Chapter 53

Before Xena was on her way to kill Ares and before Joxer and Callisto were on their way to stop her, Gabrielle was sitting in Lila's house contemplating swallowing her pride and going to find Xena again. Of course, the issue wouldn't be solved, but how could Gabrielle spend a life without her soulmate?

But she couldn't make that decision as someone moved so quickly and ran in, grabbed Gabrielle from where she sat and started running towards the caves of Ares. What is it with me? Gabrielle thought as she was whisked away by some masked woman. She was indignant to be sure, but somehow she didn't really care. Xena had never come for her. She didn't care if Gabrielle was being carried off by an assassin right now. From the moment Gabrielle had met Xena her destiny seemed to have sung. Now it was a low wail. If she wasn't going to come back, then Gabrielle might as well be killed.

When the masked woman reached the caves, she dumped Gabrielle gently on the cave floor and ran off again. If Gabrielle had her old spirit, she would have jumped up and ran out of the cave. The woman hadn't even left a guard. But as it was . . . well, it was just as easy sitting here as it was sitting at her sister's house, who seemed more than eager to be rid of her, actually.

Suddenly, Gabrielle felt a pinprick pain shove its way into her neck. Groping wildly, she pulled a dart out of her neck which was covered in . . . Wait, Gabrielle recognized that smell! After Xena's near death or at least Gabrielle thought it had been, Xena had shown her the dart that Callisto had used to put Xena out of commission enough to put in action her plan.

Talmic poison! Gabrielle's mind worked even as her eyes fluttered closed. Callisto? Could she . . . be behind this?

Gabrielle groaned into unconsciousness. Her mind was as quick as a whip flew. She suddenly knew who was in that mask. It was kind of obvious with all the secrets recently. Oh, gee a woman with a mask appears and uses the exact poison as this reality's Callisto used? It didn't take Plato to reason out that Callisto and Joxer had decided to put their fingers into this mess and make Xena see that Gabrielle could get injured even without the Warrior Princess around.

Did they have to put me out of commission to do this? Gabrielle asked herself as her body thudded against the cave floor. With friends like these who needed enemies?

Though she couldn't move, Gabrielle still was aware as if a cotton ball had been wrapped around her entire body. But she was still aware when Xena showed up.

She came . . . Gabrielle thought woozily. Come on, Xena, get me out of here.

She didn't expect Xena's wail—which struck through her very bones, slicing them to ribbons. Gabrielle knew she meant a lot to Xena. Once Xena even said that Gabrielle was her source. But after the whole Hope debacle, she thought Xena couldn't possibly care about her anymore. Gabrielle's daughter was responsible for so much of Xena's pain.

Gabrielle never knew how deeply Xena would mourn her. Now, Gabrielle understood everything Xena had done recently. That was the reason why Xena was so against the death vision. Xena could die herself and still be happy as long as Gabrielle survived, but she couldn't stand it, couldn't live, breathe, or function if she knew that Gabrielle had died with her.

Oh, Xena, Gabrielle thought inside that cocoon. Don't you see? I feel the same . . .

But she couldn't do anything—couldn't say anything, couldn't even lift a finger to comfort Xena, to tell her that no matter what happened, they belonged together.

And as the minutes went on, Gabrielle knew . . . Something was wrong.

Xena left. And she was alone again.

Hours seemed to pass before Callisto came to retrieve her body.

"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle," she murmured. "I hope you can hear me. I put too much poison on the dart. Just . . . keep fighting, okay?"

Gabrielle was going to fight—that was for sure.

She was just afraid it might not be enough. Even now, the sheer amount of poison coursing through her body demanded shutdown—demanded death of all her limbs. And she held on.

But she was starting to weaken. She felt Lila's concern radiating in the room.

This was true torture. Not being able to comfort your loved ones as they mourned your body. Trapped inside your own skin as grief hurt the ones you were closest to. She'd rather have her arms chopped off or be shot full of arrows.

Darkness started overtaking her vision, so even the limited awareness went away.

Gabrielle was dying. She wouldn't make it. She just wasn't strong enough. Inside she cursed herself. Had she just been eating regularly, doing her yoga, strengthening her body and mind, she would have been stronger. Part of her even cursed her peace way. She wasn't supposed to be weak. She was supposed to be strong!

That was what she always wanted even when she was small and the other children would knock her down. But now she would be defeated. Not by a sword or chakram, but by her own self. She was destroying herself.

And she faded bit by bit.

Darkness . . . Oh, Xena, Gabrielle thought. I wouldn't choose this—I wanted to be by your side when I died. Then . . . light. Oh she recognized this—she was heading towards the Elysian Fields. Now that didn't make sense. Unlike the last time she had almost died, she wouldn't go to the Elysian Fields. Not with so many different lands who could claim her afterlife.

No . . . the light was only expanding. "Come on, Gabrielle," a masculine voice said. "You need to want to come back."

I do, Gabrielle thought but couldn't speak. I do! "I do," she croaked. Her eyes fluttered open to see an unexpected sight. "Autolycus? What?"

"Ah, the cure worked! Um . . ." He looked towards her sister. "You're lucky, Gabrielle. Your sister caught me, and I know an antidote to Talmic poison."

"Xena . . . I need to see Xena."

"Gabrielle!" Lila wailed and hugged her, letting her tears fall on Gabrielle's shoulder. "You're okay! Rest."

"No! I need to see Xena. She thinks I'm dead! You didn't hear her. I need to get to her now."

"You're way too weak to ride a horse," Lila pointed out. "Or ride in any wagon or chariot."

"But . . . I can't! I need to see Xena!" Gabrielle tried to sit up as if she was going to run off right there.

"Hold on, Gabrielle," Autolycus said with a sigh. "I know that look. I'll take you there. I have the ability to travel anywhere. Now, don't ask, I'll give you a somewhat complete report later and you can scribble away in your scrolls until your heart's content. For now, let's get you to Xena's side, okay?"

"Thank you, Autolycus, for everything. You are a good man. I don't think there's anything you could do which would make me hate you."

"Wait. The day's young yet," Autolycus replied looking towards Lila. "Let's go." He put out his hand and Gabrielle clutched it. Suddenly they were swirling, surrounded by feathers.

"Hermes," Gabrielle breathed. Though she didn't much have the old reverence she once held for the Greek gods, she still got a little thrill when their power touched her.

"Yes, Gabrielle. Now I have limits to my abilities and Ares' temple isn't where I can go. It's a long story, but Hermes blood and Ares have problems with each other. I'll have to drop you off at the door."

But she didn't have much time to dwell on it. This journey had lasted a blink of an eye. And that blink brought in a horrifying scene. Xena with all her rage was over Ares the God of War hoisting one of Cronus' ribs to kill him with. A lot of thoughts flew through Gabrielle's brain. Xena was going to kill over her—Xena who promised she wouldn't. If Ares died by her hand . . . the gods would not be happy. It was one thing with Apollo. It had been self-defense. He had signed his own death warrant by trying to take what he shouldn't have. The gods were sometimes monsters, but they had their rules. If mortals could defend themselves, they had every right to.

But whatever vengeance Xena was getting wasn't just. Gabrielle knew who had done this, and it hadn't been Ares!

But more than anything else she thought, one thing just blocked out everything else. Xena was here!

"Xena! Wait! I'm alive!" she yelled out, seconds before Xena shoved the rib into his heart. Ares was very lucky that Xena had reflexes honed in fire and steel. Centimeters away, the tip almost puncturing his breast, Xena stopped, turning to see the new arrival.

"What?" she asked, sounding far away, as the real Xena came back slowly, the one who knew this blond standing in front of her.

"It was Talmic poison."

"It was what?"

"NO! Stop, Xena!" yelled new voices. And Joxer and Callisto ran in. Joxer carried Callisto but practically collapsed as he struggled to a stop.

Xena's eyes narrowed. "Now wait a minute . . . Talmic poison? You two are here to stop justice. This isn't . . ."

"Yes, Xena, it was them," Gabrielle said shakily. "But we can talk about this all later. I really dislike Ares' temple."

"It's your own fault, blondie," Ares muttered. "You and your disgusting peace way hate anything to do with my great and wonderful war. Now can someone tell me why Xena just tried to kill me?"

"Besides the obvious reasons?" Joxer said looking sheepishly at the two. "Uh, hi, Gab. You look like you're feeling better."

"No thanks to you!"

"Let's get out of here," Xena sighed. "Joxer, I am going to kill you."

"Kill Callisto! She thought of it!"

"Nice way to throw me under the chariot, Joxer," Callisto muttered, but all were smiling as Xena lent Gabrielle a shoulder to lean on as they walked out, and Callisto lent Joxer one as well as he was still exhausted from his run. This one had drained him.

There was a lot to talk about here. Gabrielle really hoped that Callisto and Joxer wouldn't be too bruised after Xena was done with them. Oh, and after Gabrielle had one of her failures at the peace way and throttled her good friends.