Disclaimer & Notices: See Chapter 1.


Fight for Hope
by Red Hope

Chapter 2

The trip felt extremely long because the three travelers mostly remained silent. The air around them was fairly tense, and Xena could have cut it with her chakram. She towed Argo behind her and stayed near Gabrielle’s side for moral support.

Hope, however, walked several paces ahead of the pair. She acted as the guide to get them to the cult despite Xena and Gabrielle mostly knew the way to the temple. She just didn’t feel comfortable enough to be near the couple. It was just easier to have their dark stares boring into her back, or at least so it felt to her.

Gabrielle’s steps brought her closer to her soul mate. She murmured, “You know what I don’t understand?” She peered up into curious blue eyes. “Why does Dahak want to infect me again?” She briefly glanced at Hope’s back then muttered, “If Hope didn’t work out, wouldn’t he want somebody else? Besides that I’ve already lost my blood innocence to him.”

The warrior had mulled over the mystery too since she’d heard about it from Hope.

“You think Hope is lying?” the bard softly questioned.

Xena narrowed her eyes at the demi-god’s back then replied, “No.” She bit the inside of her mouth then added, “Maybe it’s not about your blood innocence.” She met the bard’s gaze. “You’re right… he does already have that.”

Gabrielle could tell her partner was just as confused by why Dahak would want her again. “There’s something we’re missing. Maybe Hope knows why…?”

“I don’t think she does.” The Warrior Princess pressed her lips tightly together. “She would have mentioned it.”

Gabrielle’s features darkened considerably. “Dahak is playing some game… I can feel it.”

“Let’s hope we’re not playing right into it,” the warrior quietly complained.

The bard chewed on her lower lip then briefly brushed her hand over Xena’s. She silently communicated her intentions then she walked faster until she came to Hope’s side.

The Warrior Princess slowed her pace and created more space between her and them. She respected her partner’s needs to work out what was happening. and what to do.

“We should make it there tomorrow,” Hope offhandedly mentioned. She finished it with a shrug.

Gabrielle nodded because she assumed the same.

Hope waited a few heartbeats then glanced at the bard before she spoke again. “But that’s not why you’re walking with me, is it?”

The bard considered when the demi-god ever became so perceptive and willing to try. She felt as if she was dealing with a completely different person now. She just wasn’t sure how to handle it or handle Hope. “If you’ve really changed then what do you expect to do with your life?”

“You mean if Dahak doesn’t kill me?” Hope noticed the reminder rattled the older woman some. “I don’t know.” She brushed her bangs back. “I know I don’t have a place in your life.”

Gabrielle mulled over the demi-god’s words then she honestly stated, “You do have a place… whether or not I want you to.” She absorbed Hope’s concerned features. “I lost that choice when Dahak raped me.”

Hope swallowed those sharp words. “So then what is there to live for?” The greatest weight hit her shoulders when Gabrielle’s words repeated in her head. “I’m a product of a rape and the daughter of the one-god of darkness.” She flashed an angry look at Gabrielle. “What a legacy.”

The bard felt her jaw locked, but the rapid heartbeat wouldn’t make her stay silent. She released the honest, true words that her mind told her not to say. “Somewhere in that equation you forgot to factor me in.” She realized that perhaps she was the only positive aspect to Hope’s life.

The demi-god briefly closed her eyes then opened them again. She inhaled a shaky breath then released it.

“I just don’t understand,” Gabrielle hoarsely started, “How you can be one way then another way the next.”

Hope didn’t understand either, but she tried to explain what she did know. “The days I spent on earth are a blur to me… like it wasn’t real, and I was numb. Then when I was recently reborn I just felt… alive, really alive.” She released a heavy breath because she felt like it made little sense.

The bard recalled her conversation with Aphrodite last night, and it was consistent to what Hope now explained to her. She started to believe that Aphrodite’s efforts were not in vein afterall. Just maybe the goddess had truly released Hope from her prison.

Gabrielle kept her voice low when she talked again. “I hated how when I tried to talk to you, reason with you, it was like talking to a wall.” She clenched her hands at her side. “It’s hard to be a bard and discover your words are so worthless in front of your child.”

Hope bowed her head slightly. She took in the information and carefully dissected until she properly understood it. “I heard what you said but it was like another voice was speaking to me too. I couldn’t fight that voice.”

“Dahak’s will,” Gabrielle concluded bitterly.

Hope faintly nodded.

The bard clenched and unfisted her hands at her sides. She then curiously asked, “What are your powers now?”

Hope faintly grinned at the older woman then considered the question carefully. “That depends on certain factors.”

“Such as?”

“My powers are constantly growing, however they’re dependent on Dahak.”

The bard shook her head, and her features turned tightly. “What do you mean?”

Hope tried to figure out a way to explain the situation and her powers. “Some powers are only mine while other powers come from Dahak. I do not know where mine begin and end and his begin.”

Gabrielle let the explanation marinate for a minute then she found what she believed was a pliable metaphor. “So Dahak is the river and you’re more like a stream that branches off.”

Hope sadly smiled at the bard’s prose. “Yes, actually.”

“Well,” the bard muttered, “it should be interesting to see what happens when the river is dammed up.” She then met the demi-gods curious gaze. “Do you have any idea which powers are yours?”

Hope debated for a few beats then replied, “Most likely my ability to move objects is my own power. I can also heal quickly, which is probably mine too. Dahak doesn’t have the strength from his realm to do such things.”

Gabrielle almost posed another question but stopped when Xena called her name. She haltered and turned. “What is it?”

The Warrior Princess hastily mounted the mare and replied, “A village is being attacked.” She turned Argo to the left, towards the woods, and called, “This way. Yaaa!” She spurred Argo.

The bard glanced once at Hope, didn’t say anything, and swiftly chased after her partner.

Hope was stunned by the sudden changes, and she could tell both warriors were use to these abrupt adjustments. She easily followed after them despite she couldn’t see Xena or Gabrielle. Her bond with Gabrielle made it simple.

Gabrielle stopped at the top of the ridge and inhaled a deep breath. She watched her soul mate gallop down the hill to meet the enemies in the village. She heard Hope’s approach so she ordered, “Stay here. We’ll take care of this.”

Hope stopped beside the bard. She scanned the men in the town and instantly realized they were disciples. The disciples were clothed in black robes and had red stripes. “It’s beginning,” she whispered.

The bard glanced at the demi-god, but she didn’t have time for this. Instead she ripped her sais free then ran down the hill. As soon as Gabrielle came to the edge of town, two disciples spotted her and came for her. Gabrielle briefly wondered if these disciples knew who she was but she had no time to decide.

Hope remained rooted at the top of the hill. She watched the two heroes battle the twenty or so disciples, who were on foot and wielded swords. The screams of the villagers filtered up the hill and into Hope’s conscious. Then the spark of fire to a barn and house briefly caught her attention. What truly captured her focus was Gabrielle’s far improved abilities as a warrior. It was as if Hope visually recorded Gabrielle’s every move.

The bard gave a spinning kick and sent the disciple flying through the air. She then flipped her sais out and raised them. She stopped the blade that was coming down on her from behind. She gave a rough kick behind and sent that enemy on his back. Gabrielle continued her pursuit to stop the disciples.

Then several hundred paces away, a girl screamed when a disciple hauled her away from her mother. The girl kicked and screamed but couldn’t get free.

Gabrielle felt a sense of deja-vu, but she knocked out her current opponent. She hastily chased after the disciple, who had the girl. She moved so fast that the disciple had no time to react by the surprise stab in his side. Gabrielle jerked her sai harder into the disciple’s side in hopes it’d kill him.

Hope tilted her head when she saw how Gabrielle easily killed the disciple. It made her feel remorse though, and she didn’t know why. She then saw the softest change in the bard’s mannerism when she went to help the little girl. For a brief instant, Hope was stricken with several unknown emotions as she watched Gabrielle help the girl get back to her mother.

The demi-god snapped out of her revere when she spotted a horseman spinning his sword. He charged through people then set his sights on one of the heroes, Gabrielle. Hope noticed that Xena was far too occupied, and Gabrielle was suddenly swarmed by four disciples.

Hope’s breath caught, yet her dread made her run down the hill. She knew she couldn’t make it in time. “Look out!” she cried to the bard.

Gabrielle’s ears rang with the pounding of the hoof beats. She knew the impact was near, yet she was locked in by the four disciples. She grew frantic and tried to cut one disciple down so she could get an opening for escape.

The rider gave a powerful cry and raised his sword. He aimed for the circle, and he didn’t care about his comrades. He wanted the warrior.

Hope abruptly stopped when she felt she was in range. She narrowed her eyes at the approaching rider then lifted her right hand.

The horse suddenly whined and reared up because of the mysterious power around her.

The rider screamed in fear when he was yanked from the saddle then thrown through the air for several hundred paces. He hit the side of the burning barn and went unconscious, blood trickled down his face.

Hope lowered her hand and glanced over at the bard, who had taken out two disciples. The demi-god seemed darker as she casually strolled up to the fighting bard and disciples.

One disciple noticed Hope and gaped. His distraction earned him a heavy blow to his head.

The last disciple lunged at the bard.

Gabrielle jumped out of the way and rapidly attacked her last opponent. She spun her right sai back out from under her wrist then surged her blade upwards at the disciple’s stomach. Just when her blade would have pierced the man’s stomach, he was lifted up in the air, and she missed.

The disciple cried out, and he tried to move his arms but couldn’t from some unknown force. He then involuntarily dropped his sword then slowly he was spun around. He stared down at Dahak’s daughter, who was smug.

Gabrielle was surprised by the display, but she watched carefully and caught her breath.

Hope stepped up closer to the disciple and ordered, “Tell Dahak’s priests that I’m coming for them.”

The disciple tried to struggle, his legs slightly moved but suddenly stopped. “Dahak will have you dead for this betrayal,” he spat.

Hope smirked then snidely reminded, “Death hasn’t stopped me before.” She then suddenly used her powers to throw the man across a length of distance. She saw to him getting knocked out but not dead. She looked from him to the bard.

Gabrielle breathed deeply, her body glistened from sweat and the fire from the barn behind her, and she stared oddly at Hope. She tried to think of something to say, anything really, but she couldn’t. She then had wide eyes suddenly. “Duck!”

Hope didn’t understand, however she did what she was told. She bent forward just as Gabrielle ran at her, jumped over her head, and struck something behind her. Hope quickly turned around and took a step back.

The disciple that Gabrielle had landed a kick to, stumbled back a few steps, but he raised his sword for battle.

Gabrielle raised her sais.

The disciple briefly glanced between Hope and Gabrielle and realized they looked alike. He pointed his blade at the small warrior. “You’re her!”

Gabrielle smirked and remarked, “You get the prize, Plato.” She gave a cry just before she landed a perfect kick to his hand.

The disciple’s sword flew through the air and landed too far for him to get.

Gabrielle spun her sais out and grinned at the man.

The disciple growled then tried to charge the warrior, he suddenly came to a quick stop. His limbs grew stiff, and he couldn’t move.

Gabrielle straightened up and stared at how he was locked in place by nothing, at least that’s how it looked to be. She glanced back at the demi-god then to the disciple. She shook her head then quickly landed a solid kick between his legs.

The disciple groaned then unexpectedly fell to his knees in pain.

Hope hadn’t expected the bard to pull such a move, which had caused her focus to be broken.

Gabrielle stepped closer then with her right hand she shoved her kneeling opponent by his head. She watched in satisfaction as he fell on his back.

“That’s one way to do it,” the demi-god murmured at the smug bard.

Gabrielle spun her sais in her fingers then stopped them as she surveyed the village. She heard her soul mate’s battle cry then she saw the six or so remaining disciples hightailed it out of the village. She then was happy to see the villagers were trying to put out the spreading fire.

“I’m going to help the people.” Gabrielle took a step away but stopped and asked, “Are you coming?”

Hope was planted in her spot and hesitated from the question.

Suddenly there was a loud roar when the barn’s burning side started to give out. Gabrielle heard it first and saw it was coming down at them. She glanced once up at the barn, which had a small open door near the top, and her natural instincts took over. She tried to calculate it right as she lunged for the demi-god.

Hope was slammed by the bard’s much stronger body. She was forced to stumble back several paces, and she closed her eyes when the heat around her built up.

Gabrielle pressed her body tightly against the same molded body. She found it too eerie. She then straightened out her back when the barn’s wall slammed all around her then she was engulfed by heat and flames. She and Hope stood in the only spot that wasn’t burning, where the open door way was located.

Hope opened her eyes and took in their immediate issue. She heard Gabrielle hiss in pain from the lapping fire around them, which didn’t bother her. She hastily thought out a plan to save Gabrielle before the fire completely took them. “Turn around, press your back into me.”

Gabrielle covered her mouth. She started to cough from the smoke then she faintly heard her soul mate’s yell for her. She closed her eyes when they stung. “I can’t…” She gasped for air.

Hope wasn’t bothered by the flames, heat, or smoke. “Keep your eyes closed, just follow my directions.” She lifted her arms around the bard then spread out her arms. She watched in satisfaction as the flames parted like water. “Walk forward.”

Gabrielle shook her head because she knew it couldn’t be safe.

“Trust me,” Hope called over the roar of the fire.

The bard inhaled a smoke, which forced her to decide. She stepped forward and felt Hope right behind her and close.

Hope continued to part the fire for them as they slowly moved forward. Behind her the flames touched her back thighs but didn’t harm her.

The bard felt her boots somewhat warm but she steadily crossed the hot boards of the barn siding. She cracked her eyes open and saw Xena just ahead of her.

“Come on!” the warrior yelled in panic.

Gabrielle took the last steps, and she was instantly pulled into strong arms. She gasped for fresh air and held onto her partner.

Hope stood on the edge of the barn, completely surrounded by the flames.

Gabrielle gazed back in worry but saw how the demi-god was one with the fire. It made her stomach drop at how Hope casually stepped out of the flames and stood before her and Xena.

“Are you okay?” the warrior asked who tilted the bard’s head up.

Gabrielle nodded then offered a smile. “I’m good.” She squeezed her lover’s arm then separated. She wasn’t sure what to do or say so she simply sheathed her sais.

Xena sensed the awkwardness, and she eased it for the bard. “We need to check on the injured… see what we can do to help.”

Gabrielle straightened up and nodded. “Maybe there’s a healer in town.”

“There is,” the Warrior Princess firmed then she went to Argo. She went through the saddlebags until she came up with the medical kit.

Gabrielle turned the demi-god. “You can wait for us… we’ll be awhile.”

Hope noticed how Gabrielle refused to mention what’d just happened. She even stood close to the burning barn siding, which still didn’t bother her. “I’ll help.”

The bard hid her shock well and turned back to her soul mate. “We better get moving.” She brushed past the warrior then entered deeper into the village.

Xena finished closing up the saddlebags. She jerked the strap closed then clung to it as she considered what to say to Hope. She sighed and turned her head to the demi-god. “I know she won’t say it… but I will.” She moved to Argo’s front and took the reins. “Thank you.” Xena turned her mare around and walked back to the village at a fast pace.

Hope understood what Xena meant, and it bothered her greatly that Gabrielle wouldn’t thank her but Xena would. She combed her bangs back then quietly followed the duo so that she could help.

The Warrior Princess found a spot to hitch Argo then she discovered that the injured were lining up at one building. She knew it to be the healer’s house. She squeezed past the people and discovered the healer was swarmed, but Gabrielle was already assisting.

Hope paused when she soaked in exactly how many people had been harmed by the small raid. She felt a mix of rage against Dahak and remorse for the villagers. She entered the building and asked Gabrielle what she could do to help.

Gabrielle barely regarded the demi-god and merely responded, “Select which people can be saved and which can’t be.”

Hope opened her mouth to reply but stopped when she repeated the words in her head. Her eyebrows almost met, and she quietly demanded, “You expect me to select who dies and who lives?”

Xena was nearby, and she couldn’t help but listen in on the conversation. She had an awful sensation of deja-vu.

Gabrielle’s head snapped up, her hands those remained on the man’s open stomach wound. “You should have a natural eye for it.” She was unexpectedly angry, but before she could further snap Hope’s head off, Xena touched her back.

“Hope,” Xena ordered, “cover this man’s stomach with a cloth. The healer will be in here in a minute to stitch him up. Just keep his blood flow blocked.”

Gabrielle backed away when her partner relieved her of her duty.

The warrior organized Hope quickly to help the man. Then she stepped up to the bard, grabbed her arm, and coldly whispered, “We need some air.”

The bard quickly went outside and left Xena behind her.

Xena was out of the house and hauled Gabrielle back behind the house. She backed the bard up near the house and hotly demanded, “What is going on with you?”

Gabrielle had a built temper, and she snapped, “Nothing is going on.”

“The Hades there is,” Xena rebuked. “I’ve seen you treat Callisto better than this.”

“And Callisto wasn’t my evil offspring,” the bard shot back.

“If I remember right, Callisto killed your husband and tried to rob you of your blood innocence. How many times did she try to come between us?”

Gabrielle’s breathes were heavy and held her anger. “Hope is just putting an act on, Xena. She always has and always will.” She stepped closer to her partner. “She murdered your-”

“No,” The warrior cut off. “Stop there.” She narrowed her eyes at Gabrielle. “You don’t need to remind me what she did. I haven’t forgotten.” She then pointed at the building behind them. “But that woman in there… that’s not the same woman that took Solan from me.” She closed in the faint distance between her and Gabrielle. “If that was the same woman I would have killed her already, Gabrielle.”

“I don’t trust her,” Gabrielle argued.

The warrior shook her head then questioned, “What would make you trust her? If Aphrodite came down and told you she’s change, you still won’t trust Hope.”

Gabrielle suddenly felt caught and turned her head away.

Xena quickly picked up on it then it clicked into place. She now knew why it’d taken her partner so long to return from the perimeter check last night. “Aphrodite talked to you last night?” When the bard didn’t respond she had her answer. “When did you plan to tell me?”

“We haven’t been alone so that I could tell you.”

“Bad excuse, Gabrielle,” the warrior angrily fired back, “Try something else.”

Gabrielle shifted her weight around on her feet then quietly mentioned, “It wasn’t that important, Xena.”

Xena oddly stared at Gabrielle, who seemed like a stranger to her. “Just when you think you have somebody figured out… they show a completely different side to their character.”

The bard’s head snapped up at the echoed words from years back. She became slightly distressed because she knew her partner indirectly meant her. “Xena-”

“Don’t,” Xena hotly whispered. “We’ve been through too much for these games, Gabrielle.” She then walked a few steps away, stopped, and faced the bard again. Xena’s face showed nothing but upset, which broke the bard apart. “You want to know something?” She approached Gabrielle again. “You want to know the honest truth about your character, Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle dipped her head because she knew she’d hear it even if she didn’t want to.

“You’re a liar, Gabrielle.” The Warrior Princess lowered her head closer to her partner’s then whispered, “You’re not a liar to me or to anybody else… but you are to yourself. You really believe that you support the way of love yet your actions are anything but.”

The bard raised her head up and met the warrior’s emotional gaze.

Xena inhaled deeply at her soul mate’s upset, but she wouldn’t waver. “I can relate to how you feel about your daughter. My child killed Joxer,” she rasped, “and he was my brother.”

Gabrielle couldn’t hold her tears back any longer.

“Everyday I live with that pain… and so does Eve.” Xena paused and tried to gather her strength to say her last, honest words. “But you know what broke my heart, Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle wanted to touch her soul mate, yet she knew she’d be refused. She quietly gasped for air as her throat tightened, and her tears wouldn’t rest.

“It broke my heart when you told me that Eve was dead and that she wasn’t my daughter anymore.” Xena clenched her teeth for a beat. “The one person, who I thought always believed in me… who could see past all my darkness to the woman I truly am. Where was she that day I needed her the most… when Eve needed her?” She shook her head when her tears came to her. “She failed me that day.” Xena turned and finally walked off. She couldn’t take her soul mate’s upset any longer. Xena hurt far too much.

Gabrielle stepped back once then leaned against the building. The painful memories crashed into her at once, and she realized what she’d done and who she’d become. The bard raced around the corner to a hiding spot where she became sick. She didn’t stop until her stomach was completely empty.

The bard then stumbled back then sat on the ground. She thumped her head against the house and closed her eyes. She never felt so angry at herself. Then her senses prickled after a minute so she whispered, “How long have you been there, Aphrodite?”

The goddess quietly materialized in a pink cloud, her features worried, and she cautiously replied, “Not very long. I…”

Gabrielle shook her head. “Its okay.” She then stood up on her weakened legs.

“I’m sorry,” the Goddess of Love honestly stated. “I just came to update you on the big mystery.”

The bard shook her head then tried to understand what her friend meant. “What mystery?”

“Hold on.” Aphrodite lifted her right hand and in her palm, she made a little white pill appear. “Take this… suck on it.” She held it out.

Gabrielle stared at the tiny white item in the goddess’s hand. “What is it?”

“It’s a Tic Tac.” Aphrodite beamed and kept her hand out, but she saw the dubious features of the bard. “Oh by me, just try it… you’ll totally love it.” She decided it was best not to add her afterthought about how Gabrielle probably needed it.

The bard gingerly took the item then popped it in her mouth. She was quite surprised by the sudden wash of powerful, minty flavor.

Aphrodite’s head bobbed, and she declared, “Bitchin’ huh?”

Then it struck Gabrielle why the goddess wanted her to probably suck on the strange thing. “You’re somethin’, Aphrodite.” She sniffed between the powerful flavor in her mouth and from the earlier crying.

“Ooo stop.” The goddess giggled and waved at the bard as if she’d received a compliment.

“So what’s this mystery?” Gabrielle folded her arms over her chest, and she rolled the Tic Tac around in her mouth. She had to admit, it did have a nice taste.

“I totally figured out why Dahak wants to reinfect you.” Aphrodite grew excited, unlike the bard. “Like Dahak knows you’re my chosen.” She held out her arms in declaration as if her words shed a great light on the mystery. Then she flopped her arms to her side when her friend became more confused.

“Since when have I been your chosen?”

The Goddess of Love laughed and waved her hand at the bard. “Duh, Gabs.” Then she realized the bard was being serious. She placed her hands on her hips. “You didn’t know? Like who doesn’t know?”

The bard put her hands on her hips and tilted her head. Slowly her eyebrow arched up perfectly.

Aphrodite sighed dramatically. “The Fates declared it when you were born.” She shook her head then further explained, “Like who else could it have been? There’s no other girl, who could have unchained the warrior babe’s heart.”

“I thought Hercules did that,” the bard remarked.

Aphrodite sputtered with laughter then joked, “As if! Herc just unchained her armor.”

Gabrielle covered her mouth with her left hand. She was glad she’d already thrown up otherwise she’d done it again. “Please,” she muffled between her hand then dropped it. “How does me being your chosen fit into this?”

The goddess sighed quite dramatically then mentioned, “I guess being intelligent wasn’t one of the requirements for being my chosen. I’ll have to update the Fates on not picking anymore blonds.”

“Aphrodite,” the bard snarled and took a menacing step.

Aphrodite jumped back and held up her hands. “Chill, Gabs… can’t you like take a joke?” She dropped her hands then quickly explained, “Dahak thinks that since you’re my chosen that you are the weakest mortal.”

Gabrielle settled into her standing spot and carefully listened. “He thinks love is weak.”

“Totally!” The goddess then laughed at the Dahak’s theory. “What a dweeb too. So the idea is that any child you have will take on your passionate, trusting, and good hearted qualities.” She bit her lower lip, but finished her explanation. “Dahak thinks if the child is that weak then its easier for him to manipulate them. He takes their heart and soul from them because that’s where all your loving qualities rest. As soon as he does that then he controls them, they’re kinda brainwashed, and won’t fight his will because they have no strength. Like supposedly!” She sighed sadly then muttered, “That’s exactly what he did to Hope.”

“But you were able to free her,” Gabrielle argued. She paused when she realized she finally admitted to the fact that Hope was free.

Aphrodite crookedly smiled at the bard when she heard those words. She didn’t say anything about it. “I totally didn’t know this but like Dahak was counting on me to do it.”

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the goddess. “It’s a game.” She dipped her head and quietly asked, “What’d my blood innocence have to do with it then?”

“Your blood innocence just welcomed Dahak’s will into the world. He had no will in this world but when he had your blood innocence it gave him access.”

“Gods,” the bard muttered. She touched her forehead when the information hit her hard. “You said he was counting on you to free Hope…?”

Aphrodite frowned because she never liked being duped but it happened to her. “Dahak figured out Hope was straying from his will… because of you. She’s always wanted you to be her mother, and she’s refuses to harm you. Dahak has wanted you dead since Hope’s birth because he knows you can turn Hope against him.”

Gabrielle huffed then shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

The goddess stepped closer and touched the bard’s forearm. “Gabs, he’s playing a dangerous game with you and Hope. He let me free her because he knows he can’t lose. If you reject Hope as your daughter then Hope will return to Dahak… completely. She’ll give up her fight against his control if she thinks you’ve given up on her.” She then bit her lower lip then whispered, “But if you accept her then Dahak knows you’ve opened your heart again. He’ll be able to infect you once he has you.”

The bard furrowed her eyebrows and argued, “If Hope didn’t work out then how would another child work?”

Aphrodite sadly sighed then whispered, “It’ll work this time because your heart knows darkness after all these years.”

Gabrielle pulled away from Aphrodite and put some space between them. She briefly had her back to the goddess but slowly turned around again. “Either way, he’ll win.”

“Not if you accept… forgive Hope and stay away from his temple.” Aphrodite then argued, “Let Xena deal with the temple.”

“I’m not letting her do that alone, Aphrodite… you know I won’t.”

The goddess did know, although she’d prayed the bard would listen to reason.

Gabrielle had a lot to weigh, but she gently spoke again. “Thank you for telling me.” She studied the goddess’s concerned features. “How’d you find this all out?”

Aphrodite stuck out her right hip, lifted her hands, and beamed out a smile. “I totally had a blond moment.” Her joke paid off when the bard’s face broke into a faint smile. She chuckled and lowered her hands then sobered. “It just pays to be the Goddess of Love cuz nobody takes you serious.” She wrinkled up her nose and smirked. “Nobody notices me snooping around.” She winked then said, “I’ll catch ya on the flip side, bardie.”

Gabrielle kept her thin smile and watched the goddess sprinkle away.

“And Xena loves you… no matter what you do or say,” floated the goddess’s voice.

Gabrielle brushed her bangs back which fell on her forehead again. She felt some relief in Aphrodite’s last, true words. “The Fates should have picked a different chosen for you, my friend,” she muttered then went back to the front of the house.

Xena stepped out of the healer’s hut and only a few beats after her was Hope. She spotted the bard coming towards them so she meets her halfway. “Everybody has been healed.”

Gabrielle’s confusion flashed over her face. “Wha…”

The Warrior Princess glanced at Hope then to her soul mate. “Hope healed everybody.” She explained nothing else and walked past. She headed for Argo. She prayed by her lack of presence that Gabrielle would say something to Hope.

Hope watched Xena recede then she focused on the bard.

Gabrielle opened her mouth but said nothing. She bit her lower lip for a second. “I didn’t know you could heal others.”

The demi-god discreetly nodded and considered how to respond. “It takes a lot of energy, but I can do it.”

That’s when Gabrielle did notice how Hope seemed drained plus her skin was paler. Gabrielle bowed her head, and she briefly internally argued with herself. She met Hope’s watchful gaze. “We should get going… we won’t go far.”

“We won’t make it to the temple then,” the demi-god reminded.

“I know… it can wait one more day.” Gabrielle started the walk towards Xena, but her steps were small as she waited for Hope to join her side. “We can’t fight them at night, and we’re all pretty tired from today.”

Hope couldn’t debate that either. She did feel exhausted especially after using her powers to heal so many people. Strangely enough, she’d been relieved when Xena entered the healer’s house and commanded people to back away from her. The villagers had been so excited by her ability to heal their wounds that they swarmed her. Xena backed the villagers away from her and removed her from the house.

The Warrior Princess had mounted Argo and remained poised in a ridged manner. She kept her sights locked on the approaching women that seemed like twins to an unknowing person. When they were in earshot, she informed, “We’ll travel about half a candlemark then make camp.”

Gabrielle tried to figure out when she’d become so great at knowing Xena’s plans. She’d promised Hope that they’d make camp soon, and she was none surprised when Xena confirmed such. She came up to her mounted partner, and she lightly brushed her fingertips over Xena’s knee in hidden signal. She didn’t stop though and kept walking towards the hillside.

Xena sadly sighed because she knew that was Gabrielle’s way of saying sorry and that she needed to talk later. She had every intention of fulling her partner’s needs. She briefly glimpsed at Hope then urged Argo to go ahead.

The demi-god remained behind the soul mates as her gate was slow. The trek up the hill then onto the road didn’t help her weariness. She briefly brushed back her damp bangs and wandered how using her healing powers could have affected her so badly. She’d used them in the past with Callisto, and it hadn’t hindered her. The brief thought of Callisto made her muse about whatever happened to the rampaging goddess.

Xena tapped Argo’s sides, and she trotted down the road. She slowed Argo beside Gabrielle then peered down at her quickly.

The bard sighed then quietly mentioned, “Aphrodite sprinkled in after you left.”

The warrior tilted her head but asked, “What’d she say?”

“She figured out that Dahak’s plan to infect me is actually plan b.”

The Warrior Princess didn’t like the sounds of this information. “What’s plan a?”

Gabrielle sighed then peered up at her lover. “Plan a is that I don’t forgive and accept Hope then Hope gives up her resistance to Dahak’s will.” She lowered stare. “Part of plan b is that I accept Hope, which means I’ve opened my heart again.”

Xena weighed it, yet she still found a hole. “If Hope didn’t work what makes him think another child from you would?”

Gabrielle licked her dry lips then murmured, “Because now I have darkness in me too.”

Xena’s eyes flickered shut upon hearing the truth. She opened her eyes then stared straight ahead as she weighed the facts.

“Dahak picked me,” the bard mentioned, “because I’m Aphrodite’s chosen.” She combed her hair back, which felt slightly messy. “Dahak’s theory is that love is the weakest emotion so that means I’m weak by being Aphrodite’s chosen.”

The Warrior Princess followed the line of thinking. She then grunted and remarked, “But when you put your mind to something, Gabrielle you typically see it through.”

Gabrielle tasted some of the witticism in her partner’s honest words. “Now there’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Xena shot a smirk down at the bard. She then twisted in the saddle and saw how far back the demi-god was now. “We better stop.”

Gabrielle nodded then followed her partner off the road into the woods. She walked closely to the horse because of the dense woods. “Xena?”

“Hmmm?”

“Did you know that I was Aphrodite’s chosen?” The bard was truly curious because Xena didn’t seemed remotely surprised by the information.

The warrior briefly pretended not to hear the question as she glanced back for Hope.

“She’s coming,” Gabrielle promised.

The warrior didn’t argue but finally replied, “Yes, I did. You didn’t?”

Gabrielle tilted her head then narrowed her eyes up at the warrior. “Of course I knew.” She turned her focus away. “I just didn’t know if you knew.”

Xena scanned the trees and saw a large enough clearing just ahead. She halted Argo and dismounted easily. She pulled the reins from over Argo’s head then tangled them in her hand. “Who else could unchain the Warrior Princess?” She strolled off and left a stumped bard.

Gabrielle sighed because she didn’t understand where everybody’s faith in her was coming from. She truly needed a minute alone with her partner. With that decided, she quickly caught up with Xena.

The warrior had stopped on the edge of the clearing. She was in mid-motion of untacking her mare.

Gabrielle touched her soul mate’s arm then softly mentioned, “You were right… about what you said back in the village.”

When Gabrielle pulled her hand away, Xena finished removing the tack from Argo’s face. She lowered her hand with the tack. She turned to her partner. “I just… I never thought I’d see the day when I’m the one that fights with the open heart, and you with the closed heart.” She shook her head then murmured, “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Gabrielle sighed then thought about an old memory from an old enemy. “It’s funny what Caesar told me about you.” She peered up into unsettled blue eyes. “He told me that your fatal flaw were your emotions… and that those weren’t good attributes for a true warrior.” She bitterly laughed then reminded, “He didn’t have any and now look at where he is.”

Xena figured out the bard’s point to the speech. She sighed then stepped closer to her soul mate. “I think you need to find your balance, Gabrielle. You’re not the same woman you were when you left Potidaea, and you can’t go back to that but don’t become too much of a hardened warrior. I know where it leads.”

The bard slowly nodded her head and tried desperately not to get upset again. She touched her lover’s left arm and whispered, “You’re right.” She sadly smiled as she squeezed the muscular arm. “I’m sorry for what I said about Eve. I… I can’t take it back, but I’m glad I was wrong.”

Xena reached up and took her partner’s hand into hers. “Its good to be wrong once in awhile… it reminds us all that we’re not perfect.” She squeezed the small hand. “Just… don’t stop believing in me, Gabrielle. There won’t be much left for me if you do.”

The bard’s grip tightened, and she lifted Xena’s linked hand to her lips. She kissed the warrior’s knuckles then whispered, “I won’t.” She ran her thumb over Xena’s hand. “I’ll always see you as my hero.”

Xena smiled, and her eyes stung. She knew much had changed between them over the years, yet she never imagined the bard still saw her in that light. There were times she faltered in the past and would do it again, but Gabrielle stood by her anyway. She couldn’t ask for more.

Gabrielle moved in closer then Xena met her for the gentle kiss. She felt relief at having Xena’s lips against hers. Just as she withdrew, she sensed that Hope had finally caught up to them. She focused past Xena and spotted Hope only several hundred paces away.

The warrior already knew so she released Gabrielle’s hand then finished up with Argo.

Hope entered the clearing; she had a worn face.

Gabrielle actually felt a touch of concern so she offered, “Go sit down.” She pointed at the large rock.

The demi-god debated it then relented. She went slowly to the rock.

The bard turned on her heels, and a wound on Hope’s backside caught her eye. She quickly turned to Xena and asked, “Where’s the medical kit?”

The warrior briefly caught Hope’s back before she sat down. She hastily pulled out the medical kit that now weighed more thanks to the healer’s gratefulness.

Gabrielle took the leather bag then hurried over to the demi-god. When she was upon Hope, she sharply asked, “Why didn’t you say anything?” She came to stand behind the seated, young woman.

Hope twisted her head up but could barely see the bard. “About?”

Gabrielle frowned then instructed, “Lean forward.”

The demi-god consented. Quickly small hands checked over her lower back, just below her halter top. She inhaled sharply from the sting produced by the bard’s probing. It was the first time really noticed the dull ache of pain from her back. “It’ll heal over soon enough,” she murmured, “you don’t need to bother.”

Gabrielle wasn’t satisfied because she took a moist rag and proceeded to clean it. “It could get infected. You need to be careful.” She pulled the red tinted rag away and briefly caught sight of the separated skin mending together. A brief shiver passed down Gabrielle’s back.

Hope quietly asked, “Are you mothering me?”

Gabrielle was bent over and had dug out the salve. She paused but straightened up with the open jar. At first she wasn’t sure how to reply, but she finally answered, “I suppose so.”

The demi-god turned her head away and lowered it. She closed her eyes when she felt a sense of relief pass through her. She’d expected Gabrielle’s answer to be a solid no, but it hadn’t. She concentrated on the feel of Gabrielle’s tender touch, and she was amazed by how much she missed it.

Gabrielle finished rubbing the salve into the wound. She suspected the wound had been made by the barn when it’d fallen around them. She sealed up the jar then tucked it away in the medical kit. “Just stay put. Xena and I will take care of the camp.” Then she left the demi-god alone to her thoughts.

Hope merely observed how the couple was able to put the camp together without so much as passing a single word. She suspected that they’d worked it down to a set system after all the years. She considered if Xena had certain duties and Gabrielle had her own set.

Xena met Gabrielle by the fire and softly asked, “What you want for dinner?”

The bard had kettle in her right hand but she peered up at her partner. Her eyes were bright suddenly, but not from the fire. “Some halibut would be great.”

The Warrior Princess placed her hands on her hips when she felt last night’s conversation repeating.

Gabrielle cleared her throat and reminded, “You asked.”

Hope curiously watched and listened to the pair. She couldn’t decipher if Xena was angry or not, but by Gabrielle’s body language she knew it was okay.

Xena remained cool, but internally she was happy to see the banter from Gabrielle again. “How about something from this general area?”

The bard considered the trees behind her partner then focused back on her. “I wouldn’t mind some boar… I’m sure there’s one around here… in this general area, I mean.”

“I left my bow and arrow back in the ice tomb,” the warrior retorted.

Gabrielle crinkled up her nose at her lover. “Well, I’m sure you could use your round thingy to kill it.”

“Gabrielle,” the warrior warned.

Gabrielle was about to continued her smart remarks, but she was left with her mouth hanging open.

“How about salmon?” Hope piped up.

Xena’s head snapped to the right, and she instantly replied, “Wrong kind of creek. Wrong season. Wrong-”

“Trout,” Gabrielle cut off. She slapped her free hand on the lover’s stomach. “Can you handle that?”

The Warrior Princess lowered her gaze to her soul mate. “Your wish is my command.” She smirked, side stepped the bard, and headed for the creek that she knew was near.

“And no eel!” Gabrielle hollered after her partner.

Xena spun around, walked backwards a few steps, and her devilish features clearly showed. She turned then broke into a jog for the creek.

Gabrielle proceeded to get the kettle hung over the fire. She kept her back to Hope, but she questioned, “Do you want some tea?”

The demi-god had a confused look. “Tea?”

The bard finished getting the kettle over the fire then she faced the demi-god. “Its a warm drink from Chin.”

Hope debated it then nodded. She hadn’t tried many foods or drinks since she’d never had the chance or desire. Now she realized there was much she’d indeed missed out. “Please.”

Gabrielle wasn’t use to such a polite manner from the demi-god. She went over to the saddlebags then worked to get her cooking supplies together. “So you know about salmon though?”

Hope certainly did as it was a food that her disciples often brought her. She’d come to like it quite a bit, and she couldn’t imagine if this trout would taste like it. “The few times I’ve eaten it’s usually been salmon.”

Gabrielle thought the information was interesting, but not the salmon itself. “How often do you have to eat?” She came back to the campfire and lined up her cooking supplies along with the pouch of tea leaves.

Hope stretched out her legs and crossed her ankles. “I can typically go seven days without eating or sleeping.”

The bard faintly shook her head because she felt like she was relearning Hope’s mysterious life. She couldn’t understand how this was her child, and yet she knew so little about Hope. She knelt beside her cooking supplies and opened the pouch of tea leaves. She placed enough into each of the three mugs.

Hope finally stood up because she felt the urge to move around. She approached the campfire and Gabrielle.

Gabrielle had been reaching for the steaming kettle but the demi-god’s movements distracted her. She caught her hand on the scolding kettle and inadvertently knocked the kettle off when she burned her hand. “Gods be damn it,” she growled and retracted her aching hand. She clenched her teeth from the sharp, burning pain, and tears welded in her eyes. Then she recalled the kettle, and she quickly lifted her head. She stared in shock at how the kettle hovered over the dancing flames.

Hope kept her focus on the kettle and moved it through the air, past the fire, and lowered it to the ground by the mugs.

Gabrielle released a deep breath but studied her injured hand. She mentally berated herself for not being more careful. She started to go for the medical kit, yet Hope’s voice stopped her.

“Let me see.” Hope came closer then held out her hands, palms up. She detected the bard’s fear, yet she wouldn’t break her steady gaze with Gabrielle.

Gabrielle swallowed then removed her uninjured hand from the scolded one. She placed her very red hand into the demi-god’s smooth, soft hands.

Hope shifted the bard’s hand into her left then she placed her right hand on top. She closed her eyes then focused her powers on the quickly shaping burn in the skin.

Gabrielle gasped when the brief, sharp pain passed over her hand then it all stopped. The ache was soothed away then the cool air met her hand when Hope relinquished her hold. Gabrielle held up her hand and clenched it into a fist. She was amazed.

The demi-god slightly smiled at Gabrielle’s dazzled features. The bard’s look made her feel good because she knew she’d helped.

Gabrielle lowered her healed hand to her side and sincerely whispered, “Thank you.”

Hope’s earlier smile grew, and she merely nodded since she didn’t know what to say.

Gabrielle turned and knelt down so she could finish up with the tea.

Hope backed away and took to one side of the campfire. She intently watched Gabrielle’s movements with making the tea. She then subconsciously raised her right hand and submerged it into the fire, which didn’t harm her. She lowered her gaze to the fire and watched how the flames danced around her hand. She felt some strange comfort in controlling the fire.

The flames flowed around the demi-god’s hand. They danced for her and painted unknown objects much like clouds in the sky. Suddenly the flames shifted rapidly then the orange and red colors shaped into a very distinct face.

Hope’s eyes widened when the face of Dahak smirked at her in the flames that rested in her palm. She gasped, jumped back from the fire as if burned, and she gulped for air.

Dahak’s face melted away into the flames then it was as if nothing was ever there.

Gabrielle had jumped up and spun around when she’d heard the noise. She held one sai in her right hand and took in the demi-god’s fearful look. “What happened?” She noticed how Hope wouldn’t stop staring at the fire in a horrified manner. She glanced at the fire but saw it was fine.

Hope swallowed then brushed her bangs back. She wouldn’t look at Gabrielle, although she muttered, “Nothing.” She backed stepped from the fire then walked away; she returned to her seat.

Gabrielle spun her sai, knelt, and sheathed it. She took two tea mugs and left the third for Xena when she returned. She went over to Hope and held the mug to her.

Hope gingerly took the offered mug and the aroma floated around her. The scent seemed to still her earlier apprehension.

The bard sat on the ground beside the demi-god. She sipped on her tea first, which gave her a moment to mull over Hope’s earlier actions. She peered up and mentioned, “I’m not so great at lying.” She had a crooked grin. “You’re not much better at it.”

Hope glanced to her right when Xena arrived back in the camp.

“Your tea is by the fire.”

Xena flashed an appreciative smile to her partner and headed right for the campfire. In her hands, she carried three cleaned trout. Gabrielle had taught her to place oil and herbs on them then put them on the fire. What she couldn’t seem to learn was how long they should stay on the fire for or when to rotate them. She decided to leave that up to the bard’s many skills.

Gabrielle peered back up at the demi-god then whispered, “So are you going to tell me what you saw in that fire?” She noted Hope’s slight surprise that she’d figure it out, and it was fairly easy for Gabrielle to guess what’d happened.

The demi-god had yet to try the tea, and she played with the mug. “I just saw Dahak’s face.”

Gabrielle nodded once as she’d suspected such. She then gently questioned, “What do you expect to do tomorrow? When we get to the temple.”

“Stop the disciples,” she whispered to the bard.

“You’ll be closer to Dahak’s will,” Gabrielle reminded, “and that’s dangerous.”

Hope studied the bard when she heard the honest words. She peered into the mug and studied the contents, which she hadn’t tried yet. “I refused his will in the temple. I can still do it.”

Gabrielle had taken a drink of her tea then set the mug down. “So long as you have your own will.” She stood up then mentioned, “Try the tea.” She then went to the fire and helped her lover with the trout.

And Hope did try the tea. She only tried a small sip at first then enjoyed the flavor, especially the sweetness. She hadn’t suspected the sweet tint to it, but it was nice and the warmth soothed her. She continued to sip on it while she watched the soul mates.

Gabrielle rotated the skewered fish then straightened up.

Xena slipped her arm around the bard’s waist and drew her closer. She didn’t care that Hope was here because she enjoyed Gabrielle far too much.

Gabrielle smiled up at her partner and snaked her arm around Xena’s midback. She leaned into the warm leather body that was so familiar. “I’m worried about tomorrow.” She stared into the fire and tried to see Dahak’s face like Hope had earlier, but she saw nothing.

Xena lowered her head closer then murmured, “We’ve done this before.”

“How many times are we going to keep doing it?” Gabrielle rested her head on Xena’s chest. “How many times will Dahak sneak up on us?” She peered up at her lover. “Even if Hope is free of him, it doesn’t mean he won’t try some other way.”

“It’ll be a lot harder for him,” Xena reminded.

Gabrielle wasn’t satisfied though and whispered, “Now he’ll haunt Hope.”

Xena felt the remorse in the bard’s words which meant Gabrielle was indeed opening up to Hope’s changes. Xena had a mix of comfort and displeasure about it, but she kept rational. She knew Gabrielle’s position after she’d struggled to find Eve inside of Livia. “At least she’ll be free from him.”

The bard listened to her soul mate’s steady heartbeat. She digested the words and felt the same way too. “If this is real, Xena… if she’s really changed. Then where do we go from here?”

Xena didn’t have the perfect answer. She lowered her head, kissed the bard’s head, and murmured, “It’ll be up to you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle listened then heavily considered the words. She shook her head then peered up into soft blue eyes. “No,” she whispered, “it’ll be up to us… all of us.”

Xena had a wistful smile at the bard’s declaration. Her gaze wandered over to the demi-god, who remained on the rock and carefully studied her and Gabrielle. In the brief instant that she locked eyes with Hope, she knew her entire life would be altered by this demi-god birthed by her soul mate. Now she just needed the time to accept the changes that most likely rested ahead.

To be continued.