By Jay 28th July 2003.
Disclaimers:This is a sequel of sorts to "A Return To Form" for anyone who can remember that far back! For those of you who can't remember, Xena has been promoted to the status of poltergeist, which is how she can move things.
Be wary of occasional naughty language and bits of story with ladies doing rude things to each other. For this is the way of things.
I would just like to thank Renee's newly blonde hair for inspiring me to get off my lazy arse and finish this.
They had travelled ceaselessly from Egypt all the way back to Amphipolis, and over the last couple of days the sky had taken on the colour of wet clay, a constant fine spray of rain wafting down on them until Gabrielle was soaked to the bone.
On arrival at Cyrene's tavern, Xena wasted no time lighting a fire to heat the empty inn, while Gabrielle shed her saturated garments and towelled her hair dry.
A quick search of the kitchen yielded a surprising amount of foodstuffs, and the warrior wordlessly set about preparing something to quiet the bard's rumbling stomach, which was protesting loudly not having welcomed a decent meal in a number of days.
Gabrielle sneezed as she took the steaming bowl of meaty broth from Xena, and inhaled deeply with an appreciative sigh before tucking in.
Xena regarded her partner thoughtfully for a few moments and then muttered, "I told you that you need a coat or something. I think a trip to the market is in order once the weather brightens up."
"You're a little being over-protective, don't you think?"
"No, I'm just looking out for you that's all. I don't like to see you sick."
"Uh-huh. No other reason?" the blonde grinned with a quirk of her eyebrow. She knew that her tall companion hadn't missed the appreciative glances she'd been getting on their journey home. A beautiful young woman travelling alone in little more than a bikini was a rare sight, and one that was attracting far too much attention for Xena's liking.
"I don't know what you're talking about..." Xena dismissed, studying the floor intently in an attempt to avoid the penetrating stare aimed directly at her.
Gabrielle reached for the loaf in front of her, and tore a sizeable chunk from it. Dipping the bread into her bowl, she took a moment to ponder Xena's growing insecurity while slowly chewing her dinner. Surely Xena knew that she was more than capable of taking care of herself by now. Or was the warrior simply afraid that she'd be whisked off her feet by someone who was still living and breathing?
"As soon as the weather brightens, hmm? I suppose I could find something a little more practical." She glanced at her red velvet ensemble, and considered that it had been more than a year since she'd had a change of outfit. Xena's miserable gaze lifted from the well-worn planks of the kitchen floor to see a glint of amusement in the bard's eyes. "Besides - if you keep feeding me like this I'm going to get love handles. I'll have to wear something to cover them up..."
The pair sat by the fire in comfortable silence until Gabrielle had finished eating.
"Can I get you anything else?" Xena fussed. If she kept this up for much longer she was going to drive Gabrielle insane.
"As a matter of fact," Gabrielle answered sidling closer and draping her arms loosely around the warrior's waist, "there is something you can do for me."
"And what might that be exactly?"
Gabrielle fixed her with a burning gaze and rumbled, "Take me to bed..."
*I am one lucky son of a bacchae...*
Xena was pinned to the bed and lost in thought, dimly aware that Gabrielle could hear every word of it. She still had no idea what she had done to deserve the magnificent creature that was swaying gracefully above her.
Her palm slid up and over the smooth planes of Gabrielle's belly as the blonde's body tilted as far backwards as she could manage without tumbling from her perch. Pulling herself upright again and with a searing glance down at Xena, Gabrielle reached between her own legs to begin an exploration that would surely have killed Xena to witness had she still been alive.
Following her partner's lead, the warrior increased the pumping of her hips until eventually Gabrielle's hand fell away, her body shaking violently as she cried out and slumped forward.
Xena's fingers trailed lazily over her partner's sweat slicked back, and as Gabrielle's breathing calmed she quipped, "So how was it for you?"
An errant tongue flicked over Xena's collarbone, finishing with a soft kiss to the base of her throat. The blonde nestled her head in the crook of the warrior's neck and cradled a nearby breast in her palm.
"Five out of ten." came the mumbled reply. "Must try harder."
Xena lightly swatted Gabrielle's backside with a chuckle. "I was a fearsome warrior you know. This isn't the kind of afterlife I'd imagined at all. I don't know if I like being your sex toy...Speaking of which, are you going to climb off this thing any time soon? Gabrielle?"
A quick look at her lover answered her question. The bard had already dozed off. "And I thought I was supposed to be the guy in this relationship..."
Xena was awoken the next morning when the clammy body sprawled on top of her began twitching. Gabrielle's forehead was creased in a frown, and the fear was rolling off her in waves.
As a hand came to rest on her quivering shoulder, Gabrielle instantly shot up from her slumbering position and emitted a loud "WARGH!"
Once her vision settled on Xena, she sighed, "Fuck..." and rubbed at her temples in agitation. Xena shuffled upwards until she was resting on her elbows and lightly took Gabrielle's hand in her own.
"What was it this time, the three tornados?"
"No. The Aegean was encroaching on the back garden again. Xena, I don't feel so good..." The bard rolled over and collapsed miserably onto her back.
"Hmm, you are a little warm. Are you sure you're not just stalling?"
A green eye blinked open and then swiftly closed again as Gabrielle sniffed and pulled the blanket over her head. "I'm not stalling. I'm sick. I need to sleep."
Xena crept out of bed and tucked the covers firmly around her shivering partner. "Okay. We'll stay another few days. There's plenty of time for...you know what."
"Xena, I kept my promise. I brought you home." the blonde whined feebly, glancing at the small black urn on the dresser.
"That you did. I never thought I'd see the day. Literally. You know, you're developing an alarming attachment to this thing." Xena picked up the urn and began idly tossing it from one hand to the other until she noticed the look of alarm on Gabrielle's face. "And here's me thinking tradition is important to you Amazon women..." her sentence drifted off with a dramatic sigh.
Gabrielle merely narrowed her eyes at the departing warrior and sniffled, "Be quiet and pass me that handkerchief."
"Here you go, snotty. Now go back to sleep and I'll bring you some breakfast in a while." Xena bent down and placed a soft kiss on her partner's damp forehead before turning and passing directly through the bedroom door and into the hallway beyond.
Xena sat at the kitchen table drumming her fingers and chewing at the inside of her cheek while waiting for Gabrielle's tea to brew. Not many people got to witness their own funeral, but Gabrielle had wanted to do things properly. After all, she could hardly be buried next to Xena if Xena wasn't buried. So they'd made their way back to Amphipolis to find Xena's ashes a cosy home in the town's mausoleum. At least it had been repaired since their last visit, and Cyrene's remains had been laid to rest with the respect they deserved.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of hooves thundering towards the tavern. "Someone's in a hurry." she mused, moments before Eve burst through the front door and rushed straight up to her.
"Hi mother, where's Gabrielle?" she demanded urgently.
Xena pointed in the vague direction of the staircase, muttering, "Yep. Just fine, thanks for asking. It takes more than a little death to stop your old mom..." as she watched her daughter's back disappear from view. "You could at least have helped me take this breakfast tray up to her!"
Grumbling, Xena ascended the stairs and pushed the bedroom door open with her foot to find her lover and daughter perched side by side on the bed cackling with laughter - until Gabrielle's mirth transformed into a hacking cough.
"Your breakfast Ma'am. Although at this hour lunch might be more appropriate." Xena deposited the tray on her lover's lap with a smirk.
Eve rose apologetically to face the warrior. "Mother, I'm sorry for being rude back there. I just...I've heard so many tales of widows driven insane by their grief that I didn't want to waste any time checking on Gabrielle. I can see she's just fine."
Eve threw her arms around Xena and squeezed her happily, missing her mother's sly wink at the blonde.
"Oh yeah?" Xena began to whisper, "Try getting her to part with that damned urn. We came all the way back here to deposit me in the family crypt but to tell you the truth...I think we might have a problem."
The prospect of Gabrielle being in trouble quickly erased the smile from Eve's features. She slowly turned to see her other beloved parent staring fixedly at the small receptacle. Eve moved carefully across the room and spoke in soothing tones. "Gabrielle, now that I'm here I can help. We can have a nice family service..."
"That'd be nice." Xena muttered, "I didn't think much to her last one."
"I was pressed for time;" came the retort through clenched teeth. "Get your hands off that! It's mine and you can't have it!" Gabrielle croaked loudly, startling even Xena as Eve reached for the urn. The young woman quickly backed away, wringing her hands with worry as Gabrielle's right eye began to twitch rapidly.
*Okay, so maybe that was a little too dramatic...* the blonde thought, casting a glance at the stunned warrior. *You think I'm serious don't you?*
Xena's answer could only be heard in the shuffling of her feet. The tension of the moment was broken as Gabrielle blew her nose loudly and then tossed the handkerchief to one side.
"Could one of you bring me a bucket? I figure it'll save one of you a lot of washing if I just hang a bucket off the end of my nose."
Eve glanced up and caught the twinkle of good humour in Gabrielle's eyes. "About the urn," she began bracing herself for another outburst as the blonde suffered another subtle ocular spasm, "Surely it would be better to leave it somewhere safe? Somewhere you can always come back and visit if you need to? Mother's essence isn't in there Gabrielle; she's a part of you now.. With all the travelling you do, isn't a cumbersome urn full of ash more of a hindrance than a help?"
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed before she answered with deadly seriousness, "My gravy is very watery. I was going to use the ash as a thickener. Corn flour is very difficult to come by when you're on the road."
The look of horror that graced Eve's face was priceless, but quickly dissolved into anger as when she heard Xena snorting with laughter behind her. Another look at Gabrielle revealed the blonde to be clutching her sides and gasping "Ow!" in between fits of giggles.
The messenger of peace turned and thumped her mother in the stomach before stomping out of the room.
"That was unnecessary..." the warrior declared. "Time for a little damage control. Wrap up warm!" she winked as Gabrielle tucked into her breakfast.
"I am angry with you." Eve said calmly as Xena entered the kitchen. It wouldn't do for one so serene to be having a temper tantrum in front of her mother.
"Aw, Eve don't be like that. We were just having a bit of fun, that's all."
"I think it's shameful, teasing the poor girl like that!" a third voice chimed in.
"Grandmother?" Eve's face lit up with joy.
"Mom...?" Xena blurted with disbelief.
"Well don't look so surprised. You're not the only dead mother around here you know." Cyrene scolded her astonished daughter before approaching Eve with a warm smile. "It's so lovely to see you again!"
Xena gaped, slack-jawed as the two women sat down at the kitchen table and began gossiping. "Buh..."
"Oh don't make such a fuss Xena." Cyrene chided. "We can all die a grisly death. If it's bothering you in any way we can have a heart to heart about it later. Now make yourself useful and take something a bit more soothing up to Gabrielle - she has a very sore throat. There are plenty of remedies in the cupboard: honey, mint, eye of newt, eucalyptus leaves... I have a woman come in and clean around the place twice a week." Cyrene gestured absent-mindedly to a broomstick that was idling in the corner. "She keeps the cupboards stocked so they can still use this place as a guest house when need be."
The older woman turned back to Eve and whispered, "Your mother inherited this place. Not that she stuck around long enough to find out..." Xena rolled her eyes and turned away at the sight of Cyrene cutthroat motioning with her hand. "She always was one for thumbing her nose at gifts!"
A light rapping on the door roused Gabrielle from her slumber.
"Who is it?" she mumbled, not overly interested in the answer and feeling worse by the second.
"Gabby's big bitch!" came the reply in syrupy tones.
"Gabby's not in here. Go away."
"Marvellous." Xena grumbled as she entered the room carrying a steaming mug of something piquant. "My entire family is ignoring me."
"Cyrene's here." Gabrielle nodded. It wasn't a question.
"Yeah. How did you know?"
"I have many skills." the blonde smirked playfully as she hauled herself upright in bed.
"Well lucky for me you don't have a choice. You're stuck with me for eternity. Heh! Here, drink this..." the warrior offered her partner the mug as she perched on the side of the mattress. "Hey, what's the matter?" Xena didn't miss the flicker of worry that passed over Gabrielle's face.
"What if...what if I can send you away? What if laying your remains to rest gets rid of you?"
"We've been through all of this." Xena soothed. "What's really bothering you?"
"I suppose I've been carrying around those ashes for so long that I just...I guess I feel a little uncomfortable about finally letting go." she sniffled, and not entirely due to her head cold.
Xena reached for Gabrielle's hand and laced their fingers together. After a moments thought she suggested, "Well, you do wear that heart shaped locket. You could put a pinch of the stuff in there. It's not such a weird idea. In fact, it's a common practice in Siam...or so I hear."
Gabrielle regarded her incredulously, deciding she really didn't want to find out if there were any more Eastern girlfriends in her lover's past. "Xena, it's not like I don't enjoy having your knees around my neck..."
Could be my elbows." Xena grinned, eliciting a reluctant chuckle from the ailing blonde. "Bellybutton..." A hand swatted her before the blonde lay back on her pillow, considerably less agitated than she had been. "My lips..." Xena leaned forward to demonstrate, only to be stopped in her tracks by a sticky palm spanning her face.
Gabrielle's eyes creaked open as she drew in lungfuls of fresh air through her clear nostrils. A quick glance to her side revealed a vase containing a single rose, a small bowl of fruit and something that smelled like menthol hanging from the headboard.
She stretched, humming with satisfaction, her spine popping as it clicked into place. Swinging her legs out from under the edge of the blanket, she placed her feet on the cool floor and ventured over to the open window, leaning her head out to investigate. Seeing that the day was warm and bright, she smiled and then turned to wash and dress herself.
Excited chattering noises emanated from the kitchen, and as she entered, Gabrielle took in the scene. Eve and Cyrene were busy gossiping and making wreaths in the shape of chakrams, while Xena was motionless and slumped face down on the kitchen table, looking for all the world like she was...oh yeah.
"Help me." Xena implored as she sensed Gabrielle approach, pull out a chair and seat herself at the table.
"How long was I asleep?"
"Pretty much since this time yesterday." Xena answered, a pained expression on her features.
"Ah." Gabrielle glanced at her apologetically. "I guess your mom's brew really knocked me out, huh? Whatever was in it, it was good stuff."
"Hello Gabrielle, it's good to see you up and about." Cyrene greeted her. "Eve and I have had a busy morning, and your grumpy sidekick here has been of no help whatsoever." she added, prodding an irritated warrior in the shoulder. "If you're feeling up to it, would you like to take the urn over to the family crypt now?"
Gabrielle reached for Xena under the table, and caught her hand in a white-knuckled death grip. "Sure." she said through gritted teeth, picking up the small black receptacle from the table and rising to her feet.
Xena faced her and smiled warmly. "Let's get this party started."
"Party is hardly the word I would choose."
"Grandmother, isn't a red bikini a little frivolous for a grieving widow?" Eve asked as they left the tavern. "I mean, what if any of the townsfolk see? It's not proper! Oh don't give me that innocent look Gabrielle, everyone knows the two of you were an item..."
The four of them made their way over to the mausoleum, and Gabrielle's gasp was audible as she looked around. In addition to the regular torches, the entire room was lit by hundreds of tiny candles that bathed the crypt in a soft glow, and the aroma of incense and sweet basil drifted over her.
Eve took Gabrielle's arm and led her to an alcove where a small hollow had been made in the stone of the wall.
"Would you like to do the honours Gabrielle?"
The blonde bard looked at Eve hesitantly, still desperately clutching the urn until she felt strong arms wrap around her stomach and a soft kiss on her shoulders. With a sigh, she lifted the urn and placed it in the hollow, pausing to read the carved inscription underneath:
"Xena of Amphipolis - beloved wife, mother, daughter and sister."
Eve stepped closer and embraced Gabrielle, feeling her tremble slightly as she drew a breath and whispered, "Thank you."
"Do you want to say a few words?" Eve prompted.
Gabrielle thought for a moment, scratching her chin, before piping up and addressing the small black pot, "A life of journeying has brought you to the farthest lands..."
"You did that one already." Xena interrupted.
"Okay. Well then how about a song?"
Eve rushed to her mother's side, quietly pleading, "For the love of Eli mother, don't let her sing!"
Suddenly, loud and slightly off key, the bard began hollering, "Don't cry for me Poteidaia! The truth is I neeeever left yooooou...!"
Cyrene simply beamed at her daughter-in-law before rescuing their collective eardrums by announcing, "There's someone here to see you."
A shower of pink sparkles heralded the arrival of Aphrodite, clad in little more than a black negligee for only the second time in her life.
"Aphrodite!" Gabrielle exclaimed taking in the Goddess' of Love's appearance, her song mercifully forgotten. The flighty immortal was sniffling and blowing her nose on a frilly hanky, eyes red raw from weeping..
"Gabby, my poor little lamb!" the wretched Goddess wailed, flinging her arms around Gabrielle. "Widowed twice before the age of 30!" Somewhere behind them loud throat clearing could be heard. "I'm not counting the twenty five year sleep..." Aphrodite clasped a surprised Gabrielle's head to her bosom, a fresh wave of sobbing erupting from her. "My poor, brave kitten! Xena was so courageous! So inspirational! So...stupid!"
"Uh, right here." the warrior grunted, frowning when she got no response.
"Tragic love. It always gets to me!" the Goddess squeaked past the lump in her throat and relinquishing her hold on the bard's head.
"She's fine!" Xena insisted, the exasperation evident in her voice.
"I know, but I don't like to waste a good weepy. Gods Gabby, was she always such a mood killer?! Here," she gestured to Gabrielle as a bunch of white roses glittered into view. "I was going to lay them on Xena's sarcophagus, but since she doesn't have one..."
"Thank you, they're lovely." Gabrielle graciously took the flowers and laid them in front of the urn alongside the chakram wreaths.
Cyrene took the floor. "Welcome, Aphrodite, and thank you for coming. Now that everybody's here, I'd like to thank my lovely daughter Xena for giving us the opportunity to come together as a family."
"Thanks. I think." Xena acknowledged.
"Since Xena denied me a wedding to have any fun at, I'm going to make the most of this. Xena has been in a bad mood since she was born. I remember that she was such a sullen baby. She never cried or fussed, but had a permanent frown on her face. She would even pee herself and try to ignore it..." Cyrene smiled almost beatifically at the assembled throng, warming to her role as storyteller.
Xena rolled her eyes as her mother cheerfully began to reveal in agonising detail every childhood embarrassment that Gabrielle had, up to now, been blissfully unaware of. "You think this was a bad idea?" she glanced at Gabrielle's amused face. "I'm beginning to agree with you."
"Sssh!" Gabrielle admonished, "I'm missing the good stuff!"
"I'd give her a pretty new dress and find it buried in the garden weeks later while Xena was running around in Lyceus' clothes..."
Eve's hand flew to her mouth in shock as her grandmother merrily continued her tale.
"I should have taken Lyceus up on his offer to go fishing." Xena muttered.
"Lyceus is here?" Gabrielle asked, confused.
"So how come I can't see him?"
"You have no direct connection with him, he's on a different frequency to you. Oh, he says to tell you he loves your outfit...By the gods! Akemi!"
"Akemi is here? Where is she? I'll kick her ass!"
"Just kidding." Xena answered with a sly wink. Feeling Gabrielle's unamused glare upon her, she approached her daughter. "Eve, I think this would be the best time to ask you for a little favour. When the time comes, Gabrielle wants to be buried in here with me."
Eve smiled at the suddenly uncomfortable looking blonde. After all, the bard hadn't expected to be discussing her own burial arrangements so soon. "You can count on me Gabrielle." Eve paused, considering the latest addition to the mausoleum for a moment before noting, "We're gonna need a bigger urn."
"I may have a cauldron lying around somewhere from my witching days." Cyrene suggested.
"I am not being buried in a cauldron!" Gabrielle said firmly.
"Oh, I don't know. It'd be roomy enough." Xena grinned.
"Yeah, for you, me and the Tripolis militia."
"There was no Tripolis militia."
"Then we're agreed the cauldron is a bad idea. You could carve something for us. You're great with your hands."
Cyrene and Eve looked up abruptly as silence suddenly fell upon the room.
"Gods preserve me..." Xena muttered.
"Too late for that, lover!" Gabrielle smirked as she playfully slapped the back of her hand across the warrior's stomach.
Eve kneeled on the floor, carefully placing a large metal fish in front of her, the heavy "clank" echoing around the burial chamber. "I shall now pray for the repose of mother's soul."
"Eve, sweetheart, I'm fine. Truly."
"Mother? Indulge me."
As Eve closed her eyes and began murmuring, Xena interrupted, "You know Eve, fish are for eating, not praying to. If you want a symbol of your god, why not...I dunno, why not have a little beardy man with a sword sticking out of his stomach on a chain around your neck?"
"I also pray for the soul of Gabrielle. May her spirit remain unsullied by my mother's blaspheming tongue."
"Well, so long as it's just my spirit..." Gabrielle muttered under her breath.
Eve finished her prayers and Aphrodite hugged Gabrielle, still quietly snivelling. "We'll all be back in the tavern." Cyrene advised. "You two take as long as you need."
As soon as the rest of the funeral party had left the building, Gabrielle carefully placed a satsuma next to the urn. A satsuma with cloves strategically pushed into its flesh to form a smiley face.
"Dare I ask?" Xena ventured incredulously.
"Traditionally, one lays flowers at the resting place of the deceased. Since you were never one to stop and smell the flowers I didn't think it would be appropriate somehow."
"And the psycho orange?"
"Smell it." Gabrielle instructed, with Xena looking at her as though she'd lost her mind. "Go ahead, smell it!"
Raising a questioning eyebrow, the warrior obediently dipped her nose to the grinning citrus fruit and sniffed. "It reminds me of winter solstice."
"Exactly." Gabrielle responded, smouldering. "Some of our best times together were at winter solstice."
Xena took another sniff and blushed furiously as the memories washed over her. She slowly turned and wrapped the blonde in a loose embrace, kissing the tip of her nose. "You're crazy."
"Your mother would think I was defiling your grave if she knew."
"Mom adores you - and so do I. It was a wonderful gesture. Which reminds, me, I've got something for you." Xena held out a small lock of raven coloured hair.
"A hairball?" Gabrielle teased.
"I figured this would be a slightly less gross thing to keep in that locket than a pile of ash."
"Where did you get this?"
"I took a trip to Joxer's old Museum of Us while you were snoozing the day away. Most of the stuff he had on display has been looted, but I managed to salvage this. Seems he and Amarice thought it would be a good idea to scalp me after they took us down from the crosses. It's not much but it's all I could find."
"You didn't need to do this."
"I know. Come on, let's get out of here." Xena took Gabrielle's hand and headed for the exit. As she reached the doorway, she lurched to a halt as though some invisible force was preventing her from stepping outside. "No! Oh gods, no!" she gasped, wildly slapping at the thin air in front of her in a bid to escape.
"Nice try warrior princess, but I'm not buying it. You forget I can hear everything you're thinking. Right now, it's pretty much "Heh-heheh!"
"You're no fun anymore..." Xena sulked as she was forcefully pushed out into the street.
"Let's go shopping." Gabrielle enthused, tugging at the warrior's hand.
"You say that like it's a good thing...isn't this my special day? Can't we do something that I want to do?" Xena was met only with stony silence. "Okay, I'll go shopping with you if you buy some of that sweet almond paste stuff."
"Xena, you know you can't eat it."
"No, but you can, and I can taste you." Xena suggested with a leer.
Gabrielle's face scrunched up in disgust. "I hate that stuff..."
"If you loved me you'd eat some." came the warrior's plaintive plea.
"No. I'll buy you some wooden teeth if you don't behave - how's that sound? You needn't think I'm taking a hit off a hookah for you either."
"So, your new outfit then. What do you say, something in black leather? I'm thinking a nice pair of trousers and a long tunic..." Xena's voice trailed off as she imagined Gabrielle wearing a similar outfit to the one she herself had worn in Caesar's alternate universe.
"What, and deny you the view?" Gabrielle grinned, indicating her exposed midriff.
Xena regarded her smirking partner suspiciously. She did have a point after all..
"You asked for that!" the blonde stated with a twinkle in her eye, before turning and scampering off towards the centre of town with a giggle.
"Trouble..." Xena muttered, steeling herself and giving chase to the woman she'd follow to the ends of the earth.
The End. Until I get any more daft ideas!