DISCLAIMER: Only one of the characters in this story is mine, and she is an Amazon. The rest belong to Rob Tapert and Co., RenPics, Studios USA, MCA/Universal, and anyone else who has an investment in Xena: Warrior Princess. I am just borrowing them for use in this story.
Parts of this story are lifted directly from the show's scripts. It was the best way to make this premise work. FiN has been reworked using the 48 Hour Fix story written for the Academy's Valentine's special. That and the rest of the work is mine, and I do accept that responsibility.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Carol and Phil who had to read this three pages at a time to do voice checks for me. If Xena and Gabrielle don't sound right, it is due to my poor hearing and not their input. And to Missy, who graciously allowed me to reference her two unpublished scripts.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To avaliantheart01[at]gmail.com
It's All Greek to Me:
Memoirs of a Talking Warhorse OR the Life and Times of Xena and Gabrielle as told by Argo II
"I hate grown-ups!" The young Amazon stomped into the barn and closed the door firmly behind her. She flopped down on the hay bale, laying back and throwing an arm up over her eyes. "They are so unfair! And totally unreasonable! ARGH!"
The girl sat up swiftly, twisting her head back and forth in an effort to see who had spoken to her. "Who said that?"
The Amazon stood up from the bale, and cautiously made a circuitous route around the barn's inner perimeter. Seeing nothing, she dropped back onto the hay bale. "Great, now I'm not only in trouble, I'm delusional too. Wonder if they lock up almost-twelve-year-olds who hear things."
"I don't see why they would," the voice spoke again, "if what you're hearing is really there."
At the first syllable from that voice, the girl sprang from her seat and started prowling again. If someone was playing a joke on her, it wasn't very funny. This day was going badly enough without her being made a fool of.
There was nothing in the lower part of the stable, save the horses, and the loft was curiously empty when she checked it carefully. "Gods be damned... when I find out who is doing this...." She sat down gently this time, cradling her head in her hands.
"What's your name?"
The girl was almost expecting it, and she didn't even flinch when she heard it this time. "Why do you ask? You already know it."
"No, actually, I don't, and it is customary, not to mention courteous to address someone by their given name. 'Hey you' is just a little bit rude."
The Amazon sighed. "What's yours?"
"Me? Well, they call me Argo II. I was named for my mom."
The girl's head popped up, and she stared hard. "Excuse me?"
"My name is Argo II," the equine stated again, and the youngster could now clearly see the horse's mouth and lips moving as she spoke. "Most everyone calls me Argo though, just like Mother."
"I am not seeing this. I am not HEARING this." But she stood and slowly approached the stall where the horse calmly stood looking back at her with big liquid-brown eyes. "Horses don't talk."
"Sure we do," the mare answered honestly. "Just not very often to people. They don't seem to hear or understand well at all."
"So why me?" She stepped closer, and gave the horse a tentative scratch on her nose.
"Oh yeah, that's great. Maybe under the chin... ah. Oh yeah, you are really good at that. Thanks." The girl grabbed a currycomb, and stepped into the stall, slowly pulling it through the silky mane. "As for why you... well, you were obviously receptive to it. Like I said, we speak to humans all the time. You just rarely take the time to listen." The mare paused, and let the youngster comb in silence for a minute. "So, you want to share your name now?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, it's Thelana."
"I like that. It's pretty."
"I s'pose. Hard to appreciate it when you hear it a hundred times a day."
"Yeah, I guess so, especially if you're in trouble when it gets called. I remember when Xena and Gabrielle first stared traveling together. Gods...."
Thelana waited for the mare to continue. When she didn't, the girl stopped combing and moved to look the horse in the eyes. "You wanna share there, Argo?"
The palomino looked hard at the Amazon. "I'll trade stories with you. How's that?"
Thelana nodded. "That seems fair enough. Will you go first?" The last was asked almost shyly.
Argo nodded. "You keep combing, and it's a deal."
The girl moved back to the horse's side, and resumed her work. "I'm listening."
"Well, I have to go back a few years, and you have to remember that my mother was Xena's horse in those days...."
Chapter I: That's What Friends Do
Argo was tired, but she faithfully plodded along at the warrior's behest. It had been a rough few days since they'd struck out on their own.
"I'm sorry, girl," Xena whispered, defeated. "Not much further. I see a clearing up ahead."
The warrior led the horse off the beaten track, pulling off her saddle and tack, and setting the palomino free to roam. Argo stayed close by, wondering what was up with Xena... knowing the depth of her despair in ever finding atonement at this point.
Her weapons and leathers were buried, and Argo knew that could only mean one thing. Then it happened. The mare saw fierce pleasure flame in the deep blue eyes, and turned to see what had caused such joy, just as Xena was sideswiped on the back of the head.
"Mother told me that the minute their eyes met, something passed between them. Something that she could see as almost tangible. 'Course, it would be a while before they would acknowledge its existence, much less its importance, but it was there from the beginning."
"They fell in love at first sight?" Thelana asked as she continued to comb.
"Well, I don't know about that," Argo replied slowly. "Mother never actually described it that way. She always said they made a soul connection, and that everything else grew from that."
"Wow, that's amazing. Go on, please." The Amazon spared a brief thought for the razzing she would take if anyone were to catch her talking to a horse like that. But she decided it was worth it. What Xena and Gabrielle shared was so deep. It was fascinating to hear the tale from the beginning. She focused her attention when the mare started speaking again.
"Apparently, though, they weren't terribly aware. Or maybe Xena was, and was just afraid. I dunno." If a horse could have shrugged its shoulders, Thelana was certain Argo would have done just that right then. "Mother was never very clear about that, and maybe she didn't know. A lot of her information came from Xena directly. She'd share a lot in the evenings when she was brushing Mother down after a long day. A lot of it was her own information as well. She watched what went on between the two of them, much as I have in the time I have been with them."
"Will you tell me about that as well?"
"All in due time, Thelana. Now where was I? Oh yes...."
The trip to Amphipolis was interminable, and yet it was very short. Xena knew in her heart it was the right thing to do, her mind just wasn't sure it was the right thing to do. It was hard to say who was more surprised by Gabrielle's appearance and fierce defense of a woman she knew nothing of except by notorious reputation... the townspeople, Cyrene or Xena herself. Argo was rather amazed when the warrior gave in to the younger woman's arguments, and hauled her up on the mare's hindquarters.
Xena's conflict was clear when she went into the crypt, and yet it seemed Gabrielle had made a difference by going in behind her. The warrior was a little more relaxed, and much better focused on what she needed to do.
When the fight with Draco was over and she had her mother's forgiveness, Xena and Argo left Amphipolis alone, anxious to see if Gabrielle had meant what she'd promised in the crypt. The warrior heard the younger woman long before she emerged from the bushes and Xena had plenty of time to wipe the smile from her face. But there was a little kernel of happiness inside when she acknowledged that this was the beginning of something special.
Argo whickered, and Thelana looked at the mare curiously. "What's so funny?"
"Well, I was just remembering Mother telling about their early travels together. Gabrielle was an innocent, and so naïve. Xena was torn between amused exasperation and something akin to affection, though she would never admit to it. And Mother wasn't sure what to do with either of them at times."
"How so?" She set the comb down and began to weave the mane into braids.
It was quite an adjustment at first. Xena had gone from being a warlord commanding armies to lone traveler seeking atonement. Now, suddenly, she found she had a traveling companion who knew nothing of the world outside the little town of Poteidia. So used to the silence, the warrior struggled to adjust to the talkative, boundless enthusiasm the younger woman showed about every new experience. Xena did admit that getting Gabrielle out of the constant trouble she had a distinct knack for getting into did wonders for keeping her mind from much darker thoughts, but only to herself and Argo. To confess anything more was unthinkable.
At first, she spoke gruffly to Gabrielle, with more than a touch of annoyance in her voice. But when Morpheus' priests apprehended her young friend with the idea of making her the god's bride, Xena risked everything to rescue her without a second thought. She faced down the demons of her own making and made sure Gabrielle was safe and unharmed. It was then that the bard began to sense a distinct difference in Xena's attitude toward her. A small, very subtle difference, but markedly there, nonetheless.
"You stood up for me, even when I refused to stand up for myself," Xena remarked to Gabrielle as they walked out of the village.
"That's what friends do for each other, Xena. You did it for me with Morpheus."
The warrior smiled depreciatively. "Yeah, I guess I did, but you didn't try to knock me into the next moon phase either."
Gabrielle laid her hand on Xena's forearm, pleased when she didn't flinch or pull away. "Xena, we both know that wasn't you. Now leave the blame on Ares where it belongs, please. We have places to see and people to meet."
Soon afterwards, they found the titans, and Xena recognized her first twinge of jealousy. It was unexpected and not at all welcome. She didn't want to care... she didn't want to need. But the warrior understood all too well the niche Gabrielle was carving for herself in her own sheltered heart. She suddenly realized she feared the day when it would all be taken away from her.
Hercules and Iolaus provided a brief distraction when the quartet reluctantly joined forces to recover Prometheus. Then their travels took the two women in a new direction.
"Why did you decide to stay with me?" They were camped just outside Amazon territory. "You're an Amazon Princess now."
"Did you want me to stay with the Amazons?" Hurt was apparent in Gabrielle's voice.
"No! I mean... I want you to do what makes you happy. I just thought you might like the opportunity to do something different. Not everyone is an Amazon Princess."
"Well, I'm happy right where I am right now, thanks. Maybe someday I will come back here, but I am already doing something different... every day."
Xena smiled to herself in relief, though she simply nodded her acceptance of Gabrielle's words. It was to be a very short reprieve.
Meeting Perdicas at Troy had been something of a surprise, though Gabrielle never gave any real thought to her feelings for him. He was known and comfortable, and it felt right to be concerned for his welfare. However, she never seriously considered staying with him either, and Xena gave another sigh of relief as they walked away from Troy and out of Perdicas' life again.
"Mother had never seen Xena looking as lost as she did when Gabrielle left to compete in the Bard's Academy Competition. She tried to be supportive, and Gabrielle, not yet having learned to read what was not spoken, took Xena at her word."
"Well, Gabrielle went and won the competition, and then realized that it wasn't where her heart needed to be. It was her first real inkling of the depth of their ever-growing friendship. As far as I know, to this day she is not aware that Xena was hanging around Athens waiting to see what would happen."
"You're kidding! Xena...."
"No, I'm not, and yes, she most certainly did, and then she nearly screwed everything up trying to prove to herself just how much she didn't need the bard by her side."
Thelana continued to plait the golden mane. "Oh, tell on, please."
When Marcus asked for Xena's help in retrieving Hades' lost Helmet of Invisibility, the warrior saw it as a perfect opportunity to put a barrier between herself and the bard. In truth, she did care for him and even love him to some extent, but it did not compare to the feelings that grew daily for the young woman who walked at her side. But he offered her an escape from a reality she wasn't ready to acknowledge, and physical comfort that she craved but wouldn't allow.
It let her say goodbye to him in a way that made them both feel good, and he understood when she left him in the Fields that it was a goodbye. He smiled as he watched Xena rejoin her companion, knowing that the warrior was beyond escaping her feelings for Gabrielle.
After that, Xena shouldn't have been too surprised when Gabrielle decided to leave her again, but it hurt, and she couldn't contain the crestfallen look that passed across her face.
"Waitaminute... Gabrielle left Xena AGAIN?? What in Tartarus is going on with those two? Don't they get it?" Thelana was more than a little outraged, and it showed in her jerky motions.
"Hey, careful back there, huh?" Argo complained. "It takes me lot longer to grow it out than it does for you to pull it out, ya know."
The Amazon dropped the mane as though it burned, and stepped back a pace. "Oh, gods, I'm sorry Argo. I didn't mean...." Her words faltered as she teared up just slightly.
"No worries, Thelana. It was an accident. Besides, I'll tell you a little secret." The mare waited til the girl's eyes met hers. "They nearly made Mother pull her mane out more than once."
"Oh yeah. See, by this point Mother knew that what was between them was REAL. It was more a matter of getting them to go with it. She just found it frustrating to see things so clearly and watch them fumble all the way around it, especially when there were setbacks."
"Setbacks? You mean like Gabrielle leaving again?"
"Well, more like her leaving without being completely honest with Xena in the first place. I mean, she wasn't afraid of freezing for herself. She was afraid of what might happen to Xena if it was to happen again... at the wrong time. And the fact that Xena once again let her go without a word." The mare whickered again in memory. "Poor Mother. She used to get so worked up about that whole time every time she'd talk about it."
"I can only imagine."
"The funny thing is, they both talked to her. So not only did she *watch* them, she got to *listen* to them too."
Thelana smiled. "Well, Gabrielle obviously came back. So what happened next?"
"Actually, several things happened in rapid succession that started changing the acknowledged dynamic between them." The Amazon didn't say a word, but picked up the brushed and began long smooth strokes across the horse's back, waiting patiently for Argo to begin the next part of her tale.
Gabrielle came back from Poteidia, secure in the knowledge that her place was at Xena's side. And though the warrior never admitted it aloud, the bard could see Xena was glad to have her back. Everyday things took on a different sheen, and became more fun, just because they were doing them together.
Fishing lessons were a new facet of their growing relationship, and the first time Gabrielle managed catch one barehanded was enlightening in more ways than one. The bard allowed herself to see Xena as a beautiful woman, and not just a warrior. And Xena accepted the fact that Gabrielle was no longer a child to be protected, but a young woman to be appreciated.
And it wasn't only physical beauty that was becoming more apparent to each other. Xena couldn't help but admire Gabrielle's strength in standing up to her when Ares tried once again to coerce her back to into joining him.
"You stood up to me again," Xena said quietly as they sat around the campfire.
"No, I stood up *for* you. Do you remember what you told me this afternoon? About making our own families?" Gabrielle waited until Xena nodded, though the warrior's eyes never left the fire. "We are a family. And families take care of each other."
It took Xena's death, though, for Gabrielle to understand that her feelings for the warrior were deep and abiding. The tree that suffered her wrath bore deep scars from the beating she unleashed on it trying to release the hurt and anger over the senselessness of it.
"On a positive note, it allowed Mother and Gabrielle to bond, and it made a big difference in their relationship."
"How? I thought they got along great," Thelana said.
"Not at the beginning, no. Gabrielle was afraid of Mother, and Mother didn't try to force the issue for any number of reasons. But this, this made them to work together as a team, and helped them to become friends."
"You and Argo seem to be getting along better these days," Xena commented one morning as they made to pack up camp. The bard had just returned from giving the warhorse an apple, and Xena noticed that their comfort level together had improved dramatically since her near-brush with death.
"Yeah, we came to an understanding. We do better working together as friends rather than at cross purposes."
"Oh yeah," Xena smirked. "I coulda told ya that."
"I know, but some lessons you just gotta learn the hard way."
Truer words were never spoken, and they would come back and haunt the duo several times in the years that followed.
"Xena, do you think giving Callisto a second chance will make a difference for her?" They were both thinking of the campfire conversation that told so much about their ever-changing, deepening friendship. Xena had revealed more than she'd intended, though she was unsure if Gabrielle realized just exactly what she had given away.
"I dunno, Gabrielle," Xena responded hesitantly. They were on the northern route to Athens, passing through the Thessalian-Mitoan forest. "I'd like to think so, but I honestly don't know. A lot depends on her and how badly she wants it to."
It wasn't long after that that they found Ephiny and began an adventure that brought a lot of things into focus.
"Watching Xena care for Gabrielle after Thessaly was a moving experience. Mother said that was when Xena knew she was in very, *very* deep. When she admitted it aloud."
"Did they become lovers then?"
Argo turned her head at Thelana's forthright question, and studied the Amazon for a long moment. "Quite nosey there, aren't you?"
The girl dropped her head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I know it is really none of my business, but even now there are pools around here for betting on when it actually happened. I think Grandmother Ephiny may have been the only one to actually know the truth. Grandmother Eponin might, but she's sure not telling."
"Well, I'll tell you, child... when they fell in love, when they admitted that love to themselves and when they acted on the love between them are three entirely separate events. And the road they took to get to where they are now was twisted and full of ruts and potholes." The mare snorted. "They hurt one another a lot, and made some really bad decisions before they understood that they were right together."
"Why do you suppose that is?" Thelana moved around to Argo's other side and continued her brushing. The story was getting so interesting, and she was hearing things she never would otherwise. This made all the trouble she was in just about worth it.
"I think it has something to do with being human. Mother said it was a combination of being human and in love that made them stupid." Argo shook her head. "I think they frustrated her a lot."
Thelana chuckled softly. "Can I tell you a secret?"
"They frustrated a lot of people around here too." Thelana set the brush down and picked up the comb once more, gently working the tangles out of the long, golden tail. "So then what happened?"
Chapter II: Twisted Route to the Truth
Finding out that Xena had a son was nothing less than a shock, and though Gabrielle did not agree with the warrior's decision to keep it a secret from Solan, she tried to respect Xena's decision. The emotional toll that secret and Lyceus' death took on the warrior was apparent when she entered the Fates Temple, and asked to have never become a warrior.
For a long time, Gabrielle never understood the impulsive hug of which she became a recipient. Years later, she would cry at the choice Xena made for her, but at the time, she simply relished the warmth of the warrior's arm wrapped around her shoulders.
Callisto returned, and with her came Perdicas. Gabrielle waited for Xena to stop her from leaving, but the warrior refused to speak her heart. The bard, certain that what she had thought was between them was her own wishful thinking, agreed to marry her old beau.
They stood together at the entrance to the temple, and Gabrielle tried to convince herself and Xena that she'd done the right thing for the right reasons. But the look in Xena's eyes shattered something in the bard's soul, and she knew they were saying goodbye.
The fury over his death was as much from her own guilt as it was Callisto's actions, and as she stood watching the sunset, Gabrielle apologized to Perdicas for loving him not as a husband, but as a brother and a friend. She didn't explain that to Xena though. It would be a bit longer before she realized it was something the warrior needed to know.
Having to see Xena in Callisto's body was difficult in the extreme, and it made for a rough couple of weeks. Gabrielle did her best to ignore the fact that her best friend now inhabited the body of their worst enemy, but when the truth stared her plainly in the face every single time she looked in Xena's direction, it made it difficult. Still she handled it as gracefully as possible, and Xena was very understanding about her involuntary flinching. It was hard to say who was more thankful for a debt paid when Ares returned Xena to her rightful body.
Taken by surprise, Gabrielle unwrapped the present, then tears welled up in her green eyes as she saw it was a little wooden lamb. Overwhelmed, she looked at Xena. "But I don't have a gift for you."
"Gabrielle, you *are* a gift to me." Xena wrapped an arm around the bard's shoulders and brushed a light kiss across the blonde locks.
Gabrielle returned the squeeze and tucked the memory away, hoping beyond hope that her heart was being honest with her.
"What do you think about heading back to the Amazons for a bit of a visit? After that, ahem, *beauty contest*, I need a bit of a break."
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Gabrielle agreed. "Those attitudes... can you imagine if we let the Amazon loose on some of those guys?" She chuckled at the mental image, and Xena smiled in sympathy.
"It wouldn't be pretty."
"Um, no... but it would be funny."
"Things were going very well for them, and they were slowly inching their way towards confessing the truth of their hearts to one another. Poor Mother. What happened then nearly killed her... and Gabrielle."
Their trip took them past what had been Cirra, and Xena rode down into the deserted valley reliving old memories. Mere minutes, but it set in motion a series of events the changed... everything.
Gabrielle felt the rending of her soul, even as she cried for deliverance from the awful reality of Xena's death. Hours she sat trying to adjust to the fact that Xena was gone from her, and finally gave in to the need to talk to the warrior.
"Xena... I know you can hear me... wherever you are. I know you always told
me to be strong. I can't be... not now. You can't leave me. I know it's not
your time. I can feel it in my heart. I feel this emptiness that I've never
known before, and it scares me. Xena, above all... just remember your destiny.
Remember it and fight. Just fight to come back. This world needs you.
I need you."
"Mother said Xena heard the words. And it gave her a reason to fight to come back. She had seen some of what was in Gabrielle's heart, and couldn't give it up again without trying." The mare heard an enormous sigh fall from the Amazon's lips. "Problem, Thelana?"
"No, Argo. It's just that... this has to be one of the most romantic stories I have ever heard. I mean we've all heard the tale of how Xena came back from the dead for our Queen, but it is nothing like this."
"Really? How does your story go?" Argo was intrigued. She'd heard the story from her mother and from Gabrielle on the rare occasion when the bard would bring it out for a private performance for Xena. The one she told publicly left out a lot of the personal details.
"Xena came back to life for the Queen, and saved the Amazons from Velasca. Gabrielle made Ephiny her Regent, and returned to traveling the roads of Greece with the Warrior Princess."
"Gee kid, no wonder you are curious." The palomino turned her head to see that her tail was about a third of the way plaited. "Let me tell you what happened after that."
"I don't know, Argo," Gabrielle whispered as she hooked the sarcophagus back up to the faithful warhorse. She wasn't sleeping, and the nightmares that plagued her when she tried were draining. "I don't know how long I can do this alone."
Xena realized the moment she kissed Gabrielle that the bard did indeed have feelings for her. But it wasn't until she inhabited Gabrielle's body to fight Velasca that she understood the depth and breadth of those emotions.
"Xena?" They had settled down for the evening after saying goodbye to Autolycus. Gabrielle still had her head resting on the warrior's shoulder where she could still hear the strong heartbeat beneath her ear.
"Hmm?" Xena was truly happy for the first time in she couldn't remember when, and still drained from her ordeal. So she was glad to sit peacefully with Gabrielle and contemplate the possibilities that suddenly seemed within her reach.
"Why Autolycus? Why not me?"
"I tried Gabrielle, but you couldn't hear me. Your grief was too strong."
Gabrielle nodded her acceptance of the explanation, remembering full well the depth of agony her soul had been in. "One day, I would like to know why you gave up so easily." The words were a bare whisper, but Xena felt the despair rip through her soul. She opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped by Gabrielle. "Not tonight, though. Tonight I just want to listen to your heartbeat, and be glad you came back to me... for whatever reasons."
Life got in the way of talking for a while, and blindness was an eye-opening experience for Xena. It spooked her, and Ulysses offered her an excuse to run from her feelings. But even as the words flowed out of her mouth, she knew they were being said to the wrong person. And when she felt Gabrielle's soul withdraw from her, her own soul cried in anguish. She began trying to make amends, but running into the Horde immediately upon reaching land complicated matters.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I let my fear and hatred blind me to... everything." Gabrielle heard the words on the many levels they were spoken on, and she smiled as the healing warmth started to wend its way through her soul.
"You do what you have to do, Xena, then we'll walk down that road together."
The warrior smiled back then, understanding the clemency she was being offered. "I'd like that," she returned softly. "Let me go take care of this first."
"Do you know who I am?"
"You're Cecrops. I wasn't gonna let you take off with my best friend." Xena leaned down and whispered the next words into Gabrielle's ear, making sure the bard knew they were for her and her alone. "Especially when we are this close to so much more."
Gabrielle completely forgot about seasickness while the sweetness and promise of those words soaked into her heart and mind.
The two were making their way towards Amphipolis. They were taking the long route, and had plans to stop by the Amazons on the way.
"You know when Bliss hit you with that arrow?" They were holding hands, as had become their custom in the days since they'd escaped from Cecrop's ship. Xena felt Gabrielle's clasp tighten convulsively and turned to see a blush travel up her neck. The warrior led them off the beaten path and into the privacy of the trees.
"Um hmm." The answer was quiet, but Xena heard it.
"I'm glad you called for me."
"I'm sorry Joxer got between us."
Gabrielle's head swiveled toward Xena at that statement, and her eyes widened. "But....?"
Long fingers over her lips sent tingles across her skin, and caused her to stop speaking. Xena dropped her hand from Gabrielle's lips, and rested both hands lightly on the bard's waist. "I'm glad he did, because I knew something weird was going on. I don't want you to love me because of a spell or an arrow or any other reason than your own free will. And I don't want there to be a doubt in your mind about the fact that I love you... for you, and for myself. No outside influence, no godly motivation... just us."
The bard was stunned in silence for a long time, though Xena could see the love she'd hoped for staring back at her through jade green eyes. Finally, Gabrielle released the breath she'd been holding, and inhaled deeply. "Wow, um...." She swallowed, and closed her eyes. "Do... uh, do you, um... remember... oh, gods, I know there is a bard in here somewhere just waiting to get out."
Xena couldn't help it. She laughed. When she heard the joyful sound, Gabrielle laughed too, and felt herself relax. She ran her hands lightly up the warrior's torso, and wound them into the silky dark locks. She noted the pungent bouquet of earth and trees, the smell of approaching rain, and the scent of Xena herself. Gabrielle found herself mesmerized by the darkening blue eyes that slowly drew closer to her and the tongue that moistened the warrior's lips just before they met her own.
The kiss started slow and sweet and Xena made the first move to deepen it. Gabrielle accepted the exploration willingly, and returned the attention with equal fervor. Only when they were both quite breathless did they pull away from one another. Xena rested her forehead on the bard's, content to simply drink in her essence for a moment.
"Do you remember," the bard's words just above a whisper, "the story we talked about when we were in Athens... about the man who went searching for his family?" The warrior nodded her answer to Gabrielle's question. The bard looked up now, and met Xena's eyes. "I found what I was looking for, Xena." She tightened her arms around the warrior's neck. "I've come home."
Xena pulled Gabrielle into her. A kiss was her only answer, but for the time being, it was enough.
"THELANA!!!!" The bellow that carried itself through the stout barn walls made the Amazon girl cringe in reaction.
"Damn!" she muttered in response. "Figures. You're getting to the good part, and I have to miss it." She tied up the braided tail, and moved to stand in front of Argo. "Thanks for sharing with me, Argo."
"Well, you come on back when you get finished with <ahem> whatever it is you are being summoned so loudly for. I'm not going anywhere for a while, and neither is my story. Besides, you still owe me a story, and I am only half groomed!"
Thelana looked, and realized the mare was telling the truth about the grooming job she'd been doing. She laughed. "Oops! Sorry Argo. I'll definitely be back to finish that." The Amazon threw her arms around the palomino's neck, and in the right light, it almost looked like Argo was blushing from the affection. "Thanks, Argo! You're the best!"
"Yeah, well remember that when you come back, will ya? I'm am fond of carrots and apples."
The girl smiled. "I can do that."
"I gotta go, but I'll be back as quick as I can. See ya, Argo."
Chapter III: Hurting Beyond Words
"But I was just...." Xena and Gabrielle watched as the young Amazon passed them trying to explain something to her mentor. It was clear the older Amazon just wasn't buying it.
"No excuses, Thelana. How many times....?"
Warrior and bard looked at one another and snickered. Then Xena dropped an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders and steered them towards the barn. "They're your subjects, your Majesty."
The Amazon Queen wrapped her arm around Xena's waist and pinched her. "Thank you for reminding me." Xena jumped but didn't make a sound. She turned an outraged blue eye toward Gabrielle, but the bard just smiled up at her innocently. "Besides, they are making all the fuss for *us*, not just for me."
"Yes, but they wouldn't be making a fuss at all, as you call it, if you weren't their queen." The warrior opened the barn door, and stopped. Something was... she got a look at Argo, and walked quickly to the mare's side. Gabrielle followed at a slightly slower pace, then almost chuckled, until both horse and warrior pinned her with a baleful glare. "Not one word, bard."
"Actually, Xena, it looks really nice," fingering the smooth plaits of Argo's mane. "It also looks like whoever was grooming her got stopped in the middle," motioning to the partially braided tail and the one side still not brushed.
"Is that what happened, girl?" Xena smiled when Argo nodded her golden head affirmatively. "Well here," holding out an apple for the warhorse to lip up. "We can't go riding with you in a half-groomed state." She picked up a brush and then hesitated. "Do you suppose....?"
Gabrielle nodded, and took the brush from her. "Yeah, let's walk. I think whoever started this might want to finish it." The bard smiled when Argo nodded her head in agreement again. "Well, I guess we have a majority. You wanna grab a blanket, and I'll carry lunch?"
"Hmm, remind me to ask Ep when grooming my horse became a form of discipline."
Gabrielle chuckled and extended her free hand, gratified when Xena took it without hesitation. "Well, Xe, at least they're doing a good job. C'mon, I hear some quiet time with you just calling my name."
"Even after all these years together?"
"*Especially* after all our years together."
"Hi, Argo." Eponin made her way into the barn, and over to the palomino. Time had slowed her down a bit, but she was still quite spry and healthy for an elder. She snorted to herself and shook her head, never having anticipated attaining that particular status. "Thelana's been in here with you, hasn't she?" She looked at the carefully tended mane. "I recognize her work."
The mare nodded her head, butting the older woman in the chest. Eponin laughed and scratched the horse behind the ears.
"I take it you like that idea." She looked at the neat braids again. "Well, she does have a natural talent for it. Much better than weapons making or smithing. Hmm... maybe I'll talk to Gabrielle." A light chuckle escaped from her lips. "Ya know Argo, if anyone had told me when I first met them that things would be like they are today, I'd have had them locked away for madness. Funny how life is never what we expect it to be."
The Amazon Elder turned away from the mare and headed for the door. "Let me see if I can get Thelana back in here to finish what she started. Because if Xena sees you half-groomed like that, I will be eyeball deep in Warrior Princess trouble." Argo whickered. "Don't you laugh at me, young lady," Ep said with a slightly raised brow. "She could kick my butt when we were the same age." The older woman shook her head. "Now I am justifying myself to her horse. I need to get out more."
She left the barn and went in search of Thelana.
The Amazon came running into the barn, skidding to a breathless halt in front of Argo. She threw her arms around the mare's neck, careful of the plaiting. "What did you say to Grandmother Eponin?"
"Not a thing. She doesn't hear me. Why?"
"Because she marched into the smithy and rescued me from the forge."
Argo's eyes widened. "They had you in the forge?"
"No, silly. Not *in* the forge... AT the forge. I am supposed to be learning weapons crafting."
"But it's just not what I want to do. I'm not interested and it shows. That is why I stay in trouble all the time. 'Ahem', " affecting a high, pinched-nose voice, "A well-rounded Amazon is accomplished in a variety of skills, including but not limited to weapons making, smithing, hunting and sewing."
"Yeah... don't ask."
"Ooookay. Should I get back to the story I was telling you?"
"Yes, please. It was just getting good." Thelana loosened the tie on Argo's tail, and resumed her braiding. "They were kissing in the woods." She reached into her pouch. "Oh here... before I forget." Argo took the carrot and crunched it between strong, white teeth. "So go ahead."
"Maybe a little water to wash it down first," the mare stated, staring pointedly at her empty trough.
"Oh, yeah, right."
The trough was full, Argo had her fill, and Thelana restarted her plaiting, and the mare began to speak.
"Mother told me that here they had a bit of a break. Not they didn't have adventures... they did. But they were young and in love. And for just a little while, that was all that mattered. Then came the Furies, and that was the beginning of a nightmare from Tartarus."
Xena would never get used to the silence. Dahok had changed... everything. She felt them slipping away from each other, and was powerless to stop it. The anger, the distrust, the sadness... the withdrawal of Gabrielle's soul from her own made her feel so cold. She welcomed Lao Ma's messenger as an escape from the hellish reality her life had become.
"You owe someone so much that you would just throw away these last few years... the last few months we've had together."
Xena hesitated, knowing that the rift she was putting between them was unbreachable. "Yes," she said finally.
"I'm sorry, Xena, but I can't help you commit murder."
"I know, Gabrielle. I'm sorry." The warrior boarded a ship, never having said goodbye, but knowing it for what it was.
I'm sorry Xena... I couldn't let you do it. I know I did it for the wrong reasons, but I couldn't let you do it. Even though, gods, even though you don't love me any more, I couldn't let you give up redemption for revenge.
If only I could tell you the truth about Hope.
My son is dead and your daughter killed him. Xena put her hand on her chakram ready to keep Gabrielle from killing herself. There was a part of her soul that wouldn't allow the bard to die, and she walked away from the pyres to suffer her grief alone.
"You wouldn't let me take my own life, but you killed me in Illusia. Why?" The duo had moved from the waters they'd been washed up on and set up camp in a small cave just outside Amazon territory.
"Wait just a chicken plucking minute," Thelana forestalled any further speech by her equine friend. She tied off the now fully braided tail and moved to face Argo. "You wanna back up and tell that story for me?"
For the first time, the mare looked profoundly sad, and shook her head. "That was a very dark time for them. Mother said she refused Xena when the warrior tried to ride her into the Amazon encampment to retrieve Gabrielle." She paused and sighed. "Gabrielle had given up, and was waiting for Xena... waiting to die."
"That was when she hurt Grandmother Ephiny."
"Yes. That fit of madness nearly cost them both everything. Mother found them hours later sitting in a damp cave simply talking about everything they could remember that had happened... everything they had let come between them. Trying to figure out what Dahok ultimately wanted from the two of them. Xena forgave Gabrielle for Chin and Solan and lying about Hope. Gabrielle forgave Xena for Caesar and dragging her across Greece and lying about Ming T'ien. In the end though, they realized that forgiving themselves was going to be a lot harder to do."
They were making very slow, very tentative steps back to one another, recognizing their innate need for the other half of their soul. The love was still there, but it needed nurturing, and actually made the pain worse at times. Hating would have been easier, but ultimately, it would have destroyed them. An uneasy truce was forged between them, and every day saw them inching back toward the love that bonded them so completely. Then came an event that forced them to new awareness.
Persians on the march brought truth to the fore, and made them understand how precious and fragile what they shared genuinely was. But a trip to Rome became too much for Gabrielle's conscience, and the pain became unbearable. Xena did the only thing she could for the bard then... wait and hope.
"You knew." A statement. "You knew why I went, how I got there, and yet you still forgave me." Joxer had left them earlier, seeing they needed to be alone. It didn't hurt that Meg was just down the road and over the hill. So now they were alone, and clearing the air a little more after Gabrielle's visit with Mnemosyne.
"Yeah, I knew, and I didn't blame you for being jealous. It was a human reaction. In a perverse way, it made forgiving you even easier. I just hope the Amazons are as forgiving of me."
A warm touch on her arm made Xena look down, and then up into deep green eyes. "They will be. I sent a note to Ephiny, telling her a bit of what was going on. She said your fate would rest with her as the Regent, and as one of the injured. She is coming to meet us to talk."
Aphrodite's spell brought home the fact that though they had admitted their love for one another, there was no formal tie between them, and when Ephiny and her contingent arrived, a thought tickled at the back of Xena's mind.
"Xena, do you realize the crimes you could be charged with?" A nod. "Are you prepared to suffer the consequences?" Another nod. The Amazons, though not overtly hostile, made very clear their unhappiness with the Warrior Princess and her actions in their village. Before Ephiny could speak further or pass judgment, Gabrielle spoke up.
"Ephiny, whatever sentence you pass on her, you must pass on me as well." The regent's eyes grew wide. "I am as guilty for what happened as Xena is, and if she suffers for it, then so will I."
"You mean that." A statement, not a question.
"Yes, I do," overriding Xena's shocked, "Gabrielle!"
Ephiny was thoughtfully silent for a long while, then conferred with her council. "It has been decided that neither Queen Gabrielle nor her Champion, Xena were in their right minds at the time of the incident in question. Mitigating circumstances make it impossible to judge in this matter. As far as the Amazon Nation is concerned, the episode is forgiven and the subject closed. HOWEVER, if anything like this ever happens again, no matter the circumstances, the penalty will be death." She looked Xena directly in the eyes. "Is that clearly understood?"
"Yes, it is. Thank you Ephiny," Gabrielle responded.
"I'm sorry, Eph," came Xena's low rejoinder.
"It's nothing a bit of time can't heal, Xena. I am just happy to see the two of you on the mend, because she was dying inside without you. I didn't want to see her hurt."
"Mother told me that Xena wanted to ask Gabrielle to join with her, but didn't feel comfortable approaching the Amazons about it right then. And then suddenly, without warning, they ran out of time, and it was too late."
"It's strange -- the one I love most in all the world and the one I hate look exactly the same." Xena brushed a gentle hand along the bard's cheekbone, smiling when Gabrielle leaned into her touch.
"Well, I had to do something, Xena." She clasped the warrior's hand in her own and held it tightly. "I had to think quickly. I... I just couldn't stand the thought of losing you. Not when we've finally found one another again."
Xena placed her free hand on the bard's hip, pulling them together until there was no light between them. She breathed in their scent, and smiled at the happy memories it evoked. Then she cleared her throat and began to speak. "Gabrielle, a lot's happened to us over the past year, and there were times when we were both very confused, and we hurt one another. But I want you to know that I still think you are the best thing that ever happened to me. You gave my life meaning and joy-- and you will be a part of me forever."
Gabrielle placed Xena's other hand at her waist, and wrapped both of her arms around the warrior's neck. "No matter what Xena, I want you to always remember that you hold my heart."
"And you mine, Gabrielle. When we get out of this mess...."
"I know, Xena. I love you too." She pulled Xena in for a kiss, and for a timeless moment all was right with the world.
Chapter IV: Losing the Mind and Gaining Religion
"Those were the last private minutes they shared before Gabrielle took Hope into the pit with her. Xena very nearly died from the loss right then. They had come so far and recovered so much.... It was an incredibly difficult time for Mother and Xena. She was completely devastated."
"There is a set of scrolls," Thelana said softly, "that tells a little bit about that time."
Argo turned her head, and looked directly at the young Amazon. "Excuse me?? Who dared write that particular story?"
"Yakut did. When Xena went to the north to find Gabrielle, the shamaness made a spirit journey with her. And Otere sat down with Yakut when Xena left, and gave her the whole story. They thought it was important to record what really happened. They sent a copy to Grandmother Ephiny, so our tribe would understand what had happened to our Queen." She paused and drew a deep breath. "Grandmother heard from Gabrielle and Xena two days before Yakut's scrolls showed up. Grandmother Eponin says they caused quite a stir."
"I'll bet... it caused quite a stir for them when Xena found Gabrielle in Poteidia."
Thelana picked up the brush again. "Tell me?"
"You talk about trying to find your way, but to me, you are my way."
"How can I be your way, when I... I'm lost, myself?"
"I'm searching for answers, too. But how we look for them doesn't matter... as long as we look for them together... you and me."
Gabrielle moved to sit within the circle of Xena's arms. "I like that word," the bard said softly after a while. "I missed you so much."
Xena's arms trembled as she tenderly folded Gabrielle into her embrace. "Oh, my bard," brushing a kiss across the blonde locks. "No more than I missed you." The night was just a little warmer and the stars a little brighter, simply because the two halves were whole again once more.
Xena didn't understand the fragility of Gabrielle psyche until they came upon the Romans again, and Gabrielle was forced into a role she really didn't want. And when Xena gave herself up for old crimes, Gabrielle started looking for... something... to answer the questions Dahak had raised within her mind.
Najara hurt Xena in places that were healing, but she and Gabrielle walked away from that still together. The warrior could see the struggle Gabrielle was having... not with Xena's dark side, but with what she saw as her own. So she stepped back and let the bard begin to tentatively explore other avenues.
"Still a family?" the bard asked as they resumed their journey alone together once more.
"Always a family, Gabrielle," Xena replied softly. "I promised you that even in death I would never leave you. And you did the right thing by that little girl. Bet it makes all the difference for her when she gets older."
"It would be nice to know I could make that kind of difference again with just my words."
"You can... you do." Xena ran gentle hands through the long golden locks, closing her eyes as the vision of Gabrielle's short hair on the cross flashed in front of her eyes. She hoped that if she helped Gabrielle find a new way, then the prophecy would no longer be self-fulfilling. "We'll find a way to make things right again, sweetheart."
Gabrielle smiled tremulously at Xena, and clasped the warrior's arm. "I hope so. I feel like I'm letting you down."
"Nope. Given what we've been through in the last year or so, I think the questions are more than fairly justified."
"Gabrielle's pain and confusion prompted Xena to suggest a pilgrimage to India, and the bard seemed almost relieved to take her up on it. And so they started out on a quest for spiritual peace."
"Did they find it?" Thelana continued her patient brushing, and Argo reveled in the extra attention. They never heard the small door at the back of the barn open, nor did they notice two figures slip silently in and stand in the darkness.
"Um, well, not the way they expected to, no. They had to weave through numerous charlatans and deceivers before they recognized the truth."
"It sounds like it was terribly difficult."
"Mother didn't take the trip to India, but from the descriptions she got from their conversations about it later, it wasn't what either expected it to be."
"Do you really think I have hands like a sailor?"
"I certainly hope so. Sailors make the best lovers, ya know." Xena watched as the red suffused Gabrielle's face with that pronouncement. "You're beautiful when you blush."
The warrior was surprised when Gabrielle cuddled into her arms and held on tight. "Thank you," the bard said quietly.
"For what?" Xena returned the embrace fully.
"For taking this crazy quest with me. For being honest about your love of fighting. For just loving me."
"I don't see that changing anytime soon, my bard."
"How is your face?" Gabrielle asked quietly as she applied another cold compress to the burn mark. Xena reached up and covered the smaller hand with her own.
"It'll be fine. How are you?"
"Confused. The harder I look for answers the further away they seem to be from me."
"We'll find them, Gabrielle. We'll just keep looking."
"This karma that you're talking about... can you see mine? Can you see how much Xena's a part of that?"
"Yes, in many lives... past and future. You both walk a path together. Think of yourselves as lines in the mendhi... separated, but forever connected."
"Xena, do you think Naima was telling us the truth? About being soulmates forever intertwined?" They had settled for the evening, and Gabrielle was relating bits of what had happened while they were separated.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle for a long moment. The short hair was quite becoming, and Xena couldn't help but admire how flattering it was. "Yeah, I do. We're a part of each other, Gabrielle. We always have been. Even before we were aware of it."
Gabrielle thought back over the many times Xena seemed to know she was in trouble, and just BE where ever the bard needed her to be. She nodded her agreement. "I like the thought of that. Always together."
Xena put her arms around the bard, wrapping Gabrielle in her embrace. "Me too, love. Me too,"
"You and I stay together, Xena." They were repeating their discussion from the river. The warrior, though not wanting to be separated from Gabrielle, thought that it might be the best way to keep the vision that continued to plague her from becoming reality.
"Gabrielle, we're headed in opposite directions in life."
"Not really, Xena. All rivers run to the sea. We'll end up in the same place; I'm sure of it. I'd much rather walk side by side to get there."
"Even with the vision....?"
"Even with. It doesn't matter, Xena, as long as we go together."
"We've changed so much over the course of the year, and yet it seems that when push comes to shove, sometimes the only choice is to shove back. But with this path that I'm on, I can't do that." Gabrielle sighed and leaned into Xena as they walked towards Amazon territory. "But I need something better than this smoke thing. You won't always be able to fight my battles for me."
"Yes, I will, Gabrielle. Together, remember? My way protects your way."
"I remember reading about Grandmother Ephiny's death. That was when Xena and Gabrielle came back to the village again, isn't it?"
"Yes, it was. It was a very dark time for the Amazon nation as well as for Gabrielle. She struggled with the necessity of war, though she led as best as she could peacefully, and respected Xena's leadership of the battle itself."
Thelana was quiet for a while as she finished brushing down the palomino's sleek side. She moved a short stool over to one side of the mare, and placed some oil and a polishing cloth to one side. Then she chose a slim pick from her tool belt and lifted the horse's hoof for cleaning.
"Is that why she didn't stay and be a ruling Queen of the Amazons instead of a wandering one?"
There didn't seem to be any hint of bitterness in the question, only a natural curiosity and a desire to understand something beyond her. The mare turned a round, brown eye toward the girl and considered her for a long moment.
"No, child. Her reason then is the same as her reason now. She and Xena are part and parcel of the same whole. They NEED to be together. And for now anyway, Xena still needs to be on the road at least somewhat. When that changes, if that changes... they will settle down together."
"Well," Thelana said with more seriousness than an eleven-year-old should be capable of. "I hope when they do, they settle here. We need them too."
In the darkness, the two settled into one another's arms, providing the comfort and reassurance they both seemed to need.
"So what happened next?"
"Well, it depends on who you asked. I heard this story from Mother and Joxer. Joxer was there for most of it, whereas Mother got bits and pieces from several sources, plus what she little saw for herself. Together, it makes a very poignant tale."
"Can you share?" the Amazon asked just as "THELANA!!" rang out across the compound again. "Great!! Just wonderful! Grandmother Ep must have forgotten to let Rys know where I am." She shook her head. "Gotta love elders. Always at the best part too. Damn!" She sighed. "Let me go find out what the problem is. Then I'll be back to hear more."
"Not like I'm going anywhere for a while. Go tend to business. Everything else will keep til later."
"Thanks, Argo. You're the best."
Argo never even blinked when the back door opened and two figures slipped outside.
"Xena, that was... when did... how come....?" Gabrielle shook her head to clear it. The questions were all running together and nothing was making a whole lot of sense. She rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes, hoping it would help.
"I dunno, Gabrielle. I've been trying to figure out the same thing. Maybe the Amazon girl is gifted?" Xena took the bard's hands in her own and gently chafed them. Gabrielle smiled in response to the gesture. "Maybe we should talk to Eponin. She seems to have some sort of an attachment to her."
"I don't think *I'd* be sharing it around that I made it possible for animals to be understood if I was that age. C'mon Xena, we weren't either one kids THAT long ago. Would you want to be that different from everyone around you?"
"Gabrielle, we *ARE* that different from everyone around us. We are different from everyone we have ever known. But I see your point. I'm pretty sure at that age, her biggest concern is trying to fit in and be like everyone else. Maybe we should just watch and listen."
There was a significant pause as they thought over the little bit they had already heard. It had been painful in some respects, in ways that even time couldn't diminish for them.
"I never realized," the bard said quietly, "how difficult that time must have been for you. I'm sorry I made things so hard."
"I'm not," Xena answered firmly. "Everything, even our crucifixion and resurrection, and all the horse manure that followed made us the people we are today."
"Well, hearing Argo tell it has sure been a real eye opener. She tells it like it was with no glossing over or excuses... even the bad stuff."
"So you wanna go listen to the rest of it, my bard?"
"Yeah, I would. I wish we had heard the first bit though. Those days were wonderful," said just a bit wistfully.
"Yeah, they were. I'm glad we finally got back to a place like that again." The warrior put her hands on Gabrielle's hips, and gently drew them together. "I think Aphrodite was right when she told me it was time to make you... *make us* the greater good. It makes everything else fall into place better for me."
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's neck, and wove her fingers into the still long, dark hair that was falling around the warrior's planed face. "Me too," was all she whispered before tugging Xena down for a kiss. Only the creaking of the barn door pulled them apart, and hand in hand they stepped silently through the small door to hear the rest of Argo's tale.
"Hi, Argo. I've only got a few minutes before evening meal, but I wanted to hear the poignant story." She dropped some fresh oats into the manger and checked the trough before taking a seat on the stool.
"I dunno if I can tell it that quickly, Thelana. It is kinda involved."
"Try, please? I'd really like to hear it. I'll come back tomorrow to finish your hooves and hear the rest, but I truly would like to hear that bit. It sounds like the end of a chapter."
"Oh, it is kid, in more ways than you could possibly understand." The mare eyed the Amazon for a long moment before she nodded. "All right, but not a word of complaint if you are late for dinner. And you have to be honest with me about something." Thelana nodded her agreement. Argo paused, then jumped in with all four hooves.
"If you're not good at the *regular* Amazon stuff, what ARE you good at?"
"I'm good with the animals," the girl answered instantly. "That was my favorite job rotation, but they won't let me keep doing it until it becomes my designation after my rite of passage." She paused and scrunched up her brow. "You're the first animal I've ever talked to that talked back, though. Curious."
Argo laughed then, her whinny making the girl laugh sympathetically with her. "Well, a word to the wise, Thelana. Finish your rotations to the best of your ability. You'll be a lot happier for it, and so will everyone else."
The Amazon almost rolled her eyes, but decided against it. Instead she said, "Will you tell your story now?"
"You've heard of the Ides of March...." Gabrielle shivered in Xena's arms as Argo's voice took them both back to a different time and place.
It had seemed so simple. Kill Caesar, rescue Gabrielle, piece of cake. All in a day's work. But Callisto, furious at her inability to thwart Xena, had tilted the scale, and Gabrielle took up the sword in her warrior's defense. Even Xena's pleading did not slow Gabrielle's fierce protection of Xena, and when they were finally removed to the dungeon, a dozen men lay dead at her hand.
"I don't regret it, Xena," she said softly, as footsteps rang down the corridor. "I would do it for you again in a heartbeat. You are my strength and my joy."
"And you mine, sweetheart. I will find you again."
"I know you will, love, and I will be waiting for you."
The footsteps stopped at the door and a voice simply said, "It's time."
"I love you, Xena."
"You're the best thing in my life, Gabrielle."
The nails were excruciating, but Gabrielle refused to cry out, unwilling to cause her warrior any further pain. Xena screamed to the heavens pouring out the pain, anger and frustration she felt for them both.
"Even as they died on Mt. Amaro, Caesar was being betrayed and killed by his own in Rome. And when they drew their last breath, Xena called to Gabrielle, and their spirits left their bodies and ascended together into the afterlife."
Thelana sat quietly trying to absorb the information she'd just been given. "They didn't go to the Amazon Land of the Dead?"
"No, they were taken to a different eternity. The One God had plans for them, and it nearly destroyed them."
"You have GOT to stop doing that to me Argo!" the girl complained. Right then the Amazon's stomach growled loudly, and she hung her head. "I've got to go get some dinner, but I'll be back as soon as I can. You've left me in a bad place with a lot of questions." She rushed out the door with a wave.
"You think YOU got left in a bad place," the mare muttered. "Wait til you hear what happened to them." She shook her head, forgetting the mane was braided up for a moment. Then she stuck her nose in the manger of oats and began to munch her own supper.
Xena and Gabrielle exited from their hiding place quietly, and headed for the mess hall.
Chapter V: On the Razor Edge of Divorce
Warrior and bard entered the dining hall hand in hand, and were greeted respectfully by the amazons still gathered for the evening meal. Regent Cyane and Varia motioned them to the front table. Eponin was sitting with them, and Xena and Gabrielle made their way through the throng to join them.
"Queen Gabrielle... Xena... please join us." Cyane waited until they were seated and served before turning her questioning gaze toward them. "Is everything all right? You looked somewhat... pensive."
"Everything is fine, Cyane. We have been watching the trainees. It seems we have a good group of young Amazons coming of age." Gabrielle distracted the women from asking more questions about her and Xena. The memories they had just recently relived were too personal to share.
"Yes, my Queen," Varia responded. "The Nation grows stronger everyday."
Gabrielle nodded her head. "What do you think, Eponin?"
"My Queen, for the first time in a long time I have hope again," looking at Thelana. "I think even my granddaughter will find her place."
"Is there a problem?" Xena asked. Gabrielle ate silently, but nodded her head in approval of the warrior's question and clasped her hand under the table.
"Not really, my friend," the elder woman replied with a smile. "She is at a loss to complete her training, since she has found the calling that suits her best."
"And that is?" asking, even though she and the bard already knew the answer.
"She seems to have a knack working with the animals, especially horses."
"That's the truth," Varia acknowledged. "It's almost like she can understand them."
Neither Xena nor Gabrielle reacted visibly to that comment, though their hands clenched in unison. "That is quite a talent... perhaps she can. Or at least make them understand her. Xena does that well."
Before anyone could comment about her 'many skills', Xena turned to Eponin. "I suppose she is the one who left Argo half-groomed?" raising her eyebrow in question.
"Oh, um... you saw that, hmm? I was hoping I got her back in there quickly enough to finish. Not giving Xena a chance to reply, Ep turned to Gabrielle. "When you have some free time, your Majesty, I'd like the chance to talk to you a bit."
A blonde brow rose. "Problems, my friend?"
"No, no, my Queen. Nothing urgent. Just a concern or two. In the morning, perhaps?"
"That would be fine, Eponin. I believe Xena has a free for all sparring session scheduled before breakfast." She looked at the warrior who nodded with a smirk. Varia and Cyane were nodding enthusiastically as well. Gabrielle turned her attention back to the elder. "So perhaps you will join me before breakfast?"
"Thank you, your majesty."
Gabrielle nodded with a smile and a wink at Eponin before she turned to her regent. "And after sparring, and before we start the festival, I think we need discuss moving the Amazons."
"Now that the tribes have come together to form a single Nation, I think we need to address moving out of Greece. People are becoming less tolerant, and we are being crowded out on all sides. Even with our treaties, the growth of the areas surrounding our lands is changing everything for us."
Cyane nodded her head thoughtfully. "I've noticed. In fact, it has come up for discussion around the campfire more than once."
"I'll expect some good ideas then," the bard replied, noticing that Thelana was almost done with her supper. "Now if you'll excuse us... Xena promised me a moonlight stroll before bed." They rose in one body, and Gabrielle took Xena's hand and they walked out of the brightly lit hut into the cool darkness together.
"So where shall we stroll, my Queen?" Xena dropped an arm around the bard's shoulders and smiled when Gabrielle laced their free hands together. Wrapped thusly around one another, they slowly made their way towards to barn.
"Why do you ask if you are heading us towards the barn?" with a teasing smile in her voice. The warrior's silent chuckle was a mere vibration against her body, and she felt Xena's smile when her lips brushed against the blonde head.
"I saw her getting ready to leave too, and I am fairly sure she wants to hear the rest of the story."
"Hmm, you know the next bit is more painful than the last."
"I know, but I think we need to hear it. Remind ourselves of all the things we have to be thankful for this Harvest Festival."
"Maybe when we get done, we could go back and look at some of the older stories together?" Gabrielle asked quietly.
"I think I'd like that," Xena answered. "A lot."
They opened the back door to the barn, letting their eyes adjust from the moonlit outdoors, to the almost pitch blackness of the building's interior. The horses were settled for the night, and it was quiet as they slipped inside. Without a sound, they climbed up into the hayloft and settled comfortably over Argo's stall.
"This brings back a lot of wonderful memories," the bard commented contentedly wrapped in Xena's arms. The warrior simply nodded as the barn door opened and admitted Thelana with a torch that she placed in a holder near the door, and a lantern that she hung neatly in the stall.
She sat on the stool she'd left conveniently placed, and resume her work with the pick. "So tell me, Argo," the girl said after a minute of silent work. "What happened?"
"Well, Mother never knew what happened while they were out of their bodies. It wasn't something either Gabrielle or Xena shared with her. But once Joxer and Amarice had taken them down from their crosses...."
"Eli, can you bring them back? Please, you have to keep trying," Joxer pleaded with the avatar.
Eli looked at his hands, wondering if they had the strength and power he would need from his Abba to do the work he was being called to do. "I will try once more, my friend, but no guarantees. I can only do what He wills."
There was distance between them when they came to again, and though they leaned into one another for support, their confusion and almost unconscious withdrawal was an omen of the trials soon to come.
Recovering Xena's dark side put Gabrielle on the path of the warrior, gave Xena a new chakram, and brought the pair back under Ares scrutiny once more. He recognized Gabrielle's skills and offered her Xena's place at his side. The warrior could do nothing but stand back and watch, but Gabrielle didn't disappoint, and together they headed for the Northern Amazons.
"That was when Mother and Gabrielle found out Xena was pregnant," Argo stated matter-of-factly, waiting for the inevitable explosion. She wasn't disappointed.
"WHAT??? When?? Who?? How?? WHY, for gods' sakes???" Thelana sputtered out in quick succession. Every horse stabled in the barn turned at her reaction, then just as calmly went back to their own business.
"Funny, that is almost exactly what Gabrielle said when Xena told her. But she took the bull by the horns, and accepted the truth that Xena gave her. And then they had their last fight with Alti in this lifetime's timeline, and Gabrielle became Xena's defender. It brought them closer, and yet pushed them farther apart."
"How so?" Thelana reached down for the small bottle of oil and the rag. She wet the cloth, and began polishing the now clean hoof.
"Joxer was actually kinda funny trying to find the black powder formula," Gabrielle commented to Xena as they headed back towards Chin. The second summons had come by the way of a vision, and despite her pregnancy, the warrior needed to be sure that what she had seen wasn't merely a bad dream. Joxer was down at the small creek, ostensibly trying to catch a few fish for dinner, but mostly trying to give the two a bit of private time. He could clearly see the strain the pregnancy was putting between his two friends.
"Yeah," Xena smiled crookedly. "I think he is lucky to still have eyebrows."
There was a bit of awkward quiet for a while before Gabrielle said again softly, "Xena, are you sure this trip is necessary? It's dangerous for you, and the baby."
The warrior wanted to be aggravated, she really did, but she knew that despite the tensions between them, genuine concern lay behind the question. "I'll be fine, sweetheart."
Gabrielle flinched slightly at the endearment. It was so unheard of between them anymore. They hadn't been intimate since their return from heaven. It was almost as though they were only together because of habit, and the past that bound them. She nodded, unable to say anything else.
"CALLISTO?? Callisto is your baby's father??" Letting Eli die had been hard, but this... this was almost more than the bard could stand, and the offer Ares made was for a moment, SO very tempting. In the end, they were still together, but it just drove the wedge a little deeper between them.
Hercules wandered back into their lives as he was wont to do, just in time to protect Xena's baby from the wrath of the gods. They assumed the Twilight spoken of in prophecy meant their oblivion, and fought hard to destroy the child predicted to bring about their doom. In the end, Hera disappeared by Zeus' hand and the king of the gods lay dead due to Hercules' intervention. And Gabrielle delivered the baby girl named by her brother into her mother's arms. It was time for the real battle to begin.
The gods began to send armies after Eve, and Gabrielle and Xena defended her on the run. Their travels took them to Amphipolis, and its citizens were once again faced with the choice to stand and fight or run. And once more, they made the choice to stand and defend what was theirs.
"Athena," Ares roared, as he strode through Mt. Olympus. He was more than a little frustrated by the double-cross he had fallen prey to. "We have to give this up. We are causing our own twilight!!"
"Ares, I will not hear any more on the subject. Eve dies. Case closed."
The war god could only shake his head at the self-fulfillment of the prophecy his family seemed determined to bring upon itself.
"Xena, we're all family. I love her like my own daughter." It was a first tiny step back towards what they had been before... before the crucifixion, before Callisto, before Eve. Gabrielle wanted to make the baby her heir, and they both knew that they would not be pursued by the Greek gods if they were with the Northern Amazons.
Even without the blood sacrifice, Eve became an Amazon Princess, and Gabrielle decided that perhaps it would be a good time for them to settle down as a family. But it was too much too soon, and though Xena finally read Gabrielle's scrolls and knew in her heart the depth of their bond, she ran from it. Cleopatra's troubles in Egypt presented the perfect opportunity for her to focus on something else.
"Ya know Xena," Gabrielle began softly without looking at the warrior. They were on their way back to Amphipolis from Egypt, and the air between them was thick and oppressive. The bard was sitting across from Xena still furious with her partner's actions with Marc Antony. "I realize that I may have been pushing you too hard towards settling down together. I see now that the timing was all wrong, and for that I am sorry... let me finish," holding up a hand to forestall the words Xena had taken a breath to speak. "I love you, Xena, and I think you still love me too. But I cannot, will not tolerate again what went on between you and Antony. Don't bother to dissimilate for me. I know better. But maybe you need to sit down and make some decisions for yourself. I can't keep living like this. Either we're a family, or we're not. Think about it."
There was silence as Xena contemplated the truth of Gabrielle's on several different levels. She owed the bard honesty at the very least, and given what they had been through in the past two seasons, especially with her own pregnancy, it would take some serious thought.
So the journey home was a quiet one, just slightly awkward, but Gabrielle respected Xena's need for space to think, and Xena spent the time in grave consideration of what the bard had said. As Amphipolis came into view, Xena stopped Gabrielle with a hand on her shoulder.
"I'd like for us to pick up Eve, and go find somewhere to talk. I owe you an apology first, and I want to do it in front of our daughter. She deserves to know the truth of my intentions towards you."
Gabrielle's eyes had watered up at the words 'our daughter'. Xena's watered when she saw the tears in the green eyes. "I love you, Gabrielle, body, heart and soul. You deserve better than what you have been getting from me."
The bard didn't answer... she couldn't seem to speak around the lump in her throat. She simply took Xena's hand in her own, and then started walking with her towards the township. They picked up Eve, managing a meal and some conversation with Cyrene. Then all hell broke loose.
Ares knelt down at the side of the icy crypt. "I'm sorry, Xena." "My family didn't understand that the twilight wasn't about death. It was about moving on. We're losing our foothold in Greece, but we are recreating ourselves for the Romans. I am known as Mars to them." He smiled sadly, and looked over towards Gabrielle. "I put the two of you together because you are part of one another and you belong that way. She knew what you needed... unconditional, unselfish love and I couldn't give that to you. But I appreciated you in ways she never could-- your rage... your violence... your beauty. When you sacrificed yourself for others, you were hers, but when you kicked ass, you were mine. I love you, Xena."
He moved to stand beside Gabrielle, and looked down at her almost fondly. "I'm gonna miss you, blondie." He looked around to make sure he was completely unobserved. "You were a worthy opponent, and despite everything, I am glad she has you. Take care of her, and yourself." Then in a flash of sparks, the god of war disappeared.
"So Ares left them on ice?"
"He sure did, sweet cheeks." This voice was new, and Thelana looked around for its owner, only to fall completely off her stool when Aphrodite popped up right in front her. "Close your mouth, babe. You can like, catch flies that way." The love goddess giggled just a bit, and turned her attention to Argo while the Amazon tried to collect herself and sit down on the stool again.
"You do know Xena and Gabrielle are in the loft listening, right?" Dite asked the mare sotto voce. Argo nodded as though approving where the goddess was scratching behind her ears. In truth, she was quite happy with that activity. Aphrodite grinned. "You just thought they needed to hear it again, huh?" Another nod. "Good girl." She turned her attention back to the now recovered Amazon.
"No one knew where he had like, taken them, and he totally refused to reveal their location, even to me," the love goddess explained in a hurt voice. "He didn't want those bodacious bodies desecrated, and he was afraid it might happen if anyone like, knew where they were buried. He didn't even go visit them for fear of being followed, and then something else totally caught his attention."
"What was that?"
"Xena's daughter... Livia."
"Livia? But I thought the baby's name was Eve."
Argo spoke up. "The *baby's* name WAS Eve, Thelana, but Octavius changed it to Livia to keep her hidden from the Greek gods. Ares found her, and began making her into Xena's old image."
"Why would Octavius let him do that? Wasn't he supposed to protect Eve FROM the gods?"
"She was a natural... her mother's daughter, though Ares didn't know it at the time, and she was already becoming a strong warrior on Octavius' behalf when Ares found her. His tutorial of her just made her almost invincible."
Thelana put her head in her hands. "I am confused." She had finished with Argo's grooming finally, and now sat staring at the ground she could see in the lamplight. "Who are you, by the way?" looking up at the curly headed blonde in the sheer pink outfit. "No, wait... you gotta be Aphrodite, right?"
"Right in one, cutie. What gave it away?" She twittered and shimmied just a little.
"Lucky guess," the Amazon smiled back. "Um, no offense, but why are you here?"
Aphrodite sighed, and conjured up a chaise to curl up on. She seated herself before she began to speak. "Well, babe, it's like this. I was hanging out, doing my thing, you know. I was cruisin' through the channels on the scrying bowl when I saw you and Argo like, getting acquainted. So I popped the volume up to hear better." The goddess looked hard at Thelana. "You're the first mortal she's ever spoken to that has like, totally understood her words."
The palomino nodded her gold head. "That's true, although she seems to be empathically gifted with most animals." The statement made the Amazon blush.
"That is way cool, babe. Use it wisely."
"Um, okay," Thelana said quietly. "So, uh, what made you pop in?"
"Oh, um, well, I like, started listening to your conversation, and I got radically interested. There were some things in there that I didn't like, know. But when you asked about Ares, well, I knew Argo had so no clue about that. So I thought I'd pop in and you know, share."
It was quiet for a time after that before Thelana finally broke it. "So one of you two wanna let me in on what happened next?"
"Oh sure, babe. Let me tell my little bit, Argo, then you can tell yours, 'cause you were there for everything, right?"
"Well, you have to know that mortal time passes faster then immortal time does, and it took me a long, LONG time to find Ares' hiding place. After that, it was a matter of melting the snow in cave... because Celesta told me what they had done. I knew they weren't dead."
"We've been asleep for twenty-five years?? My God, Xena... what has happened to Eve?"
It didn't take long to find out that Eve had become Rome's champion, and far more cursed as Livia than her mother had ever been. Xena cried in Gabrielle's arms that night. Then they formulated a plan to bring her down.
Within days, everything that Livia held dear was ripped away from her, and she went on the rampage. Unfortunately, their actions brought her back under the scrutiny of the Greek pantheon, and cost them the life of a man they called friend.
"Joxer was a good man," Argo stated quietly. "Misunderstood, but in the end, the warrior and hero he'd always envisioned himself being. He took good care of Mother, and he took good care of me. That's saying a lot, 'cause I was one mean horse."
Thelana looked up at the gentle mare. "Were you really?"
"Yeah, I was pretty mad at Xena for having left Mother alone. But Mother was always good-natured about it, knowing it wasn't voluntary on Xena's part. And we listened to Joxer tell Gabrielle's stories to his children as they grew up."
Aphrodite cleared her throat. "Tell her the rest, Argo." The horse bowed her head in acknowledgement of the command, and resumed her story.
Eve's baptism gave Xena god-killing powers, though it is doubtful she would have used them if the gods had simply left them alone. Instead, the Furies used Gabrielle to stab Eve, and the chakram blow Xena delivered after screaming warnings the bard did not seem to hear was a lethal one. Aphrodite tried to look after Gabrielle, and finally took them to Mt. Olympus to strike a deal. In the end, Ares gave up his immortality to save both his former protégé and the blonde warrior he had come to honestly respect and admire, despite the rivalry she had and would always continue to win.
"Looks like you got your daughter back."
"No, we got *our* daughter back."
"How can you say that after I tried to kill her?"
"Gabrielle, *you* didn't. The Furies did."
"Well, I'm glad you stopped us. I wouldn't have been able to live with the blood of another child on my hands."
Xena reached down and took Gabrielle's hands and lead her over to a nearby outcropping. She seated the bard, and laid her forearms on the bard's shoulders, running gentle hands through the blonde locks and massaging Gabrielle's scalp . The green eyes closed in pleasure, and Gabrielle leaned into the touch.
"I reacted like a mother instead of like a lover, and that nightmare is gonna haunt me for the rest of my life." She covered Gabrielle's lips tenderly. "Please let me finish. I have a lot to say." She waited until the blonde nodded before removing her fingers. She resumed her massaging, taking a long moment to caress the spot when the chakram had hit. "I'm not sorry I tried to stop you from killing Eve. You didn't deserve that guilt on your conscience. But I am so very sorry for the method I used. I yelled to you, but when I saw you weren't hearing me, I reacted instead of considering the alternatives I could have tried."
Xena closed her eyes against the tears she could feel welling up in her blue eyes. They spilled soundlessly down her cheeks when Gabrielle tenderly cupped her face. She opened her eyes then and met compassionate green ones. Xena swallowed hard and continued.
"I am so sorry... for so many things. So much has come between us this year, and I let them. No excuses... no reason except for selfishness and stupidity on my part. Hormones made me crazy, and I let them run wild." Gabrielle smiled at the analogy the warrior made, and that little grin gave Xena hope.
"Gabrielle, can you forgive me?"
"Xena, why did you chase after Marc Antony?" She took a shuddering breath. "Did I push you into his arms?"
"NO! No, Gabrielle. That was neither your fault nor your responsibility. That was my selfish pride and ego at work. I... you... we...." Xena ran her fingers through her dark hair and blew out a breath. "This is not easy," she muttered, then looked at Gabrielle again.
"What I feel with you, for you... it's overwhelming sometimes, and it scares me. And I do stupid things. Like Antony... bad choice, bad decision." She paused. "It's not something I can fix, and I can't make it go away. I did learn something though."
"I can't do this any more. I can't hurt you like this again. It nearly cost me everything I hold dear, and I need you. I love you Gabrielle, and I plan to spend the rest of my life proving that fact to you." Xena turned and placed a kiss on the palm of the hand that still cradled her cheek. Gabrielle used the same hand to urge the warrior closer until they were breathing the same air.
"Let's let Eve know we're leaving, Xena. We need some time alone together. We have a lot of catching up to do."
Xena nodded, and brushed the bard's lips tenderly with her own. Then she helped Gabrielle up, and they made their way to the shore together.
Chapter VI: Many Happy Returns
"Wow," Thelana commented when Argo paused. "They've been through a lot... put up with a lot to stay together, huh?"
"Oh, sweet cheeks, you don't know the half. That is one of the reasons I soooo knew that it was like, true love between them, 'cause I had nothing to do with getting those two totally together. They fought every bodacious thing I tried. What they did, they did on their own."
"Soulmates," the girl breathed.
"You got it, babe! They are, always have been. That is the ONLY reason they have had for staying together through some of the stuff they've endured." Aphrodite shifted in her seat and waved a glass of wine into existence, and took a healthy swallow.
"That's amazing," Thelana said softly. "I always thought the concept was a myth until I saw them together. They make you *want* to believe in the possibility."
The love goddess sat up a little straighter and looked at the Amazon. "You're a little jaded for a kid your age, ya know?"
"Not really, Dite," the mare intoned quietly. "What she said is the truth. Look at the world. What they have does seem like a dream unless you witness it personally."
The goddess shrugged. "Maybe," she answered. "I know they gave me a scare or two."
"Was that when they slowed their quest for the greater good?" Thelana asked innocently, sliding off the stool, and scooting backwards when Aphrodite's eyes blazed at her. "I... I... I... I'm sorry," she stuttered, and held up her hands to protect herself. The love goddess closed her eyes and took a deep breath, shaking her head slightly before she reopened them.
"Nothing to be sorry for, Little One." Aphrodite rose and took Thelana's hands in her own, gently helping the Amazon back onto the stool. "I didn't mean to like scare ya, but they, ooooo... it totally curls my hair when I think about it."
The Amazon decided not to remind the goddess that her hair WAS curly, and simply nodded agreement. "I don't suppose I get to hear this part, do I?" She looked at Argo, afraid of upsetting Dite further.
The mare ventured a look in the goddess' direction, and at her slight nod answered Thelana's question. "Yes, you do. You have to hear the last part of their journey together. That is what brought them back here."
The girl's eyes lit up. Speculation about why they had come had been a topic of conversation around the campfire since their return. Even the younger Amazons could sense the difference between them, and in their general demeanor.
Aphrodite snorted. "Considering how it turned out...."
"Now, Dite," Argo interrupted, "You let me tell this part. I can do it a little more dispassionately. Just sit back and relax and listen, okay?"
"All right," the goddess grumbled. "But it's a damn good thing I know how this ends, cause if it had been that grody ending Xena almost gave us...." She felt her temper spiraling out of control, and motioned to the horse. "Go ahead. It's getting late, and they're gonna be like, looking for the little Amazon here very soon."
"Well, you have to remember that Eve had caused a lot of trouble as Livia, and coming home to the Amazons cost them dearly...."
"That was too close for my liking, Xena." Gabrielle wrapped herself in the warrior's strong arms, relishing the renewed warmth she felt between them. Eve was camped a short distance away, insisting that the two of the deserved a bit of privacy together. Xena brushed a kiss across the top of the blonde head tucked beneath her chin.
"It was all right, Gabrielle. I knew you would take care of me. I'm sorry about the Amazons, though."
"I'm not. There's never been a choice when it's been between us and them. And Eve is part of us."
Xena tilted the blonde head up, and gently kissed her. "Yes, she is. And we can worry about her and Ares and the Amazons and Amphipolis tomorrow. But not tonight. Tonight it's just you, me and a few stars. I plan on taking full advantage of the situation."
Whatever Gabrielle might have said in reply was lost when Xena began making good on her word.
"Xena, how did you know? Mephistopheles had a good point. Hell needed a ruler, and it should have been you."
"I had a feeling.... It smelled like a set-up."
"Ya know, nothing good usually follows that particular statement from you," said with a smirk and a tiny hint of teasing.
Xena chuckled. "I know, but it was worth it... on a lot of levels. I am glad Mom finally has peace."
"And you too, maybe?"
Xena cut her eyes at Gabrielle before offering her a crooked smile. "Yeah, maybe." A pause. "You ready to go to Poteidia?"
"I think so, yes." Gabrielle hesitated before continuing. "I wonder how much things will have changed there."
"I'm glad Virgil and Eve are taking Sarah and those girls back to Greece. I think my niece needs some time to figure things out, and we need some time alone together. When I danced for Gurkhan, I could feel your eyes were burning holes in my...."
Xena cut in quickly. "Yes, well I noticed you didn't watch me," then smiled at the blush that traveled up from Gabrielle's chest.
"I didn't think it prudent." She tipped her head back to catch the warrior's blue eyes with her own green ones. "I know my face gives away everything I feel when I look at you." Gabrielle closed her eyes against the fingertips that gently stroked her cheeks. She snuggled deeper into Xena's embrace. "It was easier not to watch."
"I like what your eyes say when you look at me, Gabrielle, but I admire your restraint," Xena added with a slight chuckle. "C'mon, we need to get some rest before we trek across the desert tomorrow."
"Things came full circle for them then, and put them into a loop that would ultimately lead down a very bad path."
"What do you mean, Argo?" the Amazon asked.
"What she means is...."
"Aphrodite!" the palomino said chidingly. "Let me tell this. You are too close to this situation."
Thelana managed to control her amusement at the goddess's crestfallen expression very well for someone her age. The blonde didn't even notice in her preoccupation with a subject that still nettled her, if the truth be told about it.
"Yeah, I know," Dite commented quietly, "but you don't understand how very close.... It just.... They're my friends."
"I know," Argo replied. "And this was the beginning of a rough time for them."
"For all of us," Aphrodite answered softly. The mare's only response was a nod of agreement. "And there were words spoken then that would come back to haunt them both in the days to come."
"Gabrielle, in everyone's life, there's something that goes beyond the greater good. That's what you are in my life. I wasn't about to let you die out there if there was something I could do about it."
"What if it was my choice?"
"Especially if it was your choice. I need you, Gabrielle. We need each other."
The inn was warm, and the food was good, even if the portions were a tad small. "You all right?" Xena questioned the bard. "You've been very quiet since we left Virgil, and what was that skinny guy's name... Rubio?"
Gabrielle smiled. "I'm fine, Xena. Just not one of my more fond memories. Besides...." Her words were cut off by the large, male warrior who approached them as Xena's past jumped up to bite them once again.
"Why did you leave me, Xena? You knew I'd follow you. Where you go, I go, remember?"
"A year? I was asleep for a year?" Gabrielle looked at Xena incredulously, even while touching her constantly to reassure herself of the warrior's realness. Her dreams had been mingled with reality, and she remembered so many things that had happened as she'd waited for Xena to come claim her once more.
"Um hmm, and even when I couldn't remember you, I missed you. You haunted my dreams."
"Did you mean what you said to the Rhine maidens?"
"Um hmm, and I meant what I didn't say even more."
"I know it was the right decision, because we need love in the world, but...."
"It'll be okay, Xena. Aphrodite will keep an eye on him. He might remember his humanity this time. Who knows?"
The warrior nodded her head as she pulled off her boots and settled down into the bedroll, though she had real doubts about Ares retaining any of his mortal experience. Farming really hadn't been his thing. Eve was nearby, but once again making a separate camp. Parental respect she'd called it, but Xena suspected it was more than that. I do wish she felt that she could stay with us, but I can respect her wanting to go her own way. Hard to accept a parent who is your age. "I wanna know where that nosey man came from, and where he got off asking us such a personal question."
Gabrielle rested her hands on the broad shoulders, digging in hard as she started a firm massage. Dealing with Caligula, Odin and their own gods had made the warrior uptight and grumpy. The reporter's question had just made her mad.
"Well, ya know Xena... if he had to ask, he really isn't very observant." Gabrielle kissed the raised eyebrow when the warrior cocked her head around to look at her. "I mean, c'mon. There were bets going around among our friends on when we would figure it out for ourselves." She laughed out loud when both brows flew into the dark hairline. "The looks, the touches, the fire between us.... I think we were the last ones to be clued in."
Xena took the bard's hands in her own, and pulled Gabrielle around in front of her and into her lap. "Ya think?" gently caressing the ample amount of skin available to her.
"Umm," came the almost purring response.
"Well, I've got a clue now," the warrior replied, and then there were no more words.
"That was when they came back here the last time. It was the last time Xena and Gabrielle saw Eve."
"Where is she now?" Thelana asked.
"Well, the last time we heard from her, she was in Chin. The people there seem a little more accepting of her message of peace. "Eve is very good about sending messages home to keep them apprised of her whereabouts, but I don't expect she'll ever return to Greece again. She is very happy in what she is doing." Aphrodite did not comment, but nodded her head in agreement of Argo's pronouncement.
"That's when Gabrielle became Queen again, and Cyane became her Regent, isn't it?" Thelana had to marvel at the mare's raised brow. It wasn't often one saw a warhorse do that particular maneuver. "It was never really explained when the warriors got home, at least not to us kids. It was accepted by the tribe in a closed council meeting."
"Yes, Varia's actions led to her being stripped of the title of Queen by Gabrielle, and Cyane consented to act as Regent in her absence. And it has been a good thing for the Nation. Varia has found her place as the Weapons Master."
"Yeah," Thelana muttered, "great, unless she's one of your instructors," unconsciously rubbing her backside.
Aphrodite chuckled. "You'll totally appreciate it one day, kid."
The young Amazon sighed. "I know. That's what everybody keeps telling me. But I will be so glad to get that bit of my training done. The animals are much kinder to me than the warriors are." Another sigh. "It makes me miss the Centaurs as neighbors though. I was sad when Xenan and his family had to leave. I miss my friends from there."
"Those that were left are in a safe place," Aphrodite said softly, becoming serious for a moment. "And that is what they needed. In time, they will fade from memory, and be left to live in peace."
Thelana nodded her head in acceptance and looked back at the horse once more. "So then what happened, Argo? Xena and Gabrielle didn't come back here when Cyane assumed her regency."
"They changed the world for one another."
"Xena, when I'm with you... this emptiness that I have felt my entire life is gone. You have to tell me what's going on."
"Caesar changed our fate... giving us this godforsaken world."
"I can't let you die."
"Some things are worth dying for."
"We're stuck in this world... because of you?" The fury in Gabrielle's eyes and voice caused the Fates to flinch away from her, even though they had no way to move and nowhere to go if they could have moved. They cried out in anguish when they realized her intentions.
"Burning the loom...."
"...will destroy everything!"
"So be it. Your loom... destroyed what was meant to be."
"No regrets, Xena. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I love you, and what we share together is worth everything.
"I love you, Gabrielle."
"That was sneaky, ya know. How did you manage to get Sappho to write a poem for me?" The furs were soft and the fire was warm. The helmet was back in its bag beside them, and they were gazing up at the stars.
"I asked her." At Gabrielle's disbelieving look, Xena continued. "Aphrodite told me she was a fan of yours, so I wrote and asked her if she would write something for you."
"And she said yes." The bard's words were more of a statement than a question. Xena scratched the back of her neck in embarrassment.
"Well, yes, after I told her a little bit about us. She sorta wrote the poem for me, for you." She flushed again and dropped her eyes away from Gabrielle's, who had suddenly leaned up over her. The bard gently turned the warrior's face to hers, and waited for the blue eyes to track to her own.
"That has to be one of the sweetest things you have ever done for me. Thank you."
Xena didn't answer, but wound her hands in the blonde locks and drew Gabrielle's lips down to meet her waiting mouth. When they separated, Gabrielle laid her head on the warrior's chest. "This has been a wonderful birthday." The arms around her merely wrapped themselves tighter.
When she first heard the disturbance, Gabrielle slid from Xena's arms and began waxing poetic on life. The warrior's offer to leave Greece took her but surprise, and then came the adventure that changed everything.
Chapter VII: The Beat Goes On
"Waitaminute... wait just a damn minute." Thelana looked at Aphrodite whose eyes were blazing in remembered rage, then at Argo whose narrative had halted at her words. "Xena lied to Gabrielle, and then sent her into danger so she could stay dead?? The logic holes in this story are astounding!!"
"No kidding," the goddess snorted. "Why do you think I fixed it?"
The Amazon turned back to Dite. "How? What did you do?"
"Xena took away Gabrielle's right to know the truth and make a choice. I negated her right to be stupid and selfish."
"I love you, Xena. How am I supposed to go on without you?"
"I'll always be with you, Gabrielle. Always."
"Yeah, and you're gonna be with her alive!" The couple was surprised, both by the voice that was addressing Xena, and the absolute fury in her tone. Without effort, Aphrodite snatched the pot from Gabrielle's hand, and upended Xena's ashes into the fountain. "I am not going to watch her wither and die because of your selfishness and the scheming lies of some two-bit bimbo."
"You didn't!" Thelana exclaimed.
"I most certainly did. And the time Xena spent alone returning to Greece gave her a chance to see the truth and work through her anger at my presumption."
"She got over it?"
"She got over it." The love goddess cast a subtle glance toward the loft where she knew Xena and Gabrielle to be, feeling the strength of the love that flowed between them. "I think she even learned a thing or two from it."
Xena tightened her hold around Gabrielle's body. "I did," she whispered in the bard's ear so near her lips. "I learned you are my greater good, and there is nothing more important in the world than us. Together, we can accomplish miracles."
Gabrielle didn't say a word. She merely wrapped her arms tighter around the warrior's and relaxed further into Xena's embrace. Aphrodite smiled, causing Thelana to wonder briefly what she was thinking about. Then the Amazon shrugged her slim shoulders. It was probably a god thing, and she wanted to know more about Xena and Gabrielle.
"So then what happened?"
"Well," Argo cut in, noting Dite's preoccupied look.
"Xena?" They had just left their reunion hideaway after two glorious, love-filled days of renewal. The path they were on led away from the sea inland, and it was well-shaded by old trees. The warrior squeezed the fingers tangled with her own.
"Hmm?" The contentedness and completeness she finally allowed herself to feel was overwhelming, and it affected her perceptions of everything. Not a good idea, considering what was waiting for them. But for the moment....
"Do you think we could visit Poteidia? See Lila and maybe check on Sarah?"
Xena smiled indulgently down into deep green eyes. "Yeah, I think that is a good idea."
Xena, I'm sorry. There's really nothing else I can say to you," Lila commented sadly. Hindsight was an amazing thing.
Sarah spoke up softly. "Xena, I don't think Janos will give up that easily."
"No," the warrior replied shaking her head. "But I don't either, and he's got something I intend on getting back. We'll watch out for him."
Gabrielle watched as Xena strolled over to her pensively. "Take me with you," she says softly, holding out a hand. "C'mon. Our path is waiting and we have a long way to go yet."
Xena smiled and clasped the proffered hand, squeezing it affectionately. "Our path? Does that mean you get to choose which fork in the road we take next time?"
"Yeah," the bard chuckled lightly. "How 'bout we go check on the Amazons?"
"All right. We can do that."
"THELANA!!" The loud cry startled everyone in the barn. Xena and Gabrielle stiffened momentarily, then laughed silently as they recognized the outrage tone in Eponin's voice. Argo's head popped up, as did Aphrodite's, and the Amazon in question sprang from her stool as though it had caught fire.
"Uh oh. I think I'm in trouble," Thelana muttered, even as the door to the barn flew open and one very irate Amazon Elder entered. Suddenly, the love goddess was nowhere to be found.
"Young lady, do you have any idea what time it is? Do you want to miss the festival tomorrow? You are so close to being grounded, and missing out on everything." Eponin rarely said so much in one breath, and had to stop to catch hers now. Thelana saw her chance.
"Grandmother, I just needed to finish Argo's grooming," motioning to the mare standing silent behind her. "I couldn't let her go out tomorrow half groomed."
Eponin took a good look at the palomino, smiling at the well done job Thelana had done on the proud warhorse. "All right, you have a good point. But c'mon. It's past your bed time and mine. And tomorrow is gonna be a long day."
Xena and Gabrielle waited until they heard the sound of retreating footsteps and the closing of the barn door before they slipped from the hayloft.
"C'mon, bard-of-mine. I think we have some catch-up reading to do."
Gabrielle's answer was to take Xena's hand and head for their hut, blending into the darkness of their surroundings.
The sun was going down several days later before Thelana got a bit of free time to make it back to the barn to see Argo.
"Thelana!" the mare welcomed the young Amazon. "I thought you'd forgotten about me." Thelana blew her bangs out of her eyes, and sank to the stool in an attitude of exhaustion.
"Nope, but we have been sooooo busy. Between the festival and initiation and since Queen Gabrielle announced plans to move the nation... well, there hasn't been a free moment for anyone." She paused for breath. "We're leaving in the morning."
Argo noted the flushed skin and twinkling eyes, and well as the drumming fingers and the twitchy legs. "Nervous?" she asked kindly.
Thelana swallowed, and nodded slightly. "Yeah, a little. We are among the last to go. Most of the Nation is already headed for the sea. Apparently Xena has an idea that if we travel far enough to the west, we will find a new home there."
"You doubt her?"
"Well, I would feel better if she and the Queen were traveling with us." She chuckled at Argo's raised brow. "They are making sure the last of us get off tomorrow, and then they're headed to secure the ships we need. We're meeting everyone at the rendezvous."
"Then we won't say goodbye," Argo said, almost purring when the girl reached up and scratched her between the ears. "Oh yeah... that's just perfect." The horse enjoyed the attention just a little longer.
"Thelana!" The call was not unexpected, but the Amazon still sighed.
"I gotta go. See ya in a few days, huh?"
"Yep," the mare answered confidently. "You be careful."
"You think we're doing the right thing, Xena?" They stood in the darkness watching Thelana say goodbye to Argo. They couldn't hear what was being said, but the look of contentment on the horse's face as the Amazon scratched beneath her chin was unmistakable. Neither one moved when
Eponin came up beside them.
"Thank you, my Queen. I think this is the best thing for the Amazon Nation." The Elder woman knelt and bowed her head.
"Eponin, my friend, rise."
Thelana glanced over to where her Grandmother stood talking to Xena and Gabrielle. Then she looked at Argo.
"I'm gonna miss you, Argo. Thanks for the stories."
"Oh, you're welcome, my young friend. I've enjoyed the extra attention."
"I do wish ya'll were coming with us."
"Yeah, but when the goddess of love asks for help, what are ya gonna do?"
"Did she really?"
Gabrielle smiled at the warrior affectionately with just a hint of amused exasperation. "Xena, do you have to be in charge of everything? Just sing it, will you?"
"Well, it would," Xena mumbled before clearing her throat and beginning to sing the words Gabrielle had written. They'd sent the ships ahead to the rendezvous and would be catching up to the Amazons sometime the following day.
"Hey, guys! Nice jam session!" Aphrodite broke in. "How would you two like a nice, groovy vacation in the killer party spot of the Aegean."
"They're going to Lesbos?"
"Yep," Argo answered. "Ya'll are leaving on those ships," nodding her head toward the nearly full boats Xena had managed to secure. "Then they are heading out at dawn for the island."
"What about you?"
"I'll wait here. They don't need me on Lesbos." The mare whickered in amusement. "It's not *that* big."
Thelana laughed and reached up to hug the mare's neck when she heard her grandmother call her name. "I gotta go. Take care, Argo. You've been fun."
"Be good, kid. Remember what I told ya."
"I will Argo, thanks!"
Standing at the ship's rail as the island approached, Gabrielle turned to Xena. "Do you think we'll ever get to hear Argo talk again? Or do you think that was tied in to Thelana somehow?"
Xena wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, and began steering her down toward the small cabin they'd retained for their belongings on the short trip. "I dunno. I hope not, cause it was enlightening to her some of her input on our adventures together. I guess we'll have to wait and see." They started below decks. "C'mon. Let's go see what Dite has for us to wear to pull off this little coup."
"Ya know, Argo," the love goddess said conspiratorially, "I think they may have finally figured it out."
"What's that?" Argo answered softly, leaning into the light scratching she was receiving on her nose.
"The family they'd sought had traveled the world with them. The only family they'd ever known... ever needed... was standing right beside them."
The mare bobbed her head in agreement. "Very true. I hope they remind each other often."
Oh, I think they will. When this is over I may have to give them and you something to talk about."
"Oh, Aphrodite. You've got yourself a deal."
Return to Xena and Gabrielle Fiction
Return to Main Page