Xena’s return to life “pure” at the end of the Season Five opener FALLEN ANGEL forces her and others to grapple with personal issues beyond their mission to prevent the war gods Ares and Kal from getting their hands on the “light” chakram in the follow-up episode. This story also makes reference to the later SEEDS OF FAITH.
Gabrielle: Xena, what is wrong with you? It’s not your memory. It’s like you’ve lost –.
Amarice: Your fire, your edge.
Gabrielle: Your self. Don’t you feel that?
Xena: I feel … empty.
-- From the beginning of CHAKRAM
Xena sat with her knees drawn up, absently monitoring the meat browning over their campfire. Amarice had snared a couple rabbits, pleasantly surprised at how easily Xena caught two more, surprisingly impatient when Xena hesitated killing them. Even Xena thought that odd, though not sure why. She let out a long breath. So much seemed odd since Eli miraculously brought her and Gabrielle back from the dead. Her friends’ behavior and furtive glances suggested everything out of place … wrong … centered on her.
She gazed at the stars as though they could shed light on the darkness around her death. She’d learned they’d been crucified. Shuddering, she wondered what deed could have earned such cruel punishment. Why her main association with it was lying in Gabrielle’s arms, drawing sustenance from each other as if the only people on earth and requiring nothing more. Of Gabrielle smiling and murmuring, “I love you,” before experiencing a tremendous lightness, suddenly transported to a place of tranquility and transcendent winged spirits.
Her last recollection before gasping air back on earth was staring into the face of an unfortunate soul who’d fallen, being overwhelmed with thankfulness she’d been able to lend a hand. Even once in her body – sitting upright stunned, cold and stiff – she’d felt touched by something … warm. Comforting. Was it an illusion? Her mind’s way of transforming horrors she couldn’t grasp? To ease her passage back to the flesh? Substitute for whatever she’d lost, misplaced or had to leave behind that rendered her not quite … whole? Her companions said she was missing a part of herself that made her “Xena.” Somehow “good” in a not so good way. Or maybe “bad” in a way that wasn’t so bad? Whatever, regardless of the defect they wanted fixed, it seemed for now they needed her as she was.
She reached for a twig, mainly as an excuse to check on Joxer and Amarice. They were gesticulating as if comparing fighting techniques. When she stoked the fire, she peered over at Gabrielle, deep in quiet conversation with Eli. Xena surmised they shared a common topic. Tomorrow. The “light” chakram sought by the war gods Kal and Ares, but which only someone “pure” could retrieve. A monk had recently died trying. She had promised to do so anyway – apparently to both save the world and restore the woman everyone else seemed to know better than herself.
Another oddity – her companions. Talk about a motley crew. Three carried weapons. The fourth would rather die than harm a flea. All claimed to have witnessed her in battle with foes from mortals to supernatural creatures. Is that what they had in common? How they had hooked up? A mission to right some wrong? Also odd, considering her initial impressions of them. She grinned, picturing Gabrielle in a peasant dress, huffily giving some brute the what’s what for interrupting a village gathering. Joxer, clanking around in that silly get-up, posturing like some tough guy. Amarice in an equally silly outfit and needing a scolding for bad manners. Eli, performing magic tricks one minute and curing illnesses the next.
In her flashbacks she saw herself enjoying their company. As an equal. Someone they even looked up to. Whatever had changed, it was as serious as a house on fire. And when she caught her friends’ eyes, she saw herself as the spark. Oh, they obviously still cared for her, were willing to give their lives for her. If only their disappointment in her shortcomings didn’t blind them to her better qualities – her quick thinking, humor, willingness to listen and go along with their wishes. Joxer could barely look at her. Amarice often treated her with scorn. Eli’s compassion bordered on pity. And Gabrielle …. Gabrielle wanted her best friend to be somebody else.
Xena shrugged. Dwelling on such thoughts wouldn’t solve anything. She focused instead on the bond they shared regardless of the problems. Evidently it was strong enough to face the challenge of tomorrow. She bit her lip, now considering a positive side to being the center of their concern. They were together because of her. At least on this particular journey. Their courage and success depended upon her. On the innocence and selflessness they believed made her “the one.” Yes! All she had to do was stay true to the person they wanted to go away. And after tomorrow? She smiled to herself. Everything would be okay. Like they said, she didn’t know any better. Or, in the case, any worse?
“Hey, you guys. Get off those duffs.” Xena waved a spitted rabbit. “Nothing like a good meal to chase the gloom of night away.”
“Not bad, huh?” Xena beamed at her companions. They’d eaten in relative silence, which their cook decided to take as a compliment.
“I’ve had worse,” Joxer muttered, not daring to look at Gabrielle.
“I gave it the special treatment.” Xena winked at Gabrielle. “My mom’s secret blend of herbs and spices.”
“Mmhm. You’ve been holding out on me, O Chef of Many Skills.”
“I have?” Xena frowned. “But I’ve known about those seasonings since …. Oh. You mean … before.”
“It’s okay. You were usually busy – .”
“Hunting and killing?” Amarice noted Gabrielle’s disapproving scowl. “Um … you know …. Game and fish.”
“In other words, you did your share.” Gabrielle smirked. “But this seasoning stuff? Definitely something I’d like to see more of after …. When ….”
“If she remembers she fights not cooks?”
Gabrielle again cut her eyes at Amarice. “Xena’s always done well at whatever she tries. When she wants to.” She gave her soulmate a playful smile. “I doubt that’ll ever change.”
“Thank you.” Xena turned her nose up at Amarice. “Nice to know someone appreciates me.” She smiled fondly at Gabrielle. “Something else that hasn’t changed.”
“It was delicious, Xena.” Eli rubbed his stomach. “Feeding the spirit is important. I forget sometimes how good it can be to feed the flesh.”
“My pleasure.” Xena began cleaning up. “Hey, I smelled berries when we passed through the woods. I’m thinking of picking a few for breakfast. Anybody wanna come with me?”
The others’ heads jerked up. “Now?” they asked in unison.
“Why not? It’ll save us some time in the morning.”
“It’s so dark,” Gabrielle observed reasonably. “Besides, we need to turn in early. Get up and hit the road at sunrise.”
“Yeah, can’t waste time searching for berries.” Amarice snorted. “Or you.”
“You afraid I’ll get lost? Didn’t you hear what Eli said?” Xena puffed up. “I’m a ‘good tracker.’”
“What she means, Xena, is that we don’t know who else might be out there.”
“Gabby’s right. Remember those warriors we ran into?” Joxer warned Xena, as one might a child about to play with knives. “They’re bad. Verrrry bad. They want to hurt you.”
“And you can’t protect yourself. We could, but why do it, if we don’t have to?”
Gabrielle scowled at Joxer and Amarice. “I’m sure Xena gets the point. It’s probably best we all stay close to camp.” She looked to Xena for agreement.
Xena did understand. Kal and his men might be lurking about. And once again her friends were acting as though she had no sense. “It was just a thought. I’ll try to be more careful.” She took a deep breath and focused on making herself useful. “You were fixing your weapons before dinner. And strategizing. Why don’t you go back to that? I’ll finish up here.”
Gabrielle studied Xena a moment, not for the first time disconcerted by how much harder it was now to read the woman she’d come to know better than herself. “You sure? I can help you – .”
“Yep. That other stuff’s more important. I’ll get wood for tonight. Some extra for in the morning. Just over there,” Xena hastily added, pointing to an area close by. “Now shoo!”
The others congregated at Gabrielle’s bedroll. They soon had their heads together, keeping their voices low as if not to disturb their lone companion. Xena busied herself with her chores. She glanced at her friends occasionally, admittedly feeling a bit left out. Regretful she wasn’t more like them, but accepting this as just the way it was.
“Well, I guess we’ve covered all the angles. Except Ares.” Gabrielle’s jaw tightened. “He never gives up trying to manipulate Xena. Even in her present state.”
“Are you concerned he’ll succeed?”
Gabrielle considered Eli’s question. “She understands what she has to do. The importance of it. Not so much for herself. To prevent more violence and others getting hurt. Her sense of duty hasn’t changed. I believe she’ll be okay.”
“So do I.” Eli smiled. “Especially with you as her guide. If she gets confused, she’ll listen to you.”
“Joxer? Amarice?” Gabrielle inquired at their silence and downcast eyes. “If you have doubts, let’s hear them. Tomorrow may be too late.”
“Not ‘ha ha’ funny. Weird funny.” Joxer drew his knees up and rested his chin on them. “I always imagined Gabrielle yelling, ‘Joxer! Help Xena!’ You know, really being treated as a warrior. A worthy sidekick like Gabby.”
“You are. There’s no one we trust more at our backs.”
“Yeah. Well, the other day? When I finally heard it? I didn’t feel proud, like I thought.” Joxer clenched his eyes against the image of Xena surrounded by Kal’s warriors, not raising a hand to defend herself, struck down by a blow and rubbing her cheek like a kid shocked anyone could be so mean. How she’d reminded him of the criticisms he dismissed or hated about himself – “clueless,” “bumbling,” “nuisance.” The hero he patterned himself after, reduced to a joke no better than him. “That wasn’t the Warrior Princess I rescued. Not the ‘real’ one. She coulda been anybody.” He snorted. “Except for a bunch of gods after her.”
Gabrielle smiled knowingly. “Xena saw beyond that pointy hat of yours – a big heart, loyalty, courage to do the right thing no matter what. Are you saying you can’t see that in her now? Just because she’s softer on the outside?”
“She was kinda bummed. Worried about being a burden. You know – me havin’ to protect her and all.” Joxer ducked his head. “I felt sorry for her. Told her people sometimes figured I wasn’t tough enough either. How I overcame that, to be a warrior like Xena …um … her.”
Amarice perked up. “Did it ring a bell? Put a spark in `er?”
“She, uh, took it wrong. Asked if I saw any worth in her. If she was useless the way she was.”
Gabrielle swallowed, afraid to ask, but needing to know. “What did you say?”
Joxer shrugged. “What she always told me. That the mushy stuff she saw in me was just as important. Made me ‘tough’ in a good way, when it counted.”
Gabrielle smiled her approval. “And she was right. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“Humph. Wish I could see it like that,” Amarice mumbled. “It was stupid putting herself between me and that goon’s sword. Sure, it took guts and all. I know it’s not her fault she’s missing her … whatever. It’s just ….”
“What?” Eli probed gently.
Amarice fingered Xena’s broken chakram, secured at her waist. “The lock of hair I cut off her body? It was supposed to inspire me to be as wise and brave. Follow in her footsteps. Pay tribute to the Xena I thought dead.” She snorted. “Next thing, she’s alive again. Except, when I look at her ….” She ground her teeth, silently admitting to herself this version of the Warrior Princess reminded her way too much of the fears she disguised by pretending to be an Amazon – of helplessness, naiveté, not belonging. Nothing like the compass to a tougher self she’d found in the Xena she admired.
“This … half … Xena? She’s like a cheat of the real thing. A betrayal.” Amarice glared defiantly at the others. “Maybe you can find the good in that, but I can’t. So telling her she’s okay makes her feel better. How can you depend on that in the middle of battle? Sandwiched between two gods of war?”
“Hey – like you said – she saved your butt, didn’t she?”
“She didn’t have to.” Amarice glowered at Joxer. “So what if that guy killed me? I’m a warrior. Prepared to die like one.”
“Yes, much too quickly, for Xena’s tastes. Have you forgotten her lectures about that? Even this Xena should’ve taught you a thing or two about tempering violence with patience and quick thinking.”
“Riiiight.” Amarice smirked at Gabrielle. “Lucky the real Warrior Princess didn’t need you for that, huh?”
“Lucky she didn’t need me where you were concerned. I saw a hotheaded nuisance. She had faith enough in you for both of us. You want to honor the ‘real’ Xena? Try being as tolerant as she was when we met you.”
Amarice gaped at Gabrielle, struck by the bluntness as well as the truth in her words. “I know what we have to do. I’ll play my part to see she’s on her game tomorrow.” She sucked in her cheeks. “Whatever that is.”
“Good. Let’s go over the plan one more time before we turn in.”
An angel observed the five mortals, her soft brown eyes reflecting joy with a tinge of sadness. The spirit of the “unfortunate soul” salvaged from Hell by Xena’s mercy, she had in turn served as a vessel for Gabrielle’s cleansing in Heaven. On earth, Joxer and Amarice had protected their friends’ remains from the Romans. Such love and courage had touched the angel, as had Eli’s pain that his faith seemed insufficient against the cruelties of the world. Their need drew her to them, uniting the realms and channeling through Eli the power to restore his friends’ mortality.
The angel remembered little of her own afterlife experience, except the lingering touch of a finger to her chest. It seemed the one tie between her previous condition and sudden transformation to a state gloriously free in one way, bound by compassion in another. She learned from the archangel Michael she’d died filled with vengeance, responsible for terrible crimes against countless innocents. That Xena shared the blame and she herself had killed Gabrielle’s husband in retribution. She honestly couldn’t conceive any of it until Gabrielle’s confirmation and forgiveness in Heaven.
Looking upon Xena now, she felt a special kinship with this rare mortal clean of dark thoughts or memories. Both had to trust the word of others who knew them as once very different. Who reminded them of the costs and obligations of their newfound serenity. But whereas her own ascension had been at her journey’s end and would be eternal, Xena was still in transition – her purity possibly cut short if she successfully completed tomorrow’s mission.
The angel held up her hand, studying it for reassurance, recalling its touch to Xena’s shoulder after her dark-haired savior had returned to her body. Whatever happened in the next few days, Xena would soon discover she carried within her a pure life for the future. A child whom the angel prayed would prolong Xena’s happiness. Give it form and solidity, if Xena remained unable to fully appreciate its preciousness amidst the pain and hate she couldn’t understand. Give it endurance, should Xena regain awareness of the darkness within that made her question being “whole” again.
“You seem troubled.” Michael appeared beside the angel and brushed her hand. “You conceived a wonderful gift. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
The angel smiled. “Oh, yes. The child will be another chance. Just as Xena gave me. She deserves that.” She sighed. “I can feel her peace. If only it could last forever, like mine.”
Michael glanced at the campsite with a neutral expression. “Xena’s had more chances than most. Including you. You wouldn’t be here with me, if not for her act of mercy none of us foresaw.”
“She gave me her light – and with it, the chance for ultimate peace. What she has now ….” The angel’s forehead creased. “It seems more a means for use – and possible sacrifice – in acquiring a weapon. Is it truly ‘pure,’ if bestowed for such an earthly purpose? Truly … hers?”
Michael turned the angel to face him. “Our justice isn’t always perfect. Every soul is different, depending a lot on their human nature and will. Xena is capable of enormous evil as well as great good. We regard her role and responsibility with equal magnitude. She used the ‘dark’ chakram to excess in the past, but managed to control and redirect its consequences. What other pure soul could take possession of the ‘light’ chakram and potentially have the right instincts for handling it?”
The angel nodded, accepting Michael’s wisdom. “Forgive me. I’m still learning. It seems I am not entirely cleansed of selfishness.”
“Selfishness? No, you’re doing fine. These matters can be quite complicated. Especially with someone like Xena. That’s why it’s left up to us archangels to – .”
“I meant wanting for her what I have. I should care more about what’s best for her, like Gabrielle. She believes Xena needs what might trouble both of them. That Xena cannot be her best if it’s missing.” The angel clasped her hands. “They believe the ‘light’ chakram may somehow lead to feeling herself again. Is that so?” she asked hopefully.
Michael looked away. “What happens is up to her.”
“It is not desired?”
“It’s not the primary goal. More a … chance … we’ll have to take.”
The angel bowed her head. “Oh.”
Michael lifted her chin. “Your compassion is admirable. It will not go unrecognized or be wasted.”
The angel brightened. “Oh?”
“Whatever happens, there’s the child. Perhaps she will retain some of the innocence you and Xena lost so young.” Michael smiled. “Perhaps by receiving a spirit as pure as yours.”
The angel’s eyes widened. “You mean …. I … her baby ….”
“That’s up to Xena as well. When it is time, she will know you as her child’s inspiration. She will be offered your spirit’s reincarnation through the child. If she accepts, it will be another chance for both of you – to redeem a past life, to create a new one – through each other.”
Michael watched the soft brown eyes before him fill with gratitude. Such irony. Two women who had caused each other so much suffering. Neither of whom could remember how the worst in them had been defined by the other. Whose mutual forgiveness might ultimately complete them in a way they never imagined.
“Thank you, Michael. Whatever they need in the days ahead, I will be there for them however I can.”
Michael put his arm around her shoulder. “I can’t think of a better guardian. Your destinies are intertwined. None of them would be quite the same without Callisto.”
Xena hummed as she gathered wood. Her ever-sensitive ears picked up footsteps. She turned to see Eli approaching.
“May I join you?”
“To help?” Xena smirked. “Or keep track of me.”
Eli chuckled. “How about both?” He picked up some wood Xena had already stacked and carried it to the fire. Before returning, he spread a blanket sufficiently out of earshot of the others. “I made us some tea. Feel like chatting awhile when we’re done?”
“Sure.” Xena checked on her friends bedding down for the night. “Suppose I should be tired, but I’m not.”
“Same here. Meditation isn’t calming my mind like usual. Seems to happen when I’m around you.”
“Huh. Must be Gabrielle.” Xena chuckled. “I’m about as exciting as this kindling. If you don’t mind fetching that last pile, I think our work here is done.”
The two deposited the wood. They bid goodnight to their friends, got their tea and made themselves comfortable on the blanket.
“You seemed in a good mood.” At Xena’s blank expression, Eli explained, “I heard you humming.”
“Oh. Yes. Kinda my form of meditation. Didn’t work for me either.”
“Thinking about tomorrow?”
Xena propped her chin on her fists. “Mm, more about yesterday. How all this came about. Me. Everyone else. It’s still so fuzzy.” She glanced around the camp. “I’m glad I’m with everyone. It feels right, but … odd. Some pieces fit. So many are … missing.”
“It makes sense sometimes and doesn’t sometimes?”
“Yes! You understand?”
“As much as I can.” Eli sat his cup down and leaned forward. “Xena, what troubles you most?”
Xena shook her head. “That’s it. Nothing.” She shivered. “Well, maybe the dying part. Otherwise, I see me and my brothers playing. Helping Mom. Going on adventures with my comrades over there. Sometimes meeting more folks along the way. They say that’s wrong. I should remember times when I wasn’t happy. When I caused unhappiness for people I love. And strangers. That I won’t really be ‘me’ until I feel troubled again. Am trouble.” She rubbed her forehead. “And that’ll make my friends happier? How could that be right? Especially to Gabrielle?”
Eli nodded. “You remember her differently, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes!” Xena wrapped her arms around herself, face glowing. “Such fun! Always laughing. Telling stories. Being kind to everyone. We talked for hours about love and wanting the best for each other. Now she’s a warrior and says I have to be one too. To defend the best in me.” She gasped and brought her hands to her mouth. “Wait! Could that be it? Because Gabrielle’s changed? And Joxer and Amarice? Maybe they see themselves in me? Why they want me to be different? More like them?”
“Mm. Partly perhaps. Except they wanted to be more like you.”
Xena snorted. “I don’t think so.”
Eli chuckled. “Okay, the ‘real’ you.”
Xena toyed with one of the ornamental strands dangling from her hair. “Gabrielle admits I’ve become exactly what she dreamed. You’d think that’d be a good thing, huh? Sure, she says without my ‘dark’ side I’m … off kilter. I do kinda feel that way. But isn’t it better than somebody who kills? Somebody Amarice called a … a ‘real terror’? Who maybe deserves punishment?” She shook her head. “Why would Gabrielle prefer such a person? It’s like that god said – Ares. When did she become so hard? Why?”
Eli gazed at his hands. “I didn’t see it at first either. She talked about the peace she felt with others you met on your travels. Understood immediately the power of forgiveness. The Way of Love seemed so right for her.”
“But she couldn’t? Because of me?” Xena swallowed. “Wanting to be like … like that ‘other’ me?”
“You mustn’t blame yourself. She’s a warrior, Xena. Not in her blood, the way you are … were. Her instinct is to fight first from her heart, her mind. But her spirit won’t allow injustice or pain, if she can help it. Now that she’s learned another way to defend against it, she’ll use violence if she has to.” Eli smiled wryly. “Especially when the threat is against you.”
“This dress is pleasing, isn’t it?” Xena asked, caressing the fabric covering her legs. “So it’s not practical for camping or fighting. Ares didn’t seem bothered by that. He’s the one everybody warns me against. They say he helped make that ‘other’ me.” Her brow raised with a hint of challenge. “The only one who accepts me as I am. ‘Open, free from old wounds and grudges,’ he said. He questioned Gabrielle for wishing that on me again. Don’t you find it strange? This god of war talking like she used to? Her acting more like him?”
“He’s very deceptive. He means to use you. Wants you ‘pure’ only long enough to get that chakram. If he can also have you as you were, and under his influence, even better. It’s all about him, Xena. Gabrielle loves you enough to be or do what’s right for you. To accept what you need to be your ‘true’ self. Even if it goes against the best in her and her dreams.”
“Mm. He told me I’m destined to be with him.” Xena studied Gabrielle’s fur-wrapped form. “I do know that’s wrong. Whatever else I may have forgotten, everything left in me says my place is with Gabrielle.”
“It’s the truth in your soul, Xena.” Eli grasped her hand. “Can you trust it? Despite everything?”
Xena sighed. “I can’t trust what I hear or see anymore. Even what I feel. My soul is all I really have to go on, isn’t it?” She gazed at Eli with uncertainty. “But if everyone is right, it’s the soul of someone I can’t fathom. Can’t exactly … trust. It’s hard understanding why I’d want to know her, let alone my friends. Maybe this ‘hero’ they’ve told me about is wishful thinking.” She snorted. “More like a fantasy of what they want for themselves or the world.”
“Well, my friend, I know at least two gods who believe that hero is real. As you were, you wielded the ‘dark’ chakram for good. As you are, you may do some good with the ‘light’ chakram. Either way,” Eli said, stretching, “I can sleep better with our fate in your hands.”
Xena’s eyes filled. “Really?”
“Count on it.”
“Ya got my vote.”
“Yeah, yeah, mine too. Now will you two quit yakking and go to sleep?”
Xena and Eli gaped at the three lumps that had suddenly piped up, then with sheepishness at each other, before bursting into laughter.
“Thanks, everybody.” Xena leaned across to hug Eli. “I’ll sleep better too,” she whispered. “Maybe all I needed was a good pep talk.”
Eli held Xena’s eyes, his own serious. “Love is the way, Xena. You needn’t hear the words to have confidence it is with you always. It brought you back to us. It will get you through tomorrow. And after.”
Xena nodded. “My friends. I’d be lost without them. Whatever I may be missing couldn’t possibly compare.”
“It’s greater than even that.” Eli lifted his head to the heavens. “I had a vision. Her voice inspired me when I doubted my faith. I felt her in the hands I lay on your bodies.”
“You mean … like a spirit?”
“An angel.” Eli smiled. “A guardian angel.”
“For me? Because I’m … ‘pure?’ So I can get that chakram?”
“Because of her compassion. Maybe for all of us. But I believe its center is you. Not your perfection or flaws. You, however you are.”
Xena rubbed her shoulder. “You know, I felt something too. Right after you resurrected us. Think it was her? Maybe welcoming me back?”
Eli shrugged. “I’m still getting used to all this myself. She came in answer to my prayers. Blessed us with what we grieved. What I felt …. What I did ….” He swallowed. “It was a miracle, Xena. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ll never be the same.” He squeezed Xena’s shoulder and left for his bedroll.
Once again Xena gazed at the sky, like the darkness obscuring so many of her memories, yet absent from the soul where night was supposed to be more natural than day. She imagined the spaces within her filled and surrounded by love that, like stars, might light her way to a Xena right and true. Finally allowed the possibility she could be the female warrior in the vision she’d had when she touched an image of the chakram in Kal’s temple.
“Oh well,” she murmured, picturing herself in brown leather battle clothes, rather than the more fragile garment she wore now. “Might not be so bad.” She chuckled wryly. “At least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting dirty anymore.”
“It’s fascinating how much we affect each other…. How much are we truly ourselves and how much are we little bits of everyone we’ve ever encountered? Because we share everything – our personality, our lives.”
– Hudson Leick (Callisto) in her DVD commentary about SEEDS OF FAITH
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