with a Chakram"
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, as well as anyone else who may look or sound even remotely familiar, all belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All others are my creation. No copyright infringements were intended. Please do not change, modify, or mess with except with the express written permission of the author. Merci beaucoup.
Timeline: This story takes places after FIN I & II.
Violence: None to speak of in this piece.
Subtext: I believe that subtext is pretty much maintext these days. I categorise this piece as Alt though there really is very little expression of it except in how I visualised them together as I wrote the story. So, if the notion of two people of the same gender sharing like, love, or lust gives you the willies you may want to give this piece a miss and read elsewhere.
Acknowledgements: Thanks in particular to Kamouraskan for the beta and the Bardic Circle for their continued support.
Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism may be sent to email@example.com. Thank you.
She meant to shake the dust off her boots and leave the lands of the Pharaohs behind her. They had needed a girl with a chakram all right, and Gabrielle had stood the post for the months that it took to repel the invading Roman legions. It was a great success with far less loss and damage than expected thanks to the unusual, yet inventive, scope of her tactics. They had been grateful and would have heaped titles and jewels upon her if she had let them, but Gabrielle was anxious to depart. And truth be told, there were some that were not sorry to see her go, this strange, sun-haired woman whose face held a hidden sadness and who often spoke aloud in cryptic conversation to the fretful air that followed her.
She meant to leave, but found herself kneeling on the cool marble floor of her room in the palace instead, staring at the sum of her belongings arrayed around her. There were a few scrolls and quills, a couple of changes of clothing, a few personal odds and ends, a pair of well-worn sais, the red-hilted katana, a small, dark jar and the chakram whose surface gleamed brightly in the early morning sunlight. She stared at them, most especially the chakram, and wondered at the turns of her life.
A scarred and calloused hand delicately removed a scroll from the pile. There were only a few here. After all the years she had lived, or half-lived in the shadowland of unnatural slumber, the bulk of her writings were likely scattered across the known world. Even the other day, as she walked through a camp of nomads at the outskirts of the city, she had heard a variation on a tale she had written some thirty years ago. It had made her smile even as it startled her. Uninterested in revealing her authorship however, she had quickened her steps to move past the narrator and his audience. Anonymity suited her mood far better these days.
She unrolled the parchment and critically read the few short paragraphs she had written, the strokes of her own handwriting appearing almost alien to her after having been penned so long ago. A stab of loss and regret crowded her breath from her chest as Gabrielle realised that these words were those she had written after leaving Japa, one of her few attempts at catharsis and healing. No matter how she tried though, no words could capture what the loss meant to her and each attempt left her drained and gasping for air through the intensity of her tears.
Xena was no help. Try though she might. And Gabrielle did credit her for the effort, but it only seemed to make the situation worse. She remembered a night, shortly after departing the shores of Japa, when she had frightened the sailors with her hysterical screams, demanding of her partner's ghost the reasons why, and why, and why again from the seemingly empty air. Everyone's happiness before theirs, she remembered shouting. To Hell with the greater good, she had yelled bitterly, when it takes those she loves and gives nothing in return. Xena had wept with her, tried to console her, but it was no use. She had flung herself at the warrior, pounding on the incorporeal armoured chest, and incoherently sobbed her damnation and love in turn with choked and broken words. Strong arms had enclosed her, gentle fingers wiped away the tears, and Gabrielle had been held through the night, but Xena was gone before the next dawn, leaving her with a raw and aching emptiness. Like one c ursed for eternity, the crew had shunned her, leaving her possession of the ship's prow for the remainder of the awkward and lonely voyage.
Ashamed of the memory, Gabrielle re-rolled the parchment with jerky turns of her hands and quickly returned it to the small pile. The rest were blank and worth less than the dinars she had bought them with. Much like her future.
Stop, she told herself. Get on with it and you can get out of here. Finally. The scrolls were retrieved and stuffed in the bottom of her bag to be covered by the clothes and personal effects. Her hairbrush, cooking gear, and healer's kit amongst other things. All eminently more useful than the empty and mocking parchment. Unless I use it for kindling. She gave a barking laugh that echoed in the spacious, high-vaulted room. A quick headshake followed. Keep that up and you really will be mad instead of simply having people think you are.
With a deep sigh, Gabrielle reached out and grabbed her sais. The worn leather hilts came snugly against her palms and, with absent-minded skill, she twirled one, then the other before slipping them into the thongs on either side of her boots. The use of edged weapons didnít bother Gabrielle anymore. But, she reflected, the loss of a closely held ideal, like a poorly healed wound, still troubled her at times.
Only three items remained, all of them Xenaís, and Gabrielle felt a tightening in her chest that had grown all too familiar since her death. She had used these weapons during the campaign, mostly at her partnerís urging, but with the battle won she had found herself all too eager to put them down again. Heir to the katana. Keeper of the Chakram. Why do I feel like an impostor? She hadnít told Xena her feelings, but sensed that the warrior knew anyway.
Reverently, Gabrielle lifted the katana and wound its decorative tassels around the scabbard before laying it within a shroud of leather to protect it from the sand that seemed to gather with annoying regularity in every nook and crevasse. The weapon wrapped, she then secured the bundle with a fine cord of silk she had found in the bazaar. The sapphire blue material had caught her eye even amongst the swirl of colour and pageantry that was the fashion district, and she had paused to tentatively touch the stuff. It was smooth and cool in the afternoon heat, and even if it werenít for the colour, its silky texture still would have reminded her of Xena. But then, everything these days seemed to do that. She had nearly offended the merchant by not even bothering to haggle. She had gladly paid the outrageous sum quoted, tucked the cord inside her shirt and left, much to the droll amusement of her ghostly companion. When she had dared the warrior to comment, Xena had merely offered her an expression of affectionate understanding instead.
The cord made a striking contrast to the cream coloured leather. Something else Gabrielle would have purchased had the tanner not recognised her from her efforts on behalf of the city and made a gift of it to her instead.
And Gabrielle was recognisable now, the chakram saw to that. The metal, almost chill from its contact with the floor, gave a light, chiming ring as the edge dragged gently across the marble when she picked it up. Its polished surface reflected the early morning sun in vibrant flashes of light, and she turned it this way and that, admiring the run of gold and silver that chased the edges as it moved. The chakram was more than a weapon. It had become a symbol. Of justice. Of righteousness. Of the legacy of a Warrior Princess reviled no longer. Her pride in her friend was tempered by the knowledge that the very changes she had encouraged had led to this separation. The reminder was bittersweet and Gabrielle wrapped the weapon in a spare shirt and pushed it deep into the pack, not caring if the razor sharp edges split the material. No doubt she would hear about her carelessness later, but for now she couldnít bear its weight hanging at her side.
That done, her eyes fell reluctantly to the remaining item. Last, but not least... Her sun browned hands clenched briefly and then reached for the dark, nondescript jar sitting on the rose-veined marble tile. Its solid mass invited a stronger grasp, a firmer hold, and Gabrielle watched her thumb stroke the side of the container much as she might her absent partner's skin. The sight was suddenly lost in the involuntary blurring of her vision, and Gabrielle slowly leaned her head back, an expression of eloquent grief etching her features into a relief sharper than what the lack of rest and appetite alone had heretofore managed.
Oh... A tear escaped from her tightly closed eyes and left a cool path down the side of her face and into the collar of her shirt. Oh, Xena. Like ice, brittle and thin, her soul cracked a little more beneath the weight of her loss. The internal balance was gone, leaving her reeling with no centre around which to rally. She cradled the precious remains close to her heart with one hand and dashed away the tears with the other in a few swift, irritated strokes. Enough, she told herself in weary resignation. This is the way it is. Get used to it. Hollow words, she told herself. How does one get used to living with only half a soul?
The jar, looking as dark and brooding as Xena ever had, was wrapped as well and hidden quickly from view in a swath of lamb's wool to be stowed lovingly, but firmly away deep in the contents of the pack.
With nothing left to do, Gabrielle let her hands settle on her thighs and looked out beyond the flowing curtains towards the lavish balcony. Between the carved stone railings she could see the terra cotta rooftops and the glistening waters of the harbour, and hear the sounds of growing life as the city awakened to a new day. She could call to mind the scents of people, animals, cooking meat and yeasty ales, of exotic perfumes, tantalising spices and the eye-gritting, throat-coating dust that the hundreds of feet kicked up in the dry, hot sunshine. She had waited too long, she realised; it would take her hours just to leave the city...
"Iím stalling." The words, uttered aloud, came forth slowly as though they were a painful confession of which to be ashamed. She needed to leave. A whole new chapter of her life was waiting for her out beyond the city gate like a curious child excited to begin; yet she could not will herself to take that first crucial, lonely step. For all that she couldnít leave, however; Gabrielle couldnít bear the thought of staying either.
"Letís go south to the land of the Pharaohs..."
Such a simple wish, a lovely dream that never came to pass. Coming here had been like a pilgrimage, so intent was she on making the journey... for Xena, for Alexandria, for... Donít lie; you know you only did it for yourself. It was the last shared destination they had discussed, a chance to explore a different life than the one they had known together thus far. To leave this place now was to abandon that last shared connection with Xena. When life was a shared risk, the promise of a campfire with the familiar song of a whetstone weaving in and out of her conscious awareness was all she had really needed at the end of the day to be happy. But now...
She eased to her feet and leaned against the doorway leading out onto the balcony. The wispy curtains moved in the breeze, giving only brief and tantalising glimpses of the brilliant day revealing itself across the rooftops. Her gaze followed the incomprehensible patterns of the sprawling maze of narrow streets that, like her future, seemed to map the endless possible choices before her. "I donít know where to go from here."
"You donít have to. Youíre free to go wherever the wind takes you."
The voice made her smile wistfully to herself. She crossed her arms and turned to discover Xena seated casually on the rumpled covers of the bed. As always, the signature leather and brass armour garbed the familiar form, the same sword and bracers still showing the remembered wear of a life no longer lived. It was as if nothing had changed. But Gabrielle could see that though the morning sun struck mahogany highlights in the dark hair and added glowing depth to the cherished blue eyes, it cast no shadow beyond her partner's body. And too, the subtle tang of metal and leather were absent; yet another reminder that things were no longer the same.
"I think Iím afraid," Gabrielle announced after a momentís thought.
"This change. Travelling alone. Iíve never really had to do that before."
"Youíve solved problems on your own before. How is this any different?"
"I always knew Iíd be meeting up with you again. At an inn, by a riverside, in the middle of a fight..." Gabrielle shook her head and sighed. "You were always a part of my life. We walked the same road. We shared everything: danger, hardship, laughter... love."
"That hasnít changed."
The warriorís smile, so warm and gentle, was infectious, and Gabrielle felt the corners of her lips turn upwards into her first real smile in days. "Okay, maybe that hasnít. Maybe itís me. I guess Iíve changed. Itís only..."
Xena stood up and came to the balcony, her eyes scanning the landscape beyond the curtains as she gave the bard a moment to collect her thoughts. It was a different side of Xena, with this patience and deep serenity. The edginess had left her, as had the seemingly permanent lines of tension and fatigue. So thatís what peace looks like.
"Itís only what?"
Xenaís prompt stirred her from her reverie. "Once, years ago, I asked you Ďam I what I am, or am I what you made me?í Now, all I can think to ask is who am I without you? Who will I be when I leave here? Iím not sure I know anymore. Or that I even want to know." For years, Gabrielle had been secure in her place in the world, with her place at Xenaís side, only to now have that sense of place, of self, altered so severely as to be rendered unrecognisable.
Without even knowing how it happened, she was drawn forward and folded securely against the warriorís frame. She tightened her grip and felt an answering strength that brought her closer and harder against Xenaís body. An irony of the afterlife came to her, and she realised in a stray thought that the armour was no less uncomfortable for belonging to a ghost.
Lips touched her brow, an eyelid, the corner of her mouth and kissed away an errant tear that resisted her efforts not to cry while a gentle hand stroked her hair, offering untold comfort in such simple yet loving gestures. "Who are you?" Xena spoke finally, the warriorís voice vibrating softly through her where she pressed against the other womanís chest. "Youíre Gabrielle... a bard..."
"Who hasn't written anything in weeks," she interjected plaintively.
"... a skilled negotiator..."
Gabrielle sighed. "Who's turned into a manipulative, impatient bitch who threatens people when she doesn't get her way. I still can't believe I dragged their delegate across the table with my bare hands like that."
"...a warrior of repute..."
"That talks to thin air and fights like a crazy woman." There was dark amusement in being contrary.
"... an amazon queen..." A note of strain entered Xena's voice as if trying to find something that Gabrielle wouldn't find objectionable.
"Of a nearly extinct culture."
"... my soulmate and best friend..." There was an almost hesitant tone to it and underneath the knot of self-pity Gabrielle felt sudden shame and remorse. So selfish, she chastised herself. She's only trying to help you feel better. And it's not like I'm the only one suffering here. True, Xena had made the decision to remain dead, but knowing Xena as she did, Gabrielle couldn't see how the warrior could have made any other choice without feeling she had incurred a greater burden of guilt. There had been a moment, a shining, brilliant and dangerous moment when she had turned away from Xena there on the side of Mount Fuji, and her treacherous heart had almost brought her to act against Xena's wishes. Only the knowledge that such a restoration, no matter how well intentioned, would result in irreparable harm and resentment had stayed her hand.
She realised that she had been silent too long when she felt Xena slump ever so slightly and begin to withdraw. "That, always," Gabrielle assured her quietly and pulled Xena back against her, aware of the warrior's tentative response to her embrace. "Always," she said again, allowing her better nature to colour the word in deeper, more poignant shades of meaning.
"Without me, Gabrielle, youíre still yourself. You havenít lost that." Xena drew back a little, the better to look into her eyes. "I donít think this is about who you are... itís about who you expect yourself to be now that Iím gone."
"I... I donít..." She watched in confusion as Xena released her and walked over to where her belongings still rested on the floor.
The warriorís expression was thoughtful as she regarded the pack for a moment before dropping to her haunches and lifting a hand to hover over the scored and worn leather. Touch was impossible, yet the intent was clear. "You looked at that chakram earlier as though you almost couldnít bear to touch it. Itís a tool, a valuable one that you shouldnít hesitate to use."
"Itís a symbol. Your symbol," Gabrielle countered. "Iím not the Warrior Princess. Iím not you, Xena!"
"Youíre right. Youíre not me." Xena lifted her dark head and stared at her with an almost unnerving intensity. "Youíre better than me."
She couldnít possibly have heard that right. "What?"
"Iíve taught you all I know, and what I canít teach you youíll learn in time through practice and experience anyway. The most important things though... I never taught you those, Gabrielle. They were always inside of you and, if anything, I had to learn those things from you. Friendship, sacrifice, compassion, selflessness, love. Without them, I would never have found my way. In all the ways that matter most, youíve always been stronger than me. And, when you leave here Ė and you will, Gabrielle Ė youíll surpass anything I ever accomplished."
The unsought praise moved her and Gabrielle bowed her head as the tendrils of pleasure overcame her weariness and gripped the breath from her, something that she hadnít thought possible after all their time together.
The warrior stood and the full morning light was reflected brightly in the gem-like sparkle of her eyes as she stared unflinching into its rays and out to the city beyond. "My journey is over, but yours is just getting started." Xena glanced her way and raised a wry eyebrow at the bard. "And if the past six years are anything to go by, Iíll bet youíre gonna be busy."
Gabrielle joined her by the doorway, the pack lying at her feet as she let herself feel the warmth of the rising sun touch her skin. For a moment, she let herself remember their time together with all its joy and sorrow, danger and excitement, and what moments of grace, of fulfilment she had discovered in striving for the Greater Good. She was older now. Hopefully wiser. Her ideals, while battered and worn, were still there, if a bit more realistic now than they had been when she had left home. But, Gabrielle decided, there were still dreams to be had, even if they werenít the same as before. And if travelling with Xena had taught her anything, it was that nothing was impossible.
Her eyes searched the horizon, a mixture of trepidation and - could it be? - anticipation stirring within her breast. "Youíll be with me?"
"You know Iíll never leave you."
The voice, the words, warmed her more completely than the sunlight ever could, managing to reach deeply inside to ease her lingering doubt and loss. It could not heal her completely though. Gabrielle had lived life fully enough to know that heart wounds took the longest to fade, if they ever did. But this was a start.
She knelt down and opened the flap to her pack, conscious of the warriorís eyes on her. Reaching into its depths was like reaching into herself, and when she withdrew her hand, the chakram gleamed brightly in her grasp. It was a bittersweet feeling that coursed through her, strong enough to moisten her eyes, but with sure and deliberate care Gabrielle hung it from her side and for once, its weight was comforting.
She tied the katana to her pack and lifted both to her shoulder. A last glance around the room assured her that there was nothing left undone. "Well..." she sighed.
"Look out there." Xena lifted a hand and pointed towards the harbour where sail after sail was being raised in preparation for the tide race. The sun, sitting just above the mole, was a bright beacon calling to her. It would be a good place to start. "Go on," Xena seemed to agree. "Iíll find you."
Gabrielle nodded, buoyed on the reassuring smile sent her way as the warrior faded into sunlight. She cast her eyes once more about the room and dropped her hand to the weapon at her side as she turned towards the door to leave. Her thumb stroked its surface and she felt a smile tug at the corner of her mouth as she took one step. And then another. Past the threshold and down the corridor she walked, each step lighter and more confident than the last.
It was time to go see who else might need a girl with a chakram.
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