DISCLAIMER: The time for any disclaimer has long passed. This story is what it is, and I’m proud of it.
7DiP Info: Started May, 1998; Finished September, 1998. The story takes place after the third season: Gabrielle had sacrificed herself to destroy Hope, falling into Dahak’s pit and dying in Xena’s place.
The Vesuvius eruption chapter was posted on August 24, the anniversary of the eruption in 79 AD.
To the Pompeians who are frozen in time, your fate will haunt us forever …
SEVEN DAYS IN POMPEII
Xena stood before the ocean, staring out to sea. A strong wind slapped a light ocean spray against her skin, and darkening sky offered little warmth. She stood, unfeeling; staring at the disappearing sun wishing desperately that she could follow its path down into the depths of the ocean and leave this life of endless pain and torment forever.
She couldn't remember how she came to be here. She recalled mounting Argo and leaving the temple of Dahak in an empty daze. Without so much as a glance back, she left a dead Callisto, a grieving Joxer, a score of villagers, death and destruction and whatever gods were still alive to fend for themselves. She had done enough, sacrificed enough, been wounded down to her very soul. Half-heartedly, she turned Argo in the direction of the forest and then allowed the horse to take her wherever the mare chose.
The faithful war horse brought her to the ocean as though the mare knew this particular location alone could help the stricken warrior.
Of all the places, Xena found herself staring out to sea from the very spot where she and Gabrielle had frolicked upon their return from Illusia. Her heart should have been breaking apart in her chest from the weight of those memories. Somehow, though, she felt only peace.
Xena closed her eyes and let the memory of their reunion fill her emptiness.
"Home at last, Gabrielle," Xena whispered to no one but the sea.
Wiping dripping ocean spray from her face, Xena turned to walk back to the shelter of the cliff and Argo where mare was waiting patiently for her in the sand.
Xena looked up from the sand at her horse and managed a small smile.
"Well, I'm glad someone around here is thinking," she said, glancing at the large piece of driftwood the mare was standing near.
"Found some wood for a fire, huh girl? I guess we're staying the night."
Xena looked round and shrugged. She could care less where she camped - tonight or from now on. Nothing seemed to matter. Feeling her heart sinking quickly, she decided to get to work on a fire... to distract her thoughts, if nothing else.
A bit of chopping and in a few moments, a small fire was lighting the cliff wall with a soft glow. By this time, the sky had lost most of its color, turning Xena's world from vibrant gold to deep blue.
The warrior sat on a thick piece of leftover driftwood; the rest lay in a pile of chopped pieces at her right waiting to be fed to the fire. Argo stood silently, ready for her mistress to perform the rest of her usual nightly routine: removal of the itchy and sweaty saddle and then a nice rub down. After awhile, it became obvious to the mare that this was not going to happen tonight. The horse ambled off in search of some sweet grass.
Xena stared at the dancing flames for a bit before offering a piece of driftwood to the fire. At the moment, she had no thoughts and was grateful for that. She wistfully hoped her mind would remain still for the rest of the night, but knew this to be impossible. The silence would not allow it.
It was so quiet.
The fire crackled. And then there was the sound of ocean waves hitting the shore.
It was too quiet.
She removed the scabbard from her back and pulled out her sword, ready to start sharpening. The thought of doing it made her stomach turn. She threw the sword, sheath and all onto the sand at her feet.
"I can't stand the silence, Gabrielle," Xena whispered to the air.
She warmed her hands over the fire; the air was getting chilly.
"I apologize right now for all the times I yelled at you to be quiet."
Xena wrapped her arms around her upper body and began to rock slowly, back and forth.
"I'm sorry for every time I ever rolled my eyes at your stories."
She closed her eyes and pictured Gabrielle in her mind, imagining the soft smile that would grace the bard's features at the sound of Xena's words.
"By the gods, I would give anything to hear you tell one now!" the warrior cried out to the sea.
The dead can hear your thoughts.
Xena's head snapped to Argo. She found herself staring at the bag of scrolls strapped securely to the side of the saddle. Gabrielle's scrolls. Her stories.
The warrior stood quickly up from her seat on the chunk of driftwood and took quick, purposeful strides toward the horse. Argo snickered softly, lifting her head in anticipation to watch as her mistress approached. But Xena only removed the bag and returned to her seat, without even stopping to pet her nose.
Nope, no rub down tonight. The mare's attention went back to the grass.
Xena sat back down on the driftwood slab and fed more fuel to the fire, arranging the wood to produce the maximum amount of light. The flames flickered a bit higher, illuminating the warrior's features in an orange glow.
She opened the flap on the bag, pausing to run her fingers over a few scrolls with a tender touch.
"I never helped you with these, did I?" Xena realized, caressing the outside of the bag and looking up to the stars.
"Never asked what you were writing. Or bothered to take the time to sit and read one of your finished stories. I told myself it was your thing. Weapons were my thing and scrolls were your thing. I could have at least helped you with names and places, but I never even thought to ask."
Xena shook her head, angry at herself for taking so many things for granted.
"Gods, how did you put up with me all this time, Gabrielle?"
Her thoughts ran quickly out of control, turning to memories of all the nights and campfires they had shared together. In all those nights, how was it that Xena managed to focus on anything and everything, but the one thing that was the most precious to her?
"I don't even know what's in this bag!" Xena announced out loud to the ocean air, turning briefly to Argo when the mare answered the comment with a snort.
"Ya got that right, Argo."
Xena paused for a moment, staring at the bag and its contents before reaching in to pull out a rolled parchment.
"I'm going to read one of your stories every night, Gabrielle, for however long I manage to stay alive," Xena promised aloud. Hopefully not long, followed in her thoughts.
"We'll end each day together, my bard."
She unrolled the random choice, turning the parchment slightly toward the fire so that the light might better illuminate the carefully written words.
Xena's eyes scanned over the page, filling with warmth and sparkle.
"I feel so close to you now, Gabrielle. Like I'm sitting right next to you."
She lifted her head and looked out at the black ocean, the night sky. She could hear the waves better than she could see them.
"I guess maybe I am."
Her eyes returned to the parchment and she began to read:
"I should hate the sea. After all, it is Poseidon's realm that makes my stomach turn each time I feel its heartbeat underneath my feet. It was the ocean that brought us to Ithaca and the near heartbreak who called himself Ulysses. And only the sea could have damned Cecrops in the name of the ocean god to an eternity of endless pain searching for a love he might have never found.
I should fear the sea. For it once swallowed us whole and brought out the worst of our fears as we lay trapped within its depths. And it is those very depths that now holds the last of my innocence in the form of a golden ring. How easily I tossed it away, giving it up to the mer.
But mostly, it is the sea that I should curse because it carried me to Britannia and threw me into the cold arms of evil. An evil that sucked the very soul from me, leaving behind an empty heart - once so filled with love, consumed so easily by hate.
And it was to the ocean she dragged me. It was over the vast water she stood poised to throw me.
Then it was into the sea that we both plunged from lofty heights. So wrapped up in our pain and anguish, we threw our arms around each other in one last angry embrace and fell from the grace of love into the churning waters of hate.
Perhaps Poseidon had his revenge after all."
Xena looked up from the scroll as she felt herself hyperventilating. Gods, maybe this was not such a good idea. But she was compelled to read on and so, after closing her eyes for a brief moment to calm her racing heart, she turned her gaze back to the parchment and continued.
"But the truth of it all, is that I will forever be indebted to the sea. I vow to sing its praises and marvel at its beauty. I promise to lay tribute at Poseidon's shrines and gives thanks for his gift to us which are the ocean and its entire vast splendor. I will love the great sea and give thanks for the rest of my mortal life and beyond.
For it was the ocean that cleansed us. It was its gentle waves that carried us back to one another. It was in the ocean's embrace where our broken hearts were healed and our souls reunited. The kiss of the ocean blessed us that day, even as we kissed one another.
For this alone, I could be eternally grateful.
But there is more.
It was the glorious ocean that brought us to Pompeii, and for this...the sea will always have my heart."
"Pompeii," Xena's breath exhaled and was carried away by the offshore breeze. The fire cracked in response and Xena looked at its blaze with unseeing eyes.
"Pompeii," Xena repeated and a small smile found its way to her heart.
"Thank you, Gabrielle."
Xena slipped from the driftwood into the sand and sat so that her back could rest against the wood. She threw a large piece of log into the flame and then stretched her legs to make herself more comfortable.
With a happy sigh, the warrior settled in to read realizing, once again, the bard had found a way to bring her peace in the long, dark night.
Continued - Chapter 2
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