"Mother, why are we here?" Solan asked, his voice a bit deeper than she remembered. He was tall; a good looking young man. It made her sad that she'd been unable to watch him grow up, initially by choice but then because of something that was completely out of her hands…and in her mind, it was partly her own fault for not dealing with Hope sooner.
"Sweetheart, you remember…"
"I remember," he said quietly. "I remember Hope killing me, if that's what you're asking." He looked up at her. "It's true, you know. The dead really can hear your thoughts. I heard you…after you found me…" Xena swallowed hard, stopping in her tracks and turning to face her son.
"Solan, I never told you," she said softly, her voice shaking. "I should have, and I'm so sorry."
"You did what you had to do," he said, sounding so wise for his years. "You made the right choice to leave me with the Centaurs."
"You became exactly what your father wanted you to be. He would be very proud," she said softly, cupping his cheek with her calloused hand. "I'm very proud." Solan smiled sadly.
"I know you only have a week with us," he said gently. "I never expected to be back, you know. But I'm here for a week, and I want to enjoy it with my family."
"A week? Sweetheart…"
"I heard what Ares said to you. I was standing right there," Solan pointed out with the impatience of a teenager but the tone of a rational adult. "If you bring me back, you have to give up everything you know. If you do that, you won't remember anything. You won't remember Father, or Uncle Marcus, or…or Gabrielle."
"I could never forget them," Xena pointed out.
"But you'll have to."
"I'll have you, and that'll be a reminder of everything good in my life," Xena explained. "I don't want to give up the people I love, Solan, but I don't want to give you up either. I've missed out on too much of your life to ever give up the chance of being a mother to you."
"The best thing you ever did for me was make sure I had a good home, and I had that. I'm not saying I wouldn't have wanted to grow up without you, but…well, my uncle always said that things happened for a reason. If you'd kept me after my father died, I might not even be alive today. Or I'd be a warrior, and you didn't want that either."
"No, I didn't." Xena had tears in her eyes. "Solan, let's not talk about this right now."
"Don't do this for me." He looked at Eve, who was sleeping in Xena's arms. "I could have defended myself, Mother. I could have hidden, but I was frozen there. I didn't think a child could be so…" He shook his head. "I just wanted you to know…I didn't feel anything. I wasn't in pain."
"What happened wasn't your fault. You shouldn't have had to defend yourself against Hope. I should have been there!" She pulled him close and kissed the top of his head. "I've run it through my head a million times, trying to figure out how I could have changed things. Now I have that chance." Solan pulled away.
"Please…don't do this for me. Whatever you do, do it for Eve. She needs you to protect her." He looked off down the path. "Come on, Gabrielle must be waiting." He walked off, and Xena turned to watch him, stunned. He was so grown up, but at the same time, that adult mindset was turning him into a martyr, of sorts. He was willing to give up a second chance at life so that his mother could continue to be a warrior and protect his sister from the evils of the world. How could he give it all up and be so calm about it?
But then she realized, he'd done without a lot his entire life but had still been a relatively happy kid. Well, she decided, whatever happened, she was going to make sure this week was worth it. One week with her children would never be enough, she knew, and whatever the decision, it would be a difficult one.
Within the hour, Gabrielle turned at the sound of footsteps coming down the path. First to enter sight was Xena, carrying a sleeping Eve.
"By the gods," Gabrielle whispered, getting up and rushing over to Xena, who looked both relieved and bewildered. Xena immediately placed the child in Gabrielle's arms, and Gabrielle held her close. "Eve…Xena, how did you…"
"Things are never as simple as they seem." And going into Hades to retrieve her daughter's soul from the Elysian Fields didn't seem simple in the least.
"I don't understand," Gabrielle commented slowly. But as she spoke, Solan stepped into view, flooring her instantly. She held her footing, but she felt as if her entire body had fallen backwards, knocking the wind out of her.
"Hi, Gabrielle," he said in that voice…that voice he'd greeted her with so many times. There wasn't an ounce of sorrow or anger there, and it amazed her to no end.
"We have a lot to talk about," Xena said quietly, looking at Gabrielle and then both of her children. Gabrielle froze, her gaze going on past Xena's shoulder.
"We're going to have to talk about it later." She nodded toward the group of thugs coming their way. "Xena!"
"Solan, take Eve. Get to safety." Solan grabbed his little sister from Gabrielle's arms, as Xena unsheathed her sword, and Gabrielle drew her Sais, holding them at the ready.
"Get them!" the leader of the pack barked, as the men formed a line barrier across the path, blocking the warriors' escapes. Xena and Gabrielle glanced briefly behind themselves, reassuring themselves that Solan and Eve were safe. Once assured, they turned in time to block the sword swings of two foes. Xena's sword slid against the inferior steel of her opponent's before she delivered a swift kick to his gut, sending him soaring backward.
Gabrielle blocked her opponent's blow with her Sais, knocking him back before delivering a quick swivel quick to his head, putting him out of the right. The last two thugs were ordered by their leader to charge, but they were quickly knocked unconscious , leaving the three standing in a defensive triangle. Xena's sword clashed with the leader's, and he jumped backward, thrusting his sword at her midsection. She blocked the blow, as Gabrielle came around from behind, knocking his feet out from under him. As he went down, Xena pressed down on either side of his neck.
"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in thirty seconds. Talk." The man gasped and sputtered for breath.
"A bounty. The Bringer of Twilight has returned to this world…"
"Word travels fast," Xena seethed. Nothing surprised her anymore, including the fact that less than an hour after returning, thugs were already after her daughter. "You're wasting your time. The prophecy has been shattered."
"There's a bounty on her head. 1,000 dinars to the first person who brings him the child of Twilight…alive." Xena's eyes widened and she grabbed the man by the scruff of the neck.
"The warlord…Daimon." Xena released the pinch and knocked the man over the head.
"Do you know him? This Daimon?"
"I've heard of him," Xena replied, sheathing her sword. "Solan!" Solan came out from hiding, a sleepy Eve nestled safely in his arms. "He's selfish, manipulative, and only wants what's beneficial to him. My guess is that he wants Eve to keep as his own until she's old enough to be sold as a slave. The child once known to be the bringer of the Twilight is sure to fetch a pretty dinar in the trade."
"Sounds like Ares' kind of warlord." Xena glanced at Gabrielle.
"No, Ares isn't involved."
"Just how do you know that?"
"I just do," Xena replied, moving toward her children. Gabrielle put her Sais back into her boot laces.
"He helped you?" Xena said nothing. "I figured you must have…you didn't come out of the lake." Gabrielle sighed heavily. "What makes you think you can trust him?"
"He helped me get to Hades' castle, and he stayed behind to talk to him while I went…"
"What makes you think he didn't cut a deal with Hades while you were in the Elysian Fields?" She glanced at Solan, wondering if she'd said too much.
"It's ok, Gabrielle. I remember everything." Gabrielle wondered if he meant what she thought he'd meant.
"I mean, I remember dying and being in the Elysian Fields. I remember Hope." He cleared his throat. "I don't blame you, Gabrielle." Gabrielle felt a lump growing in her throat, and her eyes clouded with tears.
"Gabrielle, we have a lot to talk about it, and I suggest we find someplace safe to discuss it."
An abandoned temple, overrun with cobwebs and rats, sat silent in the middle of a bustling city. The echoes of street merchants haggling with peasants and soldiers commanding villagers to do their bidding filled the stagnant air of the temple. A flash of blue barely disrupted the still demeanor of the ruined temple.
Ares appeared, his form calm and still but his eyes flashing with panic. He had to think of a way to stop Xena from making the choice he knew she was going to be forced to make.
"Aphrodite? Aphrodite!" A flash of pink hearts illuminated the temple for a moment, before the goddess of love appeared in her usual scant choice of clothing.
"Whoa, what's with the anger? Tone it down a notch, bro," Aphrodite suggested, placing her hands on her hips. "What are you doing here anyway? Xanthos stopped worshipping the Olympians a long time ago."
"Yeah, but I wanted to meet somewhere private. Somewhere away from Olympus." Aphrodite raised an eyebrow.
"This is serious then. What's up?"
"I need to ask you for a favor."
"What kind of favor?"
"Look, to make a long story short, Xena's got her kids back from the Elysian Fields."
"Hades actually allowed that?" Aphrodite asked. "I can't say I'm not happy for her, but I'm surprised Uncle Hades…"
"He's giving her a choice. She can either watch her son be sent back to the Elysian Fields at the end of the week, or she can keep them both."
"So, if she keeps them both, she has to give up her memories of ever being a warrior."
"That's bad," Aphrodite pointed out. Ares looked at her with slight annoyance.
"Of course it's bad."
"Look bro, I know you have a thing for the warrior babe, but I don't know how I can help you. She seems to like you a little more than she used to these days. Maybe you can talk to her."
"There's no talking to a mother who's protecting her children. You should know that." Aphrodite thought about Cupid and how she'd done some pretty crazy things for his own well-being in the past. With a nod, she put her hand on her brother's shoulder and gave him a wink.
"I hear ya. What can I do to help?"
As usual, feedback would be most appreciated!