Disclaimer: The characters, Xena and Gabrielle belong to the corporate entities of Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures. They just happened to wander into my creative zone to play, and no infringement of copyright was intended.
Rools Disclaimer: Rools!! I don't give no stinkin' darn about Rools ... they are ALWAYS meant to be broken, so I incorporated two lists from two holidays as a holiday story within a holiday story kinda ... nyah so there.
Cold ... definitely cold tonight thought Gabrielle as she watched translucent puffs of her breath inch upward into the ebony sky. Yet the clear sky sparkled with stars, diamond-like in their brilliance, twinkling merrily in happy communion. She stood at the cave's entrance hugging herself as a shiver chased downwards on her shoulders. Tonight was Solstice Eve and here she was, alone, in a cave. She'd arrived slight before dusk and had carefully set up her camp -- carefully building the tinder nest, she'd retrieved her flint and striker, sparks falling onto the dried moss and twigs. Once the tiny orange tendrils of flame caught hold she'd carefully fed larger pieces of fuel until the blaze caught hold. Next she'd laid out her bedroll and placed a waterskin near the fire to warm. Her final act was to rummage through her saddlebags and remove the pot that contained Xena's ashes. It was always near her while she slept, ate or wrote in her journals.
After several seasons cycles one would think she would've placed it within the family tomb in Amphipolis, yet she couldn't bear to part with it. It, or rather Xena, had accompanied her as she traveled throughout the Mediterranean; visiting Egypt, Gaul, Iberia, Carthage, Ephesus, Phoenicia, Palestine, Parthia, Babylonia, Phrygia, and Cappadocia. Always lending a helping hand by healing, teaching or practicing her warrior skills. She'd even traveled to the land of Eire and the Teuton holdings in the north woods. Greece was always a way station on her journeys, never staying longer than to check on her sister Lila and her niece Sarah. It was too much to travel the roads and byways she and Xena had traversed. The pot was now inscribed with the swirls that formed Xena's breastplate and the top's handle entwined with a knot of Xena's hair that Gabrielle had carefully preserved before burning her body in a futile attempt to return her beloved to the land of the living. Those horrific images of Xena's headless body strung up still haunted her dreams.
So much for moving on. Why Xena, after telling me so many times that we set our own destiny, did you accept the fate that had been handed to you in Japa by that scheming Akemi? Gods the world over never held your loyalty and yet here you accepted their... spiritual dictates. It doesn't make sense. You freed those souls. Your debt was repaid. Argh... why do I do this to myself. Regret brings no relief. Still, there are times I wished my hand had tipped your ashes into the fountain. Days when your memory is not enough. I know you said you'd always be with me, even in death, but I yearn for a warm body, a real conversation and the chance to lose myself in those gorgeous expressive eyes. And 30 seconds looking into them would never be enough, not even in death.
She pushed aside her maudlin thoughts and instead focused on why she was here, finally, in Greece. Gabrielle knew that her travels had merely been running; avoiding returning to the memories built from her early travels with Xena. Increasingly, she'd found that her heart found less and less comfort from those she helped. It was time to return and face her ghosts; those memories of travels she'd hoped would never end. So she'd returned to Greece and began traveling the very areas she'd been with Xena. Her final destination was Amphipolis, Xena's birthplace. It was time to lay her to rest. But tonight she was in a cave they'd used before. Her eyes caught a bright pinpoint winking in the night sky, dulling the nearby stars with its boldness. She'd never seen one so prominent before. Perhaps I might wish upon this star. Oh I know what I would wish for ... companionship ... Xena's and all the friends and family that have passed over. For one night I would give anything not to feel so alone.
Her heartfelt wish brought to mind the last time she'd been in this cave. It had been near the time of Fall Solstice and shortly after Alti had tried to steal Xena's baby. Seeking refuge and a chance to recoup not only their breath but their emotional bearings...
"Xena there are cobwebs everywhere. Couldn't you find a cave without spiders and bats."
"No bats ... maybe some Bacchae vampires though." Xena replied, her grin truly evil. "Here use this broomstick to scare out the creepy crawlies while I brush down Argo and give her some apples."
Gabrielle grabbed the bundle of twigs and began to sweep out an area for their bedrolls. She carefully checked for stones, the bane of her back's comfort. Satisfied that the area was relatively bug and stone free, she laid out their sleeping furs and then began the tasking of sorting through their food supply to prepare a meal.
Absently, Xena rubbed her swollen belly that looked as if she'd eaten a pumpkin. She knew her mood swung faster than a pinata swinging on a rope. In fact, a good whacking of anything with her sword sounded real nice. Alti's nearly successful trick of ensnaring her baby still sent shivers up and down her spine and she desperately needed something to chase away those memories. If only Yakut had left Alti's skeleton alone in that graveyard, I wouldn't be looking over my shoulder constantly and Gabrielle wouldn't have had to dress in a demented deer costume to battle that bitch. Hades, I almost lost her. If we hadn't used a trick to get Alti into that dreamscape... Argo whinned rather crossly as Xena pulled on a particular stubborn tangle in her mane.
"Gabrielle, I don't suppose you got any treats in that last town?"
"Is that the warrior sweet tooth talking?" Gabrielle's eyes shone with mirth. Another side effect of Xena's pregnancy was her cravings... mostly sweet.
A grumpy scowl was Xena's reply, her hands moving briskly over Argo's coat and eliciting a stomp from the horse's hoof.
"Alright grumpy one, yes I did get something that I think you will find tasty."
"Good! Hand it over."
"Nope, not till after dinner."
"Gaaa - briiii - eeeellle!" whined a very pouty warrior princess. Obviously being pregnant wasn't earning her any sympathy points with the bard.
"Healthy food first, dessert second. When you find dry ice in Tartarus that cute little tactic might work."
Xena went back to tending Argo and Gabrielle continued the task of preparing their dinner. Eventually the repast was consumed and Xena raised that enigmatic eyebrow high into her hairline.
"Okay, you been a very good kid and ate all your dinner, soooo..." smirked Gabrielle as she reached into her pouch and brought out a bag that when opened emitted a delightful aroma into the air. Carefully she poured a small amount of the dark brown powder into a wooden cup, added hot water, some honey and slowly swirled the concoction. She handed the cup to Xena who delightedly sniffed the contents.
"Now this smells wonderful." Carefully she took a sip and her face melted into a blissful smile. "Delicious. What's it called?"
"The Egyptian who sold it to me called it chocolate. Says it came from far across the sea. Had to use a whole moon's worth of storytelling dinars to buy it. "
"Gabrielle, that's not like you to be so ...."
"Generous, considerate, thoughtful?"
"Uhhh, no... extravagant."
Looking a wee bit sheepish Gabrielle admitted, "Not really, I did haggle down the price."
"So it didn't cost a moon's worth of dinars?"
"I traded some of the amber we found up North and that brought it down."
"Are you going to have some?"
"Thought maybe you'd share."
The Warrior Princess smiled at the astonishment on Gabrielle's face. Sometimes it was just too much fun teasing the bard. Reaching across Gabrielle, she snagged the extra cup and waved it under the bard's nose. "I figure two is better than one."
Gabrielle doled out more of the powder, adding hot water and honey to her cup. "Mmm ... this is good. Oh I could get used to having this instead of tea any day."
"Unless you have a stash of dinars I don't know about, I think you will have to settle for tea." Xena leaned back against Argo's saddle and continued to savor her sweet drink.
After awhile Gabrielle mused out loud, "Bet this would go over well at an Amazon party."
"Not unless it had a kick to it. They prefer their drink fortified."
"I don't know Xena, this is really tasty. Okay, maybe at the council meetings."
Xena sniggered, "That way the queen would get more of it for herself?"
Gabrielle merely smiled knowingly. They spent some time idly chatting, and slowly putting their fears behind them before settling down for the night and drifting off to sleep.
Gabrielle doubted tonight would go as well. Often her dreams were troubled and her gut told her tonight would be one that would haunt her dreamscape. Turning slowly, she took one last look at the night sky and breathed in a draft on the cool night air. The fire was waning, so she carefully added more fuel and banked it before sitting down to a meal of jerky, apples and flat bread. Washing it down with water, she finally laid upon her bedroll, tossing and turning trying to get comfortable. Eventually, sleep claimed her and she entered her dreamscape.
Somewhere deep into the night, Gabrielle woke with a start. Peering sleepily around her, it took several moments to remember where she was. Reaching over she added a few more branches to her banked fire. The soft glow increased. Her mind was wondering what had awakened her. Granted her dream had been strange. Something about Joxer dressed in pink lingerie [that made her shudder], carrying flowers and telling her to stand within the ring of dancing Amazons. She'd entered the circle carrying a candle to find Cupid holding a heart-shaped parchment trimmed in lace. Pointing at the parchment, he'd told her it was in the divine cards that she must kiss her consort at this wedding festival or romance would be forfeited from the world. She remembered telling Cupid that Xena was dead and she no longer held the title of queen. He'd told her to shine her light forth, so she'd raised the candle over her head. A bubble had slowly descended, drawn to the light and within she could see the image of a person. As it neared she'd realized it was Xena.
Oh Hades helmet, that jerky must've been bad. That is truly the weirdest dream I've had. Please tell me it doesn't mean anything. She shook her head to rid herself of the after images and rubbed her arms soothing herself. A scuffling sound caught her attention and she turned towards the entrance of the cave, trying to pierce the darkness. She waited for a few moments and heard it again. Quietly arising, she grabbed her sais and crept to the entrance. Carefully she poked her head around the opening. Nothing could be discerned. All was as it should be. Brush, trees ... no shadows that moved or took shape other than what it was. Must've been the dream that has my nape hair standing up, she mused. As she pulled back, she got the distinct impression that someone or thing was standing behind her deep in the recesses of the cave. Spinning on her heel she brought her sais up in a defensive posture.
"Show yourself. You are warned." Nothing. Inching over to the fire, she withdrew a flaming brand and held it before her, illuminating the cave as she moved slowly forward. Still nothing.
My nerves are too frayed. I am hearing things. Still, she felt as if something was there and throughout her travels had learned to trust her gut instincts. Once again, she carefully swept the light throughout the cave, yet yielded nothing. Sighing, she tossed the brand back into the fire and tried to settle herself once again. Just as her eyes were drifting shut she heard a faint voice, almost as if it was carried on the wind. Concentrating she could make out her name being called. Shivers went up and down her spine and she slowly reached for the chakram that lay nestled under her furs only to find that it wasn't where she was sure she'd placed it. Frantically scrabbling around, searching for the disc, her eyes wildly looking around the cave, they finally came to rest on a bright shaft of light streaming in from the cave entrance. It was brighter than moonlight, and besides, there wasn't a full moon tonight. She froze, gazing intently just past the edges of the beam at the ground where she could barely discern what appeared to be the tips of boots.
Slowly a figure began to step into the beam of light. Tall with flowing hair, dressed in what soon became familiar armor and leather. "Xena?" whispered the bard, her hand coming to her mouth startled.
Twin blue chips of ice warmed and a hand reached out. "Gabrielle."
The bard unconsciously began backing up, her emotions careening from shock to disbelief, then hope and finally fear... that it might all be a dream.
"I'm real and here ... don't be afraid my love."
"No! You're dead and gone."
Shaking her head and stepping closer Xena responded, "Not tonight. Tonight I am here with you." Grasping the chakram that was hanging by her side, she brought it in front of her, thrusting towards the bard. "See, I can hold this."
A wry smile crossed Xena's face, "Magic? Gods? Love? A heartfelt wish? Maybe a little bit of all. Whatever the reason, I've been allowed to cross the barrier and be with you."
The bard remained frozen in place. Her mind trying desperately to take in the fact that this wasn't a dream and indeed Xena or something looking and acting so like her was before Gabrielle. She watched as the figure advanced and slowly knelt before her. Slowly her hand snaked out and with fingertips brushed the forearm of the apparition. It was warm, soft and solid. Tears clouded her eyes and her body began to tremble as her emotions again shifted.
"Xena... I can touch..." her words trailed off as sobs overtook her. Solid arms muscled and warm went around her and her head was laid against Xena's shoulder, who only cooed soothingly while the emotional storm raged. Eventually Gabrielle calmed and her face tilted upwards. Her fingers traced the outline of the face she had seen only in her dreams giving credence to her hopes. The arms around her tightened into a gentle hug.
"I've missed you my bard."
"As have I."
"I've heard your thoughts and watched your travels. You've done well as a warrior and healer."
"Mmm... had a good teacher."
"Perhaps, but the negotiator and diplomat was always your own doing... your best asset was talking."
Gabrielle chuckled, "Only talking?"
"With others, but not for me. It was your understanding, compassion and love ... always unconditional."
Gabrielle's eyes sparkled with joy, "Easily given love. You've gotten quite eloquent in death."
"Hmm, not much to do but think." She loosened her hold and twisted to toss more branches onto the embers.
"Any regrets warrior?"
"Only one." Xena's eyes remained averted.
"In this case, the greater good was not the many, but the one."
"I don't understand."
Xena turned, her eyes intense. Her hand gently cupping the bard's cheek.
"Gabrielle, we've often talked about the cycle of love and hatred – about breaking it. There is so much blood on my hands, so much to atone for that I could never ask for forgiveness, let alone forgive myself. When I heard of 40,000 souls imprisoned and tortured because of my actions... it was finally too much. I felt it was the right thing, not only to sacrifice my life but to remain dead as a final atonement."
"Xena, Akemi started the cycle. It was her desire to kill her evil father. She underestimated the extent of his evil and it was he who enslaved those souls. You didn't deliberately set fire to that city."
"I know. But I felt that with this many souls at stake, finally it would balance out ... the greater good and the cycle would truly be broken. Only it wasn't."
Gabrielle's head tilted slightly, a quizzical look on her face. "In what way? You said ‘the one'."
Xena shifted slightly, "I've thought about this a lot. There is still violence in the world, even in Japa. It isn't the numbers that mattered, but what is in the heart that takes action. Your heart. Watching you, I've come to realize that the greater good can sometimes be served by sustaining the one." She put a finger on the bard's lips, stilling her. "The way you help people, that's what breaks the cycle. One person, one village, a little at a time. It may be a few comforting words, a helping hand, a few dinars or something as simple as a loaf of bread. The numbers never mattered; I didn't need to atone for all my past evilness to achieve forgiveness. It was always what was in my heart... and with you as the teacher it had changed... for the greater good. Staying by your side, traveling and helping others as a team, that was the greater good. Being alone has taken its toll on your spirit Gabrielle. Why are you here now?"
"To lay you to rest, once and for all ... to let go." She answered in a small voice. "Even with all my travels, all the helping, it isn't enough. I needed to return, face what we'd shared and let it go."
"No! It's more than that. You were preparing to let go of what makes you special Gabrielle."
"The dreams, the memories ... it's too much Xena. I still see your body..."
"Shh love. I know how hard it's been. I'm sorry, so very sorry to have put you through this."
Gabrielle's arms began to wave in agitation. "Xena, I always knew you'd eventually die it battle. It wasn't your death, it was the reason... you seemed to give up and accept your destiny. It was so unlike you to give in to a deity's dictates. It made the memories of our travels seem ... I don't know... shallow, lacking meaning. I couldn't come back to Greece and be reminded of what we'd shared, what we'd accomplished. So I traveled trying to do the greater good. But alone, it wore me down. It isn't in my heart anymore. All I want is my own peace." Her shoulders slumped and head bowed as she finally quieted.
"I think that's why I am here. To help you find that part of your soul that shone so brightly. To rekindle your flame of goodness."
"One night is not enough Xena."
"Who says it's one night."
"What! But you're dead ... I have your ashes, we lost our chance for your return." She turned to where she'd placed the pot, but it wasn't there. Perhaps in her agitation, she'd knocked it over and it had rolled under the furs. She lifted the furs but was unable to find the pot. Her eyes roamed around the immediate area but she couldn't see it anywhere. She turned to Xena, confusion plainly on her face.
Xena shrugged, "Uhh, I think it was used somehow to make me solid and alive... at least I think I'm alive. It was kinda cute," she made tiny circles with her finger as a smile tugged at the corners of her lips, "the swirls and hank of hair. Talk to it much?"
"Yea." The bard admitted sheepishly, "It became an avatar ... Xena warrior pot."
"Heh, at least I didn't blow my lid in anger."
"Was that a joke warrior?"
Xena's hand waffled back and forth, "Ehh. Sorta. Gabrielle, right now I'm just glad I can hold you in my arms." Once again she gathered the bard into her arms and simply held her, letting their connection gain substance.
After awhile, soft drumming began faintly and slowly gained in volume. Gabrielle turned quizzical eyes towards her warrior and asked, "What's that?"
"Some friends are coming. I think Solstice eve is the perfect night for a party. Don't you?"
Gabrielle's right eyebrow raised in skepticism. "And what friends would they be. Other than Lila, Sarah Eve, Virgil, a few of the current Amazons ... most are dead."
"True." Xena's eyes sparkled with mirth and a bit of mischief. She turned the bard's head towards the entrance of the cave. "Look who's coming to dinner."
A procession of people began streaming into the cave. Joxer, Autolycus, Ephiny, Solari, Salmoneous, her parents, Cyrene, Yakut, Amarice, King Gregor and his wife Pandora. More and more continued to enter each carrying food or drink. Gabrielle's eyes opened wide in astonishment. She turned to look at a smirking Warrior Princess, "How? Are you turning this cave into a haunted house?"
"Nope. Just thought that you might enjoy some familiar company."
"Warrior, your many skills have now reached an apex... that's for sure." Exclaimed an astonished bard.
"Not so fast sweet cheeks. She had some goddess help."
"Aphrodite!! It's been so long," exclaimed Gabrielle.
"Yeah, sorry about that little one. I've been doing some major traveling amongst the many realms. Some of those other gods are real hard-asses. But I think I finally convinced them that ol' blue eyes would be better off alive than dead. She is one royal bummer when she's bored. Know what I mean?" Aphrodite lightly hip-checked Gabrielle.
Gabrielle wave her hand to take in all the people, "What about them?"
"Uhh, only for tonight." Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders and tossed back a lock of blonde curly hair. "A gal can only do so much. But I got them a reprieve from eternal happiness to party hearty tonight."
Gabrielle hugged the goddess and her friend. "One night is good enough for me. Thank you Aphrodite."
"No problem. After all, love makes the world go ‘round. Ooo, I gotta remember that one. It's a keeper. Ohh, I did add a few of the living to the guest list." She pointed to Eve, Sarah, Lila, Varia and Virgil who stepped into the cave, slightly bewildered, but upon seeing Gabrielle rushed to greet her. Gabrielle quickly explained that the goddess had transported them and arranged for a few old friends to visit for the evening. Aphrodite assured them that all would return to their departure points come morning. She then snapped her hand and delicate goblets appeared in everyone's hand, filled with a fizzing beverage."
Xena cautiously sniffed its contents, the bubbles tickling her nose. "What's this?"
"Ohh something I picked up in my travels. It won't be invented for a while, but I adore it. It's called champagne. Just love the way it tickles your insides. Now a toast." She raised her goblet, "To Gabrielle."
"To Gabrielle" everyone responded and all sipped the strange brew. Salmoneous' head nodded in approval.
"This is much better than Lord Seltzer." He looked at the goddess and asked, "I don't suppose you could pull some strings and let me come back in another life... as a maker of this stuff. I could turn this into a real profitable commodity."
"Later... let's party!" She snapped her fingers once again and tuxedoed servants began to mingle amongst the group, passing platters and refilling goblets. Eventually voices raised in song and good cheer. Each person came over to the bard and spoke quietly with her. Joxer hugged his son, Eve her mother and grandmother, and Gabrielle her parents, sister and niece. Autolycus kissed all the Amazons and managed to keep his face intact. The amazons danced endlessly and even got some of the other guests to join in. Joxer bragged about his son, ‘the stud', and the amazons their prowess in battle, Autolycus about his light-finger accomplishments and Eve the number of converts. Aphrodite buffed her fingernails on her top and mentally patted herself on the back for the most awesome solstice party. A merrier group could not be found within leagues of this cave.
An aura of warmth, joy and happiness began to build within the cave and with it, the bard's spirits. Xena was never far from Gabrielle's side, and both would reach out periodically to grasp the other's hand, assuring each other that they were real. No one tired and it wasn't until the first glimmers of the approaching dawn before the party finally muted into long conversations, retelling of adventures they'd shared with Xena and Gabrielle. It seemed all too soon, but eventually the guests left, some to return to homes and others to the realms beyond this earth. Finally only the goddess, Xena and Gabrielle were left.
"Well ladies ... time for this goddess to catch up on her beauty rest. I think you two will do just fine without me." Gabrielle came forward, stretched upwards on her toes and kissed Aphrodite's cheek.
"Thanks again, Aphrodite. My wish was truly fulfilled."
"You're welcome, but this silent one over here just kept bombarding everyone with her thoughts... something just had to be done. Besides you two were ... are ... my greatest success story. Why break up a matching set. Toodles!" And with a shower of golden hearts, the goddess was gone.
Gabrielle turned to Xena and ran her hands up and down the warrior's arms. "I still can't really believe that you're here - in the flesh and not merely a ghost."
"Neither can I. It will take some getting used to being alive again. Hmmm, I can think of one thing that will help." Xena waggled her eyebrows at the bard.
"Oh you do ... huh. Well practice does make perfect, or so I've been told."
And with that the bard and the warrior began the tasking of reacquainting themselves with each other.
Author's Note: I am NOT a fan of FIN. Not because Xena died, but because of the flimsy excuse the writers presented for keeping her dead which was out of character in regards to the series as far as I'm concerned. Besides what's a Solstice story without a happy ending.
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