Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was not written for commercial purposes. If you wish to post it on a website or print it for public use, please ask my permission first. Printing of this story for personal use is a compliment - go right ahead. :-)
Story Category: Please note that this story is NOT UberXena fiction - it just starts out like it is. Read on and you will see why.
Subtext: This is Alternative Xena fanfiction. The story depicts two women who are in love and have been in love for centuries. May we all find a love such as this, in whatever form it comes.
I hope you enjoy!
Your comments can be e-mailed to: DJWP at firstname.lastname@example.org
LOST SOUL WALKING
SIX DAYS BEFORE...
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, Gayle Bardo thought to herself as she followed a prison guard along a barren hallway which had been painted gray as a rainy day and just as dreary to the soul.
There was nothing to see but the back of the guard and nothing to hear but the sound of footsteps, the clank of the gate behind them as it locked. She was on her way and there could be no turning back now. The project she set in motion over two years ago was coming to fruition, and it was none too soon for there would be only a few days left to complete her study -- that is, if the subject was cooperative.
Ridiculous to think that a few days could be enough time. It would have to do.
Gayles eyes followed the path of a pipe on the cement wall as it seemed to follow them along the hallway. Rust had broken through the gray paint in places, tainting the wall in blotches and drips the color of thinning blood.
Gayle had no reason to believe whatsoever that the subject of her study would be cooperative, and every official the psychologist had approached to approve her request had told her as much. To add insult to injury, they had all laughed at her. After all, the subject of her study was one of the most notorious serial killers that the state had ever captured, incarcerated, and sentenced to the death penalty.
The pipe disappeared into the wall, leaving the bleak gray of the cement unbroken. Gayles eyes looked for something else to follow, finding nothing but the back of the guard on which to concentrate. She found herself looking at the officers gun, watching the way it shifted on his hip as he walked and the psychologists mind wandered, as it always did, to the object of her obsession.
Sandra Goode had spoken to no one in the two years since her capture. Not to the clergy, not to her own lawyer, not even the television and newspaper reporters who hounded her for exclusive interviews with promises of wealth and fame. She had no visitors since her incarceration. No friends or family who supported her through the trial. Apparently, no contact with anyone at all.
The only contact the woman had made over the course of the infamous trial was the glare of her eyes into the courtroom television camera. It was that very stare that had riveted Gayle to the spot she was standing, frozen to stillness in the middle of mixing a cake for her sisters birthday. The killers eyes had captured Gayles attention from across the miles through the camera, and she found herself staring back at the TV screen with her mouth open and cake mix dripping onto the floor.
All she could think of at that very moment was, how could anyone be so alone? And then Gayle found herself answering, Youre not alone.
She remembered staring at the television screen wondering incredulously where that thought had come from. How could she even think of sympathizing with such a wanton killer? Yet, there had been something in her eyes.
What was it she had seen in the depths of those incredibly captivating blue eyes? There were witnesses who claimed Sandra Goode could hypnotize with a glance. The were others who said her voice could convince anyone to kill. Still more who claimed she seduced with a smile. And her sexual appetite was... well, it was legendary.
The press labeled her evil incarnate and clamored for her death. They demanded retribution in the name of law and justice. On the day of the verdict Sandra Goode, whose victims were yet to fully be counted, was sentenced to death in the gas chamber.
It had taken two years of tedious court petitions and failed attempts at appeals before the final date for the execution had actually been set. Two years of legal bullshit before the world would see the sentence carried out. Not because Sandra Goode had fought the verdict; she hadnt said a word, made a plea, or changed a facial expression throughout the entire course of the trial and sentencing. Nor had her expression betrayed her emotions when the death sentence had finally been announced. If anything, Gayle had seen relief flash briefly across stoically impassive features as the judge rendered the verdict.
The camera had zoomed in on Sandra Goodes face as the judge handed down the sentence, and those eyes had captured Gayle.
Eyes which had stared unfeeling into the horrified expression of countless murdered, struck a spark in Gayle that day which erupted into an obsession. An obsession to unveil the mystery behind the glare; a glare that chilled the hearts of all who dared to look, but looked to Gayle like a plea for help from a lost soul who was about to take her final walk.
Gayle Bardo found she could not resist the call.
She justified her obsession as a study of the correlation between the mind and behavioral mechanisms of a mass murderer. She labeled it a profile for use by law enforcement . She used her prestige and reputation to wangle clinical support for her project. She schmoozed her way to a research grant. She even signed with a publisher for the book rights. She called it many things, but all it really amounted to was that Gayle simply had to stand face to face with the woman. She had to sit and talk with this convicted murderess. For some reason, she knew there was a deeper story and she needed to hear it. Somehow, she would interview this infamous woman who had not talked nor listened to, nor acknowledged another human being in more than two years.
Gayle looked down at her feet as she turned a corner in the corridor, bringing them to yet another security gate and another set of guards. She grinned confidently, glad she had worn her best suit and sexy black heels. She slipped her fingers quickly through the silky long strands of her golden red hair and then laughed at herself for doing so. After all, who was she trying to impress?
There was a female guard on the opposite side of the thick, gray metal gate. Gayle was about to enter death row and this woman was obviously the head guard assigned to this section of the womans prison. Her current escort handed paperwork through a glass security screen and they waited while the prison guard inspected the documents.
The female officer looked up incredulously. "Youre here to see Sandra?"
"Yes," Gayle answered simply.
The head guard started to chuckle. "And what do you intend to do when you see her?"
"Talk with her."
The female officer rolled her eyes and looked at her co-worker. "Do you believe this?" The woman looked at the documents one more time and then scowled at the psychologist. "Listen honey, Sandra hasnt talked to anyone in the two years shes been here. Not even me. What makes you think shes gonna talk to you?"
"What makes you think she wont?" Gayle countered, neither wanting nor needing the guards approval or permission.
The woman raised her eyebrows. "Well, youve got the right approvals, so I cant stop you... but youre wasting your time." The woman began to unlock the gate, "The poor woman has only a couple of days of this life left. I just wish you all would let her finish her time in peace."
The gate rolled open and the guard motioned Gayle inside. "Come on in, but I think youve come a long way for nothing."
Gayle stepped over the threshold and waited while the heavy gate locked closed behind her.
"You are required to obey the following rules," the woman began to recite. "You may not pass anything to or accept anything from the prisoner. You may not promise to bring in or take anything out for the prisoner. You may not, under any circumstances, touch the prisoner. You may not enter the cell or step near the bars of the cell."
The guards voice echoed and bounced along the hall that led them into death row. All cells were empty, save one and they were approaching that one very quickly.
Finally, the female guard led Gayle to stand in front of the last cell down a row of empty cells. She pointed to the ground, drawing attention to their feet.
"Do not, under any circumstances, step over this yellow line."
Gayle looked down at her feet and acknowledged the line with a nod. Then she looked up into the cell.
"Sandra," the guard said with a smile, "you have a visitor." The officer touched Gayles shoulder and began to walk away. "You have fifteen minutes. Ill be right down the hall. Call me if you need anything."
Then she looked at Sandra and wagged her finger. "Be nice," she warned and the guard walked away, leaving Gayle alone.
Gayle looked through the bars and found herself staring at the profile of Sandra Goode. The woman was sitting at a table, quietly reading. She continued to read, not bothering to look up, comment or otherwise acknowledge her visitors presence.
Gayle took a moment to study her in silence. From what the psychologist could tell, Sandra was very tall. Her upper body and legs made the chair she was sitting in appear small and uncomfortable in comparison. Prison overalls could not hide the athletic prowess which graced her limbs. She had long beautiful, black hair and her profile was every bit as attractive as it had been on the television; even more so, for her olive toned skin gave the appearance of a tan despite two years in a prison cell.
What began as uncomfortable silence, soon became excruciating for Gayle. The minutes were ticking by and the psychologist had to start the conversation somewhere.
"That looks like Bullfinchs Mythology. I recognize the cover."
Sandra Goode turned a page, but did not respond.
"My name is Gayle Bardo and I came here hoping to talk with you."
As Gayle said her name, the black-maned head paused and lifted. The book dropped closed and Sandra slowly turned her eyes to regard her visitor for the first time.
Gayle found herself once again riveted by a gaze she could not understand.
Sandra looked at Gayle, studying her carefully. Gayle could see the womans chest begin to rise and fall, her breath becoming almost gasps. The young psychologist started to become concerned at the expression on the beautiful womans face; a look of hope, washed away quickly by despair. Then the chair was pushed back and Sandra rose to take a step forward. The psychologist, remembering the bars between them, forced herself to remain relaxed and confident. She did not want to let Sandra see any fear in her eyes or body language whatsoever.
The convicted murderers eyes seemed to soften as she regarded her visitor from head to foot, full lips curved upward almost smiling.
And then she spoke.
Her voice was deep and rich.
The sound of it almost caused the eavesdropping female officer to have a heart attack. The guard had not completely left the hall, but remained a short distance away to keep an eye on things. To the prison guards unabashed surprise, Sandra had actually spoken to this woman.
"What did you say?" Gayle asked, wanting to step closer but remembering the rule about the yellow line. Her green eyes sparkled encouragement at the woman.
Sandra frowned. "Youre too late. Its too late." And then Sandra turned away.
"Too late?" Gayle asked quickly. "Too late for what? Too late to talk? Its never too late to talk."
Sandra returned her gaze and laughed affectionately. "You would say that."
Gayle looked back at her confused.
"You dont even remember yet, do you?" The murderess said, her tone was accusatory.
"Remember what?" Gayle asked. This conversation was going nowhere in the direction that Gayle had expected.
Sandra stepped up very close to the bars of her cell, close enough to touch them but she did not. She stood at the metal barrier and looked at her visitor with intensely sparkling, deep blue eyes. There was no smile or affection in the gaze.
Gayle shifted nervously under the scrutiny.
"Why did you come here?" Sandra finally asked so softly that Gayle almost asked her to repeat the question. But, the psychologist heard the quiet inquiry clearly enough though, and asking the woman to repeat it would have been a mistake.
Gayle answered with as much confidence as she could muster. "Im a psychologist. I came here to understand why things happened for you the way they did. Understanding you will help us to understand others like you, maybe help them......"
"Dont lie to me," Sandra barked from behind the bars.
Gayle stopped speaking. She had rambling and she knew it.
The condemned womans voice became soft. "You never could lie very well." And there was that slight smile again. "Why dont you tell me why youre really here." Sandras voiced sounded almost seductive, " If you tell me the truth, maybe Ill talk with ya."
Gayle felt as though Sandra could see right through her, into the hidden parts of her mind as though the woman knew her very, very well. The psychologist was quite aware that her answer now would make all the difference in the world.
Gayle took a deep breath and looked into her soul for the truth.
"For some reason, I need to know you," she stated simply, her voice barely a whisper.
Sandras expression suddenly became so sad, Gayle thought her heart would break.
"You already do. You just dont remember." Sandra said and left the bars to collapsed as though she were very tired into her chair. "Go ahead, ask your questions."
Relief washed over Gayle like a wave. She had somehow passed the test. The psychologist relaxed her stance and asked the first question, one she had been wondering since she first saw the woman sitting alone in the courtroom on TV.
"Do you have any family?" Gayle asked, simply and clearly.
Sandra snorted. "Get right to the heart of the matter, why dont you."
Sandra raised her eyebrow in a way that made Gayles heart stop in her chest. She had seen that expression, how many times before? A million times. Where?
Sandra played with the pages of her book for a few moments before answering. "My mother works in a bar. I havent seen her in years. My father left when I was very young. I hardly knew him." Then she pushed the book away. "I had a brother," she said softly.
"You had a brother. What happened to him?"
Sandra crossed her arms and sighed. "He was killed a long time ago."
Her brothers death was obviously a traumatic moment in Sandras life. Gayle could see it in her eyes and she watched the effects of it travel across the womans face.
"Im sorry," the psychologist said, meaning it. "How did it happen?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes," Gayle stated strongly, "Because it mattered to you."
Sandra chuckled and then swallowed before beginning, her eyes looking beyond the bars, beyond Gayle and into a past far more distant than the psychologist could ever imagine.
"It was a drive-by shooting. Gang members. They shot him in the head. He died in my arms."
"How terrible for you, Sandra. Did the police ever catch them?"
Now Sandra smiled, and her smile sent a shiver down the length of Gayles spine.
"No. But I did."
"What did you do when you caught them." Gayle asked, already guessing at the answer.
"I killed them all." Sandra answered flatly, her eyes as cold as ice.
"How did that make you feel?"
Sandra rose out of her chair up to her full height which was considerable, and Gayle got a sudden taste of how intimidating and charismatic this woman could be.
"It made me feel GOOD. Very good. After I killed them, I took over their gang. That felt good, too." Sandra snickered, capturing Gayle in a bewitching gaze.
"That must have been difficult to do, being a woman. Gangs are typically very male oriented," the psychologist commented.
"Oh, it wasnt THAT hard. Men are so easily manipulated, actually. It took some time, but eventually they all saw it my way."
"Really? How did you manage that?"
"I just made each and every one of them an offer they couldnt refuse."
"And what offer was that?"
"Me or the alternative."
"And what was the alternative?"
"I see," Gayle stated, trying to remain expressionless. "So you killed whoever got in your way?"
"Oh, yes. If they got in my way, betrayed my trust, made a mistake, looked at me the wrong way...I killed for many reasons. Mostly, I just killed...among other things."
"What other things?"
"Things a young psychologist like you probably wouldnt like to hear about."
"Dont underestimate me," Gayle shot back angrily at her. "Im not a child. Im not naive."
Sandra laughed openly and her smile lit up the prison cell, melting Gayles sudden anger to confusion.
"No, youre obviously not a child, so I shouldnt treat you like one," Sandra countered, appraising the psychologists body up and down with a frankly brazen stare, "I bet your sister still does."
The statement came as a complete surprise to Gayle. How did she know she had a sister? And how did she know her sister still treated her like they were children. The psychologist narrowed her eyes suspiciously at the murderess. Did she know her?
"Do you know me?"
"Never met ya before in this life." Sandras open laugh echoed through the empty cells of death row.
A few feet down the hallway, the listening guards jaw dropped open. She couldnt believe the conversation she was overhearing. And Sandra was laughing. Laughing!
The murderess began to pace in the cell like a predator, suddenly feeling in control of an out of control situation.
"Ive answered your questions, now will you answer a few of mine?"
"I dont know. We dont have time," Gayle stammered. She didnt like the idea of this murderer getting into the personal details of her life. She seemed to know too much already.
"Dont be afraid. After all, in a couple of days, Ill be history. Just so much subject matter for your book. Youll make a million dinars. Its only fair that I get a little something in return, dontcha think?" Sandra was beginning to have fun now.
"Go ahead. Ask your questions," Gayle said wondering what in the world were dinars.
Sandra stopped pacing and stood once again directly up against the bars of the cell, staring intensely out at Gayle.
"Are you married?"
"No, Im not."
"One night stand?"
No response. And then Gayle replied with a quiet, "No."
"Why not?" Sandra asked, stepping even closer to the bars of the cell. This time she wrapped large hands around them and pulled her face as close as she could, blue eyes boring a hole into Gayles, forcing a personal truth to the surface.
"I dont know....I just.... I guess I just havent........."
"Found the right tree in the forest?" Sandra finished for her.
Gayles mouth dropped open. Sandra had repeated back a personal favorite phrase. The cute response she always gave to own mothers incessant inquiries into Gayles dating activities or lack thereof.
The psychologist found herself staring at the woman behind the bars, speechless.
Sandra smiled back, warm affection returning once more to her bright, blue eyes. "I used to believe that the strongest trees stood alone. I learned differently a very long time ago... Gabrielle."
The name was spoken slowly, with the softness of velvet. The sound of it brought the intently listening guard into a shocked reaction.
She called her Gabrielle! the guard exclaimed to herself. Thats enough of this!
"OK. Thats enough. Interview over." The female officer came barreling down the hall, causing both Gayle and Sandra to turn their heads in annoyance. "Sorry, but your times up." The guard narrowed her eyes at the prisoner. Sandra backed away from the bars with her hands up in surrender.
Gayle groaned in frustration, wondering where the time had flown. It couldnt end here, she still had so many questions. She lowered her eyes to the ground with disappointment as the officer began to lead her by the arm.
"Say good-bye, Sandra." The guard began to pull Gayle away.
"Celeste," Sandra called to guard, causing the female officer to stop short in surprise. She didnt think that the prisoner even knew her name.
"Celeste, can she come back tomorrow?" Sandra asked softly, blue eyes meeting the guards for the very first time.
"Do you want her to come back, Sandra?" Celeste asked. For some reason, she felt nothing but sympathy for this woman, a condemned prisoner.
"Yes, please. That is, if you want to Gayle?" Sandra smiled shyly.
Gayle and Celeste looked at one another in surprise.
Celeste shrugged, "Sure. She can come back. She has approval to visit you once a day, if thats what you want, Sandra."
"Yeah. Thats what I want."
"All right then, Gayle?"
The psychologist nodded slowly. "Sure. Ill come back tomorrow." Then Gayle looked directly at Sandra, "I promise."
"Good." Sandra nodded once. Gayle and Celeste watched as the murderess sat down in her chair and started to read once again.
Celeste led Gayle down the corridor, back to the gate that marked the entrance to Death Row. Gayle knew without turning to look that Sandra had risen once more from her seat and was watching their departure. She could feel the burning of Sandras sharp blue eyes as they stared at her retreating back.
Celeste hefted the heavy gate open with the skill of years and waited for Gayle to step through.
"Celeste, who is Gabrielle?" Gayle asked, pausing at the entrance, somehow feeling a friendship beginning with the guard.
Celeste shrugged again and handed paperwork around Gayles shoulder back to the other guard.
"I dunno. She calls out to her in her sleep, though. Its the only thing Ive ever heard her say. Until now, that is."
"Really? In her sleep?"
"Thanks. Thats good to know. Hmmm." Gayle became thoughtful and then smiled at the guards concerned expression. "Dont worry, Celeste. I dont want to exploit her. Im here to help her."
"No one can help her, now. Her life ends in just a few days, Gayle. Theres nothing that you or I can do to stop that. I just hope........"
"Hope what, Celeste?"
"I just hope that God will have mercy on her soul."
That night, Gayle sat in the dark and pondered the enigma of Sandra Goode. And when the young psychologist finally did sleep, blue eyes haunted her dreams.
FIVE DAYS BEFORE...
The next day, as Gayle approached Sandras cell accompanied by the female officer Celeste Kismet, they found Sandra Goode waiting for them patiently. She had pulled her chair forward toward the bars and was seated with large hands folded in her lap and long legs crossed at the knee.
Celeste brought Gayle to stand at the yellow line and then nodded to Sandra as she departed. "You have thirty minutes. Ill come back for you."
"I thought it was fifteen minutes?" Gayle challenged with a smile.
"Whos in charge here? Me or you?"
"I like how you run things, Celeste. Thanks." Gayle patted the guards arm and Celeste smirked, then retreated down the hall to wait. The officer, of course, remained just within hearing range.
Gayle faced Sandra and smiled.
"You came back." Sandra stated flatly.
"I promised you I would," Gayle answered, smiling.
Sandra took a moment to think, then crossed her arms and raised her eyebrow. Gayle found the expression strangely comforting.
"Arent you afraid of me?" Sandra asked with a bit of amusement in her voice.
Gayle thought seriously about the question for a moment before crossing her own arms and raising her own eyebrow in a weak but effective imitation.
"No. Why? Should I be?" the psychologist answered smartly.
Sandra chuckled, shaking her head and rubbing her eyes with strong hands. "Some things never change," the rich voice stated with humor.
"Why do you talk as though you know me?" Gayle began, becoming annoyed at feeling as though she was being left out of a big part of the conversation.
"Look, dont get mad. Why dont you just ask me your questions. Itll help things to become clearer, Im sure of it," Sandra suggested smoothly, trying to calm the growing anger in her visitors eyes. The prisoners smirk turned to a full smile as she watched the sparkle in Gayles green eyes change from annoyance to anticipation.
"All right, then." Gayles frown turned up to a grin. "If you promise to answer."
"Oh, I promise," Sandra answered sincerely.
Gayle looked directly into Sandras face, finding the very same eyes that had haunted her dreams the night before. They were staring back at her in quiet familiarity.
"Tell me about what happened after your brother was killed," Gayle asked, all humor leaving her face.
Sandras smile disappeared as well. "The police couldnt find them, the ones who killed him. I could. Thats all."
"I dont mean the events. I know the details, theyre in your file. I want to know what you felt, what you were feeling."
Impossibly, Sandras clear blue eyes suddenly clouded over, darkening with emotion. Her fingers clenched and unclenched with unbidden memories. "I was very angry," Sandra answered softly, obviously controlling her voice.
"You have a talent for understatement," Gayle commented, causing the dark eyes to turn blue and clear once more.
"OK, I was more than a little angry. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to admit that I was filled with rage? I was. I was FILLED with rage! Why do you ask me questions you already know the answer to?"
"So, the murder of your brother made you angry enough to hunt down and exact revenge against his killers, is that it?" Gayle asked, watching a parade of dark emotions cross Sandras face. "Did their deaths ease your suffering ... did killing them ease your pain?"
"Yes ... I felt MUCH better," Sandra sneered at the psychologist, but Gayle was not fooled.
"So why all the rest? Why so many other deaths? Didnt your rage disappear after your revenge was complete?"
"No, not really," Sandra answered in a small voice.
"What drove you to keep on killing then?"
"I happen to enjoy a good kill," the murderess snickered.
"I dont believe that!" Gayle stated forcefully.
"Oh, but its true! Its always been true. Thats something you never could quite get, could ya?" Sandra snarled, capturing the psychologist in a feral stare.
"That is NOT true," Gayle insisted. "Its what you would like the world to believe, but I dont believe it for a minute. Youre responsible for the deaths of a lot of people, Sandra. Too many. But inside ... deep inside ... I believe you regret the death of each and every one."
Sandra remained silent, refusing to answer, so Gayle took a step forward and pressed the issue.
"You hurt inside. Dont you?"
When Sandra did not respond, Gayle pressed again.
"Dont you!!" the psychologist persisted.
Sandra stood up quickly from the chair and turned away, trying to hide the emotions playing across her face. But Gayle would not let up.
"The truth is, no matter how many times youve killed, no matter how much revenge you exacted, you were still left angry and unfulfilled. Despite all the death and murder, you feel that same rage to this very day, dont you?"
Sandra turned back around to face Gayle, a sudden calmness permeating her fine features.
"No, actually, I dont. I did, though. For a very long time, I was angry and filled with rage. At first, it was all consuming. I wanted retribution and I got it quickly, believe you me. I found my brothers killers and I got my revenge. Boy, did I ever. That wasnt enough, though. I became the angel of death for many people."
Sandra smiled wickedly at a parade of delicious memories crossing her mind. She shook them off with a shiver and returned her attention to the psychologist.
"The rage settled on me like an warm, old blanket. It comforted me. Filled me. I was secure in it. It gave me power and control, over myself and over others. I loved it. I love the feeling still."
Sandra lowered her eyes in thought and then looked back up at Gayle from hooded eyelids. "Youll never know that particular seduction, Gayle Bardo. Its not in your nature. It may fascinate you, attract you, draw you to it ... and to me ... but you will truly never know it. Thank the gods for that, thank the gods ..." Sandras voice faded away as she stared at the ground, standing beside the chair with limp arms hanging at her sides.
"You said youre not angry anymore. The rage has left you. Why? What happened."
Sandra moved close to the bars, wrapping long fingers around the cold steel. She regarded Gayle quietly and calmly as though she would memorize her features, cherish them, take them with her.
"I remembered," she whispered.
"Remembered what?" Gayle asked.
Sandra did not answer, but continued to stare, capturing Gayle in a penetrating gaze that whispered to her soul.
"Remember what?" Gayle repeated softly.
Only soft breaths could be heard in the silence.
"What did you remember?" Gayle entreated, forgetting the rules and stepping forward over the yellow line. She wrapped her fingers around a bar just next to Sandras hand and stood nose to nose with the convicted murderess.
Sandra eased a single finger from its grip around the bar to just barely caress the soft skin of Gayles hand.
"Gabrielle," Sandra barely breathed.
The shock of contact was broken by strong fingers grasping Gayles shoulders and pulling her away. Celeste dragged Gayle roughly from the bars and shook her shoulders.
"No crossing the line." The guard admonished softly, then she glanced a warning at Sandra. "Do that again and I wont let her come back."
"But ... she can come back tomorrow, cant she?" Sandra asked with a touch of panic in her voice.
Celeste thought about it a moment before answering. There was certainly something very strange going on between these two and she was not sure if she should allow it to continue. Then again, it was certainly breaking up the monotony of the routine.
"Do you promise to behave?" Celeste questioned the convict.
"I promise," Sandra answered sincerely.
"And you?" Celeste asked the psychologist.
"I promise," Gayle answered like a scolded child.
"Very well. Just dont let me catch you crossing that line again."
Celeste smiled despite herself. Sandra was obviously getting some measure of peace in talking with this woman. The guard was happy about that.
"Come on," Celeste said warmly, pulling Gayle by the arm, "thats enough excitement for today. Say goodnight, Sandra."
"But it wasnt the full thirty minutes ... "
"Say goodnight, Sandra." Celeste repeated sternly.
"Goodnight. See ya tomorrow?" It was a question.
"I promise," Gayle answered. "I promise." This time, Gayle did not lose eye contact with Sandra Goode as she allowed the female officer to lead her away.
"And you always keep your promises, right?" Sandra called after them, watching with a gaze that pierced right through Gayles soul. The dark woman held the psychologist transfixed even as Gayle was pulled to the iron gate and pushed along down the hall, until the psychologist and the guard rounded a corner and disappeared from the condemned murders sight.
That night, Gayle Bardo could not get to sleep at all. She could only sit on her couch and think about the woman who sat in the darkness of a prison cell only a few days away from her execution.
"What did she remember?" Gayle found herself asking as she caressed the side of her hand which had received the soft touch of Sandras finger, the memory of that touch lingering against her skin still.
"And just who is Gabrielle?"
TWO DAYS BEFORE ...
"Happy Monday," Gayle said with a smile, greeting Celeste as the guard opened the gate to Death Row and admitted the visitor onto the ward.
"Well, its Monday," Celeste answered, "but I dont know how happy its gonna be. She was pretty upset when you didnt show up for the last two days."
Gayle paused after she passed through the gate and waited while Celeste slammed it closed.
"What do you mean? Shes upset? It was the weekend! They wont allow me in on the weekends! Surely she knew that?" Gayle said, following quickly after the deputy sheriff as soon as the guard began to walk down the hall.
"Thats what I told her, but she wasnt too happy with that explanation either. Kept mumbling something about promises and trust and all kinds of stuff that I would have never expected to come out of the mouth of Sandra Goode." Celeste paused and gave the psychologist a solemn look, bringing them both to a complete stop.
"You got some serious explaining to do, young lady, if you want her to open up to you again," Celeste advised. She turned on her heels and continued to walk.
"Great!" Gayle Bardo cursed under her breath and scurried after the guard the rest of the way down the hall.
Just before they reached Sandras cell, they both hesitated and looked at one another, each taking a deep breath.
"Wish me luck," Gayle whispered to the prison officer
"Youre gonna need it!" Sandra barked out an answer from within her cell.
"Good ears!" Celeste said to the inmate. "Big mouth," Celeste commented to Gayle in a hushed tone.
"I heard that, too!" Sandra hissed loudly.
"Good!" Celeste smirked, "because I wanted you to!"
The guard grunted at the convict as they entered into Sandras view in front of the cell and gave the murderess a stern look. "Id change your tone if I was you, missy or your friend might not stay." The deputy patted the psychologists shoulder as she walked away.
"I dont want her here, anyway," the murderess grumbled as she dropped her tall frame abruptly into the chair at the desk, giving both the deputy and the visitor a view of her back.
"Sure you dont," Celeste mumbled as she walked away. "Thats why you made such a fuss all weekend long when she didnt show up."
Celeste walked down the corridor, giving the psychologist and the prisoner a respectable distance before turning to lean against a wall.
Gayle stared at Sandras back for a while, just letting the silence fill the air. Finally, the uncomfortable quiet became too much and then Gayle Bardo put her hands on her hips. "Are you just going to sit there and sulk my entire visit?"
"Or shall I just talk to myself the entire time?"
That got a bit of movement from the shoulders.
"How about I tell you a story?"
Sandra Goode twirled around so quickly and with such an expression of hope on her face that it took Gayle Bardos breath away.
"You remember?" Sandra asked hoarsely.
Gayle could only look back in confusion. She had no idea what it was Sandra expected her to remember. The psychologist watched sadly as the brightness of Sandras hope disappeared from her face as quickly as a cloud passes over the sun.
"Im sorry I wasnt here over the weekend," Gayle offered weakly. "They wont let me in on Saturday or Sunday. I thought you knew that."
"Well, I didnt," Sandra replied, disappointment coloring her voice. She slumped back into the chair.
"I didnt realize. I should have told you."
"What you TOLD me was that you promised to be here," Sandra snapped at the psychologist.
"I know. Im sorry. There was nothing I could do about it."
"Did you even try?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, did you even try to come here?" Sandra queried, squinting her eyes dangerously and moving closer to the bars.
"Why ... no ... why should I ... I mean, I knew they wouldnt ... I was told they wouldnt .. ," Gayle stammered, a bit surprised that Sandra was taking it so seriously.
"You didnt even try. You had other things to do, too, I suppose?" Sandras blue eyes darkened two shades as she waited for Gayles response.
"As I said," Gayle answered purposefully, refusing to be intimidated by the convict. "I knew the prisons rules regarding the weekend. And yes ... yes ... I had a few other things to do."
Sandra snorted and her eyes closed. She turned away from the psychologist, returning to her seat at the desk.
"Then you shouldnt have promised," the condemned woman stated darkly.
Gayle had had enough.
"You have a real problem with that, dont you?" she asked strongly.
"And what do you mean by that?" Sandra snapped back, raising her gaze in challenge.
"You have a problem with people breaking their promises. Lying. Betrayal. A deeply seated issue with trust, dont you?" Gayle asked, appraising Sandra with a clinical eye.
Sandra did not like that one bit. "Dont you dare try to analyze me!" The condemned womans voice dropped to a lower register as she threw the psychologist a sinister look.
"Why not? Thats what Im here for!" Gayle shot back and was instantly sorry she had said the words.
Sandra jumped up from her seat causing the chair to crash back onto the floor.
"If thats all youre here for ... then GET OUT!"
"Does it upset you, Sandra, to learn that Im only here to study you?"
"You werent beginning to think of me as your friend, were you? Opening up to me? Trusting me?" Gayle pressed on.
"Shut up!" Sandra said, turning away.
"You dont have friends, Sandra. You never had friends. Youd never TRUST anyone enough to let them be your friend. Would you, Sandra?"
"I said ... shut ... up." The murderess was very serious now and staring at the psychologist with dangerous intent.
But Gayle continued, unrelenting. "No. There were NO friends in Sandra Goodes life. She would never let anyone close enough, would she?"
"Why not, Sandra? Why no friends? No buddies? Plenty of sex, I bet ... right? But, no lovers. Why no one close, Sandra?"
For a long time, Sandra was unnervingly quiet as she stared intently at the young psychologist. Gayle wondered if she had gone too far this time. Perhaps this was the line that she should not have crossed?
"Because youll only get hurt," a small finally voice replied. At some point during the silence, all of the anger had disappeared from Sandras eyes and was replaced by absolute sadness.
"What was that?" Gayle asked, taking a step closer.
Sandra gulped to clear her throat.
"If you let someone into your heart, you will only get hurt ... in the long run," Sandra elucidated.
"Oh really?" Gayle commented, raising two golden eyebrows. "So, to protect yourself ... in the long run ... you never trusted anyone?"
"Thats right," Sandra confirmed, regarding Gayle coldly.
"So then, who is Gabrielle?"
The murderess did not answer immediately, studying her visitor intently.
"Dont you know?" Sandra asked softly, watching Gayles reaction closely and unable to hide her disappointment when the young psychologist answered: "No I dont."
Why was it that Gayles negative reply caused so much obvious disappointment in the convicted murderess? And, even stranger, why was it that Gayle felt she should know the answer to that question somehow? What was it about that name and the way Sandra Goode said it that touched something deep inside the psychologist? Gayle watched quietly as the dark womans eyes drifted to the floor.
"She was my friend," Sandra Goode finally answered the psychologists question.
"Your friend?" Gayle asked, trying to sound incredulous.
"Yesss," Sandra answered shifting uncomfortably.
"You...had a friend?" Gayle commented, almost teasing.
"Yes, I had a friend. All right? Gabrielle was my friend. Satisfied?" Sandra replied tersely.
So, Sandra Goode did not enjoy being teased, especially not about Gabrielle. The mysterious woman was more than just a friend, and a very serious topic. Gayle filed this discovery away as another piece to the puzzle. The psychologist decided to press further.
"So, Gabrielle was your friend. You let her in. You trusted her, didnt you?"
"Like no one ever before or ever since," Sandra confirmed softly.
"And what happened?" Gayle was almost afraid to ask, afraid to open this particular can of worms.
"She betrayed me."
Now it was Gayles turn to be silent, so Sandra continued.
"I trusted her and she betrayed me. I believed in her and she lied to me. I loved her and she ...she ..." Sandra could not continue, but wrapped her hands around her own shoulders, hugging herself in an empty embrace.
"Im sorry, Sandra. What happened? Do you want to tell me?" Gayle asked, genuine concern in her voice.
Sandra shook her head and paced.
"The details dont matter. The important thing was that she betrayed me."
"You were, obviously, very angry."
"Oh, yeah," Sandras eyes sparkled coldly. "Id say that was an understatement."
Suddenly, Gayle hearts filled with dread.
"You didnt do anything to her, did you Sandra?" The psychologist asked, deathly afraid of the answer.
"What do you mean by that?" Sandra replied, a sinister humor filling her eyes.
"You didnt hurt her...harm her physically, I mean."
The convicted murderess strolled casually up to the bars of her cell and stared straight into the psychologists eyes. "What are you asking? Did I kill her? Oh, you betcha. I hurt her worst than I ever hurt anyone before. And I enjoyed doing it too!"
It looked as though Sandra Goode was actually going to laugh, but when her eyes filled with tears. Gayle found herself wanting nothing more than to throw her arms around the woman and tell her everything was going to be all right.
"I tried to kill the only person who ever meant anything to me. I almost did! All this time and I still cant believe what I did to you, Gabrielle."
Once again Sandra Goode had called the psychologist by her friends name. This time Gayle did not question it. Since she could not console the prisoner physically, she thought she might as well give her mind comfort, allowing her to work out her problems by addressing the mysterious Gabrielle directly.
"Its all right, Sandra. Its all right," Gayle whispered soothingly as the condemned woman struggled with her emotions. "So, you didnt kill her, but you did hurt her?"
Sandra nodded, wiping her nose and hiding behind a curtain of dark tresses as she bowed her head down in shame. "She should have died. I should have died. We killed each other, really. But we were given a second chance. The gods only know why." Sandra sniffed and shook her head to clear it.
Gayle smiled briefly at the reference to multiple gods. Strange that the murderess should believe in more than one. Another part of the puzzle.
"It was that bad, was it?" Gayle asked, taking yet another step closer to the bars.
"Yeah, it was as bad as it gets."
"Is that why shes not here? Did she leave you after that?"
To Gayles surprise, Sandra actually chuckled.
"Oh no!" Sandra exclaimed shaking her head, still surprised by the wonder of it. "No, she didnt leave me. She forgave me. Can you believe that?!"
"So? Did you forgive her?" Gayle asked, thinking that this Gabrielle must be one very interesting woman.
"Oh yeah. I forgave her."
"But she betrayed you."
"She lied to you."
"And you forgave her?"
"Yes. With all my heart, I forgave her. It was easy to forgive you, Gabrielle. The entire situation was my fault anyway. What I could never understand is why you stayed with me. Why? After everything. All the darkness, all my anger. Why did you stay?"
Sandra and Gayle were very close to one another now, barely inches away. The bars cast a shadow across Gayles face as Sandra waited with wonder filled eyes for the answer to her question.
"She must have loved you very much," Gayle whispered, staring into the depth of Sandras clear, blue eyes and understanding without a doubt, just how that could be so.
"I guess she did," Sandra commented softly, the corners of her mouth turning upward into a tiny grin.
"Its easy to forgive someone you love, isnt it?" Gayle asked quietly, noticing how beautiful Sandra Goode really was when her features were graced by a smile, no matter how small.
"Gabrielle was a natural at forgiving. It was a part of her nature, just like it was a part of her nature to love. But its not a part of mine. I had to learn how to forgive."
"And to love ...?"
"Yeah, that too. It was easy to forgive Gabrielle."
"But not so easy to forgive yourself?" Gayle now understood something very important about Sandra Goode.
"Never could get a handle on that," Sandra stated with a shake of the head.
"Gabrielle sounds like an amazing woman."
"She is," Sandra answered with a smile that lit up the entire cell.
"So where is she now?" Gayle asked, thinking if Sandra Goode needed anyone at her side right now, it was Gabrielle.
"Shes not here."
In the quiet of Gayle Bardos apartment, the psychologist actually thought about trying to locate the mysterious Gabrielle. With one more day left, however, it just didnt seem possible. Besides, she didnt even know the young womans last name.
And with one day left before the execution, they were running out of time.
THE DAY BEFORE ...
"A few days ago, you said you remembered something. Something that stopped the anger, halted the rage. What did you remember?" Gayle asked to Sandras back.
The psychologist was standing just behind the yellow line once again, trying to resist the temptation to stomp forward and bang against the bars in anger. It seemed, somehow, they were back to square one today. Sandra was not cooperating. The convict was turning each of the psychologists questions around, sending them in a direction Gayle had not planned to go. To make matters worse, the answers that Sandra did provide where cryptic at best and frustrating the normally even-tempered psychologist beyond reason.
The redheaded woman was determined to control the direction of the conversation and did not want to allow the convict to digress or change the subject as she had been doing in their previous interviews.
Sandra was becoming annoyed at Gayles determined stubbornness. The murderess tried to avoid the last question by responding with a question of her own, but the psychologist was having no more of it.
"Sandra," Gayle breathed impatiently, "I asked you a question. Are you going to answer?"
The dark woman kept her back to the bars and was still.
"Dont you want to talk to me today?" Gayle asked softly. There was no response. "You know, we dont have much time left."
"No, we dont ANY time left," Sandra whispered, her voice taking on an unexpected intensity. She turned around to face her visitor. "We dont have any time left because it is all going to end here. Now. No more chances, Gabrielle. I cant take it anymore."
Gayle finally lost her patience. "Okay, why do you keep calling me Gabrielle? And lets forget about the cryptic part ..." Gayle stopped mid-sentenced as Sandra began to howl with laughter.
"What is SO funny?" Gayle asked, a little miffed but unable to prevent her own crooked grin. She didnt understand the joke, however there was something wonderful about seeing the dark woman laugh.
Sandra wiped her eyes of tears and tried to regain her composure.
"Im sorry," the convict sniffed, "but that was just SO you. There are certain things you do that just take my breath away."
Noting the psychologists unabashed confusion, Sandra felt a bit of sympathy and decided to answer a little less cryptically.
"Im sorry ... Gayle," Sandra stated sincerely, emphasizing the use of the psychologists correct name and swallowing her smile. "Its mean of me to laugh because you dont understand the joke. Its not funny really. I know you dont understand and Im not helping matters any."
Sandra moved closer to the bars looking at Gayle with unhidden affection. "Keeping you in the dark is a bad habit I seem to carry with me still."
Gayles expression turned sour.
"And Im being cryptic again, arent I?" Sandra smirked. Gayle nodded, trying to control her temper and not say anything.
"Let me explain a little, if I can," Sandra offered and wrapped her hands around the bars. "I dont know where to begin, really."
"Why dont you start with Gabrielle. Why do you keep calling me Gabrielle?"
"Because you remind me of her."
"Obviously. You keep calling me by her name. Are you a little confused about who I am and who Gabrielle is?"
"Im not the one whos confused," Sandra said with a snorted and laughed.
Gayle failed to find any humor in that statement. "Well, it seems to me that if you cared for her as much as you say you do, then you wouldnt keep confusing me with her!" Gayle barked, frustrated by their lack of progress on this, their last day.
"I miss her," the murderess whispered. Instantly, Gayle was sorry for the outburst.
"Im sorry, Sandra."
"No, youre not," Sandra shot back. "You just naturally assume that someone like me couldnt possibly love anyone ... or have someone love them."
"No, thats not true ... "
"It is true. It is VERY true. And you would be right. I will never be able to understand love. My soul is only capable of rage and hatred, and Ive proved that again and again. No matter how many times Ive been shown otherwise, I always lose sight of the light. Its not in my nature and it never will be. Gabrielle was someone who thought she could change that."
"Where is she now?"
"Shes not here," Sandra repeated the mysterious answer and again a strange sadness filled her eyes. "But Gabrielle believed she could change me. She thought if she could be by my side at the right time, then all of this would not happen. I used to believe that too, but I dont anymore. Nothing can erase the darkness from my soul, not even Gabrielle. I know that now."
The condemned woman released her hold on the bars of the cell, pacing back and forth a few times before stopping to stand before Gayle. She had come to a decision and nothing the young psychologist might say could possibly change her mind.
"It doesnt matter anymore because Gabrielle never seems to be able to make it back in time. And no matter how many times we go through this, I never seem to remember what she was trying to teach me until its too late."
Gayle nodded, almost understanding.
"So what you finally remembered was what she was trying to teach you? About love and friendship?"
Sandra nodded her head in agreement slowly. "Gabrielle believe that the cycle of hate and anger can only be ended by love."
Gayle smiled. "And when you finally understood that, you turned yourself in?"
Sandra nodded her affirmation again and dropped her eyes.
"But its too late," Sandras coarse whisper was filled with emotion. "Every time, its been too late. Even though this time I was able to see through the darkness without her help, it will never leave my soul. I know the truth of that now."
Though Gayle was still confused by the condemned murderesss reference to some type of repeated event, she elected not to question her on the issue. Sandras revelation was ringing a chord deep in the psychologists heart.
Sandra lifted her eyes and stared directly at Gayle, her penetrating gaze sending a shiver down the psychologists spine.
"And you call me Gabrielle because I remind you of her?" Gayle asked softly.
Sandras eyes captured Gayles in a steady gaze.
"You can say that."
"And youre willing to walk to your own death as punishment for your crimes. That is why you gave no defense on your behalf?"
"What defense? Im guilty of everything they say."
"But you turned yourself in. You stopped the killing. You realized your own guilt and stopped. You let go of your anger and rage. What is there in its place?" Gayle asked quietly.
"And Gabrielles love? Where is that?"
The psychologist watched in fascination as a myriad of emotions crossed over the dark womans features.
Gayle could not resist. She walked forward beyond the yellow line and covered both of Sandras hands with her own, watching as a single tear tracked its way down the dark womans cheek.
Sandra held Gayles gaze with her own and whispered, "I will always love Gabrielle. Always. Will you remember that I said that?"
"Why do you want me to remember that, Sandra?" Gayle asked softly, caressing Sandras hand and smiling at the warmth she found there.
"Because after tomorrow we will never see one another again. I wont wait for you, Gabrielle. Im going to take my judgment this time."
Gayle paused in her caresses, her eyes filling with questions as Sandra once again took them in an unexpected direction. She did not notice Celeste coming up to pull her away from the cell, but Sandras attention was drawn to the advancing guard.
Sandra slipped her hands out from under the psychologists and wrapped them around Gayles wrists in a vise like grip to pull her forward.
"And dont you even THINK of following me," the murderess breathed close to Gayles ear in a meaningful whisper.
Then she leaned into the bars until she was a breath away from Gayles lips and murmured in a rush before the guard could reach them to pull Gayle away.
"I love you."
And then Celestes heavy palm descended on Gayles shoulder, tugging her away from the bars abruptly. But not before Sandra was able to brush incredibly soft lips lightly against Gayles in the whisper of a kiss.
Celeste pulled the stunned psychologist by the fabric of her jacket and dragged her roughly down the hall a few feet before twirling the woman around by the shoulders. When Gayles eyes finally lifted to lock with the guards, she saw more concern than anger.
"What did you think you were doing?" Celeste asked harshly, snapping the psychologist back to awareness.
"I dont ... I dont know ..." Gayle stammered, obviously unnerved from the unexpected contact of Sandras lips with her own.
Celeste studied the psychologist carefully, shaking her head.
"Shes something else, that one. Almost looked to me as though she had you hypnotized? Isnt that what you shrink types call it?"
Gayle ran her hand through her hair and shook her head, realizing with a start that hypnosis is exactly what it felt like.
"Are you all right?" Celeste asked, concerned for the young womans welfare.
"Im fine," Gayle answered, shaking herself out of the guards grasp. "Really, Im fine." She looked back down the hall towards the cell. Sandra was nowhere to be seen.
"Can I go back down there?" Gayle asked to the guards amazement.
"I dont think thats a good idea," Celeste answered shaking her head.
"But this is the last day, Celeste. Tomorrow morning shell be ..." Gayles words dried up in her throat.
"Executed." Celeste finished for her. "And none to soon, I believe. I dont think its a good idea for you to see her again. Your interview is concluded. Why dont you go home and start to write your book or your screenplay or whatever it is you came here for."
The deputy gently began to lead the young woman down the hall.
"But I need to say goodbye," Gayle insisted.
"Youve already said goodbye, I do believe."
Gayle brought them both to an abrupt stop, staring with pleading eyes at the guard almost in tears. Celeste, however, shook her head in disagreement.
"Leave her now, Gayle. Its for the best."
Celeste placed the palm of her hand against the upset womans cheek.
"Let her go," the guard said softly and then took Gayles hand to lead her away.
JUST BEFORE DAWN ...
Gayle sat in the darkness of her living room, staring at a blank television screen that mirrored nothing but her own dim reflection. She was able to find solace in watching herself sit there, waiting for the minutes to pass into hours and the night to pass into day.
Sandra Goode was scheduled to die at 6:00 a.m. It was now 4:00 a.m. and Gayle had not been able to sleep at all. She could only imagine Sandra alone in a brightly lit cell, counting the minutes to the end of her life.
"Im going to take my judgment this time, Gabrielle."
Gayle could hear the condemned womans words echoing in the darkness.
"And dont you even THINK of following me," Gayle repeated aloud, wondering for the hundredth time what exactly the dark woman meant by that.
She could still see the flash of warning in intense blue eyes as they stared out at her from behind the bars. Still hear the slightest touch of humor and affection in the deadly serious warning.
Gayle thought about that statement and what it might mean. She pictured Sandra behind the bars in her minds eye. The image flashed in the dark, empty television screen over and over again like a shadowy television show from the past.
"Dont even THINK about following me."
A raised eyebrow.
Half an hour passed by as Gayle stared into the silent screen, envisioning the scene over and over again.
The name spoken so softly, wrapping around her like a warm blanket.
A raised eyebrow.
"Dont you even THINK about following me."
The shadow on the dark screen suddenly shifted and Sandra Goode was no longer wearing the gray cotton of prison garb, but the dark leather and golden swirls of a warriors armor. Her blue eyes sparkled with warmth.
Gayle stood straight up off the couch as the image exploded from the screen and filled her mind.
The warrior standing proudly, sword sheathed across her back, shoulders straight, a dazzling smile lighting up her features.
A stern look, commanding voice, but the sparkle of affection never leaving eyes the color of the sky.
A raised eyebrow.
"Dont you even THINK about following me."
Gayles own eyes widened in recognition as the memories burst into her consciousness, crashing against the barrier of countless ages.
"By the gods!" Gayle gasped and swung around to stare at the clock.
Gayle ran to the hall closet and wrenched the door open, fumbling for her purse that held the keys to her car.
"Oh, please dont let me be too late."
Her fingers rummaged through the purse, finally finding the keys. She tossed the bag aside and ran out of the door, leaving it ajar in her haste to run for the parking lot.
She threw her body into the vehicle and nearly flooded the engine as she started the car, ramming her foot into the gas pedal. Once the car was started, she screeched it in reverse and then she jammed the transmission into drive. The car jerked forward and took off into the coming dawn, leaving smoking black skid marks in its wake.
As Gayle rushed back to the prison, she did not think about how she would get herself inside. She just prayed to a god who knew her name very well.
"Please, Hades. Dont let me be too late. You owe her! You owe me! You owe us both big time!"
She simply had to talk with Sandra Goode. Their very souls depended on it.
Since no one knows what dawn will come,
Bearing the dismal future with its sorrows
In its hands, we tremble at full day, our dream
fears all tomorrows.
- Prolong the Night, Renee Vivien 1877-1909
Celeste Kismet flashed her identification card to the guard at the prison gate and smiled briefly as he waved her inside.
Security was extremely tight this morning due to the impending execution of Sandra Goode. The fields beyond the prison walls were already filled with demonstrators and curious on-lookers. Why they came, Celeste never knew. It wasnt as if they could see anything. The executions were never televised. There was no flag that dropped or smoke that drifted out of a chimney or anything.
It reminded her of the type of mob that would gather to watch a hanging or the guillotine: morbid curiosity. It gave her the shivers, but she found herself smiling at the thought of how quickly attraction to this event would disappear if they all suddenly remembered that death would one day visit them all. She characteristically forgave them as she put her identification back in her pocket and shifted the car into drive.
It was then that Celeste heard a car come to a shrieking halt just behind her own. She looked in the rear view mirror at the headlights still blazing despite the rising sun.
"What the hell ... ?!" she exclaimed and looked at the security guard. His expression mirrored her own. Then she recognized the voice yelling out at them from the cars side window.
"Please ... please ... get out of my way. I have to get inside."
Celeste was astounded to hear the pleading cries of the psychologist, Gayle Bardo. She squinted into the rear view mirror and instantly recognized the woman behind her.
The female prison officer practically flew out of her car and ran back towards the woman in the vehicle behind her.
"Gayle! What do you think youre doing?!"
The guard stuck her head in the psychologists side window and glared. "WHAT are you DOING here?!"
"Please, Celeste. I need your help." Gayles pleading green eyes took the anger right out of the officers heart.
"Please, Celeste. I beg you. WE need your help."
"What is it, Gayle?"
Gayle placed her hands over Celestes and squeezed.
"Please take me in there with you."
Gayle squeezed the womans hands harder.
"Please, please Celeste. I need to speak with her one more time before they ... before she dies."
Celeste shook her head despondently.
"I cant do that, Gayle. The brass will be here in minutes. Theres not enough time."
"I only need a minute or two. Please Celeste. You have no idea how important it is. Shes going to give up and I just cant allow that to happen."
"Going to give what up, Gayle?" Celeste asked, surpressing a shiver that suddenly chilled her bones.
"Shes going to give up on the chance for redemption. We cant let that happen. Her soul is at stake."
Celeste stood back from the car window, her mind instantly made up.
"Follow me," she said and walked back towards her car to speak with the guard at the gate.
Celeste rushed Gayle down the hall, ignoring the questioning stares glaring at her from fellow guards. At the time of execution, a prisoner is not normally allowed visitors. However, Celeste had more than a little authority when it came to the womans section of death row. As long as Gayle was with her, the young psychologists admittance would not be questioned.
Celeste brought them both to a halt just after the gate to death row, but before they reached Sandras cell. There was a guard standing quietly just in front -- standard procedure on the morning before execution as security against suicide or other acts of self-multilation. There were no sounds coming from Sandras cell, however.
Celeste nodded at the guard, indicating it was time for his relief. She was scheduled to walk the prisoner to the Execution Chamber. It was her duty as head guard of the womans section. This would not be the first woman she had ever walked down the long corridor. And although she prayed it would be the last, Celeste knew that the nature of things would prevent this wish from ever coming true.
When the hall was finally clear, Celeste stood before the cell and regarded its occupant. Sandra was sitting on her bed, staring at the wall.
"Thank you, Celeste," Sandra said softly.
"Thank you for what, Sandra?" Celeste replied.
"For showing me kindness. Its more than I deserve."
"Everyone deserves kindness, child," Celeste answered, "... and love."
When Sandra looked up at the unexpected remark, Celeste waved someone forward into Sandras field of vision.
The dark woman gasped as Gayle walked into view.
"What are you doing here?" Sandra choked, barely able to control her emotions. "Please, I dont want you to see me now."
The condemned murderess rose from her bed quickly and turned to face a wall, away from the young woman.
"Please, go away. I cant talk to you now."
Celeste backed away from the cell, making no objection when Gayle crossed the yellow line and wrapped her small hands around the bars.
Sandra placed the palms of her hands on the cold cement and leaned her forehead against the gray wall.
"Xena," Gayle whispered.
Celestes eyebrows rose in surprise at the strange name, but the guard knew better than to say anything. What was going on here was something totally outside her realm of experience. She was only glad she could help.
"XENA!" Gayle called more forcibly, loudly.
The dark woman froze at the name and then turned slowly around, an eyebrow raised in the so familiar and beloved expression.
"Now you remember?"
The condemned prisoner walked out of the shadow of the rear of the cell and towards the light.
"Youre a little late, Gabrielle."
"Better late than never," Gabrielles eyes filled with recognition and remembrance. Xena could almost read the memories as they danced across the bards bright features. Her lips turned upwards into a sad smile.
"You are so stubborn, Gabrielle," Xena said shaking her head.
"So Im a little late. Whats the big deal? Ill just make sure I get here a little sooner the next time."
Xena lost her smile completely. "Whats the big deal?" the warrior repeated incredulously, crossing the distance to the bars in two strides and staring angrily at the woman outside. "More deaths, Gabrielle. More blood on my hands!" Xena looked down at her palms in disgust and then looked back up. "Its getting worse every time we try this. It seems like with each reincarnation, our memories come back to us later and later. You didnt even remember until it was almost all over this time! Whats going to happen the next time? Maybe next time, our memories wont return to us at all and then therell be no one to stop me! Not even myself! How many more people have to die at my hands, Gabrielle, before we give this up?"
"No, Xena NO! You cant give up! I wont let you! You promised! And Hades said we could make as many attempts as we want! He owes it to you and you owe it to yourself!"
"I owe it to humanity to stop."
"And what about me?" Gabrielle asked meekly.
"I owe it to you to stop as well."
Gabrielle started to shake her head in disagreement and stopped as Xena covered her hands with her own.
"Gabrielle. You deserve to be in the Fields. Its time for you to go."
"Not without you."
"Im not going to make it to the Fields, no matter how many times we try."
"Hades said it would take only once ..."
"Well, its just not going to happen."
"One more time, Xena, please. Just one more time."
Xena began to shake her head, dark tresses falling into her face as stared at the ground.
Gabrielle refused to give up. "Xena, I promise Ill get to you in time. Ill make sure Im there. Nothing will happen the same. Itll all be different. One more try, thats all I ask."
"No, Gabrielle," Xena said firmly and attempted to back away from the bars, but Gabrielle gripped her fingers around Xenas hand, holding her fast to the gate.
"No, Xena. Promise me youll wait for me and not take judgment."
Xena stared at the woman who meant more to her than her own soul. She did not offer her promise.
"Promise me youll wait!" Gabrielle pleaded.
Xena pulled her hands out from under the bards, wincing from the pain of separation.
"No, Xena please. Listen to me." The bard was crying now, glistening tears flowing from pain stricken green eyes. She banged her fists against the metal as Xena backed away.
"Gabrielle," Xena said the name in the way the bard loved so. Gabrielle lifted her tear soaked eyes and halted her sobs.
The warrior backed into the darkness of the rear of the cell. "Its time for me to go."
The sounds of a group of men approaching brought both Gabrielle and Celeste to attention. The deputy sheriff panicked for a moment and then pulled the psychologist away from the bars.
Gabrielle squirmed out of her grasp and ran towards the cell to find herself enwrapped in the long arms of the warrior, basking in the warmth even through the bars that separated them. Xena squeezed her hard and kissed the top of her head before rubbing her cheek against soft golden red hair.
"I love you so," Xena whispered hoarsely.
Gabrielle could only nod in reply.
"Now let me go."
Gabrielle released her hold and they both backed away from each other, even as the sound of the gate to death row opening echoed down the hall.
"Xena, dont do this," Gabrielle implored as a group of men came into view, walking towards them in a solemn formation.
Celeste pulled Gabrielle out of the way, ignoring the questioning looks from the warden of the prison as he stared at the unexpected visitor.
"Who is this?" the wardens deep voice barked at the female officer.
"Relative," Celeste replied tersely. "Last request."
"Highly irregular," the warden commented skeptically.
"Last request," Celeste repeated.
"Is she going to witness the execution?" The warden inquired.
"No," Celeste answered quickly.
"Yes," Gabrielle followed with a firm reply, overriding Celeste.
"NO!" Xena ordered, causing all heads to turn in her direction.
"YES!" Gabrielle repeated stubbornly. "Im going to be there!"
Xena shook her head in reply even as manacles were being attached to her wrists and ankles.
Gabrielle glared at Xena, peering around the bodies of the prison officials. "You are NOT going through this alone!" the bard demanded.
Xenas smirk told the bard that she had won the argument and the warrior would allow her to witness the execution. She gave a resigned nod to the prison official, who turned and nodded once to Celeste.
"Escort her to the viewing room," the warden ordered Celeste and then turned away.
"Come on Gayle or Gabrielle or whoever you are," Celeste said gently, placing a soft hand on the bards arm. "We need to go the audience room."
Gabrielle patted the womans hand in thanks and turned to speak to Xena. "I AM going to follow you, you know."
Xena glared at Gabrielle.
"Fields or Tartarus ... we go together," the bard insisted.
A complement of prison officials surrounded the convicted murderess and they began to move outside the cell.
Xena paused before the bard and stared at her sadly. "Hades wont let you into Tartarus ... he owes me a favor. Ill make him promise to send you where you belong."
Gabrielle almost started to cry again. "Xena, please ... dont ... one more try. Im begging you."
The men began to lead the prisoner away, ignoring the pleading woman, but secretly smirking at the crazy direction of the conversation.
Gabrielle grabbed the warriors arm as she passed, halting the entire procession abruptly.
"Dont leave me," Gabrielle choked.
Xena looked into her friends eyes, drinking in the site of her brightness, her compassion, the way the light sparkled in her hair, the concern that was always there no matter what the circumstance.
"Dont touch the prisoner!" the warden ordered, pulling Xenas arm away from the bard. A brief flash of anger crossed the warriors features. She knew she could break the chains and render them all unconscious quicker than it would take for the big, fat bureaucrats to take a breath, but that was not part of the plan this time.
Instead, she jerked her arm away from him and impaled him with a stare. The man dropped his hands and took a step back, suddenly realizing control of the situation was at this womans whim.
Xena cupped Gabrielles face between manacled hands and dropped her head to capture the bards lips softly in a kiss.
"Knowing you are happy in the Elysian Fields will make an eternity in Tartarus worthwhile."
She wiped away a tear that had escaped a green eye.
"Think of me every once and a while. Ill hear your thoughts."
Xena released Gabrielles face from her palms and turned away. The entourage started its procession down the hall towards a large, heavy steel door that led to the gas chamber beyond.
"Dead Man Walking!" The leading official announced to whoever cared to listen. Empty cells answered back as the door to the gas chamber beckoned.
Celeste grabbed onto Gabrielles shoulders and pulled gently to start walking in the opposite direction.
"We have to hurry if were going to make it to the audience chamber. Its down this way. You still want to go?"
Gabrielle looked at the woman, wiping the tears from her eyes. "There must be something else I can do?"
"Sweetie," Celeste said, taking the bards hand in her own, "I think I only slightly understand whats going on here. Seems to me youve been going through this same scenario repeatedly for a very, very long time now. She wants it to come to an end."
Gabrielle stared into Celestes sympathetic gaze, amazed that the guard seemed to understand what was happening so well.
Celeste squeezed Gabrielles hands once and smiled. "Do you love her?"
"Yes, absolutely. More than my own soul," Gabrielle answered, wiping away the sadness in her eyes.
"We were already sure of that," Celeste commented causing Gabrielles brow to crease. "Now its Xenas turn to offer the same."
Celeste smiled at the question in the bards eyes. "Come on. Lets go send her on her way. Shell want you there, standing by her side, wouldnt she?"
Gabrielle nodded firmly, promising herself somehow, some way she would manage to be always by Xenas side -- and damn if the Fates planned otherwise.
"Lets go," Celeste said firmly, pulling Gabrielle by the hand, "Its time we walk Xena to her final judgment."
6:00 AM ...
By the time Gabrielle and Celeste had made their way through a myriad of prison corridors to enter the austere execution audience room, Xena had already been seated in the chair inside the glass chamber and the last of the straps were being applied to her limbs.
Two black suited prison officials tightened and then tested the straps around the prisoners wrists, and backed away from the condemned woman finally satisfied that she was secured. They walked carefully around the pellet dispenser and tub of water, careful not to knock into either and exited the chamber.
The door was closed firmly, but the sound of it was not heard in the audience room. The glass walls of the chamber were thick and soundproof. Only the heavy breathing and nervous shifting of the dozen or so witnesses as they waited impatiently for the pellet to fall disturbed the silence.
Sandra Goode did not acknowledge the three rows of faces that stared at her with smug, judgmental expressions as though she were a movie about to be played for their entertainment. Instead, she searched the room with intensely bright eyes until they fastened upon the only person who mattered to her dark soul.
Celeste and Gabrielle had entered as quietly as possible, choosing to remain in the back of the room, standing against the wall. Xenas eyes found the bard, but she could not nod in acknowledgment -- her head had been strapped to the chair and was firmly in place. She let the corners of her mouth turn upward into a small smile and her eyes filled with an unusual warmth, especially for the one known as Sandra Goode. To the onlookers in the room, her expression was nothing less than extraordinary.
A few of the privileged newspaper and television reporters turned in their seats, wondering exactly who it was that had captured this convicted serial killers attention, virtually melting a normally ice cold gaze. They spied Gabrielle and Celeste in the back of the room and quickly wrote notes in a variety of little books. In days to come, Gabrielle would be hounded by these reporters and offered huge sums of money just for an interview. The bard would turn down every one, until finally the proposals faded away along with the memory of her participation in the event and the infamy of Sandra Goode herself. All would be forgotten in favor of some other newsworthy drama of the moment.
Even now, Gabrielle chose not to acknowledge the stares of the press. Nor did she mirror her eternal friends small, subtle smile. Although she and Xena had been through this very moment many times, throughout many different lives, she could not help being angry and once again found herself cursing the Fates -- and even Hades himself. Always the chance was given and always the same results.
The bard locked eyes with Xena and her heart almost stopped beating in her chest. For what she saw there was the grim determination of the warrior to put an end to the never-ending cycle of failed chances for redemption.
This time, when the warrior princess descended into Hades realm, she would accept the final judgment of the Lord of the Underworld, and Gabrielle would not be there to argue on her behalf.. The bard was certain that the warriors fate would not be her own. Where Xena went, she would no longer be able to follow. The very thought was inconceivable to the bard.
"No!" Gabrielle choked out a whisper, but Celeste quieted her with a comforting hand.
Xena kept her eyes locked with the bards.
The sound of a microphone being turned on caused everyone in the audience room to jump a little. A hiss and then a few taps to ensure activation and then a deep voice resounded through the room and inside the execution chamber.
"Sandra Goode, you have been sentenced to death by a jury of your peers. The sentence is to be carried out at exactly 6:00 a.m. by the means of lethal gas."
There was a pause during which no one made the slightest sound. A few spectators shifted eagerly in their seats, stretching to look into the execution chamber for a better view of the pellet device. Celeste observed their conduct, committing each one who behaved in this distasteful manner to memory. They would answer for their actions when their own time arrived, she would make sure of it
The large clock above the chamber clicked loudly as the minute hand moved closer towards the appointed time.
One minute to go.
"Sandra Goode," the deep voice called over the microphone, "do you have any last words?"
The question caught the prisoners attention, causing her to break her stare with the bard for a moment. She attempted to turn her head towards the door to the chamber, where she knew the prison officials were located, but could not because her head had been strapped so securely.
She licked her tongue across suddenly dry lips and returned her gaze to the bard, about to speak, but Gabrielle took a few fast steps away from the wall and the movement stopped her words.
"You promised me!" Gabrielle yelled in an accusatory voice stepping away from the wall. "You promised me you would never leave me! Even in death you said ... even in death ... "
Celeste went to grab the bard, but Gabrielle shrugged away.
Although, Xena could not hear her words, she could see the bards lips moving in her frantic appeal. The warrior silenced the bard with one softly spoken word.
Xenas warm voice filled the audience chamber, magnified artificially by the PA system.
The bard was instantly still.
"Im offering my soul to you." Xena paused and to everyones utter surprise, smiled. "Dont tell me after all this time, you dont want it?"
The shocked reaction of the audience to the condemned womans words was to turn about in their chairs and stare openly at the psychologist.
The sound of the clocks minute hand clicking onto the hour captured everyones attention.
"Its time, Gabrielle." Xena stated firmly.
Xenas sentence was cut short by the sound of the microphone turning off. The audience chamber was suddenly and painfully empty of the sound of Xenas deep, rich voice. All watched as a pellet silently left a suspended dispenser and plopped, as if in slow motion, soundlessly into a tub of water at the base of Xenas chair.
Even before a smoky trail of rising gas became visible to the witnesses, Xenas eyes had closed and the warrior had taken her last breath. The straps would not allow her head or body to sag from the chair, but it was obvious from the almost aching stillness descending over her muscles like a wave that the convicted murderer, Sandra Goode, lived no more. And with her, went the soul of the warrior princess.
Celeste had to assist a weeping Gabrielle out of the room.
So many years ago you said
Something that sounded like Good-bye;
And everybody thinks that you are dead,
So I, as I grow stiff and cold
To this and that say Good-bye too;
And everybody sees that I am old
And one fine morning in a sunny lane
Two lovers will meet and kiss and swear
That nobody can love their way again.
While over there
You will have smiled, I shall have tossed your hair.
- A Quoi Bon Dire, Charlotte Mew 1869-1929
One Lifetime Later...
Gabrielle scurried as fast as she could down the colossal stairs that led into the long, ancient hallway. She jumped the last two steps and landed with sure feet upon the marbled floor, not even pausing to stare at the ornate carvings as most souls do when they descend the stairway into Hades realm and enter this hallway for the first time.
The bard had been this way many times before. Sometimes before the warrior, often times after her. But never before had she been as afraid when she entered the great corridor as she was right now.
Her strong legs carried her down the twisting hallway swiftly and with ease. She was the amazon queen once again, adorned in her virago skirt and top. She held a fighting staff firmly in one hand and carried a scroll bag draped over a shoulder that hit against a leg as she rushed along the ancient corridor to the land of the dead.
Her heart would not let her walk slowly, so she ran -- ran to gain audience with the god of the underworld to learn the fate of the one soul she held precious above all others, even her own.
She hoped with an unreasonable optimism that Xena would be waiting for her in the throne room of Hades, having once again refused her judgment and willing to take a chance at redemption.
The bard silently prayed to a variety of gods, calling out all the names and titles they held across all the times and planes she had passed through in her never-ending, reoccurring existence. However the gods preferred to be addressed, she called out to them, praising them in a last ditch effort to win their favor.
But she cursed under her breath the name of one god alone.
"I swear to you Hades, if you wont let me go to Tartarus with her ... Ill ... Ill ... Ill ... break every one of your precious vases up and down every corridor I can find ... and your marble statues, too!"
The faster she ran, the more she swore. The more she swore, the angrier she got. By the time she passed through the entrance into Hades audience chamber, she was in a self-created tizzy.
She stomped passed Cerebus, ignoring the monster completely. She wasnt afraid of the beast in the least. Cerebus howled a complaint, recognizing the bard and disappointed that she had not stopped to scratch its belly.
Gabrielle pushed a few waiting souls out of the way and forced herself to the front of the line.
"All right, Hades. Where is she?" the bard demanded, putting a hand on a hip and tapping an impatient foot on the ground.
"Gabrielle!" the god smiled amicably at the bard, waving a soul towards Charons boat with a flick of an ornately jeweled hand. "Weve been waiting for you. What took you so long this time?"
"I had a full and happy life, no thanks to you," the bard accused, scowling at the god.
"What? No accident? No misadventure? Nothing to shorten the wait?" the god queried in an almost teasing manner.
"Its not funny, Hades. I lived until the ripe old age of 95. That was very unfair and you know it!" The bard pointed an accusing finger at the Lord of the Underworld.
"Now, now little bard," Hades admonished, sitting back comfortably in his throne. "You know I have no control over the Fates. Every time you chose to repeat the journey, you left your life in their hands ... and out of mine completely."
"You dont really expect me to believe that, now do you? I havent spent all these centuries with Xena for nothing. If I learned one thing, it was never ... EVER ... trust the gods!"
Hades should have been offended, but he knew the warrior princess and her bard very well. The underworld lord could not help but chuckle. Besides, she was right -- in a way.
"How very ungrateful of you, Gabrielle," the god stated, feigning insult and rising from his throne.
"Ill be grateful when you tell me where she is," Gabrielle said, glancing anxiously around the throne room, looking for the familiar black mane and flashing blue eyes.
"Shes not waiting here, is she? Xena took her judgment and YOU let her do it without me. Where did you send her, Hades? And I had BETTER like the answer."
"Youre not threatening me are you, little one?" Hades strolled over to the bard and towered over her. Gabrielle was not intimidated. She knew the Lord of the Underworld very well.
The god smiled at her and briefly caressed her cheek, then his expression turned very serious.
"She was judged fairly and sent where she belongs, Gabrielle. And now its time to do the same for you." Hades squeezed the bards shoulder and turned, calling out to the room behind his throne.
"Celesta! If you would, please? I need your help."
The curtains behind the throne parted and Celesta, sister of Hades, the very hand of death, walked into the audience chamber carrying her candle and a smile for the bard.
"Gabrielle. How nice to see you again. This room is a lot nicer than the prison, isnt it?"
Gabrielle eyed Hades sister warily, recognizing her instantly as the female prison officer who had helped her during Xenas last hours.
Celesta floated to Gabrielle and laid a warm, soft hand upon her arm.
"Come, my dear. Let me escort you to Charons boat."
"Where is he taking me?" Gabrielle asked Celesta and then Hades, switching her gaze from one to the other.
"Why, to the Fields of course, dear. Your fate has always been the Fields."
"NO!" Gabrielle shouted, pulling her arm from Celestas grasp. "I wont go. I dont have the fare, anyway."
Hades stepped forward and put an arm around the bards shoulder.
"You paid the fare a long time ago, Gabrielle," The God began to assist Gabrielle along, toward the shore of the river Styx, "and then some ..."
"No, Hades. I dont belong in the Elysia. Ive killed. Ive done bad things. I betrayed Xena. Killed her son."
"You didnt kill her son."
"Well, it was my fault. Ive done plenty of things ... in all of my lives ... to deserve Tartarus."
"Gabrielle," Celeste said, floating up to the side of the bard. "Youre judgment has always been the Elysian Fields from the very first time you entered Hades realm. You know this."
"I know," the bard sighed, stopping to stare at the Underlords sister, "but I dont deserve it."
"Yes, you do. You always have." Celeste insisted. "You sacrificed your very soul on Xenas behalf. You lived through Xenas torment again and again, reliving your lives over and over. Why did you do that, Gabrielle when you could have gone to peace in the Elysian Fields the first time around?"
"I believed in her chance for redemption. I was sure we could change the way things turned out. I believed in her."
"How could you have such steadfast belief in her, when she has proven you wrong time and time again."
"Because I love her."
"With all of your soul?"
"Yes, with all of my soul."
Hades moved in front of the bard and smiled, placing his hands on her shoulders.
"Gabrielle. Your willingness to sacrifice your soul in the name of love absolved you of all sins. Your reward for such a sacrifice is the Elysian fields."
"What kind of a reward is that? If Im to spend eternity in the Elysian Fields without Xena, then it will be a Tartarus for me."
"Who said Xena isnt in the Fields?" Celesta commented softly, moving closer to the astonished bard and gently taking her arm once again.
"Xena ... " the bard stammered, hardly able to control the swelling of hope in her heart, "shes in the Elysian Fields?"
Hades chuckled and patted her back, gently moving her forward toward the shore of the River Styx.
"Oh yes. Shes been waiting for you. And not too patiently, I can tell you that."
The Lord of the Underworld laughed openly, picturing the Warrior Princess pacing furiously up and down the Elysian shore, each minute of waiting an agonizing eternity.
Whenever Hades craved a little amusement, he would listen closely with a gods ear to hear Xena mumbling from across the Styx:
I thought you said this was Elysia! This waiting is torturing me! Some reward.
... or Xena might stop her incessant pacing and yell between cupped hands:
If I have to wait one more year, Im going to swim across, climb those steps and drag her down here myself!
...and then go back to pacing the shore.
That one really amused Celesta, Hades, AND Persephone, causing them all to laugh out loud until they began to worry that the former Destroyer of Nations might make good on her threat. It wouldnt do for a fully armored, ancient Greek warrior princess to ascend into modern times and drag off a highly honored psychologist, no matter how much the psychologist might enjoy it.
No, Xena was just going to have to wait for Gabrielles present life to play itself out, as predetermined by the Fates themselves. There was nothing he nor any god could do to make the bards time on earth one second shorter, no matter how many times a certain warrior yelled threatening remarks at them from across the Styx.
Eventually though, even Charon became a bit tired of the Warrior Princess. The ferryman secretly promised himself that when Gabrielle finally did arrive, she would be given the quickest trip across the Styx to the Fields in history.
Gabrielle stared anxiously across the river into the hazy distance hoping for a glimpse of the warrior upon the shore.
All she could see was Charons boat parting the mist and heading directly for them. The ferryman was smiling, sincerely happy to help the bard on this, her last journey.
Gabrielle stopped at the rivers edge and turned to face Celesta and Hades.
"How? Why? No wait ... I dont want to know." Her honey red locks swayed as she shook her head and scratched her chin. She looked down at her feet and then looked back up at the gods. "This is your doing, isnt it Hades? You knew all along that she was destined for the fields and you never told us!"
The bard pointed that accusing finger in Hades direction once again.
"Not at all, Gabrielle," the god answered, grasping her finger and gently pushing it down. "Xena was judged for Tartarus the first time."
The god thought a moment and adjusted his comment, "No make that both times ... two times ... or was it three times ... judged for Tartarus? I forget just how many times it was before she finally died ... hmm."
"It was four," The bard stated flatly, barely able to surpress a grin. Hades always had a soft spot for the Warrior Princess. "So what changed your mind?" Gabrielle asked, still not believing in a gods generosity.
Charons boat had arrived and it was time for the ancient storyteller to get on board. Celesta smiled, taking her by the hand.
"Come on, Gabrielle. Get in Charons Boat. You can think about the answer to that question as we ride across the Styx to the Fields. You dont to keep Xena waiting any longer, do you?"
Gabrielle gave Hades one last appraising look before wrapping her small arms around him in a giant, bard-sized bear hug.
"Thank you. Thank you," the bard whispered hoarsely, burying her face against the Lord of the Underworlds chest.
"Dont thank me, my precious one. All souls get what they deserve. You most of all." The god kissed the top of her golden head and then they separated. He always had a soft spot for the bard from Poteidaia.
Gabrielle smiled at the God one last time before thrusting her bag of scrolls into his hands.
"Here. This is for you. Theyre my most treasured possessions ... my scrolls. All the stories of Xena and me through the ages. I hope you enjoy."
Hades smiled, accepting the gift graciously, his heart bursting with affection for this small mortal.
"I always have, Gabrielle. I always have."
From the boat, Charon hhrmpffd impatiently causing all heads to turn in his direction.
"Off with you now, Gabrielle," Hades said, caressing the bards cheek and smiling back into her glowing, green eyes.
The bard used her staff to steady the boat and jumped inside. Somehow, Celesta had gracefully entered the boat without rocking it at all and stood, smiling beside Gabrielle.
"Come on, Charon!" Gabrielle urged impatiently. "Make it a fast trip. Weve been waiting a Hades of a long time."
"A tip for a fast trip is customary ..." Charon began, but stopped at the scowl emanating from Celesta, "... er ... but not necessary," the ferryman finished, pushing the boat with his long bony stick away from shore. "And its not nice to curse!" Charon added under his breath as his shoulders heaved with another row.
Gabrielle and Celesta grinned at one another and then turned to face the caress of a sweet, cool breeze. The bard watched, her heart soaring as the boat moved steadily away from the audience chamber and into the sparkling mist.
"Is she really there?" Gabrielle asked, breathlessly.
"Oh yes. Trust me. Shes there. She hasnt left that shore since she arrived." Celesta took the bards hand and gave it a squeeze.
"I dont understand, Celesta. Every life we lived, the same thing happened. Hate, rage, revenge, darkness. It only seemed to get worse and worse."
"Its not a good idea to repeat a dark life over and over and over again. You really are only meant to live the same life once. We can never change what the Fates have in store for you during your life on earth. Its when you enter the realm of the Underworld that your souls fate comes under Hades control."
The bard turned to face the sister of death, comprehension finally gracing her golden features.
"So when Xena decided to stop repeating what could never be changed, she was finally able to be judged by Hades. So why did he let us repeat the same life again and again."
Celesta turned to the bard and shrugged, "You asked for it, remember? Hades owed you both the favor and it was what you requested."
Gabrielle shook her head at the futility of her favor. All this time they had been reliving their same lives, trying to undo what could never be changed.
The bard took in a ragged breath, her eyes beginning to tear in the breeze.
"We could have gone on and on forever, never making a difference ... what a waste!" The bard was about to get angry at Hades sister and scold her for allowing them to continue repeating a never-ending error.
"No, Gabrielle," Celesta stopped her before she could begin. "It wasnt a waste. If Xena had accepted judgment the first time, even the second ... she would have gone straight to Tartarus, no question about it."
"So, what made it different this time around?" the bard asked, searching the goddesss face and basking in its wisdom.
"This time, she gave herself into Hades care, not caring how she was judged, but only worried that YOU receive your reward. Finally ..." Celeste explained.
"She was willing to sacrifice her soul for mine ..."
" ... in the name of love," Celeste smiled and turned Gabrielle around by the shoulder. "Look, Gabrielle ..."
The bard squinted into the thinning mist. Not so far into the distance any longer, she could see the faint outline of dark leather and shining armor, iridescent in the sunlight of a non-existent sky.
They could both see Xenas smile even from this distance as she waved her hands anxiously in the air beckoning her partner home.
Charon heaved against the shore, moving the boat away with the assistance of a graceful wave. Both he and Celesta turned one last time to watch as Xena and Gabrielle continued to hug and kiss each other in what looked like was going to be a never-ending embrace.
The ferryman grunted, but Celesta could see that he was hiding a satisfied smile.
"Well," Celesta beamed at the noble Charon, "they finally crossed. Can you believe it?"
"I had bets against good odds that they never would!" The boatman grumbled.
"I hope you lost your shirt!" Celesta exclaimed, slightly taken aback that he would bet on such a thing as the fate of two lost souls.
"Nah," the ancient mariner grudgingly admitted. "I was happy to lose this bet."
"It was a heart-warming sight to see, wasnt it?" Celesta said, chuckling and giving the ferrymans shoulder a friendly pat.
Charon smiled back at Celesta, the action turning his normally ghoulish features almost benevolent.
"Best damn fare I was ever paid."
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