Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Warning: This story is rated NC-17. Do not read it if you are under 17 years of age, or if the idea of two women in love turns you off. This story contains fairly explicit sexual content, as well as at least one four-letter word (in part two) and one five-letter "b" word (in part 5).
Xenite Disclaimer for Part Seven: Callisto's essentially psychopathic nature was not harmed in the production of this fanfic.
Deine Zauber binden wieder, Was die Mode streng geteilt; Alle Menschen werden Bruder, Wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt. [By Thy magic was reunited All that Custom had divided; All men are brothers Where Thy gentle wings have sway.] -from "An dem Freude" (Ode to Joy) by Friedrich SchillerCallisto ran blindly through the forest, barefoot and uncaring, panting, although as a goddess she didn't get out of breath. At first she cried, but then she quelled her sobs and just ran, telling herself that she could feel the pain fading farther and farther into the distance behind her.
At long last even her immortal body gave out and she collapsed to the ground where she was, heedless of the foliage that clawed at her skin and hair. She lay still for a long moment, staring blankly at trees, her chest heaving with dry gasps. In another instant Aphrodite appeared, shaking her head sorrowfully.
"Oh dear, babe, leaves are totally not your look," she sighed, but she sank to her knees beside the stricken goddess, her face full of concern. "Hey, cheer up, sweetie."
Callisto batted away the hand that reached to smooth back a lock of hair. But Aphrodite was undaunted, reaching again to move the golden strands and then lightly stroking the cheek underneath. "Come on...it's okay," she crooned, her voice gentler than any mortal had heard it ever. "I've like majorly neglected you, haven't I?" she murmured. Her voice was gentle enough to break a heart ... or, perhaps, to mend one. Callisto gave another muffled sob and burrowed into the love goddess's welcoming, comforting embrace.
"Xena...." began Gabrielle uncertainly. But Xena interrupted quickly.
"Gabrielle, let me." Giving a quick shake to release the tension of the fight with Callisto, Xena took Gabrielle's hand and led her to the fire Aphrodite had built them. It crackled quietly inside its ring of stones. There was a log for sitting, and on it Xena and Gabrielle settled, looking into each other's eyes.
"You really don't have to," Gabrielle said quietly, squirming. Xena shook her head.
"Yes, I do," she said. "I must speak to live." Gabrielle's eyes widened slightly as the oracle's words hit home.
"Okay." Her stomach felt ready to crawl up her throat and out her dry mouth. Her hands, resting nervously on her thighs, were sweaty. How did Xena stay so calm?
How can I stay calm through this? wondered Xena. She wanted more than anything to throw off her stern warrior facade for this, perhaps the most important conversation of her life. But she was, as always, afraid of losing her control. Well, nowhere to go but forward.... "Gabrielle ... you met me on the darkest day of my entire life. I was lost and alone. I had committed myself in words to following the path of good, but in deeds I didn't know how to walk that path. I was in despair. I had begun to think that I could do the world the most good by killing myself." Gabrielle sucked in her breath slightly, but didn't interrupt.
"But then I saw you in that field near Poteidaia, and although I didn't realize it for a long time, it was like I had been in a dark room, searching for the door, and you were the beam of light from underneath that showed me the way." Xena swallowed carefully, trying to remain focused on her words despite the tide of emotion-memory that was sweeping her. "I think somehow, even that first day, I knew it, and that's why I let you come with me. You were like a symbol, at first, a symbol of what I might have been -- what I could never be. I told myself, the first time I saw the condemnation in your eyes, that would be when I knew I had strayed from the path. And then ... you would go away, and I would know it was time to start all over again.
"But that never happened. You've seen me at my absolute worst, Gabrielle, and yet you've never condemned. You've seen me be cruel and brutal. I've hurt you, more times and more ways than I even know. And yet you're still here. Morning after morning I wake up, expecting you to be gone, but you're not. Morning after morning I thank the gods for one more day with you."
Tears were flowing freely down Gabrielle's face by now. Her chest felt so full of joy she was afraid to move, for fear it would all jostle loose and fly away. Xena took her hands and squeezed them gently.
"It took me a long time to realize what I was seeing in your eyes in place of condemnation. Admiration. Respect, without fear. Confidence. Friendship. And -" she took a deep breath - "and love." She squeezed Gabrielle's hands again, and her voice dropped a notch. "All the things, Gabrielle, that I saw in you were like mirrors of what I wanted you to see in me." A sigh. "But I never knew how to show them to you. It seemed to come so easily for you, so hard for me -- showing emotion. I didn't want to jeopardize whatever I'd done to put those things in your face. But now ... now it's finally all out and I'm so relieved. I can't believe how good it feels. I love you. I love you." Her own voice broke and she looked away, still afraid to expose her most raw heart.
A long moment of silence ensued, a comfortable silence tinged with the electricity of newfound emotion. Finally Gabrielle spoke, her voice so hoarse she had to pause and clear her throat.
"Xena?" she said, very timidly.
"What?" Xena tore her eyes from the tree she had been carefully studying, and looked into the blinding sun of Gabrielle's wet, glowing face.
"Can I give you some advice, as a bard?"
"Um-" This was totally unexpected. "Sure."
"This is the part of the story where you should kiss me."
Delight blossomed in Xena's bosom like a butterfly, unfolding its wings for the first time. She moved her fingers lightly across that beloved face, smoothing away the dampness, savoring the moment before she leaned over and down and finally, finally claimed Gabrielle's lips with her own.
Callisto cried into Aphrodite's warm shoulder for a long time before, with a suddenness that took the older goddess by surprise, she pulled away. The mask of anger dropped back over Callisto's features and her eyes narrowed.
"Wait...." Aphrodite reached for her, worried, but Callisto sprang upright and put several more feet of earth between them.
"What are you trying to pull?" she asked suspiciously. Not waiting for an answer, she went on, "Well, you can forget it. I may have lost our bet, but *you* can't have my soul either!" Before Aphrodite could frame a response, she was gone.
Slowly, Aphrodite got to her feet. She sighed again, her eyes troubled. "Like, this is definitely not going according to plan," she muttered unhappily.
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