Gabrielle's eyes popped open and she quickly raised up from her bedroll. She placed a hand to her forehead and covered her eyes. A few seconds later, she was on her feet throwing wood onto the fire. It was strange the way it felt when she woke up so suddenly. It was almost as if Xena was still right there beside her. She found herself reaching out for the warrior princess nightly, but her arms always fell carelessly onto the cold hard ground beside her. She didn't used to mind sleeping in the woods, but now it seemed like the worst place to be, yet, it was the best because it was where she spent the majority of her time with Xena.
Gabrielle sat back down on her bedroll and stared into the fire, "Why is this so hard?" she spoke aloud. "It shouldn't be taking this long…" she sighed. Xena, I know you can hear my thoughts, so I'm going to start thinking directly to you. It's hard down here, on earth I mean, I'm not doing so well. I know I was supposed to carry on in your footsteps, but I've been hiding here in Greece for weeks. I can't bring myself to move on; it's too painful. Life doesn't feel right without you, Xena. I feel so lost. A short pause. I want you here with me more than anything else in the world. I know it has to be the most selfish desire I've ever had, but it doesn't seem fair that you're gone. I still don't believe it was your time. Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears and she allowed a few of them to stream down her face. They glistened from the soft glow of the fire. I know I have to move on from all of this, but right now, I don't have the strength. You always gave me such strength… I miss you terribly. I miss you more than words can say.
Gabrielle stopped, "What's the point of this? She can't communicate back with me." She whimpered in a bitter, yet, saddened tone. "No matter how much I think about it, she's still gone." With her heart aching, Gabrielle reluctantly laid down again on her bedroll. Somewhere from that moment and the early morning hours she managed to fall asleep for a short while, but at the very first sign of light, she was awake and on her feet again.
Her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and her body ached all over. She had been coughing a lot lately, which was strange for Gabrielle, she didn't often feel under the weather. Convinced it would pass quickly and naturally, she had taken no precaution of purchasing any medicines. She wouldn't acknowledge it at the time, but due to lack of rest and not properly taking care of her body, Gabrielle had fallen ill. She would shrug it off, of course, and as she slowly traveled around the countryside of Greece, passing through small town after small town, her illness became more and more severe. Finally, as she was passing through the village of Askyro, Gabrielle's fierce denial came to a halt.
Her vision became blurry and the last thing she recalled was seeing a young man coming towards her as she staggered down the main road of the village. She must have passed out after that, because when she awoke, she was resting in a hospice. Her instincts prompted her to call out for Xena, but she quickly had to remind herself about the reality of her life now, and that Xena had passed on to the next life. Gathering herself and her thoughts, Gabrielle raised her head and gazed around the small, yet cozy medical facility.
"Ah, you're awake." A voice called from behind her. "That's good. It means your fever has broken."
"Fever?" Gabrielle asked as she turned her head to behold the young man from the street.
"Yes. You've been ill for many, many days. You're lucky that we were able to help you." He smiled. "Your determination and your strength surpasses all I've ever seen. I knew your body would heal."
"I'm sorry, if I've been a burden." Gabrielle replied in an emotionless voice. "Thank you for all your help. I'll gladly pay you."
"Pay me?" The young man laughed. "No, there is no charge. I do my job because the gods have blessed me with the gift of healing. It would be an abomination if I were to take your money."
"Forgive me if I feel indebted to you." Gabrielle responded as she slowly lifted herself from the bed.
"You should be careful. You're still weak. I recommend that you spend a couple more days here until you're completely ready to travel again." The young man came up to Gabrielle's side. "Let me help you. You must be starving. Come, I have food prepared in the other room." He took Gabrielle's arm and lead her.
"What is your name?" Gabrielle asked as she allowed herself to be lead into the next room.
"Marcus." He gently replied.
"You're a very kind man, Marcus. Opening a hospice was always a dream of mine." Gabrielle took a seat at the table.
"That's the great thing about a hospice," Marcus began, "There is always a need for one. In every small village, in every big city, there are always sick people who require attention from a caring soul."
Gabrielle slowly picked at the food before her, she still had no appetite, but she didn't want to insult Marcus after all he had done for her. She found herself lost in her thoughts for a moment as she remembered her old dreams of starting a hospice and how she knew that as long as she walked the same path as Xena, a hospice would never be possible. Now, she was being forced to start a new path, with no one to walk beside her. Perhaps this could be her chance to do the one thing she never could have done with Xena. It couldn't be that simple, however. Gabrielle had made a promise to carry on Xena's way of life and that meant finding answers at the end of a sword.
"You are welcome to stay as long as you'd like." Marcus sat down across from Gabrielle. "I know who you are…" he stated oddly, yet with much admiration. "You were friends with Xena."
Hearing her name sent chills down Gabrielle's spine. She glanced over at Marcus and slowly nodded her head, "Yes. We were very close." She managed to reply barely above a whisper.
"I presume you've been grieving over the loss of your friend." Marcus continued, "It would explain why you were so ill when I found you in the street."
"I guess I haven't been taken very good care of myself lately." Gabrielle admitted.
"It's understandable." Marcus' voice was soothing, "The pain will eventually heal, Gabrielle. I know that it seems impossible now, but one day you'll be able to set it aside in your heart and it won't be as painful."
"Sometimes, I don't think I want to set it aside." Gabrielle confessed. "I don't ever want to forget her, Marcus."
"Of course not. We never forget the people we love, we only learn to live without them until we are able to see them again."
"Xena and I are meant to be together… Our time was cut short, but I know that our souls are destined to reunite in the next world." Gabrielle's voice began breaking as she reached the end of her sentence. "But I still have much left to do in this world." She added.
Marcus smiled, "Gabrielle, why don't you stay here with me for a while? I could use extra help around here, especially when soldiers pass through."
"I don't know…" Gabrielle glanced away from Marcus, "I'd have to think about it first."
"There's no pressure for a decision, but I do want to extend the invitation to you. Askyro is a very pleasant and peaceful village. It could be just what you need to get back on your feet again."
"Perhaps." Gabrielle nodded.
"There's a good friend of mine who could rent you a place to stay." Marcus continued, "She's a very good landlord. You'd have no problems."
"I've never really stayed in one place before… well, not since I was a child." Gabrielle stopped picking at her food. She was done with it, and didn't care any longer if Marcus was offended by her not eating.
"This could be a wonderful opportunity for you, then."
"You don't have to try to convince me, Marcus." Gabrielle politely stated. "As I said before, a hospice has always been a dream. I just don't know if I'm ready to start that chapter of my life."
"Seems to me this could be the perfect time." Marcus contradicted.
"You only say that because Xena isn't here." Gabrielle's voice hardened a little.
Marcus smirked, "No, I say it because when I look at you Gabrielle, I see someone who is hurting beyond relief. I've often found one of the best way to heal yourself, is to assist in healing others."
"You don't know me as well as you think you do, Marcus. I've been through a lot in the last several years that have changed the way I view the world." Gabrielle stood from the table, "A hospice is a wonderful thing, but whether or not it's a part of my future isn't clear right now."
"Ah, but Gabrielle, one cannot look into the future and ask for a clear vision." Marcus stood to his feet as well. "Risk essentially becomes a factor."
"I'm very familiar with risk, Marcus. I've lived and breathed risk since day one." Gabrielle slowly walked back into the rest area where she had awoken a short while before. She intended on gathering her belongings and leaving the hospice; it wasn't the right place for her to be, at least not at that point in time.
"So you plan to leave?" Marcus followed her. "First you say you need time to think, then in a split second you decide that you must go…" He frowned. "Have you always had such a spontaneous personality?"
"Thank you for all that you've done for me. If I can ever repay you somehow, just let me know." Gabrielle completely ignored Marcus' question. She grabbed her bag and headed out the door.
"Wait." Marcus called. "If you want to repay me, then stay… at least until you have more strength."
Gabrielle sighed, "I'm not going to work at this hospice with you, Marcus. I can't."
"I understand. I only desire that you stay and rest." Marcus reiterated. "Please."
"All right. I'll stay one more day. Tomorrow, I have to head out on my own." Gabrielle allowed her bag to fall to the floor. Secretly, she was thankful she was staying because her body was aching and for once in a very long time, she wanted to rest and to sleep. However, she'd not let herself be influenced or pushed around by Marcus, even if he did only have the best of intentions in mind.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Marcus walked over and opened it, and in burst a man carrying his friend.
"Marcus, you have to help him!" the man cried. "He's been shot by an arrow."
"Steady now, Titus. Help me lay him down." Marcus assisted in laying the injured man down on a bed roll. Gabrielle stood back and watched. "Explain to me what happened." Marcus demanded.
Titus stumbled over his words as he tried to tell the story, "We were fishing…" he began, "Su-suddenly, we heard this noise… in the trees behind us! We turned but saw nothing." He swallowed heavily, "Then, before we even realized it, arrows were fa-falling from the sky!" his
eyes bulged from his dirty face, "One of them hit Erabi. Can you save him, Marcus?" Titus gazed at Marcus with the ultimate plead for help in his eyes.
"I'll do all that I can." Marcus replied. He quickly glanced over at Gabrielle who hadn't taken her eyes off the Erabi. "Gabrielle, perhaps you should wait outside."
Gabrielle's initial reaction was to reject Marcus' proposal, but instead, she accepted and walked out of the hospice. She took a seat on a bench outside the hospice's door. The day was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky and the sun warmed her face as she squinted her eyes. From inside the hospice, she could hear screams of pain coming from Erabi. How cowardly to attack unarmed fishermen. If Xena were here she'd go after the scum that did this Erabi and make sure they never again attacked innocent people. Suddenly, it became clear to Gabrielle. She couldn't just keep thinking of what Xena would do if she were here, but rather it was now her job to do exactly what Xena would do if she were here.
Gabrielle quickly stood to her feet, a new burning motivation inside of her, she headed off towards the only fishing area she knew of around the village of Askyro. She would find the criminals who so cruelly assaulted Titus and Erabi and she would bring them to justice. This would be the first step towards fulfilling her promise to Xena. Suddenly, Gabrielle's future was looking a lot more clear.