Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all the other folks from the Xenaverse belong to MCA and Ren Pictures. I'm just playing in their sandbox for a little while.

This story begins just after Gabrielle fell in to the pit in Sacrifice.

Time to Grieve

Chapter 1

As I watch Callisto's lifeless body slowly sink to the floor, I know I should feel something. Yet as I turn back to fiery pit there is nothing but emptiness. Gabrielle is gone and her death has left me numb. Her death...even as the words form in my mind I still refuse to believe.

Slowly I rise to my feet and step to the edge of the blazing abyss. Searing heat stings my face. How easy it would be to step over the edge and end this madness once and for all. The fiery depths would be a welcome relief from the overwhelming emptiness. 'No!' screams a voice in my head. 'No.' it whispers now. Dropping my head in shame I know the voice is right. Gabrielle gave her life for love, how can I be such a coward to end mine out of fear.

Staring into the abyss a heartfelt whisper escapes my lips. "Goodbye...my love." Strange, now that she is gone I'm finally able to admit my feelings for her. Why didn't I tell her before it was too late? 'Because I'm a coward.' Scoffing at my own stupidity I turn from the pit, only to realize there is another whose pain runs as deeply as mine, perhaps deeper.

Her courage and bravery are legendary, without a doubt she is the mightiest warrior I've ever known. Yet standing before me now she seems so...helpless. The last few days have clearly taken their toll. Blood and bruises tell of the pain her body has endured, but it's her eyes, which speak of true suffering. They say the eyes are the mirrors of the soul. If that is true then those deep blue mirrors are reflecting the most lost, helpless soul I've ever seen. I've never seen her look so beaten. And why shouldn't she, I've merely lost the woman I love, she's lost a part of her soul.

Without a word she moves toward the pit, the agony in her eyes betrays her thoughts of stepping over the edge. I move to block her path, hoping it will be enough to stop her. Halting in mid step she stares as if seeing me for the first time. Hesitating she seems to be waging some interior battle. Knowing I lack the skills to stop her if she decides to jump, I refuse to let her go without a fight. Steadying myself I wait for her to act. Slowly she reaches out to place a hand upon my chest. Flinching at her touch I curse myself for being so frightened. Instead of a death grip her touch is gentle almost reassuring. The corners of her mouth turn up slightly, though the haunting pain in her eyes remains. Seeing her weakness I suddenly want to reach for her, too hold her close and share her sorrow. Placing a hand over the one resting on my chest I start to speak her name. As my mouth opens the sound is drown out by a scream of terror.

Behind the warrior I see the former high priest charging, his sword held high as he intends to cut Xena in half. Almost dreamlike she slowly turns to meet his attack I know she will not be able to stop him in time. Fear gives me the strength to act. Seeing the sword begin its downward strike I throw myself at her. As we fall to the floor I feel the blade slicing through my shirt to strike flesh, strangely there is no pain. From behind us a blood-curling scream echoes through the temple. I turn in time to see the priest carried over the edge of the pit by his own momentum. For the first time this day I feel a twinge of satisfaction.

"It's finally over." whispers a voice.

Xena and I turn to the young blond haired woman Gabrielle called friend.

'Over? she said, it's not over it's just beginning.' I envy her native innocents for she has no idea the long term effects of what has happened here today. I'm not sure I understand all of it. Looking down I find sky blue eyes staring up at me. Realizing my awkward position atop the warrior I quickly move to one side, allowing her to stand. Once on her feet she offers a hand to me. I accept it. As I rise to my feet, she grabs my shoulder with her free hand.

"You're bleeding."

Had the circumstances been different the concern in her voice would have been touching. I try not to flinch as strong fingers expertly examine the wound. Without warning she rips a length of cloth from my sleeve. Silently I watch her tightly wrap the torn cloth around the wound. A less than gentle jerk secures the makeshift bandage into place.

Eyeing the bandage I start to thank her, but she turns away. Slowly she moves toward something lying on the floor. As she bends to retrieve the object my heart sinks once more. Carefully she turns Gabrielle's staff in her hands, caressing it as if it were a living thing. I wait for her to surrender to the sorrow, but instead she turns toward the entrance. As I watch her turn away I can think of only one question.

"What do we do now?"

"Bury the dead." she replies without turning back. The sound of her retreating footsteps echo eerily through out the silent temple.

Night is falling as the last of the pyres are filled. Dahok may not have gotten all the blood he wanted. But from the number of pyres spread out across the grassy plain, I can't help but feel he came pretty damn close. It's amazing how many of the villagers have stayed behind to help bury the dead. Not just their own but the temple guards as well. An overwhelming silence fills the air as the last of the pyres are readied.

All evening the villagers have moved around Xena unsure of how to act towards her. It's obvious they are grieving for her loss, still none have the courage to approach her and voice their feelings. While the villagers feel the warrior's pain, they are concerned. I've heard the whispers as they wonder what will happen now that Gabrielle is gone. Without the bard to quiet her rage who will keep the warrior on her path of redeemion? They respect Xena yet at the same time they fear her. And who am I to condemn them for their fears when I'm to much of a coward to face her myself. She's my friend and yet when she needs me most I'm too weak to offer her any help.

The truth is I'm afraid. Afraid of what she will do when her grief is released. Solan's death drove her to the brink of insanity will Gabrielle's push her over the edge? If so, who will stop her? Without Gabrielle can anyone stop her?

With the pyres complete, a slow moving parade of villagers lit their torches from the small fire I've built. Armed with a lit torch Xena approaches the pyre closest to us. A twinge of guilt nags at me as I remember my anger when she began building it. How could she even suggest such a thing? As I watched her build it, I slowly began to realize it was something she needed to do. It was time to bury the past, bury the anger and the pain, it was time to let go, time to forgive. Gabrielle would have wanted that. Still as I watch her touch the torch to Callisto's pyre I can't help but wonder at the irony of it. Here she stands giving her most hated enemy a proper burial, yet she will never be able to perform the same honor for the one person she loved most. As the light from blazing pyres begins to fill the night sky, I can't help but think how truly cold hearted the Fates can be.