Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and a couple of others belong to whoever owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended.
This story could pass for a prime-time episode – as long as the director was careful with camera angles.
Angst warning: Although Xena does play a large part in this story, unlike most other post-FIN stories she isn't reincarnated, but there is happy ending (at least I think it is).
Teaser: It is more than half a year since Japa and Gabrielle is struggling to move on. How can the love that Aphrodite has for her best, mortal friend help, and does Aphrodite have what it takes?
- - -
“You're not watching her again, are you?” Ares' condescending voice grumbled across the Mount Olympus palace room and found its target in Aphrodite's ears.
Aphrodite sighed as she peered into the scrying bowl. “I'm worried about her, Bro.”
Ares moved alongside his sister's shoulder and joined her watching Gabrielle moving slowly about a camp site, organising it, preparing a fire ring and setting out some sleeping furs; a single set of sleeping furs. He shrugged. “C'mon sis, she's only a mortal. Why are you so bothered about her?”
Aphrodite turned her head and glared into Ares' face. “She is my friend, actually. Not that you'd understand that.” she finished, almost under her breath.
Ares just snorted. “What's her problem again?”
The blonde goddess closed her eyes and shook her head slightly, recognising that her brother was just trying to wind her up again. Or perhaps, she suddenly thought, he's denying that Xena's demise had actually upset him more than he's prepared to admit. “She loved Xena, Ares,” she said simply, glancing sideways at him.
“That was moons ago. Hasn't she got over it yet? Why is she still moping about it so much?”
“I'm not sure,” said Aphrodite, uncertainly. “I can't read her thoughts very well. All I get is pain and anger.” She paused, a frown crinkling the skin of her perfect forehead. “I think there must be something… unfinished for her, preventing her from moving on.”
Ares' eyebrows hiked up at the thoughtful response from his usually dippy kin. He gazed down at Gabrielle as she sat huddled beside her fire, nursing a mug of tea and nibbling at a handful of nuts and berries. An evil thought emerged in his brain; one that he had to admit to himself wasn't actually an unpleasant prospect.
“Well, I could always pop down there and give her a good time.” He smirked. “That might help her to move on.”
Ares found his face full of his sister.
“Don't you dare, Ares. I'm warning you, leave her alone. She doesn't need that kind of attention.”
Ares cocked his head slightly to one side as he returned his sister's glare, just for a moment, before he turned to leave the room, throwing his parting words over his shoulder. “Are you sure, Sis? Seems to me, if she's got something locked up inside her, winding her up that tight, she needs something to set it free.”
Aphrodite stared at the empty doorway as her brother's words made a surprising amount of sense to her. She turned back to the scrying bowl just in time to see Gabrielle crawling under her sleeping furs and curling up into a foetal position, her body rigid with tension.
Aphrodite didn't need to see the tears to know that they were there. She extended her senses carefully towards her friend and closed her eyes, her own tears trickling down her cheeks as she felt the now familiar waves of grief and anger flowing into her.
- - -
Gabrielle awoke, suddenly. Her senses told her that something wasn't right. She lay still, feigning sleep, listening and smelling to try to get some idea of what was going on.
Her instincts told her that there was no threat, then, surprised, she realised that she was smelling a hint of roses and strawberries. Carefully she cracked open her eyelids only to see a wash of white and pink satin. It was then she realised that she wasn't laid on her furs on hard ground. Instead, it was a very soft, comfortable bed.
Opening her eyes fully, she sat up and looked around her. She was in a large bedroom, currently lying on a large four-poster bed that was made up with satin sheets… that matched the clothing that she was wearing.
“Good morning, munchkin.”
“Aphrodite, what's this all about?” Gabrielle asked, puzzled, as her gaze settled on the goddess.
“I just wanted to do something nice for my bestest friend.” She replied with a broad smile, carrying a small tray of warm, fresh bread and fruits towards the bed.
Bemused, Gabrielle stared at the tray as it was gently placed over her knees. As well as the food there was a glass of milk and a single, red rose in a pretty glass vase.
“This is lovely, Aphrodite, thank you. But, why?”
Aphrodite leant forward and gently stroked Gabrielle's cheek with the back of her fingers. “You just seemed like you needed a bit of cheering up, that's all.”
Gabrielle's eyelids slid closed as the first touch of tenderness that she had felt since Japa found a small chink in the wall blocking off her feelings.
“Anyway, Sweetpea, eat up because there's a lovely, warm bath waiting for you.”
Gabrielle watched Aphrodite smile at her and then dissolve into a shower of sparkles. She shook her head and frowned as she tucked into the tasty breakfast, mildly surprised that she actually felt hungry for a change.
- - -
“Ohhhh!” Gabrielle moaned softly as she slid slowly into the deliciously warm water of her bath. If she'd had any brain cells capable of doing anything other than appreciating the sensual feelings coursing through her, she would have remembered that it was a very long time since she had bathed in anything other than a cold river or lake.
She closed her eyes and lounged back against the side of the bath, her arms stretched out to the sides as she slowly kicked her legs through the water. The quiet peacefulness lasted only a few moments before a pair of soft hands gently settled onto her shoulders and started to slowly squeeze the tight muscles.
“How does that feel, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle paused a few moments, simply enjoying the sensuality of the contact, before other emotions crept in to generate guilt and irritation. “Aphrodite,” she began, twitching her shoulders a little, “you really shouldn't just shimmer in like that. You might have interrupted something.”
Aphrodite slid her hands forwards onto Gabrielle's upper chest. “That's alright,” she giggled, “it's more fun with two anyway.”
The water sloshed over the bath edges as Gabrielle surged forward, away from the hands that were actually causing feelings that had been absent for a long time. She turned and glared at the goddess. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
Aphrodite smiled. “Relax, Gabrielle. You were enjoying that; and why not? It must be ages since…” She cocked her head slightly and wiggled her eyebrows.
Gabrielle felt the flush flood up her neck and colour her cheeks, which only incensed her even more, especially since every word was true. She stepped out of the bath, oblivious to her nakedness, and stalked up to the goddess, glaring at her, her face a mask of pure anger. “And what is it that YOU want, Aphrodite?”
Aphrodite slowly backed away from the advancing bard until she felt the bathroom wall against her back.
“What is it, eh?” Gabrielle reached out, taking hold of Aphrodite's flimsy, pink robe in her hands and ripped it apart. “Is it this?” she demanded. She crushed her mouth against the stunned goddess' lips. “Or this?” Gabrielle clamped her hand over Aphrodite's mound of curly, blonde hair. “And then what, eh? Keep me in the dark? Keep me guessing? Just walk away? Leave me alone again? You're good at that aren't you, Xena?”
Aphrodite stood still, watching the bard carefully, feeling the emotions rolling off her in waves.
Gabrielle froze, her own words shocking her into silence, her breathing shallow and rapid as she stared, without seeing, into Aphrodite's face. Eventually she closed her eyes as her body seemed to collapse in on itself and her knees unlocked.
Aphrodite stepped forward and caught her in surprisingly strong arms, holding her tightly against her own body. She shushed quietly as Gabrielle's defences crumbled and the floodgates opened.
The long pent up emotions, having found a release, took their toll on Gabrielle and she floundered in their irresistible torrent. She was only vaguely aware of the tingling that accompanied Aphrodite shimmering them both back onto the bed as the goddess continued to hold her friend tightly, gently rubbing her back and whispering soothing words into her ear.
- - -
Gabrielle looked around, trying to get her bearings. She was in the burnt-out remnants of a village that looked vaguely familiar but she couldn't immediately place it. She began to walk slowly down the street looking left and right. There was nobody about; the place seemed to be deserted. Suddenly her memory chimed in; this was Higuchi. Not as she remembered seeing it but as Xena had described it to her almost a year ago while they were on a boat together bound for Japa.
She stopped and turned around in a circle, puzzled by how she could have got there. At first she wondered if this was one of Aphrodite's tricks but she quickly realised that the goddess could not have known about the place. Then she realised that this must be her dreamscape.
Gabrielle spun, wide eyed, to face the direction that the familiar, but long missed, voice had come from.
“Xena?” Gabrielle's voice cracked as she whispered the name, her eyes alighting on the misty figure thirty paces away.
The figure began to slowly walk towards her. “Yes, Gabrielle. It's me.”
Gabrielle broke into a run and didn't stop until she had Xena firmly in her embrace, an embrace enthusiastically returned.
Suddenly Gabrielle released her and pushed herself away. “This is just a dream.” She said accusingly.
Xena wagged her head from side to side and pulled a face. “Kind of,” she said. “It is your dreamscape but you and I are really here. Remember how we once met before in my dreamscape, not long after we first met? This is the same kind of thing.”
Gabrielle looked at Xena, thinking. She wanted to believe that this was her lost friend; oh she wanted to believe so much but she didn't want to open herself up to being hurt again. “Why now, Xena? Why, after all this time? You have never come to me before, so why is this time different?”
Pain was evident in Xena's eyes as she answered. “I wanted to, Gabrielle. I tried, but I couldn't get through to you; past your grief and anger. This time, because you released so much of it with Aphrodite…” she trailed off, shrugging slightly.
“Gods! Aphrodite!” Gabrielle whispered as she covered her face with her hands, the memories of her actions with the goddess surfacing uncomfortably in her brain.
“Gabrielle, don't worry,” soothed Xena. “She understands.” Xena waited until Gabrielle looked up into her eyes. “She loves you y'know.”
Gabrielle cast her gaze to the floor. “I know.” She took a deep breath. “I treated her so badly.”
Xena stepped forward, embracing Gabrielle once again. “She knew what she was doing; she was trying to help. I think she did.”
Looking up into Xena's eyes, Gabrielle smiled. “She did. She's a good friend.”
Xena returned the smile, but a slight frown crinkled her forehead as she looked deeply into her friend's eyes. Eventually she broke the gaze and glanced around her. “This is a bit bleak around here, isn't it? Let's find somewhere a bit more pleasant where we can talk.”
Gabrielle settled her arm around Xena's waist as a long arm draped itself across her shoulders. The two walked in comfortable silence out of the village.
- - -
The scenery changed almost imperceptibly as they walked. The burnt out buildings melted away and the trail they followed became rocky at first then a forest track.
Gabrielle turned her head to look up to Xena's face, a small smile slid over her lips as she traced the familiar outlines with her gaze. “So… how are things? Where you are, I mean.”
Xena looked down and smiled in return. “Well, it's not Tartarus but it's not a lot of fun either,” she replied. She pulled a face. “Mostly it's pretty boring although I do have to make my peace with each of the forty thousand.”
Gabrielle stopped, hanging on tight to Xena, forcing her to stop as well. “You have to talk to all of them? All at once or individually?”
“Xena, how long is that going to take?”
Xena softened her gaze as she held Gabrielle's eyes. “Gabrielle, I have to remain there for one hundred years… until my task is done.”
Gabrielle's eyes widened and then flooded. “Xena, I can't…” She swallowed down the sob in her throat.
Xena turned to stand directly in front of her friend and placed her hands gently on her shoulders. “Gabrielle, listen to me. This is what I… we… were striving for. My redemption. Everything good I had done, that you encouraged me to do, brought me to this opportunity. That I sacrificed my life was only a small part of taking that opportunity; of taking the final step. What truly made the difference was my sacrifice when I gave up my life with you. That was so much harder to do.”
Gabrielle stared silently into Xena's eyes, hearing the words that confirmed her greatest hope and now also carried her greatest fear.
“Gabrielle, I know this is hard for you and if there was any way I could prevent that, I would. But this way, we will be together again. We know that, we have seen it.”
Gabrielle nodded slowly and leaned forward, resting her forehead on Xena's chest. “There's no alternative?” she whispered, almost a statement rather than a question.
“No.” breathed Xena. “Those are the rules.”
Gabrielle looked back up. “Who in Tartarus makes rules like that?”
“I have no idea but I would like to have a few words with them.”
“You and me, both.”
The two smiled at each other before continuing their stroll.
Xena glanced down again. “Are you okay, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle thought for moment, searching her feelings. “Not quite.” she said.
“Mmm. Xena, why didn't you tell me what you had to do… in Japa? Why did you keep me in the dark?”
Xena sighed quietly. “I think you know. If I had told you, you would have insisted that you come with me. Then we would both have been killed.”
Gabrielle stopped again, this time her face a mask of anger as she glared into Xena's eyes. “Damn it, Xena. You took that choice away from me. Maybe together we could have made a better plan. At least I wouldn't have had to retrieve your headless body.” She ran out of words to express the months of pent up feelings.
Xena held Gabrielle's gaze, accepting the responsibility for her friend's hurt and anger. “That part really didn't work out as I expected it to.” She grimaced and paused, collecting her thoughts. “Gabrielle, I am sorry that I didn't talk to you about it. If I had the chance to do it again, I would do it differently, but please, don't ask me not to think about your wellbeing; not to take whatever steps I can to protect you from harm. That is not to say you need to be protected, I'm not saying that, but it is in my instincts to protect the one I love, and I do love you.”
Something released in Gabrielle; she felt it as almost a physical easing of a tension. In truth, she already knew everything that Xena had said, indeed had the positions been reversed she could easily imagine herself making similar choices to protect Xena. Hearing the words from her friend's lips, though, made all the difference.
“Oh, Xena. I love you too.”
Xena smiled. “I know.”
Gabrielle stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed Xena on the lips.
The pair resumed their walk once again until suddenly they arrived at a camp site, neatly laid out, a fire already burning brightly in a fire ring, two bed rolls laid out side by side and a large fallen log off to one side ready to be sat upon.
Gabrielle looked around, bemused. “Where did this come from?”
Xena smiled as she seated herself on the log, drawing Gabrielle down to sit beside her. “A dreamscape is a reflection of the dreamer's state of mind. This is your dream. How are you feeling?”
Gabrielle took Xena's hand in her own, holding it tightly. “Our evenings together in a camp just like this were some of the happiest times I had.” she said.
“Mm, me too.”
They sat together for a long while, sometimes just enjoying each other's presence in the ambience of a familiar setting providing both of them with many fond memories. At other times talking to each other about their thoughts and feelings.
Eventually, Xena sucked in a deep breath. “Gabrielle, I have to go now.”
Gabrielle snuggled up against Xena's side. “I know.” she said, fully accepting the situation for the first time since Japa. “Will I see you again?” she asked, hopefully.
Xena shrugged. “I don't know, Gabrielle. This was a privilege granted to me… to come speak with you. I don't know whether or not I will get another chance.”
Gabrielle just nodded.
Xena stood and pulled Gabrielle up with her, swallowing her up in a huge hug. “Just remember, Gabrielle, I will always love you.”
“And I will always love you too, Xena.”
- - -
As Gabrielle stirred back into wakefulness she became aware of the warm body that she was snuggled into and of the arms curled around her, holding her close. She relaxed into it, nuzzling the soft, plump breast that her face was resting on and purring quietly. It was then she realised that it didn't smell like Xena; not unpleasant, in fact it was very nice, but just not…
Her eyes snapped open as she remembered where she really was and who it was providing her with a pillow.
“Aphrodite… gods, I'm sorry… I must have dozed off.” She felt her face flush with warmth as she tried to push herself away.
The surrounding arms didn't let go. “Shh, Gabrielle. You did, and its absolutely fine, really.” the goddess replied gently. “You obviously needed it. You were, like, catatonic, for ever.”
Gabrielle hesitated a moment before relaxing again, finding that she was actually enjoying the tactile contact, especially since it was with someone that she liked…a lot. She smiled to herself at her own acknowledgement of something that she had felt for Aphrodite for some time.
“Aphrodite, I want to apologise for my behaviour… earlier.” she whispered, tilting her head back to try to look into the goddess' eyes.
“Mm! I didn't know you had it in you,” she giggled, looking back. She stopped giggling and frowned slightly when she noticed the sincerity on Gabrielle's face. “Gabrielle, don't worry. It needed to come out; you needed to let it go. I am just glad I was here if it helped.”
“You're a good friend. Thank you.” Gabrielle squeezed Aphrodite's waist where her arm was draped across it.
“So… how was Xena?”
Gabrielle lifted her head and peered up at the goddess. “Were you watching?” she asked, indignantly.
“No, no. Nothing like that, I promise. I was just a bit worried when you, like passed out, so… I took a little peek. That's all, honestly.”
Gabrielle relaxed back down again and proceeded to talk to Aphrodite about her dreamscape, about her conversation with Xena and how she was feeling. Through it all, Aphrodite held on to her, occasionally caressing her back, sometimes running her fingers through her hair. Once or twice, when Gabrielle was particularly full of emotion, Aphrodite placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
“So, you're okay now, Sweetpea?”
“Mm!” Gabrielle thought for a moment. “Yeah, I think I am… a lot better than I was anyway. I'm going to miss Xena so much, but I know now why she did what she did and what was truly in her heart. I feel like I can move on, now, and I know that's what Xena would want me to do.” She fell silent and after a few moments, Aphrodite felt tear drops falling lightly onto her breast. She tipped her head forwards and kissed Gabrielle firmly on her head.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and released it slowly, causing Aphrodite to close her eyes as the sensuality of the moment rippled through her.
“Aphrodite. Make love to me.” Gabrielle whispered.
- - -
The morning sun flooding the bed chamber slowly wakened Gabrielle. She rolled onto her back and stretched her arms over her head, groaning slightly as her joints realigned themselves with an occasional pop. She looked around and found herself alone.
“ Bath 's ready and I have some breakie for you when you're ready.” Aphrodite's chirpy voice came in through the doorway.
Gabrielle rolled out of bed and wandered through to find her bath. “Thank you, Aphrodite.”
Nicely refreshed and tucking into a hearty breakfast a little while later, Gabrielle looked up shyly into Aphrodite's eyes, as they sat at either side of a small table.
“Thank you… for yesterday.” She blushed faintly.
“You know, Gabrielle, you could stay here… if you wanted to, of course?”
Gabrielle stared at the goddess, not quite sure what she was meaning. “Another day or two, you mean?”
“No. You could stay… indefinitely.” Aphrodite raised her eyebrows. “Or even longer. I have some ambrosia.” she finished, hurriedly.
Gabrielle was speechless. She continued to stare at her friend, unsure how to respond to the unexpected offer. Eventually she stood and walked around the table to kneel beside Aphrodite where she sat. She took Aphrodite's hands in her own.
“Aphrodite, I… that's a lovely thought,” she said, “but the answer is no. There is a lot more I want to accomplish, out there.” She glanced towards the window. “I want to make sure that the world knows who Xena was and what she did, and hopefully continue on with her legacy.” She looked back into Aphrodite's eyes. “And I don't want to live forever.” she continued. “Eventually I want to be reunited with Xena, either in the afterlife or in a future one.” She gave a little shrug. “Which seems to be our destiny.”
Aphrodite looked back into Gabrielle's eyes, her face a picture of disappointment.
Gabrielle squeezed her hands and shook them slightly. “But, listen to me, Aphrodite. You are my best friend and I love you. Come visit me anytime, okay? And listen out for me from time to time, ‘cause I would like to visit you sometimes too.” She reached forwards and placed a gentle and very affectionate kiss on the goddess' mouth, a kiss that was returned in kind.
When Gabrielle drew back, Aphrodite was smiling and nodding, her eyes glistening a little in the morning light.
- - -
A little while later, Gabrielle hefted her bag onto her shoulder and walked away from Olympus with a spring in her step, looking forward to her future once again.
=== The End ===
Thank you for reading.
I hope that I haven't upset anyone with the way my story developed; that was most certainly not my intention. If I did though, I apologise.
If you'd like to comment, please drop me a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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