Author: Gili Estlin Hirsch
Title: A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever
This story is certainly not ordinary fiction, so please read the disclaimers first. It’s not a story for everyone—not a cute rom-com with our beloved couple—but it is unusual in its depth, and certainly worth taking a look at and becoming invested in.
SYNOPSIS: Alt; There is no Callisto. The story takes place during Season Two. Gabrielle is married to Perdicus and has settled down in Potidaea. Xena, refusing to see her or admit she is hurt by and angry at her matrimony, embarks on a debaucherous, hedonistic binge, unable to stop her violent behavior from taking the forefront. In a short period of time, Xena neglects all responsibilities, including her promise for kindness and all that is good, which leaves her, mentally and physically, at rock bottom. When she finally encounters Gabrielle again, the two must admit the truth that, as it turns out, they have both been hiding.
DISCLAIMER AND TRIGGER WARNINGS: This story explores some pretty dark themes, including rape, suicide, alcohol abuse, extreme violence, and prostitution. It does not do so in a very detailed way most of the time, but those subjects are in it. There are multiple explicit sex scenes between two women in this story, and it explores sex in general in many ways—some more detailed and others less. To be clear: there are NO graphic depictions of rape of any kind, nor does a rape occur, but it is mentioned, and I do believe you always deserve a heads up about that. The suicide is not depicted in a graphic manner either.
There is a lot of sex in this story and a great deal of hurt and comfort, following a depiction of emotional and physical violence and abuse, part of which Xena engages in, and part of which she is a victim of.
This is not an “easy read,” a family friendly, or a short and fun fan fiction. It’s meant to go into the depths of Xena’s character as it was presented on the show during Season Two, and explore what it was in her that was so dark and that scared her so—what it was that Gabrielle stopped and prevented. The darkness that is found is dark indeed and the story therefore deals with many ADULT themes.
The quotes in the beginning of each chapter, as well as the title, are by poet John Keats.
Disclaimer: The characters Xena and Gabrielle were originally imagined by the creators of the television show, Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena: Warrior Princess™ is the copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Use of this material, including the likeness of its characters and any material pertaining to Xena: Warrior Princess, is for personal use and entertainment only, and not for personal gain. There is no intent to infringe upon copyright or trademark. The creators of this project are not affiliated with, and do not represent any of the actors, companies, or organizations associated with Xena: Warrior Princess. All other original characters and stories in this series are copyright © Gili Estlin Hirsch 2019.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and https://xenarevival.wordpress.com
See Chapter One for overall synopsis and disclaimer.
You are always new.
The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest;
the last smile the brightest;
the last movement the gracefullest.
Xena liked the feeling of skin touching skin, lips touching skin, centers and wetness and small pools at the apex of the body. She always liked it, but now, she liked it because she could close her eyes and think of Gabrielle. It was hard work, imagining someone else was with you when you were with someone else. But if she got lucky—and she often did—the women she was with seemed to understand what it was she needed. They’d turn quiet and wouldn’t speak much, waiting to be guided by Xena, waiting to be told, to be moved. That had a sorrow of its own, but Xena had no room for it. She instead appreciated it greatly, as it made things easier when she came close—and she always did—to coaxing her companions along, past the wave, and then falling, diving down. Xena would close her eyes then and ask:
“Just be quiet.”
And then let her fingers and tongue move and fold, thanking whomever she was with for a palm on her mouth or her head turned to a pillow.
The quieter they were, the easier it was to guess. Xena didn’t know, after all, what Gabrielle would sound like along this journey, the only one they had never taken together. Or even in the aftermath of a kiss. She had to guess, and guessing was easier the quieter it was, and she changed her guess each night. Gabrielle could arch and grab Xena with panicked, labored breath one night, bite her lip down to silence the other, howl with pleasure the next. This night Gabrielle’s voice wouldn’t be loud; she wouldn’t scream, but be gentle and contained, maybe almost confused. So much so that her soft breath would only be heard on the round corners of her mouth. And when Xena did twist her tongue that night, her body operating as if on its own within her fantasy, she got a good surface for imagination. She didn’t know, then, that it was simply because she had asked for it respectfully, and also out of pity. The blonde girl she was with saw such deep sorrow in Xena’s eyes, that she’d give anything to make her even a little bit happy. So, she was silent. Silent gave room for more options. Silent wasn’t specific. Silent would leave the door open further for Gabrielle to enter. And she did. From between the blonde’s thighs, Xena saw Gabrielle and her maddened eyes searching. One hand spread across Xena’s lower back, the other dangling from the edge of the bed, breathing fitfully, coughing almost, and Xena saw herself drag a hand down to join her mouth. When Gabrielle surrendered, she let out a scream that echoed only in Xena’s mind. In truth, the room was quiet and still as she had asked. And Gabrielle’s eyes would be filled with tears that Xena would see when she would look up and rise, nuzzling her body, to kiss them away. Gabrielle would pull her back down like some crazed storm, and then it would be back to her breaths, short and concentrated, and Gabrielle would shake her head—Xena let herself imagine—trying so hard to win their race, her neck stretched back and her palm, insistent, pulling Xena closer and closer and closer, still, until she was close—very close—and she’d say Xena’s name. A few times. And Xena would slide her nose down Gabrielle and smile, her version of bowing to her. Maybe Gabrielle would be frightened, and Xena would place a long hand up to her chest to rest on her heart and push forward with her other hand, and with her tongue, and Gabrielle would shudder for a time until she’d be still of breath and her entire body would arch into Xena’s mouth. She’d whimper, and Xena would climb up and kiss her body and her neck and her cheeks and her mouth and forehead, and Gabrielle would wrap her weak arms around Xena and kiss her, languishing for hours.
There was a night a while ago that felt oddly real where Xena imagined Gabrielle would be brave enough for them both and a thousand times over, and she’d ride Xena, experienced and knowing, and Xena thought—maybe that’s it? Maybe it’s that I want to conquer her, she thought, that I want this little storyteller, innocent and sweet, to be mine? But she tested her mind to the limits, imagined being tied up by Gabrielle, guided by her, and each time, the same result: she’d have to bite down so hard on her lip so as not to cry when the fantasy turned unreal, her thighs so slick with wetness they’d slide if she tried to stand and her breath barely able to return to its normal pace.
She’d ask the girls to leave then, and they usually would, albeit with a protest. Some with more protest than others, saying they never would have done anything if they knew in advance that this would be the case. After she’d heard that the first time, fraught with sorrow and regret, Xena would always let the women know in advance before they would begin their odd ceremony.
“This is just me, to you,” she’d say. She’d find the woman’s eyes and have her nod or say out loud she understood. “Just me to you,” she’d repeat. “And then you leave.”
When the blonde girl in the tavern wasn’t in throes of passion herself, she was quiet because she knew Xena needed to imagine what she needed to imagine. She came quietly. Xena didn’t need to know. Still, there were jerks of the limbs and moans she could not control. Xena knew what she was doing, exactly what she was doing and how. She really was irresistible, even with her body more beaten than victorious, even with her eyes shining so much less than they did, and Alba—that was the blonde girl’s name—wanted her to herself, so couldn’t help but whisper, “Xena,” in the very final beat of it.
Xena pulled her mouth away immediately and rose to her feet, seemingly unaffected by the—what—five bottles of ale she had downed that evening alone? She was in truth of course drunk but even better at acting. Many skills. A blush rose to Alba’s body and the room turned very quiet, and Alba didn’t know what to do. Xena put on her leather shift in a hurry, lifting her messy hair so as to free it of constraints, all with her back to Alba, who couldn’t see her furious face, because that’s not how it’d be; not how Gabrielle would say Xena, not when and not how. Her breathing would be different, her small hand running along Xena’s body would be different. Alba waited. She turned onto her side on the bed. Her body jolted when Xena let out an infuriating, terrifying scream, clearing the table that stood near the bed with one stroke of her forearm, cutting herself on all matters of glass in the process.
“I said no!” she yelled. The blonde girl was frightened. Stepping slowly, she made her way towards Xena, whose bleeding arm was covering her mouth, heavy breaths rocking her skeletal frame.
“Xena,” Alba tried, and Xena turned around. One look at the fury in her eyes would have been enough to send every soldier in Caesar’s army running for cover; but the girl had fallen in love. And all of Rome would also tell you that a girl in love is unstoppable.
“Xena, I can still…be…her. For you,” Alba said, swallowing in fear. Xena’s breath was raspy, and her rib cage, completely visible, rose up and down in anger. Alba didn’t know what to look at: how malnourished Xena appeared, or how stunning her body was, even still.
“I mean,” Alba continued gently, hiding her face—her truly uncanny resemblance to Gabrielle started and ended with her appearance. Thick, waist-length blonde hair, green-blue eyes, and a look about her like she had never ever seen a campfire being lit. “I could do what you sa—”
Her sentence was interrupted by a thud, the chair hitting the closet near her—Xena’s handy work—when her frenzy of rage became too much to keep in.
“Get out,” Xena said. She was barely breathing. Because of the gentleness she had shown Alba earlier that evening, the blonde was hesitant to leave her, though she couldn’t say she had a clue what was going on.
“You can relax—”
“You are NOT her,” Xena said so loudly, so mournfully, that it sounded like she was choking—that it sounded like grieving.
“I know. But maybe I can help you—”
Xena fell on her knees. Alba made a move to catch her, and Xena bared her teeth, sneering, saliva constricting her words.
“You can’t help me,” Xena said through her teeth. She got up on her own, in very noticeable pain, and her grim, almost frightful, grey-toned face twitched as she rose. “No one can help me,” she continued, grabbing a bottle of something or other and sending it, crashing, to the floor, causing Alba to look towards the door. “And if someone could help me, I wouldn’t be here, in this hellhole, with a whore,” she said snidely. Maybe on purpose.
Alba lowered her head. She took a step towards the door, and Xena broke another bottle.
“Yes, good,” Xena nodded. Her eyes were wild, like a wolf’s, unchained and furious at the very notion of its captivity, at its captors, at its release. “Get out.” She drew in a breath, and all of the tears she had left to spare fell at once. Still, Alba was only a little afraid of her. Fearfully, she reached an inviting hand towards her. Xena pushed it away.
“What are you, some kind of idiot?” Xena shouted, her pain, feral and visceral, overtaking her. She kicked the door. “I told you to get out!” Xena yelled. Alba made an effort to touch her but Xena screamed hysterically. When Alba tried to get down on her level, Xena found a shard of glass on the floor.
“I am not afraid to use weapons,” Xena said menacingly. “Do you have any idea how many people I’ve killed with less than this? With a fragment of this?”
The two women were lying on the floor. Ironically enough, one looked like—but was worlds different than—Gabrielle.
“I’m not afraid to die,” Alba said quietly. Then she screamed. “A whore. With you. In this hell hole.” Her own story came landing down on her just like Xena’s did on her; her father’s nightly visits, her mother’s slaps and belts, her school sweetheart dying in battle, her girlfriend of seven years—the only person on earth who ever understood her—raped and murdered months prior.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” she said. The force of her words rocked even Xena. “Do you think you’re the only person in the world? The only person who has lost love?” Alba’s green-blue eyes filled with tears as she unraveled. Xena froze, the piece of glass steady in her hand. “The only person who goes to places like this, Xena?” Alba continued. “The mighty Xena? Do you think you’re the only person who drinks? The only person who fucks and imagines they’re with someone else instead? Who doesn’t really honestly know why the fuck they’re alive?”
Xena lowered her gaze.
“I thought as much. Your battle, your scars. Your battered body.” Alba ripped her shirt open. There were whip and belt marks all over her. “The only one in pain, huh? And when someone approaches you, looking for love, you treat them like the same wolves who raped them? And whipped them? The same people who murdered their one hope? I really thought you to be better than that; I saw something in your eyes. I thought I saw something in your eyes! You should know.” Alba gave in to her hysterics, sobbing. Xena wanted to move towards her but didn’t.
“You should know better if you were in love,” Alba seethed mockingly.
Xena showed Alba the glass. She placed it on the floor and pushed it away, her whole body shaking.
The two women, mirroring positions, lay on the dirty wooden floor. They shook the same. Their eyes had the same haggard, tired look. They’d both been awake for days; both hadn’t eaten in a week.
“Alba,” Xena tried.
“Shut up!” The blonde girl sobbed.
Xena rose slightly. She was dizzy. Alba stayed on the ground.
“What’s her name,” Alba whispered, after a long silence. Her tears made for a small pool on the floor. Xena had a hard time breathing, a hard time speaking. “What’s her name?!” Alba shouted. She rose to her feet and smashed a bottle on the wall. Now she was the one with the power, or without it.
“There is no one,” Xena replied.
“Bullshit,” Alba hissed at Xena, emphasis on the second syllable. “Bullshit,” she repeated in the same manner, the kohl around her eyes staining her face. “What’s her name.”
Xena was quiet. She didn’t want to think. She was angry. Wasn’t this what the ale was supposed to stop? Why is she here with another—she stopped herself. With some broken-hearted girl and her dark backstory? She was too sober. She needed ale. Quickly. She needed air, in every way. Her shoulders hurt at their edges, her ribs hurt when she breathed.
“What was her—”
“Shut up!” Xena spit between her teeth. She had all kinds of cuts on her arms, from bottles thrown when she cleared the table with a strike, and the blood dripped to the floor and maybe down, Xena imagined, maybe down through the ceiling of the room and maybe the drinkers there will be rained upon with blood like she has, or felt she has, and she felt sorry for herself and knew it, and needed more ale still. She began the arduous process of getting up.
“I know there is someone,” Alba said. She stayed lying down. “I know you’re thinking of someone. Trying to pretend I’m someone else. It never works, but—”
“Shut up,” Xena repeated. Her voice was low this time. Her limbs akimbo, she lifted her head, using the floor, red with blood and filthy with sex and dirt, putting her hands on it for balance, and tried to stand. She slipped the first few times. Alba kept talking.
“I do know what it’s like,” Alba said.
“I don’t need counseling from a whore,” Xena said, absentmindedly, since her mind was on her wineskin and its location. Alba said nothing to that, and guilt pulled at Xena, guilt she hated. Guilt she was trying so terribly hard to move away from—why wasn’t it working?!
“What…what is it,” she said distractedly to Alba. She continued her search for the wineskin, first on the floor, then on the bed.
Alba didn’t answer. Xena stopped in her tracks. There were footprints of blood all over the ground. She walked to where Alba was lying, offering a hand to help her up. Alba had shorter arms, but toned, and her white skin wasn’t as pale as it should have been—it seemed as though she were exercising, maybe daily, which surprised Xena. Who could have thought of moving their body in a state like this, she thought, when your heart is taken away from you and your chest is beating empty. And she said she knew what it’s like.
Alba took Xena’s hand. Xena pulled, or didn’t, and Alba rose with relative ease.
“Do you want me to bandage these for you?” Alba asked. She was looking at the cuts on Xena’s arms. One of them had a shard of green glass in it still.
“Why would I want that,” Xena flicked her head, and Alba slipped on some blood on the floor. “That saved me a whole lot of work.”
There was a silence while Xena was searching. She crumpled the bedsheets, feeling out for the outline of her wineskin, and flipped the woolen blanket when she found nothing. Then she surveyed the room, her eyes trying to focus on their own. Since she was constantly drunk, she paid no attention of her state of mind, and didn’t register she was less than capable, so she didn’t see the wineskin right by her armor, at the corner of the room, but Alba did. She pondered if she should give it to Xena or have her keep looking, keep talking. Maybe she’d drink water. Suddenly she was flooded with concern, whereas before it was only seduction, then anger. Maybe now that she had seen the bruises, inward and out?
“What…was her name,” Alba asked quietly.
Xena stopped moving. She thought—maybe I should say it. Maybe I should say it one last time, to say goodbye. She thought—can I say it? Can I say, the other half of my heart? She has a name. A beautiful name. The Angel of God, it meant, and Gabrielle was. She always thought if she had a daughter, she would….
“Gabrielle,” she whispered suddenly. The word dripped from her mouth like the blood was dripping from her arms. It was the first time she had said it in 61 days plus one week, not that she was counting—the first time she rounded the words in her mouth. They sounded so distant. So foreign. But she repeated them. “Gabrielle,” she said, and her hand went to cover her mouth. “Her name is Gabrielle.”
Alba closed the distance between them. “What happened?”
Xena had no intent of telling any stories. She watched the blood dripping from her fingers. She smiled. The marks, the cuts, the drops of blood, all of those eased her pain, gave it a mark and a name. Watching the drops, one by one, was like seeing her pain, one torture following the next, come out, name itself, and fall to the floor—one, pain, floor, two, pain, floor, and she smiled a little, and then remembered the wineskin. She searched the room again, more focused this time because of the healing drip, and saw the wineskin, her armor next to it. She should bury it, she thought. She did on the day she first met Gabrielle, and an odd superstition told her—maybe if you bury it again, you’ll meet Gabrielle again—but the wineskin, the wineskin was what she wanted, and she rushed towards it, picking it up.
“Wait,” Alba said. Tears were falling from her eyes. “Tell me about her.”
Xena was quiet.
“Mine is—” Alba said, and then stopped. “Was, Lilly. Lilly, her name was Lilly.”
Xena wouldn’t answer. She was checking the contents of her wineskin. Empty.
“Fuck,” she muttered.
“She wrote stories,” Alba said, and Xena froze, not moving to face Alba, not bending or sitting, just frozen. Her skin had been permeated, and she had no idea what to do.
“She was amazing,” Alba said. “She had a smile that looked like it made the sunlight pale. She had this soft brown hair, long and smooth, and it was so beautiful, and she had these beautiful brown, almond eyes—”
“Peachy,” Xena said, her voice constricted. Every word reminded her of Gabrielle, and she couldn’t get a drop out of the wineskin.
“She used to write these stories, and poems, where we lived—we had a house in Kassandra. Her hands were always covered in ink,” Alba laughed. “From writing all day—”
Xena shook and shook the wineskin—not even one drop. She yelled in frustration.
Alba seemed startled. Xena noticed suddenly there were tears in her eyes.
“What?” she said.
“You don’t care at all.”
“No shit,” Xena coughed.
Alba’s face changed. Xena saw it happen; it was odd and surreal, like a flower changing its shape suddenly. Her eyes were glazed over, lips quivering, her cheeks turned a deeper a shade of red, and her brows furrowed.
“A group of men got to her,” Alba said thoughtfully. “They raped and murdered her. Cut her up.” Alba nodded. Xena wasn’t horribly torn. She wanted a drink. “Do you care about that?”
Xena was biting her lip. She nodded.
“I care about it,” she looked at Alba. “I’m sorry. Lots of people get cut up.”
Alba’s eyes looked like she was no longer there. She took the glass in her hand, and approached Xena slowly, calmly. She put her forearm on Xena’s clavicle and pushed her against the door. Xena cocked her head to the side. She offered no resistance, nor did she push back. She reached her experienced hand to touch Alba’s cheek, and then smiled.
“I need more booze,” she said, giggling. A part of her saw herself from outside the room and hung its head; another part told her to run or hide or hug or fight, but they were all out in the street, and she was here, or some pieces of her were. And she laughed again. She didn’t know why.
Alba was out on the street with her, it seemed. Pieces of her, at least, and maybe their pieces intertwined when Alba lifted the glass and made a cut along Xena’s chest where her heart was—a deep one, and it was like a strike of a letter, calligraphy like Xena had been taught in Chin. There was pressure at the beginning, and then a glide of the glass through the skin, smooth, as Alba pulled down, sweeping almost, the glass, through Xena’s shift and down her breast, and Xena’s face stayed the same, her head turned to the side, her eyes curious.
She shoved Alba, but there was no force in her arms. She was happy of her new sign.
“I need more ale,” Xena said. She laughed, slipping on where blood had already spilled down her thigh and calf and foot. She didn’t put her boots on, but before she closed the door, she stopped for a moment and smiled at Alba.
Then she was gone.
To be continued in part 3.