by Maderlin Bidmead
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Autolycus, Eve and the horsies belong to MCA/Universal Pictures. Just the little story is mine
Love/Sex: Two women in love, but nothing graphic. The following chapters will also contain an m/f relationship. This is not the main part of the fic, but it is essential to the plot. F/F loving will prevail.
Angst: Yep....Good God Yes!
Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'
NOTES: Hello everybody...remember me? Well I certainly hope so. After a long and agonising wait, my muse has decided to show her face and give me the initiative to start writing again. So here is part three of this little ditty. I would very much appreciate any feedback on this chapter as I am not terribly pleased with it myself, however it is essential in order for me to get to the main drive of this fic, which I should hit by chapter 5. This is going to be a long one folks...The plan is 31 chapters so it will get going very soon, but be a very winding road. Any feedback can be sent to either:
"I will have no part of this!" Muscular arms crossed over a silver covered chest.
Athene stared incredulously at her brother. Apollo had never stood against anyone in the halls of Olympus. He rolled with the punches, the docile side of the familial coin he shared with his twin sister, Artemis. Yet now, when all they knew and had worked for was collapsing around their ears, he chose to be obstinate. Their demise loomed and he stood against her.
"You really are an idiot arent you?" It was rhetorical and biting. "You selfish fool! Dont you see...the mortals will be lost without us. At the mercy of any deity that comes along! They need something to believe in. How long before another Dahak tries his luck? Who will protect them when we are gone?" The Goddesses voice steadily rose in volume, her temper boiling.
Athenes rage looked like it would shatter her brothers fragile resolve . The tall blond began to waver, becoming visibly smaller as he shrank in on himself. His blond head bowed, his shoulders slumped. He knew little of Xena, most of his information coming second hand in these times of turmoil. But Athene he knew, she was after all his sister and the Queen of the Gods. Surely she must be right. Ready to acquiesce to her greater will, he began to raise his head. Before a word could cross his lips, another voice thundered through the stillness.
"Dont you dare!" The voice from the back of the room shook with tension. "Dont you listen to her Apollo. The mortals are not toys. Its taken me a long time to figure that out. They dont need us...we need them." Aphrodite turned sad eyes to her older sister. "How dare you take credit over Dahak! Xena, a mortal woman, defeated him. Twice! So tell me, exactly how do the mortals need us?" The room was deathly quiet, nobody able to reconcile their usually frivolous sister with the woman before them. When she continued her voice had turned pleading. "Please dont do this, sister. Come with us. You are only hurting yourself, hurting us all, cant you see that?" She cast her eyes over her assembled family.
"We cant do that, Honey." Hepheastus couldnt look at his beautiful wife. He knew his duty.
"Then you are signing your own death warrant!" Cupid stepped out of the shadows beside his mother. He held his son in his arms and his wife, Persephone, behind him.
While listening to the words of the Goddess of Love and her son, Apollo had found himself hedging towards the small group. Now standing before them he realised that his mind was made up. If Aphrodite could make a stand against this futile war, then so could he. He slowly reached out and took the blond womans hand, showing where his allegiance lay. Aphrodite locked eyes with the Queen of Olympus.
"We will have no part of this." Her words continued to echo off the walls even after they had long since dissapeared.
The noise in the great hall slowly began to build after their departure. Apprehension and excitement warred with each other for dominance in the air. They all looked expectantly to their new leader, ready to hear her plans. Ready to do whatever she commanded. All but one.
A single dark figure hung back, confused by his own reaction. His loyalties were divided between the two women who would wage this war. His sister against the love of his eternal life. For once, Ares realised, his vacuous little sister may not be so air headed after all.
Hours later Athene sat alone in her bed chamber. She and her war council had spent long hours planning their next move. Ares had not be as forthcoming as she had hoped. All they had learned from him, was that any campaign would work in the favour of the warrior princess. They needed to throw everything they had at her, from all sides, and they needed to do it soon.
The Goddess was no fool, it was a real possibility that the human would be victorious. She seemed to have more lives than a cat. This, along with her newly developed power to kill gods, made her an even more formidable opponent. Of all the gods, Athene was the only one who knew the truth behind the prophecy. She had kept the scrolls close, using the knowledge to retain her power. The infant would not be the instrument of their destruction, she was simply the source from which Xena drew her new power.
Like any good commander, the auburn haired woman had a had a contingency plan. She would not allow the mortal to win without paying a price. She held a singe sheaf of parchment in her hands, her legacy should all else fail. If she was slain by the warrior princess, the scroll would burst into flames, releasing the spell held within, and Xena would know pain.
Xena awoke from a dream of fire. Her body covered in a sheen of sweat, sides heaving as she sucked in shallow breathes. She raised a long fingered hand to her forehead, touching the spot where the bridge of fire had ended. A surge had moved through her limbs, imbuing her with the life of the flame. She flexed the fingers of the hand still tracing across her face, feeling he power still coursing through her. No mere dream left that in its wake.
The warrior moved her head to look at the baby, sleeping soundly, in the crib beside the bed. Wide, innocent blue eyes suddenly snapped open to meet the world weary ones of her mother. Eve laid in her cradle, cooing happily at her mommy, reaching towards her with chubby hands. Xena laughed at the childs antics and lifted her onto the bed.
"Guess this means I can kill gods now. I was waiting for a sign, and I guess I got one. Was that you in my dream Evie?" Her daughter laughed as the warrior tickled her tummy. The older brunette let out a tired sigh. "Your getting so big and Gabrielles missing all of it." She cuddled the infant close. "I miss her so much Evie, its only been a couple of weeks, but it feels like forever." Another sad sigh. "She doesnt even write to me." Looking down she saw that the baby once again succumbed to sleep. smiling wistfully, Xena placed her back in her crib.
Her body still buzzing after the dream, Xena threw on a tunic and left the bedroom. Staying in her mothers inn certainly had advantages, Cyrene always had plenty of snack food. When Joxer had found her with news that the twilight was upon them, she had expected to start fighting immediately. Instead she had been instructed by Aphrodite on what she could expect from the gods, the Goddess of Love had given her time and information to prepare. And prepare she had. Training hard and plotting strategy day and night, rarely letting her guard down. She mulled over her plans as she moved through the pantry. Finally, with bread and cheese in hand, she moved to sit at the roughly hewn table in the centre of the kitchen. The banked fire in the hearth kept the nights chill at bay.
Trying to calm herself and regain some focus after the dream, Xena placed the first piece of bread in her mouth, chewing slowly. As her mind began to clear, she felt an all too familiar sensation crawl across the back of her neck. Growling low in her throat she waited for him to show his hand. She wasnt in the mood for any of his games. Apart from her initial growl, she ignored the godly presence. If there was one thing that Ares could not stand, it was being ignored.
With a muted flash, the God of War appeared in the inns kitchen. He had visited this place several times during Xenas life, and unlike most mortal things, it never really changed. He had to give Cyrene credit, she kept it this way to make the patrons feel at home and it must work because the place always seemed relaxed. Well, it felt relaxed until he met the eyes of he warrior princess. She raised a single sculpted brow at him.
"I want to join you Xena." He tried to sound as earnest and sincere as possible, no mean feat for the arrogant immortal. Therefore he wasnt prepared for the burst of laughter. Well, not quite.
"Its not that dont trust you Ares...Actually it is because I dont trust you. Whats in it for you? I can kill you and each and every member of your family." She couldnt wait to hear the line he was about to spin her.
"And we can still kill you, and the baby. We are many, Xena, and you are all alone. I know you have faced armies and won, but we are stronger than that. You dont even have Gabby to watch your back. I want to help you." He locked eyes with her, hoping she could read the truth held there.
"Thanks for the critique of my skills, War God. You still havent told me what you get out of this little alliance." She had fallen for his tricks once too often.
"You." It came out as a gusty sigh. Xenas eyebrows shot into her bangs. "Its not what you think. I really do love you Xena, it doesnt matter that you dont love me back. i can not sit back and watch you die. My family are a bunch of fools. The only one with an ounce of sense is Aphrodite. She cares for blondie almost as much as I care for you. My son, Cupid, cares too. He, Aphrodite and Apollo have gone underground rather than fight you." He took a long breath. "If I help you fight my family I loose my powers. All I ask is that you let me stay with you until I get used to being mortal. Nothing more."
"How can I believe a single word that comes out of your mouth?" Something in his words rang true, but she needed guarantees not feelings - her daughters life was at stake.
With a snap of his fingers a scroll appeared on the table in front of the seated woman. It unrolled itself to reveal a declaration. Xena scanned the page, it contained Ares sacred oath. If the Gid signed this in her presence he would be bound to his word. Breaking the promise would kill him. Before she could speak a quill materialised beside the parchment. With a flourish, Ares put his name to the oath. With a feint glow the scroll rolled itself back up and vanished.
"Where did it go?"
"Delivered straight into the hands of the Fates until my pledge is complete. Now do you believe me?"
"Sit down Ares." She pushed the bowl of fruit towards him. "Have a cherry." She smirked at her former patron. "So tell me everything you know."
"Its been almost three months!" The warrior paced the floor of the tavern like a caged animal.
"Im sure shes fine. You know the skirmishes ended almost as soon as they began. I bet shes just caught up in the rebuilding, and helping Octavius. Shell come home darling, when shes finished. Let her have a little time to herself." Cyrene patted her daughters hand comfortingly. Inwardly she wished she felt as confidant as she sounded.
"I know youre right, Mom. Its just...shes missing so much. Eves first step, first word, everything. When that kids on a roll she does it all at once." Xena fell onto a stool looking dejected.
"On the bright side, Little One, Ares seems to be taking to normal life quite well. Hes been really god about helping around the tavern." Cyrene was cleaning the bar with her back to her daughter and missed the sneer on the younger womans face.
"Hes still trying to get into by bodice."
"Well he is only a man." Cyrene chuckled and shook her head. Sometimes her daughter didnt seem to realise the effect she had on men when she wasnt trying to manipulate them.
Cyrene continued to putter around the closed bar, it was another hour before they would open up. Early mornings in the inn reminded Xena of her childhood. She hoped that Eve would have equally happy memories of her grandmother. The bad memories of her teen years always seemed to fade in the face of her mothers love. A Shudder ran through her as she remembered the events of the last few months. She had come so close to loosing her daughter, without Ares she would have been lost. His intimate knowledge of the other gods had proved invaluable.
Hecate and Discord had fallen quickly by the wayside, easily dispatched by a well aimed chakram. Their continual bickering stealing their vigilance. Soon safety in numbers became the gods mantra. Groups of three or more were much harder to hide from, or come up behind. The pressure built and built on the warrior princess, taking a toll visible to both Ares and Joxer. Having Eve close by during every battle, held in the arms of Joxer, was almost more than Xenas nerves could take, but without Eve she was powerless.
After two, long, hard, months of fighting the legions of the gods were down to Athene, Artemis, Hades and Hepheastus. The fighting between the two sides seemed to have come to an impasse. Nothing more than fleeting skirmishes and long pauses in between. Xena and her small band, consisting of little more than Ares and Joxer, were using the time to rest and recuperate. Xena needed to recover from numerous wounds and remained on a knife edge.
The illusion of safety on Olympus, where Athene and her last, loyal, brethren were holed up, was shattered. Four weeks of hostility had taken a toll on not only the once spectacular halls, but on the people therein. On the human plane, Ares powers were waning as he fought more and more against his family. Knowing that their time was running out, Ares used the last vestiges of his power to send the warrior of the people into the heart of his families stronghold. Eve remained behind, kept secure by Ares and joined to her mother by the dieing thread of the War Gods power.
The final battle was brutal, the gods having little left to loose. Artemis was dispatched by one of her own arrows, through the heart. Her distance from the centre of the meleau resulting in her end. Athene also stayed back, seated in her throne, watching as Hades and Hepheastus fell on the mortal. She would keep all her energy for the clash that was sure to come. Invisible, clad in his helmet and armour, Hades reached the warrior first. Hepestus was at his brother back, sword and chains at the ready.
Xena, a far more adept warrior than either man, sensed Hades approach at her back and drove her sword back, hard. The blade penetrated his flesh, his sword falling from his nerveless fingers to clatter uselessly onto the floor. In the blink of an eye, the sword was drawm from the fallen fgods chest and hurtling through the air. While Hepheastus mind was still reelling he had no time to react before the sword was hilt deep in his chest. Even as the god of the forge was crumpling to the floor, Xena strode towards the throne. As she moved passed she pulled her sword from the dead body, never breaking stride. The steel screeched menacingly as it caught on his bone before it came free.
Face-to-face with Athene, the final showdown had arrived. the two women were well matched, matching each other blow for blow. Sparks flew as the tall brunette beat at the defences of her auburn opponent. Xena managed to gin the upper hand, driving the goddess back. Soon Athene felt the touch of her throne on the backs of her thighs.
A flurry of strikes later, Athenes sword skittered across the floor as it left her hand, stopping several feet away. Locking with the blue eyes of her enemy, she knew that she would not leave this room alive. As the cool blade pressed into her throat, she cut her eyes to a small corner table. There lay her parting strike at Xena. As the blood flowed over the throne like a fountain, turning gold to rust, the parchment was consumed by flame.
Xena still wasnt sure what the flaming scroll had been about, but the smirk on the dieing goddess face had worried her. Still did. The Goddess of Wisdom was up to something to the last. Xena was trying to figure out just what that was. It was like a puzzle, and even Ares had no idea what his sister may have been plotting.
Her musing was cut short by loud voices from the street outside. Barely coherent shouts filtered through the un-shuttered windows. Even Xenas preternaturally good hearing couldnt decifer what was being said. She moved to the window, hoping to get a glimpse at what was going on in the village. The street running past the inn was devoid of any life, unusual in itself. Turning back to her mother she saw the excitement on the older womans face.
"Lets go. I want to see whats going on as much as you do." Cyrene was around the bar and out of the door faster than her daughter.
When the pair reached the outskirts of the village, the crowd had become eerily quiet. The crowd parted to let the warrior princess through. The cause of the noise and agitation of the crowd was easy to see. Coming up the road to Amphipolis, still to far to make out detailed faces, were five horsemen. Even from the distance Xena could make out the uniforms of Roman soldiers on four of the riders. The lead horse, the one carrying the person out of armour, appeared to be puling a travois of some sort.
Unable to contain her excitement, and a small degree of trepidation, Xena whistled for Argo. The war horse was grazing in a nearby paddock, unsaddled, but came instantly at the sound of her companions call. The dark warrior vaulted onto the palomino's back and set out towards the group at a gallop. As she drew closer, she could make out the features of the first rider. It was Autolycus. Her heart suddenly fell to her stomach in a leaden heap.
"Xena." His voice sounded weary as he hailed her. He raise a hand, signalling the other men to stop some paces behind him.
Once abreast with the thiefs horse, Xena dismounted. Autolycus also threw a leg over the side of his chestnut gelding and slid to the ground. He walked slowly towards his old friend. His face looked older, more haggard than she had ever seen. His eyes held a depth of sadness that made the warriors mouth go dry, a lump forming in her throat. The thief reached out a shaking hand on a leather clad shoulder. The gesture was to steady them both.
"Im sorry Xena. She went out on a guerrilla mission, wed already won. She was just cutting off the snakes head so that the body would definitely die. They were gone for over a week. When the rest came back they couldnt really remember what had happened to her. We searched for days. When we found her..." His voice trailed off into a barely controlled sob. "She was already dead. That was a couple of weeks ago. We bought her straight home." He looked over his shoulder at what was now obviously a sarcophagus. "We should take her to the crypt before you look at he body. We embalmed her as best we could, but the journey was a long one."
Xena tried to respond but nothing would come out. Her eyes looked glassy and her breathing was shallow. Almost catatonic, she managed to walk to Argo and climb onto her back. She silently led the way to her families mausoleum. How could her bard be dead?
The soldiers quickly brought the coffin into the stone tomb and then left in silence. Autolycus raised his hand to touch her back in comfort, but she flinched away. He hung his head in shame, making his way back out into the light of day. Cyrene was waiting by the door, and as soon as she spotted Autolycus she took the forlorn man into her arms.
"Its Gabrielle, isnt it?" Her voice was soft, her tears already falling.
"Who else? A hint of iron crept into his voice.
"Do you think shell cope?"
"She hasnt seen the body yet. Its not a pretty sight. Shes going to need help. Lots of help. At least she has the baby to keep her anchored. Last time she though Gabby was dead she wanted to follow." He cast his eyes upwards. "I know what they meant to each other better than most..."
Inside the cool tomb, Xena numbly looked at the vessel that held the body of her soulmate. Her own sarcophagus, left over from her death years before, rested on a plinth beside her. It waited for her body. She had always though that she would die first, even after their resurrection. It was just the way it was.
She ran her hand over the intricate tribal patterns on the lid. Tears coming to her eyes, which she savagely brushed away. She realised that somebody had taken as much care to make the coffin a reflection of the woman inside as the maker of Xenas own had. The symbols combined both Greek and Amazon glyphs. It also mirrored the detailing on her sais. It was beautiful.
Sucking in a breath, she took a hold and wrenched off the lid to get her first look at the bard. Xena felt bile rise in her throat. Half of the bards face was covered in. A clear sign that she had been a victim of a savage blow. All of the blood had been cleaned away. Her leathers were in tatters, sewn together with skill that could not hide the terrific damage. Her stomach sported a deep sword laceration and the skin was translucent. The smell of decay was sickeningly sweet, mixed with the scent of embalming fluid it almost made her gag.
"Why did you leave me? You have to come back to me!" Sobs began to wrack her muscular frame. "I came back for you! You cant leave me!" She began to cry uncontrollably into the coffin as she touched the undamaged side of her face.
She stayed their, weeping raggedly for hours. She would have stayed all night if Cyrene had not pulled her from the chamber. She had her daughter until she cried herself into an exhausted sleep in the bed she had shared with her lover. Cyrene, knowing her daughter well, put Eve in bed with her mother. She hoped that the infants presence would hold back some of the nightmares. She kissed mother and child on the forehead and left he pair to rest.
TBC in Chapter 4
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