Quick Note: Originally written in early 2008, but was never intended to be posted. I wrote this after watching Friend in Need II and wanted a more conclusive ending regarding Gabrielle's emotions. After watching some reruns online, I browsed through my old documents and found it again - figured I may as well post it and then slip back into silence...

Her hands are cold.

Not because of the wind that brushes her body, not because of the coolness of the boat's wooden railing that her arms rest on, not because of the west sunset that is slowly but surely sinking towards the horizon and casting a golden glow on the smooth surface of the waters.

It is because of the small, black urn that she holds in her palms.

Her hair is dishevelled; there are shadowed bags under her eyes and she is still.

Looking out onto the water's surface, but not really seeing it.

A gentle feather-light touch rests on her shoulder and without turning, she swallows, already knowing who it is. It is not a human touch, but the warmth passes from the spiritual realm to try and break through her body, to comfort and soothe.

"Doesn't it look beautiful?" the velvet voice murmurs into her ear.

She takes a deep breath, bracing herself for the shattering of her own soul when she looks into the face of her worst nightmare – her worst nightmare that has come back to life, which is a searing reminder of why she is broken yet still stands, alive, on this boat. She forces herself to turn and face the person who is standing next to her.

The blue eyes meet her with the same hint of a smile she often used to give the bard during a compromise. And then…

Her breathing stops, and tears blind her vision as her fingers clutch at the urn resting in her palms. Her entire body has frozen, still unable to accept what has happened, still not realizing that her warrior's existence is only temporary until sundown. She wishes for nothing more than to launch into the warrior's arms and be held, but that would cause more pain just knowing the circumstances that led to this half-existence.

This existence without her soul-mate.

But she holds the tears back, her jaw clenches and avoids the empathic gaze which seeks hers.

"You should get some sleep soon," the taller woman says.

The bard – or perhaps now a warrior more than anything - says nothing.

"Gabrielle…" The warrior moves closer and attempts to wrap her arms around the bard. The younger woman does nothing but hang her head, shoulder shaking silently. After several long moments, a hoarse tone emerges from the young woman, clouded with pain and desperation.

"I can't sleep."

"I know it's hard -"

"You made this choice, Xena."

The warrior's expression hardens briefly at the mention of 'choice' and she attempts to speak. "Gabrielle, I never left you. You know that. I couldn't allow the 40, 000 souls -"

The bard shakes her head, shrugging off her soul-mate's touch, and backing away, still grasping the urn as if it is her lifeline. "No. You don't understand. Sleep does nothing for me. It's when I wake up…" She stops, lowering her head and covering her mouth as she attempts to regain her composure. The warrior just stands there, waiting in silence. At last the bard looks back up with a tearstained expression.

"It's when I wake up… this is my nightmare," she whispers, although she knows the warrior's keen hearing will catch her words. "I can't escape it."

The warrior studies her for a long time, then reaches out and gently tugs the urn from her hands. The bard just looks at her, her eyes a mixture of pain, and fear, and anguish, and desperation… and the neverending agony of a soul who has seen too much, been through too much, and just wants to sleep again and forget.

The warrior sets the urn down on the floor near her soul-mate's cabin, and then wraps her arms around the bard, who closes her eyes and leans against her partner. The bard lacks the strength to even hold onto her soul-mate, as she knows that when darkness comes, her grasp will only touch cool air once again.

It is the nightmare she wakes up to.