Xena: Warrior Princess and all its characters are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. Most of the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
Spoiler Warning! This story takes place during the end of our heroines journey together. If you have not seen through these episodes, you may want to discontinue reading.
I would love to hear from you. Write to me (OfcrRipley@aol.com) and let me know what you think about the story, or just chat about Xena stuff in general. I can never talk too much about my favorite show!
A note to the reader: Last year, I made a pact with a dear friend of mine not to read any finale spoilers. We did quite well, but even my tiny local paper printed the rumor of Xenas death months ago. I didnt put much stock in these rumors until I went to the Pasadena convention. The attitude of Lucy and Renee convinced me that the staff had indeed decided to kill off our favorite warrior princess. That night, I told my friend that if they did do such a thing, I just hoped they would give it some sweet closure. I described to her how I would do the final scene. Lo and behold, Katherine Fugate used a similar image the very next week! Although "When Fates Collide" ranks as one of my favorite episodes, I did not feel that the ending worked. I couldnt bear to let go of the image I had pictured for the finale, so I changed some things to hopefully give it more heart. In the process of doing this, I came up with some conversations and images that I wanted to put down between our two heroines. I was only "bad" one time and read two spoilers. One of them gave me a grain of inspiration that I used here. I also read the log lines in the TV Guide a couple of weeks ago. Other than that, I finished this story before I had seen any of the finale. I have left the names and other incidents unchanged.
Please be forewarned that it starts en medias res. There are no action scenes, and the all-important death scene is left entirely up to the reader. I felt that Rob Tapert and R. J. Stewart could do a far better job on that than I could. I hope you enjoy this, and I hope we all enjoy the "real" season ender!
Gabrielle winced as Xena drove the needle through the flesh in the leg and pulled the coarse thread over the wound. The warrior princess had already removed the Samurai arrow and cleaned the area to stave off infection. Biting her lip, Gabrielle glanced quickly around at their gloomy surroundings and noticed the state of disrepair.
Seeking to take her mind off the current procedure, she ventured a question. "How did you know about this place? It looks as if it hasnt been used in years."
Xena never looked up from her task. "It hasnt. It was Keikos favorite place. It was small compared to her fathers palace, and theres a garden within the walls. She loved flowers."
"So she brought you here?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle for the first time. "Yes. Borias and I had promised to help her defeat Yoshido. She came here as a kind of celebration. She was quite excited about the plants she grew here and the paintings and tapestries that decorated the walls. It was the only place on earth she could be herself. A nice change from what she normally faced, I guess." She paused, and her eyes held that faraway look she often got when thinking of her painful past.
Gabrielle touched her shoulder. "Im sorry, Xena. I wasnt trying to pry."
Xena shook her head and smiled. "Youre never prying. No secrets between us, remember? Which brings me to now."
Gabrielle frowned in askance.
The warrior continued her stitching, but without that easy confidence Gabrielle was so used to seeing.
"Gabrielle," Xena said, "You know were not going to make it tomorrow."
"Hey now," Gabrielle replied. "You dont know that, Xena. We have plenty of brave menKeikos own people--here with us, and what about that incredible power we saw in Chin?"
"No, Gabrielle. That amazing gift was there to save Lao Mas people. I havent felt it since."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Look, weve seen worse. Im sure of it."
Xena put the thread between her teeth and snapped it in two. Without a word, she placed both hands on Gabrielles shoulders and gently leaned her against the wall behind her. She looked deeply into Gabrielles eyes.
"No, Gabrielle, we havent seen worse. There are thousands of highly trained warriors out there. Even a handful of them would begin to be a problem, but this . . ." She stood up and placed her hands on her hips as she began to pace back and forth. "Those brave men you speak of are nothing more than eager boys. I dont want to be responsible for their deathsor yours either." She went over and pulled two cups and a drinking flask from the saddlebag on the floor.
Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably. "Now, look, Xena, we went through all this in Rome, Africa, and the North Country. Dont start that business about asking me to leave you, because Im not."
Xena kneeled next to her, poured some liquid in a cup, and handed it to her. She then did the same for herself and sat down next to Gabrielle. She waved a conciliatory hand at the girl.
"I know, I know. Im not trying to get rid of you. I just wanted you to know what the odds were."
Gabrielle took a sip from the cup. Hmmm, it was good stuff. Where on earth had Xena gotten it at such a time? "Ive always known the odds," she replied. "And it never mattered one bit." She took a bigger gulp. Maybe it would help the pain in her leg. "I mean, Xena, you take up with a warrior princess whos conquered half the known world at some time in her life, and you know youre going to run into trouble."
Xena smiled and enjoyed the wine. "Yeah, and I guess thats what makes a friend. They stand by each other when theres trouble. Or something like that. At least thats what someone told me a long time ago."
Gabrielle leaned her head briefly on Xenas shoulder before returning to her cup.
"Sounds like a very wise person."
"She is. The only person Id trust with the lives of Keikos people."
Gabrielle turned a questioning gaze to her friend. The intense look of grief on Xenas face caused a chill to run down the bards spine.
"Im sorry, Gabrielle, but it was the right thing to do. Ive done so many wrong things in my life, I can recognize the good when I see it. You helped me learn that."
Gabrielle used the wall to begin struggling to her feet. "By the gods, Xena. What have you done? What is it?"
The warrior princess came to her side and pulled her up.
"Come with me," she said.
Together they made their way through the great front hall and out into the courtyard. What met them there was chaos.
A young soldier rushed up to them. "Xena, somethings wrong! Several of the men have fallen illsome of them seriously so."
Gabrielle released her hold on Xena and leaned against a marble balustrade as she looked out over the courtyard. At least fifty men lay prone on the ground, some of them moaning, others motionless and silent. The soldiers who were capable of standing were leaning or sitting against the outer walls and inner steps of the fortress. A few healthy people moved slowly about, carrying water and rations to those who couldnt move.
The soldier was still talking to Xena. "It couldnt be the local supply of water. You didnt authorize its use yet."
Xena glanced nervously back at Gabrielle and then instructed the young man to make those who were most ill as comfortable as possible while she found out what she could. The flustered soldier scurried down the stairs and Xena came back to her companion.
"Xena, I dont understand. What could be causing this?"
Gabrielle barely had time to register her shock before Xena wrapped an arm around the bards waist and almost half-lifted her toward the main entrance. When they were back inside, she shut the mammoth wooden door with a loud thud that seemed to reverberate an infinite number of times through the cavernous shell of a fortress.
"Its Persian poison."
Gabrielle found herself unable to respond. She simply stared at Xena in shock. Xena came to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Now look, Gabrielle. Yoshidos army is two days ride from here, and those men out there have about a day. That gives me enough time to make it back to the Temple of Tamoto. Keikos army is too sick to follow me, and someone can administer the antidote after Im safely away and before the poison kills any of them."
Gabrielle looked down at the floor and Xena noticed she clenched her fist before she spoke. "And that someone would be"
"You, Gabrielle. You know it has to be you."
Gabrielle jerked her shoulder away from Xenas grasp. "No, Xena, I dont know that." Her voice filled with emotion and she found herself struggling to get a good breath. "What are you doing? Why on earth would you do something like this?"
"No, you look!" Gabrielle stepped back on her good leg. "I thought we were together. I thought we were one. And here you go pulling something like you did when we first met!"
Battling emotion and the pain in her leg, she became further distressed to find herself fighting back tears.
"We are one, Gabrielle." Xenas voice was soft and low. "And thats why I need you now more than ever."
"How can you say that when youve betrayed everything we are in one moment?"
"But I havent betrayed what we are. Were about lifeand those men out there deserve a chance to live it. This poison will keep them away from Yoshido and his warriors. And youre the only one I trust to make sure they get the antidote properly and at the right time. Youre the only one I didnt poison because you understand the greater good!"
The two women looked at each other, their eyes locked in a desperate battle of wills that had at its center a struggle between the desire to do right and the desire of their hearts.
Gabrielle placed her hand on her forehead and rubbed it in frustration. "Im sorry, Xena, but Im still not seeing the greater good here. What about Yoshido? Are you just gonna let him conquer Keikos people? Is he marching to the Temple instead?"
Xena clenched her jaw and gave the bard a weary look.
"I know how to defeat him," she said.
"How?" Gabrielles voice was a hysterical staccato, even to her, but she didnt care.
"He feeds off of souls. We know from Keiko that his physical powers come from the spiritual. Defeat him in the spiritual realm, and what he has here will disappear like so much smoke."
"Okay, fine. How do you defeat him in the spiritual realm?"
Xena held up an odd ivory talisman that looked like a dragon. "This is Yoshidos. It gives me the personal connection I need to find him when I cross over. I can join Keiko on the other side and together we can defeat him."
"How do you cross over?"
Xena looked away. "I took the poison, too."
Gabrielle bit her lip, struggling to remain calm. "Okay. So whos going to administer the antidote to you? Youd have to be pretty weak to reach a spiritual state."
"Gabrielle, this isnt like crossing over to the Amazon Land of the Dead. I wont be in a trance with a connection to this world. I have to cross completely over to fight Yoshido."
"Xena, what are you saying?"
"Im saying I wont be coming back."
Gabrielle clinched her fists at her sides. The tears flowed freely down her cheeks now. "Xena, I wont let you do this."
"Gabrielle, its the only way. It came to me this morning from something Eijiro said. He told me he would never believe that Keiko ran away from the Battle of Three Rivers. Well, neither would I. I decided to think that maybe she was running to something." Xena held up a finger. "And she was. Theres a reason she died in the Temple of Tamoto. She knew that doing so would give her the power she needed to defeat Yoshido."
"I dont understand."
"Gabrielle, to die in the Temple of the Dragon King is a great honor. She knew her spirit could join with Tamotos to fight that of Yoshido. But evidently, it wasnt enough. Thats why she sent for me."
"So youre saying you have to die there to win this battle?" Gabrielle ran her hands through her hair in frustration.
"Yes. Thats why I took the poison. To die there is an honor, but to kill is a curse. If I were to take a life, even my own, Id be forever doomed to wander the earth in spirit form. The poison will take effect as I ride to the Temple. Ill take one more strong dose outside its walls. That should be enough to ensure that Im able to do what I have to inside. By joining with Keiko and Tamoto in the spiritual world, we will have the strength to defeat Yoshido and save these people."
Gabrielle was silent for several moments. When she spoke, her voice was incredibly calm. "If so, then I want to come with you. I have that right--the choice to be with you in the end."
"Yes, you do, and I know it more than anyone; but you also have a duty to those men out there. If we can save them by doing this, by sacrificing me, then its what we have to do. Keiko understood that. And I know you do, too."
Gabrielle looked up at the ceiling and covered her face with her hands to keep from completely breaking down. Xena responded with a tender smile. Walking to Gabrielle, she put her arms around her and held her close. This time the bard did not push her away, but neither did she return the embrace. She simply leaned against the older woman, almost in a state of shock. After a few moments, in which both of them could hear the others heart beating, Xena spoke.
"A long time ago I accepted the consequences of our life togetherthat it might one day come to this. I accept itand I know you will, too. Because its the right thing."
Gabrielle finally put her arms around the warrior princess. In spite of her flowing tears, she smiled. "I hate it when you quote me to me."
"Well, its the only time I get to show you how annoying you can be."
Gabrielle felt a sharp pain in her leg and quickly sucked in her breath. Xena held her at arms length and looked at her. "Hey, lets put a bandage on that before I set out. I dont want it getting infected." She helped Gabrielle over to the wall and eased her into a sitting position. Gabrielles teary eyes now held a vacant look. "It doesnt really matter now, does it?"
Xena looked worriedly at her friend, but said nothing. She found a clean cloth in her saddle bag and began to carefully wrap it around Gabrielles wound. As she did so, she found herself humming. To hear Xena humming came as quite a shock to Gabrielle. It was not only at odds with their situation, but with the very nature of the warrior herself. And then the bard realized what she was humming and her eyes opened wide in amazement. Xena stopped what she was doing and looked at her.
"Did you ever write down that awful song?"
Gabrielle actually smiled. "No. I didnt think the world was ready to have Joxer the Mighty foisted upon it."
Xena chuckled. "Its ready. Write it down. You know, it always was kind of catchy."
"Not if you had to listen to it for verse on end."
Xena tied the bandage and stood up. "Nevertheless, you write it down. And make sure you tell them about Lao Ma and her way. And Borias." Xena carried the rest of the bandage and stashed it back in the bag. "And if you get the chance, tell them how brave Solan was. And all the things Virgil and Eve have done for the cause of Eli."
Xena wiped her face on the back of her arm before she looked at Gabrielle.
"Done." The bards voice was gentle. "Most of it was done a long time ago."
"I know." Xenas voice was hoarse. "I just want you to see all the great things you still have left to do. Youre destined to be a great writer. We both know it. It was there even when Caesar changed out fates. The people and things weve seen deserve to be rememberedand no one can do that better than you. Go on and write those things, Gabrielle."
"But no one inspires me like you do, Xena. Everything I put in those scrollsevery phrase, each wordstarts with a seed of thought and an essence of being that is you." She shook her head in bewilderment as the grim reality of the future pressed in upon her. "How can I write with just half my soul?"
Xena strode over to her and once again put her arm around the bard to help her to her feet. "Come with me to the garden. I want to show you something."
With one arm around Xena, Gabrielle slowly made her way through a long dark hall in the back. Xena pushed on a large door at the end, and they found themselves in another courtyard. This one was much smaller, and was deserted. Despite its unkempt state, it was still beautiful. Cherry trees were blossoming in their full, uncontrolled glory. Roses climbed the stone walls, balanced with large patches of bright green moss and thick clumps of ivy.
They were both silent, and Gabrielle could hear the soft whisper of the wind as it played with the thick foliage in the trees. It was a peaceful spotone of the few they had seen here, and therefore it came as quite a shock to the bard when she saw Xena unhook her chakram.
"Is something the matter?" she asked, glancing about nervously.
"Turn around," said Xena.
Gabrielle turned until her back was to the warrior princess. She heard Xena step up behind her, felt the warriors body against her back. Xena put her right arm against Gabrielles. She tapped the back of Gabrielles knuckles with her fingertips.
"Open your hand."
Gabrielle spread her fingers and turned her palm upward. Xena placed the chakram in it.
"Shhh. Trust me."
Xena draped her brown arm down the curve of Gabrielles paler one, then wrapped her fingers around the hand that grasped the weapon. She leaned down until her cheek just touched Gabrielles hair. "Gabrielle, youre going to need to follow my lead. I want you close your eyes, and promise me that you wont open them, no matter what happens."
There was no hesitation on her friends part. "I promise."
Gabrielle felt Xena place her left foot directly beside her own. She felt the muscles in Xenas right arm tense as her hand guided the chakram in Gabrielles grasp. Feeling pressure from Xenas body against her right shoulder, Gabrielle turned slowly to her left and pulled the chakram up near her waist, all the while guided by Xenas movements. Gabrielle could feel the sharp disc near her face, could almost smell its metallic tang. Then, with one smooth motion that was as quick as a lightning strike, they threw the chakram. Standing there with her arm outstretched, fingers open wide, Gabrielle could hear the weapon as it struck objects within the garden: the slight ding it made as it hit what must have been a tree branch; the heavier ping that came from bouncing on the garden wall; the chopping sound that emerged as it sliced through the air. She became aware of Xenas arm and fingers guiding hers, and raised her hand in an open position just beside her face. No sooner had the chakram hit her palm then Xena guided her to deftly bend her wrist and pull her arm back, thus breaking the impact of the weapon.
"Again," Xena said immediately, and the gesture was repeated. For just one moment, the bard became acutely aware of Xenas cheek pressed against her temple, and then she heard the almost musical notes of the chakram as it spun through space and ricocheted through Keikos garden. She could almost imagine the slight tremor the branches of the cherry tree made as the powerful weapon hurtled into its base before traveling on; almost see the glint of the sun on it as it knocked a small piece of stone from the great wall.
No . . . she could see it. She saw it precisely in her minds eye as it struck the gray statue carved in the likeness of Keikos father, Emperor Huto. She could even see the stern expression carved into the stone, as if he did not approve of having his image used for target practice. She saw the spinning thin line it made as it flew straight toward them, and it was all she could do not to open her eyes in fear. But once again, she felt Xenas deft movements, and she followed them implicitly. The weapon was caught, and Xena whispered "Good girl" before throwing it again. Gabrielle "watched" the deadly circle as it skipped off the flagstone path before thumping against the stone wall on the left side that was covered in ivy. Coming off at a sharp angle that sent it higher than it had been, it flew upward until it struck the metal bars in the castle window. Gabrielle felt the impact of metal against metal, even before she heard the sharp clang. Her breath came in short little gasps as the chakram zigzagged back and forth among the branches of a towering tree that grew right next to the window.
Ding! Ching! Clang!
She gasped. She could feel it. Every object it struck made her shiver just slightly with kinetic sympathy. And then the most amazing thought of all occurred to her.
Come back to me.
And it did. It flew straight toward her as if she had yanked an invisible string and reeled it in. She was neither surprised nor afraid when she felt it in her hand this time. She had made the fascinating discovery that she could control it.
"I did it," she said. The tremendous emotions that were coursing through her mind and body were evident in the wonder that filled her voice.
She felt Xena put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Yes, you did. Now do it one more time." The warrior princess kept her body in the same position, with her arm still against that of Gabrielle, but the bard was the one who directed their movements this time. She did what she had seen dozens of timesup near the face, now down by the waist, release!
The chakram headed over the wall and struck an ailing tree, then another. She felt herself willing it toward yet another tree just outside the wall, and this time the disc hit with such force that it sliced neatly through a small branch. A bird that had been resting there began to screech in indignation upon finding that its perch was suddenly giving way beneath it. He fluttered up through the remaining branches, raising a tremendous hue and cry. Gabrielle couldnt help but smile. She guided the chakram just over the barrier and back inside the garden. But something strange was at work. A pulling, a . . .
She realized what it was. The two halves of the chakram separated, each making its way to the wall. Once there, they struck simultaneously and headed back toward the center of the courtyard. Gabrielle felt the strong pull as they came close, but she kept them apart. To test herself, she had one strike old Emperor Huto himself, while the other one just clipped the bloom off a rose. They approached one another again, and this time she didnt fight the bond between the two pieces. They joined, and within moments, the chakram was in their hands again, for Xenas palm still rested against the back of her wrist.
For the first time since they had thrown the chakram, she turned to look at Xena. The warrior princess smiled tenderly at her.
"Now you know, Gabrielle. The chakram is a spiritual weapon in the physical world. Thats something that very few people understand--and why very few people can use it."
Gabrielles head dropped. "But why show me now?"
Xena gently tilted Gabrielles head until she was forced to look at her. "You felt the two pieces when they split." It was almost a question.
Gabrielle simply nodded and Xena continued.
"Then you felt the unbelievable pull, the connection they had, even when they were apart. When the light and dark chakrams were joined together, it made them into the perfect weapon. They separate when its necessarybut theyll always come back together to form a perfect circle. Gabrielle, there is no beginning and no end to the chakramjust absolute and endless unity."
Gabrielle gazed at her friend in pure amazement. "When did you become such a philosopher?"
"I have many skills." Xena grinned at her, then gently took the chakram from Gabrielles grasp and began to help her back inside the fortress. Once they were back in the main hall, Xena quickly packed up a saddlebag. She pulled a large vial from another bag that was still on the floor.
"This is the Persian antidote. Dont give it to them until the moon has fully risen tonight. Start with those who are the weakest. Theyll all be fine, and that will give me the chance I need to start things with Yoshido."
Once again, Gabrielle found herself unable to speak. She simply nodded, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Come see me off," Xena muttered, and Gabrielle realized that the warrior, too, was becoming overwrought with emotion. Without a word, they made their way back to the courtyard. Once there, Xena made her way to the wall on the right. It was covered in ivy, and she thrust her hand through the thick foliage and began to feel for something. After a few moments and a few steps, she whispered a "yes," and Gabrielle heard a soft click and a squeak. Xena gave a slight push, and the bard saw the fading rays of the setting sun as they shone through the ivy from the other side of a very small open doorway.
"Keiko believed in precautions," said Xena. She took Gabrielles hand and led her through the tiny opening. Once outside, she let out a soft whistle. Within moments, the large roan she had been riding came trotting up from the woods.
"How you can get any horse to do that, Ill never know," said Gabrielle.
Xena grinned. "Now, that I cant teach you."
Gabrielle took Xenas hand and held it to her face. "You taught me enough."
Xena stroked her cheek and her eyes filled with tears. "That goes for both of us. You taught me what love was when I didnt think I could learn about it anymore. Thats whats kept me going and striving to do whats right all these years. Its what will keep me beside you in the years ahead. And when the time comes, its what will allow me to pass through heaven or hell to come for you in the end. Ill love you forever, Gabrielle. Never forget that."
"I wont," Gabrielle whispered.
The two women embraced, and it was then that Gabrielle felt the true mystery of the chakram. The pain in her heart was the same fierce pulling she had felt from the two pieces of the weapon. They would separate to do what they had to, but that inexplicable bond would be there, drawing them forever back together.
Finally, she felt Xena push her away. She released her hold on the warrior princess and watched her mount. Xena sniffed and smiled down at her. "Til the other side, then."
Gabrielle nodded. "Til then."
Xena turned the horse and eased him into a trot toward the edge of the woods. As she neared the shadow of the trees, Gabrielle squinted to see her clearly. The sun was setting, and the dark woods seemed to swallow the leatherclad warrior and her shadowy steed. Farther into the woods Xena went, slowly beginning to disappear from Gabrielles sight. Suddenly, Gabrielle thought she saw a sudden movement on Xenas part. She heard a distant whoosh, and her heart went to her knees as she realized it was the chakram. But instantly she closed her eyes.
Yes, it was coming.
Wait . . . wait . . . Now!
She reached up and caught it. In spite of herself, she let out a sigh of relief. Then immediately, she opened her eyes and furrowed her brow in consternation.
"Keep that for me until I come for it!" There was a clicking noise as Xena encouraged the horse into a gallop, and then the warrior princess was gone.
Gabrielle sat down against the ivy-covered wall and wept.
The bard stared at the burning funeral pyre before her. The green eyes that reflected the flames were red and dry. She had cried so much already that she had no more tears left to give. Strange, how empty she felt now. She shook her head and looked around her. Empty, but not lost.
"You saved me, Xena." The words she had spoken in the Roman prison kept ringing in her head. She looked at the fire again. "You saved everyone, Xena. I wont forget. And as long as I remember, so will the world. Ill keep my promise to you to keep going, and Ill tell everyone what you did and who you were."
The wind caressed her face and she turned and looked out toward the sea that stretched far below the rocky crag on which she stood.
Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you.
She closed her eyes and breathed in the salty air.
Youve got to keep that promise, Xena. Ill keep mine to you.
And she would. When the fire died, she would collect Xenas ashes to take back to Amphipolis. She would tell everyone she knew of Xenas bravery. And she would go on living day to day.
The first two vows she could keep with honor and bittersweet joy. It was that last one she just didnt know about.
"Auntie Gabrielle, how do you know youll be seeing her again?"
"Because, Herodotus, were soul mates. Remember that story I told you about the two halves of the same person that are looking for each other?"
"Well, well find each other again, and Ill be sure to give her the chakram."
"How long has it been, Auntie Gabrielle?"
There was a snort from another young child in the room. "You ask that question all the time!"
"Thirty-seven years." Gabrielles voice was still low and musical, despite the marks time had left on her appearance.
"You still miss her, dont you?" came the voice of a young boy near her feet. He gazed up at her sincerely.
"Yes, Perdicus, I do."
"And was she really as brave as you say?"
"Tell us again about the time she fought the dryads."
"No, we heard that yesterday. I want to hear about when she fought Indrajit in India and she had all those arms and she was blue."
"No way. Draco is the most fun. Lets hear about----"
"Children, children." The voice that interrupted this melee was gentle but firm, and belonged to an old woman that had just leaned in the doorway. "Leave your great great aunt alone. She cant spend every waking moment telling you stories. She needs to rest."
"But, Grandma, she loves to tell Xena stories. Dontcha, Auntie?"
Gabrielle smiled warmly at the roomful of youngsters gathered at her feet. Despite her gray hair and wrinkled skin, there was something youthful in the twinkling of those green eyes. "Yes, I do."
The other woman glanced worriedly at her as if to ask a question. The storyteller smiled even more and mouthed, "Its okay."
The woman in the doorway hesitated, then shook her head. "No, its not. All right, children, thats enough. Youve tortured your aunt all morning. Its time for lunch. Get outside to eat. Ive got it all set up. Its a beautiful day, and you need the fresh air."
Gabrielle started to speak. "Sara, really I dont mind"
Sara shook her head. "No, Aunt Gabrielle, I dont want to hear another word out of any of you. Thats enough storytelling for one morning. You need a break, and so do they." She snapped her fingers. "Out!"
With much grumbling, the four children wandered out the door. Sara watched them go with a bemused look, then turned her attention to the older woman.
"Now, what would you like? I can bring your meal in here, or you can eat outside with us."
"You go on. Its a beautiful day and we could all use some fresh air. Ill join you later. Right now I think Ill take a little walk."
"Gabrielle, why dont you take Lyceus with you. Goodness knows it would just give him more inspiration for those scrolls he keeps for you." She smiled and shook her head. "He showed me the other day how he had them catalogued by color. He would love to go with you, and you can talk or be quiet, whichever you feel like. "
Gabrielle patted Saras arm as she moved through the room entrance and opened the outside door. She took a deep breath of the warm summer air and squinted her eyes as she stared hard at something out on the horizon. "Thats all right, Sara. Id like to be alone for a while, if its all the same. Ill be fine." She hobbled back to her room and shut the door. In a few moments, Sara heard the thatched back door rustle. She walked outside and saw Gabrielle picking her way up the hill next to the small hut. There was the bright glare of sun on metal as the rays lit upon something in Gabrielles hand. Moving quickly back inside, Sara opened the door to her aunts chamber and noticed a bare spot on the wall where the chakram usually rested.
"Goodbye, Gabrielle," she whispered sadly to herself.
Gabrielle didnt know where she was going or exactly why she had felt the need to take the chakram. The feel of the cold metal in her palm had often comforted the ache in her heart over the years. Maybe that was why she had taken the weapon today. The sadness was almost unbearable. Sometimes the questions her listeners asked could pierce her to the core. And there was something else . . .
"Where are you today, Xena? I dont feel you." So many times over the last forty years she had been on the brink of giving up, but she could feel the presence of the warrior princess almost physically next to her. She could almost imagine her voice in her ear.
But not today.
For one brief moment, she brought the chakram to her lips and closed her eyes. She thought about that day in Keikos garden when she had learned how to control it.
Come back to me.
Opening her eyes, she glanced down the path in front of her and saw a grove of trees and a dip in the muddy road. Yes, this was where she wanted to come.
The first place we ever met. Gabrielle glanced at a glade to her left and eyed the chakram. She smiled. "If I bury this like you did that first time, would it bring you back?" Her smile became broader. "Nah, probably just bring a pack of slavers down on me like it did back then, too. That was always the kind of luck we had, wasnt it, Xena?"
She walked over to the spot where memory told her she had first set eyes on the warrior princess. "Id say it was just about here. And you were only in your ----Aaaah!"
Gabrielle dropped the chakram as a searing pain shot through her left arm. This pain was soon forgotten, however, with the onset of an enormous pressure on her chest. For one brief moment, she thought of the Persian poison she had received from an arrow years ago, but this was far worsefaster and more severe. And she was old now.
And this time there was no Xena beside her.
Even her friends presence seemed to have fled. Gabrielle could hear the blood pounding through her temples and her breath came in gasps. Her knees gave way and she fell against a nearby tree.
"Xena, where are you?" She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing, but the pain and fear were too much.
And then came the voices, faintly at first, but they grew louder as Gabrielles vision grew dimmer and her panic increased.
Next to Xena I must seem pretty dull.
Lila, we talked about this before I left. I thought you were happy I was getting out to see the world.
I was happy until I realized getting out meant leaving me.
Suddenly, it was Callistos voice purring in her ear. How long did it take your husband to die after I stabbed him in the heart?
Gabrielle could see the look of suffering on Perdicuss face, feel his blood on her hands.
But no. She could see her own withered hands now. For a brief moment she became aware once again of the forest glade and sunlight streaming through the trees. Then came the intense pain again.
You cant run from a god, Gabrielle!
This world and all who are on it will be no more. The kingdom of Dahak will rule and you, Gabrielle, will bring it to us. Blood on her hands again.
Her mind was reeling with the intense pain and fear she was experiencing, and yet these horrible images from her past were so vivid.
Is this what it means to have your life flash before your eyes? Is it so horrible?
And most important of allwhere was Xena?
She could see Hope standing there in the same room she had just left moments before, hear her own voice filled with incredulity.
Why arent you dead?
Its certainly not from your lack of trying, is it?
I saw the fire. No one survives that.
No one but me. Dahaks flames rising to save me. But then I have always been Daddys little girl. Is that why you never loved me?
I loved you, Hope. I just had to stop you.
And there was Joxer in her young arms, dying with poison as she spoke to him.
Why do people love the people that they do? I dont know.
I know whybecause you made me feel special.
You are special.
Not special enough. Why didnt you love me, Gabrielle?
Joxer was gone. Brunhilda the Valkyrie was next to her now, questioning Gabrielles loyalty to her friend.
Xena and I are soulmates. We didnt make it that way. It just is!
Or is it? There was a blackness creeping over her consciousness now. She didnt know whether it was from the pain, the fear, or the despair. She didnt really care. Perhaps oblivion would be best. Definitely best for only half a heart, forever lost from what would make it whole.
The voices blended into a wall of sound, indistinguishable, and for a moment, deafening, until by degrees they faded into nothingness. Gabrielle slowly became aware of a distinctly different set of sounds, and it took her several moments to realize it was the twittering of birds. Opening her eyes ever so slightly, she was almost blinded by the glare of sunlight through the boughs of the trees overhead. She tasted something salty on her tongue, and recognized it as tears.
This sudden awareness of her old surroundings brought with it even more tears, and a pain in her chest that had nothing to do with what shed just experienced. She felt something hot against her hand and realized it was the fallen chakramits metal form now blazing from the heat of the sun. In spite of its burning surface, she placed her withered fingers around its sharp edge.
Where are you, Xena? Im tired. Tired and afraid. Afraid of whats ahead because I cant feel you anymore. And afraid of whats behind. Forty years of emptiness and loneliness and giving when theres nothing left to give. Forty years of living with only half your soul. Im terrified to go back to that. And afraid I might have to move on to it, too.
Another voice--this time her own from a lifetime ago.
You have to take me with you. Teach me everything you know . . .
The meaning of those words struck her in a new way.
I think even since the beginning, its all Ive ever really been afraid of.
Gabrielle suddenly felt another searing pain in her arm. The blackness of hurt, fear, and despair began to swallow every aspect of her being.
Im dying. Alone. Was it like this for you, Xena? If only I could have been there.
A sob escaped her lips.
"Dont cry, Gabrielle. You know I never could bear to see you cry."
Gabrielle felt the slightest touch on her cheek, and opened her eyes with a gasp. There, mere inches away, were the ocean-blue eyes of Xena. She was caressing Gabrielles cheek, and her mouth was twisted in that rare position it took when she was somewhere between laughing and crying. The pain in her heart forgotten, Gabrielle threw her arms around the warrior princess and weptnow with joy. Xenas body, too, shook with silent sobs of its own before they once again leaned back and wiped the tears from each others faces.
Gabrielle smiled. "I knew youd come for me."
Xena clasped the hand that held her face. "Thats what friends dothey stand by each other." She drew Gabrielles hand to her heart. "I wanted to come before, but I had to wait. Death is something we all must experience alo"
Gabrielle put a gentle finger to Xenas lips. "Shh," she said. "Youre here now. Thats all that matters."
Xena looked tenderly at her. It was several moments before she trusted herself to speak. When she did, it was with a smile. "Besides, I had to come," she said. She sniffed and stood, pulling Gabrielle up by the hand as she did so. "I didnt see how you could think of anything else to tell about me. Pretty soon the entire world wouldve known which hand I held my fork with and the color of my underwear."
"Well, actually they wouldve known that you never used--"
"Hey!" Xena held up a warning finger and then broke into a grin. Turning abruptly, she let out a piercing whistle, and Gabrielle heard the distant thud of hooves.
"It cant be," she whispered. She gave an expectant look to Xena, then put her hands to her mouth in delight as Argo came thundering around the bend and halted next to her mistress. Xena easily mounted her and then smiled at the bard.
"Hey, Lady. Ill trade you a ride for that nice round killing thing youve got there."
Gabrielle stared in confusion at the chakram she was holding. She had forgotten about itand about her pain and fear. She felt the breeze caress her bare knees and stomach, and turned around to see the tired shell of herself sitting against the tree. Things were as they had been. She was the young Grecian Amazon with a story to tell, and Xena the dark warrior seeking redemption.
She soaked in the look of her astride Argo before she responded. "I dont know," she said in a playful tone. "You have to take me with you. Teach me everything you know."
Xena leaned down with a smile and stretched out her hand. Gabrielle gripped it and was on the beautiful Palomino in a heartbeat.
"Theres just one problem with that," muttered Xena.
"Well, I dont really know much of anything about what comes next. Ive kind of been in limbo waiting on you, and weve seen just about more afterlives than you can shake a staff at. What will it be? Paradise? The Elysian Fields? Angels? Demons? The Mother of Peace?"
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xenas waist and leaned her head against her shoulders. "We know one thing, Xenathe only thing."
"Were going to be together forever."
Xena clasped the hands that clung to her waist and whispered a hoarse "yes." Then, clicking her tongue, she kicked Argo into a trot and headed off the beaten path and into the sweeping and unknown vista before them. A thousand unknowns with only one common denominator: They would face them together.
In the end, it was the only thing worth knowing.
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