Gabrielle and Xena seek Aphroditeís help with a "personal" problem shortly after events depicted in my post-finale story "Suns of The Passed." This could also be considered a companion piece to "Warís Surrender." It refers to several episodes, particularly PUNCH LINES, THE GOD YOU KNOW and YOU ARE THERE. -- IQ
Aphrodite cocked her head, squinting. She wasnít sure why, but squinting helped her hear better. Yes! There it was again! Someone calling out Ö her name? The Goddess of Love leaned forward in nervous anticipation. Itíd been so long! Ever since Xena pulverized most of the Greek gods, mortals rarely spoke their names. At least, not in a respectful way. She frowned. "Ares?" Was he taunting her again, back from one of his unending missions to form alliances with other war gods?
That sounded like Ö. Gabrielle?! It couldnít be! Five years! Five years ago Xenaíd died in some far-off place called Japa. Aphrodite had felt the love and pain in Gabrielleís heart, when the grieving bard returned to Greece. Sheíd waited in vain for the young woman to call on her for comfort. But no, the "Battling Bard" had become as stoic as Xena, determined to make a life for herself in some silly village sheíd founded between Amazonia and Amphipolis. Aphrodite couldnít decide whether to laugh, cry or throw a tantrum.
"Aphrodite! I know youíre up there!"
Well, she could be stubborn too. Aphrodite lay back on her chaise lounge. "Let her wait," she muttered. "Like I did." Wasnít her fault sheíd lost track of the uncommunicative bard. What was there to see anyway, besides day after day of good deeds? "At least olí Dark and Deadly kept things interesting." Without the WP, Gabrielle was only half as much fun.
"Aphrodite?! Please! I Ö. We need you!"
Need? We?! Were the rumors true? Had Gabrielle returned to Japa? Somehow brought Xena back to life? Something sure seemed to be disturbing the boring vibes emanating from the mortal world until recently. Could it be the reunited Dynamic Duo? Aphrodite perked up. Now that could be interesting.
She gathered herself, prepared to flash down and scare the daylights out of her wayward "friend." But what if Ö. She hesitated, face scrunching in self-doubt sheíd never experienced before. Could she? Did Gabrielle still have enough belief in her? Aphrodite sighed and closed her eyes. "Only one way to find out."
"Well, if it isnít Gab-eye-elle - my missing-in-action bud." Aphrodite gazed haughtily at the woman lying stupefied on the ground. "You rang?" she asked, examining her fingernails.
Gabrielleís lips pursed. She got up and dusted herself off. "Guess I deserved that," she acknowledged with a thin smile. "Thanks for coming - grand entrance and all." She stretched out her arms. "Can I get a hug?"
Aphrodite let a few petulant moments pass before relenting. "I suppose, since you did confirm Iím still the Goddess of Love." She wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. "To you, anyway," she added softly.
Gabrielle pulled back a little. "Been pretty lonely for you, huh?"
Aphrodite nodded. Funny how only a moment with Gabrielle could strip away her usual veneer. "Thanks to You Know Who, not much business comes my way anymore." She smiled wistfully, but without bitterness. "Nowadays mortals seem stuck on ëone-stop shopping.í Not much use for a specialty god like me."
"Oh, Aphrodite." Gabrielle led the downcast goddess over to sit on a blanket. "I was so caught up in losing Xena, trying to find myself, I didnít think how all that mustíve affected you." She reached across to squeeze Aphroditeís hand. "Can you ever forgive me?"
The Love Goddessí eyes lit up with their usual playful glow. "Iím here, arenít I? Facing a believer who needs little olí luscious me? What more could a has-been deity want?" She patted Gabrielleís hand. "Speaking of which Ö. Did I understand you to say ëweí need me? As in Xena ëwe?í"
Gabrielle grinned and nodded.
"Gabby!" Aphroditeís hand flew to her chest. "You did it?! Sheís with you again?"
Gabrielle let out a long sigh. "I did. She was always with me though." Gabrielle regarded her friend curiously. "You didnít know? You couldnít sense her spirit?"
"Not then. Foreign territory, in more ways than one. I figured thatís who you were talking to sometimes." Aphrodite grinned. "At least, I hoped so. Was she, like, a ghost or something?"
"Sort of. After Japa, she Ö lived Ö mostly in my dreams. I mean, I could see her then as herself, touch her. But Iíd sense her in so many other ways - in myself, in others, in nearly everything around meÖ."
"Gabby? You okay?"
Gabrielle shook her head from where sheíd mentally wandered. "Oh, sorry. Guess Iím still getting used to Ö." She cleared her throat. "A tapestry from Japa led us back there, to a healer who helped restore Xena to her body." She laughingly put her hand up as Aphrodite leaned forward with a million questions on her face. "Long story. Letís just say she came back good as new. Well, sheís still Ö Xena." She smiled. "Still Ö interesting Ö as ever. But Ö cleaner. More at peace about being a basically good soul."
"Iím glad." Aphrodite held Gabrielleís eyes. "For both of you." She winked. "Glad sheís not dull either. That would be a real bummer. Sure knew how to crash a good party, but she kinda grew on me."
"I know." Gabrielle fingered a frayed corner of the blanket. "Thatís why I hoped youíd help us."
"Gabrielle?" Aphrodite noted with concern her friendís change in mood. She lifted Gabrielleís chin. "Wanna tell your olí bud whatís got her best girl so unattractively glum?"
"Itís, um, a little Ö. Kinda hard to talk about." Gabrielle blushed. "Personal."
Aphrodite stared at Gabrielle a moment, before bursting into peals of joy. "`Personal?í As in rock `em, sock `em, ëbaby, light my fireí kind of ëpersonal?í"
Gabrielle scowled, but didnít dispute Aphroditeís delicate "take" on the problem.
"Well, bleach my blond hair blonder and cleave my cleavage deeper than it already is! Fantabulicious! I always wondered -."
"Aphrodite?! Do you mind? Iím trying to discuss a sensitive topic here. Howíre you gonna be our counselor, if you -."
"Me?! You want me to counsel the most legendary couple to walk the face of the earth?" Aphrodite could barely contain herself. "Iíll be the talk of the gods - whoever they Ö or he or she Ö are. Imagine! A whole new rep - ëCounselor to the Stars.í Personal therapist to Xena, the baddest, roughest Ö toughest Ö. Most Ö."
Gabrielle smirked. "Problem, Dr. Dite?"
The Love Goddess stared apprehensively into space. "Sheíll kill me." She looked at Gabrielle. "She can do it, you know. If anybody can, she can," Aphrodite asserted as though this might be news to the woman across from her.
"Not to worry." Gabrielle patted Aphroditeís trembling hand. "Believe me, sheís as Ö frustrated Ö as I am. Weíve tried everything. I told her I had a long-shot idea. She said to go for it."
"With me in the mix? Prying into her Ö." Aphrodite shuddered. "Private life?"
"She, um, doesnít know all the details yet. If she agrees, are you in?"
Aphrodite shook her head. "Five years of peaceful boredom. First call I get, Iím wishing it was a wrong number." She scowled at Gabrielle. "If this turns ugly, Iíll want the most lavish shrine ever. Four hunky caretakers polishing my statue `round the hourglass. You, bringing fresh flowers every day. Roses. Pink ones. And if you ever die -."
"Aphrodite! Sheesh! It wonít get to that, all right? Iíll convince Xena, make her see the benefits. It may not seem like it, but she trusts you. Youíll see."
"When Tartarus freezes over."
"Then youíre not totally opposed?"
"When Tartarus freezes over and Lucifer wins first place in a Mr. Known World Handsome Pageant."
"Iím still sensing a little resistance. Perhaps I didnít -."
"Nothing you could say would make it better than having my eyes gouged out. With a toothpick. A dull toothpick. With splinters and -. "
"I get the Ö point."
"And Aphrodite, no less!"
"Sheís a friend, someone who knows us. Not only an expert on love, but one of the few gods left we know. Face it, Xena - weíre pretty much out of options."
Xena pressed her lips together, silenced by the truth in those words. She strode over to where Argo II shouldíve been, doubly exasperated that she saw nothing but the usual trees in the dusk that had settled around them. All she could do was stand there like Joxer with no idea what to do next. Sheíd had such hopes! How could everything have gone so wrong?
"Xena?" Gabrielle observed her soulmate with sympathetic indulgence. The poor warrior had been through so much. Theyíd accomplished the impossible, yet now found themselves stymied by a relatively mundane achievement whose possibility they never doubted. She patted the spot next to her that Xena had so abruptly vacated a few minutes before. "Itís just an idea. I donít want to rush you. I have some notion of what youíre going through."
Xena stopped the pacing sheíd begun in front of their campfire. "Do you?" She studied Gabrielleís face a moment. "Then tell me why youíd ask a god - especially that one - to be my crutch."
"Crutch?!" Gabrielle stared at Xena, flabbergasted. "Crutch?" she repeated, jumping up. "Xena, weíre not talking about a broken leg here. Or," she added through clenched teeth, "a broken ego." Gabrielle threw her hands up. "You know what? Forget it. Weíll keep muddling along like weíve been doing, until maybe Princess `oh, no, not another sensitive chatí figures how to fix this with her sword."
Gabrielle stalked over to the stupid pushcart theyíd been using to transport their things since their recent return from Japa. Sheíd offered to do some barding so they could afford a horse, but noooo, Xena insisted on believing her Palomino was somewhere in the vicinity, having had nothing better to do than wait around for them all this time. She snatched their rolled sleeping furs out, dropped them on the ground and kicked them until they lay semi-flat.
A smile spread unbidden across the warriorís face. Theyíd had their share of tiffs the last few months, but it hadnít felt like "home." This was more like it.
Gabrielle was now engaged in full-blown conversation with herself. Xena didnít mind not being able to understand a word.
"Gabrielle?" Xena inched closer toward the red-faced bundle of irritation, who finally whipped her head around.
"I think youíre hurting `em."
Xena pointed at the sleeping furs Gabrielle now knelt on, pounding into submissive order. "I can understand wanting to do that to me. But poor, defenseless animal skins? Doesnít that go against your code?"
Gabrielle continued glowering at Xena, trying to decide whether to accept the warriorís version of an apology, surprised to discover her mouth relaxing. Itíd been awhile since theyíd had a spat like this. Maybe theyíd get back to some semblance of "normal" after all.
Gabrielle sucked in her cheeks. "Youíre right." She studied her hands, then began smoothing the furs more gently. "My irritation is misplaced. Violence against the innocent definitely isnít the answer."
Xena walked up behind her. She wrapped her arms around Gabrielleís shoulders and bent to kiss the top of her head. "Howís this for an answer?"
Gabrielle leaned her head back. "Better," she said with a small smile. She tugged on Xenaís arm.
The warrior sighed and sat next to Gabrielle. "But not enough?"
"Mmmm. For now." Gabrielle rested her head on Xenaís shoulder.
"You donít think maybe a good, old-fashioned fight was all I needed? You know how thatís always gotten my juices going."
Gabrielle turned to look up at Xena. "Sure, for you. You keep forgetting, we have two egos not feeling so invincible right now. Yes, I feel better. But, Xena, each day we get a little more back to ourselves. Each time we think weíve found the answer."
"And we havenít."
Gabrielle nodded. "Instead of enjoying those moments, weíre disappointed itís not the magical one we keep hoping for. I canít Ö. I donít want us to go on like that." Gabrielle fought back tears. "Xena, I dreamed of, prayed and fought so hard for those moments. Maybe they donít mean as much to -."
"They do. As usual, I didnít think Ö." Xena sighed. "Gabrielle, Iíd do anything to Ö." She shook her head, chuckling. "Well, ya got me. As usual. Gods know, Aphrodite sure qualifies as `anything.í"
"Xeenaa!" Gabrielle swatted the warriorís arm. "Sheís not that bad. When she helped me with my writerís block? It was like she wasnít even there most of the time. Like I was talking to myself. I basically worked things through on my own. All she did was ask questions." Gabrielle grinned, recalling the Love Goddessí chocolate bubble bath. "And set the right atmosphere."
"No syrupy advice?"
"No manipulative spells?"
"All I have to do is talk."
"Yep." Gabrielle frowned. "About Ö sensitive things." She snuck a peek at Xena, for once hoping to see a scowl. She saw a smirk instead. She mentally slapped herself, amazed how often she forgot they really werenít twins.
"Having second thoughts?"
Gabrielle bit her lip at the twinkle in her insufferable soulmateís eyes. "No," she finally responded, smiling sweetly. "Aphroditeís the professional. Iíll leave it to you to test how good she is."
Aphrodite gazed down upon her clients as they neared the abandoned temple where theyíd agreed to meet her. Once sheíd gotten past her shock that Xena would participate, sheíd had to listen to Gabrielleís rendition of the warriorís imperious "rules of engagement." No zapping to parts unknown. No forcible seclusion to encourage cooperation. No "parlor tricks" to fool untalkative subjects into talking. If she hadnít been so desperate for attention, Aphrodite wouldíve tried to find out if the Warrior Princess might be more appealing as a frog.
Gabrielle had suggested the temple as a compromise. It had been built to honor the Goddess of Love, yet satisfied Xenaís need to keep her feet firmly planted on earth. The former wasnít thrilled at the shabby structureís reminder of how far sheíd fallen from mortal grace, but it was better than the foul-smelling stable Xena had offered as an alternative. Aphrodite surmised that choice reflected the warriorís opinion of things, judging from her current demeanor. She scowled. Not even decapitation, ghosthood or reduction to a pile of ashes had changed the ever-disrespectful Arrogant One.
"Weíll see," Aphrodite reassured herself. "I got her pretty good that one time. If Iíd made her obsessed with jewelry instead of fish, she mightíve lightened up a little." She shrugged. Time to get her show on the road.
"Well, if it isnít my two fav girlfriends!"
Xena glowered at the grinning goddess. "You mean, your only girlfriends," she muttered, reaching down to help Gabrielle up.
"Aphrodite! Do you have to keep doing that?" Gabrielle rubbed her bruised behind. "Youíre supposed to help us, not scare us to death before we get started."
Aphrodite tossed her hair. "Like deathís a problem for you two." She cut her eyes at the taciturn warrior. "Hi ya, Xena. If I didnít know any better, Iíd think you werenít happy to see me."
Xena crossed her arms. "Itís not a social call. Otherwise, we could stand here chatting about how dull lifeís been without ya. This is business. We need to confirm terms, strategy, results." Xena narrowed her eyes. "Compensation for unsatisfactory service."
"Xena?!" Gabrielle inserted herself between the other two women. "Aphroditeís already agreed to your conditions. No need to be unpleasant."
"Itís okay, Gabby." Aphrodite stuck her nose in the air. "Canít get a rose from a cactus. Either way, Iím used to thorns. You forget, I had the godly version of ëdark and deadlyí to practice on." She adjusted the bodice of her gown before allowing a glance in Xenaís direction. "If anybodyís gonna chicken out, it wonít be me."
Gabrielle winced as Xenaís jaw tightened. "This isnít a battle, okay? Weíre supposed to be three friends trying to solve a problem. If the two of youíd rather stand there testing whoíll blink first, Iím outta here." She summoned her best aggrieved expression. "Iím disappointed, but who am I, compared to a couple of the biggest egos in the universe?"
The "biggest egos" watched Gabrielle begin walking dejectedly away. They glanced at each other with a smidgeon of shame.
Gabrielle smiled to herself. She stopped and turned around. Projecting sadness, but not defeat. "Yes?"
"Donít go." Xena looked sheepishly at Aphrodite. "Sorry. Guess Iím a little tense from Ö our, um ... problem." She stuck out her hand. "Friends?"
Aphrodite took the proffered hand and pulled Xena in for a quick hug before the warrior could do her usual "ewww, too warm and fuzzy" stiff-arm routine. "Sheís good, isnít she?" she whispered in Xenaís ear.
"The best," Xena whispered back, with a grudging pat to Aphroditeís arm. She straightened and looked bemusedly at Gabrielle. "Happy now?"
Gabrielle felt more like a referee watching boxers respectfully touch fists before a match. She grinned anyway and clapped her hands. "All right! Letís get this show on the road!" She headed for the temple doors.
"Hold up." Xena strode ahead. She noted the cobwebs around the entrance and lack of footprints in the dust on the steps. She poked her head inside anyway. "All clear," she told her companions. She grinned at Gabrielleís eye roll. "Old habits die hard."
"Like some people who have `em," Aphrodite mumbled.
Aphrodite busied herself straightening her gown. "Hmmm? You say something, Xena?"
The warrior rolled her tongue in her cheek. "Not really. Just making sure you didnít."
"Oh, for Ö." Gabrielle huffily pushed past her partner through the door. "Come on, Aphrodite, before I have to separate you two again."
Aphrodite eased in front of the warrior, who relaxed against the doorframe with just enough menace to remind those present that she was very much alive. Once inside, the three stood appraising the forlorn outer chamber.
"Not exactly as comforting as when I had that other session with you."
"Oh, I donít know Ö." Xena kicked a piece of broken pottery across the room. She cut her eyes mischievously at Gabrielle. "Guess it depends on what youíre used to."
Aphrodite threw what shouldíve been a withering glance Xenaís way. "I can fix things in the main room. At least, for you, Gabby. I canít guarantee anything for those with the imagination of a -."
"Um, thanks, Dite. Iím sure youíll do what works best." Gabrielle gave Xena a "let it go" scowl.
The warrior casually surveyed the hunks of statuary that once flaunted the Goddess of Loveís bountiful Ö assets. "Mm. Imagination oughtta come in handy, all right." She smiled with sufficient good humor to placate Gabrielle.
Aphrodite decided to accept this response as blood from a turnip. "Groovy!" She placed a finger over her lips and studied her clients. "So, whoíd like to go first?"
The potential victims stared blankly at each other, then at Aphrodite.
"You wanna start together?"
"Um Ö Xena? You have a preference?"
The snorted response wordlessly conveyed, "You must be kidding."
"Okay then, weíll let Aphrodite decide."
Aphrodite gazed upward, seeming to ponder the situation. In truth, her mind was a million miles away. Where she wished she could be. Love used to be so easy. A pleasant dalliance on a sunny afternoon. A few heartfelt endearments to heighten the main event. Promises of undying faithfulness before a wedding or battle or being dragged off by parents. Sheíd smile with pride at her handiwork, then flit off to other candidates, seldom bothering to worry about how much or long her subjects actually cared for each other. Until Ö.
Two faces popped into Aphroditeís reveries. Two faces she never wouldíve put together in her wildest imagination. She - the supposed expert - had let them pass nearly unnoticed beneath her nose. It wasnít just that their bond was so improbable. Sheíd been a bit disconcerted - and, yes, miffed - that they hadnít needed her at all. Whatever had grown between them - quietly, steadily, painfully - had all of a sudden become so powerful that the gods themselves parted before its presence. The two had died for each other and their ideals. One was the most extraordinary warrior ever known. The other had made the warriorís heart her own, let it go, and brought it back to life.
Aphrodite discovered her thoughts drifting to a place she seldom visited. Herself. Not the "worship me like the goddess I am" superficial self. The internal self. She gulped. Depth, seriousness, yadda yadda? Not in her job description. Sure, Gabby had a knack for coaxing her out of her comfort zone. Even Xenaíd forced her to be more than herself a couple times. But that was back when sheíd had all of Olympus and Greece supporting her pedestal. Before her belief in herself began disappearing like the other gods, fading away with the memories of mortals she depended on for her being. What could she possibly have, especially now, that the two legendary women in front of her would want?
"Aphrodite? You all right?"
Yet there they stood. Friends in need. So desperate theyíd called on her anyway - their last hope. One believing she could help, the other believing she wouldnít hurt. She owed them that. She owed herself that, as she too could use a friend. Gods knew, nobody believed in love more than these two. She sighed and finally focused on them.
"Natch, Sweet Pea." She winked at Gabrielle. "Iím the Goddess of Love, ainít I?" For possibly the first time in her long existence, she decided - purposely - to choose the harder way out. She crooked her finger regally at the less enthusiastic of her two clients. "Warrior Babe, into my parlor." She turned and sashayed toward the doors to the main chamber, passing through without a backward glance.
"Your mouthís open. Planning on saying anything?"
Xenaís lips pressed together in a grim line.
"Clockís ticking. We want our dinarsí worth. If youíre afraid, Iíll go -."
Xena growled. She gave Gabrielle a long glare before striding after Aphrodite with the false bravado of a soldier volunteering for a suicide mission.
Xena flung open the doors, expecting to see Ö. She blinked, surprised to see just that - a fairly barren room trashed like the one sheíd just left. Aphrodite sat on a fancy armchair next to an ornate table, bathed in soft beams of light that complemented her features. But the Goddess of Loveís extravagant tastes had left everything else untouched. The warrior relaxed a little, relieved that she wouldnít have to endure the first of many anticipated assaults on her sensibilities.
"Not quite what you expected?"
Xena took a few cautious steps forward. "Yes Ö. And Ö no," she added with some suspicion. "You lose your expense account?"
Aphrodite flicked a nonexistent something off her sleeve. "No use wasting top-of-the line on folks with no fashion sense." Her lip curled. "Unless, maybe some of Gabbyís rubbed off on you?"
"In your dreams."
Xena glanced around, picturing what sheíd rather see under the circumstances. Her eyes widened as suddenly the room became neat and clean, if somewhat dark except where Aphrodite sat. Plush animal skins appeared on the floor, displays of armor and weapons on the walls, a handsomely carved table covered with maps and exquisitely crafted bowls and mugs. All in all, quite acceptable.
"Have a seat." Aphrodite gestured toward a feathered pink chaise lounge that now sat facing her.
Xenaís eyes narrowed. No way. She squinted until the lounge turned a deep magenta and reshaped into the more dignified version one might see in the home of Greek nobility. She sauntered over to it, sat with her arm resting on one of the pillowed sides and raised a "give it your best shot" brow.
Aphrodite congratulated herself for getting the warrior this far. She took some spectacles from her table. "You still seem a little tense. Try turning sideways, pulling your legs up, maybe lying back." She winked. "You know - like maybe youíd do if you were gonna sleep and werenít afraid the Big Bad Dite might getcha?"
Xena scowled as the goddess propped the spectacles on her nose with a professional air and confidently held the warriorís eyes. She had to admit, Aphrodite wasnít always the airhead she seemed. She actually gave the impression she knew what she was doing. Xena shrugged. She stretched out with her arms folded over her chest.
"Thatís more like it. Now, close those baby blues and give your old friend Dite the scoop on what youíve been up to since I saw you last."
Gabrielle had wandered outside. She fiddled nervously with a twig, torn between not wanting to hear sounds of mayhem inside and being close enough to intervene. Sheíd almost decided to opt for the latter, when the temple doors swung open. Xena exited.
Xena dropped down next to her partner and began rummaging around in a carry bag. "You know me - few words, many skills." She pulled out an apple and bit into it.
"Aphrodite still intact?"
"As much as she was before."
"She send you out, or you leave on your own?"
The warrior placed an aggrieved hand against her chest. "Are you suggesting I wasnít my usual cooperative self?" She gasped and raised the hand to her mouth. "Could it be you have issues with that too? Which need sharing with Counselor Dite?"
Gabrielleís lips pursed. "You know what I mean. Iím having a hard time believing things went well."
"Wasnít as bad as I thought. I updated her on my life. And death. She nodded, said ëuh huhí a lot, thanked me, told me to get you. End of story." Xena ate some more of her apple. "Youíre the bard. Canít help it if your taleíll take longer."
Gabrielle studied her partner with mixed emotions - glad Xena seemed more relaxed, suspicious about the reasons why.
"You talk at all about Ö our problem?"
"Why, Gabrielle, Iím surprised at you." Xena shook her head in mock disapproval. "Thatís privileged conversation between me and my counselor. I did my ëwork.í Now gíwon. Diteís waitiní for ya to do yours." She smiled sweetly.
Gabrielle gave Xena a long look before standing up. What could she say, seeing as how this was her bright idea? Sighing, she trudged toward the temple like an acolyte volunteering for martyrdom.
"Gabby! Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes. That grumpy warrior of yours Ö." Aphrodite paused at the expression on her second clientís face. "Whatís up?"
Gabrielle seemed perplexed at the brightly colored room, filled with posh furniture and a bubble bath, similar to when sheíd first experienced Aphroditeís hospitality.
"You donít like it?"
"Uh Ö yes, itís fine. Not quite what I expected. I mean, it is, but Ö. I didnít think Xena would stand for - certainly not lie down in - anything like this." Gabrielle walked slowly to the pink couch facing Aphrodite.
"Oh, thatís whatís got you in a thither." Aphrodite snorted. "Nah, this ainít what the WP saw. As if."
Gabrielle dropped down on the couch. "What do you mean?"
"You and Iíre more simpatico in the taste department. Plus, youíre an accepting kinda gal, unlike a certain control freak Iíve come across."
"You mean, Iím Ö creating Ö all this? Not you?"
"Well, sort of yes and sort of no." Aphroditeís face scrunched. Gabrielle was a sweetie pie, but she sure could make a godís brain hurt. "Okay, this is my idea of a good place to work in. Youíre open to that, so - whammo - no prob. Warrior Babeís gotta have her own ideas about practically everything. Even Ares couldnít change that. "
"Wow." Gabrielle contemplated the implications of this. "I knew the gods needed our belief in you, but I didnít realize how much we determined -."
"Basically, ya get what you wanna see," Aphrodite interrupted with some impatience. She straightened her gown to indicate her disinterest in the touchy subject of how gods got - and lost - their powers. "Can we move on to the important stuff?"
Gabrielle was wondering whether Xena knew or had intuited Aphroditeís revelation. That might explain why Ö. "Huh?" She shook her head, aware sheíd drifted away from the program. "Oh, yeah. Sorry." She leaned back, pulling her legs up under her. "Should I start wherever Xena left off?" she asked innocently. "I assume she gave her view on our little problem?"
Aphrodite shot her look. "Gabby, Gabby, Gabby. You keep forgetting, Iíve got brains under all this beauty. Not to mention self-preservation." She reached up into her hair to pull the spectacles back down on her nose. "Now, lie back, relax and pour out your sad little heart."
Xena sat propped against a log, working on her sword, as she had continuously since Gabrielle resurrected the weapon in Japa along with her partner. A cooking fire, some fruit and a couple of gutted fish awaited Gabrielleís return. In the time since sheíd been inside, the sun had moved from the east to overhead. Long enough for Xena to jog around the temple a few times, spar with an imaginary opponent and do some calisthenics. Gabrielle surmised this from the warriorís damp hair and glistening skin.
"I see you kept yourself busy."
"Thought you might be hungry." Xena glanced up at the sky. "Mustíve been some workout." She snickered. "Didnít think Aphrodite had that kind of energy."
Gabrielle snorted softly. "Yeah, almost as much as you. I didnít realize so much time had passed."
"She taking a break? All tuckered out?" Xena asked hopefully.
"Sheís `rejuvenatingí in a bubble bath. I got the feeling sheíd be soaking for awhile." Gabrielle took out their frying pan and some herbs. She began preparing the fish.
"So, howíd it go?" Xena asked casually, inspecting a particularly difficult rust spot on the sword.
"Okay, I guess."
"You two come up with a diagnosis?" Xena smiled thinly. "I canít imagine thereís much left to say."
Gabrielle placed the fish over the fire. "No, Iím afraid that was just round one." She cocked her head. "She wants us to come together for the next session."
"Fantabulicious. I can hardly wait."
Gabrielle came over to sit across from her soulmate. "We donít have to," she said softly. "I donít know what I Ö. This is harder than I thought." She chuckled ruefully. "Talking isnít always what itís cracked up to be. Must be excruciating for you."
Xena sighed. She let the sword rest in her lap, continuing to study the weapon. "Thereís this one spot I canít seem to fix. I scrape as hard as I can with the pumice stone. I rub it with my polishing cloth. I use a special cleaner thatís always worked before. I canít even get the balance right."
Gabrielle scooted closer, laying her hand on Xenaís leg. "You kinda feel like that too?"
Xena nodded. "And I donít know why." She looked up, startling Gabrielle with the defeat in her eyes. "I only know I donít like it. Donít want it. That everything Iíve tried hasnít fixed it. Doing nothing wonít make it go away either."
"I feel the same." Gabrielle smiled at Xenaís surprise. She patted the warriorís leg. "I know you believe Iím good at these things. If I was, Iím not so sure anymore. I donít feel quite like myself either, and I donít know why."
"Huh." Xena took some reassurance from that. Maybe she wasnít the biggest problem in their ëproblemí after all. "So Ö you game for round two?"
"It canít be much worse than scraping, rubbing and cleaning." Gabrielle grinned. "Or running around in circles."
Aphrodite couldíve blinked herself dry, but toweled off anyway. Gave her something mindless to do while she Ö thought. "Gods," she sighed. Whatever happened to "mindless" as an end in itself? Why on earth had she agreed to think? "Oh, right. My two fav mortals. Shoulda known there was something wrong with `em when they asked."
Despite her reservations, the Love Goddess felt buoyed - both from her bath and by the trust this special couple had shown in her. As she slipped into her customary pink, she reflected on the unaccustomed seriousness now demanded of her. The new gods she was hearing about didnít seem as flawed or capricious as Olympians. On one hand, she thought such deities could stand a little lightening up. On the other, maybe she could stand a little less.
She shook her head. Talk about "heavy," her two clients made a habit of complicating things. Who else could find each other through Tartarus, yet miss their signals in the sack? No, philosophical gobbledygook would only make the molehill more mountainous. They needed somebody who wouldnít get distracted by depth or breadth. Whoíd likely cut to a flower rather than focus on either the forest or the trees.
"Keep it simple, stupid," she advised herself, feeling a surge of confidence. "Nobodyís better at that than moi."
Xena pushed open the doors, quite happy to let Gabrielle go first. Each sighed in relief that nothing in the room had changed. They stood at the entrance a little awkwardly.
"Come in, come in. I wonít bite." Aphrodite felt guiltily pleased at her newfound sense of power. Especially over these particular mortals. She pointed to the couch across from her. "Take a load off."
Gabrielle walked over to the pink furniture indicated. She sank into it, the softness enveloping her like a royal bed. Xena eased down beside her on the magenta lounge as if it were a rigid prison cot.
"Xena, you could look a little less like this was a hanging, but I guess itíll do. Letís begin, shall we?" Aphrodite put on her spectacles, wiggled in her chair until she was comfortable and crossed her legs, swinging a daintily slippered foot.
"Contrary to what any respectable Goddess of Love wouldíve hoped, the two of you donít seem to have made the most of your opportunities for action in the Ö ëpersonalí Ö department."
The partners cut their eyes at each other.
"Not to worry, your secretís safe with me." Aphrodite chuckled. "To think Ares suffered fits of jealously all those years. Gotta love it." She cleared her throat and gazed at the ceiling.
"First it was obsession with Xenaís past. Lots of ëWhen will she see me for who I am? What if I get her killed?í Then came exhaustion from doing and recording good deeds, followed by obsession with Gabbyís turn at fame and torture." Aphrodite winked at Gabrielle. "Which apparently made her pretty attractive to an interesting array of suitors, despite a certain hulking presence at her side." Aphrodite paused while the warrior recovered from Gabrielleís punch to the arm. "Finally, Xena got to be a good soul when she died in Japa. Gabs, you got to do your own thing while Xena was a ghost. All the loose ends tied up in a neat little knot."
Aphrodite checked on her clients. They were now hunched forward, staring at her as if sheíd gone bald. "Howím I doiní so far?"
The two women exchanged glances.
"I suppose thatís not the worst interpretation."
"Yeah, hits the high points." Xena grimaced. "So to speak."
"Super. Xena, after Gabbyís little resurrection ritual, you woke up to find her checking out your goods."
Gabrielle turned red. She felt Xena stiffen. "Um, I believe I said I was making sure Xena was okay, that she had all her body parts and that -."
Aphroditeís eyes rolled. "My mistake. You were counting Warrior Babeís toes." She waved a dismissive hand. "The upshot is, the neat little knot started unraveling. All those years of pent-up need and desire. The hunger, the urge to -."
Xenaís clenched-teeth pronunciation of her name summoned the Love Goddess back from where sheíd drifted. "Sorry about that." She grinned. "Passion gets me every time."
"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle grasped Xenaís tensed arm. "Um, maybe you could cut down on the editorializing?"
"Exsqueeze me. I thought we were all adults here," Aphrodite huffed. "Fine. You realized how hot you were to know each other better as Ö friends. Good friends. Really, really - ."
"Considerate and close friends?"
Gabrielle glanced at Xena. "Thatíll work."
"Figures. Anywho, just as you were about to Ö become better friends, you got cold Ö um Ö something bummed ya out. You figured it was temporary, but it bugged you on the journey from Japa and the few months youíve been back in Greece."
The partners sighed. They nodded their bowed heads.
Aphrodite rubbed her hands together. "Yes!"
The bowed heads rose, revealing none-too-pleased expressions.
"Um Ö. I meant, yes, weíre finally getting somewhere?" The Love Goddess felt slightly encouraged by her clientsí pursed - but not snarling - lips. "Iím thinking we can zip past the old stuff. Doesnít seem related to -."
"What ëold stuff?í"
"Oh, you know," Aphrodite said airily. "Like Xenaís - whatíd you call it?" She grinned at Gabrielle. "Oh, yeah - her ëpropensity for self-destructiveness.í"
"Aphrodite?!" Gabrielle exclaimed hastily at Xenaís strangled incredulity. "Thatís quite an oversimplification of -."
"And Gabrielle? Seems youíve got to work on your tendency for self-sacrifice. Especially for ëany old demon or wacko who comes along.í"
"Hey!" Xena grimaced at Gabrielleís outraged gasp. "Donít go making mountains out of a couple comments about -."
"Girls! Chill, will ya?" Aphrodite tossed her hair impatiently. "Ya got an eternity to chat about those issues, okay? Focus! You wanna fix your current little nighty-night problem or not?"
The "girls" scowled at each other a moment before pointedly returning their attention to Aphrodite.
"This better be good."
"Or better than what youíve revealed so far," Gabrielle added, sliding her eyes at her partner.
"No need to get testy. I donít work as well in a negative atmosphere." Aphrodite waited while pursed lips evolved into grudgingly patient thin smiles. "Good girls. Now, as I was saying, I believe we should return to the day Gabs was doing her Ö examination Ö of certain warrior body parts. Sweet Pea, why donít you lie back against one end of the couch. Xena, you do the same at the other." She mock whispered, "Itís not against the rules if your bodies happen to touch."
Gabrielle gave the other women a look but did as instructed. Xena watched with raised brow. She scooted to the other end, lifted Gabrielleís legs and slid her own underneath. She lay back and folded her arms over her chest, drumming her fingers against her sides.
A long exhalation of breath and a low growl came in response.
"Fab. Okay, so Ö Gabby, you woke Xena up, yadda yadda. She gets this look like she wants to devour you. Youíre more than ready to feed the old warrior hunger. Suddenly things go sour. You figure Xenaís lost her appetite for some reason. Every time you try later on, same thing happens. Right?"
Gabrielle bit her lip and nodded.
"Howíd you feel about that?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Iíd done so much to get her back," she began softly. "When she was, all she wanted was Ö me. As she looked at me, I saw something change." A tear formed at the corner of a closed eye. "Whatever she needed, she didnít seem to see it in me anymore. I felt Ö helpless Ö. Insufficient Ö in a way I hadnít with her before."
"Gabrielle Ö." Xena leaned toward her partner as if to comfort her.
"Down, Tiger." Aphrodite waited for Xenaís reluctant attention. "Iím workiní here. Gabbyís fine. Now, assume the position so we can get this over with." She gave her glowering client her sternest look.
Xena glanced at Gabrielle, who now lay propped on her elbows, watching the interaction with some concern. "You okay?"
Gabrielle nodded. "You?"
Xena nodded with a sigh. She shot a look at Aphrodite, then lay back.
"Okay then. Xena, describe your inner workings when you found Gabs checkiní ya out."
The warrior gritted her teeth. Having her head chopped off had been less painful than this. "What was not to like? Five years of nothing in the physical department, suddenly Iím feeling little touches all over me. Gabrielleís wrong. I did want her. More than anything. I thought she wanted me too Ö," she said, her voice trailing off.
"Uh huh. Go on."
"The need in her eyes changed. It was like Iíd become a ghost again." Xenaís lids clenched shut. "Worse. I was back, but maybe Iíd left behind the part that made me Ö me. Itís like Gabrielle said. I felt helpless. Insufficient." She spoke the last word as if it were a curse.
"Xena, what are you talking about?" Gabrielle sat up. "You were a little weak at first. Except for missing old wounds, you were as strong and complete as ever. Certainly as stubborn. Iíd journeyed across the world, fought Saburu to get you back. Surely you couldnít think you were insufficient in my eyes?"
Xena raised up to face her partner. "Thatís just it, Gabrielle. I did know all youíd gone through. I watched you overcome your grief and build a new life. I saw strength and determination, courage and skills - more than Iíd ever dreamed. Helpless? Insufficient? No, I saw the opposite when I looked at you."
Xena lowered her head. "I guess Iíd gotten used to being the protector," she continued quietly, "even when I knew you didnít need that. I loved that you believed I could do the impossible. Now youíd done it yourself. How could you not see me as less than before?"
"Less?!" Gabrielle stared at Xena in disbelief. "Xena, I survived five years without your touch. Five years wondering if Iíd ever feel your breath on my skin again. Forcing myself to store that desire away in my treasure chest of memories, to be grateful for what I had. " She gazed into the distance.
"When I saw you lying there - whole, in the flesh Ö. Every finger, every toe, every strand of hair became as precious to me as life itself. Itíd been so long, everything about you seemed new. I had to feel all of you to make sure it was real. Finally I could unlock my desire. My need for the physical you was so overpowering Ö."
Gabrielle turned back to Xena, regarding the warrior as if for the first time. "I didnít want you to break," she acknowledged as comprehension dawned. "It sounds ridiculous, but it hit me how fragile you were. Not so much as a person, but as the appearance of a dream come true. I feared if I handled you too much or wrong Ö." She swallowed. "Itís been hard getting that out of my thoughts."
Aphrodite had been listening intently with her hands steepled beneath her chin. "Can you now? Can you see her again as the hard-as-nails, butt-kicking, high and mighty .Ö" She cleared her throat. "Um, as the Xena who ainít goiní nowhere unless she wants?"
Gabrielle smiled. "These last few days have helped. And now I know why Xena looked at me as she did. She was afraid too."
"Xena? What about you? You still worried Gabbyís not the mushball idealist who needs a big, ferocious guard dog at her side?"
The warrior cut her eyes at the Love Goddess, but decided to let the unflattering characterizations pass. She smiled at Gabrielle. "I see someone stronger than anybody I know, who loves me enough to keep me around no matter what shape Iím in."
"Ah." Aphrodite sat back and inhaled a deep, self-satisfied breath. She removed her spectacles. "Ladies, it seems my work is done. Itís up to you now." She yawned and stretched. "Run along for now. I need a few minutes to prepare for your next session together."
PART 3 (Conclusion)
Gabrielle poked her head inside. It was fairly dark. Shadowy outlines of heavy furniture spread ominously across the floor in the flickering glow of strategically placed candles. Except for a large, horizontal wooden platform in the center. It had its own light from above, glinting off the chains and fur-covered metal cuffs at both ends. Strange long-handled objects peeked from beneath the purple satin draped across. She snorted softly, giving Xena a knowing smirk as the warrior pushed in.
"What?" Xena glanced around the sunny room, overstuffed with posh pastels and every luxury known to woman. A steaming tub bubbled aromatically in one corner. She chuckled, pointing at the comparatively austere double-sized chaise lounge in the middle. "Not intimate enough for ya? Iím not exactly a little girl, you know. I gotta have some special accommodations."
"No, no." Gabrielle shivered a little at the wooden contraption. "Whatever Ö accommodations Ö get you in the mood."
"Riiiiight." Grinning, Xena put her arm around her partnerís waist. "Long as youíre happy, Iím happy."
"Riiiiight." Gabrielle bumped her head against the warriorís shoulder. "Same here."
The two stood studying what each figured Aphrodite had conjured up to please the other.
"How about there?" Xena suggested, pointing her chin toward the lounge.
"Um, so soon?" Gabrielle gestured toward the chains and manacles. "Shouldnít we Ö you know Ö maybe talk a little first?"
"Uh, well, sure, if thatís Ö."
"No, itís okay." Gabrielle grabbed Xenaís hand and began moving toward the platform. "Iím sorry. I just wasnít sure what youíd want -."
"I have what I want." Xena tugged Gabrielle back. "Nothing else matters," she said, pulling her partner into a long embrace. "Tell the truth, I wasnít in any hurry either. We can sit, talk, snuggle, just be together - you know, like we used to. Do whatever feels right. Okay?" She pushed apart and began leading Gabrielle to the lounge.
"Xena?" Gabrielle resisted a bit. "Could we find someplace a little more Ö comfortable?"
"More comfortable?" Puzzled, Xena surveyed the room for a suitable alternative. "You mean, like the hot tub?"
"Hot tub?!" Gabrielle squinted in the direction Xena seemed to be looking. "What hot tub?"
"Whaddaya mean, ëWhat hot tub?í The one in the corner there, bubbling like Mt. Vesuvius and smelling like a flower garden."
Gabrielleís mouth dropped. Her eyes widened. A grin slowly formed. "What else do you see?"
"What?" Xena fought to keep her patience from fraying. "Gabrielle -."
"Like there." Gabrielle pointed at the wooden structure. "What do you see there? Címon, humor me."
The warrior sighed. She crossed her arms. "I see the one thing in the room worth Aphroditeís misplaced trouble - a nice big couch."
Gabrielle giggled. The more Xena scowled, the more Gabrielle giggled. The warrior stared at her soulmate a few moments, before stalking to the lounge. She sat, crossed her legs and waited like someone watching an egg whose origins were unknown.
"You know, Iím gettiní kinda sorry now that I donít see chains and gags."
Gabrielle almost choked. She bent over hugging her sides, doing everything in her power to keep from falling down and rolling on the floor. Finally she regained some semblance of control. She straightened and wiped the tears from her face. "Whew!"
She looked toward Xena apologetically. Rubbed her eyes again. Xena was there all right. But on a large pink couch, in a setting pretty much like Gabrielleís session earlier. She walked over to sit beside Xena. "So this is what you wanted?" she asked, sweeping her hand across the room.
Xena eyed her soulmate. "I thought it would be what you wanted. Evidently itís not." She cocked her head. "So what is?"
"Um, what I thought you wanted."
"And that would be?"
The warrior raised a brow. "What about here?" She patted the lounge. "What do you see?"
"A big pink couch?"
Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. "What about when we first came in?"
"Details, Xena. Nothing but details, like you said." Gabrielle put her arm through the warriorís. "Whatís important is that we were ready to do whatever pleased each other before we even got in here. That weíre on the same scroll now, so to speak. Anxious to write the next verse. Together." She batted her eyes. "Donít you think?"
Xena gazed wryly at her partner. The woman really was good. She shook her head in gracious defeat. "Sure."
"Why donít we follow our counselorís advice - lie back and get comfy?"
In response, Xena gathered Gabrielleís legs and deposited them on the lounge. Gabrielle scooted over so the warrior could recline as well. They lay on their sides facing each other, wordlessly enjoying the company. After awhile, Gabrielle grasped Xenaís hand, bringing it to her nose. She closed her eyes and inhaled. Tasted the palm. Kissed the hand, then lay it down.
Xena rested quietly with her eyes closed, as she had a few months ago after getting her body back. Gabrielle certainly deserved some personal time to savor the fruits of her labor. Once again Xena felt gentle tugs on her hair, circles traced around her eyes, a delicate brush against her lips. She of such enduring strength and toughness suddenly knew kinship with the most delicate and rare of Grecian urns.
"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle stroked away a tear that appeared on her soulmateís cheek. "Something wrong?"
The warrior shook her head. She swallowed. "I Ö deserve Ö this."
Gabrielleís hand stilled. She studied Xenaís face - pleasantly surprised by the warriorís statement, but not sure how to take the strangely matter-of-fact wonder of its delivery. "Yes, you do."
Xena opened her eyes. She covered the hand resting on her cheek. "I Ö Iím not sure you understand."
The warrior struggled for the words to explain. "You know Iíve always had faith in you."
"In Japa, I trusted you to do the impossible, if thatís what it took to bring me back. I trusted youíd let me go, when I needed that instead. And you did." Xena blinked back more tears. "Do you know how much love that took?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Xena, I never doubted -."
"No, not mine Ö." Xena smiled. "Well, yes, but I meant you - how much you mustíve loved me to do that. And Ö." She gazed at Gabrielle as though sheíd discovered something priceless. "And I never questioned it. Never questioned whether I was Ö worthy. I accepted it for itself. A gift that just Ö was. You know?"
Gabrielle beamed as though having discovered something equally priceless. She knew what an enormous shift this was for someone who once judged herself undeserving of even the smallest kindness. She also guessed it was less about a change in Xenaís self-image, than about the power of the warriorís love for her soulmate.
"Yes, I do." Gabrielle snuggled closer. "And I think itís time we explored just how much we deserve each other."
The two rested a breath away from one another, immersed in each otherís eyes. Waiting. And waiting.
"You still afraid you might ëbreakí me?"
"Uh uh. You still afraid you can be broken?"
"Well, somebody hereís got to make the first move. I figured itíd be the one with ëmany skills.í Not to mention eons of experience. And a greater variety of practice partners. Many, many more -."
"I get the point," Xena said, tweaking Gabrielleís nose. "Thing is," she continued with a mischievous glint in her eyes, "Iím about five years behind. Not much need for ghosts to think about anything physical. I got the feeling from our therapy session, maybe you considered that enough for the both of us." She smirked knowingly. "Something, perhaps, more Ö creative Ö than my deprived brain?"
"Oh really." Gabrielle shook her head in appreciation for her reputedly insensitive soulmateís uncanny and oft-underestimated intuition She rubbed her chin. "Hmmm. I suppose a few ideas may have occurred to me." She smirked. "Imagination is one of my many skills." She raised up, to better assess what was available for her to work with. Her mouth dropped.
"What do you see?"
"No, look around. Tell me what you see."
Xena rolled to her back. She blinked. A full moon shimmered in the late afternoon sky. Tree limbs swayed overhead. She and Gabrielle lay not on Aphroditeís couch, but on their bedrolls.
"Huh. Looks like our camp. Or at least a darned good representation of it."
"Uh huh, thatís what I see too." Gabrielle got up and walked toward their pushcart.
Xena propped up on her elbows. "Where ya goiní?"
"To get some things. Lie back. Relax. Iíll join you in a minute."
Xena shrugged and did as instructed. Her brow creased when she heard cloth ripping. "Donít take too long. I think my bodyís prepped to make up for those lost years." She closed her eyes, fantasizing about a resumed gentle exploration of warrior body parts. She smiled as the desired explorer finally knelt next to her.
"In case you forgot, you left off with my -." Xenaís eyes shot open when she felt her arms tugged above her head. Gabrielle had several long pieces of cloth tied together and a couple of ropes. "What the Ö?"
"Shhh. You wanted creativity, right? Be still!" Gabrielle bound Xenaís wrists.
"Um Ö Gabrielle?" Xena tilted her head back, following Gabrielleís path to some bushes nearby, where she began tying the ropes. "I thought you wanted to Ö. Shouldnít we Ö you know Ö talk about this first?"
Gabrielle finished securing the ropes. Tongue between her teeth, she moved to tether Xenaís ankles. "Whatís to talk about? We agree I earned every inch of you. Like you said, itís been five loooong, dry, uncreative years."
"Listen, I appreciate where youíre cominí from." Xena grinned, secretly testing the bonds on her wrists. "Well, maybe with a slight change in positions Ö."
"Tight enough?" Gabrielle smirked at the warriorís futile efforts. "Look at it this way - you wonít have to worry anymore about your ëtougher-than-my-leathersí reputation, `cause Iíll make sure you take everything cominí to ya like the woman I know you are."
Xena gaped at her partner, wondering if maybe Aphrodite had cast some spell after all. Things were progressing much quicker - and somewhat differently - than sheíd envisioned. Being the Warrior Princess, she of course would be ready for anything. What if Gabrielle felt disappointed or weird after Ö after whatever it was she had in mind? Sure, sheíd gotten used to running that village sheíd started, taking charge as a commander in her own right. But that was with other people. More pliable, less Ö in control Ö people.
"Enough talk." Gabrielle patted one of the larger womanís spread legs, which now stretched taut between two trees.
"But -." Xenaís input on the subject got stifled by a piece of cloth stuffed in her mouth.
"You recovering ghosts seem to need a special form of therapy."
Gabrielle took out a knife and flicked the blade. "The kind that gets the juices going for a ëself-sacrificing mushballí warrior like me." She slowly cut a slit in Xenaís tunic from the top to the waist. "And perhaps for a ëself-destructive guard dogí warrior such as yourself." She picked up a big feather sheíd brought over, fanning it slowly in front of a pair of bulging eyes before resting it at the base of a vulnerable throat. "Five yearsí worth. Enough to make a body sing."
The feather began an excruciatingly languorous, hair-raisingly torturous light dance across the flesh exposed beneath it.
"Oooommmm ... Gbbrllll Ö."
"Good point. How will we know if this diagnosis is correct? When I hear my love scream, ëYesss!í"
Aphrodite arranged the folds of fabric around her legs. She reclined, more pleased with herself than she could remember. Well Ö except maybe for that time sheíd gotten mushy over the little girl whoíd run away from her stepmother. Alecia. Cute little thing. Managed to teach the Goddess of Love a lesson about the upside of paying more attention to somebody elseís needs for a change. Aphrodite grinned sheepishly, recalling that Gabrielle had played a role in that. Her lips puckered. "Yeah, yeah, and Xena too."
She grudgingly admitted she probably owed the insufferable warrior a lot, more than the other way around. If not for Xena, she might never have gotten her powers back after Caligula sucked her dry. Thatís when the world discovered just how much it needed her. She frowned. In reality, no one seemed to notice her absence. Except Xena. "Huh," she said softly, briefly reflecting on the irony. Xena couldíve restored Ares, yet dissed the Goddess of Love per usual. She grinned. "Maybe she needed me for balance too."
Sighing contentedly, Aphrodite revisited how it had felt becoming herself again, watching the love return between Gabrielle and Xena. "Shoulda been my finest hour." She snorted wryly. Yes, sheíd provided a few heart-shaped pyrotechnics, but she knew her friends wouldíve somehow managed to see each otherís hearts without her. Still, she happily gave herself credit for her bit in supporting their togetherness then, as she had now. Sheíd allowed them their privacy, invisibly lingering around long enough to confirm that sheíd repaid her debt in terms of restoring their confidence in the "personal" department.
"Heh. And here I thought it was the Little One with PG-13 imagination." Aphrodite chuckled at the scenarios her friends had envisioned for their joint session. True, she herself had conjured up the two very different settings, but the other way around. Typical, for them to focus more on what the other might want and be willing to go there. But all three of them had been wrong. What her friends had actually wanted was simply each other, in the free, natural and open environment that mirrored what made their love immortal. She knew that, because where they ended up had been entirely of their own making. And real.
"Well," she concluded, stretching lazily, "we all have our gifts. Mine is their belief in me. Theirs is the sizzle and bright lights, the Ö oooo, the Ö." She brought her fists together and pressed them against her chest. "The oomph they can get only from a special specialty god like me. Maybe now Ö."
She surveyed her lonely, well-appointed abode - an oasis that might as well not exist without the multitudes of mortals stopping by for sustenance. She sighed. "Two believers. Not exactly rippiní enough to Ö." Suddenly her face began to glow.
"What am I saying? I donít need any more clients. Gabby and Xenaíll keep me in business for eternity!" Aphrodite embraced herself in ecstasy. "La Doctor of Love is in! Yesss!"