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Title: Blessing In Disguise
Author: Darshann
Rating: PG, no sex.
Spoilers: FIN I & II, all prior episodes. (finale spoilers!!)
Summary: Missing time btw the Mt Fuji sunset and the sunset on the boat, as well as a snippet of that evening.
Disclaimer: No infringement intended, just fleshing out what I believe is the intention of the finale. Women in love.


Tribute: From beginning to end, I thank TPTB for XWP. Mostly however, I thank LL and ROC for bringing us
such a pair that will live on in our hearts forever. Lucy said of the show: "It's all about love." and the finale:
"the friendship endures." From these sentiments I bring you this story.

 

Blessing In Disguise

Standing there, looking out at the stars, I feel the boat sway to port in the gentle current. It's the first night on the boat, after leaving Japa. I turn my head aft, watching the wheel slowly turn, turn, turn as if an unseen hand is slowly steering us into the wind. I smile and Xena slowly materializes before me, steering the boat. Well, at least she's standing there and the wheel is turning; she isn't touching it.

"How are you doing that?"

She looks at me and smiles. "Do you remember the way I used to break those bottles with my mind?"

"You did a whole lot more than that."

"Actually there was a difference. With the bottles it was more of a lifting and squeezing. When I took on that entire army in Chin, it was more of an explosion."

"Are you saying you can do that again?"

"So far."

I fall silent, thinking of what this means. She can move things. She can still affect the world. She can still... My throat constricts and I feel the hot warmth push against the back of my face, a fresh pain of grief shivers in my heart.

Her face appears before me. Shimmering from starlight into being. I've come to love that. Every time my heart feels like breaking again, she is before me. Those blue eyes endless, but a breath away.

Her arms encircle me as they've done a million times before and I'm grateful. Grateful that myself alone in all the world has been chosen to spend eternity by her side. What else could this mean? I feel her hands against my back pulsing softly with energy, a gentle warmth and the silky feel that's almost skin, almost, but not quite.

Thank god I'd had enough coin for the boat. Xena had urged me to buy it instead of booking passage. I'd balked at the idea of manning a boat all on my own for such a trip, at first. Then, who can argue with a ghost in the midst of a crowded shipyard, though, in truth she'd convinced me. She'd gotten quite good at that. It was becoming a new skill, her ability to talk me into things.

It's funny, she had begun to remind me of myself, when we'd first met. So curious and talkative. It's a little disconcerting, to tell the truth. The warrior princess is quite fascinated with her newfound state of being. Not that I can blame her, it fascinates me too. She's been spending the better part of the evening exploring her abilities.

It's odd. She isn't alive, but she isn't dead either. Something in between. "Waiting" is what she told me. Waiting for me. She can only touch me, everything else she just passes right through. I guess that won't be much of a problem though, not if she can use her ... mind?... to move things.

The hardest part, is that no one else can see or hear her. That makes it hard to be with other people, because then either I have to ignore her or people think I'm crazy. I've had to tell her to go away a few times already. I think I hurt her feelings the last time. That was just before boarding the boat.

I'd been trying to direct the men as they loaded our -- well, my supplies. Xena kept talking first. Trying to tell me where to put things. Mostly we'd ended up saying the exact same thing, which was funny at first, but then she hadn't stopped. Suggestions about everything from tackle for fishing to extra ink for my scrolls. Finally, I'd turned and glared at her, thinking, Stop! loudly in my mind.

Her lips had stilled and she'd stared at me. I could see my anger reflected in her eyes. The hurt there, the guilt. And I was angry. I still am, a little. Why hadn't she taken me with her to that last battle? I'd asked her and she'd related some crazy notion about me having my own destiny. Something that was mine alone. What could that be?

Ever since last night when the sun had gone down on Mt. Fuji, I'd been walking on eggshells, waiting for the world to crack under my feet. Though she'd never truly left me, each second I was sure she'd be gone the next. It was only a few hours ago when I finally found peace with the way of things.

Before this, yesterday, as the sun dipped down below the distant hills, I'd felt her beside me, solid and warm, and then she wasn't there anymore. I'd turned, she was gone. I looked out to the sunset, my heart aching, ready to burst, and then... ............................................................................................................................................

Anguish freezes in my throat. I feel a tingle spread through me and I sense her, close. My breath catches. Time crawls to a stop. Hot and strong, it washes away the previous moment of grief. All thoughts of an empty future, stall, waiting for the next second to clarify the last. It can't be.

"Xena." I shake my head softly, too afraid to believe.

I see her shimmer in the dying sun, only half visible. Her eyes smile and my heart stills, the tears drying on my skin. I want to believe... so much. It strikes me again, my lip quivering, the sorrow washing over me. I'm seeing things. Without her, I'm going to lose my mind.

"No, you're not."

I inhale sharply, my eyes widening as Xena fades into being before me. She's still transparent, but less so. She moves forward until her nose touches mine. I startle back at the sensation, as does she.

"I thought..."

"So did I."

Blue eyes stare into green. Her face becomes clearer before me. "Xena?"

"Yeah?"

"What's happening?"

"I don't know. I felt myself fade away and then you called me... and I came."

"I did?"

"Yes." She pauses, her eyes softening, fringed by long lashes. "You called me home, Gabrielle..." She glances at the urn I still hold in my hand. "and it pulls me, holds me here."

I look down at the urn and smile softly, my body shaking with the need to believe. My gaze returns to her, my heart skipping a beat as I once again find her there. I reach a hand up to touch her, afraid at first. Then my fingertips stroke across her cheek as if gliding through silk. Warm, a tiny burning, shifting just underneath. Her eyelids droop and I know she can feel me. My thumb covers her lips, feeling a warmth vibrating there.

It's the same as before, as if she were truly alive, standing before me... only better. To touch her is intoxicating, just a fingertip against her skin sends a warm ripple through me. Like the very first time I'd touched her, so long ago.

"I can touch you, can you touch me?" Xena's eyes find mine again and then a hand lifts to my face. She strokes the hair off my forehead, her eyes widening ever so slightly as she brushes against my skin. I close my eyes, feeling it, a swath of warmth brushing past. I gasp at the sensation. She stops and I open my eyes.

Worried, her hand stills. "Did I hurt you? Is it cold?"

"No. It's wonderful. Touch me more."

An eyebrow quirks and I laugh to myself. She always was the prude among the two of us. I shocked her with my boldness so long ago. One hot evening when we'd stripped to nothing for a swim, I'd come up behind her in the water and jumped on her back, nothing but slippery skin between us. She'd yelped, the poor thing and turned beet red. But I hadn't given up until I'd captured her body and soul. The amazing thing is, I eventually succeeded. Me. Gabrielle of Poteidaia, bard, scrawny small town girl. I'd tamed the Warrior Princess.

"Oh, Xena." I sigh as arms wrap around me and hold me tight. I don't know whether to sob out loud or burst into song. How can this be? Death has never been like this. Not that it's ever once been the same.

I turn my head and look up at her, wanting her eyes to tip down to me. Her chin lowers and her eyes drift down, pouring into me, full of love.

"You're not really gone, are you?"

She shakes her head, eyes twinkling. "I think I'm waiting."

"For what?"

"You."

I pull back from her, not sure if I should be alarmed or relieved. "You mean, I'm to die soon?"

Her face grows somber and her brow furrows. "No." She looks down at her hands and frowns. "Not if I can help it."

I shake my head. "What do you mean then. I don't understand."

"I'm just waiting, Gabrielle. I don't know for how long, as long as you live, I guess."

My eyes sweep up and down her form. "Like this?"

"I guess. I don't know." Our eyes met again and we stand there, silent, unmoving in the ever approaching darkness. Finally we are surrounded by inky black.

I'd gotten worried then. Panicked for a moment when I'd lost sight of her. The realization creeping over me that I'd have to make my way in the world, alone. The immediate thought, how do I get back off the mountain in the pitch black without a torch? Then I'd laughed at myself. I'd conquered Heaven and Hell, I could handle Mt. Fuji.

Xena chuckles in the darkness. I jump at the sudden sound out of nothingness. I'd thought she'd gone again for a moment there. "I can't see anything." I tell her.

"I can."

"Can you see the path?"

"Sure." I hear a little rustling. "Over here." I turn my head and follow the voice. "Put your hand to your right." I lower my hand and feel a rock surface beneath my fingers. I slide my hand up, feeling, remembering the rock formations. "Got it now?"

"Yeah." I begin moving down the path, one hand trailing across the rock wall to my right, stepping carefully, listening. Stupid not to bring a torch with me. I guess I'll have to get used to thinking of things like that. Xena always seemed to be the one keeping track of supplies. Not that I couldn't do it. I'd just been so busy trying to bring Xena back to life, I hadn't considered that I'd have to compensate for her not being alive when it was over.

The silence is deafening and my heart skips a beat, wondering if she's gone again, wondering if I'd imagined it all. "Xena?"

"I'm here."

"Do you have to be so quiet?"

"Sorry, I'll try to make some noise."

"Just breathing would be nice."

"Well, I don't really do that ..."

"Oh."

"I could hum."

"Ok."

She starts humming something low, just letting me hear the gentle rumble of her throat. It calms me, like nothing I'd ever felt before. Just this soft reminder that she's there. I want to stop and immerse myself in the feeling, the safety. Hoping against hope that this won't disintegrate with the light of day. Praying this isn't a hallucination, something brought on to cope with the loss. Well, if that is the case, at least I won't live long. Raving lunatics tend to get killed rather quickly. I feel the Chakram bounce against my thigh where I'd hung it. Unless they carry dangerous mystical weapons. Great.

"You're not crazy."

"What?"

"You heard me."

"How did you know I was thinking that unless you're ... unless I'm... "

"I can hear you."

"I didn't say anything."

"But you thought it, you just said so."

I stop. "So you can hear my thoughts?"

"Yep."

I start walking again. I wonder. Wonder if this is the truth or if this is proof that she's just a figment of my imagination. A hand touches my shoulder in the darkness. I shie away without thinking and then realize its her and relax. Fingers grip my shoulder, an arm across my back. I feel her beside me, a long body beneath hard leather and armor pressed against me. For a moment I wish I could forget. Pretend nothing has changed. She's here, alive, this was all a dream. But I can't, I have to deal with this, whatever this has become.

So tired. I'll have to find a camp soon, I won't make it all the way back to the town. I consider fumbling back up the mountain to find the supplies left on the dead horse.

"You don't need them."

"What?"

"The supplies. We can make it back to town."

"But Xena, its pitch black and its miles to the next town. Maybe you can do it, but I'm still mortal and..." All the pent up fear and emotion from the last few days crashes down. "I'm exhausted."

We're silent for a moment, remembering the day just ended. Then I hear a whisper out of the darkness, her voice trembling with emotion. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I'm so sorry."

I pause, knowing what she means, not wanting to touch it, think about it... just push it away. "It's ok." I don't want to talk about. Can't you see that? I don't want to think about how angry I am at you for leaving me behind. What am I supposed to do? Go back to Greece and lead the Amazons?

"Wouldn't be such a bad idea."

I sigh, not sure I like that she can read my mind. "I don't know them anymore, Xena." My eyes graze the ground, now shifting in the moonlight, just risen to the sky. "They don't know me."

"They would in time."

I shake my head, not wanting to think of life beyond Xena, beyond today. What if she has to stay here in Japa?

"I'll always be with you."

I shift, turning to look toward the voice and gasp at the sight I find. Xena, all in glimmering planes of silver blue light, walking beside me. Her dark eyes find mine and I know she tells the truth. A shiver passes through me and is gone. If only I could believe.

I stumble suddenly and Xena catches me. We linger there, me in her arms. Then I feel her lift me. I gasp, resting my head against her, letting her carry me. I strain to look down at the ground passing beneath me. I can't be mad, my mind whispers. How could this all be in my head?

......................................................................................................................

Hours later a whisper in my ear brings me back and I open my eyes. We're just outside the village outskirts, just beyond the lights.

"I can't carry you in."

I nod and feel her lower me to the ground. I stretch, having napped on the way. "Thanks." I move off toward the village, then pause when I don't feel her beside me. "You coming?"

"I don't know. I don't want..."

"Xena, you said you would always be with me, well?"

"Hold on."

I cock my head, watching. She shakes herself and suddenly she winks out. My heart leaps to my throat and I twirl around, looking everywhere. I open my mouth to call for her and..

"I'm still here. I just don't want to scare anyone... in case anyone can see me."

"You think they will? Do you think they'll hear you?"

"I have no idea. You do."

"Yeah, but you also still look alive, how would they know you're a ghost? Why not let them see you?"

"What if they try to give me something and it falls through. Or try to shake my hand? No, it's better they don't see me."

"But what if they don't. I mean, how will we know?"

"Mmmmm."

"Why don't we just try it. Come on, we'll try something harmless at first. I'll knock on the door of that farmhouse over there, ask to spend the night in the barn. I'll take the lead, see if they notice you, then you can say something."

"Alright." She materializes again out of thin air and I shake my head. It's going to take a while to get used to that.

"Come on."

I knock on the wooden door, hoping some kind soul will answer and share my madness. The door creaks open and a wizened old face peers back. She's short, shorter than me, barely to my chest. The people in this country make me feel like a giant. Xena shifts and chuckles behind me.

Watery eyes squint at me. The women doesn't raise her eyes to Xena. I clear my throat. "Hello, I'm Gabrielle." I pause.

"I'm Xena. " Comes a scruffy voice from behind.

The woman doesn't respond to the second introduction, her eyes still on me. "What do you need child?"

"W - - I.. I was looking for a room? Or if you had a hayloft? I need a place to sleep, I've had a long journey."

The woman nods and stands back from the door, leaving only a small space for me to enter. I quickly glance behind me, trying not to be obvious. Xena's head is bowed, but she watches me through her lashes. Come.

I step inside and the woman pushes the door shut behind me before Xena can slip in. I stop, not sure what to do and then stand open-mouthed as Xena steps through the door. Her eyes meet mine and we share a secret smile.

"What interests you so, child?"

I turn back around. "Oh, nothing, just remembering something. Thank you for your kindness."

"Ah, it would be a disgrace to refuse a lone maiden. I am honor bound to give you shelter."

I bow my head in thanks and she returns the gesture in welcome. I look over at Xena, who is looking around the room, examining figures made of shiny white material. Xena looks at me. "Ask her what these are."

I look back at the woman and find her watching me. I'm going to have to watch myself. "Um, your house is so beautiful." I move over to Xena and look down at the small tables. Figures. Little animals, people, trees, something that looks like a giant lizard.

"That one looks like you're tattoo." Xena tells me.

I bend down examining the figure. Sculptures made of something I've never seen. "What is this?" I ask the woman.

"Porcelain. Those are very very old. Do not touch. Very sacred."

I look at her, questions in my eyes.

"Each one is a blessed vessel." She touches the lizard. "My great great grandfather, his ashes are in the dragon's belly." She touches a small dog. "My sister, her ashes." She continues to touch each figure, relating the loved ones held within. A family shrine.

She looks at the black pot in my hand, cradled next to my heart. "I see you carry one such." I look at Xena's pot and nod. "It anchors them." She murmurs. I raise my eyes to her. What? "The spirit seeks a place to rest, clings first to their last home. A spirit walks with you."

"Do you..."

She laughs. "No my child. No more than you see my family."

My gaze returns to the table. Xena is staring back at me, her eyes fixed on the pot.

"So what happens if something happens to the vessel?"

"It depends. Was this your husband?"

I hesitate, about to say no, but knowing the nature of the question. "My soulmate."

She nods. "In time, he will rest in your heart. Keep it close until then."

I cringe at the small misunderstanding, wanting to set her right, but not sure of the customs here. This country is so much harsher than home. My eyes drift over to Xena. I'm sorry, I...

"It's ok. Ask her when."

"When... When will that happen?"

"When you've both found peace."

I nod, puzzled by this, and suppress a yawn. The woman reaches out a shaking hand and touches my face. "Come child, let me show you to a room." I glance back and she looks beyond me toward Xena, not seeing her. "He will follow, do not worry." She moves through a small door and I follow, careful not to bang my head on the low hanging frame.

The small woman shuffles ahead of me, her knees seeming to move as if joined. Soon she pauses in front of a parchment door and lightly slides it open. A low pallet sits on the floor, a small table in the corner. I step inside and we bow to each other. "Thank you." I pause. The woman smiles back at me, thousands of wrinkles deepening with the effort. "I may leave very early. I have a long journey ahead."

She nods as if this was expected. "I will leave chilled rice porridge and milk near the window. Travel well. Both of you." She bows again and shuffles back as she slides the door closed behind her. I feel Xena behind me and turn to her.

"She didn't see you, or hear you, even though..."

Xena shakes her head. My heart tumbles to my feet. No one will know her, but me. This glorious woman, hidden from the world. What will they do without such a hero?

"Look to the next, I suspect." Her shining eyes meet mine, indicating. My brow furrows.

"What are you getting at?"

Xena rolls her eyes. "Do I have to spell it out?" Her eyes travel to the Chakram at my hip and I shiver, feeling her longing for it.

"You know I'd give it to you, if I could."

She slowly shakes her head. "It's yours now. As it should be. No one I'd rather have it."

I open my mouth to protest, not wanting such a shift in my world. Her Chakram, mine? Yet I feel it, alive next to me, just grazing the bare skin on my upper thigh. I run a finger along its surface, feeling the pulsation of energy beneath. I long to sling it, feel it pull away and then glide back to my open palm. When it had come to me, only hours ago, I had felt such pride.

"You deserve it, Gabrielle. You've become the warrior you wanted to be. I'm proud of you."

My heart fills and I nod, wondering if I really wanted this as I had said so long ago. In truth, I had become that which fit best with her. Putting my own style on the art, true, yet, was it truly my path?

She shimmers and then she's lying on the pallet. Her hand pats the bed beside her and I lower myself to sit on its edge, pulling my legs up and lying down next to her. "Xena, what should I do? I mean, what do I do now?"

She turns to me, silent. Eyes deep. Open. My eyes turn back up to the ceiling, understanding the answer. Sigh. "I want you to be happy, too."

"I am."

I turn back to her, drifting in the blue gaze. A hand touches my cheek, stroking, her lips graze my forehead. I close my eyes feeling the tingle, the warmth travel through me. I sigh as arms wrap around me and a voice mumbles into my ear. "Sleep now. I'll be here in the morning."

My heart flutters at her casual reference to my deepest fear. Yet, soon my heart slows to a gentle rhythm. I miss her heart beat drumming in my ear. How many nights, how many years have I spent with that thud, thud in my ears as I drift off? My throat tightens and grief washes over me, even in spite of her closeness. "Xena?"

"Mmmmm?"

"Would you sing for me?"

"Mmmm." A hand caresses the top of my head and she shifts next to me. Soon a soft tune rolls through the semi-dark. Velvet. Her voice surrounding me in gentle soothing notes, mixing with the beat of my own heart. I relax into the warmth and soon drift off into dream.

...............................................................................................................................

I'm floating above the earth, looking down. My body shimmers and she is near me. Ethereal, so beautiful, so perfect. I reach out to touch her, feeling our souls slide together into gentle union. We slowly spin in place, twirling, twirling and then a light passes above us, causing us to look skyward. The angels again. Swooping down, lifting her away from me. Fear pounds in my chest and I realize my heart still beats. The ground rushes toward me and Xena speeds away...

...............................................................................................................................

I wake with a start, breathing hard, my hands already searching for Xena as I scan the empty room. My heart rends, a scream coming to my lips just as she appears before me, eyes worried. I slump into her, crawling into her arms. "Please don't ever leave me again." I sob, pitifully.

"Shhh. I won't."

Calming, I whisper. "Where did you go?"

"Just looking around. I don't need to sleep, so. I.." I burrow into her at this admission, grieving for the loss of nights spent in each other's arms, heartbeat to heartbeat. "Shhh. I won't. I'll stay. It's ok. Shhhh." She rocks me then, cradling me to her. I feel like a child again. A part of me disgusted with my weakness, a part of me too spent to care. I need this. I need her.

"No." She lifts me away from her slightly.

"What?" Alarm creeps into my voice, my heart pausing in question.

"You don't NEED me, Gabrielle. You haven't for a long time."

"That's not true, Xena, I do. I need you to ..."

Her fingers touch my lips. Her eyes snare mine. I feel her voice trickle into my mind, warm and hot. Know that you have me, always, Gabrielle, but know also that you don't need me, not anymore. You stand on your own, as strong now as I ever was.

My eyes fall from her, understanding. Filled half with pride at her praise and half with overwhelming fear at this new status. "Xena, how do we do this? I mean, when we're alone, its just as if you were alive, but ..."

"Gabrielle, where ever you go, I go. Whatever you want, will make me happy."

The answer rolls over me, too self-sacrificing, it rings of a half-truth. I recall a day, walking along a beach when I had asked a similar question. Receiving a similar answer... one I know now had only been slightly true. "Really. What if I were to marry?"

Her eyes pull away from me startled. I keep my face a mask, gauging her reaction, seeing the confusion and pain she's so plainly trying to hide. Her mouth opens about to answer and I stop her with a raise of my brow and a gentle shake. She's uncertain. Truth.

Her eyes fall from mine and I watch as her form trembles. The hot trickle of her answer entering my mind. I would be broken. I shiver at the admission. In all my years with the warrior princess, never has she revealed herself so fully.

I reach out and tip her eyes back up to mine. I would never. Never. I belong to you, Xena. What you want also matters, as much as it ever did, please know this...

I just want to be with you... always.

Always.

She pulls me to her again, this time I can feel the need and I smile, reassured by this more than any words she'd spoken before. I love you, Xena.

I love you too.

______________________________________________________________________

I thought you wanted to get up early.

I open my eyes to blue ones hovering over me. I can see the vague outline of a ceiling through them. Good morning, sleepy head.

You know, if I'm in charge now, I get to decide when to wake up.

Fine, go back to sleep. Let me know when we leave. She disappears and I sit up abruptly. That wasn't exactly the effect I'd wanted. Dammit. Sigh. I lie back on the bed, warring with my desire to sleep longer and the practical voice urging me to get an early start.

What exactly am I in a hurry for? Where are we... going anyway? Home? Gods, I'd have to visit Amphibolis, place her ashes next to... I glance at the small round pot next to the bed. But I can't, not until I'm sure she's found my heart. Have you, Xena?

She reappears, sitting on a chair across the tiny room, her fingertips drumming on her knee. She cocks her head and closes her eyes and then she shakes her head. Not yet.

Do you think there is anything I can...

"We just need time... time to get used to things."

My stomach rumbles and her eyebrow arches. "Mmmmm, breakfast." I roll off the bed, shaking the circulation back into my limbs and stretching, doing lunges, then I stop as I realize. I raise my eyes to her amused ones. "I... "

"Go ahead."

I blush and continue with a routine I'd seen Xena do countless times while I was still yawning in my bedroll. It feels great. No wonder she was a morning person. I grin at her, adding my own set of backbends to the routine. Bending down backwards to the floor and then flipping up on my hands, feet to the ceiling, over, bending at the waist and back on my feet again.

"That was beautiful."

"Thank you." I dust off my hands and pull my few possessions together, leaving the bed neatly made when I close the parchment door behind me. The urn is clasped to my chest and Xena follows.

As promised, a bowl of rice cereal and some milk is by the window. A shirt, much like the damaged one I wear, has been secured under the bowl. I glance at Xena and then pull the shirt free, quickly changing. It fits perfectly, just like the last. The color only slightly lighter.

I eye the porridge and lift it from the small table. The pottery is wet to the touch with condensation, chilled in the early morning air. Two small sticks are stuck in the porridge. I pull them out, frowning at them.

"Where's the spoon?"

Xena laughs, her hand curling around mine. "Pick them up." Her hand stays on mine as I place both sticks in my hand. She pushes my fingers into place, showing me how to make them into a sort of pincher. "You use it to pick up the food."

"Seems rather tedious."

"It is if you're not used to it."

"I suppose you used to eat like this with Akime."

"Yes." I look up in time to catch her eyes clouding over. A brief tendril of jealousy drifts through my mind and I brush it away, hoping she didn't notice.

I bring the food to my mouth and am surprised to find sweetness. "Mmmmm." I hold out the next bite for her to taste, only to realize my mistake at the last second. Her eyes lock on the food, longing for it. "You can't, can you?"

She lowers her eyes and shakes her head. "I think that's the one thing I'll miss."

"Yeah, I can see that." I gobble down the rest of the breakfast and swallow the milk, fresh from a cow the old woman must have out back. I wish there was some way to thank her. I put down the bowl and move to the door.

Stepping outside into an already bright day, the sun is climbing slowly up into the sky. I spot the stables and make my way over there. Hoping to find some chore, some way I can repay the woman's kindness. Perhaps even something worthy of a horse, if she has one.

I swing open the doors and glance inside. Hay is strewn everywhere, the place is in complete disarray. It looks like it hasn't been tended for years. Suddenly I realize, if I do this, its all on my own, Xena can't help. Great. Great.

"I can direct."

I laugh, knowing she'd love every minute of it. "Thanks, I think I know how to clean a stable. Why don't you... oh, I don't know, entertain yourself or something. I can't work with you eyeing me like you do."

"I do not."

"Yes, Xena, lately, you do."

"Fine." She disappears into thin air. I'm beginning to see it coming now. She hasn't changed too much, just a new set of rules. Now instead of her having the upper hand, I do... Well, actually, it really has always been that way, I just let her think...

Gabrielle, you don't really think that do you?

Xena, get out of my head.

Fine.

She's sulking up there, I can feel it. Moody Warriors. I look around the barn, scanning the walls for a pitchfork until I spot an old rusty one by the wall. Soon I'm deep into the work, trying to ignore the eyes that follow my every move.

By mid-morning I've cleared the stable floor and organized the scattered tools and gear into suitable places. There isn't a horse, but I feel good for the morning's work. The woman will be surprised. I wipe my hands on a cloth and stow it in a bin of rags.

"Come on, Xena, let's go."

Xena appears at my side and we step out into a blazing day, ready to push on into the next adventure. For a moment it feels just like always, but then I spot the urn sitting by the door, waiting for us. The image of Xena's body when I'd found her flashes through my head and I shudder. Xena suddenly looks at me, horror in her eyes.

"Oh Xena, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have thought about.."

"I'm sorry you had to see that, that must have been awful."

"You can't imagine." My heart, heavy again, feels as if it's ripping.

I grab the urn, pushing hard into the ground with my feet, leaving the barn behind in a rush. I don't want to think about that. Never, never again. I push the images of blood and rain streaked skin from my mind and we make our way into town, but a hand finds my shoulder, slowing me. I relish the touch, letting it replace the horrific images with intimate ones.

I wonder suddenly, if intimacy is a thing of the past as well, just like consuming food. I can touch her though, right? So why shouldn't that work, unless she isn't .. I mean, there isn't.

My current form resembles my previous form in every sense, thank you for wondering.

I feel myself flush. "Xena, that isn't fair. That was a private thought."

"I can't help it, you're practically screaming those thoughts at me. Try toning it down a little."

"Tone down my thoughts?"

"Yeah, just kind of whisper them in your head instead."

"Riiiight."

"Hey, you're the one with privacy issues. I'm perfectly happy knowing your every last desire." She smirks.

I scowl at her.

Who knew a bard could be so... frisky. I'm dead two nights and you're already plotting to seduce me.

Seduce you? How 'bout I simply demand you take me.

Right here? Gabrielle you shock me... look around at the people you'd scandalize!

You know what I mean.

Uh huh.

At this point we'd reached the town square, people bustling in every direction and I was trying to keep from talking to Xena out loud. It wouldn't help me if people thought I was out of my mind.

Merchants line the street, selling many things. Practical items, art, scrolls of beautiful poetry... though, I couldn't read any. Knowing this, Xena had looked over my shoulder and translated a few. Beautiful, I was shamed by such talent.

"Gabrielle, come look at this." I turn and find myself staring at my own set of clothes up for sale. They must have thought I was dead as well. I wish.

Xena appears at the end of my nose. Don't even think that.

Xena, stop it. If I would rather have died with you, that's my business, ok? Xena scowls at me and I ignore her as I lean over and pick up my well-worn gear. I glance at the merchant. I don't know him, I wonder how he got a hold of these. "Where did these originate from?"

"From a very brave warrior."

I step back unconsciously. "Really."

"Yes, a woman with such grace and agility, even the finest samurai would lose his head to her in minutes."

I laugh to myself, remembering the sad excuse for a warrior I'd bested for Xena's head. Pity, it was he who claimed Xena's death as his trophy. I'd have to make sure to relate the story so the world would know the truth. "How did you come by her clothes?"

The man blinks. "She died in a great battle yesterday."

"Did she now?"

Xena crosses her ankles, leaning on one foot. You don't suppose we're both dead and we just don't know it, do ya?

No, Xena, I don't think so. "How much?"

After purchasing my clothes back from the merchant, I duck into a tea house and change into them. Ah, much better. Now I'm beginning to feel normal again. All except the strange feel of that lizard tattoo on my back, well, dragon I guess. It still hurts a little.

"You look really great. I really like that tattoo on you."

Thanks.

Xena, can you leave Japa, or are we stuck here?

At the moment, where ever the urn goes, I go.

I squeeze the urn tightly to my chest, willing her to transfer to my heart. Afraid somehow I'll lose it down some hole before she does.

You won't.

Suddenly a cart comes rattling out of nowhere straight toward Xena. Out of instinct she jumps up into the air, gracing me with a piercing battle cry so loud I can't believe no one hears it but myself. Yet, she doesn't come back down right away. I shield my eyes with a hand, squinting up. I find her dark form before the sun, rays streaming through. She's twisting in the air, looking around at the masses below. Her eyes catch mine, even from that distance and soon she rejoins me on the ground.

So you can fly.

Mmmmm.

What's wrong?

I think maybe we should get out of here by sundown.

Why?

Just a feeling.

Well, I know how that goes. Ok, well... I really want to leave Japa anyway, so I guess we better go find the docks and buy passage on a boat going out tonight.

Xena nods, thinking. It's over there. Her hand points vaguely to the left and I follow the path set out before me. So where should we go? Home? Some new place? Hmmm. Where haven't we been yet?

Egypt.

What is it with you and Egypt? We have been there, Cleopatra remember?

Yeah, it was nice, I always wished we could have been there under happier circumstances.

Like without any bad boys to conquer or murderers to murder? I smirk.

"You always know how to get me right where it hurts."

Yeah, well, sorry, still a bit of a soar spot when it comes to that particular scroll.

I thought you didn't want to write that one down.

I didn't, but a bard has to be truthful. The world has a right to know who saved Egypt.

You know, sometimes I think you really believe the world over has read them.

Someday, Xena, they will.

A drunk wanders up to me, a jug of rice mead dangling from a dirty hand. He smiles a toothless grin and I try to go around him, but he blocks my way. His acrid breathe filling my nostrils. Sigh. I pull back my arm and land one on the side of his face, he sinks to the street and I step over him.

Nice one.

"Thank you." Too late, I realize I've just said that out loud, but no one seems to notice. I guess they figured I was saying thanks to the drunk for the ... good fight? Whatever.

Just ahead the ocean stretches out to the horizon and I see ships lined up against the docks. Big, little, small. So where to go? I notice the one we came in on... it causes a small tremble deep down.. Thinking of sharing the voyage with the monk and Xena. Then the thought of having to remain silent now, pretending Xena isn't there the entire long voyage...

"You know, maybe you should get the whole boat, then you can go anywhere you want, and no crew to..."

I stare at her. Me, man a boat - alone?

Not alone.

Well, no, but you can't help... other than directing.

I can show you. You can do it... you've got to stop thinking you can't do things, Gabrielle. You have every skill I had, and more... whatever may be shaky, I'll still be there to guide you.

I sigh, knowing she's right. A part of me is simply unwilling to admit that I would be fine without her. I look over and find her bouncing on her feet. It must be frustrating, being a ghost.

You really are getting restless aren't you? Why don't you ... I dunno...go find something to occupy yourself for a while? I can't think with you buzzing around when I have to talk to people, anyway, so...

Ok, but don't let them rip you off. That boat over there, the one we came in on, it should be worth about half the money you have, if not less.

Xena, who's the haggler in this picture?

Xena pauses, looking at me, as if to say, 'well that's a stupid question' and then she gets it and clamps her mouth shut. Soon she shimmers and is gone. I can't move for a good thirty seconds, rooted to the spot. Terrified she won't come back, though I know she will. I take a deep breath and will myself to think of the task at hand.

The red boat shifts in the water, the one Xena had indicated. Not too big, not too small and not too fancy. I approach the man standing before it. He looks up, eyes calculating my certain downfall. I smile to myself, knowing I appear harmless to so many... but that's my strength... the surprise.

"Good morning, sir." We bow to each other.

"Good morning, maiden."

"I am looking to purchase a boat. Are you interested in selling?"

The man blinks, not expecting such an offer. His brow drops over his eyes and he takes another good look at me, this time noting the weapons. He nods slowly and smiles thinly. "You are a warrior?"

I pause for a moment, examining the title, not sure if I wish to claim it... and then... well, it fits the moment. "Yes, from a far distant land."

"Ah." He turns, looking back at the boat and then quotes me a price ten times it's worth. My eyes catch his in lieu of an answer. The warrior's stare, one of many, many skills I'd picked up from Xena. "Uh..." and he backs down by half... I still don't remove my chilly gaze. He soon backs down again and again. Slowly a smile comes to my face as he nears the amount I'd envisioned. I fire back my own offer, half what I was expecting to pay and to my surprise he accepts. I guess I really am good at this.

The man disappears into the boat to get the proper documents. Xena materializes by my side. "Amazing, really. You ripped him off... I almost feel bad for the man." I turn and glare at her, she shrugs.

You getting soft now that you don't have to pull the weight anymore? I'll have you know, every penny I can save is another meal down the road... If you'll recall, you did most of the hunting.

You did you're share.

True, but I never did enjoy it... I'd rather buy my food, if I can.

Really? You never said...

You never asked... besides, with you hunting, it didn't really matter.

Mmmmm.

The man reappears. I hand over the amount and he hands me the signed documents showing ownership. Staring at them I wonder suddenly if I should have inspected the boat for soundness first.

It's sound, I checked while you were haggling.

"Sir, I'll need to outfit the boat, are there men I could hire for the afternoon?" Xena arches a brow at this. We've never hired helpers before. Course, we've never been one set of hands before either... and unlike certain tall proud warriors, I'm not afraid to ask for help when I wish it.

You know, it's a good thing I couldn't read your mind before this.

Don't like what you hear? The man starts rattling off a few crew bosses and points out a few down the dock.

It would have bruised my ego. I nod, watching as the small man clears out of there, wondering what he'll go off to now that his boat is no longer his. No matter.

And now? She shrugs. I smile, trying not to look at her too obviously. You know I only meant it with the greatest affection.

Yeah. The man is gone and I stare up at the boat... Our boat... My boat... Home.

Shall we take a look around? I don't wait as I move up the ramp to the main deck, knowing she'll follow. It's getting easier, my faith in this, in us, it's becoming stronger. Doubts still swim under the surface, but they're quickly losing their power over me.

I soon stand on the main deck, looking out to sea. I can feel it pull me, pulling me West. Where to next? I pull my gaze back and scan the boat. It's a sturdy boat, a nice large main cabin beneath, with a few passenger quarters. We'd come out in a cramped passenger cabin, but now the captain's quarters will be mine... ours.

The freedom suddenly hits me... it's like I just got my own horse... only swifter. I can travel the world like this, just me and Xena. Stopping here and there to see the peoples, perhaps lend my sais to help those in need, spread her stories. But always, having this boat to return to, a quiet place where we can be together. Yes... someday, I'll find my way home, back to the Amazons and my duty, but not yet. First we see the world, together. We deserve this time.

Arms snake around me and hold me. I feel a sudden warmth in my heart and I inhale sharply, turning to find her gaze, knowing already. Xena? Tears come to both our eyes, joy streaming down our cheeks. We embrace there on the deck and I don't care that passerby's can see me clinging to the empty air. She's found her way home, to my heart... I'll never lose her again.

______________________________________________________________________

We'd only taken off from Japa a few hours ago, the last of the supplies stowed away below. We'd left the urn in a secure place when I'd gone to hire the crew and buy the supplies. It sits on a shelf in the main cabin. I still feel an affinity for it, the body I've loved for so long is in there... perhaps even a way to bring her back someday.

Perhaps. She murmurs by my ear.

But it doesn't matter.

Not really. I'm happy this way. She pauses. Are you?

I nod and pick the urn up, carrying it back up to the main deck out into the wind and the sun. It's getting late now, the sun quickly falling toward sunset. The smooth surface of the urn against my chest. A talisman, I suppose. Something I'll place in her family crypt someday. Someday, my own ashes will join hers. I wonder briefly who will assure that eventual resting place when the time comes. It doesn't matter... not really.

I look behind me, Xena isn't visible. Close, I can feel her somewhere close.. Her essence warming my heart even now. So much we've been through, so many things we've done and seen. I look down at the urn, remembering our life together. All Xena has done to bring us here to this moment. I smile.

"A life of journeying has brought you to the farthest lands, to the very edges of the earth." And back to me over and over. I look back down at the urn, amazed all over again.

Then I feel her hand on me, the soft warmth in my heart suddenly stronger. I turn to look at her, joy filling me as it always has when I look into those blue eyes.

Her eyes sparkle. "And to the place, I'll always remain... your heart." The pull is so overwhelming, a lump forms in my throat. This woman, my soulmate. Forever. I have to look away, smiling, my heart beating so fast.

"So where to next?" She asks.

And I know, suddenly... remembering Xena's talk of Egypt so long ago, back in Greece and again this afternoon. Yes, that's where we should go... "I think we should go south, to the land of the Pharaohs." I glance at her, seeing the soft smile grace her lips. "I hear they're in need of a girl with a Chakram." I tease, but only slightly. Before, she'd said these same words, meaning her, now I say them, meaning me.

The moment isn't lost on her, she feels it too, the shift in our souls. The flip flop of roles. I look to her for the reassurance that I still ask for, though the true need has passed. Her face is serious once again, filled with wonder, whispering. "Where you go, I'm at you're side."

My heart burns with the ecstasy of those words, knowing now that they are truth. No longer just romantic notions, spoken in hope, but fact. I smile, laughing to myself silently. "I knew you'd say that." Again, I look out to the sea.

She chuckles and wraps an arm around me. Pulling my head towards her for a soft kiss against my temple. Love surges within, my eyes find her gazing out to the ocean, waiting for the next adventure and the eternity together that stretches out before us.

Soon, my eyes follow her gaze, looking out to sea again, wondering what will come to us, to me, in the future. Yet, whatever comes, whatever appears, I know she'll always be here and I'll never lose her. I'm ready for whatever comes. Ready for this destiny of my own.

Thank you, Xena.

For what?

Everything.

Slowly the boat glides into the sunset, gently moving across the water. A bird flies by, swooping up, up, up into the sky. He turns, gazing down at the boat, watching the lone warrior. Yellow hair sparkling in the sun's last rays, she smiles. The bird climbs still higher and soon she's lost to him in the ever widening expanse of blue ocean.

The End... and The Beginning

 

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