For The First Time

by planet solin

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo are owned by someone else. No profit is to be earned from this short piece of fiction. This is just a simple story by an avid fan.

Sex/Violence: Some of both so if you are adverse to either read no more.

Other: This is just a short piece I scribbled when I was experiencing some writers block and I didn't spend much time on it so please be kind if you have any comments:

Gabrielle struggled against the bindings that were wrapped around her wrists but they were tied too securely. She would not be able to free herself as she had hoped. She glanced around the dark room. There were no windows and the only illumination was provided by a thin shaft of sunlight which poured through a small hole near the ceiling. There was a door, a large wooden one, but it was made of heavy timber and she was certain that even Xena wouldn't be able to break through it. She sighed and closed her eyes, feeling the last faint traces of the headache that had been pounding relentlessly against her brain since they had knocked her unconscious.

Xena would be furious, of that she was certain. The Warrior had told her to stay at the camp site but she had been curious and had allowed her mind and feet to wander. As a result she had been captured, taken prisoner by unknown persons and imprisoned in a cell from which there was no escape.

"Oh, Xena," she cried into the darkness, her words echoing off the stone walls. "Will you forgive me this time?"

How often had the Warrior Princess done that? How many times had Xena come to her rescue after she had fallen prey to some misadventure? How many more times would the dark Warrior have to liberate her before growing tired of being her saviour? These were all questions that plagued her thoughts as she lay bound on the cold dirt floor of this prison. They were thoughts that made her heart tremble and tears spring to her emerald eyes.

She had tried so hard to please the older woman, yet nothing she did seemed to do anything but bring them trouble. She tried not to let the depression that was lurking in the surrounding darkness, descend upon her soul. She had to continue to be positive, just as she had for the three long summers she had been tagging along behind Xena.

Even now when distance and uncertainty separated them, she could visualized the tall dark brooding

Warrior and the ever present stoic expression that seemed at times to be permanently embedded on the older woman's face.

In the past she could always be certain that Xena would come for her but for the first time she was unsure, afraid that the Warrior Princess could tolerate her no more. The thought made her frightened and she was unable to prevent the shiver that raced through her body or the tears that silently rolled down from her eyes.

Xena was angrier then she could remember being in a long time. Not only had the bard once again disobeyed her instructions but the girl had gotten herself kidnapped and because of that they would now be late for her mother Cyrene's birthday.

It had been many summers since Xena had found herself close enough to Amphipolis to be with her mother for the celebrations and she had been looking forward to the reunion. Gabrielle had even been planning the variety of activities they would accomplish during their visit home, chatting non-stop and driving the Warrior to distraction.

A smile cracked the corners of her lips as she remembered Gabrielle's excitement, but the grin was soon lost among darker thoughts. Thoughts that left the Warrior with a deep scowl imprinted on her face as she tried to remember how it had all started.

It had been a simple argument that morning, over something trivial. Now candlemarks later she couldn't even remember what it was about but it had caused her to storm out of camp taking Argo for a long ride while the small woman had been left to clean up the camp site. She had told Gabrielle not to wander, for the forest wasn't safe but the bard hadn't listened.

Xena shouted a curse at Hades, realizing that she was as much to blame as the bard. If she hadn't ridden off in a huff leaving the woman alone they wouldn't be in this situation. Once again she had allowed her black mood to interfere with her better judgement and as a result the bard was suffering, and Gabrielle would suffer.

It hadn't taken much for her to find out that it was Barcchus' men who had kidnapped her friend. They had left all the necessary signs that the Warrior needed to follow their trail and while emotions had prodded her to hurry, instinct had made her be cautious.

Barcchus was an old enemy, a warlord nearing the end of his reign. He was getting old and meaner, if the tales she heard were true. Rumour had it that he had set his sights on taking revenge on all those who had wronged him. That illustrious group included the former Destroyer of Nations and he had boasted to all who would listen that he would avenge the defeat and humiliation he had faced at Myrancea.

The town had not been worth anything except for its strategic importance. It was at the crossroads from the mountains to the sea beyond and if the warlord had vanquished the village then he would have had free access to the sea ports along the coast.

Xena had found herself in town at the time of the attack and with the small garrison stationed there,

she had been able to repel the warlord, inflicting great damage on his army. He had withdrawn

but not before swearing revenge. Now he had enacted that plan.

Her shoulders slumped for only an instant as she thought about the daunting task ahead. She was not afraid to face the aging warlord. She relished the chance to send him to Tartarus, but she was afraid for Gabrielle. Afraid of all the things the merciless warlord would do to her friend. Her heart settled a little lower in her chest, an indescribable ache filling that once empty cavity.

Gabrielle was in danger because of her past and the ex-warlord wondered for the hundredth time how many more misadventures the bard would willingly face before deciding it was too much. She dreaded the thought of the younger woman going home and leaving her all alone.

Xena pushed those thoughts from her head. She didn't want to think about that right now, she couldn't afford to think about that. She needed to concentrate, to focus on the task at hand. She needed to free Gabrielle.

She straightened her shoulders, regaining the composure she had lost a moment earlier, yet as determined as she was, she couldn't keep the thoughts from clouding her brain of why her friend was in danger.

Too many people were guessing the truth. Too many people were learning the kink in her armour. Perhaps she was to blame, certainly it wasn't Gabrielle's fault. She had been too open with her emotions, too ready to expose herself at the bard's expense. It was bound to get around that Xena, Warrior Princess had a weakness and that weakness was the bard.

The expression on her face tightened. It was a look that scared even the most feared soldier. It was also a look at which Gabrielle only laughed. No one would dare approach her as the young bard did. No one would have been brave enough to stand up to her but the young blond and in doing so the woman had wormed her way into the Warrior Princess' life and her heart.

The tension in her body increased. She had fought against that invasion but it had been a battle she had lost from the first moment she had laid eyes on the girl, standing valiantly up to a band of slavers. She had saved Gabrielle that day and in the process had saved herself.

In her warlord days Xena had taken anything that had caught her fancy and there was plenty of individuals both men and women who had done that, yet with Gabrielle it was different. The emotions that filled her were unlike anything she had ever experienced. Even more then those she had felt for Marcus and she had been in love with him.

But Gabrielle was always there, in the back of her mind, slowly nibbling at her heart until she was truly consumed by the young bard. For the first time she wanted more than just the woman's body. She wanted her heart and soul too.

It was a sobering realization, one that she kept to herself, ashamed to acknowledge the intensity of her feelings. Gabrielle was so full of life, so innocent in many ways that even her brief marriage to Perdicus had not put a dent in that innocence.

Xena felt a crushing weight against her heart as she thought about the dead man. It had been

watching Gabrielle marry that boy that had made her see the truth. Until then she had been able to deny those feelings, but that day she had felt an anguish she had never before experienced. It had been overwhelming and to this day she acknowledged that if Callisto had not killed Perdicus and Gabrielle had stayed with her husband, she would have lost the battle for her own soul.

It was a solemn truth and one she lived with every day. Callisto had saved her, returning Gabrielle to her side and ensuring that she would never go back to her old ways. With the bard at her side it was hard to fight the darkness that threatened her soul, without the woman it would have been impossible. Gabrielle was her light and her strength, and the main reason for her to keep moving away from the past.

Of course that meant that her friend travelled a very uneasy road. Gabrielle was not only forced to endure the ex-warlord's troubling moods but all the evil of her past. A past which like now occasionally caught up with them.

Xena pushed those thoughts aside and brought Argo to a halt. The forest was beginning to thin and across the next meadow was Barcchus' castle. It wasn't more then a small village with high walls. It was formidable but not impenetrable and the warrior slipped off the horse and began to contemplate her next course of action.

Barcchus stared through the small shutter in the door at the young girl lying on the earthen floor. A feral smile came over his lips. She was a pretty young thing and he reminded himself that when Xena finally made her appearance he would congratulate the ex-warlord on her excellent taste.

He knew two things with certainty. One was that Xena, Warrior Princess would come and two, that he would enjoy taking this bard and making her squirm in pain. The smile deepened. Perhaps he would even make the Warrior Princess watch.

A cruel laugh rippled from his throat. He had it all figured out. He would take the bard's body, ravage it while the Warrior watched. He wanted to see Xena in pain and if all the rumours were true then this would hurt her more then plunging a sword through her heart.

He snapped the shutter closed. He would get great joy out of this and after taking his pleasure, he would allow his men a treat. By the time they were done, both women would be shattered parts of a self they would no longer recognize. That was if they were still alive.

His evil laugh penetrated the thick walls of the cell and Gabrielle found herself shivering. It was cold and damp in her prison, but it was the sheer evil of the sound that made her heart pound erratically.

"Oh Xena, why couldn't I have listened to you?" she lamented. "Why can't I ever do anything you ask without putting up a fight?"

It was a question to which she already knew the answer. She had been smitten with the tall dark haired woman from the moment Xena had stepped forward and saved her from those slavers that day in Potedaia. Her heart had dropped to her feet and the breath had seeped from her lungs, so that

she had almost not been able to breath. That feeling had never gone away and there were still

moments after three long summers when she still caught her breath at the sight of the Warrior Princess.

From the very beginning she had challenged the ex-warlord and all for the sole purpose of getting the tall raven haired woman to notice her. Xena knew who she was and they were friends but she wanted the Warrior Princess to notice her beyond that. She wanted them to be more than friends but it seemed all she did was annoy and irritate the stoic Warrior.

In frustration she had even gone so far as to marry Perdicus, knowing that though she loved him, she could never be completely happy. The realization that she had used him and caused his death had brought with it an overwhelming feeling of guilt. Yet she had also experienced a sense of relief that she had been freed from a terrible mistake.

As difficult as her life with Xena was, she embraced every moment of it. She enjoyed the long days on the road and the adventures they shared, both the good and the bad. They had lost each other several times and had drifted apart as a result of Solan's death and Hope's part in it, but they had grown stronger as individuals becoming a whole from two lesser halves. Now she couldn't even imagine a future without the Warrior and the mere thought of it caused the tears to flow freely once more.

Xena crouched low. She had decided on a plan of action and was now waiting until darkness settled over the land. She briefly closed her eyes and immediately Gabrielle's image filled her thoughts causing another wave of sadness to assault her senses.

In many ways the bard was like a child, trusting her implicitly to extract them from any situation. It was a heavy load to carry but Xena bore that burden willingly. Yet she couldn't ignore the nagging fears that one day she might fail, arriving to late too save her friend. It was a fear she carried with her every day. A fear that drove her on when she was both mentally and physically spent. The last thing she wanted was to let her friend down.

She sighed and settled into her hiding spot. She would kill anyone who harmed the bard. She would make their death a slow, torturous affair, allowing their blood to drain them lifeless while she watched.

She caught her thoughts, aware that Gabrielle would not want her death avenged in that way, but Xena doubted she would be able to control her actions. It had been hard enough to watch the bard die once, it would be impossible if it happened again.

She took a deep breath to steady the pounding of her heart and attempted to detach her mind from her emotions. But it was impossible to separate herself from her feelings. She could no longer revert to that cold, selfish person she had once been. Too much had happened and even though the darkness sometimes threatened to consume her, she felt too much now to ever go back to her old life.

"Gabrielle, just hang on, I'm coming love," she chanted the mantra softly to herself.

Gabrielle woke with a start as the heavy door was pulled open and watched as two burly men stepped in. They dragged her roughly to her feet and then across the room and out into the hallway. She stumbled but they only grunted before lifting her up by the armpits and carrying her the rest of the way.

She was brought into a huge room with a collection of chairs positioned in a circle around a table which sat in the middle. Gabrielle couldn't make out much more before she was unceremoniously placed on the table where her hands and feet were quickly tied down with leather straps. Only once she was secure did the two men move away. Their presence was replaced by another man, an older gentleman with long greying hair that fell passed his shoulders. The wolf furs that covered his body where dirty and smelled foul.

A shiver raced up her spine as he stepped forward into the light and she could see a twisted smile on his bent and cracked lips. There was a large, ugly scar that ran down from his eye across his left cheek to his jaw. She watched his lips twitch involuntarily.

"So you are Xena's little bard," the man said with a low rumbling growl. He reached out and with the tip of a crooked finger traced a line down her body. Normally the action would have been seductive but the bard only cringed, her head filled with wild imaginings. She was afraid but she schooled herself not to show any fear.

"You are quite beautiful," he continued when she didn't speak. He moved his hand to her breast and roughly fingered the tip. "If I forget, remind me to compliment Xena on her excellent taste. I shall like taking you and showing you what I can do that Xena can't. I shall like having something which belongs to her."

Gabrielle flushed at the implication of his words. He thought that Xena and her were lovers. Though she wanted it to be true, it wasn't.

"I don't belong to Xena," she said in a firm voice, hoping to dissuade the man from doing what she thought he intended to do.

The warlord looked at her sceptically and snorted in disbelief. "I know Xena, she has a taste for beauty and a sexual appetite that is renown. I cannot imagine her putting up with someone like you without taking her pleasure. Unless...." the smile on his face hardened. "Unless it is true what they say. Unless she has changed."

"Xena has changed," Gabrielle readily agreed.

"Perhaps," the man smiled knowingly, "but if she does harbour feelings for you then it will hurt her all the more to know that I have tasted your flesh. You know I had thought to wait but now I am not so sure."

He was weaker then he thought and the only thing that now occupied his mind was to possess something that the former warlord had not. He knew it would hurt Xena to know he had taken something which she could not have.

The man gave in to his primal instincts and grabbed the laces of the green halter top, ripping it open and then off the bard. The display of lust and evil that radiated from his presence made Gabrielle catch her breath and close her eyes. She tried to struggle against the bindings but it was useless and she fought to control her nausea as his hands cupped and then squeezed the tender flesh of her breasts.

She wanted to scream and fight what was happening, but she was powerless. Rather than repulsing the man, her every movement seemed to incite his desire yet she could not will her mind or body to submit to his touch. He was not gentle, tearing her skirt off before forcing himself upon her, using his brute strength to separate her legs and defeat any resistance she offered.

Gabrielle clamped her teeth and eyes shut, blocking out the image of the crude man who mounted her. She would not give him the pleasure of acknowledging the pain he inflicted as he penetrated her body. A solitary tear rolled down from the corner of her eyes as she was forced to endure his brutality.

Fortunately the assault did not last long but for the young bard it was an eternity. With a few grunts he was finished and his body stilled for an instant before he removed himself. Gabrielle lay motionless, her body numbed and bruised from the force of his rape. She wanted to cry and her lower lip trembled but she refused to give into her emotions.

"Have I hurt you little girl?" he asked in a low voice and then laughed again. "This is nothing compared to what Xena would have done if she had captured you in her warlord days."

Gabrielle did not want to acknowledge the thoughts that poured into her head at his words, yet she was too beaten to stop the suggestion from taking root in her head.

"She would have used and abused you little girl and made you hurt in more ways then you think possible," the warlord paused, glancing towards the shadows where his personal guard stood watching. "Be on your guard for Xena Warrior Princess will be here soon," he paused and then glanced over the naked bard. "To bad she was to late to help you."

Xena moved stealthily over the wall, dropping into the courtyard. She withdrew her sword from its sheath and moved cautiously through the shadows. She knew Barcchus and instinct told her that he would have a trap awaiting her arrival. She had never been to his castle and had to rely on experience. She guessed that the prison cells would be below the main castle and to get to them she would have to go through the main quarters.

It was quiet and dark. To quiet and every one of her senses were on alert. She was uneasy, the tension in her body building in her muscles as she stalked through the empty alleyways.

A slight movement at the corner of her eyes caught her attention. Without thought she thrust her sword towards the motion and the hapless soldier hiding in the shadows of a darkened doorway slumped to his knees, clutching his stomach as he fell face first to the ground.

Xena knew that Gabrielle would disapprove but she was beyond caring. The anger she felt manifested itself into the only type of vengeance she knew how to exact. To her this was not a time to

be compassionate.

She slipped in to the castle through the kitchen which was suspiciously empty and then moved along

the torch lit hallway, fugitively glancing through the open doors of each room she passed. Her ears were alert, listening for any sound.

She came to what she suspected was the main meeting chamber and paused, glancing into the brightly lit room. Her heart thundered and her blood began to boil as her pale blue eyes fastened on the naked bard tied to a table in the centre of the room.

"Gabrielle!" she whispered, unable to mask the anguish she felt.

Gabrielle stirred, summoned from her lethargy by an invisible force. The warlord had left her alone but she could feel his henchmen nearby. They had lit every torch in the room, illuminating every crevice and recess. Despite the light, the place felt cold and dark. Her heart was pounding erratically inside her chest.

"Gabrielle!" Xena called again and rushed into the room, pausing briefly to grab a brocaded curtain from off the wall near the door and pulling it down.

"Xena no, it's a trap," the bard called but it was too late for the Warrior Princess was already kneeling by her side. She carefully draped the curtain over the naked woman offering the only protection she could to the shivering bard.

"Xena," Gabrielle was unable to hold back the tears now that her saviour was there. The warrior had come to rescue her like she always did.

"Oh Gabrielle, I'm so sorry," Xena said gently stroking the bard's face, feeling the wet tears upon the back of her hand. Her heart sank to the bottom of her stomach as she realized she was too late.

"So you finally decided to grace us with your presence," Barcchus said as he and his personal guard stepped out from a secret passageway in the room.

Xena ignored him, fighting to contain her humanity but it was a losing battle. She was powerless against the crush of emotions that began to overwhelm her senses. She slowly rose to her feet and turned to look at the man.

"Too bad you are to late. Your friend was quite a delight but you don't know that do you," it was his words as much as the evil laugh that followed that lit the fuse in her brain. She screamed her mighty warrior cry and spun on her heel swinging her sword, her blood maddened, her mind in a rage.

The guardsmen rushed in attack, thrusting and parrying but they were no match for the Warrior Princess and Barcchus watching from the sidelines felt a true fear. The look on the warrior's face was new and more fearsome then he had ever seen. The woman fought with a power and determination that was fuelled by raw emotion. The warlord knew then the grave mistake he had made. The woman before him was possessed by something that could not be tamed. It was as if his actions had unleashed all the evil in Tartarus.

When the last soldier had fallen the Warrior Princess turned to the aging warlord, her blue eyes huge

and round, the twist of her lips radiating pure evil. He raised his sword in defence but it was a wasted effort for the strength the woman possessed at that moment was so powerful he believed she could have taken on and defeated the mighty Zeus himself.

Xena swung her sword sweeping away his weapon as if it were a dead branch hanging limp upon a tree. He put his hands up to plead for mercy but there was none as the double edged sword, crimson with his soldiers blood thrust through his hands and straight into his heart.

The Warrior Princess watched as the warlord slumped to his knees and then fell face first onto the floor, his red blood pooling beneath his still body. She stood in the silence, her chest heaving mightily as she slowly surveyed the carnage she had wrought. She felt no remorse even once the blood in her veins began to cool.

"Xena," the soft voice brought her head around and in an instant she was on her knees by the table. She slashed the ropes binding the bard and then re-sheathed her sword.

Gabrielle could hold her tears back no longer and cried openly as the Warrior Princess gathered her into her arms. She lifted the bard and then carried her out the door walking stoically through the main house. She paused at the front threshold and stared at the faces of the remnants of the warlords army.

There was a moment of tension before a silent agreement was reached. The soldiers put down their weapons and cleared a path, giving the Warrior Princess free access to the main gate. By the blood that covered the woman they knew what had occurred in the main house and none were willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause that was already lost.

Once outside the gate Xena whistled and Argo appeared out of the dark night. She held the bard tightly as she mounted the horse and then with a click of her heels they were off towards the small campsite she had set up earlier. Now that the battle was over, physical exhaustion began to set in, yet using shear willpower she chased it away, drawing the bard tighter into her embrace.

The fire she lit earlier was still burning and slipping off the horse she set the bard down on their bedrolls. For a long moment Gabrielle clung to the other woman afraid to lose contact least the warrior disappear.

"It's all right Gabrielle, you're safe now," Xena assured her, letting her breath fan the bard's cheek.

The lashes over the green eyes fluttered as the grip loosened and the Warrior Princess gently disengaged the arms from around her neck. Immediately she went to work collecting salves and herbs from the saddlebags. She boiled some tea and then handed it to the bard who gingerly sipped on the bitter medicine.

"It will help you sleep," Xena assured her friend placing a comforting hand upon the woman's shoulder. "I need to go down to the creek to get some fresh water. I won't be gone long."

She saw the look of fear flash across the bard's eyes and would have done anything to take that look

away. It was a look that reached into her chest and squeezed her heart until she thought it would burst. Only when the bard finally nodded did the Warrior Princess move quickly through the darkness down to the creek.

"I'm back," she announced upon her return and quickly put the water over the fire. She removed it when it was hot, aware the small woman would feel more comfortable when her body had been washed.

The Warrior was infinitely gentle as she ran the damp cloth against the smaller woman's tender flesh. The darkness could not hide the marks and bruises that had been left and Xena felt an overwhelming anger surge through her veins though she was able to control her emotions. She didn't want too add to the bard's pain. She applied the salve to the bruises and then faced the younger woman.

"Gabrielle did he..." she left the question open and the bard nodded and buried her face in shame amongst their blankets. A deep anger rumbled in the pit of the warrior's stomach as she realized she had been to compassionate in killing the warlord.

"I have to check," she said trying to keep her voice neutral and Gabrielle understood lying back and opening her legs, dropping an arm across her face to hide her embarrassment.

Xena did a methodical check and was glad that the man had not done any damage. She applied the salve to the bruises on her thighs and then closed the woman's legs and pulled the blanket over her body.

"I'm sorry Xena," the bard began to apologize.

"You didn't do anything wrong," Xena breathed through clenched teeth as she fought with her own emotions.

"I tried to fight, but I couldn't and he wouldn't stop," Gabrielle cried unable to stem the flow of tears.

"I know," the Warrior said in an attempt to console the bard and appease her own guilt. "There wasn't anything you could do."

"It hurt," came the whispered admission as green eyes stared into the darkness. Xena had to look away unable to face the young woman. She had failed and because of that Gabrielle had been made to suffer. She would never be able to forgive herself for that.

"The pain won't last," she lied, aware that the bard would never be able to forget what happened.

"I should have listened to you," Gabrielle mumbled fighting her sleep. "If only I had listened to you."

"No, don't blame yourself," Xena whispered turning her head away as another tear rolled down her cheek.

Blame me, the Warrior wanted to say, I left you alone. I failed to reach you in time and now your innocence is gone. She did not have the courage to look at the younger woman again until she was

certain the girl was asleep. For a long moment she stared at her friend watching the steady rise and

fall of her chest.

"Forgive me Gabrielle, forgive me for failing you," the Warrior whispered.

It was light when Gabrielle woke again and the bard lay quietly listening to the rhythmic swish of stone on steel and without having to look she knew Xena was sharpening her sword. She closed her eyes comforted by the familiar sound and the secure feeling she got with being safe once again.

The Warrior Princess glanced towards the girl, aware the young woman was awake. Her hands continued their rhythmic motion and she was almost glad when Gabrielle didn't stir. She didn't know what she would say. She didn't know if she could look at the woman without her guilt shining through.

As a ruthless warlord she had committed many crimes, some more heinous then the one Barcchus had enacted against the bard. Back then she had never thought about the consequences of her actions yet last night she had been made to face the nature of the cruelty.

Xena had not slept, kept awake by the cold, dark memories of her past. How many people had she tortured in the same manner that Barcchus had tortured Gabrielle? Too many and it was only witnessing her best friends suffering that she understood the kind of pain she had inflicted on her victims. She wondered if she would be able to live with that knowledge.

It was much later when Gabrielle opened her eyes again, wrestling her brain from Morpheus. This time she stared across at the Princess. There was a dark expression on the woman's face and her heart sank.

She's angry with me, was the bard's first thought. She closed her eyes and willed herself not to cry. She wouldn't be able to bare it if the Warrior looked at her differently now. She took a deep breath and gathered the courage to sit up and confront her fears. Xena at once looked up, her face expressionless but the blond woman saw the flash of darkness in the pale blue eyes.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," the Warrior said in a light voice, trying to act natural but she could not keep the edge off her words. She wanted to beg forgiveness.

"Good morning," Gabrielle replied, her voice as stiff as the muscles in her body.

"How do you feel?" Xena thought it was a stupid question but asked it anyway.

"I don't know," the bard replied honestly and for a moment the hands stilled and Xena looked down at the ground.

"It's all right to be angry," she growled in a low voice.

"I don't know it I'm angry or just sad," came the sad admission.

Xena was quiet, wondering how she could answer. She didn't know how to comfort the woman. What Barcchus had done was a savage act.

"It's all about power Gabrielle and the desire to dominate, to show that they are stronger then you and in control," she said at length breaking the growing silence.

Gabrielle was silent, remembering what Barcchus had said and knowing that Xena was talking from experience.

"I better get up," she said abruptly, no longer wanting to talk about the subject. Which surprised the Warrior because normally the bard wanted to talk about everything. "We can still make Amphipolis by evening if we hurry."

"No Gabrielle, there's no rush," Xena said hastily. "We can stay here for as long as you like."

"But it's your mothers birthday tomorrow," the bard insisted. "You were looking forward to being there."

"It's not important now," the Warrior said tersely.

"Yes it is," the younger woman disagreed with a hint of anger. "Besides I don't want to stay here any longer."

Xena could understand the desire to leave this area as soon as possible but she knew that whatever was going on in her friends head, it couldn't be as easily dismissed as breaking camp. Without another word she nodded her head and set about clearing up camp.

Gabrielle was not surprised to find her clothes in a neat pile next to her bedroll. The garments had been washed and the rips in the seams restitched. She had Xena to thank for it but rather than say anything she mutely got dressed.

"Do you want to ride?" the Warrior Princess asked but her friend only shook her head and so they walked together in silence down the road towards Amphipolis.

Normally Xena enjoyed the quiet but today the silence made her uneasy. Perhaps it was because she didn't want to wrestle with her thoughts, aware that her friend's silence only seemed to emphasis her guilt.

"Tell me a story," she said at last breaking the silence.

"I don't much feel like telling one now," came the uncooperative response.

"Then I'll tell you one," Xena chirped mimicking her friend but it didn't bring the expected smile.

"No, the silence is kind of nice," the bard said glancing at her companion briefly before looking away. "I understand now why you sometimes get annoyed with me."

"I never really get annoyed," the stoic Warrior hastily corrected her friend's assumption. "Most of the time I'm just teasing...."

"And the rest of the time you are annoyed," Gabrielle finished. "Sometimes I wonder why you put up with me."

"Because you are my friend," was the unequivocal answer.

"But why?" the bard asked and Xena sensed a deeper question

"Why does anyone become friends," the tall woman shrugged her shoulders.

"Because they have a lot in common," Gabrielle answered her own question unable to mask the sadness in her voice. "We have nothing in common."

"Sure we do," the words came automatically out of her mouth.

"What?" the smaller woman demanded to know. "What do we have in common?"

For a few minutes the tall Warrior anxiously searched her brain for a response and then had to conceded defeat. The bard was right, they didn't have much in common but that still didn't mean they couldn't be friends. She said as much.

"Friends don't always have to have a lot in common, they just have to be able to get along."

"But we don't always get along," the blond woman persisted and Xena was beginning to get annoyed.

"What's your point Gabrielle?" she asked a little more sharply then she should have.

"Maybe it would be better if we didn't, you know, hang around together any more."

There it was out and both women looked at the statement differently.

"Do you want to go home Gabrielle?" Xena asked quietly, her heart trembling and threatening to break apart.

"No but I thought you might be tired of having me hang around," the smaller woman said softly unable to look at her friend. "I know you didn't want me around in the beginning."

"That was a long time ago," the Warrior Princess said. Oh, God, she thought, what would I do without her?

"But I always get into trouble," the girl continued, hesitating over her next words. "Like yesterday."

"No!" the Warrior Princess almost shouted and the bard instinctively jumped a few steps backwards as startled green eyes focused on her companion. "What happened yesterday was because Barcchus was after me and he used you as a pawn. I'm the reason we always end up in trouble."

For a brief moment the curtain shielding the stoic Warrior's face dropped and the bard was able to see pain and something else. Something she could not decipher. She took a deep breath to steady

her trembling emotions, watching as the ex-warlord turned and started walking away.

Gabrielle stared at the straight back knowing that Xena was hurting almost as much as herself. She wanted to tell the woman that it wasn't her fault, that none of it was, but a part of her knew it was a lie and that what the tall woman said was true. She was at war with the emotions that were overwhelming her senses and so she said nothing,

Without another word the bard fell into step behind the Warrior. Neither of them spoke the remainder of the journey, reaching Amphipolis just before dusk. After saying a brief hello to her mother, Xena left Gabrielle at the tavern and took Argo to the stables.

Cyrene was overjoyed to see the two women but she only had to look from one troubled face to the next to know that something was wrong and she meant to find out what. She watched her daughter walk away before wrapping her arm around the young bard shoulders and leading her into the tavern.

"You looked starved my dear, are you hungry?" she asked.

Gabrielle nodded, realizing that she had not eaten anything all day. The older woman escorted her into the kitchen settling her at a table with a hot bowl of lamb stew before hurrying out to finish serving the other guests in the tavern.

"Do you want to tell me about it?" Cyrene asked sympathetically when she returned to the kitchen. She sat down in a chair across from the younger woman. She noticed with satisfaction that the young bard had finished the entire bowl of stew she had set out.

"We ran into trouble on the journey here," Gabrielle chose her words carefully. "It wasn't much really except that it upset us both."

The older woman knew there was more to the story than the girl was admitting. She had seen her daughter and the bard numerous times after they had been through troubles and never once had they looked as miserable as they had today when they walked into town.

"Perhaps it would make you feel better if you told some of your stories tonight," the older woman suggested, wise enough not to press her young friend into saying more than she was ready to say. "I know the townsfolk would love to hear you."

"I don't really feel much like telling any stories right now," the bard said and Cyrene knew that there was definitely some trouble. Settling another glass of ale in front of the bard, she excused herself before hurrying off to find her daughter. It didn't take much to know where she'd find the woman.

"What's going on?" Cyrene demanded finding Xena brushing down Argo in the stables.

"I don't know what you mean."

The older woman snorted in disbelief and Xena winced at the sound. "First I barely get a hello and then Gabrielle doesn't want to recite any stories tonight. Don't try and pretend something isn't


The tall woman sighed. "We ran into some trouble."

"So Gabrielle said," Cyrene agreed noticing the warrior's eyebrows knit together in surprise.

"She told you?" the idea that Gabrielle would rather talk to her mother then her hurt, but in hindsight she supposed she would be lucky if the bard ever wanted to talk to her again.

"No," her mother admitted reluctantly, "but whatever it was it must have been something serious."

"It was," Xena sighed again and stopped brushing Argo. "Gabrielle got hurt and I wasn't there to stop it."

"You can't always be there."

"I have to be," the Warrior said through clenched teeth. "Don't you understand they only hurt her because they want to get back at me."

There was silence as Cyrene stared at the intensity in her daughters blue eyes. She saw more then she suspected Xena wanted her to see and she wasn't entirely comfortable with the knowledge. She had heard all the stories and knew the truth but she only believed what she wanted to believe. But she honestly liked Gabrielle so ignored the rest.

"It isn't always easy to accept that bad things happen to the people we love," Cyrene forged ahead aware she was on unfamiliar ground. "No matter how much you love Gabrielle, you have to

accept that you aren't always going to be there, no matter how much you want to be."

"But I have to be," Xena disagreed angrily. "Don't you see mother, Gabrielle is only hurt because of me. If I'm not there to protect her who will be."

The older woman was silent. She could see the anguish her daughter felt and knew that nothing she said could appease the younger woman's guilt. She swallowed the lump in her throat.

"When you first left home I was very unhappy and in spite of what you did or who you became, I never stopped loving you. I never lost faith that some day you would come home, come back to me as the little girl I had known. When you did I saw that you had changed, that you were a different person but my love for you didn't chance. It never will."

Xena was quiet, eternally grateful that her mother had been able to forgive her past misdeeds but in spite of the bard's compassion, she wasn't certain that Gabrielle could have that same forgiveness and that was what was tearing her apart.

"When you love someone as much as you love Gabrielle," Cyrene continued and put up a hand when her daughter inhaled sharply. "And when she loves someone as much as she loves you, there will always be forgiveness."

Xena turned away from her mothers prying eyes. She couldn't look at the older woman afraid to reveal to much.

"It's not what you think mother, Gabrielle doesn't love me," the Warrior voice was toneless. "After what she learned she could never love me."

"I think you're wrong," the older woman dared to voice the opinion and then wisely knew it was time to withdraw. "I think you are so busy looking at her that you have forgotten to look at her."

Xena said nothing but she was aware that her mother having said her peace had withdrawn. She turned and stared across the empty stable. She knew how Gabrielle felt, she had seen the moments, the slight glances, the intimate touches, but she had ignored them just as she had ignored and denied her own feelings.

Gabrielle was everything she was not. She was good and kind with a heart filled with innocence and love. That was so different for she was none of those things and the last thing she wanted was to do was taint that goodness with her own darkness. She didn't want to spoil that beauty she saw when she looked at her friend yet she was afraid she had already done that by allowing the girl to stay and exposing her to her past. With a sigh she mulled over these thoughts while she finished grooming Argo.

Gabrielle didn't wait for Xena to return and walked over to Cyrene's house on her own. She was tired and in desperate need of a rest. The last few days had taken their toll. Naturally she found her way to the Warrior's old room and lay down on the bed. This was where they had slept the last time they had visited and she had no reason to think anything had changed. She unlaced her boots and then curled up on the pallet, her eyes closing and giving in to her exhaustion.

When Xena at last wandered over to the tavern she was told that Gabrielle had left. She found the bard sleeping in her old room and instinct made her want to climb onto the bed and curl herself around her friend as she did so often. But tonight she restrained herself settling her long frame into the chair by the fireplace. It was late into the night before sleep finally lay claim to her weary senses.

Gabrielle woke before the dawn, stirred from her slumber by faint memories. She rolled over half hoping to curl into the warm body that usually lay next to her, but on this morning the other side of the bed was empty. She lifted her head and spied Xena sleeping soundly on a chair across the room.

Her heart contracted at the sight and she knew from experience that the Warrior would be all knotted up in the morning but she made no move to disturb the older woman's sleep. It was obvious that Xena was repulsed by what happened and that idea caused a stirring of anger.

She rolled over, turning her back to the Warrior and sobbed quietly, unwilling to let the other woman see her tears. Xena was not fooled. She could hear the quiet shudders and through she wanted to comfort the bard she held back, blaming herself for the pain the other woman felt.

Xena stole out of the room as soon as Gabrielle had fallen back to sleep. She could not bare to stay there any longer, afraid of what she might do. Instead she went to the stables, to Argo and took him out for a long hard ride.

It was late in the morning before Gabrielle finally wandered over to the tavern for breakfast and Cyrene noted that the bard's usual cheerfulness was missing. She had not seen Xena since the previous evening and the look of pure misery on the young woman's face suggested that the Warrior had been avoiding her as well. On instinct she asked for the girl's assistance and Gabrielle eagerly jumped at the chance to help out. She would rather be busy then sitting and thinking.

Xena didn't return until late in the afternoon and she immediately sought out her brother Toris to offer her assistance for the evening party. The man eyed her curiously but said nothing even though their mother had spoken to him about the two women. He knew his sister would not appreciate any interference in her life and so without mentioning anything, he immediately put her to work hanging streamers.

Xena glanced at the bard when she stepped from the kitchen into the main room but she made no move to cross the room. She wanted to know how her friend was feeling but she was scared to ask. Afraid she might be rejected. Gabrielle knew, clearer then ever, what she had done in her warlord days. She knew the person she had been.

The bard looked up across the room at her friend and for a brief moment blue and green eyes met. There was no expression in the pale orbs and she knew then what she had to do. She thought about returning home but then decided against that. What Gabrielle needed was to be with people who understood. In the morning she would suggest they go see Ephiny at the Amazon village.

The party was a boisterous affair and though Gabrielle thought she would not be able to have fun, she found herself enjoying the festivities. Xena hung out near the bar not really in the mood for celebrations yet she saw that Gabrielle was beginning to smile again and that made her happy. It was near the end of the evening when the bard motioned everyone to be quiet. Only once the crowd had settled down did she walk over to Cyrene and hand her a small cloth bundle and a piece of parchment.

"This is a small gift from Xena and me," she said quietly. "We don't get around as much as we should but when we do you make us feel at home."

Cyrene blushed standing up to hug the bard before being cajoled by the others to open the small bundle. She cried with delight at the offering and hugged Gabrielle again before reading the parchment.

Xena shifted uncomfortably on her feet as she strained to see what Gabrielle had bought. It was a wood craving of a small shepherd boy guarding three sheep. A smile touched the corners of her lips as she guessed at the symbolism of the trinket. Even in the midst of her own distress the bard had found time enough to think of someone else. The realization made the Warrior feel more humble then she imagined possible.

Secure in the knowledge that her friend was well taken care of, she slipped out of the tavern and walked across to the stables. She picked up the horse brushes and started to comb Argo's mane, intent on using this time to sort through her thoughts.

"Xena," the soft voice spoke her name and the Warrior didn't have to turn around to know who it was.

She continued to comb the horse.


"I was wondering," Gabrielle's voice faltered, worried that the Warrior was upset at her for following her out of the tavern. "I was wondering if we could go visit the Amazon's. It's been awhile since we've seen Ephiny and the others."

"I was thinking the same thing," Xena admitted aware of how in tune their thoughts were.

"Were you?" the bard seemed surprised.

"Mmm," the Warrior nodded. "We can leave tomorrow if you like."

"Yes," the girl nodded and then turned to go. She had been intent on pressing the Warrior to talk but suddenly her courage had deserted her.

"Gabrielle," Xena's voice made her heart leap and she turned to look at the older woman who saw the hope on the young face. "I want to thank you for what you did for my mother, it was very nice."

"She makes me feel like a daughter," the bard confessed with a blush, glancing down at her booted toe.

The Warrior nodded and not knowing what else to say turned her attention back to the horse. "We'll leave early tomorrow."

Gabrielle had hoped for more but nothing was forthcoming so she slowly moved out of the stable, returning alone to their room. It was much later when Xena appeared and for a long moment she stared at the bard lying on the bed, her green eyes closed in slumber. Quietly the Warrior took off her armour before tossing a bedroll onto the floor and stretching out on the hard wood surface.

They were off early the next morning much to the chagrin of Cyrene who had hoped they would stay

longer but she could see the trouble between them and hoped being out on the road would draw them back together. Before they left she made them promise not to take so long in coming back.

The situation between the two friends hadn't improved by the time they reached the borders of the Amazon territory two days later. They were greeted by the guards and then escorted into the village where everyone turned out to greet their Queen.

Ephiny was the first to embrace Gabrielle and greet the Warrior Princess. She was also the first to detect the distance between the pair. It was like the time that Solan and Hope had died. They had managed to come back together after that and she hoped it would be the same today. The Warrior and the bard were suited for each other in so many ways. They were good together, as friends and companions.

Ephiny walked Gabrielle to the Royal hut while Xena took Argo over to the stables. The Amazon could tell her Queen wanted to talk and they had barely stepped into the privacy of the hut before the bard burst into tears. She gathered the smaller woman into her arms and held her tightly, guiding her over to the bed where they sat down. It distressed her to see the normally strong and resilient woman in such despair and she listened as the smaller woman related what had happened in the last few days.

"And now Xena won't even look at me," Gabrielle said at the conclusion of her story.

"Perhaps she feels guilty for not reaching you in time," Ephiny said logically.

"I know she thinks she failed," the bard was smart enough not to know the truth. "But she didn't, she rescued me."

"Did you tell her that?"

"Yes, but she doesn't want to listen," the girl sighed, feeling incredibly tired. "You know how stubborn she is. She gets something into her head and then won't change her mind."

"Kind of sounds like someone else I know," Ephiny countered dryly, embracing her Queen gently. "You know Xena better than anyone. She needs to work it out."

"Yes, but normally she lets me help," Gabrielle replied. "She doesn't even sleep beside me any more."

"Is that important to you?" the Regent asked tentatively, aware they were broaching a touchy subject.

"Yes," the bard admitted flushing with embarrassment.

"Have you told Xena this?"

"No, I'd be to scared," the blush deepened and the expression became desperate. "What... what if she rejected me?"

Ephiny doubted that possibility. She had seen the way the Warrior Princess looked at the bard. She had caught the glimpses of the affection the tall woman cast towards their Queen. That the stoic woman had not done anything about that both surprised and pleased the Amazon Regent. If the Warrior could restrain herself, then she had changed and her feelings for their Queen were genuine.

"You never know until you take the risk," she said diplomatically. "Maybe you just need to tell her what you want?"

"How can I say anything when I don't know myself," the bard replied her shoulders sagging.

"I think you know," the Regent wasn't about to let her Queen get off so easy. "What do you want Gabrielle?"

The bard took a deep breath. "I look at Eponin and Solari and I see all the love they share. The way they gently touch each other. The unspoken communication."

"They are lovers Gabrielle," Ephiny wanted the bard to understand. "Are you certain you want that

with Xena?"

"Yes," the younger woman nodded her head. "There are so many times when I just want to reach out and hug her, but I'm afraid too."

"Then maybe it time to stop being afraid," the other woman shrugged. "You follow your heart so often Gabrielle, why don't you trust it now?"

There was a pause. "Nothing had been this important."

"Trust your heart Gabrielle," Ephiny said.

"I don't know what to do," Gabrielle admitted with another blush.

"What did you do with Perdicus?"

"That was different."

"Not so very much," the Regent smiled gently. "When you are with someone you love, the physical stuff between you just happens naturally. Besides I wouldn't worry Xena can probably show you."

The smaller woman's blush deepened as she wondered when everything had changed. But of course she knew. The moment she saw Xena the axis of her world had shifted. Suddenly an idea occurred to the other woman and she wondered if it was the stumbling block.

"Does it bother you that Xena is so worldly?"

"No, most of the time it amazes me that she knows so much."

"And at other times?"

"I get a little jealous," the bard confessed with some embarrassment. "There are times when we meet someone that she's shared some history with and it makes me a little bit crazy. I know it's stupid."

"It's not stupid, you are in love and those feelings are quite natural," Ephiny shook her head. "What I suggest my Queen is that you talk to Xena the way you have just talked to me and you will be surprised by what you learn."

Xena sat on a crate outside the stable and continued to polish her sword even though it already gleamed. Her eyes were on the Royal hut where Ephiny and Gabrielle had disappeared, her mind unable to deny the truth.

She was jealous. She admitted that easily enough even though she knew nothing was going on, but still she couldn't shake this beast from her back. It hurt that Gabrielle might be having an intimate chat with the Regent. Several times she had stood up to interrupt the couple but she had only taken a few steps before stopping and turning around and heading back to her seat. Once she had even

gotten as far as the door before she had changed her mind.

She scowled at the pair of Amazon's who were standing guard over the hut and witness to her indecision. The smiles on their faces quickly disappearing once they received the look, realizing that they had tempted fate enough.

Finally Ephiny appeared and the scowl on the ex-warlords face deepened. She watched as the Amazon Regent strolled across the yard and sat down. They hadn't really liked each other at first but over time they had come to respect and admire each other for their individual strengths and abilities. The Regent particularly liked the way the Warrior was so protective of their Queen.

"Did you have a nice chat?" Xena asked unable to keep the edge out of her voice.

"It was enlightening," Ephiny said nonchalantly. "You should talk to her yourself."

"She doesn't want to talk to me," came the cool reply. "For the last six days she had barely said anything."

"Maybe she's scared too," the blond woman suggested. "After all Xena when you get in one of your moods you can be pretty intimidating."

"Gabrielle knows I would never hurt her."

"That doesn't mean you don't scare her," the Regent was practical. "Hades, your dark moods even frighten me and I'm a warrior. As strong as she is, Gabrielle is still only a bard."

"She is pretty plucky though isn't she?" Xena couldn't help smiling.

"A handful," Ephiny agreed. "I'll bet sometimes you get tired of looking out for her."

"No," there was no hesitation in the voice. "I'll never get tired of looking out for her."

"I think she needs to hear that from you," the Amazon said. There was silence and the Regent knew the Warrior wasn't going to say any more so she stood up. "She doesn't expect you to be perfect Xena, nobody does. She just wants you to be there to help her through this and she certainly doesn't blame you for what happened. Talk to her Xena."

Yeah maybe I should, Xena thought but said nothing and finally the Regent left and she was alone again as no other Amazon dared approach. She thought about what Ephiny said. Finally she stood up, sheathed her sword and walked across the village. She strolled into the Royal hut only to find the bard curled up on the cot. She thought about turning and leaving but her emotional wrestling matches had left her exhausted.

She was tired and it had been too long since she had felt the woman's warmth next to her body. She lost the battle of common sense and took off her armour. She unlaced the bard's boots before climbing into the bed and stretching her body out against the sleeping woman.

She sighed and buried her face in the strawberry blond hair that spilled out on the pillow. It felt like she had just taken a long drink of icy cool water on a hot day. It felt that good to feel the woman by her side. She closed her eyes and allowed her thoughts to drift.

"Xena?" the soft voice murmured and the older woman opened her eyes to see a pair of green orbs staring at her. She must have fallen asleep.

"Mmm," the Warrior said, feeling drugged. Her mind told her to put distance between them, but her body wouldn't move, a traitor to her emotions.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the warriors waist afraid the woman would bolt away before they were finished talking. She had decided to take Ephiny's advice and clear the air. She would risk everything, knowing that if she didn't she would probably lose it all anyway.

"I don't blame you for what happened," she said softly and immediately felt the warrior's body stiffen. She latched one leg over her companion locking a tight grip on the taller woman, though she wasn't certain that if Xena wanted to move she wouldn't be able to lift her right off the bed. She forged relentlessly ahead. "What happened with Barcchus was awful but I don't blame you."

"Gabrielle don't you see that it was my fault," Xena said in a anguished voice, their close proximity making her uncomfortable. She was aware of every square inch of her companions body that was pressing against her. "I wasn't there to protect you."

"You can't always be expected to be there, you rescued me and that's all I wanted," the bard said.

"You don't understand, you were only hurt because they were trying to hurt me."

"Don't you think I know that," Gabrielle said tightening her grip prepared for a struggle that wasn't forthcoming. "I know being with you is a risk and it's one I willingly accept."

"How can you do that?" the Warrior asked as her blue eyes searched the bard's face. She spoke very softly. "How can you stand to be near me, knowing what I've done?"

"It's because I know you aren't that evil person any more Xena," Gabrielle said and then took a deep breath, realizing that now was the time to reveal the truth. "And because I love you, more then I have ever loved any one else."

Xena lay silent, absorbing her friends presence as she sorted through the words. Gabrielle was uncertain the Warrior understood and so she leaned forward and laid her lips gently over the older woman's mouth. It was a tentative kiss that was followed by a second more urgent embrace. For a moment the dark haired woman closed her eyes and savoured the soft taste of her friends lips as her body began to grow warm. She had dreamed of this moment.

"Gabrielle," she breathed heavily, not wanting to break the embrace but needing to put distance between them. She was beginning to enjoy this situation far too much and needed to get it under control before anything more happened. She fought against her natural instincts. "You don't want to do this. You're emotionally overwrought and later when you've come to your senses you will

regret this."

I've made a mistake, Gabrielle thought in panicked dismay as the Warrior grasped her wrists and wrestled herself out of the embrace. Tears moistened the green eyes and unable to stem the flood the bard rolled over and began to sob.

"Oh, Hades," Xena hissed through clenched teeth. She sprung out of bed and hurried out of the hut. She paused and gulped huge breaths of air in an attempt to steady her shaking limbs. For an instant it felt as if the whole world was closing in around her.

She took off in a run, sprinting through the sleeping village and out into the surrounding forest. It was a long while before her calmness returned. She paused, her breathing heavy as she stared up at the sky and uttered another curse to Hades.

More then anything in the world she wanted Gabrielle, to feel herself wrapped in the woman's arms with her warm breath gently caressing her skin. She had often dreamed of what Gabrielle was offering but she knew that now was not the time. The bard was fragile and much of her actions were being dictated by recent events. It was natural that the younger woman turned to her for comfort.

But that didn't mean she really meant what she was doing, Xena reminded herself. The bard had been seeking comfort as a way to erase the images of what had happened. Later Gabrielle would regret what was done and their friendship would never be the same.

She wanted to reach out and hurt something as much as she hurt. Gabrielle might not blame her for what happened but she certainly blamed herself. She had failed to protect her beloved and once again they were living with the results.

Yet at the same time she wondered if this was at last a chance for her to show the bard the extent of her true feelings. Feelings that she was having a hard time disguising. Perhaps it would be best to confess, aware that she would not be able to hide her secret much longer from the woman who had lived at her side for three summers.

Gabrielle cried herself to sleep, curling her body up into a tiny ball, feeling at her lowest ebb. The realization that Xena didn't want her was more painful then anything she had ever experienced. She wondered if she would ever be able to face the Warrior again.

It was candlemarks later before the bard awoke and she was instantly aware of the deep blue eyes that were intently focused on her face. Xena was sitting on a chair at the end of the bed, her face a mask.

"I brought you some tea," the Warrior motioned to a cup of steaming liquid that sat on a chair by the bed. The bard sat up and dutifully picked up the cup. She could smell the strong mint flavouring.

"Xena," Gabrielle said before blowing on the hot liquid.

"Drink!" the word was a command that the smaller woman instantly obeyed.

Xena waited until her friend took a sip of the tea before continuing. She had thought long and hard through the night and while she debated the one thing that stood out was that it was time to be honest with the bard. She had to tell Gabrielle the truth and risk whatever came after that.

"I want you to be quiet and listen," she began as the bard looked across at her with those flashing green eyes. "Last night when you offered yourself to me I couldn't accept even though there is nothing more in this world that I want. But I am afraid Gabrielle you are looking at me for all the wrong reasons."

"No," the younger woman started to speak but Xena gave her the look and she closed her mouth again.

"You have been treated badly, taken advantage of in the worst possible way, but not all men are like that," the Warrior said struggling to find the right words. She was having a hard time expressing her thoughts. "Remember how it was with Perdicus."

"It was awkward," the words slipped out along with the blush and the expression on the older woman face softened.

"It usually is the first time but it gets better," Xena continued, never suspecting she would ever have this talk with the bard.

"You prefer men?" the question was asked before the woman could stop herself.

"I have had many lovers," the ex-warlord said quietly. "But they were all for the mere purpose of satisfying my physical desires. It couldn't be that way with you."

There was silence as Gabrielle waited for the Warrior to continue. Xena took a deep breath. She would rather be in the midst of a fierce battle then to be here right now. She could contend with a hundred warlords before she could contend with one little bard.

"I care for you Gabrielle, more than anything else in the world and the last thing I want to do is hurt you."

"Can I say something now?" Gabrielle asked when the Warrior fell silent. The former warlord nodded her head. "We have travelled together for so long and faced so much together that I feel like you are a part of me. Every day we spend together I realize I wanted more from you than just friendship. I love you."

There is was finally said and silence once again filled the room. For a long moment the small woman was afraid to look up, scared at what she might see in the other woman's face. She could imagine the horror her companion might feel at her confession. Unable to bare it any longer she glanced up.

Xena was silent, her blue eyes scanning the other woman's face. If she had any more doubts they were gone the instant that she looked into those green eyes. It was all there, the young bard's soul laid bare and she knew without a doubt the truth of the feelings they shared.

"Gabrielle," she whispered moving quickly off her chair and across the room. The smaller woman barely had enough time to put down her cup before being swallowed up in a huge embrace.

Ephiny glanced around the village, her grey eyes settling on the Royal hut. She had not seen Gabrielle and Xena at breakfast that morning and in fact no one had seen them since their arrival the previous afternoon. Earlier she had spoken with the Amazon's who guarded the Royal hut and had been assured that all was well. The tattletale smirks on their young faces had told her what else she had wanted to know.

However, it was getting on towards dinner and a festive meal had been planned. Everyone was expecting their Queen to attend yet the Regent hesitated disturbing the couple, uncertain whether it would be a prudent move. She knew the pair needed time alone together.

Her relief was evident when the pair choose that moment to step out of the Royal hut. The Amazon Regent peered intently at the couple. They looked so good together, the Warrior's strength and distrust a perfect compliment to the bard's compassion and loyalty.

She saw the way the Queen glanced up at her Champion and held her breath. A smile came unbidden to her lips when she noticed the tender look in the Warrior's eyes as she lifted her hand and lightly caressed the smaller woman's cheek. It was an intimate and telling gesture that told the Amazon Regent that everything was all right. With a broad smile she walked across the compound to greet the new lovers.


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