Where There’s Now One . . .

Installment Three of The Indigo Scrolls

"Lyrical Revelations," Part Three

by Rhiannon Silverflame

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal, MCA, and Renaissance Pictures. Ulysses, or Odysseus, is in the public domain. The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, are real people and as such are the legal property of no one; the author sincerely hopes that they do not mind their inclusion here, and intends no disrespect. The concept of The Indigo Scrolls is the property of the author.

SUBTEXT: In the present-day timeline, there is absolutely no subtext whatsoever. Amy and Emily are not, nor have they ever been, romantically involved. In the ancient timeline, likewise, there is absolutely no subtext whatsoever. But that’s because it’s maintext. The author refuses to be shaken from believing that Xena and Gabrielle are anything but romantically involved. So deal with it. If this concept offends or disturbs you, go have a good stiff drink and then read something else (but probably none of the author’s other works).

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Do I consider this uber-Xena fan fiction? Not really. Though it does involve my depictions of Xena and Gabrielle’s modern-day reincarnations, when it all comes down to the basics, this is about Xena and Gabrielle. This is part of the four-part Indigo Scrolls story arc entitled "Lyrical Revelations." This story is a partial reworking of the episode "Ulysses," which is without a doubt one of my least favorite episodes ever; among other things, I decided to use the Greek name for the king of Ithaca. Some scenes have also been altered to fit this story a little better. I don’t know what kind of cars Amy and Emily drive, so vehicular inaccuracy would be my fault.

CHRONOLOGY: Amy and Emily’s part of the story takes place just after "The Hardest to Learn" and "Nights of Desire." Xena and Gabrielle’s part of the story also picks up directly after the aforementioned, and continues into the episode "Ulysses."

Guess I wasn't the best one to ask,

Me, myself, with my face pressed up against love's glass

To see the shiny toy I've been hoping for, the one I never could afford

The wide world spins and spits turmoil and the nations toil for peace

But the paws of fear upon your chest—only love can soothe that beast.

And my words are paper tigers, no match for the predators of pain inside her.

I say love will come to you,

Hoping just because I spoke the words that they're true,

As if I offered up a crystal ball to look through:

Where there's now one, there will be two.

I was born under the sign of Cancer;

Like brushing cloth, I smooth the wrinkles for an answer.

I'm always closing my eyes and wishing I'm fine even though I'm not this time

(I close my eyes and wish you fine, even though I know you’re not this time)

I say love will come to you,

Hoping just because I spoke the words that they're true,

As if I offered up a crystal ball to look through:

Where there's now one, there will be two.

Dodging your memories, a field of knives,

Always on the outside looking in on other's lives . . .

I say love will come to you,

Hoping just because I spoke the words that they're true,

As if I offered up a crystal ball to look through:

Where there's now one, there will be two.

And I wish her insight to battle love's blindness,

Strength from the milk of human kindness,

A safe place for all the pieces that scattered—

Learn to pretend there's more than love that matters . . .

— "Love Will Come to You," written by Emily Saliers

The phone rang, and its jangling drew Emily from her pensive state and back to the present.

"Who’s calling me this early in the morning?" she mumbled, setting her guitar down and crossing to the desk where the phone sat. She was a little bit annoyed by the interruption, but relieved as well—the unexpected communion she’d just had with her past life had brought a sense of fulfillment whose intensity frightened her as much as it lifted her up.

Picking up the receiver, Emily stifled a yawn and ventured, "Hello?"

"Hey, you."

The gruff, familiar voice made her smile. "Morning, Amy. What’s up?"

"I didn’t wake you up or anything, did I?"

"No, I’ve been up for a while," she reassured her friend. "Thinking, you know . . . last night and all."

She heard Amy’s chuckle. "Yeah, me too. ‘s why I called, actually . . . listen, can you come over for a bit?" It was almost a plea. "I had some flashbacks, I don’t know what you’d call ‘em, memories or whatever, and they were pretty intense."

"And you want to talk about it?" Emily understood. "You got it . . . ‘cause believe me, I can relate! I’ll be over in a few, ‘kay?"

"Great, Em, thanks . . . see you then." There was a click on the other end.

Emily put the receiver back in its cradle and scooped her car keys up off the desktop. She paused long enough to throw on a flannel overshirt, settle her favorite baseball cap over her hair, and grab the leatherbound copy of The Xena Scrolls from the coffee table on her way out the door.

Amy lived in a secluded cabin in the woods outside Atlanta, so Emily had plenty of time to think on her drive over. She popped Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes CD into the stereo, but oddly enough it was one of her own songs that kept running through her mind, not the troubled chords of "Crucify."

"The paws of fear upon my chest, only love can soothe that beast. And my words are paper tigers, no match for the predator of pain inside her . . ."

More memories from Gabrielle’s lifetime, she suspected. She’d been wondering about those revelations ever since the first memory of leaving Poteidaia had come to her onstage at the Roxy the night before. If all of those memories were triggered by her songs, as it seemed, then why "Love Will Come to You?"

Gabrielle and Xena’s relationship. Of course. She knew that she’d been in love with Xena, but how had they gotten to be lovers? This was a jigsaw puzzle of an unanswered question. No, not just a jigsaw puzzle . . . a map, torn apart and divided between two people. It was almost maddening to know the beginning and end points of it all, without having a clue as to how one led to the other.

Well . . . wasn’t that the magic of life? The journey? There was never any way of knowing, in advance, the path you’d take to reach your goal. But that was the challenge and excitement—getting there. Maybe Amy could help her piece the map together again.

No . . . wait. A new thought struck her as she pulled into Amy’s driveway. Her best friend held all the pieces she was missing. Together, they definitely would reassemble the whole picture.

She killed the engine, jumped out of the Grand Cherokee, and shut the door behind her. Jogging past Amy’s motorcycle, she climbed the porch two steps at a time. Just as she raised her fist to knock, the door swung open and Amy was there, grinning, mischief in her dark brown eyes.


Emily jumped. "Jesus, Ame, don’t do that!" She laughed and reached up to ruffle Amy’s disheveled brown locks, teasing, "Boy, some welcome I get . . . don’t even bother to brush your hair!"

Amy smirked and snatched her friend’s baseball cap away. Beneath it, Emily’s red-gold tresses were no less rumpled than her own. "Oh yeah?" she challenged playfully. "So whaddya call that, huh? The eight A.M. coiffure?" She ducked the swat that came flying at her and swung the door wide in the same motion. "Come on in, will ya?"

"Yup. Beautiful morning," Emily commented, settling herself on the couch. "I swear, Amy, you’ve got the best view out here." She let out a surprised little squawk as her hat landed in her lap.

"Yeah . . ." Amy sat down next to her, a distant expression in her eyes. "I was out there before dawn, on the porch, just thinking. And the craziest thing happened . . . I started hearing lyrics, my own song, y’know, in my head, and it all came together and I was remembering . . ." She whistled softly. "It was intense."

Emily nodded. "Same thing happened to me." Her brow furrowed. "What song was it?"

"’Blood and Fire.’"



Not a pleasant one. Emily winced inside, knowing the history of the song and its effect on her singing partner. She took a breath, ready to say something, but Amy spoke up again.

"I know I must’ve finally said something to her, or she spoke up first, or something . . . and we both finally knew where we stood, but the time in between . . . I don’t like thinking about it. It just hurt too damn much."

The change in perspective was abrupt, as though suddenly it wasn’t Amy speaking in that pain-filled voice. And it would have surprised Emily, but the music flooded back into her mind, and she felt a quickening in her bones and her soul that swept her away to the same place where her friend was now. She saw firsthand the warrior’s anguish, felt a desperate, gutwrenching longing to reach out in comfort . . . to fill that void in Xena’s soul . . .

"And I say love will come to you, hoping just because I spoke the words that they’re true, as if I offered up a crystal ball to look through: Where there’s now one, there will be two . . ."

"Amy," she said softly, placing a hand on her friend’s shoulder, "do you remember . . ."

And like a flash, with the contact between them, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place, and they saw the entire map lying there before them, and it began to make sense.

Like waking up one morning . . .

* * *

"Son of a Bacchae!"

Xena opened her eyes and came back to wakefulness, only to find that Gabrielle’s very real presence in her arms hadn’t subsided with her dream. Damn . . . damn . . . oh gods, did I . . .

It hadn’t been a dream after all. Not all of it. But where in her mind had the line between dream and reality blurred? She didn’t know. And it frightened her.

The dreams had been getting more intense, and they emboldened her even in her waking hours to reach out to her young companion. Xena could no longer tell which of her actions were prompted by life, and which stemmed from the parallel existence she led, with Gabrielle as her lover, in her mind.

Was that what had prompted her to kiss Gabrielle in that dreamscape? Not that the bard had objected . . . but what if her response had merely been the elation of discovering that she no longer needed to grieve? And if that was the case . . . had she been taking advantage of Gabrielle?

The warrior rolled over with a low groan and put a hand over her eyes. Too much doubt . . . too many questions . . . I don’t know what’s true or false any more! She was conscious—too conscious—of the warmth of the young woman snuggled up against her side, enfolded in the crook of her arm. The closeness terrified her—not that she wanted to let go of the idyllic moment, but it held frightening implications for her.

There’s no telling what I might do next . . . and the last thing I want to do is take advantage of her. She trusts me so much. I can’t let her down! She gazed down at the bard’s lovely features, willing herself to control at the sight.

There was a quiet stirring then, and Gabrielle awoke, blinking sleepy green eyes in Xena’s general direction. "Oh . . . morning, Xena."

Act calm . . . nonchalant . . . yeah, that’s the ticket. She smiled and gave the bard’s head an affectionate rub with her knuckles. "Hey there . . . get a little lonely last night?"

"Me? Oh, um, yeah . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to surprise you or anything . . . Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle peered up at her friend, concerned by the distant, troubled expression in the cerulean depths of the warrior’s eyes.

"Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine." Oops. Little too forceful there. Xena hadn’t been expecting Gabrielle’s response to surprise her the way it did. The curtness of her answer was a defensive reflex, and she was hating her reflexes at the moment.

"You sure you’re okay?"

Did Gabrielle look disappointed? Nah. Couldn’t be. There I go again, imagining things! The warrior forced a smile and retreated to safer ground. "Yeah, I’m sure. Just hungry. How about I go catch us some breakfast, huh?"

"Fish?" The sleepy little smile edging Gabrielle’s lips was almost too much to bear.

"What else? Get that frying pan ready. I’ll be back soon." Xena got up, grabbed her armor and bracers, and hurried off to the stream, hating every bit of the relief that came with getting away.

Worried green eyes observed the warrior’s hasty departure. "She’s not all right," Gabrielle muttered to herself. "Something’s really hurting her, I know it. Waking up and finding me here, maybe?" She flopped back down onto the bedroll with a sigh. "That’s gotta be it . . . I’ve gone and made her feel bad . . . stupid, stupid, stupid!"

Okay, so it wasn’t the morning-after reaction she would have liked to see, but she was getting a little ahead of herself. All she knew was that it hurt—it hurt like all Tartarus—to see Xena in pain like that and to wonder if she might be to blame. Well, the bard vowed to herself, I’m gonna get to the bottom of this . . . I’ll find out what’s hurting her, and I’m gonna fix it.

Four hours later, though, she wasn’t any closer to the answer. Not even a clue. I should try and be more patient, a frustrated Gabrielle scolded herself. I ought to know that by now! She’ll open up when she’s ready to, and no use pushing her.

Not that it stopped her from trying.

She turned to her taller companion. "Okay, now, what do you feel when you think of . . . seagulls?"

"I feel irritated, ‘cause they’re so noisy," responded the warrior, deadpan.

Strike one. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and tried again. "What else do you hear?" she pressed.

"The sea," Xena replied gamely.

"Okay then, so . . . what do you think of when you hear that peaceful grandeur of the sea?" There had to be something Xena would say that might give her a clue. Something, anything that she could use to read some of what her friend was feeling.

"I think about how glad I am to be on dry land."

Strike two. Hard to make something of that comment. "You’re so practical!" exclaimed the bard. "Xena, the sea is a beautiful expression of nature! Can’t you think of anything more meaningful than that? Anything deeper?"

"Mmm . . ." Xena mumbled, noncommittal.

One more try. "All right . . . hear the waves? I want you to concentrate on the sound of those waves beating against that shore, and I want you to have a sense of peace. Got it?" And if she doesn’t say something to tip me off, Gabrielle added mentally, I’m gonna take this staff and poke her with it until she does!

"I’ll try, I’ll try." The warrior closed her eyes and, Gabrielle hoped, concentrated.

"Now what do you feel?" prompted the bard.

The only response she got was the ringing whisk of forged metal coming free of a leather scabbard.

Oh, I don’t believe this . . . ! "The sea makes you draw your sword?" she asked incredulously.

"No . . ." Xena broke into a run. "But the sound of a battle does!"

Strike three. So much for that technique working on Xena, Literal Princess. With the most dramatically resigned sigh ever heaved by a long-suffering sidekick, Gabrielle gave up and took off after her friend, staff in hand.

I . . . do . . . not . . . like the way he’s looking at her. Gabrielle hoped that Odysseus hadn’t noticed the evil look she’d just given him. She was feeling awfully possessive of her friend, and now she thought she understood why Xena had decided to make all those disastrous tavern flirtations into her own fights. When he looked at Xena, the king of Ithaca had the same dazzled expression on his face that those amorous village boys had worn shortly before they’d gotten too rambunctious and the Warrior Princess had laid into them.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t come up with a good reason to introduce Odysseus to the business end of her staff, not after they’d agreed to help him get home. Maybe I’ll eventually find an excuse, the bard told herself, after we get to Ithaca . . .

"I’m not feeling so good," she mumbled. "I think I’ll go get some water or something . . . yeah."

She picked up her staff and an empty waterbag and headed out to the stream, not liking the apprehension her stomach seemed to be communicating to her. Xena was acting awfully friendly toward Odysseus, and the Man of Many Wiles—as people had begun to call him since Troy—was more than returning the sentiment.

It didn’t seem fair. In fact, it seemed more like a sick twist of irony. It figured. She finally realized that she was in love with her best friend, and just when it seemed like she had a chance to act on it, Xena went and started flirting with Odysseus.

Gabrielle knelt on the bank of the stream and submerged the waterbag, thinking as she watched bubbles rise from its open mouth. All her life in Poteidaia, she’d listened with envy to the stories the bards told, all the stories of heroes and adventurers and great battles. She’d wanted to tell stories like that, but only after living them. Not just after hearing them and passing them along. That particular chance had come the day Xena saved her from Draco’s slavers. Now, she got to see adventures firsthand and proudly designated herself as the chronicler of Xena’s exploits. The only problem was that people tended to think of her as nothing more than an observer—as though she didn’t have a thing to do with some of their accomplishments.

And now this. Nobody knew Xena’s inner pain as well as she did, and nobody, she was sure, wanted—needed—to heal it as badly. How many times had she glimpsed, in the warrior’s eyes, a hint of that fear of being alone? More than she could begin to count, and there was only so much that she could say to help ease Xena’s soul. It would take more than words to fill that void; it would take love. Watching the emptiness eating away at her friend was tiring on Gabrielle’s soul . . . and that was a burden that, likewise, only love could lift.

Emerald eyes gazed, unseeing, back in the vague direction of the cave, tinged with wistfulness. If only you’d just let me . . .

Xena was alone by the fire, sharpening her sword, when Gabrielle returned. "Hey," she said softly, smiling at the young woman.

"Hey," Gabrielle responded in subdued tones. "Uh . . . where’s Odysseus?"

"Asleep over there." Xena made a careless gesture over her left shoulder with her whetstone. "You’d better get some sleep too, y’know, if we’re going to be up to attack those pirates in the morning." Her blue eyes were steady, but full of concern. "You know this is gonna be dangerous, don’t you? If we’re going to help him get back to Ithaca, and if Poseidon’s against us . . ."

"You think danger’s going to scare me off?" Gabrielle knelt beside her friend and leaned forward earnestly. "I just about got burned alive the other day, remember? I’m not leaving you this time, Xena. I’ve done that twice—no, three times before, and it’s not going to happen again! I’m going wherever you go. End of story."

Xena reached out and allowed herself to stroke Gabrielle’s hair lightly. "End of story, huh? Far be it from me to argue with a bard on that point," she teased. "Now go on and get some rest. You’re gonna need it."

"Okay . . ." Reluctantly, Gabrielle made for her bedroll. "Night, Xena."

"Night." The warrior rubbed her sword down with a polishing rag. Gods, she thought miserably. She trusts me so much . . . She could have sworn that she’d seen pain in the bard’s eyes just now, and it stabbed down into her own soul. Sheathing her blade, she lay down and closed her eyes, willing the pain to go away before sleep took her. She’d work her way through all these fears of taking advantage of her friend, learn to gain some measure of control over her emotions again, and then she’d be fine. And so would Gabrielle.

Gabrielle sighed and rolled over in the hammock. They’d been aboard this damned ship for days now, and she’d spent most of her time heaving the contents of her stomach overboard.

She was feeling wretched. The conversation Xena was currently having with Odysseus made her insides twist in pain, and the seasickness, bad as it was, turned out to be only a fairly superficial irritation to add to everything else.

Odysseus was in love with Xena, or so he said, and she certainly seemed to have feelings for him, too. It didn’t take a stretch of Gabrielle’s already active imagination to figure out what had just gone on during the sudden silence. So what’s that mean for me? she wondered. Did my last hope of ever sharing Xena’s life that way just flash past me, laughing hysterically? There it was again. She was a part of Xena’s life, but not quite . . . she could see into Xena’s soul, but something kept her from really touching it. The pain she wanted to take away was there, but just out of reach.

But maybe . . . if her friend found love with Odysseus, that pain would go away, and she could just be happy for Xena and forget her own pain. That was the important part, wasn’t it? Wanting the best for the person you loved?

Xena . . . I hope you find that love, whoever it turns out to be. I hope you find that soulmate and the happiness you deserve, she thought, wondering if she could just will it into being. She closed her eyes and tried to think of how to derive her own kind of joy from that union, whenever it might happen. She’d get over the pain eventually, and she’d be fine. And so would Xena.

She watched Odysseus leave the cabin and wondered if she was doing the right thing in making overtures toward the man. Could I ever teach myself to love him the way I love Gabrielle, given time? Would it keep her from getting hurt because of me? Is this something I really want to do? She wasn’t so sure. When he’d told her that he felt as though he’d found his soulmate, she’d felt . . . well, as though she did have a soulmate, and that person were here in this room. She knew that much, at least.

But she looked at him and felt only doubt. When he’d kissed her, she hadn’t felt the sense of fulfillment that, in Autolycus’s body, she’d found in the tentative contact with Gabrielle’s lips. And when she looked at the bard, she knew that she could never again imagine a day without her. By all the gods, these things were never easy.

There was a shuffling noise behind her, and she turned to see Gabrielle awake and out of the hammock. Oh, by Zeus . . . she heard the whole thing?

Xena’s mind screamed betrayal. "You feeling better?" she managed.

"No," Gabrielle groaned, stretching. "Whether it’s on the upside or the downside I have no idea, though, I think I’ve kind of gotten used to being miserable." On how many levels, you have no idea. She gave the warrior a pensive look. "You know, Xena, how he feels about you, it’s pretty obvious. How do you feel about him?"

"You don’t sleep as soundly as I thought." Xena dodged the question and turned to make a pretense of examining a map.

"Not in this torture chamber, I don’t, but don’t you go changing the subject on me." Xena found green eyes fixed intensely on her face as Gabrielle crossed to the other side of the table and faced her. "I need to know." I really do. "Promise me one thing, please?"

"What’s that?"

"That you’ll follow your heart." The young Amazon’s mouth must have gone dry; she was swallowing a lot, and it sounded like she had to force the words out, one by one. "Follow your heart, and don’t worry about me."

Oh, Gabrielle . . . "You’re a part of my heart," the warrior blurted out. Her mind hadn’t had time to veto the exclamation, and it hung in the air, surrounding them both with its truth. Conviction set in, rock-solid: this whole thing with Odysseus was nothing more than insanity, a pointless exercise in self-deception.

Unaware of her friend’s epiphany, Gabrielle went on, "Xena . . . do you remember, what you said to me when Perdicas asked me to marry him?"

Oh gods, don’t bring that up!

"You told me that seeing me happy would make you happy, remember?"

Yes . . . but do you know how much it hurt anyway?

"I feel the same way."

Then you’ll feel the same pain I did, and I never want you to hurt that way. Xena felt a sudden urgency, a desperate need to keep the pain she’d felt back then from digging its claws into Gabrielle’s soul now.

"Gabrielle," she began, reaching out to her friend, "do you have any idea how good you’ve been for me? You taught me what love is . . . you taught me how to love . . ."

"Did you say love?" The bard’s fingers closed gently over her own, and the chaste touch was so much more than Odysseus’s amorous embrace had been.

"Yeah." She took a deep breath, let her thumb brush gently over Gabrielle’s knuckles, and gathered up her nerve.

A bittersweet smile crossed the blonde woman’s face. "Then I guess we’ll be staying on in Ithaca for a while, huh?"

Panic seized Xena’s heart in an unrelenting grip. No! That’s not what I—

A shout from abovedeck cut in sharply. "Ithaca! Ithaca! We’ve reached Ithaca!"

Now now, the warrior groaned inwardly as she and Gabrielle raced to help steer the ship to shore. How am I ever going to get myself out of this one now?

They got closer and closer to the pirate-infested castle, and Odysseus’s cavalier attitude toward his kingdom really began to get on Xena’s nerves. Her perfect opportunity came when they rescued the king’s old friend, Metacles, who told them that Penelope was still alive. She couldn’t help noticing that Gabrielle looked awfully pleased at the news. Good sign. Now I just need the right moment, and sneaking into a castle full of pirates is not that moment.

Apparently, Odysseus thought differently. As soon as Gabrielle had run upstairs from the dank, cobwebbed servants’ passage to get some robes for disguises, he started to speak. "Xena, there’s something I want to tell you."

Oh, gods. He had that look on his face. "Odysseus . . ."

"Now, just hear me out, all right?" He held his hands up to silence her. "After ten years of wanting to come home to Ithaca, I’ve realized that it’s just not home to me any more. I don’t love Penelope, and I don’t know if I ever did, and this isn’t even my kingdom any more. It’s hers, more than anyone’s. So I tell you what: I’ll help clear these pirates out of here for her, but after that I’d like to travel with you." As an afterthought, he added, "And Gabrielle, of course."

His timing was hideous, but the Warrior Princess was never one to pass up an opening, especially when her opponent was foolish enough to hand it to her on a platter. "Sorry, Odysseus . . . I really should’ve been more honest with you," she drawled, a bit more coldly than she would have liked. "See, I like the way my life is now, with just me and Gabrielle." That sounded so good, she noticed. Her gaze, as she faced him squarely, was frozen brittle, impassive detachment evident in her icy-blue eyes. "I’m not in love with you, and I doubt that I ever could be."

He stared back, challenging. "I don’t believe that. I think you are in love with me, Xena. Stop denying it."

Why, you condescending . . . ! "Typical man!" Xena spat. A sudden flare of anger melted her steely expression and she glared down at him harshly. "A few smiles, one kiss, and you’re convinced I’m head over heels! Stop kidding yourself!" She snorted. "All that mush you were spewing, it was embarrassing, you know that? I should’ve shot you down right then, but I was being nice! Let me give it to you straight, Odysseus: you’re not my type, understand?"

She stopped to take a breath before continuing her tirade, but he turned, snatched a robe from Gabrielle, who’d just returned, and bolted down the dilapidated hallway before she said another word.

"Xena, it’s okay," Gabrielle whispered. She’d come back just in time to catch the end of the conversation, and the harshness of its tone had surprised her. "I understand."

The warrior smiled. "No, you don’t . . . but you will. Now come on, we’ve got work to do." She draped an arm over Gabrielle’s shoulders. "I’m gonna give him and Penelope both a clean homecoming, help him get his kingdom back. And then you and I are out of here." Together. Just you and me.

"He’ll figure out what you did, you know."

"Maybe, but I’m not letting that stop me," Xena said vehemently. "That’s not how it’s going to be, and he won’t convince me otherwise. Now, let’s go."

It was pretty much according to plan after that. Odysseus, unwittingly aided by Xena, succeeded in stringing his powerful bow and proving his identity; after that, a brief but rousing fight with the pirates ensued. Once everything had settled down again and the pirates were off the island—or in prison, depending—Xena and Gabrielle decided it was their cue to leave. With the king’s blessing, they took the ship they’d arrived in, and a small complement of sailors to go with them.

Xena completed her inspection of the preparations and stopped pacing around the deck. "Let’s sail!" she yelled, taking up a position at the fore deck.

Several of the sailors began to raise the anchor and cast off ropes, and the helmsman saluted her. "Aye-aye, Xena!"

Gabrielle noticed that the gangplank hadn’t been raised, and interrupted. "Hang on. We’ve got company." She pointed to Odysseus, who was loping up the plank toward them.

"Him again?" the warrior complained, rolling her eyes. "All right, that’s it . . . I’m not being nice this time!" She turned her gaze toward the Ithacan king. "Hello, Odysseus. Anything I can do for you?"

He strode up to her, too warm and friendly for her liking. "Xena, I want to come with you."

She just couldn’t keep herself from entertaining the notion of letting cold seawater dampen his enthusiasm. Still, she knew she couldn’t be too cruel—she genuinely liked the man. He just didn’t know how to take no for an answer. "Look, that line doesn’t work on me when just anyone delivers it, okay? Penelope needs you. So does Ithaca. I wouldn’t take you away from either of them, even if I wanted to. That’s just the way it’s gonna be, Odysseus. Goodbye."

"Xena, please!"

"Go home," she told him, more coldly than she would have liked, under better circumstances. He balked, and the warlord surfaced again, briefly, in the harshness of Xena’s repeated "Go home!"

Odysseus looked into her face expectantly. Those blue eyes were so compelling that he couldn’t contest what she was practically ordering him to do. Finally, he nodded and turned away in silence, making his way down the gangplank with slow, purposeful steps. Once he’d set foot on the dock, the crew raised the plank and cast off. The sails unfurled into the wind, whose unseen force stretched them taut and bore the ship away from Ithaca.

Xena paused to raise a hand in salute to Odysseus and Penelope, who stood on the shore, waving in farewell, then turned to gaze out over the ocean. Gabrielle came to stand beside her on the fore deck.

"How are you feeling?" the bard asked softly.

"Just fine. Well . . . maybe not quite." Xena shrugged and looked down to watch the waves slap against the ship’s bow, sending a soft spray of seawater ahead of them. "I feel bad about being so harsh with him," she admitted, "but I had to do it. He’ll learn to love Penelope again . . . she deserves it. He was just fooling himself with me. He never properly grieved for her when he thought she was dead, and discovering that she was alive was a surprise he hasn’t yet had time to fully grasp. He’ll love her again. She’s quite a woman to hold out against those pirates for ten years."

Gabrielle leaned against the railing and let her arm brush against Xena’s. A tingling rush swept through her at the light contact. "I wonder if he knows that you helped him string that bow?"

"No," the warrior said, "and let’s keep it that way. It’s his story, and people will talk about it for years. Can’t hurt the king’s reputation, and it’s close enough to the truth. Besides, I don’t think anyone needs to know that I was involved with it, or with him . . . you and I, especially, don’t need the reminder."

It took a moment for Gabrielle to digest that comment. "Xena," she began tentatively, "why did you do it? I would have been happy if you and he had . . . I mean, if you loved each other, and it was good for you."

Xena faced Gabrielle and took both of the bard’s hands in her own. "Because I would only be fooling myself. There’s only one person in this world that I could ever love, and who could ever make me complete. And it’s not him, Gabrielle. It’s you."

Blue eyes bored into Gabrielle’s own, reaching the emptiness deep in her soul and replacing it with warmth. She looked into those eyes, searched their depths, and found that no obstacles kept her from the warrior’s heart now. "You don’t . . . you don’t know how much I’ve been wanting to h-hear that," she stammered.

"So it’s not just me?" Xena whispered incredulously.

She looked so vulnerable at that moment, as though her whole existence hung on the answer to her question. "No," Gabrielle told her. "It’s not. I’ve loved you forever, Xena. I just didn’t have the sense to figure it out, or the courage to tell you."

Xena pulled the bard into her arms. "I was scared too . . . not just because I was afraid you wouldn’t feel the same, but because I thought you deserved better. Because I didn’t want to take advantage of you, or chain you into a life that was too dangerous. I didn’t want you to get hurt, or to abuse your trust. I wanted to keep you safe." Too many things she hadn’t wanted to do; too much focus had been on the negative instead of the positive. But it wouldn’t be that way from now on. Not any more. She rested her chin on Gabrielle’s head and inhaled deeply, breathing in the tang of the salty breeze, mingled with the scent of the young woman’s hair. "But when you told me that you weren’t afraid of danger and that you’d willingly go wherever I went . . . that was all I needed to know. Do you really trust me that much, Gabrielle?"

"I trust you." The young woman pulled back and tangled her fingers in dark tresses, drawing the warrior’s face down to hers and kissing her gently, for the first time. "With my heart and my life," she declared. "The safest place I’ll ever be is wherever you are . . . and I love you."

She could have drowned in everything that she saw in those green eyes. "Oh yeah," Xena breathed, dizzy with the intensity of the moment. "It’s you, all right." This couldn’t really be happening . . . her dream wasn’t actually becoming reality. That was the logical conclusion, anyway, but she threw logic overboard without a second thought. This was an opportunity she wasn’t about to lose, now or ever. Gabrielle was offering her everything, no hesitation and no regrets; she couldn’t do anything but accept.

So she did, bending down to accept the bard’s offering with a kiss, this one more confident and intense than the first had been. "I didn’t think I believed in soulmates before, but . . . I believe it now. It’s obvious when I look at you. It’s you, all right, and—" Her voice broke. "Gods, Gabrielle, I love you so much!"

One more kiss, and comprehension rocked both of them. They’d both been playing an elaborate game, pretending that there was more, reasons for their partnership beyond the practical. Pretending that they could continue to exist side by side without acknowledging that they were incomplete without each other. But now, all the reasons and excuses, the mundane trappings of existence, the pain and fear and emptiness they’d carried around for so long—all of it was swept away in that kiss.

None of that mattered. No need to pretend any more.


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