by Marion D Tuttle
For disclaimers see Part I
This picks up where Part I left off. Xena is faced with being able to get the revenge she wanted for Solan's death but finds a very different out come than she expected.
Xena let the words sink in, 'move past this' that seemed like such a simple thing to say and such a hard thing to do. She fought against the rage that was threatening to over take her. "Now let me ask you a question. What if, instead of finding Solan in Kaliupus' hut it had been Xenon? Would you have been so quick to forgive then?"
Ephiny couldn't deny the feeling that swept over her at Xena's question. She had asked herself the very same thing and she had to answer her friend's question with honesty, she owed her that much. Quietly she said one word. "No..."
"I didn't think so." That made it clear that the conversation was over. Xena fixed her eyes straight ahead Ephiny couldn't tell if she had gotten the reaction she wanted or if she had made matters worse. All she knew was that within the next candle mark they would be arriving in the village. The Regent knew what Gabrielle had planned, she still wasn't sure about the wisdom of it But she had faith in Gabrielle.
The tension in the village was so thick you could cut it with a knife. It wouldn't be long before the search party that went out to find Xena would return. The Queen had been very specific in her instructions as to how Xena was to be treated when she was found. Her Amazons were to do nothing that would make Xena feel uncomfortable. She did not want the warrior to feel as if she were being threatened in any way. For more than one reason, she didn't want to take the chance on Xena being hurt but she didn't want to take the chance that Xena would hurt or do worse to any of her Amazons.
She felt her muscles stiffen as she saw the search party return. Epinon was in the lead and wasn't long before she saw Ephiny and Xena turn the bend in the trail, riding side by side. Her heart beat faster at the sight of the warrior. This was the first time she had seen her since that awful night. She briefly closed her eyes against the images that swam before her. Part of her wanted to run to Xena but she knew that wasn't the best thing to do.
Xena dismounted and stood at the bottom of the steps that led to the raised platform. Her eyes never left Gabrielle's, she moved to climb the steps but was halted by Ephiny and Solari on either side of her. "You'll have to have your audience from right here." The Regent told her.
So they didn't plan on letting her get close to Gabrielle. She pushed her feelings down, she had to admit she was a little curious as to why Gabrielle would have sent for her. Surely she had to know Xena would be bent on vengeance. "You obviously have something to say to me or you you wouldn't have sent your Amazons out to find me. So let's have it."
The coldness in her voice was like a slap in the face to Gabrielle. Xena's words practically dripped with hate for the little bard. Tears were threatening to flow down her cheeks but she had to keep her emotions in check. If she lost control it could mean disaster for them both. "I do have something to say to you Xena. You have been done a terrible wrong, you said it yourself because of me your only child is dead. There has to be justice for that."
Xena was intrigued. "You know what it would take for that don't you?"
Gabrielle felt the knot in her stomach tighten it was here the moment of truth. "Yes Xena I do. There are only two ways this can end." She stepped down from the platform until she was standing on the final step. From this point she was the same height as Xena and they were eye to eye. "Either you forgive me." At Xena's raised brow she continued "Or you take my life in payment for your son's." Now that she had said it she felt as though her body was going to betray her and she was going to fall at the warrior's feet. She willed herself to stand straight. She had gambled everything on the fact that deep down Xena would not be able to bring herself to kill her.
The warrior was struck dumb at first by Gabrielle's statement. She wasn't sure what she had expected, maybe to hear the bard try and reason with her. Trying to make her see all they had been through together. She even thought she might try to plead her case for what she had done. But to have her stand there and quietly offer up her life in payment for Solan's was the last thing she thought she was going to hear.
Time seemed to have stopped, everyone was holding their breath waiting to see what the next move would be. Xena looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes she was looking for some sign of weakness there, something that would betray the words that had been so calmly said as if they were no more than an announcement of the dinner hour.
Gabrielle held Xena's gaze she knew after the statement she had just issued she could not be the first to look away. Outwardly she seemed placid. On the inside she could feel her entire being shaking. As much as she wanted to cry out to her warrior to remember everything the shared she knew she had to hold fast. She had to wait for Xena.
Moving as if in slow motion Xena took her sword from her scabbard. Holding the finely crafted blade to Gabrielle's throat she raised a brow. "You would just stand here and let me kill you? You have no back up plan to have your Amazons attack me at the last minute and save your pretty little neck?"
Swallowing down the fear Gabrielle answered. "If this is what you think it will take to make things right Xena than do it. Just please remember one thing."
"I love you. You have been my best friend, but more importantly, my love. I can't die with out letting you know that my feelings for you run so much deeper than friendship...."
Tears escaped the warrior's eyes as she dropped her sword to the ground. "I can't do this...." She turned and walked away.
Ephiny moved to stop her but Gabrielle motioned for her to stand back. "Let her go. She needs to be alone right now." Watching her go the bard understood the hard part was still ahead of her. She had proven that Xena still had feelings for her, even if the warrior was not yet ready to acknowledge that. Now all she had to do was make her understand that they did have a future together. She had finally admitted to Xena that her love for her went deeper then friendship. The plan now was to get Xena to admit the same thing.
Ephiny found herself pacing, trying to calm her raging emotions. "Gabrielle your crazy! Just because she didn't kill you when she was here doesn't mean she still isn't a danger to you. The only reason I agreed to your plan before was because you were surrounded by Guards. But to go out in the woods alone looking for her...."
Gabrielle closed her eyes, fighting to maintain her calm exterior. "It's been three days, she hasn't come back and tried anything. Xena won't hurt me I need to talk to her."
"Think of your position for Artimis' sake you are the Amazon Queen! As Regent I can't allow....."
This brought an angry reaction to the fore front. "You can't allow? Let's get one thing clear Ephiny. You are my Regent, more importantly you are my friend. I respect and value your opinion, but don't ever make the mistake of thinking that you can dictate to me. Especially were Xena is concerned. I am Queen that's true but you should know better than anyone if it came done to a choice I would choose Xena."
Seeing Gabriele stand before her Ephiny was reminded again at the strength this young woman possessed, not only of body but of mind and heart as well. She couldn't help but think Xena was a fool for being willing to throw away the love Gabrielle so freely offered. Her tone softened when she spoke. "I do understand Gabrielle, both sides. I know you love Xena and want to put your relationship back together. But I can also understand where Xena is coming from. Her child is dead and even if it wasn't your intention you did play a role..."
This was the first time Gabrielle had heard what sounded like reproach in her friends voice. "Do you think Solan's death is my fault?"
Ephiny knew she had opened up something she would rather have not discussed but now that it was out there she had no choice. "No I do not think Solan's death is your fault. But like I said I can understand why Xena would. She has lost her child and she is not thinking clearly. Her grief is driving her all she can see is the fact that her child is dead and Hope killed him. You asked my to not make assumption on our friendship and dictate to you. You asked me for my opinions on this, so because were are friends I am going to talk to you like a friend and not like my Queen. I would protect your life with my own if need be. I would defend you against Xena if it came down to that, but I know how she feels."
Gabrielle arched a brow at her friend. She could tell there was no anger or animosity in her voice, quite the opposite. If anything she heard the struggle of a woman that was caught between two friends. "If you know something I'm not aware of please tell me."
For a moment Ephiny hesitated. In a sense she would not be betraying any confidence since Xena had not directly asked her not to divulge the conversation they had. Still she had not been sure if she should bring it up. Now she saw that maybe it might be of help if Gabrielle could understand the full impact of what Xena was feeling. "On the way here Xena and I talked. At first I must admit I couldn't understand the blind rage she seemed to be feeling. I talked to her about the things you two had been through to try and get her to remember what you meant to each other. It was like talking to a wall, I couldn't understand how a woman as intelligent as Xena could be so blind. Then she asked me a question. She asked me if I would be so quick to forgive you if it had ben Xenon that Hope had killed."
Gabrielle knew where Ephiny was headed. She looked into her friends eyes. "Ephiny, I wish you had said something to me sooner. I do understand what both you and Xena feel. I felt it too, when I lied to Xena after Hope's birth. When I didn't tell her the truth right away because I wanted to protect Hope. But do you know when I felt the instinct to protect my child the most? When I poisoned her." Tears streamed down the bard's cheeks. "I know she was evil by then and I knew she had to die, but part of me felt like I was protecting her from becoming a worse monster than she already was. So you see, I do understand what you and Xena would feel if the roles had ben reversed. But there is one thing that we are forgetting. Xena was here, she had her chance for revenge and she didn't take it."
"But you can't go by that Gabrielle." Ephiny was desperately trying to make her friend see that she was taking yet another huge risk. "Xena is not herself, we've talked about that. You can't count on her acting the way she normally would."
The young Queen knew that Ephiny had her best interest at heart. Still her patience with this line of conversation was growing thin. "Listen Ephiny, I understand your concerns. But I have to do this. Xena is my life and I have to believe I can reach her. I know her, if she were going to kill me she would have done it when she was here." She could see the doubt in her Regent's eyes "I know what your thinking, she held back because of the guard. We both know Xena well enough to know that if she wanted to take her revenge on me that wouldn't have stopped her. She wouldn't have cared if she lived or died after she killed me."
Ephiny hated to admit it but she knew in her heart Gabrielle was right about Xena. If she wanted to kill Gabrielle she would have done it and there wouldn't have been anything or anyone that would have stopped her. "All right, I'll give you that. But what if Xena won't talk to you? What are you going to do if she has turned away from you forever?"
She set her jaw in determination "I'm not going to let that happen."
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