The Only Treasure
This fiction was written a part of a challenge, and so will not be a long epic story. In fact (for me!) it is relatively short, it just came to me and I had to write it! One day i will do a proper post FIN that wrongs the rights but until then, dear reader, this will have to suffice.
Disclaimers; It involves two women who are in love, although there is no naughty bits (Please hold back your disappointment! :-) ). If this is illegal where you are or if you under age, please look away now. I don't own Xena, Gabrielle or anyone else who appeared in the series, although some characters are mine, all mine!
Please feedback. Bards enjoy hearing from you, even if it is to say hi!
Love is danger, love is pleasure
Love is pure-the only treasure
Frankie Goes to Hollywood- "The Power of Love"
To the casual observer, the blade was a blur. The raven haired woman wielding it was an obvious master and as she continued to skilfully thrust, arc and extend; the speed was accelerating. After a time she slowed her exacting movements until she was completely still. She brought the flat side of the blade to her face and closed her eyes and remained still for several heartbeats before throwing the sword down to the ground.
Xena kept her eyes shut as she breathed in deeply. Her drills were perfect as they had been every day since she died. She never sweated or was breathless and although she opened her eyes and reached for the waterskin, out of a habit of a lifetime, she was never thirsty. The water eased down her throat was crystal clear, cool and fresh and like the lush green grass, the warm sun and the bountiful game she liked to hunt all faultless.
Xena had a short spell within Tartarus and Hell, and this was as different to them as could be. She felt the sins of her past finally washed away, her redemption complete as she died to release the souls she killed and remained dead so they could be avenged. She had spent time with her mother, brothers and son, as well as fallen friends, in another afterlife before returning as instructed to this one. Yet she was not at peace. Not content. Not happy. There was something missing that left a hole in her heart. A bard size hole.
Xena sat on the lush grass and looked around. She could see children playing happily together and lovers enjoying a picnic. She smiled ruefully. The pain of her separation from Gabrielle was growing, in contrast to the lessening of her guilt she had carried for so long. She had no idea how long it had been since that day she had left Gabrielle's side. Akemi had told her that the dead could not hear the livings thoughts, nor was she able to follow the Bard's progress and so she had no way of knowing how Gabrielle was. She felt sickened that a small part of her hoped to see Gabrielle wander through and join her forever in the afterlife.
Her gaze centred back on the children playing, but after a few moments she felt her skin burn in a way she hadn't since she had been alive. She jumped up and opened her mouth to speak. But before she could utter a word she was transported away from the colourful field to a grey room. Standing facing her was-
"Ares! I knew it was you I could feel my flesh crawling."
"Dead and hadn't lost it. I am so proud of you." The handsome god smiled showing his white teeth. "So how's it shaping up for you, Xena? Still able to do your "do gooding"? Have enough fights to keep your juices flowing?"
Xena smiled weakly, and Ares eyes narrowed and he gave a sly smile. "Oh come now, Xena, surely the perfection of the after life hasn't kept your bored. Tsk, tsk, tsk." He lent against the grey walls and took a dagger from his belt and started to pick at his nails.
"What do you want Ares? No wars to start? No mortal lives to destroy."
"Oh I have been very busy these past four years since you made your ridiculous decision. There has been fighting." Ares looked past Xena with a melancholic look on his face. "Too much fighting. Too much death," he whispered, barely perceptible to even Xena's sensitive hearing.
Xena gasped audibly. "Four years…But…I- Gabrielle. "She slumped against the wall trying to grasp what Ares had told her. Four years away from Gabrielle. Four years for the Bard to forge a new life. Without her. Her head spun as she tried to grapple with the truth.
"What do you mean ridiculous decision?" she growled focusing on that phrase to try and ignore the realisation that she had been apart from Gabrielle for so long. "I had 40,000 souls to consider. I had to ensure they were at peace."
"Peace, meace. Actually it was just one soul but who's counting?" Xena looked confused at this statement. The God of War circled her and sat down on a chair that he materialised. "If I had known that would have worked on you, I would have tried it. Or maybe you just fell for the old girlfriend in need trick." Ares snorted. "I couldn't have tried that."
"What…are…you...talking…about?" asked Xena slowly and took a pace towards Ares with every word.
"You were tricked, deceived, swindled, scammed, duped, misled-"
"STOP IT." Xena ran her hand through her hair and looked at The God with anguished eyes. "But Akemi-"
"She lied." The God spoke in the gentlest tone Xena had ever heard from him.
She staggered back and Ares materialised a chair that she fell into. "Lied?" But why?" She placed her head in hands.
Ares gave a weak smile. "You are but a flame to us moths. We want you, and will do anything to get you."
Xena looked up with tear filled eyes. "She lied about the 40,000 souls, about my having to stay dead, everything, just so I would remain with her?" Her tone was incredulous.
"You didn't cause the fire, Xena. There was a fire that destroyed the town but not caused by you. A bakery or something, after you left Jappa. That was why you knew nothing of the carnage. You didn't have to remain dead, the spirits would have been returned to a state of grace with or without you staying dead." Xena turned to the owner of the familiar voice who had materialised in a shower of pink sparkles. It was Aphrodite.
Xena stood up as Aphrodite strode towards her and enveloped the raven haired warrior in a massive bear hug.
Xena pulled away from the Goddess, and looked from one to the other. "So you are telling me," She said in a harsh whisper, "that everything I did in Jappa was for nothing?"
The siblings exchanged a look and then nodded in unison. Xena slumped again in the chair.
"You did release the souls," began Aphrodite brightly, but Ares grasped her upper arm, and she stopped and she sat down in a newly materialised chair.
They sat in silence as the time rolled past; Xena head in hands and the Gods sitting motionless and silent watching her. Finally she raised her head up and her eyes were puffy and bloodshot and her face tear stained.
"So I have been apart from Gabrielle for four years because of a lie?" The Gods nodded in silence. "She had to, Gods, she had to-" Xena stood up and turned to face the wall keeping her face away from the siblings, "she had to retrieve my body, burn it and-"
"Xena." Xena spun around. "Don't torture yourself. It wasn't your fault." Aphrodite stood up and stepped towards Xena.
"Oh don't worry, it won't be me I am torturing. Just wait until I get my hands on Akemi. I have the rest of Eternity to show her the meaning of pain." Xena's eyes darkened and her jaw set as she spoke and as Ares rose he remembered what drew him to the young Xena all those years ago. "Thank you for sharing this with me. How long have you known?"
"I always suspected something when Gabrielle told me of your death. It didn't feel right," said Aphrodite.
"But we got a bit preoccupied, a bit busy. We couldn't investigate," added Ares.
Xena looked at the pair. She took in the Goddess of Love's reserved grey clothing and her straightened hair and looking even closer she could see lines appeared on the goddess's previously flawless face and that she looked tired. Ares too had a smattering of grey hair and careworn manner that so was alien to him. In four years, the immortal Gods had aged. Suddenly something tickled her memory; Ares comment, so unlike him, about so much death.
"Gabrielle how is she?" she asked Aphrodite, anxiously.
"All in good time," said Ares. Xena drew herself up even straighter.
"I want to know about Gabrielle." Her voice was steely.
"All will be revealed shortly," said a voice and this time it was from Eli who appeared behind her. Xena spun around and the two friends hugged warmly.
"Eli-I –what?" said Xena incredulously? She looked at Eli and then at Ares and was slightly surprised to see there was no hostility between the two men.
"As Ares says all will be revealed in good time." Eli spoke gently and held Xena's hand. "This must be quite a shock for you."
Xena nodded and lowered her head for several seconds. When she lifted it up, again her cheeks were tear stained.
Eli looked at Aphrodite who nodded. "You know that it wasn't your fault that so many people died. That you didn't have to pay with your life or remain dead?"
"Akemi will be punished, have no fear. But we must apologise, it has taken us too long to release you."
"Release me? You mean I can leave? I can return to Gabrielle?"
"Yes," said Aphrodite. "It took us an age to persuade the big bosses here," Aphrodite mouthed the last four words and pointed upwards, "that you should leave. I mean jeeze, I thought Uncle Hades was a stick in a mud, but these guys." Aphrodite rolled her eyes and for the first time Xena saw a little sliver of the old Aphrodite.
"What my sister is trying to say," said Ares glaring at Aphrodite, "in a round about way, is that despite the fact you were tricked and had no reason to remain here, they wouldn't let you go. Even though we showed them it wasn't your destiny."
Xena paced up and down. She looked at her three companions. "So why have they released me now?"
"Because the destiny-"
Xena interrupted Ares with a snort. "It's my life and my destiny is my own. I had enough of prophecies with Eve. No more!" she stared at Ares.
"Because it is isn't Gabrielle's destiny to die today but she will." Eli spoke softly, and Xena spun to look at him.
"Gabrielle's dying?" she asked harshly, and then repeated it gently with a quiver in her voice, "Gabrielle's dying?"
"Xena the last three years have horrendous. The world has never known wars like it; there is an evil." Aphrodite closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "An evil that has invaded every time, every level of existence. Everyone has been affected. Everyone."
"The fighting has been fierce, trying to keep it at bay. There have been lines drawn in every country, every town, and every village." Ares spoke quickly. "New alliances have been formed, previous enemies have become allies." He exchanged a look with Eli that Xena couldn't fail to notice. "Even for me, there has been too much war, too much cruelty." He gave a rueful smile. "I bet you never thought you'd hear me say that, Xena."
"Gabrielle?" Xena implored Ares.
The dark haired God gave a wide smile. "Oh she has been magnificent. You have taught her well, Xena. Her artistry, bravery, and skills make her the perfect fighter, and her charm and compassion make her the ideal leader. She commands more men than you ever did Xena and it is because of love and respect not fear." Ares smile grew wider, but then it dropped off his face and he exchanged a pained look with Aphrodite.
"Tell me," said Xena impatiently.
Eli spoke. "Gabrielle has a destiny that we are unable to reveal to you. But she should not die today. If she did, then thousands if not millions will perish. And as important; all hope will be lost." Eli put his hand on Xena's shoulder. "She has been injured and she is not responding. We think you can save her."
"She's given up. Well maybe on a subconscious level at least. It is probably the overwhelming grief manifesting itself as a physical symptom to which medication cannot cure." Aphrodite looked upset as she spoke quickly and tonelessly, and Ares and Eli frowned and looked confused.
"Why?" Xena asked too shocked to say much more. Her head was spinning from revelation after revelation, but all she could focus on at present was Gabrielle was injured and needed her.
"Four years is a long time without you. To have the burden of so many on your shoulders. To be in a time where so many friends and family have gone." A tear rolled Aphrodite's cheek. "Take your pick."
"If she dies we'll be together," said Xena. "Then no one can separate us again."
"That isn't you," said Eli.
"Where has the greater good got me? A premature death; a wrongful separation from the person I love because I felt indebted to help someone." Xena shouted, her anger rising yet again.
"The evil will break the fabric of everything-the mortal, immortal, spiritual planes. There may be no heaven, Elysia, no world even. You may be still separated, Xena."
Xena looked at Eli and nodded. She felt very weary suddenly, the first time in four years.
"Xena it will be a long, hard road you will travel," began Eli.
"As long as Gabrielle travels it with me," said Xena smiling weakly.
Eli shut his eyes and when he opened them he stared straight into the cerulean blue eyes of the tall warrior. "For some of it," he whispered gently, and then tightened his face.
Xena shoulders sagged and she swallowed. "That's better than nothing; take me to her, please."
There was a bang, and suddenly Xena felt icy cold and as the room went dark she knew no more.