Disclaimers 1: All characters (too many to list) are property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal. No infringement is intended and no profit will be made.
Disclaimers 2: The whole story (except the opening sequences of each character) belongs to me - a Gabrielle fan who was distraught after watching 'Sacrifice II'. I talked about this idea and then finally put pen to paper and wrote the bloody story.
Posted: November 1998 (Re-posted: March 1999)
Thanks: Dean for the use of the web-site. Cath for giving me a kick in the arse. Naomi for putting up with the dancing elephant on the keyboard every night. Karen for being a wonderful Xena. Kristen for being a wonderful Callisto. And Finally Ralph just for being you and putting up with me. Thank you all for your support, encouragement and torture while I was writing this story.
Historians Note: This story picks up at the end of Season Three, Sacrifice II
Warning: This story is sub-text friendly (nothing graphic, just friendly) but there is something for everyone.
A Final Word: 'Masque' is a pseudonym for someone at DeanoMyk Productions, but I have chosen to use my writing name for this story (It's my first fan fiction on the net so please go easy on me).
Any mail or comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is for my Avator, wherever she is.XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
Severing The Threads
"You know the stakes Gabrielle, Xenas fate is in your hands." Aress warning echoed through the chaos of Dahaks destruction.
Paralysed, Gabrielle watched as her best friend inched closer to her daughter; Xena, with the Hinds blood dagger raised in her hands forced Hope backwards towards the chasms ledge. Gabrielle imagined that she could feel the Fates preparing to cut short Xenas existence - she had to do something.
Hopes powers were trying to hold Xena back, even trying to turn the dagger on Xena herself but the warrior struggled onwards moving ever closer. She pulled back the dagger, a guttural snarl building in her throat as she prepared to stab Hope straight through the heart. Gabrielle could feel the Crone closing the blade over Xenas life-thread - she had to do something.
"No!" Everyone in the temple could hear Gabrielle's scream. She charged towards the altar and using her staff she vaulted to land near the two women. With her arms outstretched she ran towards them, "Hope," Gabrielle threw her arms around her demon daughter and with all of her strength wrenched both of them from the ledge. As they fell Gabrielle spun their bodies, her last glance was for Xena, and Xena alone.
Xena realised too late what was happening and could only watch helplessly as Gabrielle fell to her death. Their eyes had locked in that moment, everything conveyed in a single glance. Xena lunged to the edge of the chasm knowing it was useless, "Gabrielle...." she screamed into the fire.
"Xena...." Gabrielle cried as she plunged into the inferno.
A wave of fire swept up from the depths and in that moment it was all over.
* * *
LIFE WITHOUT YOU IS LIKE A STRANGER
FULL OF SHADOWS, FULL OF DANGER
* * *
Watching from a distance Callisto looked on with confused amusement; they had wanted Hope dead, they had succeeded, so Gabrielle had died too and Callisto acknowledged a strange feeling inside. She did not know quite how to react; her lips broke into a smile and she began to laugh hysterically, so much so that her body began to tremble.
"I never thought Id feel so good again," she made her way though the dead and dying bodies to stand behind Xena, "but seeing poor, dear Gabrielle sacrifice herself makes it all worth while." The hysterical fit subsided and Callisto was struck with a calm realisation about the feeling she was experiencing, "It finally gives me a reason, for living, and I have you to thank for it Xena."
The blade flashed in Xenas hand as the warrior spun around and plunged the dagger into her stomach. So shocked by what had happened Callisto hardly felt the excruciating pain that coursed through her goddess body. She gasped as she looked down at the gaping wound that had been inflicted upon her. She stumbled forward and reached out to lay a hand upon Xenas cheek; even as she gazed into the ice blue eyes of her murderer, even as she fell to her knees her mind cried out "Thank you."
The floor, the ground, the very foundations of the world began to tremble as the unnatural death of a goddess was realised. She felt her body sprawl out over the solid ground and waited for death to embrace her, to fall into the nothingness, but the nothing never came, just darkness.
She lay motionless for some time, hoping that it was a transitional stage in her journey to oblivion, but everything was still so real. She could still feel her body, could still recall all her memories.
Eventually she pushed herself up and tried to orientate herself. This was not Tartarus, this place was far worse. Blackness surrounded her, enveloped her, was everywhere that she looked, unnerving and unending.
"Where am I?" She screamed into the void futility, not expecting to be answered.
"Here." Came the simple reply from somewhere behind her.
Callisto jerked her head around just in time to see a face appear in the blackness.
"Welcome to oblivion Callisto." Strife taunted, his lips curling into a malicious snarl.
The fist connected with her face moments later and she fell into darkness again, not before she saw three more figures, clad in red rags step up behind Strife. The Furies?
* * *
Frantically releasing himself from the last of the bonds that held him Joxer raced to the altar and threw himself on his knees, "Gabrielle," he yelled just as the wave of fire burst forth. He continued to stare disbelievingly downwards, he was vaguely aware of the words that Callisto was saying and the laughter that seemed to mock Gabrielles bravery. He turned in time to see Xena drive the dagger through Callistos body, then there was a silent exchange between the two women and then Callisto dropped to the ground - dead.
On the far side of the temple Ares made his godly exit. Joxer watched Xena for a moment and then too wrapped in his own grief he turned back to the pit.
A clatter nearby alerted him, he looked up to where Xena stood, she was stepping backwards, "Xena...." was all he managed to say before she was gone.
He was on his feet, ready to go after her, before he realised it would probably be a bad idea, besides he tripped on something lying on the floor. When he looked down he discovered it was Gabrielles staff tangled between his legs, gingerly he reached for the weapon and drew it close to him, before long he was crying.
"Here, hold this," Gabrielle tossed him the staff.
"Ouch, ouch, ouch..." He kept repeating as the boiling wood singed his fingertips.
He watched as Gabrielle scrawled away on her scroll and then suddenly he was hitting himself repeatedly in the head with her staff and then swung it round to take his legs out from underneath him. Landing on his back on the ground he looked up at Gabrielle who wore an amused expression. "Why did I do that?"
"Because I wrote that you did." She explained matter-of-factly.
When he managed to stop the tears his eyes fell upon Callistos body and rage overtook him. He moved towards her lifeless corpse but even she deserved a little respect for her part in the battle. Her laughter still fresh in his memory he gripped the front of her armor and shook her, "You laughed at us, you laughed at Gabrielle," he screamed at her, his eyes welling up with tears again.
He could have walked away just then, but a sense of honour, instilled in him by Gabrielle would not allow him. He hauled Callistos body onto his shoulder and with Gabrielles staff in his other hand he left the temple.
The sun was clear of the horizon and midway to its peak as Joxer scaled a nearby hillside. At the pinnacle he laid Callistos body on the ground and then placed two fingers to his lips and whistled. In no time at all Argo, Xenas war horse, trotted towards him; he was one of the few that Argo trusted as he had protected her once. Carefully he tied Gabrielles staff to the saddle and slapped the mare on the behind, "Go on, go find Xena." The horse whinnied and then galloped off in search of her mistress.
Joxer watched as the horse disappeared into the woodland and then set about digging a grave for Callisto. After she was buried he felt he should say a few words, "Callisto.... I hope you find your peace." With that he set off in the general direction of Amphipolis, Xena was bound to end up in her home village. He knew that Xena might not want him around but he would be there if she needed him.
* * *
Ares stared on in disbelief. He had goaded Gabrielle into doing something, but he had not anticipated her actions. He never suspected that Gabrielle would take her own life and the life of her daughter in order to save Xenas. He just could not understand the girl.
That moment, he had seen the look of anger that had blazed in Xenas blue orbs as she had killed Callisto. That had been the Xena he remembered, the Xena he missed, but it had been all too brief; the despair now clouded her eyes.
He felt within him a sense of guilt, a sense of anger and before any of them could get over their shock he disappeared.
He re-appeared in the Halls of War. Walking through the deserted temple he stepped over swords, daggers, axes, weapons of all descriptions and noticed the ones that had been embedded in the walls by Hopes telekinetic powers. At his throne he found the remnants of Hopes cocoon, picking up a piece he examined it and then it burst into flames in his hand. His thoughts did not linger on his dead lover Hope, nor the wrath that he would incur from the other gods for his hand in the whole incident, all he could think about was the irritating blonde.
They had been walking through a field following wagon tracks when they had begun talking. They had found common ground; that is to say they spoke about their mutual appreciation for the Warrior Princesses skills.
"We were starting to warm up to each other there, werent we?" He said as he gazed off into the distance.
"Yeah." The slight blonde replied.
"I didnt like it." He said shaking away the thought that he could ever see eye to eye with the sidekick.
"Straight back at you." She stated defiantly.
"But you did like it, didnt you?" He told himself and finally his anger boiled over and reaching out a hand he sent a crackling bolt of energy into the nearest pillar which exploded.
Regaining his razor-sharp focus a sly smile spread across his lips; it was time to pay a visit to Hades and he disappeared once more.
* * *
HOW DO I LIVE WITHOUT YOU, I WANT TO KNOW
HOW DO I BREATHE WITHOUT YOU, IF YOU EVER GO
HOW DO I EVER, EVER SURVIVE.
Even as the fire swept passed her, its roaring heat in her face Xena continued to stare into the chasm below. Her mind was in such turmoil that she only vaguely registered that someone was laughing; Callistos jeering tormented Xena enough but her words were more than Xena could stand. With the dagger, stained with Hinds blood she turned and pierced the dagger through Callistos stomach.
She watched as the goddess fixed the warrior with an expression of shock and confusion, "No more living for you," Xena told her.
Callisto pitched forward and fell against Xena her hand reaching out to touch the warrior's face and she was sure she saw an attempt at a smile. Her hand trailed down Xenas breastplate and across the leather bodice as Callisto slid downwards and finally sprawled out across the floor, dead.
Xena turned back to the pit just then, it became her soul focus. She barely acknowledged Aress departure, she was oblivious to Serafins whimpering, distant to Joxers trembling and numb to the fact that she had finally killed Callisto; her life had halted in the heartbeat when Gabrielle had sacrificed herself.
Forcing herself to take a step and then another she drew closer to the ledge once more. As she neared it, as the fiery heat reached her body she closed her eyes and was greeted by the image that would haunt her for the rest of her life: Gabrielle with Hope enveloped in her arms falling into the flames. Xena had seen the look in Gabrielles eyes in that last moment, her silent good-bye; with that one look Xena knew that Gabrielle was not saving humanity, the gods or the world, she was saving the life of one - the one she called best friend.
The dagger slipped from her limp fingertips and clattered on the stone floor. She began to step backwards and then she did something she had not done in a long time: she ran away.
Breaking out of the temple she continued to run not caring where she was going, she just knew that she had to get away from that place. But Gabrielle stayed with her; the screaming, the image; the pain still tore at her soul. Xena pushed her body onwards, forcing herself to keep running. She barely noticed when the hard packed dirt crunching beneath her boots became lush green grass and then woodland. She needed to outrun the pain of losing Gabrielle, but even Xena could not run forever and that was how long it would take. Her legs protested their exhaustion, her lungs burned with agony of exertion and finally she stopped, her legs giving way and she crashed to the ground coughing hard; a wave of nausea overcame her and she vomited.
When she had finished she looked up and surveyed her surroundings; as luck would have it she had stopped herself just short of a brook and on hands and knees she crawled to the waters edge. After scooping water into her mouth to wash it out she stared at her reflection in the rippling surface and for no particular reason, other than to cool off, she plunged her head into the water.
As the water swirled about her hair and face a memory stirred....
.... Both Xena and Gabrielle were immersed in the cool water up to their shoulders, they faced once another and Xena whispered words of encouragement, "Come on Gabrielle, youve been wanting to try this for ages. Just reach under this rock, give it your best shot."
"Okay," Gabrielle psyched herself up and took a deep breath and then disappeared beneath the surface of the water.
Xena could not conceal the smile that spread across her lips as Gabrielle accidentally grabbed her thigh under the water, just as quickly the hand was gone and Gabrielle burst through the water gasping for air and holding a struggling fish aloft, "I did it."
Xenas heart swelled with pride at her best friend's success....
Xena wrenched her head from the water; wet strands of hair flew carelessly in all directions. Her lips were only just clear of the water when her voice screamed out her loss, "Gabrielle."
The force with which she pulled herself from the water carried her over until she collapsed onto her back where she remained - unmoving, uncaring and unfeeling. She was empty of any emotion, the way she needed to be.
* * *
Engulfed in the flames of Dahak and falling to her death Gabrielle released her hold on Hope. She had done enough; Hope could not save herself now and no one could save Gabrielle.
As she fell tendrils of fire reached out and coiled around her body as they had done at Hopes conception. This time there was no probing, instead the fire caught at her clothes and seared her flesh. She cried out in agony as she felt her body dying.
A strong grip clutched her flailing arms and she was pulled into the embrace of her daughter; Hopes body shielded Gabrielle from the fire. Gabrielle drew back to look into her daughter's eyes; the blue-green was a mirror image of her own, as surely as their faces were, but beyond that it seemed that they were the very fires that they were falling into.
At the act Gabrielle was filled with so many questions, none of which she could have asked. Hope pulled her closer and Gabrielle could feel the heat of her burning flesh against her own. Warm lips pressed against her cheek and Gabrielle strained to hear the husky, whispered words.
"I was always your daughter." Hopes only words, and only redemption.
Wrapped in those arms Gabrielle realised that no matter what had happened she was still a mother and she clung to her daughter for what little remained of her life. But her final thoughts belonged with Xena, knowing that she could not bare to be without her, and then the void claimed her.
* * *
She had absolutely no idea how long she had been lying beneath the tree by the brook; in truth she had no idea what she was doing at all. Xena, Warrior Princess, was totally at a loss for the first time.
The gentle nudging against her left shoulder had been going on for some time before she finally acknowledged it. Slowly turning her head her vision was filled by two huge, flaring nostrils that snorted in her face.
Argo continued to nuzzle at her hair until she finally forced herself up to stand before the mare. Xena stared at the horse blankly for moments as it tried to shove her to one side, "What?" Xena finally snapped. The horse craned its neck around to the left and Xena following the lead saw for the first time Gabrielles staff tied to the saddle. Reluctantly she moved towards the weapon and untied it, carefully unlooping it from behind the leather satchel which also belonged to Gabrielle. Her fingers trembled as she began to undo the fastenings, but ultimately she could not bring herself to open the bag, not yet. Tears began to prick at her eyes, but she took hold of the staff in a white knuckled grip and forced them back, she could not mourn yet. Argo turned slightly, laying her head on her mistresses shoulder, "Alright, alright," Xena began as she looked sideways at the horse, "I know." With a little more effort than usual, due to her exhausted state, she swung up into the saddle. Gathering the reigns she turned Argo around and set off at a slow gallop and headed for Poteidaia.
* * *
With consciousness came awareness, and pain. Her head felt ready to explode, her soul was drained of all life and her body burned.
Surely she was dead; no one could survive what she had been through, then why did the pain make her think she was alive. Her senses began to awaken; first was touch which told her she was not alone, she could feel a body pressed against her own and when she managed to open her eyes, sight told her that it was Hopes body still tightly wrapped around her.
"Hope," she whispered hoarsely, even just a single word felt rough in her smoke injured throat. Slowly and carefully against the raging pain in her body she touched her daughter, trying to move her, the stiff form slid away from her, rolling onto its back. Gabrielle gazed upon the fire-scarred face and the lifeless eyes that stared blankly outwards. The body was now just an empty shell; all that was Hope had vanished, the spirit, the essence, the soul had escaped the confines of the mortal body. The half human-half goddess had either been killed by the flames of Dahak or had been saved by them and returned to her father.
Confused anguish took hold of Gabrielle then. She had been willing to give her own life to kill her own daughter and yet Hope had died trying to save her. Tears began to fill her eyes and flowed down her blackened skin, burning a path down her cheeks. In death Hope had become the child that Gabrielle had always wanted her to be.
The anguish turned to terror as she once again gazed upon the still body; it dawned on her, as it had at Hopes rebirth that she looked into the eyes of her mirror image, and saw herself in death.
Adrenaline surged through her body giving her the strength to move. She disentangled herself from the arms of Hope and pushed herself away, noticing for the first time her situation, her surroundings. The fire had taken its toll leaving her naked with scarred flesh and singed hair; not as bad as it should have been thanks to Hopes efforts. She stood by the side of a river in what appeared to be an underground cavern; she knew it to be the entrance to the Underworld - she had been here once before - so she must be dead, she concluded.
Despite the red glow that appeared to emanate from everywhere and nowhere and the burning sensation that coursed through her body Gabrielle felt the necessity to cover her naked form. Reluctantly drawing her gaze back to Hope, Gabrielle hesitantly reached out to the red and black ceremonial robe, which remarkably had not been touched by the flames. Gingerly she pulled at the fabric, releasing it from Hopes body and carefully covered her own with it. Touching two fingers to her lips and pressing them to Hopes in a final farewell Gabrielle staggered away along the bank of the river.
She did not have to go too far before she found what she was looking for. A small jetty that reached out to the middle of the river, and at the end a boat decorated with bones and a cloaked figure mumbling to himself - Charon. Slowly she approached the boat and prepared to board it when the figure turned to her.
"Hey, you gotta coin?" He gabbled at her, holding up an arm to prevent her from boarding the boat.
"N....no..." she stammered, "I dont have any money."
"Well, no coin, no boat ride," he stated as though it were a regular occurrence, "Say, what happened to you anyway?" He asked noticing the charred skin and her hunched form.
Gabrielle looked down at herself and drew the robe around her tightly for security, "I dont remember." She tried to recall what led her to be there, but suddenly it all seemed so hazy.
Charon mumbled to himself, something about being too nice and then, "Whats your name kid?"
She frowned, even thinking of her name seemed like too much of a request. She pushed past the fogginess in her mind and vaguely remembered someone calling to her as she fell, "My name.... Gabrielle."
Charon physically straightened, his eyes widening at this newfound knowledge, "Why didnt you say so before? I got orders to take you straight to the boss. Come on, hop in." He stepped back for her to gain entrance. Then they were moving; "Off we go. On the right we have the hanging garden of disgusting diseases and up ahead....."
* * *
Stumbling through the woodland Joxer searched for the path that his map said should be there. Just then a breeze whipped up and blew the map into his face and while his sight was obstructed he did not see the tree root before him. With no chance between his lack of sight, his big feet and his clumsiness he began to fall. Another object came into his path and he believed he had fallen against a boulder, but once the map was peeled away there was no mistaking the huge biceps, the yellow shirt and the waffle-weave trousers, "Hercules!" and just behind him, "Iolaus!"
"It had to be you Joxer." Hercules teased.
"Who else?" Iolaus joined in.
After his initial shock and delight at seeing the awesome duo Joxers somber expression returned as he was reminded of their female counterparts.
"Hey whats with the long face?" Iolaus began just as Joxer burst out with, "Hercules you have to go to Amphipolis, Im worried about Xena...."
Hercules cut in, "I know, that where were headed...."
"Herc, you never told me that. Why are we going to Amphipolis? Whats wrong with Xena? And why are you so upset?" Iolaus ranted as he turned to Joxer.
"Its a long story." Hercules explained holding up a silencing hand to Joxer. "Lets get moving, I want to cover as much ground as we can before nightfall."
"Im not going anywhere until I get some answers." Iolaus demanded.
"How come you know and he doesnt?" Joxer turned questioningly to Hercules.
"I saw it while I was on Olympus," Hercules explained to Joxer, then he turned to his best friend. He knew this would be difficult, that was why he had not said anything yet; Iolaus felt a strong bond to Gabrielle because of their similar career moves, but it was stronger than that, maybe stronger than love, like his own bond to Xena. He owed Iolaus the truth, especially since Iolaus had gone to great lengths to tell Hercules about Xenas death before the word of mouth had reached him. There was no easy way of saying it, "Iolaus, Gabrielle is dead."
Hercules waited for the torrent of emotions to cross Iolauss face - disbelief, shock, grief and then anger. With a snarl Iolaus lunged at Hercules pushing his best friend against the broad trunk of a tree and pinning him there. "You said you were on Olympus, why didnt you do something? Why didnt you help them? Why....?" Iolaus continued to shout into the champion's face. It was only as the tears threatened to begin that he let go of the yellow shirt and turned away to punch another tree.
There were a few moments of awkward silence as Hercules gave Iolaus the time he needed to compose himself before he began to explain, "I couldnt do anything, Zeus forbade it."
At that Iolaus spun around, "Since when did you care about Zeus? I thought Xena and Gabrielle meant more to you than some stupid rule."
"Will you just listen to me?" Hercules placed a hand on his friend's shoulder and when Iolaus nodded he continued, "Xena and Gabrielle were caught up in this whole business with Dahak, Gabrielle was the mother of Dahaks child, the one who tried to kill me. Dahaks forces were building and Xena knew something had to be done. She was going to kill the child but Ares had made a deal with Dahak and the Fates that if she did then the Fates would kill her...."
"So Gabrielle sacrificed herself to save Xena." Iolaus finished for him. Part of him respected Gabrielles decision, he would easily do the same for Hercules; but then there was the part that felt the emptiness, which escaped, in a lone tear down his cheek.
"Come on, lets get to Amphipolis." Hercules said with an encouraging pat on his friend's shoulder. "Come on Joxer." He added remembering the presence of the warrior wannabe.
The mention of his name pulled Joxer from his reverie and together with Hercules and Iolaus they pushed on in search of the tortured Warrior Princess.
* * *
Charons boat had deposited Gabrielle on a jetty before the great castle of Hades - God of the Underworld. The structure was fearsome, a moat of lava surrounded the stone lair, the spires reached up into the smoky air towering high above her. As she gazed in awe at the complex architecture of the towers and turrets two large ornate doors swung outwards revealing some sort of courtyard beyond. Slowly, as each step sent jolts of pure agony through her body, she stumbled towards the gates. She could make out the silhouettes of two figures - guards she assumed - walking towards her but she swore that she recognised them both, especially the one on the left. I just had to see your face. The words echoed in her mind and tore a cry from her throat and she fell to the ground. She heard footsteps thundering towards her, strong hands grasped her body firmly, but gently and lifted her, turning her over in their embrace. Gabrielle gazed up, already knowing the eyes she would greet, "Perdicus," she whispered before unconsciousness overtook her.
Time had no meaning when Gabrielle began to come round, time no longer mattered. As she returned she realised she was being carried; opening her eyes she gazed upon the strong features of her husband and knew everything would be alright. It was her wedding night and Perdicus was carrying her to their bed. He had not been murdered by Callisto, Gabrielle had not killed, she had not born a child of darkness, she had not betrayed Xena, none of those things had happened. Lazily she snuggled closer to her husbands chest and then reality came crashing down upon her when she felt no heartbeat.
Memories of death, murder, lies and betrayal flooded back to her. "No." Gabrielle half-screamed and half-sobbed into Perdicuss chest.
"Sssh, its alright Gabrielle, were going to get you out of here." Perdicus soothed.
"What are you talking about?" She asked, noticing that her throat no longer burned when she spoke, "Im dead, we can be together now." She reached up to caress her husbands face.
"No Gabrielle, its not your time yet." Perdicus told her.
Just then they passed through a doorway and Gabrielle saw that the door was being held open by Marcus, he had been the second figure she had seen and recognised.
The three of them entered a beautifully decorated and darkened chamber. Gently Perdicus laid Gabrielle down on a couch covered in silk cushions and stepped back to look at her. Marcus immediately appeared at his shoulder, "Ill get Hades, you two should be alone." Marcus slipped out of the room, but neither Gabrielle nor Perdicus had noticed, they were both lost in staring at each other.
"I thought you would be happy that I was dead." Gabrielle had to laugh at the irony of it all, but she soon stopped when it hurt too much.
"But youre not dead." Perdicus told her as he knelt down beside his wife, "Well not completely." He amended when he saw her gaping expression.
"Perd...." Gabrielle began but she was silenced by Perdicus who put a finger to her lips.
"Let me do the talking for once, just listen," When she nodded he continued, "Ive heard your thoughts, I know whats happened. I just want to take this chance to tell you to stop blaming yourself for my death, it was my choice."
Silent moments passed neither one said anything, there was no need.
A huge set of doors on the far side of the chamber burst open and a man in black armour entered the room - Hades. "Welcome to my realm, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle began to stand but Hades gestured for her to remain seated, she was thankful, her limbs no longer hurt as much but she still felt extremely weak, "Why am I here?"
Hades began to pace, marking a trail between where Marcus stood and where Perdicus knelt. "Two reasons," the God of the Underworld held a fist to his lips thoughtfully, he held up an index finger, "Firstly, youre not technically dead," and then extending a second finger, "secondly, even if you were dead I wouldnt know where to put you." He stopped and looked at her then, taking in the puzzled expression, "Do I put you Tartarus for releasing Dahak and his daughter into the world? or do I put you in the Elyssian Fields for trying to save us? Only the Gods can decide this, which is why I am to take you to Olympus where you will stand trial and have judgement passed on you." He finished.
"What will happen to me?" Her voice trembled with fear and Perdicus instinctively reached out and took her hand in his.
"That has not yet been decided." Hades informed her.
Several more moments of silence passed as Gabrielle tried to grasp what had been said to her. It was Hades who finally broke the shroud of silence, "Perdicus, is there anything you wish to say to Gabrielle? You may never see her again."
The words terrorized Gabrielle, what exactly did the Gods have planned for her if she was found guilty? She felt comforted as Perdicus moved to sit on the couch beside her, she sat up and they wrapped their arms around one another.
Reluctantly Perdicus pulled back to gaze upon Gabrielles face for what could be the last time, "Dont close your heart Gabrielle. Dont stop yourself from loving someone else and dont stop someone else from loving you." He drew her closer and their lips met. The kiss was over far too soon and Perdicus pressed his lips to Gabrielles cheek and then whispered, "Good-bye Gabrielle." With that he pulled away, both of their eyes were filled with tears.
Marcus tapped Perdicus on the shoulder signaling that it was time for them to leave. As they moved away Gabrielle and Perdicus kept physical contact until their finger tips fell from one anothers.
"Wait." Gabrielle requested, but it was Marcus who she addressed, "Why are you here?"
"I heard Xenas pain." Was all the dark man said before he - Xenas love - and Perdicus - her love - left her.
She gazed after them for an eternity. After so long, after she thought her grieving was over, she had been returned to the arms of her husband, the love she had lost in her life, only to have him taken away from her again. Marcuss presence had only served to remind her of Xena, the love that she had lost in her death. She could not have both and as Hades had pointed out she was stuck somewhere between the two.
Hades stirred her from her thoughts, "I will take you to Mount Olympus in the morning, but for tonight relax and rest, you should find something more appropriate to wear in that chest," he explained as he looked distastefully at the ceremonial robe of Dahak that she wore. "If you need anything call on Persephone, she will be nearby.
The God of the Underworld made his exit as dramatically as he had entered; cloak billowing out behind him he strode from the room the doors seeming to close under their own force.
Alone in the luxurious chamber Gabrielles eyes caught on steam rising in the corner. She rose from the couch finding that her body ached slightly less and followed the steam to its source and was delighted when she discovered the hot-tub. The red and black robe slid from her body to land on the floor and she lowered herself into the hot water, desperately wishing that Xena was there to take away her fear.
* * *
The God of War stalked along the stone corridor, his quarry heading towards him from the far end. As he neared the God of the Underworld he called his uncles name, "Hades," he snarled.
"Yes Ares," Hades spat back.
"Where is she?" Ares demanded as he and his uncle finally reached one another and stood only a few feet apart.
"Hope isnt here Ares, you should know that." Hades explained somewhat puzzled that his nephew would even think that she would be. The Gods wanted to be rid of Dahak and his daughter, not invite them into one of the realms.
"Not Hope. Gabrielle. Where is she?" Ares growled. When Hades was not forthcoming with the information Ares smiled, an evil glint sparking in his eyes, "You know Ill find her, and I can do a lot of damage in the meantime, so just tell me where she is."
"Nice try Ares," Hades folded his arms across his chest, "I know what Zeus has planned for you. Let me guess, youre here to try and sweet talk her, make some kind of deal with her to get you off the hook." The God of Death smirked at his nephews obvious discomfort.
"Not this time Hades, I just want to see her." Eventually Ares exhaled and slumped his shoulders, "I need to see if shes alright."
"She almost died Ares. Shes about to be put on trial by the entire Pantheon of Gods. Alright is probably one of the things she doesnt feel at the moment."
"Are you going to let me see her or not?" Ares was practically pleading with his uncle.
"Well, well, well. Who would have thought it?" Hades stared at Ares, at the unusual behaviour of the God of War. "Shes in the chamber at the end of the hall." As Ares started to move past him Hades placed a restricting hand on his nephews shoulder, "Im warning you Ares, if you try anything like you did with Callisto you will have more than Zeus to be concerned about."
In all his arrogant glory Ares forced his way past his uncle and continued to the double doors at the end of the corridor. When he reached them he turned to discover that Hades had vanished. He raised a hand to knock against the thick wooden doors and then realised he could not go through with this, but then he grinned, at least not in the conventional sense, a moment later he disappeared.
* * *
Aress and Gabrielles Threads
Ares stood in the centre of the chamber and looked around until his gaze found what he sought. The young bard, the irritating blonde, Gabrielle sat submerged in the hot-tub, the water reached up above her breasts, her head rested upon the marble ledge that surrounded the tub, and her wet hair, shining golden in the candle light, splayed out across the ledge. She was a picture of youth, innocence and beauty, the God watched transfixed.
As he looked at her she jerked her head up, sensing something, she looked around the chamber and then shaking her head she returned to her relaxed position. He approached slowly and saw the pained look upon her face as she shut her eyes tightly trying to stop the tears but one did escape, "Oh Gods Xena, I miss you, Im so sorry."
The soft whispered words pulled Ares closer and he sat on the ledge and watched her bathe, he noticed that she did not look to bad for someone who had fallen into a raging inferno and was supposedly not dead, in fact she did not seem to bare any injuries at all.
"Why did you try to kill yourself?" He knew she would not answer him, she had no idea he was even there. "I never meant for you to try and kill yourself, I just wanted you to stop Xena from killing Hope." He looked into her blue-green eyes, unobserved, "I guess I should have known youd sacrifice yourself for her, shed do the same for you. You two just dont realise how entwined your lives.... your destinys are. And youre so in love with one another but...." Ares stopped what he was about to say when Gabrielle stood up and climbed out of the tub. He gazed speechless. In the mix up with the enchanted scroll he had seen three of these bodies naked. Hope had taken the form of her mother and he had seen her naked. Now Gabrielle stood before him naked - and she was breathtaking.
It was only when she picked up a towel and began to dry herself that he was able to stop gaping. "You took my powers away once, you made me a mortal." He followed her as she crossed the room to a chest and began going through the garments inside. "You didnt have to give me back my powers, but you did, and this is how I repaid you."
She held up a blue dress to her body, it would be strappy across the shoulders and clingy across the rest of the body, "Definitely, it brings out the colour in your eyes." He watched as she slipped the dress over her head and down over her body, it was most definitely clingy. She turned to appreciate herself in the mirror, she too noticed that her skin was free of scars and burns. Ares appreciated her too, every curve, contour and muscle.
Gracefully she moved over to the huge bed and laid down upon it. Ares crouched down beside her and continued his monologue. "Even now with my powers, my godhood.... Im still powerless against you. You see, were so different, but in some ways were alike. We both want Xena, for different reasons of course, but youve got her and I havent. That should tell you who is the most powerful." He stood up and faced the young woman, his hands rested thoughtfully upon his sword as he tried to phrase the words he was unused to saying, "I guess I just wanted to say.... Im sorry. Im sorry for everything." Immediately he disappeared.
Gabrielle moved her gaze from where she had been staring at the ceiling to where the God of War had been standing only moments before. She wanted to hate him for what he had done to her, to Xena, but those uncharacteristic words, uttered while he thought he was invisible to her could only have been sincere. "Thank you." She whispered to the empty chamber.
* * *
The journey had proceeded in near silence. Hercules long strides had been eating the distance under him as he desperately wanted to get to Xena. Iolaus grudgingly kept up, it was as though by prolonging their arrival in Amphipolis he could pretend that the whole thing was lie. Joxer just felt stuck in limbo; he did not want to reach Amphipolis, it would just be a reminder that he had lost the woman he loved, but he did not want to go anywhere else. So he just kept up.
Night had descended a short time ago and they now searched for suitable camping area. It was sheer luck that Joxer looked up from his feet the moment that he did to stop himself from walking straight into Iolauss back. The two legendary friends had stopped in their tracks and now stared ahead a short distance. "Why are we...?" He was cut off by Hercules hand covering his mouth, when the hand was gone he repeated, more quietly this time, "Why are we stopping?"
Hercules pointed up ahead, "You see that?" Joxer followed the gesture to see a faint glow amongst the trees, "Somebody is camping over there, wed better check it out."
Iolaus nodded and Joxer gave a thumbs up. Hercules indicated that he would go to the left, Iolaus should head the right and Joxer should approach slowly and keep hidden. All was going well as Hercules and Iolaus circled the camp and then Joxer tripped....
There were two people in the campsite, both masked and on their feet wielding swords at the sudden noise. One of the figures approached the bush where Joxer had fallen, "Move out into the light, slowly," Joxer crawled and clumsily stood up to face the masked figure, "Joxer?" The figure hissed through clenched teeth and pushed the mask back.
"Ephiny!" Joxer cried with sheer relief at the fact that he was not going to be run through.
"Ephiny?" Hercules chorused as he leapt into the circle of light.
"Hercules?" Ephiny swung her attention to the muscular man on her right.
At the same time Iolaus appeared from the bushes and into the camp, to be greeted by a sword point.
"And you would be?" The second masked figure asked.
"Iolaus. And you?" He asked as he lowered his own sword.
"Solari." The figure answered, pushing back her mask to reveal a mass of dark brown hair and eyes.
As the tension dissipated the two Amazons persuaded the three men to join them for the night.
"Thats very kind of you Ephiny." Hercules stretched his long legs out in front of the fire and rested his back against a log. Joxer sat quietly beside Hercules and Iolaus perched on a rock on the opposite side of the fire next to Solari. "What brings you this way?"
"Were headed for Amphipolis, we have to see Xena." Ephiny explained cautiously trying ascertain if the men knew about the terrible news of Gabrielles fate.
"You know," Hercules saw Ephiny and Solari nod, the sadness evident in both their eyes, "How did you find out?"
Ephiny seemed far too choked to speak so Solari spoke up, "Artemis came to us. She told us what had happened to our Queen."
"And we wanted to make sure that Xena was alright, and here we are." Ephiny gestured to encompass the current situation. "I dont know if Xena will be happy to see me or not." She added, more to herself but Hercules heard her.
"Why?" He asked.
Ephiny raised her left arm, showing a brace, that was cleverly disguised as a vanguard, which covered most of her arm, "Lets just say the last time that we met it wasnt too pleasant."
"Hows it doing?" Joxer asked, concern laced his voice as he thought back to the incident.
"Its healing, slowly." She told him.
"What happened?" Iolaus ventured into the conversation.
Ephiny gazed into the faces of all present and then into the fire, "Xena wanted to kill Gabrielle, I got in the way, so did Joxer...."
"Xena punched me when I tried to stand up for Gabrielle." Joxer rubbed his jaw as he remembered the impact.
Finally Ephiny pulled her gaze from the fire to look at Joxer, "We thought they were dead until Gabrielle sent word. How were they.... you know?"
"They were fine. They seemed stronger than theyd ever been. Didnt talk much about it, just said they had been given a second chance." Joxer said thinking of the times since that near fatal day when he had watched the two friends together, "and now shes gone." Joxers lip trembled. Ephiny reached out a reassuring hand to his shoulder. She knew how much Gabrielle had meant to him, why else would he have risked his life against Xenas wrath that day.
Iolaus thought he too was about to cry, he turned from the group only to lock eyes with Solari. He forced a smile.
Solari smiled too, but it did not reach either of their eyes. "Im going to miss her too."
Everybody heard the comment and everybody felt it. With those words the five travellers settled down for the night, each feeling their loss for the Amazon bard.
* * *
It was barely dawn as Xena reached the outskirts of Poteidaia; she had travelled through most of the night, resting only for Argos sake. Xena felt so far removed from her feelings in her body that she barely registered how fatigued she really was, but she always took care of Argo.
The farming town was beginning to come to life as she led Argo through the entrance at the East side of town. Market traders were setting up their wares for the days business, men were heading out to the fields to work and the women were collecting water from the well. How stereotypical, Xena thought, she finally understood why Gabrielle had been so desperate to leave with her.
Gabrielle! Xena brought herself back to the present, remembering why she had actually come back to Poteidaia. Bringing Argo to a halt in the centre of the town square, she turned to the saddle and busied herself with releasing the staff. Holding it loosely in her right hand she stepped around Argo and began to scan the square until she found the person she was looking for. It did not take long, in fact, that person found her.
Lila, Gabrielles younger sister, broke away from the girls she had been talking with when her eyes caught on Xena, the Warrior Princess. She had never been a big fan of Xenas ever since Gabrielle had left town to follow the warrior; and the sight of that warrior stood alone in the middle of the town told her that she was about to gain another reason to dislike the woman.
Cautiously the girl moved towards the warrior, although intimidated, Lila did her best to meet the piercing blue eyes. The woman looked terrible, like she had not eaten or slept in days; this made Lila even more wary. She stopped before the woman and watched, a lump rising in her throat as Xena extended her right arm, holding Gabrielles staff. Lila took the staff and as she did the full realisation of what the gesture meant occurred to her.
The feeling of nausea became anger and then hatred and she lashed out. The arch of the staff connected with Xenas left temple. The impact split the flesh and blood spurted out and began to pour down the side of her face onto her shoulder, her leather and her armour; the force of the blow shook the warrior and sent to her knees in the dirt.
"Why?" Lila screamed as she swung the weapon a second time, Xena raised her hands in a defensive posture and deflected the hit. "You were supposed to protect her, if it wasnt for you she never would have left, she wouldve stayed here, she would have been safe." Lila continued to shout at Xena, though tears flowed freely from her eyes she clenched her teeth and hurled insults at the warrior, "You brought nothing but pain to Gabrielle, its your fault, its all your fault."
Xena wanted to defend herself, to try and explain that she had no choice, that there was nothing she could have done, but all words failed her, just as she had failed Gabrielle. There, in Poteidaia, as she knelt before Lila she said the only words she could, "Forgive me," but in her mind she was really in the land of Illusia, kneeling before Gabrielle - the only person who had driven her to her knees to beg for forgiveness.
Once again grief threatened to overwhelm her but she would not allow it. With what little remained of her strength she struggled away from the scorned sibling and towards Argo. The mare was already moving and Xena grabbed the saddle and threw herself into it, only just making it and galloped out of Poteidaia. This time she was running to the only place where she could find shelter and get the help that she needed - she was running home.
* * *
She could not believe she had actually slept, with the fear of her impending trial Gabrielle was surprised she could actually breath. But she had been so tired, and the bath had been so relaxing, and the bed had been so comfortable that she had not been able to help herself. She felt revitalized for the slumber; her body no longer ached with physical pain, no, the emotional pain had taken over somewhere in the night when she had awoken and found herself alone. She had called Xenas name, but before she had said it she knew there would be no answer, she had just wanted to hear the name.
At the sound of the doors swinging open Gabrielle sat up to greet Hades; the God was accompanied by Persephone, his wife.
"Good, youre awake," As Hades spoke the candles in the room seemed to brighten, "It is time Gabrielle, we must take you to Olympus."
"I dont suppose theres anyway to get out of this?" Gabrielle attempted some humour to try and quiet her nerves, it did not work. Hades seemed to understand this.
"Im afraid not," he extended a hand towards the young woman, "come, the Gods await you."
Gabrielle took the offered hand and as she stood Persephone slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders. They moved towards the doorway, but beyond it there was no longer the stone corridor, instead there was an impenetrable white mist. They were enveloped by the mist and then they vanished from the Underworld.
* * *
Joxer, along with the heroic duo - Hercules and Iolaus - and the Amazons - Ephiny and Solari - had been travelling since first light. This morning they had all been moving at ground breaking speed and had managed to get to Amphipolis before the sun had cleared the horizon.
They passed through fields where the women busily collected the harvest whilst chanting a folk melody. Once in the main part of the town they hit upon their first problem.
"Does anyone have any idea where to start looking?" Iolaus asked, looking around the town as though he expected the Warrior Princess to jump out and tell them to stop worrying about her.
"Beats me." Hercules replied, he shrugged his shoulder and heaved an exhausted sigh.
"Hold on. Didnt Xena say that her mother owned a tavern?" Ephiny recalled, remembering that being the explaination as to how she could drink every single Amazon under the table.
"Yeah, thats right." Solari confirmed, remembering only too well the hangover she had endured for finding that bit of information about the Warrior Princess a little too late.
"Tavern." Joxer pointed to the large building at the far end of town, obviously the tavern due to the fact that there were still two drunks passed out practically on the doorstep.
Hercules led the way, the rest followed. At the door Hercules tried to open it but found it locked. He could have ripped it right off of its hinges but what would it accomplish; a locked door meant no one inside for them to talk to.
"Now what?" Joxer was becoming more than a little anxious.
"We wait." Ephiny stated to everyone.
Five slightly tired companions walked into the shade at the side of the building and slid the ground to await opening time.
* * *
Aress and Callistos Thread
The woman before Ares hung in chains, her unconscious form slumped against the rough surface of the wall. The straggly white blonde hair covered her face and her chin hung down resting against her chest.
He stood watching the body as it swung under its own weight. With one arm resting on his sword the other was raised and a thumb stroked absently across his lower lip as he pondered his latest scheme.
An arm snaked around his waist and another across his chest; the body pressed up against his back. He could not see the face but the feel was unmistakable - Alecto.
For a moment he succumbed to her seduction but then he reached out a hand to the comatose form, hooking a finger beneath the chin he tilted the head to gaze upon the face of Callisto. Her eyes closed, her features gaunt and an ugly scar that ran diagonally across her face marked what she had lost, but Ares had to be sure, "Is it done?"
"Yes Ares," Alectos voice hissed against his ear, "She has been stripped of her immortality and godhood." She curled around him to come between the God and the former Goddess.
"She will be ready in time?" Ares voice held a note of concern, his finger dropped Callistos head.
"She will be ready in time." Alecto repeated, but it was an answer.
Ares lowered his gaze, his eyes locking with those of Alecto, "Make sure of it. I dont want any mistakes this time." He traced a finger along her jawline.
She mimicked his gesture, "Neither do I." She bestowed an all knowing smile upon him.
* * *
The five travellers were still waiting by the side of the tavern for it to open. The two drunks had long since woken up, sobered up, got up and gone home. They had not noticed, they were lost in the continuation of the conversation they had begun the night before, about how much they would miss Gabrielle.
".... the way she used to swing that staff. I gave it to her, well it was slightly different when I did, but it used to be mine." Ephiny was saying, she looked to Solari, "What about you, what will you miss?"
Solari chuckled, "Her jokes, it always took me ages to work them out."
"Ill miss the way she used to get annoyed with me and shed grab my nose or my ear, or shed hit me with her staff...." Joxer was cut off when Iolaus abruptly stood up.
"How can you do that? How can you sit there and talk like that? Gabrielle.... she...." he stuttered for words and clenched his fists.
Solari was on her feet immediately and took Iolaus by the shoulders, "Because it helps. What about you? There must be something that youre going to miss, that youll remember. Something special that you shared."
Physically calming himself Iolaus closed his eyes and remembered, "Her stories. Ill always remember her stories. She told me once that there was a time when all people had four legs, four arms, two heads but one soul; the Gods became angry and they threw down lightning bolts and separated them and now we spend our lives searching for the other half of our souls." He opened his eyes and for the first time the smile actually touched them. "I dont know whether shes the other half of my soul, but I do know that she was a big part of my life. What about you Hercules?" Iolaus asked turning to his friend who had been oddly quiet and distant; no doubt his thoughts were with the person that he considered to be the other half of his soul.
"I didnt know her that well, I just know that she made Xena very happy." He tossed aside the piece of straw that he had been playing with, "Doesnt this place ever open?" The usually calm Hercules was starting to get annoyed.
As if on cue a woman in a simple village dress passed them, "Customers already, that is a pleasant sight."
All five stared at the woman; the dark brown, almost black hair, the piercing blue eyes, the prominent cheek bones, she did not have the height but she had to be Xenas mother.
"Come in, come in," she ushered them through the doorway, "take a seat, Ill be right with you." As the tavern keeper moved to the bar she took in the appearance of all five, most notably the two women, "Would you two ladies be Amazons?"
"Yes we are." Ephiny replied as they seated themselves around a table.
The woman was heading back to the table, a jug of ale in one hand and an arm full of mugs in the other. "My daughters best friend is an Amazon," she set down the mugs and began to pour ale into them, "and my daughter is quite a warrior too."
That cleared up that - this was definitely Xenas mother.
"Call me if you need anything," she began to move away but then came back having forgotten something, "By the way, my name is Cyrene."
"Thank you Cyrene." Hercules said in his most charismatic voice, Cyrene blushed and then drifted back to the bar.
It was obvious that Xena had not yet arrived and so they sat back to do some more waiting - at least they had some ale this time.
* * *
Gabrielles and Aress Threads
The mists began to dissipate before her eyes and Gabrielle found herself on a large staircase that led onto a vast circular - no spherical - chamber; even the ceiling and the floor were a continuation of the room. Gabrielle was aware of the fact that she was gaping but the view was spectacular. The chamber was lined with several archways and beyond each seemed to exist another place and as Gabrielle feared there were twelve in all - one for each of the twelve Olympian Gods.
Hades assisted her in her descent of the final steps, she noticed that Persephones comforting arm was sorely absent. The God of the Underworld led her to the centre of the chamber, he paced around her in a circle, not looking at her but at the twelve arches. One stood higher than the rest, situated between two more staircases - it could only be Zeuss arch. She stole glances at some of the other alcoves for some sense of recognition. The Halls of War were easily Ares, the forge at Mount Vulcan belonged to Hephaestus, a library could only mean Athena, a forest the grounds of Artemis and the sound of cascading water behind her had to be Poseidon. There was no chance to decipher any of the others before Hades voice spoke to the empty chamber.
"Gods of Olympus, I Hades, God of the Underworld call upon your presence for the Judgement upon Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia, Queen of the Amazons, known to the followers of Dahak as The Betrayer and to the Olympians as a Saviour."
As the request hung in the air Gabrielle pondered on how she had managed to accumulate so many titles, almost as many as Xena.
Figures began to shimmer into existence in the centre of each archway. Gabrielle shot a sidelong glance at Ares as he appeared from the Halls of War, he failed to meet her eyes.
When all twelve Olympians were present Zeus spoke directly to Gabrielle, "You have been brought here to stand trial for your crimes against the Olympian Gods and their people. The only reason that you have not been condemned to Tartarus already is because of your actions preceding the manifestation of Dahak and your part in ridding him and his followers from the world."
"You will be questioned and allowed to defend your actions, but know that you will be judged and sentenced fairly by this counsel upon the evidence presented." It was the Goddess to the right of Zeus who spoke; the peacock motif in her garments indicated that this was Hera and the Queen of the Gods had pale eyes that could rival Xena in the steely gaze department.
The Goddess to Zeuss left spoke next, Zeus bestowed such an affectionate glance upon her that it was obviously his favourite daughter - Athena, "Father, the Judgement can not proceed as planned. A key witness is in no fit state to testify, I ask that you concede some time to allow the situation to be rectified."
It did not take an oracle to work out that Athena referred to Xena. Gabrielle felt tears begin to prick at her eyes as she thought once more of the pain her friend must be going through; Xena was unaware that Gabrielle was in limbo, she wished that she could get a message to her.
"Very well, the Judgement will convene when the Warrior Princess has had a suitable amount of time to grieve," Zeus proclaimed, "For now Gabrielle, you will return to the Underworld in Hadess custody."
"Father," Goddess of the Hunt, the Moon and the Amazons took a step forward, "Allow Gabrielle into my custody, I will care for her, she is one of my own."
Silence followed Artemiss request and Gabrielle feared Zeuss decision. She had never met Artemis, but the Goddess seemed protective of her and she could certainly do with some protecting.
"So be it." Zeus gestured for Gabrielle to go to Artemis.
The Goddess reached out her hand to her young Amazon Queen and pulled her closer. She was about to leave with her charge when Zeus spoke again.
"While we are all assembled I have one final announcement," When he was sure he held all of their attentions, "Ares, God of War, will not be participating in this Judgement."
"Father...." Ares began to protest.
"That is my final decision Ares." Zeus told him.
"But Father, I must be allowed my vote." Ares pleaded.
"No Ares, I told you what would happen for your betrayal." Zeus turned to his brother who still stood in the centre of the room, "Hades will take the place of the twelfth juror."
Ares snarled his disapproval and then turned to the Halls of War and was gone.
In a similar fashion to how the Gods had arrived they departed from Olympus, leaving only Gabrielle and Artemis.
"Thank you." Gabrielle whispered to the Goddess who had her arm draped loosely around the smaller womans shoulders.
"Thank you for what? For taking care of you?" Artemis took Gabrielles face in her hands and looked into the glazed, but dazzling eyes, "Gabrielle, my Amazons mean more to me than anything. I would never allow another God to take custody of you."
"Artemis, how did Athena know about Xena?" As she said the name a single tear made its way down her cheek, Artemis wiped it away with her thumb.
"Athena likes to keep an eye on the Warrior Princess, you know, make sure shes doing okay." Artemis explained.
"Must be nice to have a God looking out for you." Gabrielle mused lowering her gaze to the floor.
"Shes not the only one." Artemis told her, making Gabrielle greet her eyes so that there was no doubt to whom she was referring.
Gabrielle chuckled to herself, "Where were you when I was falling into a fire pit?" She accused.
"Waiting for you here," she took Gabrielles hand in her own, "Gabrielle, Zeus wouldnt allow us to interfere. It had to be done this way." She paused for a moment making sure that Gabrielle understood, "Come on, there are some people waiting to see you."
Artemis led Gabrielle through the archway and into the forest, the transitional shift took only a moment and when Gabrielle looked back Olympus was gone.
* * *
Argos hooves thudded hard against the dirt beneath them as Xena urged the mare onwards. The horse, sensing her mistresses need had kept a steady gallop all the way form Poteidaia, covering the distance in a fraction of the time.
Her body exhausted and her soul defeated Xena found a small reserve of energy as she entered her home town. Amphipolis sprawled out in front of her and she slowed Argo enough to manoeuvre through the streets. Finally her destination was in sight, the tavern grew closer and she reigned Argo to a complete stop and dismounted. As she slid from the saddle she barely found her footing and had to brace herself against the mares side. The dull throbbing in her head ached and she reached a tentative hand to her left temple and her fingers met with stickiness. Drawing her hand back she examined the red liquid on her fingertips, she had not even known that the injury that Lila had inflicted upon her had been so severe.
Pulling the satchel from Argos saddle and slinging it over her shoulder - she forgot to tether Argo, but the horse was not going anywhere - she climbed the steps to the tavern, her legs feeling like dead weights. She shoved against the door, it swung open and she stumbled inside.
She did not notice the five pairs of eyes that turned immediately in her direction, concern etched in their features; her eyes searched out the person that she had travelled all this way to see - her mother.
Cyrene darted out from behind the counter the moment that her daughter entered the tavern, it was so rare that Xena visited her; but as she looked more closely she saw the blood on Xenas face and the despair shown in her eyes, her body, even her soul - something was most definitely wrong. She took Xena by the shoulders, "Xena?"
Xena raised her head and looked at her mother through heavy lidded eyes, "Gabrielle...." she stammered the word in barely more than a whisper, "....shes dead." It was the first time she had admitted it out loud and at that moment her world shattered into a thousand pieces.
Cyrene could only watch as her daughters body finally gave into the exhaustion and fatigue. Xenas world began to fade as her body began to fall. Cyrene could do nothing to help her daughter, but one of her customers, the charismatic one with broad shoulders caught Xenas prone body and lifted her easily.
Meeting the eyes of the young man Cyrene said, "I need to take her to my home."
"I can carry her." He replied, very sure of himself.
"Its a long walk," she warned him, "can you make it that far?"
"Are you kidding, this is Hercules." Another of the travellers, a shorter, fair haired man stood and prodded Hercules in the biceps.
"I can carry her as far as you need me to." Hercules assured the woman.
Cyrene nodded and headed towards the door, surprised when the two Amazons and the third man followed, accompanying her and her daughter to their home.
* * *
They made their way out of the tavern; Cyrene leaving one of her helpers in charge, and the assorted procession made its way through the town. Joxer grabbed the free hanging reins of Argos bridle, noticing that the staff was gone, and led the horse along with them.
Cyrene was right about there home being a long walk, the group had passed through a couple of meadows, a sparse wood and over a small stream before the cottage was in sight. Hercules however showed no signs of strain or fatigue and held Xenas body close to his own and cradled her head against his shoulder. He did not think he had ever seen the warrior look so helpless; even after she had been forced through the Gauntlet by her own men her body had been strong and her spirit remained unbroken. That pivotal moment had changed her, and made her turn her life around; Hercules feared that losing Gabrielle would send her straight back to her tainted past.
The hero vaguely heard introductions between Cyrene and Ephiny and Solari, and the brief explanation of what had happened. Joxer kept quiet, only uttering soothing noises to Argo as they walked along. Iolaus hung back from them, he had not been himself ever since he had found out about Gabrielle; Hercules hoped that he was taking Solaris advice and remembering rather than wallowing in sorrow.
Maybe I should take her advice. Hercules chuckled to himself, but he could not help his anger. Gabrielle meant everything to Xena, she was her light, her goodness and deep down Hercules knew that it was the bard who was the other half to Xenas soul. Still it pained him that he had known what would happen, had known what it would do to Xena and he had stood back and let it happen anyway, unable to do anything. Damn Zeus, damn him.
* * *
She had not meant to give into the exhaustion, she was just so relieved to see her mother, to be in the tavern to be welcomed home - it had overwhelmed her.
The blackness gave way to harsh light beating down upon her closed eyelids. She felt far removed from her numb body, but as the feeling slowly returned she was aware that she was being carried. She could feel the straining muscles of the arms that cradled her weakened body, the firm chest where her head rested and the strong scent of the man that had shared that physique with her in the heat of passion - Hercules.
She had never needed protection from anyone, mortal, god or otherwise, she prided herself on it, but with Hercules had begun her path to redemption, he had given her protection from herself. By the simple action of refusing to end her life he had given it a new beginning. He had placed trust and belief in her and opened his heart to love her; it was the same protection she had felt from Gabrielle.
That particular set of memories brought a new wave of grief. No, not yet. I wont grieve yet. She pressed her head further into Hercules chest and winced in pain. Her eyes flickered open and she tentatively touched the wound at her left temple. She winced again and then turned her gaze to meet the strong, chiseled features above her.
Hercules looked down at her and cradled her tighter to him, "Ive got you Xena. Ive got you."
This alerted Cyrene to her daughters state, "Its just up here."
Xena frowned for a moment trying to place the voice, "Mother," she whispered in recognition.
"Yes," Hercules looked up for a moment, the cottage was in front of him and as he climbed the steps to the door he said, "Weve brought you home."
As Cyrene fumbled frantically with the locks and bolts on the door, Hercules softly gave out orders, "Iolaus find some water and bring it in, Ephiny and Solari get some medical supplies, Joxer," Hercules tried to think of something the man could do, "Take care of Argo." They all hurried to their tasks as Hercules ducked inside the house with his charge and followed Cyrene to a room at the rear of the cottage.
Xena felt the cool sheets and the soft mattress beneath her as she was lowered to the bed. Cyrene sat and held the upper part of her daughters body to her. Hercules tried to slide the rucksack from her shoulder, a fatal mistake.
"No!" Xena screamed as she sat up and held onto the bag with all the strength he knew that Xena possessed. Hercules released his hold immediately and Xena clutched the bag to her chest, "Its all I have." She fell back into her mothers arms, turning her face away.
It had been too late, Hercules had seen the tears beginning to well up in her eyes and this time they threatened to spill from the beautiful sapphire eyes.
"Ive got the water." Iolaus announced as he approached the room with a bucket in his right hand. The others were in his wake. Hercules strode to the door, preventing their access, he left the room closing the door behind him, but it was not enough. Each one of them flinched as the first cry pierced the silence, and their expression remained haunted as they heard the screams of pain as the mighty Warrior Princess finally gave into the grief.
Cyrene held tightly to her daughter as the violent sobs racked her body and the howling cries filled the room, accompanied by the soothing noises of a mother, "Let it go Xena, let it go."
Xena gulped desperately for air as tears blurred her vision and fell thick in her throat. "I tried...." Xena choked out the words as she heaved hard in her mothers embrace, "but I couldnt.... I couldnt stop her.... I couldnt save her...."
Cyrene lifted her daughters face, her hands gripping both sides of Xenas head and looked into her eyes, "Its not your fault."
Xenas lower lip quivered uncontrollably and she shook her head, releasing it from her mothers grasp. "It is.... it is....I saw her face.... She did it for me.... She did it so I wouldnt die." She threw herself back into her mothers arms and continued to cry, letting out all of the pent up sorrow until her exhaustion claimed her again.
Her mother eased out from under her daughter and rested her injured head on a soft pillow; she then proceeded to strip her daughter of her boots, her armour and her leathers. She laid a blanket over her sleeping daughter, pressed a kiss to her clammy forehead, made sure the rucksack was in easy reach of her hand and then quietly left the room for her daughter to rest.
* * *
Four people who rarely showed their emotions, and one who wore his on his sleeves, sat isolated from one another in the sitting room. They no longer knew what pained them more greatly, losing Gabrielle, or losing Xena to her grief. Gabrielle they could do nothing about, but Xena.... they all silently vowed to help Xena through her pain, whether she knew she needed it or not.
Cyrene entered the room, silently closing the door behind her. Hercules took a step towards her, "Is she...?"
Cyrene held a finger to her lips, "Shes sleeping." She looked up at Hercules and noticed something for the first time, "Are you going to give me that shirt so I can clean it?"
The big guy looked down and discovered the bright red stain on his right shoulder, where Xenas head had rested. He started to pull the shirt tales from his trousers.
"Thank you all for your help, I really appreciate it. You obviously care a great deal for my daughter, to travel so far to see her." She paused, shyly looking at the five strangers in her home, yet feeling strangely close to them already, she thought about what she wanted to say, "I would be most grateful if you would consider staying here for a few days to help me...."
"We would be glad to." Hercules assured her as he slipped his yellow shirt from his shoulders.
"You just try getting rid of us." Iolaus added, seeming to be in better spirits.
The other three nodded their acceptance of the invitation and Cyrenes face brightened, "Thank you, now give me that shirt." She took the shirt from Hercules.
They knew they were facing another agonising wait, but at the end of this one would be the grueling task of helping Xena deal with her loss.
* * *
The forest was the most lush and peaceful that the bard had ever seen, even she would never be able to do the scene justice with words. As she walked with Artemis she gazed around at the paradise she had been brought to, the trees, the flowers, the animals; she could not help wondering whether the surrounding area was enhanced and even protected by the Goddess. For the first time since she had technically died she felt at ease. She was walking in the open, she was self-conscious in the blue dress, sorely missing her staff, but with her hand clasped firmly in that of the warriors - a brunette warrior at that - not Xena, but she still felt safe.
The woodland gave way to a clearing and revealed Artemiss hunting lodge. The lodge itself rivaled anything that could have been built by any of the Amazons, including the Queens hut, but then Artemis was the Goddess of the female warriors. It did not surprise Gabrielle when she discovered that Artemis had posted Amazon guards at the entrance. On closer inspection of the two woman stood on either side of the huge wooden doors she realised that she knew the two of them and she began to smile, "Is that...?"
"Melosa and Terreis? Yes. One with the power of ideas and one with the power to make them happen. They are my own personal guards and they will take care of any of your needs while you are here. Theyve been waiting for you."
As the Goddess and the bard approached the cabin the two Amazon moved towards them. Gabrielle had barely reached the top step when Terreis pulled her into a fierce hug. "Just couldnt stop risking yourself for other people could you." Terreis teased as she held Gabrielle tightly.
"No she couldnt, she is a true Amazon and a perfect successor to both of us." Melosa agreed.
Terreis released Gabrielle into her older sisters embrace, after a moment Melosa drew back to look at how much Gabrielle had grown since they had last seen one another. "It is good to see you Gabrielle, I wish the circumstances could have been different."
"You and me both. But I guess our daughters had other plans." Gabrielle said as sarcastically as she could but everybody heard the underlying regret in her words. "When Ephiny told me what Velasca had done I knew I had to honour your memory."
Both Amazons stiffened at the mention of the renegade Amazons name, Melosa shot a sideways glance at Artemis who stood with her lips pursed and fists clenched.
"I guess thats not a name you say around here, "Gabrielle hazarded, "Shes not around, is she?" Gabrielle darted looks around her in case the self-proclaimed Goddess of Chaos had broken free from her imprisonment and still held a grudge against Gabrielle.
"No." Artemis announced a slight smile creeping onto her face, "She will not be bothering you, or anyone else for that matter, for quite a while," The smile was now a self-satisfied smirk, "Thats what she gets for destroying one of my temples and thinking she could equal me." Artemis seemed to return to the present, "Melosa have chambers prepared for our guest, Terreis get her something to eat, Im sure shes hungry." Artemis smiled fondly at the young woman, even on Olympus she had heard of the bards legendary appetite.
Gabrielles mouth watered at the prospect of food, but she had a nagging suspicion in her head, "I can eat?"
"This is not the Underworld Gabrielle, and youre not completely dead, you will not be imprisoned for eating," Artemis explained, "but stay away from the Ambrosia."
The two Amazon guards led the way into the lodge, Artemis and Gabrielle followed, the younger woman lost in her thoughts. Ambrosia had brought Xena back to life when she had not been completely dead, could the same work for her?
"Dont even think about it Gabrielle," Artemis answered her thoughts, "Xenas fate was in her own hands then, her own choice. Your fate currently rests in the hands of the Gods, our choice. A Judgement is the only way that your fate can be decided. We will be fare, but do not try to trick us."
With that Gabrielle realised that Ambrosia was out of the question, and that her fate rested in the hands of twelve Gods and Goddesses, who she had almost destroyed. She had had dealings with some of them before and she was expected to believe that they would play fare.
* * *
The first thing that she was aware of was the stinging sensation of a slap across her left cheek, which almost smashed the bone and dislocated the jaw. She worked her jaw to be certain that she had not sustained those very two injuries, "Youll have to do better than that." Callisto goaded her attacker, her eyes remained closed, she was oblivious to who she spoke.
The second slap came across the right cheek and she instantly tasted blood foaming in her mouth. This unfamiliar and unsuspected reaction from her body caused rage to course through her, she lifted her head and opened her eyes hissing at her attacker. Callisto did not recognise the woman with the wild white hair and dark eyes, but the red rags wrapped about her body were a give away. She fought vainly against her bonds that chained her to the wall and tried to lash out at the Fury.
"Youll have to do better than that." Alecto jeered at her.
Callisto spat the blood from her bleeding gum and lips into the womans face. A mistake. Alecto reached out and gripped Callisto around the throat and lifted her completely off the ground. As the former Goddess gasped for air around her restricted wide pipe she saw the blood hiss upon Alectos skin until it was gone, "If I were you I would start showing the Furies the respect that we deserve." Alecto dropped Callisto releasing her vice like grip from her throat, a slight wave of her hand and the shackles were released as well.
Callistos legs buckled for a brief moment but she quickly regained her balance; she glared at the retreating back of the Fury, it would be so easy to just....
"Give it you best shot." Alecto spun around, holding her arms out to make herself a target for Callistos rage, "You are no longer a Goddess Callisto," she once again approached her prisoner and placed a finger on Callistos forehead and traced it along the scar to the opposite cheek, "That should be abundantly clear."
Callisto put her hands to her face and found the old scar and acknowledged the tautness of skin that such a scar would bring, something she had not felt as an immortal or Goddess. Suddenly she realised that she no longer felt the surge of the powers either.
"You have a question." Alecto announced.
Callisto thought about not asking it, but decided that she had nothing to lose, "I asked for Oblivion."
"And here you are." Alecto gestured to the chamber, a chamber with no visible entrance. "Oblivion is a little place that my sisters and I created for Gods who were stupid enough to get themselves killed." Alecto watched the disgust that crossed Callistos face at this new found knowledge, a gesture made even more venomous by the scar. "Next time I would advise being careful what you ask for. Just so that you know, your neighbours are Strife and Velasca," she indicated to either side of the chamber, "and neither one is very happy with you." Alecto left the comment hanging and was about to leave.
"If you have stripped me of my godhood then you must be more powerful than the Gods themselves." Callisto mused out loud hoping that Alecto would take the challenge.
Alecto grinned widely at the comment, "We are more powerful than you will ever know, more powerful than you will ever want to know."
"Then you can do something for me." Callisto hoped Alecto had a bigger ego than Ares.
"And what might that be?" Alecto asked, curious, and surprised that Callisto had the audacity to ask in the first place.
"I want to see Xena." Callisto demanded.
"Impossible." Alecto scolded.
"Nothing should be impossible for you." Callisto pointed out.
"You are dead Callisto, you cannot appear in the mortal world, the living cannot see you." Alecto explained as though she was talking to a stubborn child, that was not too far from the truth.
"But you could make her see me, there has to be a way." The Fury seemed to be contemplating the idea, Callisto had to push just a little further, "I just want to talk to her, I need to straighten a few things out with her."
"Ill see what I can do." Alecto vanished in a blue glow.
Callisto looked around. There was no way to get in or out of the cell unless you had godly powers, but then she was dead, where would she go anyway?
* * *
Xenas and Callistos Threads
The sleep she had fallen into was much needed but far from restful. Inevitably her subconscious had conjured up the images of those final moments - the last she had shared with Gabrielle. In the dreams the screams of Gabrielles death echoed all around her, suffocating all other sounds, and now she could hear Gabrielle cursing her for her failure. Xena sank to her knees at the chasms edge, whispering into the flames, "Im sorry, please forgive me...."
"Im sorry," Xena screamed as she awoke. A cold slick layer of perspiration covering her flesh and the blanket tangled around her limbs and body. "Im sorry," she said again, her breathing ragged as it caught in her throat.
She gripped her head as the pain caught up with the rest of her body; forcefully she ran her fingers through her hair pushing it out of her eyes to look around the twilight filled room. In the half darkness she only just saw the figure sitting in the corner of the room - Callisto.
Xenas body had no strength to challenge the previous Goddess, and Callisto did not appear as though she was looking for a fight, besides Xena was convinced that she had killed the blonde warrior, So what is she doing here?
"I dont want to fight, I just wanted to see you." Callisto stood from the chair she had been perched on and moved across the room with cat-like grace.
How had she known what I was thinking?
"Because Im inside that tortured prison that you call a mind." Callisto moved closer to Xena and lowered her head to look at the weary eyes, the haggard face. Lifting her hand she prodded at the injury on the side of Xenas head and delighted when Xena flinched.
"But I killed you." Xena batted Callistos hand away and began to eye the blonde woman with suspicion.
"Yes I know," Callisto shrugged her shoulders, "When has that ever stopped me before?" She rubbed her temples with the heels of her hands and continued with a frustrated tone, "The least you could do is hear what I have to say."
"Theres nothing you can say that will take the pain away." Xena spat at her.
Callistos eyes shone bright with hatred, "Pain. Pain. You want to know about pain. Pain is when you watch everything you love, everything you believe in destroyed before your eyes; and then the pain is all there is, it drives you, it controls you. You did that to me Xena, you did." The intense glare in Callistos eyes softened somewhat, taking an understanding view of the warrior princess, "You do know what that pain is like. I never knew she was that important."
The two warriors stared at each other through the growing twilight until finally Callisto broke away. She began to pace around the room, feeling like a caged cat, she had never liked being confined. Two hands gripped her hair and yanked occasionally at the white blonde locks. "Im not about to forgive you Xena, you killed me just when I found I had a reason for living, but you wouldnt listen to me, too hung up on your own selfish feelings, its always Xena, Xena, Xena."
"Gabrielle had just died you heartless bitch." Xena hissed.
"Uh-uh," Callisto shot Xena a look as she wagged her figure in the dark warriors direction, "Im the one doing the talking." Her hands had fallen to her sides but her fingers never stopped moving, "What would you say if I told you that when Gabrielle sacrificed herself I finally realised what she had been trying to tell me?"
"Id say you were lying." Xena said with all the sarcasm she could muster.
Callisto clasped and unclasped her hands continually pulling at her fingers. "No not completely. Im sorry the irritating brat died, I kinda found her.... intriguing. I couldnt work out why she loved you and hated me when we were essentially the same."
"She helped me find redemption, something you could never hope to glimpse." Xena interjected.
"Well Ill never have the chance now, will I?" When Callisto turned to look at Xena this time there were shafts of moonlight beginning to filter through the window and Callisto realised for the first time that Xena was completely naked. She looked the body up and down with an appraising look. "I didnt come her to argue with you."
The look did not go unnoticed by Xena. She was not self-conscious of her body in the slightest but she had not known that she was naked until Callisto had looked at her. "That would make a change."
"Dont make this more difficult than it already is Xena," Callistos voice held a note of warning, "I just wanted to say thank you. I asked you to kill me and you did, you seemed the obvious choice since it was you who butchered my family."
Xena allowed the usual taunting about the past to slide by considering what Callisto had just said.
"I would have told you sooner, but I was too busy dying." Callisto leaned over until their faces were barely inches apart and their gazes were locked. "Thank you Xena."
Xena had only just registered the shock of the apology when she was registering the shock of Callistos lips pressed against her own. Her eyes closed briefly at the sensation and when they re-opened to object to the invasion of her personal space Callisto was gone and the room was empty in the twilight once again.
Her mind awoke for the second time, but this time there was no scream of anguish, instead there was a snarl of disgust mixed with a dark desire for the woman who had disappeared.
* * *
As her mind returned to the confines of the cell in Oblivion Callisto raised her head, opening her eyes she ran her tongue over her lips which still held the sensation of Xena upon them. She had, of course, never actually left the cell, her mind had been placed inside the Warrior Princesses causing her to appear as an hallucination. The conductors of this scheme stood before her; all three of the Furies had taken part in the manipulation of the plan and now they released the power that it had taken.
Lifting a hand Alecto indicated that her two sisters were dismissed, a blue glow filled the room and then they were gone. Alecto strode across the room to where Callisto sat cross-legged and traced a slender index finger along Callistos jaw, "Why did you want to see the Warrior Princess?"
"She made me and only she can destroy me." Callisto explained simply.
"Thats where you are wrong." The Fury held an amused expression in her eyes.
"Xena killed my family and made me the monster I am. She gave me the fury to avenge their deaths. Only her blood could stop the anger, the hate." Callisto reaffirmed her driven purpose in life.
"Xena sparked that fire, but I was the one who fueled it. She didnt make you who you are, I did." Alecto enjoyed the amused expression that was beginning to creep across Callistos childlike features. "Who do you think gave you the anger, the hate? Who do you think punished you with the madness that forced you to avenge your familys death? Only the Furies can give you that drive, and only the Furies can liberate you from the madness."
Callisto ran her tongue over her lips once more, searching for Xena - her focus - but the feeling was not strong enough and slipping away far to quickly.
"What's the matter Callisto?" Alecto gripped the womans chin and forced her to look up, searching the deep brown eyes for the haunted look of anguish, "Finding the truth a little difficult?"
Callisto lunged towards the Fury, arms out to grasp the slender throat, "Youre lying."
Alecto deflected Callisto's hands and caught hold of a handful of hair jerking Callisto's head backwards. Callisto was on her knees now with Alecto towering over her, "You dare to call me a liar." Alecto lowered her face and her voice to her a whisper, "What would you have done once you had killed her? Search for redemption? Admit it Callisto, deep down you didn't want to kill her because you know that she is not the answer. Don't you?" She jerked Callistos head hard, "Don't you?"
"Yes." Callisto gasped. She was unused to being at anyones mercy, not Xena, not Ares, but this woman had rendered her completely helpless.
"Do you want Oblivion Callisto, do you want redemption?" Alecto tightened her grip causing pain to jolt through Callistos body.
Callisto tried to withstand the pain, the pressure that Alecto was subjecting her to. But she knew Alecto was right; deep down she knew that Alecto was the answer.
"That's right Callisto, Im the key. The key to your pain, your torture, your release. If you want it all to stop I can make it happen." Alecto's gaze bore into Callisto waiting her answer.
"Please." Callisto uttered in barely more than a whisper; she could allow no more than that, knowing that she was submitting.
Alecto released her hold, dropping Callisto into a heap on the floor, "I ask but one favour in return," She waited until she had Callisto's full attention, "You will be taken to Mount Olympus where you will testify in the Judgement of precious, little Gabrielle."
"I will not." Callisto barked as she forced herself to stand face to face with Alecto.
"You will, or you will pay the consequences." The Fury smirked at the possible punishments she could inflict. "It would be easier on all involved if you just agreed. Who knows, you might find some redemption along the way."
"Who cares?" Callisto replied dismissively.
"You do not have a choice Callisto. I will come for you when it is time." With the smile still firmly fixed on her lips she disappeared, leaving Callisto alone to ponder on her sham of a life and her suffering in death.
* * *
Hercules burst through the door and it slammed behind him and he was on the bed beside Xena before the growl had finished on her lips. Cautiously he reached out, passed her flailing arms and pulled her to him, letting her take all the comfort she needed, "Xena its okay, I'm here, were all here," He soothed.
Xena burrowed deeper into his embrace where she felt protected.
For a moment Hercules was surprised by her affection seeking act and the fact that she was naked; then he reminded himself that she had just lost her best friend and probably did not care about her state of dress - or lack there of.
Minutes passed and neither one made any move to finish the intimate exchange. Xena found herself wrapping her arms around his body with her fingers tracing the contours of the muscles along his bare back; while Hercules found himself absently stroking her long black hair. When it finally dawned on them how dangerous the prolonged contact was they began to ease away from one another. It was then that they saw the look in each others eyes; where Xenas had been clouded with anguish and Hercules had been filled with concern, they both mirrored the same thing - desire.
Had they really been able to fool themselves and each other so easily? It had been a few years since they had been together as lovers, having suppressed their desires for the sake of their friendship. They both knew the profound effect they had on one another. Xena had been the first woman that Hercules had allowed himself to love after the death of his wife Deineira. Hercules had been the only man who had been able to withstand her aggressive nature, had she not told him that he had unchained her heart?
Without thinking she began to extend a hand to the side of his face, Hercules quickly grasped the hand in his own and gently pushed it away but kept hold of it. Her other hand instinctively began the same act and again Hercules caught it but met with more resistance this time. With no way to hold her back she leaned forward, "I need you," she whispered as she shifted closer and pressed her lips to his.
The kiss was quickly mounting in intensity, with Xena becoming more forceful and Hercules surrendering to the passion he felt for the warrior. Sensing the surrender Xena pushed forward forcing Hercules back on the bed, a quick movement of her hands and she grasped his gauntlets, pinning his arms to the mattress.
He knew he should stop her, for a hundred reasons: she was not thinking clearly, they would both regret it later, it would blur the boundaries they had drawn for themselves; but the single reason as to why they should kept him going: it felt so right.
How long had it been since they had been together? How much had he missed it? And now as her body was pressed against his, her lips on his and her finger tips gently trailing along his bare arms he did not want to say no.
When her fingers reached his shoulders she pushed away, looking down at him she smiled slyly then arced a leg over his hips to straddle his body. Xena had no idea how or when she had lost her restraint, but while Hercules was this close and this responsive to her she could not help herself. Every time this man came into her life her emotions went into turmoil. She had kept desire, passion and lust under control for so long and right now she was damned if she would let another person that she loved die without showing them how she felt.
Hercules ran his hands along the muscled thighs that rested on either side of his hips and breathed deeply as Xenas fingers began the agonizing trail down his chest and torso. All the while their eyes were locked on one another. When her fingers reached the waistband of his trousers she leaned down, brushing her lips against his, as she deftly unfastened the buckle and began work on the laces. It was only when her hands made contact with the sensitive flesh beneath that Hercules came back to reality with a crash. He grasped both on her hands and pulled them away before it got to the stage where he could not say no. "This is a bad idea." He said as he tore his lips away from hers and tried to get out from underneath her.
"It wasnt such a bad idea a few years ago." She smiled seductively and tried to push him back to the bed.
Hercules rolled their bodies to finish with him on top of Xena, "Things change." He said as he tried to climb off of her and the bed.
She slung her arms around his neck, "They don't have to," She pulled him down for another kiss, "I need you," She whispered against his mouth.
He took the arms from around his neck and held them down against the bed, "You need someone Xena, but its not me." He managed to get away from her and stand up. He fumbled with the laces on his trousers, trying to do them up as fast as possible. When he looked back to where she lay, an expression of hurt in her eyes he could only think of one thing to say, "Ill get Ephiny to take care of that." He said indicating to the side of her head and the unattended wound. With his trousers fastened he left the room.
For a moment Xena lay on the bed unable to move with the shock of what she had just done, what she had been going to do. Slowly she drew the blanket tightly around her naked body, the regret flowing through her, "Please dont leave me too," She whispered after him.
* * *
Since her apparent death life had been hectic: going to the Underworld, talking with Hades, seeing Perdicus again, being taken to Olympus, meeting Artemis, catching up with Melosa and Terreis. For the first time since the fight in Dahaks temple Gabrielle actually had time to sit and think. She was reclining against some soft cushions and stretched out on some furs in front of the hearth with a roaring fire.
She felt a pang of guilt for the comforts she was enjoying and wondered what Xena was doing at that moment, how she had reacted to Gabrielles death, what she was going through. Suddenly it occurred to her - thought. She should know the answers to all of her questions through Xenas thoughts. Xena had said that the dead could hear the thoughts of the living, so why could she not hear Xena? This triggered an ache and emptiness inside her; if it was her destiny to die then so be it, but to spend eternity without Xena, not even in her thoughts was unbearable.
She had not even realised that she had begun crying and that two arms enfolded her in an embrace. The soft pink fabric that brushed against her face told her that it was Aphrodite immediately, strangely though she did not feel compelled to pull away from the shallow Goddess of Love.
"I know it hurts." Light hands stroked Gabrielles golden hair in a relaxing rhythm.
"Aphrodite? What are you doing here?" Gabrielle asked. She had never trusted the Goddesss motives.
"Artemis had to make her rounds, so she asked me to check in on you. Actually she asked Athena to do it, but I was eavesdropping on the conversation and kinda took the invitation myself." Aphrodite shrugged, feeling absolutely no guilt for listening in on her sisters conversation.
Gabrielle began to laugh away the tears, "Why did you want to check on me?" She drew herself away from Aphrodite and awaited an explanation.
Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders, "I knew it was only a matter of time before you worked out that you couldn't hear the Warrior Babes thoughts; so I thought Id drop by and let you know that shes thinking about you . Heaps. We were hoping to have her here for the trial sooner, but I guess shes too upset." The Goddess saw the tears glistening in the young womans eyes, "I'm sorry, I thought you might want to know that, and that it would sound better coming from me than that nerd Athena."
"Its not that," Gabrielle sniffed and wiped away the few stray tears, "Why are you being so nice to me?"
The expression on Aphrodites face was sadness, although she smiled through it, "I know that you don't think much of me, in fact youd probably do a better job if you had this gig, but Im the Goddess and youre the bard, so I guess we're stuck where we are." At this they both smiled. "Look sweetie, I never did say thank you for giving me back my powers, so I owe you. Ask me anything you want and if it's within my powers to grant it, its yours."
Gabrielle did not need to think, other than her life there was only one thing she wanted, "I want to see Xena."
"You got it kid." Aphrodite held up a hand and wiggled her fingers. The two of them vanished from the lodge.
* * *
As Xena finally reconciled herself to the fact that Hercules would hopefully understand her actions she remembered his final words, I'll get Ephiny to take care of that. Ephiny was in her mothers house? She probably hates me for what I did to her, to Gabrielle, especially now, one voice was saying to her, Then why did she come all this way to see you, another voice echoed.
The door to the bedroom opened again but it was not Ephiny who entered, Xena locked glares with Solari. The dark Amazon issued a look that said Try anything and I'll kill you. Solari respected Xena but she was a loyal Amazon lieutenant protecting the Amazon Regent, Xena had to correct herself, Amazon Queen. Ephiny followed a few moments later now that Solari was sure the room was safe. Xenas eyes caught the brace on the left arm; she dropped her gaze guiltily and saw that the Amazon healing satchel that Ephiny was carrying.
The two Amazons approached the bed warily, Xena gauged their movements all the way. Everything about their bodies radiated apprehension; she did not blame them considering their last encounter - and Solari had not even been there.
"Hello Xena," Ephiny said in an effort to break the tension. Her elbow tingled at the thought of their confrontation - Xena had acted in anger having lost her son Solan. Now Ephiny faced Xena as she had lost Gabrielle, the thought of Xenas anger unnerved her.
"Ephiny." Was Xenas simple acknowledgment.
The tension dissipated and Ephiny and Solari set about treating Xena's injury. Solari had brought water and some clean cloth with her, she washed the wound to clear it of infection and to reveal the extent of the damage - it was deep and needed stitching. Ephiny gathered some more candles and lit them, providing then with enough light for her to perform the stitches. True to her character Xena did not even flinch as Ephiny threaded the needle through the flesh.
When she was done Ephiny started to move away but Xena caught her good arm, "Im sorry about what happened." Xena's eyes took in the whole arm brace at once.
"It's okay. It doesnt hurt anymore." Ephiny assured her.
Xena only reached up and touched her fingers to Ephinys forehead, "Yes it does," meaning that the emotional pain was still present.
"Not anymore." Ephiny took Xenas hand in her own, letting Xena know that the apology had healed both the physical and mental pain she had suffered over the last months.
Nodding briefly in understanding Xena then began to search around the room for something. Guessing what she was looking for Solari reached down to the side of the bed and retrieved Gabrielles rucksack and handed it to Xena.
Holding the bag close to her Xena watched as the two Amazons left the room, knowing that Xena needed to be alone with her past memories if she ever wanted to face her future.
Alone, Xena gingerly unlaced the satchel and upended the contents onto the bed before her. In the bag had been a spare green top, a set of boot laces, the match stick doll - that was supposed to represent Xena, several scrolls and something wrapped up in the green top. She shook the top and the heavy wooden object fell into her lap; it was the lamb that she had given to Gabrielle at the winter solstice. She smiled as she remembered the pure joy on Gabrielle's face when she had unwrapped it. Having her chakram stolen, dealing with the authorities and fighting soldiers had all been worth it just to see the look on Gabrielles face as she had pulled the lambs tail and watched the head bob up and down. She held the toy for a moment longer and then set it aside turning her attention to the scrolls which lay scattered across the blanket.
Xena had always been hesitant about reading Gabrielles scrolls for several reasons: she preferred Gabrielle to recite them to her, Xena was always the hero and she did not think of herself that way, and because they belonged to Gabrielle. But right now she needed Gabrielles words more than anything, so she reached for the first scroll, unraveled it and began to read.
* * *
Gabrielles and Xenas Threads
Passing through the archway, with Aphrodite guiding her, Gabrielle gaped in awe at the images that danced across the walls of the chamber.
"This place can show you anything, anytime and anywhere you want, cool huh?" Aphrodite explained when the two of them stopped at the end of a platform that extended over what appeared to be an endless chasm. "All you gotta do is ask." She gestured for Gabrielle to begin, "I'll be outside when your done." She turned and floated out of the chamber.
Gabrielle stood for a few moments watching random images that passed before her eyes: Hercules finding the lost city of Troy and challenging Hera for the life of the young Queen, the Warrior Princess pillaging the countryside, hungry to conquer. The sight of her own death made her stomach churn and she turned away. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the image of two bodies pressed tightly together in what could only be sex - and Gabrielle swore she recognised the female body. She shook the thought away and remembered why she had been brought to the chamber in the first place. She wanted to see Xena - she looked to where the previous image had been, just not that much!
"Show me Xena, where she is and what she is doing now." She commanded.
An image separated from the others and drew nearer, bringing more detail and clarity. The floating tableau showed Xena sat in a bed, laying around her were the contents of Gabrielles travelling bag. Gabrielle watched as Xena found the wooden lamb and pulled the tail to operate the head. It surprised Gabrielle when Xena put the toy to one side to look at the scrolls. Xena liked to hear the stories Gabrielle wrote because they were important to the bard, but the warrior had problems with Gabrielle making her the hero and saviour when she had committed so many atrocities in her life. Each time Xena finished a scroll she would lay it down and find another, but there was one that Gabrielle wanted Xena to read and Xenas searching hand kept missing it.
"Pick up the small one Xena," Gabrielle urged.
Xenas hand halted, hovering over the smallest scroll, she seemed reluctant to touch it. It was a scroll that Gabrielle had been working on for almost as long as they had been travelling together. It was slightly tatty from the hours of work and constant use.
"Go on Xena,"
Xena picked up the scroll, examining it carefully. She knew it was the one that Gabrielle worked on late at night. She had never shown Xena what was written on it and Xena had never asked. Although Gabrielle was now gone she still felt as though she would be invading the bards privacy.
"Please Xena, I wrote it for you,"
Carefully so as not to damage the scroll any further, she untied the ribbon and opened the scroll.
Xenas eyes scanned over the words, it appeared to be a poem, a poem written about Gabrielles life, a poem written for her.
Gabrielle knew every word that was written in the scroll, she had worked on it for nearly three years and had dreamed of one day being able to read it to Xena. She would not let that dream slip away and so she began her epic tale hoping that Xena would hear.
As Xena read the words she felt it was Gabrielles voice who spoke them to her .
.But you were Xena, the Warrior Princess,
A legend far and wide,
From that moment to this,
I knew my place was by your side .
It was about the day they had first met, how Gabrielle had persuaded Xena to let her travel with her .
.Although we were so different,
So many barriers to transcend,
We could learn from one another,
We could find a life long friend .
Xena had not wanted to hear the young girl, but Gabrielle had been right, so different yet a perfect combination.
She read on. The poem detailed their adventures including the problems with Callisto, her doomed marriage to Perdicus and Xenas death on Mount Nestas .
.I wanted to hate you for leaving,
I was angry youd left me alone,
But your lips pressed softly against me,
And your kiss revived my heart of stone .
Xena touched her lips as she remembered those moments. If only she could have those moments back. A time when nothing could come between them - not even death.
The next words Xena read were the hardest, covering their journey to Britannia and the gradual breakdown of their relationship .
.But you were too late to save me,
As my blood innocence was finally lost,
Abandoned on the altar of Dahak,
My belief and soul paid the cost .
Xena could never forgive herself for allowing Gabrielle to face that alone, had she been there maybe their friendship would never have begun the downward spiral .
.Times have been hard this passed year,
The strength of out bond put to the test,
Our beliefs have come between us,
As we both did what we thought was best .
The final words had been scrawled down in a hurry, probably written just before they had entered the temple of Dahak. The words confirmed what Xena had suspected, Gabrielle knew exactly what she had been doing .
.Xena you are my one true love,
For you I'd pay the ultimate price,
I know this will be hard for you,
I hope you understand my sacrifice .
Her whole body trembled, the scroll crumpled between her hands as she fell back against the bed, "Why Gabrielle? You didnt have to." And the tears began anew.
On Olympus Gabrielle cried with Xena, although not in her thoughts Gabrielle could feel Xenas pain - it was mirrored in her own heart.
In two different places, on two different planes of existence, the two friends fell asleep together.
* * *
The God of War stalked through Olympus; crossing from the archway that led to the Halls of War to the stairway that led to the chamber of past, present and future. He often went there when he was feeling outraged, he would revisit a field of war, re-experience a blood-thirsty victory, it livened his spirits; tonight, however, he was going there for a different reason.
Tonight he wanted to revisit moments that he had taken for granted at the time, but that meant so much more when he looked back on them. Taunting Gabrielle had become a favourite passed time; almost as much fun as tempting Xena with her dark side. He did not know when the taunting had stopped and been replaced with flirting. Gabrielle was everything that he opposed - peaceful, loving, warming, tender - not his type at all, that was Xena. He reflected on something his sister, Aphrodite had once said, Opposites attract bro. It may not be fair but it does make things interesting. Forget Xena, shes found her opposite. And that was where Ares found his answer and he did not like it. Xena and he were too alike, and so if Gabrielle was Xenas opposite then that meant that the irritating blonde was his opposite as well. Damn Aphrodite. If I had that Hinds blood dagger, Id kill her.
Just then the object of his rage came into view; Aphrodite was backing cautiously out of the chamber that he was headed towards. She was looking very guilty about something.
"Hey Aphrodite. I want to talk to you." He blazed as he closed the remaining distance to his little sister.
"Sssh. Not so loud, Slick." She pleaded and then ducked her head back inside the chamber to make sure the occupant had not heard the disturbance, satisfied she turned her attention to her brother.
"Excuse me?" He tried to look around her to see what she was hiding, but everywhere he looked his vision was blocked by pink fabric, "What in Tartarus are you doing?"
"Nothing Bro, honest." She replied with an attempt at an innocent smile.
"Then get out of my way." He roared and tried to get passed her.
"Its in use." She stuttered, keeping her brother from reaching the door.
"Whos in there?" He tried to get passed on the other side.
"No one." She replied with a shrug of her shoulders.
"Aphrodite, I dont have time to play games." This time he grabbed hold of his sister and tried to physically remove her from the doorway, but to his surprise she fought back.
"Whats going on?"
Both Aphrodite and Ares stopped their struggle when the third voice entered the conversation. They turned their heads simultaneously to see Athena approaching them.
"He started it." Aphrodite said, ripping her arms away from her brothers grasp and pouting like a stubborn child.
"All you had to do was get out of the way." He hissed back.
From there they degenerated into typical squabbling siblings and Athena did not have time for them. She had come to the chamber on the express mission of finding out Xenas current mental state, and to assess when they could continue the trial. "Enough," The two were suddenly quiet, "Why are you here? What are you arguing about? and then get out of my way." She commanded.
As powerful as all the Gods were, none of them were stupid enough to go up against Daddies Favourite, or the nerd as Aphrodite would have put it.
"I wanted to go into the chamber and look at some stuff and she wont get out of my way." Ares explained, somewhat exasperated with the whole situation.
Aphrodite did not look too comfortable with having to explain her actions, she fidgeted nervously for a moment trying to work out what she should say. She looked up at her brother and sister and the two faces of war stared back at her, and an idea sparked, "Theres a big, big, big.... huge image of your favourite doing the wild thing with Zeuss Golden Boy."
Both siblings scowled at her and then with a joint effort they forced passed the Goddess of Love on either side. "Okay, so that wasnt the best excuse I ever came up with." She tried to catch hold of her brother and sister but they pushed on through the archway and in a tangle of limbs they fell to the ground.
* * *
As the three fallen Gods looked up their eyes fell upon Gabrielle who was transfixed with the image of Xena displayed before her; they also noticed that both women were weeping.
Ungracefully they disentangled themselves from one another and stood up.
"You let a mortal into the chamber," Athena scolded, but she kept her voice low, so as not to disturb Gabrielle.
"Dont tell Daddy, I just wanted to help the kid." Aphrodite whined as she tried to explain her actions.
"I should," Athena began, but when she watched the scene of Gabrielle gazing lovingly at the image of Xena she sympathized with Aphrodites decision, "but I wont."
Gabrielle lowered her body to the ground, exhaustion carrying her to slumber.
Athena led the other two Gods towards the sleeping form, "Id better take her back to the lodge before Artemis returns." The Goddess of Wisdom gathered the young bard in her arms.
"Wait," Aphrodite knelt down next to Gabrielle and pressed two fingers to her own lips and then gently touched them to Gabrielles forehead, she then blew across her fingertips towards the image of the sleeping Xena. Aphrodite met the puzzled gazes of her brother and sister, "A thank you gift. Morpheus owes me one."
Athena raised her hand and she and the sleeping Gabrielle disappeared.
When Aphrodite rose from her knees she turned to find Ares watching the random images; all had one thing in common - well two actually: Xena and Gabrielle. But having watched her brother in the last few moments she knew which one held his attention.
The Goddess of Love circled her brother to stand before him. He never took his gaze from the images.
"You have to help me Aphrodite." He pleaded.
"So the great God of War finally falls," she touched his jaw and ran her fingers along it, "I think it will do you good." She decided that she liked this off-balance Ares. This fatal flaw in the War God could be his saving grace, or Gabrielles.
* * *
ONE NIGHT ALONE IS LIKE A YEAR WITHOUT YOU BABY
Xenas and Gabrielles Threads
Thanks to Aphrodites parting gift both Xena and Gabrielle enjoyed a restful night; filled with a single dream that they both shared. It gave Gabrielle the peace that she needed, in having Xena in her thoughts; and gave Xena the strength to heal her mind and body, to prepare her for the coming days.
Xena watched the grey purple mists swirling around her - she had been here before, another lifetime ago it seemed. No, not a another lifetime but another time of death - her own death. It was the place where she had waited for Gabrielle to come to her then and where she waited for Gabrielle to come to her now.
A few moments passed and Xena saw a silhouette moving towards her through the mists. The figure wore a blue dress, which Xena did not recognise but the golden hair and the blue green eyes were unmistakable. Gabrielle.
Gabrielle saw Xena stood only a few feet from her. She wanted to run straight into Xenas arms and cling onto her as though she were life itself. She also recognised this place, and she knew that this time it would be her who had to have the control.
Time passed as they simply gazed at one another. Finally as the tears began to spill down Xenas face she spoke, "Im so sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry about, it was my choice, my choice to die for you." Gabrielle was fighting back her own tears. What she spoke was the truth, she would give her life for Xenas but that action meant being without Xena.
"You didnt have to." Xena stubbornly wiped tears from her eyes.
"I know, thats why I never told you." Gabrielle smiled as she pictured the argument that would have taken place if the subject had ever arisen.
"Always looking out for me, huh?" Xena smiled back at Gabrielle despite her sadness, at least she was with Gabrielle for a few moments.
"Always." Gabrielle told her. She then looked behind her as though someone was calling to her, "I have to go."
"Dont leave me." Xena pleaded.
"Never." Gabrielle closed the distance to Xena and slipped her arms around the warriors neck, pulling their faces closer.
Their lips met briefly, but when Xena tried to pull away Gabrielle would not let her go, so instead she fell into the kiss, wrapping her arms around Gabrielles body.
"Never." The word echoed....
* * *
The warrior awoke with the first rays of the sun that filtered in through the window. She was surprised to find her physical strength renewed, the throbbing in her head was greatly reduced; she still felt the loss and emptiness inside, but somehow she felt ready to deal with it.
She swept her gaze around the room and found Solari sleeping in a chair by the wall. Obviously they had all taken it in turns to watch over her as she slept. The scrolls and all of Gabrielles possessions had been returned to the satchel which now hung on another chair along with her cleaned armour and polished leather.
Not wanting to disturb the Amazon, or anyone else for that matter, she quietly pushed back the covers and swung out of bed. She stood up and finally realised that she was still naked, images of what she had tried to do the previous night with Hercules flooded into her mind, followed by the oddly realistic dream of Gabrielle. She did not have time to sort out the incident with Hercules now, so she quickly got dressed in her full armour, with her weapons and grabbed the satchel and silently left the room. She just missed the moment when Solari cracked open one eye and watched her leave.
Getting out of her bedroom had been the easy part, now she had to make her way through the living area without disturbing the other bodies that were sleeping there. Ephiny appeared to have gotten the best end of the deal, being that she had got the rug in front of the fire; although it appeared that she had shared her bedroll with Solari, Xena raised an eyebrow, not surprising really.
Carefully she picked her way through the sleeping forms and reached the door without causing any sound. Slowly she opened the door to avoid creaking and slipped out of the house unnoticed.
Outside she breathed in the morning air and headed into the woods, bound for the clearing where she and Gabrielle often camped when they were staying in Amphipolis; from the first time to the last time.
* * *
He awoke in what appeared to be a war zone. He bolted up, feeling all of his muscles stiffen from a night of sleeping on a wooden floor. Hercules and Iolaus were both up and eyeing the two Amazons as one might eye a poisonous snake.
"What do you mean shes gone?" Ephiny screeched
"I mean she got up, she got dressed, she left." Solari explained sarcastically for the third time.
"And you didnt stop her, you were supposed to be watching her?" Ephiny accused her lieutenant.
"I was on my way, I thought one of you guys might have caught her, I mean there are enough of you." Solari defended herself. If she had not woken up it might have been hours before they realised that Xena was missing.
"Alright everybody, lets try to calm down." Hercules interjected before blood was spilled between the two female warriors. They were making enough noise to wake everyone, proof arrived when Cyrene entered the room from her bedroom.
"Whats going on?" The older woman asked as she finished straightening her blouse and smoothed back her hair.
"Xenas gone." Iolaus stepped closer to Xenas mother, believing her to be the safest person in the room at that moment. Although why he thought an irate mother would be a safer bet over two fuming Amazons and a protective champion of men was anyones guess. Cyrene to everyones surprise remained unphased at the news.
"How can you say calm down, Hercules? Xena just lost her best friend, shes hurting and Ive seen what her hurt and pain can do," Ephiny waved her arm in front of Hercules, "Gods know what she might do."
"Shes probably gone somewhere quiet, to pay her respects to Gabrielle in her own way." All eyes turned to the person who had uttered these words and all eyes found Joxer, he was still stretched out on the floor but was now propped up on his elbows.
"How did you know that?" Hercules asked.
"Ive been there," When eyebrows raised in his direction he felt that more of an explanation was in order, "When shes lost someone that she cares about...."
"She sings." Cyrene concluded for him, "It began with Lyceus."
"Where would she go?" This time his question was for Cyrene.
"Theres a clearing not far from here, in the woods, by a stream - a good camping ground. Xena and Gabrielle stay there sometimes." Cyrene remembered. She did not mention that she had also camped there with them on the way back from the Furies temple.
"Thats where shell be." Ephiny concluded.
Quickly they readied themselves and left the house following Cyrenes lead. They covered the distance into the woods and moved quietly towards the clearing. As they neared the area they could see Xena moving around, they did not want to alert the warrior to their presence; they remained at a distance to give her the privacy she needed but close enough should she need them.
* * *
The clearing that she now stood in was where she had camped as a child and as a warrior. Her father had brought all three of them here when they had been young, he had taught them to fish, to ride, to hunt; later she and Lyceus had camped in the same place and played pretend battles and pretend weapons. None of those reasons were what brought her here now.
It had been in this very clearing that a certain Warrior Princess had finally relented and allowed the runaway Bard of Poteidaia to join her. Xena had tried every trick in the book to rid herself of the tag-along; she had deliberately scared the girl with her intimidating presence, had rejected her attempts at friendship and had terrorised the poor girl about what she should expect in her life with Xena. Gabrielle had remained unphased, insisting that she wanted to go with the warrior and that she would face the dangers with her as a friend.
The young bard had proved to be a loyal, trusting, determined and talkative companion and she had kept her promise of friendship. At the time Xena did not think that she needed anyone, but once again Gabrielle had proved her wrong and somewhere along the line the bard had found a way into the warriors heart and taken up residence there. She had watched Gabrielle grow from a young naive village girl into a woman, and now she had to say farewell to that time and part of her life.
Xena turned towards the rising sun, she loved this time of the day; the feel of the first rays of light bathing her body in a new day, one more than she felt she deserved.
She closed her eyes and conjured up an image of Gabrielle, surprised that it was not the vision of Gabrielles death. Instead she saw the time when she and Gabrielle had been sat on the beach after returning from Illusia. Her hair hung loosely, cascaded down passed her shoulders, a nervous smile twitched her lips and reached her eyes, apprehension at what her friend might do to her. But the nerves were replaced by pure joy at being reunited with Xena after what had almost been their deaths. It had been at that moment that Xena realised she had been so close to losing something that she did not want to live without, but now....
Inhaling deeply Xena prepared to say her good-bye, to sing her burial song. As she was about to sound the first note she heard the unmistakable sound of a God making there entrance.
* * *
Gabrielle began to wake and her blurred vision focused on the form that was peering down at her, "Xena...." She blurted out before she was fully awoke, then she realised it was Artemis that was looking at her, whilst laying on the bed next to her, "I was talking to Xena."
"That was Dites idea," Artemis explained, indicating towards the Goddess of Love who was settling herself at the end of the bed.
"It was a thank you present." Aphrodite leaned over towards Gabrielle, "You were actually talking to Xena, but shell remember it as a dream."
"But I couldnt tell her what I wanted to. About me not being really dead and about the trial." Gabrielle said.
"There are some rules that even Im not allowed to break." Aphrodite explained.
"But I wanted to give her a message." The bard complained.
"No can do," Aphrodite said, "The Warrior Babe will be here soon enough."
Gabrielle decided that she liked the affectionate name that Aphrodite had for Xena - Xena would hate it. She turned questioning eyes to Artemis, Xena was going to be here soon?
"She is being brought to Olympus for your Judgement, you do remember that?" Artemis ruffled Gabrielles hair.
"Like I could forget." Gabrielle playfully pushed Artemiss hand away, "What are you going to tell Xena? Shell never believe anything the Gods say."
Suddenly Athena appeared, startling Aphrodite, "Make an entrance, why dont you nerd." Aphrodite tried to compose herself.
"We have a problem." The Goddess of Wisdom and War announced. All three woman looked to Athena, "Ares has decided to pay Xena a visit. I think its about time that we went and broke the news to our warrior."
Aphrodite giggled in pure excitement, she had been looking forward to this moment, "Come on jock, Ill race you." She disappeared along with Athena.
Artemis smiled at her sisters and then turned seriously to Gabrielle, "Whats the message?"
* * *
Xenas and Aress Threads
The blue flash appeared in front on her and materialised into the form of Ares. The sound that came from Xenas throat was a snarl, but carried a note of her burial song with it and finished as a scream.
Like a wild animal she lashed out with a fist, her full body weight behind the punch she lunged forward. Ares dodged easily, he moved forward and both pivoted to face one another again.
"Now dont do that Xena." He said smoothly as they began to circle one another to return to their original positions.
"How could you?" The question encompassed everything that he had done in recent times: his taunting, teasing, betrayal, "How could you?" She made a second lunge towards him but this time strong arms enveloped her and held her back.
"Hes not worth it." Hercules tried to convince her, never relinquishing his hold on her.
"Stay out of this pretty boy." Ares warned his half-brother.
"Go on Hercules. Ill be okay." She felt him release her and watched as he moved back to join the others who had also appeared from the woods. She almost smiled, grateful for their support at that moment. She returned her attention to Ares, "What do you want? Havent you done enough?"
"What are you taking it out on me for? Its not my fault that the irritating blonde threw herself into the fire." He growled into her face.
"Its all your fault. If you hadnt made the deal with the Fates, I would have killed Hope and Gabrielle would still be alive. Its all your fault." She snarled back.
"Its not the way I planned it," He began to explain, but he realised that he had gone about it the wrong way when he saw the growing look of fury in Xenas eyes.
"Not the way you planned it. This was just a power quest for you?" Xena groped blindly for words. She wished she had the Hinds blood dagger in her hands right now, she would gladly kill him, "Dont you have any loyalty? Dont you care about anyone or anything other than yourself?"
"I do care," Ares began weakly, trying to win one back for himself, but Xena cut him down again.
"No you dont. All you care about is power and your greed for it cost me the life of someone I love. I love Gabrielle." She did not realise that she had been backing Ares up until she heard the water splashing underneath their boots.
"And I love Hope." He retaliated, not caring that he was knee deep in the stream.
Xena wanted to laugh but the shock prevented it, "You couldnt love Hope, you only needed her. The only decent quality she had was that she looked like.... her mother." Realistation set in with her final words, "You never loved Hope, you were in love with...." Xena could not bring herself to say the name.
Ares seemed to deflate at this revelation; he wanted to deny it to himself, and the others, but it was too late, and stood opposite to the person who truly loved Gabrielle without reservation he found that he could not, "So now you know." He turned away, unable to face the warrior who had been his chosen for so long.
"How could you Ares?" Xena shook her head, trying to get a grip on what had just been uncovered. "Did you really want to sire a new race? Did you want to be Dahaks slave for eternity?"
"Dahak came to me and offered me a deal. A place at the head of his army, all I had to do was give Hope a child. And when I saw her face.... I couldnt refuse." Ares finally turned, he saw the others, they were all to stunned to say or do anything except watch the exchange between the God and the warrior. "Gabrielle could never love me, I know where her heart is." There was no doubt about where he referred to. "But Hope.... Hope...." Ares dropped his head backwards, unable to finish his sentence.
"Yep, even the God of War isnt immune to the lurve thing." Aphrodites voice was clear even before she shimmered into existence.
"What are you doing here?" Xena snipped, she hated one God, but two....
Aphrodite looked up from where she was splashing her feet in the stream, "Well since hes talking about love, and youre talking about love, I guess thats my territory," a sly smile spread across her face, "Besides, I wouldnt miss this for the world." She giggled taking in her brothers obvious discomfort.
Just then two more beings shimmered into the mortal plane - Artemis and Athena. Xena was beginning to think all kinds of paranoid scenarios.
"Have you told her why we are here?" Athena addressed Aphrodite in her usual clipped tone.
"Nah, I thought Id wait for you guys." Aphrodite replied.
Artemis approached Xena, "We need to talk."
At the sight of the Amazon Goddess Xena curled her lip, "Shes one of yours, why didnt you do something?"
"I wanted to, believe me."
"I dont believe anything that you Gods say."
"Then believe this," Artemis took Xenas face in her hands, "Gabrielle is not dead."
Xenas eyes went wide for a moment, she wanted to believe what she had heard, but she was wary of anything that the Gods said.
Artemis sensed the unease and the conflict, "She said if you didnt believe me I was to give you a message."
"Whats the message?" Xenas voice was hoarse, heavy with anguish and confusion once more.
" Even in death I will never leave you, " Artemis quoted the young bards words exactly, "She said it would mean something to you."
Xena remembered when she herself had said those words; when Gabrielle laid dying from the poisoned arrow and Xena had vowed they would see their destiny out together.
Then a stronger emotion hit her, Gabrielle, alive. It was too much for her to take in and before she could stop herself her legs gave way and she landed on her knees in the stream. Loud splashing was heard as Hercules raced to her side, catching her before she sank any further. Leaning heavily on her friend, her mind began to burn with questions, How? Why? Where?
Artemis was no longer before her, now someone dressed in blue leaned down and hooked a finger under her chin and drew her face up. The Goddess of Wisdom gazed down at the shaking warrior with compassion and understanding, "All of your questions will be answered in due course. You are to come to Olympus to speak at a trial for your friend."
"Shes on trial?" Xena managed to stammer. She could not believe that Gabrielle could be put on trial for anything.
"Yes. The Gods are undecided as to what Gabrielles fate will be. This trial will determine what happens to her next." Athena watched as Xena tried to say something, but after some moments of trying without success she gave up. Her eyes began to wander, looking at the faces that surrounded her, with a jerk of her thumb Athena brought Xenas attention back to her, "I must warn you, if Gabrielle is found guilty you will never see her again."
Xena closed her eyes tightly, stopping tears before they started, "Will I at least have the chance to say good-bye?"
"I can not promise that. The Gods will allow what the Gods will allow." Athena announced solemnly.
Gritting her teeth Xena opened her eyes, full of determination - Gabrielle would be found innocent, "What are we waiting for?"
"Just your consent."
"Lets go." Xena stood up, water cascading from her leathers and skin.
"Im coming too." Hercules stated, once again stepping forward.
"Impossible Hercules, you gave up your place in Olympus. Father will not allow it." Athena told him.
"The Zeus had better change his mind, Im coming. Xena will need a guard at the trial." Hercules pointed out.
"Thats okay, Cupie can do it," Aphrodite added helpfully, then at the sharp glance she received from her brother, "Actually hes real busy with Psyche and the baby, I think Hercules should do it."
"Yeah Athena, who else is going to be able to hold her back if something goes wrong?" Artemis urged, they all failed to mentioned that any one of the Gods could hold her back with a thought.
"Very well," Athena agreed reluctantly.
"Count me in," Everyone turned to stare at Ares, "Youll need two people to hold her back."
"No," Athena screeched firmly, "Father has thrown you out of Olympus."
Again all eyes turned on Ares, "He threw me out of the Judgement, not out of Olympus."
"What makes you think Ill have you at my back?" Xena glared at Ares.
Ares glared back at her, "Because we both want the same thing."
Xena was about to argue back when she realised he was right, "This doesnt change anything Ares."
"Can we leave now?" Athena had tired of the endless chit-chat. She had intended to come to the mortal plane, collect Xena and return to get on with the trial. Why did brothers always make everything so difficult?
Xena briefly went over to her mother and friends to say good-bye. It was obvious that all of them wanted to go to the trial as well, even if it was only to say good-bye to Gabrielle. Then Xena, Hercules and the collection of Gods left.
* * *
Gabrielle lay face down on the huge bed in Artemiss hunting lodge. It seemed like an eternity since the Goddess had left to speak to Xena.
A soft hand stroked across her exposed back causing the tension to ease out of her muscles. The owner of the hand sat close to her and Gabrielle rolled onto her side to look at Terreiss blue eyes and red wayward curls.
Gabrielle had only known the young Amazon briefly but she had developed an overwhelming respect for her in that short time. Terreis had introduced her to the Amazon way of life and the power of free thinking. Gabrielle hoped that she had been a worthy successor to this bright young woman.
"Nervous?" Terreis inquired.
"Not really," Gabrielle replied and then pondered on the reason as to why she was not, "I know that Im on trial for what Ive done, but I dont know what Im on trial for, and what happens if Im found innocent or guilty."
"Sorry, I cant help you with that," Terreis stroked the side of Gabrielles face, "but youll find out soon enough."
Right on cue Melosa entered the room, "Its time Gabrielle."
The two Amazons escorted Gabrielle through the lodge to the entrance hall where Artemis was waiting for her, "Time to face your Fate."
* * *
Callisto stalked around her empty cell, occasionally kicking or punching a wall; the pain that surged through her arms and legs at the actions were welcome relief to the pain she felt inside. Her entire life had been torn apart in front of her eyes by Alecto.
Everything that mattered, everything that she had tried to destroy had all been a lie, manipulated by the Punishers of the Gods. Callisto had longed for oblivion, to at last find peace. Xena, the woman that she had hated for so long - yet still admired - had tried to give her that peace, but that too had been taken away from her.
Now she realised she would spend her eternity in torture; regret, anger and renewed hatred would fill her every moment, unless....
She heard crackling in the air and turned to find all three Furies - Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone - waiting.
"Its time Callisto." Alecto reached out a hand for Callisto to take.
"If I do this, if I defend Gabrielle, will I find peace?" Callisto asked as she moved away from the offered hand.
Alecto withdrew her hand, "Let me put it to you another way Callisto," Alecto fixed her eyes on the blonde warrior, a hint of evil flashing in them, "If you dont do this you will never find peace." She re-offered her hand.
"Well since you put it like that," Callisto gathered all the hate that she could and put it into the one sentence.
Stepping forward she took Alectos hand and felt the tingling sensation that shot along her arm and through her body as they began their journey to Olympus.
* * *
Weaving The Threads
Gabrielle stood in the centre of the silent chamber, exactly where she had stood only one day before; except now she stood on a podium with rails around her. She was flanked on either side by the two Amazon guards, Melosa to her left and Terreis on the right. She also noticed that there were two more podiums behind her; one was at the foot of the left staircase and the either at the foot of the right. The twelve archways currently stood vacant; the Gods would not appear until they were summoned.
Artemis stepped before Gabrielles podium and the younger woman knew exactly what was going to be said. She remembered it word for word from the previous day and could have said it herself to save Artemis the trouble, but protocol was protocol.
"Gods of Olympus, I Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt call upon your presence to commence the trial of Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia, Queen of the Amazons; known to the followers of Dahak as the Betrayer and the Olympians as a Saviour."
Once again Gabrielle thought about those titles and winced at the last two.
The archways became occupied by the twelve Gods - with Hades at the entrance to the Halls of War.
Zeus stepped forward, "Gabrielle. You have been brought here to stand trial for you crimes against the Olympian Gods and their people...."
What was it Ares said? Yadda, yadda, yadda, go. She had heard all of this before, why did they have to use such formality? Could they not just get on with the trial? Something that the King of the Gods was saying caught her attention.
"This Judgement will determine whether you will be condemned to death or allowed to return to your life."
Gabrielle tried to breathe normally. This trial was about life and death, she thought - especially after what Hades had said - that the trial was to decide whether she spent eternity in Tartarus or the Elysian Fields. She leaned slightly towards her right and whispered to Terreis, "Remember when I told you I wasnt nervous," the Amazon nodded, "I lied." Gabrielle was grateful when Terreis took her hand and squeezed it encouragingly.
"You will be asked questions by each of the twelve Gods present, and we will hear from two character witnesses. We will then decide the outcome of your Fate." As he said the word Fate he indicated to his left where three figures appeared - Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos - the three faces of Fate. Between them they held but one thread; Clotho held the spool, Lachesis fed it through her fingers to Atropos, who held the blade dangerously close to the thread. Gabrielle supposed that was symbolic, she was walking a fine line between life and death.
"Bring forth the witnesses." Zeus commanded.
Gabrielle turned to the left staircase behind her where she heard steps moving closer. A figure stepped to the podium flanked by the three Furies. Gabrielle almost swallowed her tongue when she saw the witness - Callisto?
The former Goddess did not look happy to be there at all, and she was not. She was attending under protest, at least that was what she kept telling herself.
The two blondes locked gazes for a moment and then Callisto smiled; she did not grin maniacally, she actually smiled. It scared Gabrielle.
Movement on the right staircase stole her attention as the person she wanted to see finally arrived. Xena moved onto the podium, she was flanked by Hercules - not surprising - and Ares - very surprising, even Zeus raised an eyebrow.
Their eyes found each other immediately and Xena wanted nothing more than to get to Gabrielle, to touch her.... She had only taken one step when a strong had gripped her arm.
Ares held her gaze and spoke before she could protest, "You cant. They wont allow it." He warned.
Xena was about to push passed him when a second hand took hold of her other arm.
"Hes right Xena, youre on their turf now, you have to play by their rules." Hercules for once agreed with his brothers decision.
Xena looked at the two men and then back at Gabrielle. For now it was enough just to see her best friend again. Volumes of understanding, affection and happiness passed between them, words and touch were not needed. Xena relaxed and Ares and Hercules released her.
With all Gods, witnesses and guards assembled and in place, the trial could begin. Zeus descended from his platform and worked his way towards Xena, "We will begin with your testimony. Do you know why you have been brought here?"
"Yes." Xena said.
"Do you know what is expected of you?" Zeus continued.
"No." She replied bluntly.
"We will ask you about Gabrielle, you would do best to speak objectively." This was directed to both Xena and across the chamber to where Callisto was doing her best to be uninterested in the unfolding trial.
"Shes innocent." Xena stated, she wanted the Gods to know where she stood from the start.
"Your loyalty to your friend is not in question here, her motives in recent times are." Zeus explained.
Xena did not take too kindly to the King of the Gods accusing her friend of being alterior, "Gabrielle didnt have any motives, she lives by her own code, all life is sacred to her, even the Gods."
"Maybe once, but surely you have seen the changes that have taken place in Gabrielle since her initial meeting with Dahak."
"Yes theres been changes. She got involved with something too strong for her, but shes grown from it."
"Some of those changes have been for the worst, she became dishonest, she betrayed. Werent you on the receiving end of her deceit?" Zeus questioned.
That sparked fury in the warrior, but not the anger of what Gabrielle had done to her, but the fact that the Gods were trying to drive a wall between her and her friend. "Dont you dare try to turn me against Gabrielle, I wont do it, I wont play your games. Gabrielle had so much to deal with, and she had to face it alone, Ill regret that the rest of my life. But she still the most beautiful person I know, and she never gave up on anyone or anything and she never gave up on me." Xena steadied her breathing, it took effort but she composed herself. When next she looked up Zeus had moved away towards Callisto, she stole a quick glance at Gabrielle. The bard was looking at her, her blue green eyes glazed over but a small smile of appreciation tugged her lips.
Callisto had found Xenas testimony most interesting. Xena had pretty much said that she forgave Gabrielle all her misdeeds, even the one that had led to her sons death, yet Callisto could never forgive Xena who had caused the death of her whole family. Before Gabrielle had just been a way to get at Xena, but she had never really given thought as to why Gabrielle meant so much to Xena, only that she did. It was becoming obvious to Callisto that Gabrielle was a teacher to Xena, she had taught the murderous warlord humanity, love, compassion, forgiveness, all the things Callisto had lost in her greed for revenge. Her very world had become unhinged since she had died, finding out everything that could have saved her in life. Her thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt when Zeus began questioning her, she glared at him.
"You willingly gave your allegiance to Dahak and his daughter?" Zeus was disgusted by the thought.
"You could say that." Callisto feigned disinterest in the whole matter.
"Explain yourself." The God demanded.
Callisto appeared to contemplate this a moment and with a grin replied, "No."
"You are one of us, you have responsibilities to the Olympians."
"Lets not confuse ourselves. I may have eaten your sacred Ambrosia but I am not one of you. As I told our dear departed Strife Whod want me for a member?" She took great joy in reminding all the Gods that she had killed one of them, a quick sideways glance showed anger bearly restrained in Ares features.
"You dare to mock?" Zeus blasted.
"Yes actually I do." Callistos attitude was very relaxed and she seemed amused at the frustration she was causing all of the Gods.
"And what gives you this right?"
"Ive got nothing left to lose." Callisto explained, using a very patronising tone because the God did not seem to understand her current situation.
Zeus ignored her blatant insult and concentrated on the trial at hand, "As youve already been sentenced we shall forget your part in the whole incident and move onto why you have been brought here. To discuss Gabrielles part in the affair."
"What the irritating blonde?" Callisto flashed a grin at Gabrielle and met an unamused glare, but Callisto was passed caring.
"Is that how you see her?"
"Yeah, that and annoying, stupid, naive, would you like me to continue?"
Zeus overrode her sarcasm, "Do you believe that she is guilty of bringing Dahaks evil into this world?"
"What Gabrielle? Dont be ridulous, well at least not on her own." Callisto laughed at the idea. Gabrielle had been responsible for bringing the evil into this world, but she had not meant to.
"What do you mean? Explain yourself."
Callisto gave an exasperated sigh, "You want me to spell it out for you? Okay. If Ares hadnt always lied to Xena she would have destroyed the temple. If Xena hadnt been so hungry for Caesers blood she would have been there for Gabrielle. If Gabrielle hadnt been so blinkered and naive she would have seen the danger. And if you had got off your arse, instead of interferring with mortals lives you might have seen this coming."
"Have you finished?" Zeus bellowed at the blonde warrior.
"No I havent. She may be irritating and annoying but Gabrielle would never deliberately bring that kind of hatred into the world. Her soul is too pure for that, she only ever sees the good in people, even me, Gods know why, but she sees it." As her voice echoed through the chamber Callisto surveyed the stunned faces before her.
Gabrielle gaped open mouthed at what Callisto had said on her behalf, Xena was not sure she had heard right, but then given the conversation she believed she had had with the woman, who knew. Even Alecto seemed surprised, but a smile of satisfaction at her success split her features.
When silence had finally been restored to the Olympian courtroom Gabrielle began to feel increasingly uncomfortable; with both Xena and Callistos testimonies concluded the attention was now turned towards her directly. She was now expected to answer questions from each of the Gods.
The first barrage came from behind her, Poseidons archway rippled as it shaped into the top half of a man, "Why did you follow the disciples of Dahak?" His booming voice carried through the chamber.
Gabrielle turned on her podium to face the God of the Seas, "I didnt know they were followers of Dahak, I thought it was the one God of the Israelites."
"How could you not know it was Dahak?" His tone was mocking.
"They said they were not permitted to speak his name out loud. I knew nothing of Dahak." She tried to convince him.
"And with no knowledge you willfully entered one of their temples and became a servant to the one great evil."
"I never chose to serve Dahak, I was forced to.... to...."
"Forced to bring Dahaks evil into this world like the weak minded mortal that you are."
"No!" Gabrielle spat.
"No you werent forced, or no...."
"No I am not weak minded. Not even one of your own Gods could stand as an equal to Dahak." She shot a glance towards Ares allowing the other Gods know exactly who she was referring to.
Finished with his questions Poseidon once again withdrew to his archway. Artemis now approached Gabrielle and touched her lightly on the arm. Gabrielle turned to face the Goddess. "Did you plan to kill the Priestess in the temple of Dahak?"
"No." Gabrielle replied, it was only slightly bending the truth, she had not intended to kill the priestess, not until the moment that it happened.
"Then why did you kill her?" Artemis continued.
"I thought I was saving a friends life, but it was a setup, to trick me into losing my blood innocence, to become a sacrifice for Dahak." Gabrielles mind drifted back to that time, the bloody dagger in her hands and Meridians dead body at her feet.
"Your blood innocence was important to you?"
"Yes. It represented everything that I believed in, everything that I stood for. When they took that from me they ripped my life apart. The cycle of hatred was supposed to end with me."
Artemis smiled reassuringly at Gabrielle before withdrawing to her archway to be replaced by Hestia. "Why did you stay in to the temple after you had killed the Priestess?"
Gabrielle remembered the pain of her first kill, how her mind had screamed in rage, just as she wanted to now, "I was afraid, lost. I didnt know what to do."
"Are you sure that it wasnt to complete the ritual to manifest Dahaks evil into this world?"
"No." Gabrielle had the feeling that Hestia was trying to accuse her of being in league with Dahak.
"So you stayed and allowed Dahak to rape, to violate your body and impregnate you with the child of darkness?" The Virgin Goddess was living up to her name and sounded completely appalled by what had happened, and the possibility that a woman would allow those things to happen to her disgusted the Goddess.
"I never allowed anything, he was too strong and I was helpless." Anger was building rapidly, how dare she suggest that Gabrielle would allow those things to happen to her.
"Why did you keep the child?" Demeter asked, she had not even waited for Hestia to retreat to her archway before beginning her questions.
"She was my child, mine." Gabrielle screamed.
"Why didnt you allow the child to be killed once you realised who the father was?"
"I needed her. After everything that had happened she was my salvation. My Hope." Gabrielle remembered the joy of motherhood had brought her, how it had healed her.
"But you did kill her?" There was not even a pause between the end of Demeters questions and the beginning of Athenas.
"Yes." Gabrielle was finding it harder and harder to answer questions about her daughter.
"Why? Why change your mind?"
Tears were filling Gabrielles eyes as she remembered the small, limp body cradled in her arms, the life seeping from it. "I saw what she was capable of and I knew she had to die."
Athena nodded, satisfied with the answers she returned to her place and now Hephaestus came forward.
"Your daughter was responsible for the death of Xenas son, correct?"
Not that, anything but that. She was glad that she had her back to Xena, she could not bare to see the pain that she knew was in Xenas eyes. "Yes." She answered quietly.
"Was that the reason that you killed your daughter?"
"Not the only reason."
"Please elaborate." Hephaestus urged.
"If she could kill an innocent child like Solan then she was truly evil." Tears now flowed freely down her cheeks but she did not brush them away, they served as a reminder of the pain she had caused.
She had noticed that the Messenger of the Gods now stood before her. "Did you at anytime during these events concerning Dahak ever consider what would happen to the Olympian Gods?"
"No." Gabrielle replied simply. Behind her Xena winced, that answer as truthful as it was would cost her.
"Why not?" Hermes was taken back by her answer.
"I was too busy considering my own situation to think about the Gods, I thought they could look after themselves." She answered but she could not help wondering where the question had come from, it seemed so unrelated to the others. It was probably important to them, a way of testing her loyalty, "But if you mean did I intentionally betray you, then no."
"Speaking of betrayal," Apollo glided in front of her, as though he were still on a hover-board, "Id like you to think back to China. We all know Ares helped you to get there before Xena so that you could betray her, is that right?"
"Yes." She whispered, she had been through all of this before, in her mind, in Ming Tiens prison, in the temple of Mnemosyne and later with Xena. Why did she have to go through it again?
"Im sorry, I didnt hear that." Apollo made a show of leaning closer to Gabrielle to hear her reply.
"I said yes." Gabrielle repeated, this time louder but through gritted teeth.
"And why was it that you wanted to betray her?" Apollos face changed to dark amusement; not only had Gabrielles face taken on an ashamed expression but Xena had visibly stiffened.
"I was angry, I was jealous." Gabrielle admitted.
"Stop it!" Xena screamed, it was hard enough for her to stand there and listen to the accusations being thrown at her best friend and have to have their dark past dredged up by the Gods of all people; but when she heard the pain in Gabrielles voice she had to say something.
"Silence." Zeus ordered, casting his eyes from Gabrielle to the warrior.
"What did you want Xena to feel?" Apollo continued.
"Dont do this. Dont make her go through this again." Xena pleaded.
"Answer the question." Apollo demanded of Gabrielle.
"I wanted to punish her, I wanted to make her hurt." Gabrielle screamed through the heavy sobs which echoed around the chamber.
"Is that the actions of a true best friend? Someone who wants to end the cycle of hatred?"
"No." Gabrielle cried.
Apollo spun around and brushed passed Aphrodite as the Goddess of Love walked over to Gabrielle. She raised the young girls head and wiped the tears away. "Been hard this last year, huh?" Aphrodite peered into Gabrielles bleary eyes, all the girl could do was nod. "But you got through it?" Another nod. "What kept you going?"
"She did," Gabrielle turned to face Xena and saw that Xena had been crying as well, "Id do anything for her."
A smile twitched at Xenas lips.
"It must be good to have a friend like you." Aphrodite concluded and then walked away.
Hades swept to the centre of the chamber reclaiming Gabrielles attention, "Is it true that after you killed your daughter you tried to kill yourself?"
"Why didnt you?"
"I had a reason for living, I still do." She told him boldly.
Hades simply nodded and stepping back he gestured for Hera to take to the floor.
The Queen of the Gods seemed to float towards her, the pale eyes piercing her soul, "Why did you sacrifice yourself? Were you saving mankind, the Gods, the world?"
"No." Gabrielle knew that the answer would as good as condemn her, but with those eyes boring into her she believed that Hera would be able to tell if she was lying.
"Then why do it?" Hera took Gabrielles chin in her fingertips, regarding the girls face for any signs of deceit.
"Are you sure you werent just looking for an easy way out?" Hera teased.
"No." Gabrielle replied bluntly.
"One easy way to get rid of the pain, the responsibility of your actions." Hera continued to goad.
"No." She replied, louder this time.
"Admit it, you sacrificed yourself to escape, you did it for your own selfish reasons." The Queen of the Gods was enjoying tormenting the young girl.
"No. I may not have done it to save the world but I didnt do it for myself. I did it for Xena." Gabrielle repeated the final sentiment over and over.
Finally silence descended upon the chamber. Gabrielles sobbing had ceased and only one question remained to be asked. Zeus stood tall on his platform and addressed the defendant, "Gabrielle," the bard did not look up when she heard Zeus speak, "Do you regret what you have done?" Silence once again as Gods and mortals alike waited to hear what Gabrielle would answer.
A thousand images passed through Gabrielles mind. Murder at the end of a knife, rape by a fire demon, the painful and rapid birth of her daughter, losing her child three times. Then there was her betrayal of Xena, the guilt she faced as she almost cost her best friend her life. The deceit over Hope which had led to Solans death. The pain of her separation from Xena, their anger towards one another during that time. And when they thought the rift was finally over Gabrielle had had to face the guilt of her actions and confess her true reasons for her betrayal, deceit and dishonesty. Did she regret what she had done? She had to think long and hard.
Finally she raised her head and faced Zeus and all the other Gods. She looked to the Fates, the Furies, Callisto and finally Xena. Determined she turned back to Zeus and gave him her answer, "No. If I had regrets I wouldnt be who I am now."
Another silence. Zeus smiled down at the girl, "Good answer." Re-directing his attention to the whole chamber, "The trial is completed. You have all heard the testimonies, you must now decide what you believe Gabrielles fate should be." Zeus gestured towards Hera, on his right, to begin.
"Guilty." Heras judgement sent a blow crashing through Gabrielles chest.
"I choose to abstain." Hades decision did nothing to calm her fear.
"Guilty." Hestia condemned, this time Gabrielles head fell.
"Innocent." Hephaestuss word sparked an element of hope.
"Guilty." That hope was quickly dashed by Demeters verdict.
"Guilty." Poseidon thundered, instilling the fear of defeat into Gabrielles heart.
"Innocent." Gabrielle had known she could depend on Artemis.
"Guilty." Apollo smirked as he spoke, watching Gabrielle resign herself to death.
"Innocent." Aphrodites reply renewed her hope.
"I choose to abstain." Hermes voice held neither defeat or victory for her.
"Innocent." Athena announced, it was Gabrielles wisdom that had swayed her.
Gabrielle finally looked up at the King of the Gods who held the last vote. Six against her, five for her and two abstentions. Gabrielles lips suddenly felt dry as she examined what could happen. A guilty would surely mean her death, an innocent could possibly mean a re-trial and an abstention also meant her death.
"Innocent." Zeus proclaimed.
It took a few moments for the word to penetrate, she did not quite believe what she had heard. Innocent. Gabrielle dropped to her knees in shock.What did that mean? All was even.
"We have reached a stalemate. We will now have to consider the situation further to arrive at a decision." All the Gods nodded their agreement. "Remove the witnesses, they will no longer be needed."
"Im not leaving." Xena began to object but found herself having to fight against both Hercules and Ares as they tried to remove her.
"Their rules Xena, remember." Hercules reminded her.
"But I wont know.... I want to stay.... Gabrielle...." She screamed.
The small blonde turned to see her best friend fighting with the God and the demi-god. A hopeless situation, where they could only watch one another as fate once again intervened. They had been there before, "Xena.... go.... please go. I dont want you to see this."
"Gabrielle...." The words died in Xenas throat when growling could be heard across the chamber.
"I said no." Callisto screamed. She was being held roughly by all three of the Furies. "Xena," Both the dark warrior and the bard turned, "I never liked you, but for what its worth Im sorry." The Furies yanked at Callistos body, "Wait," she hissed back at them, "Gabrielle."
The bard stared at Callisto as she desperately tried to form the words she wanted to say to the bard. "Thank you," Gabrielle told her, surprised that she would ever have to thank this woman for anything, especially defending her honour.
"You owe me brat." Callisto grinned and then allowed herself to be led away by the Furies.
The last thing she heard was Alectos voice, "Congratulations Callisto, you found it."
Callisto laughed through her tears as she embraced oblivion.
"Come on Xena, we have to go." Hercules tried to turn the woman away but she would not follow.
"Gabrielle," Xena began softly.
From her podium in the centre of the chamber Gabrielle looked at her best friend for what she feared might be the last time; she instinctively knew what the warrior would say, "Dont you dare try and say good-bye. I wont let you." They both laughed softly, remembering Gabrielles wedding when Xena had not allowed Gabrielle to say those final words. "Now leave."
Nodding Xena turned away, tears filling her eyes, and began to move away followed by Hercules and Ares.
Ares. The God of War stopped when he heard his own name inside his head. He looked up at Zeus. Stay here, his father commanded.
"Hercules," Ares began, "Wait with her." He said nothing more, not letting either one protest before he touched them on their shoulders and sent them back to the mortal plane.
He descended the staircase and went to stand in front of Gabrielle, his back to her so that he faced his father. "Yes Father?"
"Your part in this incident will not go without punishment. You allied yourself with the forces of Dahak and almost caused the downfall of the Gods of Olympus and you will be reprimanded accordingly." Ares bowed his head in shame at his fathers words. "However, we have reached a dilemma in this hearing and against my better judgement you are to be granted your say. Understand this, whatever you decide will reflect on your own position so choose wisely."
Ares turned the options over in his head; if he voted for her innocence then he was proclaiming his own guilt, the consequences of that could mean banishment from Olympus, being stripped of his godhood or sentenced to eternity in oblivion. He had experienced some of this punishments before and had witnessed what happened to former Gods at the hands of the Furies. On the other hand the Olympians needed him, they knew what would happen without the God of War, he could condemn her and the incident would be closed.
He cast a glance over his shoulder at Gabrielle, her face was expressionless, masking all of her fear. She held so much potential, so much innocence and right now she held his heart. Do I vote for you because of who you are? or do I vote against you because of what I am?
"Your answer Ares?" Zeus demanded.
There was no hesitation, Ares gave his answer - the only one he could give.
* * *
They were returned to the clearing with a shuddering jolt; both staggered to gain their balance and shook their heads from the after effects of the shift. It was only the two of them, the others had probably returned to the house to await news.
"What do we do now?" Xena asked in the tone of voice that suggested that she would not be able to do it even if she knew what it was.
"We wait." Hercules slumped down onto a nearby log.
"For the Gods to answer."
Xena dropped to the ground and sat cross-legged, she reached up and rubbed the sides of her head with her hands. She did not know how long she had waited before she heard the voice.
"Xena," The silky voice was calling directly to her, pulling her from the depths of her thoughts, "Xena,"
At the second time the Warrior Princess leapt to her feet and came face to face with Artemis. "Why are you here?"
"I think you know why." Artemis ventured.
Xena briefly glanced around the surrounding area, she could not find what she was looking for, "Where is she?" The first note of worry was creeping into her voice.
"Shes safe." Artemis told her in a calm voice.
"No. No." Xena had a feeling of apprehension coursing through her. Surely they had not found Gabrielle guilty. "Where is she?" This time the question meant something different; if the Gods had voted for her to face death then Xena wanted to know if she had been placed in the Elysian Fields or Tartarus. Artemis remained silent, "Where is she? Tell me or I will tear Olympus, the Underworld and this world apart until I find her." Right at that moment she could have done it, to be that close to getting Gabrielle back and have it taken away again, "Where is she?" Xena was screaming. All the anger and pain evident in her words.
Artemiss brow furrowed, Xena had completely missed the point. "Gabrielle is where shes always been, by your side." Artemis glanced over Xenas shoulder.
Xena jerked her head around to see Gabrielle cradled in Ares arms. She appeared to be asleep or unconscious, but most definitely alive. Xena did not bother to stop the tears.
Ares stepped closer to Xena; his punishment by the Gods had been to carry Gabrielles body back to the land of the living, back to Xena - it had been Aphrodites idea, the worst kind of punishment for the God of War was an act of love. He delivered the sleeping girl into Xenas arms, she took the girl and held her close. "Take care of her." Ares told her and then he and Artemis were gone.
"Wed better get back to the house," Hercules suggested.
Xena did not move.
"Would you like me to carry her?" He offered.
Xena tightened her grip on Gabrielle, pulling her even closer. Her tears fell from her face and onto the fabric of the blue dress, "No, no, Ill carry her." Xena could not take her eyes away from Gabrielle.
* * *
Xenas and Gabrielles Threads
When her eyes finally opened they rested upon the sight that she had missed in the last two days. It was dark and by the window, bathed in moonlight stood the Warrior Princess. Xena had not sensed that Gabrielle had awoken, her gaze was so intent on the starlit sky. It was rare that Gabrielle could ever watch her friend unobserved so she took advantage of the opportunity. Ultimately her desire got the better of her and she knew she had to reach out and touch the warrior.
Xena could sense the approach behind her, the nearness of her friend. She had experienced a number of emotions in the last couple of days that she was not used to feeling: loss, pain, grief, confusion. A new emotion had arisen in the last few hours, one she had not admitted to feeling for a long time, but she did now - she was afraid. Afraid of shattering a dream.
"You were right, it does look like a dipper." Gabrielle said as she followed Xenas gaze into the stars.
"No you were right, its definitely a bear." An age old argument between the two, but something solid.
They both laughed for a moment but Gabrielle spoke, "Look at me."
"I cant." Xenas voice wavered slightly.
"Why not?" Gabrielle tried to keep the worry out of her words.
"Im afraid." Xena admitted.
"Of what?" She felt on the verge of breaking, but she wanted to stay strong for Xenas sake.
"Ive sat and watched you sleep for hours, too afraid to look away and then I did. Now Im afraid to look back in case youre not there, that this is not real." Xena knew how stupid the words sounded, she was having a conversation with Gabrielle, but after the last few days she did not think she could trust her mind.
"Does this feel real?" Gabrielle stepped closer and encircled the taller womans waist with her arms, pressing her body to Xenas back, "Does it?" Her lips brushed Xenas exposed shoulder.
Xena shuddered at the contact. That did it, this was real. Xena broke into a fit of sobs, wondering if she would ever have the strength to stop crying again. She turned in Gabrielles grasp and wrapped her arms around the young woman. "Dont leave me. I dont ever want to be without you."
"Never...." Gabrielle smiled against Xenas neck as she whispered.
The word echoed....
* * * * *
Well there we have it. Hope you enjoyed it. Now reply to it.
The poem entitled Soul Mates, supposedly written by Gabrielle for Xena was, of course, written by me. This has also been posted on the By The Gods website.
The song lyrics found throughout the story were: Mystical Experience - Boyzone / How Do I? - LeAnn Rimes / When Love and Hate Collide - Def Lepard. The words have been reproduced without permission of the appropriate parties.