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With a huff she leaned close to the woman in front of her. "Can't you make Argo go any faster?"
The raven-haired woman suppressed a smile. "I ran Argo yesterday. She deserves a rest."
"Xena, at this rate we'll never make it to Corinth by nightfall." The blonde sighed.
"We're going to get there, Gabrielle, don't worry." Xena kicked Argo into a steady trot. She glanced back at her friend. "I don't think he's going to mind that we're running a little late."
Gabrielle sat up straight at that comment. "That is not at all the reason I want to get to Corinth. We received the letter three days ago and should have been there yesterday."
With an evil smile Xena kicked the horse into a full gallop, almost throwing Gabrielle off.
Night fall was a great comfort to Gabrielle. She hated to ride the horse, even though they had arrived in Corinth faster. Throwing her staff to the ground, she swung herself around on the saddle, preparing to jump down. To her delight Gabrielle found a pair of out stretched arms waiting to help her down.
"Can I help?"
"Iolaus!" She squealed and slid into his arms. An overwhelming and indescribable feeling always came over Gabrielle every time she was around him. This was what frightened her. She had no way of telling him just how she felt and no way of knowing if he felt the same way. She forced herself to push the thoughts away and enjoy the loose embrace.
"I was told to keep you company while Herc and Xena take care of business." He smiled at her.
"What's going on? Xena wouldn't let me read the letter. All she said was that we were going to meet you and Hercules here."
"I really don't know myself," he said taking her hand, "don't worry about it. I'm sure whatever it is, they'll take care of it. Besides they know we're here if they need help."
"Like that's going to happen." She smiled. They both knew that Herc and Xena both could be stubborn at times and refuse to ask for help when they really needed it. Gabrielle laced her fingers with Iolaus'.
"So what is there to do around here?" Iolaus griped her hand tighter and gave her a smile.
"Let's walk and we'll see." He was eager to hear what she had been up to since the last time they saw each other.
The temple was ominous and foreboding. Xena really hadn't thought that Zeus' temple would have that effect on her. She had felt it a dozen or so times just passing by one of Ares' temples. She felt a warm hand on her shoulder. "I've got an uneasy feeling about this." She told the man standing behind her.
"I know." Hercules didn't know what else he could say to her. They started up the steps and walked into the temple. A few priests were still moving about the outer room. They barely looked up when they walked in. Xena and Hercules moved past the priests and into the inner chamber. A great stone throne sat in the middle if the room. A gold eagle was perched on the back of it. It's wings outstretched it's face looking toward the heavens in a silent scream.
"I almost thought you two wouldn't come."
A flash of white light an older but very distinguished man stood before them.
"We almost didn't." Xena retorted.
"Why exactly did you want to see us, father?"
Zeus walked past them to the throne.
"Where do I start?"
Iolaus took a good long look at Gabrielle across the tavern table. She had changed so much since they had first met. Her hair fell over her shoulders like a blonde waterfall. His eyes followed the contours of her face to the curve of her neck...
"Huh?" He shook his head and looked away.
"You look like you're miles away."
She smiled. "What about?"
"It's not important." He adjusted himself in his seat. ~Did she know? Did he want her to know?~
In his heart he wanted to tell her how he felt, but his head told him not to. Gabrielle smiled to herself. He was saved by the sound of a familiar voice coming from the front of the tavern.
"Herc, over here!" he called out.
A tall man with shoulder length hair pushed his way through the crowd of people to the small table.
"I'm glad I found the two of you."
"What's going on? Where's Xena?" Gabrielle shot at Hercules.
"She's checking on Argo. I think she should tell you what is happening."
"Xena." Gabrielle called into the stable.
"Right here, Gabrielle." Gabrielle walked into the stable and found Xena rubbing down Argo. She walked over and placed a hand on the horse. She looked into Xena's eyes. They were red and puffy.
"Xena, what's wrong?"
"Nothing for you to worry about, Gabrielle,...at least, not right now."
"Then, will you tell me what's going on?"
"The letter I received three days ago was from Zeus. The letter said I was to meet Hercules at his temple here in Corinth, and everything would be explained."
"What did he say?"
After what seemed like forever to Gabrielle, Xena released her.
The morning sunlight spilled into the small inn room. Gabrielle pulled her blanket around her face, trying to go back to sleep. She heard the door creek open and footsteps cross the room to her cot. She could feel the cot adjust to the weight.
"Just a little longer, Xena."
Gabrielle's eyes opened wide. She slowly rolled over and hoped that she had heard wrong.
Iolaus was sitting on the edge of the cot smiling down at her. ~By the gods, he's cute.~ She thought as she pushed herself up. She looked over Iolaus' shoulder to see Xena's empty cot.
"When did they leave?" Iolaus was hoping to at least get through the morning with out bringing this up.
"This morning, before dawn."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and leaned her head against Iolaus' shoulder.
"We just have to hope that they knew what they were doing," he said running a hand through her hair. Then he smiled. "Besides that gives us sometime to spend together."
Gabrielle looked him in the eyes.
"Well, Xena did say to stay close to you." She pulled him closer.
The kiss was slow, passionate, and left Gabrielle's head swimming.
"I'll let you get ready," Iolaus said pulling away, then left.
~I am definitely going to enjoy myself this week.~ Gabrielle thought, and began to get ready.
ENTER THE GODS
Melodious laughter filled the marble hall. Aphrodite looked into the crystal pool again at the image of Gabrielle and Iolaus.
"Is this totally cool, or what?" she asked Cupid as he entered the room. He glanced into the pool.
"Yeah, maybe she'll quit writing about Xena."
Aphrodite gave her son an innocent look. "That thought hadn't even crossed my mind. Anyway, her and Sweetcheeks belong together. They're like soulmates."
Cupid looked seriously at her. "Well they're the reason I'm here. Ares knows that Uncle Herc and Xena are gone and he's looking for something to do."
Aphrodite stomped a foot on the marble floor. "That Walking Bad Attitude is not going to ruin this."
She lightly touched the pool and the image faded. "I am just going to have to make sure he doesn't." She regained her composure and disappeared in a shower of gold.
"Gabrielle..." Iolaus was laughing so hard he was nearly rolling on the ground. Gabrielle had waded into the stream to catch lunch, with her bare hands.
"I've seen Xena do this hundreds of times." She had told Iolaus. But she had missed the first fish and fell flat on her backside in the icy water. "This is not funny, Iolaus!"
Iolaus stopped laughing. Pulling off his boots he waded in after her. "I told you that wasn't going to work."
"I don't see you doing much of anything." He looked into her face. She was glad that her annoyance with him masked her embarrassment.
"Are you going to help me up?"
He offered her his hands. "Can we use the poles now?"
"No, I can do this. I've done this before. All I have to do is concentrate." Gabrielle plunged both hands into the water. She suddenly pulled her hands out of the water.
"That wasn't a fish," she said with a look of panic. She felt it rub up against her legs. "Iolaus...it's around my legs."
Quietly, Iolaus had crept back to the shore to retrieve his sword. "Hold still." He pulled off his vest and waded back out. He wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's waist, keeping his sword arm free. "When I say, jump, OK?"
Gabrielle felt his arm tighten around her. "Jump!" He commanded.
Using him as leverage, she jumped as high as she could with whatever had entangled itself around her ankles. Iolaus took a swing at the creature. It was good enough to get Gabrielle free, but it only made the thing more mad.
"Get to shore, now!" he shouted, not letting her protest.
The creature's head appeared above the water. It had glowing yellow eyes and needle sharp teeth. Gabrielle could barely keep her eyes open. She didn't want to watch. She couldn't watch as Iolaus fought the repulsive creature. It wasn't until she felt his hand on her shoulder that she realized it was over. Forgetting to check for injures, she threw her arms around his neck in a tight hug.
"It's all right...I'm fine." He whispered to her.
Unknown to Gabrielle and Iolaus, Ares looked on. In the flame's red glow he saw the monster's body wrap around Iolaus, fangs ready to rip him apart. Iolaus swung at the monster's head, missing it almost completely. The monster let out a hideous growl squeezing Iolaus tighter. With one last attempt, Iolaus severed the head of the monster from it's body.
Seeing this Ares swore something under his breath and let a lighting bolt fly across the temple throne room.
"Why even bother?" Discord demanded noticing his building anger.
"Because they have been a thorn in my side for way too long."
Discord gave Ares an evil grin. "Oh come on. Your bored, and they're easy targets with their pals gone. Admit it, all of Olympus knows it."
Ares restrained himself from throwing Discord across the room. Instead he raised a hand and changed the image in the flame. There stood his half brother Hercules at the graves of his family. "Let's just say that Iolaus wasn't there for our dear half brother when Hera killed his family. What would have happened?" The image melted into another one. This one showed Hercules over turning tables, throwing innocents through walls. He had a crazed look in his eyes. He was completely rabid.
"You have obviously been thinking a lot about this." Discord commented on the images.
"Oh, it gets better. What if Xena had never met Gabrielle? The truth is, she's the one that keeps Xena on the straight and narrow." The image in the flame changed again. This time it showed Xena at the head of an impressive army. Purple and gold banners flew in the background.
"She would be my Queen. The ultimate ruler of the known world. The Destroyer of Nations."
He waved his hand again, the image disappeared as the flame died down.
"That monster was only the beginning for what I have in store for them."
Love Not Said
"Are you sure that doesn't hurt?" Iolaus asked Gabrielle, who was limping.
"No. I'm fine." She was lying. It hurt like Tartarus. That monster had scales like razors, and one of them had sliced into her ankle.
"It doesn't look like it."
"I can make back to the inn."
"Right." He gathered Gabrielle up in his arms. "We'll find a clearing, dry off, and I'll take a look at your ankle."
Gabrielle didn't shut up the entire time Iolaus was looking at her ankle. He figured that it was the only thing she could do to keep her mind off the pain.
"Here...let me tell you a story." Iolaus said, looking up from the wound.
She smiled. "You, telling me a story?"
"Yeah, don't sound so surprised."
"That would be nice."
He finished wrapping her ankle and sat next to her. Gabrielle scooted close to him and laid her head on his shoulder. Iolaus wasn't sure what made him think of the story, but it felt appropriate.
"Long ago people had four arms, four legs, and two heads. Then the gods threw down thunder bolts, leaving people with one head, two legs, and two arms. But they never felt whole because their soul was split in two. So, ever since then, people have been looking for their other half."
Iolaus looked down at Gabrielle. She'd fallen asleep.
"Oh well, you need it." He kissed her on the forehead.
"Ares, you can't mess with them like that!" Aphrodite put her hands on her hips and stomped a foot on the floor.
Ares let out a low thunderous laugh. "And why not?"
"Because, they're under my protection."
That made Ares laugh even harder. "I don't think so, little sister." He walked over to Aphrodite, looking her in the face. "You see, they haven't told each other that they love each other. Therefore, you can't interfere."
Aphrodite stomped her foot again. "Humph!" She disappeared in a shower of gold.
"What was the slut doing here?" Discord flashed in.
"Nothing. Did you talk to Protus for me?"
"He'll be in the valley by night fall."
"Good." He gave an evil grin and waved a hand. The flame enlarged to show Iolaus cooking a rabbit and Gabrielle asleep across from him.
Iolaus hated to wake Gabrielle up, she looked so peaceful...but she also needed to eat.
"Gabrielle." He gently shook her shoulder. She slowly opened her eyes.
"Iolaus." She smiled. "I was having the best dream."
"What was it about?"
"If I told you, then it wouldn't come true."
She winced as he helped her sit up.
"Are we going back to the inn?" She asked
"Not tonight. Your need to stay off that ankle for at least the rest of the night."
"Iolaus, I'm fine, really." Gabrielle used her staff as leverage and proceeded to stand. "See, no problems. It doesn't even hurt any more."
"Will you sit down before you hurt yourself." Iolaus stopped himself and shuddered. How many times had he heard Herc say the exact same thing to him. Form Gabrielle's expression it had to be a common phrase between her and Xena, too.
She limped over and sat down on the log next to him. "We can go back to the inn, tomorrow." She leaned down to kiss him.
"Oh, isn't this sweet." A gruff voice said behind them.
The last thing Iolaus heard was Gabrielle's scream before he totally blacked out.
Iolaus woke up with his head pounding. Gabrielle smiled down at him.
"I was getting worried."
"It's all right I've got a hard head, remember?" He smiled and sat up. "Where are we?"
"I don't know, they blind-folded me. I did hear them say something about Ares."
Iolaus got up and walked around the small room they had been locked in. "I should have guessed. This whole thing reeks of him."
"What, you don't like my plan?" A flash of silver light flooded the room and Ares appeared. "A little diversion for my brother and Xena, that gets you two alone, and then I dispose of you." He gave them a half-hearted grin. "You have until sunset before you get to watch each other die." As abruptly as he had come, he'd disappeared.
Gabrielle sank on the cot. She had just peered out of the room's tiny window. Sunset was less than an hour away. Iolaus sat on the cot next to her. Holding back nothing now, Gabrielle sobbed into Iolaus' vest.
"It's going to be all right. I don't know how..." he said softly. All they could do now was wait.
Ares' guards led Gabrielle and Iolaus into the large stone throne room. Ares sat on his throne and Discord stood behind it.
"Before I have the total satisfaction of watching the two of you die, I'll let you say good-bye," Ares called from his throne.
They hardly had two words out before Ares motioned for the guards to move them apart.
"Gabrielle! I love you!" Iolaus shouted as the guards dragged him away.
Knowing her voice wouldn't carry to him because of her tears, all she could do was whisper "I love you, too..."
A blinding gold light filled the room. When the light disappeared, Gabrielle and Iolaus were gone.
"NOOOOOOOO!" was all Ares could shout.
"We're dead, right?" Gabrielle asked Iolaus as she looked around the beautiful marble hall.
"I don't think so." Iolaus said. ~I know what that looks like~
Aphrodite appeared in a flash of gold. "You two owe me so big for this." They turned around and smiled at the blonde goddess.
"You have no idea what I went through. Waiting for you two to admit to what the rest of Greece already knew. Now I have to go tell Hermes to find Herc and Xena. Who knows where Ares sent them! Man, Zeus is going to have a fit when he finds out Ares impersonated him!" Aphrodite turned to leave. She looked back at the couple. "Use the room!" With that, she disappeared.
Gabrielle blushed, all of a sudden becoming extremely shy. "Did you mean what you said?"
He walked up and put his arms around her. "Every last word."
When they kissed, it was filled with more than passion, but with love. The kind that could only come from soulmates.
Gabrielle looked into his blue eyes as he helped her sit up.
"Are we going back to the inn?" She asked.
Iolaus smiled. "Not tonight."
Continue on to the sequel The Beginning