Disclaimer: The Executioner, Xena and all the others in this fic are in no way mine, and if they had been, you can be sure they would have gotten more than one measly episode on Hercules. No it's those RenPic people again folks, and they're not sharing. Well maybe a little, since we're all writing fics about their creations, but anyway... And I would also like to add that I love Gabrielle anyway, even if she has black teeth. So there. ^_^

Subtext: It's maintext I suppose, though it's much less than I usually write. And who would have thought I'd ever write something about this character? I think I must be coming down with something... *grins* This story has been buzzing around in my mind for quite some time now, though, and I'm kind of glad I finally wrote it down.

Any feedback is of course greatly welcome, at rosmari.karlssonfaltin@telia.com

Lastly, before Jo-chan and my banshee sisters come around with one of those nice, white jackets that buttons in the back for me... Banshees Rule!

 


Love in a Strange World
by Carola "Ryűchan" Eriksson


Even though he had been there a while now, the dark and frankly psychotic interior in the palace of the Sovereign kept amazing him. What kind of twisted mind had been able to think of such things as these... decorations anyway?

He looked around him. Familiar faces set in strange circumstances, friends turned strangers though perhaps not so far from the people he knew as one might have thought. Like Xena, who was standing to the side and glaring murderously at him while wiping the last of the wedding cake from her face. The short hair and trashy dress made it clear that there was a difference between this woman and the one he knew, but the lack of grace in her movements, and the very childish appearing sulky pout she now wore seemed to suggest that there was little, if anything, these women had in common beyond their name.

To his left there was something he would not have believed had he not seen it with his own eyes. Ares, God of Love, was standing, no, correction, posing next to his sister in his immaculately white outfit while eyeing him uncertainly. Who would have pictured the arrogant and aggressively self-assured God of War as this mellow love God content to stand back and follow someone else's lead? Not him, at least.

Aphrodite did actually not surprise him much. In truth perhaps it should, but not many looked beyond the love Goddess scant dress and unusual language to see that she had a lot of dignity and poise when she wanted to. To picture her as the Queen of the Gods was a bit of a stretch, even for him, but her calm, dignified appearance was not quite the eye-opener it might have been.

The man kneeling on the floor next to the unconscious Executioner had taken some time for him to place. The Joxer he could remember seemed to be a good soul, but hopelessly inept at anything he did. Granted, he did not know the man particularly well, it was more a case of having mutual acquaintances, but still... the black clad rebel leader was not how he thought of the man at any rate.

Joxer was staring at him.

In fact, they were all staring at him, save the Executioner, who, as stated before, was still unconscious.

Silence.

Then...

"So. The Sovereign is not coming back, then?" Aphrodite asked with a grim look and a determined set to her jaw. "We can be sure of this?"

"Yes." He answered simply, what else was there to say? He had already explained what became of that twisted creature. Aphrodite nodded thoughtfully, while Ares fiddled with a sequin on his belt.

"Why should we believe you?" Joxer demanded, sending an appraising look over his shoulder.

"You don't have to, that's up to you. But it is the truth." He shrugged.

"He's not coming back." Aphrodite thought out loud. "Then that means that the Hindsblood is also..."

"He took my Hindsblood pendant with him!" Xena cried "And without it, your divine highnessness, I can't make the antidote for your precious Zeus! Now ain't that a kicker, huh?!"

Despite her defiant outburst, Xena looked... defeated. Her shoulders sagged, and she was chewing her lip as if the shiny bauble in which she had kept the Hindsblood had held some personal salvation now forever lost. Aphrodite shot her a contemptuous look before regaining her cool posture, and swiftly set her brother's concern at rest.

"We have lost the Hindsblood, true, so the antidote the Sovereign promised is lost. That is grave news indeed, but we mustn't loose hope. Without the Sovereign there might be something else, something overlooked, that can be done for Zeus." She closed her eyes briefly, which was the only outward sign of the impact of these news had on the Queen of the Gods. Ares looked much like a lost little boy, until, perhaps unconsciously, Aphrodite reached out and took his hand. The strength of his sister's resolve would carry them both.

"Fine, fine, you Gods worry about Zeus. We mortals will just worry about getting rid of the vermin that has oppressed us for so long." Joxer said with disdain. "With the Sovereign gone and his power broken, there's just this one left to deal with." Indicating the fallen Executioner. "You, loverboy, throw me the dagger over there before it wakes up!"

Ares looked at the dagger in question as if it would jump up and bite him, but still he complied, kicking the weapon across the floor. As he did this Xena let out a horrifying shriek, and hurled herself at Joxer.

"NO! I won't let you hurt her!" She screamed and wrestled the rebel fighter to the ground. Even though this world's Xena was not much of a warrior, she could still fight if she really had to, and that uncanny strength her Warrior Princess counterpart was known for still existed within.

Joxer swiftly found himself flat on the floor, with his head being brutally bashed into the hard tiles over and over while the irate woman screamed obscenities at him.

Aphrodite... blinked. Ares looked appalled by the violence. And the only one left to save Joxer was a stranger from another reality.

"Now now, take it easy, no-one is going to get killed." He said while shoving Xena off her victim long enough to drag him away from her. "Not him, not you, not anyone."

He looked around him at the people in the room. "Is everyone clear on that?"

He returned his attention to Xena, after indicating that Ares should check the rebel fighter for head trauma, but Xena was already ignoring them all. She was sitting on the floor with the Executioner's head in her lap, awkwardly stroking the lacklustre hair.

He frowned. "Why do I get the feeling that there is something here that I should know?" He asked.

Xena shrugged at him, not even looking up as she answered. "Why should you care?"

"Because." He let a little of his feelings for the people these two represented in his world shine through as he spoke. "The Xena I know, the one in my world, is a good person. One I'm proud to call my friend, and for whom I care very much."

He shifted his gaze to indicate the unconscious form. "And the Gabrielle I know is a very special individual, warm and loving and bright, and I would do anything I could to help either of them."

To his surprise, Xena burst into tears.

"S-she used to be, you know? Those things you said?" She caressed a colourless cheek. "Before."

"Before?" He asked "Before what?"

Aphrodite nodded sadly, and interjected before Xena could answer. "Before Artemis. The one known as the Executioner is my sister's Chosen. Or, I should say, she was."

"Artemis? What has she got to do with any of this?" He asked in confusion, thinking of his world's Artemis and what she stood for.

Ares looked at him funny. "Artemis, you know, the Goddess of Death? Really scary mojo if you ask me... And her twin, Apollo? He's almost as bad as she is, phew, they make that psycho Cupid look like one of Discord's virgin priestesses by comparison." Ares shuddered in his stylish whites.

"Artemis? And Apollo?" He asked, disbelieving. "What about Hades and Celesta, where'd they go? And what do you mean by Discord's virgins, what happened to Hestia?"

Aphrodite raised an eyebrow at him. "You mean Hades, the God of farming, Celesta, the Goddess of childbirth, and Hestia, the Goddess of the Amazons? What of them?"

"She's waking up." Xena said quietly.

Everyone grew silent and turned to watch as there was a small movement in the Executioner's eyelids. Then she opened her eyes.

In a flurry of motion the Executioner was on her feet, twirling around, and a huge axe appeared to materialise out from the folds of her black robes. In a heartbeat she had the axe pointed at his throat, ready to take his life.

"No! Don't do it, he's not an enemy!" Xena exclaimed and grabbed the Executioner's arm. "There's no need to kill anyone here... yet." She pulled at the arm, and slowly the Executioner lowered her axe.

He looked hard at the face that was both so familiar and so strange to him. The Executioner was Gabrielle alright, there could be no mistake about that. But this Gabrielle was frightening.

The hair that unkempt spilled across her shoulders was listless and dull, but it was still that particular red-gold hue that appeared as different colours to different people. It was also the only real dash of colour that still remained in the woman. Her skin was not so much pale as it was devoid of colour, and the eyes framed by a face that was so set it seemed carved in stone, were black. Black like her lips, and, at closer inspection, as her teeth as well. The teeth did not appear rotted though, just... black.

She just stood there, unmoving, unblinking, a silent promise of death and destruction if triggered, but for now merely waiting.

He noticed the look on Xena's face though, as she wrapped herself onto the Executioner's side. He sighed. "What happened to her?"

Xena looked at him as if judging the sincerity of his question. Then she shrugged, as if it wouldn't really matter now anyway, and started talking.

"She was picked as Artemis' Chosen. It was... an unselfish act that brought her to the Goddess attention." Xena wiped angrily at her tears. "She offered herself in place of someone else when the Goddess of Death came to claim them. And she claimed Gabrielle."

"She is neither dead nor alive now, imbued with all the power of being Death's vessel, her hand, her sword, set loose on the world in Artemis' place. I never did find out why she gave her so much power, only that she is more or less indestructible since she cannot die, and even her slightest touch will kill. She... stopped being Gabrielle that night, and has been the Executioner ever since."

"She was a slave to Artemis' whim, forced to do whatever, whenever Artemis so wished." Xena turned her tortured gaze to him. "I had to do something, anything to get her back."

Quietly. "So I allied myself to the Sovereign." A breath. "In exchange for me finding and providing him with the Hindsblood, he would help me destroy Artemis. And he did."

"Only, instead of letting her go, he enslaved her anew, to himself. He put her in that box, and covered her in these clothes from Poseidon's forge, that allowed him to control her power, control her. And I couldn't do a single thing to stop him."

"So I became his lover. He knew all along that I was trying to kill him, but he enjoyed playing this sick little game so he kept me around. And tonight I was finally going to make it." Xena glared at Aphrodite. "One good bite of the wedding cake, just one, and it would have been enough. I prepared the whole thing with Hindsblood, one bite would either kill him or at the very least leave him weak enough that I could finish him off anyway. But you had to interfere!"

"But..." Aphrodite was bewildered. "He's gone now. Isn't that more or less what you wanted?"

"He's gone, yes. But not dead!" Xena's voice was venomous. "And unless he is dead, the bonds he put on her won't be broken! Worse, wherever he is he's got the Hindsblood with him. It was the only thing I know of that could have the power to change back the things that were done to Gabrielle."

Xena pouted.

The Executioner moved. The arm not holding the axe snaked out and wrapped around Xena and pulled her tight against the Executioner's body. Xena purred almost as if she couldn't help it, and clung to the smaller, black clad form.

The Executioner blinked. Then she turned her head and met Xena's gaze.

"I..." She said. "AM NOT... FREE"

"BUT"

The voice that came from the Executioner sounded strangely large and hollow, as if listening to something shouted in a long, windy tunnel.

"THEIR INFLUENCE... IS"

It was disturbing to see, now that she was speaking, that not only the teeth but the entire insides of the Executioner's mouth were pitch black, almost as if Artemis had poured solid death and darkness into the woman's veins and it had destroyed the flesh that housed it.

"NO MORE."

"No more?" Xena breathed, her eyes tearing up again. She touched a pallid cheek. "Really?"

"I AM"

"STILL NOT"

The expression in that stony face did not alter, yet somehow it appeared to soften as the Executioner and Xena gazed at one another.

"ALIVE."

There appeared to be a touch of regret.

"STILL NOT... SAFE."

Xena sniffled slightly, then she entangled both hands in the Executioner's hair and drew her in for a long, intense kiss, thereby saying without words that safety could go hang for all she cared.

As they did not appear to be stopping anytime soon, he blushed and looked away. Ares on the other hand, grinned in delight. "'Teena is just gonna looove this!"

"Teena? Oh wait, no you can't possibly mean... not Athena?" He groaned. "She's the Goddess of Love? No, don't answer that, I don't think anything surprises me anymore."

"Ahem." Aphrodite coughed politely to get Xena's attention. She failed. "AHEM!" No change. "I SAID AHEM! Will you please LISTEN!"

Finally she had their attention.

"I'm not sure of how much I can guarantee this to be successful, but I do know that I and a handful of the others can work together to help relieve... Gabrielle... of her problem. The fetters placed on her in the form of those clothes are disposed of easily enough, just as soon as I get Poseidon to remove them..."

"Why would you help us?" Xena asked with suspicion.

"If you would let me finish, it would help." Aphrodite glared at Xena.

"As I was about to say, you told me that you had put enough Hindsblood into that cake that one bite might have killed the Sovereign, right?" Xena nodded. "Then all the Hindsblood is not lost to us, and if we work together we should be able to make use of what we have to both save Zeus and transform your lover back into the woman she were. Does that sound like something you two would give us your co-operation in?"

"I don't trust Gods." Xena said quietly.

"You would have my word." Aphrodite stated calmly.

Xena opened her mouth to say something else, but the Executioner interceded.

"WE... WILL"

"CO-OPERATE."

"YOU HAVE... MY WORD."

Aphrodite nodded amiably, and made as if to transport them all to Olympus right then.

"Wait!"

They all turned to look at him.

"Umm, sorry, I just wanted to be clear on a few things before you all leave... As I am not going to be here later."

"Xena." He turned to her. "If the Executioner is indestructible, why did you react so strongly when Joxer wanted to kill her? Surely then he could not have caused any damage to her?"

Xena sighed. "As she is supposed to be, she is indestructible. But with those things draining her powers, I just don't know what would happen if he had stabbed her. After all, she actually knocked herself unconscious before, just by running into the fist of a mortal man, and that really shouldn't be possible."

She looked a bit embarrassed. "And I didn't think very clearly, alright?"

He nodded, and hesitated a moment before adding. "I'm sorry, but I just have to ask. You said that the Executioner's touch kills, yet... well, you don't seem to have a problem. Why is that?"

An expression of pain crossed Xena's features. "Because. The person that Artemis came to get that time, the one that Gabrielle offered herself for instead... was me."

She turned around, holding on to the Executioner as Aphrodite, with a nod of farewell to the two remaining mortals, teleported them away from there. An additional white shimmer appeared around the remains of the wedding cake and then it, too, was gone.

"Well." Joxer said slowly. "Well."

"Yes." He agreed. "It seems it is time to move on home."

"How will you get back?" The rebel fighter asked, holding his injured head with one hand.

"Oh, I was never really here in the first place. Not physically, anyway. So I'll just... scoot on back into my body, or something along those lines."

"Oh." Joxer said. "Well then, I guess I have a people to lead. Fare thee well, friend."

He nodded in acceptance and turned to leave.

"Wait! I forgot, what did you say your name was?"

He smiled. "It's Hercules."

Then there was blue light, and he felt himself being pulled back home.

He thought of events in that place, and people maybe not so different as he had first believed... and what that might mean to him. Then he thought of Xena and her Executioner, wishing them all the luck, figuring that those two would need it.

Which, of course, made him think of his two friends in his own world, and what they might be up to.

And that he was going to have to ask Gabrielle about that pout of Xena's sometime...


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