Studies In Light
Chapter Six-Fates And Destinies
(Conclusion of Series)
Written by: Caina Q. Fuller
The weather seemed to match Xena's mood again on this morning as the Warrior Princess mounted Argo and rode through camp. She had been back with Ares for over six months and she was shocked at how easy it had been to fall back into her old life rhythm without Gabrielle there to remind her how wrong everything she was to do the things Ares led her to do.
Xena took a great deal of comfort in her conquests to eventually take over the world by telling herself that mankind needed a firm ruler. People had to have someone to tell them what they could and could not do. Otherwise they tended to run rampant, indulging their lusts to no end while only upholding an ideal of what was right and what was wrong. If there wasn't someone around to enforce the rules of society then all one was really left with was a bright, shining lie that allowed the innocent to suffer and the wicked to prevail.
On this day the start of a new beginning was coming. She would use the manpower she had amassed, with Ares' public approval, to take not the first village, but the first city. In the battle plans she'd been making with Livia and Ares, Corinth would be the first to fall. Rumors of her growing army had attracted much attention, and it seemed every thug in the world was rushing to join forces with her. Same ole, same ole.
Livia...Xena had made certain that Ares had not just brought back one of the coldest individuals in history, but she'd made certain he'd altered her personality just a tick. If she was going to be his warrior Queen then he couldn't resurrect the past completely. Instead he'd taken Eve and altered her into a warrior much like her mother. Like mother, like daughter, almost. He'd done little more than brainwash Eve into believing in Xena's new cause to cure the world of the disease of freedom. Any time man had freedom, chaos ruled. Only a stiff dictatorship under Xena's fist would put an end to the horrors and injustices people committed against one another.
Along with her new and "improved" daughter Xena had masterminded an attack that would bring Corinth to her knees...gently. This time around on Xena's campaign, there would be as little blood shed as possible. Though Xena could feel her heart growing cold and numb without Gabrielle's love, she was determined not to have a repeat of Amphipolis or of Varia. She would kill of course, but only when necessary. She wanted people to at least be able to feel loyalty to her. She wanted the people to do more than fear her: She wanted them to believe she was what they needed. It would start where she left off with Boreas in Corinth.
Of course no warrior could rise up and conquer the world without someone to oppose her. Humans weren't the only ones to discover Xena's plan to take over the world in Ares' name, with Livia on her right hand and the god of War on her left. Hercules, who was living with his wife Morrigan and their four children in Ireland, was returning home to put an end to Ares' latest crusade and to find out just what had happened to Xena. He'd been absolutely shocked to discover that the woman he still thought of as his Xena would ever stoop to side with Ares again.
He took no joy in returning to his native soil this time. He wasn't coming home to visit with old friends, but to go to war. A war, he knew, that could cost thousands of lives before it was over. With Xena and Ares working together there was a chance that even after all the shedding of innocent blood he may still lose to them. Xena had always been the one mortal he was in danger of losing to in the heat of a battle. He was the son of Zeus and the son of a mortal. He could be killed.
He finally arrived at the temple of the goddess who'd summoned him and when he entered he was just as shocked to see the changes being made inside as he was at the changes he'd heard happened to Xena. The pink tapestries, feathers and mirrors that had once adorned the walls were gone, replaced by weapons of all kinds. The place looked like an armory, and indeed perhaps with the impending war it was.
Hercules didn't have to wait long before the goddess of Love appeared before him. She had changed so much he almost didn't recognize her. Aphrodite's once luxurious blonde hair was now short, straight and a beautiful auburn that reminded him of Morrigan's hair, only hers was longer than his wife's. Her pink, see through dress was gone, replaced with a battle uniform eerily reminiscent of Athena's. Truth be told it was Athena's uniform, only the crest on the helmet had been replaced with a black dove. She was also heavily armed with Athena's sword, daggers in each boot and a chakram.
"Aphrodite...I don't know what to say. I've never seen the goddess of love dressed like this."
Aphrodite's looks weren't the only thing that had changed. There was something in her eyes, coldness perhaps, that Hercules had never seen in her before. She eased from the throne and walked toward him. Gone was her irreverent and somewhat flighty attitude. She was all business now.
"There is no goddess of Love anymore Hercules."
"Some changes have been made on Olympus. Since the death of the Olympian's and the loss of Gabrielle the remaining gods have taken over the-"
"Wait a minute. Hold up. The loss of Gabrielle?"
"Yes. Gabrielle is no longer with us, and it is because of me that this war is about to happen. There is much to explain Hercules."
"Then you'd better get started. From the rumors I've been hearing over the past few days we don't have much time to get our men into position in Corinth."
"You won't be going with me to Corinth Hercules. I have a much bigger plan in mind for you."
Xena rushed through the front door of the Inn. She had one last card to play to save Gabrielle and she intended to use it for all it was worth. She came through the doors to find Athena facing Gabrielle down, an energy ball glowing furiously in her right hand and getting larger by the second. Amaranda stood beside Gabrielle.
The goddess wasn't happy to find her former champion interrupting her execution. "Forget it Xena. If you get in my way I'll kill you too."
"I'm calling in our vow."
The energy ball dissipated as quickly as the shock could form in her eyes. It was apparent Athena had completely forgotten about it.
"You can't be serious."
Xena planted herself between Gabrielle and Athena, knowing that what she was about to do next would end her freedom for the rest of her life, but Gabrielle would live.
"What vow?" Amaranda asked from her position beside Gabrielle.
"When Athena first asked me to become her champion I said no. Not without a little insurance. Care to tell them?"
Fuming, Athena stood quaking with rage. She was being robbed of her victory and there was nothing she could do to stop it. "No, I don't."
"Fine," Xena said. She was clearly enjoying her bittersweet victory. "She vowed that should I ever fall out of her graces she would grant me one request. After that my very soul was hers to do with as she pleased. She could sentence me to oblivion, she could put me in Tartarus or she could keep me her slave forever. It was up to her. Regardless of what she would have to grant me one request."
"Then request godhood," Gabrielle said, hoping her new friend wouldn't do something foolish in the name of love like sentence herself to an eternity in Tartarus over her. "That way you can fight her. Forever if necessary."
Athena never took her eyes from Xena, even as she spoke. "God-hood was the one thing Xena would be denied."
"I asked for this in the event Athena would ever decide to harm someone I loved. At the time I was thinking of my mother and brother but now that they're both dead, I have you to use it on."
"State your request," Athena said, a smile forming on her lips. If Xena gave Athena her soul, then she would finally have the one thing she'd wanted from the moment she'd met Xena: Complete, total possession of her soul. It was all so perfect.
"I request that you spare Gabrielle and return her to her universe."
"That is two requests."
Sudden rage boiled within Xena and it was all she could do not to slap that smug, self-righteous grin off her face. "You're splitting hairs Athena. Send her back alive."
"I will spare her and that is all. If she wants to return home she will have to convince one of the other gods to send her back before the universe is destroyed. I won't do both. Now Xena."
Athena held out her hand and Xena felt her innards churn with disgust. She knew this god and she knew exactly what was coming for her. All hope was not lost however: Gabrielle was alive and Xena was determined to find a way to get her home somehow. Alive.
"Xena," Gabrielle grabbed onto her hand before it could connect with Athena's, much to the goddess' anger. "Don't do this. Don't give up your soul for a stranger."
"I'm not giving up my soul for a stranger Gabrielle. I'm giving it up for love. Good-bye."
Before anyone could object Xena pulled Gabrielle to her in a final kiss. A kiss through which Xena tried to convey a lifetime of pure, selfless love, and Gabrielle returned it with every bit as much passion. When they parted, Xena felt she was losing any hope of ever knowing happiness again, but it was all worth it.
Athena jealously pulled Xena to her and they faded away. Would it be the last time Gabrielle ever lay eyes on this world's Xena?
Gabrielle and Callisto rode full gallop down the road until they were stopped by a small group of Amazon warriors, one of who looked oddly familiar. It took both girls a moment to realize that one wasn't a warrior at all, but Lila. They quickly dismounted and ran to a tearful embrace.
"Excuse me," one young woman said. She was beautiful with innocent looks and curly blond hair. "I am Terreis, Princess of the Western Amazon Nation."
"I am Callisto and this is Gabrielle, Lila's sister. It's an honor to meet a real Amazon." Callisto pumped Terreis' arm enthusiastically and the Princess found herself liking the plucky girl more and more with each passing second. She'd been next to tears at being reunited with her sister, but there had been an underlying boldness to her gait and her eyes that attracted Terreis. This was no ordinary village peasant. She could sense that there was much to be mined from Callisto.
"It's a pleasure to meet you as well. I was sent here by Aphrodite to reunite you with your sister, but also to tell you that you're not safe here."
Gabrielle was just about to answer when a decidedly male voice interrupted her. "You got that right sister."
They turned to find Marcus of all people standing behind their group. He was damned sly to have managed sneaking up on a group of Amazon's.
"Marcus." Gabrielle spat the word out as if it was venom, and to her and everyone she held dear it was.
"That's him," Lila said to Terreis. "He's the one I told you about."
As the Amazon's drew their weapons Marcus held up a hand. Without saying a word arrows began to shower down on the group. Lila pulled Gabrielle to safety but Callisto saw Terreis in immediate danger and rushed to pull her into the trees. She was too late however, and the Amazon Princess took an arrow to her gut. That didn't stop Callisto from shielding her with her own body however.
"Terreis!" Another Amazon shouted, coming out of the safety of the trees to check on the closest person in her life. She and Terreis had been friends since they were four years old. They were sisters in every sense of the word except blood, and now Terreis was dying.
"Ephiny," Terreis said. Her voice was frighteningly weak. "I give Callisto my right of caste. Please accept it."
Callisto didn't know what to make of what she was hearing. What was a right of caste? "Oh, ok. Sure."
"Terreis, you don't know what you're doing!" Ephiny's eyes bored into Callisto's with something akin to anger but not jealousy. "That should go to someone born of Amazon blood."
"I see something in her eyes..." Those were Terreis' last words as her life drained away from her.
Ephiny did what she did best: She utilized her feeling's to make her strong. Right now she was hurt and angry over the loss of her sister, and she was going to make this male bastard pay for separating them.
Ephiny drew her sword as she yelled back to the sisters waiting in the trees. "Get Lila, Gabrielle and Callisto back to camp. Now!"
Her sisters did as told as Ephiny faced a very smug group of four men standing behind Marcus.
"You're outnumbered five to one little girl," Marcus said, examining Ephiny's physique with open lust. "Try not to cut her up too badly. She's going to make an excellent addition to my harem."
The men charged and got a big dose of Amazon skill and anger. Ephiny cut one man after another as each clumsily charged her. In seconds it only she, Marcus and one man remained.
"Not bad," Marcus said. He was practically drooling with anticipation of taking this proud warrior down and humiliating her the way he'd done Lila for years. "Remember. Don't kill her."
The two men attacked in unison, and Ephiny began to realize that she was out-skilled. Between the two of them it was only a matter of time before they had her captured and were leading her away to a life of misery and abuse.
Ephiny succeeded in cutting Marcus' partner down but it cost her her balance. Marcus was on her in seconds with his left hand around her throat and his right hand exploring her body.
"Your skin is so rough. Don't worry though. A few years in doors and I'll have you as smooth as-"
His voice suddenly cut off and his eyes widened in shock. Marcus began clawing at his back in panic before he collapsed onto Ephiny. It was a struggle moving his dead weight off of her but she wasn't alone. Callisto had returned and was helping roll him off, and when Ephiny stood she found a sword stuck in the center of the filthy mans back.
Ephiny looked up at Callisto with new respect and she too saw in Callisto's eyes what Terreis had seen: Bravery.
Ares wasn't sure how long he would have Xena's loyalties so he'd decided to live next to her, and eventually with her, on the battlefield. There was no telling how long she was going to be his Warrior Queen so he wanted to make the best of it while he still could. He'd set up a luxurious tent on the field and situated it squarely between Xena and Livia's tents.
Livia...That was a strange story in and of itself, for she wasn't really Livia. At least not the Livia he'd known and had fun with. Xena had been very specific in the changes that were to be made to her daughter's new personality. It had been tricky carrying out Xena's wishes but he'd succeeded fairly well.
She was ruthless...in the heat of battle. However getting her into battle was a war in and of itself. She was still Eve in the respect that she desired to spare life as much as possible, but Ares had brainwashed her into her mother's new world-view: Peace through conquer. The world would have to be forced to be peaceful and just, so if a nation or a village refused to surrender and live under Xena's laws, Xena would have to give the order to kill. If not, Livia would not kill.
He was pleased to learn another thing: Xena had erased her daughter's memory of Eli completely as an act of loyalty to him. Livia also had no memory of being lovers with Ares, which was his own handy work. He didn't want to deal with jealousy should his ultimate fantasy of him and Xena becoming lovers was ever realized.
As Ares passed Xena's own massive tent he heard the distinct sound of an argument inside. He stopped outside and peeled back the flap, just enough to listen. From what he could tell it was Xena arguing with Aphrodite.
Xena stared at the new goddess of war with a rage so intense it even made Aphrodite nervous. "I sent Gabrielle's soul to another universe. She's not dead."
At this, Ares thought he could feel his guts all but fall to the ground. If Gabrielle weren't dead then his time in the sun with Xena would draw to a very rapid close.
"Why didn't you tell me this before Aphrodite?" Xena asked, pacing to and fro before her. Xena was wrestling with so many emotions she didn't know which would win control of her heart: Happiness, relief, shame at her recent behavior, anger at Aphrodite for not telling her sooner so she could have avoided killing Varia.
"The plan was Gabrielle would find my alternate and she would send Gabrielle back just before the arrow hit her. That way Gabrielle would know what was coming and her life would have been saved. Unfortunately she met your version in the other world and..."
Xena waited for the goddess to continue. "And what?"
"You know how Gabrielle is. She can't leave well enough alone. She overstayed her welcome wile trying to redeem you. Now she's missed her window of opportunity to leave."
"Well go over there and bring her back."
Before Aphrodite could answer an energy ball hit her in the chest, sending her flying back through the tent. Xena barely made it out before the whole thing came crashing down on her. She wasn't surprised to find Ares behind the attack when she turned around.
"Ares, did you know about this?"
"No, I didn't."
Xena spat at his feet. She was sorely disgusted with him and had no doubts in her heart he may have had something to do with Gabrielle missing her chance to return home. "If you did you wouldn't have told me."
"That's right. I wouldn't. She's gone forever Xena. Even though she is alive in that other world she can't return so you will never have her back."
"NO!" He shouted, grabbing her up painfully by her arms. He clutched her to him until their faces were barely a millimeter apart. "I will not lose you again to that little blond bitch do you hear me? She's gone and there is nothing you can do to bring her back.
Xena wasn't about to be manhandled by any man, much less Ares. She drove her head into the bridge of his nose and he fell back in surprise. She twisted free of his grip and no sooner was she away from him did Aphrodite return the favor by hitting him in the chest with an energy ball that sent him flying twice as far as his did hers. When he hit the ground he was unconscious.
"Bastard," Aphrodite muttered as she came up to Xena. "Get your little girl. You're comin' with me to my temple. If Hercules succeeds in his mission then none of this will even happen."
Aphrodite watched Xena leave to fetch Eve. Hopefully Hercules would bring Gabrielle back on time this nightmare will disappear.
Hercules arrived in pretty much the same place Gabrielle had when she'd first arrived on this world. Only this time there was a welcoming party. His least favorite woman in the world stood waiting for him, a bright smile on her face. This kind of warm welcome was the last thing he'd ever expect from her.
"Hercules. My son. I'm so glad to see you." Hera quickly grabbed him up in a hug, making Hercules' skin crawl. True, he'd made his peace with the old witch but he could never forgive the pain she'd caused him when she'd stolen his family. Then again, this woman wasn't the same Hera he'd known, and she was literally weeping.
"Uh," Hercules extricated himself from her grasp. "Hera."
She stepped back and looked him over. "There is much you should know. Come."
The world around him faded away to be replaced by a very familiar garden on Mt. Olympus. Only here it was slightly different. Instead of being dedicated to Zeus, it had been dedicated to Alcemene, his mother.
"What is this?" he asked, taking in the statue of his young mother in the center of the garden.
"This was our sanctuary. I know the story of your history with my double on your universe Hercules, but here we have a much different relationship. Your mother died of a strange blood illness when you were seven. You came to live here with me."
"And where am "I" now?"
The Queen of the gods looked away, but not before Hercules could see the pain in her eyes. "Hera?"
"You're dead Hercules. You were killed by Apollo in a fight over Aphrodite's hand in marriage."
Disgust filled the pit of Hercules' stomach. "Aphrodite? She's my sister."
"Not here she's not. You see Poseidon is Aphrodite's father on this world, not Zeus. She fell hard for you but Apollo wanted her. He was determined no mortal was going to win the love of a goddess over him. Forget all of that. I have you back, at least for a little while. I never got to tell you this but...you were like a son to me. You were one of the few children I could say that I was proud of."
Hercules stared into her eyes and found nothing but sincerity looking back at him. Though he'd hated the Hera from his world, he couldn't hate this woman who was so obviously different from the goddess he'd known.
"You know I am not your son."
"Of course I do. I do know why you're here Hercules."
He nodded, sitting next to her. "I have to save a friend of mine. Her name is Gabrielle and she's being hunted by Athena."
Hera looked away as if embarrassed, and Hercules had to prod her to tell him what had happened. "She's not hunted now. It's a long story Hercules."
"Tell me then. And make it quick."
Xena stared out of the window of her old room on Mt. Olympus with Athena. She had been forced to take in just enough ambrosia to make her immortal and impervious to physical injury, but not a god. She would live forever in misery, as Athena's lover and slave to do her will. It didn't matter though. Saving Gabrielle was worth it all.
"Are you sure about that?"
Athena appeared behind Xena and ran a hand over her lover's body. Of course Xena stiffened at her touch, and chances are she always would, but Athena didn't care. She wanted revenge. She wanted to punish Xena, and she could think of no better way to do it than to make unwanted love to her as often as possible. Now that she was immortal, their lovemaking sessions could and would last for days on end.
"I never agreed to you reading my private thoughts Athena," Xena said, wishing that throwing herself out of the window and falling back to earth would be enough to kill her. Even if she did make the leap she wouldn't even sustain a scratch.
"Xena, for you there is no such thing as privacy anymore. You're mine. All mine, just like I've always wanted."
When Xena didn't answer Athena softened her tone. She had loved Xena from the moment they'd met. How would she ever make this woman understand that?
"Xena, all I ever really wanted was to love you."
Xena gave a short bitter snort. "Love me? Come on Athena. Who do you think you're kidding here? You don't know what love is. All you know is possessing someone. You wanted to own me in every way. My feelings, my thoughts, my ideas. It was always about you and what you wanted!"
Xena could see her words were hurting Athena and that was just what she wanted so she continued.
"Love, Athena, is selfless. It's about caring for someone else and their happiness more than you care about your own. But you're a god and not capable of loving someone else are you? Let's be honest here and look this in the face: You want to hurt me. You want to control me. You want to own me, but you have never wanted to love me."
"Xena, that's not true-"
"It is the truth! You may have control of my actions, my life and my body, but I swear by Zeus himself Athena you will never have my heart. You don't deserve it."
Xena turned away from a speechless Athena and walked toward the bed to let the goddess exact her revenge in the worst of ways: sex. "Now are you coming to bed or what?"
The truth of Xena's words hit Athena like a lightning bolt from the hand of Zeus himself, and she wished that for just a moment she could leave her own skin for she was disgusted with herself as much as Xena was. It was the strangest, not to mention the worst, feeling she'd ever had before. As Xena began to woodenly undress at the foot of their bed, Athena could think of nothing she would rather do less at that moment than rape Xena.
When the Warrior Princess turned she found the room empty and she was finally free to collapse into tears and lose herself for a while in her misery of living without Gabrielle.
According to Amaranda this was where Callisto and Gabrielle were supposed to meet up with Lila and a few Amazon guards sent by Aphrodite. However when she arrived all she found were the remains of Marcus and four of his men.
"Hello?" When she received no answer she was left looking around in confusion. Now what? Her only options were to return to Aphrodite's temple. If the way the goddess had received her before was any indication then Gabrielle felt fairly confident that Aphrodite would receive her again. It would take her a few...
She stopped in mid-thought as a familiar figure began to coalesce before her. "Hercules?"
"Gabrielle. I've been looking everywhere for you. Aphrodite, from our world, sent me."
The sight of a friendly, familiar face from her own world brought such an overwhelming sense of relief Gabrielle couldn't contain her tears and she collapsed weeping into his welcoming, comforting embrace.
Gabrielle listened to the horror story of what had become of Xena without her in their world. "So she's with Ares preparing to conquer the world?"
"That's right," Hercules passed her a plate with a large amount of rabbit meat and grilled vegetables. She found herself smiling for the first time in a long time.
"You're used to camping with Iolous Hercules. This is a little too much food."
He grinned sheepishly at the mistake. Indeed she was right. "Good, more for me. Just pass what you don't eat."
"I don't really feel like eating anything."
At Hercules' urging Gabrielle finished about half of the food he'd given her. While he polished off the rest, she gave him an account of the events of the past few days. He was quiet and reflective once she was finished.
"This world is almost a mirror to our own. Everything is the same yet nothing is the same."
Gabrielle nodded in agreement. "It's maddening, I know. What are we going to do? I have no way of knowing what's become of young Gabrielle or Callisto. I don't know where Joxer is."
"Joxer is right here."
Gabrielle and Hercules jumped in surprise. This man was possessed incredible stealth to sneak up on Hercules the way he had. He knelt beside the fire, warming his hands.
"Joxer. Have you seen my friends?"
Joxer shook his head no, looking up at her with an expression she couldn't readily identify. Was it curiosity? Sadness. Perhaps both mixed into one.
"So you're not from this world. Amazing. As far as your friends go, I spoke with Amaranda. They're with the Amazon's."
"Take me to them."
Joxer gave her an are-you-out-of-your-mind laugh. "I don't know about the Amazon's in your world, but here they don't tolerate male presence. At all."
"If you're with me-"
He interrupted her, his voice lined with an urgent undertone to make her understand what she was asking. "-If I'm with you they'll capture me, use me for mating then kill me. It's the law."
Gabrielle had a difficult time believing that but she didn't press the point. He was obviously adamant in his argument not to travel onto their land. "Fine. Show me where they are and I'll go."
This time Hercules stepped in. "I don't think that's a good idea Gabrielle."
"What do you mean?" She asked.
"I mean I think it's time we left this world. My window of opportunity closes in seven hours. We have to be back at the entrance point then. How far away is the edge of the Amazon forests?"
Joxer mulled it over but quickly came up with an estimation Gabrielle trusted to be accurate. "About two hours away."
Hercules nodded. "If we leave for the portal now we'll have an hour to spare. It's a no go. We should get going."
Hercules grabbed her by the shoulders. He cared about Gabrielle and Xena, hence the reason he'd become involved. Therefore he wasn't about to let her pass up another opportunity to end this nightmare.
"Gabrielle if you miss your chance to leave your presence will destroy this world. If you really care about the friends you've made here then you'll come with me now."
Gabrielle hated to admit it but Hercules was right. She had to think of Xena and herself. She turned to Joxer. This man was her last hope.
"Promise me you'll do one thing?"
Gabrielle took him by the hands. "Promise me you'll tell Xena I made it home safely. Promise me you'll look after my double here. Please."
Joxer nodded. He didn't want her to go before he'd had a chance to get to know her. "Tell me, what was I like on your world?"
A grin split Gabrielle's face as she thought of the bumbling idiot she'd known and loved. What could she say? It didn't take her long to come up with the answer. She'd tell him the truth.
"He was the purest man I ever knew. He had the heart of a lion and the soul of an angel. He was one of my best friends and I loved him with all my heart. He died to save me, and he knew I would have done the same for him without giving it a second thought. On my world Joxer...was a hero."
"I'll take them the messages. I promise. Good-bye Gabrielle."
Gabrielle planted a slow, soft kiss on Joxer's lips then turned and followed Hercules into the night.
Gabrielle and Hercules arrived at the portal six hours later to find it waiting for them to enter.
"What if someone else went through before us? Then we'll have the same danger on our world," Gabrielle asked, looking into the swirling blues and whites of the interdimensional portal.
"Only we can enter into it. Hera has seen to that herself. You know, once we go through we'll be home again, but you will be returned a few moments before your death. You'll have to think quickly to save yourself."
"What about this place?" Gabrielle said. Hopefully things will be reset here as well.
"I don't know. Are you ready?"
Gabrielle took hold of his massive hand and sucked in a big breath. It was time to go home.
Epilogue: Fates And Destinies
The portal vanished from around Gabrielle but with it came an intense dizziness. The next thing she knew she was standing on a tree branch beside Xena with a swarm of guards from Apollo's temple below her. Her cluttered memories cleared enough for her to know that she was about to be shot, so she pulled back away from Xena, hitting her head on a low-hanging tree limb above her. As soon as she did, the arrow that had been meant to kill her whizzed between her and Xena and flew off into the night. Xena...
Her Xena was here, before her, and Gabrielle wanted nothing more in the world than to throw her arms around her and hold her tight. There was so much she wanted to say, but that would have to wait. For now she was happy in the knowledge that she was finally home with the woman she loved.
"Good one Gabrielle," Xena said. She'd seen her lover dodge the arrow, but she also saw the panic in Gabrielle's eyes.
"Xena, let's retreat."
Xena flinched at the word but nodded her agreement. "We'll deal with them later. Come on."
Xena grabbed a vine, wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's waist and they swung out into the night...
Xena and Athena
Xena paced the floor of her rooms with Athena. She'd been locked up for only two days but it was driving her mad. Where had Athena gone? What the hell was she doing? Her pacing halted as the sound of something like thunder exploded from the main hall, which was just below and to the right of the window to her room. She looked down to see the gods of Olympus cheering and clapping as Demeter emerged from what looked to Xena to be a mirror. Everyone was applauding except Athena.
The goddess' eyes found Xena's and for a second the deadness within them was replaced by heartbreaking pain. Athena faded away from the celebration and appeared beside her.
"What's going on Athena?"
The goddess of wisdom was quiet for a moment. Instead of answering she went to sit on the bed, her shoulder's sagging as if she were bearing a great weight. Perhaps she was.
"Sit with me Xena. I want us to talk."
Xena didn't know what was going on but she complied and sat facing Athena on the bed. She fully expected her captor to fly into one of her notorious episodes of sexual frenzy but she only stared at Xena, her eyes looking tired and...old. For the first time since Xena had met her, Athena looked old.
"A god from Gabrielle's universe sent Hercules to retrieve her."
Something in Xena's heart broke. Gabrielle was gone and there was no chance she would ever see her again. She would have to live her life with no possibility of seeing her soul mate. Depression couldn't begin to describe the feeling's in her heart now.
"Yes. Our universe is safe now. So are you."
At first the words didn't register with Xena, but when they did she didn't truly believe them. Athena never backed down. She never gave and she never sacrificed.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, Xena, that I set you free. You no longer have to stay here. You no longer have to serve as my champion if you don't want."
Xena searched Athena's eyes but all she found was truth. "You never give in. Why are you doing it now?"
"Because of something you told me a couple of days ago."
"What was that?"
Athena had to struggle to hold back the tears that threatened to burst from her eyes. How long she would be successful she didn't know. "You said I wanted to hurt you and control you. You said I wanted to own you...What hurts so much is you were right. I did want to do all those things. I wanted to do them because...I thought that's what love was."
Athena lost the battle to hold back her tears and they flowed freely from her eyes. Despite all the hurt and anger between them, Xena found herself pitying Athena. She pulled the goddess close and stroked her hair.
"Xena, I know you don't believe it but I really do love you. You made me happy and I wanted to do the same for you. Now I see that to prove it I'm going to have to put your happiness above my own. I'm letting you go even though it hurts me because you're everything to me. I love you."
Xena held onto Athena as she wept rivers of tears that carried out years of unspoken pain on their powerful currents of emotion. "Athena, I never thought I'd say this and really mean it but...I love you too. I really do. It's just that being your champion is not the path I'm meant to walk."
When Athena settled down she looked up into Xena's beautiful blue eyes. Eyes she'd lost herself in so many times before. "Where is your path?"
"With a young girl named Gabrielle. The Gabrielle you tried to kill had told me that this girl was my soul mate but I didn't want to believe it. Now I think she may be right. I once heard her say that Xena and Gabrielle was more than a couple of names. We're a concept. We stand for what's right in the world and we stand for love, no matter what universe we're in. I am meant to roam the world with her, fighting evil and putting things right. That's what I'm going to do, with her by my side. If she'll have me that is."
Xena stood but Athena turned her around so they could be face-to-face one last time. When she spoke she almost sounded afraid. "Xena."
"It's ok to let me go Athena. You'll be fine without me. You'll know love again."
Athena nodded but she didn't believe in her heart. "I once spent and eternity in your blue eyes, though it only lasted a moment. Does that mean anything to you?"
"It means you love me."
Xena pulled Athena into one last embrace, kissing her softly and deeply. They shared the kiss for a long time; each woman knowing it would be their last. When it was over, Athena waved a hand over Xena, sending her to be with her soul mate. However she wasn't alone for long. When she turned she found Zeus watching her.
"I'm proud of you my child."
"Oh, Papa. It hurts so much."
"I know. Love always does. That's what makes it worthwhile."
She ran to him and he held her in a tight embrace. For these few moments they were not the most powerful gods on Olympus. They were just a father and his daughter.
Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto
Xena rode full speed toward the Amazon forests. She was almost there when a familiar figure stepped from the trees, blocking her path, and it was all she could do to pull her horse to a stop before she ran over the idiot.
When she had her nervous steed under control she found that the idiot in question was Joxer. He crossed his arms over his chest and gave her the biggest, most arrogant grin she'd ever seen.
"I would have thought you'd take the opportunity to run me over," he said, his voice reflecting his smug grin.
She dismounted and drew her sword. "No, but I'll take this opportunity to run you through, you lying bastard."
Xena halted at the word and waited. "Well? What about her?"
"Before she left Gabrielle asked me to tell you that she made it home safely."
"I know. Athena told me."
"I take it you're going to see the others of your group now? She asked me to give them a message but since they're with the Western Amazon's, I can't get it to them."
Xena sheathed her sword and stood nose to nose with him as she had on so many occasions in their past. "Maybe you should go. They'll rape you over and over again for days before they killed you. You'd get to die with a big grin on that floppy, beady-eyed, slack-jawed face of yours."
He began to laugh, genuinely amused. "Still sore about Miri huh?"
"You left me for my so-called best friend! Wouldn't you be sore about it?" Xena pulled herself under control. She wasn't going to give this bastard the satisfaction. "Of course breaking up with you is the best thing that ever happened to me."
vice-versa. We went on to bigger and better things. Like two of Olympus'
most powerful gods to be exact."
"What's the message Joxer?"
"She just wanted you to tell them she loved them and that she's safe. She'll never forget them. You know, the usual mushy stuff you women are in to."
Xena mounted up but before she could ride off Joxer grabbed the reins of her horse. "I'm sorry for betraying you. I mean that."
Xena relented, but only a small amount. "It was years ago. I'm over it now, really. Good-bye Joxer. Maybe we'll meet again one day."
"I hope we do. It would be good to fight at your side again."
"I wouldn't go that far."
Xena took off for the Amazon forests. She had to find her soul mate before she lost her forever.
Gabrielle and Lila had spent two days learning to use a staff to defend themselves with while enjoying freedom from Marcus' tyranny. They still couldn't believe he was dead and no longer a threat to their families and friends. It was just too good to be true. They were also getting used to calling their best friend Princess Callisto, and her majesty. It was hard to get used to for Callisto as well, and every time someone called her by her new title she flinched as if the person speaking to her had pinched her instead of acknowledging her new position in life.
Though Gabrielle loved her new home and her new sisters she found herself sick of all the togetherness. Every opportunity she got she went into the forests to write down her feelings on a scroll and to daydream about becoming a warrior at Xena's side. Not just a warrior: A lover as well. She'd fallen hard for the tall, leggy, blue-eyed brunette, only to be rejected. What a let down.
"Xena's lover. There's a fantasy that will never come true."
"What makes you say that?"
Gabrielle's heart just about stopped in her chest at the sound of Xena's voice. She stood to find the Warrior Princess herself leaning against a tree; her arms folded over hear substantial bosom and a wicked grin on her face. As their eyes met Gabrielle could feel an electrical charge on her skin, and so could Xena.
Why didn't I see it before? Xena asked herself. She then quickly answered her own question. Lust. I was blinded by lust.
"Xena. What are you doing here?"
"I've come to ask you to forgive me for putting you off so easily."
Gabrielle expected joy that Xena had apparently come back to retrieve her, but instead she found her heart filled with anger. Never at a loss for words, Gabrielle let it all go.
"Oh, I get it. You decide you want me and I'm supposed to fall over with doe eyed adoration right? What about the other Gabrielle? She turn you down?"
Xena moved toward her and Gabrielle found herself backing away, almost in fear. "You look scared Gabrielle. You should know right now I would never hurt you. I've spoken with Lila and Callisto. The other Gabrielle is gone."
"So I'm the leftover huh?"
Gabrielle turned away, trying her best not to pout childishly, but she couldn't help her anger. She felt like Xena was almost trying to use her.
Xena lay a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Gabrielle, of course you're not the leftovers. I'm going to tell you the truth: I was taken with the other Gabrielle because I thought she was my soul mate. I see now that I was wrong. You're my soul mate. All I'm asking is that you give me a chance to prove I'm sincere."
Gabrielle turned to Xena, her anger cooling. "You know, I feel things when I'm with you Xena, that I've never felt with anyone else. It's like my skin is crawling but in a good way. I feel like Zeus' lightning bolts are moving across my skin or something."
Xena knew exactly what Gabrielle meant. They'd shared an instant bond almost immediately. "I know. It's like we're linked. Gabrielle we are meant to be together. We're meant to face the world and make it a better place to live in. Let's leave this place and start a life of our own. Please. There is so much I can learn from you. I have so much to teach you if you'll just give me a chance."
The sight of Xena's incredible blue eyes and, her rosy lips and sweet breath all served to melt Gabrielle's heart. Not to mention the feel of her flesh against her arm. Gabrielle had never really known desire before this moment. They were alone in the forest and dangerously close to one another. Gabrielle's voice was barely above a whisper.
"Ok. I'll go with you. But there's one lesson I want to learn right now or I'm not going."
"What?" Xena asked, just as breathless as Gabrielle.
Xena and Gabrielle
Gabrielle watched her lover as she scrubbed herself clean in the lake, just beneath the waterfall. She'd never known happiness like she knew right now. She was safe with the one she loved, and apparently she was the only one aware of what had happened without her presence.
This also worried Gabrielle. She'd done her best to teach Xena about true, selfless love. Despite all her efforts Xena had gone back to her old ways without her. What if something happened to her again? What if she died and no one intervened in time to save her? It was so unsettling.
Xena exited the water, seeing that something was bothering her love. This confused Xena since for the past two days they'd been making love almost non-stop. Now the day was hot and they had both been in the cold water of the lake, now they were drying in the sun, and Gabrielle's happiness seemed to be gone.
"What's the matter darling?" Xena said. She settled in next to Gabrielle and they shared a deep, soulful kiss.
"I know you better than that Gabrielle. Spit it out. Please?"
"What would you do if I had been killed by Apollo's priests the other night?"
Xena gave it some long, serious thought before she answered. "I would have hunted them down and killed them all."
Gabrielle was disappointed by Xena's blunt answer and she said as much. "Xena! What about all the promises not to return to your old ways if something happened to me?"
"I know. You wanted me to be honest right? That's honest for me. If you had been murdered I would have avenged you. I've come a long way Gabrielle but I still have a long way to go."
"Then I'll just have to keep working on you I suppose."
Xena smiled one of her most devilish smiles. "Oh I hope you do."
It was clear where Xena wanted to go from there but Gabrielle wasn't quite finished yet. "How do you feel about Varia?"
Now Xena was really confused. "Varia? Well, she's obnoxious and irritating-"
"But she's a good warrior. She's got great legs. Nice tits. She's got an ass to kill for-"
"Ok, I get the point. If something does happen to me, I think she'd be good for you."
Xena sat up, looking Gabrielle over in concern. "Where is all of this coming from?"
"It's a long story. I just want you to promise me something."
Gabrielle stroked a lock of wet hair from Xena's face. "Promise me that if I die before you and for some reason a chance for love with Varia or any other man or woman comes along you'll take it."
Xena considered her answer for a long time. This was the second time Gabrielle had made this request, but this time there was something different in her voice. There was a sense of urgency that hadn't been there before.
"Promise you'll keep the promise Xena."
Xena laughed and lay back down. "I promise to keep the promise. Now can we change the subject? It's giving me the creeps."
Gabrielle dissolved into laughter and Xena relaxed. This was the way she liked to see her baby. "I love you Gabrielle."
"I love you too Xena."
"So what were you writing?"
Gabrielle looked at the scroll that chronicled her adventures in the alternate universe then turned to Xena with another big grin.
"Xena, have I got a story for you..."