Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle were the creations of the writers of Xena Warrior Princess. They are now apparently owned by Studios USA. I have borrowed them for a bit of fanfiction. I wish to thank Lena, who wrote, "Aphrodite's Got a Secret" for a little idea I stole. The Poem is by Wishes, and used by permission.. I wish to also thank Inga for being an outstanding Beta reader. And also Storm the Ancient Amazon and Oiusel for research help.
ALL materials belonging to the respective authors are copyrighted.
The circle is perfect,
like a story of the universe,
sacred before we thought of gods,
beyond our skills to duplicate
except in thought,
leading nowhere and everywhere,
the one path
to recognition of our souls,
a meditation on the eternal,
on nature's cycles, and
on partings and reunions,
symbol of the creative
and the feminine in all.
Perfect is the circle.
Time and place merged and stopped. Gabrielle's world centered on one horrible image--Xena crumpled on the ground, soaked in blood and unmoving. Instead of turning her anger on the men fighting her, she dropped her sais on the ground. The pounding of their fists forgot to hurt. Nothing could even come close to the pain in her heart.
She could hear her own heart still beating, a wild drumbeat, drowning out the battle sounds around her. And like swirling water, they moved around her, and were off down the dusty road. She was left alone with Xena.
Gabrielle didn't know why she knew, but Xena was really and finally dead this time. Her nine lives were up. Gabrielle felt too defeated to handle her body much. She just made the funeral pyre, placed her love's body on it, and started the fire. Memories of every pyre, from Marcus and Perdicus to Ephiny rushed through her mind. The smell of burning flesh added to her misery. She let go of her iron self-control and cried for Xena, for herself and for the world without a hero.
Through the salty taste, blurred vision and mental haze, Gabrielle could make out a familiar form across the flames from her. She stared--half in shock, half grateful. It was Aphrodite. The Goddess of love had been a friend for many years, and somehow it felt just right that she was here. Aphrodite wrapped her arms around Gabrielle to comfort her. After all, the Goddess was one of too few of their old friends still left alive.
"I'm so sorry, Gabby. You cry all you want to. I'm here, and I'm not leaving any time soon," said Aphrodite.
"Thank you for being here. I've never been so alone before. I don't know what to do now", said Gabrielle.
Aphrodite patted the bard's back and gave her a little hug, then wiped Gabrielle's eyes with the tip of her pink gown.
"Well, you could come home."
Gabrielle did a mental double take. Yes, they were not in Greece, but there was something else beneath the statement.
"Home. You mean to Greece?" asked Gabrielle.
Aphrodite looked Gabrielle directly in the eyes. She slowly shook her head.
"No, baby, I mean home. It's time." And Aphrodite took Gabrielle's hand. They disappeared together, and reappeared in a beautiful marble room with gold furniture. On a golden table was a cornucopia and some ambrosia. Gabrielle felt as if she was too close to a lightning storm. She turned to face the goddess.
"What are you talking about? Where are we?"
"You wanted to do this all on your own. We agreed that you could until it was the right time to end it all..." started Aphrodite.
"Did you think I wanted to kill myself? No, no...you misunderstood me."
Aphrodite frowned, and her eyes rolled heavenward. "Kids", she muttered. "You wanted to be born a mortal on earth with regular parents. You said you wanted the whole mortal experience. And you asked to have no memory of your life here."
Gabrielle rocked back on her heels. This was making no sense. She was a girl from Potadia, a wide spot in the road. Her mother and father were dead. She had a sister named Lila.
Aphrodite aported a goblet full of something and handed it to Gabrielle. Gabrielle drank. It was sweet and cleared her head some. She stared at the goddess, wondering which of them had gone insane. Aphrodite took a big breath, and started again.
"Did you ever feel as it you were like the other kids? Weren't you always a little smarter, and little more curious than they were?"
Gabrielle nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She remembered only too well how stifled she had felt growing up. Xena had opened so many doors for her. Not to mention her heart.
"Didn't you always suspect that maybe they weren't your real parents?"
"But the midwife was there when I was born, and Grandma too."
Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "Yes, that was your idea, to make it all seem real. And I tell you, it really frustrated me. I hated the whole idea. The trouble is, my little bard, you could persuade Dionysus to give up wine. I caved--against my better judgement, mind you."
Gabrielle concentrated. There was something familiar about the story, like an old legend she might have heard only once in her childhood. Her eyes took in Aphrodite's face. There was a hungry look on the lovely features. Gabrielle looked deeper, she pulled so close to THE TRUTH, that she nearly fell over backpedaling from it.
"Who am I?"
"You're mine. I mean, I'm your mother. And I've missed you so much."
When Gabrielle came to, Aphrodite was fanning her with a huge, white feather fan. She was handed the goblet to drink from again, and she emptied it in a single gulp. Next to Aphrodite stood Cupid, looking concerned.
"Hi, little sis', he said.
Gabrielle thought about all the times she had been around these two over the years. Add in Ares and Bliss, and it was a family she saw fairly often. She winced as two memories hit her like fists in her gut.
"If I'm your daughter, why did you ever let me help Xena kill my family? The thought makes me sick now. I pushed her so hard to follow Eli's god. I wanted so much for his vision of the world to be true, and I really should have tried harder to stop...everything. It was awful."
Cupid took her hand, holding it a bit awkwardly. His eyes were sad.
"Xena was used by a foreign god in a power play. Our family scared themselves into attacking her and her baby. It they had left them alone, they'd still be here. That's what we did, and Psyche, Bliss and I are still here. Lots of us are--though we had to tie Uncle Apollo up to get him out of here while we hid out." A tiny grin leaked out and Gabrielle found herself smiling at the mental image of a trussed up Apollo being carted off to safety. The smile fell immediately. Here she was in the lap of luxury, surrounded by family who obviously loved her, and Xena was gone. The world needed a hero. It should have happened the other way around.
"Poor Hephie. I asked him not to fight, but he was so loyal." and Aphrodite wiped away a tear. "But I have my baby back with me. Both my babies." And she enveloped her two children in a hug.
The mists clung to the heavy forest. The water lapped the rocky shores, and muted bird sounds could be heard in the background. The hill fort opened into a huge cave, with crystal walls and lit in ways no human knew. Oak furniture filled the great hall, and an anteroom held a narrow bed with a single occupant. Hovering over the bed, the anxious form of a lovely woman looked down at a sleeping Xena. Creiddylad had a bubbling cauldron filled with potions on the fire. She placed a cup of the medicine under Xena's nose. The said nose wrinkled in distaste. And the bluest eyes in the known world opened.
"Finally", said Creiddylad. "'Twas touch and go for a second there. I was afraid I'd have to dip you into the cauldron itself."
Xena's whole body hurt, so she knew she was alive. She also knew it wasn't possible after that last battle. Must be some Goddess or other wanting something, She put on her poker face and waited.
"Brigantia. Can you speak yet?" asked Creiddylad.
"Who? You must have mistaken me for someone else. My name is Xena." Then she folded her arms across her chest. She tried staring the strange Goddess down, but those eyes held their own.
"Ah, stubborn as yer father, you are."
Xena failed to hide her surprise.
"You knew my father?" she asked.
"Yes. He's off now. It's Fall, and he's leading the hunt."
Xena affected a yawn. She was kind of interested. She's always suspected Ares might just be...She mentally shook her head to get the thought out. "Atreus was my father.""Anyone but Ares--the jerk," she thought. And another thought added itself, "This sure ain't Olympus." "So, it's normal for mere humans to be able to leap 2 leagues from a tree limb to a ship?""Shut up!" Her internal dialog was driving her crazy. She brooded for a full minute. "Ares' lust always made me a little nervous" "If you ask her, you'll owe her something. Keep your mouth shut." She argued with herself again. She opened her mouth, closed it again, and let her mind wander to Gabrielle. Just thinking of her made Xena smile.
The words were out of her mouth before she noticed she had spoken. "Where's Gabrielle?"
Creiddylad. looked concerned. She learned toward Xena, her eyes serious. "She's with her mother."
Xena shivered. She knew all too well where Hecuba was. The very idea of Gabrielle lying dead on some battlefield while Xena recuperated in this nice cave made bile rise into Xena's throat.
"She's dead, and I'm getting well. It's not fair. I'd rather things had turned out the other way." and Xena turned her back to Creiddylad.. The goddess' hand reached for Xena's shoulder, hovered above it, and returned to her lap. She sighed.
"Backward, you have it. You were the one who died. Your friend is alive," said the Goddess.
Xena faced her--furious. "That's crazy! Her mother died years ago. She was murdered by Gurkan. How can you say she's alive and with her mother?"
Creiddylad. laughed. "The mother is one you knew. Very much alike, they are, and part of you knew. Look inside your heart. You know her mother. She even looks like her."
Xena wanted to slap the goddess. She bit her lip, and concentrated. Her formidable ability to let reason rule her emotions allowed her to compare Hecuba with Gabrielle. Hecuba was small boned where Gabrielle was robust. Hecuba had a narrow face, long nose, and didn't really look that much like Gabrielle. Xena had always assumed Gabrielle looked more like Herodotus. But, come to think of it, that was Lila--who didn't resemble Gabrielle at all.
A persistent little imp of thought danced at the side of her mind. It was a memory of Gabrielle and Aphrodite disguised as twins--naw. Not possible. Xena made a mental image of a huge hand knocking the said imp off its feet. It jumped up and made a face at her.
"Aphrodite? Does that mean she's half Goddess?" And Xena remembered that the Bard spoke every language in every place they had visited within days. She thought how Gabrielle had learned the staff within weeks, and the sais within hours. A chilling idea settled in her brain.
"I killed her family."
"You accused her of falling for every religious charlatan she met. You accepted Eli's god and his gift without question. Why?"
Xena shifted in the bed, uncomfortable in the Goddess' gaze. Why? She was sick of the gods and their demands, their tricks, their selfishness. And she was still upset with what Dahak had done to Solon through Gabrielle's daughter. Suddenly, a horrifying idea took hold of her, and wouldn't let go. If Gabrielle was Aphrodite's daughter, Hope might have had a chance..."NO, NO, NO!!!" thought Xena. "She was a killer from the beginning." And she saw herself mount a horse of a different color, and take her whip. It wrapped around her love's legs and she dragged Gabrielle a league. Every bump sent a bolt of regret through her body. And she was the one who had forced the child from her mother's arms. Was it possible that Gabrielle could have helped Hope?
Xena started to drown in to immensity of the idea. She reached her arms up, trying to find something solid, and grasped the Goddess' hand. Xena took a deep breath, and was caught up in a sudden vision of herself placing a sword in a stone. It was the same one she had so casually pulled out of the stone to admire in Britannia. She was wearing a long tunic the color of saffron in the vision. Now, what did that mean?
Blue eyes bore into brown. The goddess' eyes had fire inside, like orange flames and the hearth on a cold day. Xena had to look away. She could feel Creiddylad's power. This was no Athena. There was little familiar about this Goddess."Liar," said her conscience. She considered sulking for a while, but knew it wouldn't work with this one any better than it did with Gabrielle. And Xena punched her pillow with her fist. She needed Gabrielle beside her. Xena felt like half a woman.
Gabrielle lounged in the comfy cushions in her mother's house. She was bored. And her heart ached to be with Xena. Dead Xena. Gabrielle pushed her pain and memories of Xena into the little dungeon near her heart. She mentally locked the door, and shut down that part of her. She was alone and having to adjust to her new family. She shut her eyes when that persistent little voice that sounded like Hope, whispered in her ear. "I had a chance, Mother. I could have been more like you. Why couldn't you love me?" Then memories of the trail of the dead in Hope's wake reminded her that maybe Xena had been right. Gabrielle was hit with the sudden insight that she really needed to punch something, figuratively if not literally. Opportunity knocked in the form of Ares.
He actually looked a bit embarrassed when he faced her. Gabrielle felt that mischievous part of her move to the forefront. She smiled at her uncle.
"So, saving me was an afterthought, huh?" she asked.
Ares looked down quickly, then back up, a half grin tugging at his lips.
"Yeah, I saved you after I thought about what my sister would do to me if I didn't."
"Have you always known about me?", asked Gabrielle. She watched his eyes, because she was beginning to see a pattern when he lied.
Ares shifted on his feet, shrugged one shoulder, and coughed. "Well, I knew she had you down there someplace, but I didn't put it together until after the whole, 'evil child trying to take over the world' episode."
"So, you saved me from the lava pit," stated Gabrielle. And Cupid, who was just walking into the room, did a double take.
"Hey Unc, is that what you told her? I'm truly bummed that you'd take credit for my most macho moment. I singed a wing pulling her out of there."
Gabrielle gave her brother an adoring look. "Thank you," she said. She gave Ares a withering gaze. "My hero," she said, and her voice dripped sarcasm. A tiny, but persistent thought wandered into her head. Gabrielle fixed Cupid with a look that demanded truth. And she figured she had a much better chance getting it from him than from Ares.
"What's my name?"
"My real name."
"Oh, that. Mother can tell you. It was her idea."
"Ares? What is my name?"
Ares grinned a little too quickly, and Gabrielle braced herself.
"Haven't you figured it out? I thought a smart girl like you would have it by now."
"My name, Ares."
"Your name is..."
"Hope." And Aphrodite was standing next to her, with a look of true concern on her face.
Gabrielle's stomach flip-flopped. It was true. The sound of her own true name would always send a wave of terrible memories crashing over her. No wonder Pandora's box was empty when she knocked it open. And no wonder her first thought was to name her child after herself. A name that would hurt Xena like a cat of nine tails every time it was spoken. And yet, Gabrielle still loved her daughter. It was true, she just loved humanity more. Aphrodite enveloped her daughter in a warm hug.
"Sometimes, being a mother really hurts. I was mega-bummed when you first told me you wanted to be born on earth and experience the whole mortal thing. I mean, a whole human lifetime without my baby? You even asked us to butt out and let you figure things out for yourself. But, I just couldn't leave you all alone down there. I'd sneak down and watch over you. And sometimes I'd catch your father doing the same thing," said Aphrodite.
Gabrielle broke the hug and stared at her mother.
"Just who is my father?"
Aphrodite giggled and hugged herself. "Only the most gorgeous, and the coolest poet, singer, and all around spiffy God. The only bummer was the long distance thing."
Gabrielle racked her brain. Apollo lived next door, hardly a long-distance relationship. Odin wasn't her mother's type. She must have gotten her bardly skills from him, but who...?
"His name is Taliesin, and he is this tall, studly, classy God from Avalon."
"Where? I never heard of Avalon. Is it possible for me to meet him?" asked Gabrielle.
"Oh yeah," said Aphrodite, and the tone covered a whole range of possibilities.
Gabrielle reminded herself that she needed to move on with her life. Meeting her father. That would give her something else to think about. She firmly placed another lock on the dungeon door.
Xena decided to use meditation to rummage around in her memories and find out what else was lurking there. She closed her eyes, and did some deep breathing, sending her conscious mind to search deep inside. It looked somewhat like the dream tunnel in there, and she let her iron will and determination carry her quite a distance. She found herself outside the hill fort, again dressed in the saffron tunic, and carrying the sword. Creiddylad was on one side of her, and the Morrigan on the other. They crossed a river on a barge, and entered the same castle where Hope had been born. There they stopped in front of a big stone. Xena held the sword high and plunged it into the stone. The three were happy about something to do with the sword--a foretelling of a future hero.
Another memory involved a noisy pack of black hounds riding to the hunt, and riding after them with a handsome man with grey eyes. The same man taught her swordplay, while she saw Creiddylad teaching her about herbs. An inner voice told her that these were her real parents. "At least it isn't Ares," she thought. Xena tested the memories. They seemed real enough. Was the Goddess creating them in her mind? Or...Xena considered. She really should be dead again. Did this Goddess save her for her own reasons? Or maybe... Xena just couldn't seen to stay dead.
She came out of meditation to find Creiddylad smiling at her. The smile made Xena shiver. It was way too familiar, since it exactly echoed her own. It was the smile she had seen in countless mirrors and pools of clear water.
"What in Hades is going on here?" demanded Xena.
"Some people call it, 'finding your roots,'" said the Goddess.
"What's the sword about?"
"Excalibur? Nothing but a symbol, it is, and it isn't. A singing metal blade that through anything will cut. The scabbard is other thing. The scabbard any wound will heal. Who holds Excalibur heals the land and leads the people. The High King, he is. The Once and Future King, he is."
"But only with our help." The words came effortlessly, like a lesson well-learned. She regarded Creiddylad. "Exactly what are you the Goddess of?"
"On Mayday, I come to earth, and 'tis my turn at the wheel of the year. Healing and spring, summer and all the good things that come out of the earth are mine. And when the Fall comes, I see Gwyn Ap Nudd for one day, then off he goes for his turn at the year's wheel. Long, long ago, at our meeting, I became with child. My bright beauty Brigantia was born. An intelligent lass, with bright blue eyes, and a mind equaled by no one. Her hair was dark as night, her skin white as snow, and the sword was her friend.
"She grew in wisdom, but longed always, for more. One day she came to me, she told me she wanted to be born on earth, to learn the ways and lives of the people. And when she felt she had learned enough, she would come back and take her rightful place in Avalon."
Xena was really hating where this story was going. It had the ring of truth. Xena twitched. She was getting really uncomfortable.
"Are you trying to tell me that I'm this Brigantia?", asked Xena.
"Brigantia is one of nine sisters. You have met three while wandering the plane of mankind."
Xena sat bolt upright. Memories of Diana, Meg and Leah filled her mind. This was the first logical explanation of the look-alikes she had ever heard. Xena waited for more information.
"Each sister has great talent in one special area, and many skills in others. Brigantia was a healer, warrior and it was she who forged Excalibur."
"That explains a lot. So, if I'm this Brigantia, and I'm not saying I believe I am, it sure explains why I could take the sword out of the stone. It might even cover how I was able to forge the ring. But, if I'm some sort of Goddess, why was I so angry and violent for so many years?" asked Xena.
"Gods and Goddesses reflect what is. We shape the future, and place it in the hands of mankind. When you took human form, you took on all the weakness of human flesh. Your memory was buried deep inside you, and you had no proper guide. We left three of your sisters nearby so you could help each other. We sent each of you teachers. "Twas great good luck that another Goddess stumbled into your life," said Creiddylad.
"Great good luck for both of us," said Xena. "If all this is true. Although I might have known from that jolt I got when I first saw her. So, am I stuck here? Is there some way I can go see Gabrielle?"
"You are not yet recovered. You died, you know. You are being restored to your true body. Wait. Be patient, my child."
Learning to teleport wasn't easy. Gabrielle slammed into Mt. Etna, had to tread water in the North Sea, and finally found herself standing in front of a huge wooden gate with her mother. A porter with dark eyes and a long beard appeared, holding woolen cloaks in each hand. Gabrielle wasn't really cold, but she supposed it was their style of dressing here, so she put it on. Somehow, Aphrodite managed to make hers look sexy. They followed the porter into a great hall. A fire roared in the fireplace. Royal dogs lounged on a bear skin rug. In a carved wooden chair sat a handsome older man, with long hair, and green eyes. His hair was red-gold, and he wore a red silk tunic, embroidered with gold thread, and studded with emeralds. A lap harp was on his knee. When they entered, he smiled, and stood, putting the harp aside. Gabrielle took a moment to glance at Aphrodite. She saw a look on her mother's face she had never seen before. The Goddess of love was clearly very taken with Taliesen. Her eyes glowed, and she smiled in a new, and dignified way. The look on her face was mirrored on his, mingled with a bit of pride when he looked Gabrielle's way. He took Aphrodite's hands in his.
"Aphrodite, like the sun on a winter day. I was a frozen pond. You melt me, with your smile." He turned to Gabrielle, looking her up and down. His smile was gentle, and a bit familiar.
"Remembering? You have grown since last I saw you. Did you become a Bard, as you wished?" he asked.
"You were the traveling bard, who taught me in Potadia! I wondered how someone in such a little village would know so much about the bardly arts. Yes, I wrote a lot of scrolls, and people seemed to like my stories, " said Gabrielle.
Aphrodite giggled. "Ha! You are so modest! She was a hit, Tali. And in her spare time, she saved people, with her friend, Xena."
Taliesen regarded Gabrielle with a sweet smile. He took her hand in his, and a warm feeling went through her. She was with both her real parents, and it felt right. "Friend?' She sounds special. Who is she?"
Tears sprang to Gabrielle's eyes. She had pushed aside the hurt for almost a whole day by shutting down her grief.
Aphrodite slipped an arm around Gabrielle, giving her a little squeeze. "They were a happening couple. One of my best--well, they did most of the work. And to answer your question, Xena is Brigantia."
"One of the Nine Sisters? The Misty Isle is near enough. I will send a message to them. I believe they will invite us."
"Xena is alive? How? Where? I can go to her?" and Gabrielle heard herself giggle like her mother. She blushed. A giggle wasn't the right response. But she was so happy. Xena was alive! The dungeon door flew open and Gabrielle embraced her treasured feelings for her warrior. Taliesen went to a window, and reached outside. When he withdrew his hand, a huge raven was perched on his arm. He whispered in the bird's ear and released it through the open window. Gabrielle could hear it fly away. Taliesen turned back to his daughter, his eyes soft.
"I would like to hear one of your stories while we wait," he said. "Tell one about your friend, Xena."
Xena was going mad. Gabrielle was in Olympus, and she was stuck here in Avalon. She wasn't even sure where it was. Creiddylad was at the window with her back turned, so Xena decided to make a break for it and find Gabrielle. She sat up, and pulled back the covers. She still hurt, but she was a warrior, she could take pain. Xena put one foot on the stone floor. It was cool against her skin. She slid the other foot beside it, and leaned forward. Then using both hands, she pushed herself to her feet. The pain rushed up and filled her mind. Xena gritted her teeth against the pain, and took a step. It felt like stepping on crucifixion nails. Xena tried to breathe. Her heart was racing, and her skin was clammy and cold. She was shaking. She felt a strong arm around her, and leaned into her mother's support. Xena allowed herself to be put back to bed, and watched Creiddylad, pull the cover back over her traitor body.
"You win, I'll wait a day or two. I just miss her so much," said Xena.
Creiddylad smiled and patted Xena's arm. "Your luck is with you. A message we received. Your Gabrielle is on her way here."
Xena forgot all her suspicions, and hugged her mother tight. Happiness danced inside her heart.
The little family stood on the shore of the Misty Isle. Aphrodite and Taliesen flanked Gabrielle, each holding a hand. Gabrielle was as nervous as a girl on her first tryst.
"For Goddess sake, it's Xena. I know Xena. Calm down," she told herself. She deep breathed as a barge came toward them. It was poled by a woman shrouded in a grey cloak. Gabrielle idly wondered if she was one of Xena's eight sisters. The barge landed, and Taliesen helped Aphrodite and Gabrielle out. Gabrielle was impressed with her father. He was kind, intelligent, thoughtful, interested in others, and the best bard she had ever heard. She was just sorry she had not inherited his singing voice. They were now at the hill fort, and the endless grassy knoll didn't appear to have an opening. The shrouded one spoke a word in a language Gabrielle didn't understand, and a door opened into the hill. The family went in, and Gabrielle literally had to rub her eyes. The walls were dazzling displays of crystal, lit from within, and refracting all the colors of the rainbow. Everything opened into a great room, with a bubbling cauldron in one corner. A woman hovered over a patient in a narrow bed.
"Gabrielle!" cried Xena.
Gabrielle was in Xena's arms in six steps. They kissed eagerly, like starving men falling upon their first meal. After several moments Gabrielle remembered her manners, and backed away from Xena's embrace. She looked at Creiddylad, suddenly feeling very shy.
"Hello, I'm Gabrielle, Xena's friend."
Creiddylad laughed. "You gave Brigantia the will to recover. Thank you. You love my daughter."
"With all my heart." Gabrielle turned to Xena. "Just think, if we both hadn't wanted to experience life on earth, we never would have met. How are you?"
Xena gave Gabrielle a rueful smile. "I hurt all over, and I really was missing you, but I feel a lot better now. I just wish my body would catch up."
Creiddylad walked over to Xena, reached down, and lifted her from the bed. She walked over to the cauldron, and held Xena over it.
"No!" cried Gabrielle and Aphrodite together.
"You don't understand. This will complete her healing. This cauldron is the source of life," said Taliesen. And they watched as Creiddylad dipped Xena in the cauldron. When she came out, her skin was glowing, and the pained look had fled her eyes. Xena stood on her own two feet, and walked over to Gabrielle. She took the young bard in her arms, and lifted her in the air, twirling with her, and grinning like a madman.
"Cool!" said Aphrodite. "I love happy endings."
"I think they would like to be alone. Would you like to visit Gaul with me? They have this lovely little inn on the Riviera...", said Taliesen. And they both popped out.
Creiddylad regarded them both. "You have but one more obstacle between you," she said.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at the Goddess in shock.
"Like what?", demanded Xena.
"My real name, I suspect, "said Gabrielle.
Xena looked truly puzzled. "What? Is it a funny name. Are you afraid I'll tease you?"
Gabrielle took a deep breath. She held Xena's hands and looked into the bluest of all eyes.
"I promise you, I didn't know this until yesterday. My name is Hope." Gabrielle watched the wince in Xena's face at the name and the memories. A shiver went through Gabrielle. She hated hurting Xena.
"The Fates have a sick sense of humor. As I recall, you got more than even with them. You won't be mad if I call you Gabrielle in private, will you? You see, I'm kinda used to it."
"Hiding again, Brigantia?" asked Creiddylad.
Xena shot her a look, then gentled it as she looked into Gabrielle's lovely green eyes. "I have a lot to answer for, don't I?" As Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply, Xena placed her fingers on Gabrielle's lips. "Wait. I need to say this, and I've avoided it for years now. I'm so sorry I made you kill your own daughter. I should have trusted you to raise Hope to be like you. I think someone told Atreus what I would become, and he tried to kill me. If Cyrene hadn't killed him, I could never have changed. I never would have known all those people who tried to help me, and most of all, I would never have met you."
Gabrielle placed a hand on either side of Xena's face. She looked into her very soul.
"I'm sorry I got caught up in that power play between Dahak and Eli's god. I threw away all caution, and I made a mess of things. And I'm not at all sure I could have helped Hope find her good side. I guess I'm not cut out to be a mother."
"Nonsense, you helped raise Eve, and you were there when we reclaimed her from the Romans. I'll call you Hope, but only if it doesn't hurt you inside.
Gabrielle's reply was a kiss. Somehow, she knew they would work everything out. A hundred million tomorrows were ahead of them, and they would live them together.
Epilog: They settled on the Misty Isle, creating their own household. They return to the earth from time to time, born as humans, and without memory of their past. But they always find each other. A few of the sisters always trail along to help.
Meg died, finally, and when she returned home, the Nine were complete again. Should you ever find the Misty Isles, you will find her and her sisters going about their work, and a little blonde Greek Goddess in the background, holding Brigantia's hand.
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