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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
Chapter 9 
 Choosing the Bait
“Glad you’re both back.” Xena was astonished and curious that both Dan and Cara had come back to the room nearly simultaneously. But now was not the time to pursue it. Gabrielle had found an actual black tank top. It covered her midriff and the bandage. She looked good. “I think that we need to change our strategy.” Cara turned to her accusingly. ‘She feels challenged.’ Now Xena recognized the reaction. “Yah, I think that we should give Alti what she came for… me.”   

This set Gabrielle on fire. “No Xena, I won’t have you running off and getting yourself killed… not again!” Her face was anger personified.  

 “That’s not what this is about Gabrielle. I’m just bait remember. We want Alti to come out and play so we can defeat her… right?” She didn't wait for an answer. “We need to give her something that will draw her out of whatever rock she has hidden under. I’ll lay odds that she’s seen you. She knows that I have to be close. But instead of hiding from her… or Ares I think that I should be seen.” Xena was clearly passionate about her decision but she didn't want to override or simply dismiss Gabrielle’s feelings or Cara’s for that matter.  

Gabrielle was truly torn. She knows, as does Cara that the best way to flush out their prey is to do exactly what Xena is suggesting. But she doesn’t want to lose Xena again… not like that. “I know that you’re right. But I don’t have to like it.” She finally admits.  

The pain on Gabrielle’s face was breaking Xena’s heart. “Gabrielle, listen to me…” She began while taking Gabrielle’s hands in her own. “This isn’t our life. This is their life. You will never lose me again. You can’t, you’re stuck with me.” She smiled but it didn’t break through the pain on her partner’s face. “Look I know that what I did in Japan… it wasn’t right. It was the wrong choice and had I stopped to talk to you about it I might have seen that. But I didn’t. I was too proud. I thought that I knew the answer to everything. I thought that I was protecting you. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”   

 At the sound of the word Japan Gabrielle tensed and she stood listening to Xena while grinding her teeth and holding back the rage that had grown into a monster in her soul.   

Xena could feel the impending explosion but she pressed on anyway. Gabrielle needed to let it out or it would just get worse. Xena had to do this to save her… to save them both. “I know that you’re mad at me still, maybe you even hate me a bit. I know how it must hurt. I know that…” She never got to finish the intended button pushing comment because Vesuvius was finally erupting.    

Gabrielle listened for as long as she was able. She could feel the emotional bile rising in her. Finally she just couldn’t hold it back any longer. She reared her head back like a viper ready to strike and she pushed off of Xena’s touch. Her face turned red and her veins popped and she yelled in Xena’s offending face. “NO, YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE! YOU BETRAYED ME AND THEN LEFT ME TO LIVE FOR DECADES ALONE!” She screamed in frustration.   When the scream was spent she lowered her head to reload. Xena blessedly remained silent. Gabrielle reined her emotions back under control, now was not the time. But there was one thing that she had to address. “I don’t hate you Xena; I could never hate you… I know that you think otherwise. What I really HATE is what you did to me! How could you possibly think that leaving me alone with your death was in any way protecting me? How could you think that? Did you think, really think, or were you just acting on another one of your selfish impulses?” She turned away from Xena and strode angrily over to the window. She stood with her hands behind her back at Ease looking out the window. Now was not the time for this discussion. She decided to address only one small point that had been eating at her particularly hard today.   “Do you have any idea how it feels to live with only half a soul Xena?” She turned her head to glance at her soul mate and then away again. “I don’t think it really hurts if you only have half… if you’ve never met the other half. But damn it, once you have both pieces in your hand… to have one ripped away…” Xena could hear the tears and see Gabrielle’s shoulders shake with emotion.   “I was half a person. I always felt so… empty and so unable to be filled again.” She was overcome with the pain.

“No, that’s where you’re wrong Gabrielle.” Xena stepped up behind Gabrielle and gently turned her around so she can see her face. “I left my soul with you. You have always been its guardian.” She sounded hopeful.   

 “No, Xena… I had your half but you took mine with you. We can’t… I can’t live without you and be whole.” Gabrielle’s cheeks were riverbeds for her tears. She could barely focus on the face before her.  

“Oh, Gabrielle… I’m so sorry. I just couldn’t see any other way. I wanted you to be proud of me.” Tears started to course down Xena’s face.   

“I am always proud of you my love. You don’t need to sacrifice your life, for me to see your heart.” She cupped Xena’s face and wiped away the tears with her thumbs.    

Xena felt the unconditional love coming from Gabrielle’s hands and could see it clearly in her eyes and she couldn’t keep her legs from buckling. She fell to her knees in front of Gabrielle and pressed her head against Gabrielle’s leg. “I’m so sorry Gabrielle. I was so stupid, so selfish, and so self-righteous. Forgive me please… forgive me.” She blubbered into Gabrielle’s pant leg.   

Gabrielle pulled Xena’s clutching hands free of her pants and knelt in front of her. Once again she took her beloved’s head in her hands but this time she gently placed a kiss on each of her closed eyes. “I’m sorry for being so angry. I was so caught up in my own pain and loss. I was being selfish too. I wanted you Xena, not your ghost, not your pride but all of you, every stubborn, self-righteous, selfish, loving and tender part of you. Forgive me?”    

Xena found Gabrielle’s lips and they kiss tenderly and held each other and cried for several minutes. Before they moved to stand again they whispered their forgiveness of each other’s trespasses in each other’s ears. One small boil had been lanced but all is definitely not forgiven. But now is not the time.    

They finally recovered themselves and notice that Dan had reentered the room. Neither one of them could remember him leaving but there it was.    

Gabrielle was once again standing and facing Xena. “So after all of that you’re still going to Japan aren’t you?”   “Yes, I am but I’m not going there to offer myself up as a sacrifice. I need to find out if there was another way and that’s the only place that I can find that.” She pled. “Besides it also gets my face out there. You know with all the tension between Earth and Mars that the shuttles between them will be watched? It can look innocent.” 

Gabrielle looked deeply into the steel blue eyes. “Cara can’t protect you on Earth. You’ll be alone and exposed. Tactically it’s suicidal.”   Xena thought on what Gabrielle said. Then Margo put in her two cents worth. ‘I’m not too keen on stepping into a lava flow myself Xena. It’s not that I’m afraid but maybe you don’t have to go alone.’   ‘I can’t ask Gabrielle to go with me. Cara can’t leave her command that way.’ She sounded like she wanted to squeeze blood from a stone and couldn’t quite figure out how to do it.   ‘Who said anything about Cara? I’m an Amazon. Take some of my sisters.’ Margo didn't even try to hide the sarcasm. ‘I swear how did you manage without me?’   ‘Good question Margo, good question.’ Xena ended her internal conversation to find Gabrielle patiently staring at her. “Did you say something?”   

 “Oh, nothing important apparently.” Gabrielle retorted with her arms crossed.   “Can I take some Amazons?” Xena asked without preamble. Gabrielle looked shocked and thoughtful. Before she could answer Xena continued. “Margo is an Amazon just like Cara. Either one could vouch for me if you’re reluctant.”   

Gabrielle actually looked a little hurt. “I’m not reluctant Xena. I was just trying to figure out how I can book the entire shuttle and fill it with Amazons.” Her eyes softened as she spoke. “I’m not going to lose my woman to Ares.” She wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist. “Must you go to Japan?” The old cancer was gathering more infection.   

Xena rested her arms on Gabrielle’s shoulders. “No, I don’t really have to go, but I would like to. If you ask me to stay then I will stay and we will figure out another way. This is just killing two birds with one stone.” It was the wrong choice of words and she knew it the second that they were out of her mouth.   

“Just as long as you’re not one of those birds.” Gabrielle let out a heavy breath. She reached up and gave Xena a light lingering kiss on the lips and stepped away to return to her desk. She pushed a button and began to speak. “Denton, book as many seats as you can on the first or second shuttle flight out tomorrow. The final destination will be Japan, on Earth. Pick the flight that gives you the highest number of seats and get back to me as soon as you have some information.”  

“Yes Ma’am.” The intercom said in response.   

Gabrielle looked around the room and noticed that Dan has gone missing again. ‘He really hates all that mushy stuff.’ Cara clarified. ‘What do you have in mind?’   ‘I’m thinking of sending Dan and some pilots out for… training exercises.’ Gabrielle said judiciously.   ‘Hmm, not a bad idea. Would you mind if I took over for a while. I got a queasy feeling brewing in the pit of my stomach. That usually portends something bad happening. I should set some measures in place so that we aren’t caught with our pants down around our knees.’   ‘Sure, I’ve got nothing to do right now.’ Gabrielle winked at Xena. “I’m gonna sit back for a while. Cara has some things that she needs to do. Why don’t you go work out or something? We have no-where to be for a while.”   

“Okay, a good workout sounds nice.” She sauntered up to Gabrielle and gave her a sound kiss. “I’ll see you later love.” She wandered out the door.   

 Cara quietly settled down to her desk. She pulled a diet Pepsi from her refrigerated desk drawer and took a long drink, then grimaced as the bubbles burned her throat. She pulled out a note pad and started writing on the gel surface with a stylus. She would spend the next several hours preparing the city and her troops for attack. She never raised an alarm but she initiated a series of pre-prepared initiatives that would help her to protect the city and the rest of the planet. Gabrielle watched with great interest and occasionally asked questions.   

 The sun slowly fell towards the horizon.