The Empress and The Playwright
copyright May 2001
aka Julia No'l Goldman
Disclaimers: I don't own the characters I just love writing about
them. And I love writing about two of them in particular, and particularly
about them making love, as I do here. Note also that part of this story takes
place during the episode 'When Fates Collide' and as such includes quite a
bit of dialogue that is not mine.
Description: The Greek playwright Gabrielle has an extremely unusual experience while in Rome in this introspective and erotic alternate ending to 'When Fates Collide.'
Thanks: To the Bardic Circle. And always to Xena and Gabrielle.
Didja like it?: MiladyCo@aol.com
To finally arrive in Rome after my chaotic and turbulent journey is a relief.
Simply to be by myself, in a room, sitting in a chair; even that seems worth
celebrating, so I've opened a bottle of wine and I drink as I write. The wine,
like the city, like the palace, well, it all makes Athens look like Poteidaia.
The room I am staying in is large and opulent by anyone's standards. A full
bar, an elegant dressing table covered with perfumes and cosmetics from as
far away as Chin. My bed could sleep a family of five comfortably, and is
canopied with deep blue velvet, piled with pillows. I could write a play about
the bed alone. Huge mirrors hang on the gray stone walls, and I almost want
to laugh it feels so nice to be here. There is a part of me that enjoys this
more than I should, more than I really do. Few of us would not savor the luxuries
of fame if we were lucky enough to have them for a while. I know this won't
last forever. It's not been long that my writing has been well known, and
chances are it won't continue more than a few more years. I'm not naive. I
know much of what is successful is fashion, not substance. Then again, romance
never goes out of style, and romance is my specialty. I've been told more
than once that my words express the heart's fiery passions quite eloquently,
but then, I wouldn't know, would I? Love is only a dream to me, a fantasy,
something I long for like nothing else. I can taste love's sweetness, I can
smell its scent, like fresh earth and wildflowers, and yet... always love
is just out of reach. Like holding nothing in your hand. Turn your palm up,
look into it, and there it is; nothing. Nothing where there should be love.
I unpack. Waxing maudlin will reap nothing but over-dramatic poetry, and I can't run the risk of writing any of that. I am Gabrielle, the infamous playwright and poet of Greece, in Rome at the request of the Emperor himself. They say so many conflicting things about Caesar that I look forward to seeing the man for myself. About his Empress less is said. Only that she is very fierce in battle and very beautiful to look at. I wonder what their relationship is like. Soon enough I will come as close as I ever will to finding out. Tonight my newest play will be performed here in Rome. I wonder what the Romans will think of my story of love and death and life again. Sometimes even I am surprised at the things my mind invents. These romantic tales just come to me, and I let them run wild all over the page. Words and images and feelings. Somehow it seemed right to me, for my work to be performed. I could have simply been a poet but there's something important about having the words spoken, the scenes played out. As if it will seem more real to the audience, and that will help my message of love resonate for them.
I divest myself of my traveling clothes and spread out on my bed the dress I will wear tonight. I catch sight of my naked body in a mirror and stop to look at myself. So smooth, still so relatively young. I will tell myself as many times as I must that I made the right decisions; I should not have married Perdicus, I should not have stayed to help run the farm. Just because I have this beautiful, smooth, young body and no husband to share it with, no lover to drive me to ecstasy every night with his powerful, gentle hands... It doesn't mean there isn't someone out there for me. Someone who's been waiting, the way I have.
My hair has uncurled a bit from the journey so I comb it lightly and curl it around my finger while I enjoy another glass of wine. I wrap a silk sheet around my nakedness and step out onto the balcony. The sun has just gone down and I have the most beautiful view, half of Rome outside my window. I find myself getting caught up again in the lights in all the homes, wondering if behind one of those windows is the person for me. There are other balconies along this section of the palace and all of them are vacant now. I gaze out into nothing. What are dreams if not for dreaming?
The theater is tremendous, so cavernous and masculine in style. Behind the stage there is no wall, but a view of the night sky and Rome behind it. It's dark and exciting, hundreds of people all listening to my words. I love to watch my plays be performed. A few people whisper and point, 'That's the playwright.' I hear them, but most do not know that it is me. I can hide in the dark and experience it all. The crowd tonight seems to enjoy it; they laugh and sigh at all the right places. It translates well, in more ways than one, I am very glad to say. Who among us does not long for that kind of love, or, if they're lucky enough to have it, isn't happy to see it represented on the stage? Love is the universal language, they say. Love is the Way. The ovation is thunderous and I am called onto the stage. Looking out into the dark crowd is disconcerting, the applause even louder from here. My body tingles with excitement, such a moment of oneness with my audience, with the actors, with my self. I am someone, I made something of myself, I have a purpose. I remember my manners and acknowledge the royal box. As the crowd turns as one to bow to the Emperor, I find my eyes won't move past her.
The Empress Xena, I presume it is, and certainly she is beautiful, but it's not just her beauty that makes my heart pound so wildly in my chest, though my body almost sways with desire as I stare into her eyes. All of Rome watches as I blush at the naked emotion on her face. There is desire there, surely, but something more. The tingling between my legs won't cease as I shake my head in an attempt to clear it, to clear anything. I want to speak with her, to touch her face. She is so beautiful and intense she makes me shy, I have to look away from her. The clapping is heart-felt and endless. Because of me, I remember suddenly, and 'Fallen Angel.'
I can think of nothing but the way merely looking at her made me feel until I spot her again at the party. I watch her circulate and my heart feels as if it is five times it's normal size. It's exhilarating to just be in the same room as the Empress. She is very tall, and slender, with obvious muscles moving just under her smooth, feminine flesh. She wears her black hair up and little curls fall around her face. I never imagined that looking at a woman could make me feel this way. If I'm honest with myself I'll admit nothing has ever made me feel this way before tonight. It doesn't take long for me to realize that perhaps she is the one. That would be appropriately ironic, that my soul mate be married to Julius Caesar himself! Talk about unattainable desires. If this is true I almost wish I wasn't privy to it. But just almost, because, well, it's love.
She is working her way across the room towards me. Every couple she greets, every cheek she kisses, is another sidetrack on her voyage to me. The room is large and the ceiling is high. Conversations float in and out of my hearing, servants circulate with silver platters piled with finger foods and goblets of wine. She's almost here and I have prepared nothing witty to say.
'Gabrielle,' says a voice so warm it could belong to no one but her, 'Let me be the hundredth person to welcome you to Rome.'
'Thank you, Empress,' I say, finding words somehow with her blue eyes staring into mine, 'Though a welcome from you would easily stand out among a million others.'
'You're just being silly,' she says, laughing. Her laughter is affectionate.
'I'm being honest,' I say, blushing. There's something just a little sad about her eyes. I imagine her hair is incredible when she wears it down.
'The ability to be honest is a great gift, Gabrielle,' she says, 'It is wonderful of you to share it with your audience the way you do.'
'That's kind of you to say,' I answer, amazed at how normal my voice sounds.
'I'm just being honest,' she says, the edge of her mouth curling up in a smile, 'How long have you been a writer?'
'As long as I can remember,' I say, 'When I was just a little girl I would write scenes and force my sister to play them with me.'
'Truly a command performance,' she jokes, her smile so warm.
I can't help but laugh. It feels good to laugh, to smile while she is smiling. It makes me feel connected to her.
"I found your play very moving," says the Empress, suddenly serious.
'I'm so glad,' I say.
"What inspires you?"
"It's like the words come from somewhere else. I just write them down,' I say, feeling glorious just because I am speaking with her, 'But you, Empress, all of Rome talks about you. The country thrives. The people adore you. They say that the army would follow you through the gates of Hades."
"Well, everything has its price, Gabrielle." Do I imagine she looks at Caesar?
'Yes,' I say, 'I wonder sometimes if not having love is the price I pay for my success.'
The Empress looks at me as if I've read her mind. I still don't believe I said that. Love is a madness; I was right.
"In the third act, you had your hero throw himself over the cliff with no fear of dying, all for her. Do you really believe that kind of love exists?" She looks at me so earnestly, as if my answer means everything to her.
"That's what we all dream about, isn't it?' I ask, 'Someone who looks so deeply into our soul that they'd find something worth dying for."
Suddenly Caesar is standing next to her. He says something condescending to me about the play, to which I nod my response; I imagine he thinks it is a bow. He tells her something about the army needing them early the next day. She looks at me with an expression of such politeness I could almost think everything else was my fantasy.
"Thank you, Gabrielle, for honoring Rome with your play. Good night."
She rests her hand on Caesar's arm and he escorts her out of the party. Against my will, my eyes follow her. I have never stared at a woman's backside in my life, but I find I can't control myself. She is beyond elegant and once she leaves the room I feel a sadness descend upon my heart. Though normally I would enjoy a wonderful party like this until the very end, suddenly I have the urge to be by myself, and I slip out quietly.
I light all the candles in my room; the darkness I feel makes me want to be surrounded by light. What is wrong with me? I sit at my dressing table with a glass of wine, staring at myself in the mirror as I unpin my head dress. I've never looked as Greek as I do tonight, yet after speaking with the Empress I feel like a stranger in my own skin. My own eyes look different in the mirror. I take off my earrings and lay them on the dressing table next to my brush.
The way she spoke of love; I don't think she loves the Emperor. She still searches for truth, for meaning. What is love, what is life, why? As if I have the answers. All I have are words.
I've had a great deal to drink tonight but it's providing an odd sort of clarity. I take off my dress and lay it gently over the back of a chair. Suddenly I feel the urge to go out onto the balcony, so I wrap myself up in a sheet and walk out into my own private piece of night. Rome is particularly beautiful in the dark. I realize I am not alone, and my eyes are drawn to a balcony directly across the courtyard. I raise them and find myself looking right into the Empress's soul. Though she is dressed, the rest of her is naked to me and I see it all. Her longing, her melancholy, her passionate nature. Can she really be looking at me like that? I blush and look away, suddenly feeling warm and confused. But I have to look at her again. Her hair is down in a long braid and her desire floats across the courtyard like the smoke of fine, exotic incense.
I have never felt this kind of shyness before. I continue to hold her stare and my heart pounds rapidly. I nod at her and try to smile. I can't take the intensity of her gaze any longer, and I retreat into my room where I stand just inside, leaning against the wall for support. I am the Empress's object of desire; any fool could see that. Suddenly I realize that Caesar saw it; that's why they left the party so quickly. Oh gods! All my life I've dreamed of proving that love at first sight truly exists, and now that I've experienced it, I realize how much fear is involved. I knew that fear comes hand in hand with love but I never dreamed my legs would actually shake like this.
I drink my wine and think about the Empress's mouth, the way her lips parted as she stared into my eyes. Did she see as far into my soul as I did hers? And if she did, what did she see? After a few minutes the wine gives me the courage to step back out onto the balcony, and my heart stops cold at the view; the Empress in the Emperor's arms. Her back is to me and Caesar's eyes meet mine. He despises me, I can feel it like a slap across the face. I hold his stare; I can't back down. It's as if something has happened, as if he is comforting her. And then I feel it, the evil underbelly of love; jealousy. That she is his to comfort and not mine. That perhaps they will lie together tonight and she will call out his name, and he will call out hers. 'Xena.' A word I suddenly crave wrapping my mouth around. I pull the sheet more tightly to me and exit the balcony again; I can watch her in his arms no longer.
'Xena,' I whisper to an empty room. What if she doesn't say his name tonight, but mine instead? What would Caesar do? I can almost hear her, 'Gabrielle,' she says, her voice deep with passion. I lie down on the blue silk sheets of my bed and close my eyes, imagining she is with me. 'Xena,' I whisper again as I let the sheet slide from my body. Suddenly my skin feels hot in the cool night air, and I run my hands along my stomach to my breasts. I imagine my hands are hers, large, with long, strong fingers; the way I touch my own body feels different tonight. My right hand slides down between my legs and the delicious feeling of my wetness pulls her name again from my throat. I've never imagined a woman touching me before, and my response tells me I probably should have. I imagine she kisses me, her long dark hair falling around my head, blocking out the world. The way I touch myself feels so good I sigh and groan with satisfaction. My hands are hers, between my legs, on my breast, and our lovemaking seems so real I can almost feel her weight pressing down on top of me. I whisper her name again and she says mine in response as she parts my thighs and moves so she is between them. She makes love to me ardently, bending to kiss me, her hands everywhere. It's like nothing I've ever experienced, like fire, like magic, like love. I moan her name as I come, an orgasm so strong, so deep, that when I open my eyes I am truly surprised I am alone. I lie here, almost out of breath, staring up at the canopy of my bed.
As I fall asleep I realize I probably should have accepted that invitation to visit Sappho's writer's colony. My dreams are crazed. Me and the Empress, on horseback, riding swiftly, chased by lightening bolts. I wake up feeling anxious. What was that all about? Thinking about my fantasies of her last night, it's almost as if it happened, and it makes me feel closer to her. Will I see her again while I'm here? I change into a purple dress and put my hair up; I love the way it looks curled like this. It makes me feel almost beautiful.
Suddenly there is banging at my door and five guards enter, along with the man Caesar was speaking with at the party. They grab me and pull me after them.
'Wait, what's going on?' I ask and no one answers. They drag me down the hallways and I admit I'm scared. I suddenly realize how vulnerable I am in this situation. "There must be a mistake! I've committed no crime against Caesar!"
The guards don't care, they're following orders. Less than twenty four hours after arriving in Rome, I find myself in a cell in the palace prison. This is a very bad situation. The guards strip me of my dress and throw a gray rag at me as they leave, as if it would be so terrible for them to leave me the dignity of clothing. I rip the rag into two pieces and create a makeshift outfit. I bang on the cell door, try talking to the guards, but still no one responds. For some reason I feel calm enough. Yes, this is bad, but there's no sense in getting hysterical. The door to my cell opens and a guard enters with scissors.
'Please don't,' I say, having no idea what he's going to do. There's no point in trying to fight him. There are more outside and I can't take them all on. The guard moves behind me and begins to cut my hair with a carelessness that borders on dangerous. My precious golden fleece! My mother used to call it that when I was a little girl and I didn't want to let her cut it. Will I ever see her again? I haven't visited my family in four years. Though this is no time for regrets, a few tears drip down my face anyway.
The door to my cell opens and she enters, the most beautiful woman the gods ever created. Why am I not completely surprised to see her? The guard exits.
"Empress," I say, getting to my feet.
"Caesar tells me that you are an assassin. Is this true?"
"An assassin? I've never harmed anyone in my life.' I think maybe she's going to help me, but then I realize, 'Why should you believe me instead of your husband?"
I sit back down on the block behind me. But she's here. She came to me.
"I believe you," she says.
"You think that love is worth dying for. That's not exactly the path of an assassin."
She sits next to me. There's something different about her now, like there is a huge new weight pressing down on her. It pains me and I want to help her, I wish I could help her. But I'm probably about to die.
"They're building crosses," I say, focusing on the constant muted hammering in the distance.
"Yes. You can't have a crucifixion without crosses.' She stares into the distance. What does she see? 'Why would Caesar want you dead?" She's so gentle and serious. I don't believe she is a fierce warrior. Crucifixion? She's so matter of fact about my impending demise, whereas I'd really been thinking I'd die in my sleep in forty years or so. It's almost a relief that there's no time for panic.
"I don't know. I'm a playwright. I live on a vineyard by the sea. I... I have a simple life. What possible threat could I be to Caesar?"
"I don't know, but I intend to find out. Guards?!' She stands up and moves to the door of my cell. It opens for her and she leaves, pulling the kind-looking guard with the scar after her. What is she going to do? Is there any possible way she can save me at this point? Having limited options I pray to Aphrodite, goddess of love, to spare my poor soul. I tell her again about how I spread the word of love, how my plays move people, how I so honor everything she stands for. Please, Aphrodite, let me be with Xena, let me live to share a love so great that all the poetry in the world could not do it justice.
The door to my cell bangs open but this time it's guards and my heart falls. No, please, no. They drag me through the prison again and it's terrible. It's like a nightmare gone wrong as they pull me out into a courtyard on this beautiful sunny afternoon. 'No. Please...' I should be shopping in the market, dammit! I should be drinking wine in a cafe! Instead they're throwing me down onto the ground and tying me to a cross. This can't be happening but my back hurts more than any dream I've ever had. This is it. My destiny has brought me to this moment. I have finally found love and I must pay for it with my life. Gods, I hate irony.
Suddenly I hear her unmistakable voice yell, 'Stop!' and the guard's hand halts right before hammering my mine to the cross. Now that's timing, I've got to give her that. Tears of relief fall from my eyes. I can't hear her conversation with Caesar but there's anger and desperation in her voice. Suddenly I can feel her running towards me, pushing guards out of the way.
"Gabrielle! Get out of the way! Get your filthy hands off her! Gabrielle. Can you stand? Are you all right?"
She pulls me to my feet and I stare at the ground. It's the first time she's touched me and I can barely breathe.
"Thank you for saving my life, Empress. I am in your debt."
She puts her fingers under my chin and raises my head so I look into her eyes. Suddenly we are alone in the courtyard full of people and I know how much she loves me, it's all there to on her face; she loves me much more than she should. The Empress takes her cape off and wraps it around my shoulders. I have never felt so taken care of.
"I'm not your Empress. I'm your friend. Bring her a horse!' she calls out, 'Gabrielle, go back to your vineyard by the sea. Be happy. Write all those great plays you've got inside you." She pulls me into her arms and I can do nothing but hug her back. Yes, in my arms, that's where she belongs. The pain of the pleasure of this moment is incredible.
She lets go of me, and I can see she's on the verge of tears. How can this be happening? She turns and walks away from me, back towards Caesar. I can't let her go without telling her how I feel. I can't.
"Xena! Xena!' I call out to her, not caring if anyone else hears me 'When I thought I was going to die... it all became so clear. My life is empty, despite my success. I write about love, but I've never felt it before." She turns back to look at me. I cannot believe I've just told a virtual stranger that I'm in love with her. It's just so clear to me that the Empress loves me too.
"Rome is not safe for you. Leave now." She is protecting me. I have to accept that. She saved me, after all; I am in her debt.
"I will never forget you," I say, feeling finally like a heroine in one of my plays, strong in my love and confident in my sacrifice. The Empress walks back to the Emperor and the guards walk me back into the palace. They give me my dress and put me on a horse and I'm gone. That's it; no packing, no nothing, just out of Rome. I am not sure why I'm in danger, but I can think of no reason other than because she loves me. I've definitely made a judgment about Caesar and it's not a pretty one. As I ride quickly through this beautiful afternoon, amazed to still be caught up in one of my own tales, I wonder if I am being chased.
Suddenly, ahead of me I see a figure in the distance that gives off a malevolent aura. And then I am flying backwards off my horse through the air and hard onto the ground. I try to crawl away, suddenly having this feeling that I have been here before. Instantly she is in front of me, pulling me to my knees by my neck, this huge, beautiful, evil woman. She's even taller than the Empress, with long dark hair, but that's where the resemblance ends. How can she move so quickly? How can she be this strong? Should I have stayed in my vineyard by the sea and never visited Rome at all?
"Such a pretty girl, huh?' she crows as she holds me immobilized, 'Do you know what a fate worse than death means? Dying before you get a chance to know who you really are." She's enjoying this more than she should be. Though my eyes are open, suddenly I am seeing scenes in my mind, scenes I am in that I've never experienced.
"I'm not cut out for this village life. I was born to do so much more." I am saying this to Lila. Xena pulls me up behind her onto a horse, and then all these images come at me. Images of me, and of Xena. Confusing pictures; in one my hair is red, then it's blonde. They're like memories I've forgotten. Suddenly everything is cold and I am being crucified, and then I'm dying from poison, and Xena is holding my hand, telling me that even in death she will never leave me. Xena and me. It all comes back. I already know the Empress; she's my best friend. We've been together for years but something happened. My mind races and I hear the evil woman laughing in the back of my thoughts; she's tried to kill me before. I live in a vineyard by the sea, but I've been traveling all these years with Xena, more than thirty years, in fact. Oh my gods, it's Alti! What the Hades is going on? We were with Xenan just yesterday...weren't we? Ephiny's ghost? Did that even happen?
"Altiiii!' I hear Xena scream but I still can't see. 'Gabrielle! Come on, get up. Gabrielle! What has she done to you?' Xena is panicky. She knows who I am too; I can hear it in her voice. 'Altiiiii!"
"My powers have evolved, Xena. That glimpse into your soul showed me the other world."
"Alti-- " Xena is still near me. If she is near me everything is fine. I don't care what else happens as long as we are together.
"I saw just how strong I've become, and, thanks to you, I'm just hitting my stride."
"This isn't about you, Alti!"
"Oh, yes it is! It's all about me, and what I know! Your story will end with your playwright unable to save her ÔFallen Angel'." Alti laughs and it makes me so angry. How dare that bitch make fun of my play? I sense that they've begun to fight and Alti's distraction frees me from her hold. I fall to the ground and begin to get control back over my body. My mind continues to reel, my memories a confusing blur. All I know is Xena saved me, and I love her. I love her like I never realized I loved her. I don't know how I was so stupid, but it's over now. I want Xena and Xena wants me and if Alti doesn't kill us both, I will be her lover. End of story. I wish I had my--what are those weapons called? I can picture them in my mind, like little tridents...
Suddenly Roman soldiers arrive and Xena fights them. She's incredible, in her tight black leather pants and her long, long hair. She fights slightly differently, as if she's still not quite herself, and she's not as good as she should be. The soldiers keep coming and suddenly there are arrows flying and hitting her. A chariot pulls up and it's that bastard Caesar. Xena falls to her knees.
"Xena!" I scream, terrified for her. I try to run to her but the guard with the scar who I now realize looks amazingly like Joxer, holds me back.
"No! No! You can't help her. But I can help you."
He's right. I can do nothing. I let him hold me back and I listen. Caesar has aged terribly, or maybe it's just a side effect of his being dead for so long.
"You couldn't let it go, could you?" he taunts my beloved.
"You betrayed me again, Caesar. No matter what life you live, you'll always be scum! Not even the Fates could change that." It hurts me to hear how she still hates him; I wish she didn't have to feel that pain. Her wrists tied together, arrows embedded in her flesh, surrounded by soldiers who hold sword points to her throat and the back of her neck, she is still the greatest hero I have ever seen.
"Your death will not be in vain, Xena, because you'll always hold a special place in Rome's heart, amongst Caesar's conquered."
Xena spits at him. Alti laughs. Xena breaks the arrow that sticks out of her chest as soldiers tie her ankles together and suddenly they're pulling her along the ground behind a horse. There has to be something I can do to stop this situation from unraveling further. The party starts back for the palace. Once we enter the city the Joxer guard pulls me aside and says, 'I promised her I'd help you get out of here.'
'I have to see her again.'
'You're gonna risk your life to do that? Both our lives?'
'You don't have to help.'
'I'll help. I owe her that much.'
'What's your name?'
'Jett,' he says.
'Jett,' I say. I can almost remember who he is, so I lean forward and kiss him on the cheek.
He blushes and looks at me like I've lost my mind. He finds a cloak for me to cover myself with and we sneak through the city and into the palace jail. Didn't I just escape from here? Didn't Xena just risk her life twice to keep me away from here? I don't care, I can't leave her to die alone. That's a proven fact. I don't want to be crucified again, the pain is unbearable and it's just not fair that this has happened again. That feeling of being deep underwater and pushing up, swimming towards the surface, that desperate need to reach the air and draw breath, to claw through anything I have to to get what I need to survive. That is the way I love Xena.
"I can't believe they were gonna kill you for writing that bad play. I saw it. Coulda used a few more fight scenes," says Jett as he opens the door to Xena's cell.
"I'll keep that in mind.'
I enter the cell, leaving him outside with the other guards. I walk towards her slowly. She's lying there all beat up, wrapped in a dirty sheet; she looks like she's feverish, like she's been crying. Gods, how I love her. Her wounded body is so beautiful to me.
'Xena," I whisper.
"Gabrielle, you shouldn't have come." She speaks quietly. I can tell she's angry I didn't stay away, that I didn't let her save me, and at the same time she's not surprised and almost pleased. I can't help it if I want to save her too. That's the way love is.
"Alti showed me something. Another world, or time." I need to let her know I am both Gabrielles, the one she loves and the one she fell in love with too.
"That doesn't matter now." She groans in pain as I help her to sit up.
"I'm sorry," I whisper.
"It's okay, " whispers Xena.
I pause, hoping I can convey what I feel, "Xena, when I'm with you, this emptiness that I have felt my entire life is gone... You have to tell me what's going on." She looks as me with such tenderness and disbelief.
"Caesar changed our fate, giving us this godforsaken world." She's crying. It scares me.
"There must be something that I can do." There must be. I'm the legendary battling bard, am I not?
"No. What you can do is get out of here alive. I have to go through this alone."
"I can't let you die," I whisper, tears choking my voice. I stroke her back gently near the inflamed arrow wound. I imagine the arrow's still embedded in there somewhere.
"Some things are worth dying for. Isn't that what your play was about? Being prepared to sacrifice all for love?" Her voice is quiet, desperate for me to understand. I understand. How could I not?
"For love," I agree. Finally, finally we tell each other the truth. Tears fall from her eyes in pairs, flowing down her beautiful face. I wish we were anywhere else in the world. I wish we had even the smallest chance to get out of this together and alive.
"In the other world, my destiny was linked to Caesar... and that cross... and I hated them both.. but now I realize that... everything happens precisely as it should... precisely." Her fever raises her intensity. I wish I had the guts to kiss her.
"Xena..." I can't do this. I can't just leave her alone here to be crucified. I get up and stand before her.
"Go now, Gabrielle." If only she would stop crying.
"I can't," I choke out. There's nothing in the world for me if there's no Xena. My beautiful Empress, by hero, my partner, my best friend, my love.
"Go now. Get out." She can barely keep her eyes open. She must be in terrible pain.
"No," I whisper. I stand in front of her, running my hands over her hair, staring into her eyes. She's my warrior princess with my Empress's heart. No one has ever loved anyone as much as I love her in this moment, though when I lose myself in her eyes I think maybe I'm wrong.
"Get out." She's stronger than I am.
"Don't." Why can't she do anything? Why has this happened to us?
"Empress; it's time," Jett says. I feel the guards coming for her.
I hold her face in my hands, we smile at each other as we cry. I love her so much that the word seems inadequate. Until I look into her eyes again and see there's no need for words.
"I'll love you forever," she whispers. It bubbles out of her, her eyes glassy with feverish passion. As they drag her away from me, I watch as she masks her emotions with one of her brave warrior expressions. She is so beautiful. I let the guards pull me away.
"Don't touch her," I say, but I know there's nothing I can do. They have her. The guards drag her away and Jett pulls me into the shadows.
'Her death means nothing if you don't get away,' he says to me.
'You're right.' I let him sneak me out of the jail, and thank him again before mounting a horse and riding out of the city.
I have never been this angry in either of my lives. I feel the horse's muscles move between my legs and I hold tight as I ride as fast as we can go. Though the day is still bright and the sky blue, a downpour begins suddenly. What better proof that this shouldn't be happening, that it's all wrong. Gods, this is terrible. Xena is dying, we're trapped in this stupid, stupid world. I can feel her strength slipping from her. I cannot stand it. I cannot live with it. There is nothing, nothing for me in any world without Xena. Reincarnation is just not good enough. Xena is who I want. Always. I scream wordlessly into the rain as in my mind's eye they tie her to the cross, ready those little pieces of wood to hammer into her hands. What's the point of them, anyway? I can't think about this. I can't think about anything. I have to stop it. Stop the world. That's it.
I scream a war cry as I ride through the rain, Xena's struggling breaths in my ear. They've nailed her to the cross by now, I know it. I can feel her pain, I can feel her love. Amazingly the horse and I arrive at the temple without injuring ourselves, and I storm in. The hallway is long and dark and my wet dress slows me down as I march towards the loom of the Fates. Everything is garbled, it's all ruined, all wrong. My heart feels squeezed dry.
"It's horrible," I whisper.
'When Caesar left us chained," says Clotho. I spin around and see the three Fates chained to the wall behind me.
"We could not mind the loom," says Lachesis.
"Creating a world full of chaos and confusion," adds Atropos.
"We're stuck in this world because of you?" My anger has reached a boiling point. I want to grab them and shake them, explain that Xena is dying and they have to do something! But obviously there is nothing they can do or they already would have done it, wouldn't they? I grab the torch from the wall above them. They can read my intentions in my eyes. I imagine they see some madness there as well. Certainly I feel mad. Twenty four hours ago I arrived in Rome on the verge of a new adventure. I shake my head. No. No, this adventure started six years ago. Didn't it? I can barely think.
"No! Burning the loom--" warns Clotho.
"--will destroy everything!" Lachesis finishes.
"So be it,' I say, not even recognizing my voice. I can't believe what I'm about to do. 'Your loom destroyed what was meant to be." I didn't even get to kiss her! I feel Xena's breathing become more labored and I throw the torch into the loom with all my strength. It bursts into flames. I fall to my knees from the heat as tendrils of color and flame reach out around the loom. I feel Xena dying. Everything is changing melting, ending. Fiery explosions. What have I done?
Suddenly I am on a road, the tree branches meet overhead so I cannot see the sky, or far in front of me at all for the thick fog. Where am I? What's happened? Not death, not a dream. I look down to see my red top, my skirt, my boots, my sais. I'm me again. I wander in the fog, wondering if I am back in the old world. I hear the sound of a horse approaching and turn, almost afraid of what I might see. My heart expands when I see Xena, on Argo Junior, pulling up in front of me.
"Hey," she says, her voice full of emotion. I see the Empress is still in there and I like that a lot.
"Hi," I answer, looking up at her.
"You brought the world back to us."
"I'm glad. I like this one better." I feel almost cocky. I did bring the world back, didn't I? Not that I meant to, but still, score one for the battling bard.
"Even though you're not a famous playwright?" she asks shyly.
"Fame. Who needs it?' I say, while knowing that in this life I have fame enough, fame that connects me to her. She holds her hand out and pulls me up onto the horse behind her. Just like old times. I put my arms around her and press myself up against her as she pulls back on the reins.
'Did you really like my play?" I ask, wondering who will answer.
"It was all right. Maybe it coulda done with a few more fight scenes." That's my Xena.
"Everyone's a critic."
We ride in silence for a while. It's still a beautiful day and I feel stunned, like I've been hit in the head with a hammer about fifty times. Conveniently enough we don't have our injuries from the other world, but the headache itself is more than adequate. Time travel will do that to you, I guess. Was that time travel? Whatever it was, I don't care; I've got my arms around Xena.
'Do you know where we are?' I say loudly into her ear after a while.
'No,' she answers into the wind.
'Where are we going?'
'West.' That seems as good a choice as any. I figure she figures we're just west of Rome. We ride until dusk, and set up camp by a lake.
'I'm gonna go kill something for dinner,' she says.
'Don't go far,' I say, trying not to let the fear creep into my voice.
'I won't,' she says, and walks into the bushes.
I light the fire, spread our bedrolls out together. I'm amazed at the things I've found in Argo Junior's pack; everything we left there has remained, so I can make us a decent meal. I hear a familiar bird call come out of the woods and I answer back, glad she's still nearby. As I prepare dinner I have these flashes of cooking in the kitchen in my home at the vineyard. Did I actually live that life, or do I just have the memories of it? I cooked for myself every night, always wishing that Xena was there, but not knowing it was even her my soul sought. There are some blank scrolls among our belongings and I look forward to having time soon to write about being the playwright. Xena returns and I skin and cook the rabbit. We don't say much, just sit in companionable silence, doing the things we always do by the campfire at night.
'You're so much more beautiful like this,' I say accidentally.
'Like what?' she asks, looking up from her work.
'Tougher,' I say, trying to make it a joke.
'I don't feel tougher. I still feel the Empress inside me.'
'I still feel like the playwright. I keep remembering her life, my life. you know what I mean.'
I serve dinner and we sit together on the bedroll by the fire as we eat.
'Who do you feel more like?' she asks after a while.
'Like me,' I say, 'I mean, gods, the battling bard, for want of a better term. Fifty years old and not a wrinkle to show for it. But I feel, I feel like both of them. I have the playwright's memories and feelings, and desires.' I hope I haven't gone too far. I don't want to mess this up. If I only just realized how I feel about her, I have no idea what this is like for her. We've never really talked much about love. I mean, the warrior princess and I haven't.
'That's how I feel too,' she says shortly, trying to cover her emotions, proving the point that she is mostly the stubborn, angry warrior I've known for so long. 'You're the lucky one, Gabrielle; you don't have memories of having sex with Caesar.'
I look at her and laugh. She smiles ruefully at me. This is another one of those experiences it's going to take us a long, long time to heal from.
After dinner we sit together by the fire, drinking wine and sharing memories of our other lives. I talk to her about the plays and stories I want to write, with new ideas and new images; I don't want to write just about us anymore.
'You know what I really don't like?' she asks, 'I don't like how when I haven't had this evil past I turn into some kind of idiot.'
'You're never an idiot,' I say. Except in this life but I don't want to go there.
'Oh, come on. I stayed married to Caesar all those years, and not only was the man obviously crazy, but I ended up not having enough power to save my own life. Admit it. Does that sound like me?'
'Okay. I admit it sounds a little naive for you.'
'Thank you. You, on the other hand, turned out quite well without me. You and your vineyard by the sea.'
'I was kind of proud, actually.'
'Remember when we came back from the dead and I had lost my darkness? You said you thought a person needed to know the darkest parts of themselves to be truly whole. I think you were right.'
'Me too,' I say. But she doesn't know the half of it. I am enjoying my newfound access to the darkest parts of my soul. I've let go of so much and it makes me feel so powerful. It should probably scare me but it doesn't and the fact that it doesn't should scare me even more. But that doesn't scare me either.
Finally she asks the question I least want to answer.
'What did you do, to bring the world back?' When I don't reply she turns and looks at me. 'What did you do?' Now she is suspicious.
'I...I didn't mean to...' I stammer. She knows I'm not perfect and she loves me anyway. Repeat. 'I set the loom on fire. I destroyed it. I meant to destroy it.'
She looks at me with a shocked expression, and reaches out to take my hand. I can't meet her eye but I can't pull my hand away either.
'I was angry. We tried so hard, Xena! It wasn't fair that you had to die, that we couldn't be together,' I try not to let the tears fill my eyes but they do. 'Before...I didn't realize...I mean, that I was in love with you. I didn't know...' My whispered words fade away and Xena gently turns my face towards hers.
'So you destroyed the world because we couldn't be together?' she asks.
'Yeah, I guess so.' I blush like I did on the balcony because she's looking at me the same way she did then.
'You know, part of me thinks that's incredibly romantic,' she whispers, 'Dangerous, stupid, and selfish, but very romantic.'
'You do?' I ask, staring at her lips.
'Yeah, I do,' she whispers. I feel her moving closer and I raise my head so I can meet her eyes, and in them I see all the Xenas. They're gentle or rough, angry or joyful, vengeful or at peace, but they're all there in her eyes. I want to kiss them all, so I do. Our lips meet after a lifetime of waiting and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't worth everything I've been through. Having to kill people, losing everyone else I ever loved, just for this kiss. We cup each others faces, and as our tongues meet it's as if we're actually blending together. I've never felt anything like this before. My heart hurts terribly but I ignore it. I feel exposed, naked to her, and it's as wonderful as it is scary. She pulls slowly out of the kiss and looks at me shyly from underneath her bangs.
'That was very nice, Xena,' I whisper.
'Yeah,' she says, pulling me into a tight hug. We hold each other for a while before we get under our blankets, and then we hold each other some more while we sleep. It's pretty clear to me that I made the right decision with the whole burning the loom thing.
I wake up before Xena does, every muscle aching. Her sleeping body in my arms is wonderful. Wow wow wow. Xena's in love with me. I can't believe I almost lost this. I almost lost everything. My gentle, beautiful warrior woman, her eyebrow arched even in sleep. So damn cute. What lies ahead for us now on this terrible journey of life? Once you've done it all, or rather, once you've done it all two or three times as Xena and I have, what in Hades is left but death? We fail now more than we ever have and it scares me. I can't lose her. I can't feel like I did this morning in the other world ever, ever again.
And suddenly I get my shocking idea. Not that it's new, no, I've thought along these lines before but told myself I shouldn't. That I was a silly romantic child and I should be realistic and responsible. The playwright is becoming a dangerous influence; her self-confidence and her romantic nature are stronger in me now than my old feelings of right and wrong. I had to give those up at Helicon, I remember all too well. After that, I couldn't really go back. Because things no longer make sense when applied to the old principles. It's a new game, and I'm making my own rules this time. I don't care if what I do is wrong; perhaps 'wrong' just isn't the absolute I used to think it was.
I slip out of Xena's arms and leave her sleeping there while I begin to prepare breakfast. Deep in a saddle bag I find my pouch of spices. Smaller leather bags within it keep the condiments as fresh as I can manage on the road. Am I silly to want to make her happy with good food? I find the sugar and the cinnamon for the oatmeal. She'll enjoy anything with enough sugar and cinnamon, my warrior will. I search for the smallest bag at the very bottom of the pouch, and there it is. I open it and the tiny dried up pieces are still there. Amazing. I cut them even smaller, mashing them with other ingredients, then with the sugar and cinnamon, and pour it all into the oatmeal. By the time Xena wakes up the oatmeal is hot and I've gotten back into her arms.
'Hey,' she says.
'Hey,' I say. I kiss her. It's just the same; a better feeling than I'd ever imagined could exist. We look at each other and even that seems different.
I serve us each a bowl of the oatmeal. It's good, I have to admit. Xena likes it. We sit together by the fire, our bedrolls wrapped around us, as we eat. I'm nervous and I try hard not to let it show.
As Xena nears the end of her oatmeal she says, 'That's it. It tastes like apples. Where'd you get apples around here?'
'Oh, they were among the dried fruit I'd packed away months ago.' I can tell she senses my nervousness. Suddenly the chirping of the birds is loud in my ears, along with my heartbeat.
'What kind of apples, Gabrielle?' Xena's voice comes at me from a long way away.
'You know, apples,' I say, finishing my oatmeal and slowly moving away from her. Accidentally my hand meets the sharp blade of the knife I'd used to cut the apples. I pull back from it quickly and Xena reaches out for me automatically, always the healer she. There's no blood. I start to shake.
'No blood,' she says quietly. She lets go of my hand and picks up the knife, slashing it across her palm quickly. No blood. She looks up at me.
'Golden apples,' I say quickly, 'but not enough to make us gods.'
'It only takes a bite to--'
'Aphrodite told me what to mix it with to neutralize some of the power--'
'Aphrodite told you...' Xena is looking at me wide-eyed.
'I can't live without you, Xena,' I say, tears coming into my eyes, 'I can't ever live through that again.'
She looks at me as if she's never seen me before. 'So you made us immortal?'
'Yes,' I say quietly, looking into her eyes, 'I don't care if what I did was wrong. I don't care about anything anymore except you. Nothing ever works out and I need,' I'm almost crying now, 'Xena, I just need one thing I can always count on. Please forgive me.'
'You didn't even ask.'
'You would have said no.'
Xena just stares at me.
'Talk to me,' I say.
'I need a little time to adjust, okay?' she asks, looking confused and a bit sad. She stands and pulls me up with her.
She brushes her lips against mine before bending to collect up our bedrolls. Her silence is so much more pleasant when it comes with kisses. We break camp and continue riding west. We spend our first day as immortals on horseback. I don't feel any different at all. I mean, no different from being mortal... Oh this is strange; not mortal. As we ride, as always I revel in simply the feeling of holding her. Over the years there have been many occasions when, while riding like this, I have wished that the world would stop. That it would be nothing but me and Xena, just the feeling of us, together, on a horse. But everything always changes, time moves forward so consistently. I close my eyes and press my face against her back. Where are we going? West, of course, west.
Hours later I am broken from my reverie by Xena swearing vehemently.
'What?' I ask.
'Rome,' she says angrily.
'What about it?' I must have fallen asleep. I rub my eyes. It's late afternoon.
'Right there, behind those trees,' she says, gesturing ahead, 'just up the road, is Rome.'
'How can you tell?'
'I can tell.'
'I had assumed we'd try to avoid Rome,' I say slowly.
'We tried,' she mutters, 'but you know what they say...' and we whisper in unison, 'all roads lead to Rome.' I laugh and snuggle up more closely against her back.
'Well, at least this way we could find out for sure if we're in the present and all.' I realize we're probably beyond things like 'the present.' Even yesterday time had little meaning, but today, gods, today there are no more rules. When I was the playwright, I had some friends who fancied themselves philosophers and we'd spend entire nights up drinking and talking about fate and chance and the origin of the world. I wonder what they would have thought about the things the bard Gabrielle has learned?
'Rome it is,' she says, and Argo Junior moves forward.
We arrive in Rome at nightfall. We go into the first tavern we see and buy two mugs of ale, then wait impatiently for the change. Xena drinks her ale and most of mine as well, banging my mug down on the bar and examining our change closely. As luck would have it, the coins tell us we have indeed arrived back at the general time we left; it looks like Caligula's successor is still in power.
'A nice inn,' I am saying drunkenly an hour later, 'an inn with no bugs in the bed and a clean chamber pot.'
'Fine, let's go.' So we head out towards Rome's most expensive tourist area. Once there, we stable the horse and walk around, enjoying the beautiful night. The sky is clear and the air cool. I link my arm through hers. I feel her look down at me and I purposefully don't meet her eye. Everything is different between us, and it colors the world.
'It's such a lovely night, Xena,' I say, feeling like the playwright; full of expectation and enthusiasm. We're both a little drunk and we weave through crowds of people out for an elegant evening. As usual, the way we are dressed makes us stand out, but I'm used to it. It's part of being with Xena, and so in fact I treasure it. I figure I treasure a lot of things I shouldn't because of her.
'This is all more familiar than I'd like,' she says.
'Rome. I feel like I've lived here for years. Part of me loves it in that ridiculously romantic way some people do; I want to refer to the city as Ôshe.' And yet part of me still has that same old desire to bring it to it's knees because it's Caesar's and I hate Caesar.'
'I knew you would.' She squeezes my arm.
'This one,' I say, the moment I see the Athenaeum. It's size and grandeur make the word 'inn' suddenly seem lacking in scope. 'Xena, it's beautiful!' It's the largest building I've ever seen that wasn't a castle.
Xena rolls her eyes at me and says, 'Lucky Argo Junior had so much money!'
We enter the Athenaeum and it seems as if there's a giant and incredibly elegant party going on. Hundreds of people mill around the huge lobby; the flow on the gigantic staircase never seems to stop. I hear music from somewhere, and the sound of the crowd is like an unending hum.
'This is just like--' I begin.
'Don't say it.'
'The other world,' I say.
'It's just a big party. They've always had Ôem. We just don't go to Ôem.'
'Didn't,' I correct her.
I follow her as she strides up to the counter on the left to see if there's a room available. I don't listen as she makes the arrangements. I can't help but stare at all the beautiful, well-dressed people heading out for exciting, glamourous evenings. Xena's voice in my ear asks 'Ready?' and I jump. She smiles at me and offers her arm. I rest my hand on it and we follow our guide up four floors to our room. He gives us a strange look as he hands Xena the key and she gives him a coin. He pushes the door open for us and then races down the stairs. I look into the room and gasp; it's more beautiful than my room at Caesar's palace!
Xena mumbles, 'It's the bridal suite. It's all they had left.' I laugh and when neither of us moves I say,
'I'm not carrying you.'
She rolls her eyes again and lifts me smoothly into her arms, stepping into the room and kicking the door closed behind us.
'It's very pink,' says Xena, looking around. There's a huge bed to the right, a balcony straight ahead, a beautiful dining table just in front of it, and yes, everything is pink.
'Are you going to put me down?'
'No,' she says, and bends her head to kiss me. As I thank the gods I am not standing, Xena staggers and ends up leaning against the door.
'Too much for you?' I ask.
'Never,' she says, kissing me again. Kissing her is great. She's so...fresh, in some undefinable way. She carries me to the dining table and sits me on it, standing between my legs.
'Good,' I whisper.
There's a knock on the door and Xena calls 'Enter!' In moments, employees of the Athenaeum fill our bath with hot water, pile the dining table high with food and drink, and leave us alone again. Xena picks me up and carries me to the bathing chamber. We strip without looking at each other, and we get into the bath. I blush as I wash myself. I notice that Xena is making strange faces.
'What are you doing?'
'I'm checking to make sure I don't have any godly powers.'
'You never cease to amaze me.' I can't help but smile. 'And?'
'I can't make anything move, I can't start fires, I can't fly.'
'Sounds like you're okay then,' I say tentatively.
'I don't know what to say, Gabrielle,' she says, running a bar of soap along her arm, 'Even while I've been trying so hard to do good things, part of me has still felt like I deserve to die for what I did before. And life is not always a wonderful thing, there's so much pain. Who would want to live forever if they really thought about it?'
'I know,' I say, because I do. I knew she felt she should be dead, and yes, life is so painful. 'But.'
'Yes, but,' says Xena, 'Then there's you. The rest of the world, I can take it or leave it. But you, I want to be with you forever.'
'I'm so glad you understand, Xena.' I slide along the bottom of the tub until I'm sitting next to her. I reach out and touch her face, she closes her eyes and presses her cheek against my hand, then turns to kiss my palm. Xena's lips on my skin; reincarnation just couldn't be like this. 'I can't believe how much I love you.'
Xena laughs and opens her eyes, 'I know the feeling,' she says, and she kisses me. Every part of me is wet, and her lips are soft and cool. Her naked body pulls me towards it; our breasts meet underwater and we both sigh.
'Oh Xena,' I whisper
'Gabrielle,' she answers softly.
'I love the way you feel,' I whisper, kissing her jaw. My nipples feel strange, hard and tight, pressed against her body. Xena touches my naked back tentatively, her fingers just grazing my wet skin. Everything feels slow; maybe it's the hot water and the late hour, but it feels like our bodies are melding together. I fear I will slip under the surface and drown, but the water is Xena; everything is.
'Are you clean enough?' she whispers.
'Will you keep touching me no matter what I answer?'
'Always,' she says, taking my hand under water and squeezing it.
'Then I'm clean,' I say, and we climb out of the bath.
We dry ourselves off and I know I'm blushing. Wrapped in towels we return to the bedroom.
'Hungry?' she asks, gesturing at the table of food.
'No, actually,' I say, 'Will we get hungry anymore?'
'I don't know. But I don't think we need to eat.'
'Wow,' I say, still not really able to completely fathom what I've done. I want to be able to enjoy food and drink, and I'll find out later if I can. There are more pressing things I want to do right now, though. There's a closet and I pull the door open. It's filled with the most beautiful dresses. 'Xena!' I exclaim.
'It's a bunch of dresses,' she says.
'Yes, I know that,' I say, 'Can we play a game?'
'What do you want to play?' she asks, bending over to rub her hair with a towel.
'The Empress and the Playwright,' I say shyly, unable to stop the spread of the grin across my face.
'I'd like to play that,' she says in the gentle voice that makes me shiver.
'Then come here and pick out a gown, my Empress.'
She creeps up behind me and puts her hands on my shoulders. She whispers, 'You choose for me.'
I shiver, and I can't help but grin as I examine all the dresses, knowing she'd look stunning in any of them. She massages my shoulders and her warm, penetrating touch makes me want to decide quickly. I choose something simple and elegant, gray silk to the floor, and I pass it to her. She nods at it, then lifts it over her head and lets the silk fall onto her body. The thin straps leave her shoulders and back exposed, and just looking at her makes me tremble.
'What about you?' she asks.
'You want to choose?' I ask, 'Fast.'
'Nothing's fine,' she says, 'Oh, wait. I know.' The Empress, like a beautiful giantess in her gray dress, moves to the bed and with one swift jerk, pulls off the top sheet. I wrap it around me, tucking it into itself so it stays up. 'Perfect,' says Xena, and I just can't believe the way she looks at me.
'How long have you been in love with me, Xena?' I ask, as we walk out onto the balcony. Rome still effects me as it did the playwright, as if it is somehow attaching itself to my skin.
'Are you sure you want to know?' she asks.
'I asked, didn't I?' I smile. People are out all over the city, and the noise from below is exciting.
'About four years.'
'Why didn't you tell me?' I ask, stunned, letting my fingers run up and down her arm.
'A million reasons.' She moves even closer to me.
'What made you realize it?' I ask, needing to know. How could she have been in love with me all these years?
'When you got married, I just...' she pauses and looks out into the night. I take her hand. 'I realized I wanted it to be me.'
'I wish you'd told me, but I guess I understand.' Wow.
'So how long have you been in love with me?'
'I imagine six years, but I've only really known since yesterday.'
'So I guess I do have something to thank Caesar for after all!'
'Ummmm,' I say as her lips meet mine. She pushes me up against the stone railing of the balcony, and I throw my head back as her lips move to my neck, her hands traveling up and down my body.
'The first time I saw you,' she whispers as she licks the edge of my ear, 'on the stage in the theater, you shone like a beacon on a foggy night.' I can't help but sigh. 'Your play was so beautiful; how could I not have fallen in love?'
I take her face in my hands and kiss her passionately.
'You are most kind, my Empress,' I whisper, short of breath, 'When I first saw you, it was as if we were already naked.'
Xena kisses the tops of my breasts, running her hands all over my body. The cool air feels wonderful, and I wish I had long hair again. I wonder if it will grow back now? I let my hands play in the Empress's shiny black tresses, and I groan as she cups my breasts through the sheet.
'You've done this before,' I whisper, jealous again.
'Not in years and not ever with you,' she says.
Xena gets down on her knees and parts my sheet slowly. I can hear her breathing quicken as she leans in and kisses my stomach. She presses her face against my skin I almost double over with the strength of our connection. It's like I can feel everything we've ever been through in the way we touch. It's almost too intense. I caress her shoulders as she moves her hands under the sheet, pulling my body closer to her mouth. I can't believe the feeling of her tongue as it first touches me between my legs. It's like my entire body, my soul, is undulating like a ribbon in the wind. I try not to pull her hair, and I try not to scream.
'Can we go inside?' I whisper, almost falling forward from the pleasure.
Xena pulls back and looks up at me, 'Do you really want the Empress to stop?' Gods, her eyes. I stroke her hair, and I feel like crying again my love feels so strong in my chest and my throat. Never mind between my legs but that's secondary.
'Does she Empress realize I love her beyond reason?'
'You destroyed the world for me. The action speaks for itself.'
Xena lifts me up and carries me into our room to our huge pink bed. I lie on my back and I let the sheet fall open; watching her eyes as she takes me in, I have never felt so desired. Slowly she lowers herself onto my body; the silk of her dress is cool, and her skin is hot. We hold each other tightly. It's exhilarating to know that I will never lose her again. The Empress makes love to me just as she did in my fantasy, slowly and passionately, reverently. She lifts her dress and parts my legs, pressing herself against me gently, bending to kiss me. I press my whole body up against her, my pleasure coming in waves. This is just everything, and it goes on forever. Her mouth on mine, my hands all over her. I can't control any part of my body; it's all instinct and desire, and such powerful love. Hard muscles, soft skin, ragged breathing. Our arms are wrapped tightly around each other as we begin to come, and for long moments, I know nothing else.
Then I come back to myself and Xena's body is on top of my own, holding me gently, her lips pressed against my neck, breathing hard. I wrap my legs around hers and I stretch luxuriously. Everything has changed again.
'Speechless?' she whispers.
I moan in response.
'I guess so,' she says. She rolls off me and we lie on our backs holding hands. After a while she says, 'Thank you for all the new beginnings, Gabrielle.'
I turn my head and smile at her, 'It's a pleasure.' I'm officially the happiest person on earth now. I have everything I want.
'Do you realize how much better we can help people now?' she asks enthusiastically, 'We can run through a shower of arrows without pausing or being hurt. I can't wait to test everything. Can we stay under water longer? Do we feel pain? How quickly do bad wounds heal?'
'Bad wounds? That doesn't sound like a fun test, Xena.' I can picture her hacking at herself with the chakram while taking notes in a scroll.
'You know what I mean. I want to know what my new abilities are.'
'I knew it would excite you eventually.'
'It's nice being known by you,' she whispers, 'Being known and yet loved.'
'Yes,' I say, my heart again beating too quickly as we stare into each others eyes, 'It's wonderful.'
'I'm yours Ôtill the end of time, Gabrielle,' she murmurs as she pulls me into her arms.
'The end of time, huh? I'll have to see what I can do to prevent that, then.'
'Wait, let me put it another way; I'm yours forever.' Xena grins and kisses me, and I wonder if it's possible to have too many skills.