Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment. It may not be sold, may be downloaded for personal use only, and must contain this statement. The characters and concepts from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, including Xena, Gabrielle, Akemi, Yodoshi/Eater of Souls, Harugata/Ghost Killer, Kenji, Ares, Aphrodite, Livia/Eve, Virgil, Lila, and Sarah, are the creations and property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures USA. No malice is intended towards these characters. I would like to express my thanks to the creators of this outstanding production for sharing them with us for six years.
Warnings: This story contains violence, anguish, hope, and love. Sex between two eagerly consenting women is mentioned...but it isn't graphic. If you were old enough to watch the TV show, you're probably old enough to read this story...ask your parents if in doubt. This story is intended to relate events following the series finale, "A Friend In Need", as imagined in my corner of the Xenaverse, and yes, it contains spoilers.
Note: This story was originally written for the Academy of Bards' Challenge 2001 Part 2, and was entered in the "Epic" category for post AFIN prose.
Special Thanks: To Sydney Alexis for her outstanding assistance as beta reader for the original version. This story and my writing have benefited from her corrections and suggestions. This posting is a Revised Version.
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Vengeance noun: damage or harm done to another in retaliation for damage or harm done to oneself or an associate.
Redemption noun: a redeeming or being redeemed; making restitution, fulfilling a promise, releasing from captivity; or being ransomed, attaining salvation, regaining grace.
Sacrifice noun: an offering, an act of self-deprivation for the sake of attaining a goal or benefiting another person, purpose, or ideal.
Love verb: actions expressing a state of love. noun: for which no words can suffice.
Of all the chronicles I have penned, this story, "The Loom of Destiny", which some know as, "Friends in Need", was the most difficult and personal. It goes beyond a final adventure, forward into events woven from the destinies of the Warrior Princesses.
Just where did this story begin? Did it start with a monk's message and a sword? Did it start with the slaughter of three generations of a family half a world away, and a daughter's resulting quest for vengeance? Or did it begin with another girl who caused the death of her brother by leading their townsfolk in the defense of their homes? Was it born in the succession of heartbreaks that dogged her quest to avenge his death and assuage the guilt that grew from her mother's condemnation? I feel that all of these factors are integrated, like the warp and weft of a tapestry, into the fabric of the story I tell.
They were both fiercely determined young women, bending events to their wills and forcing the world to accede to their desires. Yet they were so very different. Xena burned with the ferocity of fire, while Akemi's calm belied the strength of water. Xena's path blazed through darkness into light, following the Way of the Warrior. Akemi's path washed down from the light into darkness, following the Way of Vengeance. And in the end it fell to Xena to redeem them both, for in the end, their differences outweighed their similarities.
When they met again, Xena had already spent years working to atone for her past. Years before she had taught Akemi the nerve pinch, allowing her to kill her father, who became Lord Yodoshi, the Eater of Souls. She felt that the sacrifice necessary to redeem Lord Yodoshi's captives was a debt she had to pay. In their redemption she attained her own as well.
I felt the heartbreak behind her stricken expression when Harugata told her the consequences of the fire she had started...the fire that brought 40,000 souls under Yodoshi's dominion. It was an aspect of her honesty that she be truthful with herself concerning her actions and acknowledge responsibility for the deaths she had caused. Shin, their warrior's code calls it...to be truthful at all times. Xena's devotion to the Greater Good allowed her no other choice. The Way of the Warrior that she had confirmed in Indus demanded it. She had to make restitution, had to make things right.
But the events weren't really so clear cut. I've learned they almost never are. At least some of the 40,000 people who died in Higuchi shared responsibility for the fire. They had attacked Xena to keep her from delivering Akemi's ashes to her family's shrine, all because they thought that a girl who had killed her father had no place among their dead. Yet Akemi had acted according to their traditions, to avenge her murdered family, and her father was so evil that he was denied entrance to the underworld. The villagers should have rejoiced at Akemi's act, even though it was patricide. She had paid for her transgressions by performing seppuku to regain her honor. Akemi had fulfilled the tragedy of conflicting obligations.
Now just imagine Xena, who had been expertly manipulated and knew nothing about Akemi's real intentions, having to behead her newfound friend; a friend who had offered her the gentleness and beauty that had been missing in her life. After that she had to burn Akemi's body and save her ashes in an urn, only to watch them blow away in the frigid wind during the villagers' attack. Xena, emotionally distraught and staggering drunk, had spit burning liquor on her attackers to repel the mob. They had fled, setting the buildings of Higuchi aflame. The wind had completed the tragedy, spreading the conflagration.
Even Xena's part in the fire wasn't the sole cause of the situation she found herself dying for. It encompassed Akemi's need for revenge and her deceit. Xena teaching her the nerve pinch, the villagers' misplaced sense of righteousness, and the evil of Yodoshi all contributed. Even the kami, who denied Yodoshi's soul entrance to the underworld, should share the blame for what happened. It seems to me that of all of them, only Yodoshi's death would have been demanded by the Greater Good. But then, without her own avarice and ambition, Xena wouldn't have been tempted to ransom Akemi all those years ago. She never would have gone to Japa seeking gold and a toehold for conquest. She never would have become the tool of Akemi's revenge. Higuchi would never have burned. But it did, and it set in motion a thread of destiny that would grow as strands were added over the years, until it hung invisibly around Xena's neck, stout as a hangman's noose. Though we make our fate now, each choice adds a fiber to the web of destiny, and with each added fiber the web tightens closer about us. In Japa, trapped between her destiny and the Greater Good, Xena ran out of choices. And so my soulmate had to die.
The nerve pinch. How I had hoped that she would teach me that during all of our years together. I never fully understood her reluctance. I didn't know about Akemi's betrayal, and after I had betrayed her to Ming Tien...well, "once burned, twice wary", so the saying goes. I knew she trusted me with her life, but old habits die hard, and for so many years she had lived by the wisdom, "trust no one". Then too, Xena had a protective streak where I was concerned. I thought she was protecting my soul by keeping that deadly technique out of my hands. Few knew the temptation of the abuse of power more intimately than she did. Xena had seen my rage, after Callisto had murdered Perdicus, or while defending her below Mt. Amoro, and again when Lila had told us of Gurkhan. Yes, she taught me how to remove the pinch when she went to fight Mephistopheles in Hell, but she didn't teach me how to apply it. When she finally did, I should have been far more suspicious, for she distracted me with sentimentality. I was such a sucker. I knew she only got really mushy like that when things were serious.
Yes, I should have clearly heard what was behind the sound of her voice and seen what lay beneath the emotions she expressed. It was just like her to leave me behind when she faced dangers she had doubts of surviving. She'd left me behind when she went to kill Caesar and the Green Dragon. She had snuck off to fight Grendel, thinking it a suicide mission. This time she'd had no doubts about dying. It had been an integral necessity of her plan. And so she left me again. I was so angry with her. I would have died with her, but my death would have served no purpose in her plans. Always her plans, her impulses, and her willingness to sacrifice herself. Once we could even have shared heaven together. Instead she became a demon to redeem Callisto, so shortly after Callisto had broken her back and gotten us both crucified.
We died together then and we've each died separately, and I don't know which hurts more. After Japa I'd found myself alive without her. Again. Living and knowing that my life was the product of another of her plans...I would resent her if it weren't for our love.
I guess I asked for this all those years ago, thinking that she only offered me an escape from my boring life prospects in Potidaea. "Be careful what you wish for..." the saying goes. When I asked her to, "Take me with you and teach me everything you know", I had no idea what I was really asking. Now I think I have some idea. By living them I've come to understand the Way of Love, the Way of Friendship, and at last, the Way of the Warrior. Since leaving home I have become proficient with the staff, sai, sword, and now the chakram. They are not my only weapons. I have many skills, and I have learned so many lessons. Now the sounds behind sounds inform me, and the perception of the invisible forces that drive desire and action is mine as well. I have become worldly, knowing heartbreak and love, blind rage and righteous wrath, strategy and healing, devotion and leadership. I am an Amazon Queen, and I have become the Warrior Princess, not just her student and soulmate. Even Ares has taken notice. I could feel Xena's spirit bristling beside me every time he made some offer, or tried to tempt me with a deal. It's funny, because even this is the outcome of a part of her plan.
I remember that day, so long ago now, when I first caught up with Xena in Amphipolis, and what happened after I convinced a crowd not to stone her. She had sought solace in her family's mausoleum, talking to the spirit of her brother, Lyceus. She knew how close the spirit world is to the world of the living. It's another lesson that I've learned from her. Along with our memories, her spirit's presence made my solitude bearable, for mostly I've traveled alone. It left less to explain.
In the years since Xena died I have seen many places. At first I went to Egypt and she was with me, reassuring me, counseling me, supporting me...her spirit still loving me. It was in the early years of the reign of Claudius Caesar, and Egypt was changing. Though it was still the granary of the Empire, everywhere travelers spoke the news of the Messiah of Jerusalem. While Xena and I were in Alexandria, a teacher of this new faith appeared in the city and his words reminded us of the Message of Eli. Mark of Cana was as earnest and devout as Eve had ever been. Eventually his preaching and converting earned him some powerful enemies. When we discovered that he was in mortal danger I managed to escort him out of the city at night.
There followed years in Greece, Hispania, Italia, Gaul, Germania, the Norselands, and even Britannia and Eire. I've traveled the known world, and through shamanism, into worlds appended to our own. For ten long years I fought for the Greater Good, and Xena was beside me every day of those ten years. And during all that time, though I had come to accept her death, I never gave up my private hope of bringing her back to me.
In Japa, Xena had faced an army of thousands of samurai warriors, and she slaughtered thousands of her enemies, but it was just a tactic. Her strategy required her to die so she could destroy Lord Yodoshi in the spirit realm, setting free the 40,000 souls that had been lost in the fire at Higuchi. Xena redeemed those souls and atoned for her own part in their suffering. Of all the things she hadn't told me about her plan, the most traumatic was that she had to remain dead to allow the 40,000 to be avenged. If she had allowed me to bring her back to life, those souls would have been lost forever. I would have done it anyway, but on that day she persuaded me to stay my hand. Instead, we tearfully watched the setting sun, and I lost that chance to return her to the living...and return her to my side.
I tried so hard to accept the necessity of her decision, to respect her need to do the right thing, and to face the situation and move on. I could see her, I could talk to her, and I could even feel her touch. In some ways it wasn't so bad because she wasn't completely gone. But she had almost no effect on the world, nor it on her. When she held me at night the familiar warmth of her body wasn't there. She had no scent. She couldn't share my enjoyment of a good meal, or a hot bath, or a cool swim. She wasn't cranky, like I was, after a hard day on the road. And she never needed me to keep her from her dark side, or give her my endless wisdom. Sometimes I even fooled myself into accepting it. Then I'd remember sitting at the Fountain of Strength, heartbroken, miserably clutching the container of her ashes, feeling her body vanish, and knowing that she was dead for good. So another part of me kept saying, "This is not right". I began to ask myself, "What would Xena do?" And finally, I asked my self, "What will I do?"
I remember a night in Gaul, nine years after she died. The equinox was past and the air carried the chill of a dying year. All the humidity of the warm months had fled, and now the nights were of crystalline clarity. I was lying by my fire, staring up at the sky. I could feel her presence beside me and I pointed to a star.
"Xena, I don't think that one was there last night."
"Which one, Gabrielle?" she asked. She was humoring me, I'm sure.
"See the small star just above the archer's bow? I would swear it wasn't there before. Do you think that maybe it's the soul of someone who has broken free of the cycle of rebirth?"
"I don't know...maybe the sky is just clearer tonight." she replied, ever practical.
I couldn't help but smile. She hadn't changed a bit...but I had. I glanced over at her, studying her profile in the glow of the fire's embers. Eventually her head turned towards me and she met my eyes.
"Xena," I asked, "do you think the souls of the 40,000 from Higuchi have begun to reincarnate yet?"
"Oh yeah," she confirmed, "last time I heard from the Ghost Killer over 5,000 had been reborn."
"Really? You can keep tabs on their rebirths?" I asked, looking back up at the stars.
"Sure." Then she must have suspected something because I could almost see her eyes narrow while appraising me. "Why do you ask, Gabrielle?"
"Well, I guess I'm happy to know your sacrifice achieved its goal," I explained, looking away towards the fire, "and those souls have rejoined the path of their karma."
I didn't hear anything more from her the rest of the night, and I never asked about those souls again. I knew she was suspicious, but she had confirmed my guesses. Before I closed my eyes seeking sleep I made the decision to pursue my plan.
Another year passed. I turned 34, plus 25 years on ice and a year spent asleep in the Ring of Fire. By coincidence, I was now the same age that Xena had been when we'd gone to Japa. This was the year that I led an army of volunteers against a tribe of horsemen from the steppes. Our battle ranged all along the eastern borders of Thrace. The enemy had been raiding us, killing men, women, and children, burning their captives alive. There were times when I wanted to kill them all, but I stayed my hand, knowing where that road led. Eventually I contrived to pit them against their ancestral enemies, the Scythians, who hated them only slightly more than us. The tribe we had fought was finally slain to the last man. My new allies were barbarians. They mutilated the dead, scalping them to make drinking cups from their calvaria. Oddly enough, the Scythians showed their civility by sewing their enemies' scalps back on after taking the tops of their skulls as trophies. Thus they honored defeated warriors. I saw enough deaths to last a lifetime, and I saw Celesta gathering souls by candlelight. It was comforting to know that she'd always be around. Yes, I could always count on Death.
Ares had appeared often during that time; giving advice I didn't need, proffering deals I wouldn't make, and still trying to persuade me to lead his army. I was the next best thing to Xena. Livia was lost to him, and in my strategy and tactics he could sense Xena's presence, though he never saw or spoke to her.
"Consider my offer, Gabrielle," he'd said for the dozenth time, "I know how well you've done with this little army of farmers and tradesmen. Just think of what you could do leading a real army, my army. You could bring peace to our country, crush the warlords who threaten the people. Maybe you could even expel the Romans. And after that..."
I had to stifle a laugh as Xena rolled her eyes, standing next to me.
"Ares, you're still talking about conquest. Starting an empire." I chided. "Eventually the known world would suffer under the peace of your army, just as they do under Claudius' legions now."
"How much they suffer would be up to you, Gabrielle," he said with a grin that he couldn't suppress. "You could be the empress of an empire ruled according to your Greater Good. You and Xena could rule it together."
At this Xena crossed her eyes and made circles with a finger in the air next to her head.
"What's Xena got to do with this," I protested, "she's been dead for ten years. She's gone Ares, gone for good this time...let her go."
"Oh be serious, Gabrielle," he spat with his habitual condescension, "she's never been dead for good. Yeah, I fell for that before with her, but she'll never fool me again. And do you know why? Because you're still here; you're still here and winning wars the way she did...and I can feel her. Oh yeah, I can feel her the way she used to be able to feel me. So you consider my offer, and consider this, Little One, I'm a God with a vested interest. Maybe I can find a way to bring her back. We'll talk again."
And since he always needed to have the last word, there was a flash and he was gone. I sighed and looked up into Xena's eyes, shaking my head. He'd never give up. I could count on that. When I looked down at the ground I managed to hide the smile that played on my face. Yes, I could count on Ares.
Months passed and things were going pretty well, all considered. I had a dead lover, no home, and endless requests for help. Between fighting, mediating treaties, and stumbling onto trouble while on the road, I had a full life. Then I got pregnant.
Unlike Xena's pregnancy, no angel touched my stomach, no prophecies were made, and no Gods tried to kill me. I think I know what happened, but I guess I'll never be sure. I didn't have any tumbles in the hay and there wasn't any time I couldn't account for. I didn't see or feel anything uhh, procreative, and neither did Xena...and she never needs to sleep anymore. Dahak is gone, so all I can figure is that Eli's God pulled another fast one. (What am I anyway? Brood mare to the Gods or something?) At least this time the pregnancy looked like it would take a normal nine months.
Around that time we learned that Eve was back in Greece. We hadn't seen her since she'd left for Indus and Chin. She had finally returned to settle down after her travels. Her desire was to open a temple to Eli's God, in the same temple outside of Amphipolis where Xena had thrown down Lucifer. It was symbolic of rebirth and seemed very appropriate since the building had once hosted the Mouth of Hell. Xena and I traveled the familiar roads through the countryside, but now I rode the horse and she strode beside me at a ghostly pace. The irony wasn't lost on me.
After eight days we came to Amphipolis and we wasted no time in finding Eve. Predictably, she was in the temple, all the way up front at the altar, praying. She greeted us with shock, amazement, and then glee. It was as I had suspected. Other than myself, she was the only person who was ever able to see Xena's spirit. Eve had heard about her mother's death years before. Being able to see and talk with her now was something she considered a blessing from Eli's God. It triggered a mind numbing string of prayers and thanksgiving, recalling all too clearly her early zealotry. I excused myself to go and take care of my horse. Xena stayed to reminisce with her daughter.
I'd barely gotten out of the door when Ares appeared. I didn't even have to call him. The God of War flashed into existence striding up the front steps, so I waited for him on the portico. He was seething, almost unable to create a sentence. He stalked up, looming over me, and but for our heights, practically nose to nose. Then he jabbed an arm out to point at the temple on his right.
"Eve's talking...Xena's...You lied to me!" He shouted. A strong man would have trembled; I found it hard not to laugh.
"I did no such thing," I declared, "she's still dead and she's dead for good this time."
"I don't believe that, Gabrielle. I can't believe that either of you would give up."
"Well, she has her reasons for needing to stay dead, and she'll never be back because I won't live long enough for us to be able to be together." I told him, dangling the lure.
"What are you saying, Gabrielle?" he demanded, staring at me and trying to figure out the clue I'd given him. "Are you saying she would come back if she could be with you?"
I gave him a sickeningly innocent look that made him all the more angry. He was almost ready to make a deal on my terms.
"Ares, of course I want her back, but it will take about 75 years, and since I'm mortal I don't have the time to wait," I said, letting a tear roll down my cheek, "so she'll remain a spirit until I die, and then someday we'll both be reborn, together. We're soulmates...it's our destiny."
Now he was steaming. I could see the tendons standing at attention in his neck and I could hear his labored breathing. I swear I could even feel him grinding his teeth. There's nothing like a God who can't have what he wants.
"Look, Ares, you're immortal," I said, "what's it matter to you?"
"When she's reborn, she won't be Xena!" he roared, turning away from me. His fists were shaking from the strain of clenching them so hard. The air around us was charged like a summer's day before a thunderstorm, when the lightning is picking a target. At times like this whole armies had disappeared.
"Yeah," I said, taunting him with my resignation, "there's a down side to everything."
I saw a fireball bloom in his hand, and he wound up, preparing to throw it at Eve's temple. And then he stopped. The fireball shrank, disappearing as he closed his fist. He turned back towards me with a sly grin on his face; his expression was calculating, almost...appreciative. Now I had to be careful.
"You've gotten very good, Gabrielle. I keep forgetting you're the Warrior Princess now. So what's your plan?"
I took a deep breath, and I put some of my cards on the table. For once we wanted the same thing. Still, I didn't let that blind me to the fact that we both wanted it on our own terms, and I hadn't forgotten how he felt about people who asked for his help.
"Being the God of War," I began, "I guess you see a lot of Death, huh?"
So we negotiated. In the end I knew he would do what I needed him to do, and I knew he would betray me, while he thought he had a chance to finally get what he wanted. It was a perfect deal. When he left, I rode off to talk with a Goddess I knew.
I was four months into my pregnancy, according to the midwife in a little village near Messana, when Ares paid me another visit. As always, Xena stood by unseen, her irreverent expressions silently commenting on his presence. She was trying to make me laugh, as usual, and I fought to keep a straight face.
"Well, Warrior Bard," he said, looking as smug as a farmer who had finally killed a chicken, "I succeeded in your little treasure hunt."
He handed me the bag he'd been carrying, a rather ratty looking accessory for the proud God of War. I felt the contents through the suede to confirm his words, and then opened the drawstring enough to peek. The vial and everything else I'd asked for were there. Xena was standing still now, looking on with interest and a growing wariness.
"What is this, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, looking more disturbed by the moment. I ignored her question, focusing on Ares.
"You have indeed," I said, happily, "when the time comes for the rest of our bargain, someone will contact you. Now meet me here at dawn tomorrow as we agreed."
He smiled the smile of the untrustworthy and vanished.
"Gabrieeeeeelle, you can't bargain with him!" Xena was beside herself. She was pacing back and forth and shaking her head. Finally she stopped in front of me with her hands on her hips, staring at me as if I'd lost my mind. "He never keeps his word and you can count on him to double-cross you the first chance he gets."
"Of course he will," I told her with a smile, "and I am counting on it."
She sighed and continued looking into my eyes. Finally a grin tugged at her lips.
"Ok, so what's the plan?" She asked, and I couldn't help but laugh.
That night we lay curled up together by the fire, face to face, and for a long time neither of us spoke. But finally the dawn drew near and there was so much to say. Some of it seemed ironic, considering I was talking to a spirit.
"You don't have to do this."
"Xena, I do have to do this. I know what I'm doing, and I have to make this right."
"I still think it's too dangerous, Gabrielle."
"You know, Xena," I whispered, "if I only had one night left to live, this is how I'd want to live it...looking into your eyes."
"You're my whole life, Gabrielle. How am I supposed to go on if I lose you?"
"You won't lose me. I'll always remain in your heart."
"I love you, Gabrielle."
"I'll always be with you, Xena."
I told her again that I would have died with her on that bloody day of battle in Japa, but that I'd rather live with her again. That I was willing to trade all that I had in this world for the chance of us being together, and that I thought I had found a way that it could be. After all those years I could finally understand how she had felt in Higuchi. I couldnĒt tell her everything about my deal, so I distracted her with sentimentality. The Greater Good had nothing to do with this. Only love, and hope, and destiny.
Ares came with the dawn, eager for the consummation of our deal. I stood by the fire, already dressed and armed, waiting to meet him. Xena stood behind me, her hands nervously kneading my shoulders. I could feel her anger for him in the air. I reached up and squeezed her hand, and then I drank from the vial Ares had brought. It didn't take long for me to collapse in her arms. When I was dead, Ares took my body and vanished.
For me there was no time, and for Xena the years passed quickly. Being a spirit allowed her to slip through time, almost as if in a dream. She could enter and leave the mortal world at will, minimizing her years of loneliness. When absent, her reality was mostly dreamlike, populated by memories, but wholly under her control. She had assured me of this during our first months together after her death. I had been worried about her and curious as to how she perceived the passage of time now that she would never age.
Her only strong connection to the world after my death was Eve, who could see her, and so she watched over her family. After two years Eve found herself becoming a foster mother to Virgil's son and daughter. Their mother had died of a pestilence. Having killed Joxer, she felt it was the least she could do, but she found joy in it as well. After five years Eve and Virgil had a daughter of their own, Xena's first grandchild. After twenty-two years my sister, Lila, was gone. After thirty-one years Xena was a great grandmother. After forty years both Eve and Virgil had passed away, and Xena spent less and less time in the world. After forty-seven years Lila's daughter, Sarah, died childless. My last living relative was gone. Another thirty years passed before the last soul from Higuchi was reincarnated, and befitting her role as the creator of Lord Yodoshi, Akemi's was the final soul to start a new life. It had taken a little longer than I had claimed, but I knew that the God of War would be waiting.
Sometime shortly afterwards, a coin appeared among the offerings in the Temple of Aphrodite, a coin bearing the silhouette of a conical mountain and a tori gate. It had been struck 88 years before. Its weight would have been a trifle for a child, but it was almost too heavy for a ghost to lift. Far away, the Goddess of Love saw the coin in her mirror.
Aphrodite lifted a small round lidded bowl from a compartment in her mansion on Mt. Olympus. The temmoku glaze was such a deep brown that it appeared almost black. On the lid was a simple brass ring. She opened the container and gazed at the contents. Powdered ashes of the palest gray, and small black flecks of carbon. A few puffs of the precious ash leaped up as her tears fell into the container, blessing its contents before she replaced the lid.
"Oh Warrior Babe, she never gave up on you. My little friend would never let you go."
The passing years had affected the goddess little, and her promise to me, not at all. She felt that it was a small favor to do for one who had long called her a friend, and that favor had been asked for the sake of love. For Aphrodite, the trust it showed meant more than any offering, for that trust was an offering from my heart.
The Goddess of Love took the container of ashes she had been entrusted with on the day I had struck my deal, and she delivered it to her brother, the God of War.
At first Ares didn't understand what his sister had handed to him, but when he did a look of wonder crossed his face.
"All these years you had her ashes. You're the one Gabrielle said would contact me when the time was right."
"I was the only one she could trust," Aphrodite told him, "and the only one she knew who would live long enough to give you Xena's ashes."
"And soon I shall have the power to bring her back. After all this time I will have Xena alive again, and without the Little Blonde nosing around."
"I know what you're thinking, Bro, and it won't work," the Goddess of Love warned, "even you can't undo their destiny."
"Oh I'm not concerned about their destiny. They can have all the future lives they want." Ares couldn't keep from gloating. "All I want is Xena, and the Bard can stay on ice forever, or at least until my Warrior Princess is ready to die of old age."
Aphrodite shot him a scathing look, then tossed her head and walked out. This was one time she knew the strength of love would triumph over the deceits of war.
Ares held the container in his powerful hand and his laughter shook the walls of Olympus as he vanished.
He reappeared on the slopes of Mt. Fujiyama and found the Fountain of Strength. Around him an unseen throng of kami gathered, intrigued by his presence. The God of War required no katana to turn the lock, allowing the enchanted waters to flow down to fill the rocky basin. Once those waters alone could have restored life to Xena's ashes, but that chance had been lost decades ago. Such was its effect on mortals. Had anyone ever wondered what effect it would have on a god? Having seen it heal the Eater of Souls, one person had, and she had convinced him to come here, knowing that he had a "vested interest" in trying.
Ares drank deeply from the basin and felt the strength grow within him. He had been the God of War for over 2,000 years, but he had never felt so alive. Never had he held such power. With a gesture of his hand he parted the clouds overhead, and the kami fled from him in terror. Now he found that his sight could reveal the movements of an army in the Kingdom of Koryu, on a peninsula across the sea. He knew he could do what I had imagined so many years before. Ares filled a skin with the life giving waters and then he vanished.
The Halls of Olympus shook with his return, and his footsteps echoed through their chambers. Ares entered his own mansion and stood before the altar of his godhood. Upon it lay the suede bag. He remembered the day he'd brought it to me, and what I'd sent him to find near the battlefield outside of Higuchi. Now he tore it open and removed the leather fighting dress, bronze breastplate, boots, bracers, armbands, shoulder guards, and greaves, and finally the scabbard and the battered sword. He arranged them on the altar as if Xena had just vanished from within them, leaving them lying behind. Next he opened the container of ashes, sprinkling them over the warrior's clothing and creating the shadow of her figure. He hesitated for a moment, and then added his own contribution. From a gilt box on the altar he lifted a long held memento, a braided lock of black hair from a then young warlord princess. The keepsake stirred some of his fondest memories of a time when her heart had been his. He laid it on the altar where her head would have been.
"Oh yeah," he said gleefully, "soon I'll have you back, Xena, and I have your soulmate, to thank for this chance. The best part of it is, she's dead, and this time I won't be bringing her back."
For a while he reveled in his coming triumph and his intended deceit. Gabrielle had been desperate to bring her lover back to life, he gloated, and she had asked for his help. She'd thought she'd made a deal with him, and he smiled, for no mortal could truly barter with a God unless that God wished for the same end. After all those years with Xena and she had never learned. Well, he had kept the part of the deal that he had wanted to keep...the part that had benefited him. His smile graduated to laughter that rocked the walls of Olympus. Oh yes, I could always count on him.
Ares pulled the stopper from the skin that he'd filled with the waters from the Fountain of Strength. He poured it over the ashes on his altar, soaking them so that their gray darkened. A puff of steam rose from them with a gentle sigh. The God of War put one hand over where Xena's heart would be, the other hand over her forehead, and then he concentrated his will and his newfound strength. A blue light diffused from his hands, spreading over the ashes and illuminating the altar and the surrounding hall. Its radiance was so much stronger than it had been when he'd once healed Eve and me, and this time he felt no weakness as the life giving power was transferred.
Within the blue glow the ashes began to seethe, and they roiled in an animated layer above the surface of the altar. The movement was like the billowing clouds of a thunderhead. Swirling particles filled the empty battle dress, lifting it into familiar contours and defining a volume with the illusion of substance. The simulacrum refined itself to demarcate limbs, hands and feet, a slender neck, and the details of a face. For a moment the moving surface of the body stilled, and then the blue light condensed a halo, infusing the form with energy, before fading slightly to reveal a perfect transparent representation of the Favorite of the God of War. No longer was the surface layer a turbulent skin of ash. Now it appeared as if formed from a hollow sheath of ice, displaying glassy perfection in every detail. Watching the reconstitution of the body of his Warrior Princess set Ares' heart pounding, not from the exertion, but in anticipation of the achievement of his long held desire.
Next the spectral body on the Altar of War took on solidity. The transparent surface gave rise to skin, hair, and nails. The first pallor of flesh was replaced by the familiar tan. An eerie keening filled the air, and Xena's free spirit was again constrained within her mortal form. The blue light's intensity rose and there was a momentary flash of pink. With a gasp, the first breath of life entered her reformed lungs. Her chest rose and fell and her heart beat strong with surging blood. As the blue light faded, Xena's eyelids fluttered and finally opened in wonder, for she lived again.
Neither she nor the God of War noticed the voluptuous figure in swirling pink that silently left the hall. Aphrodite managed to get out of hearing before she broke down in a fit of giggles. Well now I guess I'm an artist, huh, Little One, she thought, even if you did supply the design.
"Welcome back, Xena," Ares said, as he slipped a hand under her back and lifted her so that she sat upright. "You know I've missed you. It's been too long, and the world hasn't been the same without you."
Xena aimed an appraising glance at the God of War. Her back was sore and it itched, as if from too many mosquito bites, or landing in a thorn bush. Finally she asked the only question that mattered to her.
"You're welcome." Ares said, with an injured expression. "Xena, she's dead. You know that. She traded her life for my promise to restore yours after the last of the 40,000 souls was reincarnated. Congratulations, your atonement is complete...you have outlived those souls' need for vengeance."
"Ares, I saw her drink Celesta's tears, and she would not have made a deal that left us apart. It's our destiny to be together. Now where is she?"
"As I have said, Xena, she's dead, and that's all you have to know. At least for now."
"For now, huh?" Xena asked, exasperation etched on her face. "But I suppose we might be able to come to an agreement?"
"Well, Xena, I can see you haven't lost your edge," Ares replied, grinning broadly. This was his Xena, and she never wasted time in a negotiation. He had anticipated having to cajole and coerce her until she returned to his side, waging war like no other mortal. But maybe he could gain his ends more quickly by making a deal. "Perhaps I could 'remember' where the Bard's body is, if you were, say...willing to lead my army?"
"And I suppose I would have to fight a few wars? Conquer a country or two?"
"So it's the same old offer, Ares. Some things never change, do they?"
"What can I say?" the God of War asked, shrugging and smiling like a shark, "I'm a creature of habit."
"I want her back, Ares, but leading your army in conquest? I'll have to think about that. Gabrielle would never forgive me."
"Take your time, Xena, and call me when you've decided." And when you've finally decided to give up this obsession with the Bard and get on with your life, I'll be here waiting, he thought, because unlike you, I'm immortal and I can afford to wait.
The self-satisfied expression didn't leave his face as he vanished. He had never seen the design on her back underneath her scabbard.
Xena walked out of his mansion and left Mt. Olympus, climbing down from its heights and back into the mortal world. Almost 90 years had passed while she'd been a ghost, and many of the towns and villages were unfamiliar. But the language was the same, and people hadn't changed so much. On her second day out from Olympus she fought off a small band of robbers who had waylaid the carriage of a rich trader, saving his family. In gratitude he gave her enough gold to buy a horse and a few supplies. Once a warrior, always a warrior, Xena thought with a wry grin, and someone still has to fight for the Greater Good. That same thought had given her soulmate a purpose 87 years before.
Xena rode through Thessaly heading south, and her heart was light with hope. A week after leaving Olympus she arrived in Corinth, finding the city busier than ever. There she boarded a ship for a short voyage to Patrae, a small port city near the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. Everywhere there were Roman traders, soldiers, and officials. The coins bore the likeness of the Emperor Hadrian. Xena learned that he had come from Hispania, a Roman Province far to the west that we had once visited together. The Empire was prosperous now and for the most part at peace. There were few restrictions on travel and this news was welcome, for in Patrae she found space aboard a ship crossing the Ionian Sea. She was bound for Sicilia on a warrior's hunch.
The passage was uneventful. The fine weather held and the sea was calm. The only thing that made Xena edgy was the people staring at her back when they thought she didn't notice. In this time, no one recognized her or knew the danger they courted. None connected her with the Warrior Princess of legend, and no living soul remembered fearing the Destroyer of Nations. Still, her tactical abilities were as sharp as they had been over a century before, so during much of the voyage she refined her plan.
At other times she daydreamed, watching the sunlight on the water, remembering another voyage long ago. It had been our first voyage after Japa, and I had stopped being seasick. Though there had been an undercurrent of sadness, we had felt ourselves embarking on a new adventure. She had no longer been a living warrior. I was no longer a warrior's sidekick. Rather I was a tested fighter in my own right, possessing a blessed sword, the chakram, and a small container of ashes. Now Xena was again a living warrior. She sailed into adventure alone, but with an undercurrent of hope. She still possessed her sword, but the chakram was gone, and of myself she had only her memories.
On the third day sailing from Patrae, Xena watched from the railing as the ship docked at Catana, on the eastern coast of Sicilia. The town was ancient; Xena remembered it from her visits ninety years before. The harbor was better now, the docks were new, and there was a well-constructed wall, courtesy of Rome, but otherwise it was much the same town that it was then.
Although it had never been her favorite pastime, Xena needed to do some shopping. There were a few items that she needed for her plan. In the market she found an alchemist's stall, and had the chemist grind handfuls of crumbly granules into a fine white powder. Next the warrior bought an equal volume of the yellow powder that could smell like rotten eggs. She stored both in her saddlebag. The last necessities were a strip of linen and a small amphora, a ceramic jar with a pointed bottom and two handles at the neck.
Xena wandered through the streets and found a familiar tavern, the building having outlived many sets of owners. Memories of a long ago visit brought the ghost of a smile to her face. She entered the common room and ordered an afternoon meal.
As she sat eating a grilled fish and fresh bread, accompanied by a respectable local wine, she reviewed her memories of her last trip to the area. We had been together and we'd been hurrying to find Octavius. We had stayed overnight in Catana before boarding a ship bound for Neapolis and then Ostia, the port serving Rome. That had been in the days of Augustus Caesar and Rome's Champion, Livia. Xena still cringed at her memories of that time in the Eternal City. They were some of her darkest days.
Her thoughts moved forward until she recalled Athena's plot to use the Furies. In a moment of horror she had flung her chakram and struck me down. I had just stabbed her daughter in the back with a sai. The memory still made her stomach clench.
"I almost lost her then...and Eve too," she whispered to herself, "I almost lost them both. But I was the one that killed my soulmate that day, and there was no time to do anything else. If she'd struck again Eve would've died right there. If not for Ares' life giving intervention, it would've ended then. And now Gabrielle's sacrificed herself, making a deal with Ares to get me back, and feel like I've killed her again."
Xena told me of how she'd stared into the grilled fish's eye, seeing nothing but her memories of me, smiling at her with trust and love. She described my "gentle green eyes" that so easily pierced the hard shell she'd built around her heart, back when our partnership was new. She claimed she'd realized there was something special about me the first time she'd heard me speak, offering to go with Draco's men if they'd free my fellow villagers. Now she knew that "something" had become the most important thing to her. She was alive and alone, knowing what she missed and missing what she knew. No spirit's touch offered her solace. A tear had slipped from her eye and traced a path down her cheek.
"I'll get you back, I swear," Xena whispered to the face she saw with her mind's eye. "You've suffered too much for my redemption. Well, it's finished. I promise I will make this right, Gabrielle, and nothing, not death, not Ares, and not all the souls of the dead will stop me. I'm gonna find you and I'm gonna bring you back."
She was melancholy yet grimly determined. The upwelling of emotions had left her feeling her old need for isolation, and her patience with others was short.
"Whadda you staring at?" She demanded of the man at the table behind her, pinning him with her glare. She'd felt his eyes on her back through the entire meal. He looked down, muttering an apology. This had never happened while she'd been a ghost and she wasn't used to it anymore. Hell, I never liked being stared at while I was eating, she remembered. The Warrior Princess finished her food quickly. She'd lost her appetite.
Xena left the tavern in the candle mark following noon, riding due north. By nightfall she had covered over thirty miles. A hundred yards above her lay the snow line on Mt. Aetna. She set up her camp in a small meadow near the ruins of a village. Later, as night descended, Xena watched the sparks of her fire leaping upwards to greet the sky. The air was clear, bracing from the glaciers on the mountain above, and she gazed at the stars.
"Gabrielle, I don't see any new ones," she said softly, letting her memory mingle with her imagination, "and I'm hoping you're not up there. Please, not yet."
She looked at the fallen roofs and toppled log walls. The village had been ragged even when people had lived here, driven to its remote location by their choice of faith. The Elisians were tolerated by Rome now, and they had abandoned this refuge decades ago.
"Remember, Gabrielle, that woman we questioned? She said, 'You're not from around here, are you?', well, she had no idea, did she? The only things we were sure of then was each other and that I had to find Eve." Xena whispered, as she turned her gaze to the mountain, "well now you're the only thing I'm still sure of, and I'll find you just like we found her. And by the Gods I'll bring you back, just like we did with her."
In the dark Xena relived her memories of the mountain, calling up the images of everything she could remember. In the last of the night her exhaustion claimed her and she dozed. In her dream she saw a tomb, hewn from a glacier by a god's hand, and within it, a pair of coffins wrought of ice. Before one, a sword was stuck in the snow with the chakram placed over the pommel; a bouquet of withered flowers below. The dream shifted and she saw another chamber of ice, compacted blue by the years, and at its center lay a single coffin like the ones from that earlier time. At its foot stood the blessed katana, and on its lid lay the chakram. She could barely discern, through the hazy ice, a figure with pale hair.
In the morning she broke camp quickly, eating cold leftovers as she worked on her final preparations. Xena crushed and ground the charcoal from her fire with the pommel of her sword. She mixed the resulting black powder with the yellow and white powders, and then packed the blend tightly into the amphora. Finally, she twisted the strip of linen around some of the mixture, and jammed the fuse into the amphora's mouth.
In half a candlemark she was on the path climbing Mt. Aetna. Below her, Xena could see the horse grazing free in the meadow by the abandoned village. She followed her memory as much as her eyes and she allowed her senses to reach out before her. Already she could feel a faint sensation warming her heart, and as she climbed it grew stronger, confirming her guesses and guiding her feet. She was ascending by the same route that we had descended by so long ago. All through the morning the sensation of warmth grew, and Xena felt the hope in her heart grow with it. By noon it had become too strong to ignore and she smiled, thankful that Ares was such a, "creature of habit".
In the fourth candle mark after the zenith of the sun, Xena came to a wall of ice, sheer and undercut, over fifty feet high. The sensation in her heart was so strong she could almost hear it with her ears, for though I was dead, dragon called to dragon through the ether. She set down the saddlebag and drew her sword. Slowly she began to chip away at the hard blue ice, gradually enlarging a hole, deepening it so that the amphora would fit snugly inside. She stopped to catch her breath and the mountain air chilled the sweat on her face, neck, and shoulders. She looked away from the wall of ice and out over the lands below the mountain. In the distance she could see the sea, and reflected off it, the light of the lowering sun.
I didn't think this would take so long, Xena thought, it's but a candlemark before sunset, and it will be bitterly cold on this mountain when night falls.
She redoubled her efforts, hacking out chunks of ice almost as hard as marble. Again she checked the size of the hole. All but the neck of the amphora with its twisted linen fuse fit inside. Just a little deeper, Xena thought, and the black powder of Chin will blast this wall and open Gabrielle's tomb.
"Not if the sun sets first," Ares said, appearing with a flash behind her. "Now that you have stood here, the sun times your chance to rescue your precious bard."
"Ares..." Xena hissed, "what do you mean? I have to rescue her before the sun goes down?"
"That was part of her bargain," the God of War informed her with a grin, "you now have the same chance and limits that she once had to restore your life. When the sun falls below the sea her body will fail, and 77 years of decay will appear in a moment. Kinda poetic don't you think?"
Xena looked stricken. She turned to watch the sun. Its disc was almost touching the sea.
"I guess she didn't tell you everything about her deal, did she?" Ares laughed, knowing the reversal of roles would hurt Xena. It was something she'd been guilty of herself so many times. He saw her expression, and added, "No, I guess she left a couple things out."
"A couple things?" Xena asked, as if this could get any worse. "There's more I don't know about?"
"Only one more thing, I think," Ares said, drawing his sword. "She said you'd be willing to fight like she did for this chance to bring her back."
"Ares, I do not need this!" Xena yelled in frustration. She saw that the sun had touched the sea and it's light was reddening.
Ares leapt forward to attack, forcing Xena to defend with her sword. She was furious and she repelled his strokes with the force of her emotions as well as her arm, but he pressed his assault, and eventually she had to leap away, flipping over his blade to safety. He spun to face her, slipping on the ice, and his left leg shot out, stopping only when his foot struck her saddlebag, sending the contents flying.
Ares recovered his balance while Xena watched in horror as the amphora skittered across the ice and bounced on a rough spot in the path. It teetered at the sheer edge of the trail before slowly tilting up and falling into the abyss below. When she looked back, the grin on Ares' face was the last thing she saw before the blood haze of rage took her.
She came at him like nothing he'd ever fought, and even with his new strength he realized he was no match for her fury. In six swift strokes she had disarmed him, and she flipped completely over him to kick his blade out of the air and over the edge of the cliff. In the past she would have sheathed her weapon and fought him hand to hand. Not this time. She continued her attack with the broadsword, and had Ares been mortal he would have died many times. Again and again she slashed, kicked, and punched him. He was forced back to the brink of the cliff when she slammed the pommel of her sword into his face. At last the God of War resorted to throwing fireballs, for he would not vanish until the sun had fully set and his victory was assured.
In his heart he had hoped it would never have come to this. All he had wanted was Xena back, and without me around he'd thought there was a chance. Now he could only wonder. How had she found the tomb so quickly? Why did she have to be so obsessed? The deal we'd made had given him so many chances. But now he was forced to be the agent of Xena's failure, and afterwards, could there be any hope for them? The suspicion that I had engineered their estrangement never even crossed his mind. Ares would never believe that a mortal could have been so crafty.
In her blind rage Xena wanted nothing but to kill him. Her chance to save me was gone. But below the rage she held a growing hope that she could goad the God of War into killing her. She was determined to rejoin me on this day, whether in life or in death. We had been apart for too long, and she'd decided that now it was time to move on, one way or another. Even in death I will never leave you, she had promised. If Ares killed her we would both be avenged, leaving him with a legacy of anguish. And so when he started throwing the fireballs, a feral grin curled her lips, for now she had the chance that she craved. At first she dodged them, leaping, rolling, and flipping through the air as the disc of the sun sank below the waves, for she would die again at sunset with her hopes. She found her back to the wall of ice, right next to the hole she had labored over for so long. The sun was almost down...close enough. She saw the next fireball bloom in his hand, and he let it fly. But this time Xena stood her ground. She didn't move.
The fireball struck Xena full in the chest, slamming her back against the wall of ice. There was a glow around her figure and the fireball was deflected. It exploded into the hole in the wall, and the sounds of groaning, snapping, and finally falling blocks of ice filled their ears. Xena rolled to the side, her instincts and reflexes saving her as a block the size of a wagon calved off of the cliff face, smashing into fragments where she had just been. The crashing seemed to go on forever, yet in truth it lasted only moments. When Xena lifted her head, she saw the failing rays of the sun falling through a jagged doorway in the wall of ice, and illuminating a coffin. The sunlight glinted off of the chakram that rested on top. She didn't have time to wonder why she was still alive, and she couldn't see the fading glow of the design on her back.
Ares saw the ragged gap in the wall of ice and the tomb within. This was unbelievable. Ever the Warrior Princess had been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. His plan, almost a gift from me, had literally blown up in his face. He shook his head in amazement and frustration. Somehow, the turn of events felt all too familiar.
"This isn't over, Xena, for I will never give up either," he declared with a glare, though she barely heard him, so focused was she on the tomb. The barest twitch curled his lips. "Until next time," he whispered as he vanished.
Xena leapt to her feet, ignoring the cuts, bruises, and pain of the battle. She bounded into the tomb, feeling she couldn't move fast enough. Reaching the coffin, she first tried to lift the lid. It was fused shut, frozen solid after almost 80 years in place. Her sword was somewhere outside, so she grabbed the chakram. It took her only three blows before the lid cracked. She dropped the weapon and ripped away the shards of ice. At last she gently lifted my body from inside, but unlike our first sleep in ice, I wasn't reawakening already. The last ray of light winked out as the sun sank below the sea.
"Oh Gabrielle," Xena choked out, letting her tears fall, "I've got you now. It's alright. You're going to be ok. I've got you, Gabrielle. I just have to warm you up a little and we can get out of here."
I was cold as ice, Xena later told me. She was still overcome with relief, yet she could accurately describe the blue of my lips and the frost riming my hair. For all appearances I was a frozen corpse and felt as stiff as a board. Xena hugged me close, wrapping her arms tightly around me, trying to wrap her whole body around me for warmth as the twilight's chill descended and surrounded us.
Xena carried my body out of the tomb and wrapped us both in a blanket from her saddlebag. After what seemed like forever my body lost its unnatural stiffness, leaving me limp in Xena's arms. Xena seated me in her lap so I was leaning back against her chest, and she frantically began rubbing my arms and legs to hasten the return of circulation. Slowly the cold withdrew. Eventually I looked as if I was asleep, except that I still wasn't breathing. In spite of this, to my partner, I seemed to be at peace. Xena was reminded of another time, one of many when she had awakened a sleepy bard. We were in the Norselands, but that time I'd been asleep for a whole year.
Now Xena gently turned me sideways across her lap, supporting my back with one arm, and using her other hand to cradle my head. She tilted her head down, finding my lips with a kiss and letting her love flow out in it like the enchanted water from the Fountain of Strength. At first my lips were chilled like a cadaver's, as cold as the mountain air around us, but as Xena maintained the kiss they grew warm. Xena felt the change and she didn't break away, for the outpouring of feelings held her in thrall. She didn't notice the exact moment when her kiss was first returned, but she felt when my arms wrapped around her neck, and I returned her kiss, my lips opening under her own. I can't remember a more welcome awakening, nor can I remember a more welcome way to awaken.
When we finally parted for a moment, we looked into each other's eyes and saw our own love there, reflected back. It was returned with a devotion and strength that would last beyond the world that is, to be reborn into many lives to come.
"Hey," I whispered, resting my head in its familiar berth beneath Xena's chin.
"Hi," Xena replied, still clutching me tightly. I could feel her hands slowly moving in circles on my back. Her body was deliciously warm now, a living body in my arms at last.
"You brought me back to the world," I stated with a smile, remembering her using a similar line many years ago, after we'd escaped Caesar's twisted world.
"I'm glad...I like this world better with you in it." Xena told me, leaning down for another kiss. She remembered the incident too, rephrasing my own response.
"I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle."
"Promise you'll never leave me again?"
"I promise, Gabrielle, not for all the souls in heaven and hell."
Those first moments of reunion were the most joyous we had ever felt. To define the love that was renewed, no words can suffice. For love, two warriors had fought their longest battle, and through love, two warriors had won their greatest victory. And after Japa, our deaths and resurrections, and the loneliness of our time apart, we had no doubts about where our hearts lay. Never again would we be separated by life or death. When Death finally came, we would go together by candlelight. No power could rend the tapestry of our lives, interwoven on the Loom of Destiny, and Death had become our ally.
Eventually we collected our weapons and made our way slowly down the mountain. The darkness and cold reminded us both of another climb down a distant mountain long years before. But this time we felt a sense of peace and joy, rather than pain and sorrow. It made this trip seem much shorter.
That night we camped in the meadow next to the abandoned village and we shared our first meal in almost ninety years. Last time it had been Japanese food before a battle. This time, Xena cooked. I teased her unmercifully and she took it stoically as she always had. Her grin didn't escape my notice as she watched me practically bolting my food. It had been decades since my last meal and I really was eating for two now.
Afterwards we lay together, wrapped in a bedroll by the fire, and we made love. At first our bodies writhed in a blaze of long denied hunger. We feasted on each other, gorging on our sheer elation at being reunited. We were trying to express the cresting intensity of our long deferred feelings through the frenzied actions of our bodies. Our energy failed before our desire. When I finally looked up at the sky again as I gasped for breath, I saw that the moon and stars had leaped forward since my last glance. In that moment, I would have sworn that the stars themselves looked slightly different in their positions than what I remembered from the past. Yet perhaps the sky was just clearer that night.
Slowly our heart rates returned to normal and our breathing synchronized. I wrapped my arms around Xena; feeling the warmth I'd missed for 87 years and absently tracing the slight embossing in her skin that outlined the coils and wings on her back.
"Scratch," she demanded in a whisper, and I scratched. I hid my grin against her chest. I hadn't been able to reach those spots on my back either.
Later we moved with the rhythm of tenderness, reassuring ourselves of the reality we had created. Once again, we'd wrested our lives from fate's whim and formed our own destiny...together. We were finally free to be equal partners, not just complimentary partners. Now the world had two Warrior Princesses to fight for the Greater Good. I was wondering where we'd get Xena another chakram. She was wondering if anyone would find the amphora filled with black powder. Finally we fell asleep entwined together, staring up at the sky. We'd searched the heavens and decided that there were no new stars that night.
On Mt. Olympus the God of War raged. His Warrior Princess was back with her bard and for now Xena probably hated him. Still, he'd been the one who had brought her back to life. That meant he had made our reunion possible. And he'd just been fulfilling his part of our deal. When he actually thought about it, he'd eventually realize that he didn't really hate me either; I'd become a better warrior than most. Still, he'd want to keep thinking of me as a sidekick. He was a creature of habit, and I could use that to my advantage too. So I knew he would watch and wait. After all, he had eternity. And in the meantime...he smiled and threw another fireball, toppling a wall, and lightning split the sky. The game he played with Xena was on again.
Above the thunder, the laughter of the Goddess of Love could be heard as she watched the rejoined lovers in her mirror.
"Little One, your plan succeeded down to the least detail, and I'm so very proud of you. But when are you going to tell Xena about the dragon tattoo you had me put on her back?" Aphrodite wondered. "It's another link between you. Now it's time for both of you to settle down for a while. Xena's already a great great grandmother, and in five months, Gabrielle, you'll have a family to start."
Gods, I thought, my baby. It'll be born in my seventy-eighth year of pregnancy. And I'll be a hundred and thirty-eight, the perfect age to become a mother. What a wonderful life.
Phantom Bard, Brooklyn, N.Y. 7/7/2001
Revised Version 6/1/2003
Return to the Academy
Author's Notes: As you can tell from the date of the original version, this story was written shortly after the series finale of Xena Warrior Princess. It was actually written for a contest addressing the dissatisfaction felt by many fans over Xena's fate and how the show ended. At that time there was an outpouring of efforts on the parts of a multitude of bards, and most of them aimed at resurrecting the Warrior Princess. (Interestingly, two of the best* IMO didn't).
What I quickly noticed was that there was a widespread application of three solutions to the problem; the Egyptian solution, the Greek God intervention, and the Japanese Deity ex Machina. These were applied in various permutations, but often enough to become recognizable. In the first, Gabrielle, accompanied by Xena's spirit and her urn, travels to the Land of the Pharos, in response to the line about the Egyptians needing, "...a girl with a chakram." In Egypt, Gabrielle finds an Egyptian priest, god, or scroll that can return Xena to life by accessing an ancient power. In the second formula, Gabrielle arrives in Greece to confront Ares and/or Aphrodite, who offer a way to return Xena from the afterlife, usually for the sake of love. In the last version, Gabrielle or Xena encounters a Japanese deity, holy man, or kami who can conduct a ritual or test that results in a living Warrior Princess. I quickly grew tired of all three.
Personally, I thought that Gabrielle should have achieved this end through her own determination and savvy. After all, she's no longer a sidekick and supposedly now knows everything Xena knew.
Another problem I had with most of what I'd read was the timeframe. In most of the stories I remember reading, Xena is brought back to life within a year of dying. (Xena was "gone" longer while she was Walthea). Somehow, that rapidity seemed to trivialize the finality of her death in "A Friend In Need". Also, in many stories the premise of the episode was attacked or the canon it created was ignored. The whole act of atonement on Xena's part was regarded as a mistake. She was seen as having again been manipulated by Akemi for her own ends, (though to me, Akemi appeared to be seeking aid in achieving an atonement of her own). Denial may be gratifying, but it's also lazy.
Although fan fiction is a pretty liberal enterprise, when writing X & G stories, I feel compelled to accept the canon of the Xenaverse where the story is being set. I like the challenge of working with the backstory as provided by the series, and I prefer the characters to be recognizable as those portrayed by Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, et al. It isn't necessary for anyone else to follow this approach or accept these limits...it's a personal discipline on my part.
Attendant to working within the framework of the show's canon is the acceptance of the show's intentions, while achieving my own aims as the storyteller. In this case, resurrecting Xena without undoing the events of "A Friend In Need". And so, in "The Loom of Destiny", Xena is dead, Gabrielle honors the choices they both made on Mt. Fuji, and yet their love still drives them to overcome the obstacles of the situation. And they do this in a method for which precedents exist in the Xenaverse canon.
Through a complex, long-range plan, Gabrielle masterminds the events of the future. She does this with the same aplomb with which Xena herself dealt with the gods, and she proves herself a worthy successor to the title of Warrior Princess. With the success of her plan, I see Gabrielle as having graduated to parity with her teacher. And as a reprise, she'll soon be raising a child while living the Way of the Warrior. You see, among the other questions the series never answered was, where did Janice Covington come from?
*I would highly recommend, "The Blonde", by Brigit M. Morgan, and "A Once and Future Journey", by Temora.