Disclaimer:. This is not a tribute to a certain author. Living, active writers dont need em. I wrote this for myself, anyone who thinks otherwise is challenged to come up with a better ending.
As well, I do not hate the fifth season, but as a Bard I have this magical keyboard that allows me to play whatever tunes I prefer.
Violence Warning: Definitely. Unusual in my stories, but many readers might wish to avoid the three italicized paragraphs in the first section. (Atropos)
Sex: PG13, Consenting adults who love each other and happen to be of the same sex. If this is a problem due to age or local law, please move, or move on. Though I still personally think you need to get out more.
Spoilers Alert: Quite a few. There are references to Been There, Done That, and from Family Affair right up to Chakrum
Multiple thanks to each of the Exchange Bards who made this story more than it would have been. From suggestions, to line by line corrections, (many of which I ignored claiming technique), thank you, guys. Your support is what makes the Xenaverse special. This includes in no particular order Kelly Noble, Mary Morgan, Cath, Ruth, Georgia, thenorm, extra, (geez, whos left to read this?) and another fanfic author who will not remain anonymous, Archaeobard.
Part I Atropos
In Greek mythology, the eldest of the Fates, who cuts the thread of human life.
I was first aware of the sea; the tang of salt and mud flats nearby, the cries of the sea birds, the crash of waves. I was standing on an abutment, staring out over water. The scent was familiar, the Aegean I knew, from a dozen different clues. No drifting snow flakes. No crosses. No Roman soldiers. I flexed my back muscles and closed my eyes with relief, still anticipating the other boot dropping. I turned, and there she was. Almost unrecognizable. Her pleasure in her drills clear even from this distance. My only thoughts: she is alive, we are alive, and my journeys might finally be over.
I watched her with her weapons, her intensity almost frightening, until she glanced my way, and flashed me her full smile, melting my heart and easing a haggard soul. She was a vision; her now short cropped straw coloured hair damp from sweat. I recognized her weapons as being primarily defensive, but in her skilled use, I saw some of the more deadly positions being performed. My uneasiness was quickly subdued when she laughed and slowed her movements, signaling the end of the practice. She adroitly tossed and caught a sai, then turned and ran towards me, her health and strength apparent in each lithe move. Her eyes glowed as she approached and my check list seemed complete. What mattered was that she was alive, she was with me, and she loved me. This could be the path we were promised; though I would never assume anything. Gabrielle says I believe that the cup is usually half empty.
Gabrielle, this Gabrielle trotted up and collapsed on the grass beside me, still sweat damp. I reached over to her, still remembering the terrible blankness in those now dazzling green orbs, and my body needed to confirm that she was ...here. My hand cupped her chin, lightly caressing her cheek with my thumb, but she pulled away, confusion written all over her face, and my heart lurched. I withdrew as though I had been singed, which in a way I was. She stood, staring, and said "Why..." and I knew. That this was the trade off. This is what was sacrificed this time so that we could live. And I told myself; her life is worth it. It may hurt more than the nails piercing my wrists, but we have done that already for each other; I can survive this.
I could tell she wasnt sure what was going through my mind, and what question to ask. Finally there was a soft inquiry. "Xena? What is it?"
I knew I could not, should not, play a God with her destiny anymore; this time it would be hers to decide. So I answered her with the truth for once.
"Its sorta that recurring day thing again, but this time, the Fates are involved."
All of her focus was now on me. There was no quick babble, typical of the girl I once knew. This was a warrior, waiting for more information.
"The Fates came to me, when we were dying on the cross... the first time...."
Her mind was no less quick, and comprehension changed to apprehension.
"The FIRST time! By the Gods, Xena, what...how many times?" But then, a familiar mask replaced her empathetic anguish. Startled, I recognized itmy mask. Recovering, she simply said, "Go on."
"They told me that our deaths, like that, were the result of some influence, that we had another destiny. That Clotho owed both of us a chance to find it. But only if I was willing to find the diversion of the threads, only if I was willing to risk ending up..."
"You have been journeying again and again..., with... THAT, as the likely outcome? Xena!" and there was no restraint when she knelt and held me, my head resting on that familiar shoulder, knowing that there was only comfort being offered, and that, in its way, was no comfort.
I pulled back and said, "So, I take it, we survived this time?" trying to smile at her.
"You dont remember?"
"It takes a while before the memories catch up to wherever I am, when Im at the.... outcome. Theyll come. But I gotta tell ya, its got a few advantages over where Ive been."
She knew that haunted look in my eye, and understood that there were experiences I would not share with her unless she asked.
"So," I said as casually as I could, "is this our proper destiny? Cause if it is, I could use a rest."
I could see that the question had struck deeply, and she took a moment, her forehead wrinkling as she pondered the answer. I waited for the Yes.
"I can see that youve suffered, I cant ask you..."
My surprise lasted a moment, before I stopped her with a gesture.
"Gabrielle. Everything Ive been through means nothing if I make the wrong decision. One without you and me knowing all the factsthe truth. Is this the our Destiny?" I paused and said quietly, "Are you happy?"
She chuckled without humour. "Happy. Yes, Im happy. I feel stronger, more confident. Im proud of my skills, Im proud to know that you can trust me to watch your back as well or better than anyone else. And its not like I want to go back to being helpless, to needing your help every time Im...were in trouble. But if youre asking me if this is right, if youre asking if this feels real to me? Then the answer is no." She held her sais and pondered them for a moment.
"Xena. Ive known for some time, that this wasnt...right. That I was living someone elses life, but I was willing to..."
She stopped again to compose herself.
"Now you have to tell me everything, because whether you remember it or not were partners now. I have a right to know what you might have to go through."
"Gabrielle, I cant..." But I was held by those eyes, as always. "You only need to know, that there are many worse places, worse alternatives than this."
"Then tell me. Tell me the worst. I can see the fear in your eyes. And I know you, Warrior. If youre afraid, I know that its at least partly about me. Right?" I nodded. "So I have to know. What do we risk if you try again..."
I still hesitated, and her voice changed, becoming softer.
"You once told me to tell one of my stories as though they were happening to someone else...."
I cleared my throat and closed my eyes. I have become such a coward. I couldnt look at her while I tried to describe where I had been last.
She was back in Altis vision come true. The snow drifting down without a breeze to direct it, last cold kisses as she was dragged towards the cross. And there was only one this time. And even in the agony of her broken back she felt the victoryher Bard had been saved somehow. That she had accomplished that much. But this time the nails were held against her wrists, and no ropes would be used to suspend her. She was trying to focus on Gabrielle alive as the first blow drove the spike through her skin in through the bone. The second slipping through the gap and piercing the outer skin. Again . Feeling the spike expanding the fissure in the bone, and entering the wood. At the fourth blow she was screaming her agony, without shame. And it was done again to her right arm. She wondered why she had not fainted; instead the pain seemed to heighten everything, though it left her confused about the passage of time. Now she was being lifted up. Her body sliding down the cross; her weight straining at the spikes in her wrists. Then jerking upright, and her bodys momentum causing her to lurch forward, the nails again holding her in place. Focusing, by sheer will, opening her eyes to see Pompey, Pompey alive, smiling while the bundle of rags that lay at his feet was pulled up by the hair to reveal a woman.
"You see I kept my promise. Shes alive. And now she can say good-bye to you. Well, perhaps not say it. And writing might be a problem, I guess. In fact, Im afraid you really couldnt call her a bard anymore, could you? Perhaps after I let her go, shell find some other sort of occupation?"
And knowing what he had done. Knowing that her thumbs had been removed. Her tongue, oh Gods, please, no, her tongue torn out, and the bastard, laughing, raising her head to make her look, and even at that distance knowing that there was nothing but madness in those lost green eyes. And then the anger, losing her own mind to it, losing it entirely. Determined to climb off that cross, some part of her managing still to see the fear in Pompeys eyes, that this devil woman might somehow succeed, and delighting in his terror, until there was only complete blackness and her own voice screaming...
A long silence filled the clearing. There were no bird cries, only the sea wind and the surf crashing below. She extricated herself from my arms and walked to the cliffs and stared out to sea. I knew what she would say before she turned.
"No Gabrielle. I wont quit now, only because it could be...painful. Would you?"
There is no sound from her, but I saw a movement, a short shake of her head.
Feeling almost a strange pride, I said "The Fates said we have a common destiny, and if this isnt it, I have to keep on. Im missing something, some clue..."
She broke in. "You said you had one day to find where our path diverted. What day to you keep returning to?"
When would these explanations get easier? I hesitated, and then forged forward. "I find myself back in your parents barn, with the Destroyer, and Hopedead."
She turned away from me, so that I wouldnt see her reaction. I continued, speaking to her back. "If it could have been earlier than that day, I would..." But she doesnt need my excuses. With a sigh I went on. "Ive tried every variation of that day I can think of. I leave you there, I send you to the Amazons, I make you promise to hide... last time we stayed together. We meet no one else other than your parents when you tell them who Hope was. Twice weve left without even doing that. Nothing really changes. It has to be something I do, but..."
"You did nothing, Xena, nothing."
The bitterness, coming from such an unexpected source, struck me like the sharpest weapon.
She continued to stare out to sea. "You know why I was always in a hurry to write down our adventures as soon as they happened? Why Im one of the few Bards that actually wrote down their stories at all? Its because I had to be able to replay all of the emotions ...I never tried to make people see the story, I made them feel what happened. Its what made me...
"The best Ive ever heard." I finished for her.
She tossed a sad smile over her shoulder. "To do that meant that I had to be so open, so sensitive... I had to be the spirit of each of those emotions... and I cant do that anymore. Not and be with you. And I have to... be with you. That day, that awful day, you didnt...touch me, the way I needed, and I thought..." She stopped and turned to face me, her cheeks streaked with tears. "I put up my first wall that day, Xena. For my own protection."
"But I told you, how I needed you, what you meant to me..."
"Xena, I had just walked across Greece, alone, to find you. We had a moment when you found me in the forest, and that ended when you told me Hope was alive. Afterwards, waiting by myself while you buried them...nothing, not Chin, not even Dahak made me feel as empty as not having you hold me and love me right then ... Then I made us start that stupid journey for my Truth, trying desperately to find something to fill that space, and being fooled again and again, until, just to survive, I found all I had to do was just close off that part of my soul...." she ended in a whisper.
I dont think I had truly known heartbreak until that moment. "I thought...that day... you were in shock. Love?, How could I?" I dumbly repeated. "You were in shock..."
"I was in need, Xena...."
" It cant be that. It cant be that simple?" I spoke out loud.
She gave me a wan smile. "You should have listened. The only way to break the cycle,"
"Is through Love. It was always right in front of me." I stood and moved beside her, both of us now a few feet from the edge. She didnt look at my face when she spoke.
"You have to go back again. And dont do this for me. Ill always be the second best fighter in this team. And maybe in the short term that would be enough. But Xena, you dont need another Iolaus, I dont want to be Iolaus. If it was only about fighting, theres always Amarice." She saw that I didnt recognize the name "Tara, Tara might have been a real contender for my job. But I think what Ive lost is your loss, maybe more. Because there will come a time, when Ill make a decision as warrior, not Bard, and well both be lost...because it wasnt the right choice.
"So you have to go back." I looked at her profile. She was biting her lips, concentrating, "It isnt fair, but I want my stories back, Xena, I want the dreams and the pictures again, and... thats not the most important dream I lost..." She turned, reaching out to touch my hand. "...I would continue, like this, for you..."she paused. "But if theres a choice, No, I dont choose to live like this anymore."
There it was. A mutual decision. I tried to lighten the moment. "I should be going then...".
But I saw fear in her eyes for the first time. "Xena...I ... wont be left...here?"
I gathered her in my arms and said. "One destiny, Gabrielle. This will not have happened."
She was rescuing me and I stood and watched as a soldiers sword was thrust into his belly, and she didnt pause for a heartbeat... We were being brought back from the dead, from our own battle, and we sat close and yet apart from one another... We had been crucified again, but we had passed beyond, to hell and back. .I lay on the ground and watched as she killed a half dozen or more Roman soldiers, single-handed, to protect me....
My eyes filled with tears, which she noticed as she turned. "Xena?" She drew me to her and I knew for that moment her only thought was for me. "Whats wrong?"
"Nothing. Just...the memories... This Gabrielle you is such a noble woman. I would be killing you "
"I know, Xena, So you owe this Gabrielle a promise, two promises. That you will tell Gabrielle everything in the barn. Everything. Do you understand?"
"Youre joking! You cant remember what that day was like..."
"Xena. I know. And everything depends on you telling her. About the crucifixions, about Ephiny and the Amazons. She.., I.., have to know. Promise me."
"Whats the second promise?"
"You make sure, that whatever future we have, she will be able to defend herself and you. She doesnt want to be that child anymore. And if she asks for a sword, give it to herbecause blood innocence is nothing. Its hollow without without our souls, our souls joined."
"Then I promise." That was all. It was done.
She tightened her hold on me, and wiped her tears with back of her hand.
"Just now, you regained the memories, you remember it all now, dont you?" I nodded soberly.
"Then you tell me. Are you happy as we are now?" She asked.
"Happy? Whats that? What about you?"
"No. I need to know how you are. You arent, are you?"
She saw the answer in my eyes. She shook her head.
I picked her up and said, "So Ill try again."
I kissed her hand with all the tenderness I had, and then released her. And moved to the cliff.
She didnt try to stop me, just said softly," You are the love of my life, that will never change..."
And I jumped.
Her cry followed me down towards the rocks.
Part II Clotho
Who presides at birth and spins out the new thread of life
From Gabrielles Journal:
This is the first entry I have made in my journal for several moons. For once, its my Warrior whos in bed, and me who cant sleep. Itll take all of my skill to capture this daythe horror and wonder of this day. But I know that I WILL write it, and soon; and that thought brings me a joy Id thought I might never find again.
How will I describe each chasm, each twist? Only this morning I was lost, dazedly wandering towards Potadeia, hoping that my messages had reached her. Then she was there, her eyes filled with such hatred for me. And I waited, with my heart breaking, not even questioning. Waiting for whatever she was prepared to do to me. And then, oh Gods! Such blessed relief, when she suddenly seemed to see...me. Being held by her, her tears and mine. Then the moment ending so quickly when I realized what her greeting had meant. That Hope was alive. The nightmare was beginning again.
Tired, aching in every quarter, I had to hide from my own family.
Then my little mother/daughter chat. How appropriate that I first thought she was only my reflection in the glass; it was like speaking to some part of me from another dimension. I looked in her for the infant, the child Id wanted to cherish forever. But when I looked, and I saw a need for love, my love, it meant nothing. Because I knew that she would destroy all I valued and cared for, and spare me. Not ever realizing that was the last thing I would ask of her.
Much later. Seeing her die, again because of my actions, my trick. Gods, how many times must I kill my own child?
Then sitting, numb, when Xena returned, her nails coated with earth from her grave digging. The barn still holding the echoes of the nightmare. The old grindstone resting on its side. The wind swirling through and about the gaps in the boards. So apart from her. Wanting her to make it all better, feeling that I was asking for the one thing she could not give me. Wondering if this numbness could go on, so that I could never be hurt again.
And then the miracle.
She shook, as though waking from a dream, and I watched as her mask dropped, her pain and exhaustion showing plainly for the first time in all our seasons together. Her eyes filled and I knew, at that moment, she needed me. She needed ME!
Its a selfish thing, I know. When I was a child, and I would travel, I would often get homesick. But once Lila was born, and her needs became known, I found that comforting her was the cure for my own fears. It isnt the purest of emotions, but its always seemed to be a better method of coping than most others.
So, when I saw that incredible weariness in her face, my own fatigue did not vanish, but it was replaced by my need to help. I had never seen Xena so helpless, and I held her tightly, marveling that she was allowing herself this. I heard her mumble, "How can you do this, after all youve through today? How can you give me your strength?"
I tilted my head and looked up at this strongest of warriors.
"Youve given me so much of yours, I decided to hold some back for you when you needed it."
And she laughed, and though I knew that this was almost too close to the bone for her, I asked.
"What is it?"
Taking a long breath, she told me about how she had one day, this day,
to change our future She told me of her promise to another Gabrielle; of Altis
vision, and her continued attempts to escape it; How Ephiny, Solari died. She told of our
crucifixion. The promise made by the Fates. How when she returned to this moment the first
time she forced me to promise not to return to the Amazons, and Pompey and Caesars
forces killed every Amazon because we werent there to manipulate their forces.
Still, we had died on crosses side by side.
How it had begun anew and she arranged to have me hidden, and I was found by Callisto. How she abandoned me again and again in Potadeia to kill Caesar, or bargained with the gods to destroy Callisto, and still wound up, with the snow falling, watching me die or worse. Each word was torn from her, each of my pain filled gasps elicited another curse that she had made this promise, and finally when there was only the sound of my sobbing, she struck a beam above my head and swore. "Why would she ask me to tell you this? How could I have thought she knew better? Why would she want us both to feel this pain , this shame?"
So I stopped her. With the only thing I had. Words.
"You dont see, Xena? All you see is the horror, not the forest for the trees. I AM angry that you didnt tell me what you were doing, I am so mad at you for doing this again and again by yourself... But I have never heard of a story that expressed more love, more passionate commitment... and because I would have done the same for you."
Suddenly I was laughing and crying at the same time. "I was thinking, I sacrificed my life for hers, and feeling so righteous, you know? But you, youve done it time after time, how can either of us ever again doubt one another?"
I sat down in front of her and took both of those larger hands in mine.
"Sometimes, when my insecurities are at their worst, when you shut me out, I wonder, if some day, we... that youll be gone." I held up a hand to quiet her, "I know, after all this time I should have understood. But now I really, truly know. She was right, Xena, you had to tell me. I we needed this, and this trip, together were going to be all right, I can feel it. I was an oracle, remember?"
And she smiles at that.
"But I guess this time you have the power. So what usually happens next?" She sat down and examined her hand.
"You insist on telling your parentsabout Hope, about everything. Sometimes I drag you away, sometimes I listen for as long as I can..." I knew that there was something that she was not telling me. But I could let it go for a moment. There is only so much openness that this warrior can handle at once. So I grinned and took back her hand.
"Well, this time youre staying with me, right?"
She gripped my hand tighter. "Right."
So together we went into my childhood home. And she stood in a dark corner and heard the recitation of our past to this moment. Of Chin, and Britannia, my, I can hardly even think the word, but my rape, the birth of Hope, and the death of Solon. But it was different. And I think she began to realize for the first time, that I wasnt telling my parents, I was telling HER this story. So she came forward, out of the darkness and sat beside me. But my father didnt listen, his eyes became gradually more cold, his anger and hatred more obvious. Our touching and tears only added to his growing fury. When I finally finished, both of my parents excused themselves and left silently.
I looked to Xena. "What is that about?"
"I forgot to mention I guess..."
She sighed and avoided my eyes, only to have a small but firm hand turn her head to face me.
"Partners, you said. Whats going on?"
"The lamb stew? Your father has decided to go add some special seasonings..."
I didnt get her meaning at first. But it got through. I was shocked. "You mean...poison? No! My parents are going to poison you?"
She gave me that broken smile and sighed. "I figured I deserved it the first time. But its OK. I almost dont mind. Anyways, everybody always uses the same stuff, grows wild around here. When I was in command of my army I almost got to like the taste after a while...and I sort of built up a tolerance. And if I go out to check Argo, your father tries to kill me with an ax. So given a choice..."
"Theyre only doing it because they love you," she said practically.
"How dare they! That isnt love, Xena." I felt my own anger rise, and I realized finally that my home had not been this town for a long time. All of it was embodied in the six feet of shy, exhausted warrior sitting with me. Misunderstanding my silence, she tried to humour me.
"Gabrielle, its a free meal, can we just try to relax for a moment and enjoy my poisoning?"
I had to smile at that. And kiss her. But I was still worried and asked "Are you sure youll be okay?"
"Youre in more danger than I am. The stuff really makes me fart afterwards."
I just shook my head, and with both of us laughing, we went in for one last meal.
Dinner with the Folks...
It was a quiet meal. What little conversation there was, seemed designed to ignore who I had become. Or was it that they couldnt deal with me in any other way? Alone, in the state of exhaustion I was in, it might have ground me down. But I had my own personal warlord beside me to remind me who I was now. My mothers eyes kept shifting between Xena and I, but she kept silent. I knew that she had to be unaware of Dads plans, but I wondered had she known, whether she still might have just supported him in this, as she had in so many other things. What could I say to this woman? I love you, but I hate this place and I dont want to be you?
I dont think that Dads eyes ever left Xenas bowl, and I think he watched in a sort of guilty fascination as she ate her meal. It took my warrior a while before she realized how much I was hating this. She was still stubbornly trying to observe the social amenities when, well, I think it was one of my smirks at some comment, that made her realize that for once she didnt need to worry or care what my parents thought anymore. Because I didnt. But when that wicked gleam came into her eyes, and she began to zing my Dad with information about the crops and the village that she must have gained during one of her previous poisonings, I began to get worried. I knew she figured that we were on the right path, but with her natural pessimism, she probably didnt think we would get it right the first time. So she might have been thinking she had a certain...freedom of action. The same freedom of action that had inspired her to throw a chakrum into Joxers chest. That with all she had been through, for once she might... indulge herself, if given the opportunity. And it came. My father was clearly of the opinion that she was a dead woman from the sight of her nearly empty bowl, and that gave him the false courage make his opinions clear.
"Do you have any idea how much pain youve put my little girl through?" he blustered once she had nearly finished her portion. Even though part of me was hoping Xena was ready to blow, I gave her a look which was returned by a reassuring smile. But that glint was still there.
Recognizing the signs, I made a half hearted attempt to break in, but she smiled wickedly, and I raised my hands and backed off to watch.
Well, it has been a two way street, ya know."
From her reaction, I must have blanched, but she gave me a shake of her head and continued. "Once she traded my favorite whipfor a frying pan!" She feigned outrage while staring blandly into their shocked faces.
"You can compare that to..." Mom was speechless.
"Well, I was very fond of it." She winked knowingly. "But I think she really got rid of it because she was tired of me using it to play connect the dots with the freckles on her ass."
The explosion of ale from my nose at that moment clearly delighted her. I began coughing, and she reached over to pound my back.
Herodotus stood to stop her, but found that the hand arresting his wrist was strangely unaffected by the tainted meal. She snarled at him "You better get used to it, old man, because next week, were going to be Joined by the Amazons, and Ill be calling you Pop!"
I think both my face and my fathers turned blue at this point, Id like to think for different reasons. She was beginning to worry about the bard, so she whispered in my ear "Breathe Gabrielle and I gave her a look of such bemused wonderment that she knew she was still not alone.
Herodotus sputtered "You and my Daughter, Never! Id..."
"Youd what, DAD?"
His grin became quite evil and he said clearly "If you were my daughter, Id put poison in your food."
Mom gasped. Xena took a large piece of bread and scooping up the remainder of her bowl, stared him down and said, "If you were my father Id eat it" and grinned as she swallowed it down.
Well. Things went downhill from there, I guess. Mother left for their room. Xena made a point of inviting them both to our Joining, advising Dad on Amazon dress codes and as I pushed her out the door she was asking him for his bra size, when I guess she remembered that these were still my parents. I could see her preparing herself for a blast from an outraged bard, but once again she had underestimated me. Maybe I would want a reconciliation with my parents some day. But not now. After all I had been through, she was not looking at a girl who had just been cut off from her family, but rather a woman who had just had a weight removed from her shoulders. I started to laugh. She matched my grin, and said "Well. That was a nice change."
I held her tightly and spoke with wonder. "How many time have you just sat there and let him poison you?"
"Not counting the attempts with the ax, right? Ten, maybe twelve times. But Gabrielle, werent you listening to your own story? What your life with me has been like? It had to be worse than any of their nightmares."
"Werent you listening?" I gave her a poke "I told them about loyalty, great causes, and nobility, and how I was just as responsible, if not more, for every choice, every tragedy, and Id like to think, of every triumph. You, here; youre my home, and if you cant see it any better than they could..."
"Whatcha gonna do?"
"Stay with you until you figure it out."
So we made for the local Tavern, and so that my home town would not gossip, she booked the room and smuggled me in.
When we were alone, I approached her, and seeing the weariness in her, pulled her to me.
She gently shushed me. "For now, just this, I just want to hold you, nothing more. I want to tell you how I wish I had the chance to return to any other time in our lives so you didnt have to go through..." her breath shuddered, "alone."
"I wasnt alone," I whispered into her chest.
"Yes, you were; in a way you never deserved to be. And I promise, I swear Ill spend every day of the rest of my life making sure you are never alone like that again."
I look over to this incredible woman lying next to me, her exhaustion clear, even in sleep. Though neither of us knows what she will remember when she wakes up, I know that she will honour that promise. As I will. So that when the wanderer returns, I will be beside herin bed, in battle, or on a cross.
Part III Lachesis
Part III The Disposer
Who measures the length of the thread of human life
and determines its place in the great tapestry
I opened my eyes. Wherever or whenever I was, there was still a golden head resting between my breasts, her slight snore wafting across my chest, hardening one of my nipples. One arm wrapped possesively around my waist. It was obvious we were no longer in the tavern, but first I had to check the identity of the person with me. I still shivered when I remembered the time I had seen the blonde head lift, and reveal a smiling Callisto.
Bad alternative. Definitely.
But this was different. I could feel the peace that only Gabrielle was capable of giving me, so I took the time to examine the room. Bright, warm colours. Painted mats on the walls, and a small series of carved animals on the table beside us. The furniture looked vaguely like the type I used to make during some of the sieges...
One green eye was open and staring up at me. "Hi there." There was smile if I looked through the strawberry locks, and I did. I went through the check list again, Shes alive, with me, and she loves me. as the eye closed. But it reopened, troubled, having caught something, Im not sure what, and she pulled back a bit and said "Xena?"
Somehow she already knew that I was not entirely myself, and to my surprise I found I couldnt lie to this Gabrielle. "Some shaky memories, love, give me a moment." Noticing the word fell from my lips without hesitation.
She continued to stare at me, questions forming, and she asked. "You know who you are?"
"Who I am?"
I nodded again.
"And that I love you?"
I could feel a smile and a moistness in my eyes when I said "yes". She sighed and placed her head back down on my chest.
She mumbled "If you need me, you know where Ill be," and promptly went back to sleep. I guess she had her checklist too.
I couldnt understand how she was curled around me so that her stomach was pressed so firmly against mine, and I noticed that she was a little, well, puffy. Her breasts, what I could see of them, seemed larger too. Any rising fear was calmed by the familiar growl of what I had jokingly named the Stomach Monster, and figuring that there were worse places to wait, I began snuggling back down into her softness and warmth, when that growl increased and then tried to hit me. I froze, and her stomach muscles rolled, and there it was again. Her Gods- be-damned stomach was trying to punch me! I backed away, lifting the blankets, revealing a very naked pregnant woman, one who looked up at my reaction in anger.
"Wha Wha..?" I dont know what I was trying to say, but as she rolled towards me I reached for where my sword always rested, and found nothing. "What have you done with my sword!" I think I might have been yelling. At that moment there was a loud scratching noise at the door. Staring at my panic in disbelief, she slid out of the bed to open the door.
"Stop!" I ordered.
She stayed still and said placatingly, "Xena, its only Ares. Let me let him in."
I believe I could actually feel my eyes trying to bulge out of their sockets. "Only Ares! Where in Hades is my sword?" I repeated.
"Its in the trunk."
"Open it. I demanded.
She removed a key strung about her neck and moved to a large chest in the corner of the room. The scratching became even more frenzied.
She looked helplessly at the door. "Its our Ares, not THAT Ares."
I immediately thought of her grandson, the Destroyer, and the length of the claws and spikes, and my Gabrielle, encircled by them. I have never known such horror, such fear.
"Xena. Please." This Gabrielle, or is it Hope? stood across from me, her arms stretched out in entreaty "Just give me, give us, a moment to figure out whats going on here. OK?"
I nodded, still breathing heavily, still chilled. She raised her eyes and smiled in sudden understanding. "The recurring day, youre back from the recurring day, arent you?"
I gave another nod, but it was unsure.
That quirky smile, the one I have always loved, spread wide, and she took a breath before continuing. "Thank the Gods. You had me so damned scared. You!" and she made a motion to prod me with her finger but I pulled back defensively. She just shook her head.
"Well..." she smirked, indicating both of us. Two naked women, one six feet tall, preparing herself for an attack by the short pregnant one. I glowered, but lowered my arms.
Using that voice she used on sick animals, that she knew I hated, she said "You said it took a while for the memories to catch up, right? So, I wont open the door, and Ill stay right here, and well wait. And Xena," and her voice changed, and this time the glow in those eyes caught me like it was the centre of the room. "I think youll be very happy...." but a doubt passed over them for a moment, and she said softly "At least you were..."
The relentless scratching began again, and my muscles tensed. Outside I heard a voice, my mother?, calling out. "Daughters?" She sounded worried.
Gabrielle looked to me and I assented.
"Its all right, Mom." Mom? She called out to her. "Xena and I are... just goofing around."
I heard my mother grumble, but with a lightness in it that I couldnt remember ever hearing before.
"Fine." She yelled back. "But Im not helping rebuild that door if that foolish pup of yours breaks it down. Oh, and Ephiny says she and Epinon are going over to Gran and Toris and theyll see you after lunch."
Ephiny? Oh, please, let this be...that was when my eye noticed the ring on her finger. Startled, I recognized it my ring. Pieces began to take shape. "You named your dog Ares?"
Gabrielle almost giggled in her relief. "No. YOU named our ...WOLF, Ares."
And then I recognized somethingthis connection between usso warm and golden. I could even feel the fear I was causing her, because it was mine as well. A connection so frightening to me, and so strong, that I knew whatever else this woman was, this Gabrielle was the furthest thing from my enemy that could exist in this world. I willed my breathing to slow, and the connection drew me to her arms, but I still hesitated.
I looked around at this room, feeling it out. Our room, our home. And I saw what Gabrielle had gathered from the table beside our bed. Holding them out to me.
"I dont know how long it takes before youll remember. I mean, this could be my only chance to tell you these stories for the first time..." She grinned happily. "Would you mind...?"
I looked at the scrolls. "They, all of them ....theyre new?" I stumbled as the hope in my heart rose, despite my attempt to hold it back.
"Weve been busy. Settling down, seems to be a relative thing for us..." She spread the scrolls apart. "Do you want to choose?"
I was crying. No shame in that, I thought as I smiled through tears. "I think I was also supposed to make sure that you could look after yourself. But I see that might not be..." I pointed to her belly.
"You were supposed to ...? Would that be the same person who told you to tell me everything in the barn? Well, if you could tell Her... for Me.. I have a staff practice with my Lifebond today, just like every other day. It may have to be a very careful staff practice, but Im still going to try to knock her on her ex-warlord butt. But first I want, first I need to tell some stories. Because thats all the reward I have for this hero who has finally come... home."
Her smile was truly radiant, and she laughed as she reached out to wipe away the tears from my cheek.
Proffering the scrolls again she asked, "Now which one do you want
I could feel the crooked smile that was forming, even as I tasted the tears. "You know...Ill love them all."
"Thats good. I get to choose." And she pulled me down with surprising strength, and I gazed at her swelling belly with wonder as she selected one and began, "I sing a song of a noble Warrior Princess, and of her brave Amazon Bard..."
I leaned into her strength, feeling her open warmth, as her words began to weave their magic for me all over again.
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