Disclaimer: All of these characters belong to someone else (USA Studios, Universal, Renaissance Pictures, etc.). No harm or infringement intended. This story contains no graphic sex or violence, but it is a subtext friendly zone.
Time Period: Immediately following the Xena: Warrior Princess series finale, A Friend In Need.
So It Goes
By Jody Leak
Gabrielle felt a slight tingle chase up her spine. At once familiar, but--- Squinting her eyes, she turned on her heels, scanning the surrounding forest. Her eyes closed and her face relaxed, a smirk began to form on her lips. "Ares."
"It seems Xena has left you more than just her chakram," the God of War chided, as he materialized with his arms crossed, leaning against a tree. He was amused that the blonde woman had inherited her former partner's innate ability to sense his presence.
"Ugh!" Gabrielle spat out in frustration at the sight. "Whatever little game you're---"
"No games," Ares said, cocking his head and raising his hands. "I know what happened. I just thought you could use a friend."
"A friend?" Gabrielle said, mocking him and trying to peer around his body for the aforementioned friend. "Do you really think you qualify?" she stated, straightening up, hands on hips.
Before he could answer, she cut him off with a wave of her hand, "Look, I know that you and Xena had this ... this thing ... between you. She always seemed to know what was going on behind those beady little eyes of yours."
"Beady?" he muttered to himself, looking slightly hurt.
"But I'm not her. I don't know what you're thinking," she continued, "and I'm really not up to dealing with ... whatever," gesturing toward him with her hands, "you're up to right now."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he spat back, raising his hands as he began to move toward her. "What's with all the aggression? I'm the guy who saved your life not too long ago, remember?" He was face to face with the bard now, hands on her shoulders.
"Ares," she growled, in a tone that at once told him she was no longer the gullible little girl from Poteidaia.
"Okay, look," he began calmly, removing his hands from her shoulders, but not backing off. "Let's start again. I know that you've had a rough time."
Gabrielle gave him a suspicious glance.
"But I just thought maybe you'd want to talk to someone who understands what you're going through. Someone who knew you " he paused, "both." His tone was serious and sincere, "Someone who knows everything that you two went through together." He paused again. "How much you meant to each other." He swallowed, and looked away. "I feel your pain ... I do," his jaw clenched.
Gabrielle could feel a black hole of emotion opening up in her as she realized the truth of his words. She was alone now. For all of his faults, he was truly one of the very few, still alive, that knew their history intimately, and could genuinely understand the pain she was feeling.
Not now, she urged silently, trying desperately to get a hold of herself, for fear she would fall apart. She pushed her emotions back to the place she'd been keeping them and regarded his face in silence, considering his words.
"I know you loved her too," she touched his arm gently. "In your own twisted way," said under her breath.
He moved closer, encouraged by her touch. "What if I told you we could bring her back?" he whispered in her ear.
"Ugh ... Ares!" the bard shouted, shoving him away from her. She turned her back and threw her arms in the air in disgust before turning to face him again.
"Just when I think you're becoming a stand up guy," planting her hands on her hips.
"What?" he said incredulously, throwing his hands out. "Are you going to stand there and tell me you wouldn't do anything you could to bring her back?"
"That's not my decision to make, Ares." She glared at him for as long as she could without revealing the pain in her heart, and feeling her resolve leave her, looked away.
"Of course it's your decision. And who better to make it. Think of all of the good you two could do," he pleaded, innocently.
Gabrielle let out a humorless chuckle, "That's almost funny, coming from you, Ares. I say almost because what it really makes me want to do is throw up!" She turned and began to walk away.
"She lied to you," he called out, his voice deep and ominous, with a hint of superiority.
Gabrielle stopped in her tracks. She pursed her lips, bowed her head, and turned in place with one fluid movement. She marched back up to where Ares was standing until they were face to face again.
Ares crossed his arms, as intense green eyes bored into him.
"I know," she stated flatly.
He dropped his arms and blinked back with a look somewhere between disbelief and confusion.
"Wh ...what do you mean ... you know? I'm talking about that whole gotta have vengeance for the lost souls crap!" He was gesturing vaguely with his hands.
"I know what you're talking about, Ares." Gabrielle's calm demeanor was a stark contrast to the increasing agitation being displayed by the God of War.
"She didn't have to stay dead for them! Don't you get it?" he shouted.
"Yeah, I got that, Ares." She noticed his eyes beginning to dart around. She smiled. "What's the matter? Is your little plan falling apart? What was it going to be, the grief or the anger that would render me putty in your hands?"
He glared at her, then a smile crept across his face as his body relaxed and he let out a defeated breath. "And you say you don't know what I'm thinking." He smirked, and began to pace. "If you knew," he started, "then why didn't you---" He stopped, as the young blond woman tilted her head and gave him a blank stare. He shook his head, "I'll never understand you, Gabrielle."
"Hmph," the bard snorted. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"She should have been brought back. You," he pointed, "should have brought her back." His tone was accusatory now.
"You just don't get it, do you, Ares?" she countered. "It isn't about me, and it certainly isn't about you. This was Xena's decision, her choice."
"To what?" he snapped. "Be a martyr? Break your heart?"
"Break your heart," Gabrielle quickly added.
He stared at her for a moment and then looked away. "You have no idea. You talk of this great love," he shook his head, "yet you let her die."
"I didn't let her die, Ares," she snapped defensively. "She was already dead when I found her."
"Don't bust my hump over the details, little girl. You had the chance to bring her back and you let it slip away!" his anger rising once again.
Gabrielle shook her head. "She had a tortured soul, Ares, and she couldn't live with it any longer. Something you'd never understand, because the more tortured she was, the better she suited your purpose. It doesn't matter who lied to whom. I may never fully understand her reasons, but I have enough faith in her to know that she believed she was doing the right thing. She has redemption at last. And as much as it hurts me to lose her, I know that even if I spent a lifetime by her side, I could never have given to her what she's finally given to herself: forgiveness. She is at peace. I love her enough to let her go."
"Argh ... mortals!" Ares threw his hands in the air. "You have no clue! No vision of the bigger picture." He glared at her, "Enough of this! Where are her ashes?"
"I scattered them in the Sea of Japa," she lied.
"You what? Fool!" He was frantically pacing now. He stopped and glared at the young woman again, "You think that ends it, do you?" His eyes suddenly lit up with a cool, devilish glint. "Big picture, Gabrielle I'm a god. I'll find her in every lifetime. She will be mine."
"We're soul mates, Ares," Gabrielle boasted. "You know we'll find each other every time. You won't ever win."
"Yeah, but you see ... I'm okay with that," Ares countered. "But you ..." he began to taunt the bard, "you will spend every single lifetime trying to put her pieces back together again. And they're never going to fit. And you know why? Because I will always get there first."
"You're sick!" Gabrielle spat.
That brought a chuckle from the God of War. "And you'll always wind up feeling like you do now," he continued, "defeated, alone, and not quite good enough to save her. Not realizing until it was too late, that she was a lost cause before you ever met her. You really thought you were winning that war, didn't you?" He snorted condescendingly. "Poor Gabrielle, not even your precious love was enough to make her want to stay."
Son of a bloodsucking Bacchae, the bard growled to herself, clenching her jaw against the anger rising in her gut.
"But on the bright side," Ares continued with delight, "you only wasted six years this time. Be thankful you don't remember your previous lifetime ... ew," he said, wrinkling his nose. "Long and nasty. You were quite bitter about it, you know. You kept muttering something about your wasted youth."
The pressure made her head throb, and her hearing dimmed as the blood rushed to her head. Outwardly she remained calm. He will not get that satisfaction today, she told herself.
"You're wrong, Ares," the bard lifted her chin in confidence. "I didn't fail. You destroyed her soul. My love healed it. It gave her hope until she could find herself again. And if that's how it's going to be forever ... so be it." A broad grin suddenly appeared across her face. "I've gotta tell you, Ares, I get a perverse thrill from the knowledge that I'll be a thorn in your side for all eternity."
"You would," he snorted. He looked away and let out a sigh. "Gabrielle," he stated with a note of capitulation, "I've always admired your spunk."
"Tsst ... please." Gabrielle rolled her eyes in disgust.
"Don't worry," he said, patting her on the head like a child. "One day you'll know who you are ... and then, won't we have fun."
"I know who I am, Ares!" she shouted angrily, as she ducked and swiped his hand from her head.
Ares let out a hearty laugh. "Ooooooh," he said, stepping back in mock fear. "Look at you ..." he began walking toward her again. "Let's see ... you've got your sais ...nice katana there ... pretty chakram ..." he raised an eyebrow.
Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably as she regarded the small arsenal she wore.
"Gabrielle, Warrior Bard," he mocked. "Oh yeah," he cocked his head, "going to be fun."
He let out a snicker, and disappeared.
"ARGH! Bastard," she swore in a disdainful hiss.
The bard continued on the path, muttering to herself. He knows all of the buttons, she sighed in disgust. In the span of a few minutes, he had found every insecurity she'd secretly held. Should she have brought Xena back? Had their life together been nothing more than a futile attempt at redemption? Was she now the warrior? Should she merely pick up where Xena had left off? No ... no ... no ... and no, she said to herself, pushing her insecurities down.
Darkness was beginning to fall, and Gabrielle decided to settle down for the night. As she gazed into the flickering campfire, a welcome familiar presence settled next to her. She closed her eyes as the feeling brought a warm smile to her face. She turned her head and opened her eyes, to take in the vision of her soul mate, her posture mimicking her own; forearms resting on her knees, hands clasped.
"Interesting day," Xena calmly remarked.
"Yeah," Gabrielle answered with a smirk. "And where were you when I needed you?"
"You did all right," Xena leaned into the bard's shoulder.
Gabrielle stared into the fire for a long moment before she spoke. "You gave me something, didn't you?" she asked, rubbing her chin.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean," the warrior said. Her voice held a tinge of confusion.
"Uh ... you know ... sensing Ares like that. Really hearing the sounds behind the sounds. My fighting skills seem to have ..." she paused, trying to find the right word, "arrived. And the chakram ... whoa! What's up with that?"
"I didn't give you anything you didn't already have, Gabrielle."
"I think that's a load of centaur dung, Xena."
Xena just shrugged and continued to gaze into the fire.
Gabrielle shifted nervously and spared a shy glance around the campsite.
"You ... you're ..." she cleared her throat and tried again. "You're not really ... here ... are you?" She glanced at Xena, then back to the fire. "You're just ... me, talking to myself, and you're never going to tell me anything that I don't already know. Right?"
"I'll always be here, and I'm anything you want me to be, Gabrielle," the warrior said seriously.
"Ugh," the bard groaned as she buried her head in her hands.
"Do you have to be so cryptic all the time? I never got a straight answer when you were alive, and now that you're dead, I still---" she stopped in mid sentence and blinked."I'm sorry. I can't believe I said that."
"S'alright." Xena put her arms around her, "I will always be here, and I am anything you want me to be. Nothing cryptic there."
Gabrielle paused as she let the words filter through her mind. "Maybe I'm just insane." Her eyes stared blankly into the fire.
The warrior smiled, "You're not insane, just grieving. It's perfectly natural. When the grief is gone, you'll be left with the love, and the strength of that love---"
"I don't know whether I want that grief to go away," Gabrielle interrupted.
Xena gave her a confused look.
"In an odd way," the bard began to explain, "I feel like the more grief that I have, the deeper the love was that caused it. If the grief fades, will the love fade as well?" She turned to regard the warrior. "Because I don't want to lose a moment of that love."
Xena merely smiled a knowing smile, "It's the love that gives us the strength to survive the grief, Gabrielle."
A tear fell, as Gabrielle felt a wave of emotion begin to rise, and she turned her gaze once again to the fire. The warrior sensed the doubt filling her soul mate. She gently stroked the bard's cheek, letting her hand come to rest under her chin. She eased Gabrielle's face toward her own and waited for the young woman to raise her eyes.
Green met blue, and for an instant, it seemed to Gabrielle, time stood still. The intensity of Xena's gaze was urgently willing her to know the words she'd spoken to be the truth.
"You will get through this," Xena implored. "You," she emphasized with a gentle tug, "are the strongest person I have ever known. Stronger than I ever was, or ever could have hoped to be."
More tears. Gabrielle tried to look away, but a gentle squeeze from Xena's hand brought her gaze back to the warrior's eyes.
"Hey," Xena breathed, voice filled with hope. "This is a beginning. You have your whole life ahead of you to become---"
"To become what, Xena?" Gabrielle interrupted impatiently.
The warrior released her friend's face and paused, considering the question. "Anything you want," she said with a grin.
"Hmph," snorted the bard. "Saw that coming. Talking to you is like chasing my own tail, Xena ... you know that?" Gabrielle wiped her eyes.
"If you say so," shrugged the warrior, with a wry smile.
The young woman chuckled and shook her head.
They sat in silence, both lost in the trance of
the fire. Gabrielle shifted and straightened.
Xena nodded silently in agreement. She was impressed at the way her soul mate had handled Ares' request for the urn. "Took a lot of nerve to lie to Ares," the warrior stated proudly.
"Tsst. He pisses me off," the bard grumbled. "I don't know what to do about him. He intends to ruin our lives indefinitely."
"Do you think he really knows a way to bring you back?"
"Oh of course. You don't know either. Duh," Gabrielle said with a soft chuckle, poking herself in the head.
"What happened to the Land of the Pharaoh?" the warrior inquired.
"Um ... ack." Gabrielle waved her hand. "It'll be there. I don't think I need to go out looking for trouble."
That brought out a loud snort of laughter from the warrior.
"Hey now," the bard furrowed her brow in Xena's direction. "Besides, I think I should try to find Eve. I don't want her hearing about you from someone else. And I hope to Hades, Ares stays away from her. I can't imagine the spin he'd put on it. It's going to be tough enough as it is."
"You'll do fine, Gabrielle. Eve loves you." Xena rubbed her friend's back in comfort.
"Yeah, but you were her mother, Xena, and you were lost to her for so long, and now---"
"You're her mother too, Gabrielle," Xena stated, as a matter of fact. "Don't forget that."
The young woman responded with a slight nod.
"After I bring you home, you won't mind if I call you out for a chat now and again, will you?" Gabrielle asked shyly.
"Not if you won't," the warrior said with a devilish grin.
That got an eye roll and a snort from her companion. "Knew you'd say that."
Gabrielle settled into her bedroll and closed her eyes as the night took her into sleep.
The sky is an odd color this evening, the bard remarked silently. She'd been preparing for this meeting for weeks, ever since she'd located Eve.
Through the dusk, she saw Eve's lone figure coming toward her. The distance between them seemed to grow further apart, even though she was moving forward. Must be a trick of the light, the young woman mused to herself ... or lack of sleep. Suddenly, Eve was only a few steps away, close enough to see her face. "Hades!" Gabrielle swore under her breath.
Eve's face was distorted with hatred and anger. A Roman short sword now presented itself from beneath her cloak. Gabrielle began to step back unconsciously in sheer survival mode. Eve increased her stride until her steps overmatched the bard's and they were face to face. With a quick flick of her wrist, Eve relieved the chakram from its place at Gabrielle's hip. She held it up between their faces and peered through its openings. If looks could kill. It made the bard shudder.
"Are you happy now?" Eve growled.
Gabrielle backed up a few more steps. Eve did not pursue.
"Eve," Gabrielle began, raising her hands to show she had no intention of returning the aggression. "What are you doing?" Her heart was racing from the unexpected attack. "I I have news," she stammered. This is not quite how I imagined I'd tell you, she thought to herself.
"Eeeeve, I have neeeews," the angry woman mocked. "I know all about your news, bard," she growled.
"Look, Eve," Gabrielle tried to reason, "I don't know what you've heard---"
"Sweet, innocent Gabrielle. Hah!" Eve snorted. "My mother could really pick them. That manipulative little bitch Akemi set her up, and you came along for the final kill."
"I didn't kill her, Eve!" Gabrielle insisted. "She was already dead when I found her." This Gabrielle said urgently, with more than just a little irritation. She was growing weary of having to point out that fact.
"Weave the tale however you like, bard," Eve spat with venom. "Whatever lets you sleep at night, eh?"
"Stop it, Eve please. Let me explain," Gabrielle implored.
"You don't need to explain," Eve stated with condescending certainty. "It's all been made very clear to me."
It suddenly dawned on Gabrielle; this conversation had a familiar theme. "Has Ares been here?" she asked in a hushed tone.
"Ares? What does he have---" Eve broke off in mid sentence. An even angrier shadow fell across her angular face as a revolting notion swam in her head. "I should have known." Her voice had dropped to its lowest register. "He couldn't have her. He couldn't have me. But you?" she questioned, enraged. "It wasn't enough that she took you in," the angry woman continued. "She saved you from a life of stagnation in that dirt patch you call a village. She felt sorry for you. She trusted you!"
Gabrielle shook her head, pleading with her eyes for Eve to understand, this was all just a terrible misunderstanding.
"Eve," Gabrielle started, her voice beginning to waver. I can't believe where this is going, she thought to herself. This is not happening.
"I knew you wanted to be just like her," Eve accused. "I just never knew you wanted to be her, enough to betray her when she was at her most vulnerable. The one time she needed your good judgment."
"It was Xena's choice, Eve. For the greater good for herself," the bard said weakly, not sure at that moment whether she really believed that to be true.
Eve relaxed her stance and tilted her head. "Oh. The greater good," she stated flatly, with mock understanding. "Hmm. Didn't she recently disregard the greater good for someone?" she paused for effect. "Oh yes. That was you, Gabrielle," she shouted, "after you murdered that boy in cold blood!"
"That was a horrible accident!" she warned Eve. Gabrielle could feel her world beginning to unravel.
"Because what did she say?" Eve continued, questioning the air. "Some things are just more important? You," she pointed her finger sternly, "were more important to her. Too bad she didn't have someone by her side that felt the same way."
The words formed an arrow that seemed to rip through Gabrielle's heart. Was that the truth? She didn't know anymore. The confidence of the day before had somehow been swallowed up by an overwhelming wave of guilt. She suddenly felt sick.
"Truth hurts, doesn't it, Gabrielle," Eve taunted.
"Please just stop talking, Eve." Gabrielle closed her eyes and put her hands to her head. She just wanted to make it all stop---the hurting, the confusion.
"Yes, good idea." Eve stormed away; then she turned, "Payback's a bitch," she shouted, "and today her name is Eve!"
Gabrielle sensed the weapon before she ever heard it, but her feet were suddenly as clay, and she only had time to look up before the shining glare of the razor edged chakram filled her vision.
"NO!" the bard exhaled, her breathing quick and shallow. "No." She was bathed in sweat, and her heart felt as if it would explode. She sat up, grabbed her chest, and blinked frantically in confusion. "Ugh. Gods." Her breathing began to even out as she took in her environment. The campfire was merely embers now, the night sounds of the forest muffled by the sound of her rapidly beating heart echoing in her ears. "Ugh " she lay back down, "one night just one night of peaceful sleep," she pleaded with the stars.
Gabrielle sat alone, cross-legged, on the ground, at the edge of a field that was sporadically dotted with haystacks. Nervous villagers scurried from place to place, casting furtive glances at the blonde stranger who seemed to be having an argument---with no one. She ran a hand through her short cropped hair with irritation, and looked up to see the ghost of her dark haired soul mate, laughing, as she plunked herself down on the ground next to her.
"Xena, stop," she glared at her soul mate. "Stop it. It's not funny."
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry, but it is funny."
"Xena, I killed it." Glare. "It's not funny!"
Xena hid her smile behind her hand, looked away, and shook her head, still not able to contain her amusement.
"This is a lethal weapon," the bard shook the chakram at her partner. "It can kill people!"
Xena regained her composure and said seriously, "Gabrielle, weapons don't kill people, people kill people."
Gabrielle shot her an irritated glance. Xena stared back blankly and raised an unapologetic eyebrow.
"You're not making me feel better."
"Gabrielle, it was a cow, not a person."
The bard grimaced.
Xena continued, "It escaped from the slaughter house."
"Yeah great this close to freedom " Gabrielle pinched her fingers together in front of her soul mate's face, "and WHAM!"
"Gabrielle, the owner wasn't even upset," Xena tried to be comforting, but she couldn't stop the grin that spread across her face. "And the field workers," she continued, "you saved them a day's work."
The bard groaned and put her head in her hands.
"And the grain tower," the warrior continued, thumbing over her shoulder, "they were going to take it down next moon anyway."
Another groan. "Welcome to Tartarus, my name is Gabrielle I'll be your host." She paused to watch the villagers as they cleaned up the destruction left by the errant throw. It was a sobering sight. "Gods, Xena, I could have really hurt someone."
"Actually, I think they want to hire you on here," Xena chided. "You did the work of half the village with one throw of the chakram."
"It was a disaster, Xena! Look at this place!"
"At least they let you pay for the sign at the inn " Xena paused and tried to hide her widening smile, "after you got them to come out from behind the counter."
"I told them it was an accident," she shook her head. "They thought I was here to destroy their village."
Gabrielle frowned, "I help people!" she protested.
"And they so believed that," the warrior said sarcastically.
Gabrielle put her head in her hands, "It's not my fault."
Xena started laughing, "Explain to me what you were aiming at again?"
"The tree," pointing.
Xena scrunched up her face and squinted at the target, mocking her soul mate.
"Xena, it came out of nowhere!"
"It was a cow," Xena chuckled, "a big, lumbering, slow moving cow. They don't come out of nowhere."
"I was aiming at the tree," the bard insisted. "It moved out from behind that haystack," pointing, "as I let the chakram go." She glared at her partner, who was trying hard not to grin. "It was running!"
Xena looked away innocently.
Gabrielle waved a finger at her and lowered her voice, "It wasn't my fault."
"Bacchae butts! Duck!" Gabrielle screamed at the workers as the chakram deflected off the unfortunate cow's head and careened off course, heading toward the golden field.
The workers all jerked their heads up in unison like well, cows and then they hit the dirt, quickly disappearing into the sea of grain as the runaway chakram cut a path through the rows. Its next victim was the empty grain tower. Villagers scattered as the chakram took out one of the supporting timbers and the structure came crashing down like a felled tree. Then it was on to the main street, where it took out the swinging sign in front of the inn.
Gabrielle stared in horror at the unexpected path of destruction being carved out by the runaway chakram. She panicked as the weapon came whistling back, ducking instead of trying to catch it. "Good grief," she exhaled, as it embedded itself in a tree just behind her.
Xena smiled and shook her head as she closed her eyes and a laugh escaped, "Come on," she urged, "let's give it another try."
"I don't think I can use this, Xena," the bard said, holding up the chakram. A few of the villagers saw her raise the weapon and darted for cover. The chakram lesson was not going well.
"I think we'd better get out of here before you traumatize these poor people," the warrior admitted.
"Too late," Gabrielle commented, as she stood up and hooked the chakram to her waist.
The villagers slowly came out from their hiding places.
"Sorry," she shouted in their direction. "It's all right." She raised her hands in surrender, "I'm leaving." She lowered her arms and scratched the back of her head. "Sorry," she turned to Xena. "That seems so inadequate."
"Go," the warrior urged, as she gave her partner a gentle shove in the back.
They walked away, Gabrielle shaking her head, Xena still chuckling.
"I feel terrible."
They walked down the hill, away from the village, through the surrounding woods and onto a well traveled road, until they came to a clearing. Gabrielle diligently examined the surroundings, making sure there was nothing around that would be destroyed should the chakram get out of control again. She was also trying to convince her soul mate that it might be better if she just didn't use the weapon.
"My point is, Xena, if I'm not comfortable with this," holding up the chakram, "I'm going to do more harm than good."
"Well then, I guess we'd better get you comfortable with it, because it can be a very valuable tool---one that can make the difference when nothing else will."
Gabrielle exhaled, knowing from experience that Xena was right.
"You used it in Japa successfully, Gabrielle. What's changed?"
She gave that serious thought, and finally concluded, "I didn't have a choice in Japa. There was no time---"
"To think," the warrior said, finishing the recollection.
"Yes to think."
"Don't think, Gabrielle trust."
"I'm sorry, Xena. This could really hurt someone," holding up the chakram again. "I'm not putting my trust in it. There are too many variables that could cause---"
"Not it," Xena interrupted, pointing at the chakram, "you," pointing at her soul mate. "Trust yourself, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle clenched her jaw and looked down with a slight shake of her head.
Xena could tell she'd struck a nerve, as her soul mate worked hard to keep something inside. Xena moved closer, put her hands on her partner's shoulders, and waited until she looked up. Gabrielle briefly met her eyes, but quickly looked away, swallowing. "It was not your fault, Gabrielle," Xena said sympathetically.
The bard flicked her eyes back, then away, then back again. She tried to shake off what she was really thinking, in favor of what she thought Xena was referring to. She patted the hands resting on her shoulders. "No, you were right. I should have seen the cow."
"Not that," the warrior said sharply, "what happened in Japa."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried to pull away, annoyed that the guilt had broken through her resolve so easily.
Xena held fast to her shoulders, "Hey, look at me," she said firmly. "Not your fault," tightening her grip for emphasis. "You did everything right. Do you understand me?"
Gabrielle stared at her soul mate, "Then why does everything feel so wrong?"
Xena didn't have an answer, and the bard pulled away from her grasp. She turned her back on her soul mate and stared off into the distance, "Maybe Ares was right."
"Don't do this, Gabrielle."
"He said I wasn't good enough to save you."
Gabrielle continued staring and took in and released a tired breath.
Xena had had enough. She leaned in from behind and into her soul mate's ear said tersely, "Since when do you listen to anything that bastard has to say? This was my decision. You know that."
Gabrielle looked up at the sky for a long moment and exhaled, "Yes, I do."
Xena put her arm around her shoulder. "All right." The tension fell away and the warrior's voice became an encouraging whisper. "Let's do this," she pointed at the chakram. Gabrielle nodded, but Xena could tell she was still apprehensive. "Do you trust me?"
"I want you to close your eyes."
"Now keep them shut, throw the chakram, and don't open them until it's back in your hand."
The bard opened her eyes and gave her soul mate a suspicious glare over her shoulder, "Xena, if this is your way of getting me to join you in the afterlife---"
Another cautious glance at her soul mate, then she turned her attention to the chakram. Xena gave her a confident nod. She closed her eyes and lifted the chakram in her hand a few times as if to guess its weight.
"Trust, Gabrielle. Don't think. Trust."
Gabrielle kept her eyes closed and nodded. Trust, trust, trust, trust, trust, she repeated silently.
"Choose your targets. Clear your mind. Trust," she heard Xena say, her voice trailing off.
Her mind was suddenly still, the sounds of the meadow whispering behind her steady heartbeat. She could feel the cold metal of the chakram warming in her hand. She exhaled a slow breath and let the chakram fly. She could hear the whistle of the weapon as it cut through the air, the sound abruptly stopping and changing pitch as it hit each object and changed direction.
The chakram was on its way back. Moment of truth. Gabrielle raised her chin, daring it to cut her down. Almost against her will, her arm began to move to intercept the weapon. Everything was in slow motion now, as her arm rose from its place at her side, her palm turned outward and up, across the front of her body and into the space before her face. The chakram got there at the same time as her hand, and she could see the action clearly in her mind's eye. Her hand came from beneath the path of the chakram and into the center where her fingers closed around the bar dividing it, stopping its deadly path toward her head. The weapon was now one with her hand, and it followed her arm's motion, which brought it to rest just off to her side, her palm still turned outward. She held that position for a moment, and opened her eyes. She held her arm still, but flicked her wrist over so that she had a full view of the chakram.
"Heh," she snorted in amazement. "You were right, Xena." She turned to look at her soul mate, but she was gone.
Gabrielle let her arm and her stance relax and held the chakram to her chest, acknowledging that the accomplishment was her own. She closed her eyes and cradled the chakram closer. Trust. Was it really that simple? She kept practicing, each throw more complicated than the last---standing, sitting, kneeling, running, crawling. She caught the chakram for the umpteenth time, perfectly. There were no miscalculations, no doubts. She closed her eyes in satisfaction. She had her answer. Yes.
From behind her, she could hear frantic footsteps crunching on the gravel in her direction. She turned, chakram still in hand, to see a small child come to a skidding halt at the sight of her brandishing the weapon. She recognized him from the inn. The child's eyes widened and Gabrielle could tell the little boy was afraid of her. She tucked the chakram behind her back and held out a hand.
"It's all right I won't hurt you," she cooed.
His eyes looked left, and then right, then he stared at her. "Is it true you help people?" he asked anxiously, out of breath.
"Yes," she walked forward, still holding out her hand.
He made a decision. He grabbed her hand and began to run, "Come on!"
Gabrielle allowed herself to be pulled along. "Where are we going?"
"Raiders attacking the village."
"Hades!" she swore under her breath. She pulled the boy to a halt, putting both hands on his shoulders. "Stay here!" she said earnestly.
She took off at a dead run toward the village. Knowing that it took time for the boy to reach her, and more time for her to run back, she dreaded what she was going to find there. Please, please, please don't let me be too late, she pleaded as she ran. Her legs ached and her lungs burned, as she finally scrambled up the hill overlooking the village. Argo would be good right now, she thought to herself. Sadness tugged at her heart as she remembered there is no Argo, and there is no Xena. That part of her life was over. Stop it. There's no time for that now. She paused briefly at the top of the hill to take inventory of the situation. Only five raiders---that was manageable. Did I just say that? She was instantly relieved when she realized that they were the "slave and pillage" variety, rather than the "massacre and pillage" variety.
The villagers that hadn't escaped into the woods were locked up in cages, on wagons. Three of the raiders were busy loading up valuables, the other two were carrying torches intent on burning the village. Gabrielle took a deep breath. Right. She yanked her sais from her boots and broke into a determined sprint toward the offending intruders. No one noticed her approaching. Good. The two with the torches were getting closer to their targets and Gabrielle knew she'd never get there in time. She gave a quick scan of the village as she skidded to a halt. She dropped a sai, and reached for the chakram. Trust. With a grunt, she let it fly.
Lock on the first cage.
Lock on the second cage.
She picked up her sai and continued toward the village, "Run!" she shouted at the freed villagers. Now she had the raiders' attention. The chakram continued on its path.
Sword. Knocking its owner off his horse.
Lock on the third cage.
The raiders were now heading for her. As she reached the edge of the village, one cocked his crossbow in her direction. She threw a sai, pinning him to the doorjamb by his shoulder armor, which caused his arrow to miss its mark. She almost didn't have time to recover from the throw before the chakram arrived at her hand. She caught it, and with one smooth motion, replaced it at her hip. "Run!" she implored the gawking villagers. They looked at her, then at the raiders, and then at each other. The children were led toward the woods, and the remaining group picked up their farm implements and joined in the defense of their village.
Gabrielle thrust her remaining sai into the air with both hands, stopping the downward sweep of a raider's heavy sword. The impact made her knees buckle slightly, but she managed to use the power from the coiling of her legs to push the sword back, and with a firm kick to the chest, the raider wound up sprawled on his backside. Villagers were there quickly, pinning him down with pitchforks. Gabrielle braced for the next attack, but it never came. She looked around to see the rest of the raiders being corralled into their own cages by the suddenly brave villagers. She blew out a relieved breath as someone cautiously handed her the other sai.
"Thanks," she said with a smile.
"No, thank you."
Mumbles of agreement floated through the air.
The crowd ushered her into the inn, insisting that she accept the meal and lodging. It was a luxury she didn't get often, and she welcomed it.
They were surprised to hear that she was a storyteller and she promised she'd tell one after dinner. It wasn't a story about her travels with Xena---she wasn't ready for that yet. It was a fairytale she'd heard when she was a child. The adults were amused, and the children were mesmerized. It felt good to get back to a craft that she seemed to have neglected of late. She returned to her seat, and the children scrambled to be near her. Fascinated by her exotic weapons, they watched intently as she laid them neatly in front of her on the table. The young boy that brought her back to the village reached out to touch the chakram.
"This is so cool."
"Careful, honey, that's sharp," Gabrielle gently scolded.
"Don't touch that!" his father snapped, grabbing the curious hand. "That's not a toy!"
Gabrielle raised her brow in agreement. The young boy rubbed his hand and gave her a shy, embarrassed glance. She winked and smiled sympathetically.
Some of the adults began rounding up their offspring. "Off to bed with ye. Come on." They shuffled by, shaking Gabrielle's hand politely. Some wanted to touch her sun bleached blonde hair, so different from their own dark heads. She was left in a room full of curious adults, all staring at her as if they expected her to say something profound.
"They're sweet," she said, referring to the children.
Polite nods, and more silence.
She cleared her throat, and shifted in her seat a bit. "Why didn't you fight back before?" she inquired gently.
The man closest to her spoke up, "It is not the way of love."
Gabrielle froze. They can't be. "Are you followers of Eli?"
"Yes." Excited affirmations spread through the inn at the mention of his name. "Do you know the way of Eli?" they inquired.
"Eli was a friend of mine."
They frowned, in disbelief, "You're too young."
They looked at her weapons, "But you're a warrior."
"I---" She started to protest, but with her weapons on display, and after what they'd seen from her that day, there didn't seem to be much point in it. Maybe they were right.
"But if Eli was your friend, why do you not follow the way of love?"
"I did follow the way of love."
The crowd eyed her suspiciously.
"It led me here," her gaze dropped to her weapons.
Mumbles of disagreement traveled around the room.
"I want to help people," she continued. "Unfortunately, in order to do that, sometimes I need these."
"But Eli says---"
"Everyone finds their own way," Gabrielle broke in impatiently, remembering the pain caused by her blind devotion to Eli's way of love, "this is mine," she touched her weapons. "Sometimes you have to defend the things you love like today you defended this village, and your families."
"But the Messenger, she says---"
She. This was just too easy. Couldn't hurt to ask. "Do you know a young woman named Eve?"
"Oh yes, the Messenger of Eli. She brought us to the way of love."
Gabrielle's eyes lit up. Yes! "When was she here? Do you know where she is?"
They were more than happy to direct this poor, misguided young stranger to the Messenger. Gabrielle had to laugh, if they only knew. She scribbled a few lines on a piece of parchment, and handed it to a runner.
"I will make sure it gets there quickly," and he was out the door.
Tonight she would enjoy the warm bed. Tomorrow she would begin her task in earnest---a task she'd been dreading. One day at a time, Gabrielle, one day at a time.
The easy part was finding Eve. There weren't too many "messengers of Eli" traveling in the land of Chin. Gabrielle sent word ahead asking Eve to wait for her. The hard part was going to be telling her about her mother.
Gabrielle was thankful for the few weeks that it would take for her to travel to where Eve was in Chin. Time to find a way to prepare someone else for something she could hardly accept herself. As if that weren't enough to think about, she was still haunted by her nightmare.
Finally, she arrived at her destination. It was a small village, peaceful, except for a few villagers milling about. The setting sun was throwing an eerie orange glow across the landscape. A small boy saw her and called into a nearby hut. Gabrielle's body tensed as she saw Eve duck out of the hut and begin the walk toward her with purposeful strides. At that distance, her grace of movement so resembled her mother's. Gabrielle was frozen to her spot. Time seemed to slow down as Eve approached in silhouette, her long dark hair blowing in the soft evening breeze, her full-length cloak gracefully flowing, dancing in time with her step.
She knew something, Gabrielle realized. Her mind flashed back to her nightmare, which had unfolded not unlike this scene. Her heartbeat quickened as she peered into the oncoming dusk, trying to get an early indication of Eve's state of mind. Her fingers tensed as she rested them on the chakram at her waist. It was just a dream, Gabrielle, the bard scolded herself. She dropped her hand to her side. Finally, she could see Eve's face. No anger, no hatred, just love and sorrow and understanding. Then the walls came down.
After weeks of holding herself together, it was all about to come undone for the bard. Her throat so tight, she couldn't have spoken if she'd wanted to. What came out instead was a wounded groan as she and Eve embraced. Then came the sobbing.
"I'm so sorry, Eve," Gabrielle finally managed, burying her head into Eve's shoulder.
"I know; me too," through tears. "I love you. Come on." Eve wrapped one side of her cloak around the bard and led her back across the courtyard and into the hut.
They sat down at a table, across from one another, an awkward silence settling around them. Gabrielle wiped her eyes and shifted uncomfortably, trying to look anywhere but at Eve's face. She so resembled her mother, even more so now, it seemed, than she had ever noticed before. She gathered up her courage and spread both hands palms down on the table in front of her.
"So," she began, finally looking up into Eve's face. Eve was a study in compassion, despite her own loss. The sight brought a comforting feeling, calming the nervousness that had been rumbling in her gut. She smiled. "How much do you know?" the bard tentatively continued.
Eve hesitated for a moment and furrowed her brow, "I know she died in battle."
Gabrielle gave a short nod in agreement.
Eve continued slowly, with disgust and hatred. "I know they cut off her head, desecrated her body, strung her up, and displayed her like a prized cow."
The cold, calculated words brought the memory of the horrific image flooding back. Gabrielle swallowed hard, trying to keep down the rising bile. She looked up, to see Eve's stern face, her eyes looking through her. A single tear lined her angular face. Behind her blank eyes and clenched jaw, Gabrielle could see the anger Eve felt at the thought of what had been done to her mother. And then, as she swallowed and her eyes closed, the realization that she had done the same to so many, as Livia.
"Eve," the bard reached over and touched her arm.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," Eve began, blinking, "that you had to see her like that," regaining her composure.
"Yeah, me too," she rubbed Eve's arm, still swallowing.
"Okay," Eve lifted her chin and patted Gabrielle's hand, "tell me the rest."
Emotions under control, back to the business at hand. So like her mother, the bard mused. She cleared her throat and began retelling the tale.
"Wait a minute," Eve broke in, "she stopped you from putting the ashes in the fountain?"
"And you let her?"
"Just wait," Gabrielle interrupted with a raised hand. She repeated, word for word, Xena's explanation.
"That's not right, Gabrielle," Eve broke in again.
"That's what I said, Eve," the bard commented.
"No I mean, she wasn't right," Eve clarified. "Who told her that?"
Gabrielle thought for a moment, "Um she wasn't really clear on that."
Eve didn't say anything, but neither did her face betray which emotion she was feeling.
Gabrielle's expression was now showing concern, as a chilling realization was beginning to dawn on her. "What are you saying, Eve?"
"Well," Eve tried to be calm and nonchalant, noticing the bard's rising concern, "since we've been here, we've gained some extensive knowledge of the different customs and religions in Chin and Japa, as well as some of the surrounding areas, and from what I understand, as it pertains to your story, once Yodoshi had been destroyed---"
"Uhhhhmmm," Gabrielle groaned under her breath, putting one hand on her forehead and the other across her mouth. She shifted a bit to the side in a vain attempt to shield herself from the coming knowledge.
"Those souls were free," Eve continued. "I don't know why Mother thought they wouldn't find grace. I mean, since when has vengeance equaled salvation?"
Since that's the way Xena sometimes viewed her behavior in the scheme of her past, the bard thought to herself. She was looking at Eve, but didn't see her. She was lost in her own thoughts, trying desperately not to give in to the realization that she may have made a tragic miscalculation.
"Gabrielle," Eve reached over and touched her shoulder.
She blinked Eve back into focus and shook her head slightly to clear her mind. "I knew that couldn't be right," Gabrielle replied, almost apologetically, lifting one hand. "I I just thought she was making up an excuse that I would buy into." She looked away. "How many times have I used the greater good reasoning?" she asked the air.
"But why? Eve queried.
Gabrielle hesitated, "Because she didn't want to come back," simply.
Eve shot the bard an innocent, but doubting look.
"I know it's hard to imagine but by then," Gabrielle let out a breath and wet her lips, "I could see that she was already " she paused, searching for the right word.
"Free," Eve supplied, in a defeated breath.
Gabrielle looked up in agreement, "Yes, free." She pondered the concept. "You should have seen her, Eve, so peaceful, so beautiful." Her mind paused on the image. "Wow," she agreed with herself, "beautiful." She took in and released a breath, breaking her own trance. "At that point, it didn't seem like the souls were even the issue anymore. It was what Xena wanted," she looked away, doubting her own logic upon hearing it out loud. "For whatever reason," she threw away with a slight wave of her hand.
"The pull of that kind of peace is very strong," Eve commented with some authority, and then offered a questioning glance at Gabrielle, "but---"
"But what?" the bard asked slowly.
"I'm I'm just," Eve hesitated. She could see Gabrielle's discomfort with the direction the conversation was taking.
"Eve! What?" the bard spat, the rising panic evident in her voice.
Eve thought carefully about her approach, and then began, "She loved you very much, Gabrielle." Pause. She touched the bard's hand, and then withdrew. "I'm just surprised that she gave in to that peace so easily."
She was probably tired of fighting the never ending battle with herself over her past deeds, Gabrielle thought to herself.
"Surprised that she had the courage to leave you," Eve continued. "Especially when her return was right there ... in your hands."
Gabrielle looked hard into Eve's eyes to see if the last remark was accusatory, or merely a statement of fact. After a moment, she decided, merely a statement of fact. Then a scene began to replay itself in her mind---
"Gabrielle, if I only had thirty seconds to live this is how I'd want to live them looking into your eyes."
"Always remember, I love you."
Gabrielle's heart rate began to increase as she recalled the panic she'd felt when she feared the warrior would let herself expire right then and there, in her arms. But she pleaded with Xena to stop it, and she had.
"She didn't." Gabrielle's face was ashen.
"Have the courage," Gabrielle looked up. "She knew I'd try to stop her, and she knew she'd let me. Oh Gods! What have I done?" the bard said weakly, burying her head in her hands.
Scene after scene began replaying in her mind. How many times had Xena told her she was the most important thing in her life? How many times had she promised she'd never leave her?
"Even in death Gabrielle I will never leave you "
Then she recalled a scene that had taken place not too long ago, in the desert---
"You saved me today, Xena, against the greater good. Why? Isn't that what we've been fighting for?"
"Gabrielle, in everyone's life, there's something that
goes beyond the greater good. That's what you are in my life. I wasn't about to let you die out there if there was something I could do about it."
"What if it was my choice?"
"Especially if it was your choice."
"Gabrielle," Eve reached out with concern.
The bard's whole body was shaking, and the pounding of her heart was so loud, she was sure even Eve could hear it. There was nothing she could do about her rebelling stomach.
"Uh gods. I'm going to be sick," she groaned, as she darted out the door and collapsed to the ground. She came up with nothing but dry heaves on her empty stomach.
"Gabrielle," Eve was at her side now, one hand stroking her back, "you didn't know. Come on," trying to urge her up. "She's at peace now."
"Is that going to give you comfort, Eve?" the bard snapped, as she struggled to her feet. "Because that's really not working for me right now!"
Eve stepped back in shock, "Gabrielle---"
Gabrielle reached for Eve's arm, giving it a light squeeze in apology, "I'm sorry Eve, but don't you get it?" regaining her composure.
"Uh I guess not," Eve replied.
"Have you ever been dead, Eve?" a simple question.
Eve furrowed her brow, surprised at the question, and then pondered, "Are we talking metaphorically, or---"
"Physically," the bard clarified, with a wry chuckle. "What do the dead want?" Gabrielle continued in earnest.
"I don't know, Gabrielle, I've never been dead," she said with a hint of sarcasm, wondering where in Hades this was leading. Then she remembered Athena's temple. "Okay, well not long enough to---"
"Well, I have," the bard continued, raising her brow.
"And what did you want, Gabrielle?" now with guarded interest.
"That's the whole point. I didn't want anything!" The excitement was evident in her voice, as if she'd just remembered the key to the universe. Perhaps she had---the key to her universe, anyway. "There was just this surreal calm. I had no sense of future. No needs, no desires. I only knew the past, and I only sensed the present, through the eyes of the living."
Eve could almost see the gears working behind darting green eyes, as the pieces slowly came together.
"Don't you see?"
Eve gave her a slightly confused look.
"Xena's decision, in life," Gabrielle began methodically, "was to kill Yodoshi, and free the souls. But the only way she could do that was to die and enter the spirit world. You follow?"
"Okaaay," Eve drew out.
"All of Xena's decisions and reactions as a spirit were based on knowledge of her past, up until her death. She had no sense of her future, because before she died, she didn't think she had a future, and once she was a spirit, she had no desire for a future."
"So, when she asked you not to put her ashes into the fountain," Eve added, getting the gist of where Gabrielle was going, "she really did think the souls wouldn't be saved if she was returned to her body."
"Exactly," the bard stated proudly. "But nobody told her that. That's all she knew. Xena dies, Yodoshi dies, the souls are free."
"The solution to restore her didn't come to light until after she had died," Eve offered. "And as a spirit, she had no desire to want that, or understand that you needed her."
"Which I mistook as a conscious decision on her part not to return. I thought she was so blissfully happy that her struggle was finally over," Gabrielle reasoned.
"Maybe she was," Eve said solemnly.
"Of course she was. That's what being a free spirit will give you." Gabrielle was on a roll now. "But I should have---"
"Hey, Gabrielle?" Eve interrupted.
"Are you sure she would've wanted to come back? I mean, her struggle is over," she offered in a small voice.
Gabrielle could almost hear wishful thinking in Eve's statement. Which surprised her, but then not, as she remembered how much alike the two most important women in her life were: both battling brutal pasts, both trying desperately to seek the path of atonement. Xena had Gabrielle. Eve had the God of Eli.
Returning her thoughts to Eve's question, Gabrielle briefly entertained the thought that her reasoning was strictly selfishly motivated, but a warm rush of happy memories flooded her mind. Her soul mate had come so far from the dour ex-warlord she'd met so many years ago. They both had.
"She wanted to live, Eve. She was just counting on me to remember that for her. I should have listened to my heart."
Gabrielle's excitement and self-congratulation at her discovery was quickly replaced by the realization that she had, indeed, made a tragic mistake. Anger was now setting in. "Ugh! Idiot!" she smacked herself in the head. "When will you learn to think, Gabrielle!" she scolded herself.
"Gabrielle," Eve tried to comfort, "this wasn't your fault."
"No, it wasn't my fault, but your mother trusted me to watch her back." She wiped an angry tear. "I had her life in my hands, Eve. I was right there!" She looked at her hands and thrust them down in exasperation.
"It's over, Gabrielle. There's nothing you can do now." She paused before continuing, "Look, I'm glad you figured this all out. Understanding is a positive step toward healing, but you've got to move on. You must forgive yourself before you---"
Gabrielle raised her hand and turned her head, stopping Eve before she could really get started. She was not in the mood to endure one of Eli's speeches about forgiveness. "There'd better be something I can do about it, because I don't think I can live with this," Gabrielle warned, as she stormed back into the hut and began collecting her things.
Eve followed. "Gab, stop. Where are you going?"
Gabrielle gave her an earnest, though impatient hug. "I'm sorry, Eve. I've got to go. I love you."
"I love you, too. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to bring her back," she stated with confidence.
Eve stared in disbelief, and then went with it. If anyone could, it would be Gabrielle. "Wait. Let me get my---"
"No, honey," she gave Eve a warm hug, relieving her of the rest of her sentence. "I'm going to fix this," she whispered close to her ear.
Eve watched her leave. "Do you really think you can bring her back?" she called after her.
"I've got to try." And with that, Gabrielle disappeared into the night.
"You look like you've been run over by a chariot on the fast track to Tartarus," Xena called up ahead as she quickened her pace to catch up with her soul mate.
Gabrielle shot her a glance of mock appreciation, "Nice."
Xena glared back, "You should get some sleep."
"I'm busy right now," Gabrielle mumbled.
"You want me to leave?"
"I didn't say that."
As they walked, Xena noticed that her soul mate was unusually quiet. She craned her head around so that she could see Gabrielle's face. Hmm. She recognized the mood by the clipped tones, furrowed brow, and the set of her determined chin.
"Mad at me?"
"Nooo," the younger woman drew out. "Yes," changing her mind. Gabrielle offered a sideways glance at the warrior, then stopped in mid stride, turned, and made a negative wave with her hand. "No," she said softly. She bowed her head, put her hands on her hips, and exhaled a long breath. "What a mess, Xena," she said, nudging a stick on the ground with her foot, looking at nothing in particular.
The warrior pursed her lips in agreement, "And?"
"And I'm not mad at you. I'm just ugh " she threw her hands up, and walked in a small circle, "frustrated!" as she returned to her spot in front of the warrior.
That got a sympathetic look from her soul mate.
"I've got to fix this and I don't know where to start," she paused, "and this whole thing," she threw her hands up again, "it just never should have happened!" exasperated.
"You're right, Gabrielle. It never should have happened," Xena said solemnly. She knew the game of shoulda, coulda, woulda never really solved anything. But, it may help her soul mate feel better.
"That fire, the village, those people that was not your fault, Xena!" she said, irritated.
The warrior stared at the bard through half lidded eyes, her face suddenly like a stone mask. "Then whose fault would it be, Gabrielle?" she said in a low growl.
Gabrielle stared at her soul mate, then off into the night, then back to her soul mate. Her jaw clenched a few times and she bit the inside of her lip. Don't go there, she warned herself.
The warrior intensified her glare.
"She manipulated you, Xena," she finally spat out, "from the very beginning." Oops. Went there.
Ahhh, I see, the warrior thought to herself. Her face eased from glare to understanding. "Akemi saw through me, Gabrielle, into my soul."
"She told you what you wanted to hear, Xena. It's Mind Oracle 101. Who doesn't want to hear that they're loved and understood?" It tumbled out of her mouth as if she'd been holding it in for months. Perhaps she had.
"It wasn't like that, Gabrielle," the warrior said sympathetically.
The bard was already sorry she'd started this thread, and this was not going to help her get Xena back. "Um Xena," she waved her hand in the air, "I can't talk about this right now."
"All right," Xena said flatly.
Gabrielle began to walk again, and then stopped and put a hand to her forehead, "No, it's not all right." She turned to face her soul mate and gave her an apologetic look.
The warrior gave her an understanding smile in return.
Slowly, the bard began to walk again, shaking her head and quietly scolding herself, "Jealous of a gods be damned spirit. How pathetic am I." She continued walking, and without looking at her, put a hand to Xena's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"Don't ever apologize for loving me, Gabrielle." She put her arm around the younger woman, and pulled her close.
They walked along like that, in silence for a while, until the warrior finally spoke. "This whole thing started because I wanted to kidnap Akemi for the ransom, Gabrielle."
The bard was quiet.
"I know you love me," Xena continued, "and you're trying to defend me, but please don't forget how this started."
Gabrielle thought about protesting, but saw the truth of it and merely nodded in acknowledgment as she walked, staring at the ground.
"Feeling better?" the warrior asked after a while.
"Much, actually, but I'm still no closer to a solution."
Xena just smiled. "Got any ideas?"
Gabrielle scrunched up her face, and shrugged her shoulders. "Ares said he could bring you back," she cast a glance at her soul mate for any hint of approval.
Xena made a face like she'd just smelled something bad.
"Yeah," Gabrielle agreed, "I don't like that idea either. Besides, I think he may have been lying."
"Not his style, Gabrielle."
"You're kidding, right?" the bard snorted.
"He gets his way by deception and manipulation. Outright lies? No sport in that," Xena said as a matter of fact.
"Tssst," Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Warlords."
That brought a chuckle from the warrior.
"But," Gabrielle chirped with excitement, "what Ares can do---" Her eyes lit up, and she began walking in earnest. "Yes!" she pumped her fists in delight.
"That's my girl," Xena smiled proudly as she watched her soul mate bound down the road.
The pleasant smell of spices filled her nostrils, and the coolness of the temple interior was a welcome relief from the heat of the noonday sun.
"Gabby!" the goddess appeared, arms outstretched in a warm welcome.
"Aphrodite," Gabrielle smiled a huge genuine smile, for the first time in ages it seemed, as the Goddess of Love enveloped her in a heartfelt hug. Her mood had changed considerably. She had hope now.
Seeing Aphrodite was always a welcome treat, even more so now. Not only because she may be the answer to her problem, but also because they had become such good friends. She bathed in the warmth of the hug, taking in the goddess's sweet smell, the fringe on her absurd negligee tickling her nose.
Aphrodite released her hug and took a step back. She took the bard's face in her cupped hands. "Ooooh," she cooed, giving Gabrielle an exaggerated, but sincere look of sympathy. "Are you all right, sweetie?"
"I think I will be, and I'm hoping you can help me with that."
"I'll do my best, little one." She threw back her shoulders and put her hands on her hips, "Shoot."
"You know what happened, right?" Gabrielle began.
The goddess gave a solemn nod.
The bard went on. "I think it was a mistake." She glanced at Aphrodite's face for confirmation, or denial. Nothing. "Aphrodite, I need to be sure. Was it a mistake?"
"That depends on whose point of view you take."
Gabrielle cringed slightly at the answer. More puzzles, she sighed to herself. "Specifically, if I had returned Xena to her body would those souls have been lost?"
Gabrielle closed her eyes and let out a breath. Okay, that's settled. On to the next hurdle. "Aphrodite, I I need to ask something of you," she began tentatively, as they sat down.
"If I can help you, Gabby, you know I will." She reached out and put a hand on Gabrielle's knee. Her usually animated manner was now absolutely serious.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded silent, heartfelt thanks. She fidgeted a little nervously and then began, "Ares seemed to think he could bring Xena back."
Aphrodite leaned in close, with a gentle, menacing look, "Has he been giving you any trouble?"
"Uh, well, no. Not really. Not yet anyway, and I just didn't want to owe him any favors, if you know what I mean," she smiled.
Aphrodite gave an understanding grin. "Well, good," Aphrodite beamed, then paused. "You may not know it, but he is quite fond of both you and Xena. He just has a difficult time um expressing himself."
"Oh, is that it?" the bard chuckled.
"Well, he is the God of War, Gabrielle."
"Well, anyway," Gabrielle continued, "he seemed pretty anxious to get her ashes," rummaging in her pack and producing the urn.
Aphrodite looked slightly confused. "And what did he think he was going to do with those? Sheesh. I swear. If there's a hard way to do something, my brother will find it." She rolled her eyes and then wrinkled up her nose. "I think it's a boy thing," patting Gabrielle's knee.
That brought an embarrassed chuckle from the bard. She put a hand on the urn, "You don't need these to resurrect her?"
Aphrodite's gaze was suddenly serious again, and she took Gabrielle's hand, "I can't resurrect her, sweetie."
Okay, Plan B.
"But when we were in Athena's temple, Ares gave Eve and I a wonderful gift," she cast a cautious glance at the goddess, "and I um was just " Gabrielle stammered.
"I can't, Gabrielle," releasing the bard from her difficult question.
"I know," she said dejectedly, squeezing Aphrodite's hand. "It's too much to ask." Gabrielle bowed her head and closed her eyes, her hope fading now.
Aphrodite gently lifted her face with her hand, "It's not that, little one. I owe you my life, and my godhood. I'd give that to Xena if it would help, but I need her body, Gabby. Ashes won't do."
Gabrielle couldn't keep the tears at bay. She had come so close. She couldn't even blame the fates for their cruelty.
"Hey," the goddess said, brushing a tear from the bard's cheek, "cheer up, Gabby, I said I couldn't resurrect her, I didn't say there was nothing I could do." She got up, resumed her usual bubbly persona, and offered out her hand, "Come on---"
The next thing she knew, Gabrielle was standing in the middle of a dimly lit cave.
Aphrodite began poking around, lifting objects and tossing them aside, and commenting with an occasional humph, or snort.
"What is this place? the bard asked. "It looks like a warehouse for Gods-R-Us in here."
"Well," Aphrodite began, still rummaging around, "just some toys for the gods not to play with. Not much action in here since most of the gods are gone."
Gabrielle felt a pang of sadness for her friend. "I'm sorry, Aphrodite."
The goddess looked up briefly, "They brought it on themselves, little one," she said in a serious tone, before continuing her search.
"Still," the bard said softly, "family is family, and I know you must miss them."
Aphrodite didn't respond, just kept at her search.
Gabrielle scanned the room with interest. It was a little too dark to really make anything out, but a small, shiny object with a glowing stone caught her eye. She inched closer, squinting against the dim light. She reached out to pick it up.
"NO! Gab!" the Goddess barked. "Don't touch that, honey."
Gabrielle jerked her hand back and stood straight up, tucking her arms to her chest. "Sorry." She backed up slightly, casting an inquisitive glance back at the object. She swore it had winked at her. "Did you see that?"
Aphrodite didn't respond. "I know it's got to be here somewhere." She peeked at Gabrielle, who held her hands out innocently. "Come on, come on," Aphrodite murmured, as she continued her search. "Ew yuck," she whined, shaking her hands of cobwebs and dirt. "Doesn't anyone clean in here? Ugh!"
"Can I help? What are you looking for?" Gabrielle asked, feeling a little useless just standing there.
"The Kronos stone."
Ahhh, the bard thought to herself. That's the plan. Then her heart sank, as she realized that wasn't going to work. "Um Aphrodite "
"It's alright, sweet pea, I know it's here. This is where Zeus used to keep all of the things he didn't trust us with. What he didn't know was that we used to play in here all the time. Parents," she mused, waving a hand in front of her face, "clueless!"
"Didn't Hercules destroy that?" Gabrielle queried.
The goddess whirled around to face the bard, and put her hands on her hips. "Did he?"
"Yeah, he did," Gabrielle replied in a disappointed tone. "Twice, actually," she said, holding up two fingers. Then she thought for a moment, mumbling to herself, "Let's see Quallas, Autolocus, Hercules, one. Autolocus again, Hercules two. And," pause, "no before that. Oh, yeah Xena, Iolaus, Callisto. Three " counting in the air. "Yep," with confidence, "Hercules twice and Callisto once."
"I am so out of the loop!" Aphrodite protested.
"Don't worry about it. You wouldn't remember," the bard consoled. "It's a temporal manipulation thing."
"Huh?" the goddess blinked, hands on hips.
"The timeline was altered," Gabrielle clarified.
"And what do you know about altered timelines, Gabby?" Aphrodite said with interest.
"Only what Hercules, Autolocus, and Iolaus have told me."
"Guess it pays to know the right people," the goddess mused.
"Never fear, little one, there's more than one way to skin a Harpie."
"Ew. There's a picture," Gabrielle muttered.
Aphrodite motioned for the bard to follow her to the center of the room, "Are you ready?"
"What are we going to do?"
"We aren't going to do anything, you are going to go back and do a little temporal manipulating yourself. Here are my rules. What you change can only affect your life and Xena's in that time, at that moment, no one else's," she put her hands on her hips. "Agreed?"
"Do you have your moment?"
Gabrielle thought carefully for a minute, "Yes, but how can I do that without the Kro---"
Her speech was cut off by the appearance of a swirling vortex of images in midair, a few paces from where they were standing. "Whoa," she said in awe. "Aphrodite---"
"Zeus forbade us time travel. It made him nervous. Even the gods aren't immune to its effects."
"Yeah, I could see how that could get out of hand," the bard commented. "Will I remember what's happened?"
The goddess smiled, "How can you change the future if you can't remember your past, Gabrielle?"
The bard chuckled, "Yeah, but my past will be my future once I get to the past---"
"Don't go there," Aphrodite put up her hand.
"Will you get in trouble for this?"
Aphrodite merely shrugged, "I guess it's time I started living outside the box."
That's funny coming from a god, Gabrielle mused to herself.
"Besides, it's for love, isn't it? And that's my department."
Gabrielle agreed, and watched her past swirl by until it came close to the moment she had chosen. "There," she pointed.
"Excellent choice. Ready?"
"Yes. Thank you, Aphrodite. I won't forget this," she hugged her.
"But I will," the goddess whispered in her ear. They both smiled. "Good luck."
Time stood still for one brief instant. Gabrielle blinked, and found herself perched on the edge of a cliff, urn in hand. Over her shoulder, she could hear the great struggle between Xena and Yodoshi. The warrior's distinctive yell was being answered with deep throated growls from the eater of souls. It took a few moments for the bard to get her bearings.
"Right," she said under her breath, as she glanced at the progression of the setting sun. "Just one little detour---" She bounded down the mountain pass to where her now dead horse lay. She touched its head with a sorry hand, and removed a small bundle from its back, sparing another glance at the rapidly falling sun. She scurried back up the pass, wincing with regret as she passed the body of the warrior she'd slain with the chakram. The yells from the struggle had silenced, and the only sound she heard was her hurried boots crunching on rock and snow. "Go," she urged herself, checking on the sun, "go."
When she got to the fountain, Xena was nowhere to be seen. "Good," she thought to herself, "let's get this over with." She put her small bundle down and brought the ashes over the fountain. She removed the lid and prepared to do what she should have done the first time. Suddenly, Xena was at her side.
"No, Gabrielle." The warrior's hand encircled the bard's. "No."
Gabrielle tightened her grip on the urn and brought it protectively to her chest. She glanced over her shoulder at the shrinking sun.
"Gabri---" Xena began to protest.
Gabrielle smiled and put two fingers to Xena's lips, silencing her. "Do you trust me?" she asked her soul mate.
"Yes, but---" she reached for the urn.
Gabrielle caught her wrist with her free hand. "Do you trust that I'll do what's right for the greater good?"
"Always," Xena replied, lowering her hand.
Gabrielle nodded in appreciation, and poured the ashes into the fountain. Xena's spirit disappeared, as did the orange orb that had been floating on the horizon. She turned her attention now to the swirling gray dust on the surface of the water. Nothing. Slowly the dust disappeared as it surrendered to the water. Nothing.
Gabrielle looked intently into the fountain, leaning on the edge, eyes wide with hope and anticipation. "Come on COME ON!" she pleaded under her breath, with a furrowed brow. Nothing. "Don't do this to me, Xena," she begged the air. Her heart was racing. She scrutinized the now still water, looking for anything. The light was fading quickly, leaving behind a faint pink-orange hue to the surrounding landscape.
"Please," she implored weakly, falling to her knees, and resting her cheek against the cold stone of the fountain. She closed her eyes. "Please," in a small whisper. She kept her eyes closed, listening for any sound that would indicate her soul mate's return. Nothing. A tear of defeat fell, as she rested her head on her arm and stared into the dark water. This can't be happening, I've come too far.
Through the darkness, she thought she saw a slight ripple, then another, until the whole surface seemed to vibrate with life. She leapt to her feet and leaned over the water's surface, desperately trying to peer through the darkness for any sign. "Xena?"
A splash of water, a gasp of air, and Xena's unclothed body jerked from the dark depths of the fountain.
Startled by the sudden movement, Gabrielle stumbled backwards. She wound up on the ground, sprawled on her back.
"Gods!" Xena gasped, as her lungs filled with life and the cold night air attacked her body.
"XENA!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she leapt to her feet, rushing toward the fountain and her shivering soul mate.
"Bru ... ghhh " Xena exhaled through chattering teeth, looking quite disoriented. Her whole body was shaking, and her arms were wrapped tightly around her dripping body in a futile attempt to warm herself.
"Here, honey," Gabrielle said anxiously, reaching out her hand. The almost overwhelming excitement and relief she felt at her soul mate's return was held in check for now, her immediate concern was getting her warm, and making sure she was all right.
She helped the warrior out of the water, and wrapped her in the heavy hooded cloak she'd retrieved from the bundle at her feet. She sat her down at the foot of the fountain, holding her close and trying to rub warmth into her shivering body. She stopped momentarily to encircle Xena's face with her hands. "Xena," she said softly, searching the warrior's eyes, "are you all right?" spoken with worry.
Xena's vague gaze was suddenly drawn to intensely searching green eyes. She blinked and her brow twitched as she focused on her concerned soul mate. A small, weak grin began to grow. "I dreamt you'd come," she said in a frail voice.
Gabrielle let out a small groan of relief and cradled Xena's head to her chest. She held her in silence for a long instant and finally kissed the top her head. "I've got to build you a fire," rubbing the warrior's back. She began to pull away, but her soul mate held fast to her retreating hand.
"Thank you, Gabrielle," said with a small squeeze, her eyes spilling over with appreciation.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and clenched her jaw as a tear fell, "You have no idea how much that means to me."
"Not as much as it means to me," the shivering warrior said with a smile.
Gabrielle returned the smile and the gentle squeeze, and began putting together a fire.
The flickering shadows cast by the flames, accompanied by the soft crackling, were beginning to lull her into a drowsy state. Nevertheless, Gabrielle continued to gently rub her soul mate's hands, returning warmth to her cold fingers. A thought occurred to her and she began to stare intently at her partner, her brow beginning to furrow.
"Gabrielle?" Xena returned the stare.
"Tell me something I don't know," the bard asked suspiciously.
"Hmm " Xena pondered the question. "Ah you see this scar?" she loosened her heavy cloak to reveal a small scar over her right breast. "Got that in the fight to liberate the great Katana," she stated proudly.
Gabrielle peered closer, seeing the small scar by the firelight, "I didn't know that."
"I thought that was the point."
Gabrielle smirked and arranged the warrior's cloak, "Cover that up. I just spent all night getting you warm."
"What was that about?"
"Just checking." That drew a confused look. "I'll tell you about it later." She got up and began arranging their bedrolls. "How about we get some sleep. We'll go find your stuff in the morning."
Xena gave a nod of agreement, as her soul mate settled in behind her, draping one arm protectively over her body. They drifted into a tranquil sleep. Welcome home.
"Are you all right there?" Gabrielle asked, as they walked along the path. Xena seemed uncomfortable in her own skin.
"I don't think I'll ever get the dirt out of these leathers," the warrior grumbled, tugging at her attire and hopping up and down.
"I would have thought you'd learned your lesson the first time, Xena," Gabrielle teased.
"Well, that's the problem, Gabrielle, in each case, I didn't think I'd need them again," she said with a lighthearted chuckle. No response from her soul mate made her look over, to see Gabrielle clenching her jaw. Oops. Not funny. She put her arm over the bard's shoulder and gave a little squeeze, "Sorry."
Gabrielle shrugged off the cloud that the comment had sent her way, and just nodded. "Well, since you know that never works out," she began, "how about you just not do it again."
"Deal," Xena put out her hand.
Gabrielle responded with a smile and a single firm handshake.
They walked along, joking and nudging back and forth, enjoying the day, and each other.
"So, are you going to tell me now?" the warrior queried.
"Hm?" Gabrielle had a puzzled look on her face.
"Last night? Something you didn't know?" Another blank look. "The question you asked me?"
"Oh " the drift dawned on her, and she shook her head slightly and smiled, "right. Well, you've kind of been with me this whole time," she offered shyly.
"I said I'd always be with you," her soul mate reminded her with a gentle smile.
"Yes, you did," Gabrielle agreed. "But I wanted to make sure it was you I was talking to and not your ghost."
That drew a slightly befuddled look from her tall dark haired friend, so she began to tell the warrior of her side of their adventure. Xena listened intently, stopping the bard periodically to apologize, praise, or thank her, depending on where she was in her story.
"So, how did you come to realize that the souls were truly free?" Xena asked.
"Well, I had a theory," Gabrielle began to explain, smiling occasionally, because some of Xena's comments were the same as her daughter's. "Simple ya?" she finished.
"Wow. You really put some thought into that, Gabrielle."
"Don't look so surprised!" she poked the warrior, then thought for a moment. "Did you really think the souls wouldn't find grace, Xena?"
The warrior took a moment to reflect, "You know, I think I really did."
"You think? You're not sure?"
"It was so odd, Gabrielle. The spirit world seemed like the real world, and the real world seemed like a dream. I I just knew what I knew. It just seemed wrong for me to return, and then," she motioned vaguely in the air, "you were there, and I remembered everything you've taught me and well there you go. Does that make any sense?
"Perfect sense," Gabrielle grinned.
"You know me too well, Gabrielle." Xena gave her a squeeze.
"Scary, isn't it?" the bard said, with an evil grin.
"Mmm " Xena muttered, faking concern.
"I almost didn't realize how well," Gabrielle said seriously, after a few minutes.
Her soul mate squeezed her shoulder. They walked along in silence for a few paces. Xena knew her partner had something on her mind. And she wasn't talking. Bad sign.
"Dinar for your thoughts," Xena prodded.
"I'm just glad you're back," Gabrielle smiled and rubbed the hand still resting on her shoulder. "And glad you're happy to be back."
"Why wouldn't I be?" the warrior asked, in genuine confusion.
"I thought you might have well been content to stay there," not quite able to wrap her tongue around the word dead. Her soul mate's expression didn't register any particular emotion about the statement. That's familiar. Dig deeper, Gabrielle.
"I mean, the more I think about it the dead can hear our thoughts, right? So how could you not know how much I needed you? Spirit or not, Xena, I was right in front of you, practically begging you to come back to me." Gabrielle's hands were becoming more animated as she spoke. A trait her soul mate was especially fond of.
Gotta love her passion, Xena thought to herself. "You didn't need me to come back, Gabrielle. I knew that before I died."
"Xe---" the bard began in protest.
Xena put up a finger, "You wanted me to come back. You didn't need me to come back," she clarified. "There's a difference. And wanting someone is a much healthier place to be than needing someone." She paused briefly, put her arm around her soul mate, and began walking again. "And someday, I'll find that place," she said thoughtfully.
"I think you've already found that place, Xena." She glanced up at her partner for a hint of agreement. Unreadable figures. The last bit of Xena's comment had surprised the bard, and she decided it might just be true. Her soul mate not only wanted her to be with her, she needed her. And even if she didn't, Gabrielle decided to let her own ego think she did. "I don't want you to think that I don't need you, Xena," she offered, tightening her grip around her soul mate's waist. Because Warrior Princesses have egos too.
Xena chuckled and leaned into her partner, "Don't worry, Gabrielle, needing someone is not an indication of how much you love them, just an insecurity of mine."
Gabrielle smiled brightly and shook her head, "You never cease to amaze me."
"Come on now," Xena shook the bard's shoulder, "what's all this about?"
Gabrielle exhaled, "I just need to know I did the right thing for you."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you put a lot of trust in me, Xena. How could you be sure I'd do the right thing?"
The warrior stopped walking and put both hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, "I knew you'd follow your heart, Gabrielle."
"But I didn't."
"Didn't you? Here I am."
Xena put one hand under Gabrielle's chin, "Either way, Gabrielle, you followed your heart. And when you do that, I know I'll be all right and I was."
"Either way. And you would've been all right too," she said with assurance.
The bard didn't like the "either way" part of that statement. She was hoping for a more definitive answer, but her soul mate was here, and she was happy. That was her answer.
"I'd rather not test that last part again, if that's all right with you, Xena."
"You don't ask for much, do you, Gabrielle?" she chuckled, as they began walking again.
"Nope. Just a lifetime with you by my side."
"And every lifetime after that," the warrior correctly predicted.
That got huge grins from both women.
"Oh!" Gabrielle chirped. "Speaking of which---"
There go those hands again, the warrior mused to herself.
"We've got a problem with Ares."
"Heh, that's new," Xena snorted sarcastically. "What's he done now?"
"It's not what he's done now; it's what he intends to do."
So they walked. The bard gesturing, the warrior rolling her eyes and shaking her head at her soul mate's description of Ares' master plan for their lives. Suddenly, they heard some muffled shouts coming from the hill in front of them. They jogged to the top, to see a band of raiders harassing a caravan of travelers at the edge of the tree line. The two women simultaneously tilted their heads and glanced at each other in understanding. Gabrielle reached to her waist and held up the chakram.
"I guess you'll need this back," offering it to the warrior. She sighed an audible breath when Xena's fingers closed around the weapon and took it from her hand. The memory of the last time she'd offered it was still close to the surface. She glanced at the melee below.
"I tell you what " Xena said, separating the chakram, "one for you, one for me," offering a piece to her partner.
"Will that work?" Gabrielle asked, examining her half.
"Let's see." Xena tossed her half at the conflict.
Tree. Rock. Sword from a raider's hand. Crossbow. Rock. Tree. Gabrielle's eyes widened as the chakram half careened back, at a frightening speed, level with her head. From the corner of her eye, she could see her partner had no intention of catching it. The bard swiped it out of the air split seconds before it would have impacted her head.
"Yep," said Xena.
Gabrielle glared at the warrior, her eyes still wide with shock. "This could have killed me, Xena!" she growled, more stunned than angry, shaking the half that she had just caught.
Xena smiled a huge smile, then a quick glance of apology, which made the bard laugh. "Nah," the warrior drawled. "That half's yours," she said, pointing and grabbing the other half from the bard's trailing hand. "I think it likes you," with a wink. That got a big laugh and a head shake from Gabrielle.
"Shall we?" Gabrielle indicated in the direction of the raiders.
"After you," the warrior extended her arm and bowed to her partner.
They grinned, and bounded down the hill stride for stride, the warrior's distinctive battle cry floating through the trees.
Thanks for reading.
This story is copyrighted by the author.