Part Eighteen

"What are they?" Aphrodite shouts over the sound of boots on stone and Ares blasts. The God of War looks to his sister, an angry glint in his eyes.
"I think our father has been busy. No mortal could withstand my power."
"Seriously... demi-gods? Like Hercules?"
"But more so. Look at them. Just barely shaken in my attacks and ready for more. Too bad they are aligned with Zeus..."
And Ares shoots out one more purple bolt, knocking them further back this time. The walls tremble and threaten to topple.
"We need a better plan." Aphrodite hisses. 
"Oh yes, great Goddess of Love, please cast a spell..." Ares growls in frustration. Will my sister never understand a thing about battle? I mean, love doesn't have to impede the brain...
"It couldn't be a regular ol' love spell, mind you. It would have to be a special one, something powerful... Since they are demi-gods, after all..." Aphrodite rambles on, oblivious to Ares shoving her back behind him.

Here I am, fighting these guys all on my own while she talks to herself... This is why I stayed away from my family most of the time, they all chattered too much.
Ares slams his fists to the floor, sending a shockwave toward the warriors, some of them flying into the wall... and staying there. A smile lights up the god of war's face.
Okay. That's more like it.

"What if we combined our respective abilities?" Aphrodite pipes up.
"Wouldn't that just be a counterproductive move, sis?"
"Wouldn't it be more powerful, though?"
"How can love add to war? Hmm?"

"Silence, betrayers of Zeus!" Shouts one of the warriors as he throws his golden-tipped spear, the sharp point making contact with Ares shoulder and Aphrodite's arm. And they both look down in dismay, for the spear has drawn immortal blood.

"This just keeps getting worse." Ares mutters, ignoring the sensation of pain. Aphrodite goes pale for a moment and Ares wonders if she will faint. But the goddess of love regains her composure, her face taking on a decidedly furious appearance.
Then she reaches over, grasping Ares hand in her own and then raises her other hand, a steady red bolt coming from her fingertips.
What in the name of Olympia is that? Ares wonders to himself. 
He watches as it pushes them back, as they stagger and attempt to stay rooted to the floor. Their eyes glaze and then clear, over and over.
"Passion is a bitch, eh boys?" Aphrodite taunts. Ares raises an eyebrow in understanding.
The power of passion is easily turned to anger and anger is easily turned to war... Well, well, well... She certainly is more than an airhead...

"Anytime you want to step in, bro." Aphrodite smiles over at him. And Ares is all too happy to comply, bringing their hands together, the purple and red mixing together.
And those poor servants of Zeus didn't know what hit them.


Standing here, it is like going back in time.
To that first day, catching a glimpse of her red-gold spun hair and fierce green eyes. It was not love then, but it was an interest that Xena thought she could not afford.
Xena could not afford friends or family. She could not afford to care for anyone. She could not afford to love anyone... Love meant loss.
But standing here, it is like going back in time...
To the first moment where Xena let her guard down and let her heart open up and let Gabrielle in. She let those gentle hands guide her, let that soft voice soothe her and let that girl become everything.

Zeus is away, for now. Pushed back by the smile upon Gabrielle's face and the smile upon Xena's lips, threatening to force all darkness away by its sheer velocity, by its overwhelming light.
Xena reaches out, not sure if she has hands or feet or anything beyond her feelings for the woman before her.
And contact, sweet and glorious contact, is made after so long. 
Gabrielle is holding her, wrapped about Xena's soul like air, cradling the warrior like a child.
And all Xena can do is pull Gabrielle closer, until not a space is between them. Until they are like one.

"I did not know if I would see you again..." Gabrielle whispers.
Xena wants to laugh and cry and jump up and down. Instead, as if movement might make it all a dream, Xena turns her head slightly and feels familiar soft hair caress her cheek.
"Nothing can keep me from you." Xena whispers back.
Gabrielle pulls away then and Xena looks at the woman, fighting the panic at letting her go for one second.
And they are as they used to be, Gabrielle in her short skirt and red top... Xena in her battle leathers and armor.
Xena watches the emotions play over Gabrielle's face and realizes that that promise has been made before.

"Tell me how you feel."
Gabrielle laughs and Xena knows it is from a long ago conversation in another made-up world of unreality. 
"I still hurt inside, but it lessens with every moment."
"Can you forgive me?"
Gabrielle is silent and Xena comes closer, putting her hands upon Gabrielle's shoulders, watching as the clothing changes again. Xena is in a scarlet robe and it pools at her now bare feet. Gabrielle is tense in this armor from Japa, clutching the sacred katana once again.
"Nothing has ever hurt more than losing you. Or at least, I thought nothing could hurt more than watching you fade with the sun... but I was wrong. Losing your spirit bit by bit was worse. Losing myself was worse."

And they cry, one of them loud and the other releasing silent tears. Xena holds Gabrielle close, her arms encircling the woman's waist. And Xena repeats the words, not a hollow promise, but the words of apology and the words of sorrow and the words of love.
Gabrielle turns quickly, pulling Xena's face down and they kiss.
And Xena sees the first time, many years ago now. Hesitant and shy, burning off and turning into lust.
That kiss is the past. This kiss is forever.
Gabrielle's lips trail down, capturing Xena's chin and onward to the neck, tugging the robe down and leaving the flesh on display. Xena hands wander and claim, removing armor and undoing clasps, finding warm skin to mold and grip.
They are falling, the battle forgotten and the death ignored.
Gabrielle speaks into Xena's hair, her body moving like a stream over the warrior.
And the words are wonderful, not a hollow acceptance, but the words of forgiveness and the words of peace and the words of love.

"I won't let go."
"I know."
"Then... we will go together, as it is meant to be..."


Zeus rails against this overthrow.
If it is the last thing I ever do, I will kill this girl. And rip Artemis to pieces.
He watches the outside world and forces this body to move, though the limbs are resistant.
Mortals understand nothing. They do not understand power or being the master of your own fate. They prefer the sickly sweet trappings of love.
He spies Xena's body and makes his own form jump high, crashing down next to the goddess within the warrior.

And he watches Xena's body turn, but sees the eyes of his wayward child staring back. Those eyes of gold, shining in the firelight of this burning city. Zeus sees her rage and her pain.
How far you have fallen, father?
Zeus makes these lungs heave and draw in breath, makes this throat produce laughter.
You dare to claim me as family, Artemis! A betrayer to me is not my child.
So be it. I will not sacrifice my Amazons. I will not sacrifice my chosen!

Zeus draws closer, pulling his sword and holding it firm, stilling these uncooperative arms.

You'll have to kill your chosen then, Artemis. Think you can?

Artemis hopes and prays, though to whom... she does not know. She sends out a last thought to Varia, praising her on the leadership shown.
You will make a good queen to my Amazons.
The eyes of the warrior woman seem to find her upon this roof and Artemis smiles.
Go now, Varia. Athens will fall and you must live to fight another day. Get them out of here. Zeus will not follow, not this night... I will take him on.
The goddess can feel Varia balk, but does not listen. She waits for the Amazon to do what is needed... as she has during this entire battle. 
And as another explosion goes off, sending those left alive scattering... Varia shouts out a call for retreat, daring one last look to the goddess before the darkness of the woods gathers them all up.

Send your warriors away. Let us end this now.
My pleasure. Zeus responds. He calls out to what is left of his army, telling them to fall back until other orders are given. They seem confused, but do not dare to speak out. 
And Athens is silent except the crackle of flames.
Zeus pours all his will into this body and the muscles stretch, the bones pop... but he is moving now, running toward Artemis, ready to cause pain to the body of Xena and the soul of a goddess.

Xena... I can't give you more time. I must fight Zeus. If you can hear me, tell my Chosen... tell her that I am sorry for what is to come...

Artemis raises the bow, letting an arrow fly and watching it embed into mortal flesh, just above the knee. Zeus staggers, but keeps moving. His sword deflects the next one and the next one. He drives the blade down, catching Artemis on her side, leaving a shallow gash.
Her fist launches out, striking Zeus and cracking the jaw. They trade blows and Artemis steps back, readying another arrow. Before Zeus can get closer, she lets it loose. 


And then, it is ending. Again.
This time, much worse and much more painful.
Xena stares in horror as Gabrielle twists away, gasping and shaking. Blood pours from unknown wounds and all the stars go out.
"Gabrielle..." Xena whimpers, the name torn from her lips. She flails about in the never-ending darkness, hoping to find the woman and keep her close, to stay with her, to not let go this time... Damn you, Artemis! I won't let her go, not this time... Please, I need more time...

Time means very little, you know... A voice responds, oh so familiar to Xena's ears. It is youthful and hopeful and calm. It is Gabrielle, moons ago... that first day when they met. 
"I know..." Xena says brokenly. A hand finds hers and Xena holds it tight, feeling the tremble and the cold.
And I am not afraid to die. You know this, too. A little older now, in an old barn and with an army closing in, with Xena's heart raw with longing and loss.
"Losing you is never easy, Gabrielle." 
But we will meet again and again. We've made promises, you know... I've made promises to you and I won't let you down... Closer still to when last they touched and last they kissed and last they held each other in the real world, closer to Japa and closer to the end...
"I love you. You are my everything... my joy, my source, my reason... And I go where you go this time. I am yours, forever." Xena whispers.

And the hand holding her own grips, pulls Xena closer to the ragged breathing body of Gabrielle. They look at each other, in love and in solace. 

"We will... go... together..." Gabrielle sighs, her eyes fluttering and struggling to stay open.
"Together. As it is meant to be." Xena says, leaning down and placing a kiss upon Gabrielle's brow.



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