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
After a long time, Aphrodite reappeared, fear shining in her beautiful face. “The Loom, the girls, Gabrielle, they've gone!”
Xena looked up from the rubble and made an attempt at a calming gesture. “She was supposed to let them go. Maybe that's all you're feeling?” she said uncertainly.
“Uh uh. Somebody changed reality. I know what that feels like. Trust me.”
There was another flash in the darkened tunnel that blinded Xena again for a second, and as her eyes cleared she found Gabrielle standing in front of them. The Vestal's eyes were red and it was clear she'd been crying.
“What's happened? Are you okay?”
“Never mind that. What did you do?” Aphrodite demanded.
Gabrielle replied with an almost cruel smile, “To quote the Goddess, nothing, really.”
“I know what my g… what my insides tell me. Something's changed.”
For some reason, Gabrielle seemed to be avoiding looking Xena in the eye, and rather than answer the Goddess' questions she spoke in a weary monotone, “It's funny, because I could have done anything. Even after I took off their chains, the Fates offered to let me…”
She cleared her throat, still in some kind of shock. “I was tempted, but the chance that there would be repercussions, you know… I didn't corrupt the past, or the future. I just gave us some… hope, I think. I needed, I needed some little thing, so that we could… hope. Have something. So I got it for us. Not much. They said we still… we'll still have to die, but maybe…”
Aphrodite stomped her foot. “What did you do?”
Gabrielle's eyes cleared and her voice became stronger. “Why don't you go up and look?” she said, clearly indicating that the Goddess should leave.
Aphrodite looked perplexed for a moment. “But… yeah, Okay. But when I find out what you did…I'll…I'll be back.”
With that uncertain threat lingering, she vanished.
Xena stood, and tentatively opened her arms to take Gabrielle into them. Gabrielle shook her head, but gently pushed Xena back onto the marble bench before sitting beside her. She stared straight ahead, but did not move her hand when Xena covered it with hers.
“I just remembered another thing about what it was like when we were together.”
Xena waited, a part of her shrinking in fear of what was coming next.
“We never got the chance to absorb each new shock. We never…” and Gabrielle began to cry.
This time Xena did not hesitate and drew Gabrielle into her strong arms. There was no resistance and the bard's head fit right into the crook of her shoulder as it always had. She could feel the tears soaking through the dirty toga, and waited for the storm inside her partner to subside. “That's part of why you needed to leave? You wanted some time, and something else happened, right?”
Gabrielle disengaged after a moment, and drew her hands across her face to wipe the tears away. “Yeah. My own fault, though. I think I knew, somewhere inside, what had happened to you all those years. But I needed to see it.” There was a shamefaced smile. “It wasn't what I expected. I kept thinking, I guess, I wanted to think, even after Aphrodite told me you'd had a rough time…”
“I tried to tell myself, ‘oh, she's probably been offered the world over and over, tempted, maybe some mind games, the usual stuff, you know'. But then they let me see…”
Xena searched within for some reply, but there was nothing she could do but let Gabrielle continue.
“At first,” and there was a choked laugh at this point, “I thought I was just seeing the same death. Just repeated, again and again.”
“Gabrielle. It didn't matter,” Xena said, gently.
Gabrielle shoved the tenderly caressing hand away violently, and turned to stare directly into her partner's eyes. “Don't you dare soften this for me! No one alive knows as well as I do, what that's like.” She stopped to push the pain from her mind, before starting again.
“I had a long and… exciting… life. So it's not surprising, you know, sometimes I forget a name or a face or exactly what I was feeling at some critical moment.” She lifted her face to look at Xena, and the warrior was relieved to see that the anger that had tightened the muscles around the bard's eyes was gone.
“Of course, I remember the best stuff and the really bad… like when we hurt each other, when you left, that's clear too. The victories and defeats though, they can get a little blurry sometimes.” The bard took a slow, even breath before continuing.
“But I just have to close my eyes, just for a moment. And I can be right there. On that cross, again. Feeling that eternity of agony.” This time she reached over and took Xena's hand in hers. “And… I'd had you with me. But you, you were alone.”
Near tears herself, Xena choked out, “Gabrielle, You were there. Always.”
Again there was that broken laugh. “I know. When the Fates showed me, I saw your lips move. Each time you… when you were… your lips,” Gabrielle closed her eyes and tears ran from them. “They said my name.”
She took a deep breath. “But that only makes it worse. I don't want to hear that you did it for… for that girl, the girl that isn't.”
Now Xena was confused. “What do you mean?”
“What you said before. You meant it for her. That young Gabrielle, the ideal you carried around. This debt you think you owed.” The choking voice became impassioned. “I will not be another guilt you carried. Another of the mistakes you think you need to redeem.”
Fighting the desire to hold the woman in her arms, but wanting some intimacy, Xena took Gabrielle's hands and cupped them under her own chin and tried again to think of the right words.
“There was never any girl, don't you see? I've loved you. Always you. And I swear I know you've changed and still, I love this woman, the woman that you are. How can I put it?” She stared up into the tunnel ceiling and thought. “You know, soon the moon will be rising. Right?”
Gabrielle swallowed, and her nod was barely visible in the flickering light.
“You know it and I know it. The moon will rise. Even though we can't see it from here. We can't see it, but we know the moon is up there. Somewhere.” She stopped and focussed again. “Some nights there are clouds, but we still know there's a moon in the sky.” She turned her pale eyes onto Gabrielle's.
“I never thought you were some perfect… ideal, you said? But even on our worst days I still counted on, knew that part, that soul, the things that are the best in you, were there. I've always known that part of you. When you were just a kid, or when you were troubled and hurting, I knew it was there, behind the clouds. I know it's there now. That's you, Gabrielle. Unique, and so very special. And me,” the warrior chuckled mirthlessly, “Sometimes I did things, often, I did things, that I know weren't who I wanted to be. Who I could be. But you saw something in me that no one else did. Including me. It saved me. You saved me. And I needed that, more than I ever knew, I needed that.”
Xena's eyes were as filled with tears as Gabrielle's now. “So, of course I thought of you. Of course I thought of you when I was given the choice of being a toy for that bastard or dying on those dammed crosses. But it isn't your fault or responsibility, it was my choice and my salvation.” She wiped the tears roughly away and asked; “Now maybe you need that. Now it's my turn, finally, to show you that moon. That part of who I know you are. Will you, can you… let me?”
Gabrielle tore her eyes away from the warrior, and the extrication was painful. But she needed to concentrate. For every day from Japa until her death she'd thought about this moment. And now, it seemed to have arrived without any conscious effort on her part. Can I do this? Can I finally ask her… But when else? What other time are we likely to have?
She cleared her throat, refusing to look into Xena's eyes. “It's not…quite that simple. There are some things, at least, one thing…We have to…well, talk.”
She knew there was worry, and possibly even a little fear in the warrior's eyes, but typically when it was personal, instead of voicing it, she made a joke instead. “If we have to talk, then you're gonna have to do better than that.”
Gabrielle allowed a very short chuckle to escape. “Well, it's like you said. I must have had this conversation in my head a thousand times.”
The warrior's eyes widened comically. “Oh Gods, not you too.”
This time the laughter was not forced. “Where's that new improved Xena?”
“Not all that improved, because right now she'd rather be taking on a dozen harpies with a toothpick.”
“Nope. I said anything, and I want to keep my word, right?”
Gabrielle stood and paced a short distance away from the torch, moving into the shadows, trying to put the words in order. “Okay, because I need to say this, and also because I think it's going to be important. Tomorrow.”
Any lightness that had been brought to the moment disappeared as her figure went into the shadows, and her voice grew harder. “I know we've talked, about the things we did… to hurt each other. Who was at fault and what drove us, how much we were manipulated, by Him, Dahok, the Furies and every other force under and over the skies. We've apologised, the Gods know, until we were hoarse. But… we never talked about why you came riding into Amazona, looped that rope around me and…”
The shadow that was her partner's body stilled. ‘I thought, hoped, we'd handled that.”
Though she knew she wasn't visible, Gabrielle shook her head. “That's the one thing you never apologised for. The one thing I've never understood.”
Gabrielle cursed the weakness that was rising inside of her and the tears threatening to emerge as well. “I knew you had cause, I knew you could be… but not like that. Not to me. You were my safe haven and….”
“Gabrielle. I've tried, I've relived that day in nightmares too many times, I don't know!”
“Now or never, Xena. Whatever happens tomorrow, you have to answer this question now. Why?”
Xena could hear the note of desperation that had crept into her partner's question. There was clearly more to this than finally finding an explanation. So as painful as it was, the warrior was going to have to dig in places she had long left buried. She closed her eyes and pictured herself, on that horse, the stolen one, because Argo had refused to let her ride. Steeled herself not to cringe at the memories that flashed behind her eyes. “I remember… the hatred.”
Gabrielle winced, but pushed on. “Okay, think. I need you to think about the hatred. Who did you hate?”
“What do you mean?” Xena opened stinging eyes to look at her. “You, I was hurting you, it had to be you.”
“But you're not sure. There was something else…What did you think would happen after I was dead?”
“You could have easily just slipped into that sweat hut and slit my throat. Or kidnapped me and tortured me for as long as the hatred drove you. But you rode in, right through the Amazons, in bright sunlight, dragged me down every path and trail. Then stood on that cliff in plain view of all the world, ready to heave me over like I was a sacrifice to the gods. What did you feel like, about to hurl me over the cliff?”
The warrior closed her eyes again. Put herself back in that terrible moment, waiting on the cliff, screaming out her defiance and pain… to whom? Why was it so public, who was she screaming at? Had she been waiting for something?
“Like I was waiting. Like I was waiting… to be struck down.”
Gabrielle let out the breath she'd been holding. “Okay. Now why would you be expecting that?”
“Gabrielle, maybe you shouldn't try to get inside my head. You wouldn't like it there.”
Once again, the bard heard Aphrodite's voice in the Temple . “Get inside that thick warrior's skull or you don't even have the teeny tiny chance I'm giving you.” So she continued to bear down. “Who do you think you're talking to? I've been there. No one else knows better what's inside that mind and I'm still here.”
“Then you know I'm not a good person, Gabrielle. I enjoy the fight, the killing. I still do and I don't think that will ever change.”
“This is supposed to be news? I know you, Xena, yes, you've shocked me, but I've shocked myself more. I have my dark side. At least your dark side saved us more often than not. Mine nearly got us both killed in Chin. The dark side never pushed me or you away. It was the lies and the self-deception. Always.”
Can I push this and not break the rules? Gabrielle thought . Aphrodite said, “ And rule one is, you can't tell Xena .”
Gabrielle pondered for another moment, before flinging the opinion away. ‘ Sorry, Dite. I can't do this, not with a lie. Forget it. ' she decided.
“I think there's one last game coming up, Xena. And I think that we'll lose everything if there's one place in our hearts and minds that we aren't sure of. That's one place in your mind that I don't know, and I'll bet you anything that whatever He has planned, it'll be the places we don't know that will make us fail. That's why you have to remember why you dragged me!”
Reliving even a part of that long ago memory was clearly causing the warrior pain, pain she would have done almost anything to avoid. But almost anything was not everything; not when it came to Gabrielle.
“I just remember the anger. I remember…” The warrior began to pace about in the confined space. “I was dragging… that thing behind me, needing it to die.” The whole time she could feel Gabrielle's eyes burning into her back, but she pushed on. “ Like it was torturing me with… everything I'd failed to be, couldn't ever be or have. Wanting it to suffer, to be ground into the dirt, to stop giving me pain when I trusted it, when I gave into it.”
Xena's flow of words subsided, as she looked to the ground, mortified.
Gabrielle's voice was strangely calm. “That doesn't sound like you were dragging just me. I think you were dragging a lot more. And I think… you were trying to kill yourself.”
“More about how I'm in love with death.”
Gabrielle threw out her hands in frustration. “I don't know, that's what it feels like. But something's there. Something we need to know for tomorrow. Whatever it was, it's there.”
“Okay.” Xena let out a rush of air along with the word. “I remember standing on that cliff, holding something, thinking that it was everything. All that was important, all that I loved, ready to toss it like garbage over the cliff. I knew it was unforgivable. That…”She swallowed before continuing. “It was the worst thing I had ever done and that someone, something would finally stop me.”
“And instead I struck you down.”
There was a catch in her breath as though she'd been running. “Thank the Gods.”
“But you see? Whatever you were trying to destroy, you or me, it needed me dead or us apart. Even after you'd lost everything, and we were no longer friends, something drove you, needed you, to finish the job.” Now, it was Gabrielle who began to pace. “As if, with me dead, the last door was closed. That there was no hope.” She stopped and looked towards the warrior. “Now we're together, that hope has to be here. You said you wanted me to see the moon, well, I need, no, I demand, that you see that hope.” Gabrielle took Xena's hand. “All I ask is that you believe that we will be together longer than just noon tomorrow. That, that alone, is worth whatever we have to go through.”
“I can try. For you, I'll try.” A slightly sour expression came over Xena's face. “But in love with death? You don't really think that?”
“I've had a few years to think about it and, Yes. Y our Warrior's Way, I thought I understood it once, but… it was more than your way, it became who you were.” Once again, Gabrielle felt she was following a trail, and she turned to face the warrior, now outlined in the torchlight. “What do you think the last centuries have been about? Why do you think What's His Name would push you again and again, knowing you would have to choose death?”
Xena shrugged. “You tell me. You sound like you know.”
“I don't really see him putting you through all those lives because He wanted you to learn how to appreciate what we were or what we had or what I was to you. Maybe it happened along the way, but you know that wasn't His plan. I think He did it to reinforce, to pound into you, your belief that the only value you had was when you were willing to die. That you had to die to pay for your crimes and find redemption. That's what Japa was all about.”
Despite her determination to stay calm, her voice began to rise. “Forty thousand souls was just another temptation. It was just enough for you to break every promise you made to me. To give your life for the redemption that seemed right to you. I need your promise you won't do that again. Because Ares knows you. He's been waiting all these centuries for this moment. Waiting until you would give yourself to him in exchange for me, even if it was a me that was bitter and angry, because you thought that's what you deserved. But look at me Xena. Look at me and tell me I would ever be about death? Your death or anyone else's. I need you to believe in us, in our being together, or we stop right here.”
“I don't know… I can't…” Xena uncharacteristically stuttered.
Gabrielle reached across in the dark and found Xena's hand. “I need you to believe that we will be together longer than just noon tomorrow. Despite what your mind and the Fates are telling you. That, that alone, is worth whatever we have to do. If you can believe that, then…”
There was a forced chuckle in the dark. “Then anything is possible?”
“Anything. And you better believe that.”
“Gabrielle, I don't, can't...”
“Right now, I don't care what you think you can or don't do.” Gabrielle huffed once. “Just shut up and believe.”
Could she? Xena thought. But she was unable, unwilling to deny the needs in the woman holding her hand, or deny her own no longer dormant wishes.
Gabrielle wiped her eyes with her free hand and took another deep breath. Even though they were both away from the torch, and in almost complete darkness, Xena was somehow able to stretch out her hand and unerringly find a few of the errant strands of blonde hair, and place them behind the bard's ears, gaining an unseen smile from her partner at the familiar gesture. They moved closer and if at first there was hesitation, it changed to comfort that somehow became a frisson of desire for both.
Despite Xena's inner promise to give Gabrielle space, she found herself enclosing the smaller woman in her arms. She was surprised to notice that she was also trembling slightly, and her lips became dry, even as they moved closer to Gabrielle's.
Xena stopped, waiting for a sign from her partner, when Gabrielle whispered, “I was so angry with you before I died. And then yesterday, it all came back so… completely. So hard. I remembered being mad and tired of loving you and not being loved the same way, but right now…” She paused, and a sudden flicker of the torch caught a smile that broke through the tears and directly into Xena's now pounding heart. “… this moment, I want to love you again. Please don't make me regret loving you again. Please…”
If words alone could have been of reassurance, Xena would have searched the world to find them. Instead, she struggled; motionless, speechless. But Gabrielle had continued looking into her eyes, and she found what she needed to see, and began closing the gap between them. The hesitancy that had lingered in the first few moments dissipated, and she caught Xena's lips between her own, and tilted her head, deepening their contact….
…when Aphrodite suddenly appeared, looking somewhat winded. Startled, both mortals sprang apart like naughty children, and tried to appear detached, unsuccessfully. The Goddess evaluated the situation with a smirk, and promptly ignored it for her own immediate focus.
“Okay. I give up. I can't see any changes. Still Rome up there, sky is still blue and talk about your missed opportunities, you didn't even fiddle with the fashions. But whatever you did do, there are still plans for You-Know-Who to become Boss God at noon tomorrow. So, unless this chance you made for each other is real subtle, I think you should travel Air Goddess about now. Or at least, let me give you a running start?”
Both Xena and Gabrielle spoke at the same time.
“No? Nope?” the Goddess questioned the unexpectedly smiling partners.
Gabrielle shook her head and with a sigh slipped her hand back into Xena's. Where it seemed to belong. “We've still got a lot of things to work out, but one thing we agree on. We don't run away. Especially if it's going to leave What's-His Name as supreme power over the world.”
The Goddess threw up her hands. “Hello? I know! I brought you back for this. But I have to do something. Right? He's too powerful. Do you realise what a fluke it was that you even managed to hide from him this long? The Fates have said that you die. You saw it yourself! There isn't any give here, you both died long ago and this was your day to make it better, but we're all out of time.”
Startled, Gabrielle looked at Xena, unsure what the words might really mean, but hoping that her heart knew.
Xena looked down at the hand in hers. “I'm prepared for us to die tomorrow. Whatever the cost. As if taking the easy way ever worked for us anyway. But…” She turned to face Gabrielle, “There's not much I still believe in, and I still don't believe I deserve you, but… I believe in you. If trusting you is what it takes,” and her face broke into a smile, “Then I can do that. If that's what you need from me, that's easy.” Again there were tears welling up in both their eyes and the once loose hand grasp now seemed as though it were moulded from steel.
Certain of what she was saying now, Xena continued, “And… There's dying and then there's dying. We're not leaving that bastard in charge of the world.”
Gabrielle was nodding and thinking ahead. “Don't worry. I'm not going to rely on just belief. We just might come up with a few arguments to stop Him, something that the Pontifical College didn't think of.”
Aphrodite blinked. “Even though you know what'll happen after that anyway?”
Gabrielle nodded her head. “There is one way you could help. If we stop… your brother, all the Gods would owe us a big one, wouldn't they?”
Aphrodite considered. “If he's not boss God. I guess. Pooled together, our powers could do something , nothing big, mind you. You'll still have to die at noon tomorrow. I'm not powerful to stop him and neither is anyone else I hang with. And…” she wagged her finger like a school teacher, “…don't you guys get any ideas. You can't kill Him. Or wall him up or something. Killing Gods never made you any friends on Olympus and that ain't gonna change.”
“But if we stay, we keep distracting him? If we did stop him from becoming head God, then they and you'd owe us.”
“But you'd still have to die!”
Gabrielle and Xena waited.
“Okay. What WOULD you expect in exchange for this… favour?” the Goddess asked.
To be continued...
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