They landed hard on the other side, outside of Ares’ temple where they’d begun their journey together. The vortext abruptly closed, leaving no trace of where they’d been.
“I hope that’s the last we see of that.” Xena said, “I know I’m glad that’s over.”
Iolaus smiled. “Yeah...”
“You have to go, don’t you?” Hercules asked the obvious question they’d all been wanting an answer to.
Iolaus turned to them all. “Yeah, I do. I don’t want to, I mean, I wish I could just stay here like thing were, before...”
“Things change, Iolaus. It’s the way the world is, gods or no gods.”
“Can I...can I say goodbye to Gabrielle?” Iolaus asked. Herc and Xena nodded. “Alone?”
“Oh...” They started down the trail, thinking about how to say their goodbyes to him.
Gabrielle embraced him, knowing she couldn’t stop him from leaving her again. “If only, Gabrielle.” He whispered.
“Stay just a while longer, Iolaus.” She pleaded, not letting go. He looked into her eyes, gently brushing her tears away.
“It’s not forever, Gabrielle...just look over your shoulder.” She tried to smile for him.
“You’ll be watching for me?” She asked.
“Always. It’s not forever, Gabrielle. I’ll always be there.”
"And you coming back to me is against all odds, but it's a chance I've got to take..." - Phill Collins
It had been over a month since Xena had last seen Hercules. They were heading for Potedia, Gabrielle’s village, both eager to relax and meet up with Lila, the bard’s sister. Argo was glad for the fresh air and sunshine instead of the bleak rainy weather the’d been having lately. She’d heard that the hero was traveling near her friend’s home and hoped to speak with him and catch up on any past adventures.
The weeks that followed after saying goodbye to Iolaus were hard on Gabrielle, and having to part so abruptly after they’d left the other world was what had hurt the younger woman the worst.
“Look! Home!” Gabrielle picked up the pace on the path to the village that they could now see in the distance.
“I know, I know.” He finally muttered. His guide smiled.
“I’ve been talking to them, Iolaus. You have a decision to make, a very important one, about your future here, and in your former world.” The hunter shifted his eyes from the rounded pebbles up to the man before him.
“They’ve presented me with a choice for you to make. They were very impressed with your first mission, Iolaus. And your death was premature - you had a lot left to do on earth, more futures to save, more lives to determine justice for.” The hunter was careful not to left his hopes arise, but he still found himself wishing Zarathustra was about to say it for him...
“So...you can stay here, with immortality and powers far beyond any strengths the world below can offer you...or, you can be sent back...down there.” Iolaus couldn’t find the words to speak.
“You mean...I could have my life on earth back?”
“Yes, but you’d have to dedicate yourself to the welfare of those around you...pretty much what you did all your life up until your death.” Iolaus grinned and nearly lost his balance to run and hug his surprised friend.
“So, when? When do I go back?”
“Well, as your guide and teacher, I’d say...no time like the present.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder with a sigh, watching the driftwood crackle in the small fire before them. Hercules squeezed Xena’s hand reassuringly. “I told you that I could get you to relax. Right, Gabrielle?”
The bard had a far-off look in her eyes, pausing from busily writing in one of her scrolls. “Huh?”
“Nothing, I was just telling Xena about the art of relaxation. Speaking of that, are you all right?” She nodded.
“Yes, I’m fine. Seeing Lila was wonderful.”
“Hercules?” Her sister asked, approaching their campsite. He stood to meet Lila.
“That’s me.” She grinned.
“There’s someone who wants to see you. Says he’s an old friend of yours.”
“Did he give you a name?” He asked, stepping over Gabrielle’s scroll bag. Lila shook her head.
“No, but he’s very handsome, “ She giggled, “blonde, comes up to about your shoulder...” She stopped when she noticed the look on his face. Xena and Gabrielle quickly put out the fire and ran after him.
“Where is he?” Hercules turned to ask her.
“The main tavern, right as you enter the village.” She pointed the way.
Hercules approached the tavern with Gabrielle and Xena in tow, wishing hope upon hope that he was about to meet the “old friend” he’d been thinking about for the past four weeks.
“IOLAUS!” He shouted as soon as the warrior in the patchwork purple vest turned to greet him. The two shared a big bear hug and rejoiced with Xena and Gabrielle at the top of their lungs. A small crowd watched the group unite, wondering how long it’d been since they’d seen each other. The hunter lifted the bard up and swung her around close to him.
“What’s going on, are you on another assignment?” She asked. Iolaus shook his head, unable to stop grinning for even a moment.
“I can’t believe you didn’t notice, Gabby.” She didn’t have a chance to protest his new nickname for her before she realized it.
“You’re glow...it’s gone!” He grinned.
“They sent me back, Gabrielle. They said I’ve got more work to do down here before I turn in my amulet for immortality.” At that notion, she put the obsidian stone she’d been safekeeping at his request around his neck where it belonged.
“You gave up all that - immortality, powers greater than the gods, for life here?” Hercules asked.
“Herc, there’s nothing for me - I’m nothing without the people I care about...” He took Gabrielle’s hand, “...or the ones I love.”
Xena and Hercules had gotten the gist of when to leave the two alone. “Ale?” The half god asked, offering his hand to her. She took it in the fashion of a royale.
“Delighted.” Their words were lost in the noisy conversations behind the tavern doors.
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment, resting her forehead against his. “Second chances are rare, Gabrielle.” The kiss they shared was one of openness and longing, the kind lovers share when they’ve been apart by circumstance and distance.
“And we have ours, don’t we?” She asked. He kissed her gently once more and lifted her chin to look into her eyes.
“Yeah...and all the time in the world to go with it. Whaddya say we join our friends for a toast?” He opened the heavy tavern door for her and gestured grandly to await her entrance. She put a hand around his waist.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Iolaus.” He smiled again, following behind her.
“Neither would I, Gabrielle...neither would I.”
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