This story is based on characters created for the television series Xena: Warrior Princess and is in no way intended to infringe upon the right of anyone affiliated with the show.

There is violence in this story. No real subtext, except it's acknowledged that Xena and Gabrielle love one another. Whatever form that takes is all in the reader's imagination.

Copyright 1998, A. J. Firebaugh

By A. Firebaugh

Gabrielle was gone. Xena dropped the knife covered with hind's blood. It landed with a clang beside Callisto's inanimate body. The warrior princess felt a dark rage in her throat, and she turned from her turmoil at killing Callisto to see what she could do about Gabrielle.

Joxer continued to peer over the ledge of the pit where Gabrielle and the evil goddess Hope had fallen. His clownish helmet lay by his side. His face was scratched; his shoulder wrenched from an encounter with one of the dark god Dahok's priests. He had been vaguely aware of Xena's encounter with Callisto. But he was concerned with Gabrielle, Xena's best friend, and his secret love.

"Gabrielle!" He cried. The faint echo of his voice reverberated as his voice broke. Fire spewed upward and Xena leaned in and jerked him back as a few of the flames shot high above the edge of the ledge. The temple of the evil god shook. Xena's long, lithe body moved in the shadows, dodging a few larger rocks as they tumbled from the ceiling. Every muscle listened for a sound, an indication that Gabrielle somehow had survived her tumble into the flaming pit. She heard nothing. Worse, she felt nothing but a numbness that alternately scared her and strengthened her as it awakened an urgency deep within her heart. She couldn't live without Gabrielle.

Xena and Joxer were alone with Callisto's body. Xena's senses, honed to hear, feel, and smell the slightest of movements or existence of life, were either betraying her or Gabrielle was gone forever. Xena felt a part of her soul crumble as she looked for a way down into the pit. Short of jumping to her own death she didn't see how she could find her friend. Joxer watched her a moment, then sat in a corner and lowered his head into his hands. He let out a small muffled sob. Xena desperately wanted to join him in his heart-wrenching cry, but there was no

"Ares! Ares! You come back here!" Xena shouted to the air. Tears of anger filled her stark blue eyes. "You owe me! Hope's gone! I saved your precious kingdom. Come back here!"

With a flash of light the god of war returned. He had seen the demise of Hope, how Gabrielle had sacrificed herself to save Xena's life. If Xena had completed her mission in destroying the evil goddess, Xena would have died. Ares had forced Gabrielle to repay a debt she owed him, and the repayment had included a choice -- keep Xena from killing Hope, or allow Xena's life thread, held in the hands of the Fates, to be cut, forcing her death. He hadn't counted on Gabrielle choosing to kill Hope by herself.

"Your little friend is gone," Ares said. The tall god's mouth clenched. "There's nothingI can do. Dahok's world is not accessible to me." Ares glanced at the body of Callisto. "He is evil, Xena. I tried to tell you. And Gabrielle brought Hope into this world. She got what she deserved."

"You bastard!" Tears of anger, rage and pain fell down the warrior woman's cheek. Her fists clenched at her side. "This is your fault! You have to help me save her!"

Ares' face turned red. "Are you forgetting that Hope carried my child, Xena? My child!"

"An abomination to this world and you know it! That child will destroy everything, you

Ares turned his back to Xena. The evil god Dahok had promised Ares the child Hope carried would be powerful. Yes, more powerful, even, than its father. He rubbed his chin, then turned back to Xena. "I can tell you," Ares said, " that Gabrielle is not dead. The Fates have not yet cut her life line."

"Then there is still hope," Xena said. Her face tightened.

"Hope, yes," Ares replied, a smirk on his face. "She lives as well. I can feel her. But how do you know, Xena, that Gabrielle wasn't saving Hope instead of you? How do you know she wasn't pulling her daughter down into the sanctuary of Dahok's realm so that she wouldn't die by your sword?" He glanced down at the knife at Xena's feet, and she swiftly placed her boot upon the bloody weapon. A knife with hind's blood on it, even a small drop, would be deadly in the god of war's hands.

For a moment Xena hesitated. "That's a lie, Ares, and you know it. Gabrielle threw herself over that abyss to save me! She's my best friend. I'd have done the same for her." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "You'll never understand."

"I understand more than you know," Ares said. "That was her daughter. She defied you once. What makes you think she wouldn't do it again?"

Xena paused, thinking. Her dark hair glistened with sweat from the heat of the fires and her efforts at fighting the minions of Dahok before Gabrielle had made her sacrifice. "It doesn't matter. Even if she's betrayed me, I have to rescue her. She deserves no less from me."

"You are pathetic, Xena," Ares replied. His voice rose. "I could have made you great! Together we could have led an army against Dahok."

"I didn't need your army. I seem to have succeeded .... with just Gabrielle. And Joxer." Xena cast a glance at the young man sobbing by the pit's edge. Ares rolled his eyes at the pathetic, spindly so-called warrior and turned his gaze to the body of Callisto, lying still at Xena's feet.

"And a little help from your former enemy there," he responded, shrugging to indicate the goddess Callisto. Xena had killed her in a fit of anger. Ares looked the warrior princess in the eye and she returned the gaze, unblinking. The dark god's temple shook and the ground rumbled. "If I help you with this, Xena, I will owe you nothing ever again. Any debt you may think I owe you will be paid in full and I will wash my hands of you forever. But I will warn you, though, before I help you, that whoever you find down there may in fact be Hope and not Gabrielle. They look alike. How will you know the difference? The Fates may not be able to tell the difference; that may be why the thread isn't cut. Dahok is powerful, Xena. He will rule the world one day, with or without his daughter. I stood by him, and even though I failed him this time, this evil god will return and come to me when his time to rise comes again. Next time I will be ready."

In an instant the god of war was gone. In his wake he left a small talisman, a shield. It rolled around in the space where Ares had stood. Xena picked it up. It was light yet powerful in her hands, and small enough to rest comfortably on her forearm. Forged from the fires of Hesphestus, filled with the energy of Ares, the shield would protect her from the flames if she went down into the pit.

Joxer looked up at her. Xena went to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Joxer, come on. Snap out of it."

"It's your fault, Xena," he said, a sob breaking in his throat. "Why couldn't you have just left her alone? Why couldn't you have just let Gabrielle be a young woman? Why did she have to chase you all over the world?"

Xena wondered the same thing. She swallowed hard, tasting her own sweat and guilt, but she pushed it aside. "It was her decision, Joxer. I told her many times to go home. You know that. You've read her scrolls."

Joxer wiped his nose and flung a tear away. It sizzled as it landed on the ledge. "I want to go with you, Xena, to save Gabrielle."

"I'm sorry Joxer. I need you to do something else." Joxer looked skeptical, knowing that Xena was likely trying to get him out of the way more than anything else. She caught his eyes and shook her head, negating his doubts. "You saved us when you got the hind's blood knife. Now take it and go find Hercules. Guard the knife with your life. It still has hind's blood on it, and it's the only thing that will keep Ares in check."

"You expect me to keep that away from Ares?" Xena nodded as she handed the weapon to Joxer. "But you used it on Callisto. It can't have that much blood on it. It's got her blood on it, too."

"Just a drop is all Ares would need to go to work on Zeus." Xena looked at the ground. "And we might need Zeus before this is all over. Hercules needs to know of Ares' plans for world domination with Dahok. You're the only one who can tell him."

"But Gabrielle, I ...."

Xena touched Joxer on the shoulder. "I know Joxer," she said. "You love her. But you don't stand a chance down there, and neither does Gabrielle. I've got to help her. For some reason everything is tied up in Gabrielle's innocence and purity, in her giving birth to Hope, and I don't understand it all, but it's got something to do with me, too. So please, Joxer." A mixture of emotion played across the warrior princess's face before the familiar blank stare fell into place.

Joxer nodded in agreement. He looked down at the body of Callisto. "What about ... her?"

Xena looked at Callisto with contempt. "Bury her if you must, Joxer, or wait and let this temple fall in around her. She can't harm us any more. The hind's blood took care of that. She found her oblivion. I'm just glad she found it when she no longer wanted it."

Joxer shuddered slightly at the vehemence in the warrior princesses voice. "If the temple falls in, how will you and Gabrielle get back out?"

Xena didn't answer. She twirled the small shield in her hands, adjusting to the feel of it. A favor from Ares. His debts paid in full. She hadn't even known he owed her one. "There is something else, Joxer." He reached down and picked up his helmet, his eyes still damp and questioning. "Go to the temple of the unknown god and pray."

Joxer's mouth fell open. "What? That's in Athens!"

"I know. Find Hercules first, but then do this. Something Krafstar said makes me think you'll find help there."

"Krafstar? That's the evil guy from Britannia, right? The one who helped Dahok make Gabrielle --" He looked away, thinking of the scroll he'd read that indicated Dahok had held Gabrielle hostage above his altar, impregnating her with Hope.

Continue to Part 2

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