Short story (slightly alternative)
Summary: after the events of "Friend in Need II" Gabrielle sacrifices herself to regain Xena's life, leaving Xena to do some soul and soul mate searching. A happier ending.
Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Xenon, and Argo are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures and so remain. I have carried them with me for years just like all of the other Xenites in the Xenaverse and this came from a creative need. It is cool how that series does that to us. The characters are returned healthy and unharmed. Gaia and Prometheus belong to the Greeks, and as far as I know, everyone borrows them.
Violence: a little. In nightmares and some in plant life.
Emotional distress- yeah, quite abit
Subtext- I subscribe to the same premise as the show did. The story of Xena and Gabrielle is a timeless love story; the Fates wove their threads together throughout eternity. If this deep and abiding love made them lovers-wonderful. But I believe it went far beyond the boundaries of simply being gay or straight, or sexual limitations at all. Otherwise it would not have fascinated all of us for so long.
Ephiny disclaimer: She was my favorite Amazon, so I brought her back.. And in the end--- she is all of us….
Hope you like it … I am email@example.com
Boom. Room. Doom. Doom. Boom. Room. Doom. Doom. Doom. Boom. Room. Doom. Doom.
The repeated reverberations of the samurai drums were no louder than the pounding of her own heart as she jogged through the misty woods. Though the situation was utterly hopeless; nevertheless, hers was the heart of a warrior, and she would fight until she could no longer stand. She was outnumbered by at least a thousand to one, and as the first rain of arrows began, she broke into a run. Quickly ascending high into a tree, she fitted a crossbow with as many bolts as possible and began taking out the archers as they came into view.
"XENA!" Panic. Disorientation. Realization.
Gods, where was she now? Gabrielle now stood in the blue leather armor on the far side of the forest with the ghost killer. Panic gut- punched the reality home; had sent her to safe keeping while the tall warrior had gone to face death alone. A de ja vu of terror added wings to her boots as she ran through the mist to the other side of the woods toward her embattled friend.
Now there was nothing but the roar of the drums and the echoes of blood in her ears; it increased in volume every time another arrow struck her. Still she continued to notch her own bow, and noted grimly that her aim was scarlet from blood in her hair. Shake it off; keep fighting; Keep moving. The drum cadence shifted, and with it swaggered forward the samurai captain, katana drawn. His feral smile conveyed his ecstatic anticipation of killing Xena Warrior Princess. Gabrielle spat blood bubbling from inside, drew her own Katana and met his first swing with a crash. The drums deafened her; he circled faster than she could counter and the red mist covered..
"XENA!" The sight of a bloody chakram and the crimson trails leading away from it halted Gabrielle's mad long dash through the forest. Helpless, hopeless, she sank to her knees in the blood, clutched the weapon to her breast and began to sob, shedding tears of blood in the reddened grass.
"Gabrielle.." the gentle voice brought light into the black and red imagery. Awareness surfaced, horror retreated; the dampness in her hair was perspiration.
"Gabrielle, you're crying in your sleep again."
Pale jade eyes opened in the fire flickering hut of the Amazons. The face that held the eyes was lined, bleached with exhaustion, gaunt, haunted with grief.
Xena sat on the pallet and pulled her friend's head into her lap, stroking the sweat stained blond hair from her eyes, trying to sooth her troubled mind.
"Same dream again, huh?"
The green eyes close with a shuddering sigh, "I play both of us; not much variation. You'd think I'd get used to it; but I don't. "
"Gabrielle, it never occurred to me that my decision to remain dead for to avenge Akemi's people would leave you so tortured. We should have talked more, but there just wasn't time. This breaks my heart."
Gabrielle sat up and looked at her. "You're heart broken? You decided to die for BOTH of us, Xena! I am trying; but I walk with a spirit by day and I die in battle every night!"
The warrior drew back; her friend was fierce in her exhausted heartbreak, and she felt helpless to rectify it.
"I told you - my whole world was you, and you being here in spirit can't keep the ghosts away. You being in my heart can't stop the nightmares. I loved you too much, Xena, and I just don't know if I can do this…"
The tall battle shade hung her head. The bard's words stung her personally, but the greatest ache was for the suffering of her soul mate.
"What do you mean you can't do this?" She had to ask…
"I don't know what I mean," was the defeated answer. Except perhaps that I'm not cut out to carry on this "girl with a chakram" legacy. I just barely survived in Egypt, and wouldn't have made it at all without your spiritual guidance. It's too hard; I am fresh out of nobility and courage. All that is left is blood, pain, and tears, and emptiness. It hurts too much; I'm too tired." The blond head sank down in her lap again.
There was no sound but the crackling fire for a time, while the ice blue eyes filled with tears, and then the warrior managed, " Are you telling me to go on then? To move toward the other side.. toward the light?"
Gabrielle's eyes were full as well. "I'm not saying anything, Xena. I'm not as sure as you were about the right thing for the right reason. I just know that we are both in terrible limbo. I also know that I have to take hold of life again somehow, or join you in death."
The blue eyes flashed behind the tears, and the voice hardened, "Gabrielle, that's not an option."
The chuckle was bitter from the head under her hand. "Xena, you are a spirit. What can you do to stop me?"
The blue eyes were stormy and hurt, but the tongue kept in check. " There is someone on the path; This conversation is NOT over, Gabrielle.." The warrior's spirit faded.
Gabrielle sat staring at the empty bed and passed her hand through the air. "Don't be so sure, beloved warrior…" Her eyes were bleak.
The sounds were hoof beats and Xenon burst in and threw his arms around the bard. "Auntie Gabby, are you ok? I woke up when I heard you yelling. You sounded so scared. I told Mom we had to come check on you."
Gabrielle hugged the little centaur, " I'm ok, sweetie; it was just a bad dream. But this hug fixes it all better…" she breathed in the innocence of childhood and tried hard to allow it to relax her. " I'll be all right now, Xenon."
"Xenon, honey, gallop back to bed now. Aunt Gab's fine and you have archery in the morning." Ephiny's voice was light, but her hazel eyes fixed on Gabrielle told the bard that she was not buying the "all right now." Her gaze continued locked on her friend as she embraced her child,
"Sweet dreams, Xenon. Stay on the lighted path. I won't be long."
"Ok, " the musical voice drifted into the night, "G'night Mommy, G'night Aunt Gabby."
There was a moment as Ephiny regarded the bard. "You are not getting better Gabrielle. What am I to do with you?"
Her gaze was not met. "I just need time, Ephiny."
The Amazon shook her head gently as she crossed the hut to sit by her friend. " I am beginning to worry about how much more time you have, Gabrielle. Your dreams--your grief--they are destroying you. You are a lantern with no candle."
Gabrielle didn't look up, " A parchment with no writer?"
Ephiny grinned, "A chakram with no catcher..."
Gabrielle smiled at her friend. "Not a bad touch of the poet, Ephiny."
"Just trying to reach you, my friend."
Gabrielle lay back on the bed with a sigh. "I'm listening."
"I have heard that the Titan Prometheus will pass within a day's ride of here during the next full moon. Why don't you go to see him? You, Xena, Hercules and Iolus helped him greatly when he was in need. If you start tomorrow night, you should be able to intercept him at the foothills of the Olympus range."
Considering this, Gabrielle reached toward the head of her bed and picked up the dark urn containing Xena's ashes. Thoughtfully, reverently, she ran her hands around the top and down the sides of the smooth pottery.
"Prometheus has always held a soft place in his heart for humans, " she mused, "Some stories say that he created us out of clay."
"If you only talked to him, it might help, " nudged Ephiny.
"At least I'd be out of here and in motion again. Not drowning in dreams and memories. I feel as if my own mind might murder me."
"And you could take Argo, "ventured Ephiny, "She has looked so restless just grazing among the Amazon ponies. Please go."
"Argo, " reflected the bard, "I hadn't even thought of Argo."
The following morning dawned cold and bright, and when Gabrielle emerged from the hut, enrobed in her teal colored traveling garments from Mt. Fuji, she was greeted by nearly the entire Amazon nation who had gathered to bid farewell to their former queen. Ephiny had seen that Argo was geared to travel as well, and the horse looked fresh and ready to see a road. The slender blonde moved to the golden horse's head and allowed her to nuzzle the urn.
"I guess we're going to find out about our friend, girl, " she spoke softly to the horse." I know you miss her too; are you ready for our journey?" Argo shook her head vigorously, and Gabrielle smiled and patted her nose.
Ephiny stepped forward and placed the sacred katana across the young poet's back. She then stepped back respectfully, and they clasped each other's arms in the traditional shake and then embraced.
"Be safe, my Queen, " said Ephiny, "If in seven nights I've heard nothing from you, I will come to supply you for winter."
"Thank you for everything, my friend, " the emerald eyes were warm on the Amazon leader. "You pushed me out of the hut and into action. I hope when next we meet, times will be happier."
Argo waited quietly while Gabrielle pulled up and into the saddle. It was then for the first time, she noticed the shade of the warrior princess sat astride the horse as well, but she was visible only to her bard. They shared a look but no words. As Gabrielle turned Argo toward the mountains, the taller woman placed her hands lightly on her partner's waist, and the blonde head leaned back into the leather armor just abit more easily.
Morning light caught a small clearing in the tree line pines which framed a snowy mountain peak. A clear stream graced this place, and it was in this stream that the Titan, Prometheus, was viewed. Of his Titanic status, there was no doubt; he stood twice as tall as other men, and his physique seemed to be sculpted of hardened red clay. He wore a simple linen tunic tied with a golden rope, and there was a similar cord holding back his long black hair. The running water hid his huge feet, and his black eyes sparkled with delight as he gathered handfuls of mud from the river bottom. The only imperfections in this godlike creature were terrible scars at his wrists from one hundred thousand years of bondage on the mountain. Closer observation would reveal a deep indentation in his right side where the eagle tore out his liver. Despite these scars, this was a benevolent being, one who created and loved.
Gabrielle and even Argo were diminutive in his presence, and Xena's spirit faded away as the young bard, dismounted. She was ghostly herself by now and waited quietly for the Titan to acknowledge her. He didn't turn around or stop what he was doing.
"I believe you are called, Gabrielle?" the voice was gentle, muffled thunder.
Gabrielle smiled brightly, but she bowed low and respectfully, "I am very surprised that you would remember me, Father Prometheus. I did little to free you from your chains; it was mostly the work of Iolas, Hercules and Xena."
"Do not underestimate your gifts, little one, " the soft thunder rumbled, "YOU told the tale." The Titan settled him self on the bank of the stream to achieve proximity to her eye level.
"It is your talent of storytelling and writing which keep the heroic tales alive. Without you, we would soon be forgotten."
"Thank you," the bard replied humbly, and then felt a large finger lifting her chin so the kindly dark eyes could regard her own troubled gaze.
"You are not well, little word weaver. Tell me your story. Tell me if I may help one whom I cherish."
"Lord Prometheus, it's Xena, " the bard's voice broke. Again the large finger was extended and Gabrielle grasped it to steady herself.
"Come child. Sit by me and tell it."
The tiny blond head leaned against the great arm like a child and the story began. Daylight was fading when she finished.
"Xena prevented me from pouring her ashes into the fountain of strength after she had freed the spirits of Akemi and the others from the tyranny of Higuchi's terrible ghost. And I know it would have worked because the few drops of water I was able to bring to her in a kiss gave her full strength after Higuchi had beaten the flames from her spirit. But she felt that responsible for the deaths of the forty thousand who died mourning Akemi, and that those must be avenged with her death. I tried to talk to her about the choice, but there simply was no time before the sun set. Xena is so relentlessly stubborn when it comes to atoning for a sin of the past. But Father, something just didn't ring quite right with me. It seemed unfair. And now I am lost." Her voice trembled. "I have been trying very hard; but I am lost without her."
Prometheus had listened gravely and now he shifted to hold his great head in his hands thinking.
"I had heard of the warrior princess' sacrifice and yours, " he said slowly. "and I must tell you that it is the consensus of greater powers than ours, that Xena was wrong."
Gabrielle slapped her knee, " I KNEW IT! ACK!! You'd think the woman was the gorgon Medusa's roommate, her head is so hard! Honestly!!"
The tree branches shook with the echoing laughter of Prometheus at this small mortal.
Then he sobered, " It was Akemi who tricked Xena into teaching her the deadly pinch with which to kill her father. Akemi's actions, as well intended as they were, were the catalyst for the misfortune of her people. Xena was merely a pawn because she cared. Akemi was young and angry and selfish..."
"And reminded Xena of herself at that age, "added Gabrielle.
"A sure recipe for an tragedy waiting to happen, "finished the Titan. " But there is no religion that grants redemption only to withdraw it. Akemi must have told your warrior this in an effort to guarantee her own redemption. Xena could have returned."
There was no triumphant reaction from the bard at this, only a river of tears, which Prometheus caught on his great finger. Then he smoothed her tousled hair and lifted her chin to meet his kindly eyes once again.
"I am no god, child, " he said gently, "but I will use my resources and talent to help you as best I can, just as you and your friends helped me so long ago."
Gabrielle looked at him with tear-streaked adoration, " Lord Prometheus, I'll try anything. Anything is better than wasting away in this sorrow."
"By tomorrow morning I am summoned to Olympus, so tonight you must construct a strong shelter from the weather and gather all the extra firewood you can find. Make ready to stay here as long as you possibly can- as quickly as you can. Then wait for me."
The bard worked all night long possessed of new energy born of hope. The branches she couldn't carry herself, Argo pulled for her, and when the first streaks of daylight crossed the sky, she had a fair and sturdy lean-to constructed. It was lined with fresh smelling pine boughs and blankets for bedding, centered with a neat circular stone fire ring, and boasted and extra flap for Argo. There was a good-sized wood stack nearby as well.
She was feeding the fire when Prometheus appeared outside and knelt to peer inside the shelter.
"Perfect, little one, "he rumbled, "and here is my part, although she isn't completely finished."
His great hand reached inside, and gently placed beside the fire a clay sculpture that was a perfect likeness of Xena.
Gabrielle's voice was hushed, " Oh, Prometheus, she is beautiful; if she weren't clay, I could swear it was Xena! The stories are true, aren't they? This is how you made us?"
"Yes, little word weaver, "he smiled, " But there is more to do yet. If you will please trust me with the ashes of your champion?"
Gabrielle swallowed, then walked across the shelter to retrieve the urn and surrendered it to Prometheus.
The Titan opened the jar and regarded the ashes inside. From a small bag on his belt, he poured seven silvery seeds into the urn and then water from a skin bag. He swirled the mixture around in the container and set it aside.
"The seeds of life from Chaos, " he explained. "But they are very old. I've never used them in this manner. I can promise nothing. But I know the strength of your faith, Gabrielle; it is of a depth we seldom see. I believe in that faith."
With his little finger, he carved a small hollow in the sculpture's chest. Then he took the urn in his hands, closed his eyes, and gave it his full concentration. Before Gabrielle could protest, the urn cracked in his hands, and from the pottery shell came a perfect heart shape- made of a gray stone. She could see the incandescence of the seeds within the heart.
"Now help me child; my hands are too large and old now."
Prometheus placed the heart into the hollow he had made in the warrior, and Gabrielle began to mold the clay over it, around it, closing it. The sculpture was completed. The bard couldn't help but marvel at the likeness it held to her friend, even though its eyes were closed, as if she were sleeping.
The Titan stepped back, regarding his work. "She's a fine one, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is, and I am forever in your debt. But what comes next?"
"Next, "he sighed, "You wait, you watch, you keep it warm as if it is a living being, and you BELIEVE Xena will return."
"I will do that, " Gabrielle's voiced was determined." But how shall I let you know if she does return? If a miracle occurs?"
"I will know." he laughed, "All heaven and earth will know if you are reunited."
She bowed her head, "How can I ever thank you for this, Father Prometheus?"
Prometheus smiled, touched her head, turned and began to walk away in huge strides, "Write about me!" his voice trailed back, "Keep telling the stories, little bard."
Gabrielle watched until he left her sight. When she turned to regard the sculpture, her eyes were still sad, but resolved.
I don't know how many weeks have passed now, for time has ceased to have any meaning for me. By day, I search for more firewood and hunt for food. I also free Argo to roam and find good grazing. She returns at night to be near the fire and me. In the darkness, I stare at the fire, I write, or I go outside and look at the stars. I remember how many nights Xena and I watched the stars and imagined pictures in them. Bears and dippers. I find myself speaking both sides of our conversations; who can say why I remember them? We took those small precious moments for granted; what I wouldn't give to experience even one in real life again.
Ephiny has been here a few times. She always begs me to return with her; she worries about my health, and rightly so. I told her if Xena doesn't appear soon, I will return to the Amazons. But, I more than likely have consumption, and without treatment it will kill me. If Xena comes to life, perhaps she can heal it, and if she doesn't come to life, well... so be it. That is the decision I have made, and if the gods condemn me for it, so be it again... Perhaps Prometheus can forgive me. But there is some hope. There appears to be more of the dark tan flesh tones of Xena's skin in the sculpture. If there is any chance at all, I will wait for her.
The snowmelt began and the icicles dripped on a haggard and hollow-cheeked Gabrielle who gathered more wood. As she tossed the sticks on the fire a lung deep coughing shook her frail body taking the last of her strength, so that she crept to her pallet to lie down.
The eyes of the Warrior Princess opened- that clear, piercing, brilliant, very much living blue. Immediately, they searched for the slender bard, who was resting, her labored breathing the only sound in the hut.
"Gabrielle..." the voice was low and broken.
The bard sprang to her feet in a panic. "XENA?" Her fever had put her in a dreamlike state- never knowing if she were awake or sleeping. She staggered across the hut towards the sculpture.
"Am I dreaming again?"
Coughing caused her to collapse, and Xena quickly caught the fragile figure and gathered her up gently into her arms.
"Hey, easy, Gabrielle. You are not dreaming. But what have you done to yourself?" She whispered these words into the blond hair as she cradled the ailing bard closely.
Gabrielle pushed back to look into Xena's eyes and smiled weakly, "I've been waiting, hoping, praying, believing." Another deep cough.
"And becoming deathly ill; Gabrielle, I'm not worth this! Not your life!"
The bard's head snapped back with authority, despite its weakness, "Xena, you are worth whatever I have to do, every time I have to do it. I love you."
"But I am nothing if I lose you, Gabrielle."
The pale jade eyes regarded the blue eyes of her beloved champion intensely, but in a feverish fog, "I know what you meant now."
"What I meant when?" the warrior was very worried.
"If I only had thirty seconds to live, this is how I want to spend them; looking into your eyes."
The next coughing fit seemed to rend her lungs apart, "Always remember I love you; my whole world is you." The green eyes closed.
Xena Warrior Princess kissed Gabrielle on top of her head, and enfolding the bard closely in her strong arms, ducked carefully out of the lean to, and began to run, whistling for Argo.
"Xena..." Ephiny caught the warrior by the shoulders outside the Amazon hut. "You are wearing a deep ditch out here with your pacing.... try to calm down!" Then she stepped back as the fighter almost drew her blade on her. "Xena,"
The shoulders sagged, and the warrior's body sank to the ground holding her head in her hands.
" Sorry, Ephiny; I feel so powerless. All my strength, all my skills as a healer, and I can't save the person who means the most to me; the one who SAVED ME," The blue eyes looked up forlorn, "What kind of world is this? How is this possibly fair?"
Ephiny knelt beside her friend rubbing her back gently, "Xena, it's a world in which love can perform miracles sometimes."
"But I am losing her."
Ephiny shook her head sadly, " So it would appear, my friend. But I spoke of the miracle of YOU. Her last act was the devotion to bring you back. This is what Gabrielle wanted."
The warrior princess exploded to her feet, "This is not how I want it-- it cannot -- it will not be this way. NOT NOW!!"
Ephiny remained on her knees looking at the ground, " I am sorry, Xena, I don't know what else to do..."
The Amazon jerked back and cowered slightly as the warrior drew her sword and began an angry striding toward the forest. When she reached the trees she flipped into battle mode, and began to slash her way in with an unchecked vicious fury. Vegetation wilted under her berserker blade and battle cry far into the woods until she reached an ancient oak that did not yield. She did not submit to its size or age, but continued to slash and parry at the bark as if it were an opponent she could bring to the ground. Finally, exhausted, the anger spent, tears came; Xena fell to her knees, looking up at the sky.
"I don't know who to pray to..." the blue eyes were flooded; the sword fell in the dirt. She buried her face in her hands, "I don't know who to pray to; I don't know who to ask." She spread her fingers into the rich brown earth. "Please, take me. Don't take Gabrielle. Take me."
"Xena. " the sobbing continued. "Xena of Amphipolis. "
Immediately the azure eyes were alert, the sword in hand, and the body on guard.
"Who's there? Go away! I want to be alone! Go away, you hear me!" She slashed the sword in a weak circular arc, and dropped to the dirt again, her head against the hilt.
"Xena Warrior Princess, Hear me! " She knew. Realizing that she was in the presence of a god, she sniffed and composed herself quickly, but remained on her knees.
"I am listening now; who speaks to me?"
"Attend the aged oak, who is not your enemy. "
Xena raised her eyes to the slashes in the towering tree and was witness to tree bark that now had the appearance of grayish skin. In two of the largest slashes she had cleaved, there were eyes the color of whirling ocean teal gazing at her with ageless calm. There were no other features; the voice was speaking in her mind somehow.
"Forgive me," murmured the warrior, greatly chagrined. "Trees are living things; I shouldn't have struck you."
"I am Gaia, goddess of the planet, the Living Earth, Xena. " the voice washed like ocean waves, yet sounded majestic and timeless, while the eyes kept the motion of water as well.
Xena's voice was hushed with awe, "I am both honored and ashamed, Great Lady; you are spoken of, but few have seen you, " she swallowed, and the tears filled her eyes again, "Please forgive me the damage I have done to your child." She bowed her head.
"And may I inquire what drives the noted Warrior Princess to attack a defenseless oak that took me over one hundred years to create? "
The proud woman paused only briefly, "It's Gabrielle, Lady. She's dying; she may be gone by now."
"Gabrielle the Bard. A woman of light. The person you love more than life itself. "
"You seem to know me well, Mother Earth."
"And you cannot accept her passage to the other side because...? "
The warrior paused again before speaking, "Gabrielle has sacrificed her life to return me to life. That isn't right. I had to die, because there were sins from my past to account for-- a debt to be paid. I died a warrior and a martyr. But I didn't think long enough about what my heroic passing would do to her."
"And you have learned from this? "
"Gabrielle has committed no crimes, Mother Gaia. Her great mistake-- she loved me. I am not deserving of her sacrifice. I also now understand how it feels to be without her. Even in these few hours, it's an agony I should never have put her through. Even in this short time, I can't function, my soul is ripped and bleeding; she is stronger than I am. She loved me so much-- more than I deserved, and the world should not lose the light of Gabrielle because of me."
"Well, spoken my child, but that is not yet lesson enough. "
"Then what else can I learn, Mother? Teach me." The great warrior princess was an humble child, tears falling silently from her eyes.
"Think carefully, little warrior. What else have you learned from Gabrielle?"
A quick smile. "She brought me from the darkness. She taught me about gentleness, forgiveness, and love."
"And you have taught her?"
"Not as much. At least not as much goodness."
"Keep thinking, child. We have time." >
Xena remembered. The first year of innocence and energy; the "take me with you " years.
"I taught her to be more careful and cunning. To not plunge head long into every situation believing everyone was good and friendly. I taught her to protect herself without killing. She became her own kind of fighter, strong, brave and compassionate."
"So you taught the bard to be a warrior? >"
Xena sighed, "To a certain extent, yes. She did begin to think like a warrior; a good and thoughtful one, I hoped."
The voice was not finished. " And so child, did you learn to think like a bard? >"
Xena looked up at the fathomless eyes in confusion, " Think like a bard? That's not what I do."
"Not because you are incapable, Xena of Amphipolis. Ponder now. What are the basic differences in the thought processes of the bard and the thought processes of the warrior?" >
There was a moment of silence, and then the low voice ventured, "I usually only see the immediate, the present situation and I react quickly to rid myself or someone else of danger. Gabrielle always saw the bigger picture; she saw consequences father down the road."
"In order to discover what you have truly learned from this experience, and from your friend, you must endeavor to think like a bard." >
The soldier put her face in her great strong hands in meditation. There was no sound but the changing songs of a mockingbird and the singing breezes through the leaves of the oak. She considered her terrible past, and her travels with Gabrielle- the adventures and trials they had faced together, and how they had always managed to find a way to triumph, standing strong in their love for each other. She thought of her own choice to fall in battle, and the recurrent nightmares of death and blood she tried to ease in her friend every night since. Then Xena lifted her eyes.
"I sent Gabrielle to a place of safety, while I went to face the samurai army because I felt it was a debt that I owed. In order to free forty thousand souls from the clutches of the evil spirit Higuchi, I had to die. And I died, as I had lived, a warrior. But Gabrielle, she's the one who's tried to carry on bravely, continuing our legacy, when the clawing hands of nightmares and loneliness tore her down further every night. And she's never faltered; she's never given up."
The warrior paused again and swallowed, "What the bard has taught me, Mother Gaia, is that however noble one's reason might be for dying; it is easy to die. What is far more difficult, what commands real courage-- is to persevere--to remain steadfast-- to live."
Xena Warrior Princess, Rise."
She did so and quickly.
"Your redemption is paid in full. Go home now ; atone no more."
"I feel that I can never stop paying for my past, " the warrior murmured.
"Then perhaps you can begin to use your skills as a healer as much as you use your skills at combat. Receive a gift from a goddess. Look inside your left gauntlet."
Xena quickly unlaced the leather, and next to her skin lay a small silver seed.
"It is a seed of life, born of Chaos. Place it in the bard's mouth and follow with water from Fuji's Fountain of Strength. Your friend will return to you."
"But wait! Japa is across...."
"Farewell, Warrior Princess..." and there was only a slashed and ancient oak once again.
"Japa is an entire world away from here... " She spoke to the tree, before turning and unleashing the power of her long legs back to the Amazon camp.
Ephiny captured the warrior in a rough embrace as she made her way full speed into the hut.
"Ephiny, I must hurry!"
"Xena, it won't help now!"
"Yes it will!" The taller woman shook herself loose from the Amazon's grasp. " Let me go!" But Ephiny caught her again with a hand on each side of her face and met her eyes straight on.
"Xena! She's crossed over. I'm sorry, " her voice gentled as the warrior sagged in her hands, and she began to hold her upright, and eased the woman into her shoulder.
"Xena, she was just too exhausted to fight anymore; she went to sleep, she didn't struggle."
Her volatile friend pushed back from her comfort, and Ephiny searched the blue eyes anxiously. "Xena?"
She stood tall and dry-eyed. "Can you just give us some time, Ephiny?"
"Uh, sure, Xena. I'll tell the others. All you need." Ephiny threw a worried glance over her shoulder to watch the dark haired woman stoop into the hut.
"Gabrielle." The warm light of the fire highlighted her golden hair, and she seemed to sleep as peacefully as a child or an angel.
The bard's champion knelt softly, shakily by the bed, "Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. I'm not strong enough; I'm not as strong as you are." The blue eyes filled , and she kissed the pale still hand, but kept her composure.
"Gaia, Mother Earth, gave me this seed. She told me to water it with the Fountain of Strength, and to have faith." She holds the small hand against her cheek. "I'm going to try; you try too, ok?."
Xena removed the seed from a small pouch hanging near her chakram. Sitting on the bedside she gently placed the seed in the bard's mouth. Then she looked on her friend's fair and innocent face for a long moment, the brightness of the blue eyes filling once again.
"As for the Fountain of Strength, this is all I have, with all of my hope, and all of my love." She leaned forward and brushed her lips with Gabrielle's in a tender but lingering kiss. Having done this, she remained a moment suspended watching for any sign. Nothing.
And something in the warrior shattered totally; silent sobs shook her visibly but with no sound. Gently she lowered her head to rest on Gabrielle's breast, but not before several of her tears fell on the bard's sleeping eyes. The dark head was too consumed by grief to notice the lids fluttered slightly and opened wide. A pink flush came to the skin, and the eyes brightened with the living jade color that cast about the room as Gabrielle returned to her body. Slowly, puzzled, she became aware of the dark head on her chest in emotional heartbreak. But she raised a weak hand to smooth the long hair gently.
"Xena." she whispered, not trusting her voice.
The warrior's eyes froze wide open and then closed tightly again and she whispered, "Thank you."
Gabrielle was fighting to sit up, "Xena, is it really you, or is it another dream?" She grabbed the warrior's head in her hands and looked into her eyes. And Xena couldn't take hers off of the bard despite the river of tears from her own.
"Gabrielle, it's not a dream." She managed to choke out the words.
They locked in an embrace, tightly holding on to the living, warm, breathing, presence of each other. They matched hands, stroked hair, touched eyes, and cheeks and tears.
"We're alive, "whispered the bard, " I can feel all of you, the energy of your mind, your heart, your soul... not just your spirit. Oh gods Xena, We are alive."
"Yeah," was the smiling answer, "and at the same time." She rose, "Amazon's always keep tea around don't they?"
And with that simple routine, blue and green flowed together again like jeweled water, quenching the lonely, parched parts of each other's souls. They were on propped elbows with steaming mugs, Xena listening to Gabrielle's adventure with Prometheus, when Ephiny peeked in, "Xena, oh, GAB!!"
She bounded across the room to throw her arms around them both. Then looking from one to the other, she said, "You know, girls, I don't even want to know. I'm just going to be so happy and go tell the Amazons to plan a party!!"
A rare chuckle rumbled from Xena as she heard Ephiny whoop outside the hut.
"So Xena, " redirected the bard, "the last thing I remember is watching your eyes come alive in the clay. How did you bring me back?"
The warrior rose to refill their mugs with cinnamon tea, "It's a long story, Gabrielle. Maybe it should wait until you are stronger."
Gabrielle took the mug, closed her eyes and inhaled the steam. "I feel better than I have felt in months; I have you back. " She reached for the muscled hand. "Tell me." She pulled the warrior's forehead across to meet her own.
Xena then imparted the story of her encounter with Gaia and the seed of life.
"Wow, what a scroll that will make, " whispered the bard, "No one ever sees Gaia; Xena, you are very special."
"Yeah, I know, " said the warrior. " She was really something."
"The seed was left from Prometheus, " pondered the blond head, " You, my friend, are such a force of nature, that it only required six seeds to bring you back from the other side."
"I didn't see how it would work, " confessed the darker head. "Especially when I needed water from the Fountain of Strength. Then I thought of the kiss-- like you did for me. I was desperately afraid. But I made myself believe."
Gabrielle kept the motion through the dark hair. "It was your tears, Xena. I felt them waking me like a flower wakes to rain."
She felt the warrior relax in her hands, and then she lifted her chin to keep direct eye contact a moment longer, "One more thing."
The blue eyes were focused on hers. "This is the short version for now. We need to talk about this longer later on. But from now on this is a hard and fast rule; neither of us runs off and dies without telling the other anymore, ok? We are not cats with nine lives; we are in this journey TOGETHER. We tell each other stuff. We're soul mates."
She put her finger on the warrior's nose. "Got it?"
Big smile, "Yes ma'm." Then the warrior leaned back in a quiet relaxed chuckle.
Gabrielle put her hands on her hips, "What's so funny?"
"Just thinking how great it is to have you fuss at me again, Gabrielle."
Two days later, Ephiny stood by her Queen in the forest outside the Amazon camp. Once again Argo was geared for travel, but this time, she had two companions. The sunlight beamed through breaks in the trees and radiated from Gabrielle's good health as she hugged her friend good-bye.
"I wish you two would stay a little longer, "Ephiny knows this is no good." You've been through a great deal; you should rest."
"Xena wants to hit the road, my friend," said Gabrielle with a sad smile, "and, so do I; my energy is good."
"Always with the atonement thing, huh?" Ephiny said in a low voice. " I hope she can find an end to that someday for your sake."
They watched the tall warrior finish affixing Argo's saddle, and then securing and rechecking the bedding. Then grabbing a small leather satchel, she moved to an enormous oak tree which was covered in sword slashes and leaking sap. Taking out some lineament, the warrior/healer began to rub the salve into the gashes, and then winding long strips of linen around the trunk tightly, almost as if she were bandaging its wounds.
"I don't think it's so much atonement anymore, though she always carries that, " the bard spoke softly, "Xena just said we need to be out helping people. She said something I never thought I would her say. She said we were blessed."
She turned to the Amazon, "And she's right Ephiny. How many people lose their lives, hearts and souls and are fortunate enough to have them returned again? We are blessed; we have work to do."
"Is that why she's suddenly, Xena Princess Tree Hugger?"
"Don't even let her hear you say that! When she mentioned she had business with a tree this morning, I asked why, and I got a big dose of "The Look."
"Oh, the one that makes you wonder if and when your skin will grow back?"
" Yeah, that one."
Ephiny gave her friend a final squeeze, "As long as you remember that you have a home here with the Amazons."
Gabrielle's eyes moistened, "Of course, Ephiny, you are our dearest friend. I promise we'll be back as often as possible."
Xena strode up briskly leading Argo. She caught the twinkle in Ephiny's eyes, and curled her lip, "Get used to it, Amazon." Then she smiled and extended her hand which Ephiny clasped to the elbow in the warrior's handshake.
"See you soon, Ephiny, and thanks for everything."
"Be well, Xena. And take care."
And so the companions turned to walk down the road, falling easily into step, Xena leading Argo and her other hand resting lightly on the bard's shoulder. Gabrielle looked back once with a parting smile, "Keep us in your heart, Ephiny!"
The Amazon warrior brushed her gauntlet across her eyes; " Always!" she called, waving, for as long she believed they might see her . Then she made a fist and solemnly lowered it down gently across her heart to pound once gently. "Always and forever." she whispered.
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