FIN - Grief
by Hunter Ash
Aka Dana Cooper-Kjarr
Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess and all others associated with the television series of the same name are owned by Studios USA. This is a work of fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended.
Sex/Subtext/Alt Fiction: This story assumes a loving relationship between people of the same gender as well as heterosexual sex. Sorry if this bugs you or is illegal where you live or if you're 18 yet.
Violence/Language: No more than a usual episode.
FIN: This story takes place after the series ending A Friend In Need I and II and contains spoilers for the episode.
The young woman walked confidently through the shopping area of the busy city of Arcadia, even though she wore no weapons and had no escort. She had seen enough cities throughout the Empire to know that she was in the part of town where anything could be bought, including someone's life.
The woman stopped and frowned, where to look for her prey? Who to ask? Glancing around she saw a tavern that looked like little more than a rat's den. Two men were unconscious outside the doors, either from drink or fight, she couldn't tell which. Another one leaned against the wall near the door; this one standing upright and the girl could tell immediately that his armor and weapons had seen better days and that his purse was probably as flat as Hebrew bread.
She approached slowly, letting his eyes take in her face, body and that she wasn't wearing any weapons other than an eating dagger in her belt and that was hardly a threat.
Well, well, he grinned, his face looked like it hadn't been shaved in several days and that was probably the last time he had bathed as well, she reflected. His hair was long and unkempt and she fought to keep the disdain from her face and eyes. What can I do for you, sister?
I'm looking for someone, she said easily, leaning against the wall next to him.
She knew he was looking at her with frank curiosity but trying to hide it. She puzzled him and she wasn't solving the puzzle for him. She moved like a warrior and acted like she knew how to handle herself, yet she was unarmed and gentle looking.
You've found someone, he grinned and leaned an arm against the wall, tilting over her.
I'm looking for a female warrior, I heard she might be in this area, the girl said calmly.
Now why would a beautiful thing like you want a female, warrior or not? he demanded, his grinning widening.
Just business, she answered with a smile of her own. After my business, I should have some time to get to know the city better.
The man was clearly pleased with the invitation and leaned closer.
Why not now? Just let your business go until tomorrow, he suggested.
The young woman sighed, as if sorry about the turn of events. I need to take care of this first, think you can help me and then we'll meet up later? she asked and rattled her purse inside her belt.
She saw his eyes light up at the sound of clinking coins.
Who are you looking for?
Named Gabrielle, small but deadly. Blonde and carrying a chakram, a round thing she can throw and take off your ear?
The bard who rode with Xena, he commented, losing his smile and straightening up a little.
Yes, that's the one, she agreed.
Why her? he demanded. Listen, there's plenty of other warriors for hire, ex-soldiers, ex-bandits, ex-prisoners, ex-gladiators, take your pick. Tartarus, I'd even put my sword up for you.
It's personal business with her, the girl answered.
Hades! Take my advice, leave that crazy bitch alone, he urged and frowned when she rattled her purse again. Alright, two streets over to the North is a row of taverns, even worse than these here, he grinned at her disbelieving look.
Yup, he continued. She's in the one on the far end and has been for a couple of days now. The sign outside has a slaughtered pig's head on it.
The woman reached into her purse and then handed the bandit three gold coins. It was more than generous for the information but she was pleased, this was the closest she had gotten to the elusive bard in an entire month.
You'll be back tonight? he asked hopefully, quickly tucking the coins away and glancing around to see if any of his friends had seen the glint in the daylight.
If I can, my friend, she hedged and ducked out from under his leaning body and was moving swiftly down the crowded way before he could protest.
The bandit shrugged, he knew she probably wouldn't be back; she was too clean for this area for a female. He didn't mind much, not with three gold coins, three coins were enough in this area for his own bath, room, food and plenty of drink.
He grimaced at the thought of her mission though; he wouldn't be caught dead trying to find Gabrielle, the Warrior Bard. Maybe then again, he reflected, he would probably be dead if he found her. The bandit shook his head, dismissing the thoughts of the insane warrior bard and the stranger, he had money in his pocket to spend.
Gabrielle groaned at the sound of the pounding, unsure if it was her head or the door or both. She pulled the pillow over her head and refused to think about it.
The pounding continued until she reached out blindly and grabbed a mug off the table next to her head and threw it at the door.
Get off or you're dead! she shouted and ignored the mumbling from the body entangled with hers.
Amazingly the bard was sitting up in the bed, facing the door in an instant, chakram having already left her hand when the door was kicked open.
It took more than a moment for her to realize that the chakram hadn't embedded itself in the door next to the head of whoever had dared come in. Surprisingly enough it had been caught by the female standing there.
Gabrielle frowned, her face reflecting her puzzlement. Only four women in the world had ever caught that chakram in flight: Xena, Callisto, Eve and Gabrielle. Well, Princess Diana had but that had been luck. Gabrielle blinked, trying to clear her mind.
Eve, she finally said.
Yes, the young woman agreed and entered the room, kicking the door shut behind her. The eyes of Xena's daughter were flashing with anger, reminding Gabrielle not of the peace loving Eve but of the power hungry warrior Livia.
Gabrielle looked down at the man lying next to her. He was also awake but wisely stayed quiet. The bard didn't even remember him from the night before.
Is this how you mourn my mother?! Eve demanded, pointing the chakram at the scruffy young man.
The male, a sailor just off a long voyage, suddenly wished he were back at sea. He didn't know who the stranger was but the tension and the sense of deadliness from both women was enough to turn a man towards a celibate priesthood.
What's your name? Gabrielle asked.
Paulinus, he said softly.
Paulinus, meet Eve, Gabrielle said nonchalantly. Eve is my . What are we anyway?
I used to think of you as my adopted mother, Eve countered.
Gabrielle looked back down at him. Get out, she said, easily dismissing him.
The male started to protest about getting up naked in front of the strange woman but took one look in Eve's bright eyes and Gabrielle's dull ones and changed his mind. He reached down to the floor and slipped on his trousers, hiding as much of his personal business as possible. He then made the strategic and wise decision to grab the rest of his clothes and continue dressing in the hallway. Paulinus darted past the female with the shiny round thing that looked sharper than any knife he had ever seen.
Gabrielle reached down on the other side of the bed and grabbed her top and put it on.
How I mourn for Xe your mother is my own business, she snapped as she turned to sit on the edge of the bed, reaching for her skirt and underwear.
By getting into fights almost every night? Selling your sword? Sleeping with whoever can out drink you? Eve demanded, moving further into the room.
Again, my own business, the bard snapped, trying to work past the hangover she was beginning to feel.
This isn't what she wanted, Eve protested, sitting down next to Gabrielle.
She wanted to stay with me and didn't! Gabrielle growled, taking the chakram out of Eve's hand. She died and stayed that way!
The bard closed her eyes against the apparent pain.
Do you know what happened? she whispered, her fists clenched tightly.
Someone told me that she died saving a village from a thousand warriors and stayed dead to redeem several thousand people she had killed in her youth, Eve answered.
Yeah, that's the short version of it, Gabrielle agreed, opening her eyes and reaching for the pitcher of wine. She drank straight from the pitcher since she had thrown her mug across the room and ignoring Eve's frown. The catch was that I could have saved her; I could have brought her back to life.
Eve felt her heart sinking as the bard's pain began to hit the peacekeeper.
What happened? Eve asked softly, she couldn't believe that her mother hadn't been brought back if there had been a chance. She knew that Gabrielle would have crossed heaven and hell for Xena, and had before.
Xena asked me not to at the last moment, the bard explained, tears beginning to escape her eyes. She said she had to stay dead for those people she had killed in her youth.
Oh sweet gods, Eve whispered, beginning to understand.
I didn't save her, Gabrielle turned away and drank more of the wine. I let her stay dead. She promised me that she'd never leave me, even in death. Even as a ghost but then she left me.
Gabrielle, Eve said softly but Gabrielle shrugged off the girl's comforting hand from her shoulder. Eve frowned, the bard was obviously hung over but Gabrielle's green eyes were shining brightly, almost manic.
She was with me, the bard continued. We planned the voyage home; I was going to head to Egypt to help Cleopatra the Younger. I knew Xena wanted me to branch out on my own, establish myself without her. At the same time she was with me, I knew I could face anything with her there, even if no one else could see or hear her.
What happened? Eve asked.
We spent a few days in Nippon, with me mostly crying and adjusting to her being gone but not really gone, the bard continued, her voice taking on a harder edge. Then we started to Egypt on a ship. I knew it was going to take forever to get there but it seemed like I had time and nowhere else to go and no real goals.
Gabrielle managed a small smile. The crew thought I was insane, I kept forgetting that Xena could hear my thoughts and I'd speak out loud to her.
Eve managed her own smile at the thought of that one. She had seen a number of insane and possessed people during her travels and agreed that Gabrielle must have seemed insane to anyone observing her.
Then? Eve encouraged.
Gabrielle lost her smile. We started to get away from the islands and she cried out for me and began fading, the tears began to flow down the bard's cheeks again and she wiped at them angrily. I couldn't touch her anymore and she disappeared. Leaving me alone.
Gabrielle's eyes lost their focus as she remembered the last moments with Xena's ghost.
Xena! the bard had screamed, causing several of the sailors to look over, concern or alarm showing on their faces.
Gabrielle watched them as they quickly turned away from the strange Gaijin in their midst. The bard knew that they thought most barbarians were insane and that she only proved it. Gabrielle talked constantly to things that weren't there and if they were there then the Nippon islanders wanted nothing to do with them.
Gabrielle had overheard some of them talking that it was only the fact that she was a hero and had defeated a well-known Samurai in honorable combat that had convinced the sailors she was a good person and not cursed by evil spirits. The bard had also heard they still didn't want anywhere near the insane woman
Eve didn't say anything. The grief radiating off of Gabrielle was almost physically overwhelming and Eve better understood the bard's spiral downward.
Even the normally rigid and stern god of Eli had accepted the fact that Xena and Gabrielle were meant to be together, even in death. The incidents separating them in Heaven had caused a major holy war between Heaven and Hell until they were sent back to earth to set things right again.
No matter what had happened in their lives, it always came back to them being together.
Eve sat pondering for a moment as Gabrielle reached down and began putting on her boots. The peacekeeper noted the bard's shaking hands as Gabrielle began lacing the boots.
The former Bitch of Rome knew that Gabrielle was stronger than most people gave her credit for. The bard often got lost in Xena's shadow but Eve also knew that Gabrielle was as strong as Eve's mother had been.
Eve thought about it, trying to puzzle together why she had found Gabrielle in this condition and then finally realized the answer. If Xena had merely died, then Gabrielle would have grieved and eventually would have moved on. If Xena had stayed with Gabrielle, even as a ghost, then the bard would have moved on and become the warrior bard that Xena had foreseen, the student graduating and moving on past the teacher.
Neither of those had happened. Xena had died but had promised to stay with Gabrielle. Xena leaving the bard after becoming a ghost had been more than Gabrielle could take.
Eve recognized that Gabrielle no longer trusted that she and Xena would be together, in this life or the next and the bard was lost without that promise.
Oh gods, Gabrielle, she said softly and the bard finally relented and let Eve pull her into Eve's arms, Gabrielle's tough exterior finally crumbling into sobs in her adopted daughter's arms.
Gabrielle hadn't protested when Eve had pulled her out of the dingy inn and into a better part of town. Food and a long hot bath had quickly followed, especially after Eve had caught sight of the bard's ribs. Gabrielle had refused to answer when her daughter had demanded to know the last time she had eaten and had just turned her head.
Eve wasn't surprised when the bard fell asleep in the warm water with the young woman softly scrubbing her back. She wondered when the last time Gabrielle had actually slept without the help of alcohol. This in itself was a surprise, Gabrielle had never been one for drinking, and not in all the time she had been with Xena, now she seemed to depend on it. Eve bundled a sleepy bard into a clean bed and sat down on the bed across the room.
God of Eli, she whispered while she watched her sleeping adopted mom. How can I help her? She's hurting so badly, half her soul is missing now that Xena is gone.
The bard turned restlessly in her sleep, the pain obvious on Gabrielle's face.
She hasn't said it but I think the fights are meant to lead to her death, an honorable way to kill herself, Eve said thoughtfully. Without the hope of seeing Mom on the other side, she has nothing to live for.
Eve, a male voice said softly in Eve's ears. With Xena's spirit trapped in the Japanese spirit world their destiny is out of balance.
Eli, how do I help them? Eve asked, closing her eyes. I owe Gabrielle so much, she saved my mother from the darkness so many times. How can I save her from her own?
I don't know, the voice admitted. The powers here can't help. Somehow Xena has to be released from the Japanese Realm. That will free them to be together once Gabrielle crosses.
Gabrielle won't go back to Nippon, even if she could see Xena in the Japans, Eve protested. I think she's afraid that Xena won't be able to come to her, even there.
Aphrodite was the one who let you know what had happened and gave you money for the trip, can she help now? Eli's voice asked.
I don't know, Eve admitted. She likes Gabrielle and Xena a lot, especially Gabrielle. It was hurting her to see how bad Gabrielle had gotten in the last three months. Maybe she can help.
Someone needs to, Eve, Eli said softly, the sadness clear in his voice. She'll be lost if we can't figure it out soon.
Eve frowned and opened her eyes, watching Gabrielle thrash in her sleep, reaching and calling for Xena.
Somehow they managed to get out of town with the warrior bard only getting into one fight and causing only a few broken bones.
Gabrielle was quiet once they were on the road and Eve wasn't used to that. She was also at a loss as to what to do next. The daughter of Xena was very unsure as to how to help her adopted mom. She knew she couldn't keep Gabrielle out of trouble if the bard wanted to find it and Eve knew she couldn't keep an eye on the bard for their rest of their lives if Gabrielle was determined to follow her downward path.
The bard was too thin; her clothes had gotten ragged and uncared for. The only thing the bard had paid attention to were her horse and her weapons. Eve did have to smile at that, typical warrior, she thought. Gabrielle had learned well from Xena that you need to care for a horse better than yourself, the peacekeeper thought.
Eve had set up camp late in the evening; she had pushed hard to get them out of civilization and into some wilderness and that had taken them into darkness. Knowing Greece and the Fates as she did, Eve knew that wasn't a guarantee against trouble but it might help.
Gabrielle had helped but hadn't initiated anything on her own. After the one bout of crying, the bard had shut down emotionally and Eve couldn't draw her out anymore.
I'm going down to the stream to refill the water-skins, okay?
The bard didn't answer but began sharpening her strange Japanese sword and Eve felt a chill pass over her body. The bard reminded Eve so much of Xena when her mother was in a bad mood or facing a problem.
This time it was Gabrielle facing a problem; the one involving life and the fact that she didn't want to live it.
Eve quickly refilled the water-skins and then held out her hands.
Aphrodite, will you come to me? she said softly.
The follower of Eli couldn't help but smile when the air simmered with sparkles and gold dust and the Greek Goddess of Love appeared in front of her.
Hi, sweet cheeks! the goddess said cheerfully and then frowned. Not going well, huh?
She's lost the will to live and doesn't care about anything, Eve responded.
It's been three months and she's just getting worse, Aphrodite complained.
Eli says that Xena's spirit is trapped in the Japanese Spirit Realm and can't follow Gabrielle outside of the Nippon islands, Eve explained.
Bummer, then let's get Gabrielle back there! Dite exclaimed. I'd rather have her here but if she can be with Xena there then let's get her there!
Eve shook her head and the goddess frowned again.
I don't think she'll go. Deep down she realizes that when she dies that they'll be separated, maybe forever, Eve continued, frowning in frustration herself.
They aren't meant to be separated! Dite protested, her lips pursed in a pout. They're meant to have life after life together and to be with each other in the spirit realm during the in-between times!
I know, all the gods know that but Xena's spirit can't do that, Eve felt her own eyes filling with tears.
When Gabrielle dies she'll go to the Amazon lands or the Fields and Xena will be stuck in the Japan Spirit Realm? Dite frowned, contemplating the problem.
Yes, exactly, Eve confirmed. When they fought Alti in India they had the strength to defeat her because they knew they would be together in other lives. They used the strength of their connection.
Now that's been broken, Dite muttered, plopping gracefully down next to Eve.
Yes, and so has Gabrielle, Eve wiped the tears away. I've seen people like this before, Aphrodite. They didn't live long after losing their mates or their families.
I know, Blue Eyes, I know, Dite said thoughtfully.
Gabrielle looked around the camp without much thought. Most of the time she merely curled up under a tree wrapped in her cloak without bothering to set up camp. Eve had been right; Gabrielle couldn't really remember the last decent meal she had until her adopted daughter had come along.
She knew the girl was trying to help her, to save her from herself but Gabrielle didn't care anymore.
The warrior bard moved from sharpening the deadly sharp katana to sharpening the chakram.
How many years had she been with Xena, she pondered? She had lost track a long time ago. Including those 25 years on ice; at least 30 or more. Ever since that day when the raiders came to Poteidia her life had centered on Xena. Gabrielle had faced death willingly and had learned to kill for her mate. The bard remembered facing a Roman cross without fear as long as she was with Xena. She had given up a chance at escape to try and save Xena and then faced Roman spikes driven through her flesh and bones. One of the most painful deaths imaginable faced with a small smile because Xena was there and would be with her on the other side.
Gabrielle fought back the tears that always seemed to overwhelm her whenever she let herself think too much. She growled in frustration, wanting a drink and knowing that Eve would have gotten rid of any alcohol Gabrielle had before leaving the city. It was one way to stop the thoughts and to stop the pain.
The bard knew Eve was right; this wasn't what Xena would have wanted for her. Xena would have wanted the bard to become a hero in her own right. A hero without a dark past like Xena. The warrior had expected Gabrielle to become twice the hero she had been and the bard had let her warrior down.
Gabrielle frowned at herself. She knew she now had the skills, the talent and the gifts for it. Even without Xena's chakram, Gabrielle had become deadly in a fight and would become better than Xena had been, given time and practice with the sword.
She just didn't have the heart. Oh, she could still take out the bad guys, kill the bandits, and rescue the weak and helpless and still planned to do just that. Gabrielle just didn't have the heart of a warrior anymore. She knew she was looking for that fight that would finally make her feel something other than a flash of adrenaline rush and delight in the fight, something that would last beyond the few moments of a fight. Something that could make her feel again and she knew she would never find it.
Eve was right; Gabrielle was looking for the fight that would finally end the pain. Maybe the next life she could forget Xena, she thought to herself. Her next life would be lost without her soul mate but maybe in the next life she wouldn't know why she was miserable. Maybe the next life would be less painful.
Gabrielle, a voice said softly in her ear and she wasn't surprised when strong and firm hands rested on her shoulders.
Go away, she said, her voice flat, continuing to sharpen the chakram.
Let me help you, the voice offered, the hands moving gently down the bard's arms.
Go away, we've been through this. I don't want to rule the world, I don't want to be a warlord, and I don't want anything you can offer, Gabrielle said in a tired voice.
Don't you think I'm hurting too? the voice demanded and Gabrielle could feel his breath on her neck.
Ares, you don't know how to feel anything, she snapped but didn't shake off his hands nor fight back when he pulled her back slightly to lean into him.
He wrapped his arms around her as she stopped sharpening the chakram.
I loved her too, he whispered. You're lost and confused, Gabrielle. I understand that. I can help you feel again.
How, what could you possibly offer me that would mean anything? she suddenly demanded, moving out of his arms and standing up. She replaced the chakram at her belt as she turned to face him.
What are you looking for when you go to bed with whoever is available? he asked, stepping over the log she had been sitting on and placing his hands on her arms again, drawing her close.
Someone to punch in the night when I toss and turn, I guess, she said bitterly.
You're trying to feel something, anything again, he countered and the bard frowned, again turning out of his arms. You remember the desert tree when I showed you what it felt like to be a god?
Gabrielle did remember, the grief over Eli's death falling away from her like old clothing, the surge of energy dancing through her veins and across her skin like lightning dancing too close.
Yeah, when you killed my friend Eli? she demanded, turning her back on him.
Ancient history, he said casually. She could feel him behind her again and wished for a drink or a fight. I can make you feel like that again. I can make you feel.
I don't want to feel anything, the bard muttered.
Don't you miss her strong hands on your arms like this? he asked, moving closer behind the bard. Leaning into her taller body, letting her wrap her arms around you, comforting and safe?
Gabrielle felt the tears springing to her eyes again and closed them, trying to fight them back. She did miss that, more than anything. Most of all she missed just having Xena there.
I loved her too, Ares muttered softly, lowering his head to begin nuzzling the bard's neck.
The bard gasped and grabbed Ares arms as that sensation swept over her again, that godlike energy, and her head went back, offering more of her neck to him.
I can give you a new future, he promised.
Won't you be satisfied until you bed the entire family?! a voice demanded and Gabrielle blinked as the energy faded.
The bard frowned and moved out of Ares' arms as they turned and saw Eve standing at the edge of the clearing, hands on her hips and water-skins at her feet. The daughter of Xena and former lover of Ares was obviously pissed.
Go enlighten someone somewhere else, Ares snapped and drew Gabrielle back into his arms, looking down into her green eyes. I know you don't think you have a future, in this life or the next, but I can give you one.
With a flash he was gone, leaving the bard looking confused and Eve totally angry.
The rest of the evening was spent in an angry silence between the two women. Eve knew how persuasive Ares could be; she had been in those arms often enough herself. She also knew that Gabrielle was not herself or thinking rationally. Hades, Gabrielle wasn't thinking at all.
Eve finally couldn't stand the silence any longer.
What does he want?
I don't know, Gabrielle admitted.
What, give you world domination, riches, power? Eve demanded.
No, he didn't offer any of that, the bard said, no emotion in her voice. He said he could help me feel again.
Eve was puzzled. She expected an offer of power, wealth, anything but that.
What did he mean by that? she asked aloud.
I don't know what he wants and why he wants me, Gabrielle said, her voice irritable. She lay down on her sleeping furs and threw her cloak over her, ending the conversation.
When Eve woke the next morning she found just a simple note and Gabrielle and her horse gone.
Eve, I know you're trying to help and I thank you for it. I wish I could share the grief I know you're feeling for losing Xena. I just can't and I'm sorry. Please don't follow, I don't know where I'm going to end up but I don't want to drag you down with me.
I loved your mother more than life itself. Without her on the other side I admit that I'm lost.
You'll find her ashes in a sealed box in your packs. If you find me after I fall, please take my ashes and combine them with hers, maybe I can find a small measure of peace that way. Scatter the ashes to the sea and let the Amazons know I'm gone.
I do love you and I am proud of you and I know that Xena was as well. Goodbye, Gabrielle.
Eve looked to the sky and screamed in frustration.
You're a deity, why can't you find her? Eve demanded as she looked once more over at the box containing her mother's ashes, the dinner in front of her forgotten.
Aphrodite resisted the urge to get right back in Eve's face. She could understand because she felt the same irritation.
I don't know! Sometimes it's not that easy to track humans, Dite complained. Especially if they're outside our range of talents.
What do you mean? Eve questioned.
If she was pining away for a long lost love, or in love with someone but keeping quiet, or having an affair, I could track her easily. If she were just falling in love with someone new, Cupid could spot her easily. She's not dealing with any of those emotions, Dite tried to explain.
So Ares probably knows right where she is, Eve complained.
Probably and he isn't likely to tell us.
I wonder if he's gotten to her, Eve asked thoughtfully.
He is awfully good looking, Dite said wistfully.
And seductive, I know, been there, Eve complained with a frown. She was so lost, Dite.
It had been another two months and Eve had totally lost track of Gabrielle. There were times she couldn't understand it and wondered if there were outside forces trying to keep her from finding Gabrielle. She suspected Ares might be blocking her attempt to get back to the bard.
There were traces, commonly broken bones and corpses but the trail was usually days old. The tales that were told about the warrior bard raised the hairs on Eve's neck as she and Aphrodite searched up and down Greece for Gabrielle.
Eve had grown up with tales of Xena and her amazing feats in battle and fights but the ones she was hearing about Gabrielle made those seem pale. It made Gabrielle's warrior skills apparent to both Eve and Aphrodite and it also made it clear that the bard was taking enormous risks.
They had come close to catching up with Gabrielle when the bard had taken on twenty bandits by herself, most of them armed with arrows. That encounter had left Gabrielle flat on her back for a week, recovering from several wounds from arrows and swords. Most of the bandits had been killed. Eve and Aphrodite had missed her by two days that time.
Can't we ask someone else for help? Eve asked.
Why won't your side help? Aphrodite countered. She was getting tired of the traveling as well. She had duties to attend to and found herself zapping first back to Olympus and then back to Eve and back again.
I don't know, Eli gives advice when he can but they can't physically help, Eve explained.
Aphrodite surprised the young woman by suddenly screaming in frustration and standing up. Eve sat stunned as the Goddess of Love began pacing the small room they had taken in one of the countless inns they had been in over the last two months.
Enough of this! Dite exclaimed. You find Gabrielle, I don't care what it takes! Put a reward out for her capture if you think that will do it, just find her!
Wait a minute! Eve protested. Bounties never worked against Xena, do you really think they'd work against Gabrielle either?
No, Aphrodite agreed thoughtfully. You're right, it'll just get some more idiots killed trying to take her. Okay, put out a warrant for her arrest for murder or something. Xena turned herself in when accused; maybe Gabrielle's remaining sense of honor will demand that as well. Just get your hands on her!
What are you going to do? Eve asked.
I'm going to Nippon and get some answers!
Gabrielle growled and threw her elbow back, landing solidly on someone's nose. The bandit howled in pain and released his hold on the warrior's arms. She stomped back with her boot and connected with the bandit's shin and slid down to the top of his foot. His howls continued and she quickly forgot him as he danced off behind her, no longer a threat for the moment.
The bard ducked and the bandit behind her stopped howling after a sword stroke from one of his own mates struck him in the neck. Gabrielle came up out of her crouch with her katana between the bandit's legs in front of her. The sword sliced long and deep, almost up to his belt.
The bandit's look of surprise brought a laugh from the bard as she spun around him and kicked him out of the way. She flipped over onto her hands; katana held easily and kicked upwards, her boots connecting with the jaw of another bandit, knocking him into two more behind him.
Gabrielle flipped back onto her feet and slashed out with the sharp sword and cut all three of them down with almost no thought.
The warrior looked around at a groaning, remaining bandit and at the seven others that lay dead around her.
Again the rush of energy quickly faded and the warrior simply reached down and cut a slice of cloth from one of the dead bandit's tunic and began cleaning her sword as she walked towards her horse.
Gabrielle spun around with the katana at the ready at the sound of clapping behind her. The bard growled and continued cleaning her prized sword as she took in the sight of Ares standing where she had been, clapping.
What do you want, Ares? she asked.
The question is what do you want? he countered.
You already know that, she said in a tired voice, turning towards her horse. She wasn't surprised when he rushed to walk beside her. I don't want anything anymore.
Access to the library of Alexandria? he questioned.
Destroyed by Caesar, she countered.
I could take you there, he offered and frowned when the one-time bard showed no interest in the most extensive library that had ever existed. I could take you anywhere you want, even to Nippon to see Xena if you wish.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed, this was the first time that he had offered that and he had offered a lot over the last two months since she left Eve.
Why what? he asked. You miss her and she's got to be missing you.
Why would you offer that? she asked, stopping in the road, dusting herself off. Why do you want on my good side?
It's simple, I want you, he said easily.
We've been fighting for decades! she couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. You always claimed to be in love with Xena.
True and I still love her and I'm still grieving, maybe that's why I'm drawn to you now, he admitted. Look, the only thing we disagreed on was Xena's future and her true destiny. I actually liked you.
Thanks, the bard said sarcastically. I think I'll pass.
And do what? Wait until you get yourself killed? he demanded as she mounted her horse. What will you do next, take on an army by yourself?
Why not? she shrugged. I'm still killing and using my warrior skills, why should you care?
Gabrielle, give me a couple of days, he pressed. If you don't find your feelings haven't change, you go about your business of trying to get killed.
No, the warrior said simply and turned her horse back towards the road.
You're willing to sleep with anything under the sun but me? he laughed as she began blushing and spurred her horse into a trot.
Ares was right, the bard cursed herself and tried not to break into tears again. It felt like she was either feeling nothing or overwhelming grief. Getting drunk almost every night and waking up in a stranger's arms wasn't helping, fighting anyone who looked at her cross ways wasn't helping and she doubted going with Ares would help either.
Xena, help me! she whispered.
Gabrielle looked down at the various new scars and half healed wounds and then at her weapons. Long gone was the naïve village girl she had once been and now she wasn't sure what had taken her place.
Gabrielle wasn't the evil warlord Xena had been but what was she?
A sword looking for a place to fall, she answered herself.
Once again she wondered why it was that she couldn't seem to let it go, to let Xena go. She could go back to the Amazons and help Varia rebuild the Nation. She could find Eve and travel with her for a bit, or she could go home and see how Lila and Sarah were getting along. She could begin writing again, be a warrior bard in action as well as name.
Once again she rejected all those options. It just seemed she didn't have the energy for any of it.
Xena, the lines of the mendi are broken, how can I let you go knowing I won't see you again? she whispered, unaware of Ares watching her. The bard shrugged to herself, thinking how it would be easier to just find a drink and stop thinking about anything.
Aphrodite looked around the Japanese teahouse with open curiosity. This was the first time she had visited the island culture of Nippon. She had asked all the remaining Olympian gods what they knew of the culture and they hadn't been much help.
The Goddess of Love reflected that they were a lot like her, self-centered. If it didn't concern them then they didn't pay much attention to it. Aphrodite thought maybe it was well past time that the Greeks expanded their knowledge and cultural experiences.
She found the teahouse wonderful in design and function but found the lack of what Aphrodite considered appropriate furniture disturbing. Dite was accustomed to large pillows, overstuffed sofas and beds, and curtains and silk everywhere.
Anybody home? she called, a little impatient. Like, yo Xena!
Aphrodite thought Gabrielle had looked bad but Xena looked worse. Dite had stayed in the background and out of sight when Eve had finally caught up with Gabrielle and had been even more distressed than she had when she went seeking the peacekeepers' help with the bard. The Goddess had gotten involved when she found the bard in extreme emotional pain and went looking for Eve.
Xena looked worse.
The warrior was dressed in Japanese style, which for some unknown reason irritated Aphrodite, in a purple and red kimono and was without weapons.
Xena looked very much as she had in real life except now it looked like she had been on a hunger strike and hadn't slept in forever. The Greek Goddess of Love wondered how a spirit could look so miserable; it wasn't like this was Tartarus. It looked boring as anything to Dite but not unpleasant.
Aphrodite? Xena's voice was filled with the surprise she was obviously feeling.
The Greek Goddess smiled her most charming smile and opened her arms. She knew Xena wasn't much for affection but years with the gentle bard had tamed the warrior somewhat and Dite was pleased when Xena easily accepted the hug.
Gabrielle! Xena demanded after a moment, How is she?
Easy, gorgeous! Dite said easily. We've got a lot to talk about, Blue Eyes.
Aphrodite resisted the urge to show any surprise or emotion when another figure entered the room carrying a tray of tea.
Aphrodite, this is Akemi, Xena began. Akemi, this is Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of Love.
I am most pleased to meet a friend of Xena's, please sit and have some tea while things are discussed, Akemi said simply and formally.
Pleased to meet you, Dite said simply, unsure if she really meant it but decided to be polite until she figured out what was going on. She also resisted groaning at the thought of the small little pillow they wanted her to sit on at the small table on the floor. This culture needed to be introduced to chairs, she decided.
Gabrielle! Xena's blue eyes flashed brightly and Dite caught the frown on Akemi's face. Tell me, Aphrodite, please!
You can't see her in your undead state? Those who have passed on can hear the thoughts and see their loved ones, Dite asked easily as the Japanese girl poured the green tea for all of them.
Not here, Xena complained, the bitterness apparent in her voice and Akemi glanced at the warrior with a glare. Xena ignored the look even though Dite knew the warrior had caught it. I'm held here and I can't see or hear her.
Maybe that's part of her problem, Dite said thoughtfully. She no longer feels that connection and knows that you can't hear her.
Aphrodite! Xena snapped, resisting the urge to take the Goddess of Love by the neck.
Sorry, gorgeous, Dite said easily. Listen, Xena, there's no easy way to say this. Gabrielle is slowly killing herself with grief.
Xena moaned as if she were physically struck and closed her eyes momentarily. She unconsciously pulled her hand back when Akemi attempted to comfort the warrior. After a moment she glared at Aphrodite.
Tell me! she demanded.
How? Dite suddenly complained. It's so unbelievable! Gabrielle has lost the will to live. She's seeking out a way to die, either in battle or drinking herself to death.
Gabrielle drinking? Xena questioned, the disbelief in her voice and on her face. No, she wouldn't.
Aphrodite felt tears trying to fill her eyes. This was harder than she thought it would be. How could she show Xena how much Gabrielle had fallen apart?
The Goddess looked around the place and settled on the sticks of incense burning in a bowl of salt and reached over to pull it onto the table in front of the three of them. Aphrodite closed her eyes and waved her hands through the smoke and after a moment she heard Xena gasp.
Aphrodite opened her eyes to take in the sight of Gabrielle's current state of being.
Xena moaned and shook off Akemi's hand from her shoulder as she saw Gabrielle taking on several bandits at once. Xena was pleased with the warrior bard's skills in the fight but Gabrielle's face troubled her. It was if the bard was fighting automatically, without feeling and without passion.
The bard quickly finished off the bandits and left them where they lay without a backwards glance.
Then the scene switched and showed Gabrielle at some unnamed tavern; she had obviously been there for a while judging by the bard's bleary eyes and hanging head. Xena blinked in disbelief as Gabrielle smacked two drunks across the nose and one across the head with the blunt end of a sai when they began to bother her. Her mate was calling for another jug of wine.
The warrior almost fell off her pillow when a tavern wench sat down next to Gabrielle and began sharing the bard's alcohol and soon the bard's attention. Xena couldn't believe it when Gabrielle accepted the woman sitting so close to her with an arm around the bard. Soon they were kissing and the woman was nuzzling Gabrielle's throat and the bard wasn't protesting.
What in Tartarus? Xena whispered and Dite resisted smacking the daylights out of the pleased look on Akemi's face.
She's been trying to kill the pain with drink and that leads to accepting whoever ends up in her bed, Dite explained.
Xena growled as the scene shifted to the tavern wench helping a very unsteady bard to her feet and started steering the very drunk Gabrielle towards the back rooms.
The warrior glared at the Goddess of Love and Aphrodite shifted uncomfortably.
How? Xena demanded.
Gabrielle realizes that she won't be with you when she crosses and she can't take it, Dite explained. She's lost, Xena, totally lost and won't accept any help.
She's stronger than this! Xena insisted, suddenly growling at the scene of the tavern wench beginning to undress her barely conscious mate. The warrior once again marveling over Gabrielle's tattoo and cursing the circumstances in which she was seeing that dragon again. Dite quickly waved her hands through the smoke and the picture of Gabrielle faded.
No she's not, Dite countered. No one would be. She and you were strong because of your connection to each other. Think about it, Xena, everything you did was with her or because of her. She could have mourned you if you had just died or she could have become the world's greatest champion if you had stayed by her side, even as a ghost.
I didn't choose to leave her! Xena growled.
You're stuck here and she knows it. She was able to let go of you before because she knew you two would be together when she crossed over. That trip to India just confirmed it; that mendi thing that she loves so much. You two have been through so much, more than any other humans, the only thing that got you both through it was each other and your connection.
Xena frowned thoughtfully.
We were shown that we would be together in future lives, throughout eternity. That our souls are intertwined, individual but together always - like lines of a tattoo or mendi, Xena explained to Akemi.
Now that's not going to happen, Dite cut in.
Xena frowned. What do you mean? I'm not going to be here forever - just until the souls choose to reincarnate, then I'm released.
No, Dite said softly, catching the flash in Akemi's eyes. Gabrielle will go to the Amazons or the Elysian Fields, you remain here.
It can't work that way, Xena protested. I can't be separated from her forever!
Until things are set right you are stuck here and won't be with Gabrielle ever! Dite snapped. Tell me you don't feel it, tell me you don't feel the connection is gone between you.
Xena lowered her head and fought back tears. No, I can't deny that. I haven't been able to feel her since I disappeared off the ship and it's driving me insane!
She feels the loss too, that's why she's given up, Dite said gently. Gabrielle doesn't feel she has any future in this life or the next. Even Ares can't get to her.
Ares? Xena demanded.
He's been trying to seduce her, not that anyone can figure out why, Dite continued. He hasn't offered her world domination or power or anything, he's totally confusing the picture.
She's with Ares? Xena demanded.
No, she's resisted him only because she doesn't care about anything, Dite said softly. It's totally a bummer!
Gabrielle! Xena cried out.
Not even Eve was able to help, Dite finished.
Eve is involved? Xena asked.
Yes, I asked her for help when I saw that Gabrielle wasn't bouncing back from her grief but Gabrielle resisted any help. Now Eve is hunting all over Greece for blonde, tattooed and deadly before she gets herself killed and you end up separated for eternity.
How can we change that? Xena demanded, I'm here and she's there!
Dite resisted glaring back at Akemi as the young spirit's eyes glared angrily.
Hang loose, warrior type, Dite said softly.
Xena growled at the helpless look on Aphrodite's face just before the goddess disappeared in a flash of glitter.
Gabrielle moaned and pulled the pillow off her head. A glance around didn't tell the bard much. Another room in some unnamed tavern, Hades, she wasn't even sure of what town or village she was in.
She also didn't remember getting to the room with the dark-haired woman lying next to her. Gabrielle felt a familiar pang of pain and turned away, swinging her feet off the bed and reaching for the bottle of wine next to the bed.
Damn, this place was so cheap there wasn't even a small table next to the bed, she thought, grabbing the bottle from the floor.
She must have really been drunk, she reflected, glancing over her shoulder. Even in her recent decline in life, Gabrielle normally stayed away from dark haired women. It didn't matter how beautiful they were or how willing, they reminded the bard too much of Xena and that hurt a bit much.
It went against what she was trying to accomplish, to drown the pain and forget it. Going to bed with someone who looked like Xena was not in the game plan.
Of course, there wasn't much of a game plan in place, she thought and then cursed the day. Her mind was working too much this morning, she complained to herself. Gabrielle couldn't remember much about the night before but her body felt like whoever that was next to her had put the bard through quite a workout.
Damn, even the wine is cheap, I hope I didn't pay for this stuff, she complained to herself.
The bard didn't want to think, she didn't want to feel and she didn't want to be there when the woman woke up. Gabrielle got dressed quickly and left the women sleeping, not even a note of thanks for a night to not remember.
The bard blinked in surprise when she found Eve waiting for her at the stable. Gabrielle actually managed to slightly smile at her adopted daughter and at Eve's persistence.
How did you find me this time? she asked, moving past the woman into the stable and towards her horse.
I got some inside information on how the gods track humans. I figured that Ares has been trying to keep me from you. Instead of looking for you, I went looking for trouble and where it was going to spring up next, Eve answered as she followed the bard into the building. "The 10 bar patrons you left bruised and bloody last night led me to you."
Congrats, Gabrielle said sarcastically, now what are you going to do with me?
I honestly don't know, Eve admitted, watching the bard saddle and bridle her horse. Mother owed you so much during life and you helped save me from myself and Ares. I can't repay either of those debts but I'd like to try.
Okay, you ended up loving your Mom and me, you forgave me for trying to kill you, we're even, Gabrielle said simply. Goodbye.
Eve looked pained but grabbed the bridle of her own horse. She had spotted the bard the night before in the tavern and had expected Gabrielle to quickly leave town. After tracking her for months, Eve had gotten to know the bard's habits pretty well. She knew that after a night of alcohol and sex, Gabrielle would leave town first thing in the morning. Eve's horse was ready to ride.
Gabrielle, Eve tried reaching her adopted mom again and then hesitated. She didn't want to mention Aphrodite out loud, she didn't have Xena's gift of knowing when Ares was around. She wouldn't put it past the God of War to be invisible while hanging around the bard. I love you and I can't stand to see you like this.
Then don't watch, Eve, Gabrielle said bluntly and then leaned against her horse. Just leave, please. I can't seem to stop this and I don't want you to be here to see this either.
Eve walked up behind the small bard and gently placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulders.
We can get through this if you'll let me help, Eve suggested.
I can't live and I can't die, the bard said and Eve could hear the utter weariness in Gabrielle's voice and could see the bard's shaking hands.
The peacekeeper knew the bard was close to exhaustion and a breakdown and either could probably happen at any time.
Let's get out of this town and take a few days off, okay? the peacekeeper suggested and was surprised but pleased when Gabrielle nodded her head in agreement.
Eve was relieved and kept the small length of board behind her back. She was quickly thanked the God of Eli that she hadn't had to whack her adopted mom over the head to convince Gabrielle to accompany her.
Aphrodite wasn't surprised when Akemi wasn't helpful in the least. The young girl claimed that she didn't know what was going on except that Xena was paying for the 40,000 souls who had died in the accidental fire all those years ago. Akemi also told the Greeks that she had no idea how they could get Xena out of the Japanese Spirit Realm.
The Greek Goddess of Love trusted her instincts and her instincts told her that she didn't trust Akemi. The girl was obviously in love with Xena and no one knew better than Aphrodite that love could make a person do strange things. Dite had also learned to read people centuries ago, especially mortals. Everything screamed that this one was lying to her and Xena.
The Goddess had been thinking things over and had decided upon a course of action. Dite knew that most people and some of the Gods thought that she basically had more air in her head than brains but she had often surprised them. Being the goddess of the most difficult emotion in the universe required brains, devious behavior, faith and a lot of luck. Being extremely gorgeous also helped, she thought with a totally self-absorbed smile. She opened the sliding door to the outside garden and stopped suddenly, seeing Xena standing on the small bridge and Akemi walking up to the warrior.
Dite thought her heart would break from the pain on Xena's face. She was leaning down on the rail but not really watching the beautiful koi in the water below. The Goddess could see the tears that had been streaming down the warrior's face.
Feeling a growl in her throat at the sight of Akemi, the goddess ducked back behind the door and listened.
"Xena," Akemi said softly as she approached the warrior. "You must let her go now."
"No," Xena answered softly. "She's my soul mate, Akemi."
"She's beyond you now," Akemi responded easily, taking a place next to Xena and leaning on the rail like the tall warrior. "The Fates and gods have brought us back together, accept it."
"No," Xena shook her head again.
"You saw her, she's lost to you and looks elsewhere," Akemi urged.
"No, she's hurting, that's all," Xena protested and Aphrodite wasn't happy about the frown on the warrior's face.
"Xena, you loved me and I love you," Akemi said as she placed her hands on the warrior's.
Aphrodite's frown deepened, Xena didn't pull away.
"You can't go back to her without condemning all those souls, that's not what you fought for all those years of redeeming yourself, Xena," Akemi said softly and ducked under Xena's arm.
The warrior found her arms wrapped around the smaller woman as Akemi placed her hands on Xena's arms, her hands warm and comforting.
"Let go and accept the love in front of you," Akemi whispered and reached up, her lips seeking Xena's.
Aphrodite felt the hackles on the back of her neck standing up as Xena resisted for a moment and then pulled the smaller woman into her arms. She was just about to step out and break up the little scene when Xena pulled back and turned away from Akemi. The Goddess could see the tears beginning again.
"I can't!" Xena cried softly. "I love her and I miss her."
Akemi walked up behind the warrior and wrapped her arms around the warrior and turned Xena around. She gently wiped the tears away.
"And she's gone," Akemi said bluntly. "You can't go back."
"If I could only reach her," Xena exclaimed.
"Why?" Akemi demanded suddenly sounding angry. "She knows where you are and that you can't go to her. Why hasn't she come to you? Why didn't she return to the islands when she learned you can't leave?"
"Oh you bitch!" Dite whispered to herself.
Xena looked like she had been hit with a cold bucket of water and she frowned.
"And do what?" she countered. "Roam through Nippon until she dies and crosses over into the Amazon Lands, separating from me again? Maybe she can't take another goodbye."
"She could return and fight to cross over into the Spirit Realm here with you, our gods are kind and listen to prayers," Akemi argued. "She's given up on you and her. Why should you struggle anymore?"
The young Japanese woman turned, leaving Xena with her doubts and Aphrodite with a new plan.
Eve was pleased with what little progress she was making with the bard over the last two days. At least she had kept Gabrielle out of any cities and had actually gotten the bard to eat more than once a day.
After the first night's argument Eve had stopped fighting about Gabrielle's nightly drinking. Even with the alcohol, Eve could hear Gabrielle crying out and thrashing in her sleep. The young woman had moved slowly and cautiously next to the bard and had managed to wake Gabrielle up enough to break the nightmare. Twice in the first night, Gabrielle's screams had awakened the peacekeeper.
One of those screams had chilled Eve to her very soul. Gabrielle had been muttering something about Xena's head, demanding it back from someone. The former Bitch of Rome had fought the physical urge to throw up at what that could possibly imply about her mother and reflected once again that she didn't want to know the details of Xena's death. It was still causing Gabrielle nightmares, even through the alcohol.
The first night Gabrielle had turned away from Eve, refusing any comfort but the next night she had only resisted for a few moments and then broke down into tears in Eve's arms until she fell asleep.
"Eli?" Eve called softly.
"Here, Eve," a confident male voice answered.
"How can someone hurt like this for so long?" she asked, looking down into Gabrielle's sleeping but still troubled face.
"They can't," Eli confirmed what Eve suspected. "She either needs to start recovering or more and more of her sanity will slip away, probably into that bottle."
"I knew their love was strong enough to get them through anything, I didn't realize it was strong enough to kill them," Eve complained.
"That's the other side of the coin," Eli said simply. "Bond mates rarely survive long past their mate's death. I was hoping that knowing Xena was waiting on the otherside and future lives were waiting would help Gabrielle continue with this life."
"Now my mother is gone and so are their future lives," Eve said bitterly.
"Yes, and Gabrielle knows it," Eli agreed.
Eve wanted to scream in frustration. If Gabrielle had been awake she would have found that Eve's face reminded her of Xena's when the warrior was irritable and frustrated.
Aphrodite walked slowly among the flowers of the garden in this unique and beautiful temple. She was dressed in her most seductive clothing and was walking along nonchalantly, as if she didn't have a care or thought in the world.
The goddess of love for the Greeks did find the Japanese gardens absolutely fascinating. The symmetry and design delighted all of the senses and put the body, mind, and soul at ease within moments. The flowers and plants were exotic to the Greek and the scents were almost overwhelming.
Aphrodite smiled to herself and began humming. She had sensed the presence in the garden with her a few moments before. Whoever it was, was holding back and observing her and the Goddess, known as the most beautiful woman in the world, let them. She could almost feel the energy rising in the area when she bent over to sniff a particularly lovely flower, her beautiful body shown to a distinct advantage, both cleavage and tail.
Dite felt someone behind her and stood up, intentionally leaning back and wasn't surprised when she was caught by very strong male arms wrapping around her waist.
"You must be Aizen Myoo, god of love," she whispered.
"And you are Aphrodite, goddess of love of the Gaijin," the male behind her responded.
Aphrodite turned and found herself mesmerized. There weren't many that could turn the head of a goddess of love but Dite was surprised. Aizen Myoo was one of them.
He was tall for a Nippon islander and had the blackest eyes that the goddess had ever seen. Dite felt herself almost becoming lost into space and time when she looked deeply into them. His hair was also unlike the other Japanese she had seen, it wasn't long and braided or put up with fancy pins but short and ruffled.
Dite very badly wanted to run her fingers through that hair, as the most handsome god she had ever seen grinned.
"You're as beautiful as your legends say," he countered her unspoken thoughts.
"Thank you, Aizen," she said softly and met him halfway for a most passionate kiss that left her knees weak.
Sometimes things moved quickly for a goddess of love and eroticism but even this was sweeping her off her feet. She thought about protesting but wondered why she would want to. Aizen Myoo had obviously earned his position as a god of love, she thought, as his hands roamed over her back and pulled her close.
He smiled as he pulled back slightly, his flushed face told the goddess that she wasn't the only one thrown off balance by the beginning of this encounter.
"What can I do for the Goddess of Love?" he asked and Dite had to think for a moment past the fog to remember why she had sought him out.
"Besides continuing this part of the discussion?" she teased and laughed a musical laugh when he blushed and nodded in agreement. "I have some friends that have gotten caught up in your culture and have been separated."
"Destined lovers?" he questioned and began nuzzling her neck pulling a gasp of delight from the goddess.
"Yes, they've been bonded for awhile now and they are destined to be together in future lives as well," she answered, her hands exploring his body from outside his clothing.
"Why are they here and separated?" he asked, moving to the other side of her neck.
"One is dead and her spirit is caught here, she's paying for some past crime in your land. Their souls can't be together when the other one dies and it's killing both of them," Dite answered before sinking her teeth into his neck.
Aizen Myoo moaned and pulled back slightly.
"If the one is paying a debt then there's nothing to be done," he frowned. "And I don't like being used."
"No use intended, handsome," Dite said easily. "I came to talk and see if things could be worked out, I need an education on your culture. I can't help it that you're so damned irresistible!"
Aizen grinned. "Put two irresistible love gods together and I guess thunder and lightning is bound to happen," he agreed.
"I hope so, Aizen," she whispered in his ear, her voice husky with arousal and he met her lips roughly until she collapsed against his chest.
"Soul mates should not be separated. The one will move back to her mate when her debt is paid," he said simply, his hands moving to grasp Dite's breasts, causing the goddess to moan and throw her head back.
"Can't," she stammered as she fell back onto thick and lush grass as Aizen followed. "She's trapped until all the souls reincarnate. That's cool except that one of them wants her in the Spirit Realm forever."
"Even anger of an unjust death passes," he whispered, his hands traveling all over her body as her own were busy on his body as well. "The souls will move on."
"This one is in love with my friend and won't release her," Dite tried explaining.
"Won't release her in the name of love?" Aizen suddenly frowned and sat down on the grass, looking down at the goddess. "Explain, please."
Aphrodite began the long explanation of what had happened to her friends, including her suspicions that Akemi was one of those souls who would have to be reincarnated before Xena could move on and back to Gabrielle's spirit. Dite said she could sense from the young woman that Akemi had no intention of ever reincarnating and losing Xena again.
Aizen continued to frown.
Eve thought they were fortunate, they had only run into two sets of bandits over the last four days. With the chaos developing between the Goths and Rome for power of the Empire, bandits seemed to be getting braver.
Gabrielle had easily handled both sets while Eve stood back, watching the bard work her weapons with infinite skill. The former Bitch of Rome was impressed; Gabrielle was indeed good with the weapons, including the chakram.
Eve couldn't quite get used to seeing the chakram hanging on Gabrielle's hip. It had been such a part of Xena for so many years, her fabled weapon. Even when she had "died" fighting the Olympian gods, Ares had left it in her tomb instead of passing it onto someone else.
For the first time Eve had seen a spark of life in the bard's green eyes as she sent the weapon flying and then easily caught it. Eve had shook her head at that, she had caught that chakram once and had been frightened by it. It had taken so much concentration and warrior skills to listen beyond the fighting and surrounding noise enough to hear it coming just in time to stop its deadly path. Gabrielle caught it without even concentrating, it seemed. Like Xena had been able to do.
The bard's fighting style was different than her mother's, Eve reflected, but just as effective. More acrobatic and a lot more punches and kicks instead of gravity defying flips through the air but the bandits ended up just as bruised, bloody and with broken bones or just dead. Just as if they had fought her mother.
Then the spark was gone when the fight was over. Eve knew that look and frowned. It was the same look in the eyes of long experienced gladiators in the Arena, gladiators that knew they were approaching their death or those that were welcoming it. Resignation to their fate of a violent and early death. They would continue to fight, going through the motions, maybe even continuing to win, but eventually they would fall without the will to live to give them added fighting skills.
Eve also caught how the bard's eyes constantly darted around and how jumpy she was when she wasn't trying to drown everything out with alcohol. What's more, Eve knew that Gabrielle was beginning to turn to the alcohol during the day as well. Gabrielle was trying to take the edge off the pain: the physical and the emotional.
The former Champion of Rome and Xena's daughter knew that haunted look and was fearful for the bard's life and sanity.
Eve glared at the bard as Gabrielle reached for the bottle of wine. Gabrielle ignored her.
"It's a dangerous game you're playing, Gabrielle," she commented.
"Which part," the bard asked, drinking heavily from the bottle. Another bad sign was that the bard didn't seem to have a favorite drink but would drink anything she could get her hands on. Eve knew that behavior was usually reserved for confirmed drunks well into their careers of alcoholism.
"Well, we already know you take more than your fair share of risks in battle," Eve said simply. "But a warrior who drinks as much as you do is asking for a knife in the back."
Gabrielle merely shrugged, refusing to meet Eve's eyes. They reminded her too much of Xena at times.
"How many times have you awakened with a hangover and your purse gone?" Eve demanded.
Gabrielle shrugged again. Most of the time she had been lucky, she usually woke up before whomever she went to bed with and simply stole her purse back from them. One thing most of them hadn't counted on was her energy in bed. Even drunk out of her mind she could usually wear anyone down. Anyone except Xena, she thought bitterly.
She did wake up occasionally to an empty bed, an empty wine bottle and a missing purse. Gabrielle almost grinned to herself, her purse may have been gone but her weapons were never touched. Some of them might be brave enough to steal her money after taking her to bed, hoping they could hide long enough for her to lose interest in tracking them down but none of them with any hope to live dared touch her weapons.
"How long before some warlord puts a price on your head and someone collects it when you're drunk?" Eve demanded.
"How many times have we argued about my future?" Gabrielle demanded, anger showing in her green eyes. Eve was pleased with the emotion, even if it was anger.
"Not enough, apparently," she snapped back.
"I don't have a future and don't care," Gabrielle growled.
"Why not?" Eve demanded. "You spent years traveling with Xena, keeping my mother on the right side of things. You kept her from falling into the darkness and now look at you!"
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. "I don't want to talk about Xena."
"Why not? Ashamed of how you're turning out? Do you think she'd want you in this state? Think she'd even like you like this? Becoming a drunk and the town tramp? Eve shouted and wasn't surprised to find herself sitting on her tailbone in the dust with Gabrielle standing over her, fists raised. Gabrielle was breathing heavily with anger and Eve knew she could be in trouble when she looked into manic green eyes.
At least she didn't draw a weapon, Eve thought, just before lashing out with her legs and taking the bard down to the dust with her. Eve barely rolled away in time to avoid the back of Gabrielle's fist aiming for her nose. Both of them scrambling to their feet and facing each other.
The peacekeeper and messenger of peace tackled her adopted mom at full strength, pushing the bard off her feet.
Gabrielle growled deep in her chest and clenched her fists together and brought them down into the middle of Eve's back, loosening the girl's hold around the bard's waist. Another blow and Eve went to her knees and Gabrielle followed through with a knee to the girl's nose, sending Eve back into the dust.
The bard shouted in her anger and dived at the former Champion of Rome and landed hard on her back when Eve thrust a foot out and carried the bard head over heels over her.
They both regained their feet at the same time.
"Look at you, Gabrielle!" Eve shouted, fists raised defensively, blood flowing from a broken nose. "Is this the 'greater good' that you've always fought for? You made Xena almost sacrifice your life to stop the Persians because it was the right thing to do, is this what's right for you?"
"Xena let me go because she knew she'd probably be killed right behind me and we'd meet on the other side," Gabrielle snapped.
A quick snap of Gabrielle's wrist and Eve was left seeing stars and then trying to catch her breath. She hadn't even seen Gabrielle's fists move to hit her across the left eye nor the bard's leg snap up, the bard's foot connecting with Eve's chest.
Instinctively Eve lashed out and caught Gabrielle across the jaw with a powerful backhand, staggering the bard. Eve followed through with a series of blows that Ares had taught only three people in the world: Xena, Varia and Eve.
Gabrielle fell back under the onslaught and managed to kick Eve's legs out from under her again and took the chance to catch her breath and spit out blood from a cut lip.
"You could do so much in this lifetime!" Eve snapped as she got to her feet. "You could become the hero you were always meant to be. You could help a lot of people instead of being so damned selfish!"
Gabrielle hesitated. "Maybe after all these years I've earned a little selfishness," the bard's voice was sullen.
"Maybe," Eve agreed. "How many times have you risked your life for someone? Even for me, Varia could have killed you when you tried to save me from the Amazons."
"So what? I'm tired of it!" Gabrielle shouted. "There was always Xena."
"And now she's not, get over it, Gabrielle!" Eve said bluntly. "People lose their mates all the time. You even lost a mate before Xena."
"Perdicus was not Xena, no one could ever take her place," Gabrielle snapped.
"I know," Eve said, her voice a little more gentle and caring. "You could fill that space doing the good you've always done for people."
"People lose their mates and move on because they know they'll be together after death," Gabrielle protested.
"So you don't know if she'll be there," Eve growled. "Oh well, deal with that when you die. Until then stop being a coward."
Eve held her breath as Gabrielle's hand went to her chakram at that challenge and saw the fire in Gabrielle's eyes that she hadn't ever seen before. Then the bard hesitated.
"You are not nothing without Xena," Eve encouraged. "Xena didn't make you, she taught you and guided you and you taught her and guided her. Your skills are your own and so is your soul and heart."
The bard's hand drifted away from the chakram and her head lowered in thought.
"Live your life to the fullest and honor her memory with it," Eve said simply and walked over to grab a water-skin. "You are dishonoring her and yourself by living and dying this way."
"I don't want to face the other side without her," Gabrielle muttered.
"Then just go and die and get it over with," Eve snapped, turning her back on the bard, letting Gabrielle absorb the verbal blows as well as the physical ones.
After a few moments she heard Gabrielle rummaging in her packs.
"I'm going to go get cleaned up," the bard muttered.
"Interesting choice," a male voice sounded in Eve's ears as Gabrielle left the small clearing, heading for a nearby river.
"Eli," Eve said simply, feeling her jaw to see if any of her teeth were loose. "I am so sorry about the violence."
Eli laughed gently. "Not everyone can succeed with peace all the time, Eve. I don't recommend it on a daily basis or with anyone else, though."
"No, I agree," Eve said, a frown on her face. "I failed, Eli. I let my frustration get the better of me and I pushed her to violence."
"Forgive yourself, Eve," the voice said gently. "It may have worked."
"Great Amaterasu," Aizen Myoo said respectfully as he approached the Sun Goddess.
Aphrodite stayed back but even at a distance of several chariot lengths it was almost overwhelming being in the presence of the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. The glow around her was blinding and her beauty was breathtaking.
"What is it, my son," the Goddess asked warmly.
"I have become aware of an injustice, Great Goddess, concerning soul bound lovers," he said, bowing slightly to the goddess.
"Then fix it, lovers are your realm," she said simply.
"It needs your attention," he then launched into the tale of Xena and her adventures in the land of the Rising Sun, including Xena's past deeds and her willing sacrifice to save 40,000 souls.
Aphrodite listened closely and was impressed, the god of love told the story well and emphasized just the points that Dite would have.
The Goddess almost held her breath when Aizen Myoo ended his story and waited for the Sun Goddess to say something.
"This young girl, she is misguided by a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her father and her blind love for the Gaijin warrior, yes?" she asked.
"I believe so, Amaterasu," Aizen answered.
"Doesn't she realize that her next life will be better and she will meet her soul mate?" the goddess questioned.
"No, she is focused on the barbarian and can't see that," Aizen responded.
Amaterasu frowned and seemed lost in her thoughts for quite awhile, leaving Aphrodite almost dancing from foot to foot with impatience.
Then the Goddess raised her head and the light around her got even brighter.
"Very well, the girl is misguided and maybe not evil. She has until sunset to do the right thing and release the warrior Gaijin from her debt. It is Akemi who should stay in the Nether Realm until those souls pass on, not Xena," Amaterasu declared. "If she does not release the warrior then her soul will pass to the Underworld and be denied an honorable reincarnation."
"And the warrior, great Amaterasu?" Aizen questioned.
"She is to be sent back to her world at dawn," the goddess decided.
"Alive or to their Spirit Land?" Aizen asked for clarification.
"I will return her to life, things have been put out of balance. She was not meant to leave her bond mate so soon in life. The lines of their souls have been broken and that wasn't meant to be," Amaterasu said with a frown.
Aizen bowed respectfully and turned to Aphrodite with a grin and laughed when she jumped into his arms and wrapped her legs around him. His laugh was cut short by her kiss that sped up his heartbeat by several multiples.
After a moment he put her back down and looked into her beautiful eyes.
"Let's go convince the young one that she must release your friend and then we have the night," Dite moaned willingly at the huskiness of his voice and took his hand.
Gabrielle quickly got out of the water, it was almost dark and the water wasn't warm to begin with. The bard was still frowning as she reached for her towel to dry off.
A strong hand caught her wrist as she instinctively swung backwards and a strong arm wrapped around her waist.
"Shhhh," a familiar voice whispered and the bard stopped struggling.
"Ares, let me get dressed, damnit," she snapped as he began nuzzling and kissing her neck.
"I like you this way," he muttered.
"Ares, I may not be able to kill you but I'm betting I can still make you uncomfortable," she growled.
"Why do you keep fighting me?" he asked as she grabbed his hand to keep it from roaming further down than her waist and struggled with the other one against her breasts. "I can give you back the feelings you want."
"I thought we were all in agreement, I don't want to feel anything," Gabrielle snapped, hating to be at such a disadvantage. No clothes, miserable fighting position, no weapons against a god. Not good, she thought.
"That doesn't make sense, Gabrielle," he said as he continued to struggle with her hands. "You drink yourself into a stupor every night and then sleep with anyone nearby. Drowning the feelings and then seeking out feelings?"
The bard frowned and managed to squirm out of his arms and turned to face the War God. "Just leave me alone!" she snapped.
A familiar smirk lit up his eyes and he moved closer to the bard again.
"Gabrielle, you're looking for something to make you feel like it did when you were with Xena, when she touched you," he said softly, looking down into her green eyes.
"Nothing can do that," Gabrielle muttered, shivering slightly and Ares took advantage to wrap his arms around the bard and draw her near, pulling his cloak around both of them.
"I can," he said softly and bent to kiss her tenderly.
Gabrielle gasped as that same energy he had shown her before swept over her as he pulled her close.
"Isn't that what it felt like to be with Xena," he whispered, kissing her again.
The bard felt tears beginning to flow down her cheeks as wave after wave swept from his body and over hers. It did feel like when Xena touched her. Gabrielle clung to the War God.
"Isn't this what you want to feel like?" he asked, moving down her body to take a nipple in his teeth while his other hand caressed her other breast.
"Oh gods," she whimpered, her body beginning to tremble. "Xena."
Gabrielle could almost see Ares smiling as it grew darker. "Soon you'll be screaming my name, little bard," he promised, sending a massive energy wave to the bard. "Let me please you, I promise you'll never regret it."
Gabrielle cried out as her head was thrown back with the intensity. No one had ever made her feel like this except Xena.
Aphrodite had been right in her judgment of Akemi. The young woman did not want to go quietly and she did not want to let go of Xena either.
Aizen and Dite had found Akemi attempting to seduce Xena once more when they returned to the teahouse in the Nether Realm. Xena's resolve was weakening from the confusion at what she had seen of Gabrielle's downward spiral and Akemi had gotten just about as far as Ares was getting with Gabrielle.
Akemi had not been pleased to see them.
The Goddess of Love hadn't been surprised when Xena was first confused, shocked and then angry after hearing what the Sun Goddess had said. Aizen was closely watching the three women, especially Xena. He had spoken for the warrior without meeting her and he was frankly curious about a human who could have captured Aphrodite's attention so much.
Dite kept her feet under her, ready to move quickly as she felt the energy building in the warrior sitting across from her. She could also feel the energy building from Akemi as well and didn't trust the young woman. Add onto that the fact Aphrodite didn't know what spirits in this Realm and culture were capable of and Dite was being cautious.
Aphrodite kept the fact that Akemi had used Xena to learn how to kill her father in the back of her mind and of how the young girl had tricked the warrior into getting close to him so she could carry out her revenge. That meant the naïve looking girl wasn't so naïve.
Akemi? Xena whispered, turning to the girl for answers.
Akemi's eyes were blazing with anger and Aizen stiffened.
No, I don't believe you! Akemi shouted, leaping to her feet with everyone following.
Aizen moved slightly in front of Aphrodite in a protective gesture and the goddess resisted giggling with delight. She did so love it when big strong males were protective of her!
Listen, Aphrodite said, switching her focus from the God of Love to the young spirit. You tricked Xena into staying here, babe, and that's totally uncool.
She belongs with me! We loved each other years ago! Akemi protested, turning to her own God of Love for help.
"Akemi, release her or face the wrath of the gods," Aizen Myoo said simply. "You will find love in your next lives."
"I want Xena!" the girl cried.
Xena felt her hands clench into fists and fought down her first impulse of letting her anger loose all over Akemi.
"Akemi," she managed to begin speaking without growling too much. "I don't love you, I am in love with Gabrielle and always will be. Let me go."
"No! After all I went through, I'm not going to lose the one good thing in my life!" Akemi shouted.
"That Xena doesn't exist anymore!" the warrior shouted back. "We were both too selfish to love anyone but ourselves. We both used each other. You used me to get near your father so you could kill him, I was using you to get ransom."
Xena felt her anger fading slightly. "I couldn't even admit that I loved Borias until it was too late and then he was dead. I lost our son because of that."
"Xena, an eternity spent here, in my arms. No worries, no more debts, no more suffering," Akemi urged.
"No Gabrielle," Xena said flatly and wasn't surprised this time by the anger in the young girl's eyes.
"I'll drag you to the Underworld with me!" Akemi threatened and Xena resisted smacking the girl in front of her.
Xena knew Akemi's history of abuse at her father's hands and then at the hands of the slavers she had been passed along to. Several cruel masters had also left their touch on the young girl before a ruthless barbarian bandit named Xena had gotten her hands on the girl. Xena had also been rough but not brutal and Akemi had clung to her.
"Been there, done that," Xena muttered, still fighting against her own anger. Her blue eyes flashed suddenly and Akemi flinched under the warrior's intense gaze.
"You kept Gabrielle alive so we wouldn't be together, didn't you?" she demanded.
Aphrodite looked confused.
"What do you mean, dark and gorgeous?" the goddess questioned.
"You've seen the tattoos on Gabrielle?" Xena asked and wasn't surprised when Akemi wouldn't meet her eyes. "Akemi gave those to Gabrielle to protect her from Yodoshi. You did it to keep us apart, didn't you?"
"Yes," Akemi admitted, her own eyes flashing in anger. "Once I saw the bond between you two I knew that if she died she'd stay here with you. Or you would both leave for your own spirit land."
"I didn't have to stay dead?" Xena questioned.
"No," Akemi admitted. "Your willing sacrifice to save the village was enough as long as I pay for starting the series of events."
"Release me, Akemi," Xena asked softly. "Don't condemn the three of us to misery. If you believe you love me then let me go."
"You are destined to be with her! I won't even have you in the next life!" the young woman protested.
"Your own love is waiting," Aizen promised and Akemi began to look doubtful.
"Hey, dark and exotic," Aphrodite stepped in. "If you have to trick someone into loving you like this, then it isn't love. Let her go."
"If I can't have Xena why should anyone," Akemi demanded in a sullen voice.
"Gabrielle!" Eve yelled as she stopped at the edge of the path leading to the river. Then the peacekeeper's eyes narrowed in anger as she took in the sight of Ares lowering a naked bard down onto his cloak on the grass.
The former Bitch of Rome recognized the energy that was washing over the bard as Ares reached for his belt.
"Ares! You son of a diseased bacchae!" Eve shouted, rushing towards the two of them, her body emitting her intense anger.
"Oh grow up, Eve!" Ares snapped and Gabrielle blinked, as if trying to figure out where she was. "We're both consenting adults, buzz off."
"Get out of here!" she snapped and aimed a well placed kicked at his head but the God of War was gone with a flash of light, the look of disgust on his face just making her angrier.
"What?" Gabrielle muttered, sitting up and pulling the cloak around her. Eve began gathering the bard's clothes up and knelt down in front of her adopted mom.
"Gabrielle," Eve began but Gabrielle held up a protesting hand.
"Don't yell at me again, I'm tired of it," Gabrielle said in a tired voice.
Eve waited, as the bard seemed to gather her thoughts.
"It felt like Xena," Gabrielle whispered, tears beginning to flow again.
"If that's what it feels like to be with my mother, I understand why you're lost," Eve said gently and touched Gabrielle's cheek reassuringly when the bard looked at her questioningly. "I was lovers with Ares for years, remember? I know what that energy feels like."
Gabrielle nodded, reaching for her clothes.
"The problem is that it's like a drug, Gabrielle," Eve said simply. "It's worse than the alcohol."
"What do you mean?"
"How did it feel?"
"Wonderful, like when I was with Xena," the bard answered softly, quickly pulling on her leather top and a woolen tunic over that to help with the chilled night air.
"How do you feel now?" Eve asked and Gabrielle frowned.
"Worse than before, empty again," Gabrielle said after a few moments and Eve nodded.
"The only time you can feel that is in his arms, like taking a drug," Eve reasoned. "You'd soon be and do whatever he wanted just to get that feeling back. Anything to feel like it did when you were with mother."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and she took in the words. The bard slammed her fists onto the ground. "Damnit! What does he want with me?"
"I'm not sure, it's like he wants you to let go of mom more than anyone else does," Eve admitted.
"Why does he want me to reject my connection with Xena?" Gabrielle pondered as she finished dressing.
Eve shifted uncomfortably when the bard's sharp eyes focused on her. It was the first time that she had seen Gabrielle focus on anything besides a fight or a bottle and something about Gabrielle's inquisitive eyes made her uncomfortable.
"What aren't you telling me?" the bard demanded.
"What do you mean?" Eve countered.
"Ares is working damned hard at getting me into his bed and under his control. He's offered me things before but that was so he could separate me from Xena and to weaken her," the bard said thoughtfully. "I'm already separated from Xena, for eternity. There are plenty of other female warriors and females in general to focus on. In my condition I haven't been a threat to any of his plans, so why is he so anxious to gain control over me?"
Eve hoped that keeping silent would work as the bard stood up and looked at the cloak Ares had left behind. After some hesitation, Gabrielle shrugged and put it on. The night had turned a little cold and the cloak was warm if not a little long on her.
Sharp green eyes turned back to stare into Eve's blue ones.
"He always wants us separated but that's happened so why is he still trying?"
Again Eve didn't answer.
"You said that someone had told you about Xena's death and helped you find me," the bard continued, as if talking to herself. "Then you said you got some inside information on how the gods track humans. Ares is involved in my life, who else?"
"What do you mean, Gabrielle?" Eve tried dodging and shifted uneasily as Gabrielle's eyes narrowed.
"Who and what is Ares afraid of?" she demanded.
"Aphrodite and Eli have been helping me try to get you out of this destructive streak you've been on," Eve answered begrudgingly.
"That wouldn't be enough to set Ares off, he wouldn't care if I grieved myself to death or not," Gabrielle continued to frown.
"Aphrodite is trying to set things right," Eve whispered.
"Right? What do you mean by set things right?"
"To get mom released from the Japanese Spirit Realm so that she can be in the Amazon Land of the Dead or the Elysian Fields when you cross over," Eve said softly, hoping she was doing the right thing.
Eve hadn't told Gabrielle the plan just in case it didn't work. Neither Eve, Eli or Aphrodite thought the bard could handle getting her hopes up only to lose a chance at being with Xena again.
"Ares is afraid that I'll connect with Xena again," the bard muttered.
"Yes," Eve confirmed. "If Xena is released to this side of the world again, with you two there's always a chance of being brought back to life."
"And if I'm with Ares, the connection with Xena would be broken and she'd be weakened to his advances," Gabrielle finished, her eyes flashing angrily.
"Sounds like something he'd plan," Eve agreed. "We have something else to discuss, though."
"What's that?" Gabrielle asked, motioning for them to head back to the camp.
"A messenger came looking for you, that's why I was bashing through the woods," Eve explained.
"I'm glad that you did. A messenger from who?"
"King Gabriel, son of Gregor," Eve answered. "His kingdom has been under attack by the Goths and his city is under seige. He's desperate and is asking for help.
"Gabriel," Gabrielle said thoughtfully. "We saved him when he was an infant and King Gregor adopted him as his son and heir. He must have inherited the throne."
"What do we do?"
"I don't know about you, but a friend is yelling for help. I'm going," Gabrielle said simply and Eve's heart sang. This was more like the Gabrielle she had come to know and love before Xena's death.
Xena listened to the moans and cries in the room next to hers and finally gave up trying to get to sleep. The warrior moved quietly outside and stood once more on the bridge over the large koi pond.
The warrior didn't think she'd be able to sleep anyway and reflected on the events of the day. Learning that Akemi had tricked her into staying in the Japanese Realm had been a blow to the warrior but it shouldn't have surprised Xena when she thought about it. Akemi had tricked her from the beginning into getting whatever the girl was focused on, mainly her father's death.
Just because Xena had made massive changes in her life didn't mean that Akemi had, she thought ruefully, she was a spirit and not living after all. It had hurt when Akemi refused to release her once the truth had come out though. The girl had even been willing to spend eternity in the Underworld, never finding peace and happiness unless she could be with Xena.
Her obsessive focus on Xena made the warrior nervous now that she could see the depth of it. Xena shivered, remembering Akemi screaming in rage when the sun had begun to set, still refusing to release Xena.
Aizen Myoo had held the warrior back when Xena had started towards Akemi when the sun went behind the horizon.
Xena wrapped her arms around herself, lost in the memory.
It was if the shadows in the room had darkened into a pitch black that you couldn't see through. Xena had felt a chill sweep over her body when the shadows had begun to move of their own accord.
Akemi began screaming when she saw Them circling, as if stalking her. Her black eyes were wide with fear and her normally pale skin was almost transparent in its terror. Her head swept around desperately and found that she was surrounded.
Xena moaned and found Aizen holding her from behind, his strong arms unbending. The warrior closed her eyes as the shadows leapt from the walls, the floor and the ceiling and covered the terrified young spirit. The cries were muffled immediately and then everything was silent and Aizen gently released his hold.
Xena opened her eyes and everything was back to normal.
"She chose her fate, Gaijin," Aizen said gently. "She didn't believe that she would be sent to the Underworld but it happened."
"Can she ever be saved?" the warrior had asked.
"Maybe, if the gods are kind," he shrugged.
Then the warrior turned her thoughts to Aizen and Aphrodite.
The warrior smiled, remembering the sparks that practically flew between the two gods when they turned their attention to each other. Xena snapped her fingers between them to get their attention.
"Now what?" she demanded.
"We wait for dawn and send you back to Gabrielle," Aphrodite grinned.
"Alive?" Xena whispered, her eyes wide with shock.
"Didn't we mention that?" Dite teased and the two gods were gone before Xena could smack either of them.
Xena's sharp ears heard clothing rustling and falling to the floor and small moans, both male and female, beginning in one of the bedrooms of the teahouse.
Now she waited and figured this was probably going to be the longest night of her undead life.
It was just past dawn when Gabrielle and Eve rode into sight of King Gabriel's capital city.
The bard reflected for a moment from the top of the hill that it probably hadn't changed much except for quite a few buildings that had sprung up outside the city walls. Also, the addition of a siege army outside those same walls and the one inside them.
"They've already breeched the walls," Eve said out loud, pointing at the open gates and ladders on all of the walls they could see. Several walls were badly damaged from catapult stones and smoke filled the air over the walled city from various fires from inside the city.
"I've got to get to Gabriel," the bard muttered.
"You'll never reach him," Eve frowned. "Either he's already been taken prisoner or they've killed him."
"I've got to try!" the bard insisted.
"Wait and see if he's a prisoner and we'll sneak in and free him," Eve suggested.
"They'll kill him as soon as they get the Treasury open," the bard argued. "Can you fire a bow and take out some of them on the walls?"
"I can't fight, Gabrielle," Eve said softly.
The bard sighed, looking at Eve's regretful face. "Right, sorry."
Gabrielle looked at the bandits over-running the city; it was impossible to count how many there were.
"If I can get to Gabriel I'm going to try and get behind a very, very thick door and hold them off. You ride for help," Gabrielle said easily, drawing her katana sword.
"This is suicide, Gabrielle," Eve scolded and was surprised when the bard laughed.
"Isn't that what I've been working towards for the last six months?"
Before Eve could protest the bard was riding fast and furious towards the gates of the city.
A very content looking Aphrodite found Xena still standing on the bridge outside the teahouse, watching the sky turn purple in the dawn.
The warrior smirked at the goddess of Love as Aphrodite tried to calm her wild hair and pull her clothing back together.
"Oh Tartarus!" Dite exclaimed and snapped her fingers, instantly changing her clothes. They were still outlandish and bright but better suited for traveling. Much better, have to keep my rep up, you know.
She caught the smile on Xena's face and eyes and snapped her fingers again.
Xena's smile turned into a grin when she was dressed once again in her old familiar leather and brass. She could even feel the comfortable weight of her sword across her back. Her hand went to her hip and she frowned slightly and Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders.
"Hey, you're the one that gave that round thing to Gabrielle, you'll have to get it back from her," Dite grinned.
"Where is she?" Xena demanded, her hands and body trembling with excitement.
"That may take a bit to find her," Dite said and wasn't surprised when Xena lost her smile. "We go back to my place and we look for her, Cupid will help."
"Let's do it!" Xena demanded.
Gabrielle found that the confusion in the city was a big help. It was almost as if no one knew who was whom and the bard only met a few challenges as she got closer to the main castle and those had been easily dealt with.
The bandits had worn down the city army during the siege and they hadn't met much resistance once they got the gates open, the raiders weren't ready for a fresh and dangerous warrior in their midst.
The bard instinctively ducked as a sword came out from around a corner and put her foot into the chest of the huge Goth connected to the sword. She followed through with several strokes of the katana sword and the Goth dropped to his knees with a surprised expression. Gabrielle reached out and shoved him over without a thought and glanced around.
She knew from past experience, if they hadn't changed the castle, she should be near the servant's entrance to the castle. The smell of cook fires confirmed her memories and she quickly slipped inside the castle and began the long and difficult task of getting closer and closer to the Treasury.
If King Gabriel was alive, the bard figured that's where he would be.
Eve yelped as Aphrodite and Xena appeared out of thin air next to her on top of the hill. After a moment of shock the young woman threw herself into Xena's arms, tears of joy beginning to flow from her blue eyes.
"Eve," Xena grinned and held her daughter close and then glanced down at the city. "Where's Gabrielle?"
"Down there, trying to reach King Gabriel and get him out or protect him until help arrives. I caught a villager escaping and sent him for help," Eve answered.
The warrior pulled her sword and grinned a familiar grin.
"Help is here," she growled, swinging the sword around a few times. "Dite, zap me to the top of that wall down there."
"You got it, Blue Eyes," Dite grinned and snapped her fingers.
After Xena disappeared the Goddess dropped to her knees, the smile she had struggled to keep up fading fast.
A concerned Eve quickly knelt next to the goddess.
"I'm okay, just a little rough on the edges. We lose a lot of our powers when we're outside our realm of worshippers," Dite explained. "Transporting myself and Xena to Olympus and then to here was difficult."
"Is Mom okay? I mean, she's alive, right?"
"Totally," Dite reassured the young peacekeeper. "She's, like, as good as new!"
"Thank you!" Eve said first to Aphrodite and then any god she could think of that might have had a hand in helping set things right.
Well, she corrected, mostly right. They still had to get her two moms through the battle and then face each other.
"Does mom know what's happened to Gabrielle?" Eve questioned as they sat on the hill, Eve feeling helpless and Dite bored with the scenes of war below them.
"I showed her," Aphrodite responded.
"Everything?" Eve whispered.
"Even the different beds she's ended up in," Aphrodite confirmed. "Xena needed to know how bad it had gotten."
"This will take some getting through," Eve commented.
"Yup, how did it go the last couple of days?" Dite asked.
"Better, much better. I got her to knock in my ribs and break my nose and I got to loosen a couple of her teeth and knock some sense into her," Eve said casually.
"Totally radical!" Dite exclaimed. "I thought you didn't do the pounding on people thing any more."
"I don't, it just was all I could think of to get her to react," Eve admitted, blushing with the shame she felt for having given into the violent reactions.
"Warriors," Dite complained. "Figure it out with your fists all the time. Should try my methods."
"I can see how your methods worked and I'll leave them to you," Eve grinned and Dite looked puzzled. "You have love bites all over your neck and where what little your flimsy top is covering. Enjoy yourself?"
"All night long!" Dite grinned. "Their Love God is amazing!"
"Thanks," Eve smiled. "I'll pass on the details."
"Your loss," the goddess of love continued to smile to herself and began to actually hum.
Xena growled, slashing to her left and then right. There were more Goths than she had expected and they seemed to keep coming as she worked her way across the wall, trying to spot any sign of her bard.
"Something's got them stirred up," she muttered to herself and flipped over and over until she landed on the courtyard cobblestones below her with a familiar war cry. She laughed at the old feelings rushing through her body, her muscles humming with battle energy.
The warrior grinned and leaped into the air, doing the splits and taking out two large Goths with a boot to a nose on either side of her. Xena came down with a grin and finished them off by banging their heads together.
Ah, like old times! she grinned.
One was still semi-coherent and she bent down next to him and smacked his neck in two different places. The blonde warrior's face began to turn bright red.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain," she explained in Germanic. "Where is the King?"
"Someone is trying to get him out of the castle," he managed to gasp in his rough language. "They are cornered at the north wall. I was sent to gather men to reinforce the walls in case she wasn't alone."
"She? Good," Xena muttered and released the hold on his blood vessels. The warrior turned the Goth over and grabbed his cloak off of him and threw it over her shoulders and pulled the cowl up.
Gabrielle coughed in the gathering smoke but rested a hand on Gabriel's shoulder, attempting to reassure the man.
They were in a small armory at the northern wall. There was only one door into the small room built into the stones of the castle and it had no windows. The door was exceptionally thick with a huge crossbar that locked it from the inside.
It was small but secure and it was filled with weapons.
Gabrielle hadn't counted on them attempting to set the door on fire to either burn it aside or to smoke the two Greeks inside out or into death.
"Gabrielle, I'll trade myself for your freedom," Gabriel gasped.
"No, they'll just kill us both," Gabrielle said simply. "Keep low to the ground, it's easier to breath."
Even laying on the ground the next few minutes became a torture for both of them. Stinging tears flowed down their faces and they both coughed until they thought they would hack up blood.
Gabrielle could see through the haze that the door was indeed on fire and would give in but she couldn't catch her breath enough to raise a weapon. A glance at Gabriel next to her confirmed that he was already unconscious as darkness began to crowd her.
Xena managed to work her way through the crowd of gathered warriors in a semi-circle at the northern wall just as the warriors dragged Gabrielle and King Gabriel out of the storage room. The warrior felt her heart almost stop when she saw that neither of them was moving.
Then the fresh air hit both sets of lungs and they began coughing and gasping for air as the warriors dropped them in the middle of the circle. Xena moved her sword under the cloak and felt her muscles tensing up.
Gabrielle moved slowly to her hands and knees, still coughing enough to injure her ribs and the King wasn't in much better shape.
The bard's eyes finally focused and she took in the leather boots in front of her and let her eyes roam upwards past the leather lacings across the lower trouser legs to the wide Viking belt filled with hooks and adornments of gold. An over-tunic, a sword belt across the shoulder and a huge war hammer in a very huge hand confirmed the identity of the raiders as Goths.
The Chieftain was tall and big, as big as Beowulf, she reflected. This Viking also had long hair that was tied back in a braid and there was a gold circlet around his forehead.
Part of Gabrielle's mind took in the slight wound along his left arm that he seemed to be ignoring.
"You fight good for a small one," he said in broken Latin.
She merely nodded, still coughing but it was easing up.
"You killed a lot of my men," he continued.
"Not enough," she answered back in Germanic.
"You are a good warrior, you die quick," he declared and started to turn away from her.
Gabrielle growled and brought her fist up in a fluid motion. The Goths had neglected to strip Gabrielle of her weapons before dropping her to the ground and now their Chieftain was going to pay for it.
The Chieftain hit the ground on his knees without a sound, his face beginning to turn beet red from having one of the bard's sais rammed in between his legs.
The bard was up and had her katana sword at his throat before the warriors had moved a step.
Xena, still unnoticed in her cloak, silently cheered her mate's stubbornness, ingenuity, and courage.
"You give the King a horse and open that Northern gate. He rides out unharmed," Gabrielle demanded as King Gabriel started to regain his feet.
"Don't listen to her!" the Chieftain shouted and the bard whacked his neck, just where Xena had shown her and the Goth fell silent.
"He dies in a few moments unless I release the hold," she threatened.
Xena took in the shuffling and uncomfortable looks among the warriors, each of them looking to each other for instructions. Finally, a young man, probably on his first warrior journey, ran off through the crowd and a tall red headed man stepped forward.
"Release our Chieftain, it will be done but you're dead! he said vehemently.
What else is new? Gabrielle muttered and released 'The Pinch' from the Goth and let him fall forward gasping, her katana at his neck from behind.
Gabrielle, I won't let you do this! King Gabriel protested, still coughing every other minute.
It's done, Gabrielle said simply and firmly.
Xena's sharp eyes looked around, gauging positions, angles and weapons. During the moments it took to get the horse the warrior had a chance to take in her mate. Xena fought back tears of joy at the sight of Gabrielle, even if the bard looked like she had been dragged through Tartarus or even hell.
Gabrielle's ribs were showing too much and Xena thought the bard might have lost some muscle definition during her time spent fighting and drinking and not practicing. The normally bright green eyes were still dull and sunken and Xena knew her mate probably hadn't slept a full night since their separation.
The horse was finally brought and King Gabriel turned once more to the bard.
I can't let you do this, he said softly.
Just go, Gabriel, she said firmly. Go get help and run these bastards back to Germania.
Everyone watched the King mount the horse and look down at the warrior bard, his eyes saddened and regretful.
I won't forget you, he promised.
A moment later the King was gone, riding through the gate at a full gallop.
Xena watched Gabrielle slowly begin backing up towards the wall, her katana at ready.
The Chieftain jumped to his feet, his face red with anger at having been bested by the small woman.
Xena felt her muscles tensing as the warriors around her begin to lean forward.
Aphrodite, can you tell what's going on? Eve finally demanded.
Sometimes, right now Xena is waiting for the right moment to reveal herself and save Gabrielle. Odds aren't good though, Dite commented, sitting with her arms across her knees and looking unhappy with doing nothing.
Where are they? Eve snapped.
Northern Wall, the Goths shut the gate behind Gabrielle, cutting off her escape, Dite continued and suddenly pointed at a horse galloping across the countryside. See, there goes King Gabriel.
She saved him, Eve said, a sense of wonder in her voice.
Yup, now she has to save herself, Dite complained.
Eve leaped onto her horse and turned towards the city.
North wall? she demanded and put her boots to the horses' flanks when Dite nodded.
What do you think you're doing? You don't even have a knife! Dite shouted at Eve's back.
Xena caught movement of the bard's body and dropped to the ground without a thought. Her sharp ears caught the more than familiar sound of her chakram passing overhead.
The Goths on either side of the warrior didn't have such a warning and the first line was cut down, some clutching their chests, others gasping around the wound in their throats. The chakram bounced off a wall and doubled back on its path, cutting down the next line of warriors. Xena reached up and snatched the chakram in mid-flight as she leaped to her feet.
Xena looked over at her stunned bard and grinned.
Hi, Xena said with an impish grin. Thought I'd lend a hand if you didn't mind. Catch!
With a laugh the warrior split the chakram and sent one piece flying back towards the bard.
Gabrielle, still blinking in disbelief, caught the chakram half.
React, Gabrielle! Xena shouted and the bard turned slightly and launched her half of the chakram and Xena launched hers.
The two pieces cut through the Goths easily and both bard and warrior slashed out with their swords, each stopping two Goths each who had gotten too close. The chakram met in mid flight and reformed, crashing down into Gabrielle's hand.
Yah! Xena yelled and dived into the middle of the Goths, her sword cutting a space to work in as Gabrielle somersaulted forward and put her back to Xena's.
You aren't going to disappear again in the middle of this are you? Gabrielle growled.
Nope, I'm here if you want me, Xena said, with a slight catch in her voice, slashing out with her sword and taking out two more Goths.
I never stopped, the bard responded, sending the chakram flying again, clearing another row of raiders as it split in half again.
Xena grinned and laughed as she and Gabrielle each caught half of it again.
Nice trick, she commented.
Didn't think you'd get all of it back, did you? Gabrielle was also grinning, for the first time since Xena's death.
Here! a voice shouted and they both looked up to see Eve on top of the northern wall.
The former Roman ducked a sword swing and backhanded a Goth attempting to kill her and grabbed his sword from him as she threw him from the wall. Eve jumped over two more coming at her and slashed out with the sword, releasing the dead-block that was holding the northern gate closed.
Both Xena and Gabrielle moved as a team and dashed for the gate and found three horses waiting. A shout from above caught their attention as they turned and killed the four raiders dashing through the gate.
Eve slashed again with the sword and the gates began closing. Xena slashed at one more brave soul attempting to follow them before the thick wooden gates shut. She laughed as Eve shouted a war cry and somersaulted from the wall down to the dirt next to the horses.
The former Champion of Rome vaulted onto one of the horses and glanced down with a frown at the sword in her hand and threw it aside.
Good, Gabrielle heard Xena mutter as they watched the sword fall to the ground.
Come on! Eve shouted. They have archers!
Gabrielle and Xena both hooked half of the chakram to their belts at the same moment and they grinned at each other. Then Gabrielle frowned.
We've got some things to talk about, Xena, she said simply as she took the reins of one of the horses.
I know, the warrior responded.
Yeah, like me! a voice snapped behind them.
Before they could move Gabrielle fell forward as Xena started to turn. As the bard started to fall Xena caught sight of Ares just as he backhanded her.
Xena hit the ground, almost under the horses' hooves and she heard Eve shout angrily.
You don't win this time, Xena! Ares growled as Xena took in the dagger in his hand and realized he had hit Gabrielle along side the head with the hilt. At least I'll separate you two in this life!
Xena grabbed the half chakram as Ares went to one knee. She could hear Eve leaping from her horse, leaping to stop Ares.
The God of War disappeared as the chakram would have separated his head from his body but not before he buried the dagger in Gabrielle's back.
Xena screamed in rage and terror as Eve landed on the ground next to the bard.
Gabrielle moaned and felt someone place a cool cloth on her forehead.
Easy, Gabrielle, a familiar voice said softly.
Xena, but Xena was dead, Gabrielle thought to herself. Then flashes of memory began hitting her and she attempted to sit up.
Xena! but strong hands held her down as she cried out in pain.
Easy, my love, Xena's voice said again.
Gabrielle's green eyes desperately sought Xena's eyes for reassurance and the warrior gently took the bard's hands in hers.
I'm here, I'm real and I'm not leaving, Xena answered the desperate look in the bard's eyes, tears beginning to flow down her own face.
"What happened?" the bard whispered.
"Ares attacked us from behind, whacked you on the head and then stabbed you. Aphrodite brought us here to Olympus," Xena explained.
What the hell? First he tries to seduce me and then kill me?
He's pissed he didn't get to you in time and that I came back for you. He was going to settle for separating us for now, Xena growled, her eyes bright with anger.
Eve, watching from the doorway, expected it when both women began crying. Xena held Gabrielle as best she could with the bard's injuries and her daughter gently shut the door.
She smiled at Aphrodite lounging in an incredibly overstuffed chair that would have buried Xena within its cushions, Eve thought.
How are they? Dite asked, throwing the peacekeeper an apple.
Gabrielle's awake, Eve answered as she caught the apple with a smirk and picked a chair that wasn't as dangerous looking.
She'll be fine, Dite reassured the adopted daughter.
Will they be okay? Eve asked softly.
They'll have some rough stuff to get over, Xena staying in Japan and Gabrielle's suicidal behavior, Dite commented thoughtfully.
They managed to get through Hope and Solan; me and Joxer; the thing in China, they'll get through this, Eve decided.
I think so, the goddess agreed. Dite suddenly got up and left Eve sitting alone in the huge room.
Eve took the opportunity to look around at the Goddess' personal space in Mt Olympus.
The living space was just as Eve expected. Lots of sofas, a huge bed in one area that looked like it could fit an entire maniple (1) of Roman soldiers. Pastel colors, lace, silk, flimsy material everywhere. Statues in erotic positions, paintings of sexual positions and of the goddess herself decorated the walls and spaces.
Dite had said the room where they had put Gabrielle was a small guest quarters and Xena's eyebrows had gone up in surprise. The small guest room was big enough to house the entire Northern Amazon tribe.
Gabrielle smiled as Xena pulled back slightly when Aphrodite entered the room.
I hear I owe you everything, Gabrielle said softly as Xena sat down on a stool next to her bed, never letting go of the bard's hand.
Ah, Dite smiled, waving her hand in a dismissing gesture. You two were just, like, totally messing up my happy couple record. I had to do something.
Xena was also smiling.
Gabrielle's right, we owe our lives and our future lives to you.
I owe you both my godhood, Dite countered. Now, let's finish this off, what say? Come here, Sweet Cheeks!
Dite leaned over the startled bard and passed her hands over Gabrielle. Xena pulled back slightly with a frown and then grinned when she could see energy passing from the goddess to Gabrielle.
Xena's breath caught in her chest as the cuts and scrapes on the body healed at a fantastic rate and then disappeared.
After a moment Dite stepped back with a huge grin and a smug look on her face.
You two take all the time you need. Eve and I are going to go cruise Olympus, Dite said cheerfully. Maybe I'll put honey in Ares' boots or something.
The goddess and messenger left the two alone, Xena and Gabrielle didn't notice them leaving.
Gabrielle sat up and turned to face her mate as memories of the previous months began flooding into her mind. Memories of endless drunken nights, nameless faces and bodies and more risks in battles and fights than the bard could count.
Nothing Xena would be proud of.
Xena caught the expression on Gabrielle's face change from absolute joy to despair and silently sighed to herself.
She unknowingly agreed with Eve and Aphrodite, this wasn't going to be easy. Both of them had made mistakes.
"Let's talk," she said simply.
"Xena, how?" Gabrielle managed to stammer out, as if that was all her mind could put together right at that moment.
The warrior found herself smiling and holding Gabrielle's hands.
"Aphrodite came to Japan and found their God of Love, Aizen Myoo," the warrior began. "She explained the situation and her suspicions about Akemi."
"Akemi?" the bard questioned, her brows furrowing in thought.
"Akemi manipulated me again," Xena said a little bitterly. "She was the one that was supposed to stay in the Nether Realm, not me. She wanted us apart."
"Like Ares," the bard said softly and Xena nodded.
"Yes, exactly. Aizen went to the Sun Goddess and told her about Akemi, me, you and what had happened. Amaratrsu declared that Akemi had until sundown to release her hold on me or face the Underworld for eternity."
"She released you," Gabrielle responded.
"No," Xena's eyes became filled with the pain of remembering how Akemi had been taken away by the shadows. "She refused. Akemi thought her love for me was powerful enough to defy the gods and so refused. She was determined to keep me there for eternity or even drag me down with her to the Underworld."
"Xena, I'm sorry," the bard said softly.
"Aizen told her that her soul mate was waiting in the next life but she refused to move on and let me go," Xena complained with a grimace.
"Well, you are fantastic!" Gabrielle smiled and was pleased when Xena smiled back. "Go on."
"She was taken to the Underworld and I spent last night pacing like a caged lion waiting to come back to you. Aphrodite and I went to Olympus to look through that mirror of hers for you and Eve,"
"Then you showed up in the middle of a fight to rescue me, like old times," the bard smiled slightly.
"Yes, always," Xena said firmly.
"Akemi was in love with you," Gabrielle said, more of a statement than a question and Xena nodded.
Xena waited but Gabrielle seemed lost in thought.
"Gabrielle," the bard's green eyes had filled with tears again and Xena gently wiped them away from the young woman's cheeks. "Aphrodite showed me a little of what you've been through," she said gently. "We need to talk about this, I need to understand."
"How can you understand when I don't?!" Gabrielle suddenly demanded. "What did you see, Xena? Did you see me drinking myself into a stupor every night? Did you see me waking up with some stranger and not remembering where I was or how I got there? Did you see all the fights I've been in, did you see me fighting like I was a trained animal in the Arena?"
The tears were flowing freely now.
Xena nodded slowly and Gabrielle brushed past the warrior and walked to the huge mirror in the room and looked honestly into it. The warrior walked up slowly behind her and placed her hands on the bard's shoulders.
"I look like hell, Xena, I know that," the bard commented and Xena nodded. "I wasn't strong, I wasn't brave and I let you and everyone else down. I put myself through that hell."
"Tell me what you're feeling and what you felt," Xena encouraged.
"Feeling? I don't know," Gabrielle said honestly. "I was trying to kill every feeling that I could with alcohol and fighting. You couldn't hear or see me, could you?"
"No, I lost you when I was yanked off that ship and back to the teahouse," Xena answered and gently pulled Gabrielle back to the bed and sat down next to the bard. "I went insane. It wasn't like when I was dead here before, I could hear you then. I could hear your thoughts and feel your love."
"What was it like at the teahouse," Gabrielle asked, finally curious.
"Boring," the warrior answered simply and Gabrielle laughed at the typical warrior's response. "It's like the day never changes. The sun rises and sets, you sleep and eat and do whatever but it never changes. The weather doesn't change and only occasionally visitors who are psychic enough to find the place break the monotony."
"What did you to all that time?"
"Worry about you," Xena answered softly. "I felt so miserable when I lost my connection with you. I never realized how strong it was until I lost it."
Gabrielle nodded, understanding the feeling.
"When we faced the crucifixion, it was okay because you were with me and I felt that connection, even when we were dying. This time it was gone and it felt like something had been torn from my soul," Xena continued. "I couldn't think, I couldn't eat, and I couldn't sleep. I think I drove Akemi crazy."
"Were you with her?"
"No," the warrior responded softly. "I was in too much pain to let go of you. I figured things would go back when the last soul of those villagers chose to reincarnate and release me, that was my only hope and what got me through. She wanted me though, I just couldn't."
"I didn't have that hope," Gabrielle said. "When I lost the connection with you, I knew something had been messed up with destiny and you wouldn't be with me when I crossed. I knew we were separated for eternity."
"Aphrodite told me that when she went to Japan," Xena nodded.
"I lost it, Xena," the bard confessed softly. "You've been such a part of my life, I knew that the very first time I saw you. When we saw our future lives in India and our connection was explained, everything seemed to fit into place, remember?"
"Yes, like lines of the mendi - always separate and unique but always together to form the proper pattern," Xena answered.
"The pattern was broken, I knew there wouldn't be future lives with you and I went a little insane, I guess," Xena reached out to take Gabrielle's hand again but the bard held back. "I was using the alcohol to try and kill the pain, I knew it and didn't care."
"The fights?" Xena questioned.
"Trying to kill myself," the bard responded easily.
Gabrielle frowned, looking away. "I didn't understand that until last night. Gods, was that only last night?"
"Ares," the bard wasn't surprised when Xena growled angrily at the mention of his name. "He almost had me last night, Xena."
"What happened?" Xena repeated softly.
"He showed me what I was looking for while I was trying to die and drown my feelings," Gabrielle said quietly, her tears began flowing again. "He waited until I was away from Eve and then tried to seduce me again. Ares began hitting me with this incredible god-energy."
Gabrielle hesitated, unsure how to describe it but found Xena nodding.
"I remember it," Xena urged.
"I realized what I had been looking for whenever I let someone take me to bed," Gabrielle continued, turning her head. "I was looking for that feeling of when I was with you."
Xena began to understand a little, mix alcohol, grief, and total emotional melt-down and she knew it could destroy even the strongest person.
"Did you find it?" the warrior asked softly.
"No, not even with Ares," Gabrielle managed to look into Xena's eyes. "His was a false power, it could only last as long as he was feeding me that energy. It ended when he disappeared. Our energy doesn't end when the sex is over, it's always there."
"Why in Tartarus was Ares working so hard to get to you?" Xena was frowning as she thought about the War God.
"I think Eve and I figured it out last night," Gabrielle answered. "He knew Eve and Aphrodite were working on getting your spirit released from the Japanese. Ares was afraid that if they did we would connect again. He wanted revenge for losing you, I think. If I rejected your memory and turned to him then we would be separated for eternity."
"And he'd have you, a fantastic warrior driven insane with grief," Xena commented and Gabrielle nodded.
"And you would be lost, either in the Japanese NetherWorld or in the Greek spirit land without the connection to me and our future lives would be in jeopardy," Gabrielle nodded.
"Were you with him? the warrior asked softly.
"No, but plenty of others," Gabrielle said bitterly, pulling her hand back from Xena. "I don't even remember them. Nameless faces in the dark and naked bodies in the morning."
Xena reached out and grabbed both of Gabrielle's hands in her.
"Gabrielle," she began, forcing the bard to look at her. "I'm not going to say that this doesn't hurt but I think I understand a little. When I saw you grab Hope and fall into that lava, I thought I would go insane. Remember?"
"Yes, you didn't know I survived, landing on a stupid ledge," Gabrielle nodded slightly.
"Remember, I mourned for weeks, even demanding Hades let me see you. I was desperate just to say goodbye to you and to let you know I would always come to you in the end," Xena continued, her voice insistent. "I even went to the Northern Amazons to cross into the Amazon Land of the Dead to see you."
"And got sidetracked," the bard smiled slightly.
"Yes, by Alti," Xena agreed. "Another bit of my past I had to make amends for and clean up."
"Good thing," Gabrielle continued to smile. "You wouldn't have found me there either."
"Yup, do you see what I'm getting at though? I was willing to risk my life just to say goodbye to you and keep the connection alive between us. I knew we would be together when I crossed over," Xena tried explaining her thoughts. "You knew we wouldn't. You knew you couldn't see me again, we wouldn't be together, and I wasn't there. I can understand that grief and desperation."
Gabrielle frowned, lost in contemplation. She finally looked up into her mate's blue eyes.
"What do we do now?" she asked, her voice hopeful.
"I hold you, make love to you and never let you go," Xena whispered.
Gabrielle's green eyes watched the warrior go through the familiar action of getting out of her armor. The bard's face was intense as Xena slowly approached the bed, the warrior's blue eyes never leaving Gabrielle's green ones.
The bard moved slowly back onto the bed as the warrior crawled onto the bed beside her. Xena lay on her side, keeping her eyes on Gabrielle.
I need you, Xena, Gabrielle whispered, reaching out and hesitantly touching the warrior's cheek. I've been trying to kill all my feelings for so long. Help me feel again.
I'm not leaving, Gabrielle, she said softly and pulled the bard into her arms, settling into their familiar positions of Gabrielle's head on her shoulder.
I missed you, tears filled the bard's eyes again and Xena squeezed Gabrielle tightly, letting the bard feel her strength, love and heartbeat.
The bard's hands began to roam over the warrior's body, as if reassuring herself that Xena was actually there and was going to stay there.
I love you, Gabrielle, Xena said softly and let the bard explore.
Xena let the bard trembling hands explore her body with a contented sigh, one hand dancing lightly across Gabrielle's back. Then the bard's lips were on Xena's again, tentative and soft, her lips barely touching the warriors'. Then the kiss became firmer and Xena heard Gabrielle whimper slightly.
Xena pulled Gabrielle's tunic off over her head and wasn't surprised when the bard insisted on pulling the warrior's leather tunic off next. Both moaned as naked skin connected with naked skin.
Gods, Xena, the bard whimpered. It's been so long.
I'm here now, Xena answered softly, familiar hands and lips began to send shock waves through the warrior and Gabrielle moaned as her body connected with the warrior's once again.
When Eve and Aphrodite returned to the Goddess' Hall, the peacekeeper started to head for the guest room when Dite stopped her.
Aphrodite grinned at Eve when they heard a scream rip through the Hall. Eve was pretty sure it was Gabrielle screaming.
They're doing okay, she replied with a huge smile.
Yeah, it's cool for now but it will get heavier later, Aphrodite then giggled but the connection is back!
After the Hall had quieted down, Aphrodite and Eve looked and found both women asleep in each other's arms. They silently high-fived each other; both Xena and Gabrielle looked peaceful for the first time since Xena's death.
The end .for now
Maniple: Roman army unit of 120-160 soldiers
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