Xena watches with joy at the smile on her daughter's face as Eve plays with a large, hairy and very poisonous sand spider. She handles the dangerous creature with no more trepidation than if it were a pet. There is a strange irony in the scene. Not long ago in her thinking she wished to see her daughter playing so innocently. But that wish was with Eve as a two or three year old girl not a grown woman. Nor a seasoned warrior. She closes her eyes willing the memory of Livia to excised from her mind.
She turns to say something to Gabrielle but finds the bard absent from her side. She looks around for a moment before seeing Gabrielle standing at the water's edge some distance down the beach. She is staring out across the ocean. No doubt her mind is on the catastrophic events of these past days. A lot has happened to them. Twenty five years of their lives gone in a brief instant. The shock of Eve's identity as Livia. The attack by the gods of Olympus. The torment of the Furies. That final horrific battle on Olympus. It would break most people. But Gabrielle is a rock of strength and fortitude.
"I'll be right back," Xena informs Eve.
Eve looks up from her arachnid friend to regard her mother. She turns her attention from Xena to Gabrielle. "Of course. There's no need to worry. I'm safe now. I won't be going anywhere."
Of this, there is no doubt. The gods who sought her destruction are gone. Dead at her hand. There is a touch of regret in it. She did not want to be their destroyer. She had only wanted to protect her daughter. The Twilight was of their own making. Years ago Hercules had said that one day the world would learn to live without the gods. So now it comes to pass to see whether or not he was right.
She wonders if word of what happened she has done will travel across Greece and beyond. If so her legend will continue to grow. Xena. Warrior Princess. Destroyer of Nations. Gods Slayer. As she walks to Gabrielle she looks skyward once more silently thanking the powers that gave her this ability to protect those she loves. It is still within her. She can feel it. The power to kill gods. Though whether or not that power is only for the protection of Eve or whether it is proof against other pantheons she cannot say.
Gabrielle absently minded rubs the back of her head as Xena steps up behind her. Waves lap at her feet as the tide comes in. Xena hesitates to say or do anything. She has said nothing sense their return from Olympus. Her friend seems so calm and at peace here by the sea.
"Gabrielle," Xena says and reaches out to lay a hand on her shoulder.
The reaction is not at all what she expects. Gabrielle steps away from Xena spinning around so quickly she nearly loses her balance and falls in the shallow water. It also does not escape Xena's notice that for just an instant Gabrielle seems poised to reach down for the sai sheathed in her boots.
"What's wrong?" For one terrible moment she wonders if Gabrielle is still under the influence of the Furies.
Gabrielle's eyes go wide in disbelief. "What's wrong? What's wrong!"
Her voice is so loud it carries across the beach startling Eve and causes her to nearly be bitten by the sand spider. She settles the gentle creature back to the beach and turns her full attention to the two women not far from her.
There is a hint of rage in Gabrielle's voice and Xena starts to suspect she may be right about the Furies. "Gabrielle? Are you all right?"
"Am I…" Gabrielle stutters the words disbelieving the stupidity of the question. "Am I all right? No Xena! I am not all right!"
The rage in her voice stuns Xena speechless. She can only stare into the angry eyes of her friend.
Gabrielle stares back for a few seconds before asking, "Why? Why did you do it?"
"I don't understand," Xena replies.
Gabrielle explodes. "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" With a speed that surprises Xena, she grabs the chakrum from Xena's side. "Do you recall the last person this struck? It wasn't some warlord! It wasn't a god trying to kill your child! IT WAS ME!"
The accusation hits Xena with the force of a physical blow. She staggers back a step as Gabrielle holds the weapon up to her face.
"You split my skull open with it Xena!" Each time she says the name of the warrior princess it comes out sounding like a curse. "Did you feel anything when it came back to your hand covered in my blood and brains?"
Xena calls up her resolve to answer the question. "I was defending my daughter." And that resolve turns to anger as she remembers Gabrielle driving her sai into the unsuspecting Eve's back. "Whom you stabbed!"
If Xena expects some kind of trepidation, she is sadly mistaken.
"I was driven mad by the Furies , Xena! You remember what that's like, don't you? How many times have I seen you knock someone out with this?" She slings the weapon into the sand between them. "So why Xena? Why did you kill me?"
"Kill you?" Xena repeats the words turning her gaze down to where the chakrum sticks up out of the sand like some gilded sea shell.
"Yes Xena. You killed me. Ares didn't just give up his immortality to resurrect Eve. I was atop that pinnacle again."
"Pinnacle," Xena mutters. She knows to what Gabrielle is referring. It must have come out sounding like a question because Gabrielle elaborates for her.
"Yes Xena! That pinnacle that is the way station between Heaven and Hell. That place we stood on together after Rome crucified us. At first I didn't understand where I was. Then the Heavens opened and they come forth again. A host of angels to greet me. As soon as I saw them I knew where I was. And I knew what had happened. My best friend had killed me. Then the demons poured out of Hell. They both wanted me. Heaven had come to claim me for the love I felt. Hell had come to claim me for the hate I felt."
Eve wanders away from where she had been to try and hear what her mother and Gabrielle are saying. She can feel the rage pouring out of Gabrielle and the sorrow emanating from her mother.
"Then I'm dragged back to the world of the living. By Ares! You kill me and Ares revives me." Gabrielle takes a step back into water again and turns away. Something deep inside her aches. She thinks it might be her soul. She never thought it possible to love and hate someone at the same time. But she does.
Xena takes a step towards Gabrielle. She tentatively places her hands on the other woman's shoulders and is relived when she doesn't pull away. She searches her heart for the right words to say. "I'm sorry. I didn't know that Athena had summoned the Furies to attack you. When I saw you attacking Eve I didn't think. I just reacted."
Gabrielle spins to face Xena. The rage is once more prominent in her eyes. "You didn't think? You just reacted?"
"Yes," Xena answers. "Eve was in danger. I acted as any mother would."
"You couldn't take one moment to think? One instant in time to wonder why I was doing it?"
"But Eve nothing! You didn't give one thought to me before throwing that damned thing. Not one thought. I have stood by you when your own family wouldn't. When you had given up on yourself I did not."
"I know Gabrielle but please…"
"And what about everything I've given up? All the things I have sacrificed on the altar of our friendship." With each successive word the anger grows. "My relationship with my family! My innocence! MY HUSBAND! MY OWN DAUGHTER!"
At the very mention of Hope Xena rallies her own anger. "What was I supposed to do then? Choose you over my daughter?"
"YES!" Pain lances into Gabrielle's chest like a blade. She feels as though her heart has stopped beating. Placing a hand to her chest she stumbles backwards collapsing into the shallow water.
Xena watches in horror as after uttering that single catastrophic word Gabrielle's eyes roll back into her head and she falls backwards.
Eve stops walking as the word resounds in her head like a gong being struck. With no understanding of how or why, her perception of the world around her changes. The shapes of trees, dunes and everything else become indistinct and blurry. The sky and sea are one in a tapestry of blue and green that seems almost to sing to her. But strangest of all is the vision of the two women there before her. Her mother is a human conflagration burning as bright as the sun. Without knowing why she realizes this shows the god-killing power bestowed upon her by the God of Eli. Gabrielle is a being of muted light that now has a black mass at its center. Eve knows this is Gabrielle's heart now blighted with hate and rage.
Her perception returns to normal and she runs to where her mother is kneeling by Gabrielle. "Mother! Is she all right?" She asks the question out of a child-like reflex though she knows that the younger woman is anything but all right.
Xena places a finger against Gabrielle's neck feeling for a heartbeat. There is none. Eve puts her finger to Gabrielle's wrist searching for a pulse there. Again nothing. Mother and daughter are too stunned to do anything.
Then Gabrielle sits bolt upright and with a strength inappropriate to her size throws both women back from her. "Get away from me!"
Xena tumbles to the sand but Eve manages to keep her footing. She watches Gabrielle stand to her feet. Her perception alters again and she can see the heart beating in Gabrielle's chest. A heart now black with veins of darkness creeping from it like a spider's web.
"Gabrielle. You have to calm down." Xena slowly gets to her feet. "Your heart stopped. There might be something wrong."
Within her chest Gabrielle's heart beats once. Eve observes with foreboding that is does not beat again for several seconds.
"Just stay away from me Xena." Gabrielle backs away. An action that brings her close enough to Eve for her to reach out and touch the woman on her arm.
Gabrielle's reaction is unlike anything Xena thought her capable of. One of her sai is in her hand and she twists around drawing the blade across Eve's arm cutting a gash into it from her elbow up to her shoulder. The point of the blade stops and hovers at her throat. "Don't touch me Livia."
The very utterance of her Roman name makes Eve sick. And with her altered vision she sees the black veins creep out just a bit more as Gabrielle says it.
Xena reacts with a mother's instincts once more and draws her sword.
"Mother no," Eve says knowing that the woman with a blade to her throat is not well in mind, body or soul. "Gabrielle. You are not well. I can see it."
"Shut up!" Gabrielle shouts with such violence she spits on Eve. Her eyes go from the concern on Eve's face to the growing anger on Xena's. Her chest hurts. The hand holding the sai is trembling. And now tears are starting to well up in her eyes. She hears a loud drumbeat and it takes her a moment to realize it is her heart beat. A heartbeat that takes some time to repeat.
Rage at Eve. Fear of what is happening. Love for Xena as well as hate. The drumbeat of her heart resounds again. A tingling at the back of her head. Where the chakrum had struck. The confusion of both the angels and the demons coming for her. The sickening sensation coursing through her that Ares brought her back to the land of the living.
She bolts. Running at top speed down the beach towards the very spot where just the day before three of the gods of Olympus had fallen to Xena. Glancing over her shoulder she sees Xena in pursuit of her.
"Gabrielle! Stop!" Xena shouts. Realizing that the sword in her hand is encumbering her she drops it. "Please!"
"Leave me alone Xena!" Gabrielle bends at the waist slightly picking up more speed as she runs.
Eve watches the two women, closer than sisters, dashing down the beach. The flaming aura of Xena hurtling after the eclipsing light of Gabrielle. She drops to her knees and begins praying.
Desperate to be away from Xena, Gabrielle slows for a moment to turn and hurl the sai she still carries at her. The warrior princess throws up a hand and catches the weapon in mid-flight. The action and the very notion of Gabrielle attacking her so thoroughly distracts her that she stumbles pitching forward into the sand.
Turning back to face the way she is going Gabrielle nearly trips herself. Something is partially buried in the tide-driven sand of the beach. She leaps over it and as she does so she recognizes what it is. The body of Hephaestus. It gives her an idea for escaping Xena.
"APHRODITE!" she screams out the name of the goddess of love with all the air in her lungs.
And much to her surprise Aphrodite indeed appears before her. She digs her heels into the sand and collapses in front of the last Olympian god. Exhausted from running she looks up at the features of the only one of those petty and cruel gods she called "friend." She is still dressed in black and her visage, once with an omnipresent smirk, is a mask of pain and loss. "You have to help me."
"What?" Aphrodite looks up from Gabrielle to see Xena barreling down the beach. "What's wrong?"
"Please Aphrodite," Gabrielle pleads. " I need you to take me away from here."
Aphrodite looks from Gabrielle to Xena. Confused beyond explanation all the goddess can muster is, "Why?"
"Please. I don't time have time to explain." Gabrielle , aching and exhausted, gets to her knees.
Aphrodite senses there is something wrong with her mortal friend but she cannot understand it. Why is she afraid of Xena?
"Gabrielle!" Xena cries out as she closes the distance between them.
"If you truly are my friend , you'll help me. Please."
Aphrodite looks at the approaching warrior princess again. She reaches out towards Gabrielle. "As you wish, little one." When the tip of her finger touches Gabrielle's forehead, the bard vanishes in a cascade of gold.
Xena comes to a stop in the very spot Gabrielle had occupied only a moment before. "Aphrodite. Where is she?"
Aphrodite's gaze moves to where Hephaestus's body still lies in the sand and tide.
"Tell me where she is," Xena says in a demanding voice.
"Or what Xena?" Aphrodite replies fixing her gaze on the god-slaying warrior princess. "You'll kill me. Like you did them." She points to the corpse of her lover. The hammer with which he had so effortlessly crafted everything from armor of war to rings of gold embedded in his chest. Close by Discord's decapitated corpse gives mute testimony to Xena's ferocity in battle.
Xena sees the two bodies for the first time. She stares at them before looking out over the ocean where Poseidon's body was reclaimed by the seas he so long ruled. She turns back to the goddess. The look of sadness on her face gives Xena the slightest pang of regret for what she has done. If they had only left Eve alone. If Athena would have just seen reason. She would say 'I'm sorry' if she thought Aphrodite could forgive her.
"You don't understand," Xena tries to explain. "Gabrielle isn't well. Her heart stopped back there." Xena points back where they had come from. "For the briefest of moments she died on that beach."
"She died on Olympus too," the goddess states. "I felt it. She died for the briefest of moments." She holds out her hand.
Eve ceases her prayers when the chakrum leaps up from where Gabrielle had dropped it and hurtles down the beach.
Aphrodite catches the weapon. "Because of this." The weapon glows brightly for a moment. Then it is covered in gore. Xena stares aghast at the blood and brain matter on its edge. Stuck in the congealing mass are a few short blond hairs and even a minuscule shard of bone. It glows again and is clean once more. "Because of you." She replaces the weapon onto Xena's hip.
"Please…" Xena mutters looking deeply into the eyes of the goddess. She will beg if she must. Gabrielle needs her help.
"She doesn't want your help Xena." The goddess of love says as if reading her mind. Then Aphrodite vanishes from sight.
Xena drops to her knees and begins crying like she never has before. She doesn't even notice Eve kneel beside her and wrap her arms around her.
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