All characters copyright Renaissance Pictures, and I appreciate their letting me borrow 'em. No profit is made from the loan other than audience joy. Thanks for giving me a hero, guys.
Author's Blurb: This is not a story. Really. It's a vignette, an interlude, a visual snack. Actually, it's a rationalisation; it's what happens when a watcher decides to take a whack at being a writer. Because I was mildly upset at the end of last week's ep (I never know the names; it's the one with Alti). I thought that the writers missed a great emotional point in the story, and I aim to make up for it. Or at least make up a missing scene, which takes place somewhere between Alti and Krisna. (I could have taken a whack at the writers, but that would have been rude.)
Ratings: Subtext becomes text. But not graphically. No graphics here.
Soundtrack notice: This story was written to the constant playing of Heather Nova's song "Heal", off the Oyster album. If you've got it, try playing it at the end, starting at the line where "Xena lost the battle". It's an interesting effect, and one I didn't plan.
For the Last Battle
Xena awoke with a jolt. There was a moment--a split second, really--in which awareness hovered just at the edge, just beyond her reach.
In that brief moment, she barely had time enough to brace herself.
The pain flashed through her with the shock of a breaking bone, the cold shooting through every muscle, forcing her to grit her teeth so she wouldn't cry out. She only had to survive it--
And suddenly it seeped out, allowing her to unclench her hands, to move her head to the side and gasp lightly for breath.
How could it be worse? How could she never have imagined, even in her wildest dreams, that seeing the possible future was nothing compared to an event of the past?
Gabrielle, twisting at the end of Alti's grasp, wracked with pain.
Xena had known the moment that Alti had called forth that future. Known by the fear in the bard's eyes, and then the blood that dripped from the blonde's hands, feet. The horror that had arched her back as though in the grasp of some giant, unseen hand.
Xena hadn't realised she'd cried out until afterwards, when the sound had ripped her throat sore. She'd managed to retain only enough sense to aim for Gabrielle's hair, rather than Alti. The shaman would have deflected the chakram easily enough, and Gabrielle would have still been caught in Alti's grip.
The warrior looked down at the sleeping bard beside her. Her heart contracted at the sight of the pale form, with her shorn hair. If there had been another way . . . If she'd had more time, Xena could have thought of something else. But there had been no time. Xena couldn't have left Gabrielle there a moment longer.
She rolled away quietly, unable to deal with the idyllic picture that Gabrielle presented. The warrior had to move, to remember the boundaries of her body, how to move. The sight of the sleeping bard was too remeniscint of their past. Back when neither had expected anything more than tomorrow.
Xena had learned to dread tomorrow, and now Gabrielle knew, as well. And there was nothing Xena could do. As she moved through the foliage, allowing her feet to find a path through the foliage, she considered her options. Not that she hadn't already dragged them out of the corners of her mind and beaten them to death, of course, but she could think of nothing else to do that would help.
Other than scream, run, and lay waste.
She considered the shadows around her. Never a villain around when you needed them. Why couldn't Ares do something for her for once? She wacked at the shrubbery. Divine intervention would have been too convenient. Given her mood, she had to do something. She couldn't fight, so . . . she'd have to think.
Not that she was opposed to that, despite being more inclined to the warrior ways. It was simply that when she thought . . . she felt.
Hadn't she felt enough already? Oh, Tarterus, every time she looked at Gabrielle, didn't she feel too much?
Xena took a deep breath. There was the obvious option. Insist that they separate. The vision of the future included Gabrielle, and if she and Gabrielle weren't together, it couldn't happen. To both of them, at least, and that would be enough. For her, anyway. Xena had been tortured before. Not that she would look forward to it, but she could live through it, if that was at all possible.
It would break her to watch that happen to Gabrielle. Especially if she could prevent it.
She batted at a branch, but that brought no relief. She didn't want to be seperated from Gabrielle. They fought so hard, lived through so much, to stay together. Being apart from her bard . . . the men might as well kill her outright.
Xena broke through into a clearing, and she half-consciously paused a moment to check her surroundings. Nothing moved.
As her eyes swept the area, she was caught by the moonlight reflecting on something far in the distance. She narrowed her eyes. In the distance were the highest mountains she'd ever seen, with the peaks more than half-coated in snow. It was that which reflected the bright moonlight.
She shivered. Snow. Ice. Like in the vision.
And Gabrielle's hair was short now . . . by her own doing.
There was no choice, she thought. Not for her. She couldn't live without Gabrielle. Even knowing she wouldn't live much longer . . . even knowing that Gabrielle wouldn't live, either . . . and she still had to go forward. Towards the future.
It wasn't until the wetness seeped to her knuckles that she remembered where she was, and looked down curiously. She'd clenched her hands so tightly that her nails had cut into her palms, and now the blood dripped from her pale skin.
She stared at her hands and shivered inwardly. As omens went, this one wasn't good.
Her head snapped up when she heard the sound, and she hesitated, wondering whether to wipe her hands on her skirt or hide them behind her back. Either would be obvious--Gabrielle had been there for some time, watching her.
The bard made her way into the clearing, meeting her eyes. "Did you have the dream?"
"No." Not that one, anyway. She didn't look down at her hands. "I wasn't paying attention."
"You couldn't sleep?" Gabrielle came up to stand beside her, the slight breeze enough to ruffle her short hair.
"I'll bet." The bard wasn't looking at her now, but rather off into the distance. Xena followed her gaze. To the mountains. She wondered if Gabrielle was thinking the same thing, but now the blonde spoke. "You knew."
"About the vision that Alti showed me. I didn't think to ask you how you knew. You just did. Like you usually do." She slanted a level gaze at the warrior. "But now I realise that you must have known beforehand. Because Alti never touched you afterwards, never talked to you." She lifted her chin and smelled the breeze. "How long?"
"Have I known?"
"Too long." Xena sighed, feeling as though she were old. She was just . . . tired of this. The waiting, the wondering. "I couldn't tell you, Gabrielle. I didn't know how. I thought that maybe if I just waited, saw more of the vision, I'd be able to figure out some way--" She ran a hand through her hair. "I could somehow . . ."
"Fight the future?" Now Gabrielle sounded amused, and Xena wondered if she ought to be worried at the bard's preternatural calm. "Xena, you know there are some things you can't fight."
"It doesn't mean they're not worth fighting for."
Now Gabrielle shifted to face her. "You're not leaving me."
It was somewhere between a question and a statement, but Xena answered it anyway. "No. I . . . can't."
She couldn't stand Gabrielle not knowing. "I tried to, Gabrielle. Back when that woman tried to get you into her cult . . . before we found out . . . I was going to leave you to your dream. To a wonderful future . . ." Without me.
"I know. You thought you were giving me a choice, didn't you?"
Gabrielle laughed. "No, Xena. You gave me space while I was with Najara, and I'm grateful to you for that. But leaving? That's making my choice for me." She reached out and took the warrior's hand, held it palm-up to the moon. The blood was a dark stain on her white palm. The bard was heedless of the blood, covering Xena's hand with her own. "Don't make my choice for me, Xena. If I choose to leave--if I ever choose not to be with you--at least let me say goodbye."
"I want you to say goodbye." Xena felt wetness on her face, but this wasn't blood. This was something she couldn't ignore. Still she forged onwards. "Gabrielle, I want you to live."
"So do I," the bard agreed, and used their linked hands to draw her closer. "But I can't live without you, Xena. Haven't you figured that out by now?"
The tears ran freely down her cheeks now, but Xena made no move to brush them off. "I love you, Gabrielle. Don't you understand that I couldn't bear to see you die?"
She took the smaller woman in her arms, burying her face into the short blonde hair. The strands tickled at her face, soaked up her tears. Gabrielle's arms were wound tightly around her body, the small hands pressed against her skin, hot to the touch. Xena welcomed the contact; she felt too cold inside, too small, and the heat was the only thing that reached her within the barrier that was her future.
Gabrielle turned her head, and kissed her gently. It was a kiss that burned straight into Xena's heart, a touch that seared her soul. The kiss was not one of comfort, or friendship, or lust. It was pure love. True love, and Xena lost the battle willingly.
"I won't give up," she whispered brokenly. "I have to keep on asking you. I have to be sure that you know . . ."
"I'm sure," Gabrielle replied. "I'm sure that I love you. No matter what happens, Xena, no matter who we become: I love you."
Xena bowed her head. Gabrielle loved her. She could die willingly, knowing that.
Living with the knowledge would be harder.
But that was something she would fight for.
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