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Standard Disclaimer Ė These characters belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures. This story, however, is a product of my own obsessive mind.

Violence Ė There is not a whole lot of violence here but there are situations where the threat of it exists. If this bothers you, you may want to read something else.

Subtext Ė Yes, there is subtext here. It is not graphic and is kept to a PG-13 level but if this bothers you find a different story to read. There are many other very good Xena stories out there and clicking a mouse is easy.

Note Ė This story takes place immediately after Sacrifice II

Any comments can be sent to me at Tjdunn37@aol.com

A Second Chance

By: Talia Dunn

Awareness came back to her slowly. Touch came first. She could feel a hard surface under her back. She gradually realized that she was laying down. The surface was neither cold nor warm but strangely comfortable. Then she felt a breeze stir her hair and could hear birds singing and leaves rustling. As she opened her eyes she felt hand stroking her cheek gently. "Gabrielle, wake up." A voice that she didnít recognize but that felt familiar in some indescribable way.

"Wha... what happened?" Gabrielle turned and looked up towards the voice. "Where am I?" The woman who was bending over her was very beautiful and when Gabrielle looked into her eyes she felt safe and comforted. Her heart shaped face was surrounded by long white blonde hair. Her eyes were a startling shade of blue. ĎHmm, sort of reminds me of Xenaís.í Thought Gabrielle. At that thought she bolted up off of the platform she had been laying on. "Whereís Xena?" She demanded.

"Be at peace Gabrielle. I will answer your questions, but one at a time please." Replied the strange woman.

"Okay, whereís Xena?" Gabrielle glanced around the small clearing she was in and hadnít spotted a trace of her partner anywhere.

"Xena is safe but she is not here."

"Where is here? What happened?" Demanded Gabrielle. She was becoming impatient.

"The second question first I think. Gabrielle you know what happened. Do you remember Dahokís temple and Hope.?" And suddenly it all rushed back. Images flashed through Gabrielleís mind so fast she felt lightheaded. Xena slowly fighting against Hopeís power one step at a time and Ares voice reminding her of what would happen to Xena if she succeeded in killing Hope. Then Gabrielleís rush forward to grab Hope and force her over the edge. The last image was of Xenaís stricken face as she and Hope plummeted into Dahokís fiery well.

The woman smiled and nodded at the flow of expressions over Gabrielleís face. "Yes, you do remember. That is good, it makes things easier. As for where you are...You are now in the Elysian Fields. This area is at the border between the world of the dead and the world of the living. "

"Who...who are you?"

The woman smiled. "I am Artemis."

"The goddess of the Amazons." Breathed Gabrielle. Artemis nodded. This was all too much. "Why...?"

"Why am I the one meeting you here?" Artemis asked. Gabrielle nodded silently, her voice had left her. "Well, because of the circumstances of your death and what your sacrifice accomplished, I and the other gods are offering you a choice. A chance to decide your own fate in this matter."

"A choice? I donít understand."

"We are offering you three options. One, you can stay here in the Elysian Fields. Two, you can return as innocent newborn and begin life anew, free from all of your painful experiences. Or three, you can go back and continue the life you had."

Gabrielle thought for a moment and then looked into Artemisí eyes. "Could you send Xenaís son Solon back instead?"

Artemis smiled sadly. "That, Iím afraid, is beyond my power. And even if it werenít, Solon has been here too long to make the transition back to a mortal life."

Gabrielle slowly nodded and looked down in thought. "Could...you show me Xena? I have to see her before I make my decision."

Artemis smiled as though she had expected the question. "I think that can be arranged." She took Gabrielleís hand and led her over to a small pond at the center of the clearing. She motioned for Gabrielle to sit at the edge and then stared intently into the water. "There Gabrielle. Gaze upon the waterís surface and see your beloved." Gabrielle started at Artemisí choice of words but leaned over the edge and peered into the water.

Slowly an image formed. Distorted at first but as it cleared she could easily make out Xenaís face staring into a campfire. Tears were streaming down her face. Gabrielleís heart clenched as she realized the anguish in Xenaís eyes was because of her. She felt tears start to trail down her own face as she realized she could hear Xenaís thoughts. ĎOh, Gabrielle. I canít believe youíre gone. I donít think I can take this. I love you so much. I never realized just how strong you were. When I died, you carried on. You were in pain but you carried on. You always told me I was the courageous one but I donít think I can take this. Oh gods!í Gabrielle looked up at Artemis, tears streaming down her face. "Iíve made my choice. I want to go back to my life. I canít leave her like this."

Artemis smiled and leaned down to wipe the tears away. "You followed your heart. Thatís where your strength lies Gabrielle. Never be ashamed of that." Gabrielle stood up and they walked back to the platform. "Before I send you back there are several people who would like to speak to you." She made a beckoning gesture towards the tree line. A figure slowly walked into the sunlight.

"Perdicus..." He looked healthy and whole. Exactly as he had that morning before her world had been painfully turned upside down by Callistoís hateful blade.

"Hello Gabrielle. I just wanted you to know that Iím alright now. What happened that day was not your fault, or Xenaís. I want you to know that Iím happy for you. Iím happy that you found love. And Iím so proud of the woman youíve become." He smiled and wrapped her in a big hug. "You go back to Xena. Take care of each other." Gabrielle hugged him back with all her strength.

"I will." He released her. "Thank you Perdicus. I really needed to hear you say that."

"Be happy Gabrielle." With that he smiled and walked back into the forest.

As he faded from sight another form came into view, much smaller than Perdicus.

"Solon..." gasped Gabrielle. She dropped to her knees as he ran towards her.

"Hi Gabrielle" His voice was just as bright a she remembered it. He ran the last few steps and jumped into her arms. She began to cry again as she held him. He pulled back a little to look into her eyes. "Iím glad youíre going back even though Iíll miss you. You and mother need each other." His smile was so sweet.

"Oh Solon, Iím so sorry about what happened." She managed to get out around the lump in her throat.

"Gabrielle, please donít be sad. I understand about what happened. Truly I do. Itís not your fault." He said.

"Yes, it was. If I had only been able to see what Hope really was I wouldnít have gotten you killed." Her voice was choking up again.

"Gabrielle she was your daughter, you loved her just like mother loves me. I know you didnít mean for anything bad to happen." He let her go and smiled again. "When you get back could you do something for me?"

"Anything."

"Tell mother that I love her and do this for me." He gave her another big hug. Then with a wave he walked back into the shadows.

Gabrielle just knelt there for a moment. Trying to settle everything that had just occurred into her heart. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a few minutes. Finally she gave herself a little shake and stood to face Artemis once again.

"Thank you. For all of this, it ...really helped. I think Iím ready to go back now."

"Gabrielle before I send you back I want to tell you something." She stepped forward and gathered the bard into a warm embrace. "I am very proud of you, my daughter. Through all of this you have shown great courage and a strong heart. You do the Amazons proud." One last squeeze and she released her. "Now, time to go, my daughter." She made a graceful gesture with her arm and suddenly a portal appeared in the air in front of Gabrielle. Through the misty opening Gabrielle could see Xenaís campsite and the flickering light of a fire. She looked one last time towards Artemis, smiled and leaped through the opening.

 

 

Xena sat and stared into the fire for what felt like hours. She couldnít sleep. Every time she closed her eyes all she could see was Gabrielle grabbing onto Hope and then the two of them tumbling into Dahokís pit. She couldnít get the image out of her head. It felt as if someone had stabbed her in the heart and was slowly twisting the knife. The tears started again but this time she didnít fight them. ĎOh, Gabrielle. I canít believe youíre gone. I donít think I can take this. I love you so much. I never realized just how strong you were. When I died, you carried on. You were in pain but you carried on. You always told me that I was the courageous one but I donít think I can take this. Oh gods! I canít take this. Itís too much!í She stared into the fire for a little longer then nodded her head slightly. Reaching behind her she drew her sword and began sharpening it. The only sounds in the campsite were the occasional nicker from Argo, crackles of the fire and the repetitive rasping of stone against the swordís edge.

Having achieved a satisfactory edge on the blade, Xena put it aside for the moment and went to Argoís side. "Hey there girl. You miss her too, donít you?" Argo nudged her gently in the chest. "So do I." She got out a curry brush and began grooming the golden hide. "One last good brushing for old timeís sake, huh Argo? There, now youíre ready."

Xena led Argo out of the campsite into the woods. There she removed the mareís bridle and hugged her neck. She leaned into the mareís warmth for a moment then stepped back. "Good-bye girl. You go on and find a nice herd somewhere okay?" Argo just stood there looking at her warrior in confusion. "GO! Dammit Argo, just get out of here!" With that Xena ran towards the horse yelling and waving her arms. This was too much weird behavior for Argo to take. She reared around and galloped of into the woods. "Take care of yourself Argo." Xena said quietly and turned back to camp.

The camp felt even emptier now that Argo was gone. Xena was truly alone. She sat back down on the bedroll and placed her sword across her knees. She stared into the fire again and let her mind wander back to the one subject it could not avoid. Gabrielle. She thought of all the things that she and her bard had been through in the last three years. The good times and the bad. She remembered when they first became lovers, after the whole mess with Velasca and Callisto. After what they had both gone through they were finally able to open their hearts to each other. Their feelings for each other only got deeper as time passed. Dahok tried to shatter that love and nearly succeeded but they were able to find their way back to each other. It was hard at first learning to trust each other again but their love guided them through it and grew stronger in the process. Her mind eventually came to last few days. Fresh tears began to flow down her face as again she relived those last few moments of Gabrielleís life. ĎOh gods, wherever you are Gabrielle, know that I love you. I know Iíll never see you again. You are in the Elysian Fields and I know where I will end up. Tartarus canít be much worse than going on without you here. I know youíll be disappointed in me but I just canít go on without you. Iím sorry Gabrielle.í

With that last thought she picked up her sword and raised it in front of her. Taking a deep breath she turned the blade around in her hands pointing the tip at her own heart. Xena was so lost in her grief that she didnít see the shimmering portal that opened on the other side of the campsite.

 

With a soft thud Gabrielle fell out of the portal, shaken and disorientated. She shook her head to clear it then quickly glanced around her. There near a tree at the edge of camp was Argoís saddle and all of Xenaís gear. Her heart lurched when she recognized her own stuff piled neatly next to Xenaís. A quick flash of reflected firelight caught her eye and she spotted Xena sitting on the other side of the fire. Her green eyes widened as she realized what Xena was about to do. Without conscious thought her body was already moving. Gabrielle jumped up and leaped over the fire to reach Xenaís side just as the warriors muscular arms began to tense. "NOOO!!!"

Xena just sat there stunned. One moment she had been about to plunge her blade into her own heart and in the next her sword was kicked out of her hands and sent flying across the campsite. "Xena?" Xenaís head snapped up at the sound. ĎThatís not possible.í She thought to herself. But her eyes were telling her something else. Gabrielle knelt down to look into Xenaís eyes. "Xena, are you okay?" Xena looked into the worried emerald eyes that she had given up on ever seeing again. ĎThis canít be real. I think Iíve finally lost it.í

"G-Gabrielle?" It was barely a whisper but Gabrielle heard it. ĎGods, she was about to... Iíve never seen her so lost.í Seeing Xena like this was scaring her. Even when things had been the worst Xena always had this strength in her. Right now it looked as if a strong breeze would scatter her to pieces. The anguished, empty look in her eyes nearly broke Gabrielleís heart. "Are you...real?"

"Yes, Xena. Iím real, Iím back." She reached out and laid her right hand along Xenaís face. "Iím here." Xena started shaking at the touch. She reached up to cover the hand on her cheek. Not wanting to lose contact for fear that this beautiful vision would vanish.

Gabrielle barely caught her as the warrior collapsed into her arms with a cry. She wrapped her arms around her as Xena shook with sobs that sounded as if they would tear her apart. "Itís okay now Xena, Iím here. Iíve got you. I love you and I wonít leave you again. Itís going to be okay. Shh, everythingís going to be okay now. I love you." She just kept saying it over and over as she rocked the shaking warrior.

Finally Xena quieted and for a time they both just sat there in each otherís arms. Then she pulled back a little to look into Gabrielleís eyes. "Gabrielle..." Her voice was hoarse from all the crying. "How is this possible? I saw ... you..." She started to choke up again.

"Shh, I know. Itís a strange tale." She thought for a minute. "Hold on." She started to get up but Xena tightened her grip. "Itís okay, Iím just going to get the extra blankets. This is gonna take a little while and I want you to be comfortable." The warrior reluctantly released her. Gabrielle went to their supplies and brought the blankets and the waterskin over to the bedroll. There she quickly made a little nest and they snuggled into the blankets. "Here, drink some of this. You need it."

"Still looking out for me I see." Xena said with a half smile as she followed the bardís orders.

"You bet." Gabrielle took a few sips from the waterskin herself then draped an arm around Xenaís shoulders and began her story. She told her everything, from the moment her eyes opened in the Elysian fields till she kicked the sword out of Xenaís hand. "You were really going to do it werenít you?" She quietly asked.

"I... Yeah, I was." Xena wouldnít meet her eyes. "I just couldnít face it. The thought of waking up every morning to realize again and again that you wouldnít be there. It just ...it was too much for me. I didnít realize... when I died you were able to go on. Iím not as strong as you are. I just gave up." Xena shook her head and gave a little shrug with her shoulders. She still wouldnít meet Gabrielleís eyes.

"Xena, look at me." The warrior reluctantly met the bardís concerned look. "Iím not angry. Iím not disappointed in you. I probably would have done the same thing."

"But you didnít then." Xena said, confused.

"No, but if you hadnít been able to speak to me through Autolocus and if the ambrosia hadnít worked, I donít know what I would have done." Gabrielle answered honestly.

"But..."

"No Xena, you listen to me. I had something to focus on. First it was getting your body back to Amphipolis, then the Amazons, mostly Ephiny, convinced me to take up my duties as queen. If it hadnít been for you and Autolocus stealing your body and what happened after that... who knows." Gabrielle looked into those blue eyes for any hint if she was getting through.

"Yes the duties of queen and the problems Velasca would have caused would have kept me occupied for a while but I donít think it would have been long. Either Velasca would have challenged me to combat or I may have taken care of it myself." There, she saw the reaction in Xenaís eyes as the warrior began to believe what she was telling her. She tightened her hold on Xenaís shoulders. "If that had happened today I donít think anything would have distracted me. Now I know that you love me as I love you. And weíre so much closer now. I donít think I would have lasted an hour." Gabrielle finally released her eyes and leaned her head against Xenaís.

Xena broke the silence. "Did you really ask Artemis to send Solon back instead?" She asked tentatively.

"Yeah, I wanted you to have a second chance to be with him."

"Oh Gabrielle... you still feel responsible for his death, donít you?" No answer at first then a slight nod from the bard. "I share just as much responsibility for that whole situation as you do. If there is any real blame to be placed about that whole mess it lies with Dahok." Xena captured one of Gabrielleís smaller hands in her own. "Thank you for asking but Iíve accepted his death, besides I needed you back more." Those words brought a warm glow to the bardís heart.

"You know he told me that. When he came to talk to me before Artemis sent me back. He said that we need each other. He also asked me to tell you that he loves you and to do this." Gabrielle pulled Xena into a tight hug. They stayed that way for a time, comfortable to just relax in the much needed physical contact. "Huh, Artemis knew about us. That weíre lovers I mean. That surprised me. I guess Iíve gotten used to Ares meddling in our lives but it never occurred to me that the other gods paid much attention to us. At least not to our personal lives." Then a soft growl made them both grin.

"Yeah, I know. To the Fields and back and Iím still hungry." Gabrielle said with an embarrassed grin.

"Some things never change." Replied Xena with a sparkle in her eyes. "I think thereís still some of that trail bread left." Gabrielle got up and went to the packs and started her search for the edibles.

"Here Xena." The bard handed her their small pot. "Could you heat some water. I think we could both use something hot to drink." She went back to her search. "You havenít eaten anything either have you?"

Xena poured some water from the skin into the pot and placed it on a flat rock at the edge of the fire. "No, I didnít really have much of an appetite." At that moment her stomach decided to growl. "I guess it just woke up." She quirked a grin in Gabrielleís direction. They met back on the blankets where Gabrielle spread out her armload of discoveries. Travel bread, cheese, dried fruit and meat and two mugs with the herbs for tea.

After their meal and a slow cup of tea they snuggled together and watched the fire. Xena reached over and brushed the bardís red-gold hair away from her face. Their eyes met and after a long moment she leaned forward and their lips met. At the feel of Gabrielleís soft lips on her own the last of the fear left her heart. ĎYep, this is real.í She thought as she felt her whole body respond to that contact. The kiss became more intense as their hands started moving in familiar patterns.

At first Gabrielle thought it might be too soon after all the pain Xena had been through. That thought lasted until she felt Xena begin to untie the lacings on her halter. ĎNo, I think I need this as much as she does.í With that thought she gave her full attention to making sure the warriorís leathers went the same way her top had.

Afterward they lay nestled in the blankets staring up into the night sky. They took turns pointing to the different shapes among the stars as Xena slowly stroked the bradís hair. Then after a small lull in the conversation. "Xena?" Gabrielle asked tentatively.

"Yes, my love?"

"What happened after... in the temple I mean... " The hand stroking her hair paused for a second then, trembling, continued. "Iím sorry. Never mind, I didnít mean to upset you." She said quickly.

"No, itís alright." Xena pulled the bard a little closer. "Itís not so bad now that I know it has a different ending." She sighed. "After you... fell. I remember just staring down after you until... Callisto, that bitch, she started laughing. Gods, it sounded horrible. She started saying that now that she had seen your... death, that her life was worth living again. I uh... kinda lost it a bit there. I still had the hindís blood dagger and used it on her. Ares didnít stick around after that. He probably didnít want to be next." She paused, a little afraid of what Gabrielleís reaction would be. She neednít have worried.

Gabrielle tightened her grip on the warrior. She looked into Xenaís eyes. "Oh, Xena that must have been horrible. I knew Callisto was sick but ... she laughed?" Xena nodded. "Gods, Iím so sorry you had to go through that alone." She laid her head back down on Xenaís shoulder.

"Well, after all that the temple started to collapse. I probably would have been buried but somehow Joxer dragged me out of there." Xena suddenly sat straight up, bringing the bard with her. "Oh crap! Joxer!"

"What? Heís okay isnít he? He didnít get hurt did he?" Joxer may be a bungler but he was still a good friend.

"No heís just fine but... he realized what a mess I was after and well... he offered to take word to your family." She looked at Gabrielle with a chagrined expression on her face.

"Oh no."

"Oh yes. He was hurting too, I donít think you realize but you really mean a lot to him. I think I may have nodded and agreed but I was pretty out of it and all I remember clearly is that he left in the direction of Poteidaia."

"Oh gods, we have to stop him." Xena started to get up. "Wait, Xena. Was he on foot or horseback?"

"Uh... on foot. Why?" Xena sounded confused.

"Then it can wait till morning. On foot he wonít have much of a lead and we can easily catch up to him on Argo." Gabrielle looked around. "Where is she by the way?"

"I let her go. I mean, I wasnít going to need her any more."

"Oh Xena. If I know Argo, and by now I do pretty well, she didnít wander too far. Sheís probably just waiting out there for you to call her back." Gabrielle grinned. "Go ahead, try it."

"Okay." Xena let out a shrill whistle. They could here a high pitched whinny not too far away. They both got up as they heard the galloping horse approach. Xena ran over to her and wrapped her arms around Argoís neck. "Hey girl, I thought I told you to go find a herd." At this the horse let out a disgusted snort. Xena laughed. "Just waited for me to come to my senses huh? Well Iím glad you did." She motioned for Gabrielle, who had stayed back a little to let them have a moment together, to come closer. "Look who found me girl."

"Hi Argo." Gabrielle softly stroked the nose that nuzzled her shoulder. They fed the horse and Xena gave her a quick rub down before they both returned to the bedroll.

"Now, get some sleep." Gabrielle ordered the warrior.

"Only if you do too." Xena replied and they snuggled down for what remained of the night. Morning would arrive soon enough and then they would have to chase after Joxer. Now that her beloved was back Xena no longer feared getting up in the morning. She knew that when the sun rose the next day her life, their life, would go on. She drifted off to sleep with a smile tugging at her lips.

The End.

05-16-98


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