In this second of a three-story post-A FRIEND IN NEED arc (which concludes with “Suns of The Passed”), Gabrielle seems to be living the life Xena dreamed for her in “The Ghost of A Smile,” but with some problems and possibilities neither of them expected.
A Fly in The Ointment
Gabrielle chewed thoughtfully on the shaft of her quill. Of all the battles she’d fought, few cost more sweat and tears than this one. It wasn’t over yet, but if they won, the victory would be sealed in ink, not blood. The document she labored over served as their anthem. It sang of nearly everything she’d loved and worked for. Her hopes for peace and compassion. Her dreams for a strong Amazon nation. Her desire that Xena live on through her legacy of defending the greater good.
She glanced fondly at the urn on her desk. She’d had it specially made to hold her soulmate’s ashes. Its bronze swirls duplicated the design on the warrior’s signature breastplates. The lid copied Xena’s joined dark and light chakram. Gabrielle ran her fingers lightly over the sculpted images. "You said I could do it. I never should have doubted you." Sighing, she returned her attention to the unfinished scroll in front of her. "Now, if only I could find the right words …."
Gabrielle swatted distractedly at the insect hovering near her nose. It flew a short distance away, only to return when Gabrielle put quill to parchment. She frowned and swatted again. This time the winged annoyance landed on her scroll. A fly. She blew on it, sending it skidding until it gained its balance and flew off. Gabrielle resumed trying to write.
"Curses." Gabrielle glared at the fly, which proceeded to circle her head. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as they followed the insect shoot straight up toward the ceiling, then dive into a series of loops that ended lazily on the scroll. Gabrielle stared at the fly. It stared back. She shook her head, smiled thinly and leaned forward until they were eye to eye.
"Very impressive." The fly fluttered its wings. "However, your acrobatics aren’t helping me much here. I’d appreciate if you’d practice elsewhere until I can be more properly attentive." The fly held its ground. Gabrielle held hers. It inched its way onto her hand.
"Uh uh. Sweet, but no cookies. Shoosh." The insect flew off to rest on Xena’s urn. "Nice try, but guilt won’t work either." The fly didn’t move. "Fine. Stay there. But if I hear another sound from you, I’m going for the bug spray."
Gabrielle turned to see a young girl standing tentatively in the doorway. Her Amazon leathers were unadorned, save for a diagonal slash of purple cloth with a small "X" at the shoulder embroidered in gold. Gabrielle smiled broadly, stood and gave the girl a salute. "Yes, Scout Tania, how may I help you?"
Tania suppressed a grin, returning the salute smartly. "Pardon me, Leader Gabrielle. The troop has finished its drills and wishes to know if you would like to review our form."
"Good, Scout Tania. If you’re any better than my last review, I’m afraid you might embarrass the Amazon warriors. Please tell the others they’re finished for the day. I’ll review them once more before the ceremony."
Tania beamed. "Yes, Leader Gabrielle, I will do as you say." She stood tall and snapped her right hand to her forehead, before relaxing and letting out a giggle. "Bye, Gabrielle. And, um, you have a fly in your hair," she added jovially, skipping off.
"Xena?! Xena, get … out … of … my … hair! This instant!"
The fly went back to the urn.
"No. You had your chance. You know how important this is to me. I’m sorry, but you’re too much of a distraction. Find something else to amuse yourself that doesn’t involve interrupting me."
The fly slowly lifted off from the urn, hovered a moment, then headed away.
The fly hesitated, its wings fluttering expectantly.
"I want to see you tonight."
The fly buzzed quietly out the door, just as Marta came rushing in. "Ugh," she said, ducking her head away from the exiting insect. "I hate flies."
Gabrielle winced. "Um, well, they’re basically harmless, if annoying sometimes." She gazed fondly at the young redhead who’d been tagging along with her the last few years. Marta had matured into quite the scholar, soaking up every drop of wisdom that came from Gabrielle’s lips or from the varied people they’d met on their travels. She was getting pretty good with a staff too, despite little desire to excel at physical skills. But the orphaned young woman idolized Gabrielle and was interested in whatever interested her mentor and, now, family.
"So, what’s your news? You look like the hydra that swallowed a harpy."
Marta laughed. "Yes," she said excitedly. "The shipments of scrolls and tapestries have begun arriving. Eve’s plowing through them now."
"Oh? Anything special?"
"Maybe," Marta said mysteriously. "I’m not permitted to speak about it." At Gabrielle’s scowl, she added, "It’s a surprise."
"Great," Gabrielle mumbled. "That’s all I need. More surprises."
"Don’t worry. It’s nothing like that bunch of gargantuan sailors Singer conscripted to help us with the building."
Gabrielle laughed. "Good. But I have to admit they’ve helped enormously. Everything else going okay?"
"Yep. That’s my progress report." Marta hugged herself. "I am soooo excited. I can’t believe how calm you are."
"I don’t have time to be anything else," Gabrielle chuckled. "Still no rumblings from Melop and his gang?"
"Nope. You must’ve really scared the pants off him during your last … negotiations."
"Let’s hope so. And when you see Eve, remind her it’s not nice to trick Mother Gabrielle."
"Will do," Marta said, grinning. "Anything I can help you with before I go?"
Gabrielle sighed. "No, afraid not. You’re doing a great job helping coordinate things. Just keep it up."
Marta blushed. "Thanks. I’ll go check on Singer’s group."
Gabrielle plopped back down in her chair. She eyed the incomplete scroll, then the pile of other ones on her desk that needed attention. Her thoughts drifted anyway to another hairy issue. She rested her head in her hands. "Gods," she muttered. "What’s with her? She’s the inspiration for all this. I know she’s proud of me, yet makes me want to squish her every chance she gets."
She made a quick mental scan of everything that needed to be done. Three more days. Just three more days and so much would fall into place. She had to stay focused. Surely Xena of all people should understand. Gabrielle looked wistfully at the urn before collecting herself once again for the task at hand.
Gabrielle took her time preparing for bed. This was the most anxious she’d felt in four years. Sure, she’d had her ups and downs coming to terms with Xena’s death in Japa. Even now there were times when the warrior’s spirit was not enough. She knew she could count on Xena’s wisdom during her contemplation of big issues, that Xena would be a comfort in her darkest hours. What she missed most was the carefree physicality -- like water fights, elbow nudges, or that game they played where one of them "fell out" and required resuscitation.
But for the most part, she’d felt fulfilled, especially once her travels and studies had led her to the grand idea that rekindled her sense of purpose. And Xena had been with her, mostly as a presence she felt inside, but often glimpsed in a child’s vulnerability, a mule’s stubbornness, or in the shadowed beauty as the sun set and in the radiant promise of its rise.
She moved in front of the mirror that hung above her dressing table. She knew that face well. She’d made herself gaze into those eyes often enough, at first to see if they still had life in them. Examined the tiny lines at their corners for signs of good times, as well as of time itself. Wondered whether those lips would dry into husks that could continue to speak the truth and not crack. Practiced focusing on that still young visage to the point where she could see herself more than Xena.
She felt a warmth at her back, around her shoulders. She shifted her gaze up a little and smiled. Yes. She didn’t have to see Xena to know her soulmate was behind her. Her eyes caught something dangling from the mirror. It was the tiny Xena she’d fashioned that time the warrior had to single-handedly fight a Persian army. For a long time Gabrielle had worn the stick-and-leather doll nestled between her breasts. Until a couple of years ago, when she’d finally believed her soulmate would always be everywhere, anywhere, whenever Gabrielle needed her.
She looked once more in the mirror. She nodded. Yes, it was a good face, a peaceful face. The face of someone she was grateful to know. Still, she reached up and took the stick doll from its place on the frame. She tied it around her neck, tenderly tucking it into her nightshirt near her heart. She’d be seeing Xena tonight as she hadn’t in some time. She had a feeling she’d need all the reassurance she could get. She blew out the candles, lay down on her bed, relaxed as best she could, and closed her eyes.
"You’re sure I’m not ‘interrupting’ anything."
Gabrielle turned to her side to see Xena standing rigidly next to the bed. Gabrielle smiled. "Quite sure. In case you’ve forgotten, you’re here at my express invitation."
"Well, I know you have more important things on your mind than the ghost of some has-been warrior," Xena responded, continuing to stand. "I didn’t want to be presumptuous."
Gabrielle clenched her jaws, then nonchalantly slid her hand over the doll’s resting place, reminding herself to shift into sensitive-chat mode. "Xena, I much prefer talking to you like this, than to a fly on the wall."
Xena’s posture loosened up a bit. One corner of her mouth twitched. "I see you’ve got that dolly in there again. Could be a bad sign, like maybe you want to smother me." Xena’s mouth curled into a semi-grin. "If you could."
"No, silly." Gabrielle moved to the far edge of the bed and held out her arms. "Though I haven’t quite given up on that yet."
Xena rolled her eyes, then cautiously put one knee on the bed. "No swatting?"
"No swatting. Promise. Now get your pesty self in here. This instant."
Xena suppressed a grin. She stretched out on her back, legs crossed, hands behind her head.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. She scooted over, resting her head in its customary place on Xena’s chest, relieved when long arms soon pulled her in closer.
"Comfy? Contrary to popular opinion, we flies aim to please."
"We haven’t done this in awhile."
Gabrielle lifted her head and brushed Xena’s cheek. "I know. It’s not just that I’ve been busy. I guess I didn’t think we needed words so much anymore."
"Yeah," Xena sighed, stroking Gabrielle’s arm. "So what’d you want to talk about?"
"Flies," Gabrielle replied, still looking up.
Xena stopped stroking. "Flies?"
"Uh huh." Gabrielle laid her head back down. "Normally they bring out the ‘kill `em all’ in me, but there’s this one special fly I was hoping you could help me with."
Xena tensed. "You mean, like how to get rid of it?"
Gabrielle raised up again. "I thought you were supposed to be changed now - you know, more ‘save `em all.’"
"I am, I am," Xena protested. "It’s just, you seemed to feel this special fly was a … special pest."
"No," Gabrielle responded, settling down again. "I want this one buzzing in my ear forever. I’m trying to understand why it’s been behaving the way it has lately."
"Oh," Xena said, relaxing again. "What’s it been doing?"
"Well, for starters, it’s been shifting shapes. It’s been with me for a long time now, but more … invisible. Sort of like my own private little cheering section and sounding board. It’s traveled all over the world with me, encouraged me to build a new life. I thought it wanted me to rely on myself more, that it was okay if I put to use what I’d already learned from it."
"So you didn’t need to see … this fly … as much anymore. That’s a good thing, right?"
Gabrielle raised her head again. "Oh, no, I still needed the fly. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t see it in some person or some object I might pick up. I got kinda used to that. But lately the fly’s been making itself … more obvious. One time it was a spider, another time a bee, then a cricket. It pops in to surprise me, mostly when I’m doing something I’d think it wouldn’t want to distract me from."
Xena chuckled nervously. "Bad fly! Must have a dark side that needs redeeming."
"No, I don’t think that’s it." Gabrielle held Xena’s eyes. "This particular fly has been cleansed and redeemed and sacrificed so much you can’t see it anymore. Unless it has a special connection to you, like it does with me."
Xena swallowed. "So what’s wrong if maybe it shows itself sometimes? You know, just to prove it hasn’t disappeared."
Moving away a little, Gabrielle inched up so the two were head to head. "To itself, or to others?"
Xena turned her eyes toward the ceiling. "I’m not sure," she answered quietly. "But it’s not your problem anyway." She looked at Gabrielle with a grin that didn’t quite reach her eyes. "I’m sorry I’ve been acting like such a brat. Especially now when I should get out of the way and let you shine like I’ve always known you would."
Gabrielle studied her soulmate a moment. "Xena, if you have a problem, it’s my problem too. We’ve shared that along with the good. You’re not in my way. You’ve never been. If I shine, it’s because you’ve given me ways to do that."
Xena brushed her hand against Gabrielle’s cheek. "Thank you," she murmured. "Whatever else I may have deserved, I’ll never believe I deserved you. Let’s not talk about flies, okay? I really am so full of joy at what you’re doing. It’s what I always dreamed. Seeing you fulfill it is all that really matters."
"No, Xena, that’s not all that matters. Not to me. I thought you were at peace. Just as I saw you in everything, I thought your … existence … was full of everything, not just me. I didn’t worry about you, but I see now maybe I should."
Xena sighed. "It’s nothing, really." She chuckled. "We souls have a grand old time. I’m luckier than most. I’d already been in so many different spirit realms even when I wasn’t dead. Heck, I’m known in some I hadn’t visited. They’re all eager to meet up with me, even some I put there." She grinned sheepishly. "You thought those loops I did earlier were impressive. Well, news of the 40,000 souls I saved traveled far and wide. Seems I set some kind of record."
Gabrielle grinned. "That’s my girl. Always the champion, no matter what field." She felt an answering rumble in her soulmate’s chest. They lay quietly, until Gabrielle suddenly reared up and regarded Xena curiously. "You’re bored."
"Pffft. Me? Bored? You gotta be kidding." Gabrielle continued to look at her. "Oh, come on. I get to commune with dead folks from around the globe. Mortals see or speak of me even when I’m not there. I can be a bird and soar higher than I ever did with my flips. I can peek in on you or be there for you, which I like most. How could all that possibly be boring?" She looked to Gabrielle for confirmation. Gabrielle didn’t seem to be buying. Xena sighed. "Yeah, okay. Sometimes I’m bored."
Gabrielle resisted the terrible urge to laugh. Boredom might sound innocent enough, but not when it involved Xena. Instead, she gave her soulmate a sympathetic squeeze and carefully considered her next words. "You know what’s funny?"
"I was afraid I was boring you."
"What?! You? Never. How could you think that?"
"All those questions I had. Those mistakes I was afraid to make. You’d already been there, done that. You were right about it being good for me to try things on my own, to have confidence in my judgment. After awhile I thought that was best for you too. I realize now maybe I gave you the wrong impression."
Xena shook her head. "No, you’re not taking the blame for this. I did what I thought was right, with no real idea of what it meant. I got peace, but it wasn’t the freedom from earthly cares most of the other souls have." Xena gazed wryly at her soulmate. "We knew our connection was strong. Boy, is it ever."
Gabrielle smiled gently. "So it is partly my fault."
Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. "Maybe so. Happy now?"
"Infinitely. Tell me more."
Xena glared. "You know, I always suspected you were the evil one." She begrudged a lop-sided grin, accompanied by a kiss to Gabrielle’s forehead. "I’m such a ninny," she sighed, relaxing back onto the bed and nudging Gabrielle back to her chest.
"At first everything was fine. You needed me more then - I mean, to help you through indecision or … or through your pain at losing me like that. As you got stronger, you needed more space to figure out things on your own. I didn’t mind knowing less and less of your thoughts. It was fun being surprised. I could see how good you felt learning just how much you’re capable of. And you had Marta and Singer with you, and later Eve. It touched my heart to see how you supported each other, how they came to treasure you as I do."
"But?" Gabrielle prodded softly as Xena fell silent.
"That’s when I started checking out the other spirit realms. I figured it was time for me to find a … an ‘existence’ as you call it … for myself, till we met up again in another life. But it wasn’t enough. I was still drawn to you, to your world. Except there wasn’t much for me there either."
Gabrielle nodded. "I see. These last couple of years must’ve been really tough for you, with me so focused on my grand plans."
Xena kissed the beloved blond head. "And it’s coming together wonderfully. I’m so proud of you. I knew you could do it."
"But you felt left out. Invisible."
"Worse," Xena admitted. "As much as I wanted that dream fulfilled, I feared it would mean exactly what I said I wanted for you." Xena closed her eyes. "A life of your own."
"Oh, Xena. You mean without you? Without thinking of you or needing you?"
"Yeah," Xena murmured, so softly Gabrielle barely heard her. "I pictured you with such a full life, surrounded by people who needed you. Saying ‘thank you’ to my urn, storing it away in some cupboard where it belongs."
Gabrielle raised up again and took Xena’s face in her hands. "Xena, I want you with me tomorrow. I’m working on a couple of documents I must do by myself. But if you promise to be quiet, not to crawl up my arm or otherwise startle the life out of me, you can visit in whatever form you like."
"Could I tickle your toes, maybe as an ant?"
"Only if I’m not writing or trying to have a serious conversation with someone. Deal?"
Xena grinned. "Deal."
Gabrielle dotted the last "i" and crossed the final "t" on the all-important document she’d been worrying over the last couple of days. She surveyed the completed scrolls on her desk. "Done," she said to herself with satisfaction and more than a modicum of relief. "And not a moment too soon."
She threw a kiss to the fly on the wall, which, as agreed, had stayed out of her hair. It zipped across the room a few times, did a series of intricate dive bombs, buzzed some laps around her head, before finally coming to rest on her shoulder.
"I know, I know," she laughed. "Must’ve been Tartarus having to sit still that long. I hope the wait is worth it." The fly fluttered its wings excitedly. Gabrielle had spent the last couple nights with Xena, but hadn’t told the warrior everything about her plans. She knew Xena was bursting to see all that Gabrielle had wrought. "Go on, now. I’ll be out in a little while. I’ve got a couple things to do that won’t be helped if I’m lulled into those enchantingly beady eyes." She wasn’t sure how, but the fly managed what appeared to be indignation before it winged its way through the door.
Gabrielle walked into her sleeping quarters. She donned her most impressive Amazon leathers, which just happened to complement the purple sash she draped across her shoulder. She stood before her mirror, making sure every hair was in place. She gazed into the eyes that smiled back at her, green with confidence and serenity. "This is for you," she murmured. "And you," she said, stroking the gold X at the top of the sash. "For both of us."
"Gabrielle? You here?" It was Marta.
Gabrielle walked back into her office. "Yes. Is it time?"
Marta gasped. "Oh, Gabrielle, you look positively beautiful!"
"Thank you. I figured if there was any time to pull out all the stops, this was it."
"All the dignitaries are here. Singer said we can start the tours as soon as you’re ready."
"All right, then," Gabrielle said, straightening her shoulders and striding for the door. "Let’s do it."
Even Gabrielle was stunned. The presentation platform seemed more like an Athenian stage than a structure cobbled together on the outskirts of Amazonia. Large strips of purple and gold satin hung at intervals from a tall frame mounted on the floor. Bouquets of flowers in every hue ringed and softened the edges. Girls with purple sashes stood at ramrod attention on either side of a long purple runner that led to and covered the few steps up to the platform. At the top gleamed a podium painted in gold. Gabrielle gave a sideways look at Marta and Eve, wondering which one of them was guilty of this flair for the dramatic. Both beamed back at her with no shame whatsoever.
"Gabrielle’s coming!" someone yelled. The large assemblage began to quiet. Gabrielle proceeded down the carpet, the girls along her path saluting her in succession as she passed. When she reached the top step and turned, the blaring of trumpets startled her into nearly taking an ignominious tumble down the steps she’d just climbed. Teeth gritted behind her smile, she vowed never again to tell anyone to use their imagination.
She stood in front of the podium and gazed lovingly at those gathered before her. "I am Gabrielle. It is with great pride and humility that I invite you to see what wonders you have helped create. Welcome," she said, spreading out her arms. "Welcome to the Village of Dreams - your home whenever you need it."
A roar of approval met her words. She waited for the din to quiet, thankful it gave her a few moments to stem the tears streaming down her face and to find the voice that threatened to choke into silence. Marta and Eve made their way to the platform to flank her. She squeezed their hands in appreciation. She nodded at the third presence she felt at her back. Eyes still brimming, she cleared her throat and forged on.
"This afternoon, you’ll have a chance to sample what the Village has to offer." Gabrielle took a deep breath as she surveyed the neat new buildings within eyesight. She pointed to her left. "That way is the hospice. It has healers to care for mind, body and spirit. Over there is the library. Its scrolls, tapestries and other works will take you on journeys to lands from every part of the world."
She gestured to an area behind the platform. "That section is devoted to developing the talents of girls and young women. They will be on the practice field throughout the afternoon, demonstrating their leadership and physical skills. Most of the smaller huts you see in the residential area will serve as quarters for refugees from disaster, abuse and bigotry." Her arms wrapped around the waists of the two young women beside her. "Marta and Eve will be your guides. We’ll meet back here before sunset for the official ceremony. Enjoy."
The Village of Dreams couldn’t have opened to a more perfect day. The late Spring sun warmed the celebrants just enough to allow those from both the hottest and coldest climes to wear their traditional garb. The rainbow of faces and costumes blended naturally in the wooded oasis verdant with wildlife. Birds and a nearby waterfall added their voices to the symphony of sounds emanating from varied instruments and throats throughout the compound.
Open grassy areas joined the practice and planting fields with the housing and activity sections. Large trees protected the roughly circular layout and provided shade in strategically located relaxation spots. A communion-meditation hall centered the village, its cone-shaped roof alive with fluttering bright ribbons that beckoned any and all to join in.
Gabrielle peered out from behind one of the drapes on the presentation platform, which she had surreptitiously mounted again shortly after the tours began. It was a dream all right - one she still couldn’t believe was real. But the people milling about had believed in it - in her - even when she had doubts. Some had begun sending her items and preparing for their trip here before the first structure had been raised.
She noted the brown-skinned guests conversing with Amazons outside the hospice. They were representatives from M’Lila’s homeland. Word reached there long ago about how the abducted young woman had been freed by a warlord turned hero who later became known for "the pinch" and bronze swirls she’d borrowed from M’Lila. Singer had found M’Lila’s people on one of his voyages. They felt honored to participate in efforts that Gabrielle credited M’Lila for helping inspire.
Near the refugee section, a clump of men and a Centaur seemed to be arguing the finer points of hut construction. Many were children of violence who knew intimately of the need for safe havens. Virgil had watched his father Joxer die at the hand of Xena’s daughter Eve. Ephiny’s son Xenon had barely escaped the massacre that wiped out his people because they walked on four legs rather than two. Next to him stood Borias’ son Belach - the perpetrator of that heinous deed as well as grandfather to Xenon’s own son. Belach donated most of the funds needed for these homes, the first of which had been inhabited by Xenon’s little family.
Gabrielle swept her gaze over to a small group of women talking with her sister Lila in front of the communion hall. She recognized one as Lao Ma’s daughter K'ao Hsin and another as the Norse Valkyrie Grinhilda. The other women appeared to be from Japa. Gabrielle’s eyes misted when she realized they were probably relatives of the souls Xena had died freeing.
She felt a gentle caress across her cheek, a whisper in her ear, knowing it to be more than the light breeze that stirred the ribbons atop the communion hall. She closed her eyes and folded her arms around the satin drape, hugging it to her. It meant so much to see dreams come together like this, to share it all with Xena. She wondered, not for the first time, how a body could ache with so much with joy.
Lamps and firelight now supplemented the sun’s dimming glow. Laughter, drums and savory scents filled the early evening air. Youngsters squirmed impatiently, while adults shifted where they sat with barely contained anticipation. They watched the procession of dignitaries and honorees file to the presentation platform. Gabrielle smiled down at them. They were all like children at a magic show. She hoped they didn’t lose their wonder and enthusiasm when they realized what lay behind maintaining its reality.
Singer stepped to the podium. "May we have your attention please!" his resonant voice boomed. Once he had everyone’s attention, he graced them with a moving song he’d composed especially for the occasion. Gabrielle grinned at him with the usual affection. The multi-talented sailor had been a rock to her since she’d met him on the ship from Japa. She and Marta had journeyed with him, waited eagerly for him to meet them in various ports, relied on him to spread word of their project and to help build their dream. He’d been the first to help her free Xena to more than a memory of what couldn’t be and to free herself for the possibilities of what could.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said to him when he had finished. She hugged the surprisingly bashful man of the world. "`Listen For The Sound Behind’ is beautiful." She glanced at her shoulder and whispered, "We couldn’t have asked for a more fitting song."
Singer smiled conspiratorially. "My pleasure," he whispered back. "I thought she’d like it."
Gabrielle walked over to the podium, which was piled with scrolls. "All right," she shouted with a mischievous grin, "let’s seal this deal!" The crowed laughed in agreement.
"Will the representatives please step forward."
One by one, representatives from the surrounding communities approached the podium, including Gabrielle’s niece Sarah from Poteidaia, Xena’s nephew Xoris from Amphipolis, Singer’s brother Lyceus from Lythos, and the Amazon Queen Cyane.
"You have all read through these treaties, correct?" They nodded. "Then I will simply summarize their contents for all present." They nodded again.
"Let’s begin with the defense agreement," Gabrielle said, selecting the top scroll. "Your people have agreed to establish a combined force to protect the area, each other and, especially, the Village of Dreams. Are there any objections to the terms outlined for the composition, leadership or duties of this force?" No one objected. "I call for signatures to this copy, which will be kept in the Village. We will provide duplicates to be signed later this evening, which each of you can take with you." The representatives signed.
Gabrielle held up a second scroll. "This trade agreement covers the goods and services that will be exchanged between the Village and your communities. Each community has been designated to provide the Village with a particular resource, such as food, transportation, building supplies or skills. In return, the village will provide a haven for those of you in need, including the care of orphans until they become of age. You will also have full access to our library, communion hall and grounds when they are not in use by the Village. Are there any objections to the conditions set forth in this document?" There were none, so everyone signed.
"This next document is the key to all we dreamed of accomplishing today. It is a pledge to support the principles governing this Village, which seek to promote peace, safety, understanding, and growth. No one will be turned away because of who they are. This is not a sanctuary for those seeking to escape punishment for some crime. However, individuals’ rights to privacy and voluntary departure will be respected unless the agreed upon documentation or the Village council establishes otherwise."
Gabrielle paused and turned to the onlookers. Her hand slid up to stroke the gold X at her shoulder. When she began speaking again, her voice was heavy with emotion.
"I have known those who should have had the innocence of babes, who instead had rage in their hearts and came to harm nearly everyone in sight. I have known those who harmed, yet had love in their hearts and came to defend nearly everyone in sight. I won’t promise we can always tell the difference, because sometimes those people may be one and the same. I can only say that, if I hadn’t tried, we probably wouldn’t be here today. I ask you to think long and hard before you commit to do likewise."
A hush settled over the assemblage. They knew Gabrielle was putting her faith - their faith - on the line. A line that went straight through the heart of a certain Warrior Princess’ legacy. Most knew of Xena through hearsay and believed the good parts because they believed in Gabrielle. Some believed the good because that’s all they had experienced. A few had been touched by both the bad and the good. Regardless, Xena seemed larger than life, a mystery, a phantom that wouldn’t show up at their door to either threaten or save them. But their neighbors - well, that was a different matter.
Many on and around the platform stole glances at their fellow celebrants. Some had fought against each other, been long-time rivals or even mortal enemies. Had competed for land, fortune or mates. Others held conflicting beliefs about everything from divine wisdom to whom one should bed. It dawned on them that this day wasn’t really about a dead woman. It was about them. Whether they could trust enough to fulfill the spirit of the treaties they signed. Truly support a Village of Dreams that might harbor their fears along with their hopes.
Gabrielle inhaled deeply, wanting to breathe Xena’s presence inside through every pore of her being. This had to be about the living for it to work. They needed to face themselves and their faith in others. To believe in themselves, not just in her or Xena. And so she waited, buoyed by the love and trust it was her quest to share.
"Stop! Let us through! You people are fools to listen to that woman!"
Gabrielle didn’t have to look up to recognize this potential pinprick. Melop. A warlord turned politician who’d used his rag-tag "associates" to bully the entire region into accepting him as "governor." He’d taxed, extorted and terrorized the people at will -- until Gabrielle’s arrival. When he learned of her activities, he pronounced her a dangerous cultist and sent emissaries to persuade her to move elsewhere. They limped back bloodied and bruised. Word of Gabrielle’s successful defiance enabled her to organize a motley crew of Amazons and local villagers who convinced him they could do without his services.
With force no longer a viable option, Melop had resorted to the usual divisive tactics, dredging up and fueling every old feud or bias he could. In the end, he proved to be his own downfall. Gabrielle’s inter-village defense force discovered they shared common goals and learned that some "strange" ideas weren’t so bad after all. The concrete threat Melop presented to their well being contributed greatly to the widespread energy and commitment that succeeded in building the Village of Dreams.
Having made his living off his victims’ insecurities, Melop figured those to be his best weapon against Gabrielle’s idealism. He’d swaggered into the Village with about ten cronies - enough to make a scene, but too few to have a "fair" fight with the seasoned Amazon warriors closing in menacingly on the unarmed interlopers.
"I thought this was supposed to be open to everyone!" Melop yelled at Gabrielle. "I’m one of the people. I deserve to be heard, yet you send these unnatural women in to crush us like bugs."
Gabrielle turned away from the big pest in front of her to a smaller one buzzing angrily near her ear. A wasp. "No!" she said, louder than she intended. A hush fell over the assemblage, as all eyes focused on her. She cleared her throat and looked out. "I’ll handle this," she instructed, signaling to the Amazons to move away from Melop’s group. One of the representatives on the platform cautiously approached her to warn her about the wasp, but it flew off on its own at Gabrielle’s command to the Village guards.
"Melop." Gabrielle made the name sound like something that smelled bad. "I wondered when we’d have the pleasure of your company. Please excuse our welcoming party if they were a bit overzealous. You had something to say?"
Melop stood tall and leered at the celebrants. "See what she’s brought you to. You used to think for yourselves. Now you listen to a … woman … who follows in the footsteps of a murderer. You looked out for yourselves, protected your own. Now you get in bed with people you despise. You had morals and a way of life your ancestors died for. Now you want to study heathens and teach womenfolk how to destroy your families.
“I upheld the values that allowed you all to carry on as you have for centuries. This so-called Village of Dreams will become a nightmare of chaos and backstabbing. Come to your senses before it’s too late. Leave this place with me tonight, and tomorrow we will restore it to the peacefully uninhabited valley it was before it became haunted by that woman and her gods forsaken ghost."
People murmured and shifted uneasily in their seats. They looked from Melos to Gabrielle, waiting for the latter to say something. She stood with her arms folded, looking at them.
Suddenly Belach stood. "My men slaughtered his people," he said, pointing to Xenon, "because I didn’t want my daughter to be with his kind. I became the villain I wrongly accused my father of being. Now my grandson must learn true honor and integrity from the one enemy I failed to kill. I can’t bring those Centaurs back, but I can make sure there’s at least one place where people like that will be safe from people like me." Belach locked eyes with Xenon. Xenon nodded. Belach nodded back and resumed his seat.
Another man rose. "I am Kellum from the village of Balsus. My family has a farm that borders sheep land in Lythos. We’ve feuded for generations with our neighbors, each side accusing the other of thievery, godlessness and worse. We lost nearly all our possessions in last year’s terrible storm. If it hadn’t been for our neighbors lending us clothes, our new baby might have died."
Before Kellum could sit, a woman stood. "And if it hadn’t been for Kellum’s family, ours might have starved." Soon others were up on their feet, revealing how they’d been wrong about someone, or someone had been wrong about them. A few walked over to each other and embraced. Those still seated looked on in amazement or exchanged opinions with the person next to them. Melop could only watch with his mouth open.
Gabrielle turned to see those on the platform equally engaged. While she was more than happy to be forgotten in the melee, she was becoming concerned about how to get things back on track. She searched the crowd until she finally saw Marta. Marta smiled and gave her the "okay" sign, then resumed talking with the woman beside her. Gabrielle shouted and waved her hands until she got Marta’s attention. Marta gestured for her to calm down and gave her the "okay" sign again. Gabrielle sighed in frustration. Then was nearly blown off her feet by the sudden blaring of trumpets. She noted with satisfaction that she wasn’t the only one. "Heh," she chuckled to herself. "Maybe imagination isn’t so bad after all."
Gabrielle strode back to the podium. The crowd had recovered from their startlement sufficiently enough to give her their attention. "So," she grinned, "should I take that as a yes?"
"YESSSS!" the onlookers yelled back.
"And you?" she asked the representatives. "Are you prepared to approve the document before you?" In response, each representative walked over and signed.
"Melop? I believe you have your answer. Perhaps those women you admire so much can escort your entourage to safety. We wouldn’t want it said we allowed you to be attacked by heathen beliefs." Gabrielle smiled evilly. "Or wasps." She waited until Melop was led none too gently away, before clasping her hands together and addressing the crowd. "Well, enough for the intermission. Let’s get back to the main show, shall we?"
Gabrielle turned to those on the platform. "By agreeing to the principles of the Village of Dreams, you have cleared the way to honor some of its first fruits." She beckoned to the small group of girls with purple sashes who had been standing quietly on the platform throughout the proceedings. They marched with dignity to stand to one side of the podium. Gabrielle turned back the audience.
"Of everything we do today, nothing fills my heart more than recognizing young people dedicated to embodying the honor, perseverance, compassion, and excellence of the Warrior Princess who is my inspiration for the Village of Dreams. A little over a year ago, I came to some of you and explained a plan for developing such girls. I told you we would instruct them in a variety of disciplines - from philosophy and the arts, to practical skills for nurturing and protecting life. You trusted us with your children. Today, we recognize them for striving to be exactly what we hoped."
She gestured to about 50 girls with purple sashes seated around the platform. They rose. Gabrielle addressed them. "Each of you has faithfully attended sessions here at least twice a month, often more. You have passed a rigorous test in mental and physical skills. You have pledged to serve yourselves, your families and your communities with respect in whatever capacity you choose."
Gabrielle looked out at the audience. "Brothers and sisters, I now officially present to you the first class of Xena Scouts!"
Everyone grinned and clapped, including the Scouts. Gabrielle addressed the girls again. "Some of you will continue seeking higher levels of accomplishment. Some may choose to petition for acceptance into the Amazon Nation. All of you will leave knowing you are more prepared for whatever life presents. Go forth, proudly, in the name of one of the truest, noblest warriors of all time."
Fifty hands went up in salute. "Yes, Leader Gabrielle!” fifty voices shouted. An astonished Gabrielle watched the Scouts strike their fists into their chests, as they chanted, "Xena! Xena! Xena!" They stopped in unison, gazed a long moment at Gabrielle in silent tribute, then resumed their seats.
For what seemed like the umpteenth time that day, Gabrielle found herself struggling to maintain her composure. "Thank you," she said, her eyes glistening. "Now, let’s hope I can get through the rest of the program without some of you having to use your skills to save me from drowning in my own tears."
The Scouts and the crowd laughed. "That’s okay," someone in the back yelled. "We’ve got all night."
"Ha! Maybe you do, but I don’t," Gabrielle responded, smiling. "Besides, I’m anxious to get to the second part of my favorite activity." She turned to the Scouts on the platform. "I will now award badges of merit to those who have distinguished themselves in a particular area."
She called each girl forward and pinned various symbols on their purple sashes - a quill for scholarship, a staff for martial arts, a bird for nature studies, a hammer for building skills, a dinar for commercial projects, and a bundle of wheat for farming and homemaking.
Singling out three in their late teens, she said, "These young women have excelled at leadership. They are prepared to head troops in their hometowns, as well as to journey to other places which have expressed interest in the Scouts." Gabrielle pinned an insignia above the gold X on their sashes. "Wear this chakram with pride. We entrust you with nurturing Xenas for the future."
Gabrielle addressed the crowd. "Sisters and brothers, please join me in congratulating all the girls and young women who represent what the Village of Dreams stands for."
The guests rose and gave the Scouts a long, appreciative ovation. When the applause dwindled, Gabrielle announced, "This concludes the formal ceremonies. Please join us for food and celebration in the -" She paused, puzzled, as she noticed Eve making an unscheduled trip to the platform, carrying a long bundle wrapped in brown cloth. "Um, hold on. It seems we’re not quite finished yet."
Eve walked to stand beside Gabrielle. "Greetings," she said to the audience. "I am Eve, daughter of Xena by blood and of Gabrielle by adoption. Gabrielle has given so much to us. She’s wanted nothing in return except our happiness and prosperity. I would like to present her with a gift in gratitude for this day."
Eve unwrapped the bundle and held up the contents for everyone to see. "This exquisite tapestry is from Japa. It depicts Xena’s battle with the evil spirit Yodoshi and how my mothers made the decision to put others above themselves. The people of Higuchi sent this to honor the love that saved the lives and souls of their village."
Gabrielle listened, fingers pressed to her lips. In the silence that followed Eve’s words, she reached out and touched the tapestry. She traced some of the figures that represented her and Xena, as though reliving the events portrayed. Finally she took the tapestry and held it to her body, mouth trembling.
Eve placed her hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders and bent to hear some whispered instructions. She smiled and turned to face their guests. "Gabrielle apologizes for her uncharacteristic loss of words. She thanks all of us for our generosity, especially the people of Higuchi." She signaled to some drummers in the back, who began tapping their instruments lightly. "She says we’ve had enough crying for one day. Please -- eat, drink and be merry!"
As one, the guests brought their hands to their foreheads, then their fists to their chests in the Amazon salute. Like the Scouts, they stood silently paying their respect to Gabrielle, before moving to pick their way to the refreshment area.
"Gabrielle? Are you all right? I didn’t mean to upset you."
Gabrielle was leaning against the podium, seemingly a million miles away. She focused on Eve. "What? Oh, yes, sorry. I’ll be fine." She slowly rolled the tapestry and stood it against the podium. "Come here, you naughty girl," she scolded, holding her arms open to Eve. "Marta hinted you had a secret," she said, hugging Eve tightly. "This makes everything complete. For Xena and for me."
Eve broke apart and smiled through her tears. "I pray so. I’ll talk to you about interpreting it on our way to dinner. You’ll be …. Oh, look," she whispered.
Gabrielle glanced down to see a golden butterfly perched atop the tapestry. It fluttered over to Eve’s shoulder. Both women smiled. Gabrielle reached her hand to the butterfly, and it walked onto her finger. They watched as it seemed to preen, then finally flutter off gracefully to follow the crowd headed to the food and wine.
"My," Gabrielle said. "Wonders never cease. You think maybe it’s trying to tell us to shut up and get something to eat?"
The day over at last, Gabrielle sat wearily in her office, soaking up the welcome silence. She’d made sure the guests were safely ensconced in their quarters, that all was prepared as it should be for the next morning’s breakfast and closing activities. Marta and Eve had assured her she could relax now, that they had everything under control. She glanced around, relieved to see her desk cleared and all extraneous paraphernalia removed.
Sighing contentedly, she stretched and reached across the desk to pick up Xena’s urn. She caressed it fondly before carefully storing it in a carry bag, which she took with her into her sleeping room and placed behind the curtain that covered her clothing closet.
Gabrielle felt exhilarated, despite her tired feet and a slight headache. She did some deep breathing exercises to calm her whirring thoughts. She wanted to see Xena as soon as possible tonight, as they had much to discuss. She lay on her bed with anticipation and closed her eyes, letting herself drift into the one dream she’d never tire of having.
"Where? I can’t see you."
"I … I don’t want to intrude."
"Intrude? Xena, you can’t intrude on a conversation you’re supposed to be a party to."
"I meant intrude on any conversations you were having with yourself. It’s been a long day. An important day. I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive to your need to be alone with your thoughts at times like this."
"Are you a fly on the wall?"
A chuckle in the darkness. "No."
"A spidah? Gnat, wasp or something equally unsavory?"
"No, I’m considering it, not likely, that depends."
"Well, get over here so I can see for myself."
Xena appeared next to the bed, a smile playing at her lips.
"Hmmm." Gabrielle slowly examined the tall figure from toe to head, then in reverse. "You look savory enough to me." She patted the bed. "Sit."
Xena eased down onto the bed, her hands in her lap, eyes on Gabrielle. Waiting.
Gabrielle rolled to her side and propped her head on her hand, looking up at her very serious friend. "We’re awfully formal tonight," she teased.
Xena gave her a little smile. "It was a big day for me too. Awesome, in fact." She gazed past Gabrielle thoughtfully. "I used to wonder what you meant when you told me what is was like watching me lead armies or leap across oceans. Hearing people applaud me when I saved their children. I guess I took it for granted, because I didn’t see it as that extraordinary, the way you did." Her eyes returned lovingly to her soulmate.
"I understand now. I felt it today. It was like watching the woman of my dreams." Xena slid her hand across the bed. Gabrielle grasped it, too moved to do or say anything else. "Everything’s in place now. Your life is full with work and people who need you."
"Yes," Gabrielle agreed, eyes brimming with emotion.
"I see you’ve … you’ve packed up my urn."
Gabrielle blinked. "Um … yes, I did."
"Seems you’re ready at last to move on."
"Yes, I believe so."
Xena swallowed, finally moving to Gabrielle and pulling her soulmate into a mighty hug. "I am so honored you let me share in this. You’ve given my life more meaning and existence in death than I ever could when I was breathing and kicking." Xena smiled wryly. "I’d tell you I can now die a happy woman, but I’m afraid it’d be a bit redundant."
Gabrielle pulled away to give Xena a long stare. "Is that supposed to be some kind of farewell speech?"
"I’ll always be here when you need me. That won’t ever change."
"But you’re expecting my thoughts of you will be packed away now, sort of like your ashes."
"Yeah, I guess so. I understand that. Like I said before, it’s what I’d dreamed for you."
"You’re right. You can be such a ninny sometimes."
Xena’s brows shot up. "What?"
"You heard me." Gabrielle rested her head on Xena’s shoulder. "Remember back in Japa when I said it wasn’t right for you to stay dead?"
"Gabrielle, I thought we were past that. We agreed -"
"You’re interrupting me again."
"Oh. Sorry. Once a pest, always a pest."
"Not necessarily. We’ll work on that. Now, as I was saying …." Gabrielle readjusted herself to think more comfortably. "I’m not sure I was talking about justice or even the greater good. I’ve gone over and over that moment for four years. I believe I felt it wasn’t right because it wasn’t meant for you to stay dead."
Xena frowned. "You mean like fate or destiny? I told you when Caesar tried to change our lives that I believe things happen precisely as they should. As much as I’d love to be here with you in the flesh, I still believe that." She looked down at Gabrielle. "Don’t you?"
"Sort of. I can’t deny there’s been some good to this. You got to respect yourself in a way you might not have otherwise. I got to prove to myself - and you - that I could carry on, even prosper, on my own. Neither of us has to worry so much about your shadow anymore."
Xena gave Gabrielle a squeeze. "True. It was worth it to me if only for that."
"I’ll give you that," Gabrielle said, squeezing Xena back. "It’s the staying dead part I’m still having problems with."
Xena sighed heavily. "Gabrielle, I know I promised not to fight you on that, but --"
"No, if I remember correctly, you said you’d try to be happy if that made me happy." Gabrielle paused for Xena’s exasperated huff. "Hear me out, okay?"
"I wasn’t stuck in trying to bring your body back. I was trying to make sense of what happened. I’ve talked to holy people, shamans, healers - you name it - everywhere I’ve traveled. When I found Eve in India and told her about it, she was devastated. Nothing in Eli’s or anybody else’s teachings seemed to explain why those trapped souls needed to be avenged, especially after you risked your life to eliminate Yodoshi’s evil spirit and free the souls. Eve sent inquiries to a priest she knows in Japa. She was a little surprised to hear back that the people of Higuchi mourned you as a hero."
"As opposed to rejoicing that a criminal had finally been punished?" Xena placed her fingers against Gabrielle’s protesting lips. "I’m only saying the coin had two sides. It was a toss-up as to which one they’d see." She smiled gently. "Not everyone flips it so it always lands up, the way you do."
Gabrielle ducked her head. "Um, well, sometimes you can have a hand in something even when you’re just going along minding your own business."
"Oh?" Xena asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, see I went to the Ghost Killer’s memorial service. I felt a special bond with him, I guess because he’d understand the real sacrifice you’d made." Gabrielle exhaled a deep breath. "The true loss."
"Yes," Xena said quietly, "He trusted the love and courage in your heart that was the key. He understood your sacrifice as well."
Gabrielle nodded her head against Xena’s chest. "He’d told his family how you’d agreed to work with him and that he’d given me the secret to bringing you back. They expressed regret I’d run out of time. I said I hadn’t, that you’d chosen to stay dead so the lost souls could have peace. They looked at me strangely, but didn’t say anything, just backed away, bowing. They must’ve told their neighbors."
"I couldn’t believe representatives came from Japa. That tapestry they sent was stunning."
Gabrielle smiled against Xena’s chest. "More than you know. Eve’s friend heard about the tapestry and told the villagers I’d probably like it for the library. She wanted to surprise me with it at the ceremony. A note came with it, explaining that a seer had woven it, that every scene has a certain significance. Apparently Eve’s been examining it in minute detail. She saw something puzzling that she wanted to talk to me about after the presentation."
"Uh huh. It shows you and me with our hands on your urn, just before you told me not to immerse it in the water that would restore your body. Then it looks like you’re somewhere with what must be the freed souls, looking down on me standing alone." Gabrielle paused. "But it doesn’t end there."
"It doesn’t?" Xena asked, not sure she wanted to know how it did end.
"Uh uh. The souls appear to be pushing you away."
Xena swallowed. "They don’t want me?"
Gabrielle chuckled softly. "We’re not sure why," she responded diplomatically. "They do seem to be pushing you toward a blond figure with its arms outstretched."
If Xena had had a beating heart, it would’ve been thumping or skipping. She swallowed again. "Is the blond figure …. Is she …."
"Dead? I certainly hope not." Gabrielle smiled impishly. "At least not while she’s still got that deliciously firm body, those defined -"
"Okay, okay," Gabrielle relented, laughing. "She’s looking up. Her arms stretch up. The souls seem to be pushing you down toward her arms, her world. The last scene shows you walking off with her into the sunset."
Xena lay silent, absentmindedly stroking Gabrielle’s arm. Finally she asked, "Does it show how to make that ending happen?"
"Eve’s friend thinks the seer may know. That’s why I packed your urn. We’re going back to Japa."
Xena gently disengaged from Gabrielle and scooted up to prop herself against the wall. "Are you sure that’s what you want? You said yourself everything is finally the way you dreamed. Why leave all this for what may be false hope and more heartache?"
Gabrielle raised herself up to rest against her soulmate. She reached over and turned Xena’s face toward her. "Xena, I planned to start that quest even before I knew about the tapestry."
"Yes. It’s why I’ve been working so hard to put things in place, to make sure there are others to carry on this work. It’s a base for Eve and Marta, for me. I’ve received invitations from all over the world to help establish other villages like this. I planned to combine that with searching for insights to bring you back. Maybe do a little barding here, butt-kicking there, along the way. The only thing that might have stopped me was you."
"I didn’t realize you could think all this would ever replace you." Gabrielle turned away. "But I can see why. I think maybe that’s what I was trying to do at first. I accepted you did what you felt you had to. But questions kept nagging at me. Why did it still feel wrong? Why couldn’t anybody explain the spiritual basis? Was there no forgiveness possible in those freed souls? Was it, in truth, to appease the living? But those were my questions. I didn’t want to disturb your sense of peace unless the answers would make you ‘whole’ in every sense."
Xena pulled her soulmate closer and grinned. "In other words, you missed me."
"Grrrrr." Gabrielle whacked Xena lightly across the midsection. "The issue is, I didn’t know how much you missed me. Not until you started … bugging … me like that. And when you admitted you were bored, I didn’t feel so selfish about wanting to bring you back. The tapestry confirmed what I felt all along, except now we’ve got somewhere to focus."
Xena shook her head. "Amazing."
Gabrielle nodded. "Yep, amazing."
The two sat a few moments, side by side, each contemplating the possibilities that lay ahead.
"So when do we start?"
Gabrielle nearly choked with laughter. She gave her soulmate a long, grateful hug. "Not tonight, that’s for sure. Some of us need sleep."
"Will I get to be more active on this quest? More involved in your thoughts and decisions?"
"Yessss." Gabrielle smirked. "Your advanced wisdom could be useful. After all, I figure I’m still at least a couple years younger than you."
Xena smirked. "All the more enticing to gnats and bees."
"Speaking of which, that was lovely how you appeared at the ceremony."
Xena grinned malevolently. "It’d’ve been even lovelier if you’d let me sting the bastard. Um, not that I had any doubts you could handle him, of course."
"I meant the butterfly, after Eve gave me the tapestry."
"Oh, yeah, wasn’t that something the way it showed up like that? Made me think of Lao Ma."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "Are you saying it wasn’t you?"
"Do I get points if I say it was?" Xena noticed she was getting an exasperated glare instead. "Pfffft. Not creepy-crawly enough for my tastes. Too flimsy to do dive bombs."
"Xena, I swear I don’t know how anybody can be such balm to my soul and still be so -"
"Like a fly in the ointment? Bwahahahahahaha!"
"Hey, fair is fair. You said yourself you’re partly responsible that my otherworldly retirement home wasn’t the paradise advertised."
"Yes, my dear, sweet, forgiving, irreplaceable, eternal soulmate?"
"You know how I said you’d been cleansed to the point of invisibility?"
"That hasn’t quite worked out like I thought either. It may be you can take the fly out of the darkness, but can’t take the darkness out of the fly. Which may not bode well if - when - we get your body back."
Xena’s brows furrowed. "It’s true," she said seriously, "we haven’t really talked about what we might be getting if I’m mortal again. Are you … are you sure it’s worth the risk?"
Gabrielle pulled her soulmate’s head down and planted a kiss on her forehead. "I’d bet your enchantingly beady little eyes it is. Good enough?"
"For now." Xena wriggled down to a prone position, pulling Gabrielle with her. She smiled to herself. Yep, the butterfly was a nice touch, but even in death she had a certain stoic image to maintain.
Gabrielle yawned and snuggled into her soulmate. She smiled to herself. That butterfly had been the perfect touch. Yes, even in death, Xena couldn’t resist doing the right thing.
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