STORY: Return To Me by DarkMoroseXena

DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended.

CONTENT: There will be violence (this is Xena after all) and this story contains love between two adult women.

This story is set post Friend in Need but don't worry – being dead never stopped Xena.

*******

Bright blue eyes peeked from beneath the grey woolen shawl wrapped tightly around the woman's head. Only the Gods knew where this storm had come from. She struggled with the latch on the barn and grabbed her lantern to light her way back to the house.

A crack of light appeared in the doorway. Sarah stood there beckoning her in frantically and casting worried eyes at the darkening skies.

"Quickly, before the rains," her daughter urged.

Large drops of water splashed heavily onto the ground. With a sprint that belied her years Lila raced toward the doorway and the daughter she had thought forever lost. It had been six years since her daughter had been returned to her and the ache of those missing years had been replaced with a profound sadness at all Sarah had suffered at Gurkhan's hands.

Lila drew back her shawl on the porch way and shook free her damp and graying hair.

Sarah peered past her mother into the dark as the rains fell in earnest.

"Wouldn't want to be out in that," she murmured.

Lila shrugged, a smile touching her lips. "It's only water. Now being lost in a snowstorm - that's something."

Sarah looked at her mother, her head tilting slightly, blond hair sweeping across the curious frown on her brow. "Why do I feel there's a story in this?"

Lila took her daughters arm and smiled wistfully. "You make the tea - I'll tell you all about it."

*****

Lila stood in her old bedroom clutching the rag doll her sister had given her that Solstice night. She held it to her chest and sighed. What happened to you Gabrielle? Her letters had stopped two years ago. After Xena died. She shivered, feeling the wind seep through the loose window shutters.

Dropping the doll onto the bed she moved to the window to tighten the shutters. Her heart caught in her mouth. A thin figure was silhouetted against the barn door and struggling to close the latch as she had done earlier.

"Sarah," Lila whispered urgently. "Sarah!"

Sarah's tousled head emerged from the living room.

"What is it?"

"Bar the windows, I'll get the door. There's someone out there!"

Her daughter didn't ask questions and scurried to do as her mother requested. Lila raced to the fireplace and hefted the old axe by the wood pile. It had belonged to her father. She squeezed it tightly against her weathered palms and edged towards the door. Whoever was creeping about their property in the middle of a stormy night was in for a shock.

Booted feet sounded on the porch. Lila raised the axe. There was a hesitant knock on the door, then another. Muffled voices sounded outside. Sarah returned to the living room; now gripping a frying pan and cast an anxious glance at her mother. Lila hesitated and then reached toward the door handle. The door swung inwards. Two bedraggled figures stood there, cloaks sopping wet and dripping puddles on the floor. The taller of the two pushed back her hood.

"By the Gods!" Lila's axe clattered to the floor and she struggled to form words. "Xena!"

"That's not possible," Sarah said stepping forward. "Xena's dead…"

"Yeah," Xena replied, shrugging off her cloak. "I get that a lot. Mind if we come in? It's kind of damp out here."

"Of course, "Lila said. Shock giving prompt way to manners she ushered them both in. Xena's smaller companion removed her own cloak and Lila was struck by her resemblance to her mother.

"You remember Eve," Xena said.

Lila nodded and beckoned them both to sit by the fire.

*****

Xena stared into the fire; hands wrapped tightly around the mug of hot tea. Lila handed the warmed blankets to Eve, who wrapped one around herself and draped the other around her mother's shoulders. Eve nodded her thanks and took a seat next to Sarah on the hearth.

Lila sat down opposite Xena and regarded her silently. The warrior looked pale and thinner than she remembered. The pensive expression seemed out of place on her face. This was not the arrogant bronzed fighter of Gabrielle's scrolls but someone quite different. Still, she had risen from the dead - once more.

"So you were really dead this time," Lila offered into the silence.

Xena looked up sharply, suddenly focused on her surroundings. Her smile was fleeting and grim.

"Yes….You have to do what you think is right - Gabrielle understood that."

Xena glanced darkly at Eve who raised her head in challenge.

"I did what I had to do," Eve snapped, "I'm not going to apologize for your life being restored."

"No matter the cost," Xena said bluntly. "Forty thousand trapped souls mean nothing to Eli's God?!"

"Eli's God restored your life once before," Eve replied hotly jumping to her feet. "You're the one who threw it away!"

Xena stood; her height and look intimidating. This was the warrior Lila remembered.

"There wasn't another choice," Xena bit out. "I gave my life to save those souls. And you…You condemned them by bringing me back!"

"I will live with my mistakes," Eve said coldly, gaining control of her temper. "You chose to die for yours."

The agony of Xena's choice reflected clearly in the daughter's face. Gabrielle had worn that same expression on Mount Fuji. "Those souls are free!" Xena blinked; hit suddenly with full force of Eve's pain and her partner's heartbreak. "I don't care!" The mug slipped from her hands, hot liquid spilling quickly across the wooden floor and seeping into the boards.

"I'll get a cloth, "Lila interjected.

Xena stared listlessly at the broken cup and back at Eve who had already turned away.

"I'm sorry," Xena whispered.

"Nothing that can't be fixed," Lila said brightly, "Sarah why don't you make up the spare cot in your room. I'm sure Eve could do with a rest after being out in that storm."

Sarah smiled at her mother and Eve nodded her thanks, only too happy to be away from the source of her pain.

Lila waited for the young women to leave before she knelt to clear up the broken mug. Xena crouched down to help.

"Eve will forgive you," Lila said softly, taking the pieces from Xena's weathered hands. "It's what Eli preached. And she is his prophet after all…I can't speak for Gabrielle. I haven't seen her since you died."

They both stood. Xena's eyes were unreadable.

"I used to think that my father was too hard on you," Lila continued. "Now I think he was right. Even in death you took her from us."

Lila dumped the broken crockery onto the kitchen table and glanced over her shoulder at the silent warrior.

"I'll make up Gabrielle's bed, "Lila said finally. "You can sleep in there."