See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
A ghostly scream echoed around the walls, a high-pitched cry that pierced the thin air, making those present cringe at the intensity. A dark vapour bled from the warrior's orifices, blending overhead into a small cloud floating silently overhead. Within the cycle of a breath, it had found its next victim, moving swiftly through the air to gain access the way it had escaped.
Everyone was focused on the spinning Chakrams and did not notice the subtle movement from one body to another, driven out and forced to seek refuge in another host. Its connection to the Chakram was now broken and it was free to roam as it wanted, picking and choosing hosts at will.
Two spirits resided in the large body of the woman holding the Chakrams, one wrapped around the other in a loving embrace, awaiting the outcome of their existence. By mutual consent, whatever befell them, they would accept... together. This was how is was and how it would be till the end of time.
They both felt at peace as they watched Xena extend her hand towards the spinning object, unafraid. Long, slender fingers closed in the blink of an eye, grabbing the circle out of thin air. Nothing happened... despite all the signs and portents. They had survived.
Xena brought the Chakram down to her eyes. It had changed. Gone were the azure gems that were liberally scattered over its surface. The new Chakram now had a bar through the middle, giving it the shape of the ancient Chinese symbol of yin and yang, Light and Dark, two halves of one whole. A little like us. They both studied it through blue eyes, thinking the same thought. How appropriate.
The gods watched in fascination as a legend was born. The two Chakrams, long separated by the mists of time, were now one and heralding a new era of human history. In the background stood Aphrodite, unwilling to participate in the destruction of her friends, a silent witness to the decree of Zeus.
She felt strange, feeling an anger she had never experienced before. It was a simmering anger that seemed to expand with every passing moment. She felt herself helpless as she directed her rage towards her father, the god who had sent her brother away without so much as a goodbye.
Xena looked over Zeus's shoulder to the young goddess, gracing her with a smile. The joy of the moment evaporated at the look on the young immortal's face. The ghostly glow alerted her and she barely had the chance to pull Zeus out of the way before a ball of godly fire skimmed over them.
The other deities stared in disbelief. Their younger sister attacking the King of the Gods was unthinkable.
"It's not Aphrodite! Take cover!" Xena knew that look only too well. It had resided in her long enough for her to recognize its source. "The entity has escaped." She looked to Zeus her eyes expressing the sad news she was loathe to utter.
His heart broke. She was the baby of the family and, though sometimes a bit scatterbrained, had always been a joy to him. Destroying Xena was one thing, but destroying one of their own was another. He sighed deeply and spoke. "She must be stopped at all costs. Do what you must."
Xena's hand came up, resting on his arm, eyes meeting in a common bond - the loss of family and friend. Xena could feel Gabrielle shudder inside, echoing her own feelings for the young goddess. There had to be a way to salvage this situation. She looked around the Temple, desperately looking for a solution to this impossible predicament.
The darkness of the building lit up with the energy balls flying around. Huge, orange flames hit the crumbling stone, setting recessed torches alight. Flickering flame cast shadows across the floor, lighting the godly battle in an eerie half-light, dotted with the glow of fiery missiles.
The Love Goddess stood unprotected, mockingly presenting herself as a target in defiance of their power. Her energy slowly depleted, each ball taking longer than its previous one to make. The entity felt a weakness it had never experienced before, its dark energy diluting in the goddess's body. She swayed with the loss of power, waiting moments for the parasite to recharge her. The attack momentarily halted at Zeus's order.
Xena stood up, Chakram in hand, and threw it through her long fingers, flicking the weapon at the point of release and allowing it to hit the far wall. The silence was broken by the sound of the ricocheting disc, bouncing from wall to wall, slowly moving closer to the blonde goddess and forcing her to step back.
The weapon continued to dance around her, spinning a metal web in a circle, moving in tighter and tighter until she had nowhere to move.
Arcing lightning bolts held the young goddess imprisoned. Zeus held her there, bending his will and full power to keep her still. Xena extended her hand, capturing the spinning weapon out of the air without conscious thought.
Aphrodite stood immobile within the energy field, thin tendrils of light flickering and twisting like a large net, her pale eyes watching the other gods circling around her prison. The young goddess paced around her cage, throwing a few testing fireballs but finding no weakness in the barrier.
Xena approached the lightning field and stared at her opponent, seeing an answering glow for a moment before fading back to her friend. Aphrodite swayed and staggered for a moment before gathering her equilibrium.
"Let me go! NOW!" The voice smouldered with menace, its timbre not recognisable as Aphrodite's.
Xena didn't answer but continued to watch the Goddess of Love. "Let me in."
Are you nuts??? Gabrielle screamed so loud her head rang. Xena gave the tall god a tiny wink and stood waiting for him to allow her to enter.
What do you think you're doing? We just got rid of that thing.
Gabrielle, trust me on this. Please, just do it for me.
Xena, so help me, don't make me come after you again.
Everything will be alright. I have a plan.
You and your plans.
Yeah, yeah. Argue with me later.
Taking a deep breath, she entered, feeling the energy crackle over her skin as she passed effortlessly through the electrical barrier.
Aphrodite paced around like a caged lion. "I don't understand."
"No, I suppose you don't."
The loss of energy was causing pain to the evil residing within the blonde. It could not understand why this was happening. No being had been able to resist it, save perhaps the human facing it now.
It had desired to use this immortal body, but now that appeared impossible. Somehow, it was poison to it and uninhabitable. Its only other choice was to return to its former host. Not ideal, not with the dual spirits inhabiting it, but not impossible either. In time, it would win. It always did.
Wisps of darkness drifted between the two bodies, moving silently into its former environment.
Gabrielle, come here into my embrace.
Not now, Xena.
Yes now, Gabrielle. Think of when we took the Chakram of Light. Look for that special moment when our love was everything. It filled our every thought and left us breathless. Do you remember?
How could she forget? It was, as Xena had said, breathtaking. It was the culmination of everything they had meant to each other, settling over them like a warm blanket of eternal love. Gabrielle could feel that sensation again, washing over her. She let herself drown in the feeling, happy to die in the arms of the one who would always be there for her.
Xena could feel those glorious feelings flow from her little blonde, letting it feed her own warmth. She curled herself around Gabrielle, letting it all combine into one large pool of pure sensation. She let the barrier down, allowing the darkness to roll in and consume them.
The entity relished the thought of feeding on two new souls, one the blackness of pitch, not prepared for the weapon there to meet it. It screeched in pain at the touch of such light, purer than its twin, and tried to withdraw. This body was now poison as well.
Xena reached out to capture the hate, the anger and the evil and bring it into her embrace, holding tightly as it vainly struggled against their strength. It had been all so easy and she had not seen it. Now this simple truth would set them all free.
The ancient evil desperately sought out Xena's basic drives, looking for leverage to release itself, only to be met by a small blonde who blocked its path. She is mine... whispered wherever it roamed, ... just as I am hers.
The darkness slowly faded, losing precious strength until it was a mere shadow of itself, replaced by the blinding light of selfless love.
The two of them had been content just to rest in each other's arms, but the outside world was awaiting the outcome of the battle. Xena extended her senses, feeling only a gentle thrumming from the entity, now lifeless and immobile within both of them. Let's go home...
Xena looked to Zeus and broke out into a smile. "It's over." He was not convinced, however. "What do you want me to do? Backflips?"
Xena stepped over and helped Aphrodite up off the floor.
"Wha... What happened?"
"The evil tried to have you for lunch."
"Ewwww. This is sooo gross." She busily brushed her hands on her pants, trying to get the evil off herself in mock disgust.
"Yeah, tell me about it."
The young goddess placed her hand on the warrior's forearm in concern. "Sorry."
"No, don't be. I was the logical target."
Xena's voice changed as Gabrielle spoke. She looked into those blue eyes, and spoke to her ageless smitten friend. "We're both here, Aphrodite. It's dead."
The Goddess of Love looked over to her father, silently pleading him to let them out. "I believe them. Gabrielle could only speak when Xena was in control."
He withdrew his power, the other gods standing in readiness at any sign of trouble. Zeus established a larger barrier around the Temple. No one was leaving until he was sure it was dead. He watched the tall warrior carefully, but a look of enquiry crossed his face. He was dying to know what had happened but was waiting patiently for Xena to tell him.
Oh, please, just tell him and get it over with!
You have no sense of adventure, Gabrielle.
Not with the King of the Gods ready to incinerate us, Xena. Play nice...
"It was love." Zeus's eyes widened. "That's why it couldn't stay in Aphrodite. After all, she is the embodiment of love. When it came into me, Gabrielle and I were ready."
"I don't understand."
"It wasn't the Chakram of Light as such that drove it out. At the point that the light entered my body, Gabrielle and I felt something so... sooo..." Xena couldn't find the words, but the quiet glow in her eyes and the gentle smile told Zeus everything. "I could see that in Aphrodite it was weak. She was losing strength rapidly and swaying on her feet. It was just a matter of presenting it with another option."
"That was a pretty big risk."
"Perhaps, but one worth taking." Xena removed the Chakram from her belt, looking at it for a moment before presenting it to Zeus. She had no claim to this weapon and waited for him to take it back.
"No, you keep it. This is now your legacy, Xena." He could see the quizzical look from the tall woman. "You and Gabrielle have shown great courage and sacrifice in saving the world. This is now your destiny, Defender of Mankind."
"Oh, no, no, no, no..."
"Xena, you can fight it all you like, but the Fates have foreseen this. You, your bard and your descendents are bound to the Chakram. There is a prophecy that goes with this weapon. It's not well known and very old, but in essence it states that whosoever can unite Light and Dark will be bound to defend and protect it. For if it is lost to those not of the Defender's blood, then the world will be plunged into chaos until the Chakram is restored to those of the rightful bloodline. So, it's yours whether you like it or not." He couldn't help but smile at the flustered look on the warrior's face.
"You knew about this and you put us through all that?"
"I did not discover this news until my son had already put events into motion. I wasn't sure if you were the ones of the prophecy. I had to make sure we could stop you if we had to. Your actions in battle should tell you this was meant to happen."
He could see the gathering storm clouds on the woman's face and even though he was a god, he did not want to be around if she decided to try out her new weapon.
"Now, how about we help Gabrielle back into her body, eh?"
"Aphrodite? Please bring back Gabrielle's body." The young goddess did as she was asked and seconds later the still figure of the blonde appeared, just as it had been left days before. A frown crossed that immortal brow as she studied the young girl's body. She closed her eyes for a moment and opened them in surprise, discovering something she had not foreseen.
Zeus drew power into the air to start the process of separating the two souls and sending them spinning back to their rightful places. For a moment, there was resistance as the two were loathe to break apart, but reluctantly the spirits bowed to the greater power and returned to where they belonged.
With the wave of an imperious hand, the pale green orb of Gabrielle descended, absorbing through skin and muscle to take up residence in the young woman's chest. Xena knelt down beside her partner, tenderly holding a hand, awaiting the arrival of her little blonde. My bard... he he. You go, Gabrielle!
Pale lashes slowly moved, revealing the pale green eyes underneath. Deep breaths slowly expanded a chest that had been still for way too long. A lost, slightly hoarse voice called out, "Xena?"
"I'm here, Gabrielle. Right where you left me." Her partner's eyes tracked to her, softening with love. "Hey."
"Let me help you up." She gently guided her to her feet, placing a supporting arm around her as trembling legs gave little support. Gabrielle looked up into the tall woman's face, seeing lines of exhaustion and stress embedded there. They stood together for a moment, still not believing that it was all over and they had come through it, while not unscathed, relatively intact.
Both bore the internal scars from their ordeal, touched by the darkness that would forever be with them, but tempered by the great joy and uplifting optimism the Chakram of Light had given them. Balanced, like the Chakram that Xena now wore on her hip.
Zeus approached, thoughtful, and asked, "Xena, even with Gabrielle's help, how were you able to hold out so long against the power of the Chakram?"
A smile touched Xena's lips before she raised her right hand. In the palm rested a flap of leather, covering her palm and fingers. In illustration, she grabbed the Chakram, showing those present that in fact the disc had not touched her skin, the leather acting as a barrier to any contact.
Zeus let out a belly laugh that echoed around the Temple, causing the other gods to look around in alarm, then confusion. No one had ever been witness to the King of the Gods in full-fledged amusement. His laughter was infectious and others joined in, perhaps from relief that the immediate danger was past more than anything else.
He finally regained his dignity and asked, "How did you know?"
"I didn't. I just knew not to trust your son."
"Well done." He chuckled once more. "Well done, indeed." His laughter bounced off the walls as his image slowly dissipated.
Xena looked around for Gabrielle, noticing that she had been dragged off to a quiet corner by Aphrodite. She watched anxiously as her partner became agitated at something the goddess said to her, and awaited her return to find out what that was.
Xena's emotions were in turmoil. She had come so close to losing it all - her life, her sanity, her beloved Gabrielle and her very soul. She watched the object of her affection approach. "What was that all about?" She was curious as to what the goddess had said that upset her.
"Er, nothing. I'll tell you later when it's quiet." Xena's emotions went on alert. If her partner was waiting for a quiet moment, then the news was not going to be good. "Did you know it was a trap?"
"Well, knowing Ares, there would have been some price to pay for whatever he offered. I just took precautions, that's all."
"But Xena, why all this charade?"
"Because, Gabrielle, if it wasn't me, he would have found someone else to use for his scheme. The Chakram in anyone else's hands would have been disastrous; it was only a matter of time. Remember, there were those other men on the island, and they would have eventually found it."
"I may not have touched it, but it still had a strong hold on me. If it weren't for you there with me, I would have been lost. You saved me, Gabrielle, and I am eternally grateful." She placed a series of tiny kisses on the open palm. "But it was foolish what you did. If one of us had died, the other..." Xena physically shuddered at the thought of Gabrielle suffering the same fate as her, had they failed.
Gabrielle grabbed her partner's hand, turning it over to look at the piece of leather. Somehow it looked familiar. "Oh no, you didn't."
"Well, I had no choice, Gabrielle. It was that or cut up my own leathers."
"But the gladiator outfit, Xena. Why did it have to be that?"
"It's alright. You might like the improvement."
"I will? Where did you take it from?"
"You'll just have to wait and see." With that, Xena gave her a saucy wink.
Aphrodite approached the two women, her breasts now unrestrained and bouncing around in her pink diaphanous gown. "So are you two ready to go home?"
"Yeah, I think so." Xena took a moment to gather her thoughts. "Thank you. You have been a good friend." She could see the young goddess preen under the compliment.
Gabrielle reached over and pulled Aphrodite into a warm hug, Xena watching in amusement at the young goddess's surprise before she accepted and returned the familiarity with some of her own. What a lonely life it must be to be a god, Xena mused. Surrounded only by family, with no friends or confidants. Perhaps...
"Ok, you two, off you go now." With a wave of her hand, Aphrodite sent them off in a shimmer.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
They materialized in a bedroom. This was not the home that Xena knew. She looked around to find a fire burning brightly in the hearth, a large tub nearby filled with hot water, food and drink on a table that would last them a few days and a large, overstuffed bed in the far corner. Xena glanced over at Gabrielle, who seemed as perplexed as she was. She was about to call out, when a disembodied voice hovering overhead spoke, "Enjoy."
"What is going on here?"
"One good turn deserves another, Xena."
"Now let's see if I got this right, 'C'mon, I want a warm bed and you in that gladiator costume of yours... and perhaps two or three days without interruption'." Xena's bag materialised on the bed.
"How did you know that?"
"Hey, I got my connections. I keep track of my favourite gals, Xena."
Xena could feel the blush rise up her cheeks. That particular statement came at a very vulnerable moment for both of them. And one she had been ashamed of. Gabrielle saw Xena's head dip. She grabbed her partner's chin and forced eye contact. "It was not your fault, do you hear me? Let it be."
"I'm so sorry. Despite everything, it was still me. I could have really hurt you."
"But you didn't, so there must have been a kernel of you in there protecting me, even then. I am not blaming you for this, so you shouldn't either. Let's go forward from here."
"That's my girl, Gabby. Now just give me a call when you're ready to go home. Don't do anything I wouldn't do." Aphrodite's laughter rang around the room, fading away as the deity finally left them alone.
Xena opened her bag and found the folded leather, shaking it out to show Gabrielle the hole. She raised a suggestive eyebrow, "Shall we?"
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