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.
Authors Note: Takes place immediately following the events occurring in the XWP episode When Fates Collide.
My hands are still shaking.
I dont want her to notice, and so Ive taken up my quill and parchment, hoping to steady them with my feigned preoccupation.
My heart is still fluttering in my chest, threatening to burst its way to freedom and take flight. My breath does not come easily to me, still stuttering and starting in an uncertain tempo, and so Ive moved away from her, to the far side of the fire, placing an unaccustomed barrier between us.
It doesnt seem right, this distance Ive imposed, especially in light of what weve been through what shes been through, most of all, but I dont know what else to do.
Its all still so so raw to me, this remembered jumble of half-known faces and too-familiar images, of the thoughts and desires of a woman who I never was, who I will never be.
And yet that woman was the fulfillment of my childhoods dreams, wasnt she? A successful playwright, lauded in lands both near and far, living an idyllic life by the sea.
But that life, that existence, is one which refuses to retreat into the shadows of my mind; refuses to reconcile itself into the fleeting dreamscape that it should be. I cant even call it a nightmare, not really. Because it was more of of a waiting, I think. Of marking time, where I lived a life whose best friend was loneliness, whose heart had sensed the muted whispers of a love that might be, but which instead remained untouched, unloved.
How I had longed for the life I hadnt known Id missed! But the memories still came to me regardless, didnt they? My ideas for stories, for plays; realities of a path Id never trodden upon, struggling to push through the borders of time and fate like young saplings from beneath a late winters snow.
Who was that woman, my other self?
Much as I try to deny it, I know that she did exist, separate from me, and yet she was also a part of who I was - am. Joined in a way that my poor shambles of a mind has much difficulty even now in understanding.
Xena has finished sharpening her sword, and I inwardly smile at the continuity of that simple, familiar habit. She, who seems to have no trouble at all in understanding what has happened here. She comprehends everything in that baffling, inscrutable way of hers, as though it were the most normal thing in all the world in any world, for that matter - to have been through what we two have.
She hasnt talked about it, not yet. She seems so calm now, so at peace. But what she went through was willing to go through for love! Gods, even now the stunning strength of her resolve takes my breath away.
The last thing I remember from that place, is heaving my blazing torch into the loom. Id let myself give in to my anger, my rage at being denied; let it fuel my anguished mission. I dont believe Ive ever felt such fury before in my life, or such hopelessness, too. Damn Caesar and the Fates, for what theyd done to us! And damn Alti, too, for showing us glimpses of the lives we didnt know wed been shorn of until it was too late.
And damn Xena, empress of Rome in that life, ruler of my heart in this one, who refused at every turn to allow me to help her.
So I wanted the loom destroyed, wanted no part of living in a time that was not meant to be, but which was instead a bastardized riot of fouled threads and terrible chaos.
I couldnt save Xena.
She had to face her crucifixion alone. And so I had no desire to save myself, either. I simply wanted it all to just end. Her suffering, my existence, and the shadowed reality that had spawned us both.
Discovering that I was still alive in this mist-shrouded forest was startling enough. Feeling the cool moss beneath my feet, recognizing the joyful chirping of the birds, a breath of a wind; the peacefulness of it all so competed with the storm-tossed tumult of my mind! But hearing those hoof-beats, then turning to see her riding towards me in the gloaming gods, I wanted to weep for the sheer joy of it.
We were alive! Together!
But I feared that if I gave into those feelings, it might fracture what little bit of sanity remained to me. I suppose I was in shock, really, and more than a step or two out of the rhythm of life our life together that Ive yet to regain.
I catch a hint of juniper on the light breeze around us as the fire burns and crackles, and the air is heavy, humid, as though a storm is coming. Or, has one recently passed through this place? In a such a topsy-turvy world, it is hard to tell.
I try to busy my hands, try to write, but the words will not come. I can feel Xenas eyes upon me, twin sparks through the flames, a gaze which carries on it a heat warmer than any fire I know.
"Lose your train of thought?"
A hoarse voice sounding at once curious and shy.
I look down at the blank parchment on my lap, and think how it mocks me. It has been so long since I thought myself truly a bard.
Is Xena ready to talk about it? Well, I dont think I am. Not by a long shot. Oh gods, this is so hard! I know that Xena was right what she said, that everything happens precisely as it should.
So what in the gods names was the purpose to all of this?
My lip trembles and I fight the emotions that threaten to swamp me. I straighten my back, sit up and blink; I will not cry, I wont. She doesnt deserve that now, not from me.
To think, I almost lost her forever.
It is a gift she has given us, bringing us back to this life.
A life that almost never was; forgotten, before it was ever lived. And oh, how it hurt, those brief glimpses of an existence I thought would never be mine again! An existence wrought with war and sorrow, with death and suffering, but filled with a love, too, a love so sweet and precious it made all the rest of it pale in comparison and drift away.
It pained me, those visions, true. But Ill have to thank Alti for them just the same one day, when we meet again.
And we shall meet again, I know it as surely as I sit here holding the hilt of my sword in my hand, that symbol which defines my identity in this life. In that other place, I had it all, didnt I? Everything I had ever wanted: power, adulation, respect. But all of it meant nothing, wrapped up in that soulless mockery of a marriage I made; nothing, in the absence of ever knowing a heart far more fair and true than my own.
It was my destiny to be sentenced again by the hand of Caesar; destiny, I know that now, to be trailed by that she-demon Alti, cursed to haunt me in this life or in any other.
And at the end as I hung there upon the cross, every nerve fiber in my body shrieking out in agony, all I could think of was that this was it. That my suffering would all be simply over soon, and my one consolation, my one hope, was that Gabrielle had gotten out of that hellhole, alive.
Someday, in some future existence, we would meet again. I had utter faith in that fact.
In dying, nailed to my fate, I at last understood who I was, and what I was; whom I loved, and who loved me back.
It was finished, or so I thought.
Until I found myself riding through these woods.
I knew where I was going, and whom I sought. No gods and their mischief, no machinations of evil men, no rented, tattered fabric of time could ever keep us apart.
But it is all still so fresh. We are not so far removed from that terrible place and time, I know that. I gaze at her now, and wonder what living that life must have cost her.
I know what price I paid for mine.
I see how she is hurting; how her beautiful face is marred with the taught effort of trying to keep it all from me. Theres always a trade-off, you see, in the things we must give up in order to receive, and I am not surprised at all in the way that any of this has turned out, save for the fact that we are together; that weve been given another chance, thanks to her courage.
I wonder, had our situations been reversed, if I wouldve had the guts to do the same.
Ill never know.
But for now I can see how troubled she is, how overwhelmed by it all she must be. It hasnt been easy for her over the years, being with me. Its been her choice, I know, and gods know I would be lost without her didnt my other life with Caesar show me that much?
It is fitting that he sought to kill me again. After all, I was already dead inside.
Such lifelessness I never want to feel that way again. Never.
We are together now, and thats what counts.
And as for the future?
But what trials weve already been asked to endure in this life do not augur well for what is yet to come.
She knows that, too.
But with her by my side, what is to come, I do not fear.
She hasnt answered me. But even from here, by the far side of the fire, I can sense her warring emotions, every single one of them, throbbing like an open wound.
She wanted space between us, and I gave her that, but the time for such distance is over. "What are you writing about?"
"Oh Xena," she sighs, and it nearly breaks my heart to see the tears moistening her eyes, tears she fights to keep at bay. "I cant write. It it hurts too much. It hurts to think."
And before I am even consciously aware of making the decision, I find myself by her side, holding her, calming her fears, soothing away her pain. I would bear it all upon my own shoulders, and then some, if only I could.
She is my everything, my only thing, and nothing else matters.
Even time and the Fates can never change that.
"Gabrielle, what are you writing about?"
Her voice is stronger this time, more insistent, and I know she will not rest until I have answered her.
She has seen through my ruse, as only Xena could, this woman who knows me better than I know myself. I realize now that it is apparent to her that my quill has not moved at all. The ink on its tip has run dry. And my parchment is as pure and white as the winter snowfields of Thrace.
Things have changed.
I tried to write, I did, but it just wont come. Something is holding me back. Something of the woman who I was in that other life, and the girl I used to be in this one. In a sense, I yearn for them both; for the comfort, the constancy, the safeness of living out someone elses plan.
I will write again, I know I will, someday, but not about this. This tale is too close, the pain of it, and the passion of it too; how it scores my soul! No, this is a story that is instead written upon my heart, and for me that is enough.
So I tell her what Im thinking, I tell her the truth. And there is something in that sharing which is healing, I can feel it. Even as I finish with my confession, I feel the inner stirrings of one who is being made whole again.
It takes but an instant and then she is here, holding me. "Then dont think," she whispers roughly in my ear, her voice full of barely controlled emotion. "Dont think at all."
For a moment I indulge in a flash of despair at her touch; I remember a not-so distant lifetime ago when I feared Id never feel her caress again for the very first time. But it is far more pleasurable to let that all go, to put it behind me, and to focus on nothing but the fire beginning to race beneath my skin.
Is it the warmth of her, or the blaze of my own passion that seems to set me aflame? Her lips singe my throat as she takes possession of me, and I return the favor as I feel myself being guided down to the welcoming softness of my bedroll.
It was for this that I was willing to give up everything; for her that I chanced it all, facing an eternity of darkness, of nothingness, whether or not it ever brought me back to this place.
It was all worth it, every bit of it. I dont know what the future holds for us, and I dont care. Ive learned that the only thing you can count on in this life is the here and now, no matter how much we tend to fool ourselves otherwise.
And right here, right now, dying a thousand exquisite little deaths in Xenas arms, this is the only place where I want to be.
Weve found ourselves again, thats all I know, and I never want to let that go.
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