Title: A helping hand
Summary: The Goddess of Love cannot hate. It is not in her nature.
Disclaimer: not mine.
Characters: Gabrielle, Xena, Aphrodite.
Notes: this is an edited version of a ficlet written for the 10,000 lillies battle held at the LJ community femmeslash (prompt: Aphrodite, Gabrielle, a helping hand). Post-For him the Bells Toll; post-Punch lines; post-FIN fic.
Feedback: you choose at your convenience: either here, at email@example.com, or at LJ (http://olansamuelle.livejournal.com/95406.html?mode=reply)
I. Year 3 before Eli. Somewhere in Greece.
They had been walking for a few candlemarks, and soon it would be dark. Joxer, some feet ahead of them, cheerfully kept singing his newly invented song.
Joxer the Mighty.
Gabrielle sighed with resignation. Very much despite her will to block it, Joxer's disturbingly contagious tune refused to leave her mind. Shaking her head in mild disbelief, she mused about their friend's permanent state of mental obliviousness, today more evident than ever. If after the day's events and Xena's talk, whatever the warrior's monologue had been about, Joxer hadn't changed the slightest, Gabrielle could no longer imagine, and she had a lively imagination as it was, what could make him come to reason. He was a good man, but never, ever would he make a warrior.
This reinforcement of his inner blindness had left Gabrielle wondering about what had Xena exactly told Joxer. Had she encouraged him? No, it could not be. Xena was quite possibly the least patient person in Greece, her indulgence towards their friend almost a miracle. Then again...stoic was her middle name. And truth be told, she had put up with her these two years just fine.
"I'm Joxeeeeer...Joxer the Mighty!!!"
Impervious to the Warrior Princess?
Gabrielle sighed loudly, attracting a sideways gaze from her companion. "Xena, what in Hades did you tell him?"
"I don't see anyone else speaking to him right before he went on an ego journey." Pause. "Right after he told me he would never be the hero."
"I told him the truth, Gabrielle," she stated matter-of-factly.
"Well, you're slipping, Warrior Princess. Just so you know."
Xena arched an eyebrow in question.
"Really, Xena, what kind of truth? You were supposed to cheer him a little, not to bring his clueless self back!"
Her comment gained her a very well known look from the warrior. The kind she used when she meant a conversation was over.
Witnessing her friend's theatrical pose, the bard protested, half grinning, at the gesture. "Oh, no, Xena. You do not get to give me that 'stop talking nonsense, Gabrielle' look. It's true! You chose your words, you failed." Then she grinned in anticipation for her next words. "It happens."
Xena simply snorted and kept walking in stubborn silence.
Gabrielle knew there was no point in extending certain conversations with Xena once the warrior decided they had ended. She was not a very democratic person.
Well, neither was Gabrielle a loyal abider to Xena's intransigence.
"You'd think that after being humbled he'd cool down a little," she casually remarked. "You know? He even said I was the hero." She made an intended pause and smirked yet again through her speech. "Imagine, Gabrielle the sidekick, a hero!," she said swinging her staff in the air in a spontaneous drill.
"Hmmm," hummed Xena, knowing very well the underlying message in Gabrielle's words yet saying nothing, merely letting the bard steer the conversation.
"So what happened then?," continued Gabrielle. "He saw the truth, and suddenly you talk to him 'to cheer him up a little'." Reacting correctly at a very intense glare she remarked "your words, not mine," gaining an eye rolling warrior princess, "and instead of trying to make something useful out of his life he's suddenly back and worse than ever? Where's that Xena effect? What is he, impregnable to the real world? Is that his secret?"
Xena had stopped listening a few sentences before, an amused smile crossing its way into her face. "Xena effect?"
"Oh, you know," she shrugged off, "that moment where you talk and everybody opens their ears and listen and--" Then suddenly Gabrielle's face turned into a wistful frown. "Xena..."
She did that very often, mused the warrior. It was as if all of a sudden all kinds of thoughts crowded Gabrielle's mind and she needed to get them out before they passed and never returned. It was a little exasperating, but she had learned to cope with it. "Yes?"
"Do you realize you have no effect whatsoever in Joxer?"
Xena smiled content, but she didn't say a word, and grabbing Gabrielle by the shoulder, she slowed them both down.
Gabrielle watched as Joxer walked away and then gazed at Xena, confused until she saw her friend smile that one she considered especially valuable. It appeared seldom, but the bard had learned to see it. Very few times would the warrior hint some calm and happiness on the surface, passing through thick layers of darkness and sorrow firmly deposited on her shoulders.
"I did realize something," said suddenly the warrior.
Gabrielle looked back, intrigued, but let a mischievous face appear in defensive anticipation, just in case. Xena was the queen of cutting assertions and the bard was not about letting her win on this one. "Oh, you did, didn't you?"
"Hmm," nodded Xena.
"And what would that be?," she asked still from the defensive side.
Xena leaned towards her ear.
"I do not have any effect whatsoever on you."
The answer caught the bard by surprise, and all the self assertiveness gathered plummeted under genuine awe, leaving her speechless. Her. Speechless. Wow.
Xena squeezed her friend's shoulder and turned, nonchalantly steering Argo towards the forest, knowing she had truly surprised Gabrielle, now frozen in place. "When I left you this morning I sensed you were angry."
The bard reacted and covered the distance separating them in a few strides. "I wasn't," she half protested with a small mouth.
"I bet you thought I was treating you like the expendable sidekick," she challenged. Gabrielle's silence was all the answer she needed. Xena stopped and faced her friend. "Not a day passes and even Joxer calls you a hero. What does that tell you?"
"Xena, c'mon," said Gabrielle. "It was Joxer."
"Hey, he might be...," Xena tried to find the word. To no avail. "...well, Joxer. But has he ever lied?"
Gabriellle pondered the answer, and replied softly. "Only to himself."
Xena gently cupped her face. "You sell yourself too short, Gabrielle. You've come a long way, and you still put me in front of yourself."
"Well, Xena, you--"
The warrior softly placed a finger on her lips, an unexpected warmth. "What about Terreis? And Meleager?" Xena softened her voice and strengthened her honest gaze. "Not to mention the times you placed yourself on the line for me." Which, she had never confessed, had been amongst the most confusing and scary moments of her life; the positive knowledge that Gabrielle would do anything in order to protect her.
Sometimes, in quiet moments, Xena though about the changes she had forced in Gabrielle just because the bard had chosen to follow her no matter what. The reward each one was getting out of this friendship was unbalanced. And the fact that Xena was the one winning, did poor justice to what she believed the bard deserved, and it scared her out of her wits, because, selfishly, she was glad she had Gabrielle in her life.
Green eyes were locked in piercing blue, and Xena found herself lost in them, unsure if she was making any sense with whatever she was saying, trying to veil the mesmerizing effect Gabrielle had on her, growing stronger every day.
Gabrielle always listened.
"I guess you're right. Aphrodite made a mess and I fixed it, right?"
Xena grinned. "Guess I'll have to thank the Goddess of love for her helping hand, then."
"He. I don't think my presence will be welcomed in her temple. I made a bit of a wreck there."
"C'mon, let's make camp, it'll soon be dark."
"Mom, do you think they'll figure it out one of these days?"
"They'd better, Cupid. Those two gals are gonna hit it hard, and I don't want to miss it."
He quirked an eyebrow. "Bet the little blonde will take the first step."
Aphrodite smirked. She knew her son was probably right.
Year 1 before Eli. Aphrodite's temple
A peaceful baby.
She had been lucky again. With Solan, it had allowed her to neglect her condition, a pain she would always carry within herself, adding a distinctive dent to all those past regrets she was unwilling to forget, much less let be forgiven.
And despite all of that, someone, something, had thought she deserved a second chance at motherhood. Xena had always thought Gabrielle would some day raise the question, or even maybe doing it as her Amazon Queen's duty to the tribe and the whole nation, quickly decimating under the changing world order imposed by the Romans. Whatever the reason, Gabrielle would make an excellent mother, and she had privately decided to support her soulmate in any decision she made regarding that matter. But her? Why would Eli's God grant her with a child? Why her and not Gabrielle, the owner of the purer heart and soul? The one who had been forced to--
Xena sighed. She had worked very hard to shove away thoughts of Hope, as had Gabrielle. Neither had been able to, and that pain would be there forever, so the bard had told her to leave it be. Words were not needed, nor wanted.
Gabrielle had told her not to.
Gabrielle had assured her that she was happy with this.
Gabrielle had proven her that she was happy with this.
It scared Xena that all this had an ulterior motive behind, that a mere good deed and letting her come full circle with Callisto was not all there was. She had shared her fears with Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had given her hope. Again.
And so they had decided to enjoy this, whatever might follow afterwards. Just like they always did. They had long learnt it was their only chance at happiness in this life.
And Xena, apart from the scaring encounter with Alti, had so far enjoyed a peaceful pregnancy.
Close to due date, she had only one complaint. And it was all her fault.
Gabrielle, ever the philosopher, had explained the warrior her own theory about the baby's lack of activity, hardly ever a kick, and not much movement, thus giving Xena a much needed rest. One random night, while on their way to Chin, Xena, resting contentedly, had commented on such luck, making Gabrielle suddenly decide that with all her own flips and kicks and travels, she left the baby too disoriented to do any kicks itself.
Those words had prompted Gabrielle's hand to travel towards Xena's abdomen, rubbing her belly and giving the warrior the chance to prove another theory of her own she had kept to herself these last moons, that of the baby's main motivation to move, and stretch, and drop-kick: Gabrielle. Every time the bard touched her belly, she enticed at once all the movement Xena had not felt otherwise, and as nice and thrilling as it was to see and feel Gabrielle and the baby bond, it always happened at the end of the day. When all Xena wanted to do was sleep.
That being said and patience not being one of her many skills, the moment had ended with an abrupt "So you do not dare touching again until this active bandit is born, Gabrielle."
One of the stupidest things Xena had said in a long, long time.
And worse. Gabrielle had abided with utter respect.
Ever since she fell pregnant, Gabrielle had taken the weigh of their lives on her shoulders, becoming a more self-confident warrior and an over-protective friend, constantly looking out for her, making sure she did not take any more strain than necessary.
Her. The woman who had turned thousands into clay not so long ago.
The only thing she'd been able to do had been trick the bard into a month of backrubs through winning a bet.
Last night, after leaving Joxer in some other village, they had decided to make camp sheltered in one of Aphrodite's temples. Her first backrub. She had fallen asleep like a baby.
And through a very actively kicking baby she had found herself suddenly awakened.
Her still sleepy eyes caught sight of an intruder on her belly. Turning, she followed the hand inciting the little kicker to wake her up so rudely and found a placidly sleeping bard with a smile she had not seen in a long time.
Displayed near her was a written scroll. New. She had used the ink she bought in Chin.
She smiled. Xena didn't remember Gabrielle writing lately. She had been planning on raising the topic but hadn't found the right time.
Xena, slowly, careful not to wake up Gabrielle, rolled back on her side again and softly placed her hand upon the bard's, not letting go of it.
That's right, sweetheart, show your other mother how much you love her and tell your mommy how a big dumb warrior she is.
She dozed off for a few seconds, indulging in the missed touch.
Unseen from the chair she had been talking to the little mortal, Aphrodite smiled at the sight, and satisfied, disappeared from her temple. The warrior babes would need it tonight.
28 after Eli. Amphipolis. Xena's old bedroom.
This is it.
Her ashes resting, at last, in Amphipolis.
Listessly, Gabrielle let herself fall on the soft mattress. Eve had heard the news when in Chin and had eventually returned to Amphipolis to await for the return of her mothers, making sure Gabrielle would at least find the house as comfortable as possible.
Sitting up, she let her head fall on her hands. She had been avoiding this journey, fighting wherever she felt she was needed.
Even if she wasn't.
The land of the Pharaos, Hispania, Gaul...those two first years without Xena had been... She sighed. Yes, her soulmate was in her heart, but the physical chasm that separated them was sometimes too deep.
Lately she had been feeling lost, alone.
She had pondered. She had thought about it. It would be so easy. Calculate the trajectory. Throw the chakram. Stay still.
But something inside her had screamed horrified at the thought. It was not her. That was not Gabrielle, she was better than that, as much as it hurt.
And so she was still alive. As much as she wanted to join Xena on the other side. But the loneliness was cold, burying her soul under stones of grief and tears. Holding on had drained her, and she felt as if she had no more strength left.
With a heavy sigh, she started to undress, not sensing a hidden concerned visitor witnessing her ache. The unseen presence winced silently when she suddenly watched the bard jerking, jumping from the bed as if it burned her skin and almost throwing herself against a corner of the room, sitting and burying her crying face on her knees, like a lost child.
The being made itself seen and rushed to her side.
"Gabrielle," she whispered.
Gabrielle looked up, eyes suddenly wide open. "Xena?" Meeting not her soulmate, but someone she had not expected to see. "Aphrodite."
The Goddess cupped her face and winced at the sight. "Oh, little one."
"I know," added softly Aphrodite. Then, she examined her mortal friend. "Look at you, Gabby. I can almost see through you."
Gabrielle knew she was a reflection of her past self. Mentally and physically.
She just didn't care.
Nor she was willing to humor the Goddess of Love. Especially now.
"Aphrodite, if you came to pay your respects..."
"The warrior babe would kick my rear end if I did that," she said in an attempt to make her smile.
It didn't work.
"I came because I worry about my friend."
"A friend who loves that who killed your entire family?," she asked listlessly. "Who would kill if anybody tried to hurt the bringer of your Twilight?"
Her tone was not harsh. It was simply neutral, and devastatingly honest. Aphrodite swallowed in a surprisingly human way, and breathed deep before answering. "You know where I stand in that, Gabby."
"I'll be fine," was the only answer she received from the bard.
"Not if you don't change your diet like yesterday."
"It's been a long journey," she admitted. "I'm planning on spending some time in Amphipolis."
"You'll take care of yourself?"
No. "I'll do my best."
Given the circumstances, those words were not reassuring enough; Aphrodite knew Gabrielle all too well. But she had made a promise to Xena, and she really owed the favor. Despite Gabrielle's mention of the Twilight and the truth in her words, the Goddess of Love could not hate. It just was not in her essence.
"Gabby." The bard had immersed herself in an unseen world. "Gabrielle," she insisted. Finally Gabrielle looked back in question. "You are sitting naked on the floor, which, if I could actually feel it, I'd bet is cold. I see a beautiful warm bed over there. Why don't you--?"
She was cut. Gently but firmly. "It was our bed," she started explaining. "We could never stay naked outside. Too dangerous." Aphrodite winced. "Here we could. I took off my clothes, and..." she tried to explain but the lump closed her throat again. "The memories came back, and...she was not here with me, and being naked just..."
Gabrielle finally burst into tears, letting Aphrodite embrace her protectively. "Shhh. It's alright, Gabby."
"It hurts so much," she confessed between sobs. "It's like standing on the bottom of a well, yelling, but there's no one on the other side to listen. It's...I can't let go, but I don't know how to go on like this, I just--"
Aprhodite let her a little space and conjured a silken cloth, offering silently to wipe the tears away. "You'll get lines around those beautiful eyes of yours, you know?" It was not an attempt at humor, but the lightness was aimed to calm Gabrielle down a little. And this time, it worked.
Aphrodite sighed relieved when she felt the bard's breathing to regain a normal rhythm.
"You have to welcome all those memories until they hurt no more." Slowly, she offered a hand to the naked woman and guided her back towards the bed. Gabrielle halted. "Gabby. Trust me." They both shared a silent look and the bard, hesitantly, almost with fear, walked with the Goddess.
More tears were shed upon the matress, but this time she was not alone, and somewhere she found a thread of strength to remain on the bed, naked, confronting those aching memories.
Aphrodite closed her eyelids with her fingers. "That's right Gabby. Don't run from them."
"But one day they will be all that remains. Don't you want them to be strong within you? Don't you want Xena to have them while she waits for you?"
Gabrielle opened her eyes in realization. "Xena." Guilt-ridden, she had forgotten the most important thing. Her hand traveled to her heart, and Gabrielle closed her eyes and concentrated very hard in feeling her presence within her. In her heart, where she would always be. "Xena," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
And then it all changed. Her mind showed what had been there all those last moons, when she had forsaken all feelings. Xena had never gone from her side. "There's nothing to be sorry for, Gabrielle."
Xena was sitting by her side, in the same spot Aphrodite had been sitting on just instants before, naked and caressing softly Gabrielle's cheek with her thumbs, as she had always done.
"I've missed you so much."
A genuine smile reached blue eyes. "Me too."
Gabrielle took Xena's face in her hands and made the warrior lean closer for a kiss. A kiss that had been waiting to be given for two years. She explored the territory with her tongue like she had never visited before, following the task with her hands, needing to feel each single slight curvature on Xena's body, every trait and shape her hands had memorized so long ago.
She smiled. They still remembered.
She traveled slowly through a map of scars framing an otherwise smooth skin while her partner let her do, and then, turned and let both of them lie on the mattress, letting the warrior on her back.
Gabrielle kissed her again, and indulged herself in nibbling and kissing every favorite little spot in Xena's body. Her earlobes, her face —every corner of it—, her neck, her breasts, all the way down to her navel and below.
She made love to her, at last, for as long as her strained body let her, and then, finally, fell asleep in her arms, finding a peace she had believed long gone.
She heard a whisper before falling into unconsciousness.
Careful not to wake the bard, Aphrodite slid out of the bed and put her pink garment back. Wishing she could have really felt all of it. Sparing a last stare at Gabrielle, she turned to meet two hopeful blue ghostly eyes.
Aphrodite bowed her head and shimmered out quietly.
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