Xena gazed out of the window of the abandoned Pharaoh's palace. The sun was glinting off the white Memphis walls; a throng of expectant civilians and confused Persian soldiers gathering below. The army had successfully defeated the Romans but were now an occupying force without their talismanic leader Cambyses or their best officers. They were lost.
"What are we going to do about them?" Eve asked, coming to her mother's side and gently resting her head against her shoulder.
"Something," Xena murmured. In truth she wasn't sure she cared. The only thing occupying her thoughts was currently asleep in a palatial suite under the watchful eyes of the Goddess of Love. She turned to Eve in earnest.
"Why did Eli's God bring me back? What did I achieve? In the end I wasn't needed."
"That's not true," Eve insisted; taken aback at her mother's uncharacteristic loss of confidence. This was about Gabrielle. In a strange way it always was.
"If I may interject," Ares announced behind them.
"You already have," Eve muttered.
"Do you mind? Grown ups are talking," Ares said and smiled sweetly at Eve before ignoring her and promptly stepping to Xena's side.
"Whole army out there just waiting for a new leader to guide it. To transform it into a new image. Think of all the good that could be done."
Xena shook her head and a wry smile formed on her lips.
"You never give up do you?"
Ares raised an eyebrow and leaned closer to Xena's face.
"There was a time that was said about you Xena," Ares countered softly. "Whatever happened to that warrior? I had a thing for her."
He leaned back and his smug look returned.
"Don't you worry about the Persians. They're already looking for a God to fill the void and it just so happens I'm free. Tell you what, as a personal favour from me to you I'll have the soldiers report to the new city governor. Kadin. Now there's a man with real potential."
He took a step back from mother and daughter.
"Can't live in the past Xena. Not when the future will be so glorious."
Ares flashed away and Eve frowned at her mother.
"Was he drunk?"
"Only on power," Xena answered. "Two rival Gods gone and a city full of new worshippers. What more could anyone want?"
"Maybe a new path," Eve said with sudden confidence. "The people here are free of Sekhmet and they have a choice…perhaps here Eli's message will be heard."
"You truly have found your calling," Xena said softly; a note of pride entering her voice.
A shy smile broke onto Eve's face.
"That never would have happened without you, or Gabrielle. You haven't lost her mother. I know it."
. . . . . .
Gabrielle traced the extra years on her face as she gazed down at her reflection in the bathing pool. Saving Aphrodite had come with a price; her immortality and a few years interest. It had been worth it; the world needed the Goddess of Love and she had clung desperately to Aphrodite in the years since Xena died. So much had changed and yet so much remained the same.
Gabrielle's hand fiddled idly with the hair curling at her ear.
"You do that when you're nervous you know," Aphrodite said lightly as she shimmered into view; her hands trailing down Gabrielle's arm. She heard the mortal's breathing hitch; her tears close to the surface as her arms circled around her waist.
"I get it you know," Aphrodite whispered. "I know how I'd feel if Hephaestus was to walk through that door right now…" Her voice trailed off as if suddenly remembering her dead Olympian family. She shook her head; her long curling locks flying freely away from her face; no trace of sadness in her eyes.
"It should not have been so. We chose our own fate and now I must choose yours."
Gabrielle turned in her embrace to face her lover; her heart hammering in her chest. She did not want to hear the words.
"Being with you was the right thing to do," Aphrodite said. "Just as this is now."
"Dite," Gabrielle began.
"So I'm letting you go."
"No. You don't," the Amazon insisted; her own voice now breaking.
"Because you know in your heart who you belong with," Aphrodite said firmly, "And I would never come between you. You would never forgive yourself if you didn't try."
A divine and slender finger caught the tears on the mortal's cheek.
"I'm afraid," Gabrielle admitted.
The Goddess smiled sadly then and fussed tenderly with the warrior's hair. "Never said it would be easy sweet pea. Neither is letting you go."
Gabrielle looked up at her then, her eyes searching those of her confidante for the lover who was leaving her.
"Dite, it doesn't have to be now does it? Tonight?"
"Not right now," Aphrodite replied softly; her voice thick with emotion. "And no, not tonight."
. . . . . .
Xena was waiting for her outside the city walls as the dawn broke. Argo and Moon had been brushed until they gleamed and a cooling breeze tugged at their manes. The warrior had been up for some time and had clearly busied herself with familiar tasks.
Gabrielle recognised the barely disguised relief in Xena's eyes when she finally walked across the sands to meet her. She must have been afraid she would not return from Aphrodite's arms.
"You want to walk a while?" Xena asked tentatively.
"Yeah, I think I would," Gabrielle replied, nodding. "Feel the need to stretch my legs. Must be getting old."
"I know how that can be," Xena agreed.
The two soul mates exchanged a wry look. Xena passed her the reins; their fingertips sliding over one another's like an ancient dance; one that had been played out many times before in many different lives.
It felt like coming home. The familiar glances, the subtle touches; the warm tanned skin of flesh and blood; not the nightmarish vision of the dead and headless.
"It's going to take some time," Xena affirmed; her hand resting lightly against her back.
"We'll get there. It's a long walk to Potadeia," Gabrielle said, instinctively leaning into her touch.
She glanced up to find Xena's piercing blue eyes staring into hers; always speaking the words that failed her lips.
Xena was right. It would take time. Aphrodite had told her that too. Aphrodite. The guilt that would have consumed Gabrielle was gone. The Goddess of Love had relieved her of that burden as only she could and now Gabrielle knew why. To be loved by a Goddess was truly a wondrous thing but to be loved by Xena was everything.