Champion
By Kamouraskan

Disclaimer: This was a result of a challenge by MyWarrior to match her (impossible!) in writing an altered time-line story where Xena and Gabrielle meet for the first time through the Amazons. It was supposed to be tender and romantic, but these characters had their own plans, and I ended up with this.

It is dedicated to TLC and Linda, who said it was worth posting.

The use of characters and situations belonging to RenPic and MCA is for my own pleasure, and is without permission. In fact, If you havenít watched the first season this will make even less sense; itís more of a hurt/little comfort piece, so there is some violence. No Sex please, weíre Canadian.

My thanks to Cyndi Lauper, who probably didnít know she was writing about Xena and Gabrielle.

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Some times you picture me
Iím walking too far ahead
Youíre calling to me
I canít hear what youíve said

- Cyndi Lauper

Xena shivered, her white cotton shift no protection against the night winds or the coldness in what was left of her soul. She looked down at the small mound of earth that represented all her belongings. "Quite a laugh, huh?" she called to the unseen Gods. "All I had, but itís mine! No one will take it from me! My decision. My choice. My hand!" she exclaimed.

Last regrets? Argo maybe. He had not wanted to leave her. Lyceus? Her mother? No, paid for by the thousand cuts and bruises that covered her body from the stoning by the good people of Amphipolis. She reached one last time for the darkness that had been the only companion for her anger, and found....nothing. No tears either. Not for Argo, for her sword, for herself. She was ready. One last look at her chakram, the disc that had been her symbol of power for so many years and...

And then there was a sound, her instincts of preservation not entirely suppressed. One person. Alone. A dozen lengths away. Ignoring her injuries, she silently vaulted to a tree to watch.

The intruder was not attempting to hide his or her movements. The Warrior could not see them clearly, only that they were alone. She waited, glad that she had her chakram . Whoever this was, they had tracked the wrong woman. She was prepared to take her own life, but she was damned if she would allow some sleazy bounty hunter to take her. Whoever this was, they were dead from the moment they entered her campsite. One more death at her hands would hardly unbalance her scales. She tensed, every muscle waiting for the attack.

"Hellooooo! Hello?" The single figure moved to stand in the remaining glow of her dampered fire. The warrior cocked her head in puzzlement. This was different. She waited to see how her adversary would play this, and held back.

The slim figure continued to speak to the air around her.

"If youíre interested, Iíve got some food?" The voice was lilting, female and very young.

ĎThere have got to be others with her waiting for me to move,í Xena thought.

"Brilliant Gabrielle," the fire-lit figure muttered to herself, "try to coax her out with food, like she was a deer. Maybe you should have just brought a salt lick." She turned and addressed the woods.

"Look, I know youíre here somewhere, because, if youíre not, well, you see, everything depends on you being here and so you have to be. Here, I mean."

Xena shook her head. There was no one else in the area but this lone woman. Xena was unsure, but this had to be the strangest bounty hunting technique she had ever seen.

"Well, Iím going to sit right here and wait. OK?" Long pause.

"Would you like to hear a story? How about how Hercules and Iolaus and I imprisoned the Titans?"

Nut. That's what this was, it was a nut.

A shadow moved and suddenly Gabrielle was held by very strong arms, and a blade of some kind was held against her throat. To Xenaís astonishment she could swear there was a sigh of relief.

"How do you know Hercules?" Came a whisper above the head of the smaller woman.

The smile was clear even in the moonlight.

"Oh, thank the Gods, you are here. I really wasnít sure."

This really was a crazy with a capital C. She tried a whispered threat. "This is not the answer to a maidenís prayer. This is my chakram, and it cuts soft, young throats, just like yours."

Gabrielle felt the warmth of the woman holding her.. She tried to ignore the cloud that descended on her mind for a second.

"Then you wonít get to hear the story."

Xena rolled her eyes. The girl was small, but strong, and her hair had highlights that were caught by the dying flames. With a sigh, she released her, spinning her around to face her.

"Who let you out? Why are you alone here?"

Gabrielle had rehearsed this part. "Meeting my Destiny." she said solemnly.

Xena barked a laugh. "Well, youíve got the wrong place, weíre fresh out of Destiny," and now her voice dropped a register, " and Iíve had all the destiny I want."

Gabrielle had thought she would be prepared for the desolation in the warlordís eyes, but the emptiness still surprised her.

"I missed you in Amphipolis, I knew I had to get here before..."

ĎBefore?í Was this a mortal girl? What did she know? What last trick had Ares and the rest sprung on her?

Xena decided to ignore the remark, questioning her casually. "How do you know Hercules?" she repeated.

"He and Iolaus let me travel with them, sometimes." Xena gave the girl a withering assessment. "Itís not like that, I help out..." she was charming in her blush, Xena thought. "Like when we captured the Titans..."

"How did the Titans get freed in the first place?" The girls eyes went wide in innocence. "I mean unless some idiot of a virgin..."

Gabrielleís eyes were now fixed on something interesting on the ground. Xena smirked, "Here I was worried about you traveling with two men..."

"Look! Iíve had about enough of that from Hercules and Iolaus. I came here to challenge you and ask for your help, not to be mocked."

Xena backed away, holding up her hands. "Challenge ME? Iím shaking" she laughed.

When she stepped back, the warrior was lit by the moonís glow, and Gabrielleís breath caught. "Youíre badly hurt."

"Itís nothing."

"Itís not nothing. Youíre bleeding and youíve been stoned. Why did they do that?"

The warrior closed her eyes. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because no one should be treated like that."

Such innocence. "It was a judgment by my own people. They had a right."

"No one has a right to do something like that. Sit down, I brought supplies."

"No. I tend to my own injuries." And not even that, this time. Why couldnít she just tell this little girl to run away?

"Like the ones on your shoulder blades? Thatís going to need stitches. Unless reaching all the way back there is one of your skills?"

The warrior felt her anger return, a warming of her blood. "You just donít get it, do you, Crazy? I donít care about them. And if I did, Iím not turning my back on a stranger."

"I care. My name is Gabrielle, Iím a princess of the Amazons. Youíre Xena, the Warrior Princess. Destroyer of Nations. How do you do? Now... Sit...DOWN!" She was already rummaging around in her pack and pulling out what seemed to be the proper salves.

Xena shook her head. Did she even take a breath during that speech? She sat down as ordered, wondering why she was giving in to this blonde.

"Now, Iím fairly new at this, but Iíll try not to hurt you too much." Xena rolled her eyes again. Death by malpractice, that was the Godís final irony. The hands were nonetheless gentle, and conscientiously rinsed out the wounds. For a moment the Warrior relaxed before realizing that this had to be another test.

She caught a hand, and gripped it tightly. "What do you want from me?"

Gabrielle swallowed. "I want to challenge you to a staff fight."

Xena did not like surprises. And that was all this girl had given her. "WHAT?"

"A staff fight. If I win, oh wait...donít move..., thatís a bad one, Iíll need more fresh water."

"If you win?" It was a pity, Xena thought. This was no immortal. She really was crazy. Too bad. She had begun to feel a strange affection for this lost nutter.

The nutter returned with water skins. "Where was I?"

"If you win..." she managed to imply that rocks would sing before that could happen.

"If I win, you agree to be my Champion."

"And why would I do that?"

"Because your warriorís pride would respect me then, and Iíd promise not to let anyone know I beat you."

That almost made sense. Xena thought. It must be contagious.

"Got this all worked out, huh? Why do you need a champion?"

"Well, itís a long story..."

"Shorten it."

"My Queen is dying, and I hold the right of caste."

"Melosa is dying,?" She nodded grimly "...and you want me to help you become Queen? If I cared at all, why wouldnít I just knock you off, and then declare myself Queen?"

"I asked Hercules, and he said you wouldnít."

"You told this half-assed plan to Hercules and he agreed with it?"

"No. I just asked him whether you might want to be Queen of the Amazons."

"And what did he say?" "He sort of laughed, you know? And then he thought about it for a minute, and then he laughed again."

Xena began to drum her fingers on her knee, stopping when Gabrielle began working on a large splinter. "This isnít from a rock. "Gabrielle said accusingly.

"I know. I tried to explain the rules, but some people just like to ruin things for everybody else."

Gabrielle stifled a giggle. "Youíre very funny, you know."

"Yeah, thatís what the last twenty or so people Iíve killed have told me. But you, you donít need a champion, you need a safe place to be locked up."

"Youíre going to be my Champion," Gabrielle stopped while she cut the thread with her teeth. "because as soon as the Queen dies, Valasca will challenge me for the Queenís mask."

"And you canít beat this Velasca, but you think you can beat me?"

"No, you dumb warrior," Xenaís eyes bulged at this. "I canít fight her for the mask because....." She began to use the salve in soft caressing motions. Xenaís eyes fluttered for a moment.

"Why?"

"She would want a battle to the death."

Xena let out a hiss of disappointment. "And that frightens you."

"No. I wonít kill. " The girl said flatly.

From anyone else Xena might have laughed, but she heard the conviction, born of having had to make the decision more than once before.

"And you donít think that will stand in your way in being Queen? A commander of warriors?"

"I donít want to be the Queen. I plan on making Ephiny Regent, and Iíll continue my travels. Iím just supposed to stop Velasca." Another pause to cut a thread. "She plans to attack the Centaurs, and that would only be the beginning, I know. She would destroy the Amazons through war in a few years."

"And your plan is? At least before you go off on some other great adventure?"

"I would negotiate a treaty with the Centaurs."

Xena hung her head. "The Centaurs, and the Amazons. Do you have any idea how much bad blood they have, how impossible..."

A piece of parchment was eagerly pulled out and placed under the warriors nose. Tilting it towards the firelight, she read in growing astonishment an itemized set of demands and counter demands, land and trading rights based on extremely detailed figures.

"How did you..? Why would they...?"

"I approached Kaliopis, because he has an adopted human son, "she paused and glanced at her face, and then continued quickly, "and he is willing to guarantee the terms, as long as my friend Ephiny, who has a Centaur son, or I, am ruler."

"So you think you can get me to kill Velasca, and preserve your blood innocence." Xena was disappointed again.

"No, my innocence isnít important. But breaking the cycle of violence is. I wonít begin my reign through killing. But if I managed to beat Velasca and then just banished her, she would only keep trying until she was successful. If you were my Champion..."

"She wouldnít need more than one lesson. I see. So, all this depends on me agreeing to help you. And Sorry! I wonít."

"You will if I can beat you in a fair fight." She finished the last of her stitches. "Youíre all set. Can we start now?"

Xena stood, towering over the smaller blonde, rolling her head around, flexing her shoulder blades. She realized it had not even occurred to her that the Amazon Princess might have tried to drug her to even the odds. "Why do you think you can beat me?"

"Because itís the only way this plan will work, and there is always a way if youíre willing to try."

"Always?" the dark woman mocked.

"Always."

"Well, sorry, youíve been talking to the wrong oracle. I know."

Gabrielle refused to respond and instead a staff was thrown at the warrior. Automatically she grabbed it, weighing it in her hands. The girl moved to a defensive stance, her chin set in a determined manner.

Xena shook her head. "Iím not going to fight you, little girl."

"You have to, everything depends on it."

"I donít know who or what you think I am, but I am no oneís champion. "

The girl move to strike, and was blocked. "Stop this!" The warrior demanded.

"Will you be my Champion?"

"No!"

There was another quick strike, changing to a feint, and Xena just barely caught it. Another quick blow struck her hip, and she began to take the offensive. There was a series of blocks, and Xena realized that the girl was quite good. She was making her short stature work for her somehow, and Xena became angry realizing that she had been caught up in the contest. They continued in silence for some time. Xena knew the Amazon techniques and training, watched for the pattern, and waited for the opening. When it came she was merciless and went for the knees and the girl fell with a cry of pain.

Staring down at the fallen Amazon she shouted in anger, "I am not a Champion. There is no destiny here. Some one or some God is just using you, amusing themselves. And I will kill you before I let myself be played again."

She lay on the ground; there were no tears, but the warrior could see she was fighting them.

"I canít... I will not yield."

"Do you really know what I was doing before you showed up?"

The girl pulled herself to her feet, using her staff.

"Yes." said quietly.

"Really."

"Hercules said that you had changed your path, but I thought..."

"WHAT did you think?" She reached out and roughly grasped the girl by her shoulder, fighting the voice in her that called to her.

"I thought, no, I knew, somehow, that you had been tired... for a long time. That Hercules had taken what little reason you had to keep on going, your anger and hatred..."

"And...?" Gabrielle looked deeply into the warriorís eyes.

"That you were empty, except for the realization of who you had become..."

"What do you know..." the girl was shoved back, the staff brought up again "...about What....I...Am" The blows lashed out, with each word. Hard merciless strikes that forced the young Amazon to her knees, despite her blocks.

There was a leap and a roll and the warrior landed behind her, and as Gabrielle spun around to defend herself, she was struck again on her arm and the crack of bone was heard. And a muffled scream.

The Warrior stood panting. "Now, Go Home! There are no Champions. Not here."

Somehow, drawing on pure will, the girl again struggled to her feet, the tears no longer held back.

Holding the staff along the length of her good arm she again took her stance.

"Youíve lost! Give this up!" There was pleading in the Warriorís tone.

"I canít lose, as long as I can stand," it was almost a recitation.

"Then Iíll break your legs, and Iíll leave you here to die." Gabrielle looked into the warriorís eyes and saw that it was a promise. She stood her ground.

The warrior was moving in to keep that promise. Somehow the girl still managed to defend, and Xena stopped again and demanded, "End this now."

"No! This isnít how itís supposed to be! This has to work, everyone depends on it, on me!"

"This...is how it IS!"

Xena found that she was almost near tears herself now. But she willed fire to return to her eyes, and moved to finally finish the girl off. "I am no oneís pawn. Never again. And No Oneís Champion!"

On the third blow the girl overbalanced and fell on her broken arm, crying out. But she somehow rolled in time to avoid the next strike, hitting Xena hard on the instep.

By now, Xenaís stitches had torn, and there was blood on Gabrielleís mouth, but the Amazon Princess stood again in her crouch and waited, her broken arm dangling uselessly.

"I will kill you..."

"Until then I will fight...."

There was hesitation, and for a moment their eyes, caught, and for that second there was a connection so strong, purer than either had ever experienced before, and reacting to it purely in fear, Xena shook her head and moved in screaming "Damn YOU!"

Gabrielle never saw the third strike.

The Warrior stood over the broken and unconscious girl. She had beaten the last temptation, she thought. But her soul began to cry.

Then you say, go slow
I fall behind.
The second hand unwinds....
-Cyndi Lauper

The Princess swam in pure pain, rolling over her for what seemed like an eternity. She came to consciousness several times only to slip again beneath the waves. Finally she opened her eyes and saw her best friend beside her. "Xena?"

Ephiny was at once holding her hand. "Is that who did this to you? She is a dead woman," she fumed.

"Most likely," Gabrielle lamented. She was afraid, but asked the question. "The Queen?"

Ephinyís eyes told her the answer.

"How long...?"

"Youíve been unconscious for three days. We found you on the boundary... we have been holding the pyre until you were conscious." Not stating the obvious, that many had wondered if that day would come.

"Take me to her."

Ephiny shook her head.

"Please, Ephiny, I must...tell her...."

The blonde Amazon never moved.

"Ephiny, I could order you, but I am begging you, please, I have to do this."

Shaking her head. the tall blonde called for two Amazons, and they carefully lifted their princesses bruised and broken body to the hut where the Amazon coffin lay waiting. Gabrielle pulled herself up on the bier, and gestured to them to leave.

Alone in the hut, she again tried to hold her tears, but with no success. She had to try to make her peace with the woman who had been both mother and queen.

"My Queen...You accepted me when no one else...When my own family rejected me. You gave me a place where I was whole for the first time in my life. You tried to teach me what I could become, and let me travel, and learn, and you gave me a home. And my sisters." There was a broken shudder. "You punished me, and loved me, and I wanted nothing more than to make you proud. And now...." She buried her face in her hands. "I am so sorry, Melosa, I was wrong. Sometimes there is no way, sometimes no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try...because I really tried, I swear I tried, but.. Iím so sorry, I failed you, myself, and most of all I failed Xena....and now, The Amazons will lose everything, and I have lost you, and now....I am so alone..."

She felt the presence before she turned. There had been no sound, but the harsh light from the doorway was blocked by an enormous black silhouette. Shock turned to exultation as she picked out the details of the dark shadow that had been listening, hurting with her, and finally making the choice. She looked into the pale blue eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness. And the firm voice that said only four words.

"Youíre not alone anymore."

If youíre lost
you can look
and you will find me.
Time after Time
If you fall I will catch you
I'll be waiting
Time after Time
Time after Time