AN 1: So, a while ago, I had made a tumblr post about how I prefer to put 'When Fates Collide' after FIN, just because the episodic nature of the show allows it and because I love that episode the most. I also put forward the idea of how cool it would have been if, at the end of 'When Fates Collide,' instead of reuniting Xena and Gabrielle, the beginning of 'Sins of the Past' had started playing. Because the idea that the two of them are so in love they would be willing to go through all of the heartache and pain once more, just to have those precious few years together? I adore it. Now, the lovely acrossnowhere made a comment on my post about Gabrielle possibly remembering everything that happened, and my mind exploded. It exploded, resulting in a giant ass fic that's already almost 30K and still not done yet, so yeah. This is going to be a ride, my friends, and I hope you enjoy!
AN 2: Just a reminder, I place 'When Fates Collide' after FIN, so there's some slight inconsistency with the actual airing of the show. But this is fanfic and I don't care.
Disclaimer: I do not own Xena.
It was sick, Gabrielle could admit, but standing there, watching the flames? She couldn't help but feel a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that the world had tried so hard to keep them apart, and it would burn for its sins.
She sunk to her knees as she watched the loom burn, the fire spreading up through the tangled threads to the wood itself. It was beautiful, watching this disgusting mess, this pale imitation of what could have been, destroy itself. She didn't care that it would destroy everything along with it- the universe had taken Xena from her in both worlds, so why should she? Why should she care, when just a few miles away, the other half of her soul was dead; when in the other world, her soulmate was nothing more than ash? It didn't matter to her, either way. Her life was already over- she was just waiting for it to end.
Closing her eyes, Gabrielle tilted her head back as the flames consumed the last of the wood, a small smile on her lips even as the Fates behind her screamed, pleaded with her to see reason, begged for a chance to make this right. Closing her eyes as the fire spread to the carpet she kneeled on, Gabrielle felt the flames began to lick at her skin, the pain almost nothing in comparison to the pain in her heart.
Closing her eyes, Gabrielle screamed.
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle, come on! It's your turn to get the eggs."
Only to open them as Lila called her name, poking her in the side to get her to wake up.
It was a dream, she eventually settled on. A dying dream as she burned, as the world crumbled around her. For some reason her mind had chosen to bring her back home, back to when she was young, before she had ever met Xena- one last good bye, perhaps, to the people she had lost? Or perhaps a reminder of what had been lost, the innocence and calm that had long since disappeared from her life. She couldn't be sure- all Gabrielle knew was that, when she left her bed, her mother was at the fire place, checking on their bread, while her father brought in the last bucket of water their home would need before he left for the field. People who smiled at her and greeted her a good morning, even if her father poked fun at her late rising.
People who accepted her hug and held her as she began to cry, trying to sooth away whatever night terror had brought her to tears.
It was strange, this dream. She passed the hours in almost a daze, helping her mother and sister with their chores, calling her father in for lunch, laughing and joking with them in a way she hadn't done in years. At least, years in the original world, the one this most resembled. She still had her memories of the other world, the world Caesar had brought upon them, and there she had seen her family just a week before she had left for Rome.
Lila had been pregnant again, more than happily married to the man she loved, the man who tended her vineyard and turned the grapes into wine. Their parents had never left the farm, even after Gabrielle had offered to buy them a house closer to her own, but they made the effort to visit between the harvests. They had all been preparing one last family dinner before her boat left, since her tour with her play would keep her away for who knew how long. It had been nice, catching up with them all, promising she would send word of how the play was received, promising the children presents all the way from Rome. It had been nice, even if it hadn't been real.
The last time in the real would had been after Hope, after Gabrielle had died and come back to life, something even she couldn't understand. And then it had been an argument, a series of explanations as they tried to get her parents to understand what had happened, tried to get them to realize the lies Hope had placed in their heads, tried to give them the truth.
Xena had eventually lied, when it had become clear that demon children that grew up to look exactly like their mothers were too much for them. She claimed an evil god had created a shape shifter, something that could mimic another being perfectly. Said shape shifter had first seen Gabrielle after it had been born, and had chosen her to model itself after. Said that she and Gabrielle had gotten separated from each other, and when Xena came to Potediea to find her, had found the creature instead, pretending to be her. That the creature had then lied, tried to turn Gabrielle's family against her, and would have succeeded if not for the real Gabrielle reaching Potediea herself, just in time.
It had been a bitter parting, having to leave her parents with lies about their lives, but what else could she have done?
So this dream was nice. It was normal, safe, a couple of months before she met Xena, if Gabrielle had to place it somewhere in her past. A dream where she could remember the family she had lost, and have one more day with them before her mind was destroyed with the rest of the world.
Until that night. Until after dinner, as they all sat around the fireplace, keeping themselves busy until it was time for bed. Her mother spinning, Lila playing with the cat, her father working on some small carving- if this was to be her last night here, for Gabrielle was sure the dream would end the moment she went to sleep, she would spent it with some fragment of normalcy. So she had a scroll and a quill and some ink, idly writing out whatever came to mind, at peace with the world around her and the last remnants of her dream.
"I don't know why you bother," Heradotus sighed, shaking his head as he glanced up at her parchment- not that he could read it, no; it was Hecuba who could read, and who had insisted on teaching both girls, even if their father saw no use it in. He knew just enough to read a road sign if he had to travel, and even then, he took the same path he always had, making it unnecessary. "You need to get your head out of the cloud, girl. Those stories will never do anything for you."
"Heradotus, leave her alone," Hecuba said, her eyes never leaving her work, her hands never stopping, but a warning tone in her voice. "She's happy- let her write."
"There's more important things she could be doing," he protested, as if Gabrielle wasn't there, sitting tense and listening to every word. "Like weaving or sewing or half a dozen other things that are actually worth wild doing. Your scarf you're going to make with that yarn will keep one of us warm, or will sell for a couple extra dinars for the winter. Words aren't worth nothing."
Part of Gabrielle was still, frozen, trying desperately to ignore the words falling from her father's mouth. It was an argument he and her mother had had time and time again, an argument that would end with both of them angry and neither of them speaking to the other. He would apologize for it the next day, bringing her a new quill or vial of ink, and would ask for her to tell a story for them to listen to, nodding in approval as she spoke. And during the winter that was all he would ask, story after story as they sat cooped up in the house, unable to go further than the barn due to the snow piled almost as high as she was tall. He would say how well she spoke, how good her stories were, and this was an argument that would lie dormant for at least a couple of months.
But reading and writing weren't traits expected of a wife, and whenever he got started on thinking about the future, about how Perdicas, even though he wanted to marry her, had his entire family supporting him taking some other, less head strong girl as a wife, Heradotus' disapproval would rear its nasty head once more.
So part of her told her to ignore it, reminded her that this would pass. But the part that remembered this was a dream- that remembered Gabrielle was much older than she seemed, someone who had spent the last almost thirty years (most of them asleep, yes, but still she counted them) as friend, companion, and lover to the most dangerous woman in the world; the part that reminded her she was an Amazon Queen and how dare a man speak to her that way; the part that reminded her she was friends with the gods themselves- told her to prove him wrong.
"Where are you going?"
The question was surprised as she stood- she had never interfered with her parent's arguments before, instead just keeping her head down as she let them work through it. Now they both just stared at her as she picked her way out of their circle, stepping over Lila and their cat, stopping only long enough to grab her bag before she was out the door.
Out the door and running, right towards town, her mother's voice fading into the night as she left to prove him wrong.
The tavern was still full she reached it- not a surprise, really. Most people would have just finished eating dinner, and most often came to wet their throats and have a good laugh after a long, hard day's work. It was still early enough that no one was too drunk, that she didn't have to fear from that lot, even if she was sure she'd be able to beat them (her body might have returned to being soft, but her mind was still that of a warrior's), and almost every chair still full when she opened the door and walked inside.
"Go home, girl," the tavern owner growled when he glanced up to see who had entered his establishment. He knew her, she could see, his eyes lighting up with recognition, even if he didn't know her name. "This is no place for someone like you at this hour. Go home, or come back with your father to keep you safe." Expecting her to obey, he returned to cleaning his counter, wiping a grimy rag over a patch of spilled stew before it could soak into the wood.
"I can protect myself." His hand paused at the conviction in her words, and he looked up at her again, this time giving her more than a moment of his attention. Pointing towards a large bowl Gabrielle could see behind him, she nodded towards the front of the room, where a small stage lay empty. It was rare for performers to arrive in little Potediea, but still one was always there, just in case. "I'm a bard, and I bet you I can fill that bowl before the end of the night."
It was clear the man wanted to laugh, that he thought her delusional, but still he reached behind him and grabbed the bowl, emptying the grapes it had held into another and wiping it clean. He held it out in one hand, his other offered as well. "If you fail, you come work for me this winter. For free. Deal?"
The way he spoke made it clear he thought he was going to win, and would get another pair of hands to help out without having to spend a single extra dinar. Smiling widely, Gabrielle took the bowl and shook his hand, and went to stand before the room.
And found herself frozen as she tried to find a story to tell.
All of the stories she had were of Xena- of the good she had done, of the evil she had once partaken in, of the way she had made the world turn and bow before her. For years now, Xena had been her muse, her inspiration, the source of her stories- even in the other world, in the fake world Ceasar had created, Xena had still been her everything, even if Gabrielle hadn't known it. So what stories did she have now? She had the old legends, the old myths everyone here would have grown up knowing, but nothing good enough to actually fill the giant bowl now sitting before her.
For a moment she panicked, because how could she tell a story that didn't exist? A story from the future, a future that was still to be seen?
But only for a moment. Because this was a dream, she reminded herself, and who cared if a group of peasants from Potediea knew about the future in a dream? What did it matter to them, or to the gods, if soon this world would come to an end? But just to be safe...
Looking out at the crowd, many of whom had taken to ignoring her, muttering about their hopes getting up and being disappointed at the lack of entertainment, Gabrielle met the tavern owner's smug gaze and spoke.
"I sing of Nea," Gabrielle called to the crowd, stomping her foot three time to gain their attention, "the fiercest warrior in the land, and how she saved a soul from a fate worse than death- marriage to a god."
They were enthralled, captivated as Gabrielle described the kidnapping by the priests, the advice 'Nea' had given to her young companion, the mental battles the warrior had had to face in order to save her friend. Not a single word was spoke as Gabrielle told her tale, not a single person moved as they watched as Gabrielle's hands acted out the performance before them. Not a single breathe was drawn as she explained the slowly moving panel behind the young woman and the man before her with a sword, forcing her to choose either between killing him or her own death.
For a long while, as Gabrielle stood there, staring out into the silence, nothing happened. No one spoke, no one moved- it seemed as if the tavern had been frozen in time.
Until one little voice, a traveling merchant's child, sandwiched between its parents, asked for another.
With that little voice, the room erupted into applause, dozens of handfuls of dinars falling into her bowl, everyone begging for another, for something else to entertain them as they whittled away the night. Gabrielle promised, after she had had something to drink, and before she could order a handful of people started calling for the owner to bring her some water, some wine, some ale, whatever she wanted to drink. Just for him to be quick, so the next story could begin.
She took a cider, expecting the owner to be belligerent - most men were, when they lost a bet they had been sure they would win. But instead he just stared down at the almost filled bowl and quietly offered her his stage any night she wanted.
Considering it was common that performers left at least a portion of what they made to the owner of the venue where they performed, tonight would mean a hefty sum in both of their purses, something both of them could benefit from.
She told two more stories that night- her own play from that other world, shifted a bit for only one performer instead of a full cast, adding in an extra fight scene to appease the critics, and the story with Diana (artfully called Niada); the first drawing tears to their eyes, heartfelt sobs ripped from what seemed to be even the toughest of throats, and the second sending them howling with laughter, quite a few of the drunker members of the audience finding themselves on the floor as she spoke.
By the time the night had passed, the bowl would have had to be thrice as big to hold all of the dinars dumped at her feet, piles of them scattering around her as thankful patrons left their tips for her tales before stumbling off to home. Some of the travelers tried to proposition her- there was always room in a caravan for such an accomplished storyteller. But Gabrielle just shook her head and thanked them for their interest, making it clear that, after such a long night, she had to go home.
The owner only took a third of what she earned- less than the usual commission people demanded of her, Gabrielle noticed, but the overall sum was more than she usually made, especially since she and Xena had mainly stuck to the back roads, smaller villages. And she knew if she continued to perform here, the sum would never be quite as large again. She had gotten lucky, and a couple of merchant caravans had arrived the day before, giving her a large audience with deep pockets to spin her stories too. Still, even with his 'discount,' the owner was more than pleased, helping Gabrielle to scoop the rest of the dinars into her bag, enough to make it weigh heavily on her shoulder.
"You're Heradotus' kid, right," the man asked, walking with her towards the front door. Behind them, serving girls were helping the last of the drunks upright and up to bed, while a few others set about to cleaning up the room. "You're not walking home, not this late and with that much coin. Come on."
He didn't give her an option, really, and while Gabrielle knew she could take him and any who tried to bother her, she instead followed after him, and allowed herself to be hoisted onto the back of a large black horse after the tavern owner had finished saddling him. She was tired, and she trusted the man, at least to a point.
"Which one are you again?"
"Well, Gabrielle, if you keep performing at my tavern, we're going to become the best of friends."
He rode the horse fast, passing drunks who hailed them, ending up at the farm far quicker than Gabrielle would have been able to make on foot. He even escorted her to the door, knocking and making sure she was in the thankful arms of her parents- though he gave her a particular look when Heradotus and Hecuba pulled her in, both of them almost crying from worry as they scolded her for disappearing for most of the night. It was right there before her parents that he offered for her to perform at the tavern again, saying clearly how good her stories were and how she had brought in nearly a week's worth of profit for him from that one night alone, before nodding his head and leaving for his own home and bed.
They almost started interrogating her, Hecuba and Heradotus demanding to know where she had gone, why she had run off like that, what had possessed her to do such a thing and worry them so, only to stop as Gabrielle dropped her bag onto the kitchen table, the dinars clanking merrily within.
She said her good nights, holding them both in a long hug before finally heading to bed, leaving her parents to stare into the sack at the pile of coins she had brought home. Giving Lila- already asleep- a kiss on her cheek, Gabrielle kicked off her shoes before sliding into bed, ready for this dream to finally end.
Only it didn't. She woke up the next morning, still in bed, as Hecuba shook her awake and asked her to come talk with her and her father.
It wasn't a long discussion, no. Gabrielle admitted that she had gone to the tavern, told stories there to show that her stories did have some value, and that had been the extent of her plan. She hadn't been planning on doing anything with the dinars (she hadn't expected to wake up again, for surely the world should have disintegrated by now); she had just wanted to show Heradotus that he was wrong.
She had, and while there wasn't enough money to pay for it now, if Gabrielle kept performing at the tavern, by next year there would be enough to send her to Athens for training.
Gabrielle, just confused by the fact she was still there, that the dream was continuing despite the fact it should have ended, despite the fact that her mind should have crumbled to dust as the universe was destroyed along with the loom, just agreed as eagerly as she could make herself sound. Because while it was a long while away, the idea of going to Athens was appealing, even if she was sure the dream would end long before she got there.
So she agreed, and while it wasn't every night, since she still had to help out around the farm, Gabrielle went to the tavern and told her tales, returning home with a pouch full of dinars to eventually get her to Athens.
It all passed in a daze, day after day sliding into the next, as Gabrielle tried to figure out what was going on. Because the longer the dream continued, the less she believed it truly was a dream. Because things were happening. Things she remembered, from when she lived through them the first time.
A neighbor's cow, previously healthy if old, sickened and died within just a few days. The first time it had taken them months to figure out why, but this time Gabrielle already knew. Knew that there was a little pond just beyond the farmer's land, where a fox had fallen in and drowned, polluting the water. The cow had slipped through a hole in the farmer's wall, drunk from the still pond, and had died from it.
A child got lost in the woods. The first time had taken them two days to find him, cold and hungry and almost delirious from thirst. This time she knew, and it only took her a few hours to find the cave he had crawled into after he had broken his leg climbing a tree. The parents had cried over her, asking the gods to bless her for bringing him home, when before they had done it over one of the other men in the village.
A woman gave birth, and this time Gabrielle knew it would be a girl, and she knew the woman would name her Gelda, and she knew all about that child. About the life she would live and the way she would grow up, about everything to come.
The more these happened, the more Gabrielle knew, the less she believed it was a dream. Because things were different, yes, things that she herself changed that were different from what she remembered. But that which she had no control over? That which she just barely remembered, and didn't know how to change? That stayed the same.
She couldn't believe that it was a dream, not anymore, not as the days and weeks and months passed. Not as she woke up and dressed herself, preparing for the day ahead. Not as she heard the screams, the excited yells coming from the village. Not as her father yelled at them to run, as she and the other women nearby ran towards the forest with men on their heels, trying to catch them.
Not as she stepped forward, just as she remembered, to offer herself to the men, and not as she stepped forward as well, demanding they fight her. Not as Xena, standing there in just her shift, just as Gabrielle remembered, fought the army and saved them all.
It couldn't be a dream, Gabrielle had realized and accepted that by now. If it wasn't a dream, then it had to be real, and if it was real, she had another chance.
Another chance with Xena, another chance to live a life with her, another chance to make things right.
Part of her wanted to tell her the truth, right then and there. To tell her that they were soulmates, to tell her that they were friends, lovers, that they meant everything in the world to each other. That when all else failed, they still had each other. Part of Gabrielle wanted to do nothing more than to pull her into a kiss, and make it clear what their future would hold.
But she restrained herself. She couldn't do that, even if she wanted to. Xena wasn't ready for some overwhelming confession of love from a stranger, even if that stranger could list every single secret Xena had kept from the world. Even if that stranger knew her better than she knew herself.
So, instead, Gabrielle followed what she remembered, and asked.
"Please, you have to take me with you."
She listed what traits she had- reading, writing, map reading, everything she could think of. She almost listed knowledge of what was to come, but stopped herself before she could; she knew the future, yes, knew what was to come, but things were going to change, if she had it her way. The world would be different, and she didn't know when the differences would come. So she held her tongue and instead begged Xena through every other way she had to please, take her with her.
And just like before, Xena said no. Her mother had made a comment about her going to Athens, Perdicas had tried to pull her away, despite their engagement being put off since she was going to school, and Xena told her no. Told her she had a life here, that it was dangerous, and that she wasn't taking her along.
It was a good thing Gabrielle already knew the way, avoiding the cyclops and hitching a ride with the first cart that came along. Only this time she was prepared- her bags packed with all the dinars she had made that would have been for Athens, easily carried foods that would actually last replacing the soft bread and fruits she had packed the last time, flint and steel and a small knife hidden away so she could survive alone if she had to. This time she knew, knew exactly what she was getting into, and Gabrielle went prepared.
It went exactly as she remembered it going- she caught up to Xena, stopped the people of Amphopolis from making the biggest mistake of their life, and Xena stopped Draco. She saved the town from his army, and when she left them, Gabrielle followed.
Followed her to her brother's grave, and made it known that Xena wasn't alone (she had wanted to say she'd never be alone, that as long as she lived, Xena would always have a friend, but perhaps that was too much, even for her). Followed her as she left the town, upset over her treatment by the people she had once called family. Followed her into the camp, pretending to need Xena's fire. She had the flint, had the know-how, but Xena just smiled and offered her the other side of the fire, and while Gabrielle itched to protest (in the first world, it had taken over a year for them to share the same side of the fire, but rarely had they separated after they had started), she had just settled into the furs without protest.
It was almost exactly as she remembered, exactly as it should be, and for now, for Gabrielle, that was enough. Things would change, she was sure of it- there were so many regrets she had, so many things that she needed to do to make sure their future was a little bit better, but for now, this was enough.
It was enough that Gabrielle remembered it all, and could change it as they went.