This was started before the events in "Adventures in the Sin Trade" and would probably be considered 'season two' X&G
She felt it, she felt the closeness of her child. That link a mother has.
She was behind the bar serving a couple of men with port when her daughter entered the inn.
Cyrene's smile disappeared.
The warrior held the bard in her arms. Xena's left arm and leg were covered in blood, Gabrielle was unmoving.
Cyrene had never seen the look that was on her daughters face before. She had seen her after Lyceus died, she had seen her after she had killed for the first time. Nothing compared with the look of fear and anguish she now saw.
"This way." She said, pushing through the patrons and townsfolk that stood watching in silence. The reached for a young serving girl, "get the healer."
Cyrene led Xena to her old room, moving aside to let her lay the bard on the bed.
"Xena?" She placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "What happened?"
Xena appeared not to have heard. "Where's that damn healer? I've run out of herbs. I'm going to find him." Xena stood, but her mother put her hands on her shoulders.
"Xena stop, he'll be here." Cyrene looked from her daughter to Gabrielle. "She's lost a lot of blood."
Xena knelt back down by the girls side. "She's alive. We just have to stop this bleeding." Xena placed her hand over the wound in Gabrielle's side, as if that would staunch the flow of blood and life from the bard.
The door swung open and the healer appeared, a large bag in his hand. Xena snatched the bag from him and rifled through it. Finding the necessary item she turned back to the bard.
"Can you get me bandages, mother? And some water, cold and boiled."
Cyrene put her hand on the shoulder of the healer and shook her head. "Let her do it." She said to him, and left to get the things Xena had requested.
Xena was sprinkling a brown powder into the gaping wound on Gabrielle's left side. She knew it would stop the bleeding but noticed that the bleeding had already slowed considerably.
She heard a soft gasp, and looked up into the face she had grown to love so much.
The blue, green eyes opened, slowly focused and fixed on her face.
"Gabrielle. We're in Amphipolis. You're gonna be fine."
Gabrielle opened her mouth, her eyes never left Xena's.
Xena took her hand. "What, what is it?"
A tear escaped Gabrielle's eye and made a path through the blood and dirt, finding a home in the soft golden hair of her temple.
Xena squeezed her loves hand tight. There was no response. She looked deeply into the eyes of her lover and watched as the light that was Gabrielle slowly extinguished.
The fear and fury exploded.
"Don't you do this to me again!"
She laced her hands together and slammed them into the bards chest. The healer ran from the room.
Three times she slammed her fists into Gabrielle's chest. She bent and breathed into her unresponsive mouth, then pounded her chest again and again.
Cyrene rushed into the room, dropping the water pale when she saw her daughter.
"I won't let her go, I won't! She came back to me before! She fought her way back! She'll do it again, I know she will."
Cyrene watched as her daughter pounded on the bards chest for what seemed an eternity. There was no flicker of life, no miracle this time. She put a hand on each of her daughters shoulders and pulled gently.
"Xena, she's gone."
"Xena, let me help you."
Xena knelt beside her friend and lover, her hands in her lap. She reached out a shaking hand and closed Gabrielle's eyes. She could no longer bear to see the lifelessness in them. Then she took hold of one of the bard's cold arms and pulled her from the bed and into her lap. Holding her love tightly she pushed herself back across the floor untill her back hit the wall. She wrapped her arms around the small form and buried her face in the golden hair.
"It's going to be alright. I've got you. No-one can hurt you now, I've got you."
Cyrene quietly shut the door and made her way out into the bar of the inn.
"I'm afraid the bar's closed. Please finish your drinks and leave."
Most of the drinkers didn't move, they regarded the woman with curiosity. Cyrene had a reputation as a good hostess.
One of her regular customers approached the inn keeper. "Cyrene is there something I can do?"
"No Derrion, there's nothing you can do."
"The young girl, Xena's friend, is she alright?"
Cyrene shook her head. "She's gone, and I think I may have lost my daughter too." She looked around the bar at the customers who had returned to their drinking. "Please," she cleared some empty mugs from the tables," please finish your drinks."
Derrion went from table to table quietly talking to the few remaining customers, slowly they filed out of the bar.
They all froze, however, as they heard the anguished cry that came from the back room.
Cyrene hurried them out of the inn and prepared to face her daughter again.
She found Xena sitting in the same position on the floor. She was holding the bard, rocking gently.
She knelt beside her.
"Xena, there's things we need to do."
Xena didn't look up. Her eyes were fixed on some spot on the hard wooden floor.
"We need to take care of Gabrielle."
At the bards name, Xena's eyes lifted. Cyrene gasped as she saw the pain in them.
"I've lost her." Xena pulled the limp body closer to her chest. "She was my life."
Cyrene placed a gentle hand on her daughter's wet cheek. "Xena, put Gabrielle back on the bed. I need to talk to you."
Xena shook her head. "I need this time with her. Please."
Cyrene nodded. "I'll be right outside."
It had grown dark by the time Xena emerged from her childhood room. Cyrene sat at the bar drinking a mug of port, she pushed another mug toward Xena.
Xena took it, draining the contents in one go.
"I've spoken to Andrius." Cyrene saw Xena close her eyes tightly. "Gabrielle's body needs to be prepared."
"I know." Xena stared into the empty mug. Cyrene leaned forward and filled it from a jug.
"Are you going to take her home?"
Xena turned to look into her mother's face. "She loved telling me I was her home." She shook her head. "No, I want her to be with Lyceus, he'll look after her for me."
"Do you want me to call Andrius for you?"
Another shake of the head. "I'll take her."
Xena finished off the port and made her way slowly back to the room.
She slipped one strong arm under the bards shoulders and another beneath her knees. The warrior easily lifted the limp form into her arms and let the small head rest against her shoulder.
Cyrene led the way through the empty streets of Amphipolis until she reached the house of the coffin maker, Andrius. She looked back to find Xena standing still, the bard in her arms staring up at the night sky. She started walking back until she heard her daughter talking to the girl.
"Look Gabrielle. The sky is so clear. It's beautiful. I never knew how beautiful until you showed me." she looked down at the pale face. "It'll never be as beautiful again."
Holding her close she carried the bard into the small hut.
It was lit with candles, hundreds of them. In the middle of the room was a large wooden table. Andrius directed her to lay the bard on the table.
Xena staggered back, her mother put out a steadying hand. "Xena, are you alright?"
Xena didn't answer, there was no answer.
Andrius bowed slightly. "If you come back in the morning......." The sentence hung in the air.
"No, I'm not leaving her." Xena reached and swept a few errant strands of golden hair from the bard's forehead.
Andrius turned to Cyrene. "There are things I need to do."
"I'll do it." Xena turned towards the man. "You know what I want, will you get it?"
Cyrene nodded to him. He went into a back room and returned with some pots with water, oils and herbs in. There were some cloths and a long white shroud.
"Andrius." Cyrene placed an arm around his shoulders, "Come back to the inn with me. It's been a long time since we talked."
Xena stood for long moments looking down at Gabrielle. In the candlelight the paleness of the bards skin wasn't so evident, the light danced and reflected in the golden hair. Suddenly the warriors vision was blurred and she blinked away the tears that blinded her to the sight before her.
She dipped the cloth in the warm water.
"Gabrielle, I have to wash you now." She said as she wiped the cloth across the bards face. "Andrius has heated the water so it won't be cold."
There was blood around the bard's mouth, she washed it away with care. Then she moved down across her neck and shoulders. "I'm going to take your top off, I need you to sit up for me." She undid the laces and pulled Gabrielle to a sitting position. For a long moment she held the bard against her chest.
Then she lay her back down on the table.
Xena looked at the wound that had taken her friend's life.
It was small, but the amount of blood that came from it had painted the bards lower stomach and left leg with crimson.
With shaking hands Xena began methodically washing all the blood from her friends body.
"I'm not hurting you, am I?"
She looked into the beautiful face and smiled. "This skirt is a lost cause."
She put her hand beneath the bard's back and undid the skirt, carefully rolling the bard onto her side so she could pull the bloody garment from the girl. Taking her breast dagger from it's sheath she cut the small undergarment away.
When she had finished washing the bard she put another cloth into the pot containing the oil. Moving in long strokes she covered the bards body with the oil. Then she combed the golden hair and covered her with the shroud.
Xena looked down at her own body. She was still covered in the bards blood from the long ride back. She began removing her armour, growing impatient with trembling fingers that fumbled with buckles and clasps.
Next came the leather. She tore it from her body along with the gauntlets and boots. Finally the shift. The blood had even stained through the pale material onto her skin.
Using the cloth she had used moments before on Gabrielle she scrubbed the blood from her body, leaving the tanned skin red and raw.
She stood before her bard, naked. She had done this so many times before, always revelling at the reaction it had in her lover.
She knelt beside the table, and pulled the bards head so she could look into her love's face.
"I don't know what to do." She placed her palm on the bard's cold cheek. "I don't know if I can go on alone."
She pushed the golden hair back from Gabrielle's face. "You came back before, why not this time?"
Xena shook her head slowly and smiled at the pale face. "I know you tried, just before you.........left." She closed her eyes, squeezing out the tears that coursed down her bronzed face. "What were you trying to tell me then?"
Xena stood up and clambered onto the table beside her lover. She lay down on her side next to Gabrielle, putting an arm about her waist. She nuzzled into the soft golden hair. "I love you." The warrior said. "Wait for me."
Cyrene had provided a bed for Andrius. She didn't sleep herself. She watched as the sunrise began to cast shadows across the room and rose from the bed and grabbed a shawl before leaving the inn.
In the pit of her stomach was fear. Fear at what she would find at Andrius' hut. She feared for her daughter, feared for her state of mind. She knew Xena was strong, stronger than anyone she knew. She also knew what the bard meant to her. She had seen the difference the child had made to the one-time warlord. The last time they had visited she had seen love. She meant to talk to her daughter about it, but the little bard was never more than a couple of strides away the whole time they were there.
Cyrene stopped outside the hut, then cautiously pushed the door open. She saw the table, saw the still form of the bard. Then, beyond, she just made out the long bronzed shape of her daughter.
She went into a back room and found a blanket. Returning to her daughters side she placed a gentle hand on the muscled shoulder.
There was a sharp intake of breath from the warrior. The blue eyes opened. The first thing she saw was the bard. She knew then her life was over. It was real, Gabrielle was gone.
"Xena, here, you're cold."
She wrapped the blanket around the warrior and tried to pull her from her position beside the bard.
"Come on sweetheart, we need to go. Gabrielle's safe here."
Xena sat up and turned toward her mother. Cyrene used the movement to wrap her daughter more securely in the blanket.
She eased her off the table and, placing an arm around her waist, guided her towards the door.
Xena turned back once. "My bard." She whispered.
They passed Andrius as they left the hut.
"Make the coffin sound." Cyrene said. "Gabrielle is going to join Lyceus."
Andrius nodded. A burial, rather than a pyre. He shrugged. It would mean a wooden coffin would be required in the meantime. But eventually Gabrielle would lay for eternity in a stone coffin.
Cyrene was shocked at the weakness she felt in her daughter as she led her back to the inn. She guided her through the tables towards the back. She didn't take her to Xena's old room. There was still blood on the bed from the previous night. Instead she took her to her own room and sat Xena down on the bed.
"I'll just go back to Andrius and get your things. I'll have them cleaned up."
"No." Xena pulled the blanket tighter around her. "No, destroy them." Xena turned her gaze to her mother. She took a deep breath. "It wasn't only Gabrielle that died last night. I died inside. If I thought I would join her in the Elysian Fields I'd follow her."
"What do you mean Xena?"
"When I die I shall spend the rest of eternity in Tartarus."
"No Xena, that can't be true."
"It is mother. A few good deeds do not make up for what I've done. And now, without Gabrielle, I'm lost. I can't go on."
"Xena." Cyrene sat beside her daughter and took her hand. "Gabrielle will always be with you. I saw the love you had for her. I know it's hard at the moment, but you have to go on. For Gabrielle. She wouldn't want you to give up."
"She gave up."
"Do you really believe that?"
"She came back before. Why didn't she this time?"
"She couldn't Xena. You saw how severe her wound was. She just lost too much blood. She didn't leave, she was taken."
Xena buried her face in her hands. "Oh Gods, it hurts."
Cyrene wrapped her arms about the trembling woman and pulled her close. "It'll hurt less as time goes on." She pushed her daughter back onto the bed. "Try to sleep, you need it."
She sat for a while with Xena and slowly the warrior relaxed and drifted off into a troubled sleep.
Xena woke later. She lay for a long time staring up at the ceiling of her mother's room. By the length of the shadows across the bed she guessed it was early afternoon. She sat up and swung her legs off of the bed. Realising she was naked she searched through the boxes at the bottom of the bed for something to wear. She found a large shirt, and some leggings. She guessed that they had once belonged to Lyceus.
That would do.
After dressing she walked the short distance to the bar. Her mother was in an animated conversation with two men.
"Is there a problem mother?"
The two men looked at Xena and quickly handed over a purse full of money before leaving.
Cyrene smiled at her daughter. "There was an argument about the bill. Do you have that effect wherever you go?"
"I seem to have. Gabrielle always says..........." The pain in Xena's face shocked Cyrene.
She reached out and took her daughter's hand. "Gabrielle always says?"
"She always said we never had trouble getting a seat in a bar." A half smile.
"We should talk about Gabrielle." Cyrene led her to a quiet corner of the bar, picking up a couple of mugs and a jug of port as she went. She pulled on the shirt Xena was wearing.
"Where did you find these old things? They were Lyceus'"
"I thought they were. I found them in your room. It's ok isn't it?"
"Of course, it's just so long since I saw them." She poured them both a drink. "Now tell me about Gabrielle. I never really got to know her."
Xena stared into her mug for long moments.
"Gabrielle was....." She searched for the right words. "Annoying, a lot of the time." She shook her head. "To start with anyway." She shifted on the bench, self consciously. She found it difficult at the best of time to talk about her feelings. Now, with her nerves so raw, it was almost impossible.
Cyrene smiled at her daughter and encouraged her to go on.
"At first she was a burden. I didn't want her along. I tried more than once to lose her, succeeded a couple of times." She smiled to herself. "But I always went back for her."
She looked at her mother. "I was so sure I didn't need anyone. I was on the road to redemption." Her voice held a note of sarcasm. Her mother moved closer to her, putting a hand on her daughter's thigh.
"Xena, when did you discover you loved her? You did love her, I know."
Xena nodded, not trusting her voice.
After a moment Xena seemed to compose herself. "It was when I nearly lost her before. I hadn't realised how much she meant to me, until she died in my arms. Then it all became so clear, so simple. I loved her, I was in love with her."
"And she felt the same?"
Xena nodded. "That took a while, we wasted so much time. We were both afraid of losing one another. We laugh about it now."
Xena dropped her mug and closed her eyes tightly. Her hands flew to her face and she slumped forward on the table. Cyrene put her arms about her daughter and held her tight.
She shushed her as she sobbed in her arms.
"Xena? Were you on your way to visit me?"
Xena wiped her face and drew in a long shuddering breath. "Yes."
Cyrene waited for her daughter to speak, when Xena turned to her she saw the pain in her eyes.
"We had news for you, we were on our way to the amazon village. We were going to take part in an amazon joining ceremony."
Xena smiled. "We were to be married."
Again Cyrene took her daughter into her arms. "Oh Xena, I'm so sorry, so very sorry."
They sat like that, mother and daughter for the best part of the evening.
When the inn became too busy Cyrene had to go and help at the bar. Xena went back to her mothers room and lay on the bed. She stared at the ceiling, again. In her minds eye she saw her love.
"Gabrielle, help me."
Xena sat bolt upright. She looked around the room and tried desperately to reign in her tortured breathing.
The nightmare was still fresh in her mind.
The four thugs had been easily dealt with. Two were dead, and two had run off.
She'd placed a comforting arm on Gabrielle's shoulder. "There was no other way, it was them or me."
"I know," the bard had said, "you had no choice."
They were picking up their gear, for the men had attacked them in their campsite. One of the men moaned and Gabrielle had gone to him.
"One of them's still alive Xena."
The bard had knelt beside the man.
Xena was still walking towards them when she saw the flash of steel and Gabrielle fell to the ground.
Xena swung her legs off the bed and sat quietly in the darkness.
She remembered when she'd woken from nightmares before. Gabrielle would say:-
"D'you want to talk about it?"
Gabrielle moved behind her, cool hands on her shoulders. Her thumbs kneading taught muscles.
"It would help if you tried to talk about it."
"Believe me Gabrielle, you don't want to know."
Two slim arms wrapped themselves around her. Warm, soft lips nipped at her neck.
"Let me help you."
"No-one can help me."
"Let me try."
Xena put her hands to her face, the memory draining her.
Gabrielle took Xenas hand from her face and pulled it back to her lips, kissing the palm. "Let me help you."
"I want you back."
Xena felt the weight shift off the bed, her eyes were still closed.
"Xena? Open your eyes."
Xena again covered her face. She shook her head. "No, I'll wake up, you'll be gone."
"You're awake Xena, open your eyes."
Xena's hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes remained closed.
She felt the slightest, featherlight touch on her cheek. A small muscle twitched in response. She knew the touch, there was only one person who could touch her like that.
"Please Xena, look at me."
Xena still couldn't open her eyes, but she reached out a tentative hand.
Her hand was enveloped by two smaller ones, then pulled upwards to warm moist lips. Each finger was kissed in turn. Then the lips were gone.
Xena opened her eyes. There before her was her bard.
The warrior's hand closed around the smaller one and pulled the girl into her arms. Resting her head on the bards chest she held on tightly. She felt Gabrielle's arms go around her shoulders.
"This feels so real." Xena's eyes were closed again as she listened to the steady heartbeat.
She knew that any moment she would awaken and find herself alone again.
"I'm dreaming, but I don't care. I'll sleep forever if this is what I'll dream."
Gabrielle's hands went from the warrior's back to cup her face. The bard looked deep into the blue pools.
"I'm back Xena. Look at me, feel me, I'm real."
Gabrielle took a step backwards, out of the warriors arms.
Xena still couldn't move. She gazed at the sight in front of her. It was her bard. The same soft eyes, the golden hair tumbling round her shoulders.
Xena reached out and took the girls left hand. Even in the moonlight she could see the small scar on the knuckle of the thumb. A small reminder of a days sparring a few moons ago.
Xena looked up at her love.
"Does it matter?"
Words failed the warrior, she pulled Gabrielle back into her arms.
Gabrielle pushed Xena back onto the bed and lay next to her. She propped herself on one elbow and looked down at her lover. "I've missed you."
Xena's face creased up and she began to sob quietly.
"Hey, I thought you'd be glad to see me." Gabrielle lowered her face and kissed the warrior deeply.
She took Xena's hand and guided it towards the laces on her top.
The warrior's hand shook as she undid the laces as she'd done a hundred times before.
Gabrielle shrugged out of the top and again took Xena's hand, this time placing it on her breast.
"Believe in this Xena. I'm here."
Xena suddenly turned towards the bard and pushed her down on the bed. She covered the smaller body with her own and possessed Gabrielle's lips.
The kiss was long and when Xena finally broke off she stared down into the green eyes below her.
"If I lose you again I'll die, tell me this is real."
"It's real, my love."
Gabrielle paused and stared for long moments into the eyes of the woman she'd returned from death for.
"For you." She said and pulled Xena down into another breathtaking kiss.
Xena held the bard with all the strength she could muster and Gabrielle snuggled into the warmth and comfort of the warrior. This was all she needed at that moment. The connection, the touch and feel of the bard. She felt complete again, and in that completeness she fell into a loving and deep sleep.
Xena woke, and immediately reached for her love.
The bed was empty, of course it was empty.
"This is too much, " she said to herself, "too cruel."
Her eyes found the bard standing by the window. She was naked, the moons glow bathing her with its silver light.
"You thought I was a dream?"
"How can I convince you this is real?"
Gabrielle spread her body on the warrior's. Her mouth found an earlobe and sucked languidly. She raised her head to look into the eyes of her love.
"How can I convince you I'm real?"
Xena's eyes were closed, tears squeezing from between the dark lashes.
Gabrielle tapped a finger gently to the warrior's forehead. "What's going on in there?"
The blue eyes opened and blinked away the tears. "It's just so hard. I never thought this would happen again. I was so.......lost."
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her lover tighter. "I found you, I've got you." Then in a small voice. "Let me love you."
Gabrielle raised herself and straddled Xena's thighs. The warrior reached for her but Gabrielle stopped her hands. She spread the long arms out either side.
"I'm going to love you. Let me do this."
She bent forward and kissed the warrior deeply. Xena allowed her control, feeling the bard's tongue dance in her mouth. Then the bard's mouth was gone, Xena's eyes snapped open. A hot mouth attached itself to Xena's left breast, a small hand caressed the right. Xena's hands sought out and found the headboard, her strong fingers wrapping around the cool wood.
Gabrielle's right hand was forging a trail across Xena's hip, the bard shifted herself, her thigh nudging between Xena's.
Gabrielle looked back into the face of her love. The tears still flowed.
The bard kissed them away.
"I love you Xena, more than my life, more than anything. Always remember that."
With that she gently lowered her hands to the warriors burning centre. She felt the love there, felt the warmth of Xena's heart.
Xena sucked in her breath at the feeling of the bards hand at her very soul.
"Gods." It was a ragged cry, from the depth of her being.
"I'm here, it's me, I'm home." Breathed the bard into her ear.
Gabrielle pushed her hand against the thatch of dark curls. Xenas hips rose from the bed in response, so Gabrielle entered her with a finger.
Immediately the warriors inner muscles clamped around the small digit, so the bard inserted two more fingers, drawing them in and out in long, slow strokes.
The warrior's hands grasped the headboard tightly, her heels dug into the bed.
Gabrielle watched Xena's face, the pleasure and the pain mingling in the ex-warlord's features.
The bard never wanted to take her eyes from that face again. The blue eyes were closed again, all the warriors feelings were concentrated on the small hand between her thigh's.
"Look at me Xena. Let me see your passion. Let me see into your soul."
Xenas eyes locked with the bard's, and, the moment they did, she felt the pressure build between her legs. The bard felt it too and quickened her pace. The Warrior exploded with a scream of release.
Gabrielle watched as the strongest woman she knew dissolved before her very eyes. Xena's hands fell from the headboard, her right forearm covering her eyes.
The bard ran a gentle hand along the sculptured cheekbone.
"Xena? What is it?"
"I'm alive Gabrielle, I died, but now I'm alive."
Gabrielle sank into her warrior's arms, she rested her head on the heaving chest and listened as Xena's heart slowed to a more leisurely pace.
"Don't ever leave me." There was no response from the bard. "Gabrielle?"
"I won't leave you." She placed her hand over the warrior's heart. "I'll always be here."
Xena held her tight nuzzled her face into the golden hair. "By the Gods Gabrielle, I love you. Have I told you that before?"
Gabrielle smiled into the warm skin of Xena's breast. "I think maybe once or twice."
"What shall we tell Mother in the morning?"
"Let's have a day or so to ourselves, aye?"
"Sounds fine to me. We'll need food."
"I know, you can get that, just don't tell anyone about this. Please?"
"Whatever you say." Xena reached down and pulled a blanket over them. "Now sleep, I'm looking forward to the morning, I haven't woken up with you for a couple of days."
Gabrielle made herself comfortable and both women quickly fell into the arms of Morpheus.
When Xena woke in the morning she knew the bard was still with her. They hadn't moved through the night and Gabrielle's cheek was still nestling on the warrior's chest.
Xena idly ran her hand up and down the bard's back and waited patiently for her to wake.
Gabrielle began muttering to herself. Xena tried hard to make out the words, but couldn't. The bard became more animated, shaking her head.
Xena shook her. "Hey, wake up. Gabrielle, wake up."
The bard's eyes shot open. She looked around her and her eyes fell on the woman holding her.
"Yes, I'm here. You were having a nightmare."
"Sure is. A beautiful one too."
Xena hugged the bard close. "Still can't believe this is happening." She looked down into the blue-green eyes. "Can you tell me about it?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Not yet. I will, but not yet." She rubbed her eyes. "I'm tired, did that happen to you?"
Xena's brow creased. "I don't remember being tired. But if you are, that's fine"
She pulled the bard's head onto her shoulder. "You sleep, there's no rush. Sleep, I'll be here when you wake."
It was noon when the bard awoke again. Some time earlier Xena's mother had knocked the door. She'd left after Xena had assured her everything was fine.
"Hey there," said the warrior. "Hungry?"
"Yes, I think I am."
Xena jumped out of bed. "I'll go get some lunch."
"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you're here. Not until you're ready."
With that she was gone, and as soon as she had gone Gabrielle wept silent tears, burying her face in her hands.
Later that afternoon Xena was sitting, her back resting against the headboard, the bard's back resting against her chest.
"What would you have done if I hadn't come back?"
"I don't want to think about it."
Gabrielle swivelled slightly in Xena's arms. "I need for you to think about it."
"Xena, when I was dead I knew what was going on here. You gave up."
"That's not true."
Gabrielle put a small hand up to the warrior's cheek. "Xena, You promised me once that if anything happened to me you wouldn't become a monster."
"Gabrielle, I ..."
The bard stopped her protest with a gentle hand to her lips.
"Xena, now I want you to promise me you won't give up." She smiled into her warrior's face. "Please, I need to know you'd be ok."
"I can't promise that. If I lost you......" The warrior shook her head, "I just can't promise that."
Gabrielle turned to face the warrior, kneeling between her outstretched legs.
She took Xena's face in her hands.
"Xena I love you. More than I've ever loved anything in my life. But leaving you may not be my decision."
"Why are you talking like this?" Xena took the bard's wrists in her hands. "You're back right? Back for good."
"Yes, I'm back Xena. Now, let's stop this talk."
The bard took her warriors face in her hands again and kissed her, long and slow. The rest of that day was spent loving and remembering.
Long after the sun had set the two women slept in each others arms.
Xena couldn't sleep. So many emotions were warring for attention in her head.
She felt the comforting weight of the bard's head on her shoulder and brushed her cheek against the honey blond hair. Gabrielle snuggled closer to the warrior.
Through the open window she watched the clouds as they slowly obscured the moon, plunging the small room into darkness.
As the moonlight slowly filtered into the room Xena felt a chill permeate her body. She held the bard tighter as the chill turned to a feeling of foreboding.
Xena was out of bed and armed with a small stool before Gabrielle began to wake up.
"Xena, I'm not here for you. I don't want to hurt you."
"Hades." The name fell from her lips with a snarl.
Behind her Gabrielle was waking.
"Gabrielle, put your shift on." Xena said without looking at her.
Gabrielle felt among the blankets and found a shift. It was Xena's, but she put it on anyway.
"What do you want Hades?"
Hades ignored her and looked towards the bard. Gabrielle regarded him with frightened eyes. "You haven't told her, have you?" He said.
"Told me what? Gabrielle?" The serpent of fear in Xena's stomach took a painful turn.
Gabrielle walked towards Xena and pulled the stool from her grasp. She put her arms around the warriors waist and held her head tightly against her chest. Unable to look into her love's face she told her of her bargain with Hades.
"Hades gave me one night. I had one more night with you so I could tell you all the things I needed you to know." She took a deep breath.
"It happened so quickly, I..... died so quickly, there was no time. And your pain, it was so intense. I felt it, it was tearing me up inside. I just wanted to tell you I was ok, and I was waiting for you."
Xena looked over her friends head at Hades. The god of the underworld looked almost embarrassed.
"One night." Xena said. "That was all you gave her?"
Xena manoeuvred Gabrielle behind her. She suddenly realised why Hades was there.
"You're not having her."
"She's coming back with me." Hades folded his arms across his chest. "She's mine now." Hades glanced to his right and nodded. A huge figure emerged from the shadows.
"Darphus!" Xena spat, seeing her former Lieutenant. She glared back at Hades. "What's he doing here?"
"I thought it appropriate an old friend helped take Gabrielle to her new home."
Xena looked at Hades in shock. "New home?"
"Gabrielle has forfeited her place in the Elysian fields. I gave her one night, she overstayed her time. She knew the consequences."
"No!" Xena threw herself at Hades but before she could reach him he threw a bolt of energy at her which smashed her into the wall of the room, beside the bed.
Gabrielle started to go to the dazed warrior but was intercepted by Darphus, who wasted no time running his hands over the bard's body.
Xena couldn't move. She watched Darphus holding her lover, then Hades appeared in front of her.
"Let it go Xena. Darphus is going to take good care of your little friend." Hades turned to the man.
"Prepare her for the journey."
Darphus took some shackles and started to put them on Gabrielle's wrists and ankles. All the time the bard's eyes never left Xena's.
Gabrielle pulled herself from the clutches of Darphus and hobbled over to the god.
"Let me speak to her."
Gabrielle knelt infront of her helpless warrior and lifted a hand to Xena's face. The chains made a soft noise as she moved her fingers to wipe away a tear that fell from the blue eyes.
"You have to let me go, love."
"Just let go, I'll be fine." She moved her face close to the warriors. "I'll always love you, you know that?"
"Don't leave me."
"I have to. Live your life Xena, live it for me." She held the warrior's face in her hands and kissed her slowly. With her thumb she wiped away a tear that fell from the blue pools. "Live for me."
With that Gabrielle stood and was immediately grabbed by Darphus.
Xena watched as the bard and Darphus slowly faded from sight. As she disappeared Gabrielle mouthed three words.
"I love you."
Hades crouched infront of Xena and waved his hand. Xena felt the heaviness disappear from her limbs but made no move to rise.
Hades stood up and took a couple of steps back.
"Your little friend is going to spend eternity with the people that hate you most. That's the price she pays for one extra night with you. I hope it was worth it."
Xena ignored him. She still stared at the spot where she last saw her bard.
"You have nothing to say?" The god said.
"Not to you."
She stood and took a blanket from the bed to wrap herself in. It was still warm. The bard's shift fell from it onto the floor.
Xena bent and picked it up, burying her face in it. She sat heavily on the bed, her shoulders heaving as she cried tears of rage and despair.
"Well, this isn't what Ares had in mind."
Xenas slowly raised her head. "What?"
Hades suddenly realised his mistake. "I have to go, didn't leave anyone watching the shop."
"Hades! What has Ares got to do with this?" She rose from the bed and walked to within an arms length of him.
Hades sighed. "The men that attacked you were followers of Ares. He didn't want the bard dead, just roughed up a little. He wanted her to realise that following you was a dangerous thing."
"She knows that. She's always known that." Xena started to pace. "So this was Ares doing?"
"He wanted her to leave you, he thought without her around he'd get you back."
The smallest crack of light appeared. Xena whirled to face the god.
"You can undo this."
"I won't go against Ares on this. And anyway, this will re-establish my authority in Tartarus. People were thinking I was getting soft. Allowing the dead back to the land of the living, giving others a second hearing."
Xena glared at the god, realising he was referring to Marcus.
"What do I have to do Hades, what do I have to do to get her back?"
"There's nothing you can do." The god was growing impatient. "I'm going."
Xena sat on the bed again. She looked at the bard's shift in her hands. "I love you too Gabrielle. I'll get you back, if I have to go to Tartarus myself, I'll get you back."
Cyrene had slept in her daughter's old room for the last couple of nights. She didn't feel she could ask Xena to sleep in there after the bard had died in that very room.
She was suddenly woken by the sound of the door opening and bouncing off the wall.
"Xena, it's the middle of the night."
The warrior stood infront of her mother, a blanket pulled tightly around her.
"My weapons and armour, did you destroy them?"
Cyrene lowered her feet to the floor. "No Xena. Those things are who you are, I couldn't destroy them. They're in here."
She pulled a wooden box from beneath the bed to reveal Xena's weapons.
Xena's relief was evident.
"Are you going to tell me what's been going on?" Cyrene was pulling a blanket around her shoulders.
"I've just had a visit from Hades."
"The god of the underworld?"
"The very same." Said Xena pulling on her leathers and settling the sheath with the sword already in it on her back.
"What would he want with you?"
"He came to take Gabrielle back."
It was then that Cyrene decided her daughter had gone quite mad. "Xena." She said standing and placing a gentle arm across her tall daughter's shoulders. "I think you need to sit down." She tried to guide Xena towards the bed, but the warrior stood firm.
Xena placed her hands on her mother's shoulders, in turn pushing the smaller woman to sit on the bed.
"I've spent the last couple of days with Gabrielle. You know how she talks Mother, she managed to persuade Hades to let her come back for a day."
Cyrene began to talk, but wash hushed by her daughter's raised hand.
"She overstayed, and now Hades has sent her to Tartarus. I have to go and get her back."
Cyrene shook her head. "If what you're saying is true Xena, there is no way you can go against the wishes of a god."
"Not on my own, no. I'm going to need a little help."
Xena knelt on the floor holding her mother's hands in her own.
"I have to do this. If I don't come back, know that I'm with her. I'd rather stay with her in Tartarus than live without her."
Cyrene pulled Xena's head onto her shoulder and held her tightly for a long moment.
"Bring her home Xena."
Xena nodded tightly and left. Cyrene prayed to any god that would listen for the soul of her daughter, 'no,' she thought, 'daughters'.
Xena passed a half dozen warriors who were exiting the God of War's temple. They eyed her cautiously and stepped aside and let her pass.
She strode up to the altar and cleared it with one sweep of her arm, effortlessly vaulting up onto the stone platform.
"Ares! Show yourself! NOW!"
A tingling down her spine made her look to her right.
"You rang?" He said.
The god was sat on a throne, one that hadn't been there before. "This is one of the poorer examples of my temples. I have to bring my own comfort."
Ares ran his eyes across Xena's body. He stood and walked towards the alter on which she still stood.
"So, how've you been?"
"You know how I've been Ares." She spat. "But it didn't turn out like you expected. Did it?"
"Don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about highwaymen that come back to life and kill. They were your men Ares. You thought that killing Gabrielle would bring me back to you." She jumped down from the altar and walked up to the god, so close he could feel her breath on his face.
"She's my life, without her I'm nothing, to you or anybody."
Ares couldn't meet the intensity of the blue chips of ice boring into him. He backed away.
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Help me get her back."
"And if I do, will you come back to me?"
"No." She smiled. "But I'll have a reason to go on living, so your fun won't be over."
Ares saw her point. "Take my hand." He said holding out his own.
There was no hesitation from the warrior, she took his hand and felt the temple walls closing all around her until she was in complete darkness. Then a flash and she found herself facing not one but two gods.
"I've been expecting this." Said Hades who sitting on his own throne in his castle.
He looked towards Xena. "I don't owe you any more favours."
"Do you have to owe me to do something for me? I'll owe you."
"I can't imagine anything that I could want from you."
"You thought that before, remember? Then you lost your crown, your sister was captured. What else?....."
"Alright, I get the point."
"So I get her back?"
"It's not a simple as that. I can't just give her back. You're going to have to go in and get her."
Xena shrugged, "I can do that."
"Darphus has her. You won't be able to kill him, he's already dead. But he could kill you."
"It's a risk I'll have to take." She took a step towards the god, narrowing her eyes. "And if I get her out, she'll live."
"You'll have to bring her here. There's a small ritual she'll have to undertake."
Xena nodded. "Show me the way."
"Hey Xena, aren't you going to thank me?"
Xena had forgotten about him. "Yes, I'm sorry. Thank you Ares, thank you for helping me realise just how much I love that girl. And how I could never go back to you."
With that she strode after the retreating god of the underworld.
Gabrielle stumbled behind the huge man who hauled on her chains.
"Come on girl, I'm gonna give you the tour." He pulled her towards a raised platform. Once on top of it he pointed out the various areas that were controlled by one dead warlord or another.
He took her chin in his huge hand and turned her face towards his. "Do you realise how many of these people were put down here by Xena?"
She shook her head.
"More than you can count girl." Releasing her chin he stroked her cheek. "And what they'd give for a piece of you."
He turned Gabrielle so that she could look out over the horror that was Tartarus and pulled her back into his body.
"This is your eternity Gabrielle."
Hades pointed towards a large door. "This is my private entrance to Tartarus. No mortal has ever entered this way." He turned towards the Warrior Princess. "No other will pass this way."
Xena nodded. "I understand."
The tall warrior felt a cold hand on her shoulder. "If you bring Gabrielle through this door, she will still be dead. You must get her to me very quickly. Even then, I don't know if I'll be able to reverse the grip of Celesta."
Xena closed her eyes and turned towards the God of the underworld. "You said........"
"I said I'd help you. If Gabrielle's been injured badly or has eaten anything whilst in Tartarus, there's nothing I can do."
Xena took a deep breath. "Then I'd better hurry." She said.
Hades opened the large door, and Xena disappeared through it.
Gabrielle stumbled forward, thrusting her hands out to break her fall. The leash around her neck tightened, and for a moment she actually wondered if she could possibly be throttled when she was already dead.
She knelt where she was, on her hands and knees, breathing hard.
Her vision was filled with the sight of two dusty boots and she looked up into the face of her tormentor.
He hauled up on her collar and she dragged herself up, using the front of his tunic to get some leverage. Her hands encountered the huge wound that gaped in his chest.
As she snatched her hands away he grabbed them back and pushed them hard into the cavity. "You don't like?" He mocked. "That's your whore woman's work. She did this to me."
Gabrielle met his gaze. "From what I hear you were asking for it."
Darfus pushed her away from him, and she landed in a heap on her behind. He circled her, never letting go of the leash. "You know she rutted the son of Zeus, don't you."
Gabrielle pointedly turned her face away from him.
He kicked her in the small of her back. "Look at me!"
Gabrielle gasped as pain radiated from the blow. She looked up into the eyes of the man who jerked savagely on the chain.
"You meant nothing to her." He said, hauling her to her feet. "And now you're here."
"I know how she felt." She said, pulling back with her hands on the leash. "And I'm here of my own free will. I knew the consequences of another night with her."
"Oh I don't think you did little girl. I don't think you realise exactly what you've done."
He grasped her shoulders roughly and turned her to face the men filing into the small area ahead of them. They all held short, sturdy batons.
"You're going to follow in her footsteps, Gabrielle. I thought it was appropriate." He shoved her slightly forward.
Xena had told her some of what happened when she ran the gauntlet. In the end Gabrielle could listen to no more of the account of her lovers suffering. She knew she wouldn't have survived the beating that Xena took.
However. Gabrielle now knew that she would survive this. Only to go through it again and again.
A harder shove in her back and she began to walk towards the two lines of men.
Xena suddenly became aware of a pain in her neck. She opened her eyes and felt the sharp pain intensify. The tip of a shining sword pressed into the smooth skin of her throat.
"Mastacles." She said, seeing the bearer of the sword.
"So who had the honour of putting you down bitch?" Said the dead warlord.
"Wouldn't you like to know." Xena crossed her hands behind her head and took on a bored look.
"I'm sorry it wasn't me, I had you at my mercy once, if it wasn't for those damnable Amazons..........." He shook his head slightly. "No matter, I'll have your head now."
He raised his sword above his head and brought it down... on nothing.
Xena regarded him from a few feet away.
"Sorry." She smiled. "But I don't have time to play." She pulled her chakram from its place at her hip and let it fly from her grasp.
Mastacles' hands flew to his throat to find nothing but air. His head fell between his feet with a sickening thud.
The eyes of the dead man watched her as she caught the chakram and disappeared into the mists of Tartarus.
It was the chains on her ankles that first caused Gabrielle to trip. A blow to her right shoulder spun her around, and then another to her jaw propelled her into the line of men on her right. They shoved her back into the centre. She staggered under the pummelling, and sank to her knees.
"Enough!" Called Darfus, pushing the men away from the fallen bard.
He watched as she toppled onto her side and then crouched beside her. "I'll be back." He said, and then left her to her misery.
She heard the other dead men walk away and waited til all was quiet. Gabrielle curled into a tighter ball and willed away the pain on her back and in her face. She wondered if this was what Xena felt when she went through the same thing in another lifetime. And strangely the memory of her warrior brought a smile to her battered face.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, but the gentleness didn't immediately register and she flinched away from the touch.
She heard the voice, such a beautiful sound. But how cruel. Was this another punishment? After such a beating would she always hear and feel the voice and touch of her lover. Would she have to go through torment before a small snippet of her past happiness?
"Gabrielle, look at me."
Another gentle touch on her cheek, turning her face towards the voice.
"No." She said, forcing her battered body away from the vision in front of her. "What have you done? You promised me!" The blonde scrambled away from the warrior who rose to her feet.
"Gabrielle!" Xena reached for the injured woman. "It's me."
"I know. You said you'd go on. Go on without me. I told you to live." Gabrielle shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut tight.
Xena reached for the hysterical girl anchoring her to the spot. Tentatively she pulled the smaller woman into her arms. "Actually, we never finished that conversation." She pushed Gabrielle away from her for a moment, holding her at arms length. "I'm not dead." She said. "I've come to take you home."
Gabrielle, the bard, was speechless. She stared at the face in front of her. She badly wanted to believe what she was hearing, what she was seeing. She wanted to accept that the hands on her shoulders were those she had felt loving her many times before. She wanted to dismiss the small voice that was telling her that this was another torment of Tartarus.
Xena ran her thumb along a particularly unpleasant gash on Gabrielle's cheek. "We have to go." She said and pushed the pale hair off of the blonde's forehead. She took the small manacled hand in her own and started to pull the bard away.
"I can't leave this place Xena." Said Gabrielle, pulling back lightly, causing the Warrior to turn towards her again.
"Never say that Gabrielle. Anything is possible if you believe in us." She bent her head and kissed the trembling lips. " I called in a favour or two."
"It's that simple?" Asked an incredulous bard.
"Not quite." Said Xena, looking over the shorter woman's shoulder to see Darfus emerging from the mist.
"Xena!" the dead lieutenant bellowed. "Someone up there is a famous warrior today."
"Hello Darfus," said Xena, putting herself between the bard and the leering man. "You're looking well."
"I'm a happy man." He gestured towards them both. "My eternity has just looked even more pleasurable."
"Sorry to disappoint Darfus, I'm not staying."
The smile slipped from the dead man's face.
Xena pulled her sword from the sheath on her back and advanced towards Darfus, who also pulled his sword.
Xena kept Gabrielle behind her, catching the soft sound as the bard slumped to the floor once more. She knew she would have to make quick work of the warrior in front of her, and she knew she couldn't kill a dead man.
She easily dodged the first two blows, and a quick clean swipe of her sword severed the dead warrior's sword arm. The limb fell to the floor, still clutching the hilt of the sword it held.
Xena reached down and pulled the bard to her feet. A slash and the chain between the blonde's manacled feet fell apart.
Pulling the blonde behind her she ran into the swirling mists of Tartarus, the sound of an enraged inhabitant of the underworld echoing behind her.
After a few moments of running she felt Gabrielle pull back on her hand.
"Where are we going?" The bard gasped.
It was then that Xena suddenly realised she had no idea.
She could hear the approaching sounds of a pack of men, they were searching for her, and their sport this day in Tartarus was a hunt.
"Hades!" Xena shouted into the mist. "Show yourself."
The God appeared, strutting from the mist in a regal swagger. "I see you found her."
"It wasn't hard. I just followed the sound of a beating." She walked up to within a hair's breadth of the God. "She didn't deserve that." She growled.
"Do you still want my help?" asked Hades, ignoring her anger.
"You know I do."
"Very well." He stepped aside and an opening appeared in the solid wall behind him. "The way out." He said, pointing to the exit.
Xena shook her head slightly. "What's the catch," she asked. "There's always a catch."
Hades shrugged. "I would have thought that was obvious. In the real world Gabrielle is dead. You take her up there, she's dead."
Xena spun away from him. "So what is the point of all this?" She said throwing her hands into the air. "I can understand you tormenting me, but why her?"
She spun to face him. "You told me............."
"I told you there is a ritual to undergo once you get her out of Tartarus. That is still the case." He took a step towards her. "Go. I'll see you above."
The God disappeared and Xena reached forward and grabbed the bard's manacles wrist, pulling her into the opening.
As soon as they entered the dark tunnel Gabrielle grasped her chest.
"What? What is it?" Said Xena peering at the blonde intently.
"My chest hurts." Gasped the girl. "It hurts to breathe."
Xena closed her eyes for a long moment. "We have to go on." She said. "Can you do that?"
Gabrielle nodded and allowed herself to be pulled along by the ex warlord.
As they moved further along the tunnel it began to slope upwards. And the further up they went the weaker the bard became.
Eventually Xena had to reach down and scoop the exhausted girl into her arms.
"Xena?" the girl managed to whisper.
The dark head inclined so that she could hear the faint words. "What is it?" She said on a smile.
"I'd brave Tartarus again for another hour with you."
Tears sprang to the warrior's eyes.
"We have the rest of our lives, love."
"But, if this doesn't work?"
Xena shook her head. "I told you I was taking you home. Didn't I?"
Gabrielle nodded weakly. "It's cold."
Xena held the bard tightly against her chest. "Just a little longer."
"I love you."
Blue eyes heavy with tears, found the pale face. "And I love you." Said Xena.
So intent on her lover was she that Xena almost ran into the heavy doors at then end of the tunnel.
Using one strong leg she shoved the doors open.
She found herself in what appeared to be a temple of some sort. Stone sarcophacus line the walls and a large alter took up the centre of the room.
Three women stood behind the altar, their faces covered by the pale veils that surrounded their bodies.
Xena walked slowly towards the trio, the now limp body of the bard in her arms.
"What do I do?" she said, becoming annoyed at the women's lack of instructions.
The woman in the middle pointed to the altar, and Xena gently placed the bard on the cold stone surface.
She stepped back and waited.
"What will you give?" The voice came from behind her and Xena spun to find the God of the underworld approaching her.
"Give?" Xena asked.
"Yes, I want something in return. What will you give?"
Xena squared her shoulders. "Anything. Everything."
"Will you give your life?"
"Yes." She said without hesitation.
Hades approached the altar and put a hand on the bard's head. Then he reached a hand to Xena.
Xena took his hand and immediately fell to her knees, the life force draining from her. As her vision darkened she felt secure in the knowledge that her bard would survive her. That she'd done what she promised, she'd gotten her home.
She fell at the base of the altar, hearing with her last conscious sense the sound of the bard taking her first gasping breath.
Xena was hot. But she kept her eyes closed a while longer, knowing when she opened them she'd find herself back in the mists of Tartarus.
The warrior knew that voice. Loved that voice.
Hades had promised, her life for the bard's. What was this?
She opened her eyes to find a puzzled looking bard staring down at her. "What are you doing?"
Xena glanced around. She was sitting in her campsite. Off to the side Argo munched happily on long grass. The only things out of place were the bodies strewn around the campfire.
"Did you get hurt?" She asked, crouching down to peer into the blue eyes.
"You're alive." It wasn't a question.
"Um. Yes?" she said, reaching out a hand and feeling the warrior's forehead.
Xena grasped the hand and pulled it to her lips, tears escaping her lids and falling from the high cheekbones.
Gabrielle was becoming increasingly alarmed. "Xena?" she ducked to see more easily into the blue eyes. "What is it?"
Xena shook her head. "It's nothing. It's just..................." A deep breath. "Sometimes I wonder what would happen to me if something happened to you." The amazingly blue eyes softened. "You're my life, you know that don't you?"
"As much as I know that you're mine." Gabrielle stood. "You look hot, let me get some water."
With that the blonde stood and walked across to where their bedroll still lay and retrieved a water skin.
Xena watched the bard walking back towards her, and smiled at the sight of her lover, alive, whole, and very gorgeous. Her smile disappeared, however, as Gabrielle stopped beside the body of one of the men. She looked for a moment at him and then began to kneel beside him.
"No." Xena's voice was nothing more than a whisper. "No!" she said again, louder this time.
The bard's head snapped up when she heard the distinctive whine of the chakram and heard its metal edge strike something equally unyielding.
Xena was on her feet before her weapon returned to her hand and was securing it at her waist as she reached Gabrielle and hauled her to her feet.
"Are you hurt?" Asked Xena, crushing the bard to her chest.
She felt the fair head shake against her chest, and then Gabrielle's breath warmed the skin above her leathers. "No, nothing." Said the bard.
Xena released a long breath and held her lover at arm's length.
"He called to me. For water." Said Gabrielle looking back at the dead man.
"He had a knife."
Gabrielle shook her head again. "I didn't see it." She whispered, snuggling again into the strong embrace.
"That's ok, everything's ok." Said Xena, and rested her chin gently on the bard's golden hair.
They made it to Cyrene's Inn later that afternoon and that night Xena lay in her childhood room, a sleeping bard tucked securely against her side.
She couldn't sleep however, and gently disentangling herself from the blonde she threw on a robe and crept out into the balmy evening.
"Hades." Her voice was little more than a whisper. "Why?"
She felt the God arrive to her left, and turned to face him.
The God of the underworld smiled as he approached. He took her hand in his own. "Others have come to me and asked for a life to be returned. They were all given the choice. Their lives for that of their loved ones. You were the only one to accept. You are the only one to take a soul from Tartarus." The God began to fade from sight. "When your time comes Xena, you will be fairly judged."
The God disappeared, leaving a smiling Warrior Princess, her face wet with tears, looking forward to her life, and beyond with the woman who was the other half of her soul.
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