If Thou Lovest Me
by Nene Adams ©1998 - All rights reserved. 


No, this cannot not be happening, Xena thought.

Gabrielle lay so still, so silent; face bloodless and pale, save for the great wound above her temple where a chance swordstroke in weapons practice had laid her low.

Trini, a young Amazon, wept loudly, rocking back and forth, her sisters seeking to comfort her, mingling their tears with hers. The girl’s sword, blade dark with blood, had been cast aside, and nothing would induce her to touch it again.

Xena knelt on the cold ground, ignoring the needle-sharp shards of rocks that cut into her knees, ignoring the mourning Amazons, ignoring everything save the wide open green eyes that stared up into the sky, the red-gold hair fanned over the grass, the slightly parted lips that did not draw breath.

Gabrielle was dead.

Ephany’s face was tear-stained and white to the lips with shock. She stumbled over to Xena. "I don’t know how this happened!," she said huskily, voice rough from weeping. "It was an accident; a stupid, stupid accident!"

Xena knew exactly what had happened, of course. Gabrielle had gone down to the practice field to watch the young Amazons being drilled in warplay. Trini had noticed her and with great daring, most likely egged on by friends, asked the bard to spar, staff against sword.

Xena had warned Gabrielle not to do this. Warned her again and again. But Gabrielle had persisted, insisting it was good practice.

And now it had happened.

Her bard was dead.

Xena’s ice blue eyes held not a flicker of emotion as she looked at Ephany.

"Did she... say anything?"

Ephany hesitated for a second, and in that heartbeat, it was as if a wall was raised, and the Amazon flinched back at the flames that rose up in the warrior’s pale eyes, fires of madness and hatred and soul-killing grief. Then the walls slammed back into place, and Ephany licked her lips. "No. She... it was instantaneous. She never felt a thing, I swear."

Xena nodded and rose. Her knees bled in several places from deep cuts, but she didn’t notice. "Take her to the Queen’s hut. I’ll wash her; Gabrielle always liked to be clean."

As the warrior walked away, Ephany called, "When do you want... Xena, I mean, when do we... the funeral?"

Xena stopped. Slowly, she turned back; her face might have been carved from stone for all the expression it showed, but her eyes burned. "Don’t cremate her yet, Ephany," was all she said before continuing back to the village.

Ephany watched her go - then sank down beside the dead body of her Queen, sobbing uncontrollably.

No one dared approach the Queen’s hut, not even the Regent; the Amazons tip-toed past, speaking in whispers, if at all. It was not until twilight that Xena emerged from the hut, strapping on her sword and adjusting her breastplate.

Ephany had been waiting all day in an agony of suspense; now she approached the warrior. "Where are you going?"

"Watch over her, Ephany. Keep her safe. I’ll be gone a few days." Xena turned to go, but the Regent caught her shoulder.

"Xena! WAIT! What are you doing? Where are you going? What about...?" It was clear to the Regent that Xena had gone mad from grief; she surreptitiously signaled behind her back, and a half-dozen stout Amazons casually closed in. "Please, don’t do anything..."

The warrior watched with eyes like chips of ice, then gave Ephany a lopsided smile. "You were about to say, ‘don’t do anything foolish?’ Like kill myself?" She shook her head, cropped black hair swinging to her jawbone. Xena had cut her hair in mourning; that short length of ebony silk now rested between Gabrielle’s folded hands.

"Xena, where are you going?" Ephany moved a little closer, arms at her sides but ready to spring on the warrior if necessary. She’d never felt as close to Xena as to Gabrielle, but her Queen had loved this woman, and out of respect, the Regent would do what she must to preserve her.

Xena didn’t move a muscle. Her face was ravaged, haggard; a deep line cut down between her brows, and she looked a decade older, but those eyes glowed with white-hot purpose. "Do you remember Orpheus?" she asked incongruously.

Ephany frowned, taken aback. "Orpheus? What does he have to do with this?"

The Amazons quickly circled the warrior, clearly preparing to restrain her.

Xena’s strange smile brightened further. "He had a wife."

Silently, with a single bound, Xena sprang over the heads of the waiting Amazons, flipping over and landing on her feet near the picket lines. Another leap, and she was on Argo’s back, sword whipping out to slice the reins from their loose binding on the rail.

Before Ephany could articulate the commands that crowded in her throat, Xena was gone, swallowed up into the darkness. The thundering of Argo’s hoofbeats echoed for a moment, then the night was still once again.

The Amazons looked at the Regent.

The Regent looked at the road.

And suddenly, Ephany began to laugh. She crowed, she giggled, then a volley of great, heaving belly laughs filled the air, shocking everyone in hearing range into speechlessness.

Clapping her hands together, Ephany breathed, "He had a wife!" and then was helpless against the laughter once again.

In the end, they had to help her to her hut.

But not before the Regent explained to the priestesses of Artemis just exactly what Xena had in mind.


This was the place.

Xena dismounted, then slapped Argo’s rump with one hand. "Go on," she said to the startled warhorse. "Get out of here!"

Argo, with a disapproving neigh, cantered away from her mistress, and Xena was alone.

The moon was bright enough not to need torches; and she would certainly have no use for light or flame where she was going. Xena walked through the brush, ducking beneath heavy tree limbs, slimy tendrils of moss and leaves slapping her face and shoulders as she tramped tirelessly forward, searching...

The moon was high when she found it. A pit, just as Orpheus had once described to her. Mist boiled from the dark hole, and jagged rocks were piled along its edge, like the rim of a well. It was a passageway into Hades’ realm, the one Orpheus himself had taken when he’d gone to rescue his beloved wife Eurydice.

Xena lowered herself over the edge with a grunt; sharp edges of stone dug into her belly and breasts, and she scraped her forearms raw, but the toe of her boot found a ledge and she let herself drop down.

Within, it was dark and smelled earthy, but beneath the scent of fresh soil was an underlying odor of corruption, the sickly sweet stench of decay. Luminous moss grew on the walls and gave off a faint light. It would have to be enough.

As Xena carefully guided herself along the narrow ledge that spiraled ever downward, she found herself remembering Orpheus’ story.

He’d gone down into the Underworld and crossed the Styx, then had charmed three-headed Cerberus into sleeping with a song. At his interview with Hades and Persephone, he’d sung so beautifully that the ghosts of Tartarus had ceased their eternal labors, and even the spirits in the Elysian Fields had wept. In the end, stoic Hades himself had shed a tear, and Eurydice had been freed to return to the mortal realm.

But on a single condition.

As she edged along, Xena said beneath her breath, "He wasn’t supposed to look back. He could hear her footsteps as they walked up, and he wasn’t supposed to look back. But Orpheus did, and Eurydice died a second time." That wouldn’t happen to Gabrielle, she vowed.

For Xena was determined to make whatever bargain necessary with the God of Death to regain her bard’s life.

Nothing would stop her.


She walked on.

It seemed as if she’d traveled forever, but finally the darkness began to lighten somewhat, although there was still a perpetual gloom. At last, Xena stepped through a portal and found herself on the banks of the River Styx.

The water was black and oily, and wavelets lapped against the shallow shore, as silent as whispers of madness or rumors of death.

Xena peered around, and soon spotted her goal. The ferry that would take her across the Styx and into Hades’ realm.

She approached the small boat. "Take me across," she said as soon as she reached the stern of the colorless vessel.

Charon, a tall figure wrapped in rags, his visage hooded and veiled, said, "You’re still alive. I don’t ferry any but the dead."

The warrior drew her sword with a rasp of steel. "Take me across," she demanded again. From her stance, it was clear that she wasn’t going to back down.

"What do you think you’re gonna do with that, kill me?" Charon chuckled. "Go ahead, I dare you. Gimme a poke; it’d probably tickle, and gods know I could use a good laugh."

"I don’t have time for games," Xena snarled. "Take me across!"

"Oh, all right!," Charon replied peevishly. "Get in, get in. Don’t stand around taking up my valuable time. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten live ones in my boat, you know, despite what the rulebook says. But rules were made to be broken, that’s my motto."

Xena clambered into the ferry and sat down, sheathing her sword. After a few moments, when Charon didn’t move to begin their voyage, she asked roughly, "Well? What are you waiting for?"

Charon coughed discreetly. "My fee," he said.

Xena rolled her eyes. "I didn’t bring any dinars with me."

Charon’s body, essentially a mobile pile of rags, still managed to convey astonishment, false pity and smugness. "I guess we ain’t going nowhere, then. No fee, no ride. Them’s the rules."

"I thought you said rules were made to be broken!"

"Not when it’s coming out of my pocket, they don’t!"

Xena and Charon stared at one another, a small vein throbbing in the warrior’s forehead. The silence stretched, then a single bony finger poked out of the sleeve of Charon’s robe. "What’s that you got on your hip?," he asked.

"My chakram."

"Give it to me, then I’ll take you across."

Xena put a hand on her weapon. "It’s not a dinar...," she began, but the ferryman interrupted. "It’s round, in’it? It’s metal, in’it? Close enough! Gimme!" His skeletal hand appeared and made grabby motions.

Reluctantly, Xena unhooked her chakrum and laid the metal circlet in Charon’s outstretched hand. It disappeared beneath his robe. A moment later they were on their way, Charon poling skillfully across the Styx, and leaving his passenger to her thoughts.

I’ve had that weapon for more than ten winters, Xena thought, watching dark water ripple in the boat’s passage. But for Gabrielle, I’d give up a hundred chakrams. I’d give up my soul.

And the voyage continued until the ferry bumped against the shore on the other side.

Silently, Charon gestured, and Xena got out of the boat, which immediately slid back into the water and disappeared rapidly into the distance. She watched it go, then squared her shoulders and marched into Tartarus.

Her next obstacle would be to get past Cerberus.

And I know he can’t be bribed with a chakram, the warrior thought.

But she continued on. To do less would be to give up, to surrender to the darkness that threatened to devour her soul; without Gabrielle, she was incomplete and utterly lost to the black pit that swelled and gibbered in her heart. Without Gabrielle, there would be no delight, no sunshine, no laughter. Without Gabrielle, there would only be ashes and despair and death.

Whatever it takes, I will return you to the world, my bard.

Nothing will stop me.



Cerberus was huge, far bigger than Xena had expected. He was mostly wolfish in appearance, with shaggy gray-flecked fur, his three heads narrow-muzzled. When he caught her scent he bayed, straining against the chain that bound him to an iron gate.

Xena stopped just out of range. She couldn’t kill Cerberus; to do so would be to release the spirits of Tartarus on an unsuspecting earth. She squatted down and thought.

Something Hercules had once mentioned came floating up slowly to the surface of her thoughts... and the warrior smiled.

She rose, drawing her sword. There weren’t any suitable trees around, and she didn’t want to waste precious time looking for one. "Here, puppy!" she called, whistling and clicking her tongue. "Good boy, who’s a good boy, Cerberus!" She held her sword out in front of her and waggled it temptingly.

Cerberus’ six eyes narrowed, saliva dripping from his toothy jaws. With a howl, he leaped against the chain, rearing up, paws scrabbling at the air. But Xena noticed his serpent’s tail whipped back and forth, and rather than menace, the barks and growls she heard held a playful note.

Xena wagged the sword. "Come on, Cerberus... come on, pretty puppy. Want to play fetch?"

Cerberus bayed again.

Xena heaved the sword to the left with all her strength; Cerberus took off after it, panting and howling. As soon as she’d thrown it, the warrior quickly went to the gate and opened it just enough to slip through.

As she continued on her way, she heard the crunching sounds of Cerberus gnawing on her sword.

I have no use for that where I’m going, Xena thought. If I fail, a blade won’t stand between me and my fate. And if I succeed, I will have Gabrielle.

Nothing will stop me.


The next gate was guarded by a pair of centaurs. They demanded Xena’s wrist bracers as payment.

The third gate was a wall of glass; Xena removed her boots and tossed them away, using her fingers and bare toes to find purchase on the slick surface. It took nearly all her strength, and she perspired freely despite the cool air, but she made it over the top.

At the fourth gate, she used her breast dagger to pick the seven brass locks. The blade snapped off at the hilt just as the final lock’s tumblers turned; she left the broken dagger behind.

The fifth gate was guarded by a fearsome giantess with four arms, each holding a different weapon. Xena, emulating her bard, talked the giantess into granting her passage in exchange for her breastplate.

And at the sixth and final gate, the one just outside Hades’ palace, the guards demanded her leather dress. Xena walked naked into the god’s presence, but not humbly. She was still clothed in her pride, her steely determination, and the love she bore for her bard.

Nothing would stop her.


Hades, seated upon his throne of ivory, cupped his chin in his hand and looked at Xena for many minutes before saying, "I suppose you’ve come for Gabrielle."

"Yes." Xena’s heart pounded, but she told herself to be patient.

The God of Death sighed. "Frankly, I doubt you’d be able to sing me into weeping, as Orpheus did. And as my wife Persephone is currently with her mother, you cannot rescue her as Hercules did, and thus put me in your debt."

"I will do anything, Hades. Anything to get Gabrielle back."

Hades looked deeply into Xena’s pale eyes, and nodded. "Anything? Be careful what you say, warrior. Some words spoken in my realm have greater power than others."

"I will do anything." Nothing the god could think of, nothing in Tartarus held any fear for Xena. The worst had already happened - her bard was dead. And to hold that precious woman in her arms once more, Xena would have crawled on her belly and fawned at Hades’ feet.

"Very well." Hades sat up straight. "Behold."

At his gesture, something appeared, thudding down into the dirt. It was a wooden crucifix, crude beams lashed and nailed together. At the sight of it, Xena felt her heart grow cold and her blood ran like ice in her veins.

"If you can endure three days, warrior - three days hung upon the tree - and live, I will return Gabrielle’s soul to her flesh and give her life once more. But you must go willingly; none are forced to their fates in my realm."

Xena’s mouth was too dry for speech. She stared at the crucifix; for a moment, she remembered...

Remembered Caesar’s treachery, so long ago. The hammer smashing against her shins, breaking her legs, a blinding flare of agony so strong she nearly screamed aloud. Her weight hanging from her arms, pulling muscle and tendon out of place, but slowly, slowly, each passing hour like an eternity of damnation.

In this place, there would be no M’Lila to rescue her.

Three days...

She worked her mouth a moment. Her voice, when it came, was as harsh and raspy as a raven’s croak. "I will do anything for Gabrielle." It was her worst fear come to life; her greatest nightmare, and the sheer horror of it turned her bowels to water. She had to force herself to breathe, had to use every ounce of will to keep from turning and running, running back to the world, away from this monstrous thing that loomed in her vision.

But nothing would stop her.


Not even herself.

Hades gestured once more, and Xena felt herself lifted in strong arms. She did not struggle; she accepted her fate numbly. The cords bit into her wrists and ankles, but she did not protest.

And when the stone-headed maul smashed against her shins, Xena endured.

Nothing would stop her.



Xena wasn’t sure how much time had passed; there was neither night nor day in Hades’ gloomy realm. At first, she tried counting her heartbeats, but they quickened and slowed so much she soon realized that would be useless.

To counter the pain of her broken legs, the agony of muscle and sinew stretching away from bone, she closed her eyes and imagined Gabrielle’s face, her smile, the sound of her voice as she read one of her stories aloud; the scent of her hair, the curve of her hip, the tender nape of her neck.

Bit by bit, slowly, Xena built up an image of Gabrielle in her mind, sifting through her memories to add rich detail. The highlights of gold and ruby that sparked in the sun; the little-girl happiness when Xena used some of their scant dinars to buy nutbread; the bard splashing in a stream, squealing with joy, a rainbow springing up between them as water droplets reflected the sun...

Then a different pain abruptly started and Xena was jolted from her daydream, the carefully crafted fantasy shattering into a thousand shards.

She waited, allowing her screaming nerves time to carry their message to her brain. In a moment, she knew.

Her legs were knitting together, the smashed bones twisting beneath her flesh, fragments tunneling beneath the skin to fuse with larger pieces - but slowly. It hurt, oh, gods, it hurt.

Xena’s eyes opened wide and her mouth gaped as she panted.

Three days.

Nothing would stop her.


When her legs had knitted together enough to bear her weight, Xena balanced on the balls of her feet on the tiny crosspiece. The resulting ease of the pressure on her arms and shoulders made the muscles twist and cramp and she gritted her teeth. Her abdomen felt heavy, bloated; the muscles in her chest numb.

Caesar had ordered her legs broken as a kind of curiously gentle regard. A strong man could linger for days on a crucifix as he died slowly; those with broken legs died much, much faster.

She began to sing softly beneath her breath, a nonsense lullaby that she’d heard Gabrielle attempt on many occasions. The bard invariably sang off-key.

"Rock with the sea waves, gentle child... your sails full, the wind completely mild..."

Xena began to cry as the last bit of that verse slipped from her lips, "Let the ocean to the heavens slowly steer... nothing’s going to harm you while I am here."

The dam burst; the chains she had wound tightly around her heart wrenched violently asunder; and at last, Xena’s tears fell to earth as she grieved for her lost love.

Her legs were fully healed now.

She sang quietly, head hanging down, dark hair obscuring her face.

"In the cradle of my arms you are so dear... nothing’s going to harm you while I am here..."

Nothing would stop her.


When her legs were broken the second time, Xena finally understood why.

It was not cruelty on Hades’ part; it was his way of allowing her to know how long she had been on the crucifix, and how much time she had left.

Xena wept again, but this time in gratitude for Hades’ kindness.

That was the beginning of the second day.

Nothing would stop her.



"Pssst! Warrior!"

Xena’s head raised slowly. Her eyes were swollen slightly; lips parted as she strained for breath. Her lungs felt made of lead; tongue thick and furred in her mouth. She tried to swallow, but had no saliva left.

A man stood at the foot of the cross. Pieces of armor, like some bizarre carapace, seemed to grow from his flesh. A helmet half-covered his face, but his one exposed eye was bright and alert. His skin was pasty white and seemed to possess an eerie glow.

"Warrior! You’re Xena, yes?"

She tried to answer, but all that came out was a strangled croak.

He raised a hand. "Just nod."

Laboriously, she nodded. Her legs had healed again; when she’d heard him approach, she’d thought it was the executioner returning with his hammer. Her pulse had quickened at the thought; rather than dread, she would have welcomed him, would have showered his bestial face with kisses. For that would have meant there remained but a single day of her ordeal left.

The man continued to speak. "You won’t know me. You never knew my name. I was just an ordinary warrior, fighting against your army years ago. But I had some disease of the brain; something I’d picked up from a gods-cursed whore, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I went mad and had to be put down like a dog. I wanted to die on the battlefield, my sword in my hand. You cut me down that day; I doubt you even noticed me."

Xena stared at him dully; she didn’t remember him, but then again, if all the former warlord’s victims were paraded past one by one, she doubted she’d recognize a single face in ten. If that.

He picked up an oaken bucket. "You did me a kindness that day, Xena. When I heard you were in Tartarus, I wanted to repay you somehow." He shook the bucket slightly; it sloshed, water spilling over the wooden sides. "I brought you water."

Xena licked her cracked and bleeding lips. Water...

He thrust a small sponge on the end of a long spear and dipped it into the bucket. When he drew it out, a cascade of sweet liquid drizzled down, pattering on the ground. "I’ll hold this to your lips and you can suck on it. I’ve got plenty; don’t worry, I’ll give you as much as you want."

The wet sponge stopped a scant inch from Xena’s face. She could smell it, the fresh, clean scent overwhelming her. Her mouth opened, tongue protruding, already tasting water, feeling it sliding down her parched throat, cooling the roiling burn in her veins, quenching the intolerable thirst.

Then, unbidden, a thought thrust itself into her brain. If she ate or drank anything in the Underworld, she would not be able to return to the world. Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds, and thus had to spend six months of each year beneath the earth while her mother, Demeter, grieved and the wintery land mourned with her.

"What’s the matter? It’s good water, I can tell you that. I went to a lot of trouble to get it." The man’s sole eye glinted anxiously. "I know you’re thirsty. Go ahead, Xena. Drink it."

She shook her head and closed her mouth, although it was an agony to do so. Every fiber in her being wanted that water, wanted it so badly she would have cheerfully sold her soul for it. But Gabrielle’s sweet face hovered before her eyes, and she would have died before giving up now.

"Will you hurry up?," the man said, sounding angry. "The guards are going to return any minute." He shook the sponge, scattering droplets on Xena’s face. She closed her eyes, willing herself not to lick the precious moisture.

"All right. Have it your own way," he muttered, and the sponge withdrew. After glaring up at her, the man stomped away, taking the bucket with him. He yelled over his shoulder, "Ungrateful bitch!" and then he was gone.

Xena stoically waited until she could feel the water on her face evaporate.

She opened her eyes again. She would endure.

Nothing would stop her.


The pain of her newly broken legs joined other pain, every nerve in her body a wailing river of fire; relentless, throbbing agony. Her breath came slowly from ever straining lungs; she had to keep lifting herself up to exhale, and her legs trembled, arm and shoulder muscles quivering.

Her heart trembled in her chest, another spot of searing pain as fluids accumulated and caused the organ to stutter, crushing it slowly, so slowly - she who had refused water now drowned in the water of her own life.

But not her tears. Xena had lost the ability to weep long ago. It seemed an eternity.

She froze and burned, babbled silently. It seemed that leering faces gathered around her, cruel laughter echoing in her ears. Caesar jeered, mocking her pain... Lao Ma circled the crucifix, beautiful face fixed in a sneer... Ming Tien giggled insanely, pointing... Ares and Callisto, arm in arm, danced and gibbered with glee... her own mother, bearing a hammer on her shoulder, swung it in circles and laughed.

A final face emerged from the crowd. Gabrielle.

Gabrielle smiling.


Xena’s lips formed the bard’s name, but nothing came out save a wheezed rush of air as she pulled herself up mechanically. She had gotten into a rhythm now; inhale, push, exhale...

Nothing would stop her.


When the painful signal came that her legs were finally healing, Xena barely noticed. Inhale, push, exhale.

Nothing would stop her.



Inhale, push, exhale.

It seemed as if all her life had been nothing but an endless cycle of labor and pain.

Inhale, push, exhale.

Robotic, relentless, unstoppable.

Inhale, push, exhale.

Unending torment... she was truly in hell.

Inhale, push, exhale.

A soft voice intruded; she ignored it, lost to the clockwork rhythm that kept her alive. Barely.


Inhale, push, exhale.

Nothing would stop her.



Inhale, push, exhale.

"Xena, look at me."

Inhale, push, exhale.

Nothing would stop her.



That shout made her pause. Legs cramping furiously, heart laboring to push syrupy blood through thickened veins, she looked up.

Gabrielle looked back.

For a moment, Xena’s eyes, so swollen and bruised, held confusion, not recognition. Her body continued its work, mechanical rhythm going on without her volition. Then she stopped completely in shock.

Her lungs, full of air, couldn’t release their burden; her chest muscles were long since paralyzed. She could only gape, face purpling, struggling for the first time against her bonds but mindlessly as her body fought to keep from smothering.

Sense reasserted itself and she raised up on numb toes.

Push, exhale, inhale.

Gabrielle smiled tenderly. "It’s over, Xena. You won. It’s the end of the third day."

Push, exhale, inhale.

Xena’s eyes brightened, and if she could, she would have cried. A trembling smile stretched her lips; the skin cracked further but no longer bled.

Push, exhale, inhale.

"Don’t you want to come down from that crucifix? Oh, Xena... I have so many things to tell you!"

Push, exhale, inhale.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Do you want me to help you down?"

Push, exhale, inhale.

"I love you so much..."

Xena realized something was wrong; she kept herself from nodding. Her smile faded. There was something wrong with Gabrielle’s eyes.

Push, exhale, inhale.

Those sea-green eyes, eyes she had seen in her dreams, were now an inky black, staring up at her... she felt herself falling into those dark pits, whirling down, endlessly down...

Xena shook her head, tearing her mind away from the vision. This was not her bard.

Push, exhale, inhale.

The false Gabrielle vanished.

Push, exhale, inhale.

Nothing would stop her.


But if she could have cried... oh, gods, if she could have cried.

The rhythm had changed, but the body’s labors went on.

Push, exhale, inhale.

Suddenly, without any warning, she found herself, still crucified but whole, all her pain gone, blown away like a candle’s flame in a windstorm. Her pulse steadied; she took a deep breath and felt a rush of dizzinesss from the sheer relief of being simply able to breathe.

Hades appeared before her, his silvery helm tucked beneath one arm.

"Take your bard, Xena. You have won."

Xena shook her head. It was another trick.

"No tricks, Xena. The things you saw were products of your own mind, not something sent by me to torment you. I am a fair and just god; we made a bargain and you have completed your end of it." For a bare second, a tiny smile appeared on Hades’ face, then it was gone. "I have already returned Gabrielle to the world of the living."

Xena struggled for speech. She wanted to get down from her crucifix, kneel on the stony ground and kiss the god’s boots in gratitude. She wanted to weep, to cry aloud, to make the Underworld shake with the force of her joy. Her heart swelled until she thought it would burst.

Gabrielle was alive!

Again, that almost imperceptible smile crossed Hades’ face. "Death can never defeat love, Xena. Remember that."

Then he disappeared.

And she was free.

The Amazons rejoiced. Their Queen had returned.

Xena traced the outline of Gabrielle’s face with one finger, basking in the warmth of skin on skin, breathing in her bard’s unique scent, afraid for one second to allow this precious burden away from the protective circle of her arms.

Gabrielle still didn’t fully understand what had happened. When she’d awakened, three days had passed, and she’d been lying on the marble altar of the temple of Artemis, surrounded by praying priestesses and smoky tendrils of incense. Flowers heaped at her head and feet had made her sneeze.

Xena would tell her one day. Ephany already knew the barest outline of the story. When Xena had appeared, stepping from thin air into the midst of the village, fully armed and accoutered, the Regent had demanded an explanation. Ephany had delayed Gabrielle’s funeral rites because she’d guessed Xena’s destination, although she’d endured a great deal of questioning from her fellow Amazons; questions that had become increasingly frenzied and impatient as time had passed.

But for now, Xena placed delicate kisses on Gabrielle’s face, comforted by the heartbeat of the woman she loved.

The torment she had endured, the fear she had faced was nothing, for love had conquered death.

And this Xena would remember.

Nothing had stopped her.



Please comment to Nene Adams at wynna1@yahoo.com

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