to a small, tranquil pool below. The alcove in which they stood was covered in a fine down of soft grass and fragile blooms of yellow and red. All around them were the manifestations of life and peace. Gabrielle took it all in, not daring to breathe lest she shatter the illusion. Xena turned to gaze at the young bard. Seeing the look of wonder and awe, Xena decided to remain still for a moment longer to allow Gabrielle to experience the wonder that she herself felt everytime she visited this place.

After several moments, Xena broke the spell. Laying a hand on Gabrielle's arm, she gestured to a small gnarled tree near the edge of the pool. Gabrielle nodded slightly and allowed Xena to lead the way. The two reclined at the base of the tree, each leaning against its trunk, lost in her own thoughts.

Gabrielle had not felt this kind of contentment in many months. The memories of her dreams seemed miles away and without consequence. All that mattered was the here and now, and now she was at peace. Xena was here at her side, no one was threatening them at the moment, no one desperately needed their help, no worries. The beauty and serenity of this place infused Gabrielle with a new sense of strength and focus and for that she silently thanked her friend. Gabrielle turned slightly to glimpse Xena out of the corner of her eye and knew it was time to tell her of all the things she had been feeling. But how to begin? Where should I start? Gabrielle took a deep breath and let it out. You can't keep this inside forever, Gabrielle chastised herself, so just do it.

"Xena?" Gabrielle began.

"Hmm." Xena answered, never opening her eyes.

"You asked me before, about my dreams." Gabrielle replied. "I think I'm ready to tell you about them now."

Xena opened her eyes and turned to look at her best friend, concern flashed across her features briefly to be replaced almost immediately by relief. Xena said nothing, merely waited for Gabrielle to begin.

Gabrielle's eyes dropped to her hands lying in her lap.

"Ever since you died, I've been having nightmares." Gabrielle began. "Nightmares about you....and Perdicus. About how you each died, and I could do nothing." Gabrielle paused, the pain rushing back like an old friend, nearly forgotten. "Every night the dreams are the same. I see you die, and Perdicus, but I can only stand by and watch. I hold you in my arms and watch you both slip away...." a sob caught in Gabrielle's throat. Xena reached out to her and took Gabrielle's hand in her own.

"Gabrielle, it's all right." Xena said sofly as she reached out to stop the tear that threatened to slide down Gabrielle's cheek. A small smile reached Gabrielle's eyes as she marveled at how tender Xena could be.

Gabrielle took a breath and continued, "I felt so helpless, like I let you both die." Xena opened her mouth to protest, but Gabrielle silenced her with a wave. "No Xena, please, let me finish. I felt so lost without you, when Ephiny offered to give you an Amazon funeral it seemed like the right thing to do. In my dreams I could see myself ordering the pyre to be lit and the sadness would take me again, like it was all happening for the first time." Gabrielle turned to look at the Warrioress. Xena's face was a mask of sadness, and an ache for what Gabrielle had been through, knowing that she was partly responsible for her friend's pain.

"After the grief passes, comes the anger." Gabrielle's face darkened, "Anger at myself for not being able you save you, either of you. Anger at those who caused your deaths, Callisto, the warrior priest. Xena, I've never felt that kind of rage before. I wake up every day feeling the anger rushing through me. One day I'm afraid it will carry me away ." Gabrielle looked deep into Xena's eyes and saw understanding reflected in them. Understanding coupled with love.

"I thought that when you came back, the dreams would get better, but they haven't. Xena, I'm afraid to go to sleep at night. I don't want to relive it again, over and over." Gabrielle finished, feeling relieved after her confession.

At first Xena was unsure how to respond. She knew exactly what Gabrielle was feeling, but she had not been able to fight the rage and grief and anger. Xena had given in to those feelings and it had cost her dearly. Now she looked across the years to another who was faced with the same choices she once had to make, and she was determined to help her to make the right decisions.

"Gabrielle...," Xena began, "I'm so sorry," but Gabrielle waived her off.

"Xena, you have nothing to be sorry about. It's not your fault."

"Gabrielle, you can't give in. You can't let the anger take you." Xena said, memories of her own grief and rage filling her mind. "That path leads only to a darkness that you may never see the end of."

"I know, Xena." Gabrielle replied simply. She peered intently into the deep blue eyes that silently regarded her. "Telling you about the dreams has helped. I'm feeling a little better, really."

The two women allowed the silence to stretch between them. Gabrielle felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Simply acknowledging the emotions that battled within her brought her a sense of victory over them, and she knew that she would eventually be able to live with her private demons, just as Xena did.

They spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the tranquility of the pool; it was not until nearly dusk that they decided to return to their camp. As they approached the edge of the clearing, Xena suddenly tensed.

Gabrielle sensed the change in her friend, "Xena? What is it?"

Xena simply held up a hand for silence, her eyes scanning the trees surrounding them. She slowly drew her sword from its scabbard, motioning Gabrielle to circle around the far side of the camp. "Stay back until I signal."

Gabrielle began to protest, but Xena quickly quelled her. "Gabrielle, you're unarmed. You left your staff in camp this morning, remember?" Gabrielle let her gaze drop. "I want you to circle around and check on Argo for me, OK? Someone's out there. And I'm going to find out who."

Gabrielle nodded, and quietly moved off into the shadows of the trees. Xena watched her for a moment, then moved to get a closer look at the camp. As she drew near, she spotted 5 men hidden among the trees that surrounded the clearing. It appeared as if they were waiting for the two women to return. The men were spaced nearly evenly around the campsight, so Xena decided on the direct approach. She stole close enough to the camp so as to be able to see clearly the men surrounding it. Voicing her battle cry, Xena vaulted into the center of camp, her eyes alight with the thrill of battle.

The soldiers were stunned momentarily, but recovered at a bark from their commander to attack. They rushed in simutaneously, hoping to overwhelm the warrioress. Xena merely smiled as each man met her and was repelled. Xena's sword cut through the attacks as if they were mild annoyances, leaving a bloody path in its wake. In moments, two of her attackers lay unmoving at Xena's feet.

Gabrielle had managed to move unseen to the edge of the clearing and now waited for an opportunity to steal in and regain her staff. She watched as Xena expertly dipatched the soldiers, one by one. It was not until the remaining three soldiers rushed in from three different directions that Gabrielle noticed movement in the trees. A sixth man had been hidden among the low scrub and now circled around to get behind the Warrior Princess. Gabrielle's breath caught in her throat when she realized that Xena had not seen the lurker, and was now too involved with the other three to protect herself from his attack.

Gabrielle never hesitated. She left the protection of the shadows and darted into the camp, heading straight for the Amazon staff she had left laying near her bedroll. As her hand closed around the smooth wood, Gabrielle turned to seek out the warrior she had seen lurking in the shadows. Xena and the men she battled had not yet noticed Gabrielle's presence in the camp, but the sixth man had seen her. Gabrielle sensed him closing behind her at the last possible moment and side stepped to avoid the sword that was arching toward her head. She brought up her staff in a viscious circle that caught the soldier unawares as it struck his sword arm. He was stunned by the ferocity of Gabrielle's attack, but recovered quickly to lunge at her again.

By now, Xena was aware of the battle being fought at her back, but could do nothing to help her friend. The three she was engaged with were obviously the better trained of the small company, and not as easily defeated. Xena's blade slashed and parried, blocking the blows that seemed to come from all directions at once. Xena allowed her reflexes to take over as she battled, her blade seemingly moving of its own accord. Cut, slash, parry, Xena moved as gracefully as a dancer; a dancer in a choreography with death.

Gabrielle for her part was holding her own fairly well. She had been able to land several blows, but none had much effect on the man facing her and she was being steadily forced back by his assault. Her attacker, however, was merely toying with the girl, looking for an oportunity to overpower her. He knew the penalty for killing the girl before she was delivered to his master would be his own neck. The ferocity of the attack was beginning to wear Gabrielle down; it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to keep her footing. Suddenly she stumbled and the soldier had the opening he had been waiting for. Gabrielle saw the blow coming and knew she would never be able to block it. Whispering a small prayer, she waited for the inevitable. At the last possible moment, the soldier changed the course of the blade and struck Gabrielle in the temple. A cry escaped her lips as the pommel connected with her head, then silence as she fell lifelessly to the ground.

Xena's head snapped around at the sound of Gabrielle's cry of pain and she saw the bard's body lying motionless on the ground. It was her lapse in concentration that allowed one of the soldiers to land a blow with the flat of his blade that stunned the warrioress. Another blow to her head by the man behind her, and Xena was left in a heap, dazedly shaking her head.

"Leave her!" shouted the man who now stood over Gabrielle, "this one's the one we came for."

Xena heard the order through the fog that had settled in her brain and she shook her head again to attempt to clear it. Her arms and legs felt like they had leaden weights attached to them, she could barely move them. In the waning light of the setting sun, Xena watched helplessly as the men lifted Gabrielle onto a horse and melted into the trees. The last thought that went through her mind as consciousness finally left her was whether or not Gabrielle was even still alive.

Chapter 2