~ Dyo Zoi ~
by Destacain

Disclaimer: See Part One.

Part 4

Ares inhaled deeply. The thick scent blanketed his senses in a wanton manner. It was in the air. He could sense it. He could feel it. Victory.
A victory against the Amazons was fast at hand. Today was when it would all happen. Today he would attack the amazons. Today he would be victorious. Today, I win!
His army was operating at full capacity. All together, he was commanding a force of around six-hundred men. He had originally planned for more, but it wasn't going to be a problem. The army he had raised and trained was one of the best operating he had ever had.
Each man was a trained killing machine, desperate for a taste of glory. They were well armed and well educated. Plus, they had acquired an innate sense of blood lust. Of course, courtesy of the God of War.
Ares had become quite the little chef, adding a special ingredient to enhance the men's inner fires.
At first, the plan had backfired. The men were so testosterone filled, that they found any and every excuse to fight. Starting many fights to the death, both on and off the battle field. At that rate, Ares would lose all his soldiers before they went to war.
Ares found the only anecdote to be further training. The stricter and more intensive their regimen become, the more they were able to focus their rage. Focused men are very dangerous. Highly specialized, focused men are deadly.
Yes, victory will be mine. Watch out Blondie. Ares had abandoned any pretenses that this wasn't about Gabrielle. On the contrary, it was all about her. Her and Xena. He was fighting a personal battle.
His first reasons were for strategic purposes. Eliminate the competition, you're the immediate winner. Ares was well aware, and obviously pleased by Xena and Gabrielle prolonged separation. But, even a distant Gabrielle, was still a threat. He knew, if given a chance, Xena would run back to her bard, faster then he could say Aphrodite. Xena just needed even the appearance of a chance with Gabrielle to return….begging. It's pathetic.
Although Ares was unsure who was sadder, Xena for the way she would return to the bard. Or, the fact that, in regards to her, he would do the same thing.
Ares had to have Gabrielle out of the way. Without her and her damn way, Ares believed he truly held a shot with the Warrior Princess.
Secondly, Ares wanted to win. He wanted to be the best. He wanted to prove that he was the better man…or woman…person….whatever. He wanted to beat the little bard. Call it testosterone, or chauvinism, it didn't matter. Ares needed to be the victor. And he intended to be so.
As he looked over his army, poised for attack. He felt nothing but an overwhelming inebriation of pride, on both accounts. Pride in his mass of well trained muscle. And, of course, pride in himself for being able to raise such an awesome accumulation of killing machines.
I still got it, he thought smugly. Well, I think I still got it….only one way to find out for sure.

"Xena?!" Gabrielle gasped, astonished. There before her, stood Xena, her Xena.
All the Amazons turned to the back to see the cause of such commotion. Another series of gasps followed as they realized the source of the objection.
Normally, Xena would have basked in the awe and attention she had caused, but she honestly was not aware of it. She couldn't hear the loud whispers of contempt from the guests. She couldn't see the bizarre mixture of disgust and amazement of their faces. She couldn't feel the chaos of the entire situation. And, she did not see the open look of complete dismay and rage displayed on Varia face. For Xena was lost in a sea of green.
Gabrielle and Xena's eyes locked for a special moment in time. Everything else faded away. It was only them. Two soul mates rejoined. The shear magnitude was overpowering. Blue encompassed green as they stood, to overwhelmed to do anything but look at each other, love shining brightly within both.
Xena was overtaken by the vision in front of her. Gabrielle truly looked the part of the most beautiful woman in the world, even without love's eyes. Seeing her after so long, it was too much. Xena's eyes began to tear up at the thought, this is what I've been missing.
For months, while I was away, this is what I've been missing.
The wound caused by sorrow and guilt from her actions reopened and her soul bleed with renewed fury.
Gabrielle, herself, was at a loss. The sight of Xena left the bard breathless. It had been so long, and here she finally was. She's actually here.
Gabrielle knew she should be angry, she knew she should be upset, and at some levels she was. She also couldn't fight the all encompassing feelings of love that resurfaced after lying dormant for so long. Her mind and her heart were at a state of chaos.
The bard broke the tender gaze for a moment and gave herself a quick second to let herself process the all too recent events. Xena is here. Questions flooded her mind. Do I kiss her or do I kill her?
Green eyes, again, looked up and made a perfect connection with blue. For a moment, there was nothing else. No anger, no hurt, no fear; just Xena and Gabrielle. The separation, the wounds, the betrayal, the pain; none of it mattered. Only one fact was evident in the blonde queen's mind: Xena was here.
For a moment, all else was secondary. Gabrielle soul cried out for Xena's nearness.
Xena's fear subsided, defeated by the innate need to be closer. Closer to Gabrielle.
At the exact same moment, both women rushed into a light sprint, meeting each other in the center of all the on going anarchy. They stood inches apart, speaking to each other through their eyes. There was no fear or apprehension, only need. And they lost themselves to it.
Xena urgently swept the bard into her arms holding her tightly, trying to transfer all the love she felt into Gabrielle. The bard, in turn, reciprocated. Wrapping her arms tightly around Xena's neck. So tightly, if Xena hadn't been so lost in the sensation, she would have felt almost strangled. But it didn't matter, nothing did.
There was nothing else.
Only Xena and Gabrielle.
For a seeming eternity, the two clung to each other. Each hopelessly oblivious to anything else but each other. But as the contact continued, their senses slowly returned.
Xena's feelings of apprehension returned. She quickly began to doubt her actions in hugging the bard. She feared she had forced the bard into the embrace and was weary to face Gabrielle. Her arms loosed slightly, affording Gabrielle the opportunity to back away.
Gabrielle became more and more aware of herself and what she was doing. In her heart, nothing felt more right the holding so tightly on to Xena. But her mind screamed of Xena's hurt and betrayal. If only….If only it was small enough to ignore….If only she had not destroyed practically everything….If only I could just forgive her….If only. The words echoed in Gabrielle mind.
Do I kiss her or do I kill her? The question presented itself again.
The anger overtook the bard and the answer was apparent. Kill her! Gabrielle felt Xena's arms loosen and quickly stepped out of the embrace. Without thinking she reacted violently.
Gabrielle brought back her hand and swiftly slapped Xena across the face.
The action had been a reaction. One which Gabrielle was not fully aware of until after it occurred. She looked up stunned, realizing the truth of what she had just done. She felt many things, but regret was not one of them. No, Xena had deserved that. Gabrielle's body quickly crinched, half expecting retaliation.
Xena's blue orbs stood wide in shock, on two accounts.
She was openly stunned. Not since their first year together, had the bard used true physical violence towards Xena. And even then, it was for a greater good. Gabrielle had never acted out in such a manner of anger. Xena was deeply wounded that she inspired such hate and violence from the benevolent woman.
Xena was also equally astonished and disgusted by Gabrielle's reaction after the blow. She had stepped back and her whole body curled up as if on the defensive. The true realization hit the warrior like a thunderbolt from Zeus. It rose up her spine, and sent the hairs on her neck on edge. She thinks I'm going to hit her back. By the gods, she things I'll hit her back.
That things had strained so far between them that it had reduced to this. Xena felt physically ill. Is that how Gabrielle truly felt? She must think I'm a monster. A slow tear trickled down Xena cheek. Making a trail down her face.
I am a monster.
Gabrielle realized that she was not going to be hit back, and was immediately embarrassed at her reaction. She saw the hurt in Xena's eyes and was ashamed of herself. Xena may have done many things to her, hurt her, betrayed her, but she was still Xena. She was still her soul mate.
The tear slid gradually down Xena's cheek. Gabrielle's rage, for a moment, subsided. And she was faced by the unsettling vision of Xena. The woman she loved in an incredible amount of pain.
Her heart pleaded to comfort the Warrior Princess, while her mind protested, spouting examples of her own hurt. But, Gabrielle strength lie in her heart, it always had. And, it eventually won out.
The bard tenitively reached a delicate finger to Xena's cheek and stopped the tears path. She held her finger there for a prolonged moment, and once again, their eyes met.
Xena had been startled by Gabrielle's actions of comfort, but it warmed her soul. Maybe I'm not a complete monster. Xena looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes and saw a profound tenderness as she had never known.
She still loves me.
The thought physically blew Xena back and she stepped away from the touch, instantly regretting the loss of contact. And although the physicality had been broken, their eyes still were deeply engaged.
They stayed this way, undisturbed, for several moments when suddenly a loud noise sounded through the air.
The moment was broken, and reality returned.
"What is that?" Xena asked absent mindedly.
"AMAZONS!" A voice shouted from the back. "ATTACK!"
Ares men ascended upon the Amazons like a swarm of locus.
He couldn't have planned it better himself. Inadvertently they had attacked the Amazons at a weakened state. All were attending the wedding, and were neither dressed nor prepared .
True, no Amazons went anywhere without a few of the essentials. Most had their swords, boot knifes, and a spare breast dagger here and there. But war requires a certain mentality about one, a state of mind. A clear focus. Being surprised threw the enemy off balance and made them easier targets.
Ares confident smirk grew to a victorious grin. Oh yeh baby, I'm gonna win.
Gabrielle and Xena turned to face the impending army.
"Ares." Gabrielle muttered, disgusted, under her breath.
"What?" Xena questioned, confused.
"It's Ares, he's attacking the Amazons."
Xena's mind reeled. Ares had promised to end the impending war, now he was attacking the Amazons himself.
"That bastard." He'll pay!
Xena reached behind her back for her sword and prepared for the attack. Gabrielle opted for a more familiar practice staff that was thrown to her on command, by one of the Amazons.
There they stood, back to back, ready to face an entire army……together.
Ares commanded his troops with great arrogance.
"Marmax, you take your legion around the back. Aaron, you take yours and head up the front." They both nodded and charged off.
"The rest of you, follow me. We shall venture upon the middle. We'll give them a fight they won't be able to win. And, before the sun has set, I want every man's hands to be coated in the blood of those Amazon bitches!" Ares yelled to the crowd of blood thirsty soldiers as they charged.
Ares eyes glistened in battle lust and he silently smiled.
"Gabrielle.….I'm coming" he hummed.
Just then his godlike abilities detected a sound which both enticed and enraged him.
There was only one person in the world who could claim that battle cry. One person in the world who could set his body aflame.
It was Xena.
The battle ensued.
Clinging of metals and scrapes of skin could be heard throughout the village. It was an evenly matched battle. Not quite the easy victory Ares had hoped for.
An arrogant soldier raced towards Xena, and she dispatched him with ease. Xena eyes had misted over into a haze. She was in battle and her demeanor, her focus, reflected so. She was no longer Xena, she was the Warrior Princess.
Another man charged at Gabrielle, his overconfidence highly evident. Seeing the little blond with a stick, they all expected an easy target.
They were wrong.
Through the past few months of continual sparring, she had become an expert in the ways of the staff. Fighting these soldiers, defeating them, and doing so without any killing, it felt right. It felt good. It was as if all the questioning had been answered.
Although she loved her Sais and was quiet skilled with them, they required an element of her that she now knew she was incapable of using. They required a blood lust and a killing instinct that she thought she could deal with, that she thought she had….but she didn't.
Gabrielle had realized that she was not a killer, she couldn't be. The staff felt so right as she continued to ward off her opponents with added fury.
The sound of cracking bones perked Xena's ears. Although her focus remained, her haze was broken. She turned her head to see the source of the noise and she saw a vision. Gabrielle, her Gabrielle. Gabrielle swinging her staff, protecting her, fighting side by side ….with me. It was as if nothing had ever happened, as if everything was ok. It felt incredible and a smile rose upon Xena's face
But, that smile quickly disappeared as Xena's eyes rose to the horizon. There he stood, with an arrogant smile and his cocky demeanor.
"Ares!" Xena yelled out in anger. Ares' smile grew into disconcerting laughter. It was like gasoline to Xena's fire.
The warrior ran off towards the God of War, taking out several of his soldiers on the way. Her legs didn't carry her fast enough for her rage. So, Xena vaulted into the air, flipping several times before landing only several inches away from Ares.
Close enough so he could feel the disgust permeating throughout her body.
"Honey, welcome home!" He smiled, bring a sword blow done on the warrior.
Xena easily blocked it and pushed back his sword with pure anger.
"Ares, you bastard. Why are you here?"
"Why war of course!" The attack continued. They fought back and forth. It was an even draw. Neither gaining the upper hand.
Ares had his godhood to his advantage, but Xena was harboring rage. A LOT of rage. The battle continued on. Xena 's focus was constantly wavering, her eyes wandering back to Gabrielle.
Making sure she's safe, making sure she was ok. Ares sensed her lack of focus and was perturbed. Not even in battle, could she be completely focused on him.
"Well well, too many distractions here. Lets go someplace where we can have a little more fun."
The God reached over and entrapped Xena's wrist, leaving her unable to escape. The warrior struggled under his grasp.
Gabrielle, too, had a wavering consciousness of the battle. She constantly let her eyes upon Xena. She was completely worried. She knew anything with Xena and Ares was not good news.
She gasped as Ares grasped Xena's arm and Gabrielle body reacted as if trying to pull the warrior back.
As the light encompassed the two upon the hill, complete terror filled Gabrielle's eyes.
It took Xena a moment to become fully aware of her surroundings. They were all too familiar.
The Halls of War.
"Ares, why did you bring me here?"
"Well now my dear, I couldn't have you be distracted by little Gabrielle now. This is just us. "
Xena was infuriated. She thrust her sword to Ares side. He quickly stepped back, parrying the move.
"There it is! There's that fire I've been missing! Now bring it on!"
They fought and fought for some time. Neither gaining true ground. Ares became more and more pleased while Xena became more and more worried. She had no way of securing Gabrielle's safety and there was no way to tell how long this little battle would continue on.
Ares made a powerful strike, arcing over Xena's head. The warrior raised her sword just in time to thwart the decapitating move. They held their swords there, in a silent battle of strength, for several moments.
Then, Xena kicked a surprised Ares back, knocking his sword for within his grasp. After recovering from the blow, Ares stood up and ran for the sword. It was only inches away. He reached his hand to grab it, but Xena beat him to it, landing a sturdy boot on top of the sword. Ares backed away, trying to hide his embarrassment.
Xena poised for another attack.
"Hit a man without his sword? Xena, you don't fight fair."
"No Ares, I don't wanna fight at all."
"Xena Xena. I haven't seen you in months, don't you disappoint me!"
"Oh, I'll do more then that. You promised me Ares. You swore on Aphrodite's life not to attack the Amazons."
"Oh no no no. I swore to stop the war that was about to happen. I never said I wouldn't attack them."
"Details, Ares. Details." Xena exclaimed angrily.
"Exactly Xena. And it's those details that have stopped me from breaking my promise."
"Ares I'm not going allow you to do this based on a minor technicality."
"Oh, but Xena, I will do this on a minor technicality. Watch me. The true question is, what are you gonna do about it?"
Xena rage fumed as she took another shot at Ares. She was in flames with fury. Mostly caused by her own inadequacies. In truth, there was nothing she could do. Of course, to any intelligent person, it was obvious Ares was at fault. But, officially, he was still within his means.
Ares beamed as Xena renewed her fight. That fire, that anger, that lust…..it was everything! He was both excited and aroused. His senses alert to Xena's next move. What was she gonna do? The warrior was a master strategist and Ares reveled in anticipation of the next move.
Xena's mind began racing, looking for an answer. How can I stop this? Xena took in account an estimation of her enemy. Of course, Ares weakness was a daunting task. He was a god, therefore he had few.
There was his unwavering arrogance, but that wouldn't be able to be taken advantage of. Even with that trait, he was a God. And although Xena could use that to her advantage in battle, she couldn't kill the enemy. So the knowledge, in this scenario, was useless.
There was herself. Xena was Ares' one true weakness. He had some perverse obsession with her that Xena neither wanted nor needed to examine. She simply accepted it. Xena knew she could offer herself to Ares in exchange for the safety of Amazons and of Gabrielle. But, deep down, she knew it would be an empty promise on both ends and would never last.
NO, in order to win this I have to go above Ares. But what would stop the God of War? Xena pondered the idea for several moments before reaching a conclusion. Fear! Ares, deep down, was yellow inside. If he felt sincerely threatened, he'd back away.
So what is a god afraid of? The usual roots of fear were out. Death, pain, money, those didn't apply to Ares. Well, he fears loss of followers, but I can't stop people from Ares. Well, at least not enough so he'd be hurting. No, I need something bigger…..or someone.
The Fates.

That was it. The Fates would listen to Xena's plea. They were reasonable women and would consider her plight. And Xena knew, for a fact, that Ares feared them.
"Ares you better stop now."
"Oh really?" Ares said with amusement. " And what are you gonna do?"
"I'll go to The Fates, Ares. They'll listen to me."
"And why would they do that? You know the rules. Xena, technically I didn't break my word."
"Oh yes, technically." Xena began with annoyance. " Well, Ares, anyone with a brain can see that you broke your word. And technically, The Fates are indebted to me."
"Why's that?" He asked, skittish.
"Well, because, technically they kinda owe me…their lives. Because, technically, during the twilight, I left them alone."
Ares' eyes grew wide at her words.
"Trust me Ares, I've spoke them. They are more then willing to grant me an audience with an appreciative ear. I go there, they'll believe me, and then both Aphrodite and I will have our vengeance."
The God of War took a moment to absorb Xena's words. Then, instead of the look of anger and defeat Xena had expected, he graced her with a wide mouthed grin. Ares began a wild show of applause.
"Bravo, bravo Xena. You know, I don't know why I ever doubt you. Absolutely brilliant. You've still got it!"
"I'll always have it, Ares."
"Oh I know, that just makes me want you all the more."
"Pervert!" Xena exclaimed, repulsed.
"Ares, stop this war. Don't make me go to The Fates." Xena warned.
"Alright already. Calm down. Geez, one little step towards the bard and you all hot and bothered. " Ares ranted, raising his hand in the air. A loud thunder echoed through the Halls and a light filled the room.
"Is it done?"
"Yes, it's done."
"I don't believe you." Xena said honestly.
"I'm hurt!"
"No you're not."
"You're right." Ares said, again amused. Although he was upset to be without his war, he was elated that Xena had not disappointed.
She never did.
Xena gave a look of innate impatience, which Ares quickly detected.
"Fine, if you don't believe me, go see for yourself. Ares snapped his fingers and a horse appeared.
Xena quickly mounted and rode off towards the Amazons
Another man fell to the bard's staff as Gabrielle continued her attacks. However, the army seemed to be never ending. They continued to swarm up on the Amazons.
The battle continued on without a clear victor. Both sides fought with admirable skill and persistence making them evenly matched.
Sweat coated the bard's brow as she battled away, her resolve slowly weakening. Two soldiers attacked Gabrielle at the same time, but she was able to hold them off on her own. A third and fourth joined the two, leaving Gabrielle hopelessly outnumbered.
Still, she fought on, holding them back. Suddenly one of the soldiers made a sharp hit to her knees, knocking her down while the other gave her a swift slap across the face. The third man kicked the staff out of the bard's hands, leaving her completely defenseless. With soldiers surrounding her, Gabrielle was without the ability to flee.
Gabrielle looked up into the soldier's eyes, knowing there was no escape. This was to be her destiny. Well, at least I died honorably …..for the greater good. At least I got to see her one last time.
The bard closed her eyes in silent acceptance. Good bye Xena, I love you. The bard thought one last time as she heard the arcing of the man's sword.
Gabrielle waited for fate to take its course. She waited for her destiny.
…and waited….and waited…..
A flash of light clouded the air. Then, a thick blanket of silence loomed above the battle. Gabrielle slowly peaked open her eyes to see the disturbance. She was met with a sword , only several inches away from her throat.
The bard looked up to her assailant, who held a cold blank look upon his eyes. Gabrielle looked around to see that all of Ares' soldiers held a similar look. Held in mid stride, blankly staring into space.
Then, without warning, they began to pull back. The men rejoined into their legion formation and unexplainably march away, leaving several hundred confused Amazons.
Gabrielle searched the horizon, looking for the silhouette of a certain Warrior Princess, but she was no where in sight. She did, however, meet with Varia's eyes. The woman walked over towards her.
"What happened here?" Gabrielle asked, confused.
"I have no idea." Varia answered in matched bewilderment.
"Do you think it's a trap?"
"Judging by the look in their eyes, I doubt it. For some odd reason, Ares must have stopped 'em."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, and with an arrogant grin, turned to Varia.
"Oh no, Xena must have stopped them."
Xena rode at a vicious pace. She needed to know if Gabrielle was ok.
The mare easily bended to her whim, but could not give her the speed of Argo. But, Argo was long gone, Xena would have to make due.
Rain began to fall, but the warrior felt none. She couldn't feel anything, not until she knew that Gabrielle was safe.
The ride gave her time for much needed reflection. She was able to examine Gabrielle's actions. Her mixed reception had left her somewhat puzzled. First Gabrielle had embraced her as Xena had prayed she would. It had seemed as if all her dreams were coming true. But, then she had pulled away and slapped her.
To inspire such rage within her soul mate, it scared Xena. The only other times when Gabrielle had wantonly resorted to physical violence with Xena was in times of dire necessity to stop the warrior from hurting others. Never had she struck out in such rage.
The action deadened Xena's hopes of almost any reconciliation or reunion.
The Warrior Princess reached Amazonia in record time. The battle field had been long deserted. The only inhabitants were bodies that had long fallen to the enemies sword. Xena scanned the remains for the bard, but thankfully found none.
She mounted again and raced off towards the village. Upon entering, her stomach began to churn with the sickening familiarity of it all. Xena couldn't help but recall her last stay in the village, and the chaos it had caused.
Xena released the mare and headed off towards the healers hut. Upon entering it, she found it empty. Her illness only deepened in the place where she'd last seen Gabrielle. Where she had said goodbye. It was as if the scab formed by months of separation had been ripped off, and the wound bled anew.
Walking over and kneeling by the bed, Xena placed her hand on the pillow where Gabrielle once rested. Quaintly sentimental surely, but oddly comforting. Suddenly, Xena's hearing perked up to footsteps behind her.
She slowly reached behind to her sword, preparing to turn on her attacker. The presence entered the room without hesitation. On cue, Xena unsheathed her sword, pointing it at her assailant.
Once recognizing the other presence, Xena still held the sword steady.
"Varia, so nice to see you again. I heard you coming a hundred paces back. You're getting sloppy."
"Xena, I was able to easy follow you from a hundred paces back. You're getting sloppy." Varia said, matching her wit.
"So how'd you do it Xena?"
"Do what?" Xena asked angrily.
"Well, stop Ares of course. Did you give him another wild roll in the hay?"
Xena inwardly flinched at her words. So she did see me. The sting of the reminder of her own personal betrayal was almost too much. I wonder if she told Gabrielle. Gods, please say she didn't.
"Ares made me a promise, I came back to make sure he stuck to it."
"Fine, you stopped the war. Good for you. Now, leave." Varia said angrily.
"Such a warm welcome, Varia. I'm touched. But there is no way I'm leaving before I see Gabrielle." Xena voiced sternly.
"She doesn't want to see you Xena. "
"I'll let her decide that. I need to no she's ok."
"She is. Without you, she's been just fine."
The words cut her deeply. Not just because of their venom, but because of their truth. And although she was hurting, it would not distract her from her mission.
"I'll have to see about that for myself." Xena said, brushing past Varia and walking out of the hut.
"Gabrielle, where are you?" Xena asked under her breath.
Gabrielle sat outside her hut in quiet contemplation.
As she looked up into the sky, she saw night quickly approaching. The blackness that was coating the sky was like the blanket of uncertainty enveloping her soul.
The bard had never been so confused in her life. She was at a crossroads without a map.
She tried to calmly deduct the happening of today. But only one fact mattered, Xena was here. Everything after that was trivial. Everything after that was innately complicated. Gabrielle didn't know what to feel or where to go.
Over the past few months, she had accustomed herself to a life without Xena. A life she sadly accepted, but had gotten used to. She had proved to herself that she could live, even be happy without the Warrior Princess.
She had found friends. She had found respect. She had even found companionship. And all of this without Xena. Gabrielle had truly come into her own.
Now, with Xena here all of that was destroyed. She couldn't pretend that everything was ok anymore. Without the warrior, she was able to maintain a steady façade of normality, but now, that would be impossible.
It would be so easy to forget everything. So easy to go back to the life that she once had. Everything would be as it should be. But the bard knew she could not be that easy to forgive and forget. The wound Xena had created was so deep.
Accepting Xena back into her life meant accepting the chance that it could happen again. The indifference, the pain, the betrayal. It could all happen again. Gabrielle knew she wasn't strong enough to survive the same devastation twice.
But, life without Xena, now, was unthinkable. Now knowing that the warrior was within her grasp, it was too much to deny.
Gabrielle shook her head in indecision. She looked up on the appearing stars with wonder. They're so beautiful. The simplicity of it cried out to her soul. She yearned for it.
"Why can't it be that simple?"
"Because nothing worth having ever is." A sincere voice answered from the back.
Gabrielle spun around in surprise to face her intruder.
"Hey sweet pea." The Goddess said in a thoughtful tone.
"Aphrodite." The bard acknowledged with a genuine happiness. Gabrielle turned and embraced her in a hug.
Aphrodite was both heartened and dismayed by the action. Her heart lifted at the idea that the bard still felt for her. But the substitution of a hug instead of their customary shared kiss was duly noted. Aphrodite knew the time had come I have to let her go.
"I'm so glad you're here. I've missed you."
"I've missed you too, Gabby."
An awkward silence loomed in the air. Neither knowing what to say next. Both dreading what they must say next.
"She's back, you know."
"I know." Aphrodite admitted, sadly. "I brought her here."
"What?!" Gabrielle asked, with a slight tone of anger.
"I brought her here to save you. She's the only one who can truly deal with my brother. Please, I can't take your anger."
"I'm not …" She let out a long breath. "I'm not angry with you. I'm just a little….I don't know….off balance. I'm so confused right now. I don't know what to feel."
It broke Aphrodite's heart to see the woman she loved enwrapped in such turmoil, especially one she'd played a part in creating. The only thing she could offer was an opened ear.
"Do you wanna talk about it Gab?"
"Do you wanna hear about it?"
"Of course little one. Of course."
"I don't know what to do. I mean, half of me knows that Xena is the other part of my soul."
Her honest words unwittingly slashed Aphrodite's heart. But even Aphrodite could not deny the truth of the statement.
"That part of me wants to just wrap Xena in my arms and forget everything. That part wants to continue our travels together and be happy. And, I think I could be."
"But?" Aphrodite asked hedgingly.
"But, the other part speaks of her betrayal. It screams of the way she hurt me, and I can't ignore that. And I can't forget that. I've never hurt so much in my life and I'm terrified of letting happen again. I also think of how I've been the past few months."
"I found out that there is life without Xena. That I can be somebody, I can be respected, and I can help people without her."
"I don 't know what to do." The bard said hopelessly.
Aphrodite identified with her plight, but didn't have the words. She couldn't give Gabrielle the answers she so desperately desired. But, she feared the conclusions the bard would draw.
"Gabrielle, what will make you happy? That is the most important thing. Don't think about Xena, or the Amazons, or …..me. What makes you happy?"
Xena, Gabrielle thought to herself. But, she knew that wasn't the answer.
"I don't know." The bard said, threatening tears.
Aphrodite witnessed her begin to fall apart and moved to Gabrielle's side, placing a liberal arm around the bard. Gabrielle accepted it for she craved the intimacy.
But they both knew it couldn't last for long.
"Aphrodite, this can't go on any longer."
"I know." The Goddess accepted, her eyes beginning to mist.
"This…us….it just added confusion to chaos. And I can't handle it anymore. I can't deal with it. I'm sorry." Gabrielle said through tears.
Aphrodite had long since stopped trying to hide her pain. Gabrielle words were like a knife thorough her heart. She had expected her to say something to that effect, but still. Actually hearing it hurt all the more.
"Gabrielle, I'm not going to pretend like that doesn't rip me apart inside. I'm not going to hide the fact that my heart is breaking. I can't."
"I'm so sor…"
"Don't." Aphrodite interrupted. "Don't apologize. Please. Apologizing implies regret and I don't want either of us to regret anything that happened. Gabrielle, I knew anytime I spent with you was borrowed time. I knew Xena was your soul mate. I knew you two were meant to be together."
"But, I could have never forgiven myself if I didn't give us a chance. And I am so thankful for the past few months that we've had together. They were truly special and I'll keep them with me forever."
"Me too 'Dite. I don't regret anything. You have been so strong for me. I have been happy and I feel privileged that we did have this time together. I would never take it back."
"I love you Gabrielle."
"I love you too Aphrodite." Gabrielle said with sincerity. Unannounced, the blonde Amazon turned her head to Aphrodite. She pressed her lips to the Goddess'. And, for a prolonged moment, they shared a brilliant kiss. It was incredible, but it was bitter sweet.
Sadly, the kiss broke. And for a while, the two just looked for several moments into each other's eyes. Seeing both pain and love in one another.
"One more night?" Gabrielle asked uncertainly.
"One more night." Aphrodite assured.
They walked , hand and hand, into the queen's hut.
Little did they know they had an audience.
Xena hadn't meant to eavesdrop on the two. But, the opportunity had presented itself and she would have been a fool to pass it up.
She watched the two from behind a thick tree several feet away from Gabrielle's hut. Originally she had stepped out and been so taken by the vision of Gabrielle in the moonlight. She could not resist it, she couldn't tear her eyes away.
So she watched, undisturbed, as the bard silently contemplated her thoughts. It was then that Aphrodite had entered the scenario. Xena felt an automatic threat with her presence. She knew she should have left them their privacy. She knew she wouldn't want to hear the words spoke, but it was too much to pass up.
Gabrielle words had touched her deeply, both positively and negatively. But none the less, touched her. When she spoke about forgiving Xena, about them together. The Warrior Princess had been moved to tears. It was the vocalization of everything she every dreamed of. A sort of elated calm rushed over her.
But the peace only lasted seconds. It was dashed by the bard's next revelation. All the pain, all the hurt, it was renewed. The wound gushed with new blood. She wanted so much to comfort the blonde Amazon. To put her arm around Gabrielle and assure her that everything was going to be alright.
Someone beat her to it.
Aphrodite comforting Gabrielle was like an additional slap in the face. That was her job, that was her role Xena went into a trance-like state of shock. She stopped listening to the conversation between the two, because it was drowned out by the breaking of her own heart.
Xena was completely unprepared for what was to come next. Gabrielle had inched closer and kissed Aphrodite. Not just one of friendship, but a lover's kiss. The way she'd always dreamed Gabrielle would kiss her. Here was her fantasy, and someone else was living it.
The Warrior Princess doubled over in pain. It was too much. Her ears strained for bits of the conversation. Xena heard daunting words.
"One more night." They had both said as they entered Gabrielle's hut.
One more night…of what?! The answer made Xena physically ill and she began to vomit and shudder uncontrollably. OH no, Oh Gabrielle. How could this happen? Why am I being tortured?
Questioned plagued her mind. Life was so cruel. She finally opened her heart to someone, only to have it smashed on. And, the irony of it all was that it, once again was her fault. She had destroyed the only thing that ever matter to her. The only thing important to her in the world.
And she had driven her into another person's arms.
The thought again made Xena's stomach churned and she renewed the task of dumping the contents of her stomach onto the ground. Xena was blinded by tears. The pain was so immense, she didn't know if she could handle it.
I'm so pathetic, Xena had a self-depreciating thought.
"We'll that's pathetic." A muddled voice insulted from above.
Xena looked up from beneath her wallow of sorrow to acknowledge the presence. She had expected to find Ares there, but was rather unpleasantly surprised to find Varia.
"Leave me alone."
"No, I believe it is you who should leave me alone."
Xena was not in the mood for word games tonight.
"Varia, what the hell do you want?"
"You, Xena." She pointed tot he fallen Warrior Princess. "I want you gone."
"Why so you can hoard in on Gabrielle and try to force her to marry you….again. Sorry, not willing to let that happen."
"Look, you wanted to know how Gabrielle was. You just witnessed, amoung other things, that she is safe. Now, leave. Take you're horse and scant away." Varia said with undo malice.
"I can't do that and I won't do that. I can't leave her here unprotected."
"Xena, she surrounded by an entire Amazon village whom are more then willing to lay their life down for her. I think she's pretty safe."
"Oh really, well who will protect her from you and you're hidden motives?!" Xena said suggestively.
The warrior stood up and rose to her full height, towering several inches above Varia. She stepped forward in a very imposing manner.
"Now you listen to me little girl." Xena said mockingly punching her finger in the top of Varia's chest.
"I made the mistake once of leaving Gabrielle. I don't make the same mistakes twice, believe me. No one stands in the way of me and Gabrielle." She finished sternly.
But, Varia refused to be intimidated.
"Well, then you listen to me. Don't make me order you out of Amazonia. If I declare you a threat to Gabrielle, you'll have more infuriated Amazons on your hand then you'll know what to do with Xena."
"I was able to stop Ares' army. What makes you think I can't stop you?!" Xena retorted implyingly.
The remark caught Varia attention, and broke through her false bravado. Varia did know that Xena wasn't intimidated by the Amazon army. And she knew, if push came to shove, Xena would probably win.
She needed a different strategy.
"Well, I'm sorry. Even if you are so intent to stay, I'm afraid we have no room for you. With the entire nation in town , we are at full capacity."
"She can stay with me." Another voice joined in.
Two heads turned to meet the new speaker. They were surprised when it turned out to be the healer, Lethara's voice.
"Lethara, what are you doing here?" Varia asked, annoyed.
"I was returning from tending to the wounded and found my healer's hut somewhat disturbed. I came to check who's been inhabiting it. I came this way and heard your dilemma and …well…I can help."
"But Lethara," Varia said between her teeth in increasing anger. " Don't you have Saris staying in your extra bed."
"Oh I did, I did……But, she's been feeling much better and is starting to walk again on her own accord. I sent her home to her hut just the other day. "
"How lucky."
"Yes indeed."
Xena simply watched the exchange with a smile on her face. This is my chance. Xena was being given a second chance with the bard. One which she did not intend to blow. Whatever terms, whatever the price, Xena as a more then willing customer.
Lethara also shared Xena's grin. She could see the love in Xena's eyes for the bard. It was the same look that had inhabited Gabrielle's eyes for months. A kind of love like that, it was to be envied. It was to be admired. And, it certainly wasn't to be denied, under any circumstances.
The healer had grown to have a deep affection for Gabrielle. She knew over the past few months, Gabrielle had been okay, but she hadn't been happy. Only on rare occasions did Lethara catch a glimpse of brilliant light in Gabrielle's eyes. Most of those preciously rare moments occur when the topic was Xena. Lethara was determined to see Gabrielle happy.
Even if she had to go through Varia to see it happen.
"Well now," Lethara said turning back to Xena. "Let's see about settling you in. I assume your bags are on your horse."
"Actually, I made a rather quick trip via Goddess."
"Ah, Aphrodite." Lethara offered up in understanding.
"Yes, I'm afraid what you see is what I get."
"Splendid. That just means that we get to have mountains of fun having traditional Amazon leathers made for you. Actually, I do believe I have a pair at home you could borrow for the time being. They're just about your size."
"Thank you." Xena replied with true gratitude. "Thank you so much."
"Don't think of it." Lethara said, taking Xena arm and leading her towards the hut.
"How do they look?" Lethara asked hopefully.
"I'm not coming out in this."
"Come on Xena. Let's see 'em."
"There is no way I am wearing these anywhere besides….anywhere!" Xena said in a protesting manner.
Xena looked down at her body. Lethara had, being friendly, borrowed her a set of Amazon leathers to borrow until some of her own could be make. She said it would help her "fit in." Xena deeply protested, she'd never "fit in." And, she was ok with that.
But, when Lethara had mentioned something to the degree that it would be to Gabrielle liking, Xena reluctantly took the clothes vowing to try them on. As soon as the warrior saw the outfit, she instantly regretted her decision.
The ensemble was two pieces of darkly tanned leather, much like the color she wore now. They had been fashioned into a very short, bikini style top and a loincloth like bottom. Once the outfit was on, Xena felt instantaneously uncomfortable.
It wasn't that she was uneasy about showing her body. She wasn't. On many occasion, she had displayed various amount of skin. Some to the point of full nudity. It wasn't that fact. What it was, was here in Amazonia people looked down on her.
They had witnessed her betrayal and her demise and held a very low opinion of her. To step out in such a small outfit, no matter how traditional, would raise at least a couple of eyebrows. And it wasn't even the fact that people would think things about her. Xena could care less about other people's judgments and preconceived notions.
But, Xena knew that the opinion of the Amazons mattered to Gabrielle. And, if it mattered to the bard, it mattered to the warrior. And, Xena was willing to do anything possible to get them to hold a better opinion of her.
After several more minutes of coaxing from the complimentary Lethara, Xena awkwardly stepped out.
"This is definitely not going to work." Xena said in blank eyed seriousness.
"Of course it's going to work Xena. You look absolutely fabulous."
"I can't wear this, this isn't even cloths. It's like a, like a scarf of something. I feel positively naked."
"Don't leave much to the imagination does it? I can't believe I'm hearing this. Xena the Warrior Princess is being modest. From what I heard, you aren't one to be shy about your body. Besides, you've worn Amazons wear before."
"Yes for a couple of hours, not for days or maybe even weeks."
"What does it matter?"
"Look, for what I did to Gabrielle…" Xena took a moment to compose herself before going on. " I know this village already thinks lowly of me. I did need anything added to that."
"And you care about what others think?" Lethara asked, not quite believing the warrior's words.
"Gabrielle cares. And anything that could possibly matter to her, matters to me."
Lethara smiled deeply at the true words of affection. No, definitely not a love to be denied.
"Trust me, Gabrielle will loovvee it!" She said with extra emphasis.
Lethara reassurance seemed to push Xena over the edge of indecision. If this would please the bard, she was more then willing to give it a try.
"Alright Alright. I'll do it. I'll keep 'em on….for now. But, if I find out this was only for certain other people's sport and visual pleasure…." Xena implied angrily.
"Oh dear, if only I was a few years younger. Trust me, Gabrielle will be both impressed and pleased. I promise."
The assurance seemed to warm Xena's heart as she fastened her sword to the back. She slid her boot daggers back into place and non-chalantly replaced the breast dagger in its home.
"So Lethara, since I must show off this exquisite outfit, where to next?"
"Well, what would you like to do?"
"I could use a little sparing."
"Oh, Xena….are you sure you wanna do that? I don't know if that is such a good idea.."
"What do you mean? You have that much faith in your Amazons that you think I'll get my ass beat."
"Oh no, it's not that."
"Well then what is it?"
"I only have Amazon safety in mind. If you step onto the practice field wearing that. I believe that it will prove to be a major distraction to many. Can't have them slicing off their own arms now can we?" Lethara said with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, then I'll just have to be careful won't I." Xena retorted in a matching playful tone.
They walked out of the hut and headed towards the Practice fields. Xena was well aware of the all the intense stares she was attracting. The attention didn't make her uncomfortable, she was well aware of coping with it. But, her impending meeting with the bard had her more then a little on edge. She better like it!
As they neared the field, noises of an ensuing battle were evident. Xena's uncanny hearing had picked up the sounds before. But, as they neared, the sounds became clearer. The grunts became familiar….very familiar.
It was Gabrielle.
She was a vision. Easily dispatching of her less skilled opponent. It was obvious the other was outmatched. But Gabrielle, with her innate kindness, was putting a good show about it. Making moves and decisions in a cohorsed manner. Xena could tell she was trying to let the kid look like she was holding her own.
In truth, the kid was bigger then Gabrielle and looked only a few years younger. But, Xena was sure Gabrielle more then out matched her in maturity. The warrior's best guess was that the girl was some kid who wanted to impress her friends by matching the queen. Gabrielle's cooperation in the plan was stunningly touching.
Since not thoroughly engaged in the fight, Gabrielle let her eyes wonder upon the horizon. She caught a quick glimpse of Xena. Not just of Xena, but of The Warrior Princess in her strikingly new Amazon duds. It was more then enough to interrupt her concentration.
Xena saw Gabrielle's lapse in concentration and smiled. I hope that was because of me. Please let that be cause of me.
The bard's opponent unwittingly caught Gabrielle in her lapse in focus. She swept her staff at the queen's knees, fully expecting to be blocked. She was both regretful and surprised as Gabrielle tumbled gracefully to the floor. Oh no! The girl rushed down to the queen's side.
"Oh gods Queen Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. It was an accident…I didn't mean…" She stuttered in immediate apology, for she knew the punishment for an attack on the Queen.
Instead of the angry look she expected, Gabrielle graced the young Amazon with a broad smile. Gabrielle looked up at her from the ground.
"Luca, if you're going to be a good Amazon warrior you can't apologize when you knock your opponent down." Gabrielle teased.
"I know…I'm just sorr…I didn't think it woul…"
"Calm down." Gabrielle grabbed Luca's hand and slowly stood back up. "See, I'm ok." She pointed to herself.
"Again, I'm sorry your majesty. I never thought I'd actually hit you." She said as she knelt down on one knee acknowledging Gabrielle's authority.
"Yes, well I got a little distracted. No big deal. I'm proud you used it to your advantage. "
"Really?" Luca inquired in a high note, smiling. A compliment from the queen was definitely something she could brag to her friends about.
"Yes really. You did a great job today." Gabrielle smiled patting the younger girl on the back. "Now, I think I better go rest my sore…..pride…" the bard remarked rubbing her bottom in mock pain. "It was an interesting session though, thank you."
Gabrielle trotted off the field, at an increased pace. The only way to get back to her hut was to meet Xena and Lethara on the way. There would be no way to make the meeting casual and the bard wasn't sure she was ready to handle the emotions that were lying just beneath the surface.
Xena, on the other hand, was elated at the chance meeting. Her palms were sweating and her heart was racing. She was suddenly aware of everything around her. Her hair, her clothes, her body, everything. Do I look ok?! Xena inwardly asked herself, but soon realized the ludicrousness of the statement. Gabrielle didn't care about the superficial.
Lethara felt very much in the middle of two fires. She desperately wanted to leave the situation, but was well aware of the implications of her departure. If she left, she knew that the 'meeting' between the two might not occur.
They were now only steps apart. The seconds past with all the speed of an eternity. Gabrielle's eyes slowly looked into Xena's eyes and Xena reciprocated her intense look.
Gabrielle was at a loss of words at Xena's appearance. The view from the battlefield did Xena no justice. Being so close to her, the physical nearness was too much. Gabrielle was breathless. What do I say to her?
They stopped only inches form each other, both at a loss for words in the others presence. For a while, they were simply content to look deeply into each other's eyes. But, as seconds ticked by, they both became more aware of the awkward silence.
It was all-encompassing. Finally, it was too much for Gabrielle to take. Even though she truly didn't know what to say to Xena, she needed something to fill the blanket of nothingness. So, she simply said the first thing that came to her mind.
"Nice outfit Xena." The words came out more suggestively then she had intended.
"Thank you." Xena answered earnestly. Her words strengthened her thought before. She had been distracted by me! The realization warmed her cheeks, and Xena began to blush. This outfit was a good idea.
The blushing did not go unnoticed by the bard. She was actually very surprised, Xena wasn't one to be bashful.
"Xena, all that red ….for me?"
Xena cursed herself for her body's reaction, but inwardly smiled at the friendly banter that was occurring. It had a perverse sense of familiarity that she craved. But, it was empty gratification. A cover up to hide all the wrong between them. Xena couldn't live with that.
She made a quick look to Lethara before approaching Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, can we go somewhere to talk." She nodded to Lethara who made a stealthy exit, stating she had patient to attend to or something. Neither the bard nor the warrior heard her anyway.
Xena gently pushed Gabrielle into the direction of a small clearing over to the right with two large stones that would serve as chairs. The quietly sat down, each partially lost in their own thoughts. Xena opened her mouth to speak first.
"Gabrielle, I know what I did to you was terrible and….." Xena began to well up with tears.
"Stop, Xena. Just stop." Gabrielle pleaded, already overflowing with tears. Xena looked up at her questioningly.
"I'm not ready. I can't deal with this yet. I mean first your back, now you're living here. Everything is not going to be ok. Especially not right away. I'm not ready to talk about any of this yet. It hurts too much."
The sight of the bard's pain crushed Xena to the core. The warrior could take almost anything, a lashing, Ares' fire balls, a crucifixion, but she could not stand the sight of Gabrielle's tears.
"Oh please, please Gabrielle don't cry." Xena begged, unaware of the flood of tears escaping her blue eyes.
"I'm sorry Xena this is just so hard. I'm not ready to do this yet."
"Ok," Xena said reaching for Gabrielle to pull her into an embrace the way she had longed to the night before. The bard's instinctive pull back, shot daggers into the warrior's heart. "I'm sorry. I'll give you as much time as you need Gabrielle. I love you so much and I want nothing more then for you to be happy. I pray that can be with me."
"Xena, I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. And, I'm not ready to make a half hearted commitment."
"I understand. But, at least tell me this. Is there a chance? Do you think you can find in your heart to forgive me?" Xena asked in such sorrow, it only increased the magnitude of both their tears.
"Honestly Xena, I don't know."
A crestfallen expression covered The Warrior Princess's face as the true sincerity of the statement, but she had to accept that.
"Ok. I understand. Butk know this Gabrielle, nothing ….nothing," She deeply emphasized. " Will ever change the way I feel about you. I love you with all my heart Gabrielle."
With that, Xena turned away and stalked back towards the village. Her bowed head and sullen posture alluded to the unending pain with in her soul.
When Xena was at a secure distance, Gabrielle let out and intense breath of relief.
"I love you too." She whispered under her breath.
The days passed slowly by. Before Xena was aware, an entire fortnight had come and gone.
The results had been disheartening.
Xena had become very much accustomed to the Amazon lifestyle. Unlike their sisters to the north, Varia's tribe was not based solely on the idea of community. Their view was everyone was an individual, which was part of an entire family. Their focus was more on the person instead of the group. Xena liked that.
She was able to feel like a part of something while still being herself. She participated in the group dinning and sparring. But, when Xena needed her time, she was able to just step outside the village and be alone with herself and her thoughts.
The two weeks had been somewhat productive. She had been able to embed herself in the Amazon village. The warrior felt somewhat apart of it. It had been a long time since Xena had felt a part of anything, besides Gabrielle. It was refreshing.
Though it had taken a couple days, The Warrior Princess had finally received her own pair of leathers. Xena had finally gotten used to the insinuating looks she'd received in the other and was more then ready for a change. Even though the new set left about as much to the imagination as the other…..practically nothing, Xena very much preferred them.
Lethara's pair had been much daintier, well as dainty as it can be for an Amazon. They were much more feminine. They were decorated in little feathers, with beads and charms dangling down. Xena's new pair was much more practical, and that suited her. They were a deep b;ack, with golden stitching. The warrior had to admit, they were a nice change.
But, that was about the summation of her victories. The rest of her stay had been complete agony. Through the entire time, Xena had not spoken to Gabrielle once. She'd barely even seen her. Of course, she caught glimpses once and again, but nothing for a prolonged period of time.
It was worse then not seeing her at all. With this, Xena had to constantly reassure herself that Gabrielle was really here. With not contact with the bard and barely any visual, it was almost as if the whole scenario was unreal.
Xena had tried to talk to Gabrielle. But, every time she'd approach her, Gabrielle would veer of the pathway or jet into some Amazon hut. Several times Xena had almost raised the courage to follow after her…almost. But, fear of further rejection kept her feet fully planted.
Several days ago, Xena had actually mustered up the courage to actually confront Gabrielle. She was ready to beg the bard to speak with her. The warrior figured, maybe if she made the first step, Gabrielle would realize how badly Xena wanted a reconciliation.
When she reached the door, she was met with two big Amazon guards. They denied her entry saying Gabrielle explicitly detailed that she did not want to see the Warrior Princess. Xena protested, and thought several times about resorting to physical violence. The guards were big, but they were no match for a warrior princess.
Then Varia appeared behind her, ordering her to leave. Xena, usually, did not take kindly do threats. But, in order to be close to Gabrielle she had to be within the village, so she reluctantly agreed. Xena muttered a variance of curse words under her breath as she sulked back to Lethara's hut.
Every night after that, it was the same routine. Xena would come to Gabrielle's hut, beg , and get thrown out on her ass. After a week, Xena had finally given hope to reaching Gabrielle. The bard simply wasn't ready to talk to her. A cohorsed conversation would never do.
Xena needed to catch Gabrielle by surprise. Without the Guards, without Varia, and they could be alone to talk and Gabrielle wouldn't be able to turn her away.
The next day, an opportunity arose. Xena had come to find out about Gabrielle's behavior during her absence. It seemed her sleepy bard had turned into quiet the local riser. Some wide eyed, adoring younger subjects were more then happy to gush over the queen's personal habits.
Xena could only laugh at their enthusiasm. Seems my Gabrielle has some fans….my Gabrielle. I hope one day that will be true again. According to their knowledge Gabrielle awakes fairly early and goes out for a morning run.
Xena decided that was the best time to approach her. Although not vocalizing her plans, it was obvious and her informants quickly caught on to the jest. They begged to come along.
"We want to see the queen in action." They pleaded.
Xena simply rolled her eyes and walked away. Kids!
The next morning Xena almost missed her wake at the crack of dawn. She had slept soundly for the first time in months last night. There were no nightmares, no cold sweats, no constant conscience interruptions, just peaceful slumber. The warrior guessed it was because of her upcoming mission.
Control, though be it small, was coming over the situation. Xena thrived on control, it was her air. Without it, she was the Warrior Princess. For the past few months Xena had felt incredibly unbalanced and off stride.
Now, with a handle on the situation, she was able to press forward and do something about it. It felt….good
The warrior contemplated a sharp in the bath houses, but dismissed the idea quickly. She had no time. As the warrior looked out at the sky, se found the sun to already have risen and reaching its steady climb to the peak of the sky.
She had to hurry.
Gabrielle had just finished her run and was pleasantly out of breath. A light film of perspiration coated her body and glistened in the sunlight. She had thought of stopping and heading back to the village. But the refreshing lake was too much to pass up on such a hot morning.
The bard quickly removed her minimal attire and stepped over to the edge. She slowly entered into the water. It was a mistake. The chilling pool would have been much easier to take if she'd simply jumped in, head first. Funny, she hadn't done that since Xena.
But, once in, it was heavenly on her muscles. Her knotted back and sides began to slowly relax in the bone chilling water. Simply standing around would not do, even in a rest Gabrielle's muscles still needed to be worked. The bard began to swim around playfully in the lake, embracing the water fully.
Xena was certainly no peeping tom. She hadn't meant to spy on the bard. The warrior had been cutting through the forest her senses perked for a since of Gabrielle, when she had heard a splash. Xena had rushed over to the small lake nearby.
There she was met by the vision of a naked bard. Xena stood breathless as Gabrielle slowly entered the water. She wanted to give the little Amazon her privacy, honestly, but with such temptation……even Xena had to crack.
The Warrior Princess had made a stealthy ascension onto a tree limb above Gabrielle's head. It was just up high enough to give her the perfect vantage point to the bard's actions. Xena watched, dry mouthed, as Gabrielle bathed.
It only took Gabrielle several minutes to be alerted to the presence behind her. Although she was not completely aware, a warrior's senses are always perked. She heard a light rustle in the tree behind her. It was faint enough that many would dismiss is, but with Gabrielle's tuned skills she could distinguish it as legitimate.
She tried to inconspicuously take a look up into e near tree. It resulted in confirmation of what she believed. Though she couldn't quite make out a body, it had been covered by the branches. Gabrielle was, however, able to distinguish two beading eyes boring into her. The bard could not sense whether they were malignant or with malice, so choose to treat them as the latter.
Gabrielle slowly treaded her way to shore, so as not to alert her perpetrator to the knowledge of its presence. She slowly rose up from the water and headed over to her clothes. As she picked up her leathers, she reached down to her boot and pulled a Sai. Then, without warning, she spun around, chucking the weapon directly at her onlooker.
Xena had been so enraptured by the sight of Gabrielle's wet, naked body that she barely even noticed the Sai coming directly towards her. Out of reflex, her hands grabbed up to catch it, only inches from her face. Xena blushed sheepishly for such a close encounter. Damn! She caught me.
There was nothing left to do but jump down and face Gabrielle and try to make up some outlandish excuse for her behavior. Hmmm…let's see…..what was I doing there? Parchment got stuck in a tree?!! Yeh, like that'll work. I could say I was out for a walk and saw her bathing, unarmed, and decided she needed protection. Oh yeh, she'll believe that, knowing me and my little protective streak.
"Whoever it is up there, come down! I know you're up there." Gabrielle yelled to her still unseen stalker.
Xena took a deep breath and jumped up, flipping down to the ground while releasing a loud battle cry.
She reached the ground and handed a very naked Gabrielle her Sai back. When the bard reached up to get it, their hands met for but a moment. But, it was enough for Xena to gasp aloud as the feel of Gabrielle's wet, silky skin. It had been long…..too long.
Temptation peeked right before her. It took all Xena's power to resist her eyes from constantly combing over Gabrielle figure. Xena tried as hard as possible to focus her eyes to the shoulders and up, but she constantly found herself wavering. The warrior taking wondering gazes down south.
Gabrielle was shocked to see Xena before her. She had not figured that her hidden assailant would be none other then the Warrior Princess. Suddenly, she became very aware of her state of undress. It made her feel weak and uncomfortable.
The bard quickly turned around and began to but her leathers back on. Xena turned her back to leave the bard some privacy. It was a welcomed relief from the constant torture she had been enduring. After several moments, the warrior turned around to see the bard dressed and lacing her boots up. The initial disappointment was saddening, but expected.
A Sai quickly reentered the side of Gabrielle boot as she finished redressing. Once the ensemble was complete, Gabrielle turned around and faced Xena once again.
"Xena, I never you to be peeping tom." She said sarcastically, but the truth of her words stung Xena deeply. "Why'd you spy on me?"
"I wasn't spying on you. I went out for a run and saw you here, unprotected. I just wanted to make sure you were safe." Yeh! That's believable….pathetic!
She still is trying to protect me after everything,
Gabrielle thought. Something just never change.
"Besides, it's the most I've seen of you for months Gabrielle." Xena admitted with brutal honesty. This time it was the Amazon's turn to be stung by the words.
The situation was escalating into a confrontation, and Gabrielle simply didn't want to deal with that right now.
"Well, I'm sorry." She spoke shallowly and headed out towards the village.
"No." Xena put an arm out, stopping her. "Please don't leave. I need to talk to you."
"Xena, I don't wanna talk right now. Later we can…."
"Please, it's been two weeks. You don't talk to me. You won't even look at me. It's worse than not seeing you at all. Gabrielle, please, I need to talk to you. Please." Tears rolled down the Warrior Princess's cheek.
Xena's open plea touched Gabrielle heart. It was so rare when Xena expressed her emotions so plainly. The bard would have had to be soulless to turn down such a heartfelt plea as that. Gabrielle simply shook her head as an answer and let herself be taken away to a near by stone where Xena sat her down.
The warrior took a spot directly across from her, sitting only several inches away. If it would have been anyone else, Gabrielle would have felt as if he personal space was being intruded upon….but it wasn't anyone else. It was Xena.
"Now," Xena began in a very calm tone. "Can we talk?"
"What do you want to talk about?" Gabrielle asked very non-chalantly.
"I want to talk about us. I want to talk about what happened."
After receiving no objection from the bad, Xena figured that was her green light of approval and continued on .
"These past few months apart," Xena paused for a second. She had meant to be strong, but already found herself at the point of tears. "They have been the hardest of my life. I have missed you so much, Gabrielle. I lived a life without you before, I can't do it again. You are my soul mate. You are my heart. You're my life."
Xena's honest words had now moved both of them in tears. Gabrielle silently listened as she spoke.
"I want everything to be ok. I can't live with this mess between us. What can I do to make everything ok? Can you forgive me?"
With all her heart, Gabrielle wished she could simply forgive Xena. She wanted things back to the way they were. She craved the normalcy and stability. But, her mind told her what she knew to be true. She wasn't satisfied. Gabrielle wouldn't survive another one of Xena's betrayals. All the anger she had harbored earlier began to surface.
"I want to forgive you. It would be so easy to forgive you. "
"But why can't you?"
"I'm afraid, Xena. I'm afraid of being hurt again."
"Gabrielle, I would never hurt you. Don't you know that?" Xena said through a river of tears.
"I believe that once. I can't afford to believe that again. Xena, when Eve was charged, I tried to explain to you, I tried to reason with you. You wouldn't listen to me, you wouldn't trust. Your words were like a knife in my soul. It hurt so much to know you didn't trust me, didn't trust my love for you or your daughter. "
"Then, I went through the Dyo Zoi to save Eve. The physical pain was unbearable, but it was nothing matched to my broken soul. I was so disillusioned. I thought I deserved it. That I'd earned it for the way I treated you. But, that's not right and it wasn't fair. I didn't do anything wrong."
"I know Gabrielle. I know. It was all my fault. I'm so sorry. Please, please forgive me."
"For that, I do. I forgive you for your words and your brash decision. I can forgive that."
"Then what's left undone?" Xena asked confused.
"It is what followed that I don't know if I'll ever get past. Xena, in that bed, I needed you. I needed you like I'd never needed you before, and you weren't there. With Meridan, you weren't there. With Hope, you weren't there. With Solan, you weren't there. With Caesar, you weren't there. With the Twilight, you weren't there. And that day, you weren't there. Every time, all I needed was you at my side, to comfort me. And every time, your need for the self gratification of your rage took top priority."
"I needed you to be there for me. To comfort me. And, you weren't there, for your own selfish reasons. That, that I cannot forgive."
All those events began flooding back to Xena in a whirlwind. It was then she realized the truth of the bard's words. Everything she had said, was the absolute truth. Every time she should have been there for Gabrielle, she was off fulfilling some selfish impulse. It became truly clear how self-seeking she had always been.
"Gabrielle…I…I understand where you are coming from. And, you're right. You are absolutely right. I never realized before how selfish I was…."
"See, that's just it. You never have, and that makes it hurt all the more. You don't realize the pain you're causing."
"Granted. But please, give me the chance I've never given you. Trust my love for you the way I didn't trust yours. Please, I beg you."
Xena words touched Gabrielle's soul. She wanted to forgive her so badly. More the anything, the bard wanted to believe her. With the warrior's so openly poignant speech, Gabrielle thought perhaps she could.
"Please, take a chance on me Gabrielle. Take a chance on us." Xena begged whole heartedly. "Trust me."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked Xena squarely in the eyes. There was nothing hidden in those blues. They shown brightly with love.
"I do trust you Xena."
The words rushed over a world of relief. Xena felt a euphoric state win her over with Gabrielle simple statement.
Their bore into each other, deeply. So deep, it was as if they could see into the other's soul. Xena leaned in closer craving the nearness. Gabrielle did the same, also needing nothing more then to be closer. So they were so near they could feel the other's breath upon them.
Xena had never seen Gabrielle look so beautiful. She needed more. She needed to be closer, inches away was not enough. She wanted to be in constant contact with Gabrielle, she wanted to be within her skin. The warrior's eyes drifted from Gabrielle's eyes down to her lips.
They were so full, so inviting. Any resistance within the Warrior Princess had long since gone. She simply couldn't waste her time with that. All she knew was Gabrielle was here, and she trusted Xena. Those lips, I'm have to kiss them.
As Xena began to lean in, Gabrielle realized her true intention. She's going to kiss me. A world full of emotions overtook her. She was filled with fear, joy, and anticipation all at once. But, all she had to do was look into Xena's eyes and know everything was ok. Everything was ok.
Gabrielle looked deep into Xena's blue orbs as they stood mere milliseconds away from touching. Her gaze looked so kind, so loving, so assuring……so familiar. It took the bard a mere moment to realize where she'd seen it. The recognition made Gabrielle instinctively pull back.
"By the gods." She exclaimed.
Xena, as well pulled back to see what had happened. She had been so sure Gabrielle had wanted it. No, she was sure that the bard had wanted to kiss her. What the hell happened?
"What's wrong?"
Gabrielle thoughts jumbled as she tried to process the newly acquired information. Her words came out as disorganized as her thoughts.
"That look….it was….I mean you."
"What's wrong, Gabrielle?" Xena asked again, deeply concerned.
"It was real."
"What was?"
"When you kissed me that night. You came back, you checked on me. You told me you loved me. Then, you kissed me."
Damn it! Xena's brain screamed. She was never supposed to remember that. Oh no, why now? Things were going so great.
"It was real, wasn't it?"
"Yeh." Xena answered in a small voice.
"How dare you! How dare you leave me like that. You mess with my emotions. You profess a deeper love for me. And….and you kiss me. Then you just leave me to die? How could you do that?"
Xena was instantly hurt by the bard's assumptions. But, she reminded herself, that's how it must look to her.
"I didn't leave you to die. I knew you'd survive. You had the best care, I made sure of that before I left."
"I wasn't talking about my body Xena, I was talking about my soul." Gabrielle admitted, with blank faced seriousness.
"I left for you. The lashings, everything, that was my fault. I couldn't let you keep getting hurt because of me. I had to protect you."
"Oh save it, Xena. You did it because you didn't want to face me. Here all this time, I've been going crazy thinking I've made it up and all along….."
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I did it for you."
"No." She said sternly. "No you did for you. You did it so you wouldn't have to be responsible for anything."
And it was true, she had avoided Gabrielle. She had done it for her own perverse reason. All to avoid her own personal pain, without a care to anyone else. Remorse overtook Xena's thoughts and her soul. What if this can't be fixed?
Gabrielle looked up to Xena with open disgust in her gaze. The one thing she had feared, had happened. The bard had been so weary to forgive Xena, for fear she would be hurt again. She finally got the courage to trust her again, only seconds later to have that bond ripped from within her. It did more then hurt….it burned, it stung, it seared, and then Xena poured salt into the wound.
"You're a coward." Gabrielle said calmly to Xena, looking deep into her eyes as if to display the truth. She held the gaze for a second before marching off to the village.
Xena would have chased after her, if it would have done any good. But, it won't have mattered. Xena had nothing to say in her defense.
Gabrielle was right.
Ares smiled to himself. Oh, this is too good.
He had secretly privy to Xena and Gabrielle little confrontation and couldn't be more pleased. A little more pushing and that would be it. No more love, no more mushy warrior, no more "special" relationship. Yes, things were going perfect.
The God would have loved to take some credit in the "break-up" but sadly nature had taken its course. Xena small insecurities and defenses had finally broken the bard down. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and he wasn't about to pass it up.
"A little doubt here. A little separation there. It will be perfect!"
Ares wanted to place the final straw that broke the camel's back, but he had to be careful. He could imply all he wanted, but Ares couldn't outwardly do or say anything to disrupt the two. Aphrodite had this annoying little obsession with the little bard. He was already deep in the doghouse with his little Amazon venture a few weeks ago and Ares knew that all he had to do was one little thing and off to the Fates Xena would go.
No, he had to be smooth, careful, and calculating. And above all, positively subtle. He knew Xena was in a shame spiral and would do anything to get the bard back, she couldn't help his plight. But, the bard, Gabrielle…..now he could work with that.
She was hurt. She had anger and rage. Those were two emotions Ares deeply understood. All I need is to give her some time alone to let those emotions fester. Some time away, Ares thought.
"Perfect." He smiled with glee, clapping his hands in full extent of his enthusiasm.
A situation had just come to his attention. Purely coincidental, but simply perfect none the less. All Ares simply had to do was inform the bard and she would be off on her merry way. Now, if could just plant a few seeds of doubt and 'grow' a little anger, everything would be perfect.
Just perfect.
Gabrielle ran into her hurt with lightening speed. Her hurried stride had transformed into a conspicuous sprint once the tears had started to fall again. She didn't want the others to see her cry. Gabrielle was tired of being weak. She was tired of the emotions. She was tired of the pain.
She fell to the floor in uncontrollable sobs. It hurt, it hurt so much. It was so deep. Gabrielle felt like she could hardly breathe. Her body, her thoughts, her heart were all aching at once. She couldn't take anymore, she wouldn't survive.
Gabrielle felt an electric rush race over her skin and a flash of light behind her. There was a godly presence with in the hut. The bard felt a smooth calmness at not being alone anymore. She turned to face her companion.
"Aphrodite." She said hopefully.
"Buzz! Sorry wrong answer."
"Ares." Gabrielle acknowledged with open disgust. Damn it, this is the last thing I need.
"Ding ding ding! You're right, what do we have for the lovely lady."
"Go away." Gabrielle pleaded in a defeated tone. She really was not in the mood.
"What?! Just because I'm not Aphrodite, you scorn me. She's busy right now. But if you're lookin' for a quick roll in the sack, I could certainly help you!" He said with waggling eyebrows. "I've got things ways of pleasing that Aphrodite is simply not privy to." Ares smiled, pointing down south, below his waste.
Gabrielle felt her stomach turn.
"That's disgusting."
"Xena certainly didn't think so." Ares said very off-handedly, trying to down play the significance of the words. But, he knew the bard would quickly catch on. Seed planted.
"What are you talking about?!"
"Ask your little Warrior Princess. She knows."
Although Gabrielle, was certainly intrigued….she was not in the mood to be in such nauseating company. She was sure Ares was enjoying her pain and discomfort, which only made her sicker.
"I'll do that. Now, does your visit have a point to it, or you here simply to torment me."
"Well as much as I do enjoy your displeasure, I'm afraid this isn't simply a social visit. I have news that you might be interesting in."
Gabrielle had enough of his sarcastic repertoire. She didn't have the mentality to deal with him right now.
"Ares, just get the hell out of here."
"I'm hurt, really. But, once you hear what I have to say I'm sure you will be interested." Ares said in an enticing tone.
"Gods Ares, I don't care. Get out!" She yelled, emphasizing her words by a gentle shove of Ares chest towards the door.
"It's about your sister."
The words stopped Gabrielle dead in her tracks. Lila? What could he possibly know about her? She was safe, at home in Poteidaia with Sara. The bard's mind raced at the possibilities. Her heart began to beat faster in fear. Calm down, Gabrielle. He's probably only doing it to get a rise out of you. Slow down.
"What news do you have about my sister?" The little queen asked tentatively.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle." Ares voiced with absolutely no sincerity. "I'm afraid she's fallen ill. Actually, she's on her death bed I believe."
"What?" Gabrielle asked in disbelief, new tears beginning to develop.
"Yes, she's very sick. I suggest you go to her before it's too late."
Too late? Lila sick? This couldn't be. It just couldn't be. Gabrielle told herself. She desperately didn't want to believe it. She unsuccessfully tried to convince herself Ares wasn't telling the truth. That he had made it up to torment her. Gabrielle knew Ares to be many things, but a liar was not one of them. What if it is true. Gabrielle needed assurances.
"Sick with what? What happened? Is she…."
"Whoa whoa whoa. I just said I news, the rest is for you to find out."
"What? Ares you have to tell me." Gabrielle pleaded in rage.
"Nope, sorry. Ta ta." He waggled his fingers and disappeared leaving a very frustrated bard.
"Ares!" Gabrielle yelled after him How dare he? How dare he leave me this way. Damn him! What if Ares was lying? What if he was telling the truth? A plethora of questions barricaded her brain and she was without answers…she needed help.
There was only one person whom she could go to.
"Aphrodite." The bard called out in a scared voice.
It only took one utterance of her name from the bard's mouth for the Goddess to come. She appeared within in seconds inside the hut. Her defeated look gave the little queen no comfort.
"Did you hear what Ares said?"
"And Ares is many things, but he's not a very good liar. She's sick Gabrielle, very sick."
The bard's heart fell to the floor. Any fighting, any rage, anything she had been thinking before about her or Xena was immediately pushed in the back of her mind. Lila being sick took precedent over everything. By the gods, I can't lose her.
"Oh no." The bard made no effort to hide her tears. " Did he do this? Ares. Did he make her sick?"
"No, I wouldn't allow it. He simply alerted you to its existence. Lila's been sick for awhile, apparently. But, recently it's taken a turn for the worse."
"But, you could…you know…heal h…."
"You know I can't." Aphrodite admitted sadly, feeling hopelessly useless.
"Is she going to die?" Gabrielle looked up and asked the Goddess with such innate and innocent fear, Aphrodite was brought to tears.
"Honestly, I don't know little one. But, it doesn't look good."
"I have to go to her." She answered back automatically.
"I understand, I'll take you." She outreached her hand for the bard to take. But, Gabrielle simply stared at it, too entrenched in her thoughts. After several minutes, she finally spoke up.
"No, I mean no. Poteidaia's only a good days ride from here. I need, I just need time to sort out some of my thoughts and feelings so I can be strong for Lila."
"I understand." Aphrodite said, nodding her head. Before leaving you walked over to the bard, enveloping her in a deep, comforting hug. She pressed her lips to Gabrielle's ears and quietly whispered. " Are you going to be ok ?"
"Honestly, I don't know."
Xena sat in deep meditation for hours. Her body trying to reach a peace she knew hew mind was not capable of. Fate was a cruel mistress. In a matter of mere moments Xena had never known such joy or such sorrow.
Gabrielle. She was everything. She was the air, she was the earth, she was life. How can I go one without her? Xena knew she couldn't. The strain between them had never been quite so severe. But, Xena would go to any lengths to repair the damage. To any length to get Gabrielle back…..if that's possible. Now, she wasn't so sure.
She could take rage. She could take anger. But Gabrielle's pain, her withdrawal, her defeated tone. The calmness in her voice as she called Xena a coward. That was unbearable. It was as if the bard had ripped Xena's heart from within her chest. How do I live without my heart?
The warrior deeply contemplated the answers for a long time. The forest was still; it was calm. The perfect contrast to everything she was feeling inside. It would be impossible to reach the deeper stillness within, her senses being so disrupted and all. But, Xena strived to simply regain her composure.
The Warrior Princess inhaled deeply. It was time. She had to face reality no matter how unpleasant. Xena began to head back to the village. A whirlwind of questions and ideas raced through her head. Do I seek her out? What do I say to her? What if she never forgives me?
There were no answers.
Upon reaching the village, Xena felt an even deeper discomfort. It was so ironic. The normalcy and indifference of it all, as Xena was raging inside. The warrior was envious of it, of its peace, of its stability. She yearned for it, at the same time she questioned its true existence.
She passed by the villagers, paying no one any heed. Instead, Xena headed directly to Gabrielle hut. She wasn't one to procrastinate. The warrior contemplated how to enter. There were two options. She could rush in unannounced, but knew that the bard would see that as a threat…..Xena wanted to be comforting. She could ask Gabrielle to let her in. But, asking entailed answering, which could either be positive or negative. The bard had a right to reject Xena.
Xena couldn't take much more rejection.
But, her practical side won out as she called out for Gabrielle. Xena waited several seconds for a response but received none. She hadn't been prepared for indifference. In some ways, it stung more then the rejection might have. The warrior called out one final time.
"Gabrielle, please let me in." No answer. " Alright, I need to talk to you. I'm going to come in anyway." Xena said in fair warning.
With, again, no answer, Xena rushed in. A Warrior Princess, no matter how remorseful, wasn't one to be kept waiting. She entered into the sight of a surprised nothing. No Gabrielle. It wasn't only that, but none of Gabrielle's things. There were none of her personal items. Her scrolls weren't there. Her bag, her staff, and her Sais were gone. The only thing that alluded to her past presence was a set of petite Amazon leathers, laid neatly on top of the made bed. Where is she?!
"What are you doing here?" Someone spoke from behind. Xena had heard the intruder several steps back and easily, now, recognized the voice.
"Varia, what a surprise. So, are you just following me around or are these chance meetings?" Xena asked sarcastically. Varia was not amused.
"You know trespassing on royal grounds is a punishable offense, Xena."
"This is Gabrielle hut, I don't need permission."
"You do now." Varia retorted in an authoritative voice chalked full of false bravado.
"You know what, I'm going to pretend you didn't say that Varia. Don't threaten me."
Xena growled angrily.
"I believe we've already had this conversation."
"Good, then don't let history repeat itself. Now, answer me. Where is Gabrielle?"
"Gone." She said tight lipped.
"Gone where?"
"That is none of your concern, Xena. She doesn't want see you, she doesn't want to know you. Stay out of her life."
"I will….when I hear those words from her mouth, not from some punk kid who's obsessed with her." She insulted.
"OH…..I'm obsessed with her?! It doesn't matter Xena. If she wanted you to know where she went to, I believe she would have told you."
"I will find her." Xena spoke with intimidating determination.
"Well, since we're on the topics. Go after her for all I care. With Gabrielle gone, there is no reason for you to remain in the village. Leave."
"With Gabrielle gone, you couldn't pay me to stay here." Xena shot back.
"Good then. Pack up your things and leave. Goodbye Xena." Varia said coldly.
Xena simply nodded her head as Varia exited. She had meant what she said. With Gabrielle gone, she really had no reason to stay. All her new discoveries of community and being a part of the Amazon tribe, it all meant nothing without Gabrielle in the village. Instead they became a cruel joke, showing her what she could never truly have.
The Warrior Princess stalked off towards Lethara's hut. Upon entrance, she found the healer sitting on her bed, a sullen look coating her face. She looked up pensively at Xena.
"She's gone."
"I know." Xena said bowing her head. "Do you know where she went?"
"No. I'm sorry." Lethara spoke with a depressed tone. "She came here and told me she had to leave. That's it."
"Did she say when or if she was coming back? I went to her room and all her things are gone."
"No. All she said was that she was going home and she didn't know when she'd be back. But, she'd assured me that she'd return."
Home, Xena thought. That could only mean one place….Poteidaia. Xena's thoughts raced as she contemplated whether or not to follow the bard. She was interrupted by Lethara's movement. The woman went over to a chest by the bed and withdrew an armful of contents.
"She gave me these to keep." Lethara said, indicating the bundle in her arms. There lay a collection of about a dozen scrolls. "I think you'd be a better guardian of them."
Xena took the precious cargo into her arms as if it was the most valuable thing on earth. She gently laid them down on the bed and took one into her hand. She slowly unrolled it. A tear sprung from the corner of the warrior's eye as she examined the delicate handwriting.
The Warrior Princess quickly scanned over the scroll to see which of their adventures had been carefully documented within, but found she didn't recognize the contents. They were completely new. New Scrolls.
"These are new. What are they?"
"The first few are from right after she'd been injured. Aphrodite got her to write again, and it seems she couldn't stop. From what she told me, they're a journal of sorts, colorfully edited and formatted to a story. They encompass her time, so far, with the Amazons."
Deeply, Xena was tickled with anticipation. Maybe these can give me some insight into what she was thinking, or feeling…..anything. Xena rolled the scroll back up and gather them all within her arms.
"Thank you." She said sincerely. Lethara smiled at her and Xena slowly walked out of the door to the stables.
She secured the scrolls on the right side in her saddle bag. Now, she was at a cross roads. She didn't know where to go. Her heart told her to go to Poteidaia after Gabrielle. But, Xena remembered back to their first year together.
During some fight, or something, Gabrielle had inadvertently froze and put both herself and Xena in danger. Even though the warrior had insisted that it was "no big deal", Gabrielle had insisted she take time to analyze the situation. She said some things you just need your family for.
Over the passing years, Xena and Gabrielle were closer then family ever could be. But, with their recent break, maybe Gabrielle needed someone close to talk to. With Xena out of the picture, Lila was most likely the next closest to her.
She needs her family right now. She needs to sort things out…..I need to sort things out. Xena made a decision not to follow Gabrielle, at least now right now.
"So now where?" Xena asked herself aloud. Where do I go?
Well, Gabrielle is going home…that isn't such a half bad idea.
Xena effortlessly mounted her horse and rode out of the village. When she reached a fork in the road, she knew which one to travel.
Xena began down the road to Amphipolis.
She'd rode through the night to make it home. Returning always felt surreal.
Although Poteidaia was only a few hours from the Amazons, to Gabrielle, it had always seemed a world away. She brought her horse to a halt right outside the fates to her family's estate. Apprehension filled her body.
The bard was unsure of her reception. It had been over a year since her last visit. Gabrielle knew Lila had always been hurt when she stayed away so long. But last time was different, last time she had promised to return soon. A promise she had broken, among many.
Gabrielle could not let her fear stop her. She had to see Lila….if for the last time. She had to spend her sister's last moments with her.
The bard began tentative steps towards the house. Every step began with more confidence then the last. After what seemed like an eternity, Gabrielle reached the door. She lifted her hand to knock, but was prevented by doing so because the door opened. A figure blurred by running directly into Gabrielle.
"Ouch!" Gabrielle let out a labored sigh.
"Gabrielle?!" The blonde figure asked in amazement.
"Sara!" The two embraced dearly. They held each other for a prolonged moment, each secretly comforting the other. Gabrielle was the first to pull away. She needed to know about Lila.
"How is she?" The bard asked in fear.
"Not good." Sara answered bluntly. "She's asleep right now. Why don't you come in."
Gabrielle followed Sara into the house. It was strange. Although she'd grown up in it, the building never felt like her home….not anymore. Even now, just to be inside it, it felt threatening to her freedom. Gabrielle fought down the urge to run out.
They sat down at a quaint table by the fireplace. Sara brought to mugs of tea with a solemn expression to compliment it.
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked, scared. "What's wrong with her?"
"I don' t know. The healers don't know. No one does. She's been feeling it for a while though. About four or five months ago, she started having pains. Nothing really significant. As time went on, it just got worse. She starting getting sick all the time. Sometimes, throwing up nothing but blood."
"We had healers, the best healers, come to examine her. And, of course they each gave their own opinion and their own cure, but nothing has worked. The past week, she's been really bad."
"How bad?"
"Bad enough that I don't think she'll make it through the week. She's in so much pain right now, but she's got this look of peace on her face." Sara said with tears escaping her eyes, Gabrielle soon followed suit.
"Oh, she'll be so happy you're here. She's been talking about you. I mean she always talks about you."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and smiled.
"But this week, it was different. She didn't just say how much she missed you. Mother was telling me about you kind of so I would know you the way she did once she's gone. She told me how brave and kind hearted you are. And she read me the scrolls you gave to her about your adventures."
"I didn't know she kept them."
"Oh yes, she kept everything. She's so proud of you Gabrielle, and the things you've done. She'll be so excited to see you." Sara exclaimed with honest sincerity.
She reached for Gabrielle hand. The bard let her lead the way as the walked together, back to where Lila was. Sara gently pushed open the door and revealed to Gabrielle her peacefully sleeping little sister.
"Lila." The bard whispered in wonder.
At the sound of Gabrielle's voice, the sleeping woman's eyes gently fluttered open.
Xena had finally reached Amphipolis. Something about home gave her a comforting nostalgia. It had only been a few years earlier when the same place inspired nothing but contempt, but now Xena was at peace with herself and her home.
She walked into the inn. After their last stay, the place had been needed some fixing. Years of neglect had thrown it into ultimate disrepair. Gabrielle, Eve, and the warrior had taken some time off and began to renovate the place, but, as always, duty called and they had to exit before completing the renovation.
Now, Xena needed time to think, to be alone. But, thinking was not an all inclusive job. If she didn't have something to keep her hands busy while her mind was busy, the warrior would go stir crazy. I could fix up this place in no time. As she thought to herself, her reflexes pull her to the side. Luckily, out of the way of a falling down ceiling board. Well….maybe not no time, but at least I can get started.
The warrior went upstairs to check on her old room. Surprisingly, the room seemed oddly intact. Though deteriation and decay had reigned everywhere else, hr room was somehow protected. Xena smiled at the discovery.
As darkness began to fall, Xena became aware of how truly late at night it was. Although she had many skills, none of them would be very beneficial to the house at night. She'd have to wait until morning to begin repairs. What she needed now was some fire wood.
Xena trotted out to the forest, the collection taking longer then usual. Just being out there, in the glow of moonlight, made her extra sensitive of the beauty that surrounded her. Why didn't I notice that before?
With an armful of firewood, she headed back to the house. She stopped outside the house check on her horse. The stable was in a state of shambles, but it would have to do. Argo would have never stood for such filth, but her current horse didn't seem to mind. The warrior grabbed her saddle bags and threw them over her shoulder. She gathered her firewood and headed into the house.
A warm fire brewed as Xena munched on trail rations. It was strange. Even though they had now laid her mother's soul in peace, Xena could still very much feel her presence. The warrior yearned for her mother's loving arms to encase her. Yearned for her mother to tell her everything was going to be alright. Yearned for her strength. Xena wanted someone to lean on.
For even a Warrior Princess couldn't be strong all the time.
But the only comfort available to her was the warmth of the fire and the sound of the crickets lightly chirping outside. Xena curled up into her bed. The warrior tried to get situated, but found it to be quite a task. She laid down flat, on her back, and for the first time in a long time, laughed out loud.
Xena had forgotten how long it had been since she'd stayed in her room at the inn. She sat up and looked at her legs, her feet extending several inches from the end of the bed. It was a humorous sight. The great and mighty Warrior Princess trying to fit into a bed that she had last slept in during puberty.
After several tosses and turns, Xena abandoned the idea. She was always a bigger fan of the floor anyway. She gathered up the blankets and proceeded to make a makeshift bed on the floor. After several minutes of settling in, Xena was finally, it seemed, comfortable. And, as tired as her body was, her mind was dead awake. She needed something to occupy her mind.
Xena reached over to her saddle bag and pulled out one of Gabrielle's scrolls. She carefully unrolled it and lovingly looked it over. Deep down, she felt a bit guilty about reading the bard's personal scrolls. But she did say she wished I had read her scrolls, that does mean all of them……doesn't it?! Xena pushed away the guilt and began.
"Alone," She read aloud. " For the first time, I am alone.
It had been one week.
Gabrielle had spent every wakening moment with Lila. The bard sat, in a chair, at her sister's bedside. The talked, they laughed. Lila would ask Gabrielle to tell stories like she had when they were younger and the bard would happily comply.
They spent the time getting to know each other. Gabrielle asked Lila about the twenty five years she'd missed in her sisters life. Lila asked Gabrielle about all the adventures she'd had and about Xena. Lila had poignantly inquired about the warrior's absence. Gabrielle had simply remarked that she had other business to attend to and was away. It would have been so refreshing, if not for such dire circumstances.
When Lila was not awake, Gabrielle spent the time sitting by her bedside just watching her sister. Her eyes scanning back and forth over Lila's body, as if trying to etch the figure in her memory. Gabrielle feared closing her eyes, for fear she'd forget or miss something.
On the rare occasion that the bard ate or slept, it always coincided with Lila's schedule. Both her sister and Sara had tried to get the bard to rest from her vigil, but she adamantly refused. She wanted to spend every minute she could with Lila. She wanted to makeup for every minute she was away; every minute she'd missed.
Today, was a very rare occasion. After staying in Lila's room for six straight days, Gabrielle decided to take a very short leave to bath. Her skin was starting to feel dirty and the last thing she needed was her filth harming Lila.
She had opted for the nearby stream instead of filling a bath tub. The water was freezing yet refreshing. She spent several luxurious minutes basking in the water before exiting to redress. She leisurely put her closes back on and began to dry her hair when she became instantly aware of running footsteps behind her.
"GABRIELLE!" Sara called out. "GABRIELLE!"
The bard ran to meet her.
"What is it Sara?"
"Its mother. She's calling for you."
They both ran off into a dead sprint. When they reached Lila's room, Gabrielle found her sister looking the most frail the bard had ever seen her. She rushed down to her side and instantly took Lila's hand with in hers, pressing her lips to the warm skin.
"What is it Lila?"
"Its time." She said in a thoughtful monotone. The words cut Gabrielle to the core. A floodgate of tears opened up and the bard's mind filled with the implication of her words. Denial reacted as a defense mechanism.
"No." She pleaded, shaking her head. "No, please Lila."
"Yeh, its time." The bard began to sob uncontrollably, but was stopped by Lila request. "Please don't Gabrielle, it'll be ok."
"But I'm your big sister Lila. I'm supposed to go first."
"Well, at least I beat you at something." She remarked in a humorous tone. Gabrielle laughed accordingly, but found no humor in her words.
"I Love you Lila, so much. I'm so sorry I was away so long. If I could do it all over again…."
"I hope you would do same thing again. Gabrielle, you're my sister. I love you. I'm so proud of the life you lead. I wouldn't have you change a thing because I know you were happy. That was all that mattered, all that ever mattered."
"What am I supposed to do when you leave?" Gabrielle asked in a small voice, like a scared child.
"You'll go on. You'll be fine."
"No I won't."
"Yes you will, because that's who you are. But, in response to that. I do have a last request."
"Anything." The bard answered automatically.
"When I met Sara's father, it was love at first sight. He was everything to me. But when we told mother and father we wanted to be married, at first they refused. He was a few years younger then me and his family weren't farmers. They wouldn't accept us."
"I'm sorry."
"It didn't matter to us though. We ran away, got married, and then came back to Poteidaia. They eventually accepted us, and when Sara was born everything perfect. Then, later when they headed after Gurkhan and he died, I thought I would too. It hurt so badly, so deep, when he was gone. I didn't think I'd survive."
"But, over the years I realized something. I was so happy and so in love with him and I'm so thankful for the years we spent together. That short time we were together made the rest of my life worth living. I also thought to the time we prolonged being together. It took us almost a year for me to get up the courage to run away and get married to him."
"So much wasted time. So much time we could have spent together. I've learned nothing, be it petty or tremendous, should stand in the way of true love."
"I believe you. I agree with you." The bard said in ultimate faith and belief.
"Do you? Gabrielle, we've talked for the past week. I've listened to you closely. I know you love Xena with all your heart. I know you're in love with her. I know its true love. I could see it in your eyes before and I can see it now. It's the same look that we held."
"Brie," Lila used her pet name for Gabrielle which she had used as a child when Gabrielle was much too long and hard to say. The utterance brought the bard to even more tears. "I don't know what's keeping you apart. I don't know if you fought, or if you just gave up, or what. But I do know that whatever it is, it's not worth it."
"It's not worth wasting such valuable time together because you don't know when that time will run out. Promise me Brie. Promise me, you'll find her and you'll forgive her, and you'll be happy. Promise me."
"I promise Lila. I promise." Gabrielle voiced quietly, but didn't waver in her tone. She made a solemn oath to her sister.
At her words Lila relaxed and smiled. Sara came to her other side and took Lila's other hand. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.
"He's calling me." Lila exclaimed. "I have to go."
Gabrielle bit her lips to stop from crying out, tears fell furiously down her cheek. Lila reached up both her hands; one to Gabrielle's cheek and one to Sara's.
"I love you both so much."
"I love you too." They both said in unison. The three stayed like that for sometime, just staring at each other. With the passage of several minutes, Gabrielle bent over to place a kiss on Lila's forehead.
Her lips came in contact with cold skin.
She was gone.
Xena quietly packed her bags. She'd been home for nearly a week. It had been a very refreshing experience.
During the day she made repairs on the house while silently contemplating her thoughts. At night she read through Gabrielle's scrolls. She felt more intuned to the bard then ever.
The scrolls had been filled with Gabrielle thoughts and feelings over the whole ordeal. Xena finally realized her point of view. She realized the true depth of Gabrielle pain and the true depth of her own selfishness. She was now truly ready to apologize.
Although she had meant them earlier, they had been empty. Now she was truly aware, for the first time, of her actions. And, she could now say she was truly sorry. Several places in the script, Xena was reduced to tears. So moved by Gabrielle's actions that words were inadequate.
There had been quite a few scrolls on Gabrielle's relationship with Aphrodite. Xena would be lying to herself if she didn't say she was a bit perturbed by their relationship. She had discovered the true nature of the two.
They had been intimate which was what she suspected but did not want to accept. Jealousy raged within her. Why couldn't it have been me? She had asked herself over and over again finding no answer in her warped thoughts.
But, the scrolls often spoke of their relationship outside of the bed. Aphrodite had become Gabrielle's confidant. And as hurt as Xena was to be replaced, she was relieved that the little Amazon had someone close to be with her through everything.
Xena's only solace was Gabrielle's feelings towards Aphrodite. Though it was written plainly that Aphrodite was deeply in love with Gabrielle, no where did it say that Gabrielle returned her feelings. In fact, the bard wrote to some detail about her own inability to do so. She said, of course, that she loved the Goddess but nothing past the dynamic of friendship.
I wonder how she feels about me. Xena knew Gabrielle loved her deeply, like no other. But, what kind of love was it? Was it like she felt for Aphrodite, remaining in the realm of strictly family and friendship? Or was it deeper? Was it more?
The one disturbing fact of Gabrielle's scrolls is that, not even once, was Xena mentioned. She was alluded to, but never her name. Several Gabrielle referred to the warrior as simply 'her', but truly Xena was never really apart of the scrolls. It made her more aware of how not apart of Gabrielle's lifeshe had been in the past months. She feared becoming obsolete.
Xena never wanted that again. She needed to be apart of Gabrielle and for the bard to be apart of her. As Xena mounted her horse, the need to be closer to Gabrielle was like dull ache. She didn't know where Gabrielle was now.
She could still be in Poteidaia…..or not. She could be with the Amazons…..or not. Truth be, she could be anywhere. Even a Warrior Princess's many skills would take time to find her. And, besides, Xena was still feeling very raw. The emotions, the regret, it was all new again and Xena was to sure if she could face Gabrielle right now.
No, she needed to be close to her in spirit, and she knew exactly where to go.
The funeral pyre burned low with the impending sunset.
Sara and Gabrielle watched it die down, holding on to each other for support. They had been this way for hours, simply watching the fire burn down to almost ashes.
Gabrielle was in complete disbelief. How could only ashes remain of the wonderful woman she had been privy to know? She held on tighter to Sara for fear that her knees would give out. So they watched, until the fire died out.
And, when the fire died out, they watched Lila's ashes be swept away by the wind. The northern breeze whisks away more and more of her until all that remained were their memories. Both women stood in disbelief of what they had just witnessed.
A light rain began to fall, but they felt none of it. It was only when the light rain turned to a down pour that the two separated and moved underneath the shelter of the porch.
Still, they just stared at each other too stricken with grief to speak. Finally, Sara opened the door to the house and Gabrielle began to enter, but quickly stepped back. The place she had once called home, was suffocating her. She couldn't remain there. It was too much.
"I have to go."
"I Know." Sara admitted.
"Do you want to come with me?"
"That's kind, but I think I'm gonna stay here. At least for now. I've never really gotten to decide what I wanted to do before. I'm going to take some time to find out."
"Ok. But, remember Sara, you're not alone. I'll always be here if you need me."
"Thank you."
"You know, you said she was proud of me. But, she was even more so of you."
"Really?" Sara asked in child like hopefulness.
"Yeh, she told me."
"Gabrielle, is everything going to be ok?"
"Yes Sara, Everything is going to be ok." She assured her taking the girl, again, into her arms. They broke contact, but still remained with embracing eyes.
"Where will you go?" Sara asked quietly.
"I'm going to find her." They nodded to each other and Gabrielle walked through the rain to her horse.
She knew exactly where she needed to go.

Xena sat beneath the tree, shielded from the rain. She had seen the bad weather coming, but it was of little consequence. Nothing would stop her from reaching her destination. She looked out at the landscape with warm reminiscence.
"This is where it all began."
And it was. This spot was where it had all begun: her true adventures, her quest for good, her happiness, her heart, her soul…….My life. This is where she met Gabrielle.
Xena remembered it as if it was yesterday. Burying her sword and Chakram and vowing to turn her life around but not knowing how. She remembered seeing the slavers trying to kidnap a group of young girls. And she remembered the brave one speaking out. Little did Xena know that the moment she laid eyes on the feisty strawberry blonde, her life truly began.
She knew now. And, she would do whatever it took to get that life back. Nothing was more important then Gabrielle.
Xena heard the sound of a horse off in the distance. She turned to the disturbance and saw a figure riding up towards her. The pouring rain made identifying the lone figure almost impossible, but as the rider neared Xena's heart began to race.
As the distance closed between the two, Xena came to recognize who was right in front of her. Gabrielle. Her palms sweated. Her mind raced. Her heart beat at twice the speed. And she began to sweat in anticipation.
Gabrielle dismounted at walked up several feet away from Xena. With the impeding distance, she still stood outside in the rain while the warrior was under the protective shelter of the tree.
Xena noticed the puffiness of Gabrielle's eyes and her sullen demeanor. She instantaneously felt the sorrow and tension with in her soul mate's body. She wanted to take it all away.
They said nothing, but they didn't have to. Blue meshed into green and suddenly everything was alright.
Xena grabbed for Gabrielle and brought her into a protective embrace as the bard let out her tears. She whispered words of assurance and security , telling her everything would be ok.
All else was forgotten.

Continued in Part 5 .

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