Convert this page to Pilot DOC Format
Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was written strictly for the pleasure of the writer and anyone who might honor the writer by reading it, and not for profit. No copyright infringements intended.
This story contains, among other things, recounts by various observers of and participants in the crucifixion scene from the XWP episode, "The Ides of March," so yeah, heavy on angst and violence.
PG-13, okay maybe R. Nothing too graphic here but come on yall, we just saw the two women die, and their last words to each other were "you were the best thing in my life," and "I love you." If you dont want to see them as lovers, move on to some other story.
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation:
Thank the gods for spell check! Ive tried, so if its not perfect, bite me!
This is my first attempt at XWP fan fiction. Any questions, comments, or suggestions are most welcome. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
This story begins on March 16th, the day after the 4th season cliffhanger "The Ides of March." I can hardly wait to see how they resolve it, and it is definitely one of my favorites. So, Ive used my imagination a little and this is how Id like to see it go . . .
MARCH THE 16TH
By Linda Crist
Lady, are you crying, do the tears belong to me
Did you think our time together was all gone
Lady, youve been dreaming, Im as close as I can be
I swear to you our time has just begun
Close your eyes and rest your weary mind
I promise I will stay right here beside you
Today our lives were joined, became entwined
I wish you could know how much I love you
Lady, are you happy, do you feel the way I do
Are there meanings that youve never seen before
Lady, my sweet lady, I just cant believe its true
And its like Ive never ever loved before
-from "My Sweet Lady" by John Denver, Copyright 1970 and 1971, Cherry Lane Music Co. (ASCAP). As performed on the CD John Denvers Greatest Hits Volume Two, 1983, RCA Records.
Xena started awake, trying to remember where she was. She blinked a few times as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She looked carefully around and then felt by her side for her sword. Where was it? She never went to sleep without her sword in arms reach. Wait. The crucifixion. Had she been dreaming of the Elysian Fields? The crucifixion was real, that much she knew. She shuddered. Gabrielle?
She became dimly aware that the bard was curled up tightly against her, and she sighed in relief. Now that she could see, she carefully released her arm from around Gabrielle, and felt the palms of her hands and looked at them. No nail holes. Hmmm . . . My legs? She tentatively wriggled her toes and then lifted each leg, one at a time, and smiled.
She thought for a moment. The last thing she remembered was the bard and Eli helping her to bed. Before that . . . She wrinkled her forehead and tried to focus. Vague images of looking up at Gabrielle, and a very warm comfortable feeling. And before that, she remembered hovering over the bard, watching Gabrielle and her own body, as the bard tried desperately to bring her back, kissing her and stroking her hair and weeping. Xena had wanted so badly to just swoop down right next to the bard and comfort her, knowing that she was powerless, that it was all up to Gabrielle.
Damn. She had had just about enough of feeling powerless to last her a lifetime. Or second lifetime, she added grimly. Somehow though, Gabrielle had come through for her again. When had the role reversal occurred? When had Gabrielle become so brave and strong? When did I start loving her so much? Or needing her so much? There was a time when she was the one who followed me blindly. Now I think its the other way around. She remembered the fierce fight Gabrielle had put up in the prison compound, all to try to save her.
She suddenly felt a fierce surge of protectiveness for the bard, and she reached over and stroked the pale short hair. Im never going to let that happen to us again, I promise you that. Gabrielle made a few little incoherent sounds and reflexively clutched at Xenas shirt and snuggled up closer to the warrior. This brought a grin to Xenas face. How many times have a sat and watched her sleep? she wondered. I think I could get really lost in that face. Gabrielles fair skin took on a luminous hue in the faint moonlight that fell across them, as if the light that was inside the bard was trying to break through to the surface. Xena just watched Gabrielle sleep for several minutes until it occurred to her that she didnt even know where they were.
Reluctantly, she gently pried the bards hand from her shirt placket. Gabrielle murmured in protest and frowned, reaching out to try to grab hold again. The warrior squeezed her hand and kissed the top of her head. "Its okay love," Xena whispered, "I just need to get up for a moment. Ill be right back." The bard was still asleep but she smiled a little and curled her arm around the pillow the warrior had been sleeping on. Xena slowly got up and tucked the covers securely around her partner.
She gingerly walked over to the window until she realized that she could walk just fine. "Thank the gods for that," she muttered to herself. She opened the window and looked out and saw a full moon and a clear sky full of bright twinkling stars. The air coming in was cold, and she could see the faint remains of snow on the ground below. Where in Tartarus am I? She wondered. She could see the outline of Mt. Ymarro in the distance, its sharp peaks a black contrast to the dark blue sky. A shiver ran the full length of the warriors long body, as she briefly allowed a memory of what had happened in that Roman fortress.
Her eyes swept the courtyard below and she determined she must be in an inn. She thought for a minute and vaguely remembered which inn, having not been on this side of Mt. Ymarro in a while. Looking back down she could just make out a lone figure propped up against the front door of the inn. Amazons? What is going on here? She walked over to the door and pulled the knob slowly, opening it so as not to make a sound. She cautiously peered out into the hallway. Two more Amazons flanked the doorway, both having nodded off to sleep, completely unaware that they were being watched by two thoughtful blue eyes. Xena turned back to the bed and made her way around to the side where Gabrielle lay sleeping. She knelt down on one knee so as to get at eye level with the bard.
"Gabrielle," she barely whispered. The bard was still sleeping peacefully, and she hoped she could send a subliminal message without actually waking her up. "I need to go downstairs for a while and figure out whats going on. Ill be back as soon as I can." She kissed the fair head again and got up.
With a wistful glance back, Xena stepped out the open door and crept past the sleeping Amazons. A burned-down torch hung in a sconce on the wall over the stairwell, barely lighting the way. She unconsciously reached down to her right side in a familiar move for her chakram and then remembered it wasnt there. Callisto. The last time Xena had seen her chakram was when Callisto had taken it in Caesars palace. I cant believe I ran off without getting that back, she chastised herself. But I had to go find Gabrielle. There wasnt time. In the wrong hands . . . well, first things first.
Xena looked up and down the hallway and let out a silent sigh. Damn. No sword. No chakram. No armor. Here I am in my bare feet wearing some strange shirt and I have absolutely no idea how I got here, or who might be at the bottom of these stairs. Well, guess theres no way to go but down.
She stealthily made her way down the stairs, one at a time, her senses on hyper-alert. She heard a pop and stopped suddenly, her sensitive ears trying to detect the source of the noise. Okay, that was the sound of a fire. She started moving again and reached the bottom of the stairs. Prepared for defense, she looked around the room and determined that she was alone. She let out a long breath, realizing that she hadnt breathed since the top of the stairs. Feeling the chill in the air, the warrior donned a fur cloak that was hanging on a wooden peg on the wall. She walked over to the door of the inn and slowly opened it, knowing an armed Amazon was just on the other side.
Kallerine heard the door knob turn and backed away from the door. She had nothing to fear from anyone inside, at least that she knew. She stood up just as Xena opened the door. Piercing blue eyes regarded her for a moment, and Kallerines heart jumped up into her throat.
"Um, hi, Im Xena," Xena said, unsure if she had met this particular Amazon before or not. Stupid, stupid, stupid, Xena. Of course she obviously knows who you are, the warrior chided herself.
Kallerine merely nodded and extended an arm, "Im Kallerine, at your service and the service of the queen."
Xena hesitated a moment and then extended her own arm. The arm of the young Amazon trembled slightly as Xena grasped it, and Kallerine nervously twisted a lock of light brown hair with her other hand. Xena looked her fully in the eye and smiled, "Relax, Im not a ghost, and I dont bite," she chuckled.
Kallerine visibly relaxed. "I . . . I knew it was true, but I hadnt seen for myself yet," she stammered, very un-Amazon like.
"Yep, Im alive," Xena replied, "can I join you out here for a moment? I have a lot of questions and you appear to be the only one awake."
"But what about . . ." Kallerine started to ask.
"Asleep," Xena said with a smirk, "tell the regent she needs to instill a bit more discipline in her guard unit."
"Oh," Kallerine said with a blush, "I will." And wished she could go and knock a couple of sleeping heads together herself. Oh well. When Im older, she sighed.
She looked up at Xena. "Come, sit, please," and she sat down and patted the spot on the step next to her. "Would you like anything to drink, ale, or anything?" she asked the warrior.
"Some water would be good," Xena replied. Kallerine took a water skin from around her own shoulder and offered it across. The warrior took a long drink and handed it back. "Thanks," Xena smiled, "are you sure youre an Amazon? Youre a lot calmer than most of the others Ive met."
"Yes, th . . . thanks," Kallerine replied, "you had some questions?"
"Yes," Xena said measuredly, "how did I get here, why have the Amazons taken over this inn, and what in Tartarus day is it?"
Kallerine looked at here tentatively and launched into the whole story, as much of it as she had been told or had observed. A half a candle mark passed as the two women talked, and Xena soaked in every word.
" . . . and then when we heard Caesar had been assassinated . . .," Kallerine was really warming up to the warrior, and felt honored to be the bearer of the news.
"Wait, stop," Xena interrupted, "Are you telling me that Caesar is dead?"
"Yes, at the hands of Brutus and some others, from what we have heard," Kallerine responded.
Well, he certainly didnt show up in the Elysian Fields, Xena mused to herself. Guess he wont be getting that six million dinars after all. Maybe I can quit looking over my shoulder. Or maybe not. I cant believe it. I went through all of that, put Gabrielle through all of that, and all I had to do was plant an idea in Brutus head? Damn, damn, damn. She looked up and realized that she was silently pounding the side of the inn, and that Kallerine had a frightened look in her eyes.
"Sorry," Xena apologized, "just thinking."
"Its okay," Kallerine said, her eyes not quite so big.
Xena quit pounding the wall, and rested her elbows on her drawn up knees, her chin in her hands. Hmmmm. . . probably better that the world continue to think the warrior princess is dead, at least for a while. "Kallerine, does anyone outside of this inn know Gabrielle and I are alive again?"
"No," the young Amazon replied, chewing on her lower lip.
"Good, I need you to help keep it that way. And, as soon as Gabrielle is up to traveling, I am going to need to put together a scouting party to go back to the prison compound. I need to see if anything is left of my chakram and my sword and armor. I want you to be a part of that party," Xena stated.
"Okay," Kallerine answered, with obvious delight in her voice. Then she frowned and pursed her lips. "Xena, Amarice said that while you were fighting in that Roman compound, your chakram came flying out of nowhere and hit you in the back and then it . . . it br . . ." she trailed off, remembering the powerful things she once saw Xena do with the mysterious weapon.
"It what?" Xena snapped, her blue eyes wide open.
"It broke into two pieces and fell to the ground," the young Amazon stammered.
Xena felt the world spin for a moment, and she sucked in a breath. "What? It broke?"
"Yes," Kallerine said softly.
The shock was evident on the warriors face. The chakram had been made just for her. Would only work correctly for her, and would only return in boomerang-like fashion to her. She half expected it was responsible for at least part of her strength. The God of War, Ares, had given the warrior many gifts, all of them internal except for the chakram. It was the only physical piece of evidence that linked her to Ares. Broken. I cant believe it didnt break me in two. No wonder I was paralyzed. I wondered what had happened. She suddenly remembered seeing Callisto when she and Gabrielle were taken out to those crosses. Callisto must have thrown it at me.
Xena smelled something evil, something very foul behind it all. Something greater than an immortal Callisto was at work here. She remembered Callisto trying to get her to leave the way of the warrior and join Gabrielle in the way of love, tempting her with promises of serenity. Callisto must surely be a pawn for some bigger plan, but who or what was behind it. Ares? Naaa. Ares wanted her alive if only to try to win her back to his side. It was almost a game to him and Xena sensed that he enjoyed it too much to give up. Besides, she half-suspected . . . The warrior mentally ran through the enemies she had made, until she was exhausted. There were so many, both human and immortal. Dahak? Maybe . . .
Xena brooded over that for a moment. What to do, even if she found the chakram? I guess Ill have to figure out how to repair it. I dont even know if it can be repaired. Would Ares do that for me? I doubt it. Unless I can figure out a way to trick him into it, or to make him think he owes it to me. Or unless I were to go back to his side, like thats ever going to happen.
There was a time when the warrior felt Ares seduction boil in her blood. In the last four years, as her reputation had finally become known more and more for good rather than evil, and as she came to know the sense of peace she felt when she fought to help people, the seduction had tamed from a boil to a low simmer. And being around Gabrielle, seeing the bards peaceful and loving ways, had almost caused the seduction to dissipate. It would always be a part of the warrior, but it was now a part of her that was fully under control.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a faint whimper coming from the open window up above. Gabrielle. "Kallerine, Ive got to get back upstairs. Well talk more tomorrow," Xena said, as she jumped up, opened the door, and bounded across the room and up the stairs to the room where she had left the bard. She ran past the two now very awake and very startled Amazons guards and closed the door behind her as the two Amazons stared at each other and then at the closed door.
Gabrielle was sitting up in the bed, a look of terror on her face, and Xena could barely make out the tears on her cheeks in the moonlight. "Xena, where were you? I woke up and you were gone and I was so confused. I couldnt remember what was real and what I had dreamed," the bards voice broke and she swallowed hard, trying to fight back the tears. "I . . . I thought for a minute you were still dead."
Xena sat down and pulled the Bard to her, gently rubbing her back and kissing her forehead, feeling a small pair of arms wrap around her larger frame. "Gabrielle, Im so, so sorry. I shouldnt have left you like that. I just went to figure out where we are and whats going on," Xena said in a soothing voice.
"Where are we? Xena . . . ," Gabrielle was shaking.
Xena hugged her even tighter, "Youre in a safe place, love. Im here and Im not going to let anything bad happen to you. Im never leaving you behind, not ever again."
"What . . .?", Gabrielle trailed off. Everything was fuzzy, but at least the soothing words and the hug she was in were very real and she held onto that anchor for a moment.
"Gabrielle," Xena said in a low voice, "it can wait until morning. Lets go back to sleep, okay?"
"Okay," the bard sniffled, and then sighed and yawned.
"Just one minute," Xena said, and she got up and padded across the room and opened the door. She fixed a menacing stare on the two Amazon guards. "Can one of you feather heads let me borrow your sword, since its obvious you arent going to stay awake long enough to see if you are going to need to use it?" She growled, seizing the sword from the sheath of the Amazon to her right. She turned back into the room and closed the door with a resounding thud.
The two Amazon guards looked at each other with chagrin. Uh, oh. We are in big trouble now. We fell asleep while guarding the queen. And Xena. Then two pairs of eyes grew even larger in astonishment. Oh . . . my . . . gods . . . theyre . . . alive!!! Suddenly, neither guard believed she was going to sleep again this night.
Xena padded back across the room. There. At least Im armed now, she mused to herself. She regarded the weapon for a moment, flipping the hilt around in her hand a few times. Not a perfect fit, but itll do. She propped the sword on the floor against the head of the bed and climbed back onto the soft mattress and curled up against Gabrielles back, aware the bard was still awake. Gabrielle scooted up against Xenas stomach and let out a relieved sigh. "I love you Xena," the bard said softly.
Xena answered her with a kiss on the cheek, and wrapped an arm around Gabrielles waist. With her other arm, she began rubbing the bards back, tracing light circles with her hand. She arranged herself until her face was right next to Gabrielles head, and whispered soothing words into her ear until she heard her breathing deepen, and knew the bard had fallen back asleep. She tucked the covers securely around both of them. Dont you worry Gabrielle. Im here and nothing is ever going to separate us again. I wont let it. And Xena finally allowed herself to doze back off.
~~~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~~~
Gabrielle woke up to see the faint glow of sunrise outside the window of a strange room. She became aware of strong arms wrapped around her waist, and she half turned to find a still-sleeping Xena curled up against her back. The bard considered that for a moment. They had never slept like that before. Slowly, she began to piece together what had happened the day before. Well, we never died together before either, she mused, or came back from the dead together. It was so strange to be back.
The Elysian Fields had been . . . so peaceful. Gabrielle had so enjoyed being with Xena in that place. All the warriors pain and darkness had been gone, replaced with a child-like wonder at the beauty which had surrounded them. Xenas delight in playing in the lush green meadows there had grown even greater when she saw Marcus, her former lover. Gabrielle remembered the beautiful dirge Xena had sang for him when he died, and remembered sitting for a long while by a lake, waiting for the warrior to return from saving the underworld when Marcus had come back to ask for Xenas help. Marcus related to Gabrielle the story of how Hades had allowed him entrance to the Elysian Fields as a favor to Xena, after the warrior rescued Hades helmet and returned it to him.
And when Xena had seen Lyceus, her brother, and then Solan, the joy in the warriors eyes made the bards heart soar. Xena had hugged each of them in turn, holding on tightly, and then just looked at them with a glowing smile on her face. Gabrielle hadnt seen the warrior look that happy in a long, long time. The bard took a walk to allow the warrior time alone with them for a while.
While Xena was off on her family reunion with Lyceus and Solan, Gabrielle had her own reunion with Perdicus. It had been such a joyful time, and they had been able to say all the things that had been in their hearts when they had parted. She finally realized that she had moved on and was no longer in love with Perdicus. She felt more of a sisterly love for him, and they had talked about that, and it was okay.
"Gabrielle, you and I werent meant to be together. Oh, we would have been happy, but not fulfilled," Perdicus had said.
"But Perdicus, I was ready to settle down, ready to be your wife. It was what was expected of me, and I did love you," she had protested.
Perdicus smiled at her and said, "Gabrielle, you are capable of loving a lot of people, but doing what you are expected to do and following your heart are two entirely different things. You followed your heart when you left Potadeia four years ago, despite what was expected of you. When you came back and married me, you werent following your heart at all. I see that now. So should you. Trust yourself. You know what is best for you. Look deep inside yourself, and then you will see who really holds your heart."
Ephiny and Solari, who had been listening silently, hidden from view, had suddenly appeared and smiled at her and nodded in agreement at Perdicus words.
"Ephiny! Solari! What are you doing here? Why arent you in the Amazon land of the dead? In fact, why arent I in the Amazon land of the dead?"
"Gabrielle," Solari hugged her. "Those who knew and loved each other in life can move between the nether worlds to see each other, if the gods permit. Artemis has allowed Ephiny and I to come and visit, and you can come visit us sometimes, too."
"Yes," Ephiny also gave the bard a hug and a soft kiss on the cheek. "As for why youre here in the Elysian Fields instead of the Amazon land of the dead, well, you should have seen the brawl between Hades and Artemis over who was going to get you. It wasnt pretty. Mt. Olympus hasnt seen that much fire or flying arrows in a while. Zeus himself finally had to intervene. And Aphrodite."
"Aphrodite?" The bard said with some confusion. "Why Aphrodite?"
"The goddess of love said that true love should win out over Amazon position and honor."
"What?" Gabrielle looked even more confused.
"Think of what all you have done, where you have been, and why," Ephiny continued. "Gabrielle, if you had stayed in Potadeia, you would never have become queen of the Amazons and we would never have met. You led a great life, my friend. A simple girl from Potadeia became an Amazon queen, a well-known bard, a competent warrior, and played no small part in taming Xena, the Destroyer of Nations. That had everything to do with the keeper of your heart. Even here in the Fields, you will still continue to grow in that love. Go to her Gabrielle, she is the reason you are who you are."
Xena, the keeper of her heart. She knew who they spoke of and that they were right. I suppose she does hold my heart. And she once told me that I am her heart.
Gabrielle had bid them goodbye, telling them she would meet up with them later, not realizing it really was goodbye again. She had wanted to be alone to ponder what they said. She chose a path that went along the edge of a green mesa and lead down to the edge of a stream. She sat down by the stream, crossed her legs, and tossed small pebbles into the water, watching the concentric circles they made, remembering sitting by a pond with Xena once and getting a lesson on how the pond was forever changed just by tossing a single stone into the water.
Well, she certainly remembered one very large stone that had come crashing into her heart on a road outside Potadeia four years ago. A stone with long raven hair and the bluest eyes she had ever seen, full of fire and passion and courage and adventures. That . . . had definitely changed her life forever. Im so glad I told her that she saved me. That she was the one who saw in me things no one else could see. She smiled when she thought of Xena, and looked up to see the object of her thoughts walking toward her from upstream. Their eyes met and both of their faces lit up with involuntary ear-to-ear smiles. Gabrielle stood up and waved to the warrior, and Xena practically skipped the rest of the way between them, impetuously planting a kiss on the bards forehead before wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
They had walked along the stream in companionable silence until they came upon a deep pool which was filled by a very tall waterfall. Xena had held the bard in her arms as they sat back against a weeping willow tree, watching the little rainbows in the spray as the water crashed onto the rocks below. Gabrielle had sat back against the warriors chest, Xenas upraised legs on either side of her own, and Xena had propped her chin on top of the bards head. Gabrielle had placed her arms on top of the strong ones wrapped around her waist, and realized she was the happiest she had ever been. She could sit this way forever. She rolled Perdicus words around in her head, comfortable in the arms of the one who held her heart, would always hold her heart. Does Xena feel the same way?
"Xena, how was it to see Marcus?" Gabrielle had asked.
"Oh, Gabrielle, it was wonderful," the warrior had responded, idly running her thumb up and down the fine hairs on the bards arm.
"Are you . . . are you . . . um . . . still in love with him?" she had asked, afraid of the answer.
"I do love him," Xena had said hesitantly, "and he loves me. But Gabrielle, we arent in love. Im not sure we ever were. Its different. A lot has happened since Marcus died. I think theres someone else Im bound to now. Someone who knows me better than anyone else. Someone who gave up her family and ultimately her life for me. Someone who still is my heart," Xena finished, pulling Gabrielle a little closer against her.
"Oh," Gabrielle had said, and she had turned to see warm blue eyes that she thought would burn a hole through her. The bard reached up and touched the side of Xenas face, and just smiled at her, shivering a little as Xena took hold of her hand, turning her face to kiss Gabrielles palm.
Nothing more had been said, as they had basked in the comfort of what they were both too shy to say. We are in love with each other. And we have eternity in this beautiful place to enjoy that. The bard had been delighted.
And then she had been called back.
She looked around the room and sighed. At least they had both come back, and true, they seemed awfully close right here and now. Gabrielle could feel the warmth that radiated between them. Still, she wondered if they could regain all the love and wonder they had felt in the Elysian Fields. She found herself wishing they were still there. Back here among the living she was afraid that all the poor communication, and Xenas protectiveness, and her own search for meaning, might preclude any such happiness as they had shared together in the Fields. No, she wasnt sure she wanted to be back here at all.
"Reality bites," Gabrielle muttered to herself.
The bard carefully untangled herself from Xenas embrace, trying not to disturb the warrior. It was so rare to see Xena sleeping this peacefully. She must have been really exhausted last night. Gabrielle rolled out of bed, landing softly on the wooden floor and padded over to the window to look out. The first thing she saw was the snow-covered top of Mt. Ymarro, and a wave of fear briefly washed over her. She looked back over at Xena and felt herself become calm with the knowledge that ultimate safety was just a few steps away.
She took a shaky breath and looked back out the window. Whats Kallerine doing here? She saw the young Amazon sitting at guard outside. Gabrielle vaguely remembered meeting the girl when they were building Ephinys funeral pire. Kallerine had a maturity beyond her years, if Gabrielle recalled correctly. As Gabrielle watched, Kallerine looked up and smiled briefly, before she stood and saluted the queen. Gabrielle saluted in return and gave the signal for the girl to stand at ease.
Gabrielle . . . felt . . . old. The morning in the meadow with Eli seemed like it had been a lifetime ago. Oops, guess it was a lifetime ago, she chuckled for a moment. She wasnt really sure how much time had passed since the crucifixion. She thought about the carnage that had taken place at her own hands, and she flexed them, remembering the feel of the sword she had held. Eli, I dont think I can go back to the way of the light, she mentally apologized. I think from now on part of my path is going to include watching my soulmates back. If she thinks she is ever going to send me away again, or make me stay behind, shes got another thought coming.
Suddenly a warm pair of arms circled her waist from behind, and a chin rested on her shoulder. "Whatcha thinking?" a low voice asked, right in the bards ear.
Gabrielle started briefly before settling back against Xena, resting her own arms on top of the warriors. Shes just been one big hugging machine since last night, Gabrielle reflected silently. "Howd you manage to sneak up on me without me hearing you?" the bard asked.
"Gabrielle," Xena drew out the name, "you should know by now that stealth is one of my many skills." The warrior chuckled, "now, once again, whatcha thinking?" Xena sounded more light-hearted than she felt. She had woken to find Gabrielle looking out the window with one of the most serious expressions on her face that Xena had ever seen, even for the ever-introspective bard.
"Xena," Gabrielle half turned in the warriors arms, "so much has happened. Im not sure if Im ready to talk about it all, not sure if I can."
Hmmm, a bard without words. Lets see what I can do about that, Xena thought. She lifted a hand to stroke the short blonde hair, as she drew Gabrielles head down to her shoulder. "Gabrielle, thats okay. You dont have to talk about it now. You dont ever have to talk about it if you dont want to."
"No, Xena, we need to talk about it." Gabrielle made another quarter turn until she was facing the warrior, and looked up. She lifted a shaky hand and cupped Xenas cheek, feeling the surprisingly soft skin under her fingers. "Xena, you let your fear separate us. I let an ill-chosen path land me in that Roman prison because I wasnt even willing to fight to save myself or my friends. Xena, we got each other killed." And we were just damn lucky we got to die together and come back together. I dont like the prospect of dying without you again, she added silently, and then continued aloud, "I think we need to start trusting each other more. I need to trust that the way of the warrior isnt a bad way," she paused and continued, "and you need to trust that you can take me with you. You dont need to leave me behind to protect me. You need to think more with your heart and I need to think more with my head"
"Gabrielle, it was not an ill-chosen path, and I love that you always follow your heart. Its who you are. I can accept that, can live with that" Please let me continue to live with that, with you, she pleaded silently.
Two fingers brushed against the warriors lips, willing her to be silent. "Xena, thats who I was. Its not who I can be now. When I picked up that sword and killed those men, Xena, I stepped onto your path. I dont know that I want to step back off it," she looked at the warrior sadly. "How many times did you fight alone in the last few months, Xena, while I just sat self-righteously by and let you do all the work to protect me and you? How unfair was that, huh? And how useless was I? What kind of friend would stand by and do nothing, and allow another friend to fight mortal danger all alone? Xena, a long time ago I made a conscious decision to stay with you, no matter what. Somewhere along the way I forgot what you are all about, and that fighting is a consequence of the choice I made to be with you. Teach me the sword, Xena. I dont want to ever not be there for you again."
"Gabrielle, I didnt mind, and you have never, ever, been useless to me," the warrior replied, a note of despair in her voice, "you dont need to take up the sword for me."
"Xena!" One word, spoken with a tinge of anger, speaking volumes.
Xena stiffened and she stepped back, holding the bard at arms length. Piercing blue eyes met sea-green ones, and a brief silent battle of wills took place. Damn. Najara was right. I have hurt her. Hurt her badly. The warrior vividly recalled watching Gabrielle slashing away at the soldiers on her behalf. Xena had raised up but could only get to knee level with the bard, and had watched with absolute horror as the last layer of Gabrielles innocence, her absolute faith in the power of peace, was violently ripped away. Being with me has taken that away from her. Krafstar, Dahak, Hope, and Chin. That awful day when I just snapped and, oh, gods, what I did to her. And yet here we are, still together after all of that. Soulmates forever. How can I deny her anything?
"Xena, I already took up the sword for you, and I wouldnt change that. I have to think that we died together and were brought back together for a reason. It must be for the greater good, right?" Gabrielle said softly. For our own good as well as the good of the world, she added silently, and then continued, "Xena, I have no regrets, not a single one. The only regret I could ever have is if we willingly separate again."
Xena crumpled. Gabrielle had read a hundred different emotions crossing the warriors face. She grasped the warriors waist, just barely keeping the taller woman from collapsing on the floor. The bards anger melted, replaced by warmth and tenderness. "Come on love, lets go back over and sit down." She guided Xena back to the edge of the bed and they both sat, as Gabrielle drew Xena into a tight hug, twining her fingers in the jet-black hair that spilled over her shoulders.
Then the warrior recalled the bards words as they waited to die in that cold prison cell: "Xena, I had a choice, to do nothing or save my friend. I chose the way of friendship." And the words spoken just moments ago: "I think we need to start trusting each other more," and "The only regret I could ever have is if we willingly separate again."
Trust. Id trust her with anything at this point, Xena suddenly realized. As for choices, she also realized that just as the bard had chosen of her own accord to take up the sword to try to save a friend, Xena knew that the choice to resume fighting was also Gabrielles to make. The bard was no longer a little girl. She was a grown woman, and Xena tasted the sad knowledge that she could no longer shelter Gabrielle from the harsh realities of the world they had chosen to live in together. And the mere thought of separation, well, Xena realized she could no longer leave this brave intelligent woman behind. I need her. I love her.
She drew a deep ragged breath, raised up, and looked again into Gabrielles eyes. "Gabrielle, I dont know if you remember, but I already made a promise to you last night that I was never going to leave you behind again."
"I remember," the bard answered softly, "I just want to make sure that you remember."
"Well, Gabrielle, if theres no more leaving you behind then you being able to defend yourself is only logical, because the gods know, where I go, fighting will follow. But . . . my friend . . . I cant teach you the sword . . ."
"But Xena," the bard interrupted.
"Shhh, let me finish," Xena chastised, "I cant teach you the sword because theres nothing I can teach you that you didnt demonstrate you already know in that courtyard. Gabrielle, I dont know where or how you learned it, but that was some of the finest swordsmanship I have ever seen."
"I dont know where I learned that, either," Gabrielle said with a tiny smile, recalling candle marks of watching the warrior doing her sword drills in the evenings.
They sat there enjoying the warmth of the hug, and Xena remembered a willow tree and a waterfall and wondered if Gabrielle did as well. I wonder if we can have that down here, too? she thought wistfully. Oh, well, I guess there is plenty of time to broach that subject. This is nice for now. Her thoughts were interrupted by a low grumble from her stomach.
"Its been two days since weve eaten. Lets go downstairs and see if we can rustle up some breakfast."
"Okay," the bard replied, suddenly starved.
"Where did we get these gods-awful shirts were wearing?"
Xena retrieved the sword from beside the bed and they made their way out of the room past two silently startled Amazon guards.
~~~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~~~
Downstairs in the main room of the inn, several Amazons were seated at breakfast. Gabrielle felt a little strange and took Xenas hand and squeezed it to comfort herself. Xena looked down and gave her a re-assuring smile and squeezed back. "Go face your subjects, your majesty," she purred in a low voice.
The bard looked around and spotted Chilapa and Rebina seated across from Amarice at a far table by the window. She raised her head and straightened her shoulders and strode purposefully forward, Xena right behind her, grinning silently at the bards sudden show of self-confidence. She likes being queen of the Amazons, whether she admits it or not. As they made their way to the table, the handful of Amazons in the room stood at attention. Xena approvingly caught the look of respect in their eyes for Gabrielle. With chagrin, the warrior realized that she herself was drawing looks of awe mixed with fear. Guess the only thing scarier than the warrior princess is a warrior princess who has come back from the dead, she mused, Oh, well, I guess that could be useful.
"My queen," Chilapa stood up and made her way to Gabrielle, dropping to a knee in front of the bard and lowering her head.
"Chilapa, can we dispense with the sanctimonious centaur poop for now?" Gabrielle asked, and she offered her hand to draw the regent to her feet. "Everyone, as you were," the bard said tiredly, glancing around the room, and everyone slowly sat back down, trying to look as if they saw people who had risen from the dead every day. The simple bard from Potadeia would never get used to being treated like queen of the Amazons. She enjoyed the responsibility, the treaties, the decision-making, and the friendships she had made, but the ceremonial part of it always caught her off guard.
Xena and Gabrielle seated themselves on the low bench next to Amarice, and the regent and Rebina resumed their places as well. An awkward silence settled over them until Xena quipped, "whats the matter, you three look as if youve seen a ghost."
That got a small laugh out of all of them, and they began to relax.
"Amarice, we owe you a great deal of thanks," the warrior regarded the redhead with warm blue eyes, "Kallerine told me all about what you did for us. Im sorry I ever underestimated you."
"It . . . it was nothing . . . I had to do something," the usually straightforward Amazon was at a loss for words.
"Xena?" Gabrielle looked up at the warrior with questioning eyes, and the warrior realized that the bard did not know what all had happened since the crucifixion.
Thats going to be a lot to handle, Xena realized. "Gabrielle, lets eat and well tell you all about it." Loisha brought them a tray of bread, cheese, and dates, and mugs of apple cider, which were passed around. Xena buttered a slice of bread and handed it to the pensive bard, whose eyes revealed that her thoughts were far, far away from the inn. "Hey, are you okay?" the warrior asked, and she rested an arm across Gabrielles shoulders, drawing the bard against her side.
The bard took the bread and munched on it, trying to perk up a bit. "I dont know,"she finally answered honestly, leaning into the hug and resting her free hand on Xenas muscular thigh, as if that were the most natural thing in the world to do. I was thinking about that willow tree, Gabrielle thought silently.
Xena grasped the hand on her thigh and lifted it to her lips, pressing it against them for a long moment before she returned it to where it had been, resting her own large hand on top of the smaller one. "Gabrielle, everything is going to be okay," she whispered into the bards ear.
Gabrielle offered a smile and took another bite of the bread.
Xena suddenly realized that the three Amazons were still at the table and were staring at them. "Got a problem?" she said with a low growl, raising a menacing eyebrow.
"Um . . . no," Chilapa stammered, as the other two Amazons suddenly became very interested in the food on their plates. "Lets . . . tell . . . um . . . the queen what all happened yesterday." Whats up between these two? the regent mused to herself. Theyve never been like this before. True, the regent knew the two women were close friends but for gods sake, they were acting like they were lovers. Dont they see it?
They continued with their meal, and between Xena, Amarice, Rebina, and the regent, they told Gabrielle the whole story, including parts of it that Xena had not heard from Kallerine.
"Wow," Gabrielle said, letting out an amazed breath when they were finished. So much had happened. Joxer dead. Caesar dead. Callisto on the loose again. Eli bringing Gabrielle back to life. Her bringing Xena back to life. The broken chakram. She looked around the room and felt fresh grief over the loss of Ephiny. And Solari. They had been her friends, paving her a smooth path into leadership of the Amazon nation. These Amazons, her Amazons, were mostly strangers to her. I am their queen and I barely know them.
Her stomach heaved and she suddenly felt like she was riding the waves on Cecrops boat again. The bard turned green and she stood up quickly and gripped the edge of the table tightly, her knuckles turning white. "Excuse me for a minute, I think I need some fresh air," and she strode quickly toward the door, opened it, and stepped outside, hot tears stinging her eyes.
"Gabrielle . . ." Xena started to go after her and then thought better of it. Maybe she needs to be alone for a minute. Give her some space, Xena.
After a long glance at the door, the warrior reluctantly turned to the regent and began discussing plans to make sure that no one else outside the inn found out she and Gabrielle were alive again, and strategizing as to what they should do next.
~~~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~~~
Gabrielle closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall outside the inn, pressing her palms against the rugged wood and taking deep breaths of the crisp cool air. She felt her skin begin to resume its normal color, and the wave of nausea that had come over her subsided. She looked down and saw the wide dark-brown eyes of Kallerine watching her with great concern.
"My queen," Kallerine rose to her feet and bowed her head, "whats wrong? Can I do anything for you, get you anything?"
"No, thank you," Gabrielle replied, "it just got a little stuffy in there."
The bard studied the young Amazon, taking in the long light brown hair, slim muscular form, and the unusually large array of weaponry the girl carried on her person. In addition to leather and brass armor, she had chain mail draping her arms, a sword sheathed on her back, a dagger in each boot, a crossbow and quiver of silver-tipped arrows hanging from a shoulder strap, and what appeared to be several small wooden stakes hanging from leather loops at the girls waist. Thats kind of strange, the bard thought idly. "Kallerine, what on earth are those stakes for?" she finally asked.
"Um . . . kind of a long story," the girl blinked her long eyelashes and then looked up shyly at the queen, "wanna go for a walk with me?"
Gabrielle stood up taller and stretched, and looked down the road that ran in front of the inn. She could feel the sun trying to warm the cold air, and looked up at a clear blue sky. Suddenly a walk sounded like a very good idea. "Sure," she said with a genuine smile. She stepped down to the ground next to Kallerine and nodded in the direction of the road. "So, whats the long story?" the bard asked as they began to walk.
"I wasnt born in the Amazon village," Kallerine started, kicking at small slushy clods of dirt in the road. "I was born near Athens and lived a fairly calm life until about four years ago. My parents were dignitaries, and threw parties to entertain groups of traders and merchants and visitors from other provinces. One night during a full moon, they held the most lavish party they had ever had. It was during the harvest festival, and the wine was flowing freely. I wasnt allowed to stay all night, and after a while they sent me to sleep over at a neighbors hut down the road. That night, bacchae invaded the party and killed everyone there, or at least the ones they didnt turn into more bacchae. When I returned home the next morning I found dozens of dead bodies in the house. It was apparent my father had died trying to protect my mother. My older sister was nowhere to be found. I . . . I think she must have become a bacchae. I vowed to avenge their deaths, so I spent a few years roaming the countryside, hunting bacchae and experimenting with ways to kill them. I kind of perfected some different methods, but one day I ran into a party of Amazons and traveled with them a few days. We bonded. Ephiny was with the group and asked me to come live in the village. I was really tired of being alone, so I did. I still slay bacchae whenever I get a chance to, though, and I keep hoping I will find my sister."
"Oh, Kallerine, I had no idea you had been through all of that," Gabrielle draped an arm over the girls shoulders. You just never know about people. I guess everyone has a story. Kallerine looked so young. The bard felt for the young Amazon, who was left alone so early in life. Impulsively, Gabrielle hugged the girl and a stake poked the bard in the side.
"Ow!" the bard exclaimed, "Kallerine, you still havent explained those wooden stakes."
"Well," the young Amazon said with a glint in her eye, "I discovered quite by accident that a wooden stake through the heart kills a bacchae every time. A bacchae had me cornered in a cave and the only thing I could grab to use as a weapon was a large sliver of wood that was laying on the ground next to me. I gripped it and plunged it into her chest as hard as I could. Poof! She exploded and dissolved into dust."
"My gods," Gabrielle exhaled, "what else works?"
Kallerine chewed her lip thoughtfully, "garlic scares them away, but doesnt kill them. Silver-tipped arrows with wooden shafts work nicely. Sunlight boils ‘em alive . . . "
"Ewww, enough," the bard wrinkled her nose. She glanced around at the woods, noticing the play of sunlight and shadows. "Kallerine, lets turn back. Weve lost sight of the inn and Im not sure its safe to be out on the roads, what with everything thats happened."
They walked back beneath the winter-bare tree limbs. "Queen Gabrielle, how did you meet Xena?" Kallerine tentatively asked.
"Oh, about four years ago she saved me and my sister from some slave traders. I decided that I wanted to follow her and see the world, so I did. Her life seemed so exciting, while I was just a simple village girl, about to be married to a simple village boy. I had such great dreams and I knew Potadeia would snuff them out. Xena, she was a way out for me. I wanted to be just like her. I had no idea then that I would still be with her four years later."
"I suppose neither one of us was destined to lead a boring life," Kallerine stated.
"No, with Xena life is never boring, thats for sure."
"If you had known what all was going to happen to you with Xena, would you still have followed her?"
"Yes." One word. Spoken with conviction. No hesitation, no doubt.
"I think Xena wants to be just like you."
"I know." The bard smiled.
They were nearing the inn and Gabrielle saw her companion of four years sitting on the steps. She felt the small tremor of happiness, that started in her toes and worked its way all the way up to the top of her head, and suddenly realized it was the same way she always felt when she saw the warrior after any period of separation. An involuntary grin spread across the bards face, one which was matched by the warrior.
"Whereya been?" Xena tried to ask casually, but Gabrielle could read the concern beneath the nonchalant smile.
"I um, needed some air, and I ran into Kallerine here, and we got to talking and decided to go for a walk," Gabrielle said. "Xena, did you know that Kallerine is a bacchae-slayer?"
"No, really?" the Warrior replied with obvious respect in her eyes. I know how to pick my scouting party, she mused to herself. Xena smiled at the young Amazon, and was about to ask about bacchae-slaying when she saw the dark circles under her eyes. "Kallerine, when is the last time you slept?" Xena remembered their conversation during the night.
"Oh, I think two nights ago, before we left the Amazon village to come here. I was just too keyed up the first night, not knowing what was going to happen, and then last night, well, there was no sleeping last night, not after Eli . . . did . . . what he did."
Eli. The warrior had forgotten about the avatar. "Where is Eli?" Xena asked.
"Oh dear Artemis! I forgot. Queen Gabrielle," as Kallerine turned to look at the bard. "Eli left before dawn this morning. He said he had to go find his disciples and make sure they were okay. He said he would try to come back here in the next few days, but if you were gone, to tell you that he had a lot to talk about with you. I told him that under no circumstances was he to tell anyone that you and Xena were alive, or else," she glanced at Xena with a shy smile, "when he asked, ‘or else what?, I told him, ‘or else Xena, period. He said he wouldnt say a word."
"Good work Kallerine," the warrior praised the young girl, "I knew I could depend on you. Now, go get some sleep. I have no use for scouting party members who arent alert."
Kallerine just grinned and nodded, and went inside, the warriors words echoing in her ears. Yes! She still wants me in the scouting party!
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and burst out laughing. "Youve got another young fan, Xena," the bard chided her.
"Yeah, well, whatever," the warrior replied with a blush, and then pulled Gabrielle into a hug. "Hey, are you alright? I was worried when you got up from the table so fast. Then when I came out here you were gone. I found you and Kallerines tracks . . ."
"Im okay now," Gabrielle said, "but Xena, if I think too hard about everything it just becomes too much."
"Comeere, sit down," and Xena sat back down on the steps pulling the bard down with her. She drew Gabrielle down in front of her, sitting much the same as they had under that tree by the waterfall in the Fields. "Gabrielle, well rest for today, and make plans. Weve both been through a lot and I have a feeling it isnt over yet. We can take it slow, at least until tomorrow." The warrior stroked the fair short hair, glad her friend was back. It was hard to explain, but she didnt like being separated from the bard.
"What will we do next?" Gabrielle asked, tracing little patterns with her finger on Xenas sturdy leg, reveling in being surrounded by warm warrior.
"Well, first, I want to get a party together and go back to the Roman compound," Xena felt the bard shudder, and kissed the top of her head, wrapping her arms more securely around her, "I know, I know, love, but Ive got to go back and see if I can find my armor and my sword, and whats left of my chakram. You . . . you dont have to go back there with me if you dont want to."
"No, Xena, Ill go with you. I think I need to face that place again. Maybe it will help me move on," Gabrielle tried to sound brave, though she didnt feel brave at all.
"Maybe," Xena picked up, "and I also want to see if I can find any clues as to what is behind all of this, besides Callisto. I may need to make a trip to Mt. Olympus."
"Wh . . . Ares." A question that became a statement from the bard.
"Yeah," the warrior said measuredly, "I dont think hes behind this, but Ill bet he knows who, or what, is."
"Xena, dont we also need to figure out whats going on with the government . . . who is in control, or if anyone is in control?" Gabrielle asked. "I kind of need to know what to expect in terms of ruling the Amazons. What treaties, if any still stand."
"Yes, that too," Xena replied, "and I need to have a long chat with Brutus."
~~~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~~~
They spent the rest of the day relaxing, mixed with plotting with the Amazons and packing travel gear. Neither warrior nor bard had anything besides the borrowed shirts, and the Amazons managed to come up with some ill-fitting boots and armor for both women.
"Gabrielle, that armor is a little big on you," Xena chuckled.
"Well, its not like Im used to wearing it in the first place," Gabrielle replied, tugging unsuccessfully at a piece of leather that was supposed to drape her midsection.
"Here, let me help you with that," the warrior offered, as she straightened the offending piece of armor, tickling the bare stomach in the process.
"Hey. Cut that out!" the bard yelped.
The warrior laughed and took a step back to survey the finished product. "That doesnt fit you much better than mine did . . . ," Xena stopped short as she saw the bards face fall.
Both women were silent, remembering the first time Xena died, leaving Gabrielle to finish a fight for the disabled warrior.
"For the greater good," warrior and bard said solemnly in unison.
"Gabrielle, listen to me," Xena placed both hands on her companions shoulders and faced her, ignoring the stares of the watching Amazons. "From now on the greater good is going to include whats best for both of us, and that is always going to come first, you got that?"
"You bet I do," the bard managed a smile, feeling the warmth radiating from Xenas close presence. Gabrielle reached up and placed her own hands on top of the large ones on her shoulders, and squeezed them, and then brought one to her cheek, feeling the long fingers reflexively caress her face. The bard blushed as she realized they were drawing an audience, and looked down at the floor.
Xena glanced around the room and growled, "is something wrong here? If I recall, I am still the queens designated champion. Anyone wanna challenge me on that?" Suddenly the Amazons were terribly interested in arranging armor and travel packs, eyes everywhere but on the tall dark woman and their gentle queen. They all remembered the last time someone challenged the queen, and the warriors fierce protection of her champion. Nope. We dont want to challenge you, Xena, definitely not.
"I guess these clothes will have to do," Xena remarked to Rebina, who had been fussing around them all afternoon helping them find the supplies they needed, "now, we need to find some decent weapons."
A glance went between warrior and bard, and Xena sighed. "Rebina," Gabrielle and I need to borrow a couple of swords."
Rebina simply handed the warrior the sword she herself had been carrying. "Ill need to go downstairs to find a sword for Gabrielle," the perplexed Amazon said, "My queen, with all due respect, are you sure? I thought you didnt . . . um . . ."
"Gabrielle wont need to borrow a sword," a voice said from behind them, and Amarice strode into the room.
"Yes, Amarice, she will," Xena replied.
"Wait," Amarice looked at them, "she wont need to borrow one because this one is rightfully hers." Amarice drew the sword from the scabbard on her back, knelt down in front of Gabrielle, and held the gleaming weapon out in front of her. "My queen, may I present you with Ephinys sword."
Gabrielle gasped, and then hesitantly took the smooth hilt in her hand. It fit . . . perfectly. "Thought I recognized this sword," she finally said, and turned to Xena, "look Xena, its not as big as yours, see how it fits in my hand." It felt strange and yet familiar at the same time. "I think I can probably handle it pretty well."
"I have no doubt about that, my bard," Xena replied, "Ephiny was a lot smaller than me, she was more your size." It was so weird to watch Gabrielle with a sword in her hand. "Well my friend, Im glad youre going to be watching my back," the warrior forced a smile.
"Xena, tomorrow will you drill with me a little before we head out?"
"Sure." Gods. Sword-drilling with Gabrielle. That will be different.
Gabrielle read the mixed emotions on the warriors face. She pondered for a moment. "Amarice, Im determined to become proficient with the sword, and I will carry this tomorrow, but I want to be at my best out there. Do you also have a staff I can borrow? Thats what Im most comfortable with. I think Id liked to carry both, just in case."
"You wont have to borrow that either," another voice said, and they turned to see Chilapa, who had been watching from the doorway. "Just a minute." The regent disappeared for a moment and returned carrying an ornately-carved staff. "My queen," Chilapa bowed, "Ephinys staff to compliment her sword."
Ephiny, I wish to the gods that you were here, carrying your own sword and staff. I promise you my friend, I will honor your memory by bearing your weapons. When Gabrielle had taken the rite of caste, Ephiny was the first of the Amazons to recognize it, and to see in the bard the potential for leadership. Other than Xena, the fallen Amazon was one of the few close friends Gabrielle had made since she had left Potadeia.
"Thank you," the bard said simply, and reached out to take her weapon of choice, hearing Xena audibly let out a relieved breath. They both looked at the staff, which had small leafed vines carved all along its length. The middle was wrapped in soft buttery leather to provide a sure grip. The bottom was wrapped in lambs wool, and the top had a carved double-faced birds head. One side was a doves face, and the other an eagle.
"Just like you, love, gentle as a dove yet sharp as an eagle," the warrior whispered softly to her partner.
Gabrielle looked up at the pale blue eyes, unsure of exactly what she read there, and suddenly felt shy. She looked down at the staff in her hands. "Thanks." She finally said.
"Well," Xena said, obviously more light-hearted than moments before, "its been a long day. Lets all get some sleep. Ill send out an advance scout tomorrow at dawn and if the road appears to be clear of Caesars remaining troops, we will head out tomorrow after lunch. The compound isnt that far from here and I think we could all use some extra rest and a hearty breakfast in the morning. Well spend the time between breakfast and lunch in some light drills."
"Now for the advance scout and for the scouting party that will accompany me," the warrior continued, "Id like for Amarice, Rebina, and Kallerine to go with Gabrielle and me back to the compound. Loisha, you find one other person to head out at dawn tomorrow. Dont go all the way to the compound, just part of the way, looking for signs that any Roman soldiers might be in the vicinity. Chilapa, it may be best for you to take the rest of the Amazons back to your village and wait for us."
"Very well," the regent agreed, "is everyone else clear on what they are to do?"
Feathered heads solemnly nodded.
"Good. Then lets all get some sleep and well prepare to travel tomorrow." The regent thought for a moment and turned to Xena, "Xena, I forgot to tell you, Argo showed up at our village after you left for Caesars palace. Weve been taking care of her."
"Oh, good . . . thank you . . . ," an obviously grateful and relieved warrior responded, "I was afraid . . . well . . . I didnt know, what with all that has happened, I was afraid the soldiers may have gotten her. Since she didnt turn up here . . . I was trying not to think too hard about her," Xena finished, with a few unshed tears swimming in her eyes at the thought that her beloved horse was alive and well. She turned away and sniffed, and then turned back to face Chilapa and patted the regent on the back.
"Youre welcome, my friend," Chilapa smiled, and turned to see a few gaping Amazons, apparently surprised to see the rare show of emotion from the warrior. "Okay, all of you, to bed," the regent ordered sternly.
"Um, Chilapa, wait a minute." As the room cleared out, Gabrielle rested a hand on the regents shoulder. "Who is in charge back in the Amazon village right now?" The bard had just realized that with both her and the regent gone, the village would be decidedly lacking in leadership.
"Well, actually, I . . . I left Eponin in charge."
"Eponin?" Warrior and bard both said in unison, remembering the hot-headed strong-willed, somewhat impetuous Amazon.
"Come on now, guys, I didnt have a lot to choose from, and besides, she is tough and she wont take anything off of anyone."
"I guess that is true," Gabrielle offered. "Chilapa, I hope she doesnt run them all ragged with two-a-days."
"Yeah, me too," the regent chuckled.
"You know Im kidding you, right? Chilapa, I made you regent because I trust your judgment to lead the Amazons." The bard smiled warmly.
"Thank you, my queen." The regent bade Xena and Gabrielle goodnight and left them alone.
Xena padded across the room and splashed water on her face, and tossed Gabrielle a fresh sleep shirt the Amazons had found. Gabrielle followed her at the wash basin. While Gabrielle washed up Xena banked the fire in the fireplace and arranged their weapons, stealing a glance at the bards bare back as she donned the shirt. Xena sighed. Shes so beautiful. She spared a wistful memory of the Fields.
Gabrielle turned and saw the warrior watching her. She smiled when she realized Xena didnt know she was staring. "Xena? Hey, where are you? Youve been doing that all day."
"Huh? Wh . . ." Xena felt her face flush. Did she see me watching her change clothes?
"Xena, love, whats wrong? You look a little warm." The bard walked over and laid her hand against her partners forehead, which only served to raise the warriors temperature yet a few more degrees.
"Oh, its just the fire, Gabrielle, thats all. See?" Xena gestured toward the freshly-banked coals, grateful for an excuse for her now very warm skin.
"Well, if you say so, but if youre still warm in a couple of candle marks were going to have to pull out the bitter herbs, you got me?"
"Yeah. Sure, but I really think Im going to be just fine." Yeah, Ill be really fine, Xena thought silently, as she looked innocently into the green eyes which held her captive.
The bard smirked and ruffled the dark hair. "Come on, warrior princess, lets go to bed."
Oh yeah, like that will lower my temperature. Bitter herbs, here I come, Xena thought ruefully.
The warrior got up and walked across the room and climbed into the very inviting bed. I am so tired, she thought silently. Gabrielle soon joined her and the bard doused the candle on the table next to the bed. She snuggled down into the covers and felt warmth against her back, as Xena shyly pressed up against her, wrapping a long arm around her waist. A heartbeat, and the warrior threw a leg over the bards legs. Gabrielle smiled into the darkness and settled back against Xena, resting a hand on the warriors draped thigh.
"Goodnight, Xena. I love you." I could get used to this, the bard mused inwardly, feeling her own temperature start to rise.
"Love you too, Gabrielle." Hades, I cant believe I just wrapped myself around her like this. Last night I had a good excuse -- total delirium. Tonight -- oh, well, she doesnt seem to mind. Xena felt the warm hand resting softly against her leg.
And they drifted into peaceful sleep, dreaming of the Elysian Fields.
~~~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~~~
Gabrielle woke before dawn to find Xena still wrapped around her. It felt . . . good . . . right . . . comfortable, and she snuggled her back up a little more tightly against the warriors stomach. She had always known that she loved Xena, from the first time she saw her. Oh, sure, she had been very naive when she first met the warrior, and the love had started out as hero worship. Which gradually grew to a very deep love for the very best friend she had ever had.
She knew that after Naima had told them they were eternal soulmates, the lines had gotten fuzzy. Xena had become much more solicitous of her, and had really started to listen to her, treating her more like an equal. They had become a lot more touchy-feely, little hugs here, little pats there, an occasional peck on the cheek if something really momentous happened. Sometimes she caught the warrior just watching her, and Xena would often sidle up to her and they would sit side by side for a while in silent companionship. They had been through so much together, and often no words were needed to communicate the commitment they had to each other. She had known that they would do anything for each other, including laying down their lives to save one another.
But now . . . well, dying together, and what had happened beside that waterfall, and then coming back, that took things to a whole new level somehow. She thought about all the things they had said to each other in that cell when they knew they were going to die. Things both spoken and unspoken, that came straight from the heart, painfully honest things they could only say with their eyes to one another. She thought about how close they had been since they came back from death. Not only were they physically closer, it was obvious that their emotional connection was much greater than it had been before they died. Maybe they wouldnt have to wait until they were back in the Elysian Fields to re-capture what they had there. She turned in Xenas embrace to consider the warrior further, and found blue eyes watching her.
"Good morning, love," the warrior said in a raspy voice.
"Good morning to you, too," Gabrielle replied, and placed a light kiss on the warriors shoulder. "Xena, can I ask you something?" Gabrielle tentatively questioned.
"Anything, love," came the soft answer.
"Do you feel any . . . different?" Gabrielle looked up into the blue eyes that looked at her with what she read as adoration.
Xena quirked an eyebrow and gave her a little half smile, "Well, lets see Gabrielle, paralyzed from the waist down . . . crucified . . . died . . . went to the Elysian Fields . . . came back from the dead . . . not that I havent come back from the dead before," she chuckled a little, "yeah, I feel a little different."
This elicited a smile from Gabrielle, which was quickly replaced with a more serious expression. "I understand all that Xena, I mean, Ive just been through most of that too, but thats not exactly what I meant." The bards forehead furrowed a little.
"Oh, okay," Xena searched her face and read something strangely familiar there. Oh, good. I guess Gabrielle feels this too. Come on Xena, you know what she means. Just jump over that cliff, the warrior chided herself.
"Gabrielle," the warrior pulled the petite woman into a tight hug, "comeere." She looked deeply into Gabrielles eyes for a moment and then tilted her head down and closed her eyes, just as their lips met. The first kiss was very sweet and very gentle, and wrapped both women in a wonderful layer of warmth. They opened their eyes again for a moment and then the second kiss was a more tentative and lingering exploration, which held all the longing and all the love that had been there under the surface for so long.
Xena broke away, reclaimed Gabrielles half-closed eyes, and asked, "was that different?"
"That," Gabrielle said breathlessly, "was very different. In a very very good way."
"Was that what you meant?" Xena asked, her expression a mixture of happiness and hope.
"Yes," the bard said, her eyes now wide open and smiling. "Do you realize that was the first time we have ever done that when we were both alive?" Gabrielle giggled and Xena let out a short throaty laugh.
"Well . . ." Xena said, planting a short kiss on the bards forehead, "I hope . . ." Another kiss on her cheek. "it wont be . . ." Another on her lips. " the last time we do that while we are both alive." The warrior laid back, still holding onto Gabrielle, and her mood shifted and the bard felt her shudder.
"Whats wrong, love?" Gabrielle asked. That word is coming so easily to both of us. The bard raised up on one arm, placed a hand on Xenas warm stomach, and looked up to see tears swimming in the warriors eyes. One escaped and made a slow descent down Xenas cheek. Gabrielle leaned up and kissed it away. "Please, Xena, tell me whats wrong?"
The warrior sighed and smiled. "Gabrielle, you remember when we parted in the Fields and you looked back at me and then disappeared back into the other side of that light?" Xena pulled the bards head down to her shoulder and stroked her fair hair and kissed the top of her head.
"Thats one of the hardest things Ive ever done," Gabrielle said softly, "I knew I had to go back, couldnt resist the pull, but I thought I might be leaving you behind, and I didnt know how I was going to live without you if you didnt make it back too. I . . . I knew you would try, and I knew you said you would wait right there for me if you couldnt, but the thought of spending even a day with you on that side and me on this side was the emptiest thing Ive ever felt," the bard finished, her lips quivering.
Xena hugged Gabrielle fiercely for a moment and then relaxed a little. She flipped over on her side, gently rolling the bard onto her back, and rested on one arm, the other hand idly playing with the collar of Gabrielles shirt. She looked down at the bard and continued, "Gabrielle, when you disappeared back into that light, all the joy in the Elysian Fields couldnt console me. I realized that I might be losing the most precious thing Id ever known, even if only for a while. MLila came to me, just as she did that last time, and spoke to me. She made me realize that I didnt just love you, that I was in love with you. I think I had known that for a long time, just didnt quite know how to acknowledge it."
"Yeah, me too," the bard smiled.
Xena briefly kissed Gabrielle again, and allowed a hand to trail down the younger womans cheek, finally coming to rest lightly on the bards breastbone. "Anyway," Xena continued, "I begged MLila to help me go back with you, but she said that only you could bring me back. That our love and our faith in each other were the only things that were strong enough to pull me back through that light. Gabrielle, I didnt want to miss sharing one moment of life with you, in any realm."
The bard took Xenas hand and kissed it, and held it firmly above her own heart, looking earnestly into the warriors penetrating blue eyes.
"Gabrielle, MLila told me that your love for me and belief in me, and my love for you were the only things that had gotten me into the Elysian Fields in the first place. That all my efforts at atonement were sadly lacking. That I was missing the big picture. You remember Naima?"
"Yes," the bard said softly.
"Naima was right, Gabrielle, we are eternal soulmates. MLila confirmed that. She said that without that I would never have fully atoned for all the evil things I had done. You, love, are my salvation, my way of atonement. MLila explained to me that it was no coincidence that we met just as I had decided to turn my life around. You are the key for me. If you hadnt been able to bring me back the other day, I was doomed to Tartarus until you died again. You are the only reason I was in the Elysian Fields."
Gabrielle sat up, pulling Xena with her, placed her hands on Xenas shoulders, and just looked at her for a long moment. "Xena, I wasnt sure I could bring you back." Gabrielle clutched Xenas tunic with both hands and buried her head against the warrior, shuddering at the thought, as a few silent tears trickled down her face. "Xena, what if I had failed?"
Xena wrapped her arms around her and rocked her gently for a moment. "Shhh, Gabrielle, you did it, you know. I never had a doubt that you could, not for one single second. You have shown me the strength of your love for me in a million different ways. I believed in you. It was just that simple. Besides, even if you hadnt brought me back we would still eventually be together again. Its our destiny."
Gabrielle began to calm as the wonder of it all began to sink in. She looked up at the warrior with all the love in her heart, and Xena pulled her into another fierce hug. "Gabrielle, I dont ever want to let go of you," the warrior said, planting tiny kisses all over the top of the bards head.
"Then dont," Gabrielle said, and she placed her hands on either side of Xenas face and pulled her lips down to meet her own. It was so soft and warm there, and the bard allowed herself to get lost in it.
They spent several minutes that way, and the warrior began to kiss her way down Gabrielles face and then her neck, which sent little shivers dancing across Gabrielles skin. Xena finally ended up giving a tentative taste to the small hollow of the bards throat, and then nibbled it slowly. She felt Gabrielles pulse quicken, as the bard begin to explore the small of her back with gentle hands, first on the outside of her shirt, and then on the bare skin underneath, massaging in little circles that made desire well up in Xena like she had not felt in a long, long time, if ever. It was not just a physical hunger, it was a deep aching emotional need.
"Gabrielle, I . . ." Xenas lips still rested against the soft skin of her throat. "Is this . . ."
The bard reached down and tilted the warriors chin up, resting the flat of her fingers against the full lips, silencing the warrior. "I love you Xena."
The warrior allowed just the tip of her tongue to poke out, tasting the salty fingers. She signed and leaned back down, pulling the bards collar aside and kissing her way across Gabrielles shoulder. She smiled and tried to focus. Gods, she loved this woman with all her heart. Overwhelming feelings of love, and protectiveness, and fierce passion hit her so strongly she could hardly stand it. She looked into Gabrielles eyes and wished she could somehow crawl into the bards soul, if only for a moment, and feel herself surrounded by that love and light that balanced her own dark side, had indeed saved her own soul.
"I . . . I cant get close enough," Xena was trembling.
Gabrielle sensed a hesitant note in the warriors voice. Gotta let her know we both want the same thing, the bard smiled to herself. She took Xenas face in her hands and locked eyes with her, willing the warrior to read what was in her heart, "Xena," her voice caressed the name, "show me love, Xena." And she leaned in. "Get as close as you want to," these last words said with a seductively tickling whisper against the warriors ear.
Xena gasped as the bards words registered, and she turned her head to find Gabrielles lips, holding the fair girls head with one hand while her other hand began to wander underneath the bards shirt, feeling the soft skin she had been aching to touch. She traced a slow line up the middle of the bards stomach and lightly touched other sensitive spots, which caused Gabrielle to whimper a small muffled cry against Xenas lips.
The bards hands moved incessantly up the warriors back, and slowly tugged Xenas shirt over her head, trying not to break their kiss. Xena pulled back to breath for a moment, and saw unrestrained passion burning in Gabrielles green eyes. She reached down and drew the bards shirt off as well, and pulled her into a hug again, shuddering at the soft contact of skin on skin.
"Well, I guess this is something else weve never done together, either dead or alive," Xena said with a feral smile, and Gabrielle looked once again into those piercing blue eyes and whispered, "yeah, and its been a long time coming, love."
With that, Xena wrapped an arm underneath the bards shoulders and carefully lowered her down onto the bed, kissing her again for a long time and then began a slow, gentle exploration of the beautiful girl with fingers and lips and tongue and teeth, attentions of which were returned with equal fervor by the bard.
And the gentle exploration became more intense, as all the horror and pain they had faced, and the brief total peace of the Elysian Fields, and the return to life, was somehow worked out, and all the love, need, fear, and wonder got mixed together in something that they both desperately needed to affirm to each other. They were together and they were alive, wondrously alive. Together forever. Caesar and Callisto had lost, for the power of their love was greater than all the evil that had been bestowed upon them.
Xena felt herself meld into Gabrielle, felt the closeness she craved, until she didnt know where she ended and Gabrielle began, and she knew she would never leave her soulmate again. Their hearts knit together in an unbreakable bond, and the two truly became one. And much later, they found themselves spiraling down into a warm comfortable place they never wanted to leave.
~~~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~~~
About a candle mark later the sun had risen, painting two entwined bodies with warm rays of light. Gabrielle was laying stomach down, her head resting on Xenas stomach, and the warrior was once again wrapped around the bard. Xena ran one finger down Gabrielles back, and smiled as her new-found lover arched against her at her touch. New and yet strangely familiar, almost like coming home. The warrior looked down at their sprawled bodies and felt a gentle wave of contentment wash over her.
Xena was certain Perdicus was the only other person Gabrielle had ever slept with. As for the warrior, well, too many to count, men and women, some I cared about and some I didnt, she mused wryly to herself. Many I used to advance my own agenda. But this time, this was different. Xena had had sex, but it suddenly dawned on her that she had just made love for the first time.
My new lover will be my last lover. The warrior felt very vulnerable, and yet she knew that she could trust Gabrielle with that feeling. I can no more live without her than I could live without air and water. Does she feel the same way? Damn. That happened pretty fast. Did we just make a big mistake? Double damn. I should have exercised more control. As if I could have.
The warrior pulled Gabrielle up until their faces were next to each other. She kissed the bards forehead and smiled as the bard closed her eyes and sighed contentedly. "Gabrielle, are you alright with this?" Xena said on a shaky note. Please be alright with this. I dont want to give it up, she added silently.
Gabrielle knew Xena would question their love-making. Knew the warriors protective streak would raise its beautiful ugly head. She also knew that underneath that cool, hard-as-granite exterior, was a woman that had been hurt so many times that she didnt open up often or easily to anyone. I have got to make her understand that I love her completely. I dont ever want to be with anyone else but her. That one time with Perdicus was sweet, and naive, but this . . . was . . . amazing. Now, now I know what love is, the bards own words came back to haunt her.
Gabrielle raised up and rolled over until her body was resting full length on top of the warrior, smiling as she felt the subtle reaction of Xenas stomach muscles to the sudden closer contact. She planted a slow progression of kisses up Xenas chest and neck, finally planting one on her lovers full lips, relaxing into the safety of strong arms that tightened around her during her administrations. Gabrielle sighed happily and reached up and brushed a sweaty lock of dark hair from Xenas forehead, and looked into the warriors blue eyes for several minutes and smiled.
"Xena," she continued to stroke the dark hair, "I have never felt more right in my whole entire life than I do at this very moment." With that statement, she felt Xenas tensed muscles relax considerably, and she leaned down and kissed the warriors waiting lips again, enjoying the warm sweet softness for several moments.
They broke off and Gabrielle rolled back onto her side, once again resting her head on Xenas stomach, tracing the curve of the warriors hip with light touches of her fingertips, watching goose bumps break out across Xenas skin. The bards idle hand moved across the warriors leg running slowly up and down the strong muscles. Xena felt the fingers moving toward her inner thigh, and her breath caught sharply. She let it out slowly and placed a hand on top of Gabrielles wandering one, willing her to stop.
"Whats the matter, dont you like it?" the bard raised up and purred right into Xenas ear with a wicked grin, and then she flicked the inviting earlobe with the tip of her tongue.
Xena laughed at the tickling sensation, "I like it too much, Gabrielle, so much that I cant concentrate, and I have something I want to say." This time Xena rolled to her side, forcing the bard onto her back. "Gabrielle, Ive been in love with you for a long time. It took dying for me to figure that out. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I dont want to do anything to hurt you. Ill stay with you on your terms. MLila made me see that our love is what will save me. So if we are pushing things too fast, you just let me know. Im perfectly willing to take things nice and easy."
"Xena," Gabrielle smiled, "I would hardly call four years pushing things too fast. I love you. Ive loved you from the moment I first saw you, but it is a love that has evolved over time. Weve been taking it nice and easy. We know each other better than anyone else does, and weve been through a lot together. Most friendships wouldnt survive what we have, and yet here we are, more strongly bonded together than ever. Dont you think this was inevitable? We have something most people will never have, a very strong love born of a very strong friendship. How many people are lucky enough to find their best friend, soulmate, and lover all wrapped up in one beautiful package? I . . . I," the bard faltered for a moment, "I dont have a lot of experience with love Xena, not this kind of love, but Im not so clueless that I dont recognize a rare and wonderful chance at happiness when I see it." Gabrielle searched her lovers eyes and saw absolute amazement there. "Xena, you are beautiful to me. The love between us is a beautiful thing. I want you badly. I dont think I can wait any longer. I want you now," the bard finished in a smokey whisper and pulled the warrior over on top of her.
The words shattered any remaining doubt Xena might have had. Well, she is one eloquent bard. How did I get so lucky?, the warrior wondered to herself. She chuckled low in her throat and descended for a second thorough exploration, beginning with tracing the patterns of the mehndi tattoos on the bards body with her tongue.
Continued in Part 3