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Hercules studied Xena carefully as she gave out orders to the small band of farmers who had volunteered to be soldiers. He was amazed by how her personality had changed from one minute to the next with the onset of a pointedly gruesome battle. She was focused and driven by some unforeseen element that Hercules couldn't even begin to describe. He was content to just sit back and watch until he was needed. They had been plotting this for a month, with little skirmishes in between what was looking like a major battle.
"Do you think they're ready?" Hercules asked when they were left alone.
"No." She was blunt. "But I don't think I'm ready for what we're going to face. Diamon is like this - thing - that has no soul. He just keeps on killing, not caring who gets in his way."
Hercules looked away for a moment, understanding where she was going.
"You're not like that."
"I was. You know that, you saw what I was capable of."
"Yes, and I know what you're not." He grabbed her by the arm, pulling her close to him. "You can't continue to do this to yourself." He looked into her pale eyes. "You'll drive yourself insane if you do."
"And no one will be there to pull me back." Xena tried to turn out of his grip but Hercules held on.
"I will always be there to for you."
They stood there, looking at each other, in a unfettered embrace.
"Hercules, Xena, we're ready." The young man came into the tent slowly, wishing that he'd announced himself first.
"We're coming, Tricule." Xena escaped Hercules' embrace and walked out of the tent.
After a heavy sigh, Hercules followed her out.
It didn't take long for the battle to heat up. All efforts of peace were lost at the return of the messengers heads on a pole. It was one of the most gory battle Hercules had been in. Almost everyone was dead, including Diamon, by the time the battle was over.
"Tricule, have you seen Xena?" Hercules shouted. They had been separated during the battle. The young man came close to him with a worried look on his face.
"Mraith saw...she took a sword...Hercules, she's dead."
"NO!" He ran across the battle field in the general direction of where he'd lost her.
Xena was kneeling over the body of a wounded man. A couple of the village woman were helping her bandage the young man, when she felt a strong arm wrap around her waist. Turning her around in a captive embrace, Hercules gave her a long and passionate kiss.
"They told me you were dead," he said after a moment. Relief masked the anguish that was painted on his face.
Xena just looked at him...what could she have done to make him act this way?
That sun was just starting to rise over the distant hills when Xena got ready to leave. Hercules was still asleep. She softly sat next to him, running a hand over his bare arm.
"I have to leave now," she whispered in his ear, then kissed him softly on the lips.
The Great flame burned in the center of the temple. A emerald-robed priest moved slowly around it, watching it dance. He stopped in front of the marble altar. Carefully, he brushed away the cobwebs and dust. Placing a silver goblet on the altar, he stared up at the giant bird gracing the top of it.
"Mighty Hera, I have remained faithful to you and to your will." He pulled a polished silver dagger from beneath the folds of his robes. "It is with the blood of the faithful that I resurrect you." Cautiously, he moved the dagger across his palm, watching as his blood flowed freely into the silver goblet. When the goblet had filled with the crimson liquid, he turned around and poured it the fire. The flame enlarged and then subsided.
The priest fell to his knees when the ground shook with power and an evil laugh filled the entire room.
He bowed his head to the floor in reverence.
He gently laid her down and began to remove her armor.
The wound to her side was still open and bleeding profusely, the bandages soaked through. In all his life, he'd never seen so much blood before. With a sudden lurch, both of Xena's hands reached out and grabbed for him. Letting her hands wrap around his neck, he tried to calm her.
"It's going to be all right..."
She opened the blue eyes, clouded with pain, and looked at him. "You have to save them, Hercules."
"Xena, save who?"
"Hera wants them..." She fought to take a breath. "She needs them...needs their blood..."
With that, she went still and limp in his arms.
"No, Xena..." He shook her, trying his best to wake her. A sudden laughter filled the air and two peacock eyes loomed overhead.
His own scream woke him up.
~It was just a dream...~
He shook his head and looked around the room. For months he'd been having these dreams, but none of them had ever felt so real. He pulled himself out of the tiny bed and tried to shake off the foreboding feeling, but something told him that he wasn't going to get rid of it that easily.
"Iolaus, I mean it wasn't just a dream - it was real." Hercules sighed.
His friend looked up at him with concern. "Maybe it's just one of the gods trying to push you over the edge."
"I don't know. Maybe I should go and find her...see if she's all right."
"When was the last time you saw her?"
Hercules thought for a moment. "About six months ago in Plainth."
"And everything seemed all right?"
"Just fine. I don't know, Iolaus, maybe something happened to her after we parted."
"I'd stop by Hera's temple, too. Herc, if Hera is back, she's going to want revenge."
"Yeah, I've thought about that." ~And to be honest, it scares me.~
He knew he didn't have to tell Iolaus that.
Xena sat on the edge of the bed, staring out in to space. Gabrielle stood in the doorway, not saying a word.
She didn't know what exactly to say to her best friend.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"You're going to have to talk about it sooner or later... I just thought..." She paused for a moment. "Why don't you start from the beginning - and you don't have to tell me everything - Xena, just talk to me."
Xena remained quiet.
Turning quietly, Gabrielle prepared to walk out of the room.
"It started in Plainth."
Gabrielle sat down next to Xena.
"A warlord named Diamon was attacking the small villages in the area, that's when I met up with Hercules. He had heard the same things and wanted to help. The fight was fierce; men, women and children were being butchered. Gabrielle...it was hideous." She paused and took a breath. "It took us nearly a month to get rid of Diamon and all of his men. It was a few days later, when I was in Corinth that I saw him. He had these eerie yellow eyes and when he spoke to me...it sent chills down my spine..."
Greetings to the great Warrior Princess, who Ares finds favor in. I looked at him and said, "Well, I don't find favor in him." The man just smiled. I come baring a message to you from the great goddess Hera; It is to be that your children shall give her the power she needs to rule Olympus. I just thought he was crazy. He just looked at me with an evil grin. By this time next year, you will have given birth to a child with godly powers. And it will be sacrificed to my mistress.
Xena went silent again.
"Oh...Xena." Gabrielle breathed.
Gabrielle walked out of the small hut, she nodded to the amazon guards on either side. Xena was scared. And after the story she just heard, she had every right to be.
Hercules walked down the steps of the over-grown temple.
The Fates sounded as he stepped into the sordid room. "I need to find someone."
Hercules moved closer to the web of life threads. Klotho held a crimson thread out.
"Is this hers?"
The three nodded.
He ran his finger over the thread, noticing a large knot in the middle of it. "What's this?"
Hercules let go of the thread. He stood speechless for a moment, looking at the three.
"Surprising, isn't it?" An all too familiar voice bellowed behind him.
"You know, there was a time when I thought that I was going to father Xena's children, but then that died a long time ago."
Hercules turned and violently rammed Ares into the far wall.
"If you touch her, I'll..."
Ares let out a low rumble of laughter. "It's not me you're going to have to worry about." With that, the god disappeared.
Hercules went pale. "Hera."
The dream came flooding back, as real as ever. He turned back around to the Fates. "Who's been sending me these dreams?"
"Father, what's going on?"
"I'm trying to save your family."
"I didn't even know about this until now."
Zeus sighed and placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "Come on...let's take a walk."
Their footsteps silently treaded through the loosely packed forest.
"How long have you known about this?" Hercules asked, without looking at Zeus.
"Just a little longer than you. Do you know what Hera wants with your unborn baby?"
"It's a little more complicated than that. One of her priests was able to resurrect her out of Tartarus, but she's not as powerful as she once was." "She needs the baby's blood to regain all of her power." It dawned on Hercules. The warning in the dream. Xena was warning him to protect them from Hera.
Them. Xena said to protect them.
"What if she has twins?"
"Will Hera have to have them both?"
"More than likely, why?"
"Nothing...it was just a thought. Do you know where Xena is?"
"With the Amazons. Hercules, you have to be careful. Xena has guards all around her."
"That's understandable. I'll be careful."
"Xena, just a short walk, please." Gabrielle took her by the arm and walked her out of the hut.
Xena put a hand up to shield her eyes from the sun until they adjusted.
"How long have you been in there?"
"Two weeks...maybe three."
Gabrielle looked at her. "Xena, that's not good for you, or the baby."
Xena just shrugged the statement off. "Don't you have a husband and son to get back to?"
"Xena, you need me right now and Iolaus understands that. Besides, Gabe gives new meaning to the term 'terrible twos'."
Xena smiled. She could just imagine the small boy wreaking havoc around the small house.
"You never told me why..."
"...I'm cowering in that little hut. After my encounter with Hera's priest, I kind of shook it off. Until I started to have the typical signs of pregnancy. Then the dreams started. Violent and real. So real."
"You're strong, Xena. You're going to get through this."
"It's dangerous to be around me right now."
Gabrielle smiled. "When wasn't it?" The mood seemed to lift. "Whatever you were thinking, you have to realize that you're not alone, Xena."
"Gabrielle's right." The two women turned around at the sound of the voice behind them. Gabrielle suddenly felt out of place.
"I'll leave the two of you alone." She walked to the other side of the village.
"How did you find me?"
"Does that matter?"
She looked at Hercules. "It does to me."
"I went to see the Fates. At first it was just to see if you were all right, but then..." He was at a loss for words.
Xena didn't have much to say to him, either. She pushed past him and walked toward the hut. Anger consumed her, and she didn't know why. She just wanted him to go away. She sat heavily on the bed, picking up the sword laying on the floor. The dim light was just enough to give the blade a shine. A thought of Solan raced through her mind.
~Is this my second chance to get it right?~ She laid the sword down, sliding it under the bed, when the urge to sleep came over her. She fought it with all her might, but it wasn't good enough. Slowly she closed her eyes and drifted into a deep sleep.
"Gently. Hera doesn't want her harmed." The priest told the beast, who had bent over the unconscious Xena.
The emerald-robed priest turned around slowly. "I wouldn't take another step, Hercules. Hera doesn't want her harmed now, but that doesn't mean I won't. All I have to do is give this dumb beast the word and he'll rip her apart. Either way, Hera gets what she wants." His yellow eyes glowed and they all disappeared.
Hercules ran out of the little hut.
"Ephiny!" He shouted. "Where's the nearest Temple to Hera?"
A sudden look of terror came over the Amazon's face. "About a two days travel from here in Corinth, why?"
"Hera's got Xena."
"But my guards didn't see or hear anything!"
"They weren't suppose to."
She gave him a confused look.
"I'll explain later."
Xena slowly opened her eyes. Her mouth was dry and her whole body ached. Quickly, her hands went to her stomach. The baby gave a strong kick to affirm that it was all right.
"You're awake, that's good."
An elderly woman sat in a rocking chair next to the fire place. She poured a glass of water and brought it over to Xena.
"Where am I?"
"Hera's temple in Corinth." The woman sat next to her on the edge of the bed and helped Xena sit up.
She panicked. "I'm not supposed to be here." She pushed herself out of the bed. A sudden pain shot through her body, bringing her to her knees.
"You have spirit. I can see why Ares was so fond of you." The elderly woman's white robes changed to a flowing black gown adorned with feathers.
"I'm glad you recognize me, even in my aged state." She gave her a wicked smile. "That will soon change with the birth of your child." Another pain shot through Xena's body.
"Not if I can help it." Hercules' voice rang in the room. "You may be back, Hera, but you're still weak."
"There is no way of stopping this Hercules." She disappeared in a blinding flash.
He rushed over to Xena, kneeling down next to her.
"Are you all right?"
She grimaced once more and then looked at him. "I'll be just fine, once I get my hands on that cold-hearted bitch."
He helped her stand up and soon realized he was supporting her more than her feet were. Moving her over to the bed, he felt her lean heavily on him.
"I don't think you're as ready to take on Hera as you think."
"I'm fine...I just need to rest a little." She took a deep breath as pain swept through her body again. Seeing what was going on, Hercules put a strong arm around her waist and pulled her up.
"Come on, I have to get you out of here before your labor pain gets worse."
"Give me a sword."
Hercules looked at her in disbelief. "Xena."
"Don't argue with me, Hercules. Give me a sword, it'll make me feel better."
Picking up the sword he'd left by the door, he reluctantly handed it to her. They walked through the long corridors of the temple until they came into the large adytum. The priest moved about the center, around the great flame.
"Get them!" He yelled, and as if out of thin air, the beasts appeared. Black fur and fangs dripping with saliva.
"You know, for once, I'd like to fight a monster that didn't smell bad or looked ugly." Hercules let Xena rest against one of the large pillars, then rushed into the oncoming mass of fur and fangs.
The priest lunged at Xena, who he thought was weak enough for him to kill, but much to his surprise, she blocked his oncoming advance with a strong kick to the gut.
"You're going to have to do a lot better than that."
The priest gave her an evil glare. "Oh, I intend to." The priest pulled a massive sword from beneath his robes and took a swing at Xena's head. She ducked to the side and took another swing. She wasn't as fast as she'd like to be, but it was just enough to catch him off guard. Turning the sword around, Xena swung out and sliced through his gut. On the return swing, the sword imbedded itself in the priest's side.
"Mistress....help me." The priest whispered as he died.
Up from the flames in the great fire, Hera came into sight. Hercules watched, quickly making his way over to Xena. Bending down, he tossed the priest's body at Hera. "That'll slow her down for awhile." He then moved over to the large stone altar. Using all his strength, Hercules pushed the mighty stone altar into the giant flames, crushing them out.
The great hall echoed with Hera's cries of protest. Her protests were soon muffled by that of Xena. Hercules moved over and picked her up.
With in seconds, she caught a glimpse of the source of that laughter. A small raven haired boy ran screaming toward her. Letting loose of the horse, she kneeled down to the boy's level. In one continuous motion she scooped him up in her arms.
"I told Lycia, you'd be home today." He managed to get out before he stopped to catch his breath.
"Did not, Jason!"
Xena looked past the boy to his older sister, only by an hour, who was latched on to Hercules' hand.
Jason ignored his sister's remark and smiled at Xena. He laid his grubby hands on her shoulders and gave her a hug.
With a sweeping motion, Xena put the boy on Argo. In turn, Hercules picked up Lycia and carefully placed her on behind her brother, then fell into stride next to Xena.
It wasn't a perfect family life, but they were managing. Besides, the two raven-haired children didn't seem to mind the fact that they only had one parent most of the time.
They seemed to understand their parents' place in the world as heroes.