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by noelle

Gabrielle found herself suddenly in the dark, looming house of Hades. Hades was standing beside her, holding the bag containing the ambrosia tightly in his left hand. She felt overwhelmed by the dull colors and shadowy corners. The temperature had dropped remarkably also, but she imagined it was a nice change from the conditions in Tartarus. She looked around at the grotesque, abstract architecture of the room, and shuddered. Gargoyles stormed the corners, and ominous pillars took their place deep in the shadows. She could almost swear she heard the distant sound of soft moaning. The Underworld gave her a strange feeling, both one of fear, but more of mystery, though she had no desire to step outside the House of Hades, and look for whatever was lurking out there.

"So this is Hades," she said grimly. "You donít know all the legends Iíve heard about this place."

"Oh, this is only the House of Hades," Hades answered. "You havenít been outside yet."

Gabrielleís eyes grew wide and intimidated.

"Oh, donít worry," he said. "We wonít have to go outside. After Cerberus died, I took his body inside my castle. No need to leave a dead carcass out there to guard the gates. The souls inside could see plainly he was dead. I couldnít even hide it."

"Good," Gabrielle sighed with relief.

He grabbed a torch hanging off of the wall. He lit it, and made his way passed his throne. Gabrielle watched him disappear behind the bone-white throne, and heard the grinding of stone against stone. Moments later he reappeared from behind the throne. He waved her over.

"Come here," he beckoned. "This is where I hid Cerberus."

She came up beside him cautiously, and peered inside the secret chamber he had opened. Sure enough, a massive heap of hair and teeth was lying at the base of the stone compartment. He had already stooped beside the beast, waving the torch over the dark carcass, revealing three enormous heads. Gabrielle gasped.

"So the legends are true!" she exclaimed, "He really has three heads." She stopped with a focused glare from Hades. "Oh, sorry. I guess youíre right, we should get to work."

She knelt beside the creature. He forced the sack full of ambrosia into her hands quickly. She looked to him for an explanation, but his eyes refused to meet hers.

"Why did you give the ambrosia to me?" Gabrielle asked, "I donít know which head to give it to. If I pick the wrong oneó"

"You give it to him," he said. "Iím not one for luck." He smiled grimly. "Besides----Iím not really sure which head to give it to, either."

Gabrielle started to object, but she stopped. Getting upset wouldnít help either of them.

"What if I give it to the wrong head?" she demanded.

Hades shrugged.

"I donít know what to tell you," he said. "All I know, is we better figure it out soon."

Gabrielle looked down worriedly at the carcass.

"Iím not sure----should we guess?" she asked weakly.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Hades said.

He waited while she studied the three heads. She pointed to the center one.

"That head would make the most sense," she said aloud. "Center head. . .center of the body, maybe?"

Hades nodded. He lifted the massive head off the floor, pointing its muzzle in her direction. She fished through the sack, and took out the ambrosia. She broke a small piece from it, and warily began approaching the large dogís mouth with her hand.

"You have to open his mouth," Hades instructed, using all his strength to keep the giant head off the floor.

Gabrielle grimaced as she pulled back his lips, revealing layers of threatening teeth, and opened his mighty jaws. She forced the ambrosia in, and cringing, she pushed it towards his throat with a finger. She closed the animalís mouth, and they both waited, anxiously for some result whether good or bad.


Xena arrived in Potedia as dawn began to seep into the horizon. The rising sun caused pale, faded pastel colors to illuminate the sky, creating a soft, dim light touching the village before Xena. Xena trotted into town, observing the desolate streets disturbed by only a few straying villagers, and the houses shut up and closed to the outside world, people huddling close together inside. Xena could feel the stillness of the air, but even more so, the fear of each and every inhabitant of Potedia, waiting to die.

Xena soon found herself in front of Lilaís house, and she dismounted Argo. She walked stalwartly to the door, where she rapped quickly. Soft footsteps shuffled across the wooden floors. Xena felt the lock falling out of place, and clumsy hands fumbling for the doorknob. Moments later, the door opened, and Lila stood before her.

Xena smiled uncertainly. Lila returned the smile with a quick, uncomfortable flash of friendliness.

"So youíre back," Lila said.

She looked anxiously passed Xena, her eyes searching. Finally, she managed to get a clear view passed the large warrior princess and her bulky armor. She frowned.

"Whereís Gabrielle?" she asked, concerned.

"Donít worry," Xena said. "Sheís fine. Sheís just----" Xena stopped herself. She smiled apologetically. "----doing me a favor."

"Ah," Lila said.

She looked the warrior princess over for a few extended moments, measuring her with skeptical eyes. Finally, she waved Xena in.

"Why donít you come on in?" she asked. "Itíll do you no good to wait out there."

Xena nodded and stepped inside, stooping under the door frame. She looked around, observing the homey house. The main room was the dining room, a modest table occupying the middle, and a small stove and basin tucked away in the corner. Two smaller rooms branched off of this room, and through a quick glance, Xena assumed they were the bedrooms.

Lila moved towards the stove and stooped over. She opened the heating stove, and tended to whatever was inside. Xena sighed quietly to herself, and took a seat at the table, one foot finding a notch in a chair beside her to rest the weight of her leg on. She was vaguely aware of her unladylike tendencies when she sat with her legs planted firmly apart, but she showed desire to change the small masculine quirk. Lila turned, shutting the oven, and noticed Xenaís sitting position. She frowned a little at first, but reminded herself of her company. She smiled weakly.

"So," she said, "howíd it go?"

"Everythingís gone smoothly so far," Xena said.

"Well, thatís good." Lilaís voice was hopeful.

Xena nodded in agreement.

A mug fell beside her hand, and Lila returned to cooking. Xena shook her head.

"No, I donít drink," Xena said.

Lila turned in surprise.

"Oh," she said, "Iím sorry." She immediately took the glass away. "I assumed because you were a-----" She stopped, and laughed nervously. "Iím sorry. It was stupid of me to think that."

"No. Not at all," Xena said. "I seem like the person that might drink. I mean, I used to." She sighed. "I donít anymore, though."

Lila dunked the glass in the basin miserably. She felt Xenaís gaze at her back, and an uneasy feeling came over her. She hurriedly cleaned the mug off, rubbing it furiously with a rag.

"You know," Xena said, "when I first came here, I had no intentions of taking Gabrielle with me." Lila stopped. "In fact, even when I left, I didnít really want her with me. But now, I realize----" Xena watched the back of the young girl. "----I realize that I wouldnít be able to do the things I do everyday, if it wasnít for Gabrielle. She gave me hope, and inspiration. Thatís not something you can get from just anyone." Lila said nothing, but remained motionless. Xena sighed. "Iím sorry if you feel that way. I know you probably miss her----sheís an amazing person----I would miss her, too----but Iím not forcing her to travel with me. Sheís decided her own path, and I want you to know that thereís not one second of a day, that I ever take her for granted." Xena smiled at the thought of her friend. "Sheís the best thing that ever happened to me."

After Xenaís soft speech ended, Lila dropped the mug into the basin, and turned. She wiped her dripping wet hands on her apron, and smiled uneasily.

"Well," she said, her voice barely over a whisper, "Iím glad you feel that way about her."

"I do," Xena said, her voice a soft, but irrefutable force.

Lila nodded, and was at the verge of saying something in return, when Xena motioned for silence. She turned her attention outside of the hut. She peered out the small window at the front of the hut, and gazed out distantly. Jakís entire army was closing in on the village from all sides.

"Damn it!" she cursed quietly.

Her fist closed down on the windowsill. She turned desperately to Lila.

"Try and evacuate the village as quickly as you can," Xena instructed.


"Go!" Xena yelled.

Lila caught her demanding glare, and nodded, quickly running from the house. Xena watched her move to the first house, and rap on the door wildly.

"Shit," she swore.

She left the hut, and stood grimly watching the army approach them.

Villagers flew from their houses, and fled desperately in every direction. Lila chased them, trying to reason with them. Xena caught her by the arm.

"Lila," she said, "itís no use. These people are fear-stricken." She looked her straight in the eyes, her azure gaze fixed on her. "Save yourself----leave."

Lila bit her lip to keep from sobbing. She shook her head furiously.

"No," Lila said. "I canít leave Potedia behind----I know of an underground chamber----I can help people into there----"

An argument rushed to Xenaís lips, but upon reminding herself of the urgency of the situation, the words died before she could refuse. She shoved Lila roughly to the side, and ran to meet the approaching army.


She shuddered, but forced herself to turn.

"Xena," Jak repeated, "how nice to see you. Whereíd you go when you skipped town yesterday, huh? My scouts told me you left with your little friend there, but I knew youíd be back." He smiled, smugly. "Youíve never disappointed me, Xena. Youíre everything Iíve expected from a barbaric, instinctual creature. So donít disappoint me this time----Attack!"

The men surged upon the village. Xena drew her sword and met some of them, putting fatal slashes through their hearts. She dueled another man while fending off blows from behind. Both men found themselves in the dirt, blood gushing from their neck, considerably. Above the battle cacophony, Xena heard Jakís hearty laughter. It threw her off a beat, and one soldier got a clear shot at her arm. He put a deep cut in it, and she glared, returning his blow with a deadly thrust into his midsection. A man jumped her from behind, attempting to slit her neck, but she rolled him off of her, and onto the ground in front of her. She smiled as she plunged her sword into his heart. She turned, her eyes attracted by the flashing flames of torches as the soldiers ignited several huts. The dry material sprouted giant flames, rising high into the morning sky, and darkening it with black curls of smoke. Xenaís eyes narrowed, and she angrily sliced through several men as they came to her.

Frantic villagers ran, blindly from the army, but many of the cavalry caught up to them, and slashed through them with their swords. More villagers ran for the sanctuary of their homes, but were quickly discouraged by flames. Confusion and chaos was everywhere, and Xena did her best to hack through the massive army. The warrior princess did put an impressive dent in the population of the army, but not enough of one. Men still came pouring into Potedia, torching houses, and slaying innocents.

Xena caught a glimpse of Lila rounding up villagers, and herding them underground. All of the women and children were piled in first, and then men poured in. Lila herself climbed in, and closed the heavy door behind her.

Xena finished one man off, and turned, snarling for more opponents. Her eyes met anotherís, and her wild battle-grin soon faded.

"Jak," she mouthed.

Jak sneered.

"You always were quick," he said, and brought his sword down on her.

Her knees quivered, but she managed to come to her senses at the last instant and block his blow. The two swords met with a deafening clang and a brilliant clash as the sunlight touched them. Jakís sword immediately slid from Xenaís, and he attempted to thrust it into her, but she stepped back. He missed by a good two feet, but he quickly stepped forward, and jabbed at her again. She blocked his sword, and he took the opportunity to come in close, and kick her in the stomach. She keeled over, but absorbed the kick, rapidly returning to her defense as he showered her with blows. She blocked each and every one of them with her sword, but he managed to get several more kicks in; one extremely painful one to her knee, causing her to almost lose her footing.

"Jak," she began, "we donít have to do this----"

"Yes we do!" Jak snarled, and punched her in the jaw with his free hand.

She coughed; a fine stream of blood coursing out the side of her mouth. The salty-sick taste of blood filled in her mouth, and she spat it out to her left. Jak took a brief moment to laugh, and then attacked her again. She dodged his blow, and he fell forward, quickly regaining his balance enough to sneak in another swipe. This one grazed her shoulder, leaving a decent mark. Weakly, she tried to defend herself against the other strokes, but the insane possession in Jakís eyes were enough to fold her. She wasnít sure how much longer she could hold up against him.


"Is it going to work?" Hades asked.

"I donít know," Gabrielle said, "what do you think?"

The enormous dog twitched slightly. Gabrielle jumped, startled by the small movement. Excitedly, she fetched more ambrosia from the bag, and fed it to the creature. He stirred further, and Hades smiled, thankfully.

"Itís working!" he exclaimed. "Feed him more!"

Gabrielle forced the remainder of the ambrosia to into the creatureís mouth. The animalís eyes opened to small slits, peering around the dark compartment from Gabrielle to Hades. Gabrielle saw the pupil darting from side to side underneath the heavy eyelids, and suddenly they hammered open. The dog roared, surging towards Gabrielle in a frothing rage, baring its teeth at her. Gabrielle screamed, and leapt back, ramming into the wall. All three heads came towards her. She closed her eyes, feeling the animalís steaming breath against her cheek, and expecting certain death, but all of the sudden, the dog yelped and stopped several inches from her nose. Her eyes opened again. Hades had grabbed the dogís chain at the last minute. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Cerberus doesnít like mortals," Hades apologized.

Gabrielle nodded weakly. She sank back against the wall, and waited for her heart to slow.

"Thank you," Hades said, in all seriousness, "for helping me bring Cerberus back to life. I donít know what I wouldíve done without him. . .I canít possibly keep all the souls down here, and what would my reputation as a god be then?"

"No problem," Gabrielle said. She looked, nervously at the dog, and then back to Hades, "but could I---uh---possibly go now?" Her words were desperate. "íCause Iíve got to go help Xena and everything."

Hades smiled at her sudden explanation.

"I donít blame you," he said, "Hades isnít a particular becoming place." He patted the third head on the dog affectionately. "And its occupants arenít so great either."

"Well," she said, "Iím glad I could help."

"And you did," Hades assured her, "but I hope for your sake, you wonít visit soon."

She managed to smile weakly at his joke. He gave her a warm, understanding smile in return, and moments later, she was alone, standing outside Potedia.


Jak cried out, and leapt for Xena. She ducked quickly, and he fell over the top of her. He landed hard, but swiftly came back to his feet. Xena readied herself for the next attack. She lifted her sword in defense, and threatened to strike, but she soon stood still as she realized everyone was gone. All of Jakís men had mysteriously disappeared. Fleeing villagers still ran like crazy, their desperate cries , and hollow footsteps the only sound in the silence. She guessed Gabrielle had succeeded, and thanked her quietly. Unfortunately, relief did not come to her. She still felt his presence. She turned to him. He had been baffled momentarily by the loss of his army, but now his old vengeance was coming back to him, bringing him to life.

"Bet youíre wondering why Iím still here," he commented.

She said nothing, but stood on guard, waiting for his attack.

"I was restored---given my life back," Jak said, "those men were just souls escaped from the Underworld. You canít get rid of me, unless you kill me again." He smiled. "And you canít do that. You know it. Your guilt wonít let you."

Of course, she thought. How could she have been so stupid? He was casting a shadow the night I saw him---spirits canít do that.

His sword came at her from the side so quick, she barely had enough time to move. She jumped to the side, hitting the ground with a thud, the air knocked out of her. She turned over, and watched Jak approaching. She lifted her sword, warning him. He simply smiled in reply, and stepped forward. She scrambled back, putting enough distance between them to safely rise to her feet.

"Xena!" a familiar, and welcomed voice called.

Xena turned quickly to glance at Gabrielle who was running to her.

"Stay there, Gabrielle!" Xena warned. "Please!"

Gabrielle ignored the request, and headed towards her. In desperation, Xena whipped out her chakrum, and sent it flying in Gabrielleís direction. It smacked the young girl in the head, and she fell unconscious to the ground. Xena caught the chakrum swiftly, and placed it back at her hip.

"Is that what you do to everyone you love?" Jak sneered.

He roared and surged at her. She held off his sword, and swung her foot up to meet his face. Her foot hit with a cracking impact, and he fell to the side. He leapt to his feet, and fended off a blow from her. The swords tangled again, and Jak tried to sneak in a dagger with his other hand, but Xena moved. She knocked the dagger from his hand, nicking the flesh. He observed his bleeding hand, and growled in distaste. He raged towards her, and she met him with her sword, plunging it deep into his gut. He wrenched himself from her sword, and stumbled backwards, his own sword still lifted in defense.

"My father, Xena," he said. "My father gave me my life back." He coughed hoarsely, blood edging from his throat. He wiped the blood from his mouth with his free hand, a thick streak of blood coursing across his arm. He winced as he suffered convulsions of sudden pain. "My father---was----a----courageous soldier." He howled, clenching his gut, and fell to his knees.

Xena stood in astonishment, paralyzed with shock. Her eyes ran over her hands, his warm blood streaming down her wrists from the sword. Her sword clambered to the ground, and she rose her hand eye-level. The blood coursed down her arm, forming small tributaries that joined and parted like rivers. Her lower lip trembled, and she soon found herself beside the dying man. She eased him to the ground, looking at the wound dismally. Her eyes clouded, and she touched the blood soaking through his shirt gently.

"Well," he said, with much exertion, "you have killed me again." He coughed. "I have----failed----my sister, and----"

He rolled with the pain. "---failed my father."

Xenaís eyes softened, a solitary tear streaming down her cheek.

"I wanted to make you suffer," Jak said. "I wanted you to die." He cringed with the pain. "I wanted to make you pay for what you did."

Xena felt his warm blood steadily pouring from the wound, and over her hands. The tears came easier now, and she soon felt soft tears falling from her cheek.

"But I donít want that anymore," Jak said. "I realized that youíre exactly what I wanted to become---I wanted to change. You have changed, and even though I hate you more than life itself, youíre the mirror image of what I wanted to become all my life." Blood streamed out the sides of his mouth, and he coughed thickly. Xena took his hand. He chuckled hoarsely. "Imagine this. . .Iím dying beside the one person I hate most, and I canít. . .I canít even kill you." He shook his head. "Even if I---even if I reached up to strangle you, I barely have enough strength to hold your neck in my hands." He attempted raising his hands to her throat. Halfway, his hands began to tremble violently, and his arms fell weakly to his side. "I canít even---" He shook his head in disbelief. "I canít even kill you. . ."

Xena turned grimly from her dying lover. She felt his hand growing colder in her own; dropping in temperature ever so slightly with each passing second. She forced herself to face him.

"Jak," she said, "I know this wonít mean much, but Iím sorry. . .for what I did."

"I know you are," Jak said. "I knew your conscience would make you pay, but itís not enough." He closed his eyes lightly. "I wanted you to die."

The last word rang clearly in her mind, echoing off the walls of her past and rattling her present. As his eyes opened again, she saw the painful nostalgia running through his thoughts, his lost wishes, hopes, and dreams of his reformed life with his sister; both of which sheíd shattered. She sobbed as his hand slid from hers and his eyes closed softly. Tears fell from her cheek, and onto his body. His chest rose no longer. She buried her face in his blood-soaked shirt, weeping her sins into him, but they were not gone. She was not rid of them. They would be there forever, haunting her dreams, and storming her memories. If happiness ever came after this, the darkness would still cloud it. The sins would always be there, but happiness would not. Xena wiped the tears from her eyes, and stood. She felt a consoling hand on her shoulder, and smiled faintly. Gabrielle was standing behind her, rubbing the bump on her head tenderly. She said nothing.

"Gabrielle," Xena said, "I loved him."

"I know," Gabrielle said gently.

She held Xena, tightly to her. Her eyes moved over the body, and then back to Xena.

"You did what you could," she said softly, "but this is how it was meant to be."

Xena nodded, pulling away.

"I know," she said. "But I still feel guilty for what I did." Her eyes turned to the village. "I destroyed him and his sister and that will live in my memory forever."

"Xena," Gabrielle began, "youíve done so much good. . .it more than makes up for your past."

Xena smiled, disbelieving.

"Thanks, Gabrielle," she whispered.


Xena spun around quickly, throwing Gabrielle from her arm. She narrowed her eyes as she saw the Furies. The Furies showed no emotion, neither sadness or joy. Their conduct was business-like, and their nature was impersonal. Tisiphone stepped forward.

"I admire your courage, Xena," Tisiphone said, "but you realize this is not the way it was supposed to turn out."

"Oh, is that right?" Xena asked. "Enlighten me."

Tisiphone challenged Xenaís glare with her own. She went on:

"As you know, the deaths of Jak and his sister went unpunished and unavenged," Tisiphone began. "It was their fatherís duty to avenge those deaths---that is why he enlisted in your army, Xena. We called upon him to avenge the death of his children, even if he wasnít much of a father in real life. Unfortunately, Jakís father feared you, and couldnít bring himself to kill you out of cowardice. He left your army, and because of that, we sentenced him to eternal suffering and guilt. Jakís father already felt a great deal of guilt, and he proposed another way. He offered his life in exchange for his sonís, and promised us that Jak would avenge both his own death and the death of his sister. The Furies agreed, and Jak was restored. He was supposed to kill you as soon as possible, but he took a detour to the Underworld, where he killed Cerberus, and offered dead men positions in his army in exchange for their freedom. The men complied, and he assembled a massive army, bent only on the destruction of you, Xena. Now, you have the natural path of things. Jak and his sisterís deaths still go unavenged." She sighed. "Naturally, that makes us Furies look pretty bad, but Xena, weíre through toying with you. Obviously, youíre not meant to die yet, Xena. The Fates wonít permit it."

Xena said nothing, but remained in silence.

"Are you going to punish Xena?" Gabrielle asked fearfully. "With insanity?"

"Xena is already punished," Tisiphone answered. "With her guilt."

Tisiphone held her gaze on Xena for a few more lingering moments, and then disappeared, Alecto and Maegara following behind her.

Xena felt a slow numbness creep over her. She barely felt Gabrielleís soft touch on her arm, and the warmth of her body as she pulled Xena close to hug her. She felt herself fall into detached reverie, and she no longer felt the bardís consoling hands, only the gravity of her emptiness.


"Gabrielle!" Lila exclaimed as her sister stepped over the threshold.

Gabrielle smiled, and permitted her sister to hug her. Lila pulled back, frowning at the expression on her sisterís face.

"Why so sad?" she asked, concerned.

Gabrielle pushed another smile.

"Nothing," she said, "itís a long story, but---" She turned to Xena who followed behind her. "---I think weíre okay, now."

Xena nodded, and smiled warmly at her friend. Lila witnessed the exchanging of vows, and met Xenaís eyes.

"Xena," she said, "I want to thank you---for saving our village, I mean."

Xena smiled at her.

"I want to thank you, also," she said, "for saving all of those villagers---you saved their lives."

Lilaís eyes turned to the floor.

"Yes, but---" she began, "----we didnít save them all."

"You saved the children," Xena said, "thatís whatís most important." Her hand fell on Lilaís shoulder. "You gave them a chance to live."

Lila nodded. Her eyes lifted, and met the warrior womanís. The discomfort was still there, but it was clouded by a strange warmth. She smiled.

"Potedia is grateful," she said, and patted the hand on her shoulder.

Xenaís hand slid off her shoulder, and back to her own side.

"I have some business to do," Xena said, "Iíll be back later."

Gabrielle nodded in acknowledgment. She shared a gaze with Xena, and read the pain-filled eyes.

"Go do what you have to," Gabrielle said. "Iíll be waiting."


Xena dumped the last heap of dirt onto the grave, and patted it down with the backside of her shovel. She looked longingly at the grave, but said nothing. A terrible void was eating her insides like acid. She felt overwhelmed, yet she felt nothing--- no emotion, just an exhausted depression of consciousness. When she realized her eyes were closed, she opened them, and found herself on her knees. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and she slowly felt the sensation of pain in her arm. She looked to arm, and saw the wound Jak had given her. She touched it gingerly, observing the still warm blood on her fingertips. She felt the pain. She felt the emptiness. If she felt the presence of her visitor, watching her from behind, she showed no sign of it. She felt nothing, but the pain and the emptiness.


"I hope heíll be happy there," Gabrielle remarked, looking back at the single grave, mounted at the hillís summit.

It was a pretty spot, with a giant oak shading the grave and brilliant green grass sprouting all around it. The spot itself was overlooking a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, basking in the sunís peaceful rays. The hilltop was high enough that the east sun could touch it as it rose, and the west sun could warm it as it sank below the horizon. It was the prettiest spot within a dayís travel of Potedia, and the most placid. Xena felt a pang of remorse as she looked over the grave, but she knew in heart, that everything was settled.

Xena headed back to Gabrielle who waited, patiently at the foot of the hill. She met her with an uneasy smile. Both women looked back at the grave and paid their last respects.

"Yes," Xena said. "He will be happy here. He would have wanted it."

Gabrielle took her arm gently.

"Come on," she said softly, "letís go."

Xena turned and smiled warmly. The girl was young and knew much of the world, but even more of sympathy.

"Still got a bump from that nasty hit I gave you?" she questioned.

Gabrielle fingered the spot gingerly and smiled.


Both turned and headed back towards Argo who was waiting at the mouth of the trail for them, grazing beside the road.

"Hey," Gabrielle said, "you never apologized for that."

Xena smiled.

"Well?" Gabrielle said impatiently.

Xena shrugged.

"It was either that," she said, "or youíd get chopped up into little pieces by a battle-frenzied man. Take your pick."

"Well this bump could be permanent, you know," Gabrielle said, rubbing the sore spot on top of her head.

Xena gripped her saddle and climbed onto Argo.

"So could brutal dismemberment of body parts," she remarked and started Argo at a slow trot so Gabrielle could keep up. Gabrielle used her staff as a walking stick and strolled beside Xena and Argo.

"You know," Gabrielle began, "I thought I handle myself fairly well---you know, with Hades and all." She puffed out her chest a little. "Hades and I did succeed---but actually, it was really me."

Xena eyed her from the side.

"It was!" Gabrielle insisted, "Hades was too afraid heíd mess up---he made me give Cerberus the ambrosia!"

"Really?" Xena indulged her.

"Yes!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Do you have any idea how much stress that was? Everything was on my shoulders. . .the whole operation!"

"Uh-huh," Xena said, disbelieving.

Gabrielle seemed to want to protest, but she offered none.

It was a nice morning, the air was crisp and enlightening and the sun caressed their skin with its warm, comforting touch. Xena inhaled and breathed a heavy sigh of contentment.

"You know," Gabrielle said, casually, "I really think I could have handled that army. . .a little negotiation, a little talking. . ."

"Uh-huh," Xena humored her.

"And I already had a plan," she bragged.

"Yep," Xena said, "Iím sure you did."

"I did!" she cried, defensively, "it just wasnít. . .well-formed yet."

Xena suppressed a smile.

"Well, you keep forming that plan of yours," she told her, "and maybe itíll be worked out in time for the winter solstice."

Gabrielle hit her playfully. Xena chuckled. Everything was going to be all right---at least for now.


What did you think of Regretted: Parts 1 and 2? Iíd really like feedback. Iím anxious to hear from anyone!

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