The following is a brief companion piece to Gabrielleís post-FIN thoughts in my previous "What Stories Are For." This one is from Xenaís perspective, just after sheís sent her soul mate away from the battlefield in Japa and is about to face the enemy alone.




August 2002


I have my eyes closed, listening. Waiting for war to reveal itself behind the unnatural stillness of the forest. Like I told Akemi, thatís what Iíd learned to focus on, what I thought I needed to survive. Maybe she couldnít understand, but Gabrielle did. Itís one of the things I wanted her to know. Sheíll have to do that on her own if everything goes as expected.


I do sense many horses, munitions clanking on carts, the rasping of weapons being drawn. But what impresses itself most upon my consciousness is another sound, whether on the wind or in my mind I canít tell. Either way, itís Gabrielle. Calling me. Trying to defend her Warrior Princess once more against the darkness Iíve worn like my own skin.


I canít turn back, of course. I donít need the distraction anyway this time. Her voice has become my anthem, stirring my blood in a good way, even as it rallies me for the fight of my life, to kill and die probably as I havenít before. It summons the Xena who makes a difference, who does what others cannot. And may actually be worth the effort. All that practice listening for war, yet I will get through this day attuned to love.


Never have I felt myself so invincible or the blood so pure. I glide and slice and parry like Iím already on some other plane. Impervious to my mortal wounds or the sheer impossibility of what my body seems to be doing on its own. Itís as though my time is standing still, and despite the thrashing of limbs around me, the countless soldiers hurtling my way, what I hear, what I see and feel is her: my center of calm, my point of light, my shield against any doubts. My grace. Her gifts freed one dead soul, why not 40,000?

Even if this is my finest hour, it canít be Gabrielleís, no matter how much we wished or she deserves the credit. I owed too much before she saved me. My honor and any justice lie in paying that debt on my own. I cherish her choice to share it with me, to bear all the painful consequences of a life at my side. Just because sheís gotten so good at killing hasnít changed that sheís still too good to die.


I cry out for her anyway, partly in agony at leaving her like this, mostly to conjure up visions of an eternity looking into her eyes. I see myself again on my knees ñ winters ago outside Poteidaia, here in Japa as I prepared for this battle -- resolving to do what I must. And Gabrielle, again appearing before me as though the answer to a prayer I didnít realize Iíd made.

Sheís heard me like no one else. Taught me to listen her way, to hear music in a life of broken strings. Made us a song, blessing me to play forever in her heart. Sheís resurrected me before in so many ways. Maybe she can figure how to bring me back in the flesh this time. I canít worry about that now -- about anything other than this possibly final chance to justify what got me here and her unwavering faith that it would be good enough.


I pray that she too will go on from those moments when we were last together, when our eyes spoke of love too full for words or time. That she remembers "the pinch" as another way I entrusted my life to her, so she could give it back to me, whole. Iím reliving that like I told her I would, until I have no more seconds left. Whatever happens after, it will still be her voice, her hands that send me on my way.

Itís growing quiet again. Only a few more soldiers, and then the leader I can barely see through the red in my eyes. Not as attractive as Gabrielle or exactly what Iíd hoped for the finish of my career, but he is part of the job Iím here to do. The means to an end bigger than us both. Wonder which of us will be more surprised when I become a ghost? I believe everythingíll be okay. That Gabrielle will be all right. I have faith now too.

Iím not sure what sheíll make of all this -- sheís the one with imagination -- only that it will be whatever she says. Sheíll fill in whatís missing. Probably give me eloquence I never had, more tenderness than Iíve shown, nobility thatís really hers. Sheís completed my dreams and thoughts since the beginning. She is my breath, and will no doubt always find me in the sun that warms her face, the earth she curls her toes in, the flames lighting her nights.

So what if everything is more than I ñ than anyone else ñ couldíve imagined, if others try to give it their own spin? Steel whooshing through air is so finite, so unpredictable sometimes. It means little when you donít know how to listen right. My "battling bard" does. Ha! Sheíll have the last word, count on it. We'll live on as always, however she defines us, from that first day she called me "friend." Isnít that, after all, what stories are for?


The End