Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo, Solan, Cyrene and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
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Xena's first instinct was to turn back. She had seen enough tragedy. She wasn't prepared to witness any more of it. But something inside of her ordered her to stay. She closed her eyes and took a very deep breath. She knew it was not going to be easy.
Even with all the preparations she still felt quite queasy when she saw her other self and Gabrielle approaching the village. Her eyes wandered, desperately seeking her instructor with whom she had already developed a complicated relationship of love and hate, but it wasn't there to be found. She looked again at her other self and was surprised to feel a tear rolling down her own cheek at the sight. Her counterpart was so excited to see her son again. Little did she know that it was going to be the most horrible day in her entire life. It was too painful to watch. Still, Xena held her head straight and her eyes on the target. There was a reason for her witnessing all that she had, and there had to be a reason for her witnessing what she was going to witness now and she would just have to wait and see and trust that peculiar guide of hers. And so she stood still and waited.
The conversation sounded so familiar as if it had only taken place the day before. She couldn't believe it had already been two years. Everything was still so open and painful and she was not able to speak about it even though she could not stop thinking about it, every waking moment and many sleeping ones. She shook her head and listened. How sweet was Gabrielle's attempt that day to reassure her. She was very jumpy, and found it hard to admit to Gabrielle, and even to herself, just how anxious she really was about meeting her son again. She was quite sure that he would be all right and happy to see her and still, more than a year had passed, she was afraid things might have changed in the meantime.
And then he jumped right off a tree. He was so fast and efficient she almost did not catch him in time. She remembered how Gabrielle had said after their first visit in the Centaur village that Solan had her instincts and how proud it had made her feel, even though she had tried not to show it. Her heart got so wide the minute she saw him again. She couldn't believe it could expand so much. For years it was cringed in a corner with no light shining on it, but the light that came from that boy's eyes, from his smile, was so bright it could light up the darkest soul.
He had grown so much. She was surprised to see how tall he already was. And his features seemed more mature, more permanent. Instantly she felt regret for waiting over a year before coming to see him again. How much she must have missed in the meantime. But Solan, being the friendly boy that he was, volunteered to tell her every little detail that she wanted to hear, and so only shortly after they had met again, she felt as if she had never parted with him.
When the trouble had started, the alternate Xena had mixed emotions about it. On the one hand there was a sense of urgency and danger she could not deny, and she was very much worried about Solan's safety as well as that of the other people in the village, but on the other hand, protecting her son seemed to bring them even closer together. When he resented being sent away, saying he wasn't a baby, she rushed to intervene. She spotted in him the early signs of puberty, and the signs of her own rebellious nature. How could he grow up to be so much like her, even though he had been raised by strangers? She half-smiled when she remembered the fights she had had with her mother. If only her mother could see her now. But her acute memory of how she had been and felt at Solan's age served her well. She was able to get to him and convince him to trust both Kaleipus and her, and doing that she seemed to connect to him on a level she never believed she could.
Xena watched agonizingly. Every movement, every word, hurt her more than any wound she had ever suffered in battle. Watching was torturous. Her mind kept screaming. Images of what was to come kept jumping in front of her mental eyes. Within it all, one horrible realization kept nagging at her soul. That was the day that she had failed her son. That was the day that she had lost more than she had ever dreamed of having, more than she had ever allowed herself to want. And the fact that it had been so close, that she could have almost touched it, that she had been only a few minutes away from telling Solan, from reuniting with him, had made it even worse. Then she knew what was going to happen, and she turned to walk away.
"I still think you should see it," the voice of the hooded figure said softly and sadly.
Where did all that sadness come from? Xena couldn't help wondering. Why did that figure seem so involved in her life? But before she was able to ask it anything, or examine it again, the figure had disappeared. Sighing, Xena turned back to look at her alternate finding Kaleipus's body. Her heart felt as if it was going to burst, but her eyes kept staring forward. She was paralyzed. Living through it once was horrible enough, but doing it the second time, that time actually witnessing what she had imagined in her mind so many times, was unbearable.
She didn't care for answers anymore, she wanted to tell the hooded figure that. She just wanted to get away from there. But it wasn't around to assist her. And still she couldn't move, she couldn't even blink. There was no escape.
And she had to watch. A part of her just had to know. And so she found herself, inside Kaleipus's hut, recapturing her last moments with her living son. He was so beautiful, standing there, with tears in his eyes. All his former act of toughness and maturity wore off. He was a little child in need of her consolation, in need of her. She could hardly control the urge to put her arms around him and let out all that had been hiding, secretly, in her heart ever since she had laid eyes on him again, a little over a year before.
His eyes were so clear when he looked at her and asked if he was the reason for the death of all that he loved. She quickened to discharge him of those feelings, while again being amazed of how much like her he was, attributing to himself the power to kill people merely by being attached to them. She had had those feelings for as long as she could remember and still had them occasionally, and she was much older than him.
"That's not true," she said in a passionate tone, "you still have me."
That slipped. She didn't intend to say it right then. Her eyes widened in fear and expectation, but the boy just looked at her questioningly. He didn't understand. He didn't realize what she really meant, what was really behind those seemingly benign words.
The other Xena kept silent for a minute, trying to assess. Then, looking somewhat relieved, she resumed.
"And you have many friends and they've all said how much they love you and want you to come live with them."
But the boy stated that he wanted to come live with her. She knew it was a crazy idea. She knew she could not roam the land with a child, and she even tried to discourage him, as hard as it was for her to do so when her heart was calling out to him. She told him that he should stay with the people he knew and cared for, but then he said the words that won her over completely. He was willing to give everything up, he preferred her to all that he knew, to all he had grown into. With the little time they had spent together, she was able to form that special bond with him. It wasn't just her. It wasn't just her imagination. He had felt it too. Subconsciously, he knew what she should have told him long ago. And now she just had to let it out in the open.
She grabbed him by the shoulders and looked straight into his eyes.
"We've got a lot to talk about," she said.
He looked so open and receptive. She knew she had to go out and get ready for battle, but she could not let the opportunity pass. So many times she had played that scene in her mind. Now it was finally time to execute her plans, but she found herself in a loss for words.
"I want you to try and understand," she started.
"Try and understand what?" his expression suddenly turned serious.
"Why I did what I did. Why I felt I had to do it," the alternate Xena continued cryptically.
"What? Is this connected to my uncle's death?" the boy asked, looking back straight into her eyes.
"Yes. No. Not exactly," she got confused. It wasn't working as planned.
"You know I used to be very different once," she started again, this time avoiding his look.
"Yes, I know. But that was long ago. You're good now. I know that."
She smiled nervously.
"And back then, I wasn't very good to myself either. I was lost. I let my anger and hatred rule me. I got carried away," she continued.
It was obvious that the boy was getting lost in her words, but she couldn't find any other words. Her thoughts came out so disorganized. There were so many emotions inside of her, they just blurred everything. But she couldn't stop now. She knew that. She just had to keep trying to say what she had to say in the only way she knew how.
"And then when I met your father," her voice turned soft as she continued, "I didn't see all I see now. I couldn't. I didn't believe that I.. that we... I didn't know what love was. I didn't really believe it existed. I was scared."
The boy looked very distraught.
"Did my father love you?" he finally asked with a grave tone.
Of all the questions he could choose to ask, that had to be the most painful.
"Yes, I believe he did," she answered in a voice so quiet that her words could hardly be deciphered.
"Did you love him?" the boy asked and that question hurt even more.
"Looking back, I think I did. But back then... I was blinded.." she choked.
Solan looked at her solemnly.
"Did you break his heart?" the boy's voice asked steadily.
His mother paused as a scene replayed itself in her head. He wanted them to be a family, and she mocked him and his desires. And all through, he hadn't given up on her. He came back for her the night... The memory hurt more than she had expected. She shook her head.
"But then came my mother and healed it, right?" the boy asked hopefully and his mother panicked. She thought he was beginning to understand.
"Oh, Solan," she said as she embraced him. "Don't you see? Don't you understand what I'm trying to say? I am your mother."
Finally, those words were uttered. The boy immediately tore himself from his mother's arms and looked at her face. He seemed very troubled. He shook his head.
"My mother and father loved each other. My uncle always told me so. He said when they looked at each other the whole village would light up - that's what he said. And my mom died of a heartache after my dad died. That's how much she loved him. And she loved me too. She would have never left me. Never."
Before his mother even had the chance to respond the boy stormed outside. What was she thinking, telling him like that? And now he was out there for Callisto to find. She stormed after him, her moves being slowed down by her heavy heart.
She knew he couldn't have gotten very far, but she knew that even if she found him, he wouldn't want to talk to her. Then Ephiny appeared and told her that it was time to get ready. She looked up. The sun was already very high in the sky. There was no time. She was completely torn. She felt so relieved when Gabrielle suddenly showed up. She gave her a short report and told her that she must take Solan to safety. She knew that no matter how angry he was with her at the moment, he would still listen to Gabrielle, and she also knew that she could trust Gabrielle to take good care of Solan.
Xena looked at that scene when she suddenly realized what she had just seen from the corner of her eye. Hope went into the hut, and came right out angrily, running to the other direction. Then it hit Xena - for better or for worse, the scene had changed. There was still hope, Solan could still be saved. Suddenly she felt so much better. She knew her counterpart was suffering, contemplating the damaging impact of her decision to reveal her secret at the moment she did, but there she was, looking at Hope coming out of the hut empty handed, and she knew that in a strange, distorted way, that move had saved Solan's life, at least for the time being. She hurried and followed Gabrielle and Solan.
Gabrielle took Solan to the hut, looking around her as she came in. Xena knew who she was looking for. Her heart cringed at the sight. With all that she and Gabrielle had gone through since, there was a part of her that could never really forgive Gabrielle. There was a part of her that could never really heal. Most of the time, she just kept it locked and buried. Other times, like now, it was impossible to do so. If only Gabrielle hadn't lied to her. If only she had trusted her enough. If only she had believed her when she had first told her that Hope was evil - so many things would have been different.
"Wait here, just a minute," Gabrielle told Solan and Xena wanted to scream, but she knew she couldn't be heard. No matter what, Gabrielle shouldn't leave him alone. If there was only a way for her to communicate it, but there wasn't any. Her breath was becoming heavier, as she was looking at what she couldn't help thinking were Solan's last moments.
But then suddenly there was a mixture of unidentified sounds outside, ending with a thump. Solan, still looking distraught and angry ran to the window and looked out. He could not see clearly. All he could make out were two silhouettes, one short and one taller, appearing to look at something that was laying on the ground. Then he heard somebody's shrieking voice.
"You stupid imbecile," said the high, annoying woman's voice. "You weren't supposed to kill her."
The shorter silhouette turned towards the other.
"She was an impediment to my father's reign," she said in an ice-cold voice.
"And we were going to stop her," the woman sounded angry, "but not that way. We had a plan."
The girl was becoming annoyed.
"I tried your plan. It didn't work."
The woman was becoming quite annoyed herself.
"What are you talking about?" she inquired.
"I couldn't find him. He wasn't where he was supposed to be," the girl said. "And she" the girl then added, pointing at the figure on the ground, "found me looking for him and tried to kill me."
Solan was beginning to shiver. Was the figure on the ground who he thought it was? He was going to run outside but then realized he might be in danger, and so he closed the window and hid in the corner. The two soon came into the hut.
"You still shouldn't have killed her," the woman said. "I wanted her to live. I wanted her to go on living, every day, knowing how it feels like to "
A loud wailing sound interrupted the woman's words. Both she and the child ran out the door immediately. Solan got up and crawled again to the window, careful to remain unseen. There, he saw Gabrielle, leaning over the dead body that he now positively identified as his mother's.
Gabrielle's cry was heartbreaking. Then she suddenly looked up and saw the child.
"Hope," she whispered through the tears. "Did you see who did it?"
The girl shook her head innocently, then started to cry.
Gabrielle hugged her.
"I'm sorry," she said tenderly. "It must be a terrible experience for you."
The girl did not answer, but let Gabrielle hug her. Solan was shocked. He did not know who that girl was, but he felt he had to warn Gabrielle, before she would die too.
Gabrielle lifted her eyes and encountered those of the woman. She raised to her feet, pushing the girl behind her.
"Go away, Callisto," her voice was drenched with tears she could not stop. "You're not going to hurt anybody else."
The woman laughed.
"And who would stop me? You? Admit it, Gabrielle, you lost. Your beloved Xena is gone. Without her, you're nothing."
Gabrielle was left speechless. Tears kept rolling down her cheeks as she looked down at Xena's dead body.
The girl came from behind her back.
"Come now, child," the woman said, stretching an inviting hand.
Gabrielle grabbed the girl's hand.
"She's not going with you. I won't let that happen."
The woman laughed a scary, wicked laugh.
"Poor Gabrielle," she said. "You still don't get it, do you?"
Gabrielle's jaw dropped, as the girl moved smilingly to Callisto's side.
"I'm sorry, mommy," she said in a heartless tone. Then the woman put her arm around her and they both disappeared.
Xena got up and crawled to the window. She had a vague memory of feeling an immense, condensed sense of pain before passing out. Looking outside the window, she immediately understood why. There, on the ground, laid her alternate's lifeless body, with Gabrielle leaning over it, crying the most heart wrecking cry.
She looked around and saw Solan, crouching in the corner, his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth, nervously. He was very pale, and his expression was blank. Xena wondered what was going inside of his mind.
Gabrielle had remained silent for the rest of the day. Ephiny tried to make her talk, but couldn't. Xena looked at the both of them. Gabrielle's face looked suddenly so much older, almost as the face of an old woman. Her suffering was infinite, and it was so intense that Xena could actually see it, as if it had a definite form. It wasn't just the pain of losing her, Xena knew. It was the pain of knowing that she played an important role in it. Ephiny kept sitting at Gabrielle's side, looking at her face, without a word, until finally she pulled her to her lap, while letting her own tears fall into Gabrielle's hair.
Right after the alternate Xena's body had been carried away from the path outside the hut, Solan sprang, like an arrow launched from a bow, and hid up his favorite tree. No matter how much everybody begged him, he wouldn't come down, not even to eat or sleep. Now it was already time for Xena's funeral fire and Solan still refused to come down. Ephiny noted that they would have to burn Xena's body, with or without Solan being present. Gabrielle quietly asked her for one last chance to try and convince Solan to participate. She felt she owed Xena that much. Ephiny nodded sadly, as Gabrielle proceeded towards Solan's tree.
"Solan, please come down." she begged.
There was no answer.
"Okay. If you don't want to come down, can we at least talk?"
Still there was no answer.
"If you don't want to talk to me, I understand," she continued, straining herself more and more. "But there are some things I need to say to you, so would you please just listen?"
Gabrielle's voice broke. Tears came rolling down from her eyes, entering her mouth, falling on her chest. It was all so hard for her - dealing with Xena's death, dealing with her part in that death, with what her daughter turned out to be, and now that. But that was also her chance to do something right, something that would have meant a lot to Xena, and as small as it may have seemed, she grasped at it as a last straw. She couldn't afford to fail.
"I'm sorry about your mother," she started again, painfully. "I loved her more than I've loved anything or anybody in my entire life."
She stopped and waited. She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw Solan coming down to a lower branch. She proceeded.
"I realize that you are angry with her, for not telling you sooner and for giving you up in the first place," she tried to spot him as she was talking. "But she was your mother and she did love you so much and I really think you should come to her funeral. You can't stay mad at her forever."
Before Gabrielle had the chance to say anything else, Solan jumped off the tree and landed right in front of her.
"I'm not mad at her," he said, starting at the ground.
"So what is it?" Gabrielle asked, raising his chin in a hesitant gesture.
"I just can't," he whispered, his upper lip shivering, as he was trying his hardest not to cry.
"I know," Gabrielle said sympathetically. "It's too sad. I feel the same way."
The boy distanced himself from Gabrielle.
"It's not the same for you," Solan almost shouted.
Gabrielle looked at him surprised and hurt, but then she composed herself and proceeded.
"Well, you're right. It's not the same for me. She was your mother, and you were just getting to know her."
Solan shook his head, fighting the tears. "No, I wasn't. I didn't want to. I was mad at her, and I ran, and..."
Finally Gabrielle felt that she was beginning to understand.
"And she died before you had the chance to make peace with her," she said
The boy began sobbing.
"It was my fault that she died," he said, while Gabrielle hugged him tightly. "She was trying to stop that girl from killing me."
The reference to Hope inflicted on Gabrielle a pain so great, it was intolerable. She pushed Solan away from her and said in a tormented voice "No, it wasn't your fault. It was all my fault. If I had just done what Xena said, when she told me to do it, then they would still be alive, Kaleipus and Xena."
Solan looked at Gabrielle, perplexedly.
"I'm so sorry," Gabrielle said again, caressing Solan's cheek. "You should have been together. You could have been together, if only I "
"It wouldn't have mattered," Solan concluded in the saddest voice Xena had ever heard in her life. "Sooner or later everybody I love dies."
Xena could not take it any longer.
"Where are you?" she shouted, trying to summon the figure. "I know you're out here somewhere. Come out and show yourself. Now!" she commanded, walking back and forth like a caged tiger.
The figure arrived instantly. Xena was so mad that her face was nearly crimson.
"What are you trying to say here, with that pathetic demonstration?" she screamed, pointing at the agonizing image of Solan and Gabrielle, as her voice was raising to unbelievable heights.
It had been a while since she had experienced such strong feelings of hatred. She hated the figure. She hated it for listening to her and showing her what could have been. And she hated herself, for ever making that stupid, hurtful, useless wish.
"Are you saying we just weren't fated to make it together?" she yelled, turning around, looking for the ever elusive figure. "I don't believe in fate. I make my own choices and I take full responsibility for them."
Xena quieted suddenly. Sadness crawled up and down and around her body, filling her completely. The hooded figure reappeared suddenly, standing closer to Xena than it had ever stood before, and then, with a resolute move of the hand, it took off the hood and looked straight into Xena's eyes.
Xena took a surprised step back, then tilted her head and looked straight at the figure.
It was her, but not really her. The figure was much older, looked wiser, more experienced and sadder, and still there was a sense of serenity in her face, something hopeful in it.
"You're me," she said, in the same primary sense of surprise that she had felt the first time she had met one of her alternates outside the centaur village. "Only older," she added, circling the odd figure.
Her alternate smiled warmly.
Xena kept looking, thinking, analyzing.
"You look like me, mostly. But you don't sound like me. All this time, I tried to identify you by your voice. It sounded so familiar."
Xena's older self looked at Xena patiently as Xena kept explaining.
"At some point it reminded me of Gabrielle's. Another time, I thought it sounded just like my mother's, and then there was one time when I could swear you were Lao Ma."
Xena stopped and looked at her older self's face. Suddenly it all became so clear - her peacefulness, her multiple voices, her personal involvement.
"Will I be like you?" she asked. "Will I ever be so peaceful? Will I ever really internalize all that Gabrielle and Lao Ma and my mother and others have tried to teach me?"
Her surrogate self smiled a warm smile.
"That depends on you," she said softly. "As you yourself just said, you make your own choices. I'm just one future possibility - there are many others."
"Many others?" Xena echoed her alternate's words.
"Yes. There is always an infinite number of possibilities," the older woman answered.
Xena quickly reacted, enlightened.
"But that means... so why did you...?"
She stopped. She didn't need her older self to explain.
"Thank you," she whispered, trying to reach out her hand and touch her alternate, but her hand just went through. Surprised, Xena took her hand back.
"It's time for me to go," Xena's other self said. "Good luck with your future choices," she added and disappeared, just like she did so many times before, but this time Xena knew it was for good.
"Do you want to tell me where you were?" Gabrielle's voice pierced through Xena's consciousness.
"Where I was?" Xena answered surprised, still trying to adjust to the quick change.
"I don't mean physically," Gabrielle explained, hurrying her step. "I could see your back the whole time, but your mind... you looked as if you weren't really here."
Xena turned her face back at Gabrielle and smiled. Gabrielle was both surprised and very much relieved. Xena hadn't smiled all day. In fact, she hadn't smiled for quite some time. Gabrielle saw that smile as an encouraging sign.
"So, you wanna talk about it?" Gabrielle asked Xena cautiously, carefully examining her face.
Xena turned around sharply and pulled Gabrielle into a warm, tight embrace.
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