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DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus and Cyrene all belong to UNIVERSAL and probably some other people I never heard of. This is fan fiction and is not meant to infringe on the right(s) of those who hold ownership of XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS and HERCULES, THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS.
(The following story takes place shortly after the death of Hercules' mother and after the fourth season conclusion of XENA, with Gabrielle's confrontation with evil Hope [at this writing I do not know how this was resolved but we will assume everything turned out well]. The characters, including Iolaus, are trying to get on with there's lives but it's not easy ... especially when Xena returns to Amphipolis because of an emergency -- and the others must follow)
This story contains a very mild suggestion of m/f sex - but nothing you wouldn't see on either television show. Also some semi tense moments. ** Rated PG. ** Let me know what you think!**
Heir Of Darkness
Gabrielle sent for them.
Sitting at the edge of a stone community water well, leaning most of her svelte weight on a decorative yet practical wooden fighting staff - a weapon she had learned to use with deadly accuracy over the last couple of years - the Amazon Princess watched as they walked up the dusty road into the main artery of the village.
One was tall and the other much shorter. They were handsome, these men, and lean, well muscled and possessed a mysterious agility that stunned and ultimately mastered enemies. And both were good. Sometimes errant, as emotional beings will be, and often times flawed, but definitely good.
The taller was a half-god, yet he did not maintain the pious manner of such beings. A softness was present within him, which radiated over that aristocratic face. There was pain too. Too much loss for him. A wife, his children, friends and a mother he adored. His humanness shown in the tiny pain-lines that delicately etched his mouth and eyes. Yet, it did nothing to hide good looks - a visage that made women swoon and men sneer. He presented a manner that was sympathetic, friendly and at times even desperate. He had a need, this one. To help. He loved his human side and used his godly side to do battle with those who would mock individuals less fortunate than they. Human, animal-human or god. It didn't matter. He was on the side of right and would do battle with all if they disregarded the laws of decency.This was Hercules.
The other, smaller in stature, had a heart that was as big as Olympus. His sun browned face, golden hair and easy smile made him popular with the ladies, she knew, but it was what she saw inside that made Gabrielle take note. A gentleness. Iolaus was human and had a temper when pushed but he also had the soul of a poet. Like his friend, he only wanted to be of help. If truth and fairness required an occasional brawl he was as up to it as Hercules. But genuinely, and despite his warrior-hunter training, he would much rather take the none violent path. Iolaus saw beyond the visible, often times rooting Hercules with his tenacity, and she loved him for it.
Gabrielle loved Iolaus. It wasn't something she announced from the mountain tops. How could she? Destiny might bring them together some day but in the here and now they had a greater reason for being. Without regret, they were both bound to people who needed their love and friendship. And neither she or Iolaus would have it any other way.
'Someday,' Gabrielle thought, "Maybe some day." She hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud, having somehow lulled herself into a pondering trance as she watched her male friends approach. Then, when they were close enough where she could see Iolaus' pleasure at spotting her, Gabrielle stood, dropping her staff, and ran to him.
Their hug was long and sweet, their bodies taking in the strength of each's nearness. After a moment, where Gabrielle felt secure in the arms of a (potential) predestined companion, a powerful yet gentle hand touched her shoulder.
"Gabrielle, where is Xena?" Hercules asked.
Yes, Xena. This was all about Xena and Gabrielle needed to focus again on her best friend. She'd been doing nothing but thinking about Xena, her beautiful Warrior Princess, for the three days she waited on Hercules and Iolaus. Gabrielle could feel a pain, her heart thumping heavily, as she raised a hand and pointed to the other side of the street, at a small-simple house with a well thatched roof. "She's in there. It's her mother's house." Gabrielle said, strain in her voice. "We haven't been able to get Xena out since Cyrene died."
Hercules and Iolaus looked at one another.
"I know what you're thinking -" Gabrielle continued, grateful that Iolaus hadn't removed a compassionate arm from around her shoulders. She was so tired and lonely and needed this human contact. "- but it's not just Cyrene's death that is causing Xena to act irrationally. Something happened in there, during her mother's last moment of life, that did something to Xena. It has something to do with the gods, I know it."
"How do you know it?" Iolaus asked her, softly. He suddenly noticed Gabrielle's fatigue and the small stress lines around her eyes.
"Because a week ago ... Zeus came to me." Gabrielle saw the sudden stiffness in Hercules. He'd reconciled somewhat with his father, having finally realized the Alcmene was the only woman - god or human - his father truly loved, but there was still tension when the name was spoken. She didn't know if it was out of respect or anger. "He warned me that something was going to happen to Xena. She was going to discover something that would change her life. Zeus said you needed to be here in Amphipolis, Hercules, but didn't say why." She looked up into his concerned and patient eyes, "He told me you were in Athens, visiting a friend, so I did as he asked. I sent for you." She looked away from the men, down at her feet. "I knew whatever was going to meet us here wasn't going to be pleasant and I wanted to tell Xena about Zeus. But he told me not to." Her jaw set and Gabrielle felt a particle of what Hercules must feel around his father. The secrecy and demanded obedience. Who but the blood-son of Zeus could turn from The King of the Gods? What frustration! She continued: "At first I thought it was Cyrene's affliction that he spoke of but why would Zeus care about the death of Xena's mother? Then, I thought, wouldn't it be ironic if ..." Gabrielle suddenly stopped speaking and again looked up at Hercules. Should she say it? Considering he and Xena's past and Hercules' past with his father - should she add to his misery?
"You wondered if Xena was Zeus's daughter?" Hercules asked the question for her. His tone was calm but he couldn't hide the near ridicule - against Zeus.
"It would explain a few things." Iolaus offered, running fingers through his curly, wind blown hair. "Her physical and mental skills. Xena's nearly god-like ability on the field of battle." He almost smiled, "I once told Xena the only other person I saw that fought like her was you, Herc."
Gabrielle shook her head skeptically, "But I just don't think that's it. Xena's father adored her. I didn't know him. He was a general in one of our many armies and died in battle long before I ever met Xena but the way she describes him, how proud he was of her propensity for battle - before the bad time when she was driven to evil. I just know he was her father."
"I need to get everything straight in my head before I go see her, Gabrielle." Hercules spoke gently, "Tell me everything that happened. >From the minute you sent word for us until the second Xena began to display unusual behavior."
Gabrielle told Hercules and Iolaus of the way Xena learned her mother was ill, from a ragged young man on horse back. He said he heard Xena was near her home village, on Mikih Pass, and decided it was his duty to tell her about Cyrene's condition. His face held urgency and the women knew the situation bad.
"From there it's all blur ..." Gabrielle said. They practically flew to Amphipolis on Argo, the horse instinctively knowing his mistress' manner. The urgency in her body language somehow transmitting a message to her faithful steed. Gabrielle sat on back and held on for dear life. It took them a day and a half to get here and the peasant faces which greeted them were etched with sympathy and, yes, a little fear. There were still some who knew Xena as the ruthless warrior she once was. They wondered, despite her inspired change, if that heated-blood would kick in again if her mother's passing was taken badly. For they all new it was true. Cyrene was going to die. She'd been ill for far too long.
And when she came into the house that was her mother's and Xena was directed into the bedroom, she sobbed. Gabrielle couldn't see the reclined Cyrene and Xena's back was to her but that heart breaking sob .... Then the gray print curtain between the two rooms were quickly drawn and Xena and her Mother were left alone. The Warrior Princess had been mentally preparing herself for the worst ever since they started their trip to Amphipolis. Xena did not like displaying emotion in front of others and that small unexpected out cry spoke of something horrid and uncontrollable. A daughter's love for her mother?
Two others were in the outer room with Gabrielle and she asked them what had happened to Cyrene. 'A fever.', an old healer-man told her. The other, a young woman, stared at Gabrielle but said nothing.
Fifteen minutes later a scream came from the bedroom. It was inhuman and spoke of a deep grief that only a child might feel for the passing of a parent. But this cry was even more bitter, more wild. It was dangerous.
Gabrielle stood straight, her staff upright - an instinctive gesture when trouble loomed close. Then, Xena backed out of the bedroom, the curtains between rooms gliding across her black leather clad body like a gray cloud across the night sky. Her shoulders were rolled, suppressing emotion, and her hands covered her ears. Then, she turned around to look at the others ...
... and Gabrielle saw aberration in her eyes. Not just anger or anguish but madness.
"GET OUT!" Xena screamed, pointing at the house's only door, "Everyone out!"
"Xena, what's the matter?" Gabrielle called, making a move toward her best friend.
"NO! You too, Gabrielle! OUT!!"
And those beautiful blue eyes ... How they blazed with a fury, grief and derangement Gabrielle had never seen before, not even when Hope - her own devil daughter - had killed Solan and Xena blamed Gabrielle for the boy's death. A horrible time, softened only by Xena's will to remain calm and Gabrielle's natural urge to forgive and be forgiven. And their friendship. The gods only knew how much Xena and Gabrielle loved each other. They were companions and even more than sisters. Sometimes it seemed that they were more than two ... but now they were none of those things.
"Gabrielle, get out!" Xena cried again, her cheeks burning red with tears and fury.
After a small hesitation, the Amazon Princess took a ragged breath. Gabrielle wasn't certain she would be able to tell the whole story without breaking down but managed. She was aware of how Hercules and Iolaus stared at her, coming to terms with what they were told. Yet, her oration only created more questions. What had happened to Xena?
"I'll go to her." Hercules stated and began to move away from his friends when Gabrielle put a hand on his arm.
"Hercules, she's out of control." the girl warned, "She won't leave her mother or allow anyone to take her from the house. She won't even let me come in and talk. She hasn't eaten in days ...." For a moment Gabrielle appeared at a loss, "Please be careful." she concluded.
He lifted a hand and smiled softly, "I will." Hercules touched the bottom of Gabrielle's chin with sensitive fingers then looked over her shoulder to where Iolaus stood, "Stay with her and stay close. I may need your help."
Iolaus nodded. You learn from experience to be cautious and where Xena was concerned you could never be too sure. "We'll be here." he promised and felt Gabrielle lean despondently into him.
Quiet pervaded the area, something he could feel as well as hear. Hercules stood on the stoop and called gently, "Open the door, Xena."
He recognized the deep, sensual tone and expected no less. He lifted his powerful arms. Hercules' first thought was to push the meager door in with his strength then he reconsidered. A show of force was not what this woman needed right now. It would only give her an excuse to strike out and that was to be avoided at all costs. Again, he spoke gently, "Xena, this is Hercules and you know I can get in if I want to. So please, just open the door so we can talk, face to face."
Outside, a small crowd had gathered behind Iolaus and Gabrielle. A few had heard Hercules was in town and was going to try and reason with "that mad woman". Few thought he would have any effect but there were some who knew if anyone could control Xena, it would be the son of Zeus.
"Don't make me have to fight you, Hercules." She called from inside but the voice didn't have it usual potency.
'You're tired.' he thought but said, "Then let's not fight. I only want to talk."
There was a pause.
Hercules looked over his shoulder at Iolaus who gave him an encouraging signal.
"Only you?" she asked, pointedly.
Xena said nothing more but he heard the dead bolt slowly move and the heavy wood insert, which barred the door, removed. With resolve, Hercules straightened his shoulders, took a short breath and opened the door. He didn't expect her to attack but if she did he'd be ready.
From where he stood in the opened entrance he saw that the room was musty from a lack of dusting and fresh air. Curtains were drawn and darkness was prevailing yet, surprisingly, their was no odor. He thought the atmosphere might be bad after three days but it wasn't. Also, it was hard not to notice - in the dim light - how comfortable the small home was. Cyrene hadn't been a rich woman, having nearly lost everything long ago when Corteze sacked Amphipolis, but she did well with what she had. Hercules' own mother might have decorated the house. The thought of Alcmene caused his heart to shudder. He missed her but couldn't think of his own sorrow right now. "Xena?"
"Shut the door. The light hurts my eyes." She had disappeared into a corner somewhere and his own eyes, not yet use to the darkness, couldn't see her.
Hercules did as she asked.
Half an hour passed without any word from the small house and the crowd dissipated. Those who thought there might be a frantic battle were disappointed and the others, who were merely curious, grew bored.
"I hope he can help her.' Gabrielle said for the third time. Her staff lay propped on the stone rim of the well, causing a shadow to cascade over one of her shapely legs.
Iolaus sat with her, awaiting further instruction from Hercules. Why was it he could never have an encounter with Gabrielle unless they were in the middle of some life threatening emergency? At each rendezvous he discovered her more serious, more skilled with her fighting staff, more independent and more lovely ... and she wore less clothes. He'd hardly be a man if he didn't notice that last item. The problem was while Iolaus would admire her apparel on any other woman he wasn't at all certain he liked it on her. Oh certainly it was comfortable and Amazon-chic but, quite obviously, if he noticed Gabrielle's attractive figure - because of her dress - so did other men and he didn't like thoughts of the male population of Greece looking at sweet, pure and wholesome Gabrielle with lust in their eyes. He shook his head to rid it of the thought. A silly notion. She was a woman and had even married - albeit for a very short time. Still, if he was ever around when some jerk tried anything with her ....
The blond hunter- warrior was growing impatient but for Gabrielle's sake he spoke encouragement instead of complaint. "Hercules is one of the best negotiators I know and he cares for Xena. He'll get to the bottom of this, Gabrielle." He noticed that the girl, who had been looking straight ahead - at the house - now looked down at her lap. Tears she'd been trying to suppress were now falling and the Amazon Princess couldn't stop them this time. Iolaus scooted in closer, putting his arms around her, and tipping his head just slightly so that his forehead touched the side of her head above an ear, "Don't cry." he whispered, closing his eyes and empathizing with her pain. "I hate to see you cry." He took the opportunity to smell Gabrielle's fragrant hair and felt infinitesimally guilty at the liberty.
She sniffed, "What if this is of the gods, as I think, and Xena never recovers, Iolaus?" Her voice trembled.
He spoke softly, as a father might to his child. "Hercules, has connections, you know."
"A lot of good those connection have done him in the past."
Opening his eyes, Iolaus sat up a little straighter, pulling away from her ever so slightly. Was that impertinence? "Gabrielle." he spoke with surprise. He wasn't use to sweet, sensitive, and open-minded Gabrielle speaking so pessimistically. He wasn't exactly certain why but it hurt.
Regret immediately registered on her face, "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for, I know." But she couldn't go as far as to say she didn't believe it. Hercules was the son of Zeus, as everyone knew, but that connection had brought the man and his friends more pain than pleasure. Hercules himself wasn't really proud of his background. At least the part that wasn't human. Why should she hope that he could solve all of their problems now? Because he's a friends and has helped in the past. Something in her mind told her to stop with all the negativity but something else told her to go with it. Live with it. Be happy with it.
"You're right. Hercules will know what to do." She spoke automatically, ashamed of the lie. She was being dishonest with her feelings and didn't like deceiving Iolaus.
The front door of the house opened a crack and a hand, clearly Hercules', motioned for the couple to come closer. As they did, Iolaus said, "How is she?" to the barely visible figure behind the scarcely opened door.
He whispered, "I managed to get Xena to sleep. She's exhausted. Before she fell off she agreed to have two men come in and take Cyrene out. No more."
Iolaus nodded. That was a little progress. "I'll get the men." he said, "Did she tell you anything else?"
Hercules sighed, "No, not yet. But we're getting close. Gabrielle ..."
She took a few paces to stand right next to Iolaus and looked at the dark figure attentively.
"Go get us some food, water and clean blankets. I'm going to stay here tonight with Xena."
Gabrielle nodded then: "But how is she?"
He smiled mildly, "I think Xena will be fine. She just has to come to terms with something she can't reveal to anyone right now. We'll talk tonight, when she awakens, and maybe I can get her to tell me what's on her mind." Hercules closed the door.
Iolaus smiled and touched Gabrielle's arm, an iota of hope in the contact, then left her to find some able bodied men.
Gabrielle stood silently at the outside of the door for a moment. She was grateful for Hercules help with Xena but another emotion, one she was reluctant to admit feeling, was creeping to the surface. JEALOUSY.
It hadn't been a pleasant task and it took more skills than he readily possessed to get the villagers, two bulky and rather ill mannered men, to do as he asked. Yes, it required tact and denars. 'Amazing what a poor man will do to feed his family or fill his gullet with cheap ale.' Iolaus thought. He carefully supervised as the men entered the small house and carefully brought out Cyrene's body then, when funeral arrangements were determined, he once again found himself looking at the dark figure of his friend through the home's entrance. "Her body's being prepared for burial tomorrow morning." Iolaus inform Hercules, "I hope Xena is better by then. I'd hate for her to miss her own mother's funeral."
Hercules nodded, "We'll probably be up most of the night. She's still sleeping. We'll talk and I tell her what you said. One thing I did find is that Xena's troubles stem from something Cyrene told her before she died."
"Gabrielle pretty well figured that much out."
"It must have been an incredible revelation, whatever it was. Xena's mind isn't easy to shut down --."
Iolaus agreed, leaning his weight against a hand that rested on the outside door frame. "Did Gabrielle return yet with your supplies?"
"Yeah, she said she's going to the stables to pat down Argo and see that he's fed. Then, she's going off to bed. She has a room at the local inn."
"I'll go see how she's doing. None of this has been easy on her."
"Do that." Hercules said, in an odd-approving tone. "Then turn in yourself. You look like you need it."
"Take care, buddy." Iolaus turned from the door and heard it shut behind him.
"That's a good horsy." Gabrielle crooned to Argo as she brushed his creamy mane. "Such a faithful beast, you are. So kind and forgiving and Xena loves you so much ..."
"But not as much as she loves you." Iolaus announced his presence behind Gabrielle and was a little dismayed when she didn't immediately turn to look at him. Was there something hidden on her pretty face or was he just losing his touch?
"Xena loves a lot of things." she murmured.
An odd comment but Iolaus played along, "She loves warm summer days, butterflies, wheat fields and to write about her adventures."
"No, that's me." Gabrielle said, "On all four counts." and there was a hint of laughter in her tone. "And I love to swim and read and recite and ..." she trailed off, continuing to brush Argo.
Iolaus smiled and walked into the stall, touching Argo's soft nose while he watched Gabrielle work. "I like those things too -- except for writing. *You* can be the keeper of the scrolls." Then, when she didn't respond, he said, "It will be all right, Gabrielle. I just talked with Hercules and he's sure he'll be able to have things straightened out by tomorrow morning."
"In time for the funeral." Her smile faded, "Good for him." She moved away, throwing the brush into an empty wooden bucket. The noise caused Argo to start but Iolaus' soothing touch quickly settled the beast.
Concerned, his eyes followed her and watched Gabrielle dry her hands with a light colored piece of cloth. Her back was to him. As a matter of fact she hadn't turned to look at him since he stepped foot in the stable. "What's the matter? You seem angry or something." Iolaus asked and was blunt, "You act almost as if you don't want Herc to help Xena."
Suddenly, and with a vehement toss of her blond hair, Gabrielle turned on Iolaus. "That's not it at all." She was stunned by the accusation, her eyes wide with shock that he might ever consider such a thing. "I love Xena and would want Ares himself to help her if he could." Then her voice faded a bit as she looked past him, out of the stables open front entrance, out at the twilight of near evening. Her eyes clouded slightly, "But I just wish ..." she sought the right words, "... she would have accepted help from me."
"Ahha." Iolaus had to grin at his own obtuseness. Of course, Gabrielle was feeling badly because her best friend didn't want her help but that of someone else. Hercules by name. She felt it a reflection on their friendship. Iolaus could relate, in a way. How often did he feel left out when Hercules gravitated to someone other than he for advice? Jason came to mind. Okay, maybe it didn't happen often. After all, he and Herc grew up together and had always been best buddies. If not experiencing each other's triumphs and let downs, then hearing about them. "Gabrielle, I don't want this to sound like I'm sure it will ... but sometimes a person needs the company of someone other than a close friend. She needs someone she can talk to or, at least, commiserate with on an equal level?"
"You don't think Xena and I are equal?"
He cleared his throat. No, he wasn't going to stumble into one of those conversations. "I see things in you I could never see in Xena and visa versa." He continued when her expression softened and she appeared thoughtful, "Often times I see things in her that I see in Hercules and, in that respect, I think they are of one soul." Iolaus looked up into the lofts, trying to remember something someone once told him, "I heard a story once about how the world was at one time inhabited by people with two heads and four legs ..."
Gabrielle, who had been crouching near the brush-bucket and holding onto the cleaning cloth, stood straight and slowly turned to look at him.
" ... then the gods sent down lightening bolts to separate these being into two different people, male and female, and although they were parted they still shared the same soul and ...."
She took over, " ... those people, although separated, were always on a never ending search to find that other part of their soul ..."
"Yes, the story goes something like that." Iolaus chuckled a bit and looked down at the floor of the straw covered stall. He felt slightly embarrassed under her inquiring gaze.
"You were awake when I told you that story." She summed up, a little amused but not really amazed. "I thought you were unconscious but you really did hear me."
"Yeah, I heard it." He walked from the stall and closed the gate, "And I really think it relates to Hercules and Xena. They have a connection with one another that is clearly not of this world. I suppose Zeus thinks so too. That's why he made you send for us ... although I don't know why he didn't contact Hercules personally."
Slightly disappointed at his interpretation of her story, Gabrielle almost said what was in her heart. 'Are they the only two people you think that story relates to?' Her nerve gave out. "So, you're saying that Xena and Hercules have a special bond and I shouldn't feel resentful but be happy for them -- even though they barely see each other and we know they will never be together."
"How do we know that?"
"It's obvious that they are on different paths and ..."
"They're both people who want to do the right thing. I think they're paths are well connected."
She relented, the expression passive and unreadable. "Okay, you may have a point." she whispered. Again, Gabrielle wanted to say something to Iolaus but she balked. "They've been close, I know ..." Then, she turned to him again and a genuine smile was present, "I can see why people like you so much."
"Hunh?" Iolaus was genuinely perplexed.
She walked over to where he stood, a familiar and droll gleam in her eyes. "You come in here, confront a really morose blond, say a few common sense things, and I immediately not only feel better but feel a little foolish for the negative things I was feeling in the first place."
Iolaus leaned casually against the horse stall and felt unaccountably reticent. "I think that has far little to do with me being tactful than you just being Gabrielle. You know what's in your heart and it just took a suggestion to bring it out. If I hadn't said something you would have eventually figured it out for yourself."
"You underestimate yourself, Iolaus." She tried to meet his eyes but was astonished to see the warrior purposely looking anywhere but at her. Bashful? Was he really embarrassed?
"I don't think anyone has ever said that to me before."
Finally, their eyes locked and they shared a warm moment of laughter. When it quieted Iolaus and Gabrielle just looked at each other for awhile. Oddly, it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. It seemed appropriate for her to gaze into his calm blue eyes and he to reach for her hair, to remove a small piece of straw that somehow got caught up in all of that honeyed blond. Then Argo stomped and whinnied, breaking the spell.
"Do you have a room?" Gabrielle asked.
For a split second Iolaus was stumped by the question and her meaning but when he realized it was just general curiosity he said, "No, I'll check with the inn keeper. If there is nothing I'll sleep out in the woods. It's not as if I've never done that before."
"Don't be silly. You can stay in my room. Xena and I were going to bunk together so why can't we?"
Iolaus grew uncomfortable, "Gabrielle ..."
She waved a dismissing hand, "It's a big room, Iolaus, with a bed and a chair and I trust you." With that, she took his hand and pulled him with her out into the night.
Iolaus whispered, "Sure, but can I trust myself?"
Once outside both pairs of eyes glanced over at the window facing the street to Cyrene's house. It was dark but a small light came from somewhere inside.
True to his word Hercules was still up, watching over Xena. The couple were probably eating the food Gabrielle had brought and talking. Hercules would, at first, speak to her about their adventures together, how she was doing in recent times and then they would gradually get to the crux of the matter. Iolaus knew his friend well and admired his style. There were times he wished he could be as patient and diplomatic.
"Look!" Gabrielle pointed up into the night sky, "A falling star! Make a wish!" And like a child she closed her eyes and did as she told him. There was really no doubt what it was she wished for - Xena's good health - but the gesture - the innocent trust - touched Iolaus heart. It made him feel even more ashamed for the impure thoughts he'd been having about Gabrielle lately - even now as he saw the gentle play of moonlight over her fair skin and marveled at how the breeze about them picked up small wisps of hair from around her forehead and shoulders. 'She's a woman.' something told him, 'A lovely young woman who has wants and needs just like you. Don't let that sweet visage fool you!' Ares? Was that Ares telling him what he wanted to hear? 'Remember Cassandra, Eusia and Debius? Were they all that different than this pretty woman?' Yes, they were much different than she. Gabrielle was ...
"I'm tired, Iolaus. Let's go to bed."
... putting him in a really bad position!
Gabrielle tried to convince him to lay on the bed with her. It was a big bed, made for two people, but Iolaus told her he would sleep in the chair. Before he closed his eyes he recalled the smirk of the inn keeper's wife and a male voice, probably someone behind the front desk, saying: "... and she seemed like such a good girl ..." as he and the Gabrielle walked upstairs. She never heard it or if she did it never occurred to Gabrielle that it was aimed in their direction.
'Or are you deluding yourself? Maybe she isn't as pure as you'd like to think ...'
Oh, that inner voice!
'Ares, leave me alone!' Then Iolaus fell to the floor.
"Iolaus!" Gabrielle was halfway out of bed, helping him to sit up in the chair, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine - just fell asleep and ..."
" ... fell out of the chair." she finished for him.
It was a warm night and the window above her bed was open. Bright moonlight poured in on the couple, enough for Iolaus to see Gabrielle's humorous take on the situation. "Iolaus, you're being silly. Just lay on the bed with me and go to sleep."
He had to admit the offer was tempting and the bed looked soft and, after all, they were two adults who - although attracted to each other - were able to control themselves. Besides, he was tired and really in no mood for ...
Reaching up, Gabrielle took a hand full of his colorful vest and yanked hard, forcing him to fall on the bed. Once there he got in all the way and relaxed. This is nice, he thought, And safe. Sure, she's right next to me and she smells wonderful and I can feel her soft arm right against mine and ....
"Iolaus," Gabrielle's voice penetrated the semi-darkness, "Sometimes, when it's late like this, I think about that time when we first met - with Prometheus - and how I felt when you revived. It was so strange. I felt happiness because I knew you were going to be well but I was also afraid because I didn't know who used the sword to break Prometheus' bonds -- and I was afraid Xena might be dead."
"I remember thinking the same thing about Hercules." Iolaus whispered back. He stared ahead, watching a shadow play across the bedroom wall. He was also remembering her kiss of that time. The soft lips and gentle passion.
"Why did you fib when I asked you if you heard my story? I mean, while we were still near the cave and I was taking care of your wound?" She leaned over on her side and propped up just a bit, resting her head in her right hand. Her left hand reached out and rested on his vested chest.
Iolaus sighed. She wasn't going to make this easy. "I suppose I was worried about what it may lead to."
"Really?" She smiled in the darkness, playing with a loose thread she found on the garment. Or was it chest hair? Did Iolaus *have* chest hair? "You didn't want to get my hopes up? There was no real attraction for you?"
"No, not that. Far from that." he whispered. "If we went there I might have wanted you for my girlfriend or wife." He thought quickly, "You have to realize that I'm older than you. At least ten years."
"Closer to twelve or thirteen, I think."
"OKAY." he interrupted with little savoir-faire, "The point being that difference can mean trouble. Bad communication and jealousy when a handsome young man looks at your younger sweetheart the wrong way ... and she seems to enjoy it."
"Oh Iolaus, that's absurd." she laughed and leaned in closer to him, "My father is nearly fifteen years older than my mother and my Aunt Jesiaha is five years older than my Uncle Borha. Age isn't that important. Not when two people care about each other. Besides," she snorted happily, "I'd probably have to worry about the pretty young girls going after you before the guys looked at me."
He wanted her so much! WHY was she doing this to him? 'You're being a fool! She's right there. She wants you! Take her you imbecile!' But this wasn't the right time. 'She's vulnerable. Xena is in a bad way and she's feeling lonely and wouldn't normally act this way if she wasn't afraid.' "We're going to have a big day tomorrow, Gabrielle. Goodnight."
"Was I so young and virginal that you were afraid of taking advantage -- Really?" Her tone was bright but also slightly seductive.
There was no getting out of this conversation - "That's part of it." He attempted to wrap things up, "But I was also afraid that if I took another step I really might stay with you, if you agreed, and leave Hercules to travel his journeys alone. He needs me by his side --" Then, and he didn't know why he suddenly felt the need to say it to her, "At least he did. Now, I'm not so sure."
"Why?" She leaned forward, hanging on Iolaus' every word, and quite enthralled with his wonderful profile. She moved a hand to touch his hair. It glowed in the semi-light and was engaging.
He really didn't want to go into it but she opened the door and he felt compelled to continue, "Ever since his mother died I've sensed a change in him. Herc has Zeus on his side far more now than he ever did in the past. Maybe that's enough for him. He can do his good deeds and having a partner isn't that important anymore. Not like it was."
"I don't think that's true. He loves having you travel with him. Your his best friend and you keep him from being lonely."
"Maybe, but a best friend is a far cry from someone he can share his love and life with."
She paused, thinking about what he said. "Are you thinking about Xena? Do you think they should partner up?" Her voice trembled a little. "Do you think they're thinking about it?"
He suddenly felt stricken. No, he hadn't honestly thought about Xena but obviously Gabrielle had. Iolaus turned slightly and raised his arms to embrace her, "I don't know what I mean. But just because Hercules has changed doesn't mean Xena will. She still needs you and your staff guarding her back -- no matter what it was she discovered from her mother. Or maybe even because of it. And no, I didn't really mean her in the first place -- although it wouldn't surprise me if some day they ..."
Gabrielle rested her head on his chest and felt the material of his colorful wool vest with her hands.
" ... get together." Iolaus closed his eyes, suppressing a powerful emotion which threatened to overcome him. She was still so fresh and sweet and beautiful. He touched her hair and ran a hand down her back. She felt so good and holding her like this was almost ... natural.
"I left Xena once to marry Perdicus. If he lived, we'd probably be on our second child by now." She paused but there wasn't real sadness in her tone, just a sense of wonder. "Do you ever think about marrying these days?" Without realizing the effect it was having on him, she innocently placed a hand on his wrist and allowed her fingers to travel up the arm to his muscular shoulder. She followed the movement with her eyes.
'Gods, I can't believe this!' Iolaus wanted to scream, "No Gabrielle, I really haven't thought too much about marriage lately."
"Oh." Then, when it seemed she was going to pull away from him and lay down again on her side of the bed, Gabrielle said, "Iolaus, sometimes I think about you and me that way." Her fingers played with the stitching on his vest, "I know it's probably foolish but ..." but her voice was fading and she was drifting off into the fog of sleep.
He continued to watch the pattern on the wall, absorbing himself inside of it - hearing her words in a soft echo. Let's go! You want to! Don't hold back!
Control - Control - Control He brushed his lips across her forehead and closed his eyes.
'Iolaus, you are an utter idiot.'
When they came out of the small house no one expected Xena to look as good as she did. She was a bit pale, marginally spindly legged and required Hercules ear whisperings to keep her informed and emotions in check. Yet, Xena's hair was combed, her black leather warrior's outfit, with light armor, was in place and her astonishing eyes were clear. She even managed an iota of a smile for Gabrielle when the girl looked at her from across Cyrene's open grave.
At the conclusion of the funeral service Xena threw a wreath of grap leaves on her mother's coffin and watched, with a calm-cool expression, as the box was lowered into the ground, then covered over by earth. The mourners, friends of Cyrene's, filtered away. Some touched Xena's back and shoulders with compassion and others spoke lowly to her, wishing her well on her future adventures.
Iolaus, who hadn't a chance to speak with Hercules since he and Xena walked from the house, gave him an inquiring glance.
Hercules took in both Gabrielle and Iolaus with a mime of 'Later.'
"Rest in peace, Cyrene." Xena said, gazing sadly at the fresh grave. "There is a place in the Alesian Fields for someone as kind, loving and loyal as you."
It was decided the four would travel as far as Cyberus together - where there were warlord problems. Xena was anxious to get back in action and Hercules thought it a good idea to have the woman on her feet and doing good deeds again. It would be a week long jaunt that was fraught with obstacles but few real dangers. A good time to think and mend.
The first night out Xena kept to herself and when Gabrielle tried to talk with her the answers were short, but without malice. "I promise, Gabrielle, I will answer all questions but give me a few days to get it straight in my head. Hercules helped me," The Warrior Princess glanced over the night-time campfire to where Iolaus and Herc sat, discussing something in hushed tones. "but I still need time."
She looked so tired and confused that Gabrielle couldn't be angry with her, "All right." she said and gave her friend a brief hug.
But before the girl could move away, Xena placed fingers under her chin and smiled, "You really are my best, dearest friend, Gabrielle. I don't know what I'd do without you."
The Amazon Princess smiled and, mirroring her friend's action to such a display of affection. She gave her an 'Oh, come on' look and warmly pulled away, tossing sticks on the campfire.
"Did you hear that?" Iolaus, who had been talking with Hercules about Jason returning to the Argonauts after Alcmene's death, suddenly stood. His body was in alert status.
"What did you hear?" Gabrielle stopped in mid toss and looked in the same direction as he.
"I'm not sure. Maybe nothing but I'm going to take a look."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Hercules asked.
"No," Iolaus eyes darted from one tree to the next, "It's probably nothing. I just want to be sure."
"Yell if you need us." Xena offered, some of her dry humor returning.
"Believe me, I will." he shot back.
Gabrielle watched him move off, to be swallowed by the darkness. Iolaus hadn't really talked to her much since the morning they awoke in each other's arms. It was a little awkward but also kind of nice. Perhaps she had revealed too much. Some men were like that. It was all very intriguing while the mystery remained but the minute a girl showed interest in commitment that was a whole different story. But she really needed to talk with him and hoped the opportunity would arise before they parted.
Still not completely formed, she leaned her long, smooth back on a tree trunk and allowed her arms to folded themselves over an ample and hardly outfitted bosom, "Sweet-Cheeks, over here!" she called with that lilting party-girl tone in her perpetually young voice. "Right here, cute stuff!"
He stopped short when finally seeing her, "Aphrodite!" Iolaus exhaled in relief when spotting the pink spindle of god-light followed by the appearance of the beautiful Goddess of Love, "What are you doing here?" he asked and tried not to sound too terribly displeased to see her.
"Cool it," she piped, glancing over at the camp to make sure the others hadn't heard, "I'm here on business. For you."
"Sure, I know there's some bad karma going on right now with the death of Cyrene and all. Xena's not in too good of shape but she'll get through it with my big bro's help ... But I'm here for YOU - " she twinkled and stood straight, proud of her cleverness, "- and that cute little girl you've been mooning over, Gabrielle."
"Now, don't pretend you don't have the hots for her because I've been watching you ever since you arrived in Amphib .. Amphi.... *town*." The Goddess of Love delicately stepped over a branch and stood in front of Iolaus, laying slender hands on her perfect hips, "Well, to be honest with you, it was Cupid that pointed you two out to me ... I always figured you had a 'soul-mate' thing going with her but didn't really care until my son gave me an idea. He said, 'Just think Mom, if Gabrielle and that Iolaus dude got together then they'd settle and she'd stop writing those stories about Xena's adventures -- and everyone would go back to looking at you as the A Number One chick-attraction in Greece -- not that leather clad fighting machine with a breast plate.'." Aphrodite cleared her throat, "Oh, I added that last part myself."
"Was that YOU talking in my head last night?"
"You got it -" she tittered, "But geez, what a hard head you are! All that worry about what's right and wrong ... You keep that up and you'll never get together with that girl! I mean, it'd be a shame seeing as how you are destined to be together and ..."
"What do you mean by 'soul-mate' and 'destined'? Isn't that kind of up to Gabrielle and me?"
"You're so sweet but completely out of the loop, Sunshine!" Aphrodite huffed just slightly and rolled her eyes in a 'I guess he's going to make me explain' gesture, "You see, about twenty five percent of the human population on Earth have soul mates ..." she thought a moment, "I think it's twenty five percent -- Could be up to thirty now. I don't usually keep the books myself and ..." She noted Iolaus' impatient stare and continued, "But anyway, some people do. It has nothing to do with that weird story she told you about humans having two heads and four legs - oh yuck! - but something to do with spiritualism. I'm not real sure myself. But the bottom line is that some people are meant to be together and you and Gabrielle are one of those couples. Now, it doesn't always happen. Somewhere along the line one will marry the wrong partner --"
"Like Gabrielle marrying Perdicus?"
"Yep. If he'd lived their life together would have been torture. She'd have a kid every year and he'd demand she stay home and raise the little rug-rats and she'd argue that she needed more from life and ten years later he'd run off with some pretty tavern girl and leave her high and dry."
Iolaus was astonished, "You know that for a fact?"
She shrugged, "Nah, but I've seen it happen."
"And what about me?"
"If you and Gabrielle don't get together?" She thought about it a moment, "You'd go off to the kingdom of Attica, hoping to reunite with Queen Niobe. But you'd find her totally different." Aphrodite's voice softened a little, "I know you loved her, Sweet Cheeks, but she wasn't for you. There is a lot of selfishness there. Believe me I know about selfishness!"
'I bet you do.' Iolaus almost said but prevented himself. "So now I know." He smiled and seemed satisfied, "All I need to do now is tell Gabrielle and we can go off and live happily ever after." he summed up.
"I wish it were that easy." And she sounded genuinely apologetic, "You see, as much as I'd like for you to keep this memory of me I can't. It's in the rule book. I have to leave here and with me goes the memory of me being here -- especially since I let your destiny out of the bag."
"Then why did you come in the first place?!"
"Well, sometimes when I make an appearance a part of me stays with the person I visit. You may not know why you are thinking the things you are thinking but it will be a memory of me from me ... and maybe it will stick with you." Aphrodite sighed and suddenly looked serious, "I know I sometimes seem a little superficial but I really like you two kids and want to see you make each other happy ..."
"I see." Iolaus had to smile, "And Gabrielle stops writing The Xena Scrolls?"
"That's a perk."
She faded from sight.
Their third night out Xena was ready. Hercules knew the story but the retelling would be difficult for him anyway. He accepted what she had to say the first time they discussed it, in the house of Cyrene, huddled together in a dark corner. He was wonderful and supportive and she didn't know how he could look at her and not see her for what she was.
Gabrielle, Iolaus and Hercules sat in front of the campfire, the dark woods about them acting as an audience for the tale Xena was about to impart. The night sounds were nearly non-existent -- almost as if they too sensed something momentous was going to happen.
"She was so pale and near death --" Xena began, " -- when I entered her bedroom, I knew my worst fears were confirmed. My mother was dying and there was nothing I could do. I felt as if all my years as a warrior, sacking villages - like Amphipolis - and killing off their men ... It demanded retribution. My mother -- a lonely painful death. And I never really told her I loved her as deeply as any ocean on Earth." Xena stood and paced in front of her friends. "But Cyrene wasn't quite dead. She looked up at me with her pained eyes and said ....
"Xena, I must tell you something." Cyrene croaked through parched lips.
The Warrior Princess search the small table beside her bed for a water cup but saw nothing. "Mother let me ..."
"No, I must tell you before it's too late." and the mature woman, wasting away from illness, lifted a weak hand and placed it on her daughter's leg, "Please sit down."
Xena did, obediently.
"Your father was a very handsome man, do you remember?"
"He had lots of dark hair and eyes as bright as a clear blue sky."
"I was always proud that I took after him."
Cyrene gulped, "You do." She closed her eyes, "But your two brothers --"
"Yes, they both looked like you."
"Xena," Her eyes opened and, staring directly at The Warrior Princess, Cyrene said very steadily, "I am NOT your mother."
There was utter silence for the count of thirty. 'She's delirious.' Xena considered.
"Your father was off at war, as he always was, when a beautiful young woman came to his camp. As far as I know he'd always been faithful to me but this was wartime and she was just so enchanting he couldn't resist her charms -- and they slept together. She left him that very night and he continued with the business at hand. War was all consuming. After awhile - when he was finishing a campaign - she returned with a child. A lovely little girl with tuffs of dark hair and a smile that could melt crystal."
"Me?" Xena could feel her face grow red and tears stand in her eyes. "Mother, why did you wait until now to ...?"
"Sh." Cyrene gently shook her head, "There's more, my dear." She again closed her eyes, fighting a spasm of pain then continued, "At first this woman took you to Zeus, attempting to make him angry. She was always so jealous of his attention to Hercules - his human child. She wanted to make him feel as betrayed as she felt."
"My Mother was a goddess? One of Zeus's courtesans?"
"She kept you around Olympus, never really looking at you - allowing others to take care of you - and hoping to flaunt her human affair. But it backfired because Zeus adored you. He loved having this energetic baby crawling about the palace and getting into mischief. She couldn't understand that, despite what she had done to him, Zeus loved human kind more than he loved her so a half human-half goddess child was a delight to him .... reminding him of Hercules, the only son he truly loved. Furious, she made a decree. She told him this female child will destroy the human race. Left to her devices she would take over Greece and parts of Britannia -- Even the orient. She would be evil and warlike and Ares - her half-brother - would watch over her and see to it that Hebe, which is what she named you, became a menace on Earth. "Hebe, The Destroyer", they would call her ....YOU."
Cyrene saw the horror growing in Xena's eyes, "But when your father brought you to me and we saw how utterly sweet and innocent you were I knew I could change things -- I renamed you and made you believe you were my own. No one in Amphipolis knew you weren't born from me because we had been away .... And you *did* grow up good until Cortese sacked our village. Then I saw it start to happen and there was nothing I could do ..."
"What goddess is my mother, Mother?" Xena's voice shook, "Tell me. Who cursed me? Who ruined our lives?"
"Your mother is ...."
HERA. The Queen of the Gods.
Murderer of Hercules' family.
Hercules looked down at the ground. It wasn't easier hearing it a second time.
Anguished, Gabrielle raised a hand to her face and hid her eyes.
Iolaus stared at the impassive face of Xena in complete and silent shock.
"And the funny thing is ..." Xena continued, " ... there was a time when I thought Ares was my father. I suppose I should have known. His interest in me wasn't only geographical but physical. Gods intermingle all of the time. But fathers and daughters don't mix. Usually."
They moved onto Cyberus and when the warlords were dispatched and the city was safe, it was time to part.
"I can't leave her, Iolaus." Gabrielle leaned into the hunter-warrior, their bodies belly to belly, his and her foreheads touching. His arms were wrapped gently and lovingly around her. "Now, more than ever, Xena needs me. She has to purge this out of her system. Doing good is going to be an obsession with her and I have to be there to see that she doesn't over do it."
"She can be like that." he agreed, "And I can't really leave Hercules now, either. He's really torn. Can you imagine him discovering a woman he loves is also the blood-daughter of his worst enemy? No wonder Zeus didn't want to come to him personally about Xena ..."
" ... and why he thought Hercules needed to be here. I don't think anyone other than he could have calmed Xena and helped her get through this ordeal." She leaned in closer to Iolaus and smiled, "Do you really think he loves her?"
The couple turned their heads to look over at Xena and Hercules, as they stood close - holding each other's hands - and said goodbye to each other. They were working through this event just fine but it still left a mark on both half-gods.
"And I always wondered why Xena, a mere human, was able to communicate with the gods so easily. Ares, Poseidon, Cupid, Hades and even Aphrodite seemed to come out of the woodwork at her call. Maybe they weren't even aware of why they were so accessible to Xena." A mild smile formed on Gabrielle's pert lips, "She's going to be rethinking a lot of her past. The choices she made weren't all hers alone and that has to be sobering."
"And you'll catch her when she falls." Iolaus said affectionately.
"IF she falls." Gabrielle corrected. "By the way," she straightened from him and held Iolaus at arms length, "I realize that our separation also paves the way for YOU. I see many pretty females in your future, Iolaus, and I'm not going to fool myself into believing you won't take advantage of your single, uncommitted status."
He chuckled and veiled his eyes, "You're that sure, hunh?"
"You like women and they like you." she stated matter-of-factly. "Who knows, maybe some day we *will* both want to settle down ... and we'll find each other when the thought occurs to us."
"That would be really nice."
"Oh," It was her turn to recall something he once said to her, "it will be more than just nice ..." and Gabrielle leaned forward, craning her head to meet his tender lips with her own.
Somewhere a disembodied voice sang "YES!" and punched space and air with her delicate fist. "A home run!"
"I'd hardly say that, Mom." Another voice inserted, "They're *leaving* each other."
"Cupid honey, the game isn't played out yet." she responded.
Mount Olympus quaked with her rage.
(Fiction written August of 1998)
(NOTE - According to "Mythology" by Edith Hamilton,
when Hercules finally "dies" and goes to Olympus to rest in his
"full god" form he is reconciled (?) to Hera and marries her daughter
-- Hebe. Quote (from book): "There are no stories about Hebe except
that of her marriage to Hercules ..." No wonder. As we all know, her name was changed ... to Xena. RJE) Copyright 1942. Published by Little Brown and Company -
(NOTE - According to "Mythology" by Edith Hamilton, when Hercules finally "dies" and goes to Olympus to rest in his "full god" form he is reconciled (?) to Hera and marries her daughter -- Hebe.
Quote (from book): "There are no stories about Hebe except that of her marriage to Hercules ..."
No wonder. As we all know, her name was changed ... to Xena. RJE)
Copyright 1942. Published by Little Brown and Company - Boston.
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