Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Varia, Aphrodite and all other characters that have been
previously mentioned on Xena are property of Ren. Pics. Any other characters
are owned by me and are the property of my own twisted little mind. I own this
story and it is copyrighted to me, thank you very much.
Content: This is an alternative story, but nothing explicit. Sorry, but that's just not my bag. If you're lookin for a good roll in the hay, its not to be found here. Read accordingly. There is an itsy bitsy amount of violence, but nothing too graphic.
On A Side Note: Due an overwhelming demand, basically every third person ordering me to do as such, I have implored the use of Beta Readers. Yes yes, so if there are any mistakes you can just blame them .JUST KIDDING. Thank you so much Pam and Beta Barb. I really appreciate all your great and patience work
I'm still learning this so whatever feedback, whether comments or criticism, will be tremendously appreciated email@example.com
And I have made a vow to respond back this time.
And away we go
"Gabrielle, a story is hardly payment." Yohanas conveyed to the small Amazon.
However Gabrielle didnt hear a word, she was lost in the realm of her thoughts refiguring her strategies. How do I employ Yohanass help without telling him what its for? I cant just go up to him and say I need his help to bring my dead girlfriend back to life hell think Im crazy if he doesnt already. The bards face scrunched up in concentration.
Yohanas cleared his throat loudly, again vying for the womans attentions and again failing. Finally Yohanas resorted to placing a heavy hand on Gabrielles shoulder.
"Gabrielle." He called.
The bard awoke from her seeming trance.
"Wh Huh? Did you say something?" Gabrielles cheeks held a light crimson, embarrassed at her lack of attention.
"Yes, I did. I said that a story is hardly payment, Gabrielle. There must be something more I can do for you."
"Well " Gabrielle began, trailing off her words. Alright Gabrielle, you can do this. Just dont sound crazy. Calmly ask for his help in resurrecting your dead lover .yeh, this is gonna go over great! She involuntarily sighed at her present predicament.
Yohanas could see that there was a silent battle raging within the woman. It was obvious by her tone and demeanor that Gabrielle had something more she wanted to ask. But it was also apparent by the turmoil and concentration in her face that she was hesitant about the request. Yohanas sought to put her at ease.
"Gabrielle, please. It would be my greatest honor to be of service to you. Whatever you want, please dont hesitate to ask."
The bard inhaled deeply, still diffident about her request. But when she looked up at Yohanas, there was such a kindness in his eyes .a warmth; somehow she knew he would understand.
"I need your help to retrieve the Chalice of Maat Ba." Gabrielle spurted the sentence out quickly, hoping maybe the speed would reduce the ludicrousness of her words.
"Um o k ." Yohanas answered slowly.
"I know it must sound completely crazy, but "
"Its ok Gabrielle."
"But I "
"Its ok. If the Chalice is what you desire, then that is what you shall have." He answered securely.
His immediate acceptance of Gabrielle request had through the bard a little off. Shed expected him to require an amount of convincing.
"So yes?" She questioned, still for some unknown reason suspicious.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that." Yohanas spoke concretely.
"But dont you want an explanation?" Gabrielle asked, dubious.
"I dont require one Gabrielle. You want the Chalice of Maat Ba, thats enough for me."
"But you deserve an explanation."
"If you feel the need fine, but I dont need one."
"Well Ill give you one."
Somehow during the conversation, the control had been shifted from Gabrielle to Yohanas. The bard decided to take it back. Now for an explanation.
"Um well You know of my friend Xena right?"
Yohanas nodded his head in recognition.
"Well Xena wasnt just my friend, she was much more than that so much more .I ." Gabrielle stuttered as she prepared to define their relationship to Yohanas. She feared his reaction. Whenever anyone found out about the special relationship between Gabrielle and Xena they had one of three responses: disgust, acceptance, or a "can I watch" mentality. The bard hoped for the middle option.
"Yohanas, I loved Xena. I loved her so much. She was my other half, and with everything that I am, I loved her. She felt the same way about me. Xena is was my soul mate."
"A little over a month ago, Xena died ."
"Oh Gabrielle," he interrupted, his tone compassionate. "Im so sorry, I hadnt heard."
"Its alright." She paused letting several emotions pass through her. "No, no its .its not alright. I mean I say it is, but its not. Xena sacrificed her life to save the souls of others and to find her redemption but ." A kaleidoscope of feeling arose. She was sad. She was hurt. She was angry. And she was especially confused.
"But she left, she made the decision without even consulting me. She separated us for the rest of our lives without even asking me. I deserved that much." Gabrielle stopped for a beat as her breath became ragged.
"I was in so much pain when she first left, I still am. The only thing that kept me alive was thinking that things would get better. And here I am, later, and things are still the same. I hurt so much without her. I still love her with all my heart. I still miss her with every fiber of my being. And, my soul still bleeds at even the mention of her name."
Yohanas placed an innocent arm around her and Gabrielle welcomingly accepted it. She was grateful for his strength she got tired of pretending to be strong.
"Ive been trying trying so hard. But I cant, I cant do it anymore. And I know its childish and selfish but I need her so badly. I need to be with her. I need her at my side."
Gabrielle turned to look deep into her companions eyes.
"Yohanas, I need your help to get her back."
"Of course Ill help you Gabrielle." He answered with absolute certainty. Gabrielle was again thrown off balance by such absolute support.
"Why?" She paused, her question coming out much harsher than she had planned. Gabrielle began again. "I mean, why help me? I know you said that you believed in the chalice but saying it and meaning it are completely different things. I mean Ill be the first to admit that this seems like a wild goose chase. Why be a part of that chase?"
"Because you asked. And because I dont see it as a chase. Ive known people who have gone in search of Safiya. I know the Chalice exists. I asked you if you believed there was a love as deep as Naeems and Safiyas. You answered yes immediately."
"Gabrielle, I was raised on your scrolls. I could probably recite many of them by heart. Although you tried to keep your feelings for Xena silent on the parchment, to me, it was as if you were screaming it from atop Mt. Olympus. Although you may not have written it in actual words, it was in your descriptions of her, in the care you took in writing her name, everything. All the subconscious subtleties, they helped to paint a faint picture. The story within the story. The tale of your love.
"I dont know if a love that deep exists. But if anything relatively close to it does, I believe its between you and Xena. I have faith in you. I have faith in your love. So you see, its not a silly chase."
"Thank you Yohanas. Your support means that much more." She broke for a moment. "Have you ever been in love?"
"No, I havent. But I do know that someday I will be. And I cant wait for that day to arrive."
"It will soon." It was now Gabrielles turn to be strong. "Youre a great guy Yohanas, Im sure your special someone is right around the bend."
That took a moment of silence, each reveling in the others strength.
"I guess we should get ready for our journey then." Yohanas said before heading out of the room with Gabrielle close on his heels.
The caravan was packed and ready the next morning.
Well it wasnt exactly a caravan. The troop contained a few wagons with supplies. There were several camels along as well. Yohanas had included a dozen servants and guards along for the journey. All and all, Gabrielle thought it to be a little excessive for a two-day trip.
But she told herself, Yohanas has the resources and he seemed happy to do this. Why not just let it be? So after several tries at protest, Gabrielle had finally admitted defeat and allowed Yohanas to make whatever arrangements he felt necessary.
However, Gabrielle did put her foot down when he had suggested an extra servant to carry along a big cushion mattress, like the one in her room, for Gabrielles tent. That was just too much.
A girls got to draw a line somewhere.
But now they were ready to go and Gabrielle could feel destiny creeping up upon her. It was an intoxicating feeling. I will get her back.
They pulled out in the morning, heading for the unknown destination. Yohanas led the pack along, being as he was the only one who knew where they were going. But that was ok, Gabrielle had confidence in him. Gabrielle followed in the train. She had thought about walking but decided riding on a camel would be more conducive to the trip.
She stared wearily at the gigantic animal. With its swaggering spit and bumping hump, it was quite the intimidator. However, after several careful minutes of quiet maneuvering, Gabrielle began to get the hang of it. By midday she was comfortable enough to join Yohanas at the front of the train.
She slowly approached him, riding side by side to her guide. Gabrielle had to talk to him but was unsure how to continue.
"So Gabrielle, how are you enjoying the ride so far?"
"Well, Im not known to mesh well with animals of the four-legged variety. But, Mara and I seem to be getting along just fine now."
"Mara?" Yohanas asked, confused.
"Yes, I dubbed my camel Mara."
The moment Gabrielle laid eyes upon the mammoth mammal, she was instantly struck by the camels likeness to a certain innkeeper she knew. The camel spit, smelled, and when it chewed it was visibly missing a lot of teeth .She could be Maras twin! Gabrielle laughed inwardly at her own personal joke, directly before scolding herself for thinking such things. Thats not nice Gabrielle even if it is true.
"Mara is a good name for her."
"I thought so." They rode on for a few minutes with only the sounds of the desert to fill their ears. Gabrielle eventually spoke up with the words shed moved up in the caravan to say.
"Yohanas, I kinda need to talk to you about something."
"Um I dont " Again Gabrielle was at a loss to explain her circumstances. "Ive told you about how Xena died and everything, but theres something Ive left out."
"Well .Xena, shes not really gone. I mean shes dead, but not gone. Do you understand?"
"No, not really Im afraid."
Gabrielle had tried to be subtle, thinking that would dull the words she was saying but it obviously wasnt working. Well, guess Ill just have to go for the direct approach.
"Xenas a ghost."
"What?" His tone filled with disbelief.
"I said Xenas a ghost. She visits me from time to time. Usually she comes once a day."
"Is she here?" Yohanas began looking around his shoulder, searching for the Warrior Princess.
"Oh no, shes not here right now. Actually I havent seen her since we met in the square the other day. She had disappeared. But it wouldnt matter if she was here, you couldnt see her. Apparently Im the only one shes visible to. And I know." Gabrielle began before Yohanas had even a moment to consider her last words. "It seems crazy. I keep questioning myself, wondering whether shes actually there or Im imagining her."
"But my soul, it knows shes real."
"Well, that is good enough for me." Yohanas said.
"Anyway, this planned resurrection were on our way to produce .Xena doesnt know about it. I tried to save her before and she stopped me. This, the Chalice of Maat Ba, its my last hope. I cant lose this I cant lose her. If she finds out, Xena will try to stop me."
"So, Im asking you for another favor. Yohanas please dont mention Xena or my plan again on the trip. I dont know when or if shell return, but if she does I have to make sure she remains oblivious. Can you promise me that youll remain silent?"
"Yes Gabrielle. Although I will admit that I dont completely agree with your decision, it was your choice and I will respect it. My lips are sealed." He made a compliant gesture.
"Thank you very much. And one more thing, please."
"When Xena is around, Ill give you a signal. Ill probably have to make up some type of story about where we are going so just promise to go along with anything I say."
He lowered his head in agreement and the two rode on through the hot desert in silence, letting the whisper of the wind entertain them.
They had covered a great amount of ground that day and were perfectly situated to reach Safiyas cave before sun down.
Still no sign of Xena yet and that left Gabrielle terribly worried. What if she doesnt come back? This plan will never work if I dont see her again. Gods, please help me!
Setting up camp was a lengthy affair. With all the tents and extra luxuries, it had taken a couple of hours before everything was situated. Gabrielle began helping the servants set up, but Yohanas quickly interrupted, forcing her to sit down and rest. Well forcing was a relative term.
If her heart had been into it, Gabrielle could have resisted Yohanas. However the ride had been long and Gabrielle was extremely tired, therefore at that moment a little bit of extra rest seemed quite inviting. So Gabrielle had accepted, taking refuge in her newly setup personal tent.
Gabrielle walked in and saw a smooth, comfortable bedroll surrounded by a plethora of colorful pillows. The bard let her body drop face down into its delectable softness. Her body eased and she was instantly at complete comfort.
"Ahh Thith ith the life." Gabrielle muffled through soft cushions that cradled her head. She could turn over, giving her more breathing room but who would want to do that? No, it would take miracle to move her from this spot.
"Hey," A familiar alto voice spoke. "Nice digs."
Gabrielle jumped up from her crouched position to greet her visitor. She could hardly contain her enthusiasm at seeing her lover.
"Hey there." Xena played it off calmly, however she was just as ecstatic to see her bard. The warrior was starting to get very worried. Shed been trying for the past day or so to come back, but she couldnt. Some unknown force was stopping her.
It took Xena a while but she figured it out. She was holding herself back. Her anger at her own incompetence was barring her from returning to her bard. During the fight, Xena had gotten terribly worked up, unable to do anything but watch as Gabrielle took on a half-dozen big brutes.
A fury raged within her as she had watched her partner. Soon it became too much and her rage swallowed up her mind, forcing her back to the other side. Now Xena had the monster under control. She still wouldnt accept her lack of ability, but for now she could deal with it for Gabrielle.
"Oh Xena," Gabrielle could not hold back any longer, closing in to carefully embrace her companion. "I missed you so much."
"I missed you too Gabrielle." Xena closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of Gabrielles soft pale hair. The light aroma drowning her senses.
"So where have you been?" Gabrielle mumbled into the nape of Xenas neck, her warm breath sending shivers up Xenas spine.
"Over there." Came a coy reply.
"Yeah, well I kinda guessed that Warrior Princess of the obvious. I mean, why havent you been here?"
"I tried Gabrielle, I really did. It was just that fight watching you, it threw me a little off balance."
"Because I saw you .there being attacked," Her blue eyes filled with unshed tears. "And there was nothing I could do. I couldnt help you; I couldnt defend you. I could just watch. Id been reduced to a bystander."
"But Xena, I can take care of myself. I was fine."
"No you werent." Xena voiced, pointing to the still healing cut on Gabrielles arm. "You were hurt."
"Oh come on, this is nothing. Ive had much worse Xena you know that. Besides, Yohanas had a healer look at it and sew it up, its fine."
"I know Gabrielle .I know. Its just that I " A tear burst through the warriors hard face, slowly sliding down. "I couldnt stop it."
"Its ok Xena." Gabrielle stopped the tears trail with a commanding finger. "Everything will be ok."
The warrior looked into her soul mates eyes, finding nothing but unconditional love. A smile rose on Xenas lips and she knew that everything would be ok.
They both lay down on the bedroll, enjoying its soft feel against their bodies.
"So what did you do to score this?" Xena asked, looking around the nicely furnished tent. It reminded her of her warlord days except better decorated.
"Yohanas?" Xena asked, a slight tinge of jealousy clouding her voice.
"Yes. Hes the man from the square remember?"
"The man who attacked you?"
"Ye no. Hes the one who stopped the guards."
"The guards that were under his orders?"
"So, technically the man who attacked you."
"Yes, I guess. If you want to be technical." Gabrielle gave a acerbic response. "Anyway, it turns out that I knew his father."
"And well " The bard grasped for a quick tale to tell. She needed something believable to feed Xena. "Hes a merchant and he was off to retrieve this artifact a cup I think or something like that. He offered me a better set of accommodations and ."
"Nothing more?" The warrior asked with a suspicious smirk.
"No, that was all my jealous warrior. As I was saying, I accepted his accommodations and he invited me to join him on this trip. There are no true warriors on this caravan and they looked like they could use a girl with a chakram. And so, here I am."
"For how long?"
"I dont know. It should take a couple days there and a couple days back. All in all, an easy ride. For the most part I just get to enjoy my pleasant accommodations."
"Hey," Xena started, placing her head down. "I can live with that."
"I bet you cant." Gabrielle said, trying to joke but not able to restrain the true pain that lie beneath.
Xena hadnt said the words to comfort her and the bard wasnt in the mood to hear them.
And so they lay, side by side, both staring up into the tent. Neither willing to make a move of compromise.
Gabrielle knew Xena was sorry and that it was an accident. She was being childish but for tonight that was ok. She had earned an evening of immaturity.
The warrior, however, was simply at a loss. She had explained herself so many times. She had apologized so many times. She simply didnt have the heart to do it once again.
So the night ended in an eerie silence.
The next morning the silence had lifted.
Gabrielle was in much better spirits today. After all, they were scheduled to reach the Chalice before sunset, which meant the bard would have her warrior by midnight. She couldnt be upset; after a month of being alone Gabrielle would finally have Xena back.
Xena had been able to stay the night, although she was weary of the reception she would receive come daylight. But, much to her surprise, Gabrielle seemed almost agreeable.
The bard had leisurely munched on breakfast, muttering pleasantries between bites. Gabrielles nerves were beginning to act up midway between the meal.
Secrecy was essential to her plan and Gabrielle wasnt used to keeping anything from Xena. The bard was constantly eyeing Xena, searching for any hint of alert. I wonder if she knows no, she couldnt know. How would she?! She would reason with herself. However just a few seconds later the same thoughts would pop up. But what if she does know? Gods! This is the last time I ever lie to her.
Gabrielle covered her nervousness with added chatter. She began to babble about everything from the weather to her camel named Mara. Xena took it in stride, but was a bit suspicious as to her actions. Gabrielle hadnt been that talkative since they had first left Poteidaia.
But before she truly had time to dwell on it, the caravan was packed and ready to move out. Xena was still apprehensive about their journey. Gabrielle hadnt completely been forthcoming about details, which left Xena to wonder. She knew she could just ask the bard .she could do that. But Xena had noticed Gabrielles heightened emotional states lately, and if Xena were to pose a question of trust the bard would not take it very well.
So instead Xena resorted back to a level of the oblivious, pretending to be unaware of Gabrielles hidden game. It had been a long while since Gabrielle had kept something from Xena and the warrior was willing to wait. Besides, she had all day to try to figure it out.
Gabrielle mounted her camel with Xena quick in back of her.
"This is different." Xena said as she situated behind the blonde.
A camel wasnt quite conducive to two people. But one person and a ghost, that seemed to work just fine. Gabrielle brought Xenas arms up and around her waist. In the blistering heat of the desert the cool pressure actually felt glorious upon her skin.
"Ummm .that feels nice." Gabrielle mused as the warrior began to lovingly stroke her belly.
"Great to know Im good for something."
"Xena." She scolded her words.
"Im just teasing love." Xena assured her. "Now, if that feels nice " The warrior trailed her words as her hand began to move lower. "Than this should feel great."
The bards body tensed as she felt Xena cool palm against her lower belly.
"Xena there are people here." Gabrielle half-heartedly protested as the Warrior Princesss hand moved even lower.
"Yes, but no one can see me." She purred into the bards ears as she drank in the distracting effect she was having on her partner.
"Yeh but Xena, they can see me." Her will beginning to bend as Xenas chilly breath ran up the length of her neck.
"Forget about them." Xenas sultry tone alone was enough to push Gabrielle over the edge.
Right at the point when she had decided to throw caution to the wind, the pair was interrupted by an approaching rider.
"Gabrielle." Yohanas called out as he closed in on the small blonde. She looked quite the contrast sitting upon the giant camel.
"Wh Huh?" Gabrielle slowly came up from under Xenas trance.
"Weve got company." Xena whispered into her ear.
"Oh." Gabrielle said as an automatic response, not quite comprehending her warriors words. Than, as she opened her eyes, she saw Yohanas only several feet from her. "Oh!"
"How are you doing today Gabrielle?"
"Im alright. And yourself?"
"Im doing very well. Im sorry, I didnt mean to disturb your ride."
"Oh oh its ok Yohanas." Gabrielle spoke, still a bit flustered. Now she was worried. Somehow she had to try to alert Yohanas to Xenas presence without alerting Xena.
"Well I just wanted to tell you that within several hours we should be reaching the Chalice of "
"Thats great." Gabrielle cut off his words, afraid Xena might also know the tale.
"Yes were making good time. " Yohanass words were slowed as he looked at Gabrielle oddly, not understanding her behavior.
Gabrielle tried to very stealthily nod her head, signaling Xenas presence. However Yohanas still looked at her with a blank expression.
His brow furrowed in obvious confusion.
"Xena." Gabrielles lips mouthed the silent name. Instantly, Yohanass expression changed to understanding.
He gave her a reassuring grin.
"Well, I just thought Id inform you. I better get back to the head of the caravan. Dont want us getting lost now."
"Thank you Yohanas." Gabrielle said with evident double meanings.
And with that, he rode back up to the front of the train and Gabrielle focused her attention back to Xena.
The warrior had noticed Gabrielles strange behavior and she was now left with more questions than answers. It wasnt like Gabrielle to be short or rude like that to anyone. It only served to reaffirm Xenas thickening suspicions.
"Gabrielle is something going on that you want to tell me about?" She was careful to keep her tone light, not wanting to sound accusing.
"What do you mean?" The Amazon responded as innocently as she could muster.
"Just then youre youre acting kind of different. Are you sure there nothing going on?" Xena gave the bard yet another chance to come clean.
Damn it! Gabrielle scolded herself. I knew shed see through me! The bard began to worry, but was able to maintain a calm façade. Its ok, calm down. Just go slowly, youre so close. I can do this!
"Im just nervous Xena." She paused. "I forget myself when youre around. I dont want Yohanas or the rest of the caravan thinking Im crazy. Especially since everybody had been so incredibly nice to me. Yohanas has shown me the first real kindness Ive seen in a month."
Xena shot Gabrielle a hurt expression and the bard turned back at her warrior.
"Besides you. Im sorry Ive been acting so weird. I just things are okay right now. This is a good thing. I dont want to screw anything up. "
"Its ok Gabrielle." Xena comforted her, giving her a soft pat on the thigh. "I know how tough this has been for you."
The bard just sighed, feeling completely guilty. Well it hadnt all been a lie. Actually for the most part, it was true. Yohanas had been the first form of nicety shed seen in a good while and she didnt want the rest of the caravan to know she was talking to a ghost. Still, it was lying and as they got closer and closer to their destination, Gabrielles guilt began to flourish.
But itll be ok. Everything will be ok once shes back
Or so she told herself.
They had rode through the afternoon, deciding not to stop for a lunch.
Gabrielle was thankful for the extra time. The sooner they reached the cave, the sooner she would have Xena alive.
Yohanas would ride up periodically. Hed give a quick update on the trip and make minimal small talk with Gabrielle before riding back. Each time, he would look over his shoulder as he left, as if searching for something.
After about the first two trips, Gabrielle had deduced that he was probably looking for Xena. Well, she couldnt fault him. Even though he said he believed her, Gabrielles whole story did seem farfetched to say the least. But he still continued on their way, which was enough for Gabrielle.
Its ok if he thinks Im crazy. Hopefully I can prove him wrong.
Xena had remained practically silent throughout the day. Ever present, but yet removed. The warrior was trying to solve the riddle her partner was producing. Although she did believe Gabrielles explanation of why she acted so oddly around Yohanas, Xena still suspected that there was more her companion wasnt telling her.
Finally, they reached the cave.
The moment she saw it, Gabrielle was instantly grateful for Yohanas. In the vast lands of Egypt, the small cave on a cliff overlooking the Nile would be almost impossible to find. Thank the gods I had a knowledgeable guide maybe it was their way of making up for this whole mess.
The caves opening was small, only big enough for one person to enter at a time. The caravan stopped and began to camp for the day.
"Were here." Gabrielle said, trying to mask the excitement in her voice.
"So we are." Xena was less enthused.
But Gabrielle didnt care to hear her sardonic tone. Instead she hopped down off the camel and headed for Yohanas to figure out a plan of approach. Xena followed quickly behind, like a little lost puppy would its master, although she lacked the forlorn expression hers was stoic.
Yohanas turned to greet her with a smile as Gabrielle came within distance of him. He gave her a quick questioning look that would have been invisible to anyone else except for Gabrielle, who had been looking distinctly for it. The bard then quickly nodded her head in confirmation.
It took no more than a second, but it was just enough for the pair to communicate.
"So what now?" Gabrielle asked anxiously.
"Well, honestly I dont know. Im not really sure what to expect. The stories Ive heard grow very vague at this point. All I know for certain is that we must go in."
"And who is we?"
"Well Id thought you and me, and then some guards would follow us in."
Gabrielle really didnt have any clue as how to proceed so Yohanass idea sounded as good as anything.
"Sounds like a plan."
"Or at least half of one." Xena made an off-handed quip.
She didnt mean to be so negative, but it had become clear as day that Gabrielle was hiding something from Xena. The more she thought during their camel ride, the more certain she became .and the more hurt she felt.
Gabrielle was thankful, right now, that Xena was only visible to her so Yohanas couldnt hear her offending remark. She could tell by Xenas body language that the warrior was on alert. Her attitude the whole day radiated of suspicion. And as much as Gabrielle hated it, she had to force herself not to care.
It was going to work everything was going to work.
"So should we go in?"
"The earlier the better. Im not sure how far into the cave well have to go. Its probably best to try when daylight is with us."
"Of course. Lets go."
Yohanas chose three guards to accompany them. They all lit torches and sharpened weapons; ate a quick meal and prepared to leave. By Gabrielles best calculations, they still had a few hours of sunlight left with them. She hoped it would not take any longer than that.
They approached the entrance and one of the guards moved to enter first. Gabrielle reacted quickly grabbing the mans arm, stopping him. She couldnt let the innocent man go first, facing whatever perils might come to pass head on. If anyone were to lead, it would be her. This was her quest.
"What are you doing?" Xena exclaimed.
"I .I have to go first."
"Because its my .because Im the warrior." Gabrielle was able to state very coolly. And it was true. Of course, she felt responsibility. This trip being hers and all, but she also was the most experienced of the group. She was the warrior and had to accept that.
"Huh?" Spoke the guard whose arm was still in Gabrielles grasp. Distracted by Xena, the bard had forgotten. She instantly released her hold and took a step back from the man.
"I said I should go first."
The man didnt vocally question her orders. That would be seen as a sign of disrespect. However doubt laced his mocha eyes. He gave a quick look back to Yohanas for confirmation. He bowed his head in affirmation and gave Gabrielle a trusting look. The bard was thankful for that.
Gabrielle took the torch from the stumbling guards hand and headed into the dark abyss.
The first couple minutes of the trail were silent.
No one dared to utter a word. No one had any words to say. The unknown was simply too overwhelming and they were all silently praying to the gods for protection.
Faint shivers ran through the length of Gabrielles body as her hand began to tremble the flame ever so slightly. The bard took a small step and suddenly her concentration was broken by a light thud. Everyone jumped.
"What was that?" Yohanas whispered.
Gabrielle was unsure how to answer, being as she had no clue. But, if she announced that to her companions, theyd probably all run out screaming. So the bard took a safer approach.
"A rock," she called back to them. "I think," she muttered under her breath. Xena, with her stealth hearing, was the only one to catch Gabrielles remark. She put a soft hand on the bards shoulder. Even though Xena may not know what Gabrielle was doing, she still would offer her partner her unconditional encouragement.
Gabrielle let out a slow breath, very grateful for Xenas apparent support. Somehow, it still meant all that much to her.
They went on, following the path. Xena felt an overbearing sense of doom approaching. Her warrior senses were on full alert and they told her not to trust this place.
"Gabrielle be carefu ."
But before she could finish her words, another unknown noise sounded as Gabrielle her something whiz by her. This time she could identify the noise as the bard followed it to the opposing wall. There, sticking straight out of the softened sandy rock was an arrow.
"This cant be good."
Gabrielle pulled the arrow out of the wall and held it up to her nose, carefully smelling for any poisons. Her senses told her there was none to be found on the tip. But the bard thought it best to receive a second opinion so she held the arrow up to Xenas nostrils. The warrior took a deep whiff before shaking her head, signaling no.
Well at least that is good news kind of.
They continued on with careful steps, Gabrielle in the lead. Several more moments passed uneventfully, Gabrielle took another slow step. If she had lowered her torch, the bard would have seen her mistake but Gabrielle was facing forward and was oblivious.
A few clicks sounded off. The bard and warrior halted, looking around feverishly for the source.
"Xena," The bard whispered. "What is that?"
"I dont know." Xenas eyes darted back and forth. "But something tells me its not a good thing."
"No kidd " Gabrielle wasnt able to finish her sentence. She was cut off by a whizzing arrow nearly nipping her nose. "Oh no."
"Gabrielle I think we better "
"RUN!" Yohanas called from the back, unknowingly finishing the warriors sentence.
And so they did and tens of arrows came swarming at them. Apparently Gabrielle had unknowingly triggered some sort of trap and if they werent quick about it, someone would most certainly be killed.
"COME ON GUYS!" Gabrielle called out as she ran blindly into the abyss, her torch providing little comfort. Ahead of her was a never-ending darkness that seemed to swallow them up.
An arrow flew close to Yohanass neck, causing him to sprint forward, knocking everyone else a couple steps ahead. Eventually the little bump reached Gabrielle, causing her to surge forward. The jolt almost threw her off balance and the bard dropped the torch.
"Son of a Bacchae. I dropped the damn torch." Gabrielle cursed herself.
"Forget about it, just keep going." Xena encouraged her and the bard obliged, her short legs running at maximum speed.
Then the arrows seemed to stop, no more noises sounded out. However nobody cared to notice, either that or they were afraid of what was next to come. They continued running.
"I dont hear anything." Xena whispered.
"I know thats the scary pa . Umph!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she ran smack dab into what felt very much like a rocky wall.
Xena dropped down to her partners side, lifting Gabrielles chin.
"Gabrielle, are you alright?"
"Looks like I found it." The bard stood up nursing her sore head.
"Ahh!!!" She exclaimed as the blood rushed immediately up to her injury.
Yohanas came to her aid with a torch, bringing it within a couple inches of her face. He looked in closely, trying to examine the wound. Just as he opened his mouth to ask a question, Gabrielle cut him off with an immediate answer.
"Ill be fine just a little sore right now."
"But " He tried to protest but shed hear none of it.
"Really, its ok." And with that, Yohanas spoke no more of it no one did.
"Hand me a torch." Gabrielle sounded out and immediately a new torch was placed in her hand. The bard took it and waved it in front of her as she explored the clearing. Her eyes scanned the expanse; she had yet to see Safiya.
"Are you sure this is it?" Xena asked.
"I honestly dont know." The bard answered. "Yohanas, are you sure this is the right place?"
"Im certain of it. Look." He held his flame up to the wall. Gabrielle gasped at the sight. There were rows and rows of beautiful Egyptian carvings. The bard gazed at them thoroughly, trying to absorb their pure beauty.
However it wasnt long before she realized what she was looking at the story of Naeem and Safiya. Panic rose within her throat. What if Xena knows the story? If she looks at the panel shell certainly figure it out.
Gabrielle ran over to Yohanas, bringing down his torch quickly.
"Never mind that." She spoke in slow tone, trying to convey a hidden meaning.
Fortunately, Yohanas caught on quickly, bobbing his head in understanding.
"Besides," Gabrielle continued. "I think I saw something over there." She headed over to the far corner.
There sat a lonely wooden chest. Well, actually less of a chest, more of a wooden box. It held no elaborate artwork or intricate carvings, yet somehow it was beautiful in its ultimate simplicity.
The temptation of what lie beneath was too great, and Gabrielle scrunched down to open up the box.
As the bards gentle fingers caressed the soft wood, instantly Xena felt uneasy. Her focus was disturbed by the immediate gnawing in her stomach.
"Gabrielle " Her voice began to flicker along with her presence as Gabrielle moved to open the box. "Ga bri dont open wait "
Gabrielle was able to lift her head up quickly to catch Xenas physical form flicker and fade away. She wanted to call out to Xena, but with a room full of people who couldnt see the warrior, it seemed like a bad idea. Gabrielle was able to restrain herself barely.
Instead she was able to focus her attention to the enigma ahead of her. Gabrielles fingers taunted the wood, desperately wanting to open it. Instead she held herself back a little longer and sent a glance to Yohanas.
"Do you know anything of this box?"
"Ive never heard of it. But I do know this is the place .and Safiyas not here. Maybe she finally did pass on and she left the Chalice in the box for true love to find its way."
It was a bit romantic and a bit far-fetched, but Gabrielle was willing to risk it. risk it all because wanted something to believe in. She needed something to believe in. And this chalice, this quest .that was it.
She released a ragged breath before slowly opening the box.
They walked back to the camp tired and disappointed.
Sadly, the chest had not contained the chalice Gabrielle was so hoping for. When she opened the lid, tears had rushed to her eyes when it was apparent that the cup was missing. Shed felt anger, pain, and despair, all within a matter of moments.
However she was able to overcome her emotional tirade and continued to examine the chest. She brought the torch down further to get a better look inside. And there, rolled to the side of one of the boxs walls was a rolled up piece of papyrus.
Gabrielle grabbed it, but figured it was better to read it in less treacherous surroundings. So the group had head out and back to the camp. The retreat had been uneventful, no flying arrows following them this time.
Gabrielle was saddened that Xena disappeared, but reasoned that it was for the better. She needed time to think, to strategize. Right now Xena was a hindrance to those activities and the bard was almost thankful for her departure .almost.
Once at the camp, Gabrielle retreated to her tent with Yohanas close behind her. The whole train had taken up a somber mood, disheartened by the unsuccessful journey. The bard had yet to tell anyone about the scroll she had found. She didnt want to raise any hopes, especially her own, for nothing.
"Gabrielle Im so sorry." Yohanas apologized, his voice filled with remorse. "I have brought you all the way out here for nothing."
"Yohanas its alright. Besides, it wasnt in vain. Look what I found in that chest." Gabrielle said as she produced the papyrus in her right hand.
"What is it?"
"I dont know. I was waiting until we got back to open it."
"Well " Yohanas stretched out the word, implying action.
Gabrielle looked up into the mans eyes for a quick moment, searching for confidence. Apparently satisfied with her discovery, she began to unroll the scroll.
The inside of the papyrus was exposed to light and Gabrielles hope instantly soared.
"Its a map." Yohanas stated in awe. He was thrilled that the quest was still alive.
The thin crisp paper was sparsely but carefully painted. One scene illustrated flying arrows through a tunnel. Another looked like that of the cave Gabrielle and the others had just occupied. Following that there were several other scenes that the bard did not recognize.
"Do these make any sense?" Gabrielle said pointing to the other scenes on the map, urgency blatant in her tone.
"I dont " He verged into deep thought, carefully spying the pictures.
The first was of Safiya standing in a cavern of some sort, with water rushing in. That obviously meant some cave on the Nile, but there were many of those. It could take a lifetime to search every one. The next showed Safiya gone, the cave now filled with water. A reflection of the sun at its peak could be seen on the water.
The last picture showed Safiya with the Chalice of Maat Ba in her hands, looking out to an opposing river bank. She held a forlorn look on her face and Gabrielle immediately felt the womans pain even if she was just an illustration.
"Do they mean anything Yohanas?"
"I wish I knew. I understand the pictures, but I dont understand what theyre meaning. This first picture is Safiya in a cave by the Nile, but that could be anywhere. In the second picture the cave is flooded and in the third, there she is again."
Gabrielle stared hard at the pictures, trying to decode their message. They seemed so cryptic...yet so simple. Come on Gabrielle, think!
"Wait a minute " The bard spoke her thoughts aloud.
"Look at that." Gabrielle placed her index finger on the last picture.
"Now, doesnt that river bank," She went to the exit of the tent, opening the flap and pointing outward, across the scenery "look exactly like that one?"
"Oh my," Yohanas caught on to the bards thoughts at a mediocre pace. "It is that."
Gabrielles heart began to beat at a rabid pace. Theres still a chance.
"But wait. We examined the territory when we arrived and we didnt see any sort of cave down there."
And, once again, her hopes were smashed into pieces. Cant something ever go right?! She cursed as she looked again at the map, but something seemed off. Why would she be in the cave, then disappear, then come back.
"Hey," Gabrielles mind produced an idea. "What about the tide?"
"See the reflection of the sun in the middle picture, its at midday. Isnt the tide highest then?"
"Yes it is and we arrived just after midday today so ."
"We wouldnt see the cave because it was full of water."
"But if we look now "
"It should be there." Gabrielle finished his sentence before racing out of the camp. She rushed for the cliffs edge, anxious at the discovery. Yohanas was quick on her tail and they reached the ledge together, but neither peered over. They were both too afraid of the disappointment that might follow.
"Ready?" Yohanas asked, uncertain.
Gabrielle nodded her head in response.
On a silent cue, both looked down on to the Nile. The full moon reflected off the water, sending glittering shimmers of light all throughout the banks. And, sure enough, it illuminated a small entrance into the mighty cliff down below them.
"Thats it." Gabrielles eye shone with anticipation as the beautiful moonlight danced in the glorious green.
The bard couldnt wait any longer; she had to have Xena back.
"Im going." were her only words as she headed over the edge.
"Gabrielle, stop." Yohanas commanded, utilizing his first use of authority. "You cant go down there."
"If its down there, then Im going."
"Wait, climbing down there is suicide, especially at this hour," he pleaded. "Be reasonable."
"Why?" The bard barked out the harsh question. "Why should I be reasonable? Where has it gotten me? Here alone without the person who means most to me in all this world. Im through being reasonable. Im through being rational. All I want is Xena .back alive."
"Any youll have that if you wait until morning."
"Yohanas if I wait till morning, Ill only have a few hours to find the chalice and leave."
"And if you dont wait youll most likely plunge to your death. Please Gabrielle, all I ask is a few hours."
She could try to protest. The gods knew she wanted to. Gabrielle tried to deny reason and rationale, but she couldnt. It was better to wait until dawn when the suns golden rays would be to her advantage. The bard took one last look over the edge before shrugging and heading back to her tent.
"Alright," She spoke lightly as she returned to camp, Yohanas by her side. "Ill wait."
"Thank you Gabrielle." He said with honest gratitude. "Good night Gabrielle."
Gabrielle entered her tent slowly, as if still debating whether or not to listen to Yohanass plea. Eventually she laid down on her bedroll and tried to conquer an illusive sleep.
It was going to be a long night.
And it had been.
After several hours of tossing and turning, Gabrielle had eventually given up on Morpheus. She really wasnt in a hurry to meet him anyway. In the end, she actually resorted to sitting in her tent, flap open, watching for the sun to rise.
When day finally broke, Gabrielle raced out of her abode and over to the ledge. Alright, I can do this. She was about to place her first foot over the edge when she suddenly stopped, feeling a pang of guilt. Gods Gabrielle, the least you could do is tell him youre going.
The bard fought her conscience for a few minutes before admitting defeat and heading over towards Yohanass tent. When she reached the entrance and paused, calling out his name.
"Come in Gabrielle." A calm tone answered.
Gabrielle quickly entered, feeling like a child answering to her father.
"Its dawn," she said quickly.
"Im going." Gabrielle said in a firm tone before turning around, preparing to leave.
"Wait Gabrielle. Please, at least take one of the guards with you."
The bard turned back to face her host.
"I ca I cant do that. I cant risk their lives. I dont want another fiasco like what happened back at the cave. This is my quest; this is my struggle. Yohanas," she stared intensely into him. "I have to do this alone."
"I understand." And he was defeated.
"Thank you Yohanas."
"The others and I will meet you down there. We are going to ride the back path down and join you. It should take us until dusk. Hopefully, by the time we reach you I will get to meet the infamous Xena, Warrior Princess."
"I hope so too."
Yohanass worries were warranted. The climb had been a treacherous journey.
Gabrielle had been completely careful, but still there had been places where she swore her end had arrived. But she was at the entrance, and suddenly her earlier scrapes with death mattered not.
She entered the cave slowly. Daylight illuminated most of the path so the bard could see what was in front of her she had to be careful not to trigger more flying arrows. She walked on for a couple of minutes before running into a fork in the road.
The path divided into three separate paths: one on the left, one on the right, and one down the middle. Now the bard was at a loss. Which path should I pick? Dammit! It didnt show this! She began to panic, knowing she already lost precious time and was forcing herself out of more with her indecision.
"Fine," she sighed aloud. "I can do this. Gabrielle you can do this." She called out in support for well herself.
"Alright, how about ." Her face cringed in worry. "Um the left .middle no the ri no the left. " She continued to go back and forth before finally deciding to go with the middle.
Gabrielle headed down the path. The further she got, the darker the walls became. If Gabrielle hadnt been in such a rush she would have brought proper supplies including a torch. But she hadnt and so she was left to make due with the approaching darkness.
The water rose as more time slipped by. The tunnel seemed never ending or maybe it was just the dimness either way, Gabrielle began to feel that she was going the wrong way.
By the time she finally decided that this was definitely the wrong direction, the water was up to her knees. Ive got to hurry or else Ill lose another day and another opportunity.
So Gabrielle began sprinting back out through the rocky corridor, but water wasnt exactly beneficial to running. Instead even more time was wasted as she retraced her steps back out .praying for another chance.
Finally, she reached the tunnels starting point with the water splashing her upper thigh. She prepared to journey. Gabrielle decided to go with her first choice, the left tunnel, letting instinct be her guide. So down another tunnel she went, ready for another try hoping she wouldnt be too late.
Xena appeared in camp.
Well not really appeared in camp because no one could see her except Gabrielle and at the moment the bard was away. So technically, Xena was completely invisible. Strange but she found that fact almost comforting.
She was delighted just to be allowed back into the mortal realm. She never could tell when the separations would come or go and the fact infuriated her.
As she thought about her own helplessness, anger began to fuel within her. However Xena took a deep breath, pushing down all the rage. She had a mission to complete.
Instead of reappearing at Gabrielles side, she elected a different approach. She had watched Gabrielle in the cave for a partial amount of time, but as the tunnel had gotten darker, so had Xenas view. It had ended up pitch-black right before Xena had returned. Gabrielle seemed alright, no cause to worry yet Xena couldnt help it, she was worried.
But she put her protective streak on hold for a moment, turning to a more sinister motive. Maybe not sinister, but certainly secretive. Gabrielles mystery was beginning to really get to the warrior. She had to know what was going on.
She entered the tent with a warriors stealth and skill. However once she was in, Xena realized the foolishness of her actions. Nice one Xena! You are invisible duh!! You dont need to sneak in. You could back flip in the door and no one would notice.
The warrior had to laugh just a tad at her own stupidity. It was a nice moment; it helped to lighten her situation.
"Alright, lets do it." And she began to search through the room.
Xena didnt want to riffle through Gabrielles things it was wrong. But but she had to know what was going on. Just as she grabbed for the bards pack a small roll of paper fell from the top of the bag, rolling onto Xenas left boot.
She bent to pick it up and slowly opened the papyrus.
Her eyes raked back and forth over the map, looking for some sort of clue as to what was going on. Xena was struck by the woman in the pictures. Ive seen that illustration before. She thought as she closed her eyes and searched through her mind for some recognition some match.
Where have I seen her before wait I know she looks like the woman on the story wall. One day, when Xena had pretended to be Cleopatra, she wandered into a large room with beautiful illustrations on the walls. It was obvious the scenes told a story. Xena had pulled one of the servants over to the side and asked her to tell the story.
The woman had kindly related it back to Xena in adequate fashion and the warrior realized just how spoiled she had been by Gabrielles bardic abilities. Wasnt it a story of two lovers that were separated by death? Yeah...thats it. Then the gods intervened giving the girl a cup with some restoring pow by the gods. Xena exclaimed while Gabrielles plan was now in complete focus.
"Oh no," was all Xena could say as she rushed out down towards the cliff.
The left tunnel was a short one. After only several moments of walking the bard could already see the end of the cave. However the tide had increased its pace and the water was up to Gabrielles shoulders, yet she still trudged on, determined.
She could see a bright light up ahead which helped to illuminate her journey. As she neared, the light began to soften and details began to sharpen. It became apparent that the bright light was actually a person. The closer she got, the clearer the face became.
Gabrielle didnt search to identify it for the face was all too familiar. The light in front of her was Safiya.
"Gabrielle." Safiya called her in a mystical voice.
"Safiya, how do you know my name?" Gabrielle asked, bewildered.
"How do you know mine?" She retorted in fairness. "Gabrielle I know all about you just as you know all about me."
"Then you know why Im here?"
"Of course. Youre here for the Chalice of Maat Ba. You are here for Xena." She said in a factual tone.
"I need it to bring her back to me."
"I know, just as I need you. I need your love to remind me of how wonderful it used to feel when I was with my Naeem. I need it to remind me of what it was like to be happy. Something to keep me warm for the rest of my eternity. Ive been waiting for you Gabrielle waiting for so long. You are the o ."
Her words were cut off as a giant rush of water flooded the cave. Safiya was able rise up but Gabrielle was swept under. She fought her head back up to the surface, bobbing up and down.
"But I But I though " Safiya stuttered as she embraced wild confusion. "I thought you were the one. I thought it was you who I had saved the chalice for all these years. A love that could only be separated by death."
Gabrielle clumsily paddled over, closer to Safiya while still trying to keep her head above the water.
She finally reached within several inches of the woman who was holding the Chalice of Maat Ba securely over the rising water.
"Safiya, it is me youve been waiting for."
"But how can that be? If I give you the chalice, youll never make it out of here alive. I I .I guess I was wrong." She spoke, her words sounding less like a statement and more like a question.
"No," Gabrielle pleaded desperately. "No, you werent wrong. Safiya I love Xena with everything that I am. Shes my whole world. The only way Ill survive is with her. Shes my sunshine, my breath my life. She is everything. I need her." Desperation called out in her voice as she begged for Safiya to believe in her.
"Please," She grasped the womans hand tightly. "Look into my eyes." Gabrielle commanded and Safiya complied. "I am the one." She spoke slowly to emphasize her point.
When Safiya stared intensely into Gabrielles eyes, she knew instantly. She saw such fierce passion, such strong yearning, but, most of all, such pure love. There was no doubt in her mind. She is the one. With that realization she released the chalice into Gabrielles hands and slowly faded away.
The bard watched her disappear, giving her only moments before her mind switched to planning a successful way out of the almost filled cave. Time ran out on the bard as another wave pushed in, threatening to fill the cave completely.
Gabrielle reacted quickly and without thinking brought the Chalice of Maat Ba to her lips and drank in the remaining drops. She held the liquid in her mouth, commanding herself over and over again not to swallow. The silvery substance felt warm inside the bards jaw, like hot tea or the coffee she had tried only days earlier. It wasnt an unpleasant feeling just different.
But the bard had no time to dwell on that, instead she dove her head underneath the water, with visions of the shore dancing in her head.
Xena paced back and forth on the riverbank.
There was still no sign of Gabrielle to be seen and Xena had watched the cave go from half filled to being completely swallowed up by the mighty Nile. The warrior kept telling herself that Gabrielle wasnt in there she wouldnt be stupid enough to do that.
But Xena knew Gabrielle; she was stubborn. It was one of the things she loved about her bard. She could do whatever was necessary to obtain her goal even this. For once Xena prayed she was wrong.
Several more moments passed and nothing. The light rushing of the water was the warriors only companion. Worry overwhelmed Xenas senses.
Then suddenly a splash sounded as a hand cut through the rivers edge then another hand and then Gabrielle.
Xena raced in after Gabrielle, trying help in what little way she could to bring her bard to shore.
Gabrielle crawled up onto the bank with Xena lightly patting her back and murmuring words of love in her ear.
The bards body started to convulse in coughing spurts, but Gabrielle fought them, afraid to swallow or spit out her precious cargo.
The warrior saw Gabrielles awkward movements and strengthened her pats a bit, trying to force up whatever her lover was choking on.
The bard wanted to scream at Xena to stop before Gabrielle lost the precious contents of the chalice. She needed to get the liquid into Xena. Her plan had been to spit the substance into a cup and mix it with another drink and then give it to her warrior. But now Gabrielle was short on time and out of resources.
And idea sprouted into her head. Why not? She thought. It worked once before.
Gabrielle stood up and pulled Xena into a soft kiss. As soon as their lips met, the warrior was lost; her worries overwhelmed by the feel of Gabrielles hot mouth. Xena parted her lips to accept Gabrielles wet tongue, but instead felt an influx of something inside her mouth.
It was a warm liquid substance and after about a second of contemplation, Xena knew what Gabrielle was trying to do. She pulled away from her demanding bard and proceeded to spit the life-saving juice into the air, the hot sand absorbing its wasted mortality.
"NOOOOO!" Gabrielle cried out as time seemed to pass in slow motion. All she could do was watch as Xena spit out the silver liquid and threw away their happiness.
It was all too much for her .much too much. Gabrielle collapsed onto the ground, violently sobbing and screaming at Xena.
"HOW COULD YOU?!" She yelled accusingly.
And over and over again she cried out.
"THIS WAS OUR LAST CHANCE. THIS WAS OUR LAST CHANCE ." Her words gradually diminishing to nothing more than a whisper. "Gods Xena, this was our last chance."
Xena stood on the helm, the boats gentle rocking was the only thing left to keep her company.
Gabrielle hadnt talked to her since the entire fiasco .actually Gabrielle hadnt done much talking at all.
After theyd returned back to Yohanass house, the bard had insisted they leave. Xena had tried to convince her to stay on a while longer, to enjoy the free hospitality, but Gabrielle had long stopped listening to Xena.
In fact, she barely acknowledged her presence. No hellos, no goodbyes, not even occasional glances her way nothing. The bard just stared into the sky, wishing theyd take her in so she could stop this miserable existence.
Leaving had been a hurried affair. The bard had found the first boat that was leaving for Greece and took it. The captain had even charged her an exorbitant fee. Gabrielle didnt care she wanted to go home. Not that there was anything for her .her last chance at happiness had been squandered away by her selfish lover.
Gabrielle was furious at Xena for dying, but this this she wasnt sure if shed ever forget. Yes she had been secretive and somewhat dishonest, but shed earned the right to some covert behavior. If Xena wasnt going to fix things, the least Gabrielle could do was try.
But it hadnt made a difference. Everything remained the same .the same loneliness, the same pain the same absolute misery.
The soft sea breeze caressed the bards face as she lay her head down on her bedrolls. She looked up into the stars as she quickly fell asleep, knowing only one truth: nothing would ever be ok again.
Xena watched as Gabrielle faded of to sleep. She wanted to go and lie beside the bard but she felt guilty, as right she should. Just as her need for Gabrielle won over her sense of shame she felt a soft grip stopping her steps. Xena turned around to greet an oddly enough familiar face.
"Aphrodite?!" Xena gawked in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
The Goddess of Love responded by glancing back a Gabrielle, a small smile forming on her lips as her eyes rested upon the bard.
"Im here for her." Aphrodite spoke securely, her words cryptic.
"I dont understand."
"Xena I know you and I havent always been the best of friends .or even gotten along .but one thing we could always agree on is Gabrielle. I know you want what is best for her."
"I do." Xena answered immediately, without thought.
"Ive been watching her Xena, watching over her. And I see all the pain shes in "
"I know." The warrior lowered her eyes, heavy with shame.
"Xena what I have to say, youre not gonna like it but Ive I "Aphrodite began to stutter her words as she tried to confront Xena.
"What is it Aphrodite?"
"You have to leave her."
"What?!" Xena screeched. "What in Tartaurus are you talking about? If I left Gabrielle, it would destroy her."
It would destroy me, Xena silently thought.
"Do you really believe that or are you just telling yourself that?" Aphrodite emphasized every word, though each one was equally as difficult to voice. She knew she was cutting Xena deeply, but she had to do it...for Gabrielle.
"Come on Xena. You being here then gone, its tearing her apart. You died Xena, but with you still here as a ghost, Gabrielle can never move on. And every time you leave, it hurts just that much more. Shell never be happy like this."
"Shell never be happy without me." Xena pouted like a spoiled child. She said the words, but she knew they werent true. Gabrielle was a beacon of light in such a dark, dark world. She made the best of every situation, even their recent one. The bard would learn to live again. Hell, shed probably learn to love again.
"I know you dont believe that Xena," Aphrodite waited a beat. "Youre being so selfish .not allowing her to move on. You owe her that. She deserves so much more ." The goddess trailed off her words. "Especially from you." She muttered lightly under her breath.
But Xena had heard her.
And the warrior knew Aphrodite was right. Gabrielle deserved more from her. It wasnt fair to hold her back just so she wouldnt forget about the warrior; it was completely selfish but she didnt know what else to do.
"I cant leave her." Xena pronounced in a weak voice.
"You have to." Aphrodite demanded.
"Im not strong enough." She admitted in a weak voice.
Unusual empathy swelled within Aphrodites chest as she looked over at the broken warrior. She wished she could give words of comfort of compassion, but she couldnt. This had to be done. But she could soften the blow, so to speak. There was beacon of hope, however little solace it might provide.
"Xena you have to go."
"Aphrodite, I know I should but " Tears began to swallow up the warriors rich alto voice. "But I cant wait a lifetime to be with her again. Thats forever."
"Xena," For the first time during her visit, the goddess smiled. "Forever isnt as long as you think." Again she spoke cryptic words.
The warriors piercing blue orbs focused intently on the goddess as if trying to decode her words.
"What are you talking about?" She asked, begging for some semblance of comprehension.
"I ca .I wish I could tell you Xena, but I cant. Just please trust me, this is the right thing to do."
Xenas lips opened as if to object, but she could find no more protests within her. This was the right thing, the only thing to do. It was for the best for Gabrielle. The warrior lightly shook her head in agreement and Aphrodite gave her a soft smile, trying to provide some form of comfort.
"I have to say goodbye." The warrior spoke softly.
With that, Xena turned and started towards Gabrielle.
"Xena," The Goddess of Love called out to her. Xena stopped in her tracks to face the goddess. "Dont worry. Everything will be ok .I promise."
The two held each other in an intense gaze as Aphrodite slowly disappeared, all the while holding a reassuring expression on her face. Xena watched her vanish and, when she had gone, the warrior turned back towards Gabrielle.
She knelt down next to her lover, her hand lightly caressing the side of Gabrielle face. Her motions were very calculated, careful not to wake her. As Xena looked down at Gabrielle, the warriors eyes began to fill with tears. Tonight, she didnt even try to fight them .she had already been defeated.
Words seemed appropriate at this situation, yet Xena had none to speak. What do you say to someone who is your entire life? To someone who knows you completely mind, body and soul. How do you say goodbye to someone who has become everything to you absolutely everything?
Xena didnt know how.
Instead she dealt with it the only way she could conceive. Xena bent down and placed a soft, loving kissing on Gabrielle supple lips. She then moved over to the bards exposed ear.
"I love you Gabrielle." Xena softly whispered. "Always."
With those words she stood up and slowly faded away, leaving her soul mate for the last time.
And for the first time, Gabrielle was truly alone.
To be Continued