Stop, Backup, REWRITE!
March 26, 1998
This is going to be my last Fanfic story. I'm retiring from writing-the Muse has left me, (probably still sunbathing in Bermuda somewhere) but I'm not leaving the Xenaverse entirely. I still love the show in spite of the erratic story line and this year's rift between our favorite gals!
Thanks to all those who encouraged me this last year. I've learned a lot about myself and made some wonderful friends.
Disclaimers: This is another shameless borrowing of Universal/MCA's characters from Xena:Warrior Princess.
Author's Note: I disliked the Xena-lite Episode of Forget Me Not, and so I rewrote it the way I would have liked to have seen it-sans Joxer! I didn't use any direct quotes from the episode, and it's not in script, just story form.
The moonlight competed with the glow of the fire to illuminate the strong features of the contemplative warrior. Xena was on her side, leaning upon one elbow, her blanket pushed down to the waist in annoyance. Her focus was on Gabrielle-- her companion for the last three years.
Their journey to forge a friendship had broken through almost unsurpassable differences and survived more than any two people had a right to expect. With each challenge, every obstacle, all their seething emotions-the friendship remained. Their lives so different. They had circled one another-- one eager, one life-weary-so far apart they seemed to see each other from a great distance.
As time passed, the circles became smaller. They found common ground and confidence in the bonding. Each brought forth her own strengths and weaknesses, yet combined, the two were unstoppable--until now.
Xena strained her keen ears, listening to Gabrielle as she muttered and whimpered in her sleep once again. This had been going on for weeks-ever since they had slowed down their traveling. With the end of the soul-grinding pace of earlier, each had the time to dwell on the past.
The bard now seemed to suffer through horrible nightmares. Xena had tried to comfort the troubled woman as best she could. Her friend had asked for patience-- not rejecting her, but still holding her away. She wanted to deal with her problems on her own.
So the warrior chewed on her lip in concern as she watched the smaller woman toss and turn. Bit by bit, she pieced together the dreams the bard suffered from and cried bitter tears, knowing she couldn't help her friend on this journey.
"Gabrielle, I need to check ahead. The locals said this area was especially dangerous. I want you to stay behind. I can-"
"No! I thought we were past this. Where you go, I go!"
"Damn it, Gabrielle! At least let me finish before you throw me to the eels!" Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes in attempt to control her temper. "There's a temple of Mnemo Syne just a few minute's walk from here-just over that way", she pointed over her friend's shoulder. "You can wait for me there while I check out the road. I'll be back before you know it. I promise!"
The taller woman looked down at Gabrielle's annoyed features and knew she would win this battle. The bard's expressive features showed her reluctant resignation. Xena also knew if everything went well, her friend would find her peace-one way or another.
Gabrielle, folded her arms and gave one last glare at her friend. "Okay, but don't take too long."
Xena smiled warmly and gave the smaller woman a quick hug before hopping up on Argo. "See ya in a bit!" She spun the horse to the east and rode off.
Gabrielle watched Xena's retreating figure as she left her sight after passing the stand of trees. She was trying to keep her breathing calm. At her friend's mention of the Mnemo Syne temple, she had felt a flash of surprise at the inner voice inside that said, 'That's the answer to everything.' But was it?
Sure, she knew of the goddess of memory, but was she really the key to ending the incredible pain inside? Gabrielle shook her blond head tiredly, her mind and body exhausted. All she wanted to do was rest. From experience, she knew that Xena wouldn't return for several hours. The bard sat down under a shade tree and closed her eyes. A short nap would make her feel better.
Gabrielle watched as her best friend looked at her in anger, disgust, and aggravation from the knowledge that Hope was still alive, The bard felt panic rise in her throat. She knew in her heart that Xena hated her child, but didn't expect that her friend would really kill an innocent girl. Only a monster would take a life without proof of evil. In her hatred for what she believed Hope represented, Xena denied her friend the right to protect her own. She had set herself up as judge, jury, and executioner. Gabrielle's heart was pounding hard within her chest and knew she would have to hide her daughter once more from the warrior's wrath. Gabrielle's world shifted.
A child's cold hand was stretched out, almost like it was reaching for her mother's care. Gabrielle didn't feel the chill of the grass under her knees, nor the dampness of the evening as she briefly touched the hand of the girl she had killed. She raised the waterskin of poisoned water to her mouth, wanting to end the guilt and pain she felt. Her warm breath misted over the opening as she tilted the skin over her lips as she waited for the release. It didn't come. The pain remained.
Xena watched from a distance, faithfully keeping guard over her vulnerable friend. She sat behind the bush, wishing there was another way to help her, knowing there weren't any other choices. All she could do was keep the younger woman safe from danger until she reached the temple.
Gabrielle woke suddenly, the nightmare too much for her mind to withstand. A flood of misery waited for her as she opened her eyes to the sun-dappled forest before her, the pain pounding her relentlessly with its intensity. She drew her arms around herself, tears brimming her moss-green eyes as she sought comfort within her own soul. The Bard knew it was futile.
Over and over again, she relived all of the scenes that had caused her so much pain. The near-disastrous events in Chin, the terror of Britannia, the uncertainty of Hope's survival, Solan's death, and the hatred and anger between herself and Xena--and last of all-Crassus' death by her own actions. They replayed inside her mind unceasingly, playing havoc with her emotions.
Guilt for the deaths, the pain of loss, and the nagging feeling she must deserve the suffering for all of this spun in her mind. She was being punished my the gods for her arrogance and blindness. Now only a goddess could help her.
She stood and glanced around her, trying to remember the direction of the Temple of Mnemo Syne. She had made her decision.
Xena watched as Gabrielle stood up in a daze. She couldn't quite make out the words muttered, but she could see the anguish in the eyes of her best friend. The bard had never learned to hide her emotions very well and Xena recognized the familiar demons of guilt and regret reflected on her youthful face.
The warrior felt her own remorse over how the Fates had changed the gentle bard's life. In following her dreams of adventure by joining her, Gabrielle had given up so much. Xena had to wonder if Gabrielle thought it had been all worth it. The former warlord didn't know if she could ever forgive herself if her companion thought not and allowed the goddess to take all that she was. But for better or worse, she would stand by her friend. No sacrifice would be too great for the person she loved.
Gabrielle stared in bewilderment at the cowled guardian outside the temple entrance. His lack of response left her feeling a little lost. Her questions were left unanswered and the Amazon hesitated until she noticed a young woman leaving the temple. The woman bore an expressionless gaze and stepped through the heavy wooden door like one who was sleepwalking.
She wore a dress of embroidered , the color of burnt peach. Her hair was long and curled and she looked like the daughter of a merchant by the cut of her outfit. The bard wondered what such a woman could have gone through to wish the loss of her memories.
The smaller woman stopped the befuddled walker, asking if she had seen the priestess. The woman's blank and confused behavior answered little. Gabrielle watched the brunette walk away and turned nervously as the guard's deep voice broke the eerie silence. A few frightened questions later and she walked through the doorway of the temple.
The bard walked slowly through the entrance. Her bardic eyes took in the rich details of the room. Blue and white tiled floors, candles everywhere, and a large, back-lit altar with dozens of identical stoneware bowls that covered its tiered surface.
No people were in sight and she knelt on one of the woven rugs that was directly in front of the altar. She addressed the Goddess of Memory and was startled by a feminine voice coming from elsewhere. Gabrielle quickly stood and looked around her, amazed at the woman's knowledge of her. She found that all her thoughts and memories were the Goddess' and priestess' once she entered the temple. They now knew all that she was.
Gabrielle briefly wondered how the woman could so easily bear the weight of the pain she carried. Then again, how she kept her sanity from the immensity of all those who had come here before her seemed a great feat. The priestess strolled into the bard's sight, gliding past the altar.
She wore a gossamer blue dress that reached her ankles. Delicate baubles hung from her ears, and her hair was elaborately arranged. *Funny how people in temples either wore the finest or roughest of clothing,* thought Gabrielle. The Amazon quickly shook herself, bringing her attention back to the woman before her.
The priestess wandered around the room, speaking symbolically about how her memories were like water. *Xena would hate this," she thought to herself, " Xena hates riddles and vague remarks-not that the Warrior Princess would ever seek help from the gods."
The blond watched as the temple guardian found a bowl like the others and brought it to her, placing it on a small pedestal. Two unnoticed assistants brought a large pitcher that Gabrielle used to fill the stoneware crock.
Gabrielle received her instructions and warnings for her journey. To find her answers, she must cross three rivers. Only then, would she decide to keep her past or have it all taken away by the Goddess.
Xena watched from a distance, wishing she could see what was happening inside. The two guards could be easily dealt with, but she didn't dare risk a scene that could prevent her friend from getting the help she needed. There had to be another way around.
Gabrielle knelt on the same carpet as she had earlier, unsure of what would happen next. The fluttering in her stomach made her feel ill, but she was determined to see this through. She needed the answer to why she felt such overwhelming guilt and pain. She took a deep breath and released it slowly, willing herself to relax.
The priestess' assistants brought in a ceremonial bowl filled with clear spring water and each wet a sea sponge. The young women's faces were devoid of emotions, this being old hat in their eyes. Each took one of the bard's hands and held it gently in her own. With their free hands, they wiped Gabrielle's face and neck in a whisper-soft strokes.
Gabrielle felt the tension leave her body and didn't even become aware of when the tall priestess began a quiet chant, asking the Goddess' blessing in her journey. Everything faded away.
Xena muscled her way up the wall up to the window. It had been her only option since the closest tree was dying and its branches were brittle. It was climbing the wall or sitting outside the temple and not knowing what in Tartarus was going on inside. Admitting to herself that she was too worried to wait, she had inched her was up the nearly smooth surface of the temple wall. The warrior's fingers found every small crack and protrusion possible as she grunted and huffed her way along. She didn't even dare look up, her hold was so precarious. To her relief, her hand found the edge of the window sill above her and pulled herself to the ledge.
She perched on the narrow opening and looked inside. In the dimness of the temple, she spotted her friend sitting on her heels in front of three women. The one she assumed was the priestess chanted, her eyes closed in prayer. The other two women held up Gabrielle as she swayed. Her eyes were also closed.
Xena felt a knot inside loosen inside at the sight of such peace shining from her companion's face. The harsh, worried lines from earlier had disappeared, and her entire posture spoke of total relaxation. The hardened warrior felt gratitude towards Mnemo Syne for that at least. It had been too long since her friend had last looked so contented. *But how long would it last?* she wondered.
The dark-haired woman felt the pull of the chant herself. She leaned against the window's side and watched hazily as the process continued. She would have continued sitting on the sill all afternoon if it hadn't been for the sight of Gabrielle suddenly falling to the floor.
"Gabrielle!" Her body came to instant alertness and she jumped down to the tiled floor. Within seconds, she held the inert form of her friend within her arms as she knelt on the carpet. Xena cradled the smaller woman with one arm as she brushed the red-blond hair from the younger woman's face.
"Gabrielle?" she whispered, "Please, don't do this to me!"
The priestess reeled from the memories and thoughts of the dark-maned woman who dropped into their midst so unexpectedly. Never had she felt such a strong presence. She tried desperately to sort through all the conflicting emotions of the woman before her. They swirled in confusion until, with the speed of a released bowstring, everything became clear. The leather-clad woman loved the young woman she held so closely, and all her attention was focused on her. The slim priestess rallied herself to speak.
"Xena, this isn't your Gabrielle any longer. Her spirit is on her journey, and this," indicating the small blond in Xena's arms, "is only her empty shell. If she chooses to remain in the other world, this is all that she will ever be. This Gabrielle doesn't know you."
Xena looked up at the woman in panic, her eyes begging for answers.
"When will we know?"
"Only Gabrielle can decide that," the priestess said kindly. "Her journey is not an easy one. If her spirit survives the trip, only then can she make the decision to return or stay."
"Will my taking her out of here make any difference?"
"No, but my dear, if she chooses not to return, what will you do with her? Here, we can care for her and see to her welfare." Before Xena could even answer, the priestess knew what was in the warrior's heart.
"Then I will take care of her."
Xena led the complacent bard to the clearing where Gabrielle had left her belongings. She gently sat the smaller woman down onto a fallen log and straightened up, gazing down at the emotionless and dazed woman who had once been her friend. No recognition shined in her eyes. None of the usual affection animated her features. Gabrielle sat indifferently. Her normal energetic manner was now barely a mild interest for what was around her.
The sight of her friend devoid of all that she was tore a hole into the heart of the warrior. Tears misted dangerously in her eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks. She held back the sob that wanted to escape and turned away, walking to the waiting Argo to get a hold on her emotions. Now was not the time to fall apart. She had known this could happen, but hadn't been as prepared as she thought.
The grieving warrior leaned against the neck of her horse and sighed raggedly, seeking comfort from the loyal mount. Argo nickered softly, sensing her owner's distress. Xena rubbed her cheek against the coarse mane and brought her arm under Argo's neck in order to embrace her massive neck.
"He's a pretty horse," Gabrielle commented from behind.
"SHE'S a pretty horse. Her name is Argo. Would you like to pet her?" she asked through her tight throat. The mistake in gender had almost brought out the hovering sob. Xena gritted her teeth and sniffled, annoyed with herself for letting such a small thing rattle her. A quick wipe of her eyes and she was ready to face her friend, plastering on what she hoped was a believable smile.
Gabrielle stood facing her, but her attention was on the large palomino. Her gaze was child-like, unafraid and curious. Xena thought about that and had to agree with her own observation. Without her memories, Gabrielle was a child again. She had no prejudices, fears, harsh opinions, or hang-ups. If she chose not to return, then the person left would be a fresh slate, open to all that there was.
Xena took the smaller woman's hand and pulled her gently towards the mare. She stood slightly behind the shorter woman and guided Gabrielle's hand to the dun colored hide, resting her hand softly over it as her companion ran her hand along the contours of the muscles she found there. The bard ran her fingers into the mane and fingered the rough hair, combing it with her fingers. She giggled with delight as she managed to find an itchy spot near Argo's ears, causing the horse to lean into it and nicker in appreciation.
Xena smiled in spite of herself, finding her friend's expression endearing in its innocence. She stood transfixed, unable to pull her gaze away from the sight of Gabrielle's unhidden feelings.
*It's been a long time since I've seen her without the weight of our experiences etched on her face. She's a lot like the Gabrielle I first met,* she thought sadly. *But the old Gabrielle knew me better than anyone else in the known world. We may have gone through Tartarus and back, but we knew each other like no one else ever could. I love her and will do my best to keep her safe, but she is once more the helpless girl. Only this time, she has no memories to shape her spirit. She has no defenses to protect her against the harshness of this life.*
A sudden feeling of dread washed through the warrior as the voice inside spoke. **You should take her home.**
*Not yet. I have to give her time to complete her journey-it's only been a short time. She still may return to me,* she said to her own inner voice.
**Do you really think she'd return to you? All you have done is bring her pain and suffering. She's lost her blood innocence and her child because of you-why SHOULD she come back??** her voice argued.
*Because I need her to. I'm only an empty shell without her by my side and because I love her,* she admitted to herself, stunning the other voice into silence.
Gabrielle found herself walking through a wall of mist into an underground cavern. Her usual attire was replaced by a simple white toga that clung softly to her slim form. It was bound by a woven strand between her breasts and across her waist. She paid little heed to the change as she looked around her.
Soft sand covered the ground, matching the dull color of the boulders and walls. The monotone pattern was only broken by the shimmering reflections from the water. She walked to the edge of the stream, noting the way it bubbled much like a caldron. The bard bent down and reached to touch the water only to hear the warning of Ares behind her.
She looked at him, her mind still a bit muddled by her circumstances. Gabrielle listened to his mild taunts and the admission that he was there to help her. She didn't trust his motives, but very well couldn't openly refuse the help of a god. Stepping forward, she gingerly placed a sandaled foot into the water. It was the River of Wailing, he cautioned and disappeared in annoyance at her attitude.
Gabrielle took a few steps, acting brave because of pride, confident she could do this. She bent forward, and as proof, splashed the river water onto her face. She regretted it instantly.
Scenes flashed before her eyes. People on the crucifix, the knight that died by Hope's hands, the moment she lost her blood innocence, Crassus pleading and the way she let him die-executed like a criminal. The scenes just weren't memories-they were relived with the same intensity as when they had originally happened. The horror, fear, and the guilt ripped at her very soul. She opened her eyes, looking at her palms. She saw the blood of those people on her hands and when the bard saw that it covered her entire body, she screamed into the echoing cave.
Xena removed the saddlebag from Argo and prepared a small camp. She didn't bother with the cooking pots since she wouldn't leave Gabrielle alone to fend for herself while she hunted. Once she thought about it, Xena chuckled. The woman may be a clean slate, but her first eating experience shouldn't be one of burnt food. They would have to do with cheese, bread, and fruit.
"Come join me Gabrielle. We need to eat," she said while holding out an apple. The smaller woman sat down and looked puzzled.
"My name is Gabrielle?" Another gut shot to the warrior's emotions. Xena realized she had not used her friend's name up to that point.
"Yes, that's your name. Mine is Xena. We've been friends for a long time," her voice said shakily. The bard pondered over what she was told for a few minutes while studying the apple in her hands.
"Then why don't I remember you?"
"Gabrielle, we've had a rough time this last year. Some of the things that happened made you very unhappy. You went to the temple of Mnemo Syne and asked her to take your memories from you. Your memories are taking a journey, determining if you want to come back or stay in hiding forever."
"And if they don't come back? What will happen to me?" she whispered worriedly.
"Then you won't ever remember your past. You won't feel the pain from what you have gone through. I guess you start your life over. I can take you to your parents' home and they could take care of you or you could stay with me " she said softly in hope.
The blond remained quiet as she studied the features of the tall woman before her. Xena's eyes were downcast, avoiding her own eyes. The dark-haired woman's face was the picture of misery and the pastless woman wondered how her circumstances affected this woman. Did she really want her to remain with her or did this leather-clad woman want to dump her on people she didn't even remember? Gabrielle felt confused. She needed answers but didn't know if this warrior woman would be honest.
Instead of voicing her concerns, she scooted closer to the dark-haired warrior and took her hand in her own. Intense blue eyes rose and met with hers. Gabrielle looked into the unmasked soul of Xena and sank into the blue pools. She saw uncertainty, sadness, and what she believed was love and concern. With the sight of such vulnerability, Gabrielle felt some of her own fears melt away. She knew that whatever happened, someone in this world cared for her.
Gabrielle shivered as the temperature in the caverns got increasingly colder. Frost clung to the stone walls and boulders. Frozen stalagmites hung from the cave's ceiling. A clinging mist drifted near her feet, glowing eerily. In the fog before her, Ares appeared.
Once more he warned her of the danger found at the river. This one was the River of Woe. With that, he once more faded away.
The bard stared at the river and the area around it. If this path was indeed even more terrifying than the last, she would find a way past it. Spotting a bridge made of ice, she took a tentative step onto it.
Xena watched her friend eat and laughed silently. *At least some things will never change!* Gabrielle ate with relish and without end in sight. She popped the last bite of bread into her mouth and looked around for more. That had been the last of their provisions. Xena handed her uneaten portion to the younger woman, nodding that it was alright. That, too, disappeared quickly.
Once finished, Gabrielle brushed her fingertips along her amazon skirt and glanced at Xena. She saw undisguised mirth in those cobalt eyes.
"Whaaat?" she asked. She saw Xena try unsuccessfully to hide her amusement.
"Nothing, just watching you and your healthy appetite is all. It's an old joke between us." The warrior regretted the last comment instantly. Pain crossed Gabrielle's youthful face. She cursed herself. Statements like that had to be a reminder to her friend of all that she has lost. Xena quickly stood to walk over to the smaller woman. She knelt before her and pulled her into an embrace to comfort her-and herself as well.
As Xena held her friend tightly, she wondered how this small chit from Poteidaia had managed to storm all her walls. *When did she become more important to me than anyone else? I've loved her for so long, but when did it all happen?*
Xena couldn't pin a time down, she only knew that it was true. Her world and existence revolved around this small farm girl. The depth of her own feelings surprised the warrior. She sighed, realizing she should have known all along.
When Gabrielle's actions had caused her son's death, the pain she had felt had been overwhelming. The betrayal would have enraged her regardless of who had caused it, but coming from her friend, it had been far worse. Only someone that had your complete trust and love could bury the knife so deeply. With the knowledge of hindsight, Xena finally acknowledged the hold Gabrielle held over her. Whatever the future brought, they were in it together. Xena relaxed into the embrace, admitting defeat. She hoped this Gabrielle would be a take it a little easier on her--her poor old decrepit heart couldn't take too much more battering.
The small blond wrapped her arms around the taller woman's shoulders as her long arms reached around her waist. In spite of the hardness of the warrior's armor, Gabrielle found the act a balm for her troubled spirit. She melted into the larger woman, letting the warrior support her weight of her upper body. She rested her cheek against the strong shoulder and closed her eyes. The scent of old leather and sun-warmed skin seemed so familiar to her. Gabrielle sighed contentedly.
Xena moved one hand soothingly up and down the tense back, doing her best to apologize silently. When the smaller woman burrowed into her neck, Xena returned the gesture, sinking her face into the soft blond hair. A purr-like noise escaped her as she echoed the contented sigh.
"Yep," she murmured into the blonde's shoulder.
"Yep," came another muffled reply.
"You always talk this much?"
Gabrielle could swear she felt a smile cross Xena's face. She laughed and relaxed once more.
The toga-clad woman walked precariously along the snow encrusted bridge. It crackled as she took each step. Her heart pounded fearfully as she inched her way along, terrified she would fall through. She knew deep inside that if that happened, she'd experience something even worse than the last river.
A sudden shift on the ice alerted her to another's presence. Ares spoke from behind her. He mocked her theory and the concept she could avoid the consequences of crossing the River of Woe unscathed. As he spoke, her foot broke through the ice. She received no help from the god and she fell into the water. Her world shifted.
She returned to the moment that Xena was captured by Ming Tien's guards. Her question of owing someone so much, the blow she delivered to Xena in the royal chamber-the hurt, angry and stubborn tears that had escaped the warrior's eyes. Her world tilted again.
She broke her way to the surface and crawled out of the water onto the frozen bank. Ares aided her from the water and built her a fire with a casual gesture of his hand. She admitted defeat to herself and Ares. She couldn't go on. She convinced herself that she had her answer. Her experience in Chin was the cause of all her problems. Ares accepted her theory, telling her to turn back, leading her to the water with a promise to be there to save her. He hinted there would be a price to pay. She glanced behind her momentarily and stepped back into the River of Woe.
She began wading through the frozen water. Halfway across, she saw the ice flows gathering around her, encasing her under the surface. Terrified, she pounded the icy shield above her until she broke through. She fought her way back to the shore, her body suffering from the severe cold. Ares cheered her up by pointing out the options he saw. Staying there for eternity or death. He walked away, leaving the bard in despair.
Xena paced the camp, restless by their wait. Gabrielle spent her time looking around, picking object up, asking questions. The warrior answered absentmindedly, not fully paying attention until Gabrielle held up her satchel containing her scrolls.
"Those belong to you. They're your stories about our lives."
"I wrote them?" she asked in wonder, "Are they any good?"
"Yes, you earn money as a bard. You have a lot of talent Gabrielle. I've never read them since they're your journals. Sometimes you read parts to me," she added wistfully.
Gabrielle heard the longing in her voice. She walked over to the saddened warrior and held out the bag to her.
"Read them to me-teach me who I am Xena." The dark-haired woman looked at her with tear-glistened eyes and nodded. She walked over to the fire and sat down. Gabrielle joined her on the bedroll and leaned back against the log and placed her arm behind the taller woman, resting it on the rough log.
She heard the soft crinkle of the leather parchment as Xena unrolled the scroll. A soft clearing of the throat and Xena began, her voice mild as she read the words aloud. Finding herself lost in the words, Gabrielle didn't notice she had rested her cheek against a gauntlet-covered arm.
A frightened bard faced the third river, its name unknown. (At least to me folks!) This location was as hot as the last one was cold. Flames burned along the surface of the river and its bank, She considered her options one last time. As she was lost in thought, the deceptive god appeared once more. Once again, he questioned her choices. Gabrielle argued, claiming everything that had happened over the last few months had been worth the pain. With a cynical question of why was she still there, he angrily faded away.
The blond looked fearfully at the water before wading in. She did her best to avoid the fiery edges but squealed as they came closer. The flames traveled towards her as she rushed towards the other embankment. Gabrielle screamed as her toga caught on fire.
" and the golden-haired Amazon presented me with her staff. I protested of course. It had been passed down from her mother and I felt unworthy of such a weapon. She reminded me that an Amazon princess shouldn't refuse a gift from a sister and any protests died on my lips.
As we walked away from their territory, I felt a strange sort of euphoria. I really couldn't explain it. Xena walked by my side, a small smile would soften her usually stern face when her eyes would glance at the heavy wooden staff. I knew my new position amused her, yet she didn't tease me for it. Perhaps, in spite of the way it all occurred, she couldn't see me as the simple farm girl any longer. I had defended myself against trained fighters instead of hiding behind her as I had in the past.
I ponder that and decide that maybe, just maybe, she gained a measure of respect for me. I just hope I don't let her down."
Xena lowered the parchment, her expression both sad and thoughtful. Things were much simpler then. Gabrielle's views had fewer shades of gray in her world. Everything had been seen in black or white. Her friend didn't have to second guess her own motives and morals-they had been strong and clear for her.
The warrior sighed mightily. The woman that had entered the temple had been deeply troubled. She had questioned everything that had happened since Chin. No longer did she trust her own judgments. Instead, she hesitated and debated every step, wondering if what she did was truly for good. Gabrielle had lost belief in herself.
"Sounds like I was pretty full of myself after that," Gabrielle said.
Xena slowly re-rolled the scroll. She held it in her hand and just stared at it, wondering what to say. Should she be totally honest or give some glib remark? If Gabrielle didn't return, should the remaining woman be burdened with too many doubts? But if she did make it back, she might remember all that had been said. The warrior chose her words carefully.
" Yes, in a way you were-but that was due to your youth. You have grown a lot since then. But past or present, I've always been proud and honored to call you my friend," she said with a gentle smile.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said simply, but Xena knew the sentiments couldn't be returned by the woman without a past. This person felt nothing for her and all of a sudden, the realization of it all hit the former warlord. She felt like she suddenly stepped off a cliff in mid-stride. Hot chills ran through her and she was grateful she was already sitting-her legs felt that weak. She closed her eyes and willed herself to take a cleansing breath.
"Are you alright?" Gabrielle asked as she placed a hand on the warrior's arm.
"Yes, fine." Xena opened her eyes and picked up another scroll. "Now, where were we?"
Gabrielle ran in fear and agony as she felt her clothing burn. She fell to the ground as she got to the bank. She felt the blistering heat scorch her skin-and over the sound of the snapping flames, she heard Ares contemptuous words.
Anger filled her soul even as he spoke. Everything had become clear to her. The anger wasn't towards Ares-but herself. The god of war was not real. Her own fears and mind had created him from her own selfish need to hide the truth from being brought to the surface, producing this beguiling liar.
Fury at the coward inside herself gave the Amazon the strength to extinguish the flames burning her. As she pounded the sandy ground with her fist, the flames diminished until they were gone. The bard stood, unharmed, and faced the god image.
'Ares' faced her, confident. He was sure she couldn't stand the truth and would continue to use him to hide the reality of her actions rather than facing them. He was startled when she held out her hand and her staff appeared to fall into her waiting hand. She attacked the image of Ares, furious at his very existence. The god-image dodged every blow, infuriating the bard even more. The scene of how he came into being replayed in her mind.
"So I've learned how to use a staff? Xena, could you show me a few moves?" Gabrielle picked up the heavy wooden quarterstaff and stood up expectantly. She couldn't explain why, but the weight of it was reassuring. Perhaps in some small way, she could continue with the former woman's life. From the stories the warrior had read, the true Gabrielle was full of life and zeal. The new Gabrielle felt that shouldn't be lost. She watched as Xena stood and picked up a large branch from the ground.
The dark-haired woman stripped the branch of it's leaves and stems. Once satisfied, she took a deep breath and exhaled. Giving lessons with the staff was the last thing she had expected to do today.
"Okay, I'll just walk you through a few defensive moves. We'll take it slow and see how you do." Xena smiled in encouragement and performed a simple overhead blow towards Gabrielle's head. It wasn't at full speed nor did she intend to connect. She didn't believe the smaller woman had the ability to use the staff without her memories. Xena was wrong.
The blond woman quickly raised the staff and deflected the blow instinctively, then reversed her motion to deliver a stinging blow to Xena's side. The slight pain from it surprised Xena momentarily. Xena couldn't even think, she reacted instead. With a naughty smile, she began a more serious workout. She didn't go full out-even the Amazon of old had trouble holding her own then--but pushed her small friend into using all that she had in order to defend herself.
Gabrielle felt in control and strong for the first time that day. Here she was, holding her own against an incredible fighter! She didn't feel the fatigue that was expected, though her hands stung from the sharp impacts from the striking weapons. No conscious thought was necessary-her body took control and did everything with an ease that surprised her.
Every move the warrior used was matched and countered. Like long standing dance partners, they parried and attacked one another, each knowing how the other would react. Gabrielle was awed by her own abilities and didn't feel the fatigue she expected, although her hands felt the sting from the sharp impacts from their weapons. The former bard didn't even allow herself to try and control her actions-her body seemed to work on its own, allowing her to just enjoy the sheer thrill of match.
Xena couldn't stop smiling. Her Gabrielle may be gone, but the body of the person left behind remembered. To the warrior, this gave her some hope for the future if Gabrielle didn't return. They may never reach the same level of closeness as before, but the smaller woman could at least find comfort and friendship once more with her if she so desired. The warrior sent a mental plea to Artemis, hoping she would help guide her former Queen. Momentarily distracted, the dark-haired woman found her weapon locked with Gabrielle's.
The smaller woman had a smug look on her face as she grinned up at her taller sparring partner. Xena hunched lower, a feral, crooked grin on her lips. The small blond didn't back away, but instead, maintained her confident gaze. It wasn't until Xena planted a quick kiss on the corner of her mouth that she jumped. Her eyes opened wide in surprised, but then laughed and lowered her weapon when the warrior gave her a sassy wink.
Gabrielle was surrounded by flames that didn't come close to matching the fury for the image of Ares-and at herself.
"I remember everything! Xena had told me that her debt to Lao Ma was more important than anything! Even me! Nothing she and I had gone through meant as much as going back to her. I sacrificed everything to be with her and she just walked away from our friendship. Even her redemption meant nothing compared to this woman from her past. I was jealous and angry and so damned hurt that I couldn't deal with it. When Ares gave me the chance to beat her to Chin-I took it."
"I fooled myself into believing it was to protect Xena from making a mistake-but it was really jealousy over that woman. I couldn't stand the idea Xena chose her over me. I hated her! I wanted her to hurt as much as I did. I couldn't face that-so I denied it even to myself-thinking I couldn't let Xena kill in cold blood. Gods, I was so damned blinded!" Gabrielle knelt in misery on the sandy soil. "I didn't dare let myself acknowledge those feelings. So I invented YOU to protect me," she said with contempt, pointing at the image of Ares. He didn't look all that offended.
"So, now you know the truth," Ares asked. "What now? Can you live with it? I don't think so."
The god-form walked to a pedestal, where the crock holding her memories were kept. He carefully lifted the bowl and brought it to her, placing it in her hands.
"Empty the bowl-and forget," he said gently.
"If I do-I forget everything. My family, my childhood Xena. How can I live with that?"
"How can you live with the pain? Your betrayals, the blood on your hands-your daughter? Drink and forget it all. What you don't remember can't hurt you." With those final words, he walked away, leaving her with the bowl to choose her own fate.
Xena sat on the log with the always-present honing stone in her hand. Filled with pent up enegy, she needed the familiar chore to calm her. She occasionally glanced at Gabrielle, who had elected to sit by the fire and continue reading the scrolls. The young woman bent over the parchment, her attention taken by the written words before her. Her red-gold hair reflected the fire's glow with its own glimmer, making it seem part-flame.
Xena sighed softly then returned her eyes back to her sword. If she wasn't careful, she'd sharpen it until it was useless. She concentrated on her blade's edge, focusing on honing every nick and dull spot. After a while, she no longer needed to force herself-she was lost in the labor. Her attention was so narrow, she didn't notice when her friend sat beside her until a warm arm circled her waist.
Xena turned her head, not really expecting anything. Gabrielle smiled up at her warmly. Xena arched an eyebrow slightly and waited for the woman to speak. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised when Gabrielle rested her cheek against her shoulder and sighed as she closed her eyes.
"Gabrielle, I'm not complaining, but-"
"Have I told you lately that I love you Xena?"
homepage <> fan fic index