Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others mentioned, belong to
MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights is intended.
Subtext Disclaimer: This story contains references to a loving relationship between two consenting adults, who happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.
Violence Disclaimer: This story contains scenes of graphic violence.
Shock Factor: Lets just say that Plan D #21 isnt going to be lucky for anybody. People are gonna get hurt and possibly worse, so youve been warned.
Note: This story is in segments, due to its size.
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Enjoy, I hope.
part four - conclusion
Written by FlyBigD
Feeling something move under her hand, Xena opened her eyes and looked down at T. Seeing the golden glow, she smiled and looked up to Gabriel, then frowned. The man that shed seen only a minute before was undoing what had been done. Faster than hed grown up, Junior was getting younger again. The movement under her palm was his hand getting smaller. "Junior?" Staring in amazement, she watched the clothing he wore begin to swallow him inside the material. "Whats happening? Gabrielle?"
Opening her eyes, the bard looked to the warrior, then followed her gaze to her namesake. "Oh, no. Ungara?"
Turning to the boy, the Ancients eyes went wide. Now, no more than ten years of age, the god was continuing to shrink. "Remove his hand! Break the link."
Grabbing his wrist, Xena tried to pull the boys hand off Ts body, but it wouldnt budge. "It wont move."
"Gabriel, let go!" Wrapping her hands next to the warriors, Gabrielle pulled. "Let go now. Thats enough."
Pouting in childlike concentration, Gabriel held his hand in place.
"Where did he go?" In a tizzy, Aphrodite pulled the leather jacket back, when he disappeared beneath its bulk. "There you are, sweet pea." Relieved, she let out a sigh. "That was a close one."
Still trying to remove his hand, even as it disappeared inside the sleeve, Xena and Gabrielle pulled to no avail. Gabriel was not letting go, or the glow wouldnt let him go, but either way, in another minute hed be back to being the baby theyd delivered earlier.
When he finally did let go, Xena swooped up the baby in her arms and held him close.
Inside the jacket, Junior had his eyes closed and his tiny hands balled up into fists, to be placed under his chin.
"Xena?" Leaning over, Gabrielle looked inside the jacket as the warrior opened it up, revealing the baby inside.
"I think hes okay." Checking him over, she put her hand on his chest and felt a strong heartbeat. "Hes alive and hes not getting any smaller now."
Apparently unfazed by the episode, the Goddess of Love smiled. "Well, of course not. What did you expect him to do? Crawl back in the womb?" Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. "Mortals."
"Aphrodite, what do you know that we dont?" Coming around, the bard moved Ungara out of the way, so she could take her place by the warrior.
"Its simple. He only grew up, so he could tell Dahok to piss off." Shrugging, she held out her hands. "Now hes back to the way he should be. Gods cant just grow up like weeds, ya know. He was still a baby. He was just big. Get it?" Staring at the surprised faces.
"So, now hes okay? Hes just a baby again?" Looking down at the baby in Xenas arms, she rubbed his sleeping head.
"Yep." Smiling big, she leaned over to take a look. "Sweet pea probably couldnt keep up appearances and use his powers on T at the same time. Hell get better at it. Yes, you will." Wiggling a finger next to his tiny fists.
Groaning, Xena twisted sideways, handing the baby to Gabrielle. "Take him." Laying Gabriel in the arms of her wife, she turned back to find the golden glow still in place and swirling. Its opaque glimmer blocked any view of the body beneath, so she tried to ease her hand through it to check on Ts condition and felt a tingling sensation work its way up her arm as she felt for a pulse.
"Xena?" Leaning into the warrior, Gabrielle laid her free hand on her shoulder and could feel the tingling as well. Drawing her hand back, she held it up, staring at the light gold sheen on her skin. "Whats it doing?" Glancing to the Goddess of Love for an answer.
"What its supposed to." Shrugging she smiled. "Youre getting better."
Looking closer, Ungara turned the bards face to meet his. "Your burns are healing."
Feeling her own face, she touched the side that had been scorched by Dahoks balls of flame. It was true. Even as her fingers ran over the skin, the pain was dissipating. "Go get the others." Whispering, she looked at Katai. "Hurry."
On his feet, Katai signaled to his brothers. "Get Ares, Cargan, Bud and the Guards and bring them over here quickly.
Splitting up into groups, the Ancients went into action. Dropping their weapons, they moved to their charges and gently picked them up from where they lay, to bring them back.
Handing the baby off once more, Gabrielle gave him to Aphrodite. "Give them some room."
Nodding, the goddess got up and stepped away with Junior, as did Ungara.
Cognizant of what was going on behind her, Xena kept her hand on Ts shoulder while the Ancients brought the bodies over. "Alright Ares. I may never see what she sees in you, but youve earned this one. You deserve to see your son grow up." Giving the bard a quick smile, she put her hand on his chest, feeling the tingling pass through her body to her other hand. Holding it in place for a long moment, she nodded. "Okay."
Stepping forward, the Ancients picked Ares up, to move him to the other side of T, while Cargan was put in his place.
Giving him the same treatment, the warrior closed her eyes as a wave of guilt passed along with the tingling. Hed given his life to save hers and she hoped she wouldnt have to deliver his dying words to his family. After another long moment, her eyes opened with a tear running down her cheek and she nodded. Next came the rest of the Royal Guards. Placed one by one beside her, she laid her hand upon their lifeless bodies, giving them what everyone hoped was a healing touch. Then came the last of those whod fought that day. Almost sobbing, she put her hand on his shoulder, rubbing the bloodied fur with her fingers.
Cradling his head in her lap, the bard had tears in her eyes as well, while the tiger struggled to breathe. "Come on, Bud. Your little brother needs you." Stroking his striped head, she leaned down to whisper in his ear. "Ill let you chew my shoes if you get better."
As if hearing the magic words, he opened his eyes, rolling his head sideways to lick her face. Purring, he closed his eyes again.
"Youre such a good boy." Kissing his head, Gabrielle smiled and sat up.
With that, Xena removed her hand from the tiger and from T. Her own wounds had been healed in the process and her leg no longer ached from its broken bones. Moving to the head of her friend, she cradled Ts head in her lap and smiled. "Okay, T. Weve taken care of everybody else, so you can come back now. Its time to wake up and live your life and dont look at what I did to your bike." Hoping to tempt a response out of her friend, like the bard had Bud. Smiling, she watched the glow shimmer over her body and closed her eyes. "Come on, T. Your son needs you. Ares needs you. We all need you to come back. Nap time is over."
Holding her breath, Aphrodite bit her lip when nothing happened. Then she looked down at the baby in her arms and got an idea. Unwrapping the leather jacket from around his naked newborn body, the goddess pulled it away. "Okay, sweet pea. Time to do your stuff." Coming forward, she dropped the jacket and knelt down. Lifting him gently out of her arms, she rolled Gabriel over, placing him on his stomach and on Ts chest. Giving him soft pats, she lifted Ts hand. Feeling the tingling as well, she brought Moms hand up to lay it on her sons back. "You just hang on to him, okay. Dont let him wiggle off." Smiling, she eased her hands away from the baby and sat back. "If this doesnt do it, nothing will."
Staring down at the glow, Ungara could barely see the boy beneath it, as it encompassed his body as well as his mothers. The eternity began again and he waited for some sign that the glistening power was working. While he watched, the gold began to twinkle with small shimmering lights, swirling around in its midst.
Watching as well, Gabrielle and Xena saw the lights pick up speed. Swirling around in a chaotic pattern, they were gathering the glow as they went and grew with each second. Faster and faster they moved, until they replaced the opaque glow with a golden light that was almost too bright to look at. Then the chaos coalesced into a vortex of light, pulling inward and siphoning into Gabriels tiny body. When the last of the golden light disappeared, the girls uncovered their eyes and saw what they had hoped to see with all their heart.
Blinking away the spots in her eyes, Xena looked down at a healed body, unmarred by battle and clear of any wounds. T was whole again, but she wasnt breathing, which the warrior turned doctor picked up on immediately. Feeling for a pulse again, her fingers came up with the same result. No pulse. No breathing. "Breathe, T. Just give me one breath, okay. Come on." Keeping two fingers on the pulse point, she continued to whisper words of encouragement to her friend. "Come on. I know youre in there, somewhere. Come on back, T. There are people here who need you." Closing her eyes slowly, the warrior placed her other hand on Ts chest, to put forth her indomitable will and bring the fallen King back to life.
Unhappy at being cold, Gabriel shivered and made a face. Opening his mouth, he let out some silent cries before he began to sob audibly.
"Hes freezing." Her heart breaking at the sound and his face, Gabrielle reached for her jacket.
"No." Grabbing her arm, Xena stopped her wife from covering him up. "Let him cry." Scooting back, she laid Ts head on the ground and bent down to whisper in her ear. "You hear that, T? Somebody wants you to get that fire going. Somebody needs that infamous body heat of yours. You better throw some coals in the hold to get him warm. Its chilly out here. Are you going to let his little butt get frostbite?"
Worried for the baby, it was tearing the bard up to sit there and let him cry. "Xena."
Waving her off, the warrior watched her friend closely. "Just one minute. Just give her a minute." Letting the boy cry, she hoped the maternal instinct T had shown earlier would push her back their way. It was their last hope of drawing life back into the cool body and it was her last chance at getting her best friend to respond.
The minute passed slowly and Gabriel began to protest more. Wiggling as well as a newborn could, he cried his lungs out, gasping for each breath to turn into a wail.
Between the crying baby and no signs of life from T, Xena closed her eyes, as she began to feel her hope slipping away. With each sob from the boy, her hands begged for anything she could cling to. Any movement that would tell her that shed succeeded, but as he continued to cry, her last hope died away, to be replaced by an ever expanding sense of helplessness and loss.
What the warrior was feeling was written all over her face. A minute before, Gabrielle had seen an expression set in determination, but as the minute passed into two Xenas face slowly fell, as her heart began to break. So, without asking again, the bard took the leather jacket, placing it over her namesakes tiny body to give some warmth and ease his suffering. Giving him a gentle rub on his back, she waited another minute before she silently took him from Ts lifeless grasp, to cradle him against her shoulder. Patting him gently, she comforted the baby until his sobs slowly subsided into soft sniffles, while her tears fell unchecked and she watched her wife begin to sob quietly.
Lifting his head and looking around, all Bud could see were crying faces. From Ungara on down to the youngest Ancient, along with Aphrodite, tears were falling like the threatening rain from above. Not needing to be told, he knew why they were crying and placed his paw on the strong arm of his friend. Purring quietly, he scooted off Gabrielles lap to lay his head on Ts shoulder. His eyes open, he stared out at empty space until something caught his eye. Lifting his head again, he perked up when Ares fingers began to twitch. Rising further, he saw more movement and rubbed his huge head against the one resting in sorrow next to his.
Giving him a blind scratch under his neck, Xena felt something plop down on her head. Still heaving in her pain, she lifted her head slowly, as the large paw slid sideways. Looking up, the paw guided her to where Ares lay and she stared through watery eyes to see him begin to sit up. Blinking down a shower of tears, she sat up as well and watched the God of War roll his head around. "Ares?" Her voice a breathless whisper, the warrior crawled sideways, coming around the god. Placing a shaking hand on his shoulder, she completed the circuit to stare into his open eyes. "Ares?"
Feeling like hed been run over by a wagon, the God of War blinked. An aching body wasnt something that he was used to and it took several moments for his mind to move past the pain and remember who he was, where he was, why he was there and who the woman staring at him was. "Xena?"
Nodding absently, the warrior cupped his face with her hands. "Youre alive." Turning her head, her eyes followed the path to find the bard wide-eyed and awe struck.
His memory coming back quickly, Ares put his hand on Xenas shoulder, getting her attention. "Wheres T? Wheres the baby?"
The questions burned a blazing path to her soul and Xena could do no more than look down at her friends body in answer.
Turning his head slowly, the god saw the body beside him. Frowning, he noted its unblemished state and its total stillness. Bringing his hand up, he hesitated, touching her arm, then gradually he brought it down to feel the coolness. Jerking his hand back, Ares shook his head. "No."
Giving Gabrielle a quick glance, the warrior closed her eyes before turning back to take Ares hand in hers. Lowering both, she pressed his palm on Ts chest, beneath her hand and held it there when he tried to pull away again. "Im sorry, Ares."
"No." Whispering his denial, Ares hand stayed put when the warriors retreated and he closed his eyes. The coolness of her skin told the story he didnt want to hear. One hed heard before and was reliving. That day when his world lay beneath his fingers and a simple touch brought his world shattering down around him. His heart and soul shackled forever by the master that was no more, and his love gone with her.
As Ares leaned forward, to lay his head on his hand, Xena put her hand on his back, feeling the silent tears wracking his body. Looking to the bard once more, she saw his pain reflected in green eyes that sat above a waterfall of tears. Her loss matched her wifes, not only for the empathy she felt for Ares, but for the void forming in her own heart.
Cradling Junior close, the bard heard rustling behind her, but didnt need to turn around to know what was happening. The rest of the recent dead were coming back to life as Ares had just done. Cargan and his Royal Guards were making their way back to the land of the living, compliments of Gabriels power. Looking down at her namesake, Gabrielle wiped one of her tears off his sleeping face and got two black eyes opened at her touch. The one, whod expended his power to end the battle was back to being a baby again and didnt know that what he wanted wasnt going to happen. Hed tried and failed, but in the interim, saved the men whod fought to protect him. Staring down at his questioning eyes, she smiled a sad smile. "Its okay, Gabriel. Go back to sleep. You did your best." Giving him a soft kiss on the forehead, she wrapped the jacket tightly around his tiny body. Watching his eyes flutter closed again, she lifted her eyes to Xenas.
Her devastation complete, the warrior nodded to Gabrielles unspoken prompt. Looking over to Ungara, his eyes were full of tears, as was Aphrodites. Pulling in her strength, she sat up, facing the two gods and nodded. "Lets get her out of here."
Getting to her feet, Aphrodite wiped away her tears and sniffed. "Ill whip up a wagon."
"No." From his place over the love of his life, Ares whispered and slowly sat up. "Ill take her. Thats my job." Removing his hand from Ts chest, he slid his arms under her body, lifting her off the ground as he stood. Cradling her body close, he shifted the weight in his arms until her head lolled onto his shoulder. The he turned away from them, toward the path leading back to the Palace and walked away.
Giving thought to protesting, Xena watched him rise, but kept her silence at the peaceful look on Ts face resting on his shoulder. Letting her thought go, she got up and took Gabrielles outstretched hand, to help her rise. Holding onto that hand, she wrapped her arm around the bards shoulder, squeezing it gently, then followed Ares down the path.
So the procession formed, with Ares in the lead, the warrior and bard behind, carrying Ts son and followed by Ungara, Aphrodite, the rest of the Ancients and lastly, the newly enlivened Royal Guards. Bud stayed put for a minute, watching them leave, then he got up, his body healed and took hold of Ts sword with his mouth, pulling it out of the ground. Dragging it beside his body, he followed the procession into the trees.
Ares carried his heavy burden through the forest, turning left, to take the woman in his arms not to the place hed come to call home, but to the Palace of the Ancients. Walking through the trees, he came to the huge engraved doors, left wide open with the haste of the residents departure. Without a pause, he went up the steps, entering the long hallway leading to the round room of the Ancients gathering place. Moving past the altar at its center, he turned left again, following his memory through the connecting rooms, until he reached the place hed never been, yet loathed none the less. As he approached, the twin marble doors swung open via Ungaras power and he carried T into the Hall of Kings, with its double row of statues lining the aisle. Past the faces and carved bodies of her ancestors, he walked, hearing the footsteps echoing off the darkened walls. Halfway down, Ts statue became visible with its overhead light illuminating the life-sized vision of the woman in his arms. The face set in an expression of determined confidence, he stared into the twinkling dark brown eyes. Those eyes, nearly as dark as his own didnt stare back, or follow his progress, they merely watched some distant horizon, searching for signs of trouble that would require her to take action and defend her family, or her empire. Reaching the first step of the raised platform, which the statue stood upon, a soft grinding sound came from the wall, as the door to her resting place slid open and the slab emerged from its dark crypt.
Xena and Gabrielle followed Ares up the steps of the platform. Her arm still around the bards shoulder, she guided her wife past the statue and watched the God of War lay Ts body gently on the slab. Moving to the side, she watched him stand in silence for a long moment, before he bent down to place a kiss on Ts lips, then take her lifeless hand in his, to kiss that as well. Her tears, which had paused in their flow began again, falling as silently as Ares and her wifes.
Another kiss was placed on her hand, as he unlatched the golden Tiger bracelet, sliding it from around the wrist that had worn it for over two thousand years. The ring came next, with its etched visage of the tiger, somewhere behind him and he slid it off slowly, then laid her hand beside her. Saying his last goodbyes, Ares kissed her lips once more, before turning to leave her side and sit on the steps in front of the statue. Seeing neither the gods or mortals before him, he closed his eyes to their faces, clasping the emblems of her life in his hand.
Once he moved away, the warrior stepped up alone. Taking the hand hed held, she laced her fingers through Ts and let her emotions free to spill forth.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Gabrielle could hear the soft sobs of her wife and opened her eyes to step forward. Wrapping one arm around Xenas waist, she held the baby with the other, pulling both close and resting her head on a strong shoulder. The day that had started with just a sense of uneasiness many hours before had become her darkest nightmare. Her friend, one shed known for what seemed like an eternity was gone once more and with her, the hope that shed one day return. Unlike the first time shed stood in that spot, Gabrielle could feel this as truly the end. There was no coming back, no complex puzzle loomed on the horizon to be deciphered in time to bring her friend back from the dead. No amount of godly blood would breathe life into T. The battle shed fought twice had taken its toll at last and with it, shed sacrificed herself yet again for the people who loved her. The friend, family, hero and King was to become what she had been in life. A legendary figure that the world never knew and owed their very existence to. One that would remain the obscure shadow, lurking in the heart and minds of the people who knew the truth. As she had spent her life, T would be relegated to the history books for all the generations of Ungarans to treasure as an icon for what they should strive to be. Strong, faithful, honorable, caring, compassionate and kind. That is what T was and would always be remembered as. The greatest and last true King of the Ungara, friend through countless lifetimes, protector of her people and the world, empress of her domain and the happy go lucky woman with the impish grin.
Xena opened her eyes and looked down at T. Her face was not the serene image associated with the dead, but more like the statue behind her. The peaceful expression was tempered with a set determined jaw, a slightly furrowed brow and just the hint of something that could be a smile. A mixture of emotions to remain forever the lasting image shed have to take with her and the one shed always found the most irritating. That contradiction in terms that was T. Giving her friend a smile, Xena straightened the fringe on her headdress, centering the tiger charm just above her eyebrows. Then she ran her fingers over the soft skin of Ts cheek. The dark tan complexion belied the coolness that met her touch and it brought home the final remembrance of the first time her friend had died. That cool, lifeless feel was the last straw to break her heart. Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly, then bent down to place a gentle kiss on Ts forehead. Rising slowly, she stepped to the side and waited for the bard to take her turn at letting go.
For Gabrielle, the emotions she felt were almost past now. Whether it came from the fact that shed cried so much the first time,or that she felt a need to be strong for her wife, the results were the same. With only a few tears left to shed, she did what the warrior had done and kissed Ts forehead. Then she had one last duty to preform and that was to give Ts son one last glimpse of the mother he would never know. Looking down at his sleeping face, she touched his nose and saw the black orbs come to life. Giving him a quick smile, she pulled the jacket away from his face and held the baby up in the crook of her arm. Seeing him look down at her, she smiled and followed his gaze. "Shell always be with you Gabriel, remember that. When you look in the mirror and in here." Placing a finger to his bare chest. "Shell always be here. Always." Letting him have a long look, the bard brought him back down and saw a tiny tear roll out from the corner of his eye. "I know. Well all miss her." Wiping the tear away, she held him close, then joined the warrior.
Wrapping her arm around Gabrielles shoulder, Xena led them off the platform to take their place in front of the statue of Ts father, giving Ares shoulder a squeeze as she passed.
Seeing them sit down, Bud made his way though the crowd to lay down in front of them and dropped the sword at their feet. Resting his head on the floor, he watched his mentor walk up the steps.
Ungara came to his King and smiled. "You are my greatest King, Tiegra Empario De Na Niahte." Leaning down, he kissed her forehead, then rose back up to smile again. "You were not my most amiable King, but you earned your Crown a thousand times over and my respect with valor, compassion, strength, blood and love. You have my soul forever and until eternity passes away, you will stay in my heart. Sleep well, my friend. Youve earned your rest and my promise, that only with my death will I ever forget you." His eye watery again, he leaned down for another kiss, then began to remove what hed created. Taking her hand, he turned it over, feeling for the latch on the gauntlet, then heard it release. Pulling it off gently, he did the same with the other and removed the six gold daggers from their hiding places. Setting them beside her head, he stared at the Crown. Still on her stomach, it had been carried along with her body, by Ares and now glistened in the low light. The last vestige of her birthright, he ran his fingers over the beveled top edge, then took the golden circlet in both his hands. Lifting it slowly, he held it for a long moment, suspended above her body. Looking down at her face, he hesitated taking it away. Shaking his head, he tilted it to give her a sad smile. "You never wore it, yet you seem so bereft without it. How can I take something from you that you alone deserve to keep. Your forefathers paid for it with their lives and you shunned it, yet there is none other who will ever be more worthy to posses it." Lowering the Crown back to its rightful place, he stopped again. From behind him, a small soft gurgle sounded and he smiled. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the bard with her hand inside the jacket she cradled. Seeing a tiny hand reach out from the black material, he watched Gabrielle soothe the troubled child in her arms. Closing his eyes, he turned back and lifted the Crown again. Taking a deep breath, he moved it away from Ts body and opened his eyes, placing the circlet with the other things by her head. "As you wish." He told her softly and nodded with a sigh. "I will pass on your Crown and hope that someday your son will choose to not wear it, as you did." Giving her a quick smirk, Ungara picked up what he had removed, then turned away.
Walking down the steps, he nodded to his brothers, letting them take their turn at making peace with T and moved to where the warrior and bard sat. Waving one finger, he sent his ensign out of the way and knelt before the pair, placing his load at their feet, beside the sword Bud had retrieved. And before Xena could open her mouth to protest this action, he held up his hand. "Just wait before you say anything, because Ive got something to say and Id like to get it out before you start." Looking between the two female faces, he saw their nod of consent. "Thank you." Lowering his hand, he sighed and looked down at what hed brought over. "I know that you will not claim these as your own and I know why. Its the same reason you gave the first time they were presented to you and I understand your feelings." Sighing again, he looked up at them. "You feel that no one will ever take her place as King and in your hearts and its true. T is irreplaceable as a friend and as a King, but these things dont belong to me. They belong to you, whether or not you take the throne. You are her heirs, along with her son and these are your rightful possessions, not mine. I forged them for the first King and they have been passed down through the generations to be laid at your feet. Many people gave their lives to protect these things from those who claimed them unjustly, as T did herself. She died to keep them from Dahok and its my responsibility to her to make sure they are given to whom they belong. Her life will be remembered and held high in the history of my people, as you yourselves are now and one day, her son may choose to claim these as his own, but until and if that happens, they are yours. Take them with the knowledge and remembrance of what cost they were kept safe and cherish them with the love you gave their master. We may never see another King like T and Im sure that I will never love another one as I did her, but just as my brother crossed that bridge, so must we. She gave us an immortal lifetime of love, happiness and joy, and its up to us to make sure it is passed on. Her legacy is safe and the historians will record her deeds in the heroic manner in which they took place, but I cannot let her memory be tainted by the fact that what she died to protect was gathering dust in some dark corner. These were forged to aide the King in protecting the world from evil. Though their power can only be used by a true Tiger King, they can still serve a purpose and thats to keep her close to your hearts. You were her life, along with Ares, but I dont need to tell you that. Her love shone through with every breath and nothing will ever fill the void shes left behind, but you can show your love in return. Take these things that were hers. Let T live through them and let her son know his mother by the warmth she left behind. Let him touch them and know who his mother was and how much he was loved. Take them home, because that is where her heart always was. You were her world. Keep what she left behind and treasure it, as you treasure her memory." Smiling sadly, he stood, leaving the objects at their feet and kissed each one in turn, then placed a soft kiss on Gabriels forehead as well. "Be strong, little one. Grow in your own time and remember that you are loved more than the world around you." Running his hand over some unruly black hair, he smiled. "I am here if you need me." Sighing, he stepped back, leaving the couple in silence and moved back into the shadows to await his brothers return.
As the Ancients filed slowly past Ts body, Aphrodite slipped through the line to kneel in front of her brother. "Okay, Ares. I know that youre not really here right now and you probably wont hear me, because youre bummed, but I just wanted to say that Im proud of you, ya know. You did good out there, Bro. T needed you and you came through like a champ, so dont feel like you let her down, okay?" Taking his hand, she squeezed it and tried to catch is eyes, which were staring at the ground. Not getting any response, she sighed. "Okay. You take all the time you need. Ill be here when you get back." Giving his hand another squeeze, she kissed his cheek. "Love you, Bro. Come back soon." Leaning their heads together for a moment, she sat back then stood. Then she took her place at the end of the long line, behind the Royal Guards and waited for her chance to say goodbye.
As the remaining mourners passed by, T was laid to rest, minus the fanfare reserved for the King of the Ungara. Unlike her first funeral, she wasnt accompanied to the Hall of Kings by the entire Ungaran empire and the people she ruled and cared for were as yet, unaware of their loss. The ones that had come to welcome her child had been transported away at the first sign of danger and were waiting news of what had happened. So only the thirteen Royal Guards were present to represent the millions of Ungara now left without a King and stood by bearing the burden of sorrow for the entire empire.
Also missing was the ceremony of choice. The time where T shouldve been laid upon the altar and her sword offered up to her heirs. This had been bypassed when Ares had carried her past the altar without stopping. Instead of having to choose again, Xena and Gabrielle had been spared that pain and Ungara had let it happen. He knew their hearts and that the choice theyd made long ago still held true. They would not claim the Crown and the throne would remain vacant. There would be no King crowned after Ts body was sealed inside the tomb today, or possibly ever. As with her first death, Ts body would be laid to rest and the Ungaran people would be left to fend for themselves. The only chance for a King lay in Gabrielles arms. The baby she cradled was the only hope for the Crown to be claimed and that hope was unknown. Gabriel was still a mystery, though hed given them a glimpse of what might be. Hed shown courage in his infantile way and made the choice of good over evil relying on his conscience and what he felt to guide him. It was a good sign, but whether it meant that hed take his place on the throne was still undecided.
So, as the last of the Ancients bade their sad farewell and the Guards did the same, it was left up to the Goddess of Love to delay the inevitable. Stepping forward, she placed one hand over her heart and the other over Ts. Taking a deep breath, she let it out as a sigh. "I gonna miss you, T. I know thats kinda crazy coming from me, but I am. I got used to having you around, ya know? You were a lot more fun than Ares and you gave me a shot at helping out, and I liked that. Most people only call me when somebodys jilted them, but you made me feel kinda needed. And I know that I screwed things up sometimes and Im sorry about that, but thanks for letting me try. It really means a lot and Im gonna keep it up, so you wont have to worry. Ill keep an eye on everybody and between me and Ares, I think we can keep blondie and Xena outta trouble, but Ill probably have to pull double duty until Ares gets out of his funk. Hes really really bummed right now, just like everybody else, but I think its gonna take a long time for him to come back, ya know? Hes just way out there right now." Shaking her head, she smiled sadly. "He really loves you T and if I didnt like you so much, Id be pissed that you snagged him without my help. Getting that bruiser to fall so hard woulda looked really cool on a resume." Drumming her fingers on her chest, she closed her eyes. "But Im a big goddess and Ill get over it." Sighing, she opened her eyes. "Soon. Ill get over it soon, I promise and in the mean time, Ill keep an eye on him." Sighing, her smile turned sad once more. "Sweet Peas gonna miss you, ya know? Its not fair that you wont get to see him grow up the right way. You did so much to make sure he got here, its just not fair for you to have to go away. Its not fair." Glancing over her shoulder, she looked at Gabrielle and smiled. "But I think hell get to know ya pretty good. I think the bard will do her thing." Turning back, she leaned down and whispered. "But dont worry. Ill make sure she only tells him the good stories. Not the ones where you screwed up, or were late, or anything like that." Giving Ts shoulder a pat, she stood back up and looked as casual as possible. Turning her back to the people behind her, she sobered again. "Well, I guess thats about it. I just wanted to say thanks and that Ill miss you. I wish I could make you all better, but I cant. You just take your nap and Ill keep an eye on everything. Bye, T." With that, she leaned down to place a kiss on Ts forehead. "Sweet dreams." Smiling, she stepped back, letting her hand slide off Ts arm as she went, then waved before she turned around. Giving the crowd of men a smile, she walked to where Ares was still sitting and sat down beside him. Sliding sideways, she rested her head on his shoulder and took his hand in hers.
Stepping forward, Ungara stared at the two Olympians, waiting to see if Ares was going to make a move. When the God of War stayed put, he turned his attention to the girls and found them looking down as well. Sighing, he gave his ensign a glance, finding Bud laying peacefully on the floor and showing no signs of wanting to rise. Nodding, he looked up to the statue of T. "Farewell, my friend. You will be missed." Waving his hand, he closed his eyes and listened as everyone else did, to the sound of stone against stone, as the slab slid back inside the tomb. Opening his eyes, he saw Ares head hang lower as the door swung shut, sealing itself with a small rush of air. Lowering his own head, he stood still for a long moment in the utter silence of the room. Then he turned and started down the long aisle, passing the statues of every King that had come before. Passing the semblances of men and women he had known and loved and knowing that he would never again have to lay a friend to rest in the Hall of Kings.
Their food gone, they still sat in silence trying to figure out if they were going crazy. Rationalizing every incident, they stared at nothing and let the hands on the clock slip by unnoticed. It wasnt until the phone rang that both looked up and at each other, and for a brief instant they could almost see the same thoughts going on behind shades of blue and green.
But the moment was lost when the phone rang again and Gabrielle got up to answer it. Leaving the table, she walked to the phone and picked it up, still somewhat dazed from her imaginings. "Hello."
"Gabrielle, this is Ares. T wanted me to call to let you know that your room is clean and that it is Friday in your part of the world, and shes getting tired of waiting to hear your lilting tones." He said, amused at the unamused look he was getting from the woman on the couch.
"Give me the phone." T said and held out her hand. Wiggling her fingers, she glared at him. "If you make me get up, Im going to hurt you." Giving the father of her child a serious stare and a low growl, she got the phone in two heartbeats. "Ignore him." She told her friend and got silence from the other end. "Gabrielle?"
As if waking from her worst nightmare, the bards eyes grew large. "What did he say?"
"What he was supposed to saaaay," giving the God of War another glare, "was that I was wondering if youd changed your mind about coming tonight and if I should expect you two in the morning."
Hearing Ts voice and the same words from her nightmare brought the whole thing back in a flash, like a freight train sized bullet to her soul. Glancing over her shoulder, her fear was confirmed when she saw the warrior starting to clear the table, just like her vision. "Oh my god . . . " Her voice a hushed whisper, her arm dropped to her side, as the phone hit the floor and she could feel the chill taking hold of her body. It was moving up from her feet, like a frozen tide, trapping her legs. Reaching out, she tried to get to Xena, but her legs wouldnt move and as she leaned over, she fell agonizingly toward the floor. As if in slow motion, she watched her fingers tips just miss the warriors sleeve, then her world grew dark. Screaming in her mind, her words never sounded in her ears while she continued to fall and her warning was lost, as was her consciousness when she hit the floor.
Epilogue: To be continued in the next episode, The Messenger.
Thanks for reading.
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