Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, this Ares, and this Aphrodite belong to MCA/Universal Studios, Renaissance pictures, USA studios, and the other PTB. No copyright infringement is intended. I am simply borrowing them for a little while. The other characters spring from Roman history, Egyptian mythology, and my own mind. This is an uncompensated work of fan fiction intended only for the entertainment of X:WP fans.
The song lyrics used, "I Would Have Loved You Anyway," sung by Trisha Yearwood, are also only borrowed for artistic purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story is set immediately after the events of "A Friend in Need" and is intended as an emotional resolution of sorts for the series finale. The story also refers to events in season six (and others), specifically those in "When Fates Collide" written by Katherine Fugate, so if you have not seen this episode (and you definitely should), you might be a little lost at first.
Be prepared for emotional trauma. As one might imagine, Gabrielle and Xena both have a lot to sort through after their little jaunt to Japa.
Also, (if you're patient) this story involves two women in love. There is no graphic expression of that love. It's PG at worst, but if this idea bothers you, read elsewhere.
You can send comments and
constructive criticism to "?" Please, no flaming. My heart is still recovering
Gabrielle stood up and dusted herself off. She was only slightly confused as she gazed around the serene forest, so different from the exploding temple she had been in. She took two steps down the path and then stopped, tilting her head to one side, listening.
It had to be the greatest sound Gabrielle had ever heard, even greater than the thunderous applause that still seemed to echo in her ear from a few evenings earlier when the Roman audience graciously received her play.
"...if that ever really happened," she thought as she quickly turned toward what she had heard and what her heart knew she would see. The sound of hooves striking packed dirt slowed right as the mist cleared, and Gabrielle caught and held the intense gaze of the warrior straddled high on the mare.
"You brought the world back to us."
Leave it to Xena to put everything in perspective for her. While the exact events of the past several days seemed to blur next to what she now remembered of her life, this life, Gabrielle could almost touch the anger, pain, and despair she felt when she had thrown the torch into the Fate's loom.
Regardless of the circumstances, Gabrielle knew she was supposed to be with Xena, no matter what she might be risking in order to achieve that goal. If the world had ceased to exist because the loom burned, Gabrielle, even in Tarturus, would have always believed that she made the right decision. She understood that her world did not exist, could not exist, without the woman on the horse.
"I'm glad. I like this one better." Gabrielle smirked at her own understatement.
"Even though you're not a famous playwright?"
Gabrielle paused before she answered. At one point in her life, becoming a playwright had been all she had wanted, but they both understood that her priorities had changed.
"Fame-- who needs it? (...especially when I have you," she added silently.) "Did you really like my play?"
"It was all right. Maybe it could've done with a few more fight scenes."
"Everyone's a critic."
And they rode off
into the sunset . . .
Gabrielle bolted from sleep, drenched and chilled with sweat. She surveyed her surroundings and slowly eased back on her cot, the gentle roll of the ship dragging her further into reality.
"Sunset," she whispered.
Gabrielle wistfully smiled as she considered the past she had been reliving in the land of Morpheus. Gabrielle had believed in that forest that nothing could tarnish her life again because she and Xena both felt the depth of their bond, regardless of circumstances. They knew that they were meant to be together; they just hadn't talked about it before . . .
But now the thought of the sunset ripped her heart in two. Xena was gone.
There would be no heartfelt reunion in a beautiful forest. No godly intervention at the last moment. No heroic act on Gabrielle's part that could salvage what was into what could have been. When the sun set in Japa, Xena died, and Gabrielle was left alone in the world.
Gabrielle blinked back her tears for the thousandth time as she struggled to come to terms with her current situation. There really was no one left for her. Ephiny. Most of the rest of her Amazons. Joxer. Her parents. Cyrene. All dead. Even Perdicus had died because of her. She had nowhere to go. Despair washed over her.
"Aren't you forgetting a few people?" Silence. "Gabrielle?"
"Go away." Gabrielle's voice hitched, but she was firm in her angry directive.
"Gabrielle, even if I wanted to leave you, which I don't, I seem to be unable to go anywhere else."
Gabrielle opened her eyes and studied her companion's compassionate face bathed in the moonlight from the cabin window.
"Xena, I can't do this."
"There is nothing you can't do. You have to believe that now more than ever."
"No, Xena. I can't live with you, with us, this way. I never know when you're with me. I turn to talk to you and there is nothing there but crisp salt air. I don't think I'll be able to maintain my sanity much longer."
Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle.
"I know that this hard, but I gave you my word. I promised that I would never leave you, even in death. I don't know how or why I am still with you, but I am glad that I am here."
Gabrielle considered that for a second.
"I honestly don't know which is harder...you being gone or you being here like this."
Xena didn't know what else to say. For the first few days after Xena's death, Gabrielle had been in shock, and all Xena could do was hold and rock the warrior bard. As the numbness wore off, the anger began. Gabrielle was furious and Xena understood her right to that anger. They explained and demanded and screamed and cried until there was nothing left to say. Neither appeared willing to admit that the other might have valid feelings.
Since they arrived on the boat, Xena had done her best to give Gabrielle time to herself. Both of them needed space to digest everything that had happened.
There were days when Gabrielle seemed to be taking the events in Japa in stride. Although she clutched Xena's ashes tight to her chest, she had spoken of Xena's journeys as if the death in Japa was the completion of a mission of adventure and redemption. On those days, Xena would assure Gabrielle that her greatest achievement was the love and friendship she shared with the bard. They would sadly smile and make plans for Gabrielle's solo future, but the pain and anger were too intense to reach any kind of real acceptance, and they both would pull away once again.
Now rocking the bard into tear-stained sleep, Xena acknowledged that she had never dreamed that this would be what she and Gabrielle would have to endure. She now realized that it had been an act of utmost selfishness to attack Yodoshi's army alone in her effort to get to the other side. In her attempt to protect the one she prized above all, she had sentenced them both to this agony. She still felt that she would have done whatever was necessary to free the tortured souls, but her perspective concerning her actions had changed over the last several weeks.
Whenever she saw the tears softly falling from her friend's green eyes, she was no longer sure she had done the right thing, but she didn't know how to tell Gabrielle. She didn't want to admit that it was her fault that the journey to Japa had gone horribly wrong and had led them into this hell on earth.
And so the darkness of
guilt, sorrow, and anger slid deeper into the Warrior Princess's heart.
With her eyes closed and her concentration focused intently on the woman wrapped in her arms, Xena did not sense the two figures that departed from the sad scene in a flash of blue and pink light.
Gabrielle's eyes opened before dawn. She was back on her cot with a blanket lovingly draped over her. Although she could still feel the warmth of Xena's arms around her, her friend was no longer in the room with her. She was alone, as she had been every dawn since that last sunset.
After tying off her top and attaching the chakram to her hip, Gabrielle went up onto the deck to face her last day aboard this vessel.
The men glanced at her but quickly turned back to their work. Some had decided to leave the small blond woman alone after one look into her profoundly sad green eyes. The exotic weaponry she wielded like an expert during her daily exercise routines further persuaded the rest of the sailors that this was a woman who should be treated with respect. Regardless of the reason, Gabrielle was rarely approached.
Almost all of the men noticed her daily meditations. At least, that is what the captain called them. The woman was often seen mumbling to the air. When a few of the more superstitious men fearfully mentioned their suspicion that she was an enchantress, the captain had done his best to calm the uproar.
He had closely observed Gabrielle from the moment she asked for passage to Egypt. He had instantaneously known that this was no ordinary woman and that she had recently suffered a great deal. Her too-pale face, the red-rimmed eyes, and her refusal to eat most of what was sent to her cabin confirmed his gut feeling from the docks. He was glad that he had agreed to take her along with them. She reminded him too much of his daughter at home in Alexandria for him to have left her to find another way. He knew that other ship's captains would have tried to take advantage of her, and while he didn't think she needed to be protected, especially after watching her weapons drills, he could not have lived with himself if he had refused her offer.
He had noticed that she was never without a small black urn, and the fact that she carried on a conversation with an unseen spirit didn't bother him. If the daily conversations prevented her from giving into the hint of madness he had seen dancing in her eyes when they first pulled away from Higuchi, then he was glad she had an imaginary friend.
The captain watched as Gabrielle, seeming to physically beg for the light and warmth it would bestow on the day, leaned toward the sunlight of the dawn playing on the edge of the ship. Then he turned back to his duties, happy that tomorrow would see him safely home.
When Gabrielle's entire body was immersed in the golden sunlight, she decided she had the strength to finish the conversation started the night before.
"I'm here." Gabrielle felt an arm settle around her shoulder.
"You said I had forgotten a few people. From your point of view, who do I have left?"
Gabrielle heard the sharp intake of breath. This was obviously not the conversation her partner wanted to be having. After a brief silence...
"Do you want the short list or the long list?"
"Gabrielle, I think you have many, many people in this world that need you desperately. There's Eve. You are her mother now. She will need you to keep her path straight just as I needed you. There's Lila and Sarah. As your only descendant, Sarah needs to know who you are and what you stand for so that your part in everything that we've accomplished is never forgotten and so that your belief in the heart of humanity is passed on."
"How can I be a mother to Eve, Xena? My only attempt at motherhood resulted in the birth of a Destroyer and your son's death. I will also have to tell her that I was unable to bring you back even though I had the chance. I am not sure how she'll react to that." She held her hand up to Xena's mouth to still the response she saw coming.
"As for Lila and Sarah, I'm not sure Lila will ever really forgive me for not being there to stop the destruction of Poteidaia in the first place. Granted, you and I know that we were out of action for a while there, but how can I explain to either Lila or Sarah that I was able to save so many others but couldn't be there in their time of need?" At the start of vibration under her fingertips, Gabrielle pressed harder so that she could continue without interruption.
"I know that I helped save Sarah from Gurkhan's harem. I know that Eve will understand that you did not want me to bring you back. But, Xena, our families do not need me to be in their lives. In addition to everything else, my presence will remind them on a daily basis that you are no longer on this earth. And if they react to that knowledge the same way I have, then they might lose faith in the goodness, kindness, and love that we have already tried to share with the world."
At that, Gabrielle released the pressure on Xena's lips. She lowered her hand slowly back to her side and slightly tightened, waiting for the explosion of anger she was about to endure. It never came.
When she looked back up at Xena, she was deeply moved, surprised by the tears freely flowing from the blue eyes.
Xena reached out with a shaking hand and grasped the hand Gabrielle had just lowered. She slowly brought it back up to her lips and placed a kiss soft as the breeze on the inside palm of Gabrielle's outstretched hand. Xena covered the hand now wiping tears off her cheek with her own.
"Don't you know, Gabrielle?" Xena choked out. "Don't you know by now that YOU are all the goodness, kindness, and love that has been brought to the world during our travels together? Without you, none of the good that was done would have been possible."
"No, Xena. The world needs us both. Don't YOU know that all that I have become and might be in the future is because of you? You are my light and strength and hope. Without you, there is no love; there is no kindness. When you died, my heart died with you. How can I fight for the greater good without my heart?"
Xena dropped Gabrielle's hand and wrapped both of her arms around Gabrielle's waist, pulling her into a tight embrace. She kissed the top of the blond head. They stood that way for a while, both lost deep in thought, both knowing that this is where they wanted to always be, both scared to voice the feelings, both afraid to cross that line.
"This is not the way it was supposed to be."
"I know, but there is nothing we can do about it, sis."
"Ares, you know that isn't true. You're happy because Xena's death in this life would set your marriage contract into effect, a contract I'm still not sure I believe exists."
"It exists, Aphrodite. Believe me, it exists. And yes, I admit that I am happy that she's not going to be with that irritating little blond anymore."
"You don't get it, do you?"
"Xena's death affects more than just Gabrielle. The fact that the two of them will no longer help humanity together will alter the course of history."
"Why should I care? Less Gabby and Xena means less peace and more war. Sounds like a great world to me."
"Ares, you and I will both die without their help, not to mention the thousands of people that will suffer needlessly. You know the prophecies as well as I do. We'll need both of them to survive. Anyway, I don't really believe you can stand to see your beloved chosen suffering this much."
"Okay. I get it. Xena being dead is bad in all sorts of ways. I just don't see what we can do about it. She was kind enough to off most of our brothers and sisters, including Hades. She hasn't even officially entered into any kind of afterlife. How are we supposed to bring her back and what makes you think she'll come back? It was her choice to die in the first place."
"Under false pretenses. You know she did not have all the facts when she made that decision. Plus, I'm not quite done with her yet."
"I don't even want to know what that means, Dite."
Taking another long look at the two women embraced in front of them, Aphrodite sighed.
"Let's go, bro. We have a lot of work to do and some new people to meet."
With that, they flashed back to Mount Olympus. This time, however, their presence had not gone unnoticed by a certain Warrior Princess.
Gabrielle felt Xena flinch. She pulled closer to her friend.
"What is it?"
Gabrielle pulled back. "Ares?"
"Yeah, but I don't think he was alone."
"What would they want with us now? There is very little I can do for them and I am quite sure they have done enough for me."
"I don't know, Gabrielle. I guess we'll just wait and see."
Xena massaged Gabrielle's shoulders as she sat on the edge of the bed. This nightly ritual seemed to calm the bard and made it less likely that she would struggle with tears before entering Morpheus' kingdom.
"Mm?" Xena smiled, knowing that her friend was on the verge of slumber, but she wanted to get this argument over with while they were still on the boat.
"Mm...I'm awake...really. Go ahead."
"When we get to Egypt, I don't want you searching for a way to bring me back. I know that you've thought about the possibilities the Book of the Dead offers, but I don't want you to get involved with that."
Silence. After more pressure on her shoulders, Gabrielle stood up and moved away from the bed to face the window, away from Xena. Xena knew she had opened the door to a relationship ending argument, but she had to let Gabrielle know how she felt.
"How can you ask me to do that?" Gabrielle's whispered question would have been lost to anyone else. But Xena wasn't anyone else.
"I made my choice, Gabrielle. I do not want you to endanger your life again to bring me back. I realize that neither of us are happy right now, but if something happened to you while you were trying to reverse this, I could never be happy again."
"So, you can go out and get killed, but I have to respect your wishes and be safe? Xena, no matter what I choose to do from this point on, I'll probably be in danger...NO, wait! What makes you think that you get to have a say in anything that I do?! YOU left me, remember? YOU made the decision, without talking to me, that put us in this hell in the first place. YOU didn't trust me enough to tell me about your big plan to save those souls. YOU walked out on everything, leaving me with no chance to tell you how I feel, no chance to explain how I see our life together, and no chance to help you find your redemption. And don't dare talk about being unhappy. It has always been about you, you, you. Guess what, Xena? You're dead! You don't get a voice in what I say or do. You gave that up when you attacked that army alone."
Gabrielle's shouting echoed through the cabin as she stopped to take a breath. The tears in her eyes stung, her lungs burned, and her throat ached because of her loud outburst. She had advanced on her friend during her tirade, physically pushing Xena back to emphasize each point.
Xena now stood pinned with her back to the wall, facing a very angry young woman who was just getting wound up.
Her breath regained, Gabrielle continued: "You've never let me grow up. When it came to facing danger, you've always treated me like the child you saved from slavers. Whenever things might have gotten a little rough, you always shoved me away. You-"
"have never allowed me to be the equal partner that we both know I could be, that I deserve to be. I can't believe that you would just leave me here without me getting a chance to voice some alternative to your samurai-assisted suic-" Xena's hand forcefully closed over Gabrielle's mouth.
"I SAID, YOU ARE RIGHT!!"
Gabrielle drew back from the roar, dropping the demoralized hands holding her partner against the wall.
Xena took a deep breath. "You are right. I was wrong to ignore your feelings, wrong to forget how important you are to me, wrong to let someone from my past have any say in your future, wrong to treat you as less than you are, and wrong to lead us into this current situation. BUT, I am not wrong in trying to protect you."
She reached up and cupped Gabrielle's chin. Gabrielle pulled back.
"Xena, your need to protect me is responsible for most of the problems we're facing now. Can't you just trust me to take care of myself for once? And is it an unreasonable assumption that I could have helped protect you, too?"
Xena was starting to get angry. She knew that she should continue her apology, continue what she had planned to say, but Gabrielle was making too many good points. Xena didn't want to listen to Gabrielle's reasoning anymore; it hurt too much.
"I don't want you to get hurt. From the moment I first saw you outside of your village, I have tried to do everything I could to keep you safe. Your stubbornness and refusal to listen to me has gotten us into worse situations than anything I could have ever done."
"You don't want me to get hurt?! Who the Tarturus do you think just struck the blow that has almost destroyed me? Can you imagine what it's like to wake up with half a soul, Xena? You have inflicted more damage on me than any sword or arrow could ever do."
"Well, maybe I should have left you to fend your own way a long time ago. If I have inflicted so much pain on you, maybe my death is the best thing for both of us. I can't hurt you anymore and you get the chance to prove how much you don't need me."
"Good!" And with that,
Xena was nowhere to be seen and Gabrielle's screams turned into
Three days had passed since Gabrielle's departure from the ship. She had wished the captain a fond farewell, knowing that the man had done her a great service by bringing her safely to this port and insuring her privacy while on his vessel. In return for her graciousness, the captain felt compelled to escort her to a respectable inn, and he bargained with the innkeeper to get her a week's stay on his own tab.
Gabrielle had been impressed by his kindness, and it reminded her of why she enjoyed traveling the world so much. Since she had been alone in the inn, Gabrielle had, had a lot of time to think and ponder her future. During the past few days, she realized that helping the innocent and the downtrodden was her mission in life and should continue to be, regardless of the circumstances she endured. But before she felt ready to help others, Gabrielle knew she had to come to some kind of peace within herself or she would lack the concentration necessary to keep herself alive in a fight.
In pursuit of that peace, Gabrielle was huddled over her makeshift desk, scribbling furiously with a quill, filling up parchment after parchment. She truly believed that when she finished telling the final Xena story, "bard Gabrielle" would also depart this life, allowing the Amazon Warrior Queen to take a place in the fight for truth and justice without emotional entanglements and weaknesses from the past. If she was supposed to be Xena's replacement, then Gabrielle felt she must shed some of her own emotional involvement with the world. In her mind, her heart was already dead, and she considered that this lack of emotionality would make her a more formidable opponent against the forces of darkness.
As she lit her candle again, Gabrielle realized that yet another day had passed. The innkeeper had provided a reliable stream of nourishment, and outside of trips to the washroom, Gabrielle had not left her room since her initial arrival. She had too much to write and too much information to decipher.
The more involved she had become in the description of their journey into Japa, the more Gabrielle felt that some part of the story remained hidden from her eyes, almost as if something or someone was preventing her from seeing and understanding the truth. Everything that Xena had told her and that she had witnessed seemed to make sense on first examination, but when she looked at the events from a storyteller's point of view, there were large gaps in the logical progression of the entire journey.
Why would Akemi have allowed both Xena and Gabrielle to believe that it was possible to bring Xena back from the dead, going so far as to tattoo the bard "for her protection" during the dangerous task? Why was it necessary for Xena to remain dead when Far Eastern culture believed that the person responsible for starting the chain of events (in this case, Akemi) was to bear the blame? If it took a mortal crossing over into the land of souls to defeat Yodoshi, why did that mortal have to be Xena? Ghostkiller had been in Japa for years and had not tried the solution that he pushed toward Xena. Was there anyone, other than the 40,000 souls who supposedly needed vengeance, who could benefit in some unseen way if Xena remained dead? Was there anyone who could benefit from the separation of the bard and the warrior?
When this last question crossed her mind, Gabrielle shakily put down the quill and wiped the ink off her trembling hands. If someone had wanted to separate the two women, they had done an outstanding job, in more ways than one. Xena's death still didn't make sense in Gabrielle's mind, but then again, she was having a hard time at the moment explaining a lot about Xena's life.
There were other questions concerning the events in Japa, but these were more painful. How could Xena have been so manipulated and still be blind to the machination, both in the past and the present? Why would Xena have trusted the word of someone she knew used her in the past instead of investigating the situation for herself? Why had Xena believed that her death was the only answer when her life had made such a difference to so many? When had this emotional barrier risen between herself and Xena? Why was helping Akemi more important than protecting her life...
"her life with me." Gabrielle finished the thought aloud.
Gabrielle no longer believed that she understood the Warrior Princess or even really knew her. The woman who had died on that field alone was a stranger because the woman Gabrielle had called friend and family would never have left her without an explanation. Her Xena would never have allowed Gabrielle to suffer this much, especially as a result of the warrior's own actions. Her Xena had said that if she knew she had only thirty seconds left to live, they would be with Gabrielle, not on some foreign soil surrounded by fire, smoke, gore, and blood-alone.
Even with every word and every action they had said and taken in Japa now written on a scroll, Gabrielle could not justify why she was in an inn in Alexandria all alone.
Part of her admitted that even if Xena had been alive during their argument on the ship, she would still be here alone. Too many things had been said and too many wounds had been administered for things to continue as they had been. If Xena had been alive, Gabrielle felt that they would have eventually worked past this rift to emerge stronger on the other side. With Xena gone, Gabrielle would have to find her own way past all these conflicting emotions. Love and anger coexisted within her.
She turned back to the table, sorted through the stacks until she found a clean piece of parchment, and picked up her quill. After nibbling on the feather's end deep in thought, she let words simply flow from her heart.
I'd have known that this would end
If I'd have read the last page first
If I'd have had the strength to walk away
If I'd have known how this would hurt
I would have loved
I'd do it all the same
Not a second I would change
Not a touch that I would trade
Had I known my heart would break
I would have loved you anyway
It's bittersweet to
look back now at memories withered on the vine
Just to hold you close to me for a moment in time
I would have loved
I'd do it all the same
Not a second I would
Not a touch that I would trade
Had I known that my heart would break
I would have loved you anyway
And even if I'd seen
it coming, you'd still have seen me running
straight into your arms.
Gabrielle read her words over again. There, on the page in front of her, was the honest-to-gods truth, the truth that Gabrielle had wanted to reveal so many times while Xena was alive, but she had always waited "for a better time." The knowledge that she had never taken the opportunity to express her love while the warrior was still alive was the only regret that burdened Gabrielle.
Almost two years (well, twenty-seven really, but who's counting?!) had passed since Gabrielle had realized that Xena was the love of her life. When she had been given the choice (the second time) between a proposed lifetime of helping the helpless with Najara and continuing on her risky, violence-filled journey with Xena, it had been somewhat of a surprise to her that her heart had never wavered away from a path that, up until that point, was becoming difficult in the light of her new beliefs. Of course, when Najara lost her mind, Gabrielle was relieved she had not been tempted.
Her choice to continue with Xena led directly to her abandonment of Eli's "Path of Love" and her crucifixion. But she had no regrets about that decision. Her path of love turned out to be walking side by side with the oft-tortured, redeemed warlord. She only wished that she had told Xena how she felt in words that couldn't be misconstrued as anything other than what they represented-deepening love.
Somehow, the "I love you"s that they exchanged were accepted as from one best friend to another and from one family member to another. Gabrielle had never had the courage to explain that she meant something else entirely.
Looking back now, she knew that there had been moments over the last six years that brought into question whether the emotion was really one sided. When Xena tenderly kissed her palm. The sparkle in Xena's eyes when she laughed at something witty Gabrielle had invented just to see that smile. The hugs, hand squeezes, and arm rubs given without obvious reason. Snuggling next to a campfire on a star-lit night. The breathtaking poem Xena asked Sappho to pen in celebration of bard's most recent birthday. There were too many somewhat debatable flashes for Gabrielle to count.
The most crystalline moment of their shared love that Gabrielle experienced ironically occurred at the very end. When Xena clutched Gabrielle's hands tightly to her throat to teach the bard how to cut off the flow of blood, her most valuable and dangerous secret, and had declared that Gabrielle's eyes were the last thing she wanted to see in this life, Gabrielle had, had no doubt that Xena loved her, too.
Gabrielle thoughts then wandered toward their alternate lives as Empress and Playwright.
"Gabrielle, in the third act, you had your hero throw himself over the cliff with no fear of dying . . . all for her. Do you really believe that kind of love exists?"
"It's what we all dream about, isn't it? Someone who looks so deeply into our soul that they'd find something worth dying for."
"Empress, I can't let you die."
"Some things are worth dying for. Isn't that what your play was about? Being prepared to sacrifice all for love?"
And Empress Xena had subsequently chosen her own crucifixion to save Gabrielle's life.
But now, Gabriel wished that her play had, had a different ending. She wished Xena had loved her enough to find something worth living for.
But when Xena allowed herself to be killed, Gabrielle felt that no lover would sacrifice a future of sharing each day with a true soulmate, regardless of the demons of retribution that might be in pursuit.
Xena had given her answer to Gabrielle's question of love without even knowing that a question had been asked.
Gabrielle didn't feel any catharsis. She had not let go of any of her emotions. She shoved the parchment away.
Gabrielle went to bed angry.
Gabrielle moaned as the sound of the incessant pounding on her door hauled her out of dreamland, but the fist slamming into the wood would not be denied. She adjusted her night shift in all the right directions so that she was somewhat presentable and yanked open the door.
"I'm sorry to wake you, ma'am," said the innkeeper, "but Barrat said you needed to come immediately."
"I don't know any Barrat," Gabrielle huffed.
"Pardon me, ma'am, but Barrat brought you to this inn and paid for your room. I assumed that you were somewhat familiar with the man."
"Oh, you must be talking about the captain."
"Yes, Captain Barrat. Anyway, he begs that you come to his home immediately. He says he needs your help."
Gabrielle paused for a brief moment.
"Give me a few minutes, and I'll meet you downstairs. Then, you can take me to him."
The man nodded his agreement and Gabrielle shut the door, suddenly aware that she was completely on her own to face whatever trouble Barrat might be experiencing. As she slipped into her red Amazon traveling outfit, Gabrielle wondered why she would have been who he sought out for help. She knew he was from this town, so why not contact the local magistrates for help? She would be extremely surprised if he had recognized her, especially since she rarely traveled alone.
"Better get used to it."
She muttered aloud as she tied the chakram neatly in place, adjusted her sais
in her boots, and slid the katana into its sheath on her back. When she opened
the door again, she left behind the little frightened girl from Poteidaia forever
and crossed the threshold as the Warrior Queen of the Amazons.
Gabrielle followed the innkeeper to a modest home on the outskirts of town. Her keen sight and smell detected that a skirmish had recently occurred. Her instincts notched up to the ready and her hands balled in anticipation.
"This is the place." The innkeeper gestured toward the door, nodded at her, and then walked back toward the inn.
Gabrielle scanned the area, making sure to listen to each sound and what clues it might give her as to what she could expect inside. Noting that nothing seemed to be disturbing the peace currently, she started toward the door.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Gabrielle froze at the familiar voice.
"I had been wondering if I'd see you again."
"I haven't left you, Gabrielle. I just didn't want to see you and the feeling appeared mutual."
"Then I'll be going-"
"-No. Stop. Just stop, Xena. We can argue later. I don't feel like going into the unknown alone. Watch my back?"
"Always." Gabrielle started walking toward the door again. "You might want to watch out for the two guys with crossbows cocked, waiting for you inside the door, crouching down on your right side."
Gabrielle turned and smirked at her partner. "Thanks. Maybe there are some advantages to our current situation."
Gabrielle warily kicked in the door and pulled her body quickly back around the frame as two arrows sailed out the entrance. She stepped back around the corner with her sais drawn.
"That's not a very nice way to greet a lady, boys."
They both lunged at her, thinking that if the two of them attacked, they could overpower her.
She kicked the first attacker in the stomach, spun, and caught the second man across his temple with the handle of her sais. When the first man came back for another try, Gabrielle shook her head and delivered a roundhouse kick to his chin, landing him, almost effortlessly, in a heap next to his friend. She glanced at the two unconscious men and glanced back at her partner.
"That was almost too easy."
"Yes, it was. I would say you if you stick around, there will probably be more where that came from."
"Hey, just because I'm a spirit doesn't mean I know everything."
"There's no harm in trying. I'm worried about Barrat," Gabrielle added, surveying the ransacked home. Then, she heard soft scratching noises.
"It's below us."
"I know." Gabrielle moved the overturned table in the center of the room, pulled up the carpet, and found a hidden trap door.
"Should I risk it?"
"Why not, Gabrielle? Bad guys don't usually notify you of their presence."
After a few minutes of pulling and tugging, Barrat sat on the floor of his home, surveying the damage. When he saw the two bandits on the floor, he turned toward Gabriel in awe.
"You must be her."
"He knows you well. Start with the nice talk, and then move to the bad news. You're always a sucker for the sweet left hook approach."
Gabrielle was caught off guard, both by Barrat's statement and by Xena's voice ringing in her head. She quickly scanned the room and noted the visual absence of her friend, but she figured that Xena was making herself scarce so that her movements would not distract Gabrielle. Gabrielle decided to answer in the same manner, hoping that Xena would be able to hear her.
"Shut up, warrior princess. You have to admit this is better than the sword-drawn ambushes we usually get as a result of your name."
"Touche´," came the chuckling reply.
"My name is Gabrielle. You must be Barrat."
"I realize that our introduction is long overdue. I apologize that I could not share my name before."
"I understand. You are traveling alone, which is unusual, and you have many enemies. In your situation, I also would not proclaim myself to the world."
He tried to tread lightly, surmising that Gabrielle's pain was at least partially due to the conspicuous absence of the infamous warrior princess.
"You sent for me." Gabrielle prodded, not really wanting Barrat to spend very much time considering her situation.
"I did. Even if you were not the Battling Bard, I would have recognized a compassionate and very skilled warrior in the woman on my ship and would have sent for your help. My daughter, Urania, the only remaining member of my family, has been kidnapped and I need your assistance to bring her home."
"There's more, Gabriel."
"I know. I'm just going to give him time to get around to the rest."
Silence. The shadow on the sundial moved just slightly.
"Your daughter has been kidnapped and . . ."
"You're not very patient."
"I learned that from you."
"A man named Sejanus engineered Urania's kidnapping."
At the warning, Gabrielle steeled herself for the rest.
"Sejanus is the primus pilus, the highest ranking centurion of the Roman legion stationed in this area."
"You are telling me that your daughter was kidnapped by the most powerful Roman soldier in Alexandria?"
"Yes. Rumor has it he is on his way to a command in the Praetorian Guard. Will you help me?"
"Honestly, I don't know if I can."
"Don't start, Xena."
"I am not very popular with Rome at the moment and as you can see, I am alone."
"From what I have heard and seen with my own eyes, you have many skills. I think you alone could take on almost any opponent and emerge victorious."
Gabrielle heard soft laughter in her ears.
"Barrat, you should not believe everything you hear. But, I will search the area and see what information I can gather about Urania. Once I have that information, I will give you my answer."
"Thank you, Gabrielle."
"No, thank you, Barrat. I think I probably owe you my life."
"You owe me nothing."
"Only after you have your daughter will my debt be paid. I will return within two candlemarks."
She quickly exited before Barrat could say anything else and headed for the city's main square.
True to her word, Gabrielle pushed open Barrat's door two hours later. He still sat on the floor surrounded by debris. He looked up anxiously at the sound of her footsteps.
"I have your answer . . . I will help you."
Barrat breathed a sigh of relief.
"But, only on the condition that you will do exactly what I say. No more, no less."
"You sound more like me every day. Let's hope he listens better than you do."
"Okay, Gabrielle. What do you want me to do first?"
Gabrielle was too busy glaring at the air next to her to have heard him.
"I asked what you wanted me to do first."
"Come with me. We're going to visit Sejanus."
"Do you think that's a good idea?" echoed in her head and in the room.
"Yes!" Gabrielle stopped to regain some composure. "From what we've learned, this is the last move Sejanus would expect you to make. The element of surprise will give us an advantage."
"Lead the way."
"Now if only you had always been so easy to convince, Xena."
It was Xena's turn to glare.
The soldier knocked on the door nervously.
"I left orders that I was not to be disturbed for any reason," yelled a powerful voice on the other side of the door.
"A angry man and a fierce young woman are demanding an audience with you, sir. When we tried to forcefully remove them from the gate, she disabled five of our best guards. She says they will not leave until they have spoken directly to you."
The oak door jerked open. Sejanus's glower wilted the young soldier in front of him.
"You have interrupted my privacy because you do not know how to handle a little girl with weapons who is demanding to see me? I just want to be clear on this."
As he lifted his arm to strike a blow, a hand settled on his shoulder.
"Sejanus, that isn't necessary."
The softness of her voice always unmanned him. He reexamined the trembling youth in front of him.
"See that you never again disturb me."
"Yes, sir." The young soldier fled before the centurion changed his mind, thankful that the beautiful woman they apprehended earlier had saved him from a brutal beating.
Sejanus turned toward the beauty behind him.
"Urania, my soldiers must understand discipline."
"I will not have you lashing a soldier for delivering an urgent message. At least, not as long as I am with you."
"Then there will be no more lashing."
He bent to kiss her. She pulled away, flustered, turned from him, and walked further back into the room
"Shouldn't you go check on the disturbance?"
"I'd rather stay here with you."
She remained with her back to him until she heard the door close.
Moments later, Sejanus stood in the entryway of the barracks.
"Open the door."
The two soldiers nervously fidgeting by the door turned, slid the lock away, and pulled the heavy wood.
As he walked into the sunlight, Sejanus studied the two figures standing resolutely in the courtyard.
The older man was dressed as a plebian and his skin seemed worn beyond its years, most likely by the wind. Sejanus deduced the man was a poor sailor. There was something familiar about him, but Sejanus couldn't place it.
His blond companion also
struck a chord of familiarity with the centurion. She was small, yet Sejanus
was aware of the power in the taut muscles on display because of her Amazon
apparel. She also appeared to be travel-worn, but her stance portrayed vigor
and confidence. The katana strapped to her back and the sais in her boots designated
her to be a master of weaponry. He then glanced at the circular metal tied to
her hip. He halted suddenly, causing his escort to bump into him. He regained
his composure and continued on toward the pair.
Sejanus had last seen that weapon more than twenty years before in the hands of the woman he considered solely responsible for the downfall of his mentor, Marc Antony. While he had been told that Xena was dead, he had recently learned that a woman fitting her description caused the ruin of Emperor Caligula. He realized that if she were alive, Xena would be into her sixties by this time, so the woman he now approached must be a protegee of sorts. It did cross his mind that Xena had once traveled with a small, blond bard, but he knew it was impossible for this young woman to be-
"You were just thinking that you might know me. My name is Gabrielle."
Sejanus was stunned. "But-?"
"It's a very long story best told in a tavern after a few rounds of port. You are Sejanus?"
He was incredulous. This young woman waltzed into his compound, disabled five of his soldiers, announced herself to be a generation-old heroine, and had taken control of an interrogation that he should be leading. She left him speechless. Speechless and furious.
"You have him worried already."
"I'm just following your example."
"You must be stupid, little girl, to come walking into an encampment of Roman soldiers, demanding to see their commanding officer, injuring several in the process, and expecting me to listen to anything that a con artist like yourself would have to say."
"Now you've done it." The man behind her spoke up for the first time.
Gabrielle was getting angry.
"Act. I know."
"First, sir, I am not a little girl. I am Gabrielle of Poteidaia, Amazon Queen, bard, and traveling companion of Xena of Amphipolis. Second, you must be stupid to believe that you can kidnap every young Egyptian girl that your soldiers have taking a liking to. There are some laws even Roman soldiers cannot break. We are here for Urania."
Sejanus's eyes widened and his heart thudded for a few beats. No one was supposed to know that Urania was here. The gang's ringleader had assured him that his money would guarantee no one would suspect that a Roman soldier was even involved. Granted, Sejanus had ordered two of his assistants to accompany the bandits, but he did not believe that their undercover presence could have been detected, much less this quickly. Unfortunately, his noticeable reaction had just confirmed Gabrielle's information.
"Don't know what I'm talking about. Yes, I'm sure you don't. Well, if you have nothing to hide, surely you would not mind giving us a tour of your facility. As citizen, we have the right to see how well our ridiculous taxes have been put to use. Don't you think, Barrat?"
Again, Sejanus's eyes widened. Urania's father was standing in the middle of this courtyard acting as if he was simply an interested passerby. Sejanus had expected the man to be furious, demanding that the local magistrates search the world for his daughter. Instead, the captain silently examined the centurion.
"I want to see my daughter."
"No. She is not in danger."
Barrat flinched and took a few angry steps toward the soldier.
Gabrielle's hand wrapped around his arm before he could get any closer to Sejanus's quickly unsheathed sword.
"I don't think any of us want this to escalate further, do we?"
Barrat slowly shook his head. Sejanus waited for a few more minutes, then replaced his sword.
"I have a solution to this first issue that I think everyone can agree on." Both men continued to stare warily at each other, but they seemed to be listening. "I will see Urania so that I can determine whether she is safe as you claim. After I see her, we will all talk again. If she has been harmed, Sejanus, you will immediately turn yourself over to the local magistrate. In the meantime, Barrat will remain in this courtyard under your guard for his own safety. Agreed?"
Sejanus and Barrat glared at her, but hearing the reason in her suggestion, they both nodded.
"Take this young woman to see our prisoner."
Gabrielle started to follow the soldier, then turned back to glance at the two men still glowering at each other. "If either one of you is harmed when I get back, I will personally track down the other one and make sure that he suffers a slow and agonizing death." She turned again before she could see their reactions, but she heard Xena's appreciative whistle.
"You love him, don't you?"
Gabrielle reached out and laid a comforting hand on Urania's shoulder.
"Yes," Urania sobbed. She turned away from Gabrielle and moved to look out the window. She quickly stepped back, surprised to see her lover and her father standing in the courtyard.
"They will kill each other."
"I don't think so, Urania. They both care for you too much."
"How did you know . . . ?"
"That you loved Sejanus?" Urania nodded. "We talked to your friends. They tried to cover for you, but we convinced them that it was in your best interests (and theirs) to admit the truth. They explained that the two of you had been seeing each other secretly for several moons. I know Sejanus loves you based on his reaction to your father's demand that you be returned immediately."
"How did Father take the news?"
"He doesn't know, yet."
"But you said 'we'."
"Oh. I apologize for the confusion."
Gabrielle paused to gather her wavering composure. She suddenly noticed Xena's presence was no longer with her.
"Your father is unaware that you and Sejanus are involved in any way other than kidnapper and kidnap victim. I felt that you should explain the truth to him."
"That will be hard. He does not like Romans, especially soldiers."
"He probably has his reasons, Urania, but Barrat is a fair man. He will listen to you, and you must convince him to accept the love that you claim to share with Sejanus. Based on the way you left things to appear to your father, Sejanus has forcefully taken the only jewel Barrat still has. And your refusal to publicly share your relationship with Sejanus because of your father is somewhat humiliating. I sense he has grown to resent your father. You must hurry and talk to both of them or their distrust of each other will quickly escalate into violence."
"I never meant for this to go on so long. I had no idea that Sejanus would go to such lengths to force a confrontation with my father. Once I arrived here, Sejanus explained that when Father went to the magistrates, they would tell him that the two of us were already married, preempting any objections he might have raised. I begged him to let me send a message to Father explaining that I was okay, but he refused until after we were married. He really is a kind man, but he is ambitious. When he wants something, he refuses to give up until he has gotten it. That's one of the things I love about him."
"I used to know someone just like him, Urania. Sometimes love is a hardest thing for people of action to conquer. Just be patient with him."
Urania smiled and brushed away her own tears. Gabrielle reached out and squeezed her hand.
"I think someone is waiting to see you."
"I will take care of Sejanus. You talk to your father."
Gabrielle walked out of the room toward the courtyard, but she was whisked away before she knew what was happening.
Xena immediately recognized where she was. She had faced angry, determined gods the last time she stood in this hall. What she didn't know was why she had been brought to Mt. Olympus and she wondered who would have the nerve to yank her away from Gabrielle's side. On that cue, Ares materialized in front of her.
"Ares," Xena sneered. "I should have known. Gabrielle's life is not over; therefore, our contract is not yet in effect."
"For all practical purposes, her life is over without you. But, that is not what we're here to discuss."
"Okay, then. As long as I have your word that Gabrielle will remained unharmed as long as I am here, I'll hear what you have to say."
"Deal." Xena spun around to face the voice behind her. Aphrodite was arrayed in all her pink glory.
"Oh, goodie. I get to see both of you."
"Listen, Ms. I-am-too-good-for-the-gods princess chic, you need our help and we need yours. Gabrielle is in no danger. So, just get over whatever little 'am I good or am I bad' internal struggle you're facing by being here and pay attention."
Ares chuckled at his sister's annoyance with Xena.
"You're on, Ares," Aphrodite prodded, cutting off his laughter with a scowl. "I'll be back for you (pointing at Xena) in a little while." That said, she poofed off to her boudoir.
Xena also leveled a chilling scowl in the god of war's direction.
"Don't start with me, Xena. I've had a long day. Just listen and I'll see you right back to blondie."
"As I said earlier, get on with it."
"First things first. Our agreement cannot go into affect until you and Gabrielle are both finished in this lifetime, and you, my dear warrior, are not done with your work."
Xena said nothing.
"Xena, you are not supposed to be dead. You were not fated to die in Japa and definitely not at the hands of a pimple-faced warrior too young to grow a real beard."
"If you are trying to convince me to come back from the dead, you're not really starting out on the right foot. I chose to die."
"I am sadly aware of that, but you should have at least allowed a formidable samurai to kill you. What has spending all that time with Gabrielle done to you, to your drive to win no matter what the cost? Even she was able to best that wimp with just one stroke."
"Really. She didn't mention it."
"You would have been proud."
"I'm sure. Anyway, why does my death and how it happened concern you?"
"I'm hurt. You should have known that I would be deeply wounded when you crossed over. As for the method, I am only concerned about your reputation as my chosen. What a pitiful way to leave the life you fought so hard to redeem."
"Again, Ares," Xena hissed. "If you are trying to convince me to help you in some way, you're doing a very bad job of it."
"Okay, okay. Truth hurts
I guess. I do want you to come back to life, but not for the reasons you think
. . . at least not totally for the reasons you think. We need your help to save
Silence. Then Xena started laughing--hard.
"What's so funny?!" Ares demanded.
"Since when have you cared about the world?"
"Since I learned that everyone and everything I hold dear, which as you know is not that much, is going to be destroyed unless you and the little blond number intervene."
"So, you're saying that some unknown power is going to destroy the world, all of it, including the gods of Olympus, unless I come back to life and stop it with Gabrielle's help."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Why should I believe you? How do I know this isn't some story that you and Aphrodite cooked up to change my mind?"
"Ask Gabrielle." Xena looked puzzled. "When you get back to her, ask her. You'll have the answer for your doubts then."
Xena was less sure of resolve. "What about the souls? What happens to them if I have to come back?"
"Xena." Aphrodite had returned.
"Well?" Xena asked, looking from one to the other for the answer.
"It's a long story, but the souls from Higuchi will not be affected one way or the other." Aphrodite finally muttered.
"I have time to hear that story."
"Later. First, you and I have some business we need to address."
"That's my cue to vanish. Gorgeous, think about what I said. Next time, make it a little more glorified." Then he was gone.
"Are you the left?"
"Well, Ares already gave me his best right hook. I'm wondering if you're the second half of the combo."
"In a manner of speaking, yes, but with a slightly different flair."
"Figures. You've always had flair."
"I'll choose to take that as a compliment." They both smiled, and Aphrodite continued.
"Everything that Ares said is true. The universe as you know it is in grave danger. According to Delphic prophecy, and I quote, "only the redeemed warlord and the woman of her heart" can prevent its destruction."
"I take it the redeemed warlord part is where I come in."
"How many other female warlords who are now following the straight and narrow path toward redemption do you know?" Pause. "That's what I thought. Actually, though, it was the second part of the prophecy that I'd like to discuss with you."
"Ah. I should have known. Ares goes after my the lust for battle and you pursue my lust for the bard."
"Xena, we both know it goes much deeper than lust."
"I don't want to talk about this, especially now. Can we get back to the destruction of the universe part?"
"No!" The fire in Aphrodite's voice surprised both women.
"For a woman of interminable strength, you certainly are a wimp when it comes to your feelings."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"It's not. I'm more than a little miffed at you."
"Dare I ask why?"
"You know why. I have done my best not to interfere while you and Gabrielle stumble along. There were moments I was convinced that my work was done and that you both would let your hearts speak true, but one of you would always shy away at the last crucial second."
"Enough. What does this stuff have to do with bringing me back from the dead, if that can even happen now, and saving the universe?"
"You are so stubborn. Sometimes I don't know what she sees in you. Look, I'll lay it out for you. There are three reasons that I care about the outcome of these emotions that you insist on treating with such disdain. First, Gabrielle is special to me. She has gone beyond the call of friendship for me more times than I would like to count, remarkable considering your hatred for Olympian gods." Xena snorted. Aphrodite carried on, her volume increasing and her hands planted on her barely clothed hips.
"Second, when you chose to depart this world without considering the effects on your soulmate, you personally opened the way for the darkness that threatens us. Gabrielle's despair rang out to the deepest recesses of the cosmos, providing a beacon to this evil. The rending of a soul is the one thing that could have produced such pain. You must repair that rift, something that will happen only if you are completely honest with yourself and with her. Third, the prophecy clearly states that the two of you must be working together and that she must be the woman of your heart for you to be triumphant. Unless you fix this emotional mess you both created, the universe is lost!"
The halls of Olympus were silent for several long minutes.
"I don't know where to start with her. How-"
"Imagine the mighty Warrior Princess brought to her knees by a young and innocent bard. Love's a bitch, ain't it?"
"Aphrodite." Xena growled.
"Oh, alright. All you have to do is say what is in your heart."
"I've never been one with words. That was always Gabrielle's department."
"I noticed that. I was hoping that Sappho's two cents would do the job for you, but apparently Gabrielle has to hear the feelings and thoughts from your heart in your words."
"I thought she knew."
"Well, she strongly suspected . . . until you went and died on her."
"Yeah, 'oh.' Like I said, only you can heal what you've done."
"And we don't have much time, Warrior."
"So, get me back to her. Now!"
Aphrodite put up a hand to silence Xena.
"Remember, Xena. You and Gabrielle together are the answer. You must reexamine all of your decisions, including those in Japa, to find the resolution you both seek. If you need more inspiration, read this." Aphrodite handed Xena a rolled scroll. "Now get outta here."
Xena blinked, and she was standing in the compound's courtyard with Barrat, Sejanus, and a young woman she assumed was Urania. Gabrielle was nowhere to be seen.
Gabrielle was in the middle of an intense conversation with Isis, Egyptian goddess of marital devotion and healing, both concerns which pertained to Gabrielle.
The voice of Isis echoed through the temple covered in hieroglyphs of her image.
"Once you resolve this situation with Sejanus and Barrat, a young man named Alexander from Macedonia, no not that one, will send for you. You and Xena must both go to him. Only the power between the two of you will turn the tide of events started by Xena's untimely demise. Alone, you are no match for the power aligned against you. Alone, Xena is no match for the wit aligned against her. It must be both of you, together, for there to be any hope of survival--not only yours, but ours as well."
"Only another god would have the power to destroy the universe as you have foretold."
"Yes, another god. One you have met before and will continue to battle until he is completely defeated. This is part of your fate."
"Dahak," Gabrielle whispered.
"Gabrielle, it is time to face your demons once again, and this time he is not alone."
"I can't do that."
"What you mean is that you cannot do it alone, and you're right, for many reasons. Xena must be with you in bodily form for you to have any chance at victory."
"Two problems that I can see." Gabrielle was trying her best to approach this entire deus ex machina situation like she did any other challenge. "One, as far as I know, there is no way to bring Xena back to life, and even if there was, she would not come willingly. Two, we are not on the best of terms right now. Every time we try to really talk, we end up in a big argument. I don't see us trudging off to save the world together any time soon."
"Yes, we are aware that we face some obstacles, but we are already working on both of the issues that you mentioned."
"I think, Gabrielle, that you would be surprised at how quickly gods can unite when our lives are on the line."
"Actually, I've seen that power firsthand."
"Ah, yes, you have. An unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy for most of the foolish Olympians. Regardless, Ares, Aphrodite, my husband and I, and a few others have agreed to work together to solve our common problem. The biggest hitch that we face currently is the rift between an Amazon Queen and her Warrior Princess."
Gabrielle looked at the floor embarrassed and in awe that her domestic issues could affect the safety of the universe.
Reading her mind, Isis laughed. "Bard, you are not just anybody. The woman of your heart is nothing without you just as you are nothing without her. Your 'domestic issues' as you called them" Gabrielle looked up surprised at the quote of her innermost thoughts. "affect the universe because of the strength of the bond between you and its power to unleash both good . . . and evil."
"Honestly, I am not quite sure whether that is good or bad."
"It is as you and Xena make it together. Personally, I'm wagering on the good."
"It is time for you to return to your first task."
"Suddenly an angry father, an eloping daughter, and the Roman army seem less important."
Isis smiled. "Gabrielle, love is more important than anything else, regardless of the two that share it. Remember that the next time you want to wait until a better moment."
Gabrielle bowed her head again, and she was back in the courtyard of the Alexandrine barracks.
She had no time to recover before she was pulled completely back into reality.
She moved toward the group, eyeing them carefully for a hint as to what had transpired since she vanished.
"She is struggling to keep them under control."
"Nice to see you're back."
"Gabrielle." Urania hurried across the yard to meet her. "I thought you said you were taking care of Sejanus."
"I'm sorry. Something came up, but I'm here now." She looked past Urania. "Sejanus! Come with me."
She turned and starting walking toward the barrack offices, certain that the centurion would follow.
"You've gotten that 'come hither!' demand down pat."
Gabrielle fought against her urge to laugh aloud. When she reached the inner entryway, she stopped and looked back at Sejanus.
"From what I saw, I assume things are not going well with Barrat."
"He won't see reason! He believes that I've drugged her or put some kind of spell on her. Neither of us can persuade him that we are in love."
"Ah, how the mighty Roman centurion has been brought to his knees by a small sailor's daughter."
"Nevermind. Sejanus, you should not have stolen what might have been freely given. Can you blame him for suspecting the worst after you arranged to have his daughter kidnapped? Why didn't you just talk to her to find out if she was ready to face her father and get married instead of acting on your own? There had to have been an easier way than this kidnapping."
"Talking is not my strong point."
"I imagine not." Gabrielle smiled sarcastically in Xena's direction. Xena moved alongside Sejanus so that she could better hear what Gabrielle was saying. Somehow, she suspected that this conversation concerned more than Sejanus and Urania.
"Sejanus, sometimes it takes more strength than most warriors possess to reveal what is in your heart. Yes, admitting your feelings opens you up to the possibility that you might be hurt or betrayed. One cannot always have what his heart desires most. But, you will never know unless you are honest with yourself and with her. If you convince her that you truly love her, no impediment will be big enough to keep her from your side. She will convince anyone who will listen that your love is what is meant to be, and after looking in her eyes when she looks at you, they will know that she speaks the truth. You must trust that your love will see you through anything."
Sejanus had the feeling that Gabrielle had learned what she was saying from personal experience. He studied her as she stared off into the vacant air beside him. The sadness, torment, and heartache that he saw in her eyes did more to persuade him than anything she had said. He would die before he let Urania carry that pain.
"Thank you, Gabrielle."
She didn't stir. He left her to her thoughts and walked back toward the courtyard and his beloved. No matter what he had to say or do, he would persuade Barrat to accept him because he could now admit that Urania's happiness was the most important thing in his life.
"Gabrielle, we must wait. We can't start this here."
"I agree, but I'm not going to wait much longer."
Gabrielle hurried off in pursuit of Sejanus.
Several candlemarks of pleading, explaining, yelling, defending, and comforting later, both men agreed to a truce for Urania's sake.
"I still don't like him."
"That will take time, Barrat, but at least you are giving him a chance to redeem himself."
"Gabrielle, why didn't you tell me that they were involved?"
"Because she thought I should have the courage to admit my feelings." Urania had pulled away from her somewhat private embrace with Sejanus and was walking over to them. "Thank you, Father, for trying so hard to please me."
"Anything to make you happy."
"Funny. That is exactly
what Sejanus just said."
"See, Barrat. You have more in common with your future son in law than you thought."
Barrat rolled his eyes and Urania giggled. Sejanus arrived at her side.
"We owe you a debt of gratitude, Queen Gabrielle."
"Uh . . . thanks, but no formal titles are required. I was repaying a debt I owed to Barrat." She nodded in his direction.
Sejanus and Urania looked quizzically from Barrat to Gabrielle and back again.
"As she would say, it's a long story best told in a tavern after a few round of port. Care to join me?"
"We'd be delighted." Urania smiled at the mental image of her father and her future husband swapping tales over Egyptian brew.
"I must decline, Barrat. I have another pressing concern that I must address."
He took her hand, nodding with understanding. "Tell her I said thank you for her help, too."
"She said you are welcome." Gabrielle pulled him into a warm hug. "Thank you for everything, Barrat."
"If you ever have need for an old sea captain again, send for me. I am now in your debt."
"We're even, but I will bear your offer in mind for the future. I never know when I might need a quick escape."
"Okay, Xena. It's rude just to run off."
"Well, I think you've gone on long enough. You've saved the day, everyone has thanked everyone else, and the lovers will live happily ever after. Your work here is done."
"Goodbye, Barrat. Best of luck, Sejanus. And Urania, loving a warrior is not easy. I wish you strength of mind and strength of heart."
Urania looked confused, but she smiled at Gabrielle anyway.
"She'll thank me later."
After another quick hug to Barrat and Urania, Gabrielle walked out of the Roman compound, relieved that this ordeal was over and looking forward to her next challenge.
While Gabrielle was in the process of saving Urania, the innkeeper had taken it upon himself to better her accommodations. The room looked so different that she stepped back into the hallway to check the markings on the door just to be sure. The cot had been replaced by a small, cozy-looking bed draped in clean linens. The rickety table she had propped up as a desk was gone and in its place sat a large writing table, complete with blank parchment, new quills, ink, and a candlestick with several spare lights nearby. The writing she had left strewn all over the room was tied into neat stacks next to the new sturdy chair. No speck of dust and no cobweb could be found.
"You certainly know how to pick them, Gabrielle."
"I...It...It wasn't like this when I left. I promise."
A knock on the door brought Gabrielle out of her reverie.
"I sincerely apologize for the state of your room over the last week. If you had told me who you were, I would have gladly given you a better space."
"The room was fine. I am used to sleeping on the ground under the stars, so any shelter was a welcome relief. But, I like what you've done with the place. It's beautiful."
"When I heard what had happened to Barrat, I was concerned, but one of his servants told me that the Battling Bard of Poteidaia was helping. I wondered how she could have arrived so quickly and then I realized that Barrat had sent for you here in the inn, so you had to be her. I was ashamed that I had treated you as a common traveler."
"I am a common traveler," Gabrielle reasoned.
"Regardless, you must stay another day on the house."
"No, I couldn't possibly--"
"In return for a few of your stories." He added slyly.
"Of course. I'll do a few tomorrow night." They both laughed.
"If you need anything else, Gabrielle, please send for it."
"You might as well ask for a hot bath, dinner, and breakfast now. I don't want us to be disturbed later."
"Do you have something specific in mind?" Gabrielle asked wickedly.
"Just take of the business at hand. Then we'll talk about what's on both of our minds."
The innkeeper was almost out the door.
"Call me Set."
"Ok. Set, I need a hot bath and enough food brought to the room for both dinner and breakfast."
"Your bath is already drawn down the hall. As for the food, how much will you require for each meal?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena with a twinkle in her eye.
"Bring enough for two people."
Xena arched her eyebrow, forcing a giggle from Gabrielle' lips.
"As you wish." He left the room.
"Exactly how many men does that make that have fallen head over heels in love with you during our travels."
"I've lost count."
"Oh, please, Gabrielle. You hate the puppy dog routine as much as I do."
"Yeah, but I love the look on your face every time I pick up a new one."
"Really? What look is that?"
"I have to go take a bath." Gabrielle quickly recovered before she revealed too much too soon.
"Need any help?"
"N-no," Gabrielle choked out. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Both women were extremely nervous. Xena was sharpening her sword, a useless activity considering Gabrielle seemed to be the only human she could touch and even that was limited somewhat. But, the repetitive motion made her feel better.
Gabrielle was reclining on the bed scribbling notes of her latest adventure. At least, that's what she appeared to be doing. She didn't really know how to start this conversation. She was still angry and resentful of the woman seated across the room from her, but she felt something had changed during the day. Isis had reminded Gabrielle that love was the most important thing and that Gabrielle could no longer wait to tell Xena the whole truth, even if that meant that she would hurt worse than she did now. Of course, Gabrielle didn't see how it could be possible to suffer more than she had the past few moons. She glanced up again at Xena, who also appeared deep in thought.
Gabrielle suddenly realized what was different. Isis had given her hope and that changed everything. Gabrielle decided it was now or never. She started laughing at the sight of Xena's spirit sharpening her sword. <shungk>
Xena looked up. "What's so funny?" <shungk>
"Why are you sharpening your sword?" <shungk>
"Oh, this. It helps me think." <shungk>
"Mm." <shungk> <shungk> <shungk>
"A dinar for your thoughts." Silence. "Xena?"
Xena put down the sword and stood from her seat, avoiding Gabrielle's eyes. She walked over to her satchel, got two things out of it, walked to the bed, and sat beside Gabrielle.
"Are you sure you want my thoughts, Gabrielle?" Xena asked in an extremely quiet and deeply rumbling voice. Chills went up Gabrielle's spine and she shivered involuntarily.
"Yes. Tell me."
"Ok. First, I want to tell you that this is the most beautiful thing you've ever written. I think you put Sappho to shame." She handed Gabrielle one of the scrolls.
Gabrielle unrolled the parchment and was astonished to see her own words.
I'd have known that this would end
If I'd have read the last page first
If I'd have had the strength to walk away
If I'd have known how this would hurt
I would have loved
I'd do it all the same
Not a second I would change
Not a touch that I would trade
Had I known my heart would break
I would have loved you anyway
It's bittersweet to
look back now at memories withered on the vine
Just to hold you close to me for a moment in time
I would have loved
I'd do it all the same
Not a second I would
Not a touch that I would trade
Had I known that my heart would break
I would have loved you anyway
And even if I'd seen
it coming, you'd still have seen me running
straight into your arms.
Gabrielle stared at the paper and commanded her voice to speak, afraid she would lose control if she looked up into deep blue eyes. "How did you get this, Xena?"
"How I got it is not important, Gabrielle. It's only important that I was fortunate enough to have read it. Do you still feel that way?"
"Do you really think that my feelings would change overnight?"
"You wrote this last night?!"
"While we are in the middle of this mess?"
"After I've left you with 'half a soul'?"
Gabrielle pulled her chin up and glared through defiant tears at the love of her life.
Xena was stunned. She had read the scroll while waiting for Gabrielle to resolve the sticky situation in the courtyard. She had naturally assumed that Gabrielle had written the poem during one of their previous danger-filled missions, most likely in their cell in Rome while awaiting their crucifixion. The words seemed fit that occasion, and Xena had taken the emotions behind the words to heart. Her only concern had been that Gabrielle's heart might have changed in the years since. It had never once crossed her mind that the end Gabrielle was addressing was Xena's defection in Japa.
Xena began to cry. The enormity of the knowledge that her bard still loved her even after she had ripped Gabrielle's heart apart, again, was almost too much for the warrior to handle. She hung her head and the tears flowed unhindered down strong cheeks and onto the linens.
"Why?" she managed to whisper.
"Don't you know by now, Xena?" Gabrielle cupped Xena's chin and lifted until their eyes met. "Don't you know that I have loved you and will continue to love you in spite of the mistakes we both make? My feelings for you are beyond explanation. I could no better describe the depth of my love for you than you could describe the journey of Ulysses in epic verse." Xena smiled.
"Yes, I am angry, Xena. Yes, we are in the middle of a deep, dark pit of living emotional Tarturus. Yes, I am still hurt and confused because of what happened in Japa. But, I could never stop loving you. We have gone through too much for me to give up on you, on us."
"I don't understand, Gabrielle. I have given you every reason to hate me over our journeys together, and yet you claim to love me. I don't deserve it." Xena's eyes averted to the floor.
"Xena, love is not about deserving. It's about giving, releasing, and believing in spite of everything."
Gabrielle took Xena's hand, and they stared into the fire, amazed that they were here with each other.
They turned on the bed to face each other.
"I had two things I wanted to say. I've only said one of them."
"Here. Read this first."
Gabrielle unrolled the second scroll, and she recognized Xena's strong handwriting.
I don't know if I will ever see you again, so there are some things I need to say. I am not good with words, but you need to know how I feel in my own words.
Once again it seems my past has caught up to us both. I know that you will be angry that I have left you with Beowolf, but this is for your own protection. I need to explain to you why I want to keep you safe and maybe you won't be so irritated by my protectiveness anymore.
There are two reasons, really. First, if anything ever happened to you, I am not sure I could keep my promise. Remember the promise I made after we met Callisto? I swore never to return to my evil ways if you died. As the years have passed and you have become more important to me, I have seen that you are my light, my path, my way. Without you, I wouldn't know what to do. People see a warrior and a bard when they meet us, but they don't understand that you are the strong one. Without you I am not sure I could go on, so I do everything in my power to keep you safe, even if it makes you angry.
Second, and I wish I had told you this earlier-I love you. I don't know how else to say it. I know that you deserve flowers, moonlight, and poetry, but I can't do that for you right now. If you are reading this, it means that Beowolf has given it to you upon news of my death as I requested. I would move heaven and earth to be holding you now and telling you that you are my world, but the Fates have not allowed it to be. I just wanted you to know how I feel so that you will never doubt what you mean to me.
You are my greater good.
Gabrielle felt the emotions roll within her as she read the letter. She remembered how angry she had been when Xena left her, again, to go deal with the Northern situation. It had been for her own protection, again. But somehow Gabrielle understood now. She didn't agree with Xena's over-protectiveness, but she knew that she would behave the same way if she could keep Xena out of harm's way. Gabrielle did not understand why Xena would give her this goodbye letter now. She looked up to ask Xena.
"I love you."
"What?" Gabrielle whispered.
"I . . . love . . . you."
Gabrielle just stared at her.
"I gave you the letter because I was hoping that it might explain why I keep trying to keep you safe and because it was the first time I admitted how I felt. It took me four candlemarks to write that letter. I wanted it to say everything that I never could...until now. Gabrielle, I love you."
Gabrielle, still in shock, took the parchments and laid them on the desk. She turned back to Xena and then surprised them both by pulling Xena into a passionate, fiery kiss. When they pulled back for air, Gabrielle chuckled at the look of wonder and desire on the warrior's face.
"That good, huh?"
At that moment, four gods appeared in the room.
"DAMN IT!" Their heads both screamed.
"Hey, girls. Are we interrupting?" Aphrodite asked innocently, noting the flush in both faces.
"No!" They answered in unison and then Gabrielle blushed.
"Do I have to be here?"
"Shut up, Ares," his sister warned.
Isis stepped forward. "Gabrielle, it is time. Xena must make her decision now."
"My decision? Who is this? What is she talking about, Gabrielle?"
"Xena, we haven't really had a chance to discuss my little disappearing act, but this is Isis, goddess of healing and marital devotion, and I presume her husband, Osiris, god of the dead." The man dressed as a pharaoh nodded. "The decision you must make is whether or not you wish to return to the land of the living."
Ares interrupted her. "Before you go on about the souls you have to redeem, it just isn't true. You have been played, my dear, by someone who needs you out of the way."
"Akemi had her own reasons for manipulating you into giving up your heart's desire, but she is only part of a greater plan to destroy you and Gabrielle."
"Xena," said Gabrielle, "I believe them. Think about everything that happened while we were in Japa. Too many things don't make sense; too many reasons don't fit. I would be lying if I said I had no stake in this decision, but if your life was given away needlessly, don't you think we should at least consider their offer?"
Xena pondered her words. "Who would do something like this? Who would put us through this for no reason? What would be gained by all this suffering?"
Osiris spoke for the first time. "Xena, there is always a reason for suffering. Darkness is not through with you. Gabrielle is weak without you and he will go after her first for revenge. He will keep coming until he has you both and the rest of the world under his control or you utterly destroy him. You are powerless against him in your current spiritual state. All of us in this room will die without your help."
"You certainly know how to sweet talk a girl."
"Xena, I can't face Dahak alone."
The despair in Gabrielle's voice and the mention of the god's name shook Xena to the core.
"What do I have to do?" They all watched her, waiting. "What do I have to do?! Bring me back."
Osiris nodded and joined hands with Isis. "Gabrielle, spread Xena's ashes on the floor under her feet. Now back away. Xena, this might hurt for a few seconds, but then everything will be restored."
The Egyptian gods closed their eyes and focused. A moment later, the room was flooded with intense, blinding white light. Gabrielle backed over the chair. Ares and Aphrodite watched in awe. Xena screamed, feeling more pain than a Roman cross, a Chin torture table, and an army gauntlet combined could cause.
Then, it was over. She opened her eyes as she felt the sea breeze drift through the open window and tickle her skin. She took a deep breath and felt her lungs expand. When she saw Gabrielle dazed on the floor and her heart thundered, Xena knew she was alive.
She checked on her unconscious friend and then turned to thank the gods, but they were gone. Only Aphrodite remained in the room.
"Convey my thanks, Aphrodite."
"You will see them again, much sooner than you think, unfortunately. You will need all the strength you have to endure what is coming. But, for now, the two of you need to be alone to readjust to your new life, together. Take care of the little one."
"I will do my best."
"Make sure you succeed. For all the suffering she has had to endure, I think you are indebted to her love for you."
"And that is a debt that I will gladly spend the rest of my life paying."
"I wish Ares could hear this." Both women laughed.
"I shouldn't have been able to feel that kiss and Gabrielle had only been able to feel slight touches on her shoulders and arms from me up until then. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?"
"Let's just say I was giving you another incentive to make the right decision."
"Thank you. For everything."
"It was my pleasure, trust me. Good night." Aphrodite smiled widely and then disappeared, leaving the room to the lovers.
When Gabrielle awoke, she cried out Xena's name as she had every other dawn since Japa. This time, however, strong arms encircled her, and she felt warm lips kiss her hair.
"I'm here, love."
"Xena? Xena!" Gabrielle spun on the bed and wrapped herself in Xena's living embrace. "You're back . . . I'm so glad. Please, please--" Her voice faded into sobs.
Xena pulled her closer.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong? I'm right here."
"Please don't ever leave me again."
"Okay. I won't ever leave you again." Gabrielle's tears slowed and Xena pulled her up to eye level. "I love you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle's tear-stained face erupted with a toothy smile. "I love you, too. Nice to know resurrection didn't change your heart."
"Nothing will ever come between us again, Gabrielle, I swear. When I decide I want something, I usually do whatever it takes to get it and to keep it."
"You just remember that the next time I accidentally drop your leathers into a lake."
Xena burst out laughing. "Ok, bard. But no more silent treatment when I forget to compliment your new stories."
"Deal." She hugged Xena and then slowly moved back to where they were face to face again. "Now, where were we before those rude gods interrupted us? Was it here?" She ran her tongue across Xena' lips.
"Ohh." Xena groaned.
Gabrielle closed the distance between them and kissed Xena once again. As the kiss deepened, their passions ignited. Xena quickly flipped them over and her bodyweight pinned Gabrielle to the bed.
When Xena's kisses began to wander over her neck and shoulders, Gabrielle decided that this was starting out as the best day of her entire life.
Several candlemarks later, Gabrielle laid naked across the body and in the embrace of her best friend, completely satisfied, thoroughly exhausted, and happily considering what else the day might bring. Her hand gently caressed Xena's stomach.
"Has anyone ever told you that you have many skills?"
Xena's chuckle echoed under Gabrielle's fingers. "I take it you have no regrets."
Xena lifted her head so she could look into the bard's upturned mischievous sea-green eyes.
"What? Did I hurt you? I'm sorry."
Gabrielle laughed. "No, nothing like that. You were . . . wonderful. Everything was wonderful. No, my one regret is that we didn't do this sooner. I mean, we could have been doing that for at least the past two years."
Xena smiled. "I see your point. Well, you know what that means?"
"We have a lot of lost time to make up for."
Giggling, Gabrielle managed, "You are a very naughty warrior princess." between Xena's kisses.
The pounding on the door prevented them from going any further.
"I am going to kill whoever
is on the other side of that door."
"Xena, whoever it is can't possibly know what they're interrupting. After all, it is fairly late in the morning."
"Yeah, only naughty warrior princesses and their sex-starved bards are in bed at this time."
Gabrielle gave Xena's stomach a light slap, dragged herself off the lithe body beneath hers, grabbed a sleep shift, and opened the door.
Barrat stood holding a tray of fruit and nutbread, which he almost dropped when he saw the naked woman laying in Gabrielle's bed.
"Ex-excuse me," he stammered. "I-I didn't know I was interrupting."
Gabrielle was confused by Barrat's reaction until she glanced over her shoulder at Xena, who was baring herself for the whole world to see. "Xena!" Gabrielle chided. Xena smiled sheepishly and pulled up the covers.
Gabrielle turned back to Barrat as if nothing was out of the ordinary, but she took the tray from his still-tremulous hands.
"You weren't interrupting. I would make formal introductions but it seems we all already know each other well. It is good to see you, Barrat. How is Urania?"
"Deeply in love and it agrees with her."
"Good for her and good for you. It takes a strong man to admit that he might be wrong."
"Yes. I see love agrees with you, too. You look much stronger and healthier. I would say it was dry land under your feet but I've seen who shares your bed." They all laughed.
"I am glad to see you healthy also, Xena."
"Yes, rumors of my death were widely exaggerated."
"I think we all know the rumors were true. Regardless, I hope life continues to bless you."
"Thank you, Barrat. And thank you for taking care of Gabrielle. She is the only reason my heart dared to take another beat. Without you, she might not have been here to see that."
"You're very welcome. Well, I came up to check on Gabrielle, but I see she is in capable hands. I will take my leave." He turned toward the door and then back to them. "Oh, wait. There's something else. There is a small boy here asking to see you, Gabrielle. He has been waiting for you since late last night, but Set would not let him disturb you."
"Tell Set we appreciate the thought and have him show the boy the way."
"I look forward to hearing your stories tonight, Gabrielle."
"I'm afraid that might have to be postponed, Barrat. But we will see you soon and I'll make up for it."
He left the room. Xena glanced at Gabrielle, curious about to the bard's assertion that they would not be at the inn this evening. Gabrielle was pulling on her clothes and quickly packing their belongings.
"Can you travel?"
"Are you asking if I'm physically able to? Well, if I can do what we just did, I don't think traveling will be a problem."
Gabrielle blushed and nodded. "So, Xena, how's the weather in Macedonia this time of year?"
At the soft knock on the door, Gabrielle got off the bed, tossing over her shoulder, "Get dressed. We're going to Macedonia."
"Are you Gabrielle of Poteidaia?" the small boy asked.
"Yes. You have a message for me."
"Alexander of Macedonia sends for you. He says he needs your help and that you are the only one who can save us." He handed her a scroll.
"Return to your master. Tell him we will be there within a fortnight. And, tell the innkeeper to give you enough rations to see you safely home, on my bill." The boy smiled, nodded, and was gone.
"Should I ask how you knew about this message?"
"No. I just know that we are to find Alexander of Macedonia."
"No kidding. Are you planning on getting ready?"
"Who are you and what have you done with Gabrielle?"
"You've forgotten, warrior princess. She who wears the chakram makes the rules."
"I'm not sure how I feel about that."
"Think about it on the way. I'll wait for you by the stables."
Gabrielle walked out
the door, leaving a speechless, naked warrior princess laying in her wake.
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