DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Aphrodite from the TV show 'Xena Warrior Princess' belong to Studio USA/Renaissance Pictures/Universal or whoever actually owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended. Aphrodite is a mythological character, and therefore doesn't really belong to anyone. All other characters are created by myself, and belong to me - however, feel free to use them if you want. This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If that kind of story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner and find something else to read.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written: April - July 2009. Timeline: Season 2, but I'm not following the canon religiously, so there's no Solan, no Perdicus and no Callisto. This is my version of how Xena and Gabrielle first met Aphrodite, and is intended to be a replacement for the episode "For Him The Bell Tolls". This story can easily be read on its own, but it's actually a continuation of the storyline I started in 'It Happened On Winter Solstice Night'. If you're interested in finding out what happened to 'my' Xena and Gabrielle prior to this story, go ahead and read the other one. Korkyra - As usual, thank you for your help :)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Weekend With Aphrodite
Gabrielle stirred and yawned. She cracked open one eyelid and looked around.
"Ahhh, Springtime!" she exclaimed happily, and took a deep breath to fill her lungs with the many wonderful scents that were carried on the early morning air.
"Finally. It was a hard winter," she continued. She pulled aside the covers of the bedroll she shared with Xena and sat up. She flipped out a lock of hair that had found its way inside her nightshift, and looked around the small clearing they had set up camp in. When she was satisfied nothing was out of place, she looked up at the blue sky, where little white fluffy clouds were scattered here and there.
"Actually, the weather doesn't change from Winter to Spring over night, Gabrielle," Xena said and yawned. She scratched her hair and put her arms behind her head.
"To someone like you, maybe it doesn't. To someone like me, it absolutely does. Listen to the birds, Xena. Don't tell me you don't love their singing?"
"Well, yes... but I'm not exactly sure where you're going with that...?" Xena said and furrowed her brows, still lying on her back.
"You're too practical, as usual. Lighten up, feel Mother Nature's vibes," Gabrielle mused, moving her hand inside Xena's nightshift to tickle the warrior's stomach.
Xena chuckled a bit, and sat up next to Gabrielle. She ran her hand through her partner's fair locks and gently kissed her neck.
"Good morning," she whispered.
"Morning," Gabrielle said, and turned around so she could give Xena a proper kiss.
A little later, Gabrielle was preparing their breakfast by arranging some nuts and berries they had picked into two piles.
"Too bad we don't have any goat milk. Have I ever told you how much I like berries with goat milk? I think I must have. Some of my best moments from my childhood involve goat milk. I know that must sound funny to you, ha ha. Actually, that reminds me of something that happened to me once. I must've been, oh, about eight, and I... what are you doing?" Gabrielle's stream of words was suddenly cut off as Xena got up and started to take her nightshift off.
"Taking my shift off. What does it look like I'm doing? Go on, don't mind me."
"Yeah... well, anyway... all right, I remember..." Gabrielle said, and tried to politely look the other way - unfortunately, her eyes slowly found their way back to Xena's sculpted body, and her voice trailed off.
"You know, Xena, it's funny. My mother always told me my skin would turn to leather if I exposed it to too much sun, but you definitely don't have a problem with that..." Gabrielle said, and let her eyes slowly climb up Xena's very naked body.
"I guess not... I thought I'd take a quick dip in the lake before breakfast. Wanna join me?" Xena said, and put her hands on her bare hips.
"Don't you think it'll be very cold this time of year?"
"If it is, it'll wake you up even better."
"Oh har har. No thanks, you go on. I'll have breakfast ready when you return."
"Sounds good. If there's trouble, just yell," Xena said and headed for the small lake just beyond the clearing.
Fifteen minutes later, Xena came back from the lake - dripping wet, but feeling very refreshed.
Gabrielle started looking for their bear skin so Xena could wipe herself off, but the warrior had other plans.
"Take your gear off, Gabrielle. Let's sunbathe while Apollo's shining on us," Xena said, and scooped up a handful of berries.
"We're too close to the road, Xena."
"If anything happens, I'll protect you," Xena said, chewing on the juicy berries.
"Well, thanks, but you can't make me invisible, you know."
Xena spread out her bedroll and sat down on it. She swung her legs around and got comfortable, crossing her legs at the ankles. She put her hands behind her head and looked at Gabrielle. When the bard didn't make a move, Xena patted her hand on the bedroll.
"C'mon. You know you want to," she said, and winked.
Gabrielle grinned and pulled her nightshift over her head. She wasn't shy anymore when it came to undressing in front of Xena, but she was still a bit apprehensive about taking off her clothes in such a public place - but, of course, even if someone did come, who would be looking at her when there was a goddess at her side in the shape of Xena of Amphipolis...? Gabrielle chuckled and got comfortable next to the dark haired woman.
They stayed like that for a little while until the sun made Gabrielle drowsy. Half-asleep, she turned over to her right side to lean against Xena's warm body. Her jaw relaxed and her breath evened out, and within moments, she started snoring - to Xena's great amusement.
Xena made sure to wake up the sleeping bard before she would get a sunburn, and after a little laughing and a lot of kissing, they were soon on the road, bound for Athens. Even though Gabrielle's relationship with Argo had improved greatly over the winter, she still preferred to walk, using her Amazon fighting staff as a cane.
"Do you think we'll be able to find the bath facilities once we reach Athens?" Gabrielle said, and kicked a small rock off the dirt road they were travelling on.
Her thoughts wandered back to last Solstice and all the things that had happened those couple of days - including buying a gift certificate for Xena for something called Wellness In Athens, and then fearing she had lost everything when Xena didn't return from a mission in neighboring village.
"Sure. I know exactly where they are. I visited them once."
Xena's words brought Gabrielle back to the present, and she looked at the formidable woman astride the tall horse. For the umpteenth time she thanked every single God and Goddess she could think of that she'd been able to help Xena that Solstice night.
"Let me guess... ten winters ago?" Gabrielle said, and walked a little faster so she'd escape Xena's glare.
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
"I'm glad I didn't know you ten winters ago. You must've been the busiest woman on Earth."
"*I'm* glad you didn't know me ten winters ago, Gabrielle," Xena said, and shivered slightly. Argo whinnied to show that she agreed with her rider.
"I know it sounds strange coming from me, but I almost hope we run into some bandits. I'd love to try out the new move you taught me." Gabrielle twirled her staff and moved it very rapidly in a double sweep, designed to take out the bad guys' legs and knees.
"Be careful what you wish for. You never know who's listening," Xena said and looked around.
"True. But on the other hand, sometimes a wish can lead to good things," Gabrielle said and walked closer to Argo. She put her hand on Xena's thigh, and caressed it.
Xena looked down and nearly blinded Gabrielle with a dazzling smile. She put her hand on top of Gabrielle's and gave it a little squeeze.
"Very true," Xena said.
A few hours later. The early morning coolness had given way to a midday heatwave, and the sun was beating down relentlessly on the three travelers.
Gabrielle squeezed the last few drops out of their waterskin, and looked at it in disgust. Her hair was soaked with sweat and was plastered to her forehead, and if that wasn't bad enough, her top was beginning to chafe her, too.
"When I grow old, I want to move to a place where it's nice and chilly," she growled.
"I distinctly remember you said last winter that when you grow old, you want to move to a place where it's nice and warm," Xena teased.
"... I guess I did, huh? Well, I meant every word, now *and* then," Gabrielle said and laughed.
"We need to get our waterskins filled, so the next stream or lake we pass, we'll stop for a while, OK?"
Gabrielle groaned in confirmation and wiped the sweat off her neck.
Only a few minutes later, Xena's sensitive ears picked up a faint sound of a man yelling.
"There may be trouble up ahead, Gabrielle. Stay here while I check it out."
Gabrielle didn't have time to argue before Xena nudged Argo into a run, and the bard was left by herself, cursing quietly under her breath.
Xena and Argo thundered through a bend in the road and quickly saw what the cause of the yelling was. A merchant wagon had been pulled over by two highwaymen, and while one of them was holding a dagger to the dandishly dressed merchant's throat, the other was inside the wagon, tearing it apart looking for loot.
Xena belted out her warcry, making the thug holding the dagger jump a foot in the air. He looked in terror at the approaching rider, and didn't know what to do. When the merchant started struggling, the thug knocked him out with the hilt of the dagger.
"Pavlos, quickly!" he shouted to the man inside, and ran for their horses.
The other highwayman, an ugly, toothless man, stuck his head out of the wagon, wondering what the Hades was going on - and then he was hit on the chin by Xena's boot. He flew back through the wagon, and was thrown out of the rear door. He landed with a loud THUD, and a cloud of dust was kicked up around his limp body.
Menos, the first highwayman, had only just climbed up on his horse when Xena wrapped her arm around his waist and threw them both to the ground. Xena neatly rolled to her feet, but Menos coughed and spluttered and couldn't get up. When the dust settled, he was still on his hands and knees. He shook his head, and suddenly noticed the pair of boots in front of him.
His eyes slowly went upwards, past Xena's trademark boots, leathers and her breastplate, and finally ending on two ice blue orbs glaring at him, filled with menace.
Xena drew her sword and held it so the tip just brushed against the highwayman's cheek.
"Now, what should I do with you, hmmm?"
Menos started whimpering, mumbling things like 'he'd never do it again', and when that didn't seem to have an effect on the Warrior Princess, he tried to crawl backwards to get away from the sword.
Xena rolled her eyes and put her sword in its sheath.
"Get outta here, you sniveling fool. But if I catch you again, I'll kill ya!" she roared.
Menos got up as fast as he could and started to run away. As a parting gift, Xena kicked him in the seat of his pants.
Gabrielle finally caught up with Xena, and she had a fierce scowl on her face as she approached the warrior.
"Hey, didn't we have an agreement that you wouldn't leave me like that anymore? I can defend myself now, I don't need to be cuddled like a baby!" Gabrielle said, gently poking Xena in the chest.
"Didn't I tell you to stay where you were while I checked out the trouble?" Xena said, winking.
"You did, but I hope you didn't seriously believe that I'd listen...? And don't change the subject."
"Come on, give me a hand with the other one," Xena said, and pointed at the thug she kicked out of the wagon. She turned away from Gabrielle, and missed the cute pout on Gabrielle's face.
"Ugghh. One of these days, you'll find yourself wishing for my help in a fight, Xena."
Xena kneeled down next to the fallen thug and quickly ascertained that he was dead.
"Don't bother with him, Gabrielle. He's dead."
"All right. I'll help the merchant instead, then."
Xena pulled the marauder's body away from the road and dumped it in the undergrowth. She dusted off her hands and went over to check up on Argo.
Gabrielle went over to the merchant, who was still out cold, lying in a heap on the ground. She sat down next to him and started to pat his cheek.
"Come on, come on..."
The elderly merchant slowly came to, and he started to sit up, clutching the back of his head.
"My head!" he hissed, and blinked a couple of times. He shook his head to get rid of the cobwebs.
"Are you all right?" Gabrielle said.
"I think so. What... what happened to the marauders?"
"They've been dealt with."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Gabrielle, and that's my friend Xena. We're just two friendly passers-by on our way to Athens," Gabrielle said, and helped the elderly merchant stand up and straighten out his expensive looking clothes.
"Oh... thank you. Would you mind giving me some water, please?"
"I'm afraid our waterskin is empty. It's been a warm day."
"It has. I have several waterskins in the wagon... unless the bandits destroyed them..."
"I'll take a look."
Gabrielle walked up three steps and peeked into the wagon. She easily found the waterskins and sniffed the contents of one of them - satisfied that it was water, she took a healthy swig. Even though the water was lukewarm, it was still refreshing to get some liquid down her throat, which was as dry as parchment by now. She sighed in contentment and wiped the sweat off her brow before stepping down from the wagon.
In the meanwhile, the merchant had started to cast a wary eye on Xena's many weapons. He didn't feel comfortable around such a fierce looking warrior, and he couldn't understand why an innocent young woman would be travelling with someone like that.
When Gabrielle returned with the waterskin, he grabbed her arm.
"Are you being held against your will?" he whispered.
"What? No! What makes you think that?"
"All those weapons..."
"This is a weapon," Gabrielle said and showed him her staff.
"... and she's my best friend," she continued.
"Oh... sorry. Well, I better be off, then. Thank you for helping me. I really must get on my way," the elderly merchant said, not quite believing the young woman's story. He quickly saw to his horse and climbed up on the wagon. He found the reins and clucked his tongue, making the horse start to walk.
Gabrielle looked after him and furrowed her brows.
"Have a safe journey!" she said, and suddenly remembered that she was still holding the waterskin.
"Hey, wait! You forgot your waterskin!" she shouted after him, but he was already gone in a cloud of dust.
"What was that all about?" Xena said as she came over to stand next to Gabrielle.
"I have no idea. He seemed to think I was being held against my will," Gabrielle said and shrugged.
"If only he knew that I actually couldn't get rid of you when we first met..."
"Oh, har har. Very funny."
Xena took Gabrielle by the shoulder and turned her around.
"Of course, if you left now, I'd follow you to the end of the world," she said, and leaned down to kiss Gabrielle's inviting lips.
When they separated, Gabrielle smiled broadly and wrapped her arms around Xena's waist.
"I'm not going anywhere. You know, I'm glad we finally came to our senses. The Gods know it took us long enough to see it... and it was right there under our noses the whole time," Gabrielle said and smiled again.
"Me, too. And yes, it was," Xena said and caressed Gabrielle's chin.
"Yeah. Well, at least we got some water," Gabrielle said and held up the waterskin. Xena gladly accepted it, and took a few long swigs.
Noon turned into afternoon, and they still weren't closer to finding more water. The merchant's waterskin hadn't lasted long, and all three travelers were beginning to feel dehydrated.
They came up to a fork in the road. A narrow road went off to the left through a patch of trees and out of sight, and the road they were travelling on continued to snake its way West.
"I can't believe we're still not in Athens. How far is it there, anyway?" Gabrielle said and wiped her dry eyes.
"We're closer than we were when you asked fifteen minutes ago," Xena said sweetly.
"I knew you were gonna say that..."
"Then why did you..." Xena said, stopping mid-sentence.
"What? More trouble?"
"No. Try to smell..."
"I know exactly what we smell like, Xena," Gabrielle said and pulled out the underside of her top to try to get some air inside it.
"No, it's water."
"Can't you smell it? It's from over there," Xena said, and pointed towards the small road.
"Then that's where we're going," Gabrielle said and strode up the narrow road without looking back even once.
After walking for a few minutes, they arrived at a stone temple surrounded by a shallow moat. Argo whinnied loudly when she saw the water, so Xena let her go. The golden mare soon started drinking greedily from the moat, and Gabrielle considered briefly if she should join her...
Several large flowerbeds were prominently placed around the outer rim on three sides of the moat, leaving only the side with the entrance free of vegetation.
The building itself was quite large and it was painted in an unusual mix of white and pink. A wooden bridge spanned the moat, and four low steps led to the entrance where two tall pillars were placed on either side of the large double doors. One of the doors was ajar, and Gabrielle's natural curiosity flared.
"The door's open. Do you think it would be improper to pay the God a visit?"
"Goddess. This is one of Aphrodite's temples," Xena said.
"Aphrodite! The Goddess of Love! Really?" Gabrielle said, her thirst completely forgotten.
"Really. I guess we could use it to take a rest."
"We need to bring a tribute. I mean, we have plenty to be thankful for, especially with Aphrodite. Do you think she'd mind if we picked a few of her flowers? I don't think she would," Gabrielle said and quickly scooped up a handful of the colorful flowers.
Xena chuckled and nodded, unable to get a word in edgewise.
"Here we go," Gabrielle said, and bounded up the stairs towards the entrance. She swung the door open and disappeared inside.
After making sure Argo was all right, Xena followed the bard up the stairs.
"Wooow!" Gabrielle said as she looked around the imposing temple. Everything was colored in shades of pink, even the tiles on the floor. There was a long table on one end of the temple that held all kinds of tributes to the Goddess, including what looked like jugs of wine and fresh fruit.
"Do you think the Goddess would become angry with me if I ate some of her apples?" Gabrielle said, still holding the flowers.
"Well, how would you feel if someone ate your apples?" Xena said, leaning against the door.
"You're right. I'd be angry. But this is an emergency," Gabrielle said, and put down the flowers on the table. She inspected the fruit and selected a shiny red apple. She bit into it and moaned in delight over the sweet taste and the copious amount of juice.
Xena walked over to the table and took an apple for herself. She had to admit that it tasted pretty damn good.
"I suppose I better pay a tribute to Aphrodite, too," Xena said after enjoying the fresh apple.
"And I know just the thing," Gabrielle said and turned to face the warrior.
"Nope," Gabrielle said and stood up on tip-toes. She puckered her lips and closed her eyes.
Xena grinned and leaned down to tenderly kiss the bard's lips. She put her hand behind Gabrielle's head and pulled her impossibly close as the kiss deepened.
Unseen by either of them, Aphrodite materialized in the middle of her temple, and made a couple of foxy dance moves in glee when she saw the kissing couple.
"SCORE!" she yelled and pumped her fist.
Xena jumped and reached behind her to draw her sword - but then she saw who it was.
"Don't do that!" she said.
"He he he. Sorry," Aphrodite said in a voice that revealed that she was anything but.
"Are you really the Goddess of Love?" Gabrielle said, her mouth gaping slightly.
"The one and only, toots. I was right in the middle of the most bitchin' party up on Mount Olympus, but then I felt your kiss. I mean, like, how could I let that pass?" the Goddess said and put her hands on her heart for effect.
Gabrielle closed her mouth, and the corners of her mouth crept upwards. She couldn't believe that she was face to face with Aphrodite. She had heard so many stories about the Goddess of Love, but she had never imagined that she'd meet her one day.
"Aphrodite... we're... terribly sorry that we ate your apples..." she said sheepishly.
"Ah, 's all right. I'm a Goddess. What do I need apples for?"
Aphrodite walked over to a pink chaiselounge and threw herself on it. She landed with a thud in the middle of a mountain of colorful pillows.
"Come on, girls, get comfortable," she said and waved at Xena and Gabrielle. She snapped her fingers and two chairs appeared. She snapped her fingers again, and three muscular hunks wearing loincloths and nothing else popped up behind the chairs, holding huge palm leaves that they started waving back and forth.
"Well, we're actually on our way to Athens," Xena said.
"Ohhh, but you can do that any old day. Don't tell me you're turning down an offer from the Goddess of Love?"
"I'd like to stay, please, Xena. I'd love to hear her tell some stories," Gabrielle said, and put her hand on Xena's shoulder.
"Well, I guess it couldn't hurt to wait a little while..." Xena said and smiled.
"... but can we lose the beefcake?"
"No problemo." Aphrodite snapped her fingers and all three men vanished.
"Anytime. Xena, Xena, Xena... if bro ever catches wind of this, he'll go to his room and sulk for a millennium!"
"Let's leave him out of this for now, huh?" Xena said and sat down in the chair. It was so soft she almost disappeared in it, and her knees were at the same height as her chest. To say she wasn't particularly comfortable would be an understatement.
"Come on, Gabrielle. Have a seat," Aphrodite said and pointed at the empty chair.
"How do you know my name?" Gabrielle said as she sat down. Her chair was just right, and she smirked at Xena who raised an eyebrow in return.
"A muse whispered it into my ear. She also told me that you're quite the bard."
Gabrielle's cheeks flushed crimson red and she couldn't hold the Goddess' look.
"She is," Xena said, still struggling to get comfortable in the soft chair.
"Perhaps you could tell us a story?" Aphrodite said and smiled at Gabrielle.
"Buh... But... Buh... me... tell *you* a story...?"
"That's what bards do, isn't it? Make it a sweet one," the Goddess said and winked. She put her hands behind her head and wiggled down between the pillows.
After Gabrielle had finished telling the story of Talos and how Celeste came for him, Aphrodite conjured up a little, pink hankie, and dabbed her eyes with it.
"Oh, that was soooo sad..." she said and loudly blew her nose in the hankie.
"Well, that's how it goes sometimes," Gabrielle said.
"I have a little something I've been working on, perhaps you'd be interested in hearing it?" Aphrodite said and looked at Xena and Gabrielle.
"Oh, but we really should get go..." Xena said and started to get up from her chair, but Gabrielle interrupted her.
"We'd love to, Aphrodite," the bard said.
Xena bumped back down into the chair and let out a long, suffering sigh.
"It's a love spell. Of course, it's not like you two lovebirds need it, he he he, but... all right. Oh, and I've only worked on it for a century or so, so it's still a bit rough around the edges. Are you ready?"
"Yes!" Gabrielle said and leaned forward on the edge of the seat - Xena merely nodded and her lips formed a smile that never quite reached her eyes.
Aphrodite cleared her throat and conjured up the scroll. She unfolded it and started to read:
Behold! Two lonesome Hearts so pure
Horrible are the pains they must endure
Will time perchance work in their favor?
As we all know, finding love is a labor!
So Aphrodite is ready with the sweet reme-dy
And it's just a little itty-bitty thing-ee:
Add a little love dust from the sky
And together the two Hearts will fly
Behold! Two Hearts together and pure!
And so they will be in the fu-ture.
The Goddess smiled broadly and put away the scroll. She snapped her fingers, and a small amount of love dust fell from the ceiling of the temple, dousing the three women.
"Oh... that was... very nice, Aphrodite," Gabrielle said politely. She wanted to tell the Goddess that the love spell needed a mountain of work, but she didn't dare.
"It certainly brought tears to my eyes. Thank you very much for your hospitality, Aphrodite. Now we really have to get going," Xena said, trying to control her facial muscles so she wouldn't yawn in front of the Goddess.
Gabrielle got up as well, but suddenly she had to hold on to the arm of her chair.
"Xena, do you feel something strange...? It's almost like..."
At the exact same time, everything was bathed in psychedelic colors that flashed in an ever increasing pulse. The three women soon had to shield their eyes from the strong light.
"Aphrodite, what have you done?!" Xena said angrily.
"Wasn't me! Honest!" the Goddess said and briefly buried her face in her hands. When that didn't have an effect on the strange phenomenon, she sat down on the chaiselounge and hid behind the pillows.
"Can you stop it?" Xena yelled.
The Goddess snapped her fingers repeatedly, but nothing happened. She looked at Xena in stunned silence.
Gabrielle wanted to run away, but found that she was glued to the spot. She tried with all her might to move her legs, but they wouldn't obey.
The pulsing colors came to a crescendo and both Gabrielle and Aphrodite were swallowed up by a flash of purple light.
"Gabri-ELLLLLLLE!" Xena yelled, and jumped over to where Gabrielle had been standing only a second before.
Then Xena disappeared in a blinding flash of white light.
Aphrodite had fallen off her chaiselounge, and was hiding underneath it. Gabrielle was buried in a mountain of pillows, and Xena's boots were pointed straight up in the air on the other side of the chaiselounge.
"Gabrielle!" Xena exclaimed wearily, still lying on her back on the floor.
"I'm all right..."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I landed somewhere soft."
"I didn't." Xena flipped over and stood up. She dusted herself off and stretched her back to sort out a few kinks.
Aphrodite came out from underneath the chaiselounge, laughing like a maniac.
"Groooooovy! Let's do it again!"
"No!" Xena and Gabrielle shouted at the same time.
"Spoilsports..." Aphrodite mumbled, and started to look around.
"Hey, wait a minute, everything's different. Everything's... gray! Where's all my pink stuff?"
"It smells funny, too," Gabrielle added.
"Yeah, like something's moldy," Xena said and sniffed a few times.
"That must be you two, then, because Goddesses don't smell!" Aphrodite said, and blew a lock of hair away from her eyes.
Xena mumbled something unintelligible, making Gabrielle take the warrior's hand and pat it reassuringly.
"I'll fix it!" the Goddess said and snapped her fingers before Xena could object.
When nothing at all happened, Aphrodite sat down on the chaiselounge and sulked.
"Oh great, now I've lost my powers, too!"
"All right, let's not work ourselves into a panic. One thing at a time. We're still in your temple, so we haven't moved..." Xena said, and looked around.
"I'll check the entrance," Gabrielle said, and ran over to the large double doors.
Xena noticed that the table used for the tributes had suddenly changed its appearance dramatically. Just a few minutes ago, it had been painted in bright colors, but now it was a dull dark brown. She went over to it and crouched down to get a closer look.
The surface seemed to be very old, and the wood was worm-eaten. The table stood on four stout legs, but the color of one of them suggested that it wasn't the same age as the others.
Xena let her hand slide over one of the legs that appeared old, and then over the new one, and as she had predicted, the texture was completely different.
"Xena! You better come over here," Gabrielle said from her position by the door.
Xena dusted off her hands and walked over to stand next to the bard.
"The doors are locked from the outside. We can't get out," Gabrielle said, scowling.
"Let me see. Hmmm..." Xena said and unhooked the Chakram. She looked around to calculate the best angle of attack, and then let the circular weapon fly.
It bounced off the wall, the ceiling and finally the floor before hitting the exact center of the double doors. It impacted on the wooden doors with a loud KA-LONK that sent a piece of metal clanging to the floor on the other side.
"That should do it," Xena said and grabbed hold of one of the doors, pulling it towards her.
After it had opened with an agonizing creak, she and Gabrielle looked out into a very dark hallway that definitely hadn't been there a few minutes earlier.
"What's going on here, Xena?" Gabrielle said, and clutched her staff a little tighter.
"We'll soon know. Stay here, and don't do anything until I get back."
"Wait, you're going out there? It might be dangerous..." Gabrielle said, and put her hand on Xena's shoulder.
"Act, don't react, remember?"
"I'll be careful," Xena said and leaned down to give Gabrielle a little peck on the lips.
Xena moved silently through the dark hallways, stopping now and then to strain her sensitive hearing, hoping that she'd pick up a sound that could give a clue as to where they were.
Once or twice, she could hear someone talking in a foreign tongue a great distance away from her, but the voices never came closer.
She shook her head irritably and ventured further into the darkness. She came up to a right-angle turn in the hallway and peeked around it - the only thing greeting her was more darkness.
Suddenly she noticed a glowing red eye deep into the darkness. She drew her sword and prepared herself for the coming fight.
After waiting for several minutes, looking intently at the red eye, she decided that whatever it was, it hadn't spotted her yet, so it was safe to go further.
As she turned the corner, the tip of her scabbard brushed against something hard, and suddenly the room came alive.
A wave of lightning assaulted her and she ducked and rolled to hide behind a large structure.
The strip light stopped blinking, and the room was bathed in a pleasant off-white light. Xena couldn't believe her eyes - she was looking at row after row of shelves, stretching out almost endlessly, and all loaded to capacity with all kinds of items.
She could see that no enemies were hiding in the room, so she got up and resheathed her sword. She went up to one of the shelves and looked at the things on display. One of them was a scroll of some kind, but she couldn't read the language.
At the far end of the room, a set of closed doors blocked the way forward. Xena was about to go over there when she heard footsteps behind her. She readied herself for an attack, but when she spun around, she bumped into Gabrielle.
"By the Gods! Will ya look at that!" the bard said, her jaw dropping at the sight of the vast number of antiquities.
"Didn't I tell you to stay in the temple?" Xena teased.
"Did you? I supposed you did... but look at all this! Oh, scrolls!" Gabrielle said, and made a beeline to the same shelf Xena had just left. She leaned her staff against the wall and picked up one of the ancient scrolls.
"What language is this? I don't recognize it at all," she said and looked at Xena.
The warrior shrugged, and Gabrielle moved on to the next shelf. She found some more scrolls, this time written in Greek.
"Hey, this is about Hercules! ... it's one of his Legendary Journeys. Hmmm, that's funny. I don't recall him talking about this one...?" she said as she was skimming through it.
"Yoohoo! Where did you go?" Aphrodite said from somewhere behind them. Xena sighed and rolled her eyes.
"I guess we better get her out here. Perhaps she can help us find a way back," Gabrielle said to Xena, putting the scroll back on the shelf.
"We better." Xena sighed again and went back to the temple to retrieve the Goddess.
"Are we in a dungeon of some kind? It's so dry and moldy here! It'll be murder for my sinuses," Aphrodite said and fanned herself to get some fresh air.
Xena did her best to ignore her, and instead went over to study the thing she had believed to be a red eye. When she got closer, she could see that it was a small metal frame painted red, covered by a sheet of glass. Behind the glass was a large button, faintly glowing red, with two short words above it, written in a foreign language.
"Aphrodite, have any of your powers returned?" Xena asked.
"Well, some of them, yes, but I still can't get us out of here."
"We'll get to that, but in the meantime, I need you to translate that," Xena said at pointed at the two words.
"All right, but I think you forgot something."
Xena furrowed her brows and looked at the Goddess, not quite understanding what she meant.
"What's the magic word, Xena?" Aphrodite said and smiled broadly.
"Please..." Xena hissed.
"Thank you. Let's see what it says here..." Aphrodite said, slowly moving her hand across the words.
"Ohhhhhh. Clever," the Goddess said.
"These candles sure are strange... I can't see the source of the light...?" Gabrielle said and looked up at the strip lights.
"Yes. And the metallic panels along the wall are very warm with no visible method of heating them," Xena added.
"I don't understand..."
"I know what's happened to us, Gabrielle. We've been transported into the future."
"The future...? But... how are we going to get back...?" Gabrielle said, slightly shocked.
"Aphrodite, how *do* we get back?" Xena growled to the Goddess.
"Oh how in Gaia's name should I know? I can't travel in time. Only a couple of the Gods can do that..."
"... Great. Just great."
"So we're stuck here... without even knowing where or when 'here' is?" Gabrielle said.
"Not if I can help it. Come on, we're moving on," Xena said, and led the way towards the closed doors.
A small application of Chakram later, the doors swung open, revealing a steep flight of stairs going upwards.
"Gabrielle, I'm not going to tell you to stay behind, I'm asking you... please stay here while I check it out. I'll call for you as soon as it's safe."
"All right. I promise to stay behind this time."
As Xena went up the stairs, Aphrodite crept closer and closer to Gabrielle, finally ending up wrapping herself tightly around the young woman.
"I'm scared..." she whispered into Gabrielle's ear.
"I'm sure Xena will find a way out of this mess, she always does," Gabrielle said, struggling to breathe through Aphrodite's iron grip.
Xena reached the top of the stairs and scanned the area. She could see that she was in a large hall of some sorts with several glass display cases standing in the middle of the room and along the walls. Here and there, tapestries were hanging from the ceiling, with some of them almost reaching the floor. On the back wall of the room, a small doorway led further away from the large hall.
There were people everywhere - men, women and children, and all of them wore the strangest clothes. Several of them were looking through a telescope of some kind, but Xena failed to understand why, considering the things on display were right in front of them.
Suddenly two children came bouncing round the corner, stopping with a screech as they saw the warrior. Their little mouths flew open, and Xena had to react quickly. She smiled for all she was worth and gave the children a friendly wave, hoping that it would stop them from giving away her position - it worked, because they just smiled back and started talking to her in the same foreign language Xena had heard earlier.
The warrior just nodded and smiled, hoping the children would leave. Things got gradually worse when first one, and then another adult arrived - clearly the children's parents. Xena groaned inwardly and smiled even more.
The man raised one of the small, shiny telescopes against her, and her smile froze. The instrument made a funny bleeping noise, and he squeezed a button. Xena was blinded by an impossibly bright flash, forcing her to take a step backwards that nearly made her fall down the stairs. She scowled at him, but the man was smiling. He took his children by the hand and led them away from the warrior.
Xena rubbed her eyes and shook her head to try to get her sight back to normal. The future was even more dangerous than their own time... here, even the regular people had harnessed the power of thunderbolts... fortunately, the one he had shot at her hadn't done too much damage.
She slipped back down the stairs to tell Gabrielle and Aphrodite the news.
A few minutes later, the three women walked through the exhibitions, heading for what appeared to be the exit. On Xena's insistence, Aphrodite had changed into something slightly less outrageous than her customary pink negligee.
They exited the building and went out into a large, open square. A fountain, spraying water in intricate patterns, stood in the center, and benches and trees lined the square. Several people used the benches for relaxing and eating food, or just talking to each other.
They started walking away from the large building, going past several advertising pillars without looking at them - there wasn't any point since they were all written in a foreign language. Suddenly Xena's sixth sense picked up something odd, and she turned around to look at the biggest of the posters. Her eyebrows shot skyward, and she had to rub her eyes.
She couldn't read the words, but she could definitely recognize her own Chakram. She started looking at the text, and found a word that started with a capital X.
"Gabrielle! Aphrodite! Look at this!" she whispered, and the two others quickly came back to her.
"By the Gods!" Gabrielle exclaimed loudly.
"Aphrodite, please do the translating thing again," Xena said.
"Okie-dokie, here goes..." the Goddess said, and moved her hand across the text.
'Come see Xena's Chakram!
Visit the Xena Exhibition - hundreds of genuine artifacts on display from the world famous Covington-Pappas Collection
Open weekdays 11 am - 8 pm, Saturdays 11 am - 5 pm, Sundays closed'
"Well!" Xena said, trying in vain to hide a smirk.
Gabrielle scowled at the poster.
"Would it have been so difficult for them to call it 'the Xena & Gabrielle Exhibition' ? Us sidekicks get no respect..." she mumbled to herself.
Xena put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and gave it a little squeeze.
"Don't worry... I know your worth," she said and winked, causing Gabrielle to giggle.
"Do you think that means that somewhere in the exhibition, we can find the key to getting back?" Aphrodite said.
"I think there's a good chance of that, yes," Xena said, still with her arm around Gabrielle.
"Well, what are we waiting for then - let's go! I have obligations back home, you know!" the Goddess said, and started walking back towards the entrance of the large building.
Xena sighed and shook her head. Gabrielle crinkled her nose in sympathy.
"She's a little... ah, unpredictable, isn't she?" the bard said with a smile.
As they came back into the large building, they were met by a long line of people waiting to get through a turnstile. A woman was sitting in a glass booth collecting money from the people, and then pressing a button to make the turnstile open up for one at a time.
"Now what?" Gabrielle whispered.
"It looks like we need to pay," Xena said.
"To see our own exhibition?!" Gabrielle said loudly, making the other people in the line look at the loud foreigner.
Gabrielle was too indignant to blush, so she gave the other people a fierce glared instead.
When it was their turn, the three women walked up to the turnstile. The surly woman sitting in the booth didn't pay them much attention.
"Three adults?" the attendant said, but the strangely dressed women didn't answer.
'Damn tourists,' she thought, and put up three fingers instead.
All three women nodded.
The attendant pointed at a small price list.
The Goddess smiled again and reached into her non-existent purse to pull the required money out of nothing.
Without any further comments, the surly woman ripped off three ticket stubs and gave them to the waiting women.
"Next!" she said, hoping the three tourists would soon get out of her sight.
"48 Euros, is that expensive?" Aphrodite said as they went into the museum.
"Euros, what happened to Dinars?" Gabrielle said.
"How should I know?"
"Well, how should we know if 48 Euros is expensive?" Gabrielle grumbled, still a bit miffed over the fact she wasn't mentioned in the advertisement.
"It's probably a rip-off. Descendants of Salmoneus the lot of 'em," she continued as they stood in the main hall, speaking mostly to herself.
Xena and Aphrodite studied a map of the exhibitions. The floorplan of the museum had been built to resemble a three-pointed star, with the main hall acting as the hub. The room off to the left was dedicated to pre-Mycenean arts, and that was also where the steep staircase that went down to the basement was located. The one straight ahead held artifacts from the Middle Ages - which left only one room.
"Ancient Greek Pantheon. It's this one over here," Aphrodite said, and pointed towards the nearest room.
Tall alabaster statues lined the walls in every direction. Like in the room they had been in first, several glass display cases were placed on the floor and under the windows, and there was a red line painted on the floor, seemingly to indicate a path that should be followed.
The three women stepped inside and Xena and Gabrielle experienced a curious sense of deja vu. Even though the things on display were thousands of years old, they had used some of them just yesterday.
There were display cases with vases, scroll casings and sword handles. One of the things on display was something the museum claimed was 'Xena's chamber pot.'
The real Xena let out a long sigh - 'what's next,' she thought. 'My first dirty diaper?'
"Will you look at these statues! I've always said my family has delusions of grandeur! They must be 15 feet tall!" Aphrodite said, a bit further through the exhibition.
"Everyone's naked!" Gabrielle said, blushing.
"Oh yeah, that's how we wander around Mount Olympus when there's noone else there."
"Oh yeah, totally, like all the time."
They stopped at a statue of the God of War.
Xena came up behind them after having checked the chamber pot thoroughly - it hadn't been one of hers after all. Her eyes stopped about halfway up the alabaster statue.
"Mmmmm... no wonder he's always so grumpy..." she said, making Aphrodite guffaw and grin wickedly.
Gabrielle felt like she was in the Elysian Fields. Not having much interest in the statues, she had gone straight for the display cases where the scrolls were presented. With eyes as big as saucers, she studied all of them intently, finding it hard to believe how many scrolls had actually been preserved. She found some of Homer's works, and thought that he would be proud to know that they still existed after all this time.
"Oh, there's the Hercster!" Aphrodite said and clapped her hands.
"...now that's not a bad likeness, actually..." Xena said and smirked.
"And here's yours truly."
"Aphrodite... what's that shell-thing?"
"That's how I came ashore after Zeus had created me."
"Totally. It was trés cool, but the surf was awesomely wicked that day, lemme tell ya."
"Huh?" Xena said, not having understood a word of what the Goddess had told her.
A startled cry from Gabrielle sent Xena running to her. When she arrived, Gabrielle pointed at one of the display cases.
"That's *us*!" she whispered.
Artwork on a vase depicted a tall dark-haired woman with a round shining object in her hand, a shorter blonde woman with a staff, and a cream colored horse.
"And those are my scrolls. At least some of them..." Gabrielle stuttered.
Several rolls of parchment where on display, and two of them were opened and readable - 'Chariots Of War' and 'Death Mask'.
Xena hugged the bard, who had to wipe away a little tear.
"There's something written here, but I can't read it..." Gabrielle said, trying to decipher the strange letters that were written on a small sign next to the case with the scrolls.
"Let me help you!" Aphrodite said, and moved her hand across the lettering, transforming it into ancient Greek.
'See more of the legendary bard in the special exhibition in the next room.'
"'Legendary bard!' Ha! Let's check it out!" Gabrielle said excitedly and bounded towards the next room.
Xena followed her at a more leisurely pace, but quickly caught up with Gabrielle. The bard was hiding her face in her hands. Xena wondered what could have happened, when another statue caught her eye.
The warrior inhaled sharply, and her eyebrows disappeared somewhere in her bangs.
Gabrielle had discovered a ten foot marble statue of herself. She was holding a scroll and a quill and was sort of looking out into space. And she was buck naked - completely and utterly buck naked.
Xena let out a long whistle.
"When did you have time to pose for that, Gabrielle?" she teased.
"OOOOOOOOH!" Aphrodite squealed as she saw the statue, making Gabrielle bury her face in her hands again.
The Goddess looked at Xena and wiggled her eyebrows tellingly - the warrior merely smirked.
"Well, that's an incredible statue, you must admit. Every little detail is correct, even down to the fine hairs on your..." Xena said.
"Stop staring at it!"
"There's nothing there I haven't seen already, you know."
"I do know, but I don't really need the rest of the world to know about the fine hairs on my... well. Maybe it's new for this exhibition."
"Actually, Gabrielle, it says here that it's been on display for sixty years," Aphrodite said, smiling.
"Xena, do something! Destroy it with your Chakram! Anything!" Gabrielle pleaded, grabbing hold of Xena's arms.
"Destroy a priceless artifact?" Xena winked at the irate bard.
"Aargh!" Gabrielle growled and spun around on her heel. She stomped angrily away from the tall statue, heading for the next room.
"Well, they did say 'see more of the legendary bard'..." Xena said after her.
"I wanna go home, Xena!" Gabrielle said over her shoulder as she left the small room where the statue was placed.
"I don't know about you, but I think it's great. It's sooooo lifelike," Aphrodite whispered in Xena's ear.
The next room was a recreation of the site in Macedonia where some of the artifacts were found.
"Aphrodite, please..." Gabrielle said, and pointed at some text.
"You know, I think I should begin to charge for this service," the Goddess said, but winked to take the sting out of the words. She moved her hand, and the text became readable.
'The dig site was discovered by accident in 1940 by Dr. Ph.D. J. Covington and Dr. M. Pappas. After World War 2, they returned to the site and excavated several more items'.
"'World War 2'. I don't like the sound of that, Xena. When will we ever learn?" Gabrielle said and shook her head.
"I don't know, Gabrielle," Xena said and mussed the bard's hair as they moved on.
Next up was a display case with, among other things, a Fedora with a bullet hole in it. Xena and Gabrielle walked past without paying much attention to it, but Aphrodite stopped and looked at the items on display. Apart from the hat, there was a whip, a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and a notebook where every single page was full of words and translations. Between the other items, there was a black and white picture of two elderly women, one of them sitting in a funny looking chair with wheels, handing over some scrolls to a man in a suit.
Aphrodite read the caption that said, "1985 - Dr. Pappas and Dr. Covington (seated) delivers the last of the Xena Scrolls to the museum director, Dr. Panniadopoulos. All 137 completed scrolls and three incomplete fragments are now on display in the museum's climate-controlled vault."
Aphrodite put her index finger on her lips and closed one eye. She stared at the picture, and then at Xena and Gabrielle - and then back at the picture.
'Nah,' she thought, and hurried after the two others.
A large sign at the entrance to the next room said "Cyrene's Inn" in Ancient Greek, so for once, Xena and Gabrielle had no problems reading it.
"That's funny, the Inn doesn't look like this at all, Xena...?" Gabrielle said, scratching her neck.
"Hmmm... no. It did change quite a lot over the years, and who'll know the difference?"
"I guess they didn't plan on the real Xena and Gabrielle returning to call their bluff, huh?" Gabrielle said and chuckled.
"Probably not. It smells much the same, though."
"Yeah. Like when your mom makes cabbage stew..."
"Ugh, don't remind me," Xena said and scrunched up her face.
Suddenly a dozen young children ran into the room where Xena and Gabrielle were. All of them cheered when they saw the two women, thinking that they were people wearing costumes. They started jumping up and down and tugging at Xena and Gabrielle's skirts.
Aphrodite arrived at the same time as two haggard-looking female school teachers, both trying without much success to control the children.
When the noise level got too high, the Goddess put her fingers in her ears, earning her looks of insult from several of the children - one of them even stuck out her tongue at Aphrodite.
One of the young boys started whispering to one of the others, and they both took a good look at Gabrielle. It was clear they pondered something, and suddenly the first young boy recognized the fair-haired woman from the statue they had just seen. He quickly, and loudly, told the others and they all turned and gawked at the bard, including the teachers.
Gabrielle felt acutely embarrassed, because even though she couldn't understand what was being said, she had a pretty good idea, especially when both of the teachers started blushing. She sighed deeply, and fought the urge to stomp out of the room.
One of the teachers held up her camera and asked Xena and Gabrielle if they would mind having their picture taken together with the children. Like before, the Warrior Princess just nodded and smiled.
"What's going on, Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.
All the children rushed over to the two Ancient Greek women, and they played along and sat down on a bench.
"They're gonna throw a thunderbolt at us, but just smile," Xena said to Gabrielle through the corner of her mouth.
"They're gonna WHAT?" Gabrielle said, but didn't have time to react before the teacher took a picture.
Gabrielle rubbed her eyes over the unexpected experience, but Xena just nodded and smiled some more. The teachers finally rounded up the children, and they left the room, leaving it mercifully silent.
Aphrodite took her fingers out of her ears and went over to Xena and Gabrielle with a smug look on her face.
"What would the two of you do without good ol' Aphrodite, huh? I've made a little discovery... they're storing all the scrolls in a vault, so we only have to find that, find the key to get back, and we'll be on our way home."
"... Of course, I didn't expect them to have 7000 scrolls..." Aphrodite said, looking in utter disbelief at the sign next to the entrance to the Scroll Vault.
Xena rolled her eyes and Gabrielle rubbed her forehead - and both of them groaned.
The first room acted as an antechamber to the real Vault, and this was clearly the most valuable part of the Xena Exhibition. One of the walls of the room had been converted into a very large display cabinet where twenty-four scrolls were kept behind very thick glass to protect them from being poked and prodded by prying fingers.
Gabrielle's eyes almost popped out of her head when she studied the titles. All twenty-four scrolls were hers... including some she hadn't written yet in 'her' time.
"Gabrielle... we're going furth... Gabrielle? ... Gabri-*elle*!" Xena said.
"What? I'm right here, you don't have to shout."
"We're going further into the Vault. Are you coming?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll follow you in a minute, I just need to look at this first," the bard said, her eyes never leaving the cabinet with the scrolls.
"All right, but don't get lost," Xena teased, making Gabrielle finally look at her - with a squinting glare. The warrior spun around on her heel and quickly left, pushing a protesting Aphrodite in front of her.
Gabrielle's ancient scrolls were presented in chronological order, starting with 'A Stranger Arrives' which had been the original version of the scroll she later rewrote into 'Sins Of The Past', and continuing through their adventures with Hercules and onto her brush with death in the war in Thessaly.
Her eyes wandered to some of the scrolls that were unknown to her. She read a few of the titles, but started to get a sense of unease when they became increasingly intense.
A knot formed in her stomach when she looked at the last of the twenty-four scrolls. Never completed, it was an elegy written in an unsteady hand, telling the story of a woman mourning the loss of her partner. Ending abruptly in the middle of a sentence, the words betrayed the level of grief the writer must have felt... and it was Xena's handwriting.
Gabrielle felt the blood drain from her face and she grabbed her staff for leverage. With a final look at the incomplete scroll, she rushed out of the room with the display cabinet to find the others.
In the mean time, Xena and Aphrodite had reached the main part of the Scroll Vault. Dozens of tall bookcases were lined up in four aisles, all carrying hundreds of scrolls.
"You know, Xena, I've been thinking..." Aphrodite said as they were looking at all the shelves, trying to determine the best place to start.
"Uh-huh?" Xena said and feared the worst.
"Yeah, what if it was my love spell that brought us here? Do you think we need to find it and read it again to get back... or something?"
"Well, that suggestion is as good as any," Xena said as they walked a bit down the first aisle.
"Yippee," the Goddess said and beamed.
"One little thing, though... what makes you think your love spell was kept for posterity?"
"I beg your pardon, Miss Warrior Grouch, of course they kept it. After all, it was created by me, the Goddess Of Love! They'd never throw that away!"
"Of course they wouldn't. What was I thinking?" Xena said, her voice thick with sarcasm - a fact that seemed to bypass the Goddess completely.
Aphrodite beamed again and was about to reply when Gabrielle joined them in the Scroll Vault. She was as pale as a sheet, and she was gripping her staff hard.
"Are you all right? What's happened?" Xena asked.
"Nothing. I'll be fine. Don't worry about me," Gabrielle said, trying to avoid making eye contact with Xena. Instead, she went over to stand next to Aphrodite.
Xena furrowed her brow and looked at the bard. She was holding her stomach like she had been greatly upset by something, and it actually looked like her hands were trembling slightly.
Several hours later, they hadn't come close to finding either the love spell or any other solution to get back. Xena had called a break and they found a bench to rest on. Gabrielle was resting her eyes, lying on the bench with her head in Xena's lap, and the warrior was gently running her fingers through the blonde mane. Aphrodite had decided to take a nap, and she was sprawled over both sides of a chair, snoring loudly.
The other guests of the museum looked at the three women like they all had two heads, but a few ice blue glares from Xena convinced them to mind their own business. An attendant had asked them if they were all right, and Xena just nodded and smiled. She was glad she'd thought of that - it hadn't failed her yet.
Gabrielle still hadn't talked about what it was that had shaken her up so badly, but at least the color had returned to her face.
Xena let her fingers trail from Gabrielle's hair to her cheek, marveling over the soft skin she found there. The bard opened her eyes, and Xena let her fingers move forward to caress the bard's strong jaw. She brushed her thumb across Gabrielle's lips, and was rewarded by a dazzling smile.
Gabrielle reached up and took Xena's hand into her own. She gently kissed the tips of the long fingers and held them to her cheek. She sighed.
"How are we ever going to get back home?"
"Perhaps we'll live the rest of our lives here," the warrior said with a smile, but was then surprised to feel Gabrielle freezing up.
"What did you read in those scrolls that got you so spooked, Gabrielle?" Xena said quietly.
Gabrielle sighed again and closed her eyes.
"I read some of the scrolls from our future, and... and I shouldn't have," she whispered, and clutched Xena's hand.
"Will something bad happen to us?"
"I didn't read them that closely... except the last one."
"The last scroll was written by you, and..."
"... and I was mourning you?"
"Did you read it?" Gabrielle said surprised.
"No, but the look on your face suggested it."
Gabrielle sat up and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
"We're not immortal, Gabrielle. The day will come eventually."
"I know, but it's a shock to be reminded of my mortality. But, at least... at least your handwriting appeared frail. Perhaps we'll grow old and gray together...?" Gabrielle said, and smiled wistfully.
"Perhaps," Xena said. Gabrielle seemed satisfied with her answer, but in her heart, Xena knew that it would never happen.
A loud yawn from Aphrodite interrupted the moment, and Xena and Gabrielle both sighed.
Gabrielle's head was spinning from looking at so many shelves of scrolls, and she was almost seeing double. She had been through everything from A to Z, from Artemis' personal collection of scrolls to several dozen diaries depicting the fighting at Troy, but she still wasn't closer to a solution.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a male voice boomed out in the room. Gabrielle jumped a foot in the air and nearly knocked over one of the cabinets.
"Daddy?" Aphrodite said, but soon understood that it wasn't Zeus trying to communicate with her.
The voice continued in the same foreign tongue everyone else spoke, and Xena looked at the Goddess, who merely shrugged.
A few minutes later, the three women could see two attendants rounding up the few remaining guests and guiding them to the exit.
"Are they closing?" Gabrielle said.
"Could be... but we're not leaving. Come on!" Xena said, and put her arms around Gabrielle's and Aphrodite's shoulders, pulling them out of sight of the attendants.
An hour or so later. The lights had been dimmed in the museum, and the whole place was deathly quiet. The only sounds heard were occasional faint clinks of metal hitting metal, and a gentle squeaking of the shoes of the two nightwatchmen patrolling the various rooms of the exhibition.
The nightwatchmen, an elderly man and a younger woman, were both carrying what seemed to be torches they were able to turn on and off at will - seemingly without using a flint or any other known way of igniting them. When lit, the strange torches shone brighter than any candle or even lantern could, creating a beam of near-daylight in the direction it was pointed.
The female nightwatchman was very Amazonic in appearance - tall, wide and athletic, with ash blonde hair tied into a ponytail, and an air of professionalism about her. All in all, she looked very intimidating, and Gabrielle was secretly proud that the Amazons were still doing well, even after all this time.
The woman went through her patrol routine, ending up in the Scroll Vault. After a couple of seconds, she turned around and went back towards the entrance. She met with her colleague in front of Cyrene's Inn, but neither of them had found anything untoward.
In the Scroll Vault, Xena, Gabrielle and Aphrodite came out from behind a large bookcase.
"How long do you think we have until they return?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Not long enough. They're very effective," Xena replied.
"We better get to it, then," Gabrielle said and quietly slipped into the darkness.
Aphrodite had a sour look on her face, and she was about to speak up when Xena clamped her hand on the Goddess' mouth.
"Mmmfhhf! I haven't hhmmmbffh said anything!" Aphrodite hissed through Xena's fingers.
"No, but you were about to. If we're spotted, we'll be thrown out!" Xena whispered.
"Xena, please... I do know how to mmmfhhf sneak around in places hmmbhhpf like this. I've, like, done it for hbbmmfmh fifteen thousand years!"
Xena rolled her eyes and removed her hand from Aphrodite's mouth.
"Let's go," she whispered and sighed deeply.
Gabrielle reached a shelf where the scrolls weren't in any particular order. Even though she quickly gave up trying to decipher the sign stamped on the side of the bookcase, she soon came to the conclusion that this shelf must hold all the leftover scrolls, as each of them had a different author, or in some cases, were unsigned.
She smirked at the huge amount of work that was waiting for her on this shelf alone, but she knew that she could work her way through even the biggest pile if she just took one scroll at a time - with a sigh, she began at the top left corner of the shelf.
She had already read and discarded several dozen scrolls when her eye caught a familiar phrase:
Behold! Two lonesome Hearts so pure
Horrible are the pains they must endure
Will time perchance work in their favor?
As we all know, finding love is a labor!
Gabrielle stared wide-eyed at the scroll - it was the right one! She quickly unfolded it to check if it was all there, and was greatly relieved to find that it was complete. She wanted to let out a loud Potaideian Whoop, but she knew she couldn't dare it, so she settled for grabbing the scroll and rushing off to find Xena.
At the same time, Xena's luck ran out. She turned a corner and found herself face to face with the old nightwatchman.
He gasped in shock and took a step backwards. His face turned white as a sheet and he fell down. The strange torch dropped from his hand and rolled noisily across the floor.
Xena cursed under her breath, and quickly crouched down to help him. At the exact same moment, Gabrielle came running round the corner, waving the scroll.
"I foun... by the Gods...! What have you done, Xena!" she said.
"I didn't do anything! He fainted."
"That's right, Sugar. He just keeled over," Aphrodite said and nodded vigorously.
"We have to help him!"
"What does it look like I'm doing, Gabrielle," Xena said and loosened the nightwatchman's necktie and tore a button open in his shirt to allow him to breathe a bit easier.
"I found it! I found the love spell," Gabrielle said, and showed them the scroll.
"Let's get out of here," Aphrodite said and reached for it, but Gabrielle pulled back.
"No! We have to help him first!"
"He'll be fine... come on," Xena said and got up.
"Halt!" a female voice suddenly boomed out, and a torch was lit, blinding all three women.
Aphrodite gasped loudly and threw her hands high in the air. Gabrielle slowly stepped backwards, trying to slip out of the beam of light. She was successful and disappeared from view.
"Hades!" Xena hissed and shielded her eyes with her hand.
The female guard started talking to them, and this time, Xena knew nodding and smiling wouldn't cut it.
The guard stepped forward to check on her colleague, never losing eye contact with the strange looking women.
Gabrielle came back from the shadows with empty hands, and retook her position next to Xena. She could feel the warrior was ready to attack the guard, and she put a hand on Xena's arm.
"Xena, please don't fight her. She's one of us, she's an Amazon."
"The Amazons are long gone, Gabrielle," Xena said, bending down slightly so she could get a flying start.
The elderly nightwatchman groaned and slowly came to. He sat up and shook his head. He started talking to the female guard, and she visibly relaxed her stance.
"Please, Xena," Gabrielle said again.
Gabrielle could see that Xena wasn't in a mood to listen to her, so she calmly stepped in front of the warrior with her hands raised in the air. She nodded to Aphrodite, who did the same. Now, Xena had no choice but to surrender, and she did so - grudgingly.
After being rounded up like a herd of sheep and forcefully thrown out of the museum, Xena, Gabrielle and Aphrodite were sitting on a bench in the square.
Night had fallen, and the square was almost deserted. The only life there was a few people mingling about and a large flock of doves in the center of the square.
Now and again, Xena looked towards the museum entrance where the Amazonic guard was still standing with her hands on her hips, watching them to make sure they didn't try to get back inside.
"Gabrielle, I think you were right about her. Definitely an Amazon," Xena said and sighed.
"Thank you for not fighting her," Gabrielle said, and snuck her arm around Xena's waist.
"Hmmmmm... you're welcome. But we're back to square one. Literally. And we lost the love spell."
"Weeeellll... no, we didn't," Gabrielle said and looked impossibly smug. She put her leg up on the bench and reached inside her rust brown skirt. Aphrodite guffawed loudly, but a Glare from Xena convinced the Goddess to keep quiet.
With a quick pull, Gabrielle untied the scroll that she had been able to wrap around her thigh with a lace from her top.
"Careful, the parchment is very fragile," she said, giving the scroll to Aphrodite.
Xena looked at Gabrielle, her ice blue eyes sparkling with love. She caressed the bard's cheek, and leaned down to kiss her. Their lips met in a loving kiss that left their spectator, the Goddess Of Love, fanning herself.
"Oh, you two! You're just so... so... so..." Aphrodite said and pretended to swoon.
"'So' what?" Xena said, grinning.
"So Wow!" Aphrodite said with a beaming smile.
The three women waited patiently for the Amazonic guard to leave, or at least take a break, but no such luck. An hour had gone by but she was still there, pacing back and forth in the glass-enclosed entrance to the museum.
"We're not going to get back inside tonight," Xena said and sighed.
"Doesn't look like it, no. Perhaps we should go out into the big city. We could do some sightseeing," Gabrielle said.
"Ooooh! I have the hots for that! Maybe we could find a party?" The Goddess jumped up and did a few groovin' dance moves. Xena sighed again.
"Well... maybe... but, Aphrodite... please don't lose the scroll," Gabrielle said and got up from the bench.
"It's, like, glued to my hand, Sugar."
"That makes me feel SO much better," Xena mumbled under her breath as she got up and followed Gabrielle out of the square.
An hour or so later. The three women were walking around the incredibly large and noisy city.
"I can't stand this any longer, my head's exploding!" Xena shouted angrily to no one in particular. Even though she had her hands clamped over her sensitive ears, they were under constant attack from a cacophony of sounds. Honking and growling noises coming from the metallic boxes driving around in the streets and all kinds of hideous 'music' blasting out of the many taverns they passed gelled into a nonstop wall of sound.
"Even Tartarus wasn't this noisy!" Xena grumbled.
Gabrielle put her hand on Xena's shoulder, but it only calmed the warrior down partially. The bard was having a bit of trouble herself, but it wasn't the noise level that had gotten to her - it was the smell. Growing up on a farm, she had been introduced to most organic smells early on in life, but the stench hanging in the streets here was overwhelming. She didn't know what on Earth could cause such a smell, but she knew it was dreadful, and it was giving her a severe headache.
Aphrodite wasn't afflicted by such trivialities, instead she was extremely delighted to see everyone holding hands or kissing, or sometimes both at the same time.
Everywhere she looked she could see happy couples getting close to each other, and judging by the sounds her godly hearing had picked up, some were going even further than that.
"Isn't this wonderful," she said in a sing-song voice.
"No!" Xena growled.
"But look at all these people kissing! Oh, it's so wonderful."
They had gone past a few more taverns when a fight suddenly broke out right behind them. Two men were apparently fighting over a woman - the men were dressed similarly, both wearing white shirts and black trousers, and the woman wore impossibly high heels and a dress with a miniskirt that didn't leave much to the imagination. It was a bit hard to tell whose side she was on, because she was beating on both of the men with her purse.
Xena reached for her sword with a wicked grin on her face, but Gabrielle stopped her from entering the fray at the last possible moment.
"No, Xena, not now. This isn't our fight," she said, hanging on to the warrior.
"Let's move on," Gabrielle said and tugged at Xena's arm. The warrior sighed, and accepted, reluctantly, that she wouldn't get to fight this time either.
"Ugh, some things never change," Aphrodite said and made a face at the fighting men. She turned her back to the fight and stomped off in a huff.
Meanwhile, the fight had been settled with one of the men having a bloody nose and the other nursing his ribs - and the woman left with a third man who had been watching the fight.
Xena, Gabrielle and Aphrodite continued on their way, but they were soon interrupted by a honk from one of the metallic boxes. All three women turned around and looked at the strange contraption.
Painted dark blue and with shiny metallic wheels, the box had two men sitting inside it. The man nearest them had his arm hanging out of the window - his shirtsleeve was rolled up, revealing a hairy arm and an expensive-looking golden chain around his wrist.
He said something to the three women, and Xena smiled and nodded. The car stopped with a screech and the man in the passenger seat reached behind him to open the back door. Xena quickly put two and two together, so instead of getting inside, she went up to the window and leaned down.
Both men were grinning broadly, but the smiles melted from their faces when they saw Xena's ice blue eyes sending a Glare towards them that could've made milk curdle.
Xena moved back from the metallic box and watched it leave the curb in a real hurry, still with the back door open. The car went round the next corner on two wheels and was soon out of sight.
"What was that all about?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'll... er... tell you later," Xena replied and dusted off her hands.
Aphrodite chuckled knowingly, but a slightly less intense Glare from Xena convinced her to keep quiet. The Goddess pretended to lock her lips and throw away the key.
Gabrielle looked from one to the other, but when no answer was forthcoming, she shrugged and moved on.
They kept walking, but eventually Gabrielle couldn't cope with the smell any longer. She stopped and put out her hand to lean against the brick wall of a building.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Xena said, looking up and down the street to see if they attracted attention. There were so many people about that no one even looked at them.
"No... not really..."
"You're looking a little green around the gills..."
"That's how I feel, too."
"What's wrong?" Xena said, and immediately moved closer to Gabrielle so the bard could lean on her instead.
"It's this smell... it's making me nauseous. I have a murderous headache..." Gabrielle said, and wrapped her arm around Xena's waist. She took a few slow steps away from the building, almost afraid that she'd pass out if she moved too quickly.
Xena checked Gabrielle's forehead.
"You're a little warm, do you want to lie down?"
"No... but I hope we'll get home soon..."
"I agree. Let's see what we can do about it. Come on, let's leave the busy streets and go somewhere quieter. That'll help you," Xena said and put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders.
"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle. This is all my fault," the Goddess said, and patted Gabrielle's hand.
They finally found a side street that was less busy, noisy and smelly than the boulevard. They walked down it and found a metal gate that appeared to lead to a backyard of some kind. It was locked, but Xena forced it open with a well-placed kick.
"Stay here... and this time I mean it," she said to Gabrielle, who wasn't in any condition to argue.
Xena went ahead to scout the area, and soon arrived in the backyard. It was unlit and surrounded by tall buildings on all four sides. The smell was more pleasant in here, as two large flower beds took most of the space. A lot of the windows were dark, but there was light in a few of them. Familiar sounds were carried down towards her on the breeze - a baby crying, someone arguing, a dog barking.
Xena scanned every inch of the backyard but couldn't see or sense anything untoward. Satisfied with the suitability of the place, she went back outside.
"All clear," she said as she came back. She put her arms around Gabrielle and helped her through the gate.
"Gods, I couldn't live like this..." Gabrielle said, looking up at the tall buildings. She shook her head, but immediately regretted it. She rubbed her forehead and groaned. Xena was there in a flash and gave Gabrielle a gentle massage.
Aphrodite unfolded the scroll. She cleared her throat several times before she started reading the love spell out loud.
"Behold! Two loneso... Xena, do you think it works out here? I mean, the first time I read it, we were in my temple...?"
"Let's see what happens, Aphrodite. Go on," Xena said, and waved her hand.
"Behold! Two lonesome Hearts so pure... but... what if it, like, blows up the world, or something? I don't want to be remembered as the Goddess who destroyed the world... that would be SO majorly uncool."
"Look," Xena growled, but Gabrielle stepped in at the last moment.
"Aphrodite, if the world is destroyed... and let's hope it won't be... but if it is, there won't be anyone left to remember that it was you," Gabrielle said softly.
"Oh yeahhhh," the Goddess said and giggled.
"Behold! Two loneso... wait a minute, I can't recite the scroll as-is! Then we'll just go further into the future!"
Xena sighed very deeply and fell back against the wall of the building they were standing next to.
"We'll deal with that when we get to it. Aphrodite, please..." Gabrielle said.
"All right. Here goes...
Behold! Two lonesome Hearts so pure
Horrible are the pains they must endure
Will time perchance work in their favor?
As we all know, finding love is a labor!
So Aphrodite is ready with the sweet reme-dy
And it's just a little itty-bitty thing-ee:
Add a little love dust from the sky
And together the two Hearts will fly
Er... er... er..." Aphrodite said, and Xena and Gabrielle could almost hear how the gears were grinding in the Goddess' head.
"... Behold! Two Hearts together at last!
And so they were ever since the past!" Aphrodite said with a beaming smile.
"That doesn't make any sense what-so-ever, Aphrodite," Xena said, thoroughly fed up with the whole situation.
"Hades! Nothing's happening..." Aphrodite said after a little while without any activity.
"Oh, you forgot the love dust!" Gabrielle suddenly said.
"Ha! I knew there was something missing." Aphrodite snapped her fingers, and a fair amount of love dust fell from the sky.
At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but soon the entire backyard was bathed in the same psychedelic colors they had seen in the temple. Xena quickly grabbed hold of Gabrielle and the Goddess and pulled them very close - just before the three women disappeared in flash of bright, white light, she yelled...
Gabrielle had her eyes squeezed shut, Aphrodite was squealing in delight, and Xena watched in awe as they were flying inside a multi-colored tunnel of light. They were still hanging onto each other, but a strong wind was trying to force them apart.
Xena didn't know if they were standing still and Time moved, or vice versa, but she had a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that things weren't going quite to plan... images of all kinds whooshed past them at breakneck speeds, going back through the two millennia between them and home.
Suddenly Time slowed down almost to a standstill, and the images became recognizable. They were getting closer to home... but then Time speeded up again, and the images were reduced to blurry spots of brightness.
"Aphrodite! STOP! STOP!" Xena yelled to be heard over the fierce wind.
"I caaaaan't!" the Goddess replied, and covered her eyes with her hands.
Without warning, the tunnel of light dissolved itself into thin air, and the three women found themselves falling - fortunately, they were only a few feet off the ground.
Aphrodite landed on her backside, giggling like a little child. Xena was still holding on to Gabrielle, and they landed slightly more gracefully, executing a perfect forward somersault to absorb the blow.
After thoroughly examining Gabrielle to rule out any hidden injuries, Xena got up and dusted off her hands.
'Well, if nothing else, this place is certainly quiet...' she thought.
Still on her back, Gabrielle looked around. Trees, grass, blue sky... good, they were home. She took a deep breath and her lungs were filled with the cleanest air she had ever breathed.
"Ahhhhhhh," she said and put her hands behind her head.
Xena furrowed her brows. She knew that she had seen Time speed up again, so where exactly had they landed...?
She scanned the area they were in - it showed no signs of human life. There weren't any roads or houses, and none of the meadows close to them were cultivated. Everything looked like it was untouched by human hands.
"I don't think we're out of the woods yet," Xena said.
"I'm not sure this is 'our' time..."
Xena and Gabrielle both looked at Aphrodite for an explanation, but the Goddess didn't have one. She got up and started to sulk. She crossed her arms over her chest and paced back and forth. More than once, she stopped and looked like she was about to speak, but it was several minutes before she had her thoughts all in a row.
"Don't look at me like that! I know what's on your minds! 'That stupid Aphrodite messes up again!' Well exsqueeze me for not being a genius like you, Warrior Babe, or a progeny like you, Little Miss Innocent. I'm really trying, you have to believe me, but I just don't have the proper equipment for all this... all this... thinking!"
"Oh, Aphrodite, we don't..." Gabrielle said, but the Goddess cut her off.
"I don't know where we are, but you can't be far from home, so I'll just say adios amigas and head home to Mount Olympus. You can find your own way home," Aphrodite said and snapped her fingers. She disappeared in her customary cloud of little pink hearts.
"Now look what you did! You made Aphrodite feel unwelcome!" Gabrielle said in an accusing tone.
"I didn't do anything... she's just being Aphrodite. She'll be fine," Xena said.
"IT'S GONE!" Aphrodite howled as she reemerged right between Xena and Gabrielle, startling both of them.
"MOUNT OLYMPUS! IT'S GONE!" Aphrodite howled again and started to cry.
"That's all we needed..." Xena said and sighed.
"At least we have plenty to eat this time," Gabrielle said, picking a few nuts off a bush. She cracked open the shells and ate them with great relish. She offered some to Xena and Aphrodite, but they were too busy to eat.
Aphrodite was sitting on the ground with her head in her hands. She was looking at the love spell and blubbering inconsolably to herself, almost driving Xena off the wall.
"So, now we've gone too far *backwards* in time?" Gabrielle said.
"How far backwards?"
"Great!" Gabrielle growled and rolled her eyes.
"When we landed in the future, we were still in Aphrodite's temple in Athens... so... I guess this place is where that backyard in Athens will be some time in the future," Xena said.
"But Athens is almost as old as time itself! Athens has always been there!" Gabrielle said and threw her hands in the air.
"Well..." Xena said and looked around.
"... not always."
Suddenly Xena's sensitive hearing picked up a strange trembling sound coming from far away. The sound grew louder and louder, and soon, Gabrielle heard it as well.
"I don't suppose that'll be a welcoming committee?" she said.
"Probably not, get down!" Xena said and pulled Gabrielle down on the ground. Aphrodite shrieked and disappeared.
A head appeared over the crest of a hill, and it was soon followed by the shoulders, torso, and finally legs of a huge creature. At least 100 feet tall, the immense beast looked very much like a...
"A Giant!" Gabrielle whispered.
"No, not a Giant... that's a..."
"A Titan! We've landed in the age of the Titans!" Aphrodite howled right in Xena's ear.
Xena rubbed her forehead - this just kept getting better and better.
"The Titans? Like the ones we ran into last year...? They definitely weren't nice..." Gabrielle said.
"I'll say! Daddy defeated them by throwing thunderbolts at them, and killing them all... but that was eons ago!"
"We were able to get those we met last year encased in stone by reading a sacred scroll out loud, but I can't remember a word of it!"
"... not to mention the other little thing..." Xena added.
"Oh... yeah." Gabrielle's cheeks were colored in a cute shade of pink as she remembered the other requirement - being a virgin.
The Titan stopped and sniffed the air. He sensed something odd, but didn't know what it could be.
"What does a Titan eat?" Gabrielle whispered in Xena's ear.
"Well, they're godly creatures. I don't think they need to eat," she replied, but at exactly the same time, the Titan spotted them and roared loudly.
"Aphrodite, get us outta here!" Xena yelled, and the Goddess complied by snapping her fingers furiously.
They materialized a great distance away from the raging Titan, but they could still hear his roars.
"I say we stand and fight!" Xena said and pulled her sword out of its sheath. She twirled it twice just to see if she could still do it.
Aphrodite stepped in front of Xena and waved her hands.
"Hold it, hold it, hold it - I may not be the thinker in my family, but I do know that if you change something in the past, you'll change something in the future. Do you really want to risk coming back as a cockroach just because you have the hots for killing a Titan now?" the Goddess said. She looked at Gabrielle, who nodded in consent.
Xena's shoulders slumped, and she exhaled slowly.
"No, I guess not." Dejected, she put the sword back in its sheath.
Even though Aphrodite offered to zap them anywhere in the world, Xena preferred to walk, and so they did - heading north.
After having trekked through a small forest, they found themselves at the foot of a range of low mountains. Over the millennia, rockslides and earthquakes had created many crevices in the rockface, some small and some quite large.
"Xena, I need a break... please. That large crevice over there looks like an entrance to a cave, don't you think we'll be safer in there?" Gabrielle said, pausing to take some weight off her aching feet and legs.
She leaned against a tree and kneaded the muscles in her calves. Her Amazon pride made her reluctant to admit it, but she hadn't felt so tired since the early days of travelling with the warrior.
"Yeah, I need a break, too. We need to get some sleep. Last night was pretty hectic," Xena said, and ran her fingers through her sweaty bangs.
"Sleep? How can you even think of sleeping?" Aphrodite said.
"Stay here, I'll scout ahead," Xena said, ignoring the Goddess completely.
"All right. I'll watch for the Titans. I should be able to spot them even half-asleep," Gabrielle joked - and yawned.
"Sleep?" Aphrodite said again, and her eyes followed Xena's retreating form.
"You know... sleep," Gabrielle said, and sat down on a large root that stuck out of the ground.
"I know what sleep is, but how can you even contemplate sleep now? With Mount Olympus missing?"
"Aphrodite, Mount Olympus hasn't even been built yet. We're in the age of the Titans, remember? At this point in time, they rule the world. Zeus probably hasn't even been born yet."
"I mean... this is, like, a million miles above my head. Like zzzzip, you know?" the Goddess said, and moved her hand rapidly through the air just above her impressive hairdo.
As a reply, Gabrielle yawned widely.
A few minutes later, Xena returned.
"All clear. The cave is deserted, and it's big enough to spend the night in."
"Thank the gods," Gabrielle said wearily and used her staff to get up from the root.
"There's a crystal clear stream about sixty yards south of here. We'll be dehydrated if we don't drink soon, so we need to go there first," Xena said, and mussed Gabrielle's golden locks.
A few minutes and several pints of water later, they stood in the mouth of the cave and surveyed the accommodations.
"I wish we had our bedrolls. Those rocks look mighty uncomfortable," Gabrielle said and sighed.
"We could move them, but there are so many we'd only waste our energy," Xena said and put an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders.
"Sleeping on rocks? How barbaric," Aphrodite said.
"If that's what you feel, I suggest you do something about it, Goddess," Xena said harshly.
"Duhhh. Watch me."
Aphrodite snapped her fingers and a king-sized four-post double bed appeared in the middle of the cave. It was made of hardwood, and the bedspread, the comforter and the pillows were color-matched in three different shades of pink.
Xena couldn't quite believe her eyes, so she tried to rub them - unfortunately, it didn't make the monstrosity go away.
Gabrielle yawned again, and without uttering a word, she walked over to the bed and pulled off the bedspread. She sat down and took off her boots. Then she reached behind her to pull the down comforter aside - with everything ready, she let herself fall backwards onto the soft mattress. It didn't take her two seconds to fall asleep.
Xena shrugged and lifted Gabrielle's legs up and over the edge of the bed. She gently repositioned the sleeping bard so her head was resting on a pink pillow.
"That's sooo sweet and considerate of you," Aphrodite said.
Xena grinned and started to unbuckle her armor. She took off her boots, her weapons and her breastplate, and put them next to the bed.
"Good night, Aphrodite."
"Sweet dreams, Xena. I'll keep an eye out for creepy-crawlies and assorted other bad guys."
"You do that."
Xena swung her legs up in the bed and got settled down. She had to admit that her body did enjoy the sensations of sleeping in a real bed for once... even if it was an eyesore.
Still sleeping, Gabrielle sensed the familiar body next to her, and she rolled over to her left side to possessively put her arm across Xena's chest.
'Awwwwwwww!' Aphrodite thought, and held her hands to her heart.
The next morning dawned bright. Xena slowly came to, and as soon as she was fully awake, she could feel she was much more relaxed. She rubbed her face and put her hands behind her head. She studied the roof and walls of the cave they were in, and briefly considered carving 'Xena Wuz Here' into them, to give the people of the future something to talk about.
Gabrielle stirred and yawned. She scratched her hair and rolled over onto her back. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel that Xena was already awake, so she began to kiss her way from the warrior's shoulder to her lips. When she found Xena's soft lips, she kissed her lovingly, and snuggled down in her embrace.
"Good morning. Sleep well?" Gabrielle whispered into Xena's ear.
"'Morning. Like a baby."
"Me, too. I had the weirdest dream... you'll never believe what happened."
"Oh, I believe it all right," Xena replied, and ran her fingers down Gabrielle's arm.
One eyelid cracked open, revealing a green eye. Gabrielle quickly surveyed the scene. The bed, the cave, the age of The Titans, it all came back to her in a mad rush.
"So that was real?" she said.
"Don't know. Haven't seen her since I woke up."
"Oh. What do we do now?"
"Try to get home."
Out in the far distance, they could hear a Titan roar, and Xena sighed.
"And it won't be a moment too soon," she said.
"I have an idea, but I don't know if Aphrodite will like it," Gabrielle said.
"What is it?"
"That love spell of hers, it's, erm... well, it's, ah... anyway, I was wondering if she'd let me take a look at it."
"Asking her couldn't hurt... too much," Xena teased, and squeezed Gabrielle's arm.
"Ha. Ha. It's just that I don't want to hurt her feelings, you know. If another bard changed one of my scrolls, I'd be pretty upset."
"Your scrolls are already perfect, Gabrielle. No one would want to change them."
The bard was blushing furiously, and she was pushing her head down into the nook of Xena's shoulder.
"I love you, Xena," she said, her voice muffled from talking into the warrior's tanned skin.
"I love you, too."
"SCORE!" Aphrodite yelled from out of nowhere. She materialized right next to the bed, doing a little dance.
"Will you STOP DOING THAT!" Xena hissed through clenched teeth.
"I'm sorry... would you please run that by me again?" Aphrodite said. She put her hands on her ample hips, and for a split second, she actually managed to look intimidating.
"Erm... Aphrodite, please don't take this the wrong way... but would you allow me to take a look at your love spell...?" Gabrielle said.
"What on Earth for? Surely you don't believe that you could do it any better than I, The Goddess Of Love?" Aphrodite said.
Xena's face turned into something that resembled a thundercloud, but Gabrielle defused the situation by winking at the warrior.
"But of course not. A *mere mortal* like me? Ha ha! I just though that two... or even three minds would work better than just one," Gabrielle said, laying it on so thick that she was surprised Aphrodite even bought it.
"Oh, all right. Why not?" the Goddess said and handed over the scroll.
Gabrielle winked at Xena again, and she responded by rolling her eyes repeatedly.
A little while later.
"Well, let's see. I've tried to... hmmm... slightly adjust a few... things... but whether it works or not is another question," Gabrielle said and suddenly felt curiously nervous. She wiped off her hands on her skirt and cleared her throat.
Behold! Two lonely Hearts so pure
Horrible are the pains they must endure
Finding love is always a labor
So let's make time work in their favor
Let them find a place of their own
Where they can live, love and have a home
With a little love dust from the sky
Forever the two Hearts will fly
The Goddess proclaimed from above
Behold! Two Hearts together and in love!
"You've changed it completely!" Aphrodite said indignantly, wildly waving her hands through the air.
"It was only a little bit... a few words here and there..."
"Com-PLETE-ly! The 'sweet remedy' line was my favorite!"
"But your words are still on the scroll, so no one will ever know that we... well, played around with them," Xena offered, putting her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders for support.
"Please, Aphrodite...?" Gabrielle said, and showed the Goddess the biggest and roundest doe-eyes imaginable.
"Doe eyes don't work on me, Toots. I'm the one who invented that technique."
"Oh," Gabrielle said, and quickly discarded the idea of adding the nose crinkle.
"I think we've spent enough time with this nonsense. Repeat what Gabrielle says so we can get home," Xena said.
"Fine! Lead the way," Aphrodite said and waved her hand in Gabrielle's direction.
"All right... repeat after me..."
Behold! Two lonely Hearts so pure,
Horrible are the pains they must endure."
"Beholdtwolonelyheartssopure... horriblearethepainstheymustendure," Aphrodite mumbled.
"Finding love is always a labor,
So let's make time work in their favor."
"You know, Aphrodite, you'll never go to another party on Mount Olympus if you don't play along," Xena said.
The Goddess looked at her pointedly in a 'why are you giving me so much grief' way, but she eventually shrugged and sighed.
"Behold! Two lonely Hearts so pure, horrible are the pains they must endure. Finding love is always a labor, so let's make time work in their favor," she repeated out loud.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said.
"Don't thank me yet. There's every chance it won't work."
"Let them find a place of their own
Where they can live, love and have a home."
"Let them find a place of their own
Where they can live, love and have a home," the Goddess echoed.
"But I still like my own 'sweet remedy' line better," she added offhand.
"With a little love dust from the sky,
Forever the two Hearts will fly."
"With a little love dust from the sky,
Forever the two Hearts will fly."
"The Goddess procl..."
"Hold it! I insist we change it to 'Aphrodite proclaimed'. There are dozens of Goddesses, but there's only one Goddess Of Love. It's a love spell, I should be named."
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who nodded.
"Aphrodite proclaimed from above,
Behold! Two Hearts together and in love!" Gabrielle said.
"Aphrodite proclaimed from above,
Behold! Two Hearts together and in love!" The Goddess repeated, and smiled broadly.
"And don't forget the love dust," Xena added.
The Goddess snapped her fingers, and the fine dust rained down from the sky.
Within moments, the psychedelic colors started to flash, and the three women grabbed hold of each other.
"Let's hope we won't land at the end of the world..." Gabrielle said and closed her eyes.
Xena fell down and landed in the very same soft chair she had been sitting in when the whole mess started - a split second later, Gabrielle and Aphrodite emerged as well.
"Did we make it? Are we home?" Gabrielle said, frantically looking around.
"Well, it does look like it..." Xena said, studying the insides of the temple.
Everything appeared to be back to normal - the pillows were all pink, and the table used for the tributes was once again painted in bright colors. When Xena sniffed the air, she could only smell rose petals, and not the old dust from the museum.
She got up and hugged Gabrielle. After they separated, she kissed the blonde woman on the cheek.
"Well done, my bard," she whispered.
"Don't think for a second that I'll forget about you changing my love spell so much," Aphrodite grumbled. The Goddess sat with her arms crossed over her chest and a miffed expression on her face.
"It got us home, didn't it? Now you can go back to your party on Mount Olympus, and we can get the Hades out of here," Xena said.
They were interrupted by a sudden commotion at the door. When the familiar sounds of a struggle filtered through to them, Xena drew her sword at once.
"Finally some action!" she said, and ran to the door. Gabrielle picked up her staff and followed her closely.
Xena flung the double doors open and bolted out of the temple. Outside, a gang of unwashed thugs were busy vandalizing the flower beds, and they looked up in shock at the imposing figure standing in the door.
"ALALALALALALALALALALA!" Xena bellowed out, and thundered down the flight of stairs with her sword raised high in the air.
Most of the thugs ran for their lives, but a few were foolish enough to stay and fight.
Xena easily ducked the first thug's clumsy swing, and she swept his legs out from under him in one second flat. Before he had even landed, Xena was already attacking the next thug.
Winded, the fallen marauder tried to get up, but Gabrielle was there in an instant. She bonked him over the head with her staff, and he collapsed in a heap.
Xena squared off against two thugs who were both wielding swords. For a change, they appeared to be better fighters than the usual standard, because both of them were twirling their blades impressively.
The warrior watched them briefly, but she soon ran out of patience and executed a flip over their heads. As she flew over the two thugs, she kicked down and hit both of them in the head. Mirroring each other, they took a few staggering steps and then fell down.
Gabrielle suddenly faced a hulking opponent wearing a bear skin and a furlined helmet. He stretched out his long arms and threatened to take her staff away. She knew that the man would hurt her if she was caught, so she swung the staff hard against his chest - unfortunately, it just bounced off the bear skin without causing any damage.
A cold shiver ran down her spine as the brute laughed evilly and walked closer to her. She took a few steps backwards, but was soon up against the temple wall. She looked for Xena, but quickly realized that the warrior was too busy with her own opponents to help her.
She knew she had to act quickly, so she controlled her breathing and gripped the staff hard. She jumped forward and moved the staff in a sweeping motion, first one way and then in reverse. She hit him squarely on the outside of both his knees, and he screamed in pain - but he kept standing!
Gabrielle put the butt of the staff into the ground for leverage, and jumped up to kick him hard in the chest with both her legs. The big brute's arms were flailing about like the wings on a butterfly, but it didn't help him. With an echoing thud, he fell backwards and onto the ground.
"Yield! And I'll spare your life!" Gabrielle said with some gusto, holding the butt of the staff just above his windpipe. The thug couldn't know that she'd never kill him, of course, but a little theatrics had never hurt anyone. Reluctantly, he nodded.
After having disposed of her own thugs, Xena came over to check up on Gabrielle. She inspected the hulking prisoner and smiled appreciatively at the bard.
"Excellent work, Gabrielle. I really like that new move you made."
"Gabrielle! But... that means that you're..." the big man said, blinking several times as he caught a glimpse of the dark leathers and the copper breastplate.
"Xena. That's right."
The big man groaned and put his hands over his eyes. He shook his head, making his long hair stir up a minor dust storm.
"Typical. *I* beat him silly, and *you* get the credit!" Gabrielle said, and poked Xena's ribs with her elbow.
Xena's answer was interrupted by Aphrodite shrieking loudly. Unseen by either of them, the Goddess had stepped out of her temple to look at the fight, and her jaw slowly fell as she took in all the carnage.
Not a single one of the flower beds had escaped the vandalism. Hundreds of flowers had been broken or torn up, and it looked like the thugs had amused themselves by throwing the soil all over.
"My flowers! You... you... you... barbarians! Xena! Kill 'em all!" she squealed.
The big man on the ground drew a sharp breath, but Xena put her sword back in its sheath.
"Not right now. Maybe later. Can you walk?" she said to the brute. He shrugged.
"Then crawl... but in any case, now's a good time to leave."
He sat up and clumsily got on his feet. The first few steps looked like they hurt, but he was soon able to jog away.
A few minutes later, Aphrodite emerged from her temple holding another scroll.
"What's that, Aphrodite?" Gabrielle said.
"I just popped up on Mount Olympus to borrow one of Demeter's scrolls on better gardening. That'll get my flowers back in no time."
"Errr... we're late for an appointment, so we'll see you again soon, OK? " -- "I think we should..." Gabrielle and Xena said simultaneously, both in a hurry to leave before the Goddess made a mess of the new scroll.
Aphrodite's lips moved as she studied the words on the parchment, and then she snapped her fingers. As if by magic, all the flowers suddenly stood erect and perfect order was restored to the flower beds.
The Goddess pumped her fist in the air and shouted "Yeah, Baby!" She turned to flash a toothy grin at Xena and Gabrielle - who both released a long sigh.
"Catch you two lovebirds later. Toodles!" the Goddess said, and closed the door behind her.
"Peace... at last," Xena said in a tired voice. She finished putting the harness on Argo and patted the mare's neck.
"That was, ah... that was an interesting couple of days," Gabrielle said, and moved over to Xena to put her arm around the warrior's waist.
"Yeah. Let's hope we don't have to do that again in a hurry." Xena looked over her shoulder towards the temple. Satisfied that Aphrodite wasn't anywhere near them, she leaned down to give Gabrielle a tender kiss on the lips.
"SCORE!" Aphrodite suddenly yelled, making both of them jump. The Goddess stood in the door to the temple, waving at them with her little, pink hankie.
Xena and Gabrielle waved back at the Goddess, and then turned around to resume their journey to Athens. On their way back to the dirt road, Gabrielle had a hard time suppressing a belly laugh off the look of complete and utter resignation on Xena's face...
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