STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Argo, Ephiny, Eponin, Dayhok, Kraftstar, Ares, Aphrodite, Zeus, Joxer, Discord and Hope are the property of Universal/MCA, and Renaissance Pictures. (Anybody I did not mention, that is not Blayne, Tayo, or Keisha all belong to the afore-mentioned entities). All the others belong to me, and contain a little bit of my essence, as well as that of some pet units close to me. The use of the prior mentioned characters is strictly for fun, not for profit. No plagiarist activity or theft of character is intended in any way.

SPOILERS: This is the second part of what's turning out to be a multi-part story. It takes place after the Season 3 cliffhanger, "Sacrifice I & II." If you haven't read part one of this story, or if you have not seen these episodes, you may want to wait to read this chapter.

SUBTEXT: Ah yes, subtext. This story does contain major references to the loving relationship between two women. If this is not your cup of tea, then DON'T DRINK! Or read for that matter. If you are under 18, please move on. If this type of subject matter is illegal in your state, then move out, or move on with the 18-year-olds. After all, this world has many resources, however some things are just not meant for some people. Please do us all a favor, and surf on down the line.

VIOLENCE: There are references to violence in this story, and the possibility of violence, however there are no graphic details.

This is my second endeavor at writing fan fiction. I have discovered that I enjoy it immensely. I appreciate any and all comments, so feel free to contact me via E-mail.

Why did you vanish
Into the empty sky?
Even the fragile snow,
When it falls,
Falls in this world.

***Izumi Shikibu***



Xena and Gabrielle had traveled swiftly towards their destiny. They had attempted to rescue a childhood friend of Gabrielle's, only to find themselves thrown back into the war against Dayhok and his daughter Hope. The battle was fierce, but the stakes were high. The future of Humanity. Xena tried to call the right shots, and Gabrielle did her best to help protect her friend, and most recently her lover. She intended to see their love into the future, and it would take more than Callisto, and Hope to stop that. She loved Xena, and Xena loved her. And those two things were the key elements to Gabrielle's existence. She would feel Xena's lips touch hers, and her warmth against her skin again. If it was the last thing she ever did. Unfortunately the Fates and Ares had something else in mind.

A day had barely passed, since she had gone. . .Gone. Gabrielle was gone. . . Forever. In their quest to save all of humanity, they had lost only one very important element. Gabrielle's life. No one would be the same. The future no longer held any warmth or happiness. It would have almost been better, if Hope and Dayhok had succeeded. Better than losing Gabrielle.

Joxer sat outside the ruined temple. He knew he should be leaving. He had decided to travel to the Amazon Village. To notify Ephiny and the rest of the Amazons of the death of their queen. He was not ready to travel yet. He was torn between the duty he felt to her subjects, and his need to pursue Xena. She had left the temple immediately following Gabrielle's death, and her murder of Callisto. He almost lost his head attempting to stop her. To console her in her loss. But he should have known better. Xena was inconsolable. Her loss was too great to be comforted by the likes of him, or of anyone else for that matter. He really felt like the moron she said he was. He should have sacrificed himself, then this wouldn't be happening. He felt like such an idiot, a complete and utter fool.

"ARES! ARES YOU COWARD! SHOW YOURSELF YOU PIG! AREEESSSS!" Xena's cries rang out across the valley floor, and across the mountain ranges surrounding her. She hadn't stopped screaming since she left Dayhok's temple. When Gabrielle plunged to her . . .she couldn't finish the thought forming in her mind. She continued to vent her anger and her pain, with her screams of anguish. As if the louder and longer she yelled, the better the chance that Ares would hear her.

Ares lay cowering in one of his temples. Sprawled in his throne, he could hear Xena's cries and so could his family. The collective Gods and Goddesses that populated Mount Olympus. Most of all her cries reached Zeus, Ares' father. And he was not happy. He always knew that Ares was a coward, but he was his son. And he usually let Ares do what he wanted, with very little intervention. But this time his little wargod got carried away. He expressed allegiance to the one entity that could have destroyed them all. And allowed the death of one of the only two humans that had even the remotest chance of saving them all. Even his own son Hercules was not involved as closely as Xena, and her most cherished love. The problem was, he could not intervene directly with Xena's mourning. She had to discover for herself that Zeus might be able to help her. And then there was the question of whether or not Xena could pay his price. Until then, he must let her remain in pain.

Slowly one by one the rest of Ares' family caught up with him. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?." He shouted at them. Aphrodite was the first to speak up. "Listen bro, not only did you hook up with that little hussy Hope, but you really wrecked your Chosen One. I mean after all, Ares baby, she did save us you know. We've been talking, and well, we think that you should intercede on her behalf. We think that you should go to Zeus and ask him to bring Gabrielle back to her. In case you hadn't noticed dimwit, that "irritating little blond" as you so often refer to her, was collectively chosen by many of us. The fact that she chose Xena, made her all the more intriguing. And we have to admit, enamored us all a little bit with her beloved. If anyone could erase some of the damage you helped do to Xena's psyche, she was the one."

"I WANT YOU ALL TO LEAVE! I WILL NOT GO TO ZEUS! I WILL NOT HELP XENA OR THAT IRRITATING LITTLE BITCH! IF XENA HAD LISTENED TO ME IN THE FIRST PLACE THIS NEVER WOULD HAVE MATTERED! SHE SHOULD HAVE COME BACK TO ME, SHE SHOULD HAVE BEEN MINE! NOT THAT STUPID GABRIELLE'S!" Ares shouted at them obviously out of control. The group consulted with each other, and then together turned and sent a blast of their combined energy directly at him. He took the full brunt directly into his chest. Ares began writhing in pain, and collapsed to the floor, keening like an animal in a trap. Aphrodite stepped forward, and stated matter of factly, "Well, since you won't do what's right, be ready to pay. Because we believe that Xena should be repaid for saving your sorry butt, as well as saving the rest of us. If I were you "brother" I'd start running, because we just set a bounty on your head. Xena is out there somewhere, and she still has the dagger in her possession. She swears she's going to find you, and make you pay. We decided we are going to give you a chance to get lost. Because then we start hunting for you. 3 days, Ares, no more, no less. We won't resort to too much magic to locate you, it wouldn't be sporting. But rest assured, we will find you. And, whoever finds you gets to choose how to deal with you." With that said the group disappeared with much show, and thunder.

Ares staggered to his feet, and clutched at his chest. He had never felt this kind of pain before. Gods don't feel pain. But of course, he had never been attacked by his entire family before. "What a bunch of babies," he thought, "all of this over stupid Xena, and her Gods be damned little bard." Ares wished now that he had been able to find them before they went with that Blayne person into her protective environment. For some strange reason he hadn't had time to figure out, he was unable to breach the protective spell, or whatever it was around Blayne's home. He tried, but he couldn't figure it out, and he had to move on. He too felt Callisto's return, and he had to catch up to her, and find out what was going on. After all, you can't say he didn't give Xena another chance to join him. She could have been the general of one of his armies. And then maybe her precious wouldn't have taken a swim in the old lava lake. He finally started to feel better, so he decided he better beat a hasty retreat. He only had a few days to figure out where to hide, and how to escape the wrath of his siblings. Not an easy task, since with their combined powers they were far more powerful than he was. Maybe he should look up Discord, and who ever else might be on his side. If there was any one. With that he disappeared. Not with the usual fanfare however, he was smart enough to know that his family could locate him by his signature departures.

Joxer was approaching the fringes of the Amazon territory, when he was suddenly surrounded by a group of sentries. They regularly patrolled the perimeter to protect their village from trespassers. One member of the guard recognized him from his visit to the village when their queen was here in mourning. And when Ephiny's arm had been broken. She approached him, and removed her battle mask. The mask worn by all the Amazon's to offer allegiance to their nation, as well as to their patron Goddess Artemis. "What brings you here again, Joxer the Mighty?" The guard asked. He bowed his head, and then with a heavy sigh answered. "I bring bad news to Ephiny, and to the village. I must see Ephiny immediately." "Is it our queen?" she asked. Joxer could only nod his head. It was everything he could do not to burst into tears, again. Three members of the patrol joined him, and formed an escort to lead him to Ephiny's quarters.

There was no conversation. Only the steady sound of their boots traveling along the well worn path through the interior of the village to the interim queen's hut. It was as though all the members of the Amazon group already knew what news Joxer was there to deliver. They were all lost in their own dark thoughts as to what this could possibly mean. There was not just one, who wondered if Xena may have been the cause of their regent's death. If she may have actually killed her, maybe in a fit of rage. The story would soon be told, and then a hunting party would be selected, to bring Xena back. For their own form of Amazon justice.

Another day had passed, and still Xena had not stopped crying. Delirious in her pain, she no longer had a need for food. She refused to sleep or drink. If she kept up with this, then she would surely die. She stopped Argo, and slid down from her saddle. Staggering with the weakness her body was starting to feel, she pulled her sword and began to hack blindly at the surrounding trees. Xena had a lot of strength still, and it would take time to wear her down. Not that much time though. She had no resolve anymore, nothing to live for. What did it matter? All she had left was time.

A few candlemarks passed. Xena's throat was becoming raw with the cries that issued forth from her heart. She slumped to the ground, and buried her face in her hands. Instead of Ares' name however, she began to cry out for Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, my love. Why did you do this? Why did you sacrifice yourself for me? I love you, I need you." Deep in her heart she heard Gabrielle call back to her. "Xena. I've been waiting for you. Remember? The dead hear you if you call their name. Xena look in your mind's eye. I'm here. Xena look."

Surprised that she had forgotten, but grateful that she could hear Gabrielle's voice again, she closed her eyes and turned her gaze inward for a glimpse of her very soul. Dressed in white, and standing on the plains of the Elysian Fields, was her beloved Gabrielle. She was not alone. Standing with her back to Xena's view, was unmistakeably Blayne. Their descendant, and friend. The person who gently helped Xena and Gabrielle share their love for each other. Gabrielle approached Xena, but because Xena was bound to earth, they could not touch each other. "Xena, my beloved. I've missed you. I have been waiting, rather impatiently I might say, for you to call to me." Xena smiled through tears of joy, and reached a hand to her love. Her grasp touched nothing but air, but she felt better just for trying.

"Gabrielle," Xena croaked, "You shouldn't have done that. You shouldn't have sacrificed yourself for me. I was prepared to die for you. But instead you died for me, and for all of humanity." "Oh Xena. You've been so upset, you haven't seen the logic, or the answer." Gabrielle said. She looked over her shoulder to Blayne, and then spoke to her companion, "Blayne, explain to Xena why I did this. Why I sacrificed myself to save Xena's life, and destroy Hope."

Blayne turned to face Xena, and Xena saw a momentary flash of regret in Blayne's eyes. "You did this didn't you?" Xena started to shout again. Her damaged body was not able to project the full brunt of her anger, but it still made Blayne wince with the outburst. She then straightened herself with resolve. She stepped closer to Xena. "Xena you are not thinking logically. You are angry and you are grieving. I understand that, but think . . .What would happened if you had died instead? Ares had already cut his deal with the Fates for your life. Where would you be now if you had succeeded in killing Hope yourself? THINK ABOUT IT!" Xena recoiled at the strength of Blayne's voice. She lowered her eyes for a moment and thought. And then it came to her. "You're right Blayne. I would have been banished to Tartarus forever. I realize that I have been working hard to redeem myself, but I'm not there yet. Hades has been waiting patiently for me to slip up, and I am quite sure that if I did, no matter how hard I tried, or anyone else for that matter, he would never let me return."

Blayne breathed a sigh of relief, and turned her back on Xena again, to allow Gabrielle to speak with her *alone*. "Xena, I'm sorry I put you through this, but this was the only way I could see to protect you fully. Warrior Princess, you have spent the last several years, bailing me out of all kinds of scrapes. You have worked very hard to help the people who need you. I just couldn't let that go to waste. I love you too much to lose you that way."

Xena closed her eyes, and thought deeply with regret about the sacrifice that Gabrielle had made for her. She accepted that it was the only guarantee she had that she might be able to join Gabrielle someday in the Elysian Fields. She just didn't think she could live long enough without her to finally reach that goal. "Xena we have to go soon. But I want you to think about something important." Gabrielle smiled at her love. "There is a way for me to return to you." Xena's attention snapped back to Gabrielle's face. "What do you mean? What do I do?" Gabrielle was starting to fade away, but she managed one more message. "Think about who owes you a debt my love. A lot of folks owe you for their futures . . . . ." And with that, she was gone.

Xena ran to where they were, and started shouting again, "Wait, wait don't go, what did you mean? Who owes me? Who could repay that kind of debt with your life? Gabrielle!" It was too late, they were gone. She was so overcome by exhaustion that she laid down on the ground where she was. Drifting off into a fitful sleep, she didn't notice that Argo had crossed over to stand next to her, as if guarding her from harm. She also didn't see the arrival of two other companions. Curling next to her in the crook of her arm, was Tayo, the rather rotund pet of Blayne's. And carefully landing on the saddle to curl up and sleep with Argo was Keisha the little winged kitty. They had been sent by Blayne to stay with Xena, and keep her company. And to help guide her on her newest quest.

Ares paced back and forth in front of his temple. The temple where the portal to the alternate universe first opened. He paced in thought, and in fear. He knew that time was running out for him. Soon his brothers and sisters would find him, and there was no telling what they would do to him when that happened. Maybe he should go to Zeus, or Xena, and beg for forgiveness. He debated with himself. The only other escape he could think of was to hide in the alternate universe, and hope that they can't find him. At this rate, he may never be able to return, but it might be worth it. He concentrated all of his energies into one huge blast, and invoked the portal. He looked back one last time, shrugged his shoulders, and allowed himself to be drawn into the vortex.

Joxer sat quietly in Ephiny's hut, dreading the moment when he had to tell her about Gabrielle. He knew in his heart of hearts that they would blame Xena, and that they would insist on hunting her down, and making her stand trial. He couldn't allow that to happen. He, more than anyone knew that Gabrielle loved Xena, and she grabbed Hope, and plunged to her death, to save Xena's life. He just didn't know what he could do or say to stop them, to prevent them from harming Xena. She needed all the friends she could get right now, and having Amazons hunt her, seeking blood revenge, would be the last thing she could handle.

Ephiny finally cleared her throat, and addressed him. "I have a pretty good idea what brought you here Joxer. I only want to know two things. Did she suffer? And where is Xena?" "Ephiny, Gabrielle didn't suffer. She died almost immediately. She plunged into a river of lava, while destroying Hope, as well as Dayhok. Xena was not at fault for her death. Xena was attempting to sacrifice herself, when Gabrielle stopped her. You see, Xena and Gabrielle love each other very much. I have my suspicions that they had the opportunity to share that love before they found themselves involved in all of this trouble again."

Ephiny shook her head. She couldn't bring herself to believe what Joxer was telling her. It sounded like it could be true, but she couldn't bring herself to believe that Gabrielle could love Xena. After what happened before. When Xena dragged Gabrielle away from here, and broke Ephiny's arm. "Joxer I appreciate your coming to tell us about Gabrielle. I would still like to speak to Xena. We have some unsettled business. When we find her, that's when we will determine the outcome of all of this. I am post-poning Gabrielle's funeral until we locate Xena. You may return at that time." Having said all she intended, to this gentle but not very smart *man*, Ephiny called to the guards and asked them to escort Joxer out of Amazon territory. She asked them to give him some food and supplies, but not a place to stay. The only reason he stayed before, was because Gabrielle ordered it.

Joxer thanked Ephiny for listening to him, and then left with a small warning. "I may not be the smartest, or the best warrior around, but I do know one thing. I don't think you Amazons will give Xena a fair trial. She doesn't deserve a trial at all, and it's an insult to Gabby's memory to put her through this. I intend to comb the county side until I find her. I will stand by her and fight by her side if necessary." Ephiny turned her back, and walked away, refusing to discuss the subject any further with this *man*. She called to a runner to gather the counsel. They would select their best trackers, and runners to find Xena. She thought that they should start where she was last seen, at the temple of Dayhok, and work their way outward. Eventually someone will spot her, and then they'll have her. Then we'll see whose justice wins out.

"Pssst, wakie, wakie there Warrior Princess. Come on now, its time to get up girlfriend, and face the new day." Xena rolled over with a groan, to find herself staring up at the way too cheerful image of Aphrodite hovering just inches above her. "Go away, Aphrodite. You are one of the last people I want to see right now." Aphrodite drifted to the ground, and crouched next to Xena. "Listen Warrior babe, you need to get your act together, and get going. There's a lot for you to do still, with or without Gabrielle. Judging by the company you keep, this could be real interesting. And besides, you need a bath. You smell like a pig, and you look like a herd of Centaurs ran over you. I need to know if you've seen Ares lately too babe. We got a little game going, and he's the prize. And I intend to win. So have you seen him since the temple episode?" Xena sat up, and grabbed her sword to point it in Aphrodite's face. "What about Ares? Where is he? I have some unfinished business with him." she growled. Aphrodite shifted back a pace or two, even though she knew that Xena couldn't hurt her. She just didn't want her new gown to get wrinkled.

"Xena, I wouldn't be asking you where he is babe, if I knew the answer to that question. Me and the rest of the familias, are wagering a bet on who catches him first. And then WHAM! That boy turns into so much cosmic dust. I can't wait. I want to find him first, it would put the cap on the fact that, like we just didn't like lose our lives, or whatever." Xena was just realizing that Blayne's cats had joined her sometime in the evening, when her tired mind focused on what Aphrodite had just said. "Wait a minute. What did you just say?" she asked. "What? You mean the bit about WHAM?" Aphrodite replied. "No you bubblehead, the part about losing your lives." Xena spat back at her. "Oh that. That's why we're all hunting my wimpy brother. You see Xena, even though most of us like to mess with humans, and give them a hard time, we actually kinda like them. And well, we sort of owe you, ya know. Like well, you were willing to die for us and all, and well, Gabby-pooh did. Well, anyway we thought that Ares should like go on home, and like humble himself in front of Big Daddy. And maybe beg him to help you. But, he refused, so we decided to hunt him down, and . . . well you know the rest."

Xena jumped up, and sent Tayo the little fat cat sprawling. "Ow, Xena. Whatcha do that for?" Tayo winced. Keisha her sister was still sitting on Argo's saddle, laughing so hard she thought she would die. "Ha ha ha ha . . .Tayo you really crack me up! Better watch it, or your gonna end up as road pizza. Ha ha ha!" Keisha giggled. "Shut up birdbrain. It's not funny, she could have killed me." Tayo whined. "Oh shut up yourself. No great loss if you ask me." Keisha shot back. "Shut up both of you, before I *do* decide to kill you." Xena hissed.

"Aphrodite, I don't think I can ever say that I like you, but I think you just did the biggest favor to me anyone ever has before." Xena addressed the Goddess. "Wow, cool babe. But . . . what did I do exactly?" "You just gave me the information I needed to get Gabrielle back." Aphrodite's eyes opened very wide. "I did? How's that?" she asked nervously. "I'm going to hunt for Ares myself. I have a good idea where he is at the moment. I'm going to force that weasel into bringing Gabrielle back from the other side." She was already going to jump on Argo, and head for the temple. She wasn't going to tell Aphrodite that, because she intended to get there first. "Uh, Warrior babe? Ares can't do that. None of us can at the moment. It would require us to forfeit our life force. And Daddy-kins put forth a mandate not so long ago. None of us are allowed to like give up any of our essence, without his permission. If you want to get Gaberina back, you're gonna have to see the head honcho yourself. He might punish Ares by using his life essence, but you have to ask. Daddy-O's not speaking to that panty waist right now. Oh, and Xena? Pops wants a little something in exchange for Gabby's life." Xena turned on Aphrodite, speechless in her anger. "I gave him his existence. What else could he want from me?" she hissed. "Well, there is that little left over problem from Callisto. You know, the Hynde's blood pendant. Father wants it back, that and the dagger. He wants to make sure they get destroyed in front of him, or he won't give Gabrielle back to you."

Xena growled at Aphrodite, and immediately regretted it. Her throat was still sore from the day before. She realized she needed some food, and some herb tea for her throat, but there was no time right now. She carefully weighed her options, and decided she would head out for Ares' temple. It was on the way to Mount Olympus, so she might have a chance to stop by and make his life miserable. "Either way Aphrodite, I intend to get Gabrielle back. And I'll do everything I can to make that happen. If it has to be Zeus, then Zeus it is." She grinned a not quite sane grin at the Goddess of Love. "Whatever, Warrior chick. Under the circumstances, you just might have a chance. Well, I've got a snot nosed brother to search out, so I have to boogie. But I guess I'm glad I could help you. Oh, and well, on behalf of all of us, thanks." And with that she was gone.

Xena scooped up Tayo, and put her into one of the saddle bags. Since Keisha could fly, she let her stay perched on the horn to Argo's saddle. She could always take off if she had to. Keisha very smuggly sniffed at her sister, "So your royal pig buttedness. What do you think about this? Who do you think the warrior likes better now?" Before Tayo could answer, Xena closed the flap, and then leaped into the saddle herself. She gently directed Argo as to where to go, and then gave her a little tap with her boot. The little group went on down the trail, heading for Ares' temple, and just a little bit of trouble.

A day and a half later, Joxer came upon the place where Xena had fallen, and later was visited by Aphrodite. He could tell that it had been Xena who had stayed at this spot. The destruction she had done with her sword, was very apparent. Not too far distant, a small band of Amazons was quietly waiting for their scout to return. They had been trailing Joxer ever since he left their village. This group was not an official search party. They were all intent on being there when he caught up to Xena. It would be a great day in all of their lives to return the person who was responsible for Queen Gabrielle's death to their village. For trial and swift justice. They were certain that Joxer had no idea they were following him. After all, Ephiny said he had a brain the size of a field mouse.

Joxer heard a rustling in the trees. He stopped for a moment, and listened, but passed it off as a bird. He also had one other important thought. Xena was riding Argo, and he was walking. At this rate he might never catch up with her. He decided to make camp, and sleep for a bit, and see if he could think of a better idea. Joxer lay down on the ground, and before he fell asleep, he made a vow to Gabrielle's memory. "Gabby, I wish you here now, and then maybe none of this would be happening. I promise you though, just in case you can hear me, that I will do my best to help Xena if I can. I won't let anyone hurt her, if I can possibly prevent it." He closed his eyes, and laid his head on his arm. Deep in the back of his head, he heard a voice. "Joxer. Joxer wake up, but don't open your eyes." He did as he was told, and suddenly Gabrielle was there in front of him. Well sort of. In front of the inside of his head anyway. "Gabby! Oh wow, what are you doing here?" he asked. "Joxer I only have a minute, but this is really important. Joxer a group of Amazons are following you. They want to use you to catch Xena. Don't let them find her. Lead them somewhere else. Xena is okay, and that's the best way you can help her." She replied. Then as quickly as she arrived, she was gone.

"Hmmm, lead them somewhere else, huh?" He thought. "Okay, no problem." And with a smile on his face, and a little comfort in his heart, he drifted into a deep sleep. The next morning, he put his plan into action. Instead of heading towards the temple of Ares, where he thought Xena might be going, he went in the opposite direction. To another village altogether. He practically skipped down the road with his great idea. If he could have hugged himself, he would have.

Xena slowed Argo to a walk, and scouted out a place to rest for a while. She realized that she had been pushing too hard, and she wouldn't have the strength to do battle against a lamb let alone Ares if she didn't recover some. She found a nice meadow inside a small circle of trees, that afforded both safety, and a small stream as well. She took Argo's saddle off, and her bags. Just as she was about to throw them against the nearest tree, she remembered the cat that she had stuffed into the bag. "Damn," she said to no one in particular, "I hope I didn't squish that stupid cat." She opened the flap, and reached in to pull the animal out by the scruff of her neck. "Grrrrr," Tayo growled, "I ought to shred you into pieces. Do I look like a bag of rocks. Banging around inside that stupid leather pouch. You're darn lucky I didn't throw up in there." "Oh shut your trap you big baby. Maybe if you had wings, you wouldn't have to stay in the bag. Of course even if you did you probably couldn't get that ample rear end off the ground." laughed Keisha.

"That's enough!" Xena sighed. "I am too tired to listen to you two argue. Don't say anything, unless it's important. I'm going to get us something to eat. You stay here and be quiet." Xena stalked out of the campsite, like an angry bear. Argo nudged Tayo out of the way, and then settled down for some serious munching. "Keisha," asked Tayo, "Have you talked to mom lately?" "Yes. She says to quit fighting, and concentrate on helping Xena. I got to see Gabrielle too. She is so pretty in her white gown. But she misses Xena terribly. She said to be good to her, and take care of her beloved." Keisha answered. "Hmmm, remember when we weren't supposed to say that in front of them? Ha! Beloved." Tayo smiled. "Well, we just have to do whatever we can to make sure they get back together again." "Agreed!" chuckled Keisha.

A short time later Xena came back into the campsite with a good-sized rabbit. She quickly skinned it, and then built a small fire. After placing the rabbit onto a spit, she settled down to sharpen her sword. Across from her, perched on a fallen log, were the two tag-along cats. They sat staring at her intently, waiting for her to speak to them. Finally, Tayo couldn't stand it anymore. "Ahem" Tayo cleared her throat, "We need to discuss some things with you if that would be alright?" Xena stopped working, and trained a very cool glance at the two animals. "What could I possibly have to discuss with you?" she responded. "Well, we've been talking to Blayne and Gabrielle, and they had some great news about how to help you." Keisha answered her. "What do you mean you've been talking to Gabrielle and Blayne?" Xena almost shouted. "Oh, didn't you know?" Tayo said rather smugly, "Cats can talk to the dead. That's why Cleopatra's people keep cats around, and that's why cats are often buried with their owners. A little guidance you see. Besides in their society they think of us as Gods."

Xena pondered this statement, and then directed her attention back to the two cats. "Okay, let's just say that what you say is true. What did they tell you to tell me?" Tayo and Keisha looked at each other, and then Keisha fluttered over to hover in front of Xena. "Don't be so mean Warrior. We are only trying to help you recover your beloved. If she comes back, then Blayne will return as well. We like Gabrielle, and I guess we like you too. But don't be so nasty. We know how sad you are. You are in a lot of pain, and confused. Tayo and I can help change that, but we need you to cooperate." She stayed there for a moment, and Xena finally reached out her hand for the cat to land. "Okay, fine, I'll do my best to listen, but I am having a hard time staying in control. I want revenge, I want Ares' head."

Keisha nodded her head in understanding. She fluttered up to land on Xena's shoulder, and rubbed her head against Xena's cheek. "I understand that too, but we don't have an unlimited time to rescue Gabrielle." "WHAT? What do you mean we don't have much time?" Xena yelled. "Xena, Gabrielle's body was destroyed in the lava. Zeus has the power to restore her completely, but her spirit is already becoming attached to the other side. It will be quite a struggle even for him to get her spirit to leave the Elysian Fields, and to join an unfamiliar body." "I don't understand. An unfamiliar body?" she asked. "Won't she have the same body?" "Yes, it will physically be the same, but it will contain parts of several life forces, a little bit of nature, and a little bit of all of humanity. After all is said and done, she will be the same as before. Your very special Gabrielle."

Xena closed her eyes, and absently stroked Keisha's head. Tayo saw this, and very carefully crossed the campsite, and settled herself across Xena's thigh. "I think I'll take some of that too, it you don't mind." mumbled Tayo. Several moments later, Xena shook herself out of her thoughts and addressed the two sisters. "Okay, tell me what you know." The cats took turns relaying the information that Blayne and Gabrielle had given them.

Xena definitely needed to go to the Temple of Ares. The place where the portal to the other dimension was. The only problem was that Xena couldn't go through the portal. There was too much darkness in her. Buried, but not deep enough. If she made the passage, she may not ever return, and then all would be lost, no Xena, no Gabrielle, and no Blayne. This was a problem, that could only be solved in one way. The cats had to enter the alternate realm. It seems that the Hynde's blood pendant was still there. It was hidden in the sovereign's castle. The biggest problem would be whether or not the cats could free the pendant from its hiding place. For as Xena was soon to realize, cats don't have hands. This presents a problem, should you need to have a door opened, or a cabinet, or anything for that matter. She would take time later to ponder that problem, in the meantime, the rabbit was ready to eat, and she needed some rest before they went further. Just a short time to sit still, and think about their next move. She probably wouldn't really sleep again, until she held Gabrielle in her arms.

Joxer stepped through the door to the inn, and called loudly, "XENA, how the heck ARE you? Say how's about an ale, and we talk about old times!" A woman detached herself away from a man at the bar. She stepped up to Joxer and put her arm around his waist. "My name ain't Xena honey, but buy me an ale, and I'll be your Warrior Princess!" He smiled a winning smile at her, and plunked down a dinar for two ales. Counting to himself, he silently toasted his companion, and then waited. A few moments later there was a commotion at the door to the inn. Stepping in, and trying to show an air of authority, was a small band of Amazons. The leader of the group stepped forward, and shouted, "WE KNOW THAT XENA, THE WARRIOR PRINCESS IS HIDING HERE! WE DEMAND YOU TURN HER OVER TO US. SHE IS TO STAND TRIAL IN OUR VILLAGE, FOR THE DEATH OF OUR QUEEN!" Joxer turned and toasted the young women, and offered them a salute. "If you think I would be stupid enough to lead you to Xena, then you must think I have the brain of a field mouse. Better luck next time ladies, because she's miles away from here." And with that he turned back to his ale, and his "girlfriend Xena".

As Xena and her small animal entourage approached Ares' temple, a certain way cool Goddess was observing they're arrival. "Hmmm," Aphrodite said to herself, "I wonder what she's going to do when she gets here. I doubt that my gutless brother would be stupid enough to hide here. But . . .I think I'll stick around and find out what's up." Xena, the sister cats, and Argo rounded the last turn in the road, and followed the trail into the front of the temple. Xena had to fight the urge to leap out of the saddle, and run into the temple to see if Ares was hiding there. She knew she couldn't afford to waste the time. She sat on the steps for a moment, and then got up and began pacing across the desolate courtyard. She was deep in thought, trying to figure out a way to get the portal open. As if on cue, a flash of brilliant light appeared. When the dust settled, Xena was face to face with Aphrodite.

"Gods, but you have impeccable timing." Xena whispered. "What ho, Warrior Princess. What brings you to these parts?" Aphrodite questioned Xena. "Actually you do Aphrodite. You said I had to bring Zeus the Hynde's blood necklace, and this was the last place it was seen. So naturally I came here. Only problem is we have to open the portal, because the Hynde's blood isn't here, it's in the other dimension." "Oh no way! You aren't gonna get me that easy. I'm not opening that thing by myself. What if someone comes through, and I can't stop them? What if they bring the Hynde's blood themselves? I could be destroyed. Forget about it babes, I am not going there!" Aphrodite whined. Xena's eyes narrowed, "You have to help me. After all, I helped you and your whole family. If not, what's to say I won't use the dagger on you?" "That's extortion." cried Aphrodite. "Hey, payback's a bear." Xena sneered.

"Well, since you put it that way, okay, I guess I'll have to do it. I'll open the portal for you. But the first sign of trouble, and I'm out of here. Even if that means leaving you in there." Aphrodite pouted her cute baby doll pout. "That's the beauty of this plan, Aphrodite. I'm not going in there, those two are." Xena gave her the eyebrow. "And you're going to wait here with me, until they are ready to return, and then you are going to close the temple when they get out." "How are they going to get the necklace out, silly. They don't have hands. And how do you suppose they're going to get the portal open from the other side?" I haven't worked out the hand thing yet, but I'm quite sure that if they get it, a certain coward God will be chasing them back through the vortex. And then what we have there is a win, win situation." "Ok cool. It never occurred to me that Ares might be hiding in there. This will be more than worth it, if I catch him coming through. When do you want the portal opened. I'm ready now." She wound back, and got ready to throw the biggest blast she has ever thrown before.

Xena smiled inwardly, and then stopped the Goddess with a restraining hand. "Wait, wait we're not ready yet. We need to solve the riddle of the hands, before we go throwing those two into the vortex. It would be useless to toss them, if we got nothing on the end of our hook in return." "Hmm, okay, you're right. And I think I might be able to help you with that little problem. You said hands, right? Sit tight, I'll be right back." And with that she was gone.

Joxer was trying to find a way to gently extricate himself from the grasp of his female helper, when Aphrodite appeared right behind her. Apparently, she only appeared to him, because no one else seemed to notice her. "Wow, twit. When did you take up octopus wrestling?" Aphrodite giggled. "Well, no time to play games, come with me." Before Joxer could reply, she snapped her fingers, and they disappeared. The woman who had been holding on to him, fell to the floor screaming. Someone handed her another ale though, and she shut up as though nothing had happened.

Seconds later, Joxer and Aphrodite reappeared in front of Xena. Xena stood up, and said to Aphrodite, "Okay, if that's all you could come up with, I guess it will have to do." Aphrodite frowned indignantly, and snapped back, "Look, babe, you said hands, you didn't say brains. Just be glad I'm as smart as I am, or you wouldn't have anyone." Xena grumbled her agreement, and then turned to face Joxer. "Look Joxer, I'm sorry about trying to kill you the other day. I was a little upset, and I wasn't thinking clearly." Joxer smiled at Xena and replied, "Oh, no problem, I understand. I just went on to the Amazon village, and told Ephiny about Gabrielle." "You WHAT? Great, now they are probably searching for me to take me back and execute me." she shouted. "Um, well, there were some headed here, and some of them followed me, but I left them where Aphrodite found me, and that's many miles away. If I calculate my days right, the ones headed here should have already arrived." "Well, I haven't seen them, but I will keep my eyes and ears open. Now on to the important stuff." she grumbled.

Xena went on to explain to Joxer why he had been brought there, and what the plan was. After about the fifth time, she rolled her eyes and decided that it was about as good as it was going to get, and she had to be satisfied that he would follow through. "Now, remember, Ares isn't going to be nice to you if he sees you. Try to lay low. Get in, grab the pendant, and get out. The cats will be able to tell you where it is when you all get there. Don't forget, Gabrielle's life depends on you succeeding. Don't let us down. "He frowned, but answered, "I will do my very best Xena, or die trying. I want Gabrielle back here, just as much as you do."

With that, Xena nodded her head at Aphrodite, and the Goddess invoked the portal. Joxer held a cat in each arm, and then ran and jumped headfirst into the vortex. Just as quickly as it had arrived, it disappeared. Xena looked at Aphrodite, and said, "I hope this works. I'd hate to have to kill him for failing." Just as she was about to sit and relax, a sound outside the wall of the temple courtyard caught her attention. No matter how hard the Amazons tried, there was no way they could sneak up on Xena. She gestured to Aphrodite to be quiet, then slipped behind one of the large pillars. Aphrodite shifted into invisibility, so she could watch the fun unobserved.

The first of the Amazons slipped into the courtyard, and carefully worked her way around the perimeter. Hiding behind pillars, to see if she could spot Xena anywhere. They had heard the sound of the portal opening and closing, and knew that it must have something to do with her. As she rounded the next pillar, she turned her back to look where her companions were hiding. A second too late she realized that was the last thing she should have done. A swift elbow to the back of the head, and she was down. Xena let out her war cry, and back flipped into the center of the courtyard. The remaining Amazons came running screaming their own battle sounds. Waving swords, and various other weapons, they were bent on destruction. After all, they could always say they killed her accidentally.

Xena's eyes were glowing with the adrenaline of battle. She reached out first with a left punch to the midsection of the first Amazon that passed by her, and then followed through with a right boot to the head of the next one who approached her from the side. She didn't want to kill any of them, because she knew they were just avenging their Queen's death, and following orders. She wasn't so sure, that they didn't mean to kill her "accidentally" though. One by one she dispatched the warriors, until they were lying in a heap on the ground. Aphrodite reappeared, and clapped her hands. "I always wondered what my brother saw in you. You almost make a girl tingle, with your raw, brute, strength and agility. Sure you wouldn't want to take a spin with a Goddess? It's been a while, and I know just how to make you happy?" Xena just rolled her eyes, and started stacking Amazons, so she could tie them together, and keep an eye on them until Joxer reappeared.

"Well, what's the matter Xena? Don't I appeal to you?" Aphrodite whined. Xena sighed deeply for the tenth time, and said again, "Aphrodite, it is not that I don't find you attractive. I love Gabrielle, and that is that. No more discussion." Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders and wandered into Ares temple to pout.

Several candlemarks later, the Amazons started to moan, and awaken one by one. Most of them tried half-heartedly to work loose their bonds, but to no avail. Eponin was heading this particular search party. She growled at Xena, and spat in her direction. "Xena, let us go. You know you have to return to the village with us, and stand trial. It's only right for Gabrielle's memory. You know I'm right about this." Xena snorted at this news, and then stood to pace back and forth in front of the group. "I will do nothing of the sort. I was not responsible for Gabrielle's death, and I will not waste my time returning to the village to explain that to anyone. I have the opportunity to save Gabrielle, and restore her to this life. I won't let a handful of Amazons prevent me from finishing my quest." Eponin looked at Xena in disbelief, "What do you mean you can get her back? Do you have ambrosia? Or some other kind of magic or what?

Xena debated for a moment, and then decided to tell the warrior the whole story. When she was finished, Eponin took a deep breath, and with a much more humble attitude, replied. "I can't help but believe you Xena. Judging by the past experiences the two of you have shared, I find this whole story very plausible. I want you to know, that there will be more Amazons coming here. If our runners don't check in periodically, then the rest are expected to come here, and see if we need help, or for further instructions."

Xena agreed, that if she heard the approach of any more Amazons, she would free Eponin, to speak with them, and get them to wait until Joxer returns, and Xena has a chance to try to get to Zeus. Until then she was to remain tied to her sisters, because Xena couldn't be sure she wouldn't change her mind, and try something. She didn't want to hurt Eponin needlessly.

While all of this discussion was going on, Joxer and the cats were trying to approach the side entrance to the Sovereigns castle, without being detected. Joxer, in his ever-clumsy way stepped on Tayo once, and ran into at least two tree branches. Tayo finally decided that Joxer better carry her, or she was liable to end up as road kill if he stepped on her again. They approached the door in one piece, and managed to slip in without being seen. Keisha flew on ahead to scout the hallways for activity, and to locate the chamber where Callisto had left the pendant. She came to the proper door, and since there was no sign of anyone around, she flew back to Joxer and Tayo to lead them to the chamber. Joxer opened the door for them, just in time to hear Ares laugh.

"So, Xena has really lost her mind I see!" Ares chuckled. "Sending a child to do a warrior's work. And what's with the rodents, Jokester?" "Hey, we are not rodents," Tayo yelled back, "We are cats. I take exception to your insults!" Ares pulled his arm back and got ready to throw a fireball at the small but fierce animal. Just as he was about to let loose, Keisha flew through and swatted him across the nose, causing his shot to miss his mark. Joxer quickly took cover behind a pillar. Keisha flew over to Joxer, and whispered in his ear, "The pendant. It's around his neck. If we cause a diversion, you can sneak up, and grab the chain and yank it." "I don't know, that sounds risky. Someone might get hurt." Joxer replied. "Listen, my mom, and Gabrielle are worth the risk to me. Tayo and I will do this ourselves, whether you help us or not." She spat back. "Okay, okay, I'll do it. But as soon as I get the pendant, I'm outta here." "Agreed, let me tell Tayo, she is behind his chair. As soon as you see us land on him, grab it and go. We will meet you back where the vortex dropped us."

Keisha flew behind several pillars, to angle herself behind the throne. Ares was busy drawing aim on Joxer across from him, and failed to notice the activities of the two cats.

Keisha let Tayo in on the plan, and then prepared for battle. Ares had fired one bolt at Joxer, and missed again. As he was preparing to fire another, Tayo leaped from under the throne, and sank all four sets of claws into his crotch. So unprepared for this attack, and still suffering from diminished powers since the brutal pounding from his family, Ares was in real pain. Especially there! Keisha swooped in and landed across his face. Two sets of claws on either temple, and two sets on each side of his jaw. The cat covering his eyes, and getting fur in his mouth temporarily blinded him. He started to pull at the little cat to tear her off of his face.

Joxer stunned by the actions of the animals, almost forgot what his job was. He sprinted forward, grabbed the pendant, and gave the chain a strong pull. It broke away, and he quickly turned and ran for the door. As he was about to slip through, Ares managed to pry the cats off of his body. He swung back and threw both of them at the door with the force of a catapult. Tayo landed against Joxer's chest, and knocked him down, but Keisha was not so lucky. She smacked into the brick wall with a bone crushing sound, and silently drifted to the floor unconscious. Tayo yowled for her sister. Joxer, in a panic, scooped the small bundle off the floor, and stuck her inside his tunic. Out the door he ran, and headed straight for the clearing where the vortex had dumped them, Tayo secured under his arm.

Ares, so angered by the insult to his Godliness, stomped out the door after them. Joxer skidded to a stop, and turned to face the angry God of War. Ares fired up a massive fireball, and without thinking launched it straight at Joxer and his precious cargo. At the last minute, Joxer ducked and the fireball sailed over his head, and into the wall behind him. When it hit, Ares suddenly realized his mistake. He had just inadvertently invoked the portal. The suction created by the vortex, sucked him and the others straight down the middle.

Xena and Aphrodite had been waiting, rather impatiently for something to happen. Xena was concerned that the Amazons headed their way, would interfere with the return of Joxer and the cats. She kept walking over to Eponin, and asking questions about which direction they were all coming from, and how many in their parties, and when they had left, and what kind of rations they were carrying. After about the seventh time she had approached the Amazons, the sudden opening of the portal startled her. She grabbed onto a post to keep from be sucked in by the backflow. Aphrodite, previously whining about being bored, became quite a bit more interested. She was hoping that her hunting quarry, Ares might be coming through as well. She also had to close the portal after everyone came out.

Joxer came through first, thudding to the ground with a loud groan. Ares popped out next, and had the unfortunate mishap of landing at his sister's feet. Before he had a chance to react, she wound him up in an energy field, temporarily incapacitating him. The portal snapped closed, and Xena ran over to Joxer. "Joxer did you get the pendant?" She demanded. Joxer nodded that he had, and he handed it to her. Then he carefully reached into his tunic, and withdrew the small, injured kitty. He held her out to Xena with tears in his eyes. "Xena," he quietly sobbed, "I think she might be dead. We wouldn't have gotten the Hynde's blood without her. She was smarter and braver than I was."

Tayo uncovered her eyes, and started yowling for her sister again. "She can't be dead. I love my sister, she can't be dead. I can't live without her. Who will take care of me." Xena quickly went over to Argo, and grabbed some clean linen, her herb kit, and a waterskin. She laid the badly damaged cat on a piece of linen, and then checked her over for the extent of her injuries. "Hmmm, she still has a pulse, and she's still breathing. Not very strongly, but it's something. Joxer get over here, and give me a hand." She went back to the saddlebags, and dug around, and came out with one of Gabrielle's writing quills. Carefully breaking off the sharp tip, she fashioned it into two small splints. Keisha's right wing was broken, and so was one of her legs. The bone of her leg was sticking through the skin, and she was bleeding. She was so small, Xena knew she couldn't use any pressure point techniques on her, so she had to work fast and carefully. Fortunately the cat was still unconscious, so she knew that would work in her favor.

Slowly, Xena pulled on Keisha's foot, straightening her leg, until the bone slipped back into place. Then she pulled a needle out of the healer's kit, to sew the skin back together. Pulling the thread she had in the pack, she realized with a sigh that it was too heavy and coarse for the delicate animal skin. She sat there perplexed for a moment, when Argo sidled over, and slapped her in the face with her tail. "Argo, cut that out, get that thing out of my face." she growled. Rather than stop, Argo did it again. Xena grabbed a handful, and that was when she realized what Argo was trying to say. "Argo, you're the greatest. Stand still girl, and let me take one of these hairs." Joxer looked at Xena, then at Argo, and then back to Xena. "Hey Joxer. Who better to doctor an animal, than another animal. After all, they only need us for our hands." With a wink, she set to the task of sewing the kitty's leg with the hair from Argo's tail.

While Xena attended to the cat, Aphrodite was slowly circling her brother, plotting her next move. She didn't know whether she should summon the others, or slowly torment him herself. She zapped him a few times with her energy bolts, and then decided the first part of his punishment. "Ares. Wuss of the Century. First you dishonor the whole family, by mistreating Xena, and then you are beaten back by a couple of itty, bitty, kitties. You really are a disgrace. I can't wait to tell the others." Aphrodite giggled. "NO! Don't tell them. I'll do anything you want, anything." Ares whined. "Anything huh?" Ok, this is going to be great. First, I want you to make sure that Xena gets up to see father. I don't want her wasting her time climbing any mountains. You can wait outside for her, but you know daddy's going to know that you're there. Second, you have to leave them alone, for at least the first year they are together after Gabrielle is returned whole. And lastly, you have to go anywhere I want you to go, and do anything I want you to do. If that means dancing, you dance. If that means a fashion show with the Vestal Virgins, then fashion show it is. No squelching, or I rat on you in a heartbeat."

Grimacing with the overall embarrassment of the situation, Ares reluctantly agreed. "I will do this, but you have to promise not to tell the others. And do I have to go dancing? I hate dancing. And a whole earth year, without bugging Xena and that yapping little puppy of hers? I can't last that long. What will I do to amuse myself?" "Ares, I bet you can find a lot of things to do," smirked Xena, "ever thought about getting a pet?" Ares shot her a deadly look, and then turned away so he wouldn't have to see her laughing at him.

Xena completed her work on the cat, and then carefully picked her up and held her close. Stroking her head and ears, Xena whispered quietly to her, "Come on girl, wake up. Come on. Tayo needs you, and so does Blayne. And so do Gabrielle and I. Wake up little one. You can do it." She rubbed Keisha's belly with the tip of her finger, both to encourage her to respond, and to surreptitiously check for internal damage. There was a soft, tiny little mewling, and then Keisha slowly opened one eye just a crack. "Come on little one, I know you're in there, wake up." Xena kept trying. Keisha sighed, and then opened her eye a little further. "What in Hades hit me. I feel like I have been sleeping under piglet all night," she mumbled. Tayo jumped up, and started yelling, "Say it again, Keisha. Call me piglet again, all the time, any time, just don't die. I can't let you die." "Hey, not so loud. My hair hurts. And I love you too, you sack of potatoes." she tried to grin.

Xena chuckled with the two cats, and clapped Joxer on the shoulder for a job well done. She then gathered up the cats, and handed Keisha to Joxer to hold, while she snuggled Tayo, and scratched her ears. "Alright group, I have a bard to rescue, and it has been almost a full day since anyone has spoken with her. I hope she has faded further into the realm. I don't know what I'll do, if we can't convince her spirit to join us. Joxer I want you to take care of the cats while I am gone, and be nice to the Amazons. Make sure everyone has plenty of water, and hand out their rations. If any more show up, release Eponin, and let her deal with them. Don't try to fight them." With that she gave Eponin a meaningful look.

"I expect you to honor your queen, and help keep the peace here. When she returns, you don't want to make her mad. And she will return." Xena scowled, to emphasize her message. "Uh Xena," Tayo called to her, "Good luck, and remember, if Gabrielle comes back, then so does our mother." "Thanks, and I won't forget." She smiled at Aphrodite, and thanked her for her help. "Hey, no prob. Warrior Babe. But Xena, do us all a favor hon, and take a bath. You're really starting to get rank." "When I'm done, I'll bathe, eat, and then maybe sleep." Xena replied. She wandered over to Ares, and gave him a nudge with her boot. He rose, and refusing to look her in the eye, waved his arm around them, and they disappeared in a flash of light. The last thing they heard, before they arrived at Mount Olympus, was Aphrodite, reminding him that she had his number, and he better stick to his promise, or else.

They arrived on the steps to Zeus' chambers on Mount Olympus. Xena had been here only once before, but she was nevertheless awestruck by its magnificence. She turned to Ares, who still refused to meet her gaze. "I never really realized what a coward you truly are. I hope your learn something from this." He finally glared in her direction, and whined back, "If you had just . . ." "ARES! WILL YOU NEVER GET ANYTHING THROUGH THAT THICK HEAD OF YOURS?" Ares didn't have a chance to escape. Walking regally down the stairway behind them was his father, Zeus. "Xena, did you fulfill your payment to me?" he asked. "Yes, Zeus, I have both the dagger, and the pendant. You're lucky that Gabrielle's love means more to me than anything else, or this may not have been that easy for you." she sneered back. "Okay, that's enough, now, come with me. We have work to do," he replied.

First he led Xena to the chamber, with the pit to eternity. The same pit that he had sent Chronos to, in the cavern where he could watch all that was, all that is, and all that will be. He spent many candlemarks, watching the lives of his favored humans, and especially the life of his son Hercules. And Hercules' human mother Alcemene. He never had stopped caring for her, even though he had returned to Mount Olympus to rule on his rightful thrown. Hera had seen to that. He shook himself from his reverie, and instructed Xena to throw both the dagger and the pendant into the bottomless pit at their feet. "Zeus, do you swear you will help me get Gabrielle back if I do this?" "I swear Xena. You were right, you do deserve this for seeing that Dayhok could not end our existence. I just want to be assured that all the other tools of destruction are eliminated." She turned and tossed both items over the railing, and watched for a moment as they spiraled into darkness.

"Now, we must hurry, Gabrielle's spirit is drifting away, we must convince her that she needs to return now, or we may not get her back." Zeus quickly turned, and headed down a side hall, with Xena rapidly following behind. They reached another chamber, and Xena could clearly see a beautiful beach, with sea birds flying over head. Gabrielle was barefoot, and spinning in a slow circle with her arms spread out over her head. Zeus stepped onto the beach, and then reached back for Xena's hand. She tried to grasp it and follow him, but something was stopping her. "HADES! Get out of the way, do not interfere with what we are doing. We are almost out of time." Zeus shouted. "Zeus, she has no right to be here. She is destined to be mine, and I will not permit her to even visit this realm." Zeus stepped over to stare Hades' right in the eye. "These two women helped save your worthless hide, just as much as they saved me and the rest of the family. Or did you forget that you are just . . .like . . .us. You owe them. Besides, Xena and I know where the Hynde's blood pendant is, and I wouldn't be beyond recovering if for her, if it meant getting you out of my hair."

Hades stomped his foot in anger, and quickly vanished, releasing his hold on Xena. She grasped Zeus' hand, and gingerly stepped on the beach. They began to walk towards Gabrielle, when she stopped spinning, and chased a wave back on its never-ending trip to the ocean. "Hey Xena, what are you doing here? Did you die? Does this mean we get to spend eternity together?" Gabrielle waved with a smile. Xena frowned sadly, and shook her head. "Gabrielle, I didn't die, and I can't stay here with you. I haven't earned that right yet." "What do you mean? It's beautiful here. You have to stay." a small tear trickled down Gabrielle's cheek. "I can't, Gabrielle. Zeus is here with me. He's here to take you back with us, to be with me on earth. It's to repay us for saving them." Xena pleaded with her eyes.

Gabrielle touched her finger to her lip, and then shook her head. "I can't do that, I don't want to go back. It's so peaceful here, and there is no more pain. I am infinitely happy now. The only thing missing is you Xena. Don't you want to stay with me? You need to talk to Blayne, Xena. She'll tell you how nice it is. Let me find her." With that she turned, and started heading away from them. She found Blayne lying on the beach. She looked like she was resting at first glance, but then to Gabrielle's horror, she discovered that Blayne was bleeding from her nose, and ears. The tears in her eyes were tears of blood as well. "XENA," she screamed, "HELP HER!" Xena hung her head, and slowly her own hot tears trickled down her cheeks.

"Gabrielle, I can't help her. She is dying, because you won't come back. As surely as I will die too. I can't live without you, and neither can Blayne. I love you Gabrielle. If you don't come back, I can never touch you. I can never kiss your lips, or hold you in my arms again. I will forever suffer in Tartarus. Blayne will never be born. Gabrielle, you have to come back." Xena cried softly. She fell to her knees, and buried her head in her hands. Holding back the exhaustion, and the hysteria that threatened to crack her outer shell, and leave her utterly defenseless.

Gabrielle went to Zeus, and fell to her knees in front of him. "Can't you do something," she sobbed. "I love Xena. I can't be without her. I need her so much." Zeus frowned, and shook his head. "She's right Gabrielle. I can return you to your body, and I can send you both back to earth, to live out your days together. Even give the Warrior Princess a chance to earn her entrance to the Elysian Fields. But I cannot change things to allow her to be here with you. That's not the deal. You have to pull away. If you love her, then fight. It might be a harder existence, but at least you will have each other. I too was in love once, with a beautiful human woman. I will forever regret my choice to return to Mount Olympus, and not stay and share my love with her."

Gabrielle's spirit was very strong, and she started to drift away from them. Zeus reached out his hands for Gabrielle, and gave her one final chance. "Grasp my hands, Gabrielle, or it will be too late. Come back with me." Gabrielle focused her gaze on Xena. What she saw there made her heart break in two. Xena was a mere shell of the strong, vital woman that Gabrielle had come to cherish more than anything else in her life. Xena looked exhausted, and hungry, and in need of a bath, and somewhere inside Gabrielle knew, it was because Xena loved her. No one else, and nothing else could ever change that. With a monumental effort, she forced her hands to grasp Zeus', and he pulled her through to the chamber on Mount Olympus.

As he turned to reach for Xena, Hades reappeared, and picked her up and threw her back through the veil between the realms. "Don't leave your trash laying around Zeus, you never know who might come along and throw it away." If the truth were told, he really liked Xena and Gabrielle, he just couldn't stand losing to Zeus. Besides, it wasn't good for the image. Xena landed roughly on the stone floor, and slammed her head into the rocks. She was knocked unconscious. Gabrielle screamed, and then fainted herself. She still didn't have a physical body of her own, and Zeus had just a short time to provide her with one before the spirit took off again.

Zeus rushed Gabrielle to the main chamber, and then called forth his entire family. One by one all of his children appeared. Even his errant son Ares. He required that each one give a small percentage of their life essence, to help recreate a body for Gabrielle. He wanted the smallest, but most painful bit from Ares. Each and every human has a small bit of darkness in them, some more than others. He wanted Gabrielle to be as close to her former self as possible. After each of his children touched Gabrielle's spirit, he completed the task, by giving her small parts of first humanity, then light, the elements, and the earth. The very last particle he gave her new body, was strength. A gift from the Titans. She needed this strength, to survive. To live as a companion, friend and lover to Xena. And to ensure their future together. Aphrodite, boosted her love ratio a little too, even though she knew she really didn't need it.

What seemed like moons later, Xena began to stir, and slowly wake up. She blinked carefully at her surroundings, not sure exactly where she was. She closed her eyes for a moment, and shook her head to clear it a bit. That's when she recognized where she was. She was in the bedroom at Blayne's house. Sleeping in her bed. And wrapped tightly around her, with her head resting on Xena's shoulder, was her beloved. Gabrielle. She inhaled deeply, and caught the lovely scent that was just Gabrielle's. It was then that she realized that she must smell awful. She carefully extracted her arm from under Gabrielle's, and tentatively gave herself a sniff. "Don't worry," a small voice from her pillow whispered, "Mom would never let you get in her bed, without a bath first." She turned her head carefully, and her eyes met the lovely warm gaze of Keisha. She seemed to be recovering nicely, although she still looked a little weak. "Mom gave her some as-pear-in," Tayo volunteered. She was snuggled in a ball right next to Xena's right hip.

Xena tilted her head, and carefully touched her forehead to Keisha's soft ears. She then reached down and scratched Tayo's head, and stroked her fur all the way down to her tail. "Hey you guys. It's nice to see you both. I guess we all made it out okay, huh? How's Blayne?" Xena asked. "Better than ever," Tayo answered with a yawn, "She wants to know when you are up and about, so she can feed everyone. Even Joxer and Argo are here." Xena smiled, then turned her attention exclusively to the beautiful warm bundle curled in her other arm. She softly kissed the top of Gabrielle's head, and then watched as slowly one brilliant emerald eye appeared through a small opening in her eyelids. Just as quickly the eye closed again. Without opening them again, she turned her face to Xena's, and indicated that her lips needed to be kissed, before her eyes appeared again.

Xena willingly obliged. She bent her head down, and brushed her lips softly across Gabrielle's. Slowly she traced the soft blond fuzz around the outer edge of each lip with the tip of her tongue. A small warm little swirly feeling began deep in Gabrielle's chest. She slid further up, and opened her lips slightly to meet and subsequently capture Xena's lightly probing tongue. Xena met her halfway, and their tongues began a much needed, and almost forgotten exploration of each other. It was at this moment, that Gabrielle's stomach chose to growl. Xena couldn't hold back the chuckle that came bursting out of her chest. Gabrielle lightly pinched her, and then burst into giggles herself. "Gods, Gabrielle. What perfect timing." Xena laughed. "Hey, I haven't exactly eaten, oh since I died you know. That was a long time ago." "I guess you're right," Xena smiled at her. "I haven't eaten since then either." Gabrielle looked into her eyes with a deep look of concern.

Taking the hint, Xena reached down and tapped Tayo on the head with her forefinger. "Okay, cat, that's your cue. Get down there and tell Blayne, that we are on our way, and we are starving." Tayo jumped up, and scooted down the hallway, as fast as her roundness would allow. Xena kissed Gabrielle again, and then carefully turned and rose from the bed. She staggered momentarily, probably from all the exhaustion, and trauma that they had just passed through. She took a deep breath, and regained her balance.

She reached out a hand, and helped Gabrielle up from the bed. Walking over to the wardrobe, she collected their boots, and then returned to help Gabrielle put hers on.

When she bent down to help Gabrielle put her boots on, she noticed that Gabrielle held Keisha in her arms. "Oh, yeah, I owe you a new quill, I sort of had to sacrifice that one for a little repair work on our friend." Gabrielle looked down into Xena's eyes, and her lower lip trembled slightly, as she replied, "If that's all it cost me, to help save her, then that's a small price to pay. Without her, I may never have made it back to you." Xena caught one small tear as it fell from Gabrielle's eye. "You know, how about a vacation Gabrielle? Maybe Blayne will let us stay for a couple of days, and recuperate, or something. And that way we can make sure that Keisha is alright." "Oh Xena, do you think she will? We could both use the time to relax, and well, anyway . . .that would be great." She blushed at her own thoughts at all the possibilities that could occur, if they had a few days, with rest, relaxation, and nothing but good food, good company, and each other.

Xena put her own boots on, and then the two women made their way down to Blayne's study. Sitting by the fireplace, was a rather subdued looking Joxer. Apparently he was involved in a chess game with Tayo, and he was losing badly. And far be it from Tayo, not to take advantage of the situation, by making fun of him as much as possible. Blayne was nowhere in sight, and they decided she must be in the garden. Gabrielle entwined her fingers with Xena's, and then led her out the small door into the garden area, where they had all last met for their final meal, before all the trouble had returned. A short way off, they could see Blayne, staring wistfully across the fields of flowers. And she was not alone. "Xena," Gabrielle whispered. "Oh my Gods, that's Blayne's beloved. She was able to come here to see Blayne."

Blayne sensed the arrival of her guests, and whispered something in her lover's ear, that was met with a giggle, and a squeeze around the rib cage. They both turned, and with the most brilliant, happy smiles, walked to the table where their friends were waiting. "Hey there you two. I would like you to meet my beloved. This is Nicole. I pulled a favor out of my people as you can see. I made them think they owed me, because you two saved humanity. Pretty good don't you think?" Xena offered her a warrior's handshake, and Blayne pulled her in for a hug. "Don't try that formal garbage with me, Oh Great One, I get a hug, or nothing." Xena blushed, and returned the hug. It was not often she dropped her guard like that, but she had been through so much, that she just didn't have it in her to even try to fight it.

The rest of the group shared hugs all around, and then sat at the table to join in the sumptuous feast that Blayne had just previously laid out. They all ate heartily, and shared stories about their collective experiences, as well as some that were about to come. Gabrielle knew she would have to deal with the Amazons, sooner or later. Xena approached Blayne about her idea of a vacation. Blayne laughed, "I'm one step ahead of you there, girlfriend. I took the liberty of installing another bedroom, when I went back to get Nicole. So, you stay where you are, and we get the new digs. I intend to stay for at least two weeks, so make yourselves at home. There is a new stream a few paces to the east from here, and a hot springs, a few paces to the west. Please help yourselves. Whatever is here is yours." They both thanked Blayne and Nicole, and promised to help them in any way they could. Blayne assured them that all debts were paid, and if anything, Blayne still owed them. "Just let us stay for a short while," Xena responded, "And we're all even." That agreed, they sat back, with a lovely bottle of port, and watched the grass grow.

A thought suddenly occurred to Xena. "What do we do about Joxer?" she asked. Blayne rolled her eyes, and then chuckled. "Oh, don't worry. I give him another 30 minutes with Tayo, and he'll be begging me to let him out of here." It actually only took half that time, and he came stomping into the garden. "Blayne," he cleared his throat, "I don't want to seem selfish, or anything, but I believe it's time for me to go. I have some . . . warrior stuff to do, you know? Really important warrior stuff to do. And well, I really think I should be going." Blayne winked at the rest of the group, and then rather reluctantly, said, "Oh, if you really must, well, we understand. Far be it from us to stand in the way of such a great warrior as yourself." It was everything Xena and Gabrielle could do, not to bust up with laughter.

Gabrielle got up, and hugged Joxer, and thanked him for all of his help. Xena clasped his forearm, and clapped him on the shoulder. "We owe you a great debt Joxer. You came through for us." she said. Gabrielle then held Keisha up carefully so she could address Joxer herself. "I thank you for my life, Oh Great Warrior, I wouldn't be here, if you hadn't rescued me." Joxer blushed deeply, and then reminded Keisha that it was she that saved them all. With that, he turned towards the entrance to Blayne's realm, and then Blayne helped him pass through to the other side.

"He's a great guy, but wow." Blayne said when she returned. "Yeah, he kinda grows on you though." Xena smiled at her descendant. The sun slowly went down, and the small group said their goodnights, and retired to their respective rooms. Keisha and Tayo decided it would be better if they stayed with their moms, and Xena couldn't agree more. Even though she was still very tired, there was a most precious bard, with the loveliest lips that needed her attention. And Gabrielle, was not about to let any more time go by, before she was able to touch her Warrior Princess, and hold her, and kiss her, and feel her warmth against her skin. For the next couple of weeks, she intended to become familiar with every nook, cranny, and soft spot on every inch of Xena's body. She wanted to learn everything that she could to make Xena happy, and to share complete and total passion, and pleasure with her beloved. And Xena had very much the same thought, as she bent down, and picked Gabrielle up in her arms, and laid her on the bed, and slowly began to leave a trail of kisses over every bit of skin she exposed, as she undressed her.

After all, isn't that part of the fun of a vacation?

Continued in Part 3

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