Xena finished putting on her samurai armor for the coming battle. Her breath quietly left her lungs as her eyes refused to focus on anything before her. Her mind was trying to find the place it needed to be to face the task before her.
Ever since coming up with this plan a few days ago, Xena had become increasingly distant. All of her thoughts focused inward more with each passing moment. She drew within herself searching for that state of consciousness required for what she was about to do?face an army of 20,000 warriors, and face it alone. This was a challenge that made fighting gods seem like child's play.
A glinting of sunlight off of gold brought her vision back to the present moment and her current surroundings. The flashing light reflected off of Gabrielle's hair as she moved before Xena. The bard was dressed in a medium blue kimono. Her face was drawn as she looked at the warrior.
"Oh please, Gabrielle," Xena silently begged, "don't do this now." Her expression remained hard.
Gabrielle either did not hear or chose not to heed the thoughts of her friend. With tears welling up in her eyes, she surged forward, enveloping the warrior in a desperate embrace. "I won't lose you," her words hissed out in a fervent whisper. "Please don't do this."
Xena's arms automatically wrapped around the bard's body as her mind beat her emotions back into submission. She could not afford the luxury of emotions right now. Pulling the small body away from her own, she spoke through the icy wall of her warrior façade, "Gabrielle, you know I have to do this."
"No! No, I don't know that!" Wide jade eyes looked up with a slight wildness in them mirroring the quickened breathing of the bard.
Xena shook her head slightly, trying to convince the other woman, "This is the good?the right thing to do." Sable brows contracted with meaning, "Please understand?."
Gabrielle gripped at Xena's shoulders, using the warmth of her touch and words to batter at the icy walls keeping the woman locked away from her, behind the warrior, "Xena, I can't lose you again." Her fingers touched the dark strands of hair, "I love you." She took a breath to steady herself. Trembling fingers caressed the tanned face as she whispered, "I'm in love with you."
Blue eyes closed as Xena tilted her head up. Oh gods, what kind of cruel joke is this to play on us? Why, after so many years together, do you only give us the courage to say this now? She looked back down at the face filled with apprehension. She wiped a tear from the bard's cheek with her thumb. "I'm in love with you, too, Gabrielle."
The gloved fingers cupped around the small jaw as she leaned forward. Xena's lips met Gabrielle's gently. It was the first time either of them had kissed without hiding their feelings for each other behind the decorum of friendship. They both put their hopes and dreams for their life together into that single kiss. The warrior's mind grieved, "I'm sorry I never did this sooner. Forgive me, my bard, for what I have to do now."
As Xena broke off the kiss, she once again raised the walls between herself and her love. Her voice was resigned, "I have to go."
"No!" Gabrielle moved to grab Xena again, but she was held back in a strong grip. Tears sprang to her eyes and poured down her face. "Don't do this to us! Please, Xena. Once, just once let me be more important to you than?than making up for your past!"
"Gabrielle!" Xena's jaw dropped in shock at the pleading words.
"I've never asked this of you before, but I am now."
Xena held out a hand, palm up, "This is about more than making up for my past, Gabrielle. These people need my help! This is about the greater good."
Her explanations fell on deaf ears as Gabrielle countered angrily, "I don't give a damn about the greater good!"
The two women stared at each other silently, a titanic battle of wills taking place. The air crackled with the intense energy passing between them.
When the bard finally spoke, her voice was deceptively calm, like the eye of a storm, "Xena, you once said that for everyone, there is something that goes beyond the greater good." She closed the distance between them both. "You said I'm that for you. Well, that's what you are for me."
She took a gloved hand in her own. "Xena, I don't care about the greater good if it means I'm going to have to watch you die. I don't want to do that again."
The warrior's voice rang with false hope, "You don't know that that's going to happen?."
Gabrielle interrupted her, "Don't lie to me, Xena. This plan of yours couldn't be any more suicidal if you went in front of that army and laid down your sword. I've known you for too many years. And I can see you've already made up your mind that you're not coming back from this one. If you believed anything else, you wouldn't be shutting me out like you have been for the past three days!"
Xena searched the green eyes, trying to understand the bard, "What would you have me do?"
"Run away!" Tears once again welled up.
Xena sighed as her love's tears burned her heart. She wrapped consoling arms around the blond. She whispered in regret, "You know I can't do that."
Gabrielle's entire body stiffened as the pain washed over her soul. The despair and hurt threatened to drown her in their intensity. Like a person desperately fighting an undertow, she lashed out at the one thing trying to help save her.
Gabrielle put her hands on Xena's chest and pushed the warrior away with all her might. Through her tears, she screamed at the woman she loved, "Get out of here! Get away from me!"
Xena took a step forward, "Gabri?."
"I said go!" Gabrielle's face was contorted in pain and fury. "If you want to die so badly, then get out of my sight!" She turned away from the Warrior Princess, "I don't want to see you anymore."
Gabrielle couldn't breathe as her chest constricted from the waves of despair crashed against her. She felt like she was going to throw up. Her legs folded beneath her, and she knelt on the forest floor. She clutched her arms tightly to her stomach and bent her head and shoulders toward the ground. Her tears fell to the grass, as she sobbed silently.
Xena had never felt so torn in her life. The souls of forty thousand people cried out to her for mercy while her bard knelt in pain before her.
The warrior within beat down the rebelling emotions one more time, and Xena turned away. She took a step toward the battlefield and stopped short. Before her, she could see another place. She immediately recognized it as the spot she had chosen to make her last stand. The warrior was seeing the reality that would play out in just a few hours.
There were bodies of men piled everywhere. Blood turned the ground to mud and ran in rivulets down the small hill. Xena saw her bard climb over the corpses, only to stop before one.
The blond looked down and fell to her knees with a heart-rending scream of denial. She pulled the lifeless body into her arms, sobbing and screaming her defiance of the gods over and over again. To Xena's eyes, the limp body was practically unidentifiable. Countless gashes littered the corpse, and the armor hung in pieces. Gore had turned the skin and hair the deepest shade of red. Xena looked more closely as the vision of the bard brushed a bloody lock of hair away from the gruesome face. Lifeless blue eyes stared up at the sky.
Xena watched the bard of her vision whimper. A shaking hand caressed the cheek that was sliced open from the corner of the warrior's mouth to her ear. Xena didn't realize that tears fell freely from her eyes as she saw Gabrielle kiss the ruined mouth of her love. Xena's body trembled as Gabrielle buried her face into the half severed neck of the warrior without regard to the gore. The bard kept rocking back and forth.
Suddenly the Gabrielle of Xena's vision grabbed the warrior's katana. She jumped up, screaming and hacking at the dead soldiers. After a seeming eternity, Xena's heart filled her throat as she saw the bard take the katana to herself. Instead of falling on the sword as Xena feared, Gabrielle sliced deep gashes of mourning in the top of her arm. Then she knelt, gathered the warrior in her embrace, and once more rocked her, whispering, "I love you," repeatedly.
In reality, the vision only took seconds to play before Xena's eyes. But those seconds were all it took to destroy the walls she had built over the past three days. The extent of her love's future pain ripped through those barriers as if they were made of cobwebs. She turned back to Gabrielle, and saw the bard's back shaking with sobs.
Silently she moved behind the bard, and sank to her knees. She curled her body over Gabrielle's and gently circled her arms around her. Through her tears, Gabrielle moaned, "Go away?."
Xena pressed her face into the blond hair and whispered, "I can't." She heard a hitch in the sobs below her, and tightened her hold on the bard. "I won't leave you."
Gripping the shoulders before her, Xena turned Gabrielle around. With two fingers, she lifted the bard's chin until their eyes met. "I won't have our last words be ones of anger." Tears were falling from them both as Xena whispered, "Gabrielle, you are more important to me than making up for my past. I don't want to leave you, and I don't want to die today."
Xena kissed her love once before Gabrielle sobbed into her shoulder. They held onto each other as the pain receded.
Finally, Gabrielle sniffed and pulled away from the shoulder she leaned against. She shook her head and sighed, "Gods, I want us to run away so badly, but?.we can't."
"But, I thought that's what you wanted?"
Gabrielle wiped her eyes. "It is, Xena. I want to keep you safe. But neither of us could live with ourselves if we leave those people without any hope."
Xena shook her head, "Gabrielle, I don't think I can do it now. I can't turn these emotions off again and walk to my death today."
The bard bowed her head, then lifted it up again with her brows furrowed in sudden thought.
Gabrielle spoke with a small flicker of hope, "Maybe there's another way to keep the town from falling into Yodoshi's hands. A way that will give us both a chance at surviving the battle."
Xena's lips curled up into a slight smile. "Let's hear it, Bard."
Two warriors stood catching their breaths as they surveyed the town. Flames engulfed every building. The army and its ghostly leader had been destroyed. The town had been kept out of Yodoshi's clutches, because Xena and Gabrielle had burned it down. However, the innocent souls of its inhabitants had been saved, and they would begin rebuilding their homes as soon as the flames were put out.
Gabrielle turned to the tall warrior, "Higuchi is saved."
Xena looked around at the flames reaching into the night sky. She spoke above the noise of the fire, "Not quite the way I would have done it, Gabrielle." She looked at the bard and smiled, "But it sure worked."
Gabrielle smiled at the round-about praise. She poked her love in the chest, pointing out, "And we both survived."
Xena wrapped her arm around the bard's shoulders and guided them out of the town, "That we did."