Last part (told you it was short!). You may need a kleenex! A few thoughts of mine are at the end of the chapter. Enjoy.
"I'm sorry Xena," said Gabrielle and pulled herself away from Xena's embrace.
Xena sighed and stared at the bard who had walked away from the bedroll and stared out into the forest. She wrapped a blanket around herself and walked over to join Gabrielle.
They stood shoulder to shoulder for a moment, just staring at anything else but each other.
"Sorry," whispered Gabrielle.
"You don't have to apologise, Gabrielle," said Xena, and she swung her body around so they were facing each other. "I've waited four years, and just being here with you, right now, is all that matters."
Gabrielle gave her a searching look. "I know you want more," she added and looked away.
Xena hooked her finger under Gabrielle's chin, so that they faced each other again. "Even an emotional dullard like me knows we have a lot to talk about."
Gabrielle smiled, and this brought a wide smile from Xena. "That's better. We have got the rest of our lives together, and I intend them to be long, happy ones. We've plenty of time to talk and heal." Xena ran her hands through Gabrielle's hair and stared at the scar on her hairline. "You've been through so much," she whispered, "let me take care of you."
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her, and Xena reciprocated the hug.
"I love you," said Gabrielle and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. A tear escaped from one eye, and she pulled back and opened here eyes and stared into Xena's concerned blue ones. "I just-I just need a little time."
Xena opened her mouth but closed it quickly when she saw the pain etched on Gabrielle's face. She pushed away the questions she wanted to ask for a moment and instead smiled and said, "I'll be waiting, my love, and take as long as you need."
Gabrielle nodded, and walked back to their bedrolls. "Tea?"
"Yeah," said Xena watching her with sad eyes. "Gabrielle, what has happened?" she whispered to herself.
Xena's arm stretched over the empty bed roll, and she let out a small groan. She turned her head to look at the empty space where Gabrielle should have been and then turned back and looked upwards at the sky.
She tightened her right hand into a ball and brought it down onto the soft earth. "Damn," she said with a measure of frustration. The reunion wasn't going as she had anticipated; Gabrielle was pleased and delighted at her surprising re- appearance, and yet Xena felt there was something missing. She was disgusted with herself that her own misery could be linked to Gabrielle's reluctance to be intimate. No, that wasn't it; yes, she had dreamed about her and Gabrielle together, but she was genuine in her statement that Gabrielle should have as much time as she needed. Xena racked her brains to consider what could be affecting Gabrielle so-a trauma she suffered, embarrassment over her new scars, or most worrying for Xena, that Gabrielle no longer wanted the warrior.
Whatever it was Xena needed to find out what was bothering the Bard. And she was going to start by finding Gabrielle right now.
"Aphrodite, please," said Gabrielle. She waited for several moments and then got off of the log and shook her head. "What do I need to do, smash your temples again?"
"There aren't many left, so I would be pretty hacked off," said a voice, and Gabrielle smiled as she turned and faced Aphrodite.
The Goddess was dressed in a long, plain beige dress and was without make up. Gabrielle's smiled dropped from her face instantly.
"Dite, by the Gods. What-"
"This is what a broken heart does," said Aphrodite shakily.
Gabrielle instinctively moved towards her. The goddess stepped back, but Gabrielle was quicker and wrapped her arms around her. At first the goddess struggled but as Gabrielle held tight, the struggles lessened, and the Goddess put her head on the Bard's shoulder.
"I didn't know," said Gabrielle.
"I know," sighed Aphrodite. She gave an ironic chuckle. "Ares thought he'd make everyone happy-he had no idea about us."
"Don't; don't say you're sorry, you wish it could be different. It doesn't help," she pulled away from the bard who stared at her with a pained expression.
"But it's true," said Gabrielle softly.
"Why is it her? Why can't it be me?" shouted Aphrodite.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her. Before she could speak, there was an anguished cry. Gabrielle and Aphrodite pulled apart and looked at where the cry was from. Xena was staring at the pair with anger in her eyes.
"So you couldn't spend one night with me. Had to run back to your slut," spat out Xena. Vulnerability and anxiety made her angry. Although the pair were not overtly intimate, Xena could tell from the way they acted, they were lovers, and that thought terrified her.
"Don't speak about her like that," said Gabrielle quietly and stood in a protective stance in front of Aphrodite.
"Gabrielle," said Aphrodite and tugged her arm.
"Don't worry," said Gabrielle, her eyes never leaving Xena's angry face. "I'll be fine." She finally turned to face the Goddess. "Let me talk to her."
Aphrodite's face crumpled for a moment.
"Hey," said Gabrielle, and cupped the pained face. "I'll see you soon."
Aphrodite nodded wordlessly, and rubbed her streaming eyes with her hand. She shot Xena a look of disgust, before giving Gabrielle a weak smile and then disappeared in a flash.
Gabrielle stared at the spot where Aphrodite had been for a few heartbeats, before turning to face Xena very slowly and methodically.
"That explains a lot," said Xena angrily. "Sorry I returned and spoiled your little tryst." Xena's voice dripped with venom, and her face wore a scowl. Gabrielle on the other hand merely stared at her with a neutral expression.
"How long?" yelled Xena? "How long was she banging you?" Xena was not only scared at what she saw but was frustrated at Gabrielle's calm reaction and was trying to bait her.
"Two years," said Gabrielle simply.
"TWO YEARS!" shouted Xena and walked up to Gabrielle. "TWO YEARS", she shouted again at Gabrielle. They were so close that Gabrielle could feel her hot breath on her face. "So who was it before her? How long did you wait after I died before you had a bed warmer?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Did you really expect me to be chaste for four years?"
Xena's face twitched with anger. "I didn't expect you to fall in love."
The words hung there, and the women stared at each other. Xena was willing for Gabrielle to deny it, her panic rising by the second as she realised the depth of Gabrielle and Aphrodite's feelings.
"Neither did I," said Gabrielle with a weak smile.
"She doesn't love you," said Xena quickly and gripped Gabrielle's arms. "The gods just use people, you should know that. Why did you let yourself fall for her tricks?"
"Because she was there," screamed Gabrielle. She stared defiantly at Xena, anger across her face for the first time. "She was there for me. You weren't. I knew she would always be there, she wasn't going to run off and leave me when it suited her."
Xena felt a wave of guilt through her, and dropped her hands from Gabrielle's arms. Gabrielle fell to her knees. "There were no tricks," she said, "And it was so nice, to have someone who cared for me, and looked out for me." Gabrielle looked at the ground, away from Xena's searching gaze.
"I'm glad you had someone," said Xena quietly, and she too fell to her knees. Gabrielle looked up at her with teary eyes. "I would have hated for you to go through the rest of your life without love."
"It hurt so much when you died," sobbed Gabrielle and Xena wrapped her arms around her. "I wanted the pain to stop, for me to die." Xena tightened her grip on her. "Aphrodite helped me to realise you wouldn't want that for me."
Xena gave an ironic chuckle that she and Aphrodite were on the same wavelength, and that caused Gabrielle and the Goddess to become closer.
"She loves me, and I have so few people alive who love me." Gabrielle sobbed even harder and Xena rubbed her back comfortably.
"Do you love her?" asked Xena, fearfully.
"Yes," breathed Gabrielle.
"Do you want to be with her?" whispered the warrior princess.
There was silence, and Xena held her breath.
The answer was short, but to Xena it was the sweetest word she had heard. She stared into the green eyes that meant so much to her.
"I love you," she said. "I just want you to be happy."
"I know. I love you too," said Gabrielle, and she moved in to kiss Xena gently on the lips. They then touched foreheads. "You make me happy," she added.
Xena smiled, and gently pulled Gabrielle onto the ground. The bard sobbed, and Xena comforted her wordlessly until Gabrielle lifted her self onto one elbow, and looked lovingly at Xena.
"Thank you," she said.
"Gabrielle, you have accepted and forgiven so much more. I am sorry I reacted-"
"No it was a shock. I understand, I do. But there is something I would like to ask you of you."
"Dite." It was little more than a whisper, but it had the desired effect. The Goddess immediately appeared in front of Gabrielle.
They stared at each other for several moments until the goddess tore her eyes away.
"Well goodbye then," she said curtly.
"Aphrodite, wait, please," said Gabrielle. The goddess grimaced and then looked at the bard.
"I don't want it to end like this," said Gabrielle. "There is so much I want to say to you." She stepped forwards, and took both Aphrodite's hands in her own.
The Goddess said nothing and stared at her.
"I thought you were going to show me that wonderful hideaway with the open fire and oysters," she said, and rubbed her hands up Aphrodite's arms.
"And oysters," said Aphrodite quietly. "But what about Xena?"
"Its fine," said Gabrielle. "One last night together." She looked into the goddess' eyes. She could see the pain in them, and hated herself for giving that to someone she loved immensely. "If you want," she added almost shyly, as she realised that Aphrodite may be appalled by the idea.
They were immediately transported away from the forest to a beautiful ornate room. Their eyes met, and a message passed between them as it had done so many other times.
"Thank you," said Aphrodite and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle, who rested her head on her neck. "Thank you," she repeated and kissed the top of the bard's head gently.
Aphrodite sensed her brother materialising into the room. "Hey Air, what's up?"
Aphrodite turned to face her brother and found him staring at her with an intense expression on his face.
"What?" she said and looked around self-consciously. "Is my lippie not on properly?"
Ares remained silent, his expression the same, but he folded his arms in front of his body.
"What is it?" asked Aphrodite more urgently.
"Don't you watch out for her at all?" he asked, and for a moment his face showed sympathy.
"Who do-oh," said Aphrodite. She slumped down onto a chair as the realisation of whom he meant hit her. "I've been kinda busy. Besides I am sure she is fine with her warrior babe," she added with a hint of bitterness. She looked up at her brother and this time all she saw was compassion.
He walked to her slowly and crouched down in front of her, laying his hands on her arms. "Go to her," he said in a whisper. He then kissed her forehead. "If you don't you'll regret it."
He then stood up straight, clicked his fingers and was gone.
Aphrodite stared into the space where he was, and sighed. "Oh Gabby," she whispered. She stood up and clicked her fingers and disappeared.
Aphrodite found herself in an inn. From her experience it looked like an ordinary rural inn, and her sudden appearance was not taken notice of by any of the patrons who were concentrating on watching a bard. Aphrodite smiled to herself, and stepped forward to give herself a better view thinking the bard was Gabrielle. Her face fell when she realised instead of the petite blonde Amazon it was an older red haired woman. She watched for several moments and then walked to the bar.
"Is Gabrielle on later?" she asked the bar keep?
"Who?" he snapped back and frowned.
"You know, Gabrielle. Xena's-"
"Xena? Upstairs third on the right," he said hurriedly and turned to another customer.
"Typical," said Aphrodite to herself. "Knows Xena," she muttered and headed towards the stairs.
She thought about pushing the door open, but stopped herself in time. After taking a deep breath she knocked on the door. She heard a loud "ssshhh" and then the door opened.
Standing staring at her was Xena. Aphrodite looked her up and down. The dark hair had streaks of grey in it and there were more lines on her face. Even standing there, Aphrodite could tell she was not as fit and flexible as she was the last time she saw the warrior.
Xena looked momentarily shocked, and then regained her composure. But Aphrodite could tell that Xena was working hard to maintain it, her face looked pinched and her eyes showed evidence of recent tears.
"Aphrodite," she said warily. It was the first words they had spoken to each other since Xena had found Aphrodite and Gabrielle embracing.
The Goddess nodded and waited for Xena to invite her in. Xena didn't move, merely continued to stare at the blonde.
"Can I come in?" asked Aphrodite after an uncomfortable silence.
Xena's head dropped and she nodded slightly and stepped aside. Aphrodite stepped in, and her eyes scanned the room. She could see someone lying in the large double bed, and assumed it was Gabrielle. Beside the bed was a table with a bowl and cloths. On a desk there were bottles and bags as well as a pestle and mortar. The rest of the room was tidy, with clothes and bags packed away. But one anomaly caught Aphrodite's attention and that was a chair by the side of the bed with a blanket draped over it. She stared at that for several moments and then looked at the desk again, with a sudden and painful realisation.
"It's been a while," said Xena.
Aphrodite smiled and looked at her. "You know how it is, time just slips away," she said brightly. The smile dropped from her face as her eyes met Xena's. She could see the ache of the warrior, and Aphrodite felt nothing but sympathy for her.
"I-I I am here now," said the Goddess weakly, and looked at the bed. She slowly walked towards the chair and sat in it. Finally she turned to look at the sleeping Gabrielle.
She ran her hand though her hair that had lightened due to the amount of grey. Her fingers then gently traced the lines on her face. Aphrodite noted the bard's skin was still soft despite the fact it was more wrinkled than she remembered. But she could not fail to notice the bard's pallor, slenderness or her irregular, noisy breathing. She sighed and enjoyed the sensation of touching the bard-her bard-before she remembered who else was in the room. She looked at Xena who was watching her with a mixture of insecurity and annoyance.
"Sorry," said Aphrodite, and withdrew her hand.
Xena walked to the other side of the bed, and sat on it. She took the bard's hand. "Thank you for coming," she said in a choked voice.
"Xena, why don't you rest? I'll sit with her," said Aphrodite.
Xena shook her head and then smiled as she saw Gabrielle was blinking and beginning to rouse.
"Hey, we've got a visitor," she said. Gabrielle looked at her and smiled and then slowly turned her head to see Aphrodite. Her face lit up in a wide beam before she started to cough. Xena jumped up and poured a cup of water for her, while Aphrodite soothingly rubbed her back.
"That's some cough," whispered Aphrodite to Xena who helped to sit Gabrielle further up the bed and then handed her the cup.
Gabrielle stopped coughing and sipped the drink, and lay back on the pillows spent.
Aphrodite continued to hold Gabrielle's hand while Xena mixed up some herbs in a mug before adding some water.
She brought it over to the bed and sat on it. "Here we go," said Xena with forced enthusiasm. "This will make you feel better."
Gabrielle looked at the mug with a mixture of resignation and longing. "I know," said Gabrielle with a smile, and Aphrodite and Xena helped her to sit up and she swallowed the mixture.
Xena looked from Gabrielle and Aphrodite and swallowed. "I'm just going to stretch my legs." She gave Gabrielle a weak smile.
"Thank you," mouthed Gabrielle and gave her a smile in return.
Xena slowly left the room shutting the door gently behind her.
The two women just stared at each other for several moments.
"It's been a while," said Gabrielle. "Seventeen years."
"Seventeen years, eight months and twenty days, but who's counting?" said Aphrodite quickly. She sighed and looked away. "I wanted to see you, sweet pea, Gods, so many times, but I couldn't. I couldn't watch you happy with her."
She turned to face Gabrielle with tears rolling down her cheeks. "Does that make me bad?"
"No," whispered Gabrielle. "Makes you human."
Aphrodite squeezed Gabrielle's hand.
"You are here now, that's all the matters," said Gabrielle and then started to cough.
Aphrodite looked on anxiously until Gabrielle had finished and pointed to the water. Gabrielle shook her head.
"I want to ask you something," said Gabrielle.
The Goddess nodded. "Anything."
"Watch out for Xena for me," Gabrielle said and her face crumpled.
Aphrodite shut her eyes and wordlessly nodded her head.
"Thank you," said Gabrielle.
Aphrodite opened her eyes. "Anything for you. I love you."
"And I love you, Dite. You have meant so much to me; I can't begin to tell you."
"Were you happy?" asked Aphrodite, suddenly.
There was a long pause, before Gabrielle said quietly, "She made me happy."
The Goddess smiled. "I'm glad."
"I'm so glad that you came," said Gabrielle, genuinely.
"Me too," said Aphrodite. "Me too."
Xena crept into the room and saw Gabrielle was asleep and Aphrodite was sitting in the adjacent chair holding her hand.
She moved to the other side of the bed and sunk onto it. Xena gently stroked the blonde-gray hair.
"Thank you," said Aphrodite.
Xena nodded, a lump forming in her throat.
"We spoke for a few minutes, but she fell asleep fairly quickly," said Aphrodite slightly defensively.
"She does; she's been sleeping a lot," said Xena. She swallowed and looked away, tears forming in her eyes.
"Tell me," said Aphrodite gently and she leant over and gently rubbed Xena's arm.
Xena gave her a weak smile. "She felt a bit off colour, so we decided to stay here for a few days." Xena turned to look at the sleeping Bard. "That was two weeks ago. She has been deteriorating ever since."
Ares words rang in the Goddess' head. "I am so sorry."
There was silence until Xena said in a choked voice, "she called for you." A pause. "And so did I."
Aphrodite sighed, and their eyes locked and they could see each other's pain reflected in them.
"You should be here," continued Xena. "She loved you-loves you," she corrected.
Aphrodite felt overwhelmed by that admission from the taciturn warrior.
"You made her happy though," said Aphrodite, thinking back to what Gabrielle had told her, albeit eventually.
"I hope so," Xena looked from Goddess to Bard. "But," Xena frowned and paused for several moments, "sometimes I knew she was thinking of you, your time together. She missed you."
"Oh Gods, I missed her, so much," whispered Aphrodite. "But I couldn't watch you two together. So it was easier not to."
Xena nodded in agreement, and bent over Gabrielle and kissed her forehead before getting up and walking to the table.
Aphrodite smiled. "Thank you."
Gabrielle opened her eyes and took a few moments to get her bearings. She sensed the two other women in the room, but for the moment concentrated all her efforts on trying to control her shallow breathing. It was inordinately hard to turn her head to face Xena, but she put all her energies into it and then gave her a warm smile.
"Hey," said Xena. "How you doing?"
"Feeling a bit tired," mouthed Gabrielle.
"Rest then," said Xena, and a tear tracked down her face.
"I love you," said Gabrielle, with as much energy as she could muster.
"I love you too," replied Xena.
Gabrielle slowly turned her head until she could see Aphrodite. The Goddess smiled and took her hand. They locked eyes, and Gabrielle gave her hand a little squeeze. She then turned back to face Xena, and cocked her head slightly. The warrior got on the bed and wrapped her arms around the bard. She rested her chin on Gabrielle's head until the noisy breathing ceased and Xena could no longer feel any movement from the bard.
Xena and Aphrodite exchanged an anguished glance, and Xena gripped the bard even tighter. Aphrodite leant over and kissed Gabrielle's forehead, and was beginning to straighten up when Xena said shakily, "say goodbye properly Aphrodite."
"Thank you," said Aphrodite in a choked voice, and she gently smoothed Gabrielle's hair and whispered in her ear. When she finished the Goddess walked around to Xena and gave the distraught and reluctant warrior a massive bear hug.
"If you need anything," said Aphrodite.
Xena nodded and said with a sob, "I'm glad you were here. It was right."
Aphrodite gave a weak smile and materialised away leaving Xena to deal with her broken heart, and Aphrodite to nurse hers.
"Come out I can feel ya," said Xena, and Aphrodite emerged from the trees.
Xena was momentarily surprised but regained her composure quickly. Aphrodite assumed she expected Ares. She looked at the warrior who appeared slightly dishevelled and pale. The Goddess was not surprised that it was a very quiet path she found the warrior on-she imagined Xena had no appetite for crowds.
"Thought I'd check in on you," said the blonde. She deliberately ignored the litter that the black horse was pulling.
"Thanks," said Xena and continued leading the horse. "Walk with me," she asked?
Aphrodite smiled. "So where are you off to?"
"Amphipolis first; Gabrielle wanted to lie there." She looked back towards the coffin, and sniffed loudly. "And then I thought I'd visit Eve. She's married with children now."
"You a granny," said Aphrodite with a chuckle.
Xena flashed a proud smile, and then her face fell.
"I can come with you as long as you want, that is," said Aphrodite, a little nervously.
"I'd like that," said Xena. "Wait a minute." She pulled the horse to a standstill, and then went to the side of the horse and rummaged through a saddle bag. She pulled out some scrolls and looked through them. Finally finding the right bundle, she placed the other scrolls back in the bag and walked towards the Goddess.
"Thought you may like these; scrolls of your time together."
Aphrodite looked at the scrolls and then to Xena.
"Thanks, are you sure?"
"I don't really read them. I prefer my stories told not written," Xena admitted ruefully. "I think you'd appreciate them more."
Aphrodite smiled gratefully. "Would you like a story? I did pick up a few tips."
They shared a chuckle and Xena nodded and then geed up the horse.
"Well have you been to Gaul?"
"A couple of years ago."
"We went and Gabby…"
I wanted to explore Gabrielle and Aphrodite and that is why Gabrielle and Xena's years together Post FIN are not further developed, It was very difficult to break up Gabrielle and Aphrodite even though I love Xena/Gabrielle pairing, and I hope I showed the pain of all concerned.