This is a continuation of "Lesson Not Learned". This is a story about love and it's consequences. If you are offended by this, please feel free to read someone else's material.
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This is for D. My light in the darkness.
It took awhile for her to realize motion had stopped, that the numbness hadn't finally extended enough to cover all her senses, though she had no idea where she was. She hadn't been aware of much for some time now. All she kept seeing was that face, as it tumbled slowly out of her reach.
Gabrielle. Ahh, Gods! Even thinking that name sent a thousand swords plunging into her heart and a shudder to rock her body, amazed that it could still hurt so much. The only thing that had kept her from throwing herself over the edge had been the look on that face. The silent pleading not to hate her, not to throw away this final gesture of love, and above all, remember her promise.
Strange, that it had been Callisto, of all people, who unknowingly helped with that. Her rage had simply vanished with Callisto's death, and she had been left with..... nothing. Nothing but this black ache of emptiness. Callisto had taken her hatred and rage with her in her death, and Gabrielle had taken her heart and soul with hers.
Her bard, her life, her partner in all things, was gone. And she had been unable to prevent it, hadn't even seen it coming. In that one moment, her whole world had shattered. Her purpose in life, gone. All this redemption crap had stopped being about her a long time ago. Ever since their encounter with the Persians, when her soulmate had almost died. Her friend, her strength. The light that shone in her darkness. She knew then, she would do whatever she must to keep her bard near her, that she would be hard-pressed to go even one day without Gabrielle in her life, somewhere. The silence that pressed in on her now was threatening to overwhelm her.
She hadn't been able to tell her love everything, there on the cliff, so sure it would be her that died, not Gabrielle. She'd tried, she'd really tried, to let the bard know, that, somehow, she'd managed to wriggle her way between the cracks in the armor and firmly wrapped herself around her warrior's heart and would always be there.
She flinched away from that memory; the feel of that warm cheek, the softness of hair running over her fingertips.
Joxer said she'd stayed three days in that cavern, back against the wall, eyes never leaving that gaping hole, watching, waiting. She'd truly believed Gabrielle would find a way back to her, would give her some sign that she was alive and would hang on till her warrior could come to her rescue. But after all that had happened, all that she'd done, the hateful things she'd said, she didn't blame Gabrielle for not believing in her anymore. She'd have killed anyone else for doing those things, for hurting her bard like that.
So, what now. to tell her family, or the Amazon's to tell Ephiny, if she got that far, if they didn't just kill her outright. She knew she wouldn't stop them if they tried. At least then, she wouldn't have to face Gabrielle's family.
Damn it! It wasn't right. It was supposed to be her, not Gabrielle. She always knew it would be her first, she didn't have the kind of courage it took to live without a heart anymore.
I just want to talk with you hold your hand just one more time
See you smile and hear your laughter ever gentle on my mind
You taught me who I am and having pride in being me
You taught me about life and love and standing tall and free
You taught me all the things I need to make it on my own
But I still haven't learned the one about living with you gone.
You showed me how to look at things with wonder in my eyes
To see beyond the boundaries and jealous people's lies
To know the truth of total love that can't be compromised
But you never showed me life alone without you by my side.
You gave me strength to face the world with all its ups and downs
To ride the storm and hear the laughter filling me from all around
You gave me hope when things were dark and no-one else believed
But now you're gone and I don't know if I'll ever learn to grieve.
I don't want to learn about the pain of losing you
The hurt that comes around each time I remember things we'd do
Like watching as the sun came up and painted all the sky
And the way our kiss, so sweet and soft, would always make you sigh.
I just want to talk to you hold your hand just one more time
See you smile and hear your laughter ever gentle on my mind
You taught me all the things I need to make it on my own
But I still haven't learned the one about living with you gone.
Argo made the decision for her, heading down the trail into Amazon territory. Which was fine with her, either way, she wouldn't have to face Lila, or her parents. Ephiny would see to it that they were told.
Eponin sat quietly, watching the palomino amble by underneath her. Her first instinct at sight of the rider had almost caused her to give her position away. But she had been instructed to simply keep an eye on the Warrior Princess till Ephiny could arrive. She was by no means to approach the warrior alone. One look and Eponin was glad for the order. She'd seen Xena in a lot of ways, but never like this. She still sat her horse the same; back straight, head high, reins loose in her hands. But there was no life to the body. The crackling, edgy tension she'd come to associate with the warrior was..... gone.
They'd heard the rumors, the villagers that'd escaped from Dahak had carried the story. How the Warrior Princess had fought her way past Dahak's minions, and past Ares. How she had finally confronted her son's killer. And of how mother and daughter fell to certain death. Some had wondered why the warrior hadn't followed Gabrielle over the edge, but those were the ones that didn't know the Queen, or how she felt about her warrior. That would have been the last thing she wanted, and Xena knew it.
Besides, that would have been too easy. It was pretty obvious from Xena's condition that she wasn't about to let herself off on this one.
She knew Eponin was watching, had known as soon as it happened. She just didn't care. She only hoped the Amazon wasn't foolish enough to attack her alone. She'd hurt enough people in her life, she didn't want the reputation of her death bringing challengers to Eponin's door, hurting others along the way. She was almost relieved when she sensed the approach of more Amazons. She stopped her horse, waiting.
Ephiny took one look at Xena and her heart crumbled to pieces, a small moan escaping her unnoticed. There was no doubting the rumors now. Not with what sat before her. She'd come here prepared for anything: even now a dozen archers had knocked arrows pointing at the warrior, ready to let fly at the slightest movement. Solari, especially, wasn't about to let Xena get by her again. But this! Damn, she'd better call them off before Xena deliberately got herself shot.
Eponin saw the arrow let loose, marking the archer's face even as she swung from the tree to knock Xena out of the saddle, somehow knowing the warrior wasn't going to do one of her miracle catches. Things only got worse as a half-dozen Amazons jumped the downed woman, thinking they were helping Eponin.
Ephiny watched in shock at the sudden turn of events, till Eponin came roaring up out of the pile, tossing bodies aside like they were dolls. Ephiny jumped into the mass of flying arms and legs, dragging Amazons off the fighting Eponin and the too still form of Xena at the bottom of the melee, till she had things under control.
Eponin stalked up to the shooter, snatching her bow from her. "There was no order to shoot," she growled into the Amazon's face. Silently, she thanked the Gods that no-one else had fired. She turned her back on the woman and went to where Ephiny was kneeling beside the unconscious warrior. She'd felt Xena move as they were falling, taking the full weight of Eponin's body on herself as they hit the ground a bit too hard. She'd also felt a couple of the blows that had been aimed at Xena and knew no-one had been pulling any punches. And Xena hadn't even tried to fight back, actually doing all she could to protect Eponin instead.
Muscles almost reacted to the arrow racing towards her, but the flash of movement in the trees to her right became first priority as trained eyes marked the arrows path straight to Eponin's hurtling form. She turned her body, feeling the impact of arrow and Amazon at the same time. The ground drove the arrow deeper into her side as the Amazon on top of her drove the air from her lungs. She felt the blows that followed, tried to shield the woman under her, till pain from the arrowhead slicing through muscle drove her to refuge in unconsciousness.
Ephiny chewed nervously on her lip, trying to figure out what to do next. She didn't figure Xena would be out long, so she sent runners ahead to make sure something like this didn't happen on a larger scale when they returned to the village. She had no doubt that had been the warrior's goal, she just wasn't sure what else Xena'd had in mind. Coming here, alone, specially after her last visit, Xena couldn't possibly have expected a friendly greeting. Ephiny glanced at the prone figure again as she paced.
"Gods, she looks bad," Ephiny mumbled to herself. Her eyes tried to look everywhere but at the fallen warrior. They landed on the feathered shaft of a broken arrow. She picked it up idly, recognizing the fletching, then began looking for the other half. A low groan from Xena brought her hurrying over.
She tried to fight her eyes open, vaguely remembering she should be worried about something. She could sense others around her, one bending closely over her. Blonde hair. Gab... her mind shied violently from that word and she came to her feet in one swift move, panic momentarily riding her. Just as quickly, she went to her knees as the jolting pain in her side competed with the searing pain of loss she already carried.
Somehow, Ephiny managed to help steady Xena enough so the warrior could regain her balance. She didn't like the unfocused look in Xena's eyes or the shallow breaths she was taking. A strangled angry growl came from her when a bloody hand gripped her shoulder and she realized where the rest of the arrow was.
"Take it easy, Xena." She tried to ease the warrior back down. "You've been hurt."
Blank eyes looked into hers and she felt a chill race down her spine as fear gripped her belly. The life in those ice blue eyes was gone. The light that was Gabrielle no longer shone from them and Ephiny was beginning to fear the darkness that might follow. She knew full well what the Warrior Princess was capable of.
A small spark of recognition that flashed across Xena's face gave the Amazon hope.
"Eph." Xena licked dried lips and tried again. "Ephiny."
"Easy." Ephiny sent Eponin a silent call for help. "You've got an arrow in you, so just lay down." She spoke slowly and evenly, not wanting to startle Xena, unsure of what the reaction might be.
Xena glanced down at her side and the remainder of the arrow sticking out of it. Before Ephiny could stop her, she yanked it from her body.
It didn't hurt, not really. Not compared to the raw emptiness that gnawed at her very bones. No, pain was a welcome friend, now, much sought after in her grief and shame. She blinked twice as the Amazon in front of her grew fuzzy around the edges, then she fell on her face, the arrow still clutched in her fist.
Ephiny barked orders between mumbled curses that got her more than one raised eyebrow from Eponin. She soon had them all headed back to the village, with Xena on a travois pulled by Argo, another runner gone to advise the healer she would be needed. It was a silent trip back.
She woke bathed in cold sweat, still struggling to free herself from the nightmare's clutches. Heightened senses flooded her mind with data till she was no longer certain if it was dream or reality she now faced. Her whole being ached.
She sat up slowly, arms braced till the dizziness passed. She ran experimental fingers over the back of her head, wincing at the slight mushiness she found there. Ok, that explained the headache.
She glanced down at her body, naked except for a swath of white linen wrapped around her midsection, noticing a multitude of bruises. But not even that could explain the feeling she had inside. Like a part of her was....missing.
Approaching footsteps sent her hand instinctively flying to reach over her shoulder. And encountered nothing. As a figure entered the hut, she rose to a fighting crouch.
Ephiny stepped through the doorway and froze. Then stared. Wide eyed, mouth open, flaming red cheeks at her brazen thoughts, stared.
"Uhh," she squeaked. "Xe." She had to stop to clear her suddenly dry throat. "Glad to, uh, see you're feeling better," she finished wryly, heading for a chair before her knees gave out completely.
The warrior didn't relax her stance and Ephiny cast her a questioning look.
"Where am I," the warrior growled.
"This is the healer's hut, Xena," Ephiny answered slowly. She had decided to leave Xena there, unsure of the reaction if she woke up in the Queen's hut.
"Who brought me here." She still didn't relax her stance.
"I did. Xe." Ephiny started to rise, but stopped short when Xena tensed further.
"And who are you," the warrior asked quietly.
Once again, Ephiny stared, silent for long seconds. "Oh Gods," she finally breathed.
"Whaddya mean she doesn't know who she is," Eponin demanded, round eyes staring at Ephiny, who proceeded to collapse in the nearest chair with a heavy sigh. The headache that had started at sight of Xena was now a blinding throb, making it difficult for her to think straight.
"Just what I said, Pony," she snapped. "She doesn't know who she is, she doesn't know who we are." She sighed again, trying not to let her frustration get the better of her. "I didn't have the heart to ask her about Gabrielle."
Eponin thumped to the ground beside her. "Oh, Hades," she breathed.
Ephiny ground the palms of her hands into her temples, hoping to massage the headache away.
"What am I gonna do, Pony? What am I gonna tell her when she starts asking questions? Gods be damned! After all they've gone through to get back together, now this. It's not fair! Dammit, Pony, it's just not fair."
"Ok, ok, take it easy now." Eponin rose swiftly and started a gentle massage of the regent's tense shoulders. "Let's not go getting all riled up before we know exactly what's going on here, ok. Let's start with what she remembers and work from there."
Ephiny shot the Amazon a strange look. "It's really.....weird. It's like, all the stuff she used to do without thinking about it is still there, but she doesn't know what to do with them if she does think about it." She suddenly grabbed Eponin's hands, turning to face her with eyes gone wide. "You know, she even laughed. Scared the hades out of me. It's like the Warrior Princess never existed, Pony. And I don't know who this person is."
Xena paced the hut, trying to dispel the nagging feeling that insisted there was something else she should be doing, the feeling that was making her head throb. She'd tried laying on the cot, relaxing, but the myriad sounds filtering in to her too keen ears, made that a virtual impossibility.
She'd found the clothes the Amazon had said were hers. Ephiny, yeah, that was her name. The soft leather caressed her skin in a familiar way, but the armor had felt cold and stiff; she left it where it lay. Someone had done a good job of patching up the holes made by the arrow.
Funny, she couldn't remember getting shot, or anything about the woman Ephiny said she'd saved, but she was glad she'd done it. She kind of liked the warm look that'd come into the Amazon's eyes at the telling of that story. Another pair of eyes with a similar look in them flitted across the back of her mind, but was quickly gone as the throbbing in her head intensified.
She looked down at the sword in her hand she didn't remember picking up, fingers curling around in a perfect grip, the balance between blade and hilt allowing the weapon to move smoothly through the air. It seemed to take on a life of it's own as unconscious reflexes took over in an intricate pattern of loops and twirls that sent the blade hissing through the air.
To come to an abrupt halt inches from a throat beneath wide eyes that knew death was close at hand. Fear and surrender flashed behind those eyes, setting off a cascade of similar images that caused the warrior to drop the sword with a strangled cry.
Eponin knew she was going to die. She saw the flash of metal arcing towards her and knew there was no way she could stop it. She didn't know what to do, though, when Xena dropped the sword and sank to the ground clutching her head with both hands. Or when the warrior looked up at her with something close to panic in her eyes and a desperate plea for confirmation that she really hadn't completed the stroke so many times before. And that scared her more than the possibility of her death had.
"Who am I," Xena whispered.
Eponin was on her knees in front of the warrior in an instant. She forced herself to meet those achingly empty blue eyes. "You're a warrior, Xena. Sometimes warriors kill. But you didn't this time. And you've saved my life before."
A frown crossed Xena's face as she locked eyes with the Amazon. "You know me." It was almost a plea.
"Maybe not as well as others, but yes, I know you," Eponin answered truthfully. There were parts of Xena she knew all too well, and some, she knew, she had herself.
A deep sadness passed through Xena's eyes. "I saw the fear. You thought I was going to kill you."
Eponin groaned inwardly. Where was Eph when she really needed her. Situations like this were definitely not the weapons master's specialty. Ares' balls!! Oh well, when in doubt, tell the truth. "I was afraid of dying, not of you. I forgot you were hurt, I walked into your sword. If I had died, it would've been my own fault."
"I don't even remember picking it up," Xena stated quietly, glancing at the sword. "What's happened to me. Why can't I remember anything."
"I don't know, Xena, but we're gonna help you through this, okay." The relief that flooded through her at sight of Ephiny almost made Eponin giddy. And she had thought talking to the other Xena was hard! Ephiny was right; how do you tell someone like this, that they used to be a monster. But if they didn't, sooner or later, someone else would.
"What happened," Ephiny demanded.
"It's all right," Eponin quickly assured her, rising on suddenly shaky legs. Xena rose, too, putting a steadying hand on the weapons master, concern on her face. "Xena was, exercising, and I almost walked into her sword. Lucky for me she's as good as she is." Eponin picked up the blade, quietly returning it to its sheath. She could feel Ephiny's questioning gaze on her, but knew the regent would hold her curiosity till later.
"Well," Ephiny turned her gaze on Xena. "As long as no-one got hurt. I came to see if you were up to eating something. I have a couple of trays outside. Thought I'd join you." The way stories were flying around the village, Ephiny had actually thought it best to keep contact with the warrior limited till she could get things sorted out. Xena may not have her memories of past deeds, but the fighting skills and reflexes were still there. And that just might possibly make her even more dangerous than before.
Several days had passed since she'd first woken up in the healer's hut. The days themselves hadn't been too bad, a lot of stares from the women of the village, and heads put hastily together in hushed whispers that her ears heard, even though she tried not to. Names she didn't recognize came to her unbidden, unlocking dreams that turned into nightmares in the wee hours of the morning. A nagging restlessness drove her to increased seclusion as the confines of the Amazon camp closed in on her.
She was there, again, waiting for her in the dream, green eyes smiling at her, softly calling her name. She tried to reach her, but things kept getting in her way. Unseen blows buffeted her from side to side, yet she never gave up the struggle. Her heart screamed its need of this strange woman and no force, from Olympus to Hades, was strong enough to deny that will. She rose slowly from the final blow, triumphant, only to see the woman tumble over the edge of a fiery pit, green eyes staring at her filled with love and sorrow.
She was on her feet when she woke, sweat pouring from her in cold rivulets. A name tried to shout its way past her lips, but was bludgeoned back into its dark hole. She sat down heavily on the bed, her shaking body finally betraying her, swallowing several deep breaths in an effort to calm her racing heart.
Gods! What had that been about? Who was this woman that kept invading her sleep. She could understand some of the other nightmares, Eponin had told her she was a warrior, but the pain this one brought made no sense to her. If what she felt was caused by the absence of this woman, then how could she not remember her! A momentary flash of laughing green eyes and a soft kiss sent a rippling shudder through her.
She groaned, clutching her head, as the confines of the hut began to quickly close in on her. With a snarl of frustration, she threw herself out the door. Unconsciously moving from shadow to shadow, she worked her way around the camp, easily avoiding the few Amazons that were about.
Feeling lost and confused, she found herself by the stables where the horse Eponin said was hers greeted her softly. Somehow, it gave her comfort to be near the animal and she found her head resting against the horse's neck as her fingers combed through the mane. Argo nickered softly, blowing warm air and bits of hay on her.
"Bet you could tell me some stories, huh, girl." Xena rubbed the horse's soft nose. "Yeah, I can see it in your eyes, we have history."
She found a brush and began running it over the mare's sleek coat, her hands automatically finding all the right spots even if her mind didn't remember them. She felt a strange peace begin to settle in with each stroke, tense muscles relaxing into the familiar motions.
Soft voices penetrated her sleep-filled haze she found herself curled up in the back of Argo's stall, covered with her blanket.
"Oh come on, Solari, how can you possibly believe that she has absolutely no memory of the Queen?"
"You didn't see her, Thal, not at first. How can I not believe it."
She heard the rattle of tack and Thal's voice changed direction. "They were together almost 4 years, Sol, how could she forget all that. I mean, I can understand her blocking Queen Gabrielle's death, but all 4 years? I thought she loved her?"
"And what would you do if something like that happened to me?" Solari's voice softened. "Xena watched her fall, Thal, knowing there was nothing she could do to stop it. And knowing that Gabrielle wouldn't want her to sacrifice herself in a worthless attempt. What would do?"
A long silence followed.
"Wow. Never looked at it like that. Yeah, maybe she is better off forgetting, huh."
The voices carried outside the stable, leaving behind a violently shaking form huddled in the straw.
"Gabrielle," she whispered. The very utterance of that name sent an overwhelming multitude of images crashing into her consciousness. A , a laugh, a touch. Eyes filled with love and tears, and shame, begging forgiveness. Everything they ever were, and everything they would never be.
A scream of pain and loss brought every Amazon within hearing distance instantly to their feet, weapons in hand, searching frantically for the source.
Ephiny and Eponin converged on the stables in a dead run, only to be greeted by half a dozen nervous warriors, none of which had dared to enter in order to investigate. The stable doors slammed open with a brutality that almost took them off their hinges. The glowering figure standing in the entrance sent those nearest hastily scrambling out of the way. Without a word to anyone, Xena stalked to the hut her gear was stored in, emerging a few minutes later in full armor and weaponry.
Ephiny put out a hand to stop her, briefly flinching at the memory of the last time she did that. "What are you doing, Xena," she asked cautiously. Xena just.....looked at her and the Regent felt her blood run cold. She'd seen that look before, and was heartily thankful it wasn't directed at her now. But still, she released her grip on the warrior's arm and backed quietly out of the way.
When Xena came out of the stables leading Argo, she stopped beside Ephiny before mounting.
"I'm going to find her, Ephiny. I remember. Everything. And I'm going to get her back."
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