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: email@example.com and https://xenarevival.wordpress.com
See Chapter One for overall synopsis and disclaimer.
My love is selfish. I cannot
breathe without you.
Joxer the Mighty
He’s an all-out hero
Who even saves the heroes
When they are at a zero
He doesn’t want to come off as crass
But Xena’s been having too much sex
And he just saved her way-drunk ass—
Joxer the Mighty!
Perdicus entered the library in his home, a smile on his face. There were scrolls scattered on the desk, quills thrown around. He saw metal tips on the floor. Huh, he thought. Gabrielle never really cleaned up in here. An odd thing, since, when she was writing, she really couldn’t be disturbed, she said, and yet, on the desk itself, there was no scroll currently being composed. She must have just ended or was just beginning something, he thought kindly, or maybe this is part of her process; he imagined her, soft blonde hair and strong hands, discarding pages in frustration. He loved that Gabrielle wrote. He had never actually heard any of her reciting. She said she was shy of it and needed time, which was alright by him.
Really, everything needed a bit of time. Of course, he and Gabrielle were happy in their marriage. Gabrielle beamed with light continually. She had a garden patch at his parents’ house, which was large, and filled with hidden corners for her to find out about—which he knew she loved. It was a transition, of course. Of course. Gabrielle was a nomad before. She lived her life moving, and here she was still. The poor thing had also seen so much in the heat of battle—which was so unsuited for her sweet, kind, loving nature, he thought, and just a little bit of anger rose in him at Xena, who would subject her to such a path—and he reckoned that was the reason for her nightmares. She’d cry out Xena’s name in her sleep, again and again, and sometimes tears would fall down her face. Perdicus knew this was Gabrielle asking Xena for help in her dreams. Waking her up was a bad idea—she would become so startled, that sometimes she could get physically ill. She was troubled almost every night, and sleep was scarce. As was intimacy, due to these nightmares, and of Gabrielle’s headache spells, all, Perdicus thought, a part of what must have been an odd transition to a steady home life. He was willing to wait and help Gabrielle, though she didn’t require much help. She’d speak to her sister Lila most often, sometimes, it seemed, bolting out of their house to go see her. Her mannerisms turned different. She was quieter and not as silly. A transformation into a woman from a girl, he thought, and smiled.
And, well—perhaps the biggest issue—was their residence with Perdicus’s parents. Since Perdicus’s father was the village elder, there was ample room in the home they lived in. After they would have their first child—Perdicus couldn’t wait, although, with the current intimacy situation, he understood it would take a bit of time—they would move to a home of their own, and then, he knew, things would become much better. Perdicus’s mother was wonderful, and extremely doting, and she wanted grandchildren, and did not understand Gabrielle’s past fighting or roaming—especially not with Xena—or her writing. To her, women shouldn’t be fighting in the first place, and certainly not writing. “How would you have the time,” she’d tell Gabrielle with a smile, ruffling her blonde hair, questioning her about her warrior’s braid often. She didn’t understand what it meant, and asked Gabrielle almost daily if she would want to have a “fun day out,” and get “nice, new hairdos,” something popular, perhaps, such as putting her beautiful long hair up, she had suggested. With regards to the writing, well, she simply didn’t see it fit for a woman to be writing fiction or songs of praise. What is there to write about but the kitchen, she would joke with Gabrielle, and then pause, and say,
“Soon enough, when little ones are running around between your legs, you won’t have time for any writing!”
Perdicus had chastised his mother several times. Gabrielle was a writer, a wonderful one, he knew, from the stories he had heard before they had settled down, and he felt certain he would hear more of her words once Gabrielle had fully adjusted. At any rate, she was extremely courteous and sweet to his mother, and to his father, too, constantly smiling and conversing with them about their interests. Perdicus had a niece, Thaliya, and Gabrielle was close to her. Perdicus was happy of that, as well, as Thaliya was wild in her ways, maybe extreme, and the time she spent with Gabrielle would surely help shape her into the kind of bright, sweet young woman Gabrielle was.
The library smelled of ink. Spilled ink, and Perdicus smiled. He walked further into the room, petting the bound volumes there on the shelf, wondering about their contents. No, he wasn’t much of a reader. But around the same time every night, Gabrielle would say she was going to write—if that was okay, she would add—and Perdicus would say, yes, of course, even if he did want something else to happen that night, as Gabrielle oftentimes simply fell asleep in the library. Poor thing, how tired she was from long months of living on the road. It was clear as day to him that she needed her writing the way he needed air or water. Gabrielle was a writer with all of her being; even the sentences she spoke were poetic, usually; most of all when she mentioned adventures she had had with Xena. But she’d stop herself from telling the whole story—too traumatic?—and oftentimes tear up, and many times rush to Lila for comfort, and though he wished it could be him, he knew it was natural for a young woman to seek out her sister’s comfort and closeness.
Perdicus walked closer to the writing desk. Strange, he thought. The scroll was empty, except for a few marks on it, in several—what he could make out, anyway—languages, repeating the same word. A fresh scroll? He thought. A new story? The waste bin was full to the brim, but Gabrielle had told him one time that in writing, you usually throw away ninety-nine percent of what you write, after you edit it, and only then are left with the actual structure.
But he recognized the word on the page in Greek, of course, and he squinted his eyes. It said, “Xena.” He knew Delian letters; he recognized the X and the A. There were more words, but they were spread out on the page, not written like a story. Xena, Xena, Xena. A few times. How confusing for Gabrielle, he thought. He knew that she missed her friend terribly. She’d write a letter to Xena every day, but she had no idea of her whereabouts. Perdicus soothed her every time, reminding her: she rode alone before you, she can ride alone now. He laughed thinking about how Gabrielle was so sweet to care for Xena so much. Gabrielle tried, at any rate, to send the letters; some returned to her, some found their way somewhere. One managed to find Xena, she thought, and she walked around smiling for days.
Well, Perdicus knew how close she and Xena were, and he knew what it was like to miss a friend. Since his father’s fiftieth birthday was coming up, though, and Gabrielle had been tasked—volunteered, really, when you think about it—with organizing the party, it was a perfect opportunity for Gabrielle to find Xena. She had prepared twenty invitations just for her; that was how badly she wanted to see her. Two months without her friend had impacted her strongly. The staff she used to use stood in their house, changing location constantly whenever Gabrielle would clean. He smiled, and chuckled to himself—she wasn’t very good at cleaning, but she tried, and that’s all he cared about. At any rate, this party, coming up, was to be held at his parents’ home, and Gabrielle was busy, usually along with Lila, planning seating and menus and writing out invitations. He enjoyed seeing her tasked with something that could make it easier for her to settle in and accept her new family. And her kind and sweet smile was always there.
He shrugged off the piece of papyrus he saw, not knowing the room he was in was filled with the word Xena more times than Gabrielle had ever said “Perdicus.” He walked out, bewildered, but tired, and this evening Gabrielle was at Lila’s, helping with the new baby, and so he headed to bed.
The fact that it was so incredibly easy to get Xena on Argo while she was unconscious startled Joxer a lot more than the cuts and marks on her body. Since the wedding in Potidaea, he had been seeing her, or, rather, seeing after her. Whenever he had approached her, she had swatted him away, with increasing carelessness and crassness, and then violence, so in the last two weeks he had simply been watching over her. It wasn’t difficult. Her routine consisted of just three things—drinking, fucking, sleeping—but what was difficult to understand was why Xena had deteriorated this badly, this quickly. He knew how much she loved Gabrielle. But it had been two months, barely, since they parted ways, and she was still close to Potidaea. Gabrielle would send her letters—he knew this because he visited Gabrielle often—and Xena did get them. She tore them up without opening them.
“She’s made her choice,” Xena had said, nodding. Joxer was bewildered at Xena’s rapid crash to rock bottom. It seemed too sudden, too strong. He knew she loved Gabrielle. He had accepted that she was his romantic rival long ago. Deep down he even accepted that she had already won, but to go from the state she was in when she gave her blessing to Gabrielle at the wedding to this state…He looked at her as he led Argo, holding onto the reins gently—it was madness. Surely this was about more than just Gabrielle. It had to be something else, as well. Joxer knew of Xena’s dark past, or a part of it. He realized—a bit too late—this descent was about that darkness more than anything. Xena was punishing herself. He had seen it before, but to get to the point of being unable, uncaring, about possibly getting raped—that was a bad spot indeed, he kept thinking.
Joxer could carry her in his arms—he couldn’t believe it, and not in a good way. He had wrapped her up with a blanket he had bought for a few dinars, and placed her on Argo, who seemed to be almost bending a bit, even, to accommodate her devoted master. Joxer had arranged another blanket in front of Xena, too, so as to stop her from fully spilling over and falling completely. He had packed some food he knew she liked and had purchased something new for her to wear. He looked back at Argo. Xena was on the saddle, her wiry body slumped forward. Her leather shift was all but garbage. She was completely out, and he appraised her body, trying to calm himself down. Everywhere he looked, he saw a cut, or a bruise. He never, ever in his life, thought he would describe Xena as delicate, but now she seemed fragile as glass. He was sure her shoulder was dislocated, and cuts adorned her arm. Another large and very deep one marked her chest. She reeked of ale and sweat and sick. He knew what she did every night. Gabrielle would question him often—had he seen her? Is she alright? He lied because he didn’t know what would be best to do, because he didn’t know how to explain to Gabrielle that, without her, Xena had no stop to her self-punishment and darkened ways. Not when Gabrielle was sure that Xena spent enough time with her to know to do good.
This—this being the walk to Potidaea, barely two hours by foot was how close they were—was a special invitation, though. For Gabrielle, this party was nothing but an excuse to see Xena again. He stalled as long as he could, but Gabrielle pleaded with him, begged him, commanded him to find Xena and bring her back for the party.
So, he did.
It was time, he supposed, that Gabrielle saw her. He knew only Gabrielle would be able to stop her but was terrified of Gabrielle’s response to Xena’s actual raw body and soul. It was as if she had never met Gabrielle, except she had. She had received a glimmer of hope, and then it was taken away from her, as if she had been shown a paradise she could never, ever enter. Joxer had seen the switch turn off in her sparkling eyes. They had become dim. The last time she had spoken to him, she made no sense at all, and was unbearable to be around, her scent thick. Still, he had pleaded with her to come to Potidaea, or least someplace else with him, to see a physician for her wounds, to sleep, to bathe. Xena had shrugged him off. Out of her murmurs he had understood one sentence, whispered in the midst of a drunken dream.
“It doesn’t matter,” Xena had said. “Without Gabrielle.”
He saw the outline of Potidaea, its wall. The bell tower and the view. Morning was rising and it made for a beautiful orange and pink that descended upon the city. Joxer thought it was good that it was a new day. Beyond that stood only fear.
Joxer entered Lila’s home quietly. He didn’t want to disrupt the baby. But he knew Gabrielle was there. He also knew exactly why. Knew her hours “writing” were hours of training with her staff, relentless and hard-pushed training, the kind Xena had taught her. No halfway—the whole training—and he knew that Thaliya had secretly joined her and was being trained by Gabrielle in hand-to-hand combat, self-defense, and swordplay. At any rate, Carys, Lila’s new little girl, was Gabrielle’s only joy these days. He knew that, too, and understood what he needed to do right now. Talk about shooting the messenger, and—he had reached Carys’s nursery. Gabrielle was asleep there. The faint light of morning shone on her closed eyes.
He left Xena hidden, curled in hides, behind the house. He knew he didn’t have long. He also saw the baby sleeping peacefully. How was he to do this without causing a riot. As he thought, panic rose in him. He kept remembering the mark on Xena’s chest, her willingness to be ravaged, the immense transformation to her body. He planned strategies and required items, hurrying, realizing nothing would work. Xena was lying down and she needed help and there was no way of doing this without waking up at least Carys. And if Carys were to wake up Lila would, and it’s not as if Gabrielle would have some place to hide Xena once she saw her, and she just needed to know, and his mind reeled from the journey and all the scoping and attempts to fix things, and a tear rolled down his cheek, so he simply raised his voice and said,
His tone was somber and serious, his mouth quivering. Gabrielle opened her eyes right away, as he expected, and Carys cried, and Lila walked into the room seconds later. Gabrielle got up. Her hair was ruffled from sleep, her eyes tired.
“Joxer!” she chided him softly, smiling. “Did you have to wake the ba—”
Gabrielle observed Joxer’s face. She shook her head, and he nodded. She placed a shaking palm on his chest.
He walked towards the exit of the house.
“Gabrielle!” Lila called. The baby was wailing.
“Where?” Gabrielle said, her voice shaking. “Where? Where? Show me. Now. Show me.”
Joxer led Gabrielle outside.
“Where?” she repeated, panicked.
In this pile of hides in front of you, he wanted to say. But didn’t.
Gabrielle saw Argo.
“Where?!” Gabrielle choked down a sob. “Whe—”
And then she saw.
She saw a wisp of jet-black hair. She took a step forward and saw Xena, wrapped in hides, her eyes closed, leaning against a wall. Gabrielle’s mouth fell open as her feet refused to move. She took in the blood on Xena’s face, her pallor. She whispered at first. Why did she whisper?
“Xena,” she said.
Joxer rested a hand on Gabrielle’s back.
“What,” she started, turning towards him. Her eyes were filled with unshed tears. “What…Is she—”
“She’s passed out,” Joxer said, finally finding his voice. Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief. It was a strange thing, like the composition of a painting: Xena tucked under the hides, Gabrielle standing still a few feet away, Argo right next to Xena. And the background: Lila cradling Carys in her arms, neighbors waking up to the cries of the little girl. The gate to Perdicus’s parents’ home opening.
Joxer waited for a bit, but then—
“Gabrielle,” he said, and suddenly, whatever mental break or freeze things had taken, they started moving into overdrive. Gabrielle walked over to where Xena was leaning up against a wall, her mouth opened slightly, and tears immediately rolled down her cheeks. She reached out to take Xena in her arms; she sobbed when her hands met the outline of the body she felt under the hide.
“What,” she murmured, taking Xena into her arms. She weighed nothing, and Gabrielle easily pulled her close, cradling her head in her elbow and letting Xena’s body rest on her fully.
“What?” she said again. But this time she screamed it. “What happened? What happened?!” She turned to Joxer, her face stained with tears. It was a warm day. She held Xena up with one hand, shaking her head, and removed the hide from her.
Joxer closed his eyes forcefully.
Lila gasped. Carys was starting to settle down. Gabrielle didn’t notice Perdicus coming out of the gate of his parents’ house. The street was at a stop.
Xena lay in Gabrielle’s arms unconscious. Gabrielle’s shaking hand went to the pulse point on Xena’s wrist, to figure out if she was—alive—but her heartbeat was slow, and difficult to feel. Gabrielle let out a sob and a howl, sending Carys into a wailing fit again, and cueing murmurs between the residents of the street as she touched along Xena’s form with a shaking palm.
“Xena,” Gabrielle whispered. She moved her hand from Xena’s chest, which was still bleeding, to her neck, and to her face, which was completely ashen. Her mouth collected the tears that fell down her face, and she didn’t notice she was rocking back and forth as her hand went to Xena’s shoulders, to her arms, her stomach, her legs. Gabrielle couldn’t find a single untouched patch of skin. Everywhere was either blue or yellow or green, or cut or bleeding, and the sour stench of dirt and ale rose far past where Gabrielle was—not that she cared—and she tightened her hold on Xena like Lila did on Carys. She wrapped one arm around her, letting her fingers follow the line of her beaten lips, her bruised cheekbones, and what was forming into a black eye. Gabrielle didn’t speak, except to say “Xena,” occasionally. Her cries rocked her small body. Lila tried to come close, as did Joxer, and Gabrielle tightened her grasp on the taller woman.
“No,” she said through her teeth. “No,” she repeated, and moaned, running her hands through Xena’s greasy black hair, moving it away from her dirty face, stroking her forehead. She clenched and unclenched the fingers of her hand holding Xena’s ribs; it fit, her hand, halfway around. Half of her. Gabrielle knew if she were to add a hand, she could encircle Xena’s entire rib cage with just her two small hands.
Gabrielle suddenly moved, seemingly frantic, searching for something. She hoisted Xena in her grip, crying again at the unbearable lightness of her, and bent until Xena’s head was at the nape of her neck. She used the arm that wasn’t holding Xena as close as possible to her body to reach around her and sighed in frustration.
“Water,” Gabrielle cried. “Can someone get water, and a washcloth, please,” Gabrielle said, rocking Xena back and forth. “Please, please,” she repeated. She didn’t know if she was speaking, wasn’t sure where she even was, but she saw the woman she loved a stranger, every hint of muscle tone completely gone, her chest bleeding, her limbs lying limp. Gabrielle gathered them together, placed Xena’s hands in Xena’s lap and tightened her grip under Xena’s knees. Occasionally she moved her free hand to outline, again and again, Xena’s face, and she rocked her, full force; her spread palm at Xena’s neck was more than enough to keep the brunette up, which was terrifying.
Someone had fetched a bucket of water, and there was suddenly cloth next to Gabrielle, and she didn’t know or care that a circle of onlookers was closing in on her, or who exactly had brought the water. Her hand was shaking so hard she could almost not perform the task. Her body racked with sobs, Gabrielle dipped a washcloth in water, just a bit of it, and pressed it to Xena’s face. It was so filthy that the water revealed a whole layer of skin, even more grey than the thick layer of dirt she had just removed, and Gabrielle’s crying turned to quiet murmuring sounds as she dipped the cloth in water again, cleaning Xena’s face gently, both her hands shaking.
“Oh,” Gabrielle managed, and the cloth became black with one sweep over Xena’s face. “Hi,” she said, understanding maybe or maybe not that that was not the right thing to say, but she said it again, “hi, hey,” and her voice was high. Gabrielle pressed her hand again to Xena’s face. “I’ve missed you,” she said, starting to cry again. “Hi. I’m so happy to see you,” she managed, and spread her palm across Xena’s chest, staining her fingers in the blood that was still trickling.
“Here you go,” Gabrielle said on an intake of a shaken breath, using a new cloth to clean the wound, pressing water against it. “We’ll put this here. Okay? Let’s clean this. Let’s clean this,” Gabrielle said, her eyes maddened. “Let’s clean you up, okay? Come here,” Gabrielle said, and she far too easily lifted Xena higher in her arms, so that their heads pressed together. “Come here,” she repeated. Her nightgown was stained in blood. Another painting scene: Gabrielle with Xena in the center, and what seemed like the entire town surrounding them. Gabrielle kissed Xena’s forehead, despite the smell and dirt and blood. “Oh, look,” she said quietly. “I have you now. You see? I got you now, I got you,” Gabrielle promised, and she didn’t whip her head around in anger, didn’t need to ask, “Who did this to Xena”—to her Xena, she corrected in her mind. You don’t lose this much weight or muscle tone in one week or two or four. Maybe something in Gabrielle did know what was happening, what she had done when she had left Xena, but not like this, and Gabrielle gently kissed Xena’s temple, and stroked her thin frame, murmuring, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” until she noticed the silence.
She looked around her. Joxer was there, and Perdicus, too, and his mother, and father, all standing in a circle around her. She desperately searched for Lila’s face, and found it right away. She pleaded with her, offering only a small expression, and Lila nodded. Gabrielle waited a few beats.
“This is my friend, Xena,” she whispered, so no one could hear her, and then, after a few beats longer, she rose from the ground, and lifted Xena up with so much ease that she began to sob again, but she kept her grip steady, one arm under Xena’s knees, the other around her back.
“Here we go. We’re going to go inside,” Gabrielle said. “We’re going to take care of all of this,” she said, kissing Xena’s face between breaths. “I’ve got you now. You’re alright. Aren’t you.” She moved so Xena’s head lay in the nape of her neck again. “Aren’t you? You’re alright. You’re okay. You’re alright. It’s okay,” Gabrielle kept saying.
But even she wasn’t sure if she really believed it.
To be continued in part 5.