See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Gabrielle's knees gave out as her body materialized with a rush. She stood on rubbery legs and took deep breaths to get her equilibrium. Slowly the world righted itself and she could move, albeit unsteadily.
It was only then that they both noticed what was going on at the temple. Xena stood there, leaning over a cowering Ares. Aphrodite's eyes became round like saucers at seeing her brother in such a submissive position. Gabrielle was more interested in the one standing over him. It was a stranger.
Even from a distance, Gabrielle could see that this person was not the Xena she knew. As she stepped closer, even she could feel the breathing malevolence in the air. She didn't need godly powers to feel the oppressiveness weighing down on her. Blue eyes, hooded and cold as ice turned their stare on her, stripping away her defences and laying her soul bare. What in Hades has happened here?
Aphrodite started stepping away, putting Gabrielle in the line of fire.
"Xena?" Gabrielle's voice was barely a whisper.
The older woman didn't speak; she just stood there surveying the scene in front of her. Ares didn't dare move or even breathe. What had he done?
Gabrielle could see a strange object in Xena's hand, a circle of metal covered in jewels and emitting an eerie glow. She moved steadily forward, forcibly putting one step in front of another until she was close enough to touch the god. She tapped his shoulder and motioned him to move away. Visibly relieved, Ares scrambled away without so much as a smart comment.
"Xena?" The woman turned her full attention to the young blonde standing in front of her. A frown creased her brow and she seemed to lose her ramrod posture.
"Gabrielle?" The voice sounded lost and bewildered.
Gabrielle reached out to touch her and it felt as if she had been stung. The jolt caused her to pull back her hand, shaking it to relieve the pain.
"Xena, are you in there?" She searched long and hard in those eyes that had been a window to her partner's soul. Now the curtain had been pulled across; sheer enough to see her partner there, but still stopping any clear view of the one she loved so dear.
"Gabrielle, get away from here. Far, far away." Her voice was dark and deep.
"What is going on?"
"I can tell you what's going on." Aphrodite spoke for the first time. "Ares has tricked Xena into taking the Chakram of Darkness."
"Chakram of Darkness? That doesn't sound good."
"No, it's not. Why do you think it was hidden here? Anyone who touches it becomes the vessel of its malevolence. It contains evil, Gabrielle. It is evil itself."
Gabrielle turned to observe her partner. She could see the woman visibly shaking, aware that Xena was fighting an internal battle for her very soul.
"What will happen?"
"The power of the Chakram will gradually consume her until there is no more of the woman you know, only an all-powerful killing machine bent on destroying the world."
Gabrielle turned her attention to a prostrate Ares and started kicking him. "You did this to her! You egotistical, self-centred, arrogant ..." She was so angry that she sputtered and puffed. "Man!"
The sky clouded over and thunder rumbled.
"Oh oh..." That was all Ares could manage before he disappeared in a blinding flash.
Gabrielle glanced over to Aphrodite. "Zeus." Oh, sent to the corner by daddy...
"Now what do we do?"
"We have to destroy it."
"And what about Xena?" Aphrodite's face remained still, sending chills down Gabrielle's spine. "Well?"
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. Destroying the Chakram comes first. She may have to be sacrificed."
"No... NO. She's in there fighting. We have to give her every chance to survive this. Is there any way to slow down the process?"
Aphrodite thought for a moment. "Perhaps... Give me a moment." She disappeared in a sprinkle of stars.
Gabrielle turned her attention to her lover, straining to hold herself together. Despite the danger, she approached.
"Xena? Let me help you. You know I can't stay away. I'm with you to the end."
For a moment those sky-blue eyes returned, filled with the love for her little blonde that had been her beacon of light for the last few weeks. Her large hand came out and cupped a tear-streaked cheek. "Take this while I'm able to give it to you." Xena unsteadily grabbed her bag and shoved the offending weapon inside. The damage had been done, but hopefully removing it from her touch would stop any further contamination. With a sad smile, she ran her thumb over the soft skin under it.
"This has to be done, Gabrielle." Her voice was hoarse and strained, both from emotion and struggle. "I want you to look after them for me."
"No. Don't you give up, you hear me? I'm not ready to lose you yet. I love you and I want to have a family with you. I'm greedy, Xena. I want it all and you're it."
Xena bowed her head, taking solace from Gabrielle's words, which had expressed out aloud her own wishes. Isn't that worth fighting for?
"Alright. I'll do what I can."
"No, Xena. Don't try, just do it. Isn't that what you told me? Do it for me." She smiled a bittersweet smile. "Besides I still have a promise to fulfil, don't I?"
"Hmmmm... " Images of what could be flooded her mind and gave her that extra boost to continue the good fight.
"Remember what we are like together, Xena. Use that to fight it."
Desperately, Xena reached for that peace of body and mind her lover could inspire. The blackness in her heart retreated for a while, giving her breathing space.
"Thank you, Gabrielle." She gave her partner a wink and was able to manage a smile.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ares stood before his father, feeling the anger rolling off the King of the Gods as if it were a tangible thing. "How stupid can you be, Ares?"
"NO!" He bellowed and the room shook with his fury.
"You have put the world in danger because of this rash action. And Xena, of all people. She is the one who could be responsible for the downfall of us all."
"But she was mine to control."
"She was no one's to control, Ares. You know that, and yet you still persist. That was incredibly selfish of you. You will pay the price for this, son, and I'm helpless to stop it. She has to be destroyed, you know that."
"There has to be a way."
"You have no one to blame but yourself. You manipulated this and now we all have to pay." Zeus tapped his long beard and thought. "You are going to fix this, Ares. No games, no tricks and no lies. You and Aphrodite will have to get her to the Temple of the Chakram to destroy it. She is expendable Ares, just remember that."
Aphrodite appeared at the end of the conversation, catching Xena's death sentence.
"Father." Aphrodite stayed quiet until she was acknowledged.
"Gabrielle has come up with an idea. Is there any way we can slow down the takeover of Xena's body?"
"We could try. Any extra time we can get will make it less hazardous for your journey."
"Journey?" What had she gotten herself into?
"You and your brother are taking her to the Temple of the Chakram. I would suggest you put something warm on, Aphrodite."
She looked down her body at the diaphanous gown and thought better of it. "Hmm. I see your point."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The air shimmered and twisted with the arrival of Aphrodite and Ares. Xena lifted her head from her seated position, barely acknowledging their presence. Aphrodite looked around in concern and Gabrielle lifted Xena's bag in silent answer.
A greater shift in the atmosphere nearly knocked the blonde off her feet. Tiny wisps of electrical discharge swirled around the forming figure. Within moments, a tall, elderly man stood regally in its place, his wizened hand slowly stroking his grey beard.
"So, Xena, it seems we have a problem." His deep voice resonated around the courtyard of the temple.
Bright blue, saddened eyes tracked to him, acknowledging what they all knew. She was doomed to die. While Gabrielle, in her ignorance, fought on to save her, she had heard stories about this weapon and knew it was only a matter of time before she was lost completely to its power.
"Do something!" If the matter had not been so grave, Gabrielle's insolence would have been met with instant incineration.
Eyes as old as time itself turned their attention to her. "And you are?"
Aphrodite quietly stepped in. "This is Gabrielle, father. Xena's partner."
"Well, Gabrielle, it seems that my son here has done something completely stupid."
"Tell me something that I don't know. Trying to take her away from me was stupid in itself." Xena looked up in astonishment at her lover's lack of propriety. She glanced over at Zeus to find an amused look on his face. Well, she can be lucky...
A small chuckle escaped his perfectly formed lips. "I keep telling him that, my dear, but he won't listen." His features hardened. "Are you aware of what is going on?"
"Not really, no." Gabrielle seemed to be the only one present who didn't know what was going on.
"There is only one place that the Chakram of Darkness can be destroyed, but until now we have had no way of getting it there. Ares has forced our hand and we have to move quickly. The power of the Chakram will eventually consume her and then there is no way of stopping it. Xena will destroy the world and eventually us as well."
"Young woman, listen to me very carefully." Zeus guided her over out of earshot from Xena. "I can see only one possibility here, my dear. We need to keep her calm and composed so that she may direct her energies to keeping the power at bay. She needs help... your help."
Without hesitation, Gabrielle answered. "What must I do?"
"What I propose is very dangerous for you, for if she falls, so will you." He watched the young woman's face for a reaction. Her child-like features hardened with determination and purpose.
Gabrielle repeated, "What must I do?"
"The Fates had foreseen your meeting with Xena. You were destined to be together, Gabrielle, and Aphrodite has blessed this union." Gabrielle looked over to the silent goddess and saw her nod her head.
"You have a tentative connection with Xena, I think you already suspect that. What I propose is that we increase the connection that you two have. You will truly be fighting beside her, Gabrielle, but that will mean you will be in danger as well."
"I intend placing your soul in Xena's body, lending your own considerable will to her own to fight this, but beware, that if one of you dies the other will perish also." Zeus paused for dramatic effect. "Think carefully, Gabrielle, Xena has a very small chance to survive this. If the evil inside is not kept at bay, she is to be destroyed at the Temple. That is the only way we can stop it. So if she dies so will you while you inhabit her body."
Gabrielle had already made her mind up; she would do anything for this woman who had so utterly claimed her heart. If it meant dying with her, then so be it. Marina, please forgive me.
She spared a moment to think of those she would leave behind. Marina, while Xena's daughter, had come to mean a lot to her in the short time she had known her. Here was a child with boundless love and joy for life that reminded her a lot of herself at that age. Cyrene would now be faced with the task of raising her. Perhaps the child's likeness to Xena would help ease the pain. Her thoughts turned to her own family - to her own parents, if they were still alive, who would never know that their daughter had been on her way home to find them, and finally to her sister, Lila, whom she had thought of often since the day that Draco had separated them. Funny how in such a short time her priorities had changed so dramatically. She turned to face the tall god. "Let's do this."
"Hopefully this is only temporary, Gabrielle. Aphrodite will place your body in stasis for safe keeping." If you return... Zeus couldn't help but feel a bit of pride for this young human who was showing so much courage and determination, something he wished he could have inspired in some of his own progeny.
Moving back to the seated woman, Zeus spoke, "Xena, we are going to help you with your burden. Gabrielle will join you in holding the darkness at bay. Please stand."
The mention of Gabrielle's participation galvanised Xena's preservation instincts. "No, she's not to become involved in this. Don't do it!"
"Xena!" Zeus raised his voice to attract the older woman's attention, the volume rattling the stonework of the temple. "There is no choice in this. If you are taken over, and we cannot stop you, she is lost anyway. Give her a chance to help you."
"Xena. Let me do this, please. If you are lost, then so am I. Let me at least go down fighting next to you."
Xena hung her head. She lifted her eyes to meet the steady gaze of her partner watching her. "I don't want you to feel this, please. If it comes to it, I'll make it quick. Zeus, please stop her from doing this. I can manage on my own."
"No, Xena. She has made her decision. It is safer for all of us for her to help you."
Zeus stood quietly before them, eyes closed, as he summoned forth the power that made him the King of the Gods. The air pressure changed and swirled around the two women, energy skittering across their skin, sensitising them to the change that was to come.
"Gabrielle, please stop this. This is not what it seems. It's all a tr..." Xena felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her chest. Breathless, she collapsed to her knees, looking across to her partner to see her fall also. She desperately reached across the distance and held her hand, forcing her eyes to look to the deep green pools of her lover.
Zeus increased his power, surrounding the two women in an aura, while Aphrodite and Ares stood by, silent witnesses to their father's actions. The air continued to swirl, gathering in the blue and green wisps of vapour emerging from the two humans. In deference to Zeus's greater power, the immortals bowed their heads in supplication.
Gabrielle held on tight to Xena's hand, trying to keep eye contact as her very soul slipped from her body. Held upright by Zeus's will, they watched on helplessly as the wisps aligned themselves side by side. Zeus increased his power further, causing a deep rumbling, shaking the earth, and sending the wisps skittering back into the taller woman's body.
Their bodies were released from Zeus's control and both women collapsed to the ground. It was the strangest thing, Gabrielle thought. She could sense Xena next to her, feeling herself rise up in a body not her own and looking down on her own fallen body, seconds before it slowly faded away from view.
It was a joyous union, moments before the blackness eating away at Xena's resolve pulsed to life. The emanating power nearly took Gabrielle's breath away, her hand instinctively reaching for her throat, only to have that hand stopped by another. Concentrate, Gabrielle, we need to work together on this.
The very thought of Gabrielle putting herself in so much danger scared the Hades out of Xena, but it was done now and she had to live with it. She was quite touched by Gabrielle's sacrifice, but now she had to make sure the sacrifice was not in vain.
Zeus backed away, allowing the women time to adjust to their new circumstance. He called over his children. "As soon as they are able to stand, start your journey. Do not tarry, for we have precious little time." He looked deeply into each child's eyes. "The fate of the world rests on your shoulders, my children." I only hope the Fates are right about this...
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Chapter 11
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