The following vignette puts a different spin on the opening scene of DEBT 1 and the ending to the sixth season's WHEN FATES COLLIDE. There are also important references to many other episodes, particularly the "rift" arc of season three. This was written prior to viewing of the series finale.
WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME YESTERDAY
Xena lay immobile, eyes firmly closed. She focused on her deep breaths, taking them as a good sign that maybe she still lived. Of course she could be in heaven or hell, though the crickets and rustling leaves suggested probably not. Even worse, what if she'd landed in another of those alternate realities? She shivered, images flashing beneath her lids of Gabrielle gleefully plunging a sword through the warlord who'd enslaved her, dodging bullets in the body of her descendant Janice Covington, as Chakti with Alti's arrow protruding from her shoulder. Tied to Caesar's cross in the world Xena herself had apparently exited in like fashion only a few heartbeats ago.
Shaking specters of past, future and in between from her mind, Xena concentrated on the sensations of her skin. They confirmed she wore her familiar leathers. That soft sleeping furs cocooned her body. Wafts of smoke from a campfire drifted past her nose. Maybe. Just maybe ....
Tentatively the warrior flexed her right arm, then each hand and foot. They seemed all right, despite a sharp stab of memory. She shivered again, then willed herself to brave whatever life she'd gotten herself into this time, resignedly praying to any gods still around that -- safe or not -- Gabrielle was here too. Holding her breath, she rolled onto her side and let her arm fall across the space beside her. Emptiness.
Xena's eyes shot open. She threw back the covers, gathering her weapons as she rose and surveyed her surroundings. Wait. Something about this place seemed familiar. Something ... buried. But not forgotten. A prickly sensation coursed her spine. No. Not possible. Unless .... Sucking up a deep breath, she let her feet move unerringly toward the wooded spot where she felt her heart would either soar or crash.
Gabrielle heard the quiet tread closing in behind her, but continued to gaze at the tiny lights that penetrated the dark blue sky. It seemed so peaceful, unlike the bolts of fire and gusts she last remembered when the Fates' loom had exploded into oblivion. She'd fallen to her knees, as she was now, awed that the universe could be so fragile. "Guess we'll have another chance to see," she thought, sensing who approached, nevertheless praying to whomever might be left to listen that it would be Xena.
Xena walked around to face her partner, eyes shining with relief. "Hey."
The warrior extended her hands down to Gabrielle, who shuddered a little, even though she saw with relief that they bore no wounds. She reached up and placed her palms against Xena's. The two remained like that, silently saying nothing and everything, afraid the slightest motion might disturb their place together in the vast darkness that so recently threatened to engulf them.
Finally Xena knelt before Gabrielle and took the smaller hands in her own. "I believe ... I believe this is where ... where you thank me, for ... sticking by you with Hope."
"Yes." Gabrielle swallowed. "And you tell me that I could never disappoint you."
"I still thank you for that, Xena. Regardless of what happened after."
Xena's mouth trembled. "And I have never been disappointed in you." She looked at the ground. "Only in all the things you couldn't be, hanging around me."
Gabrielle shook her head. She pulled Xena down to sit beside her. "Look at me," she commanded gently. Xena peered up from beneath furrowed brows, reminding Gabrielle of similar conversations the day she'd heaved her staff into Indian waters and - was it yesterday or only moments ago? - as she'd clung desperately to Caesar's Empress before he'd crucified her once again.
Gabrielle steeled herself against allowing too much wry indulgence to color the smile she bestowed on her vulnerable friend. "In case it's slipped your mind, I just got through chucking my chance at artistic fame, possibly throughout the whole known world, not to mention knocking the Fates into unemployment and single handedly putting the universe back together. Are you still under the illusion that a Warrior Princess can make this Amazon Queen do anything against her will?"
Xena's mouth twitched.
"Yes? I couldn't hear you."
Xena grinned sheepishly. "I guess not," she murmured.
"You *guess* not?!"
"OK, OK," Xena laughed. "You win. How'm I supposed to be this tortured hero, if you won't let me have a little angst every now and then?"
"You can have whatever angst you want over all the times you've tried to get rid of me. Fair enough?"
"Yeah," Xena sighed, looking down again. "That too."
Gabrielle smacked her forehead. "Gods! Why couldn't we have been propelled back to the future when you were an angst-free Mother of Peace?"
Xena chuckled, then suddenly tensed. Frowning, she scanned the forest as though it had suddenly dropped down around them. Her gaze returned to rest on Gabrielle. "You know what's supposed to happen next."
"Ninjas attack." Gabrielle studied her partner. "And the 'weak one' calls you back to Chin to make the Green Dragon small again."
Xena uncoiled to her feet, grimly brushing the dirt off her battle skirt. She bent to retrieve her sword, froze, then walked away empty handed to press her forehead against a tree trunk. "You know I have to go," she mumbled into the bark.
Gabrielle went over and leaned against her partner's back. "I know."
Xena turned, wrapping her arms around Gabrielle. She rested her chin on her lifemate's head. "Of all the times we had to relive, why now? You've already sent Hope floating down a river because of me. You'll have to choose again between me and your ideals. We'll hurt each other over and .... " Xena shuddered. "Looks like Caesar'll have his way after all."
Gabrielle leaned back against Xena's embrace, lifting her face once more to the sky. She closed her eyes and sensed the life around them - the scent of wild flowers, bird songs heralding a new day, the light breeze that caressed her skin. She knew Xena was watching her. Waiting for the words to define this yesterday world Gabrielle had inadvertently returned them to. She opened her eyes to the Warrior Princess who would always surrender to her Amazon Queen.
"Xena, we're different people than we were before. I don't know what I'll do, now that I've experienced what awful things can happen if we let evil live. I'm not sure what you'll want to do, having witnessed what good can come if given the chance."
Xena frowned. "Are you saying maybe I'll want to save Hope and Ming T'ien this time around? That you'll be the one who thinks we shouldn't take that chance?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Like I said, I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud here. What I do know is that we came back to this moment with knowledge of betrayal and immense pain, yet share even more gratitude and confidence than we had before that knowledge."
Gabrielle stepped back a few paces. "Let me see your hand again." Xena raised her right hand, palm up. "Remember the sign we drew on ourselves in India, so we'd always be able to find each other?" Xena nodded. Gabrielle traced a circle in the middle of Xena's palm, the size of a small hole. "Well, I'm claiming another sign." She traced a circle in her own palm, then pressed her hand against Xena's. "A sign of sacrifice, of a bond deeper than nails in wood, of my blood joined with yours. Xena, whatever else Caesar or the gods or Fates may have done - whatever we've done - it couldn't change our love. That comes first. We'll handle whatever comes next as it comes."
Xena closed her eyes and swallowed. When she opened them, she pursed her lips in a crooked grin and squeezed Gabrielle's hand between hers. "Our sign," she said, as if trying the words on for size. "All right. I can live with that." Still looking into Gabrielle's eyes, Xena pointed her chin toward a clearing nearby. "They're here."
"I know," Gabrielle whispered, reaching down to draw the sais from her boots. "Oops," she grinned. "Forgot I picked those up during travels we haven't been on yet. Guess I'd better get used to a staff again."
Xena chuckled and started toward the hidden ninjas. She hesitated, turning toward her partner. "Gabrielle? What if maybe this time --"
"Shhhh." Gabrielle resolutely pushed Xena toward the intruders. "First things first, remember?"
Xena glanced over her shoulder with deep appreciation, a feral smile spreading across her face. "Right. First things first." With that, the lifemates strode boldly into the enemy's leafy lair, knowing their love would secure them through whatever, wherever, whenever forever might be.