For Disclaimers see Ch. 1
Feedback at Go Ch 4
Forget this life
Come with me
Don't look back you're safe now
Gabrielle put her things away, glad to be clean and in clean clothes once more. She stepped out of her hut, having only taken a few steps away from the doorway when she heard a horse galloping out of the village. She looked for the source of the sound, wondering if something had happened while she was bathing, and was surprised to recognize the tall dark rider that tore out of the village.
She frowned slightly, watching Xena ride away as Ephiny came up to her. "Ephiny, where's Xena going?"
"Gabrielle, I…" Ephiny took a deep breath and then sighed. "I'm not sure. We had a bit of an argument in the stables; she was rather…upset when I left her."
Gabrielle snorted. "You know I've never heard it phrased quite like that before. What in the name of Zeus did you say to her?" She crossed her arms over her chest, wondering just what had happened to her friend since this morning to send her running from the village with Argo.
"Gabrielle," Ephiny began.
But Gabrielle interrupted her, holding up her hands. "Look, its okay, I don't really want to know what was said. I'm just worried about her; this isn't like her."
Ephiny draped an arm around the bard's shoulders giving her a quick squeeze. "I know, but if it helps any, she rode Argo out of here bareback; all her tack and all your stuff is still in the stables."
Gabrielle nodded once. "She's coming back."
"Come on, let's go see if we can't do something to keep you occupied until she comes back. I know I've got some obscure Amazon rites and rituals we have to sort through for the festival." She began leading the queen away, towards the building where the Amazon archives were housed.
Gabrielle let herself be led away, agreeing with Ephiny that she needed to do something to occupy her mind, but not putting any faith in her ability to be distracted at that moment. Her mind was riding along with her dark haired friend, worried and bothered by the sudden departure. She sighed loudly and set herself to wait.
Drop your guard
No one's left to stop you now
Xena rode Argo through the forest as if Bacchus' wolves were on her heels. With each jarring impact of hooves on the ground, she felt another stab to her heart and soul as Gabrielle's words once more struck her.
You're right, I should hate her. Xena flinched as a branch slashed across her face. She lied to me, she betrayed my trust. Each flash of the bard's words was like a knife to her chest. She freed my husband's murderer. Xena felt her heart breaking, almost as if someone was reaching into her chest and squeezing it as hard as they could. I should be furious beyond coherent thought at what she's done. She betrayed my trust.
Xena jerked on the reins as Gabrielle's words crashed over her again. Argo gave a harsh cry before going into a swift buck, something she had never done before. Unable to stop her momentum, or even perhaps unwilling, Xena flew off the horse sideways, slamming into the ground, skidding along it for a short distance before stopping.
Xena lay there for several moments, numb and bruised, her mind whirling even as her body refused to obey her and get up. Argo came over to her, nudging her softly and whickering and snorting at her gently, as if apologizing for throwing her. Slowly, after several moments, she stirred, finally sitting up.
She gave a soft moan just as she heard a harsh chuckle nearby. She reacted without thought, surging to her feet, letting her senses and instincts take over as she searched for the threat. She heard the chuckle again and whirled to face the source, a dark and shadowy figure that was very eerily familiar.
Look at you, the great Xena thrown from her horse, beaten down by words. Since when have words ever hurt you?
The figure stepped closer and Xena felt an eerie sense of déjà vu as she stood there staring at her own face, the same one she had seen in the dreamscape when she had rescued Gabrielle from the deadly fate of becoming Morpheus' bride.
The darker part of herself gave another harsh chuckle, the chill of it running down Xena's spine as she stared into the black, black eyes of the part of herself she never wished to acknowledge again.
Especially when its so much more fun to simply kill the messenger? Her dark self stepped forward, walking around her, a strange annoyed expression on her face.
Xena stood still, refusing to even acknowledge the creepy, slimy feeling her gaze caused. She remained silent as her dark self came back around to face her.
What ever made you think you could be anything other than what you are? Xena didn't answer. Again there was a sinister chuckle from her other self. How can you deny what you are, even now? You don't love people Xena, you use them until they serve no purpose and then you discard them. That is how the strong survive!
Xena looked at her dark image, blue eyes locking with black. "Not anymore; I'm not that person any longer."
Do you think it matters? That by simply saying it you make it true?
"It is true and not because I say it is."
Her darker self stepped closer, smirking devilishly. Because she says it is? If you think that you're an even bigger fool than I thought you were. She hates you now; she sees you for what you are and she fears the darkness inside you. You are a murderer.
Xena clenched her jaw feeling the muscles tighten until her teeth creaked softly inside her skull. "No, I only kill in self defense."
Again her darker self circled slowly. But that wasn't always your way or don't you remember? Once a murderer, always a murderer and there's nothing you can do that'll ever change that fact. Have you forgotten the flames of Tartarus so easily?
Xena shivered slightly at the memory of the heat of the place, the pain of hanging on the cross once more. "No, I haven't but that doesn't mean I stop fighting, it doesn't mean I give up. I may never redeem myself for the sins of my past but I won't stop fighting for the greater good." She swallowed loudly, pushing the lump that thought caused in her throat down deep. "It's all I have left."
Because you know she'll leave you; because she hates you. Be honest Xena, can you keep on fighting without her?
That was the truth of the matter wasn't it? Could she keep going without Gabrielle? Could she find the strength to continue fighting without the one thing that inspired her to do it in the first place? Suddenly Xena had no answer. "I don't know." The admission seemed to drain her and she sank to her knees on the forest floor.
You're a fool Xena, a weak fool. You think love makes you strong? What a cosmic joke. Look what it's done to you, the greatest warrior of all time, on her knees on the verge of tears and for what? Love? What a waste.
Xena felt something snap inside of her at those words, surging to her feet as she stomped several paces away hoping to put some distance between herself and the source of her self doubt. "I am not weak or a fool. The love I feel for her gives me a reason to fight, to do the impossible day in and day out. If it hadn't been for her, I'd be dead a hundred times over already."
Such faith you have in her. It's a bit misplaced don't you think?
Xena knew that if she turned she would see her darker half standing directly behind her. "No, I don't."
Oh come on Xena, I know you better than that. She sided with your enemies, Amazons who felt you made a poor choice in releasing Callisto to fight Valesca.
Xena shook her head. "She's welcome to her own opinion." No matter what the bard might feel towards her, she couldn't bring herself to say anything negative against her.
She betrayed you! Her darker self nearly shouted this last at her.
Xena whirled to face her tormentor, the instinct to protect her friend roaring to life. "No, she didn't. The truth of the matter is that I betrayed her. I was the one who freed Callisto, I was the one who used her husband's murderer to save her life. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat if it she meant she'd live, because I'm not strong enough without her." For a moment Xena took in a deep shuddering breath as she searched her heart and found the truth waiting to be discovered there.
"The truth is she's the strong one; even after everything I did to save her life, she found a way to forgive Callisto for killing Perdicus. She forgave her! If she can forgive that psychotic bitch for that, forgiving me for releasing her should be a forgone conclusion." As the words left her mouth, she realized just how true they really were. Freeing the murderous immortal had caused the bard a great deal of pain. She knew it would; from the moment the idea popped in her head, she knew what the consequences of that decision might be.
But when weighed against the fear that somehow, she might fail her friend and Gabrielle might die, Xena decided that it would be better if she were hated by a living, breathing bard rather than mourning over a pyre with no comfort to be had other than the knowledge that Gabrielle could hear her thoughts.
But that hadn't happened. And even more importantly, Gabrielle had found a way to forgive the psychopath that murdered her husband. She told Xena she needed to believe that Callisto was truly sorry for her actions in order to forgive her. And she needed to forgive her in order to move on. So, that's just what she did.
Xena smiled slightly, feeling truly proud of the young bard for her ability to reach inside herself and let go of the darker feelings that plagued her. It was something she herself couldn't have done and she freely admitted it. But Gabrielle's heart was different than her own; it was one of the first things she had ever noticed about her friend and it was still, even now, something she marveled at.
Her dark image shuddered slightly and then faded away, almost as if she'd never been there in the first place. Xena sighed loudly as the darker feelings, the anger, the betrayal the utter pain caused by Gabrielle's words simply faded away. And she was left standing there in the forest, feeling suddenly lighter than she had in years.
She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as Argo approached her slowly, whickering softly and nipping at her shoulder. Xena reached up and rubbed the horse's nose gently.
"Hey girl, I'm not angry, wasn't your fault; I shouldn't have scared you like that." Xena smiled as Argo blew into her hand. "You know I'm kind of glad you threw me; it knocked some sense into me." Argo tossed her head and Xena laughed. "No it did, honestly. Now how's about we go back to the village and tell Gabrielle all about it."
Argo nodded her head vigorously and Xena felt fresh tears stinging her eyes as she laughed. She grabbed the mare's reins and vaulted into the saddle. A sudden sense of urgency had her digging her heels into Argo's sides, urging the palomino on faster. But this time there were no wolves chasing at her heels.
leaving here tonight
There's no need to tell anyone
They'd only hold us down
Xena rode Argo straight to the stable, leaping off her just outside the door and walking her into the wooden building. She was surprised to see Gabrielle waiting inside for her near Argo's stall and the pile of their stuff that she had left behind when she rode out.
Xena gave her a slight smile as Argo made a beeline for the stall. "Hey." She began stripping off the saddle and other tack.
Gabrielle nodded slightly at the greeting. "Hey." She stood there for several moments watching as Xena finished removing Argo's tack and then began grooming the mare. After a moment, as the silence lengthened between them, Gabrielle spoke up. "Where have you been? You were gone so long, I was getting worried."
Xena felt a surge of guilt at that and began grooming Argo faster. "I needed to take a ride, think about some stuff, clear my head."
"What were you thinking about?" Gabrielle's voice was soft, gentle but there was a touch of steel to it that Xena had not heard in a while.
Xena shrugged. "Stuff." She felt Gabrielle step up, just behind her, the bard's gentle presence proving to be very distracting suddenly.
Again her voice was soft, soothing. "Xena, if something's bothering you, please, don't shut me out. I can help."
This time Xena turned to face the young Amazon. "Like how I've been helping you with the dreams?"
Gabrielle was quiet for several moments, hanging her head a bit as she spoke. "It's not the same thing."
Xena snorted softly. "Oh really?" Gabrielle remained silent and Xena knew that the direct approach wouldn't work with the bard; it was time to try another tactic. She suddenly changed the direction of her attack. "I had a talk with Ephiny today."
"Oh, about what?" She tried to sound unconcerned but there was a slight hitch in her voice.
Xena didn't buy her act and folded her arms across her chest. "Come on Gabrielle we both know the only thing that would make Ephiny have an involved conversation with me is you. She was worried about you." Xena paused a moment, looking at her feet and then the bard's face as she said softly. "After talking to her, I have to admit I am too."
Gabrielle took a deep breath feeling her lip beginning to tremble slightly as tears pooled in her eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest, reaching up to brush the tears away a moment before Xena's strong arms folded around her, offering her the comfort she so desperately needed.
She buried her face into Xena's shoulder, sniffling and sobbing quietly as Xena held her. After a moment she found her voice. "I was just so lost without you. It hurt so much, I didn't know what to do."
Xena's arms tightened. "So you stopped eating." She didn't mean to chastise the bard but she was so frightened at how close she'd come to dying herself.
Gabrielle pulled away, wiping her face. "I know it wasn't the smartest thing to do but I just couldn't eat." She crossed her arms over her chest, shivering at the memory of those first horrid filled days. "Every time I tried my stomach would just curl into a hard ball and I'd get sick. The only thing that helped was not eating, so I stopped. I never meant to worry anyone, I just didn't know what to do."
Xena resisted the urge to reach out again, needing to push the bard to explore more of what she was feeling. "She told me the truth about the nightmares." Gabrielle shuddered. "Theses are worse than when Perdicus was killed aren't they?" Gabrielle nodded. Xena sighed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "You've already been through so much, dying, coming back, fighting Valesca. I didn't want to add to all that."
Xena tried a bit of levity. "These shoulders are pretty broad you know. They can handle it." She reached up and touched said shoulders giving Gabrielle a wry smile. The bard smiled slightly. Then the moment was gone and Xena reached out to take her friend by the shoulders. "Gabrielle, no matter what you're going through, no matter how much pain you're in, I will always be there for you."
"You said that before." Gabrielle sniffed slightly, brushing fresh tears away.
"And I'm saying it now. You believe that don't you?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes I do."
"Good, then spill it." She gave the bard her best look, dropping her voice to its most commanding tone as she pushed once more.
Gabrielle took a deep breath, gathering her courage to relive those horrid moments when she thought her life was over. "At first they were just nightmares about you dying. I'd be dragging your body up the mountain, only I'd never get there, I'd just keep walking and walking and praying by the gods did I pray. Or I'd get there and it would just be a repeat of what happened the first time; you'd die just as I pulled you through the door. I figured those were just me trying to work through my grief. But the night you came back, they changed.
Gabrielle swallowed loudly, feeling a lump forming her throat. "I never made it in time."
"I don't understand."
She gave a deep sigh, feeling her heart clench in terror as she recalled just what her latest nightmares were about. And the fear that somehow all that she'd done in the past week had been little more than a dream.
"When the Amazons put your body on the pyre, Autolycus never showed up to save your body even though I screamed that you were still alive. In my dream I watched your body burn, screaming while the Amazons held me back. I never managed to stop them.
"Sometimes I dreamt that I never found the Ambrosia, either Valesca got to it first or it wasn't there or worse it didn't work. All the dreams are about you staying dead, your coming back was nothing more than a dream.
She began crying softly again, wiping them away angrily but unable to stop them. "It's stupid, I know that. All I had to do was look over and see that it wasn't real. In my head I know it's just a dream but I just can't seem to convince my heart." She broke down, sobbing in pain and fear as the memories swept over her once more.
Xena came up behind her, embracing her firmly, resting her head on top of the bard's blonde locks. There were several moments of silence as Xena kissed the top of her head, soothing away the fear and pain in the bard's heart.
After a moment, she released the Amazon queen, turning her around to tend to her tear stained eyes and face. "You know what I think? I think these new nightmares of yours have nothing to do with me dying and everything to do with fear."
Xena reached into a nearby saddle bag to pull out something to soothe her friend's reddened eyes, applying it gently as she held Gabrielle's chin gently in her powerful hand. "What do you think?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "I don't know."
"Think Gabrielle, just let go. What are you really afraid of?" Xena finished tending to Gabrielle's eyes.
Gabrielle took a deep breath, letting fly with the first thoughts that came to her mind. "You didn't even try to save yourself!" Her sudden shout startled them both and there was a long moment of silence in the stables between them.
Finally Xena spoke. "What?"
Gabrielle took a deep breath letting it out in a rush. "When that log trap was set off, you saved the little girl but you just stood there. We both know that you could have gotten clear without even trying. But you didn't, you just stood there." She jabbed a finger at Xena, suddenly angry as her feelings floated to the surface. "Worse yet, you let me hope that you'd be okay, staying alive until we reached Niklio's hut. And then you just gave up. By the gods I want to hate you for that. But I can't." She reached out to touch the dark warrior in front of her, fear once again stealing her voice. "Why did you leave me?"
"Gabrielle…" For a long moment, Xena was at a lost for words. She took a deep breath trying desperately to think of a way to explain to the bard just why things had played out the way they had. "Going to Cirra reminded me of a very dark part of my life, a period of time that literally made me who I was before I fought Hercules. It wasn't pretty and it brought up a lot of doubts about myself and my new mission in life. I started to wonder if I could ever wash the blood away.
She looked down at her hands feeling a fresh wave of shame roll over her as she thought again on her past. There was such darkness there, such horrible acts of violence and evil. And it never seemed to stop touching her present, affecting her future.
"What I allowed to happen with Callisto's family, what I created there in her came back to kill me and hurt you. It haunts me to know that something I did came back to hurt you simply because you're my friend. So when I saw that log coming, I thought I'd finally found my fate and I didn't try to stop it. In my mind I deserved it for what happened there and what it created."
"And in Niklio's hut?"
Xena shrugged, unsure of that one herself. "I had a severe head injury and I was delirious I didn't know what I was doing." She took another deep breath and studied her hands, seeing the shadow of old blood on them. "In my mind I thought I'd been given a chance to go back and change things, make it so Xena destroyer of nations never existed. All I had to do was die in Niklio's hut and it would all go away.
"I would never have become the demon that razed the countryside, I would never have gone to Cirra, there would never have been a fire, Callisto would never been forced to watch her family burn and more importantly she wouldn't have grown up to murder Perdicus."
Gabrielle reached out and embraced the warrior close sharing the pain and shame she knew her friend felt over her past. For several long moments there was silence between them. Then Gabrielle pulled away from Xena reaching up to gently take Xena's face in her hands. She looked directly into the warrior's blue eyes as she asked her next question.
"That's why you ran away today wasn't it, because of what those girls said. This isn't about you dying, this about you freeing Callisto to save me, isn't it?"
Xena nodded. "Yeah, it is." This time Xena's eyes filled with tears as she reached up to take one of Gabrielle's hands in her own. "I freed her Gabrielle and I used her to fight Valesca, to keep you alive. Because I thought that somehow, you being alive and hating me was far better than running for the rest of our lives or worse, somehow failing you and getting you killed.
"I'm so sorry I hurt you again Gabrielle. I never meant for it to happen. I died to try to keep it from happening again. But that only made things worse for you. I had no choice but to come back. And the first thing I do when I'm back is hurt you all over again." Xena looked down, unable to look Gabrielle in the eye as she gave her confession.
Gabrielle reached out, taking Xena's chin in her hand and lifting the warrior's eyes to meet her own once more. Her green eyes were filled with compassion and love as she looked at the warrior. "Xena, I need you to listen to me because I'm only going to say this once. You freeing Callisto hurt me, but not for the reasons you think."
Xena frowned slightly "I don't understand."
Gabrielle sighed, her hands dropping to her sides once more. "Do you remember the conversation we had about Bacchus, right before Perdicus showed up?"
"You lied to me then, didn't you?"
Xena went still. "I don't know what you're talking about." She knew very well what Gabrielle was talking about, her memory immediately supplying the conversation.
Gabrielle knew it as well. Angered, she shook an accusing finger at the taller woman. "Yes you do and don't bother denying it." She threw her hands into the air. "I was a bacchae Xena! When I bit you, I could hear your thoughts. I felt what you felt. And I knew you loved me. But when I asked you about it, you played it off like it was nothing. It hurt me a great deal."
Now things began to make sense to her. "Enough to send you running to someone else?"
Gabrielle nodded. "I wanted you to love me the way I loved you. And when you denied what you felt, it really hurt me. So, I let Perdicus's words sway me. I told you I was going to marry him because I hoped that you would step in and tell me not to."
"But you said you loved him."
"I know what I said and I did love him, in my own way. But it never would have worked Xena. He didn't hold my heart."
Of all the ways she had imagined this conversation going, this was not one of them and Xena found herself fighting for balance on a very slippery slope. "So why did you marry him?"
"Because he asked and you didn't stop me." There was stunned silence from the warrior and Gabrielle gave her the final jab. "Don't you see Xena, you freeing Callisto didn't hurt me because she killed the man I loved. It hurt me because she reminded me just how much I didn't love him. He died because I was selfish and childish. If I had been as honest with you as I wanted you to be with me, none of this would have happened."
Unable to stop herself, Xena threw her arms around the bard, pulling her close as she simply held her. For the first time since she realized that she was in love with the young woman, Xena felt a huge weight slide off her heart and shoulders. Gabrielle felt the same way and was just as desperate to feel that love returned as Xena was to admit to feeling it in the first place.
Suddenly the absolute absurdity of the conversation struck her and she began to chuckle slightly. "By the gods we're a pair aren't we? Both of us trying to protect the other's heart from what we really feel at the expense of our own souls. And both of us making things worse for it."
"Xena?" Gabrielle voice drifted up from where she was resting her head against Xena's shoulder.
Xena felt a smile crease her face as she stood there holding the woman she loved. "Hmmm?"
"What changed your mind, about dying I mean?" Gabrielle traced gentle patterns into Xena's leather covered back, her voice soft and unsure.
Again Xena smiled, reaching up to cup Gabrielle's head as she kissed the top of the bard's head again. "You did." She said softly.
"Me?" Surprised, Gabrielle lifted her head from Xena's shoulder.
Xena nodded, looking deep into the bard's eyes as she stopped resisting and gave her the truth behind her sudden need to return to the land of the living. "I heard your thoughts, felt what was in your heart. You were in so much pain, I just couldn't stand by and do nothing. I had to come back."
Touched, Gabrielle could only marvel at those words. "So I'm the reason you came back."
"Yes. Well that and I really wanted to do this before I died." She leaned in, the bard meeting her halfway as their lips met for the first time in a sweet gentle kiss that filled both of their souls with warmth and light. After several moments Xena pulled back, smiling at the befuddled look on the bard's face.
After a moment, Gabrielle's eyes cleared and she gave the warrior a stern look. "Good, because I want you to know that I would have come after you; after all you were holding my heart. I couldn't very well let you take that into the underworld, could I?"
Touched by the declaration, Xena smiled. "Are you saying you love me?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "I would've have thought you hearing my thoughts would've clued you in."
Another smile from the deadly warrior. "Well, I was dead at the time. I wasn't really sure if what I was hearing was wishful thinking or something more."
Gabrielle's tone grew serious. "I never wanted to tell you. After what happened with Bacchus, I was so scared you didn't feel the same way, that I had imagined it all. But when you died, I had to tell you; it was my last chance." She gave Xena a wan smile. Lousy timing huh?"
"Well, it did give me the courage to kiss you right before you brought me back."
Gabrielle gave a surprised laugh. "That was you?" Xena nodded. "I was hoping it wasn't Autolycus."
A dark brow lifted slightly. "Right. Why do you think I slugged him for touching your butt when you came to?"
Gabrielle laughed again at the memory of that kiss. "I can't believe you used the opportunity to cop a feel."
Xena sobered. "Wasn't sure I'd get another chance."
Gabrielle laughed and reached out to touch Xena's cheek, feeling Xena reach up to hold Gabrielle's hand against her face. "You'll get plenty of chances now, I hope you know."
"Yeah, I kind of figured."
Gabrielle reached up, pulling Xena down to meet her as their lips met again. It built quickly between them as each of them let go and let the love they felt float to the surface. They pulled back, both breathless as Gabrielle let her head fall against Xena's armored chest.
Xena gave a slight chuckle, looking down at the bard. "Well I don't know about you, but I'm suddenly really hungry."
Gabrielle giggled slightly. "Must be all that arguing, works up an appetite."
"Or maybe it's the kissing."
"Maybe." She looked up, sky blue eyes meeting green as she spoke from the heart. "I love you Xena."
Xena smiled at her in pure affection. "I love you too Gabrielle."
the morning light
We'll be halfway to anywhere
Where love is more than just your name
Several moments later, they walked out of the stables together, striding through the village hand in hand. Xena looked around at the passing Amazons seeing the startled and pleased looks cross over several faces as they took in the sight of their queen's hand entwined with that of her chosen champion.
The looks of approval touched her even as they reminded her that there were so many others that cared for the young queen. Others that might perhaps not be happy if Gabrielle were hurt.
"I nearly left you here." Xena looked down at her companion as she let her final confession fall from her lips.
Startled, Gabrielle nearly stopped walking. "What? But why?"
Xena gave her hand a gentle squeeze even as she waved a greeting at a passing Amazon. "I hurt you Gabrielle. No matter what you say, I hurt you and I'm so scared of hurting you again."
She dropped Xena's hand, wrapping her arm around the warrior's waist. "We're always hurt worst by the people we love because those are the ones who hold the keys to our hearts and souls. But locking yourself away won't save you from being hurt, it'll just make you numb inside and kill you even faster. Don't lock me out anymore Xena. Don't deny yourself the chance to be loved."
Xena snorted even as she draped her arm around the bard's shoulders. "How could I? You'd only chase me down and talk until I had no choice but to surrender."
Gabrielle laughed loudly. "You just keep that in mind the next time you go running off oh Miss Brooding Warrior Princess." She jabbed Xena gently in the stomach.
"How could I forget? You'd just keep reminding me."
"Hey someone has to keep you in line."
"I'll keep that in mind." They wandered back to their shared hut, their laughter echoing out over the village.