Disclaimer: Neither of our heroines, dead or alive, belongs to me in any shape or form. They remain the property of their creators at Renpic and the folks at Universal/MCA, whom we all fervently hope will think of them every now and again until the day when its time to bring them back to a small or large screen.
Warnings: The following contains some (very!) mild descriptions of love between women. Yes, I know - its something of a shock. Who would have thought it possible that such a thing could come to pass in Xenadom?
Note; This follows on from my first effort, When Xena Died, and so is a further piece of post-FIN fiction containing spoilers. Oh, and the title of this piece its my sig. line, and although a number of people have asked me where it comes from, sure that theyve never heard it before, it is in fact from an episode. Remember which one? (Hint: the dialogue that contains the quote is probably the best thing the ep has to offer).
Dedication: My gratitude to everyone who wrote to say that they had liked When Xena Died, and asked for more. (Hey, you only have yourselves to blame). Special thanks to Tess, who reminded me of something that I had forgotten, and so gave substance to an otherwise vague idea. And much, much appreciation to MaryD for lending me a little corner of her precious web space, because I was truly blessed and dont deserve - to be in the company of the many wonderful bards to whom she gives a home.
Who Would I Be, Without You?
When I lived, it never felt that there was enough time for what I truly desired, never enough time for simply being and taking pleasure in the things that I loved, those things that penetrated even my bitterness and shame. There was always a task to be completed, a destination to be reached, a quest to be fulfilled. My death has given me understanding of what I lacked in those many years when I wore my body like a shield against the past that I had outlived. And now there are endless moments to look, to listen, to be.
But despite this, because of this even, I am still tied to the physical plane, and would not have it any other way. The one thing that kept me from giving in to death before it was my time remains here, and thus so do I.
Gabrielle, you are my focus, my reason for holding onto the world, will be my partner in many lives and many deaths. All the beauty and the peace of this life after life and the things that I have seen and felt since I left my body behind are nothing compared to the beauty and the peace that I find in you. We have chosen once again to walk the same path and our journey together is only just beginning
Gabrielle stirred in my arms and I pulled her to me, feeling her shoulders rest against my stomach, her head pillowed on my breasts. Or did I? This flesh-that-was-not-flesh in which I found myself was something of a paradox; all the freedoms of the body I had once inhabited, now turned into ashes, but with none of its constraints. I could experience no pain, it seemed, no hunger or exhaustion, was invisible and unreal to the world in which I stayed; and yet I could feel my love as she lay in my embrace, and she could respond in kind, knowing I was there and real to her touch.
I felt a cool breeze enter the cabin in which we lay, saw it ruffle Gabrielles blonde hair but knew it left my own untouched. Light penetrated the timbers of the ship, and there was brief but vigorous shouting from the crew as they raised sail to begin the days journey. Slowly, my charge came to awareness and stretched out her arms to coax the tiredness from herself, turning slightly so that she could look up at me.
Xena. Once again I heard from her a sense of wonder mixed with the unmistakable note of relief that she tried to disguise, perhaps afraid that she was somehow offending me by fearing that she might awake and not find me there. I smiled without saying anything and she grinned back up at me, the anxiety gone. Dont you get tired of just sitting there and looking at me all night long?
I bent down to kiss her forehead. Certainly not. Its wonderful to have not just the opportunity but the time to appreciate you. I let my fingers stroke her neck lightly. And make plans for what Ill do to you when you awake.
I nodded seriously. Oh yes. Like, more weapons training, and some meditation exercises, and perhaps a strict diet to get you into better shape..
She slapped at me playfully. You think theres something wrong with my shape?
I made a show of thinking hard. Well -----------. But my smile gave me away. And then playing games seemed unnecessary, and I spoke truth to her instead of the gentle mockery. You give me life, Gabrielle. Im spirit, but you make me real. My love for her filled me, and I offered it to her without reservations or limits. You always made me real, even when I felt hollow and dead inside; you brought me life then, and you hold me to life now.
Her voice trembled. Xena --- - But this time, her use of my name spoke only of need and of hunger. She pulled me to her and our lips met, and we were lost in each others heat.
The days since we left Higuchi have passed slowly for me, but time has a different cadence to me now. The seconds stretch into hours while I keep watch over Gabrielle and feel her presence on the many levels that we exist for and with each other; and there are other occasions when my thoughts go beyond the world that she sees, when I am in the company of the family and friends that have gone before me towards the light.
They are as real and as close to me as Gabrielle is, seen but not seen, touched but not touched. Perhaps in time I will go to them, but for now I am where I choose to be, and in the place to which I will always return so long as she is there and until she fulfils the destiny that will bring her to this next stage of being. We go together, or we stay together. And I realise that I do not care which it may be, so long as the order that maintains this place in which we find ourselves does not dare to challenge our right to be as one with the other, souls united forever.
The small crew that Gabrielle had ordered to bring us to Egypt left her alone as much as they were able. There was something about the intense beauty of this lone warrior that had changed since our outward voyage, and it went beyond the chakram and the katana that she now carried with her. Perhaps they assumed that her desire for solitude was normal enough given the events on Higuchi, and she made no attempt to explain otherwise, not wanting the attention of others. She did not acknowledge my companionship openly, and if in fact they heard any of her words to me or saw the looks that we exchanged, they said nothing. Whether this was because they dismissed them as the product of madness, or because they understood more of our fate than we would have guessed, I did not know.
When Gabrielle came out onto to the deck to carry out her early morning routine of exercise and practice with her sais and her newer weaponry, the crew averted their eyes from her, and found reasons to be below decks when possible. They were afraid of the power and light that she radiated, afraid of the unnatural control she exhibited. To me she was magnificent, the embodiment of grace and strength, and when I moved, she moved with me, and we found a new synchronicity in the skill that she had begun to possess that mirrored my own. Everything I tried to teach her, she learned with a studied ease, every question she asked led to new discoveries. And at the end of each session, she would collapse to the timbers in pleasant exhaustion, and I would sit with her and hold her in the sweat and exultation of her growing confidence.
We had played out this pulsating ritual for many days, always sitting in silence until she returned to the hold to bathe in stinging salt water. But on this day several weeks into our long voyage west, she turned to me as we sat on deck and repeated a question from out of the past.
Xena am I really who I am, or am I what you made me?
My new way of being has not, unfortunately, brought me omniscience. I reached over and took her hand. What do you mean?
She was deliberate, measured in expressing her thoughts. You once told me that everything I am was already there, and that no-one had made me into the person Id become. But this --- Her voice trailed off. This is different.
I shook my head. Its the same. You havent changed. But the chakram has chosen you to be its keeper, and with it comes power and responsibility. I hesitated, searching for the reassurance that she needed. Youll use that power wisely and for good reasons, not just because you can..
She wasnt convinced. Youve said that when MLila died, it felt like you had inherited all of her strength and her skill. There was a long pause. When you died, I felt something shift in me, as though I wasnt the same person any more. It wasnt just the grief. It was a--- She struggled to find the words. a gift from you. She moved closer. What was it that you gave to me?
I squeezed the hand still held between my own. I gave myself to you. In a way that was deeper even than how Id tried to give myself to you during life.
She looked at me, not troubled, but curious. It feels strange. I know who we used to be. We were the warrior princess and her bard. Even when I pretended to resent you, wanted to be more than just a sidekick, it made sense, because thats who we were. The silence that followed became ever more loaded. Then she spoke again. I love you, Xena. And I know well always be together, so Im happy. But I still need an answer. After all thats happened, who are we now?
And I realised that at that moment I had no response that could give to her the meaning that she needed to find. Because I didnt know what Id become.
If death has answered many questions, it has also given us new things to wonder over. Change is visited upon us, and fears are banished, but we are no nearer to the ending of our time together, and so we find different struggles to replace those that are resolved, new anxieties to live with and hold at bay. Gabrielle, I am learning, just as you are. I know more than I did, but I still understand so very little. I walk the same path, and it is still with you as my companion, but I do not know what lies ahead except that I will face it with you.
You have always known me as a warrior, and to see you take on my mantle and wear it with such dignity and pride fills me with new love for you and the desire to be worthy of your soul, the transcendent spirit that has agreed to bond with mine in the ages still to come. And yet, as you say who am I now? I am your teacher, and I teach you happily. But this is only preparation, a means to an end, not the end in itself.
Noon came, and I sat with my lover as she ate a meal of fruit and bread washed down with wine. She looked at me quizzically as I watched her, devouring her as she devoured the simple foods. See anything you like?
I shrugged, gave my words a nonchalance I didnt feel. Im a spirit. I have no bodily needs.
She pulled a face, and then let it subside into a smug grin. Ill remember you said that next time I find you lying next to me on my bedroll.
When she had finished, I stood behind her, massaging the tiredness from her shoulders and arms, watching her stretch and twist with my efforts. Gabrielle?
She turned to face me. Yes?
Would you read to me from one of your scrolls?
I saw the surprise and pleasure that the words brought to her; she took hold of my fingers resting on her neck, kissed them lightly. What would you like to hear?
I considered the question for a moment. Tell me again what happened to you when you brought my body to the land of the Amazons. When you thought Id left you. I stopped, suddenly not sure if I was being careless of her feelings. If you have the story with you, that is.
There was a light in her eyes, as if another spectre had appeared only to be chased away. That storys always with me. She smiled, and begin not to read, but to recite from memory the tale of how she had thought she had lost me, but held on to the determination to bring me back to life. I listened enraptured by the poetry in her, kneeling beside her with my head in her lap. Her fingers ran through my hair, and when she had finished we stayed unmoving, mindful of a separation that could never be repeated.
I spoke softly. It was too soon. I had so much still left to do.
The answer came with equal calm. I know. And now?
I felt the same uncertainty in myself as before, gave a platitude rather than an answer. Now I cant ever hurt you like that again.
Gabrielle, for a moment I had forgotten that when I met you, you believed that you were destined to be a storyteller, not a soldier in my war for redemption. Did you choose the life that you led with me, the lives that you are yet to endure, or will I force them upon you because I need someone to guide me and bear witness to my pain?
But I cannot doubt your love and commitment, will not make you into a victim. I told you that we chose our destiny together, and I believe that with all my being. Perhaps our roles have changed, but everything that is truly important remains the same; and if I hold onto what was, so too do I hold onto the guilt and the shame that kept me from entering your heart as fully as I now can. I retain enough of my humanity that I can worry about the future; but the days of our former life can bring no more pain to us now. We have moved beyond that, and will never return there again.
The hours wore on, and Gabrielle engaged in the meditations that she had turned to as a means of resting her body and mind after the punishments that they underwent daily in her new regimen. As the minutes passed and she became more and more still inside and outside, I entered the state of fuller awareness that is for me the nearest thing to rest that I now experience, looking inwards and sensing all that is beyond the physical world. Whenever I go to this place, those other souls that I have met and who have entered the beyond are closer to me, brighter and touching me with their love.
Even so, Gabrielles question had stayed with me. I could choose to remain here with her, and I knew that it would be so, because I belonged with her. But if I was no longer the warrior princess, why would she need me? We had seen when in India that not all our lives together would keep us in the same vocations; if not a fighter, would I be the peacemaker in this new existence where I had found myself, or something else altogether? How could I know?
The doubt left me when I looked again at Gabrielle, aching with love for her. Wanting to prolong the moment, I moved to her and placed my hands on her temples. She responded to my touch, became aware of my being as it entered into hers and bathed in the light that filled her. And suddenly I was tempted to lose myself there, enter into her and never leave, two souls in one body. We could be together in the truest of ways, and then her challenge to us would no longer matter; our identities would merge and there would be no need to wonder who we were or who we might become.
The desire for this ending and the beginning that would follow grew within me, and I could feel Gabrielle respond to it, welcoming me into every part of her, melding with me in a burning communion. Perhaps this was the final destination that we sought.
And then I felt her begin to let go of me, and I knew that to stay would be selfish, because for now she needed me at her side, not buried within. I became myself again, so that when she opened her eyes I was there before her, my hands holding hers.
She sounded almost breathless, but the joy she had felt was written on her face. By the gods! What did you do to me?
I held her close, and touched my lips to her cheek. Earlier today, you asked me who you were. I wanted to look inside you and see for myself.
Perhaps there is nothing more that I can give to you now, Gabrielle, because you have accepted my burden and now you must walk the earth in my place. When I have taught you all that I know, and prepared you as well as I am able, maybe you will no longer need me, and it will be time for me to rest within you until the cycle begins again.
I found only love within you, my soulmate, and for a moment I wanted only to sleep there, even if it meant that I would be consumed by everything that you are. And yet I knew that I could not remain, that it would somehow be wrong for you. And although it hurts me to say it, it would have been wrong for me, too. How can that be, when being together is all that we have fought for? Am I afraid to lose what I have been, what I am?
My love perhaps I am not yet ready. Although I have surrendered the chakram, and willingly, I may not yet be ready to give up being the warrior. And I must.
But when I do, who then will I be?
It was evening, and Gabrielle and I stood at the stern of the ship, looking into what we had left behind. The islands of Japa had receded into the immense blues of the ocean, and I felt some regret at the fact that I could not return. Poor Akemi. A kind and loving soul who had found herself with an irresolvable dilemma, a father who must be punished but only by an act that would damn her and many others to suffering. From that moment she was lost, so completely that she had even been willing to lie to me to gain my trust and my help.
That wasnt necessary, little one. I would have come anyway, because you were my responsibility, and I failed you. Like I always had, until Gabrielle came. Of the many mentors and acolytes I had accepted in my arrogance, every one had died or been driven to the same kind of evil that I had embodied. Alti had called me the destroyer of nations. But in truth, I had been the destroyer of innocence.
My lover sensed my thoughts, more sensitive to my mood now even than she had been before. You did everything that could be done. Healing cant be forced on anyone; it has to be sought after, welcomed. We both know that, even if they didnt. You died for them.
But I knew that whatever the present we had made, the past was still the same, unchanged, tarnished and ugly. They deserved nothing less from me.
I heard the quiet anger in Gabrielle. They deserved more from Akemi. She lied to you, and that set in motion everything that followed.
I put an arm around her shoulders, felt the coldness of her skin and drew her cloak tighter. What she did was wrong, but her intent wasnt evil. Mine was, even though I never meant to bring death to Higuchi. I felt remorse, but without self-damnation, and a clear perception of what had been. We were both to blame. And when I surrendered my life, it wasnt to atone for my mistakes alone, but for hers as well.
Then the sadness for Akemi welled up in me. When I spoke to her at the end, she was distant, as though she couldnt bear to open herself to me, didnt trust herself. She was broken, like all of the lost souls, wandering in a kind of madness. But I wanted her to know that I thought she was worth it. Worth the sacrifice.
I turned and looked into Gabrielles eyes, and saw that the anger that had flooded through her had dissipated with my words. I felt the past slipping away, felt the calm that had blessed me since my death reassert itself as she returned my gaze. A sacrifice I was able to make because although it meant giving up my life, I didnt have to give up the life I have with you. I hesitated. Do you think she understood?
Gabrielle reached up and kissed me softly on the lips, and pressed herself into my grateful arms. She understood.
Akemi, your memory reminds me that even as a spirit I am still vulnerable. If you could be trapped, hurt, abused over the many years since your death severed our friendship, then I am not truly safe now, any more than my lover is in her earthly body. How many of our enemies and former enemies struck us from beyond life? Atyminius, Sisyphus, Callisto, Alti many times. Perhaps that should make me afraid, but it does not. Pain does not last, but love and its ties are eternal, and there is no suffering that can separate me from Gabrielle for long, no hurt that can make our paths diverge for more than passing moments in the ages that await us.
And yet perhaps it shows me the way, because it makes me understand that the change I have undergone does not end the war I have been fighting. It simply moves it to a different place.
Akemi, dear friend, your soul will heal. Yours and those of all those whom we wronged. Think of me then, and know that I care for you, and that in the end we brought more love into being than we brought hatred, more light than darkness. And that is the only glory in living.
That night we made love again; Gabrielle tried to stifle her cries, afraid, I think, for the moral wellbeing of her crew. I responded to her noble intentions by trying to drive her to new heights of ecstasy, and I do not think that she was unduly offended by my efforts. Afterwards, she lay on our bedrolls, looking at me with amused resignation. Death hasnt done anything to calm your libido, has it?
I shrugged. In Gaul, they say that the height of love is like a little death, something that reduces everything to its simplest level of being. My eyes twinkled. After what Ive been through recently, it makes sense that I might have become more attuned to such things, more empowered to bring that experience of the little death to others.
She laughed delightedly. So this is just the way it is now nothing to do with your many skills, right?
I smiled. I didnt say that, did I? Im still responsible for what I do. And I havent changed in every way.
She got up onto her knees, and encircled me with her arms, letting my easy strength hold us both. I think Ive got an answer to that question. Who are we now?
I breathed in the scent of her hair, loving the glow of her naked skin as she wrapped herself around me. Really? What led you there?
Everything that happened today. Everything thats happened since your return.
I waited for her, knowing that she would need time before she was ready to continue. When at last she did speak, I knew that she had found the same answer that had come to me, and that her words would finally bring us home.
We exist in different worlds, Xena, but our love is a bridge to the past and the future. If weve changed, then were also the same people we ever were, but more intensely, more powerfully than before. Nothing outside of us made us who we are. It was already there, and weve chosen to be not only who we are alone, but who we are together. She pulled away so that we could look into each others smiles. Ill follow my destiny. But I wont fight alone, because the world needs you, too.
I was silent for a moment. For a while I thought otherwise, and it scared me, didnt feel right. And it wasnt right. My work isnt finished. I have to fight the enemies that you cant see. I still have to walk the way of the warrior.
Gabrielles words became quieter, almost dreamily soft. Yes. Were not at the end of our path, just on a different road along the way; we keep saying that, but I think until this moment we havent really considered what it means.
There was a surge of need for her from within me, and the darkness of my doubts vanished in the fire of her love. Yes. We fight together, like we always have. Because thats who we are.
She took hold of my hands and held them to her breast, and I could feel the beating of her heart, feel the warmth of her soul calling me to her. She nodded. Thats who we are.
So much has happened in the years that Gabrielle and I have been together, so many hurts and losses, that sometimes it is difficult to let go and be with each other in the present. We have many lifetimes, and yet we struggle to find a moment that belongs to us alone. And so it is that I spend the nights watching over her, accepting this precious gift and trusting that it will last.
If our war will soon begin again, and if we must risk ourselves once more in conflict with the enemies of Gabrielles world and mine, so be it. I am beyond fear for myself now, and my fears for my lover are only shadows, because we will not be separated. We will overcome as we always have, and no matter how many battlefields we must wander, there will be moments of loving and rest in between.
I am Xena, warrior princess and defender of this world from the evil that resides both within and outside it. I walk in the light of everyone I have ever loved, and I will come to know them again in the lives that we are all yet to live. But for now, I shelter in the arms of my soulmate, she who is the burning flame that guided me to where I am; and I know who we are, and remember that we have all the time there is.
(Friendly criticism sent to firstname.lastname@example.org is always welcome, and who knows, maybe well get to do this again some time soon. J . Many thanks for listening).
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