by BlackFox


Disclaimers: These characters do not belong to me...I wish they did.:-) They belong to the people at Universal. I'm only borrowing them for a short while and intend to return them. This story does belong to me, however.

"Only the sharpest eye, the bravest heart,
The keenest nose with a good head start
Could ever outfox the Fox--" thanks Chrysippe


"Are you sure you wouldn't like to go visit your parents in Poteidiea instead?" Xena asked, leading the Palomino mare behind her.

Gabrielle shook her head, irritated. "Xena. For the thousandth time. No. I'd rather celebrate Solstice with you and your family. This is the first time you've been home for Solstice in, I don't know how long. You might need me there." Gabrielle took her friend's hand and squeezed it lightly.

Xena gave her a bemused look. "But-" She started to protest.

"Look, what's with you? Do you really not want me to be there?" Gabrielle asked, a flicker of doubt shining in her eyes.

Xena's hard face softened immediately at the look of doubt in her confidant's eyes. "No. Of course I want you to be there. I don't know what !I would do without you. I just...I don't know how it's going to go. Things might be...a little...tense." Xena managed to say.

Gabrielle smiled in understanding. "Don't worry. I can handle tense. I hang around with you don't I?" she teased gently. "Besides, I think everything's going to be just fine," she said, confidently. Picking up the pace again, she towed Xena along, down the road to Amphipolis.

Toris banked the inn's fire, and then turned to where his mother was hanging the Solstice holly. "You don't really think she'll show, do you?" Toris asked, sauntering over to the bar. "I mean, she's probably off Gods knows where, doing Gods knows what."

Cyrene gave her son a caustic look, then returned to her decorating. "A mother can only hope Toris. Your sister has spent too many years apart from us. I have to hope that she will come home to celebrate the Solstice w!ith us."

Toris snorted into a mug of ale. _93We'll see." He thought to himself, sardonically.

The Dark gathering clouds stretching across the spanse of the sky, brought a feeling of foreboding to the warrior. The wind had picked up, and the air had turned frigid and brisk.

"Gods, it's c- c- cold." Gabrielle managed to say, through chattering teeth. "How long do y- you think it will t- take us before we reach Am- Amphipolis?"

"A couple of hours, at least. If we make it before that storm arrives." Xena said, above the roar of the howling wind. She gestured at the dark clouds, at which Gabrielle stopped and stared for several moments.

"Xena, those clouds don't look good." Gabrielle said, her eyes wide with apprehension.

Xena nodded, darkly. "Yeah. Well, they'll look better from inside shelter, than out. Come on, let's keep moving."

"There's quite a storm moving in!.4 Toris observed from the window, glancing back at Cyrene.

"I hope she doesn't get caught out in that." Cyrene said, looking uneasily at the sky.

"If she's coming." Toris mumbled, under his breath.

The snow thick clouds had completely covered the sky a couple of hours before sundown, blackening the sky.

"It's not that much further." Xena observed, pulling her cloak around her as the first flakes of snow fell out of the sky.

"Th-think we'll make it?" Gabrielle questioned, as falling snow filled the air.

Xena nodded, uncertainly. "I think we will."

"Boy, it's really coming down, out there." Toris whistled through his teeth. "I can hardly make out the stable. Visibility is next to nothing."

Cyrene looked frettingly out the window. "I hope she's somewhere warm and safe."

! Gabrielle huddled under the warmth of Xena's cloak. With Gabrielle pressed tightly against the warmth of her body, Xena had trouble walking. The duo walked sort of like a crab through the thickly falling snow. Xena strained to see through the veil of white, but it was nearly impossible to make out a landmark. Xena knew their options were limited now. They could stop, and possibly freeze to death. Or they could keep going and risk losing themselves hopelessly in the storm.

Waiting passively for death was not an option for Xena, so they kept on, making slow headway through the snow.

"Xena, I'm tired. Can't we stop for a rest?" Gabrielle asked, though Xena barely heard her, her voice being muffled by the thick cloak. Gabrielle felt Xena's head shake.

"No, Gabrielle. If you go to sleep, you'll never wake up. We've got to keep moving." Xena said, her teeth tightly clenched with the cold.

Gabrielle groaned against the cold, but kept !going. Gabrielle's movements were turning sluggish, too bone weary tired and frozen to care about picking up her feet and putting them down again in the usual way of walking. She dragged against Xena, slowing them down to a crawl.

Xena glanced back at Argo, who was steadily plugging along behind her. The mare's hooves lifting tirelessly through the heavy snow drifts.

Sparing Gabrielle's pallid, weary face a glance, she lifted the girl into her arms and laid her on the mare's back, tightening the cloak around her.

"Hang on, Gabrielle." Xena shouted above the howling wind, and pulled Argo onward, hoping against hope that they wouldn't miss Amphipolis entirely, longing for a warm haven against the storm.

It appeared as a mirage at first, the dark form that stood out against the swirling mass of white. Xena shook her head to clear it of the fuzzy feeling, but the form was still there, it's shape !becoming more recognizable the closer she came to it. The outline of her mother's inn stood out in relief against it's forboding background. Feeling the wood against her nerveless fingers, she followed along it's side, until she came to the door.

With a sigh of relief, Xena turned to Argo and patted the mare's nose affectionately. "Thank you for taking care of her Argo." Xena murmured against the mare's ear. "Let me get her settled inside, then I'll come and take care of you." She gently took the frostbitten girl into her arms, and kicked open the door, stumbling into the blazingly warm inn.

"Xena!" Her mother gasped in surprise, when her snow laden form stumbled in from the cold, under the weight of her best friend.

"She's got hypothermia." Xena said shortly, her face tense with concern over her best friend.

The seriousness of the situation hit Cyrene immediately. "Put her in my bed." Cyrene directed. Leading the !way, she turned the covers back on the bed, then stood out of the way so Xena could approach the bed.

Xena placed Gabrielle gently on the bed, tucking the thick quilts in around her. The bard shivered uncontrollably, her teeth rattling in her head.

"I'll make her some tea." Cyrene said, patting Xena gently on the arm, before bustling out of the room.

Toris stood just outside of Cyrene's room, watching the bustle inside the room. "What should I do?" He asked his mother, wanting to help. Cyrene spared her son a hurried glance before she continued to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, "Get a fire started in there." Toris hustled into the room, then rushed about the fireplace, trying to get a fire started as quickly as possible.

Xena watched Cyrene go, then turned her attention back on her shivering friend. "I'm sorry." She whispered hoarsely, sitting down beside her and running a !finger over her cheek. Gabrielle's eyes moved under her eyelids, but they didn't open. Her breaths came in shivering waves.

Once Toris had a roaring fire going, he looked back at his sister, and coughed uncomfortably at the look of tenderness on his sister's face. Xena looked at him, only now becoming aware of his presence in the room. "Toris." She said, acknowledging his presence.

"I've gotten a fire going." He said, as if to explain his presence there. "Is there anything else I can do?" He asked, standing. Xena looked at him, unseeing for a moment, then remembered her patient mare and nodded. "Argo's outside. Would you mind getting her stabled for me, and giving her a good rubdown?"

Toris raised his eyebrow, but didn't say a word as he threw on his cloak and went to tend the faithful animal.

Gabrielle moaned and mumbled something in her sleep, but Xena couldn't quite make it out. Xena watched the rising and !falling of Gabrielle's chest, worry on her face, as the bard continued to shake. Seeing the bard's discomfort, she shirked her cold leathers, and warm her shift clad body by the fire. She crawled carefully into the bed beside the bard, and pulled the viciously shaking girl into her arms. Xena shook her head and cursed herself silently. "That was another close one, my friend. Wasn't it? I'm going to be the death of you yet." Xena murmured the last part, but Cyrene still overheard, as she crossed the threshold of the room.

"Now you're blaming yourself for the weather?" Cyrene asked, sardonically. "Xena, there was no way you could have known that would happen. That storm hit way too fast." She watched as her daughter's face turned from it's introspection of Gabrielle's white face to look at her.

"We were only a couple of miles away when the storm hit. We were in the middle of nowhere with no shelter! in sight. If it hadn't been for Argo..." Xena left the thought unfinished, wondering if she would've had the strength to carry the bard through the snow to the inn.

Cyrene forced herself not to shudder at the thought of Xena and Gabrielle dying only a few short miles from home.

"Well, you're home now, safe and warm, thank the gods." Cyrene said. "Gabrielle will be fine now. You'll see. I'll set this tea down here. Let it cool a little before you give it to her." Setting the cup down, she straightened a bit of the cover, and tucked it around Gabrielle's face. "Try and get some rest." Cyrene finished in a hushed murmur before she exited the room.

Toris came back in, covered head to foot with snow, and glanced a look at his mother before wandering over to find a warm spot by the fire. "Argo's all settled in, happily munching on fresh hay. How are they?" Toris asked, nodding towards his mother's bedroom.

"They'll be a!ll right." Cyrene said, running a hand through her hair. "We'll have to keep a watch over that young girl though."

Toris shook his head wryly. "She can't come home quietly, can she?"

"Don't start Toris. This wasn't her fault." Cyrene admonished.

"Oh, it never is." Toris said, sarcastically. "I've just never known anyone who gets into as much excitement as Xena does."

Cyrene gave him a warning look before heading back to the kitchen.

"Happy Solstice." Toris muttered, before poking a stick into the fire.

Xena watched the door for a long time after her mother had gone. Not her fault? How could she say that? Everything that had happened to Gabrielle since she had followed her out of Poteidiea had been her fault. The many times Gabrielle had been threatened, or at the point of death filled Xena's mind relentlessly. This !near fatal brush with mortality was just one in a long line of brushes that Xena felt responsible for. And Gabrielle bore the mark of those brushes, through the lines of experience written on her forehead, and creasing at the edges of her eyelids. Sometimes she wondered what would have happened if Gabrielle had never followed her out of Poteidiea. Who would she be today? A wife? A mother? Probably yes to both of these. Would she have been happier? Sometimes Xena could believe the answer would be no, especially during times where she'd sit and watch the bard weave her stories for the appreciative audiences that she touched. Still other times, like right now, Xena couldn't keep from thinking that Gabrielle would have been better off if they had never met.

And then she'd think, and remember the day in the Temple of Fates, of the fates' gift to her, of the Gabrielle of that other reality, the hardened creature she had become without Xena being there to look out for her, and the price she had paid to get h!er Gabrielle back. No, their meeting had been fated. Xena knew that now. The fates had gone to great lengths to show her just that.

But did that mean Gabrielle was meant to spend the rest of her days paying for Xena's mistakes? Xena didn't think that either. The questions were too confusing in her head, the answers unbearable, so Xena did her best to stop thinking about it. She felt the temperature of the tea on the stand. It was warm, but not too hot. She should try to get some of it into Gabrielle. Maneuvering Gabrielle into an upright position, so that she wouldn't choke, Xena got the bard's mouth open and proceeded to encourage the out-of-it bard to drink.

Xena managed to get a few swallows in before Gabrielle started coughing on the warm liquid, sending some of it back out to dribble down her cheeks and chin. Her eyes fluttered up to look at Xena, and blinked at her a few times, but Xena could tell that Gabrielle wasn't r!eally aware of her.

"I'm sorry. I got that all over you, didn't I?" Xena asked, talking mostly to herself, since Gabrielle didn't seem to respond to her voice. She put the half drank cup of tea down, then wiped at the spill with the edge of the quilt. Gabrielle blinked at her a few times more before her eyes shut again. Xena laid the bard back down on the bed, keeping her head elevated with a couple of pillows, and brushed the errant hair out of her eyes. "You'll be okay." She whispered, then pulled the quilt over her own shoulders and lay watching her best friend sleep.


Xena didn't sleep that night, just watched and waited for Gabrielle's body to return to its normal temperature. A few times, Xena swore Gabrielle was talking to her, but it turned out she was just talking in her sleep. The words she said really made no sense, which is why it startled her the first time Gabrielle spoke.

"Catch the bird Xena." she had said, gaining Xena'!s attention away from the fire in the fireplace.

Xena looked at Gabrielle for long moments, trying to decide if she had really heard her friend speak, or if it had been her imagination. "What?" She had murmured finally, wanting to be loud enough if she was awake, but not too loud in case she was asleep.

"It's right there." she had replied long moments later, after Xena had begun to think that she had imagined it. Xena raised an eyebrow and peered closer at the bard. She saw that Gabrielle's eyes were still shut, and her breathing was still the one of a dreamer. It struck Xena as funny. This was the first time she had actually seen Gabrielle talk in her sleep. She chuckled silently in a release of anxiety and reclined back on the bed. Leave it to Gabrielle to pick now to start talking in her sleep.

One time Xena swore that she heard the bard mutter 'a Joxer snowman' but she couldn't be sure. The fire !threw its rosy light over the bard's face and hair, casting her in a warm glow. Xena breathed a sigh of relief when Gabrielle's shivers ceased and her breathing became more regular. Gabrielle still slept, but at least her body was regaining its warmth.

Gabrielle was silent for a long time after the 'Joxer snowman' comment and Xena assumed that Gabrielle had finally settled into a dreamless sleep. Towards dawn however, as the morning light started streaming in through the window, she heard Gabrielle's sleep stated voice.

"Did you find it?" The words were so clear that Xena could swear Gabrielle was awake.

"Find what?" Xena asked in a murmur.

Xena waited a long time for Gabrielle to reply. When she didn't Xena sighed and shook her head. "I must be losing it to expect a conversation from someone who's asleep.' she grumbled tiredly. She was just about to slip into Morpheus' realm when she heard Gabrielle speak again.

"!Your Solstice wish." Xena's eyes popped open, and she looked at the bard questioningly. Gabrielle was still in the same state she had been in all the other times. "My Solstice wish?" She asked the bard, confused. Half expecting an answer, she was dismayed when Gabrielle rolled over and buried her head in the pillow.

She sat there pondering the bard's words as she watched her sleep. 'My solstice wish? What could she have possibly meant? Or did she mean anything? I mean, come on Xena, she has hypothermia, you're expecting coherent thought out of an incoherent woman. You're starting to lose it, warrior. Go to sleep!' she chastised herself. Then shook her head, grumbled a little, and tried to find the peaceful rest her friend was enjoying.

Xena closed her eyes for about two seconds when she felt like the world she was living in had swept away from her. She opened her eyes to a startling sight. She was standing,! fully dressed, and she wasn't in her mother's inn.

Looking about her surroundings she noticed that the place was familiar to her. With the stone walls and the burning candles, it was all too familiar. The temple of the Three Fates. What she couldn't figure out was, what in Tarturus she was doing there. She looked around the empty temple, expecting to see the mysterious fates appear before her at any time. She looked out the entryway over the green fields beyond it, remembering when she had last stood in this spot. She swore that she could almost see Lyceus climbing the slope of the hill.



"Xena." The fates' bizarre way of talking in three's startled Xena's reverie, as she turned away from the view.

Xena hid her surprise with an arched eyebrow and a sardonic smile. "You hide your faces from humankind, yet I get two visits in one lifetime. How come I'm so lucky?" Xena asked, curiosity mixing with impude!nce.

The three fates looked at each other for a long moment before answering the warrior. "We are puzzled.." Clotho began.

"..by your refusal..." Lachesis continued.

"..to accept your destiny." Atropos finished.

"And the gifts for which you have been graced." Lachesis spoke up, earning a black look from the other two fates.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just like everybody else...trying to atone for the sins which they have committed. And causing the people around them to be in jeopardy." Xena said sarcastically. "What is it you want from me?" Xena demanded.

"What is it you want from us, Xena of Amphipolis. You are constantly cursing us, yet it is you who makes the decision to stray from the path we have woven. What exactly do you want for your life?" Lachesis asked.

"What is that? A trick question? Ha!ven't we already been here?" Xena snarled. She thought of what had happened the last time she had encountered the three fates. They had said they would reward her, and they did, they gave her a life in which she had never lifted the sword. Thus sending Gabrielle into slavery. What were they doing? Giving her another chance? Giving her a chance at a better fate? Or giving somebody she cared about the chance of a better fate?

She thought of the near brushes of death Gabrielle had come to because of her. How much she had changed. Would they allow her to give her friend the chance of a life without risk?

"What would have happened if Gabrielle had never followed me out of Poteidiea? What would our lives have been like?" Xena asked the fates waiting for her to answer.

"We cannot alter the time lines again. But since you want to know, we will show you what would have happened had Gabrielle's life never been twined with yours." Clotho answered.

Xena felt !reality slipping away and closed her eyes again. When she opened them, she was back in her mother's inn. She was looking down at herself, her counterpart lying in a heap on the floor. Her face was a bloody mess and she was curled in a ball trying to protect herself.

"That's what you get, Xena Warrior Princess for leading your people into destruction." She heard an angry voice say, and looked up just in time to see a group of angry villagers leaving her there bleeding on the floor of her mother's inn.

Xena watched the villagers depart, then looked at the huddled form again, before turning a questioning eye on Clotho.

"Gabrielle wasn't here to stop the villagers." Clotho answered simply.

Xena nodded in understanding, then looked away as her mother entered the inn. She was shocked by the pure hatred and loathing that appeared in her mother's eyes as she looked at where her daughter lay. "Yo!u all right?" Cyrene asked, her voice cool and unemotional.

The injured Xena, turned to look at her mother, before collecting herself and trying to stand. "I'll be all right." she said, her voice like ice.

"Then I suggest you leave this place and never come back." Cyrene said, and turned and walked out leaving her daughter to collect her things.

Xena watched herself gather her belongings and storm out of the inn. She followed closely behind her until she saw her get on Argo and turned in the direction of Lyceus burial crypt. She started running for the crypt before she heard Clotho say, "I have a better way."

Xena felt the earth swim around her again. She was quickly becoming sick of the sensation. She closed her eyes, and reopened them inside the burial chamber. She appeared just in time to see her counterpart arrive. She watched her throw her armor in a corner, cursing loudly as it struck the far wall.

"I was a FOOL!" she yel!led, slamming her fist down on Lyceus sarcophagus. "I was a fool to think I could ever change. I was a fool to think that my mother, my OWN Mother!...might actually believe me! Why didn't I listen to Draco? He was SO right! Why even bother trying? I will never be anything more in her eyes than a murdering witch." The last was stated calmly and coolly, with a hint of sadness creeping in. "I'm so sorry I let you down, Lyceus. I'm so sorry I let everyone down. But it's too late, for me. It's too late to change. At least, nobody can say I never tried."

Xena listened to this tirade and wanted to shake her younger counterpart. "Just because one thing goes wrong, she's just giving up?" Xena demanded of Clotho.

Clotho didn't say anything, just shrugged her shoulders and motioned for her to watch.

Her counterpart had already turned and was walking out of the tomb. The warrior had gotten on Argo a!nd was starting to ride away when she heard the ruckus in the stable. She saw hens come squawking and flying out of it and decided to see what was going on. She watched through the half open doorway, Draco shaking a village elder. She started to turn away when she caught her mother's eyes with her own.

Cyrene half wanted to plead with her daughter to stay and help them, the other half seriously doubted that she would, especially after the way they had treated her. She held a breath as she watched her daughter's undecisive eyes. She could tell her daughter was warring with herself. "Please." She moved her lips, begging her daughter silently for help.

She lost hope when she saw Xena's face harden, but then regained it as she saw Xena wasn't walking away, but entering the stable.

"Draco. I would think you would know better than to attack my home village." Xena said in a hard voice.

"Xena..." Draco began, turning towards the warrior, a half gr!in on his face. "I honestly didn't think you'd care." He pushed the defenseless elder aside as he started striding nonchalantly towards Xena. "They don't want you. They hate you. Why should you care what happens to them?" Draco asked, striking at her defenses.

Xena smirked at his attempts allowing him to draw closer as she nonchalantly stood waiting for him. She waited until he stood right in front of her before answering. "Because..." She started, smiling a genuine smile, that never reached her eyes. "their family." She finished, then struck him hard across the face, sending him flying backwards. He was up in two seconds, taking a sword from one of his men and motioning at them to keep out of this fight.

Xena smiled wickedly at him and drew her own sword, twirling it in anticipation of the fight. She felt her adrenaline kicking in and loved the edge it gave her. She had some extra aggression to get rid of! and Draco was the perfect target.

They circled each other, Draco eyeing her warily while Xena grinned like the half demon she was. She suddenly attacked him with a series of swings catching him off guard. Draco just barely managed to repel them they were coming so fast. As suddenly as her attack came, she backed off, giving both herself and Draco some room.

"Now Draco..." She said, patronizingly. "Are you really sure you want to fight me?" She asked, giving him a chance to back down if he wanted. Of course, this was Draco. So of course, he wouldn't. And he swung at her anyway. "All right." she drawled, sounding almost like resignation, before she renewed her attack full tilt.

The aerial acrobatics began, Draco and Xena exchanging swings as they jumped over the other's heads. If the situation hadn't been so serious the watching villagers would've enjoyed the show that was displayed. As it was, the villagers cringed in fear at the display, not really su!re which warlord they wanted to be the victor. Maybe they would get lucky and they would kill each other.

They breathed a sigh of relief as Xena moved in for the kill, then gasped as Draco shoved her off balance and she fell to the floor. They held their breath as Draco stood above her, sword ready to plunge into her throat. Cyrene made an unconscious cry, not really wanting to see her daughter slain, and clenched her hands at her sides. Draco grinned in victory, then stopped all movement, his face frozen as his smile started to slip. Looking down, he saw a dagger stuck in his chest. He looked at Xena's face, and saw Xena's eyes glowing in victory.

"I'll see you in Tarturus, Draco." Xena murmured, so that only Draco could hear her.

"I'll be waiting." he growled, and collapsed to the ground.

The villagers stood there in shock before it occurred to any of them that they should help her up. The!y started to move forward, even as Xena was rising to her feet. "Don't bother." She said, her face a mask as she looked at them. Turning Draco's body with her boot, she took hold of her dagger's hilt and pulled it out of him. She wiped the blade on Draco's clothes, then slid it back into it's hiding place.

"Xena..." Cyrene started to say, moving over to her daughter.

"No. You were right mother. I never should have come here. I led Draco right here. This wouldn't have happened if I had stayed away. It won't happen again. I promise you that." Xena said, her voice soft. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." she trailed off as she watched the village men pick up and carry Draco's lifeless body out of there. "Be well, mother." Xena said, then turned and strode out of the stable.

Xena watched her younger counterpart take off, then watched her mother, who seemed aged by the experience somehow. She realized that Gabrielle had made it pos!sible for her to reconcile with her mother. "Where's Gabrielle? Can I see her?" She asked of the silent fate.

Clotho nodded. And Xena felt the now familiar and irritating shift of reality.


Xena spotted Gabrielle coming out of her parents home in Poteideia. She looked fresh, as she had when she had followed her out of Poteidiea. Dressed in the peasant dress and shirt that Xena remembered clearly from their early travels together, Gabrielle looked remarkably young and innocent to Xena. Two years sure can change a person, Xena thought solemnly. Xena remembered thinking how impractical the dress had seemed to her. Xena thought it funny that the Amazons had been the ones to finally get the girl into some practical clothes.

Gabrielle's freshness was marred only by an uncertain yearning lining the young girl's face. Her eyes scanned the surrounding countryside, as if searching for something. 'Or som!eone', Xena thought darkly to herself. Gabrielle sighed a little depressed sigh, grabbed the milk bucket that was hanging on a hook by the door, and headed solemnly for the barn. "Milk the cows. Feed the chickens. Collect the eggs. That's all I ever do. Why can't I have some excitement? But no, I'm stuck in little Poteidiea with nothing to do in sight. There's nothing here to strike the imagination!" Gabrielle said, in a monologue to herself.

Entering the barn, she sat herself down on the stool and started milking Daisy the cow. "Hmm. Daisy. How unimaginative can you get." Gabrielle snorted, then noticed the cow giving her an abused look. "No offense meant, Daisy. It's just that I wanted so much more for my life than being a farmer's wife." Gabrielle said, grumbling to herself in aggravation. "Things could have been so different!" She whined to the uninterested cow. It certainly had looked like things were going to get interesting a few days ago. True those ra!iders had scared the living Hades out of her, but it definitely had livened her day up considerately. And then that fascinating woman had shown up. Flashing blue eyes, and hair as dark as the blackest night, Gabrielle had been awestruck. And when their eyes had met, for that briefest of moments, Gabrielle had felt as though something truly magical was about to change her life forever. That's why she had asked her, The Warrior Princess, Gabrielle had marveled reverently in her head, if she would take her with her. She was disappointed that she had refused her request. But still she had been determined to follow her, if it hadn't been for Lila. "Darn Lila for waking up anyway!" Gabrielle said angrily, pulling on one of Daisy's teats a little too hard, earning a mournful glare. "Sorry." She apologized quietly, then looked over at the barn door as it opened, and spotted Lila slinking in.

Gabrielle mutely went back to work, her whole attenti!on going to listening to the swishing sounds as milk filled the bucket.

"Still mad at me?" Lila asked from the barn's entryway. Not hearing a reply from Gabrielle, Lila's voice turned pleading. "Look, I'm sorry! I had to tell Mother and Father, you would've run off if I hadn't, and I couldn't let you follow a half crazy warlord around Greece. I was worried about you."

"Half Crazy?" Xena thought out loud. Clotho shrugged and smiled at the annoyed warrior, and turned her attention back on the two feuding sisters.

Gabrielle kept silent, her expression stony as she milked the cow, concentrating only on the repetition of the movement.

Lila knelt before the stool, her arms resting on Gabrielle's knees, her face turned up to plead into Gabrielle's. "You've been mad at me for three days! Please!!! Forgive me!!!"

Gabrielle sighed, and looked down at her remorseful sister. "You don't understand, Lila. That was m!y one shot. My one chance to get out of Poteidiea, to do something exciting! Now they watch every move I make. And their pressuring me to marry Perdicus. He's a Farm Boy! I'll never get out of Poteidiea if I marry him!!!"

"Gabrielle! That's not very nice! He's very sweet. He loves you!"

"Well, I don't love him. And if you think he's so sweet, then why don't YOU marry him." Gabrielle said, then stormed out of the barn with the half filled pail of milk, sloshing out milk as she walked and spilling it down her long and in the way skirt.

Lila stayed where she knelt, watching her sister go. Boy, was she ever mad! Lila thought solemnly to herself. She wondered if she'd cheer up in time for the wedding.

Xena watched Gabrielle storm out of the barn. She certainly didn't look very happy, yet. It still had to be better than the way it was in the real reality. At least t!his Gabrielle wasn't in constant danger day after day. The barn faded out of her vision and when her sight refocused, she was standing in a temple. The temple was full of Gabrielle's and Perdicus' families. Perdicus stood at the front of the temple facing the village priest, and Xena had a weird sense of deja vu as Gabrielle joined him.

'So, they really would get married and have a happy life if she hadn't followed me out of Poteidiea." Xena said to Clotho.

"You're really quick to snap to that judgment." Clotho said, mysteriously. "Why don't you go with Lachesis and find out." With that, the Maiden disappeared, and the Mother took her place.

"Ready?" Lachesis asked kindly.

The warrior shrugged her shoulders and nodded. "Sure. Let's go." And let the familiar wave wash over her.

When the wave let her go, she was standing in the clearing. Looking around there wasn't a person in sight. Xena look!ed questioningly at Lachesis. "Where is she?" Xena asked, her patience running on a very thin line.

"Patience." Lachesis answered. "This Gabrielle is not as quick as your own."

Xena scowled at her, then crossed her arms prepared to wait the fate out. She caught a faint rustling sound coming from the shrubbery and turned in it's direction. The rustling sound became more pronounced until, finally a small form stumbled out on unsteady legs, followed by Gabrielle carrying an even younger form in her arms. Xena would guess the small child waddling through the grass on unsteady legs was about two summers old. The young precocious child was curious about every tree and flower and had to examine it seriously before running off to examine the next thing that caught it's eyesight. Xena would guess the child in Gabrielle's arms was about a year old. The child's eyes were bright with curiosity, like it's sibling, but was !too young to chase after, so raised the tiny arms reaching out for whatever caught interest.

"Perdy, slow down. Xena and I can't keep up!" Gabrielle called wearily as the two year old raced off ahead of her. Xena blinked in surprise, questioning Lachesis with a glance. She smiled knowingly back at Xena. Xena focused her attention on Gabrielle and the girl she now knew was named Xena. She gulped against the sudden lump that formed itself within her throat. She had assumed that Gabrielle would forget about her encounter with the mysterious Warrior Princess, but she hadn't. She had remembered her enough to name a child after her, and what a beautiful child she was too. Gabrielle had gotten close enough for her to see that the child Xena had beautiful blue eyes. Xena guessed that the reason Gabrielle named her child Xena was because she had remembered her eyes.

Gabrielle was also close enough for Xena to notice that she was getting heavy with a third child. Boy, Perdicus sure kept her busy. Xen!a thought slightly annoyed. Three children in three years? When did that leave Gabrielle's body time to recuperate? Xena would guess that Perdicus didn't even allow time for the wounds to heal from child birth before he was looking to impregnate her again.

"Perdy, please! Mommy needs a break. Come and sit down beside your sister and we'll eat lunch." Gabrielle cajoled the two year old. He looked like he wasn't going to comply for a second, then picked a flower and brought it to his weary mother.

"Fower mommy." Perdy said, handing her the white petaled flower. Gabrielle lifted the flower to her nose, and sniffed in, smiling at the fragrance of the flower, and the fact that her son had brought it to her. Perdy sat down in the grass, playing at pulling strands of it out of the ground. Gabrielle put Xena down beside him and pulled the lunch out of the sack she carried around her shoulders. She had cut up olives, chees!e and meat into bite size pieces so that Perdy and Xena could eat them without choking.

Gabrielle ate the simple fare in silence, her hand rubbing at the wearying weight of her abdomen. Xena watched the bard's every movement, noticing the soul weary expression in the bard's eyes. It was noticeable to Xena how very tired the bard was. The fact that she probably needed a break from her existence was very evident to the warrior. Gabrielle's eyes were focused on her children, watching their actions as they ate their food, sometimes offering each other bites from their own piles. Gabrielle wished that she could find the energy to keep up with her children. She loved them so much. She tried to bestow as much love on her children as she possibly could. Trying to make up for her solemn and often sullen husband. Their's was not a union of love. It hadn't been for a long time. Gabrielle would even hazard a guess that it had never been. Perdicus attitude towards her had changed when he finally realized that !she loved him as a friend, not a husband. He was never abusive, but he barely tolerated her presence long enough to get her pregnant. He had always wanted children. Even while growing up, he would often talk about the children they would create together. They slept in separate beds, except on those rare occasions that he came home drunk and felt the need to create another child. Gabrielle watched her dreams die one by one, to be replaced by the one joy that had any meaning in her life now. Her children. She had named the first one after Perdicus to please him, that was when they were still 'together'. The second child had been the result of a drunken nights revelry, on Perdicus' part anyway, so Gabrielle had no qualm about naming her Xena, especially after seeing how blue her eyes were. When Perdicus, returning from the fields, having missed his daughter's birth, had discovered what Gabrielle had named her, he had screamed at her before storming out to drink h!imself senseless. Upon his return, he had declared that a third child must be created, to make up for the disgrace the second child was sure to become. Gabrielle had allowed the coupling, thinking only of her daughter that lay in the crib next to their bed.

Three months passed before Perdicus noticed that a child had not formed from their union. Disgusted, he insisted that they try again. Gabrielle consented, not knowing what else to do, and now a third child was on the way. Gabrielle had no idea what the baby would be named. Perdicus said since she had made a fiasco of the second baby's name that she wouldn't be allowed to name any more babies.

Gabrielle's family were unaware of the state their daughter was living in. For one thing, Gabrielle seriously doubted if they would care if she was happy or not. They certainly hadn't cared that she hadn't wanted to marry him in the first place. So whenever she saw her parents or Lila, she pretended everything was fine. No trouble in paradise. ! She had no way of knowing the lines in her face and the shadows under her eyes gave her away every time.

Gabrielle broke off from her meandering in time to see little Xena scampering across the uneven ground running after a bird that was pecking worms out of the ground.
"Get the bird Xena!" Gabrielle called in delight. The bird flew away just as little Xena was about to reach out for it. It flew off to patch of ground behind the youngster and continued eating it's lunch. "It's right there, Xena. Get it." Gabrielle called. Little Xena turned at the sound of her mother's voice and flashed her a toothy grin. Then noticing the bird's resting spot walked carefully towards it. The feasting bird waited until the child was about to pounce before taking off. It's wings a blur in the child's face.

The Warrior Princess felt a shock go down her spine as she heard the words the hypothermic bard had uttered fall from the! other's lips. She turned suspicious eyes on Lachesis, her lips turning up into a snarl. "All right. What is this? What are you trying to pull?"

The Mother looked surprised at the Warrior's sudden anger. "Nothing, Xena. You wanted to be shown what would have happened, we are showing you. Would you like to see your present now?" Lachesis asked.

Xena shook her head. "What I would like is to be told why THAT Gabrielle and MY Gabrielle said the exact same thing." Xena demanded.

"Sometimes...the realities mingle." Lachesis answered. Xena had a strange idea that that wasn't it, but since she had no way of proving that the fate was lying, she decided to continue this little show and tell of theirs.

"All right. We might as well get my 'present' over and done with." Xena answered, trying to prepare herself mentally and emotionally for whatever the other Xena's present day realities were.

Lachesis nodded her head, and! Xena's reality shifted...again.


In a dark unlit corner, in a seedy little tavern, the Warrior Princess sat nursing her mead while her eyes shifted restlessly among the other patrons. So far the scattering of villagers had posed no threat. A few were getting rowdy though, getting louder with every ale they consumed. She detested small towns, detested the people in those small towns even more. Their constant bickering and petty problems wore on her nerves and her patience until it was all she could do to keep from killing a couple of them just for the fun of it. She hadn't done that sort of thing for three years, carrying the words of wisdom Hercules had said inside her head, but if worse came to worse, she wouldn't mind making an exception to the new rules she tried to live by. She didn't go out of her way to help people, but she didn't try to harm them anymore either. If they left her alone, she would leave them a!lone, and somehow she got by, just barely, from day to day, without taking somebody's head. She couldn't wait until the storm that had forced her in here had passed. For three days she had been forced to hole up here, she was damned if she'd spend another day. If the snow didn't clear up by tomorrow, she'd just take her chances in the storm.

She could tell a fight was about to break out up front. Another stupid fight, fought by stupid villagers who didn't know enough to leave a thing alone. She watched as two men, pushed and shoved each other, nudging each other into action. One of them was thrown against the bar, a barmaid had barely enough time to move before the other was picked up and thrown behind it.

With a weary sigh, the Warrior Princess stood and ambled silently to where the two men were pummeling each other. Leaning against the bar, she watched them for a few moments, a bemused expression on her face as she fought between amusement and annoyance. "Hey. Is this a pri!vate fight or can anyone join in?" She asked the two, gaining their attention. Glancing up, they had just enough time to take in the warrior's presence, before she was bashing their heads together. Hearing the satisfying groans of pain, as the two slid nervelessly to the floor, Xena wiped her hands together, and turned to go back to her table. She was stopped by the hand of the nervous barmaid.

"Thank you for breaking those two up...again." She said, her voice trembling with her nervousness. This was the third time Xena had stopped the idiots from tearing up the place, but the first time, the girl had gotten the nerve up to show how grateful she was.

Xena shrugged, carelessly, as if what she had done was no big deal. "It was nothing." 'Not even a challenge.' Xena thought, fondly recalling some of the tougher battles she had been in. The blood lust pumping through her veins was a much missed feeling. She was sure the de!ad boredom she felt now was nowhere it's equal.

Finding her solitary corner again, she was about to take a long drink when a almost too hearty hand was clapped on her right shoulder. Glancing daggers up at the fool brave enough to cast his hand on her, her ice blue eyes met the dullish brown eyes of a fool.

"Great Xena! The Warrior Princess! I come to offer my services to the best Warrior in all of Greece." The fool said, his high pitched clownish voice, sent icy waves of revulsion careening down Xena's back.

With a snarl on her lips, she looked the idiot up and down, not missing a metallic button on the buffoon's suit. "And just who, in the darkest realms of Tarturus, are you?"

"The name...oh fearless leader...heh-heh...is Joxer! Joxer the Mighty! Here to put my sword in your service." Joxer said, bravado ringing throughout every word.

Xena sneered at him, her upper lip turning up in a twist. "You keep your sword in your she!ath little man, and never mind about my service." She warned, venom dripping with every word.

Joxer gulped convulsively. "I didn't mean...uh...you see I..."

"What is it exactly that you want...JOX-er?" Xena asked, raising impatiently to her feet.

"Why to join your army! I've always wanted to pillage and maim and destroy. I think I'd make an excellent addition to your army." Joxer said.

Xena looked him over again, her expression thoughtful, before she met his eyes again and her expression hardened. "You wouldn't know the first thing about being in an army. Take some free advice. The only advice I'm going to give so listen up. Forget about being a warrior. You're not cut out for it. Go home. Raise a family. Live a long life. Because if you stay around here, your nose is going to be bigger than your life expectancy!" Xena snapped the last words, turning around to walk !towards the stairs leading to her room.

"But, Xena--, Warrior Princess!" Joxer called after her.

She swung to glare at him. "Go on. Get out of here. Before I change my mind."

Joxer watched the Warrior Princess until she disappeared at the top of the tavern stairs. Then took her at her word and headed back out into the freezing cold. Hopefully, he would find a nice cave to hole up in to keep himself warm, otherwise he was sure he would freeze to death.

"Certainly not a pleasant person these days, are you?" Lachesis asked, after they had both watched the scene as it had played out.

Xena shrugged. "Without Gabrielle in my life, I doubt I'm all that happy." Was the only answer Xena gave in reply.

"It doesn't look like either of you are all that happy." Lachesis said.

"Well, at least she's safe!" Xena snapped back. Seeing herself in this timeline really threw her. She wasn_92t exactly a ruthless warlord anymore, but she wasn't who Xena was now either. If anything, Xena would say that this alternate Xena barely survived, she surely didn't have the will to live, and seemed only to coexist with the rest of the world through a monotonous boredom of days. What she had never had, she couldn't miss, or could she. It seemed like her alternate self, was not living, but merely surviving, with no hope of joy or happiness. Gabrielle had been the one to give her all of that, and without it, she was just plain melancholic.

Lachesis made no comment on the Warrior's remark. She watched Joxer step out of the Tavern doorway and stumble out into the driving snow. "It would appear that others aren't quite so lucky." Lachesis said, nodding to the departing figure.

Xena watched the departure of Joxer, then snapped at Lachesis again. "What?! Am I to be responsible for every fool that stumbles out into a snow ban!k? What happens to him?"

Lachesis didn't say a word, just took Xena's arm and disappeared from the tavern.

When they reappeared, they were standing outside, in a blizzard. Xena could hardly see for all the snow. The landscape itself was covered in a blanket of it, an endless white mixing with the other colors of the wilderness and covering them up until only a few shades of brown on the tree limbs that stuck out remained. Nothing else could be seen.

"Why are we here?" Xena asked, turning around in a circle to take in the expanse of the lonely countryside.

"You wanted to know what happened to Joxer. I am showing you."

"Well, where...is...he?" Xena asked, her question stalling on itself as she made out an outline in the snow. Slowly, she made her way to the distinctive form, blue being a very outstanding, if unattractive color on a human. She knelt down to study the frozen body before her. Joxer had frozen sitting down holding his swo!rd in both hands as if he had been studying it. A frozen rictus of a smile plastered on his face. Touching his face, she had to jerk her hand back, the icy cold feeling of his skin sending waves of remorse through her. "A Joxer snowman." Xena whispered, feeling a lump form in her throat. "That was really stupid, Joxer! Why didn't you stay in the tavern! You would have stayed warm! You surely would have been a nicer color!" Xena yelled at the frozen man.

"Your alternate didn't give him much choice did she?" Lachesis asked.

"I'm sure she didn't mean for him to do this." Xena said in a bitter tone.

"He wouldn't have known that." Lachesis replied.

Xena shook her head. Her alternate wasn't a pleasant woman. She didn't handle things the way that she should, she hadn't been taught by Gabrielle how to bite her tongue, how to prevent hurting somebody else's feeli!ngs. She hadn't been taught how to be protective, just for the sake of being protective. Hadn't learned, that it was for the greater good to sometimes put the welfare of others above the welfare of yourself. Her alternate was a fool, who probably wouldn't live for very long. "What happens to me?" Xena asked in a whisper, her voice barely carrying over the howl of the wind.

"If you really want to see, warrior. I will show you, though I take no pleasure in it." Atropos said, from behind her. The crone's voice was somber and held not a speck of hope for Xena.


Xena felt a chill in her bones upon first arriving at the location Atropos brought her. The smell of death and destruction hung heavily on the air. A strong looking fortress filled her eyesight, the very size of it making her give it her full attention. The fortress' walls were heavy and thick. It's very presence gave the atmosphere a heavy foreboding feeling. The surrounding countryside l!ooked ravished and depleted, as if the fortress sucked up the very vitality from the land. It could best be described as a barren wasteland. Not a tree or shrub could be seen for miles. The very soil of the earth looked undernourished and weak. It's ability to sustain even a blade of grass was highly questionable in the warrior's mind. There were a few deserted, rundown villages surrounding the fortress, but it didn't appear that anyone had lived in them for quite awhile, at least not for the last couple of years. Which didn't surprise Xena a whole lot. With a fortress that size, alot of the villagers were probably brought inside, to do the work for the rulers. The rulers had apparently fallen on hard times, and the people surrounding their so-called protectors had paid the price. Some people had probably run off to escape the demands of their kings, but Xena would guess that most of them had been brought inside to service their king.

The poundi!ng of hooves caught Xena's attention, and she turned to watch a brigade of men, approach the fortress walls. They stopped outside and called a hello to the guards standing at the top of the gate. While they waited to be led in the soldiers talked amongst themselves.

"Things don't look very good for king Tridas. He's already lost half of his army, and is finding it difficult to gain new recruits. Everybody living even remotely close to the fortress has moved on. I don't think I've ever seen moral this bad." the head of the brigade said, to a man that was standing beside him.

"Things aren't totally bad." The other said, this one a little more confident, more self-assured. In fact, he seemed down right blazoned, Xena thought to herself. He was arguing with a man who was obviously his leader. If the guy had been in her army, he wouldn't have lasted very long. "That new trophy ought to raise spirits some." He started laughing, an altogether unpleasant sounding laug!h and pointed to the topmost line of spikes on the top of the wall.

Xena followed the man's finger to where he was pointing and stared in stark, silent horror. Even from a great distance, Xena could make out what it was. It turned her stomach, and she had to use ten years of Warlord training to keep herself from vomiting on the spot. For staring up at that great height, Xena found herself staring at her own head, embedded on one of the spikes. The sight sent a shiver, straight to the bottom of her soul, and she found herself grateful. Grateful that at least Gabrielle hadn't been there to see it, or to be a part of it, Xena thought with a revolted shiver. The sight of Gabrielle's head on a spike would have been too much for the Warrior to handle.

"At least Gabrielle is safe." Xena choked out, feeling the bile rise up her throat from her stomach, threatening to choke her.

"Oh really?" Atropos said, raising an e!yebrow at the warrior. Xena's stomach did flip flops at the implication.

"Why? What's wrong with Gabrielle in this timeline?" Xena said, almost afraid to ask. Atropos didn't say anything, just grabbed Xena's arm and they disappeared from the forboding place.

They reappeared in Gabrielle's family's kitchen, Herodotus, Hecuba and Lila were sitting around the table, each holding a youngster on their laps. Two older children were seated in chairs by themselves. Xena instantly recognized an older Perdy and Xena, respective ages now appearing to be five and four. The child Herodotus was holding appeared to be three and must have been the child Gabrielle had been pregnant with when she had last saw her. Lila was holding a squirming two-year-old, while Hecuba held a very quiet baby, that looked about one. They were all very solemn and quiet as they ate, and Xena couldn't help wondering where Gabrielle was.

'The crops are going to be bad this year." Herodotus s!aid, almost absentmindedly, while spooning soup into his mouth. "I'm going to have to sell Perdicus' farm to raise dinars. There was a guy asking about the place just the other day. Quoted a good price for it too. I'm thinking about selling it to him."

Hecuba raised her eyes in surprise. "But, what if he comes back?"

Lila hmphed in disgust but didn't say anything, staring coldly at her soup.

Herodotus face turned red, as he stopped eating to glare at his wife. "That no good excuse of a son-in-law isn't coming back. And if he did, I'd kill him! He ran off to war, leaving our daughter with five children to raise and another one on the way. And after the way he treated her, I wish he'd run off sooner."

Hecuba lowered her head, withering from her husband's glare, and ate her soup quietly.

"I still can't figure out why Gabrielle didn't tell us sooner." L!ila said, almost sadly, as she worked to keep the red headed tyke in her lap.

"Don't seem like we gave her a chance to, did we? Always thinking that Perdicus was the best choice for her. Didn't even listen to what she had to say. And now its...well, it's too late to change anything now isn't it? She's..." Herodotus broke off the last sentence, leaving Xena hanging.

"Gabrielle's what?!" She yelled at the group, forgetting that they couldn't hear her. She looked at their somber, sad faces, and suddenly knew, in the pit of her gut what Herodotus had left off.

"I can't believe she's gone." Lila said, a slow tear trickling down her face to land with a plop in her soup. "She looked good, she looked like she was getting better. Her bruises had almost healed."

Hecuba shook her head sadly, watching Perdy and Xena squirm in their seats, feeling the sad oppression in the room. The three year old in Herodotus lap looked up question!ingly at Hecuba. "Where Mama?" Hecuba shook her head again, realizing that the poor child couldn't understand why his mother was gone. She fondled his hair staring sadly at him. "Eat your soup Hyrum." She spoke softly, her voice rough with her grief as she turned to address Lila's question. "She just couldn't handle having another baby. Not after the way Perdicus treated her." She stopped for a moment, tears filling her eyes. "Anyways, it was bound to happen sooner or later, the way he kept her pregnant all the time..."

Herodotus gave her a glare, shaking his head as he noticed Perdy and Xena start crying, too young to know what they were saying, but old enough to know that their mother was gone. "Hush, Hecuba. That's enough." He said grimly, pushing his chair back and standing. "I've got work to do." He said, gruffly, placing Hyrum down in his chair. He walked out, leaving a half finished bowl of soup! cooling on the table.

Lila and Hecuba shared solemn looks, before returning to eating their bowls of soup in silence.

"She's dead?" Xena whispered in disbelief. "How can she be dead?" She asked the noncommittal Fate. "This was supposed to be the best reality for her...the best choice! How can she be dead!" Xena's voice rose in anger, as she struggled against her disbelief. The faces of Gabrielle's family painted it in absolute truth, but Xena just couldn't swallow it. Their faces swam in front of her eyes, and suddenly she stood outside, in front of two wooden grave markers, one large, the other tiny.

Gabrielle's name had been lovingly carved, carefully scripted across the wooden surface. Underneath her name, in smaller letters had been written: Loving daughter of Hecuba and Herodotus, Loving sister of Lila, and Loving mother of Perdy, Xena, Hyrum, Hyla, Tobias, and Lila.

The tiny grave marker was marked only by two words. ! Baby Lila.

Xena stared at the graves for long, stark moments. She absent mindedly felt herself hit her knees, but only in a cursory manner. Her entire attention was taken up by the markers, her entire focus centered on how utterly wrong this was. It wasn't supposed to be like this, Gabrielle was supposed to end up with a 'Happily Ever After' ending. Even if it couldn't really be, Xena had to believe she had the possibility for one. But now, she had been shown that it just wasn't to be.

"Why can't you accept the fact that we were right to link her life line with yours? That she is supposed to be with you?" Xena heard the three fates behind her, and shook her head, trying to keep their words out.

"I'm no good for her. I only lead her into trouble." Xena spoke flatly.

"You've led her away from more unhappy endings then we can count, and still you insist your no good! for her?" Lachesis asked.

"I've led her into more unhappy endings than I can count." Xena retorted, finding her feet again and standing. She turned and faced the fates, daring them to convince her that she was wrong.

Atropos shook her head. "Both of you have gotten each other out of situations that you wouldn't have been able to get out of alone. Without Gabrielle in your life, you never would have stayed on the road to atonement. As you've seen, you would have tried something foolish and would have ended up dead. Without you in Gabrielle's life, the girl never would reach her full potential, as both a woman and a hero. You need each other to complete each other, and that's the way it has been from the very beginning. Don't question our gift to you anymore Xena, just accept it. You are as much Gabrielle's gift, as she is yours." The fate's voice washed over her head, appearing to echo to an overwhelming intensity, until she finally blacked out, leaving the dis!mal world of Gabrielle's gravesite behind.

Xena awoke confused, in a dark, warm room with something heavy on her chest. The confusion wore off quickly, Xena's presence of body allowing her to tell herself where she was almost instantly. Her sense of hearing picked up the crackling coming from the fireplace and told her that she was back in her mother's room at the inn. Her hand brushed Gabrielle's hair absently, and now she knew that the something heavy was Gabrielle. She smiled and held her, allowing the feel of her friend's weight to chase away the horrors of her nightmare. 'It had been a nightmare. Hadn't it?' She asked herself mentally. Her smile faded at the thought that the nightmare she had might not have been a nightmare at all. What if it had been real?

"Well, what if it had?" She asked herself crossly, forgetting to think it instead of speak it. "Nothing has changed. I'm right back here..!.with Gabrielle alive...the way it should be." But had things changed? They hadn't physically, sure. She was back in the same room she had left, a fire was still cheerfully popping away in the fireplace, and the mug that had held Gabrielle's tea was still sitting on the table, lit by the fire's glow.

But what about mentally? There had always been a part of her that clung to the belief that things would have been better off for Gabrielle if she had never left Poteidiea. That she would have been happier. And the thought of that, added to the weight of Xena's guilt over some of the things that had happened to Gabrielle since she had followed her, had been nearly overwhelming. But now she knew what she knew. What the fates had allowed her to see. That Gabrielle's lifeline had been irretrievably forged with Xena's and there was no getting away from that. The fates didn't like to be questioned, and now she knew why. For better or worse, this was the best choice for both of them, although really! the choice had been taken out of their hands.

Xena smiled absently at the thought, and checked out Gabrielle's condition in the firelight. The girl had stopped shivering and was now a healthy warm, thanks to the heat from the fire, and Xena's own warmth. The danger had seemed to pass them both by, and Xena was thankful for that.

Blue-green eyes blinked open to look at her and Xena almost did a double take at the words that came from Gabrielle's mouth. "Did you find your Solstice wish?" She mumbled, her brow already furrowing as she tried to reason out why she had asked that.

Xena just smiled, and squeezed her gently. "Yes, Gabrielle." Xena answered in a whisper. "Yes, I believe I did."

Gabrielle looked at her curious, her expression serious, but didn't find an answer to the questions in her eyes in Xena's blue ones. "Oh. Good." Gabrielle said, before putting her head back d!own on Xena's chest and falling back into a...this time...dreamless sleep.

The End

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