Cruel Justice

by Lori Bush (

Just in time for Halloween.

Disclaimers: Trust me, they aren't mine. Jox would still be alive, for one thing. They belong to RenPics and all, who don't deserve them. Still, I pray no one sues me for saying that, or any of the rest of this.

Rating: WARNING! This story is rated R for a small sexual scene, and lots and lots of disturbing imagery and concepts.

I haven't seen the sixth season at all, but I do read spoilers. It occurred to me -- what if all this horrible stuff was just too much to bear?

This is sort of a response to Rebecca's October Challenge on JFFG, too. And she beta'd it for me -- thank you, Rebecca.

I mean it -- if you are squeamish, or have psychological problems to start with, turn away NOW! This is not my Usual Shiny Happy Story. Dark. Twisted. Some of you will love it!

"You know I love you, Gabby," Joxer whispered in the bard's ear. She ran her fingers through his hair.

"Oh, Joxer," Gabrielle moaned, "Just don't stop. Yes, yes." The warmth ran through her body like a tide, and she felt him still, and when he moaned, she knew he too was satisfied. "Why did I wait so long for this?" she asked rhetorically.

He kissed her face, then covered her mouth with his, his tongue battling tenderly with hers. Why did I wait? I'm breathless. No, I REALLY have to breathe. She began to squirm, her naked body trapped under his. Gabrielle tried to speak, but his mouth over hers muffled the sound. Her lungs were starting to hurt, and he wasn't moving. Thrashing beneath him, she finally squirmed loose, and pushed him off. In the moment before she began to yell at him, she looked down and saw how aged and pale his face was, his white hair, and the blood on his lips. Then she saw the sword, viciously embedded in his abdomen, protruding from his back. And blood -- all over her body. So much blood...

"JOXER!" she screamed, her cries quickly growing incoherent in her terror and misery. "Nooooooo!"

"Gabrielle, wake up!" Xena shook her friend violently. "Please!" The Warrior Princess could see her daughter across the camp, pale and anguished, all hints of the peaceful sleep of just moments before ripped from her face. The girl who once was Livia had learned quickly to dread Gabrielle's nightmares, because she knew she was the cause of them. Still, this one seemed worse than any previous ones had been.

"Xena," her friend gulped once she was again coherent. "Joxer, he was..." Overcome, Gabrielle stopped before she really began.

The Warrior Princess slipped her arms around the bard, sending a comforting glance to her stricken daughter as well. "It was just a nightmare," she cooed, stroking the sweaty blonde head. "None of it was real."

Swirling green eyes stared unseeing into her, and for a moment, Xena was terrified for her friend. "It was real -- it all happened. Just not all at the same time." An unearthly calm descended on the camp, and Gabrielle's voice was without emotion as she went on, quietly. A slight rasp tinged her words, perhaps left behind after her screams. "We were making love, like we had after you and I came back from Egypt." Xena's eyes grew impossibly wide at this bit of previously unshared information. She bit back the questions. "Joxer was beautiful and tender, and I know that I'd been wrong to wait so long to let him inside. I'd come back so confused and frustrated after watching you and Antony, and he was so gentle." Her tightly controlled delivery was starting to come unraveled. "Then suddenly he was old, and bleeding all over me. The sword, the blood..." Her voice was rising in pitch, and she twisted in Xena's grasp, rubbing her arms and belly, trying to remove the invisible stain, her hands frantic and shaking.

The warrior woman grabbed her friend's arms, stilling the hysterical movement. Gabrielle began crying again, soon gasping out huge sobs into Xena's silky black hair. "The herbs," Xena said quietly to her daughter, "bring me the herbs." The young woman leapt up and rummaged in the saddlebag, finding the packet quickly and bringing it to her mother. The bard's sobs had faded to whimpering and hiccupping, and with one arm still around her, Xena directed Eve which herb to make into tea in order to induce sleep.

Later, the two sat by the fire, glancing occasionally at the drugged woman, sleeping peacefully at last. "I didn't know they were lovers," the younger woman murmured. "That makes it worse."

"I didn't know either, until tonight. It sounds like it was a one time thing."

Eve's eyes flashed angrily at her mother. "Stop trying to make this easier for me. Would it only be bad if they'd been together for years? How many times would make it worse? Three? Ten? He was her lover, he was Virgil's father, and he was your friend. You can't pretend it didn't hurt you -- I've seen you trying to hide it when his name comes up. And now I know why she thought she had forgiven me, but can't let it go. The whole bit with Lucifer -- her and Virgil -- that's what started the nightmares, wasn't it?"

Xena nodded reluctantly, her own guilt rising. "I brought that on. She'd managed to keep it inside until then."

"You had to, Mom. What I did, I did out of meanness."

"But you aren't the same anymore."

Eve's sad eyes turned to the sleeping bard. "Neither is she."

"Gabrielle?" The soft voice poked at her mind, stirring it from the darkness.

"Joxer!" Her welcoming smile faded quickly to a frown. "Am I dreaming again?"

"Yeah, you are." He looked at the ground, and rubbed his hair nervously. He had on a new shirt, she noticed. "After that last dream you had, I knew I had to talk to you." He touched her face. "You'll lose your mind if you keep having dreams like that. I need to watch over you."

Her eyes filled. "I want you back. I didn't get a chance to tell you how I felt. That morning after we slept together, I was almost sure, but I didn't want to make a mistake. We had one more gamble to play out, with Celestia's tears, and we were all going to go off together to Rome, and I was going to tell you." She looked at him, her eyes pinning him with the seriousness of the glance. "I was. Finally."

She slipped into his embrace, and it felt so good to have him hold her. "I believe ya, Gabby. But 25 years later was just too late."

"Yeah. You had Meg, and Virgil, and -- oh gods, Virgil!" Her breath started to catch, and Joxer grabbed her chin and forced her to look in his eyes, startling her tears away.

"I saw what happened. Neither of you were yourselves. It wasn't your fault."

She nodded slowly, not completely convinced. "But, Virgil's your SON. He's the son we should have had together."

Joxer's expression softened. "I raised him to be like you, Gabs. Gods know, I didn't want him to be like me!" The corner of her mouth rose in spite of herself, and when Joxer snickered, she did too. He broke into a goofy grin. "That's what I wanted to see." His expression grew serious again, although happy affection shone from his eyes. "What can I do to make the dreams go away?"

"Stay with me?" she whispered hopefully.

"Gabby," he said patiently, "I'm dead."

"You're here now," she responded petulantly.

He rolled his eyes. "It's a dream. Not real, remember?"

She grabbed handfuls of the front of his nice new shirt, suddenly furious. "You're here. You're real. You're not leaving me again. YOU HEAR ME?" He let her shake him and get it out of her system. When she had calmed a bit, Joxer stepped back, a thoughtful expression on his face.

"I'll see what I can do."


It wasn't Joxer's voice. Xena? Xena! She had to tell Xena. "It's okay, Xena. He's going to take care of it. It'll be ok."

"Gabrielle, you're dreaming again, wake up." The bard opened her eyes, and they were clear and bright. The Warrior Princess tried not to sigh in relief -- her friend had returned from the frightening precipice where her nightmare had led her the night before. "It's good to see you smile again." With her friend's next words, though, Xena's stomach dropped to her toes, and she felt ice cold.

"Joxer's gonna take care of it all."

Gabrielle was getting annoyed. Xena had been watching her all day like she expected her to grow wings or something. Her good mood was rapidly deteriorating, and since it had been so long since the last time she remembered being happy (in Joxer's arms, she thought, and smiled briefly but widely), she wasn't ready to give up the feeling. She glared at her friend's back.

Eve peered back, too, although it was the first time she'd looked up from the ground all day. The bard did feel bad for her. She had to understand; she didn't kill her Joxer. He'd been lost to her since that day so many years ago on the beach, when everything went wrong. But he was coming back -- he'd promised. And Joxer kept his promises. He would never disappoint her.

She had killed Meg's Joxer, though. And Virgil's. But she'd been forgiven for that -- at least, Virgil seemed to have forgiven her. Virgil -- should have been hers. Joxer had all but agreed. When he came back, they'd do something about that.

He is still dead, Gabby. Even if you can do that with him, he might not be quite able to father children. She smiled again -- it would be enough to love him properly. She'd have to be satisfied with that. The rational part that was still Gabrielle scolded the rest of her mind. He's dead. Give it up. But most of her wasn't really listening anymore, and that rational voice was growing fainter, anyway.

They walked quietly the rest of the day, setting up camp early. Xena still looked concerned, but Gabrielle's sleep had been disturbed the night before, and she slid into her pelt and fell into a dreamless slumber.

It had to be put on parchment. She hadn't written in a long time -- she'd just been so busy. But when she saw this tree by the river, the sitting place so perfect, she knew it was calling her to sit there and write. She had so much to say -- the pictures in her head were almost overwhelming.

Hurrying the water skins back to camp, she grabbed her quill and scrolls and slipped away without a word to Xena or Eve. Gabrielle settled in beneath the large oak, opened her ink and unrolled a fresh scroll. The world needed to know all of this -- she put pen to parchment and began to write a like a woman possessed.

She saw Khraftstar, Dahok, and Hope. She saw Perdicas' face as he died. And she suddenly knew WHY it had all happened, and she knew it was knowledge the world couldn't live without. The angels -- hell. Eli dying in her arms. Her tongue stuck out a little, trapped between her teeth as she frantically tried to capture it all as quickly as possible. Her penmanship grew sloppy, but she didn't care. It was the words -- she had to capture the words.

"It's been three days. She hasn't said anything more about him. I think she' s over whatever it was." Xena turned the rabbit on the spit, while Eve crouched beside her.

"Where is she now?"

"Writing, I think. She took a scroll and quill with her after she brought the water back."

"I'm finished. It's probably my best ever."

The mother/daughter pair looked up, ashamed at being caught talking about Gabrielle in her absence.

"I know you don't usually read my stories, but this one really sings, Xena." The bard's voice came rapid and breathless, and it was clear she was oblivious to the discomfort she'd inadvertently caused. Smiling confidently, she thrust the scroll at the warrior woman. "Read it, please?"

"After dinner," Xena promised, thrilled to see the old Gabrielle back.

"What's the matter, Mom?" Eve was worried by the frown on her mother's face as she read the scroll. Gabrielle had pled exhaustion again, and already retired. Xena was right beside the fire, keeping her promise to read Gabrielle's new scroll.

The Warrior Princess let her eyes run on through the story. "This is sick," she whispered, horrified. "Scenes of senseless violence and death, amid passages that make NO sense whatsoever. Look -- read this." She shoved the parchment under her daughter's nose. Eve read the passage, and felt her stomach turn. "Whoever wrote this, it wasn't the Gabrielle I know." Xena's eyes traveled to her sleeping companion, then she looked up at her daughter, tears filling her ice-blue orbs. "Something's happening to her, and I don't like it."

The moon was full, and from what Gabrielle could tell, the morning was nowhere near. She had gone to bed early the last few nights, hoping she'd see Joxer again, even when the rational part of her brain chided her that he had only been a dream. If it had only been a dream, then a dream would be enough. But again he hadn't come, and she woke in the thick of the night, sad and alone. She gazed at the two women sleeping side by side on the distant edge of the camp. Joxer's gone, my parents are gone -- this is too hard.

"No, it isn't. You've done harder things."

"Joxer!" She squealed in joy, and jumped to her feet, reaching for him.

He stepped back from her grasp, putting a finger to his lips. "Shhh! You'll wake them!"

She frowned angrily, but whispered anyway. "You're so worried about them that I can't touch you?"

"It has nothing to do with how I feel. I have no body -- I can stay with you, but we can't touch." Her face fell, and he hurried on. "There had to be a sacrifice. In order to bring back the dead, there has to be a sacrifice."

"Sacrifices are like, goats or something. Not touching," she hissed in irritation.

He shrugged. "You want me to go?"


"Shhh!" He grinned that sloppy grin again. "Good. Anyway, I didn't have any goats where I was, and it was the best I could do." His grin softened into a look of love she knew well. "I'll stay as long as you want me."


"I can do that." He pointed to the pelt atop her bedroll. "Now, sleep."

It was Gabrielle's turn to grin. "Yessir! Right away, sir." She crawled into her sleeping cocoon and he watched as she covered herself. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Her last picture as she drifted back into Morpheous' realm was the view of Joxer sitting cross-legged beside her as her eyes slid shut.

Gabrielle's mood, which had been bright yesterday, seemed even better today. She hummed and grinned as she moved around the camp, and outside of a sudden clench of Xena's stomach when she recognized the tune her companion had chosen to hum, there was little to fear, it seemed.

The Warrior Princess had tucked the offensive scroll into her bag, determined to make the bard ask her about it before she would comment. But the odd bit of writing seemed as far away from the blonde woman's memory as the nightmares of the week before. For all intents and purposes, she could not recall seeing Gabrielle this carefree since before the whole incident in Britannia that robbed her of her innocence. Perhaps that fact alone should have raised a flag in Xena's consciousness, but she was too relieved by the change to think carefully about it, a mistake the seasoned warrior rarely made.

Even Eve seemed to have released the gloom and misery that often ruled her, and was almost smiling. It was too good to last, and of course, it didn't.

It had been a long time since they'd been attacked for simply being women on the road, viewed by bandits as an easy target. No gods, no Roman soldiers -- just bandits. Xena pulled her sword, as did Eve. Gabrielle readied her sais.

The bard looked at Joxer and raised a brow. He shrugged. "I can't help you anymore. No real body, remember?" She gave him a mock look of disgust, and turned her attention to the matter at hand.

It turned out to be a fairly simple battle. Gabrielle even wrote it up afterwards -- it had been so long since anything that mundane had happened to the women, she felt it was noteworthy in its ordinariness. But she still managed to get herself wounded.

She admitted to Joxer later she hadn't been totally focused. Actually, she'd been distracted a little, thinking about Joxer and how sad it was that he couldn't fight with them, even though he'd never been all that good at it, and, well... Whatever the reason, she got careless. He scolded her for it, after Xena finished dressing her arm. It wasn't too serious, although it bled pretty heavily. The most amazing thing was, right after the battle, before Xena and Eve had regrouped and while Gabrielle was clutching her injured arm, trying to get the bleeding to stop, Joxer came to her and touched her.

She could feel him, his hand warm on her shoulder as she saw the concern on his face at her injury. But then Xena bustled over, and he stepped away to allow her ministrations. Gabrielle asked him about it later.

"I thought we couldn't touch."

"We can't," he assured her. "I'm spirit and you're flesh -- two different worlds. It was the required sacrifice, that I had to stay in the spirit world."

"Then why did I feel your hand earlier?"

He looked supremely worried for a moment. "I hope I didn't screw everything up. I kinda thought maybe you didn't notice." The bard just waited for him to go on. After a few moments consideration, he did. "Anytime you're injured like that, you take a little step into the spirit world. I could get to you for a little bit."

"So, I was like -- dying? That's absurd! This isn't even close to a fatal wound."

"It takes the universe a few minutes to decide that after each wound or serious illness occurs. For those few minutes, you rest between the two places. That's where you were." Gabrielle could see he was serious, and the concept did make sense to her.

She smiled sadly. "It was nice to feel you touch me again."

Xena had insisted that Gabrielle take some of the sleep tea after dinner, claiming her arm would heal better if the bard were well rested. She was pretty sure her friend suspected her motives, but the blonde nonetheless willingly drank the concoction, and now she was peacefully sleeping.

The Warrior Princess squatted beside the fire, where Eve sat. "I still don't think she's quite alright," she announced without preamble, tapping her temple.

"Her new scroll read more like her old ones than that last," Xena's daughter replied. "It was pretty straight forward."

"But you did see the part where she said Joxer was watching us?"

"It read sort of like some of those stuffy, mythic stories -- you know, 'the dead watched silently' kind of thing."

"She's never used a device like that in her stories before," the warrioress commented worriedly.

"So she's trying something new," the younger woman responded impatiently.

"No, no. She thinks he's really watching us. She was talking to him after I bandaged her up. She was carrying on a conversation with thin air. I couldn't hear the words, but she acted like she was talking to someone, and nobody was there." Her face grew hard. "We're losing her, and I need to stop it, somehow."

Eve looked at her hands, as if she saw Joxer's blood on them. "It may be too late."

"Mother, I think you're obsessing." Eve looked from the dark haired woman, plowing forward with her horse following faithfully and then back to the blonde bard who followed them, chatting cheerfully with the atmosphere.

"Look at her, Eve. Look at her! She tells him stories. She helps him up when he trips! She even laughs at his jokes -- she never laughed at his jokes when he was alive."

The younger woman had to admit that it was a bit odd -- Gabrielle was always talking to no one, even asking the air's opinion on certain things and faithfully relaying it to her incredulous companions. But she seemed content, and wasn't any danger to herself or others. She was just a bit -- eccentric. No harm done.

"There's only one place to go where I can get this fixed," Xena continued in her battle-plan voice. "And we're getting close. Good, it's still here."

The temple was worn and crumbling, and appeared to have been untended for while. Of course, with the Twilight of the Gods, many temples were in that condition, although those of Aphrodite did appear to have fared better than most. This one had suffered neglect, nonetheless. Xena handed Argo's reigns to her daughter. "Maybe you and Gabrielle should wait out here. If I'm right, there might be trouble." Without waiting for an answer, the Warrior Princess flew up the stairs and into the temple.

"Look, Joxer," Gabrielle pointed, "It's one of Aphrodite's temples. We should go in and see her. She always liked you, and I think she would have liked to see us together."

"Not like this, she wouldn't." The spirit warrior looked down at the representation of his human body and waved at it. "She knows this isn't natural. It would bother her."

The bard's smile widened. "Then maybe she'd bring you back to the physical world! That way we really could be together."

Joxer smiled gently. "You still don't understand how complicated this all is, do you? I don't think she can do anything about it."

"Can't we ask?"

"I don't think we should."


Sparkles indicated a god's appearance. Still dressed in her black mourning negligee, the goddess of love appeared otherwise perky and upbeat -- her usual annoying self.

"Xena, babe! Finally decide to give my bad boy brother a whirl? He's hot -- even as a mortal."

"No!" Xena snapped impatiently. She hadn't dealt with Greek gods in a while, and had forgotten how angry she still was at all they'd done to her and her friends and family. Still, she softened a bit when she recalled Aphrodite's help when Eve and Gabrielle almost died. Losing her ire, but not her resolve, the Warrior Princess went on. "It's about Gabrielle."

Aphrodite looked surprised. "I'd heard rumors about you two, but never really thought you'd need MY help..."

Xena's ire was back. "Not THAT! I need to you to go to the Furies and tell them to get out of Gabrielle's head, now."

The goddess looked puzzled. "I didn't think the skank sisters had any projects going right now. You know, they really pulled back after you blitzed 'em when they moved out of Ar's head. They've been pretty quiet -- licking their wounds, I think. I can't imagine they'd want to tangle again with anybody associated with you, honestly."

"She's going mad, and they must be to blame. It's like what they did to her when she tried to kill Eve, or what they did to Ares."

"Hold on -- I'll go check in with them."

The goddess sparkled away, and Xena took a moment to look around her. The temple was dusty, with cracked walls and what looked like rat droppings in front of the altar. There was a time Aphrodite would have made a stink about any of her temples looking this way, but she hadn't so much as blinked an eye when she appeared here. The warrior woman couldn't help but think about what kind of shape the goddess' other temples were in these days. Sighing, she wondered where and when all the unpleasantness would ever end.

It was mere moments before the blonde goddess reappeared. "Whew -- those chickies are in some bad shape, babe, even for them. Whatever you did to them with that god-killing chakram of yours, they aren't going to be causing anyone any trouble for another decade or two, at least."

Panic colored Xena's expression. "It has to be their fault! She's losing it. This is Gabrielle! She's been to hell and back -- she can't go off on me now!"

"Can I talk to her?"

"I would think a love goddess would want us to be together, Joxer."

"When did you become the optimist, and me the realist?"

"You're dead, living in the spirit world, where no one else seems able to see you, and you call yourself a realist?"

He grinned. "Relatively."

"Well, I'm just saying -- true love should win out, and who would understand that better than -- Aphrodite! Hi! Look, Joxer, she's here!" Gabrielle looked around, but her ephemeral lover seemed to have vanished.

"Hey, doll," the goddess said kindly. "Whoya talkin' to?"

The bard frowned. "Joxer. He was just here."

Aphrodite look momentarily nonplussed. "Gabs, honey -- he's dead. Although you are certainly putting off some major love vibes, there isn't anybody on the other end to receive 'em, if you get my drift."

Xena hissed at the love deity. "Oh, be subtle about it, why don't you?"

"Oh, I know he's dead, but he was here. Joxer? Come back, honey."

'Dite snaked an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. "Trust me, I know what it' s like to lose the guy you've got the hots for. I wish I could help, really. I mean, there's not a day goes by I don't miss my Hephy..." The goddess' eyes filled with tears, and she blinked them back. Finally she regained her control. "But life goes on, sweetie. We gotta live, even if they didn't. It is nice to see you finally appreciating studmuffin, though, even if it is a bit late. At least you'll get to see him again, when it's all over."

The bard grew thoughtful, then her face lit up, and she threw her arms around the goddess. "I told him you could help. Thank you so much!" Releasing the other woman, Gabrielle headed into the trees, calling, "Joxer! I have an idea."

If looks could kill, Xena would have sent Aphrodite to join her late husband. "I really don't like the sound of that. You better not have made things worse."

'Dite too, looked troubled. "She's pretty much a few olives short of a jar, isn't she? There's no telling what she could do."

"Gabby, no! I won't let you!"

"But why, Joxer? We could be together, forever."

"No! It hurts, and you're too young, and it, it... it just isn't right. Please don't."

"You told me it didn't hurt anymore."

"Well, right then, it didn't. But it hurt like Hades before that, and besides, I was old, I'd lived my whole life, and I didn't kill myself! Think of what it'd do to Xena."

Gabrielle pouted. "You'd think you didn't want to be with me."

Joxer pouted right back. "C'mon, Gabby, you know better. I could be resting eternally right now, but where am I? Right here, with you. This isn't good enough for you?"

She sniffed and turned her back on him, returning to the camp.

Gabrielle hadn't spoken at all for the past two days. Not to Xena, not to Eve, not even to the thin air -- to "Joxer". Her silence almost had a physical presence, and it was oppressing both the other women. The blonde warrior bard appeared to be sleepwalking, moving with little awareness of her surroundings or companions.

Xena was worried again. The trip to Aphrodite's temple hadn't helped, but rather driven the wedge between herself and her best friend in even deeper. They'd even had another battle on the road -- some drunken soldiers who were looking for trouble and found it. Gabrielle had fought efficiently, but without a sound. And she'd killed one of the men without emotion, needlessly. When the Warrior Princess asked why in frustration and anger, all she got in return was an empty gaze.

Fine, he wasn't speaking to her. She wasn't speaking to him, first. She knew he meant well, that he was worried about her. But didn't he see that if she joined him on the other side, everything would be as it should be? Xena would get over it. She'd seen lots of people die -- even Joxer -- and survived. She had Eve now. She'd be fine, and they could be together.

She actually thought about letting one of the soldiers they had fought that day kill her, and taking care of it that way. But she got angry at the fact that Joxer still wasn't talking to her, and wouldn't let her do it HER way, so she killed the guy instead. Go ahead, Gabrielle thought, as she drove her sai into the man's guts, go tell him what I did. Maybe he'll understand then. The look of surprise on the man's face as he died reminded her of Joxer. It shouldn't be such a surprise -- that's one of the things I could avoid, you see. When Xena had asked, the bard knew she couldn't explain the killing to her, although her reasons were good. So she said nothing at all.

It was so simple, that night, to slip the good knife out of the saddlebag before going to bed, and to hide it in her pelt. When she was sure the other women were asleep, Gabrielle slid out of the bedroll, and snuck to the moonlit clearing she had noticed while gathering the firewood earlier. Holding her arm before her, she could see the vein, pulsing with life in her wrist, and knew how easy it was going to be. She almost laughed. As she was slicing through her right wrist, she looked up and saw him, saw the panic on his face. "I'll be with you soon," she said, smiling.

"Gabrielle, NO!" Joxer screamed.

Xena sat bolt upright in the moonlight, not sure what had pulled her from sleep, but knowing she was wide-awake and her heart was pounding. Was it someone yelling, or a crash in the woods? She glanced around the campsite -- Gabrielle was missing!

"Eve!" she screamed, and ran off before her daughter could even sit up. Was it fate or instinct, she wondered later, that led her right to the clearing where Gabrielle lay, her wrists torn open and pouring out blood onto the forest floor? Xena ripped the bard's skirt and tied closed the wounds, feeling her daughter's heat behind her. Glancing up, she saw a tree with leaves that would staunch the bleeding, and nodded towards it, knowing Eve would understand and gather the needed greenery, which she indeed set about doing. Meanwhile, the Warrior Princess picked up the small body of her closest friend, these days her only friend, her now hopelessly weak and possibly dying friend. And Xena carried Gabrielle sorrowfully back to the camp.

"Owww!" Gabrielle hurt, and she didn't know why. Her wrists felt funny, and they ached.

"Why'd you do it? I asked you not to."

She looked up into the deep and sorrowful brown eyes of the man who loved her enough to die for her, and remembered what had happened. "You did it for me. I just wanted to be with you."

"I told you -- giving up my life to save yours after living over sixty years isn't anywhere near the same. And I AM with you."

"You stopped talking to me," she said, accusingly.

His eyes filled with tears. "I guess I shouldn't have done that. I was mad at you for even thinking about this, then you went and did it anyway. It's a good thing Xena found you when she did."

"Did you bring her to me?"

He shrugged. "I tried. I don't know." He smiled a sad smile. "I think she knows you so well, she can sense when you're in trouble."

"I'm sorry. It just seemed like the right thing to do."

His face grew angry. "It wasn't! Promise me..." Joxer looked at her, and his expression softened, along with his voice. "Promise me you won't do anything that stupid again."

"I promise." Her voice was tiny.

Then he smiled that loving smile of his, and she could tell he wanted to smooth back her hair, but couldn't. "Okay. Go back to sleep for a while. I love you."

"I love you. I am sorry."

His voice was so soft. "I know."

"She woke up for a bit, but she's sleeping again." Eve's body was tense, her arms wrapped across her chest as if she were cold. At Xena's questioning look, she went on. "She was talking to him again, when she woke up. I couldn 't hear the words, but it sounded like she was apologizing."

"For trying or for failing?"

"I couldn't tell."

"I'm not sure if I'm happy she's talking again, even if it is to her dead lover who's all in her mind, or afraid she's stepped off another ledge in her descent into insanity."

"Mom." The misery in Eve's voice had a life of its own. "We need to talk about that. I know she's your best friend and all, but she isn't getting any better. She's proved she's a danger to herself, and who knows when she might endanger us, next. You need to do something with her, before she hurts someone." Like I did, the girl thought, seeing the face of her childhood protector clearly in her memory, and then the same face as an elderly man, dying with a sword through him. Her sword. She looked over at the sleeping bard. It seemed Livia was still claiming victims after all this time.

"So we thought we'd go visit the Amazon tribe where you and I talked about settling. What do you think?" Xena spoke with forced good humor, trying to match Gabrielle's apparent lighthearted mood. Once the bard had recovered sufficiently from her suicide attempt to travel, the women had set out in the direction of the tribe. The bard had finally noticed that they seemed to be heading for a particular destination, and asked what it was.

The blonde smiled broadly at the answer. "That sounds great. What do you think?" The other two women knew the question wasn't aimed at them, and watched as their companion tilted her head, then broke out in laughter. "I think by now they've forgiven you. Besides, you're still pledged to me, remember?" Then she graced the vacant spot beside her with a loving smile. "Joxer agrees. He says he'll even renew his pledge, if they want."

These were the moments Xena hated most of all. Lots of other times, as they traveled, she could pretend her old friend hadn't gone insane. Gabrielle would tell tales, and point out interesting philosophical views, and it would almost seem like old times. But the minute she pulled "Joxer" into the conversation, the ice-cold realization of her growing madness slapped the Warrior Princess like a frozen glove.

Not only that, but the crazier Gabrielle became, the further Eve retreated from both the bard and her own mother. Guilt seemed to rule her daily life, now, and nothing Xena could say was able to break down the wall the girl was building around her heart. Even trying to explain to her daughter how she had overcome the same feelings in her own life led to a discussion of Gabrielle, whose mental instability Eve took the whole blame for, and then another rock went up in the wall. It was a vicious cycle.

"Eris! I never thought I'd see you like this!"

The middle aged Amazon leader looked with wonder at the three women before her. "Xena. So it really is true -- you are back, alive and still the same as you were before. Had it been anyone but you, I might have dismissed it as rumor. But I always knew you were capable of the impossible."

Gabrielle was looking at the attractive dark-haired woman behind the Queen, and her head was bent, whispering to nobody. Then she straightened up and said, "Rhea, you've grown into such a beautiful woman." Her elbow poked the air beside her, and she hissed, "I am NOT!" The Amazons gazed at their former queen in puzzlement.

Xena grabbed Eris by the arm and pulled her towards the council hut. "It's real important that I talk to you about something, alone. Rhea, if you'd come too. REAL important. Eve, take care of Gabrielle for me, okay?"

Gabrielle plopped down on the bed. "It'll be nice, staying here for a while. I don't know why Xena won't stay, too, but she said she thought we needed some time alone together. I think that's sweet of her, to think of us that way."

"Why'd she take the sais with her?" Joxer asked as he sat down beside the bard.

"She said she didn't want me to worry about fighting or anything -- I just needed to relax."

"She's right, you know." The man reached up and began massaging his love's shoulders.

She squealed, and jumped up. "You're touching me! And when I poked you earlier, when you made that comment about me being jealous, you grunted! You felt it!" Throwing herself at him, the bard pinned Joxer to the bed and began to kiss him hungrily. Suddenly, she pulled away. "What happened to the sacrifice?"

"Apparently, you gave up something that was good enough." He pulled her back to him, wrapping his warm body around hers.

"Mmmmm," Gabrielle moaned as he nibbled at her neck, "We need to get a bigger bed in here, then."

Xena turned once more, sadly eyeing the guards placed outside Gabrielle's hut for her own protection. Her friend had surrendered her own sanity, and yet, she seemed happier than she'd been in years. Resignedly, she turned back to her daughter, whose suffering was just beginning. Perhaps things would get easier now. Somehow, she doubted it.