The water ripples and churns. A series of ficlets. 62 - It's not easy to make friends.
22 May 2007
X/A – part 2 of the Pebbles arc. Violence warning.
Ares eyed Gabrielle with undisguised distaste.
"Does she have to come with us?"
Gabrielle met his stare with equal hostility.
"Do we have to help him?"
Xena groaned. "Just stop it, both of you. Now, let's try this again. Ares, you say you can feel the pebbles?"
"Yeah, there's one nearby."
"I can't tell. The signal's not getting any stronger or weaker as we move around."
Xena rubbed the bridge of her nose wearily and stood. "Fine, I'll scout ahead and see if I can find anything."
Xena had gathered up the reins when a hand landed on her arm. Gabrielle frowned at her and ran a hand through her short hair forcefully.
"Xena, why are you doing this? Last time we saw him, he tried to manipulate you into stealing the light chakram for him."
"He's a power-hungry opportunist, but…" Xena paused, unsure how to explain the rush of adrenaline and warmth when he smirked and welcomed her back. He hadn't reacted as badly as she'd expected to the locking away of the light chakram. She shrugged. "As much as I hate to admit it, the world needs a god of war."
Gabrielle watched her for a moment before letting go of her arm. "Fine," she said, "but if he gets on my nerves I'm going to smack him around with my sais."
Xena pulled Argo in sharply when the campsite came back into view. The fire had been kicked over and the clearing heavily trampled.
"Shit." She swung off the horse to inspect the ground. A loud crack sounded, and Xena turned to face the source, drawing her sword in the same smooth movement.
Ares stopped short to avoid walking into the point of the blade. "What?"
"We had an argument, and I went for a walk. You mean she's not here?"
Xena looked at her fingertips, wet from when she'd touched the grass. Dark red stains shifted when she rubbed them. "Blood," she said tersely. "How much of an argument?"
Ares raised his hands innocently. "We didn't fight, if that's what you're asking."
Xena didn't seem to hear him as she inspected the clearing. "There," she said, pointing. "At least fifteen soldiers in heavy armour." She slung the already packed bedrolls hastily onto Argo's saddle. "Come on. They went that way."
"And put ourselves in danger? Look, I say we just leave her and keep going. I feel the next stone getting farther away. Gabrielle isn't—"
He was cut off abruptly when Xena punched him in the face.
She didn't trust herself to say anything as she walked away.
Xena crouched under some heavy ferns. These must have been the injured that had been left behind to follow at their own pace.
She let a smug smile twist her lips while watching a particular soldier nurse a nasty gash in his leg. Gabrielle had practically hamstrung him.
The man stood and limped slowly over to a tree, undid his pants, and settled into that calm, reflective state that allowed a man to stare fixedly at some bark while waiting out other bodily processes. Entering said state was, in general, not a good time to feel the cold prick of a blade near sensitive flesh.
"Where's the girl?" a disturbingly calm voice said near his ear.
"You're Xena, aren't you?" he finally concluded.
"Give the man a medal. Now where is she?"
"You'll have to kill me—" He broke off into a muffled scream of pain when fingers dug sharply into his open wound. A strong hand squeezed his mouth shut before he could make enough noise to alert the others.
"Where is Gabrielle?" the voice knifed through the trembling in his knees and the red clouds of pain in his eyes.
"Temple of Kal." His mouth moved without consulting his brain. "The high priest… Orders to—"
Xena stepped over the crumpled figure.
Temple of Kal.
Gabrielle's head ached, and she could feel a trickle of blood running into her ear, but when she heard Xena's sharp warcry, she bared her teeth and attacked.
The guards were disoriented: panicked about Xena's assault and torn between rushing out to meet the warrior princess and staying to guard the blonde with blood soaking her hair and eyes gleaming like a berserker.
Gabrielle fought on instinct alone, barely registering the screams when she slammed an unprotected head into the wall and dragged his weapon from his hands. Turning, she faced the others and charged.
They surrounded her, and her body moved on its own in a practiced dance, parrying and slashing. A high kick to a soldier's face smashed his nose and drove the bone fragments into his brain, and he dropped, tripping a man behind him onto an outstretched sword.
Another clutched his throat, blood bubbling from his mouth, and Gabrielle saw the glint of a blade behind her. She turned desperately, knowing it was too late, but the thrust seemed to stop by itself.
She looked up into the bloody point protruding from the plate armour, driven in at such a force that the metal sported a network of cracks around the hole, which shattered when the sword was pulled out from behind.
Ares met her eyes over the fallen enemy, and he nodded at her. He must have taken out the rest of the soldiers, she realized, looking around the large cell.
They turned at Xena's voice. She was standing at the top of the staircase, framed by daylight from the door, and when she stepped into the gloom, her smirk seemed entirely too knowing.
"You did come."
Ares tossed down his acquired weapon and shrugged, an embarrassed grimace on his face. "Well, you know…"
He waited while Xena hugged Gabrielle and whispered something in her ear before gesturing to catch Gabrielle's eye. "You were good," he said.
He struggled with himself for a moment. "Sorry."
Now she smiled at him and extended her hand. "Thanks."
Her palm blazed and a pebble took shape. Before Ares could move, Xena snatched it up and peered at it.
"Integrity, huh?" she said and turned to the door. Tossing the pebble casually into the air and catching it again, she said over her shoulder, "Let's go find the rest of these little things."
Xena laughed and tossed it over her shoulder at Ares.
To be continued.