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Laying Blame

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“You should hear the stories they tell about you, oh Battling Bard.”

Gabrielle groaned, dropping her forehead against her raised cup of ale to hide her blush from her sister. “Oh no. I WRITE stories - I don’t to be one!”

She could just imagine Xena’s smirk. Her head would bob just so, her shoulders too, her eyes twinkling, as if she was making herself comfortable in her smugness, settling in – Don’t like the taste of your own medicine?

But Lila was talking, and she was here – Gabrielle did her best to focus back on the words tumbling from her sister’s mouth.

“They say that you’ve started and ended more wars than Athens and Sparta combined. And that you can break a sword with your bare hands. And that all the gods either fear or love you, and that you can’t stay dead, Gabrielle, can you imagine!”

“Well, um, I don’t have to imagine, not for most of it anyway. Though I’m pretty sure Sparta still holds the lead.”

Lila rolled her eyes. “And now you’re the one telling tales again.”

Gabrielle grinned, but before she could respond, Lila’s expression became serious.

“They also say you can talk to the dead, because you’re half dead yourself.”

The laughter died in Gabrielle’s throat, and she looked down at her hands, playing with her cup. She knew her grief was palpable, that Lila needn’t catch her eye to know that she couldn’t deny that last claim, but she avoided her gaze all the same. Lila said nothing, and they sat in silence for a long moment. There was something in the air between them, some twisting knot, that made Gabrielle realize her sister was gathering her courage for something. She waited, taking a long draught of ale.

Finally, Lila reach across the table, gently pried Gabrielle’s fingers free and said, “I think I hate her.” She twisted her hands around Gabrielle’s. “I know you can’t - but I hate Xena for doing this to you.”

Quick as an arrow, the rage overtook Gabrielle, and she yanked her hand away. She roared, “XENA DIDN’T DO THIS TO ME!”

Her eyes flashed, her nostrils flared, and she could feel the snarl forming, her heart praying to the god of her own anger for a fight. One look at the fear on her sister’s face, however, and it drained from her heart like blood from a wound. She ran a hand over her face, ashamed and hurt all at once. “Xena didn’t do this to me,” she said again, weary. “Losing her did.”

Her sister shook her head. “Is there a difference, really? She made a choice.”

Lila never had known when to stop pushing. Gabrielle slammed her cup down on the table and left without another word.

——

She knew Xena had materialized again before she saw her; it was if a pulling inside her had stopped, a taut thread near snapping made slack. She didn’t look, choosing instead to keeping working her fingers into Argo’s mane. “I guess you heard that, didn’t you?”

“I did. Are you alright?” The bard didn’t answer. “Gabrielle?“

"The problem is, Xena…she’s right.” Gabrielle let out a shuddering breath, and turned to face the ghost. “You made a choice, and I didn’t stop you.“

It was almost funny, the way Xena fidgeted in this form. She couldn’t touch anyone or anything most of the time, and it left her wanting for something to do with her hands. Especially now, deeply nervous as she was. Gabrielle almost smiled as her ghost popped incorporeal knuckles and worried a transparent lip.

"Then do you? Hate me for it?”

Xena sounded raw and vulnerable, and Gabrielle winced, knowing she must give the answer that would cut Xena deepest, her heart tied tight with the truth of it.

“No. Not you.”