Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: Many of these characters do not belong to me, and we know which ones do not. However I own the plot and other certain characters.

Violence: There is violence in this story.

Subtext: Any subtext becomes main text here.

Summary: The sequel to The Loudest Silence. Xena and Gabrielle are headed to the Amazons for a visit, but visited by an unwelcomed guest, Hope. With the death of the Olympian gods, Dahak has been freed and Hope is reborn, but this time she awakens with new eyes. Dahak orders Hope to capture Gabrielle so that Gabrielle may be infected again. However Hope refuses and instead pursues the bard and Warrior Princess to protect them from Dahak. Can Hope truly earn the heroes' trust and protect her mother?

Website: www . redhope . net

Started: September 6, 2000

Ended: September 6, 2000

Revised: January 4, 2009

Series 6: Thick as Blood – Story #2

Fight for Hope

by Red Hope

Chapter 1

Xena and Gabrielle just finished getting their camp prepared for the night. The warrior was debating what she should get for dinner while her partner was busy getting the campfire better under control. Gabrielle stood up after she finished.

Xena tilted her head and softly asked, "What are you hungry for?"

The bard stared into the fire, as if she didn't hear, and she considered the request. "Some tuna would be great." She flashed a glance at her soul mate.

The Warrior Princess rolled her eyes then tilted her weight to her right foot.

Gabrielle chuckled at Xena's look then honestly reminded, "You asked what I wanted."

"Let me try that again," Xena started, "what would you like that I can hunt from around this general area?"

"How big do you mean when you say 'general'?" the bard taunted.

The warrior slotted her eyes, yet her grin creased her full lips. She casually strolled over to her partner then murmured, "Generally I mean relatively close to the camp."

Gabrielle opened her mouth to further her smart comments, but she stopped because she knew the teasing could get ugly. She simply smirked and honestly stated, "Quail would be nice." She then touched Xena's arm. "You don't mind waiting a minute, do you? I just want to go down to the stream and clean up."

The warrior bent forward and placed a soft kiss on the bard's temple. "Take your time." She then decided she'd spend the time brushing Argo down.

Gabrielle appreciated her partner's consideration. She first retrieved a small towel and soap from the saddlebags then she headed to the stream. The short journey allowed for her to reflect on her recent vacation with Xena on the island. She felt like a lot had changed for her and the warrior but for the better while they were on the island. The past year, minus the twenty-five, were rough on them both, and their relationship had become fragile.

The bard knelt beside the stream and placed the soap and folded towel on a large rock. She then cupped her hands in the water, splashed her face once, and used the soap to clean off the grime from the road travel. Afterwards, she dried her face and set the towel back on the stone, but she continued to stare at the calm water. She studied her reflection and considered how much she'd changed over the years. She grunted at the old memories of being a starry-eyed hero worshiper to becoming Xena's partner; a very dependable and needed partner for Xena.

Several recent memories overwhelmed the bard, and she shook them away for the most part except for one. Gabrielle dipped her right hand in the water then dampened her short bangs back on her head. Then slowly her fingers combed through her hair and stopped at the back of her head. She could still feel the faint scar left behind from Xena's chakram. It was funny how Ares's immortality sacrifice didn't seem to fully heal the scab.

Gabrielle released a sigh, but she wistfully smiled because she felt a lot better about her relationship with Xena now. She could tell Xena wanted this to work for them and to resolve their issues. She almost felt like thanking Aphrodite for it, but she knew it was Xena's decision wholly.

The bard's thoughts faded away but it seemed her memories would not. She oddly stared at her reflection when her former, younger self mirrored in the water next to hers. She blinked when her younger image gave her a raised eyebrow. Then suddenly Gabrielle's heart jumped into her throat when all her senses came to life. She instantly recalled that very familiar sensation that she thought would never plague her again.

In expert motion, Gabrielle went for her sais, rose up, and faced her opponent. She clenched her teeth when she took in her younger self standing before her in full life. She inhaled sharply then her tone laced with venom when she whispered, "Hope."

Hope stood motionless and passive, and she simply greeted, "Hello, mother." She even wore Gabrielle's former green haltertop and skirt plus the boots.

"By the gods," Gabrielle uttered when she realized she wasn't daydreaming. Her heartbeats became wild, yet she remained quite calm externally. "How are... what do you want?"

Hope noticed how her mother remained poised in a defensive stance and sais at the ready. She kept her distance. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?" She tilted her head then mentioned, "You've hardly aged."

The bard ignored the gibberish and instead flipped her sais out to reveal her blades. "What do you want?"

Hope almost replied, but she stopped and turned her head to the left. She slightly grinned and called, "Come join us, Xena."

The Warrior Princess nonchalantly approached with her sword's blade leaning against her right shoulder. She took her spot beside her partner and coldly assessed Hope from head to toe. "You just can't stay dead, can you?"

Hope smirked at the remark. "I take after my mother."

Gabrielle slotted her eyes at the comment. She stepped closer and became more threatening. "Tell us now why you're here or-"

"I'm here to protect you," Hope cut off.

The bard wavered, and the mounted tension filtered through her but returned. "Protect me from what?"

Hope was quiet for second then she finally answered, "From Dahak."

Xena briefly glanced at her soul mate so she could gauge Gabrielle's reaction and emotions. She deciphered that the bard wasn't buying it by a long shot, and neither was she. She decided silence was best so that she could determine Hope's motives.

Gabrielle shook her head then stepped back to Xena's side. She didn't feel threatened but not completely safe so she merely lowered her weapons to her side. "You've always been loyal to him, Hope. I'm not about to believe otherwise." She didn't like the mention of Dahak since she had the feeling that he was most likely trying to return to earth again.

Hope stepped closer then her stone features broke with hidden emotions. "You're at risk." She glanced up at Xena then amended, "You both are. Dahak has ordered his disciples to bring you and Xena to him. You're to be..." She stopped and her eyes lowered then met Gabrielle's passionless eyes. "You're to be infected again. And Xena's death is the welcoming sacrifice."

"Let's pretend I believe you," Gabrielle started, "why does Dahak need me infected again?" She quickly thought it out and couldn't believe what she was concluding.

Hope shook her head then informed, "You could say I'm not daddy's little girl anymore." She went silent and seemed to grow uncomfortable. "We've had difference of opinions lately. So I left the cult to find you when he told me his wishes."

Gabrielle smirked then snidely tormented, "You're not so keen on a replacement huh?"

Hope suddenly became angry and snapped, "Do you think that's really it?" She came closer but stopped when the warrior lowered her sword as a warning. She focused back on Gabrielle. "I would have walked away from the cult and not bothered to find you. Dahak will have me killed for this." She clenched her hands at her side. "I've spent over six days tracking you down."

The bard did grant that much to the demi-god. She peered up at her silent partner then grabbed Xena's arm. She ordered to Hope, "Don't move."

Xena took several paces away from Hope and turned to her partner once they were out of earshot.

"What you think?" the bard quietly questioned and fully trusted Xena's opinion.

The Warrior Princess honestly considered all things then replied, "I'm not exactly sure."

Gabrielle glanced at Hope then up to her partner. "I'm glad I'm not the only one then." She tapped a sai's handle against her thigh then whispered, "If Dahak is trying to come back then we have to stop him."

The warrior consented with a faint nod. "And what about Hope?"

The bard blinked at Xena's open question because she didn't expect Xena to remain calm about this. She wondered if she wasn't the one acting angrier than Xena about Hope's arrival. "We can use her," she softly planned aloud, "even if she's setting up a trap for us. We need to find the cult and quickly."

"We need to stay on our guard." Xena's eyes sparkled an ice blue, which meant she was solely the warrior now. "Who knows what powers she has."

"It'll be safer if we take her to camp," Gabrielle muttered, "as much as I don't want to. It'll be dark soon."

The Warrior Princess didn't like it either, but she agreed with her soul mate's logic. "Alright." She stepped away then approached the woman, who's features were exactly like her soul mate's younger days. It also reminded her of a very hard year in her life and in Gabrielle's.

The bard decided to take the initiative so she spoke first. "We can talk about the rest of this in our camp." She waited a beat and explained, "Tomorrow you're going to take us to the disciples."

Hope narrowed her eyes then argued, "You'll be walking into your death. I didn't find you so I could get you killed."

Gabrielle huffed then snapped, "I don't remember you ever not trying to kill us." She then stepped to her right to go towards the camp. She stopped after three steps, turned, and held out her arms. "Either way, Xena and I plan to find the disciples... with or without your help." She turned and continued to the camp.

Hope's jaw was locked tight then her fiery green eyes met the warrior, who she loathed more than anybody on this earth. She held a long stare with the warrior.

Xena used all her will to hold back her dying urge that wanted to attack the demi-god. She gripped her hilt so tightly that her knuckles were white. She lifted her chin slightly then urged her legs to carry her away. She turned to her right then followed Gabrielle's cold trail back to the camp.

Hope's internal struggle raged for awhile, and she began to breath heavily. She shut her eyes and listened to the last footsteps of the warrior. She took a deep breath then forced her hands to unclench. Finally, she opened her eyes, turned to her left, and went in the assumed direction of the camp.

Gabrielle tensed when the demi-god entered their small camp.

The warrior already sensed Hope's arrival, but she didn't acknowledge her and instead continued to aimlessly root through her saddlebags.

Gabrielle realized the sunset would be in a candlemark so she turned to her partner. "You should go on the hunt."

Xena stopped what she was doing then twisted her head to her partner. She merely arched an eyebrow.

Gabrielle understood her partner's concerns so she assured, "I'll be fine... we need to eat, Xena."

The Warrior Princess briefly glanced at Hope, who remained on the edge of the clearing. She sighed then straightened up completely. "Holler if you need me." Despite she knew how dangerous Hope could be, she also didn't feel any major threat plus Hope was rarely known for attacking Gabrielle. So Xena silently disappeared into the woods.

Gabrielle went to the abandoned saddlebags and searched for her cooking supplies. "You can sit down." She didn't bother to look in Hope's direction.

Hope, not sure what else to do, followed Gabrielle's instructions. She came a few paces into the camp then sat on the log near the fire. She carefully watched what Gabrielle was doing, as if completely interested by it.

The bard carried her cooking supplies to the campfire. She set them down in a particular way since she had a certain rhythm down to her cooking these days. She then squatted in front of the fire and picked up the stick that rested near by. She poked the live stick into the fire and merely toyed with it.

Hope carefully watched the bard's movements and tried to predict what Gabrielle may be thinking, but she wasn't sure.

Gabrielle quietly sighed then removed the stick from the fire. "I thought Dahak was destroyed by Hercules...?"

"Not exactly," Hope explained, "After Hercules defeated Dahak in his realm, the Olympian gods banished Dahak into another realm. He couldn't escape it."

Gabrielle finally turned her gaze to her younger mirror. "How'd he escape then?"

"What lock the Olympian gods had on the realm suddenly vanished." Hope seemed to considered another fact then mentioned, "It seems most of the Olympian gods are... gone."

Gabrielle lowered her head and bit the inside of her mouth. Then it struck her blindly so she dropped her head and almost felt like crying right there. Of course Xena's ability to kill the gods led to the death of the Olympian religion and now the rebirth of Dahak. When the gods were killed, Xena had inadvertently freed the dark one-god and just when she thought it was getting better.

Hope easily detected the bard's distraught, but she didn't say anything.

Gabrielle shoved her emotions down, opened her eyes, and she met Hope's stare with an expressionless face. "How were you reborn?"

"Once Dahak was free so was his will." Hope watched the realization washover the bard, but she still explained it anyway. "His temple has been long forgotten but one day a farmer passed it. The farmer became curious and Dahak's will pulled him in closer. The next day, the farmer brought his friends, and those friends brought more."

Gabrielle imagined it would have been simple to do since there was no prominent religion in Greece anymore. There were so many changes these days. "The temple was repaired then?" After Hope's nod, she summarized the rest. "The disciples found your remains... and brought you back." She became irritated because if she and Xena hadn't been away then they may have found out sooner and diverted this entire mess.

Hope then decided to change the topic as something still struck her odd. "It's been twenty-seven years but you've only aged a few years." Before she even saw Gabrielle down by the stream, she already had suspected something strange had happened because her powers granted her further insight.

Gabrielle poked the fire again with her stick then quietly stated, "Xena and I slept away twenty-five years in ice tombs."

The demi-god absorbed the information, which made perfect sense to her now. That was the exact amount of time Hope didn't feel Gabrielle anymore then it suddenly returned to her like the sun rose over the horizon.

"How did you find me?" Gabrielle murmured who now stared peculiarly at Hope.

Hope tilted her head to the right. "You know how I found you."

And the bard did know, but she hated to admit to it and hated to think it was real. Ever since Hope's conception, she's always had some deep internal link with Hope that helped her sense Hope's life or presence. It was the same bond that told Gabrielle, years ago when she and Xena tried to stop Hope, to walk away from Xena near Dahak's temple and meet Hope in the woods. She'd felt it again when she was on the island with Xena, but she merely brushed it aside because she thought it was her imagination. She needed to trust her senses better.

Gabrielle snapped out of her thoughts when she heard Xena enter the camp. Some of her tension washed away despite she knew Xena had been standing on the camp's edge for most of the conversation. She loved how her and Xena could communicate anymore without so much as passing words. "Find something?" the bard inquired.

Xena held up her trophy dinner. "As requested."

Gabrielle slightly smiled at seeing the little birds that were ready to be skewered and cooked. She met her partner halfway and took the quails. She actually counted six so she knew Xena had gotten extra for Hope. This shocked her, but she didn't question it either. The bard prepared the quails with herbs then placed it over the fire. She then sat on the ground by the fire and idly listened to Xena sharpening her sword. She briefly glimpsed at her soul mate as if she considered something.

The warrior paused then met her lover's gaze. She tilted her head slightly then returned to her sharpening.

Gabrielle knew it was easier for her to talk to Hope merely because Hope became more open with her. She turned her head to the demi-god. "How big is the cult?"

"No bigger than last time... but Dahak's will is growing stronger." Hope's ruby lips thinned then she added, "This is no different than last time."

"It's a lot different," Gabrielle coldly rebuked. She stood up then went to the saddlebags. She retrieved the waterskin because she'd become so parched.

Xena didn't stop her work, but she civilly questioned, "Does the cult know you left to protect Gabrielle?"

"By now, yes," the demi-god answered. "Originally I told them that Dahak's will was to find you both. They are hunting for you. I then left after I felt they were well distracted... the priests are in charge." She then lowered her stare to the fire, which was giving off the added scent of poultry. "Dahak knows my will is not his."

The bard finished corking the waterskin. She tucked it away while she spoke. "Then he'll order the cult to kill you...?"

"Most likely," Hope agreed.

Gabrielle came back to the fire and rotated the meat. She glanced at her soul mate. "We need to destroy that temple... once and for all. If Dahak doesn't have a way to channel his will to the people then he has no access."

The warrior stopped sharpening, and she stared across the camp to Hope. "He still has one channel even if we destroy the temple."

Gabrielle followed her lover's gaze to the dark demi-god. She felt Hope become tense and defensive, and their bond maximized it for Gabrielle. Then she experienced something in the bond that she'd never felt before, it was pure fear.

Hope climbed to her feet then hotly threatened, "If you kill me again then my spirit returns to Dahak's realm. He will be sure to then alter me for his own means so that I am completely under his control." She stopped because she could tell her flare of temper wasn't helping the situation. She took a deep breath then reminded, "You can never truly kill Dahak because he is darkness... the darkness that you hold closest to your heart. You can only lock him out."

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at her younger reflection. "Then you're the key to truly locking Dahak out." The realization hit Gabrielle hard, and she felt every weight push down on her.

"I am," Hope softly relented.

"And what makes you think," Xena coldly informed, "that we're going to let you roam this earth freely?" She stood up and sheathed her sword. "I can think of a few places you'll be comfortable in for the rest of your life." She stepped up to her partner's rigid back.

The demi-god took in a few deep breaths to calm her anger. She didn't need this right now. She decided to focus on Gabrielle, who she prayed would listen to her over Xena. "I've changed... can't you see that?"

The bard didn't reply and remained close to her partner.

Hope clenched her hands at her side then stepped closer to the pair, but she remained centered on the bard, her mother. "You can feel it too... you know."

Gabrielle closed her eyes and turned her head away. She then shook her head and decided a distraction was in order. She went to the fire and checked on the quail. She turned them and determined they only needed another minute. She kept her attention on the fire then emotionally whispered, "I don't know what I feel." She met Hope's desperate features. "But I do know what I remember about you. You've always been Dahak's... and you always will be. I'm not about to fool myself otherwise."

"And as if Xena is so innocent," Hope shot back bitterly.

The Warrior Princess reigned over her anger but just barely.

However Gabrielle didn't, and she growled, "Do not even compare Xena to you. She is nothing like you." She then spat, "Nothing." She then removed the quail from the fire, and her hands trembled from rage.

Hope briefly watched how the warrior remained protective over her mother and how Gabrielle remained close. Not only could she see the deepened bond between them, but she could feel it. "It's always been her... it always will be."

Gabrielle finished setting the quails down on the plate. She was squatting down, and she closed her eyes. She willed her rage to remain somewhat capped. It was just too hard. She stood up then slowly approached the demi-god.

Hope stiffened when Gabrielle's furious expression struck her.

Gabrielle stood toe to toe with Hope and silently stared into matching green eyes.

Hope's earlier anger completely died upon Gabrielle's smoldering rage. She held her ground though.

Gabrielle leaned in closer then hotly whispered, "You're right... it'll always be Xena." She searched Hope's eyes, and she never thought she'd see so much inside of Hope like she did now. "You can't even begin to understand what Xena and I have been through. And what we have yet to go through. Do you think I would throw all that away? Especially to somebody, like you, who has tried to rob me of her?"

Hope turned her head away.

Gabrielle wouldn't allow it because she reached up and turned Hope's face back to her. "You brought all this on yourself, Hope. I took responsibility for your mistakes, and I won't anymore." She leaned in closer then whispered, "I've always wanted a child, and I risked everything for you... but you tried to take everything from me. I won't allow you to do that again... not just to me but to anybody else."

Hope closed her eyes then felt Gabrielle walk away from her. Then the familiar anger possessed her, and she almost gave into it. Instead she silently repeated to herself that she had to stop this cycle or else she'd lose. Hope lifted her bowed head then turned as her eyes opened. She silently disappeared into the dark woods.

Gabrielle remained knelt beside the wood plates. She paused between her preparations of the dinner then she felt a strong hand on her shoulder. She tried to keep organizing the dinner, yet Xena wouldn't allow her so she was hauled up to her feet.

Xena said nothing as words were useless right now. She pulled Gabrielle into her body and just held her. When Gabrielle's face touched her neck, she felt the acid tears touch her skin, and Xena bowed her head closer to Gabrielle's. She knew how it felt after recently confronting Livia.

After awhile, the couple separated and Gabrielle finished the dinner up. She and Xena then sat and quietly ate their meals. Gabrielle had a hard time eating, but she knew she needed the food. She then collected the dishes and was about to take them down to the stream.

Xena stopped her partner and took the plates from her. "I got this." She then signaled the remaining two quail on the other plate in hidden gesture.

The bard sighed as she understood what Xena's intentions were, which again surprised her. She decided to give into Xena's idea so she picked up the plate, grabbed a linen napkin, and quietly left the camp in the same direction Hope had gone.

Gabrielle didn't follow any trail in the woods, but she followed a beacon inside of her. She spotted Hope's seated and slumped form on a large rock. She didn't need to say anything to make her presence known because she knew Hope detected her already. So she simply knelt beside the demi-god and held out the plate as a peace offer.

Hope turned her head and stared at the older woman.

Gabrielle waited a beat then gently tried, "I know even a demi-god gets hungry."

Hope sighed then after a moment, she accepted the plate and napkin. She had to admit she was fairly hungry as she hadn't ate since she left the cult. The quail and herbs just smelled too good to be ignored.

The bard sat down on the ground beside the rock and leaned against it some. She stared straight ahead where the western sun's rays streamed through the forest. While she sat there, she considered who was beside her and how strange it all seemed. She shook her head some.

Hope carefully pulled the meat off the small bird. She'd never tried quail before, but the tender, almost sweet meat melted in her mouth. She sadly smiled when she realized she hadn't ate one of her mother's meals since she was a child.

Gabrielle kept quiet, which gave her time to think over things. She logically worked through the recent events this evening. She hated to admit it but maybe Hope was being honest about her changes. It wasn't just that Hope had every opportunity to attack them and hadn't, but it was because she felt the shift. When she gazed into Hope's eyes she didn't see that eerie, possessive darkness but there was a light to them. It seemed so impossible yet so real and very plausible. She knew because she'd witnessed it from two others in her life; Xena and Eve.

Hope finished the meal, cleaned her hands, and placed the napkin on top of the plate. She gingerly sat the plate down on the ground just to the left of her feet.

Gabrielle watched the motions that seemed so foreign. She brushed her bangs back then hoarsely pleaded, "Tell me why you're here to protect me. Why now, Hope?"

Hope briefly glimpsed at the bard then focused back on the red and orange streams coming through the trees. She swallowed then uttered, "Does it really matter?"

"It matters to me."

"I told you I would never hurt you," the demi-god murmured. She received a sarcastic grunt from the bard, but she continued to speak anyway. "I just didn't understand that I already had... I couldn't see it. I only understood that I wasn't harming you physically."

Gabrielle dipped her head and continued to listen carefully. She gave Hope the room to speak despite so many comments ran through her head.

Hope peered over at Gabrielle and studied her briefly. She clenched her right hand in her lap and whispered, "Twenty-seven years of being trapped in that realm is a long time to think." When the bard's slightly surprised features met her, she finally revealed, "I know now the pain you've suffered because of Dahak and me. When he ordered to have you reinfected I... I couldn't... I can't let it happen to you again." She turned her head away then muttered, "I've destroyed your life enough."

Gabrielle used all her strength to keep from crying before her daughter and enemy. She would not do it here, not before the woman she loved and hated all at once. And the woman, who perfectly mirrored her younger self when her world was so much more innocent, before Dahak. She breathed deeply.

Hope never felt so many emotions bombard her at once. When she followed Dahak it was so much more simpler because she was blindly guided by the dark shadows. Now she felt so alone and almost desperate, but she held tight to the fact that maybe Gabrielle's love still resided somewhere between them.

"Just after you were born, everybody seemed to know what you were... the cloth you were cut from. Xena and I ran from the people in the port town. My pregnancy was quick and soon I had you." Gabrielle emotionally told, "When you were born, Xena protected you from these knights in the castle where I had you." She swallowed down her feelings when the painful memories came to the top. "Xena started to fear that maybe you weren't innocent because you were from Dahak. I told her she better not come between you and me."

Hope had never heard the entire story of her birth and what'd proceeded afterwards. She just listened and waited for the end she knew.

"There were these... immortal spirits called banshees, and they wanted to protect you and me. They wanted to make sure you survived. At first I didn't let them then when Xena tried to attack you I took their help. I ran from Xena, but I knew she'd catch me and that I wouldn't be able to stop her." Gabrielle paused and took a few moments to calm her surge of emotions.

Hope stopped staring at the sunset's last rays. She rasped, "Then you put me in the basket."

"I did," Gabrielle softly agreed, "and I lied to Xena. I told her you turned on me, and I threw you over a cliff."

"You should have thrown me over the cliff," Hope confided.

The bard's head snapped up when she heard the honest words. She opened her mouth to say something, yet she had no words. She closed her mouth.

Hope saw it, but she said nothing to it. Instead she urged, "Don't go after Dahak... if they capture you...."

"It doesn't matter," Gabrielle argued, "I have to do this. Xena and I are the only ones that will stand up to him. We won't let him sweep across this earth like a black plague."

The demi-god knew the bard wouldn't stand down, and she'd already predicted that sooner. She just didn't want Gabrielle to be harmed. She shook her head then finally promised, "Tomorrow I'll take you to the temple."

Gabrielle understood what this meant, not just for her and Xena but for Hope too. "You don't have to... Xena and I know the way."

"No," Hope murmured, "two people protecting you is better than one."

Gabrielle decided it was best not to discuss it anymore. She climbed to her feet, picked up the plate, and subtly offered, "The camp will be warmer tonight than out here."

The demi-god peered up at the bard then faintly nodded. She stood and quietly followed along side Gabrielle.

Gabrielle had no words, and she wanted no emotions but that's all she had in her. She wanted to ignore them just like Hope, however that wasn't an option. She had to face the light. She had to face Hope's light.

Hope realized she wasn't the only one that'd changed greatly over this time, but also Gabrielle. She never thought the world and certain events could have such an impact on one's life, but it most certainly did on hers and Gabrielle's.

Xena lifted her head when her partner entered the camp with Hope at her side. She tried not to be too defensive. She sensed the slight mood change between the women so she figured they'd come up with some middle ground.

The bard set the plate down by the saddlebags so that it'd get cleaned tomorrow. She then unhooked the extra fur and bedroll then went to Hope. "You can sleep on the other side of the fire."

Hope accepted the items and was inwardly surprised by the gesture. She didn't require much sleep compared to most normal mortals, but she would tonight. She'd been traveling nonstop to find Gabrielle so she was quite worn. She went to the other side of the fire, as told, and she opened up the bedroll.

Gabrielle took her spot beside her partner on the log. She brushed her shoulder against Xena's.

The warrior stretched her legs out in front of her. "We'll leave at first light?"

"Yes," Gabrielle gently agreed. Her gaze flickered to Hope then back to Xena. "All of us."

Xena nodded her understanding and willed herself to accept the bard's choice. She knew Gabrielle wouldn't have agreed to Hope coming unless it served a good purpose. She didn't fear Gabrielle coming between her and Hope, not anymore.

Hope had her boots off, set aside, and she rested on the bedroll and in the warm furs. She was on her back and stared at the canopy of stars above her. It was truly the first time she'd ever stopped to notice them in her life. She couldn't fathom how many were up there and for a brief second she tried to count them but obviously failed.

Gabrielle's view wandered over to the dark demi-god. She sighed then leaned into her partner's body.

Xena lifted her right arm and brought it across the bard's shoulder. She leaned over and discreetly kissed her soul mate's temple. She hated seeing Gabrielle so torn and the constant torment there. If Xena couldn't take it away, she wanted to fix it. And when she gazed over at Hope. She knew Hope wasn't somebody she nor anybody else could fix, but she could take Hope away if she had to again.

Gabrielle tilted her head back and quietly asked, "Are you tired?"

"In a bit," the warrior replied.

The bard agreed then mentioned, "I'm going to take a walk... I'll check the perimeter."

The Warrior Princess understood her partner's need to have space and time alone. She nodded discreetly after she removed her arm.

Gabrielle climbed to her feet, stepped over the log so that she faced the woods, and her right hand rested on her soul mate's shoulder. Her fingertips grazed over Xena's back until she was too far, and she disappeared into the black forest.

Gabrielle moved stealthily and silently through the woods. She'd learned to use the shadows and carry her feet lightly. Xena had taught her much of it and some from the Amazons. What she truly learned from the Amazons was how to take to the trees, which she proceeded to do. She neatly landed on a sturdy branch then quickly moved along the branches until she came to a large tree. Gabrielle stopped and leaned her shoulder against the tree's trunk. She enjoyed the beautiful crescent moon that peaked through the leaves.

It was rare anymore that Gabrielle ever took the time to embrace nature. Lately her life hadn't allowed it, but she reminded herself to stop now and again. The moon's crescent shape and mercury color filled the bard's creative eye. She loved it.

Then something prickled Gabrielle's back neck, and she hunched down. Her fingers played with her sais, yet she didn't draw them and waited for any signs of danger. She saw nothing and certainly didn't hear anything. She concluded it was something completely else.

Gabrielle effectively jumped out of the tree and quietly hit the ground. She turned in a full circle then called, "Aphrodite, I know you're here."

Suddenly a pink cloud of sparkles appeared and shaped into the Goddess of Love. "That's so wicked how you do that, Gabs!"

The bard folded her arms then shot a smug look at her godly friend. "It's a bard thing."

Aphrodite shook her hips and held out her arms. She closed in the distance while crying out, "How about that bardie hug thing!"

Gabrielle couldn't resist a laugh or the goddess's hug. She warmly greeted her friend, who she hadn't seen in some time. She withdrew then stepped back once. "How have you been?"

"Bitchin'," the goddess replied.

The bard crinkled up her nose then she teased, "How's Ares?"

"Oh by me," Aphrodite ranted, "He's being such a baby. Like he totally can't do the mortal thing."

Gabrielle laughed but more because she loved the fact he was getting a taste of the mortal life. Yet she sobered and cleared her throat. "Well if he gets in a bind... Xena and I are around to help him."

Aphrodite waved her hand. "I check on his hairy ass all the time... he's totally fine." She then rested her hands on her pink hips. "So how you been, Gabs?" The bard only shrugged to her, which made Aphrodite worry. "Like I know what's happening..." She sighed then murmured, "With Dahak and all."

The bard shifted her weight around on her feet because she was slightly uncomfortable. She dipped her head for a beat then looked up again. "It'll be alright, Aphrodite... Xena and I will take care of him."

"I know," Aphrodite agreed. "I tried to like keep him locked away but... love just ain't enough against the darkness."

Gabrielle sadly smiled at her friend's attempted efforts to help. "Thank you for trying."

The Goddess of Love brushed her curly hair back then mentioned, "Like it was all fine before... before the deaths. We never thought Herc would have killed Zeus." She sighed sadly at the memories from years back. "After Zeus died, we all totally got together and like we kept Dahak locked in the realm. But when..."

Gabrielle stepped closer and touched her friend's smooth arm. "Once the other Olympian gods were killed then the lock broke." Aphrodite's nod made Gabrielle frown deeper. She released the goddess. "I suppose this is one of the prices we'll pay for it."

The goddess grew dark at the emotions she sensed from her friend. She then became nervous about something, which she received a look for from the bard. She held up her hands and said, "I know about Hope."

Gabrielle slotted her eyes at the goddess. "What..." She wasn't sure what she needed to ask, but she knew something was out of place.

Aphrodite groaned and grabbed the bard's shoulders. "Like totally promise you won't flip when I tell you this?"

The bard's face darkened, yet she nodded and promised, "I'll try not to. Now what happened?"

The Goddess of Love freed her hands and walked away in a nervous fashion. She waved her hands at her side then turned around to the patient bard. "Well you see... like... well since I couldn't keep Dahak locked away I kinda did something else." She laced her hands together and her apprehension further showed.

Gabrielle took a steady breath then carefully urged, "What did you do?"

If the goddess had pockets in her frilly, pink dress she would have shoved her hands in them. Instead she kept toying with her fingers and cautiously revealed, "I like did the only thing I could do." She bit her lower lip then confessed, "I freed Hope's heart and soul from Dahak."

"You... what?" The bard stared oddly at her friend then took a menacing step closer. "Aphrodite, she has neither."

"Yes she does, Gabs," the goddess argued. She dropped her hands to her sides finally when her backbone grew. "Dahak took them from her so that he could control her." She shook her head, which caused her curly locks to fly about. "She's your daughter, Gabrielle. Don't you think some of your passions would have been translated into her?"

"She is not my daughter!" the bard yelled. She stepped closer, and her hands fisted at her side. "She is nothing but a vessel for Dahak's evil." Her statement echoed Xena's from years ago.

The goddess stared horrifyingly at her friend, who she never expected to be this way. Aphrodite saw the bard as one of the few mortals in this world that had the truest heart. She actually became enraged. "I freed her from Dahak so that you could have her back, Gabrielle."

"I never had her," the bard confessed. "She's a curse, Aphrodite."

The Goddess of Love's powers gave her a deeper insight to the bard's defenses. She realized much of it was due to the past and how much Hope had hurt Gabrielle. "She's not the curse, Gabs... Dahak is the curse."

"How can you say that?" Gabrielle shook her head. "You don't know what Xena and I have been through."

Aphrodite dipped her head and murmured, "I never thought I'd see the day when you'd close your heart up." She revealed her broken features to the bard. "I thought that was Xena's job."

Gabrielle reacted as if she'd been struck across the face. She turned her back on the goddess and put a few paces between them. Her shoulders lifted into a tense position.

Aphrodite took a hesitant step, but she stopped. "She's very human, Gabrielle... I've seen it in her."

The bard turned her head sidelong and just listened.

"Do you remember how she acted when she was reborn the first time?"

Gabrielle swallowed then huskily uttered, "She seemed so... lifeless."

"That's because she was, Gabs... that was Dahak's control." The goddess came slightly closer and revealed more of the truth. "Then when she survived the fall in the fire pit she went to your family." Aphrodite's eyes glossed over from old memories when she watched Hope from her invisible position. "Hope could have birthed the Destroyer anywhere, but she chose your town. She was curious about your life and family, Gabs. She wanted to know what it felt like to be apart of a family."

The bard's throat tightened, and she shook her head. "She was going to kill them."

"If she had planned on it, wouldn't she have done it long before?"

Gabrielle turned her head away finally and bowed it. She sealed her eyes tightly and tried to ignore the goddess's logic. She didn't want to believe that Hope was anything more than an evil channel for Dahak.

Aphrodite became bolder. She neared the bard and walked around to the front of her. She reached out to the bard and whispered, "I know you feel her changes, Gabs." She placed her fingertips under the bard's chin and tilted the bard's chin up. "You share a rare bond with Hope... more than a normal mother and daughter do."

Gabrielle faintly nodded then she rasped, "And I don't want it, Aphrodite." She lifted her hands and took the goddess's into hers. "Take it away from me, please. I know you can."

Aphrodite shook her head. "I can't, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle's breaths became more rapid from her tidal emotions. Then tears trickled down her cheeks. "I can't do this, Aphrodite. I don't have that love that you think I have in me... I don't have the forgiveness." She shook her head. "Not anymore."

Aphrodite felt her own eyes sting at hearing her friend's painful words. She gazed deep into the bard's piercing emerald eyes and saw the young girl from Potidaea still alive. "I don't believe you."

The bard gritted her teeth and shook her head.

"You didn't survive all that you have," the goddess urged, "just to lose yourself now."

Gabrielle lowered her head when she suddenly became drowned in memories and emotions. She felt her knees give way, and she sunk to the ground.

The Goddess of Love quickly went to her knees too then pulled the smaller woman into her body. She silently held the stricken mortal, who she admired more than any other living being, mortal or otherwise.

Gabrielle clung to the goddess and released her quiet sobs. She trusted Aphrodite greatly and nobody else was a closer friend to her outside of Xena. Aphrodite's honest and profound words pierced through her aged armor, and she wept for so many reasons and for so many things. Gabrielle knew she could never return to her former self despite how much she wished those days again.

Aphrodite stroked the bard's short hair and rested her chin on top. She felt the darkened emotions from the bard, and she wanted to take them away. Although she knew the Fates made certain things happen for a reason, and she'd never alter them.

Gabrielle calmed and felt bad about breaking down on the goddess.

The goddess detected it so she promised, "I'm glad I was here."

The bard sniffed then lifted her head. "I'm sorry."

"Come on," Aphrodite argued, "what other rad god do you know would let you cry on them?"

Gabrielle tried to stop her laugh, but she failed. She wiped her face dry then carefully stood back up with Aphrodite's help.

"Gabs, I'm just asking you to at least try and give Hope a chance." Aphrodite rarely pleaded since she was so use to getting her way. She knew though the bard couldn't resist her pleas or her pouty expression.

"What if you're wrong?" Gabrielle glanced away then focused back on the goddess. "I can't repeat the past. I know what's at the end of that road."

"As if I'm ever wrong," Aphrodite proclaimed with her hands up. But then she saw Gabrielle's dubious look so she dropped her hands and sighed. "That's why I said try. Please." She could tell Gabrielle was breaking down. "I know you really don't want to refuse her, Gabrielle." She lifted her right hand and placed it over her chest. "Right here you don't want to refuse her."

Gabrielle bit her lip. She shook her head once. "I've never refused her there. Each day I just try to forget her... but..." She now covered her chest with her hand. "If I try to... it gets really hard to breathe then." She blinked her tears away. "How do you forget somebody that is apart of who you are?"

"You don't," Aphrodite bittersweetly replied.

Gabrielle pat her chest once over her heavily beating heart. She lowered her hand back to her side then fearfully asked, "What about Xena?"

"The warrior babe is more forgiving than most people give her credit for, Gabs." The goddess smiled because it was something she'd figured out by watching Gabrielle and Xena share their lives together. "Plus she's learned a lot recently from her experience with Eve."

"Eve and Hope are different."

"Not by much." Aphrodite negatively moved her head at the bard's doubtful look. "Eve has Callisto's soul and her mother's legacy. How's that much different than what Hope faces?"

Gabrielle inhaled deeply then released it until her shoulders were slumped in defeat. She closed her eyes then painfully confessed, "This will kill me, Aphrodite if it turns out bad." She met the goddess's gaze again.

The goddess understood her friend's underlying meaning, yet she had every faith in Hope's recent changes. She only feared that the demi-god would revert upon Gabrielle's rejection. Then where would that leave anybody? "I know, Gabs and you know it'll kill you more if you don't try."

Gabrielle released a single tear then her features twisted tightly from upset. She nodded because the goddess was right. She gained control over herself then shakily promised, "I'll try."

Aphrodite brightened upon hearing those beautiful words. She abruptly yanked her friend into a massive hug and declared, "You're like totally the coolest mortal friend a goddess could ever have!"

Gabrielle had to laugh because she was so worn from being upset. She returned the fierce hug, which gave her some strength too. Then she actually felt herself believe Aphrodite.

To be continued.