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DISCLAIMERS:Like usual Xena and Gabrielle are under strict supervision by MCA/Universal/Renaissance, but I've busted them out, and a couple others, for this story. I'm sure the warden doesn't mind.
"Fate's Choice" is the conclusion of the short story trilogy called "Tapestry of Life" and follows the short stories "Love's Choice" and "Heart's Choice", so I highly suggest you read them before this one or you'll be lost (my betareader was lost anyway and she had read them..hehe). In fact I recommend everyone to re-read them anyway just to familiarize yourself with them again. I also suggest you see the episodes "Maternal Instincts", "Bitter Suite" and perhaps H:TLJ "Armageddon Now" (there are one or two references to it that you'll understand if you've seen the episode).
Warning~Violence! Yes..there is some violence in this story, and the subject might be too intense for some, although I tried to keep the bits from flying around too much.
Warning~There's subtext. If you can't handle the idea of two women that care for each other beyond friendship, kiss my...err...ole stinky boots and read it anyway. Perhaps you will grow as a person and be more fun to hang around. If you still refuse to read it...your loss. Hope the rest of you enjoy this.;}~~~
It brings us pain and weaves myths.
If it only were right, how delightful it would be,
To open the breast of a friend;
And peep at his heart, and replace it again,
And believe in him without end.
Three women stood together on an endless plane, quietly arguing beside an immense tapestry that ran into the horizons. The Fates were what they were called by mortal and immortal alike. Goddess sisters whose own fate it was to monitor the past, present, and future of all the lives that made up the Tapestry of Life.
Some say these sisters were as old as time himself, and it was almost true since Chronos had in times past, been closely linked with them. Now though, since his crown and throne had been taken away by Zeus, the three goddesses alone played with time and life's thread, all supposedly, to the betterment of mankind.
Standing together it was easy to tell they were sisters, but that was all that was easily understood about them. Their ages seemed to change from moment to moment, sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly. They were all very beautiful, but rarely had any mortal laid eyes on them. They lived in this immortal plane which was far older than Mt. Olympus and the mortal realm and set apart from both. For here was the Tapestry of Life. An amazing fabric, made up of individual threads of mortal and immortal lives, stretching from the dawn of time and unraveling supposedly at the end of it.
It was that end that was currently being discussed among the sisters. For Lachesis, the Fate who could see into the future, could see the inky darkness and oblivion of the end of everything coming closer.
"We have failed again." Atropos turned her gaze away from the bright thread her sister Klothos held. Once again their plans had come to nothing. Once again the path had ended in devastation and Dahak's victory.
Lachesis' eyes sharpened as she looked away from the dark thread in her hand, and turned to the great tapestry beside her. She frowned slightly as she looked into the future. The coming maelstrom seemed to grow with every passing moment, and had them all extremely worried.
Lachesis turned to Klothos and shook her head.
"This is..." The Fate's words faded as she carefully set the shining thread back into the tapestry.
"Pointless?" Lachesis answered for her, the strain the three sisters were going through evident in her voice.
Klothos turned back and faced the other two, crossing her arms before her as if, in that gesture, she could protect herself from the evil they all dreaded. "Hundreds of tries and not a single one has changed the outcome."
As one, the goddesses turned and surveyed the expanse of fabric, their attention caught at the dark swirling mass of malevolence that seemed to be eating the Tapestry of Life itself. Though Lachesis was the only one of the three that had the ability to see directly into future events, all three could easily see the darkness growing.
"Soon. Too soon," Klothos murmured.
Athropos' eyes pulled away from the chaotic and depressing sight and looked at the others. "If you
hadn't insisted the darkness be come this soon instead of later, we..."
Lachesis' head snapped around, her eyes cool and emotionless. "There was no choice. At least in this path we have a chance. Without the two mortals all will be lost. At least I know that much." She muttered the last.
"Admit it sister. You have no idea if they can even save us." Klothos said.
Lachesis' long fingers casually stroked the cool silvery metal of the shears at her sides. Symbol of her power, they were also the most feared of all weapons.
"Is this true? You had us change everything...and you're still not even sure?" Athropos' eyes flashed. A tiny stream of anger and fear trickled within her. Unlike her two sisters, she was the only one of them with any emotion in her. Having need of it when she sung and spun the threads, she alone bore the burden of grief and joy, effected by the drama of life that she witnessed in the threads. But even she did not feel as much as mortals, needing only the small amount she had in order to create life.
Being emotionless was a good thing Klothos and Lachesis believed, for they considered it to be an obstacle, a boulder in their path. And nothing must interfere with their weaving and shearing...not even love.
Lachesis' hand drew away from the shears and smoothed her gown along her hip. Shrugging slightly she answered the accusation. "I was never sure, but as time passed since we first interfered in the two threads, the shadows have grown and obscured more than what our thread has. Now I see nothing past a certain point of time. All threads are closed to me now. All I can see is the darkness..." She paused a moment, considering whether to continue. With a small sigh she went on. "Darkness...and I can hear laughter. That's it."
Atropos raised a hand and gently rubbed her brow, though she didn't feel any pain since she was immortal. "Then we must try again."
The other two Fates nodded in agreement. Athropos knew her work, as they all did, but surely together the three of them would find the right spot in the threads lengths to change the past of the two mortals and thereby give the two a fighting chance to fight Dahak.
Gently grabbing the two threads again, Atropos ran a slim finger down into the past, focusing and choosing a segment of time to meddle with.
* * * * *
Aphrodite leaned back unto the tree behind her and sighed mournfully as she watched the two mortal women set up camp. It seemed like centuries had passed since she had first set her mind on bringing the two together, though in fact it had only been two and a half years. No matter what plan the goddess had tried, every one of them backfired.
Only a little over a week ago she's tried to get even with the warrior, for some vandalism done in her name in the goddess' temple. Having young men desecrate your temple with graffiti had been a real downer, but now she felt she owed the two women and was bound and determined to see them together.
It wasn't as if the two women didn't love each other already, that wasn't it at all. In fact they each loved the other deeply. On the surface it was a deep caring love between close companions and friends, but underneath where only they, and the gods, could see, was a desire that burned brightly.
It was rare that Aphrodite had seen such love between two people without having to interfere. But what really annoyed the alluring goddess was that, though they loved each other, they just refused to admit it, thinking that the other couldn't possibly feel the same.
"Two and a half years! Jeez...you'd think they'd get a clue by now," Aphrodite muttered and rolled her eyes. Then looking back at the camp she studied the two women more carefully, trying to see if there was something she had missed...something she could use to finally bring the headstrong duo together.
Xena of Amphipolis, daughter of Cyrene and Atrius. A warrior that seemed to have no equal. (She had even defeated Ares once...which gave the goddess quite a laugh). Who had once lost her way and almost her soul, along a dark path. She had ravaged and destroyed entire kingdoms and nations in her thirst for revenge and blood. A stunning woman, that even the Goddess of Love had to admit was a gorgeous creature...and a very deadly one at that. Love had been beyond her, though at times she had glimpsed it. She had disdained it anyway, saying that love was for the weak and not for her. Instead she had played upon the lust others felt for her, using them for her own gain and for her own thirst for power and dominance.
The dark-haired beauty had known nothing since her youth but hate, anger, ferocity, thirst, and hunger for conquest. Now she traveled a brighter road and knew love, which frightened her far more than any army, god, or beast she had ever fought. She couldn't protect herself from its power. Her sword couldn't destroy it, her armor couldn't stop it, and her heart couldn't survive behind the high walls she had raised, under that emotion's siege.
The goddess' eyes moved and focused on the blond bard. "So impetuous. Such a talent for words. You can awe an audience of hundreds with your stories and yet..you can't even tell her that you love her can you?" Aphrodite make a small tsking sound.
Gabrielle of Poteidaia, daughter of Hecuba and Herodotus. An extremely talented bard, whose main creative muse was the warrior at her side. The Queen of the Amazons, by rite of caste, who had given up her mask to a Regent, in order to travel with that same warrior. Whose passion for life was as boundless as the sun. Who savored every moment in life, relishing it with the innocence of a child, but with the heart and tastes of a woman.
"She always comes back to you. If that's not a clue, Xena I don't know what is. Gabrielle's given up everything..time and time again to be with you," Aphrodite scowled at the warriors back. "You've even kissed her. Granted..it was through Autolycus, but still... Even Perdicus was an attempt for your love, however misguided it was. She saw a small part of you in him, he warrior in anguish over his deeds. She saw it and thinking you didn't care for her like she did for you, settled for the small piece in him that reminded her of you. Such a waste."
"Both of you are so headstrong. Thick-headed. Independent, yet unwilling to travel without the other. Self-sacrificing in the face of what you see as the other's obvious disinterest. Controlled...so very controlled." Aphrodite snickered silently as she watched the warrior suddenly stop grooming her mount and scan the area, taking a few moments to watch her companion walk to the nearby spring fed lake to fill their waterskins.
"You are just so stubborn, Warrior Princess, as is the Amazon Queen." Aphrodite savored the fiery emotions, that radiated from the warrior, then sighed again. "Such martyrs. Yet...that hunger I see in each of you gives me hope, that there is a future for you yet." The Goddess of Love stood back up, and rested her delicate hands on her smooth hips. "Well, back to work. Let's see. Perhaps if I..."
* * * * *
Xena waited until Gabrielle had come back from refilling their waterskins, before going hunting.
It was a beautiful land, not far from Amphipolis, and full of game. Quickly she finished her hunt and made her way back to the camp. The warrior felt alive and excited about the days ahead.
Xena unconsciously grinned as she thought about her son. I wonder how tall he is now.
It would only be two days, at the most, before they crossed into centaur territory for the treaty signing that would reunite the tribes and Xena was really looking forward to their visit. It had been over a year since she'd last seen her son, Solon.
Perhaps I should tell him this time? Xena mused as she ducked gracefully under a low branch, then shook her head at the thought. No. He's Kaleipus' son now. Always has been. I don't want to damage that by telling him his mother is in fact alive..and that I'm her.
The warrior grinned to herself. It doesn't hurt to dream though.
Spotting their campfire, Xena quietly emerged from the forest. Not seeing her companion, she set down the pheasant she had caught and extended her senses, listening for any trace of the bard. Her staff was gone and there was no sigh of struggle, which Xena figured meant that her companion was out getting more firewood or perhaps at the lake.
Just to be sure, Xena walked towards the water. From a distance the sounds of gentle splashing came to her ears and she relaxed.
She's bathing. Never let it be said that the woman doesn't like to keep herself clean. The warrior smiled wryly, keeping to the shadows. She didn't consciously try to walk silently, it was just a skill that was so ingrained within her now that she practiced it naturally.
Stopping in the shadow of a great cypress, her eyes caught the vision of a sleek form in the moonlit water and her pulse skipped a beat.
Oh gods...I should leave.
But her eyes refused to waver and the fire that burned within her took over, leaving her helpless to walk away.
I...I must be dreaming, she thought to herself.
Perhaps it was an apparition, but it was the most beautiful and stirring one she'd ever seen in her life.
A goddess stood thigh deep in the shimmering lake water. The full moon casting silver light down to play and dance among the ripples of dark water and to caress the glowing skin of the bathing woman. Shadows and light frolicked on the pale skin, tantalizing the warrior. The darkness concealing parts she most definitely wished to see, but then with a slight movement from the slim figure all was revealed, then cloaked again in shadow.
Droplets of pure molten silver fell as the bard slowly washed her arms. The glistening liquid caressing that fine skin and running down her body. Xena's eyes automatically followed its path, as the water sheeted down the lithe arm, down an enticing shoulder, and flowed over the bard's breast.
The warrior's breath caught and she swallowed hastily. This wasn't the first time she'd seen her
companion naked. The two women had, through necessity over their time together, bathed and dressed in the other's company many a time. But it was moments like these, when Xena was caught unawares, that the warrior's resolve to not tell Gabrielle her true feelings, was shaken.
I love her. I love her, but... With an iron will, Xena abruptly clamped down on her emotions and closed her eyes. When the fire within her was controlled and her desire finally reined in, the warrior quietly melted back into the woods and heading back to their camp.
Aphrodite stomped her foot in frustration and disappeared.
* * * * *
The coldness of the air and snow around her did not register or effect her. The tall solemn figure wrapped in a thick wool cloak could care less about the temperature.
Her eyes as cold as the top of the snow capped mountain peak she stood on, the woman's pain fairly radiated from her. Pain. Sorrow. Anger. Hate. All of these churned inside Xena in a thick pool of emotion.
Her son was dead. Slain in cold blood by a child of utmost evil. A child whose own mother had once been the warrior's friend, her trusted companion.
The cry ripped through her, the rawness of it intensifying her emotions, cleansing nothing. After a long moment, the cry drifted off, and she stood there blowing thick steam from her lungs.
On the outside, her despair, her sorrow, her guilt seemed as tangible as the snow flakes that fell around her, but inside it was far more solid, and far more chaotic. She couldn't concentrate on a single one. Her overpowering hate mixed with the sorrow. Her primal grief with loathing.
Softly it began. A long note that carried from the mountaintop out into the thick snowy air, from her parted lips. Xena sang the dirge that she knew too well, and had sung too many times in the past. A song of farewell, of love, of regrets, and of passing. It was meant to comfort as well as be an outlet for grief.
The dirge went on, but quickly became discordant as Xena's own consuming hate and grief became too much. Suddenly the words were replaced by a wail of despair that rang out like the cry of the dead, as her pain became vocalized.
Why?! Damn you, Gabrielle! Xena's mind shouted, as she tried desperately to erase the memories of
Gabrielle's betrayal and her son's death from her mind. But nothing could help. No song to ease the dead on their journey and no frigid mountaintop could blow the images away.
She didn't remember much of her journey up here, only flashes of her galloping Argo through the Centaur lands, past Amphipolis and to Mt. Pangaeus.
Towering over her home village, the mountain had been a source of fascination to her and her younger brother, Lyceus, when they were young. A huge playground that they had explored together, much to their mother's concern. Once, pretending it was Mt. Olympus, the two young siblings had climbed to this very peak and called upon the gods, daring them to come and make them leave. Of course, no gods had come that day, but ever since Xena had felt she was being watched. Years would go by and her beloved Lyceus would pass on, before she found out that indeed she had drawn the
attention of a god.
At the thought of the God of War, Xena felt their dark connection stir, as if Ares was also thinking of her. With a sudden rush, the chain of fierce savagery that linked them sharpened, heralding the coming of Ares to her.
The dark god took a couple steps and stood at Xena's side. "Nice vocal. But you sure can't dance to it." He paused briefly. "Look, I feel your pain, okay? But how much longer before you start doing something about it?"
Xena's head whipped around, her eyes flashing, her lips peeled back in a snarl. "My son is dead, you soulless bastard! What can I do about that?"
"Just goes to prove what I've been telling you all along, no good deed goes unpunished. Saving people. Defending the weak. Trusting someone who betrayed you," he replied smugly.
Only one name came to her lips. "Gabrielle." Xena spit it out with distaste.
"This whole atonement kick you've been on lately--it's not you. You're full of fire, bending the
world to your will, full of rage and revenge. Accept it, Xena. Embrace it. You know what to do...who to kill."
Xena turned her head and looked at Ares closely. Their eyes met, ice cold blue and deepest brown. Recognition of a kindred spirit flashed through the deepest levels of her darkening soul. This god had never lied to her. He never had a reason to, his plans, his mind, his intentions always clear for her to see.
"I don't just want revenge anymore." Xena said, accepting his bargain, but wanting more. Killing was too easy, she needed more. Anything to deaden the images and the memories in her mind.
"Then join me, Xena." Ares reached out a strong hand and cupped her jaw, his thumb gently sliding up a frozen tear trail and evaporating it from the heat of his touch. "I never hurt you in all the years we were together. I may not have told you everything, but I never outright lied to you."
"Together, Xena. Together we can rule as we were meant to be. Side by side. A raging wildfire that will sweep across the land. Nothing will stop us. Nothing." A deep hungry smile caressed his full lips, as he felt her response to him through their link and in her eyes. "And our first target after we gather your army will be?" Ares asked, though he knew the answer. He could see it in the cold hatred of his Chosen's gaze.
"Amazons," Xena growled, her mouth twisted into an identical grin to his. "I want to see her Amazons destroyed to every last woman, before I kill her...noo. Better yet. The Amazons, then make her watch us take her precious Poteidaia and raze it to the ground. Then I kill her...slowly. I want to take and destroy everything that meant anything to her, just as she's done to me."
Ares threw back his head and laughed. "Oh, Xena. I didn't think it was possible, but if anything... you're more vengeful than before." He leaned in close, his breath warming her ear. "I like it."
The Fates watched as Xena and Ares conquered and destroyed town after town, nation after nation. The destruction far more bloody and cruel, far more widespread then any time in the mortal's past. They watched as one after another of the gods died at Callisto's hand. They watched as Xena fell in the midst of a huge bloody battlefield unmourned, Ares dead at her side. Both killed at the hands of Callisto, as a child with red hair looked on with satisfaction.
Lachesis turned to her sisters. "We must try again."
* * * * *
Low chanting filled the dim hut. Thick hot steam permeated the air, along with burning incense and herbs. The darkness broken only by the lit fire and the sunlight that invaded through the rare crack in the walls or around the door.
Gabrielle lay naked on the high platform, fresh fern fronds the only thing between her flesh and the wood.
The priestess of Artemis slowly circled her, chanting in the harsh secret language of the goddess' temple. The masked amazon's arm whipped out, the bundle of long stiff birch switches, striking against the prone woman's skin. Again and again the priestess struck, her purpose to purify, to cleanse the spirit and body, as much as the steam and incense did.
Gabrielle lay quietly, the sting of the branches felt by her body, but ignored by her mind. She rarely felt anything anymore, besides despair and the deep pain of her broken soul.
She had come to the village three days ago, after having wandered aimlessly through the countryside. After that fateful day, when Solon and Hope's ashes had been scattered in the night wind, she had thought to go to Poteidaia, but halfway there the bard had changed her mind. She didn't think she belonged there anymore. In fact, after turning around and heading a day's travel towards, she had realized that there was only one place she even remotely belonged. Her home had once been with Xena, but now there was only one place she felt safe.
Ephiny had been glad to see her, having worried about her friend and Queen since the night of the pyres. Immediately the Amazon Regent could see the emptiness swallowing her friend alive, and knew that there was perhaps only one way to save her. Otherwise she feared the Queen would wither away and die.
She ought not to have bothered, Gabrielle thought silently, her mind sluggish after three days of fasting and living in the steam purification hut. Why live..when there is nothing to live for?
A lone tear leisurely ran from her eyes and off the side of her nose to fall amongst the fern fronds.
Emptiness. That's all I feel.
When the priestess was finished she motioned an acolyte to help her as she gently assisted Gabrielle to sit up. With warm cleansing herb water they bathed the queen's skin, then wrapped her in a plain white sheet, tying it at her hip and over one shoulder.
Gabrielle watched dully as they laid her back down and quietly left the hut, the priestess having put a fresh batch of herbs on the fire.
Alone again, she observed, her eyes blankly looking at a spot on the ceiling, though not really seeing it.
The heartache I felt from Perdicus' death was nothing in comparison to this. Deep searing pain that's drowning me in the dark. I...I loved her, but... She couldn't continue the thought, it made the pit within her grow, and she was desperately trying to keep it back. Afraid of what would happen if it consumed her.
Absently her mind registered a long slim hand caressing her cheek for a moment. Then a sudden slap from that hand made her slowly look over, then away again.
"You're not real. You're in my mind."
"What difference does it make? You came here for the truth, and the truth is that Xena made us both. She shaped our lives, changed our fates...killed our families." The blond goddess' eyes gleamed with madness and primal ferocity. It was almost like a perfume for her, so strong that Gabrielle could almost smell it radiating from the goddess' body. Raw unrestrained insanity and fury. A wild smell that reminded the bard of the smell in the air after a bolt of lightning hit nearby. The smell of a raging forest fire. A scent that the bard knew couldn't belong to a apparition...but it did.
Gabrielle sat up and shook her head slightly in denial. "No. I killed hers. Solon died because of my daughter."
Callisto leaned in so closely that the queen could swear she could feel the warm breath of the goddess on her face. "Because of Xena, you had a daughter," she stated.
"Her hatred for Caesar," the goddess paused almost imperceptibly, drawing out the words, "took you to Britannia."
"Yes, but..." Gabrielle started to softly reply, but was interrupted.
"Straight to Dahak, where she deserted you. Isn't that right? Isn't that right?" Callisto repeated, this time the fire in her eyes brighter, her voice more menacing.
"Yes." The bard admitted finally, tears rolling down her face.
Callisto reached up and gently touched Gabrielle's chin, making the bard look at her. "And you hate her for it, don't you? For betraying you. For failing you. You hate her, don't you?" The goddess' voice grew hard. "Don't you?! Don't you?!"
Gabrielle's eyes continued to shed tears as she struggled with herself. The dark pit within her growing, overwhelming her. Finally when she couldn't fight anymore and she gave in.
Gabrielle sat straight up, breathing heavily, her eyes searching the hut. Seeing no one, she lay back down, her pulse rapid, her breathing loud.
A dream. Just a dream, she thought silently.
But dreams tell us things, guide us. She paused in her thoughts for a moment, then abruptly got up off the platform and went over to a nearby bench.
Reaching down, her fingers brushed over the pile of fine leathers that had been left there for her in case she decided she would wear them.
I can live without you, Xena. I can! Just forget me as I plan on forgetting you. Damn you! There is one lesson I learned from you. Responsibility. I have to go on. I am a Queen. I..just don't even come near MY lands!
The fierce shadows within her surged, wrapping warm tendrils around her soul. With a grim smile Gabrielle put on her clothes, wearing once again the mantle of Queen of the Amazons, this time for good.
Lastly she placed the feathered necklace of her rank about her neck, then reached out and grabbed the familiar staff that rested against the wall, she raised an eyebrow at the weapon. Memories of countless hours of sparring with Xena came to her mind, but she thrust them from her with annoyance. Never again! I won't fall under your spell again, Warrior Princess. You failed me.
Gabrielle let the darkness totally overwhelm her. It was a strange feeling, but oddly it steadied her. I was wrong, Xena. You can't fight the darkness inside, and there's nothing wrong with letting it win.
The Fates watched as the Amazon Queen stepped out of the hut, ready for battle, at the call of alarm from the sentries. They watched as she stopped her amazons from attacking the incoming rider, instead she stood ready her eyes filled with hate and determination at the sight of the warrior who had once been her desire. They watched as the two women of light and dark complexions, but of the same shadowy heart, battle each other. And watched as the Amazon Queen fell only to be joined a heartbeat later by the Warrior Princess, who even with her great skills couldn't stop twenty amazon arrows at once.
Atropos frowned and motioned her three sisters to once again to help her bend the Tapestry to their will, choosing another path.
* * * *
"Solon?" Xena cradled the still form in her arms, her hand reaching up and checking the pulse in his neck, then down to his wrist.
He's just sleeping...yes, that's it. Just sleeping. It's been such a long day for him.
The warrior's head tilted to the side slightly as she gazed at her son's hand. His long slim fingers, already cooling to the touch, fascinated her. The last time she'd looked at them so closely was when he had been a baby, his tiny little digits a source of enchantment to her. He has my hands, Xena observed, surprised she hadn't noticed before.
Her eyes started to water, as the truth started to sink in. He's not going to wake up.
The sound of running footsteps came to her, but didn't fully register.
Solon...I never got to tell you...I...
A flood of raw anger coursed through the warrior as she recognized the voice. Her son's murderer, as guilty as Dahak's own blackened seed. Her betrayer. My friend, Xena sneered, her eyes burning coldly.
Gabrielle's harsh whisper washed through her, tearing down the controls and emotions she had wasted her time on for the past two years. In its place was dark hatred and fiery anger, boiling up out of the depths of her soul, no longer restrained, no longer under control. With nothing to hold it back, it flooded the warrior.
Partially closing her eyes in ecstasy from the searing dark emotions rising in her, Xena shivered. Laying down her son gently, she turned slightly to look at Gabrielle, her face partially hidden by her long dark tresses. She grinned ferally at her from behind the curtain of her long black hair.
"Xena?" Tears ran down the bard's face as she shook her head in denial.
"He's dead, Gabrielle." Xena kept her voice neutral as she slowed stood.
"How? I mean..it can't..oh gods, Xena! I'm so sorry." Gabrielle wept, her hands covering her face.
Xena felt the hatred for this woman surge wildly in her. Silently she drew her sword and brought it before her, the point facing her enemy. "Gabrielle."
The bard cried helplessly, her face still covered.
The dark-haired warrior took a step forward and spoke softly, almost a sensual purr. "Gabrielle. Look at me."
Wiping her eyes, Gabrielle lifted her head. Seeing the warrior's sword pointed at her, she took a step backwards. "Xena??"
Xena's head tilted forward slightly, her blue eyes piercing into the bard's own as she looked at her with a predatory grin. "You lied...and you cost me the one and ONLY thing I loved." She spoke the last with an almost satisfactory pleasure, as she took several steps forward, making her way between the blond woman and the door.
"Yes! Beg me!" the warrior snarled. "As I'm sure Hope made my son do when she killed him!" She moved like a panther, all muscle and grace, as she circled the frightened and distraught woman. "You lied to me, Gabrielle, and my son's blood is on your hands!"
"I...I...yes I lied! I'm sorry!" Gabrielle pleaded, her hands out to her sides. "But, how do you know? How do you know it was her...it could have been Callisto! Xena..please!"
Xena frowned in disgust. "How do I know? How do I know?!?! Because she's your daughter!!" she screamed as she took two quick steps forward, and drove her sword all the way through the unresisting flesh of the bard's stomach. Angling the sword slightly up, so the blond wouldn't slip off, Xena stepped closer until the hilt met flesh, enjoying the sensation of the steel sliding deeper into Gabrielle and the scream of pain released from the woman's lips.
Her face just inches from Gabrielle's own, the warrior snarled, "Your daughter, Betrayer! Liar! Murderer! Bitch!"
Rejoicing at the shock and agony on the bard's face, she watched as the light quickly died in the green eyes before her. The sudden heavy weight on her arms dragged down the point of her sword. She let it, grinning evily as the body slid wetly off and crumple unto the floor in a boneless heap. She brought the crimson washed blade before her face, her eyes dark with hunger as they caressed the slick red blood.
"Vengeance. I'd forgotten how it tastes." Xena licked her grinning lips, then suddenly frowned. The
sword's tip abruptly hit the ground, her hand limp and barely hanging on. The anger and hatred was gone, leaving nothing in its wake. It had been never quite felt this way before. She had destroyed almost everyone who had ever betrayed her, just like she had Gabrielle, and after each one she'd had satisfaction and hate to fill her. But it was different this time, never before had she felt such consuming emptiness afterwards. Always before there had been something inside of her...now there was nothing.
Her eyes drifted over to Solon and she blinked as tears started to fill her eyes.
"I..." The words faltered on her lips.
"Nothing." Her face impassive she looked again at the body at her feet, the red tinted blond hair of the bard slowly growing scarlet as the puddle of blood spread beneath her. "There's nothing. You took it all away."
Lifting her sword again, she ran a lean hand down its length, absently observing how the dark blood slicked her hand. In her mind there was only one more thing to do. Only one way to stop the ache of the emptiness inside her.
Ephiny stood in the doorway, her mouth open in shock. "By Artemis!" she whispered.
She had come to warn Xena and Gabrielle that Callisto had been spotted heading towards the village, but now she saw that they were all doomed. Perhaps we still have time to get the children to safety, she tried to reassure herself.
Three bodies lay on the thin carpets in the hut, two in great pools of blood. One, Xena's, still acting as the sheath for the weapon that killed her. Ephiny noticed that it was the warrior's own.
Klothos watched as the amazon ran away from the scene, back to the children. Ephiny had erroneously concluded that it was Callisto who had killed them. Not that it mattered. Soon the village would be destroyed by the goddess, and Ephiny along with the children would be making their way to Charon's ferry. The Fate turned to Lachesis and Atropos and shook her head. "Yet another failure."
Atropos and Lachesis looked up at the murky span that hid a large portion of the tapestry from their sight.
"Then we must try again," murmured Lachesis.
* * * * *
Gabrielle shivered, though she was kneeling in the warm summer sun. Tears ran down her face unhindered as she gazed down at the small covered form beside her. A tiny hand peeked out from under the wool blanket, slim fingers curled up in relaxation.
My Hope. My child. The grieving mother raised her face up to the sun, the warm rays unable to warm her heart. Everything I love turns to ashes. Everything and everyone. Perdicus. Hope. Xena. Time and time again. She brought her hand up to her chest, as if she could relieve the deep pain she felt there.
There's nothing for me. No child to hold. No love to share. No words to write. No stories to tell. Nothing. I've destroyed it all. My unbending self-righteousness has cost me everything I held dear. I thought I knew what was best, that only I could see. I thought my daughter would walk in the light if only I loved her enough and saved her from Xena.
My daughter, whom I named Hope because her sweet smiling face, brought hope back into my heart after it was ripped
from me in that terrible temple. My daughter, who has now torn the hope and faith away from me, broken my heart. Now
there's no hope...no faith...no love. Nothing but a darkness..an emptiness within me.
Maybe Xena is right..the darkness within you can never be overcome.
Gabrielle raised her hand from her chest and brought it before her face, studying it as if it was a stranger to her. This hand has taken life willingly...twice. Once with steel and good intentions, again with sweet poison and deception. Both destroyed me...but there is nothing to bring me back this time. No arms to protect me. No whispered words to reassure me. Damnit! This never would have happened if she hadn't..no..no..can't blame her can I?
The bard's eyes glazed as the memory of blood covered her hands. She gripped a long shiny dagger loosely as she looked at it in perplexity. The body of Meridian lay crumpled at her feet, a widening stain of crimson spreading on the woman's white dress.
She blinked and the blood was gone, and so was the temple. Instead she knelt on the soft grass in a glade, her daughters' dead body laying next to her.
I'm so sorry...no..that doesn't help anymore does it? I can't apologize for this. I killed him as
surely as if it was my own hand. I killed him with my stubbornness to believe in Hope. That good always triumphs. I killed Solon...and I betrayed Xena. Again.
Gabrielle flinched as the vision of that dreadful moment came unbidden, when she'd run into
Kaliepus' hut after Xena. Those cold blue eyes awash in tears stabbing into her. That low timbre voice snarling at her to go.
I loved her. Gabrielle moaned with pain. But I've driven her away. Destroyed her trust in me. I've
betrayed her again and again. Gods! I...I can't live without her! It's too hard.
Opening her eyes, she looked down at her still daughter. Her gaze drifted to the small hand and the waterskin that held the rest of the poison. Without conscious thought she reached down, one hand touching the soft skin of Hope's hand, then removing it to grasp the waterskin.
Slowly she raised it until the spout was almost touching her lips. I feel so empty. I know it doesn't help..but I'm so sorry, Xena.
She tilted the waterskin up as she leaned her head back, her sunkissed blond tresses spilling down her back. Closing her eyes again she parted her waiting lips. The sweet, almost cloying taste of the poison trickling over her lips and tongue. She swallowed convulsively as the last of the poison dripped into her mouth.
So sweet. As sweet as I always imagined her lips to be. Gabrielle mused as her arms suddenly trembled and she grew dizzy. With her eyes still closed, the bard lay down on her side facing her child, her failure.
Her mind drifted as she felt the poison doing it's quick work. Images from her life rose in her thoughts, as her breathing and heart slowed.
Lila. Her mother. Her father. A lazy summer afternoon down by the river that had brought her life crashing into a warlord who was beginning a search for redemption.
Iolaus resting in her arms as she comforted him with the story of the splitting of mankind from one creature into two. From one soul into two halves, always searching.
A green field that promised eternal peace. A cry of despair and grief that drew her back to a dark-haired warrior that washed her face with falling tears.
The raw anguish as she gently touched that pained face before her and the long journey they had taken after a trap had slammed her companion into a tree, only to have the warrior give up. Loss. Bitter loss. Then at the darkest moment...hope. The lightest of kisses upon her lips, as if a breeze caressed her lips, bringing her the promise of return.
Fury, like a dark storm, that passed safely over her, erupting from the tall warrior into the Roman soldiers that had tried to cripple her.
Strong caring arms holding her through the night, as the ruins of a temple smoked around them.
Memories of brief caresses, errant touches, and fleeting glances flashed through her mind growing dimmer and dimmer.
"I lov..." The whisper faded, the words lost in the soft green grass that gently nestled against the silent bard's face and lips.
Xena stepped out of the tree's shadow, her face impassive, her eyes as hard as granite. She had watched silently since the child had succumbed, feeling nothing. No satisfaction or vindication broke into that hard shell, when Dahak's dark seed had died.
The warrior didn't even blink when the bard had drank from that same container. No muscle twitched as the younger woman had lay down on the grass. Her senses told her the bard's breathing was slowing, growing more labored.
Long moments passed, Xena a statue as her hearing and eyes told her that finally the poisoned woman had stopped breathing. A last breath with a whispered half-phrase came to her, but it didn't move her. Nothing could anymore. The only thing within her was the warm shadows. A thick mass. An old friend. The only true love, she realized, that she had ever had.
When she was finally sure it was all ended, Xena turned and walked away.
* * * * *
Aphrodite silently watched, her face streaked with tears, as the warrior vanished into the woods.
Mt. Olympus is saved from the destruction and darkness of Dahak, but oh...the price. The blond goddess eyes sadly lowered, gazing at the lovely woman laying at her feet.
She looked to be only slumbering, resting on her side, her knees slightly bent, her head resting on one outstretched arm, the other resting along her side. But Aphrodite knew the bard's heart no longer beat, it was cold to passion's heat. Her sharp mind no longer dreamed in waking or sleeping. Her tongue was still, no longer able to hold an audience in thrall. Eyes that saw beauty and poetry in all things, now were sightless. Closed forever.
The goddess willed and created a perfect white daisy. Reaching down, she carefully set the flower on the ground, the soft petals just touching the bard's lips.
She started to straighten, when she abruptly stopped, her eyes locked on the flower and the bard's face. Something at the edge of her mind troubled her, but when nothing came to her, so she dismissed it.
Obviously, it wasn't that important, Aphrodite thought to herself and shrugged.
Then a brief flicker of memory burst forth. A partially depetaled daisy in her hand. Small white petals gently drifting down to the ground before her.
"What in the...?" Aphrodite couldn't remember that particular memory, but then she'd lived a very long time and it was possible she'd forgotten a thing or two, she had to admit to herself.
Another flash of recall came to her. This time of Xena standing in moonlight, the beams streaming through the forest canopy, and of her own fingers trailing hotly over the warrior's shoulders, broken only by leather and cool bronze armor under her fingertips.
She heard herself ask the warrior, "Don't you ever tire of control?"
Once again the goddess wondered where the memory had come from, but this time she was absolutely certain she hadn't experienced it. It seemed like a really juicy one to the goddess, and she knew she would have remembered touching Xena so casually.
Focusing on the still body and flower once again, Aphrodite abruptly shuddered. This is wrong. This just doesn't seem right to me. I don't know where these memories are coming from...but I have a good idea where to start looking.
Leaning down, she brushed back a length of honey gold hair from the bard's pale face. Then straightening again the goddess disappeared, only to reappear in another realm.
The Tapestry of Life stood before her in all its glory. All life, from the past, present, and future, made up the tapestry which stretched from horizon to horizon and towered over her. Made up of unique individual threads, it was caressed by soft life that radiated from no clear source. It was just light, illuminating the only reason for this place's existence.
The plane of the Fates existed neither on the mortal or immortal Mt. Olympus, having been created before either. Older than even the first of the gods, the plane was now the home to three goddesses all sisters. Born before Zeus, but seeming to be women of changing age, the Fates called this place home, tending the tapestry since their birth long ago.
Atropos, the goddess of the past, whose song and spinning created the threads themselves. Klothos, who held the distaff and weaved the present. And Lachesis, the most feared amongst mortals, whose silvery shears ended life and whose eyes gazed forward into time's mists.
Not seeing the three Fates immediately, Aphrodite walked, her eyes scanning the expanse looking for two particular threads. Her flashes of memories had been about Gabrielle and Xena, so perhaps if she looked into their pasts, it would remind her.
Only the future was denied to any god's eyes, Lachesis being the only one with that privilege, though she could grant it if she wished. Even Zeus had to humbly ask her and not demand. You don't order someone who with a quick snip of her shears could end your godly life.
Then from a distance, Aphrodite suddenly caught the faint sound of voices. Stopping, she cocked her head, hoping to hear better. She knew, of course, that more than likely the speakers were the Fates themselves, but since any god could come to this plane, she wanted to be sure. The Goddess of Love didn't want to run into any of her fellow Olympians. Not that she didn't get along...well with some of them, but she just wasn't in the mood at the moment.
"Again. We must try again."
"We are running out of options."
"You still see nothing?"
"I have seen something new."
"Well?" Two voices replied as one.
"We already knew that it is was our own thread that's obscuring their future from my sight before. And now, with what we must assume is his influence, my sight is completely useless. I caught a brief glimpse though of two other threads that will affect them as much as our own, but I am not completely sure whose they are. I didn't see them clear enough."
"That doesn't make sense. You didn't seem them before."
"They're there, connecting somehow with the two mortal's and our own.""
"I don't understand how this is possible. You should have seen this before."
"I don't understand it myself, but then again it could be a trick."
"We have no choice, trick or no trick. Our time grows short, so we must try again. Xena and Gabrielle are the only ones we've determined that have a chance to stop the darkness of Dahak from coming completely. Thankfully we have changed their course to bring them here, but now..." The next words were spoken too softly for the Goddess of Love to hear. "As it is, we will lose St..."
Aphrodite abruptly willed herself into their midst in a shower of light, interrupting their conversation. Placing her hands on her hips, she frowned slightly and raised an eyebrow at the three surprised goddesses.
"You three have been mucking about with Xena and Gabrielle?!" She asked in indignation.
The Fates looked at each other briefly, then back to the blond goddess before them, but refused to answer her.
"Fine." Aphrodite turned to the tapestry and looked for the two mortal threads she had come for. Immediately finding them, which raised her suspicions about the three goddess' involvement in their lives, she gently took them in her fair hands.
Atropos started to put out a hand to stop her, but a quelling look from the beautiful goddess made her step back.
"You would deny me the right to see into the past or present of any thread? Me?!" Aphrodite raised an eyebrow.
The Fate of the past swallowed hastily. "No. Of course not. I just don't see why..." Her voice trailed off as she looked at her sisters nervously.
Aphrodite turned back to the slim threads in her hands and examined their exterior first. The goddess had to give Atropos her due, the Fate knew how to sing life into being, and these two threads seemed to have been a supreme effort.
The first thread started a bit further back in the tapestry. Like all threads it began innocent, the bright shining color of gold. Then abruptly two thirds the way down its length it changed. Radically so. The golden sheen was gone and in its place was a dark swirling gray that quickly changed again to near black.
Aphrodite's finger slid along the length, trembling slightly over the emotions that permeated that darkness. Usually a thread was a riot of emotion, no single one detected in the chaos of life. But this dark one had lived a great part of her life in the shadows and it showed.
The goddess stopped and looked at the other thread in her hand. Golden it was in the beginning like the others, the only difference was that it had stayed that way for most of its existence. Until...
Her fingers gingerly touched the spot where the two threads met and continued on to run side by side. The dark thread steadily growing lighter until now when its dark silvery length continued into the future where Aphrodite could not see. The golden one, now traveling alongside the other, changed. No longer was it the gold of innocence, but gradually it grew into the deeper glowing bronze color, until it too faded into the future.
Now the goddess focused, her gaze going deeper into the threads, past the superficial exterior and into the lives themselves.
Randomly she searched, hoping for some clue, some snippet of memory to surface. Scene after scene flashed before her eyes. Two lives from beginning to present she witnessed, and yet she found nothing.
Finally Aphrodite turned away from the threads in her hands and looked over at the three sisters. Her eyes went from one to another stopping at Lachesis. She was silent for a few moments, considering the situation and what she wanted to say. Aphrodite wasn't afraid of the Fate, but she was respectful, as all the other Olympians were.
But deep inside the Goddess of Love was an uneasy feeling, a suspicion that something wasn't quite right. On a hunch she looked up at the Tapestry of Life, her eyes searching. It wasn't hard to see, the darkness drew her gaze like a moth to the flame. As her eyes scrutinized the slowly spreading mass, she knew that this was the reason...but for what she didn't know.
As if she could read Aphrodite's mind, Lachesis stepped forward and stood beside her, also looking up at the malevolent shadows. "The destruction of everything is close at hand. My sisters and I have been trying for a long time now to stop it. It's Dahak, of course."
Aphrodite turned away from the tapestry and shivered, she could feel the hate radiating from the darkness and it effected her deeply. "Xena and Gabrielle?"
Lachesis nodded. "I determined long ago that Dahak would come, but the future then was much different now. We've had to change several incidents in the two mortal's history in order to guide them towards this path. Several times their emotions have led the world to destruction."
Aphrodite's eyebrows raised in surprise. "So they're to save us from him?"
The Fate glanced over at her sisters for a moment, then turned bak to the goddess with a slight frown. "I'm...I'm not sure."
Lachesis stepped even closer to the tapestry and pointed out a thick thread to Aphrodite. Pure glowing white, the thread was actually three woven so closely together that distinquishing one from another was near impossible to the naked eye.
Touching it gently, the goddess continued. "This is our thread. My sisters have no restriction in their powers. Atropos can view the past without obstruction and Klothos' eyes are not veiled from any point in the present. Myself, I see the future, the vast expanse of things to come and multiple possibilites are open to me. With one exception..."
"Your own future." Aphrodite interuppted. Lachesis' limitation was well known among the gods.
"Yes, but it's more than that." Lachesis' hand traced along the Fate's thread, stopping just short
of the devouring darkness. "When our thread crosses directly with another, my sight is clouded in not just our our thread, but all the ones we encounter."
"That's why you're not sure if Xena and Gabrielle can actually defeat him?"
"Yes and no. I can't explain it, but Dahak has been directly effecting events since the beginning regarding these two. A touch here. A touch there. Like an insidious growth. Why would he care about just these two mortals unless he has something to fear from them? That is the reason why we interfeered with their lives. To keep them alive to fight." The goddess removed her hand from the tapestry and touched her shears for reassurance.
Aphrodite looked at the other two fates closely. "What did you change? I know some of it has something to do with me. I've been having ...I don't know what to call them...flashbacks? Memories of things I've never done. Explain," she demanded.
At Lachesis' nod, Atropos stepped forward and touched the two threads that Aphrodite still held. "Here and here." She pointed out two spots in the past on both threads. "These are the two that concern you. Major events in Xena and Gabrielle's lives that we had to change. Look closely at the threads, Aphrodite. Shadows of alternate paths. Different choices. Right here where our thread crosses with their own."
As the Fate spoke, Aphrodite's finger felt one of the spots that Atropos had indicated and she focused, looking for a shadow, a crossroads in the past.
She felt it before she saw it. A slight shift. A possibility. It called it her, sending a thrill through her fingers. For along this path was the possibility of love, and that emotion Aphrodite knew well. Now her gaze turned down this alternate thread and watched the events unfold.
She saw herself appear in front of Xena on a moonlit night and advise the mortal to tell Gabrielle her love. She also saw the disastrous consequences and Gabrielle's brutal death at the hands of Callisto. Her eyes narrowed as the Fates themselves appeared before the grieving warrior and offer her a choice of paths. Love or silence. Aphrodite knew the choice Xena would make before the mortal even spoke.
As the thread ended, she watched the same scene, but seen through the eyes of Gabrielle. The fear and agony of the bard's end causing a tear to fall down the goddess' cheek.
With determination she pulled back from the path and went on, searching for that other spot in time that Atropos had shown her. Knowing what to look for now, she quickly sensed the path of emotion that was paved in love and viewed it. This time she didn't see herself through the mortal's eyes, but using a bit of her own power she sensed herself there, taking a hand in events. Aphrodite watched as Xena picked up an unconscious Gabrielle after a short fight with some brigands and take her to shelter. She saw the bard finally awaken and tell a shocked warrior her love for her. Aphrodite
smiled. She could almost see her hand in those events, even though the mortals didn't have a clue.
Following the thread, she continued to witness the events that followed through Xena's eyes, as the new lovers went to Britannia to fight side by side against Caesar.
Such heartache. The Goddess of Love thought sorrowfully. The death of Xena had ended that thread, but the goddess witnessed it this time through the bard's eyes, and could feel the agony radiating from the blond woman as she held her dead lover in her arms. Again she witnessed the Fates come and give a choice, this time not one of Love or silence, but of Love or pain. And again she knew how the choice would be made before Gabrielle even spoke her.
Such strong women. Willing to live in unrequited love and pain, rather than live without the other.
Aphrodite's mind pulled out of the paths, but did not turn away from the threads. The Fates had said that there were only two times that Aphrodite had been involved, but they had implied that they had changed the thread's paths many more times than that. The goddess was curious as to what these might be, and with ruthless determination she sought them out.
When she was finally done, Aphrodite felt weak. Thousands of alternative threads she had glimpsed, most of them touched by the Fates's thread and all ending in one or both of the mortal women dead. Slowly she pulled her eyes away from the two threads, slightly overwhelmed by the emotions and scenes she'd seen.
She looked over at Lachesis and grimaced slightly, feeling a bit ill. "So. The rest of the thread is obscured and you haven't been able to figure out how to keep them alive since?"
The Fate nodded.
"I'm not happy that you've ruined my plans...but I understand the necessity," Aphrodite assured them. "What I am, is curious as to why you're telling me now."
Lachesis was silent, looking at the goddess thoughtfully for a long moment. She wasn't really sure if she should tell her, but then again any chance was better than nothing at this point. "The future past a certain point in time has been totally closed to me by him, for a while now. But before that happened, I knew that he was starting to directly effect events to suit his own wants. Gabrielle's daughter, Hope, is his child, his power on the mortal realm. It is this child that clouds my sight on the tapestry, but once I did get a glimpse of Xena and Gabrielle's thread. I couldn't see into them, for our own thread was still in the way, but I did see something new that I hadn't seen before."
"And what would that be?"
"Two other threads. It was a glimpse only and until this very moment I wasn't sure, but I think one is yours." Lachesis replied, ignoring the slight gasps from her sisters.
Aphrodite looked down at the two threads in her hands then back up at the others. "Mine?"
The Fate nodded. "Perhaps."
The Goddess of Love looked up at the Tapestry and the black stain of hate that marred it. The two threads disappeared into the inky darkness, and the goddess wondered what was hidden there. Dahak was a great concern of the Olympians, and had in fact, just by the threat of his presence alone, caused alot of panic. Aphrodite herself had ignored most of it, leaving the matter up to those who she felt were better equiped to deal with it. She was sure that Ares or anyone of the others could keep Dahak imprisoned and destroy his daughter.
Now she knew that it had been impossible task for the gods from the beginning, and that the Fates had determined that if his power didn't come now instead of the future, that all would definately be lost, instead of only probably. That is why Gabrielle had to marry the mortal named Perdicus in order for him to die in her place. That is why she had to be in that temple in Britannia. And that is why Aphrodite had found it impossible to bring the women together.
Hate. Dahak will sow hate and discord in an amount that will destroy everything. Suddenly a thought came to her, and she looked at Lachesis. "Let me see the future."
"Why? If I can't see past him, what makes you think you can?" The goddess replied with contempt.
The goddess grinned slyly. "You consider emotions to beneath you don't you? That's why you
didn't care when you gave them a choice. Your hearts didn't ache to tear them away did they? I know this, because I saw you through both of their eyes." Aphrodite set Xena and Gabrielle'sthreads back into the tapestry and rounded on the three Fates with annoyance and hostility in her voice and bearing.
She didn't even let them answer her, instead she stood more regal, her eyes boring defiantly into
Lachesis' "Let me see."
Without a word the three sisters huddled together to consult. Aphrodite just stood there waiting patiently and preseeded to buff her nails. The goddesses seperated after only a few moments and Lachesis turned to the Goddess of Love with a heavy frown.
"It's against my better judgement, since we need the time, but my sisters believe that it couldn't hurt." Without further comment she reached up and touched Aphrodite_$BCT_(J forehead with a slim finger, then dropped her arm.
"We aren't as theatrical as the rest of you," the Fate replied in distain.
Aphrodite rolled her eyes slightly and turned her back on them and looked up at the Tapestry. The darkness roiled and churned before her, but she had a clue as to what could defeat Dahak's attempts at blocking the future from Lachesis' sight.
With a small smile, the goddess reached down into herself, deep into the primal part of her where only longing, desire, and love dwelled. Where all the love in the mortal and immortal worlds came from, and where she was ruler. No one could surpass her in love, for she was love, and with a thought, she willed and preceeded to gently, sensously touch the tapestry.
She started on the edges of the darkness first, not quite caressing the shadows, but close enough to almost feel them under her fingertips. Hatred seeped from it. Dark and primal. But there is one weapon Hate cannot win against, and that is Love. Steadily she worked, loving the threads, caressing the strands beneath her slim fingers. Slowly driving back the darkness.
Aphrodite knew that as soon as she quit, Dahak's influence would surge and once again block all attempts to see the future. So it was not her intention to stay and keep him away. Instead her hands moved in a pattern, slowly uncovering a long slim section and two threads.
As she worked, she focused on them, gazing into their depths, into Xena's and Gabrielle's future. What was to come horrified her and she wished nothing more than to just tear her hands and sight away to weep. But the Goddess of Love was stronger than most thought, so she continued to look on, her hands still moving, clearing a path for her sight.
This time when she finally pulled away from the tapestry, a smile graced her lips. She had a good idea how to keep Xena and Gabrielle alive now, and to help them deal a great blow to Dahak. The goddess saw that it would take very little work for her to start, but the tricky part that came later would take the combined efferts of herself, the Fates, and one other.
"Well?" Lachesis asked impatiently.
Aphrodite chuckled and gave the sisters a mischevious look. "You're going to have to trust me when I say that everything is going to be ok, but I'm going to have to go get the ball rolling. Got to give those girls of mine something to live for." The goddess smiled secretly. "Oh..and don't do anything with the tapestry while I'm gone." With a wink, the goddess blew the Fates a kiss and disappeared.
The Fates stopped and looked at each other. None of them were pleased, but they knew they were obliged to wait...for now.
* * * * *
Gabrielle dipped the linen cloth into the cool lake water.
Gods it's been a long day. I could really go for a long hot bath and a nice comfortable bed right now, instead of cold water and the hard ground.
The bard smiled slightly as she cleaned the day's dirt and grime from her arm, the moonlit droplets falling from her limb into the glittering water below. Who am I kidding? I would trade all the steaming baths and featherbeds in all of Greece for just... she let the thought trail off as she felt herself blush at where her mind was heading.
Almost three years since that first time in Poteidaia and just about two since I realized I... Her hand dipped down into the water again and she started to wash her face and neck. She scrubbed hard as she fought the seductive thoughts inside her. Only a moment or so passed before she gave in...as she always did.
OK. I can say it. I've admitted it to myself before. Not a problem. I love her. There. Happy now, Gabrielle? The bard smiled wryly at herself as she switched the linen to her other hand and preceeded to wash her other arm.
At the startling sound of a twig breaking, Gabrielle's head automatically sweaved towards the sound as her hand froze in the midst of washing. Only her eyes moved as she gazed into the trees, looking for a possible intruder. Seeing nothing, the bard took no chance and started to move slowly towards the short and her staff.
Again the sound of a twig or branch cracking startled her, but this time when she scanned the darkness her eyes immediately found the source.
Gabrielle slowly let the breath she had been holding out and glared.
"Xena! You scared me!" The bard still stood in the lake, her hands now on her hips as she admonished the warrior.
Deep in the shadows of a huge cypress and surrounded by other trees and bushes, Xena had been almost invisible. Trying not to blush at being seen, the dark-haired woman took a few short steps out from behind the tree and towards the lake, looking everywhere except at the naked and wet bard.
"Umm...sorry about that. I was just coming to find you." She explained as she knelt next to the water and started to wash her face and hand. The cold water did nothing to ease the uncomfortable heat within her.
"Come in for a swim?"
The words almost came to softly for Xena to hear, but they definately made her head snap up in surprise. It wasn't the words themselves that shocked her, but something else she could hear in Gabrielle's voice.
The warrior watched, frozen as the bard turned her back to her and started walking deeper into the lake until only her head was above the shimmering water.
"What about dinner? I caught a pheasant and..." Xena asked, trying to make any excuse to stay out of the lake.
"I'm not hungry really. Come on in. The water's cold, but you'll get used to it." The blond woman's teeth flashed as she smiled at the reluctant woman. Come on, Xena. I want to see you...suddenly I'm feeling rather...warm.
Xena stood up carefully, rigidly trying to contol the small tremers in her limbs. Swim? Well..at least it's cold water. Quickly she stripped down, placing her armor and leathers next to Gabrielle's clothing, making sure her chakrum and sword where placed on top in case of an emergency.
Gabrielle's heart skipped several beats as Xena turned around and strode into the water. The moon's silvery beams making that dark complexion and black glossy hair glow almost magically. Blue eyes, almost black except for the sparkles they picked up from the reflection of the moon off the water, met and locked with hers.
At that moment there was no hiding what she felt for this dark enchantress before her, no matter how hard she tried. Her feelings surged up blazing hot within her, leaving her emotion's bared. Green fire leapt out into the space between them and connected with glowing sapphire causing them both to shiver with something that had nothing to do with the chilly water.
"Aphrodite with gold flowers in your hair, I say if only some other fate were mine," the bard whispered Sappho's words as she looked on, enthralled by the sight.
"Gods...I love her." The words slipped from her, but several heartbeats would pass before Gabrielle realized that she had spoken outloud, voicing her thoughts accidently.
Damn! Feeling the flush rise from her chest all the way to her hairline, Gabrielle quickly turned and dunked herself underwater, to clear her mind and to escape from those piercing blue eyes that had seen her bared soul. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! By Cerberus's bad breath, why did this have to happen? She berated herself harshly as she pressed up against the sandy bottom of the lake and shot up towards the surface.
The water sheated off of her as her head broke the water and droplets sprayed from her mouth as she took a deep breath of the cool air. Settling back into the water she made her way towards the shore until her feet once again hit the bottom. It was then that she noticed she was all alone.
Noo... Gabrielle froze in disbelief. She couldn't quite wrap her mind around the fact that Xena had fled, even though she knew she should have. I've..I've driven her off. That thought sent a surge of despair rushing through her as her heart started to break.
The warm voice warmed her with its presence, melting away the heartache in a rush. Slowly she turned around and looked up at her companion. Suddenly her heart was having no difficulty in beating, for now it drummed loudly in her ears.
Xena stood only an armslength away, having moved swiftly when Gabrielle had been underwater.
"Err..hi." Gabrielle blushed and started to turn away again. A impossibly warm hand touched her shoulder, gently turning her back.
"Gabrielle...umm..." Xena pulled her hand away reluctantly. The warrior didn't really know what to say, but she knew...she knew she had to say something or everything would be spoiled between them. Frustrated she ran her hands through her hair, trying to come up with the right words. Sighly heavily, she looked down at the other woman.
"YIKKKKEESS!!" Gabrielle shrieked and leapt into a very startled warrior's arms as she flailed about in the water with her legs. "What in Zeus name bit me?!" She peered down into the water, but was unable to see.
"Bite? Or a nibble?" Xena chuckled, vastly amused.
"Well..more like a nibble," the bard conceeded as she continued to gaze into the water.
"Probably a fish. Nothing to worry about." Pause. "Umm...Gabrielle?"
"Are you sure you want your hand there?"
"Does it bother you?" Gabrielle looked up at Xena, then down slightly at her hand. She blushed hotly but didn't remove it.
"Nooo..not at all." The warrior replied with a purr.
"Then, yes I want my hand there." Pause. "I meant what I said, even though I hadn't meant to say it, I do love
you Xena. I..."
The bard was silenced for several long moments, then moaned as a pair of warm lips pulled away from hers.
"I'm glad you said it, because I love you to." Xena pulled the willing woman into her embrace and groaned as the bard leaned up and kissed her.
Aphrodite looked at the two moonlit lovers and smiled widely. "I love my job. Sometimes it's just a..." *snap*
This time Gabrielle didn't hear a thing.
* * * * *
"What's she doing?" Lachesis demanded.
Klothos pulled away from the thread and shrugged. "She's playing matchmaker with Xena and Gabrielle." She placed the goddess' thread back into the tapestry and pulled out the threads of the two mortals, then held them out for her sister to take.
"What's the outcome?"
Lachesis took the threads into her hands and looked into their depths for only a moment. "It ends on this side of the darkness just like all the others. We've wasted our time. They die again."
"How?" Atropos asked, a bit curious.
The Fate put the threads back and sighed with resignation. "It's almost to close to the shadows to see, but I saw enough. They'll drown."
* * * * *
Aphrodite appeared in the small room unseen by the mortal within. She walked up carefully to the other quiet figure that stood beside the mortal and placed her slim on a shoulder in comfort.
"Am I...?" The tearful face turned up to her in sadness.
"Yes." The Goddess of Love replied as she leaned down and placed a soft kiss on a cool forehead. Her eyes then glanced over at the kneeling mortal and the still form in her arms.
"Yes, she is." Aphrodite agreed.
"I wish she'd told me...before about..."
Aphrodite didn't stop the tears from running down her face , but she knew she had work to do. I'll cry later, she promised herself.
"So does she." The goddess gently turned the smalled figure around to look at her. "I need your help...to help her. That's why I've come. You don't have to, but we really..." She asked, but was interuppted before she could fully explain.
"I'll help. I love her you know."
"I know. So does she." The goddess pulled the solemn little figure into her arms and the two left in a colorful spray of light. Leaving the mortal unaware to their presence, to howl in anguish.
* * * * *
Gabrielle's fingers brushed the small still hand for a moment, then grabbed the nearby waterskin.
This is a nightmare..it has to be just a nightmare.
The bard closed her eyes and raised the waterskin to her lips, tilting her head back to accept the sweet poison within. She paused, the memory of blue eyes shining at her in the moonlight coming to her mind unbidden. The love for Xena, which only days ago they had both finally admitted to one another, filling her now only with heart ache and loss.
Setting the poisoned skin down on the grass beside her, Gabrielle wondered at the ache inside. Who needs poison? It's the easy way out. Tartarus has no punishment waiting for me that could hurt me as much as when I look at Xena and see her hate for me.
A footstep off to her left caught her attention, the almost imperceptible footfall immediately sending a violent shiver through her. Xena.
Slowly Gabrielle raised her gaze and looked at the warrior. The impassive face looking at her ripping another fresh wound in her heart. But Gabrielle knew Xena too well, and the hatred that threatened to flay her that radiated from the dark-haired woman's eyes was as plain to the bard as the warm sun on her face.
Their eyes met for a long moment, glacier blue to tear washed green. Bile rose up in Gabrielle's throat as a chaotic flood of emotion threatened to overwhelm her. Love. Hate. Remorse.
What have you wrought, Gabrielle? The blond woman thought to herself in anguish, as suddenly the emotions were too much to bear and she turned away from Xena's gaze, hunching over as if making herself as small a target as possible from the warrior's ire.
What have I become...gods! It hurts so much!!
Xena watched Gabrielle with indifference, at least outwardly. On the inside the warrior fairly boiled with emotion.
I hate you! And I hate feeling guilty about it! You killed my son, damn you! Fiery anger for her longtime companion swirled within her, the heady mix enticing and waiting to be released from its constraints.
Cold blue eyes narrowed slightly as the bard turned her gaze away and curled herself into a ball.
Good! You're hurting. Not like I care anymore. Xena nearly snarled outsold, but kept her face expression under control.
Betrayer! Just like Caesar. Take my heart, using it against me. Just like him. You're no different. I trusted you! I loved you!! I hate you!!! Xena spun on her heel and melted back into the shadows of the forest refusing to acknowledge the pain inside.
* * * * *
The Fates looked at Aphrodite as she appeared before them, their eyes glancing at her companion than back to the goddess with questioning eyes.
"What's the meaning of this?" Klothos asked. "Who is this?"
Aphrodite smiled sweetly. "This is the other thread that Lachesis saw. With help from my friend here, we can use Dahak's plan against him and keep Xena and Gabrielle alive."
Lachesis frowned slightly and peered closely at the smaller figure. After a moment her eyes opened wide in surprise as she recognized him. That's..." The Fate's words trailed off.
The Goddess of Love turned to her companion and gave him a reassuring smile. "Solon, this is Lachesis, Klothos, and Atropos."
"The Fates, right?" The boy asked as he looked at the three women in awe.
"Yes, and they need your help."
"Excuse me, but we do not need help from some mortal child." Lachesis said with distain. She'd cut the boy's thread herself and his existance had no meaning for her and her sisters anymore since he was no longer part of the tapestry.
Aphrodite turned her attention back to the three women and gave them a huge smile. "Actually, yes you do. You see, Solon and myself are going to help you create your own realm."
Atropos looked at her in confusion. "This is our realm."
"No. This is where the Tapestry of Life is, where all mortal and immortal lives exist from the beginning of time to the end. It was here before you. It will exist after you are gone. And besides...haven't you ever wanted anything truly of your own?" Aprodite rested a hand on a curvasious hip and gestured with the other at the tapestry and the plane that surrounded them.
"You stay here spinning, weaving, and cutting lives, but you have no idea what you're really missing. Xena and Gabrielle are right now at a very crucial point in their lives and all you can see is what effect they have on your precious tapestry, and not how your decisions affect them. Keeping their bodies alive isn't as important to me as keeping their souls intact. And that's where you come in."
"You," she pointed to each of them in turn, "need to take a more direct role in their fate. We need to make them face themselves and each other. Solon will be the link that will bring Xena back to herself, and I've already helped them create the chain of love that binds them together, if they'll just admit it's there. But to get them to forgive, their pain must come out, but you can't do that the way you are right now. You're emotionless, feeling nothing and existingor nothing except the tapestry. That has to change. That must change."
"What are you saying?" Lachesis scowled.
"I'm saying you have a choice. Dahak can only be defeated if Xena and Gabrielle live. But the only way they will live on is if they forgive each other and themselves and love again. And the only way they can do that is through you. Together, with Solon and my help, you'll create the Land of Illusia, a place where anything and everything can happen. Endless possiblities. Create it and guide Xena and Gabrielle back to themselves or don't do anything and let Dahak win. That is your choice."
"Why can't we just do what we've done before? Go to them and give them a choice." Klothos asked. "It works."
Aphrodite shook her head. "Because Xena and Gabrielle are too hurt andtoo full of hate right now. More likely than not, they'd choose the wrong path. Besides the choices they need to make will be better understood to them in Illusia. They don't need you to clobber them over the head with their failures and choices, they won't listen to that anyway. What they need is subtlety and...understanding."
"You can't create with love." Aphrodite ignored the question for a moment and gestured at Atropos. "She's the only one among you with any emotion whatsoever, since she has to feel to create, and yet you pity her. Why?"
"Because we have no need for them. We can't afford to let emotions weave us." Klothos replied.
"You can't afford not to anymore. The world is changing and we must change with it or be left behind for newer and younger gods. New problems call for new solutions, and this means all of us Olympians must change. You must learn compassion, along with other emotions. You don't understand pain, joy, love, anger, hate. How do you expect to weave if you don't understand the lives you effect?" Aphrodite snickered. "I'm surprised you've managed this long actually."
"None of this matters. Your little plan didn't work anyway. They will die." Lachesis stated.
Aphrodite walked over and pointed to what seemed like the end of both of the threads. "You mean this?"
"Yes. We witnessed your little escapade. It hasn't changed anything. They still die."
"No. Actually they don't. Dahak wants us to think that. Well ok..they do drown, but in that instant just before they die we'll save them, and bring them to Illusia. It's in that moment where your thread, my own, and Solon's come together and it is why you can't see clearly. Along with Dahak's meddling and the shadows so close,it looks as if they die there."
Atropos walked to to the tapestry and peered closely at the spot where the two threads meet with the inky darkness. "They look snipped to me."
Lachesis ignored her sister and continued to speak with Aphrodite. "So. We have a choice." She turned to her sisters. "Let us go speak in private." Abruptly the three sisters turned and walked a distance away to confeer.
Aphrodite turned to Solon and smiled. "Well? What do you think?"
Solon shrugged then smiled shyly, his startling blue eyes gazing up at the goddess. "I think they need to have some fun. They're too serious."
"They're adults. We all tend to be too serious. It doesn't matter if you're mortal or a god." She chuckled. "What I wouldn't give to see the three of them and Ares, playing 'Pin the tail on the centaur' though."
Solon started to giggle at the thought, then frowned slightly. "Xena...my mother isn't like that. She's cool. She actually talks..talked to me instead of at me like most adults." His face grew solemn. "I miss her already. She was going to let me travel with her and Gabrielle. That won't happen now I guess, but at least I'll be able to see father soon."
Aphrodite knelt, carefully arranged her gown around her, then pulled Solon into her arms for a quick hug. Then pulling back she looked him in the eyes and gave him a dazzling smile. "If everything goes the way it should, you'll see her and Gabrielle before you go to Kaleipus."
"I hope so." He returned the goddess' smile. "This is great. You're a lot prettier than your statue."
The Goddess of Love stood up and gave him a saucy grin. "Aren't you a little young to be flirting?"
Solon shrugged and was about to respond, but his eye caught a movement behind Aphrodite and he motioned silently.
Looking over her shoulder the goddess saw that the Fates had returned. She turned and waited for them to speak.
"Emotions will hinder us." Lachesis stated simply.
"Yes, but they'll free you also. Giving you as many gifts as burdens. Emotions can be a pain, I'll be the first to admit it, and so would your sister." Aphrodite looked at Atropos pointedly. "The joy of creating a new life and holding it in your hands. The pride and sometimes disappointment as those lives grows and make good and bad decisions. The heartache whent they die. It's all a part of life." She looked back at the other two women. "And it's time you lived it."
"There's no other way? Can't we just let another god create Illusia? You perhaps? Zeus knows, the rest of you are emotional enough." Klothos asked.
"Illusia must be yours and only yours. Illusia will be about possibilities and choice, that is what Fate is. The rest of us have our own little quirks. I'm the one who brings lovers together. Ares like to spill a little blood before his morning ambrosia. Artemis likes a good hunt and dotes on her amazons. Each of us is different. You three though, see everything. Witness everything. Every choice is under your ultimate control if you wish. You are guides, spinning, weaving, and shearing. Illusia needs to be that in a more tangible way, in order for mortals to be guided by you in the future." Aphrodite looked up at the tapestry for a moment and frowned. "You need to make your decision soon, time is passing by quickly for them."
Lachesis nodded. "We aren't thrilled about this. Even Atropos is concerned, but we've worked hard on the weave and we don't want Dahak to destroy all we've woven. We've had mortals sacrifice their happiness in order to insure the continuation of the tapestry, it's only right that we sacrifice ourselves if needed."
"Only you three would see it as a sacrifice and not an oppurtunity. Well then. Let's get this done before you change your minds." With that Aphrodite walked up to each of them and kissed them briefly on the lips.
"That's it? I don't feel any different." Klotho observed.
"No. That was just a kiss." Aphrodite smiled coyly. "It get's a bit more theatrical than that." She winked at Lachesis, reminding the Fate of her earlier words.
Spreading her arms wide, Aphrodite closed her eyes and reached down once again into the primal part of herself where everything she was existed. Love. The strongest of emotions.
She let it flow up in her, holding it back, letting it build inside until she glowed brightly with pent up energy. This was her power. The essence of ove. It was her being. Her self.
With a mental command she released the pent up flow of power within her and guided it to wrap around the three sisters before her.
Thick pink strands of billowy fog rose up out of the ground and long thin tendrils slowly danced around each Fate's feet. Gently they swayed, rising higher and higher, growing thicker until each woman was shrouded and unseen.
Without opening her eyes, Aprhodite turned slightly and rested one hand on the Tapestry itself. Within those multitude of threads was an endless source of emotions and the goddess thought the Fates would be far better suited to mortal emotions than her own. With her fingers gently touching the threads, she let those emotions flow from the mortal's themselves and through her to enter the Fates.
Doubt. Hope. Envy. Confusion. Grief. Joy. Despair. Delight. Insanity.Peace. Pain. Pleasure. Rage. Remorse. Sorrow. Happiness. Hate. Love.
There was as many emotions as their were mortals, and Aphrodite ruthlessly placed them all in the Fates.
Several heartbeats later, Aphrodite opened her eyes and lowered her arms as she let her power settle back inside her. Looking over at the three sisters she wasn't surprised to find that the mist was now gone and that each of them were on the ground.
Aphrodite took a step closer and looked down at them closely. All three were writhing on the floor in silent agony and she could sense the chaos within them. Atropos was the least effected of the three, but even the Fate of the past was overwhelmed by the vast surge of emotions.
Suddenly Lachesis lifted up her head and gave Aphrodite a look of agony. "It hurts!!!!" she moaned as she wrapped her arms tighter around herself, rocking back and forth in pain.
"Now you know what it's like to be alive," the Goddess replied gently.
* * * * *
Xena reached out and gently grabbed the offered hand. The cool water splashed gently on their touching hands as she looked through the waterveil and into Gabrielle's eyes. In those pools of bright green, that she had looked into a thousand times, Xena saw forgiveness and love. It drove away the pain in her legs and in her heart.
How can she still love me? The warrior thought in amazement.
Xena ignored the scream of rage that came from Ming Tien and his sudden explosion. Instead she continued to look straight into her friend's teary gaze. She felt the bard's grip tighten slightly and start to pull.
Can I? Xena asked herself. She knew she had let go all the hate and anger, but there was still doubt and pain. She had lost everything in the past few days, that she had ever seen good in her life. Her son. Her best friend and lover. Her trust. Her hope and faith in herself. But now, with an offered hand and a smile, it was being given back to her, if she wanted it.
Sighing deeply, Xena let herself go and felt the tug sharpen. Abruptly she was through the curtain that had separated the two women and standing face to face with Gabrielle. Gone was the dirty and hobbling Xena. Instead the warrior was in her familiar armor and healed of her physical wounds, standing straight with outward confidence.
Their gaze still locked and their arms holding onto the other's forearms, Xena and Gabrielle just stood there looking at each other, accepting and enjoying the other's presence and touch as they couldn't only a short time before.
Xena looked over at her son, a bright smile gracing her lips. "Solon!"
After a brief look, she turned back to Gabrielle and let her uncertainty show. The warrior couldn't quite believe that Solon stood only a few feet away, for only a few days had passed since she'd stood solemnly as the flames from her son's pyre had risen into the night sky.
Gabrielle smiled gently up at her. She could see the doubt in Xena's eyes..and some fear. The warrior's soul had been bared and she had been forced to confront herself and Gabrielle on a battlefield that Xena wasn't used to. The emotions were difficult for her to understand, let alone control. Now, with her restraints gone, she stood there like a child waiting for permission to believe that it was all right to love and to believe in the impossible again.
"Go on," The bard replied to the unspoken question.
With that Xena's smile brightened even more and releasing Gabrielle she moved swiftly, taking her son into her arms, holding him as close to her heart as she could.
"I love you, mother." Solon murmured into her breastplate.
Xena almost wept in joy. Those four words sending a flood of pleasant emotion through her that healed yet another layer of hurt and pain. Eleven winters of silence and heartache washed away by the knowledge that he forgave her and accepted her.
"I love you, Solon. I'll always love you." She replied as she ran her hand through his hair. It was intoxicating this feeling and she felt as if she never wanted to let go.
It was Solon who pulled back first, but only just enough to look over at Gabrielle. Holding out a hand to the bard he smiled happily as the blond woman came forward and took it.
"I love you too, Gabrielle."
Tears of both joy and sorrow rolled down Gabrielle's face. She wasn't sure if she really could forgive herself for his death, but it felt good to know that he didn't hate her for it. "And I love you, Solon."
Wordlessly, the boy pulled her closer and let go of her hand, letting her step into Xena's and his hug.
With a small sob Gabrielle let herself be included and wrapped her arms around the two of them. Closing her eyes briefly, she imagined that this wasn't the land of Illusia, but the Centaur village. And that Solon wasn't truly dead, but with the two of them getting ready to travel down the road.
"I guess I have to go now."
Xena's arms tightened in reflex around her son, refusing to let him go. "No. I..."
"I'm sorry." Two pairs of bright blue eyes connected sadly. "But one more thing before I go. I want you to promise me something."
Xena nodded. "Anything."
Solon looked at Gabrielle and waited.
"Sure Solon, I'll promise," The bard agreed.
"Illusia isn't a cure, just a guide...a path. There's only one cure to heal everything between you. I want you both to try and find it again. Please?" The boy asked even as he started to grow fainter, slowly disappearing.
Xena groaned as the form of her son become less and less tangible. She could no longer feel his warm skin on her arms or the touch of his own embrace around her.
"Promise me." The words were almost a whisper, Solon almost completely gone.
"I promise." Gabrielle replied, the tears coming even faster.
"I promise too." Xena whispered as the blue eyes of her son faded wholly away, leaving the two women alone. She looked over at Gabrielle sadly, the two of them still in a half-embrace.
Seeing the grief in Xena's eyes, Gabrielle pulled the warrior closer and fully into her arms.
* * * * *
Aphrodite turned to the other goddesses and smiled. "Well. We did it. Illusia was a hit."
The Fates smiled back at her, though they seemed a bit sad. Gone was their impassive mask. Gone was that veil that they had placed over their own eyes. Never again could they ignore the emotions of the mortal lives they weaved. Every action to interfer from now on would be carefully considered. But there was a good side to this two edged sword also. For finally they could enjoy their work, and not just exist for it. It was something the other Olympians, and Atropos to a lesser exent, knew, but that the Fates were only just now begining to see.
Lachesis and her sisters stepped toward Aphrodite and hesistantly enveloped her in a group hug. Pulling back the Fate of the future shrugged slightly. "Without you it never would have happened. We...I was wrong. Emotions aren't a
The Goddess of Love laughed giddily. She knew the danger of Dahak wasn't over yet and that there were trials yet to come. Strife would die she knew and possibly others, but they would survive, both Mt. Olympus and the mortal world.
* * * * *
The two women laughed in relief and joy as they rolled on the beach, among the gentle waves. It felt good to be free from the land of Illusia, where all their fears and hate had come to the fore, and where they both had to confront themselves and each other to win their freedom.
Xena's laugh slowly died as she sat back up, leaning back on her arms. Her crystal blue eyes watched Gabrielle take joy in the salt water and the setting sun. The cold water didn't seem to affect either one of them, the warm rays and the fresh air a welcome change from the darkness both had lived in for days.
Gabrielle's laughter finally faded, her eyes closed, her lips still pulled up in a smile. Opening her eyes, she caught Xena looking at her and sat up. Her smile fell as she met the warrior's gaze.
Both women chuckled lightly. Xena abruptly stood up and held out her hand, easily helping the bard to her feet.
"We need to go back. Ephiny will have people looking for us." Xena released the blond woman's hand almost hesitantly, the fresh memory of that hand reaching out to her from the other side of the water veil, still so clear to her.
Gabrielle nodded. "I agree..but not yet. I have something to say to you first."
Quickly taking the reins of her courage in her hands, Gabrielle stepped close to Xena, her eyes gazing deep into the blue orbs. Trembling slightly she started to reach up and touch Xena's cheek, then seemed to change her mind as she lowered her hand and carefully took the dark-haired woman's hand in her own.
"Did you mean it?" The words barely made it out of her mouth.
Xena raised an eyebrow. "About what? Which thing?" She gently squeezed the hand in hers and was pleased to feel her companion return it.
"The love of my love is you." Gabrielle replied, her voice barely heard above the waves. Her heart was pounding almost painfully, for they were no longer in Illusia, and Xena could hide away her emotions like she had always done before. Even during those brief two days when they had been lovers, Gabrielle had sensed Xena holding back.
Xena's eyes roamed the heart shaped face before her. Dominated by green eyes the color of springs shoots with flecks of gold swimming in their depths, it was a face that she had once dreamed about with longing. Starting only a few days ago, though, she had dreamed about it in a much different light...a darker light. The warrior hoped her bard felt the same way about her, the way she still felt about Gabrielle, but it was too soon to tell she knew. Both of them had alot to work out between them, and that meant time.
The dark-haired woman brought her mind back into focus and a rush of sadness washed through her as she saw the disappointment in Gabrielle's eyes. Smiling softly she raised her other hand and wiped an errant tear from the blond woman's face.
"I meant it."
Two arms wrapped around her and squeezed tightly as Xena drew Gabrielle into her embrace.
Well..this story DID NOT go the way I thought it would. It was much harder to write than anything I've done before. I don't know why precisely, perhaps it was the combined BS thing and the bleak scenes (even I was affected by them and I don't usually get depressed by why I write. Go figure.)
I did try to stick with the episodes, but the ending itself really gave me what for. I didn't put our heroines back together right away, because when I watche "OAAA" and the End of "BS", they were definately not as emotionally together as before IMHO. They have pain still to work through, trust to regain. They may not hate each other anymore, but there are some issues there that need to be worked on.
This puppy was also bigger then "Love's Choice" and "Heart's Choice" combined, which sorta makes me wonder if I'm babbling within the story now and not just my notes..hehe.
Lastly ~ I'd like to thank SBowers and CB (whose also my Script Copier Extraordinaire) for betareading for me on this project. I'd give out hugs, but they both live too far away and besides, CB and I both detest warm fuzzies anyway.*VVVBEG*
Have Katiepult. Will plunder and sack a village of your choosing for the whole set of 1st season episodes. Ooo...and I'm still waiting for that lady fair to hire me. *G*
"Bard? Where? Go suck on a vegamite popsicle." ;}~~~
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