Truly, Madly, Gabby.
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.