Of Love and Her
As the world awakened for what could be the millionth time, the Loom of Life stood, by its own force, the threads in it working ceaselessly to meet and wrap around one another, to weave themselves kind, evil, giving, deceiving, proud, disowned, rescued, buried. How many times has the earth kneeled, was beaten, and rose again? The Fates stopped counting.
The shackles that tied them to one another and to the temple walls had been undone, and they were free to mind the loom, watching ribbons bind and touch, coy to the projection at first, humming, then merry, hand in hand, and only one story could never be cut.
It was made of golden threads, liquified and then hardened a thousand times over, bowed and broken and repaired again, and again, and again. At any order, at any regime, at any fire and any destruction, there it stood—sometimes waiting with the will of a saint to gather and sometimes as impatient as a small child, pushing to meet. It withstood every attempt, every lie and torment. If the world turned black, it would provide the light upon which other threads braided themselves, joyous and mourning, until they carried on in their complex path, and wandered forevermore.
Some who stood beside the loom, in front of it, called it meaningless. It told a story, but stories are everywhere, they said. Telling a story is a great art, they were told, and still, they refused to believe; life, they maintained, does not conquer us. We conquer life. When the loom stood on its base, again they cackled. It mattered not what lifelines were written there. The Maiden rose her chin in fury: there is only one incident that is not governed by the loom.
The youngest. Her teachers had instructed her to be silent, but she could not be. She had seen too much, and too many times. There is only one incident, one way, one thread, that never becomes ruined. Hush, they told her, and she said, no. No, she said, defiant—it never caught fire or broke apart. It remained steady and luminous throughout the darkest of times. Hush, they commanded, and again, she could not.
Fate is what I was made of, she would say, but there is one thing fate cannot govern.
True love will find you, no matter what, she said, examining the thread. The Crone hushed her again. Took her away, though its shining brilliance lured her.
“There is work to be done. Choices to be made.”
The Maiden lowered her gaze.
“I understood that choices are useless in the face of the loom,” she said.
“No,” the Crone said. “They merely direct the path to its final destination. And we are here to mind it.” The Maiden stalls by the side of the temple.
Then she turns to you. Are you reading? She turns to you, her long hair smooth, her eyes large and pleading. You have to answer her, you understand. A young girl with a question—it is your responsibility to set things clear for her.
“Well?” she asks you.
You are startled. You are not ready to give a little girl an answer. The end is as far away from you as it is from her, you know, but you cannot tell her that. Not with her eyes piercing at you, expecting some sort of reply. Any would do, you think fast. What did I want? The characters freeze and wait like pawns and the loom stops its incessant mechanical noise. It’s just you and her now, just you and a little girl. What is fate, she wants to know, tell me the end of the story, she begs, and you can no longer sit and wait, can no longer be an observer, you owe her an explanation, you know, a girl of no one. You rise from where you are and walk into the temple. She’s shorter than you; you didn’t expect her to be. Everything is still but her breaths, curious and impatient—tell me, she begs. You shift your weight. I’ve never been inside a story, you want to tell her, and then realize you have been inside every story you have ever read.
Just that no one had asked your advice, is all, you understand, and smile.
You wrap your arm around the girl.
Well, you start. Many—Well, Some Would Say That….
“Stop,” she tells you. Her body rigid, she retrieves out of thin air two bound volumes, and gives them to you, one in each of your palms. They are heavy in your hands.
“Two options,” she says. “You have to choose a story.”
You nod. “A story?” you ask.
“Well—an ending,” she says. “You have to choose how it ends. There really are only two ways.”
You hold on to the books in your hands, weighing them; they feel equal in density, equal in importance. You muse for a moment, then choose between the two options:
No One Saves Us but Ourselves. No One Can and No One May. We Ourselves Must Walk the Path
Xena found it difficult to open her eyes for some reason, although her body wasn’t sore like it usually was, but her mind—her mind was already filled to the brim, memories already withstanding, surrounding her, dizzying. Every small detail corresponded with every molecule in her body and she pictured a wave curling and breaking at the shore again and again; the world then and the world before, and maybe more things. Flashes of ideas and thoughts and memories washed over her and then memories of the body and of the flesh—the unmistakeable wood she had been tied to and the unnerving stop in the pounding of the hammer and the curled blonde hair she had seen by her side that day and then across the balcony and then at her thighs and then—and then—
Xena opened her eyes. She was sitting on Argo. Her armor was around her, saddle beneath her. Should feel familiar, Xena thought. It felt like anything but. She looked around. She was in the thick of the forest. They were in the thick of the forest. She saw Gabrielle standing and allowed herself a small smile.
“Hey,” she turned to her. Now she remembered the torment of this world, the punishment. That she would forever be undeserving. Her words were frozen, technical.
Gabrielle had lost hope already, Xena realized, and she was right to. If she remembered the kisses and the lashes of the stroke, the great sacrifice and the love, even greater, Xena thought—Gabrielle remembered it too.
“You brought the world back to us,” Xena said. She wasn’t smiling any longer. Gabrielle seemed sad.
“I’m glad,” Gabrielle said. “I like this one better.” Xena knew she was lying. Not because of fame, or vocation. Because of the time she knew she’d have to wait until a merge like hers with Xena in the previous world would happen in this one.
“Even though you’re not a famous playwright?”
Gabrielle turned around. Her body seemed defeated. She never expected Xena to jump off of Argo, to confess her love. Though she knew she loved her, had known for so long. She knew nothing would change, and had to admit she had hoped it would, she had hoped the loom had meant—something—but it didn’t, and she said, somber,
“Fame. Who needs it?”
Xena smiled. Her stomach clenched with guilt.
“Did you really like my play?” Gabrielle asked. And she was asking so much more, Xena knew, so very much more, but Xena was still too weak, still too cowardly, she berated herself, even after the universe had shown her exactly where she belongs.
“It was alright. Maybe it could’ve done with a few more fight scenes.”
We won’t be speaking of this, then, Gabrielle realized. She looked downwards; her shoes were broken in, walked in to the point of tearing. She was tired and sore, the marks of walking and walking showing themselves in bruises and pulls. Like stars appearing in an empty sky, her pain shined bit by bit, and the aurora of it, Xena’s silence, was in full view. She turned her head to examine Xena’s face. It was turned downwards, and she was fidgeting with the horn of the saddle. We won’t be speaking of this, then, Gabrielle sighed, and in the temple the thread twisted and turned, and the Maiden watched it with large blue eyes.
Not now, Gabrielle emphasized. But in a little bit. In a while. It would happen.
It had to, Gabrielle told herself, and the Maiden mouthed her sentence; it was meant to be. Was it not?
“Everyone’s a critic,” Gabrielle laughed softly. I’ll wait for you, she said to Xena without saying a thing.
But for how long?
Xena bowed her head again. I will try, she promised Gabrielle, swore on a bird that flew above them, on the stars of pain in Gabrielle’s sky, Gabrielle the Good, the Kind, the Fierce, in this world and the next, I will try for it not to be too long, Xena said again, but silence overruled their telepathy.
Xena clicked her tongue at Argo. They walked forward. “Gabrielle, I love you,” Xena whispered.
But no one heard.
Perhaps one day—
You close the book.
“That’s it? That’s the ending you chose?” she says.
You look at her, questioning, and she sighs.
“I don’t quite like it,” she says.
Some Things Are Destined to Be. It Just Takes Us a Couple of Tries to Get There
Gabrielle opened her eyes suddenly, violently. She could have sworn someone was sitting on her chest, choking her, she realized, and pressed her hand softly to her neck; nothing there. But she did sit up with a start, making a noise, which directed all looks her way, which was strange, because she didn’t know where she was, or why there were looks at all, or why she kept feeling like something was choking her, why she was making such an effort to bring air into her lungs when, upon superficial examination, everything seemed absolutely fine.
She was frightened, she understood silently, that’s why; the bed she was in was a foreign bed—she knew that somehow—and the people around her were foreign to her, too, strangers. She looked around, terrified, and ready to get out of the cot she was in, when a woman came near her, demure and soft-spoken, resting her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder.
“No, darling, it’s alright,” the woman said. Her voice was clear. Gabrielle was busy examining the exit to this…place. It wasn’t a hospice, but not a tavern, either. A temple, perhaps? She looked around. The woman sat by her, encouraging her to lean back again.
“You ought to stay a bit,” the woman said. Gabrielle nodded, not because she agreed, but because she was curious as to where exactly she was. Her mind was hazy. She remembered only certain flashes of things, some threatening, terrifying, her being battered and dragged, and she tried to touch the skin on her arms to make sure she was alright as she shook—no marks there. Then there were flashes of something else, pleasant, soft. Small breaths and hushed breaths and tongues and flesh connected—love, she understood suddenly. It hit her harder than whatever blow she had gotten to the head, the one that was throbbing now. Gabrielle remembered pieces, but important ones: the face she was looking for, the name. Jet-black hair and blue eyes that turned ice to fire. She was sure then and now that there was nothing like those eyes anywhere in the world. Something on her palm was bothering her, and she almost looked, but then the woman next to her rested a hand on her head.
“Something got you in the noggin, huh?” she said quietly. Gabrielle’s mouth was open, her eyes scanning the environment. A lot of cots with ill people in them. Ill in all manners of ways.
“This is a hospice?” Gabrielle asked.
The woman near her laughed. “Well, it used to be a tavern, but so many sick people showed up, it turned into one.”
What was in her voice that sounds familiar? Gabrielle turned her head. Upon seeing the woman’s face, Gabrielle recoiled. She didn’t know she was barefoot until her feet hit the pebbled floor, her body already crashing into another bed.
“No.” Gabrielle shook her head, baring her teeth. She looked like a wolf ready to attack. The woman stared at her, terrified.
“Alti,” Gabrielle managed. Her voice was choked, and the more she said the name, the more she remembered—emotions most of all—the sensation of rocks and sand hitting her head and face as she was dragged along behind Alti’s horse.
“How do you know my name?” the woman said.
“Alti, whatever it is you are doing here, it won’t work,” Gabrielle hissed. She was tired, but ready to fight if she had to. Something felt off, though. It reminded her of cloudy days that turned unusually hot. When she stared into Alti’s eyes, all evil was removed from them. It was Alti, alright—her full lips were unmistakable, her tall and wiry frame the very same. Every feature looked right, but her big brown eyes were different somehow. Gabrielle shook her head as the woman stared at her in confusion. Gabrielle desperately looked for a weapon.
“Alti. What did you do?” Gabrielle managed. She was dizzy. Very dizzy. Too dizzy. Gabrielle squinted her eyes. She exhaled audibly.
Alti’s voice was soft and clear. It wasn’t raspy, and her cackle was replaced by a soft smile. She wore a white apron and an expression of truth, and Gabrielle, shocked, pressed her toes to the surface beneath her to stay standing.
“Darling,” Alti said. She stood up carefully, and Gabrielle, measuring Alti’s actions, breathed quickly, her own movements ready and sharp. “You got hit,” Alti said, “on the head.” Her voice was so soft, hands so gentle. Gabrielle began understanding. The Loom of Life—it had cut everyone’s thread, not just hers and—
“We found you in the woods,” a man said. He was standing behind Alti, and with slow movements, he ventured over placing himself between her and Gabrielle. “You were lying unconscious by the stream,” he said. “Alti decided to bring you here. To try and cure you.”
Gabrielle stood, shocked. It would make sense that Alti, if she stepped upon a different road, could become a healer. Memories flew at her at an unreasonable rate: first her riding across the world, then a sudden shift, then the pride of being an author, Caesar, then—then—that dark hair again, those eyes, but this time at her fingertips, skin soft and smooth and tan, eyes kind and pleading. The Empress of Rome, she remembered, and then just pain, and then, she remembered, the oil.
Gabrielle moved tentatively, frightened still. The man who was speaking to her was not completely foreign to her, either. He sent an arm behind him, pressing Alti close to him.
“Look,” he said. “I told Alti it might be a bad idea to bring someone in we don’t know, but she insisted.” His hair looked familiar, and his eyes. Gabrielle was hit by another wave of memories so intense it hurt her, and she swayed; the man was torn between catching her and protecting Alti. But at the very least, Gabrielle knew now, not everything, not at all, but some—some things, important things.
“Joxer,” she whispered, and the man seemed startled.
“I don’t know how you know everyone’s names,” Joxer said. Alti bowed her head behind him. “I don’t know if you were staking this place out to rob us or what. But there is nothing here to take. No one here but sick children and innocent people.”
Gabrielle sat down quietly. She sent a hand to feel her hair again—it was short. Just as she remembered it, before she had remembered it long. And then short again. Nothing made sense, she thought, and then looked at Joxer and Alti, and thought of the loom, remembered burning it to its core, remembered why, even: in the name of love. She remembered she believed in love, above all, and that she was destined to—but how was she, if she had broken the loom—
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. She wanted to explain further, but what was she to explain? Bits and pieces of memories, pieces of a giant puzzle that she didn’t know exactly how to compose? Parts of it were complete: the woman with the eyes and the hair, her kind body and beautiful mouth. The fear, the lash. The cross. But then, if the universe honestly had reset itself, wouldn’t she then have been meant…to remember nothing? At all?
“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle said again. “Alti, I’m sorry.” She remembered Alti twice over, and in both memories, she had caused her unbearable pain. But she had to remember that this was the third time over—at Gabrielle’s own insistence—and surely there would be some beginnings and endings she did not like.
Alti made her way to Gabrielle, who sat back down, carefully and quietly.
“Hey,” she said softly. “It’s alright. It’s okay. I think you took a big blow to the head there. You aren’t wounded anywhere else, though. You’re okay. Do you want some water?”
Without thinking, Gabrielle nodded. A name was playing games on the tip of her tongue. She saw such flashes of pleasure that they went through her, such moments of pain that she felt them, but no complete picture. Not yet. Except—
“There is someone I have to find,” she said softly. Alti sat by her, and Gabrielle drank from a ladle of water. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Someone you have to find?” Joxer said. He came close to the bed as well. “Who?”
Jet-black hair, blue eyes that turned ice to fire. Long legs that wrapped her, a sweet mouth that was so generous with its love.
“I write stories,” Gabrielle said. Alti nodded. She lifted several parchments, and a quill.
“We found this next to you,” Alti said, offering a scroll to her. Gabrielle took the parchment, gazing over the words. Jet-black hair. Blue eyes that turned ice to fire, she kept thinking. She flipped the page as she felt a motion in the room.
“We don’t have time to barricade anything,” she heard Joxer say suddenly. Gabrielle, her eyes on her scroll, didn’t realize Joxer and Alti and a few more men were trying to move whatever furniture they could find to the exit in order to block it, and she said,
“What is it? I know how to fight,” and then repeated, since she only then remembered, “I know how to fight.”
Joxer shook his head, looking outside.
“Not how to fight this one,” he said.
Gabrielle saw tears rising in Alti’s eyes.
“We’re hers for the taking if she wants us,” he whispered, and Alti rose from where she sat with Gabrielle.
“There is nothing here for her. She’ll listen to reason. She doesn’t kill unarmed men,” Alti whispered.
Gabrielle perked up and stood. Joxer signaled for her to get down, but she kept standing, her breath heaving. She had heard that before.
“That monster doesn’t operate by a creed,” Joxer whispered to Alti. They both hid under the counter of the bar.
“Gabrielle,” Alti whispered. “Lie down. Close your eyes. She has no use for—”
The door opened. A woman stood at the entrance, tall, strong. Her dark hair cascaded down her shoulders. Gabrielle couldn’t see her eyes. The woman’s gaze was glued to the floor.
“Please,” Gabrielle heard Alti say. “Please, there is nothing here. No one but the sick and infirm. There isn’t anything for us to give—”
“I know,” the woman said quietly. Gabrielle jumped up and heard Alti and Joxer drawing their breath in fear. The woman didn’t seem to mind. She took a careful step inside the room, placing two full bags of dinars, and a satchel, seemingly filled with food, on a shelf close to her.
“I mean no harm to you,” the woman said, barely. Gabrielle felt tortured. Again. This was her, even if she couldn’t see her eyes. This was—something compelled Gabrielle to look at her palm. Behind some caked blood, there was mark there, a round object adorned with all manner of shapes. Gabrielle walked forward quickly when she saw the very same object hanging off the belt of the woman. She heard Alti scream.
The woman backed away, terrified.
“I won’t fight,” she whispered. When Gabrielle came closer to her, she saw what must have been the results of her resolve. She had been beaten black and blue, and a deep cut led from her neck to her shoulder and down her arm. Her right hand had been bandaged hurriedly.
Gabrielle closed the distance to her carefully.
“Gabrielle, get back,” she heard Joxer beg. “This woman is ruthless. You have no idea what she’s capable of.”
“No,” Gabrielle said softly. “I do. I do know what she’s capable—”
The woman ran outside, her eyes still hidden behind her bangs. Gabrielle ran after her, barefoot, leaving the hospice.
“Gabrielle, wait,” Joxer said. “You’re just giving yourself away as prey.”
“No,” Gabrielle smiled. “I’m meant to be right here. And there,” she pointed. The woman was close to her horse.
“That’s Xena, the Warrior Princess,” Alti begged. “She’s murdered thousands of people. She has no compassion in her. Please, if you care for your life—”
“Xena,” Gabrielle repeated, and suddenly, the missing frame of the puzzle fell into place. Not all of it, but some, a good amount, enough to know that she had to stop Xena from running away.
“She’s my story,” Gabrielle yelled. She ran outside. Someone had closed the door to the hospice behind her. The sun got in her eyes. The woman stood still.
“I won’t fight,” Xena repeated.
“I don’t want to fight you,” Gabrielle said. Her voice was soft. She advanced towards Xena with careful steps, and Xena acted like a frightened gazelle. Gabrielle hushed her, bringing her palm forward. “Look,” she whispered. “This was on my hand when I woke up here.”
Xena squinted her eyes. She opened her own palm revealing an identical mark.
“Xena,” Gabrielle smiled. “It’s alright. I know who you are. I know you’ve changed.”
Xena kept her palm open. She let Gabrielle come very close to her, and when she did, Xena looked at her, and Gabrielle’s breath hastened. Blue eyes that turned ice—
“Your eyes,” Gabrielle said, and Xena looked down. She looked like she was in pain. Gabrielle stared at her. “You remember, don’t you?”
Gabrielle saw a tear hit the sand where Xena stood.
“Hey,” Gabrielle whispered. “Hey, it’s alright.” She brought her hand forward. “It’s okay,” she laughed. “Fate,” she said again, “fate wanted us here.” More tears. Gabrielle got even closer. “I know you’ve changed,” she whispered. She heard Xena sniffle.
“I was waiting for you,” Xena said. She lifted her head, and her cheeks were wet with tears. Gabrielle’s heart hurt. “But I didn’t know who I was waiting for.”
Gabrielle took a deep breath. Xena’s face was beaten. Her right eye was swollen to the point where she could not see.
“Oh, Xena,” Gabrielle sighed. She reached out to move Xena’s hair out of the way, keeping steady when the brunette’s reflexes told her to recoil, to run. Gabrielle’s hand was soft and kind. She ran her hand through Xena’s hair.
“Hi,” she whispered. Xena lowered her head. “It’s alright.”
Without speaking, Gabrielle took a last step towards Xena, closing the distance between them. She traced a gentle hand down the marks on Xena’s face, then placed a hand on her chest. Not like a lightning storm, not out of the blue, but with a sweet, lullaby rhythm, it all came back to her. Her years riding with Xena, and their adventures together, and their finding one another in one world, and then again in this world, and she had to say it one more time, “fate,” and then she wrapped one arm around the small of Xena’s back.
“You remember, don’t you?” Gabrielle tried. She kept moving Xena’s hair out of her eyes, tracing a soft finger down her arm, across her chest. Xena was crying. She nodded.
“I thought you were dead,” Gabrielle said. She let tears flow down her face, the sense of loss, the truth of having a soulmate, hitting her just now. Xena nodded. She seemed exhausted, and she let some of her weight rest in Gabrielle’s arms, pressing their foreheads together.
“You brought us back the world,” Xena said. Gabrielle wrapped another arm around her, letting her rest her weight for a bit. She scanned the view. A small brook was close to them, and she slowly pushed Xena towards it, with every step remembering more details. Xena did, too, and by the time they reached the brook, they must have remembered something that was the same, since they both smiled.
Gabrielle grabbed Xena by the waist and sat her down. She cupped her face gently.
“I brought a world back,” Gabrielle said. “I don’t know if it’s the world.”
“Whatever it is, it seems to always come to this,” Xena said. Her lip was swollen. Gabrielle dipped her hand in the water then gently brushed her fingers across Xena’s mouth. Xena licked her lips.
“Ow,” she whispered. Gabrielle smiled, sitting closer to her.
“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle smiled.
“It’s always you,” Xena said. Her eyes were glued to Gabrielle’s. “In every world.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Gabrielle said. She softly brought her face closer to Xena’s, and kissed her, delicately, and the brunette seemed to come to life. She kissed Gabrielle back, and Gabrielle luxuriated in the new and old sensation. She brought her lips to Xena’s neck and the brunette sighed. Their hands were weaved together.
“Gabrielle, I love you,” Xena said. Gabrielle nodded. She kissed Xena’s forehead.
“I love you, too,” she whispered. Then she helped Xena up and towards Argo, lifting her so she could ride. Gabrielle was about to untie the horse when Xena shook her head.
“No,” she whispered. “Come here.”
Gabrielle laughed. She untied Argo, and then swiftly mounted the horse, sitting behind Xena.
“No,” the brunette sighed again. She moved so Gabrielle faced her, placing Gabrielle’s thighs above her on the saddle. She pulled the blonde nearer, and Gabrielle placed calming kisses all across her face.
“I don’t know if I woke up here, but it feels like I’ve been waiting for you forever,” Xena said. She kissed Gabrielle again, pressing against her so their bodies moved even closer together, even though it seemed that there was no closer. “It feels like I’ve been waiting for you my entire life.”
Gabrielle nuzzled Xena’s cheek.
“Do you remember Rome?” Xena smiled, brushing Gabrielle’s hair away from her face. “And before?” Gabrielle said. Xena nodded.
“You brought the world back to us—a world back to us,” Xena corrected herself. “One where I can tell you how I feel.”
“Good,” Gabrielle nodded. Her open palm covered Xena’s chest. “Then I like this world better.”
“Even though you’re not a famous playwright?” Xena asked. Gabrielle kissed Xena’s hair. They fell into a tired embrace.
“Fame. Who needs it? I’d rather have love,” Gabrielle said. Xena smiled. Gabrielle kept running her fingers down Xena’s cheeks.
“It’s an odd piece of world,” Xena said softly. “One I probably deserve. I just changed,” she said, motioning to the hospice Gabrielle was in. “Most people still think I’m…”
Xena’s sentence faded away. Before she could enter a spiral of guilt and hatred, Gabrielle kissed her on the mouth, passionately, her hands wrapping around her body, searching. She unhooked her breastplate and Xena giggled when Gabrielle got to the front, removing her armor completely, letting it fall to the ground.
Xena looked younger that way. Her body was just as Gabrielle remembered. She pressed into it, not letting a single patch of skin remain separate from hers.
“Will you still ride with me?” Xena asked. Her hands were writing nothings on Gabrielle’s back, and Gabrielle kissed down Xena’s neck, down to her chest.
“To somewhere more private? Sure,” Gabrielle smiled. She pushed Xena back, so her torso was more horizontal in Argo’s saddle. Xena breathed audibly as she felt Gabrielle’s warm breath get lower and lower, then climb back up, supporting her back with a steady hand, kissing her mouth.
“N-now that there’s all this work—to do over,” Xena barely managed. Her fists clenched around Gabrielle’s shoulders as she kissed her. She moved one hand to the back of Gabrielle’s neck, letting her long fingers tangle in Gabrielle’s short hair. Somehow, her thighs were even closer to Gabrielle’s than they were before.
“I’d go anywhere with you,” Gabrielle whispered. “I love you.” Argo was slowly walking. They stopped the horse near an out-of-sight field. Gabrielle eased Xena off the saddle and into her arms.
“Easy,” Gabrielle said. She examined the wounds on Xena’s body. “You’ve already started. You won’t fight back.”
Xena smiled. “It cost me a broken wrist,” she said, and Gabrielle kissed her again. She gingerly lowered her to the grass, kissing away scratches and bruises. Xena closed her eyes. She smiled, and then her face crumpled, and she cried. Gabrielle lifted her head and held her.
“I thought you’d never be here,” Xena admitted, her body shaking. Gabrielle wrapped herself around the brunette, kissing her shoulder.
“No,” she promised. “I will always find you. In any world.”
Xena cried harder. “Even when I’m bad?” She sounded like a little girl. Gabrielle hugged her harder, careful so as not to hurt her.
“Oh,” Gabrielle’s voice landed on a sigh. “You are not bad. You are good,” she said. “You always have been. And always will be. Now that I’ve seen you in enough worlds, I know.”
“Know what?” Xena held on to Gabrielle. She hid her bruised face in Gabrielle’s neck.
“Oh, I know that you believe in love,” Gabrielle smiled, kissing Xena’s cheek, “and in soulmates,” she said, kissing her other cheek. Xena lay her head back on the grass, her hands around Gabrielle’s body. She smiled when she felt Gabrielle’s hand slowly creep up her leather skirt.
“And in fate,” Gabrielle said softly. “You believe in fate.”
Xena shook her head.
“Only that even fate is not strong enough to govern true love,” she said. Her fingers dug into the grass.
“Isn’t that the same?”
Xena sighed. It looked as though she were dispelling an anvil of pain off her shoulders.
“Only if you have a soulmate,” Xena said. “And you’re my soulmate.”
“I certainly am,” Gabrielle said, kissing her again. “If I’ve learned nothing else from this, I’ve learned that.”
As her breaths became quicker, Xena asked again, “Do you regret ending up here?”
Gabrielle smiled, running a hand down Xena’s back.
“I told you,” she said. “I like this world better.”
“Than the one we had before Rome?”
Gabrielle laughed as Xena moaned.
“Tell me you love me.”
“I love you, Gabrielle,” Xena said quickly. Her eyes closed with pleasure.
“Yes. Definitely this one,” Gabrielle nodded, laughing.
Xena’s armor was abandoned somewhere nearby, and she was, all of her, in Gabrielle’s hands. Gabrielle softly placed familiar fingers over Xena’s mouth to keep her from making noise. She looked into Xena’s eyes, fascinated.
“Did you really like my play?” Gabrielle asked.
Xena nodded. “It was alright. Maybe it could’ve done with a few more fight scenes,” she said.
Gabrielle couldn’t silence her further, and Xena’s moans wove into one another like the wreaths of daisies they’d stop and make sometimes. In the other world. Other-other-world, Gabrielle reminded herself. She returned her attention to Xena’s body, to Xena’s long fingers that played beautiful unheard melodies on Gabrielle’s back. Other world, other-other-world, she thought, and then lifted her eyes and realized: it’s what happens now. Fate is what happens in this very moment. Now. She smiled.
Xena kissed her, and it didn’t seem like she was about to let go. Gabrielle melted into her easily. Nothing else needed to be said. The thick of the forest was past them. Gabrielle’s sky filled with good and kind and loving stars. There was a world to walk. People to save. Xena opened her eyes, raising her eyebrow. She nodded, and Gabrielle nodded back, smiling.
“Everyone’s a critic,” Gabrielle giggled.
“Alright”, the Maiden says to you. You barely lift your eyes from your parchment, but she is speaking.
“That’s a good ending,” she says. “I like it.”
You hand both books back to the Maiden and she smiles at you.
“Thank you. I see now that fate is both in and out of our hands.”
You find yourself back in your home, the temple far away.
Back to the Academy