By Masque

Xena’s Thread

She had absolutely no idea how long she had been lying beneath the tree by the brook; in truth she had no idea what she was doing at all. Xena, Warrior Princess, was totally at a loss for the first time.

The gentle nudging against her left shoulder had been going on for some time before she finally acknowledged it. Slowly turning her head her vision was filled by two huge, flaring nostrils that snorted in her face.

Argo continued to nuzzle at her hair until she finally forced herself up to stand before the mare. Xena stared at the horse blankly for moments as it tried to shove her to one side, “What?” Xena finally snapped. The horse craned its neck around to the left and Xena following the lead saw for the first time Gabrielle’s staff tied to the saddle. Reluctantly she moved towards the weapon and untied it, carefully unlooping it from behind the leather satchel which also belonged to Gabrielle. Her fingers trembled as she began to undo the fastenings, but ultimately she could not bring herself to open the bag, not yet. Tears began to prick at her eyes, but she took hold of the staff in a white knuckled grip and forced them back, she could not mourn yet. Argo turned slightly, laying her head on her mistresses shoulder, “Alright, alright,” Xena began as she looked sideways at the horse, “I know.” With a little more effort than usual, due to her exhausted state, she swung up into the saddle. Gathering the reigns she turned Argo around and set off at a slow gallop and headed for Poteidaia.

*           *            *

Gabrielle’s Thread

With consciousness came awareness, and pain. Her head felt ready to explode, her soul was drained of all life and her body burned.

Surely she was dead; no one could survive what she had been through, then why did the pain make her think she was alive. Her senses began to awaken; first was touch which told her she was not alone, she could feel a body pressed against her own and when she managed to open her eyes, sight told her that it was Hope’s body still tightly wrapped around her.

“Hope,” she whispered hoarsely, even just a single word felt rough in her smoke injured throat. Slowly and carefully against the raging pain in her body she touched her daughter, trying to move her, the stiff form slid away from her, rolling onto its back. Gabrielle gazed upon the fire-scarred face and the lifeless eyes that stared blankly outwards. The body was now just an empty shell; all that was Hope had vanished, the spirit, the essence, the soul had escaped the confines of the mortal body. The half human-half goddess had either been killed by the flames of Dahak or had been saved by them and returned to her father.

Confused anguish took hold of Gabrielle then. She had been willing to give her own life to kill her own daughter and yet Hope had died trying to save her. Tears began to fill her eyes and flowed down her blackened skin, burning a path down her cheeks. In death Hope had become the child that Gabrielle had always wanted her to be.

The anguish turned to terror as she once again gazed upon the still body; it dawned on her, as it had at Hope’s rebirth that she looked into the eyes of her mirror image, and saw herself in death.

Adrenaline surged through her body giving her the strength to move. She disentangled herself from the arms of Hope and pushed herself away, noticing for the first time her situation, her surroundings. The fire had taken its toll leaving her naked with scarred flesh and singed hair; not as bad as it should have been thanks to Hope’s efforts. She stood by the side of a river in what appeared to be an underground cavern; she knew it to be the entrance to the Underworld - she had been here once before - so she must be dead, she concluded.

Despite the red glow that appeared to emanate from everywhere and nowhere and the burning sensation that coursed through her body Gabrielle felt the necessity to cover her naked form. Reluctantly drawing her gaze back to Hope, Gabrielle hesitantly reached out to the red and black ceremonial robe, which remarkably had not been touched by the flames. Gingerly she pulled at the fabric, releasing it from Hope’s body and carefully covered her own with it. Touching two fingers to her lips and pressing them to Hope’s in a final farewell Gabrielle staggered away along the bank of the river.

She did not have to go too far before she found what she was looking for. A small jetty that reached out to the middle of the river, and at the end a boat decorated with bones and a cloaked figure mumbling to himself - Charon. Slowly she approached the boat and prepared to board it when the figure turned to her.

“Hey, you gotta coin?” He gabbled at her, holding up an arm to prevent her from boarding the boat.

“N....no...” she stammered, “I don’t have any money.”

“Well, no coin, no boat ride,” he stated as though it were a regular occurrence, “Say, what happened to you anyway?” He asked noticing the charred skin and her hunched form.

Gabrielle looked down at herself and drew the robe around her tightly for security, “I don’t remember.” She tried to recall what led her to be there, but suddenly it all seemed so hazy.

Charon mumbled to himself, something about being too nice and then, “What’s your name kid?”

She frowned, even thinking of her name seemed like too much of a request. She pushed past the fogginess in her mind and vaguely remembered someone calling to her as she fell, “My name.... Gabrielle.”

Charon physically straightened, his eyes widening at this newfound knowledge, “Why didn’t you say so before? I got orders to take you straight to the boss. Come on, hop in.” He stepped back for her to gain entrance. Then they were moving; “Off we go. On the right we have the hanging garden of disgusting diseases and up ahead.....”

*           *            *

Joxer’s Thread

Stumbling through the woodland Joxer searched for the path that his map said should be there. Just then a breeze whipped up and blew the map into his face and while his sight was obstructed he did not see the tree root before him. With no chance between his lack of sight, his big feet and his clumsiness he began to fall. Another object came into his path and he believed he had fallen against a boulder, but once the map was peeled away there was no mistaking the huge biceps, the yellow shirt and the waffle-weave trousers, “Hercules!” and just behind him, “Iolaus!”

“It had to be you Joxer.” Hercules teased.

“Who else?” Iolaus joined in.

After his initial shock and delight at seeing the awesome duo Joxer’s somber expression returned as he was reminded of their female counterparts.

“Hey what’s with the long face?” Iolaus began just as Joxer burst out with, “Hercules you have to go to Amphipolis, I’m worried about Xena....”

Hercules cut in, “I know, that where we’re headed....”

“Herc, you never told me that. Why are we going to Amphipolis? What’s wrong with Xena? And why are you so upset?” Iolaus ranted as he turned to Joxer.

“It’s a long story.” Hercules explained holding up a silencing hand to Joxer. “Let’s get moving, I want to cover as much ground as we can before nightfall.”

“I’m not going anywhere until I get some answers.” Iolaus demanded.

“How come you know and he doesn’t?” Joxer turned questioningly to Hercules.

“I saw it while I was on Olympus,” Hercules explained to Joxer, then he turned to his best friend. He knew this would be difficult, that was why he had not said anything yet; Iolaus felt a strong bond to Gabrielle because of their similar career moves, but it was stronger than that, maybe stronger than love, like his own bond to Xena. He owed Iolaus the truth, especially since Iolaus had gone to great lengths to tell Hercules about Xena’s ‘death’ before the word of mouth had reached him. There was no easy way of saying it, “Iolaus, Gabrielle is dead.”

Hercules waited for the torrent of emotions to cross Iolaus’s face - disbelief, shock, grief and then anger. With a snarl Iolaus lunged at Hercules pushing his best friend against the broad trunk of a tree and pinning him there. “You said you were on Olympus, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you help them? Why....?” Iolaus continued to shout into the champion's face. It was only as the tears threatened to begin that he let go of the yellow shirt and turned away to punch another tree.

There were a few moments of awkward silence as Hercules gave Iolaus the time he needed to compose himself before he began to explain, “I couldn’t do anything, Zeus forbade it.”

At that Iolaus spun around, “Since when did you care about Zeus? I thought Xena and Gabrielle meant more to you than some stupid rule.”

“Will you just listen to me?” Hercules placed a hand on his friend's shoulder and when Iolaus nodded he continued, “Xena and Gabrielle were caught up in this whole business with Dahak, Gabrielle was the mother of Dahak’s child, the one who tried to kill me. Dahak’s forces were building and Xena knew something had to be done. She was going to kill the child but Ares had made a deal with Dahak and the Fates that if she did then the Fates would kill her....”

“So Gabrielle sacrificed herself to save Xena.” Iolaus finished for him. Part of him respected Gabrielle’s decision, he would easily do the same for Hercules; but then there was the part that felt the emptiness, which escaped, in a lone tear down his cheek.

“Come on, let’s get to Amphipolis.” Hercules said with an encouraging pat on his friend's shoulder. “Come on Joxer.” He added remembering the presence of the warrior wannabe.

The mention of his name pulled Joxer from his reverie and together with Hercules and Iolaus they pushed on in search of the tortured Warrior Princess.

*           *            *

Gabrielle’s Thread

Charon’s boat had deposited Gabrielle on a jetty before the great castle of Hades - God of the Underworld. The structure was fearsome, a moat of lava surrounded the stone lair, the spires reached up into the smoky air towering high above her. As she gazed in awe at the complex architecture of the towers and turrets two large ornate doors swung outwards revealing some sort of courtyard beyond. Slowly, as each step sent jolts of pure agony through her body, she stumbled towards the gates. She could make out the silhouettes of two figures - guards she assumed - walking towards her but she swore that she recognised them both, especially the one on the left. I just had to see your face. The words echoed in her mind and tore a cry from her throat and she fell to the ground. She heard footsteps thundering towards her, strong hands grasped her body firmly, but gently and lifted her, turning her over in their embrace. Gabrielle gazed up, already knowing the eyes she would greet, “Perdicus,” she whispered before unconsciousness overtook her.

Time had no meaning when Gabrielle began to come round, time no longer mattered. As she returned she realised she was being carried; opening her eyes she gazed upon the strong features of her husband and knew everything would be alright. It was her wedding night and Perdicus was carrying her to their bed. He had not been murdered by Callisto, Gabrielle had not killed, she had not born a child of darkness, she had not betrayed Xena, none of those things had happened. Lazily she snuggled closer to her husband’s chest and then reality came crashing down upon her when she felt no heartbeat.

Memories of death, murder, lies and betrayal flooded back to her. “No.” Gabrielle half-screamed and half-sobbed into Perdicus’s chest.

“Sssh, it’s alright Gabrielle, we’re going to get you out of here.” Perdicus soothed.

“What are you talking about?” She asked, noticing that her throat no longer burned when she spoke, “I’m dead, we can be together now.” She reached up to caress her husbands face.

“No Gabrielle, it’s not your time yet.” Perdicus told her.

Just then they passed through a doorway and Gabrielle saw that the door was being held open by Marcus, he had been the second figure she had seen and recognised.

The three of them entered a beautifully decorated and darkened chamber. Gently Perdicus laid Gabrielle down on a couch covered in silk cushions and stepped back to look at her. Marcus immediately appeared at his shoulder, “I’ll get Hades, you two should be alone.” Marcus slipped out of the room, but neither Gabrielle nor Perdicus had noticed, they were both lost in staring at each other.

“I thought you would be happy that I was dead.” Gabrielle had to laugh at the irony of it all, but she soon stopped when it hurt too much.

“But you’re not dead.” Perdicus told her as he knelt down beside his wife, “Well not completely.” He amended when he saw her gaping expression.

“Perd....” Gabrielle began but she was silenced by Perdicus who put a finger to her lips.

“Let me do the talking for once, just listen,” When she nodded he continued, “I’ve heard your thoughts, I know what’s happened. I just want to take this chance to tell you to stop blaming yourself for my death, it was my choice.”

Silent moments passed neither one said anything, there was no need.

A huge set of doors on the far side of the chamber burst open and a man in black armour entered the room - Hades. “Welcome to my realm, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle began to stand but Hades gestured for her to remain seated, she was thankful, her limbs no longer hurt as much but she still felt extremely weak, “Why am I here?”

Hades began to pace, marking a trail between where Marcus stood and where Perdicus knelt. “Two reasons,” the God of the Underworld held a fist to his lips thoughtfully, he held up an index finger, “Firstly, you’re not technically dead,” and then extending a second finger, “secondly, even if you were dead I wouldn’t know where to put you.” He stopped and looked at her then, taking in the puzzled expression, “Do I put you Tartarus for releasing Dahak and his daughter into the world? or do I put you in the Elyssian Fields for trying to save us? Only the Gods can decide this, which is why I am to take you to Olympus where you will stand trial and have judgement passed on you.” He finished.

“What will happen to me?” Her voice trembled with fear and Perdicus instinctively reached out and took her hand in his.

“That has not yet been decided.” Hades informed her.

Several more moments of silence passed as Gabrielle tried to grasp what had been said to her. It was Hades who finally broke the shroud of silence, “Perdicus, is there anything you wish to say to Gabrielle? You may never see her again.”

The words terrorized Gabrielle, what exactly did the Gods have planned for her if she was found guilty? She felt comforted as Perdicus moved to sit on the couch beside her, she sat up and they wrapped their arms around one another.

Reluctantly Perdicus pulled back to gaze upon Gabrielle’s face for what could be the last time, “Don’t close your heart Gabrielle. Don’t stop yourself from loving someone else and don’t stop someone else from loving you.” He drew her closer and their lips met. The kiss was over far too soon and Perdicus pressed his lips to Gabrielle’s cheek and then whispered, “Good-bye Gabrielle.” With that he pulled away, both of their eyes were filled with tears.

Marcus tapped Perdicus on the shoulder signaling that it was time for them to leave. As they moved away Gabrielle and Perdicus kept physical contact until their finger tips fell from one anothers.

“Wait.” Gabrielle requested, but it was Marcus who she addressed, “Why are you here?”

“I heard Xena’s pain.” Was all the dark man said before he - Xena’s love - and Perdicus - her love - left her.

She gazed after them for an eternity. After so long, after she thought her grieving was over, she had been returned to the arms of her husband, the love she had lost in her life, only to have him taken away from her again. Marcus’s presence had only served to remind her of Xena, the love that she had lost in her death. She could not have both and as Hades had pointed out she was stuck somewhere between the two.

Hades stirred her from her thoughts, “I will take you to Mount Olympus in the morning, but for tonight relax and rest, you should find something more appropriate to wear in that chest,” he explained as he looked distastefully at the ceremonial robe of Dahak that she wore. “If you need anything call on Persephone, she will be nearby.

The God of the Underworld made his exit as dramatically as he had entered; cloak billowing out behind him he strode from the room the doors seeming to close under their own force.

Alone in the luxurious chamber Gabrielle’s eyes caught on steam rising in the corner. She rose from the couch finding that her body ached slightly less and followed the steam to its source and was delighted when she discovered the hot-tub. The red and black robe slid from her body to land on the floor and she lowered herself into the hot water, desperately wishing that Xena was there to take away her fear.

*           *            *

Ares’s Thread

The God of War stalked along the stone corridor, his quarry heading towards him from the far end. As he neared the God of the Underworld he called his uncle’s name, “Hades,” he snarled.

“Yes Ares,” Hades spat back.

“Where is she?” Ares demanded as he and his uncle finally reached one another and stood only a few feet apart.

“Hope isn’t here Ares, you should know that.” Hades explained somewhat puzzled that his nephew would even think that she would be. The Gods wanted to be rid of Dahak and his daughter, not invite them into one of the realms.

“Not Hope. Gabrielle. Where is she?” Ares growled. When Hades was not forthcoming with the information Ares smiled, an evil glint sparking in his eyes, “You know I’ll find her, and I can do a lot of damage in the meantime, so just tell me where she is.”

“Nice try Ares,” Hades folded his arms across his chest, “I know what Zeus has planned for you. Let me guess, you’re here to try and sweet talk her, make some kind of deal with her to get you off the hook.” The God of Death smirked at his nephews obvious discomfort.

“Not this time Hades, I just want to see her.” Eventually Ares exhaled and slumped his shoulders, “I need to see if she’s alright.”

“She almost died Ares. She’s about to be put on trial by the entire Pantheon of Gods. Alright is probably one of the things she doesn’t feel at the moment.”

“Are you going to let me see her or not?” Ares was practically pleading with his uncle.

“Well, well, well. Who would have thought it?” Hades stared at Ares, at the unusual behaviour of the God of War. “She’s in the chamber at the end of the hall.” As Ares started to move past him Hades placed a restricting hand on his nephews shoulder, “I’m warning you Ares, if you try anything like you did with Callisto you will have more than Zeus to be concerned about.”

In all his arrogant glory Ares forced his way past his uncle and continued to the double doors at the end of the corridor. When he reached them he turned to discover that Hades had vanished. He raised a hand to knock against the thick wooden doors and then realised he could not go through with this, but then he grinned, at least not in the conventional sense, a moment later he disappeared.

*           *            *

Ares’s and Gabrielle’s Threads

Ares stood in the centre of the chamber and looked around until his gaze found what he sought. The young bard, the irritating blonde, Gabrielle sat submerged in the hot-tub, the water reached up above her breasts, her head rested upon the marble ledge that surrounded the tub, and her wet hair, shining golden in the candle light, splayed out across the ledge. She was a picture of youth, innocence and beauty, the God watched transfixed.

As he looked at her she jerked her head up, sensing something, she looked around the chamber and then shaking her head she returned to her relaxed position. He approached slowly and saw the pained look upon her face as she shut her eyes tightly trying to stop the tears but one did escape, “Oh Gods Xena, I miss you, I’m so sorry.”

The soft whispered words pulled Ares closer and he sat on the ledge and watched her bathe, he noticed that she did not look to bad for someone who had fallen into a raging inferno and was supposedly not dead, in fact she did not seem to bare any injuries at all.

“Why did you try to kill yourself?” He knew she would not answer him, she had no idea he was even there. “I never meant for you to try and kill yourself, I just wanted you to stop Xena from killing Hope.” He looked into her blue-green eyes, unobserved, “I guess I should have known you’d sacrifice yourself for her, she’d do the same for you. You two just don’t realise how entwined your lives.... your destiny’s are. And you’re so in love with one another but....” Ares stopped what he was about to say when Gabrielle stood up and climbed out of the tub. He gazed speechless. In the mix up with the enchanted scroll he had seen three of these bodies naked. Hope had taken the form of her mother and he had seen her naked. Now Gabrielle stood before him naked - and she was breathtaking.

It was only when she picked up a towel and began to dry herself that he was able to stop gaping. “You took my powers away once, you made me a mortal.” He followed her as she crossed the room to a chest and began going through the garments inside. “You didn’t have to give me back my powers, but you did, and this is how I repaid you.”

She held up a blue dress to her body, it would be strappy across the shoulders and clingy across the rest of the body, “Definitely, it brings out the colour in your eyes.” He watched as she slipped the dress over her head and down over her body, it was most definitely clingy. She turned to appreciate herself in the mirror, she too noticed that her skin was free of scars and burns. Ares appreciated her too, every curve, contour and muscle.

Gracefully she moved over to the huge bed and laid down upon it. Ares crouched down beside her and continued his monologue. “Even now with my powers, my godhood.... I’m still powerless against you. You see, we’re so different, but in some ways we’re alike. We both want Xena, for different reasons of course, but you’ve got her and I haven’t. That should tell you who is the most powerful.” He stood up and faced the young woman, his hands rested thoughtfully upon his sword as he tried to phrase the words he was unused to saying, “I guess I just wanted to say.... I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.” Immediately he disappeared.

Gabrielle moved her gaze from where she had been staring at the ceiling to where the God of War had been standing only moments before. She wanted to hate him for what he had done to her, to Xena, but those uncharacteristic words, uttered while he thought he was invisible to her could only have been sincere. “Thank you.” She whispered to the empty chamber.

*           *            *

Continued in Part 2