Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and any other characters or text mentioned from the original series are owned by Renaissance Pictures, Studio USA. or whoever has the rights now. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fan fiction just for fun. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the characters may be theirs but the story is mine. Copyright Jan 2002. Rev 1
Rated as adult material for some violence and a loving relationship between two consenting adults and because anything can happen in my stories. If you are easily offended please read something else.
Email me at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Constructive comments and criticisms or just plain chats, good or bad are most welcome. No flames please.
Suggestion: If you havenít seen ĎThe Last Battleground: A Friend in Need you may want to wait to read this as it contains spoilers.
When the last lingering ray of sunshine disappeared behind the distant mountains, shrouding the peak of Mount Fuji in darkening shadow, I faded from the world of men and the tender, desperate hold of my soulmate. I found myself in another, more final darkness, the darkness of death, of heartbreaking loneliness, and crushing despair.
At that very instant my soul cried out for the one I had voluntarily left behind, the one who gave meaning to my life and even now, my death; the only one that mattered.
"Gabrielle!" I cried in despair, and would have given anything to be with her, even the forty thousand souls, the very reason I had stayed behind, to return to her.
What had I done? Was Gabrielle right? Was the whole thing Akemi's fault? Had I allowed myself to die for a needless cause? Had I destroyed my own happiness and, more importantly, that of my soulmate, in needless sacrifice?
Suddenly I didn't know. I was no longer sure that I had done the right thing, my certainty had evaporated with the fading of the sun.
A warrior all my life, I had come to rely on my instincts, and had done so this time, sure that I was right, that if I allowed Gabrielle to return me to life I would condemn forty thousand souls to wander, lost forever, never finding redemption. My fault! It was my fault, wasn't it? I had to stay dead, didn't I?
"Xena, you have redeemed me, you have redeemed yourself, you have redeemed us all!" Akemi had said to me, in profound happiness, before joining the forty thousand in seeking their next plane of existence. Then they were gone, and I was left alone with a frantic Gabrielle, and only short minutes to decide. Had I decided incorrectly? Was my decision wrong?
No! I had done the good, the right thing! I had died so that forty thousand souls, bitter and consumed with a hatred of me, and what I had done, could find peace. How could that be wrong? Still, in my new conviction, a tiny thread of doubt pushed itself forward and I wondered, if instead of saving forty thousand souls I had merely condemned one soul to a life of misery, and given myself for naught.
Gabrielle was my soulmate, for all eternity, and I would give my life for her, my very soul, instantly, without thought, to protect her from harm, yet could it be that what I had done served merely to harm her with no other purpose?
No! I had explained it to her and she had understood, hadn't she? Or had she simply gone along because I was so sure I was right. Had she allowed me to make this sacrifice, knowing deep in her heart that I was wrong, but so adamant in my belief that once more she had acquiesced because she thought me the wiser, more experienced.
Again I went over what had transpired in those precious few moments before the sun took me forever out of the reach of Gabrielle's help, and into this separate existence, this hell without her, but I could see no other way to respond, than to do what I had done.
In my sight and sound-deadened place of existence, wherever it was, I began to hear heavy sobbing and realized with a shock that I was the only one here, and I was doing the sobbing. I could not remember the last time I had done more than shed a tear, since I was a small child, but here I was sobbing my heart out uncontrollably. The cool calculating warrior part of my mind scoffed at the blubbering fool I had become but I felt the loss of my soulmate so profoundly that I could not stop. I knew that my death would wound Gabrielle worse than anything else I could have done, and now that it was over, at least for my earthly body, I could not bear the thought of the devastation I had worked on the one I loved so very much.
I donít have any idea how long I cried, alone in the utter blackness, it could have been less than half an hour, or an eternity. It felt more like an eternity, without my soulmate, and I knew that this was part of my punishment for the person I had been before Hercules, then Gabrielle so changed my life. I would be condemned to an eternity of darkness, alone with the sins of my past, and I knew that it was no less than I deserved. No matter how much good I had done since that time, I could not make up for the vile things I had done before. No amount of goodness could atone for the fire that caused the death of forty thousand souls, only one of my evil deeds. Gabrielle tried to convince me that Akemi was the cause because she had set me on the path that led to that deed, in her hunger for revenge, but Akemi didnít set the fire I did. Gabrielle also tried to say that I had only been defending myself from an angry mob, and had accidentally caused the fire, but defending myself from a dozen or more angry people does not excuse forty thousand deaths. No, as much as I yearned to be with my soulmate, as much as I hated the anguish I had caused her, I had to atone for those forty thousand lost souls.
Without my noticing, the darkness had begun to fade and when I finally did notice, I was still sitting on the rock where I had last seen Gabrielle. Startled, I stood and looked all around for her but she was gone.
"Gabrielle!" I screamed, but there was no answer and I doubted she could hear me anyway. I started down the path at a run, tears still streaming from my eyes, screaming her name. I first came to her dead horse, killed by the man that had killed me. She had been here. Her footsteps led to the horse where she had retrieved her belongings, then turned to the path down Mt. Fuji. In a blind panic I ran after her, heedless of my surroundings. It didnít matter where I was in my afterlife, but it mattered very much that I was still on Mount Fuji, still in the same existence as my soulmate. The sight of the horse had boosted my spirits because if I could see the horse I should be able to see Gabrielle and at that very moment I wanted nothing more than sight of her striding down the mountain. I continued to run, calling her name, surprised that she could have gone so far.
When I finally caught up to her, she was sitting on a flat rock beside a chuckling rill. I stopped, looking down at the tearful, stricken face of my hearts only desire, and felt the wound in my soul tear deeper at what I had done to her.
She remained seated, looking down at the rill, her right hand immersed in the freezing water and I was seized by a sudden fear of speaking to her. I jumped when she spoke, for her demeanor had led me to believe she was unaware of me, and my incessant calling of her name. Her voice was a soft sad whisper.
"Iím trying, Xena, but I hate what you have done to us, and cannot believe that you should have accepted the blame for something that was caused by others. You have always been too willing to accept blame when none was yours. Your one fault is that you cannot see anyone else at fault for anything you are involved in, but each of us makes mistakes. Each of us bears fault for events in our lives."
I went to her and knelt down beside her and tried to turn her head to me, but I could not unless she wanted me to, and she very evidently did not wish to look me in the eyes.
"Iím so sorry for the pain I have cause you, Gabrielle, but I had no choice. I could not allow those souls to suffer any longer, for what I had done."
She looked up at me then, and the pain and hurt in her eyes cut me like a sword. For a brief instant a sad smile touched her mouth, but not her eyes, as she reached and touched my cheek.
"Xena," she whispered like a prayer. "I will no longer argue the point, because it is far too late for that. I will say only that your death was not the only one when the sun set on us. My life may go on for moments, or years, but I died with you, and what you see before you is an empty shell that must plod on through this hell of an existence, until such time as I take my rightful place with you."
I started to protest, as new tears flowed from my eyes, but she placed her fingers over my lips.
"Please. I can hear everything you will say, and it makes no difference. Whatís done is done. I promise you that I will do nothing to shorten this hell of a life, and I will go on doing my best to help others, but you have to know that the spirit is broken and can never be mended." She shuddered as tears welled in her eyes. "Donít make this harder for me, please. Just do me one favor. Think what your life would be like if I had planned and gone to my death, without so much as a word. How would you be reacting now if our rolls were reversed? You have told me that you could not go on without me in your life. Well I feel the same, Xena. I died last night as surely as if it had been me under that blade, and me that turned you down when you begged to return me to life."
She turned away from me and got to her feet, picking up her saddlebags, and I stood also, watching her, the sight of her misery so painful my mind went numb.
"I have a long way to go. You can come if you like," she said, without looking in my direction, her voice, the voice of someone lost and forlorn, her words a physical blow so powerful I doubled over in heart rending pain. I could come if I liked. I knew for certain then that I had dealt her a mortal wound, and that our relationship would suffer for a very long time. I prayed that at some time in the future she would be able to forgive me. I had only wanted to protect her, to save her from the agony of what I had to do to destroy Lord Yodoshi, but her words told me I could not have wounded her more if I had plunged a dagger into her heart myself while smiling into her eyes.
She started down the trail and I followed a short distance behind, seeing the pain I had caused in her slackened stride, her dejected stance, her slightly downcast gaze, as she traveled the trail seeing nothing of the beauty around her. She walked for hours without stopping, never once looking back to see if I followed. She traveled the world alone even though I was but a short distance behind her.
In mid afternoon Gabrielle turned from the path and made her way to a happy little stream with a little waterfall into a small pond, the perfect setting for bathing, though the water would be icy cold. She moved with the practiced movements of a long time camper and in a very short time had her camp laid out, the fire ready to light and her bedroll laid out.
"Gabrielle," I said as she finished her camp and stood, my voice a trembling whisper.
Without looking my way she said, "I have to hunt." She picked up her bow and disappeared into the woods leaving me standing more frighteningly alone than I could ever remember. When she returned she had a small hare and some wild tubers.
"Gabrielle," I said again, my tone begging her to acknowledge me.
She sat down with her knife and began skinning out the rabbit.
"How long do you think it will take to get to the sea?" she asked as she worked.
The tone and direction of her words startled me. "IÖ what?"
"The sea, Xena. How far are we from the sea? I think maybe four days, on foot. What do you think?" She kept working, never looking at me.
"I'mÖ not sure. I didn't get here by the usual means," I said, confused. She couldn't just brush this away. We had so much to talk about.
"Yeah, I forgot. Well, it took me six hours from where I," she hesitated, stopping her work, her eyes squeezing shut for a moment, as her voice choked up, "burned your body, to reach you. That's a good day's walk and then some. I could make Higuchi in another day but the port there will be closed for some time. I think I'll just go on further along the coast to the next town."
"Gabrielle, stop this," I said, my voice pleading.
She looked up at me for the first time since our talk near the rill. "Stop what?"
"Ignoring what we need to talk about. We have a great deal to talk about."
She looked straight into my eyes and her voice when hard. "No, Xena, we don't. There is nothing to be said. You saw what you needed to do and you did it, without including me in your plans. That pretty much says it all, to me."
"No, Gabrielle, please," I begged.
She held up her bloody hand to stop me. "It's over, Xena. You did what you wanted to do. I will not discuss it and further."
"Enough!" she shouted. "I won't discuss it! If you can't abide that, then I will ask you to leave!"
Tears flowed across my stunned face unheeded by me.
"Gabrielle, I love you," I said, my voice trembling.
"Yeah," she said bitterly. "As long as it's on your terms."
"No, pleaseÖ" I started but she stood, dropping the rabbit on a rock.
"I need a bath. When I return I will expect you to abide by my wishes or to leave." She turned away from me and I tried to cry out to her but my heart was in my throat and no sound came out. I watched helplessly as she gathered soap and a drying cloth, and then walked to the little pond.
"Gabrielle," I whispered so faintly I could hardly hear it, but I saw her shoulders flinch as she walked away. She took her time at her bath, though the water was surely freezing. When she returned she was in her nightshirt. She ignored me, starting her fire and setting her rabbit and a tuber to roast. She ate her meal in silence then cleaned up her camp. Once done she spent a short time making sure her katana was sharp, sitting across from me but not looking in my direction.
I had about gathered myself to try again to talk to her, when the last rays of the sun disappeared and I found myself again in total darkness. There was no sound, no sight, no feeling of the gentle breeze of a moment before. There was only me, with all the horrible pain and suffering I had caused my soulmate to occupy my every thought. I now expected I would be returned to Gabrielle's world with the coming of day but in the meantime I spent an eternity of self-flagellation and recrimination. I no longer tried to justify what I had done or analyze if it was right or wrong. The only thing that mattered was that I had hurt Gabrielle in some profound way, by making the decision without including her. I had simply been trying to protect her, but instead I had wounded her so deeply she found it difficult to speak to me! When the eternity of darkness ended and I again found myself sitting on the edge of Gabrielle's camp, I understood that I had betrayed her trust and probably destroyed her love. I now really understood that, as her soulmate I had callously used my life to suit my own goals without thought to what it would do to her. I had used a life that was only partially mine without her consent, without her knowledge, or discussion. I now knew that what hurt her most, was that I would not allow her to have any say in what happened to half of her soul. My greatest sin was denying her any say in a decision that not only took my life, but destroyed hers as well. Now that I understood I doubted she would ever forgive me.
Her campsite was empty. She had already gone on, without waiting to see if I would return. When I caught up to her it was obvious that she had been walking for a good portion of the night, else she would not have come so far. She had cut herself a walking stick, something she had often done since the days when she carried a warstaff. When I caught up to her I stayed behind her a short distance, terrified that if I came up beside her she would send me away. She walked until early afternoon before stopping near a stream to replenish her waterskin and nibble on one of the tubers she had found the night before.
She evidently had known I was there because, as she nibbled on the tuber she looked up at me. "Iím curious. Where do you go at night?" Her voice had little emotion or friendliness in it, less than if she were talking to a stranger, asking for directions.
Cautiously I came closer and sat down on the grass facing her. "Iím not sure. Nowhere, I think. It just suddenly becomes very dark, without sound or feeling," I answered hesitantly not mentioning that I thought it just punishment for the things I had done to her and to others.
"But where do you go?"
"I donít think I actually go anywhere. This morning I was still sitting in the same place I was last night."
"Oh," she said looking puzzled. "Thatís not anything like I thought the after life would be." She seemed to think about it for a while. "Youíve been in the afterlife before. It wasnít like that, was it?"
"No. I donít know whatís happening this time."
"Well I hope it gets better for you, Xena." She stood and shouldered her belongings. "Time to get back on the trail."
She started along the path and I hurried to catch up, walking beside her, but afraid to say anything. We walked in silence for quite a while; time enough for me to realize that little seemed to have changed for me while I was in her world. I could still feel the breeze and sense the scents on the air, my hearing seemed as acute and my eyesight the same. When I touched myself, or anything else, it felt the same to me.
Several times I almost got my courage up enough to talk to Gabrielle, but each time I couldnít seem to actually say the first word, then the thought struck me as funny. Me, Xena, the Warrior Princess, who had taken on dragons, gods, and armies single handedly. I was afraid of a little blond woman. No, that wasnít right, I wasnít afraid, I was terrified. Terrified of her reaction to anything I tried to say. For all that I longed to say to her I remained mute, stymied by the determined resolution of my soulmate to keep me at arms length, and afraid to lose even the sight and nearness of her.
After we had walked silently for some time, a large family, with an ox pulling a rickety two-wheeled wagon piled high with their belongings, came towards us, and I became very nervous. What if they saw me? Would I look like an apparition that would panic them? I felt a strong urge to hide, but I had to know if they could see me or not. They came closer and I was ready to bolt into the trees, but they gave no sign they saw me, well, except for the dogs and the oxen. While the old gentleman bowed to Gabrielle and exchanged a greeting, the dogs ran past her and gathered around me, barking furiously. The ox snorted and grunted, his eyes round in fear, but he kept plodding towards me at the nudging of his masters.
The old gentleman called his dogs back, scolding them. They quieted but kept their eyes on me and snarled, their ears laid back, fangs bared. The old gentleman was most apologetic to Gabrielle, for the commotion. She assured him it was quite all right and they went on their way, but the dogs kept a wary eye on me. Behind the old gentleman the father and mother flanked the ox and used light switches to keep it moving, when it lagged or slowed. Behind the overloaded wagon, nine children were stair stepped, eldest to youngest. The eldest, a woman, was well past marrying age while the youngest was little more than a toddler, holding the hand of the next oldest girl. To my surprise, that child, the next oldest, smiled bashfully at me and waved a tiny hand, the very youngest looked at me with wide-eyed wonder, unafraid. Mesmerized by the bashful smile I waved back. She blushed and giggled then looked away, but several times she glanced back, looking at me and not Gabrielle. It was true then. The innocent could see me. I would have to be careful not to frighten them.
Startled I turned to Gabrielle. She was watching me.
"That girl could see you," she said in surprise.
I nodded. "Yes."
"I donít understand. How could she see you when no one else can?"
"Dogs can," I said a little sarcastically. "I guess Iíve gone to the dogs."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Animals and little children. That canít be all bad." She turned and began walking again and I hurried to catch up. Now that she had spoken I wanted desperately to keep the conversation going, no matter how inconsequential or inane it was. I needed desperately to have her talking to me again.
"Well, the dogs werenít very friendly," I commented as I moved up beside her.
"True," she acknowledged. "Maybe itís the leather and sword."
"Nah, what do they know from leather or swords."
"Then it must be that famous Xena stare."
We talked for almost an hour about nothing of any consequence, and just hearing her voice was a balm to sooth my inner turmoil. When we fell silent I searched desperately for anything to talk about that wouldnít make her angry again.
"Tell me, little bard, have you decided what youíre going to do next?"
She shrugged. "No. It doesnít matter. I think Iíll just follow the wind, or the sea currents."
"You should make firmer plans than that, Gabrielle."
"WellÖ I donít know, you just should. What about Egypt? We planned to go there."
She nodded, "Yeah, WE did plan to go there, but I really donít care if I go there or not now. If the ship is going there, I will go, too. If itís going somewhere else, then I will go there. It doesnít matter. I donít want to talk anymore, Xena."
Her voice had turned cold while she spoke, and I could have kicked myself for making her think about the planning we had done before I was summoned to Japa. The silence thickened around us again and the day seemed suddenly gloomier and cooler. I was surprised to see my arms break out in goose flesh and to feel a shiver course through me. I was sure it wasnít because of the weather, which was quite warm. Gabrielle had stepped out a little faster, and I sadly let her gain several steps on me.
During the afternoon we began passing more people. Many of the animals sensed me and reacted with fear. Several more little children also spotted me but none of them seemed afraid. At that time I donít think I could have stood that. I felt a complete outcast anyway and to have little children fear me, where they never had before, would have been too much.
Again Gabrielle turned from the path in early afternoon and made her way to a secluded spot near a river we had seen several times, as it meandered towards, then away from our path. She quickly set her camp then went hunting without saying anything to me and I was afraid to disturb her.
This time she had her dinner early then cleaned and sharpened her weapons. I sat nearby silently watching her. Several times I felt tears on my cheeks but I couldnít stop them. When her weapons were complete she began to stretch and practice with and without her weapons. I watched her, in awe of the easy grace and supple strength of her, remembering a time when she had been but a scrawny girl with no other talent than an infectious smile and incessant chatter. A chatter that had nearly driven me insane, until the day I had to do without it, and found I couldnít stand not having her around. She had truly become the light in my life and now that she was turning away from me, the light was dimming. I was still watching her practice as the sun faded and I again found myself in total isolation.
"Gabrielle," I whispered, but the sound was only in my mind, the silence around me was complete. Again I spent a night of torment, agonizing over what I had done. How could anything be so very right and so terribly wrong at the same time? I had atoned for the forty thousand deaths, but how could I ever atone for the damage I had done to my soulmate? Try as I might, I could think of no way to make it up to her, to get her to forgive me for my injury to her. Deep in my heart blackness grew and I knew it was the place Gabrielle had made so wonderful for me. She was pulling away from me and she was pulling me apart. I was lost and more frightened than I could ever remember.
"Mother! Help me!" I begged and to my surprise she appeared in the darkness, but some distance away. "Mother!" I tried to stand and go to her but couldnít.
"Xena, my poor troubled little one," she said and leaned towards me, but came no closer.
"Mother, help me. Gabrielle is turning away from me and I donít know what to do!" I begged.
She looked incredibly sad, sadder than I had ever seen her in life. "Iím sorry, Xena. I canít help you. You have done a grievous injury to her. No one can help you this time."
"But I need her, mother!" I pleaded.
"Iím so sorry, my child. Thereís nothing I can do for you." She began to fade away.
"No, mother, donít go, please!"
"I have to, Xena. Iím sorry." She was gone and I was alone again, somehow more alone that before her visit.
When daylight finally returned Gabrielle was just shouldering her bag. She jumped slightly as I appeared but continued gathering her belongings and turned to the path. I followed meekly behind, again afraid to disturb her until she wanted to talk."
She spoke to me twice that day, both times very briefly. The gloom around me was even deeper as the sun faded away and again left me in darkness. I called my mother several times, but she didnít come. There was really no one else I could rely on. I knew a great many people but could think of few I could call true friend, my fault, since I kept everyone at arms length. In desperation I called Eponin, then Solari and finally Ephiny.
I had given up and waited hopelessly for daylight when Ephiny appeared. The sadness on her face rivaled my mother's.
"Xena, I can't help you."
"I had to try," I sobbed, "Can you at least stay and talk to me?"
She smiled at that, but it was a sad smile.
"I never thought I'd see the day the stoic Warrior Princess would ask someone to talk to her," she said, then hung her head slightly. "No, Xena. I can't stay. I could get in trouble for coming at all. I have to go." She faded quickly from my sight.
In anguish I called on Eli and Michael. Eli came and the bright aura around him nearly blinded me. My heart sank even further when I saw the tears on his face.
"It breaks my heart to see what has happened to you and Gabrielle, Xena, but you are beyond any help. What you have done prevents any of us from helping you. You have made the ultimate sacrifice for a very selfless reason, one of the noblest things anyone can ever do, but by that very act you have caused an unforgivable amount of pain and sorrow to your soulmate. You should count yourself lucky that she will speak to you at all. No one can help you with this one, Xena. You are on your own." He faded from sight leaving me weeping again, at his painful words.
"Wait, Eli, please!" I cried, but it was too late. He was gone.
The misery and pain of this night was worse than the night before, as that one had been worse than the night before it. I had been to hell, Tartarus, and several other places for the damned and would gladly trade what was happening for a stay in any of them, torture and all. I could understand what I had done to Gabrielle and why she was so upset, but I really could not understand why she couldn't work with me to overcome my incredibly foolish mistake, and work to get us back together. Perhaps because I was certain I could forgive Gabrielle absolutely anything, even this same situation, as I perceived it. I knew in my heart that I would do anything to reconcile with her if our rolls were reversed. Why wouldn't she give me another chance now that I had realized my mistake?
When the sun rose, Gabrielle was already gone again and I hurried to find her. It wasn't hard, because just a short distance from her camp I heard the sounds of clashing weapons. She was in a battle with some thieves that had been robbing a traveling family. Without thinking I tried to help, with comical, then disastrous results. My fist whet right through the thief while his sword arm went right through my blocking arm and his sword sliced through my body with no ill effects. He, of course didn't even know I was there. He was aiming at Gabrielle and my untimely intervention caused her to hesitate and his sword grazed her hip.
Get out of here, Xena! She screamed in my mind. Stunned at what I had caused I stumbled away and collapsed to my knees, watching her in horror. She was fighting six ruffians, all armed with either sword or dagger. The family cowered around their wagon, no help at all. Gabrielle swiftly accounted for two of the ruffians, but by then she was limping and blood ran the length of her leg. She handled the others and they finally fled just as she collapsed. I ran to her as she sat on the ground, her head hanging.
Get away from me! She growled in my mind and I fled, not knowing where I was going.
I remember running blindly, my tears clouding my vision, until I crumbled to the ground sobbing uncontrollably. I had nearly gotten her killed! My mind was in total chaos, reeling from what I had caused.
"What's the matter with you?" a tiny voice asked.
I whorled around to find a little girl, in a ragged dress, her large almond eyes staring in wonder and surprise.
"Why are you crying?"
I hurriedly wiped the tears from my eyes and sat back up, trying to smile, but failing miserably.
"You can see me," I said inanely.
"Well, of course I can. I'm not blind you know," she said indignantly.
"I can see that. You have very pretty eyes."
She giggled but then came closer and put her hand on my shoulder. "Please don't cry. You make me sad when you cry."
I smiled slightly. "I won't, I promise."
"Good," she said then asked, "What's your name?"
"My name's Xena," I answered. "What's yours?"
"Mikiko. Xena is a funny name. Is that why you talk so funny?"
"Yes it is, but Mikiko is a beautiful name."
She nodded wisely, " I know. Grandfather told me that."
"Mikiko, what are you doing out here by yourself?"
"I'm all alone," she said sadly.
"No, honey, where is your family?"
"They went away and I can't find them."
"Well, maybe I can help you." I rose to my feet and looked carefully around. There was no one near and it was getting dark. "We have to hurry, Mikiko."
"Uh huh," she agreed. "Pretty soon it will get all dark."
"Yes it will. We have to find your family before that. Do you know which way you came?"
"Over there," she said pointing towards a small hill.
"Let's go over there and see if we can find them. Come on."
I started off with her beside me and was surprised to feel a tiny hand creep into mine.
When we rounded the hill we came into a little clearing and I quickly pulled her back when I saw the carnage around the wagon. I dropped to my knees and wrapped my arms around her.
"I'm sorry, Mikiko. We can 't go that way."
"I know. The bad men hurt everybody, didn't they?"
"Yes," I answered unable to think of anything to say to comfort her. I stood back up and took her hand. "Come on. We need to get away from here." She took my hand and I started for the road, hoping to catch up to Gabrielle but shortly after we reached the road the sun dipped behind the mountains. I only had a short time left. Kneeling down beside her I took both of her hands in mine.
"Mikiko. I want you to do something for me."
"Can you say the name Gabrielle?"
"Good. Try again. Gabrielle."
"GabÖeÖelle. That name is funnier than yours." She said, giggling.
"I know. Now listen carefully. Gabrielle is my very best friend. I need you to go along this road calling her name, until you find her. Can you do that?"
"I want to stay with you," she said, beginning to frown.
"Oh honey, I would like that too, but I have to leave for a while. If you find Gabrielle, I promise I will find both of you, okay."
"Okay," she said doubtfully.
"Good girl. I want you to hurry. Don't forget to shout her name, okay?"
"Okay," she repeated even more doubtfully.
"You go now and I promise I will come back as soon as I can." I turned her around and gave her a little push, trembling slightly in fear for her, but there was nothing I could do."
She walked a few steps and timidly said," GabÖeÖelle."
"Good, Mikiko, that's good, but shout louder. Walk faster, honey. Gabrielle is a nice lady. She will take good care of you."
Darkness descended on me once again but the silence only lasted a very short time then I heard a very tiny voice.
"Xena? Where are you? I can't see you," she answered, her voice trembling slightly.
"I'm here, honey. Just follow my voice. Just keep walking towards my voice and you'll bump righÖuh." Suddenly her little form raced out of the darkness and into my arms.
"I don't like the dark. It scares me," she whimpered.
"It's okay. You're safe with me now," I said softly, pulling her tightly into my arms, as tears rolled down my face. There could be only one reason she was here in the dark with me, and my heart broke for her.
"Can I stay here until the dark goes away?"
"Yes. You can stay right here." I sat down carefully and she curled into my arms.
"Promise you won't leave me."
"I promise, Mikiko. I'll be right here." I stroked her hair and she was soon sleeping, an occasional whimper coming from her, when she would grab my arm in a tight grip.
Somehow the interminable night didn't seem so bad with her little form snuggled against me. When the sun rose I remained motionless watching her peaceful face. A short time later I heard voices coming towards us but I didn't move. It was a man and his wife, both heavily laden, talking quietly about their plans for the day. They passed by us without any sign of recognition and my worst suspicion was confirmed. Little Mikiko was in the after life with me, and somehow had lost her family. I had to find Gabrielle, and have her at least bury the little girl and her family. I moved slightly and Mikiko woke up staring up at me. She smiled, then hugged me.
"I told you I would. Come on. Let's go find my friend. I need to talk to her, okay?"
"Okay," she said and stood up, stretching.
I climbed to my feet, surprised to find I felt cramped and achy from being in one position for so long. Was it real or just a vague memory of what my body should feel like after a long motionless night. I wasn't sure, but it felt real.
"Come on, Mikiko." I took her hand and we started down the path. I hoped Gabrielle hadn't gone very far, and in fact she was less than half a league away. I seemed able to sense the direction to go to get to her. She was in a small clearing near a little stream. To my surprise she was still sleeping. Could it be that she rested better without me around? The thought struck me like a physical blow and I stopped in my tracks, pulling Mikiko off balance when she kept walking. She turned back to me, looking puzzled.
"Why did you stop, Xena? Your friend is right there," she said, pointing at Gabrielle.
I knelt down beside her and took her hands again, my eyes blurred with tears.
"I know, but she's still sleeping and I don't want to wake her yet."
"Okay. Let's wait here," she said and sat down in front of me. "Why are you crying again, Xena?"
"Some sad things have happened, Mikiko. I need to tell my friend about them and it makes me sad."
The little girl got up and wrapped her arms around me and I began to blubber like a baby, I felt so terrible about her.
I looked up to see Gabrielle staring at me, but I couldn't stop crying and I crushed Mikiko in my arms.
"Xena? Why are you crying? Are you holding someone?" Gabrielle asked, as she rose to her feet and came towards me.
I kept my face buried in Mikiko's hair and simply nodded, unable to speak, sobs wracking my body.
Gabrielle knelt down in front of me. "Oh, god, Xena, it's a child isn't it?"
I could only nod again and suddenly I felt Gabrielle's arm around me and cried even harder, crushing them both to me.
Gabrielle held me until I could calm down and then led me to her camp and made me sit down. I pulled Mikiko onto my lap. She snuggled against me staring at Gabrielle.
"What happened, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes mirroring her concern.
Slowly I managed to get the story out, starting with my fleeing from the battle where I had caused her wound. She listened solemnly while I talked, and grinned when I answered Mikiko's question of why I talked funny to my friend. I explained to her that Gabrielle did not speak her language and I had to talk to her in a different language, which was not true, but it was the only way I could relate Mikiko's sad story without Mikiko knowing. Gabrielle caught on immediately and went along with me.
I told Gabrielle of finding the wagon but not realizing that Mikiko was dead until she came to me after dark. When I had relayed the complete tail there were streaks of tears on Gabrielle's face, though she had remained silent. When I finished we were all silent for a moment then Gabrielle spoke.
"I think you and your little friend should stay here, while I go back and bury them, Xena."
"I think that's a good idea," I agreed.
Gabrielle stood and looked down at me, smiling a little.
"No offense, Xena, but you look terrible. Why don't the two of you curl up in my blankets and get some sleep."
"IÖ I'm not sure I can sleep," I answered doubtfully.
She shrugged. "Won't know until you try. You said Mikiko slept in your lap. Try it Xena. You look like you could use a weeks sleep."
After a little weak protesting I allowed her to coax me into her bedroll, and Mikiko curled up in front of me, holding tightly to my arm.
"Good," Gabrielle said, standing. You two sleep and I'll be back before you know it."
When she was gone I lay staring into the trees a short distance away sure I would be unable to sleep, drinking in the comforting scent of my soulmate from her blankets.
I jumped and my eyes snapped open. It was early afternoon and Gabrielle was back. She looked terrible.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I knew it was bad," I whispered.
She nodded. "I expected it to be bad, but this was worse than I was prepared for," she sighed and sat down cross-legged in front of us. "I think it happened about four or five days ago." She squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered. "I took care of them." She was silent for a moment. "Your little friend, her sister, and the baby were the hardest, Xena." Hot tears coursed down her cheeks and suddenly she scrambled to her feet and ran for the trees. She didn't make it before she dropped to her knees heaving, but there was nothing to come up. When she was done she made her shaky way to the stream and rinsed her mouth out then splashed cold water on her neck and face. She came back and sat back down hanging her head.
"I didn't expect to do that again. My stomach's been empty since just after I got there."
"I'm sorry to have to burden you with that, Gabrielle."
She waved it away. "Nonsense. It had to be done and you certainly couldn't do it."
"Well, I'm still sorry it had to be you."
She sat in silence, her head still hanging. "Life is soÖ precious, and so fragile, Xena. Your little friend was about five or six, I think. She never had a chance to really live. I understand why you were crying for her. I cried my eyes out while I took care of them. How could anyone hurt someone so precious?"
"I don't know, Gabrielle, but I wish I had the power to find them and hurt them for what they did."
"And the cycle repeats," she whispered.
"No, Gabrielle. It's not a matter of a repeating cycle. People that could do something like that are inhuman. They're rabid animals. They have no place in society and left alone they will do it again. It's not us that perpetuate the cycle, it's them. If we do nothing, then who will protect the Mikiko's of the world from them?"
"I hate to admit it, Xena, but you're right this time," Gabrielle said, still not raising her head.
The little girl stirred in my arms at her name, even though we had been whispering.
"What is it, little one?"
"I want to find my mommy, Xena. I miss her," she said, her black almond eyes bright with tears.
"I want to find her, too. Why don't we get up now and we can look together."
"Okay," she said, brightening and getting up immediately, ready to go.
"I wish I could see her as she was, Xena,"
"I wish you could too, Gabrielle. She's a little princess."
"I'm sure she is."
Gabrielle rose to her feet at the same time I did.
"Do you think you can find her parents, Xena."
"I don't know," I replied honestly. "I've not had much luck contacting people so far."
"What about your mother? Can't you contact her?"
I shook my head. "I tried all ready." I neglected to tell her that mother had visited me, but only briefly. "Gabrielle. Did you clean up enough that I can take Mikiko there? If I were her parents I would be looking all over the place for her but I would keep my base near there."
She nodded. "I anticipated that, Xena. She won't know what happened there. Does she know where she is?"
"No. She just thinks she's lost."
"I wish you and your friend could talk so I could understand you, Xena," Mikiko said.
I leaned over and poked the tip of her nose, smiling. "I'm sorry, honey. I'll talk to you now. My friend will just have to wait." As I looked up Gabrielle smiled and winked.
"You should be ashamed. Lying to the poor little kid," she admonished, but she was grinning.
Gabrielle quickly cleared her camp and we returned to the attacked camp. As we approached I noticed that Gabrielle looked a little green and kept swallowing.
"Gabrielle. Why donít you wait here for us?" I suggested.
She looked at me, grateful for my understanding but shook her head. "Iíll be okay, Xena. The image of what I found here is still very vivid in my mind, but Iíll be okay."
We entered the camp and the scene was as clear to me as if the bodies still lay where they had died. I could read the signs of scuffles and death even after so many days, though they were partially hidden by time, weather, and Gabrielleís efforts to lay the family to rest.
"Three children," I said and Gabrielle nodded.
"Mother, father and grandmother." She continued. "I canít understand why they were attacked. They were simple farmers, Xena."
Xena shrugged. "Some wouldnít need a reason, Gabrielle, except they were there." I turned to Mikiko and knelt down, smiling. "Okay, honey. I need you to call your family. If you call all of them, maybe one will hear you. Can you do that for me?"
"Good girl. Here. Let me set you on this little rock." I lifted her up on the rock and stepped back, and Mikiko suddenly looked like she was going to cry.
"Donít leave me, Xena."
I moved to her side and put my arm across her shoulder. "I wonít, Mikiko. I promise Iíll stay right here until your family comes.
She pulled my hand off her shoulder and clutched it desperately in both of her hands. "What if they donít come?" she asked in a tiny voice.
"Theyíll come when they hear you. Start calling them. Iíll stay right here."
She began calling her family and I felt nauseous in fear that they wouldnít come for her. As time went by I could see hope fading in Mikikoís face and her voice began to drop. Then another little girl suddenly came into the clearing.
"Mikiko?" she asked in a timid voice.
Mikiko was off the rock and raced to her older sisterís arms and I felt my heart soar.
"Whatís happening, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, having seen me turn and smile.
"I think itís Mikikoís older sister, Gabrielle." I replied, still watching them.
Gabrielle nodded. "She looked about a year or two older."
"Yeah. Oh, wait. More company"
The grandmother appeared and the two girls ran to her. Then the mother appeared, holding the baby, the father beside her. They looked overjoyed to see Mikiko but apprehensive about Gabrielle and I.
I started to back away and motioned Gabrielle to do the same.
"They seem to be afraid of us, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle moved slowly towards me. "Iím not surprised, after what theyíve been through."
"Come on, letís leave them alone." I turned away and Gabrielle followed.
"Xena! GabÖeÖelle! Donít go yet!"
I turned as Mikiko raced towards me, and dropped to my knees as she ran into my arms.
I looked up to find her family watching me.
"This is my friend, Xena. She helped me find you." Mikiko said, looking back at her parents.
Her father bowed. "Then you have done us a great service, warrior."
I acknowledged with a nod of the head since I was still kneeling with a little girl wrapped around me. "I was glad to help." I answered.
"This is Xenaís friend, GabÖeÖelle. She talks funny." Mikiko said.
The father looked perplexed. "I do not understand. She is a mortal and you areÖ"
I held up my hand.
"Please sir. Mikiko does not yet know."
"Ah, again I am in your debt, honorable warrior. But how is it possible you have such a friend?" he asked.
"We are soulmates," I said.
"I do not understand," he answered.
"We are two but our soul is one," I answered after a moment.
"Ah, then it is a sad thing that she is there and you are here, noble warrior."
"Yes, but it was necessary." I answered, no longer sure it really was.
"May your journeys keep you together," he said bowing again. "And now we must go."
"Wait, sir. Tell me of these men." I asked.
"I should not speak of such in front of the children, warrior."
I looked down and smiled. "Mikiko, can you go to your family. I must speak with your father a moment."
"You wonít leave yet?" she asked still gripping my hand tightly.
"No, I promise I wonít leave yet."
"Okay," she ran back and took her sisterís hand, watching me.
"Iíll be right back, Gabrielle." I said and she nodded, having gotten enough from my end of the conversation to know what was happening.
We stepped away from the family and I turned to him. "Iím very sorry for what happened to you and your family. My friend took care of your remains."
He nodded. "I watched her. Tell her I am most grateful that she took care of my family for me."
"Iíll tell her. Now please tell me of these men. I doubt we will see them but if we doÖ" I left it unfinished.
"You can do nothing, warrior."
"My friend can," I answered, "and she is as incensed by this insult to your family as I am."
He nodded. "She is the Dragon Warrior of Higuchi, is she not?"
"I have heard of her, and so of you as well, and what you both have done. Your story had already spread far. Higuchi will be forever in your debt."
"Higuchi owes me nothing. What was done had to be. Tell me of these men," I replied.
"There were seven or eight of them. I saw them for only a moment. I was the first they attacked."
I nodded. Take out the strongest first. "Go on, please."
"I really saw only the leader well. He was not much taller than I, but massive in size. He had a scar across his right eye and the eye was white, blind I think. That is really all I saw before he struck me down. My wife and her mother could tell you more, but they will not talk of it. The horror of what was done to them is too much for them to talk of."
"I understand and thank you for telling me what you know. I will not keep you from your family any longer," I said, bowing slightly to him.
"Thank you, warrior. They fear to be far from me now. We seem unable to join our ancestors, and have spent several nights in darkness."
"I fear you will be bound to this place until you are avenged. I have heard this is so, in your country."
"It is what I fear," he acknowledged. "I wish only for my family to find peace. Thank you for warning me that Mikiko knows not of her situation. I will tell her in a most gentle manner, warrior. I thank you again for looking after her."
"It was the least I could do for her."
"I wish you and your friend great good fortune, warrior," he said, then turned to rejoin his family.
Mikiko ran to him and spoke to him and he nodded. She turned and came to me, taking my hand and pulling me down to her level. I knelt in front of her and she looked at me, sadly.
"I have to go away now, Xena."
"I know, Mikiko. You should be happy. You are with your family again."
"I am happy about that, Xena," she said. "I am sad because you are my new friend, and I have to go away. I will miss you."
"I'll miss you, too, Mikiko." I pulled her into a hug. "I will miss you very much."
She pulled away from me and gave me a last sorrowful look. Her little tears were mirrored in my eyes.
She returned to her family and took her sister's hand. I watched her leave with a new ache in my heart. When they were out of sight I felt a strong arm around my waist and looked down into deep green eyes bright with tears.
Gabrielle smiled up at me and I saw a little of her love back in her eyes. "I've never seen you really cry before today, Xena, and today you've hardly stopped."
"Yeah," I said, embarrassed. "Some tough warrior, huh?"
"The toughest," she said, her smile widening, "with a heart of gold." She turned me and started back to the road. "You know, I should have left my camp set up. I have a feeling I won't get much farther today."
I looked up noticing that evening was fast approaching and my heart sank again.
"Yeah. It will be dark soon." I shivered. And Gabrielle looked up startled.
"Is it that bad?"
"Have you ever been in a cave in the dark?" I asked.
"Yeah. It's blacker than ink. Is it like that?"
"Worse. It's like being blind and deaf and not being able to feel anything."
Gabrielle shivered. "I'm sorry, Xena. I didn't realize."
We walked in silence for a while and I prayed she would leave her comforting arm around me. When she got back to her old camp sight she said, "I think I'll stay here again for the night. Let me get set up."
She set up her camp quickly but left the fire pit untouched. Instead she undressed and got into her nightshirt, then crawled into her blankets while I sat on my rock and watched her.
"Tired today?" I asked.
"Yeah. It's been a really bad day."
"Yes it has," I acknowledged.
"Besides I have something to do."
"What's that?" I asked.
Her green eyes locked on to mine and her face became stern. "This doesn't mean we're back to normal because we aren't even close, but," she pulled back her covers. "Get that armor, your grieves, and boots off, and then get in here before it gets dark. You look like you could use a hug."
"Thank you," I said softly as I threw off my sword, armor, grieves and boots and then moved to her bedroll.
She lay on her back and I snuggled into her, laying my head on her shoulder, my tears flowing freely again. I felt her hand gently brush at my hair and a light kiss on the top of my head. She wrapped her hands around me and I sighed, a tiny sob escaped my lips.
"You rest easy now, Xena, and I will be here when you return in the morning," she whispered.
I could say nothing in return because of my sobbing and the lump in my throat. Maybe she hadn't forgiven me yet, but at least she would try, and I could ask for no more right now than to have her tender embrace comforting me.
Continued in Lost Soul 2 - From The Other Side