It was nearly midnight by the time Xena made her way back to Sappho’s spa complex. After leaving Gabrielle she had run towards the beach and then just sat down in the sand and sobbed. She was crying because of all the things she had done and all the things she hadn’t. She couldn’t take advantage of Gabrielle, couldn’t be with her and yet, she’d pushed things between them so far that their relationship was nowhere near being platonic anymore. Xena felt like anything she did now was doomed to failure. It was time to let Gabrielle go. She deserved to be loved fully and completely and Xena couldn’t give that to her. Gabrielle was so pure, so innocent, she deserved so much better. Xena’s love would only taint her, be a stain on her.
The sobs came faster then and Xena curled up on her side in the sand, crying until her whole body shook and it was there that Argo found her. The palomino mare came trotting down the beach and nudged her until she stood up, tears still dripping down her face. Then, she buried her face in the golden mane and cried some more, breathing in the comforting, honest smell of horse and letting the horse’s warm, steady presence slowly calm her.
‘You’ve saved me more times than you’ll ever know.’ Xena whispered into the horse’s neck. Whenever she was at her lowest ebb, Argo always seemed to know how to find her, was always there to nudge her until she stood up and faced her problems.
Xena had climbed up onto the horse’s back then and urged her into a gallop. Together, they flew down the beach, kicking up sand behind them and, for a moment, Xena forgot everything else and existed as one with the horse and knew only speed and the joy of movement. Then, the moment was gone and Gabrielle was in her mind again along with a crushing sense of despair.
Slowly, very slowly, Argo had taken her back to Sappho’s spa. When they arrived, Xena considered sleeping in the woods and then slinking away in the morning. It would have been so easy to have got on a boat at Mytilene and left the island, left Gabrielle without a word. Ten years ago, even two years ago, she would have done it, but now she found she couldn’t. She owed Gabrielle more than that.
Xena made her way back to the blue suite and slipped inside. The room was in darkness and, for a moment, she thought that Gabrielle must be asleep. She paused, listening for the familiar sound of her companion’s steady breathing and was met with silence. She felt around in the darkness until she found a candle and, when she lit it, she realised that Gabrielle wasn’t there at all.
Immediately, she felt panic rise in her; maybe Gabrielle had been the one to slip away in the middle of the night. But Gabrielle’s clothes were still in the wardrobe, her precious scrolls were still in a bag by the door. Perhaps she was still at the party.
Xena sat down heavily on the bed. The absence of Gabrielle was tangible and Xena found that she didn’t know what to do without her. She ached to talk to her, to see her, just to be in the same room as her. Her absence was unbearable and it made Xena feel hollow and broken.
She stood and began to wander the room, pacing back and forth, stopping to stare at the scrolls or gently run a finger over the fabric of the clothes in the wardrobe. She wanted to scream, to cry, to run. She was filled with a desperate energy. All there was to do in the room was wait and Xena had never been any good at waiting.
Before she really knew what she was doing, she was outside the room and walking swiftly across the grass to the ballroom. The party was still in full swing; everyone was dancing and drunk and laughing. Sappho was in a corner surrounded by giggling women, Mentor was nowhere to be seen. Xena paused and scanned the room and, after a moment she saw her. Gabrielle, beautiful and not at all upset was standing in the centre of the dance floor with her arms wrapped around Calypso’s neck.