(for Johnette)

IV

The Shift

When Xena woke up, there was pounding. In her head. Or also not in her head. Both, she decided.

Both.

She became aware of her body bit by bit—her feet burning, her legs sore, her hips bruised, and then her ribs… “Gods,” she breathed with immense difficulty, opening her mouth in a desperate attempt to get some air in. They were broken, a few of them, maybe three on her left side, and the rest of her body didn’t fare much better. She winced quietly, trying not to become rigid in the face of the pain. But her face hurt, and there was a pounding in and out of her head, and by the time she was done taking physical inventory, the events that had led to her body being in its current state were done rolling in her mind, and with a huge effort she lifted herself from an unfamiliar bed.

“Gabrielle!” Xena, panicked, cried out, and her body jolted. She looked around. Her fists clenched, and her body became keen and unaware of any pain. Her breath constricting in her throat, she scanned the room in which she had been placed—it was no jail; the canopied bed she lay on was adorned with gorgeous woodwork and the room itself large with wide windows on the right side which led out to a grassy yard.

“Gabrielle,” Xena said again. Her voice was lower this time.

Her brain kept sending her single image notes she could not compose into a whole. Help, it beseeched her, so she was desperate, but now in this noise, it was like a puzzle in her head—something awful had happened, but what? Who had gotten hurt? Was it her or Gabrielle? Who found out? Did Gabrielle get away? The images kept on trickling down and Xena didn’t have time to lavish in those that were miraculous and stunning and breathtaking, not the arching or folding or the desperate breaths, begging, flame to flame, mouth to mouth, when they were fighting against all odds to keep quiet, when Gabrielle stared at her, amazed, and Xena had to bite down on Gabrielle’s arm, her face buried in Gabrielle’s skin, to keep quiet.

Quiet.

The pounding outside her head stopped. Xena walked around the room, startled.

“Gabrielle,” she whispered. Xena jumped when the door opened.

“Don’t you worry about that, my darling,” Caesar told her. He walked into the room and Xena gritted her teeth, backing away until she hit the bed. “We know what happened.”

Xena braced herself for a lash, for a fight. She was beat up, but she could still take a few dozen soldiers, especially if they were standing between her and—

“We know what the spy did,” Caesar smiled. “That’s her cross we’re finishing right now.”

Xena opened her mouth, but no air came in. Stories did, though, stories and stories, stories that Gabrielle had told her, naked in her arms and drowning her laughter in Xena’s tan skin; and stories that had happened, her one last moment of consciousness, Gabrielle tied to Alti’s horse being dragged away—

“What are you talking about?” Xena hissed.

“Alti came to me with the spy. She said she had tried to…seduce you,” Caesar said. His hand came to rest on Xena’s thigh, and she used every bit of willpower to not smack it away. If she were to get out of this place, she’d have to play along. At least for a bit. Hopefully not for long. But in the meantime, her mind on Gabrielle, she trusted in using the element of surprise against Caesar to try and reach her. Xena slowly moved behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist, her face pressed into his neck. She fought back the bile that rose in her throat, swallowing her anger. More stories, she thought of more stories, the kind she saw in Alti’s merciless hands; they didn’t belong here, not her nor Gabrielle, and in another world, they were each other’s.

“Of course, you resisted,” Caesar smiled, his golden crown somehow a sharp clue to the story Xena was gluing together. “So, she hurt you, didn’t she?” Caesar turned his face to meet hers and gently rested his hand on Xena’s cheek.

“I’m fine,” Xena said, forcing a smile. Her eyes darted around the room.

“My brave girl,” Caesar laughed, and Xena was hit with a wave of understanding that physically sent her reeling—it was Caesar who had orchestrated all this. “You’re wounded. But the physician says you’ll be just fine.”

“Gabrielle,” Xena managed, not what she wanted to say, and not how—it was a whimper, but then, this whole conversation was a show, and Xena willingly took on the part, if it meant saving Gabrielle. “…is a spy?” Xena cooperated. She began pulling Caesar down to the bed, her long fingers telling lies on his flesh.

“She murdered the delegation from Chin,” Caesar said, and Xena wanted to spit in his face, to choke him, but in her mind, she was counting the unheard pounding of an already made cross. “And then went to meet you. Alti brought her to me, and she was—”

Xena was massaging Caesar’s shoulders, but when her fingertips burned with the truth, and she could no longer keep up pretenses, she put the pinch on Caesar.

“Where is she?” Xena commanded.

“I did this all for us,” Caesar hissed at her. “For us to be king and queen.”

“You tampered with fate,” Xena told him, and Caesar laughed, blood dripping from his nose.

“Fate is mine to tamper with!” he shouted. Xena’s face crumpled into a look of contempt.

“It is not,” Xena yelled, staring at him in disgust, “It is not! My life isn’t for you to tamper with. My love isn’t for you to tamper with,” she said.

“Oh, Xena and Gabrielle,” Caesar coughed. “The love story that crossed time and space.” He let out an unnerving laugh. “I thought I had cut that thread on the loom.”

“You’re getting confused about who’s going to get cut,” Xena seethed at him.

“It honestly withstood being removed from existence!” Caesar replied. He fell to his knees. “Now that is a love story.”

“Shut up,” Xena commanded him. “And I am not your queen. In any world. Not even in this sick one. Where is Gabrielle?”

“Fuck you,” Caesar said. He began laughing, a rolling laughter like a thunder, and then said, “Not that I ever managed to.”

Xena crossed her arms.

“You know you have about ten seconds to live.”

Caesar licked the blood from the side of his lip.

“I also know you would never murder an unarmed ma—”

Xena released the pinch and knocked Caesar unconscious. The two guards were no problem either, but she knew she was on borrowed time. Where was Gabrielle? If they were dumb enough, they’d keep her in the dungeon, before her walk to the cross. The pounding, Xena thought, and raced, placing her bet on Caesar’s hubris, which was very dependable. She heard a ruckus outside, heard men following her as she ran in her nightgown through the castle, searching for a way down that wasn’t across the entire estate. She used a soldier as a human shield when a group of three approached her, knocking one unconscious and pulling out the sword from another one.

“Take me to Gabrielle, or everything you know and love will die,” she said quickly. How rehearsed was that line? In this world more than any? She slashed the soldier’s arm and he cried out. “Now!” Xena commanded him, and he did what she said, but how many moments after the hammer had finished hitting the nails did she really have. The dungeon came under her feet as if by magic, and she found herself praying, praying to whomever, offering herself up for trade, calling on Ares—not in this world, she realized—and frantically scanned the prison cells, each of which seemed empty. She almost ran to find her way outside, racing against a noose in a bizarre game of belonging, but then she heard a soft whistle and lifted her eyes.

It was a guard. She knew his name. His daughter had been sick at one point and Xena had arranged for her to be seen and rehabilitated by the royal physician.

“Empress,” he whispered. She stared at him. Her body wounded and swollen, she had no idea if he was shocked by the sight or intended to hurt her, but she remained frozen. Upon approaching him, she was prepared to push or hit, ready at the sword, always, before she heard, “You only have about five minutes,” and saw him point to a hole in the ground outside, which led to an underground cell with no windows, and no other entrance or exit. He moved out of the way then. Xena stared at him and swallowed. She thanked him in her way and then, after a moment of understanding, a turn washed over her and she descended swiftly into the secret cell.

Xena didn’t have to search for long in the dark space until she found Gabrielle. Her body was beaten raw: back marked with strokes from the lash, face beaten, lips torn. She was lying on a cot and her arm dangled off it in an odd angle, presumably broken, and her hands that had composed lines of love and faith were peeled and pushed and poked, swollen and bruised. Her body that had composed love alike was all a canvas now for blood and blood and blood, caked and dripping, and Xena searched for her green-blue eyes, nothing preparing her for the sight of Gabrielle like this. She kneeled next to the bed.

“Gabrielle,” she cried out. Gabrielle tried to move. Her gorgeous golden hair had been brutally cut—just like the rest of her—and Xena, trying to even her breath and her mind, buried her face in the remnants of it to find courage for what she was about to do.

The arm that Gabrielle could still move, she brought to Xena’s mouth, and Xena kissed it, reverent. Xena’s body was unsure of what to do or where to go; her hands hovered above Gabrielle’s body looking for an unwounded patch of skin, yet found none. Xena pressed her head to Gabrielle’s.

“Xena,” she heard.

“Oh,” Xena whispered. She was shaking. “What did they do to you,” she cried. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she said, and tried to take in Gabrielle’s figure and take in Gabrielle’s room in her heart and take in and then ignore how badly she wanted to just kiss her wounds away—and still in the back of her mind Xena was calling upon the gods for a trade.

But none answered.

So, she made one.

*

Xena had no time to waste. Risking hurting Gabrielle further, and probably doing so, she placed one arm beneath Gabrielle’s knees and one behind her back. “Put your arm around me,” Xena commanded, ignoring her furious tears. “Now.”

“Xena,” Gabrielle swallowed. “They’re going to kill me. But I told them it was all me. You’re safe. It’s alright.”

Xena retrieved a small knife from her hip. She quickly used it to cut a shape on herself and on her lover’s palm. Gabrielle hissed with pain as the blade marked her, but trusted Xena’s intentions. “Gabrielle,” Xena said as she stood up and carried Gabrielle towards the rope ladder leading to the surface. She didn’t consider the pain in her ribs at all as she began to climb out of the dank cell, clinging to the ladder with one free hand and still managing to support Gabrielle’s weight. “They know,” Xena continued. “This isn’t about spies or Chin. This is about taking you out of the picture,” Xena sighed and let out a cough as she reached the top of the ladder and hoisted herself forward so Gabrielle wouldn’t slip from her grasp. “Caesar changed fate,” she whispered. Her lip quivered, and she cupped Gabrielle’s cheek. The blonde nodded. She looked at her hand, still dripping with blood.

“I know.”

“Now you’re going to go make it right.”

They heard the faint sound of soldiers marching. Gabrielle cried.

“Xena, there’s no time,” Gabrielle said.

“I am not living in a world without you,” Xena breathed, locking eyes with the guard, who was still standing, keeping watch. “So, they may as well crucify me.”

The guard nodded to indicate the imminent approach of Caesar’s soldiers.

“Xena, it’s alright,” Gabrielle tried. Xena walked forward quickly towards a hidden exit the guard had opened for them, his face sealed. “It’s okay. At least I felt love. At least I know what it is. After all these years.”

Xena stopped for a moment.

“No, you have known love for years,” Xena enunciated, even though she was still whispering.

“You’ve been…mine…forever,” Xena managed. She brushed a stray strand of hair from Gabrielle’s face, and nodded again, acknowledging the guard as she was speaking.

“But for this world, at least I found you for a moment before…”

“I won’t live in a world without the love of my life,” Xena repeated. “Will you?” Gabrielle lifted herself, barely, to kiss Xena, who had crouched down to avoid being seen. The exit the guard had revealed led right to the stables, and Xena, Gabrielle still in her arms, found an opportune time to run and grab a horse. She hastily placed a thick hide on its back and on top of that, Gabrielle herself.

“What are you—” Gabrielle said hurriedly. They could see the cross, ready to become an inanimate accomplice, from the corner where they stood. They could hear the soldiers reaching the dungeon itself. Inanimate objects are good or bad depending on how you use them, Xena thought as she moved; everything is good or bad depending on how you use it, and if it were a match between her and Gabrielle, then she won at bad. This horse was good. Xena shoved a blanket behind Gabrielle so she was sitting up on the saddle.

“Caesar changed fate by altering the Loom of Life,” Xena explained. Her face was as close as it could get to Gabrielle’s, and the blonde could feel her heavy breath betraying her fake confidence. “Find it and destroy it. Bring us back the world.” She opened her palm, and Gabrielle did the same. “Find me with this symbol, if we lose our path,” Xena shouted, and Gabrielle nodded, until she saw Xena retreat back into the dungeon.

“Xena!” Gabrielle shouted. She shouldn’t have done, but she did, a blood curdling scream that understood something Gabrielle hadn’t still. “Come here! What are you doing?”

“If they know you’re gone, Alti will find you in a second,” Xena said as she walked backwards.

“No, no,” Gabrielle cried.

“There can’t be a crucifixion without someone to crucify,” Xena smiled sadly.

“No!” Gabrielle sobbed.

“I’m going to convince them it’s me,” she said, trying to both instruct Gabrielle and keep herself from crying over the sound of Gabrielle’s screams. “It’ll buy you time.” Xena donned a burlap dress and robe, pulling the hood over her head to conceal her long hair in it. She hunched over at the shoulders, lowering her gaze to the ground.

“Go,” she commanded Gabrielle.

“No!” Gabrielle bawled. “No. No, Xena!” She tried to turn around. “No.”

“Go!” Xena commanded. She was already retreating back into the dungeon. “Bring the world back to us,” she smiled, a tear rolling down her cheek. “To you.” With that, the door closed. Gabrielle could hear thuds and locks and hits. She was still shaking her head.

Gabrielle took a breath, barely. She trusted Xena blindly, in this world and in others, so she decided to embrace her blind hope, as well—maybe they did have a chance at fate.

“Go!” Gabrielle shouted as she pressed her heels to the horse she was riding. She clenched her fists around the horse’s black mane in an attempt to steady her dizzy head, and rode towards the Temple of the Fates. She couldn’t stop sobbing. “Xena, I love you,” she said slowly, to the wind, and then again and again, until she leaned forward, ordering the horse to gallop as fast as it could, and at that exact moment, as Gabrielle’s forehead touched the horse’s neck, Xena fell—she had no time to climb down—into the dark, secret cell, taking Gabrielle’s place. She dangled her arms off the cot, wiping away unstoppable tears when she smelled Gabrielle, even on the dirty mattress.

*

Xena, disguised in her robe and curled up on the cot, found herself breathing deeply, as much as she could with broken ribs. Amazingly, she almost fell asleep. All her systems, she thought, were shutting down; so crushing was the possibility of whatever would come next—in whatever form—it was too terrifying to bear, and her mind, she figured, was trying to shield her, so it put her to bed, like a kind parent protecting her child from the horrors that come at nighttime, leaving a candle for comfort. A ray of sun somehow poured into this hole in which she had condemned herself. And she was calm.

She was calm when she heard guards say, “It’s time.” Calm when she heard the guard who had helped them—Joxer was his name, she found herself recalling—try stalling the guards. Calm when they lowered ladders of wood into her cell. And calm when they carried her out.

She was a dead weight. She didn’t fight—since Gabrielle wouldn’t have—but didn’t help, either, and the guards had to carry her through the dungeon and up the stairs and through the brick mazes that mapped out the road to redemption or damnation. They fought with animals here, she thought, being dragged on her knees, keeping her long black hair concealed. They were all animals to Caesar, she thought next. Her face contorted in disgust.

Since her fight with Alti, memories had been flooding into her, crystal clear. The war on the home and the murder of the brother, the travels of conquest and the child born, the tilt of the decision and the young girl she had met, who had studied with philosophers, who knew how to read the stars. Who wanted to tell her story. Xena remembered she had planned to let Gabrielle ride with her for just a few days before bringing her back to the village when she came to her senses. It turned out Gabrielle was the one who had been making sense all along.

Xena’s knees scraped the ground. She remembered how Gabrielle’s body had felt when she had wrapped her arms around her last night, and worlds ago, and she remembered both equally as sharply, as moving, her skin breaking into the same goosebumps, her breath becoming difficult to execute for just one moment, and then another, in this world, in the next world. Some things never change, Xena thought as they turned a corner. She kept her head hung, as if she were already dead, and in her mind radio silence told her maybe she was, the ends of her thoughts no longer pressing, the walls of the castle caked like chalk outlines, upon one another. How long did it take them to build this castle, she thought, and who had built it? Slaves, surely, she mused, slaves and before them a generation of other slaves. You are born to where you are born; you mustn’t tamper with fate. But then, if it were for the sake of true love, could you?

She smiled. Without being seen. If she had found Gabrielle in this world, then she loved Gabrielle in all of the worlds. She couldn’t help widening her smile when she thought of Gabrielle, about the reassuring twinkle in her eyes, as if she truly believed everything will always be just fine, that man is kind and gods forgiving, that gifts were abundant to them, that most people were at heart good.

From Alti’s touch to the soldier’s rough beating, thoughts and memories made their way, almost forcefully, to Xena’s mind. She didn’t try to stop them. Swords and repent. Murder and forgiveness. Conquest and love. True love that healed her like a salve, pouring out from within Gabrielle like a stream of water that bore the properties of eternal youth, except better: Xena had been forgiven. Not by herself by any means, but by Gabrielle, and Gabrielle knew kindness. She knew goodness, Xena thought, and in the world she was stuck in, the horrifying, disgusting world that beat the woman she loves, that kept her from becoming good, even though she could—she knew she could—they turned a final corner. The sun was bright, and the castle slowly revealed.

Xena caught Caesar standing, smug, with Alti by his side, at the steps to the castle. Without turning her head, she saw a cross had been built just for her. Just for one, and it wasn’t snowing, so her vision was wrong. Or perhaps it was right, but only for the previous world. Maybe if she dies at the cross, Gabrielle will be alright, okay on her own. She’ll keep saying she writes near her window in her home when, really, she’d write in the kitchen. She’d be sad. Eventually she’d be okay.

But Xena would never be.

The guards who were holding Xena up stopped, she was flung forward, her knees filled with blood and dry sand. They’d come after her anyway, Xena thought, and a glimmer of hope found its way into her too-fast blood stream—maybe she’d make it, maybe she’d find them, first—and besides, Xena thought, and then her thoughts ended. She wanted to say that she loved Gabrielle and that she couldn’t live without her, but it was working out, it seemed, so that there would be no choice. She was upset with herself for a moment. At least she gets to die. At least she won’t experience living in a world without her one true love.

Love wrote me. She repeated in her head what Gabrielle had told her, and then heard Caesar’s voice, commanding.

“Gabrielle!” he called. Xena shook a bit.

“You are a murderer and a traitor to Rome. You have conspired against the Empire and committed unspeakable crimes. I therefore sentence you to death—by crucifixion.”

Xena took in a long breath. Stalling. Time was what she needed. The rope that bound her hands was already undone, and when Caesar kept on talking, which he constantly did, she contemplated when to jump, when to try, how and if. I need to buy us some time, my love, she thought, and cried almost, but kept a straight face, lowered completely. She decided to imagine Gabrielle galloping to the Temple of the Fates as fast as she could, decided to pretend she was just a few moments away from there; just a few moments was all she needed.

“Run,” she whispered.

With that, Xena neutralized the guards that were carrying her, and all those who came her way. Even with broken ribs and raw skin, she was merciless, executing men under the hand of their own swords. She punched a guard down and kicked him in the neck, spinning with the force of the blow, then pushed two more guards off of her. They seemed to be swarming, but Xena was strong. She was so strong. She kept remembering fights from the other world, her world, tighter corners she had been painted into. Then, she thought, she always had Gabrielle by her side, and now, she doesn’t, and with the severity of her wounds, it was unclear if Gabrielle had even made it past the territory that belonged to the castle. And that would have thrown her off, but instead, she was hit by another whirlwind of strength, for Gabrielle, she almost said, and threw the guards to the ground. She used what she found, a long stick, not unlike a staff, and every blow and movement and breath brought with it a memory.

They are all animals to them, Xena thought. She glanced at Caesar who was still smiling conceitedly, biting into an apple; this was a show for him, she knew, and in her heart, she wanted to say: let’s stop. Let’s stop fighting for this man, because he is no god. He is one of the few bad ones—even Gabrielle agrees. She would tell them, this is the man we should be turning against. Let’s fight together for peace. I’ve done nothing, and you know it. But every ruler by force has an admiring circle of yes men—it has been that way since the beginning of time, and all this Xena thought while executing kicks and flips and twirls and using knives and swords and staffs, and her chest hurt horribly, but then there seemed to be fewer and fewer guards, until there was only one left, and Xena bent at the waist, barely able to breathe, and stabbed him, almost leaning on the stuck sword for strength.

There were a few silent beats, and then Xena heard a slow clapping sound.

“Well, well, well,” Caesar laughed. “I should have known! You wouldn’t let your girlfriend die at the cross, would you?”

Xena said nothing. She raised her head and then the rest of her body, standing up proudly amongst bodies of guards, unconscious or dead.

“Love at first sight,” Caesar said, pacing. He took another bite of his apple, and then looked at Alti, who smiled at him. “You loved her since the second you saw her at the play. From the second you saw her in her stupid village. I suspect from the very second in a lot of places,” he said. “You two, really,” he continued, a mouthful of apple making his speech filled with even more disdain. “I swear. Top notch entertainment. Really. I salute—oh, wait a minute, I can’t salute myself,” he laughed, his expression priggish.

“You want to die instead of your girlfriend?” he asked.

Xena was silent.

“I’m not much for choice,” Caesar said. “But how about this? You both die.”

Xena stared at him, not looking away. There wasn’t a single tear in her eyes as she watched Alti approach Caesar, sliding her arms across the small of his back, all while new guards bound her again, forcing her down to lie on the cross. She saw Caesar shaking his head. He turned to Xena, who was being secured to the wood.

“I’d love to chat, but, I mean, we’ve done this a few times before. You remember, right?” Caesar snorted, and a sharp pain pierced Xena’s legs. Alti laughed. He threw away what was left of his apple, the core of it, and Xena followed the trajectory of the fruit. “I have more pressing matters to attend to,” Caesar said, motioning towards Alti. Xena’s eyes, filled with shock and fury, still refused to leave his. “Come on,” he said. “You can appreciate a good-looking woman, can’t you?”

With that, Xena writhed, closing her eyes and whispering Gabrielle ahead to the Temple of the Fates. Go on, she told her in her mind, my Gabrielle, you can do this, go on.

And on her horse Gabrielle heard her or didn’t, and a chill went through her. She made the horse run even faster, trying hard to ignore her injuries and faintness.

*

She saw it. Gabrielle saw it, the Temple of the Fates. Even before she approached it, she took under consideration two things: that there might be soldiers there; and that it will really hurt to get off the horse. But consideration had never stopped her before. She ran into the temple, frantic, hearing thuds in her head.

Boom. The knife in Xena’s hand.

Boom. The ropes being tightened.

“Help,” Gabrielle screamed as she entered the temple. “Now!” she begged. She heard a cry from the left side of the room. The Crone—Atropos; the Matron—Lachesis; and the Maiden—Clotho—were bound to one another, and then further bound to the walls of the temple.

Boom. A back arched in a silken bed.

Boom. Betrayal found its way to Caesar’s chambers.

Boom. The cross jolted Xena’s body as it was lifted, then buried so it could stand in the ground.

Fate.

It finds its way back like the bird of the prey.

For the first time in her life, Gabrielle was unabashedly, completely, utterly furious. Only anger dripped from her. The Fates, completing each other’s sentences, told her of Caesar’s doing. He cut the thread on Xena’s life and altered it, they begged, all three together like some aberrant chorus, a moment before a hymnal to the dead, Gabrielle thought, boom, one more blow and it’s the end.

“We cannot fix it,” they said in turns. They spoke of being freed, being important. Being the ones who mattered. Gabrielle tuned them out. Her ears heard nothing but the rush of blood to her head, and hate filled her, hate for Caesar, and love filled her, love for Xena, and memories filled her, the same that filled Xena during her walk towards death, and only when she heard from the Fates that Caesar was dead, and that Xena, already crucified, was drawing her last breath, mumbling Gabrielle’s name, did Gabrielle turn her head to the Fates.

“Release us,” they pleaded. Gabrielle didn’t care which one said what. She only cared about what was being so brutally taken from her, the only woman she did or ever would love. “Only we can restore order in the world.”

But Gabrielle didn’t want order. She didn’t care about the world. She wanted Xena in her arms. She wanted to gather Xena’s long hair in a shaking ponytail as Gabrielle arched her back so hard she thought she might break it. She wanted Xena in her home near the vineyard, in her bed in her home, she wanted only her, and no one else, and no one else mattered, not at all, not if this were to be her fate.

“Shut up,” Gabrielle said, seething, her wounded body collapsing on the ground. “Shut up,” she repeated more quietly. She got up, barely, and drenched a torch in oil. The Fates screamed like crows, in turn, and Gabrielle wanted to hurt them, for the first time in her life, to hurt them for their part in this, for their faith, for their existence, for her loss. She opened her palm and looked at the wound there—the blood had dried, and a mark remained, a chakram.

Then she fell to her knees.

“You mustn’t do this,” the Fates begged. “You could bring chaos on all humanity.”

Gabrielle, her pretty eyes filled with tears and rage, barely conscious now, her injuries catching up to her, shook her head.

“I don’t care about a world where I’m not with Xena,” she muttered, and flung her torch at the loom in abandon. It caught fire, slowly at first, and then exploded.

Xena, hanging on the cross, drew what seemed like a final breath, and Gabrielle, on the ground, choked on her tears, and Alti, a bloody knife in her hand, cackled softly. Caesar lay dead in his own bed.

“Fate,” Gabrielle murmured. Everything turned white; Gabrielle’s sight, Xena’s breaths, Alti’s laughter, Joxer’s daughter’s glee at her doll. “Fate,” Gabrielle repeated, and the world with its trees and animals and humans, with its births and deaths, turned white, it all turned white, and everyone felt nothing.

They felt nothing at all.

 

Concluded in part five (and part five): The Ends….

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