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A voice was calling to her, tugging and pulling at her, a voice which
would not go away.
"Xena, wake up. Come on now, it's time. Please wake up. Come on,
Xena, open your eyes."
She was hearing the voice and also another sound, the sound of
breathing that was ragged and labored--much like a death rattle. Someone
must be very sick, she thought.
"Xena, you're scaring me. Come on, wake up. I know you can do
it. Just open your eyes. You're not going to make me carry you down the
mountain, are you? Please, Xena. I know you're in there. I can hear you
The voice was Gabrielle's. She recognized it now, and she could hear
the fear in it. Gabrielle was afraid about something, but what? And why?
In a place like this, where it was so peaceful and warm, why should
anyone be afraid?
Then, gradually, she became aware of hands that touched her face and
shoulder--Gabrielle's hands, she supposed. The touch felt nice. But then
it went away, and the voice was gone, too. It was just as well, Xena
thought. The voice had been disturbing her rest. She was just settling
back into quiet nothingness, when she felt a sudden, sharp coldness on
her face, and with a gasp, she opened her eyes.
"Thank the gods!" Gabrielle exclaimed softly, as she wiped
the cold from Xena's cheek. "I thought maybe a little snow would
get your attention."
The fog was even thicker than before, and at first Xena could see
only the vague shape of her lover bending over her. Then, as reality
slowly penetrated her brain, she began to remember where she was, and
why. The fog lifted slightly and she became aware that she was lying
curled on her side. The horrible breathing, she realized, was her own,
and now she felt the full force of its discomfort.
"We have to get going soon," Gabrielle said, stroking
Xena's hair. "We have to get you down the mountain to Elkton's
"In the . . . morning."
Gabrielle bent down to get her ear close to Xena's mouth. "What
is it, Love?" she said. "Your voice is so weak that I can
hardly hear you."
"We'll go . . . in the . . . morning," Xena said with great
"In the morning, yes. But it's already morning. The sun's not up
yet, so it's not very bright, but it's definitely morning."
"I was . . . sleeping."
Gabrielle bent close again to hear, and then kissed the warrior on
the cheek. "No, Xena," she said softly. "You weren't just
sleeping--you were unconscious. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able
to wake you." She was silent for a few moments, her hand gently
caressing Xena's face. "After I got your feet warmed up last night,
I really didn't sleep much," she said. "I was too worried
about you, I guess, and about keeping the fire going. I'd doze off, but
then I'd wake up every few minutes and look to see if the sky was
getting light yet."
Xena lay without moving, watching her lover's blurred shape, trying
to make sense of the stream of words.
"I've already saddled Argo," Gabrielle continued, "and
packed up as much gear as I could. Now I want you to sit up and eat
breakfast and drink some more tea."
Xena understood that she needed to move, but she felt incapable of
doing so. Her body was stiff and heavy and no longer like a living
thing. Gabrielle reached down to her, pulling her up and then wrapping
her arms around her, holding her close in a tender embrace. Xena let her
head fall against the other woman's shoulder. "Gabrielle," she
whispered, "I'm . . . so tired."
"I know, Sweetheart," Gabrielle said, hugging her closer,
"But you can't give up now. You've got to be strong a little while
longer and keep fighting the poison. You told me you'd try,
Xena nodded, but she had no idea how to be strong when she felt so
"Lean back against the rock," Gabrielle said, and Xena did
so, looking around the campsite for the first time.
"There's so much . . . fog," she murmured.
Gabrielle, who had been pulling some food from one of the saddlebags,
stopped and followed the other woman's gaze. "Xena, there's no fog
at all," she said softly.
"No, Love. I think it must be your brain that's foggy." She
bent and kissed Xena on the top of her head. "Now," she said,
"I've got some bread here for you and some cheese, and there's also
fruit, if you want it." She tried to put a piece of bread in the
warrior's left hand, but Xena pulled her hand away.
"No," she said.
"Xena, you have to eat something. You have to keep your strength
"I can't . . . eat."
"Sure you can! How about some cheese?"
Xena shook her head.
"Please, Xena. Just a few bites."
"No . . . I can't."
Gabrielle was silent for several moments, studying the other woman.
Finally, she said, "Okay, but you have to drink some tea, at
Xena started to refuse, but Gabrielle was already holding the mug to
her lips, so she took a sip.
"I really think the tea helped you last night," the bard
said. "I was listening to your heart while I was lying awake, and
it did sound stronger, for awhile anyway. And your breathing was a
little easier, too."
Xena took another sip, choked and began to cough weakly.
"It's okay," Gabrielle said soothingly, rubbing the
warrior's back. "Just take your time. Little tiny sips."
She held the mug up again and Xena sipped hesitantly. This time she
managed to swallow successfully.
"Xena, is that why you don't want to eat? Are you afraid of
"Just . . . not hungry." She took another drink and began
to cough again. When the coughing was over and she could catch her
breath, she leaned her head back against the rock. Gabrielle once more
offered the mug, but Xena turned her head away.
"No," she whispered. "I don't need . . .
Gabrielle lowered the mug, then said softly, "Your body's
shutting down, isn't it?"
Xena looked at her, then nodded.
The bard bit her lip and looked away, then said, "Okay, we've
got to get going." She rose and quickly finished packing the
bedding, threw a few handfuls of snow on the fire, and led Argo over to
Xena. The mare stretched her head down to nuzzle the warrior's face and,
reaching up, Xena stroked the velvety nose.
"Let's see if you can stand up," Gabrielle said, and
crouched down beside the warrior. "Put your arm around my
neck," she said, helping to guide it into place. Then she wrapped
one arm around Xena's waist and together they staggered to their feet.
Xena's knees felt like water, and it was only Gabrielle's support
that kept her from falling. "I can't . . . get up there," she
said, looking at the impossibly tall horse.
"Is there some way to make Argo kneel down?"
"Yes, but . . . she only kneels . . . in front."
"Oh, so the saddle would be at an angle and it would be hard for
you to get on."
Gabrielle considered for a moment. "There's got to be a way to
do this," she said. "How about if you climbed on that rock? It
slopes down in back, so if you went around behind it, you could climb up
more easily from there. I'll help you."
It seemed like one of the most arduous things she had ever done,
climbing onto that rock. But with lots of pulling and pushing and
encouragement from Gabrielle, Xena finally managed to drag herself up
the rock and crawl into the saddle. She clutched the saddlehorn with her
left hand while Gabrielle helped put her feet in the stirrups.
"Here are the reins," the young woman said, holding them up
"You'll have to . . . lead her," Xena said. "I need .
. . to hold on."
"Okay," said Gabrielle uncertainly, "but I don't know
the way down the mountain."
Xena cautiously released her hold on the saddle and reached under her
cloak, fumbling until she found the folded parchment in her leathers.
She handed it to Gabrielle.
"Map," said Xena, taking ahold of the saddlehorn again.
Gabrielle unfolded the paper and studied it for a few minutes.
"Who made this? Elkton?"
"And we're here, where it says 'treeline'?"
"Yes. The path . . . isn't hard . . . to follow."
"Okay, so we just go back to the trail and start heading down?
And it will be pretty obvious where to go?"
Xena nodded again. It was already making her tired to sit on Argo
with nothing to lean against. And they weren't even moving yet. How
could she possibly stay on all the way down the mountain?
"How do I find Elkton's house?" Gabrielle asked.
"Before you get . . . to town," Xena said, stopping for
breath. "Left side . . . big pine tree . . . barn."
"Left side of the road, with a barn, and there's a big pine tree
in the yard?"
"Okay, let's get going then." She laid her hand on Xena's
thigh and smiled up at the warrior. Xena tried to smile back, but wasn't
sure how successful she had been. It was hard to know anything for sure
at that moment, including whether or not she would still be alive by the
time they reached the house with the pine tree in the yard.
Gabrielle led Argo slowly along the track, but the uneven terrain
made for rough riding as the mare picked her way down over the rocks.
Xena clung grimly to the saddlehorn, but her fragile strength was ebbing
rapidly. It wasn't long before she felt her grip beginning to loosen, as
her hold on consciousness did likewise. The fog drifted in and out of
her mind and she slumped gradually forward.
"Xena! Look out! You're falling off!"
She jerked awake to find Gabrielle pushing at her, trying to keep her
from sliding off the left side of the horse. With an effort, Xena pulled
herself upright and sat gasping for air.
"Let's rest for a few minutes," Gabrielle said, and Xena
nodded gratefully. A moment later, the bard reached up and laid her hand
on Xena's arm.
The warrior looked down at her lover, at the green eyes full of fear.
"Xena, are you going to make it?" Gabrielle asked.
"I . . . don't know," she whispered. Then, after a moment,
she said, "Tie me."
"Tie you? What do you mean?"
"To the . . . saddle. Tie me."
"Oh. Yeah, that's a good idea," said Gabrielle slowly. She
pondered the situation for a short time and then said, "Would it
help if I sat up there with you? I could try to hold you on a little
"Yeah, but . . . there's no . . . room."
"Let me think for a minute," Gabrielle said, studying the
load of furs tied on behind the saddle. "I'm sure I can figure
Xena was just beginning to drift into the fog again when she was
suddenly roused by a flurry of activity. Turning slightly in the saddle,
she saw Gabrielle busily untying the furs and piling them on the ground.
"I guess we could stash these somewhere out of sight and come
back to get them later," she said. "Surely Elkton would
understand." There was a brief silence, then, "No, wait! I've
got a better idea! Sit up, Xena."
The warrior hadn't realized she had slumped forward again until
Gabrielle began pushing at her.
"Let me just get this rope around your waist," the bard
said, making a couple of passes with the rope and tying it to the
saddlehorn. Then she unrolled some of the furs and draped them across
Argo's withers, in front of and behind the saddlehorn. The remaining
furs she wrapped around the projection itself and tied them in place
with the rest of the rope. "There," she said when she was
finished. "Now if you fall forward, it won't be quite so
uncomfortable, and there's room enough for me to sit behind you."
"Very . . . clever," said Xena with a weak smile.
Gabrielle smiled back and turned to Argo, stroking the mare's neck.
"Sorry about the extra load, girl," she said. "But you
understand, don't you?" A soft whicker was the answer.
"Good," said Gabrielle, then she led the horse to a rock,
climbed on it, and mounted. Putting one arm around Xena, she picked up
the reins with the other hand. "Of course, I can't see where we're
going," she said, leaning out to peer around the warrior. "But
I don't think Argo needs much guidance anyway." Then she kicked the
mare's flanks and they started on their way.
* * * * *
Xena was aware of very little after that. Sliding in and out of
consciousness, she fell gradually forward until her head hung down over
Argo's neck, her dark hair mingling with the cream of the mare's mane.
The fog seemed to be drawing her a little deeper each time she entered
it, drawing her onward, toward what, she did not know. But Gabrielle,
meanwhile, kept up a constant stream of words which, like a lifeline,
gave her something to hang onto and pulled her back into the world.
"Stay with me, Xena," Gabrielle pleaded. "Don't give
up now. Be strong for just a little while longer. I know you can do it;
you've always been so strong and brave. I can't let you go; I need you
too much. And the world needs you, too. It's not your time to die. I can
feel it, the same as I felt it before. I love you, Xena, and I don't
want to lose you. Don't die. Please, don't die."
Struggling out of the fog at one point, Xena pushed herself partway
up and looked back at Gabrielle. "Keep . . . talking," she
panted. "I need . . . to hear . . . your voice."
The younger woman leaned forward to brush the hair back from Xena's
face. "I'll keep talking just as long as you need me to," she
said. "I'm not going to let you die. I told you that before and I
After that, there were only fragments--bits of light breaking through
the gray curtain now and then, like mismatched pearls strung together by
the sound of Gabrielle's voice. Time seemed to stand still, or at best,
to repeat itself endlessly as Argo continued her slow, torturous journey
down the mountain.
"Xena, can you hear me? Wake up! I need you to sit up for a
minute." Gabrielle's hands were shaking her urgently, pulling her
up, and reluctantly, Xena opened her eyes. "There's a man coming up
the trail," Gabrielle said. "An older man, with short gray
hair. Do you see him? Is it Elkton?"
Xena looked in the direction Gabrielle was pointing, but everything
around seemed to be a sea of grayness. "Can't . . . see," she
said. "Too much . . . fog."
"Fog? You said something about fog before. Is it getting
"Thicker . . . can't see . . . much."
Then, as if from a great distance, Xena heard a man's voice calling
"He's calling to us! Can you hear him?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes. It's . . . Elkton."
Gabrielle sat up straighter and began to wave. "Elkton!"
she cried. "Elkton! Help us, please!"
A few moments later, he was standing at Argo's right side, breathing
heavily from the exertion of climbing. Xena could see him now, although
his features appeared oddly smudged.
"What happened?" he asked, looking first at the warrior and
then at Gabrielle.
"Xena was bitten by the serpent, and she's been getting sicker
ever since last night. Her heartbeat is weak and she can hardly
"Where is the bite?"
"It's here, on her arm," Gabrielle said, pulling Xena's
cloak back. "Right above her elbow."
Elkton took her arm in his hands for a moment and studied the fang
marks. "Your arm is paralyzed?" he asked, looking up at Xena.
"We thought the bite would just affect her arm, but--"
Gabrielle broke off.
"I know," said Elkton, as he gently released Xena's arm.
"That's what I told her would happen. It's all that was revealed in
my vision. But the venom has spread into the rest of her body. It's
slowly paralyzing her heart and lungs." He shook his head. "I
knew that something had gone wrong, but I wasn't sure what. That's why I
came up the trail to meet you." He looked at Xena again. "Did
you kill the serpent?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I got . . . the leaves . .
." She closed her eyes as the mist swirled through her mind again,
and only Gabrielle's arms kept her from falling.
"She strangled the serpent and fed me the leaves, and that broke
the spell," Gabrielle said, finishing Xena's story.
"So you're all right now, Gabrielle? You have your memories
back?" said Elkton.
"Yes, I'm fine, but we've got to help Xena. We can't let her
die! Please, Elkton! Please tell me you know some way to save her!"
The urgency in Gabrielle's voice pulled Xena back into consciousness
again, but she felt very little interest in Elkton's reply.
"I had another dream vision last night," he said, looking
up at Gabrielle, "and in it there were two women. One of them was
very sick and the other one healed her. Now I know that I was being
shown the way to drive the poison out of Xena's body." Gabrielle
gasped in relief, but Elkton held up his hand to stop her from speaking.
"Unfortunately, Xena has already grown very weak. I just
hope--" He stopped and looked away.
"You just hope what?"
He looked at the young woman again. "I just hope it's not too
late," he finished sadly.
"No!" cried Gabrielle. "Don't say that! Xena is very
strong! She's managed to stay alive all night and all the way down this
mountain. Don't tell me it's too late!"
"I pray with all my heart that it's not," he said.
"We'll do everything we can to save her, and we both know that if
anyone can survive this, it's Xena." Then he laid a hand on the
warrior's leg and looked up at her. "You must be strong for a
little while longer," he said. "We will do everything we can
He turned to Gabrielle. "I'll go ahead to get things
ready," he said. "Come as quickly as you can."
"We will," the bard said. "How much farther is
"Not too far--maybe half a league," he said and then
Gabrielle picked up the reins. "Did you hear that, Xena? You're
going to be all right," she said with a smile in her voice.
"You just have to hang on a little bit longer. I knew Elkton could
help us. I just knew somehow that he could."
Xena tried to listen, but her own labored breathing was soon the only
sound she could hear. Feeling totally exhausted in body and spirit, she
slowly slumped forward once more over the fur-wrapped saddlehorn, and
all sensation vanished.
* * * * *
She came to again when she felt hands pushing at her, shaking and
"I'll hold her while you untie the rope," she heard
Gabrielle say, then she opened her eyes to see Elkton fumbling with the
knots at her waist.
"Are you awake?" Gabrielle asked softly as Xena leaned back
"Uh-huh," the warrior mumbled.
"We made it. We're at Elkton's house. You're going to be all
Then they were pulling her down off of Argo and, one on either side,
they half carried, half dragged her into the house.
"Over there, on that pallet in front of the fire," Elkton
said, and they lowered her onto it. "Keep her sitting up for a
minute, if you can," he added.
"Okay," said Gabrielle. Then, quickly taking off her cloak,
she knelt beside Xena and put a supporting arm around her shoulders.
Moving to the fireplace, Elkton peered into a small pot that hung
over the embers. He stirred the contents for a moment, then poured the
steaming red liquid into a wooden bowl, which he set on the floor beside
the pallet. After that, he crouched down in front of Xena and put a hand
on her shoulder. "This potion will help strengthen you," he
said, "so you need to drink it all. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Xena said.
"She's been having a lot of trouble drinking things without
choking," Gabrielle said.
Elkton regarded the warrior for a moment, and his nearness made it
easy for her to see the lines of worry on his face, the deep compassion
in his eyes. "Just do the best you can," he said, "but it
would help if you could drink it all. I'm hoping it will give you enough
strength to get through this."
"Through what, Elkton?" asked Gabrielle. "How are you
going to get the poison out of her system?"
Elkton rose and stood looking at the bard. "I'm not going to do
it," he said quietly. "You are."
"I am?" she asked in surprise, staring up at him. "But
I don't know how to do anything like that!"
"You'll be able to do this . . . if anyone can," he said
with a quiet smile. "I'll explain everything in a minute. For right
now, have Xena drink the potion, then get all her clothes off and have
her lie down. You can cover her with that sheepskin," he said,
pointing to the cover that lay folded nearby. "I'll go unsaddle
your horse and put her in the barn. Call me as soon as you're
It seemed to Xena that it would take her forever to drink all of the
potion. She took small sips, but still had to stop frequently to cough.
The red liquid started to affect her almost immediately, though,
creating a warm, tingly sensation that spread rapidly through her body.
In a short time, the fog began to clear from her mind and it seemed
easier to breathe. "This is . . . good stuff," she said to
"Is it helping?"
"Yeah. I feel . . . a little stronger. Not like . . . passing
out . . . all the time."
"Good," Gabrielle said. She set the bowl aside, unfastened
Xena's cloak, and took it off of her. Then she gently brushed back the
hair from the warrior's forehead. "You're starting to perspire. You
must be warming up."
"It's . . . the potion. It feels . . . warm inside."
"There's just a little bit left," Gabrielle said, picking
up the bowl again. "Can you finish it?"
Xena nodded. When she was done, Gabrielle unlaced her leathers and
helped her slip out of them and her undergarment. Then the warrior
stretched out on her back on the pallet and closed her eyes. It felt so
very good to lie down.
"Xena," Gabrielle said as she spread the sheepskin over
her, "I don't know what's going to be involved in getting you well,
but whatever it is, I'll do it. I'm not going to let you die."
"I know," Xena whispered. She opened her eyes and gazed
into the intense green of Gabrielle's. Reaching out, she squeezed the
younger woman's hand. She really did feel better. Not good, but a little
better, anyway. Maybe she would survive after all. "Go get . . .
Elkton," she said.
Gabrielle went away and returned a couple of minutes later with the
Mystic. Sitting down cross-legged on the floor next to Xena, the bard
took the warrior's hand in both of hers. Elkton carried a small stool
over and set it near Xena's feet.
"I'd sit on the floor if I thought these old bones could
tolerate it," he said with a small grin as he seated himself.
"But I know for a fact that they won't." He looked at
Gabrielle for a moment and then at Xena. "How are you doing?"
he asked the warrior in a gentle voice.
"Yes," he said, nodding. "Your breathing sounds a
little less labored and you look more alert. I mixed the potion as
strong as I dared. I'm glad it's helping you."
"What do we do now?" asked Gabrielle.
"Now comes the hard part," he responded. He leaned forward
with his elbows on his knees and fixed his gaze on Gabrielle.
"There is only one way to drive the poison out of Xena's
body," he said, "and that is with love. That's why this
ritual--or whatever you want to call it--has to be done by someone who
loves her very deeply."
"I love Xena with all my heart," Gabrielle said, squeezing
the warrior's hand tightly, "and I'll do anything to save her,
including giving up my own life."
"Well, I don't think it will come to that, anyway," Elkton
said with a sad smile. Then he fell silent for a few moments, gazing
down at his hands. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances and waited for
him to continue.
"This is a little hard for me to talk about," he said
finally, and shifted uncomfortably. Then he looked up again and took a
deep breath. "As I told you earlier, I saw two women in my
vision," he said. "One was very sick, and the other was
healing her. I thought these two women must represent the two of you,
but I didn't know for sure which one was sick."
"How did the one woman heal the other?" asked Gabrielle.
"Ah. That's the strange part. She did it by--" Elkton
hesitated and colored slightly. "She did it by making love to the
"By making love?" Gabrielle asked in surprise, glancing
first at Xena and then turning a puzzled gaze on the Mystic.
"Yes. And after I found out that Xena had been bitten, I
understood what needed to be done. Gabrielle, you must make love to Xena.
You must make her feel your love all the way through her body, so that
the venom will be pushed out. She needs to feel--" he stopped,
apparently embarrassed, and looked from Gabrielle to Xena. "She
needs to feel the full . . . pleasure . . . of love," he finished,
almost in a whisper. "Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes, I think so," Gabrielle said uncertainly,
"but--" She looked at Xena and the warrior could see the fear
in her eyes. "She's so sick," Gabrielle said, turning back to
Elkton. "I don't know if I can-- If she can--"
"That's why I said it might be too late," Elkton said
gently. "But this is the only way I know of to counteract the
effects of the venom." He paused for a moment, and then went on.
"I'll give you the rest of the instructions and then I'll leave you
two to talk about it. If you decide it's not possible to do this now,
with the poison so advanced, then I will understand." He turned to
look at Xena, his eyes full of compassion. "We will make you as
comfortable as possible," he said, his voice edged with emotion,
"and we'll be here with you . . . when you cross over."
Xena smiled softly. "You're a . . . good friend . . .
Elkton," she said.
For several moments after that, the room was silent, except for the
crackling of the fire and the sound of Xena's ragged breathing. Then
Elkton stirred and turned to Gabrielle again. "When the venom
leaves her body," he said quietly, "it will come out through
the skin, like sweat. You must wipe it off with these rags and then
throw the rags into the fire. All of the venom must be burned."
Gabrielle nodded.Xena felt her lover's hands trembling and saw her
eyes go to the large pile of rags near the fireplace.
"Some of the venom will return to the place on Xena's arm where
it first entered her body," Elkton went on. "When enough of it
has collected there, you can cut her arm and let it drain out. I've put
a knife here for you, and a wooden basin. Pour the venom into the fire,
and when you're finished, burn the basin. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Gabrielle whispered.
"I'll be right outside the door there. If you have any questions
or need my help in any way, just call me." He was silent for a
moment, then added. "I will pray to the gods, and ask them to help
you--both of you."
"Just make sure Ares isn't involved in any way," Gabrielle
said, looking at Elkton with a cynical smile.
The Mystic smiled back. "There will be no supplications to
Ares," he said. "Except that he stay well out of this!"
"Elkton," Xena said then, and waited for him to turn toward
her. "Thank you for . . . helping me . . . get Gabrielle
back." She stopped to catch her breath. "That was the most . .
. important thing. . . no matter what else . . . happens."
Elkton pressed his lips together and looked at her sadly. "Xena,
I hope this story will have a happy ending, but if not--" His voice
broke and he stopped to take a deep breath. "I just want to tell
you how much I admire you for your courage and strength. It's an honor
to know that you consider me a friend."
She nodded and tried to smile.
He rose stiffly from his stool and stood looking down at them for a
moment. "The gods be with you," he said, then laid his hand on
Gabrielle's head and added, "Remember to call me if you need
"Thanks, Elkton, I will," Gabrielle said.
After that, he crossed the room with a heavy step and went out the
* * * * *
Xena lay watching Gabrielle, who sat motionless, staring at nothing,
still holding the warrior's hand pressed between her own. The bard's
face revealed much of the uncertainty and fear she was apparently
feeling, but there was a determined set to her jaw that Xena knew well.
After a few moments, Gabrielle lifted Xena's hand and laid her cheek
against it, then kissed it. "Well," she said, raising her eyes
to meet the warrior's, "we've never made love on command
"No," said Xena softly. "Gabrielle, I don't know
"We're going to do this, Xena," the young woman
interrupted. "We have to get the venom out of your system, and if
this is what it takes, then we'll do it."
"Gabrielle, if this . . . doesn't work . . . I don't want you .
. . to blame yourself."
"I won't. I promise."
"I just don't feel very . . . sexual . . . right now."
Gabrielle reached out to caress Xena's cheek. "I know,
Sweetheart, but we've got to try, anyway," she said. "We can't
give up. I can't bear to lose you; I love you too much. Please say
"I'll try," Xena whispered, and squeezed Gabrielle's hand.
"Good. Then we'll do it. I'm just afraid that--"
"That if we really do it, it will be too much for your heart,
and you'll--" She stopped.
"If that happens," Xena said with a weak grin, "then
I'll die . . . a happy woman."
Gabrielle smiled a sad smile and stretched out on her stomach beside
Xena. Propping herself on her elbows, she gently brushed the hair back
from Xena's face and gazed into her eyes for several long moments.
"I love you so much," she whispered, then leaned down to kiss
the warrior's forehead, eyelids, and cheeks.
Gabrielle's lips felt warm and tender, and Xena reached up to pull
her lover closer. But when she closed her eyes and tried to savor the
sweetness of the kisses, she saw only the image of Gabrielle's face,
etched with fear and grief. Then the bard's mouth gently covered her
own, the tongue slipping in between her teeth. It was the kind of kiss
Xena usually loved, but now, suddenly, her only thought was that her
source of air had been cut off. Panicking, she pulled away abruptly,
turning her head to the side. "I can't breathe!" she gasped.
"Oh, Xena, I'm so sorry!" Gabrielle said quickly, laying
her hand on the warrior's cheek. "I don't know what I was thinking.
Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm-- I just need--" She closed her eyes in a effort
to get her breathing back under control. But fear seemed to have gained
a stranglehold on her throat, and for several moments it was difficult
to force air in and out.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle said again, and Xena felt her
lover's soft caresses on her forehead and cheeks. She opened her eyes to
see the bard watching her intently, and she smiled, hoping to relieve
some of the worry she saw on Gabrielle's face.
"I'm . . . better now," she murmured.
"Good," said Gabrielle, lightly touching the tip of Xena's
nose. "Okay, we'll start over again, and this time we'll leave out
the kissing on the mouth part. But don't worry," she added with a
grin, "I have many skills."
Xena smiled weakly and laid a finger on Gabrielle's lips. The younger
woman put her hand over Xena's, drew the finger into her mouth and
sucked it for a moment. Then, reaching down, she pulled the sheepskin
back to uncover the warrior's breasts and abdomen. Xena closed her eyes
again as she felt Gabrielle's hand on her breast, the fingers circling
and teasing the nipple. Her flesh responded, the nipple hardening and
tightening, but she felt none of the excitement that usually accompanied
Gabrielle's tongue was caressing her now, warm and soft, the lips
closing around her nipple, pulling and sucking it. Xena opened her eyes
and stared up at the thatched roof, willing herself to feel the pleasure
of arousal, but she could not. Instead, the cold hand of fear tightened
inside of her. She had not been afraid to die until this minute, but now
she realized that she feared dying like this, unable to respond to
Gabrielle's best efforts to save her. And, more than that, she feared
the heavy burden of guilt she knew her lover would place upon herself.
Xena felt Gabrielle's hand move down over her abdomen and then slide
between her legs. Refocusing her thoughts, she tried to put her fears
aside and think only of the pleasure she knew Gabrielle could give her.
But try as she might, she could feel no pleasure. Instead, she felt only
the panic as it started rising within her again. Her life depended on
having an orgasm now, and yet she had never felt so far from having one.
The rasp of her breathing sounded loud in her ears, and each breath now
began to feel as if it might be her last. Wisps of fog reappeared,
floating across her field of vision, and she could no longer feel
Gabrielle touching her. With a sudden cry of frustration, she pushed the
bard's hand away.
"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle asked in a frightened voice.
"Did I hurt you? You're trembling all over."
"I'm sorry," Xena managed to choke out. "I just can't
. . . do this. It's not . . . working. I . . . can't feel . . .
"Can't feel anything? Do you mean you feel numb?"
"No . . . not numb." She stared at Gabrielle, not knowing
how to explain the terror that seemed about to strangle her.
"You just can't feel . . . pleasure? Is that it?"
Gabrielle looked away, staring at the fire, pressing the back of her
hand hard against her mouth. But after a few moments, she turned to Xena
again. "I think the reason this isn't working is that we're both
too scared," she said. "I'm scared of losing you, and you're
scared of-- Well, I'm not sure what you're scared of, but I can feel the
fear and tension in your body." She leaned down and gently touched
Xena's face. "What is it, Sweetheart? Are you afraid of
"No, not of . . . dying."
Xena hesitated. "I'm afraid you . . . will blame yourself . . .
if I die," she said softly.
Gabrielle didn't answer, and Xena turned her eyes away for a moment,
not wanting to see the anguish in her lover's eyes. Then, biting her
lip, she looked back again. "Just . . . let me go, Gabrielle,"
she pleaded. "Please. I'm not . . . in pain. It's not . . . such a
bad way . . . to die." She saw a tear slide down Gabrielle's cheek
and reached out to brush it away. "It's . . . not your fault,"
she went on, still struggling for breath. "The venom is . . . too
strong. I . . . can't fight anymore. . . . I'm too tired." Another
tear fell, but still her lover didn't speak. "Just . . . stay with
me," Xena finished. "Hold me. It won't be . . . very
With a muffled sob, Gabrielle laid her head on the warrior's chest
and wrapped an arm around her. Xena gently stroked the red-gold hair,
feeling the wetness of Gabrielle's tears on her skin. For a time,
neither of them spoke, but then Xena said, "I love you . . .
Gabrielle. I don't want to . . . leave you. You're . . . my family . . .
my best friend . . . my lover . . ." She stopped as she felt her
own tears starting, trickling silently out of the corners of her eyes.
Gabrielle raised her head and looked at Xena. Her face was still wet
from crying, but there was a calmness in her eyes which hadn't been
there before. "You're right, Xena," she said quietly. "I
have to let you go." She swallowed hard. "It's just so hard to
do," she ended in a whisper. Reaching out, she smoothed the hair
back from the warrior's face. "You're crying, too, aren't
you?" she asked.
With gentle fingers, she wiped away the tears, and then touched her
lips briefly to Xena's. "There's something I want to do before you
cross over," she said softly. "I want to make love to
"Shh," she said quickly, stopping Xena's protest. "I
want to make love to you, and I don't want it to be because I have to,
but because I want to. Because I want to touch you one last time. It's
kind of a selfish thing, I guess. But it's also a gift I want to give
you. I want you to die knowing how much I love you, and feeling it with
your body. I want you to-- Well, remember how you said you'd die a happy
woman if you died while we were making love?"
"I want to give you that happiness . . . if there's any way I
can. Please, Xena. Let me do this for you. Let me give you this one last
Xena stared at her. Was Gabrielle trying to trick her into another
attempt to get rid of the venom? Or was this really what she said it
was--a final gift to her dying lover? Xena knew she was past being able
to respond in any way at this point, but if it comforted Gabrielle to
touch her again, then what could be the harm?
"All right," Xena said quietly.
"Really? You're sure? You'll let me do this for you?"
"Thank you," Gabrielle breathed and then she smiled softly.
Taking Xena's hand, she held it against her chest for a moment.
"Now," she said, "I want you to close your eyes and try
to relax. You don't have to fight anymore. All your battles are
over." Her voice started to break, and she stopped to take a few
Xena lay looking at her, unwilling to close her eyes and lose what
might be her last sight of the face she loved so much.
Gabrielle's eyes met hers and held for several moments. "Close
your eyes, Love," she said finally. "I need you to relax. I'll
be right here beside you, talking to you and touching you. You won't be
alone. And my love will always be with you . . . even on the other
side." She reached out and laid her hand over Xena's eyes.
"Close your eyes now and let go. Stop fighting. Let your body
The warrior sighed softly as she felt the tension slowly begin to
drain from her muscles. Gabrielle's hand gently smoothed her brow and
caressed her cheek.
"There's nothing to be afraid of now," said the bard.
"I'm going to let you go so you can cross over, and I promise not
to blame myself. It's not my fault or yours that this happened. We just
have to accept it and let go. We'll be together again someday. I know we
As Gabrielle went on talking, a sense of calmness and peace crept
into the warrior's soul. The fear gradually slipped away and her
breathing eased up a bit. She began to feel as if she were floating,
suspended in some quiet place where nothing really mattered anymore.
"I'm going to start touching you now," Gabrielle said,
"and if it's uncomfortable or you want me to stop for any reason,
just say so, and I will. Can you feel this?"
"Mmm-hmm," Xena murmured, as she felt Gabrielle's hand once
more on her breast, followed by the warm lips that pulled and sucked at
"Does that feel all right?" Gabrielle asked.
"Nice," whispered Xena.
"Good. Now just try to focus on that feeling. Just think about
how nice it feels and about how much I love you.I'm putting all my love
into every single touch. Just relax and let yourself feel it."
Once again Gabrielle's lips and tongue were on her breast, gentle,
yet insistent. And, to her surprise, Xena felt the first faint stirrings
of desire, felt her nipples becoming erect and hard. Then, after a few
minutes, the bard's hand moved down between Xena's legs, her fingers
slipping in among the sensitve folds of skin.
"Let yourself feel my love, Xena," Gabrielle whispered.
"I've never loved anyone the way I love you. Just let your body
feel that. Feel my love for you."
And Xena did feel it. Blocking out thoughts of how difficult it was
to breathe, she managed to focus on the tenderness of her lover's touch.
After a time, she found that her weakened body was responding in a way
she had not thought possible. Pleasurable sensations began moving
through her, radiating in gentle waves. She heard a low moan and
realized that it had come from her own lips.
"Xena? Is everything all right?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"Do you want me to stop?"
"No, don't . . . stop," Xena whispered.
"Okay. Just checking," Gabrielle said. She moved down and
Xena felt a series of soft kisses on the inside of her thighs. Then the
sweet pleasure once more, a gentle stroking which she thought must be
Gabrielle's tongue. She moaned again as the sensation grew, like a bud
slowly opening in the sunlight, petal by petal, until it finally filled
her completely. Her body began to move in weak spasms and she cried out
hoarsely. Surely, she thought, no one ever had a more beautiful death.
"Yes! Xena, we did it!" she heard Gabrielle exclaim. And
then after a moment she added, "The venom is starting to come out!
I can see it! It's really weird-looking! It's kind of yellowish-green!
Xena, take a look at this stuff!"
But the warrior could not look, could not even move. Those were the
last words she heard as the fog whirled in around her, no longer gray
but greenish now, and incredibly thick. Blotting out everything, it
choked off her breathing, effectively smothering her. She tried to
resist but could not. Her strength was gone and the fog was much too
powerful. It pulled at her, drawing her out of her body, and in the
moment she finally surrendered to it, she felt suddenly and marvelously
free . . . free of pain and fear, and free of a body that no longer
remembered how to move and breathe.
She let the fog lift and carry her, knowing at last what her
destination was to be. In the distance, a light appeared, and she felt
herself borne swiftly and inevitably towards it. The light marked the
bank of the River Styx. She knew this now, knew that the light would
guide her across in Charon's boat.
With a feeling of peace and deep relief, she allowed the fog to sweep
her onward, closer and closer to the light. She was almost there, had
almost reached the river's bank, when suddenly a figure loomed in the
mist ahead of her. It was a spirit figure, just as she herself now was,
but she recognized it immediately. "Ares," she said, coming to
a reluctant halt. "I thought I was done with you."
His laughter swirled around her like the fog. "You'll never be
done with me, Xena," he said. "You ought to know that by
She glared at him without answering.
"You thought you could defeat me," he went on, "but
you were wrong."
"I did defeat you. I got Gabrielle back, didn't I?"
"Yes, but look at the price you've paid. You're dying, Xena, or
hadn't you noticed? You're on your way to Tartarus, and you will never
see your little friend again." He moved closer to her, and she felt
the chill of his essence.
"Since when do you decide who goes to Tartarus?" she
demanded. "I thought that was Hades' job."
"Oh, it is, but I know how these things work. You think that a
few good deeds will atone for a lifetime of evil, but you're wrong, Xena.
The balance swings too far the other way. I'm afraid it's Tartarus for
you, my dear, and isn't that a shame?"
He smiled a cynical smile, and Xena did not answer.
"But it's not too late, you know," he said then. "I
can still save you, give you back your life. You have only to say the
word. And since you're going to end up in Tartarus anyway, why not have
a little fun before you go?" His figure remained before her, but
his spirit, warm and seductive now, seemed to surround and caress her.
"Come back to me, Xena, and we'll conquer the world together,"
he murmured. "You know you want to. This is your chance."
"No, Ares, you're wrong," she said. "Maybe I once
wanted to conquer the world, but not anymore. Not now, not ever! I would
much rather die than go back to you. I don't need you to save me.
Gabrielle's love is all I need. And even if I spend the rest of eternity
in Tartarus, I'll still feel that love. I'll carry it within me
forever." She moved forward, determined to force her way past him.
"Get away from me now," she said, "and let me cross
But in that moment, she heard a voice, faintly, as if it came from a
long ways off, and she stopped to listen. It was Gabrielle's voice,
calling to her, "Xena, I love you! Don't leave me! Come back!
Please come back to me, Xena!"
Come back? Was it possible to come back? But even as the question
flashed upon her mind, she saw Ares begin to recede and disappear into
the mist. The light, likewise, grew gradually less bright, fading away
as she now travelled back through the fog, back towards Gabrielle.
Faster and faster she seemed to move, pulled by her lover's voice,
feeling the first gentle touches of the bard's fingers on her skin.
Then, all at once, she felt the full power of Gabrielle's hands and
mouth, creating pleasure where she thought all sensation had died. The
feeling grew stronger, and still stronger, swelling from her center to
encompass her completely, making her whole body moan and writhe. And
when it was over, the fog began to lift, fading meanwhile from green to
gray and finally to the peaceful white of nothingness.
to Part 7 (conclusion)
to the Fanfic Summary Page