Obligatory statement of the obvious: This story contains the expression of love between two women.
Feedback regarding this story is welcome at Danae121@aol.com.
NOTE: No blood innocence or memories were lost during the writing of this story. However, an atrocious-looking saddle horn was found lying beside the road to Delphi.
Callisto has been watching them for three days now. I am still uncertain of her motive. During the day, she pursues, very careful not to stalk too closely. But, at night, she creeps near to their camp. She is especially observant of the tall one.
And, I trail the goddess. My name is Amnea. I am a naiad; a daughter of the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness which courses through the underworld. I have been tracking Callisto since the evening she appeared on the bank of the river. She moved with purpose when she squatted and filled a skin with our water. Rising, she corked the vessel, swung it over her shoulder, and strode back across the Lethe's plain. It is not forbidden to take water from the Lethe. However, those who abuse our powerful liquid are never allowed to draw from the river again. Given Callisto's reputation, my sisters and I agreed one of us should follow her, to make sure she does no harm with our drink. I volunteered. Two of my more protective siblings argued I am too young and innocent for this assignment. True, I had been across the Styx only once. I did not get a chance to dispute their allegation before our oldest sister, Hydrysia, philosophically settled the matter by proclaiming that innocence can not be preserved indefinitely... Better to choose the occasion for its loss than to have it stolen.
Tonight is not different than the last two I have spent spying on Callisto, except we have crept nearer than ever to their campsite. The goddess slowly and quietly slithers as close as she dares to the clearing where they recline on a blanket, talking intimately. An ugly smile pasted on her face, Callisto lies on her stomach and peers through the bushes. She waits.
Crouched against a tree, I wait too. My cousins, the dryads, notice us. They cast curious looks at me but do not question or interfere. They are smart. They know to tread clear of the insane goddess. No doubt, Callisto is aware of them. As a goddess, she is able to see into our dimension of existence. The humans, on the other hand, cannot.
Just when Callisto appears to be getting restless, the two cease their verbal foreplay. The raven-haired woman sits up, grabs a second blanket, and pulls it to cover their bodies. She reaches over to tuck the blanket under the blonde's arm and casually places a quick kiss on her lips. The warrior withdraws slightly, whispers something, and starts to lie back, but her lover curls an arm around the brunette's neck and pulls her down to capture her lips. This time the kiss is not quick. In fact, they spend what seems like an entire turn of the sandglass simply kissing.
Their love-making does not remotely resemble the frenzied quest which Callisto and I witnessed the first night. That evening, they had not even dismounted from the horse before they were overcome by passion. Hands and mouths all over one another, they managed to stumble only a few paces from the animal before they fell to the ground and came together in a heated rush. I had been embarrassed for the mare who tried to clop inconspicuously away into the trees.
Last night, the blonde sat up late, scribbling on parchment by the light of the fire. The older woman fell asleep snuggled next to her before the bard put down the quill pen. When the girl eventually rolled the scroll and laid it aside, she watched her companion sleep for a long while. I was touched by the love that shined from her beautiful face as she stroked the warrior's dark tresses. Though I had been observing them for only two days and had not even been able to hear their words, I was certain about the uncommon purity and depth of their relationship.
My attention drifts to Callisto, who is frowning but intent on the amorous display. I focus again on the couple under the blanket. Desire heightens and, even from this distance, I can hear their hungry moans and gasps. The tall one rapidly unlaces her lover's top and gently caresses both breasts before taking an erect nipple in her mouth. Apparently no longer possessing of the virtue of patience, the bard pushes on the warrior's shoulders. A grin comes to the dark-haired woman's lips as she steals a look at the blonde's face and slides down under the blanket. The younger woman's utterances of urgent need and pleasure leave no doubt about the nature of the act hidden from our view. Not much later, the blonde lets out a throaty cry of ecstasy and melts into a puddle of release.
Callisto's eyebrows rise expectantly and then return to their normal position when the warrior emerges from beneath the cover to gather her beloved in her arms. Encircling the woman on top of her, the bard smiles when the tall one buries her face in her strawberry-blonde hair. The smile disappears and her eyes become wide momentarily when her lover begins to slowly thrust her hips. Now, it is the girl's turn to grin, and she moves her hands somewhere out of sight. Soon, the grinding movements intensify. The blanket itself seems to throb. Arching her head back, the warrior audibly exhales a ragged, held breath and then wilts onto the body underneath her.
The bard takes her lover's face in her hands and wipes away tears of emotion which are brimming in very blue eyes. I see her mouth form the words 'I love you.' They kiss resolutely and then again with contentment. Some time later, the warrior joins Callisto and I in a waiting game. With a blissful expression, she holds the blonde and gazes at her face until she is sure the young woman is asleep. Only then, she closes her own eyes.
If this night is like the past two, I know Callisto will next retreat into the woods and sit mumbling to herself until morning. But, tonight, Callisto does not crawl away.
The moon navigates half the dome of the sky before the goddess finally stands. A hideous sneer crosses her face. With painstaking care to move noiselessly, she tiptoes to the edge of the clearing. She snakes out a hand and grabs hold of their water skin which is lying a mere five paces from their sleeping forms. In a flash, she has taken her own water skin from her shoulder and swapped it for theirs. She must have searched long and hard to acquire an identical skin. As she backs gingerly away, realization engulfs me. At last, I understand her objective. I wonder if she intends to erase both their memories or just the warrior's.
The day is about to dawn. I have edged closer to the clearing and now kneel behind a large boulder. Callisto has been so preoccupied all night that it was not difficult to sneak to their camp without being detected. I could not resist the opportunity to observe these two more closely. The fair-haired goddess paces. She has moved a good distance away. Every so often, she stops and glares at the dozing females.
The instant the first rays of the sunrise spurt through the trees, the tall one's eyes open. She is pleased to find herself lying partially on top of her companion. Propping herself up on an elbow, she does a double-take when she sees that her lover is awake. The blonde gives her a radiant smile.
Callisto notices and leaps behind a tree with such speed I barely see where she went. A moment later, her head leans out. Again, we wait and watch. At last, I am close enough to listen too.
"You're awake?!" I wonder why the warrior says this with astonishment.
The bard nods. "My hunger woke me."
"Of course..." the older woman says sarcastically. "What else could convince you to open your eyes this early?!" She tenderly brushes hair away from the girl's face and then heaves her own body to a standing position.
The little one sits up and grins. She waits for the warrior to look at her. "Xena... for someone so tall, I'm surprised anything goes over your head." Her green eyes twinkle as she watches her meaning register on the other's face.
So... she is called 'Xena.' I am glad to finally have a name for the warrior. I had been entertaining myself trying to guess it.
Xena raises her eyebrow. She leans down, kisses the blonde lightly, and whispers, "Both your appetites are insatiable, aren't they?" The bard smiles demurely.
As she has each morning, the first thing the warrior does is fetch the water skin. I glance at Callisto. Dark excitement and anticipation sparkle in her eyes. I catch my breath as I watch the stunning brunette lift the skin and gulp. The goddess opens her mouth and runs her tongue over the edges of her teeth. A wildly happy but demented look blazes from her face. The warrior takes another long swig and wipes her mouth on the back of her hand. She hesitates and stares at her palm for a moment. Then, she brings her fingers to her nose and inhales. The corners of her mouth turn up slightly, and her eyes smolder and settle on the bard.
The younger woman rolls their blankets, talking incessantly while she works. When she finishes with the second blanket, she poses a question to her lover. Not getting an answer, she turns to Xena. I grimace. I know the water is already working its magic. Xena shakes her head as if to clear it, then shakes it again. The confusion on the warrior's face is unmistakable. I have seen that dazed emptiness and bewilderment on too many faces to count.
The blonde assumes Xena is joking with her. When the warrior continues to act as if she has just woken from a coma, the bard becomes annoyed and then worried. She steps close and lays a hand on Xena's arm. The older woman flinches and backs away. The young one's mouth drops open. "Xena, please stop it. You're scaring me."
I am surprised to see Callisto step out. The bard doesn't notice, but she nearly jumps out of her boots when the goddess speaks.
"Oh, isn't this a pity? ...Xena has forgotten the name of her little friend."
Frozen, the blonde looks as if she will faint. She begins to tremble. Her panicky eyes move slowly to Callisto's wicked smile. I think she is in shock, and I wonder what horror she has suffered at Callisto's hand to exhibit such fear now.
"You don't know what's going on, do you Xena?" The goddess saunters toward their campsite. Xena does not react. She looks at Callisto blankly.
The bard jerks her head frantically toward Xena and stares incredulously. She moves to stand between the warrior and the approaching immortal. "I don't know what you've done to her, Callisto, but you'd better back off!" I am impressed. The girl is visibly shaking, but, despite her terror, she defends her lover against the goddess.
Callisto laughs condescendingly. "Relax, dear. I just want to chat."
The bard glances behind her. "Xena, quick!... your chakram!... it's there beside you!"
"Oh, no, no, no, Gabrielle... Pretty Xena can't help. She can't remember what her chakram is, let alone how to use it."
'Gabrielle.' The name suits her.
Now running a finger over her chin and down her throat, the goddess continues. "You see, Xena has lost her memory. She can't recall anything. She has no idea who she is... who you are... or who I am. She doesn't even remember what she did to you under that blanket last night."
The warrior's eyebrow arches at this. Gabrielle's lips part, and she blinks as if she has just been slapped.
Callisto sighs and inspects her fingernails. "Hmm... you're wondering how this is possible, aren't you? ...I'll be tickled pink to explain." The goddess picks up the water skin from where Xena dropped it. "This skin contains water from the Lethe."
"The Lethe!" Gabrielle is in awe, and I am flattered by her reaction.
"Yes. You know the Lethe, Gabrielle... the river of forgetfulness." Callisto's sing-song voice becomes low. "No... our Xena won't be strolling down memory lane ever again." She smiles maliciously. "Well... at least not until I have paved her a new road of lovely memories." Becoming serious, she curls her lip and snarls. "And, I can't tell you how much I look forward to making miserable memories for her. I'm going to fill her mind with memories just as wretched as she gave me!"
Xena's face is the picture of befuddlement. I am not sure she comprehends what the goddess is saying. Obviously, she did not drink enough of the water to submerge her into a child-like bog. She is aware of her environment. My assumption is she has lost only her memories of events. The bard's cheeks become red, and she clenches her fists. I can sense her rage building.
"My goodness. Are you angry, Gabrielle?" Callisto strolls in circles. She cocks her head and flashes another cruel smile. "So, how've you two been?"
The blonde speaks boldly. "Callisto, how did you escape that lava pit?!"
"Oh, please! What was Xena thinking?!... dumping me into lava, of all things." She laughs. "If there's one weapon I understand, it's heat! ...You know, Velasca was a nice little playmate for a while, and that lava was perfect for some fun games. ...But, well, Velasca wasn't very good at them."
Callisto cackles again. The sound is beginning to irritate me. She raises her face to the sky and states absently, "Such a pretty day."
Gabrielle is seething. She turns and searches Xena's eyes. The warrior is the shell of a person, but she looks alarmed. Evidently, she understands the bard is a friend. Her eyes beg Gabrielle to explain what is happening. The blonde blinks back her tears and faces the goddess. "So... this is it? Where's the challenge, Callisto? She can't even remember how to fight you!"
"You catch on quick, Gabrielle," the goddess says in a bored tone.
The little one surges at Callisto, but the immortal repels her with a back-handed strike. Blood pours from the bard's busted lip. I freeze into an icicle. Until now, my eyes had never been burned by the sight of physical violence... I had never seen blood. I struggle to remain afloat while a torrent of emotions swirls within me.
"Don't bother trying to threaten me, Gabrielle! You should be thankful for that water! Xena's guilty memories are now forgotten. Look at her face... It's all light and... innocence." Callisto tilts her head at Xena. She almost looks disappointed by the warrior's new countenance.
"That innocence could get her killed!" The bard backs up to stand directly in front of Xena. "Why don't you just kill her now and get it over with?!"
Callisto sighs. "No... no, no. You see, I'm not interested in merely murdering Xena. ...Oh, yes, I could've risen out of that lava and killed her in an instant. I could have run her own sword through her heart while you watched. Or, I could have mutilated you first while she watched. Come to think of it, there are so many possible... titillating scenarios."
Callisto bites her lip. "You know, Gabrielle, death is just so... final. The more I thought about it, I realized how much I'd miss Xena if she weren't around to torture." She giggles wickedly. "The problem is, Gabrielle, I become bored very easily. And, well, a goddess has to have something to keep her busy. So, I figure it'll be much more fun if Xena remains alive. Whatever would I find to do if she were in stuck in Tartarus?!"
"You're mad, Callisto."
"Why, thank you. I'll take that as a compliment." The goddess twirls and walks quickly away, laughing loudly.
Now I understand why mortals guzzle from the Lethe. Only our potent fluid could cleanse a mind of vile memories such as Callisto has just given me. As she sails away with my innocence, I hope I never see her again.
My sisters must be very anxious about me; I should return to the river. But, I feel too drained to make the journey just now. I lean on the rock, my chin resting on my arms. I drown in empathetic sadness as I listen to Gabrielle and Xena. All morning, they have been talking. In fact, the warrior has said more this morning than during the whole of the prior three days. I conclude her previous reticence was related to her memories. She still possesses an adult's vocabulary and reasoning, but her memory of people and places has been washed away.
The bard, on the other hand, is laconic. She replies numbly to Xena's deluge of questions. Just after Callisto departed, Gabrielle tried to hold Xena, to console her, and reassure her that everything was okay. Naturally, the warrior was uncomfortable with the affection of a total stranger. She shrank from the bard and would not make eye contact. It wrenched my gut to see Gabrielle's painful reaction.
They lapse into silence. For her part, Xena seems to be utterly flabbergasted. Gabrielle explained that she is a mighty warrior who possesses many skills. Xena looks at her sword as if she doesn't know which end to hold. The bard studies the brunette's face, then lowers her eyes mournfully. I think the she is experiencing a form of grief. Her Xena is no more. The woman sitting next to her has no cognizance of the many things they have surely shared... no appreciation for the bonds which had developed between them... no love to return. My heart goes out to her, and I curse Callisto.
Gabrielle makes up an excuse to leave the clearing. She hurries, almost staggering, through the woods. I can't help but to chase after her. My sympathy for her is compelling. Out of Xena's range of sight and hearing, the little one collapses and hysterically pounds her fists onto the mossy ground. She swears at Callisto more colorfully than I did. She wipes tears away with a forearm, and her eyes come to rest on the massive tree beside her. "There must be something that we can do!" she cries with both hope and despair.
The cheerful, plump dryad who lives in the tree looks at her quizzically, then chuckles and glances at me. "The girl gazes at my tree as if she expects it to answer."
"Why don't you?" I say encouragingly. "You know what she should do." The chubby nymph frowns and snaps her head around, looking for someone. I assume it is Callisto. "Do not worry," I hasten to add. "The goddess has gone. Quick, let the wind whisper through your leaves... tell her!"
The dryad's eyes soften with compassion. She checks the woods for Callisto once more, then stretches the branches of her tree so the breeze catches them. The air becomes like a low, raspy voice as it rushes between the foliage. "Apollo... Apollo."
Gabrielle does not realize how the idea occurs to her. She only hears the wind. But, the subliminal message is communicated, and her face suddenly lights up with the thought that perhaps the god of healing can restore Xena's mind. The bard is tearful again, but this time with the joyful prospect that she could be reunited with her lover. She bounds off toward the campsite.
I wink at the nymph in the huge tree. She smiles knowingly and speaks again. "What love she must have for the warrior." I smile too and run after the blonde.
When I return to the clearing, I find Gabrielle standing next to the horse, her hands on her hips. "You don't remember how to ride either?!"
The warrior shrugs.
"Boy, are you going to be embarrassed when you get your memory back." The bard has already convinced herself Xena's memory WILL be restored. Her mood is now buoyant. I wonder if she is always this optimistic. She pulls herself up into the saddle. I sense that she is not comfortable on top of the animal. Laying a hand on the saddle horn, she says, "I ought to take advantage of your condition and have this god-awful thing removed."
Xena wrinkles her nose at it. "It is pretty disgusting."
Gabrielle holds a hand down and helps the warrior into the saddle behind her. She pokes the horse with a heal. "Let's go, Argo."
And, now I have the horse's name too. 'Argo'... Good, strong, aquatic name.
When the little one kicks Argo's sides again sharply, the horse lurches forward. The warrior wraps her arms around the small waist in front of her to keep from rolling backward off the mare. As I trot along beside, I hear the bard say slyly over her shoulder, "You'd better hold on TIGHT... Argo has a tendency to bolt every so often."
The mare rolls her eyes at me.
It is well after sundown when we arrive at Delphi. Gabrielle asks an elderly man for directions to Apollo's temple. He tells us it is just on the other side of the city and before the woods. I sense the bard is very weary. We stopped only once all day so they could duck into a tavern for a meal. But, they barely had time to down their stew before two warlords entered. The little one immediately perceived the danger Xena was in, unable to remember how to defend herself. As soon as she saw the potential enemies, Gabrielle grabbed the warrior out of her seat and goaded her out the back door before the warlords had a chance to recognize Xena.
Twice while they walked the bard was forced to protect her lover. Once, she creatively used her words. The other time, she manipulated her staff with such speed, neither Xena nor I saw how she decked the thug. Throughout the day, Gabrielle spoke quietly... telling stories of their adventures together. I think she hoped against hope that one of the tales would jar Xena's memory.
Leaning against the blonde's back, Xena dozes while they ride to the temple. She seems to now trust her companion, or maybe she realizes she has no choice. When we arrive, Gabrielle nudges her awake. The warrior seems fearful for a moment, then gives the bard a weak smile in return for a very warm and comforting one.
We enter the temple. Gabrielle urges Xena to sit on a stone bench near the door. The blonde rushes to the other end of the shrine and calls Apollo's name several times. An attendant appears from the recesses of the sanctuary and speaks to Gabrielle. Then, the bard returns to Xena and sits next to her. "They're going to call for him," she states.
A short while later, Apollo's voice startles all of us. Gabrielle jumps up. "Wait here," she says to Xena and hurries to the altar where the god stands. I move close enough to hear what they will say. Apollo notices me and raises his eyebrows, but he does not betray my presence. He knows I am far from home. As soon as the bard explains, he will understand why.
"Apollo!" Gabrielle breathes reverently. She kneels before him.
Apollo touches her shoulder, indicating that she should rise. "Why have you called me, child?"
The bard stands. "I hope that you can help my friend."
Apollo raises his chin and looks beyond Gabrielle at the warrior. "What ails her?"
"She was tricked into drinking water from the Lethe. She's lost her memory. Can you restore it? Will you heal her?" The bard's eyes plead earnestly.
The god glances at me. He now appreciates why I watch. I nod seriously, conveying my agreement that Xena should be healed. I know he trusts my assessment. My sisters and I have confirmed our water's misuse to him before, and he has always acted to correct the wrong doing.
Apollo smiles warmly at Gabrielle. "Don't fret, dear girl. I will heal her mind."
Through tears of relief and gratitude, the bard starts to speak but is interrupted by a scream which I am certain would curdle even the brine that pulses through Poseidon. I shudder as I realize who is now standing at the door of the temple. Callisto.
Unsure whether she has yet seen me, I skip behind a pillar. I swallow hard. I fear not for myself, but what she may do to my sisters if she finds out I have helped these two. Hades would punish her severely if she harmed any of us, but I know she is crazed enough to risk his wrath.
Gabrielle backs away slightly as the goddess marches determinedly toward Apollo. "How dare you?!" she hisses. "Don't interfere with my plans, Apollo!"
"So, you're responsible for this, Callisto. I should have known." The god sighs. "Callisto, you know I won't allow the Lethe's magic to be disrespected." My heart swells with affection for the handsome god.
"This is none of your business!" The goddess is fuming.
"I'm making it my business."
"Apollo, I'm warning you. You undo what I've done, and I will fill your temple with thousands of wailing mortals... so many, it will take you ten winters to heal them all!"
I catch my breath. Like I do, Apollo knows she will carry out her threat. I hang my head with the realization that he will not jeopardize the lives of thousands for the memory of one.
Gabrielle seems to grasp this too. Her eyes become desperate. She takes a courageous step toward the goddess. "Callisto, please!!! I'll do anything you ask, if you'll let Apollo heal Xena!!"
Callisto seems caught off guard. She blinks at the girl. I can almost see the whirlpool spinning in her deranged brain. The suspense is palpable. Very slowly, a base smile disfigures her lips. "Anything, Gabrielle??"
Without hesitation, the bard drops to her knees directly in front of the immortal. "Anything, Callisto."
The goddess reaches her hand to a lock of Gabrielle's hair and twists it around her finger. Without taking her eyes from the bard, she lifts her chin and shouts toward the rear of the temple. "Do you see, Xena?! I have your lover on her KNEES before me, BEGGING to please me!"
The warrior's brow furrows. She would like to rebut, but I know she has no clue what to do. I wish I were powerful enough to overtake the witch myself.
Callisto seems frustrated by Xena's stupefied inaction. She brings her scowling face near Gabrielle's. "Yes... perhaps there is an even more amusing way to kill Xena's soul. After all, there's nothing in the world that Xena loves more than her charming little sidekick..." She slaps the bard hard and growls, "Is there?!" Gabrielle grits her teeth at the pain Callisto has inflicted; she returns her eyes to the goddess's face.
Callisto straightens and shoots an aggravated glance at Apollo. She begins to stroll around the bard. "Yes, Gabrielle... you just may be the lovely pawn who will ensure my satisfaction. Off the top of my head, I can think of hundreds of delightful ways to use you against our dear Xena... but, of course, Xena would have to remember who you are, wouldn't she??" The goddess stops in her tracks behind Gabrielle and stares gravely at the god of medicine. "Alright, Apollo. Restore Xena's memory. I won't retaliate..." Bending close to the bard's ear, she hisses, "...if Gabrielle first carries out a wee task."
"What do you want, Callisto?" The little one is both jubilant and afraid.
A broad smile spreads over the goddess's face. In a leisurely, melodic voice she says, "You will agree to take a life."
I am confused. Gabrielle seems to be also. "What do you mean?"
"You will kill, Gabrielle!! You will voluntarily lose your blood innocence! You will take Xena's sword... and you will run it through a beating heart!"
Now things make sense. This darling young woman has never been responsible for a death. Gabrielle's eyes bulge. The goddess cackles repulsively, then moves in front of the bard. "Clever idea, isn't it? I can't think of many things which would cause Xena more agony than to know you sacrificed your sacred blood innocence for HER!" Callisto laughs loudly again. I feel like I will be sick.
Gabrielle speaks evenly. "How am I supposed to know you won't just kill me as soon as I lose my blood innocence?"
Callisto's voice drips with sarcasm. "Oohhh... now, I hadn't thought of that one! Do you suppose it would bother Xena to lose her precious little bard??!"
As Gabrielle opens her mouth to speak, Apollo's voice thunders through the temple. "No deal, Callisto!" Shocked, the goddess sneers at him. He continues. "I won't allow an innocent life to be taken just to sate your thirst for revenge."
Gabrielle springs to her feet. She gapes at the god and at Callisto, then she spins around to look at Xena. The warrior wears an expression of pathetic helplessness. The bard's breathing becomes shallow and her eyes are distraught. A storm of despondency brews on her face. Suddenly, she moves to Apollo and takes his arm. She pulls him some distance from Callisto and begins to whisper. The god appears offended by her forwardness, but he instantly becomes immersed in her words. Gabrielle spreads her palms emphatically while she speaks. To no avail, I strain to hear what she is saying. Apollo's eyebrows crease deeply. The bard stops talking and gazes up at him. He lays a hand on her shoulder. Several long moments later, he nods and says, "Very well." Turning to the goddess, he speaks lowly. "I agree to your terms, Callisto."
I am astounded. Gabrielle must be the most talented bard in the known world to have changed Apollo's mind about this! I would give up my weekly ride in the Lethe's current to know the poetic rhetoric she employed to sway his justice.
Callisto hides her surprise with an elated pant of victory. Promises of misery rippling in her eyes, she winks at Gabrielle. "This is just the beginning, dear. We are going to have so much fun together tormenting Xena." She beams hatefully and evaporates into thin air.
Apollo trains his eyes on Gabrielle and touches her cheek. "Child, you don't have to do what she asks."
"Yes, I do. I'm not going to let Callisto win. If I don't do this, Xena will always be at her mercy... not to mention that of every other warlord who'd like to kill her."
The god frowns. "I regret that there is no other way. It's a ghastly decision she forces you to make."
"It's a choice I make gladly." She pauses and smiles feebly. "It's the ONLY choice. I won't allow Callisto to use me to hurt Xena. Besides, I know Xena will find a way to get her."
Apollo grips the bard's shoulder again. "I will heal Xena the moment you have acted."
"Thank you, Apollo. I mean that." Tears brim in the little one's eyes and in mine.
The blonde stares into space after Apollo dissolves. She sighs heavily and walks to Xena. The warrior's face lights up when the bard approaches.
Gabrielle kneels between her legs and places her hands on Xena's forearms. She swallows several times before she is able to speak. "Xena... everything is going to be alright. Apollo is going to restore your memory."
Genuine relief floods the tall one's face. "Thank you, Gabrielle."
The bard touches her cheek. "I'd do anything for you, Xena." Tears overflow from her eyes. Gabrielle stands. She takes the warrior's hands and encourages her to rise also. "Xena, I have to go now. You wait here, okay? Apollo will return soon to give you back your memory." The warrior nods. Gabrielle stands on her tiptoes and removes Xena's sword from it's sheath. She blinks away tears, and clenches her jaw. Taking a deep breath, she gazes into the warrior's cobalt eyes. "Xena..."
The older woman bows her head to the bard's with concern. "What is it, Gabrielle?"
"I'd like to kiss you. Will you let me?"
The warrior arches an eyebrow and holds it there. Despite the puzzlement on her face, she nods. Gabrielle's lips part with diluted joy when Xena yields. She reaches a hand under thick, dark hair to gently coax Xena's head down. I hold my breath for fear of disturbing the sweetness with which Gabrielle brushes her lips against the warrior's. Tears splash down her cheeks as she presses her mouth more fully onto Xena's. The tall one is passive at first, but, like sea-fire, a spark seems to skip from the bard to the warrior, and, after several moments, Xena's hand frees itself from Gabrielle's and move to the bard's face. They kiss with mounting intensity. Then, Xena seems to remember herself, or, more accurately, FORGET herself, and pulls away. Wide-eyed, she blinks at Gabrielle. With heart-breaking tenderness, the bard breathes, "I love you, Xena... forever. Please don't forget that."
Even if Xena was planning to respond, the bard is out the door. The warrior watches her go. I hear her whisper, "I must love you too." She purses her lips and sits again on the bench.
My inclination is to follow Gabrielle. But, I know Apollo may want to speak to me when he returns, so I tarry with Xena. We have not been waiting long at all when the god is there already. "It is done," he says. "She has taken a life." I am baffled. How could Gabrielle have overpowered someone so quickly?! She could not even have made it back into the city yet. Apollo looks at me and tosses his head toward the door. "Go... see to her."
Something in the god's voice causes the water to run cold in my veins. As he places his palm on Xena's forehead, a tidal wave of comprehension crashes upon me. No longer interested in watching Xena's memory return, I fly from the temple like hurricane-driven rain. I stop at the road, not sure where to head. I turn to the dryad in the nearest tree. "Where did she go?!" The nymph points into the woods behind her. I have not traveled a tenth of a league when I see her. I soak up the scene before me. Indeed, Callisto has NOT won. The life Gabrielle has taken does not rob her of her blood innocence. My body threatens to transform itself into a teardrop as I realize Hydrysia was right. With much effort, I regain my composure and walk to the bard. I kneel and carefully lift her dead body from the sword on which she fell.