The Dark Side of my Soul

Chapter 4

My heart is hurting beyond words
The pain is tearing up my soul
These days have seen my spirit die
My life propelled out of control
My wounds lie naked to the world
My depth of suffering exposed
This damaged past can never heal
Until this nightmare book is closed
--"Hearts are Hurting (Part 1)," The Bitter Suite (New-U Distribution LLC, 1998)

The next morning, Xena went off for a walk by herself.  When she returned, she announced that she was ready to move on.  Her fear of Callisto still loomed over her, but she couldn't stay at her mother's forever.  There were people who needed her help, and she focused on that.

"Are you going to be all right?" asked Hercules.

"I'm not sure," she answered honestly.  "Let's try to keep in touch.  I may have to ask for your help again."

"I'm all yours," he said with a grave smile, and they hugged briefly.  They both knew they had said their farewells the day before.  Gabrielle and Iolaus were hugging as well, and they switched.  Xena and Iolaus grasped each other's wrists in a firm shake, followed by a hug, while Hercules pulled Gabrielle close for a hug and whispered, "Take care of her . . . and don't ever doubt that her world revolves around you.  Last night after dinner, she talked of nothing but you."

"Thanks, Hercules," said Gabrielle with a warm smile.  "And thank you for all you've done for her.  I was over my head on this one."

"We all were," he said, worried.  "I'm afraid it's not over yet."  They all could see the cloud of fear and uneasiness that darkened Xena's blue eyes, even when she was able to relax and laugh.

As Hercules and Iolaus left, after repeatedly thanking Cyrene for her hospitality and good cooking, Hercules murmured to his partner, "She still looks so haunted.  I wish I could break every bone in Callisto's body."

"Well, if you get a chance, Herc," said Iolaus, "save a few bones for me."

Xena and Cyrene clung together.  When Xena had first arrived, her mother had been dismayed at a vulnerability she hadn't seen since her daughter was a child.  She was delighted at the extent of her recovery, but she too knew that Xena wasn't all the way back.

Life seemed to fall into a familiar routine.  Soon after they left Amphipolis, Xena and Gabrielle encountered a messenger from a village under siege by a warlord, and they set off immediately to help.  Another time it was the kidnapped child of an impoverished prince being held for ransom.  Another time it was a killer who stalked the poor, deeming them unnecessary.  Another time it was a battle between the Amazons of Ephiny's tribe and those of a renegade tribe looking for new territory.

Xena fought fiercely when necessary, but Gabrielle could see she had lost her joy in battle.  She fought with a mechanical and cold efficiency, doing her best to disable each combatant with a single blow of her fist or foot or sword.  And always there was the continuous lookout for Callisto, the continuous scanning of the landscape whenever she was awake.

One mornng Xena awoke with a start, to see Ares leaning against a tree, watching her, his arms folded across his chest.  "Go a-way," she enunciated slowly.  Gabrielle woke up and jumped up, her hands instinctively reaching for her staff.  Xena motioned her back and out of the way.

"And what if I don't want to?" asked the god.  "I just wanted to see how you were doing, my dear."

"I'll show you!  This time I don't need anyone to do my fighting for me," snarled the warrior, reaching over her shoulder to draw her sword.  She leapt at Ares in a fury, his presence once again making her boil over at the thought that he'd witnessed her captivity and hadn't done anything about it.  Her face was set and grim.  There were none of the feral smiles that usually flashed across Xena's face in a good fight.  She simply tore into the god, taking him off guard with her determination and purpose.  Their swords clashed, as he parried her blows, and she whirled around and kicked him hard in the face.  He swung an arm and struck her, but she flipped away from him and flipped back, hitting him squarely in the chest with both feet and knocking him to the ground.  He dissolved from beneath her feet and reappeared behind her, but she spun, her instincts telling her where he would be the moment before he got there.  Her sword slashed into his upper arm, and as he gaped for a moment in amazement she gave him a kick that sent him flying backward.  He flipped in the air, landed on his feet, and turned toward her.  "You're wasting my time, Ares!" yelled the warrior, running toward him, her sword arm raised.

Realizing there was no reason to take this abuse and not willing to make the effort it would take to disarm a furious Xena, he vanished, with only his voice remaining to say, "It's not really me you should be fighting, Xena."

"AAAARRRGGHHH!" she yelled and drove her sword into the ground to the hilt.  Gabrielle felt helpless.  She'd seen Xena like this before, to be sure, but not day in and day out.  "I'm sorry, Gabrielle," said Xena wearily, retrieving her sword and proceeding to polish and sharpen it, with furious strokes of the sharpening stone.

"I wish I could help," said Gabrielle, her voice small.

"I wish you could too, my love," said Xena gently.  "Remember when I told you I felt like something had broken inside me.  It's still not all the way healed, and I still don't know how to fix it."

Gabrielle sighed, and went to tend to Argo.  She was feeling increasingly helpless and frustrated as the weeks passed.  It was obvious that Xena was not herself.  Gabrielle was also angry at herself for her own selfish reasons for being frustrated.  She and Xena made love frequently, but Xena had gone back to treating her as if she were infinitely fragile and needed to be protected.  Xena still felt that way herself.  She welcomed Gabrielle's fingers or tongue sliding inside her, but she shrunk away from anything the least bit rough, whether on the giving or receiving end.  The night before, Gabrielle had stretched her arms out above her head, grasping one wrist in the other hand.  Xena had frozen for a moment, looking stricken, before she could continue touching her lover.

Gabrielle turned to Xena, who still sharpening her sword, with tears beginning to pool in her blue eyes.  "Did Callisto do this on purpose?" Xena asked.  "Was she just trying to amuse herself, or did she know I'd never get past it?"

* * *

That night, after another mechanical and joyless battle with a group of robbers who had accosted a family of unarmed travellers, Xena sat staring blindly into the fire.  "Do you want to come to bed?" asked Gabrielle, hesitantly.

"Not right now, Gabrielle, I want to think.  You sleep."

Gabrielle curled up in her blankets near Xena, and Xena automatically reached out to stroke her lover's back, her eyes still fixed on the fire.  The next morning she was still sitting in the same position when Gabrielle woke up.  Xena turned to her, saying in a flat voice, "I know what I have to do.  You're not going to like it, I'm afraid."

When Xena told Gabrielle her plan, Gabrielle tried to talk her out of it, using every argument she could think of, but Xena was adamant.  "You don't understand, Gabrielle; this is what I have to do.  We need to find Hercules--I'm going to need some backup."

After a couple of days' travel, they found Hercules on his own.  Iolaus had departed on a fishing expedition, an activity he preferred to undertake alone.  Watching Hercules simply grab the fish out of the water irritated him, since he preferred a more patient and meditative approach--using a line.  It had been a hard two days for the women.  Xena had felt a cold hand clutching at her heart, and near-attacks of panic sometimes cut off her breath.  Gabrielle was depressed, having tried repeatedly to talk Xena out of her plan, and each time Xena cut her off, sometimes patiently and sometimes less so.

Hercules listened gravely, asking "Are you sure?"  Xena nodded grimly.  "All right then," he said.  "What do you need?"

* * *

The next morning found Xena purposefully hiking up the mountain toward the scene of her captivity, with Hercules and Gabrielle at her side.  When they reached a certain point, she said, "Wait here.  Don't interfere unless you absolutely have to to save my life.  Do you understand?"

"No," said Gabrielle miserably, "not really.  But I'll do what you say."

"I understand," said Hercules softly.  He grasped both of Xena's hands in his, gazed into her eyes, and said, "Be strong."  He then turned away, so Xena could hug and hold Gabrielle.  She wiped away Gabrielle's tears with gentle strokes and kissed her on the lips, but her own heart was freezing inside her.

Abruptly, she turned away, and loped through the field to the cave.  Hercules and Gabrielle were hiding behind a stand of trees and shrubs.  Xena strode into the cave, and a rush of panic swept ovr her.  She wanted to turn around and run as fast as her legs would carry her.  And keep feeling like this all the time? she thought.  Not a chance.  Newly resolved on her course, she cried out, "CAL-LIST-TO!"  Her voice echoed off the walls of the cave, and she walked back out the entrance, preferring to confront the goddess in an open space.

After a few moments, a column of flame appeared and resolved itself into Callisto's form.  She was smiling that infuriating baby smile, and said cheerily, "You called?"

Every nerve in Xena's body and almost every cell in her brain were screaming, "Get me out of here!"  The sight of her tormentor made all the fear she'd been feeling the last few months seem like nothing--she was blankly terrified out of her mind.

"I guess you had so much fun last time you decided to come back for more!" exclaimed Callisto, lazily drawing her sword.  Xena's reflexes reacted before her conscious mind did, and she drew her sword as well.

Callisto lunged, and Xena fought her back, nimbly leaping out of the way of Callisto's weapon.  Callisto shot a bolt of lightning from her hand, and Xena dodged that as well.  When her voice finally made it back into her throat, after having fled at Callisto's appearance, she yelled, "Callisto!  I came her to talk, not fight!"

"Well, what if I don't want to talk?" Callisto demanded petulantly.

"Think about it, Callisto!" yelled Xena, as their swords clashed.  "You're going to live forever.  I'm not.  You're not going to have me to kick around for eternity.  What are you going to do with yourself?"

"Who cares?" snapped the goddess, "I'll figure it out after you're gone.  I'm counting on many more years of tormenting you!"  She started to swing her sword at the warrior.

Xena kicked Callisto's wrist, sending her sword flying.  "Callisto, will you please just listen to me?  Give me a chance?"

Callisto screamed a blood-curdling shriek and yelled, "I'd rather hurt you than talk!"  She launched another lightning bolt, and Xena flipped out of the way.

"I'll tell you what!" said Xena.  "If I let you hurt me first, will you listen to me?"

"Now that's an intriguing idea," said Callisto thoughtfully, her finger pulling on her lower lip.  "I'll try it.  But if I get tired of talking, I'm just going to hurt you some more."

"Thanks for the warning!" snapped Xena, sheathing her sword.

"Stand over there," ordered Callisto, pointing to a nearby tree.

Xena walked where she was ordered, and turned to face the goddess, arms at her side, palms open.

"No tricks, Xe-na?" asked Callisto.

"No tricks," answered the warrior grimly.

"Go-od," said Callisto with a giggle.  Suddenly two short knives materialized in her hand.  She flung one, then the other with incomprehensible speed.  One buried itself in Xena's right thigh, the other in her left shoulder.  Xena was momentarily staggered with the pain, and slid down against the trunk of the tree, so she was sitting propped against it.  The knives hurt tremendously, but she wouldn't bleed to death any time soon.

As Callisto approached, Xena looked her in the eye and said drily, "Nice placement."

"I'm glad you think so!" said Callisto brightly and sat down, cross-legged, in front of Xena.  "So talk to me, darling."

* * *

As soon as the knives left Callisto's hand, Gabrielle jumped up, only to be pulled back down by Hercules.  She struggled briefly, hissing, "She's hurt!  We've got to help her!"

"She's hurt.  She's not dying," answered Hercules, his face drawn and worried.  "She told us not to interfere, and I'm going to make sure we don't."

"But . . . " Gabrielle began to argue.

"But listen to me," he said.  "Do you have any idea how impossibly hard it was for her to put herself in Callisto's way?  Do you have any idea how important this must be for her for her to put herself through that?  She's completely terrified, and she knew there was no way she'd get out of this without getting hurt.  It was a price she was willing to pay."

"But why?" demanded Gabrielle, resigned to not be going anywhere anytime soon.  "You can take your hands off me by the way," she snapped.  "But don't you care about her?"

"I'm not going to let you get in the way of what she needs to do.  Understand?" asked the demigod.

"Yes," sighed Gabrielle.

He let go of her arms, and began to explain.  "And you know I care about her--probably much more than I should--it hurts like Hades to know she's out there terrified and in pain.  Gabrielle, you have to understand that Xena is the most courageous person I know.  Let me tell you a story.  You know her army put her through a gauntlet, right?"  Gabrielle nodded.  "They did it because she saved a baby--they had strict orders from her to preserve women and children.  I wasn't there, but Salmoneus told me about it.  She should have died, but she willed herself to survive.  She came back afterward and tried to kill me, hoping she could get her army back.  I had her on the ground, a sword at her neck, and she didn't flinch for a moment.  It was as if she had been expecting to be killed at any time.  She actually raised her neck toward the sword.  I think she was disgusted with me for not killing her--she probably thought I was a coward-- and she refused to help us fight her old army.  She went away alone and fought a battle with herself that had to have been harder than any she ever fought with her sword."

Gabrielle gasped, as she saw Callisto draw her sword, and slice a gash in each of Xena's upper arms.  "Oh gods," she sobbed.  "Keep talking, Hercules.  You've got to distract me."

He continued, his face worn with pain.  "While we were fighting her army, she joined us.  She had made a decision and stood behind it.  And with every blow she struck against her former followers, she was dismantling everything that had given her feelings of safety and power and purpose.  When the fight was over, I asked her if it was over, all of it, and she agreed.  Turning her life around like that to do something entirely unfamiliar and new had to be terrifying.  I could see it in her eyes--this confusion, this sense of loss.

"We talked for hours that night.  Part of the time she was so full of anger I thought she might try to kill me just because I was there.  Part of the time she was simply panicked--like a wounded animal whose legs had collapsed--she didn't know what to stand on any more.  And most of that time she told me her crimes, an outpouring of one after another.  I was afraid she might hurt herself--it was as if she suddenly saw her life through new eyes, and she despised what she saw.  The hatred she directed at herself was devastating.  It made my reassurances sound hollow and trite.  She had no idea what she was going to do next.  She could have regained her army if she wanted to or formed another one--she was the favorite of Ares--but she reached inside herself and found the strength and courage and will to decide to turn her back on what had been the only life she had known for years.

"I don't know if you realize this, Gabrielle.  But she makes that decision again every single day.  Every single day, she wakes up and knows that my half-brother would hand her the leadership of the world on a platter.  Every single day, she wakes up and knows that she could recruit the finest army in the world.  Every single day, she wakes up and knows that the easiest thing she could do is give in to all the anger and violence and darkness that's still inside her and become the most powerful warlord our world has ever seen.  And she's now been offered the powers of a god as well.  Yet, every single day she wakes up and continues on the path she's chosen--the hard path, the difficult path.  The path without the glories and spoils of battle and the relief of giving her dark side free rein.

"I know you're a very, very large part of why she stays on that path, Gabrielle.  I don't know if she could do it alone.  But it still takes  remarkable courage on her part to stick to it.  Remarkable courage.  And ever since that bitch out there took her captive, she's been scared.  The most courageous person I know has been scared every minute of every day for over three months.  If she's willing to put herself in Callisto's way on purpose, it's because living scared has become intolerable to her.  This is what she has to do, and what we have to do is sit here and suffer through it with her."

"You're right, Hercules.  I just hate to see her in pain again."

"She was never not in pain, Gabrielle.  I know you know that.  That's why she's here.  She'll never be entirely free of her past, and she shouldn't be--she has a lifetime of atoning to do, and it won't bring her victims back.  But Callisto has become so much a part of what she hates in herself that she has to free herself from her."

* * *

"Before you start," said Callisto, "tell me.  Does it hurt?"

"These?" asked Xena, gesturing weakly toward the knives.  "Yes, it hurts."

"Good.  Tell me more.  Describe it."  Callisto leaned forward, swiped a drop of blood running from the wound in Xena's shoulder on her finger, then sucked her finger languidly.  "That gives me such a rush, Xena dear.  Now, describe it."

"I don't know how!  Being descriptive isn't my idiom."

"Try, Xena, try.  You want me to listen to you, you do what I say."

Xena winced with the pain.  "It's sharp and hot all at once," she attempted.  "But cold inside.  I can feel the blades right through my muscles.  It's agonizing, if you want to know the truth."

"Good," said Callisto cheerfully.  "But I'd like to see some more blood."  Without getting up, she drew her sword and sliced a gash in each of Xena's upper arms.  "Oh, that's lovely, now, go ahead and talk."

Xena felt weak and dizzy, but she marshalled herself.  "Actually, I want you to talk, Callisto.  Tell me about what I did to you.  Tell me what made you feel this way.  All of it.  Everything you felt.  I did you an unforgivable injury, and I want to do whatever penance I can.  Just talk to me."

Callisto looked surprised and said, "OK, I will.  I'll tell you all of it."  She had forced Xena to apologize publicly before, but Xena had never offered to listen to her.  Her voice took on a dreamlike tone.  "Cirra was as ordinary a village as you'd find.  Farmers, bakers, craftsmen, you name it.  I loved my mother and my sister, not just because they were family, but they understood me and accepted me.  All the other little girls in Cirra dreamed of the day they'd find the right man and get married.  They played house and played with dolls who were their babies.  They had their future husbands all picked out and all the names of their children.

"I wasn't like that.  I hated playing those games.  I wanted something else.  Mother did what she could.  She taught me and my sister how to read, and she talked my father into getting me a horse, and I learned to ride.  I would ride for hours, dreaming of getting away, but I couldn't think of how.  What could I do?"

Xena's eyes began to fill with tears, not from the pain as much from the fact that the story sounded disturbingly familiar.  She whispered, "I remember feeling that way."

"I played with the other girls sometimes," continued Callisto.  "My sister had a lot of friends--everyone liked her.  They put up with me for her sake.  But I hated their games.  It seemed like I would be stuck, that there wasn't anything else I could be.  I think I dismembered every doll anyone gave me."

"I did that too," Xena interjected.  "Sometimes I cut up their clothes to make bandages--I wanted to be a healer, but the healer told me women couldn't do that."

"Yeah," said Callisto morosely.  "Every idea I had for getting out of there, my father discouraged.  My mother tried to encourage me, but she didn't have any ideas either.  And my sister listened--talking to her always helped a little.  Then one day, we heard of an army advancing.  There wasn't time to flee.  My family was huddling inside their house, but I had been out walking just outside the village, and I couldn't get back in time.  There were soldiers between me and the house.

"Then I saw . . . this vision.  The most beautiful woman I'd ever seen, riding a magnificent horse.  She was tall and proud and independent.  My heart just opened.  She was everything I wanted to be, every possibility I had imagined.  I thought the boys in my village were repulsive.  But I saw this woman, and I wanted to devote my life to her.  Foolish, huh?  But she was like nothing else I'd ever seen or imagined.  Oh, Xena, how I could have loved you."

Tears were running down Xena's cheeks, and they weren't from her wounds.  Callisto's voice hardened.  "And then the slaughter began.  Your army began cutting down men, and some were setting fires.  I screamed and screamed, 'NO!'  I wanted to make you stop them; I wanted to make you understand.  But your eyes were so cold.  I ran toward my house, dodging the horses and the soldiers.  It was on fire, and the wind was blowing flames everywhere.  I tried to get inside, but the fire burned my hands.  I heard my mother and my sister screaming while I ran around the house, trying to find a way in, but I was too frightened of the flames."  She paused, musing, "Funny how I like to play with fire now," and continued, her voice flat.  "I did see them through the window though.  They were holding each other, as their hair and clothes burned.  They had been too frightened of you and your army to escape."

Callisto's voice softened again.  "All I could think was, was that it?  Was my only road out of a dreary life to be a killer?  Was that the only way I could be free?  I wasn't thinking very clearly.  The smoke burned my eyes, and I ran back toward the outskirts of the village.  No one noticed me.  Then I realized I'd never see Mommy or my sister again--the only people who understood me.  I saw you again--your face was hard with anger.  I asked you 'Why?' but you didn't bother to answer.  I was just another victim."

Callisto was also crying.  "I never cried since then, Xena, why am I crying now?"

"Because it hurts.  We need to cry when it hurts.  Listen, Callisto, when you saw my face, my anger was directed at my own army.  Please believe me that I never intended to kill women and children.  The winds spread the fire out of control."  She paused.  "No, I can't excuse myself.  If they hadn't been so afraid of me and my army, they would have escaped, your mother and sister among them."

"Why, Xena, why?" pleaded Callisto, her voice and face that of a young girl.

"I have no excuses," said the warrior softly, her eyes still leaking tears.  "Someone hurt me and betrayed me and killed someone I cared about.  After that all I cared about was death and power.  You weren't a person to me then.  No one was.  Killing just relieved the anger for a while."

Callisto and Xena stared at each other for a moment in silence, each seeing the other mirrored in their swimming eyes.  Wincing at the pain from the knives, Xena began to move, levering herself into a kneeling position.  The motion jolted the knives, and the wounds began to bleed more heavily, but Xena ignored the pain.  She put her hands behind her back and bowed her head.

"Callisto," she began.  "This will sound hollow to you, and I know I've tried to apologize before, but I have to say it.  I'm sorry, deeply, sincerely sorry.  I can't make excuses.  I was in command of that army.  I killed your mother, and I killed your sister.  I can't bring them back.  I can never atone.  I can never be forgiven for what I did to you.  But I'm sorry with every fiber of my being.  I'm sorry I cut short the lives of your family.  I'm sorry I cut off all the love they gave you.  I'm sorry I tore your childhood away from you."  Tears streaked her face, and with a monumental effort, she bowed her head to the ground, biting down a shriek from the pain.

Callisto's tears continued to fall as well.  "I needed to hear you say that, Xena--this time you sounded like you meant it," she said dully, "but I don't think I can ever forgive you."  She reached forward and gently helped Xena up, but Xena remained on her knees, gazing into Callisto's face.

"I can't forgive myself either," explained the warrior.  "If I ever do, I'm out of business.  Every day I remember the things I've done.  All I'm trying to do is even the balance a little bit.  I'll never finish atoning, and I shouldn't ever."  She winced again in pain.  "Callisto, please, you're going to have to stop the bleeding, or I'm going to pass out."

Callisto waved her hand, and the blood stopped flowing, although the wounds continued to hurt.  "But you have to understand something, Callisto," Xena continued.  "I committed an unforgivable crime against you.  You have every reason to seek revenge against me.  But I am not responsible for your crimes, for the choices you've made.  You had me thinking I was.  I felt every death you caused was on my head too.  But it's not.  No matter how badly someone hurts you, you still have choices you can make."

In an almost emotionless voice, she continued, "I was crucified once.  By Julius Caesar.  One of his soldiers broke my legs with a sledgehammer.  The pain was indescribable.  Add to that hunger and parching thirst, and the pain never letting up for a second.  But someone helped me, rescued me, got me down from the cross.  And they killed her.  I made a choice that death would be my life.  My anger at Caesar has still made me make stupid decisions and cause pain to those I love.  But it was still my decision. He is not responsible for the deaths of your family--I am.  Do you see?"

Callisto nodded grimly, too overwhelmed to speak.  "I'm not your creator, Callisto.  I'm responsible for causing you an unforgivable injury, but I didn't create you.  I will always be a part of you, a part of what shapes you, just as you have become an inextricable part of me.  But you're still yourself--don't give me the victory I was looking for in Cirra by letting me control your entire existence.  That Xena doesn't deserve that victory.  That Xena is still in me, proud to have such a devoted imitator, flattered that someone exists who revolves exclusively around her.  She thinks she's like a god for having shaped the destiny of another human being.  And I hate her," Xena broke into sobs.  "Don't . . . let her win, Callisto.  Don't . . . give her that . . . victory.  Please . . . don't . . . let . . . her . . . win!"

Callisto leaned forward and slapped Xena sharply on each cheek, but without leaving a mark.  "That's for her," she said in a hard voice.  Then she moved directly in front of Xena, grasped a handful of hair and pulled Xena's face toward hers.  She kissed Xena hard, and Xena willingly parted her lips for Callisto's tongue, knowing that she'd have to deal with the pain to Gabrielle later.  When Callisto broke the kiss, she said softly, "And that's for you.  For what I wanted you to be for me.  I love you, Xena, and I hate you as much as I love you.  But you've given me something I wanted.  And you're right--I don't want that murdering bitch to win.  So I guess . . . I don't need to hurt you any more."

"What are you going to do?" asked Xena.

"I don't know," answered Callisto flatly.  "But I certainly have plenty of time to work on creating myself."

"Come here, please," asked Xena.  She reached for Callisto's face, and drew her in for a final kiss.  "I hope you find peace, Callisto, somewhere, somehow."

"Me too," said Callisto shortly.  "I hope I can recognize it if I see it."  She turned toward where Hercules and Gabrielle were waiting and called out, mockingly, "Yoo hoo!  You two can come out now!"  She looked back at Xena, and pronounced slowly, "Goodbye, Xena."

"Goodbye, Callisto," said Xena softly.  Callisto vanished in a pillar of flame, and Xena collapsed back against the trunk of the tree.  Hercules and Gabrielle ran to her side.

"Xena!" sobbed Gabrielle, dropping to her knees next to her lover.

"I'll be all right, Gabrielle," said Xena weakly.  "She's gone.  I don't think she's coming back.  It's going to be all right now."

Hercules gestured toward the bag Gabrielle carried.  "Give me some of the bandages.  We'll wait to clean these when we get to my mother's, but I have to get those knives out of there."  He turned to Xena, "It's going to hurt."

"I know," she said with a wan smile.  "I've had knife wounds before, and not nearly so carefully placed.  Do the one in my leg first . . . , " she continued to give directions.

Hercules laughed.  "Xena, I'm not the healer you are, but I do know a few things.  Now be quiet and let me take care of this."

Xena reached for Gabrielle's hand and squeezed tightly, while Hercules pulled the knife out and immediately pressed a wad of cloth against the wound.  Xena took in her breath sharply, but did not otherwise react.  This kind of injury was familiar territory for her.  Her leg was soon wrapped and bandaged, and Hercules carefully removed the other knife from her shoulder, bandaging it swiftly as well.  "I want to keep those," said Xena faintly, gesturing toward the knives.  Gabrielle's eyes widened in surprise, but she wiped off the blades and put them in the bag, while Hercules wrapped bandages around the gashes in Xena's arm.

"How much blood have you lost?" he asked.

"Not as much as you'd think.  She stopped the bleeding after a while."

Hercules carefully picked her up, and she relaxed into the strength and comfort of his arms, and they headed downhill, with Gabrielle carrying the bag of supplies.

Later, when she was resting in bed, her wounds cleaned, and Gabrielle and Hercules sitting on either side of her, Hercules asked, "Did you do what you needed to do?"

"Yeah.  I did.  I listened to her.  I understand some things I never understood before.  And I think she understands some things about me.  And maybe about herself too."  Xena paused and shook her head slowly.  "Just think.  She's only one, only one of the people whose lives I shattered."

Gabrielle began to protest, to remind Xena of all the good she had done, but Xena raised a hand and stopped her.  "No, Gabrielle, not now.  I know the good I do is important.  I have your love and the love of my friends.  Your love is a miracle to me, Gabrielle.  I don't know if I deserve it or not, but I do know I'm going to keep working every day to deserve it, to make myself worthy of you."  She turned her head back to Hercules, "And I'm going to make sure that all you've done for me will prove worth your efforts.  But I can't be allowed to forget all the harm I've done.  I owe her and all the others that.  I'm not afraid of her any more, but what I've done in my past can never be repaired.  This is not a day I should spend congratulating myself on my good deeds."

A blonde warrior goddess in black leather stood just outside the window, listening and unseen.  She saw Xena reach an arm around Gabrielle, while Hercules lightly took Xena's other hand, as she talked.  Callisto listened to what Xena had to say and nodded silently to herself.  Now what? she asked herself, as a familiar and comfortable hatred began to drain away, a drop at a time, leaving in its stead a hole she didn't know how to fill.

The End

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