By Marie E. Costa

Here is another story. I hope you all enjoy it! The standard disclaimer. The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal. No copyright infringement is intended, and this all came from my
brain, and is not taken from any literary source or any other source whatsoever. No one gets the blame for my stories except me.

The two travelers were slowed by the thickening mist that covered the forest path. The air was damp but warm on this unseasonable winter day. The fog settled uneasily around the shoulders and swirled softly
to reach the ground, hiding the trees and brush from sight. Eyes constantly shifting from side to side as she stepped ever more carefully one small step at a time, Xena spoke. "We need to find a place to stop." She looked at her small companion. "The fog is too thick and we could lose our way if we press on."

"But we'll miss the festival." Gabrielle complained.

"One wrong step and we'll be missing more than your precious festival." Xena said dryly.

Gabrielle pouted. "You never wanted to go anyway." She stopped walking. "I'll bet you even planned on this happening." She threw her hand in the air and shook her head. "Ya, if a village was in danger you'd be out there searching for it, but because I want to go to a FESTIVAL it's too dangerous!" Gabrielle hissed, angrier with every passing second. "Well fine, then. You stay here. I'm going on."

"Gabrielle!" Xena grabbed the young bard's arm. "Listen to me," She leaned over and looked into the girls eyes. "I might not like festivals, but I would never deprive you of enjoying one. I didn't create this weather and I will not be blamed for it." Her grip tightened as Gabrielle struggled to free herself. "Stop it!" She demanded. "You are staying with me. Understand." She commanded.

Gabrielle froze at the frosty command. Although she had often heard the tone Xena had never used it on her. Ice flashed in her eyes. How dare she command her - she wasn't one of her soldiers! "I am so sick
of your MISS PERFECT KNOW-IT-ALL ATTITUDE! I AM NOT SOME STUPID LITTLE GIRL!" And holding her hands up in front of her, she continued. "Fine! We'll do it your way, again!"

"Gabrielle." Xena said.

Gabrielle threw her hand in front of her face, "Whatever!" she said sarcastically and turned away, effectively closing the subject.

Xena rolled her eyes and followed the bard. It was going to be another rough day...

The fog got thicker. The way was impossible and still Gabrielle trudged forward one tiny step at a time. Xena followed behind, leading Argo. The air was filled with a thick tension. Xena patted Argo, dropped the reins and took a quick step forward, reaching out to grasp Gabrielle as she did.

"Let go of me!" Gabrielle snarled. An unreasonable anger had been building with every step she had taken. She was finished with taking orders from Xena.

"Fine." Xena pointed the way, "Step forward, just don't expect me to climb down that cliff after you." Xena turned away. "I am stopping. If you insist on killing yourself then go ahead, but I will not kill
Argo because of your selfishness." She picked up Argo's reins. "Come on girl, there's a clearing on the other side of the road, we'll rest there until this fog lifts." She spoke more for Gabrielle's benefit than for the horse's and they all knew it.

Gabrielle didn't move. She knew she was behaving unreasonably, but for once her kind nature was overruled by her personal desires. It was a clear case of 'What about me? When is it my turn?' If a step
forward meant death and a few steps back meant conceding to Xena, she'd go to the side...

Xena sat on a log. She'd long since given up trying to light a fire in this dampness. She bit into a meat stick and wondered where Gabrielle was. If the young woman got herself killed over wounded pride Xena would storm the gates of Hades to kill her, herself! Ohhh, she was irritating! She pulled out her wineskin and took a long drink. Nothing to do but wait...

Gabrielle felt the ground in front of her with her staff. Ever since the cliff incident she had been nervous, but determined to prove to Xena that she could handle herself. She'd almost gone over the cliff twice and was more shaken up than she wanted to admit, but she wasn't going to give in.

Gabrielle rounded a corner and walked straight into a bandit camp. "Oh, Oh!" She took a step backwards and met a wall of a man. The staff was yanked out of her hands. "I have a bad feeling about this." She gave a half-hearted grin to the men surrounding her.

"Well boys, it looks like our evening just got a little brighter." A dirty pock-faced, blond bearded man said, as he ran his hand alongside Gabrielle's face.

Gabrielle smiled at the man, turned her head and bit his hand. The man screamed in pain and slapped her head. Gabrielle let out a loud scream -partially to mask her anger, and partially in the hopes that
her friend hadn't given up on her and would know something was wrong.

Xena's head snapped up. A scream? Was that the wine she'd been drinking or Gabrielle? She looked at the empty wineskin, then to Argo. "I better go check. After all, if that was Gab, I..." she
never finished the sentence too afraid of what she might do.

"Damn this fog!" She slowly crept forward, Argo trailing behind her. Gabrielle hadn't managed to get very far - just around a couple of bends. Xena heard voices and the crack of a whip. Anger lit her face
and dropping Argo's reins, she grabbed her sword and ran forward.

Relying more on sound than sight, Xena leaped into the small clearing, straining her eyes to make out people. She knew Gabrielle by her silhouette in the thin moonlight and the fact that her hands were
tied. "Hello boys." Her voice was low and throaty, a gleeful smile lit her face with an unholy glow. "I see you have a taste for bondage. Wanna try your luck on me?"

Shocked by the second intrusion into their little camp the bandits stood and listened, before becoming enraged by her comments and rushing forward to get her.

The blonde threw himself at her, sword high and to one side. She laughingly blocked his upraised arm with her own, driving her elbow into him, then caught hold of his ears and slammed her knee into his
groin, hard. His eyes bulged and he fell, huddled around his private parts. Four men attacked by circling the warrior woman, but Xena was already spinning on one heel. With a piercing shout she leaped high,
kicking out with one foot as she continued to spin in the air, hitting all four men and somersaulting over the fallen bodies. She landed near the tied-up girl. She clamped a hand on the shoulder of the bandit closest to Gabrielle and used him to launch herself into the air, straight into the body of a man with a bow in his hands. The air went out of him with a loud guffaw. Calmly she stepped off the body and stepped toward the man who had loaned her his shoulder. The man blanched and ran away. She glanced around the camp. No one was left standing. She sauntered over to the bard and smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile.

Gabrielle didn't speak, just stared at her benefactor. Xena slowly reached up and started to untie the girl's wrists. "You might say 'thank you'."

Gabrielle pulled her face back. "You've been drinking."

"Yup!" She gave the girl a half smile, "and when we get back to our little camp I'm going to drink some more!"

Gabrielle rubbed her sore wrists. "Xena, I don't think that's a good idea." She leaned down and picked up her staff before following Xena out of the bandits camp. "Look Xena, the fog is starting to lift and we could just go on."

Xena turned to look at Gabrielle. "You want to go on? Feel free. I am tired, wet, hungry, and thirsty." She shook the bags in her hand at Gabrielle. "I just liberated these wineskins from those idiots and I intend to at least remedy my thirst!"

Gabrielle stared apprehensively at her friend's back. She'd only seen her act this way once in the almost two years they'd been together. Oh, she was an idiot...Lyceus. His death.

Slowly she followed Xena back to her makeshift camp. "I'll try to find semi-dry wood." She said, dropping her bag by the log and stepping into the woods.

"Be careful." Xena called, as she prepared Argo for a long rest. She had no intention of going anywhere in the morning - certainly not to some dumb festival. She looked longingly at the wineskins laid next
to Gabrielle's bag, but continued to groom Argo. Her release could wait.

By the time Gabrielle got back with wood Xena was leaning against the log, wineskin in hand. Gabrielle bit her lower lip, but said nothing. Her problems with Xena would have to wait until this crisis was dealt
with. Lowering her head she went about the duties normally tended to by Xena - setting the fire and clearing a spot for their sleeping bags - before she started a stew cooking. Afraid to talk to Xena, she sat
opposite her at the fire and took out her scrolls. Perhaps she could write what she thought...

Xena grew more morose with every mouthful. She glanced resentfully at Gabrielle and took another sip. The girl was such a naïve innocent. She threw away the second wineskin and opened the third. Even after two years of travel she insisted on taking people at face value. She tilted her head back and took a long draught. It had almost gotten her killed more than once, and who was forever saving her? Did she
get even a small 'thank-you'? No, she got a 'I don't think you should drink so much.' She wet her lips and drank again. She should be at home with a husband and babies, not out here risking death every day
and for what? A broken warrior and a handful of stories? Oh! But she has no husband. He's dead - MY FAULT AGAIN! She tugged at her hair, wanting the memories to stop, but they just kept coming. She drained the wineskin and threw the empty skin away, breathing heavily, anger taking over her mind. Hands clenched and unclenched as the past was relived in a drunken haze - living nightmares about battles won and lives lost. She listened to the sounds inside her head, lost to the world around her. Sounds of swords clanging, battle-axes hewing down men, bloodcurdling screams from the dying, the pain and fear of the innocent villagers, her own laughter at the power she wielded, her brother lying dead at her feet - the first of many comrades to die for her. It was too much. She stood and screamed her rage to the world.

Gabrielle fell back in shock, and dropping her parchment, leaped to her feet. "Xena!" she hurried to her friend's side. "Are you all right?"

But Xena was in a fog. She lashed out in a drunken fit, knocking the bard to the ground, before disappearing into the woods. She ran as though on fire, trying to outrun the coldness that lived inside her
soul. Branches tore her face and roots tripped her, but she got up and ran on.

Gabrielle lay stunned on the forest ground. Slowly she raised a hand to her face. Blood dripped from her nose and her lip was split. She sighed, "Argo, I think we're in trouble." She looked into the darkness. "I'm never going to find her in this." Fear settled like a lump of ice in the bottom of her stomach. She lifted herself up, wincing at the pain that was just beginning to register. If she was to have any luck in catching Xena she'd better hurry. Carefully she saddled Argo and put away all their supplies, including the four empty wine skins. Before putting out the fire she made a torch and taking Argo's reins in one hand and the torch in the other, she headed after Xena. The path was easy to follow, as long as the torch would last. Gabrielle shivered. Fear pressed her forward.

Xena crashed headlong through the forest not noticing the many cuts and scrapes she was gathering, escape her only thought. Escape from what she couldn't say. Over and over she heard the screams of those long dead and she cried for release from the torment. She ran until her legs refused to carry her. Still her mind was locked in a cycle of self-hate brought on by the drunken memories. She relived each
battle, this time with new eyes, seeing how many people she'd destroyed...those who sought her love and those she never knew by name.

Gabrielle pressed on, though the torch was flickering its last flames. Finally she saw the sprawled figure of Xena. A gasp escaped from her throat. Dropping Argo's reins, she ran forward and knelt by the
Warrior's side. "Xena?" Gabrielle questioned tentatively. No response. Gabrielle gently reached down and turned the woman over. "Sssss," she hissed through a sharp drawn in breath, as tears fell from her eyes. "Oh, Xena what have you done to yourself?" She looked at the ruined face of her beloved friend. Xena's eyes stared vacantly. The torch sputtered its last flame and went out. "Damn." Gabrielle stood up. First things first. Don't panic. I need to get a fire going, find water, get her cleaned up. Maybe it's not as bad as it looked...

Gabrielle cursed softly as she gazed down at Xena. The firelight had served to accent how bad she really looked. The tree branches had acted as whips and cut stripes across her face, her arms, and her legs. She had evidently banged into something a time or two and fallen at least once. She truly looked as though she'd been through a war. Her hair was full of mud and straggling around her face. One eye was turning black and starting to swell, her cheek was cut and bleeding - as was her lower lip, a dark bruise ran across the top of her forehead. Gabrielle carefully stripped the warrior of her armor, thankful that whatever nightmare Xena was living, she was unable to attack outwardly. She didn't think she could protect herself from Xena - even a drunk Xena. Gently she began to clean Xena using the water she'd heated over the fire, and thanked whatever gods had allowed Xena to pass out near a stream. It certainly saved her a lot
of time.

Gabrielle leaned back and looked at her handiwork. Xena was clean now. Her hair hung limp but clean, framing her beautiful face. The bruise a dark blotch, the cuts angry looking scratches. She looked at
the bruises and cuts that ran along her arms and legs and shook her head sadly. Xena was going to be one sore lady when she woke up. "Ow!" Speaking of sore, her own mouth still hurt. She got up and
walked over to the fire. "Too late to cook anything, but maybe a nice hot tea before I rest."

Sipping her tea, she leaned against a tree and watched over Xena. As time passed Gabrielle became increasingly fretful. 'I don't know what to do.' She thought worriedly, drawing aimless scribbles in the dirt. 'She just lays there, shivering and muttering in her sleep. I forced an herbal tea down her throat, and water before that, but have no idea if it helped or not. What is going on in her mind? I am never going to let her drink again! I hope she has the worst hangover anyone ever had in the history of the world!'

Xena's world crashed around her, fragments from many days blew in and out as she fell deeper into the abyss. 'Ice within, form the wall, no love, no pain, no loss.' The litany came from some unknown depth, and became her mantra. Somehow it was her key to survival and she repeated it until it become a part of who she was now and would remain.

Morning dawned bright and full of promise. Gabrielle yawned and stretched. "Ow." She touched a hand to her swollen lip. It hurt to move her mouth, but not too bad. 'I hope Xena doesn't ask how I got it. She'll get angry with herself.' Thinking of Xena made her look to the blankets. To her surprise the warrior woman was sitting up staring at her. "Xena? Are you all right?" She started toward her friend, but stopped, shocked by Xena's reply.

"Who are you?" Xena pondered her with a puzzled frown. "and what am I doing here?"

Gabrielle stared mouth open. "Xena? It's me, Gabrielle! Your best friend. Remember?"

Xena's mouth twisted. "Best friend?" She snorted. "A pip-squeak little nothing like you?" the snort became a laugh. "I don't think so. Besides, I have no need for best friends." She closed her eyes
briefly against the pain of a hangover and glared at the girl. "Now try again and this time tell the truth." She smiled sardonically, "You don't want to make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." The softness of her words underlined the threat inherent in them.

Gabrielle paled. She had spoken the truth, but this Xena was one she'd never known. What was she supposed to do?

"I'm waiting."

Gabrielle stepped backward, frightened by the woman before her. Xena, sensing the fear, smiled unpleasantly and rose in a graceful, catlike motion. "Not thinking of leaving are you?" Xena wet her lip in anticipation of the joy she always got from the fear in the eyes of peasants like this little girl. A sharp pain lanced through her head, as thoughts conflicted for a moment. Shaking her head she stepped
forward and with every forward step the woman in front of her took one step back.

Gabrielle glanced around the clearing. Her staff was behind her at the tree. Fear caused her to swallow convulsively. How could she get her Xena back? 'I'm no match for her. Talk. I need to talk my way
out of this.'

"Okay," she held her hands out in front of her and closed her eyes, bowing to Xena's power. "I'm not going anywhere." She flinched fearful of being hit. Cowering didn't come easy, but it was obvious
that Xena was looking for just this kind of reaction. "You've been ill and I have been nursing you. I belong, ahhmm, with you." Embellishing was what Bards did best.

Xena paused, twirling the explanation over in her mind. "In the woods?"

Gabrielle bit her lip. "Yes." Her mind worked furiously to explain things enough to satisfy Xena and keep them safe until she could figure out what to do. "You were half crazed with fever, and didn't trust anyone in the village. So you made me bring you out to the woods...safer here than trapped in some house, you said."

"Humph. If I didn't trust the people in the village, why did you come with me?" She nodded her head, wincing at the pain.

"But I'm not from the village," Gabrielle said puzzled. No act needed for this, she thought. "I've been with you for awhile...taking care of your needs. Don't you remember?" Please let her buy this.

Xena frowned. Thinking made her head hurt. Fleeting images of a redheaded girl walking at her side flitted in and out of her head. "Okay, what did you say your name was?"

"Gabrielle." She swallowed hard.

"Fine." She changed the line of questioning. "How long have I been sick?"

"Amhm," Gabrielle hesitated, unsure what would sound reasonable. "A week or so."

Xena stared at the girl. Something didn't feel right, but she couldn't put her finger on it. "And how long have you been traveling with me?"

"I'm not very good with time." Gabrielle said weakly...no way Xena was prepared to hear the truth. "But it has been over a year."

Xena nodded. "I expected that answer." She took the final steps needed to bring her to tower over Gabrielle. She could feel the girl quake with fear, but the girl knew enough to stay still...maybe she
had been traveling with her, but why couldn't she remember her? "Do you know what I can do to you?"

Gabrielle looked into her friend's eyes and saw an emptiness that tore at her soul. "Yes, you could cut the flow of blood from my brain and I would die." She stared unwavering into those azure eyes and
continued, "for you won't be satisfied with my answers no matter how truthful they are. And if you kill me, I want you to know, I forgive you. There may come a day when you recall just who you are to me, and I want you to remember I forgave you." Tears filled her eyes as she spoke.

Xena gazed into the green eyes and felt a sharp pain lance through her brain again. She felt ill. Maybe this could wait. She needed a drink! Abruptly she turned away. "Get me a drink!" She demanded.

"No." The response was quick and low. Gabrielle picked up her staff and stood her ground. "It was the drinking that made you ill. I won't help you hurt yourself again." She said, shaking.

Xena stared in surprise. Defiance! From one who was obviously her slave - although she couldn't recall what had made her take a slave. She'd have to whip the girl. It was the only way to deal with defiance, even with her soldiers it was the easiest way to keep discipline. At the thought of her soldiers panic set in. She couldn't remember where they were. Why wasn't she with them? What in Ares name was going on here?! Time to take the kid gloves off. She strode purposefully back to Gabrielle. Noting with surprise the staff and the battle stance the girl had taken, she laughed. "Come on, little girl," She egged the girl on by raising her hand in a come hither motion. "Show me what you can do." A gleeful smile rose on
her face, as she prepared for a quick scrimmage.

Gabrielle swallowed hard. This was the last thing on Earth that she wanted to do, but Xena had left her no options. She truly hoped that when Xena came to her senses she'd remember her words.

She lunged straight at Xena, twisting at the last second, surprising the Warrior and ramming the staff into her midsection. Xena was flung back. A little more fight in this than she'd anticipated. She grinned. Oh, the joy of combat! Power filled her aching body and she shrugged the pain away. She reached for the staff as it came at her midsection again, but Gabrielle had already pulled it back and swung the staff in a vicious arc. Xena barely had time to flip out of the way. Landing on her feet, Xena twirled in the air and back flipped over the girl with the staff. Coming up behind her, she slammed into her back. The girl fell forward, loosing her grip on the staff, but immediately started to jump up. Xena pressed her advantage and kicked the staff away before backhanding the girl across the mouth, sending her flying across the clearing. Gabrielle went down again and this time stayed there.

Xena bent over the still body of the girl. She had to admit the kid had guts. Noticing the girl was awake, Xena quirked her mouth. "I warned you." She crouched beside the girl and gripping her neck, tap, tap. "Now you've got less than a minute to live. Tell me the truth, or I will watch you die." She smiled unpleasantly.

Gabrielle gasped. Dead silence filled the clearing. "Xena! I love you! I forgive you!" Then she drew a shuddering breath and gasped.

Xena gazed into her eyes. Even in death, the girl's eyes held no blame. She swore. "I must be going soft!" She quickly reversed the pinch.

Gabrielle gasped, caught her breath and rubbed her neck. "Talk about your close calls." She said weakly.

"I let you live." Xena said dryly. "Now tell me what in Hades name is going on around here."

Gabrielle nodded. "All right. I'll tell you everything, from my perspective." She crossed her legs and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. "But you'll have to promise to listen to my whole tale
before doing or saying anything."

Xena stood, her hands on her hips, looking down at the girl. "You are in no position to bargain." She stated.

"Nevertheless, you want our story you'll agree..." she paused and looked up at Xena "...or, you can kill me now."

Her voice held a depth of sadness that bewildered the Warrior Princess. The girl made her uneasy and she didn't know why. "Fine, I'll do as you requested." She sat across from the girl and looked into the sea-green eyes that looked at her with a tenderness she couldn't recall seeing in anyone's eyes before, except Lyceus'. Another flash of pain. This time she gripped her head to make it stop.

"Xena?" Fear, not of her, but for her, in Gabrielle's voice.

What was going on? "I'm fine." She declared. "Begin your tale." She winced away the pain and forced herself to glare at the girl.

Gabrielle faltered. She'd half risen to help, but fell back as the cold blue stare once more stabbed her heart. "When telling historical, tales it is best to start at the beginning. Our tale begins almost two years ago at the edge of a village known as Poteidaia." Gabrielle began in her best Bardic voice and Xena leaned in to listen.

Time past and evening drew near, still the two woman sat - one listening, one talking. Events unfolding fell on unbelieving ears...so many things to have shared and not recall. What of her army and treasures? Those things she remembered. Cortese and his destruction...Lyceus dead...she remembered.

Gabrielle's voice was drying out. She had paused earlier in the day and gotten the water skin, but they'd run out. Her tale was over now anyway. She tilted her head sideways and waited for a reply, blinking
with mild expectation. Xena would either kill her out right as a liar face or...

Xena sat silently. The Bard had finished her tale. Whatever else Xena thought, there was no doubt in her mind that the young woman was a true Bard. What a tale she had spun. If even half of what this
Gabrielle said was true, why couldn't she remember any of it?

Time stretched on, neither woman moving - Gabrielle afraid to and Xena lost in thought, trying to remember. But for her it was as though the past two years never existed. Unbidden, stray thoughts that seemed unrelated flitted in and out and with each one came another sharp pain. "Ice within, form the wall, no love, no pain, no loss." She repeated the strange words. They seemed to comfort her somehow.

"What?" Gabrielle's head snapped up. "What was that you said?" She asked, frowning.

"I don't know." She shrugged. "It's just some little ditty I picked up somewhere."

"Repeat it." Gabrielle demanded. "Repeat it loud enough for me to hear."

"Why?" Xena sputtered. "It's just a dumb little poem. It means nothing."

"If it means nothing, why won't you share it?" Gabrielle asked earnestly.

"Okay." Xena nodded her head. "I'll share it." A pain lanced through her head. The poem wasn't meant for sharing. She shook her head, where had that thought come from? She closed her eyes and taking a deep breath, repeated the words that comforted her. "Ice within, form the wall, no love, no pain, no loss.'' The ache within eased, the wall grew stronger, the bards power weaker. Soon...soon no more pain ever.

Gabrielle listened in shock. That was a powerful rune from days gone by...how had Xena learned it? It was a dangerous power. It was meant to kill love. She shook her head. That didn't explain Xena not
knowing her and losing two years of her life. She drew in her breath. How stupid could she be! Xena fell and hit her head! The big bruise on Xena's forehead had been staring at her all day! That's why the
warrior couldn't remember.

"Enough talk!" Xena commanded. She rose to her feet. "I am well now. It is time to find my army." She looked down at Gabrielle, daring the girl to defy her.

"You have no army." Gabrielle replied quietly.

"I shall have an army." Xena's eyes blazed. "An army bigger than my last one." She looked around the clearing. "And when I do I will become the Most Powerful Warlord to ever live. All will fall before
me. Her mouth quirked as she remembered past glories and looked hungrily to the future.

Gabrielle wet her lips. How was she to bring Xena back, and before she did something they'd both regret...

"Come, girl!" Xena called to Gabrielle. "Stop dawdling. I am going to have to get you a horse."

"I don't want a horse." Gabrielle muttered.

Xena raised an eyebrow. "You prefer to trot at my side?"

"It's worked for two years." Gabrielle replied.

"Well, it won't do any longer." Xena declared. Scanning the road ahead she smiled. "I do believe I see your horse now."

Gabrielle felt sick inside. Xena was going to steal a horse, and for her. Oh, what was she supposed to do? She wished Hercules was here. He'd know what to do.

Xena sat confidently on Argo, blocking the road. She waited patiently to see who her newest victims would be. Perhaps some Lords. That would net a good horse and hefty purse! Or, maybe it would be a
merchanter, or perhaps mere peasants like the chatty girl she was traveling with. She grinned as the Caravan came into sight. Traders! Good!

First in sight was a boy, walking ahead of the train. She knew from experience that he was the lookout - moving items out of the way of the train and warning the train of possible bandits.

The boy scanned the road ahead. A horse was in the middle and a bandit sat waiting. How many were hiding in the brush. He cursed under his breath and called to his master.

"Go check, boy!" The man demanded. "See what he wants. If we can get by with paying a stipend, good! If not, well that's what I hired guards for."

The boy trotted ahead, eyes widening as he realized the figure in front of him was a woman. "Ah, ah, my master wishes to know what he can do for you Mistress."

Xena smiled. "Oh. He does, does he?" She touched her heels to the horse, causing her to dance sideways. "Tell your master I desire a horse, and tell him if it's not a good horse there will be blood spilled here today and none of it mine."

The boy nodded his agreement and ran back to the caravan.

The man laughed. "A woman! Guards!" He called his hired help. "A woman threatens my cargo. Go deal with her."

The three guards rode forth. Xena laughed. "Ha! Bad choice my friend. Hai!" She dug her heels into Argo's side and charged toward the advancing men, sword out and ready. She laughed as she sliced one
man's arm open, and twirling around, threw her chakram at the second, before jumping from the saddle to meet the third man on the ground. She ducked under his swing and twirled around, sword clasped in both
hands. And a wild excitement filled her body as she drove the sword straight up and through his body. The edges of the blade scraped his ribs. His body arced and made a strangling, gasping noise as he died.
An unholy glowed filled her eyes and she laughed as she pulled her sword out of the dead man.

Gabrielle, hidden in the bushes, fell to her knees and lost her lunch, gagging over the sight she'd seen. "Oh, Xena!" She cried out in pain. "What am I to do?" A sour taste of bile lay in her throat. It was up to her to stop this monster before she had the power of the past back. But how? Tears streamed down her face for the innocent men lying dead by Xena's hands.

The warrior woman heard a noise and paused. It was her weak slave. Something about that thought troubled her, but she shrugged it off and whistled for her horse, who came at a trot. Leaping aboard, she
headed for her hard won treasures.

"Ho, Trader!" She grinned at the man quaking on the wagon's seat. "As I see it, you owe me a forfeit." She pursed her lips, her eyes flicking past him, assessing the caravan in a calculating manner. "I see no need to beggar you. All I ask is supplies for a week, a horse - I believe you have extras, now - and oh yes, your purse." She snapped him a quick, hard glance, holding his eyes. "That should make up for your attacking me."

The man's eyes widened in shocked surprise. "I-I-I attacked you!?" He stuttered.

"I'm glad you agree." She said, smiling ingratiatingly. "So hand it over, and you, boy, go fill a saddlebag with the supplies I asked for." She leaned down to take the Trader's purse. "Remember, I could have taken it all." She lifted the bag, the boy trotted over with, and laid it in front of her. "And which horse is mine? Never mind. I like this one." She trotted Argo over to a gentle looking animal, smaller by two hands than Argo. "Come on, boy." She grabbed the reins. "Good day to you and yours, Trader." She called as she galloped down the road.

Galloping around the corner she came to an abrupt halt. Gabrielle stood in the road, pale faced and quiet. Xena's face hardened. "Get on him." She pulled the reins over the horse's head. "You do know how to ride?" She asked.

Gabrielle nodded as she climbed aboard the horse. At least he wasn't as far from the ground as Argo. Trotting along behind Xena, Gabrielle was lost in her own thoughts. There was only one way she could think of to stop Xena from being the ruthless Warlord she was determined to be...

Xena stared at the little girl, a frown on her face. What had prompted her to keep someone like her around? She certainly had spunk, but not the killer instinct to survive in an army camp. "Hey, we going to eat tonight or what?"

"What do I look like, a slave? First its 'here, you take care of the horses and set up camp'." Gabrielle muttered under her breath, worried eyes meeting Xena's. "Then its 'get the water and cook some
dinner'." She turned away, freed the pot and food bag from the saddle and headed toward the fire. Outloud she simply said, "I'm working as fast as I can." Gabrielle thought about her options as she cooked. Xena was not the woman she knew. The Xena she knew would be appalled at what she'd done today, and more appalled at what she had planned. So it was up to her to stop her. The question was how to do that? Get her Xena back. How? If she knew, it'd be done already! There was really only one other option...kill Xena! Tears welled up in her eyes. How could she kill her best friend? How could she let her best friend turn back into a monster? Gabrielle cocked her head to the side, her face clouded and troubled as she watched the warrior princess. How to kill her? Gabrielle trembled at the thought - to
casually think about killing anyone, let alone her Xena. She swallowed hard, her stomach suddenly feeling queasy. Yet, she had no choice. It was impossible to get close enough to hit Xena - she'd
proved that more than once - and with a Xena that loved and trusted her! Poison? How was she supposed to get Xena to eat poison? She stirred her stew. Think Gabrielle! Think!

The pain in Xena's head came more frequently. Sharp lancing pains as though someone were taking a dagger and periodically shoving it in and out of her ear. She put both her hands to her temple and massaged it, looking around for someone to blame. "Where's my dinner?" She stood and glared at the green-eyed woman.

Gabrielle stood up, hands clenched at her side. "Let's get one thing straight," She said through gritted teeth. "I am not your slave! I told you OUR story, if you choose not to believe it that's your prerogative, but don't try to own me. It won't work." She stood still, trembling slightly, awaiting the blow she was sure would come from her defiance, but she'd rather die, than be treated like Xena was treating her.

Xena stared in shock. She didn't know if she should whip the girl or laugh. The audacity! As if what she thought or felt mattered. "Do you have a desire to die young?" She finally asked, puzzled by the girl's consistent apparent disregard for her own safety.

"Huhn." That certainly wasn't what Gabrielle had expected. She shivered involuntarily. "Not really, although you have asked me that once or twice." She shrugged an apology.

Xena winced, her headache taking its toll. By all rights she should be angry and deal with this woman accordingly, but somehow she felt proud of the girl and had no desire to hurt her. Her own softness
startled her and she snarled, raising a fist and waving it at the girl for emphasis, "Well, don't tempt me again. At least not on an empty stomach." Lifting one eyebrow she glared at the girl. "Now, get me
my dinner." She turned away, and sitting on a log by the fire, continued talking in a low voice. "You may not be a slave, but everyone has duties and yours are to set up, feed and clean up after us."

Gabrielle stared thoughtfully at Xena for a few seconds before turning back to her stewpot. She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. Xena had handed her the key to her own destruction...if she could
gather enough courage to do it. "This won't take long." She announced. "Just a few more herbs and we'll be all set to eat." She reached into her bag and searched for the right herbs. May all the gods forgive her. She bit her lower lip to hold back a cry. Slowly she stirred the stew, good-byes already said in her head. If Xena were to eat it, she'd have to too, but that was no problem. She had no desire to live in a world without Xena, especially since she would be her killer. She waited until the herbs were steeped into the stew. "Stew is ready." She ladled two big bowls full and broke the bread in half . Placing a bowl for herself next to the fire she rose and carried one to Xena.

"Thanks." Xena surprised her. "It smells great."

Gabrielle gave the warrior woman a half smile and quickly stepped back to her seat. Gathering the stew into her lap, she quickly began to eat.

Xena sopped the bowl with the last of her bread and licked the stew from her fingers. Well, the taste of that stew was a good enough reason to keep the girl around. "Any more?" She held her bowl out.
Gabrielle nodded. She rose and refilled the bowl, handing the warrior the last of her own bread, before silently returning to her last meal.

With dinner over, Xena reached for her sword and started sharpening it. Gabrielle marveled at the commonness of the action, as she went about cleaning the evening dishes. The poison was a slow acting one and she should have plenty of time.

Gabrielle lay down to sleep. The pain should begin soon. Xena had eaten two big bowls - more than enough to kill her. She pulled the blanket over her head so Xena wouldn't see silent tears fall to the

Xena awoke in agony. Her head was burning, her stomach a raging fire. She doubled over in pain crying for help. Her pleas went unanswered.

In the middle of the night Gabrielle had crept away, her own stomach a mass of pain, unable to listen and watch as Xena lay dying.

Xena stumbled to her feet and staggered towards the woods. She tripped over the log she'd been sitting on the night before, fell down and rolled to the side. Agony ripped through her insides and she clutched her stomach, drawing her knees in close, trying to ward off the pain.

Gabrielle leaned over the creek, the sour taste in her throat refusing to be washed out. Her throat ached from all the heaving she had been doing. She felt miserable and it wasn't just the physical illness.
She had to get back to Xena. She refused to let it end like this. She stood on wobbly legs and headed back to the camp, praying that she wouldn't arrive too late.

Gabrielle limped into the clearing, weak and aching from her ordeal. She saw the body of the warrior curled in fetal position and she cried out in pain. Running forward she fell to her knees at Xena's head.
Gently she cradled the head in her arms and keened low. Wet tears fell from her eyes. "Too late! I'm too late." She lifted her eyes skyward in defiance as she lifted the head closer to her own, then stopped, eyes open in surprise. She looked down at Xena; put her hand over her mouth. Breathing! She was still alive! It wasn't too late. Quickly, Gabrielle set up heating an herbal tea that would induce vomiting. If she could get enough of that stew out of Xena's system...Gabrielle sat beside Xena, praying she'd gotten enough of the poison out. She sighed and shifted slightly. Her rear was getting numb from sitting, but she dare not lay down. When the warrior woke she was going to be angry and Gabrielle knew better than anyone that she'd best confront her immediately - if she wanted to live. She leaned her face against the staff and looked longingly into the sleeping face of her friend.

For a confused moment after she opened her eyes, Xena didn't know where she was. Then she remembered that that little B**** had tried to kill her. A figure sat by her side. Even in the dim light she
could tell it was the girl. Her hiss of pain as she tried to move alerted the other woman, who jumped to her feet and stood in a fighting stance, even as Xena leaped into the air.

"You tried to kill me!" She snarled, before attacking.

Gabrielle parried desperately and eased into a crouch. "But I changed my mind. I saved your life!"

"Ya, right!" Xena taunted. "More likely that you were too afraid to sully your hands with my blood." Xena reached for her sword. It had been laying next to her bedroll.

Gabrielle backed up a step, fear on her face. Xena had been her tutor. She was no match for the Warrior Princess.

Gabrielle feinted with the staff, and Xena jerked back. A little slow, Gabrielle realized. The last couple of days had taken their toll on Xena. Maybe she had a chance. She changed her attack and slammed the staff into her like a battering ram, then took hold of the weapon two handed and brought it around in a hard backhand swing, but Xena hit the ground and rolled out of the way, cartwheeling her way out of harm. Gabrielle noticed the woman was breathing hard and seemed to be favoring her stomach. She pressed the opening and ran forward, twirling her staff.

Despite the pain in her stomach and the ache in her head, Xena bared her teeth at Gabrielle and lifted her sword. She threw herself forward, meeting Gabrielle's attack. Gabrielle blocked her upraised sword with her staff and twisted around, causing herself to end up behind Xena. She flipped the staff up and backwards, slamming the end into Xena's head. Xena dropped to the ground and Gabrielle stood over her, breathing heavy, staff held ready to knock her back down, tears streaming down her face. If Xena hadn't been half dead when the battle started, Gabrielle would be dead now. Her breath came in short gulps. What was she supposed to do when she came 'round again? She waited in battle stance, muscles tightening with each passing moment.

"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered. "What the..."

Gabrielle's face was lined with exhaustion, and her eyes were red from weeping. "Xena." A weariness lifted from her face. "You know me?" Her hand went to her mouth and she bit back a cry.

"I -" Xena broke off what she was about to say, confused by Gabrielle's question. "Know you? Of course I know you." She shook her head and winced at the pain it caused. "What's going on?"

Gabrielle looked down at her friend with sad, sad eyes. She wiped away a tear. "I almost lost you. I did lose you for a little while." She closed her eyes and relived the last few days. A shudder passed through her body. Gentle eyes opened and looked down at the warrior woman. "You get better and I'll tell you the whole story." She smiled sadly, "I promise."

Xena sat unmoving, head hung low. "So I hit you."

"You weren't yourself."

"Killed an innocent man."

"We don't know how innocent he was."

"Treated you like a slave."

"It wasn't that bad."

"I stole."

"Ahhmm, I guess you could call it stealing." Gabrielle nodded. "Or, perhaps retribution for the attack on you." She shrugged. "I mean, the man did say he attacked you. I heard it with my own ears."

Xena snorted. "Trying to make me feel better." She twisted her mouth. "It won't work."

"I tried to kill you."

"Only after I tried to kill you."

She looked at Gabrielle. "You really tried to kill me?"

Gabrielle looked slightly embarrassed. "Ah, ya, I-I..." Her voice trailed off and she stared into the fire.

Xena leaned forward and grasped her shoulder. Gabrielle looked into the beautiful blue eyes and her heart melted. Xena gazed into the sea-green eyes of her young friend and spoke earnestly, "You were
right to try and kill me."

"I-I, oh! Xena, I'm so sorry!" Gabrielle turned to face Xena, tears streaming down her face.

Xena reached out and enveloped her friend in her strong arms. "Hush." She stroked her hair and murmured words of comfort, until Gabrielle lay quiet in her arms.

"Gabrielle." Xena spoke softly.

"No, Xena. Not another word." Gabrielle protested. "I don't want to hear you condemn yourself again."

Xena smiled. "Okay, but what are we going to do about the horse?"

Gabrielle looked up, surprise on her face. "I suppose we can keep him for now." She cocked her head questioningly, "Can I ask you something?"

Xena looked puzzled. "Anything."

"Where did you learn this rune - 'Ice within, form the wall, no love, no pain, no loss.'?"

Xena frowned, "Where'd you hear that?"

"You." Gabrielle leaned back, studying Xena's face. "You kept repeating it under your breath."

Xena's eyes glazed over as she remembered. "I found it hanging from the neck of the man who killed Lyceus. I remember reading the words and feeling the ache lessen." She rubbed her forefinger and thumb
together. "The stone it was written on was black and smooth, the letters in red. It fit my hand nicely. It was warm to the touch and I remember that whenever I held it, the pain would lessen and I could focus on the upcoming battle better." She frowned. "I lost it around the same time as I prepared to kill Hercules." She shrugged. "I haven't thought about that in a long time."

"Good." Gabrielle smiled. "Promise me you won't start saying it again."

Xena wrinkled her nose and cocked one eyebrow. "Right." She pursed her lips and suppressed a smile.

Gabrielle sighed with relief.

Xena grinned and changed the subject. "So what do you want to name your horse?"


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