Disclaimers: "Name this series". Since folks want to see it continue Iím going to need a name so if you can think of anything by all means pass it along. Who knows? Maybe the winner will get a prize from yours truly? Thank you for all the letters of support Iíve received so far. They mean so much to this struggling bard. (VBG) These characters are not mine but Mr. Tapertsí and Co. They are alternative characters, which means they are, by fan fiction norm, lovers. If this is offensive get a clue and come back once youíve broadened your horizons.
Ahhh . . .is will do nicely.
Gabrielle picked up the last log she found and examined it after a brief toss in her hand. Quietly she made her way back to the fire pit where her bedroll lay for the evening. She carefully stacked the wood in a triangle shape with plenty of kindling below. Normally she would just go to sleep but this evening was chilly as a result of being so close to the water. She needed the warmth if she was going to get any rest.
With a few clicks of the flint the tiny twigs caught the spark and within moments a fire was blazing. The feeling that she was being watched suddenly draped over her like a wet blanket and she looked over her shoulder unsure and nervous of what she might find.
"Youíre pretty good at that," her visitor said pointing to the fire.
Yeah, now. There was a time when I wasnít, Gabrielle thought as she turned around. "Well the first night I took off after Xena I ended up in her camp because I couldnít start a fire to save my life." She chuckled, remembering how helpless she felt back then. She was going to be the great adventurer yet she couldnít make twigs smoke. It took all the courage I had to walk into her camp that night. The next night she showed me just what to do in case I ever got lost or separated from her . . . Separated. . . The smile, formed from the remembrance of how young she was back then, slipped from her face as a feeling of melancholy took hold of her. "So what brings you out here Aphrodite?" the bard asked, hoping to clear her mind of the painful thoughts.
"Just checking up on you I guess," Dite answered. When neither woman said more Dite continued, "Sheís taught you a lot I know. Itís hard to let that go," Dite sympathized. Gabrielleís eyebrows scrunched in examination of the goddess. How could she possibly know what I-."Because little one, when it comes to love I can see right into any mortal," Dite answered the unspoken question.
"I thought all the goddess of love cared about was her temples and her Ďeveningí wear," the bard grinned.
"Superficial airhead huh?" Dite remarked. "Guess thatís why Iím still around and half of Olympusí most powerful are gone right?"
Gabrielle chuckled, "Very true. Wanna have a seat?" the bard offered patting her bedroll. Dite took the invitation and without physically moving appeared beside the bard. Gabrielle grinned and shook her head. "You only had to move 5 strides. Was it really necessary to Ďpoofí beside me?" she teased.
"What good are powers if you donít use Ďem?" Dite countered. Gabrielle continued to grin and poked a stick in the fire for distraction until Dite continued. "Speaking of power . . . I tried to sway Athena from using the furies on you but I had little control over it. I didnít-."
"Aphrodite," Gabrielle interrupted. "thatís not your fault. If you hadnít stepped in when you did things would have been much worse. Iím just glad that Xena didnít overreact and harm you." Gabrielle rolled her eyes in disgust with the thought of the warrior.
Dite smiled, "Thatís kind of you to say. But I know that Xena wouldnít harm me if I approached to offer help. Besides I didnít need to fight her. I had nothing to lose so why battle her. The mortal world only needs two true gods. Only two factors play such a role in humanity - death and love. People donít need wisdom to survive. They donít need Ďhobbiesí. They certainly donít need war . . . But love . . . humans will always need love. And humans will always need death."
"I never knew you could be so philosophical," Gabby replied slack-jawed.
"Thereís a lot you donít know about me Gabrielle. Not many mortals do. I show them what I want them to see and the rest well . . . I kinda keep it under wraps," the goddess winked. "But I donít think my immortality is weighing on your mind tonight. And I thought perhaps I could share some insight with you - like things you didnít know or might not have realized. . . But thatís only if you want to. If not Iíll just Ďpoofí, as you say, outta here," she added snapping her fingers.
"No need to Ďpoofí," Gabrielle smirked. "Iím just not sure where to start I guess."
"Well letís see," Dite said looking up to the star filled sky in thought. "Would you like to know when Xena was first attracted to you?" Dite wiggled on the bedroll, beginning to get into this little Ďgameí. "This could be fun," she squealed. "Wanna play?"
"Play what? Guess the warriorís heart?" Gabrielle retorted.
"Sure," Dite said enthusiastically.
Do I really want to do this? . . . Oh what the hell . . . "Okay, what do I do?" Gabrielle sighed.
"Okay," Dite began before planning things in her mind. "We could do a Ďtruth or dareí kinda game or I could ask you a personal question and give you the right answer."
"Iím confused," Gabrielle answered, playing with her earlobe as she considered what Dite had in mind. "What do you mean by the right answer?"
"Well, letís just start and youíll see. Okay? Now . . .When did Xena first realize she was attracted to you?" the goddess asked.
When did Xena first realize she was attracted to me? Hmmm . . . "After I got kidnapped by Baccus."
"Naaaahhhhh, wrong answer sweet cheeks. Would you like to try again?" Dite grinned. This could actually be fun, Gabrielle considered with a growing smile. "Of course itís fun," Dite said, reading Gabrielleís mind. "Itís my game. . . Now would you like a second guess or not?"
"No. Tell me. When did Xena realize she was attracted to me?"
"The first day she saw you."
"Get outta here!"
Both women erupted into a fit of the giggles like two gals at a sleep over. "Itís true!" Dite said soundly, confident in her answer.
"With the peasant dress and the barrettes?"
"Oh yeah," Dite smirked. "In fact she was so distracted that Dracoís scrub solider managed to knock her down during the fight."
"You were there?" Gabrielle asked in amazement. Aphrodite simply nodded. "Why? Wait! You didnít put a spell on me to follow her did you?"
"Goodness no! You did that all on your own darliní . . . I was there because the big guy asked me to keep an eye on Xena for a little while to make sure sheíd be okay. And itís hard for me to say no to Herc," she grinned.
"Well Iíll be," Gabrielle stared at the fire mesmerized by this piece of news.
"Okay, next question," Dite said bringing back Gabrielleís attention.
"Can I ask this time?" Gabrielle questioned excitedly. Dite grinned and nodded enthusiastically. "What did Xena think after our first time . . . you know. . . together?"
Dite cocked her head as she thought about the question. "Fear," she answered after a few moments of consideration.
"She was afraid of me?" Gabrielle answered. Why in the world was she afraid of me? Didnít she trust me? I gave her everything that night - all that I had.
"Exactly," Dite answered. "and thatís what scarred her. She wasnít sure if she could measure up. She wasnít sure that she could be everything you needed. That worried her because she didnít want to lose you."
"Then what changed?" Gabrielle asked as a sob threatened to spill forth. Playtime was official over now and Dite took a deep breath to steady herself for it. "How did she get so far from what she wanted that night? Why did she just let me go?" Gabrielle added.
"Now Iím going to say something and I need you to understand it. Youíve got a temper on you bard and I donít want you reaching for the sais . . . okay?" The goddess paused to see if Gabrielle would agree. Once she got the nod of acceptance she continued. "Xena isnít the only one whoís done damage to this relationship Gabrielle. Youíve done your share too. And when trust is betrayed it is soooo hard to get that back."
"I know I did wrong by betraying Xena in Chin. I know that now. Hell I knew that then and I made every effort to show her that she could have faith in me."
"Like joining Najaraís cult to start a hospise . . . Like deciding that people who waged war werenít worthy and that peace and light are Ďthe wayí."
"I never said that," Gabrielle countered. "I just wanted to examine other courses in life."
"Yes. I see that. But did you ever consider that maybe the examination would have its toll on Xena. You were choosing courses that would take you farther away from Xena - opposite ends in fact."
"Have you heard that opposites attract Aphrodite?" Gabrielle said trying to defend her actions.
"Yes, and itís true. . . but opposites donít make lasting relationships. The sparks are great at first but then it just kinda fizzles away. You canít stay together if youíre walking down separate roads - thatís a fact. And by the time you Ďcaught upí to her . . . she was already gone. Not physically but emotionally. She couldnít have you play a part in Eveís life because what would happen if you changed your mind again. What if you decided that you wanted to go the bard academy or find a husband to settle down with or perhaps just go back home to the little hick town of yours for good. Xena couldnít take that chance . . . And I donít blame her."
"Whose side are you on here?" Gabby asked.
"Loveís side," Dite answered firmly without hesitation, ". . . Iím not on your side or her side. Iím on loveís side. And the only way love will survive for you or Xena is if you BOTH take the time to realize you werenít completely honest with each other . . . perhaps even honest with yourselves . . . Once you find acceptance of the role youíve played will you find love . . .be it with Xena or someone else. Ares top babe might not be the gal for you but youíll never move forward until you acknowledge your part in all this . . . Take it one day at a time Gabrielle and youíll survive."
Gabrielle took the wine skin from her pack and took a deep long swig. She turned to offer the goddess a drink but she had vanished. Gabrielle looked around the perimeter of the camp but Aphrodite was gone.
Maybe sheís right, Gabrielle considered as she laid down on the bedroll looking up at the stars. How many times did Xena and I star gaze together? . . . Itís not the same without her. But then again whenís the last time we did take time to do this? The amazons . . .I tried to touch her arm that night and she moved away. Like sheís been moving away for months. Damn her! Truth is Iíve been without her for months but itís only now that Iíve left . . . Go to sleep Gabrielle. Donít do this to yourself. Just wake up. And move on tomorrow. One day at a time.
CONTINUED IN PART IV: STRIFE