An Awakening - Part 9
Children of Gods
by Hunter Ash
The Usual: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, etc. etc. etc. Don't bother suing me, it's not even worth court costs.
Sex/Subtext/Alt Fiction: No subtext - it's out there in plain reading. This concerns some characters who are in loving and sexual relationships with people of the same gender. If this is illegal where you are or bugs you, then you have the following choices: leave and don't come back to my usual stuff; open your mind; change your laws; come back when you're older; move. The sex gets hot and heavy (I hope), in other words, a little descriptive.
Violence: some pretty good beatings in here and descriptions of past violent acts, including brutal murder and rape. I'd rate the violence as "R" and the language describing the violence of rape is a little rough.
Storyline: Xena and Gabrielle must find a way to deal with Ares now that they're back in Greece with Sasha, the daughter of Ares and Xena. In doing so, Xena discovers some truths about her parents and faces her own darkness and Gabrielle must face it with her.
I hope the story can stand on it's own, but since it is part of a series you might want to check those out first.
A Visit Home, An Awakening
Gabrielle's Awakening (from Gabrielle's point of view)
An Awakening, Discovery
Gabrielle's Discovery (from Gabrielle's point of view)
Gabrielle - an Amazon Bonding (Gabrielle's point of view)
Trial of a Roman, Trial of a Couple
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother
Ides of March
Children of Gods, Awakening 9
Even with Ares, Awakening 10 - coming
Feedback: yes, yes, yes. Please feed the bard. I love hearing what people think of this stuff. I enjoy writing it and I hope you enjoy reading it.
"Xena!" Cyrene yelled with a grin as the warrior approached the inn with Gabrielle in her arms. Xena returned the grin and Gabrielle smiled at her mother-in-law.
Hercules hugged Iolaus and Sasha and ruffled the smaller man's hair.
"How long have you been here?" the demi-god asked.
"About a candlemark. I was telling Cyrene about the last two years."
"I've been worried sick!" Cyrene commented, moving aside so Xena could move inside with Gabrielle. The older woman's quick eyes had taken in the bard's pale and drawn skin and bandages on her wrists, matching ones of her own daughter.
Xena was grateful that there were only a couple of farmers sitting at the tables and sat Gabrielle down carefully into one of the chairs at a table near the fire. Gabrielle smiled as Cyrene came in, followed by Hercules, Iolaus and Sasha. Iolaus let Sasha down out of his arms and the toddler squealed in delight in seeing her mom, Xena and rushed into the dark warrior's arms. Xena grinned and hugged her daughter tightly and looked at her mom.
"You've met your granddaughter," Xena grinned.
"Granma!" Sasha grinned as well and Cyrene reached out her arms and took the toddler.
"So Iolaus introduced us. Are you okay?" the innkeeper sat down at the table with Gabrielle, holding Sasha in her arms.
Gabrielle nodded but Cyrene thought the bard looked very tired and sick.
"What happened?" Iolaus asked as he and Hercules also sat down.
Xena's eyebrows raised in question as Torris, her brother, came out from behind the bar, carrying a tray of goblets.
"Hey, Xena. Hi, everyone," he said simply and walked back into the back room.
"Don't mind him, he's still adjusting," Cyrene said with a shrug, reminding Gabrielle of her mate's habit of shrugging.
"I noticed he didn't make it to the wedding," Xena muttered, pulling up chairs for her and Solan.
"So what happened in Rome?" Iolaus demanded.
Gabrielle nodded to Xena when a coughing fit took her breath away. She was grateful that her mug was filled with cider and not the port that Xena favored. Cyrene frowned at the depth of the cough, noting the sounds of fluid on the lungs.
"How far did you get Iolaus?" Xena asked.
"I told your mom how Gabrielle was captured and sold to slavers and I was hurt. How she ended up in the Arena as a gladiator and got back to us with help from Brutus. About you having a baby in the middle of a skirmish and I got as far as Artemis showing up on the road and zapping us all over the known world."
"Artemis told us the Amazons and Centaurs had been attacked by the Romans. Gabrielle's idea was to go to Rome and exchange herself for the prisoners while I killed Caesar."
"Xena," Cyrene whispered, the worry showing on her face.
"I know, Mom, but he was worse than Cortese and he had our family."
"The heralds haven't reached here yet? Caesar is dead, assassinated in the Senate of Rome by the Senators themselves. Marc Anthony has taken power." Hercules stated simply.
"You didn't kill him?"
"No, he caught me when I tried to get to him. He was expecting me." Xena answered with a grim smile. "Gabrielle traded herself for the Amazons, leaving us with Caesar."
Cyrene glanced over as Gabrielle coughed again, the coughs deep and wracking. Xena pulled her chair next to her bard's and held her mate. Gabrielle leaned heavily into her shoulder.
"We found out that Brutus and some of the other Senators had a plot to kill Caesar and once he was dead would accept a treaty with the Amazons. Caesar put us in the Arena to fight." Xena suddenly found it hard to continue, remembering the terror when Caesar had announced that the Queen of the Amazons would be crucified and Xena forced to watch during the night while she died. The would-be emperor planned on killing the warrior the next day by beheading but not before she watched Gabrielle suffer and die.
"Caesar crucified Gabrielle and forced Xena to watch," Hercules continued for his friends.
Iolaus turned very pale and Cyrene thought she was going to be sick. She reached out a comforting hand to Gabrielle's shoulders, who attempted a small smile.
"How long was she there?" Iolaus asked quietly.
"From sundown to midday," Xena answered, fighting back tears.
That answered the bandages on her daughter's wrists, Cyrene reflected. She knew Xena must have gone insane watching her mate dying while chained. The mother was surprised that her daughter hadn't ripped her own hands off to get to Gabrielle.
It also explained the bandages on Gabrielle's wrists, the innkeeper knew about crucifixion. Seven inch spikes driven through the wrists and ankles, leaving the body hanging in an unnatural position, unable to breathe fully. Eventually the body would break down and the victim would die, suffocating to death. Fluid on the lungs or heart collapse.
Gabrielle coughed again and whimpered, closing her eyes as she curled into Xena's arms.
"Brutus got us out of Rome and back to the Amazons and then Artemis zapped us here in reward," Xena finished.
"Take her up to the room on the right, I'll heat some bath water and some herb steam water to help break up the lung fluid," Cyrene ordered as Gabrielle kept her eyes closed.
"Here, I'll take her up, Xena." Hercules offered, gently taking the bard into his arms. She whimpered slightly, drawing her hands in close to her body. Xena's face reflected her worry as she followed her friend and mate up the stairs.
"Gods, will it never end for those two?" Iolaus muttered.
Cyrene grinned at Solan. "Glad to see you again."
He grinned back and reached out to tickle Sasha. "Hi, I'm your big brother."
Xena was surprised to find the person knocking on their door the next morning was Torris and not her mother. The warrior had already dressed and was getting Sasha dressed while Gabrielle slept. Torris looked at the sleeping bard on the bed and looked uncomfortable, bringing a frown to Xena's face.
"Can we talk, Xena?" he asked simply.
"Let me get Sasha's boots on and I'll be down. I want to let Gabrielle sleep as long as possible. A bed is a definite change from the back of a wagon."
"All right, I'll be downstairs." He left without acknowledging the conversation.
"I wonder what's crawled under his skin, as if I didn't know," she muttered as she struggled with a squirming toddler. She grabbed Sasha into her arms and leaned over to check on Gabrielle's breathing and frowned at the rasping sound.
Xena grinned at the site of Iolaus waiting by the fireplace, showing Solan a knife trick. The warrior thought it was a good sign that the small Greek wasn't suffering from the nightmares as much, especially since Hercules had taken to sharing his bed and soothing away all the nightmares.
Xena caught site of the demi-god sitting at one of the tables watching Iolaus and her son and her grin grew wider at the look of affection on his face. Hercules caught her watching him and blushed. She walked over to the table and sat down.
The serving girl, Aglaea, brought over food for both mother and daughter.
"Morning." Xena grinned at Hercules and he grinned back, reaching out and tickling Sasha's chin.
"Morning. Why don't I take her, your brother is waiting outside," he suggested and Xena handed over her dark haired daughter with a frown.
"I wonder what is so damned important I can't feed my daughter first?" she muttered, grabbing her bowl and eating quickly as she headed for the door.
Outside the inn she found Torris standing under a nearby tree, leaning against it with his arms folded. Xena fought down the familiar feeling of irritation. He looked so much like he did when she was young, foreboding and unforgiving. Xena placed the empty bowl and spoon on a bench and walked up to her older brother, trying not to let her body betray her irritation.
"Torris, what's up?" she asked in an even voice.
"I, uh... I'm sorry about Gabrielle's injuries, I heard you telling Mother about the crucifixion and Caesar's assassination."
"Thank you, Torris." Xena could sense there was more and wasn't giving an inch to her older brother.
"I know Gabrielle's been good for you and I'm grateful for that. I'd like to ask that you not be affectionate in public. It's just that it's awkward for me as a Council Elder."
Xena clenched her jaw and made an effort not to throw her older brother through the tree he was standing against.
"What makes you think anyone even notices, Torris, and what business is it of yours?" she growled, eyes narrowing in anger. Xena was just grateful Gabrielle wasn't there to hear this.
"Xena, you come in every few months or years but I'm the one who stays, damnit, and puts up with your reputation, good and bad."
Xena was amazed that he actually looked angry. "Torris, which Xena would you rather deal with? The Warlord I was or the woman I am now?" she decided to try reasoning rather than bashing his head in.
"What does that have to do with this?" Torris frowned.
"Gabrielle is responsible for the difference. She is the light in my life and has saved my soul on several occasions. Accept her as my soulmate or not, I don't care."
"Selfish as usual," he growled and Xena stopped herself after taking a menacing step forward.
"I don't know why I'm even discussing this with you except to tell you this," she grabbed him by his tunic and pulled him close to her. The anger in his eyes was flashing but he didn't resist. "You had better not treat Gabrielle any differently than before you knew we were lovers or the Council will be looking for another Elder, got me?"
"Why do you even come back here?" he demanded.
"Certainly isn't for you! I don't want Gabrielle hearing about our conversation either. She's been through enough as it is." Xena released him and started to walk away.
"Afraid she'll be ashamed of being your bed mate?" he taunted and found himself on his back in the dust with Xena sword at his throat.
The warrior blinked and stepped back, sheathing the sword with trembling hands.
"Torris, you have no idea how close I just came to losing it with you. I watched Gabrielle crucified in front of me, do you think I'm going to let you hurt her?" she demanded, spinning on her heel and heading towards the woods at a trot and then broke into a run when she reached the treeline.
Cyrene frowned, watching the interplay between her offspring from the kitchen window. She couldn't hear the words exchanged but the rage on Xena's face and Torris' disdain had been very clear. The mother's heart skipped several beats when she had seen her daughter throw her son to the ground and draw her sword, faster than the eye could follow. For a moment Cyrene had been very scared for both of them, knowing what a death like that would do to Xena and the family.
Cyrene cursed her only living son for whatever he had said to set Xena off that much. She smiled as Hercules walked into the kitchen with Sasha in his arms.
"Hey, where's Xena? I think Gabrielle is awake, I heard her coughing."
"I'll take care of her, Xena's off in the woods for a bit." Cyrene tried not to let the demi-god see her worry. He caught sight of Torris dusting off his clothes and the man's scowl.
"I see the discussion didn't go well with your kids," he said with a sad smile.
"No, Xena almost killed him." Cyrene agreed.
"What?" Hercules whispered.
"Seems Torris upset my daughter about something and I've got a good idea what about. I'll take care of Gabrielle, let Xena cool off for a bit. Can you and Iolaus handle Sasha?"
"Yeah, not a problem. Solan is going to take her for a walk around the village. He hasn't been out of the Centaur village much and wants a look around."
"If he's anything like his mother one village won't hold him long. What happened to his adopted Centaur father?"
Hercules frowned. "Killed by the Romans. That's how Solan got that cut on the head, trying to protect him."
"Gods, when will it end?"
"I don't think it ever will," he said sadly.
Gabrielle tried to keep her cough quiet but found it impossible. She hated to be sick and she hated feeling as weak as she did. Having the bandages on her wrists and her hands practically useless didn't improve her mood either.
Cyrene cautiously opened the door as she heard a wooden cup go sailing across the room with a growl. Gabrielle sat back on the bed with another round of coughing, blushing in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry," she said between coughs.
"Don't be. Remember who my daughter is? I've seen temper tantrums before." The older woman grinned and picked up the cup, setting her tray down on the bed next to the bard. She frowned as she felt Gabrielle's forehead. "You're taking a fever."
"I know. Next comes the healer and lots of foul tasting teas." Gabrielle complained, taking a drink of the soothing hot tea.
"And weeks of recovery," Cyrene predicted. "Want me to send for Hecuba and Lila to visit?"
Gabrielle looked at Cyrene with a grateful expression.
Cyrene smiled, "Consider it done."
Xena's mom had been right about the long recovery but it wasn't the weeks that they had all feared when fever and fluid settled into the bard's system. Xena figured that it must be the fact of who Gabrielle's true father was, Apollo, God of the sun and of healing. It was only two weeks before the bard was back on her feet, slowly rebuilding her strength.
Gabrielle's mother Hecuba and her sister Lila visited the inn for several days, bringing overwhelming joy to the little bard as she recovered. The warrior bard still shook her head, so much had happened over the last two years.
Her mom looked older but her eyes lit up when she talked about a neighboring farmer who was also a widow her age. Gabrielle had grinned when her mom blushed at the bard's teasing about romance.
Then there was Lila, married and with a small infant at her breast. Her little sister had married the local blacksmith and was happy with the match. Her son, already big for an infant, threatened to be his father's size. Gabrielle grinned though, being married and a mom hadn't tamed Lila's stubborn streak or her quick tongue. Hecuba confided that the big blacksmith was like a puppy dog around her sister and absolutely doted on her and their daughter. Gabrielle was thrilled, knowing how rare love matches could be.
Her mom and sister had also been delighted to see the bard, even if she was wounded and sick. Gabrielle had toned down the dangers and horrors she had faced as a Roman slave and then gladiator but they could both read between the lines, especially when they saw Xena's jaw tighten. The bard hadn't been able to tone down the suffering she had gone through on the cross though, they could see the results.
Countering that horror had been Solan and Sasha, their new adopted grandkids and cousins. Solan had taken with his little sister and was a wonderful big brother, playing with the toddler for hours on end. Hecuba had been pleased with the family her daughter was building and told both Xena and Gabrielle so, bringing a happy grin to the bard's face and an embarrassed blush to Xena's.
Hecuba, Lila and son had just left Amphipolis and Xena suggested a walk to the little bard and was pleased when Gabrielle felt up to it. The warrior led them to the small stream just behind the inn and picked a grassy spot and welcomed Gabrielle into her arms as she leaned against a tree.
"What would you think about settling down here?" Xena asked softly, wrapping her strong arms around Gabrielle.
"What about dark and war-like?"
"We'll have to face it someday, maybe if we can appeal to the gods through Hercules, Zeus can get fuzz-face to leave us alone until Sasha is of an age to decide her future for herself."
"Won't be easy, he'll keep bothering us."
"Yes, either that or settle in the north with Axel. We need to settle for a couple of years and I'm tired of you being in danger," Xena whispered in her mate's ear and Gabrielle leaned back further into her warrior with a happy sigh.
"I'm not happy about it all the time either. There's something that Apollo told me that's puzzled me." Gabrielle frowned in thought and Xena could sense Gabrielle gathering her thoughts.
"What was that, little one?"
"He said that when I was ready to call on him, that I had inherited certain giftings from him and to especially call when you began questioning your parentage."
"What could he mean by that?" Xena countered with a question of her own.
"I don't know. That's just what he said."
"Maybe it's time for some answers before Ares gets word about Sasha," Xena frowned.
"How do we do that?" Gabrielle asked, running her hands playfully over Xena's arms, marveling at the small scars that matched her own from numerous cuts. The bandages had finally come off the bard's wrists but she still wasn't used to the ugly red wounds on both sides of her wrists. She was grateful she still had use of her hands, they were improving every day.
"I guess I start with Mom."
"What about your brother? He wouldn't be too happy to have us around."
"Has he said anything?" Xena demanded and Gabrielle could feel the warrior's muscles tensing.
"No, my love, but it's obvious how he feels about us." Gabrielle smiled a sad smile.
"He can go to Hades for all I care," Xena muttered. "I need to talk to Mom."
"Until then," Gabrielle purred, suddenly distracting the warrior from the mystery by nibbling on her earlobe. Xena growled and felt an answering growl from her bard as Gabrielle turned in her arms and slowly forced the warrior from leaning into the tree onto the grass. Xena moaned softly and held her bard close, having no choice since Gabrielle refused to release her hold on the warrior's clothes or her lips.
"This..... isn't... exactly private!" Xena protested between gasps as Gabrielle's teeth found her neck and her hands worked their way under Xena's tunic top to grasp her breasts, causing her nipples to beg for more attention.
"Then I guess I can't strip you naked, can I?" Gabrielle grinned and then laughed as Xena yelped at the thought of being naked by a not-so-secluded stream in her hometown.
Before the warrior could struggle out from under her, Gabrielle slipped a hand under Xena's skirt and past her undergarment. Xena moaned and threw her head back in sudden passion as the bard discovered how wet the warrior was.
"Oh gods," Gabrielle whispered, always amazed when she touched her lover. It always felt so wonderful, like touching the power of the gods, the bard thought. "You're so wet and so beautiful," she whispered, bringing another moan from her warrior.
Realizing the public situation they were potentially in, Gabrielle quickly entered her mate and attacked Xena's neck again with her teeth. Xena moaned and grabbed Gabrielle's shoulders tightly, biting her lip.
"Anyone could....walk...." Xena tried to protest and lost coherent thought as Gabrielle added more of her hand to her attack and increased the speed and depth.
"Then you'll have to keep quiet," Gabrielle smirked in the warrior's ear.
"Arrrgghhhh! I'll....get you.....oh gods, don't stop, please!" Xena found herself begging as her body rocked with Gabrielle's rhythm. The bard's thumb found Xena's clit, and the warrior stifled a scream.
"Never, my love." Gabrielle bit down again and felt Xena's fingertips digging into her shoulders and the warrior's body shuddering as waves threatened to overtake her. "Now, my love."
Xena bit into Gabrielle's shoulder as the waves overcame her, stifling a scream.
The bard straightened Xena's skirt and lay next to her gasping warrior, gently playing with Xena's hair, an amused look on her face.
"Oh you are so in trouble," Xena gasped and smiled when Gabrielle's eyes and nose crinkled in amusement. Xena moaned deeply as the bard brought her fingers to her mouth and gently licked them.
Before Xena could recover her breath the bard had leapt to her feet and grinned down at her mate.
"Where do you think you're going?" Xena demanded, sitting up on her elbows.
"I promised to help your mom with setting up for dinner," Gabrielle said, trying an innocent expression.
"Oh no, you don't!" Xena threatened, starting to her feet. The bard giggled and danced away towards the inn with Xena hot on her heels.
Cyrene grinned as the two dashed into the kitchen area of the inn. Both suddenly stopping and looking like two kids who had been caught skipping school. Gabrielle glanced back and saw her mate's playful expression turn serious and nodded to her warrior and moved towards the other room.
Gabrielle stopped and kissed Cyrene's cheek and then went out of the room, leaving mother and daughter alone.
"Mom?" Xena asked softly as her Mom walked out of the back room with an armload of carrots. Her mom looked up and grinned and handed her daughter a knife. Xena settled into peeling and cutting the vegetables for the evening meal.
"What's up, little one?" Cyrene asked as her quick hands made short work of the vegetables.
"I don't know how to ask it," Xena complained.
"Direct questions usually work best," Cyrene commented with a smile.
"Gabrielle and I want to stay on here for awhile and to do that I have to face Ares. I want the backing of the gods to keep him out of our lives and Apollo hinted to Gabrielle that there was something mysterious about my parentage." Xena held her breath, trying to control her shaking hands.
"Wow, definitely a direct question. I'm glad you two would like to settle down here. I can certainly use the help around here and you know I love Gabrielle very much."
Cyrene sighed heavily and closed her eyes. "Yes, there's more about your heritage than you've been told. I guess I just hoped it would never come up. A mom wants a normal life for her children."
Xena nodded, understanding that one. She knew having the daughter of a god was going to add additional burdens to being a parent and no one knew what those were yet. Then again, Xena's life hadn't exactly been "normal" either.
"It's not Ares is it?" the warrior whispered, shuddering a little.
"No!" Cyrene said quickly, thinking the same thoughts as her daughter. Even for Greek Gods that would be just a little too close to home.
"Come on, Mom," Xena urged.
Cyrene sat down at the table and motioned Torris back out the door when he poked his head in. He disappeared with a scowl. Xena sat down across from her.
"This isn't easy, Xena."
"I know and I really don't care but it might be important in dealing with Ares about Sasha." Xena reached out and placed her hands over her mother's and Cyrene sighed again.
"When your father was away I was approached by a woman, a stranger. She revealed that she was the goddess Hecate." Cyrene hesitated, remembering how scared she had been to face the dark goddess.
"Hecate?" Xena whispered. Hecate - the goddess of the dark moon and of magic?
"Yes, I am part of her worship in this area. We gather and hold suppers in her honor and we exchange knowledge of magic and secrets."
Xena raised her eyebrows, she had never known her mother to be particularly religious and this secret worship of a dark goddess of magic was a surprise.
"What did she want?" Xena asked.
"She was running from Hera, seems she had an affair with Zeus and Hera was fit to be tied," Cyrene grinned.
"Figures, he gets around almost as much as Apollo." Xena shared the grin.
"You know how Hera feels about Zeus' offspring with mortal women, Hecate asked if I would help them." Cyrene hesitated.
"Help? As in how?" Xena urged her mother to continue.
"She asked if I would take her child, we would both be mothers and I would raise the child." Cyrene said softly, not looking Xena in the eye.
Xena felt a chill travel over her body and a roaring fill her ears. What? She shook her head.
"What? Are you trying to say that I have three parents and two of them are gods?" Xena whispered.
"Yes," Cyrene tried to pull her hands away from Xena but the warrior resisted, holding her mother's hands tight.
"But I'm human." Xena protested. She had died, come back to life and had suffered enough wounds to prove to anyone that she wasn't a god, she thought.
"That was Hecate's gift, that you would inherit my human side. I carried you and gave birth to you and we hoped that you would live your life without attracting the attention of the gods," Cyrene answered.
Xena surprised her mother by laughing and sitting back in her chair.
"Then along comes Ares!" Xena smirked and Cyrene had to smile with that twist of events as well.
"Not only do you take up with him, now you've got a daughter by him to deal with," Cyrene smiled ruefully.
"I know, I know, wouldn't have been my choice for father if I'd been in my right mind," Xena complained.
"She's beautiful," Cyrene countered, bringing a big grin to Xena's face.
"That she is. Gods, what in Tartarus do I do with this information? Hera would still probably kill me just out of spite."
"I don't know, little one. You know Ares is going to cause you problems if you don't find a way to keep him out of your life." Cyrene mentioned.
"Well that might explain why you're drawn to the shamanism," Gabrielle ventured as they sat under the same tree by the stream, bard in the warrior's arms.
Xena didn't tell her bard that it was also probably why Alti was drawn to her energy. The daughter of the Dark Goddess, gods, Alti must have been drooling to get a hold of that energy, Xena thought. No wonder she wanted me to kill the Amazons, she knew I had the power and the darkness to do it and harness it, she thought to herself, once again cursing herself for her past. She shook those thoughts aside.
"Yeah, what do we do about Ares?" Xena complained.
"Haven't a clue yet, lover."
"Maybe I can help."
Both women jumped to their feet and had weapons in their hands when with a flash of light Ares stood in front of them. Xena moved to stand beside Gabrielle, a snarl on her lips.
"What do you want, Ares?"
"I sense a mystery that needs solving. Why do you need to 'do' anything about me? And why was Aphrodite dead set on keeping me away from you two?" he asked with a smug grin.
"Maybe because she thought we needed a day off from you?" Gabrielle asked with an innocent smile, causing Ares' to snarl back at her.
Ares closed his eyes and Xena felt a chill run up her spine as he concentrated. The warrior felt a sense of dread as he opened his eyes with a grin.
"A child? We have a child?"
"Get out of my head, damn you!" Xena snarled with an overhead swing which he quickly blocked with his own sword, appearing in his hand with a flash.
"Is that anyway to treat the father of your child?" he grinned, blocking another blow and spinning out a side kick as Gabrielle sprinted forward with her sais, kicking her in the chest and sending her flying back into the tree.
"Gabrielle!" Xena cried out, managing to land a blow on the side of Ares' head with her sword hilt but took a backhand from the God of War, sending her flying back next to the bard who was shaking her head and holding her chest.
Ares grinned and disappeared.
"No, go - Sasha!" Gabrielle gasped and Xena was gone at a run towards the inn.
Xena rounded the corner of the inn only to be stopped short by the sight of Ares flying through the door, landing on the door and his backside. The God of War shook his head with a snarl. Hercules stepped out of the doorway and grinned at Xena.
"Hi, we had company," he merely said. He turned back to Ares. "I told you at their wedding that if you didn't leave them alone I was going to keep pounding your head into things until you couldn't remember your own name."
Ares disappeared as Hercules reached for him. The demi-god turned to Xena, taking in her bloody lip and drawn sword. Xena suddenly turned and began running back towards the stream with Hercules following.
They found Gabrielle standing by the tree wincing and cursing. Xena quickly examined her mate and smiled. "No broken ribs but you'll have quite a bruise there, love."
"I know, is Sasha all right?"
"Hercules sent him scurrying away."
"This time," Hercules said grimly.
"I know, we've got to find an answer." Xena muttered as they began walking back to the inn to find Solan and Torris lifting the door back to the doorway. Hercules shrugged his shoulders with an embarrassed grin at Solan.
Xena smiled as she opened the door to their room and found Gabrielle playing with Sasha on the bed. She also nodded approvingly when she saw the sais in the bard's hand. Gabrielle sat it down next to her.
"He's not likely to come through the door," Xena grinned.
"No, but he's been known to send goons on his dirty work." Gabrielle grinned back.
Xena grinned even wider and opened her arms as she approached the bed and grabbed her daughter up in a hug. Gabrielle smiled and leaned back against the wall, watching her mate and daughter interact.
"We need to figure something out because I could get used to this," Gabrielle commented.
"So could I," Xena agreed.
"Really, Miss Never Settle Down in My Life? You barely even stop anywhere for more than a day." Gabrielle teased, causing her mate to blush.
"Well, I think motherhood this time around has gotten to me." Xena admitted. "What about you, my love. Ever want to have one of your own?"
"As long as I'm with you. I'm not sure how we'll arrange that one. I am NOT sleeping with Ares!" Gabrielle grinned.
"Oh you are so in trouble!" Xena growled as she sat down on the bed, sitting Sasha down. "Get her, Sasha! Tickle fight!"
The bard squeaked and tried to keep a pillow between herself, her mate and her daughter as everyone began tickling each other, bringing tears of laughter to their eyes. No one was ever sure who won that fight.
A short time later found Gabrielle reciting a tale to Sasha and her warrior. Snuggled in Xena's arms with Sasha between them. After awhile Xena reflected once again that she could get used to this as the bard and daughter slept curled up next to her, the bard wrapped protectively around Sasha.
The next morning Gabrielle found Xena unusually quiet over breakfast while Solan chattered away with Sasha and Iolaus.
Torris, bumping into Gabrielle coming down the stairs, merely mumbled something and left the room. The bard rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"I wish he would get over it," she muttered.
Gabrielle sat down, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. She smiled at her mate's blue eyes and Xena reached out to hold her hand.
"This is the first time you've slept past dawn." Xena commented. "Like old times."
"Told you I could get used to this," Gabrielle smiled back.
It had long been a joke among them that Gabrielle was not a "morning person." Nope, no way. Not only difficult to wake up at times, but she usually fought for every extra minute asleep she could get. Unless it was Xena's lips waking her up, the warrior smiled to herself.
Then the bard had been taken as a slave gladiator and hadn't slept past dawn since, until now. Xena reflected that her mate must be healing in spirit as well as body.
"Any ideas, Xena?" Gabrielle brought the warrior back to the present.
"Actually, I do. I need you and everyone else to guard Sasha while I make a short trip to the mountains."
Gabrielle frowned. "Not without me, no more separations, remember?"
"I need to do this alone and I know Sasha will be safe with you and Hercules."
"What are you planning? You're not going to take on Ares by yourself!"
"No, I'll be fine, my love."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed, she hated it when Xena kept things to herself but merely nodded. "When are you leaving?"
Xena was surprised to find her mom waiting at the stable with Argo and another horse already saddled. Xena's quick eyes noted her mother's riding clothes and the packs on the back of the other horse.
"What's up, Mom?" Xena asked cautiously.
"I figured you'd want an early start to get to the mountains." Cyrene answered simply.
"How did you know?" Xena grinned as she mounted Argo.
"I know you, my daughter. I'll help you."
"Mom, I didn't want you to think...."
Cyrene held up a restraining hand. "I love you and I understand. Let's go."
Xena gave silent thanks for the Mom she had as she followed Cyrene out of the stable.
Xena was content to let Cyrene led them once they got to the mountains. Her mother seemed to have a destination in mind and Xena didn't ask. Her mother had refused to answer any questions during the trip, frustrating her daughter to no end.
Cyrene carefully walked her horse up a narrow trail to a cave Xena had spotted earlier. When her mother dismounted Xena followed but Cyrene turned and stopped the warrior.
"Wait here for awhile. I'll call for you."
"Mom, what do you have planned?" Xena demanded.
"The same thing you do, I'm going to talk to your other mom." Cyrene answered with a smile and then disappeared into the cave.
Xena sat down on a rock with an impatient growl, noting her mom had taken the heavy pack with her.
To the impatient warrior a candlemark seemed twice as long but she held her place. She knew from working with Alti that magical rites could take awhile and that her mom probably needed absolute concentration. The warrior shook her head, still having problems imaging her mom as a magician.
"Xena," her mother called softly after the sun had gone down.
Xena turned and found her Mom standing at the mouth of the cave with a torch, her body and face hidden by a hooded cloak. As the warrior approached her mother held a finger up to her lips indicating silence and then pointed to Xena's weapons. The warrior quickly placed her weapons on the blanket she had been holding around her.
The priestess motioned Xena to follow her into the cave. Xena could pick out the scent of incense, a combination of spices and herbs, she thought. Also candle wax and fresh water. The warrior figured there must be a stream at the back of the cave.
The priestess placed the torch in a holder in the wall and motioned the warrior closer, around a corner of rock. Xena wasn't surprised to see a stone altar with several items on the smooth rock. The warrior waited as her mother, the priestess moved past her and stood behind the altar.
On the altar stood a golden wine cup and in front of this was a plate of bread, fish, eggs and fruit. Additional items included a rope, a dagger and a pair of keys and an offering bowl. To the far left and incense bowl.
"Welcome, Seeker of the Night. Here, hidden in the darkness you shall find what you seek. But before you take one step further, be warned; this place is sacred to She Who Shows the Way and She Who Commands the Nightmare. If you have been called her by Our Great Queen, be you welcome. If you intend to profane this place in word or deed, then a curse be upon you for all your lifetimes." Cyrene intoned in a powerful voice and Xena felt a chill go up her spine. Her mother wasn't just part of the local worship of Hecate, she realized, Cyrene was the priestess.
Xena moved forward slowly and reached into a belt pouch and dropped several coins in the offering bowl, poured a few drops of wine on the floor of the cave and added incense to the bowl. Cyrene nodded approvingly and motioned her daughter to stand in front of the altar.
"The rope symbolizes the cord of life and it also represents what binds you from the truth." the priestess picked up the rope and approached the warrior slowly and Xena extended her hands behind her, sensing what was expected. Cyrene quickly bound her daughter's hands and motioned Xena to her knees. "The crossed keys represent the crossroads where we leave offerings for the Dark Mother, to bring the wisdom that allows us to make the right choices when faced with them."
The priestess picked up the dagger and walked around the altar again to face her daughter. "The dagger expresses the desire to cut away the darkness so that wisdom might arise. Is this what you seek?"
"Yes," Xena answered simply.
With quick strokes the priestess cut a small "x" at Xena's left breast, just below where her armor would cover. The priestess then quickly held the chalice to catch several drops of the blood and then returned the chalice and dagger to the altar.
Cyrene walked behind the altar and raised her hands in invocation."Hecate the Beauteous, you I invoke
With another quick movement the priestess had taken up the dagger and sliced a cut across her palm and let some of the blood drip into the wine. She raised the chalice high in offering and poured several drops onto the cave floor and then walked around the altar and presented the chalice to Xena's lips. The warrior drank several swallows easily and the priestess moved back behind the altar and drank several swallows.
With a start both women realized that there was another figure in the cave with them as a hooded figure stepped out of the shadows from the back of the cave. Cyrene quickly went to her knees with her head bowed and Xena bowed her head as well.
"Rise, Cyrene." a strong and musical voice ordered. The figure pulled the hood back and Xena was surprised to see a woman that looked very much like Gabrielle, only slightly older. "Relax, I appear as one you would trust. You have done very well, Cyrene." Hecate commented, walking over to Xena and around her. Xena raised her eyebrows, feeling like she was in a market place being judged for a sale. Hecate then laughed and pulled the warrior to her feet and Xena blinked, the rope was gone.
"I know the problem with Ares, I've been keeping an eye on things since you got back from the North." Hecate said simply.
"What do we do about it?" Xena asked bluntly.
"I would suggest that you not rely on the gods to protect you or yours. Hera could cause problems at any time, Ares could get even more demanding, Zeus could change his mind about protection at any time."
"That would suit me fine, I hate depending on the gods for anything." Xena agreed with a growl, bringing a smile to Hecate's face.
"Even though you're mostly a god?" Hecate countered.
"I prefer the human part, thanks."
"Xena!" Cyrene squeaked but Hecate merely laughed again.
"It's all right, Cyrene, it's what we had hoped for." Hecate contemplated the warrior for a moment. "So you don't want to be a godling, that's all right with me and I'm sure Zeus would rather you stay a secret from Hera as well. She's finally settling down about Hercules but that can change at any moment. The need then is to level the field between you and Ares."
"How do we do that?" Xena asked, curiously. "Hind's blood? Dagger of Helios?"
"The only things that can kill a god by a mortal? You forgot the bones of Cronos. No, I don't think so. The threat would work for awhile but how long could you stay by Sasha's side every minute of the day?"
"A gifting from me. What gives Ares an advantage over any mortal?" Hecate questioned.
"Besides his immortality, the fact we can't hurt him."
"If I give you and Sasha that gift, that any weapon you take to hand could hurt him?"
"Again, I'd have to protect her every minute of the day until she was older." Xena continued frowning.
"It would even the balance between you and once I threaten him with my own magic, he'll back off." Hecate promised. "Most of the Olympians don't like to cross me."
"He'll hurt Gabrielle," Xena suddenly looked concerned only to be confused when Hecate smiled.
"He can but he probably won't try. She already has the gift from her father."
"What do you mean?" Xena whispered.
"Warrior daughter, Gabrielle died on that cross."
Cyrene moved quickly around the altar to help support her daughter as Xena's knees went weak. They both looked at Hecate who had a sad smile on her face.
"What?" Xena whispered.
"Apollo brought back the spark of life to her and Gabrielle herself fought to keep it alive on that cross. Her love for you kept her alive and fanned that spark to a flame. That's why her recovery was hard, death was fighting hard to take her. She won't be sick again, any wounds that she gets will heal quickly and it will take more than any other human can take to kill her."
"That's why Ares took her out so quickly and why I know I heard her ribs crack but they were fine when I checked on her," Xena muttered and Hecate nodded.
"Yes," Hecate confirmed.
"What is the cost of such a gifting for Sasha and me?" Xena asked, eyes narrowing.
"You have to die," Hecate answered simply and Xena heard Cyrene gasp beside her.
"Again?" Xena asked with a rueful grin and both warrior and priestess were surprised when Hecate laughed again.
"Afraid so and this will require you to do something that might be impossible," Hecate warned.
"What's that?" Xena demanded, she hated dealing with the gods, damnit!
"Trust me to bring you back."
Xena frowned, eyebrows furrowing. She turned and began pacing. Trust? Trust a goddess? Trust anyone but Gabrielle? The warrior turned to face Hecate and Cyrene, her two mothers, still frowning.
"If you can't, I understand. I'll take you, Gabrielle, Solan and my granddaughter to the north."
Xena began pacing again. She finally stopped and faced both older women.
"All right, let's do it," she said simply. Hecate looked pleased and Cyrene looked fearful.
"Goddess, sometimes the initiates don't survive," the inn keeper said softly.
"They were either ready for death and not for life or their faith wasn't strong enough. Is yours, warrior?" Hecate suddenly demanded, her eyes hard.
"You know I'm not one for worship of the gods," Xena countered.
"How is your faith in life and love?"
"What do you mean?" Xena questioned.
"There was a time when you would have welcomed death, a time when you thought you deserved it. Even now you doubt whether you've made up for your past. You still carry that guilt."
"After all I did, how could I not?"
"If you carry that with you there is a chance you won't cross back over, even with my guidance. Your love of life, for Sasha, Solan and Gabrielle must be enough to resist the darkness," Hecate warned.
"For Gabrielle and my children I would fight Hades himself!" Xena hissed and Hecate nodded.
"Then at dawn it begins, my daughter."
Xena wasn't surprised when, just before dawn, Hecate sent her hunting in the woods, the blood of life needed for the cross-over ritual into the dreamscape of the soul. Then the warrior was to climb the mountain, to go as high as she could and spend time meditating and purging her soul and mind of her guilt for the day. To eat nothing and drink little. Having some shamanism training from Alti, the meditation and lack of food was normal for a beginning journey, the warrior knew.
The hunt went well, a deer practically standing still for her arrow shot and the warrior made the climb easily. What didn't come easy was facing her past again. With an irritated growl she threw a small rock bouncing down the cliff as she sat on the edge. How many times would she have to face this, she thought. Then she corrected herself. Had she ever really faced it?
With a sigh the ex-warlord closed her eyes and forced her breath to steady out and let her mind take her back.
By three candlemarks the warrior was bathed in sweat even though it was quite cold on the mountain top. She had completed the chanting and connecting with the spirit of the deer and mixed her blood with that of the animal.
Then the warrior drank the blood and felt herself slipping through the confusing, terrifying and weird space between the worlds and crossing into the dreamscape. Xena turned to face her past.
The warrior saw her childhood, remembered the feelings of being different from the other children of the village and nearby villages. The only one accepting her Lycius, her beloved brother. Her mind forced her to relive their weapons practice, he was the only one that tolerated her desire to learn how to fight. Then the images of going into battle against Cortese, watching her brother fall to an arrow and then to Cortese's sword. The horrifying sight of her brother's body being dragged behind a horse, mutilating his body.
The only sign of the warrior's torment on the outside was a small whimper escaping her lips.
Her mind continued. Xena rallying the men and boys of the village to fight back and avenge their dead. Being bested by Cortese, being abused by him and his men and left for dead. With another whimper Xena watched her younger self swear revenge by her brother's blood and her own, her eyes flashing, bordering on insanity.
The older warrior wishing she could go back in time and tell the young girl not to accept the hand of the stranger appearing in front of her. The stranger that promised to help her in her revenge, to show her how to fight and conquer the world. Promised her power, enough power so that her violation would never happen again. The young girl had felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing up and sensed that this wasn't no ordinary mortal and took his hand.
Xena forced her mind to slow down. Always, since giving up the Warlord, her mind tried to travel quickly over the next ten years, blurring the images together. This time the warrior forced her memories to slow down. The battles still blended together but her brutality didn't. Those who stood in her way, those who had something the Warlord wanted, or those who simply annoyed her - Xena remembered them. Not their names and not many faces but she remembered the tortures, the deaths, the humiliation people suffered at her hands.
Xena could feel the heat of the day, smell the blood and gore, feel the tension on the battlefield. How many battlefields? The cries and screams of the warriors was deafening but the hardest was watching herself. The warrior was forced to watch as the Warlord took delight in the slaughter, in the power of her skills and sword. The maniacal grin and eyes as she took out opponent after opponent. A cleaved skull here, a warrior trying to hold his stomach in place after her sword had ripped it open, another grasping at his throat after her chakram had flown by. The older Xena felt the tears streaming down her face as she walked among the battlefields, seeing the wounded and dead. The warrior in her still knew that sometimes a battle couldn't be avoided but a lot of those on the field were simple farmers that had gotten in the Warlord's way. These weren't soldiers, they were victims. Her victims.
One by one the voices of the dead began to curse and berate her until it was an overwhelming roar in the warrior's ears, sending Xena to her knees, covering her ears in an useless gesture.
Xena closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, accepting that the voice were right. She let the pain wash over her and through her and the voices disappeared.
Xena then turned to the darkness in her mind and soul. The warrior wasn't surprised that her mind struggled against her and fought against the resistance. Xena felt a growl deep in her throat and struggled with herself.
Finally the images began coming, trying to rush over her. With more effort she slowed them down until some of the faces came into focus. Then the events took shape and Xena whimpered with shame.
The sight of Amazons impaled on tree limbs, broken bodies, broken limbs. Of Alti's power crazed face. Xena kept her breathing normal as Alti's voice whispered in her ear, seductive, powerful. Her lure of power was almost more alluring than Ares', the warrior reflected. The warrior's own inherited shamanic talents drew the evil sorceress like a wolf to a wounded lamb. The Amazons had paid for that power, they had become the lambs under Xena's hands and Alti's desires.
Xena let each face appear before her as her astral body shook and cried with regret and shame. She silently begged each for forgiveness as they faded from her sight.
The rush of the blood after a battle, after a slaughter, hit her like a force, knocking her astral body backwards. Sending the warrior to her knees shaking.
The faces of the women and men she herself had brutalized as Warlord, to satisfy her bloodlust after a battle. The barmaids, the female slaves, prostitutes - how many had felt her fist along their jaws and then inside their bodies? How many still carried the scars from her whip or dagger? She knew all of them carried the emotional and mental scars. How many had shed countless tears as they serviced the Warlord, tongues at her sex and shame on their faces at being forced?
Which was worse: the slaughter or the rapes? Xena howled as her guilt overwhelmed her. How could Gabrielle touch her if she ever knew this side of Xena?
Xena fought to maintain control and face the demons. When did she lose the will to live? The ex-Warlord could almost pinpoint when revenge and justice no longer mattered, when all that mattered was power. When did that power become empty? Is that why she brutalized her sexual mates? Was she trying to feel something, anything?
Is that when it all slipped away from her? No, she admitted to herself. It all slipped away when the young girl took the hand of the God of War and welcomed his training and promises.
How many died at her hands merely because she couldn't feel anything?
Xena felt the tears streaming down her face and released her body and mind, collapsing backwards. Her mind came back to her physical body with a shudder and a scream of grief.
The warrior pulled her fur cloak around her as she curled into a ball and let the tears flow, occasionally smacking the rocks with her fists or palms, trying to release the pain.
The sun was in the afternoon sky when Xena sat up and rubbed a handful of snow over her face. She felt exhausted but knew she wasn't finished. With a sigh, the warrior sat back up and concentrated on her breathing again. Her body screaming in protest as she pushed the physical aside and went back into her mind, drinking the deer's blood again.
The warrior forced her mind to bring up the memories of Cirra, of losing control over her army. Xena almost was grateful for the memories of the gauntlet her men had forced her to endure when they threw her out. It wasn't punishment enough for what she had done. The irony was that they were punishing her for not being brutal enough in those last days. Xena winced at the blows, almost physically remembering them as her younger-self struggled through the line of men intent on killing her.
Then the warrior was remembering how lost she had felt without her men, without the power. Trying to attack Hercules again only to be shown compassion. The older Xena felt a whimper of sympathy for her younger self, running around the countryside, totally lost with herself. No longer the Warlord, no longer with purpose and no longer empty. Instead a feeling of shame and guilt were beginning to gnaw at the warrior, causing more pain than the gauntlet had.
Why had she saved the baby from Cirra? What did she care anymore? The answer was in the question. If she had to ask the question then the answer was that she did care.
Xena remembered being so scared right then. Nothing made sense anymore, she couldn't be the Warlord and care about anything. Hercules wanted her to stay with him and work through it. Work through what, the young Warlord demanded.
The guilt had been like a heavy mantle on her shoulders and the warrior was determined to walk away from it. The older Xena now knew how foolish that idea had been. As if burying her weapons and walking away from the Warlord would have changed what Xena was - a warrior.
The very still body of the meditating warrior smiled slightly as the first memory of Gabrielle came into focus. The brave young woman trying to bargain to save the women of her village from slavers, even offering herself in exchange.
Xena forced these memories to go as slow as her painful memories had. To force herself to remember all the good things she had done. How many people had they actually helped along the way to this point? Not just the major events like Cecrops and defeating Bacchus, but just stopping some robbers on the road? Stopping wars and battles? Even saving Joxer's life a couple of times. That ought to make up for some of the bad stuff, Xena smiled to herself.
Not giving into Ares all those countless times. Always at the center of everything was Gabrielle. Even when the warrior had been forced to travel without her, always waiting for her had been Gabrielle.
Until Perdicus. Xena forced her mind to continue on, wanting to turn away from the painful memories but determined to face everything. Her jealousy over Gabrielle leaving and marrying the soldier. Her pain because Gabrielle had been willing to leave her and her own guilty pain for letting the bard go without telling Gabrielle how she felt.
Her own guilt for not protecting Perdicus from Callisto and the guilt for her relief when he was dead and Gabrielle came back to her. It only helped a little that she now knew that Gabrielle had also felt guilty about the relief the bard also felt over Perdicus' death.
Then the overwhelming joy when the two women had finally faced each other with the truth about their feelings. Xena couldn't describe how different her heart felt from the Warlord after she and Gabrielle finally kissed.
The warrior let these memories flow over her and the healing feeling they brought with them. Gabrielle's smile, her hair shining in the sun. The delight in watching the young teenager turn into a beautiful young woman. The joy in seeing those green eyes go from devotion to love to passion.
Then the mixed feelings and memories of their bonding. Of being accepted by the gods themselves, of being blood bonded, soul bonded for all eternity. The horror of Gabrielle's poisoning by the Romans and the intense suffering no one could have survived. Even now it was too painful to watch her beloved suffering under the poison. Gabrielle's body twisting and arching in unnatural positions as she screamed in agony. Xena brushed away the tears as her astral body rocked with the pain and the feeling of being helpless.
The time spent beginning to heal only to have Ares mess with their lives again, stealing Xena's memories of Gabrielle.
The warrior resisted letting her body squirm from those memories. Spending a lust filled night with him made the warrior very uncomfortable to remember but she persisted through the memory. Forcing herself to remember almost killing Gabrielle under Ares' influence, only the bard forcing her warrior to remember their blood bond saving both of them.
Xena had thought most of their troubles were over then. She mentally bit back on moving away from the next memories, bringing them to the surface.
Her joy and horror at discovering she was pregnant, with a child of Ares. Ack! That hadn't been easy to deal with. Again it was her bard that saved her, welcoming the child and reassuring the warrior of her love and acceptance. Her joy at Hercules and Iolaus stepping in to lend a hand in getting them out of Greece and Roman territory - away from Ares and Caesar.
Then the day the warrior thought would cause her heart to break, the crippling of her friend Iolaus and the disappearance of Gabrielle for almost two years.
The warrior was horrified to actually be able to see the scene this time, not having been there to help her friend and mate. Xena curled into a small ball as she watched Iolaus fall to the swords and fists of the rogue Romans and Gabrielle fall under her horse, trapped. Xena screamed with Gabrielle as the bandits began hitting and then raping her until she was unconscious.
Xena still marveled at the changes in her little bard when Gabrielle had finally returned to them, a full fledged gladiator and Roman citizen. How good the bard had become at fighting now but still somehow the gentle spirit was still under there.
The memories shifted to Sasha's birth, the joy in giving life to her daughter mixed with the bitter of Gabrielle not sharing that moment with her and of the death of her German friend Sasha for whom Xena's daughter was named.
Xena let the feelings of warmth for their adopted Germanic family wash over her in healing and the joy of Gabrielle's return and rediscovering of their love. The warrior let the recent memories flow a little faster, they were still very fresh in her mind. The crucifixion, her absolute terror as the bard died on the cross, then salvation.
Through it all was Gabrielle, always. Xena realized with a start that not even Solan came close to having that light in her life, maybe not even Sasha. This left Xena with a puzzle of how to feel. She knew she would die for Sasha and Solan, that she would take on the Gods, all of them for her daughter and son. The warrior also knew that Gabrielle would be right there with her without a question or hesitation. Xena also knew that she wouldn't even consider facing anything ever again without Gabrielle.
With total acceptance the warrior realized that she did trust someone unconditionally and loved someone unconditionally: Gabrielle. When did that happen, she wondered? She had always held back from giving over every bit of herself to someone. Hades, she didn't give much of anything to anyone before Gabrielle, she amended.
Somehow the small bard had gotten past those walls and now Xena had to accept the fact that she couldn't live without the bard. She did want to live - both for her children and her mate.
The darkness no longer reached out to claim her for her sins. If she could have a love like Gabrielle's in her life then the darkness couldn't control her any more. Xena admitted that she had friends, true friends and family now. Something the Warlord never could. Her mind went back to her body.
As Xena stretched her cold and stiff body she sighed heavily and smiled.
The Warlord was truly dead.
Xena wasn't surprised to see Cyrene and Hecate waiting for her when she returned to the cave just after dark but she was surprised to see Gabrielle there. The bard grinned and rushed into her lover's arms, holding Xena tightly. Xena raised her eyebrows in question over the bard's head at Hecate, who now looked more like an older Cyrene.
"You are blood bound together and you trust her unconditionally, she will be your anchor on your next journey."
Xena frowned and pulled back to look into Gabrielle's face. "If something goes wrong you could be pulled in with me."
"I know, Hecate explained that to me. Do you even need to ask?" Gabrielle smiled and Xena shook her head, drawing the bard back into her arms.
"No," Xena responded, kissing her mate gently. "What happens now?" she asked Hecate and her mother.
"You have done well, Xena. Now to reach the gift you must pierce the darkness I rule and grab it."
"Not just your usual wave of the hand blessing?" Xena grinned.
"No, these are serious, your own bard had to die for hers."
Gabrielle pulled out of Xena's arms. "What?" she demanded, turning to the goddess. "What are you talking about?"
"Hmmm, I see your father hasn't talked to you yet. You'll have to trust me, warrior bard, and wait till I'm done with your mate," Hecate said gently.
Xena spotted the clinching of Gabrielle's jaw and waited to see which would win out, her bard's stubbornness or her logic. The warrior knew how much Gabrielle hated mysteries, especially about herself. Finally, Gabrielle nodded acceptance but her eyes told everyone there they had better have explanations for her when they were done.
Cyrene and Hecate set up comfortable bedding for the two younger women to lay on and then Hecate drew several small vials and pouches of herbs out and began mixing them together with the blood from the deer. Gabrielle swallowed with a shudder as the goddess worked.
Cyrene sat next to her daughter as they chanted and began the meditations for crossing over.
"What's in the cup besides blood?" Gabrielle asked.
"Several hallucinogenic herbs and some poisonous ones. Xena will come close to dying permanently, only the strength of her spirit and love for you and her children will keep that from happening," Hecate answered simply.
Xena sat down on the bedding and smiled at her mate, trying to look reassuring. Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in a disbelieving gesture and grinned.
Cyrene sat on one side of the couple and Hecate knelt at the other. Cyrene, the priestess, pulled the dagger off the altar and Xena held her left hand out and her mother quickly cut a line across Xena's palm. Hecate quickly caught the blood in the cup with the other mixture. Then Gabrielle held out her hand and Cyrene repeated the motion and Gabrielle's blood mixed into the cup as well. Xena reached out and grasped her mate's hand, once again mingling their blood.
"Seems we do this a lot," Gabrielle smiled and Xena smiled back and then grew serious.
"You're my tie to this world, don't let go of me."
"Never," the bard answered strongly.
Xena reached and accepted the cup from Hecate. The warrior hesitated a moment.
"Love is always the answer, my daughter, even in the darkness." Hecate spoke calmly and Xena drained the cup.
Gabrielle resisted the panic that tried to grab her as Xena's eyes rolled back in her head and the warrior's body began to shake uncontrollably. The bard's eyes quickly sought Hecate's blue ones to find her seemingly unconcerned. Cyrene looked concerned but unmoving. Gabrielle tightened her grip as Xena's hand relaxed in hers.
Cyrene leaned forward and helped lay her daughter's body down on the bedding.
"Relax and close your eyes, Gabrielle. Lie next to her and let her feel your strength," Hecate ordered. The bard quickly shifted her body to lie next to her warrior and closed her eyes.
Gabrielle suddenly felt like her world was spinning, even with her eyes closed. She resisted thrashing out, determined to hang on to Xena's hand.
Gabrielle opened her eyes to find the sky a strange shade of blue and the trees were gray. The bard sat up and looked around slowly and saw Xena turning over and looking at her with astonishment.
"Gabrielle! What happened!?" the warrior demanded as she quickly scrambled next to the bard.
"I don't know I closed my eyes and I was here, wherever that is!"
"Relax, children. You will face this together," Hecate's voice whispered to them.
"No! I don't want her here!" Xena yelled at the air.
"Why?" Gabrielle demanded as they climbed to their feet.
"It's dangerous enough on the other side being connected to this realm, being here is ten times more dangerous. This place can get rough," Xena tried to explain.
"What's the matter, Xena, afraid of what she'll see?"
Gabrielle was stunned to see her mate's eyes go wide with a touch of .... of fear? The warrior spun on her heels quickly, drawing her sword in a swift motion. Gabrielle peeked around her mate to see who was speaking.
Standing with her legs in a wide stance about a 50 yards away was a woman in Northern Amazon Shaman garb, totally in black with a headpiece of leather, beads and bones. She was older than Xena but it was hard to determine her age, Gabrielle decided.
The bard felt a chill at the look on the woman's face and the madness in her eyes. Somehow this woman felt even more dangerous than Ares at his worst. Xena's reaction didn't reassure the bard.
The warrior let loose with one of her famous war cries and leaped into the air, somersaulting several times and landing right in front of the other woman, bringing her sword down on the seemingly unarmed figure in front of her.
Before the sword could strike the woman raised her hand and struck Xena in the chest. The bard was stunned when the light touch sent her mate flying backwards to land at her feet. Xena shook her head and regained her feet. Gabrielle drew out her sais in a defensively stance.
"Alti, what do you want?" Xena demanded.
The woman laughed and pointed her hand again and both warrior and bard found themselves at the base of some of the trees. Gabrielle groaned and shook her head, glancing over and saw Xena wincing as she stood up again.
"That's Alti?" Gabrielle asked as the woman called Alti laughed at them.
"Alti, a sorceress from the Northern Amazons. She's pure evil," Xena said grimly, eyes narrowing.
"Oh, Xena, I'm hurt. Surely you give me more credit than I deserve. After all, I think you've killed countless more people than I have," Alti protested with a smile.
With a wave of her hand the warrior went flying backwards again, landing hard, Xena's eyes flashed as she regained her feet.
Gabrielle joined her mate as they approached cautiously and then separated, each approaching slowly, weapons drawn.
"At least I never tried to destroy their souls except through you."
"Xena, maybe you're not giving yourself enough credit. Have you told your Amazon Queen what you did to the Amazons of the North?"
Gabrielle saw Xena stop dead in her tracks, her jaw tightening. Xena felt a growl coming from her chest and exploded into a scream of rage as Alti laughed at her reaction. Once again the warrior launched herself into the air. Gabrielle quickly released one of her sais, hoping to gain a hit while the sorceress was detracted by Xena.
Alti flicked her hand and sent the sais flying back towards its owner. Gabrielle yelped and ducked as it came within a hairs width of her head. Xena found herself facing Gabrielle with Alti's hand at her throat, her sword on the ground. Alti began squeezing and Xena's eyes went wide with the realization that she couldn't move her arms or legs in defense.
The bard screamed and rushed them, tackling both of them, freeing Xena from Alti's grip. With the quickness of her gladiator skills, the bard buried her sais deep into Alti's throat and stumbled backwards off the sorceress and almost over Xena as the sorceress laughed at her. Xena and Gabrielle regained their feet together as the shaman rose to her feet and removed the sais. She looked at the weapon with appreciation and then it melted like wax in her hand.
"Xena, I think we're in trouble," Gabrielle said softly.
"Uh huh," the warrior agreed.
Alti casually waved her hand in the air and Gabrielle went to her knees as if backhanded. The bard tasted blood on her lips. Xena moved to stand in front of the bard.
"Leave her alone, Alti. This is between you and me."
Another series of blows rocked the bard's body back and forth. Gabrielle swayed heavily on her knees until a heavy phantom blow sent her backwards, holding her left eye.
"Xena, why can't I play with your new little bitch? You used to share with me. Besides, didn't she share you with Ares?"
Xena felt her insides go cold with rage.
"That had nothing to do with me and Gabrielle!" Xena shouted.
"Don't you think it bothered her just a little bit for you to have wild and untamed sex with the God of War so soon after your wedding to her?"
Xena heard Gabrielle growl.
"Did you ever confront her with that one, bard?" Alti demanded.
"She wasn't herself," Gabrielle growled back.
"Don't tell me it doesn't drive you insane to think of her making love with him?"
Xena snarled but the shaman only laughed at her.
"Who do you think she prefers? A god or you? And a child she has to share with him, nothing to do with you?" the sorceress laughed.
"I love Sasha, go to Tartarus!" Gabrielle hissed.
"Tell her about the Amazons, Xena, or I'll show her." Alti threatened, changing tactics.
"When I was in the North I trained as a shaman under Alti. She was worse than Ares ever thought of being. She wanted the power to destroy a person's very soul and steal that energy. I was drawn into that power and I betrayed the Amazons. I killed them, very brutally." Xena growled.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, realizing now why Xena didn't want to visit the northern Amazons.
"It was very brutal," Alti agreed as Gabrielle got to her feet again. "She impaled a lot of them on tree limbs," Alti giggled.
"Oh gods," Gabrielle muttered and Xena struggled against the guilt tearing at her.
Alti flashed her hands again and the warrior fell back into Gabrielle's arms, her body assaulted from numerous unseen blows. The bard whimpered as Xena's head rocked back and blood began flowing from a vicious wound above the warrior's eye. Then her body jerked and the warrior grabbed her ribs in pain.
"How did those broken legs feel, Xena?" the warrior screamed in pain and grabbed at her legs.
"Or how about that gauntlet?" Alti laughed and Xena rolled over in Gabrielle's arms, blood flowing freely out of her mouth.
"Stop it!" Gabrielle shouted at the sorceress.
Alti merely laughed and shoved her hand forward, sending the bard falling backwards, choking on a bloody nose, a possible broken nose. Gabrielle sat up, her eyes blazing in fury.
"You're good with that magic stuff, how about a real fight?" the bard demanded.
"Ah, what fun would that be? Tell me, how did those spikes feel on that cross?"
Gabrielle screamed in pain again and grabbed at her wrists as blood began flowing. Then the bard found herself face down on the ground as her body struggled for air, the body remembering what it was like to suffer on the cross after being crucified.
Alti laughed again. "A physical fight, I don't think so. You see in this realm, the strongest mind wins, not the strongest body."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and she concentrated, looking at the blood flowing out of her wrists. Focusing everything on the wounds, unaware that she was sending herself into a self induced trance, her breathing steadied and the blood stopped, the wounds closing into the healing scars that had been before. Gabrielle crawled quickly back to Xena, who was shaking her head, trying to regain her senses.
"Come on, warrior! Think! You trained under her!" Gabrielle shouted, lifting Xena up into a sitting position. "We can't touch her, fight her on her level!"
"Oh, you are clever, bard. Xena, your taste in sexual toys is getting better. This is amusing, Xena could never beat me." Alti grinned.
Xena closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing again. She quickly opened her eyes and held up her chakram, catching Alti's next lightning bolt with it, sending it flying into the trees. Several more bolts followed the path of the first one. Xena grinned and stood up slowly with Gabrielle's help.
Alti smiled and lowered her hands. "Very good, Xena. Are you ready to face everything now? Including Gabrielle's price?"
"What are you talking about?" Gabrielle asked.
"Poor bard, no one's told you yet what your dark price is, have they?" Alti asked with a sneer.
"What is she talking about, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"With every light there must be darkness. Xena already has her darkness, it's the light she's attempting to reach."
Xena's eyes narrowed as Gabrielle stood beside her, both of them watching Alti, wondering what was next in this mixed up world.
"You two are bound by blood and soul now, to reach the light Xena not only had to face her darkness but she has to face you with it," Alti grinned.
"I faced my darkness," Xena said flatly.
"Yes, and you faced it very well but you haven't faced Gabrielle seeing it. Isn't that what you've always feared, Xena, that she would see the truth as to what you're really like?" Alti purred, moving a couple of steps closer but without overt threat.
Gabrielle stepped defiantly in front of Xena after seeing her lover begin to shake.
"I know what she was like. I know about the deaths and the slaughter and I know she's not like that now!" Gabrielle hissed.
"Yes, but do you know about the rapes?" Alti asked, her eyes dancing with delight.
"Rapes?" the bard frowned. "I know what soldiers are like, she couldn't control her men."
"I'm not talking about the men. You know about the battle lust now, bard, ask Xena how she dealt with that. Ask her if all those young women were willing. Ask her how many of them were screaming or crying when she forced herself on them."
Gabrielle felt like she had been hit with a maul. With a flash her body was remembering her own numerous rapes at the hands of the Roman soldiers, slavers and owners. The bard screamed and went to her knees as her body and mind protested the hands and fists and men thrusting themselves on her, forced by Alti to physically and mentally remember.
"You know what rape feels like, bard. You know what it's like to be powerless over your own body as someone else claims it, didn't you know that's what excited Xena the most?"
Alti clapped her hands and laughed with delight.
"Tell me, Xena, have you ever used your whip on her? Or the handle end of your sword or dagger?" Alti laughed at them. "Which one of your rapists put those scars on your back, bard? Xena or the Romans?"
Gabrielle flinched as an unseen whip lashed across her back, ripping her tunic, spreading blood down her back. She focused again, bringing her breathing back to normal. Then Alti's words sunk in about her beloved. Gabrielle turned to face her lover.
As she slowly turned to face her mate Xena went to her knees in defeat. The warrior's head dropped forward and her sword arm dropped as well.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered, seeing the truth in the shattered spirit in front of her.
"Haven't you ever told her how you like it when they scream in frustration and pain? How you loved forcing an unwilling victim to service you?" Alti purred softly.
Xena's body shook as if being caressed by an unseen lover and she screamed in protest.
The bard's eyes went hard as her jaw tightened.
"You bitch," her voice hissed and Xena's heart shattered.
Then the warrior realized that Gabrielle was spinning to face Alti. Which evil was she referring to, Xena wondered as her tears fell.
"I don't care, damn you!" Gabrielle shouted at the sorceress. "She's past that! That was your student, not my mate!" The bard spun and knelt in front of Xena, lifting the warrior's chin until blue eyes met green ones. "Do you hear me? I don't care about the past and I don't fear you. I don't fear your passion. I don't fear your battle lust. I do not fear you!" Gabrielle stressed each sentence, trying to verbally pound it into Xena.
Xena clung to her mate as Gabrielle pulled Xena to her feet and held her tightly.
"But what about your darkness, bard?" Alti purred again.
"What do you mean? Xena knows I've killed and that I had another lover and why."
"Xena might reach that light as long as you forgive her past and the potential of it returning again. She believes totally in your light, what will she think of your dark side?"
"What are you talking about? Quit dancing around it!" Gabrielle spun to face the shaman and felt comforting hands on her shoulders. She leaned back into her warrior, trying to calm her breath and heartbeat.
Alti seemed to have stopped shooting lightning bolts and throwing punches for awhile, and Gabrielle wondered if the sorceress was going to talk them to death.
"When Apollo pulled your spirit back into your body and lit that spark of life in you again on that cross, he had to accept that his gift of light had a balance of darkness that would eventually come to the surface."
"Apollo? The cross?" Gabrielle whispered, suddenly feeling lightheaded as she glanced down at the healing wounds of her wrists. "I died?" the bard glanced back and Xena nodded.
"Hecate told me today."
"Then what in Tartarus is this darkness business?" the bard demanded.
"She didn't tell me," Xena's face was pained.
Gabrielle reluctantly turned back to Alti, her eyes on fire.
"All right, you're dying to tell us. What?!"
"Did you ever wonder why all those village girls you saved from Bacchus had no memory of being bacchae but Gabrielle did?" Alti questioned, bringing a frown to both women.
"What?" Xena asked and the two women found themselves looking in on the scene of the Bacchae cave, like phantom spectators. The bacchae danced around the fountain of the blood of Bacchus, Gabrielle included. The bard felt her breath quicken.
"How did it feel to pierce Xena's neck with your fangs?"
Xena felt her bard shiver. Gabrielle moaned as they watched the bacchae Gabrielle sink her fangs into Xena's throat, holding the warrior close as she drank in the blood.
"To feel her warm blood flowing past your fangs? To feel her fear and desire in the blood, in her body. To realize that she wanted you right then and you terrified her at the same time? Do you hear her blood calling to you now? Can you feel your fangs aching to show themselves?"
A moan escaped from the bard and this time it was Gabrielle that sank to her knees, her hands and arms falling to her sides.
"No!" she whispered.
Xena knelt behind her mate and wrapped her arms protectively around the bard as Gabrielle began trembling violently. Alti laughed in delight.
"Yes, you weren't totally successful in saving your little bitch, Xena. She tasted some of Bacchus' blood on her tongue that night before you knocked the chalice away from her and then she tasted human blood - your blood."
Alti laughed and Gabrielle wailed, falling into Xena's arms.
"She could feel your terror, Xena, and it excited her! How she licked her fangs after letting you go."
"No!" the bard screamed in denial but they could both see the delight the bacchae Gabrielle took in drinking Xena's blood and the desire on Xena's face.
Xena growled at Alti.
"Gabrielle, listen to me! Gabrielle!" Xena held the bard tightly as Gabrielle fought against the overwhelming darkness surrounding her spirit.
"This doesn't change anything! It changes nothing between us!" Xena tried getting through and finally she felt the bard's muscles relaxing a bit and she kept repeating it until Gabrielle finally looked her deep in the eyes. The warrior fought to open her heart totally, knowing that the bard could see into her soul right then.
"Doesn't it, Xena? Are you sure?" Alti purred, moving around them and whispering in their ears. "Which will you feel when she begins to make love to you, fear or passion at the thought that maybe her darkness will surface and she'll take your blood again, maybe killing you? Aren't you afraid that darkness will spark yours again?"
Gabrielle shuddered again and struggled to break free from Xena's arms but the warrior held her tight, refusing to let Gabrielle fall to the darkness.
"No, I'm not afraid of her," Xena answered.
"Can either of you be open with each other after this? Both of you afraid of the other's darkness coming over you in the heat of passion? You've never seen Xena whip the skin from a woman's back and then shove her hand into that same woman, have you, bard? And you, Xena, does the thought of her fangs excite you? That she may seek others out for their blood? That Bacchus can now sing to her?"
Gabrielle sought her lover's eyes again, the fear shining in her eyes brightly.
"No, I'm not afraid. We'll face it together, we'll face the darkness in both of us. You've lost, Alti. The light will always win out over the darkness. I accept the darkness in me and I accept the darkness in Gabrielle."
Gabrielle buried her head in her warrior's chest, sobbing in relief. After a few minutes she pulled up and wiped her eyes with a rueful grin for her lover. She looked up at the pacing Alti. The sorceress was no longer smiling.
"We'll deal with it. I trust her with my life and my soul," Gabrielle said simply.
With a scream Alti was gone.
Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes and grabbed the warrior behind the head and pulled her into a passionate kiss. Xena moaned and responded freely.
They fell backwards with an electric shock, both realizing at the same moment that they truly didn't feel any fear with each other, even with the dark revelations.
Gabrielle laughed and Xena grinned, leaning back on her elbows as she contemplated her mate.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed at the mischief in Xena's eyes. "What?"
"Just remembering what you looked like with fangs," Xena said with a smile and then a laugh as the bard tackled her, first tickling and then kissing her. The bard finally broke off the kiss, gasping for air as she laid her head on Xena's chest. The warrior held her tightly.
"Time to go back, little one." Xena said with a smile.
"This is the first time I've felt totally complete with you since the Romans. It feels like something's fallen into place," Gabrielle whispered and was relieved when Xena nodded.
"I know. I was always so terrified of showing you that side of myself. I know that's not me; but it was." Xena hugged her mate.
"It's part of you, part of your history. We can't change the past, my love."
"Just like we can't predict the future. I love you, little one."
"I love you, warrior mine."
Xena wasn't surprised to find her body aching when she opened her eyes. She sat up quickly, looking towards Gabrielle and found her mother and Hecate sitting with them. Xena sighed in relief as the bard started opening her eyes, moaning with the physical assault from Alti that carried over into their physical bodies.
"Easy, Xena." Cyrene said softly, urging her daughter to lie back down as she applied a wet cloth to Xena's cut forehead. Xena caught Gabrielle's eyes as Hecate wiped the blood from the bard's nose and mouth. The bard attempted a smile and they reached out for each other's hands at the same time.
Hecate smiled at both of them.
"You have both done well. Spend the day here, resting and being with each other. Cyrene and I will pay Ares a visit."
"What are you going to do?" Xena asked.
"Threaten parts of his anatomy that he's rather fond of," the older woman laughed. "He knows I can do it too. Once he realizes that you're both on somewhat equal footing with him, he'll listen to reason."
Xena could tell her mom had been worried and now looked tired and relieved. Having seen shamanic journeys before, Xena could imagine how much pain her mother must have been in when her daughter and Gabrielle's bodies starting showing the physical effects of Alti's spiritual attack. Sudden cuts, bruises, broken bones, enough to terrify any mother, even a priestess of Hecate, the warrior thought and loved her mom even more for her strength.
Hecate stood and Cyrene joined her. Xena sat up on her elbows and noticed that the altar items had been packed away and there was a fire near the entrance of the cave. The smell of fresh meat cooking made her stomach rumble, reminding her that it had been over a day since she had eaten. Both mothers smiled.
"Food, water, comfortable bedding. Rest, both of you." Hecate ordered and Xena and Gabrielle blinked, realizing that both older women were gone.
"Wow, I'll never get used to that," Gabrielle complained with a smile. With a groan of protest she slowly crawled across the small space and curled inside Xena's arm, resting her head on the warrior's shoulder with a comfortable sigh.
Xena smiled, enjoying the familiar feeling.
"So what do you know about the gift thing from Apollo?" Gabrielle asked after a few quiet minutes.
"Hecate told me that you won't get sick again,"
"That's a relief!"
Xena grinned. "That you'll heal from wounds faster and that you'll be hard to kill."
"Hmmmm, what about you?"
"The same, I think. That we're practically even with Ares except for the shooting energy bolts and transport thing."
"Kinda like Hercules," Gabrielle said thoughtfully.
Gabrielle grinned as her stomach rumbled and got up slowly and went to the fire to finish the meal. Xena walked up behind her and wrapped her arms around her mate as she knelt down. The warrior began nuzzling the blonde's neck with a growl.
"You'll make me burn this!" Gabrielle threatened.
"Hmmm, food, then you." Xena relented, lightly nibbling on Gabrielle's ear, sending a shiver of desire through the bard's body.
"Oh gods," the bard whispered. "Oh yeah, food, okay." She quickly dished out the meat and vegetables and then giggled as Xena began feeding bits of the food to her. "You are such a romantic! Has anyone ever seen this side of you?"
"Nope, no one."
"Good, I like that." Gabrielle's voice was husky and Xena felt the familiar fire spreading over her body when she saw the desire in Gabrielle's eyes.
The rest of the meal went quickly and Xena gathered her mate into her arms as they relaxed by the fire, letting their bodies heal their various wounds. Xena figured they'd be bruised and cut for the next few days but already their broken bones were healing quickly.
"Gods, Xena. I don't remember when I've felt this relaxed." Gabrielle commented, lightly nibbling on her warrior's hand as Xena's other arm wrapped around her waist. She leaned back into Xena and smiled as the warrior nuzzled her neck.
"I agree. We've been on the move and under stress for over two years; ever since the wedding." Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her mate's and snuggled into her warrior.
"Even with the cuts and bruises," Gabrielle added with a smile around the split lip.
Xena chuckled in agreement, trying not to rattle the loose teeth in her jaw. "Rest for awhile, little one," the warrior was pleased when she felt Gabrielle's body relax even further in her arms. Xena leaned back and let her eyes close as well, content to hold her mate forever.
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