Xena and Gabrielle belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures. I have used them here only for the entertainment of fans of the show and for my own nonprofit amusement. No infringement of any copyrights or trademarks belonging to Studios USA or Renaissance Pictures is intended.
Will have strong M themes, including mention of rape and violence. This is a dark story; please be warned.
This Too Shall Pass
"Five hundred lashes," the Judge said.
Gabrielle gasped. It sounded very loud in the silent courtroom. She turned to look at the shackled woman behind her. Xena's face was impassive, but every muscle was held still and tight. If Gabrielle hadn't known her, she would have said that the dark haired woman was calm. Gabrielle met those blue eyes and saw something she couldn't name lurking there. It wasn't the thought of pain; gods knows, Gabrielle knew better than anyone else just how much pain the other woman could take. No, it was something else, and she didn't like the fact that she couldn't name it.
She let her eyes travel over Xena again. The warrior was dressed only in a bloodied cotton shift. Her arms were bare, and dark bruises stood out against her skin. A lot of the blood on her shift was her own; one of the guards had fired a lucky shot. It had hit her in her side, scraping under her armour. The arrow's shaft had been broken off in the fight, but the arrowhead was still inside of her. Gabrielle could see the slight catch in her breathing that told her that the other woman was hurting terribly.
The judge spoke so suddenly that Gabrielle jumped. "Take them to the cells. Punishment will be carried out tomorrow at dawn."
The cell was nothing like what Gabrielle expected. It was large and clean, with a sturdy wooden bench along one side. Much to her surprise, their saddlebags had been brought into the cell and placed neatly in the corner. She knelt and went through them. Everything bar the weapons was still in the bags. She munched on a trail bar as she sorted through their belongings. Glancing up at the barred window to judge the fading light, Gabrielle guessed that they had less than three candle marks before dark. She pulled out the sleeping furs and laid them on the bench, rolling on up to serve as a pillow. She took a fresh square of linen and spread it over the fur to keep it clean. The well-used healer's kit came out of the saddlebags next, and she sorted through it, surprised to see that the pain herbs were missing. She took the wooden cup that they used to mix the herbs, and set it by the bench.
The guards had taken her from the courtroom first, leaving Xena standing shackled, surrounded by watching guards. Gabrielle didn't know what they were doing to her friend, but she had a feeling that it wasn't good. Three sets of approaching footsteps made her pause. She scrambled to her feet and turned to face the heavy wooden door. It swung open. Xena stood in the middle of two guards. Both were taller than she was, and heavy with thick, corded muscle. They made her look tiny and somehow, almost fragile. Her expression spoke of her feelings; she wasn't used to being smaller than anyone, and she didn't like it very much.
The guard on the right gestured for her to enter the cell. She smirked at him and walked in. If Gabrielle hadn't known that Xena was injured, she would never have picked up on the tiny hesitation in her step, or the slightly different set of her powerful shoulders.
"Hold it." He said, reaching for the keys hanging at his waist. Xena stopped and turned neatly, holding her shackled wrists out so he could unfasten the chains.
With a small wink at Gabrielle, she crossed to the bench, and dropped onto it, stretching her long legs out and crossing her ankles. Gabrielle smiled at her, relieved to get a tiny smirk back, and then turned back to the guards.
"Can we have some hot water, please?" She asked politely.
The blonde guard nodded, and muttered something to the redhead next to him. The redhead walked away and came back a few minutes later with a bucket of gently steaming water in each hand.
"Thank you." Gabrielle said, staying away from the door as the guard set the buckets down just inside of the door. He backed out, and the door clanged shut behind him. It left her alone with her injured friend for the first time since they'd been captured. A long day had passed since they'd been woken at dawn by royal guards tearing through their small camp.
"Xe?" Gabrielle asked quietly, her gaze lingering on the too pale face of her best friend. "What's going on here?"
A dark eyebrow lifted as the warrior considered the question. "I'm not sure." She admitted reluctantly. "Lemme think about it." She shifted and winced, dark head tilting away from Gabrielle as she worked through the pain. "Wanna get this damned arrow out of my side?" She asked.
Gabrielle's eyes turned companionate. "They took all of the pain herbs." She said. "But they left all of the others."
"Doesn't surprise me; they're illegal here." Xena muttered. "S'okay, I've had worse." She met the blonde woman's eyes, knowing instinctively that she was thinking of what the dawn would bring.
She drew in a slow breath as she carefully lowered herself onto her uninjured side. Her side hurt like someone was holding a branding iron to her flesh. The arrowhead was lodged against her rib, and every time she took a breath, it grated against the bone, sending jolts of agony through her. She wrapped one arm around the rolled up sleeping fur, and drew her leg up to stabilise her body while the bard worked. She watched Gabrielle with quiet eyes as the bard sorted out what she would need to remove the arrowhead. She knew that she'd been lucky; the arrow would have ended her life if it had kept going. She didn't feel very lucky. She felt sore, and dammed tired. She hated being injured at the best of times, and this wasn't the best of times. Dread built in her gut as she thought of what would happen come dawn. It made her shiver with wary apprehension.
"Xe?" Gabrielle asked quietly. "I'm going to need a knife."
"Bottom of my saddlebag, between the stitching; there's one hidden there." Xena told her. She tilted her head, resting her cheek against her wrist. Her eyes drifted closed.
Gabrielle found it, neatly hidden in the thick fold of leather and took it out. The knife was small and very sharp. She added it to the other supplies and set them down by the bunk, along with the water. Her hands shook as she knelt down and laid the knife by her hand. She brushed her fingers over Xena's face, offering what little comfort she could.
"I'm sorry." Gabrielle muttered, using her fingers to tear a larger hole in Xena's shift.
One pale blue eye opened. "It's gotta be done." Xena said, "Damn thing can't stay in there forever." She added with a little sigh.
Gabrielle ran her eyes over the wound. It looked painful; the arrow had hit Xena with some force. The wound was small, edges swollen and hot. Dark bruising surrounded it, extending across Xena's ribs. It was still bleeding a little from the bottom edge. Gabrielle could see a little of the arrow shaft. The wood had splintered with the force with which it had been broken. She picked up a clean cloth and dipped it into the water, then wiped some of the dried blood away.
Xena took a sharp breath, biting the inside of her lip as Gabrielle cleaned the cut. This was the easy part, she knew. The hard part was still to come. She felt Gabrielle shift as she reached for the knife, and readied herself for the pain. She could feel Gabrielle's hesitation and knew she needed a nudge in the right direction.
"Would it be easier with this shift off?" She asked her friend.
A small warm hand touched her back, just below her shoulder. "I think it might be." Gabrielle said.
Xena forced herself to sit up, and unlace the front of the shift. She slid it off her shoulders. A small sound of pain escaped her as the fabric brushed up against the arrow shaft. She forced the pain away as she slid the rest of the shift down her body, so it gathered around her waist. With only the clever little garment Xena had designed to support her breasts covering her, Gabrielle could clearly see the damage that had been done to her friend's body. Deep bruises covered her ribs and stomach. Blood from her arrow wound had run down her side and dried in a long, sticky line. Gabrielle sighed; no matter how many times she saw her friend hurt, she could never get used to it. She rubbed her hand over Xena's shoulder.
"Lay down," she said quietly, eyes closing as she gathered her strength.
Xena complied, stretching out on her side once more. Gabrielle drew a woollen blanket up over the front of her body, for the cell was cool. She knelt and picked up the knife. Gingerly, she probed the wound and felt the tip of the knife catch on the arrowhead. The body under her hands had gone utterly still, and Gabrielle knew that she was hurting her friend terribly. Tears gathered in her eyes, from guilt, from sorrow. She blinked them back and went back to her work.
The arrowhead was barbed, which forced Gabrielle to cut around it. She saw Xena's hand tighten around the sleeping fur, and felt the powerful muscles under her hand clench as she worked the knife under one of the barbs, freeing it. She stroked her free hand down the warrior's back, smoothing her fingers over the soft skin there.
She took a quick breath to steady her voice. "Halfway done," she told Xena. She wrapped her fingers more firmly around the knife, before sliding it back into the arrow wound. She worked the other barb free, and tugged the arrow out. It came free in a rush of blood and worse. Xena grunted, hand clenching around the bed roll so hard that her knuckles turned bone white. Gabrielle dropped the arrow, trying not to look at the blood and flesh that covered it. Trying not to imagine how much that had hurt.
"Sorry, Xe," Gabrielle murmured. "Not much more now. I just have to wash it out, and stitch it."
Slowly, the older woman relaxed. "S'okay." She said on a tight breath "Just caught me by surprise there."
Gabrielle ran gentle fingers down her spine, slightly shocked at how cool her soul mate's skin was. She tugged another blanket out of the saddlebag, and draped it over Xena's back. Xena shifted a little, and the dying light washed across her face, reflecting on the barest trace of tears along her lashes. Gabrielle forced herself to pick up a square of linen. She soaked it in the cooling water, and squeezed a little of the water out before using it to clean around the wound. It took her almost a quarter of a candle mark to get all traces of pus and blood from the wound.
She glanced at Xena's face. The dark haired woman was sleeping, but it hadn't removed the lines of strain from her face. Gabrielle hesitated before she picked up the slim bone needle and gut. The bone felt warm in her hand. She leaned forward, stretching a little to relieve the growing stiffness in her back. Xena opened one eye, lips quirking into a weary smile.
"Leave it open," she said quietly "It needs to drain."
Gabrielle nodded, tucking the bone needle and gut back into Xena's healing pouch. "Do you want any herbs on this?" she asked.
"Is it bleeding?" Xena asked
Gabrielle nodded, "Just a little."
"Might as well leave the herbs until it stops," Xena said. "Tired?" She asked
Gabrielle stood, stretching before she answered. "Oh yeah," She said.
"C'mon. Lay down," Xena said, sliding towards the edge of the bench to make room for her smaller companion. Carefully, she eased onto her front. She rested her head on her arm, eyes closing again as the pain spiked.
Gabrielle lay down next to her, tucked safely in the space between Xena and the wall. She pulled the sleeping furs up over her shoulders, covering Xena as well as she could without the furs touching the arrow wound. In the fading light, she examined the warrior's back. The skin there was smooth, unmarred except for a few pale scars. She sighed softly, her mind bursting with questions that she wanted to ask and didn't dare.
Pensive thoughts filled her mind and she sighed soundlessly. She knew that this was the last time she'd see that back without a lattice work of scars. Tears threatened to spill over her lashes, and she blinked them back. Surprisingly, it was Xena who broke the silence.
"What are you thinking?" She asked, voice low and slightly strained.
Caught un-aware, Gabrielle had to scramble for an answer. "I was, ugh..."
A warm hand touched her wrist, and the lie died in her throat. "You were thinking about the morning."
"Yes..." Gabrielle admitted softly. "It's not fair. We've done nothing to these people."
The warrior shifted a little. "My army came through here, a few years before... It was just a sleepy little town back then." Her head tilted. "Someone's coming." She frowned in puzzlement. "It's that half bit judge, with two guards. I bet he hasn't come to pardon me." She said sardonically.
The cell door clanged open, and two guards marched in. The shorter of the two walked over to the bench and grabbed Xena's arm. Gabrielle saw the powerful muscles jump as her friend fought not to deck the guard.
"Kneel for his lordship." The stocky guard snapped, as he dragged Xena off the bench by her arm. He expected her to land in an untidy sprawl on the floor, and the look of surprise on his face was almost comical when she simply shook his hand off and landed lightly on her feet. He shook off the surprise quickly though, drawing his sword and waving it at the warrior. "I said, kneel for his lordship, or else."
"Or else what?" Xena snarled "You'll take that pigsticker and do what with it?"
Gabrielle felt a shiver as some primitive emotion washed over her. Watching Xena, dressed only in a tattered undergarment, lit from behind with the red glow of sunset, as she faced down a heavily armed guard reminded Gabrielle of exactly who- and what- her friend was.
"Stand down, Panos." A cultured voice instructed the guard. He reluctantly lowed his sword and stepped away from Xena.
She turned to look at the newcomer, who was standing next to the judge. Suddenly everything made sense to her. "Been a real long time, Gaius. What brings you to this backwater?"
He smiled. "You'll figure it out."
He flipped a coin at her. She caught it, and felt the blood drain out of her face. Gaius smirked. "I see you still remember." He turned to the guards "Chain her. Wrist and ankle." Without another word, he turned on his heel and walked out of the door.
Xena didn't fight the guards as they fastened the chains around her wrists and ankles. She barely moved, so caught up in her past that even Gabrielle's tentative touch almost went unnoticed.
"Xena, what does he mean?" Gabrielle asked, but she could only stare with starkly remembered horror at the coin in her hand.