by Bardz Life
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, et al are property of Renaissance Pictures, MCA, Universal and whoever else has the legal documentation to back up their claim. No infringement is intended. They are borrowed only.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER: This story is a rift story and takes place after Sacrifice II. There is subtext, very little of a graphic nature, and the hint of violence. This story could also be considered a Hurt/Comfort story. If any of this content makes you uncomfortable, please do not continue reading.
THANKS: To Stacey, for reading it, proofing it, giving me suggestions, and for supporting my efforts. I do think you are brilliant!
And to the Bard, herself, for popping in my head one fine morning and saying, "Listen very carefully I need you to write this down " What she told me lies here before you
I have been here many years. I have seen many pass through this land on their way to somewhere else, perhaps taking a brief respite beneath the trees or a wistful look back from whence they came. But this one
I don't understand her. This slip of a woman with a tumble of red-gold hair and eyes the color of spring fields, she stays here longer than any other ever has. She sits on the bank of the river, gazing at the trees, her face expressionless, her eyes deep and wizened. She sighs and begins to speak. To whom, I wonder. There is no one else near.
Choices It's all about choices
I understand that now in a way I never could before. I know that what went on here this last wheel of seasons had more to do with choices than just plain evil, though there was plenty of that, too.
It's funny, really. An excellent story if I were half the bard she thinks I am or thinks I was, actually
Everyone makes choices, every day, all day. Choices are like children-once born, they wander off with a life of their own. And it's so easy, so natural you can almost forget about them until that one tiny little choice you made sets off a chain reaction of events that rears and strikes like a deadly serpent.
A smile shimmering like the morning sun breaks across her face.
I chose to leave home and travel with Xena. I own that. It was selfish and immature and the best thing that ever happened to me. It seems a lifetime ago and me so young then and so cocky and so unrelentingly bored with my life. And she was everything and the sun and moon besides
I was happy to cast my lot with hers, happier still to see my life painted in uncertainties and adventures I had only ever dreamed of before.
And I suppose I could tell you that I had no choice in the matter when I fell in love with her, but the truth is, I knew exactly what I was doing. My soul had chosen it's mate and who was I to argue? I can't tell you the precise moment when I knew but I do know it was before Perdicus.
She shakes her head with amused sadness and looks down at the grass beneath her.
I married him to force the issue with Xena, to make her come after me, to stop me, to tell me once and for all that I was the one she loved and wanted and how dare I run off with some pasty, weak-willed boy anyway!
She never said any of those things, never stood in my way, never once gave me a hint of the heartbreak she has since told me she suffered. And Perdicus died for my sins
I will have to live with that razor-taloned choice forever.
A sultry smile--the likes of which I would not have expected on this woman's fresh, innocent face--lights her eyes with passion.
I know I didn't choose to make love with Xena that first time; I demanded it! Season after season of wanting her so badly that my skin burned every time she touched me
I was nearly insane with desire. We laugh now, remembering poor, innocent Ephiny and the queen who was ready to rip her eyes out simply for the benign gesture of resting a hand on Xena's forearm. The truth is I snapped. Completely-out-of-my-tree snapped!
Thank the gods my warrior could no longer protect me from the one thing I ached to surrender to her passion. Oh, she tried to be gentle with me that first time. So sweet and romantic, now that I look back on it. I was having none of that, let me tell you! I bit her-hard-the instant she entered me and that was that we caught a speeding chariot straight for Tartarus!
Her laughter ripples through the trees like a breeze. A tenderness rivaling that of any poet follows the laughter
Once bonded like that, I became a willing and receptive partner to her, able to take all that she could deliver and more. And she chose to be all mine.
She pauses, the light draining from her lovely face and eyes, the joy of her spirit darkening with heavy, dangerous clouds of despair. Her voice becomes rueful and filled with loathing.
So many choices have led me here
Xena's choice to defeat Caesar in that valley, my choice to follow her lead
You don't think I didn't see that there was something-well-creepy about Krafstar, do you? Do you really believe I could be with Xena that long and not know? I chose to ignore it. Yes, I did. Willingly and totally, I chose to ignore it.
Why? The reason is stupid, even for a bard. Xena and I had argued about Caesar and she was in one of her I'm-gonna-kill-whoever-I-want hazes. And I wanted to prove her wrong. Simple as that. She was going to kill Caesar and I was going to save Krafstar. She was going to feel guilty and I was going to feel holier-than-she. So I ignored the little doubts that made the hair on my arms and neck stand up whenever he came near me. I ignored the convenience of his stories and pleas. And I paid for my choice with my blood innocence and my soul.
Ah, such pain! She tries to shut it out but its stain brings the spring fields of her eyes to the cold, empty desolation of winter.
I don't know which was worse, truthfully. Having that blood on my hands or Dahak's total violation of my body and soul when he raped me. I wanted to die right then. I wanted total oblivion. Oh, how I wished that bastard had killed me instead! But he didn't.
He gave me Hope.
Now bitterness. Like an acid.
Let me tell you something about choices: when one rears and strikes with it's deadly venom, others smell the blood and join the frenzy! How easy was it for me to ignore Krafstar's evil? Not as easy as it was to ignore the evil of my own demon-child.
Hope. So named by my insolence and delusion. Hope. What a joke!
The question will always be "But when did you know Hope was evil?" And the answer will always be "From the moment the Banshees came to my side." I chose to hide from it, believing my goodness, my heart would protect us both! There was never any speck of goodness in that child. Never one. I could not will it to be so, though I tried!
Her voice rises, pleading, but only for an instant
I wanted her to be good! I wanted her to succeed me as queen of the Amazons when I was old and gray! I wanted to watch Xena cradle her in her arms and sing her to sleep! I wanted her to give me the reason to keep on living after my life had been torn apart
then, resigned again, she looks at her hands as if they had done the quietly revealed deed.
She strangled that warrior. I knew she did. Let's face it, how many armed men die of strangulation by their own amulets? I wasn't blind or stupid. I just wanted something that could never be.
After that, the lie came so easily I actually believed it myself. I saw that child dashed on the rocks below me. I saw that was how it should have been.
Here is sadness again. Bone deep.
That lie. That ugly little lie.
I wonder sometimes what the path would have looked like if I hadn't lied, if I had let Xena kill Hope when she was young and weak. There is a veil that hides that path from my view. Maybe that means I could only make one choice. I don't know.
I truly thought that someone, somewhere, with more goodness and righteousness in his soul than I, would find that basket in the water and
Well, that was one of my dreams for her.
I tell you honestly, I also thought she might drown, saving Xena and me from having to take her life.
What can I tell you after that? I was numb and filled with hate for everything and everyone. I wanted to punish someone, to make someone hurt like I did. And I chose Xena for that, too.
Anger swells in her like the tide. She balls her fists in her lap, her face twisted.
Damned choices! Once you choose badly, it is so hard to undo what you have done! It is so hard to find your way out of the maze! And when you can lie to the one you love more than anything, you find you can lie to yourself just as easily.
I actually told her I thought I was doing the right thing by turning her in to Ming-Tien. The right thing?! What was right about bargaining with Ares?! What was right about turning the woman I loved over to a heartless tyrant?!
Choosing to do these things had nothing whatsoever to do with what was right! It had to do with pain and loathing and fear and sorrow and vengeance.
And I knew--I KNEW she had killed Ming-Tien. Her battle-scent rose off her skin like a perfume! Every particle of her being told me what she had done! She thinks she lied to me, but I knew the instant it was done. I was a bard, for Zeus' sake! It is my JOB to notice these things!
Her anger melts away and she sighs. She gazes off into the distance, her eyes dancing with memories of a healing time.
I have to remind myself, sometimes, that we're beyond all that pain and hatred now. That she has forgiven me my choices and I have forgiven her hers and that Solon brought us together again
An infinite sorrow winds slowly around her, choking her voice, crushing the breath out of her. In a strangled whisper, she continues
I wish so much could have been different for him. I wish he could have known Xena was his mother before-before my daughter murdered him. I wish he had grown up and given Xena grandbabies
I don't hold Hope responsible for his death, though. That was my fault.
She surges up off the grass in a flash, wrapping her arms around herself, pacing back and forth like a hunted creature. The tide of her anger becomes a gale-force rage at herself. She stops suddenly, tilting her head up to the darkening sky.
IT WAS MY FAULT!!
The echoes of her scream accuse her over and over. She begins pacing in tight circles, hot tears coursing down her face.
It was my fault!
Deep down, I knew Hope was lying to me! Deep down, I knew she was using me! And I sent her right to him!
I wanted her to see, somehow, that there was another path for her! I wanted her to look into that sweet boy's face and realize she could be good like him! I wanted her to prove herself to Xena! I wanted her to prove herself to ME!!
She stops and raises her arms to the sky, shrieking
DAMN YOU, HOPE! WHY DIDN'T YOU KILL ME INSTEAD?!!
Her sobs drive her to her knees. She cries for a long time, cleansing the last corners of her soul with tears she does not yet realize are healing.
I can't find my way across this guilt. More than anything else, more than saving Xena or taking responsibility for not killing Hope the instant she drew breath, Solon's death is the reason I pulled my demon-child into that pit of fire.
She slumps down onto the grass, weary and drained. Her eyes are empty and her voice is quiet. Tears dry on her cheeks, unheeded. A strange calm envelops her.
So here I sit on the banks of the River Styx. I cannot cross over until I choose because the gods, in their infinite wisdom, have given me another chance, and with it, another blasted choice. Penelope and Hermes both met me at the gate. Hermes had a message from Artemis.
She recites the brief rhyme handed to her when she first arrived.
what you will do.
Turn from the gate
and return to your love
or pass through,
She considers the message one last time. Softly, she admits her fears.
So I sit here and have been sitting here for days it seems. I can't choose. You would think it would be an easy choice, wouldn't you? You would think there would be no question in my mind. But I am so damn tired of this game! Choice after choice after choice and I never know which is the one that will grow fangs or draw blood!
I sense the presence of another and I welcome his spirit to this glade. His voice is gentle and wise.
The woman rises and turns this way and that, searching for the source of the sound.
Who--? Solon? Solon, it's me, Gabrielle! Your mother is alive! I took her place!
You were my mother, too, Gabrielle. In spirit if not in body. You have not made your choice. Why do you delay?
Gabrielle faces the sky above her, her voice plaintive where Solon's is musical.
I-I don't-I'm afraid! What if I had killed Hope in the beginning? You would still be alive! What if I hadn't ever met Xena? None of this would have happened!
Had you and Mother never met, she would have been stoned to death in Amphipolis and I would never have met her. I was on a dark path when you brought her to me. You changed my world.
I killed you! I sent Hope straight to you! You died because of me!
You sought your child's redemption, not my death. The fault lies with Hope and her father. With Callisto and her twisted need for vengeance. You believe your choices were wrong? Your heart should know otherwise. If Hope had found the good in us, how much light would she have brought to this world in your name?
Gabrielle shakes her head, denying his words.
But she didn't find the good in us. She-she-
She made her own choices, Gabrielle. You sent the Hope of your heart into that haven. The Hope of Dahak's evil murdered us both.
Do you not see that even now Hope drives a wedge between you and Mother? My mother lies sobbing in her camp outside the ruin of Dahak's temple. She destroyed Callisto with the hind's blood dagger. She sat for two days by the side of the fire pit, calling your name. Then she tore down every stone and every pillar in the temple with her bare hands. She tries to honor her promise not to become a monster but her soul is crushed and her heart is broken. She will soon make a choice of her own.
Panic overwhelms Gabrielle's soul.
What choice? Solon, tell me! What choice?!
While you sit here, Mother sharpens her sword. No good can come to her without your light. Your love brought her to my side, Gabrielle. Let my love bring you to hers
The bard cries out, her arms outstretched to Solon's light.
Gods, yes! I make my choice! Take me to her, Solon! I choose Xena!
The little bard struggled in her bedroll, her cries heart-wrenchingly desperate. Xena, awake keeping vigil over her love lest she slip away from her again, quickly gathered Gabrielle into her arms, soothing her with whispered nonsense words. She hoped the nightmare would pass quickly.
It had been almost seven days since the beautiful bard had walked out of the woods behind Xena's camp, stopping the grief-stricken warrior from falling on her own sword. Gabrielle still couldn't explain where she had been or what had happened. The raven-haired warrior suspected the answers lay in the bard-queen's dreams but the only hint those dreams afforded was Gabrielle's cries of, "I choose Xena! I choose Xena!"
Xena kissed Gabrielle's fair head and nuzzled her, catching the wild scent of her hair. She touched soft skin with tender lips, savoring the act, fully aware how close she had come to losing that simple privilege for all time.
She smiled and tightened her arms around the becalmed woman, her curiosity forgotten.
Gabrielle was home. She was home with Xena. Forever.
And deep down, Xena knew that was all she really needed to know.
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