Disclaimer: I have intended no copyright infringement in the writing of this fan fiction story that contains characters, names, title, and backstory found in the syndicated television series Xena: Warrior Princess owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures.
This story cannot be sold or used for profit, and I have not financially profited from it in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use, and all copies must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
References/ Spoilers: This story refers to events that occurred in “Crusader” and “Convert.”
Sexual Content: This story depicts love/sexual relationships between consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal where you live, please do not read it. If depictions of sex, attraction, and/or love between adult women offends you, you might not want to read this story.
Violence: This story contains some violence.
"Queen Gabrielle, will you tell us the story of the Crusader again?" Solari asked.
"Yeah. Come on!" chimed in Eponin.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly," Gabrielle said, secretly knowing that it was a favorite tale among some of the Amazons.
The bard looked at Xena, who met her eyes before looking away. The subject of Najara, Crusader of the Light, remained a sensitive one despite the many trials the two companions had since endured- crucifixion, Grindl, Jappa- oh gods, Jappa. Before these events, Najara had offered Gabrielle another path in life, questionable as it was. But still, today was about celebrating and remembering.
"Go ahead," Xena said, poking at the fire in front of her.
"Yeah!" several other Amazons encouraged.
Xena and Gabrielle had joined their Amazon friends at the annual Amazonian Festival of Samhain and were now sitting around a large bonfire. This Festival was always special to the pair. Thirty years ago, at this very Festival, Xena had finally confessed to Gabrielle of her love for the bard. But that, as they say, is another story. Today, while their dear friends Eponin and Solari were showing grey in their hair, Xena and Gabrielle had retained their youthful appearances. Being frozen in time for 25 years by a god tended to do that to a person.
"Come on!" encouraged Ephiny.
The curly-haired former Regent, was seated next to her flavor of the day, a leggy light-haired Amazon from the Valkyrian tribe. Being dead and all, Ephiny always made sure to enjoy fleshly delights available to her during the festival. She always took full advantage of showing how grateful she was to her sisters for bringing her back each Autumn, during this Festival.
During the Festival, Amazons from all over the world came together for planning, special training, and strategizing. One of the most important aspects of the Festival was the elaborate ritual they performed to honor and remember fallen sisters. Samhain was a boundary period that signified the crossing over from life into death, and from death into life. Deceased Amazons sometimes took advantage of the transparent boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds during the ritual by temporarily manifesting in physical form for the duration of the Festival.
Doing so was not without risks, of course. For a deceased person's soul, it was quite dangerous to choose to re-manifest. Death, to one who was already dead, would mean complete obliteration of the mind, body, and soul. The deceased, unlike the living, had no real anchor to the physical world and, as such, death to them would dissipate the soul into nothingness.
Yet, it was a risk that some chose to take, safely surrounded by those who were bound by Amazon law to remain loyal to the Nation and to their fallen sisters.
Around the bonfire, seated near Xena and Gabrielle, a dozen or so other Amazons from various tribes also sat, sharing skins of wine they had brought from their regions. At night, after the workshops, rituals, and ceremonies, dozens of women enjoyed sitting around a crackling fire and listening to Queen Gabrielle read from her scrolls. It especially delighted them knowing that the bard often inserted lascivious details into her stories that she had omitted from her written scrolls. While the Amazons had become quite adept at reading between the lines in the scrolls, they appreciated these rare times when their Queen did not have to censor herself.
"Oh... alright. If you insist," Gabrielle said. Naturally comfortable in front of an audience, the bard made a show of reaching into the satchel at her feet and digging through her scrolls.
Xena sighed. She took out her sword and began sharpening it on a small stone, settling in for the story. As the fire glinted off her sword, she noticed some of the Amazons shifting uncomfortably. Many of the younger women idolized the warrior, but they had grown up hearing stories of how Xena had, at one time, threatened to extinguish the Amazon Nation. They grew up hearing stories of Cyane, the legendary Northern Amazon Queen, and had learned that it was Xena who had killed her.
Even now, Xena was not officially an Amazon. Only because of her many fighting skills and her relationship with a certain Queen was Xena considered an honorary Amazon and, thus, allowed into the Festival each year. Besides, after Jappa, everyone knew that the warrior princess wouldn't dare start trouble.
"She appeared as a paragon of goodness," Gabrielle began, reading from her scroll. "Her path in life was to save humanity by directing people to the light. Receiving messages from the Djinn, her spirit guides-"
Here, Xena raised her finger to her ear and twirled it, giving the universal signal for wackiness. Several Amazons snickered. Gabrielle shot her warrior companion a glare. Caught, Xena pretended to instead be scratching her ear.
Gabrielle continued, "Ahem. Receiving messages from her spirit guides, the Crusader was on a quest to save humanity. Strong, devout, and beautiful-"
Here, Xena rolled her eyes and ran the sharpening stone over her sword a bit harder than usual.
"Her name was Najara-" Gabrielle said.
"Is it true she saved your life by catching an arrow that had been shot at you?" a young Amazon interrupted.
"I would have had it-" Xena mumbled.
"Sshhhhh!," a handful of Amazons shushed the warrior. Gabrielle gave her soul mate another warning look.
Xena looked down. She quietly and quickly informed her sword, “Well, I would have,” and continued sharpening it.
"Her name was Najara, and this is what really happened," Gabrielle said. Looking up from her scroll, the bard began recounting her run-in with Najara.
I have been Xena's companion for four years now, her lover for two. Our journeys have taken me far from Potidaea , both physically and spiritually. I left my small village a weak, unskillful girl, but battles and training with Xena have hardened my body, formed calluses on my hands, and have turned me into a woman.
I have lost my innocence in every sense of the word. I have seen the best of humanity and the worst. I have learned what love is. I have learned what it means to take another life. I am still coming to terms with what all of that means.
Fighting side-by-side with a woman who once desired to become the Destroyer of Nations, I sometimes catch glimpses of an animalistic darkness in Xena, reformed as she is. When she channels her dark energy into other...outlets, it can be exciting. More than a few times during our travels, I have used my words to resolve situations in which Xena's blood had been pumping for a fight.
Afterward, in the safety of an inn, or an off-the-path cave if we couldn't wait, she would take me. Scratched backs and bite marks would fade days, sometimes weeks, later. To be sure, Xena has her tender moments, but I know that she has this untamed part of her too. I accept that. I like that part of her.
In Xena, I understand that a certain darkness comes with the package. It is her path to control the darkness that continually tries to seduce her.
What frightens me is that I have begun sensing that darkness within myself. I possess power and strength that I have never known before. As my physical skills have progressed, I find that I am continually second-guessing myself and my intentions in battle. Not only can I quite capably defend myself, I have learned that I can be an aggressor as well.
With this power, questions have followed. Can I recognize, in the heat of battle, the distinction between vengeance and justice? Between murder and defense? How much force is too much? Just because I can kill an opponent, should I? What if I don't and that person then goes on to kill innocent people?
Almost daily, I question the path that I am on. I wonder about the person I am becoming by walking this path with Xena. I wonder if it is changing me. I think often of Eli and his total commitment to non-violence. In him, I can appreciate the certainty that must come with completely taking oneself out of the cycle of violence.
Meeting Najara has given me a similar certainty. She has even more of an unwavering confidence in her path than does Eli. Because of that, I find it easy to let myself be led by her. Being with Najara makes life more clear, at least in one sense. Her simple goal in life is to direct people to the light. By following this light, I can leave behind those complicated shades of gray that mar my path with Xena. After traveling with and fighting alongside Najara for two days, I find myself questioning my path with Xena even more.
It helps, of course, that the Crusader also happens to be easy on the eyes.
By the troubled looks Xena has been giving me in the presence of Najara, I sense that Xena knows this and is struggling with the right course of action. Looking at the lovely blonde woman with the friendly eyes, I turn my focus back to the conversation that Najara and Xena are having about how to best deal with Marat, the slave trader. Xena is insisting that she will go after the slave trader on her own, without Najara's army. Without me.
"But going after Marat alone..." Najara started, implying the obvious danger.
"I'll take my chances," Xena said.
In her own stoic way, I see that Xena is giving me an out. Because of Eli, she knows of my internal spiritual battles. She knows I am questioning my path. She, for her own part, fears harm coming to me because of her. Her shoulders already burdened by an unbearable amount of guilt, she finds the idea of bringing harm to the one person in life she loves more than anyone else to be unthinkable.
Her jealousy is intense, to be sure. Xena disliked Najara almost immediately, perhaps sensing my attraction to the crusader. Yet, Xena's jealousy was no match for her desire to keep me safe.
As Xena began detailing to Najara her plot to attack Marat, I understood that she was leaving me in the safekeeping of a competent warrior with whom I had an undeniable spiritual bond.
"Look- I've learned you should listen to Xena when it comes to this sort of thing," I said, affirming Xena's decision.
Xena looked at me. I saw sadness when I met her eyes. My stomach dropped. I looked away. Najara paused and considered my endorsement.
"All right. Xena will go after Marat, while we take the village," Najara said.
Everyone seemed satisfied with that solution and so it was settled. I would stay with Najara and fight alongside her. While it went unspoken, I understood that I would remain with Najara indefinitely. I accepted that.
After working out the specifics of the battle and making preparations, I left the others and made my way to the little area where Xena and I had set up our camp. Exhausted, I unrolled our blankets, crawled into their warmth, and waited for the warrior to join me. I wanted to talk to her about the decision she made for us. I wanted to... say goodbye.
I must have dozed off. When I woke, orange was slowly lighting the sky through the trees. After rubbing my eyes, I reached over to wrap an arm across Xena's sleeping frame. I swallowed hard when my hand met only a blanket. I was alone. Xena had already left, perhaps finding saying goodbye to be too painful. Taking a deep breath, I slowly sat up. I noticed a form sitting nearby cross-legged.
"Good morning, Gabrielle," she said, smiling. She was already watching over me.
"Najara," I said. She was sitting as if in meditation.
"Come. Welcome the morning light with me," said Najara. I rose, walked over, and sat down next to her. I wasn't sure what to do.
Putting a hand gently on my back, Najara encouraged me, "Close your eyes halfway and put your hands like this." She demonstrated putting her two palms together and raised them to the center of her chest, with her fingers pointing upward. "Focus on the light," she said.
We sat like that. Together. Two souls trying to do good, as the morning sun slowly illuminated the world around us.
"Are you sure that's all you two did together that morning?" snickered Ephiny, sitting around the bonfire at the Festival of Samhain. Gabrielle raised a warning eyebrow to her former Regent.
"Spill it, Queen," prodded Solari.
"Watch it, Amazons," Xena said, in a low growl. The others weren't sure if she was teasing or not.
"Well, I can't deny that I was attracted to her," Gabrielle said. "I was drawn to her light."
"More like blinded by her light," Xena said.
"In a sense, I suppose. But that morning, we had to prepare for battle," said Gabrielle. “There was no time to become… better acquainted.”
Shifting back into storyteller mode, Gabrielle continued.
"Before I could become… better acquainted with Najara, Xena returned from Marat with some troubling information about Najara's 'soul liberations.' Najara had been killing evil-doers who refused to turn to the light, without giving them a fair trial,” Gabrielle said.
Xena has returned and, perhaps enjoying herself a bit too much, revealed Najara to be imperfect and possibly villainous. My brief moment of certainty has been destroyed. Those questions about my path have stubbornly returned to my head.
Annoyingly, they have brought new questions with them.
I love Xena. I always will. But Najara's flaws do not erase my doubts about my path with Xena. Whatever my path, and whomever I walk it with, I see that I still must resolve questions about my use of violence.
With Najara, or without, I could still open a hospice. I can still refuse to participate in violence.
But now, Xena and Najara have begun to fight. Brutally. It is clear that the two warriors are in it to the death. And to what end? Xena, my love and companion, is getting a bit whipped by the Crusader of the Light. Najara is determined to beat the darkness out of Xena. If she succeeds, I wonder what, if anything, will be left of Xena.
As the two trade barbs and blows, I have the unsettling feeling that the warriors are also fighting over me, and not merely philosophical differences . One of these two women will die. Because of me.
Coming to this realization, I move to break up the fight. Before I can, Najara manages to knock Xena unconscious. She raises her sword above Xena's limp body. Gods, no.
I throw my body over Xena's.
"What?! No! You'll have to kill us both," I said, looking up at Najara.
"You don't understand Gabrielle- that darkness inside her will destroy you one day," said Najara.
"Put the sword down. Najara, you and I, we'll walk out of here together," I said.
"You're just saying that to protect her," Najara said. She was half-right about that.
"Xena's dark side frightens me. I need to move on, but I could never live with someone who killed her. There would be no going back from that," I said. I continued pleading with my eyes, trying to touch that light within the Crusader.
Najara seemed to accept that. She held out her hand to me. Looking down at Xena one last time, I slowly accepted Najara's hand and rose to my feet. We left Xena lying there bleeding, in the darkness.
"Xena, no offense, but I still can't believe you got bested by a crazy lady," a younger Amazon said, safely out of range of Xena's reach. A few other brave Amazons sitting around the campfire chuckled.
"She's not crazy-" Gabrielle started, in a small voice.
"I did not get 'bested by' anybody!" Xena said. "I was distracted. By your queen, I might add."
"I'm just saying, you once defeated an entire army by yourself while Queen Gabrielle was dying right beside you. But with Najara you couldn't even handle one warrior..." she said.
"Yeah well, maybe those 'Djinn' things helped her out," Xena said in a huff. "They were probably telling her what I was going to do next."
" Anyway ," Gabrielle interrupted, placing a hand on Xena's knee, "Leaving Xena on the ground, I walked away with Najara."
Gabrielle looked at Xena and then looked away, shaking her head, "Xena and I had been through a lot by that point, but leaving her lying on the ground like that was one of the hardest things I had done. I thought that by leaving her I could save us both."
Hearing Gabrielle say this aloud, Xena remembered that day. The fight with Najara remained hazy. During the fight, she had a feeling of intense desperation of, first, wanting to win Gabrielle and, second, of wanting to kill Najara. For her to let her emotions get the best of her during battle like that was incredibly rare. Even when she was distracted, she was usually good enough to defeat her opponents anyway.
Not so with Najara. Najara had seemed to grow calmer the more frenzied Xena became. It had been infuriating. She had so wanted to wipe that smug, fake goody-goody face right out of existence.
But, well, she didn't.
Instead, Xena remembered coming to consciousness some time later, spitting out a bloody tooth, and panicking upon realizing that Gabrielle was gone. At the time, she did not know whether Gabrielle had chosen to leave with Najara or had been forced to leave. Learning later that Gabrielle had left of her own volition, despite knowing the truth about Najara, had left Xena with a profound sense of emptiness.
It was true that Xena had often believed that Gabrielle deserved someone else, someone who had a pure heart and a clean past. Gabrielle was a good soul. Part of that gift meant that she saw the good in most everyone she met. Early on in their travels together, Xena had been amazed at how quickly Gabrielle found a new “love” in practically each new village they encountered. Even after the two had become lovers, Xena gave Gabrielle some space to explore people who might be better for her.
For a time, Xena had thought that "someone better" might have been Eli. As painful as it would have been to let Gabrielle go, Xena would have given them her blessing. As it turned out, the bard remained stubbornly devoted to Xena and Eli only had eyes for one of his disciples.
Yet, the thought of losing Gabrielle to Najara had made Xena see red. If Gabrielle was going to spend her life with a flawed mortal, it was going to be Xena, damn it, and not some crazed vigilante who seduced Gabrielle with visions of the light. Gods, she remembered, how she had fumed imagining Najara touching Gabrielle. Kissing her. Stroking her.
"We walked to a cave, where we could plan our next move," Gabrielle continued her story. "Najara and I said little on the way there and once we arrived, I began tending to her wounds."
"You are a natural healer," Najara said.
I remained silent. All that I have learned about healing, I have learned from Xena. I knew which plants would lighten which bruises and which herbs would heal the deep wounds on Najara's body. Using my hands, trying to be as gentle as possible, I rubbed a balm onto the back of her neck. She was sitting down in front of me, her back to me.
"You're thinking of her, aren't you?" Najara asked.
"Yes. I am," I answered.
I knew she was talking about Xena. I continued rubbing her neck. She was banged up badly and, despite what she had done to Xena, I felt sympathy for her suffering. Truth be told, I remained drawn to her. She had such strength, yet also a vulnerability to her. One that she did not mind showing, unlike a certain stoic warrior princess.
My hands shook as I rubbed. The sweat from my palms began to mix with the herbal balm. I hoped she didn't notice. My attraction to Najara had not entirely dissipated, and I was not ready for her to know that. I didn't trust what I would do.
For her part, Najara expressed no remorse over almost killing Xena. She remained convinced of her ultimate goodness. I wanted to continue believing.
Gently, Najara drew her hands up to my own, at her neck. My breath quickened as she lightly squeezed my fingers.
"We walk the same path, Gabrielle. You and I are united in our fight against evil," Najara said. She stood up and turned to face me. Her hands rising to my shoulders, she continued, "By accepting the light, you and I share a common bond that you do not share with anyone else. Not even Xena."
I turned to the side. As I did so, Najara let her arms fall from me.
"Xena and I also fought evil," I said, softly. I noticed that I had just spoken of my path with Xena in the past tense.
"But Xena has not accepted the light. I see the darkness in her, Gabrielle. You see it too," Najara said.
I turned to her. She was right. I did see the darkness in Xena.
I was continually learning what she had done in her past. Horrible things. Past conquests. Past lovers. The revelations never seemed to end. Even though she currently fought evil, she- we - continued paying for her past. I still sometimes sense that undercurrent of rage, passion, and anger that used to dominate her. I feel it in the way she sometimes makes love to me and in the way she seems to draw energy from fights.
"Xena isn't that person anymore," I said, trying to convince myself.
"Isn't she?" Najara asked. I looked away. She continued, "And you? Do you deserve to face the consequences of Xena's past?"
I didn't answer. I didn't know.
"You are good, Gabrielle. You have always been good. You are not meant to walk with someone who holds such darkness. You know that," Najara continued. "Walk with me, Gabrielle. Not because you want to save Xena's life, but because you want to save your own."
"I... I just want to be good," I whispered. Tears had formed at my eyes and threatened to spill down my cheeks. Najara brought her hands to each side of my face.
"You are," Najara whispered. She leaned in. It dawned on me that she was going to kiss me. I wasn't entirely sure that I didn't want her to. Hesitating, I lifted my arms to touch her sides. Used to Xena's taller, more muscular frame, I noted the smaller size of the Crusader. She had a softness to her that the former Destroyer of Nations did not have.
Taking my touch as an invitation, she slowly brought her mouth to mine, giving me time to pull away. I didn't. Instead, I felt her lips on my own. Surprising me, Najara kissed me with an urgency that underscored her desire. I considered pulling away from her and found that my body didn't want to. I accepted more of her into my mouth.
Slowly, she moved her mouth away and began kissing my neck. Closing my eyes, I let the tears in my eyes fall.
"Let me take you," Najara whispered into my ear. "And after that, assume your rightful place, walking next to me, on our path of the light."
My hands at her head, I turned her face to mine and pulled her in for another kiss.
"Alright!" said one young Amazon upon hearing Gabrielle spill this version of the story.
"Can it, Ademia!" whispered Eponin to the young woman, jabbing her in the side.
"It's okay, Eponin," Gabrielle said, smiling. "I know there's one thing the Amazons love more than war stories." Gabrielle looked at Xena, who was now throwing dead leaves into the fire, making it crackle and spit.
"However, in the interest of getting a few hours of sleep tonight, you're going to get the truncated version," Gabrielle said, causing some of the Amazons to groan in disappointment.
Xena looked visibly relieved. She was not looking forward to hearing the intimate details of what had happened next. Xena had never pressed for such details and Gabrielle, for her part, had not offered to share them. Although to be honest, Xena didn't know which was worse, leaving the rest of the story to her imagination, or hearing every sordid tidbit.
Gabrielle recounted, “After Najara and I, well- later on, Xena found me in the cave. She quickly hatched a plan to trick Najara into thinking she was going to kill me. The two began fighting again. Except this time, Xena defeated Najara, who was distracted... by me. We took her to a prison so she could serve justice for her crimes."
"A prison? Why not kill her?" asked an Amazon.
"Xena wanted to. But, killing Najara would have made us like her," Gabrielle said.
"Warriors exact justice all the time," Xena said. Several Amazons nodded in agreement.
"Yes. But I couldn't do that. Not then, while I walked the path I did. I couldn't let Xena..." Gabrielle said. She was getting emotional as she sensed her story quickly transforming into a philosophical debate that she did not want to have tonight. Not with so little time left before sunrise.
Xena placed a hand on Gabrielle's leg, letting her know that she understood.
Gabrielle continued the story, "Anyway, after we left her at the prison, I thought that would be the last I ever saw of Najara. A few moons later, though, Xena and I encountered her again. She had escaped. She claimed to have changed and that she was following Eli's path of love. I believed her." Gabrielle shook her head.
"So, did she?" asked Ademia, the young Amazon.
"I think she wanted to change. But, for someone who was a follower of Eli, she was quite easily provoked into fighting. With Xena," Gabrielle said.
Here, Xena smiled slightly. She remembered how close she had been to losing Gabrielle to this dangerous woman who had the audacity to try to seduce Gabrielle away from her again.
"Najara has not woken up since that fight," Gabrielle said.
"You mean," Ademia said, "she's still alive?"
"I assume she is still being tended to in a hospice. I haven't heard of her death, and she hasn't made herself known to me since...well, since Jappa," Gabrielle said, looking at Xena.
"Okay, then. Shall we?" Xena said, rising to her feet indicating she was ready to turn in for the night. The warrior was highly familiar with the many ways the Amazons tried stalling their popular Queen into spending more time with them. She was getting impatient. Besides, minus the kissing and sex scenes, the Amazons could read all about the major events in the story of Najara in Gabrielle's scrolls.
Gabrielle smiled and then rose with Xena. "Yes, I'm ready. Thank you all for listening," the bard said.
The group sitting around the bonfire broke out into a brief round of applause and the women began chattering in small groups.
Ephiny smiled. "Thanks Gabrielle, it means a lot to them to hear you tell these stories," she said. "You two were legendary, you know."
"Speaking of, when do we get to hear about what happened in Jappa?" asked Ademia.
At this request, Ephiny stopped smiling and looked at Gabrielle, who inhaled sharply. Xena shifted uncomfortably and turned to leave. A silence fell over the crowd. Gabrielle put a hand to the back of her own neck and rubbed.
"Too soon?" Ephiny quietly asked.
After a few beats, Gabrielle answered, "Yeah. Maybe... next year." Gabrielle turned then, too, and slipped her arm into the crook of Xena's.
"Right. You two should turn in, take the rest of the night to yourselves," Ephiny said.
The two warriors began walking back to their room in the Castle of Artemis . Together.
The dawn threatens its arrival. Inside the plush queen's chambers of the castle, atop a large, soft bed, a blonde head pokes out of the covers. Eyes closed, as if in concentration, her body is rocking in a rhythmic manner. Suddenly, she cries out, as if in ecstasy. After her cries stop, a raven-haired head pops out of the top of the covers, joining her.
"Sweet Artemis, I forgot how good it feels when you touch me," Gabrielle said, as Xena slides up her body. She wraps her arms around Xena's neck and kisses her. As she does, she tastes herself on the warrior's lips.
"Different than when you take matters into your own hands?" Xena said, pulling away and arching her brow.
"Hey!" said Gabrielle, pulling Xena back to her for a deep kiss, hiding the red that has crept into her cheeks.
Gabrielle lets herself revel in the warmth of being skin-to-skin, again, with her soul mate. Utterly spent, she realizes with horror that sleep is threatening to overtake her. She takes a deep breath and pulls Xena closer.
"Go to sleep if you're tired," Xena said. With a swift move, Xena gently flips them around so that Gabrielle is lying on top of her now. The warrior feels Gabrielle relax into her. Lightly, with her fingers, she began tracing the tattoo that covers the bard's back.
"Not a chance," Gabrielle said. Yet, her eyelids were heavy. Morpheus stubbornly beckoned. Xena smiled at Gabrielle's habit of pretending she wasn't sleepy when she obviously was.
“Shhh,” Xena urged.
Gabrielle closed her eyes. Then, as if remembering something, she opened them suddenly. How could she sleep? Time was running out.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered, "tell me again. What is it like?"
After a couple of beats Xena said, "Death, you mean?"
The bard didn't answer. Of course she was referring to death.
"It is waiting, mostly. Without you, Gabrielle, my soul is in limbo,” Xena said.
With her thumb, Gabrielle instinctively began rubbing the ring she wore on her left hand.
Shortly after she had walked through Brunhilda's fire and awakened Gabrielle with a kiss, Xena had surprised Gabrielle with a ring. Gabrielle remembered.
"I- I don't know what to say," Gabrielle said. Noticing that the warrior had been pacing a hole in the floor at the inn, Gabrielle had asked her what in Hades was going on. Without a word, Xena had reached into her chest leathers and pulled something out. Gabrielle looked closely. Her heart skipped a beat. Was it a ring? Did it mean- no, the warrior was never so explicit about her love. Yet, Xena's hands slightly shook as she held it, unsure of what to say. Gabrielle smiled.
"When I was marrying King Hrothgar, I... I was having these visions," Xena started. She looked away, and scratched at her head.
"Yes?" Gabrielle encouraged, feeling her own heart begin to race. She thought the warrior's nervousness was sweet.
"Of you. The visions were of you. And that's how I knew I was making a mistake, marrying him. So, I made this. One for me and one for you," Xena said, and held out the ring for Gabrielle to take, "if you will accept it. That is."
Smiling, Gabrielle took the ring. Examining it, she saw that it was beautiful. Made of silver, two hands were holding a heart, as if in offering.
Gabrielle asked, "You made this?"
"I have many skills," Xena said, smiling. Her confidence slowly growing.
“ One of which, apparently, is ring forging,” Gabrielle said, mostly to herself, then, with a chuckle, “Let's hope this one doesn't turn me into-”
Gabrielle stopped herself, noticing that Xena's confident smile was fading. Interrupting her own nervous blabbing, Gabrielle said, “It's beautiful, Xena. Thank you. Of course I will wear it.”
She then walked over to Xena and let the warrior's strong arms envelop her.
"Maybe the next time I forget who I am, this ring will remind me that I've already given my heart to someone," Xena said.
Relishing the last few moments with her soul mate at the Festival, the memory made Gabrielle smile. After Jappa, Gabrielle thought she would never see or touch Xena again. Yet, because Xena had bound her heart and soul to the Amazon Queen, the slain warrior was able to assume mortal form each year during the Festival of Samhain.
"I don't want this night to end," Gabrielle said.
"Neither do I. But as long as the Amazon Nation lives on, I will be here each year," Xena said. "That is, as long as you'll have me."
"I will always have you, Xena," Gabrielle said, putting a hand to Xena's cheek. "But I still think it's risky."
"Shhh. We've been through this. Let's talk about it when the sun rises," Xena said with a grin.
"It will be here soon," Gabrielle said. She let it go unspoken that the rising sun would mean, once again, that Xena would disappear and resume wandering in spiritual limbo.
"Come on, we must do this quickly," said Ephiny, looking at the moon's position in the sky. After Gabrielle and Xena had made their way back to the castle, the Amazon crowd gradually dispersed. Leaving her Valykrian lover at the bonfire, Ephiny had gone with Eponin and Solari to a tent.
Although the two Amazon elders and former Regent could have slept in any room of their choosing in the Castle of Artemis , tonight they chose to sleep outside on the outskirts of the castle, in a tent hidden away and guarded by a hooded figure clad in white robes. Tonight, on the last night of the Festival of Samhain, a plan that had been several years in the making was going to culminate.
Within the tent lay a comatose woman.
It had taken Solari many moons to find this woman. But, being a Master Scout, find her she did. Once she had access to Gabrielle's scrolls, locating the hospice was simple. Convincing the sisters who were caring for the woman was even simpler. Solari had explained that the Amazons needed the comatose woman, a criminal, for matters pertaining to Amazon justice. Amazons, it is not often known, are everywhere. And so it is that, even in hospices and places of worship whilst living under vows of chastity, they help their sisters out.
The plan had been Ephiny's, originally. Having heard the despaired singing of the warrior princess within the spiritual realm, she contemplated whether she should do something to help ease Xena's suffering. Xena had been a special friend to the Regent, having delivered her only son, and so she answered herself in the affirmative.
It was not difficult to convince Gabrielle's two dearest friends, Eponin and Solari, to help. After Xena's death several years ago, the Amazon Nation had been thrown into mourning. Xena, although never an Amazon, had been a legendary warrior. She taught the Amazons much over the years, especially during special trainings at various Amazon festivals, and had become a strong ally to the Nation.
Gabrielle, the warrior's soul mate, was a beloved Queen. They had watched her grow into a thoughtful leader who, whilst choosing to live somewhat in the shadow of one of the greatest warriors of all time, was a courageous and competent warrior in her own right. She put on a brave face after returning from Egypt with the chakram on her hip. Yet, Eponin and Solari saw the dark circles under her eyes, noticed the weight she had lost, and heard her crying into her blankets at night. As her dearest friends, they had done all they could to alleviate her suffering. It was all to no avail. The Queen even refused to take another lover while her soul mate remained wandering in spiritual limbo.
Gabrielle had not yet spoken about what happened in Jappa, despite the years that had passed. Still trying to understand it all herself, she wasn't ready to share those scrolls with anyone. Nonetheless, bits and pieces of what had happened trickled into the Amazon Nation by way of gossip, hearsay, and deceased Amazons who encountered Xena wandering in spiritual realms.
As warriors, many Amazons saw no justice in letting someone die because of what she had done in the past when, in the present, she was doing good. They saw no honor in the suicide of a woman on her own path of redemption; for, they knew that all people were ultimately responsible for the redemption of their own souls. Even 40,000 souls who had once been wronged.
So, on the last night of the Festival of Samhain, Ephiny, Solari, and Eponin found themselves on the verge of doing something that threatened every Amazonian oath of loyalty each of them had ever taken. They were going to do it for what they believed to be a good that transcended Amazon law.
While they would like to say they were acting for reasons of honor and justice alone, they all understood that it was also about friendship. Simple friendship.
Drumming themselves into a trance and drinking the blood of a sacrificial deer, they began to summon two of the most powerful spiritual beings who had walked their lands. One, a comatose woman who had been a Crusader for the Light and two, a deceased former Northern Amazon shamaness. Using the thin boundaries between the spiritual and physical realms to their advantage, the three Amazons reconnected Najara's wandering spirit with her living body and remanifested the deceased Alti.
Alti, having historical ties to Amazon land, was the first to manifest. She appeared first as a greyish transparent being and then gradually gained solidity as color filled her. Squinting her eyes and opening and closing her hands, she did not look surprised to find herself staring into the eyes of three somewhat nervous Amazons.
"Amazons," she rasped, "So you're the beings I have to thank for bringing me back."
"Who else would it be? Like a Bacchae, you can only come onto our land if invited by an Amazon," Ephiny said.
"Which no Amazon Queen would allow. So what's going on?" Alti said.
"You're going to help us," Solari said. She was annoyed to hear her voice slightly rise at the end, as though she were asking a question instead of making a statement of fact.
Alti cackled and said, "You must really be desperate." Then, noticing Najara lying comatose nearby, she asked, "Who's that?"
"We're getting to that. You're going to help us bring Xena back," Ephiny said.
At this, Alti howled with laughter and began to rise in the tent, saying, "You brought me back thinking I would help Xena and her little bitch? Oh, oh that's rich."
"Everything has a price, Alti," Ephiny said, also rising. She placed her hand on Alti's wrist, indicating that she wasn't intimidated.
At this, Alti cocked her head in interest. She brought her mouth close to Ephiny's ear and began whispering, "Careful Amazon, I could make you disappear forever. In an instant. You want to make an offer with me? Make it.” Alti placed her hand on the back of Ephiny's head and began stroking her curly locks.
At Alti's touch, Ephiny broke out into a cold sweat and tried not to shiver. Heart racing, Ephiny said, "40,000 souls."
"Souls?" Alti repeated with interest.
"Yeah, you know, they're what human beings have," Eponin said.
Alti ignored her. "Continue," she said.
"Right now, Xena has 40,000 souls attached to her own," Ephiny said. "If her soul reunites with her body before dawn, Xena will remain mortal and those souls will be lost forever."
"Lost...and in need of... guidance?" Alti said, the stroking on Ephiny's hair grew harder and faster.
"So to speak," Ephiny said.
"All of that... power ," Alti said, licking her lips. "Harnessing it would make me a god!"
"On one condition," Ephiny said.
"Xena can't die," Alti finished.
"She can't 'die' in her current manifestation, and she can't cross back over to the spiritual realms," Ephiny said. "You are powerful enough to reunite Xena's soul with her mind and body. If you do, she gets to live and those 40,000 souls are yours."
“I know better than most that the warrior princess is something special, but 40,000 souls in exchange for her one life?” Alti asked.
“Xena is our friend,” Solari said.
“Because Xena is your friend ?” Alti spat.
"Xena must die," said a small, certain voice. The four Amazons looked to the ground and saw Najara sitting up, blinking.
"Ooh, I like the way you think," Alti said, taking a step toward her. "But apparently that cannot happen."
Although her body had aged over the years, Najara retained the youthful appearance of one whose body had been spared a lifetime of battle and weather.
"Who is she?" Alti asked Ephiny again.
"Part of the plan," Ephiny answered.
Eponin gripped the handle of the sword at her side. She took comfort in its substance, which was more real than all of the mumbo-jumbo going on around her. Here was the part of the plan where she knew things could get ugly. They were counting on Alti's greed for souls to work in their favor. The shamaness wasn't supposed to ask questions.
"Xena must die now, while her soul is in limbo. Then, her soul will disconnect from Gabrielle's," said Najara. “Gabrielle belongs with me,” she continued with perfect certainty.
Solari whispered as an aside to the others, "As you can see, she kind of has a one-track mind."
Alti rolled her eyes and said, "Just keep her out of my way.”
"Come on," Ephiny said, she took hold of Alti's hand that was at her head and began ushering Alti out of the tent and into the moonlight. As they disappeared from the tent, the others noticed Ephiny give a little shudder behind Alti's back. The hooded figure guarding the tent closed the doors behind Alti and Ephiny, leaving Najara, Eponin, and Solari inside.
"I assume you at least knew to gather the necessary ingredients," Alti asked, once outside.
"Of course," Ephiny said.
After exiling Alti from the Amazon Nation, the Amazons had lost access to her power, including her soul reunification spell. Several crones had known the ingredients and were willing to share the recipe with Ephiny. Yet knowing that it took a certain heart of darkness to successfully perform the spell, they had told her not to expect it to actually work. It was a dark spell. One that subverted nature. One that required great power.
Outside of the tent, Ephiny opened a small chest. From it, she pulled a goblet that contained a brown sludge-like mixture of boiled bark, black thunder leaves, and powdered root. She handed this to Alti.
Alti stirred the concoction with her finger then pulled it out and licked it.
"Bottoms up," she said, swallowing the thick mixture.
Alti gagged and was reminded that it was good to be alive again. She had missed experiencing the physical effects of shaman rituals. Pain, pleasure, distaste, no matter the feeling, Alti took it all in. While most mortals habitually avoided discomfort, Alti understood that both the good and the bad were part of life. She relished pleasure, but that she also readily accepted the pain was what made her so powerful.
As for darkness, she thought that more people should likewise acknowledge this facet of humanity. Humans liked to think that certain people were just born evil. What they failed to understand was that the seeds of darkness lived in everyone and would thrive if given proper nourishment. Alti had met only one other human being, the only other being she had truly loved, who was as capable as she of acknowledging and thriving on this darkness.
Like a magnet, Alti had been drawn to the dark warrior immediately and envisioned a splendid future path for them. Seducing Xena away from Borias had been easy. He was just a means to an end. Unfortunately for Alti, it turned out that her love for the warrior was similarly unreciprocated. Xena had also been, albeit a little more reluctantly, willing to nurture the inherent goodness within herself.
Alti felt the urge to vomit. As the thick liquid made its way through her body, Alti felt the soul reunification ritual begin. She began to see the reality behind reality. Trees, blades of grass, tiny ants, and every living thing within view lost detail. These living things retained their outlines, but existed as light. Everything dead, or not fully living, turned gray. Looking around, she saw the dead leaves, dried-out firewood, and Ephiny in gray. Examining her own hands, again, she saw gray.
When Ephiny began shaking a rattle and incanting the spell, the life forces illuminated more brightly. Alti saw the strings of light that connected every living thing. Behind what humans could see, Alti knew that every living came from the same source. People were different manifestations of the same light.
Seeing this was like coming home. As Alti saw it all, she remembered that she had once known this truth about reality but always seemed to forget it after these spells. She looked for the source, for Xena's source, and found it everywhere.
Alti looked down at her hands. She was tenderly holding a small sphere of light in one hand. With her other hand, she accepted a long pipe from Ephiny. Inhaling deeply, she let the dark smoke fill her lungs. As she exhaled, she brought the sphere up to her mouth and, blowing, let the smoke carry the light to its destination. Exhaling, Alti fell to the ground, coughing hard. The inevitable excruciating headache that occurred after these powerful rituals was impending. She gasped for breath.
She lost consciousness, then, and as she did so she had a last thought. Friendship was a bitch.
Lying in bed with Xena, her face to the window, Gabrielle sees the sky begin to change from black to dark blue. This part, the disappearing, never gets easier. She looks into Xena's eyes. The warrior's back is to the window. In this moment, like so many others with her soul mate, Gabrielle finds no words left in her. Instead of speaking, she inhales deeply, preparing herself. The first time, in Jappa, she had closed her eyes. When she had opened them again, the sun had risen and Xena was gone.
This time, she would watch it happen. She always watched it happen now.
Xena's body began to slowly flicker. Gabrielle touched the warrior's face before it would begin to fade. The time was nearing. They had half a candlemark left, maybe. Xena gave a small smile. Gabrielle smiled back, tears in her eyes.
The smell of aromatic tobacco whiffed through the air. Then, Xena felt as though something powerful had been thrown into her. Sitting up in bed, she looked at her hands and noticed that, rather than fading, they were slowly illuminating. Coughing, she exhaled a cloud of black smoke.
Gabrielle sat up with the warrior, furrowing her brow. She noticed a large scar that appeared at Xena's neck. The bard was horrified.
Seeing Gabrielle looking at her neck, Xena put her hands there and felt the scar. She looked down at her naked body and noticed several arrow holes, lights streaming out of them.
And then, searing pain. The warrior cried out. It had never happened like this before.
Gabrielle looked on, speechless and frightened. She remembered the state in which she had found Xena's body in Jappa. Feeling sick, this present reminder of that night was more than she could bear. It was as though she were reliving that moment. Letting tears fall, the bard tightly closed her eyes.
"Xena...no," she whispered, shaking her head. She covered her mouth with her hand. She rocked like this for a few moments, fighting the urge to vomit. The smell of smoke dissipated.
"Gabrielle," Xena said, softly. Gabrielle didn't hear her. Xena lightly touched Gabrielle's face and said her name again.
Gabrielle heard her this time and thought Xena's voice sounded strangely calm. She opened her eyes and saw the warrior sitting upright in bed. She looked radiant.
Xena removed her hands from Gabrielle's face and began inspecting her arms and torso. She felt at her neck, as if making sure her head was still attached. White light was shining from her scars, and they seemed to be getting smaller. They were healing themselves. The lights became small white dots until they finally disappeared.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said. She reached out to touch the warrior's body, not believing.
"I think I'm... back," Xena said.
After a beat, Gabrielle asked, "How?"
Reaching out to touch the warrior, she let herself be selfish for a moment and hoped that it was really so.
From outside the castle, through the open window, Xena's ears picked up a familiar howl. Gabrielle noticed the warrior flinch and she, too, turned toward the window.
"No. It can't be," Xena said. After quickly dressing, she grabbed Gabrielle's arm and the two ran down the stairs of the castle and out into the open air.
Lying inside the tent, Najara heard the sounds of some sort of pagan ceremony going on outside. Confused, she moved as if to rise, but one of the figures standing over her placed a gentle but firm hand on her chest.
“Take it easy there,” said Eponin.
“There is great darkness here,” Najara said. “It must be stopped.”
Eponin looked at Solari, who shrugged. Their instructions had been to stall. Knowing that Najara would be physically weak upon waking, they were somewhat confident in their ability to restrain her if need be. They were less confident in their ability to keep her from using her spiritual powers against them. Yet, her spiritual powers were the reason she was here.
The chanting outside continued. They smelled tobacco smoke and heard a howl in Alti's unmistakeable voice. After that, they heard a thud, as if someone or something heavy had dropped to the ground. Then, silence.
Eponin, Solari, and the hooded figure within the tent sprang into action.
“It's time,” said Eponin.
Najara felt strong arms grip her own and begin pulling her up. The Amazons led her to the door of the tent, supporting most of her weight. At the door of the tent she felt a familiar presence.
During her slumber, Najara had thought she lost them forever. Now, they were back. She felt her strength coming back to her and realized that she could stand of her own volition.
The Amazons knew that Alti would be somewhat depleted immediately after the soul reunifcation spell. Accordingly, they continued to work quickly to implement the next phase of their plan. Eponin and Solari exited the tent, with Najara walking between them.
Upon walking out of the tent, Najara fell to her knees and cried out, as if in pain.
"It's too bright!" she screamed. Horribly loud, she heard the Djinn. They surrounded her every sense. She seemed to hear them with her eyes. She felt their energy, as warmth, buzzing off of her skin. Light was all around her, dissipating. Lost. Begging for guidance.
Upon hearing Najara cry out, Alti began to stir from the ground. She was lying on her side and with one eye open she saw Najara on her knees.
"I hear you!" Najara cried. "I hear you all!"
“No!” Alti managed to rasp.
The revived shamaness bolted upright. She shook her head as she rose to her feet.
As Alti rose, Eponin drew her sword. Her job was to protect Najara at all costs. She stepped forward in front of the Crusader. Seeing this motion, Alti jabbed into the air and threw a blast of energy at Eponin, sending her flying backwards through the air without actually making physical contact with the Weapon Master. Eponin hit a tree, fell to the ground, and did not rise.
"Those souls are mine," Alti said, turning toward Najara.
A hooded figure, the backup plan, then stepped forward from the entrance of the tent. As she pulled the hood away from her face, blonde hair and a familiar cocky face appeared. She gave a dangerous, fearless smile.
"You!" Alti said. The figure completely removed the robe and revealed her Amazon regalia.
"And you," Cyane said, and arched an eyebrow as if in challenge.
"What is this, some kind of... Amazon convention or something?!" Alti said, annoyed.
"Well, yes. Technically," said Cyane.
Najara rose from her knees. Everyone turned to look at her. She was crying. The voices were coming in louder than they ever had before. It had always been painful, but the pain this time was amplified. Tears were streaming down her face, but she seemed to be in some sort of state of bliss. Upon looking at her, the others noticed that her eyes had turned completely white.
Then, as if sensing something, she turned toward the castle and noticed two figures of light running toward the group. One light was much brighter than the other. It was much brighter than everything else.
“Gabrielle?” Najara said.
The others turned to follow Najara's gaze and watched Xena and Gabrielle arrive, breathless. Like a moment of calm during a storm, all parties looked around, taking stock of the presence of each woman.
It was Gabrielle who broke the silence. “What in Zeus' name is this?” she demanded, looking from Najara to Alti to Cyane.
Najara walked toward Gabrielle's voice and stumbled. Gabrielle started toward Najara but Xena gripped the bard's arm and held her back.
"Stay back, it's not safe," Cyane commanded.
"Ya think?" Xena said, drawing her sword.
Alti, wanting to take advantage of the momentary confusion, cocked her arm back, aiming one of her energy blasts at Najara.
Ephiny, noticing Alti's movement cried out, “No! We have to protect her!”
Alti released an energy blast at Najara and, instantaneously and instinctively trusting Ephiny, Xena tackled Najara to shield the Crusader's body from the blast. Xena and Najara tumbled to the ground. Xena was shielding the crusader's body with her own.
“Ephiny! There better be a good reason for this!” Xena yelled, from the dirt.
Gabrielle moved her hand to her hip and let her fingers graze the chakram that she was beginning to master. Quickly calculating a ricochet off of two trees, a flagpole, and a distant part of the castle, she let the chakram fly with her own distinctive release. It wooshed into the early morning air.
Alti laughed as it disappeared and did not return. Xena rose to her feet and lifted Najara with her, still keeping herself between the Crusader and Alti. She noticed the tobacco pipe, saw an overturned goblet, and considering her present company, was beginning to understand how she was brought back.
"Ephiny... what did you do?" Xena yelled in desperation, "There is much more at stake here than my life."
"Where are the souls? The 40,000-" Gabrielle began, but was interrupted by a scream.
Shrieking, Najara grabbed her head. She felt a surge of power through her body. She, too, was beginning to understand. She looked at Gabrielle.
Xena, noticing the Crusader's gaze, ran toward Gabrielle and put her body between Gabrielle and Najara, unsure of who she was protecting from who. Najara fixed her eyes on Gabrielle and, moving through reality as if through a different plane, appeared inches from the bard's face.
"I see the light, Gabrielle," Najara said, searching behind Xena's large frame to meet Gabrielle's eyes.
“Ephiny! Cyane! Give me one good reason...” Xena warned, raising her sword at Najara.
“More like 40,000-” Ephiny said.
"There are so many of them!" Najara said, looking around, seeing something. Standing, she threw her head back and stretched out her arms. "That's it, come to the light." The others noticed that the crusader seemed to be getting brighter.
"No! Those are mine!" screamed Alti, advancing toward Najara. As she did, Cyane stepped between Alti, on one side, and Xena, Gabrielle, and Najara on the other, effectively blocking Alti's path. In a rematch of spiritual wills, Cyane began staring down Alti.
Alti's progress toward the Crusader was considerably slowed. She moved as if walking against a windstorm. If Alti reached Najara before the souls found the light, the plan would be a tragic, unthinkable failure. At best, the souls would remain lost. At worst, Alti would round them up and use them for her dark purposes as a god. Cyane kept her eyes fixed on Alti. Both women fell to their knees, sweating.
Alti looked past Cyane, resigned to being immobile, and instead fixated her stare on Najara. She directed her red hot anger toward the Crusader. Instantly, Najara felt an incredible heat overtaking her body. Next to them, both Xena and Gabrielle could feel it coming off of her. Was smoke actually coming from the Crusader's skin?
"Cyane, stop Alti!" screamed Gabrielle.
Despite the obvious smoke coming off of Najara's body, Najara continued collecting the lost souls. She understood it now. All of the light was connected. Sometimes it just got lost, or misguided. People like her were needed to send these souls to the light. It was her fate.
"It's okay, it's almost finished, Gabrielle" Najara said, "Let her liberate my soul. When she does, they will all go with me, to the light!”
“No!” Alti screamed. She cocked her arm back as if to throw one final, devastating burst of psychic energy to Najara before the Crusader could finish collecting the lost souls.
At the slightest forward motion of Alti's hand, instead of hearing the sound of another energy blast, everyone present heard the sound of metal wooshing through the air.
The moment before connection, Alti knew that she had lost. She always lost when Xena was involved.
As her disembodied head rolled at her feet, her last thought before nothingness was of her own foolishness in believing that this time things would turn out differently.
The others noticed Alti's torso momentarily swaying upright before toppling over, to join her head rolling about on the ground. Then, as one, the group moved their eyes up to the bloody chakram, caught by Xena's hand. The first rays of the morning sun were glinting off of the blood and metal.
They turned their attention to Najara, then.
Unsure of what to do, they watched her begin to burn. Acting as a conduit, the last of the 40,000 souls founds its way to the light through her mind, body, and soul. As the Crusader burned, she made no noise. Rather, with those horribly beautiful eyes of white, she stared into Gabrielle's soul and accepted her fate. After a few beats, she stopped getting brighter, and then in a flash of light, disappeared.
Xena clipped the chakram into her belt. Gabrielle stared, unable to form words. Cyane, drained, let herself fall forward. Eponin brushed herself off and stood up. Solari ventured out from the tent, where she had been hiding. And Ephiny walked toward her friends, Xena and Gabrielle.
"Happy Anniversary, friends," Ephiny said, placing a hand on each of their backs.
Feeling her touch, Xena and Gabrielle turned to her. The last they saw of her before she faded was her smile, framed by a curly head of hair. They turned and looked at Cyane. Xena gave her the Amazon warrior's salute, which Cyane acknowledged with a slight nod before fading.
Still holding on to Gabrielle, unable to speak, Xena watched the orange sun peak over the horizon. This time, they watched it together.
Sitting around a campfire, on what was supposed to be the day after the Festival of Samhain, a large group of Amazons remained. They were eager to hear the latest story of Queen Gabrielle, noted bard. Despite their reputation as fierce warriors, what Amazons loved to do most of all was to celebrate. After the return of Xena, their warrior and friend, they had much reason to celebrate.
Word quickly spread of the morning's events and, after letting Xena and Gabrielle return to their room for some needed rest and celebrations of their own, it was spontaneously decided that everyone would remain at the Festival for a few extra days of festivities. Wine was collected and food was prepared. Old tales were told and laughter could be heard throughout the grounds.
It was after many flasks of wine that one young Amazon, one who had been at Queen Gabrielle's storytelling the night before, bravely asked her Queen, "So, are you going to tell us what happened after Najara kissed you in that cave?"
Again, they were sitting around a large fire. All eyes fixed on Gabrielle, who shifted. "I already told you, Xena came, fought Najara-" Gabrielle started.
"No, we know all of that. I'm talking about right after you kissed, you know..." the Amazon said, raising her eyebrows up and down suggestively. The others giggled and encouraged the bard.
Xena could only chuckle. Whatever happened, it was in the past. She was with her soul mate again. And, she could not stop touching her. The warrior placed a hand on Gabrielle's knee, letting her know it was okay.
"You Amazons!" Gabrielle said. "Okay. Gather 'round. Najara whispered in my ear that she wanted to take me. After considering, I pulled her face close to mine and we began kissing again,” Gabrielle continued the story.
I let the kiss deepen, and felt myself become aroused. Boldly, I let my hands travel up Najara's shirt and I began caressing her skin. I felt the wounds on her sides from her recent battle with Xena. I pulled my hands away, and whispered, "Sorry." I didn't want to hurt her.
She took hold of my hands and brought them up to her breasts, where I felt her nipples harden. I was surprised by this sudden move, and realized that it aroused me even more to think that this holy woman had this other side to her. My mind began venturing to what I could do to her, and what she might do to me. I began rubbing her nipples. She moaned.
She pushed me back, then, against a wall of the cave. I pulled her into me and she began kissing my neck. As she did, I felt one of her hands travel down my waist and onto my backside. She lifted one of my legs, wrapped it around her waist, and gently pressed herself into me.
Aroused, I didn't want the clothes we were wearing to be between us anymore. She pulled away slightly and let her hand linger at the waist of my skirt.
“ Gabrielle, I want to touch you,” Najara said. Gods, I was so turned on. I was about to lose every semblance of control. I was going to let her. I wanted to feel her inside of me.
I searched out her mouth again and lightly bit her lip. She moaned and, as I drew away, I tasted rust.
She still had blood on her mouth, left over from her battle with Xena. I didn't even know if it was hers or Xena's.
I pulled away. My brain battled my body and, somehow, I asked her a question.
"What if you're wrong?" I said. She tried to move back in to continue kissing me. I put my hands on her chest, gently stopping her.
"What?" she said. I felt pressure on my hands as I felt her urgency. Gods, she wanted me.
"Please," I said, stopping her. "Answer me," I said in a small voice, "what if you are wrong, when you kill people?"
"I'm not," Najara said. Such a simple, confident answer.
"So, you're saying you're perfect?" I asked.
"There is nothing wrong about sending people to the light, Gabrielle. Even if they are wrongfully killed, they still end up in a better place than here," Najara said.
"But, how can you be sure?" I said.
"The Djinn tell me," Najara said, "and that is something Xena does not have when she 'rights' wrongs."
"But Xena knows she's not perfect. She knows she made mistakes in the past, and that she may make them again, but she acknowledges her mistakes and tries to redeem them," I said.
“ Xena is a dark soul, incapable of being on the side of the light,” Naraja said. I looked away from her. We stood together in silence for several moments before I found words.
“ I think you're wrong, Najara” I began in a small voice, “We are what we do, continually defining and redefining ourselves by our actions. Everyone is made up of light and darkness. Even Xena. Even you.” Removing her hands from me and stepping away from her I continued, “Even me.”
At this, Najara shook her head.
“Gabrielle, you have it backwards. You don't become good by doing good. You do good because you are good. And that's why Xena will never truly change. She is incapable of being good,” Najara said. I brought a hand to my temple and began rubbing. I had seen Xena do good and I knew she wasn't a monster. Anymore.
After a few beats, Najara spoke again, “What are you thinking about?”
I answered, “You're so close to being this ultimate force for goodness, but that little bit makes you so wrong.”
“ What should I do with those slave traders, Gabrielle? What would Xena do,” Najara asked.
“ She would make sure they were out of business. She would turn them over to the local government,” I said.
“ But what if the local government supports slavery? Probably not a problem because Xena kills most of them in combat anyway,” she said.
“ Xena only kills if it is absolutely necessary,” I answered.
“ And I only kill evil people. Why is she better than me?” Najara asked.
I was stunned. Najara spoke with such certainty and with such an unwavering confidence in her own absolute righteousness. Fully committed to the light, this woman took lives without remorse. If her Djinn were right, then her actions were moral but if they were wrong, well, it was appalling to even think about. I knew I could not participate in such unremorseful killings. Even slave traders deserved the checks and balances of a trial.
“ Don't you think those people deserve a fair trial?” I asked.
“ But some fool may find them innocent,” Najara said.
“ But with your way, innocent people could die,” I said.
Najara answered, “You're right, Gabrielle. I'm sure I've made mistakes before. But all I've done is send them to the light. The eternal powers will correct any mistakes I've made.”
Before I can answer, we both hear screaming coming from the entrance of the cave. Najara runs toward it and, after a few beats, I hear a familiar voice all out to me.
“ Gabrielle!” Xena yelled.
I am relieved. First, because Xena seemed to be okay and second, because I had stopped Najara during our brief moment of passion. Having Xena stumble upon me in Najara's arms probably would have damaged our relationship beyond repair.
“Would not!” Xena interjected, from her seat at Gabrielle's side at the Festival of Samhain.
“Oh, come on Xena,” Gabrielle said, looking at her companion in light-hearted disbelief. “You see red when a drunkard so much as leers at me in a tavern.”
Some of the other Amazons nearby snickered.
“Gabrielle, I think we all know that you're a bit...” Xena searched as to how to put it delicately, “easily led.”
“Are you suggesting I'm easy?” Gabrielle said. Turning to Eponin and Solari, she repeated, “She just called me easy!”
“Hey, I'm not complaining,” Xena said, with her hands in the air in mock surrender. “After all, your... friendships sometimes serve important purposes.”
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