What Difference Death

by Christa Baran

Disclaimers: Of course they don't belong to me, except in my heart. However, sometimes things must be done to let the heart rest.

This is not exactly what happened in the episodes of A Friend In Need, but is rather my twist on what I would have preferred. It begins near the end of FIN, and uses what knowledge that the viewer had at that point. Nobody has said anything about Xena having to stay dead to offer retribution to all those souls, and nobody will. Retribution was served when Yodoshi was destroyed, and the spirits that he held are now free to move on.

The sun was setting fast. Almost too fast. Gabrielle sat beside the spring, the urn holding Xena's ashes poised to pour. Xena's ghostly hand rested on Gabrielle's, just the touch expressing her calm excitement. "Forty thousand people. Forty thousand tormented spirits, finally free to move on."

Xena smiled. "You mean forty thousand and one. In redeeming them, I've redeemed myself. Dying was awful, and I hate being apart from you, but it's worth it. It really is worth it to finally feel free again."

Gabrielle looked into the deep blue eyes, and returned the smile. "I can't wait to hear all about it. But, time is running out. I need to pour the ashes into the spring to bring you back before the sun sets." She tipped the urn, and the ashes spilled into the clear running water. Some parts sank to the bottom, while some parts floated on top, but the current soon swept most traces away. Gabrielle turned and looked at Xena expectantly . . . and looked . . . and looked. There was no change. "How long do we have to wait for it to work?"

Xena looked mystified. "I don't know. I . . . uh . . . what exactly is supposed to happen?"

"It's supposed to bring you back, that's what is supposed to happen." Gabrielle's brow creased as she frowned.

"I know that, but how?"

"Well, um . . . just, poof, you know? You're a ghost, and then you're alive again. So, what's wrong?"

Xena looked down at her hands. They looked and felt as solid as they ever had to her, but she knew that she was still without a flesh-and-blood body. There was something undefinable missing, although she couldn't pinpoint just what. She reached out and touched Gabrielle's cheek. If felt a bit cool from the mountain breeze, but as soft and real as always. Gabrielle obviously felt it too, as she leaned in to the touch. "I don't know what is wrong, but I don't think it's going to work. I'm afraid that I'm dead for good, unless we can find another way to bring back my body. It's happened before, you remember?"

Gabrielle looked up with a scowl. "I'm not giving up yet. Maybe it just takes a bit of time to work. I'll just wait here until it does."

Xena sighed, crossed her arms, and leaned against the cliff side. "Ok, if that's what you want to do. I have nowhere to go right now. After all, I told you that even death couldn't keep me from staying with you."

The sun set completely, and soon the mountain air was getting pretty cold. Gabrielle sat, and shivered. Xena suggested that they head back to some shelter, but Gabrielle refused. Finally, Xena threw up her hands and started to walk away. Gabrielle jumped to her feet. "Where are you going? I thought you were going to stay with me."

"Look," Xena said, "I can't make you leave, but I won't let you freeze to death out here. I'm going to get some wood to start a fire."

"Can you do that?" Gabrielle asked. "You couldn't take the chakram when I offered it to you earlier."

"That's because it is a spirit item, with a will of its own. It didn't want me to take it, so I couldn't. Ordinary stuff I can work with. So sit tight, and I'll be right back." She walked away. Although her pace seemed normal, she moved much faster than Gabrielle imagined possible, and was out of sight in moments. Almost as quickly as she had left, she was back with an armful of wood. She threw it down in a pile, and began to fashion a warm, slow-burning campfire.

If Gabrielle didn't think about it, she could have sworn that it was just another ordinary evening on the trail with the Warrior Princess. She sat on a rock next to the fire, and watched the flames lick at the black sky. The stars looked a bit different here in Japa, but they were definitely the same stars as back home.

"There's the momma bear, and there is the baby bear," she said, pointing up.

"They're dippers, Gabrielle, not bears."

"No, I swear, they're cute little bears . . . " The familiarity of the argument struck her hard at that moment, and the reality of their situation couldn't be avoided any more. Gabrielle realized that things would never be quite the same again. She burst into tears. "Why didn't the spring work, Xena? They said it would, I did everything that they said to . . . " She sobbed against Xena's surprisingly solid shoulder, as Xena wrapped the bard in her embrace.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I thought it would work too. But sometimes, the stories that we hear about miracles or magic are only stories. We've both experienced enough real miracles to know they do exist, but they're not all true." Gabrielle cried herself to sleep in Xena's arms. The warrior watched as the blonde's shoulders continued to jump, even after she was unconscious.

The morning dawned grey and cold. Gabrielle awoke to find herself covered with her cloak, and her bag beneath her head as a pillow. "Xena?" she called, looking around. Xena came around a pile of rocks to the north, carrying a rabbit. "Oh, there you are. I had the worst dream. You were dead, and I was trying to . . . "

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle, it wasn't a dream. I am dead."

Gabrielle was stunned. "What? But how . . . my stuff . . . "

"I figured out during the night that I could travel fast. Really fast. I got to Higuchi and back in only a few minutes. It's incredible! I bet with some practice, I'll be able to jump from one place to another in a blink of an eye."

"Oh. That's great," Gabrielle replied, without any enthusiasm.

"Gabrielle? What's wrong?"

"As if you didn't have enough skills to begin with. Maybe you can tell me about some more when I see you again, if I see you again."

"What do you mean? I'm not going anywhere. At least not for very long at a time. I told you, I'm staying with you until you can come with me, and I'll do my best to make sure that it will be a long time before that happens."

"But . . . don't you have to go . . . to the Underworld? To Judgment? To the Land of the Dead?" Gabrielle was confused, not knowing what to believe.

"Who's going to make me?" Xena replied. "Michael knows not to try and give me any grief, Hades is long gone, and I don't think that there is anyone else out there with enough guts or the strength to try and make me do anything. Believe me, I'm not leaving you alone."

Gabrielle was once again close to tears, but this time she was beaming. "Oh, Xena, I love you so much!" She fell into her soulmate's arms. After a moment, she sat back up with a sniff, and wiped at her eyes. "Ok, so tell me what else you can do."

"Well, you already know about my being able to seem solid, but I can also go through solid walls. I can be invisible, or only be seen and heard by the people that I want to see or hear me. Also, I can sneak even better than before . . . that makes hunting a breeze. And best of all, I can always be there to protect you. I don't have to sleep, or eat, anymore. I can watch over you, keep you safe, and see your smile every day."


And so it was that when Gabrielle boarded the boat heading for the Land of the Pharaohs (since she had heard somewhere that they could use a girl with a chakram), she booked passage for one, yet two set sail. Sure, some of the sailors looked at her strangely, but it could as easily have been because of her unusual fair hair and eyes as because of her invisible companion and her long talks with "herself." When it became known that she was a writer, even those one-sided conversations didn't seem so unusual. After all, everyone knows how strange those creative types can be.

No End in Sight

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