DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess belongs to Pacific Renaissance Pictures and Universal and Xena and Gabrielle the creations of Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor in particular. Me, I'm just a fan.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Post Series. Written for the Fragments of Sappho Ficathon 2008 for the prompt: “you burn me” I took the liberty of looking up the poem the fragment comes from ‘On Love and Desire’ and the verse was: You burn me….. Remembering those things / We did in our youth… …Many, beautiful things… Which I think fits this perfectly.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Many Beautiful Things
She had never expected to make old bones. This third life had been a long one, full and rich. Her golden hair had long since waned to silver, her skin wrinkled and worn, tattoos and scars faded each a pointer on the map of her life. She had travelled the known world and beyond telling her tales and living as an example of her philosophy, Gabrielle the bard who became a warrior for the Greater Good.
Five winters ago she had come home, back to her beginnings in Potidaea. Her sister's grandchildren and great grandchildren had warmly welcomed her giving their revered ancestor the honour seat by the fire and the best of care. She had spent the dark winter nights telling an enthralled audience about Xena, the war against the gods and the fight to protect the weak and the good against the forces of evil be they mortal or otherwise in the lands beyond this small sheltered valley.
It wasn't the place she remembered from her childhood. But this was the place that time had left her and it looked as if it would suffice for the days left to her.
Spring came and unusually she had felt no urge to move on. With a little sadness Gabrielle realised that another part of her life had come to its end. There was one more journey that she needed to make, the last great journey. She had come home to die.
But not quite yet. Though sometimes she was seized with the conviction that this was the last time she would do something, such as leading out a horse, milking one of the goats, baking bread, shelling peas, watching the arrowheads of geese fly overhead towards their summer grounds, beating a drum at the midsummer dance, watching the young couples pair off to continue their private ceremonies as she and Perdicas had once done, as she and Xena had celebrated many times.
Gabrielle realised that she'd ended up living the life she might have led if she had never met Xena and had married Perdicas and stayed in Potidaea from the beginning. The great circle of her life had completed.
It was almost harvest home. The last she would see with these old eyes. She knew it just as she knew that the remaining beats of her heart were numbered in the thousands rather than the tens of thousands. The wheat stood tall in the fields, trees in the orchard almost groaning under the weight of fruit, the apples, pears, cherries and damsons. The flocks and herds had prospered, kids and calves grazing alongside their dams. It had been a good year, this last year - her last year. They had much to be thankful for.
She found that she needed less and less sleep these days and after the rest of the household had gone to bed she stayed by the fire, watching the pictures form and fade in the embers, remembering. Most nights her ghosts would come and join her Joxer and Eve, Ephiny and Amarice, Lila, Perdicas, Eli Some nights she would spy Hope in the shadows but she never came close. And of course her beloved Xena.
The firelight gilded her bronzed skin, brought out reddish highlights in her dark hair. The gentle strength of her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, the beat of her heart, the familiar smells of sweat and sunshine, leather and the scented oils she used on her hair confused Gabrielle's senses and it was with a kind of horror that she saw how wizened and twisted her hand was where it rested against Xena's callused palm. So many years and all but a moment.
"Love, come outside and look at the moon with me like we used to do," Xena coaxed her.
"I'm a little too frail these days to be lying out in the dew watching the moon," Gabrielle said a little sadly. "These old bones of mine don't like the damp."
"Just for a while," Xena said. "Bring the throw from the settle. We can lie on that."
"All right," Gabrielle agreed. She gathered up the heavy woollen blanket from the settle and followed her eternal companion out into the night.
The moon was full, a huge tarnished silver coin hanging just above the horizon seeming close enough to touch. Moonbeams silvered the air. Gabrielle took a shaky breath and smiled. This was the last time she would see such a sight in this cage of bones and flesh. She was not afraid.
"I remember the story you used to tell, about how once I caught the moon instead of a fish and hauled us up there on a hook and line," Xena laughed. "All the adventures we had "
"Challenging Selene to a chariot race," Gabrielle remembered with a giggle. "Hunting with Orion and fighting the great bear. Riding a comet towards the sun."
"Those were the days," Xena helped her sit down on the blanket and took her place behind her, cradling Gabrielle against her chest, her strong arms wrapped around her.
"I don't think it'll be too long now," Gabrielle said conversationally. "Before we can have those days again."
"I know," Xena said softly. "I haven't minded the waiting. I'd wait eternity for you you know that but lately I felt it's time to move on."
"Always." Gabrielle smiled as she felt Xena's cool lips against her temple as if the kiss sealed the bargain they had made so many years ago. Nothing would part them, not even death.
The night breeze had cooled, presaging the autumn that was only weeks away. But wrapped in Xena's arms Gabrielle did not feel the cold. They had pledged their love, their lives to one another a thousand times over the years, sun and moon to each other equal and opposite never to be parted. Her love for Xena burned through her soul as it had the first day she set eyes on the warrior woman, as it had the terrible day they had said their goodbyes to one another for the last time on the slopes of a mountain in a foreign land.
Xena was humming quietly under her breath, words just audible every now and then. Gabrielle loved to hear Xena sing. Her love of music was just another facet, one of her many talents. Gabrielle worried sometimes that in her scrolls she had not done Xena justice concentrating too much on the warrior rather than the healer, the singer, the lover.
She shivered. Xena's lips ghosted along her shoulder blade and the top of her spine. "And I'm definitely too old for that," she joked weakly. "Quite the crone."
"You are as beautiful as you ever were, Gabrielle," Xena said softly. Nimble fingers unfastened the ties on Gabrielle's shirt, soft strong hands smoothed up her bare thighs under her long skirt. "So beautiful."
Gabrielle lay back on the woollen blanket as her eternal lover arched over her, placing gentle kisses down her sternum and across her breasts, her fingers teasing at the cleft between her legs. The weight of years vanished as she felt her body respond to her lover's touch, Xena's mouth nuzzling her breast as Gabrielle wove her fingers through long dark hair. She gazed up, the moon seemed blindingly bright, the moonbeams so sharply delineated against the night sky that she could almost reach out and touch them, wrap them like ribbons about her clothing her flesh in moonlight. Xena's touch brought her to herself again as that delightful too-long-lost pressure inside her crested and ebbed a tide as old as life itself, her cry as broken and strange as a fox-bark on the still night. Gabrielle kissed her lover, her lips, her cheeks, her eyelids that dear familiar ever-young face. The weight of years crashed down on her again and she shuddered and wept, Xena cradling her like a child.
At last she stirred and sat up again, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "It's all right, really. I'm not afraid."
"You were always the brave one," Xena observed. She got to her feet and held out her hand. Behind her, the eastern sky was just beginning to lighten, a thin line of light blue and gold on the edge of the horizon presaging the rising of the sun. "Come on." Gabrielle took hold of her hand and Xena pulled her gently to her feet.
"Race you," Xena grinned suddenly. "To the river." She started to trot backwards, her grin flashing white in the predawn light. "Come on, Gabs."
"You are insane," Gabrielle laughed, one hand on her chest feeling her heart beat. She could measure it in the hundreds now, less with every breath. "I haven't raced anyone anywhere for so long."
"To the river," Xena said. "Come on. One last time."
Gabrielle started forward willing her body to remember what it was like to run freely. Her stiff hips and knees protested fiercely and a knot in the centre of her chest seemed to pull tighter making her fight for breath. So few left now. So close. Something fluttered deep inside, seeking to escape.
"Wait wait for me," she panted.
"To the river," Xena repeated. "It's time."
Time. The fluttering sensation grew stronger more insistent. Her earthly body could not hold her any longer. Something tore free inside and she stumbled. Xena caught her before she fell.
"Easy now," the warrior soothed. "To the river."
Every step was easier. There was no more pain. Hand in hand with her lover, her hair golden once more, clad in moonbeams and starlight Gabrielle ran towards the river. She did not look back.
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