This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or who are sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between a man and a woman. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
Comments: This story is set sometime after "One against an Army" and before "Sacrifice 1", as if Hope had died in "Maternal Instincts." I don't know if Arcadia and Achaea ever were at war, or if Hercules ever knew the Achaean king, so just bear with me whilst I sort of create my own history…J
Please let me know what you think! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, I had a lot of fun playing with this story, so thanks for taking the time to read it and I hope you enjoy it!
Email me with comments at email@example.com!
Gabrielle watched her friend closely as she walked behind her. Something was wrong, and had been wrong for weeks now. She couldn't place it - was Xena worried about something? Hiding something? Feeling sick? She talked even less then she usually did, and wasn't eating as much either. She seemed so tense, so quietly emotional, so angry - one of the reasons Gabrielle wasn't keen on asking her about it. The two of them had been through so much during the last few months: maybe it was wearing Xena down. The gods knew, Gabrielle was keen for a break from this life for a while herself, although she never said as much.
They traveled quietly through the woods, Gabrielle trying to figure out Xena with Joxer following them humming his song. After a while the humming turned into singing and Gabrielle tolerantly stopped walking and waited for him to catch up.
"Joxer," she whispered, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
"Why not? It's a great song - I made a new verse even. Do you want to hear it? Joxer the mighty, he's -"
"Going to push Xena over the edge!"
"There's no edge around - ...are you ok Gabrielle? Why are you whispering? Oh I get it, it's a code isn't it..."
Xena turned slowly when she realised her companions were falling behind. I don't have the energy for this. "If you two don't keep up I'll just leave you behind." Gabrielle and Joxer looked at her, the former smiling innocently.
"We're coming!" She said, and then grabbed Joxer's nose, saying, "just don't say anything for a few hours ok?" Joxer nodded, and Gabrielle released him.
The three continued in single file, Xena leading with Argo. Everyone was silent, until Joxer forgot himself again and began whistling his tune. Gabrielle became nervous, watching Xena become tense with irritation. It didn't take much to upset her these days, and she had little if any patience left to spare, so Gabrielle wasn't surprised when Xena turned sharply and angrily, heading directly for Joxer. She slammed him up against a tree ferociously.
"Joxer," Xena began in a dangerously low voice, "I swear, if you use your vocal chords one more time in anyway, you won't live to regret it." She pushed him harder into the tree.
"Xena - let him go," Gabrielle interjected, worried Xena would injure him. Xena spun around angrily and drew her sword, shocking Gabrielle enough to make her drop her staff.
"Ok...ok...um, I just thought you would..."
"Get out of the way Gabrielle, or make yourself useful."
Gabrielle suddenly saw what she meant, noticing for the first time the small band of four barbarians about to attack them. She yelled at Joxer to get out of the way and went to grab her staff. By the time she was focused, Xena had already pre-dispersed the ruffians. Gabrielle waited for an opportunity to enter the fight, but found herself simply watching the able Warrior Princess teach them a lesson. There was definitely something wrong. She watched Xena knock one of them out with a quick powerful blow and then turn quickly to knock another off his feet with an angry cry. There was something in her eyes that scared Gabrielle. Xena was filled with emotion, not her characteristic composed self, and she was fighting with what looked like rage.
The fight was quickly over, and Xena put the pinch on the biggest guy while the other three cowardly ran.
"Why were you attacking me?" She asked after giving him the drill on what she'd just done.
"There's a bounty on your head." "Who put it there?" He didn't answer. "15 seconds...10...."
"Alright - Inigo. He wants… to improve…his reputation." Xena got up and went to get Argo, Gabrielle watching her in shock.
"Xena! Take it off him!"
"You can't let him die!" The man gasped for a last breath. Xena watched Gabrielle's face and gave her a deadly version of 'the look' that frightened Gabrielle. Xena drew out her sword and went back to the nearly dead man. She released him, and then punched him with the handle of the sword in her hand, knocking him out. She'd hit him hard, and blood seeped down his face. Gabrielle noticed Xena's eyes were red, like she was about to cry. What in Tartarus is going on with you Xena? I feel like I've lost you, and I can never get you back...how can I help you?
Xena didn't say anything as she went and mounted Argo. Joxer then stumbled over to Gabrielle.
"Now don't be jealous Gabrielle, it takes great wisdom to see this -but, I think Xena's pretty angry. I think: something's wrong." Gabrielle rolled her eyes and hit the back of his head with her staff.
"Oww!" Gabrielle ignored him and jogged up to Xena.
"How far is the next town? Therma isn't it?" She asked, looking up at her.
"About a half-mile." Xena said stoically.
"Huh? Oh -" Gabrielle saw the beginnings of a village that lay just around the corner, out of the woods.
"Come on. Argo needs new shoes and a new halter. We need some more food supplies."
"Xena, why don't you go ahead? We'll met you in the tavern." Xena said nothing - just nodded and set Argo into a steady canter.
"Come on idiot!" Gabrielle called back to Joxer.
"I think I have concussion!"
"You'll have more than that in a minute."
Gabrielle entered the full tavern, wishing for a moment that Xena were there to help her get a table. She couldn't be threatening and intimidating on her own. Wondering where to go, she suddenly heard a familiar laugh fill the room, and a broad smile settled on her lips when she saw Autolycus sharing a joke with some unsightly men.
"Autolycus - what are you doing here?" She asked as she approached him.
"Huh? Oh! Gabrielle! I was just telling these inebriates the horrible side-effects of drinking..."
"Yeah. Sure." Gabrielle rolled her eyes good naturedly, and then smiled, saying, "it's good to see you Autolycus."
"It is?" Autolycus rose. "Of course it is! People, I must leave you now. Consider my advice. I have a higher purpose to attend to now. Come Gabrielle; let me buy you a drink," he said, contradicting what he just said. "Not you idiot - Joxer, why are you here?"
"He's still protecting my rear," Gabrielle said with a grin.
"That explains it. Now. Tell me," he began as the three of them relocated to a newly emptied, more private table toward the back of the tavern, "where is Xena?"
"Oh she's in town, sorting out Argo."
"Yeah," agreed Joxer, "Gabby and I are in retreat - avoiding her wrath."
"I wish you had retreated further away," Autolycus said to him curtly. Gabrielle smiled in agreement. "Why is Xena in wroth? Apart from the obvious reason?" He asked, gesturing toward Joxer.
Gabrielle became very serious then, grateful to have met up with Autolycus who noticed her serious face. "What, is she in one of those really bad moods again?"
"Worse. I've never seen her like this before. She seems sad, angry; strong still, but weak at the same time. I don't think she's sleeping well. And her fuse is so short. She's barely eating, and she barely says anything." The look on Gabrielle's face spoke more than her words, and Autolycus sensed her deep worry for her friend.
"Well, she never was much of a talker…Have you tried talking to her?"
"Yes, but something comes up or the subject changes, and she's been too tense lately to bring it up again. She likes you Autolycus - maybe you could, I dunno, weaken her defenses. Maybe she needs to talk to someone who's not with her everyday... I dunno. I hate seeing her like this. She's a mess. A dangerous mess, and I have no idea what to do."
"Well you're right about one thing Gabrielle. She needs someone to talk to, but for once, I don't think I'm the best man for the job. Not that it's a job. And not that I'm not the first man you should come running to in every other situation." He laughed. "I am the best after all! Just kidding, " he added when he noticed the look on Gabrielle's face.
"Well, can you give me any suggestions?" She asked exasperated.
"Yes," he stated thoughtfully. A silent few moments followed.
"Well? What's it gonna cost me to get you to voice them then?"
"Hmm? Oh, nothing. I feel this is a situation where I can kill to birds with one stone, so to speak."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, firstly, I feel this is a man's job, as most jobs are - oww! That hurt!"
"Just tell me your suggestion!"
"Hercules is your man!" He said vibrantly. Gabrielle thought for a moment.
"Of course," she said slowly. "Those two were really close. Surely he'd be able to help."
"They weren't that close...were they?" Autolycus asked hesitantly. Gabrielle smiled.
"It doesn't matter. The question is, how do we get Xena and Hercules to cross paths, without Xena knowing it was a setup?"
"I could go and find him!" offered Joxer heroically.
"Nah. I need to talk to Hercules anyway, and have for a long time."
Autolycus ignored Gabrielle's question and continued. "Listen, maybe it would do her good to go home for a while. Talk her into going to Amphipolis somehow. I think she'll feel less vulnerable there. I'll find Hercules and enlist his help, talk him into coming to see her. Then he sorts her out everyone's happy and we're back to normal!"
Gabrielle looked at him smiling. "What?"
"Every situation where we needed your help, you always wanted payment. But when it comes to Xena these days, you don't even suggest it."
"She's my friend."
Gabrielle nodded. "And she'll thank you for this one day, when she's ok again and can stand to find out how she was rallied around."
"She's not one for asking for personal help is she?"
"Nope. So how do I convince her to go home?"
"You're a bard, Gabby, use your imagination. Well, I better go now," he said surprisingly. He stood and drank the last of his ale. "I don't know where Herc is but I'll track him down using my superior skills. Hold Xena in Amphipolis for as long as possible. I'll send word when we're on our way." And with that he left.
Gabrielle watched him leave in stunned silence. "I can't believe it."
"What?" Joxer asked.
"Autolycus. He's helping us just for the sake of helping us. No profit - and he's being so co-operative. And he's gone instantly. I think he has a thing for Xena."
"Gabrielle. Every man who was born with eyes has a thing for Xena."
"No, no! I'm...skilled in seeing that true beauty...uh...true beauty...I don't love her! I love -"
"Save it Joxer. Look - there's Xena."
"Should we run for cover?"
"Some hero you are. Besides it too late." Xena spotted the two, approached quickly and sat down across from them. "Xena, I'm glad your here. I've been thinking-"
"Gabrielle I have something to ask you. I think I need to go home for a while, and see mother. I can't explain why...but, is that ok? You don't have to come, if you don't want to."
"Xena. I think it's the best idea you've had in weeks," Gabrielle replied cheerfully.
"Ok, we'll stop here tonight and leave first thing in the morning. I don't want to rush. It'll take a week to get there from here, if we take our time. Maybe longer if we have to bring him," she said, scowling at a frightened Joxer.
Autolycus traveled for two days on horseback, trying to find Hercules. He'd found and been following his trail for the last day. People in every village gave him easy directions as Hercules had apparently 'just' passed through, traveling with a "nice, blond man." It didn't take long for Autolycus to catch up to him. He entered a tavern at Dalton, intent on asking the bartender if he'd seen Hercules, but before he did, he noticed the man himself having a drink and a laugh with Iolaus. He went over to them, surprising them both.
"Autolycus!" Hercules exclaimed with pleasure, standing to grasp his friend's forearm. The process repeated with Iolaus. "What brings you here?"
"Business I'm afraid. I need your help."
"My help? I'm not stealing anything if that's what you mean. You never need help for anything anyway," Hercules said pleasantly.
"Maybe it's better to say then, that Xena needs your help." He paused to watch a wave of seriousness and concern settle on Hercules' face. "Although she doesn't know it yet."
"Is it to do with that bounty on her head?"
"Huh? Oh I don't know anything about that. I didn't actually see her myself, but Gabrielle bumped into me and said that Xena's been a mess lately..." Autolycus proceeded to give Gabrielle's description of her friend to the two men before him.
"Wow, she sounds like she's really upset," observed Iolaus quietly.
"Isn't that obvious?"
"I mean Gabrielle. It must be serious if not even Gabrielle can't find the courage to confront her friend."
"Gabrielle looked pretty tired actually, thinking about it I'd say they're both been pretty strained with all they've been through lately. Gabrielle probably has enough to deal with without having to sort out Xena as well. And that is why I implore your help." The two men agreed instantly, and Autolycus told them of their plan to meet 'coincidently' in Amphipolis.
As they prepared to go, Autolycus cornered Hercules on the outskirts of town while Iolaus went to pick up some new shoes.
"Hercules there's something I've been wanting to say to you for a long time, and this issue with Xena has given me the chance to do so," he began unexpectedly.
"Well? What is it?" Hercules asked, looking at Autolycus with a confused smile.
"You see, Xena is a valued friend of mine, and I care for her. The thing is, I care for her a lot, but I know that she wouldn't even look at me twice in that way. It's weird really - I have never cared for anyone as much as I do her. But obviously she won't have me, and I'm not dumb enough to try and make her. But if I can't have her, I want to know that she's in good hands, that she's always looked after. You two had a thing going there for a while. But I don't understand you: you could have the choice of any woman you wanted, and she is the best in every way. I can't believe that you just passed her by, that you just let her escape. She would have you. Open your eyes Hercules, and see what is before you."
"Autolycus! I can't believe you're saying this." Hercules stared stunned at his friend. "Look," he said after a moment. "I don't think even Iolaus knows this; but I do love Xena. I think about her every day. And I would have her because she is the 'best', as you say. But she walked away from me. She felt she needed to make up for all her mistakes, which is fair enough. I loved her enough to let her go."
"And then to just forget about her?"
"No! I never forgot her, I said that."
"Hercules, I can't explain it but I feel very strongly about this. You need to...I don't know... fight for her. It wouldn't take much for her to come around again, just a little enthusiasm, passion. You say you love her. Well it's high time you did something about it before it's too late."
Iolaus joined them unnoticed. "I'm ready...what's wrong Hercules? You look like you've seen a ghost." Hercules remained staring disbelievingly at Autolycus, whose face was so determined. He'd never seen Autolycus like this before, at least not about a person. And yet Hercules knew what he had been told was true. It was time for him to do something about his feelings for Xena. Maybe now was his chance. Thank you Autolycus. Maybe you're right. I thought I had you figured out, but you still surprise me. But I'm grateful. Coming from anyone else I would've laughed. It means a lot coming from you...
"I'm fine," Hercules said comphrehending Iolaus' presence. "Let's go and rescue my damsel in distress."
"I'd hardly call her a damsel..." Iolaus laughed, but stopped suddenly. 'My' damsel? Are you finally listening to your heart Herc? I hope so. I hope by the end of this you've made a few moves, and that she responds. I know how much you love her. I can hardly comprehend the amount of love that you hold for her, let alone how you manage to swallow it and try to hide it. I hope now you finally practice what you preach and go with your heart, not your head.
Gabrielle and Xena entered Amphipolis with Joxer following at a safe distance. Xena had had another go at him, this time even more violently. Gabrielle hoped Hercules wouldn't be long. She was certainly glad to see Cyrene, who noticed instantly Xena's bad mood and therefore didn't rush over to hug her, her first impulse, although she hugged Gabrielle tenderly.
"Have you got room for three?" Xena asked after their greetings.
"I always have room for you, my daughter." Cyrene smiled sweetly, trying to get a smile in return, but failing.
"Thanks. I'm gonna leave my stuff there. I think I need some time to...I'm gonna go fishing over at the lake."
"Ok little one."
Joxer went to get a drink when Xena left, and Gabrielle was left with a worried Cyrene.
"What's happened Gabrielle? She shouldn't be going out - she looks like she's about to collapse from stress and exhaustion."
"Huh?" Gabrielle stared at her, not understanding for a moment. " Exhaustion? Of course...she's over tired. I didn't think of that..."
"You look pretty tired yourself. You'll be glad to know that I have word, from Autolycus." Gabrielle brightened up.
"Did he send a note? Yes? Can I read it?" Cyrene fetched the note and handed it to her young friend.
Dear Cyrene & Gabrielle, whoever gets this first.
I've found Hercules and Iolaus, and we're on our way. We'll get to Amphipolis around the same time as you, if not the same day, unless you're running late. If not, expect us shortly after you arrive. Iolaus says to take care; 'loving help' is on the way. Hercules is setting a cracking pace so we'll be there in record time. See you shortly.
"I take it you sent for Hercules to help Xena or something?"
"You're a great friend Gabrielle. He's exactly what she needs, I'd say."
"Actually it was Autolycus' idea."
True to his word, Autolycus arrived the same day, just as the sun was beginning to set. Gabrielle greeted Iolaus happily, and than thanked Hercules for coming so quickly.
"You know how I feel about her. Where is she, incidentally?"
"She went fishing this afternoon, at the lake. Taking time out hopefully."
"I'll go and meet up with her," Hercules said, trying to hide his overwhelming desire to see her.
"Come Gabrielle," said Iolaus gently, "let me buy you a drink. I want to hear your latest story."
Xena stood on the jetty, against the wind, wearing nothing but her brown cotton shift. It fell to the middle of her thighs, with a low, revealing v-neck and thin straps. She let her thoughts wander as she stared out into the lake, not fishing, just thinking. It hurts so much. I just want to end the pain.
A familiar four barbarians, who were obviously dedicated to ending her life, attacked her then. So many people want me dead. I will be fighting this for the rest of my life. Her first victim fell easily enough onto the shore. Her second quickly fell also, but not without slicing her thigh with his sword. This made her even angrier, and she wished she was dressed properly to address the situation. She'd left her weapons out of reach also, showing how un-focused she was. She flipped herself in front of next target.
"Only an idiot gets himself into a position to be defeated twice," she said before knocking him over with a high kick. She let him flee, her leg wound throbbing a little as she turned to the final guy. "I just want some time away from this!" She screamed at him, terrifying him with the level of fury showing in her eyes. She knocked the sword out of his hand and kicked in his stomach. He picked up his sword quickly, swung it and left another cut on her right arm. Two wounds in as many minutes. What's wrong with me? She fought him tiredly, just managing to defeat him.
Ignoring the blood seeping from both her arm and leg, she dived spontaneously into the lake to cool off. Feeling defeated emotionally, totally out of strength, she lay on her back, floating without purpose.
She wanted to drown at that moment. There was too much pain to deal with. Too many sleepless nights. Too many events to deal with. Too many dark stories to torment her.
She felt so empty and faint. She hadn't noticed how she barely ate, and so she couldn't understand why her body barely supported her anymore. To an outsider it was obvious. No food, no sleep; she wouldn't last long.
The night was coming quickly, and it was getting cold. Still Xena couldn't find the energy to get to dry land, to save herself.
Hercules found the lake easily enough, then Argo. He wasn't worried until he saw Xena's weapons and clothes lying conspicuously on the ground. There was no sign of her anywhere. He looked at the footprints on the ground and could tell there had been a fight. He noticed a man a bit further around the lake struggling to get up. Hercules guessed Xena had fought him.
"Where is the woman who did this?" He asked angrily, desperately.
"I saw her dive into the lake. I don't know what happened then." Hercules looked over the lake, scanning the shores to see where she was. Finally a black image floating toward the other side of the lake became visible, and Hercules panicked. He left the man, and ran to the side of the lake that was closest to the figure, the figure he knew to be Xena. He dived into the lake fully clad as soon as he was as close as possible. He saw that her eyes were opened, staring aimlessly. He waded the remaining distance between them and studied her body closely.
She was breathing.
A little relieved, Hercules wrapped his arm around her waist, and brought her into shore. She was shivering uncontrollably.
"Hercules?...Just leave me..."
"I'm not leaving you anywhere." He examined her two wounds, which he decided would be fine with a bandage and some ointment. What's he doing here? Is it really him? "Come on my wet princess," Hercules said as he gathered her up tightly into his arms, "I'm taking you home."
"I can walk."
"You don't need to. Please, just let me help you." Xena was too weak to protest, and so allowed herself to relax into his arms.
"She'll be fine. I'll send Iolaus to fetch her when we get back." He looked into her beautiful eyes, which were duller than usual. "Everything's going to be alright, Xena, everything." Tears filled her eyes, but were not shed. Hercules kissed her forehead tenderly, and began the walk home. Xena suddenly relaxed her head, shut her eyes and fell asleep almost instantly, shocking Hercules. You're exhausted! What has happened to you my dear Xena? What's happened to your spirit? You sleep so lightly and yet here you just slipped into it. I love you Xena, so much. I don't know what's going on, but I'm here for you. We'll get through this.
Hercules carried her back towards her mother's inn, when Gabrielle spotted him out the window and came racing out. She saw Xena's limp body and expected the worse.
"Hercules!? What's happened??"
"It's ok Gabrielle," he whispered, "she just feel asleep."
Gabrielle looked at him curiously, before noticing the wounds on Xena's arm and thigh.
"She's been injured. She must have been attacked by a large group."
"There were only four."
Gabrielle looked at Hercules, disbelievingly. "I'm so glad your here. This is nothing like Xena… Why is she wet?"
"Well she was fishing," Hercules said, not wanting to give Gabrielle an image of a forlorn, almost suicidal Xena floating on the lake. "She's going to need a lot of rest. Look at her, she's exhausted."
"Obviously. Take her up to her room, can you? I'll find Argo."
"Gabrielle, let Iolaus do it. You need rest too, my friend."
Eventually it was Autolycus who volunteered to find Argo and to put her back into the stable along with Xena's clothing and weapons. Gabrielle had taken Hercules' advice and gone to bed, falling into a deep sleep while trusting Herc to take care of her friend.
Hercules laid Xena on her bed, followed in by Cyrene who brought in ointment and bandages to tend to her daughters wounds.
"I can't believe this," commented Hercules once Cyrene finished dressing the cuts.
"She's let us do all this, without waking. She can't have slept properly for weeks for her to just go out like that. I don't understand."
"Well, she must trust you very much for her to do it. She must believe that you will protect her."
"And I will of course - it's just so unlike Xena."
"Yes I know." Cyrene looked closely at Hercules who was obviously worrying about her daughter.
"How long have you been in love with her?" She asked after a few minutes. "I can see it in your eyes, so don't deny it."
Hercules smiled. "You're one person I won't try to deny it to. Ever since she came back to fight for good, against Darphus. I guess. At least I think that's were it began. It just seemed to always be there, growing stronger every day no matter what I did to ignore it. But I'm not going to try and shut it out anymore."
Cyrene smiled. "I'm glad to hear it. I couldn't ask for anyone better for her." They both sat on the edge of her bed, watching her sleep.
"I must return downstairs. I'll talk to you later." Cyrene, recognising Hercules' need to be alone with her daughter, left him to his thoughts.
You're the most amazing woman I've ever known Xena. Even lying here now, you are the most beautiful woman I know. Even now I can't help but feel attracted to you. But it's more than your beauty. It's you heart that I'm in love with. I just want to wake you and love you. But I must let you rest, and recover from whatever it is that is disconcerting you.
Xena suddenly started tossing and turning, not violently, but evidently as a result of some nightmare. She didn't cry out, but her face showed much pain. Her breaths became shallower and she made a painful moaning sound. Hercules didn't know if he should wake her, but decided he couldn't stand watching her in this sort of pain. He called to her softly at first, shook her a little, and then called to her again, louder, when she didn't respond. She awoke abruptly with a small cry. She was shivering frenziedly again, her eyes alert and full of terror. Slowly she focused and become aware of Hercules, her hair wet with sweat. She started talking rapidly, incomphrensibly, and then was engulfed by tears. She sobbed heavily while Hercules held her in his arms trying to comfort her, almost crying himself to see her in such torment.
It seemed liked hours before she fell asleep again. Hercules stayed by her side all night, and luckily, she did not seem to dream again. When he awoke the next morning, Xena was asleep soundly in his arms. She looked like she would never wake, but when Hercules moved a little to get comfortable, she did. Her eyes were red and they had dark circles under them.
"Hercules," she croaked, "you're here." Tears brewed in her eyes again, this time unashamedly.
"Yes, I'm here." He kissed her forehead again. "Come. It's time you had something to eat." He helped her to her feet, she still wearing only her brown shift but looking beautiful. Exhausted, but beautiful.
They walked down stairs together and found Cyrene chatting to Autolycus. Cyrene smiled affectionately when she saw Xena.
"Good afternoon, little one!"
"Afternoon? I slept in that much?"
"No, but you normally get up at the crack of dawn. Mid-morning must seem like afternoon to you," Cyrene said with a smile.
"Autolycus? What are you doing here?" Xena asked perceiving his presence for the first time.
"Oh...I was just in the area, you know. Thought I'd drop by. Good to see you Xena," he said with a cheerful nod. Xena, only half awake, responded with a lopsided smile.
"Here," Cyrene said, handing Xena a bowl. "I've made you a chicken broth. You look like you haven't eaten for weeks. Your stomach will be sensitive so don't eat too fast. You should be able to keep this down though."
Xena took the broth quietly. "Thank you," she whispered around the ever-staying lump in her throat.
"Autolycus, have you seen Iolaus this morning?" Hercules asked.
"Yes as a matter of fact I have. He and Gabrielle went for a walk to the lake, and asked me to tell you that you two are welcome to join them anytime you want to. I think that upset Joxer, because he's gone to see Meg now: thank the Gods. As for me, as I'm sure you're wondering; I'll see you two later today -I've got to see a man about a...an investment."
Xena only realised how hungry she was when she began the broth, and she soon asked for another. Hercules sat with her, watching her.
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine," she answered without looking up.
"Can you tell me what it is that is bothering you?" He asked eventually and instantly regretted it when Xena gave him a deadly look.
"What do you think is bothering me? My life... first that whole thing in Britannia with Gabrielle, the lies, the betrayal in Chin. My son is dead, and I never got to tell him that I loved him, that I was his mother. Then Gabrielle nearly dies while I have to hold off a Persian army. Nightmares about my past have returned to haunt me. Horrible nightmares," she added with a whisper. "It's too much to comprehend. I feel evil after them. I realised that I will never escape who I used to be, one way or another. That is what I am defined by. A deadly, dangerous murdering harlot. I was so angry about everything...so filled with rage...nowhere to vent it. I can't live with myself."
"Have you forgiven Gabrielle?"
"Yes. But the pains still there. Not because of what she did, but just because of what the result was. And everywhere I go people want to kill me, and I haven't got the strength to fight the way that makes me feel anymore. It never used to bother me. Everyday there's a battle- every day I loose focus. I mean I was wounded twice yesterday; that was not normal."
"Xena you need a break from fighting. Emotionally, as well as physically. Take a break. Just spend some time with the people who love you. You are not a harlot. You're certainly not evil; so don't let anyone tell you that. The strongest voice is always your own, so when it's lying, listen to people like me who love you desperately, who need and want you to recover from this."
"I think I've scared off Gabrielle..." Xena started faintly.
"She loves you. She's not scared of you, just really worried about you. And by what you've told me it sounds like she could do with a break as well."
"Yes you're right." There was a pause as Xena yawned. "I feel like I could sleep for days and not wake up."
"Maybe you should. Get some rest Xena. Go back to bed," he suggested kindly. "You know you need it. I'll stay with you until you fall asleep if you like." Hercules was surprised to find no argument come from her. She simply nodded her head, and let Hercules guide her back to her room, where he stayed until she drifted off as promised.
Hercules returned downstairs and found Cyrene, busily working. She saw him, smiled, and came over to him.
"If you're going to tell me that you actually got my daughter to sleep in the middle of the day, then I'm going to make a statue of you and put it in my garden as a memorial to the first person to do so."
"That's pretty drastic," Hercules laughed. "Yes she is asleep, but I don't want a statue, just a drink."
"With good reason! You're a brave man Hercules, strong in more ways than one. I'm glad you're here."
"I'm glad you only had one daughter!" Cyrene laughed.
"Look - Gabrielle and Iolaus are back." She said, pointing toward the door. Hercules turned to greet them.
"Gabrielle. Did you sleep well?"
"Like a baby. I feel so much better. I'd forgotten what a mattress felt like. And having a roof over my head. And not having a beautiful impatient warrior trying to wake me up with water at the crack at dawn. It was a nice feeling. Speaking of impatient warriors...where is Xena?"
"Hercules! Did you drug her?"
"No!" They laughed. "But, 'I have many skills'," he said with a smile. "On a more serious note however, Gabrielle, do you know how long Xena's been having these nightmares?"
"Nightmares? What are you talking about? I mean, yeah she's always slept light, had nightmares every now and then, more so when we first met, but not so much lately. What did she tell you?"
"Well nothing really. But I was next to her last night when she had one. It was horrible to watch, and when she woke, she just burst into tears. She said she's had them for weeks now, that she's barely slept."
"Normally she cries out though - I would've heard her...I feel like such a bad friend."
"She didn't cry out last night. It's ok Gabrielle. You're helping her now." Hercules moved to embrace the worried bard.
The afternoon quickly passed and Hercules and Gabrielle went to check on their friend, who was just waking when they entered her room. They got her to eat some more, but her stomach was too sensitive and so rejected the food. She just made it to the window.
She slept some more after that, and eventually everyone else went to bed too. Hercules had his own room that night, but listened carefully for any sign of distress coming from Xena's room. After an hour or so just lying on his bed, he heard her get up and walk downstairs and outside. He got up and followed her, but made the mistake of walking up behind her. She grabbed his arm suddenly when he was close enough and bent it up behind his back.
"Hercules? Don't do that to me!"
"I was just coming out to see how you were! Let me go!" He exclaimed playfully. Xena wasn't looking quite as light-hearted. "You had another nightmare didn't you," Hercules stated as she released him.
Xena nodded tiredly. Hercules drew her into him, and wrapped his arms around her tightly. She buried her head into his chest and sighed.
"Did I wake you?" She asked as they parted.
"No, I was already awake."
"You don't have to lose sleep over me you know. I am ok."
"But you're not great." Hercules sat down on a stone bench, and gestured for Xena to join him. She sat down next to him, slowly, not wanting to let her defenses down. Hercules noticed her skeptical look, and moved up the seat so they didn't have to touch. The night was beautiful, and the stars shone bright, but a cloud of melancholy had settled over Xena, who found it hard to accept and appreciate Hercules' undeserved help let alone the clear night. Hercules watched her staring out to the distance, as if she had glazed over. He didn't know if it was the right time or not, but he decided he had to tell her what was on his heart. Now. I have to tell you now and know how you feel otherwise I will simply burst. He took a breath in and began...
"Xena. Let me tell you something, since you obviously don't see it. I realised I've never said it before, but, I love you Xena. I have thought about you every day. I wish also everyday that I had a second chance, to get it right. I don't want to confuse lust and love though. I know that many men have taken advantage of your heart and your beauty. You are beautiful, but it's your heart itself, the goodness in there, the things that make you you, that's what I'm in love with. Your personality, your skills; you're so complex, but I love every bit of you. I know you may have trouble with that, and I don't want you to answer straight away (though I hope desperately you do! ). I want to get to know you more Xena, become your best friend. I don't want you to get it into your head that I'm just after a pretty face. I'm not even going to kiss you, although I desperately want to. So if all this means getting up every single night to help you overcome these nightmares than so be it. It's a small price in my eyes."
"Hercules, I don't deserve you."
"You're wrong. The old Xena didn't deserve much at all, but that's not you anymore. If you deny yourself the things that you do deserve, then you're letting her win! You need to forgive yourself and realise that the goodness in your heart deserves everything I can possibly do for it. You are a good person. The dark side of you is gone. Let it go. And take up your new mantle of goodness.'
"How do I do that?"
"By not challenging my love for you." Xena smiled at him for a moment.
"Best friends huh? I thought we were already pretty close. And then there's Gabrielle..."
"There's room in your life for two best friends isn't there? And yes, we are close, but I want to know all about your hopes and dreams, passions and desires...What do you say?"
There was an agonising moment while she said nothing. She just stared out ahead of her letting everything he said sink in. She decided that she maybe could trust this guy...she had once before... I remember everything Hercules...the touch, the taste, the way you made me feel...I want to feel that again...I want to be close to you in every way...but I'm scared...but I guess I have to be honest...
"Well, if it puts your mind at ease, let me say this first: I love you too Hercules. I always have. I like this idea of getting to know each other better without letting...desire get in the way. It would help me clear my mind a little I think if I didn't have you walking around distracting me…but.... "
"You're scared..." Xena nodded.
"I have never really given my heart to someone before..."
"That's what I'm saying...let's just take this one step at a time...You don't have to face everything at once." Xena smiled at him slightly, and nodded thankfully. "Of course that means your not allowed to act seductively in anyway, lest I should be tempted. So please, stop showing off your beautiful, alluring… feminine...body".
Xena laughed, the first time in weeks. "Stop looking," she replied softly. They smiled at each other, and a few silent minutes passed. But Xena soon looked troubled again, and Hercules knew that the nightmares were responsible.
"Come Xena, I will stay with you tonight. Come: get some more sleep. The gods know you look like you need it."
She slept soundly for days after that, the nightmares gradually getting less in horror and in frequency. Hercules was by her side any time they struck, but her sleep soon became more peaceful. She wouldn't admit it, but sleeping on a bed, next to a fire, under a roof had its advantages. She woke only to eat, or for other necessary routines.
Gabrielle watched her one evening, when Cyrene came in behind her.
"How are you Gabrielle?" Cyrene asked, speaking quietly.
"Yeah, I'm really well. I love seeing Xena like this. Look at her. She looks so peaceful. And she's sleeping so deeply. I'm so glad she could experience this. I've never seen her look so relaxed…so beautiful… I'm so glad we came here."
"So am I. It's given her soul a chance to heal." A moment passed as they watched Xena breathing calmly, until Cyrene unexpectedly broke the silence. "Now tell me dear - about Iolaus." Gabrielle blushed. She knew exactly what Cyrene meant but asked anyway:
"What about him?"
"He's a nice guy."
"Yes. He is."
"You've been spending a lot of time with him..."
"We're good friends." She sighed. "Ok, we're more than that. At least that's the way it's going. I love him," she admitted after a moment.
"You're brilliant for each other. I hope things work out for you."
Cyrene went to her daughter first thing the next morning. She was up, and looking much stronger, physically as well as emotionally. Her wounds looked little more than scratches now. Cyrene embraced her daughter closely. "It's good to see you looking so much stronger. You look a lot calmer, more at peace somehow." Xena smiled.
"Love can heal even the most deepest wounds. I don't think I've ever slept for so long though."
"You needed it. You were a mess when I first saw you - I don't mean that as an insult," she added quickly.
"I didn't take it that way."
"I found this - it's one of yours." Cyrene handed Xena a dress. "It would still fit."
"I can't wear a dress."
"It's not fatal."
"Please, just take a break from the warrior outfit. Besides I'd like to see it on you again."
"Xena - please."
"Alright. I'll go down to the lake, have a bath, which I really need anyway, and get changed. If it makes you happy."
"Yes. It does," Cyrene said, smiling at her daughter's expression.
Xena returned shortly thereafter wearing the dress. The others had only just got out of bed, and Hercules was nowhere to be seen. Her dress wrapped her waist firmly in a deep purple material that laced up her back. The skirt was long, in a shade of deep red. A light blue material dipped around her breasts, and deep blue sleeves attached to the light blue wrapped around her shoulders. Her hair was out, just washed and dried, shining beautifully and naturally. Her eyes had their spark back in them, and she looked absolutely stunning in the different colours, with the curves of her body flattered by the dress.
Gabrielle ran to greet her almost unrecognisable friend with a hug. Xena hugged her back, which relieved Gabrielle.
"I need to talk to you," the two said simultaneously, and Gabrielle laughed lightly.
"Let's take a walk." Xena suggested.
Soon the village was out of sight behind them. Gabrielle was being rather quiet, and so Xena guessed she'd have to make the first move.
"Gabrielle - I'm sorry for the way I've treated you these last few weeks. I was tired, but I reverted back to being cruel and I pushed you away... I feel like I betrayed our friendship."
"Xena! That's not true. If anything I should be sorry. I should have know what was going on...the nightmares...the way you were barely eating…I should have detected something sooner, helped...somehow."
"How were you to know? I never said a word about them. And I didn't realise myself how little I was eating. Besides, sending for Hercules is probably the best thing you could of done for me, and for yourself too."
Gabrielle looked at her friend in surprise. "How did you know?" Then she laughed softly. "I should've known you'd figure it out. You know everything. Except that it was Autolycus' idea."
"Yeah. I was surprised too. He must really hold you in high esteem."
"He's a good friend. But you, you're the best." Xena stopped to hug her friend. "Thank you for putting up with me, even when I become unbearable."
"Xena..." Gabrielle stopped and simply smiled at her friend. "I love you Xena."
"I love you too. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about? Iolaus?"
Gabrielle blushed as they began walking again. "You do know everything."
"My guess is he asked for you hand in marriage, and you haven't replied because you're waiting for my blessing." Gabrielle stopped walking, stood and stared at her friend, blushing intensely yet not knowing it.
"How did you...Xena - you're not becoming an oracle are you?"
"No." Xena smiled warmly. "I just know you too well...plus there was that conversation in my room with my mother..."
"You we're suppose to be asleep!"
"And miss that? Never! But let me say this Gabrielle. It's the same as it was with Perdicus. I love you, and when you're happy, I'm happy. If Iolaus is the one that makes you complete, your 'tree in the forest', then nothing would make me happier to hear you say yes to him. I know you love him. Don't deny it on account of me. I simply won't have it."
"Oh Xena...you sure know how to make a girl happy," Gabrielle said, stopping to hug her friend again. "I love you Xena. So much. I have to tell him my answer. Oh, quick, lets go back. Is that ok? Besides, I want to see Hercules' reaction when he sees you in that dress! You look...amazing! He'll melt!" Xena laughed offhandedly, and then remembered how she had promised not to tempt him. Oh well. It was either that or turn up naked.
They entered the inn together soon after, and Gabrielle quickly found Iolaus and asked to talk to him in private, making him look a little nervous. Hercules, who had been sitting with him, turned to find Xena. The look on his face was almost pain when his eyes met hers. Xena...you weren't supposed to do this to me! He managed to return Xena's smile - who knew what he was thinking - and went to stand next to her.
"It wasn't on purpose," Xena said before he had a chance to say anything. Hercules smiled innocently.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he lied, making Xena laugh softly.
"Does the great Hercules have a weak point?"
"Oh you mean that dress. I barely noticed." He smiled again before slipping an arm around her waist, pulling her close to him. He whispered into her ear, "you look absolutely beautiful, but then you always do." Xena shivered at his closeness, but said nothing. Hercules looked around the inn. "Your friend seems to have stolen away my friend," he observed, happily.
"I think your friend has had something very particular to say to my friend, and now my friend has something to say to him."
"Yes. I couldn't be more pleased! What are you doing now?"
"I have to see Argo. She must be going nuts. I'll brush her down and take her to the lake. Met me there in half an hour?"
Hercules nodded and reluctantly released his grip around her.
Argo was glad to see Xena, who apologised to her friend as she brushed her down. "I'm sorry girl...I just left you out there...oh Argo...I think I'm falling in love...is that possible? I wonder what Gabrielle would say to that? I know she loves Iolaus. Actually, she'll be married soon...you won't have to carry her again. I wonder what you'd say to that." The mare neighed softly, nudging her master. "You want to stretch your legs don't you? Come on girl, let's catch the wind."
Half an hour later, Xena took the saddle off her beautiful horse, and wished she had just waited to brush her after the ride. She brushed her down again anyway, enjoying herself.
"We'll go for a real ride tomorrow ok girl?" Argo whinnied enthusiastically. Xena let her go, and she walked slowly down to the lake to have a drink. Xena sat down on the grass and watched her prance through the water.
Hercules appeared soon after and the two lay down next to each other, drinking in the beauty of the sunshine, the reflection of the lake, and the souls of each other.
"Thank you Hercules, for saving me...from myself," she said softly after a while. Hercules didn't know how to reply. He wanted to kiss her, now, more than anything, but knew he should wait.
The night of Gabrielle and Iolaus' wedding came quickly. A simple wedding and a nice evening with their friends made the happy couple complete. Autolycus was especially in the mood for a party, challenging Xena to a drinking competition. "If I win, you have to sing for us, and give me a kiss!" Unlucky for Xena, he did win, but only because he cheated by subtly and carefully swapping his cup for one that was filled with water. Xena was aware of his plot, but thought it to cleverly done to publicly unveil.
"Come on Xena! Pay up!" Autolycus playfully walked over to where she was sitting, pretending to be waiting for a kiss for a moment before leaning forward and kissing her check. "Call me your brother, your friend, and I'll be satisfied," he whispered in her ear. She gave him a spontaneous hug that surprised even herself, and he smiled pleasantly in return.
"Come Xena -you owe us a song!" He cried loudly, enjoying being center of attention and provoking Xena.
"Yes Xena! A song! Sing us a song!" Her friends called. She raised an eyebrow at Autolycus and pouted before taking a long sip of her ale. She knew she could back out, with reason, and Autolycus half expected her to, but she actually decided to play along.
"A song huh? Alright, just this once 'cause I'm in a good mood…this is for you Gabrielle, Iolaus." The tavern fell to silence, and waited for her to begin. After a moment, her beautifully deep, chocolate voice filled the room.
You came into my life
And showed me a sort of love
I'd never known.
You healed my heart
Made me smile when I was blue
This song is for you.
Iolaus, I'm so happy for this night
So grateful for your heart
Which forgave an evil plight
You have a wife
Who'll make you smile when you're blue
This song is for you
My dear friends, I love you both so, so much
I know your love with last
Right throughout the distance
Keep it as such
It'll make you smile when you're blue
My dear friends,
This song is for you.
Silence endured as Xena ended her song, people smiling warmly, feeling the love Xena expressed so sincerely. Hercules tried to swallow the lump in his throat. I didn't know you could sing…Oh Xena…I dedicate my life to hearing your voice as much as possible for the rest of my life…
Even Autolycus seemed emotional. Iolaus' let his eyes and smile portray all he felt, warmly gazing at Xena, who returned his smile. Gabrielle's eyes overflowed with tears, and ran to embrace her friend. "I love you Xena…"
The couple settled in a cottage between Amphipolis and the next village. The only one not happy about the marriage was Joxer who left the village quietly soon after, with no intentions to return.
Xena and Hercules then spent a couple of days, getting to know each other better as Hercules had suggested. They helped Cyrene with the inn, fished together, and Hercules was finally allowed to see another side to this amazingly intricate woman.
They sat one evening together, Xena without her armor but in her leather, atop a long grassed hill, giving them a good view over the lake. Hercules sat with Xena sitting in between his legs, her back resting on his chest. She relaxed there; concentrating on the way his chest rose and fell with each breath, feeling more peaceful than she ever had. Hercules leaned down and kissed the back of her neck, making her shudder with a longing she hadn't felt for so long. You're so hard to resist Xena…
Xena turned smiling to her partner. "What happened to waiting?"
"I was waiting, until you were ready...If you're not that's ok. I just wanted to make sure you didn't feel like you were being talked into anything, or being taken advantage of."
"I appreciate that...but I feel like I have known you forever..." Hercules smiled as Xena turned to face him completely. The warm setting sun made her face glow, and Hercules couldn't wait any longer. You are intoxicating...
He placed a hand behind her neck, and drew her toward him. Finally, the long-awaited moment came as his lips touched hers in a warm kiss that occurred in one electrifying move. Xena parted her lips and let him venture deeper. She took him with her as she lay down onto her back. He breathed in her scent, feeling the soft depths of her mouth as he hovered over her. His hand followed the curves of her body until it came to rest on her hip. He held her closely, tightly. His other hand brushed the hair off her face so he could glimpse her alluring eyes before fervently kissing her again, and again.
Xena could feel him tremble as she touched his chest. Her hands caressed his arms, her fingers dancing lightly over his chest, arousing him intensely. He left kisses down her neck and kissed her collarbone sensuously as her hands ran through his hair. She groaned with an overwhelming desire that grew as his wandering mouth trailed further down...
"Hercules stop," Xena called out suddenly. "It's too much…" Hercules sat up, trying not to get frustrated.
"Sorry." He said after a moment. I took advantage of her…I did what I promised not to.
"Don't be - I led you on. I just can't do this…not yet. I love you, more than anything…and I think you know how much I want you."
"Then what's the problem?" Xena I want you more than anything…
"I don't know…I'm still trying to take up my 'mantle of goodness', like you said I should. I guess I just need time." They stood up together, and Xena kissed him lightly. "I'm sorry," she whispered, knowing she'd let him get worked up for nothing.
"Toris? What are you doing here?" Xena exclaimed happily early the next morning as she descended from her room for breakfast. She embraced her brother ardently.
"Hello Xena. It's good to see you."
"You don't look like it is," Xena commented, observing his worried outline. "What's wrong?"
"I need your help, urgently," he began with incredible seriousness. "A war between Arcadia and Achaea has begun. I fight for neither side, and encourage peace between them. But what Arcadia is doing is ridiculous. They're turning the war into a massacre! Many people have died. I was bringing the wounded to a hospus, but 4 out of five of the medics there have been slaughtered, and we can't keep up. Xena these people need you. You have amazing medical skills, and I beg you to help."
"It's not my problem if people want to throw themselves into a pointless war."
"You're right, it is pointless! That's why you have to help stop it! I don't know how, but you have so much military experience. Surely you can do something."
"When two nations are set to fight, there's little anyone can do to persuade them to do otherwise. It's not my place to try."
"Not your place? Xena, you live in this nation don't you? You're one of our people aren't you? You can't let innocent people die when you can do something about it."
"Innocent people? The wounded you care for are there by choice! They know what they are walking into to."
"Xena if Arcadia wins, they will take over all of Greece."
"I never belonged to Greece," Xena growled.
"Xena you've stopped wars before. You've tended to the wounded before, in wars where you belonged to neither side. What's so different about this one?" Xena looked at her brother carefully, unable to answer, but unwilling to back down. "Xena this is a great opportunity for you to do good. If you can get them to sign a treaty, they could unite. Everything would improve. Warlords could be stopped, wars ended, people could live in peace in better living conditions all together. Imagine a nation with a common purpose; isn't that worth fighting for?"
Xena thought for a few minutes, looking seriously agitated. She had only been home for little more than a week. She didn't feel like throwing herself into the frontline of a war, a war that didn't involve her. But Toris had some good points, and she knew what was right.
"Ok, I'll help you in the hospus - we'll see where we go from there." Toris looked relieved.
"Thank you Xena. Incidentally, do you know where Hercules is? I think he may be able to talk some sense into the Arcadians. Apparently he's a friend of one their leaders. Maybe he could help too."
Xena smiled. "That's a good idea. Lucky for you, he's just upstairs."
2 week later Xena was still working hard in the hospus, trying to keep as many people alive as she could. There was blood everywhere, people screaming in pain, and new patients arriving every moment. Iolaus and Gabrielle had followed her, although Xena had begged the newly weds to stay out of harms way. While she worried for their safety, they were proving themselves constantly, Gabrielle as a nurse, Iolaus bringing in the wounded with Toris, Autolycus and others. Joxer had returned, actually being helpful by fetching medicine from other towns whenever the supply ran out. Xena worked mostly for the people whose wounds were complicated and urgent.
The atmosphere was tense. At first Xena thought she'd find she'd missed it. She had saddled Argo, put on her amour, fitted her chakram and rode off to help bring about goodness. She liked the sense of adventure, the suspense, and the knowledge that she was going to help someone. But now she was here, surrounded by death and pain, she vowed to herself it would be the last time.
"Xena," called a calm but blood-covered Gabrielle, "this man's leg is broken. I need you to reset it."
Xena finished tending to her first patient and then went over to where Gabrielle was.
"This should ease the pain," she told the man as she numbed the area with pressure points. She lifted the leg, pulled it toward her, and in one quick movement twisted and reset the bone. The solider passed out from shock. "Stop the bleeding from the wound, and then put a splint - you know what to do."
Xena turned around when Iolaus and another man came running in with a new patient on a stretcher.
"Xena! This one has two arrow wounds."
"I can see that. Put a poker in the fire." She snapped of the head of the first arrow which had gone straight through his stomach. Shutting out the screams of the solider, she pulled the rest of it out as quickly but as gently as she could. The other one was in his arm, and she had to push it though completely. Again she broke the head off it, and removed the rest. Iolaus brought over the poker and Xena finished the job. Iolaus then left with the man he had entered with to find any more wounded.
"Gabrielle- you know what to do," Xena said hurriedly. "Here are some clean bandages. Move him as little as possible."
Two men came rushing in carrying an unconscious man on a stretcher. Xena met them half way to see what the problem was. He had been stabbed through the stomach; blood seeped out his mouth.
"He's lost too much blood. I can't do anything for him."
"You have to try!"
"Others will die while I waste my time with him! His lung has been pierced and blood is getting in. You know where to put him." There's too many decisions like that I have to make. Don't make it any harder. Oh by the gods this is draining…
As darkness came the fighting slowed, nearly ceasing for a moment, and less wounded were being admitted. Xena knew it was time to eat something and rest while she could. If she started getting tired she would make mistakes, and that could be fatal to more than one person. She went outside to get some air and some water from the well. She hated the feeling of various people's blood sticking to her and she wished she were back home, at the lake… with Hercules.
She and Hercules had parted when she told him of Toris' news. He went to the Arcadian king to try and talk to him and Xena hadn't seen him since. He had had further to travel though.
She'd had no time to think about it, and she blocked it out even now. She was just about to take a sip from her cup when Gabrielle came rushing out.
"Xena - Hercules is here. He wants to talk to you." Xena put down her cup and went back inside, spotting Hercules instantly.
His face portrayed a great intensity as he spoke swiftly but carefully. "Xena. The king has made an offer. Champion against champion. Our best warrior against his. If we win, he will talk peace. I think he wants peace, but has too much pride to be the first to back down. If he wins, the Achaean army must withdraw. I've spent all week getting him to this point - we have to take his suggestion."
"Are you the warrior?"
"He won't let a demi-god do it." He looked intently at Xena, who understood immediately, and nodded.
"Ok. When's the battle to take place?"
"Tomorrow - at dawn. Xena, his general…"
"What about him?"
"It's Inigo -the one with the rich bounty on your head."
Xena laughed darkly. "So if I win, the king gets peace he'd like anyway, if he wins, he takes over Greece and his general has the pleasure of getting me out of the way without having to pay someone to do it for him. Isn't that what they call ironic?"
"Yes but if he takes up peace, we win too. And so do thousands of other people."
"Yeah I know. This just makes it interesting. What about the Achaeans? Are they willing for peace?"
"They would do anything to stop the slaughter. They've agreed to all the terms."
"Good, I'll -" Xena stopped as she saw Toris and another man bring in another wounded soldier. "Gabrielle - pass me a clean cloth-"
"No Xena - if you have to do this, I mean, fight tomorrow, you'll need all your strength. Rest now - we can take care of this."
"She's right," added Iolaus and Hercules at the same time.
I do feel tired…you're right…oh but I can't when there's work to be done…don't give me that look Hercules…Gabrielle, you look so stubborn when you purse your lips like that… "Ok, ok. You know where I am if you need me."
Xena slept in the stables, near Argo, not that she slept well, deeply or peacefully. She woke well before dawn, and soon gave up any hope of going back to sleep. She went to a nearby creek and freshened herself up ready for the battle. It felt good to get the blood off her skin and out of her hair. Now I can concentrate better. She strategically dressed herself, firmly fitting on her armor. She sharpened her sword, not for the first time, and placed it in its sheath, and then added her chakram to her side.
She went back to the stables and found Gabrielle sleeping soundly in her apron, in the arms of her also sleeping husband. They deserved the break - they had worked hard, and Xena couldn't have done all she had without them. She smiled at them, and promised herself that she would see them again soon.
She walked across the road in the neutral village to the hospus where Hercules was still busily tending the wounded. Some of the walking wounded were helping also, giving water to those who needed it, changing bandages and cleaning up infections. Hercules gave Xena a faint smile as he re-bandaged his patient's leg wounds.
"You're up early," he commented. Xena grimaced and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing in reply.
"Everything alright here?" She asked after a moment.
"Yeah fine. No more wounded have come in. Toris and Auto have taken a break finally, but others scout the land to make sure no ones dying out there." Xena nodded and looked around the hospus. There were so many wounded people, and she knew there were many more in other rooms, and yet another place full of those waiting to be buried.
It wasn't a quiet place. Every man groaned in agony, shuffling around. Walking wounded whispered words of comfort to those who needed it, but a heaviness hung thickly in the air.
"Xena, if you succeed today, all this could end. At least in this area. "
"'If'? What do you mean? I can handle it."
"I didn't mean to suggest you couldn't. You know how I feel about you - you're the best. But we know nothing of this warrior. What if he's ten feet tall? What if he's built like a -"
"Demi-god? Giant? What if, what if - everyone has a weakness. I'll be fine. "
"You're right, (and very confident). Of course you will be." (Are you being so strong for my sake? ) "How are you feeling?" He asked as he tied of the soldiers bandage and turned to her.
"Fit. Strong. Focused. Stop worrying," she added tenderly.
No, you're strong because that's simply the way you are. "Can you blame me? I mean, if something happens to you -"
"Nothing is going to happen to me." As long as I have you to come home to…
The sun soon began to peep up over the hills, and Xena prepared to go. Gabrielle came out to meet her, and without saying a word, hugged her friend tightly, holding on for as long as Xena would allow her.
"Hey," Xena cooed, "you're not doubting me after all these years are you?"
"Of course not." But the tears in her eyes portrayed the bottomless worry she had for her friend. "Just be careful ok?"
"What do you think I'm gonna do? Run out there and ask him to kill me?"
"That's not funny Xena. I'm serious."
"I noticed." Suddenly a horn sounded, and Xena knew it was time.
"Go knock him dead Xena." Xena kissed her friends forehead, pulled her in for one more hug, drew her sword and made her way to the door. She turned when she reached it and looked upon her friends who were gathering to watch the fight. She gave them a final, confident smile, Hercules a loving smile, and then turned to meet her challenger.
He was tall. Taller than Hercules, and with an impressive physique. He had no hair on his head, only tattoos, and he wore no armor. He was obviously confident. He carried his sword by his side and strode pompously toward Xena.
"A woman?" He laughed.
"Yeah - one to bring you into the world, another to send you out of it."
"What's your name, woman?"
"My name is Xena."
"Xena? What a privilege I have then, to kill the Warrior Princess."
"A privilege no one is going to have. Especially not an ugly bastard like you."
"My name is Agathon - prepare to tell Hades." He swung his sword at her, which was promptly blocked. Xena managed to judge his strength from that blow and realised she would need every ounce of her energy to match him.
An agile sword fight followed while everyone watched on. Xena's familiar war cries and grunts could be heard from where Gabrielle was standing, watching her friend's every move. Just as Agathon lunged at her, Xena flipped into the sky and landed behind him. She kicked hard at his back, expecting him to topple at the surprise and her strength, but he barely reacted. This shook Xena's confidence considerably.
Gabrielle listened to the sound of the swords clanging and the warriors calling out, grunting and roaring at each other each time they attacked. She looked at Hercules, who seemed to be feeling Xena's pain each time she was hit with a blow. I hope you make it Xena, firstly for Hercules' sake, who's lost so much and who obviously loves you greatly though you're yet to talk to me about it. Secondly, so you can live to experience a life of love with a family of your own. Live for life Xena! Fight!
"Ah, Gabrielle?" Gabrielle turned to this new voice, one she hadn't for so long…
"Salmoneus -what the hell are you doing here? Why didn't you come to my wedding?"
"Your wedding? You're married?? I…I…I didn't know that! Who's the brave man…the lucky man…your husband?" Gabrielle wrapped an arm around a nearby Iolaus and smiled sweetly. "Iolaus? Congratulations! I would have been there had I'd known -"
"I sent word -"
"Well I didn't -"
"Can we do this some other time please? Xena is out there -" Hercules gestured angrily towards the ongoing battle.
"Oh that's were she is? Oh…well you see I had come to see her having heard she was here and all, though I began to think she wasn't when I came through the stables and saw no sight of Argo…I figured that -"
"Argo wasn't in the stable? She's suppose to be... Are you sure?"
"I'll go check it out," offered Autolycus nobly. Gabrielle nodded, not wanting to lose sight of her fighting friend.
The battle situation was unrelenting. The warriors moved faster and faster with greater agility. Xena was covered in sweat however, and Hercules could see that she was tiring against this freak of nature. He figured that that would be Agathon's approach - he would wear out his opponent and then strike for the kill. Xena was proving to be a worthy opponent though, striking back with every bit of strength and will power she could muster. She kept him on the move, and was easily dodging his over arm strikes. But she was wearing out…
"He's right - Argo's not there," Autolycus said on return. "The door wasn't broken open, simply unlocked. Horse prints lead off toward the Cassis River. There are no human footprints. Looks like she took herself for a walk. But I don't know how a horse could open a door…"
"Argo's not like that…she wouldn't just leave…" Gabrielle tried to make sense of the situation.
"Maybe looking for greener pastures?"
"No she wouldn't…you said no footprints…maybe something to do with the gods?"
"What god would be interested in a horse?"
"None, unless it were Xena's horse…"
"But why would any god have a grudge against any horse?"
"Autolycus - nobody touches Xena's horse and gets away with it. Everyone knows that. Oh, Xena's not going to be happy when she finds out."
A sudden cry of agony filled the air, as the back of Xena's calf was ripped open.
"Somehow I think Xena has bigger problems," Autolycus commented.
Hercules panicked, trying to think of what he could do. He looked around for a spear or an arrow but found nothing, not that in this situation he had a right to intervene anyway. Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears, her hand over her mouth, and Iolaus moved to hold her. They watched as Xena fell to one knee. Xena still clutched to her sword desperately, like it was her lifeline. Agathon laughed, and walked slowly around to face Xena, having just struck viciously from the back. Hundreds of spectators held their breath.
"I must be the only man in Greece who had the warrior princess kneel before him," he said sarcastically. He lifted back his arm, and with a cry, prepared to end Xena's life. Just before he did, Xena thrust her sword upwards into his stomach. Agathon stumbled in shock, and fell forward to the ground in one swift moment.
"Maybe so," said Xena to the dying man, retrieving her sword. "But you're not the only man to have kissed my feet." Agathon cursed her, and left for the underworld.
You're the last man I kill. This is the last day I live by the sword.
Xena staggered to her feet. After a moment, she lifted her sword above her head with a triumphant yell, and the people who had gathered to watch yelled back with her in victory.
Peace was won. Xena, in one powerful movement, stuck her sword into the ground with an almighty cry, where it wobbled for a moment before becoming still. It would stay there for years, becoming the emblem of the day a united peace was won by the greatest warrior of all.
Xena staggered away, fatigued. Hercules, Gabrielle, her brother and the rest of her friends ran to meet her, tears running down the faces of her two closest friends.
"You won…peace is won…the war stops here…well done Xena…good fight."
Soon Xena was lying on her stomach in her shift in a room with Gabrielle and Hercules. Gabrielle cleaned up the blood around Xena's wound, and held a cloth over it with pressure to stop the bleeding while Hercules got ready to stitch it closed. He pulled her flesh together with the stitches as finely as he could, trying not to cause any additional pain. Xena didn't wince at all however.
"I can't believe I let him do that!" Xena griped angrily.
"Xena you're only human. Besides you still won. Does it really matter?" Gabrielle could tell by Xena's silence that it did matter to her. Gabrielle decided to change the subject. "You're mother should be here this afternoon Xena."
"Yes I know. She'll help you for a while in the hospus, until I'm back on my feet."
"There's no hurry Xena. Not now peace is won. Besides, she was coming anyway."
Hercules finished bandaging the wound and Xena sat up, a little groggily, while Hercules got comfortable sitting next to her.
"How does that feel?"
"Good. Clean. Shouldn't take to long to heal."
"That doesn't mean you shouldn't rest."
"No I guess not." The two smiled warmly at each other, and Gabrielle sensed it was time for her to leave. She slipped out of the room quietly.
"You were amazing, to say the least. Can you believe that these two states will finally have peace? And it's all because of you."
"Toris was the one who talked me into coming here."
"You still would have done what was right. You have a good heart, Xena." Xena gave a small, smile, and then breathed in deeply.
"Hercules, there's something I need to tell you." He looked at her, not sure what she meant. He found her hand and intertwined his fingers with hers, encouraging her to go on. He instinctively got worried whenever someone started a sentence like that.
"I'm not going to fight anymore. I want to spend what's left of my life with…with you. I mean, that doesn't mean we can't help the cause of goodness, or that we have to sleep under a roof all the time…I just mean…I dunno, I guess today I lay down my sword and, and prepare to take up my mantle of goodness."
Hercules face slowly changed from one of disbelief to one of extreme happiness. He started a few sentences, but could finish none, making Xena smile, and so leaned over to her, and kissed her intensely. His kiss, so warm and loving, said more than a thousand words, and she returned it just as ardently.
"Xena, you know how much I love you…" In one swift move, Hercules rose from his sitting position, moved in front of her and bent down onto one knee. Taking her hand again, he said to a surprised Xena, "please, say you'll be my wife."
Xena opened her mouth but found no words would come out. She stared down at Hercules, who looked so intense, so sincere…
I said prepare to take it up, not that I was taking it up right now…Hercules this is too quick…but I do love you, so much…
The couple turned their heads as they heard someone approaching and then the voices of two people bickering, rapidly approaching the half closed door. Hercules stood up and retook his place next to Xena to avoid speculation. Salmoneus entered hurriedly, with Gabrielle just behind him.
"Xena, Gabrielle doesn't think I should tell you, and this probably isn't the best time, but I think you should know."
"Know what?" Xena said incredibly irritated at them for interrupting.
"Well, Argo…disappeared -"
"Argo what?" Xena stood angrily.
"She's gone - don't know where. But Iolaus and I followed the trails across the river, and there was this rock, with…blood…and she's lost a shoe…" Salmoneus showed Xena proof of his statement. She limped across and snatched the shoe off him. With a closer look she knew it was Argo's, and let out a furious, short cry. She stormed out of the room and ran awkwardly to the stables, and found the truth of her disappearance solid. The others followed her out, Gabrielle trying to pacify her. "Maybe it was another horse, maybe Argo's just…"
"I'm going to get her," said Xena as she mounted a buckskin without a saddle.
"Xena get down - your leg -"
"Get out of the way Hercules," she said before riding out of there. Hercules prepared to follow her, but Gabrielle stopped him.
"Don't. No one gets in the way of her horse. She's in a bad mood. Best just to stay out of her way."
"But she has no weapons and no amour!"
"She's not stupid. She won't get herself into anything she can't handle. Her wound should be ok if she doesn't put any pressure on it. She'll be fine, of course. Are you happy now Salmoneus?" Gabrielle then said angrily.
"Well I didn't think she'd get so worked up. It's just a horse!"
"Argo is NOT just a horse. At least not to Xena. She'd be pretty upset if something happened to her."
"Well maybe it's better she looks for her then. She'd feel guilty if something happened and she wasn't there to help," Hercules observed quietly.
Xena reached the Cassis River quickly, and found that the stallion she had blindly chosen was too scared to cross the river. After a few goes at forcing him, Xena relented and crossed the river bare footed.
She saw the rock Salmoneus had mentioned and tried not to imagine the worst. Venturing on into a thicker forest, she kept her ears open for any sound that might indicate trouble. Soon enough she did hear something a little out of the ordinary…what is that? Whistling? Oh gods no it can't be…
"Joxer. I don't know what you're doing here and I don't want to know. Go back to the village."
"Xena - that's no way to greet a friend! And to think I was helping you out too."
"Well I was on my way back with that medicine you asked for…" he paused to show it to her, "when I got sidetracked with Argo. I was following Argo and was gonna bring her back to you."
"What? Where was she?"
"She was with this old woman…she was a nice lady…said that Argo was hers, that'd you'd given her to her. You didn't did you? I'm mean, I thought -"
"Where'd they go?" Joxer pointed south. "Give me your sword."
"What? No! Get your own sword. This sword belonged to -"
"Just give it to me now!" Joker swallowed and handed it over, remembering the last time he encounted Xena in a bad mood.
"I'll…I'll just be waiting at the village…"
Xena didn't reply. She staggered off awkwardly in the direction Joxer had pointed out.
After half an hour she came to a large clearing, her injured leg throbbing. She scanned the area quickly, looking for a sign as to where she should go next. But before she had to make that decision, her eyes fell on her beloved horse, lying silently on the foliage.
"Argo?! Argo! Oh girl." Xena knelt beside her, her hand following the wound that went from the end of her neck and under her stomach. She was still alive, but fading. "Oh girl, it's going to be alright. I'm so sorry…"
Suddenly Xena felt a new presence, a presence that brought her to her feet swiftly. She picked up Joxer's sword and turned about, scanning the area around her again.
"Come out Ares, you old woman," she said, her voice sounding dangerous. Ares appeared before her out of fire.
"It's about time you got here warrior princess. I thought your little horse was going to die without you here to see it, and that would've been horrible," he said, his voice sounding every bit as dangerous as Xena's. He moved slowly toward her, acting in his usual seductive way. But his eyes spoke another language, a language of fury, hate and anger. He kicked the sword out of Xena's hand unexpectedly, causing her to take a step backward.
"You stopped my war," he said slowly, circling her. "You stopped my war. I've had enough Xena. No more offers for you to join me. You distract me, you always interrupt my plans, and you make me appear weak. I can't believe I let you get away with it all this time, but no more. No more will I be blinded. Today is the last time you terminate my plans for this world. In fact, today is the last time you're gonna see daylight."
He kicked her wound hard suddenly, breaking the stitches and sending her to the ground with a cry. He bent over quickly, grabbed her hair, and pulled her up to look into his eyes.
"Hercules is as pathetic a medic as he is a lover. And you, well you just ran out of time princess." He sent a right hook into her stomach, making her double over with a groan. He gabbed her hair and pulled her up straight again.
"No one, and I mean no one, pushes me as far as you have and gets away with it." He let go of her and elbowed her face, sending her to the ground again with a bloody nose.
He then sent her flying across the clearing and into a tree. Blood began to run down her face from a cut somewhere under her hair, and he knew she was in no conditions to resist now.
He jumped at her foot at a forty-five degree angle, and the crack of it braking seemed to echo up into the sky. He then thrashed and pounded her angrily.
Soon she was covered in her own blood, severely beaten, broken, and nearly dead. He again grabbed her hair, and dragged her to the other side of the clearing where he held her up and against a tree. He pulled a rope out of thin air, tied her hands together, lifted them above her head and tied them to the tree, doing the same to her feet. Then he placed another rope around her forehead as well as the tree, pulling her head up to face him. The rope was extremely tight.
"You could've had it all Xena," he said patronisingly, pulling out a knife. "See this Xena? No? Only having one good eye not doing it for you?" He said in referral to her already blackening left eye. "How does this do it for you?" He said, striking the right one.
"Can't see it huh? Why don't you smell it instead?" He placed the knife under the semi-conscious Xena's nose. Only part of her registered he meant for her to recognise the smell of poison, though she couldn't smell anything through her bloodied and broken nose.
Ares laughed, and looked for an unharmed part of her body, somewhere where he could do more damage. He then decided to place the knife on her right shoulder, and slid it slowly, agonisingly, through her flesh on a diagonal line all the way across to the top of the middle of her breasts where he held it for a moment to make sure all the poison was released into her system.
He then kissed her bloody lips angrily, biting a chunk out of them as he moved away from her.
"Give my regards to Hades," he said, and left. But Xena hadn't heard him, she having blacked as soon as his knife had touched her skin.
"So you gave her your sword then?" Hercules asked again.
"No! She just took it off me and ran off!"
"Herc, she'll be fine. She always is," Iolaus encouraged.
"I know I know. I just can't help but…worry about her."
"I know. Just chill ok?"
"Ok." A moment silence followed. "She has been gone for a while you know."
"Hercules!" Several of his friends said at once.
"You're making me nervous! And I've never doubted Xena before," said Gabrielle.
"Ok ok. I'm a patient man. I can do this," he said more to himself than anyone else. An awkward silence followed. Autolycus, Iolaus, Gabrielle, Joxer and Hercules sat around together in a lavish room in the castle of the Achaean king, where they had just eaten lunch. Cyrene had joined them not long after Xena had left. She worked gently with the patients in the hospus, Salmoneus and her son by her side. Cyrene worried quietly also about Xena's tearing about the woods with a wounded leg. Cyrene couldn't help but think how vulnerable she'd be to an attacker. What am I saying? That sort of thing stopped in this area as soon as Xena defeated Agathon this morning. Everyone would be too busy celebrating to bother with anything else…besides, Xena is unbeatable, even with a wounded leg.
It seemed like ages since Xena had defeated Agathon and peace had been won. Hercules recounted the event over and over again. Where are you Xena? I hope your horse is worth it. I'm so worried…
"Ok that's it I'm going after her." He stood up to go when the sound of something in pain and dying became evident.
"Argo," exclaimed Gabrielle, and ran outside, the others following her. There was Argo, staggering slowly up the main road. She was weak, but frisky, like she was trying to tell Gabrielle something. "Where's Xena Argo? Where is she?" Argo turned and began walking in the direction she seemed to have come from. Hercules stopped her and handed her reigns to Gabrielle.
"You guys wait here. Toris and I will find Xena; no need for all of us to walk into trouble. If we're not back by dark, follow Argo's tracks," Hercules said to the rest of their group.
"Trouble?" Gabrielle whispered.
"From what you said, Xena wouldn't knowingly or intentionally let anyone mess with her horse. She's been gone for nearly two hours. She's smart - it wouldn't take that long for her to have found her. Something's got to be wrong. I can…I don't know, sense it. I should of left earlier."
"Hercules, you don't know that something's wrong. Just wait and see."
"Just take care of Argo."
After Hercules and Toris left, those left behind fell silent, each brooding upon their worry for Xena.
But none worried so much as Hercules.
I need to know that you're ok. You better be ok. Don't do this to me Xena. I have to think of you not as the woman I love, otherwise I'll get distracted in worry and lose focus…It sounds cold but I have to think of you as…a warrior lost in battle. I will find you.
But his heart melted amidst his bowels when he saw her. Barely recognisable underneath a layer of blood and dirt, Xena hung limply on the tree. Toris shrieked angrily when he saw his sister. He ran to her and cut her down. She fell forward and Toris caught her in his arms, gently laying her down on the ground on her back. Hercules came over, unable to talk, unconsciously checking her pulse. "She's alive. But her pulse is weak. Make a stretcher for her. Use our shirts!"
Toris, looking horrified, began to slowly understand what Hercules was talking about. He didn't even hear Hercules turn, and then yell toward the sky. Herc let out a huge cry of fury and agony before screaming, "Who did this?!! WHO did this?! I SWARE this will not go unpunished." He fell to his knees in grief, and realised that he had to focus. Xena wouldn't survive because he had screamed at the sky.
Toris and Hercules stoically placed Xena on the stretcher, who came to for a moment. She sensed the presence of someone, and mumbled without moving, "tell Hercules…my answer's…yes." She fell unconscious again, and stayed that way. Hercules' pulse quicken as he began to weep.
"This is all my fault," the two men said in unison. Hercules looked angrily at Toris.
"I should of come with her to find Argo!"
"It's because of me she was here in the first place!"
"I should have made her rest!"
"I should have figured this out myself, left her at Amphipolis."
"Why did I let her go?"
"I should of left her to spend time with you; she was already hurting…"
"Why did I deny that something like this could happen…"
"Shut up both you," said Ares, returning to the scene of the crime. "Nothing you two could of done would stop the will of the gods."
"It was you?!" Hercules yelled. Both he and Toris charged at the god of war, who easily side- stepped their anger.
"Easy men. Xena's going to die while you fight me." Hercules and Toris knew he was right, and pacified their anger as much as possible. "What am I saying?" Ares said jokingly as he saw them re-focus. "She'll be dead in minutes. There's nothing you can do to save her." He laughed, and disappeared.
Salmoneus paced back and forth worriedly. "If something's happened…I'm going to beg the earth to swallow me up."
"It's ok. She would've found out sooner or later. And she still would've ran off, probably even angrier that we hadn't told her." Gabrielle tried to hide her frustration by smiling at Salmoneus.
"Here they come!"
Everyone ran out to meet Hercules and Toris, but then they saw Xena.
Gabrielle let silent tears fall down her face as she tried to muster hope for her friend. Iolaus took the place of an exhausted Toris, who was crying quietly, who needed to vent his anger. He disappeared somewhere to do so.
Salmoneus was stunned into a silence.
Joxer walked away and vomited in reaction to seeing his friend so disfigured. Cyrene was in the hospus, unaware of what had happened.
Autolycus swallowed his emotions and set up a place where they could lay Xena down and tend to her wounds. Hercules soon became emotionless too; the pain of seeing her the way she was, was too much to deal with directly.
He and Autolycus washed the blood off her quietly, and did what they could for her while the others waited outside by Autolycus' orders. Even Gabrielle had obeyed as seeing her friend in such a state was too much for her. She had started shaking uncontrollably, the image of a defaced Xena haunting her mind. Iolaus held her, wanting her close for comfort as much as he wanted to comfort her too.
15 minutes later Autolycus came out of the room where Xena was to talk to the rest of the group.
"What's…what's the damage?" asked Joxer, speaking for everyone.
Autolycus took a moment before answering slowly and systematically.
"Numerous severe lacerations. A swollen, abused lip it looks like. Two broken ribs that are pressed against her lungs. A broken nose…excessive bruising all over her body, broken jaw, broken foot, broken arm. I don't know if she'll ever see again. She also has severe head damage, a few lost teeth, internal bleeding and …and poisoning," Autolycus voice broke as he finished and he let a tear fall down his face silently. "I'm afraid it's only a matter of time."
Inside the room, Hercules sat next to his beloved 'damsel', unrestrained tears flowing continually down his face. "Xena, no Xena don't go. Please don't go," he whispered desperately, yet knowing there was no way she would be able to survive.
The others came in one by one to look upon their friend one last time. Autolycus, Salmoneus and Joxer all quietly kissed her bruised forehead, all fighting waves of emotion they let overtake them after they went in different directions. Toris returned, and apologised through tears to his sister for getting her into this. Cyrene went into hysterics at the sight of her. Iolaus swallowed his emotions to be strong for his out-of-control, frenzied wife who begged Xena to awaken.
Hercules was quiet, but his tears never stopped, nor did the thumping of his heart. I can't sit here waiting for you to die. I don't know what to do. Oh Xena, what do I do now? What do I do?
"Zeus I have to do something," Aphrodite said eventually. "I must take pity on these lovers."
"Ares will not be happy."
"I don't give a damn about Ares. No. Hercules has suffered enough loss. Ares will not win this time. And if you won't do anything-"
"You know I can't undo the work of other gods."
"You don't even try! Now get out of my way old man." Aphrodite made the image of Hercules sitting by Xena appear in front of her.
Heal this woman here
Let the hate that did this
Flee away in fear
Healings all in a kiss
If this love here
Be as true as this.
Zeus came up behind her, softly, and added graciously,
I give them my eternal protection, that's all.
Aphrodite smiled at her father, and sent her magic to find Xena.
Aphrodite appeared next to Xena, invisible to Hercules and Cyrene who sat with her. Hercules, all you have to do is kiss her. True love is enough. Come on Herc…do it…just kiss her!
Hercules was shaking Xena a little to try and get her to rouse. He was desperate, and no one was in any shape to give him the comfort he sort for.
Come on Herc! Kiss her, kiss her! NOW!
Hercules didn't seem like he was about to help himself in that way. He held Xena in his arms now, crying hopelessly along with Cyrene.
Ahh! Demi-gods! Far out Herc - do I have to do EVERYTHING for you? Aphrodite sent a spark his way, a spark that would ignite a desire to feel Xena's lips once more.
Hercules suddenly wanted to feel the last remains of life with Xena, and so bent down and kissed her lips lightly for one last time. Bravo bro! You did it - now watch her come back to you.
Hercules laid Xena back down, and began to pull the blanket up and over her body. Suddenly something started happening to her. The wound on her calf vanished. The one across her chest -disappeared. Then her jaw lost its' bruising, and seemed to be set rightly and firmly. Her broken foot seemed to be healed also, as well as her arm. Hercules watched as the wound to her head closed up in front of his eyes. Her ribs returned to their normal position and Xena's yellow skin colour vanished as the poison was removed from her. He felt around where her organs were; they were not swollen any more as they had been before due to internal bleeding. Her cheek returned to its normal position as her teeth were replaced. Finally, slowly, her eyes opened, not permanently damaged as they were, but still black.
"Hercules?" Xena whispered. It took a moment for him to grasp that she was ok.
"Oh gods - you're alive, you're alive. You're ok." He held her to his chest tightly, crying.
The others were soon informed about Xena's recovery, though none new how it happened. As they all gathered in her room, hugging her and trying to comprehend that she was alive, Aphrodite appeared before them, smiling.
"Aphrodite - you did this?"
"Yes Bro. I did all I could, but it was your love that saved her. Through your kiss I was allowed to heal all that was fatal to her or severe - like that wound on her calf. Only bruises are left, and her swollen lip, but they have no long-term effects as she can heal them herself. It was the best I could do. But even Argo is fully healed." Everyone thanked Aphrodite all at once. "Ok - ok! I know I'm good! By the way Zeus sends his regards. He also had a part in this. He promises to protect you and your family for all eternity, whoever that may be," she said with a smile toward an exhausted but calm Xena.
"Xena," she whispered in her ear, "only true love in a kiss could have allowed me to heal you like that. Hercules loves you unconditionally. Don't reject or ever doubt that, not after all of this." Xena thanked her wordlessly.
While everyone appreciated what Aphrodite did for Xena, the next few days were still pretty bad for her. Re-enactments about what Ares did to her occurred for many nights, but again Hercules was there for her, reminding her of Zeus' promise, and eventually even they ceased.
Soon even her bruises had mostly gone, though she still had evidence of two black eyes for quite some time.
One night Gabrielle entered Xena's room silently. They were still staying at the palace, and Xena had the finest suite, which she deserved. Xena changed into a nightgown that had been provided for her, and sat next to Gabrielle on her bed. She had found discarding her warrior outfit a little weird at first, but decided she had earned a decent pampering, including nice, comfortable, flattering clothes and endless amounts of good food.
"Xena. Oh Xena." Gabrielle hugged her friend tightly, who looked at her softly, but curiously. "I just wanted to hold you again. I really thought you were gone you know. I will never forget the way you looked. I have to keep seeing you to be reminded that you are ok and how you were brought back. I love you so much Xena. Don't ever leave me. We must be friends always."
"And we will. We'll be old together. Our children's children will comment on our friendship."
"I take it your children will come from Hercules." Gabrielle watched warmly as Xena looked down in embarrassment. " And why not? His love saved your life. The amount of love he holds for you is inconceivable. And you love him too. I can see it. I'm so happy Xena. Things are going to turn out so well now!"
"We've made no promises to each other -"
"Yes but love works in mysterious ways. It's only a matter of time."
"He's your tree in the forest!"
Xena smiled. "You're right. And I do love him dearly," she confessed aloud for the first time. Gabrielle was glad to hear it although she already knew. They laughed cheerfully as Gabrielle embraced her friend.
As soon as she was fully healed, the two kings of the united nation held a ball in Xena's honor. A great feast was prepared, as well as complex music ensembles. The entire group was there, as well as many other people, both important royals and common villagers. Hercules wore a white long-sleeved shirt typical for men, and a blue, sleeveless jacket over the top with black leather pants.
The great hall went quiet when Xena first entered. She had been dressed and adorned by women in waiting, which tried Xena's patience, but it was the kings' wishes.
She wore a long deep blue velvet dress with long sleeves and a small train. The skirt fell straight down from under her breasts, the bodice patterned with diamonds. Her hair lay straight down her back, the sides twisted back and fastened together at the center of the back of her head with a lavish clip decorated to match her bodice. Her fringe delicately caressed her forehead. Long white, diamond earrings fell to her shoulders, with a matching webbed necklace adorning her neck.
She seemed more beautiful then she ever had before.
Hercules' heart caught in his chest at the sight of her. He could not remove his eyes from her, and he stopped breathing.
Gabrielle moved toward her friend after she had been introduced and formally acknowledged to the crowd, who cheered at her name.
"Xena," she started - but words could not express her love for her friend, and her happiness that she was alive and well and responsible for such a great peace. Xena knew this, and embraced Gabrielle tightly. "By the gods you're so beautiful! You look amazing." Xena simply smiled in reply. Gabrielle looked at Hercules and said with a grin, "Xena, I think you better go and get Hercules breathing again before he passes out." Still saying nothing, Xena smiled once more, and moved toward Hercules.
"Don't you dare tell me that wasn't on purpose," he said with a grin.
"Then I won't." He smiled, leant down and gave her a light kiss. The crowd cheered, and the couple seemed embarrassed, not realising that they we're being watched. Their relationship sure wasn't a secret now.
After the feast, the old king over Achaea, now temporarily joint king over the combined nation until a new government was formed, called upon Xena to kneel before him, which she did.
"May you all witness this on this night. Here before you, kneels Xena of Amphipolis, the warrior princess responsible for the peace we now have. I bestow upon you, on behalf of our people, warrior princess, our greatest thanks. I declare now that you many never be held accountable for your past mistakes ever again - you have paid for them enough; nearly dying for them on numerous occasions. Arise Xena, fresh and pure, as the Liberator of the People and the one who stopped the war. May you live in peace for the rest of your life."
Xena stood, accepting his offer with a gracious nod, and feeling a sense of release as the king kissed her check and as the crowd again cheered. She glanced and smiled at Hercules, and the two of them knew there was nothing stopping her from raising her mantle of peace now. She was freed from her past in every way.
When her line of sight returned to him, the king said to her privately, "I ask that you be available to us to give us advice when we need it. You speak your mind, and you have great wisdom that we could learn from and enforce. You can have a job in the new government anytime you want!"
"Thanks, but no thanks. I mean you can ask my advice anytime, but I have a new road in my own life I have to travel now, a life of love."
"I wish you well then."
The dancing started then. Xena tangoed with a playful Autolycus for a while. The next dance Toris asked her up, giving him the chance to apologise and thank his sister for all she had to go through for peace. "I love you Xena, and I will make sure that you never have to go through so much pain ever again," he said before everyone joined in a line dance.
While Autolycus danced with Cyrene happily, Iolaus and Gabrielle waltzed slowly, lost in each other.
It was a while before Hercules had Xena in his arms again, but when he did he guided her steps out into the courtyard, which they then walked through to come to another part of the garden that was empty and out of sight.
"That wasn't very subtle, but it was appreci-" Hercules stopped Xena's sentence with a lingering kiss, and then embraced her tightly. After a moment she parted from him and looked at him inquiringly with a raised eyebrow. Hercules ignored her curiosity and kissed her again, taking her by surprise. This time he seemed like he never wanted to let her go, kissing her intensely. When he finally allowed her to part she was left breathless.
"Shhh," he whispered gently, placing two fingers on her lips, making her frown. What's going on Hercules?
"Xena," he said, holding both her hands in each of his, "I don't know if you remember, but when you were in the woods, when we first found you, you said … something..."
"Hercules, I think I know what you're going to say. I don't remember anything really, but I'm sure if I had a moment, I would've said …yes. I was going to say no when you first asked me; I was still too scared, to worried that your love for me was feigned. But when I was…hurt, I wanted nothing more than to see you again, to know that you were…there. And then your love saved my life, and now we both have a promise, a promise that will never let Ares or any other god ever hurt us in any way ever again. How can I ever thank you for all of this?"
"By telling me what your answer is tonight…after everything." He looked at her earnestly and Xena smiled.
"I thought I just told you. But if you need to hear it again, simply, then know that my answer is, and will be forever more, yes."
Hercules said nothing for a moment. The two just stared at the other, engraving the moment on their memory for all eternity. Then they laughed as Hercules hugged her so tightly he lifted her off the ground. "You've made me so happy…oh Xena…oh gods…oh how I love you…I can't believe it..." He gave her a quick kiss. "Here, you can have this now," he said, handing her a diamond, wedding bracelet matching her other jewelry, and she responded with another light kiss. "Let's get married now!" He suggested brightly.
"What right now?"
"Yeah, there's a priest here, he won't mind. All our friends are here, you look more beautiful than any bride ever could…why not?"
"It's a bit sudden isn't it?"
"You don't want to?"
"Let's just enjoy one night of being betrothed, and get married tomorrow. I don't want half of Greece at my wedding."
"It isn't half of - oh alright," he said, seeing a stubborn look ease across her face. " I suppose I can wait another day."
"It's less than that when you think about it."
"Still it'll seem like forever."
"I'm worth waiting for," she said modestly.
"Absolutely," he answered, barely finishing the word before they fell softly into another kiss.
They didn't realise it but soon they had been gone from the main party for quite a while.
Gabrielle eventually went to look for them, worried that the kings would get offended at Xena missing her own party. She had a feeling that she and Hercules would probably be doing something intimate, so instead of looking everywhere for her she simply called out her name.
Xena heard her, and whispered to Hercules, "I guess we should get back."
They found Gabrielle and shared their news, who was ecstatic for her friends. Eventually the news spread into the main gathering, and the happy couple were receiving loads of goodwill from everyone, though no one was surprised about the announcement. Cyrene was especially happy to see her daughter so fulfilled.
They were married the next evening in front of their closest friends and family, as well as the kings of the two nations. Xena looked just as beautiful as the night before in her white dress, but it was the light inside of her, shining so bright, that gave her her true beauty.
Autolycus and Iolaus were proud of Hercules for finally making his love known. Gabrielle had trouble comprehending the difference in her friend, who not so long ago was exhausted, angry and suffering emotionally. Here she was contentment personified, filled with peace and love; just what Gabrielle had always wanted.
"You must live near us," Gabrielle implored to her friend later.
"Of course. The beauty of it is I can live between you and Amphipolis, family on both sides, but with still enough room for privacy and space with my…my husband," Xena said slowly, still getting used to the word. Gabrielle laughed warmly and the two hugged.
"Xena, seeing you so happy now makes my happiness complete. I think Iolaus feels the same about Hercules."
"I'm sure he does. But Gabrielle, I would never have gotten to this point if I had never met you, if you had never showed me the true meaning of love, and expressed it to me even when I was rude or cruel. You made me stay on my path. How can I ever thank you?"
"Xena, you're going soft!" She said, but was blushing at the same time, touched by Xena's words. She answered properly after a moment, seeing that Xena was still waiting for her to say something more. She took in a breath, and said, "by honoring me with your friendship always, as you do already." Xena smiled on her friend, and squeezed her arm.
"How did this all start?" she asked wistfully.
"You were having a bad day, and Autolycus got Hercules to help."
"So it's all Autolycus' fault that I'm married now then," Xena said cheerfully.
"I guess it is."
"I always new he was a nice guy. Though I never thought I'd be indebted to him this much!"
"I don't think he sees it that way. In fact, I think this is his first real venture where there was no profit for him, and yet he did it anyway, all by himself."
"I guess even those who have walked furthest away from the good path, they can still be redeemed."
"Hmmm, like you…so really, I guess you could say this all started when you first met Hercules…"
"Yes, but it was Auto who got things rolling."
"Don't tell him that though."
"No of course not. He'll get all high and mighty."
"And we wouldn't want that would we?"
"Absolutely not, he's bad enough and great enough exactly as he is."
The party and feast eventually came to an end, and soon, but not soon enough, Hercules found himself escorting his wife to their bedroom where they had asked to say one more night.
The room had been prepared for them - an enormous royal bed was decked in the finest linen; purples, blues and reds making the room seem warm, and not only because of the fire that flickered calmly, as well as the numerous candles that had been lit for them.
The couple were a bit taken aback at the way this had been arranged for them. They walked inside, looked around a bit to take in their surroundings, and then met each other in the middle of the room.
It was raining gently outside, water serenely giving life to the earth. It sounded upon the roof tranquilly, creating a very relaxed environment.
"My wife," Hercules said, more to just hear the sound of it. "My wife, Xena, warrior princess, I love you with all of my heart and all my soul."
"And I you, my husband." Hercules smiled, and, taking her by surprise, lifted her up, carried her the short distance to the bed and lay her down on it.
"Xena," he said as he lay down next to her, facing her, "tonight we begin a life time full of love. A life not bounded by our past, or by time. To think I can share that sort of a life with you…well, if there is a higher place of happiness I do not know it. You are everything in my like that makes it good."
"I owe you so much Hercules. You brought the concept of goodness and love into my life. You showed me a path that led me to meet people like Gabrielle. You brought colour and hope back into my life. I love you with all the love that I possess."
"I love you too Xena," he replied, and rolled her onto her back.
Suspending himself over her, he slowly leant down and kissed her delicately. Xena put a hand behind his neck and drew him into a deeper kiss that never really ended. Hercules then left soft kisses down her neck while slowly removing her dress, the gentle touches of his hands sending waves of desire through her body.
Now only half dressed, Xena suddenly rolled over to take control. She kissed him with great intensity, distracting him from her other hand that was pulling away his clothes. She let his shirt slip away onto the floor, and moved to sit across him.
She leant down and kissed him passionately. Her hands massaged his chest and arms, pinning him to the bed to deliberately confine his overwhelming longing for her, which she knew would only enhance it. She tormented him with tender kisses that she left all over his neck and chest. Desperate to be allowed to respond, Hercules ran his fingers across her abdomen. He stroked the inside of her thigh, making her moan. His hands moved to grasp her waist tightly. He leant upward to kiss her shoulder and collarbone and neck, making her weaken her position. They swapped places again as Hercules moved to get his own back. He removed all her clothes and kissed her all over as each section of her body became exposed, he now holding her down. Then he released her as his lips returned to explore her mouth once more, and she responded, almost overpoweringly, her arms wrapping around him tightly. Hercules swallowed in everything about her: every smell, every touch, every breath, every curve, and as the final piece of clothing was removed, the two melted completely into each other, drowning in each other's love.
(One Year Later)
Hercules' arms wrapped tightly around his wife as they sat together atop a long grassed hill, looking over a lake. He kissed the top of her head and rested his hands on her now fully rounded stomach. The sun was setting after a warm day, making Xena's face glow. She was already radiant with forthcoming motherhood, and a tranquil aura seemed to have settled around the couple.
She leant back into her husband, and closed her eyes contentedly. Hercules nestled his face into her hair before she bent her head backward to look up at him.
"Hercules," she said softly, "you're here."
He leant down and kissed her forehead. "Yes my darling, I'm here."
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