Stepping into the Light
6th and final part of The Darkness and The Light series
By Mikael Helbo Kjaer
Email: the@icebear.dk
Website:

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all other original characters portrayed in the TV show Xena, Warrior Princess are the exclusive property of Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA and Universal Television. No infringement is intended by this piece of fiction. The story is however the exclusive property of the above mentioned author. This story can be freely copied and distributed online under the condition that any website or list informs the author about the posting or the author approaches the website or list with the story for posting. The story and this note must be presented unedited except for any HTML added for presentation purposes. All other situations must be negotiated with the author as named above. No commercial gain must come from the usage of this story.

Setting: Post FIN

Sexual references: GEN (with subtext)

Violence: This story contains scenes with and descriptions of intense violence

Rating: PG-15

Summary: 6th and final installment of the series 'The Darkness and The Light'. Xena and Gabrielle are returning to their old haunts. But all is not well in their relationship. Both have changed in ways the other cannot understand. Can they work out their differences before the countryside explodes in a rebellion?

Prologue:

"So were you really dead?" Xena looked over at Gabrielle, who rode on her left side.

"Nope you still lead in the having-been-really-dead contest," she answered and smiled with her entire nose wrinkling with happiness. Gabrielle was amazed that it had taken this long for them to begin talking to each other. They had been on their way home for nearly a month. Amphipolis was a little over a week away and Xena had only just now begun opening up to her. They hadn't really begun burrowing into the heavy stuff about Xena's death yet, but yesterday had been a grand day of storytelling for both of them. Maybe she needed to push the envelope. Maybe a little directness was needed.

"Xena," she turned her head and looked at her black haired partner, "Is there something wrong between us? I keep feeling like there is some kind of barrier between us. You can tell me about the terrible things you've gone through, but I can't get a straight answer out of you, when I ask why you demanded that you alone fight raiders like those we met yesterday." Gabrielle hoped that the depth of her emotions, that the seriousness of her question came across in her tone and expression.

Xena looked at her for a moment and blinked. Gabrielle saw a deep sadness and some other emotions flash across Xena's eyes the only part of her expression that ever really showed her true emotions.

"Don't you trust me anymore?" Gabrielle implored.

After taking a shuddering breath Xena explained, "No, that's not it. I. I love you Gabrielle. But you've changed so much since you set out from Poteidaia all those years ago. I just wanted protect you a little from the violence. You've been at war for several years now and I thought that you needed a break."

Gabrielle wrinkled her brow for a moment. "We have been through this too many times already Xena. I have chosen this path in life. It has nothing to do with your presence either. My way in life is that of the protector. And the fighting is a part of that," she explained.

"How can that be?" Xena said while her eyes locked its intense gaze on Gabrielle's face. "You have a good and compassionate heart Gabrielle. How can the fighting be a part of your life if it hurts your heart and soul? I can take that pain on my shoulders now. You don't need to fight. I can do it for you," she suggested and pure intent shone on her face.

"Now you listen to me Warrior Princess! You might be the greatest warrior that has ever been, but that doesn't mean that you can fight my battles for me. I am the only one who chooses my path in life and I am going to walk it until the day my life ends," Gabrielle felt a resentment rise in her that had been brewing for ages. She had many times in her past asked herself, if she had exchanged one set of patronizing parents for another albeit more famous one. All those memories of times, when Xena had left her behind, ignored her opinion and seen things in a perspective that mean that she was right and Gabrielle was wrong, burst forth in her mind. It was only the happiness of being with her soul mate that kept her temper from exploding right there.

Xena had seen the anger flashing in her eyes and bit back her next comment. It would take a while before she opened up to her again. "Way to go battling bard," she thought and gazed out over the familiar wilderness. They had headed towards Greece for a while now, following the Silk Road which took trade from the Far East to the Persians and further to the Roman Empire.

"I don't understand what makes you think that you should follow this path of the protector. I remember all the times you stopped me from stupidly fighting my way out of every situation. You were Eli's first disciple. You were strong enough not to exact vengeance on the man that had your parents killed," Xena said unexpectedly.

Gabrielle had to keep herself from staring in surprise at the warrior princess. Xena had changed a lot more over the years that her behavior up until now had shown, if she was suddenly willing to analyze her like that.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about my past these last few years and although it may sound strange I think I was still learning my way around Xena. I have seen and done more things in my short life than most people see or do in an entire life and a lot of it influenced me deeply. I spent years just reacting to the world that my life with you exposed me to. But when I was at the monastery and later in the short breaks between battles I spent a lot of time thinking about how I had reacted to it all and the reasons to why I have become like I am now," she turned slightly in her saddle and looked over at Xena, who was also looking at her expecting an answer.

"Ever since I heard of heroes and the terrible things that stalk the innocents of the world I have dreamt of helping people. I wanted to protect them, to heal them and to make everything better with a sweet story. But those were the dreams of a child and young girl not of a grown woman. I thought that I could make everything better just by being nice and talking. But there are people out there that aren't nice that won't be swayed by words and noble gestures. Those people that are consciously evil and the men that follow them won't allow peace in this world without being forced. You, Eli, Ares, Hercules and all our adventures together have shown me that I should seek a peaceful solution, but when that option runs out. Then it is time to take up weapons and make sure no more innocent people are hurt," Gabrielle said.

"I decided long ago to be a hero at least that was my wish when I left home. But I didn't think I could and so I resolved to at least ensure that a true hero like you were seen as you should be. Now I realize that I can be a hero too at times and that heroes are just humans with a good heart and a strong will. I have seen everything I've done in my life in hindsight and I was always trying to protect someone. Even some of the times when I was wrong," she explained hoping that Xena would understand better now, why she no longer felt heartache over being a warrior or why she had reconciled herself with both her past and present.

"I understand," Xena said and Gabrielle saw in her eyes that the realization of Gabrielle's change had sunk in. In time Xena's brilliant mind would digest this information.

"Did you know that we are on an even standing now?" Xena asked as they rode towards the afternoon sun.

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

"I never got to be a general for an army the size of the one you commanded in Chin. And I never spent that long a time being successful as a general either," Xena said.

"Xena, who are you trying to kid here? I was an officer under Sun Wu. You ran armies for nearly a decade until Hercules stopped you. There is no comparison there," Gabrielle said and shook her head slightly.

"Well then explain to me why the fact that I ran army of a couple of hundred, while you ran divisions of thousands, doesn't make you and I comparable. But that wasn't the point I was trying to make. Sometimes you astound me though. You just don't realize your own worth. Your men loved you, mine feared and hated me. Gabrielle you were so loved that an entire nation will remember you for years to come. You're a living legend in Chin now. Yes, Sun ran the campaign, but it is you that everyone remembers. The Little Dragon rose to save Chin from Temudjin," Xena quoted what some celebrating villagers had chanted as they left Chin.

Gabrielle knew that Xena left unsaid that she was a living legend from both good and evil. Even now over 30 years after her reign of terror there were small regions of the world where people started holidays by thanking their gods that they had survived her attack. In a few generations that would be forgotten and they would both be consigned to history's fickle attentions. "Alright I don't think you're entirely right, and if I am a good commander it is because you taught me well. Could we not talk about that anymore," she said, hoping to end this thread of conversation before she got more embarrassed by the praise of her friend.

"I am worried about you," Xena suddenly said.

"What? Don't be so cryptic, it is not like I am in any danger right now," Gabrielle replied and smiled.

"No you're not in danger right now. But look at the lives we lead. I have died Gabrielle. Multiple times now I have been killed and once you even died with me. We shouldn't be doing this anymore. It's not like you have to prove anything," Xena said in a cautious voice that Gabrielle knew only came out at those rare times when Xena was exposing something from deep inside the depth of her soul.

"It is not about proving anything. I believe in the Greater Good Xena. I know that it like everything else should never be seen as an unbending rule to which to measure every act we make, but honestly I can't go through my life anymore and let bad things happen around me without doing something about it. Neither could you," Gabrielle explained.

She didn't hear Xena's mumbled response, "I am not so sure anymore."

They rode on in silence for a few candlemarks. "Xena, what is the plan after we get to Amphipolis?" Gabrielle asked.

"Honestly I don't know," Xena replied.

"Really," Gabrielle looked at Xena in surprise. Usually they had some place to rush off to or something planned for the future, but when she thought about it there were no crisis around that they needed to get involved in and they had so few friends left that there were not really enough of them around to stir up trouble for them. Furthermore Xena's crimes were so far in the past that no one really looked for her anymore or it didn't matter anymore. Only Ares and Aphrodite were left of the Olympian gods to cause trouble. Gabrielle suddenly realized that it had been years since she had seen either of them. She even considered one of the two a good friend.

"Maybe we could settle down in Amphipolis for a while. You know rest a little. Help out in the Hospice that kind of thing," Xena suggested with no hint of the sigh Gabrielle had expected to come at the end of her sentence.

"Yes, maybe we could. I need to go see Lila and Sarah, since I am in the neighborhood. I promised I would," she said wincing slightly at the thought of again having to explain why she had been gone for such a long time. "What about after we've done that? I've."

"I don't know. Let's not plan that far ahead," Xena suggested.

Gabrielle still at bit rusty at reading her partner's intentions after being separated from her for three years didn't hear the tone in her friend's voice that should have told her that Xena did in fact have plans that she didn't want to share just yet.

"We should think about finding a campsite," Gabrielle commented and thought back.

"Yeah," Xena replied and also became thoughtful for a moment.

"However about that place up by that sea just south of here, where you taught me to catch fish with my hands," Gabrielle suggested.

"Nah it takes to long to get back to a proper road from there. How about that small cliff plateau with the spring half a candlemark northwest? You know the place where we camped out, when Lao Ma's note." Xena asked.

"It isn't a dry spot any more. I was through here when I was heading out with my Amazons to avoid a Roman army to the South and I came by there. The spring is a small lake now and the best camp site is flooded. But I do recall a large campsite set up for caravans going in either direction. It's over a candlemark to the West of here, it should be just fine for our needs and is on our way," Gabrielle suggested.

"Alright I'll take it. I'm looking forward to a hot meal. How do you feel about rabbit stew?" Xena asked with a beatific smile.

"Sounds fine," Gabrielle replied and smiled radiantly. She had Ghost pick up speed a little. Xena and Nike followed suit.

"You know I've really missed you," Xena said and reached out to caress Gabrielle's chin.

Gabrielle even with the gait of their horses managed to reach up and hold her hand over Xena's. "How do you think I felt then?" She answered back and blushed slightly. After a moment their hands reached back to the reins of their horses and they rode on, while the sun began getting slightly red tones in its light.

They rode on for a while, when suddenly Gabrielle stopped Ghost. Xena stopped as well and looked back at her in bewilderment. "Can you hear that?" She asked with a look of concentration in her eyes. Gabrielle heard the sound of the forest and brush around them, but not too far ahead the sounds of nature had given a way to a kind of expectant silence. A silence as if nature held its breath, a silence that in her experience preceded the acts of mankind often violent acts at that.

Then the very faint sound of a scream and metal weapons clashing in combat came to her ears. Gabrielle looked over at Xena, who had clearly heard the same. "We should help," she said.

Xena nodded and grasped the reins of her already tired horse. "Hiya," Gabrielle yelled. Ghost, Gabrielle, Nike and Xena sped through the forest lighted by the low hanging sun towards the sounds.