by Cecily Hawkins

Disclaimer and warnings: First off, Xena, Gabrielle, and the rest do not 
belong to me. Second, there are same-sex relations of a sexual nature
going on here. Third, some very unpleasant things happen in this story,
particularly to a certain bard. This is not without reason, as you will
discover by the end of the story, but if abusive relationships and
sexual violence are triggers for you, you may not wish to read it.
Fourth, there are various third-season spoilers and references, although
it begins somewhere between second and third seasons. (And there is a
much lighter prequel which tells the story of how they got to the
beginning situation, but it has not been released yet.)

The rocks of the ruins around them were warmed by the light of the
late afternoon sun. Somewhere in the distance, a grieving ex-bandit was
carrying the body of his companion back to his family. The scent of
crushed pine drifted on the winds. Except for the rustling of branches, the
forest was quiet.
The young woman's tone was unreadably strange. It wasn't anger or
annoyance, things the warrior princess had heard often enough when she
pushed the bard too far or took her for granted. Not teasing, not
inquisitive. "Yes?" Xena ventured.
"We have to talk."
At another time, she might have returned with, "We *are* talking."
But something in the set of Gabrielle's jaw, the way she was holding so
tightly to her staff, made it clear that this was not a joking matter. "So
talk," she said, feeling vaguely nervous. Something serious. Gods, was she
about to say goodbye? What could possibly have brought this on?
The bard stood straight and drew in a deep breath, shoulders back.
"I'm attracted to you."
So preoccupied was the warrior with examining the possible faults of
the recent past that she did not even understand the words at first. She
blinked as her brain tried to translate what her ears were telling her.
Gabrielle, set on her course of action, continued. "I've been having
dreams about you. I can't get you out of my mind. I dream about you
naked. I dream about you touching me, kissing me. I - "
"Stop," said Xena, and obligingly the bard cut off what she was
saying. Still no emotion on her face, in her voice. She might have been
reciting a shopping list. But her eyes were clear. She knew what she was
saying. The question was, did Xena? The warrior tried to sort her confused
feelings. Gabrielle was attracted to her? Well, why shouldn't she be?
Many people, both male and female, had been in the past. And she'd slept
with most of them, too, and her friend knew it. Of course the younger
woman would be interested. Why, then, was she so disappointed to hear
her boldly declare that desire? "You want me to have sex with you," Xena
There was a flicker of confusion on the younger woman's face, as if
this wasn't quite how the conversation was supposed to be going. It was
a particularly beautiful face, Xena noted with detachment. The green
eyes complimented the hair, blond with hints of red. The rest of the
body was nice too. The little green top she wore was a hideous color,
but it showed off her breasts and stomach - had it gotten smaller
lately? Gabrielle's voice interrupted that line of thought. "I... I
mean, yes, that too..."
"Too?" And she'd seen what was beneath the clothing often enough,
fishing, swimming, bathing, and so forth. It would be no chore to
address that body. But somehow it felt wrong, when it never had before.
How could Gabrielle be so uncaring? Such a brazen...
"Xena, I love you."
And the warrior looked, really looked, at her, and saw the careful
mask of composure fraying. And all at once, she knew that she loved her, had
loved her for a long time, and wanted her, and needed her, and needed
those feelings returned. And now that they knew, everything would
work out, and they would have a beautiful future together.
Xena reached out to Gabrielle.
There was a flash of light.
There was an arm wrapped around Gabrielle's throat.
"Well, now, isn't this all nice and cozy," a voice chirped. "Are we
having a party?"
"Callisto," Xena hissed.
"You remember me!" she crowed, delighted, then drove her eyebrows
down into a scowl. "Oh, and don't think about coming any closer, or I'll
break her neck."

Act One: Irresistible Force
	Gabrielle's eyes were wide and green, her chin snugly supported by 
the pale flesh of an arm that had been dead, but hadn't stayed there.
Callisto was fully restored, hair and armor as they'd seen her last, not
even singed. The eerie white of her eyes when she had first tasted the
ambrosia had faded to their usual brown, without a hint of sanity to soften
The blonde tilted her head to the side. "I can do it, you know. I
don't even have to touch her. I'm a god, after all." She pulled Gabrielle's
head up and back a little. "But this way is so much more meaningful."
"How did you get out of the lava?" Xena demanded, fighting the
impulse to reach for her weapons.
"Oh, I have my ways. But that's not really the issue, here, is
it? Shouldn't you be asking what you have to do to get your precious
little girlfriend back?" Callisto tipped her head forwards and closed her
teeth briefly on Gabrielle's earlobe. The bard shuddered, but remained
silent. "It's a good thing I was there. I never knew you cared."
"What do you want?"
"Oh, good question." She gestured with the hand that wasn't
holding Gabrielle. "This thing, or that thing. How about my family back?
How about my life back?"
Xena gritted her teeth. "I wish I could give that to you. I will
always be sorry for what happened to you. But I can't change the past."
"No, you can't do that, can you?" the godling mused quietly. "And
it really isn't fair for your little brat to suffer for what you did."
She smiled brightly. "But then, life isn't fair, is it?" The dark warrior
was silent. Callisto continued, "So what can you do for me, Xena? Beg.
Beg for the life of your plaything. Admit that I have all the power here."
Slowly, she lowered herself, knees in the dirt. "Please. I beg
you. Let her go."
The blonde eyed her handiwork. "I'm surprised. The old Xena would
never beg. Not even for her life. She's really weakened you, hasn't she?
You ought to thank me for getting rid of her." Her free hand took hold of
the red-gold hair and gave it a yank. "But, if you really want her
back... Say it again. Remember, I'm a goddess. Entreat me."
Xena's eyes sought out Gabrielle's. The younger woman was clearly
in pain, but refusing to give Callisto the satisfaction of a whimper.
"Please, O Goddess Callisto," Xena said slowly, hating the words. "Please
give her back to me."
The blonde's other hand came around to slap Gabrielle's bare
stomach in a parody of applause. "Very good!" Then her fingers swirled
teasingly. "Now, what to do next..." Xena, kneeling, could only watch as
Callisto, carrying Gabrielle, began to rise into the air. "Maybe I showed
myself a little too soon. If I'd waited, things could have gotten pretty
steamy here." Her hand, on Gabrielle's stomach, crept downwards. "But
this way I can get the first sample for myself. What you wanted. Mine. Gone."
The warrior's eyes went wide. Heedless of the danger, she leapt
to her feet. "Callisto, NO!" But it was too late. As Callisto's hand
drove forcefully upwards, Gabrielle screamed, "XENA!"
	And in another flash of light, the warlord-turned-goddess was 
gone. Taking the bard with her.
	As they materialized, Callisto tossed the bard carelessly aside. 
"Stay," she commanded, but did not so much as look to see what response
this elicited before walking off. Tears of shame burned in Gabrielle's
eyes - not only for the violation, but for losing control. Her confession
to Xena had brought her emotions too close to the surface. She could only
think that she had allowed Callisto to do this to her.
Vowing not to lose her composure again, she pushed herself up to
a sitting position and looked around. She was in a cave of some sort,
with an opening far overhead letting light in. The side of a hill, maybe.
There was only one exit, the direction Callisto had gone - and the
echoing sounds indicated that she was returning.
"There's no point in trying to escape," the former warlord said
conversationally. "I can always catch up with you, you know. I'm not as
dumb as your old friend Velasca looked. And I don't even have to sleep.
So you may as well get used to me. It'll be a while before your precious
Xena can find us here." She dropped into a squat. "So let's talk. How's
things? Buried any husbands lately?"
Gabrielle turned her head aside, refusing to answer.
"Don't feel much like talking?" Callisto's hand flashed out and
struck her across the cheek. The bard made no noise. "Oh, I see. Trying
to prove that you can resist me. It won't work, you know." She took her
hand, and then savagely jerked a finger up and back. Gabrielle
instinctively cried out at the feeling of her bones breaking. Just as
quickly, Callisto pushed the finger into place, and the pain was
gone. "You see, I can do anything. I'm a god. If I want you to scream,
you'll scream. If I want you to stay quiet, I'll cut your voice out. You
don't get a choice."
Gabrielle blinked away her tears.
Callisto sighed. "And right now I don't want to deal with you."
She thumped the bard soundly on the head, and everything went black.
	"Wakey wakey." A foot nudged Gabrielle - a nudge, not a kick, 
which seemed strange when she managed to get her eyes open and found
Callisto standing over her. The blonde presented her with a bowl of
something and a hunk of bread. "You'll have to trust me that it's not
poisoned. Got to keep your strength up. Wouldn't want Xena to think I
wasn't taking care of you."
"What if I don't feel like eating?" the bard asked dully,
although she couldn't deny that she was hungry, even in these
Callisto shrugged. "Then I suppose I'll just have to kill you
now." She snapped her fingers, and suddenly Gabrielle could not breathe.
She clawed at her throat and watched as colors began to swim before her
eyes... and then with another snap, it untwisted, and she gasped in air.
"It's your choice, really, whether you want to live or not," the blonde
continued casually. "But it would be easier for everyone if you just did
as you were told. Now eat."
Recognizing the futility of resistance, Gabrielle accepted the
food. She wondered vaguely where it had been taken from. There were no
utensils, so she had to make the best of it with mouth and hands, sipping
the warm chicken-flavored liquid and then wiping the bowl clean with the
bread. As she finished, she looked up into Callisto's large brown eyes.
Watching. Waiting for something. Finally, the bard gave in. "Is there
any water?" she asked, wondering if this would trigger the immortal to
attack again.
But instead the other woman merely handed her a waterskin. "Here
you go." The bard tasted it hesitantly at first - a goddess wouldn't really
need to bother drugging it, would she? - but the water was pure. Callisto
really did seem to be playing fair.
The blonde was holding a bit of her hair in front of her eyes,
flicking it back and forth absently. "I suppose I should apologize for
taking you like that in front of Xena. It wasn't about you, you know. I
just wanted to make her suffer, and you were the easiest way to do it.
Your pain wasn't the important thing." She flipped the hair aside. "I'll
just have to make it up to you."
The bard uneasily scooted backwards. Callisto smiled. "My dear
Gabrielle, do you think you have a choice?"
	"Hya!" Xena kicked her heels against Argo's flanks, driving the 
mare faster. Her dirty hair whipped behind her. She had wasted days
searching for the madwoman, trying to find a place she might have taken
Gabrielle. They couldn't have just vanished. Callisto wanted to be found.
She always wanted to be found. But so far, nothing. And the things that
could be happening to her friend - to her newfound love - didn't bear
thinking about.
Xena could only think of one thing to do.
She reined the horse in as she approached the temple. "Out of my
way," she growled at the armored guard blocking the door. He only
tightened his grip on his spear in response. With an ululating cry, she
flipped through the air, driving her feet into his chest and knocking the
door open. His spear clattered to the ground. She continued her forward
motion, landing in the center of the room. "Ares!" she cried out.
There was no response, except for the patter of running feet as
the people of the temple decided there were safer places to be.
"Answer me!" She began walking around the perimeter, knocking
shields and weapons from the walls. "I know you can hear me, Ares... Show
yourself." She came to a black statue of the god and drew her sword,
preparing to carve him a new nose.
"Aren't you housebroken yet?" The God of War popped into the
room. "I'm not Aphrodite, I'm not going to get upset if you break a few
"Worked, didn't it?" she muttered, smacking her blade against the
"So, what can I do for you?"
"For starters, you can clean up the mess you made." She slid her
sword back into her scabbard.
"I?" He pointed to himself, raising his eyebrows mockingly. "I
think you made the mess in here."
"I don't mean in here. I mean out there. Callisto."
He chuckled. "Well, I think that's your mess, too. You brought
her to the ambrosia."
"I put her in a lava flow that should have held her for
centuries." She watched him carefully. "Someone let her out."
"And what if someone did?"
"-Someone- had no right to interfere." She lowered her head and
stepped one foot closer to him, giving the impression of a bull preparing
a charge. "Because of that someone's interference, Callisto is
threatening an Amazon Queen. I wonder what Artemis will have to say about
that when she hears?"
"Probably nothing," Ares said nonchalantly.
Xena's eyes glittered. "Let me be blunt. If anything happens to
Gabrielle, I will spend every last drop of my energy taking you down. The
gods /owe/ me, Ares. And you've been stripped of your powers once before.
You do not want to make me that angry."
He raised his hands. "You have no proof that I had anything to do
with Callisto getting out of that lava flow. But as a sign of good faith,
I'll take you to her, and I'll see that she gets put back where she belongs."
"And you will swear to me that you will never release her? By the
Styx, Ares. She stays there."
He laughed. "If it makes you happy. I swear by the Styx that I
will put Callisto back into the lava and will not help her to escape it.
And I won't even ask you to do anything for me in exchange. Just because I
like you, Xena."
"Yeah. Sure." She watched him through narrowed eyes. For a god who
had just taken an unbreakable oath, he seemed a bit too smug. "Let's go."
	The blond maniac-turned-godling was sprawled comfortably in a 
chair she had scrounged from a tavern, picking bits of dinner from her
teeth with a dagger. She didn't really need to eat any more, but it gave
her something to do. Other than Gabrielle. The bard was curled up asleep a
few feet away.
With a sigh, she shifted positions. Really, this game was getting
old. Where was Xena?
"It's over, Callisto."
She smirked. Perfect timing.
Blue eyes blazing, Xena strode into the cave. She did not bother
to draw a weapon. "Where's Gabrielle?"
Callisto blinked in mock innocence. "Why, she's right over there."
She gestured, then leaned forward, elbow on knee, chin on hand. "I'm
afraid I've worn her out, the poor dear."
"If you've hurt her..."
"I didn't say I hurt her." Callisto grinned. "Although I did make
her scream a bit." Gabrielle made a snuffling noise and rolled over,
still asleep, her hair spilling across her face. There were no signs of
injury or hardship. Callisto sat back and continued, "She gets so vocal
when she's excited. She's not very talented, though. I'm afraid you'll be
disappointed." She tsked.
Xena's fingers twitched by her side. "What are you saying?"
The blonde leaned forward. "I'm saying that everything you wanted
out of her, everything you could do to her, I've already done." She
tossed her head back and cackled. Gabrielle stirred again. "And she cried
out to me, Xena. Why, I think the little thing has forgotten all about
that husband of hers."
"You /forced/ her!"
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open. "Xena?" she asked fuzzily,
starting to push herself up.
"I didn't have to," Callisto said cheerily. "She let me. She
liked it. Just goes to show you, anything you can do, I can do better."
Anger roared in Xena's ears. Forgetting about plans and powers and
gods, she stepped forwards, fist raised, to knock that expression off of
her face.
"Xena, no!"
She froze. The voice had been Gabrielle's.
Callisto raised her eyebrows, as if to say, You see?
"It's just what she wants, to make you mad," the bard said, her
voice trailing off. She wrapped her arms around herself protectively, hiding
from Xena's eyes.
"You're so terribly predictable, you know," Callisto said
pitying, soulful brown eyes wide. They quickly narrowed as she kicked
out, catching the unaware warrior in the stomach, knocking her a step
backwards. "But I'm not."
Xena dragged her gaze away from Gabrielle. Her features twisted
with hate, she prepared to speak...
"It's over, Callisto." The voice was Ares'.
Callisto laughed. "Is there an echo in here?"
The dark-haired woman regained her composure. "You're going back
to the lava where you belong. He's here to make sure of that."
The blonde stood, clasping her hands behind her back, and walked
towards the god of war, kicking at little stones as she passed. "Oh, poor
me. Guess all my wicked plans are ruined, then, huh?" she said in a
singsong. "I lose, you win, everybody's happy."
A trace of suspicion curled across Xena's face, but before she
could voice it, Ares snapped his fingers, and the two immortals were gone.
	The cave was silent.
Xena stared at the place where Callisto had been standing,
moments before. "Are you all right?" she asked without turning.
"Did she..." she searched for a delicate expression.
"Do you want me to take you to a healer?"
And now she did turn. Gabrielle was staring down at her feet,
tangled hair hanging around her face, arms folded with hands tightly
grasping elbows. Xena took a few steps towards her, reaching out a hand
to rest it on her shoulder. "It'll be all right.."
"Don't touch me!" The bard jerked backwards.
Xena let her hand fall to her side, the impassive mask of
command returning. She turned away. "I know it's difficult, but you do
need to see a healer. We're near Amazon lands, we can go there. They've
dealt with this... they can help."
"Fine." She was shaking, but Xena, with her back turned, could
not see.
Xena led the way out of the cave to where Argo was waiting. She
reached for the saddlebags. "You must be hungry. There's some nutbread
left, if you'd like it?"
"Not hungry."
Xena looked at her, surprised. "But you haven't eaten in -"
"She fed me."
"Oh." She searched for something to offer. "Would you like to ride?"
Gabrielle grew paler. "No."
Xena nodded. Out of ideas, she located the bard's staff and
handed it to her, then turned and began leading Argo. A leisurely pace,
nothing strenuous. Nothing that would push Gabrielle too hard. And when
she heard the muffled sound of crying behind her, she pretended not to
notice. She needs some space, Xena thought.
Tears and shuffling steps followed her without protest.
	The sun was low in the sky before Xena heard the bird-call 
signal. She whistled back, and a pair of Amazons descended from the
trees. She recognized the tall brunette as Laren, a friend of Solari's,
but the other, a short redhead, was a stranger. "Greetings, Queen Gabrielle,
Xena," nodded the taller guard. "Have you come for a visit or just
passing through?"
Xena glanced back at her partner, but the bard was only staring
silently at her feet. "Staying for a little while," she answered. "We've
just had a run-in with Callisto and..."
"Callisto!" gasped the little redhead. "The one who turned into a
god? With Velasca? Are they coming back?"
"No, she's back in the lava, and going to stay there." Ares
couldn't break his oath, and no other god would want that maniac loose.
"But we needed a place to rest."
"Of course." Laren nodded to the redhead. "Kyra will escort you
to Ephiny."
"I haven't had a chance to meet you personally before, my Queen,"
said Kyra, approaching. "If there's anything you require while you're
here, I am at your command."
"I'm fine," Gabrielle whispered. "I'm fine."
	"...and then Ares and Callisto just disappeared." Xena sat in 
Ephiny's hut, explaining to her what had brought them there. The rest of
the Amazon Nation had no need to know what had really happened to Gabrielle,
but Ephiny was a friend, as well as Regent in the Queen's absence. "She's
hardly spoken since. She didn't even want to come here, but I insisted."
Ephiny sighed and ran her hands through her curly hair. "It must
have been terrible for her."
Xena smiled bitterly. "It's funny, you know. We had just
realized..." and cut off quickly. That wasn't something that even the
Regent needed to know.
"Realized what?" Ephiny studied her face. "How you two felt about
each other?"
"You knew?"
"I knew you. And I knew her." She stood and walked a few paces,
looking away. "I knew it was just a matter of time."
"It doesn't matter anymore." The warrior's flat tone prompted
Ephiny to turn to her again. "She can't stand to be touched, and I don't
blame her. After what she went through, I don't think she'd ever want a
woman near her again."
"Have you asked her?" Ephiny stepped close again. "Xena, have you
talked to her at all?"
"She doesn't want to talk to me. And I don't want to press her...
I don't want to cause her more pain than she's already feeling."
The Amazon sat down. "But that's exactly what you're doing by
avoiding her. Xena, she probably blames herself for what happened. Most
victims do. And now she may think that you're ashamed of her. She needs
your support. Your reassurance."
"Right now, she needs the healer," Xena said softly. "Callisto
couldn't have been gentle."
	"She didn't hurt me," Gabrielle insisted sullenly. She lay 
unclothed on a table in the hut while the healer finished her
"You're very lucky," Esta, the other Amazon, said in her soft voice.
She was little more than a girl, a fragile, pale-skinned blonde with
watery blue eyes. She was not the usual healer Gabrielle had seen here,
but her touch was gentle.
"Lucky," the queen repeated disbelievingly, and reached for her
green top.
Esta nodded. "When my uncle used me, he left a lot of bruises."
Her voice didn't change as she told the story, neither accusing nor
apologizing. "My mother found out what was happening and said it was my
fault. They told me to leave the village." She turned from Gabrielle to
replace her supplies on the shelves. "I was just wandering around in the
woods, I didn't know where I was going. Some Amazons on patrol found me and
brought me here. I was pregnant, but it didn't last." Facing the bard
again, "That's one thing you don't have to worry about."
Gabrielle busied herself lacing the top over her breasts. "Yeah."
"I was sure that they hated me. For getting myself raped, for
being weak and defenseless. I could never be an Amazon, I wasn't a
fighter. I wanted to die. That's how I felt." The girl came closer,
looking into Gabrielle's eyes. "How do you feel?"
She pulled her skirt on. "How should I feel?"
"Angry?" Esta suggested quietly.
Gabrielle took a breath. "I feel stupid," she blurted finally. "I
shouldn't have just let..." she stopped, unable to say it.
"She was a goddess. Just like I was only a little girl. Neither
of us could have stopped what happened to us."
"It doesn't matter anymore," said the bard. "She's gone. It's
Esta lay a gentle hand on her shoulder, and Gabrielle did not
flinch. "The Amazons didn't hate me. They wished they could have gotten
there sooner. To protect me. I'm sure Xena wishes more than anything that
she could have protected you."
"What do you know about Xena?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"I know she cares about you. Have you talked to her about what
"She doesn't want to talk to me."
"Have you tried?" the little blonde pressed. "She may think that
you blame her for not getting to you fast enough."
"It wasn't her fault..."
"Does she know that?" Esta removed her hand. "You're not injured,
you're free to go. And I'm here to talk to, whenever you want."

The queen's hut was the largest in the village, even if Gabrielle
was rarely there to use it. She had a comfortable bed, a writing desk,
and even a private bathing area. A drawing of Terreis, from whom she had
received the right of caste, hung on a wall. Gabrielle wondered
occasionally who the artist was, but had never remembered to ask.
She was seated at the desk with a blank scroll in front of her,
trying to decide whether or not to scribe the recent events. Would it be
better to pretend they had never happened? Did that include her confession
to Xena? With a pang she recalled that Xena had never really said that
she loved her back. Callisto had broken in too quickly. "And if she doesn't,
then she might be afraid to say so and upset me now," Gabrielle murmured.
She sighed and leaned her head into her hands. Everything was so out of
The sound of a footfall caught her attention and she turned to see
Xena framed in the doorway. She had removed her weapons and armor and wore
only the leather. "Gabrielle?" she asked hesitantly.
"Come in," the bard said.
She stepped inside, but did not sit - the only place available
would have been the bed. "I just wanted to say that whatever happened,
whatever she made you do, it wasn't your fault."
"I know." Barely more than a whisper.
"You mean the world to me, Gabrielle." A quaver crept into her
voice. "I would rather she had killed me than done this to you."
"It wasn't your fault."
"I love you." The words came before Xena realized that she meant
to say them, but they were sincere nonetheless. "I should have been there
for you."
Gabrielle stood, a pained look on her face. "You don't have to say
it just because you feel sorry for me."
Xena placed her hands on the bard's shoulders. "Look at me,
Gabrielle." Green eyes met blue. "I love you. I have loved you for a long
time. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I can't
imagine living without you."
Tears welled in the bard's eyes. "Even though I'm dirty?"
"Gabrielle, you are the most beautiful thing in the world."
"Oh, Xena..."
But with the tears, the longing looked too much like pain, and Xena
snatched her hands away before they could be burned. "I'm sorry. I
shouldn't... shouldn't push you, I know things have changed, you need to
work through how you're feeling, you shouldn't feel compelled to..."
Whatever else she might have said was cut off as a pair of soft lips met
hers, the kiss that they had ached to repeat for so long, and so much
sweeter than that brief encounter when she had been dead, it was dizzying,
it was a force she could not resist...
Gabrielle clutched her warrior as if her life depended on it,
deepening the kiss. She couldn't let her leave. She would show Xena just
how much she loved her. It was easy to relax into the feeling and let her
body take over... just like with Callisto... Gabrielle fought down the
momentary surge of panic. When you fall off a horse, you have to get back
on, and she had been waiting so long for this...
Xena was in heaven. Her fingers tangled in honey-colored hair, her
lips brushed smooth skin. She nipped at Gabrielle's neck and smiled at the
gasp. Had the bard made such sounds when she... Xena quickly turned her
mind from that train of thought and moved her mouth lower, exploring the
creamy breasts, her hands fumbling at the ties of Gabrielle's clothing.
Two bodies intertwined on the queen's bed that night, with the
ghost of a third between them.
[*** Author's note: Yes, it is far too soon after the rape for this to occur.
Yes, this is intentional.]
Act Two: Lie of the Heart

Warlords and Furies and repeating days, a disastrous encounter
with Caesar, adventures and doubts. Through all of it, their love would
bind them together. But neither of them had ever expected their nightmare
to be freed from her prison once again.
Two pyres, placed parallel to each other. Two columns of smoke
billowing into the night. Two women standing, far apart, each bearing the
loss of a child on her shoulders. The soft wailing dirge winding to a close.
"If..." Gabrielle began. "If I had just done what you said, when
you said to do it, then they would still be alive... Kaleipus and Solan..."
"No," Xena said softly. Gabrielle's breath caught. "Don't you even
speak his name."
"Xena?" the bard whispered to her lover, the name like a lifeline.
"No. No, you lied to me. I trusted you, and you lied to me. And
now Solan is dead." Her face contorted as the grief choked her speech. "My
son is dead..." and then it hardened. "Because of you."
Gabrielle bit her lip, trying not to break down, trying not to
make her pain look like a bid for sympathy. "I love you, Xena," she
"No." And this time the rejection was cold and unwavering. "No,
you never loved me. You loved what I was. Someone dark and dangerous that
you could tame with your 'goodness'," she spat the word. "Like Hope."
The bard felt her world crumbling around her. "I believed there
was good in her," she murmured.
"You wanted to save her. Like you always want to save me." And now
she turned to face her lover with a sneer. "Is that what you saw in
Callisto? Another conquest?"
"That is not fair." Her voice was shaking now. "Xena, she *raped*
"You let her." The accusation was hissed through tight lips. "You
enjoyed it. And you killed my son." The dark warrior turned back to stare
into the flames. "You."
Tears fought their way past Gabrielle's control and into her eyes.
She nodded once, like an admission of guilt, then turned and walked away.

	Xena stood on the mountain, crying out her grief and rage into the 
	Palms slapped like whips against Gabrielle's bare flesh, against 
all the places she'd ever been touched. She wished they could truly strip
the skin away and make her clean again. A tear traced its way down her
cheek, but her eyes stared blankly.
	"Just goes to prove what I've been telling you all along." Ares' 
voice was smooth and rank as oil."No good deed goes unpunished. Saving
people, defending the weak, trusting someone who betrayed you."
"Gabrielle," she rasped, looking away from him, out into the snow.
"This whole atonement kick you've been on lately, it's not you."
But it was not Gabrielle's eyes that she saw staring back at her.
It was Callisto, sinking into the quicksand, holding out her arms. "Don't
let me die. You can't let me die. I am you."
"You're full of fire -- bending the world to your will -- full of
rage. And revenge." He looked at her. "You know what to do? Who to kill?"
And at the grimace on her face, he smiled, the smug smile of one who is at
long last seeing everything work out according to plan..
	She lay there, staring up at the ceiling, when she felt a hand 
stroke, oh so gently, against her cheek. Xena, she thought, and closed her
eyes, trembling at the touch. The hand withdrew, then slapped her across
the face. I deserved that, she thought.
Gabrielle opened her eyes to find, not Xena, but Callisto standing
over her. She quickly looked away. "You're not real. You're in my mind."
You've been in my mind ever since.
"What difference does it make?" Those dangerous tones of sweet
reason. "You came here for the truth, and the truth is that Xena made us
both. She shaped our lives, changed our fates... killed our families."
"No." No, I am nothing like you. "I killed hers. Solan died
because of my daughter."
Callisto smiled. "Because of Xena, you had a daughter. Her hatred
for Caesar took you to Brittania."
"Yes, but - "
"Straight to Dahak, where she deserted you. Isn't that right?
Isn't that right?"
"Yes." She left me to be raped again.
"And you hate her for it, don't you? For betraying you? For
failing you?" That face, those maddening wide brown eyes, insisting,
forcing themselves upon her. "You hate her, don't you? Don't you? Don't
"YES!" Gabrielle screamed.
	Xena thundered into town, scattering Amazons before her. The 
guards were uncertain how to react to this woman, who was their Queen's
consort and a friend to many, but now seemed dangerously mad. At Ephiny's
command, they tried to block her, but the former Destroyer of Nations
easily overpowered them, knocking Laren and Solari senseless and breaking
Ephiny's arm before locating her target.
Gabrielle, dazed from her time in the purification hut, offered no
resistance. Xena leaped onto a horse, lassoed the bard's ankles with her
whip, and rode away at high speed. Behind her, she could hear the sounds
of her lover's body slamming against sticks and rocks. I can hurt you
deeper than Callisto ever dreamed. Deeper than sex. Deeper than love. You
belong to me.
She reined the horse in as they approached a cliff. Gabrielle's
body glided to a stop on the grass, bruised and bloody. It never occurred
to Xena that the wild ride might have killed her. That was only pain. The
end had to come from her own hands.
The dark warrior unwound the whip from Gabrielle's bleeding ankles
and hoisted the body overhead, stepping up to the edge of the cliff. Like
the demon baby you should have thrown, my betraying love, she thought. It
ends here. "VENGEANCE!" she cried.
But the body twisted in her hands before she could throw it.
Gabrielle's heel caught her on the side of the head. She stumbled
backwards, and they both fell to the ground.
As one they clambered to their feet. Gabrielle stood, blood
streaking her skin, her tattered robes blowing out behind her like a
statue of a goddess. You are beautiful, Xena thought against her will.
And then that beautiful face twisted into a grimace. "I HATE YOU!"
Gabrielle screamed, and rushed towards her. The force of the impact
knocked them both over the cliff, tumbling towards the water below.

Floating, supported by warmth, absorbed into the great sea of the
waters of life. (blood life blood lost life can't hear can't breathe can't)
Lips against hers, giving air giving life. (The temple at Thessaly.
Don't you leave me. Don't leave me! Wake up! Wake up!)
Xena opened her eyes.
For there she stood, but not the madwoman Xena knew, no, this was a
merry jester of a sprite, with short hair and a stick on her shoulder (not
like Gabrielle's staff) and green clothing and pointed boots. (Is this what
you would have been?)
And then she spoke (sang, Callisto is singing, I have gone mad). "Glad
that you're feelin' strong, thought I might lose ya. Don't use words, sing a
song..." A jump to the left, and a spin of a chakram red as paint (blood).
"This is Illusia!" An outrageous wink.
Xena blinked. (I have no clothing. Callisto is dancing.)
The sprite threw the chakram into the air, where it hung, and passed
her hands over Xena's eyes. The warrior princess found herself robed and
seated. (What is on my head?) Then Callisto laughed and posed, hands behind
her back. "Don't trust your eyes, my dear. Lies may be truth and truth may be
She stood. "All right, Callisto, cut the song and dance. What's going
on? Where are we?"
"Don't you know? We're in the world that you've created, just by being
you." Callisto pressed her back into the chair and hopped onto her lap like a
child wanting a Solstice present. "The consequences of your actions." And
then she ground her hips against Xena, a child no longer. "And the price
you'll have to pay."
Xena shoved her away, the blonde landing with an oof on the ground.
"I'm not giving you anything."
"But you have!" She climbed to her feet. "Come now, Xena, it's not me
you're angry with. You knew exactly who I was, what I would do. Stealing your
lover, killing your son: you expected me to do those things if you didn't
stop me. And I did not betray your trust." She smiled. "That was Gabrielle."
And the image of Gabrielle appeared in the air beside the floating
chakram. Gabrielle, all sunshine and flowers, the wind in her hair, her eyes
full of dreams, just a little girl from a nowhere village, all innocence.
Gabrielle the betrayer.
"Where is she?"
	Darkness, filtered with patterns of light.
(no more pain no more pain no more pain)
Cool. Soothing. Silent.
Changeless, this great deep of elemental water remaineth forever pure.
She came from repose to wakefulness all in one giant leap, landing on
her feet. (What happened? Where am I?) She looked around. River, bushes, trees,
all brighter than life. So beautiful. There was one place it had to be. "The
Elysian fields. Only heroes wind up here."
(Wow. I'm a hero. Wait. I'm missing something.)
"Dead heroes."
(I'm missing something else.)
She looked down, blinked, and frantically tried to cover herself.
"Dead naked heroes."
As her own singing guide came to lead her on her way, Gabrielle
couldn't help but feel that there was still something else she was forgetting
about, but it was painful and best put out of her mind. She was going home
where she belonged. That was what mattered.
	Where she belonged, with a sword in her hand, and an army at her back,
Ares' champion, Xena marched. Her goal was nearly at hand. She would conquer.
She would triumph. All who had caused pain to her and to her family would be
destroyed, and she would have peace at last.
	Gabrielle was surrounded by the idyllic village, ducks and geese 
a-squawk, her sister's embrace warming her. It would all have been perfect if
they hadn't had to remind her of what she'd lost.
"If your child had lived we'd surely make her welcome too."
Why wouldn't it just go away?
"When Hope died, she freed you."
A scythe pressed into her hand.
"It's just a case of killing to be kind."
Could one blow make the pain stop forever?
Gabrielle opened the door.
	Xena opened the door.
	She screamed and charged forwards, but the weight of the scythe's blade
made its handling very different from the staff she was used to. Her strike was
ineffective, and she tumbled to the ground.
	Her sword was an extension of her hatred, and she drove that hatred
through her lover's stomach.
	Gabrielle's back arched as the sensation shot through her. She fought 
to raise her head once, disbelief and horror in her eyes, then, as she sank
backwards, pain... and her eyes closed, her head lolled to the side, her body
relaxed. She lay, face framed by a golden nimbus of hair.
	Ares smiled.
	Xena jerked the sword back, stared at it, let it fall from her 
fingers and clatter to the ground. She heard a voice in her ear. "Did that
fill you with glee? To kill your little friend?"
(Callisto. You killed... I killed... Gabrielle...)
"Did that ease your suffering, or bring it to an end?"
(I don't feel better. Just empty.)
"Let go. All of your anger will poison you yet, unless you can just
let go."
(You let your pain kill you years ago. I'm gonna live with mine.)
And the image of Callisto faded away.
Xena pulled the body into her lap, let her fingers trace the cheeks,
the eyes, the lips, the person she had destroyed of her own free will.
"I killed Gabrielle."

She was dressed in a rough brown shift, bound to a cross, and
Gabrielle, alive and kicking, was chained to an altar at her feet, the blood
of her innocence on her hands. Robed figures smiled at them with the faces of
their enemies, and eyes black as pitch: Khrafstar, Ares, Caesar... Callisto.
"Hatred, Gabrielle, that's what we're fighting, hatred!" she cried out, but
she didn't know how it would help. She saw Callisto inch towards Gabrielle's
helpless body and her heart caught in her throat. Not that, they couldn't
make her watch that again! Gabrielle *didn't* want that, Xena knew, she was
sorry she'd said it, she hadn't meant it, she was sorry sorry sorry...
But then the final two robed figures cast back their hoods, and
suddenly it was Gabrielle standing before Xena's cross with a hammer, and
Xena over Gabrielle's body, knife raised to end her voice, Xena, not Callisto.
"NO!" Gabrielle screamed.
"Gabrielle!" she cried, her own danger forgotten. The hammer blow
breaking her legs could never be as painful as the horrible memories of
Gabrielle, helpless and hurting, and she loved her still, had always loved
her. With that love, their bonds were broken, and the demons of hatred
	They were seated, embraced, in the surf below the cliff. For a 
long moment they gazed at each other. Had their trip to Illusia really
occured? Had each seen and felt the same as the other? Or would their
earlier conflict now be continued until one or both was dead?
But no attack came. Gabrielle ventured a smile. "We're home."
The expression was returned. "At last."
Relief crashed over them along with the waves. Foam tickled at
their legs, and they toppled over backwards, splashing and playing in the
water like carefree children.
It was Xena who first heard the sounds of pursuit. Horses, many
of them, approaching at rapid pace. "The Amazons," she said, and stood
rapidly. "They're not going to believe that I don't want to fight them
anymore. We have to get out of here."
Gabrielle was also on her feet, the easy playfulness erased. "We
are not running from our friends. They're worried about us. They deserve
the truth... not to mention some apologies."
"Ephiny." The warrior's voice was tinged with regret.
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's whip which, like the bard's clothing,
had been miraculously restored after their passage through Illusia. "Kneel."
"What?" Xena looked at her lover incredulously.
The young woman was suddenly every inch the Amazon Queen,
determined, commanding. Sure of herself. "The only way they won't attack
you on sight is if I've obviously subdued you already. Otherwise, even if I
say I'm all right, they'll suspect you're forcing me to."
Xena reluctantly nodded and lowered herself to her knees before
the bard, who tied her arms behind her with the whip.
It was Eponin who rode into view first, with Kyra hot on her heels.
"My Queen!" cried the older woman. More riders appeared, although not
enough to account for all the hoofbeats. Some were apparently lying in
wait in case the Warrior Princess made a break for it. "You're all right?"
Gabrielle acknowledged with a sharp lift of her chin. She held up
the end of the whip and met Kyra's eyes. "Take her," she commanded. Xena
shot her a quick look but did not argue. The little redhead stepped her
horse closer and took the whip-leash from Gabrielle's hand, then yanked it
sharply, pulling Xena off-balance. Gabrielle held up a hand in warning.
"Don't hurt her."
"I was checking to be sure her bonds were secure, my Queen," said
Kyra, although her eyes told otherwise.
"We're taking her back to the village, but I don't want anyone
kicking her, tripping her, or in any way harassing her. Is that understood?"
"But, my Queen, she attacked - " Eponin began.
"I know what she did, but there's more going on here than you
realize. We're taking her back for a fair trial."
The older Amazon nodded in agreement and signalled the others to
form up and head back to the village. Again, Xena looked at Gabrielle,
expecting a smile, a nod of encouragement for going along with her plan.
But the young queen's eyes were on her people, not on her dark lover.
Xena swallowed her pride and walked, an unprotesting captive. It
was the least she deserved, after what she'd almost done.
	Xena sat alone in the hut, wondering what was taking so long. Her 
armor and weapons had been taken from her. She supposed she was lucky they
hadn't stuffed her into one of the little cages the Amazons often used for
human prisoners. Still, it went against her nature to sit here so
helplessly with nothing to do but wait. Xena knew she could easily
overpower the guards outside and escape, but that would solve nothing. She
could not expect the Amazons to trust her again if she didn't accept their
justice. She could not expect Gabrielle to trust her again if she didn't
trust the bard's decision.
"It's all right, Chilapa," spoke the voice she had been longing
for. Such a sweet sound, even when it was doing nothing more than passing a
guard, or saying hello. How could she have damaged the owner of that voice?
Gabrielle entered the hut. She was in her Amazon leathers again,
not the green-topped traveling outfit that had reappeared after their trip
through Illusia. Xena smiled and opened her arms, expecting the younger
woman to run to her, free at last of the burdens of responsibility. But the
queen only stood there, looking at her. Xena grinned lopsidedly.
"So, am I free to go?"
"No," Gabrielle said softly. She took a seat on the bed and folded
her hands in her lap. "Because no actual damage was done to me, those
charges are dropped. However, you attacked a number of warriors and injured
Ephiny badly enough to keep her out of combat for a long time." Thin smile.
"You're lucky, you know. If it had been my arm you'd broken, Amazon law
would require that your arm be broken in return. But as it is, under the
circumstances, and with her forgiveness, you get a week's hard labor and
are otherwise restricted to this hut."
Xena looked at Gabrielle uneasily, trying to gauge her lover's
mood. "Then Ephiny understands?"
"She's a mother too, after all. She knows what losing a child can
do to someone." Gabrielle looked down. "Since you're rational again now,
and no *permanent* damage was done, she forgives you. Although you probably
won't want to be around her in a few weeks when she gets frustrated about
the arm."
"Uh-huh." A few cautious steps, and Xena was seated on the bed as
well, not too near, not too far.
Now, at last, Gabrielle sniffled and threw herself into the other
woman's arms. Xena clasped the honey-blond head to her chest thankfully as
tears trickled onto her skin. "Oh, Xena," whispered that sweet voice. "I
just wish that I could open my eyes and find out that none of this ever
happened. I wish Hope had never been born. I wish..."
Xena's gentle, callused hands brushed tears from Gabrielle's cheeks
and tilted her face to bring them together in a soft kiss.
Gabrielle jerked her head away. "No."
Xena dropped her hands as if they'd been stung.
The bard wriggled loose, sitting on the bed a small space away.
"Xena, we have to talk."
"We are talking," whispered the warrior over the growing pain in
her chest.
"Xena..." She wrung her hands together in her lap. "I love you.
That hasn't changed. But I can't go on like we were. It was too soon. Too
soon after Callisto. I was so afraid that I was going to lose you that I
pushed too hard, and then afterwards, I couldn't say wait, back up, I'm not
ready..." Gabrielle looked at her, green eyes lost and hurting. "We both
told so many lies. But what you said to me about me trying to save people,
that wasn't a lie. You meant that."
"That doesn't mean I don't believe in your feelings - "
"No, it doesn't. But it's true, and I don't know how I feel about
it. I'm not sure what kind of person I am anymore, after everything that's
happened. I'm not sure what kind of person I want to be. Do I really love
you, or am I just so caught up in it that I can't see?" She reached out and
took hold of Xena's hands, but the touch, so familiar, was gaining distance,
cool and calm. "I think the only way to know is for us to try just being
friends again. To be sure that we really do belong together."
Xena nodded, trying to look like she understood, when every inch of
her was screaming to pull the bard into her arms and hold her tight, never
let her go. "If you want me to leave you here, I will." The words sounded
so easy. She'd had a lot of practice saying hard things.
"Of course I don't want you to leave. Xena, I want to be with you.
And... part of me still wants you to touch me, but I just can't. I'm scared
and I can't handle you being my lover right now." She smiled, a touch of
her old spunk shining through. "Besides, you can't leave. You're our
"Oh, right."
She must not have faked the joking tone well enough, because
Gabrielle's answering look was serious. "Are you all right with this?"
And Xena smiled. "Of course, Gabrielle. Whatever you decide is all
right with me."
"Yeah." Gabrielle smiled. "I guess it's about time I realised that
they are my choices."
"You're growing up."
Gabrielle laughed. "Something like that." She leaned over and gave
Xena a too-quick kiss on the cheek before standing and slipping out the
Xena waited until there was no chance of her coming back to let the
tears escape.

Act Three: That Greater Darkness

Some things simply refuse to stay buried. Hope was one of them.
In the midst of a plan to prevent Dahok's victory, Xena found
herself dangling off a cliff, the struggling Seraphin in her grasp. She
called to her partner for assistance, and was confronted with something
else that wouldn't stay buried.
Callisto stood above her, wiggling her fingers. "Why, hello there,
Xena." She looked down at the cultist, still attempting to wriggle free
and cast herself to the rocks below. "How will you ever get out of this
one?" she laughed.
Faced with her tormentor and a weapon in her hand, Gabrielle
screamed and ran forward. She swung her staff at Callisto's head, but the
blonde caught it bare-handed, absorbing the force easily, then put a hand
to Gabrielle's throat and flung her away.
Below, Xena could only imagine what Gabrielle's cry had meant. She
hurled Seraphin upwards with adrenaline-boosted strength and flipped
herself to Gabrielle's defense.
Callisto clapped. "Oh, well done, Xena." Both Gabrielle and
Seraphin began to climb to their feet as she continued, "I'm not here to
fight with you, Xena." She tucked her hair behind her ear, turning her
feet in the dust. "Just wanna chat."
Xena growled. "Let me guess. Things didn't work out with Hope
quite the way you expected."
Callisto wrinkled her nose. "No, actually. The sight of her and
Ares rolling around like weasels made me sick."
Gabrielle stood, supporting Seraphin. "Hope and Ares?"
"Yes, Gabrielle," said Callisto, rubbing her hands together. "It
seems your daughter is in heat."
"So you're switching sides... again." Xena's tone was less than
"For a price. I help you put Dahok back in the bottle, and you
help me die. I figure you got a bead on that hind's-blood dagger.
Hercules probably told you where it was. It can kill a god, you know." She
leered at Gabrielle, who flinched away. Callisto turned back to Xena and
stepped forwards. "So, how about it? I scratch your back, you stab mine."
"What's the matter? Existence getting to be a bit of a burden?"
She nodded. "Yes, honestly. I yearn for oblivion. Annihiliation."
She ducked her head and brought it up again, the words like a kiss.
"Peace, if you will."
"You helped that demon kill my son. You think I'm gonna help you
find peace?"
Callisto turned her wide eyes up full force. "Then I'll just go
back and do Hope's bidding."
"Do that. I've beaten you before; I can beat you again."
The cultist chose this moment to shove Gabrielle away and run.
"Let her go. She'll only slow us down. She's doomed anyway if we
can't stop Hope." Xena turned back to Callisto, those brown eyes pleading,
promising helplessness. She thought of all she'd lost to this woman. "May
you live forever."
They turned and walked away, but Callisto followed like a dog on
their heels. "Look, I know about Ares' deal with the Fates. After Hope
dies, you're not gonna be around much longer. And we can help each other
out, right? You know where that dagger is, don't you? You could just use it
and do the job on me."
"I could, but I won't."
"No, you want it for Ares. You're willing to take Ares out to get
to Hope. Well, why not let me help you? And then it would be so simple to
just... turn it on me."
"Because. I like the idea of you living with your suffering."
"Oh, please! Who said anything about suffering. Really, it's more
of a boredom thing, an emptiness, really." Callisto switched tactics.
"Anyways, I'm disappointed in you, Xena. The sensible thing would be to
enlist me on your side. You're taking this far, far too personal." [sic]
And then Gabrielle's voice broke in. "You know, she's right?"
Xena whipped around. "What?" *Callisto* was right? After what she'd
Gabrielle was unmoved. "Remember what you said about staying
focused? You're letting your anger get in the way here, Xena. It's best if
we let her help us."
The spectre of jealousy uncurled itself from Xena's spine. Gabrielle
was defending that... woman. No, Gabrielle was right, she was losing her
focus. She had to trust Gabrielle, she had to show her that she would do
anything for her. Even this. "All right."
	That night, they sat by the campfire. Gabrielle was curled up, 
pretending to sleep. Xena sharpened her sword with slow, steady strokes.
Callisto pointed a finger at the pile, shooting a flame into its
center, causing it to flare up. "No need for firewood with me around." She
spread her hands to the warmth, then looked up, watching clouds cross the
face of the moon. "This is probably the last night sky either one of us
will ever see."
Gabrielle winced. No, not now, not after everything, she *would not*
let Callisto affect her. She turned her eyes up to the moon, not knowing
Callisto was doing the same.
"I'm going for a walk," Xena said, and left.
She left me alone. Gabrielle bit her lip. Now was not the time to
get distracted by that. She closed her eyes and lay still, refusing to
acknowledge the quiet humming of the blonde godling only a few feet away
from her.
"Funny," Callisto said after a moment. "Xena kills people, I kill
people. Xena gets you, I get you. Now, Xena dies, and I die. The real deal,
the end of our miserable lives, and we get to do it together."
Gabrielle squeezed her eyes tighter shut.
"I think that's beautiful. Don't you?"
She opened her eyes. She rolled over. She faced her. "I think you're
sick." She took a deep breath. "You know, I met a girl among the Amazons who
could have been your sister. She was terribly hurt as a child, she lost her
family... but we took care of her, and she's a wonderful sweet person.
Having bad things happen to you didn't make you a monster. You did."
"My sister died when Xena destroyed my village, Gabrielle," Callisto
said. She almost sounded sane. "Does any child deserve that?"
"I think you deserve to suffer." The words startled her even as she
said them. She grabbed a twig and flung it into the fire. "I told myself once
that I had to forgive you, or I could never move on. But I can't. And I know
that hatred is wrong and it destroys people..."
"You hate me?" Callisto smiled. "That's wonderful! Then you can just
get that dagger and put it through my..."
"No," Gabrielle said softly. "I don't hate you." She stood with her
staff and went after Xena.
"...haven't even sent out the announcements yet," she could hear
Ares' voice ahead.
"Seraphin said that Hope had a special purpose," Xena answered. "I
heard you were together, and I guessed the rest." Even having missed most of
the conversation, Gabrielle suddenly realised what her partner was getting at,
and her heart sank. "Hope is pregnant with your child."
"No," Gabrielle protested quietly. Xena turned. "That's not possible."
It wasn't fair.
"Congratulations, Gabrielle," said Ares slickly. "You're gonna be
a grandma."
"Dahok's daughter, your Olympian seed." Xena accused. "You sold out
your fellow gods so that you could sire a new race."
Ares stepped closer. "Our child will be the first of what Dahok calls
the six destroyers. Insidious creatures with no souls, who eat of the living
and the righteous, and lay waste to all gods."
"You deserve the little monsters," Xena spat.
It wasn't fair. Why did it all have to happen through her? Hope's
birth, this child of hers, Ares' plan to prevent Xena from interfering, all
*using* her. Gabrielle looked back to the moon, but Artemis provided no
answers. "This can't be happening."
"Oh, but it can, Gabrielle. All thanks to you, it's the beginning of
the end. The bloodletting ceremony will be the window into the world for
Dahok. Even if you manage to somehow kill Hope, you still lose. The Fates
will cut you down. So for me it's... win-win." He stepped away. "Goodbye, Xena.
It *has* been fun." And he was gone.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered. "There has to be some way out of this."
"There isn't," she said tightly. "Come on. We should probably keep an
eye on Callisto."
There was no accusation in those words, but Gabrielle winced anyway.
"If I hadn't come out here, would you have told me?"
A grim smile. "And you say I don't give you enough credit. *I* thought
you *knew*."
Silent, they returned to the campfire, and the lesser evil.
	And then it was time. The temple stood before them, Dahok's followers
driving in more sacrifices. Callisto watched the proceedings impatiently. "Try
not to die without doing me first... or I'll make Gabrielle wish y'had." Her
voice was lower than her usual tease, but the threat was real. "How's that for
And then she was gone, and Gabrielle returned from scouting the woods.
Xena looked longingly at that beautiful face. There was no need to repeat
Callisto's words to her. She had enough on her mind already. "Gabrielle, stay
here," she pleaded. Away from Callisto, away from me, away from death.
But Gabrielle shook her head. "No way. After all we've been through,
I am with you 'til the end."
Xena nodded. She could not deny her anything. "Then just one thing.
When I'm gone, I don't want you to feel any guilt."
"Listen to me! A lot's happened to us over the past year, and there
were times when we were both very confused. But I want you to know that I
still think you are the best thing that ever happened to me." She saw the
softness melting into Gabrielle's eyes, the light of love that she had feared
lost flickering again. She continued. Now or never. "You gave my life meaning
and joy... and you will be a part of me forever."
Gabrielle looked at her with those wide, beautiful eyes, with all the
hopeless need. Please, Xena thought to herself. Forgive me. Kiss me. One last
time. But then those eyes flicked down, unable to meet hers any longer. The
bard wrapped her in a hug, and Xena stared sightlessly over the shoulder of the
person she loved most in all the world, and was losing... and had lost. She
pulled away. "Ready?"
"Let's go."

It was a moment that seemed to go on forever.
That face looking back over Hope's shoulder as together they
plunged into the fiery depths.
"GABRIELLE!" Xena fell to her knees, unconscious of the dagger
still clutched in her hand. It was an instinctual motion, for it was
obvious in that endless moment that she could not catch her, could not
draw her back.
"XENA!" The bodies separated as they tumbled away. Gone.
"Gab--?" Xena whispered. Gone. Just like that. Vanished. Erased.
"Gabrielle!" cried Joxer. But he and the departing Ares and the
sobbing Seraphin were no part of her consciousness.
There was a burst of flame from below, that mushroomed up and
dissipated. Xena stared into the wavering image of the pit, distorted by
the heat. Gone. Not even a body to hold. Gabrielle wasn't supposed to die.
She was. She, Xena, was supposed to be the one, if one of them had to go.
Not left behind.
For a horrible moment, Xena thought it was her own, that she'd
finally snapped. But no, it was coming from behind her. And a light,
playful voice. "I never thought I'd feel so good again! Seeing poor, dear
Gabrielle sacrifice herself makes it all worthwhile. It finally gives me a
reason-- for *living*, and I have you to thank for it, Xena..." Callisto
No thoughts. The rage bore her away. With a scream, she whirled,
the knife in her hand a natural extension of her hatred, and she drove that
hatred through Callisto, feeling the slender body give. The brown eyes
looked up at her, uncomprehending, like a child. Xena wrestled the words
through her tight throat. "No more living for you."
Pain surfaced on the blond godling's features. She looked down at
the metal nestled in her flesh. The world trembled around them. And
Callisto raised her head.
Those eyes.
Gabrielle's eyes.
Pain and love and desperation and doing the only thing that one
could do. Taking the only way out.
Endless moments.
Callisto's eyes, as they met hers, were soft, her expression
radiant. She lifted a hand to Xena's cheek and opened her mouth as if to
say... and then her knees gave, and she began to fall, that hand brushing
its way down Xena's body, until at last she lay, sightless eyes still
staring upwards, framed by her golden hair.
The blood was rushing in her ears like the voice of fire, drowning
out the world.
Had any of them been so different after all?
Gabrielle, whom she loved, was dead.
Callisto, whom she... understood, was dead.
It was all over.

Author's note: This is not the longest story I've ever written, not by a long
shot. But it's got to be the thing that took me the longest to say 'THE END'
on. (Subsequent revisions of a previous piece don't count.) Why? Well,
partially, because I was holding out for a happy ending.
This story came about because of one little scene in one episode: the 
infamous Gabdrag. I wanted to find some way to explain *why* Xena would do
something so brutal. It just didn't fit the way it was. Even as vengeance for
Solan. Killing Gabs, sure, but not the drag. And thus began a tale of love
and pain and three women...
But I had hoped that the fourth season would give me enough material to 
explain X&G resolving the pain that happened here between them and to become
more than just best friends, but a couple again. And I just didn't see it.
All of fourth season, Xena seems to be desperately trying to do anything
Gabrielle wants, anything to win her back, and it simply isn't working.
Maybe fifth season will let me put them back in bed again, and maybe Callisto
will get even more confusingly in the middle, but considering that it's
already been over a year since the events of this story aired, that will
have to wait for a sequel. If it's worth doing at all.
Why was Ares so smug? He knew the damage had already been done. It amused 
him to let Xena think that she was getting her way, while he could just sit
back and wait for the wedge to grow between them, getting rid of the
irritating little blonde without it being on his hands. Almost worked. So
then he went to plan B, convincing Gabrielle to jump into that pit.
I tried to work this as closely into the show's continuity as possible, 
barring the little releasing-Callisto-and-putting-her-back. Callisto's
comment about changing the past is canon-foreshadowing, as is Gabrielle
wanting to forget, and Chilapa is one spelling of the Amazon character who
shows up in season four. The person Gabrielle was thinking of that "could
have been [Callisto's] sister" is Esta, really, not Amarice, or whoever
Callisto's sister actually turns out to be. Gabrielle didn't remember at that
moment that Callisto actually had a sister, she was just thinking of them as
frail blondes with crappy childhoods.
My apologies for the way Bitter Suite gets mangled, but it was necessary to 
put enough of its material in between the fall off the cliff and the landing
that anyone who hadn't seen the episode or didn't remember it well wouldn't
be completely lost. And it would have been inappropriate for the story to
actually go into the songs.
The title 'Triomance' was suggested by someone when I was looking for 
Interesting Titles Having To Do With The Number Three. (Three women, three
Thanks to my beta-readers for redirecting a key scene and keeping me from 
stopping too soon.


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