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

When In Rome

By Kamouraskan


Gabrielle also found herself able to move again but the fireballs stayed in place, vibrating with confined destruction, but motionless while waiting for the command to reduce her to ashes. But before she was even able to think of evading them, her eyes were seared by the recurrence of a nightmare memory. Turning towards an agonised scream, she saw Xena, pierced by a dozen arrows, each jutting haphazardly out of her bleeding body.

More than one a mortal wound. She struggled to breathe and her heart seemed to judder to a halt.

She should have been prepared; she knew that this was Ares' plan, she told herself. She was nevertheless devastated as her partner shuddered in pain and then froze, becoming motionless. Even the small spray of blood halted in its course down Xena's body.

And then Ares materialized to block her view.

“Hey, Gab. As I was just telling Xena, game's over, you know? And I hope you're happy. After all, this is really all down to you, Gabrielle. She wouldn't give in to me. She's kept her promise. Her promise to you. You've done your job well," he smirked. "Congratulations.”

Tearing her eyes from the repetition of one of her worst memories on earth, she tried to channel her partner's detached attitude but all that spilled from her mouth was, “You bastard.”

Ares laughed, and continued as if she hadn't spoken. “Not a small accomplishment on your part. Since we both know how hard it is to get into that thick skull, but you did it. More than I ever did. So that does win you a prize. Something I wouldn't offer anyone else.”

He paused and looked intently into her eyes. “A prize like... Power, beyond any mortal's imagining. And your mind, free of all manipulations by me. Free to think and advise and refuse. But by my side.”

“Me?” She wanted to cry and laugh. “You want me to your warrior princess now?”

“Nah, what I need, and this world I shaped needs, is more of, say an Athena. But better. One who knows mortal minds and hearts. This world needs balance. I did too good a job. It's too violent, too grounded in war to survive without blowing itself up far too soon for my liking. You could be the balance that saves it. Saves the world. What do you think?”

Still crouched, she looked past the fireballs that seem to be waiting on her words, and she could see Xena suspended from the rope. Her warrior's face frozen in a cry Gabrielle felt was bubbling up inside of her as well. “Why would I agree to anything you'd offer?” she spat.

“Because I can also give Xena what she wants. What she always wanted, even more than to be with you.”

And suddenly Gabrielle found herself somewhere surrounded by a darkness that moved and crawled. Ahead, in colours just brighter than the darkness, was a scene that stole her breath away. It was a family, their love and warmth palpable to her. There were children sprawled laughing in the warmth of a hearth, the centrepiece of a home that was neither wealthy not poor; simply comfortable. Out of focus were the parents above the children, their love and affection far clearer than the blurred picture. Gabrielle pulled herself away from the vision to call into the dark, “So is this what you tempted Xena with?”

“Not exactly,” a chuckle accompanied the rich voice. “Take a look at the face of the mother.”

And it was clear now, that it wasn't Gabrielle in this vision of peace, but Xena. Her face more relaxed than Gabrielle could have ever imagined and her eyes clearer and glowing with serenity.

“Cortese never had to happen, Gabrielle. I still have the power to put her in the home she wanted before all that happened. She can be the person she wanted to be. What she wanted for herself, for you, for Solon and was always taken from her. This is her secret, Gabrielle. This is what she's always wanted. This is what we both took from her.”

Gabrielle stared at the figure, at the children gathered about her, shaking her head slowly.

“Yes, Gabrielle. This is what she chose when she had the Fates' promise. She wanted a life where she had never killed. This is what Xena always truly wanted. Is it a surprise she kept trying to impose it on you?”

“But when the Fates granted that wish, she gave it up!”

“Only to save you from taking a life. Even when her brother was killed, she didn't waver. It was only when you had took up the sword, had killed, that she'd sacrificed it all. She'd sacrificed it all for you. For your blood innocence.”

Ares chuckled at the guilt her saw spread across the bard's face. “But that ship sailed a long time ago, didn't it? She gave up her soul's peace for you, Gabrielle. And how many times have you killed since then? How much blood is there on those hands? A dozen deaths? A hundred? A thousand? How many more if we count the deaths of those who opposed you, or died following you, as you led them in battle?”

He waited for a moment before allowing her to see the vision of Xena even more clearly. “I can give her this, Gabrielle. I can bring her peace.”

Another piece fell into place for Gabrielle. Ares was telling the truth. Her driven partner, filled with anger and guilt, had a place, somewhere buried inside, that wanted this domesticity. She'd been forced to abandon it for herself, but had still dreamed of peace and home and family for Solon. And for her bard. And Gabrielle knew. What broken dream had been dragged behind that horse so many years ago.

The War God had been following her thoughts. “Your blood innocence is long gone, isn't it? She sacrificed it for nothing. So it's no surprise, that when that part of her that still hoped for this peace, the peace she hoped that Solon might have had, that you might have had, this nurturing place, was finally crushed forever… by you… Is it really a shock that she completely snapped?”

Ares' voice became firm and confident. “This is our fault, yours and mine. You owe her this, Gabrielle. We both owe her this.”

She heard her own voice weakly asking, “How can I be sure you'd let her have this? Why would I trust you?”

“Because you'll be there, beside me. Making me keep that promise and keeping her safe. You can save her AND save the entire world from its own self-immolation by being my balance. I told you, this world is too violent, too steeped in War and its fire. I can make you a Goddess, a goddess of unimaginable powers and everyone will benefit. Refuse me, and she dies clinging like a spider to that wall and you'll burn in my flames. And the world?" He mimed an explosion. "Boom. And you? You'll both live for one... more... little moment, the end of little lives, and then… nothing more. You'll have sacrificed everything, everyone's future, for one pain filled moment.

"But if you agree,  you can change the world, and give Xena what she needs.”

His whispers seemed both inside her mind and right by her ear, “I thought she meant something to you. But you'd rather die for nothing this time? When you have this one chance to keep her whole? To save her and the world? Come with me, Gabrielle. Admit that this offer is everything you could have wanted.”

The vision of the happy and innocent Xena began to fade and she felt the loss of it immediately.

His breath still brushed her ears. “What are you willing to give for your love? She's trapped, dead by those arrows because you're the best. Only you could have convinced Xena to never give in to me. And one last present. All that guilt over those deaths, the nightmares, I can make them go away, like THAT!”

And it was true. She could feel it as a huge weight dropping from her shoulders. The memories of that girl staring at the knife that had pierced Meridien, the Roman soldiers killed for nothing but her rage, the weight of so many deaths and betrayals, it was gone. And it was as though she was taller, stronger without them. All of her contradictions, the excuses she had made with each kill, they were not even bindings anymore, unnecessary threads that could no longer constrain her.

“You know what your mind can do, Gabrielle. You know how you love to plan, to feel out others. Instead of telling a story or planning a birthday,” and the War God rolled his eyes, “you could be shaping… the… world.” His whispers were caressing her ears again. “With just your words. Just like you changed Xena's choice. A saviour on the battlefield, with me, and all the power I can give you.”

A part of her was telling her this was a part of the plan, to delay him until noon arrived. But another part could feel the desire to agree grow with each syllable He spoke. With each breath. His words continued to waft past her ears. To stop being the child, the sidekick. To have the power to make the whole world and the all the people into something… better. And she looked towards that vision of contentment that could be her lover's potential future and she felt only satisfaction. Everything seemed to fit into place and thoughts of a plan to defeat the War God were unimportant. Her insecurities and Xena's happiness, this was no sacrifice. This was Destiny. She reached into the vision to try to stroke that raven hair for one last time, one short goodbye.

To be continued...

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