by Erin Jennifer
A story by Erin Jennifer. Any feedback is greatly appreciated, especially since Im just beginning to test out my bardic skills. E-mail any comments to email@example.com
This is my vision of how the series should have ended. It pretty much picks up where "A Friend in Need I" left off.
Disclaimers: As always, all characters are the property of those who created them and no infringement upon anyones rights is intended
Subtext: I am operating under the assumption that Xena and Gabrielle do indeed love each other. That said, theres nothing especially graphic here
Facing each other, the two women knelt on the bare wooden floor. Xena took Gabrielles hands in hers and guided them to her own throat, showing the bard the points where the blood surged beneath the skin. For a moment, Gabrielle felt a sense of awe as Xenas lifeforce pulsed underneath her quaking fingertips. A sudden lurch of fear ripped through the bards gut, and she jerked her hands away.
"You dont have to do this," she told her best friend and soulmate. "I understand why you would never want to teach me the pinch."
"No. Today more than ever, I want you to know what I know. Please," Xena pleaded as she recaptured Gabrielles hands and brought them back to her throat.
The warrior gazed into Gabrielles sea green eyes and saw the deep love and trust there. With a swift, violent motion, she jabbed the bards fingers inward and felt the flow of blood to her brain cease abruptly. Almost immediately, a thin line of blood began to trickle from her nose as the pressure in her head increased.
"Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle cried out as tears formed in her eyes.
A small, sad smile flitted across Xenas lips as she carefully considered her answer. "Gabrielle, if I only have 30 seconds to live, this is how I want to live them. Looking into your eyes."
Gabrielle shook her head, fighting back the tears as a wave of realization crashed over her. In her own way, Xena was saying good-bye. Fear and confusion gave way to anger as Gabrielle resolved not to let her friend make this sacrifice.
"Stop this! Stop it!" she insisted, feeling Xenas pulse growing weaker by the second.
"Always remember I love you," Xena whispered as her strength drained away.
Finally, at the last possible second, she helped the bard release the pinch, and Xena pitched forward, coughing and gasping for much-needed air.
"Why would you teach me this right now? I dont understand."
Deep down, though, Gabrielle did understand. She knew Xena would do whatever it took to save the thousands of souls that the warrior believed she had condemned so many years ago, and the ghost-killer had told them that only another ghost could defeat Yodoshi, the soul-stealer. Grimly, the bard vowed to find another way out of this mess.
Xena gave her friend a resigned smile. "Theres nothing to understand. I just wanted you to know everything that I know. Lets go, weve got a battle to win," she stood, rising to her full height.
The setting sun glinted off Xenas new samurai-style armor as Gabrielle followed the warrior outside. Rows of soldiers stood rigidly at attention as the Higuchi militia waited patiently for their instructions. At Xenas insistence, Gabrielle and the monk Kenji were to lead a contingent of men eastward to meet Yodoshis army. The warrior watched sadly as her beloved soulmate disappeared into the swirling mist and smoke.
"I love you Gabrielle. Even in death, I will never leave you," she murmured once the bard had vanished from view, her words echoing a long ago promise.
Xena paused for a moment, steeling herself for the battle ahead, fully believing that it would be her last on this earth. She exhaled slowly, and squaring her shoulders, she turned and walked alone in the opposite direction. She moved deep into the forest, her feet somehow knowingly carrying her to the proper destination. Around her, the mist thickened and cold tendrils wrapped themselves around her legs, chilling her with their unspoken promise of death. Soon, Xena could no longer see more than a few feet in front of her in any direction. She stopped and stood completely still, extending her finely-tuned senses outward. Absolute silence met her keen ears. This was the place. With a barely audible hiss, she drew her sword from its sheath and waited.
A faint disturbance in the air around her alerted the warrior; it was as if someone was moving unseen through the fog, stalking her. Xenas icy blue eyes narrowed slightly, and every muscle in her body coiled itself defensively as a dim shape began to coalesce in the distance. It was time.
Xena allowed herself one last, fleeting thought of Gabrielle. She pictured the way the sunlight shone in the bards fair hair, the way her face lit up when she was telling a story, and the way her nose crinkled when she smiled. Most of all, she remembered what it felt like to hold Gabrielle in her arms and believe that nothing else in the world mattered. Then, taking a deep breath, Xena blocked everything else out of her mind and focused all her attention and energy on the adversary materializing in front of her.
The shadow warrior stepped silently out of the mist to face the waiting warrior princess. He was tall, easily towering over Xena, and he was encased in midnight black samurai armor. A mask covered his face so that only his hard, glittering eyes showed. In his hand, he wielded a gleaming, razor-sharp katana. Xena and the dark samurai circled each other warily, sizing each other up, probing for weaknesses. Her nameless opponent launched a lightning-quick attack, flicking his blade up towards Xenas unprotected face, and only her preternaturally sharp reflexes saved her. Spinning to her right and letting out her fierce battle cry, Xena countered with an attack of her own. Within moments, the forest was filled with the clash and scrape of steel meeting steel, and showers of sparks flew from their blades.
Unknown to the battling warrior princess, Gabrielle had chosen to disregard her orders. The bard had sent Kenji on ahead, not long after leaving Xenas side. Then she had doubled back, intending on following Xena into battle, as always.
"Youre not leaving me behind that easily, Xena," she said aloud as she picked her way through the trees and brush.
It was unnaturally quiet in the forest, the bard realized, as if the entire world was holding its breath. Using the new skill that Xena had taught her, Gabrielle closed her eyes and concentrated on listening, hearing the sounds behind the sounds. Somewhere off to her left, she heard the a faint rasp of steel on leather as a sword was removed from its sheath. It was Xenas sword, Gabrielle was sure of it, and she hurried in that direction. Soon, as she drew nearer, she could hear blades clanging together and the occasional smack of fists hitting flesh, and she increased her pace as a cold knot of fear twisted in her stomach.
Gabrielle emerged from the mist behind Xena, and suddenly, the entire world seemed to slow. The bard could only watch helplessly as every motion played out before her in excruciating detail. She could see every flicker of hatred in the dark samurais eyes and the minute flexing of every muscle in his arm as he slashed forward with his katana. She heard the sickening sound of flesh ripping as the blade sliced across Xenas bare abdomen. Xenas sword tumbled from her grasp, and she sank to her knees, her eyes widening in shock. Blood spilled from the wound, slowly at first, then gushing forth as Xenas life seeped away. The samurai loomed over the fallen warrior princess, his blade held high, intending on finishing his foe. Someone was screaming, and Gabrielle realized with a start, that the anguished cry was ripped from her own throat. She reached down and drew her sais from her boots. Using all her strength, she hurled her weapons at the samurai, and he toppled backwards, the hilts of her sais protruding from his chest. As he fell, the world resumed its normal speed and Gabrielle rushed forward. Sobbing hysterically, she gathered her dying soulmate into her arms.
Xena regarded her with glassy eyes, sorrow etched on her face. Weakly, she raised a hand to wipe the tears from Gabrielles cheeks, and she managed a faint, wistful smile.
"Dont cry. Has to be this way," she said softly, her breath coming in shallow, ragged gasps. She knew she had to die in order to make things right in Higuchi.
Gabrielle shook her head angrily. "No. I dont accept that. I refuse to accept that."
Using her bare hands, the bard tried in vain to stop the flow of blood pouring from Xenas midsection. Xena covered Gabrielles hand with her own, forcing her soulmate to stop. She felt no pain now, and she knew that meant the end was near.
"I will always love you, Gabrielle. Never forget that."
Xena let out one last, shuddering breath, and Gabrielle felt the warriors body go still.
"No," she said slowly in disbelief. "No. Nooooo!"
Her screams reverberated through the silence of the forest as she clutched her soulmates lifeless body to her chest. She had no idea how long she stayed like that, only that it was dark when she finally began to regain her senses.
"Are you cold?" she asked Xenas unresponsive form. "You must be cold. Youre wearing less than I am, for once," she joked feebly, choking back a fresh round of sobs.
Gabrielles mind reeled. This couldnt be happening. Xena couldnt be dead. Any minute now, the warrior would wake up and they would have a good laugh. More tears streamed from the bards swollen eyes. Gently, she kissed the top of Xenas head and rested her cheek against the warriors dark hair. Her shoulders trembled violently as she tried unsuccessfully to hold back the grief threatening to drive her mad. A surge of irrational rage overwhelmed her.
"Damn you, Xena! Damn you for leaving me!"
Anger dissolved into sorrow again, and Gabrielle pulled Xena closer, burying her face in the warriors unmoving chest. She inhaled deeply, smelling the mixture of soap and leather that always clung to Xenas skin. A wave of dizziness overtook her and Gabrielle slid into unconsciousness.
Somewhere in between the mortal realm and absolute death, Xena slowly became aware of her surroundings. It was dark wherever she was. Utter blackness enveloped her on all four sides as she turned in a circle, trying to get her bearings. A memory surfaced and Xena clutched at her stomach, searching for the mortal wound dealt to her by the samurai warrior. Strangely, the skin was unmarked. She dropped her hands to her sides.
"I must be dead," she remarked to the emptiness around her. "Its different from the last couple of times." Her thoughts turned to Gabrielle, and her soul ached for the pain she knew the bard was in, "Im so sorry, Gabrielle," she murmured.
The warrior whirled at the sound of Gabrielles voice nearby. Bathed in golden light, the bard appeared to be standing to Xenas left, her hands outstretched towards the warrior.
"Xena? Is that really you? You have to come back to me. I need you."
Xena reached out, desperately wanting to take Gabrielles hand and let the bard lead her wherever she chose. Just before their fingers touched, Xena heard a low, malevolent chuckle behind her. She turned slowly. Yodoshi stood in back of her, his hands on his hips as he laughed arrogantly at her. Xena cocked her head to one side and listened carefully. From somewhere deep within the soul-stealers body, the sounds of 40,000 souls screaming in torment reached the warriors ears. She glared at him menacingly.
"Its over Yodoshi. No overblown windbag is gonna keep me from what I want," she growled, glancing over to where Gabrielles dream spirit was waiting.
Yodoshi laughed again. "Ive waited years for this moment, Xena. I will have my revenge for your part in my murder. Now I will have your soul."
A flash of white teeth showed as Xenas lips curled into a positively feral grin. She felt a sudden rush of strength flowing into her and realized that it was coming from Gabrielle as the bard's spirit joined with hers.
"Sorry. My soul already belongs to someone else," Xena drawled, taunting her adversary.
Unleashing a wild yell, Xena leapt at her enemy. She planted a foot squarely in the center of his chest and sent him staggering backwards a few paces. Bellowing with maniacal fury, Yodoshi counterattacked, using all the demonic powers at his disposal. Laughing with abandon, Xena easily dodged everything he hurled at her.
"Cmon, Yodoshi. Ya gotta do better than that," she snarled as she launched herself into a tumbling flip that soared over his head.
As she landed behind the soul-stealer, a sacred katana magically appeared in her hand. She stared at the blade, startled, and then a wicked grin formed as she hefted the weapon in her hand. Yodoshi started to turn, gathering his energy for a final confrontation, but his plan was cut short as, with one powerful, fluid motion, Xena sliced his head from his shoulders. A gust of wind and a deafening roar swept through the space as 40,000 enslaved souls were simultaneously released. The air shimmered slightly, and Akemis spirit materialized before the warrior princess.
"Thank you, Xena. Your debt to us is paid," she said with a slight incline of her head.
"Good-bye, Akemi," Xena called out softly as her old friend vanished with the rest of the souls, at peace at last.
Gabrielles voice sounded in the warriors head, and she turned towards it. The bards image was beginning to fade and Xena feared she would remain trapped between worlds forever. She reached out for Gabrielles hand, but found she couldnt touch the bard.
"Xena, please come back," Gabrielles voice grew fainter as she disappeared, leaving Xena alone in the dark again.
Gabrielle awoke with a start, Xenas body still cradled in her arms. Her mind raced. Had she really seen Xena in the spirit world, or was that just a dream? Something rustled in the forest to her right, and she turned her head to see Kenji emerge from the trees.
"Yodoshis army is defeated," he informed her. "But I see you paid a heavy price."
Gabrielle looked down at Xenas still form and then back up at the monk. Quickly, her tongue stumbling uncharacteristically over the words, she told Kenji about her dream. When she had finished, a thoughtful look crossed the monks face.
"Gabrielle, they say that love is the most powerful force in the world. The love that you and Xena share is the strongest that I have ever seen. I believe that if anyone can bring her back from the spirit world, you can."
Gabrielle stared at him, the monks words turning over in her mind. Was it possible? Was their love strong enough to bring Xena back from the dead? It was worth a try.
"Come back to me, Xena. I love you," the bard declared, pouring her heart into those few words.
She leaned down and gently pressed her lips against Xenas, sending all her love through the kiss. Gasping in surprise, she pulled back as she felt Xenas lips grow warm beneath hers. Gabrielle stroked the dark hair hopefully and rubbed the warriors arms as she scanned Xenas face for signs of life. After several agonizingly long heartbeats, Xenas eyelids fluttered and her fingers twitched. A muffled cry escaped Gabrielles throat.
"Xena?" she whispered, daring to hope.
Under Gabrielles watchful gaze, Xenas eyes drifted open. The bard sobbed openly at the sight of the warriors pale blue eyes meeting her own, and Xena smiled as warm tears splashed her face.
"Hey," Xena croaked hoarsely as she struggled to rise.
"Hey yourself," Gabrielle returned, smiling radiantly through her tears as she helped Xena stand.
Miraculously, Xenas wound had vanished without a trace, and Gabrielle ran her fingertips over her soulmates skin in wonder. She looked up, gazing deeply into Xenas eyes and saw the future. Their future. Together.
"I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle," Xena bent her head to capture Gabrielle for a long, heartfelt kiss. She reached down to take her soulmates hand, intertwining their fingers. "Cmon. Lets go home."
As the sun rose on the eastern horizon, casting a warm glow across the sky, together, hand in hand, the warrior princess and her bard walked away into the light of a new day.