DISCLAIMERS: Like usual Xena and Gabrielle are under strict supervision by MCA/Universal/Renaissance, but I've busted them out , and a couple others, for this story. I'm sure the warden doesn't mind. "Heart's Choice" is Part Two in the short story trilogy called "Tapestry of Life" and follows the short story "Love's Choice". "Fate's Choice" will be the conclusion. Ahem..*blush* I got really distracted with some other writing projects and the holidays, so I apologize for promising this to come out two days after "LC". Hehe..it's been about a month..I'm sorry.
Warning~There is an itsy bitsy ( hehe..inside joke. Read on..you'll understand*G*) violence in this tale.
Warning~There's subtext, but it is in no way explicit. If you can't handle the idea of two women that care for each other beyond friendship, kiss my...err...sword hilt and read it anyway. Perhaps you will grow as a person and be more fun to hang around. If you still refuse to read it...your loss. Hope the rest of you enjoy this.;}~~~
Aye, Love is Death; Love is a power eternal;
'Tis passion's heady wine; 'tis wailing anguish,
'Tis frenzy at its starkest. Love hath all-
Strong purpose, utter peace, wild violence.
From "Hymn to Aphrodite" by Sophocles
Heaven is full of wonders, Mt. Olympus being only one of the jewels in its crown. Beyond the space mortal eyes see, beyond the veil where only immortal lives can exist, are realms beyond imagination. One such is that place where all lives, both immortal and mortal, exist, but where only immortals can gaze, and where only three such can shape and determine mortal lives. Those three immortals who's very existence it was to bring into life each thread, to shape its destiny, and to end its length. Athropos, Klothos, and Lachesis. Three sisters born before even mighty Zeus, and who held power which even the King of Gods feared at times.
Light exists here, but it has no source, its only purpose to radiate upon the multitude of threads that make up the Tapestry of Life. That Tapestry, made up of lives from beginning to end, each touching another, for good or ill, shaping itself and all others it happens to brush against.
Two such threads were the intent focus of the Fates, the three sisters who's current gaze was fixed on a problem that could destroy a lifetime of work.
Klothos, who's attention was on the present, gently held a bright golden thread that gleamed in the ambient light. "Ahhh...once again we come to this. Sisters...must we?"
Athropos, who's gaze was set on the past and cared not overly much for the problems of her sisters, shrugged and spoke softly. "As before, I say it matters not to me."
The third Fate, Lachesis, eyes unglazed from seeing into the future of the two mortals, and she turned to her sisters with a grim look. "I see Aphrodite involved again, this time on her own. Once again I say, we give them a choice. Again, though, full knowledge of everything must be given. These are unusual circumstances, yes, but things must happen differently...Darkness must come. Even Ares fears it...yet still it must come."
Klothos sighed in resignation. "I still feel wrong about this...though I know it must happen."
"I agree," whispered Athropos as her slim fingers touched the beginning of the golden thread in memory.
"Aphrodite doesn't remember the first time, neither do the two mortals. This is all necessary. Their emotions..." Lachesis paused, then changed what she was about to say. "We must be strong.The darkness must come, and if we must be cruel for it to happen...then we will be cruel."
Athropos and Klothos bowed their heads in acceptance.
* * * * *
Gabrielle brushed her fingers along Xena's cheekbone, marveling at the smoothness of her bronze skin. Raising her eyes to the warrior's, she smiled at the indecision she saw there.
"Xena...I know we haven't really talked about this, but...oh gods...I really think it's time we did. Don't you?" the bard whispered, her voice uncontrollably lowered in timbre.
The blond woman watched as her dark warrior closed her eyes momentarily, then opened them again to gaze deeply into her own. Sadness and desire now warred in those deep pools of blue.
"Gabrielle...I..." the warrior faltered.
Smiling softly, Gabrielle sat down next to her friend, and lowered her hand to rest it comfortably on the warrior's arm. "It's OK. Take your time."
Xena took a deep cleansing breath, then plowed on. "Gabrielle I've loved you for...I don't know...forever it seems now. First it was friendship, even reluctant friendship when we first met..but later...later my feelings deepened. I don't know when."
The bard's insides warmed as the warrior gave her a gentle smile. "Does it matter?"
Xena shrugged. "I don't know...but I do know I lo..." The words trailed off as the wind spoke.
The bard blinked and waited for her companion to finish.
"I lo..." The warrior's words started to fade again.
Gabrielle grimaced and leaned in closer, her attention focused on those lovely lips before her. "Yesss, Xena??" she breathed.
"Gabrielle! Wake up sleepyhead," A voice urged her. A gentle shaking caused the scene around her to melt away, leaving her in confusion as she opened her eyes to gaze into Xena's laughing blue ones.
"Finally. Jeez...thought I'd have to get a bucket of water this time," Xena smiled down at the bard.
Gabrielle blinked several times in confusion. "Xena?"
The warrior chuckled and raised a slim eyebrow. "Yes?"
As the cool morning air cleared her mind, and brought her back to her senses, Gabrielle groaned and let her head sink back down onto the ground. "Ugh."
Xena grinned. "That important hmm?"
The bard laid her arm over her eyes, trying to shut out the world of reality and go back to the better world of her dreams. This really stinks! she thought silently. Gabrielle lay there silently, her mind going over her dream, trying to remember all the wonderful parts. Oooo..just when I was getting to the good part too. Blast it!
She sighed loudly and sat up, not really willing to face the day and Xena, but knowing it was inevitable. Looking around the campfire in the still dawn, she watched as Xena quickly did her morning chores of building up the fire, heating their morning water, and making a light breakfast. The bard watched with pleasure as her companion moved with sure economic actions, enjoying the play of muscles that moved under that tanned skin and rippled with a nonchalant strength at even the most light of tasks.
When was it? When was it, that I realized that I loved this woman? I keep asking myself that and I still don't have an answer. Before Thessaly I know, because I heard her call me, and I came back because I loved her and couldn't leave her all alone. Gabrielle sighed again, and tore her eyes away from Xena, and stood up, stretching out the kinks in her back that were always there in the mornings.
As she rolled up her bedroll, and gathered her gear, her mind continued to drift off, the evening's dream still predominately on her mind.
I wish I could just do that. Go up to her and touch her and just tell her my heart. Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder at the warrior and grimaced. I'm just a girl to her. Maybe not the brat tagalong that I once was...I know she thinks of me as more of a partner now, but still she thinks of me as a child.
The bard's thoughts went back to just a few days before when she and Xena had said good-bye to Darnelle and Glaphyra, and Xena had finally answered her question.
"Am I who you made me" ..indeed. I still think she is a big part of my creation. Without her...I would be an unhappy farm girl, married to Perdicus. My stories would have left me. I never would have become as self-reliant. I never would have known love like I do when I'm with her. Not that admiration and adoration that, of course, I first felt when we first traveled together...but that deep ache that sits inside me whenever I think of her gone from my life. That yearning I feel when I just look at her or hear her speak. Gods...doesn't she know how much she affects me. The bard sighed again.
"Gabrielle?" came the low voice just over her shoulder, causing her to jump in startlement and whirl around.
Xena reached out a hand to the bard's shoulder. "What's wrong with you this morning? You've been sighing and dragging your feet. I know you don't really like mornings, but usually you're more chipper than this." She looked down at her friend, her eyes showing her concern.
Gabrielle's face closed and went expressionless. "Nothing. Just morning yuckies I guess." She watched as her friend raised an eyebrow. She's not buying it, the bard mused silently. Her mind raced for a better explanation, but there was none, so she kept her silence. It's so hard...so very hard, Xena. And I know you'd never understand. I don't know what I would do if I drove you away, Xena, and I don't ever want to find out.
Xena handed her a bowl of hot porridge silently and seemed about to say more, but then the silence carried on too long, and with a slight frown she started to pack up their gear for the day's journey.
The bard ate hurriedly, the road being a much better place to be than this too quiet campsite suddenly. Silently she started berating herself. For a bard who can stand up in front of a crowd of angry villagers and persuade them that Xena is not who she was, I can't even talk about my true feelings to the one person that is closest to me. Gods...I am pathetic or what? she thought to herself wryly as finally the two women finished breaking camp and headed down the road.
* * * * *
Aphrodite watched as the young woman started down the road alongside her companion. In her slim immortal hand she held a lovely white daisy. With a slight frown Aphrodite plucked a petal off. "They love each other."
She plucked off another petal. "They are most definitely idiots.
Petal. "In love."
Petal. "Lovely Idiots." She smiled slightly as visions of the two women bathing flashed in her mind.
Petal. "Frustrating." The goddess drew out the word in disgust.
Petal. "Idiots in love," she sighed.
She plucked off the head of the flower, which still held six petals, and crushed it in her hand to dust. "Idiots. Idiots. Idiots. Idiots. Idiots. STUBBORN LOVELY IDIOTS!!" The goddess threw down the stem in frustration.
"I swear those two do this to me on purpose!!" The blond Goddess of Love stomped her foot in annoyance and rested her delicate hands upon her hips. "Another wasted effort and not a single... kiss, declaration, doe-eyed look, accidental touch, or anything out of it!! Why do I even bother?!" She rolled her eyes towards the heavens, then started to follow the duo down the road.
The unseen goddess walked behind the bard, her eyes going back and forth between the two mortals, looking for any sign that her work was having an effect. She could see the frustration in the bard's eyes and worry for her friend, in the warrior's, but the goddess knew that nothing would come of it. The two were just too controlled, too worried about the other's reaction.
"Pathetic." Aphrodite grumbled. "I just have to find a way to make them lose their inhibitions." The blond goddess paused a moment at the thought and absently watched Gabrielle's hips swing as she walked beside Argo.
"Now there's an interesting possibility. I'd have to be careful though. Won't work with Xena, to much freedom might drive her away in guilt afterwards. Sooo...it will have to be the bard. Something innocent perhaps? Direct but subtle. Nothing blatant, like having her rip her clothes off and running rampant through the forest shouting her love for the Warrior Princess." Slowly a smile lit the goddess' face as she considered her plan. "Time to use a bit more of my powers then I usually do. I hope I'm not rusty. If this works, I should take some time off for a nice long vacation."
The Goddess of Love followed the frustrating pair, patiently waiting for the perfect chance to put her plan into action. Soon, her patience was rewarded.
* * * * *
The bard's morning had not gone well. First the dream, then the uncomfortable silence between her and Xena, and now their wordless march down the road. For a woman who was used to speaking her mind, keeping her emotions and her words to herself was paramount to torture, but Gabrielle didn't know what to do about it. Ever since Xena had asked her what was upsetting, and she hadn't had the courage to tell her the truth, Gabrielle just didn't know what to say to bring things back to normal between them.
Coward. She berated herself as she walked, her staff rising up and then hitting the ground again and again, each time with more force.
The bard's self-criticism was interrupted as Xena tried to get her attention. Looking across Argo's withers to the warrior, Gabrielle did her best not to sigh. "Hmm?"
"We have company," came the terse reply.
Gripping her hand more securely on her staff, the bard casually looked around them into the woods. "Where?" she whispered.
"Six. Three ahead of us on the right, two behind us to our left, and the other one...right...there." Xena commented as they rounded the bend and a man stepped out from behind a tree on the left hand side of the road.
Gabrielle grimaced as she looked at him. Typical. Bad armor, bad weapons, bad looks, and probably bad breath. Give a stupid man a weapon, not just any man mind you, let him terrorize the countryside and he thinks that anyone who's innocently walking down the road is a fair target. Especially two women. Ten dinars says this is a stupid man.
"Wellll...what do we have here? MmmMmm...looks nice," said the ruffian as he strutted closer to them, his hand resting casually on his swordhilt.
"Looks like I win," Gabrielle mumbled silently, as she brought her staff up in front of her, readying herself for the inevitable as she followed Xena's lead and halted, waiting for the man to come to them.
"Warning number one, go away." Xena's face was impassive as she looked at him. "And that goes for your friends also."
The man blinked a few times as his mind wrapped itself slowly around what she had told him. "Warn me? Now who do you think you are? I see you wearing a sword woman, but you ain't no Xena. I think me and my boys will just relieve you of it and have some fun with you and your friend tonight. What do you say to that?" The man grinned, showing off his dirty yellow crooked teeth, and looked the two of them up and down greedily.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"You know, Gabrielle, no offense...but this warning thing is getting out of hand. I don't think I'm really in the mood for it today." The dark-haired woman gave her companion a tight smile.
"Up to you, Xena," the bard replied with a mirrored look.
"Err...Xena?" The bandit's eyes popped wide open and he swallowed nervously a few times, then amazingly he calmed down and leered at the two of them. "Yeah right. Xena. Throw on some leather, strap on a sword, and you think you're Xena. Oh man, are we gonna have some fun tonight."
Slightly annoyed at their journey being interrupted, and tense over her friend's silence, Xena got fed up. Dropping Argo's reins she started walking forward.
"I think I want my fun now." Xena smiled sensualy, as she slowly stalked forward Her eyes catching his and holding them hypnotically.
Entranced, the man just stood there slackjawed and stunned.
Xena drew back her arm, then drove it straight into his face with a loud crunch. She watched with satisfaction as the bandit's eyes rolled back into his head and he flew back several feet, landing on the ground with a thud.
"Don't bother getting up," the woman quipped.
Gabrielle chuckled softly, then spotted the other bandits rushing the two of them, out of the corner of her eye. "Incoming!" she warned Xena.
"I see them, you just take care of yourself," she snapped, then winced inwardly. We have got to talk about this, but not right now obviously. Xena drew her sword and started towards the three men running towards her, knowing Gabrielle would deal with the two behind them.
The bard frowned deeply at the sharp tone in Xena's voice, but she had other concerns at that moment. Two raiders came out from behind the trees and eyed her and her staff with amusement.
And as usual, the woman with the staff is viewed as easy prey. That gets annoying. But then, I'm a bard, not a warrior. Gabrielle sighed as she brought her staff to a defensive position in front of her.
"Come on, little girl. Put down the itsy bitsy stick. Me and Merfin will take good care of ya,"
cooed one of the dirty men in front of her.
In a bad mood and further irritated by the ruffian's words, Gabrielle decided to not take a defensive approach to this fight. Stepping slightly forward she swung the right end of her staff slowly at the one who was called Merfin. Predictably the bandit moved sideways out of the way of the slow blow. He never saw the staff move so fast, as the feint was pulled back swiftly and the other end of her staff came in like lightning, connecting with his head with a sharp crack.
Grinning as the man slowly crumpled to the ground, she turned to her other opponent and snarled, "I am not a little girl. And as your stupid friend just found out, this is not a toy. Now...shall I take care of you too, or do you want to take a nap also?"
The man just growled low and started to circle her.
"I guess I just won another ten dinars with myself then." The bard said quietly.
Gabrielle parried the man's first blow easily, though she was a little startled by the strength behind the strike. She blocked another overhead slash at her head, then countering with a quick series of blows to the man's midsection, she stepped into his space as he was gasping for breath and delivered a quick rap to the side of his head, knocking him unconscious.
She never saw him hit the ground, as suddenly her head exploded in white hot pain. Before she could even scream she was enveloped by the warm darkness of unconsciousness.
* * * * *
Aphrodite grinned as she watched Xena carry Gabrielle away to safety.
"Such concern. I'm almost envious," she chuckled softly, looking on as the warrior found a small cave and then started to care for the younger woman.
The Goddess of Love drew out the time, wanting Xena to be almost frantic before she let the bard awaken. She watched as the warrior examined the harsh bump on the back of Gabrielle's head. She was in no danger and never really had been.
"You've got to be cruel to be kind, but by Hera's ugly face, does that girl have a hard head or what?" Aphrodite shook her hand. Even though she was a goddess and hadn't been even slightly injured, she sympathized with the pain Gabrielle had gone through.
"Time to wake up dear, and make me...and Xena happy." Slowly Aphrodite's hand came down and passed into the bard's head.
* * * * *
Darkness wrapped warm steady arms around her, holding her gently, breathing softly against her neck and spilling soft tears upon her cheek.
Gabrielle struggled against unconsciousness. The first of her senses to come to her was the certainty that strong arms truly did encircle her.
More senses awakened. The smell of leather tickled her nose and the taste of humid air soothed her throat.
Leather. Leather. Leather? Xena?
The bard struggled harder to awaken and was finally rewarded by being able to open her eyes. Black silken hair filled her vision and she smiled in reflex.
Hmm...love her hair.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and ventured to speak. "Xena?" she whispered.
The raven black tresses moved and made way for the beloved, and very worried, face of her companion.
"Gabrielle? Gods! You had me worried." Xena gently touched the bard's cheek.
"It's almost sunset now. I thought...I could swear.." The warrior paused a moment to try and gather herself together. "I don't know why you're awake. You were so pale and..."
Gabrielle interrupted her. "I'm ok, Xena. Just a little headache." And it was true. As each moment passed she felt more and more normal. Almost perfectly so, except for a slight throbbing on the back of her head. She tried sitting up, but Xena pushed her gently back down into the blankets.
"Stay. You need to rest." Xena instructed and started to move away. She was surprised when her patient reached out and strongly gripped her wrist.
"Don't leave." Soft green eyes begged.
"I'm just going to get some tea..." Xena tried to explain but was again interrupted.
"Don't leave. Please." Gabrielle whispered. In a flash, she suddenly remembered that morning and the difficulties that had arisen between the two. All the worry and apprehension was muted now though, as if a warm curtain had been drawn around it, cutting it off. She felt different, but didn't know how. Maybe whatever hit me knocked something loose, she told herself wryly.
Still holding the tanned wrist captive, Gabrielle pulled it close enough so it rested on her stomach, only satisfied when Xena lay down beside her. Turning her head she gazed into Xena's blue eyes, saddened to find worry within them and surprised to see them red from shed tears.
Turning slightly, the bard reached over with her free hand and gently traced one of the wet paths down Xena's cheek.
"I'm sorry about this morning." She smiled gently.
"No, I'm sorry. I should have just let you..."
Gabrielle interrupted her again. "No, Xena. It was my fault. There's been something I've been wanting to tell you, but I've been to afraid to come out and say it."
Xena frowned slightly. "You can tell me anything, Gabrielle. You should know that by now."
"I know..but this is different. I don't want to drive you away." Gabrielle's eyes started to tear as that thought brought pain to her.
"What could be so bad that you think I'd leave you?"
The bard searched Xena's face silently for a few moments, then the words just spilled from her lips. "I love you."
The feeling behind the words left no doubt that Gabrielle wasn't talking about the love between friends, but something much deeper.
"Oh gods..." Xena started to say.
"Don't even tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about. That I'm too young to understand. Xena...you aren't that much older than me you know. You've just experienced much more. I'm no child, and I haven't been one since long before we met. Innocent and naive at the time, yes. But I'm no longer that person. Why can't you see that?" Gabrielle asked softly. "I know what I feel and have felt for so long. I look at you and see my closest friend...and a woman that I care so deeply for that it hurts."
Silence, as two sets of eyes gazed into the other. One full of hope and love, the other showing anxiety. But Xena didn't move, or try to remove her wrist from Gabrielle's grasp, and the bard could see Xena's pulse grow more rapid as the emotions warred within her.
"This is a bad time to talk about this," the warrior ventured.
"No. I have the feeling this is the perfect time. Either way I'm not leaving you, Xena. If you don't feel the same way...that's ok. I love you as a friend too, you know." Gabrielle smiled gently, her fingers squeezed harder on the captive wrist. As she did, a long shudder raced through Xena's body, and she let out a deep breath.
"I love you too, and not just as a friend. I just..." she paused. "It's not like the other I've...I mean... It's so much...more. So much so, that it scares me. Me. Scared."
"Nothing to be scared of, Xena. It's just me, Gabrielle here. Always." Slowly the bard inched her head towards Xena's, her eyes asking for permission for what she was about to do. When she was close enough to feel Xena's warm sweet breath mixing with her own, she closed her eyes and continued on. To drown in the woman she loved.
* * * * *
Aphrodite watched as the two women hesitantly kiss. A wide smile caressed her lips as the kiss lengthened and deepened. Removing her hand gently from inside the bard's head, she smirked as she watched Gabrielle's eyes open wide in shock, then close again as she relaxed in Xena's embrace.
"YES!!!" The goddess crowed as she jumped up and down in glee. "And about time too!"
The blond goddess watched them fondly for a few moments, until she was satisified that things were well under way, than with a smirk and a blown kiss toward the two loving women, she disappeared in a shower of pick and gold light.
* * * * *
Klothos frowned slightly as she watched the goddess leave the cave to the two mortal lovers, then she removed her fingers from the middle of the golden thread and a much darker one.
"Everything is going normally sisters." The Fate turned her gaze to Lachesis and frowned even more deeply. "When shall we step in?"
Lachesis looked at the other two women impassively. "You know that I can't see into the future of our own thread. Why do you always ask?"
"Fine. Where will our thread cross into theirs then? I'm sure you can tell that?" came the reply.
The Fate of the future grimaced, but turned her sight towards the gold and dark threads. Into the threads she looked, her eyes becoming glazed and unseeing of her surroundings. Moments passed, with Athropos and Klothos looking on expectantly. Finally Lachesis came back to herself and spoke.
"We must wait a few weeks. Their journey will start later that day when they meet the dark priest and his fellow prisoners. The trip by sea will be uneventful. We have plenty of time to prepare," she informed them.
Athropos spoke up. "Aphrodite will not be pleased."
"She will not remember...that is if all goes according to plan. If the choice we wish is made." Lachesis' fingers caressed her fine shears.
"Will she make it?" Klothos asked as she peered into the threads again, glimpsing the two women already traveling again.
"She is not like the other one. We can only hope, guide, and show the options. Just as we did before. We can not force this." Lachesis answered.
The three Fates grew silent as they watched the threads weave through the Tapestry.
* * * * *
Gabrielle and Xena stood together, only a few feet away from Boadicea. They looked down the hill upon Caesar's advancing Legions. Xena's plan had worked so far. The other hills were still held by Boadicea's troops, though there was still sporatic fighting, but now the time had come for their own hill to be fought for.
Xena turned to her lover and frowned slightly and started to open her mouth to speak.
"No," the bard knew what the warrior was going to say, and made it clear that she wasn't going to leave her side. "You've mentioned it five times now, Xena. I am not going with Krafstar to hide out in that temple. I don't want to. We've fought together before, this is no different. Just a bigger scale is all."
The dark-haired woman sighed and reached up to lightly touch Gabrielle's shoulder. "Fine. You're right of course. We can do this." She smiled gently. "Love you."
Gabrielle covered Xena's hand with her own and gave it a light squeeze. "I love you too."
* * * * *
The three Fates appeared unseen on the battlefield, watching silently as chaos reign supreme. Men and women, Romans and Britons, soldiers and mercenaries. It mattered not what they were, only that they fought, lived and died.
Klothos scanned the hill for the mortals they had come to see, and found them quickly, motioning her sisters to follow her.
Xena and Gabrielle fought alongside each other, with others from Boadicea's army. They swept through the ranks of Legionaries like they were stalks of wheat, Xena a force of nature and Gabrielle at her side, equally destructive, though not lethal. Together they fought, bringing down man after man, at first swiftly, then as time passed and they grew more and more weary, it took longer to take out an opponent. Reflexes got slower, arms grew heavy, but still they fought on, until finally the battle was clearly coming to an end. Caesar was being routed, defeated this day.
Lachesis turned to her sisters, "Almost time."
The other two Fates remained silent, only nodding that they had heard her words.
The immortal sisters watched as the warrior and the bard helped defend against a last ditch effort on the Romans part to kill them, the unthinkable happened.
Caesar had watched from afar as his men died and were pushed back from every hill. Even all the Legions that were on Britannia together were unable to break Boadicea's army and Xena's plan. Seeing the battle was almost over, Caesar sent a troop of his own personal guards to try and break through and kill Xena or her companion, as he himself withdrew from the battlefield. He didn't care if they didn't return, as long as they were successful in destroying his nemesis.
It was a moment that echoed through the threads and a ripped through a certain bard's heart. Arrows came. Too fast and far too many for Xena to stop or dodge, so she did the only thing that she could do. She protected her heart...she threw herself over Gabrielle and let the arrows fall upon her. There was only so much her armor could deflect, and as Gabrielle looked up into Xena's face, she screamed and cried as the light went out of those beloved ice blue eyes.
* * * * *
Gabrielle knew there was no hope, but she still pulled the hated arrows from Xena's back. Blood didn't gush out. There was no cry of pain. Not even a twitch from the usually stoic Warrior Princess. For there was no heart beating blood through her veins. No soul to feel the tearing of flesh. No emotion to try to control. Nothing.
Gently the weeping bard rolled her lover over, and she held the warrior's head on her lap. Her hands couldn't stop moving, instead they stroked Xena's face, caressing all the dips and curves. The wide mouth with those lips that she had only a few weeks ago started enjoying the passionate kisses from. The proud nose and high cheekbones that so defined her. The pale eyes of blue, that would look at her with longing, and which she always had been able to read. Tenderly she closed them, her tears spilling down upon the warrior's eyes and face, making it seem as if the warrior was crying.
She paid no attention to her surroundings, her eyes and heart were only for the dead woman in her arms. So she didn't see the last few Romans killed as Boadicea rallied her men around her. She didn't hear the moans of the wounded. She didn't see the glorious colors as the sun began to set. She didn't see Caesar finally withdraw from the field to lick his wounds. She didn't see the beauty of the land around her, the hills that rose around the plain like a crown, or the temple that rested quietly upon one of them.
She saw nothing, but her heart broken, her soul dead, her lover shattered. Silently she wept. She had no words for this moment, and she didn't think she ever would.
Gabrielle continued to caress Xena's face, then leaned down to gently place a lover's kiss upon the still warm lips.
"Bard. Attend us."
The words, spoken softly barely got through to her. But they did, and with eyes so full of tears, that she was almost blind, Gabrielle looked up.
Three women, standing tall and expressionless stood before her. One moment they all seemed old and wrinkled to her eyes, the next young. Wiping her eyes on the fabric that covered her shoulder, Gabrielle cleared her vision and then returned her gaze to the women.
"What do you want?" the bard spoke, her voice barely above a whisper.
"We are the Fates, Gabrielle of Poteidaia. Bard. Amazon Queen. Lover of Xena." Replied the one on the far right, who held golden shears in her hand. "I am Lachesis."
"Klothos," said the women in the middle.
"And I am Atropos, Gabrielle." The last woman smiled gently down at the bard.
"The Fates." Gabrielle grimaced. "It figures. Though I always figured it would be Ares to come gloat when Xena died."
"We are not here to gloat, mortal," Lachesis said with disapproval.
"Then why are you here?" The bard sighed and looked back down at Xena's face, and watched as another tear landed on the warrior's cheek.
"It is usually our way to not interfere with how the threads run through the Tapestry. It is rare that we intervene in any way. But we are here for this purpose now, Gabrielle," Klothos said quietly.
"There are events that must happen, that haven't," Athropos put in her bit.
"What would those be?" Gabrielle mumbled, not really paying attention, and not caring in the least.
"Bard. You must make a choice here...you must pay attention to what we say," Athropos reprimanded the young woman gently.
Suddenly consumed with anger, Gabrielle looked back up at the immortals before her and snarled, "I don't care! Don't you understand! I don't care what is supposed to happen! All I know is what just happened!! Xena is dead!! GO AWAY!!"
"What if she wasn't dead?" Lachesis replied.
The anger inside her froze at the words. "Not dead? How?"
"There is another future that you may choose, Gabrielle. A darker one for you, but one where Xena lives past this battle," the Fate of the future said simply. "Do you wish to see it before you choose?"
"Because only you can bring the darkness." Lachesis answered.
"Show me," the bard demanded.
Athropos stepped forward and held her palm out before her, then gently pulled a golden thread out of the air above it. Gently grabbing it before it blew away, she leaned down and held it in front of Gabrielle. Using one hand to point at an end, she started to speak. "This is your thread, Gabrielle. This is your beginning, your birth, childhood, youth, and the start of your womanhood. You know it, so I have no need to show it to you." Her finger ran down along the length, then stopped.
"This is where you and Xena became lovers...with a little help from Aphrodite. But even so it was your choice...your move. Here is where your choice has brought you. To this field. To this moment." Athropos handed the thread over to Klothos and took a step back.
"You're saying because I love Xena, that I got her killed?!" the bard was stunned, not sure what to make of the words the Fate had said.
Klothos stepped forward and rested a lean finger along the line, ignoring the question. "This is now. This is the crossroads, where we must ask you to make a decision."
"Why didn't you just come and ask me before all this?!" the bard's ire was returning.
"Because you must live this..experience this to make an informal decision. This is the way your destiny is supposed to be, but it doesn't bring the darkness. Instead the darkness will be released later, by another, and with much more dire consequences then on the alternative thread." Klothos stepped back and let Lachesis take her place.
"Very dire indeed. It will destroy the world." Lachesis informed her as she stepped forward and pointed to the thread. "Nothing will survive. We three have taken it upon ourselves to save what we can. You Gabrielle, are the key to that."
The Fate swept her finger back to where a faint shadow of a thread could be seen coming from the main one. "This is that other road. That other choice you have."
"Tell me." Gabrielle asked quietly, the anger once again gone, but replaced by trepidation.
"Instead we shall show you. Look at the thread. See it...the colors of your life golden and nourishing to others. Look past the color and see the past and alternate future. Watch as Aphrodite fails yet again to get you and Xena to express yourselves. Instead you go on...repressing your love."
"See the man Khrafstar and his fellows as they walk, captives of another. This is like your own time. But in this one you become close friends, your mind not on Xena and your love, but on the words that he gives you. To Britannia you will come...and here is where the change is most pronouced, Bard. Brace yourself." Lachesis advised.
"You do not stay at Xena's side. Instead you and Krafstar separate from the others, only to get captured by Caesar. Xena will save you, but will insist afterwords that when the next day comes, when they plan to capture the temple for Krafstar and his people, that you stay with him out of harms way. You will agree." Lachesis paused a moment, her immortal eyes boring down upon Gabrielle. "Krafstar is not a friend. He will trick you into caring so much for his friendship, that you will kill another to save him."
"NO!" Gabrielle shouted, denying the words. She couldn't kill another, she knew it wasn't in her.
"Yes. See it. Look on," Lachesis continued. "The blood you spill has made you the key to releasing a darkness upon the world. His name is Dahak, and he will plant in you a seed, that will grow and blossom swiftly."
"Xena will leave the battle before it barely begings, in worry over you, and battle Krafstar to save you. But it is too late. Xena lives and you are freed, but only a day later you shall give birth to a girl. A child which will one day bring Dahak's dark power upon the earth. This darkness and the child must come now...not later. Without Xena alive and able to end Dahak's bid for power, the world will end. With Xena, darkness will come sooner and you both will eventually stop it." Lachesis finished, and waited silently.
Gabrielle watched the events again and again, disbelief slowly giving way to horror and resignation. Tears running down her face again, she looked up at the Fates before her.
"Xena will be alive?"
"Yes," Lachesis answered.
"This is the only way to save an even worse fate for the world?"
"I must trade my love and Xena's death, for a child, blood on my hands, and pain?" Gabrielle asked.
"There is no must. You have a choice. Either way, you will not remember any of this conversation or us," Klothos replied.
"Choose. Love....or Darkness. Those are they only two that we will give you...can give you," Athropos comment.
Gabrielle looked down upon Xena's face, the face of the woman that she loved without a doubt. She knew she couldn't make this decision just for her love for her. It had to go beyond that. After several moments of silence she looked back up to the three immortals.
"I chose the darkness, and the pain of not giving my love, in exchange for her life and a child that I see who's birth will help me drive back the darkness of shedding blood. I choose my heart alive and well," the bard whispered softly, and watched as Atropos took the thread back and let it hover in the air. She listened with tears streaming down her face, her hands still caressing Xena's eyes and mouth, as the immortal started to sing. As she leaned back down and gave Xena a last kiss, darkness came over her and she ceased to be.
Concluded in "Fate's Choice"
Some of you may have noticed that as a general rule in any of my ff that has Aphrodite included ( "A Crown of Laurel", "Love's Choice", "Heart's Choice"), I've dispensed with the "Valley Talk". Sorry if it's not authentic, but I was in high school when "Valley Talk" was a fad in the early 80's, and I hated it. Still do. (In fact my favorite saying to counteract any of the harmful effects of the talk was, "Gag me with a cement twinkie." OK..I'm weird. Bite me*G*) I really do like the X:WP character of Aphrodite though. She gives me the shivers. Very nice ones too *VBEG* So anyway, I try and let "my" Aphrodite speek as normally as possible, though, of course, her mannerisms have snuck in, as is only right. At least I hope I've done a good job on her, I tend to be able to tune in more easily to Xena then the other characters. Just a last bit here-"Fate's Choice" should be done in a couple of weeks. Well, enough of my babble:}
The Bard's Corner