FOREVERMORE: An Epilogue
by Andrew Crossett
DISCLAIMER: All characters depicted herein are the property of MCA/Universal. This story is alternative fan fiction which contains no explicit sex, but depicts a loving relationship between two women. It was written at 3 AM the night after I saw the final Xena episode, "Friend In Need Part 2," and is a catharsis for those who, like me, found their hearts heavy because of the way the series ended. This story contains spoilers for the above-mentioned episode.
Dedicated to Renee and Lucy, for making me care, and to Xena and Gabrielle for being so beautiful together.
The enticing laughter
That makes my own heart beat fast...
If I meet you suddenly,
I can't speak.
"So when does it stop hurting?"
Gabrielle sighed at the echo her words produced in the vaulted rafters of Aphrodite's empty temple. When she had decided to spend some time here before her journey to Egypt, she had been afraid the sight of happy young couples giggling among the pillars would be too much for her to bear. But the quiet and the loneliness were worse. The whole world, it seemed, was going to stay gray and cold forever.
"No matter how many times I hear that question, I never know how to answer it," said a female voice behind her. Gabrielle whirled around, a sai appearing in her hand, but her distraction and despair made her slow and clumsy. Aphrodite could have easily put a dagger between her ribs, if she had wanted to. Xena would not have approved.
"Pulling steel on a girl in her own temple, huh?" said the goddess with only a faint smile. "It's true. You really do carry her in your heart."
Aphrodite's was the first friendly, familiar face Gabrielle had seen since that terrible moment on the slopes of Mount Fuji, when she had watched as Xena's beautiful, longing blue eyes faded away to nothingness in the cruel half-light of the Japanese sunset. Gabrielle hadn't wept much then. She had sat there for a few hours, cradling the urn that held Xena's ashes, shivering in the cold, and thinking that perhaps if she never moved again, the feeling of Xena's shoulder against her cheek would never go away. Maybe the world would come to an end first.
The world had not obliged. It seldom did.
On the journey home from the East, Gabrielle had felt nothing but that almost euphoric numbness that came from not sleeping for several days. She had spoken to Xena in her heart many times, and Xena had answered...or Gabrielle's flickering mind had invented a Xena to answer. She knew that if she fell asleep, she would eventually have to wake up and confront once again the fact that there was no Xena to tickle her awake in the morning. No Xena to share monthly cramps with and sneak furtive glances at in the bathing pond. No Xena to laugh with and fight with and play word games with on the trail. No Xena to touch ever again.
Gabrielle stared at Aphrodite and tried to think of how many other friends she still had in the world of the living. Where was Xena and Ephiny and Joxer and Eli and...
The sai clattered against the stone floor, but the noise sounded to Gabrielle as if it came from the other end of a long tunnel. The terrible beast that had been chewing a hole in her belly would be denied no longer. It burned its way up her esophagus, and Gabrielle could do nothing to swallow it down this time.
She cried harder than she had ever cried before, cried so hard she thought her heart would stop. Her knees buckled, and only Aphrodite's comforting arms saved her from breaking her nose on the flagstones.
"Ares likes to say he's the lord of pain," murmured the goddess as she held Gabrielle and caressed her hair. "I don't think he knows what he's talking about. Only love can cause this much pain."
"I...loved her...so much...she was my whole life...my whole life..." howled Gabrielle.
"She is your soulmate," replied Aphrodite gently. "I don't think you've ever really understood what that means...how rare it is to be so intertwined with another soul that even the end of the world could never truly pull you apart. I know that doesn't sound like much comfort right now, but..."
"Everything's gone dark for me," sobbed Gabrielle. "Please let it just be a dream. Let me wake up."
"For you and Xena, everything is just a dream except your love. I wish you could see what I have the power to see -- how brightly that love still shines, even in death."
Gabrielle calmed for a moment, and experienced what she reckoned to be a moment of clarity. "I should...should take my own life. Then I can join Xena in Elysium..."
Aphrodite pulled away from Gabrielle and gazed down into the eyes of her inconsolable young friend. And as Gabrielle stared back into the goddess' eyes, she saw something come alive there. Something she had never seen before.
"Death?" murmured Aphrodite. "More death? Have...have I done my job so terribly that death and love have become the same thing? How could I let this happen?"
She looked down sharply at Gabrielle. "Why did Xena die?" she asked.
"She...she said she had to do what was right...to let herself die to avenge the deaths of the forty thousand that she killed accidentally...to redeem herself..."
"Redeem herself through vengeance?" said Aphrodite through clenched teeth. "Through validating hate? Through a death for a death for a death....? Is that what her life has been about? IS IT?"
Gabrielle stared back at her, speechless. Gone was Aphrodite the Bimbo, the frivolous, petty, hedonistic bubblehead that she had known and grown to like, if not exactly admire. For the first time since she had known Aphrodite, Gabrielle truly realized that she stood face-to-face with a goddess.
Now, they wept together, holding each other.
"This will not happen!" cried Aphrodite. "I swear THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN! I've wasted so much time! And so little time left for me. What have I been doing?"
The goddess suddenly seized Gabrielle in an embrace that astonished the bard. Gabrielle could smell the sweet scent of Aphrodite's hair as her face nuzzled into the golden curls. It made her head spin a little bit. But Aphrodite was trembling.
"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle," she said softly. "Can you forgive me? Life isn't always fair, but sometimes we can do things to make it less cruel. You deserve a happy ending, Gabrielle. Let me give it to you. Let me make up for all the time I've wasted staring into my own eyes..."
The ground seemed to shake. The sun seemed to dim, though not a cloud was in the sky. Gabrielle shook with fear -- or was it excitement? -- as she beheld Aphrodite transform into what seemed a force of nature.
"The forty thousand are free because Xena redeemed them with love, not vengeance! Because Xena cared enough to cross the world to save them out of love! Only love can redeem. ONLY LOVE CAN REDEEM!"
The world seemed to expand in a million directions at once as Gabrielle fell to the floor, Aphrodite's words echoing over and over in her head...deeemeeemloveoveoveonlyly...
Gabrielle opened her eyes a thousand years later...a few minutes later? and saw beautiful blue eyes gazing into hers. They did not fade away into nothingness. She reached out and touched a soft cheek, and soft black hair. Her wrist was taken in a gentle hand, and her fingers kissed by gentle lips.
"I love you."
"And I love you. Now more than ever."
"And I...I'm so in love with you."
"I've waited so long...to hear you say that."
Xena took both of Gabrielle's hands in hers. Their fingers intertwined, their palms pressed together.
"Can I believe it?" asked Gabrielle through her tears. "Is it okay to believe it, Xena?"
"I was in the Elysian Fields, thinking about you," whispered Xena. "Aphrodite came to me like a fire out of the sky. I've never seen her so...so..."
"I know," murmured Gabrielle.
"She took me by the hand and told me I was going back. I tried to explain to her why I couldn't, why I had to stay dead, but she just yelled at me: 'There's someone who needs you badly back there. There's no one who needs you here. You wanted to do what was right? Well, THIS is right. Now get out.' And then I think she...I think she kicked me in the rear end. And then I was back here. This is her temple, isn't it?"
"Yes," breathed Gabrielle. "The temple of love."
A hug somehow turned into a kiss, and that kiss somehow lasted a long, long time.
"You need sleep now, my love," said Xena when it was over and they could speak again.
"But what if it's just a dream?" said Gabrielle sleepily. "What if I wake up and you're gone? Before, I prayed it was a dream. Now I pray it's not."
"I'll hold you until you wake up. I promise. Our dreams are going to be real now."
Xena cuddled up to Gabrielle, kissed her neck, and whispered in her ear as she dropped off to sleep. "My love is yours, forever. No matter where, no matter when, I'll always find you. I'll always come back to you." Two new tears appeared on Gabrielle's cheek, but this time they were not Gabrielle's, nor were they tears of grief.
A thin flame runs under my skin.
Hearing only my own ears drumming,
I drip with sweat.
Trembling shakes my body
And I turn paler than