"I can't believe she got Hermes to bring the letter!" Iolaus exclaimed with admiration.
"Gabrielle could talk Zeus out of his lightning," agreed Hercules. "So, what does she have to say?"
"Dear Iolaus, Xena and I are back in Greece again. Everything seems so fresh. The air smells cleaner and the grass feels softer beneath my feet. I wish I could express in with mere ink and parchment how free my soul feels.
"I hope you and Hercules are able to meet me and Xena in Corinth in two days. I want to tell you everything I've learned! I have found my path, Iolaus. In India, I learned about so many things! Xena and I saw our future lives. It made me wonder how many times my soul has walked these paths. I wonder if we've walked them together.
"See you in Corinth, Gabrielle." Iolaus folded the parchment and slipped it into his vest pocket. "We'll be there, right, Herc?"
"Of course," the demi-god replied. "It's been far too long since the four of us got together. Besides, it sounds like Gabrielle is really looking forward to seeing you."
Laughing, Iolaus nodded. "And I'm looking forward to seeing her."
That night, Iolaus fell asleep quickly, thoughts of the green-eyed bard flooding his mind.
~~Pelea giggled as Eurythes tickled her mercilessly. "Stop! I surrender!" Her strawberry-blond hair fell free of its braid and flew in the wind.
"I win again," her husband breathed, kissing Pel's lips softly.
Her fingers tangled in his curly blond hair, preventing him from escaping. "Did you, love?"
"The day I first met you and every day since." Eurythes pressed a line of kisses down her neck and back again. His arms circled her swelling stomach. "Have you narrowed down what names you'd like?"
"Mmm... Lysa for a girl and Aenthus for a boy. I think our best friends deserve to have the honor, don't you?"
"Of course! Speaking of the happy little couple, shouldn't they be here by now?"
Pelea giggled. "They probably stopped by a babbling brook somewhere and got... distracted."
"We did no such thing!" A pleasant female voice called from a short way up the path.
"Lysa!" Pelea squealed happily, throwing her arms around her tall, dark-haired friend. "Oh, I've missed you so much!"
"Yeah, you two were on the verge of being strangers," Eurythes teased the tall man at Lysa's side.
"Cute, Eury. Very cute. It's not my fault every person in a ten mile radius seems to want my help for something," Aenthus protested.
"Yes it is!" countered Eurythes. "If you wouldn't always take on the jobs when they offer them, people would take the hint!"
"And what would be the challenge in that, my friend? Besides, I must provide for Lysa!"
The aforementioned lady promptly slugged him in the arm. "Speak for yourself! I can provide for the both of us." Her icy blue eyes danced. "I make more money in my forge than you make in a year helping everyone."
Aenthus kissed her forehead lovingly. "I know. But you wouldn't want me to stop, would you?"
"Of course not. You're my hero."
Pelea laid her head on her husband's shoulder. "And you are mind, Eury. Always."~~
"Wake up, Iolaus! We should be halfway to Corinth by now."
The hunter groaned and sat up. "Oh, fine. I was having a good dream, too!"
"Oh?" Hercules's blue eyes twinkled.
"Yeah. It was me and you and Xena and Gabrielle... but it wasn't us. I don't know. It's hard to explain. We looked like us, but we were different. You and Xena were married. So were Gabrielle and I." His eyes glazed over. "She was pregnant. It all felt so... right."
"Some kinda dream, my friend. But the *real* Xena and Gabrielle are waiting."
Reluctantly, Iolaus gathered up his gear and the two started down the road to Corinth.
"Iolaus!" Gabrielle cried as she spotted the golden-haired man approaching with Hercules. Xena stood as well, glad to be actively doing something. Her best friend's suggestion to sit and wait quietly for the pair thrilled the warrior not at all. "It's so good to see you again!"
The bard threw her arms around Iolaus and held him tight for a moment. She then hugged Hercules gently as well.
Iolaus's jaw dropped once he got a clear look at her newly-shorn hair. "Gods, your hair!"
"You don't like it?" She sounded more than a bit disappointed.
"No... you look amazing." He smiled at her, images from the previous night's dream rushing forth.
Xena stepped forward and clasped forearms with each man in turn. "It's been too long."
"Well, if you two wouldn't go gallivanting off to India..." Iolaus began.
"You were in Ireland when we started out!" Gabrielle protested.
The hunter shrugged. "At least I wrote regularly."
"Cut it out, you two," Xena warned lightly. "Neither *one* of you wrote regularly. And none of us would have traded our trips. Anybody else thirsty?"
"I am!" Hercules and Iolaus answered in unison.
"I'll take that as a yes... C'mon, we've already reserved rooms at the inn."
As the foursome headed toward the Lampian Inn, Iolaus, almost unconsciously, took Gabrielle's hand. She blushed and smiled. Xena, noting the gesture, gave Hercules a knowing grin and the demi-god shook his head with a soft laugh. They allowed Iolaus and Gabrielle to get a lead. "She's been thinking about him the whole time. It's funny, when we were in Greece, she hardly ever worried, but once we got to India... she wrote him letters everyday. In fact, she met a man there named Eli. He's the one who changed her so much. She threw away her staff." The warrior's eyes darkened briefly as though a cloud were passing over her sunny memories. "But she's happy. I think Eli would have appealed to her if she weren't so in love with Iolaus."
Xena smiled. "Yes, love. Ever since the day at the cave when we freed Prometheus... I don't even know if she realizes it. But she loves him."
"And he loves her. I think I knew that," Hercules added quietly. "I just hope they figure it out soon. Sad if we were the only ones to know."
She jerked her chin toward the couple in front of them. "I think they're starting to realize it. Starting if nothing else."
~~Pelea clung to her husband's loose shirt, holding him in place. Tears poured down her cheeks. "Please, don't! I need you! The baby needs you! I'm due in less than a month..."
Gently, Eurythes wiped the tears from his wife's soft cheeks. "I have to. It's the right thing to do. The warlord will invade the valley if we don't make a stand, and I cannot risk losing you. Aenthus can't risk losing Lysa. The two of you will have to take care of each other for a while. Just awhile. I will come back to you, my love."
Her small shoulders heaved with the force of her sobs. "Swear to me that you will return to me."
Eurythes got down on both knees and, clasping her hands in his, said, "I promise you that we will always be together. One way or another, I will always return to you."
Pelea knelt in front of him. "I swear the same. We will never be apart." Their lips met as they savored what might well be their final embrace.
Despite his attempts to be "strong," Eurythes found helpless tears working their way down his cheeks as well. "Good-bye, my love."
From beside the gate, Lysa stepped forward. Though her eyes were rimmed with red and glistening with unshed tears, she smiled bravely at Eurythes. She glanced back one last time at Aenthus and waved to him. "I believe in you. Protect each other." She then knelt in front of her dearest friend and held Pelea until both men had disappeared over the horizon and her sobs began to subside. "We will be fine. I know it. They won't leave us forever. They can't."~~
"Gabrielle, what is it?" Xena stood at alert, sword in hand. Soon she absorbed that there were no attacking soldiers, no hideous monsters lurking in the small room. "What is it?"
"Another dream, Xena. Like last night, but..." She felt tears filling her eyes at the memory, "but Eurythes and Aenthus... they were leaving to fight. The baby was almost due. I... Pelea begged him not to leave, but he did."
The warrior princess sat back down on the bed and held Gabrielle close. "Shh. It's alright. It was only a dream."
"No. It was more than that. A memory. A memory of another life, Xena. You and I... and Hercules and Iolaus... we are meant to walk together. What if... what if Aenthus and Eurythes don't come back?
"You'll probably never know. The dreams are just... just random occurrences."
"No. No, they're real. And if Aenthus and Eurythes die... it might mean that Hercules and
"Stop!" Xena closed her eyes and rested her chin on the top of Gabrielle's head. "It was only a dream."
~~Aenthus turned just in time to see yet another man cut down by the arrow of an attacking soldier. This time he recognized the fallen defender as Jolenius, a young man who was apprenticed to the local blacksmith. Aenthus had watched the youth grow up, had assisted in his tutelage occasionally. //Another friend lost. Another brave man dying for the "greater good".// With each day of fighting, Aenthus began more and more to question just how "good" the greater good was. And then he thought of Lysa at home with Pelea awaiting their return or, if they failed, the approach of the enemy troops. And then he fought.
At his side, Eurythes thrust his sword into the stomach of a nearby soldier, more blood joining the rusty crimson stains already covering his blue shirt and his strong arms. It seemed that everywhere he looked there was blood. Blood on the bodies of the dead. Blood on the hands of the defenders, of the soldiers. Blood lying in pools on the green earth. Blood everywhere.
Shaking his head to dislodge the thoughts, Eurythes lunged forward to prevent a lanky, older soldier from taking advantage of Aenthus's position fighting another of the invaders.
Even as he cut the soldier down, Eurythes felt a sharp pain in his side. Looking down, he saw the blood-stained blade of a sword peeking through his chest. //Oh, gods...// Falling to his knees, he tried to cry out, to let his companion know of his injury, but no sound passed his lips. Then he saw Pelea, her tear-streaked face upturned as she begged him not to leave. //"One way or another, I will always return to you."// Eurythes managed a strangled gasp and felt blood trickle down his chin. //No! I can't die now! Not now! Pel needs me... and the baby... gods, I'll never see my child.// But the darkness refused to be put off, engulfing his sight, his hearing, all sensation except the dull, far-away pain and the sound of Pelea's voice begging...
And then it was over.~~
Hercules sat up with a cry of alarm. "Iolaus!" He looked to the other side of the bed where the hunter still slept, snoring lightly. "Iolaus, wake up!"
"WhatisitHerc?" his words slurred with the fuzziness of early morning.
"I... I had a dream. Like yours. Gods, I know what you meant." Hercules rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands as if he could simply massage away the troubling visions, the image of Iolaus dying. And the blood. "It was Eurythes. He... he died."
Suddenly Iolaus came fully awake, sitting bolt upright. "What? He died?"
"Yes. In the battle. He... he died saving Aenthus." Hercules swallowed past the lump in his throat.
"Herc, this is really starting to creep me out. I mean, these dreams . . . They scare me. It's like everything that might have happened in my life happened to Eurythes. Every decision made... but differently."
Hercules nodded quietly. "Yeah. Yeah, I know." He saw Iolaus laying facedown in the dirt, blood staining the dirt around his body. //Not Iolaus. Eurythes. It was only a dream.// "It's... they're only dreams."
"I don't think so. Not anymore."
When Hercules, Iolaus, Xena, and Gabrielle meet for lunch that day, all were rather quiet, Hercules and Gabrielle haunted by the dreams of the night before, Iolaus and Xena struggling with the fear that the dreams were more than just dreams.
"They're memories," Iolaus whispered.
"What?" Gabrielle asked sharply.
"The dreams." His blue eyes met her green ones. "You're having them too. I know. Xena, have you?"
The warrior princess shook her head. "No. No, I haven't."
"Yet. I think you will. We all will. It's a message. Like... like a message in a bottle. The memories are supposed to help us."
For a moment, Gabrielle averted her gaze, studying her hands, which twisted nervously around a large mug of untouched ale. "You think that... that they want us to do things differently? To avoid their... their mistakes?"
"I don't know."
Xena smiled, the gesture more melancholy than joyful. "I guess we wait and see. Wait until tonight."
Gabrielle noted that Xena seemed edgy, almost nervous as they settled in for bed that night. "You're worried about the dreams, that you're going to have one. Aren't you?"
"Yes. I am worried. I've seen how they have affected all of you and... it doesn't scare me, but it worries me. I have always tried to keep my past just that--past. These dreams... I don't want to start questioning that now. All of the decisions I have made were the decisions that seemed best at the time. Losing that certainty will... I don't want to question where my life is now."
The bard hugged her friend gently then lay down. "You have to sleep. I get the feeling that the dreams are drawing to a close. Maybe once you have yours, the circle will be complete. Maybe the message will be over."
"I hope so," Xena sighed as she lay back on the bed, holding Gabrielle's hand. "I certainly hope so."
~~The messenger, a skinny boy with freckles covering his bony face, shifted restlessly from foot to foot. He knew the news scrawled on the parchment he gripped and knew also how the house's occupants would feel when they read it. He just hoped he could be as far away as possible when the full force of the message hit. "Anybody home?"
Lysa threw the door open quickly. Flour dotted her tan face and made her blue eyes stand out even more. "Yes? Sorry for the wait. I was cooking." She brushed back a stray lock of hair, streaking her raven tresses with white. "What is it?"
The boy nervously thrust the paper into her hand. "I'm sorry." And then he ran down the path as fast as his thin legs could carry him.
//Odd kid.// "Hey, Pel! I just got a letter..." The words blurred briefly, then came sharply into focus. She recognized the loose scrawl instantly as Aenthus's. "No, Pel..." Lysa held up her hand as though it might prevent Pelea from reading the letter, might keep her from being hurt by the brief words.
Noting her friend's reacting, Pelea darted forward and snatched the letter away.
Eurythes is dead. He was killed not more than an hour ago. I will bring him home as soon as I can.
Pelea closed her eyes tightly and willed the words to change, willed their meaning to shift. "No..." Green eyes misted, became glassy oceans of pain in a suddenly-pale face. "How could he be dead?" she whispered to no one and everyone.
Lysa wrapped her slender arms around Pelea. "It will be alright. Somehow we will be fine. I know it."
"But he promised!"
Lysa's hands ran through her friend's hair, smoothing out the waves of gold and her tangled thoughts. "Eurythes loves you. He may not be coming home now . . . but someday you will be together again. I swear it."
"Swear it?" Pelea almost laughed. "More promises to bre-"
"Sh! No promises will be broken. You must remember that. Aenthus and I will be here for you. You will be taken care of. The child you carry will have a happier home than any before or since. I swear that as well. Do you trust me?"
"Of course. You have always been my truest friend. But how can I go on without him?" A fresh stream of tears streaked her face. "How can I live?"
"Because you will always have me. We can survive together, right?" Her blue eyes searched for a spark of hope in Pelea's.
And found it. "Yes. Together."
"What? Xena, what?" Gabrielle rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked at her friend.
"We're going to find Hercules and Iolaus. Now."
The foursome walked down the road together. "So, do you think it's over?" Iolaus asked quietly once Xena finished telling her part of the tale.
"I don't know. I wish I did. I guess we just have to wait and see," the warrior princess replied, the strain of the previous night's dream still showing on her face.
"Yeah. I guess so." He chanced a glance at Gabrielle, who looked like she had just foreseen her own death. "Hey, what do you say we scout ahead?"
Looking up and meeting his eyes, she nodded. "Alright."
Xena watched her walking away, then turned to Hercules. "And how do you feel about all this?"
"I think... that I always knew the four of us had a connection. That we do."
She touched his arm lightly and he stopped walking. "Hercules, I just want you to know that I still feel the same way about us. Our time is past. I have too much to do, too many sins to atone for. Besides, I would never be happy being just the wife of a hero."
Hercules smiled. "I know that. I will always consider you one of my best friends... and that's all. I'm happy knowing that I'll never lose you as a friend." They continued walking, now arm-in-arm, staying a respectful distance behind Iolaus and Gabrielle.
"Look, I... these dreams have been bringing up all kinds of feelings I never even knew I had," Iolaus began. "I've always had feelings for you, Gabrielle. Ever since the first time I saw you."
"I felt it too." The bard smiled, looking down at their clasped hands. "The first time I looked into your eyes." She met Iolaus's gaze again. "I think that... the dreams were to show us what we already knew."
"A message... Yeah, I think so too. Gabrielle, I... I want us to give it a shot. I love you. So, what do you say? We can all four travel together for awhile. Then... we'll see." In response, Gabrielle leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. Iolaus laughed and wrapped his arms around her slender waist. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Yes. But promise me something."
He kissed her again, eyes shining. "Anything."
"Promise me that you won't do to me what Eurythes did to Pelea. Promise that if one of us goesto battle, we go together."
"I promise, Gabrielle. We lost our love once. I won't let it happen again." With that, they began walking again, each keeping an arm around the other.
Hercules and Xena smiled at each other. "Cute, aren't they?" Xena asked.
Xena laughed. "Looks like we're going to be planning a wedding soon."
"They grow up so fast."
The warrior princess put an arm around her friend's waist and the foursome walked into the sunset, together once again.