Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
My website is at http://dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm
Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.
Still not daring to let Xena see her eyes, she muttered evasively, “Plan? Pawns don't have plans.”
Wincing in pain, Xena squatted down in front of her. “Okay. I've had it.”
The stubborn look that crossed Gabrielle's face was one she was all too familiar with. “What?”
“Look, I get that you're angry, I get that… that you're this old dried up woman, that you've been through hundreds of years of a life FILLED with changes that I know nothing about. But there is NO WAY that any part of the Gabrielle that I knew would accept being a pawn. Not if there's any other choice.”
Gabrielle's guilt at keeping a secret, fuelled her already broiling anger. She began making jabbing motions with her index finger. “DON'T you try to tell me WHO I am! Don't you DARE tell me you've changed and then do that.”
Xena didn't back away but the torch in her hand wavered slightly. “I knew that would get to you!”
“You know nothing! LOOK at me! Nine hundred years later and I'm backing right into that box we made for me. I've just finished stitching your ass up like the little sidekick I always was.”
“You just rescued that ass!” Xena exclaimed. Their voices reverberated along the empty tunnel walls.
“Yes, but…” There was another angry retort on her lips, but she'd seen the look of anguish on Xena's face, a pained ‘ why are we doing this? ' expression and was unable to continue. She turned away, and in a completely different voice, said, “I'm not being fair. I know. I'm trying to keep a lid on all these things inside and I'm failing. I'm not proud of that. I'm angry. Ashamed.”
“Ashamed? I get the angry, but ashamed?”
“For a lot of stuff.” Gabrielle looked away. “But mainly, because I gave up. I gave up on you. I never searched for you… after I died. I blamed you for leaving me and then I did exactly what…”
“That's alright,” Xena interupted quietly. “It was better that way.”
Gabrielle shook her head. “You still don't understand. When I died, somehow I lost everything that was... I lost us. And now that it's all come back, I'm caught right back at the beginning. Caught between the guilt that You Know Who was right. And that maybe I can only get through this by sticking to my resolve. By shutting down what I'm feeling. Even admit that I prefer not remembering what we really meant to each other.” Her green eyes were overladen with tears and she fiercely wiped them away with one dusty hand. “I hate feeling this way. I hate feeling, full stop. Especially the guilt. Guilt, because a core part of me still believes love should have been enough. It should have been enough to find you. Even after death.”
Xena took a moment before she answered. “You should be angry, but ashamed? This is my fault, not yours,” she said carefully. “We needed to meet again when we could… I needed time to learn, truly understand, what we had. What I gave away. And I also needed to know that you were safe, away from…”
Whatever Xena was about to say was cut short by the appearance of a glowing apparition, which blinded them in the dimness of the underground corridor. Almost as bright was the smile and exclamation, “Hello young lovers!”
Xena dropped her head in frustration, nearly losing her torch. “Oh, bloody Hades!”
Gabrielle was equally taken aback. “Aphrodite, what are you doing here? What happened to not popping in? And more importantly,” Gabrielle looked about worriedly, “how did you find us here?”
The Goddess shrugged. “Ummmm… First question first, nice to see you too, Sweets. Second, like, as it's you two, it's worth the bit of pain. And as for the third, well, you guys told me where you were.”
“We told you?” Xena looked over at Gabrielle. “Unless my brains really are in my ass, I think I'd remember that. You, Gabrielle?”
The Goddess happily explained. “Well, actually, it was both of you. Just not yet.”
Realisation struck both with a thud. “Oh, crap,” said Xena.
“You've got the Loom of the Fates,” Gabrielle completed.
Aphrodite nodded gleefully. “Uh huh. Did I say thank you? That's part of the job done, and I could kiss you both if you weren't in this grotty, yucky place.”
They needed to get back to the main point. “We told you where we were?” Gabrielle asked
“Well not now, in the future, where I was, you know?”
“No, we don't,” groaned Xena.
“You have such a closed mind,” the Goddess criticized. “Because it is so cool! I just pick a spot on a thread and wave and here I am!”
Gabrielle strode over with her own finger wagging. “You told me you were going to tell the Fates to hide it some place no one could find it.”
Exasperated, the Goddess said, “I was going to. But then you asked me to come back here! And can I say again, YUCK.”
Gabrielle closed her eyes. “And then you're immediately going to let the Fates drop it in a pit somewhere, right?”
“Well, sure, but let's think about it for a teensy minute. The Fates are still in chains. I could go back, and use the thing to set everything right! I could get you and Dark and Deadly out of this hole for starters.”
Aphrodite placed both hands on her hips and confronted the girl; the tone of the single word, spoken as if to a wayward child, clearly rubbing her the wrong way. “Listen, I don't have to ask. I AM a Goddess, remember?”
Gabrielle didn't flinch. “And I, am the only real friend you've ever had, and you made a promise to me.”
“But…” the Goddess squirmed.
“I want your word.”
There was a Goddess-sized sigh, but then a slight lift to the head. “You sure? Because they have a sort of scrying pool down there…”
“And?” asked an interested Xena.
Gabrielle shot her partner a ‘ don't encourage her' glare.
The Goddess continued anyway, “I sort of peeked at what was going to happen to you guys...”
“It doesn't matter what you saw. You-Know-Who spent centuries playing around with the Loom to get what he wanted. We don't have that kind of time and we can't risk changing anything,” Gabrielle insisted.
“That's what you think,” retorted Aphrodite.
Xena took Gabrielle aside. “Wait a minute…”
Gabrielle glowered. “Look, the world can't afford her getting in the habit of making visits there. You know better than I do that power corrupts.” She gestured at the now pouting Goddess. “Even with warm fuzzies attached to it.”
Xena shook her head. “That's not my point. She already has information and we need all that we can get.” She asked Aphrodite. “Did we happen to say why we wanted you to come here?”
“Ummm, not really. You were all kind of abrupt. Like rushed.”
Gabrielle considered this. “Well, probably because at that time, we'd already had this visit, so when we asked you, we knew what happened already.”
Xena pressed her palms to the sides of her head. “Now I've got that headache again.” Visibly making an effort to calm herself, she tried again. “You didn't tell us things were going to be bad?”
Aphrodite shook her head. “No, you already knew.”
“We knew because she told us now,” Gabrielle theorised. “Hey, I'm getting the hang of this!”
Xena let out a slight moan. Now on the trail, Gabrielle ignored her. “Okay. Since we're supposed to find out, you might as well tell us.”
Aphrodite gave a false smile. “There are a couple of possible fruits of the Loom, one of them is that you just head for the river and escape…”
Gabrielle nodded. “And…?”
“You live happily together. Sort of. For a while. We might have the Loom back, but my brother still wins the main prize. The losers at the Pontifical College argued against His ascension until their tongues fell out. But with the Emperor away at the wars, they couldn't convince his head guy to even delay the announcement of… His… promotion to big kahuna until the Emperor got back. Anyway, once he's made head God, there's no changing it. He finds you several moons from now, and He, well, it's not pretty. But,” she added with a false smile, “You do get to live until then in peace.”
“And if we don't run away?”
The rest came from the Goddess in a rush. “You-Know-Who becomes head God for all the reasons I already gave and he catches up with you tomorrow. He plays a few nasty-type games. He re-creates your worst nightmares of death. And separates you. In one possible timeline, he offers you a deal and you both refuse him. But in another, He offers to give Gabrielle a new life. With a husband, children, he shows Gabrielle telling stories by a fireplace, and Xena, you're dying, and you … agree.”
Gabrielle, spun to look at the warrior. “No, she won't,” she said with certainty.
“O-kay. But refusing doesn't make things any better. When even at Thanatos' arrival, you both refuse to bow to him, he uses his power and reaches… he's really angry, you see, about losing the Loom and… stuff…” she trailed off.
“Go on,” Gabrielle warily encouraged.
Wincing, the Goddess did. “He reaches out… and captures your souls. I saw myself, trying to stop him, but he's drawing from thousands of new worshippers at hundreds of brand new temples. Then he crushes you in a way that you die, apart… in agony.”
“So we die,” Xena said dispassionately. Gabrielle stared at her, disturbed by the flatness in her tone.
Aphrodite shifted uncomfortably. “He crushes them reeeeal slow.”
There was little change in Xena's tone. “So we die slowly.” Again Gabrielle shivered at the quiet statement.
“Slow, like, you know, an eternity,” Aphrodite completed.
At this, both mortals looked at each other with widened eyes, before Xena spoke again. “Okay, we don't like that. When does this happen?”
Aphrodite thought. “Your bet with Bro was to hide until noon, and that's also when the new temples are dedicated. You die soon after that.”
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shrugged. “Noon. In Rome . Did you have any other plans for noon?”
She seemed to be holding in some emotion and said sullenly, “Give the Gods what they want, right?”
“The Gods? Right. Since when have we ever done that? We've spent our lives paying for their screwups.”
Gabrielle was about to reply when a thought struck her.
Aphrodite interrupted. “What is with you two? You have a choice. I have the Loom! Aren't you listening? I can make things better!”
The changing expression on Gabrielle's face was very familiar to Xena, even if it was on an unfamiliar face. Xena knew that a missing piece had filled some puzzle.
“Like you did when I died?” Gabrielle enquired softly.
Flustered, Aphrodite took a step back. “What do you mean?”
Gabrielle moved forward to follow the retreating Goddess. “It just struck me. What Xena just said. You even reminded me yesterday, that I was never alone because you always were around. When I died.”
Aphrodite looked suddenly nervous. “You were special to me. Of course I'd be there.”
“You weren't just there. You did something, didn't you?” Her voice rose, became strident, causing dust to drift down the narrow walls. “What did you do?” she demanded. “What did you do to me when I died?”
The Goddess shook her head firmly. “You got it all wrong. I did nothing. Really.”
“Really. Then why did I forget how I felt about Xena, until now?”
“Mortals leave some emotions behind when they die. It's a part of becoming on another plane,” she explained glibly.
Gabrielle shook her head. “But when Xena and I died together on those crosses, we still knew each other afterwards. You had to have done something, didn't you? A part of me didn't go… with my spirit. That's why it wasn't the same.” She raised a finger and waved it from one to the other. “What haven't you two told me? Why I didn't keep all my memories of Xena into the afterlife?”
There was a glance to Xena, before Aphrodite began. “What happened to you on the crosses, it was special. Your love was pure, it was so true. You died for each other,” the Goddess said wistfully. “When you died the last time, so alone, it was all corrupted, it was part of your pain. It couldn't follow you. I thought about…”
“What?” Gabrielle demanded.
“Not letting you lose those feelings. But, I knew it would be better for you. Both of you. Do you think that I, of all people would want any love to die, especially love like yours?” she asked, plaintively. “But I knew you'd never stop, even at death, searching for her. You'd keep searching, and only get caught by my brother just like…” Aphrodite stopped, realising what she'd said.
There was no victory in Gabrielle's voice as it echoed in the dark chamber. Just another flat statement. “Caught. Like you knew Xena was.” She took a deep breath. “You knew that he had her when I died.”
Aphrodite held out her hands beseechingly. “Honey…”
Gabrielle ignored the entreaty. “You knew that He had taken Xena's soul. You knew and you didn't say anything to me.” Gabrielle paused, to take a strained breath. “I was dying, I DIED, crying her name and you didn't say anything.” She shook her head in slow anger.
“I thought, I thought it was what was best, for you.”
Xena spoke for the first time. “And I thank you for it.”
Gabrielle turned on her. “What? How can you say that?”
“Gabrielle. She saved you. She saved me. If you had been taken like I was, I wouldn't have had any hope.”
Gabrielle laughed bitterly. “Like the hope you have now? You've accepted that we die tomorrow as if it was some sort of accomplishment!”
“But I could change that, if you'd let me help,” Aphrodite inserted hopefully.
No words could have been better designed to anger the girl. “Yes, more of your help! Thank you so very much!” she spat out sarcastically. “At least when I was an old woman, no one saw me as poor little Gabrielle. And now I get ALL the advantages of youth. I need someone to save me. Make my choices for me, poor child that I am.”
Aphrodite dropped her eyes at the burning glare, but Xena did not; but rather, held it, throughout the rant.
“Have you ever noticed that you're both SO very, very happy when I'm innocent and ignorant? And you can say things have changed? NOTHING. Nothing has changed!”
Gabrielle stomped off down the corridor beyond the reach of the flickering torch. Aphrodite looked to Xena, about to say something indignant, but the warrior grimly shook her head. There was a shuffle/stumble in the darkness and then a loud curse before Gabrielle returned to them, her stony face bathed in cobwebs.
“I need to get out of here. Somewhere where I'm not a pawn.” Away from you , was unspoken but clear.
Xena's face reddened in frustration as she shouted, “You're the one who keeps saying you're a pawn. I'm the one…”
“You're the one who's in love with dying,” she accused Xena. “I don't even know if it has to be for the greater good anymore. What's the point of fighting when you won't try, or even imagine…Why can't you for this… one… time, fight for us? To live?”
A frustrated Aphrodite interrupted. “Then use the Loom! Change the world and see what shakes out!”
Gabrielle never took her eyes away from the warrior's, but she shook her head grimly. “No, whatever we change, could hurt millions.”
Xena reached towards her, but Gabrielle quickly drew back. “Then we have to accept that we die tomorrow but that we die fighting. Together. And that's a victory. Please Gabrielle, let me keep my promise this time.”
“You're still not listening to me. You can make the most impossible plans and schemes, except when it comes to us having a future together!”
Xena shouted back, “Because I never deserved a future with you!”
Xena's words echoed for a moment, until there was only silence, except for the laboured breathing of both partners. Gabrielle stared into the pain in Xena's eyes, at the honest regret in them as well, and softly said, “But what if I believe… that I deserve, that I want, a future with you?”
Xena froze, and Gabrielle saw that her next words would be a denial. “You see?” she spat. “Still a child to you. Nothing's changed,” she ground out.
Gabrielle began to pace about, her brow scrunched low in thought. She looked up again at the Goddess and said, “I still need to get out of here. For a moment.”
Aphrodite still stunned by the emotions she'd witnessed, bobbed her head in enthusiastic agreement. “Name a place and whoosh, you're there.”
“You said the Fates are still chained up?” Gabrielle asked.
Aphrodite started to nod her head before hesitating. “Somebody should release the girls, sure, but… Do you really think you're exactly the right…?”
“Send me there. But after the time you've sent yourself here.”
The Goddess looked over to Xena who nodded. She turned back to Gabrielle, somewhat miffed. “Isn't that a bit of a double standard? You won't trust me to go, and I'm not the one who torched the place the last time!”
Gabrielle's expression gave away nothing. “You said anywhere.”
“Do it,” said Xena
Aphrodite stared at both of their firm, set faces. “I guess the girls could send you back when you're… done. You won't be long? After doing whatever…” Getting no response, she raised and shook her arms in exasperation. “Fine! I mean, who am I to argue? Just because the entire Pantheon of the Gods but one, have gotten together and promised to let mankind make their own fates, hey mortal, here's the keys to the wishing well.” Nevertheless, she flung her hands out and Gabrielle vanished.
Xena smirked. “Here's the keys to the wishing well?”
“She knows what I meant,” the Goddess griped uncharacteristically. She lowered herself heavily onto a stone bench and continued, “and, oh yeah. The Fates are going to love to get visit from her again. Especially with that expression on her face. Lucky for her they're in chains.”
She looked up to Xena, for once not attempting to hide her worry. “She really wouldn't…?”
Xena replied to the unspoken fears. “We trust her.”
“Because we love her, right?”
. “That, and because she's pissed off that people have been changing her life drastically without permission.” With Aphrodite following her, Xena began advancing down the tunnel, the torchlight glinting off the marble collages on the walls. “Do you see her doing that to a whole world?”
“She did once.”
“Different situation.” There seemed to be a cave-in ahead, blocking the entire tunnel, so Xena slowed her pace, placing the torch in the nearest sconce in order to examine it.
Aphrodite continued the conversation, blithely unaware of any obstruction. “But mortals who were beat up as kids, sometimes become the worse batterers.”
“Not Gabrielle.” The ceiling collapse was quite extensive. Who knew how far it extended? Xena was thinking.
“So how many times did your Dad take his hand to you? At least he didn't drag you behind a horse,” Aphrodite shot back.
That jab broke through. It also hurt. Xena angrily turned about with a stone slab in her hands and gave the Goddess the full power of her pale eyes. “I don't owe you any explanations.”
The Goddess did not back away. “Don't you try to intimidate me, Xena. Because, yes, you do owe it to me. I brought that girl back, and whatever happens tomorrow, it's important that she knows… I need to know that you are not going to hurt her again.”
Xena snorted and turned away from the Goddess and back to the task. “Didn't you hear her? She doesn't want people looking after her.”
Aphrodite crowded her. “Not now. Not after all she's been through. The sweetest, gentlest of all mortals! And how much of her change was because of love for you? Love I encouraged.”
Xena continued to clear away the larger debris, checking to see that nothing she removed was supporting the roof. “Then it's a little late for this talk, isn't it?” she finally growled.
“Just promise that you'll tell her that you won't leave her again.” Then with a note in her voice Xena had never heard before, the Goddess asked, “Please?”
The ‘please' lingered in the air. Xena finally stopped her work, but kept her back to the Goddess. When she spoke, her voice was muted. “Aphrodite. I wish to Hades I had a guarantee for her. I wish I saw a way that we had the time to…But we don't. This is just a chance to make better, not to live again. And I've had lots of time, without her, time to think about what I would do if given the chance. That's what I want this time for. To make up for being a fool. Of course, I loved her, but I always came first. MY missions, MY destiny. And finally, MY redemption.” She barked a laugh. “And there was a joke, my great search for redemption. And look how I fell for that scam. Proof you can't con an honest woman.”
Xena began lifting sections of tiles and tossing them recklessly behind her. She continued her confession as she dug deeper into the pile. As if digging deeper into her own rot. “I screwed her over, I definitely screwed me, and there's only one thing I know that might make any of it better. So we'll do your job. We'll fight our fate and yeah, still end up dead. But if nothing else, I'm gonna show her that I have learned something.”
Xena stopped, brushing the caked-on dust from around her eyes. In the silence there was only her slight strangled breathing until Aphrodite asked, “What was it? That you learned?”
Xena was still facing away from the Goddess, but her voice was clear. “That she means everything to me. It took a lot before I learned that. About a dozen ass-kickings and more by your brother. And it changed me. Even *I* had to learn, whether I wanted to or not. You can't keep thinking you're what's important, when you keep losing. That's all I've done for a dozen and more lifetimes. Had my ass-kicked.”
She finally turned to face Aphrodite. “You can't believe that you don't need anyone's help, when you keep screwing up alone. No ego could take that. Not even mine.” She laughed. “The only chance I had against … against Him, was with her. So is that hope? Because it's the worst thing of all too. I wanted her safe, but the irony is that my only chance to get out of this trap was by putting her at risk again. I don't know if she still believes in us, but I believe in her. That's what I learned and that's what I'm going to show her.”
To her chagrin, it seemed that the Goddess was no longer listening to the longest speech Xena had ever made to her.
Aphrodite swallowed and caressed her stomach. “Maybe it's just a bad batch of wine, but I'm getting that feeling…”
“What?” Xena's expression hardened as she caught on. “No.”
Now certain, the Goddess nodded. “Oh yes. Your reality just shifted a little. And that means somebody's playing with the Loom. Any guesses who? What has she done?” She raised her arms and vanished in a sparkle. With no other action possible, Xena stoically returned to clearing the rubble, only the occasional clenching of her jaw indicating any of her frustration.
To be continued...
Return to the Academy