G: "It's over-- or is it? Xena? Do you ever? Do you get the
feeling that sometimes-- nothing is really over? You know, it
just-- keeps coming back around, but it's-- it's wearing a
different face. It's-- it's the same underneath. Do you know
what I mean?"
X: "Sure. I was trapped in a cycle of violence and hatred. And
no matter how I tried to break free, something always pulled me
back-- until you."
G: "Xena-- "
X: "No, it's true. You talk about trying to find your way, but
to me, you are my way."
G: "How can I be your way, when I-- I'm lost, myself?"
X: "I'm searching for answers, too. But how we look for them
doesn't matter-- as long as we look for them together-- you and
The two women sat there for a while longer, lost in their own thoughts, before Gabrielle sighed heavily. "Xena, what will we do with them? The bodies?"
Xena stood and touched her friend's shoulder, "I'll take care of it, Gabrielle. Why don't you wait for me inside?"
"No, Xena. I have to know. I have to help." Gabrielle gripped Xena's hand between her own, "Please, Xena. It'll never be over for me if I don't see this to the end."
Xena looked down at her friend and saw the pleading in her eyes. She knew Gabrielle was right. She would never have closure and her wounded heart would never heal if she didn't know for a certainty that Hope and her evil creation were gone for good. With a sigh, she nodded and together they went back into the barn.
The inside of the barn was dark and it took a moment for their eyes to adjust, but when they did Gabrielle gasped.
"No! Oh gods, Xena, NO!" Gabrielle whispered softly, stunned.
The bodies were gone. Only a small pool of dark blood remained where Hope and the monster had fallen.
A slow moan escaped from Gabrielle's lips, "Noooooo!" Her face scrunched up as tears filled her eyes. "They're alive, Xena! How can they still be alive?" A sob burst from her, and Xena held her close as Gabrielle bent over double. Covering her mouth with her hands, Gabrielle tried to stop her moans from becoming screams.
"I'll find them, Gabrielle!" Xena's eyes narrowed as she cradled her friend in her arms.
Gabrielle shook with sobs, "And do what? You can't kill them!" She pushed away from Xena, her face red and wet, her body trembling. "She won't die, Xena! She just keeps coming back over and over. Killing and killing! She hates me for abandoning her and she won't stop until I'm dead!"
Xena grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, "Stop it, Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle's eyes glittered, unfocused, her voice became a whisper, "It never stops, Xena. She never stops. Not until I'm dead."
Xena frowned at the intensity in Gabrielle's eyes and worried about her sanity. Gabrielle looked back at the pool of blood on the floor and suddenly pitched forward against Xena in a faint.
Hefting Gabrielle into her arms, Xena carried her to the house. Kicking the door open, she stepped inside and walked swiftly through the house to the back room and laid her gently on the bed. Joxer, Lillah, and her parents crowded the doorway, shock and worry on their faces.
Joxer gulped audibly, "Is she...?"
Xena shook her head, "She's fine, Joxer. She just fainted. We went back in the barn and found Hope and the monster gone."
Lillah gasped, "Oh gods, they're still alive?" Hecuba wrapped her arms around her daughter and held her close, her eyes full of fear. Her eyes asked Xena the same question.
Xena nodded, "I think so." She sighed and looked down at Gabrielle's relaxed face. "I have to find them." She brushed the hair from her friend's forehead and turned toward the door.
The others parted and let her pass, but before she reached the front door, Herodotus' voice stopped her. "Don't worry about Gabrielle, Xena. Her family won't bring her any trouble."
Xena bristled at his snide tone, but nodded curtly at him and left the house.
Joxer ran out of the house behind her, grabbing her elbow, "Xena, wait! Let me help you."
Xena removed his hand from her elbow deliberately and shook her head, "No, Joxer!" When she saw he was going to protest, she gripped his shoulder, "Listen to me! I need you to stay here with them. With Gabrielle." She gave him a pointed look, "I'm counting on you, Joxer."
His eyes widened at the trust she was placing in him and nodded. Xena took his arm in a warrior's grip and quickly walked away.
Weak and bloody, Hope crawled through the forest on her hands and knees, dragging the heavy corpse of her son behind her. She gasped each breath, the blood oozing from her pierced heart burned like acid down her back and chest. Each movement forward filled her body with an excruciating pain. Each pain filled her with an ever growing fury.
Mother had tried to kill her once again. She was getting better at it, too. When the steely spike from her son's arm had plunged into her heart, she was certain that her mother had finally succeeded. Her world had turned dark and a coldness gripped her, chilling her to the bone. She had no sense of how long she floated in oblivion before her vision cleared and she found herself alone in the barn with her son's lifeless body beside her.
She had felt her strength fading, though, and knew she had to do something quickly or she'd be truly dead. A strange heat had filled her head and she instinctively knew it was her father, Dahok. The heat compelled her to grab the Destroyer's hand and drag him with her out of the barn and through the forest. Dahok was guiding her to the small cave where she'd first hidden her son, giving her the strength to get them there.
But each lurch forward sapped more and more of her fading strength. At the mouth of the cave, she collapsed, her breathing raspy and ragged. The heat seared in her brain, making her growl and push herself forward. Over and over Dahok's fire burned in her head until she was in the middle of the dim cave.
Pulling her body up to her knees, Hope clutched her head and roared, the sound echoing darkly.
When she spoke, her voice was rough and gravelly, "Father... make me strong again... so I may destroy those who... defy your will..." She glanced at the corpse beside her, "...and try to delay your entrance into this world!"
Heat flared into her mind again, but with it Hope heard Dahok's voice. She was given instructions and at once the fire was gone, leaving her mind and body cold. Breathing heavily, she sank to her knees next to the Destroyer. She looked at her son for a moment, then gritting her teeth, used her bare hands to claw at his chest. She ripped at the tough skin with her nails, peeling it back, her hands turning black with blood. Grabbing the exposed ribs above his heart, she broke them with a loud crunch and plunged her right hand inside to pull the organ out.
Taking a deep breath, she sank her teeth into the cold muscle. Black blood smeared across her nose and cheeks as she chewed.
Suddenly the blood on her face and hands dissolved into her skin. Hope sucked in a hard breath and dropped the heart, staggering to her feet as fire burned through her. Her body began to convulse, an orange glow surrounding her as she was made whole again. Wounds healed themselves, her skin became warm and healthy, her eyes flashed with fury and her lips curled into a cruel smile.
Gabrielle came to with a gasp, her eyes wide and unfocused.
"Shhh, it's all right, Gabrielle," Lillah's gentle voice calmed her. Her sister's soft hand smoothed across her brow, reassuring and familiar. Gabrielle took a deep breath and focused her eyes. Lillah and Joxer both sat beside the bed, identical looks of concern on their faces.
Sitting up slowly, Gabrielle rubbed her temples, her thoughts a confusing jumble, "What happened?"
Lillah placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it, "You fainted, but you'll be fine.
Joxer nodded, "You just need to rest some more."
Gabrielle frowned. Why would she faint? She thought back... Xena...she and Xena had gone into the barn... She looked around the room, then craned her neck to see past the doorway into the living room beyond. "Where's Xena?"
Lillah and Joxer shared a worried look, but didn't answer. Why would they be worried? She closed her eyes and tried to think back... the barn... Hope and the Destroyer lying dead on the floor... No, wait. That was wrong. The barn had been empty! They were gone! Everything came back to her in a dizzying rush. Her heart began to pound as she looked back and forth between her sister and her friend. Oh gods...
She shrugged off Lillah's hand and grabbed Joxer by the front of his shirt, jerking him close to her. "Where's Xena?" she demanded, her voice rising.
Joxer grasped her hands, startled. "Please, Gabrielle, calm down! Xena..." he hesitated, glancing at Lillah, "uh, she went... she'll be back, okay? She'll be right back."
Gabrielle's grip tightened and her eyes widened in fear. "No..." she whispered. "She went alone, didn't she?" She watched Joxer gulp and shook him hard, her voice angry, "Didn't she?"
Joxer couldn't speak, his mouth opening and closing like a fish. Lillah grabbed her sister's hands, trying to pry them off. "Gabrielle, please ---"
Pushing Joxer away roughly, Gabrielle scrambled off the bed. "I have to stop her!"
Lillah stepped in front of her and grabbed her by the shoulders, "No! Gabrielle, you can't ---"
Gabrielle turned on her sister with fierce eyes, "Hope will KILL Xena! LET ME GO!" She pushed past her and made it almost to the door when she was stopped and turned around by surprisingly strong hands. Joxer gripped her arms and scowled down at her, "I'm not going let you go and get yourself killed, too!"
His grip was amazingly strong against her struggles. Desperate to get to Xena, she gave a hard stomp to his foot and a quick punch to his face. As he fell in a heap, she ran out the door.
Xena quickly found and followed the trail of dark blood to the cave. Tightening her grip on her sword, her acute senses were tuned into everything around her, knowing her eyes would need time adjust to the dimness inside. Taking slow cautious steps into the cave, her nerves tingled as light seeped into the interior of the room.
To her disbelief and great annoyance, Hope stood at the far end, very much alive. Spying the bloody remains of the Destroyer, Xena quickly deduced how Hope had gotten her strength back.
Dahok's daughter could have been made of stone, the way she stood so still and quiet, but Xena was not fooled. She could feel the menacing anger radiating from her like cold waves over her skin. You want angry, you murdering bitch? Xena thought, her eyes narrowing dangerously. I'll give you some angry!
In a lighting move, her chakram was screaming through the air toward Hope. Two inches away from her forehead it stopped and hung spinning in midair. With a flash of her eyes, Hope sent it speeding back twice as fast. Xena hit the floor seconds before it would have sliced through her skull. The weapon hit the wall behind her with a force that embedded it into a crack in the stone.
Before Xena could even get to her feet, her body was lifted into the air and slammed against the rough stone above her, knocking the breath from her chest, then dropped back to the ground. Sucking air into her lungs, Xena gritted her teeth against the pain in her back and stood.
Still gripping her sword, she took several steps toward Hope before a force held her back. Xena considered that, "Must have more mortal blood in you than I thought to be afraid of my sword." Her smile was cold as she pointed the blade. "I'll be happy to relieve you of every...single...drop."
Hope glowered at the Warrior Princess, then jerked her head to the side sending Xena flying through the air to the right and slamming her into the rocky wall. Xena gasped as she felt her shoulder dislocate against the jutting stone. Her sword fell from her numb fingers and clattered to the ground. Numbness traveled up her arm as she was dropped to the ground again. Taking a deep breath she grabbed her arm and slammed it painfully against the wall again to set the joint back together. Grimacing, she bent it tightly against her chest.
"Is that all you got?" Xena bellowed, then clenched her teeth against the burning pain. "Your skills are pretty limited when you don't have a room full of weapons to throw around."
Hope's eyes narrowed as she took a step forward. Xena's body was suddenly flung toward the back wall. Xena arched her back and bent her knees as she crashed against the rock. The position put her spine a few inches from the sharp edge of her chakram in the wall. Hope's power held her there, pressing heavily on her. Xena used her good left arm to push against the wall. It gave her only a couple more inches. Hope's lips curled up as she took slow steps toward the struggling warrior.
With each step the force grew stronger, pushing harder and harder at Xena's body. Her back moved an inch closer to the chakram. The muscles in her arm began to twitch and tremble. Xena grunted and pushed her straining legs even harder against the rock.
Hope raised a hand and lifted Xena's sword from the floor. It zinged through the air and then paused with its point barely touching the skin of her throat.
The scream startled them both. Hope's concentration broke as Gabrielle rushed into the cave. Xena fell to the floor, her sword clanging beside her.
"Stop it, Hope! Just STOP IT!" Gabrielle screamed at her daughter, tears streaking her face. Hope was surprised enough to step back from the anguish in her mother's voice.
Gabrielle stepped in front of Xena, her hands clenched into fist. "How can you do this?" she screamed, her tears almost blinding her. "How can you be so evil? Isn't there ANY part of me inside of you?"
"That part died when you abandoned me, Mother."
Gabrielle could take no more. "Stop it! Just STOP! I will not be tortured about that ANYMORE!" Despair and hurt and rage burned in her heart as she advanced on Hope. "Xena was going to kill you! Do you understand? KILL you! I loved you with all my heart, but I had to protect you from her. It was the only way!"
Her voice lowered and her body trembled as she remembered that terrible time. "I wanted to keep you with me more than anything! I wanted so much to raise you and be your mother, but I knew Xena would never stop until you were dead! All she could see was the evil way you were created and presumed that's all there was to you. All I could see was this beautiful baby in my arms--" Tears choked her throat as her eyes pleaded for understanding. "MY baby! I HAD to send you away! And you want to kill me and everyone I love for SAVING you?"
Gabrielle surprisingly wound up almost nose to nose with her scowling daughter.
The words rang inside Hope's head, tearing at her. A part of her clung to the admission of love from her mother. Another part of her recoiled from it in disgust. Lashing out, she snarled, "Save me, Mother? You tried to kill me. Twice!"
"You killed Xena's son!" Gabrielle bellowed in exasperation. "You slaughtered so many innocent people! I had to stop you! Can't you understand that?"
They glared hard at each other in tense silence. Xena stood against the wall, sword in hand, watching Hope with sharp eyes, waiting for one wrong move. The chakram she wrenched from the wall hung at her side.
Hope stared at Gabrielle, saw the sincerity in her eyes, heard the truth in her mother's words. Her heart churned with hate and revulsion...then fury and pain...she felt the fire of Dahok's blood burning, fighting, raging against the cool thread of her mortal blood. Her father's fire seared beneath her skin, pulling at her, clawing at her, fighting to erase her humanity.
Her mother's eyes held hers, identical yet so different from her own. For a brief moment, the battle of bloods ceased as the pull of those eyes absorbed her senses. Sounds hushed from her ears, her breath held, she felt nothing but the pull of those eyes on hers, saw only the mirroring green. In that eternal moment she saw through them, felt what her mother had felt so long ago, what she felt now. The alien emotions pulsed through her, strong and painful and confusing. She tore her gaze away as the moment faded and another emotion curled around the pain...understanding.
She nodded slowly, "You loved me." She stiffened as Dahok's fury thundered in her ears, scorching her mind, but there was no denying the fact. There was also no denying the will of her father.
Gabrielle, unaware of what her daughter had experienced, felt amazed and confused by the sudden change, but could feel it was genuine.
Xena was suspicious and totally unconvinced. She moved to stand by Gabrielle, holding her sword in her left hand. Hope glanced at Xena and shook her head. "I no longer desire your death." Stepping away from them, she turned to leave the cave.
Xena quickly stepped forward and pressed the bladepoint to her back. "You're crazy if you think you're going anywhere!"
Hope turned, her face expressionless. "I will not harm my mother. Killing you would kill her. I have other things to do."
Gabrielle frowned, "What things?"
"Dahok WILL enter the world. I must prepare the way."
Gabrielle shook her head and reached out her hands, wanting to touch her, but hesitated at the strange look in her eyes. "Hope.... NO! Hope, Dahok is pure evil! You CAN'T let that happen!"
Hope shrugged, her voice a low monotone. "It's the reason I was born, Mother. It is my destiny. You cannot stop the will of Dahok."
Gabrielle stared at her disbelieving, but shivered when she saw an emptiness in Hope's eyes that chilled her heart. "No..." her whisper full of sorrow.
Hope turned to leave again and Xena roared, lunging at her.
"No!" Gabrielle screamed, grabbing the back of Xena's armor, pulling her back. Xena turned on her in shock. Hope even paused at the entrance of the cave in surprise.
"Let me talk to her," Gabrielle pleaded.
Xena shook her head, "Talking isn't going to stop her, Gabrielle. Nothing will."
Gabrielle suddenly grabbed Xena in a hug and held her tightly for a long while, whispering, "Trust me, Xena. Please?"
Xena pulled back and raised and eyebrow, but reluctantly stepped away. Gabrielle held her hands to her sides as she stepped over to her daughter. Hope stood still as stone, no speck of emotion in her eyes. Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Hope, please listen to me. I loved you. Even though I was--" she winced, "violated by Dahok, forced to give birth to his child, I loved you. I held you in my arms and my heart was just filled with it. Gods, even after all the horrible things you've done and all the pain you've caused, a part of me still loves you and aches to be your mother."
Her left hand came up and touched Hope's face. Her heart clenched at the longing she still felt for her child. Leaning close, she wrapped her arm around Hope's shoulders, pressed her cheek against her daughter's in an embrace. "If there's even a tiny bit of me inside of you, some small part untouched by that evil, please listen to me. Don't do this."
Hope stood stiff and unmoving. Her mind still burned with Dahok's angry fire, there was no mortal feeling left in her. Just an acceptance of a past she finally understood and a destiny that awaited the daughter of Dahok. Her voice sounded dead and empty as she spoke, "I have no choice."
Gabrielle sighed and squeezed her daughter tighter, her voice choking as tears dripped from her eyes, "Neither do I."
Her right hand lifted from her side, holding the small dagger she had lifted from Xena's armor when she'd hugged her, and stabbed Hope in the side through the heart.
Hope gasped and staggered back, her eyes wide.
"Gabrielle, down!" Xena yelled and let fly her chakram as Gabrielle ducked. Hope's head slid clean off her shoulders and fell on the ground with a sickening thud. The body crumpled like a rag doll.
Gabrielle screamed, great sobs tearing from her throat as Xena held her, turning her away from the gruesome sight. Gabrielle squeezed her eyes tight, burying her face against Xena's chest, trying desperately to erase the image from her mind. When Xena tried to pull her toward the cave entrance, she shook her head, "Xena, we can't just leave. We-we have do something with...with them." She trembled uncontrollably. "We can't take the chance of her coming back again."
Xena's heart ached at the torment in her eyes, but nodded in agreement. "I'll take care of it. Go back and wait for me."
"Xena... I wanted to help...before," she looked down, shaking her head, "but, I-I don't think...I can't! I just can't!" She felt Xena's arms squeeze her tighter and whisper softly that it was all right, everything would be all right. Taking several deep breaths, Gabrielle looked up at her friend, almost afraid to ask."What will you do?"
Xena shook her head, "It's better you don't know, but I'm gonna need a couple large bags."
Gabrielle gulped hard, but nodded. Stepping away, she glanced at Hope's body and shut her eyes tight. Holding a hand to her mouth, she ran from the cave. Falling to her knees in the grass, she vomited until dry heaves racked her. After many long moments, she got slowly to her feet and staggered back to the house.
Xena look at the bloody bodies on the floor and shuddered. Taking a deep breath, she set to work reducing them to an even bloodier pile of pieces. Her arm was throbbing painfully, but she ignored it. Hearing familiar footsteps shuffling outside the cave then away again, she peeked out and found two large burlap bags. She quickly stuffed the body parts inside and dragged the bags to a small clearing in the forest. Without the flint rocks from her saddlebags, it took a while to start a fire, but once she had one she build it up into a raging bonfire. Tossing the bloody bags into it, she stood there and watched them burn until nothing but black smoke and ash remained of the burning pile.
Silently, Xena turned away. Though a small weight lifted from her chest, knowing that her dear son's murder had been avenged, her heart ached for the pain Gabrielle was going through. The words she spoke before echoed in her ears. The depth of Gabrielle's love never ceased to amaze her, but the love a mother had for her child was something she understood all too well. She had always believed Hope was evil and had to be destroyed, unwilling to see her as anything else. Much of the pain Gabrielle felt, had been feeling and hiding for so long, was her fault. And now... having to kill Hope again... She shook her head and walked back to the house, a heaviness settling around her own heart.
Stopping at the well by the barn, Xena quickly washed away the evidence of her grisly chore before slipping in through the backdoor. The sight that greeted her made her grin in wry amusement. Joxer sat at the table, one foot wrapped tightly and propped up on a chair. A wicked purple bruise blossomed around his right eye, which was now being tended very gently by a crooning Lillah. She dabbed at it carefully with cool water laced with healing herbs, clicking her tongue in sympathy when Joxer winced. The shy looks they gave each other made the warrior roll her eyes. Joxer enjoyed her tender care as much as Lillah enjoyed giving it.
Xena cleared her throat softly and they whirled toward her like two children caught sneaking a sweet before dinner. Lillah recovered first. "Xena! What happened? Are you okay?" Her brow creased in worry.
Hearing her daughter's words, Hecuba rushed into the kitchen. "Oh, Xena! Thank the gods you're all right!" She grasped the warrior by her arms, "Gabrielle was shaking so badly--"
Xena grasped the woman's elbows urgently, "How is she?"
"Resting. I had to give her a mild sleeping draught to calm her down." She searched Xena's eyes for answers, "What happened?"
Xena told them briefly of the events in the cave, leaving out the gruesome details. Three pairs of sad eyes met hers when she finished.
"My poor girl," Hecuba whispered, shaking her head.
"None of this would've happened if Gabrielle had stayed at home where she belongs!" Herodotus grumbled in the doorway. His dark, accusing eyes glared at Xena.
Xena stared silently at the wall on the far side of the room, gritting her teeth. She could only agree with him, for she'd had the same thought many times since meeting Gabrielle.
Hecuba let go of Xena and turned angrily toward him. She stood several inches shorter than her husband, but with her ire raised she was a formidable sight. "That's enough! This woman has saved our daughter's life today. All our lives!" Herodotus scowled down at his wife, but she stood toe to toe with him, gesturing wildly with each word. "For that, she will always be welcomed in this house by me. I can't say the same for you, husband, if you continue with your insults!"
The air was thick with tension, as Herodotus glared down at his little wife. With tight lips, he mouthed an oath and stepped around her, stomping out of the house. Taking a deep breath, Hecuba turned and smiled weakly at Xena. "He'll come around." At Xena's raised eyebrow, she gave a breathy laugh. "One of these days." She went to a small chest against the wall and pulled out an extra blanket. "Here, you go get some rest."
Accepting it, Xena smiled her thanks and slipped quietly into the back room. Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open when she felt the bed dip down where Xena sat on the edge. Unable to say the words, she asked with her eyes.
Xena pushed a stray blonde lock from her forehead. "It's over. It's all over."
"How can you be sure?" Gabrielle whispered softly.
Xena took a deep breath and reached down to squeeze her hand, "I'm sure. There's no way either of them are coming back."
Gabrielle looked away from Xena, staring quietly at the night sky beyond the small window in the wall, "I wish I could believe that."
Xena leaned over and turned her face back toward hers with a gentle touch. "You have to, Gabrielle. You can't let her haunt you like this."
Gabrielle just sighed, her eyes sad and misty, "Maybe I have no choice."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle placed her fingers against Xena's lips, hushing her, "Just hold me, Xena. Please?"
Sliding under the blankets, Xena gathered her best friend in her arms and held her tight.
friendship index | xena
homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com