Between A Breath And A Heartbeat
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
Author’s note: a viewing of the Xena: Warrior Princess episode ‘Motherhood’ is recommended prior to reading this story.
Gods, will this rain never end?
It falls down upon me, anointing me in a cleansing baptism whose price I am not sure I’m willing to pay. I am so cold and tired, and I ache to the bone, and with every slogging step I take in this muddy courtyard, I fear it may be my last.
"Neither of you is going to leave me," I say, and I sag to my knees. A chill runs through me, despite the heat of the flames licking at our heels. This inn will burn, burn to the ground, and there’s not a thing I can do to prevent it. It’s out of my control, like so many other things seem to be, these days.
"Gabrielle… you’re the most pure thing in my life."
The rain falls, every drop pricking at my skin like a cold knife; the water forming small streaming rivulets upon the ground, melting the world around me and carrying away on it the life’s blood of the woman I call my best friend. But with friends like me….
I turn to my daughter. My daughter. Her eyes look to me for answers that I am unable to give, and as I caress her face, so pinched and ashen, I tell her the words I had scarcely let myself believe, until now.
"And you’re my great hope."
Because if that isn’t true, if Eve hasn’t been born for some higher, nobler purpose, other than the death and destruction that has littered our journey to this moment, then the joke is on me.
"So I’m not going to let either of you go!"
Even as I say the words I wonder just how I plan on accomplishing that objective. Because, frankly, I’ve no earthly idea.
I suppose I should try… something. But what? And for who? I’ve chosen the ‘Way of the Warrior,’ that is true. And somehow, the word of that got out – big time. So, instead of knocking together a few errant warlords’ heads, here I am, deep-sixing Poseidon and giving Hephaestus the ax.
And the big show ain’t over yet.
I am so cold… it seeps into my heart, and a part of me wishes it would still it, forever.
All my life, I’ve trained myself, nurtured a discipline in me that just won’t give up, no matter what. To Hades’ with the odds, and who cared about the risks? I would do what needed to be done, or die trying.
And now… I’ve got to laugh, really. What has it all been for? Thanks to my own unparalleled brilliance, I lost 25 years of my life, and took Gabrielle along for the ride. Not to mention the fact that, in a particularly ironic twist, it was left to Rome to raise my daughter.
So, like an actor who doesn’t know when to leave the stage, here I am again. Returned to a world where everything and everyone I’ve ever known is either dead or… or… gods, I can barely stand it… to even look at Gabrielle.
Knowing I am the one responsible.
The guilt of that singular act weighs on me far more heavily than the chains of Hephaestus that I carry.
How I ache, and I let myself shed the tears in this rain that I would otherwise have denied myself.
I guess Gabrielle and I were living on borrowed time; we were far more fortunate than any two people had a right to be. We were destined to meet Eli, I can see that now. But why must that path have brought us here… to this Tartarus on earth?
For a time there, after Eve was born, I’d dared to let myself dream… to hope for a future for the three of us. Even now, with my daughter fully grown, at last embracing the Way of Love, I thought there was still hope.
But I fixed that, all right. I let that bastard Ares distract me again, and I raced back inside to find Gabrielle trying to kill the girl she said she loved as though she were her own child. And I… I stopped her, didn’t I?
It was those shrews all along. Why couldn’t I have seen it? Noticed it… while there was still time?
If the tables were turned, Gabrielle would have. That’s her way. But me… nope. I was too wrapped up in being ‘Xena the Killer of Gods,’ wondering where our next contest, the next battle would be.
And then there was Eve.
I’ll admit, that maybe I was trying to make up for 25 years in just a few days, and perhaps, as far as I was concerned, that left Gabrielle on the sidelines. Not that she ever complained.
So, now I can kill gods.
Because it kills me to stand here on this muddied earth, watching the rain wash away the thick, red evidence of my misjudgment… obliterating any future that might have been mine… ours.
Is this what it’s all been for? Simply to endure such misery?
How many more blades and bandages, how much more blood and heartache… how much is enough?
The ‘Way of the Warrior.’
I would laugh, if my lips weren’t so numb from the cold. Some warrior I am. My life’s path is paved with the bodies of the people who believed in that… in me.
And now, it has come to this. Everything I know or cared about, has been ripped away from me, like the icy winds that swirl through this courtyard.
Save for one truth, and it is this: I love them, Gabrielle and Eve. And it is too easy to say that I would die so that they might live. It is so much more than that. I am willing to live, to try and go on, to endure, because they still live.
And where there’s life, there’s hope, or so a certain bard I know says.
They’re both so vulnerable, so defenseless now. Like a pair of baby bear cubs, lost, without their mother to protect them. If I give up, what will become of them?
I am so tired.
My baby, Eve.
A daughter I’ve just barely begun to know. She deserved so much better than the lousy hand she was dealt!
And Gabrielle, my heart!
I know her better than she knows herself, I think. I know what she hopes, what she dreams, what she loves, and the wonderful things she’s capable of. I can see all of that in her, and more.
I can’t give up, not now. Even as the darkness closes in, I will stand fast.
I reach down and take Gabrielle’s limp hand in my own.
I simply don’t know what else to do.
I bow my head, and listen as the rain continues to beat an incessant patter upon the ground; soothing, in a way. Maybe this is all a dream, and I’ll wake up soon, to find us all warm in a comfortable bed - a bed 25 years in the past.
"It’s so sad."
A flash of light.
She helped us once before. Hmnn… maybe I can yet make a bargain with a god.
I hear my voice speaking to her, mocking at first, and then demanding, in full warrior mode. I’ll force her to do what I want, won’t I? But all too quickly, I realize I’m in no position to call the shots, and now I am begging, pleading. Not for myself, but for the one I love. Yes, I’ve trained myself too well, I think. Because there’s a fluttering in my gut, a hopeful stuttering in my black heart, and I think that maybe, just maybe, there’s still a chance.
"All right. I’ll take you to Olympus!"
I can feel the heat of the fire now, burning hot, and I take a deep, steadying breath.
A mother bear with her cubs, that’s me, I guess. And like those poor, dumb animals, I suppose I just don’t know when to quit.
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