Characters and backstory from Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal/Renaissance. No copyright infringement is intended.
This is an original (I hope) work of alternative fan fiction. No profit will be gained from its production. This piece of fiction is copyright of the author.
There are depictions of love/sex between consenting adult persons of the same gender. If this is illegal where you live, you are underage, or this isn't your preference, then stop reading here and find something more appropriate to your tastes and/or laws.
A few minor curses.
Author's Note: I believe one of the greatest things about the episode(s) Sacrifice is all the great fanfic that is being written because of it. I hope to add to that pool. This is actually my third story related to the season-ender. Every time I think about the next season, these little ideas start clamoring for keystrokes. I love writing...it is so cathartic. I truly hope that you enjoy this.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com
A Second Chance:
Copyright June 18, 1998
The plaintive wail echoed though the marbled halls of Mt. Olympus. With the turmoil that had affected the gods of late, it was no cause for surprise. But the fact that it had come from the Goddess of Love, the most effervescent and carefree of them all, caused a few hairs to stand on end. The cry was forlorn and full of pain, and every god knew its reason.
The bard. The Amazon Queen. Gabrielle of Potedaia. The one who had grown from a naive farmer's daughter to a woman of considerable presence, had saved her world...THEIR world. Zeus took a moment from his thunderous rampage to feel his daughter's pain. They were all mourning the mortals' loss, but it had struck Aphrodite and Artemis the hardest.
The love goddess, in an uncharacteristic moment of unselfishness, grieved for a great love that would never come to pass. And Artemis, upon hearing that her Chosen had sacrificed herself, had disappeared to one of her sacred forests and was showering a life-sized image of the God of War with deadly arrows.
Zeus bowed his head in anguish as the echoes faded. He had a heavy burden resting on his shoulders. His son Ares, although not the most trustworthy of children, had crossed the line. With his allegiance to the one Great Evil, the war god had granted himself a permanent expulsion from Olympus. In the span of less than a month, two gods were dead, he had nearly lost his son Hercules, and Dahok had disrupted the lives of countless mortals. It was a bad time that the King of the Gods assumed had ended.
Zeus sighed. He was obviously mistaken.
Aphrodite appeared in his chamber with an entry that was less flamboyant than usual. "You've got to do something. She can't die just like that...she can't," the goddess sobbed.
"There is nothing I can do," the father god stated regretfully. To please his favored daughter, he would have done anything, but what was done...was done. The matter was out of his realm.
The Goddess of Love tried to fix her father with a petulant glare, but the tears that were still falling from her reddened eyes lessened the desired effect. If Zeus wasn't going to do anything about it...then...someone else would have to. With a new determination, the goddess disappeared, leaving her father to brood over his betraying son.
---Chapter One---IN THE HANDS OF THE FATES
Clotho glanced up from her work as she recognized the familiar presence in the inner sanctum of the Fates. With girlish curiosity, she kept one eye on Aphrodite, and another on the strands that she was weaving. It seemed as of late, the once exclusive domain of theirs, was becoming familiar stomping grounds for the Olympians. First Ares...and now Aphrodite.
She and her sisters had expected somebody, but not the vain and whimsical Goddess of Love. Clotho shrugged and adjusted her shawl. She was just glad that someone had finally arrived, hopefully to sort out the all the loose ends. Clotho cleared her throat to stifle the ungodly giggle that nearly escaped when she realized her pun.
Without a word of greeting, the goddess crossed to a great loom where she studied the many strands that crossed and intertwined. With an experienced eye, she found the one that she was looking for and followed it from beginning to.... "Atropos," the goddess said as she approached the crone, "is this not Gabrielle of Potedaia," she asked, fingering the bright strand.
The oldest Fate nodded silently, as she was intent on her work, her shears ever-present and ready to cut some life short at the direction of Lachesis.
"But I don't understand," the goddess whispered to herself as she tried to work through the possible meanings in her own mind. Even though the warrior and bard had foiled several of her well-planned schemes, she had held a benevolent interest in the couple. For three years, she had watched them grow in themselves and with each other. It was a great experiment and bet between her and the forsaken Ares...to see which was stronger...love or hate.
And after recent events, Aphrodite considered herself the winner. The bard had proven how great love was by sacrificing herself unselfishly, and so far, Xena had proven that love could overcome darkness by keeping true to her promise of not giving in to her own cruel tendencies. Killing Callisto had not counted because the crazy goddess had literally asked for it. Aphrodite sighed in confusion.
"Would, like, someone please clue me in here?"
Lachesis spared a glance to the voluptuous deity. She and her sisters did not mind when the gods visited them, but when others tried to impose their will, as had Dahok and Ares.... Well, there was no revenge like that of the Fates. The bard Gabrielle had freed them from Dahok's threatening presence, and they had decided to gift her with a second chance at life.
Usually impassive in regards to the struggles of mortals, the Fates had taken a direct approach after the bard's sacrifice. They had gotten involved, had thumbed their noses at the war god and had preserved the one whose removal he had deemed necessary for the completion of his plans for world domination. With the bard out of the way, the god would have had an easier task of seducing his most favored warrior. But the Fates had decided to thwart his plans.
"It was not her time," the second Fate revealed.
Aphrodite stroked the thread almost lovingly as she turned to Lachesis. "You mean she didn't buy the big farm in the Elysian Fields," the goddess asked, hope blooming in her breast.
The three Fates looked at each other and nodded in subtle agreement.
"The bard awaits," Clotho began;
"the rest of," Lachesis continued;
"her destiny," Atropos finished.
The goddess closed her eyes and concentrated on the thread of the bard's life. With blinding flashes, she saw the young woman's life from birth to her present state. "Hades, you devil, you," Aphrodite whispered. Carefully, she laid the thread to rest against the loom and flashed a brilliant smile to the other three goddess. "Later."
---Chapter Two---GODDESS' REVENGE
Artemis was seething with a mute fury that refused to abate no matter how much the image of her brother resembled a pin cushion. If she only knew where the real god was, she might feel a little vindicated...but the God of War was keeping a low profile. Even the little strumpet Discord had no idea where he was, and that's what really pissed off the huntress. Ares had betrayed all Olympians, and yet...his only punishment had been banishment.
She wanted to kill her brother. But after what had happened to Strife, Zeus had gone on a rampage. The goddess shivered as she remembered her father's words. Petty disputes and annoying disruptions of each other's plans among the gods were commonplace. But to kill one of their own.... The huntress grunted as she released another silver-tipped arrow.
And Ares...well, Zeus had his holy knickers in a twist over that. The mere thought that her brother would sell them all out for a little power.... Artemis sighed as she pulled another arrow from her quiver. She knew that Ares could sink to incredibly low levels...anything for power...for position, but she had never imagined anything like what he had done...allying himself with the Evil One.
But that was not what had gotten her in such a state of barely restrained fury. The god had meddled with the Fates. He had dared to venture where no other god had gone before with the threat of unadulterated evil behind his actions. And because of that...her Chosen had done the only thing she could in order to save the life of the woman she loved. Recalling the vision of Gabrielle falling...crying out her warrior's name...praying that she would be good enough to see the Elysian Fields, Artemis reached towards her quiver again.
"If I had my way," she growled as she let sail three arrows in tandem.
"Chill, sis...we'll have our revenge."
Lowering her bow as she spun on her heel, the Goddess of the Hunt faced her sister. "What do you mean," she asked with a growl as her eyes narrowed to mere slits. She was assaulted by a sweet perfume as Aphrodite laid a slender arm across her shoulders.
"I have a plan," the love goddess declared in a conspiratorial tone topped off with a wink. "Hey, nice work," she praised with awe as she nodded to the statue of Ares. "I think you missed a spot, though," Aphrodite chided as she took the bow from her sister and snagged an arrow from her clutched hands.
Artemis smiled grimly when love goddess' arrow sank deeply into the statue's crotch.
"Well," Aphrodite beamed, tossing the bow to its owner. "Looks like those lessons from Cupid are finally paying off." Aphrodite, for good measure, crossed the thirty paces to the wooden representation and heaved with the exertion of knocking it over to the ground where the arrow-riddled wood broke into several pieces. "So, you in, or what?"
Although skeptical, since the love goddess' plans usually involved vanity and generally resulted in utter chaos, the huntress was interested. "Let's hear it."
Aphrodite smiled in satisfaction and looped her arm through her sister's. With a wave of her hand, she and the huntress dissolved, only to reappear in the love goddess' Olympian chambers.
Glancing around at the gaudy furniture and erotic artwork, Artemis forced her face not to show the distaste she could feel gripping her insides, namely, her gut which was rebelling at the varying shades and hues of pink and red. Instinctively, she reached out and caught the apple that her sister had tossed her.
"Take a load off," the love goddess invited, as she herself fell gracefully into an overstuffed chair that resembled the male genitalia. When Artemis complied, sitting gingerly on a sofa opposite, Aphrodite got serious. "The way I see it, Ares, like, totally screwed up big time. And we are going to make the bastard pay," the goddess nearly snarled.
Artemis blinked at the sudden mood change. She had only seen Aphrodite like this once before...and that was when Hera had once unleashed a barrage of insults upon Hephaestus at a party. Things had been pretty ugly between the two goddesses after that until Zeus had stepped in and ordered a truce called.
"He messed with the wrong chick this time," Aphrodite continued. "I had those two right where I wanted them. Their example was going to make my work so much easier...but nooo...." The love goddess stood and began to pace in agitation. "Well, I won't let that happen. Gabrielle and Xena ARE going to become lovers if it is the last thing I do."
Raising a hand to still her restless sister, Artemis shook her head. "Gabrielle is dead, Aphrodite." For a moment, the huntress thought that perhaps her sister had really gone off the deep end. The calculating glint in Aphrodite's eyes chilled Artemis to the bone.
"That's not what I heard," the love goddess teased. When Artemis' brow rose in hopeful inquiry, Aphrodite revealed all. "The Fates have seen to her safety. It's up to us to free her...with a little help, of course."
"The Fates? What help?"
Aphrodite sat next to her sister and grinned. "Would you, like, say that Apollo would do anything for you?"
---Chapter Three---LOST WITHOUT YOU
The temple was empty, she had ordered them all out with an inhuman snarl. And now, she was alone...truly, soul-lost alone. She had long gotten used to the heat that radiated from the subterranean river of lava. She no longer felt it burning her skin like a thousand little dagger pricks. All she knew was that she was utterly, totally alone.
It kept replaying over and again in her mind. In slow motion she could hear Gabrielle's cry for her daughter, she could only sit there helpless as she recalled the moment that the bard had finally delivered Hope to her eternal grave. The bard's final scream still rang in her ears.
Tears continued to fall down her cheeks. She thought that she could hear their hiss as they cascaded over the scorched flesh of her face...but then again...she thought perhaps it was her heart breaking into a million pieces. Through an infinite number of wounds in her heart...she bled tears of agony.
She had long forgotten the corpse of the goddess behind her. Callisto would no longer have any presence in her life. She had finally cleaned up after that mistake from her past. But Gabrielle.... Xena choked back a sob. The bard would remain forever a part of her soul.
The young woman she had grown to love over time and through hardship, had carved a comfortable niche in a dark warrior's soul, and had made it her home. Closing her eyes, Xena replayed her first meeting with the young woman from Potedaia. She had thought the bard a naive little girl then, had been proven right on so many occasions. But over time, the girl had grown into a beautiful young woman. And the warrior had fallen reluctantly into her accepting love.
She had fallen in love with the bard's purity, innocence, conviction, and spirit. And then she had simply fallen in love. She had seen the woman behind all the qualities that she had come to admire, and she was awed by her beauty and courage. Gabrielle was the light that beckoned to her in times of desolate darkness. She was the only friend that had truly stayed by her side in good times and bad. And she had proven that by dying for her.
Rising from her position, Xena stumbled down the ramp away from the chasm and found her way outside to the cooling evening air. Goosebumps erupted over her body as the crisp chill stunned her heated skin like a rousing slap. She inhaled deeply and held her breath until she thought that her lungs would burst as her heart had already done. With a mechanical purpose, she found Joxer and Seraphin as they had made camp not far from the temple.
She heard neither the warrior's words of comfort, nor the young girl's pleas for forgiveness. She was numb to them. They were not her Gabrielle, they were only people with whom she had made acquaintances. They were not the woman who shared her soul. They could not reach inside of her and calm her fears, chase away the dark. They were merely there...as she was.
Xena stayed awake for the entire evening, occasionally shivering as if with a fever. She ate nothing, she drank sparingly. Even the comforting whickers from Argo failed to soothe her aching spirit. She refused to watch the stars dance across the night's sky of inky velvet, she was deaf to the courtship songs of the crickets as they chirped sporadically. When dawn finally broke over the horizon, she was left with the realization that she was still alone...and would be for the rest of her life.
She fulfilled her responsibilities and escorted Seraphin home. The journey was uneventful. The warrior was not sure if she welcomed the break from battle. Part of her wanted to engage some bandit recklessly so that she might end her suffering in battle, while part of her wanted to crawl up into a ball and fade to nothing, cradled in the arms of the earth. The travel was relentless, for the pace she kept was monotonous, although not taxing. She just wanted everything to end so that she could lose herself in grief and forget about any atonement she might still have to perform.
Joxer, afraid for the woman warrior's state of mind, accompanied them. But once their mission was finally over three days later, he realized that nothing he could say or do would help Xena. His last sight of her made his heart ache painfully, for the once proud and powerful woman was unkempt and looked as if she were the walking dead. Her eyes were heavily shadowed and red from crying when she thought no one could hear her. Her face and neck were beginning to peel as blisters healed. In one word, she looked like Tartarus.
Not wanting to face Gabrielle's family, nor the Amazons, Xena stopped at a small village north of Potedaia and dispatched carriers with two identical scrolls which gave the barest details of the bard and Amazon Queen's death. The smell of the parchment and ink that she had borrowed from Gabrielle's bag caused a fresh wave of tears, and when the bard's families finally received word, they were able to read the warrior's pain in the blotched words that had smeared as the wet grief had fallen over them.
When her last and final responsibility towards her best friend was fulfilled, Xena wandered aimlessly. When she was accosted on occasion, it was battle-honed instinct that saved her and not any will to continue. No one dared approach her for help. The story of Gabrielle's sacrifice and the warrior's apathy had spread far and quickly. It was a time of mourning for all, and those who would have asked before, avoided Xena out of simple respect, to give her time to reconcile her loss.
---Chapter Four---CALLIN' 'EM IN
Hades was sitting in his throne room, waiting patiently for the storm that was about to come. With a wise forethought, he had sent Persephone to their private chambers to await him, knowing that some things were better off not witnessed by others. A determined step alerted him to the visitor he had been expecting.
"I want her back."
The God of the Underworld studied the woman before him. Her hair and leather battle wear were still damp from her journey, but her eyes were filled with a willful fire. "It can't be that easy," he stated, knowing that if it came down to it, the warrior would battle him, even if her own life would be forfeited.
"It wasn't her time, Hades," the tall woman growled.
The god rested his elbows on the arms of his throne and laced his fingers. "Can you be so sure of that, Xena?"
"She had so much left to do," the warrior responded. "I'll get down on my knees and beg if you want me to," she ground out in anger at the emotions that were threatening her stoic composure.
"That won't be necessary."
Mortal and god turned to the goddess who materialized.
"Artemis, what say do you have in this matter," Hades asked.
"Gabrielle was my Chosen, the Queen of my Amazons. And," she concluded with a sly grin, "it has been revealed to me that Lachesis has not deemed her time at an end."
Hades sighed in defeat. "The Fate told you this?"
Artemis crossed the room to stand at Xena's side. "Not me, no. But someone else with an interest in my Queen paid the Fates a visit and saw that Gabrielle's thread had not been severed." The huntress fixed her uncle with an unwavering stare. "What's the deal?"
Raising a supplicating hand to the warrior who had unsheathed her sword, the god stood and descended from his dais. "It is true," he supplied. "She is a guest here, for the moment."
"So give her back to me," Xena ordered as she stepped forward.
"I'm afraid I can't do that...just yet."
Artemis laid a restraining hand on the warrior's shoulder.
"Why not?" Xena, who usually had little time to spare for the gods, was losing her patience quickly.
"I'm waiting for Apollo."
As if on cue, the sun god appeared. "You called for me?"
Artemis accepted her brother's kiss with a small smile.
"Yes. And as soon as Aphrodite gets here, we can all sit down and she'll let us all in on her plan."
Glancing around at the private bower, the Goddess of Love nodded approvingly. "That should do it," she said aloud to herself before she disappeared.
When she reappeared in the Underworld, she cast a look of distaste around at the somber setting. "What a bummer," she sighed as with a flick of her forefinger, she invoked the presence of a red padded chair. Her tone was all business as she saw that all the parties of her plan were present. "Are we going to deal here, or not?"
Xena was the first to reach the long table. She seated herself anxiously, curious as to what the flighty goddess was scheming.
When all were comfortable, Aphrodite cleared her throat and lost all pretense of playfulness. "The way I see it, all of us here owe the bard for one thing or another. Apollo, she and Xena returned your urn to your temple. Artemis, she restored order to your Amazon Nation when she and Xena took care of Velaska. Hades, she and Xena returned your Helmet and your sister."
When all the gods nodded their agreement, the goddess continued. "Now, as I see it, if we are going to restore the good name of the Olympians...." Aphrodite's brow rose as Xena snickered. "You are going to have to return the favors she and the warrior babe have done for you."
The goddess smiled when no protests were forthcoming. "Now, Apollo, you are going to return her life. Hades, you are going to allow her free passage out of the Underworld."
"What am I supposed to do," Artemis asked, barely hiding her surprise at her sister's unusual leadership skills.
"All you have to do is place a sphere of protection around a clearing that I prepared so that Gabrielle can rest."
Artemis nodded her agreement and eyed the other gods. "I'm in."
Hades and Apollo gave their cooperation also.
When Hades rose to show Apollo where the bard's quarters were, Aphrodite explained to her sister exactly where the clearing was. After the huntress dematerialized, the Goddess of Love turned to the warrior, who had remained mostly silent throughout her speech. "And you...."
"Why?" Xena's voice cracked with disbelief.
"Why what," the goddess asked.
"Why are you doing this," the warrior clarified, a bit shocked that she was going to get her wish granted, and without any groveling.
Aphrodite grinned mysteriously and ran an absent finger along the edge of the neckline on her gown. "Let's just say that your little friend hasn't fulfilled her destiny. Lachesis spared her from a short life because her sacrifice ended Dahok's influence over the Fates. Gabrielle still has much to do." Then, the goddess stood and ran self-appreciating hands down to her hips. "Besides, the little bard tells a great love story. We need more love in this world...if you get my drift," she added suggestively before she disappeared.
Apollo followed his uncle through the maze of hallways deeper into the cold darkness of the Underworld. It was in places like this that Persephone's influence was not seen. There were no vibrant colors nor sweet perfumes. It was like a crypt: cold, dank, and stale. The sun god was nervous, accustomed as he was to the open skies and nature's tantalizing fragrances.
Finally, Hades stopped and opened a large wooden door and ushered Apollo into the room. Here, the younger god was a little more comfortable. There were torches set into sconces in the corners of the small room, and a cheery fire lent additional light and warmth. There was a single pallet against the left wall.
As Apollo moved closer to the bed, he smelled the scent of burnt flesh, but that knowledge did not prepare him for the sight of the shriveled body of the once-beautiful young woman. Obviously the Fates had saved the bard before she reached the lava, but not before its heat consumed her flesh. The god sighed. Better to work with a corpse, no matter its condition, than the scattered remnants of spirit that had to be coalesced into a borrowed body.
"Can it be done?"
Apollo spared a glance to his uncle to convey a brief look of arrogant confidence before settling himself carefully on the edge of the pallet. Closing his eyes, he concentrated, searching for the bard's soul, which had been trapped within the corpse by the Fates. The young god winced when he felt the young woman's pain. It was not for the pain that her body had endured, but rather for the loss of the warrior.
Shaking his head, Apollo opened his eyes and concentrated on the bard's face. He held a special place in his heart for the young woman. While her musical skills were somewhat lacking, she surely made up for it with her poetry. Four years ago, it had not seemed that special, but when the bard had met the warrior, the young woman had caught the gods attention.
Her poetry had tugged at his heart. The bard had captured the complexity, the awesome beauty of her companion in lines that spoke of admiration, love, and at times, fear. He had watched the bard grow, mature, during her travels with Xena. He felt an almost paternal pride in the woman. Even if she had not helped the warrior return the sacred urn to his temple, he would have answered to Artemis' plea for help. Gabrielle was indeed, a special person.
And for such, the god of healing laid his hands upon the blackened remains of the young woman who captured the sun in her hair, and he willed her body to heal. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on his task. He could see mental pictures of her organs reforming, of her heart becoming whole. With a little encouragement, the muscle began pumping blood once more. With a little more effort, the mortal's bones were restored, and her body assumed a familiar shape.
Once the inside was revived, Apollo opened his eyes and studied the still-charred body with a critical eye. Casting his thoughts to the waiting warrior, he saw the image of the young bard. With a smile, he lowered his hands to hover over her feet. A soft glow enveloped mortal and god as Apollo focussed his energy on repairing Gabrielle's physical form. Slowly, his hands rose, inch by inch over blackened, dead skin. In their wake, soft, golden, healthy skin was recovered.
Twenty minutes later, Apollo gently caressed the bard's honey-gold hair. Seeing her in person was affecting him in a way more intense than that which he felt comfortable. Clearing his throat, he stood and observed her nude body. Her chest was rising rhythmically and he could hear her mortal heart beating regularly. On impulse, he reached out with a trembling hand and touched the inside of her right thigh.
Before he could lose himself in her presence, he straightened and waved his hand almost regretfully. After the golden flash passed, the bard was as she had been before she had sacrificed herself, before she had been destroyed by the lava's heat, with one little exception. Apollo hoped that the warrior would not mind.
"It is done," he whispered in satisfaction. Artemis would be pleased, Xena would be pleased.
"The Fates determined her destiny, Dahok destroyed it for her, and we will return it to her." Hades nodded his head grimly. "Is one mortal worth it, do you think?"
Apollo raised a golden brow and chuckled. "Ask Xena, Uncle. She did find her way out of Tartarus for the little one."
The god of the Underworld grunted with the remembrance. Not only had the warrior overcome Tartarus, but she had conquered her own dark spirit. She had found a reason to continue despite her guilt over her past. The bard was a light for the warrior, a reminder of goodness and purity of purpose. Hades was glad to return her to the mortal realm. The world needed her, for she had so much left to do.
"We had better get going," Hades said as he opened the door. "Zeus only knows what Xena has done to my throne room. She can be so impatient sometimes."
Apollo caressed the bard's cheek before he bent to cradle her in his arms. She smelled of the summer's breeze, of a thousand flowers. The god could feel his heart begin to pound heavily. Knowing that Aphrodite had already determined the bard for the warrior, he forced his straying thoughts to the task at hand. After all that his sisters had gone through to assure the bard's future, there was no way that he was going to invoke their wrath by seducing the mortal woman. But he would certainly keep his eye on her.
Once the younger god had the bard settled in his arms, Hades led Apollo back to his throne room.
---Chapter Six---WAKING UP
A quiet shuffling of feet caused Xena to stand abruptly. Her blood began soaring through her veins and her breath was coming more rapid. She grit her teeth and clenched her fists. She could not believe that she was actually nervous about seeing Gabrielle again.
It had been over a fortnight since the bard had selflessly sacrificed herself. In one move, she had preserved the world and Xena's life; her life for the greater good and that of one taciturn and penitent ex-warlord. And it was so...Gabrielle. The bard had often put herself in harm's way to save another life. It had just never before resulted in the young woman's death. Sure, she had died in Thessaly, the warrior mused, but she had come back with some coaxing. But it had been too long since that fateful day in Dahok's temple, and the warrior realized that only divine intervention would bring her bard back now.
Xena remembered the day that Gabrielle died with an ache of loss. After returning Seraphin and sending word of the bard's death, she had wandered. She had finally collapsed in a rocky field with Argo as her faithful company. For four days she had just sat there, reliving her last moments with Gabrielle. She could not sleep, for the picture of her best friend, her heart's companion, falling to her death, would replay until she cried out in agony. But her body had faltered, had overwhelmed her hollow existence. She had fallen into a deep, fitful sleep. Then, in a dream, Gabrielle had come to her, had told her that she could not give up her fight for justice and freedom for the common man.
Xena had woken with a start, searching her campsite for any sight of the bard, but reality fell on her shoulders like a stone-cold agony. She had brooded the rest of the early morning until dawn. The sun rising over the hills reminded her of the bard, the woman whose hair was the color of the sun and honey, warm and sweet.
She had no reason to even rise from her bedroll. Her fire had died after the second night due to inattention. And that night, as the stars came out, and the warrior found the North Star, she thought of the woman who had taken half her soul to the other side. The woman with whom, in her more optimistic moods, she had planned on spending a lifetime.
She had gotten pissed then. Gabrielle was too young, too full of life to die. They had just gotten more comfortable with each other after the nightmares of abandonment and betrayal. With a purpose, the warrior began to collect her anger, her fury, and let it flow through her, lending her strength. On weak legs, she hunted and gave nourishment to her body. She spent hours chanting, meditating, gathering all her power that had been cast upon the winds, shed upon a thousand tears, after the bard had fallen to her death.
By the sixth day, Xena had been ready to reclaim the one person whose life was irrevocably joined with hers. They had not let Dahok, Hope, Ares, or any number of adversaries come between them, why should death be any different. With a new purpose and her strength and will returned, Xena traveled a familiar road to the lake that was an entrance to the Underworld. She had been down that route before...with Marcus. And she was determined to do so again for Gabrielle.
In the time that it had taken her to reach the portal, she had spared one town from a ragtag group of raiders, not wanting to disappoint Gabrielle. She had stormed through three squads of fortune hunters who had heard about her weakened state and had wanted to collect a bounty for her head. Not taking the time to enjoy the battle like she usually did, she had dispatched them without a wasted stroke. She had other matters to attend to, and she had refused to be detained for any reason.
When she finally had reached the lake, she had dived into its tepid water without a second's hesitation, fully armed. It was with resolute purpose that she emerge from the River Styx and found her way to Hades' throne and judgement room. She had been prepared to fight or supplicate herself, whatever it would have taken to have the bard returned.
And so, here she was now, waiting. It seemed an endless moment that she stood there, unsure of herself, anxious for her heart's reunion with its other half. She spared only a brief thought that her past deeds. The good ones were what had given her the opportunity, the leverage, to have her bard returned. With a lightened spirit, she began to tread silently back and forth in anticipation.
Xena's eyes scanned the archway into which the two gods had disappeared. She steeled her heart, her emotions. She took several deep breaths, trying to reign in the wild beating of her heart. If she was not careful, she would end up hyperventilating and passing out, and that was not exactly the way that she wanted to greet her bard.
Finally, at the sound of voices, Xena stopped her pacing and trained her eyes to pick out the faintest bit of color, of movement, from the bowels of Hades private domain. The sight of Apollo carrying Gabrielle in his arms caused her utter a brief cry.
The dull torchlight flicked over Gabrielle's hair, bring out the reddish highlights. The Amazon's brief attire revealed a body that had burned into the warrior's memory. Xena willed Gabrielle's eyes to open, but she conceded to the fact that the bard had just been brought back to life, and was probably exhausted and weak.
But just the knowledge that the bard was hers once more.... Xena could feel the tiny pieces of her heart mend themselves. She could feel her soul cling to, and then become swallowed by, the faint ray of hope and love that blossomed so, until it consumed her once empty spirit. She was filled once again...she was whole.
Needing to touch her friend, her love, Xena met the gods half-way and took the bard from the sun god's arms, cradling Gabrielle in her own. The familiar body in her arms assailed her with its presence, its life force that had been returned. With a silent prayer, she thanked the Fates who had brought the radiant young woman into her life not once, not twice, but three times. She could feel her emotions clawing their way through her stoic reserve. Her chin began to quiver, and her eyes misted with tears of happiness. She had forgotten that she was not alone, in the presence of gods. With a strangled sob, she realized that she would never be alone again.
Both gods looked on, sure that they had done the right thing. Xena was crying softly as she buried her face in the bard's golden hair. The young woman was still pale and her skin was clammy, but the steady, strong rise and fall of her chest was a testament that she was definitely alive.
Hades nodded his approval to his nephew. Apollo had done a remarkable job with the young woman's charred corpse. It would take a couple of days for her to return to her usual vitality, but there was no permanent physical damage suffered.
Without a word of gratitude, as Xena assumed that the gods could read what was in her heart, she began her journey of return.
The warrior looked over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes in daring question.
Apollo threw his arms wide to show that he meant no harm. "There is no reason to take her up through the lake," he stated with a warm smile. "Would you have enough air to share with her until you reached your own world?"
Xena tossed her head and grit her teeth. "I would do anything possible...anything necessary."
Hades stepped to his nephew side and studied the determined warrior. "And if Ares had approached you before you had taken the initiative?"
"I would have done anything," she repeated with conviction, "to bring her back."
Glad that Xena had reached him before the God of War had thought to make the warrior irresistible promises, Hades understood. Now he knew what had driven Aphrodite into action. The warrior's love for the woman in her arms was profound. Not even the Muses themselves would be able to find the words to capture its sublimity.
"Look," Apollo said as he stepped between his uncle and the warrior. "I'll take you topside," he explained before he approached Xena. When the warrior nodded her consent, the god laid his hand upon her shoulder and they disappeared in one blinding flash.
---Chapter Eight---IN THE ARMS OF A WARRIOR
Xena blinked as her eyes adjusted to the brightness after the gloomy colors of the Underworld. They had been deposited at the edge of the lake where Argo was still cropping at the sweet water grasses. She was unnerved by Artemis' sudden appearance.
"No need to worry, warrior," the goddess chuckled. "I just wanted to let you know that Aphrodite has prepared a place for the two of you to rest. Argo knows the way." Artemis stepped forward and took Gabrielle from Xena's arms while the warrior mounted her horse. The goddess noted the tenderness in which Xena reclaimed her companion's body, finding herself lost in the emotions that crumbled the stone facade of the warrior's face. "Take advantage of this chance, warrior. You may not get another. Eventually, a time will come when Hades will not let the two of you out of his realm." The huntress caught the warrior's nod before disappearing with a momentary wisp of white vapor.
Xena spared no more thought for the gods who had returned Gabrielle to her, for the young woman in her arms had begun to stir. "Hush now," she crooned, trying to soothe the bard's unconscious distress. When Gabrielle finally did wake, Xena was going to have a hard enough time trying to explain things that were secondary compared to the miracle she held tightly to her armored chest. When Gabrielle settled once more, Xena gathered the reins loosely and nudged Argo into an easy walk.
True to Artemis' words, Argo had found the clearing in less than an hour's time. It was perfect, Xena noted, as she saw that firewood had already been collected and she heard the gentle sing-song of a fresh-water spring nearby. As if a welcoming gift, the cleaned carcass of a large rabbit awaited culinary attention near the firepit.
Lowering her precious burden to a soft bed of moss, Xena began removing her warhorse's tack and bags. With an anxious eye on the bard, she arranged their bedroll and blankets, started a fire, and filled their waterskins. Once everything had been set to order, she arranged the bard comfortably on the bedroll and checked the young woman's pulse. It was still strong as it lulled the warrior into a peace that she had not felt in over a week. Lowering her head to Gabrielle's chest, she listened intently to the sound of the bard's heartbeat, to her easy breathing.
She began to cry again, as her soul soared with its completeness once more. The bard's skin had lost its clamminess and was radiating a warmth that drew the warrior closer. Without conscious thought, Xena laid out beside Gabrielle and wrapped an arm around the bard's hips while her ear remained fixed over the bard's heart.
So attuned to her own inner peace, Xena did not notice when Gabrielle raised a hand until it settled on the back of her head and began stroking her tenderly. Xena was torn between the wanting to stay where she was, losing herself in the feeling of the bard beneath her, and needing to see Gabrielle's face. Reluctantly, she raised herself to an elbow, while her free hand trailed up to the bard's waist.
Curious green eyes were focused on her face as the bard's hand fell to her chest where it rested over the furious pounding of her heart. When the bard tried to speak, words failed to breach the dryness of her throat, and only a rasp escaped. Xena reached across to snag a waterskin and dribbled some of the cool liquid carefully between the bard's parched lips. Sure that Gabrielle had enough, she capped the skin and returned her attention to her friend.
"Are we dead," the bard asked, her brow knitted in confusion.
Xena nearly broke down again, upon hearing the familiar words. "No," she answered hoarsely as she raised a trembling hand to push a strand of hair off Gabrielle's cheek.
"Shhh," Xena urged with a finger upon the young woman's lips. "Let's just say that you have some friends in high places," the warrior replied in quiet explanation.
Gabrielle wanted to ask more, wanted to learn how she had gone from over-cooked to merely weak as a newborn baby, but she could feel Morpheus calling to her. She fought valiantly as her eyes began to drift closed. She did not want to lose sight of the warrior for whom she had gladly given her life.
When the bard had succumbed to sleep once again, Xena rose to put the rabbit over the fire, not wanting to waste good food. Once she was sure that the meat would cook slowly, she returned to the bard's side and contented herself to tracing the bard's face lightly, marveling at the fact that her companion had been returned to her.
Her breath caught when Gabrielle turned instinctively into the feather-light caress. The bard's lips moved over the skin at her wrist. It was like a lover's reassuring kiss, but Xena knew that the young woman was still sleeping, and assumed that the bard was dreaming. But the fire that those lips had started.... Xena allowed her body to flame and burn. It was so much better than the numbness that had stolen over her last two weeks. With Gabrielle's return, she could feel once more.
---Chapter Nine---WELCOME HOME
Xena was not sure how long she had stayed by Gabrielle's side, her fingers roaming helplessly over the bard's sweet face, but the enticing aroma of dinner assailed her senses. She knew that Gabrielle needed nourishment in her stomach, but she was reluctant to wake the sleeping woman. Gabrielle, however, true to form, stirred as she recognized the familiar scent of cooked meat.
Chuckling, Xena eased the bard into a sitting position, pulling a log over to brace the young woman's back. "Stay right here," she ordered softly before leaving Gabrielle's side. A few quick moments later, and she returned, holding a plate of rabbit in one hand and a small piece of meat in the other. After blowing on the morsel until it was no longer hot, she teased the bard's lips with her offering.
Gabrielle could feel the whisper of pressure against her lips. She could smell the tempting aroma and her stomach responded with a growl of impatience. Her skin erupted into gooseflesh and she gave a slight shiver of pleasure at the warrior's deep chuckle. It had not been a dream. She was here...with Xena.
Xena watched as the bard's eyes opened a split second before her mouth. She reached out a hand and pushed a lock of hair off the bard's brow before pressing the meat into her mouth. As Gabrielle chewed slowly, Xena reached for and held the waterskin, knowing that the bard would need some to wash down the rabbit. When Gabrielle nodded, she raised the skin to the bard's lips and eased some water into her mouth.
They proceeded in this manner for some time until Gabrielle held up a weak hand. "I can't eat another bite," she stated softly.
Nodding, Xena set the plate of rabbit to the side and moved closer to the bard. "Do you want more water," she asked as she raised the waterskin. When Gabrielle held up her hand once again and shook her head, the warrior capped the skin and laid it beside them. "Is there anything else you need?"
Gabrielle raised her eyes to study the warrior. There were many things that she needed, but only one was pressing at the moment. "I need to make a trip to the bushes," she admitted with a slight blush.
"I think we can deal with that," Xena replied with a crooked smile that put the bard at ease. Wrapping a strong arm around the bard's lower back, the warrior eased the smaller woman to her feet, waiting patiently for Gabrielle to gain some sense of balance.
"I feel so weak," the bard protested frailly.
Xena could not help smiling again. She knew what Gabrielle was talking about, she had come back from the dead herself. "Ready?"
After helping Gabrielle navigate to the brush at the perimeter of the camp, the warrior helped to lift the young woman's skirt and lowered her breeches. A few moments later, with the help of a convenient stump, the bard relieved herself and rested a moment.
When Xena went to dress her once again, she objected. "Please, Xena. Just leave those. I don't plan on fighting at the moment, and there is no one else here."
The warrior nodded and helped Gabrielle step out of her underwear. When the bard's skirt was settled once more, she lifted the weakened woman into her arms and carried her back to camp.
"You don't have to do that," Gabrielle whispered.
"Don't argue with me," Xena replied just as soft. "If I want to carry you, I will."
Gabrielle surrendered, her head rested on the warrior's shoulder and she fell to sleep almost instantly. The warmth and strength that surrounded her were just too much to struggle against. She was content knowing that somehow, and she reminded herself to ask Xena later, she had been returned to the land of the living. She had been allowed to return home.
Xena smiled ruefully when she heard Gabrielle's soft snores. The young woman's breathing and pulse were strong, and her coloring was improved. She laid her friend gently to their bedroll and tucked a light blanket around her to ward off the evening chill. Sure that the bard was comfortable, Xena moved to the fire and cleaned up the remainder of their evening meal, wrapping the uneaten meat and stowing it in a saddlebag.
She poked at the fire for a few moments, casting glances across to Gabrielle. When she could no longer fight the lure, she allowed herself to be drawn to the smaller woman. She had gone too long without the bard's company, and she had an irrational fear that she might lose her again. Needing to feel Gabrielle's solid presence, she removed her leathers and settled under the blanket.
Forcing the nightmares to bay, she snuggled into the smaller woman's body, careful not to put too much of her weight on Gabrielle. She fell asleep, content with the knowledge that they would not be bothered thanks to Artemis, with her left hand resting on the bard's firm abdomen and her head pillowed by a surprisingly muscular shoulder.
---Chapter Ten---LOST IN YOU
Gabrielle woke a few hours later. There was an unusual pressure on her chest, and she feared that perhaps her resurrection had been a wistful dream. But when she opened her eyes, faint firelight flickered off of the raven silk that cascaded across her torso. She smiled when she felt the rhythmic breath that fluttered warmly across her chest. *Oh, Xena.*
She still felt weak as a newborn, or as she assumed with her bardic mind what one would feel like after birth, but she found a strength within to raise her free hand. "My warrior," she whispered into a lazy breeze as she stroked Xena's cheek.
She could remember vaguely the feeling of her spirit being suspended somewhere between life and death in a void of dark silence. There had been no pain, and for that she was grateful. The split second of agony she felt before being swallowed by the lava was more than she wanted to feel in a lifetime. One second she had been wishing for the security of Xena's arms, and the next, she was awakened by the warrior's caresses.
*This is the way I want to stay for the rest of my life,* she thought with a yawn as Morpheus called to her once again. She fell back to sleep as her hand's idle stroking stilled and came to rest on the side of Xena's head. She was greeted by a dark void of another kind, but this time, there was no fear. She could feel Xena's cautious weight half on her body and the warmth of the warrior's hand flat against her stomach. It was euphoric.
An hour later, Xena stirred and sat quickly. She could not figure out why it was so quiet, so still. Then she remembered Artemis' gift. "Guess even the crickets weren't allowed in," she mumbled as she crawled the short distance to the fire and added a few heavy sticks to it. When she was sure that it would not die out until morning, she found their waterskin took a few deep pulls.
She found herself glancing at the bard every few moments, needing to know that Gabrielle was still there. With a wry grin, she realized that three years ago, she would not have felt this way. Then, she would have been glad for the young woman's absence. But after living with her for so long, literally going to Tartarus and back with each other and for each other, Xena could think of no one else with whom she would rather spend the rest of her life. Gabrielle was her source, the guide by which she tried to shape her own life. It had been difficult, but the reward was far more precious than any bounty gained in a raid.
Xena returned to Gabrielle's side and lay on her back to watch the stars that she barely glimpsed above through the canopy of leafy branches. With a lingering sigh, she allowed herself to lose the battle against the exquisite emotion of love that had been swelling within for longer than she could remember. It had been a gradual thing, falling in love with Gabrielle, and when she had finally recognized her changed sentiment, she could find no weapon to use against it. She had not gone looking for it, but it had crept upon her with the wiliest stealth and had sank its delicate claws deep into her heart.
It had made the bard's death impossible to deal with, for she had fallen into a darkness that had nothing to do with her lust for battle, but rather, her unconditional love for the woman who had stayed at her side. Despite their disagreements and outright fights, they had found something more profound and powerful than anything else. They had found an inescapable need for each other.
After Solon's death, after Illusia, they had worked like never before to heal the wounds to their relationship. It had taken understanding and compromise. Understanding that they were different, would always be so, and acceptance of the fact that sometimes there would never be a simple solution for the problems into which they ran. And perhaps, the most important, they had sworn to each other absolute honesty.
Gabrielle promised and worked at not judging the warrior. Their mission to free Vercinix from Caesar had been a trial for her. But their love for each other was a bond stronger than any guilt the bard carried within her heart. Even Mnemosyne's offer to wipe away the bard's memories, the guilt, the pain, could not compare to that.
And Xena, for her part, had promised not to expect Gabrielle to follow her blindly into all situations. She had promised to listen to the young woman's opinions and suggestions. It was a difficult thing for a warrior who had led armies of soldiers who had followed without doubt, without objection. But she was trying.
They were both effecting changes within the other that they assumed would be for the good. Looking upon the sleeping bard, Xena could not think of anyone who would have been so stubborn, so loyal, to stick with her this far. They had made serious mistakes in the past, but the fact that they were able to acknowledge those, as well as endless evenings talking about them, had put things into perspective, had made the two of them wiser. It was not simple, the warrior thought with a sigh. But then, living constantly with another person never was.
*But the benefits are so....* Xena rolled to her side and propped her head in her palm. If she thought that she had loved Marcus, or even Hercules for the brief time that they were together, she had been lost to the bard when she had finally opened her heart and examined her feelings for the young woman. And it was such a delicious sort of hopeless lost. Xena's face softened and her eyes glowed. "My Gabrielle," she whispered as she leaned over and brushed her lips tentatively against the bard's temple.
The bard smiled in her sleep, but did not wake. The sight triggered a like response in the warrior. *I love you, my heart.* Ducking her head, Xena inhaled deeply of golden hair. She wanted nothing more than to crawl inside Gabrielle and wrap herself around the young woman's light. Her heart and soul were lost to the sleeping woman, and the warrior was giddy with the freedom of surrender.
---Chapter Eleven---TELL ME YOU LOVE ME
Her eyes flickered open as the mating songs of the birds above called her from sleep. Xena was no longer draped across her body, but rather, was at her side. Through the rest of the night and morning, the warrior had maintained their bodily contact. Gabrielle gave the large hand clasping hers a gentle squeeze.
The slight pressure caused Xena to waken and sit suddenly. "Are you all right? Do you need anything?"
Gabrielle's brow puckered in thought as she took mental stock of her body. Aside from a little stiffness, there was no pain, and she felt much stronger than she had yesterday. Her bladder began to protest a moment before her appetite announced itself, and she giggled.
Xena smiled widely. The bard's stomach growling was the sweetest music she had ever heard. When Gabrielle made a move to rise, the warrior preceded her.
"I just need to visit those bushes again," Gabrielle explained as she took a faltering step. She saw Xena move to her aid and then hesitate as if unsure. "Would you mind helping," the bard asked shyly, knowing that it would please her friend.
The warrior nodded and offered Gabrielle an arm to steady herself. A few moments later, they retraced their steps back to the bedroll. "Breakfast now," Xena asked, cocking her head in question.
"Any rabbit left?"
Words were caught in Xena's throat as she watched the bard stretch her slight length. She nodded mutely and chastised her limbs until she moved and found the wrapped bundle in Argo's saddlebag. "Do you want me to heat it up?"
Gabrielle shook her head and laughed. "No, that's fine. I don't want to tempt fate twice." When Xena looked at her questioningly, she smiled. "You managed not to burn it last night," the bard explained. "No reason to give you a second chance at it."
"Hmm...is that criticism or praise," Xena asked with a wry grin.
"Both, I think."
They ate the cold fare in companionable silence, each absorbing the other's presence. When the rest of the rabbit had disappeared, Xena collected the bones and tossed them into a small hole she had dug for the purpose. She could feel the bard's eyes following her, as if memorizing. It did not bother her as another's scrutiny would, but rather, it warmed her, knowing that Gabrielle was close-by.
When her chore was finished, she returned to the bard's side and resisted the urge to draw the young woman into her arms. She still was not sure how to express herself to her friend, to explain how lost she had been without her. She struggled over the words that would reveal the true depths of her feelings.
The warrior's attention was turned outward. "Yes?"
"Would you hold me?"
"Are you cold?" Immediately, Xena began rubbing the bard's hand briskly.
"No," the young woman answered. "I just need to feel you close. I need to know that I am really with you."
"Anything for you," Xena breathed as she lifted the smaller woman into her lap and cradled her securely.
Gabrielle curled up and tucked her head under Xena's chin. As she listened to the warrior's heartbeat, she was sure that she was in the safest place in the world. The arms around her were strong and warm. With a contented sigh, she realized that there was no where else that she would rather be, no where else she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Turning her head, she kissed the warrior's chest. "I love you, Xena."
"I love you, too, Gabrielle." Xena closed her eyes at the brief kiss and the words that the two of them had been sharing for the past few months. She was sure that the bard meant that she loved her as a friend, as family. But Xena smiled sadly. Gabrielle was her friend and her family. However, she wanted the bard as a more intimate part of her life. They shared so much, and yet, her body, her soul, needed more. She had even considered settling down for the bard. She had pictured an isolated cottage, surrounded by woods and meadows, in which the two of them would live out the rest of their lives as a bonded couple.
Xena smiled wryly over Gabrielle's head. It was ironic. The great Warrior Princess wanted to be domesticated by a little bard. None of the lovers she had in the past could tame her. They had only succeeded in capturing her body and her imagination for a while. Gabrielle, however, had stolen her heart with their first meeting. And since then, she had fallen slowly and deeply in love with the courageous woman. She could have no life without her.
Determined to show Gabrielle how much she meant to her, Xena pulled back from their embrace. With all the love she felt glowing her eyes, she searched the bard's face for any sign of similar feelings. She found trust and warmth and...love. Slowly, she lowered her head and captured Gabrielle's lips in a gentle embrace. When no protest was forthcoming after a friendly amount of time had passed, she deepened the kiss and pulled Gabrielle closer.
A kiss from what seemed a long time ago, flashed through her mind for a moment. A kiss that was shared neither in life nor death, but somewhere in between. Gabrielle considered for a moment that she and Xena only seemed to share their guarded feelings when one of them was near death. But that contemplation was fleeting, for Xena's touch had started a burning ache deep within that melted all other thoughts.
If they had been standing, they would have surely fallen to their knees, for the kiss was sweet in longing and rediscovery. They shared with each other that which they had kept hidden from the other, their unconditional love and devotion. They pulled apart after what seemed an endless moment and took a deep breath. Lost in each other's eyes, they merely gazed into each other's face, memorizing the look of a profound love that defied any explanation or definition. With gentle smiles, they acknowledged what they were to each other.
Everything. It was everything she had wanted their first real kiss to be, and more. It was a sharing of souls and of hearts. Xena released a ragged sigh and tucked the bard's head against her chest once more. A lone tear trickled down her cheek when she realized that she had found a love like that which the bard was always telling stories. It was an all-consuming, heart-wrenching, breath-stealing love that made her want to fall on her knees and swear fealty to the young Amazon Queen. She wanted to worship at her temple and make love to her body with a reverence that would make the gods jealous.
Gabrielle could feel her heart matching the quickened rhythm of the warrior's. The only word she could think of was sublime. Her need to have Xena close to her was overwhelming. They had both survived death to be with each other, and it was now obvious that what was between them was much more that that which they had shared with anyone else in their lives. She smiled when she finally understood why she had sacrificed herself. She loved Xena more than anyone. And that love was one of the soul, heart, and body.
They held each other until the sun was high in the sky and the sounds of the bard's stomach prompted a blush and laughter. Scooting out from under, Xena stood and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. With a supporting arm around her waist, she led the smaller woman to the lazy stream that was the edge of Artemis' sphere of protection.
Her hands trembled as she helped the bard disrobe. With any other person, she would have not hesitated to force her passion and will. But Gabrielle...she was a woman to be cherished. She was the only one, the last one. She was everything the warrior wanted to be. Gabrielle was the reason why she rarely looked back to the life she had once led, a guiding light that showed her the true way.
Once both of them had shed their clothing, Gabrielle allowed Xena to lead her into the water where the cool waters washed away both the physical evidence of the past couple of days and the mental pain of the last year.
They spoke in hushed tones of what had transpired in Britannia until the bard's death. With an honesty that laid bare their pain and disappointment in each other, they reconciled their unspoken differences and turned their hearts to the future.
Gabrielle explained that she had taken Hope's life so that she might spare Xena and redeem herself for her part in Solon's death. Xena had been shocked that the bard still carried guilt over her son's death. After much thought, the warrior realized that Gabrielle could not have killed Hope in Britannia, for the bard was one who always looked for the good in people. If she had not, Xena knew that the young woman would have left her a long time ago. And regardless of Gabrielle's actions later, Hope would have found a way end Solon's life.
Gabrielle had then gone against her own code and taken her daughter's life, not once, but twice. With shock, the warrior realized that the bard had not betrayed her in regards to Hope. She had betrayed herself. The bard had abandoned the ideals that had attracted her in the first place, to redeem herself for what she believed to be her part in Solon's death.
With hesitant words, she begged Gabrielle's forgiveness. She explained that she had been wrong to expect the bard to forsake her beliefs. Her body was wracked by sobs as she purged her guilt over the events of their first meeting after Solon's death. She was awed by the absolute forgiveness that the bard gave her.
And in the cooled waters of a lazy stream that was blessed by Artemis, the warrior and bard were reborn. The past was put in its place, its lessons committed to memory. They found absolution in each other's arms and words of love. And after their tears had dried, when their souls were freed from the guilt they had carried for so long, they remembered the fun that they'd had in their travels thus far.
They played and chased like mischievous water nymphs, splashing and dunking. Gabrielle had to duck more than once to avoid the fish that Xena would toss her way occasionally. And as hard as she tried, she could not return the favor, for in her state of laughter, she could not get a handle on any of the fish that she had not already scared.
When Gabrielle began to show signs of tiring, Xena wrapped a solicitous arm about her waist and guided her to a flat rock so that she might dry herself in the under the blessedly warm sun. Willing herself not to lose her composure and the purpose at hand, Xena took a deep breath and one last look at the young woman who was washed golden under the sun's tender caress. *Slow, Xena.*
With a grimace of discomfort, she waded downstream a short ways to a small pool that had been undisturbed by their raucous play. Two fish later, she rejoined Gabrielle and gave the bard a hand off the rock.
Nodding appreciatively at the warrior's catch that had been set aside, Gabrielle allowed Xena to help her with her clothing. Their play earlier had tired her somewhat, but the warrior's nude body close to hers, caused a rising excitement that dispelled her fatigue. She reached out to steady herself on Xena's broad shoulders as the tall woman held her skirt for her. When it was tugged up over her hips and secured with her belt, she was reluctant to sever the connection.
Drawn by a heat she found intoxicating, Gabrielle leaned into the warrior and sighed blissfully when their naked torsos met. Tucking her head under Xena's chin, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the warrior's heartbeat which had hastened in tempo. Strong arms held her in their embrace for a long moment's breath before she was pushed away gently. Finding only love in her companion's crystal blue eyes, the bard smiled and lifted her arms so that Xena could finish dressing her.
She had thought that she was being consumed in the bard's innocent gesture. The smaller woman's breasts pressed against her ribcage had started a slow burn that pulsated and gathered at her center. Wanting nothing more to take the bard right then and there on the riverbank, Xena reined in her passion and promised herself and the woman that she loved that they would not have much longer to wait to share their feelings. After the bard was fully clothed, the warrior donned her own garments and gathered their lunch.
They spoke quietly as Xena prepared the fish for Gabrielle's culinary attention and while they waited for their lunch to cook. With the bard's encouragement, the warrior shared the events that had passed from the time of the young woman's death to the time of her resurrection.
Although curious about the roles of the gods, Gabrielle suppressed her need to ask questions, to press the warrior for more details. It was obvious that Xena had not liked the idea of having to deal with Hades in the first place, and then the rest of them when Aphrodite had forced her plan upon them all.
"Guess that means we're all even with them now," the bard stated.
With a stoic shrug, Xena smiled thinly. "Guess so."
"What about Ares?"
Xena allowed her rage to fester for a moment before tamping it. "I haven't seen him since...."
Gabrielle nodded her understanding. *Since the temple.* "Do you think he's finished with you?"
The warrior narrowed her eyes in thought. "I doubt it. He's still out there somewhere," she whispered as her eyes scanned the perimeter of the camp. She wondered in a moment of vague discomfort if Artemis' protection worked against gods. "It isn't like him to give up so easily...especially when he wants something so bad."
Removing the fish from the fire, Gabrielle prepared their plates and scooted closer to the warrior. "Well, then, I guess I'll just have to explain to him that you're mine now."
Xena's eyes widened at the possessive claim in the bard's words and tone. "Yours?"
Gabrielle trapped the warrior with an unblinking stare. "Mine," she repeated with emphasis.
"Yours." Xena nodded in confirmation before she lowered her head and sealed the promise with a slow, gentle kiss.
When her stomach rumbled its protest, the bard pulled back and blushed. "Guess I better feed that thing before it gets out of hand," she joked.
Xena was sure that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. She shook her head at the humor of it. *I even missed hearing her stomach monster growl.* "Argo's at least twenty times the size of that animal, and she doesn't even need half the feed."
Gabrielle chuckled and nudged the warrior playfully. "Keep it up, Xena, and I'll make you eat your own cooking."
Laughing aloud at her companion's empty threat, Xena nudged her in return. "You weren't complaining about it yesterday."
"Hmm...," the bard mumbled around a chunk of fish. "I was too happy to see you, to notice what I was eating," she retorted.
"Everyone's a critic," the warrior deadpanned while she secretly thrilled to hear Gabrielle's words.
---Chapter Thirteen---HEARTS AFLAME
After lunch, the two women cleaned up after their meal and returned to the river where they washed their dishes and sat in the tall grass and watched the clouds chase each other overhead. They talked about everything and nothing, so eager to hear the other's voice. Occasionally, one would reach out to the other in affirmation, needing proof that their reunion was real. A gentle hand clasp, a lingering touch, were all that was exchanged.
Inexplicably and gradually, their bodies moved closer of their own accord until they reflected each other's heat. Their breath mingled when they sought each other's eyes, only to look away shyly, afraid that the comfortable afternoon would be interrupted by their true desires. Unable to resist any longer, however, Xena leaned forward when the bard found her eyes once more. Her lips claimed Gabrielle's in a kiss that was so sweet, it made the young woman want to cry for all the tenderness the warrior was offering.
Unwilling to lose the contact, the bard eased herself to the ground, drawing the warrior with her. Their mouths met time and again as a courtship was begun. As if all the love in the world were centered between them, they embraced and explored each other with languid kisses, losing themselves in the sheer bliss of their hearts' joining.
The warrior paid tribute to her love with reverence and devotion. Reminding herself that joining with Gabrielle was an inevitable conclusion, Xena distanced herself from her more urgent needs and contented herself with memorizing the taste and feel of the bard's questing mouth and thrusting tongue. There was no urgency, but rather, an understanding that sharing the intimate caresses was as profound as any sexual act.
They broke apart after a while to catch their breaths and to slow the beatings of their hearts as they laid in each other's arms. A languid peace stole over them as the sun began its descent and bathed the surrounding meadow in shades of gold and amber, and they fell into a light doze, finding the peace that they could only know with the other.
Xena woke later as the sun was low in the sky, knowing from experience that the bard would be hungry soon. Reluctant to wake the sleeping woman in her arms, she gently pulled from their embrace and stood to stretch, mentally preparing herself to leave Gabrielle so that she might go hunting for their dinner. To her somewhat lazy pleasure, she found another skinned carcass not more than five paces from where they had slept. With a silent offering of thanks to Artemis, she returned to the campsite and revived the fire that had burned down to ashes.
Her keen hearing alerted her to the fact that Gabrielle was also awake and calling her name softly in confusion. Confident that the fire would catch, she trotted towards the sound of the almost-forlorn voice and found the bard still in the clearing by the river. "Hey there," she called as she approached. "You woke up just in time for dinner."
Gabrielle gasped as the warrior knelt down next to her and laid a comforting hand on her cheek. "I thought you left...that this was all a dream...that I was still dead."
"It's real, Gabrielle. It is definitely real," Xena answered as she kissed the bard to reassure her. "I knew you would be hungry, so I started on dinner," she explained. "Forgive me?"
The bard's cloudy eyes narrowed in confusion. "For what? You didn't do anything, Xena. I just got confused...that's all."
"I shouldn't have left you alone," Xena answered as she helped the bard to her feet and guided her back to their campsite.
"Xena...I'm all right." Gabrielle's eyes had lost all vestiges of sleep, and she focused on her friend's face and the lips that had formed the unnecessary apology. Her pulse quickened as she remembered the kisses that she had shared earlier with the warrior. Her smile was slow and of pure pleasure. It's final brilliance caused the warrior's heart to beat almost painfully.
"Forgive me," the warrior asked, her words affected by her rising passion that she stubbornly tempered.
"Anything," Gabrielle replied before she leaned in and captured Xena's lips in a kiss that was filled sweet longing and rapturous discovery.
Xena allowed herself to enjoy the heated exchange before common sense and keen hearing caused her to back away and clear her throat.
"What?" Gabrielle studied the warrior with a cocked head. Worry began to etch fine lines across her brow as she considered the things she might have done to upset the warrior.
Wiping a soothing thumb across the creases and smiled. "First off, I do need to breath sometimes...although that is probably the best way to have the blood flow cut off from by brain," she chuckled. "And second, your stomach growled. You need to get some food in your body. I bet you're still pretty weak, huh?"
Gabrielle nodded and then blushed. "The blood was pounding so hard in my ears, I didn't even hear my stomach," she admitted sheepishly.
"Hmmm," the warrior commented before she stole a quick kiss. "At least you had blood rushing to your head and not the other way," she mumbled as she led the bard back to camp.
Casting a curious look to the warrior, Gabrielle sat cross-legged on their bedroll and began to prepare the dried vegetables for a rabbit stew that would compliment the flatbread that Xena had found in her saddlebags. "Can you get some water," she asked with a genuine smile as her earlier fears began to buckle under the powerful love the warrior had for her.
Xena nodded and grabbed their slightly dented pot from a saddlebag and crossed the small distance to the fresh spring that supplied them with sweet, cool water. She had been surprised to find the vegetables and bread in their bags. It had not been there before, but she figured that it was another gift from the gods, to whom she sent a grudging thanks since the stew would be more substantial and nutritious for Gabrielle than just plain meat.
When she returned to the camp, she arranged the pot of water over the fire to boil and she sat so as to help Gabrielle cut the rabbit into small cubes for their stew. Her first attempt to help the bard had ended with an impromptu lecture on cutting technique. A mental chant began as Xena methodically laid blade to the meat. *Not too big, not too small. Cut the fat and toss it like that.*
Gabrielle watched with approval as Xena cubed the rabbit meat with quick and sure movements. When the warrior tossed a fatty piece into the water to help add flavor to the broth, she grinned and caught Xena's eyes in her prideful gaze. "I just might make a cook out of you yet," she joked as she tossed her portion of meat cubes into the simmering water.
"Not if you value your health," the warrior retorted as she added her own. "Cutting meat is one thing. Actually making it edible is another. And to manage the dishes that you create, so savory and delicious...well, just don't ever expect me to figure out that skill."
Knowing that they would have to wait a while before the meat was cooked enough to add the vegetables, Gabrielle crossed over to Xena and took the warrior's hand almost tentatively. It was still odd to her that she could love the warrior in the way that she had dreamt for so long. "Xena, you know that if you really wanted to, you could. You always seem to accomplish whatever you set your mind to." Gabrielle studied the thoughtful look on her friend's face. "You wanted me back, and here I am," she added with a quick smile.
Xena closed her eyes and allowed the bard's presence reach in and take hold of her heart, her soul. "I had a lot of help, Gabrielle. I don't know what I would have done if the gods had not wanted to help."
"Well, since you are a woman of action," Gabrielle pondered aloud, "I guess you would have found me and just carried me off."
Brushing a pale lock of hair behind a delicate ear, Xena smiled. "Something like that, I guess. I wanted to try and reason with Hades first. You know, make a good impression and all that."
Gabrielle inhaled deeply and dove into the eyes held hers intensely. "Xena, all you have to do is smile and even gods would fall at your feet."
Xena ducked her head to kiss the bard's brow. "Too bad for them, then, that I only grant my favors to my good friends."
"Really, really good friend," Gabrielle corrected. "There is just one of me here, right?"
The warrior's chuckling filled the early evening air as she squeezed the bard gently. "I mean it, though. You are my only one. When you left me...." Suddenly, things lost all their fun and Gabrielle held up a hand to still Xena's words.
"I didn't want to leave you, Xena, but it was the only way I could think of at the time. The world needed you more than it needed me."
Xena felt her breath catch as her chest seemed to be caught in a vice. "But I needed you, Gabrielle. Nothing I do makes any sense, has any reason, unless I do it with you. When I see your eyes light up, when I see you smile, I know that I've done a good job, and that we can move on. When you left me...I was lost, Gabrielle."
She allowed the bard to wipe a tear from her face while she struggled to find the words that would reflect the depth of her feelings. "When I first met you, I was alone. And when you told me that you were my friend, that I would never be alone again...."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I had gotten so used to not being alone, Gabrielle. Even when we separated, I knew that you were still out there. Even when my rage drove me to hurt the person I loved most in the world, I knew that you were there. When I came to and realized what I had done...I thought for a moment that I was alone again, but...."
"The illusions," Gabrielle muttered, giving the warrior a chance to collect her thoughts.
"Yes," Xena confirmed with emphasis. "Until you left me, I let myself believe in the illusion that I was full, that you would always be with me. But when you fell down that chasm...you took a very big part of me. And the part that was left was so lonely that it wouldn't have survived for long without you. That's why I had to try and get you back. I can be alone, Gabrielle. We could separate and go our own ways for a day or two. But eventually, I would need to be with you, to be complete. You hold the other half of my soul, Gabrielle. You are the half that is light and happy and young...and hopeful. Without you, there was only darkness and pain, and I don't want to live in the dark anymore. I want to live with you, for you. You bless my life, Gabrielle. You are my goddess."
Tears were falling freely from sea-green eyes as Gabrielle listened to Xena say more words in one sitting than she could ever recall. And in each word, each sound, each flicker of emotion, the warrior was proclaiming her love for her. "Yes," Gabrielle whispered in agreement to everything that Xena had said. She allowed the warrior a moment to see the same feelings reflected in her own eyes before she claimed Xena's lips in an aching kiss of promise. "I promise here, right here, right now, Xena, that I will love only you. I promise that I will help you in hard times and support your decisions. I promise this with all that I am and all that I will be."
Gabrielle's vow made Xena's heart swell with love and rejoice in agreement. She could only nod her head before the tears began to fall in earnest. She fought against the sobs that stole her breath, but not against the strong arms of her best friend. She allowed Gabrielle to hold her until her crying stopped and her breathing evened. Taking a steadying breath, Xena pulled back and cupped the bard's face in one hand while she took the bard's left hand and placed it over her heart.
"I don't have the gift with words like you do, Gabrielle, but I want you to know that this," she said as she squeezed the bard's hand over her heart, "is all for you. My heart, my life are yours. My sword, my strength, and my courage are yours. My soul is complete with you in my life. And I promise that this will always be so."
Xena was unnerved by a lengthened silence until she felt Gabrielle's hand spread out over her chest, warming the skin that had become chilled as evening fell upon the land.
"Xena, sometimes, you are so incredible, you still amaze me after all the time we've been together." She shook her head in disbelief. "You, my love," she whispered as she brought her lips so close to the warrior's that Xena's blood began to race and her heart to pound, "have more skills than you give yourself credit."
When Xena finally leaned the rest of the minute distance, their lips melded and sealed their promises, binding them in life and love for the rest of their days and those of the afterlife. It was deep and profound. It was cut short by the sound of water hissing as the stew began to boil over.
Gabrielle chuckled as they pulled apart and she looked at the warrior dubiously. "Xena, if we keep this up, neither of us is going to cook a decent meal between us."
Xena laid back on the bedroll and turned her head so that she could watch Gabrielle add the vegetables to the stew and stir the pot's mixture to her satisfaction. "It won't take long for the vegetables to cook," she said as she laid the wooden spoon on a plate. She took the warrior's hand that was reaching for her, and she patted it. "Let's have dinner first, Xena. If I get near you now, I may never get to eat tonight."
"I love you, Gabrielle."
The bard gave the words a moment to melt into her heart before she gifted her warrior with a blinding smile. "I can't tell you how incredible that makes me feel," she sighed. She risked burning their dinner with one more kiss, but she was helpless to resist the sensuous tethers that pulled her closer to Xena. "I love you, too," she swore before their lips met again.
Before she could lose her composure, however, she straightened and chose to ignore the disappointment written across Xena's face. She was losing the battle to the feelings of need that were tingling all over her body. She needed to be touched and to touch in return. She needed to make love to the woman to whom she had pledged her life. But first, she really had to eat. Her appetite for food was making a comeback in the most vociferous of fashions. She blushed when her stomach growled loud enough to scare away any predators that might have been in the area.
"By the gods, Gabrielle. What do you have in there," Xena joked before she pounced on the bard and began to tickle her. The warrior had to touch Gabrielle in some way, even though it was not sexual. It was her way of reaffirming that the bard had been returned to her. The musical laughter that her wandering fingers prompted, stripped away another layer of darkness that had been feeding upon her heart and soul. And when she gazed longingly into her lover's eyes, she knew that she had found her present, her future. Whatever lay in store for them, it would be bearable with Gabrielle at her side.
---Chapter Fourteen---THE BEST OF FRIENDS
It was not the best dinner Gabrielle had prepared, but considering the distractions and temptations that had stolen her attention at every unexpected turn, it was not bad either. It was filling, and that was what mattered, for it quieted the noises her stomach had been making, much to her relief.
When the meal was finished, Xena rose to take the dishes down to the river to wash them.
"Xena, I can do that," Gabrielle protested as she stood also, her hands trying to wrest the plates from her companion's hands.
"Gabrielle, please. You need your rest," the warrior argued adamantly.
"I'm fine, really," Gabrielle grunted as she tried to tug the dishes from Xena's stronger grip.
Xena narrowed her eyes and gave the young bard a withering look which Gabrielle thoroughly ignored. Realizing that she could no longer intimidate the woman who had traveled with her for so long, Xena sighed. "Please, Gabrielle, let me do this, okay? You can straighten up here."
At the imploring tone from her lover, Gabrielle relented. "Oh, all right. But I really am feeling better," she said as she forfeited her grasp.
Studying the young woman with a critical eye, Xena nodded and smiled. "You look better. And I guess if you are arguing with me, you must be. Clean up around here, and I'll be back." She kept an eye on the bard as she gathered the rest of their dinner dishes.
Gabrielle watched the warrior as she disappeared down the trail to the river and gave a low laugh. It felt good to once again battle wills with the Warrior Princess. With practiced efficiency, Gabrielle straightened their bedrolls and added more wood to their fire to ward off the crispy chill of the night air. After burying the scraps from their meal, she checked Argo to make sure that the mare was faring well.
The warhorse whickered in greeting. She showed her happiness at seeing the bard once more with a few head nudges and a warm nibble from her gentle lips. She was glad that things were back to normal.
"I've missed you, too, Argo," Gabrielle cooed as she found the curry comb and began to groom the neglected horse. "Mommy's been so busy with me, she hasn't been to see you, has she?"
Argo stretched her neck and back as the comb began to work its magic.
"I'm really sorry about that, girl. I promise once things get back to normal, she won't ignore you."
Argo nodded her head in greeting as Xena joined them. When the warrior began to scratch her sensitive jaw, the horse whinnied in pleasure.
"Guess I've been concentrating on you so much, I forgot about my horse."
Gabrielle's eyes sparkled with mirth and memories of the silent battles between her and the warhorse regarding attention and the right to travel with the warrior. "I think she forgives you, Xena."
Xena studied the golden animal. She seemed to be eating well, for her coat was still healthy. Her eyes were good in color, and her breath was as usual. Looking around, she saw that there was plenty of grass and water for her steed. "She needs some grain in her," Xena muttered to herself as she located the horse's feedbag. After strapping on the bag, Xena continued to examine Argo's hooves and joints. All in all, she was healthy.
Letting her guilt dissipate, Xena watched as Gabrielle continued to comb the horse's mane. With a roll of her eyes, she silently begged Argo's forgiveness as the bard launched into a story to pass the time while she braided the horse's cream-colored mane. She was mildly amused, however, when the warhorse seemed to enjoy the attention. "Well, I guess I can't say I wouldn't feel the same," she mumbled to herself.
Xena focused her gaze on Gabrielle's face. "Oh, I was just thinking that maybe Argo enjoys you braiding her mane."
Gabrielle stared at her fingers as if she just now realized what she had been doing. With an embarrassed flush, she stilled her hands and turned from the horse with a gentle pat. "Guess I wasn't paying attention," she admitted.
Xena stepped closer and reached a hand around Gabrielle's slight body and ran her fingers through the plaits to release them. "I'm sure she didn't mind," the warrior assured the young woman.
Closing her eyes to better feel the heat that had begun to answer that of the warrior's body so close to hers, Gabrielle leaned towards the scent of leather. "I know I wouldn't," she whispered just loud enough for Xena to hear.
The warrior raised a hand and ran a callused fingertip down and under the bard's jaw. When she reached the baby-soft spot under her chin, she raised Gabrielle's face so as to meet it with a kiss. "I'd be more than happy to oblige."
Gabrielle moaned deep in her throat. Her hair at the nape of her neck began to stand in anticipation. A thrill curled her toes when Xena's tongue requested entrance, tasting the bard's lower lip. Needing to feel all of the warrior, Gabrielle submitted to the agonizingly slow exploration. When her blood began to rise, she decided to take some control of the situation.
With a husky growl, she pushed her body tight into the warrior's, gasping when the bare flesh of their legs and arms met. "Off, take it all off," she demanded as her hands began to tug at the straps of Xena's battledress and she push the warrior back towards their bedroll.
Hands fumbled and tore away clothing that was sacrificed to the raging desire that coursed through their veins. Moans and cries of pleasure pierced the quiet night as mouths and hands found sources of heat and pleasure. Their efforts to take their first time slow were scorched by the passion that blazed between them. The pinnacle of ecstasy was scaled rapidly and their fall was rapturous and harmonic.
Gabrielle lay atop Xena's sweaty form as both of them caught their breath. "Wow," she mumbled against the warrior's chest that began to quake. Raising her head to see her lover's face, the young woman's brow furrowed in question. "What?"
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. It's just that, well, you usually have a way with words...but 'wow'?"
The bard chuckled and fingered a ticklish spot she had found during her earlier exploration. "Yeah, well.... You, on the other hand, my warrior, were very vocal."
Xena had the grace to blush before she rolled the smaller woman to her back. With a playful growl, she nipped at the pulse point in Gabrielle's neck, moaning with renewed need as she felt it accelerate under her attending lips. "You inspire me, Gabrielle. I know that when I am with you, I can accomplish anything."
A throaty gasp escaped the bard's lips as she wet them with a quivering tongue. "By the gods, Xena. I love it when you talk. Your voice makes me feel like jelly."
"I know, my bard," Xena purred as her tongue traced the folds of Gabrielle's ear. "Why do you think I'm going to tell you in great detail what I'm going to do to you, what I want you to do to me?"
"Great Aphrodite, Xena, you keep this up, and you won't have to move another muscle."
The warrior chuckled and pulled up to look into her lover's eyes. "Gabrielle?"
The bard moaned when the warrior's long leg settled between hers and began a slight rocking motion. "Yes?"
"Do you love me?"
The fire began anew and wild flames seized her loins as her hips began to dance upon the warrior's thigh. "Gods, yes, Xena."
The warrior added a circular gyration and a double dip as she buried her face in her lover's neck. "Gabrielle?"
Words were coming harder as she was getting closer. Xena's seductive purr edged her closer and closer to the point where she could just see the edge of the drop into oblivious release. "Yes?"
"Do you love me, my bard?"
"Yes, Xe, yes!"
Xena smiled at the bard's abbreviated use of her name. She knew that it would not be long. She bared her teeth and sank them into the sweaty flesh of the bard's neck that convulsed with each breath that the bard took. Through her bite, she managed to speak once more. "My love?"
"Will you come for me?"
Gabrielle's body began to shudder when the warrior tightened her grip on her neck and began to suck the skin forcefully. Her hips were grinding mercilessly against her lover's rock-hard thigh, and the climax that started low in her belly exploded in a flood of love. "Oh gods," she wailed to the night sky.
Strong arms held her as her body trembled with the last waves of pleasure that throbbed between her legs. She had never imagined that it would be this good. No scrolls nor intimate talks with her regent had ever prepared her for the profound effects of lovemaking with her warrior. Tears that had begun to fall silently were kissed away by gentle lips.
"I marked you," Xena mumbled against her temple as her callused fingers drew circles around the large bruise on her neck.
Gabrielle began to chuckle and then laugh as Xena raised herself to her elbows and raised a questioning brow. "Oh, Xena. You marked me the first time I ever saw you. You made me yours with that first battlecry."
The warrior flashed a lop-sided grin. "Guess Apollo felt the same way about you," she whispered as her finger touched the vivid sunburst mark on the inside of Gabrielle's thigh.
"Does that bother you?"
Xena gifted the bard with a full smile. "No, he put a sword and quill through it, after all."
"Sort of like he's blessing our love," the bard mumbled, a little awed by the implications.
"I do love you."
The bard looked up at the woman who had traveled to the Underworld and had been prepared to battle Hades for her. Her heart swelled and her eyes softened. "Come here, my fierce warrior," she whispered as she pulled Xena's weight down on top of her body. With a little maneuvering, she was able to breath easily and still cradle her lover's head on her breast. "You remember when I asked you not to die on me anymore," she asked as she stroked damp hairs away from Xena's forehead.
"When I came back," Xena answered.
"Yes, well, this is when I promise not to die on you," Gabrielle stated as she traced the chiseled lines of the warrior's cheek. "We're miserable without each other, Xena. So, my warrior, you'd better plan on a very long life with me at your side."
Xena rolled her head until her chin was propped on the bard's sternum. "If that is to be our destiny, Gabrielle, I'll make sure of it. And if it isn't, well, we'll just have to make a few changes."
"Deal with a few gods," the bard mumbled as sleep began to overtake her.
"And immortals," the warrior added as she snuggled into the smaller woman's side.
"And a lot more adventures," Gabrielle yawned.
"Only the Fates know," Xena said groggily before she, too, was embraced by Morpheus.
Clotho looked up as not one, but two goddesses materialized. She hid a smile behind the folds of her shawl as she bent to her work.
Aphrodite led Artemis to the Great Tapestry and pointed to two threads that were tightly bound to one another. "Is that groovy, or what?"
Artemis nodded with a grin. "Bitchin.'"
"Arty, I think I'm rubbing off on you. You're coolness factor just rose another notch."
The huntress shrugged and found another thread, dark as the deepest night. "Is this his?"
Aphrodite touched the stand and turned her gaze inward. "Oh yeah, that's his black heart."
The moon goddess sneered and flicked the strand with a finger. "You ready for another archery lesson?"
A wicked gleam blazed in the love goddess' eyes. "He'll never know what hit him," she growled as she draped an arm across her sister's shoulders.
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