As I look towards the skies, the moment stretches out into the bleak future that I know awaits me. My eyes are blurring from having glanced too often at the sun, but the tableau I behold is as clear and as sharp as anything I have ever beheld before. The brightness of the sunset holds for a few moments longer, and then it dies.
I feel the coolness of the night descend, but it does not touch the despair that blankets my soul. The world outside of me has receded, and all that is left is the hurt mixed with a dull sense of betrayal. The name escapes my lips without conscious thought.
You were everything to me. Everything. I don't want to be the warrior princess reborn. I want you.
I understand why you had to complete your journey. I understand why you had to do what you believed was right. Sacrifice yourself, you could have sacrificed me, even ; I would have died with you and thought myself blessed.
How could you have been willing to sacrifice us?
The haze lifts, and I come back to the world, look down on myself standing there, a lonely figure clutching a handful of ashes and dust. My mind screams out the question time and again.
But the night is silent. It holds no answers for me. And Xena is gone.
Xena died today. And so did my life with her. The one I had chosen, the way I had wanted to live.
She gave up her life and her happiness to finally atone for her wrongs. To pay for her mistakes. To meet the angry need of a mob who wanted her blood. And she did it gladly because it brought to her the fate that I know she believed she had always deserved, the descent into darkness that part of her desired. She had never allowed herself to see the light in her that I could see, the burning flame that I worshipped.
I felt only hatred for the lost souls of Higuchi, because their thirst for retribution for vengeance - had blinded them to what Xena had become. They saw her as she was a lifetime ago.
But I had known her as she was now.
I hated them -----
And I hated myself because I could so easily damn Xena's memory by despising that for which she gave up her life.
I stumbled down the hillside, unable to still the inner clamour, looking obsessively into the shadows that surrounded me. I was searching for something that I had lost. But it wasn't there.
Xena, you promised. Why did you lie to me?
Ill always be with you, Gabrielle. Always.
Where are you?
There was nowhere left for me without her. Id outlived my world. Lila was older than my mother had been when I left Potedeia, and my family had passed into memories, no longer real to me. Eve had her mission and no need for a protector when her god was there to watch over her. Ephiny had died a lifetime ago, and was at peace now, her line safe because of Xenas intervention. The Amazons were strong, but not the sisterhood Id joined. Even Joxer was gone, his puppy love for me made real in the present only by the way that it had survived in his son.
The chakram hung from my waist, but it mocked me, reminding me that I had become heir to a legacy that had taken my lover from me. I didn't want it.
Laughter that wasn't wholly sane came from within me. Who would have thought it possible? Me, longing to be just a sidekick again.
I felt old. Not only had the world passed me by, but it had spat in my face by taking from me the only thing that made sense of the chaos that my life had become.
The people of the town avoided me, either out of respect or out of fear. When I finally reached the ship, I was exhausted. I forced myself to drink some water, and sought the quiet of the cabin we had shared on our long journey to the east. It had been the last time we had been together and had even the semblance of peaceful moments in which to delight in each other. The last time.
I lay trembling on the worn bedrolls that had served us for so long on our travels. I felt a disorientating surge of memories pass through me, bringing hope mixed with dread, and wondered why. Then I knew.
The bedrolls were impregnated with Xenas scent. The last evocation of her time here in the world, much more real that the ashes I held to my breast, there in the hides on which we had slept together, loved together, cried together. This slight physical presence would live just a little while longer. And then it too would fade and disappear.
Her scent made my head swim, and I bit deep into my lower lip, tasting the blood, but welcoming it if it stopped me from crying. I knew that if I unleashed the torrent of misery within me, I would find no rest that night. At last I descended into a numbing sleep from which I prayed I would never awake.
I felt my eyes open, bringing me to consciousness with a jarring suddenness that was filled with the sense of powerfully incongruous emotions. I listened to my deep and laboured breathing, stared into the semi-darkness, trying to find the source of my feeling of displacement.
I felt her arms around me, so natural and so familiar that at first their presence had escaped me. A shudder went through my body, and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. When the words came, I bathed in their soothing simplicity.
Dont be afraid, my love. Im here.
And then the tears came, pouring forth in gratitude at their liberation. My chest shook with the power of my relief. Xena, I dreamed --- I dreamed that wed reached Higuchi, and that you -----you- My hands moved to grasp hers, but to do so, I had to let go of the object still buried in my arms.
The urn filled with Xenas ashes.
The pain washed over me again. I choked on my words. It wasnt a dream.
I pulled away from the presence, standing unsteadily and turning to face her. Even in the dim light of the sputtering lantern, I could make out her every feature, as though she radiated an inner luminescence. My voice shrank back inside me. But this is.
She moved to stand, holding me with the intensity of those deep blue eyes that I had loved so greatly. I wanted to look away, because it hurt too much to see her and realize again what I had lost, but I couldnt. She spoke with a calm that I had never heard from her before.
Our love isnt a dream, Gabrielle. And neither am I. Im here, with you. And thats where I stay. She held out a hand to me.
Anger overwhelmed me. Anger at what I saw as false reassurance. Anger at the lost souls of Higuchi. Anger at the gods who had cursed me to be alone. Anger at everyone who had ever profited from Xenas journey towards redemption, to all those people who had taken her lifeblood as though it was their right, not the great gift that it had been in truth. I dont want a spirit guide! I looked down towards the wooden deck, holding Xenas ashes to me like a nursing child, almost rocking them back and forth. I want to be with you!
She closed the gap between us as, and with gentle force opened my hands, somehow taking the urn from me, placing it out of my grasp. Her fingers touched my cheek, and then her arms enfolded me, and I melted into her, a prisoner of her touch as I had always been. She whispered into my hair. You are with me. Nothing can take me from you, not in this life, not in the lives we still have to live. Im here, every moment of our existence, in life and in death.
From somewhere came a strength that supplanted the exhaustion of body and spirit that had ensnared me, and I looked up to meet her gaze. As I stared into her eyes I was suddenly aware of a peace there that was new, replacing the pain that had always haunted Xenas existence. And then I believed her.
She saw my understanding, and she smiled. Her fingers traced the contours of my mouth, and then she lifted my own hands to her lips, kissing them slowly again and again, until the ecstasy flooded through me, and I would have fallen if she hadnt lifted me into her arms and carried me to our makeshift bed. Our loving was tender and fierce, sweet but violent in its urgency, and I was more passive in her arms than I had ever been before.
We lay there in the afterheat of our passion, facing each other, hands reaching out to touch the other.
Where did you go? I mean, why did you leave me on the hillside?
Xena gave her familiar grimace, and I loved how ordinary the gesture was. Because the island is the one place Ill never be welcome, even as a spirit. The peace that my victims want wouldnt last if I was there to remind them of what happened.
I felt the anger rise within me again. How can they be so close to love, and so filled with hate?
Because their suffering has driven them to madness. And their release hasnt brought total or immediate healing. She dismissed the subject, and I realized that it held far less importance for her than it did for me. The compassion in Xena made me feel ashamed. It doesnt matter. The rest of the world is open to me. To us.
I thrilled at her words, at how solid she felt to me, loving the way that we transcended the boundaries of reality, without understanding how.
She sensed the unspoken question. Its our destiny, Gabrielle.
I shook my head slightly. But who created that destiny for us? Who?
She transfixed me with the calm assurance of her words. We did.
I frowned. Then the meaning of what she said came to me, and the joy of being with her filled me again. Even in death-----
She whispered her response. ----I will never leave you.
I fell asleep in her arms, but in the hours of night that remained I woke again, and again, and again. Each time she stifled my cry of despair with her touch, and as the nightmare was replaced by the reality of her presence, I cried myself back to sleep within the sanctuary of her embrace. When the morning finally came, I opened my eyes slowly, afraid that she would have vanished with the darkness. But she was still there, smiling and solid to my trembling fingers.
My anxiety had not totally deserted me even then. Its going to be different, isnt it?
She grinned at me. Sure it is. Bound to be, because I love you more than ever now.
I returned the look, feeling the warmth of her soul washing over me. After a moment, Xena gestured to the daylight. Time for you to get underway.
Another stab of irrational fear coursed through me. Youre coming with me, arent you?
She touched my shoulder. Of course. She paused. But youre the keeper of the chakram now, my love. And so you decide where we go.
The responsibility felt heavy on me, but then the moment passed. For a while yesterday I thought that was a burden, not a gift.
Now I feel that I can be whatever I have to be; because thats our destiny, too. Its the price. We stay together because we have a purpose, a path to walk.
She nodded. A path that led me to an ending, and a beginning. A path that youll walk to its end, because youve become everything that you can be, everything I was and more, but without making the mistakes I did.
Tears fell from my eyes at her words. But they were the last tears I would ever have to shed for us, because there was nothing left that could hurt us. And youve become everything I ever wanted to be, but havent succeeded in being; someone without a desire for revenge, who can forgive even those who wrong her. Thats where your path led you. I was silent for a moment, Its a path I couldnt begin to walk without you there to guide me.
Xenas hand caressed my cheek. Then we truly have come full circle. From the moment I returned to Amphipolis and buried my armour and weapons, I was a dead woman, living on borrowed time, but not sure why. She hugged me to her, and it was as if the bright light within her came forth and warmed us both with its radiance. Then you came into my life, and showed me what I still had to do before the time came to pay for the past that Id lived. She released me to a distance, and smiled her familiar smile. And it was a path that I could never have started upon and followed if you hadnt been there to guide me.
Xenas body died yesterday. And with it died the spectres that had haunted her ever since she found her path, the shadows that had made her feel beyond redemption because of what she had once been.
So too had vanished my own fears, the belief that somehow we could be lost from each other, that we might be condemned to wander the earth alone, marked because we had defied the gods and chosen our lives instead of stumbling through an existence given to us by others, a sterile existence unlike that which we had taken for ourselves because it was what we had desired. She had been the murderer, the brigand, the thief, but had become the defender, the healer, the wise woman. And I had been a girl without choices, without purpose, without a future, but had been made by her and me into a scholar, a warrior, a lover.
At last I felt that I understood why things had happened this way. We had journeyed to a place where we could complete each other, and when we reached our destination, death was the reward and our life together ended, only to begin again as it always would. Our bodies could die, our lives could be forgotten, our history hidden until some future time when it was ready to be uncovered. But through all this, and in every age still to come, our love for each other would survive, lost only to be found again, our souls separated only to be brought together once more, a bond that was everlasting, undefeated, undying.
The morning is bright and I stand on the deck of the ship that will carry us to the next stage of our destiny with the knowledge that the future will, can only be, filled with love and the peace that comes when souls meet and bind themselves to each other. When the words come forth, I am smiling, and filled with joy. A life of journeying has brought you to the farthest lands to the very edges of the earth.
I feel her hand upon my shoulder. And to the place where Ill always remain your heart.
We share a moment of inner reflection. So, where to now?
I allow a hint of mischief into my voice. I think we should go south to the land of the pharaohs. I hear they need a girl with a chakram.
Xenas hand continues to hold me, and I feel her strength, her love, surge through me. But then, I always did. Where you go, Im at your side.
I grin. I knew youd say that. She kisses me, and I revel in her being. And I know that she means what she says, and that my only mistake was ever to doubt it for even a moment. And so we remain there, two soulmates staring out across the waters, looking into the future and the lives together that await us.
Thank you for reading this far. Expressions of friendly criticism (or a few lines just telling me you read the story and didnt hate it) would be very welcome.
A few brief words:
To TPTB and all of the creative and talented people whove worked so hard over the last 6 years: Thank you for touching my life in such surprising ways.
To the friends Ive met in Xenadom: Dont be strangers. We still have years of retrospectives to live through as of yet!
And to Xena and Gabrielle: Be happy together until we meet again.