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.
Tis “the witching time of night”,
Orbed is the moon and bright,
And the stars they glisten, glisten,
Seeming with bright eyes to listen —
Xena walked down to the tavern with her thumb still in her mouth. There was a piece of skin there that bothered her, and she pulled it off with her teeth. Her regular status now was a drunken one, so her legs wobbled beneath her and she slid rather than stepped down the stairs and walked outside. The barkeep came up to her, and she ignored him; clients and women she knew in the past months tried to touch her, to stop the bleeding, or see where it came from. Xena was covered in blood, and it made for a strange mask on her face, too. But they knew better than to come too close, to ask at all. Xena was starting to look like a ghost, they thought. Xena was a ghost, she thought. She wanted to turn into one. She was afraid of meeting herself out in the street.
The cut on her chest was deep and it hurt, and it made her happy. The cobblestones were sharp and they hurt, and that made her happy, too. Ale, she remembered. Alcohol was what she needed. It took her a bit to think of how to get some more, and then she remembered the man on the opposite side of the street always had at least something at his disposal. She was headed towards the alleyway, a shortcut, when she suddenly heard a crash. She turned around swiftly, frightened; not much got a reaction out of her these days, but this did. She ran towards the tavern, to the street below her room, where people were gathering. There was a girl there, young. Maybe twenty. Kohl around her eyes and a shard of glass in her heart, her blonde hair stained with blood from her mouth. Alba lay there still, dead, and Xena gasped, and as she gasped her back hurt and her air was running out, and she didn’t realize she was walking backwards, her hands covering her mouth and nose. She was breathing through them, barely. Then she returned forward, bending near Alba’s body. It made her dizzy.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She wanted so badly to cry, but tears were stopped someplace where Alba’s cut ended. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and she looked up, skittish, at the people around her. She was smeared with blood, with sweat and dirt, and she felt their judgement, their stupid condescending breath. Xena laid a hand on Alba’s forehead.
“Oh,” she managed to say, and the tears, with the blood, a few of them did drip finally. When she realized she was getting more blood on Alba than there was on her already, she recoiled and stood up quickly, and her vision turned black briefly from the too swift change of position. She pivoted and after a confused pause, ran again towards the alleyway, crying.
“Lilly, Lilly, her name was Lilly,” she whispered to herself. “Lilly, don’t forget. Lilly. Her name was Lilly.”
A bit after she entered the alleyway, Xena felt a pull on her back, and a figure pressed her to the stone wall. It was dark, and she couldn’t make out the face of the person who was doing this. Her body was loose, or asleep, or was making an attempt to be rigid and couldn’t, and her mind reeled in a desperate bid to find the correct emotion: surprise, fear; she was being attacked, she knew, but the wall was cold and Alba was dead and Xena’s heart was beating hard, she thought.
“Well, well, well,” the figure facing her said. The voice was of a man, taunting. His forearm was on Xena’s neck. She felt the tip of a sword at her chest. “If it isn’t Xena, the Warrior Princess.”
Xena’s eyes fixated on the character, dressed in black leather. Her eyes hurt so badly, her head pounded. She knew she was being kidnapped, maybe, that something dangerous was happening. Probably. But somehow she couldn’t, or maybe her mind wouldn’t let her, hit, or attack, or defend. In her mind was Lilly, Lilly, don’t forget her name is Lilly.
“Shit,” the man said, laughing. “What the fuck happened to you?”
“Life,” Xena said. She managed to clench her jaw and at least vocally be the Xena she was however-many-days-she-was-not-counting ago. But the man surveyed her form.
“This is gonna be easier than I thought.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that.”
The man edged the sword closer. He trailed its tip past Xena’s bleeding chest, up to her neck, right near the artery.
“I dunno,” he sneered. “I heard the mighty Princess has fallen. I heard you can’t even hit a fly.”
“You heard wrong,” Xena managed. With every bit of strength she had in her, she executed a kick to his stomach, and the man did move back a few steps. She couldn’t hide the sigh of exhaustion that followed, and the man laughed.
“I’ll be damned. It’s true,” he said. His face was suddenly sealed. He delivered a punch to Xena’s face, then hit her with the back of his hand, breaking her nose.
“No wonder the bounty has gotten so much smaller,” he spat at her. “You’re disgusting.”
Xena, still exhausted from the kick, leaned against the wall. She couldn’t argue with the man, after all. She was disgusting.
“See, Mighty Princess,” the man said as he put his arm around Xena’s neck again. “There’s always been a bounty on your head. But now that you’re….” He smacked Xena in the face again, sending her flying to the ground, and then kicked her. “Incapable of fighting back,” he sneered. “It’s all easy pickings. I just happened to have gotten here first,” he said smugly.
The weaker Xena’s body became, the more arrogant the man’s actions grew. Her body was tired and her mind blank. The man was talking. Speaking of a warlord, speaking of plans. Xena wanted to sleep. She got up, but then her legs buckled from under her, and she landed kneeling with her face near the man’s crotch. And still she couldn’t bring herself to care. Lilly, Gabrielle. Lilly, Gabrielle, she kept on saying in her head. When the man’s hand grabbed the back of her head, she wretched, and the man stepped back, repulsed.
“Bitch,” he spat on her again.
Xena bit her lower lip. She smiled.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” the man said. Xena’s smile turned into laughter. The man put his sword at Xena’s neck.
“Get up,” he ordered.
Xena crossed her hands behind her back.
“No,” she said.
The man kicked her face, and she fell sideways. Lilly, Lilly, Gabrielle.
“You know,” the man said bending down and grabbing Xena’s bloody face in his revolting hands. “Nothing about this bounty says I have to bring you in alive.”
Xena laughed again, enraging the man.
He kicked her again.
He bent down further.
“Even though you’re fucking filth,” he said, moving the sword towards Xena’s thigh. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a little fun on the way. After all, I’ve done worse.”
Xena lay on the cold cobblestone that made up the street. There was sand in it. It stuck to every open cut she had. She felt the cold metal of his sword at her thigh, inching up; her shift was so loose that it was not doing her any favors, but she took a moment to consider. And then couldn’t. She wanted to think about what she had to miss. She wanted to tell herself that there is still hope, and still time, that Gabrielle is about a two-hour ride away. She had told herself once she would muster the courage to visit, though she knew even then it was a lie. She told herself that in life, you never know exactly what corner you’re standing behind. She had said that once to someone else. Someone she had rescued. She had told them, “Maybe a turn for the best is just on its way. Right in front of you, and you can’t see. There is so much life left to live, good left to do.” She tried desperately to empower herself with the sentences she had used to empower others in her life—those she had helped, those she had saved. But nothing caught in her drunken, hazy mind. Her response was to chuckle again, which irritated the man further, and when Xena finally came to realize she simply didn’t care, she rested the entire weight of her body on the grimy ground, surrendering to the stones and sand. At least they felt cool against her feverish body. She brought her right hand to rest near her head, on the pavement, and spread her palm so she could feel the cold there, and looked ahead with a blank stare. The feeling was gone, of the sword, whatever it was doing. Of the rest of it, whatever it was.
“So, you want it, don’t you,” the man said. He kicked Xena again.
“Do your worst,” Xena whispered. Her body was shaking. Where she lay there was an expanding pool of blood, and she could hear people walking on one end of the alley and the other. Maybe she could shout.
Or maybe this is fortune. Maybe this is her opportunity. Maybe this is the corner she was standing behind without knowing.
“Whore,” the man repeated, but the words made for a strange hum in Xena’s ears. She closed her eyes, and thought about sitting by the fire, with Gabrielle by her side, the same scenario she had been playing out for sixty-one—she didn’t remember how many days, where they’d sit together and Xena would say nothing, but kiss Gabrielle, and her long fingers would rest at the crook of Gabrielle’s arm, and slide down her back. And Gabrielle would put her soft hands on Xena’s cheeks, and it’d be as if it were her first kiss ever, and Gabrielle would take Xena’s hand and wrap it around her, and they’d lay by the fire, no words needed, no words yet, except, I lo—
“Say you want it,” the man sniggered. His voice was sinister. The funny thing was, even in her defeated state Xena could scan to see all his weakest points. His wrist holding the sword wrong, his stance easy to trip. Another day it would have been easy to take him out and just keep on going. But not today. Lilly, Gabrielle, Lilly, Gabrielle. Xena was angry at the man for interrupting her dream.
“No,” Xena said quietly. She bent her knee, bringing it closer to her chest. This is the way babies sleep, Xena thought. She understood why.
“See, that doesn’t matter,” the man said. Xena closed her eyes. She heard noises—an unlacing, a sword clanging, she felt a weight upon her, and her eyes were closed. In her mind she was weaving her hands through Gabrielle’s hair. She could still push him off her and use the pinch, if she wanted to, she knew. Even with her muscle weakness.
It seemed that she chose not to.
“What a fucking disappointment,” she heard the man say, close to her ear. “But I’ll take what I can—”
Xena’s eyes jerked open. She heard a smashing sound, and then the weight on her body was dead, and then she was being lifted, released, raised. She heard her name called, but she was still by the fire. How could that be—
“Xena! Xena! By the gods, Xena—”
Xena straightened her gaze. She was in the arms of someone. The man who had attacked her and his sword were on the ground, and she was lifted off it, off the cold of it, by a pair of shaky arms that put her down a second later, supporting her by the shoulders as she tried, still barefoot, to walk.
“What happened to you?” she heard. She squinted and tried to fix her eyes. She didn’t want to walk, but she was walking—or more like, was being dragged—by the person who had saved her, or maybe just wanted her for their own bounty—who knew—but the voice sounded so familiar, and when she caught a glimpse of Argo, Xena gasped, her broken body falling on the mare’s neck, sobbing in despair.
“Girl,” she cried. “I told you to get away, far, far from here.” Xena’s hands moved and moved along the coat of the mare, her mane and her face. She was saddled already and ready, and Xena pressed her forehead to Argo’s. “I’m so happy to see you,” she whispered. “Oh. My beautiful girl. Why’d you come back.” Xena shook her head, blood and tears washing over her torn shift. “Why? It’s dangerous here. It’s no good,” she cried.
Xena heard a cough and turned around. The lights were making more sense now.
“Which is why we’re getting out of here,” she heard her captor or savior say to her. Her weight remained on Argo. She swallowed blood that had gathered in her own mouth from the punch.
The figure came together piece by piece. It was calling her name, and again the voice sounded far or small, but then it got closer, or louder, and it was clear suddenly. Xena’s fist grabbed onto Argo’s mane as she still tried desperately to steady herself.
“Joxer,” Xena said. She looked again to make sure, listened to her own voice. It was him.
“Lilly, Gabrielle,” Xena said, smiling. Her body was covered in old and new blood. “Joxer,” she said then, and fell to the ground before Joxer had a chance to catch her.
To be continued in part 4.