by JS Stephens
Copyright 1997, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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Usual tedious disclaimer:

MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Joxer & Cyrene. Any other characters are my creation and merely interact with MCA/Universal's characters. There may or may not be relationships between two consenting women and/or a consenting woman and a consenting man. If you don't like it, leave my page and go elsewhere.

WARNING: There may be sappy sentimentality. If you don't like it, then go get a cup of coffee, tea, or cider with Scrooge.

"I'm going to bed, Xena. I'll see you in the morning. Good-night, Cyrene, thanks for supper." Gabrielle left the dining room and went up to hers and Xena's room, dropping in the bed and falling asleep almost immediately.

Back in the dining room, Cyrene looked at her daughter curiously. "Xena, what's wrong with Gabrielle? She barely touched her supper and didn't tell any stories. I thought that she would at least have a new twist on the Solstice story."

Xena shook her head sadly. "Mother, we've been through a lot recently. Of course, you were the unfortunate almost victim of my madness and persecution courtesy of Ares and the Furies. Gabrielle was raped by a third rate god, I was called by Lao Ma to do something with the Green Dragon. Gabrielle has been very depressed the last month or so. I can barely get her to eat enough or to talk much." Xena ran her hands through her raven hair, fatigue showing in her blue eyes. "If it's not one thing, then it's another, I swear."

Cyrene took her daughter's hands in hers, squeezing gently. "I know you're worried, this is not a good way to start a marriage. I suspect that Gabrielle will snap out of it sooner or later, she has always seemed to be such a happy woman."

"I don't know, Mother. But you know what they say about Solstice, miracles can and will occur." Xena squeezed her mother's hands, then let them go and stood up. "I think I'll go check on Argo, then turn in for the night." She leaned over, kissing her mother on the cheek. "I'll see you in the morning, Mother."

"Good-night, Xena, sweet dreams." Cyrene watched her tall, beautiful daughter leave the room. Her eyes strayed to the staircase, wondering how Gabrielle was faring. Gods, just when her daughter had married the most wonderful woman, so many bad things had to happen. At least Xena was still battling her darker side and not giving in to the awful warlord that she had been. Yes, there was that much to be thankful for.

Gabrielle woke up abruptly, reaching for her staff when the hand touched her shoulder. As she came awake, she saw Perdicas leaning over her, finger to his lips, holding his hand out to her. "What in the world?" she whispered.

"Come with me, Gabrielle. No, Xena is sound asleep. I want to show you something," Perdicas said, holding out his hand.

Gabrielle took her dead husband's hand and walked through the door with him. Somehow, she was immediately transported to another scene, one where Xena was talking to Diana, her childhood friend. As they floated over the fire, watching the two women, Gabrielle heard Diana speaking. "So, we had the soldiers surrounded and they surrendered. Another victory for the Amazon Nation!" Diana concluded. She leaned back, putting her plate beside her. "Hey, where's Gabrielle? Don't you travel with her? I was at the training camp when she was at the village, so I didn't get to see you, but I heard all about it."

Xena's face darkened slightly. "Gabrielle has gone home for a short time. She froze when we were attacked one day, then felt like she should leave." Xena abruptly stopped talking and started stacking dishes.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know. I assumed that she would be here, Xena. I'd be pretty pissed if someone left me like that too. Here, let me help with the dishes." Diana reached out, but Xena wave her off, saying that Diana should get her bedroll ready. Diana shrugged, puzzled by Xena's abrupt coldness. She stayed out of Xena's way until Xena had the dishes cleaned and put away, then asked, "Xena? Are you going to shut me out for the rest of the night?"

Xena waited until she had finished her chores, then sat near Diana, staring moodily into the fire before she answered. "I don't know. Diana, I don't know anything most of the time anymore. I shouldn't be so rough on you, especially since I am glad to see you." She turned and looked at Diana, still shocked to see a young woman in the place of the girl she had left so many years ago. "It's hard to explain, Diana. I don't trust my feelings much." She tossed a stick into the fire, watching it blaze up, then, trying to be sociable again, asked, "So, what all have you done since I left to be an evil warlord?"

Relieved that Xena was making an effort, Diana answered, "Oh, this and that. Mom taught me how to defend myself after you left while Mama Rebecka taught me how to run the store. We spent a lot of time with Cyrene after you left, she was pretty heartbroken at losing her children to death and desertion. The other kids picked on me until I took a growing spurt the winter after you left, then they left me alone. Mama was pretty sick for the last year of her life, so I kept the store most of the time. Mom was pretty broken up by Mama's death." Diana looked Xena in the eyes, saying, "Mama told me just before she died that she dreamed that you would seek to do good, that you would enter a battle for your soul. She made me promise not to tell anyone, saying that she had no idea when it would come true."

"I had no idea that Rebecka was a prophet," Xena said.

"Not usually, but she was pretty insistent that this would come to pass. I'm glad it did, I missed you a lot," Diana told her. "You were my best friend when I was young, after all."

Xena allowed herself another smile. "I missed you too, little one." She cracked a mighty yawn, then said, "Let's get some sleep. I'm pretty tired."

"Me too. Good-night, Xena," Diana said, the yawn catching.

"Good-night, Diana," Xena replied.

She waited until Diana was asleep, then walked into the woods a bit. She watched the moon, asking no one in particular, "Gabrielle, when will you come back? It's..." She hesitated, then finished, "It's lonely without you, your stories, the way you can't wake up in the mornings. If you stay in Potadeia, I guess it's for the best, but I'll miss you, my friend." She sighed, then walked back to the fire and laid down among her blankets, falling asleep.

Gabrielle was puzzled. "Perdicas, why are you showing me this?"

He smiled gently, pointing to the sleeping warrior. "Gabrielle, you have made quite an impact on Xena's life. At this point, she was over the first hump of trying to redeem herself, then you went home. She meet with Diana, who was going back to Amphipolis on leave. She was thinking that if you never came back, what use was it to go on? You are afraid that Xena could have walked her new path alone, without you. I'm just pointing out that no, she couldn't." He looked at the moon, then said, "It's time to go back."

Gabrielle was suddenly back in bed, looking at her beloved. Would Xena have done worse without her? True, she had grown so much since she had met Xena. She yawned, then started to drift back to sleep when she saw Bodicea standing there in her fierce Celtic beauty. "Gabrielle, come with me!" she thundered, holding out her hand. Gabrielle stared, not sure what to do. The fiery haired queen continued to hold her hand out, waiting impatiently for Gabrielle to grab it. The bard finally took Bodicea's hand and was yanked up in front of the queen on her horse. They galloped out of the room, riding to the land of Britain. "Look and listen, Gabrielle of Potadeia," the woman commanded.

It was the recent past. Gabrielle saw herself in Xena's arms in the ruins of the temple where Xena had battled Dahok and she had murdered the priestess. She saw herself and Xena jerking up their heads as Bodicea picked her way through the rubble, motioning for her army to stay back. She walked up to them and asked, "What happened? We heard and saw the explosion--I didn't think that you would make it out alive. Come, let's go back to camp and take care of you." Bodicea helped the women up, then led them to waiting horses. Xena swung up on a horse, then held out her hand for Gabrielle to swing up behind her. Gabrielle swung up and clung to Xena fiercely, burying her face in Xena's hair. Bodicea said to Gabrielle softly, "I was puzzled, Xena the mighty warlord, so shell-shocked, taking such care to protect anyone."

Suddenly, Gabrielle and Bodicea were in a tent, watching Xena bathing the unresponsive Gabrielle, then following them to another tent where Xena rummaged around until she found her herb bag. She went to the small fire, brewed some tea, then carefully held it to Gabrielle's lips while she drank. The tea took effect quickly, Gabrielle dropped into a troubled sleep.

The dream Bodicea poked her head in the tent. "Xena?" she queried softly.

Xena looked up, motioning to the Celtic queen. "Come in, Bodicea. I just gave Gabrielle something to make her sleep." Bodicea walked into the tent and sat on the chair, watching Xena slowly stroking Gabrielle's hair. "It looks like we got more than we bargained for," Xena finally said. "I didn't pay attention to Crustier, had no idea that the one god he kept babbling about was Dahak, not the God of the Israelites. I'm afraid that Gabrielle paid a heavy price for my inattention."

Bodicea sat, watching Xena's tender attention to Gabrielle. This was a far different Xena than she had seen previously, this was a Xena torn by guilt and fear, by love and self-loathing. The Xena she had encountered years ago was cocky, brilliant, a superb actor and out for wealth. The Xena she had encountered yesterday was still cocky and brilliant, but willing to help overcome their common enemy, Caesar. The Xena she saw now was lost, drifting, barely hanging on. "Xena, what changed? When did you change?" Bodicea asked.

Xena turned haunted eyes to face Bodicea, answering, "When Hercules showed me another possibility, a possibility of helping instead of hurting. Then, I was run out of my army and ended up near the village of Potadeia. A warlord was attacking and taking women for slaves, so I reacted, fighting him. Gabrielle, unlike the other women, fought against her captors, then announced she was following me. I tried to discourage her at first, but she persisted. I owe my soul to that woman, she helped me grow until I could face up to my old ways and overcome them. I love her, Bodicea, and it's just tearing me up that she is hurt and I can't help."

The present Bodicea slid off her horse, taking Gabrielle with her. "You see, Xena was taking care of you. You couldn't have survived without her help, her love. Why are you thinking that you haven't made a difference? Gabrielle, you have made a huge impact on Xena's life, as she has made a huge impact on your life." Green eyes bored into green eyes. "If you keep drifting, you will eventually leave Xena again, and the world will be a darker place."

Gabrielle was back. She looked around the room, wondering just what would happen next. She had been pretty depressed, and had even been entertaining notions of leaving Xena and going back to the Academy of the Bards in Athens. After all, she had lied to Xena about killing her baby, tried to help Xena avoid murdering the Green Dragon and wound up nearly getting Xena executed instead. But the world being a darker place? How would that be true? Or was this all a nightmare, brought on by lack of food?

Gabrielle had just snuggled up to Xena's warm back when she heard a maniacal giggle. She whirled around to see Callisto standing there, black cloak covering her usual outfit, hood partially obscuring her face. She held her hand out to Gabrielle, who reluctantly took it and was whooshed away to a cave, where she saw three people in strange clothing who vaguely resembled herself, Xena and Joxer. "What is this, Callisto?" Callisto did not answer, merely pointed to the people.

Gabrielle heard the blonde woman saying, "If only the Xena scrolls had not stopped where they did, we would know what to do."

The tall, dark woman said in a soft voice, "But Dr. Covington, didn't Gabrielle write down what happened here? Surely she would have written about this, about how to lock Ares back up."

Dr. Covington scowled. "Gabrielle was dead by that time, she had left Xena and struck out on her own. She was killed by warlords who were trying to extort money from Xena. Xena went wild and rounded up her old army and just let Gabrielle die." She looked at the broken chakram, lying on the floor. "Miss Pappas, I had no idea that you could pull the chakram out of the wall, much less put it together. Maybe when you dropped it, hope left the world. Ares is loose, and I'm afraid that he will team up with Hitler now."

Miss Pappas whispered, "I'm sorry, I just didn't know."

The Joxer look alike added, "Dr. Covington is right, Ares will probably team up with Hitler and the world as we know it will end."

"Who's Hitler?" Gabrielle asked the silent Callisto. Instead of answering, Callisto grabbed her and they hurtled along, stopping at an ornately decorated room where a man with a short mustache, a man in a wheeled chair, a bald man, and a man with a large mustache were sitting. The last three were slowly signing papers, looking terribly haunted and unhappy. Finally, the bald man spoke up.

"Hitler, you may have taken over the world, but some day, a champion will rise up and slap you down. Evil cannot last without being challenged by good. You have exterminated whole races of people to satisfy your evil desires, but you cannot exterminate hope."

The man called Hitler merely laughed and waved at a man in the shadows. The man came over, costumed in black with a large red eagle drawn on his chest. "Ares at your service," he drawled.

"Take care of them, Ares. They must not poison my world with their independence," Hitler shouted.

"At once, Mien Hitler." Ares stared at the three, then drew his sword. The three men stared at him, mesmerized as he approached. He went into a flurry of action, swiftly decapitating all three men, laughing as their blood squirted on the floor.

Callisto giggled again, then turned to Gabrielle. "We won, oh annoying blonde. We won."

"Hey, Gabrielle, wake up!" Xena called, holding the writhing bard. Gabrielle's eyes flew open, staring in terror at something Xena could not see. She looked around, then said again, "Gabrielle, wake up!"

Gabrielle slowly realized that Xena was awake and holding her. She stared into the blue eyes that were mixed with love and concern, wondering why she had ever thought of leaving. "Gods, Xena, I'm sorry!" she burst out.

Xena pulled the other woman closer, kissing her gently. "Sorry for what, love?"

"I was going to leave you," Gabrielle babbled, "but I was shown what would happen if I did. I can't do that, Xena, I can't let the whole world lose hope like that."

Xena looked at her beloved, puzzled. "Tell me about it," she demanded.

Gabrielle sat up, pulling away from Xena. "I saw you talking to Diana, telling her that I had left. Then, you went into the forest and told the gods that you were lonely without me. After that, I saw you taking care of me in Bodicea's camp, telling her that you loved me. Last, I saw an evil man using Ares to vanquish his opponents, all because I left you and did not write any more scrolls."

Xena tried to absorb the information. "You mean, somehow you wrote down something that was a key to keeping Ares from destroying the world?"

"Yes! Didn't you dream anything last night?" Gabrielle asked shakily.

Xena smiled wistfully. "Only that you would come up with one of your marvelous stories for the Solstice dinner tonight. Mother is inviting Joxer, Diana and Diedra over for the meal, to be followed by the ritual. I wasn't sure if you would feel like it, since you have been so quiet lately."

"So, maybe I'm supposed to start over, to start writing again? I've let you down so much lately, Xena," Gabrielle said brokenly.

Xena tenderly kissed her beloved. "Gabrielle, you are the light of my life. No matter what happens, remember, we are stronger together than apart." She pulled Gabrielle closer, kissing her again, then let her go. "Come on, I can smell breakfast."

"I am a bit hungry," Gabrielle allowed. Xena laughed as she pulled the reluctant woman out of bed.

That evening, friends and family were gathered together, sharing a huge meal, laughing and talking and enjoying themselves. Gabrielle noticed that Joxer and Diana were having a hard time not staring at each other all the time and that Xena was gently teasing them. Diedra was telling Cyrene that her beloved partner, Rebecka, had always enjoyed the winter Solstice festival. "Rebecka liked it, saying that she wished that her people had a festival of lights. I miss her so much, but on nights like this, I feel her close by, feel her love for me and my daughter, Diana. Speaking of love, how soon do you think that Diana and Joxer will announce their engagement?"

Cyrene looked at the starry eyed couple. "Sometime soon, I would imagine. Joxer's business is taking off now. They look so happy together." She looked out the window at the setting sun, then stood up and announced, "It is time."

The group got up and went into the meeting room, which was completely dark. Cyrene was the last one in and was carrying a candle. She walked slowly to the front of the room and intoned, "It is Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night. May we gather together now to usher in the new year, to bring back the light." She waited as Xena came up, touching her candle to her mother's.

"It is the darkness that proceeds the light," Xena said in a hushed voice. "We ask that Hades will let Persporene go, to rejoin her mother, to bring back the light."

Diedra walked up and touched her candle to Xena's. "Though the winter may be with us, spring will approach and bring new light."

Joxer walked up and touched his candle to Diedra's. "May this season bring new light, new life and new love."

Diana walked up and touched her candle to Joxer's. "May love and light rule us all. May we do what is right and true."

Gabrielle walked up and touched her candle to Diana's. "May we never forget how light will vanquish darkness, but how we need both to survive."

The others went back to the benches and sat down as Gabrielle lifted her candle higher, like a beacon. "Xena asked me to tell the Solstice story and at first, I did not want to," Gabrielle said. "But then, I thought back on a strange dream I had last night. I saw my past, my present, and the future. I saw the future without Xena, without a champion for right. I saw a future where I stopped caring and did not write down any other adventures, where I lost sight of love."

Gabrielle started to warm up to her tale, the sparkle of storytelling back in her eyes. "I started thinking about the meaning of Solstice. Last year, Xena and I were in a town where the king was very mean and had outlawed Solstice celebrations. He had driven his wife away and suffered for it, even though he was not aware that he had suffered. Xena and I decided to make things right, so we tried to trick him into not closing down the local orphanage, which had fallen behind on its taxes. But, as fate would have it, it was his wife who was running the orphanage, and he did not recognize her at first. He thought she was a ghost, but then he saw the light reveal her face and fell in love all over again."

She looked directly at Xena, continuing. "Sometimes, we forget why we are here. We forget that love is the light, the light that banishes the darkness of the soul. This season, we celebrate the coming of the light, the coming of the year, the coming of renewed life. The days will get longer, the cycle of life will begin again. We gather to celebrate the light, celebrate the love, and pledge ourselves to showing the world that light of love, and to hold back the darkness of evil. Let us celebrate the light!" She dramatically threw her candle into the fireplace, setting the logs into a glorious blaze of light and warmth, bathing the room with a warm glow.

Much later, Xena and Gabrielle crawled into bed, stuffed and sleepy. Xena played with Gabrielle's long golden hair, contented. "That was a beautiful story, Gabrielle. I haven't heard such a good tale in a long time."

"Well, the Muses must have been with me," Gabrielle demurred.

Xena pulled the bard close, continuing. "Gabrielle, my world was dark with anger before you came along. You are my light, my love. You help me to balance the strength that comes from my darkness with your love of the world, your need to see good in everyone. I'm so glad that you are in my life, my beloved."

Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena's blue eyes. She touched Xena's cheek gently, saying, "I can't believe that I nearly threw everything away. I can't live without you Xena. I realize that I have an important role, just as important as your role is. You may be saving the world, but I must record your deeds, or the world will never know about the Warrior Princess."

Xena smiled. "I doubt that I will be that important in history, but I'll go along with your theory." She settled against the pillows, pulling Gabrielle against her chest. Gabrielle sighed happily, glad to feel warm and loved again. It had been quite some time since they had been in such a safe place, this content. She had not even felt very loving towards Xena lately, but now, seeing Xena's face bathed in the firelight, she felt a fresh explosion of love for her warrior. "Shall we celebrate love and life?" she questioned. Xena smiled in reply.

And so the return of love was celebrated.

The End

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