by Toutfolie and Laurdosis

Disclaimers: The characters in this story are the property of MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures. It was written for fun. No copyright infringement is intended.
Subtext Warning: This story is about two women in love. There is nothing graphic.
Spoiler Warning: This plot assumes events in evidence from the third season of XWP and has some spoilers for fourth season.
Authors note: Gabrielle’s Fate is set immediately following the events of Sacrifice II. It is our attempt to solve the mystery of what happened to Gabrielle between the lava pit and her return to Potadeia. Hopefully this missing fragment will clear up a few nagging inconsistencies and provide a fresh connection to our chosen XWP reality as many of us face another dreaded cliffhanger...

She just acted. No plan, just heart. She couldn’t let Xena die, not like this, not over Hope, for something that was her fault, her responsibility. Ares' warning hammered at her, overriding her questions about right and wrong and letting her instinct to protect Xena, at all costs, win out. The lava pit would do. She grabbed Hope and turned to look at Xena, one last look, and then falling, it hit her. Falling away from Xena, she called out her name as she felt everything that mattered ripped away. The lost consumed her last moments and then she knew nothing.

Xena’s head was swimming. She must have hit the ground because she could feel the hot stone against her cheek. From a long way off, She heard an anguished wailing. She saw it happen again in her mind and opened her eyes to stop the image of Gabrielle falling, calling for her and her reaching out a heartbeat too late. She had been frozen for that instant between the heat of her battle against Hope and the shock of this unexpected sacrifice. Helpless. The sight of Callisto filled her vision and she realized it was she herself who was screaming. Callisto lay there dead by her hand. Hot tears clouded her vision. She got up and ran.

Hours later she stopped and looked around, shock gave way to bewilderment. She couldn't be gone. How could this happen? How could she have let it happen? Faced with only empty echoes to her questions, she knelt in the dirt and wept.

Argo had followed slowly behind. Eventually she came up to Xena and nudged her. Xena took a deep breath and wiped her mud streaked face with the back of her forearm. Grabbing onto Argo, she wearily pulled herself up and hugged the mare's neck. "Oh gods, Argo, why couldn't it have been me?" Argo knickered and Xena mounted, letting Argo go where she would.

Her thoughts began to stir again as she started to recognize the guiding hand in the thread of events. Gabrielle had chosen to sacrifice herself to save her and to ensure her daughter's demise. Ares had caused this. She seethed with rage, needing to wrap her fingers around his neck and squeeze, imagining the damage she could do to him with the Hind's Blood dagger. Yet, knowing he would stay away from her while she had it. Dazed she rocked in the saddle, her emotions shifting wildly between fierce grief and impotent rage.

Gabrielle's first awareness was the restriction of her arms. She opened her eyes and saw all around her silky threads binding her tightly. She felt almost numb, floating in twilight. But her mind refused to close down and accept oblivion. The pain was a real reminder. She'd lost Xena... nothing else mattered...and yet she couldn't stop thinking about her. She closed her eyes tightly and let the wave of tears course through her.

After some dry, painfully gulped breaths, she shook her head and opened her eyes again, twisting to see what was with her in the emptiness. Threads running from every direction into the distance. They stretched endlessly to points she couldn't make out in the dimness. As she moved the threads swayed and she could see patterns in them, structures really. They were bound together, radiating out like snowflakes. She shivered reflexively realizing that she was cold. The sensation aroused a hint of her curiosity and dragged her mind out of despair long enough for her to wish she could see the patterns better.

Xena realized Argo had stopped, probably a while ago, and that it was dark. In the spare starlight, she could see a grassy meadow and smelled water, though heard no running stream. Probably a spring. Numbly, she unsaddled Argo, removing her bridle and patted her sleek neck, "Go eat, girl, thanks." Argo knickered in acknowledgment and bent her head to the tender shoots.

Not even thinking about food, Xena sat with her back to a tree on the edge of the meadow and listened to Argo's munching. Out of habit, she unsheathed her sword and, retrieving the whetstone from the saddlebag, she began to sharpen her weapons. The soothing routine blocked out the rawest layer of pain, her mind automatically planning. Staving off futility by spinning ideas that she accepted as a distraction to the certain darkness to come.

First things first, she told herself. Ok, Hope was dead. Callisto was dead. Ares was afraid to come near her and was probably in trouble with the Olympians. No concern of hers, as long as that traitorous bastard stayed away from her. True to his manipulative style, he'd helped Dahok in his own lust for power. But for pressuring Gabrielle into the choice, playing on her good and self-sacrificing nature--she'd never forgive that.

She shook her head and resumed sharpening. Gabrielle shouldn't have died. And since a god had interfered there was a chance she could plead her cause to Hades and regain Gabrielle's life. A spark ignited in Xena, clearing her head and bringing a welcome focus. Yes...Ares interfered, Gabrielle saved the Olympians, Hades owed her. She would offer her own life in exchange if that was what it took.

With her course now decided, she began to feel her surroundings. Crickets were chirping ceaselessly in the cooling night air. She shivered reflexively and laid her weapons at her side drawing a blanket across her from the nearby pack.
Argo ate and kept watch.

The horizon was pink when she awoke after falling into a fitful, exhausted sleep a few candlemarks earlier. She sat up and glanced over to check on Gabrielle, and then remembered with a crushing weight that she wouldn't find her. She whistled to Argo who trotted over eager for attention now that Xena had beckoned her. Silently, Xena rubbed down the companion she'd neglected the day before. Finishing, she fondly patted her, "There you go, girl."

Taking the waterskins, she walked toward the boggy part of the meadow and then followed the water back up to a spring coming out of the rocky hillside. She drank deeply and refilled the skins, then washed, wishing there was enough water to bathe. Sighing, she returned to pack her gear and saddled Argo, Then started on toward the lake that was a portal to Hades's realm.

Gabrielle had decided that the worst part of being tied down in....wherever she was...was that it left too much time to think. After falling into the lava pit she had expected to be toast. She expected to be dead. Of course, dead didn't always mean dead in her experience, and she'd had more than most people on that subject. She snorted in wry humor. A few years with the Warrior Princess and a few returns from the dead later...

But.. this nothingness... What did it mean? How long had she been lying here? Hours since she'd awakened, who knows how long she'd been unconscious or dead or whatever she was. What if Hope isn't dead? What if she's here too? Startled she lifted up her head again, straining to see to the far edges of her sight. After taking in the silent, unchanging stillness, she laid her head back down convinced she was alone.

So many regrets, she thought. I killed my own daughter, twice. I loved her...but how can I even say that? I thought she was a gift, my way to save some innocence from a bad situation. I'm a fool. A murdering fool. I thought it was possible to make a difference, to confront wrongs without killing. That violence and hatred could be turned aside by love and forgiveness. Yet I've killed, and I’ve lost Xena, even before falling into the pit. I lost her trust.

With the bittersweet pain of a lost love, she remembered Xena’s caresses. Once again she could see in her mind’s eye the look of trust, adoration and desire on the face of the woman who had been her lover until Solon’s death. Unbidden, the ache of longing for what was lost tore at her already broken heart. Tears slid down her face as she remembered the sweetness of lying in Xena’s arms, exhausted from their passion.

Oh gods, I’m sorry, I'm so sorry I hurt you. And I know you're alone with that hurt now. How can you forgive me? You are more than I deserve, Xena, no matter what you say. With nothing but the cold threads holding her, Gabrielle broke down again. I'm sorry I didn't trust you, Xena. I wish you could hear me now. I wish so many things. I never stopped loving you, Xena. I hope you at least know that. You are the only thing I believe in. She was brought out of her dark downward spiral by a sudden swaying of the threads.

After two days of hard riding and little sleep, a determined warrior and a tiring mare approached the lake. The sky was darkening and she feared not being able to find the portal. She jumped down onto the sand and stripped her gear and tack off Argo so she could fend for herself while Xena was gone, stowing her saddle behind some rocks. She walked toward the shore, not willing to let the growing darkness stop her from trying.
Hades appeared, blocking her path. "Don't waste the effort, Xena"
"Hades! I was just coming to see you."
"I know, and I know why you're here, but it won't do you any good and frankly Charon threatened to quit if the undead kept bumming free rides."
"Release her Hades, I should have died in her place.. You can't let her pay for Ares’ betrayal."
"Silence mortal. There are things you don't understand." He held up a hand as Xena reached back to touch her sword with her fingertips. "I don't have Gabrielle."
"You have to have her. I saw her die...what have you done with her? I swear Hades, I'll take back your helmet and kill you myself if you don't give her to me."
"Don't threaten me warrior. I'm not Ares. I'm not manipulating you. She is not here. Perhaps you should try your impertinence on one of the gods that was involved." And then he vanished.

Xena sank to the ground. "Not here, where is she? Lost, oh gods, I've lost her." The grief welled up and claimed her, as the unseen Hades looked on sadly. "Go find her warrior." he said softly and returned below.

Gabrielle might have enjoyed being gently rocked in this eerie cradle of threads, had she not been so afraid. Something was coming and her surroundings looked an awful lot like a spider web. Maybe this was Tartarus after all and she was doomed to an eternity of considering her regrets and being devoured by spiders. She twisted around until she could see a huge shape emerging from the edges of her vision, a shape that indeed resolved into a spider and her terror escalated. Ok, I talked a cyclops out of having me for lunch. Maybe I can talk my way out of this, too.

Xena had heard Hades whisper in the cold lake breeze at her back and her resolve pushed past the anguish. Hades said find her. I will. I just have to figure out where to look.

She had been dismissing the clenching in her gut, but now recognized it was hunger. She quickly set up a make-shift camp and went hunting for game. She hoped that she could figure out what to do while she tended to the mechanics of staying alive.

Xena sat on a log by the fire thinking. She stared at the flames and sifted through what she knew. Hades didn't have her and had pointed her to the other gods involved. That meant Callisto, who was dead, and therefore no help, Ares, who wouldn't come near her, and Dahok, whose daughter she'd just helped to kill. Cozy group. As much as she disliked the idea, she'd have to start with Ares. Pretend to be willing to trade him the dagger for Gabrielle, so he could save himself from the wrath of the other gods.

But how to keep him from really getting it...she considered the options and walked to the lake where she drew out the dagger and scrubbed off the Hind’s Blood, as well as Callisto’s she realized. She dried it and dragged its sharp edge shallowly across her arm, coating the dagger in the blood that rose from the cut. She then laid it aside, bandaged the cut and rescued her blackening dinner from the flames.

At first light, she'd begin her journey back to the Hall of War to look for Ares. It was only a day's ride from here as her quest had taken her on a roughly circular path. She wrapped the remaining meat away, threw the bones in the fire and laid down to rest til dawn.

Sleep did not come easily, nor was it dreamless. She dreamt of the warmth of lying in Gabrielle's arms, before Chin, before Solon's death, before they stopped trusting each other. Her soul melted into that bliss like a lover's caress. Asleep she could relive the love now out of reach. She could feel Gabrielle’s breath on her neck and hear the soft sounds she murmured while they made love. Her body arched into the touch of her dream lover as her heart rejoiced to be in love’s embrace.

Cruelly, the dream shifted and she relived flashes of betrayal; Gabrielle in Ming Tien's bed, Gabrielle telling her Hope had returned and was with Solon. Again she revisited her mistakes: abandoning Gabrielle in her lust to kill Caesar, leaving her on the road when Lao Ma summoned, letting her think she wasn't coming back because she didn't want to face Gabrielle's disappointment that she was going as an assassin, sending her away at the funeral. She knew Gabrielle had almost killed herself, and why. Xena whimpered in her sleep. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to help you Gabrielle. Instead of passion she burned with self disgust.

The dream shifted again. She was watching figures in a tapestry. She and Gabrielle. Scenes from Britannia: huddled in the ruins, a baby floating down a river in a basket, both of them, awkward with each other, walking out of Ming Tien's ruined palace. She began to see individual threads in the woven patterns. Tracing one she could see how it fit together in the whole.

Ming Tien's ran back to a fork where it turned dark. She stood at the junction. One fork was silver and ran back to a point where she saw Lao Ma, the other fork was darker and ran back to Ming Sui. From where she stood it ran the deepest black to its end. The dark thread ended with a picture of a raven.

She looked to the Centaur Village and saw Solon's bright thread and its end. There, she picked out Gabrielle's thread and followed it forward to the Hall of War. It was golden and had darkened after Solon, not murky but burnished, deeper in hue though less bright. Understanding now that she was looking at the Fates’ work, she expected to see this thread clipped. Startled, she awoke. It was deep night and she recognized the dream as a vision. The thread had turned pure white and disappeared into the fabric, but it had not been clipped. The Fates had hidden Gabrielle, but where?

Gabrielle tried to calm herself. As the spider came into sight, she saw a human head mounted on the front of its body. "Lachesis?"
"Yes, mortal, you are in our web."
"How..why..what are you going to do with me?"
The spider reached out a leg and snipped the threads that held Gabrielle down. "Ahh, mortal, there are three of us, but we will only answer one question at a time. Come, there is much to discuss."
Gabrielle rose stiffly and tried to follow the retreating spider. She fell forward into the web and awkwardly got back up. She widened her stance and tried to match the swaying of the web. It was a little like walking on a ship. Ugh, that made her seasick, but she progressed forward and followed her Fate.

She could see the edges of the web finely as Lachesis disappeared into a cleft in the rock wall. When she reached the edge it opened into a chamber. A huge tapestry filled most of the room. It was mounted on a roller that gathered up the finished end while the work continued. The threads seemed to move themselves, and Lachesis stopped to inspect the progress. She pursed her lips and reaching out, moved a single thread slightly. She stared a moment longer then nodded her head and ambled on. Gabrielle had no time to look at the scene if she wanted to keep up with eight legs. The next chamber was the one she had visited with Ares. The spider was gone and the three Fates were in their places spinning. For once, she waited silently, in confusion and exhaustion, knowing time meant little to the Fates.

Three voices spoke together in an orchestrated chant, "Hm, she.. is quiet..for once."
Gabrielle blinked and waited.
"You and drink...refresh yourself mortal." inclining their heads towards a table with a light meal laid out on it.
"Is this one of those things like I shouldn't eat in the underworld or I'm stuck there forever?" she asked looking hungrily at the plate of bread, cheese, olives and fruit.
"There are no... tricks here, mortal... only choices." All three spoke finishing each other’s sentences.
"Ok...thank you." And Gabrielle sat at the table eating, watching the Fates spin and the view behind them in the portal. People she didn't know in scenes flashed rapidly. She recognized Joxer standing at a funeral pyre. Frightened, she looked to the Fates and asked, "Who's?"
" Xena's.....hand."
Relieved and sad she said, "I think that's what she wanted."
"And what.. do you.... want mortal?"
"I wanted to save Xena," she said simply.
"And is ..she .. saved?"

Xena filled the view behind the Fates. Gabrielle gasped and watched Xena returning to the Hall of War screaming out Ares’ name, before the scene changed to others she didn't know. Frantic Gabrielle asked, "What is she doing? Why is she calling Ares?" Was Xena looking for vengeance? Certainly Ares had betrayed her, and Gabrielle knew with a heavy heart that Xena would blame Ares for Gabrielle's death. "I have to stop her!"
"Do you have ... so little faith..even now, mortal? She seeks...only.. you."
Relief and shame washed over her as she whispered under her breath, "Oh Xena, I don't deserve you. I'm sorry I doubted you."

"'What want.. mortal?" they chanted again.
"I want Xena. I want to feel worthy of love again, instead of all this regret." Gabrielle sighed.
"We..will...see. You acted well...when you made ...your sacrifice. It was our the pact we made.. with the god of war. If you offered...yourself in her place... you would be saved."
Stunned, seeing help unimagined, Gabrielle whispered, "Thank you."
"It is yet to be seen..if you will...welcome our help."
"What do you mean? I'm alive when I should have been dead. I am alive, aren't I? I mean you didn't, you know, snip my thread, did you?"
"Your thread remains..and yet.. it is hidden."
"So, I'm alive, but Xena can't find me? Is that it?? So what do I do now?"
"Yes, we see what.. you will do now. Approach..the ...threads. All of these threads...are lives.. you might have lived. You must..choose life."
"What? Which should I choose? Where will I be taken?"
"Only the chose will.. be revealed."
"What about Xena? Will she be there? Will I remember her?"
"She...looks...for you. You will.. still have a .... shared past. It is ... the future... that will change. You will.. remember...for one moon. After will live..the life you choose."
"Will she find me? What if she finds me? What if she doesn’t?"
"If she finds you... before the new will reclaim your thread."
"And if not I'm stuck in my new life, and I have to choose one of these without knowing." She stared at the threads bewildered. Raising her eyes to look again at the Fates she calmed and said, "Thank you, at least it's a chance where I had none." And she reached out and choose a thread.

She felt some vertigo, then her vision filled with swirling images of her new future: she saw Xena, full of forgiveness and relief dropping her sword and embracing her; Hope sitting in the bedroom of her childhood; herself, sword in hand, leading a charge in battle; Xena in chains, being led onto a prison ship; throwing herself across an unconscious Xena. The images spun faster: Pearls; sensually painting Xena’s body; throwing her staff into a river and watching it float away. She asked herself, “Why would I do that?” And then she forgot it all.

Xena knew she wouldn't sleep anymore after the vision. She packed up and ate the remains of dinner in the dark before morning. Believing that Gabrielle was alive, she allowed herself to think back on their life together and what Gabrielle meant to her. With the crushing grief eased, the feelings of love and closeness flooded back into her aching heart.

She smiled at the memories, longing to gather Gabrielle in her arms and make everything right between them again. Xena might have resumed their physical relationship after Illusia, but she knew she would have been holding back, and Gabrielle didn't deserve that. Part of holding back was her own need to repress her feelings. She had always dealt with pain through action and by refusing to feel what she couldn't bear.

To love Gabrielle, she'd have to bear the pain, face all of her guilt and regrets. She knew what to do, she'd just have to do it. She had no more doubts. It was simple really. She couldn't live with not trusting Gabrielle completely, so she would trust her. No matter what. "I need you Gabrielle," she said to the vision, "and I'll do whatever it takes to earn your trust again."

Arriving at the deserted Hall of War, she saw blackened earth, probably from a funeral pyre. She figured Joxer had seen to Callisto and was making sure Seraphin got home. She knew he must feel the grief, too, but he hadn't gone half-mad. Must be easier to bear when you aren't filled with regrets.

She slid off Argo and stormed into the Hall screaming Ares’ name, demanding his presence. Her skin itched. There he was, hiding in the shadows. "Show yourself you pathetic traitor."
Ares took only a step forward to the pale edge of light. "Couldn't stay away I see."
"Don't flatter yourself Ares, I'm here because of Gabrielle."
"I figured your true colors would win out, Xena. Here to get your vengeance with your little dagger. Well, come on. Your lust for the kill is like foreplay to me, Xena. I can feel you coming back to me. You can love me or you can hate me, but with your heart full of hatred, you're mine," he sneered.
"Never Ares. I leave you to the sport of the Olympians. I relish thinking what they will do to you."
"What makes you think the gods bear me any ill will? Well, anymore than usual?"
"Because you've gone too far, and failed. You've betrayed them by helping Dahok. I figure they're gonna plan something special for you."
"Oh Xena, Xena, Xena. Maybe things aren't really as they seem. It's not like I need to discuss all my plans with you, though I'd like to..... I'm in the position to make you a particularly sweet offer."

Xena continued to stare at Ares with contempt but said nothing. Things are not what they seem? He's not afraid of retribution from the other gods. "What could you possibly offer me Ares? Everything you touch is twisted."
Ares laughed, "Well yes, twisted, I like that. I'm like you, Xena. I like to twist things to my own design and through a twist of fate,” he laughed, “ I have something you want, and you, you have always had something I want." His eyes filled with lust as he looked her over. "Such a waste, to give all your talent to that little peasant."
She knew the only reason she wasn't having to endure a physical caress from him as well was because he feared the dagger. "Come closer, Ares. I'll give you a taste of... Hind's Blood."
"Tsk, tsk, Xena. I know you've been to see my uncle, so you know she isn't in Hades’ Domain."
"Where is she Ares?" menace in her voice.
"Why would I tell you, Xena? You come here and threaten me, call me traitor.. You who just managed to kill another god recently... even if I agreed with that one... still it's bad form. The Olympians frown on that sort of thing."
"You'll tell me because you need the dagger."
"Are you offering me the dagger, Xena?"

She didn't answer him right away, "Why aren't you afraid of retribution from Zeus, Ares?"
"Maybe I was doing my Father's bidding? Maybe I was a spy in a rival's camp? One warlord to another. You've done the same, Xena."
"Pawns," she seethed, "we're pawns in your power struggle. You used us to save yourselves, even if it destroyed us."
"Now Xena, that's not really fair. I played by the rules. Everybody had a chance, a choice to make. I just helped them choose."
"You bastard. What choice did Gabrielle have? You goaded her into sacrificing herself."
"And that was her chance." he gloated, "Surely you can appreciate the beauty of that, Xena. A mind like yours?"

"Where is she?" She wanted to scream but was deadly quiet.
"I made a deal with the Fates. You remember, your little friend owed me, over a small matter of a jealous action on her part. All I did was call in that marker. It meant I could ask the Fates to twist her thread when I needed it."
"Tell me, Ares." stepping closer to him.
He smiled coldly, knowing he was in no danger from her now. "I could have let you kill Hope, Xena. Like you wanted. I needed her dead, and I would have let you, as a last resort. But I didn't want to see all my years of work creating you go to waste. The Fates demanded a sacrifice to snip a thread as powerful as Hope's. It would have meant your end. Be glad I'm so persuasive, Xena. I told them your loyal little friend would die in your place given the chance. They agreed if that happened not to snip her thread."
"Why Ares, why would you protect her?"
Ares straightened and looked Xena in the eye. "You hate me, Xena, because of what you became for all those years. It's more yourself you hate, your potential. If I killed Gabrielle, you'd actually hate me. No, this way you still have your uses." He reverted to taunting, "And this way, you need me. Oh I like that."

"So if you're a big hero now on Olympus, why do you need the dagger?”
"Let's just say it's safer in my keeping than in the hands of mortals. Daddy doesn't like it."
"And Daddy would like you having it, Ares? I can just see it now, Ares, King of the Gods. Then who would keep your petty little schemes in check?"
"You forget, Xena. The Hinds are mine. I've always been the guardian of the Hind's Blood. Besides, what would be the fun in killing them all? Then who would I have to bend to my will?"
"You’ll tell me how to find Gabrielle in exchange for the dagger, I have your word?"
“I’ll do better than that,” the god said with sudden mirth, “I’ll send you to her!”
Xena laid the dagger on the floor and backed up a step. She nodded her agreement to her nemesis and he hit her with a fireball that would send her into the same altered life as Gabrielle.

Xena felt like she was falling. She was surrounded by a vortex of images as she spun dizzily threw the air. She saw a dead horse and felt herself dance around a funeral pyre. She saw images-- of Cyane’s amazons, the witch Alti, Lachesis with Gabrielle’s face. Another flash: Gabrielle being crucified; following Gabrielle in the woods; holding a sobbing Gabrielle on a battlefield over the body of a friend. She looked down to see rats and then, her hand holding a tooth. The scenes blurred again: Gabrielle wearing upholstery undulating like a snake; tracing painted lines on Gabrielle’s body. Again she saw Gabrielle, but with golden hair shorn. Then herself helpless-- with no arms, then with four. A voice “No, that would hurt her and that’s your job.”

Confused, she came to herself riding Argo hard through rain swept hills, headed towards a war-torn village where she knew she would find Hades judging the dead. She could feel she was forgetting something important and shook her head, and it hit her again, Gabrielle was dead. She had thrown herself and Hope into the lava yesterday. Anguished, she howled her rage and rode on determined to recover her love.

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