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: gilihirschwrites@gmail.com and https://xenarevival.wordpress.com



See Chapter One for overall synopsis and disclaimer.



V:

Do you not see,

how necessary a world of pains and troubles is,

to school an intelligence and make it a soul?

 

It’s not like there wasn’t an attempt. Lila spoke to Gabrielle after the wedding ceremony. She had walked into their childhood room, her belly not yet a nuisance at that point, and had Gabrielle sit next to her. Lila was riddled with doubt; she had been married for only a year. Who was she to give Gabrielle advice about love? But something had to be said. She waited a moment, and Gabrielle turned her head.

You okay? The baby alright?”

Yes,” Lila smiled. There was a silly smile on Gabrielle’s face. By silly she meant fake.

What’s up?” Gabrielle asked. “Kind of a big day…for me….” She faked her smile even more. Lila had known her for twenty-three years. Gabrielle was a bad liar.

Yeah, ‘bout that,” Lila said.

There were a lot of ways to ask this question, to bring it up, to touch upon it. It was a delicate subject, and it required a lot of sensitivity. Lila, from the moment she had received the news about her sister’s hurried matrimony, had tried to come up with reasons why, and why like this. He had been a soldier in Troy. The fleeting notion of life, perhaps? She shook her head. Gabrielle was too in love and couldn’t wait. That sounded like Gabrielle. That sounded a lot like Gabrielle, except Gabrielle didn’t feel that for Perdicus, and if she did, something extreme had changed in her time away from Potidaea, which was not long—she had visited, what, a month prior to her marriage? There was no Perdicus then.

But there was Xena.

There was Xena, at whom Gabrielle stared with adoring eyes. Xena, who risked facing off with Mother and Father every time. One time she saw her palm holding Gabrielle’s. Xena, to whom she owed her life. Xena, who would spend long moments staring at Gabrielle, smiling, without the blonde knowing, and then—reverse the roles—Gabrielle would do the same.

Lila wondered and wondered again how she could approach this topic without—metaphorically, or maybe, knowing her sister, not so metaphorically—getting her fingertips burned. She decided to get up off the bed, not yet the feat it would soon become, and walk towards the table. She picked up a scroll. Gabrielle seemed suddenly panicked.

I don’t—”

They’re stories,” Lila soothed her. “They’re meant to be read, right?”

I love Perdicus,” Gabrielle said.

Okay.” Lila nodded.

Just so we’re clear: I love Perdicus. He’s very gentle and honorable and kind and sweet. And he respects me.”

Lila’s brows furrowed. “I didn’t say differe—”

I love Perdicus,” Gabrielle said. “I do.”

Lila opened a scroll. She cleared her throat.

I sing of Xena, the mighty warrior, forged in the heat of battle, her courage and skill matched only by her…beauty,” Lila read. She continued, reading only some of the words out loud: “Raven hair, lips like milk and honey, inviting.” Lila arched an eyebrow.

I love Perdicus,” Gabrielle said.

Lila opened another scroll.

No, please—”

Lila read quietly, and a smile came upon her face that was impossible to undo. “The dark-haired beauty dipped into the water, which emphasized every part of her taut body, from her firm—”

Lila!”

Lila giggled. Then she stopped giggling. She hurried to open the next scroll, reading as fast as she could.

That’s fiction already,” Gabrielle sighed. “That’s fiction. That never happened.”

Her hand caressed the young bard’s hair. She confessed her love in a languishing kiss—”

Okay,” Gabrielle said. “Okay.”

Lila sat back on the bed, her face flushed.

Gabri—”

Those are just stories,” Gabrielle said resolutely. “They’re just what-ifs and maybes.”

And the stories of the battles?”

True.”

And was it needed, to write exactly what Xena’s…bosom looked like when she was fighting the warlord Vakir… Vasik…”

Vakiriyos,” Gabrielle said. “And yes. You want to be able to imagine it. In your mind.”

I bet you do,” Lila said. She went through two more scrolls, and then waited a bit. Gabrielle said she loved Perdicus a few more times. Then there was a pause. And the gentlest phrasing Lila could think of was, “Gabrielle, are you in love with Xena?”

Gabrielle made a face, shaking her head no.

What? No! I…no, we…we’re friends. We’re just good friends. I don’t…I couldn’t…Even if I…it’d be, you know…I know, you know, it’s, we’re friends, we’re friends,” and she kept on, until Lila said,

Gabrielle, are you in love with Xena?”

And Gabrielle was very quiet, and you could hear the wind past the curtains, and Lila reminded Gabrielle again that she had known her for twenty-three years, and that she was a bad liar, and to just say what’s right, that anything is possible, that even if it is that, she’s not so sure that it wasn’t the other way around, too. Gabrielle let her talk, but didn’t really listen to what she was saying, because she was listening to the wind, and she was imagining Xena, and she opened her mouth while Lila was still speaking, and said,

Yes.”

There was a silence then. Gabrielle smiled in earnest. Her sweet, shy smile, the one that Lila could tell was genuine even if she only looked at Gabrielle’s eyes.

Yes. Yes, I’m in love with her.” Gabrielle cleared her throat. “Very…very much so. You skipped…some fiction scrolls there.”

Lila coughed.

And I’m glad you did.”

From the brief joy the admission brought to her, tears gathered in Gabrielle’s eyes and painted her cheeks. Her sister hugged her.

Why did you marry Perdicus,” Lila whispered, urgently. “Why don’t you tell Xena you love her?”

She wouldn’t want me,” Gabrielle sobbed. “She’s a warrior. She is powerful, and magnificent, and she doesn’t want to settle down—”

Do you want to settle down?” Lila interrupted.

Gabrielle shook her head no.

She needs her freedom. She’s always saying so. I’m a girl from some village.” Gabrielle pulled at her clothes. “Look at me!”

I am, and I see a beautiful girl—”

I love Perdicus,” Gabrielle said, crying. “He’s a good man. He wants to take care of me—”

That’s—”

He respects me. He gives me time to write. He’s safe.”

You’re settling.”

I don’t have a choice, do I,” Gabrielle whispered. Her voice was constricted. “What do you think will happen? I tell Xena I love her, and then what? And then we ride on into the next town? She would laugh at me,” Gabrielle cried. “She’s not the settling down type.”

Do YOU want to settle down,” Lila asked again, and Gabrielle said,

No, no, but I don’t want to live this life with anyone but Xena, and that will eventually stop, and I’ll have missed my chance at something….”

Safe,” Lila said, stroking her sister’s hair. “You’re playing it safe.”

Gabrielle cried and cried.

Won’t you miss Xena?” Lila asked quietly. “Seeing her every day? Riding with her?”

Xena is going to be absolutely fine without me.”

She probably will be,” Lila said, omitting the part where she had a strong suspicion the warrior was in love with her blonde sister, too. “But that’s not the question I asked, hmm?”

Gabrielle hung her head to her chest.

Yes, I’m going to miss her,” she whispered. “Terribly. Horribly. Every stupid thing she does.”

Lila nodded.

Perdicus’s father is the village elder,” Gabrielle said with conviction. Lila was taken aback. Prestige was not usually something that drove her sister. “That’s as close as I can get to freedom in a marriage, and I’ll have to marry eventually.” She grasped Lila. “I am not going to get a chance like this again.”

Lila shook her head.

That’s why?”

I love Perdicus,” Gabrielle said, loudly. “Who knows if I’ll ever get that chance again, either.”

What are you saying,” Lila begged.

We don’t know how long Xena is gonna wanna keep me around, now, do we?” Gabrielle sniffled.

What?” Lila said. “No. No, Gabrielle. Xena—you mean a lot to her. A lot.”

How do you know,” Gabrielle said. “I came close enough to finding out what will happen once she decides she’s tired of me and wants to ride alone.”

Lila shook her head. She had seen Xena defend her life with Gabrielle to those who scorned it, she knew she had no plans. “She has no plans to…Gabrielle, you mean a lot to Xena. A lot. She loves you.”

Gabrielle looked at Lila.

What?”

She loves you. She loves you, I think in the same way you love her—”

No,” Gabrielle whispered. “As a friend, maybe.”

She told me she loves you. She told me she loves you so much.”

And when she stops?”

What?” Lila shook her head.

And when she stops, and decides she wants a different companion? Or none at all? This is my chance. It won’t come again,” Gabrielle cried. “I have to take it…or risk riding with Xena without a safety net.”

Lila wanted to say that Gabrielle was not one for safety nets. That she had seen the way Xena looked at her. Maybe it was Lila’s selfish will to keep Gabrielle in Potidaea, to see her little niece or nephew, and that that’s not a good enough reason for Gabrielle to stay. But she didn’t say any of those things.

From that day on, she saw Gabrielle tortured in her new, open prison, yearning for Xena, craving adventure, only loving one person truly, and not the one she was married to, and it became worse every second of every da—

LILA! MOVE! IT!”

Lila was jolted into the present when Gabrielle, whose hands embraced Xena, was searching for a place to put her down, so that her wounds could be examined. She chose the kitchen table, which was both long enough and solid enough to accommodate Xena. There was a bowl of fruit on it.

By the gods, Lila, move the goddamn bowl.”

And she did.

A frantic Gabrielle placed Xena, with every piece of gentleness she had in her, every imagined embrace, every dream of a kiss, on the kitchen table. A bed wouldn’t work. She needed space to freely move around. Plus, Xena was far too tall. The wooden table offered good support and its placement in the kitchen provided ideal room for Gabrielle to maneuver as she began to attend to Xena. The hide Xena was lying on was enough to make her comfortable, Gabrielle hoped. Up until that point, before her were merely pieces to be gathered and mended: a very serious gash to the chest; wounds on the face and legs; something in the shoulder—maybe it was dislocated—a relatively fresh set of cuts along the left hand, across and up the arm, bleeding, one still with a shard of glass in it; battered knees, wounded feet. There was sand, and it stuck to every open cut.

And then there was the smell. The disgusting, foul scent of ale—a lot of ale—mixed with sex, mixed with blood and vomit, and time, mixed with just time, and so much dirt and garbage. It was revolting, and even Lila gagged for a second; everyone but Gabrielle seemingly wanted to get away, but this was Xena. Xena. She wanted her as close to her body as possible, no matter what state she was in. Perdicus was standing by the entrance to the house. He was starting to understand something. Lila had examined his features earlier when he had approached Gabrielle with the water.

At any rate, these were merely pieces. They were injuries. Separate. But when Gabrielle saw that it was Xena, her complete Xena, lying there on the table, wounded, her body exposed by the tears in her shift, it was suddenly clear to Gabrielle just how gaunt she was, how much weight she had lost, how bruised her body was, how bloodied, how dirty. Lila cried quietly. Tears simply rolled down her cheeks. Gabrielle stared, wide-eyed. Suddenly it wasn’t just this cut or that cut. It was Xena. Her Xena. And somehow, in two months, she had gone from tan, muscular, and powerful, to what looked like some victim of constant battering. Gabrielle would have thought that if not for the fierce decline in weight and muscle tone, and the putrid scent of stale ale, that someone had done this to her. When she examined her all over, Xena appeared as if someone had just lowered her from a crucifixion. It wasn’t just one thing. It was every single thing, and Gabrielle searched and searched with her eyes for a…a source, maybe? A beginning? Where did this start? Could it be that someone had captivated her and—what, made her drink herself unconscious? That made no sense. Gabrielle continued to survey Xena’s body, but still there was no trace as to where it all began, or how, or who. There was a hint, though, to how it stopped after weeks and weeks of her begging Joxer to find Xena, to “go get her and bring her here if she’s in any kind of situation.” The fresh cuts to the arms and the mark down the chest came most recently; they were bleeding still, and they were deep. And it had been two months. Two. And Gabrielle was furious. As furious as she was concerned.

But she was interrupted, her thoughts of what was fair and what was not, of responsibilities and truths, were interrupted by Lila.

What do you need?” Lila whispered. Carys had calmed already. She was back in her cot. “I don’t have…bandages, but there are some clean cloths and…I’ll boil water, and mom’s sewing kit is here, and we can make a compress—”

Gabrielle simply ignored her sister. She took another look. Another look at the whole and not just its parts. The shift Xena was wearing was all but rags. It was torn at the chest and the thighs. Without breaking her gaze at Xena, Gabrielle walked backwards, to where the living room was, and grabbed the thin blanket she knew was on the sofa. She didn’t want Xena exposed like this, even if was just her and Lila. But Xena’s shredded shift revealed her breasts and the center of her thighs—all battered, in places still bleeding profusely—and her stomach, black and blue. She looked crooked, and Gabrielle didn’t want her naked like this, uncovered. She laid the piece of cloth gently over Xena’s body. It was small, and Xena very tall. But it was enough to cover her body from her breasts to the top of her thighs.

I do have some stuff. Honey, calendula. We used it for the baby, but I think, with this gash on her chest…”

Bring ‘em,” Gabrielle said, managing, somehow, to find a voice. She coughed.

Do you want the sewing kit, or—”

Lila stopped mid-sentence, staring at her sister. Gabrielle’s hands were on Xena, caressing her face over and over again. She was shaking, but that didn’t stop her from outlining every bruise, every hit and cut, and there were a lot of them. She was talking and talking and talking. It became kind of a blur, her sentences, her apologies, her ongoing quest to find out who could be responsible for this, what could have possibly happened. Lila looked again at their touch, almost ritualistic, the palms of their hands woven together.

I’m so sorry,” Gabrielle said, bending over Xena’s loose body. “I’m so sorry I left you. I’m so sorry. Oh. Why didn’t you tell me?” Gabrielle sniffled. She pressed her forehead to Xena’s. “Why didn’t you come here? I sent for you. I wrote you letters. Too proud. You were too proud.” Gabrielle lifted Xena in her arms, supporting her head. Lila decided it was just best to bring the items than to ask anything else.

Gabrielle used more and more pieces of cloth to clean Xena’s face and neck. “I should have gone after you. I should have checked. We could have stopped this. Whatever this is. We could have. You just had to come here.” Gabrielle sniffled again, putting Xena’s head back on the table gently. “But you’re not that kind of girl, are you,” Gabrielle said past her tears. “If Joxer hadn’t found you, maybe I never would have seen you—”

Gabrielle cried to no one in particular. She held a clean, white cloth to what seemed to be the worst cut—the mark on Xena’s chest.

I’m going to put this here,” Gabrielle said quietly. “I’m just going to put it here, because there’s lots of blood. It’s gonna soak it up,” she explained. “It’s going to make it hurt less.” Lila didn’t need to be a physician to know that the cut had missed her heart by a mere inch, and Gabrielle’s finger pressed upon that point, upon that heart. If only Acacia, Perdicus’s mother, could see her now! Gabrielle’s hair was up, twisted into a bun, the small wisps of hair on her face that had been bothering her pushed away with blood-stained fingers. It looked like she was coloring her face in preparation for a battle. For all intents and purposes, she was.

Demetrius, Lila’s husband, entered the house.

They found Xena,” Lila whispered. He was walking towards the nursery.

I heard. I heard she was in bad shape.”

That’s a very serious understatement,” Lila said. She led Demetrius to the kitchen, and he shook his head at the sight of Xena. And that’s how they were, Lila behind Demetrius, Gabrielle wringing out another cloth, when Xena opened her eyes, and spoke.

By the gods,” Gabrielle mumbled. She raced to stand by Xena’s side, cupping Xena’s face. She could feel every single bone through her fingertips. She traced her skin, careful so as not to press, not to wound. She found a way—she always found a way—to hold Xena and let her know she was there, without hurting her further.

But something was different in Xena’s eyes. Dim, closed. Far away?

Gabrielle?” she whispered.

Xena’s voice was so faint, it was hardly audible. Lila didn’t hear it. But Gabrielle did. Gabrielle’s knees felt weak suddenly, and she looked into Xena’s heavy eyes where something, whatever it was, wasn’t the same. Still, Gabrielle let go of the breath in her throat.

Xena,” she murmured, and her fingers made a pattern around Xena’s face that skipped over her many bruises, so she could feel her there.

Xena’s mouth fell open. Tears pooled in her eyes and when she blinked they spilled onto the table. She was breathing from her mouth, afraid.

Gabrielle,” she said with resolve. She tried to get up.

Shh, no,” Gabrielle said. She bent down, pressing her forehead to Xena’s. “Don’t get up, it’s okay.”

I need to see Gabri—she’s—”

I’m right here,” Gabrielle said. She smiled between her tears. “I’m right here, see?” Gabrielle took Xena’s hand and put it on the pulse point on her neck, so Xena could feel Gabrielle’s heartbeat. She did that once before when Xena was deep in a flashback, and it brought her back to reality. Slowly. She brought Xena’s hand to her face, to her cheek and her mouth. It didn’t register.

Gabrielle,” Xena whimpered. Her breaths were shallow. She raised her hands and placed them on Gabrielle’s face, touching her over and over, as if to make sure she was real.

I’m right here,” Gabrielle repeated. “I’m right here. It’s me. Xena? It’s me.”

Her name was Lilly,” Xena said suddenly. Her voice was so different. It was weak and hoarse, and so tired. And Gabrielle couldn’t help, couldn’t even try not to start crying again.

And she wrote stories. Just like you. She jumped out the window,” Xena moaned. “We have to go help her.” She tried to lift her body, but now, holding her down was scarily easy for Gabrielle.

Shh,” Gabrielle said. She lowered herself so that she was above Xena again. “Shh, no. We’re not going anywhere.”

I think she died. I think—she died,” Xena whispered. Her hand went to Gabrielle’s shoulder and grabbed it, and when she did, when she felt her skin between her fingers, she cried again.

Gabrielle,” she said, like a mantra. “Gabrielle, I did okay. I let you make the choice. Right? She told stories, just like you—”

Gabrielle hushed Xena. “You’re okay,” she promised again. “You did great. You’re doing great.” Her palm was holding a bandage over the open wound on Xena’s chest. “We’re going to rest now. We’re going to fix this right now. You have to drink, and eat.” Gabrielle kissed Xena’s face. Xena’s body suddenly went limp.

No,” she whispered, and motioned to Gabrielle, who placed a hand on her forehead. Was she delusional with fever, or just drunk? Xena beckoned to the blonde, speaking in a low tone so that only Gabrielle could hear. Gabrielle came closer. “No, you can’t fix it,” Xena murmured. The terrible combination of her offensive breath, sour and astringent from alcohol and other things, and the reek of her body, unwashed, was unbearable, but Gabrielle didn’t care or notice. Xena said, “Once it gets fixed, I have to go.” She looked at Gabrielle and eyes filled with tears again. “She’ll fix it, because she’s a healer, but then she goes away, she disappears,” Xena said. “I’d rather have the marks. That way she can keep coming back—”

What are you talking about,” Gabrielle said, concerned. Xena wasn’t making any sense. Gabrielle’s right hand held Xena’s hand, and they were pressing foreheads, rocking back and forth. Xena sighed then with frustration.

You always leave in the middle of the night,” she said, upset. Gabrielle was sobbing, and Lila stood behind her. “Just stay with me until the morning,” she pleaded. “Just this one time.” Then she said, “Your skin feels real.”

Gabrielle shook her head, wondering what the best way would be to bring Xena out of her dream and back into reality. Tears rolled and rolled down her cheeks, and she sniffled, barely collecting herself to place her lips on Xena’s forehead again. Lila brought some water over at Gabrielle’s request, and Gabrielle lifted Xena’s head, shaking.

Lila?” Xena said. “Lila never comes with you. Are you afraid? Is there something going on?” Xena started to panic.

Xena,” Gabrielle cupped Xena’s face, and waited for Xena’s eyes to stop frantically travelling around the room and focus on her. “You’re in Lila’s house. I’m Gabrielle. This isn’t a dream, or a game, or some trick of the gods. It’s me.”

Xena’s eyes searched and searched and searched Gabrielle’s face. She glanced at Lila, who was nodding, and she touched the table she was on. Her eyes went back to Gabrielle.

No….”

Yes,” Gabrielle said.

Xena suddenly had a hard time breathing, inhaling with difficulty.

It’s okay,” Gabrielle said, softly caressing Xena’s cheek. “It’s alright. You just have to breathe. Breathe. Breathe with me,” Gabrielle said, and laid Xena’s hand on her stomach. “See? Like this.”

Xena tried. Her labored breath was still audible.

She leaves before morning—” Xena started.

No, you listen to me,” Gabrielle said as she managed to catch Xena’s eye. “No one is leaving. I am never leaving you again. This isn’t a dream, sweetheart. Xena, you’re with me. Feel.” She took Xena’s hand and ran it past her face, her neck, her clavicle, then through her hair. “Look,” Gabrielle said. “Look, look.” And she brought Xena’s hand to her lips, and she kissed it, and Xena gasped.

Xena shook her head, pressing her face to Gabrielle’s left hand.

It can’t be,” Xena whispered. She coughed. Gabrielle nodded. She smiled, and when she did, Xena took in a sharp breath or air, writhing suddenly.

Shh, now, enough,” Gabrielle soothed, settling Xena with a startlingly small amount of force. “Enough. You’re here. It’s me. And we have to take care of you, okay? You’re cut up pretty bad. And we need to get some food and water in you.” All Gabrielle had to do to remember how gaunt Xena was, was to close her eyes; the image remained. But she looked at her again anyway, shuddering.

Food and water?” Xena asked. Gabrielle nodded. She placed the cup of water Lila had brought to Xena’s lips, keeping her upright.

Will you try to swallow this?” Gabrielle said. Her hands were stroking Xena’s hair. “Just a little bit. Just a little bit, honey.”

Xena shook her head. Out of disbelief, not out of disagreement to drink the water.

Please,” Gabrielle said, betting on her “whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets” powers. It worked. “Drink this for me. Please. Just a small sip.”

Xena’s eyes opened wide and she started shaking. She tried her hardest to swallow the water but vomited right away. Lila and Demetrius took a step back.

Alright, it’s alright,” Gabrielle said. Xena seemed stunned, and Gabrielle tried to do things slowly. Like holding Xena close to her. “It’s alright. It’s okay. We’ll drink some water later,” she said.

Gabrielle?” Xena said, and Gabrielle calmly gathered Xena in her arms and positioned her so that she could bend over. Xena threw up again, twice. But she managed to swallow the water offered to her afterwards.

Good girl,” Gabrielle said, running her hands through the disheveled mess of Xena’s hair. “Get all of that out of you,” she whispered. Gabrielle placed her hand on the back of Xena’s neck to cool her off.

I’m sorry,” Xena said, ready to get up. “I have to clean that.”

No, no,” Gabrielle said. She brought Xena back to where she was lying down. “No. I’ll clean it. In a bit. First, we have to make sure you’re okay. It’s okay. It’s alright. Just breathe now, breathe,” Gabrielle instructed. Xena was upright now in Gabrielle’s arms, and her own battered arms were loosely wrapped around the blonde. She kept coughing. “Breathe,” Gabrielle said. She pressed her upper body against Xena’s, as much as it was possible. “Breathe with me, like this,” Gabrielle said. Soon enough, Xena was taking longer, deeper breaths. She got closer to Gabrielle with each breath, until she could rest her head on Gabrielle’s shoulder.

You look so much like her,” Xena said quietly. Then she let out a sob. Gabrielle’s maddened hands wouldn’t stop touching every part of Xena, constantly stroking, soothing her skin.

Are you really Gabrielle?”

Yes,” Gabrielle said. “It’s me. Ask me a question only I know the answer of. I’ll prove it.”

Or how about I tell you a story,” said Gabrielle, as her hands continued searching Xena’s body for new wounds. “You like my stories, right? What about that time you defeated an entire army all by yourself? I got hit by a poison arrow, remember?” Gabrielle tucked Xena’s hair behind her ear, and attempted a smile. “And you saved me. You saved me.”

Xena’s eyes filled with tears. She hugged Gabrielle. The stench of Xena, mixed with her vomit, was disgusting, and Lila and Demetrius walked out of the kitchen. Xena’s body suddenly jolted, though her tight grip on Gabrielle’s shoulder didn’t loosen.

Oh, we can’t forget her name was Lilly,” Xena said as she started to drift back into unconsciousness, the pain pulling too hard at her.

We won’t forget,” Gabrielle said. She was rocking Xena still.

Lilly,” Xena tried, and winced; the wound in her chest was a vicious one. “Lilly, Lilly, Gabrielle, Alba, Joxer, Lilly,” she hummed. Her fingernails dug into Gabrielle’s skin.

We won’t forget,” Gabrielle promised. She kissed the nape of Xena’s neck, lowering her slowly to the table.



To be continued in part 6.