Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and Xena Warrior Princess remains the respective copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Content: No to any violence but yes to emotional intimacy although nothing here you wouldn't see in a typical episode.
Spoilers: This story is a little sequence of missing scenes from "Motherhood" and is set after the showdown in Olympus but prior to Eve and Xena playing with a spider on the beach.
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Regrets After Twilight
The halls of Olympus were disturbingly quiet. The storm continued to rage across the heavens and intense flashes of white still lit the open walkways where Eve rested on a stone bench watching the rain bounce from the ornate stone carvings above. She was healed but her back was sore and she shifted uncomfortably as she drew the blanket more tightly around her. Her mother appeared at the doorway, a pool of yellow light spilling from the fire sconce inside. She was clutching a bundle of clean clothes for her and for a moment they just gazed at each other. Twenty-five years late her mother had returned to her, saved her, killed the God's to protect her and she was overwhelmed by the strength of that maternal love. She didn't deserve it. Not after everything she had done.
Xena closed the distance between them joining her on the bench and folded her arms around her. Her leathers smelt clean, free of that metallic tang of blood. Her blood and Gabrielle's.
"Get dressed for one," Xena said wryly, "Wait for the storm to pass. It'll be treacherous getting off this mountain."
Eve drew herself upright and read the melancholy in her eyes.
"Taking the bodies away," Xena replied quietly.
A flash of pain crossed her mother's features as she answered. "Aphrodite's with her."
Gabrielle could barely lift her head out of the bloodied bath water; the intensity of her headache was acute. Ares had healed her but her body had been through a trauma. She was exhausted and her eyes felt heavy.
"Hey, no drowning in the tub," Aphrodite warned, her voice sounding strangely brittle as she knelt by the square pool and reached a slender hand to Gabrielle's shoulder. Her eyes traced the line of the chakram injury through the bard's slick wet hair as if to reassure herself it was healed.
"I don't think I can stand up," Gabrielle admitted.
"That's what I'm here for. Up we go," Aphrodite said and with unyielding ease lifted the bard to her feet draping the towel around her in one smooth motion. Gabrielle felt the trembling in her legs extend to her back and the pain searing in her skull. She hated being weak. Hated that the furies could have manipulated her so easily. Hated herself for stabbing Eve. What must Xena think? Bringing death to her second child? Despair clutched at her heart.
"Look kiddo, the Furies did this to you" Aphrodite whispered gently as she helped the shaking bard to the bed she had conjured. "Nobody blames you. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Aphrodite held her gaze, expression troubled but infinitely tender. The bard found herself staring deeply into those grey blue eyes. The sadness in them was frightening and for the first time Gabrielle realised how scared her divine friend had been. Her lover was dead, her family slaughtered and her mortal friend had lay dying in her arms.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle said taking one of the God's hands in her own, "About Hephaestus, your family."
"He wouldn't listen," Aphrodite said bowing her head. "He wanted to be a part of it so much. To belong - as if that would make up for how they had treated him before. A good little soldier for Athena's vendetta."
"If you hadn't brought us to Olympus," Gabrielle began but Aphrodite touched her lips with her fingers to silence her misplaced guilt.
"Then Hephie would still be dead and so would you," she said and levelled her intense gaze at the bard. She shrugged lightly as if to brush off the enormity of what helping Xena had cost.
"I kept hoping Athena would change her mind and let me heal you. If anyone could convince her it would be Xena…Ares surprised me."
A shiver passed through Gabrielle; a tangle of feelings and emotions she couldn't deal with. Everything had changed. The Goddess of Love had betrayed her own family to try and help save her. She felt humbled by that sacrifice and the faith she had shown their friendship.
"I'll be back in a while," Aphrodite murmured as if listening to something Gabrielle couldn't hear. "You should rest." She shimmered out of sight.
Suddenly alone Gabrielle felt the coldness of the marble floor seep into her feet. The bed looked inviting. She dried herself off, dropped the towel and slid beneath the covers. Sleep came quickly to her exhausted body.
Ares stared at the bodies of his Olympian family. Nothing more pathetic than a dead God. Except maybe a mortal one. It wouldn't be forever - there was always a way back. Ambrosia, a secret stash of golden apples. The whole self sacrificing thing wasn't really his thing but Xena; well he couldn't let Athena kill her. He loved her; as much as he was capable of it. What would the Goddess of Wisdom thought knowing that ultimately she had been defeated by the love her ditzy sister had given the world? A shadow fell across the doorway.
"Gutsy move sis," Ares said as Aphrodite came to his side, "Bringing Xena here. Athena would have spent eternity making you pay for helping them."
"She should have left the bard out of it," Aphrodite responded quietly, looping her arm through his. "Thank you, by the way. I know what it cost you."
Her brother shifted uncomfortably.
"Yeah well….They're kind of a package deal."
"You ready to go?"
"Yeah. Let's get this over with," he replied grimly.
The bodies flashed out of sight and Aphrodite and Ares vanished with them in a moving sea of yellow light.
Eve kept tight to her mother's side as they walked the empty corridors of Olympus. It felt like a graveyard. Xena remained wary wanting very much to be away from this place. Just because Aphrodite meant them no harm didn't mean the remaining Olympians felt the same.
"This way," Xena said and ducked into another passage which ended in a small bathing chamber. A pile of bloodied clothes lay next to the square pool and in the corner she startled to see a pink bed that hadn't been there when she'd washed up. No doubt courtesy of Aphrodite. A flicker of unease settled in her mind - that this Goddess had taken such an interest in Gabrielle. She saw the slight figure huddled underneath the bed covers and moved swiftly to her side. Gabrielle moved uneasily in her sleep; bad dreams beginning to grip her. Xena reached out to her and hesitated, guilt staying her hand. She still looked so pale from blood loss and certainly not fit to travel.
"I'm so sorry,"Xena murmured and brushed her lips against Gabrielle's forehead.
Gabrielle's eyes flickered open; only half awake, the deep pounding headache back once again.
"I'm here," Xena answered softly and reached to tuck the blankets more snugly around her partner's shoulders.
"I know,"Xena said quietly; struggling and failing to keep the tears from her own eyes. Gabrielle's admission struck her bone deep. The Gods had sent the furies but it was she who had struck the fatal blow.
Groggy as she was Gabrielle couldn't deal with the anguish in Xena's eyes and rightly recognised her desire to leave Olympus. It would be safer for Eve who even now hung back, uncertain if her presence was wanted or not.
"You need to go," Gabrielle said tiredly, her gaze encompassing mother and daughter both. "Go, its okay. It will be safer for you."
"I'm not going anywhere without you," Xena insisted but Gabrielle snaked her hand from beneath her blankets to take Xena's hand in her own. Their fingers circled each others and the bard squeezed softly.
"Look, I can barely stand up much less climb down a mountain. Aphrodite said she'd be back. I'll be okay - besides you and Eve need a little time too."
"Alright," Xena conceded, unhappy that Gabrielle was distancing herself from them and troubled that she would turn to someone else. Where had she been when the Goddess of Love suddenly became Gabrielle's confidant and protector? Now wasn't the time to discuss it. So much had happened; perhaps a few days clarity would benefit them all. She stood and motioned to Eve at the doorway. Time to go. Gabrielle watched them leave; a strange veil of numbness settling over her and then that pain lanced through her skull again and she buried her head in the pillow seeking relief.
Not for the first time Eve wondered what it would have been like to have been raised by her mother. She shook the thought away; dwelling on what might have been wouldn't help. The heat of the camp fire chased away the evening chill and a sense of peace settled on her. It was enough to be in the presence of her lost parent and let the memory of her bloody past slide away at least for one night.
Xena returned with an armful of firewood which she stacked neatly next to the bed rolls. She paced, restless. Eve threw her a curious look.
"What is it?"
Her mother gave her a wistful look. Nothing felt right without Gabrielle. How did she explain that to her daughter? `She dropped down onto the sleeping furs next to her and shrugged.
"Don't know," Xena said reaching for her sword and sharpening stone. Having something to do with her hands was always good.
"You're worried about Gabrielle," Eve observed. "I'm sure Aphrodite will take care of her."
"No doubt," Xena said darkly. Was that the problem? She wasn't completely oblivious. She had seen the way the Goddess looked at Gabrielle as she lay bleeding on the floor of Joxer's tavern. Eve reached a hand to her arm and gripped it in comfort.
"She'll be back. You'll see."
Xena nodded and turned her attention back to her sword. It was starting to look a little worn around the edges. It just needed care and attention. Neglect didn't happen overnight. It was more subversive, it happened one day at a time. She would put that right, first chance she got.
Gabrielle startled awake, heart pounding. She propped herself up and rubbed at her temple; that damn headache just wouldn't leave her be. It took her a moment to realise she was no longer on Olympus. The bed was the same but the décor was decidedly different. Careworn and broken flag stones, rusted sconces; if not for the semi-erotic carvings that remained in the weathered wooden panels she would never have figured it for one of Aphrodite's temples.
"It's not what it used to be," Aphrodite said sadly shimmering into view on the bed beside her. "It's been abandoned. I imagine I'll be next if Eli's God has his way."
Gabrielle frowned; unaccustomed to the solemnity in her friend's voice. She reached out a hand to her slender arm; the backs of her fingers stroking lightly against the pale immortal flesh.
"The world will always need love," the bard insisted softly, sitting up.
"You've lost a little faith yourself," Aphrodite said regarding her quietly. "Let me fix that headache of yours," she added.
The Goddess leant forward and touched her soft lips to the bard's forehead as her hands settled on either side of her neck. Gabrielle was bathed in yellow light as Aphrodite's power stole through her body; healing and soothing as it reached out to caress every fibre of her being. She was filled with indescribable warmth and then she recognised the feeling for what it was - love. It had been a long time since she had felt that loved in a tangible sense. Aphrodite released her but didn't move away, Gabrielle's hand still grazing lightly over her arm. She could never admit to a mortal that she craved the comfort of that human touch. She didn't have to. Gabrielle understood loss better than her.
"I will miss Heph," Aphrodite whispered, "All of them. Always."
The bard's heart constricted. That's how it was with immortals. Aphrodite would grieve for eternity.
"I'm so sorry," Gabrielle said and gathered the Goddess into her comforting embrace. They sat curled together for what seemed like hours until Aphrodite's quiet sobs subsided and she became still in her arms, head pillowed in her lap.
Xena was half seated on the dunes next to Eve when they flashed into view a little way down the beach. The Goddess was still dressed in mourning black and her robes billowed in the breezy morning air. Her arm was draped protectively around Gabrielle's shoulders as if to ward off any ocean chill. Xena watched as her bard spoke quietly to her immortal friend and bit down on the pang of jealousy as Aphrodite drew Gabrielle into a fierce hug.
"She's waiting for you," The Goddess told her. "They both are."
"I don't know what to say to them," Gabrielle said.
"Smart bard like you? You'll figure it out."
They drew apart and the bard hesitated a moment more.
"What will you do?"
"This whole twilight is such a downer. I think I'll take some time and get away for a while. Somewhere busy, with good shopping. Maybe Rome. Haven't been there in an age. That whole Venus rap is so bogus."
Aphrodite cut her ramble short and seemed to steel herself. She reached out a hand to tousle the bard's hair.
"Be safe," she told her seriously. "And remember that she loves you. Trust me, I know these things."
Xena did not miss the affectionate look that passed between Gabrielle and Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love shimmered away. Gabrielle slowly turned to face her partner and then the smile that lit the beach was for her alone.
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