The Disclaimer: I do not own Xena Warrior Princess or any of the characters associated with the show. If I did, I would be a very rich woman.

Violence: Could have been, but Gabrielle stopped me.

Subtext: No --- it’s Maintext. Xena and Gabrielle love each other. Get over it! If you have a problem with 2 women sharing a loving relationship, then don’t read my story.

Spoiler: Well, if you were living in a cave and never saw the last episode, A Friend in Need, you won’t really understand this story because it picks up where the last episode left off.

This is my first attempt at writing fan fiction. I am a 50 year old Xenite, and proud of it. I felt like I had to write this story because I couldn’t stand the way that the series that I love ended.

For those who may wonder: No, I am not gay. I am someone accepting of the way that adults choose to live their lives. My beliefs are expressed in this verse that I penned for a Xena/Gabrielle montage:

Love doesn’t ask who or why---

Love happens.

And if you find your true Soulmate,

It is the greatest gift of Love.

Comments are welcome. You can reach me at RoseXena@AOL.com.  

 

The Return

By Rose Corsaro

May 2002

 

Gabrielle stood on the deck of the boat looking out over the sea. It seemed like a lifetime since she had left Japan alone. Xena’s ashes in her dark bluish-grey urn were in a leather pouch hanging at her left side. Even in death, Xena would always be at her side.

She was glad to leave Japan behind, but she also knew it was impossible to leave the events of what had happened there behind. Every night the dreams would come. They started out so wonderfully. Xena alive --- the two of them laughing; a gentle touch, a hug, a kiss. Sleeping side by side under the stars. Listening to her breathe, feeling safe and warm.

And then the vision would always change. There would be Xena’s nude, headless body hanging like a skinned deer from a rope. Her body bloody, lifeless, cold. And her head sitting on the platform --- beautiful blue eyes closed, her long black hair cascading around her face. The face Gabrielle had come to know so well.

Gabrielle would awake, curled in a tight ball, crying with gut-wrenching sobs for the loss of her Soulmate.

*****************************************************

 

It had been a very long voyage home. She was not going to Egypt, as she had considered when she left Japan. She was going home. Not home to Poteidaia. There was nothing there for her now. They wouldn’t understand the meaning of the dragon/chakram tattoo that covered her back. They wouldn’t approve of her clothing: the revealing short red halter top and short dark red shorts. All the silver jewelry on her arms. Her short cropped blond hair. They wouldn’t understand why she was wearing Xena’s chakram, and how the Bard of Poteidaia had become a true warrior. She didn’t need their questions and their stares. Poteidaia had long ceased to be her home. Xena was her home --- her family. But Xena was dead.

No, she had decided to travel to Amphipolis: Xena’s home. As she looked out over the water, her foot nudged a brown leather bag at her feet. Inside was Xena’s sword, her breastplate armor and her wrist and armbands. Gabrielle had searched for them for days. She recalled how when they had first met, Xena was dressed in a cream colored short dress. That was the day that the warriors had invaded Poteidaia and Xena had saved her village by defeating them. That was the day that Gabrielle knew she wanted to be with Xena forever. Xena had told her she had buried those items in the woods to bury her past and start again.

Gabrielle believed that perhaps Xena had done the same this time: not so much to bury her past, but to keep anyone else from claiming them as a "trophy".

When she finally discovered the mound of freshly dug earth in the woods, she fell to her knees and dug with her bare hands like a dog until she found them. The bronze breastplate, armbands and sword had tarnished from the wet ground and were covered in mud. She had clutched them to her breast and wept deeply. It was the first time since Xena had passed into the Afterlife that she had truly allowed herself the time for grieving.

It took her several days onboard ship to polish them back to their original beauty. She cried often, especially while working on the breastplate that had once protected the woman she loved.

Gabrielle was going to Amphipolis, to Xena’s old home. She would not---could not part with Xena’s ashes, but the armor and sword deserved to be buried unmarked in the place she once called home. In the place where Gabrielle knew she had more than once been happy.

It seemed to take forever for the ship to reach the Arabian Sea. There was a stop-over in India to change boats, and a long sail up the Persian Gulf to Egypt. But Gabrielle did not delay. Another ship crossed the Mediterranean Sea, and finally she was on home territory in Athens.

When they had started their journey to Japan, they had boarded their horses with a blacksmith outside of town. But that was so long ago that Gabrielle doubted either of them would still be there. Probably sold off to pay the old man’s bills. But Gabrielle needed a horse. She couldn’t take more time to walk all the way to Amphipholis. And so she entered the blacksmith’s farm on a bright and sunny morning.

He must have seen her coming down the path because he was standing outside his shop, hands on his hips. He was big man and he looked old. His face was grizzled and his hair was white. His name was Gravis, and he was the best blacksmith outside of Athens.

"Ho! By the Gods, is that you, Gabrielle?" he hollered in a voice that sounded like gravel.

She hurried her step, the chakram slapping against her thigh. "Hello, Gravis. Good to see you." She set down her pack and the leather bag, and shook his hand firmly.

His heavy brows furrowed deeply. "And you. Been quite awhile. But---where’s Xena?"

She sighed. "It’s a long story. Xena isn’t coming back. She’s…." The words caught in her throat. "She’s dead. Killed in battle." Gabrielle felt it was a simple true answer that would not involve going into a long story.

Gravis’ face became grim and his shoulders seemed to droop. "I never thought I’d hear those words. I’m sorry, Gabrielle."

"Yea---me, too. Anyway, I was wondering if you still have our horses. I know it’s been awhile, but…"

"Oh, I’m sorry" he interrupted. "Had to sell yours. The money ran out and I couldn’t keep both of them."

"But---then---what about---you still have Argo?" Gabrielle’s voice shook with excitement.

Gravis started to lumber toward the stable. "Have her? She wouldn’t leave! Tried to sell her --- twice. She bit one and tried to trample another. It’s like she’s been waiting only for Xena." Inside the stable were three paddocks. All were empty but one. And in that one stood a golden palomino. As Gabrielle approached, her ears flattened and she backed away in the stall. "There was one day," Gravis said, "couple months back. She went crazy! Damn near tore down my stable. Busted out of the stall and rammed at the walls. Sounded like screaming. I calmed her down, but she whinnied for days. And there was a look in her eyes---like a light had gone out."

"She knew." said Gabrielle as she stood at the gate. She held out her hand slowly and said to the horse, "It’s me, Argo. It’s Gabrielle. Don’t be afraid. I know you miss her. I miss her, too. I can never take her place, but if you’ll let me, we can be together."

Cautiously the horse stepped forward. She sniffed at Gabrielle’s outstretched hand. Slowly her ears raised, and a sound---not a whinny but a whimper---came from deep inside. Argo nudged Gabrielle’s hand, then walked forward until her head was against Gabrielle’s shoulder.

"Well I’ll be," muttered Gravis scratching his chin.

"It’s okay, Argo," said Gabrielle, her arms around the horses neck. "It’s okay now." She looked over at Gravis. "Do you still have Xena’s saddle and tack?"

"Oh, I couldn’t sell that. Xena would have killed me!" He caught himself. "I’m sorry, Gabrielle."

"It’s alright. I’ll saddle her up. Do I owe you….." She was cut off in mid sentence when Gravis’ hand flew up.

"Stop! Nothing!" His voice turned quiet. "Gabrielle---where will you go?"

Gabrielle stroked Argo’s muzzle softly and said, "Home."

*****************************************************

 

 

When Gabrielle arrived at the outskirts of Amphipolis, she contemplated riding through the village. What good would it do? Cyrene, Xena’s Mother,was long dead. And if she was seen, she would have to tell the whole story to the townspeople. She wasn’t up to rehashing it again.

So she gently nudged Argo on with her heels to her flank. Argo had accepted her immediately. Gabrielle had a difficult time accepting that Argo was her horse now. She had ridden behind Xena, her arms around her waist. She could still imagine the warmth of her body, the smell of her hair. Sometimes she rode while Xena walked. And sometimes Xena would want her to ride in front. Gabrielle had always liked that. She could lean back against Xena’s strong body and feel Xena’s arms around her. Xena would sometimes nuzzle her neck softly, or give her a playful nip. Gabrielle would turn her head to exchange a gentle kiss. And if it was a lazy day when they were in no hurry to get someplace, Xena would nudge Argo to a secluded spot and let her graze while they allowed their deep feelings for each other to run free. But she rarely rode Argo alone. But now, she was alone. Holding the pommel of the leather saddle was a hard reminder of the woman she would never hold again.

They arrived at Xena’s old home by nightfall. It wasn’t in bad shape. She remembered how she and Xena and Ares had fixed up the house so that Ares (as a mortal) could have a place to hide away from those who wanted to end his life for good.

She unloaded her belongings and precious cargo and hung Argo’s saddle over the porch railing. There was no need to tie her---she wouldn’t go far from her now.

As she climbed the steps, her hand fell on the porch pole and she realized that she had touched the "X" that Xena had carved as a child. She let her finger trace over it lovingly, then went inside.

The house looked the same: The benches and tables were still near the fireplace. Gabrielle suddenly had a flashback to the night she and Xena and Ares sat talking by the fire. They were chatting just like old friends do. Ares was mortal, and even though he hated it and whined too much, he was actually nice that night. It was raining, and the roof began to leak and water poured over his head. They all had a good laugh enjoying such a silly moment.

Gabrielle blinked back to reality. She thought about lighting a fire, but it was warm and the moon was full. All she really wanted to do was get some sleep. She walked wearily into the bedroom---Xena’s bedroom---and sighed when she looked at the bed. Again her mind flashed back to that same night when the three of them had all innocently slept in that bed. Xena had told her the next day how she woke up to see Gabrielle with her arm draped over Ares. And how she had wished Ares wasn’t there.

She smiled at that memory. Xena often had a difficult time expressing her emotions even after so many years. But even her simplest comments were always clearly understood by Gabrielle. Carefully, she put the leather bag beside the bed and dropped her own pack beside it. She slowly unfastened the pouch at her waist, removed the urn containing Xena’s ashes, and placed it on the bed. It only took a few minutes to strip down to her underwear and lay on the bed. She was so tired. But it felt good to be there in Xena’s house---in Xena’s bed. She turned on her side and clutched the urn to her breast as she had done every night. Every night since Xena had stopped her from resurrecting her in the sacred waters of Mount Fuji. Gabrielle whispered, "I love you," and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

***********************************************************

 

 

Gabrielle had found a lovely spot behind the house to bury Xena’s sword and armor. It was beneath a tree whose branches seemed to be reaching up to the heavens. She had done a good job of burying the leather bag deep and camouflaging the ground. It wouldn’t be found---she was sure of that. She had to stop several times during her task. The realization of what she was doing caused her to sit on the ground and weep uncontrollably. But somehow she managed to go on. She had to. She had to do this for Xena. This one last thing for her friend.

She was on her hands and knees patting in the last clumps of grass and leaves when she thought she heard something behind her. Gabrielle did not panic. Xena had taught her to be calm and to listen beyond the sounds.

Her right hand moved slowly to the Sais in her right boot as she focused behind the sounds of the woods. Breathing---male---about 20 feet away---not moving. In one quick fluid movement, Gabrielle leapt to her feet and spun around---the Sais poised to throw.

"Woah Gabrielle! It’s me!"

There, in front of her with hands raised as if in surrender stood Ares---God of War. "Ares!" Gabrielle said his name as if it was bitter on her tongue. Still, she returned the Sais to her boot and brushed the dirt from her hands.

He sauntered toward her, as smug and proud as ever. "A bit late for a garden isn’t it? Where’s Xena? Being domestic in the kitchen?"

Gabrielle felt the anger swelling inside her. Her breathing quickened.

Ares scratched his chin. "Where were you two? Been gone a long time. What are you doing in Amphipolis?" His eyes dropped to Gabrielle’s side, and he saw the chakram hanging from her belt. "What are you doing with Xena’s chakram?" he asked, his heavy black brows knitting tightly.

Gabrielle exploded in pent up rage. She ran toward him and beat her fists on his chest. "Where were you?" she screamed. "Where were you!" Tears began to stream down her cheeks. "Where were you when she needed you?"

Ares had no idea what had gotten into Gabrielle. He’d never seen her lose her temper. He’d never known her to have such physical strength. He managed to grab her wrists as Gabrielle shouted "You said you loved her, but you weren’t there when she needed you!"

Ares held on tight to her wrists and gave her a hard shake. "Look, I don’t know what in the name of Tartarus you’re yelling about! Where’s Xena? Where is she?"

In an instant all the fight seemed to drain from Gabrielle’s body. He felt her arms go limp and loosened his grip. But he still held on, waiting for an answer. Gabrielle looked into his eyes and spoke the words she hated to say aloud. "Xena is dead!"

Ares hands dropped to his side. "What did you say?"

"Xena is dead", she repeated.

His shoulders sagged and he took a few steps back. "How? What?—Gabrielle, it can’t be true!"

"Oh, it’s true, Ares." Gabrielle suddenly realized "You really didn’t know, did you?"

Ares paced in a circle, running a hand through his black hair. "Know what? I don’t even know where you two went. I figured you went to Egypt. I heard the two of you talking about your future that night. Then I left."

"You should have eavesdropped longer," Gabrielle said walking toward the house. "You missed the Japanese monk who visited us with a message from Akemi." She sat on the porch steps and looked up at Ares. "You really didn’t know, did you?" Her voice was now calm. She could see the shock on Ares face. It was real. He was good at lying and deceiving, but he had always cared for Xena---and she could feel he was in genuine pain and confusion.

He dropped heavily beside her on the porch step. "Where did you go?"

"Japan. Ares, why didn’t you come and help her?"

"I didn’t know." He looked down at the ground and said "Outside of Greece and Rome, I’m nothing. They believe in their own gods out there. I can’t go where mortals don’t believe in me."

There was a sadness in his voice, and Gabrielle realized it was one of the rare times she had ever heard the God of War admit to having a frailty. She stood up and held out a hand to him. "Come on inside," she said. "I’ve got a long story to tell you." Ares looked up at her sadly. He grasped her hand, rose to his feet, and followed her into the house.

*****************************************************

 

It was evening when Gabrielle finished telling Ares of their ill-fated journey. She had stopped only long enough to fix herself something to eat. The food was hard to swallow, but she knew Xena wouldn’t want her to starve herself. And she hadn’t eaten since she arrived in Amphipolis.

Ares kept looking at the urn on the table and gently touching it with his fingertips. This was all that was left of the woman he truly loved.

Gabrielle leaned back in her chair. "And so, here we are," she finished, "and I don’t know where to go from here. She was my life---and I feel so empty and lost without her."

Ares sighed. "There has to be a way to bring her back." He gently touched the bluish-gray urn once again.

Gabrielle was a bit amazed at the tenderness and compassion he had shown all day. There they were: The Bard who had become a warrior and the God of War—brought together by the love of one woman.

Gabrielle ran her hands through her short blond hair. "I lashed out at you. I was really to blame. I should have known what she was going to do when she taught me The Pinch. She looked in my eyes and said ‘If I only had 30 seconds to live, yours is the last face I’d want to see.’ I should have known. I could have stopped her."

Ares rose from his chair. "Gabrielle, one thing we both know is that when Xena wanted to do something, nobody could stop her."

A far away look entered Gabrielle’s eyes as if all those stubborn Xena moments were flashing through her mind. She found herself smiling and she nodded and said "Yea."

"But I’m not giving up!" Ares half shouted, and Gabrielle jumped back to reality at the roughness in his voice.

"I told you---she can’t come back! She wouldn’t damn those 40,000 souls at Higuchi to eternal unrest."

Ares slammed his fist on the table. The urn jumped and Gabrielle snatched it up quickly and clutched it to her breast. "I damn them for forcing her to make that choice! She killed Yodoshi! She freed them all. What kind of payback is that?"

"You should know about paybacks, Ares," Gabrielle snapped.

"Ouch!" He threw up his hands and said, "I’m the God of War! I can’t help what I am!"

"Oh, look---I don’t want to re-hash old times, Ares. I’m sorry. I’m tired. I’m frustrated." She lowered her voice. "I’m lonely."

"Look, you need rest. I have one favor to ask you."

She looked at him cautiously. "What?"

"Don’t do anything right now. Stay here. I need time to think. Let me work on some ideas."

Gabrielle looked up at him wearily. "I’m staying awhile anyway. I feel---I feel closer to Xena here." She watched as Ares walked toward the door. "Ares?"

He looked back at her. "What?"

"Will you come back?"

"As soon as I can." Ares let out a sly smile. "I knew you always had a thing for me." And in the blink of an eye, he was gone.

Gabrielle shook her head and said out loud, "Xena, he’ll never change!" But she also realized it had been good to have someone to talk to----someone who knew them so well.

The house was so quiet. She heard the crackle of the wood in the fireplace and the sounds of the night. Argo was right outside---she heard her shuffle her feet and toss her head. It was the last thing she heard before drifting off to a sound sleep in the kitchen chair.

*****************************************************

The next two days Gabrielle felt a renewed interest in life. While Xena was never far from her thoughts (and the nightmares still haunted her), she spent her days trying to build up her strength and practicing her skills. Xena had somehow passed her skills into Gabrielle. She could throw the chakram with deadly accuracy (that was a shock when she first threw it on Mount Fuji). Her movements were quicker and more fluid. She could jump and summersault with ease. Her muscles began to tone and firm. It gave her more confidence and pride than she had ever known. She took Argo out for long rides and runs in the countryside. She adapted to Gabrielle easily, learning to almost read her mind as well as she had read Xenas.

Gabrielle would go to the secluded waterfall pond to bathe and lay out on a blanket naked in the sun. The sunlight seemed to heal her weary body. She would think of the good times, lying there with Xena at her side. Talking quietly---not talking at all. Sharing a tender caress---a kiss. The sheer joy of drinking in her beauty. Of feeling needed and wanted. Of dozing off in each others arms.

The feeling of emptiness and loss was still great, and sometimes Gabrielle would weep softly. She would never have that deep a love for another human being. She would never give her body and soul to another. She belonged to Xena, and that was how it would be----for eternity.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle was running a curry brush over Argo’s mane. She seemed to enjoy all the attention. Gabrielle knew she missed Xena, too. It was a good feeling that they had bonded. Argo came when she whistled, and carried her with a proud gate. Right now, she was nuzzling her neck, and trying to pull at her hair. "Hold still, Argo," Gabrielle said, "I can’t finish if you keep wanting to play." She untangled a knot of hair in her mane.

"Argo just knows a pretty girl when she sees one," said a familiar voice.

Gabrielle looked around to see Ares, arms folded across his chest, smiling at her. "By the way Gabrielle, did I tell you?----Love the tattoo."

It was a hot day and she was wearing a rather short blue halter top that exposed almost all of her back with its colorful dragon/chakram tattoo. She continued to finish brushing Argo. "I’d say go to Hades, Ares, but you’ve been there before."

He walked to the porch and sat on the wooden step. "In fact, I just got back from there," he said casually.

That stopped Gabrielle in mid brush. She turned to face him and said "What?"

"I said I just got back from Hades. Had a long talk with Michael."

"The Archangel Michael? What did he want?"

"Actually, it’s what I wanted. Thought maybe he could help me find Xena."

Gabrielle dropped the brush, "She’s not……."

"No, no, no. She’s not in Tartarus. But he did tell me where she is. He seemed a little too gleeful about the whole thing, but since it was Xena who tricked him to have him stay there…."

Gabrielle raised her palms up impatiently. "Ares, STOP! Just tell me---where is Xena?"

Ares leaned back, resting his elbows on the top porch step. "The Elysian Fields," he replied.

Gabrielle was confused. "How did she get there? She died in Japan."

"How do I know? Maybe she got on a horse and rode there. Maybe they have ships…"

"Ares, you’re scaring me. Even you can’t believe…"

"All I know is Xena is safe in the Elysian Fields."

Gabrielle put her hands on her hips. "Safe? Are you crazy? She’s dead!"

Ares got to his feet. "Look, I said I’d come back when I had a plan. Well, I’ve got one -------- but I don’t know if you’re going to like it."

Gabrielle grabbed his arm and begged, "Tell me."

Ares looked up at the sky, drew in a deep breath, then looked down into Gabrielle’s eyes. "You have to go to the Elysian Fields."

"What!" Gabrielle shouted. "You are crazy! If I’d wanted to die, I could have got myself killed in Japan."

"Will you listen to me!" His voice was demanding, but not threatening. Gabrielle closed her mouth and nodded. "How many times have you and Xena been dead over the years?"

"Too many," she admitted.

"And you always came back, right?"

"Except this time," she said, touching the pouch at her side that held Xena’s urn.

"Because Xena stopped you from putting her ashes into the sacred water. But if you had…"

"Then Xena would be here now. Don’t remind me of that, Ares." She turned and started to walk away.

Ares appeared magically in front of her. "Gabrielle, listen. Just listen." He reached into a small pocket on his shirt and pulled out three small red berries. "If you swallow these, then you will die. Then you can go find Xena."

"And then what? Spend eternity there? Ares…."

"Listen, I said!" His voice had turned demanding, and Gabrielle knew that this was more to him than just a silly idea. "If you eat these yes, you die. But within three days, if I give you this potion……" He pulled a small vial of dark green liquid from the same pocket, "You’ll come back to life."

"And what’s that going to accomplish? Xena won’t be able to come back with me. You want me to go visiting?"

Ares suddenly shouted at her. "I want you to start acting like a warrior!"

Gabrielle paced nervously. "I’m the Battling Bard from Poteidaia. I’m not Xena."

"She thought you were strong enough. So do I."

"Alright, alright." She waved her arms in the air. "Let’s just say I eat the berries. I die. I go to the Elysian Fields. I find Xena. Then what?"

"If she made it from Japan, maybe you can go to Japan. Maybe you can convince the souls of Higuchi to let her live again."

Suddenly, this did seem like a plan. Gabrielle held up one finger as she spoke. "Now, let’s say this all works…..how do I get back here? Alive, I mean."

"In three days, I give you the potion. Hopefully by then you’ll have the answers on how to bring Xena back."

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. "So I’m supposed to trust you with my life."

"Gabrielle, this is a chance you’ve got to take if you have any hope of getting Xena back alive. I can’t go to the Elysian Fields. You can!"

"My body will be vulnerable, and Xena’s ashes…" Gabrielle was trying to make sense of this. To find some answer other than this.

"Have I ever broken my sworn word to you or Xena?" Ares asked.

"No, but.."

"Then hear me now. I swear on my godhood that I’ll protect your body and Xena’s ashes, and that in three days, I’ll bring you back to life." His words were spoken with such conviction and strength that Gabrielle knew he was telling the truth. He would not betray them this time.

She turned and walked for a few minutes around the yard. This was an insane plan. How could she ever hope to find Xena? How could she get her back? What if she, herself, couldn’t come back? What if she didn’t go through with it? Being without Xena wasn’t living. At least if she couldn’t come back, they would be together forever. Nice thought.

Ares waited patiently for her answer. Could she trust him? What choice did she have. Gabrielle walked back to where Ares sat. He looked up at her, but didn’t say a word. Gabrielle nodded and said, "Let’s do it!"

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle lay on the bed wearing a blue silk robe over her clothes. A "memento" from Japan. Inside the robe, next to her body was the urn. Ares was sitting on the edge of the bed beside her, the three small red berries in one hand, a goblet of water in the other.

"Ares---will this hurt?" she asked quietly.

He shook the berries in his hand and replied, "Not supposed to. You’ll just…"he paused a moment then finished, "go to sleep."

"Yea. Forever."

"I promised you…"

"And what if some Warlord from---Macedonia or someplace calls on you to help him fight?"

Ares smiled. "I told you---I won’t leave. Anyway, we can start the war another time."

Gabrielle reached for the berries and Ares put them into her hand. She looked at them curiously. They were so small. How could something so small and pretty be so deadly. "One last thing, Ares."

"What, Gabrielle?" he asked as he handed her the goblet.

"If you can’t bring me back—no, no, just listen to me. If you can’t bring me back, will you bury me with Xena’s ashes someplace where nobody can find us?"

Ares again showed a flicker of tenderness in his eyes. "I’ll take you both up to Mt. Olympus. It’s just me and Aphrodite there anyway. We’ll keep both of you safe."

Gabrielle looked at the small berries once again. There was no turning back. She popped all three in her mouth and chewed quickly. Not too bad. Like slightly sour grapes. She washed them down with some water, handed the goblet to Ares and lay flat on the bed. It was only seconds before she felt very sleepy. She thought she heard Ares voice say "Good luck, Gabrielle.", but it sounded so far away. She was sure she could hear her heartbeat slowing down. "I love you, Xena." Was her last thought before everything went silent and black.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle began to realize that in her mind she was hearing something. Far away sounds that kept getting closer and closer. There was wind through tree leaves, birds chirping, blades of grass scratching against each other. "Am I alive, or dead?" she wondered. She was afraid to open her eyes at what she might see. But she could feel warmth on her skin and there were smells around her—smells like lavender and heather. She thought she could feel the grass touching her bare skin. "Oh well," she said aloud and opened her eyes.

Gabrielle gasped! The sky was the deepest blue she had ever seen and it was filled with enormous white puffy clouds. Everything was so bright! She sat up and looked around. There were trees and flowers everywhere, and open fields and valleys and----"It’s so beautiful!," she gushed aloud.

She looked down at herself. She was still wearing the same red top and shorts, but Xena’s chakram was gone. And so were her Sais. She pushed herself slowly to her feet. Now she could see that she was on a small hill. Off in the distance was a lake. She could see animals moving about: animals of all types that seemed to be living in harmony. Gabrielle couldn’t see any evidence of people. How was she ever going to find Xena here. If this WAS the Elysian Fields, it looked like it stretched on forever.

In three days, Ares would try to bring her back. She had no time to waste. It looked like the lake was the best place to head to. She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled as loudly as she could, "X—E----N---A!…X---E---N---A!" Maybe somehow she would hear her. Anything was better than standing around doing nothing. Gabrielle started on her journey.

*****************************************************

 

For Gabrielle, it seemed like time was somehow different here. It seemed---faster. She arrived at the lake in what seemed like only minutes. "I just hope time’s moving normal where Ares is," she thought. "I only have three days."

The lake was incredibly beautiful. Fish were leaping out of the water, and flocks of small white birds circled and landed. Gabrielle crouched and dipped her hand into the water. It was wet! It was cold! Suddenly she felt thirsty. "I’m dead---how can I be thirsty?" she wondered. She raised her cupped hand to her mouth and drank. It was the best water she had ever tasted. She drank her fill, and sat on a large rock. Ahead were more hills. She’d need to get moving.

The sun was beginning to set. Sun? Here? This was a weird land. Gabrielle walked toward the hill up ahead. She shielded her eyes from the sun and thought she saw something on the crest of the hill. It was a dark image. It looked like a person. "Well, finally, people!" she said aloud, and continued walking.

The dark figure seemed to start moving faster. It was coming towards her. She suddenly felt vulnerable. The chakram and her Sais were gone. If she had to defend herself…….But this was the Elysian Fields. Here people should not be any danger. She hoped.

Gabrielle squinted. There was something about the figure. Tall. Running swiftly now. And then she could make out something unmistakeable----breastplate armor, leather and bronze armbands, long dark hair.

She broke into a run, tears streaming down her face. They met at the bottom of the hill, literally flying into each other’s arms. It was Xena! Gabrielle had found her afterall.

Xena held her tightly in her arms, kissing first her cheek and then finally coming in contact with her lips. She kissed Gabrielle long and hard. Gabrielle could smell her, taste her. Her body was as warm as the sun. Her lips were soft and moist. It was like all the months of loneliness had vanished with a single kiss.

Suddenly Xena pushed her out at arms length. "What are you doing here?" she demanded in the harshest tone Gabrielle had ever heard. God, she was beautiful! Her body was perfect---just like the last time they sat on Mount Fuji and watched the sunset. It seemed impossible when she remembered how her headless, tortured body was hanging from that rope.

"I came to find you," she said, wiping away tears. "I had to find you!"

Xena looked so stern. "Gabrielle, you’re dead! Why? Why? Who did this?" She knew if a warrior committed suicide by their own hand, they were forbidden to enter the Elysian Fields.

"It’s alright. It’s a long story. I came to find you. Oh, Xena, I’ve missed you so much. How did you find me?"

"I felt you cross over. I heard you call my name. I knew you were here." Xena drew Gabrielle into her arms. "Why? Why did you do this?"

Gabrielle couldn’t believe this was really happening. She ignored Xena’s question and said. "Xena, I can feel you." She reached up and touched her face. "You’re warm. I can smell you. Everything around here is real. But how can that be?"

Xena smiled at Gabrielle as she ran her hand through her golden hair. "I don’t know. In a lot of ways it’s like being on earth, except you don’t age and you live forever."

"Xena---we’re dead!" Gabrielle said as if there was a need to remind her friend.

"I know, Gabrielle. But except for missing you, it hasn’t been that bad here."

Gabrielle asked, "How did you get here, Xena? You died on Mt. Fuji. We watched the sun go down…"

"And I spent time with the Ghost Killer and Akemi, and the others from Higuchi.."

Gabrielle pulled away from Xena’s grasp. "Akemi!" she spat. "That bitch! Don’t say that name….."

"Gabrielle, listen. You know I had to help her. You know I had to let myself be killed so that I could kill Yodoshi. You know I couldn’t let you bring me back or the souls of Higuchi could never rest."

"And are they resting now, Xena?" she asked in a very nasty tone.

Xena remained calm. "Yes," she answered.

"Well, that’s great!" She began to pace back and forth. "Just great! I’ve been living in Tartarus for all these months----but as long as the souls are happy!"

"You’re so bitter, Gabrielle. This isn’t like you."

"Like me? Xena, I love you more than anything. You left me! Do you know---do you have any idea what it’s been like for me?"

Xena approached, but Gabrielle withdrew a few steps. "Gabrielle, I had no choice. If you think I haven’t missed you…" She reached quickly and grabbed Gabrielle’s arm. "You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. You know how much I love you. Can you honestly think I haven’t missed you? Even in the Elysian Fields, you can still feel empty," She lifted one hand and touched Gabrielle’s cheek, "Especially when half you soul is missing."

Gabrielle nuzzled Xena’s hand, then kissed it. "Xena, how did you get here?" she asked.

Xena slid her arm around Gabrielle’s waist, drew her tight beside her, and they started walking slowly. "I just set off walking one day. I don’t know how, but I ended up here. Their Afterlife and ours are connected somehow. Maybe all the other worlds are connected. If I’d kept going, I might have met Osiris." They were close to the lake, and going toward the rocks where Gabrielle had sat. Xena gave her waist a squeeze. "You still haven’t told me---how did you get here?"

Gabrielle felt a warm tingle go through her body. Xena’s touch hadn’t changed. She could still excite her. Gabrielle was glad they had reached the rocks so she could sit down. Xena was having too much of an effect on her right now. She patted the rock in an invitation. "You’d better sit down, Xena. I’ve got a story to tell you.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle finished her story by asking a question. "Did I do wrong to trust Ares?"

Xena bit her lip, thought a moment, and said, "Do you remember when he thought we were dead and he buried us in the Ice Cave?"

"How could I forget sleeping for 25 years!"

"He has a lot of faults, but.." She smiled, "Breaking his word isn’t one of them."

"Xena, I have less than 3 days before Ares brings me back to life. I won’t go back without you."

Xena leaned forward and clasped her hands together. "You really think you can bring me back, Gabrielle?"

"Yes. If you can find your way back to the souls from Higuchi."

Xena nodded. "I can find the way."

"And I think I have a plan." Gabrielle said feeling very self-assured for the first time. She suddenly realized that it was dark. There was a moon out and the water from the lake shimmered like stars. She turned and scooped up a drink from the lake and saw that Xena was looking at her. "What?" she asked.

"You really are a warrior now. So confident…."

Gabrielle laughed out loud. "Xena, I’m still the same girl from Potaedia. I’ve just done a lot of growing up since Japan." Xena smiled and patted her knee. Gabrielle looked around, "Can we stay here tonight?"

Xena nodded. "Like old times."

They got up from the rocks and found a nice soft carpet of grass. Xena removed a grayish blanket from a small pack she’d been carrying over her shoulder. She spread it on the ground. Gabrielle lay down and propped herself up on one elbow watching as Xena removed her breastplate, sword, and chakram. When she lay on the blanket near Gabrielle, she sighed deeply. "I never forgot what it was like being with you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle moved closer to her friend. She draped her leg over Xena’s, and lay her hand on Xena’s thigh. "Neither did I."

Xena turned on her side facing Gabrielle and said "Yours was the last name I spoke before….."

Gabrielle placed a finger on her lips. "Sssshhhh. I know. I heard you."

Xena kissed her finger tenderly. "I’ve missed you, Gabrielle," she said, and a tear rolled down her face. She bushed it away quickly and flashed a small smile as if she didn’t want Gabrielle to see her moment of weakness. But Gabrielle knew that she was the only one who had ever been allowed to see the real woman behind the Warrior Princess.

"Even if this plan doesn’t work, we’ve got three days, Xena. It’s like a last chance." She looked deeply into Xena’s blue eyes, waiting breathlessly for Xena to make the first move. She couldn’t imagine how it would be possible to make love here in the Elysian Fields. But she couldn’t imagine not trying either.

Xena’s hand rose and touched Gabrielle’s face. Her hand was so warm. Gabrielle couldn’t fight the feelings building inside her. She moved even closer to Xena, and their lips touched and opened, each to accept the other. Xena kissed her with a passion Gabrielle had never felt so strongly before. When their lips parted, Gabrielle saw that Xena was smiling. "What, Xena?" she asked of her Soulmate.

Xena’s hand slowly unfastened the straps on her leather dress and said huskily, "It’s warm tonight."

Gabrielle knew what she wanted. She wanted the same. "Yes. Yes, it is." And she sat up and unfastened her halter top.

In a matter of moments, they were naked in each other’s arms, entwined in a passion only they understood. Xena’s hands and mouth caressed every inch of her body. Gabrielle knew every muscle, every scar, every spot inside and out that could take the Warrior Princess to a deep and satisfying climax. Xena, too, knew her lover well and moved slowly, wanting to prolong Gabrielle’s pleasure.

The moon was shining brightly as they made love to each other slowly, deliberately, passionately. All the pain and loneliness Gabrielle had felt over the last long months dissolved into the night. They belonged to each other, and not even death could take that away.

*****************************************************

 

It was a beautiful day for a walk. Gabrielle felt so alive which, considering she was dead was rather funny. Xena, too, had a spring in her step and a smile on her lips. They awoke in each others arms, having spent a rather sleepless night absorbed in the passion of the moment. Gabrielle was the first to open her eyes, her head resting on Xena’s chest. She lay there not moving a muscle, watching her sleep peacefully. Gabrielle remembered how Xena had sighed deeply as she awoke and opened her eyes. And when their eyes met, there was no need for words.

Xena was humming and Gabrielle smiled. She loved the sound of her friend’s voice. And she recognized the tune. Many years ago, Xena had told her, a traveling musician had written the song for her. Gabrielle had dubbed it "Xena’s Song" and she had liked that. "Why don’t you sing it?" she asked Xena.

"Only if you do the translation," said Xena. And she began to sing:

"Jenata iazdi somotna"

Gabrielle knew the words well. "The Warrior Princess rides alone"

"Neinoto minalo srazi la"

"Her past drives her from shame."

"Sreshtu voiskite ot tumen sviat"

"Against the forces of a dark world."

"Vouva za dobro tia."

"She fights for good, not for fame."

"Rogovi zvunove idavt."

"Horns sound her coming, blare her name."

"Napraite put na voina."

"Make way the Warrior! Cheer!"

"Tupani biat vuv ritum."

"Drums beat a rhythm, Let villains beware"

"Princhesata e pak tuka!"

"The Warrior Princess is here!"

Xena was smiling. "You remembered all of it."

"I couldn’t forget that, Xena. Tho I still think I should rewrite that line about you riding alone."

"Don’t mess with my song," Xena growled playfully.

Singing had helped pass the time. It seemed like they had been walking forever, but time was strange here. Gabrielle wasn’t sure how long it had been. One thing she knew: the weather was always beautiful and there was food everywhere. Fruit trees of all kinds surrounded them. And animals roamed freely, but didn’t bother them. There were small villages too, with houses and people moving about as if they were still on earth, Gabrielle stopped long enough to pick two large red apples from a tree. She tossed one to Xena. It was the best apple she had ever tasted.

Xena had asked if Gabrielle wanted to stop at the house. It seems her house here was the same childhood home she had in life. Gabrielle had declined. There was too much to do---and too little time.

Without her weapons she somehow felt vulnerable. It was silly feeling that way here. But along the way she found a tree branch that made a suitable staff. Gabrielle hadn’t used a staff in years, but it felt good just to carry it.

As they crossed yet another open field and headed for another hill, Gabrielle still found it hard to believe she was really dead. It was true that neither of them had a pulse or a heartbeat. But here they were: walking and talking and acting as if this was a normal day walking across the fields of Greece.

"Xena?" she asked.

"Hmmmm?" said her friend as she finished her apple and threw the core far into the words.

"Can I ask you something that’s going to sound stupid?"

Xena smiled and raised one eyebrow. "And this is new?"

Gabrielle gently punched her. "I’m being serious! How can I---how can we be dead and still feel----things?"

Xena kept walking and fought to keep a straight face. "Things?"

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and said "You know what I mean."

"No, Gabrielle, I don’t. What----things?" Xena of course knew what Gabrielle was talking about, but she hadn’t teased her in a long time.

Gabrielle stammered, "Like—well like---like last night."

"Ooohhhh." Xena threw back her head and laughed. She stopped and turned to Gabrielle. "Look, the truth is, I don’t know. Gabrielle, do you remember when we were on Mount Olympus? It was a lot like earth. And when I was in Valhalla with Oden we ate, and drank, and loved, and felt pain and anger---just like earth."

"But here, Xena---we’re dead."

Xena smirked. "You weren’t dead last night."

Gabrielle pounded her staff into the ground. "I’m serious, Xena!"

"So am I." She paused and continued, "Aww look, Gabrielle, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how this place works. It just---is. Accept that and be thankful for it." She started walking again.

There was something in that last comment that Gabrielle found odd. She trotted after Xena and said "You sound like you like it here."

"Well, now that you’re here. I know you have to go back…."

Gabrielle grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop. "We’re going back, Xena! I won’t go without you."

"You have no choice. Ares will bring you back in 2 days. Gabrielle, listen. If this plan of yours doesn’t work, you’ll go back alone. But I’ll still be here waiting for you when the time comes for you to return here---after you’ve lived out your life."

Gabrielle bit her lip and fought back tears. "I can’t lose you again, Xena."

Xena wrapped her tightly in her arms. "You never lost me. I told you---I live in your heart." She lowered her head and kissed Gabrielle tenderly. "Now, come on. Let’s move. I don’t know if we can cross to the other world before sunset."

They picked up their pace and hurried up and over the hilltop.

**********************************************************

 

The sun had not yet completely set when suddenly Xena stopped walking and touched Gabrielle’s arm. "Do you feel it?" she asked.

Gabrielle looked at her quizzically. "Feel what?"

"We just crossed over. I had that same feeling the other time. Like going through a doorway into another room."

Gabrielle began to sense something, too. "The air has changed. It’s a little colder, too."

"Yes." Xena looked around. "If I remember, it wasn’t too far to Higuchi."

"They named their town Higuchi?" Gabrielle asked flatly.

"Why not?" Xena said, continuing to walk. "I burned down the real one."

"That was an accident!" Gabrielle shouted. "Don’t these people get it?"

Xena spun around and continued walking backwards. "They know I was responsible for killing them. Just as I knew the only way to make up for that was to stay dead."

Gabrielle pushed past her friend grumbling, "Not if I can help it!"

Xena stopped a moment, then hurried after Gabrielle muttering, "The Battling Bard of Potaeida."

Gabrielle kept going, but called over her shoulder, "I heard that!" And she then heard Xena laugh. Oh, how she loved her laugh. Suddenly Gabrielle stopped. There, a short distance ahead were lights, houses, a town. "Higuchi," she breathed.

"Yes," said Xena, now at her side. "Come on. We’ll go to Akemi’s……"

"Oh, no!" said Gabrielle, taking several steps away from Xena

"Look Gabrielle," Xena demanded, "You’ve got to stop this."

"It’s her fault….."

"It’s MY fault!" Xena roared. "From the very beginning when I first met Akemi, it was my fault for loving her."

"And she….."

"NO!" Xena pointed her finger at Gabrielle, her blue eyes blazing. "You can’t forgive that, Gabrielle. That’s why you can’t stop this hate inside you. You can’t forgive her for loving me. Or maybe it’s me you can’t forgive."

"Xena, I…."

"If I hadn’t let myself love her, she wouldn’t have been able to kill her Father. I wouldn’t have had to cut off her head to save her honor after she stuck a knife in her chest! She begged me to do it, Gabrielle! I wouldn’t have got drunk and set fire to Higuchi when the people in the town smashed her urn." Xena pounded her chest armor, "IT’S---MY---FAULT!"

Gabrielle watched Xena ranting and raving as if she had gone mad, and she suddenly realized the true pain she was feeling. Also, in her mind, some things were finally pulling together. "Xena, Xena you’re right. I have been jealous of Akemi."

"It was a long time before I met you," said Xena, her voice beginning to sound calm again. "A very long time."

Gabrielle held out her hand and said, "Come on. Let’s get to her house quickly. I think I finally know what to do."

Xena grasped her hand and squeezed it tightly. Gabrielle smiled. Together the two of them ran toward Higuchi.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle and Xena approached the beautiful rice paper and bamboo house. They had to cross a small bridge over a beautiful brook. A section of the rice paper wall slid open silently and Akemi stood in the doorway. She was wearing a white kimono and her long black hair was shining in the light. Her black almond eyes glistened, and her tiny red mouth was smiling. Her skin was white as porcelain and just as perfect. "Gods," Gabrielle muttered under her breath, "She’s still beautiful."

"Xena," Akemi said in her quiet, calm voice, "You have come back."

Xena stopped at the doorway and smiled warmly at her. "Yes, Akemi." She turned and looked at Gabrielle. "And I’ve brought my Soulmate, Gabrielle."

Akemi bowed politely. "You are welcome in my home," she said, and backed inside. Xena entered, and Gabrielle followed her. It looked so much like the place in Japan. There were big colorful pillows on the floor, bamboo rugs, the bubbling hot tub on the far side, Akemi’s musical instrument on the floor.

"Too weird," thought Gabrielle.

Akemi said, "You should change. I will prepare tea. Are you hungry?"

"No," Gabrielle snapped.

Xena gave her a nasty glance. "Yes, thank you, Akemi."

As Akemi walked toward another room, Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s arm and tugged so she would follow her. Xena slid open a panel and entered a room with a large sleeping mat, more colorful pillows and wooden chests.

Xena was unusually quiet as she opened one of the chests and removed two silk robes: one dark crimson red, and the other a peacock blue. She tossed the blue one to Gabrielle. "Here. Get comfortable."

Gabrielle looked at the robe and up at Xena who was already removing her breastplate. "Xena, we can’t lay around and chat. I’ve got about a day and a half left." She shook her head. "Maybe less. I don’t know---I’m losing track of time."

Xena had stripped down to her underwear. "There’s nothing you can do tonight. Everybody’s at home or asleep. Nobody will talk to you now." She stepped out of her underwear and pulled her halter top over her head. "Besides, if you talk to Akemi, I think she can help you with whatever you’re planning."

Gabrielle couldn’t speak. She let her eyes drink in the site of Xena’s naked body: the full curves, the taught muscles, the firm breasts---

"Gabrielle, you’re staring," Xena said quietly as she pulled on the crimson robe. "There’s nothing new to see."

She felt herself blushing and began to undress. "I—I just…." She turned her back to Xena. "You’re just so beautiful." She said quietly. Her top, shorts and boots were quickly shed. She dropped her underwear and reached for the robe. As she straightened, she felt a strong arm circle her waist, its firm hand resting on her naked stomach. Warm lips nuzzled her neck. "You’re the beautiful one to me," Xena whispered in her ear. Gabrielle turned and they embraced, just holding each other still and silent.

Finally Xena pulled away enough to look into Gabrielle’s eyes. "Come on. Let’s go talk to Akemi." She held the robe open for Gabrielle to slip into, and Gabrielle tied the sash as they headed back to the main room.

*****************************************************

 

Akemi was on her knees in front of a carved wooden tray table pouring tea into two cups. There were small cakes of some sort on a plate on the table. Xena sat on the floor, propping two pillows behind her, and Gabrielle sat beside her. It was Xena who spoke first. "Akemi, Gabrielle is here for a reason."

"There is a reason for all things," she replied.

Mentally Gabrielle thought, "Oh, great! Now I have to listen to her spout Oriental wisdom!" She wasn’t going to let Xena run this show. "Akemi, let me tell you why I’m here." She took a sip of the tea. Damn, she even makes good tea.

In as few words as possible, and as politely as possible, she told Akemi how she got there and why. She ended by saying, more sincerely than she thought she ever could, "I need your help." Gabrielle saw a flicker of a smile on Xena’s lips. It said to Gabrielle, "Smart move, Kiddo."

Akemi pursed her red lips together, then spoke. "You want me to help you take Xena away from here." She saw Gabrielle open her mouth to say something, and she raised her hand to stop her. Gabrielle closed her mouth and Akemi spoke. "You have risked your life to try to get Xena back. This is a great sacrifice you have made."

Gabrielle looked over at Xena. "No sacrifice is too great."

Xena, looking very relaxed in her red robe and sipping her tea smiled. She was keeping silent. Gabrielle was doing alright without her interfering.

Akemi got off her knees, finally joining them on the floor. "There could be a way."

Gabrielle sat up straight and asked, "How?"

"Xena would need permission from the 40,000 of Higuchi to return to the land of the living."

"Look," said Gabrielle, "I’ve got maybe one day left. I don’t have time to go to 40,000 souls and ask them to spare her life."

Akemi remained calm. Her calmness was actually annoying. "Do you have time," she asked, "to address the Elder Council of Higuchi?"

"How do I get to them?"

"I will speak to the Elders tomorrow and ask if they will see you. They may say no. If they agree, you will have to speak to them. Not Xena. It would be up to you to convince the Council. If you fail, then Xena must remain dead for eternity."

"And if I succeed?"

"They will tell you how to return life to her." Akemi looked over at Xena. "Xena, you have spoken of your Soulmate often with me. Is it your true desire to return to her?"

Xena sat up and reached out her hand to Akemi. Akemi slipped her small hand into Xenas. "Akemi," Xena said softly, "You know that we shared a very special love long ago." Xena smiled. "I’ll always remember that love." She looked at Gabrielle and held out her other hand. Gabrielle clasped it between both of hers. "But Gabrielle is my true Soulmate. It’s possible she has given up her life to come and try to take me back."

Akemi smiled. "There is no greater love than when one is willing to give up their life for another. That is what you did for me Xena, and for all who were held by Yodoshi." Akemi paused, then nodded. "I will do what I can," she said, and rose to her feet.

Gabriele felt like she was finally able to breathe again. Xena stood up and Gabrielle followed her, more out of reflex. She was still stunned that Akemi had agreed to help her.

Xena bowed to Akemi. "Thank you, Akemi."

Gabrielle was not sure what to do or say. She looked at Akemi and stammered, "I---I---don’t know what…"

Akemi lay a finger gently on Gabrielle’s lips. "I know more than you think I do, Gabrielle. You do not need to speak. We both took a path in life---and it led to Xena. We have both been blessed." Akemi bowed slightly. "Go now. Rest. Tomorrow you will need much strength." And she turned and walked into another room.

Xena went into the bedroom without saying a word. Gabrielle followed her and lay on the sleeping mat as Xena extinguished the oil lamps. The room was dark when Xena lay down beside her. Gabrielle finally spoke. "I was wrong about Akemi." She felt Xena touch her hand, and she grasped it tightly.

Xena said quietly, "You finally understand."

"Xena?"

"Hhmm?"

"Do you think I can do this?"

"Gabrielle, the question is, do you believe you can do it?"

Gabrielle thought about what was ahead. Could she convince the Council to let Xena live? Did she have enough time? Had she come all this way for nothing? No! She had to succeed. She had to! She couldn’t face a life without Xena.

"Yes!" she answered in a determined tone of voice.

"Xena squeezed her hand. "That’s all that matters."

"Xena?"

"I’m listening."

"Akemi was right about one thing---I was blessed the day I met you." Gabrielle had turned on her side and she felt Xena move in tightly behind her and drape her arm tightly around her. It made Gabrielle feel so safe and secure.

Xena whispered close to her ear, "Sleep well, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiled. "You too, Xena." She knew tomorrow was going to be a very interesting day.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle awoke with a jerk as she felt a hand touch her arm. The sun was up to let just enough light into the room for her to see that it was Akemi. The young woman smiled at her. "Get up. Bathe. Eat. The Council of Elders will see you."

Gabrielle took a deep breath. She knew this was her only chance. She quickly looked over at Xena who was awake and smiling. "This is it," was all that Xena said.

*****************************************************

 

Akemi led the way down the streets of Higuchi. Gabrielle and Xena walked side by side. Gabrielle was amazed at the beauty of the town. She recalled the night when Yodoshi’s army had set fire to Higuchi, and she and Xena had jumped and flipped their way to the water tower---past soldiers and flames. They released the water and quenched the flames, but Higuchi had been badly burned---again.

This town was beautiful! People passed them on the streets, bowing slightly, but not speaking. "They’re all the people that died long ago," Gabrielle thought. "The souls that Xena saved."

Akemi stopped in front of a large wooden building. It was shaped like a pagoda and looked very old. "We are here," she said. "There are rules you must follow. Xena, you must sit at the back, and you are forbidden to speak." She turned to Gabrielle. "You must kneel and address the Council only when asked. They are the Elders of our city. You must show respect, or all hope is lost."

Gabrielle nodded. "I will, Akemi," she promised.

Inside the main room of the wooden building, Gabrielle looked around quickly processing what she saw. A wood bench by the back wall. A large open area. At the front, a raised platform with a large ornately carved wooden table. Seated at the table were nine men, four on each side of a man seated in the middle.

Eight were very old. They had long white hair and white beards and were dressed in colorful robes. The man in the middle was a bit younger, balding, with a silver grey beard groomed to form a sort of triangle from his chin. Gabrielle recognized him. He was the Ghost Killer from Yodoshi’s land. Gabrielle remembered his name was Harukata. In a way, she was glad to see a familiar face. Outwardly she looked calm and assured. Inside, she was shaking.

"Come forward, Gabrielle," said the Ghost Killer. Gabrielle gulped and glanced at Xena who was already sitting on the bench at the back wall. Xena jerked her head toward the group of men as if to say, "Get going, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle approached slowly. There was a large purple silk pillow on the floor below the platform. She dropped to her knees and waited. Akemi stood off to her side by the platform.

It was the Harukata who spoke. "Gabrielle, I cannot vote at this Council. I am here to speak the words of the Elders. They can understand you. We know why you have come and what you ask of us," he paused while two of the Elders spoke to him in Japanese. "Now, you will tell us why we should help you."

Gabrielle looked down at the floor and tried to compose her thoughts. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and decided it was now or never. "I don’t know how much time I have left," she began, "so I’m going to make this as short as I can." It was uncomfortable being on her knees looking up at the group of old men. "Xena saved your asses back in Higuchi."

Xena, who was sitting in the rear of the room thought "I’m doomed!"

Gabrielle was still talking. "She let herself get killed so she could get rid of Yodoshi and free your souls. She killed Yodoshi and all of you were free, and then you wouldn’t let me bring her back to life."

"It was Xena’s fault that the 40,000 of Higuchi died and were enslaved by Yodoshi." said the Ghost Killer.

Gabrielle rose to her feet, and the Elders gasped at her boldness. This time Xena muttered "We both may be doomed!"

Gabrielle ignored their grumbling and continued, "That was a tragedy, but it happened because of her grief over Akemi’s death. You know the people would not let her bury Akemi’s ashes and the urn was smashed. She was out of her mind with grief and she lashed out. She didn’t even know what the consequences were until you told her, Harukata."

"Still, she…"

"She kept her part of the bargain. And you---all of you of Higuchi repaid her by forbidding her to return to life.. What kind of Japanese honor is that? That’s vengeance, not honor!"

Again the old men began talking to each other and to the Ghost Killer. "Our souls will not be at peace…"

"Your souls will be at peace if you can have forgiveness!" Gabrielle snapped.

The Ghost Killer listened to the Elders words, then said "You love this woman, do you not?"

Gabrielle looked back at Xena. "More than my life," she replied, and she saw Xena smile at her.

"Will you fight for her?"

Gabrielle squared her shoulders and stood tall. "I would fight anyone for the chance to have her live again."

There was more talk among the Elders. Harukata said "Then we shall see how strong your love is, Gabrielle. If you kill your opponent, Xena will be allowed to return to your world alive once again. If you lose, your soul will remain here damned to an eternity of darkness, and you will not see Xena again. Do you accept these terms?"

Xena jumped up and shouted, "Gabrielle, you can’t do this!"

The Ghost Killer shouted back "Sit down, Xena! You will not interfere!"

Gabrielle raised her arms up to the platform. "Yes! I agree!" she shouted.

Xena sat back down on the bench. What had Gabrielle gotten herself into. . The Ghost Killer clapped his hands. Two side doors opened and two servants entered carrying swords on silken pillows. Gabrielle looked at the sword presented to her. It was a Japanese Katana. The blade gleamed like silver. The handle was beautifully braided in red. She remembered it well. "This is the Sacred Katana," she said grasping the handle. "The one that killed Yodoshi." It felt good in her hand. It was a strong sword with much power. She felt confident for the first time. Maybe she could win this battle. She gave the Katana a practice swing. Nice!

"Okay," said Gabrielle, "Who do I fight?"

The Ghost Killer spoke firmly. "Your opponent is……Akemi!"

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle watched as the servant carrying the other Katana stopped in front of the young girl. She felt as if a bucket of ice water had been tossed in her face. She looked back at Xena who was standing and looked as shocked as she was. Gabrielle looked next at Akemi who was calmly lifting her Katana from the pillow.

She faced the Ghost Killer and said, "You want me to kill Akemi?" Which did seem rather ridiculous since she was already dead.

"You will defeat her soul, or she will defeat yours. If you want Xena to live again, you must fight for her by destroying the only other woman who has loved her."

Gabrielle looked at Akemi who raised the sword in front of her, holding on with both hands. "She’s so damn calm!" Gabrielle thought. Gabrielle, however, was not. "Harukata, this is insane!" she shouted up at the old man.

"You must strike first for the battle to begin!" he said, pounding his fist on the tabletop. The Council members began shouting at her in Japanese.

Gabrielle pulled herself together and told herself that it didn’t matter. All that mattered was getting Xena back. All that mattered was having her live again. She raised the sacred Katana. All that mattered was winning this fight…..

Gabrielle flung the sacred Katana hard to the side of the room. It clattered loudly and slid up against the wall. "I will not kill Akemi!" she shouted. "I will not send her soul to suffer so I can have Xena back!" Gabrielle turned to Xena. Xena saw that there were no tears, only a strong look of determination on Gabrielle’s face, and a squared jaw eager to stand up for her beliefs. "I’m sorry, Xena," she said. "I want you back. I want you to live. I love you. But I cannot condemn Akemi. I won’t do it. I’d rather have you stay dead and be able to spend eternity with Akemi then to have to look at you every day knowing what I did to have you back with me."Gabrielle turned back to the Council of Elders. "If this means I lost, okay---I accept my fate. Send me away now before I’m brought back to life. Do it now!"

There was a lot of talking between the Elders and the Ghost Killer. Xena wanted to go to Gabrielle’s side, but she remained still. Gabrielle had shown herself to be a warrior of courage and valor. Xena was very afraid of what would happen next, but she had never been more proud of Gabrielle.

The Ghost Killer rose from his seat. "Gabrielle of Potaedia," he said in a strong voice, "You have passed the test."

Gabrielle was suddenly totally confused. She put her hands on her hips and said, "Test? This was a test?"

"Yes. You have shown us that you possess wisdom, courage, and compassion. You did not kill your enemy. That is forgiveness. Even we of Higuchi could not forgive Xena. You offered your life for that of Akemi’s and Xena. That is love. No—you will not lose your soul. You have, if anything, found your soul."

Gabrielle wasn’t sure what all this mumbo-jumbo meant and she was growing impatient. "What does all that mean, Harukata?"

He smiled at her. "The Council of Elders will let you live. And Gabrielle---they will allow Xena to live again."

Gabrielle couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She swallowed hard and fought back tears, but still a few ran down her cheeks. She looked back at Xena who was smiling. Xena mouthed two words so that Gabrielle could understand. "Thank you."

She turned back to the platform. "Thank you. Thank you all." She bowed to Akemi. "Thank you for giving Xena back to me." Akemi returned the bow and smiled.

A door to the right of the Council table opened and a servant entered carrying a small white porcelain jar. He bowed and handed it to the Ghost Killer, and then backed out of the room silently. Harukata held up the jar. "Gabrielle, in this jar is water from the sacred well of Mt. Fuji." Gabrielle’s heart raced. It was the water that could bring Xena back to life. "You will find this jar when you return, and pour it over Xena’s ashes. This water has been blessed so that it will work. Only this will restore Xena to you."

"Where will I find it?" she asked eagerly.

"Where you spilled many tears," came his cryptic reply.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle shook her head. "I don’t understand."

"You will discover the answer in due time, Gabrielle. It is you who hold the key,"

"But…" Gabrielle stopped. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. The Ghost Killer seemed to be fading right in front of her eyes. She shook her head to try to clear it, but nothing happened. Suddenly she felt a searing pain in her throat. Her hand flew up. She had never felt so much pain. She dropped to her knees and shouted "Xena!" and raised a hand toward her friend. She saw Xena running toward her as if in slow motion and then ------ blackness.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle felt her body slam hard as if onto rocks at the bottom of a cliff. She drew in a deep breath, expelled it, choked violently, and heard herself scream. Her eyes flew open and for a moment she felt sheer panic. She couldn’t see. She was breathing so fast it felt like her heart would explode in her chest.

There was a voice---a voice she knew---speaking her name, and she felt someone was holding her. Everything began to settle down. Her vision began to clear. It was Xena’s bedroom. It was Ares voice. It was his arms around her.

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle, can you hear me? It’s alright. You’re back. You’re alive!"

She looked up into the eyes of the God of War. He was on the bed, cradling her in his arms. He looked concerned---almost frightened. Gabrielle managed a weak smile. "Ares, I’ll bet you always dreamed of getting me in bed with you."

Ares smiled and gave her a gentle squeeze. "Oh yea, Baby!"

Gabrielle felt something wet on her lip and wiped the back of her hand over her mouth. She saw the dark green liquid on her hand. It really had been the liquid of life. She tried to sit up, but she felt so weak. Ares slipped out from beneath her, and lowered her onto the bed. "Ares," she whispered, "You brought me back."

His mouth twitched and he gave a little shrug. "Yea, well, it was getting a little weird around here. I was talking to Xena’s ashes and your dead body, and Argo and I were starting to understand each other."

"Thank you," she said sincerely. She tried again to sit up, but her body felt stiff from being dead for three days. "I have to get up…"

"No you don’t. You need rest." Ares picked up the urn of Xena’s ashes from the table next to the bed and set it beside Gabrielle. "I didn’t want anything to happen to her." he said quietly.

Gabrielle drew the urn close to her body. "I can bring her back, Ares. I passed the test. The Council said it was okay….."

She seemed to Ares to still be a little out of it. "I want to hear all about it, Gabrielle, but right now I’m letting you sleep." He pulled a blanket up over her robed body. Gabrielle’s eyes felt so heavy. Her body felt like she had been to Hades and back. She was exhausted.

"Ares---don’t leave." She mumbled as her eyes closed.

"I’ll still be here, Gabrielle," she heard him say. And she quickly drifted off into a deep, deep sleep.

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle slept for almost two days. True to his word, Ares stayed on, watching over her. Making sure nothing happened to her or Xena’s ashes. When Gabrielle awoke, she felt totally renewed. Her body seemed to have survived her difficult journey. She had dreamed, especially about Xena but, for the first time, the dreams did not end in tragedy. Ares’ sister, Aphrodite, had left a wonderful feast for her, and she ate heartily. And she told Ares all about her adventure in the Elysian Fields and the afterworld of Higuchi. She did not, however, go into the special times she had shared with Xena.

The one question that remained was where to find the jar of sacred water from Mt. Fuji. Without that water, Xena was still lost to her forever.

Sipping a mug of tea in the kitchen, arms on the table, she tried to figure out the riddle with Ares, who was sitting across from her. He had his chair tipped back against the wall. His feet were up on the table, but Gabrielle left him be. She owed him too much to grumble about having his boots on the table.

"I left my tears in so many places, Ares, from Japan to here. How am I supposed to know where to look? What do I do? Retrace my steps all the way back to Mt. Fuji?"

Ares stroked his black chin beard. "It can’t be that complicated, Gabrielle. There’s something we’re missing."

Gabrielle fell silent, deep in thought. She took another sip of her tea and then just started throwing out ideas. "Look where I dropped my tears. Look where I shed my tears. Look where I wiped my tears. Look where I buried my tears. Look…"

Ares dropped his feet to the floor with a thud and the chair straightened with a crash. "Wait---go back."

"To what?"

"When I first found you here, what were you doing?"

Gabrielle’s eyebrows drew together and she tried to remember. It seemed so long ago. Suddenly, she remembered. "I, I was burying Xena’s armor out back. And, and --- I did a lot of crying!" She leaped out of the chair. "That has to be it!"

Gabrielle ran out of the house, vaulted over the railing on the side of the porch, and ran to where she had so carefully buried Xena’s breastplate, armbands, and sword. She fell to the ground and began tearing at the grass and earth with her bare hands, flinging handfuls everywhere.

"Maybe this will help," and she looked up to see Ares holding a shovel.

"Wait!" she yelled, jumping to her feet. She grabbed the shovel out of his hands. "I’ll do it. If I break the jar…"

"Just be careful." Ares warned her.

Gabrielle dug slowly. Every time she pushed the shovel into the ground she made sure she wasn’t hitting anything that sounded like glass. It wasn’t long before she found the leather bag. She carefully lifted it out of the hole and untied the cord that held it closed. Reaching inside, she touched the sword and pieces of armor. And then she felt it: smooth and cold. Very carefully, she pulled out the white porcelain jar. "This is it," she whispered reverently.

Ares looked down at the innocent looking jar. "Now what?"

Gabrielle got to her feet, clutching the jar to her breast. "I’m not sure. You brought me back before the Ghost Killer completely told me what to do."

Ares shrugged. "Well, you’ll just have to try what you think is right, and see what happens."

*****************************************************

 

Gabrielle picked up the urn of Xena’s ashes and unscrewed the top. Very carefully, she poured the ashes onto the bedroom floor. She gulped, thinking of this being all that was left of Xena in this world. Just a pile of gray ashes.

Ares was leaning in the doorway, arms folded. He wasn’t going to tell Gabrielle what to do. Anyway, he really didn’t know. This was up to her. She had been through so much. He had come to admire her gutsy-ness. "She’s come a long way," he thought. This wasn’t the timid little Bard he had met so long ago.

Gabrielle took the stopper out of the white jar and carefully poured the water over Xena’s ashes. The ashes soaked up the liquid like a sponge---but nothing happened.

"Come on, Xena! Come on! Come back!," Gabrielle pleaded. "You’ve got to come back! I can’t go on without you! Please come back to me."

But there was nothing. No flash of light. No woosh of magic. Nothing but a pile of wet ashes. Ares swallowed hard and said "Come on, Gabrielle." He walked out into the main room. It was as if he couldn’t look one second longer.

Gabrielle looked at the soggy mess on the floor. "Xena. Xena. Now I don’t even have your ashes!" Tears began to flow. "Harukata lied. He promised, but he lied to me." She pushed herself to her feet slowly and walked out into the main room. Ares was leaning against the open door frame facing outside.

"For all the battles and fighting and arguments we had over the years," Ares said quietly, "I really loved her. I tricked her, deceived her, lied to her. She always seemed to see something good in me. I couldn’t see it---but Xena could."

Gabrielle was crying. She knew this was the end. There was nothing else they could do. She walked over to where Ares stood and put her arm on his. To her great surprise, he turned and embraced her. It wasn’t done in lust. It was a shared moment of grief, and Gabrielle embraced him, too, burying her face in his shoulder.

A voice suddenly spoke behind them. It was a strong, familiar voice---a voice that Gabrielle believed she would never hear again.

"Awww---don’t tell me you two got something going while I was gone!"

Ares and Gabrielle separated and spun around. Leaning against the bedroom doorframe was Xena. She had her arms folded across her brown leather dress. Her long black hair cascaded over her shoulders, her deep blue eyes sparkled, and her smile was beautiful!

Gabrielle’s hands flew to her mouth in shock. Ares had quickly regained his coolness. "Yea," he said calmly, "I found out that blondes have more fun."

Xena walked slowly up to Ares, put her hands on both sides of his face, and kissed him long and lovingly. As she backed away, she whispered, "Thank you."

Ares smiled. "Does this mean I finally have a chance?"

Xena patted his cheek. "Not in this world," she said playfully.

Ares shrugged. "Ah well. Maybe in the next world."

"Hopefully that won’t be again for a long, long time." Xena turned to face Gabrielle.

Ares rolled his eyes, "I know where this is going! See you two later!" And in the blink of an eye, he had vanished from the room.

Gabrielle took a step forward, then fell into Xena’s arms. "She’s real," she thought, "She’s back. She’s here!" Xena embraced her so tightly Gabrielle could feel Xena’s heart beating against her breast. Yes, her heart was beating once again.

Xena raised Gabrielle’s chin so their eyes met. "You did good," she said smiling. Her eyes spoke so much more.

Gabrielle did not wait for an invitation this time. She slid her arm around Xena’s neck, pulled her towards her and kissed her. Xena responded long, deeply, and passionately. And as Gabrielle held her Soulmate in her arms, she whispered, "Welcome home, Xena."

 


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