A velvety blackness had descended with the setting of the sun, the only light coming from the campfire. The silence that filled the space around the campsite only seemed to add to the darkness. The usual task of preparing for the night having been completed there was nothing to do. Nothing but sit and stare into the flames waiting for a sign, any sign that the inner turmoil that raged within her companion was something she could help with. Xena didn't like feeling like this, she was used to being in control of things. She was used to being in control of any and every situation. This was something that was beyond her control and she didn't know what to do about it.
When Gabrielle had been delirious and spoke to her, thinking she was Hope, Xena understood. She understood for maybe the first time the pain and anguish the Bard had felt at the loss of her daughter. She had finally admitted it to herself. Hope was Gabrielle's daughter; even with her evil father's influence she still was half of her soulmate. She couldn't help but wonder if Gabrielle had been right, if Hope had been given the chance, would she have beat her dark side? Xena had never really appreciated the feelings Gabrielle had been forced to deal with until she was faced with nearly the same dilemma with her own daughter. Eve having turned into the monster Livia, and Xena not being able to kill her. Eve had changed, would Hope have done the same? They would never know, or that's what Xena had thought. Now they had the chance to find out.
When Eve had first told them about this Xena felt the old anger and
resentment rise. To her Hope represented nothing but pain. The loss of
Gabrielle's blood innocence, the pain of the rift it had caused between them with the despair Xena had felt at her son, Solan's death. Xena had wanted nothing more than to tell her daughter to forget about it, not to even say anything to the Bard. But she realized she didn't have that right. This was a choice Gabrielle had to make and Xena had sworn that no matter what her partner had decided to do she was going to give her the full love and support she deserved. After everything she had stuck with the warrior through she could do nothing less.
Suppressing the urge to reach out and draw the young woman into her arms Xena moved a little closer, hoping to show Gabrielle that she was there for her without crowding her. Finally when she thought she could take the quite no longer Gabrielle spoke in hushed tones. "You haven't said one word to me since Eve told us about this. What do you think?"
Xena felt the tightness in her chest, every fiber of her being wanted to scream 'leave well enough alone' 'Don't drag all this pain out again.' But in her heart she already knew Gabrielle was going to want this chance to see what would happen if her daughter could have been raised by them. Or at the very least if she hadn't killed her in the lava pit and then again in her family's barn. Hoping for just the right words to answer her question Xena answered. "In this case what you think is more important. I want you to do what you feel is right..." Lowering her eyes to the ground she went on. "I've interfered far to much as it is... If I hadn't."
Gabrielle lifted her face gently so she could look into deep blue eyes,
swimming in the beginnings of tears. "No Xena, We both hurt each other
deeply. But we both did what we thought was right, we can't change that. I have spent so much time the past year wondering what would have happened if I had done things differently. I've done things I never thought I would be capable of...Some of it has been very bad, that's true, but most of it has been good and that is largely because of you Xena. You are the reason I have been able to grow."
"I've forced you into things....If it hadn't been for me..."
"If it hadn't been for you I would have had a boring life in the village, being a wife and Mother and always wondering what might have been." Xena had never told Gabrielle about the alternate life that she would have had that had been shown to her by the fates. She never knew that had Xena not been there to save her she would have ended up as a bitter slave. Even knowing this, the warrior still felt guilt at times for the things that had happened to Gabrielle. True she had saved her from slavery but what about all the other things. She couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if after she had saved Gabrielle she had just walked away from the young blonde when she had followed her. The truth of the matter was as many times as she had thought about leaving Gabrielle behind for her own good, had even tried to, she knew in her heart she couldn't. And that led her to berate herself for
Searching the eyes of her soulmate Xena knew that Gabrielle needed to make the choice that was going to be best for her. And that would be to see if Hope could have been saved. "Gabrielle, from what I am understanding in this, Michael is offering you the chance to bring Hope back...To see if she has any chance of being turned from evil. I think you have to do this. Even if she doesn't change at least you will know, there won't be any more doubt."
The sadness that she saw in Gabrielle's eyes tore at her. "But how will you feel? Seeing Hope again, after what happened with Solan? Can you handle that Xena? Maybe we should just leave well enough alone. You have told me so many times that you can't change the past?"
"That's just it though in this case maybe we can. I think you need to do this... I think we need to do this."
Tears streamed down the bard's face as she moved into her warrior's
outstretched arms. "Just when I think I couldn't love you any more than I already do, you do something to prove me wrong. I know this is going to be hard for you..."
Xena pulled her bard closer. "That doesn't matter, none of that
matters...All that is important to me is giving you the chance you never had...The chance I took from you."
"We're agreed then." Gabrielle smiled at her warrior "Let's go tell Eve that we want to do this.
Eve had been waiting for her Mother and Gabrielle to come back ever since she had brought them the news of Michael's offer. She had never known Hope herself but she had read Gabrielle's scrolls and she had heard stories from others. Never from her Mother or Gabrielle though, that seemed to be a subject neither one really ever wanted to talk about the few times Eve had tried to ask questions about the bard's daughter. She had a hard time understanding why now, after everything finally seemed to be settling down Michael felt the need to bring this back into their lives. But as he had explained to her, Xena and Gabrielle would never truly know peace until this issue had been faced.
When she had asked him if he knew what the outcome was going to be. He had told her he had no idea what was going to happen, it wasn't his place to determine that. He had just been told that this was a choice that had to be given to Gabrielle and Xena, what they did and the outcome relied on them and nothing else.
She could tell by her Mother's reaction when she had first told her about this that she was not pleased. She was surprised however by her Mother saying that she had to tell Gabrielle. Eve had gone to Xena first in the thoughts that that the warrior would simply tell her to forget about it and say nothing to Gabrielle. In a way that was what she had been hoping for, she had come to care a great deal for Gabrielle and she knew this could do nothing but cause her pain. But she had to admit a part of her was proud, not only of herself for having the courage to deliver the message she had not wanted to. But proud of the warrior for letting her soulmate make the choice that she thought would be right.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Xena and Gabrielle returning to the clearing they were camped in. She could tell by the looks on their faces that they had made a decision. "You're going to do this, aren't you?" was the question that came out of her mouth before she had the chance to think.
Gabrielle sat down next to Eve. "Yes we are." She reached for Xena's hand "Together."
A mix of emotions played through Eve's mind, of course she wanted Gabrielle and her Mother to find peace with this. But she couldn't help feeling that this was going to cause problems that would be beyond fixing. "Your sure?"
Xena answered her daughter's concerns with a surety she hadn't felt until that moment. "Eve, there must be a reason Michael told you to come to us with this now. I don't know what that is but we have to have faith that things are going to happen the way they are supposed to."
The bard turned to Xena with a slight smile. "I never thought I would hear you say this. You have always been so sure we control our own destinies."
"And I still am, maybe this is just a chance for us to correct some horrible mistakes we made. Not many people get that chance, if we're lucky enough to get it I think we should take it that's all."
The night had passed with neither woman getting much sleep, both lost in their own thoughts about the events that were about to unfold. They hadn't been given a lot of detail, they hadn't even been told how Hope was going to reenter their lives. Just that she was going to be reintroduced into their lives today. Xena moved to put her arms around Gabrielle, only to find she was already up out of their bed roll. She say up to see the bard looking into the flames of the fire they had left burning the night before. Moving behind her lover she pulled her back against her, kissing her in top of the head. "Dinar for your thoughts?"
At first Gabrielle didn't answer, just continued to stare into the flames. Xena could tell that the bard's thoughts were of her daughter, more to the point of the day she had held her daughter and dragged her to what she had thought would be sure death in the flames of the lava pit. She had done it to save the world from Hope's evil, and to save Xena from the death the Fates had said would be forthcoming for the warrior if she had been the one to kill Hope.
But somehow they had both survived that ordeal, after that Gabrielle had found herself having to go through killing her daughter all over again. They had thought it was over, now it would seem it wasn't. Finally the bard spoke. "I don't know if I can handle this Xena. What if Hope can't be changed? Can I go through that again?"
The pain ripped through the warrior, this woman was her heart and soul. To see her suffering like this was the worst torture Xena could imagine. "Gabrielle, I'm not going to lie to you, this is not going to be easy. And it is possible that Hope will remain evil and not change. But you are the strongest person I know, whatever happens we will face it together."
Their reflections on events passed were interrupted loud voices. "Sounds like trouble." Xena told her.
With a small smile Gabrielle answered her. "What else is new?"
Running towards the disturbance, weapons raised and at the ready, they were greeted with the sight of about a dozen men surrounding one woman. From their actions it looked like the men were intent on tearing the woman apart. A piercing cry of "Ayayayayay" split the air as Xena somersaulted her way into the middle of the fray.
She kicked two of the attackers away as soon as she landed on her feet.
Gabrielle took on two of the men, engaging them with her sais. The woman in the middle of the crowd continued to fight. The tables were starting to turn, before they knew what was happening the men found themselves being soundly beaten by the three women. Finally, good sense started to prevail...the remaining ruffinins saw that they were fighting a losing battle. Dropping their weapons they turned and ran. Hoping that they woman that were soundly thrashing them would not follow.
Turning to see if the women they had rescued was all right they found nothing. They hadn't gotten the chance to see her face, it had been covered by a hood. Now it was as if she had never been there. Xena looked around and was unable to even see tracks were she may have left. A chill went through both woman, they both had the same thought but neither one vocalized it, they had just had an encounter with Hope.
From her vantage point above Hope watched her Mother and Xena search for her. She had very limited powers. Just enough in fact that she was able to
get away undetected after the beating she had taken. She cursed Michael
again for what he was doing, but there had been no other choice. She had
been between worlds ever since she had died with her demon spawn son in her
Grandparent's barn. Not really dead, but not alive either.
After her failure to kill Xena and Gabrielle the last time her Father Dayhok had abandoned her, leaving her to whatever fate might await her. That was where she had stayed in a limbo that was worse than death itself. It was impossible for her to move into the next realm she had been told because she had died with unfinished business, but she hadn't been told what that was.
It hadn't been until Gabrielle had made her fevered statements in the cave. It was then that Michael had realized the time had come, he had taken the information he had to his God, telling him that Gabrielle was now ready to deal with the issues surrounding her child and so was Xena. There had been some hesitation but as Michael had pointed out, they deserved this one last chance to set things right with Hope.
For her part Hope had not been so sure, true she had come to a point where she wanted this limbo she was in to end. But she didn't really think that Xena and Gabrielle were going to harbor any wish to see her. She still had enough of her Father ingrained into her that she saw hate before love.
These were the thoughts that ran through her mind as she watched the two women search the area. 'They seem so devoted to each other' She mused. 'And the time the spend trying to help all these people. I wonder what they get out of that?' Her reflections were interrupted by words from below.
"What now?" Asked Gabrielle
"I'm not sure, if that was Hope we saved, we'll know soon enough. If it
wasn't then we may have other problems on our hands."
Gabrielle moved closer to Xena. "I know I have said this already, but I just want to tell you again the fact that you are willing to do this... To give me the chance to find out if Hope could be saved...It means a lot to me Xena."
"We both need to know." Was the simple reply.
Hope found herself wondering at the unfamiliar feelings that were passing through her. It sounded like her Mother really did care. But that couldn't be, she had been taught from her very first memories that all that mattered was power. Hadn't Gabrielle abandoned her to the tender mercies of the river? It was her Father that had saved her, it had been Dayhok that had rescued her from the lava pit. But he had abandoned her too hadn't he? Suddenly it occurred to her, her Mother wasn't the only one that wanted answers, she wanted some too.
A noise to their left distracted the warrior and the bard, looking at each other Xena motioned for Gabrielle to circle around to the left while she went to the right. Maybe this could be what they had been waiting for. They moved on silent feet towards the noise they had heard. They came face to face, not finding the source of what they had heard. "Something strange is going on here."
Xena nodded her agreement to Gabrielle's comment. "It fits in with the rest of the events that have been going on though doesn't it?" the warrior looked around them her senses on edge, something was getting ready to happen, of that she was sure. Gabrielle sensed it too. "Let's head back to camp."
Walking back into the clearing they had spent the night in they saw a figure sitting, talking to Eve. In a way they weren't surprised, they had almost expected it. They knew before they got close enough to hear that the cloaked figure they recognized as being the woman that they had saved earlier was Hope.
Eve looked up from the conversation she was having with Hope. "Here they are, I knew it wouldn't be long before they got back."
Hope turned to face the two women she had been sent back to see again.
"Mother, Xena...it's been a long time."
Gabrielle felt her heart lurch in her chest, here she was, faced with the daughter she had wanted so desperately to save but had died at her hand on more than one occasion. "Hope...I don't know what to say.."
The younger version of the bard felt her anger rushing to the forefront. She had been sitting here listening to this Eve woman tell her of all the good Xena and Gabrielle had done in the world. How they had found her when she had become a murdering bitch and had turned her from her darkness. Why hadn't her Mother loved her enough to try and do that for her? "You don't know what to say Mother? You didn't have any trouble telling me the last time we met what you thought did you?"
Her heart ached to reach out to this woman, to tell her that she had been her child, would always be. But she had done what she thought was right. Even given her gift for words though whatever she said in her mind sounded weak at best.
Xena watched the silent exchange going on between the two women that were a mirror image of each other. It stuck her again how the woman she loved and the woman that she had hated above all others could be so much alike on the surface and so different underneath. Her first reaction was to tear this woman apart for causing Gabrielle pain. But her quick reactions to Hope had been a large part of the problem in the past. No she was not going to do that again, as long as Hope did not appear to be causing a threat to Gabrielle's safety she was not going to take action against her.
"Hope I wish I could just say a few words and make everything better but I can't."
"No Mother you can't"
"Was this your idea? To come back and try to resolve things?"
The thought occurred to Hope to lie, but what would be gained at this point from that? The truth was she was as much in the dark about this as anyone else. "I don't know why I am here to tell you the truth. I was told I had unfinished business. Maybe I was sent here because I was not successful in killing you." She sneered at Xena
Eve interrupted "Hope you know that isn't true!"
"Of course you would say that, you preach of all this love and light but I don't see it."
"That's because you have never known love in your life, if you would give it a chance."
She whirled angrily on Eve. "That's right, I never have known love! All I have ever known is a Mother that abandoned me in a river, tried to poison me and finally threw me into a pit of lava. All because the mighty Warrior Princess deemed me unsavable!"
Xena could see the tensions escalating, she knew something had to be done soon. "Hope can I talk to you for a minute...alone?"
All three women stooped at this request, Xena alone with Hope? This couldn't be good, Gabrielle started to protest but before she could say anything Hope answered. "I think that might be a good idea Xena, we never really have had the chance to talk have we?"
She turned and walked towards the forest, expecting Xena to follow her.
"Xena, I don't think I like this."
"Gabrielle I promise I won't hurt her."
"But what about you? What if she does something to hurt you?"
Hope heard the concern in her Mother's voice for the warrior and it was like a knife in her heart. Once again she was demonstrating where her loyalties lie. "Are you coming Xena?" She called over her shoulder.
"I'll be right there." Looking deeply into the bard's eyes she held onto her. "I can't explain it, but I think this is something that I need to do. Hope doesn't have any chance of finding her true self and we can't help her until she gets past her anger at me. She sees me as the reason you betrayed her."
Xena place a finger over Gabrielle's lips to quite her protests. "Don't ask me how I know this I just do. Trust me?"
With a quick reassuring kiss Xena walked to catch up with Hope. They walked in silence for a while until Xena was sure they were out of earshot of the campsite. "Ok Xena you wanted to talk....Talk."
"Hope, I owe you an apology."
For the briefest of moments Hope was stunned into silence. She wasn't sure what Xena had in mind when she asked to talk to her but this had been the last thing she would have bet on. "You owe me an apology? Forgive me if I seem a little slow on the uptake but just what would you be apologizing for?"
"For everything, for my rash choices when you were a baby. My actions were what forced Gabrielle...your Mother to do what she did. When you came back as a child I acted on my fears instead of giving you a chance...If I hadn't been so quick to judge you as a baby maybe Gabrielle wouldn't have been so afraid to tell me the truth. If I had known right away...."
"If you had know right away what? You could have killed me before I got the chance to kill your precious son? Xena I wasn't there for a family reunion I was there to destroy you. And I very nearly succeeded, the fact that you and my Mother were able to reconcile after what happened still astounds me today. You should have killed her for what happened."
Xena looked done at her boots with a mixture of anger for this woman and her apparent lack of feelings and shame for the fact that she had in fact tried to kill the bard. "I did." She said quietly "I went to the Amazon village, dragged her behind my horse for miles and then tried to throw her of a cliff."
Hope had known none of this. "You mean to tell me that you tried to kill my Mother? Do you really expect me to believe that? I have seen the lengths you two will go to for each other. She tried to kill her own child for you Xena...why would she do that for someone that had tried to kill her?"
"Because that is what can happen Hope when you let hate take over, at that moment in time I hated Gabrielle, I hated her for what I saw as her betrayal, I believed she had thrown you from that cliff. And then to find out not only had she lied about that she had been lying to me about who you were. Because of that I blamed her for my son's death. And she hated me, in her eyes I had not only forced her to give up her child once, but after she had made what to her was the ultimate sacrifice of poisoning you I turned my back on her and walked away. There was so much pain there and the hate drove us both. The only thing that brought us back together is we realized that the love we felt was stronger than all the hurts and betrayals. The only way we could survive what had happened to us both was to hang onto that."
It wasn't often that Xena said that much at one time to anyone, but her
words seemed to have an effect. "Still, that doesn't explain why after
everything you feel the need to apologize."
The warrior knew she had to choose her next words very carefully, they could well have a major impact on how things turned out. "I feel that because I feel now that if I hadn't been so quick to condemn you maybe things might have been different. Your Mother tried to tell me that she could help you get past the darkness born into you. Much like she helped me get past my dark side. I wasn't willing to take that risk. If I had given her the chance to raise you....who knows things might have been different."
A sharp retort sprang to Hope's lips, but she swallowed it back. Could what she was hearing be true? Even if it was what difference did it make really? Her Father had taught her that her Mother never cared and she had become bitter in her belief of that. It had to be true, she had seen the way her Mother fought for those she loved but she hadn't been willing to do that for her. "You have given me some things to think about Xena." Was all she had said.
"I know I don't have any right to ask you for any favors Hope, but I am
going to ask for one anyway."
This made Hope raise a quizzical brow at the warrior, who was struck again by how much this young woman looked like her Mother. "What favor could you possibly ask of me Xena?"
"Don't make the same mistake I did. Don't rush to judgment on your Mother Hope. She did love you, she still does in her heart. you are her child and the things that have happened have weighed heavily on her heart. Take the time to get to know her before you condemn her for what you believe to have been her crimes against you." With that Xena turned from Hope to head back to their camp, leaving Hope alone with her thoughts.
Hope watched the retreating form of the warrior; the thought occurred to her that she could kill Xena right there with no effort. Her guard was completely down and one quick blast with even her weakened powers would send the warrior to the other side. She even raised her hand to send a jolt through Xena's body, but something stopped her. Maybe it was worth waiting for a while, just to see what happened.
Xena made her way back into camp, she could see the tension in Gabrielle's features. Before the bard could ask Xena eased her fears. "Hope is fine, we talked." She shook her head as if to clear it. "I don't know if it did any good. She is very angry, the sad truth is I can't really say I blame her for that."
Gabrielle looked at Xena, confession knitting her brow. "What are you trying to say?"
"I'm saying that I can't really blame her for her anger where I am concerned Gabrielle. Maybe if I just give you two some time...."
Looking at Xena only one thought sprung to Gabrielle's mind. She reached out, taking her lover by the hand. "Don't you even think of walking out on me now Warrior Princess. We're in this together remember?"
Even with all the turmoil that surrounded them it warmed Xena's heart to hear these words from her bard. Pulling the smaller woman closer she answered. "Forever."
Feeling that they were no longer alone the looked up to see Hope standing at the edge of their campsite. Gabrielle had to fight the urge to run to her Daughter, taking her presence as a sign that she was at least willing to try. All three women stood wordlessly looking at each other. Hope was the one to finally break the silence. "I won't say that we are going to turn all warm and fuzzy now, but I have to admit something. If nothing else I would like some answers." She looked at Gabrielle. "I realized that the only things I have ever had to form an opinion on is what my Father told me...Maybe there is another side to all of this."
Gabrielle moved towards her daughter but was stopped by Hope raising a hand. "I do think we should talk, but not tonight. I need some time...I'll contact you in the morning."
Watching her child retreat back into the forest Gabrielle had to fight the desire to go after her. She wanted to tell her they had lost to much time already. She felt Xena's hand on her arm. "Let her go Gabrielle. It took a lot for her to come to you like this, give her the time she asked for."
Tears formed in the bard's eyes as she nodded her agreement. "Your right Xena. This is just so much harder than I ever thought it would be."
"We knew when Eve told us about this that it wouldn't be easy. We still
don't know what is going to happen but at least she is willing to talk."
Putting her arms around the bard she leaned down and kissed her "I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but this is happening for a reason. right now though I think you need to try and get some rest."
Gabrielle knew sleep would most likely elude her that night but she agreed to at least try and get some sleep. Neither of them noticed Eve as she slipped out of the encampment.
Hope hadn't gone far when she left the clearing. Part of her had wanted to do nothing but just keep going. She really saw no point in this exercises in futility. She was torn between wanting answers to the questions she had and feeling like the whole thing was useless. She thought about just going off and picking up where she had left off, but this time in her own name, not in the name of a Father that had abandoned her.
That was the thought that kept her riveted to the spot she sat in now. A small cliff over looking the campsite of her Mother and the warrior. What was it that held her attention to these two? She should just kill them both and be done with it. That was the thought that played through her head, but a small part of her kept breaking through, telling her that she needed to resolve the questions in her mind if she was ever to know any peace in her own heart. It seemed strange that she should want that, and yet she did. For a woman whose whole life had been directed towards destruction and mayhem she desperately wanted to find some peace.
A small sound behind her snapped her thoughts back to her surroundings. She spun around, seeing Xena's daughter stand there brought a cold smile to her lips. "Here on you Mother's orders are you?"
"No Hope, Mother and Gabrielle have no idea I came to find you. You can see for yourself they are in camp..."