Blackness. Total and complete.
He could see her as she approached, at first shimmering then slowly snapping into focus and finally becoming three-dimensional. The amulet he'd given her swayed gently back and forth across her smooth curves as Gabrielle moved.
Both of them were the only beings alive or dead in this realm.
"Where are we?" Gabrielle asked, her voice holding gentle repetition.
"What do you see?' he asked her, his tone echoing as well.
"I want to know if we're seeing the same thing, if we're really in the same room. What do you see?'
"Just you. Everything else is dark - black."
He sighed, "Yeah, we're in the same place."
"Do you think we're dead?' she asked.
"I've been to the other side and this isn't anything like it. At least, not what I've seen."
"I've been there too." She reminded, "And you're right." She looked about them nervously. "I think we're laying in wait. Oh, poor Xena and Hercules. What must they think?"
He lifted a hand to touch and comfort Gabrielle. Both were suddenly shocked when his fingers passed right through her chin and out her cheek, in a short arch. Iolaus jumped back, frightened for a moment. "Geez! Are you all right?" he quickly asked.
"I'm fine." As a matter of fact, she thought, the experience of having his flesh, if that's what it was, pass through her's wasn't totally unpleasant.
He had felt the warm sensation too. "This is just too bizarre." Iolaus gulped.
"What do you think Xena and Hercules are doing right now?"
"Probably trying to figure out a way of rescuing us. I wish we could help them or at least let them know we're all right."
"For the moment." she added.
He nodded, "We can only wait."
He laughed shortly. "The last time we had a good detailed talk we were interrupted."
"Just before something good was going to happen." she repeated his nervous laugh.
Was it his imagination or was she finishing all of his sentences? "Gabrielle, are you reading my mind?"
She appeared startled, "I don't know. I don't think so but I do feel like I know what you're going to say ...."
"... before I say it."
With purpose, Gabrielle's hands lifted to hover over his shoulders. She could feel something magnificent radiating from him. "Do you feel that?" she asked, watching his uneasy expression.
"Yes," he spoke haltingly, "It's warm and --"
"What?" she urged. This time she didn't know what he was going to say and she suspected it wasn't something he could effortlessly put into words.
"Whatever it is feels like it belongs." That didn't sound right and his expression showed it, "Does that make sense?"
"Not entirely but I think I understand." Her hands gently slid from almost touching his shoulders to nearly touching his chest. Then Gabrielle pressed forward ever so gently.
Iolaus caught his breath. The feeling was so incredibly intense.
Gabrielle felt it too. Like he, she attempted to put into words what she was feeling, "It's almost as if two souls are becoming one." .
"No ..." Iolaus, breathing deeply, fully aware, "It's as if one soul was torn in two and now it desperately wants to be rejoined."
She looked up at him, eyes wide with astonishment. That was it! Gabrielle tried for an instant to pull back but his arms raised, and never quite touching her, enveloped her in an embrace, "Iolaus ..." She felt excitement, her heart beating rapidly, a gentle ache of anticipation in her stomach ... "This is almost like ...." and she suddenly wanted to be with him like this forever. One soul ...
His enlightened eyes looked down at her with a singular warmth only the two of them could share. 'Soulmate-Soulmate-Soulemate!' came a voice in both of their heads. Neither knew who it was that spoke. He nodded his assent when she said, with her mind, what she wanted to do next. It could be a mistake but they would never have this opportunity again if Hercules and Xena were successful in a rescue attempt.
Quietly, with little preamble, she moved her entire body into him. A man and woman sharing their soul and "flesh" in a way that could never be duplicated. Both threw back their heads and closed their eyes as a sweeping rush of love, warmth and fierce tenderness engulfed them. Surely, this was the ultimate caress, true love, in its most heightened form. The couple were awash in sensation.
They could suddenly see their future together, flashing by their minds-eye as if the gods were impatient to get to the highlights .... the touching ("Ohhh...") ... wedding ("I truly do ...") ... passionate love-making ("Oh yes ... yes ...") ... the working together side by side ("Herc, we're not just farming. I'm building a life for me and ....") building ... fighting .... growing older as Xena and Hercules remained nearly the same ("You knew we couldn't stay partners forever, Herc ..."- "I know.") birthing ("It's a boy!") ... children -- Two boys and a girl ("Gabrielle, I swear, if you name her Xena I'll hit you with your own staff"- "Oh, all right Xena but ..."). And reaching ... reaching ... reaching .... tumbling further and further into the future until one day .... ("Gods no, please wake up! Please ... I can't go on if you .... I love you!") ....
NO! I don't want to know this!! "Don't die!" Gabrielle's eyes opened wide and she cried out and pushed herself from him. She wept bitterly, and fell backward onto what served as a floor in the black realm, the shock of so quickly and unexpectedly being separated from him, both in her mind and with her soul was more than she could take. Gabrielle dissolved into tears and held her face in trembling hands.
Iolaus collapsed weakly to his knees, breathing heavily. He stayed that way, stunned, for quite some time before he opened his eyes. Slowly, he crawled over to Gabrielle, who had rolled herself into an exhausted and quivering ball of emotion - "Gab ..." Weakened, he could barely speak. The tears came, flowing out of his eyes and down his cheeks unchecked. He wanted so much to hold her and be held! They had felt too much and seen more than mere mortals were meant to witness. At a loss he could only say what he felt. Iolaus whispered, "I love you too." before falling beside her, not quite touching, into a void of senselessness.
"Xena, no!" Hercules rolled out of the way of her too-close thrust. A desperately outflung hand grabbed for Iolaus' sword; he came out of the roll with the sword in his hand. "There has to be another way!" he
shouted, parrying her sword.
Xena was obviously not thinking clearly. There was madness in her blazing eyes, in her demented expression. She attacked him furiously. Did she even know him?
"There is no other way!" Ares taunted. "You've read the sacred scrolls, Xena! You know what you have to do" Ares applauded and shouted encouragement as one might to an athlete at a sporting event. "Oh, well done, Xena! Keep going!"
Hercules dodged another blow, retaliating with a slicing kick toward her legs. He caught her upper right leg, sending her sprawling. Back on his feet, Hercules could have killed her in that moment. But that
was the hell of this battle: he would die before he would knowingly harm Xena.
He saw her hand move to the chakram at her waist. He never saw it leave her hand, but suddenly the chakram was spinning toward him. Hercules deflected it with the sword in his hand -- and almost lost
the blade in the process -- causing the chakram to bury itself in one of the pillars. One weapon down.
This wasn't Xena's fault. She was only responding to whatever Hera and Ares were doing to her. Gods, he couldn't even imagine what she must be going through...and resisting, right up until the moment Gabrielle was threatened.
He leapt over another swipe of her sword.
Xena felt the same love for Gabrielle he felt for Iolaus. He knew how powerfully important the girl's well being was to Xena. Her attack was becoming more focused: Xena's warrior instincts still there, even through her madness. Hercules parried blow after blow, yet slowly, he was being driven back toward the altar. Hera's altar.
Ares' laughter rang in the air.
What had Ares said? Something about the Scrolls. Xena had read from the book? Was that the key?
Hercules dodged to the side. Tartarus! That one almost got him! Xena was good. He could see, now, that she was indeed a demigoddess. He should have seen it long before Cyrene told her. Her gifts were equal to
his...she could really kill him.
"The book, Xena! This has something to do with the scrolls!" he shouted desperately. Could he help her? Could he reach her? "Hera's power comes from her scrolls! If they were destroyed ..."
The warrior woman's eyes were wild. She looked around her, searching.
"The tome near the alter, Xena!" he repeated urgently, grateful for the respite.
"No!!" Hera's voice cried. "The boy will die, Hercules!"
That was fear in Hera's voice. He was sure of it. "A warning from you, Hera? I don't believe you. The book is the source of your power over both Xena and Antak, isn't it?!"
Xena seemed to hear his words. She made a beeline for the podium. Before either Ares or Hercules, who still wasn't entirely certain he was on the right track, could stop her she had swept up the tome and held it, with mad passion, over her head. She hesitated only briefly, watching as Hercules launched himself at The God of War.
His attack prevented Ares from making a retaliatory move. It was all Hercules could do.
Xena's mind was made up. Her beautiful face twisted with hatred and she threw the book into the altar fire. She watched as the hungry flames consumed the dry parchment. A scream from Hera followed.
Instantly, Xena felt a sweet sense of calm come over her. The pain was gone. The voices were gone.
"This isn't over," Ares hissed. Then he vanished, abandoning Hera to her fate.
Hercules, Iolaus' sword still in his hand, looked over to the image of Antak and Iphicles. He watched as the boy's eyes opened, and Iphicles gathered his son into a grateful embrace.
Hercules ran to her, dropping the sword, and held her close, murmuring reassurances, calming her down the best he could. Xena leaned her head against the demigod's shoulder, relaxing briefly. The last few days had been Tartarus!
Then... "Gabrielle!" she gasped as she came back to her senses. Gabrielle and Iolaus were still lying on cold stone floor. Both of them, apparently, dead. "Hercules, have we lost them?"
They both looked around the temple, searching for any sign that might give them hope.
"Xena, do you see it?" Hercules pointed to the tapestry of Apollo. Between it and the wall, a thin seam of light was visible. He hurried to it, reaching out to pull the tapestry aside. It wouldn't move. He pulled harder. Harder still.
"Hercules, let me help." Xena was on the other side of the tapestry. "Take one side and I'll take the other. Pull," she instructed.
With all the strength the two heroes could muster they pulled, and slowly the seam of light began to widen into a mist of mysterious black.
Xena's position gave her the better view and she stuck her head inside. "I see them, Hercules!" she cried joyfully. She shimmied her shapely body through the opening. "Hold it."
They both lay unconscious on the black "floor". This was an eddy of sorts, in between the worlds, held in existence by Hera's power alone. When Xena destroyed the book, the eddy had become whole and Xena found that she could touch the souls without her hands passing through them. Yet, they were difficult to wake and they had so little time ....
"Hurry, Xena!" Hercules called urgently. "I can't hold it open much longer!" The strain in his voice warned her more than the words. The eddy, without Hera, was collapsing. The demigod was struggling with the opening, a sweat breaking out on his athletic body.
Quickly, Xena grasped one of Iolaus' arms and one of Gabrielle's and pulled with all her might. Behind her, the breach began to close, despite all Hercules' efforts. There was no more time to waste.
A sound, half warcry-half scream, came from Xena's throat as she heaved. Xena and her friends slid through the opening just as Hercules was forced to let it seal. Both demigods, exhausted, collapsed
Neither of them saw Iolaus' and Gabrielle's souls hover momentarily above their bodies before sinking down.
And they awoke.
She lay her mouth gently on his and felt a familiar stirring of passion that quickly abated as she reluctantly pulled away. "Do you think we're selfish?" Xena asked him, her hands resting gently on his muscular upper arms.
"Selfish?" Hercules half smiled, slightly puzzled.
"They're in love, you know."
He looked over to where Xena's attention was focused. Iolaus and Gabrielle, standing close in the field where Argo and Pegasus romped, talking quietly and just sort of gazing at one another. They did seem an item yet he'd seen that sort of mellow love-haze in his friend before - "I don't know ..." Hercules considered, carefully. "Iolaus usually talks with me about his romances. If he was in love with Gabrielle he'd probably have told me."
"Or perhaps because it's a real love this time - he hasn't?"
This comment startled Hercules. Now he knew what Xena meant when she spoke of selfishness. Love or not, the son of Zeus couldn't fathom the thought of Iolaus leaving him again. Not so soon. So much had happened over the last year but the one consistency in the demigod's life, even when he didn't want to go on anymore, was the thought of his fair-haired partner. His company and the deep, bonding friendship they shared. Even after that devastating incident in Sumeria he knew, somehow, one day they'd be reunited .... But to lose him to love? REAL love? There was no coming back from that. 'If Deianeira was still alive would you be thinking these thoughts?' Hercules felt embarrassed. Yes, this was frank selfishness. The Warrior Princess recognized it right away in herself and wasn't verbally denying what the loss of her companion would do to her. By disallowing that he saw true love in Iolaus for Gabrielle he was.
Silently, Hercules looked down at Xena as she gazed at her their friends. The thought of losing her beloved companion tore at the woman. He could feel it. Yet, he felt something more too. A closeness had redeveloped between them. Funny how trying to strike each other down with swords could do that to a man and woman. Someday, when they were old and gray, maybe he and Xena would look back at this incident as one of those little things from their past they found so endearing in one another, "Hey," He diverted her attention back to him, "Are you all right?"
Xena, uncharacteristically, felt a little bashful under his inquiring gaze. Hercules was the only man that did that to her. But she knew what he meant. She had gone to Hecrtich to find answers, perhaps something to hang onto, but what greeted her was pain and sorrow. Not what she was hoping for, "I'm fine." she smiled mildly, not truly convincing.
"You do not have to go through this alone, you know." he stated, gently touching her hair, "Just give the word and I'll be here for you."
"I know, Hercules." her hand touched his cheek, "And I thank you for that."
The couple hugged gently and turned their attention back to their friends. What to do about them ...
"They're looking at us." She clutched the amulet he'd given to her in her right hand as it hung around her neck.. Inside of its hidden compartment was a snippet of his golden hair -- for Gabrielle to carry with her wherever she and Xena traveled.
"I think they're frightened."
"Of losing us?"
"We can only assure them it won't happen."
"No, it won't. At least not for awhile." She almost laughed, despite her sadness at having him leave her yet again. Hadn't they had this conversation before? "Maybe someday?"
"Yes," He leaned into her and placed his smooth forehead against hers, closing his eyes. This was a pain he could do without yet it was also very sweet. "Someday soon, Gabrielle. I promise."
Their kiss was as pure as it was passionate.
Life was made for such exquisite interludes.
The Goddess of Love gently touched Pegasus nose with her satiny hands, "We're going to have to put you back." she whispered to the winged horse, "But don't feel badly. One day I'll figure out how to keep you like you are right now, Peggie, and Hercules will be so jazzed ..." Her smile faded ever so slightly as she watch the two couples standing together, saying their farewells. "Well, as happy as any unattached man can be ..." she clarified.
Written by Beckers (Rebecca Eisenhuth) Sept.-Oct. - 1998 (c).
(No flying horses were injured during the writing of this fan fiction. Gabrielle, however, came down with severe muscle cramps in her arms and required medical care in Corinth )