Always Part 19
Varia looks back. Just once and then, she keep running. Whatever is left of this ragtag band of warriors’ staggers along, the smoke and blood clinging to them. But the words of Artemis echo in her mind, tearing her apart.
If I run, what kind of Amazon am I? And if I disobey my goddess, what kind of Amazon am I?
She decides this must be the ultimate example of 'rock and a hard place'.
It is only the waves of sadness mixed with relief pouring off of the others that keeps Varia on the path from Athens and destruction.
The young men walking slowly with hollow eyes, probably wondering if they will ever get over this night.
Or the few Amazons left, missing fellow sisters and their homes.
And Varia, seemingly given the mantle of queen. The queen of the Amazons...
Without a nation, without a camp... Oh Artemis, will you even be here to guide us after this night passes?
A strong hand grips Varia arm and she turns to find her sister in arms, Anteris, standing there.
"We should rest. Right?" The woman questions and all eyes turn to Varia, waiting for more commands.
"Right." Varia says quietly.
Bodies settle down, weary and thirsty. Varia tries to gather her wits, to find a source of water and keep a watch out. She asks Anteris to take to the trees. She posts guards to the edge of them.
And then Varia walks off, listening and smelling the air, catching the faint scent of a stream to her far left.
She walks and walks, letting her mind wander. It is not the smart thing to do in battle... But the battle is over now, isn't it? I've been sent away to be queen and let Artemis... and Xena solve this problem.
Varia shoves this issue away, finding that it leaves a bad taste in her mouth.
When she does find the stream, calm and tranquil amongst all this death, Varia sits down. She stares into the nighttime and listens to the quiet rush of water.
Artemis, I will do all I can. But I am full of sorrow. Sorrow at all this loss and at all this blood... I have all I wanted now, but I wish... I wish I could just give it back to Gabrielle. Not to avoid, but so that she would be alive and here and... What will you do? What will happen to Xena? To Gabrielle? And what of the Amazons? I have so many questions and no answers seem to come. And I am tired, for the first time ever. Tired of fighting and losing. It is not very Amazon of me, but I...
"I am lost." Varia whispers, letting the words slip out along with held back tears. And she cries. She continues to sob, crumpling to the ground.
And Anteris picks up this sound in the wind, turning her face away in silent grief for a sister.
And the others stand still, watching the woods with guarded eyes and they, too, wonder at their fates as Athens burns to ash.
Artemis watches as the arrow sails forth, knowing this will kill someone she loves and only set free someone she used to love. Her father was not always like this, a tyrant among the living. He used to bestow such love upon humans and his children. But, somewhere along the way, Zeus favored himself over all.
And that selfishness brought him here, to Athens, in another's body...
But, then again, Artemis knows her own selfishness concerning the Amazons brought her back.
It is the mortals who get caught in the middle.
She can hear Varia's weeping and her confused thoughts. She can hear the labored breathing of other sisters. She can hear the beating heart within Gabrielle's body, threatening to crumble and set Zeus free.
It is not what I wanted, not how I wanted things to go. He'll just take another form soon enough and I will have to fight him again.
Zeus watches the fine tip draw closer, settled in the notion that this Gabrielle must die. He is a little surprised at his daughter and her course of action. We are more alike than you'd like to believe, Artemis.
Both willing to sacrifice others for our own agenda. Both willing to take over others in order to win.
He turns an eye to the sad display going on inside this flesh-and-bone cage, to the two souls holding tight to one another. Love. It only hurts and wounds. Why wouldn't any of you listen to me? Try to understand what I was offering?
He can hear the choked sound of Xena's words and the barest whisper of Gabrielle's replies. He can hear the sound of fire and wind and the cut of this arrow through the air. It is the sound of a setback, but not of failure.
This time, I won't fail. This time... it is all mine.
Xena notices the little things first, like always. Like the way light catches in Gabrielle's hair, making it glow.
Like the pale face, soft and smooth, slowly turning to the right... slowly turning away.
Like the flutter of fingertips against Xena's palm, warm wings of the most beautiful butterfly.
"Please. Wait for me. I beg you, wait for me." Xena says, her voice echoing inside this endless moment.
And those eyes are on the warrior, opening wide. The lips form the most wonderful smile, causing Xena to smile in return.
That is what Gabrielle promises, even as her hand falls away and her eyes close. Xena sits there, unable to move as the clothing soaks to a deep red and the shaft of an arrow materializes in Gabrielle's chest.
Xena leans down, ignorant of the river of tears down her own face, and places a kiss to those quiet lips, that silent mouth.
"Always, Gabrielle. You wait for me and I'll be with you soon. I promise." Xena whispers against those lips before rising upward, feeling a surge of energy like no other in this world, in this universe.
Artemis be damned. Amazons be damned. Zeus, I know you can hear me. Know that I am the end of you.
And her soul reaches out, pulling at everything she can grab, everything spiritual and intangible and mysterious. No Eli, no angels or demons, no goddess with her bow... Xena tugs her way back to her own form, pushing Artemis out and rushing the darkness of Zeus as he rises from the fallen body of Gabrielle.
You think you can win now? I am the one who is winning, Xena! Zeus shouts into her mind.
But she has him, whether he wants to believe it or not. Xena finds her hands wrapped about Zeus, the black mist of him swirling around in anger.
"I've got you. And you are going to die. For good." The warrior princess growls.
Xena then looks to Artemis and her wavering spirit form, blue eyes narrowing at the goddess.
"Remember what you said, Artemis. Take her to the Amazon land of the dead and then carry me over. It all ends tonight."
After an age it seems, the last of Zeus protectors fall. Their bodies line the stone floor, bleeding and charred. Ares surveys the damage and then looks to his sister.
"Why didn't I ever know about this kind of power?" He questions.
Aphrodite blows a strand of blonde hair out of her face.
"You didn't need to know." She smiles and starts to step around fallen men.
"You'd be great in a war, you know..." Ares says behind her.
"That's for you, bro. I am here to bring about love." Aphrodite turns and grabs his arm, tugging him along like a toy doll.
At least, most of the time... She thinks inwardly with a grin. It is that moment when a cold jolt runs through her skin, forming a knot in her stomach. No... Oh no, not this...
Ares stumbles into her back and is about to chastise the woman when he catches a look at her face.
"What?" Ares asks.
"It's too late. She's... dead."
And then Ares watches a single tear cut a path upon her face. And he does not need to ask who that solitary tear is for. The god of war finds his first thought, as usual, turn to Xena.
Whether I'd like to admit it or not, Gabrielle's death is probably not going down well for the warrior princess.
He reaches out to sense the woman like always, but finds... nothing.
"I can't find her." Ares states.
Aphrodite looks at her brother, not needing an explanation from him. She has dreaded this moment, not wanting to cause her brother pain. Even the god of war can feel loss, can feel love.
"I'm sorry." Aphrodite say quietly.
Ares quirks an eyebrow. "Shouldn't I be saying that to you or something?"
"Ares, Xena is also dead."
He chuckles for a moment. "Sure. And her dead body just happens to be able to walk and talk, eh?"
"I wish I could explain it all, but Artemis brought her back from the dead to fight our father. She died away from here, away from Greece and you... I knew it when Gabrielle came back."
Ares looks at his sister then, something in him coming to an abrupt halt.
"I would have known." Ares grinds out, his energy rolling off in waves and pulsing about the temple.
I thought you would have, too. Aphrodite thinks sadly, placing her hand upon his shoulder.
"I would have felt it. She is my chosen... Why didn't I know?" Ares finally asks, his eyes clouding over and Aphrodite pulls him close, hugging her brother for endless minutes.
"I don't know." Aphrodite murmurs, feeling her own sorrows flow out of her and join with her brother’s pain.
Gabrielle, I'm sorry I didn't make it in time. I'm going to miss you, sweet pea. Out of all these mortals, you were the only one I... well, I don't need to tell you. I think you knew. I think you knew just how much I cherished your friendship and caring. I think you always knew that I loved you more than anyone else.
Ares, for the first time, let’s all his thoughts ebb out of his steel-trap mind. And he lets himself feel, to really feel those hidden emotions. Xena, you damned woman. You know I loved you like no other and I let you go, I let you wander off with that blonde and now... You'll never know just how much I... well, maybe I am wrong. Maybe you always knew. And you know what, I hope you did. I hope you knew that the God of War loved you, but Ares... me... I loved you more.
They both pull apart, un-shed tears apparent in Ares eyes. Aphrodite kisses his cheek.
"We have a job to finish." He states softly.
"Yes. We do." She replies.
And they both hurry, deeper into the temple, toward the barely-lit candles and the dusty altar. And there, in full view, is the soul of Zeus.
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