Retribution (Motherhood II)
By Hind's Blood
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of MCA / Universal and Renaissance Pictures, aka TPTB. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's note: As the title suggests, this is a sequel to the fifth season finale "Motherhood". Since I was (and still am) deeply disappointed by the direction the show took in its fifth year, especially towards its end, I have decided to take matters into my own hands, let the characters be themselves again, and do the right thing, for a change.
This is the place to thank the following people:
Warriorjudge - my best friend. For putting up with my endless ranting, and your will to discuss *that* episode over and over again.
Heike and the rest of my XWP netforum friends - it's great to have someone to share all this with. I don't know what I'd do without all of you. Also, some of you helped me put together the idea for this story, and I'm very grateful for that too.
Comments & feedback are always welcome at:
The golden - haired bard approached her partner. A slight breeze was toying with their tresses, as the sun bathed them with late afternoon light.
The two women stood there, quiet, each pondering the troubled events of the previous days. Their eyes were fixed upon a younger woman, just a few steps away, sitting on a sand dune, playing with a spider.
"Looks like you got your daughter back". Gabrielle was the first to break the silence.
"No, we got our daughter back". Replied Xena, grinning joyfully.
The response made the bard cast her eyes down. The words just uttered seemed to agitate her, and she broke physical contact with the warrior. Xena's mind was occupied with thoughts of her newly found offspring and the prospect of their future together, as a family. Her attention was thus so focused on Eve, that she hadn't realized the change in her partner's mood. Only the sudden absence of Gabrielle's body heat in proximity to hers finally gave that away. She turned her gaze towards her companion. The blonde looked troubled, but Xena knew her well. She was about to reveal what was on her mind momentarily. Gabrielle took one deep breath, and then started.
"That's where you're wrong, Xena. Eve is no daughter of mine."
"What are you saying?" The statement obviously took the warrior by surprise.
"If you look closely, you'll see she's no daughter of your either. She was raised as Livia, and by that name she murdered and brutalized all those innocent people. She and you have nothing in common, Xena. Even as a ruthless warlord, you'd never kill civilians. You fought only warriors. But for her, it was the non - combatants who became the target." The bard's voice grew shrill.
"Baptizing her to the way of love won't change all that. She has destroyed so many lives, and no god or his archangel can make this go away. The nightmare called Livia is still alive in the hearts of numerous people." Gabrielle was having a hard time to conceal her anger.
"Surely you can understand the power of compassion." Xena defended her daughter. "Eli is the one who taught you that anyone can be reformed, and that there is no one beyond redemption." She took a step forward to face the bard.
"That does not mean any repenting evil - doer is absolved of his sins and can now live his life in peaceful harmony. Repentance means you're willing to bear the consequences of your past misdeeds." Retorted the amazon princess.
"Where is this going?" the anxiety was now evident in Xena's voice.
"Xena, you're letting your maternal instincts cloud your good judgment. Ever since I met you, you have always been the symbol of justice for me. You've never let anger and revenge take control of your heart. Even in the toughest times, you have always insisted every wrong - doer be brought to justice: Callisto, Jett, Najara, even you, when you were accused with the murder of Thalassa. Why are you betraying the principles you once considered sacred when it's about your daughter? You must admit she's done more damage than any of the people I just mentioned." Gabrielle's rage was now unleashed, growing with each word uttered.
"Gabrielle. Eve is the only child I got left. I have to try and help her." Xena was now desperate.
"At what price?" She killed Joxer in cold blood. She killed our best friend." The bard's voice grew hoarse, and she paused to wipe unshed tears. "And if that wasn't enough, you made her face Virgil, causing him infinite pain. What of all the other relatives and friends of her victims? They just have to watch her get away with murder, and be helpless about it since the warrior princess is her defender?" Gabrielle was now yelling, pointing her index finger at her partner, her emerald eyes glaring in rage. Xena was too stunned to reply, so the bard went on.
"Yes, you have proved your maternal instincts to me. In your attempt to avenge your daughter's stabbing, you have, once again chose an offspring of yours over me." The bitterness in her voice was evident now.
"The only reason I'm standing here now is because Ares was noble enough to revive me. You once told me the bond between us means much more to you than any blood relations. Was this a lie?"
"No, Gabrielle. I wasn't lying to you." Answered Xena.
"Then I guess you have changed. The old Xena, my soulmate, would never let a murderer go free, and she'd never try to take my life in vengeance." Retorted the bard, trying to hold back the tears forming in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, you were standing there, plunging your sai in my daughter's back. It's only natural for a mother to defend her child." Xena raised her voice.
"Oh, *I* should know that, right?" retorted the bard, sarcasm obvious in her voice.
"Then what was I supposed to do, ha? Let you just finish her off?" The warrior princess was now shouting.
"So instead you carved my skull open, letting me bleed to death? Xena, if you really wanted to stop me, you could have just aimed at my arms or legs!" yelled the bard.
"I was wrong to do that." Admitted the raven - haired warrior.
"I'm sorry, Xena. That's not enough for me. The truth is, you were trying to execute me without a trial, without even hearing my side. Did it even occur to you I wasn't myself? That I was being haunted by the furies?" posed the bard a question.
"No." admitted the warrior princess.
"And you're supposed to be my soulmate, the person who knows me best!" snarled the blonde.
Xena cast her eyes down.
"Eve might be your natural daughter, Xena, but you know nothing about her. You share the same blood, yet you are strangers. And you chose *her* over me." Exclaimed the bard. "Tell me, what happens the next time you're again forced to make a choice? Answer me that!" The words hit the warrior harder than a solid kick to her stomach.
"I can't do that." She whispered.
"I know." Exclaimed Gabrielle. "But I can't allow myself to stay around and find out. I I have to go." She murmured.
The bard collected her belongings from the ground, careful not to meet her partner's gaze. Then she slowly started walking northward, down the sand dunes and along the shore.
The warrior princess and her daughter followed the bard's lean form, until she was out of sight.
For a few long moments they stayed there, immobile, Xena staring at the horizon, and Eve burying her fingers in the warm sand, drawing endless circles. Finally Xena turned back around, making an attempt to regain her composure. However, her daughter could tell underneath the seemingly serene exterior, her mother's soul was stirring. The young woman had no will to bring about the eruption. She waited patiently for her mother to speak. As the sun was setting, coloring the sky in magnificent shades of crimson and violet, the warrior princess turned to her daughter and said: "It's getting dark soon. We should get going."
"Where are we going?" asked the ex - warrior.
"I don't know yet." Admitted Xena. "Maybe we should camp on the beach tonight, and figure out everything tomorrow."
Eve obliged, and soon the two women carried their belongings to a nearby rock, spreading their bedrolls beside it, lighting the fire. Neither was really hungry, so they both sat at the fireside, staring at the flames consume the twigs.
The tensed silence irritated the Roman, so finally she mustered all the courage she could find within and started:
"Aren't we gonna go after Gabrielle?"
Upon hearing the name of her companion, a shiver went up Xena's body. "I don't know. " she answered reluctantly.
"You think she's gonna come back on her own?" asked Eve.
"She has when we've parted before, but it's different now." Came the laconic reply.
"Mother, I know you two have a history I know nothing about," said Eve, careful with her choice of words, "but from what I gather, seems to me she's the closest friend you ever had."
"She's my only friend, my kindred spirit." Mused Xena softly. "And I've hurt her. Badly." She added.
"Tell me about her, mother." Pleaded Eve. "Tell me about Gabrielle and you."
A faint smile spread across Xena's face. "When I first met her, she was a young, innocent peasant girl. I think it was her naivet? that first captured me. Back then, Gabrielle couldn't even hold a sword right. Her only weapon was her words, and with them, she enchanted everyone who ever met her. This gift of hers saved her life more than once." The warrior princess now smiled in remembrance.
"But traveling with me, she was exposed to all the things she was sheltered from in childhood: violence, death, war. In time, I noticed she was changing. She learned to use weapons, became more alert to danger. She even learned how to tend to war wounds. Life with me taught her some difficult lessons."
"But she stayed with you nevertheless." Eve tried to make eye contact with her mother, who now stared fiercely at the flames.
"What good did it do to her?" asked Xena sarcastically. "She came close to death more times than I care to remember.
Staying with me brought her to the edge of the abyss. All her pain and suffering, it was all my fault." Xena was now in tears.
"Did you know she had a baby once?" she turned to Eve. "She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, while we were in Britannia. But we were told she was the daughter of darkness, and therefore should be destroyed. I can still hear Gabrielle begging me to spare the life of her new - born child." Xena choked, tears streaming down her face.
"The child's face beamed with light, and for Gabrielle, she could not in any way be evil. But I was oblivious to all that. Indifferent to her pain, I forced her to give up her baby girl. The consequences to my acts were disastrous for everyone. Sometime later, Hope - that's how she named her - killed Solan, my son, and the brother you never knew." The warrior princess was now sobbing uncontrollably. After a few lingering moments, when her weeping subsided, she collected herself and resumed her speech:
"I was so angry then. I could not understand why she let her daughter live after I specifically told her she must kill Hope. I blamed her for my son's death. And so, consumed with vengeance, I attempted to murder her, to kill my best friend." Xena winced at the recollection of past events. A knot started forming inside her as another thought shaped in her mind.
"It was the fates who put me in the very same spot. I was now defending my daughter, in spite all the evidence to her guilt. And when she tried to kill you herself, as I did with her child, I gashed her head open, almost causing her death." The bard's accusation now echoed in Xena's mind, growing louder and louder, until the warrior was unable to hear her own thoughts.
Eve sat there stunned. Her own thoughts were racing, affected by what she just heard, as well as the earlier argument between her mother and Gabrielle.
"Mother", she started hesitatingly, "Do you think I'm a monster, like everybody else?"
"Of course not." Replied Xena. "You have abandoned the way of killing, and laid down your sword."
"I keep thinking about what Gabrielle said, about repentance. I'm not sure what it means. It all happened so fast, the fighting in Eli's temple, the sudden illumination. The rest of it is hazy: the desert's sand, being baptized, you fighting the gods." Mused the young Roman.
"Yes, it all was kinda rushed, I guess." Said her mother softly. "But now that it's all over, you have the time to reflect on your past, decide what will your next step be. I know what's it like to deal with a dark past, but maybe someday you'll come to terms with it."
"I don't feel it. Repentance, I mean." Eve was now letting her innermost thoughts out. "When I think of all the people I killed, I can still see then so clearly, begging for their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, pleading with me to take all their valuables and spare them. But I don't *feel* anything. It's like I'm just empty inside; no remorse, no regrets. Maybe Gabrielle was right. Maybe I don't deserve absolution." When she finished talking, Eve felt herself drained. Letting her emotions out made her experience something new. It was relief. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply.
"No, but you have to earn it." Came the response. Xena paused before she continued. "Gabrielle was right about one thing though: you have to face those you've wronged. Only by taking full responsibility on your past misdeeds will you find salvation." Concluded the warrior. "Eve, you're gonna have to trust me." The young woman's gaze was fixed on her mother, eager to hear her resolution.
"The only way to achieve that, your only chance at redemption, is by giving yourself up and getting a fair trial. Tomorrow morning, we'll be heading for Rome, and there I'm going to hand you over to the authorities. Back in Ostia, Augustus' emissary promised me you'd get a fair hearing. Eve, it's the only way." She exclaimed in a pleading tone.
Her daughter listened carefully to her mother, then slowly nodded in assent.
"Let's get some sleep, ha?" Xena said softly, gently placing her right palm on her daughter's shoulder. Both women knew neither will get any sleep that night.
Even before the courthouse doors opened, Eve could hear the large audience crying out her name. As she was led into the vast hall, the crowd went wild; some people attempted throwing various objects at her. Someone managed to get close enough to spit in her face. A woman on her right called out "death to the monster Livia", followed by a choir of similar cries. Only barely the guards managed to pull her out of the lynching mob, and bring her safely to the defendant bench.
As she was seated, her eyes met the gaze of a young girl, not more than fifteen harvests. Upon seeing the former warrior, the girl didn't move nor shouted, only stared at her with her big brown eyes. Looking into them, Eve revealed a well of sorrow, bottomless abyss of pain, horror and loss. She looked at her until the sight scorched her eyes, burning her from within. She turned her gaze away, still haunted by the girl's eyes. She was shaken from her waking nightmare by her mother's concern:
"You alright?" asked Xena softly. "You look a little pale."
"I'm fine." Answered the Roman.
Before Xena could respond, the court's bailiff stepped on the podium, announcing: "All rise! The court is now in session, the honorable judge, the Urban Praetor Marcus Aurelius Maximus is presiding."
Xena and Eve stood up, curiously inspecting the magistrate ascending his seat. He was a rather large man, in his mid - fifties, clad in his senatorial toga, wearing an expression of dignity.
Gradually, the noise in the courtroom subsided, and the Praetor unfolded a scroll and began reciting:
"On behalf of the Roman people, Augustus Caesar, Principate of the Empire, appointed me as a judge in this special hearing. The defendant, Eve, formerly known as Livia, adopted daughter of Augustus Caesar, the commander of the Roman legions, and champion of Rome, is hereby accused of murder. In her capacity as a military commander, charged with the safety of the Roman people, the accused committed hundreds of unlawful executions of the people under her protection. She commanded those under her authority to harm the person and possessions of thousands more citizens of Rome, under false pretence. Further more, even after she was relieved of her command by the Emperor himself, the accused led her troops into another heinous assault on innocent citizens, thus adding treason to the list of her crimes against the realm. Eve, formerly known as Livia, how do you plea?"
All silenced, eyes fixed on her, anticipating her response. Eve lingered with her answer. She could hear her own heart racing. She turned to look into her mother's eyes, then averted her gaze to face the judge.
"Guilty." She said softly.
Behind her back, the audience seemed shocked by the unexpected response. Eve rose to her feet and addressed them:
"In the past few days, I have come to know the very same teachings I once sought to uproot. I now realize, that in order to truly become one of you in spirit, I must take the load of my guilt on my shoulders. I ask not for your forgiveness, since I'm not worthy of such a priceless gift, but your acceptance of my regrets. My only wish now is that you relinquish all hatred towards me, and fill your hearts with love for your fallen brethren, and for one another. From this court, I ask neither mercy nor consideration for my former position, but a just verdict."
"Will you accept the court's sentence?" asked the judge dryly.
"Yes, I will." Replied Eve submissively.
"This court finds you guilty by admission, and sentence you to death by hanging. The sentence will be carried out tomorrow precisely at noon." The judge concluded.
The bailiff subsequent pleads for silence were lost in the crowd's exhilarated applause.
The door of the cell made a squeaking noise as the prison guard pushed it to let Xena in. Once the warrior was inside, he shut the door, and hissed: "You have five minutes, not a second more", contempt evident in his voice.
At the sight of her mother, Eve jumped up from a stool she was sitting on, approached and gave Xena a warm embrace. She was now clad in a simple woolen shift, revealing her long arms and legs.
"Now that I'm condemned, they let me have three meals a day. Conditions here are better than my camp." She made an attempt at smile. This only made Xena grimace in agony.
"Eve, how could things have come to this?" she managed to say, barely holding back her tears. "I wanted everything to be different. I wanted to be your mother."
"You *are* my mother." Eve try to sooth her.
"Fine job I did." Muttered Xena bitterly.
"Mother, none of this is your fault." Said Eve softly. "I chose my path, I committed those heinous crimes, and now I'm paying for it. Justice has vindicated, as you've always believed."
"How can this be just?" snapped Xena. "There must be something I can do. Augustus would listen to me."
"No." protested Eve. "This is how it should be. Back in the courtroom, for the first time in my life, I experienced the horror of my victims. The only way I can rid of this pain, to be at peace, is by paying for my crimes."
"Oh, Eve, I love you." Xena took her daughter in her arms in a tight embrace.
"I love you too, mother." Whispered the ex - warrior, holding on to her mother. Both women remained locked together for a few lingering moments, fighting back their tears. Finally, they let go of each other slowly.
"Mother, there's something I need you to do for me." Started Eve again.
"Anything." Replied Xena softly.
"I want you to get as far from here as you can. Leave tonight, right now. I don't want you there at the forum tomorrow." She said in a pleading tone.
Xena just nodded in assent.
"I want you to find Gabrielle. I can only find peace in your reunion. Promise me, mother." She begged.
"I promise, Eve." Xena kissed her daughter's forehead, pulled her into her lap, then, with a broken voice, she silently sang to her:
"Hush, now, my little one
please don't you cry
lay your head down
on my shoulder and sigh.
Sun's gone away, and mama will pray
Silence will keep all where you sleep."
As the guard prodded Xena out the door, she turned to look at her daughter for the last time. "Goodbye" her lips were forming, soundless.
The wind beating against her back, the blond bard approached a small mound, at the foot of an ancient oak tree. A common midsize stone signaled the spot. Gabrielle moved her index finger along its short inscription. Placing a daisy near the modest tombstone, she kneeled down before it.
"Oh Joxer, why did you leave me? Just as I found you again, I lost you. This isn't fair." The blonde was now sobbing uncontrollably, swaying back and forth.
"I have treated you so badly, took you for granted. Yet you willingly lost your life for me." Her tears were streaming down her face.
"I miss you so much, Joxer. I wish you were here so I could talk to you. I feel so lonely."
"You don't have to." A soft familiar voice came from behind her. Startled, the bard leapt to her feet. Then she saw Xena. Her friend stood behind her, reaching out one hand, as if trying to touch the bard. Her face were stricken with grief, the sparkle in her usually icy - blue eyes was gone.
"Where's Eve?" asked Gabrielle, trying to steady her voice.
"She's gone. She was found guilty of murder and treason by the Roman Praetor." The warrior's voice broke down.
"Xena..." Gabrielle was lost at words. She was desperately trying to find something to say that will bring comfort to her friend.
"Gabrielle, Eve's last wish was that I do my best to win your forgiveness." Started Xena. The blonde was too stunned to reply, thus allowing Xena to continue. "Once I told you a tiny stone thrown into a river alters it forever. Your leaving created turbulence within the river of my life, and it can never return to being calm again." She paused for a minute, fighting back her tears.
"Gabrielle, I realize now how wrong I've been for so long. Instead of reciprocating your endless kindness and understanding, I repeatedly brutalized you, blind to your pain. I don't know where to start, but I have to make it up to you. Please, Gabrielle, let me into your heart again. I can offer you nothing in return, but myself." Tears were now flooding Xena's face, and she was sobbing out loud.
Gabrielle could not hold back her tears any longer. The salty streams were blurring her sight, yet she spoke with conviction.
"Xena, for the longest time I've been at your side, writing down our adventures for posterity. I never even once doubted us, and what we did together. Traveling with you has always been who I was. But you see, I woke up one morning, just a few days ago, to find out I don't recognize myself anymore. The old Gabrielle was gone, and instead was this warrior, wandering aimlessly and alone.
Xena, I have to find out who I am, and in order to do that we have to go our separate ways, as least for a while." Gabrielle was now sobbing as well.
"Gabrielle" whispered Xena, unable to speak anymore.
"Goodbye, Xena." The bard turned her back, her shoulders trembling as she cried. She mounted her horse, still avoiding the warrior's eyes. Soon she was out of sight.
Xena remained there, her gaze fixed on the horizon. "I love you, Gabrielle." She managed to whisper.
The wind was howling across the prairie, bending the willows in its path.
TO BE CONTINUED
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