REDRESS or Friend In Need, Part 3
(a re-writing of the Xena finale)

(No copyright infringement is intended; all characters are copyrighted by their creators and corporate types who have the contracts to prove ownership.  This story is for entertainment purposes and I do not profit by it.  Please do not link or reproduce without permission.  Please be aware that this story contains some alternate content (No terribly graphic content here, but if you're sensitive about the “subtext” you will find it in this story - if you don't like it, don't read this).

Fox's note:  I was disturbed and upset by the ending of the series, and although I had actually wanted to see our heroines go out in a blaze of glory, I wanted them to do it together.  I realized on later reflection, however, that if they were both to have died in that finale, there would be the problem of Gabrielle's descendants -- with Hope her only child, half-demon great-granchildren didn't seem a fitting legacy for the bard of Potadeia.  I hoped, by adding a third act to the televised portion of the finale, to satisfy my own heart while allowing Gabrielle the time and means to create descendants; but also to rectify a point of illogic in the story.  I felt strongly that whether she was blamed for the death of the 40,000 or not was less relevant than whether Xena was actually responsible, in a way that would require vengeance.  If we agree that it was a tragic accident, and the deaths were unintentional, then the notion that Xena had to stay dead was as unnecessary as if those people had died as a result of an earthquake.  So, I decided that conversation did not happen, and you can let me know if my solution seems more satisfactory in light of the fact that those people didn't need to be avenged at all.  I will welcome all comments, but please don't call me names.  I hate that.)

        "A life of journeying has brought you to the farthest lands; even to the very ends of the earth," said Gabrielle with a small smile.  She held out the urn that contained the ashes of her beloved Xena.  The ship pitched and swayed, but Gabrielle held her footing, and felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder.
         "And to the place where I'll always remain – your heart."  Gabrielle half-turned, and there was Xena, standing next to her.  Her smile grew.  Xena threw an arm around her and asked, "Where to now?"
         "I think we should go south, to the land of the Pharaohs," Gabrielle said.  She threw Xena a guarded look.  "I hear they need a girl with a chakram there."
         Xena's expression became earnest.  "Where you go, I'll be at your side."
         "I knew you'd say that," Gabrielle grinned.  She nestled closer to Xena, who folded her into her arms.  Xena lightly kissed the top of her head, and Gabrielle held the urn closer to her belly.
         Suddenly, Gabrielle felt lifted out of her body, felt she was watching from a distance above the ship; she saw herself, standing alone on the deck.  She puzzled over this. She began to hear a sound.  It was faint, and far off in the distance.  It came nearer and nearer, and finally she realized it was the sound of a woman screaming.  She puzzled over this, too.
         Then she realized that the screams she heard were her own.

         "She's been like this ever since we found her," said the healer.  She knew the younger woman to be Xena's daughter, adopted by Gabrielle, and was saddened to have had to bear the news of her true mother's death to her, along with showing her the wretched condition of her remaining parent.
         Eve shook her head, and could not keep the tears from filling her eyes as she peered into the tiny window cut into the door of the small room.  Gabrielle was restrained by leather straps, yet her neck muscles bulged and her face was nearly purple.  Spittle flew from her mouth; she was nearly foaming.  Runnels of pale skin showed through the filth on her face, the tracks of an ocean of tears. She was drenched in sweat, her shoulder-length blonde hair matted.  Eve shook her head and turned to face the healer.
         "How did you find her?" Eve asked the Amazon woman.
         "We're Amazons," she shrugged.  "Gabrielle is an Amazon queen.  Xena was a friend to our nation.  The news of her death reached us, and we knew we must find Gabrielle and return her to her home, here with us.  This is the way we found her - raving.  She was seven months pregnant.  It took four of our best to subdue her, even wasted away and heavy with child.  She hasn't improved at all.  It's been four months."
         Eve shook her head.  "I can't believe it.  What happened - where are her babies – what
happened to my mother?"
        News of her mother's death had been curt.  When she'd received the scroll bearing the message that the Amazons had Gabrielle, she could not believe the brief, sad note that said her mother was dead, and that Gabrielle was in the custody of the Amazons.  She had flown to Gabrielle's side immediately to find Gabrielle had given birth to twins eight or nine weeks earlier, and was completely insane.  Silene, the Amazon, shook her head.
         "We've only been able to uncover sketchy information.  What we've learned is that Xena's former apprentice, a Japanese girl called Akemi – from many years before your birth, and many years before her first meeting with Gabrielle – used the techniques of killing which Xena taught her to kill her father.   In Japan, to kill one's own parent is to dishonor one's own self.   The girl committed 'hari kari' – Japanese ritual suicide intended to help return a dishonored person to honor.  Another willing person must complete a ritual, though, scattering the dishonored person's ashes at a sacred mountain.  Though Xena tried to return Akemi to honor, she was prevented by angry townspeople – they would not hear of a girl who had murdered her own father being returned to honor.  Akemi's ashes were never to reach the sacred mountain, but instead were spilled in the narrow streets of the town of Higuchi.  In a drunken rage, Xena lashed out at the people and accidentally started a fire – but in Japan, houses are built of bamboo canes.  Very flammable.
         "The fire raged out of control, and 40,000 people were killed."  Here the woman paused.  She took a deep breath.  "A tragedy."
         Eve nodded her agreement.
         "A tragedy, but not an intentional act," she said.
         "That may be," continued Silene.  "But your mother was blamed for the deaths of those people nevertheless.  When Xena and Gabrielle came to Japan - more than 30 years later - they found that people there had not forgotten – and that they still blamed Xena.  All we know is this: once word got out that Xena had returned to Japan, samurai trying to make a name for themselves waged war against her.  She was killed somehow.  We haven't been able to get the details.  We know it happened close to a year ago; I'm sorry.  I wish I could tell you more."
         She gestured to Gabrielle.  When Eve looked, she saw that Gabrielle had drawn herself into a fetal position and was now crying brokenly, huddled into a corner of the room.  She kept talking to herself, muttering unintelligibly or crying incoherently, saying Xena's name again and again.  Eve could not look at her parent, so she looked at her feet.  She scrubbed a hand across her eyes, squared her shoulders and drew air deeply, then looked again into the eyes of the Amazon healer.
         "Silene, I want to take her home with me.  We have a temple now, it's an abbey, actually.  We live there.  I know that the followers of Eli can help to heal her mind.  You have done what you can for her body, but her mind must be reached.  Without my mother, her soul and spirit are shattered.  We may be able, through prayer, to help her."
         "Eve, Gabrielle is all that's left to you of your mother, I know that.  But how can leaving here help?  We can't even get close to her.  She rages and screams.  She needs time.  She needs you. With time, you can reach her, and you can pray for her anywhere," Silene said gently.
         At that, Gabrielle again began to rage.

         "Xeeeeenaaaaaa!"  Gabrielle screamed.  Again and again, she saw the body of her soul mate, headless, battered and bloody, hung up like the carcass of an animal.  She retched and clutched uselessly at her stomach.  "No no nononoooooo," she keened.
         She was suddenly at the funeral pyre, lighting the fire under Xena's mortal remains.  She was determined.  She knew what she had to do.
         Gabrielle was on the deck of a ship, with Xena's ashes safely contained in a small urn.
         "A life of journeying has brought you to the farthest lands; even to the very ends of the
         This was not right.

        She looked up.  Her arms were bound to her sides.  A familiar voice sounded at the edge of her hearing.  She shook her head, unbelieving.  What was Eve doing here?  Had she somehow been captured?  Eve was talking to someone.  Who?  Where was she?
        In the seven days since her arrival, this was the first time Gabrielle was completely silent and awake at the same time.  Only while sleeping would Gabrielle ever relax for short periods of time. While she slept, Eve would talk to her, take her hand, comfort her.  Even that respite was brief, and Eve's heart wrenched each time Gabrielle's expression would twist, telling her that Gabrielle was once more in the grip of her nightmares.
        At first, Eve looked to Silene, to draw her attention to her silent parent.  Eve's gaze shifted irresistibly back to Gabrielle, who, shockingly, was looking straight at her.  Their eyes locked. Gabrielle's clouded, tortured eyes seemed to clear with recognition.
        "Eve…?"  Gabrielle murmured.  She came to her feet and ran to the door.
        "Gabrielle?" Eve said wonderingly.
        "This is the first time she's shown recognition of anyone since she's been here," said Silene in amazement.
        "This is the first time she's realized I'm here.  Let me in," Eve commanded.  She grabbed
Silene's upper arm, and once more, she seemed to be Livia, commander of Roman soldiers.
        "I'm afraid –" said Silene.
        "You open that door now, or you will know the true meaning of fear," Eve said dangerously, squeezing.  Silene was unafraid, but she did nod and bend to the bars on the door.
        Silene opened the door and Eve popped inside, shutting the door behind her.  The smell was awful.  It smelled like piss and unwashed bodies.  She sympathized with the Amazons – it had been hard enough to get Gabrielle in here, much less feed her and keep her clean.  Xena had taught Gabrielle well; she was a formidable warrior in her own right.
         "Gabrielle…?" Eve held her hands out.
         "Eve….Xena…." she choked.  Her eyes dropped and she could say no more.  She began to shudder with sobs again.  Eve gathered the smaller woman in her arms, her own eyes filling with tears, then spilling over.
         "Shhhhh, I know…" Eve told her.  "I know."

         "I haven't dared to ask in three days….How long?" Gabrielle asked, running her fingers through her close cropped wet hair.  It had been that long since she had regained lucidity.  She had been with Eve almost every minute of that, and became agitated if Eve moved to leave the room.  She was slowly developing a measure of calm on her own, but she would still need time.  The question was a huge leap forward.
         "I'm not exactly sure," Eve responded.  "It's high summer.  I know the Amazons found you over four months ago, wandering in the snow near Mount Fuji.  You were quite pregnant.  The twins were born nearly three months ago.  Do you remember what happened?"
         Gabrielle stiffened.
         "I failed.  I failed and Xena died.  That's what happened.  Very heroic."
         Eve reached over and gathered a blanket around her shivering parent.  The bath had done her good, but Eve could see how wasted Gabrielle's body was.  Her once-magnificent muscles now looked ropy and flaccid.  There were only hints of her former fitness.  She was gaunt and her body scarcely showed evidence of her recent pregnancy, her deep green eyes hollow and haunted.  Eve sat down next to her, and dangled her legs in the steaming waters as Gabrielle was doing.  It was apparent that Gabrielle was trying to get hold of herself; her breathing was labored and her chest was heaving.  The only other sound was the condensation from the steam dripping from the ceiling of the grotto.  Eve waited silently.  After a time, she draped her left arm tenderly around Gabrielle's shoulders, reaching across her own body with her right hand to steady Gabrielle.  She could feel the bones through Gabrielle's meager flesh.
         "The babies are all right?" Gabrielle asked in a whisper.
         "The Amazons have been caring for them; they're in good hands."
         Gabrielle nodded.  She hesitated before she spoke.  Eve sensed she felt ashamed, but was making an effort to speak through her feelings.
        "I can't really be a mother to them.  It's difficult to explain."
         "You'll be better soon.  Once you're yourself again…"
        "No.  I'm not going to put them through that.  I won't."  Gabrielle was implacable, her resolve unmistakable.  "It's difficult to explain…"
        "Try," Eve urged.
         "After your mother d…" she could not say the word, even now.  "..after that, I lost myself.  I wandered through the days and nights, mostly in a haze.  I found my way back to Higuchi.  I tried to pull myself together, I did.  But I had lost the urn with Xena's ashes in it.  I had lost her.  I lost everything I lived for, can you understand that?
        "If you do, you're rare.  No one understood.  I tried to talk to the holy men and women in
Japan.  I tried, but they all told me similar things: life is suffering, time heals.  It didn't help, and it didn't comfort me.  I was barely coherent as it was, and all I could get were platitudes, and this from the people I thought were most qualified to help.  Soon, I realized that nobody wanted to hear it.  At least, they didn't want to hear it as much as I wanted to talk about it.  I tried to write, but the words just looked so empty.  I burned the scrolls night after night.
        "Finally, I decided, I'm lost.  Nobody cares about my pain, everyone just wants me to move on.   I need to kill the pain, if I can't rid myself of it.  At least, try to take the edge off it.  I wandered - I wouldn't say I traveled.  I would go into the villages, Higuchi and the surrounding ones, but I kept coming back to the mountain over and over.  It was the last place she had been with me, you know?
        "I tried to lose myself in drink, in men, in whatever seemed to dull the pain and produce any sensation other than agony.  I couldn't write about it, couldn't talk about it.  The men, I cared little about, they didn't matter.  I would drink, get numb, and go with a man; they would know I was drunk, and I didn't care."
         "I know it was stupid," Gabrielle said sullenly.  "I let them use me, because it seemed fair - I was using them, trying to forget who I had been.  Forget who I had loved…who had loved me…I knew as long as I lived I would never love anyone like that again.  I got pregnant, I thought about killing myself, taking the baby with me into the afterlife….it seemed right…" she seemed a little lost.  Tears spilled from her eyes.  "Every day that passed, I was less and less able to care for myself, I was going deeper into my world of fantasy – a world where I had not failed Xena.  Eventually, the walking in circles brought me to the mountain again.  I was alone, and finally, I just wanted the aloneness.  I lost track of time after that.  I remember very little.  The Amazons must have found me at some point during those days.  I don't remember birthing the twins."  She shook her head incredulously.
         "They're perfect," Eve told her.  "Have you seen them?"  She wanted to try to interest Gabrielle in her children, but so far, Gabrielle had resisted.
         "I have, but I can't do that, can't be their mother," insisted Gabrielle.  "There is so little of me left, I have nothing to give them."  Suddenly, she became intense, and gazed directly into Eve's eyes.   "Will you take my children, raise them?  I trust no one else, other than the Amazons, but since one is a boy, I'm afraid they'll refuse him.  I want them to grow up together."
         "I will raise them in the abbey," Eve said simply.  "Have no worries for them.  It was already arranged, in case you should feel this way, or in case you never…."
         "In case I never regained myself," Gabrielle supplied.  "Thank you, Eve.  It means everything to me, to know they're safe."
         "One is blonde and green-eyed, like you.  The girl.  The boy is dark haired and fierce.  His eyes are blue, like Mother's.  It would be a little creepy, but he is a laughing, happy child.  The girl is more pensive."
         "I always wanted children…Xena said she wanted to settle down…and then…"
         "Tell me about my mother," Eve said gently, barely above a whisper.  "What happened?"
         The dripping echoed about the small cave, which the Amazons had hollowed out over this small, natural hot spring.  Steam rose off the water, giving a misty atmosphere to the already dark, humid grotto.  Gabrielle began in a low voice.
         "We had gone there only to encounter an army ready to fight with Xena.  They held her
responsible for the deaths of 40,000 of their people.  It was many years before you were born."
         "Yes, Silene told me about that," Eve nodded.
         Eve did not tell Gabrielle that Silene was lurking silently in the grotto, watching over the two of them for fear Gabrielle's recently returned senses should leave her raving and hysterical again.
         Gabrielle swirled the water with her feet.  Her eyes became haunted as her reverie deepened.  Her voice was so soft Eve had to strain to make out the words.
         "Xena convinced one of their leaders, the Ghost Killer, that she had not intended the deaths of those people.  Though he did accept that, the Ghost Killer explained to Xena that Akemi's father, Yodoshi, was an evil man.  Akemi had done right to kill him.  He was so evil in life, that in death, he had become an evil lord of the Underworld, a soul-eater – he had enslaved the souls of the 40,000 killed in the fire, and would continue to capture the souls of those who were killed.  The Ghost Killer's calling in life was to use his sacred katana to kill the ghosts of his people who died before the Soul-Eater could ensnare and enslave them in the afterlife.  He told Xena that only by becoming a spirit himself – by dying – could he hope to utterly destroy the dark lord.  Xena decided it was only she who could destroy this evil spirit, and the two hatched a plan.  Between them, they set about executing it.  Xena kept me in the dark about it," Gabrielle smiled ruefully, tears sparkling in her eyes.   Her expression bore an old pain and irony, one that said she'd had this experience many times.  Her breath caught in her throat, and her tears fell into the water below, sending ripples across the pool.  Except for the ripples, Eve would not have known Gabrielle was weeping; her voice was soft, but clear, and she did not hesitate as she continued.
         "She had me lead one regiment against those who had come to find her.  She was to lead a second, only she had a different plan.  She didn't go with a battalion behind her.  She went alone. She buried her armor and went in Japanese battle dress.  She went with one purpose: to allow herself to be killed by a samurai who would have a right to her blood, one who believed he was the avenger of the 40,000; one who did not realize that Xena had not murdered those people.
         "She got herself shot full of arrows.   I saw the arrows in her body."  She shuddered and closed her eyes against the memory, but they popped open again - the image in her mind was simply too clear, too excruciating.  "I'm not sure if she was already dead, but at some point, someone beheaded her."  Here, she broke off.
         Eve gasped in revulsion and pain.  The two women huddled together and wept silently for awhile.  Silene listened silently from her hiding place nearby, and was hard-put to keep her own sniffling and choking quiet enough that they would not hear.  Gabrielle clutched at her breast.
         "Oh, Eve – you can't imagine it."  She sobbed harder.
         "How did – how did you come to find her like this?" Eve forced herself to ask.  She handed Gabrielle a corner of the blanket to dry her nose and eyes.
         Gabrielle scrubbed furiously at her nose and took a breath.
         "I had found her chakram earlier that day, and a there was a lot of blood in the forest near the chakram; and finally I came to a quiet place in the woods where there was a structure.  I saw her - alive, I thought – she was dressed in robes.  I asked her about it.  But after only a moment or so, when I tried to hand the chakram to her, and she wasn't able to take it – her hand passed right through it!   I knew she was dead, and I was talking to her spirit.  She told me she was working with the Ghost Killer to destroy Yodoshi. A girl came out of the structure.  Beautiful.  Young.  It was Akemi.  Xena told her…." Gabrielle's chin quivered and her eyes filled with tears.  "Xena told Akemi that she wanted her to meet me, that I was her soul mate, and that I was a poet, like Akemi."  She smiled through her tears, which now flowed freely.
        She looked into Eve's wide brown eyes.  Gabrielle's deep green eyes were luminous with tears, and the hint of a smile played at the corner of her mouth.  Her expression was earnest and grateful, awed in a way.  Her eyes were so green, so large and deep Eve believed that if she looked directly into them, she might drown there.  She saw how meaningful her mother's words had been to Gabrielle, how in some way, Xena had claimed Gabrielle her own, forever, in that moment.  Gabrielle lowered her gaze and took a breath.  She exhaled hard and bit her lip.
        "The Ghost Killer and his man were there.  There was a way, they told me," Gabrielle tried to calm herself.  Her breath still hitched and she fought for control.  "I could bring Xena back, at risk of my own life.  Of course, I never even thought about it, I simply asked what to do.  I had to get her back."  She glanced up, and the look she gave Eve was knowing, and completely matter of fact, as if there were no other course of action possible.
         "They said I must find Xena's body, burn it, and take her ashes to the Fountain of Strength on Mt. Fujisha, and spread them into the fountain.  This must be done by the second day after death, before the sun set.  I knew I only had one day.  Before I set off to find her body, Akemi offered me a gift.  I didn't feel free to refuse it, and she said it would help protect me against her father, the dark lord.
         "She tattooed my back and legs.  I haven't seen the whole thing, so I don't know, but I've been told it's a dragon.  I have the sense it has power of some kind," Gabrielle said, smiling with a look that said, "I know it sounds strange, but I know what I know."  Eve pulled back the blanket and perused the tattoo.  It was indeed a dragon, its serpentine coils covering most of Gabrielle's back.  It was strangely beautiful.  Eve nodded.
         "It is a dragon.  A big one."
         Gabrielle nodded, unsurprised.  "I felt it," she said, "It burned….when…."  her eyes glazed a little as she remembered.
         "Wait," said Eve.  She sensed Gabrielle becoming emotional again.  "Don't lose focus.  Akemi tattooed this on your back as a gift and protection, and you went to find Mother's body."
         Gabrielle nodded.
         "I went to find Xena's body.  That night, I had tracked the blood spoor and the tracks of the samurai's army - they hadn't bothered to cover them.  I stepped into a low building and….and…."  her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes squeezed shut against the horror of the memory.  Tears flew with some force out of the corners, so tightly did she shut her eyes.  She hauled herself up out of the water, and gathered the blanket around her.  With her arms wrapped tightly around her, and enfolded in the blanket, Gabrielle's head bowed until her chin nearly touched her chest.  She sobbed and coughed, her back to Eve, unable to go on.  The water sluiced off her legs and she was standing in a puddle.  She opened her eyes, and briefly saw herself reflected in the water at her feet before the tears fell and dispersed the image.
         "And it was her body!  And her head was not there," she snarled savagely through clenched teeth.  Her voice echoed and bounced against the moist outcroppings of rock.  "I could hardly bear the sight of it.  I fell down to my knees.  I threw up.  I had no doubt that it was her.  I know her.  I know her body.  It was her.  They butchered her and hung her up like an animal!  It was too horrible!"  She spat the last words out as if the explosiveness of it would rid her of the memory.    Eve came up behind her, put her hands tentatively on Gabrielle's shoulders.  Gabrielle put up a hand to wave her off, as if knowing that too much tenderness would render her unable to go on.  She took a step forward.  Eve stood quietly.
         "I cut her down," she said tearfully.  "I turned around and shouted that I wanted her head.  I had to fight the samurai to get it.  Oh, Eve, how could she have let that weasel kill her?  It took me all of 4 seconds to defeat him.  MeShe was Xena, the greatest warrior ever.  How could this….this… little man kill her?"
         "You had righteous outrage on your side," Eve offered.  "And my mother found what she waslooking for.  Mother couldn't kill herself, or she'd end up in Tartarus.  She had to allow someone who believed he had the right to kill her to do it.  She allowed it, certainly.  And you did what you had to in order to get her body back."  She soothed Gabrielle's raw sobbing.
         "I did, but I didn't kill the bastard, I just knocked him out with the hilt of my sword.  He wanted me to chop his head off, but I couldn't do it.  Some warrior, huh?" Gabrielle shook with rage and sorrow.  "I got her head, I wrapped it with her body.  I took it to the woods, and I built the pyre, and I burned her body.  I collected the ashes, and headed for Mt. Fuji, where I expected to perform the ritual and get her back."
         "Go on," Eve prompted quietly.  Gabrielle turned back to the pool, sat on the ledge once more, and dropped her feet into the steaming water.  It was hot, and felt good – it felt good to feel.  She had been hiding in her own mind for so long now that she realized how much she had missed sensation.  Eve sat beside her, and Gabrielle searched her face, looking for a way to finish her story.  She was heartbroken by Eve's resemblance to her mother.  Every so often, Gabrielle was struck by a mannerism or a motion, a turn of phrase, or a manner of speech, the insolent smile, that reminded her of her lost soul mate.
         "I…it's hard, Eve."
         "I know, Gabrielle, but listen to me:  I believe in you.  I believe you loved my mother more than your own life, and I believe had it been in your power, you'd have brought her back."
         The words stung, as did the ever-present tears.
         "She believed in me, too.  But I didn't make it," Gabrielle choked in a whisper.
         "Why?" Eve persisted.  "What happened?"
         Gabrielle gathered herself, gathered the blanket she'd been using as a cloak closer to her.  She breathed in the steam, her eyes closed.  She remembered.
         "I went to the mountain, to the Fountain of Strength.  I had her ashes.  That same damned samurai was there!  He insisted he had a right to his honor!  His honor. He had wanted me to sever his head from his body at the end of our fight, but I hadn't.  I asked if I should show him the same respect and honor he had shown my friend.  I was angry, I threw the chakram at him.  It ricocheted off the boulders on the side of the mountain and hit him in the forehead!  He fell down, and for the first time, the chakram returned to me, and I caught it!"  The amazement was still present in her voice as she related it, the words tumbling faster and faster.
         "Your mother was there," she said, and her expression became hunted and desperate.  "And so was Yodoshi.  They fought.  Somehow, Akemi was there.  It was hard to make it all out, it was very confusing.  They were all spirits, and it isn't easy for a mortal to see all of this, but their spirits were very strong, and we were in a magical place.  It seems Yodoshi was also headed for the Fountain of Strength – Xena had somehow severed one of his arms and he was weakened.    Akemi attacked him, and he put her down.  Then Xena went for him, but it was too late – he was already too close to the fountain, and they blasted each other.  Her spirit…lost consciousness, somehow.  I knew the only hope to destroy him was to revive Xena with the water from the Fountain.  It had healed Yodoshi's wounds, and he was whole again, even though his last encounter with Xena had knocked him down.  I ran for the fountain, and put as much water in my mouth as I could.  I meant to carry it to Xena in my mouth."
         She stopped.  Hidden, Silene caught her breath.  All was still.
         "And that's all I remember.  I was hit from behind.  It knocked me out.  I woke up, and it was night."  Her voice and expression became dull and leaden.  "It was the night already.  I had missed the sunset.  I failed to perform the ritual.  Xena was not revived.  I missed the one chance I had to return her to life. I lost her, Eve."

            The memory was physically painful to Gabrielle.  Her eyes half-closed, she began to tell Eve, in tiny, curt sentences what had happened.  She lost herself in the memory.  Quietly, she recalled that she had opened her eyes slowly, and had registered only that it was night.
        The moon was not yet up.  Abruptly, she had snapped awake hard, sat bolt upright, looked around in desperation.  Like ice water pouring through her veins, the horror of her realization began in her heart and spread outward.  The tingling sensation had reached through her arms to her elbows by the time she stood, casting about recklessly, shaking her head in disbelief.  She had said, "No! No!  This can not be happening...." and called Xena's name over and over again.  She continued to search for the urn that held Xena's mortal remains, even though she already sensed the futility of this.
        "This is not right!!" she had screamed.  "This can't be! Xena! Xena!"  She had spent all night, praying to every Olympian god she could think of, to Eli, her fallen mentor, to the Archangel Michael, not that she had believed any would help.  She had vomited sickly, and finally, wrung out emotionally and physically, had passed out.  When she woke again in the morning, she had again, vainly searched for the urn.  She had run through a thousand possibilities - she would find Ares and he would help her; she would be heard by Eli or Michael, and they would see, they would understand that Xena must not be taken away from her.  But finally,comprehension at last taking hold that her one and only chance to return Xena to the mortal realm had failed, she surrendered completely to grief.
        Providing no consolation was the sure and certain knowlege that Xena had succeeded in her quest.  There was no sense of restlessness in the place, in fact, it was disturbingly serene.  The utter peace and quiet of the Fountain and surrounding forest told Gabrielle that Xena had somehow regained her strength and defeated the dark lord, thus freeing the souls of those he had imprisoned; though she was not sure how she was so sure, she was absolutely certain - and it had not helped to know it.   As shameful to her as it was, she still knew in her heart that she would have gladly given the souls of all 40,000 of the trapped souls of Japan to keep Xena by her side.  The agony of loss was becoming more unbearable by the moment.
        For days, she had not been able to eat anything, had not been able to keep anything down if she did try to eat.  She had slept poorly and fitfully; her eyes had a hollow, haunted look, and deep circles ringed them.  Her ordeal deepened with each day that passed.  She had continued to try to find the urn, with no success.  She had ventured to Higuchi and the towns surrounding, but her all-consuming grief kept her returning to the same place over and over.  She was drawn to the Fountain in ever-shrinking circles, with an ever-shrinking capacity to know or care where she was.  She had fuzzy memories of drinking what seemed like quarts of sake, the potent Japanese wine made from rice, at a time.  She had few memories of what came after, though she was shamed, because though her memories were vague, she knew what she had done.   Her grief wound itself so deeply into her heart and soul, she had not cared then, what she did, or what was done to her.
        And with each passing day, she had been less and less aware of what she did, what was done to her, and what went on in the world around her.  More and more, she found herself lapsing into a reverie that was complete in its structure.  In it, Gabrielle had not been knocked unconscious. Gabrielle had retrieved the urn.  She had gone to the fountain, carried water in her own mouth to the weakened Xena's spirit, which was corporeal enough for her to touch, to feel.  She had allowed the magical, healing water to flow into Xena's mouth from her own, and had been so moved by her love and concern for the warrior princess that she had allowed that brief contact with Xena's lips to deepen into a sweet, intense kiss.  Xena had awakened, magically dressed again in her own armor.  She had fought and defeated Yodoshi, and Gabrielle had retrieved the urn containing the ashes only to be stopped from performing the resurrecting miracle by Xena's sense of noble purpose.  In her fantasy world, Xena had chosen to remain in the realm of the dead in order to allow the souls of the 40,000 lost Japanese souls to claim they had been avenged, and therefore, could go on to their eternal rest and reward.
        In her fantasy world, Xena still walked by her side, in spirit.  It was preferable to the waking world, which was a cold, terrifying place where Gabrielle could not see, touch, smell or sense her soulmate's presence at all.  She had at some point realized that she was spending an unhealthy amount of time in her private world.  She knew the more she went to that place in her mind, the less she could be in the physical world of reality.  She considered it an equitable trade.
            The trouble was, it was not sustainable indefinitely.  She would be comfortably gliding along in her fantasy world, when suddenly she would flash on finding the body of Xena, headless and full of arrows.  At some level, she always knew she was alone, and it would start her ranting and eventually, screaming.  It was in this state that the Amazons had finally found her.
        She snapped back to the present moment at last.  Eve was scrutinizing her guardedly.
        "Thought I lost you again for a second," Eve remarked cautiously.
        "It's hard to go there.  Even in memory."
        Eve nodded.  At last, she knew what the final hours of her mother's life had been like.  She had some small measure of understanding of what Gabrielle had endured.  It was a start.  She felt confident Gabrielle would not retreat again into her fantasy world.  She would stay until she was more than confident.  She would stay with her only remaining parent until she was truly and irrevocably sure.  She wrapped the blanket around herself, and folded Gabrielle into it.  She looked over the top of Gabrielle's head and nodded to Silene, who slipped away through a rear entrance of the grotto, unnoticed.  She'd had an ulterior motive in staying close at hand - she certainly did not want to leave Eve alone with Gabrielle in case she should relapse.  But, more than that, she had not wanted Gabrielle or Eve to have to repeat a story as difficult as she had been sure Gabrielle's was; hearing it firsthand while in hiding had been difficult - stifling her own sniffles as she wept along with the other two, but hidden away.
        Eve and Gabrielle clung to one another in the misty cave for a few minutes more, and then began the short walk through the woods back to the Amazon village.

         Eve pulled on her traveling cloak.  Gabrielle was slowly putting on weight now.  Tears stood in her eyes once more, but this time, her tears were because she was watching Eve prepare to return to her own life.  It had been three weeks since Eve had discovered the final fate of her mother.  She did not blame Gabrielle.  She knew she had done all she could – she was mortal, after all, not a god.
        "And," Eve thought, "She's all I have left.  I love her.  She's my mother now."
         "Don't be a stranger," Eve told Gabrielle, as they embraced, long and fiercely.  Gabrielle
tenderly pulled back the cover over the face of her small son, in Eve's arms.  Her daughter was already strapped to Eve's back.  Somehow, the tiny boy seemed to have Xena's fierce gaze.  She kissed his tiny forehead, then went behind Eve and kissed the child in the pack.  "Be good," she told her daughter.  She turned again to Eve.
         "I won't.  I'll be traveling soon, myself," Gabrielle told her.  Her eyes were unclouded now, and earnest.  "I'm traveling south, to the land of the pharaohs."
         "Why there?" Eve asked.
         "Have chakram, will travel," Gabrielle smiled.  "I wanna see as much of the world as I can…for her."
         Eve nodded her understanding.  "I love you," she told Gabrielle.
         "I know.  I love you, too.  I'll see you again, all of you, one day.  You have work to do, a family to raise now – go do it," Gabrielle said, smiling through tear-filled eyes.  Eve gave a long last look, then jumped up onto her horse and wheeled toward the east.  As she nudged her horse to canter off, she raised her hand in farewell.
         "And now it's time for me to go and do mine," Gabrielle said under her breath.  Silene and the other Amazons watched her warily, still.  They were afraid that she would not be able to hold onto sanity once Eve was gone with her two tiny charges.  They needn't have worried.
         "I will stay with you another week," Gabrielle announced to the Amazons.  "Then I'll take my leave.  I plan to go and continue what Xena and I started together.  Travel, see the world, redress wrongs if I can."
         The Amazons believed this to be worthy of an Amazon queen, and did not challenge or
presume to second-guess her.  They did not wonder that she never inquired after her children
again.  What they did not know was how deep Gabrielle's death-wish was.

         Although her time with Eve was pleasant, Gabrielle knew that there would be no peace for her in this world.  Though she rarely spoke of them again, Gabrielle thought often of her twins.  She did not want to saddle her two children with the memory of a cold, distant mother, and so she had sent them to be fostered with her own adopted daughter, where they would be loved and cherished.  She did not cherish her own life.  She did not dare to take her own life for fear she'd end up in Tartarus.  She did believe that her destiny and Xena's were irrevocably intertwined, and did not want to thwart the possibility they would be reunited in the afterlife.  She did not care for life much, but she could do as Xena had done: she could go out and look for death, and hope to meet it honorably.  She would try to meet it bravely, but she planned to meet it soon.  She would  join every battle she could find.  She could not live without Xena; she had known this from the moment her soul had shattered with the agony of knowing that Xena was gone from her.  Better to die and move on to the next world, where they were destined to be together, she reasoned.
         She set out, a week later, on her own.  The Amazons were concerned, but Gabrielle was a queen, and they could not order her to stay, as she now seemed fully herself once more.

         That night it was chilly, winter was coming now.  Gabrielle built a fire and sat before it,
warming herself.  She ate a few bites of some dried meat and cheese.  She decided to eat mostly bread, because she knew it wouldn't keep long.  There was a grape vine nearby.  She picked one, examined it.  It was small and sour, but she ate it anyhow.  With the weight gain, her biceps were once again neatly chiseled, and her face had lost the hollowness, but not the haunted quality of the past year.
         All her memories of that fateful day were clearer now.  She realized now that it must have been the dark lord who had hit her from behind.  Akemi's tattoos had kept her from being killed by Yodoshi, but had not kept her from being knocked out.   She continued to obsess over the events that must have occurred after she was knocked senseless, trying to somehow reconstruct those final moments.
        She believed that Xena had been able to regain consciousness and defeat Yodoshi, because there was a stillness, a sense of peace in the place when she awoke.  But what she had believed were memories after taking the water in her mouth….she now realized they were only dreams.
        There had not been, to her searing disappointment a last kiss.  She had not taken the healing water to Xena.  She had not placed her own mouth on Xena's, allowed the water to flow from her mouth into Xena's.  She had not kissed Xena, had not seen her rise and be clothed in her own armor.  She had not witnessed the final battle with Yodoshi, had not seen the redemption of souls.
         She took a drink of wine from her skin.  She drew the back of her hand across her mouth and capped the skin.  All that nonsense she had dreamed up about Xena having to stay dead to avenge the lost souls – she snorted now to remember it.  She ruffled her own hair.  She now believed that, in her torment, she had been trying to find a way to live with her failure.  She had heard of people with mental delusions doing such things.  She had become insane for a time, and in order to live with the loss of her soul's mate, she had made up a little story for herself, one in which Xena had to stay dead in order to avenge the souls of those lost in that fire.  If it had been an accident, there was no need for vengeance.  Even their own Ghost Killer had seen Xena's sincerity, had known those poor people had died tragically, but not by Xena's hand.
         But Gabrielle's tortured mind had created the scenario, and had lived and re-lived those events for many months.  She had created a world of fantasy in which Xena's death was a noble sacrifice, rather than failure on her part.  A world where Xena was at her side in spirit, always.
         She now recognized her fantasy world for what it was.  She had never felt so alone.  She wished Xena were here.  She wished she could sense her presence.  She closed her eyes.  She heard the crackle of the fire and felt its warmth.  She listened as Xena had taught her to, for the sounds behind the sounds.  She heard a bird rustling in its nest.  She felt the calm of the forest.  But she did not sense the spirit of her lost love.

         For many months, Gabrielle traveled thus.  Alone, she would come across people in need.  She would stay with them for a day or two, help where she could.  It was a blessing to both of them: to those who received her help, and to she who gave it.  A legend grew around her, similar to that which had surrounded Xena decades earlier.  Xena's legend had actually grown over the years, with those who said they had seen her only a year or two ago, as young as ever she had been.  No one recognized Gabrielle as Xena's former companion and partner.
         She bore little resemblance to the slim, young girl who had traveled with Xena.  In over two years since Xena's death, she had taken on an aspect of tragedy.  She was tan and fit.  Her hair was short.  She was still quite beautiful.  But her eyes were sad, her elfin, sweet, optimism blunted; she rarely smiled, except ironically.  She was care-worn and road weary.  Her hands were hard.  She was almost as good a fighter as Xena had been in her day.  That troubled her.  She was not trying to get killed, but death would be welcome if it came.  It would not come easily if she didn't learn to fight a tiny bit under her ability.
         She cared little about any one person, except Eve and the children she had left in her care. She would send scrolls to her from time to time.  Once, she received a scroll from Eve; it told how the children were walking and beginning to say their first words.  It was obvious to Gabrielle that she had chosen rightly, to give her babies a chance for a home with a family, rather than the tragic existence she would have offered them.  It made her less sad for a day.  But, she knew the filial love Eve bore her was no substitute for the longing of her heart for Xena.  Even with the passage of years, Gabrielle felt that someone had taken a spear shaped like Xena, slammed it into her heart, then withdrawn it.  The Xena-shaped hole was still there.  Nothing would heal it, nothing would fill it.  Nothing but Xena.
         At last, she came to Amphipolous, the town Xena's family lived in.  She paid a stonecutter to make a monument to Xena, and to place it in her family's cemetery.  It cost much and took months to complete, but it was handsome.  A beautiful statue of Xena, it was a bit larger than she had been in life, in her armor, bearing a shield and drawn sword, and with marvelous wings, like a warrior angel should have.  The inscription read:  "XENA: Warrior Princess…Her courage has changed the world."
        Next to it, she had a statue of herself commissioned, slightly smaller, seated and looking up at the statue of Xena, an expression of pride and love eternally sculpted into her features.  A stone scroll lay in her hands, and a stylus lay across it.  The scroll read "The Travels of Xena."  The inscription at the base of Gabrielle's monument read, "Gabrielle, Bard to Xena; Greater love has none ever had than the love of these two.  In death, as in life, together."  She had not made the second statue as a monument to herself, but rather as a testament to her love for Xena.  She did not think it vanity.  The marble glowed whitely in the moonlight.  At first, Gabrielle felt it was a little eerie to stand before her own death monument.  But then, she felt it right - she was already dead, in her heart.  Might as well leave the monument to love she wanted, rather than allow others to decide how best to remember the two.
         "That's it," she thought, as she sat contentedly before the monuments.  "I'm done."  She put the finishing touches on the scroll she prepared to send to Eve.  It carried her instructions for her interment after her death in this place.

         She traveled finally to Japan, and returned to Mt. Fuji.  She returned once more to the
Fountain of Strength, and searched until she found the urn with Xena's ashes, miraculously intact.  It had fallen and become wedged between two large boulders.  She retrieved it.  She brushed the dirt and debris from the top, hesitated a moment, then opened it.  She reached in and touched the ashes softly.  She closed her eyes and touched the fingers to her lips.  This small act sent a single tear rolling from her closed eyes down her cheek.   She closed the lid again, and packed it in an unmarked crate, which she then sent to the abbey of Eli's followers, and to Eve, again with instructions to return the ashes to Amphipolous, and to the monument she had made there.
         Incredibly, as she now sat near the now-dry Fountain of Strength, she felt a peace settle upon her.  She spoke out loud.
         "I miss you, Xena.  I've done all I can do to carry on the work you started.  I've created a
monument to you, so that all those who pass by it will see you as I saw you, and remember.  But here is my doom:  I love you still.  The love I had for you has wrought itself so deeply into my being that I'm only half a person without you.  I can go no further, do no more.  Forgive me."  Tears slipped quietly down her cheeks.  She made no move to wipe them away.
         Suddenly, she heard a sound behind her.  She moaned and sat up.  Unbelievably, it was the same samurai that had killed her love.  He bore an ugly scar across his forehead, it almost looked like the top of his head had been removed at some point.  He was not alone.
         A young man was suddenly at his side.  The resemblance was obvious.  A brother?
         "You."  The samurai planted his feet wide.  A bitter expression twisted his features.  "You stole my honor in this place.  In this place, I shall regain it."
         "No, you lost your honor by disrespectfully displaying the remains of a warrior far greater than yourself, and one who was guilty of nothing.  She wanted you to kill her, and she allowed you to.  But you should have treated her remains respectfully, as befits a warrior - and returned them to me when I asked for them."  Gabrielle was rounding on the man.  The younger man now stepped between the two.
         "He can return to honor only in one way.  He must fight with you again, and best you this time, or die trying.  Do you understand?  If you will not help him to regain his honor, then you will be then next one that my people will hunt for, much as we hunted the Warrior Princess."  The younger man's unlined Asian features belied the tone of his voice.  "Fight one man now, or an army later," he said quietly, but with a steely resolve.
         "Fine," Gabrielle said testily.  She was tired.  She had finally achieved a tiny measure of peace, and now it was gone.  Gabrielle drew her weapons.  She had returned to using the sias, small, one-handed weapons shaped like a trident with a long center tine.  She drew one in each hand, made her center of gravity low and waited.
         The attack was quick, her response equally quick.  Her skills had actually improved since their last meeting.  It was over very fast, as fast as the first time they had met in battle.  The samurai was down. He awaited the killing blow.  She looked beseechingly at the other man.
         "I can't kill him.  I can fight him, but I can only kill if my life, or another's is in mortal peril, do you understand that?  He's no threat to me now."
         The younger man nodded.
        "I see that you will not give him the honorable death that he, and our family, require," the young man spoke deliberately.  "Unforgivable."
        The fallen samurai came up to his knees, hands folded before him, head held high in spite of his defeat.  Gabrielle spread her hands to indicate she was sorry, but there was no more she would do.  Calmly, the  younger man took his relative's katana from him.  In one fluid motion, he severed his kinsman's head, and whirled without warning to slash Gabrielle's throat.  She clutched at it in surprise, fell to her knees.
         "Return to honor," whispered the young man.
        In spite of the obvious treachery of the attack, Gabrielle did not feel anger, did not feel pain. She felt relief.
         "Deliverance," whispered Gabrielle.  She fell before the Fountain of Strength, facing the setting sun.  Her blood rapidly cascaded into the fountain. She felt no pain, only a sense of cold beginning to settle on her.
         "I remember this…" she said softly.  The young man had already gathered the remains of his brother and was off to perform whatever ritual would restore the honor, if not of the brother, at least of the family, now that the brother was dead.  Gabrielle's eyes drank in the sunset.  It was exactly as she had seen it in her fantasy.

         For a moment, it seemed, she closed her eyes.  She sat up.  Xena was before her, dressed in white samite.  She was dressed similarly.  With wonder, and unspeakable joy, Gabrielle reached for her.  Xena did not dissolve, did not disappear, did not fade away.
         Once again, as in a life she barely remembered, strong arms encircled her.  Xena crushed Gabrielle to herself.
         "I've been waiting for you," she murmured.
         "Are you really here?" Gabrielle could not contain her tears, her joy, any longer.  The two gazed deeply into one another's eyes.  Gabrielle felt life, hope, return to her at last.  Xena's eyes were also swimming with unshed tears, and finally, they fell, a waterfall splashing down her cheeks.  Gabrielle reached up and touched the same fingers she had placed into the urn to touch Xena's ashes, and this time, touched the bright water on Xena's cheek.  She touched them to her lips, wonderingly, tasted salt, and then, reached up, pulled Xena's lips to her own, and tasted deeply of them, as well.
         For a long moment, they stayed like that, locked together again at last.  Finally, they parted, softly, barely.  Lips still touching, Gabrielle breathed, "Xena, I'm so sorry…"
         Xena silenced her with her lips.  Another long moment, and Gabrielle looked once more into the one face in all the world she needed to see.  Xena motioned over Gabrielle's shoulder.
         "You never let me down.  Nothing to be sorry for.  It's over, old friend.  Time to move on, now," Xena said softly.
         Gabrielle turned to the fountain, saw her body, her eyes clouded now in death.  She nodded and looked away.  She felt oddly detached from it.
         "We've come full circle.  It's our destiny to be together.  We've left our descendants behind.  They'll have destinies of their own.  As long as we're together, we've fulfilled ours.  I'm ready for whatever's waiting."
         "Where you go," Xena said cheerily, "I'll be at your side, always."
         "I knew you'd say that," Gabrielle smiled, and suddenly there was a flash of brilliant light above them, coalescing into a bright ring.
        "Gods, Xena, it's beautiful," Gabrielle gaped.
"Not gods, Gabrielle.  God.  Listen."  Gabrielle looked wonderingly at Xena.  An unearthly beautiful chorus of voices sang rapturously.
        "Apparently, the Olympian gods are a bunch of posers," Xena smiled wickedly.
        "Like we didn't already know that," replied Gabrielle.  "Ares is not gonna be happy about this…"
        "He'll have to deal with it eventually.  Meanwhile, I think we should head out," Xena told her, taking her arm.  "There are people waiting for us, and incredible places to see."
        The ring of bright light widened slightly, and it seemed something from within was beckoning to them.  They grasped hands, and laughing, flew into it.
The End

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