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by Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
No parent should ever have to outlive their child. And yet here she was, again.
Gabrielle looked around at the frozen field, feeling a cold inside far more severe than the wind could bring with it's promise of frost. Around her feet lay the last of her Amazons, the last of all Amazons, dead among the Roman soldiers that had slain them. And that had been slain in return. Gabrielle could recognise some of their faces, these young, lost, children, but try though she did, their names would not come to her.
She lifted her gaze again at the crosses.
There to the side hung four Amazons, Varia among them, long dead before Gabrielle had reached that place. But the centrepiece, the cross she was standing under now, held none other than … Eve.
The child of her heart.
She idly noticed that Eve was still wearing the rags that had passed as the girl's clothing ever since she became the messenger of Eli, and that the wind was whipping the lose ends of it around those slim, frozen legs.
Gabrielle recalled the day Eve had found out about Gabrielle's adoption of her when she was an infant. The young woman had asked many questions before smiling almost shyly and asking Gabrielle if that meant that she should call her daddy. Gabrielle had wanted nothing more at that point than to say yes, but she had remembered all too clearly the day of the adoption ceremony… and how Xena had proven to Gabrielle that all the talk of Gabrielle being Eve's other parent was just that, talk. When Xena had intended to take the child and leave Gabrielle behind, without so much as a backwards glance.
She had told Eve that although she herself would like it, Eve had to ask Xena's permission. Eve had gone to speak with her mother then, so certain Xena would not have minded but… Gabrielle noticed that Eve continued to call her by name afterwards, and never brought up the subject again.
Although Eve was very much her mother's daughter, and was very close to Xena in her struggles to come to terms with her dark past, a special bond developed between Gabrielle and Eve as well. Eve surely loved and respected her mother, but she genuinely looked up to Gabrielle, who after all had been Eli's first disciple and also originally been his guide. And many of those typical teenage questions that Eve seemed to have in abundance despite her age, were voiced to Gabrielle rather than the more awkward Xena. How did they meet, when did they know they were in love, how did they tell one another, and so on.
Gabrielle had told her snippets of their past, and let Eve read many of Gabrielle's personal scrolls upon occasion. That turned out to be somewhat of an mistake, as Eve eventually came across Gabrielle's private recollections of the events that began in Britannia and ended in Illusia. Eve… had been furious with her mother for days. It took some time before she treated Xena as she had before, but Gabrielle could tell that Eve never quite could forget nor forgive her mother for those events. And Gabrielle of course blamed herself.
That sweet little girl in a grown woman's body, who loved spiders and stories and liked to be hugged but never wanted to admit it... Eve.
"Help me take them down." Gabrielle spoke quietly, with a voice that seemed foreign to her own ears. It had been that way a lot lately. Virgil seemed to snap out of his horrified shock enough to move, although tears were still pouring down his cheeks. Gabrielle however did not cry.
How had it come to this?
The message had reached Gabrielle as she was returning to Greece from Egypt, and she had met up with Virgil almost at the same time. Roman forces had overrun the last of the Amazons, killing most and taking a few, the leading women, captive for crucifixion. Amazon lands had been destroyed utterly, and only a few amazons had survived the attack. It was those that summoned Gabrielle, their Queen, to them as they were going to their sisters rescue.
Virgil had brought the news that Eve had also been taken by Roman forces, and he had been searching for Xena in hopes of saving the woman he once had wanted to kill himself for the murder of his father.
Gabrielle and Virgil had ridden their horses so hard to get there in time that Gabrielle ended up having to kill her mount before they arrived. They also ran into a detachment of Roman soldiers on their way to the execution grounds, and Gabrielle slaughtered them all.
But it was too late.
A few candlemarks sooner, and perhaps some of the young Amazons that gave their lives not to free their sisters, but to retrieve their corpses, might have been saved. They were not. And as for those crucified… it was at least a day late, if not more.
At the edge of her vision Gabrielle saw Xena, kneeling in the bloodied mud and crying. She ignored her. It was something that had gotten easier to do as for every time the ghost appeared she was a little more faint, a little more indistinct, a little more… gone. And because Gabrielle really didn't want to feel even more resentment against the woman that had been the love of her life, it was better to just ignore her. To feel nothing.
They had little time until someone would come to find out why there were no reports from the skirmish, even with Gabrielle killing the soldiers that had been sent there previously, so with that in mind Virgil and Gabrielle worked fast. There would be no chance at burying them properly, or for a decent pyre. Instead they lumped the crosses together and piled the bodies on top of them.
It would take time before they managed to make the wood burn, and Gabrielle had something specific in mind.
She pulled out a scroll from her meagre belongings and wrote a few words on it quickly, then gave it to Virgil along with her pack. "Go. Take the horse and these and go to the nearest temple of Aphrodite that you can find."
"I know it is far, but there are people that needs to know what happened here. Aphrodite knows what to do, just give her that message."
"But what will you do? I can't leave you behind like this."
Gabrielle looked at the worried boy, seeing a tiny sliver of his father in him. It would be the first time Virgil showed any of Joxer's mettle as far as Gabrielle was concerned, but even so she liked the boy. She chose her words carefully.
"Don't worry about me. It's easier to avoid capture if you are one, alone, than two with one horse. The Romans won't capture me."
Seeing that he was still not convinced she added more softly. "Go. You can't help me here. And I promise I will not stay long."
She watched him go as she lit fires at different ends of the makeshift pyre. When he was gone from her sight she stood and waited a moment. Then she climbed up on the pyre to the body she had taken care to place at the top, and pulled Eve into her arms. She laid down her sais and her sword, and took the chakram in one hand. She held Eve to her, and kissed the cold forehead goodbye.
Gabrielle then parted the chakram into its two halves, and held both at an angle to her stomach like she had been taught in Japa. She could see no reason to refrain to perform that ritual now.
Xena shouted at her, and for a brief moment Gabrielle looked at her. The anguished ghost was frozen in her attempts at scaling the pyre as that gaze cut through her… because it was filled with contempt, scorn and such immense pain. And what cut most deeply, underneath all that, there was a tiny yet burning core of hate.
Gabrielle looked away and drove the edges of the halves of the chakram into her flesh on the way to her heart. With an enormous effort she managed with her dying breath to call out a name, once.
The Gabrielle's body toppled over, leaning over Eve's form still resting in her lap in a final parental embrace. The goddess of love shimmered into the scene just as the final strands of life were cut, and the Battling Bard of Poteidaia was no more.
The wailing cry of the goddess of love echoed in every temple ever erected for the honour of an Olympian god, and made the god of war close his eyes in surprised pain. Compared to that, the ghostly keening of a spirit caught between worlds was simply forgotten.
Despite her pain, and despite the tears that seemed as if though they would not ever stop, the love goddess honoured her fallen friend. With one gesture, the tiny fire burst into a raging flame, quickly consuming the pyre and the forms upon it, reducing it all into ashes that the wind swept away over the world. Another gesture, and Gabrielle's weapons and the chakram caught fire as well, but not enough to destroy them. Aphrodite summoned her brother's spirit to her, and Ares lend his strength to that of his sister until even the mighty chakram was but ashes in the wind.
There would be no trophies for Rome of the women these two had loved.
For a long moment both deities stood there, weeping silently as the cold wind swept across the small piece of earth that had been the end of so much. Finally Aphrodite's fair head rose to pin her brother with a gaze of such burning determination that she seemed almost a different person.
"I will not let it end this way." Aphrodite spoke with quiet intensity. "I can't."
Ares looked at her for a moment before closing his eyes. "What you're thinking... we can't do that." He sighed. "We don't have the power to do that."
Aphrodite set her jaw defiantly. "We have enough power between us to sway those who do."
Ares felt as if he was a mortal again. "You know what that will cost us, sis."
"I know." Aphrodite drew her arms around herself and stared into the distance. "But we owe them. We owe them... everything. They deserve a happily ever after."
"No!" Ares barked angrily. "Xena don't deserve anything!"
Aphrodite waited as Ares struggled with his anger. Finally he hissed through clenched teeth. "She quit. She had a choice but she quit fighting and just laid down to die. She deserves nothing!"
"And Gabrielle? Does she deserve nothing too?" Aphrodite asked quietly, looking at her brother knowingly. Ares hesitated, then closed his eyes again and nodded slowly. "And Xena disappointed us both in the end, but you and I both know you don't mean that."
She held her hand out. "Won't you join me?"
He sighed. "You're impossible, you know that?" He took the offered hand.
In the darkness of their dwelling, the Fates barely spared the shimmering goddess of love a glance before returning to their work. Aphrodite, not fooled by their negligence, stood tall and determined. Ares slumped by her side, blending into the dark and keeping his eyes carefully averted from the glow of the loom, as if the mere reminder of human mortality were to painful for him.
"What you ask"
"Has a price"
The Fates spoke together, one beginning and the others continuing, while their fingers continued to tend the threads of life leading to the loom.
Aphrodite's voice was strong and sure as she replied. "We do, and come prepared to pay this price."
The Fates looked at Ares, and Aphrodite, sensing the question, elaborated. "We have seen the future. We, the last Olympians, will fade and diminish until we are no more than legends. The era of other gods have begun, and though we will never be entirely forgotten, our power will be broken."
Ares snorted. "A religion that preaches love yet so often is used to wage war... humans don't need us anymore."
Aphrodite took his hand. "My brother is right, and we have decided. We will surrender our divine power for this purpose, becoming myths before our time, and..." She hesitated, then added. "You owe them too."
The Crone smiled while the Maiden looked at them and the Matron spoke. "Yes"
As one the three Fates laid their tools aside to turn around towards a part of the darkness that began to glow. In the glow the loom of gods appeared, and as the Fates turned the palms of their hands towards it, the glow grew in intensity and shot out to envelop the two Olympians.
Tightening his hold on Aphrodite's hand, Ares whispered sadly. "She never believed me, but I really did love her."
Aphrodite squeezed his hand. "I know Ares... I know."
Gabrielle opened her eyes to a world of green hills sloping down to a wide meadow framed by woods. Above was clear blue skies, and in the distance mountains edged the view. She took a deep breath and felt the clear air fill her, wondering briefly where she was but then deciding it did not matter.
"Gabrielle?" Xena's hushed voice made Gabrielle turn around to face her, and for a moment the two soulmates stood there watching one another. Gabrielle felt something strange... like for a moment she had felt pain or anger looking at Xena, but then it was cleansed away from her, replaced by the deep and genuine love that had always been there.
Then they were in each other's arms, embracing tightly as if though they had been apart for long though neither could remember anything like that. A kiss shared, and another long, loving embrace, and the two smiling women heard sounds of voices coming towards them... calling out to them.
People were walking up the hill towards them, and in front of the adults two little girls were running. The sunlight blinded Xena and Gabrielle both for a moment, so holding their hands to their eyes they moved slightly to meet these people.
The children reached them first.
"Mama!" The first little girl, with long reddish-blonde hair, cried out happily before throwing herself at Gabrielle.
"Hope!" Gabrielle choked out and hugged her little girl, then crouched down to hug her again.
The other girl, skinny with long pale blonde curls and large brown eyes, stopped a tiny distance away to watch the reunion and Xena hesitantly.
"...Eve?" Xena breathed out at last, although uncertainty was clear in her voice. The little girl smiled and nodded shyly, fidgeting slightly in place.
"I like her other name, Callie, better." Little Hope declared from within her mother's embrace, waving a chubby little arm in the direction of the child. "Callie is my bestest friend, mama."
Callie fidgeted some more and looked at Gabrielle uncertainly.
"Callie wants a hug too, mama." Hope informed her mother seriously, then reached for her friend. Gabrielle smiled winsomely and followed suit, reaching an arm out to the shy little girl watching them.
"Of course honey. Come join us Callie."
The little girl hurled herself at them and Gabrielle laughed with delight, her arms full of her little girls. She hugged them to her and looked at Xena, who were trying not to cry.
To distract herself Xena turned her attention towards the people coming up the hill. She gave a start and exclaimed in surprise. "Hey! Gabrielle, look!"
Coming up the hill, shouting and waving, were amazons... Ephiny, Solari, Eponin, Otere, Yakut... old friends all. Further down the hill at a more sedate pace and without the screaming came Melosa, Terreis, Cyane, Varia and a woman who bore a striking resemblance to her, Margo... astonished blue eyes took in all the familiar faces, until they locked on someone in particular.
The amazons reached them and hugs and greetings were exchanged, but Xena was distracted by the last person to join them on the hill, finally causing Gabrielle to notice her as well.
"Mom?" Xena breathed as Cyrene reached them. Cyrene merely hugged her daughter in reply, then Gabrielle when the younger woman squealed and came forward to greet her. "What... how?"
"Hush." Cyrene told her daughter affectionately. "It's alright child... you're home now."
"The Amazon land of the dead?" Gabrielle guessed, looking at her fellow amazons and thinking she spied the edge of an Amazon village among the trees.
"Yes." Ephiny smiled. "It's been restored."
"And a few... special... additions through invitation." Cyrene added, ruffling the heads of the two little girls.
"Who... and why?" Xena asked, frowning slightly, her mind already going through the possibilities.
"Does it matter?" Cyrene asked, taking the hands of the little girls and starting down the hill. "Let us just enjoy it."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another. Did it matter?
Somewhere outside their scope of perception, Aphrodite gave them the last and final of her blessings, the blessing of acceptance, before her power was utterly spent.
Did it matter?
Xena smiled and Gabrielle followed suit.
"Race ya down the hill!" Xena cried and darted ahead.
"No fair!" Gabrielle cried, racing after her and laughing joyfully. The amazons joined as the couple reached them, and the sound of laughter was caught by the wind and echoed around them as Xena and Gabrielle finally found their way home.
About two candlemarks shy of a suddenly abandoned temple of Aphrodite, Virgil finally dared to open the message Gabrielle had sent with him. He could no longer recall just for whom the message was meant and this disturbed him, but surely if he read it he would remember what Gabrielle had told him to do.
Having decided, he quickly read the familiar handwriting of his friend... and burst into tears once more.
Virgil, I must ask a final favour of you.
Go to Poteidaia and tell my sister Lila of my, Xena's and Eve's passing. There is no-one else left in this world that has any urgent need to know, and I trust you will do this for me even though it's not a pleasant task.
Aphrodite will take care of everything else so there is no reason to worry.
And somewhere in the wind there was the faintest echo of two women laughing.