Najara had once told Xena that the Jinn were kind and loving, but what she failed to indicate to both Xena and Gabrielle was that they could also be cruel and menacing in the face of failure and dissatisfaction - and they had been dissatisfied with Najara's response to Gabrielle's loving gestures in the hut. As soon as she had left Gabrielle, the Jinn's voices entered her head - a cacophony of angry recriminations and bitter disappointment. Najara had failed to realize the affection Gabrielle displayed had not been for her, and thus had let a timely opportunity go begging. The only way the Jinn would have any chance at all of converting Gabrielle, would be by first poisoning her mind against the warrior princess. After a tirade of abuse, the voices finally disappeared from Najara's mind, but not before driving her to tears and provoking her to an almost frenzied hatred of Xena. As with so many foes before Najara, the dark warrior had become an unrelenting opposing force. But it wasn't Xena's skills as a warrior that Najara had a problem with. Najara felt she could match the warrior princess blow for blow in that department. No. It was Gabrielle's undying and seemingly impenetrable bond to Xena that Najara both despised and coveted. At first Najara wasn't sure she would be able to do to Gabrielle what the Jinn had asked of her, but the more Najara thought about Xena - and Gabrielle's misguided love for the bitch - the stronger her will became. And as Najara took up an axe and proceeded into the nearby trees she called out the name of that hideous she-demon, whose image from now on would give her the strength to continue.
Najara had been working relentlessly, and her efforts would soon be well rewarded. She had fashioned a crude but workable cross from a small tree and a length of straight timber she'd pulled from the side of the dwelling where Gabrielle was still 'resting'. The Jinn had been silent since their last rampage through Najara's mind, and she was grateful for that. She would not disappoint them again.
After a final glance at the instrument of Gabrielle's conversion, Najara proceeded to the door of the hut to see if Gabrielle had yet awoken. She was stopped only a few paces from the door by a tall dark figure who seemed to appear out of nowhere.
"Hello Najara". The God smiled confidently.
"Ares? God of war." Najara seemed unimpressed.
"It's an honor to finally meet you", Ares said, ignoring Najara's indifference. He glanced from Najara to the cross lying on the ground behind her.
"My my. You have been busy. Say, that little play thing you've got there wouldn't be for a certain irritating blonde, would it?" That smile again. Najara hated him already. There was a little smile of her own forming on her lips as she spoke, but there was nothing genuine about it:
"Shouldn't you be with your little play thing right now, Ares?"
"I was kinda hoping I already was", Ares tone was suggestive, and Najara responded with a look of disgust.
"Trust me, I'm not your type."
"Now, now. Let's not jump to conclusions. How do you even know what my type is?"
"Everyone knows your type is Xena. Being immortal, one would think you'd have enough time on your hands that you could raise your standards a little." Najara was speaking with that same patronizing tone she used on Gabrielle in the underground. Unlike Gabrielle however, Ares wasn't disturbed by it. He was enjoying it.
"It's funny you should say that", Ares began, as he started to circle Najara. She turned as he moved, not wanting to take her eyes off him. When Najara was facing away from the door, he stopped moving and continued to speak: "Because that's why I'm here." At this, Najara's face was initially a picture of confusion, but then it changed to one of understanding. And in the back of her mind, low level whispers were emerging.
"I see", Najara nodded.
"Now before you say anything I think you should at least hear my offer." Najara glanced beyond Ares to the cross lying on the ground only a few paces away, then she looked behind her to the hut. Then she looked back at Ares, and she smiled:
"Well? I'm listening."
Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes. Her head was pounding, and her limbs would not co operate with her, but she tried to force her will on them nonetheless. Where was she? Was she at the Amazon camp? And if so, how did she get here? Gabrielle remembered when she had last woken up in this same room, Xena was here watching over her. Where was Xena now? Gabrielle's mind was hazy. At that moment she wasn't aware of the underground chamber Najara had locked her in. She wasn't even aware of Najara. All she knew was she had this unshakable feeling that something wasn't right and she needed to see Xena. Gabrielle swung her legs over the side of the bed, but something must have been wrong with her coordination because the weight of her hanging legs pulled her whole body over and she rolled onto the floor with a thump, landing face down. She could so easily have dozed off again, but she wouldn't allow herself to do that. She pushed herself off the floor with all the strength she could muster, and stood very shakily. When she realized she was still a little dizzy, she sat herself back down on the edge of the bed, just till she got her balance back. As she sat she tried to think how Xena could have gotten her to the Amazon lands without her remembering. She decided to call out. Maybe Xena was close by. "Xena." Her voice sounded loud in her ears, but in reality no one outside the one-room hut would have heard. Gabrielle used her right arm to push herself off the bed as she once more attempted to control her wayward limbs. She seemed a little more able this time, so she slowly made her way to the door of the hut. She took the handle in her hand and pushed slowly on the door. And as she peered outside, she realized this was not Amazon territory. Suddenly, as her eyes fell on the unaware Ares, a voice...no, not one voice, many voices, all saying the same thing, came crashing into her mind:
"MAYBE SHE'S NOT THE FRIEND YOU THINK SHE IS...SHE'S NOT THE FRIEND YOU THINK SHE IS...NOT THE FRIEND..." Many voices but they all sounded the same. The voice was familiar to her but she couldn't place it. Just as suddenly as the voices had entered her head, they were gone. She shook it off and tried to focus on who it was Ares was talking to. Her initial impression was that it was a blonde, but as she paid more attention, she realized it was not a blonde at all. It was her very own Xena. As she tried once again to call out to her soul mate, the voices came screaming back:
"...SHE'S NOT THE FRIEND YOU THINK SHE IS..." and then silence. Gabrielle suddenly became very suspicious, so rather than draw attention to herself, she tried to hear what the God of War and the Warrior Princess were talking about.
"You needn't concern yourself with that little girl anymore. I can offer you greatness. I can offer you power that no man...or woman...has ever before known. All this..." Ares held his arms out to his side with his palms facing upwards, "...all this that seems so important to you now - it won't matter." Ares took a step closer to Xena. Gabrielle waited impatiently for her friend to respond. Her heart was pounding as she feared the worst.
"How many men?" Gabrielle couldn't see Xena's face because she was facing away from the bard, but she heard her voice with amazing clarity. Ares smiled.
"If you agree to lead my army, every Greek loyal to me will be under your command. That I promise you." Gabrielle waited for the standard answer from Xena...I'm notinterested Ares, or words to that effect. To her horror, those words did not get spoken.
"What about Gabrielle?" As those words left Xena's lips
more voices came crashing into Gabrielle's mind. She put her hands to her
ears trying to block the sound:
"SHE'S A USELESS LITTLE PISS ANT REALLY - NOW THAT I SEE THINGS CLEARLY." Again the voices were one but many, and this time she recognized the speaker.
"You want my advice?" Ares answered Xena's question. "Do what you were going to do before I got here." Ares stepped aside and motioned to something on the ground. Gabrielle's eyes followed his hand gestures and she saw it - the cross.
"By the Gods!" Gabrielle gasped. At that moment Ares and Xena both averted their eyes to the hut. Out of instinct Gabrielle shut the door. She started to panic. What was Xena doing? Was this really happening? And if so, why? As Gabrielle's eyes quickly darted around the small hut looking for a weapon, more voices entered her head:
"IT'S JUST A PART OF ME I DIDN'T THINK I'D NEED ANYMORE."
"KILL 'EM ALL!"
"COULDN'T SAVE A CAT IN A SACK WITHOUT ME."
"I TRUSTED YOU AND YOU LIED TO ME."
"KILL 'EM ALL!"
"TAKE THE VILLAGE!"
"MY SON IS DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU."
"SHE'S NOT THE FRIEND YOU THINK SHE IS."
"No no NO!" Gabrielle cried out. This was all done with. This was in the past. Xena had forgiven her for her past mistakes - hadn't she? Xena loved her. Xena didn't want to be with Ares. This isn't right, she thought to herself. Xena loves me. Gabrielle began to cry. The voices inside her head had driven away any desire she'd had to defend herself. She put her hands to her face and sobbed. Just then the door opened, and there stood Xena. She was holding a hammer.
Xena decided to continue south out of the village of Argos. There was really no where else to go besides West, and that would take her to the Bay. Xena didn't think a boat trip would be on Najara's list of things to do at the moment.
She didn't pause for rest. Xena pushed Argo hard, looking for tracks, or any indication of her bard's whereabouts. When they both became too tired to go on, Argo still continued and Xena dozed atop the horse, unable to keep her eyes open, but unable to bring herself to rest. As she dozed, dreamlike images began to form in her mind: Flames; a fire; a camp fire by the river - at night. It's cold. Xena and Gabrielle are trying to get some sleep.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"I wish we'd stopped at the last village like I suggested. Hot meal, warm bath, warm bed."
"Yeah yeah yeah. I know, but I wanted to..."
"Yes, Xena. Get to Midea as soon as possible. I know that. That doesn't change the fact that I'm freezing." Xena sighs.
"I know. I'm sorry." Gabrielle is facing away from Xena, and Xena puts her arms around Gabrielle's waist and pulls her close. She rests her chin on Gabrielle's right shoulder.
"Is that better?"
"You 'suppose'? Do you know how many men I've known who would kill to be where you are now?
"Oh, dozens. Hundreds even. Just how many men have you known, Xena, that are nearly as smart as your horse?"
"Well, not many. But you must admit Argo's one smart horse." Gabrielle giggles. It's a sound that warms Xena's heart in more ways than she cares to admit, and she continues the playful banter.
"Hey! Do you want me to turn over? Because I was plenty fine just as I was before." Gabrielle puts her hand on top of Xena's which is cradling her stomach.
"No no. This is fine."
"I think you're getting soft."
"Maybe." Gabrielle gives Xena's hand a gentle squeeze, and both women smile in the darkness.
"Something's not right". Xena can no longer hear the smile in Gabrielle's voice. Gabrielle pauses for thought. She turns to Xena, a look of fear evident in her eyes. "I'm not really here".
A low branch brushing across Xena's arm woke her from her light slumber. She woke to notice the greenery had become very dense and the road had turned into a barely visible track that may have been used by man-killing bunnies, but nothing much bigger. Xena felt panic rising in her throat. She pulled Argo to a halt and dismounted. Xena rubbed the horse's cheek and looked into those big brown eyes.
"Hey, girl. I don't mean to doubt you, but where in Tartarus are we?" Argo thrust her nose up and seemed to grunt in response. Xena looked from Argo into the dense thicket of ferns and shrubbery on either side of her, and then paid a little more attention to the track beneath her feet. As she bent down to study it she realized the surface was damp and soft and clearly visible in it were the hoof prints of a solitary horse. Xena stood up and turned back to Argo.
"You know, girl, I never doubted you for a moment." Argo once again nodded and Xena smiled a little smile - something she hadn't done since Gabrielle had been taken from her. Just as Xena took the reins in her left hand and prepared to mount, she heard a sound in the far distance. It was a sound that eerily reminded Xena of Rome. It was the sound of hammering.
Gabrielle's hands dropped to her sides as she looked from the hammer to Xena's icy blue eyes. Her expression was blank which frightened Gabrielle to her core. There was certainly no sign of love or affection, but there was no sign of anger, hatred, regret or guilt either. Not even a hint of the callous grin that Gabrielle had unfortunately been privy to on the odd occasion when Xena was tempted by blood lust and rage. Nothing. But her eyes were fixed on Gabrielle's and they held Gabrielle frozen. She knew she should be saying something but she was lost for words. A name was all she got out:
"Xena". With that, Xena's lips curled into a snarl as she spoke with a menace reserved only for her most loathed enemies:
"What are you doing? What is Ares ..." but before she could finish her question Xena grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her out of the hut towards the cross. Gabrielle was too weak to resist. She was so weak, in fact, that as Xena pulled her along she lost her footing and dropped to the ground. Xena didn't let go and Gabrielle's arm twisted slightly in her grip. Gabrielle looked up at Xena with eyes full of salty fluid that began to stream down her cheeks.
"Get up", came the harsh command. Before Gabrielle even had a chance to try and regain her footing Xena had pulled her up to a standing position and dragged her the last few steps to her fate. Gabrielle was a rag doll in Xena's hands as she positioned her with feet at the heel of the crucifix. With her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, Xena put a boot behind the bards left foot and kicked it out from underneath her. Gabrielle fell backwards and landed with a painful crack onto the cross.
"Xena, please. Why are you doing this?"
"I am the destroyer of nations, Gabrielle. I always have been. It was foolish of me to think anything different of myself. I have to make an example of you, and what happens to people who betray me." Xena began tying Gabrielle's hands down.
"This is not who you are, Xena. You don't want to do this. Something's happened to you." Exasperated, Gabrielle pleaded: "Xena, look at me!" Xena stopped tying and looked at Gabrielle. That blank expression was there again.
"Something has happened to me, Gabrielle." This time Xena's voice was almost pleasant. "I woke up". Gabrielle didn't respond, but she did look deep into Xena's eyes and realized something had indeed changed. This was not the Xena she knew, and she had the feeling no matter what she said, Xena was going to do what she was going to do. It was this realization coupled with Xena's inappropriate pleasantness of voice that led Gabrielle to an eerily familiar feeling - deja vu. But she couldn't think why.
After she finished tying Gabrielle's hands, Xena moved to her feet. It occurred to Gabrielle that Ares no longer seemed to be present - unless of course he was observing from some invisible point in time and space.
"Ares has promised you the world many times before, Xena. Why are you listening to him now?" With that, Ares appeared from the shadows of invisibility only steps away from them. Xena stood, and offered Gabrielle no verbal response. She only looked the bard in the eyes and flashed a tormenting smile. She turned to Ares and draped her arms seductively over his shoulders. Ares first looked surprised, and then a hugely satisfied smile appeared on his face when he realized what was happening. Xena hungrily pulled Ares to her and began kissing him passionately on the lips. Ares reciprocated, and Gabrielle could only look on in shock as it seemed the two of them were about to go at it right there and then. In a display of protestation Gabrielle struggled in her binds.
"Ares!" she bellowed when she realized her hands would not be freed. "What have you done!?" The two reluctantly broke their tight embrace.
"Gabrielle, I haven't done anything. This is destiny. It's fate. This is...getting what's coming to you. You're getting yours, and I'm getting mine."
"This is not destiny!" Gabrielle was angry now, and she was finding new strength in her provoked state. Before she could say any more, Ares disappeared again. Xena picked up the hammer and a thin square piece of wood, and a large nail. Gabrielle looked from Xena's tools to her cold blank eyes, and she swallowed hard - Xena was really going to do this. As Xena knelt down beside Gabrielle's outstretched right hand, all of Gabrielle's anger was suddenly drained away, like wine from the goblet of Dionysus. This wasn't the Xena she knew and loved. Somehow the old Xena had made a comeback, but the 'how' of it didn't matter now. As Xena placed the wood over Gabrielle's hand and placed a nail over that, Gabrielle looked at Xena with soft features and said:
"I love you, Xena. I will always love you. And if the Xena I know ever comes back, I don't want her to feel guilty, because I know this isn't you. And I forgive you." On hearing those words Xena seemed to hesitate, but she didn't look at Gabrielle. Without further pause she raised the hammer above her head. Gabrielle winced in anticipation. She closed her eyes tightly and turned her head away, waiting for the blow. The mallet came down, connecting perfectly with its intended target. With one blow the nail penetrated the wood and made its way through the skin, bone, blood and tissue of Gabrielle's hand. Gabrielle screamed out in pain, and Xena responded by raising the hammer again, striking the nail once more and driving it further through Gabrielle's flesh and into the timber of the cross. Gabrielle cried out in agony a second time as the final blow sent waves of pain seemingly through her entire body. As Gabrielle sobbed, Xena stood and dropped the hammer at her feet.
"How do you feel now?" she asked. Gabrielle turned her tear stained face to Xena. Her voice was uneven and cracking, and the pain was evident in her features but she forced herself to speak.
"I told you..." She choked a little then, and she felt like she would pass out but she forced herself to continue, "...the Xena I know would never succumb to the temptation of Ares and the promise of war. Not any more." Xena took a step back, and suddenly Gabrielle sensed a change in the warrior. "I love you, Xena. You can kill me and it won't change the way I feel." Xena seemed at a loss. She just stood there, unmoving, for a long moment. Mixed in with Gabrielle's expression of pain was one of longing. She desperately wanted the warrior princess to remember what they meant to each other. Xena did not respond in kind. She walked away, leaving Gabrielle pinned to the cross, and broken hearted.
Ares watched in quiet awe as Gabrielle had seemingly been utterly and thoroughly convinced that her blonde nemesis Najara was in fact her beloved dark heroine Xena. But as he watched Najara walk away from the broken Gabrielle his admiration turned to anger:
"No no no! What are you doing? Finish her!" Najara turned to Ares and found malice in his eyes. Ares saw this as the perfect opportunity. Victory seemed so close and yet Najara had suddenly appeared to be in the process of screwing it up. If Najara killed Gabrielle, Ares would be blameless. Granted, if he couldn't have Xena, Najara would be the next best thing, but maybe there was a chance he could win Xena over - if that do-gooding Gabrielle were gone and he was not responsible. As the God and the Jinn Warrior glared at each other, a thumping sound became audible in the near distance. Both pairs of eyes turned in the direction of the sound as it became apparent someone was approaching rather quickly on horseback. Ares turned his gaze back to Najara just before he disappeared. If it were Xena approaching, he would prefer to watch things from a discrete distance. Najara removed the chakram from her belt clip in anticipation. She glanced at Gabrielle whose consciousness once again seemed to be wavering, and then turned her concentration back to the trees and the thin trail that lead to this quiet seclusion.
As the henbane finally began to wear off, Gabrielle's mind was filled with images that made no more sense to her than Xena's recent actions. As she lay on the cross with her limbs bound and one hand impaled her mind was clearing and yet becoming more confused at the same time. Images of a dark room filled her mind - lit only by candles. A scroll written in her own hand that seemed to be incredibly important. And someone...a familiarity she could not put her finger on. Not Xena. Not Xena. Someone else was here. That inappropriately pleasant voice, like this may have been a picnic rather than a crucifixion. Deja vu - no matter what I say, I can't change her mind.
"She's a fanatic, Gabrielle. Don't trust her."
Najara was here. Gabrielle lifted her head with what little strength she had left and focused her gaze on the warrior with the chakram in her hand. She no longer saw the tall dark dangerous beauty that she had come to learn was her soul mate. But she DID see a dangerous woman. Suddenly everything came flooding back: the swim in the river; the stolen weapons; Xena leaving her to catch the thief; Najara wielding the stolen chakram. A relief washed over her and seemed to alleviate the incredible pain that permeated her entire being. Xena hadn't been dealing with Ares at all, and Xena hadn't nailed her to this cross. Najara stood firm as the pounding of hooves grew louder and louder.
The sound of hammering and the thought of Rome instilled in Xena so much fear for her friend that she dug her heels into Argo's ribs and drove out of the tired horse every last bit of energy left in the sturdy and devoted beast. Before long Xena could see a clearing ahead. The thin trail amongst the dense forest was finally coming to an end and Xena felt a surge of adrenalin at the thought of finally being reunited with Gabrielle, though she knew a difficult confrontation would almost certainly threaten to prohibit the reunion.
As she approached the clearing she slowed Argo to a canter, and as she exited the trees atop the horse, her fears for her friend were confirmed.
Najara watched as Xena and her horse appeared from the trees. She was amazed for the briefest moment at the fact that Xena and Argo had been reunited, but then the thought dissipated as she watched the warrior dismount. Najara quickly glanced towards Gabrielle and decided she had passed out, either from the henbane or the pain. She turned her attention back to the warrior princess.
"Well, Xena. You finally made it. But you're a bit late, wouldn't you agree?"
"Najara." Xena's tone was one of false affection. "I wouldn't say I was late. I'd say I was just in time. It's my specialty you know".
"Really? Does it look like you're 'just in time' does it? I'd say you may have made the curtain call, but you missed the show".
"I know you didn't kill her, Najara. If that was your plan, you'd be dead by now".
Najara shook her head and smiled. "No, you're right. She's not dead - yet. But she is nailed to that cross. And she thinks you did it." On hearing those words, Xena's expression of confidence turned to one of dismay. Najara smiled. The thought of Gabrielle as her kindred spirit made her happy, but the reality of Xena's pain made her just as much so.
Just at that moment Xena became aware of the presence of Ares. She couldn't see him, but she knew he was there - somewhere. Watching; Waiting. But for what? Xena's focus once again turned briefly to the unmoving Gabrielle, then back to Najara.
"I thought you weren't going to hurt her, Najara."
"Well, sometimes you have to be cruel..." and there Najara hesitated. "Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind". Xena's gut instinct was to just waltz over and tear Najara limb from limb, but Gabrielle had taught Xena a lot about compassion, and even though she knew it was probably a waste of time, Xena decided to try talking Najara around.
"The Jinn made you do this, didn't they? I know in your own way you love Gabrielle. It must have been hard for you to cause her this pain. Do you ever question the wisdom of your guides, Najara, or do you just follow them blindly?" At that moment a torrent of voices washed through Najara's mind, the din causing her to double over as if in tremendous pain.
YOU HAVE FAILED. KILL THE GIRL. KILL THE BOTH OF THEM. THEY ARE ENEMIES OF THE LIGHT. THEY WILL NOT BE CHANGED. YOU HAVE FAILED US. BUT YOU CAN STILL BE REDEEMED. KILL THE GIRL. KILL THEM BOTH...
Xena capitalized on Najara's brief lack of concentration and launched herself off the ground, somersaulting twice through the air and landing only meters away from Najara. She drew the sword from her scabbard. Najara regained her composure and as she looked up at the warrior princess, Xena noticed tears rolling down the woman's cheeks.
"You can stop this right now, Najara. It doesn't have to be this way." Najara placed the chakram back on her hip and drew her sword. Xena looked into Najara's eyes and noticed something had changed. She appeared crazed, and Xena knew what she must do.
"You're wrong, Xena." Najara's calm and pleasant façade was all but gone. Her voice was full of hatred and loathing and Xena's until-now strong belief that Najara was incapable of killing Gabrielle dissipated in a breath. "If you want to stop me, you're going to have to kill me."
Xena raised an eyebrow in mock consideration: "Done". She launched herself at Najara, her sword leading her attack. The first clash of metal on metal sent sparks flying. Xena was amazed at Najara's strength, but knew what an incredible source of power hatred could be. This woman wanted Xena dead more than anything in the world. The once pretty face was now twisted into a singular vision of loathing and madness. A thought flashed through Xena's mind - Gabrielle's strong belief that love was the most powerful force on earth. Xena hoped she was right. A second bout of clashing swords ensued, with Xena managing a back flip to avoid a powerful forward thrust by the crazed warrior. As Xena found her feet, Najara advanced, not allowing Xena any time to compose herself. The sound of swords clashing continued and echoed through the forest. Each fighter continued to hold their own, both eagerly waiting for the other to falter. Both waited for that moment of weakness, that one small error allowing for an opening and giving the other the upper hand. Swords clashed, fists were thrown and legs kicked out in an effort to bring the other down. After a solid effort with neither gaining the upper hand, both women paused briefly to catch their breath.
"Why won't you die, Xena?" Najara said hoarsely as she breathed in heavily some much needed oxygen.
"Are you kidding? One more horse payment and Argo is mine". Najara didn't appreciate the humor. It enraged her all the more and she once again prepared to launch herself into a no-holds-barred attack when Ares decided to make an appearance.
He was standing over Gabrielle, sword drawn. A look of boredom swam across his face. Both women instantly stopped fighting each other, aware of his presence. They both turned to face Ares, the look of fear on Xena mirrored in Najara. Najara's intense hatred drained away instantly. Her features turned pale. Ares spoke:
"What is it with you two?" Ares held his sword with both hands, blade pointing downward at Gabrielle's throat. Gabrielle's eyes sprang open, suddenly aware of the danger. But she remained quiet.
"It seems to me the problem can be easily resolved. And losing either of you two would be such a waste - so much talent." Ares had dismissed the idea that simply killing Gabrielle himself would be a solution to his Xena related problems. He knew killing the bard would drive a wedge between him and Xena that may possibly see her lost to him forever. But seriously, how much more of this could he take? Xena was standing only steps away from Najara, and her eyes darted to the chakram hanging by her side. As she went to grab it, Najara herself took the chakram in her hand. She turned to face Xena, an indecipherable smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. The madness seemed to be gone from her eyes. Something else had taken its place but Xena didn't know what. Ares hadn't noticed this little exchange, for he'd moved his attentions to Gabrielle.
"I really am sorry about this, Gabrielle. I don't know how else to say it, but you really are just a pain in my ass". As he raised his sword preparing it for the plunge into Gabrielle, Xena screamed:
"No Ares!" and made a launch for the chakram - but she was too late. As Ares sword came down, Gabrielle screamed "No!" and shut her eyes tightly. The chakram whirred loudly as Najara thrust it at Ares, hitting his hands and knocking the weapon out of his grasp just as it was about to penetrate Gabrielle's skin and blood and bone. Ares looked up just in time to see Xena somersaulting through the air towards him. In the split second he had before she'd be on him, he threw a lethal ball of energy and light in Najara's direction, knocking her off her feet and sending her backwards almost to the tree line. By the time Xena landed, Ares had vanished. Xena bent down to see Gabrielle's tear filled eyes looking up at her, and the heaviness that had been weighing down her heart for what seemed an eternity lifted in that moment. Just then Ares reappeared. His voice was full of rage:
"What is it about this girl?!" His voice was more animal than human. Xena stood and faced him. She spoke softly:
"There is nothing I can say to you that will make you understand". Ares growled:
"Try me". Xena paused and thought earnestly about his question, a question Ares would always want answered, but a question Xena would never have an answer to that would satisfy him.
"I can't. There are no words". Ares let out a sigh of exasperation, and he took control of his anger. As much as he knew he would never give up on Xena, he also knew Xena would never give up on Gabrielle.
"Well", Ares paused. "I'll be off then: Morning tea on Olympus. If I'm late Hera makes me sit with Deimos. That guy is crazy, if you know what I mean." Xena only nodded in response, at once amazed and irritated that killing Gabrielle suddenly wasn't an issue.
"You know, I wasn't really going to kill her", Ares said rather sheepishly
"I know you weren't", came Xena's flat response.
"Oooh, before I go", Ares continued, "Do you think you could pass me my sword?" Xena grabbed the sword off the ground and threw it at Ares, who simply caught it, grinned and vanished.
Xena bent down once again, all of her focus now on Gabrielle. She ran her hand through Gabrielle's matted blonde locks.
"Where have you been?" Gabrielle simply asked.
"I'm here now." Xena's voice was soft and full of emotion.
"Where is Najara?" Xena looked up and behind her to see Najara's unmoving body, and then turned back to her friend.
"I'm going to get you off this thing." Xena drew her sword and cut the ropes that bound Gabrielle to the cross. Then, cradling Gabrielle's cheek, she nodded to the impaled hand and warned "This is going to hurt".
"Xena, it hurts already". Xena used the sword as a lever to pry the nail from the cross and out of Gabrielle's hand. Gabrielle moaned from the pain. As soon as she was free, Xena pulled her friend up and held her close in a tight embrace. With what little strength she had Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the warrior and nuzzled her face into Xena's neck. They stayed that way for minutes, both silent, both extremely grateful just to be back together. Gabrielle finally broke the embrace. She looked over Xena's shoulder to the motionless Najara.
"Xena, you have to see if she's okay". Xena looked over her shoulder, and then lifted Gabrielle to her feet and carried her to the hut. Gabrielle was grateful for she barely had the energy to move let alone support herself. Xena laid her down on the bed.
"Oh, I think I can manage that".
"Do you think you can stay out of trouble for two seconds?" Xena grinned cheekily.
"I tried it once. It's not half as exciting". Xena turned around and headed out the door mumbling something along the lines of she'd had all the excitement she could handle for the time being, and made her way to Najara.
As Xena approached her nemesis, she noticed no movement, but as she got closer she saw Najara's eyes were open. Xena knelt down beside the woman, and Najara's eyes turned to the warrior princess. She did not speak. Xena swallowed hard:
"You saved her". Najara's eyes did not waver. They held Xena's eyes firm. She finally spoke, but the words were forced, as if to take every last ounce of life she had left in her.
"She...saved...me". With that Najara broke eye contact. Her eyes moved to the heavens above and as the last breath she took expired from her lungs, she saw no light. The Jinn had abandoned her.
Xena hung her head. She didn't know how to feel about Najara's death, but she did know that her one last action alone - the decision to save Gabrielle for what ever reason - earned her the funeral rites afforded anyone else. Xena stood and returned to the hut deciding not to ponder any more the turn of events, but to just be grateful that her beautiful bard had been returned to her.
"She's dead, isn't she?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly as Xena returned to the hut.
"Yeah. She's dead." There was no air of triumph in Xena's voice. Instead she sounded a little regretful. Gabrielle fell silent for a moment, saddened that it had come to this.
"What happened to me, Xena?" Xena approached the bed and Gabrielle's poor exhausted body.
"What do you mean?" Xena had grabbed the water skin and some bandage from Argo's saddle bags and began dressing the horrible wound on Gabrielle's right hand.
"I thought it was you. I mean...I saw you: You and Ares together. I saw you raise the hammer. I saw you..." Gabrielle's voice began to waver and tears began to form in her eyes.
"Hey, hey", Xena soothed, "Najara drugged you. My guess is the Jinn manipulated your mind in your hallucinogenic state."
"How could I have believed it? I mean, I knew something wasn't right, but how could I think..."
"Don't beat yourself up about it." Xena stroked Gabrielle's severely wounded hand. "It's not like I haven't given you reason to think Ares might..." Xena paused there, disgusted with herself that Gabrielle might have cause to believe she could one day return to Ares. "There's something I need to say that I should have told you a long time ago." Xena hesitated as she swallowed a lump that had somehow made its way into her throat.
"What is it?" Gabrielle prompted caringly. Xena fumbled with the dressing she was applying to Gabrielle's hand, when Gabrielle placed her left hand over Xena's to stop her.
"What is it?" she repeated, with not an inflection of impatience. Xena looked into her bard's eyes and saw such beauty there. Such warmth and understanding and she couldn't imagine ever being apart from her.
"I could never go back to Ares now. Not ever. I could never...be with someone who would take you away from me." Xena stroked Gabrielle's messed up hair with her right hand while her left was still being caressed by Gabrielle's good hand. Gabrielle's eyes lit up and she smiled, but she remained silent. Xena continued:
"You have to know I would never hurt you. And I will never leave you. Ever. And I could never love anyone as much as I love you. That won't change. Once I would have been so afraid and the truth is...I still am. It scares me how much I need you and the thought of ever losing you..." It was there Xena stopped. She was getting so choked up with emotion she could barely breathe. Her heart was pounding so hard she thought her chest would burst as she waited for a reply from her best friend.
"Xena." Gabrielle's voice was barely a whisper. And for once the bard was speechless. There were just no words. A tear fell from her left eye. Xena brushed it away with her thumb. She caressed Gabrielle's left cheek in her hand, and then lent in and gently kissed her bard on the lips. Afraid of becoming lost in the moment and of letting her guard down, Xena pulled away. Gabrielle once again whispered Xena's name, but this time longing and desire were conveyed so earnestly that Xena was no longer able to suppress her feelings. She surrendered herself completely to the bard. Xena put her lips to Gabrielle's in a kiss they both got lost in, and in that moment they both knew that come what may, they would never be apart.
It was dark. Xena and Gabrielle stood and watched as the flames of the funeral pyre licked the sky. Gabrielle had slept for several hours while Xena had built the pyre, and now that she was rested she felt much better. Xena knew how bad the bard was feeling about Najara, and she pulled her close to comfort her. Gabrielle gratefully latched on to the warrior's waist.
"Do you think anything Najara did was of her own free will?" Gabrielle asked Xena.
"One thing maybe: I think saving you from Ares was the only thing she did that was of her own free will".
"Where do you think she is now?" Xena considered the question but had no answer.
"I don't know." Xena smiled a little smile and asked "I guess I don't need to ask if you've forgiven her."
"I've forgiven her. Have you?"
"Well", Xena paused, "I guess I can cut her some slack seeing as she helped you out at the end there."
Minutes past as both women considered the events that had lead them to this moment, and the seemingly unshakable path Najara had followed to her very end. It was Gabrielle that finally broke the silence:
"So, where to next?"
"Well, now that you mention it, I need to make a stop at Ephyra". Gabrielle loosened her grip around Xena's waist and looked up at her friend.
"Why? Did we leave something behind at Ephyra?"
"Not exactly. But I do need to see a man about a horse". Gabrielle looked puzzled but Xena just smiled and told her bard not to worry her pretty little head about it. So Gabrielle went back to her previous position snuggled up to the warrior.
"Speaking of leaving something behind, you don't happen to know where Najara was hiding me, do you? I left some scrolls behind that I'd like to...you know...keep." Xena watched the flames reaching for the night sky, and as she did she remembered the words that she'd found on the floor of that dark little room - words that had left a lump in her throat and an ache in her heart.
"Dreams within are without. Without voice. Without you. A smile in the night becomes a scream in the dark. Everything that I hold sacred leaves me empty and alone. The heart's desire the soul's defiler. Lost and searching long, without you".
Gabrielle looked up at Xena and the look in the warrior's eyes melted the young bard's heart. Xena adored her. And with all the complexities and ups and downs and everything in between, it was just that simple. Xena adored her, and she adored Xena.
"You...you found my scrolls."
"I found your scrolls." Xena's voice was tender as she stroked Gabrielle's hair.
"Well you know, they were probably full of hydra droppings because apparently I was doped up to my cowlick with henbane so don't -
"I thought they were beautiful", Xena cut Gabrielle short.
"You did?" Gabrielle actually seemed rather shy at that moment.
"Yeah. But don't go gloating about it. And don't go telling everybody. And don't expect me to read every word that spills out of that quill." Xena chuckled as Gabrielle pushed the warrior away in mock anger.
"You're mean, Xena. I can see why Ares likes you". As those last words escaped her lips, Gabrielle took off to the hut as Xena's mouth dropped open in shock.
"That's it young lady!" She yelled out after the playful Gabrielle. "The next time you get kidnapped you can just rescue yourself. I'm not traveling all over Greece with my poor half-dead horse so I can be bad-mouthed by a cheeky trouble-magnet". Xena opened the door to the hut to find Gabrielle on the bed, propped up on her elbows.
"Yeah you will", she smiled.
"I kept hearing these voices in my head. But it wasn't the Jinn. It was your voice: Things from our past. Well, except one thing I didn't recall. Gods, I can only imagine what Najara must have been going through". Gabrielle contemplated how awful it must have been for Najara, having heard the voices of the Jinn inside her head since childhood.
"You tried, Gabrielle. I know that in my heart. You tried to save her."
"I did try".
"Well, if it's any consolation, I think you succeeded. I think in the end you did save her." Gabrielle smiled, but there was another question that had been eating at her and she decided it was finally time to ask the warrior princess for the truth.
"Xena, have you by chance ever referred to me as a 'useless little piss-ant'?"
No hammers were harmed during the production
of this imagined motion picture.
However, Najara may have broken a nail.
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