By Masque

Gabrielle’s Thread

Since her apparent ‘death’ life had been hectic: going to the Underworld, talking with Hades, seeing Perdicus again, being taken to Olympus, meeting Artemis, catching up with Melosa and Terreis. For the first time since the fight in Dahak’s temple Gabrielle actually had time to sit and think. She was reclining against some soft cushions and stretched out on some furs in front of the hearth with a roaring fire.

She felt a pang of guilt for the comforts she was enjoying and wondered what Xena was doing at that moment, how she had reacted to Gabrielle’s death, what she was going through. Suddenly it occurred to her - thought. She should know the answers to all of her questions through Xena’s thoughts. Xena had said that the dead could hear the thoughts of the living, so why could she not hear Xena? This triggered an ache and emptiness inside her; if it was her destiny to die then so be it, but to spend eternity without Xena, not even in her thoughts was unbearable.

She had not even realised that she had begun crying and that two arms enfolded her in an embrace. The soft pink fabric that brushed against her face told her that it was Aphrodite immediately, strangely though she did not feel compelled to pull away from the shallow Goddess of Love.

“I know it hurts.” Light hands stroked Gabrielle’s golden hair in a relaxing rhythm.

“Aphrodite? What are you doing here?” Gabrielle asked. She had never trusted the Goddess’s motives.

“Artemis had to make her rounds, so she asked me to check in on you. Actually she asked Athena to do it, but I was eavesdropping on the conversation and kinda took the invitation myself.” Aphrodite shrugged, feeling absolutely no guilt for listening in on her sisters conversation.

Gabrielle began to laugh away the tears, “Why did you want to check on me?” She drew herself away from Aphrodite and awaited an explanation.

Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders, “I knew it was only a matter of time before you worked out that you couldn't hear the Warrior Babes thoughts; so I thought I’d drop by and let you know that she’s thinking about you…. Heaps. We were hoping to have her here for the trial sooner, but I guess she’s too upset.” The Goddess saw the tears glistening in the young woman’s eyes, “I'm sorry, I thought you might want to know that, and that it would sound better coming from me than that nerd Athena.”

“It’s not that,” Gabrielle sniffed and wiped away the few stray tears, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

The expression on Aphrodite’s face was sadness, although she smiled through it, “I know that you don't think much of me, in fact you’d probably do a better job if you had this gig, but I’m the Goddess and you’re the bard, so I guess we're stuck where we are.” At this they both smiled. “Look sweetie, I never did say thank you for giving me back my powers, so I owe you. Ask me anything you want and if it's within my powers to grant it, it’s yours.”

Gabrielle did not need to think, other than her life there was only one thing she wanted, “I want to see Xena.”

“You got it kid.” Aphrodite held up a hand and wiggled her fingers. The two of them vanished from the lodge.

*           *            *

Xena’s Thread

As Xena finally reconciled herself to the fact that Hercules would hopefully understand her actions she remembered his final words, I'll get Ephiny to take care of that. Ephiny was in her mother’s house? She probably hates me for what I did to her, to Gabrielle, especially now, one voice was saying to her, Then why did she come all this way to see you, another voice echoed.

The door to the bedroom opened again but it was not Ephiny who entered, Xena locked glares with Solari. The dark Amazon issued a look that said Try anything and I'll kill you. Solari respected Xena but she was a loyal Amazon lieutenant protecting the Amazon Regent, Xena had to correct herself, Amazon Queen. Ephiny followed a few moments later now that Solari was sure the room was safe. Xena’s eyes caught the brace on the left arm; she dropped her gaze guiltily and saw that the Amazon healing satchel that Ephiny was carrying.

The two Amazons approached the bed warily, Xena gauged their movements all the way. Everything about their bodies radiated apprehension; she did not blame them considering their last encounter - and Solari had not even been there.

“Hello Xena,” Ephiny said in an effort to break the tension. Her elbow tingled at the thought of their confrontation - Xena had acted in anger having lost her son Solan. Now Ephiny faced Xena as she had lost Gabrielle, the thought of Xena’s anger unnerved her.

“Ephiny.” Was Xena’s simple acknowledgment.

The tension dissipated and Ephiny and Solari set about treating Xena's injury. Solari had brought water and some clean cloth with her, she washed the wound to clear it of infection and to reveal the extent of the damage - it was deep and needed stitching. Ephiny gathered some more candles and lit them, providing then with enough light for her to perform the stitches. True to her character Xena did not even flinch as Ephiny threaded the needle through the flesh.

When she was done Ephiny started to move away but Xena caught her good arm, “I’m sorry about what happened.” Xena's eyes took in the whole arm brace at once.

“It's okay. It doesn’t hurt anymore.” Ephiny assured her.

Xena only reached up and touched her fingers to Ephiny’s forehead, “Yes it does,” meaning that the emotional pain was still present.

“Not anymore.” Ephiny took Xena’s hand in her own, letting Xena know that the apology had healed both the physical and mental pain she had suffered over the last months.

Nodding briefly in understanding Xena then began to search around the room for something. Guessing what she was looking for Solari reached down to the side of the bed and retrieved Gabrielle’s rucksack and handed it to Xena.

Holding the bag close to her Xena watched as the two Amazons left the room, knowing that Xena needed to be alone with her past memories if she ever wanted to face her future.

Alone, Xena gingerly unlaced the satchel and upended the contents onto the bed before her. In the bag had been a spare green top, a set of boot laces, the match stick doll - that was supposed to represent Xena, several scrolls and something wrapped up in the green top. She shook the top and the heavy wooden object fell into her lap; it was the lamb that she had given to Gabrielle at the winter solstice. She smiled as she remembered the pure joy on Gabrielle's face when she had unwrapped it. Having her chakram stolen, dealing with the authorities and fighting soldiers had all been worth it just to see the look on Gabrielle’s face as she had pulled the lambs tail and watched the head bob up and down. She held the toy for a moment longer and then set it aside turning her attention to the scrolls which lay scattered across the blanket.

Xena had always been hesitant about reading Gabrielle’s scrolls for several reasons: she preferred Gabrielle to recite them to her, Xena was always the hero and she did not think of herself that way, and because they belonged to Gabrielle. But right now she needed Gabrielle’s words more than anything, so she reached for the first scroll, unraveled it and began to read.

*           *            *

Gabrielle’s and Xena’s Threads

Passing through the archway, with Aphrodite guiding her, Gabrielle gaped in awe at the images that danced across the walls of the chamber.

“This place can show you anything, anytime and anywhere you want, cool huh?” Aphrodite explained when the two of them stopped at the end of a platform that extended over what appeared to be an endless chasm. “All you gotta do is ask.” She gestured for Gabrielle to begin, “I'll be outside when your done.” She turned and floated out of the chamber.

Gabrielle stood for a few moments watching random images that passed before her eyes: Hercules finding the lost city of Troy and challenging Hera for the life of the young Queen, the Warrior Princess pillaging the countryside, hungry to conquer. The sight of her own death made her stomach churn and she turned away. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the image of two bodies pressed tightly together in what could only be sex - and Gabrielle swore she recognised the female body. She shook the thought away and remembered why she had been brought to the chamber in the first place. She wanted to see Xena - she looked to where the previous image had been, just not that much!

“Show me Xena, where she is and what she is doing now.” She commanded.

An image separated from the others and drew nearer, bringing more detail and clarity. The floating tableau showed Xena sat in a bed, laying around her were the contents of Gabrielle’s travelling bag. Gabrielle watched as Xena found the wooden lamb and pulled the tail to operate the head. It surprised Gabrielle when Xena put the toy to one side to look at the scrolls. Xena liked to hear the stories Gabrielle wrote because they were important to the bard, but the warrior had problems with Gabrielle making her the hero and saviour when she had committed so many atrocities in her life. Each time Xena finished a scroll she would lay it down and find another, but there was one that Gabrielle wanted Xena to read and Xena’s searching hand kept missing it.

“Pick up the small one Xena,” Gabrielle urged.

Xena’s hand halted, hovering over the smallest scroll, she seemed reluctant to touch it. It was a scroll that Gabrielle had been working on for almost as long as they had been travelling together. It was slightly tatty from the hours of work and constant use.

“Go on Xena,”

Xena picked up the scroll, examining it carefully. She knew it was the one that Gabrielle worked on late at night. She had never shown Xena what was written on it and Xena had never asked. Although Gabrielle was now gone she still felt as though she would be invading the bards privacy.

“Please Xena, I wrote it for you,”

Carefully so as not to damage the scroll any further, she untied the ribbon and opened the scroll.

“Read it,”

Xena’s eyes scanned over the words, it appeared to be a poem, a poem written about Gabrielle’s life, a poem written for her.

Gabrielle knew every word that was written in the scroll, she had worked on it for nearly three years and had dreamed of one day being able to read it to Xena. She would not let that dream slip away and so she began her epic tale hoping that Xena would hear.

As Xena read the words she felt it was Gabrielle’s voice who spoke them to her….  

‘….But you were Xena, the Warrior Princess,
A legend far and wide,
From that moment to this,
I knew my place was by your side….’

 It was about the day they had first met, how Gabrielle had persuaded Xena to let her travel with her... 

‘….Although we were so different,
So many barriers to transcend,
We could learn from one another,
We could find a life long friend….’

 Xena had not wanted to hear the young girl, but Gabrielle had been right, so different yet a perfect combination.

She read on. The poem detailed their adventures including the problems with Callisto, her doomed marriage to Perdicus and Xena’s death on Mount Nestas… 

‘….I wanted to hate you for leaving,
I was angry you’d left me alone,
But your lips pressed softly against me,
And your kiss revived my heart of stone….’

Xena touched her lips as she remembered those moments. If only she could have those moments back. A time when nothing could come between them - not even death.

The next words Xena read were the hardest, covering their journey to Britannia and the gradual breakdown of their relationship…. 

‘….But you were too late to save me,
As my blood innocence was finally lost,
Abandoned on the altar of Dahak,
My belief and soul paid the cost….’

Xena could never forgive herself for allowing Gabrielle to face that alone, had she been there maybe their friendship would never have begun the downward spiral….

‘….Times have been hard this passed year,
The strength of out bond put to the test,
Our beliefs have come between us,
As we both did what we thought was best….’

The final words had been scrawled down in a hurry, probably written just before they had entered the temple of Dahak. The words confirmed what Xena had suspected, Gabrielle knew exactly what she had been doing…. 

‘….Xena you are my one true love,
For you I'd pay the ultimate price,
I know this will be hard for you,
I hope you understand my sacrifice….’

Her whole body trembled, the scroll crumpled between her hands as she fell back against the bed, “Why Gabrielle? You didn’t have to.” And the tears began anew.

On Olympus Gabrielle cried with Xena, although not in her thoughts Gabrielle could feel Xena’s pain - it was mirrored in her own heart.

In two different places, on two different planes of existence, the two friends fell asleep together.

*           *            *

Ares’s Thread

The God of War stalked through Olympus; crossing from the archway that led to the Halls of War to the stairway that led to the chamber of past, present and future. He often went there when he was feeling outraged, he would revisit a field of war, re-experience a blood-thirsty victory, it livened his spirits; tonight, however, he was going there for a different reason.

Tonight he wanted to revisit moments that he had taken for granted at the time, but that meant so much more when he looked back on them. Taunting Gabrielle had become a favourite passed time; almost as much fun as tempting Xena with her dark side. He did not know when the taunting had stopped and been replaced with flirting. Gabrielle was everything that he opposed - peaceful, loving, warming, tender - not his type at all, that was Xena. He reflected on something his sister, Aphrodite had once said, Opposites attract bro. It may not be fair but it does make things interesting. Forget Xena, she’s found her opposite. And that was where Ares found his answer and he did not like it. Xena and he were too alike, and so if Gabrielle was Xena’s opposite then that meant that the irritating blonde was his opposite as well. Damn Aphrodite. If I had that Hind’s blood dagger, I’d kill her.

Just then the object of his rage came into view; Aphrodite was backing cautiously out of the chamber that he was headed towards. She was looking very guilty about something.

“Hey Aphrodite. I want to talk to you.” He blazed as he closed the remaining distance to his little sister.

“Sssh. Not so loud, Slick.” She pleaded and then ducked her head back inside the chamber to make sure the occupant had not heard the disturbance, satisfied she turned her attention to her brother.

“Excuse me?” He tried to look around her to see what she was hiding, but everywhere he looked his vision was blocked by pink fabric, “What in Tartarus are you doing?”

“Nothing Bro, honest.” She replied with an attempt at an innocent smile.

“Then get out of my way.” He roared and tried to get passed her.

“It’s in use.” She stuttered, keeping her brother from reaching the door.

“Who’s in there?” He tried to get passed on the other side.

“No one.” She replied with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Aphrodite, I don’t have time to play games.” This time he grabbed hold of his sister and tried to physically remove her from the doorway, but to his surprise she fought back.

“What’s going on?”

Both Aphrodite and Ares stopped their struggle when the third voice entered the conversation. They turned their heads simultaneously to see Athena approaching them.

“He started it.” Aphrodite said, ripping her arms away from her brothers grasp and pouting like a stubborn child.

“All you had to do was get out of the way.” He hissed back.

From there they degenerated into typical squabbling siblings and Athena did not have time for them. She had come to the chamber on the express mission of finding out Xena’s current mental state, and to assess when they could continue the trial. “Enough,” The two were suddenly quiet, “Why are you here? What are you arguing about? and then get out of my way.” She commanded.

As powerful as all the Gods were, none of them were stupid enough to go up against ‘Daddies Favourite’, or the ‘nerd’ as Aphrodite would have put it.

“I wanted to go into the chamber and look at some stuff and she won’t get out of my way.” Ares explained, somewhat exasperated with the whole situation.

Aphrodite did not look too comfortable with having to explain her actions, she fidgeted nervously for a moment trying to work out what she should say. She looked up at her brother and sister and the two faces of war stared back at her, and an idea sparked, “There’s a big, big, big.... huge image of your favourite doing the wild thing with Zeus’s Golden Boy.”

Both siblings scowled at her and then with a joint effort they forced passed the Goddess of Love on either side. “Okay, so that wasn’t the best excuse I ever came up with.” She tried to catch hold of her brother and sister but they pushed on through the archway and in a tangle of limbs they fell to the ground.

*           *            *

Ares’s Thread

As the three fallen Gods looked up their eyes fell upon Gabrielle who was transfixed with the image of Xena displayed before her; they also noticed that both women were weeping.

Ungracefully they disentangled themselves from one another and stood up.

“You let a mortal into the chamber,” Athena scolded, but she kept her voice low, so as not to disturb Gabrielle.

“Don’t tell Daddy, I just wanted to help the kid.” Aphrodite whined as she tried to explain her actions.

“I should,” Athena began, but when she watched the scene of Gabrielle gazing lovingly at the image of Xena she sympathized with Aphrodite’s decision, “but I won’t.”

Gabrielle lowered her body to the ground, exhaustion carrying her to slumber.

Athena led the other two Gods towards the sleeping form, “I’d better take her back to the lodge before Artemis returns.” The Goddess of Wisdom gathered the young bard in her arms.

“Wait,” Aphrodite knelt down next to Gabrielle and pressed two fingers to her own lips and then gently touched them to Gabrielle’s forehead, she then blew across her fingertips towards the image of the sleeping Xena. Aphrodite met the puzzled gazes of her brother and sister, “A thank you gift. Morpheus owes me one.”

Athena raised her hand and she and the sleeping Gabrielle disappeared.

When Aphrodite rose from her knees she turned to find Ares watching the random images; all had one thing in common - well two actually: Xena and Gabrielle. But having watched her brother in the last few moments she knew which one held his attention.

The Goddess of Love circled her brother to stand before him. He never took his gaze from the images.

“You have to help me Aphrodite.” He pleaded.

“So the great God of War finally falls,” she touched his jaw and ran her fingers along it, “I think it will do you good.” She decided that she liked this off-balance Ares. This fatal flaw in the War God could be his saving grace, or Gabrielle’s.

*           *            *

(When Love and Hate Collide – Def Lepard)

Xena’s and Gabrielle’s Threads

Thanks to Aphrodite’s parting gift both Xena and Gabrielle enjoyed a restful night; filled with a single dream that they both shared. It gave Gabrielle the peace that she needed, in having Xena in her thoughts; and gave Xena the strength to heal her mind and body, to prepare her for the coming days.

Xena watched the grey purple mists swirling around her - she had been here before, another lifetime ago it seemed. No, not a another lifetime but another time of death - her own death. It was the place where she had waited for Gabrielle to come to her then and where she waited for Gabrielle to come to her now.

A few moments passed and Xena saw a silhouette moving towards her through the mists. The figure wore a blue dress, which Xena did not recognise but the golden hair and the blue green eyes were unmistakable. Gabrielle.

Gabrielle saw Xena stood only a few feet from her. She wanted to run straight into Xena’s arms and cling onto her as though she were life itself. She also recognised this place, and she knew that this time it would be her who had to have the control.

Time passed as they simply gazed at one another. Finally as the tears began to spill down Xena’s face she spoke, “I’m so sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about, it was my choice, my choice to die for you.” Gabrielle was fighting back her own tears. What she spoke was the truth, she would give her life for Xena’s but that action meant being without Xena.

“You didn’t have to.” Xena stubbornly wiped tears from her eyes.

“I know, that’s why I never told you.” Gabrielle smiled as she pictured the argument that would have taken place if the subject had ever arisen.

“Always looking out for me, huh?” Xena smiled back at Gabrielle despite her sadness, at least she was with Gabrielle for a few moments.

“Always.” Gabrielle told her. She then looked behind her as though someone was calling to her, “I have to go.”

“Don’t leave me.” Xena pleaded.

“Never.” Gabrielle closed the distance to Xena and slipped her arms around the warriors neck, pulling their faces closer.

Their lips met briefly, but when Xena tried to pull away Gabrielle would not let her go, so instead she fell into the kiss, wrapping her arms around Gabrielle’s body.

“Never.” The word echoed....

*           *            *  

Continued in Part 6