Never to Forget

By Sinful [
Warrior, Bard and Healer


For Disclaimers: See Part One


Part III

A second chance we have been given,
To become what we once were.
To share our love and memories,
And all the damage we incurred.

We can't ignore the pain and passion,
It makes us who we are.
Would you risk our lives together?
Without the truth, we won't get far.

Chapter 24

The first thing to hit her was the agonizing pain. She almost went back into the comfort of the darkness. But she knew she was somewhere different, but where? She could feel the burning sensation tearing at her back and the searing heat in her hand. Even without opening her eyes, she could sense someone was with her, then she heard the sounds of them moving about.

The smells were different. These smells were soft and ... pleasant ... and clean!

The woman used every effort in her beaten body just to lift her eyelids. The soft glow of the candlelight began to focus in her mind. She looked down at her body lying flat on ... a bed! The movement of her eyes caused a stab of pain to the left side of her face. She closed her eyes for a moment until the pain was bearable. She opened them again and slowly looked around. The movement of somebody across the room attracted her attention.

Her eyes scanned the figure of a small blonde woman standing in front of a dresser.
'Who in Tartarus is that?' The startling thought entered her mind and with it ... fear. She could feel her heart beating loudly as the blond woman turned around. Gabrielle's eyes opened wide with surprise and shock. A smile started to form on her face as she laid the bowl down on the dresser.        

The two locked eyes.

The two were searching ... hoping ... until the blond woman whispered.

"Xena?" The blue eyes just stared back, showing no response.

"Xena, it's me ..." Gabrielle began to walk slowly toward Xena. She stopped at the sight of fear that entered the blue eyes.

"It's ok. I'm not going to hurt you, it's me ... we're friends. Remember we're ..." She quickly dropped the word when she realized the word lover was not important at this time. Gabrielle took another step forward, judging it hadn't been a good idea, she stepped back.

Xena said nothing, but the look of fear in her eyes remained. Gabrielle kept on talking.

        "You're going to be ok. You're with friends now. We are not going to hurt you," The moment she said 'we', Xena's eyes darted around the room, obviously in search of any danger. Gabrielle saw Xena's face ashen with pain.

She stood in silence for a moment, pondering what to do, and what information to give to her. As she started to sit on the edge of the bed, the pain and mistrust that showed on Xena's face made the bard change her mind. She reached for a chair instead.

"Your name is Xena. Something happened to you, we don't know what, but something happened and you were severely ... injured." 'We'll deal with more of that information later,' she thought.

"We brought you here, to the Amazon village. You're safe here, no one is going to hurt you."

Gabrielle could see the struggle on Xena's face, though she wasn't certain if it was a fight to remember, or a desire to forget. She looked down at her friend and her heart ached for whatever she had gone through.

"Can I get you something, anything? You want some water?" Gabrielle turned and filled a mug with some fresh spring water, and turned back to the dark warrior. Xena's fear-filled eyes had closed and Gabrielle realized she had fallen asleep. She put the mug down and leaned over to gently touch the raven black hair. She pushed away Xena's bangs with her fingertips, and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

"Welcome back to the land of the living ... now, let's get you home."
Now that Xena's fever had broken, Gabrielle no longer needed to wipe down the warrior's overheating body. She still continued to apply the salve, enjoying the feel of Xena's skin under her touch again. She watched as the bronze muscles flinched and jumped just beneath the skin, as Xena's mind continued to replay the horrible events that had happened to her. Each movement made Gabrielle's heart ache. Partly for the physical and mental pain she knew her friend was going through, and partly because as she watched those muscles move she knew it meant Xena was alive.

The wounded warrior woke several times that night, but never stayed awake for more than a minute. She never spoke, but her eyes followed Gabrielle's every movement. Early in the morning Gabrielle finally fell asleep on her cot. It pained her to know she could no longer sleep next to Xena. She knew if Xena was to awaken with Gabrielle that close the small amount of trust she had gained throughout the night would be gone.

Gabrielle was awake, but kept her eyes closed. Using just her senses, like Xena had been teaching her, she knew there was something wrong in the room. She felt a small shudder of the bed moving, then she heard the pain filled grunting. Gabrielle's eyes flew open.

"What in the name of Hades are you trying to do?" She said sternly to Xena as she jumped up from her cot. She instantly regretted her comment and tone when she saw the look of fear and horror coming from the bed.

"I'm sorry ... I'm so sorry Xena. I didn't mean to yell at you. Please don't try to move. You're only causing yourself more pain. Please try to understand, we're your friends and we're not going to hurt you. I just want to help you Xena, please let me help you."

Gabrielle took a breath and smiled as she saw Xena begin to relax back into her bed.

"What were you trying to do? ...Were you trying to leave? ...You belong here, you belong with us. We didn't do this to you Xena. Somebody else did."

Xena just stared at her, saying nothing.

Disheartened, the bard sat back down onto the chair, but for the first time, she didn't look away. She looked deep into the familiar blue eyes staring back at her.

The two women, friends, lovers ... were now ... strangers. The green eyes of the bard kept looking straight into the blue eyes of the warrior as she tried to convey the message of friendship and compassion. Suddenly the blue eyes blinked and looked away. Gabrielle was startled. She sat up straighter in her chair to see where Xena's eyes had gone.

"What? ... What is it?" She realized Xena's eyes were on the container of water.

"Water? You want water?" The blue eyes looked back at Gabrielle and she noticed an ever so slight, pain-filled nod. The little bard beamed inside as she quickly poured a mug of water. It was their first attempt at communication. She turned and slowly walked to Xena's side and knelt next to the bed.

Gabrielle was aware of the warrior watching her every move. She held out the mug of water to her friend as blue and green eyes locked in a battle of trust. Xena tried to lift her left hand to reach for the mug, but her eyes quickly slammed shut, while a groan passed over her dried lips.

Gabrielle pleaded, hoping enough trust had been gained.

"Please..." Xena slowly opened her eyes.

"Please ... let me. I won't hurt you." The cool mug of water hung in the air. Gabrielle decided to risk it and slowly brought it down to Xena's lips. The warrior hesitated, looking from the blond woman to the mug of water she so badly wanted. She moved her head ever so slightly toward the mug and then took a fearful sip.

Gabrielle smiled on the inside and outside.

"You're going to be ok?" She said quietly as Xena took another sip.

The warrior closed her eyes and enjoyed the cool liquid as it ran down her parched throat. It had been a long time between drinks. She actually couldn't remember the last time she had even had a drink. She opened her eyes and looked at the little blond in front of her. She could see the care and concern on her pretty face.

"... ank ... cue ..." The warrior spoke in a quiet, broken, hoarse whisper.

Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat when she heard Xena say something. She leaned forward trying to hear, "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you."

Xena licked her lips and tried again. The words were a little clearer but not much stronger. "... hank ... ou."

When Gabrielle heard her first words, she smiled brightly, "You're welcome, my friend. It was my pleasure."

Xena looked to the cup again and Gabrielle returned it to her lips. This time she felt Xena take a full drink, pulling the liquid from the mug as her need for water grew.

"Hey, hey ... easy does it. It's not good to drink too much after going so long without it."

Xena closed her eyes again and relaxed, but a flash of memory slammed into her brain. 'Water ...,' the simple desire for water, she remembered 'the gloved hand that drove at her face ... 'Bitches like you don't get water,' was all the voice had said.

Gabrielle saw the quick change of the features on her friend's face. A tear was squeezing out from under the tightly closed eyelids.

"Hey ... hey, it's ok." She said as she quickly put the mug down on the table next to the bed. She SO wanted to brush away the falling tear, but she knew that trust had yet to be gained.

'It's the voice,' thought the tall warrior. The pleasant, soothing voice brought Xena back to the present. She again opened her eyes.

"Are you all right, I didn't hurt you did I?"

Xena slightly shook her head NO, and slowly opening her mouth she tried to form the word, "OK," but the pain of her shattered cheek and the swelling in her stitches prevented any proper pronunciation. But the little bard had understood.

"You're ok," Xena blinked in response.

"All right ... I get it ... Hey this is good ... You blink once for yes and twice for no."

The blue eyes blinked again ... once. Gabrielle smiled and blinked back.

She stood up to return to her chair. She was too afraid to sit on the bed, fearing the trust wasn't there yet and any movement on her part may cause her friend pain. The blue eyes started blinking.

"What ... you want something?"... one blink ... Gabrielle leaned her head slowly toward Xena's waiting lips.

"I'm sorry ... could you please try again, maybe a bit slower, I couldn't understand you." Then Gabrielle heard the words, very clearly and very slowly.

"Who are you?"

Gabrielle sat back stunned and disheartened. She had almost forgotten in the excitement of their first communications. This was not her Xena.

Trying very hard to smile she said, "my name is Gabrielle ... and I am your friend."

The blue eyes blinked very slowly, but showed no sign of recognition.

"You get some rest. We'll talk more later." The blue eyes gently closed and soon Xena's rhythmic breathing told Gabrielle she had fallen asleep. She was content just to sit and watch her.

Gabrielle turned at the sound of Belinda entering the room, the healer quickly smiled a 'good morning.'
"How was her night?"

"Good, very good. She's been awake a few times ... and she's asked for water." Gabrielle smiled as the surprise registered on the healer's face.

"That's very good. Were there any problems with her speaking or drinking?"

"She spoke?" Jadax said as she entered the room. "And ... what did she say?"

"Thank you," was all Gabrielle said. They all exchanged smiles, then Jadax turned around and headed back out the bedroom door, obviously going to find Ephiny.

"Did she have any problems, my Queen?"

"She didn't do so hot forming her words. She has a really hard time just opening her mouth, but she drank water just fine."

Belinda walked over to the sleeping form and began her morning examination. The right hand was not getting any better. The healer could smell the infection boiling below the surface of the wound.

"In fact it's getting worse. We are going to have to drain it." Gabrielle felt her stomach heave.

"We'll strap her hand and wrist down and drug her." Belinda said, not looking up from the hand.

"It'll have to be today. It's under too much pressure. She could lose her hand if we wait any longer. Please hand me my bag."

"You're going to do it now!?" Gabrielle's voice echoed her surprise.

"Yes, it will be easier to strap her down with her asleep."

Gabrielle turned and stood firmly in front of the healer.

"NO! ... It took me half the night to gain enough trust just to give her some water. If she wakes up and we're cutting her open, she'll never trust us or me again. Let's wake her up and let her decide what she would like to do."

Belinda hesitated, she wanted to do it now, but looking at Gabrielle she nodded. The little Queen had spoken and her words were loud and clear.

Standing close, but not too close, the little bard began calling out to Xena. On the second try the blue eyes shot open in alarm. Gabrielle saw the physical fear enter the warrior's body.
"It's ok ... It's me, Gabrielle. Remember?" Xena's look of fear relaxed slightly as she looked at the now familiar little blond. Suddenly the blue eyes darted to the woman standing just behind her.

"It's ok, she's not going to hurt you, she's here to help you ... Xena this is the lady who is trying to put you back together. Belinda is the healer of the Amazon village."

The blue eyes darted from Gabrielle to Belinda and then back again. The little bard could see this was not going to be easy.

"Xena, we have a problem. I want you to tell us what you want done. You see. Your right hand is badly infected. I'm sure you can feel it. Well, Belinda has to drain it, to relieve some of the pressure and infection ... Do you understand?"

Belinda was surprised to see the blue eyes blink once.

"Xena, she's going to have to cut you." Gabrielle said softly, her voice filled with concern. The icy blue eyes stared solemnly and unblinking at the little bard.

"I know I said we would never hurt you, but this has to be done. You could lose your hand if it isn't." The eyes closed ... opened. She had agreed. Gabrielle gave a sigh of relief and then turned to Belinda.

"Could you give us a few minutes alone?" The healer nodded and left, stating she should go and let the Queen know what was about to happen.

"Xena ... You have to decide, do you want to be drugged?" The eyes blinked rapidly twice, the strain of wanting to speak showing on her cracked lips.

"You haven't heard the other option yet."

"Oosent atter." The warrior said between clenched teeth.

"You'll have nothing to deaden the pain, Xena."

"No dugs, flease," she pleaded.

"Ok ... ok, no drugs. Xena this could hurt ... a lot."

Gabrielle moved closer to her and asked, "will you let me hold you?"

The two women locked into each other's eyes. Gabrielle watched as Xena's eyes slowly blinked ... once.

Gabrielle smiled down at her tough wounded warrior. The bard's head came up at the sound of the bedroom door opening.
Turning back to her patient, she said. "Xena, this is our Amazon Queen, Ephiny."

"And one of your dearest friends," said the regent.

Xena just stared ... unsure of yet another new face.

Everything was ready. Xena's hand and wrist were strapped to a board, which alone had taken some time. Ephiny had asked Jadax to wait outside and watch the door. The warrior princess was skiddish enough without any other new faces coming around. Gabrielle had gently slid in next to Xena's left side. The little bard had Xena's left hand held tightly in her own. In her lap was a piece of leather for Xena to bite down on. They were ready.

Gabrielle held up the piece of leather to Xena's mouth, but the warrior's lips were pursed and her eyes stared straight ahead. The blond haired woman knew somewhere inside this battered body, deep within those icy blue eyes, was the heart and stubborn pride of Xena, warrior princess.

Belinda held the knife in her hand and with one steady fluid motion, it was over. Ephiny and Belinda looked up in unison, and then at each other. The bard and her warrior had both passed out. Xena from the release of pressure, and Gabrielle, Belinda discovered, from a dislocated thumb. The healer finished bandaging the warrior's hand. The relocation of Gabrielle's thumb was easy once they uncurled Xena's grip. The Queen and the healer left the two women to sleep, Gabrielle's head on Xena's shoulder.

The tall dark warrior awoke sometime later to hear her stomach growling, but soon realized it wasn't her stomach, it was the sleeping blond next to her. She looked down at her newly bandaged hand. She had to admit it felt a lot better.

Slowly and painfully she got her head around to look at the small women.

'She says she's my friend.' Xena pondered the thought as she looked back at her bandaged hand and considered it. She knew she was not in the camp of that man and his evil friends. She had only seen women here and there had been none there. Everyone here had been helpful and kind, but still, she didn't trust them.

That thought frightened her. It wasn't just the fact she knew she was someone who didn't trust many, it was the knowledge, that it was one of the few things that she did know, that bothered her.         

'Who in Tartarus am I? Xena, ... Was what they said? ... Xena warrior princess! ... Am I royalty? The one fixing me ... um Belinda had called the blonde and the curly haired woman Queen. Am I related? ... Better yet, am I an Amazon?' Xena looked down at her body. 'Well I'm definitely big enough.'

As these thoughts ran through her mind, she discovered she couldn't answer any of the questions. She snuggled slightly into the blond and fell back to sleep, not realizing at the moment what she had done.

Gabrielle didn't stir, she didn't move, she just breathed in the warm comforting smell of ... cinnamon. She knew instantly it was not Xena's sleeping shift. It was Xena herself. The little blond just laid there wallowing in the warmth and closeness she had missed. She knew it would have to end, her stomach was growling so badly she was afraid it would wake up her patient.

Ever so carefully, and quietly, she left her place beside her lover and went in search of food. Wandering out to the common room, Gabrielle saw Ephiny, Eponin and Nazalon.

"It's about time you came up for air." Ephiny said smiling in delight at her little blond friend. It was a good thing they saw the color of her face before it turned so red.

"When we heard you moving around, Jadax went to rustle you up some food, she said that would be the only thing to get you out of there. How's the thumb?" Ephiny added lightly.

Gabrielle looked down at her soon to be bruised thumb as Eponin commented quietly. "Those things can happen, bet she doesn't even know she did it."

"Actually, I came out here for something to eat for both of us, and Xena does need to be turned."

"Belinda had the cook do up some special soup for Xena. Nothing she has to chew, but lots of herbs and things," the regent offered.

"I bet it's not as good as your tea my Queen," Nazalon chuckled as she and Eponin followed Gabrielle to the bedroom.

"Just wait here, I want to wake her and let her know what you're going to be doing."

Gabrielle returned a few moments later and ushered the two warriors in. Xena's ice blue eyes followed their every movement. Eponin had been a friend of Xena's for a long time, but now she knew how Xena's enemies felt when they were hunted and stalked. The untrusting eyes darted back and forth between the two Amazons. Nazalon, having only met the mighty warrior princess once, was still in awe of meeting the legend. Even with the injuries and cut to her face, Nazalon could see the beautiful women Gabrielle was in love with.

Eponin was the first to approach Xena. It intrigued her to watch the changing emotions on Xena's face and in her eyes. One minute the fierce warrior was ready to pounce on you, broken limbs, wounded back and all. Then she would change without warning to a frightened woman, a stranger who had been beaten to submission by a pack of angry animals. The closer Eponin got, the quicker the changes became. Stopping, the quiet warrior looked to Gabrielle. Eponin wasn't sure if this was going to be ok. Gabrielle nodded yes, but she herself wasn't positive.

Nazalon mostly watched what Eponin was doing and when they were ready, she did what had to be done as quickly, and hopefully as painlessly, as they could. When they were done, Nazalon joined Eponin who was already at the door. Nazalon looked back over her shoulder at the warrior princess, something she shouldn't have done. Xena's face had paled considerably and it now lay on it's right side. But those blue eyes were burning a hole right through her, and she felt the shiver as it went down her spine. The blue eyes had said it all.

Nazalon opened the door and pushed both her and Eponin out of the room. She closed the door and leaned back against it, and looked over Eponin.

"Oh, now that was fun." Eponin said nothing in response, but Nazalon knew it had affected her too. The warriors silently headed out of the palace. Both in need of the training grounds, it was the perfect place to relieve their tensions.

Jadax arrived soon after with their meal, and had turned to leave.

"Jadax wait ... Xena, I would like you to meet the woman who brought you here, this is Jadax." The little forest scout stepped toward the bed. She concentrated on Xena's cautious eyes, trying hard not to look at the injured face.

"I wish I had found you earlier Xena." Jadax said in a small voice. When she saw Xena's lips moving, she knelt next to the bed, listening closely to the few words spoken. Jadax hung her head slightly at the words, then gently touched the warrior's left hand. The gesture surprised Gabrielle, because Xena hadn't let anyone touch her that way except for her. Jadax stood and crossed to the door, Gabrielle went to her.

"What did she say to you?" Jadax looked up with tear-filled eyes.

"She said ... me too!"

Chapter 25

        It had been dark where they kept her, but she still knew every inch of the room. The smell was something she couldn't get out of her mind, the pungent odor of unwashed men, of urine and of blood, her blood. Just the sound of footsteps would send her mind running in fear. The things they had done to her ... and she still had no idea why. They had shackled her to a beam when they had brought her in. She couldn't decide what hurt more, the broken arm hanging uselessly beside her, or the broken leg her body had to lean on. But her decision would soon change, when he walked in ... a whip in hand. The memories would not be clear from here on in, but neither was what he was saying. "You're not so tough now, are you?” as he shook out the length of the whip. "Let's hear you scream.” But she didn't. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. Battered and beaten, Xena still knew somehow in the depth of her clouding mind, she couldn't scream ... then. But she knew she could scream now.

Gabrielle had been awake, sitting at the window enjoying the serenity of the early morning. Nothing could have prepared her for Xena's scream when it shattered the silence. Almost anyone who had been around the palace had heard one of Xena's nightmares, causing even the strongest of Amazon's to shudder. But this one had been different. This scream of pain had come from the depth of Xena's body from the very heart of her soul. It was like the cry of a wounded animal who knows no reason to hold back its anguish or fear.

Every Amazon in the village looked to the palace as the scream echoed through the morning stillness, their hearts breaking with compassion and sorrow. What could have happened to cause someone like Xena to cry out like that?

Ephiny and Jadax were leaving the kitchen when they heard the scream. They were off at a run to the palace before the echo even died out. A very anxious Nazalon met them on the palace steps.

"What in Tartarus was that?" Nazalon asked, but no one answered, they didn't need to. They knew what it was, what they didn't know was why?

Gabrielle leapt from the window seat, her heart was in her throat as she went to her warrior's side. The scream had scared and horrified her. She had heard Xena scream like that once before, at the death of her son, Solan. Gabrielle hadn't thought it was possible, but this scream had been even worse. She carefully ignored the injuries the best she could and wrapped her arms around Xena's shaking body. She held her friend close and tried to sooth away whatever demons laid in the warrior's mind.

The screams began to slowly die away, but the moans replacing them tore at Gabrielle's heart. She knew there wasn't anything else she could do, but it didn't stop her from wishing there was.

The bedroom door opened and Gabrielle quickly shook her head at the faces of their concerned friends. Ephiny nodded and quietly closed the door. She knew only the love from the bard was going to be able to sooth away the warrior's nightmares.

The little bard cooed and shhh'd and slowly the moans let go of their hold on the mighty warrior, and finally Xena started to cry.

Great waves of sobs tore through the tall bronze body as the fear and confusion she had held at bay, finally released. All of her emotions poured out onto Gabrielle. She had been so frightened for so long. The raven haired woman had no understanding of why those men had held and beaten her. Every ounce of her strength had been used to the extreme, but she hadn't given in. She refused to give in and she had refused to die. Now she wondered why. She recognized no one, not the pretty blond who was so nice to her, not the people who had said they were friends. She wanted to die now. The pain was too much. It seemed to tear at her body, and play with her mind. Had it all been worth it, to hold on for so long, and still not know why. Something had kept her going, but she had no memory of it ... or what it was. Now she could no longer hold back the memories she did have. The memories of what they had done to her.

Her body ached, the simple movement of her chest when she breathed sent searing pains through her back. Her own tears felt like acid as they followed the stitches to her chin. Her hand and arm throbbed, she couldn't even wiggle her toes. She wondered if it was ever going to end.

As she began to drift back to the safe arms of Morpheus, she felt the warmth of the little blond's arms around her. She realized her own body was responding to the familiarity her mind didn't know. She liked the way it felt, and it gave her something to hold on to. She began to pull herself back from the haze that threatened to take her, she knew she wanted to stay right where she was, in the arms of the little blond woman.

Gabrielle held her as tight as she thought Xena could handle. She never let her go, as wave after wave of emotion carried them both. The sobs had finally relented to a soft cry, and she could feel the strong body begin to relax. The tears had stopped, and thankfully so had the nightmare. Gabrielle realized Xena had gone back to sleep, away from the pain, and away from the memories that had only just begun to haunt her.

Gabrielle felt her own tears cascading down her face. There was nothing she could do for her friend, so she just held on. Trying to take away any of the pain and fear she could. As the warrior slipped back to sleep, Gabrielle felt Xena's body edge a little closer to her own. She continued to hold her, even after she knew Xena was asleep. Carefully she leaned down and kissed Xena's forehead.

As she looked at the face of the woman she loved, she noticed a drop of blood had eased its way through a split in the scab on her face. Gabrielle reached over to the table beside the bed and grabbed a cloth, and with a steady hand, wiped it away.

Nothing was ever said between the two of them about that morning. Xena had not wanted to discuss what had happened and Gabrielle never wanted to bring it up. But something had changed between them, and they knew it. It had been in the eyes. The blue ones no longer showed fear when it was just Gabrielle in the room. The green ones had finally begun to brighten ... much to everyone's happiness.

Slowly and painfully the body of the warrior began to mend. Everything was healing and Xena was able to speak with little pain. She had actually tried to smile when Gabrielle brought her something other than soup for her meal. But the true mind of Xena had yet to show itself. She struggled to remember the people who came to see her, but there was nothing there. Gabrielle knew it bothered her. She knew Xena well enough to see it in her eyes. But every day there was still nothing, just a stranger, a stranger who was beginning to look like Xena.

She was even beginning to sit up for a short period of time when she had company, but getting into that position was always a struggle. The stubborn warrior wouldn't allow anyone to assist her, even though the movement caused her great pain.
"If I can't get off my back and onto my ass by myself..." she would mutter. 'Sounding very much like a certain warrior,' Gabrielle thought. But no matter how she got there, it required a lot of pillows to keep her there. The little bard would always be watching for any signs of fatigue or of too much pain. Xena was definitely in there, and would never admit to either. So it was up to Gabrielle to say when she had enough, and she would shoo everyone out the door and let Xena get some rest.

They talked a lot now, sometimes about nothing, sometimes about everything. Well, almost everything. There were certain things Gabrielle avoided, and one of them was the fact that they had been lovers. She had seen glimpses now and then of the old Xena, but she wasn't sure how this stranger would take the news that they had been more than just friends. At first Gabrielle would smile with delight when the dark warrior would make a comment or a gesture like Xena would do. The stranger would stop and think about what she had done, then shake her head and continue on. She still couldn't fathom that she was this legendary warrior.

Lately, Gabrielle could not bring herself to smile. There was a stranger in her lover's body and it was something she couldn't get used to. It was sometimes heartbreaking to Gabrielle, to know they were starting all over again. She hoped with all of her aching heart they would wind up where they had left off. She didn't even want to think of what would happen if they didn't.

The usual afternoon group was scattered around the room. Ephiny sat on the bed. Jadax sat on the floor at her feet. Nazalon was straddling a chair in the middle of the room, and Eponin was leaning against the closed door, her arms were crossed and she was listening. Gabrielle was sitting quietly at the window seat, watching and smiling.

'Sometimes it feels like the old days,' Gabrielle thought, 'as long as you don't listen too hard or look to close. This Xena speaks differently. She isn't as dark and deep or as quiet. She looks different too, the scars that are being left behind are devastating. They had become constant reminders, that this is not my Xena. This Xena has no dark evil past, she has her own demons to conquer.' she thought. 'No, this stranger isn't Xena, she might have the looks, she has the blue eyes, but she doesn't have the look that was so a part of the warrior princess. The look that stopped your heart with either fear of the warrior, ... or the lust of my lover.'

Gabrielle felt herself flush as she came back to the conversation going on.

She hadn't fooled Ephiny, as she had seen the look and the flushed face of the pretty, little blond. The regent wondered just how much the two had talked, and what had the conversation been about. Ephiny realized as she looked at Gabrielle that she had almost become distant in the last few weeks. Even when everyone was there, she seemed to be too quiet. They hadn't had a chance for any private chat or discussions since Xena had woken up. Gabrielle rarely ever left her side. The bard felt someone looking at her, and flashed a smile when she saw it was Ephiny. The Queen smiled back as her mind focused on the bard. 'She did look much better. A little more rested, and her eyes were almost back to normal.' That was when Ephiny realized that's what it was, 'Gabrielle's eyes, they were almost back to normal.'
There was a knock on the door interrupting Ephiny's thought. She watched as Gabrielle shot a glance at Xena. The regent noticed the instant change in the dark warrior. She still became very uncomfortable when people entered her room, more so if she didn't know them.

Eponin opened the door to Plaiertei, there was a brief exchange of words and then Plaiertei nodded to the window. Eponin smiled as she entered back into the bedroom. Gabrielle turned to look out the window. When she saw Donya ... with Argo, Gabrielle knew what the two warriors were up to.

"Xena, we have something to show you. Can you see out the window?" Eponin asked.

The raven haired woman turned and looked, her eyes opening wide at the sight of the Amazon holding the golden mare.

Argo flailed her head at the sight of her long lost owner as her hooves pawed at the ground.

"A horse for me! I don't know what to say, thank you." Xena said in a very happy voice.

The room fell silent. It was Gabrielle who spoke first, having had more experience with these kinds of situations. As hard as it was, they all had to remember this was still not the Xena they knew and loved.

"Actually Xena, she is your horse, her name is Argo. You've had her longer than you've even known me." Gabrielle tried to smile, not wanting to ruin the mood of the afternoon surprise.

"We thought you might like to see her ... maybe shake loose a few cob webs?"

Xena concentrated, but then shook her head. "No ... nothing." She looked back at Argo. "Sorry boy, I don't remember you."

"She ..." Xena looked over at the usually quiet Eponin, "She ... Argo, the horse ... he's a she."

The room fell silent again. Gabrielle decided it had been enough, and motioned everyone out. She had seen Xena's color begin to pale, and that was always a signal for their departure.         

Gabrielle turned back to Xena as she closed the door. The blue eyes were now closed, so the bard went back to her window seat. She got comfortable and was looking out the window when she realized Xena was watching her.

"What's wrong? Are you all right?" She said as she started to rise out of her seat.

"I'm fine. Please, stay there. You looked so peaceful just then. I couldn't help but notice this afternoon, you seemed a little far away ... far enough to even make you blush."

'So, Ephiny hadn't been the only one watching her,' she thought and immediately went red again.

"Is there someone out there waiting for you? ... I mean, you never seem to leave my side?"

Gabrielle turned quickly back to look out the window. Xena noted the hard swallows and filed it away for future reference.

Keeping her eyes out the window, Gabrielle quietly answered her. " Actually, yes ... But I'm waiting for them."

"Oh ..." Gabrielle never heard the disappointment ring out of that one word.

They sat in their own silence for a while, both lost in their own thoughts. Gabrielle turned to Xena, but the warrior's eyes were closed. She turned back to the window, when the blue eyes opened again.

"I thought you were asleep?"

"No. I was just thinking ... Gabrielle. Do I have a ... any family? You know, someone to go home to?"

A million thoughts ran instantly through the bard's mind. She wanted so badly to cry out. 'Your home is with me. I am your family,' but before her thoughts could go any further, she replied. "Yes, you have a mother, Cyrene. She runs an inn and a tavern in your hometown."

"Which is ... where?"

"Well, you're from Amphipolis. You had two brothers. Lycius, who died in battle many years ago, and Toris, who is alive and well, thanks to you."

"And my father?"

"I believe he died when you were very young."

"When you mentioned Toris, you said 'alive thanks to me.' What did you mean by that?"

"Well, we met up with him not that long ago. You see, he had been tracking the man who killed your younger brother. Toris was bent on getting revenge. The short version is, you convinced him the cycle of hatred had to end. That if he killed in revenge he would wind up hating himself, and the evil he would become."

"Wow. I did all that ... So I'm a peaceful warrior?" Xena said her eyes wide in amazement.

"Ah ... um ... no, not actually." Gabrielle had been avoiding this conversation, and she quickly wanted to change the subject. Looking at Xena she knew it was too late. The warrior wanted some answers.

"Well ... which is it? Am I good or am I bad?" Xena began to feel a warm familiar feeling.

"Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that."

"No, it's not. Just answer the bloody question!" Xena's anger was rising fast, too fast.

Gabrielle could see the darkness begin to enter the scarred face. It gave Xena a very evil look, a meanness she hadn't had before.

"It can't be answered with a simple word Xena. It goes much deeper than that. What you did before you met me, well, you're no longer ..."

Xena's eyes suddenly filled with rage. "Just answer the damn question. I'm I good or bad ... or just plain evil itself?"

Gabrielle felt the tears stinging at her eyes. Her worst fears were coming true right in front of her. The side of Xena she had only seen once before, and she didn't want to see it again. She didn't want to answer the question, she was deathly afraid of what the answer might bring. Not realizing it couldn't be any worse than what she was seeing now.

The sight of Gabrielle's tears only fanned the flames of the warrior's anger even more. Xena tried to sit up higher in the bed, but the pain only caused her anger to explode. The over load of emotions sent off a series of flashes in front of the warrior's eyes. 'People on their knees begging for mercy, women and child running in terror, she was killing and destroying everything, in her hand was a lethal looking sword. She could hear her own voice screaming ... Kill 'em, ... Kill 'em all! '

Xena's eyes were a blaze with evil as she looked over at the woman at the window. She was certain that she had her answer.

"Did you really think you could change me!? ... Did you honestly think you could change evil itself!?" Xena snarled out at her.

Gabrielle couldn't believe what she was seeing and hearing. She stood and looked at the body that once held her dearest and closest friend, not to mention the woman she loved.

Xena never gave her a chance to speak as she continued her vile accusations at the speechless bard.

"I killed people and I enjoyed it, didn't I?" All the anger she felt know was directed squarely at Gabrielle. The blond was crying and shaking her head no, but Xena couldn't hear her.

"I slashed and burned their houses. I killed their sons and fathers. I was a warrior, I was a kick ass, take no prisoners ...WARLORD!" Xena screamed. Gabrielle had enough as she ran from the room, she didn't even stop as she ran past a shocked and angry Queen. Ephiny stood in the doorway glaring at Xena.

The warrior's face was contorted in her own pain filled rage. She could feel the heat of the blood pumping through her system. She was alive and she felt good. Xena stared back at the Queen still standing in the doorway.

"I ruled the known world ... I was the best warlord the world had ever seen."

"No Xena ...You were the worst!" Ephiny sneered as she marched over to stand almost eye to eye with the seated, angry warrior.

"And what you just did was one of the worst things I have ever seen you do! And that's saying a lot. Gabrielle has done more for you ... than even I could imagine. And I'm not talking about the last two weeks either. That woman has loved you, cared for you, and protected you. She believed in you when no one else did. She has traveled by your side and has defended you to everyone, Gods included. There is nothing she wouldn't, or hasn't, done for you. And what do you do in return? You lay there and spew out vile and anger at her. Well listen to me Xena, and I'll explain a few things to you, about who you really WERE, and what you had become."

Xena sat there wide eyed. All the anger had now drained from her body. She still didn't know where it had come from. Xena slowly raised her shaking hand to the angry Queen.

"I don't ... I don't know where that all came from."

"OH ... don't worry. I do!" Ephiny's anger hadn't dissipated as Xena's had. And the regent began to talk. They talked for candlemarks, Ephiny finally letting Xena know part of her ugly, dark past. All the things Gabrielle couldn't, or didn't, want to bring up. The regent didn't know it all, but she knew enough. All the dark past, the stories about Xena the Conqueror and Xena the Warlord. If the warrior hadn't seen her own anger, she wouldn't have thought it possible. Xena told Ephiny about the images that had flashed in her mind, the regent had just nodded. She had met Xena after all that, she said.

"That is not the Xena we all know." The Queen began to tell the story of the bard and her warrior princess and about meeting Gabrielle for the first time. Their travels and what the little bard had done. The slow changes Ephiny had seen in Xena over the seasons. How Xena had fought the Fates to save Gabrielle's life, right in front of her eyes. Ephiny could see the stories were affecting the now quiet warrior, but she knew it was time for her to hear them. Then finally the regent told Xena about the time she did die, and all Gabrielle had done just to get her body back to the Amazon village, fighting Velasca for the Ambrosia that would give life back to the dead, and how she did it for the love she had for her warrior princess.

Xena hung her head in shame, unable to speak at first. "She did all that?"

"Together, you both have done all that and more. But I think you've had enough for now ... I don't think any of us really know what you have gone through to stay together. The only one who does right now ... is Gabrielle. So the next time you feel the need for some of your old personality to come out, check first that it's appropriate. Do I make myself clear enough? I cannot imagine what you are going through right now Xena, but the bottom line is this. We are all your friends. Period! But if you hurt Gabrielle in any way, your stay here on Amazon land will be terminated ... permanently. Understood?"

Xena's red eyes looked up at the Queen. "Understood ... and understandably so."

As Ephiny turned to go, she placed a gentle hand on Xena's shoulder, "We all care about you."

"I think I am beginning to see that," the warrior said with a small smile. "Before you go though, can you answer me one question?"

The regent nodded.

"Why?" The regent look perplexed.

"Gabrielle, why did she do all that?"

"That my dear friend, is something you will have to ask her." Ephiny left, leaving Xena to think and rest.

Chapter 26

Ephiny entered the Common room. Jadax was sitting still waiting by the fire, asleep. She had waited for Ephiny to return from the bedroom. They had been snuggled up next to each other having some personal time when they heard yelling coming from the bedroom. At first, Jadax had said Ephiny should leave it to them to work it out, but when they heard Xena's raised voice saying something about evil, Ephiny shot up from her seat.

"That's about enough of that," she had stated heading to the door.

Jadax heard a bit more and then had seen an upset Gabrielle come out of the room and head to the back door. Jadax had called after her, but she showed no sign of stopping. By the time she had reached the door, Jadax had spotted Nazalon heading after the bard. The little scout decided to wait for Ephiny, and to make sure she was all right. As Jadax passed the closed bedroom door, she wondered if Xena was going to be all right. She could hear Ephiny take a strip, a big strip, off the warrior princess.

Now, three candlemarks later, the little scout was fast asleep.

"Hey sleepy head." Jadax stirred at the touch of her lover as Ephiny looked around the room.

"Where's Gabrielle?" Jadax sat up to the concern evident in her voice.

"She's not back?" Jadax shot a look at Ephiny.

"OH, great ... just great. I'll check the temple. You check the barn. We'll meet back here if we don't find her."

"Ah ... Eph, maybe you should check with ... ummm ... with Nazalon first. When Gabrielle left, it was Nazalon who went after her."

"Gabrielle ... Gabrielle, please wait." The little blond's hand shot up, an indication for Nazalon to go away. Nazalon saw the hand and ignored it, but did decide to follow, not to catch up.

She knew Gabrielle was upset. The warrior had been heading to the palace to talk to the Queen when she heard raised voices. She couldn't make out what was being said, but she could tell one of the voices had sounded like Xena's. Then she had seen Gabrielle coming out the back door with Jadax right behind her. She knew something had happened, and that something was not good.         
Gabrielle had stormed past Artemis' temple and had headed straight out of the village. Nazalon had an idea of where she was going. The warrior had seen the little blond heading this way before, before they found Xena. She had followed her then to a bluff on the west side of the hill, just south of the village. Gabrielle must have found the spot herself, because Nazalon hadn't known it was there. It was private, and peaceful and overlooked the west valley. Nazalon had come back herself a couple of times after Xena had been found. She knew there would be no chance of intruding on Gabrielle's privacy. The sunsets there were beautiful.

Nazalon had a pretty good idea that was where she was going. The warrior just quietly followed behind, she was sure Gabrielle knew she was following her.

The Amazon trailed behind the little Queen as she hiked higher and higher up the hill. Nazalon caught the odd glimpse of the valley below as it peeked out behind the trees. The rays of sunlight bounced off the blond hair of the bard, the contrast with the green of the forest made it easy for Nazalon to follow her.

As the warrior parted the trees to the little cleared bluff, she saw Gabrielle just standing there.

"I will leave if you really want me to, but I refuse to go far." The blond said nothing. Nazalon took a couple of steps closer and saw the shoulders just heaving.

"Hey ... hey are you all right, come here." The little bard turned, her face wet with tears and fell into Nazalon's open arms. The warrior held her tight, saying nothing just letting her cry it all out. After a while the sobs had quieted down, but Gabrielle stayed in the comfort of the strong arms. Nazalon gently rocked her, but still had said nothing. When Gabrielle finally took in two halted breaths, Nazalon asked her if she'd like to sit down. The little blond pulled out of the arms holding her and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She turned and sat on the mossy ground. Neither of them said anything until Gabrielle's halted breath became the hiccups. Nazalon couldn't help but start to snicker. The blond hair dropped between her knees. Every time she hiccupped the blonde head, bobbed. Nazalon was fighting to keep a straight face. The warrior would just get control and then hiccup-bob. The warrior finally lost it, bursting with laughter. Quickly she tried to gain control then along came another hic-bob. This time Gabrielle's red face came up with the bob.

"Are you laughing at ... hic ... me?" The bard stared at the warrior, but the warrior crumbled.

"You are, ... hic ... laughing at me ... hic." Gabrielle tried to stay mad, but one look at Nazalon and she started to giggle. Then she hiccupped and giggled, the giggle became a laugh, a laugh and a hiccup and then Gabrielle snorted. Soon the two were rolling around holding their sides, roaring with laughter. It didn't take long though for the laughter to die away. Gabrielle turned to Nazalon.

"Thanks, I think I needed that."

"I think you did too, and I think you need to smile more, you have a nice smile,"

"Thank you, Nazalon, you're good for a girl's ego."

"I'm not here for your ego, Gabrielle." Nazalon looked hard into the blonds green eyes. "I'm here because you need a friend. I would be honored if you would call me your friend."

"But you know you are my friend, Nazalon."

"Then talk to me. I haven't seen that much pain on your face since before we found Xena." At the mention of Xena's name Gabrielle tensed.

Gabrielle looked down over the valley. Shades of orange and pink were starting to cover the valley floor. The different hues of green were turning dark as the sun began to slide into the cleavage of the mountains. 'It's going to be a gorgeous sunset,' The bard thought.

"Gabrielle, talk to me please. You haven't left Xena's side since she was brought in. I see you leaving the palace after what, an argument, in tears and heading for here. If you don't want to tell me what happened that's fine, I understand, but you have to talk to someone."

Gabrielle continued to stare down into the valley.

"Nobody knows Xena like I do." She paused and chewed on her lip, then she continued, "No one knows how far she has come, and how hard it was for her. There is a side to Xena a lot of people have never seen. When I first met her, she had already decided the life of the Warlord was not for her. She refused to let the dark side of her personality take back control of her. A lot of people wanted her to stay the way she had been, including some of the Gods, but she stayed on her chosen path. I've seen her struggle with redemption. Xena really is a good person."

Gabrielle had looped her arms behind her knees and was rocking slowly back and forth.

"The love we have for one another, it's ... it's bigger than both of us. We have crossed the line of life and death for each other, more than once. Ephiny was there when Xena's love brought me back from the dead in a Thistlean Healing Temple. The first time we kissed, Xena was dead. I had brought her here for burial, but she came back to me. Her soul came back and kissed me. That's the woman, the warrior woman, I fell in love with. Did you know just before all this happened, just before we met you at the river ..." Gabrielle fell silent.

"Did I know that you had just become lovers? Yes it wasn't hard to tell." Nazalon said softly. She placed an arm around the little shaking bard, who immediately responded with a shuddered breath.

"I've spent the last few weeks, with a stranger in my lover's body. My lover's beaten and battered body." Gabrielle struggled with her words, but refused to give up.

"I've being waiting, waiting for her to come back, a part of her ... for any sign, something and anything that would let me know she was in there somewhere. Well, the last couple days have been great, ... she rubbed her nose this morning ...," a sob escaped Gabrielle's lips, "the way she rubbed her nose, was like old times. Then this afternoon we were just talking, about her family, and then she snapped. I saw something I thought I'd never see. Xena ... the Warlord, Destroyer of Nations."

Nazalon drew her hand up and pushed Gabrielle's head onto her shoulder, patting her head as she felt the tears roll onto her bare skin.

"The evil in her eyes ... I could feel the hatred oozing from her body. What I am going to do if the Xena that comes back isn't my Xena, but the old Xena?"

Gabrielle dropped her head again and began sobbing. Nazalon knew she had no answers, so she just let her cry.

The sun had gone down and the air was getting cool. Nazalon looked down at the sleeping little Queen, she didn't want to disturb her, but they had to get back. The warrior bent over and scooped up the small woman in her arms and packed her back to the village.

Nazalon was starting to head to the palace, when she stopped. 'What am I going to do with her.' She couldn't take her back to the bedroom with Xena.

"I don't think that would go over well." Nazalon said aloud. 'The barn, dumb idea.' There were no empty huts in the village that she could think of. 'Great, what does one do with a sleeping Queen'. She started to pace, and quickly realized Gabrielle was getting heavy. Making the decision, Nazalon turned and headed for her hut.

Chapter 27

A troubled Queen headed for Nazalon's hut, she turned the corner and saw a flicker of light coming out of the warrior's hut. As she got closer, she could see the outline of two people sitting on Nazalon's cot. She stood for a moment in the open doorway, looking at the two sitting side by side. Nazalon had an arm around the bereaving little bard. The warrior lifted her head to look at her Queen. Gabrielle felt the movement, and looked to see what Nazalon had looked at. A sob broke from Gabrielle as she rushed into the waiting arms of her friend.

"Shhh ... it's ok ... It's going to be ok." Ephiny held her as she looked over the blond's head at the warrior still seated on the bed. The two Amazons exchanged a look of helplessness. Ephiny held her until the sobs began to die down, but Gabrielle showed no signs of wanting to let go. Ephiny felt Gabrielle take a breath as she began to speak.

"I can't do this Ephiny. I can't sit in that room watching a stranger in her body, now wondering which Xena is hovering just below the surface ... If it is the dark side of her that's going to come back, then there is no place for me by her side." She stopped, fighting down the urge to just collapse into Ephiny's arms. "I love her Ephiny, and I would do anything for her ... But I can't stand beside her if she becomes a warlord again." Gabrielle started to shake again. Her heart was breaking as she thought of the woman she loved.

"Ephiny ... What do I do if my Xena doesn't come back?"

The Queen gathered her tightly in her arms again.

"Hey ... come on. We all have to remember, her mind is raging its own battle and I've never known Xena to lose ... I firmly believe Gabrielle, she will come back to you. Her love for you is too strong not to. If you two can pull each other back from the hand of death herself, cross the line of immortality in the name of love and friendship, then a little thing like amnesia, should only be a bump in the road."

Ephiny pulled back and placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders.

"She loves you. I know it and you know it. I'm certain with some time, she will remember it. But, in the mean time, she's going to have her problems. I had a long talk with her, after her scene this afternoon. If you think it scared you, you should see what it did to her. She doesn't remember who she is, and suddenly this ugly anger comes out of her. Belinda told us this might happen. Remember?"

"Yes ... She said anger would be the first emotion to break through, that it was the one feeling that drives the human spirit and mind."
"That's right! And anger is the easiest emotion to be brought to the surface. Pure and simple rage. There's no strings attached, and no excess baggage to deal with. You just vent and walk away. I think that's what happened this afternoon. You were both relaxed, just chatting, her defenses were down, and her mind probably just began to wander. Something triggered her mind and anger let its self be known. She told me everything that happened. Gabrielle, she was devastated and mortified by what she said and what she ... saw!"

Gabrielle's head came up at the word.

"Saw? ... She remembered something?"

"Unfortunately ... yes. She saw herself as a warlord. Slashing, burning and ... killing. I tried to fill her in on some of the basic elements of her past, and of who she was. Let's say she didn't take it well."

"Neither would you, if you just found out that you were evil in itself. The top recruiter for Hades and Ares." Nazalon said shaking her head. The glare she got from Ephiny quickly shut her up. The Queen had felt Gabrielle tense at the very mention of the God of War. 'There must be more to that story?' thought Ephiny.

"Gabrielle ... I told her a few things about you two ... Relax. I didn't mention that. That information should come from you. But I thought it was time to let her know just who she was and what she was. Then I told her some of the things you have gone through together. You can't just ignore her past Gabrielle, it's part of who she is. Would she be your Xena without her past, without her dark side?"

"No," Gabrielle said quietly.

No one spoke for a moment, until something dawned on the little bard.

"You said she saw herself?"

"Yes. She told me she saw flashes of memory. Memories of before she met you. I gather from the look on her face. The visions were very brutal and very graphic. But at least it's a start, not a good one, but a start."

"But what's stopping her from remembering ..."

"Nothing Gabrielle. There's no control on what she is going to remember and when." Ephiny felt the embrace tighten around her ribs, she had yet to let the little bard go.

"I can't go back there Eph ... not tonight."

"You can stay here," Nazalon said, immediately receiving a glare from Ephiny. "I'll stay in the barn. I don't mind really. Stay here as long as you need to Gabrielle."

"Thanks Nazalon." The red eyed blond tried to smile. Ephiny took Gabrielle back over to the cot. When Gabrielle climbed in, the regent pulled the blankets up over her shoulders and kissed her lightly on the head. Standing and turning to leave, she whispered clearly to Nazalon.

"I'd like to see you outside, please."

The two Amazons left the hut. Jadax had been sitting and waiting at the table in front of the warrior's hut.

"Jadax, could you please excuse us for a moment?" She nodded and said she would meet her back in the palace, someone needed to check on Xena anyhow. When she was out of sight, the Queen turned to the warrior.

"If I've got this wrong, I'll apologize now. But what in Tartarus are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking about my friend."

"Have you forgotten that friend is already spoken for?"

"No, I haven't. But that's not the point. The point is, Gabrielle needed a friend today."

"A friend is one thing, Naz. As long as you're not looking for something else?"

The warrior paused, as if searching for the right words to say.

"I will not stand here and lie to you. If there was no Xena, or if they were not to return to each other, my intentions would be that of a ... honorable suitor. I know I could make Gabrielle happy. If she let me ... just wait ... please," said the warrior as her Queen started to speak.

"I know in her heart and soul she belongs to Xena. Please, do not misunderstand me or my intentions. I like Xena, and I saw the love and compassion they had for one another. I was there at the river, remember, before any of this happened. But Ephiny it did happen, and if I could change it I would. But I can't. If there is any chance they may not get back together, I want Gabrielle to know I am here. As a friend only ... for now. I will do nothing ... nothing, until they have made the decision. If Xena returns to her old self, I will know I have lost. And I will honestly be happy for both of them. I look at Xena as a friend and a comrade, and I will do anything to assist in her recovery ... But, I will not stand around and watch her break Gabrielle's heart, or any other part of her body, after hearing about this afternoon."

The warrior stood in front of her Queen, Nazalon's defenses were down and her heart was on her sleeve.

Ephiny drew in a big breath and sighed.

"If Xena, the old Xena returns ... she will do more than break a part of your body if you try to come between them. I know, I've seen it. Death herself couldn't come between those two. But if Xena doesn't return to her old self, I don't know what Gabrielle will do. She may not want another lover. She may not even stay on Amazon land."

"Then we would leave, my Queen, If she would have me. I didn't intend for this to happen."

"No one ever does, Nazalon."

"I think I love her."

"She's a very easy person to love. If what you say is true, then you must not interfere. Xena has to be given a chance to fully recover, to remember who she is and who she loves. Then and only after Gabrielle has made her own decision, then I will approach her and ask if ... if she wishes to be courted by you. Do you understand?"

"Yes my Queen."

"Don't 'yes my Queen' me, Nazalon. We both know how well you follow commands. This is between me and you, period! These two women are some of my dearest friends. I have watched them tear each others heart out as they denied their true feelings for each other. And now this, after finally confessing their true love. I will not stand around and watch you destroy that. If you love Gabrielle, and I believe that you do, her heart and mind must be free to decide. If you interfere with that in anyway, I will personally see to it that you never walk or step on Amazon land again. Understood?"

The warrior had understood it all, and she had heard clearly the emphasis on the word walk.

"Yes Ephiny. I understand."

"Good, because I will tell you the same thing I told that other bull headed warrior this afternoon. If you hurt Gabrielle in any way, well, let's just say we are not the only Amazons who love her."

"I know that ... Believe me, I know that. But I am only here as a friend ... for now."

Ephiny turned to leave, hesitated, and turned back around.

"Aside from all of this ... Thanks for being there for her. I know she needed a friend, and I know that you have been there for her. I appreciate it, and now that I know how you really feel, I know it must be hard."

"She makes it easy Ephiny."

"Well, keep in mind, this is going to get a lot harder for all of us before there is any chance of it getting any better."

"I know that, and I will be there for her ... as a friend. You have my word."
"Thank you, Nazalon," the Queen smiled slightly, suddenly she felt very tired.

"Come on, I'll walk you back to the palace on my way to the barn."

"I'd liked that."

"I'm sure you would."

The two Amazons headed for the palace both feeling a lot better having stated their case.

Chapter 28

Xena woke up the next morning, and instantly felt lonely. There was no Gabrielle and that felt so strange. The little blond had always been there.

The only person she had seen since yesterdays incident had been Jadax. She had popped in shortly late last night and had brought her breakfast later that morning. She liked the little scout, but she still missed Gabrielle. She hadn't been back since ... she leaned her head back and closed her eyes ... since yesterday, when I became that evil monster. The whole ugly scene replayed in her mind. Suddenly there were new flashes of memories.

'A man, an angry man, he wanted her to leave ... Gabrielle was there, a very young looking Gabrielle. She wanted to leave with her, she was pleading with her to take her with her,' and then it was gone. Xena could feel her heart beating rapidly against her chest. She began to break out in a cold sweat, and her mouth felt very dry. 'Who is that man? And why did Gabrielle want to go with me? And where was I going?' Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by someone knocking on the door.

"Good afternoon Xena. How is my favorite patient today? Ephiny tells me you are starting to remember some things?"

"Yes ... but most of them are not very pleasant." Xena looked away from the healer as she walked further into the room.

"Xena, not everything you remember is going to be good, and in the same breath not everything you remember is going to be bad either. You had a life dear, and in life everything must have a balance. Day needs night to make it a complete day. Good needs bad to make a complete person."

"Does that mean an evil person can have some good?"

"Everyone has some good in them Xena. It just depends on how deep it is or how much they want to find it." Belinda had put out a caring hand, thinking the warrior was referring to the men who had brutally beaten her. She had no idea the warrior was referring to herself.
"So ... How are all your aches and pains today? I think maybe it's time to remove the bandage on your hand. What do you think?"

Xena only nodded. Her eyes had drifted over to the empty window seat. She missed Gabrielle. Her mind began to wander and she was lost in thought when Belinda called her name a second time.

"Take a look." Xena awkwardly lifted her still splinted arm, and looked down at her hand. It didn't look good to her, then she realized she had no idea what it looked like before. She attempted to wiggle her fingers without much success.

"That will come with time Xena. I can give you some exercises that will help though."

"Thank you." Xena said trying to show some gratitude, but she just didn't feel that grateful.

"You're welcome." Belinda turned her attentions back to Xena's splints and stitches. "I think it's time for them to come out, your stitches I mean. It's time to take them out."

"All of them?"

"Yes." Belinda knew which ones Xena was referring to. Though the warrior princess had never uttered a word about them, the healer knew she meant the ones on her face. As far as she knew, Xena had yet to look in a mirror. With a face as beautiful as hers had been, Belinda didn't blame her. She had done her best, and anywhere else on her body that scar wouldn't have mattered as much. But a scar of that size on your face, there wasn't much she could do.

Belinda let Xena get settled, and then she started with the legs. She mentally counted as she made her way up the warrior's body. Thirty-four on the legs, twenty-seven in total on both arms and sixty-nine on her front and back. Belinda stopped as she looked into those beautiful blue eyes. The healer held the look for a moment, and then dropped her gaze to the task at hand. She gently started to remove the twenty-one stitches from the face of the warrior princess.

"That's it. You need to start putting some of the salve on the scars, especially on your face. I will make a different cream from a plant I know of, and that will help also." Belinda tried but the blue eyes would no longer look in her direction.

"Well, if there is nothing else, I do need to get going." She turned to leave and when she reached the door she heard a very faint, "Thank you."

She turned around but Xena was still looking in the direction of the window. "You're welcome Xena." Belinda dropped her head as she left the room.

"Belinda!" The Queen called out as she saw the healer leaving the room. Ephiny hadn't been into see her since yesterday, and she felt a little guilty for it.

"How is the patient today?"

"I little quieter and a little distant. Did something more happen yesterday than what you told me?"

"No. Not that I'm aware of. Is she all right?"

"She is in there all alone. Today may not be a good day for that." Belinda held out her hand to show Ephiny the bundle of sinew. "One hundred and fifty-one ... I've never put that many into a person ... who survived before."

"How are the results?"

"You mean how bad is the scar on her face. Long and deep ... I just hope it's not too deep!"

Ephiny knew what she meant, she said nothing more as she watched the healer leave. She stood for a moment longer and then walked to Xena's door.

Ephiny lightly tapped on the door, and opened it, when there was no response. Stepping in she was startled by what she saw. Xena was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking out the window. The regent guessed by Xena's color that this had not been an easy maneuver.

"Was that a wise thing to do by yourself?"

"Go away, Ephiny. I'm not in the mood." The Queen was taken back, not by the words, but by the voice. It had been totally Xena.

"Well, that's ok. You're entitled. Do you want to talk, or do you just want to sit there being grumpy?"

There was no response, so Ephiny decided to push the issue. She walked over and sat in the window seat. Xena stared out the window ignoring the regent, ignoring the world. Ephiny was surprised with what she saw.

The scar was very red. There were some new spots of blood where the stitches had come out, but all in all in looked a lot better. 'Not as angry,' she thought. No, the anger she could see was plainly in those ice blue eyes. Something had ruffled the warrior's feathers. Ephiny's mind went quickly to Nazalon. 'Did someone tell Xena that Gabrielle had spent the night in Nazalon's hut? If they did, they probably didn't mention that Nazalon wasn't there.'

"What are you staring at?" The low growl quickly brought Ephiny back to the problem at hand.

"Honestly ... your face ... or specifically your scar. It's not that bad you know. It could have been a lot worse. Belinda did a good job." Ephiny decided this was not a good time to beat around the bush.

Xena's eyes quickly left Ephiny's and looked back out the window.

"Ok. Who pissed in your porridge this morning?" Ephiny said as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.

Xena's head snapped back, "Excuse me!"

"You heard me. There have only been two people in this room all day." Ephiny was searching now, hoping not to tip her hand. "So, which one of them got you in such a bad mood."

Xena refused to look at her.

"Was it Jadax? ... Then it was Belinda? What, you didn't want the stitches out of your face?"

"No, it wasn't one of them, and no it wasn't that."

If Ephiny didn't know better, she would have thought the old Xena was sitting there right in front of her.

"Then what? ... OH in the name of Zeus ... Xena talk to me. Maybe I can help!"

No more words were forth coming, so the two just sat there, Xena staring out the window and Ephiny staring at Xena. She began to see what Gabrielle had meant. It was the same body, it was the same steely blue eyes. She licked her lips the same way, and she was just as stubborn and pig headed as always. But it wasn't Xena. It was very unnerving. If I could just get into that mind. Something was troubling her friend and she could see that as clearly as the scar on her face.

Xena wished she would leave. She could feel Ephiny's eyes on her as they traveled up and down her body.

'Was what they said about Amazon's true?' Xena thought about that for a moment. Then realized she didn't care if it was. 'Besides,' her mind thought, 'she not checking me out, she's checking my scars out. Go ahead,' she thought, 'take a good look, because I'm not going to.' Her mind then traveled back out the window.

Ephiny saw a change, a very subtle change. She knew something was roaming around in that mind.

"Xena ... I want to help ... Please tell me what's bothering you. And don't snarl and growl, then tell me nothing, I know you too well."

There was a long pause before Xena said. "Gabrielle."
Somebody had told her.

"What about Gabrielle?"

Ephiny could see the struggle happening right in front of her. The neck muscles tensed, the slight roll of the head, and the eyes shifting and then falling onto Ephiny's face. "I miss her. It's only been a day, and I miss having her being right here ... and then I think about what I did yesterday."

She stopped and looked back out the window, and then down at her hands. Ephiny noticed the bare right hand as Xena tried to flex the stiffness out of it.

"Will she come back, even if it's just so I can apologize?" The pain and sorrow in the warrior's voice unsettled even the Queen of the Amazons.

"All I can do is ask her ... The rest is up to her."

No comment was needed, which was good, because no comment was forth coming.

The two sat knowing there was more to be said.

The tall warrior spoke again, "I know you said if I had any questions about Gabrielle, that I had to ask her."

Ephiny could feel the shaky ground that she was about to stand on, "That's right, and I still believe that Xena."

"It's just, every time I think about her ... well it's just ... " She looked down at her flexing hand, "... I don't know ... it's like I'm missing."

As Xena struggled for the words, Ephiny was fighting everything in her mind that said not to scream out, 'you're missing your lover you stubborn fool.'

" I'm missing something here, something big." Xena finished.

Ephiny sat in begging silence, but finally whispered, "I can't answer that for you Xena."

Ephiny knew she couldn't sit in silence any longer.

"I have to leave you now," she lied, "there are some matters that I need to take care of."
Ephiny was walking to the door when Xena asked.

"We were close, weren't we? I mean Gabrielle and I." Ephiny stopped and turned.

"Yes." Turning back to the door she said under her breath, "very close.”

Chapter 29

No one else visited Xena that day, nor the next, information that was not lost on Ephiny. In a village of this size, filled with women, communication was abundant. By now everyone knew what had happen in the privacy of Xena and Gabrielle's own bedroom, and everybody would know that Gabrielle had spent the night at Nazalon's, alone.

        It was evening now and Ephiny and Jadax were curled up tightly together by the fire. They were so engrossed with each other, they hadn't heard Eponin enter the room. So she cleared her throat, loudly. Ephiny looked up and Jadax blushed.

"Is there something wrong?" asked the Queen.

"No, I'm actually just passing through. I just thought you might want to let the poor girl up for air once in a while ... my Queen. "If it was possible, Jadax turned even redder.

"Any idea if Xena is awake?"

"No, she 's been keeping pretty much to her self lately." Ephiny stated.

"It's not like she has much of a choice." Eponin said as she turned for Xena's room.

"She's hasn't been very social lately, so watch it, Eponin."

"Then think of this as a social call." The usually quiet warrior said as she waved a bottle of port in the air.

"Oh No!" The regent sighed as she fell back against Jadax.

"Ephiny, do you think this is a good idea?"

"I don't know. Ask me again in the morning, if the palace is still standing ... I wonder if I should let the priestess know?"

Xena had spent another day alone. A part of her had enjoyed the solitude, it gave her a chance to reflect on everything she knew about herself so far. She had been told about being a warrior, and a Warlord. That part she understood, she could feel it in herself. What she couldn't feel was this good side that she apparently had. All afternoon she had tried to remember more, but nothing came.

She also tried to figure out one of the questions she had in her mind. 'Why would someone like Gabrielle want to travel with someone like me? What would make someone as good and innocent as her, want to stay with someone as dark and angry as me?' she thought. 'I have nothing to offer except pain and trouble according to some of Ephiny's stories.'
It was when these questions began to swirl in the mind of Xena that she wished something, or somebody, would break her of this solitude. She was bored, having looked at everything in the room that was openly visible, she decided it was time to snoop around.

It took a good ½ candlemark for her to get off the bed. The pain and over exertion left her very faint, and shaky. She rested awhile and then took a look around. The room appeared to be different from this level. She checked out the table that sat next to the bed, but found nothing of interest. Scanning her eyes around again, she felt the disappointment weighing heavy. There was nothing else to really look at. The dresser was basically empty, she could see that from the bed. There was nothing else of interest catching her eye, just a pile of extra blankets and furs, a couple of other chairs, and a box with cooking utensils. Xena laid down on the floor and was rewarded by the sight of something under the bed. She reached in slowly until she felt metal and leather. Pulling the bundle out, she simply stared at it.

Unbeknownst to her she had just discovered the material essence that made up the warrior princess. The strong fingers ran along the rusted design. The fingers knew the familiarity of the bronze breast plate, though the woman's mind did not. Turning and twisting the outfit, flashes burst into her mind. She knew she had found something, but what? Was it hers? The moment the question formed in her mind, so did the vision.

'Gabrielle was being held by some man, a bad man. And ... and something about her horse,' but clear in her mind was what the pretty blond was wearing, 'this ... this leather and bronze armor.' This was Gabrielle's. Putting the outfit to the side, Xena looked to see what else was there. A sword and a round circle thing. Her hand immediately went to the sword. The moment her right hand went to grasp it a seer of pain shot through her still injured hand. Forgetting the weapon, she reached for the shiny gold and silver circle. As her fingers curled around the edge of this strange thing, Xena gasped as it sliced into her already injured right hand. Instinctive by nature, or by her reaction to pain, she threw it. The strange circle began to hum, as it bounced off the wall, then off the window frame, off the other wall, off the bed post, then came to a stop, deeply embedded in the door frame ... a finger length from Eponin's nose as she walked through the door. The quiet warrior stood very still as she stared at the chakram. Slowly Eponin looked over at Xena.

"I don't think that's something you should be playing with yet."

"What is that thing?" Eponin reached up and removed the deadly weapon carefully. She walked over and placed it on the dresser, far out of Xena's reach.

"That is your weapon of choice. It is called a Chakram. And by the look of your hand, you're no where ready to use it yet!" Xena looked down at her bleeding hand.

"I think I will agree with you on that." She said as she wrapped a bandage she had retrieved off the table, around her hand.

"May I?" Eponin requested as she motioned toward the bandage. Xena hesitated for a moment and then nodded. The warrior bent to tie up the loose ends after having placed the bottle of port on the floor.

"What's that?"

Eponin sat down next to Xena.

"This my friend, is what we warriors do once in awhile, especially when we need to vent some of our frustration. When I heard yesterday that you were having an anger management problem ..." Eponin paused as Xena quickly looked away, "... it's understandable Xena."

"But not acceptable," mumbled the warrior princess.

"True ... but when I heard about it, I decided it was time two old warriors had a heart to heart. You are my friend, and we both know it, whether you realize it or not. We warriors are a different breed. We have to vent, and since your options are very limited ..." Eponin held up the bottle. "Belinda said it was ok, she didn't approve, but don't worry she never does." Eponin pulled out the cork and then promptly broke it in two with her fingers.

Xena looked at her with raised eyebrows. "Is that a warrior thing too?"

"No, that's just something we do." Eponin brought the bottle to her lips, drawing back the liquid into her throat, then handed the bottle to Xena.

Xena looked at the bottle, then looked over at Eponin.

"Is this something we do a lot?"

"No," said Eponin. Then with a sly grin added, "I don't think the village could handle it."

Xena brought the bottle to her nose and sniffed, 'smells good' she thought, why not. Putting the bottle to her lips, she took a sip. Swallowing she immediately felt the slow burn as the alcohol traveled down her throat. Waiting a moment, she took another sip. This time taking more port into her mouth, before she handed the bottle back to Eponin.

"Oh that is good ... really good." Pausing she asked, "So what does the village have against alcohol?"

Swallowing Eponin said, "Nothing ... It just doesn't like us having alcohol," passing the bottle back to Xena.

"Why?" She said pressing the bottle back to her lips, taking a long pull from it.

"Well, let's just say the last time we broke a cork together ... well, that wasn't the only thing that got broke that night."

The two mighty warriors sat on the floor, passing the bottle back and forth. Only small bits of conversations interrupting their intake of port.

Within a candlemark, Ephiny's eyes were rolling. Waves of laughter were coming from the usually quiet room. She stood up at one point, at the sound of breaking furniture. But Jadax put a hand on her arm and shook her head. Ephiny reluctantly agreed, and sat back down. She knew the two warriors would look out for each other, and Xena did need some kind of release. They sat and listened to the two warriors, she just hoped the palace and village would be standing in the morning. Ephiny looked down at the woman asleep in her arms. She gently nudging her sleeping scout, the Queen and her consort headed for their own room as another wave of laughter echoed throughout the palace.

"Do it gain ... do it, come on." Xena begged, the near empty port bottle cradled in her arms.

Eponin tilted her head back and let go the worst Xena war cry possible, "Alalalalalala," the two mighty warriors erupted in gales of laughter.

"And I ...and I do this ..." laughing, Xena tried to continue, "... and peoples, and pebble take this seriously." Eponin nodded, both busting with laughter again. Xena took a drink, then passed the bottle to Eponin's out stretched hand.

"Why?" She asked and Eponin only shrugged.

"So between this yelling lalala, and this shamram thing, I became this ledge dury warrior."

"Xena ... ZZeeennnnaaa ... Xenaaa"


"No, I just sayin' Xena ... You said legendary warrior ... I said Xena. Get it ... Legendary warrior princess Xena!"

At the sound of her true name the warrior princess raised her sword clumsily with her left hand.

"Lalalala," and the sword fell out of her hand, backwards. The laughter erupted again.

"Don't forget the flips." Eponin said crawling to her feet.

"I do flips too," said a stunned, wide-eyed Xena.

"Oh yeah, yer flips are ahzum. Watch." Eponin was trying to stand on the only remaining unbroken chair. Attempting to leap up with no success, the warrior came crashing down on the defenseless, unarmed chair, scattering pieces of wood and leather in all directions. Xena's mouth opened wide, as a stunned Eponin sat amongst the ruins. Both were silent, then waves of hysterical laughter filled the room.

The laughter died away, and Eponin crawled slowly back to Xena's side, taking the bottle that waited her.

"Why does everyone ... Why does everyone call me a legend?"

"Cause a everything yous done."

"But what have I really dun?"

"What haven't you at Gabbeyelle done. You up righted the wrongs, done lots of good deeds, and stuff."

Just the mention of Gabrielle's name sent a wave through Xena's body. The warrior reached for the bottle and drained it. The two sat and looked at the empty bottle.


"Issa ok. There's a bottle of sumthin' in the bottle drawer over there." Xena pointed over to the dresser and Eponin crawled to it. She searched the drawers and removed a bottle of Amazon wine that had been in the room since the impending arrival of the Queen and princess over a moon cycle ago.

Eponin held up the bottle, Xena let loose her true war cry, "Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi."

Eponin just about dropped the bottle as she starred at Xena.

The princess showed no sign that even she knew what she just done.

Far away, alone, in Nazalon's hut, Gabrielle's eyes flew open.

"Xena!" She whispered, and sat up. But no other sound was heard, except that of lively crickets. She laid back in her bed, and tried without success to go back to sleep.

"Isis mine!" Slurred the warrior princess as the two drunken women looked at Xena's rusted armor.

"Who's didja think it was, Gabriell's?" There was that name again.

"What issit wiss me and her?" not realizing in her state that she had said this out loud.

"Ewes love each other," escaped through Eponin's numbed lips, quickly followed by an "OOPS"
"What you mean, love each other ... oops!" said Xena, desperately trying to focus on Eponin.

"Well 'teen me and ewes, this is sapose be big secret. No ones suppose to say anythings to ewes 'til you 'memder you self." Eponin stumbled the words out as she leaned heavy toward the swaying Xena.

"Say anysing about what?" she questioned.

"'Bout the secret," Eponin said bringing a finger to her shhing lips.

"But wuss the secret?"

"That you love 'er." The words rang through Xena's head, cutting through the alcohol, right to her brain.

"I love her. I love Gabrielle," a stunned Xena leaned back against the bedside table, as memories flashed through her mind. 'She was hitting Gabrielle in the chest with her fist, a feeling a desperation, gripped her heart as she screamed 'don't leave me, don't leave me: in a church looking down at Gabrielle, the unbearable ache of letting go,' as she leaned; another image flashed, 'they were floating, again came the aching longing feeling: then slammed the image of Gabrielle falling, falling into fire,' Xena snapped back to reality.

Quickly she looked around and spotted Eponin passed out on the floor. Wave after wave of alcohol began to pull her under, and as Xena relinquished her hold on consciousness, she prayed that she would remember this in the morning.

Ephiny held her breath as she opened her bedroom door out to the common room. She let it go when all looked the same as last night.

"Anything?" Jadax asked, unable to see past the taller woman.

"Well the palace is still here. I just wonder if they are?" Ephiny headed in the direction of Xena's room. The first thing that hit her was the smell of port, as it was finally able to escape the room. The second was the sleeping women on the floor. Eponin was face down, her nose contorted to the side, 'Serves her right,' thought Ephiny. Her gaze then went to Xena, and she stifled a snicker.

The great warrior princess was wearing, or at least attempting to wear, her armor, which was on backwards. A new bandage was around her right hand. Her sword was across her lap, and her thumb was firmly in place between her lips. She looked to Jadax, who had stopped as she entered the room.

"What a mess!" The little scout said with a wrinkle in her nose.

"Could you please open the window? The fumes alone in here are making me dizzy." Ephiny looked around the room as Jadax went to the window. She noted the chakram on the dresser, not missing the hint of blood on its sharp edges. There were TWO empty bottles on the floor, she also noted the lack of functional furniture in the room. Walking over to the box that held Gabrielle and Xena's belongings, the regent reached for a pot and a frying pan. Jadax looked over in disbelief as Ephiny slammed the two together.

The two warriors awoke with a jerk, both immediately grabbing their heads.

"Ohhh," Eponin groaned loudly as Xena sat blinking and swallowing.

"Good morning. Had a pleasant evening I see? Thank you Eponin for not leaving this room and destroying anything else in the village ... again."

Eponin looked up at her Queen and made a feeble attempt at a glare.

"So the first order of business is to get this room cleaned up, and then to get the two of you cleaned up. "Ephiny stated firmly, trying to keep the amusement out of her voice.

But it wasn't working for Eponin, who grinned slightly. Then she looked over at Xena and actually giggled. Which caused the warrior to look down at herself?

"What? ... Oh," she moaned. "I can honestly say, I don't remember feeling this bad ... before."

Ephiny leaned down and helped Xena out of her armor.

"If you would like, I can show you how that is supposed to be worn." She smiled into the bloodshot blue eyes.

"Yeah ... whatever, just later ... ok.”

"Can I also surmise from the new bandage that you haven't mastered the art of the chakram?"

"Master. No one masters that thing. It has a mind of its own." Xena said trying to sit up a little straighter. But there was no longer enough alcohol in her system to forget the pain.

"Yes, I believe it does. All right Eponin, pack Xena out to the common room. This room needs to be cleaned up and aired out." Ephiny wasn't sure who looked more uneasy, Eponin at the thought of packing Xena, anywhere ... especially now, or Xena who wasn't sure what made her more frightened, being packed anywhere at the moment, or that of leaving her room for the first time.

"Let's go." Ephiny said clapping her hands together, sending a grimace to both the women's faces.
After much moaning and groaning, and threatening illness, Eponin finally got Xena out and into the common room. Xena slowly looked around, her head not allowing much movement. As Eponin turned to go as Xena reached out her hand and grabbed a hold of Eponin's.

"Thank you, my friend, for everything ... and I mean everything. I think I did need that." Ephiny saw a look of a remembrance pass over Eponin's eyes.

"I think you did too, my friend, and you're welcome." Eponin turned and headed slowly back to the bedroom, the cleaning task still had to be done.

Ephiny quietly asked Jadax to stay with Xena, stating that she needed to speak to Eponin.

The Queen walked through the doorway of the bedroom and firmly closed the door, knowing the effect it would have on Eponin's pounding head.

"What did she mean, everything?"

Eponin turned slowly to face her Queen. Taking a breath, the warrior looked straight into Ephiny's eyes.

"I think I told her about her and Gabrielle," she sighed regrettably.

"You think! ... Oh, this is great."

"Well I'm not sure, but I think I told her that she loved Gabrielle."

"You're not sure, you think! Can you tell what you are sure of, and what you know?!" The regent was beside herself.

"I know I didn't tell her they were lovers."

"Well I guess that's a good thing, Eponin. What did she do when you told her?"

"Ah, I don't really remember, I think that's when I passed out."

The two stood for a moment, one was thinking, the other was trying not to.

"I think you should go and let Gabrielle know what you did."

"Yeah, ... I am sorry, Eph."

"Don't be too hard on yourself. I'm surprised it's been a secret for this long. I mean, not everyone knows they are lovers, but everyone knows how they feel for each other. Besides, I think your little party last night was something you both needed. I only hope the end result is positive."

"Me too ... me too. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go be ill, then I'll go and see Gabrielle."
Ephiny stepped quickly to the side to let Eponin pass.

"Before you leave, anything else happen last night or anything else you wish to add."

"Yeah, don't let her anywhere near that chakram," and Eponin left. Ephiny was about to turn away from the door when she noticed the mark on the door frame. Her eyebrows shot up, and she turned to pick up the chakram and exited the room.

When Xena finally opened her eyes again, it was late morning. Alarms flashed through her body when she realized she wasn't in her room.

"Xena, are you ok?" Ephiny asked when she saw the look on Xena's face.

"Ah, yes. I just forgot where I was for a moment ... It's nice to have a change of scenery."

"I'll bet it is. How's the hand?" Xena looked down at her hand and then back up at Ephiny, who was now holding the shiny chakram.

"That thing is dangerous."

"Yes, it is. I would like you to promise me you won't use it until you remember how. I really don't need this bouncing off any of my Amazon's, or any more door frames for that matter."

"Not a problem, Ephiny ... Not a problem."

"And about last night," started the Queen.

"Please, don't get mad at Eponin, she didn't mean anything by it. We were just blowing of some steam."

"Oh, I know that. No, what I'm talking about is what she told you."

Instantly Xena remembered the images and feelings that had made themselves known. And the words Eponin had said. Ephiny saw the emotions run through Xena's eyes as she waited for Xena to speak.

"First things first, Ephiny. I want to know why this was to be a secret. Why didn't you tell me the other day when we had our little chat?"

"It was Gabrielle's decision. I can guess as to why, but for the real truth, you'll need to talk to her."

"How can I talk to her when she's been avoiding me. Which, knowing what I know now, I really don't blame her. We are supposed to be best of friends, love's strong bond and all that. And I think ..."
"Enough Xena, we have been through all this before. You now know how you used to feel, can you tell me how you feel now?"

"I don't ... know. I mean pieces are coming back slowly, but some of them I really don't understand. Some of it comes with feelings, strong feelings. But ... I don't know."

"Well don't push it. Belinda told us it has to come naturally. Not you, not I, none of us can force it. Just like I can't force Gabrielle to come back and talk to you. It's going to take some time. You are still healing in every way. You can't force your body to heal any faster than it is, and the same with your memory. All right ... How about I head to the kitchen and rustle you up some food."

"Sure, thank you ... nothing runny ok."

"I promise. Go back to sleep, I'll wake you when I return." Xena laid her head back gently and closed her eyes, and drifted back to sleep.

Chapter 30

"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle," said Eponin, "I meant no harm."

"I know that, Eponin." The bard was seated on her cot in Nazalon's hut. It was what she had collapsed on when Eponin had told her, and her knees had given away.

"How did she react? Did she say anything?"

The sheepish warrior bowed her head, "I don't know the answer to either question, I passed out."

"She wants to know why you didn't tell her," Ephiny said from the doorway. Gabrielle and Eponin looked up in surprise.

"Eponin, I would like to talk to Gabrielle alone." Eponin nodded and quietly left. She was glad. She wasn't keen on big emotional scenes.

Ephiny sat down.

"She's confused Gabrielle. She only has pieces, not the whole puzzle. She wants to talk to you."

"I don't know if I can. What do I say to her?"

"I would begin with the truth, the whole truth. I think she deserves that much. She's trying Gabrielle, and I think the more help we give her, the easier it will be."

The bard sat quietly.

"It is your decision, but you know how I feel." Ephiny stood to leave.

"I'm on my way to get her some food ... unless you would like to. The palace will be yours. I'll see to that. She wants to see you, if only just to apologize. But you two need to talk."

Ephiny saw the blond hair move slowly in a nod. Placing a caring hand onto her shoulder, Ephiny added. "She's not in her room, she's out in the common room."

"Thanks," and she departed slowly, heading toward the kitchen.

As Gabrielle came up to the palace, she noticed immediately Ephiny had been true to word. There were Royal guards at the front door, and Eponin was standing at the back. The palace was theirs. Hesitantly at first, Gabrielle continued on to the back door. Eponin said nothing, only nodded as she opened the door for the bard.

Slowly walking down the hall, she spotted the sleeping form of Xena in the common room. She carried the tray of food over to the table, and walked around to face her lover. Gabrielle was certain the loud beating of her heart would wake her warrior, but it didn't. The bard realized how strange it was to walk up on a sleeping Xena, something that would never have happened in the past.

Gabrielle noticed the long scar. It did look a lot better, but it was still there, a constant reminder that this was a different Xena. But it didn't stop her from wanting to climb in next to her, and tell her how much she still loved her. Her eyes drifted down Xena's body, spotting the new bandage. Obviously a wound from last night's drinking party.

Not trusting herself, or Xena totally, she moved over to a chair and sat down. Whether it was the noise of chair, or Xena's ability to sense a person's presence, it didn't matter, the blue eyes fluttered open.

Gabrielle felt a rush of emotion when she saw Xena's eyes widen in delight having spotted her sitting there.

"Hi, ... I am so happy to see you." Xena tried to sit up too quickly and grimaced in pain. Gabrielle, out of pure reflex, jumped up to offer assistance.

"I'm, ok. No, please don't sit down. Come sit by me." Xena patted the big fur-covered bench.

Seeing the hesitation and concern on her face, Xena quickly started talking.

"I'm sorry. I am so sorry. I never should have yelled at you. I should never have said those things to you, Gabrielle. I can't apologize enough. Please ..." She patted the bench again.
Gabrielle slowly sat down."You scared me Xena."

"I know that now. I think I even knew it then, but it just came out. I've regretted it ever since. I wish I could promise it will never happen again, but I can't."

Seeing her friends body tense with this information, she continued, "Pieces of my past are coming at me all the time now. But they're just pieces. I need to put them together. I need you to help me put them together. Yes, ... I am afraid of how I will react to some of these visions, but I know now that deep in my heart I would never hurt you." Slowly Xena reached out and gently took a hold of Gabrielle's hand.

"I care for you, I care for greatly, I know that now." A sob broke from Gabrielle. Xena wiggled a little closer. Releasing her hold on Gabrielle's hand, she slowly put her fingers under her chin and looked deep into her green eyes.

"I want to know why you didn't want to tell me." Tilting her head to one side she moved her hand from Gabrielle's chin to brush away the falling tears.

"Why?" Xena whispered.

The bard swallowed hard. "I didn't think you needed the added pressure. I had to know if it would come to you on it's own."

Xena looked hard and long into those green eyes, until she knew deep down inside what her body had known all along, she loved her. That constant longing, the ache she thought was part of her injuries, was her heart telling her it knew what she did not?

Xena took her hand from Gabrielle's face. With only the one good hand and one good leg, the mighty Xena, warrior princess, struggled to stand. The little bard had offered her help twice, but both times Xena had shaken her head no. Finally rewarded, a wavering Xena stood ... unaided. Turning carefully, she held out her hand.

"Come here." Was all she needed to whisper? A smile broke through the wet face of Gabrielle as she ever so carefully melted into Xena's arms. Content and secure at last, the two lost lovers held each other. It was the first time since the day they parted at the river. There they stood the warrior and her bard. Gabrielle felt only pure relief, and Xena for the first time ... felt at home. But it was only to last a moment as Gabrielle could feel Xena's body begin to shake with the effort it had just put forth.

"Xena?" Gabrielle made herself pull out of her warrior's arms. She could see the pain, fatigue, and loss of color in Xena's face. She quickly went under Xena's left arm and hollered.

"Eponin!" The back door was thrown open before Gabrielle even finished calling her name.

Quickly seeing the situation, Eponin raced to Xena's side before she could hit the floor. In one strong, fluid motion the Amazon had the dark haired warrior in her arms.
"Do you want her here, or back in your bedroom?" Eponin looked at Gabrielle.

"The bedroom would probably be better." The quiet warrior headed to the bedroom with the body of Xena. Slowly and gently she laid her on the bed, Eponin turned to go.

"Thank you, Eponin." Gabrielle could see the question on Eponin's face.

She smiled. "We're good."

Eponin's relief was evident, and she quickly added on her departure. "You will not be disturbed until morning, my Queen" The door was quietly closed.

"I guess that was a bit too much." The low voice said quietly from the bed.

Gabrielle turned to see Xena's eyes had opened again, a faint smile was on her still pale face.

"Xena, how do you feel?" Gabrielle said as she crossed the room and sat on the bed.

The warrior princess studied the face in front of her for a moment before she answered.

"Shaky and a little queasy." Xena patted the bed and Gabrielle slid in closer.

"Can I get you anything? Do you want some water or something?"

"I wouldn't mind all my memory back. The bits and pieces are ok, I mean, at least it's something. I know who you are now. But I don't remember all of what we've done together, and I know I'm still missing some big pieces of who I am and who we were." Xena lifted her hands taking Gabrielle's face into their possession.

"But I do know how I feel ... inside. I feel my heart pounding. I feel my chest tightening. I have never felt so nervous."

"Xena?" The warrior placed her fingers on Gabrielle's lips stopping the bard's voice of concern.

"Gabrielle ... I don't know much, but I do know what I want." Xena said in a whisper as she slowly leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on Gabrielle's very stunned lips.

Chapter 31

Ephiny and Jadax slowly wandered their way to the palace arm in arm, not paying a lot of attention as to what was in front of them, until they ran straight into Eponin.

"Oh ... I'm so sorry Eponin. We didn't see you?"

"Actually my Queen, it was my fault for ... stopping you," Eponin added the last part slowly hoping she wouldn't have to repeat it.

"Stopping us ...?" Ephiny questioned.

"Yes, my Queen."

"Oh, cut the 'my Queen' shit Eponin. What's this about?"

"You said absolute privacy of the whole palace Ephiny. Your own words."

"I know that, but I didn't mean us. Where in Tartarus are we suppose to sleep tonight?"

"You may have my hut, or I understand Nazalon's will be available ... all night."

"All night?"

"All night!" Eponin said with a sly smile.

Jadax squeezed Ephiny's hand tighter.

"Then things are going good?" Ephiny asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yes, I believe those were the exact words Gabrielle used."

All three stood there smiling like idiots, while Eponin related what little she knew.

"So Nazalon's hut is still empty."

"Yes. She mentioned she was spending the evening on the other side of the hill."

"Well, I guess we'll squeeze into her hut for the night, then. Let me know if there is any trouble."

The two departed with Jadax muttering something about the position they would have to sleep in. Eponin heard Ephiny laugh in response.

The two heads separated as the green eyes stared into blue. Not a word was spoken, the eyes said it all. Smiles began to form on freshly kissed lips.

"I know I've done that before." The husky voiced warrior stated with a grin. "And I know I'd like to do it again."

Xena slowly leaned back in to reclaim the lips that had felt so familiar. But the pressure of Gabrielle's out stretched hand stopped the movement. Xena pulled back and looked at Gabrielle questioningly. Her mind searching.

'Have I misread all this? Did I just step way out of bounds?'

"Did I just cross a line I wasn't suppose to?" Xena asked in bewilderment.

"No." Gabrielle smiled. "No, that line has been crossed before. Matter of fact, there are no longer any boundaries between us Xena. But I have to know, I have to be certain, that it is you kissing me. Because you want to ... in here." Touching her chest, "and in here." Gabrielle placed a finger on Xena's head.

"All I can say is, I have seen us kiss before and I liked the feeling that went through my body. Every image I have seen of you, I always felt an ache to be near you. I just wanted to hold you. Then I realized, when you weren't here, it wasn't just that I missed you. I longed for you. I wanted to feel you next to me.”

Xena looked deeply into Gabrielle's wide green eyes.

“I knew if I could just hold you, the part of me that aches, would stop aching ... I may not know who I am, but I know what I want. I know who I want ... I want you.”

Xena watched as the bard's eyes began to fill with tears. The tight knot in her own throat was swallowed down as she felt the onset of her own emotions.

“I want to hold you. I want to kiss you, and the Gods willing Gabrielle, I want very much to make love to you."

Their tears fell in unison. Their hearts were pounding loudly as their minds were racing almost out of control. Hands tightly held by hands. Gabrielle finally spoke.

"There is so much you still don't know, things you haven't remembered. I think until you are more you ..." Gabrielle's voice trailed off to silence as her body and heart screamed for her not to say the words echoing in her mind.

Gabrielle saw the immediate reaction of her words in Xena's face. Part of her wanted to say forget it all and make mad passionate love to this woman in front of her, but she knew she couldn't.

        "I also don't think your body is ready for that. I think we should wait."

"I don't want to wait. I know how I feel and I know what I want."

"And I want it too, Xena. But I think if we rush this it could be a big mistake. But I still want to hold you, and I still want to be held by you. I want to feel your body next to mine, the sweet taste of your kisses."
Before she could say anything more, Xena leaned to claim the kiss she so badly wanted. Gabrielle's lips responded and so did her body. The warrior felt the small movement as Gabrielle moved closer to her. Lips that had started so gently, were now pressing firmly, determined to have what they thought was their own.

A small whimper of desire escaped from Xena's chest and Gabrielle immediately pulled away.

"Are you all right?"

"No," gasped a breathless Xena, "I don't understand but I will abide by your decision."

Xena awkwardly pulled Gabrielle closer with her left hand and splinted right arm. Just holding her close felt so safe. She held her tight, kissing the top of the blond hair. Xena felt Gabrielle nestle in closer, she felt a serenity she hadn't felt in a long time. It didn't take the warrior and the Queen long to fall into a peaceful sleep, wrapped up in each other's arms.

Gabrielle woke the next morning feeling the secure warmth of Xena's body. She snuggled in a little closer, and sighed in happiness.

"Good morning."

The bard felt, more than heard, the deep vibration of Xena's voice. Lifting her head she placed her chin on the warrior's chest and looked up into the icy blue eyes she knew so well.

"Good morning, yourself."

Gabrielle pulled her body upwards and placed a sweet kiss onto awaiting lips. As they parted, Gabrielle kept her focus on Xena's eyes, not wanting to look anywhere else. But the ever perceptive Xena detected the problem.

"Does it bother you that much?"

Gabrielle's eyes betrayed her as they traveled down the length of Xena's scar, observing the damage the act of violence had caused. The once unmarred bronze face was now twisted and distorted as the raised, red, ribbon pulled at her eye and the corner of her mouth. Her left cheekbone was sunken from the force of the blade that had cut so deeply.

Gabrielle swallowed as she withdrew her eyes from the scar.

"Not in the way you're thinking." No longer fixated on the line of proud flesh, she gazed into Xena's blue eyes.

"And in what way do I think?"

"The scar itself doesn't bother me, it's the ugliness and hatred it represents. All you went through at the hands of those men.” Gabrielle lifted her hand to the side of Xena's face. “Your beauty is not who you are, Xena. You are a striking woman and I still see that. What they did to you ... is barbaric.”

Her green eyes showed the resentment she felt for the men who had almost killed the woman she loved.

“Why would someone want to do this to you? Was it something in your past? Or were they just so wicked that they wanted just to torture anyone? How much more do you have to do to atone for your past?” Gabrielle could feel her anger for these men rising up inside of her. She closed her eyes and centered herself before speaking again. “What bothers me is, this will always be a constant reminder of everything that's happened, to you and to us ..."

Xena could see there was more. Something else was eating away at the bard. Xena wondered what it was. She reached over and lifted Gabrielle's chin again to look deep into her eyes, green eyes that reflected the truth that was in the bard's heart.

"And?" Xena said simply. She waited for Gabrielle to answer. It didn't take long for the root of Gabrielle's anguish to show itself. The warrior watched as the bard let go of the remorse that tore at her soul.

"That I wasn't with you when it happened, I left you alone. You were injured and I left you alone." Her voice broke at the admission of her own guilt.

Xena's arm wrapped tightly around her as Gabrielle buried her head into Xena's chest. It was the patient's turn to do the soothing. The warrior held her tight, kissing her head and telling her it was going to be all right. Xena tried to think of anything to soften the pain Gabrielle was feeling. She may have been a warrior but she couldn't handle the torment on the bard's face.

"Hey, hey, come on ... look at me. I have one question to ask ... Listen ... Whose idea was it for me to be alone?"

A quiet voice responded, "Yours."

"Knowing what I know about myself so far, I knew that. And I also know if it was my decision, there wasn't much you could have done ... Right? I'm right, aren't I?"

Gabrielle nodded.

"So the only person at fault is me. Right? ... Right?"

Gabrielle nodded again.

"And according to Ephiny, I'm pretty bull headed, so you couldn't have changed my mind, could you?"
Gabrielle nodded once more.

"And if you don't stop nodding your head against my chest, I'll take every ounce of strength I do have and take you right now, injuries be damned."

Gabrielle lifted her flushed face and smiled. Slowly rising up onto her knees, a mischievous look of daring on her face. Gently and mindfully, she straddled Xena's mid section. Looking deep into the warrior's eyes, she leaned forward, pinning both of Xena's arms above her head. All the while being very cautious of Xena's injuries.

"I"d like to see you try, warrior babe!" Gabrielle said as she leaned in tickling Xena's face with her long, blond hair. When Xena tried to lift her head in search of Gabrielle's lips, the little blond saw a flash of pain. Loosening her hold slightly, she brought her own lips down onto Xena's. The kisses now were definitely more intense, as the two searched for release of their pent up emotions and desires. Losing herself in the moment, Gabrielle's grip on the warrior's arms loosened, allowing Xena the freedom she wanted. Feeling a hand working its way up her stomach, Gabrielle realized it was almost too much freedom as the two would be lovers were starting to lose their self control. Their hands and tongues began to search for their own desires. They almost didn't hear the soft knock on the bedroom door. They parted their passions just in time to look over to see Ephiny's head coming around the door.

Ephiny beamed at the sight of Gabrielle blushing on top of her warrior princess. The look on their faces told the Queen it had been a good night, a very good night.

"I don't believe that is a recommended position for someone who is trying to recover from serious injures." Ephiny smiled with raised eyebrows.

"Speak for yourself." Xena said glancing at Ephiny. She turned her attentions back to Gabrielle and she added, "this position is doing wonders for my recovery."

The two gazed into each other's eyes as Xena massaged her left hand up and down Gabrielle's side.

"I can see that." Ephiny said with smug delight.

"So what happened to our privacy, Ephiny? I thought we had the palace to ourselves for the night and the morning."

"Ah ... I hate to break it to you two lovebirds, but it's noon."

The two traded smiles and Xena laughingly said, "No wonder I'm so hungry."

"Oh, by the Gods Xena, your food from yesterday, it's still in the common room" Gabrielle carefully lifted herself off of Xena, much to the warrior's unhappiness, and quickly left the room.

"Might I assume things got worked out?" The regent said to the warrior now that they were alone.

"You could say that. All I know is, I feel a big piece of what was missing is now back where she belongs."

"I'm very happy, for both of you. I'm very sorry I couldn't tell you sooner, but it was her decision and your step to take."

"Yes, Ephiny, I know that ... now."

A humming Gabrielle returned with a platter of food.

"Well, some of it is still ok." The bard said as she picked at some of the hardened cheese.

"I'll leave you two alone. Actually, why don't you let me go get you something fresh from the kitchen."

"Thank you, Ephiny, that would be nice." Ephiny nodded and quietly closed the door as Gabrielle snuggled back into Xena's side.

Chapter 32

The hot days of summer were passing with much due happiness. Ephiny was happy her village was almost normal again. Jadax was happy just to have more time with her Queen. Eponin was happy to get back to just her warrior duties, and Gabrielle and Xena were just happy to hold and comfort each other. The only one who didn't share everyone's happiness, was Nazalon.

As much as she tried to be happy for the warrior and her bard, she couldn't get passed her feelings toward Gabrielle. Eponin had noticed how much time Nazalon spent on her own now. She also noticed the warrior hadn't been back to her hut, but had been spending her evenings on the west side of the hill. Eponin mulled over whether or not to bring this to the Queen's attention. She finally decided to give the warrior some more time to get over her lost love.

Xena's constant questions to Gabrielle were a great source of happiness to the little bard. It was no secret she loved to talk, though she always tried to keep the stories basic and bare boned, letting Xena fill in the gaps when she could. But she always was aware that somewhere under the surface were some questions she didn't want to answer. Questions she knew were sure to come. Questions about lies and betrayals that had almost destroyed them up once before. Gabrielle wondered if their relationship could survive it ... again.

"What?" Gabrielle said when she realized Xena had asked her a question.

"Well, I had asked if you knew where Eponin was, but maybe I should have asked where you were?"

They had spent most of the morning lying in bed, but Gabrielle was now sitting in the window seat enjoying the view from their room. Xena had been staring at the ceiling her left arm supported under her head. It was easy to see the thoughts going around in both of their minds.

"I'm sorry Xena, I guess I was day dreaming?"

"Should I ask about what, or dare I say who?"

"There is no need. You know who. And as far as Eponin goes, I'm not sure. Actually, I'm not even sure if she's in the village." the bard said having thought about it for a moment.

"I would like to see her if you wouldn't mind tracking her down."

"Are you sure there isn't something I could do?"

Xena's eyelids closed ever so slightly and her voice deepened before answering. "I could think of a few things that I'd like you to do."


"All right, fine," said the warrior rolling her eyes. Gabrielle laughed as she left the room in search of the quiet Amazon.

Gabrielle was finally successful in finding Eponin, and in Artemis' temple no less. She was uncomfortable in entering the temple she had intentionally been avoiding. She hesitated but saw no problem with just entering and then leaving again.

Eponin was having a discussion with the priestess which she quickly ended when she saw Gabrielle.

"Is there a problem?" The warrior asked with great concern.

"I don't think so. Xena just asked to see you."

"Well, come on then, we'll walk back to the palace together. If that's all right?" Eponin had noticed Gabrielle's uneasiness.

Momentarily distracted as she looked around the temple, she didn't answer right away. It had just dawned on her no one had ever mentioned the mantel she had torn down.

"Ummm, oh yes, that would be great." Gabrielle finally answered the waiting warrior.

They chatted all the way to the palace about nothing in particular. Eponin was happy to finally see the old Gabrielle emerging. Her smile was real, her laughter was light and her eyes were dancing with happiness.

"I'm glad things are starting to work out for you two," the warrior finally finding an opening to speak.

"A lot of that is thanks to you, you know. You're the one who blew open our little secret. Which before you apologize again, I'm very glad you did."

Eponin nodded and opened the back door for Gabrielle, both women spotting Ephiny coming out of Xena's room.

"Oh there you are Gabrielle. I was ... just looking for you. Xena said she wanted to talk to Eponin, so I thought you might join Jadax and me for lunch?"

Gabrielle hesitated for a moment, thinking obviously Xena wanted to be alone with Eponin. Trying not to sound too concerned, she answered the regent as her eyes held on their bedroom door.

"Sure, I'll just let Xena know I'm going,"

"No, it's ok ... I just talked to her. Hi Eponin." Ephiny leaned around Gabrielle to make eye contact with the warrior.

Gabrielle turned to leave with Ephiny, once out of ear shot Xena said to Eponin, "It took you long enough to get here!"

"So there hasn't been anything more than a few flashes of memory?" Ephiny asked Gabrielle.

"Not that I'm aware of. She tells me now when she gets them, so I can fill in any missing or confusion points. I thought we were going for lunch," Gabrielle said with puzzlement when Ephiny didn't turn in the direction of the kitchen.

"We are, but Jadax is over at the training grounds and I told her I'd come and get her when I was ready for lunch." The regent replied as they walked passed the row of huts lining the compound.

"The training grounds?" Gabrielle said, making no attempt to cover her surprise.

"Yes, Nazalon and Eponin have been working with her. It seems she has taken up the bow and arrow. I've been told she's quite good, but she won't let me see her use it yet."

"But Ephiny, she's a scout. Why does she want to learn to use a weapon?”

"Xena's injuries have been far reaching, Gabrielle." It was all Ephiny needed to say as they broke through the trees to the training grounds.

A large, open clearing was scattered with Amazons all in different groups, training with different weapons. Where once there was a grassy field was now worn to the red soil by months of heavy use. There were targets for archers and many different styles of posts to practice their weapons on, though many of the women were sparring with partners.

Gabrielle's eyes immediately went to the women working on their staff techniques. The spinning staffs made her smile as she recalled her own early training lessons from Ephiny and Eponin. The sound of metal on metal could be heard as warrior's sparred with their swords.

As Gabrielle turned at the sound, she spotted Jadax quickly striding over to them, a large bow was in her hand. Gabrielle could see the slight disappointment on Ephiny's face, she had hoped to see her little scout show off her new abilities.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the three headed for the kitchen. Ephiny noticed how quiet Gabrielle got when Jadax slipped her hand through her own. Whispering quietly to her, Jadax nodded in understanding, and let her lover's hand go.

"I've got a great idea. How about enjoying this lovely day with a picnic?" Jadax said with a mischievous smile.

Ephiny quickly agreed, but Gabrielle said she didn't want to spend too much time away from Xena.

"Ah come on, you need to get outside more. You're still too pale ... come on. How about I run back and ask Xena if it's ok." Ephiny questioned as she stopped.

"That's not fair, Eph. and you know it. Xena would say it was ok with her, even if it wasn't."

"Then it's a date ... come on." Ephiny looped her arm through the two and headed toward the kitchen. “We'll get enough for Xena for later."

Gabrielle really didn't want to go, but it didn't take her long to join in on the fun. The cooks were more than willing to help out the three as they prepared a basket. Meat, cheeses, bread and some fresh fruit was their bounty when they finally left the kitchen. Jadax had run down to the barn and joined them as they were leaving, her arms laden with blankets.

"Well, where are we going to have this little party?" Ephiny said as they left the kitchen.

"How about on the hill?" Jadax was referring to a clearing that was behind the palace. It had an excellent view of the village and the valley below.

"That sounds good, is that all right with you?" Ephiny said to Gabrielle.

"Sure, I can just stop in and see that Xena's ok and let her know where I have gone."

"I'll do it," said Jadax. She pushed the blankets into Gabrielle's arms and was gone.

"No wonder you love her so much, Eph. She is almost too enthusiastic."

"She's a little excitable I'll admit, but I love that about her."

The two Queens continued on their way. Jadax had returned before they reached the palace steps.

“Xena's fine. She said to take your time, she was going to take a nap.” Jadax said to Gabrielle as she slyly winked at Ephiny.

The three headed up the path behind the palace.

The warm breeze from the summer sun played with the branches of the evergreens and the tall grass lining the pathway. The dense forest was just a step or two off to either side of the three women. The thick old growth with it's moss cloaked branches swallowed any of the sounds they were making. Gabrielle marveled at the view falling away behind them.

The bard followed as Ephiny stepped off the path at a break in the trees, Jadax a mere step behind her. Gabrielle felt the sudden change in temperature as they entered the shade of the forest. She glanced up at the tall trees around her, covering the forest floor with the canopy of green.

They broke through the trees to a small clearing of long grass. Gabrielle almost ran into the back of Ephiny, she had been enjoying the beauty of the meadow and hadn't noticed the regent had stopped. The bard looked questioningly at Ephiny and Jadax. She knew instantly they were up to something.

“All right, what's going on?” Neither of the Amazons answered. Instead they moved aside to give Gabrielle a full view of the small meadow.

There, up ahead, in the middle of the clearing, sitting on a log, was Xena. Standing, smiling beside her, was Eponin.

"It was all her idea. She just needed us to carry it out. Here, we'll be back later to collect you both." Ephiny handed the basket to Gabrielle. Eponin had left Xena's side and was striding toward them.

"I don't know what to say, to you all," said a beaming Gabrielle.

"Well then don't say anything, just get your ass over there." She didn't have to be told twice.

As the little bard walked through the grass to Xena, she noticed a couple of changes. The first and foremost was that Xena was wearing her leathers again. Someone had done a great job in repairing the torn and stained garment. The second was how much better her warrior looked out in the great outdoors. And how relaxed and happy she looked as Gabrielle got closer.

"I can see by the look on your face that I don't have to ask if you were surprised."

Gabrielle placed the basket on the blanket and crawled over to be beside Xena on the log.

"How long have you been planning this little romantic get together?"

"Just since this morning. I had mentioned it to Ephiny and she took the ball and ran with it. Only Eponin wasn't too thrilled, especially when she found out how far she would have to pack me."

"Well, it worked," said Gabrielle.

The bard offered some assistance to the warrior as she lowered herself off the log and onto the layers of furs and blankets. Gabrielle immediately found her place next to Xena's side. Tilting her blond head up, she placed a kiss on Xena's lips, enjoying the instant response she felt from her warrior. Xena reached out and pulled her bard closer to her. They were hungry, the days that had passed had not quenched the desire they craved for one another. Whether it was the fresh air or the build up of excitement, Xena wasn't sure, but she knew the self control they had both promised was slipping away. She could hear the soft whimpers of wanting coming from Gabrielle. The mere thought of those breast sent Xena's mind to another time and another place.

Flashes of memories slammed into her mind as an ache tore at her heart. Blood and lots of pain. She could physically feel the bard's body in her hands, but the body of Gabrielle in her mind was in pain. Somehow she knew the body she was holding was dying. Fear and panic tore through Xena's heart again, as she relived the thoughts of separation.

The bard instantaneously felt the change in Xena's body. The warrior's muscles tightened and a shudder rippled over her bronze skin. Trepidation ran through Gabrielle as she wondered where her friend's mind had gone. She cautiously pulled away from the wide-eyed warrior, but when she did, Xena's eyes focused back on her. The blue eyes instantly shimmered with tears.

"Xena?" Her fear changed to concern as she saw the pain and sadness in the warrior's face.

"Oh Gabrielle ... you were hurt." The little blond's blood ran cold as panic filled her. 'Which vision did Xena just have?' Her own thoughts went to when Xena had tried to kill her after Hope had killed Solan.

"It's ok, remember this is all in the past Xena. We got over it, you're fine ... I'm fine." Gabrielle could feel her heart pounding the blood through her system. She held her breath and closed her eyes as she laid her head on Xena's chest.

"It was a ... it was an arrow. A poison arrow, I remember. I had to fight some bad guys ... I had to fight a lot of bad guys. And you wouldn't let me take you away. You were dying and there was nothing I could do about it." Xena never noticed the relief that went through Gabrielle as she realized Xena was talking about their adventures outside of Tripolis. The warrior just kept talking, then she came to a sudden stop.

"I almost lost you ... again!"

"Yes, we've cheated Hades a few times, both of us."

The dark warrior fell silent, her arms wrapped tightly around her bard. Gabrielle relaxed and enjoyed the sound of Xena's heart. Listening intently to the rhythmic beat, she looked up at Xena when she felt the beat start to pick up speed.

"Are you ok?" She asked, suddenly worried about Xena's health.

"I've made a decision." Xena declared in a low throaty voice

"And," asked Gabrielle. She wasn't at all comfortable with this.

Xena bent her head down and kissed Gabrielle with determined conviction. Gabrielle knew instantly what decision the warrior had just made.

"Xena, we have discussed this." The bard said pulling away reluctantly. It would have been so easy for her to give in. She wanted to feel the closeness they had once shared but she knew she had to be strong.

"Gabrielle, I couldn't love you more than I do right now. If there is one thing I know now that I didn't before, it's that life has no guarantees. Neither of us knows what tomorrow might bring ... I don't want to wait any longer. I think we have waited long enough." Xena pulled her lover back into her arms. The bard gave in for a brief moment and then placed a firm hand onto Xena's chest.

“Stop, please.” The warrior's flushed face was knitted in confusion. “Xena, you don't understand. There is a lot more that you don't know.”

“Then tell me.”

“I can't.” Gabrielle looked to the skies for answers.

“We were lovers, were we not?”


“And whatever happened was in the past, right?”

“Yes.” Gabrielle could hear her own mind and body agreeing with the raven haired woman.

“Then tell me now that you don't love me. Tell me you don't want this as much as I do.” Xena feathered a kiss on Gabrielle's lips. The bard felt her body quiver with her own desires.

“Whatever it is that you are afraid of, can't be as bad as you make it out to be.”

'Oh yes it can be Xena. Oh yes it can.'

The warrior raised her hand and cupped the bard's cheek. Nothing else was said as she brought Gabrielle's lips to her own. Her eyes closed as she felt the want and desire of both of them. Xena's kisses began to travel to Gabrielle's neck, as the bard rolled her head back to give the warrior more access. A moan escaped from one of them, but neither knew from which. But it didn't matter, Gabrielle knew she had lost, and won, as she gave into to her own hearts demands. Tilting her head back to her warrior, their lips meeting half way. Gabrielle's hand followed up Xena's shoulder, coming to a stop on the back of the raven hair. Slowly, she pulled down, bringing the full force of Xena's lips onto her own. Xena moaned in response. Having neither the strength nor physical ability to do everything she wanted, Gabrielle took the lead. Pulling and turning her warrior gently until the two were laid out side by side. Pure passion took over from there. As the kissing and groping reached new heights, Gabrielle was quickly without her top. Xena's leathers, on the other hand, had been a little more difficult. But where there is a will, there is a way, and the two lost lovers definitely had a will. Xena stared at the nude body of her Gabrielle.

"How could I forget something as beautiful as this?" said a husky voiced Xena as she traced her fingers around the bard's parted lips. Looking into Gabrielle's face, Xena was delighted to see her blush. Gently pushing her warrior back onto the furs, Gabrielle began her slow, methodical trail of kisses. Starting with the splinted left leg kissing every wound and scar she could find, and she could find many. By the time she reached the warrior's chest, Xena had claimed the perky right breast of Gabrielle. Caressing and massaging, sending wave after wave of pleasure through the little bard's body. Both women had wanted this to last, to be special. But their bodies hadn't forgotten what they already knew. Fingers reaching, tongues licking, and kisses of succulent pleasure. The warrior and her bard reached their point of release at the same time, calling for the other, as they clung together, united, as one ... at last. Pulling the furs around them, the two sexually spent women, drifted off to sleep.

Xena awoke to the sound of someone near. Feeling Gabrielle's nude body next to her own, the warrior struggled to focus on what had made that noise.

"You know, if you don't start eating properly, you're not going to get any better." Ephiny said as she took another bite into the apple she had in her hand.

Xena could only smile at the regent, Ephiny smiled back. She liked what she saw in the warrior's blue eyes.

Gabrielle began to stir, and with a moan, she stretched and she snuggled closer to Xena as she opened her eyes. She smiled lazily at the Queen content with herself. But the moment was quickly lost when Gabrielle's mind processed the information. The green eyes quickly slammed shut as she remembered the position she was in. Gabrielle pulled the furs up a little higher. She couldn't believe they had been caught again by another Amazon.

"Ephiny ... what are you doing here?" Gabrielle said through slightly clenched teeth.

"Don't forget me." Both Xena and Gabrielle looked back over their heads to a smiling Jadax sitting on the log behind them.

"Oh, this is so humiliating, Xena do something," muttered the little red faced blond. "Not that," she yelled at the movement under the furs. The smiles and giggles from Jadax and Ephiny did nothing to improve Gabrielle's embarrassment.

"Ok ... Ephiny could you toss me another apple, I seemed to have worked up an appetite." Xena smiled unashamed. She lifted her left hand out from under the furs to catch the incoming fruit. Gabrielle moaned and pulled the furs over her head.

The little bard soon realized her mistake. The heat generating under the fur was unbearable, and the lack of fresh oxygen made her decision all the more regrettable. So with all the dignity that a naked Queen could muster, she pulled back the covers.

"Did ya come up for food, or for air?" Ephiny was having way too much fun with this situation. She barely stifled a giggle at the Gabrielle expense as the regent bite loudly into her apple again.

Gabrielle just rolled her eyes. Much to the bard's unhappiness, no one said a word as the three munched loudly on their apples. She folded her arms across her blanket-covered chest and refused to look at any of them. It didn't matter, she knew they were enjoying her dilemma. No one made a move in the direction of leaving as Gabrielle sat and listened to the THREE of them eating, she soon decided she had had enough.

"All right, that's it. Do you think we could have some privacy so that we can make ourselves presentable?"

"Oh sure ... come on Jadax, the two love birds need to get dressed. You don't need a hand do you?" Ephiny asked. Gabrielle reached over and pulled the apple core from Xena's hand and threw it at the departing Queen. The blushing blond was certain Ephiny's laughter could have been heard all the way back to the village.

"Why do I think this will be the talk of the village before we even get back?"

"So then, let's give them something more to talk about." Xena threw the furs back over their heads, Gabrielle erupted into a chorus of giggles.

Chapter 33

The two were rarely seen outside of the palace. In actuality, they were rarely seen out of their bedroom. They spend most of their time talking. The rest was spent refreshing their memories. Learning every nook and cranny of each others bodies. Their bodies were new, and Xena had to start from scratch, something the warrior delighted in.

Gabrielle had to learn Xena's body all over again too, but not for the same reasons and at times it had been really hard. Xena knew this, she could see the apprehension in Gabrielle's eyes. But the warrior wouldn't let it go, if something bothered Gabrielle, Xena would make her look at it. Stare at it, and soon Gabrielle would reach out for the scar, and slowly begin to touch it. And in time she learned to caress it. When the little bard remembered how sensitive scars were, Xena had her hands full. Slowly the scars faded from Gabrielle's mind's eye, all except the ones on her back and the one on her face. Gabrielle still couldn't bring herself to touch those. Xena hoped with time that she would, and maybe finally forgive herself.         

The time was passing easier now, but the warrior's patience was starting to wear thin. Gabrielle had noticed how quickly she became angry at herself when she couldn't do something. The warrior who had been so independent, was still there. Xena hated to ask for any assistance. 'I can do it myself' was often heard loudly coming from their room.

This afternoon had been no different. Gabrielle had just returned to the room to find a wavering Xena out of her bed and half way to the window. Seeing the unsteadiness, she had rushed to Xena's side.

"Let me help you," she said, but the warrior gently removed the hand of assistance.

"I can do this on my own," the warrior remarked loudly, then quickly apologized. Two more stiff legged steps and Xena was hanging onto the window seat.

"Why won't you let me help you? What happens if you fall?"

"Then I guess I get up and try again," the stubborn women said flatly.

Gabrielle could only shake her head. Xena was returning in every way, including her own stubborn pride of self reliance.

“It wouldn't hurt you to ask for help you know,” Gabrielle crossed her arms as she looked at the firm line of Xena's lips.

“When I need it, I will ask for it.”

“Yeah ... Just like you always do. Xena, I'm here to help in anyway that I can. Why won't you let me?”

The raven haired woman didn't answer right away, instead she turned her head to look out the window. Gabrielle waited for an answer, but there was only silence.

Out in the common room, Ephiny had heard the entire exchange. Pondering the thought, she quickly got up and left the palace.
"It was definitely time," she had said on her departure.

The room was quiet when Ephiny returned, the door was opened, so she proceeded in. Xena was sitting at the window seat still, her head was back and her eyes were closed. Gabrielle was sitting cross legged on the bed, deeply concentrating on her fingers nails.

"Knock, knock," said the regent. The warrior and the bard turned to see Ephiny and Belinda in the doorway.

"Ephiny brought to my attention that maybe it was time to remove your splints," Belinda said with a reassuring smile. She crossed the room and stood before the warrior.

"Now, before I do this, I need a promise, and remember Xena, I have witnesses," Belinda looked at Gabrielle and Ephiny.

"Promise me you won't try to walk on your own right away. I have some sticks you can use for a few of days until some strength returns to your leg."

Xena only nodded at the healer. She pulled herself off the window seat and started to stand. She relaxed back on the seat and looked to Gabrielle. The bard only smiled as she crawled off the bed to assist Xena. Belinda backed away giving the bard room to move as she helped the tall warrior to the bed. Xena said nothing to Gabrielle as she moved to get comfortable, but the bard smiled and kissed her cheek. She pulled away and whispered. “That wasn't that hard now, was it?”

Gabrielle knew the warrior enough to know that it had been, but she was grateful anyhow.

Xena turned her attentions to Belinda as she watched the healer cutting the leather of the splint that had bound her leg. Belinda stopped and looked back at Xena.

"Do I have your word?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can we just get on with this?" The warrior was anxious to see her leg and her arm for the first time.

Belinda returned to the task at hand, but sent a word a caution to Xena. "They aren't going to look pretty, so keep that in mind." The healer lifted the splint away from the leg.

Xena looked down at her shriveled, white leg. Slowly she reached out and touched it with her fingers. An unfamiliar sensation went through her entire body. Xena closed her eyes and began to gently rub and scratch, a moan of pleasure escaping her lips.
The healer let the patient enjoy her moment, then she explained to her that she had to be careful, because her skin was very tender.

“It will take a couple of days for it to toughen up.” Xena opened her eyes and watched as Belinda began to remove the splint from her arm. No one said anything as the wood was lifted to reveal a scrawny, deformed forearm. An arm they all knew would never return to its former glory.

"I'm sorry Xena. I did the best I could, but it had been broken too many times, and left unset for too long. There wasn't much I could do." It was Gabrielle who noticed the look, first of fear and then slow anger. The little bard knew Xena's mind was sending her pictures.

First she remembered them dragging her, her arm had already been broken. Then the image of her on the ground, her back was on fire. The pain of every whip mark seared into her mind, as she had tried to reach out. She recalled the sound of her arm breaking again under the weight of someone's boot. That was the man she had killed when she had escaped. She recalled the look in his eyes when she had pulled out his throat.

Looks were being passed from Ephiny to Belinda to Gabrielle. It was the regent who touched Belinda's arm and motioned for them to leave. Gabrielle had reached out to Ephiny's hand in a thank you gesture. Her green eyes never left Xena when the warrior had closed her eyes tightly and laid back on the bed.

Gabrielle waited, she knew it would come, but she knew she had to wait. The little bard held her breath as she saw Xena's neck muscles begin to tighten, sending forth a scream of agony. The torment of memories played vividly in her mind. The scream slowly died away and with it went the hopes and aspirations of the warrior princess. Without both of her arms she knew she would never be what she once was. Gabrielle knelt next to the bed and cautiously placed a caring hand on Xena's mid section. She observed the muscles in the warrior's neck and shoulders began to relax. The worst was over, and the bard could only watch as the tears fell from Xena's closed eyes. Only then did Gabrielle climb onto the bed and gather her warrior into her arms. She held her lover, gently rocking and allowing the tears to flow.

Gabrielle had seen it coming. She knew now the difference between a good vision and a bad one. The good ones filled her heart with love and joy. The bad ones, well, the bad ones tore out her heart, most of the time sending fear throughout her body. Gabrielle would hold on, waiting to find out what horrors Xena's mind had remembered. Always hoping it wasn't the rift that nearly ended their friendship, and almost their lives.

The tears had stopped, but Xena had yet to speak Gabrielle knew she had to be patient, so she just continued to rock and kiss the raven hair.

"I think my arm was already broken before they found me." A whisper had finally broken the silence. "I remember being dragged behind a horse." Xena felt Gabrielle shudder, but she knew she needed to carry on. "Then I remember when they broke it again. It wasn't long after one of the times they had whipped me, because I remember the pain in my back."

Gabrielle could her the agony in Xena's voice, but when she continued, after pausing, the agony had been replaced with a growing anger. "But I got the bastard who did it the second time, he was one of the men who had been guarding me. I guess they had figured I wasn't much of a threat anymore, because it was only him watching me this time, and he had fallen asleep. I remember crawling out of camp on one hand and one knee, after having woken him up ... by removing his throat ... with my bare hands."

Gabrielle could see the rage burning inside those icy blues eyes. She swallowed as she remembered herself ... the destructive power her warrior lover could unleash on someone when she got angry.

Neither woman said anything, and after a while Gabrielle let loose her hold on Xena. Laying her softly on the bed, she leaned over and kissed her forehead, then turned to walk over to the dresser. She poured out some water into a bowl, collected a cloth, and then returned to the bed.

"May I?" The bard asked as she sat next to Xena's left leg. The warrior barely acknowledged her, so Gabrielle began. Ringing out the wet cloth, she laid it gently onto Xena's thigh. Slowly she wiped down six weeks of dirt, flaked skin and dried blood. Along with it went some of Xena's pain and anger. The more Gabrielle wiped, the more relaxed the warrior became. Xena noticed the fresh tingling of her skin. Gabrielle's touch had soothed away the anger, which was now being replaced with another, stronger emotion. By the time she had finished wiping down Xena's right arm, the warrior's heart was pounding wildly.

Gabrielle put the bowl onto the bedside table and looked up into Xena's lust filled eyes. She was slightly startled by what she saw. She hadn't meant to make this an erotic sponge bath ... or had she? She smiled at the thought.

"Xena, is sex the only thing on your mind?"

"It is right now," was all the warrior had to say.

Chapter 34

As she had promised, Belinda was by the next day with a pair of walking sticks, showing Xena how they worked. She pleaded with her to just try them out in the bedroom until she was strong enough to venture out.

Xena couldn't wait. When Gabrielle had gone to fetch their breakfast the next morning, she returned to find the bedroom empty. Standing in the doorway, her mouth slightly opened, she heard a sound coming from the common room. She took a step backwards and saw a triumphant, smiling Xena, sitting on the bench in front of the firepit.
"So much for your word, Xena." Gabrielle said with raised eyebrows.

"What, I kept my word, I didn't leave the bedroom until I got the hang of these things, which I did. Well enough to get this far anyway." They turned at the sound of the royal bedroom door opening. Ephiny walked out looking for the source of the words she had heard from her bedroom.

"Didn't think you'd be staying in your room for long." The regent's arms were crossed in front of her chest in mock anger. Finally breaking a smile, she walked closer to the warrior princess.

        "Well, let's see how you're doing?"

Xena collected the sticks and placed them under each arm. Though she was able to use both hands, it was plain to see her right was almost unless. Xena took a few halted steps away from them. It took everything Gabrielle had not to run to her side when Xena attempted to turn around and nearly fell. Ephiny had silently shaken her head at the bard.

“She needs to do this herself.” Ephiny whispered to Gabrielle as she removed her hand from the bard's arm.

The warrior negotiated the turn and was on her way back. Arriving in front of the two Queens, Xena stopped. Standing in place, the sticks under each armpit, she raised her arms out even with her shoulders. Xena smiled, "See!"

Gabrielle and Ephiny watched as her head dropped down to look at her legs. Suddenly it was as if something had physically hit her, and Xena's body lurched in pain. An agonizing moan came from her chest as her knees started to buckle. The two Queens raced to her side, barely in time to catch her before she hit the floor.

Ephiny had her shoulders and Gabrielle her legs, as they lifted the unconscious Xena onto the bench.

"What in Tartarus just happened?"

"I'm not certain, but I have a good idea." Gabrielle stood up and left the common room, returning quickly with a bowl and a cloth. Kneeling down beside her fallen lover, the bard began to gently wipe Xena's face.

"Are you going to tell me, or do I have to wait until she does?"

Gabrielle spat out one word with all the anger and venom her hatred could produce. The name caused both women to shudder as they looked down at Xena.


Gabrielle continued to wipe the sweating twitching body of her companion. Xena's moans and groans echoed the pain replaying in her mind. The pain of crucifixion, of having her legs broken, at the command of Caesar. Julius Caesar was one of the few people who had betrayed Xena and was still alive to continue his torment of her.

"Has she ever passed out like this before?" Ephiny asked with great concern.

"Yes, but not for this long, and not like this." She was interrupted by a sudden jump of Xena's body. A pain filled gasp followed as the blue eyes suddenly flashed open. Xena struggled to sit up as she stared down at her legs. Gabrielle was shocked to hear the warrior snarl.

"Caesar, you betraying, pompous, bastard." Xena looked over at the pale Gabrielle, "He had me staked ... then had my legs broken and left me there to die." The little blond could only nod. She recalled the role Julius Caesar had played in her own life. Because of him, and Xena's hatred of the man, their lives had been forever changed. Gabrielle couldn't help remembering the loss of her innocence, and all the horrors that followed.

Ephiny had stood in silence seeing everything with a regent's eye. She instantly knew what the fear was that had paled Gabrielle so. Ephiny was one of the very few that knew everything that had happened. She had been there when it finally came to a head. Ephiny subconsciously massaged her arm that had been broken by Xena not that long ago. She now knew what Gabrielle was so very afraid of. Ephiny herself had seen what an enraged warrior princess could do. The regent snapped back to reality, and looked down at her closest friends. She wondered if their relationship was strong enough to withstand all that pain and betrayal again.

"So this M'Lila fixed my broken legs?"

"No, she brought you to Nicklio. He fixed your legs. M'Lila taught you your pinch and some of your fighting techniques," said Gabrielle.

"My what?... My pinch?" Xena said with a look of confusion.

Ephiny decided this was where she needed to come in.

"Xena, do you remember our discussion about the chakram?"


"Well, the pinch goes under the same rule. You're not to use it until you remember how!"

"Ok, fine. But what is it?"

"It's this thing you do ... you stop the flow ... " Gabrielle was cut off by a wide-eyed Xena.

"Flow ... of blood to ... the ... brain ... I remember ... I remember, Gabrielle. M'Lila, she was on my ship, and ... she was hiding from Caesar. We couldn't speak to each other, we didn't know the others language. Then she dragged me up to this mountain after Caesar had my legs broken ... Oh Gabrielle, I remember." Xena smiled as she threw her arms around her friends. Pulling away she began to hit at the air with her fingers, putting the pinch on the air. As she started to look around for something to put her pinch on, Gabrielle and Ephiny physically leaned away. Xena's eyes fell to her own legs.

"Xena I wouldn't ..." but Gabrielle was too late.

Whap Whap went the fast bronze fingers into her own thigh.


Whap Whap the pinch was released.

"Ok, no pinch. I agree, no more pinch," she said rubbing her tingling thigh. Gabrielle looked closely over at Xena. If she hadn't of known better, she would have sworn it was Meg sitting there with that goofy, cockeyed grin.

The three sat talking all morning and most of the afternoon. Nothing else seemed to trigger any other memories. Every now and then Xena had stood, hobbling about the room, trying her leg out. Finally, in the late afternoon, Gabrielle convinced Xena she had done enough. Xena had winked at her and turned herself in the direction of the bedroom. The bard stood to join her.

"Ah Xena, Gabrielle will be in shortly." Ephiny looked straight into the green eyes, "I need to talk to her."

Xena had hollered 'ok' as they heard the bed groan with the weight of the warrior.

"Follow me please." Ephiny headed into her own bedroom, a slightly confused Gabrielle followed right behind her.

Ephiny sat down on the bed and waited for Gabrielle to join her.

"Let's cut right to it. I think you're making another big mistake. I think you should tell her about Solan and what happened at the centaur village. All of it, including Hope."

Gabrielle dropped her head in silence, all the fears of their past weighed heavy on her soul.

"I can't, Ephiny."

"You have to. If she has the information, but not the memory, at least the two of you will be prepared when it does come back. And we both know it will."

"But what if she can't forgive me this time? We don't have Illusia to bring us together again." Gabrielle felt the hopelessness of the situation and the foreboding in her mind.

"You have the love you two share. It blossomed after Illusia. You two discovered your true feelings for each other after all that happened. You have to believe your love will be strong enough again, Gabrielle."

She remained quiet for a moment, Ephiny reached out and rubbed her back.

"But what if it's not? I can't live without her, Eph. Without her I'm lost. I'm empty. I don't exist."

As Gabrielle said the words, Ephiny recalled hearing them before. Last time, it was Aphrodite who had said, 'that without one the other would die'. She had seen with her own eyes what had happened when they had been separated. But it didn't stop the feeling of a pending doom in the regent's heart.

"So then what, you're just going to wait and see. Gabrielle, sooner or later she is going to remember."

"I know that." Gabrielle's voice echoed the despair she had in her heart. She stood and started to leave.

"Tell her Gabrielle, for both your sakes." The bard left never acknowledging Ephiny's final plea.

Chapter 35

Days later, Xena was standing tall with her walking sticks. The woman of many skills had accomplished another one. But that didn't stop the heated discussion that was going on.

"But how far is it?" Xena asked Gabrielle again.

"It's too far Xena, and most of it is up hill. Why don't we wait just a few more days? Your leg will be stronger then. You won't be able to make it that far."

"Well, I guess I won't know until I try. So let's go." Xena turned and hobbled out the door, the determination set firmly on her face. Gabrielle should have known better than to tell the warrior that there was something she couldn't do.

"Where are you two heading off to?" Ephiny asked from her chair in the common room.

"The hot pools," stated the warrior firmly.

"That's quite a ways you know."

"So I have heard ... all morning." Xena's determination showed clearly on her face.
She had enough. The frustration of her limitations was something she couldn't deal with. Never before had she had difficultly with anything physical, now all of a sudden, there were many things she could no longer do. First she had tried to handle her sword again. That had been a disaster. It just kept falling out of her crippled hand. Then she had tried some of her exercises that Belinda had given her, but she still couldn't even make a fist. That old familiar anger had been boiling under the surface and the warrior knew she had to get out. Xena hoped a little fresh air, and maybe a little fun, would release some of her pent up anger.

On a thought she had mentioned the hot pools to Gabrielle. The bard had immediately said it was too far and she couldn't make it. Well, the bard should have known better than to tell Xena she couldn't do something. Now only Tartarus or Hades himself was going to stop Xena from making it up the hill to the hot pools.

Xena turned back to the door way, "You are coming, aren't you?"

"Yes, I was just getting some towels. Let's go." Gabrielle was still muttering about the thickness of Xena's head when she opened the back door for the stubborn, hobbling warrior.
It took a full candlemark but they finally made it. They had to stop frequently for Xena to catch her breath, or just to sit and let some color return to her beautiful, but pale face. Gabrielle had tried to talk her into to the lower pool that everyone used, but no, Xena wanted the Royal hot pool. 'For privacy' she had said with an impish grin and a wink.

Removing only their boots, they sat for a while just letting their legs dangle in the warm pool. Gabrielle hadn't noticed Xena staring into the water, until the low voice of the warrior spoke.

"I like to fish," she stated.

"Yes, you do ... But you don't fish like most people."

"No, don't tell me ... I listen for them." Xena's smile lite up her face. She turned and planted a kiss square onto Gabrielle's slightly parted lips.

"I listen for them ... but sometimes ... I catch them ... with a parchment." Xena looked to Gabrielle for clarification.

"That," said Gabrielle laughing, “is a whole different story."

At Xena's urging the bard began to tell the story of when they had been victims of Aphrodite's handy work. Gabrielle had been infatuated with, well with herself, and Xena had been infatuated with fishing.

Xena was roaring with laughter by the time the bard had finished. Trying to gain some control again Xena turned and asked. "I kinda remember, I remember the fish ... and I remember my brother." A distant smile brought on by warm memories was now on the warrior's face.

"But there was someone else there. Some guy acting like a monkey?"
"That's Joxer, he's a friend ... well kinda. No, he's a friend." Gabrielle tried to explain exactly who the bumbling wannabe warrior was.

Xena just shook her head. "Nothing. I don't remember him at all. I mean, I've seen him in some of my visions but I can't say I remember him, or that I feel anything for him"

"That doesn't surprise me, Xena. I wouldn't say you had a lot of feelings for Joxer. I would only say you tolerate him at best."

"Oh." Xena nodded, setting her eyes back onto the rolling waters of the hot pool.

Silence fell comfortably between them, until Xena slid forward and stood up in the water.

"Can I get a hand, this leather thing is comfortable enough, but it's a bitch to get on and off.?"

Gabrielle slid in behind Xena, still seated on the edge of the hot pool. She untied them and began to carefully lift off Xena's leathers. The little blond's eyes followed the outfit up and over Xena's head. Then by habit, her eyes traveled back down the naked body. Her eyes were now only inches from the scars on her warrior's back.

Xena realized what had just happened and stood in silence. Gabrielle slowly reached out and placed her fingers on the raised scars that criss-crossed the warrior's back. Xena held her breath at the touch but said nothing. She felt the fingers slowly tracing along the lines and she knew without looking there were tears falling from the green eyes.

Slowly the warrior turned to face her lover. Gabrielle looked up at her as Xena reached to wipe away the tears.

"They will heal and they will fade ... if you let them. All wounds will heal if you don't pick at them or think about them too often."

Gabrielle's stomach flipped as she stared into the icy blue eyes. Those had been her words to Xena the last time the two had shared a hot spring. Gabrielle reached over and threw her arms around Xena's neck. The warrior happily returned the embrace, holding Gabrielle tight was one of the things she enjoyed the most. She rubbed her hands over Gabrielle's still clothed back.                "This would be a lot more fun if you didn't have your clothes on."

The little blond sniffled a laugh. Releasing her embrace she leaned back and pulled her Amazon robe off over her head. Xena smiled as she looked down at the finely toned body of her bard. Reaching forward to take a hold of Gabrielle's hands, Xena leaned back, pulling her bard with her. They let the warm water break their fall. Her little Amazon Queen held tightly now, against her chest. The two lovers laughed and frolicked in the water.

To Gabrielle, it felt like old times. To Xena, it just felt good. She literally couldn't remember her last real bath.
Without words, Gabrielle reached out for one of the sponges that lay around the edge of the pool. With a gentle hand on Xena's shoulder, she turned the warrior around. Looking over the scars, she dipped the sponge into the warm water and began to deal with her loathing of her lover's wounds. Xena began to purr, enjoying the intense feeling the water had on her back. Closing her eyes, she smiled and quietly asked,

"Are you sitting on the soap?"

The sponge stopped and Gabrielle leaned around to look into her face. "Xena?"

One eye opened, and with a grin the warrior filled the bard's face with a splash of water. As per usual the water fight was intense, but with no real winner ... or loser. Still laughing and gasping for air, the two leaned back against the edge of the pool.

"What did you remember?"

"Minya, Howar ... and someone nailing me in the nose with her staff." Xena looked over at Gabrielle, who immediately scooted away from the warrior. Xena laughed at the action of the offender.

The laughter died down as Xena looked up to the blue sky. Gabrielle observed as Xena's playful expression turned serious. She watched and waited for any sign of a flash of memory, but Gabrielle saw no sign of one. All she could see was a perplexing expression on the warrior's features as a serious thought clouded her face.

"It's funny. They're are times when everything is clear, crystal clear, and I remember it all. The people, the feelings, the sights, the sounds, everything. But they're are times when I only see an image, and I don't know who they are, or what is happening. Or I see something and I feel that I know it, but nothing comes. There is no memory of it. Sometimes it's a smell or just a feeling ..."

Gabrielle could see the frustration and anguish growing on Xena's face. She stood and moved her way through the water, to stand in front of her warrior. Gabrielle took Xena's face into her hands.

"Am I just an image?" She asked softly.

"No Gabrielle, you're a vision. A beautiful vision." Xena leaned her head forward pressing her lips firmly onto those of her lover. It was slow and it was passionate, as the two bodies rolled and turned in the buoyancy of the warm water, their love for each other cascading over their bodies. Climaxing with the rush of heat and passion that no hot pool could match. Their lovemaking over, the two women relaxed, cradled in each other's arms.

Xena reached for the sponge and began squeezing rivers of warm water down Gabrielle's back. Keeping her eyes closed, the bard turned giving Xena full access to the milky white skin. Collecting more water into the sponge, the blues eyes traveled with the flow of the water over the bard's back.
"Where did these scars come from?" Gabrielle's eyes snapped open in fear at Xena's innocent question.

"I fell on some rocks not too long ago." She closed her eyes, hoping and praying the next question would not come. It didn't, only the sound of splashing water was heard, until Gabrielle heard something far worse.

Xena was humming as the sponge was moving in circles. She was humming one of the songs she had sung to Gabrielle while they were in Illusia.

Gabrielle stood up quickly, almost knocking Xena over. Swallowing hard, she stated quickly,

"I think we should start to head back. It'll probably take us even longer to get back than it did to get here."

"Ahh ... are you sure you want to? I kinda enjoy the freedom of the water." Xena was flirting, but she quickly noticed it was having no effect on her little friend. Looking a little closer she now saw something had spooked Gabrielle. When the green eyes saw the blues eyes staring, Gabrielle flashed a smile and turned to exit the hot pool. Grabbing a towel, she dried herself briefly, then handed Xena her own towel.

Gabrielle was dressed by the time Xena had dried herself. It took the two of them to dress the warrior princess. Xena was very aware of the lack of communication between them. She could still see the look of terror on Gabrielle's face, but the bard said nothing.

When Gabrielle handed Xena her walking sticks and turned to go, the warrior reached out and grabbed the bard's shoulder.

"Did I say something wrong?" She looked deep into Gabrielle eyes hoping for the truth.

"No, of course not. I'm just concerned about you getting back. I know I can't pack you."

Xena could see Gabrielle was trying hard to act like nothing had happened. Her warrior instincts told her something had. But she knew she didn't know what. She realized it might be better to drop it ... for now.

Handing one of the walking sticks back over to the bard, she put her arm around Gabrielle's neck.

"Between the two of us, I know we can make it home, together." Xena placed a small kiss on Gabrielle's cheek, hoping she had heard the double meaning in her words.

Chapter 36

With each passing day Xena's mobility and strength improved. Bits and pieces of memory were falling into place, but Xena still didn't know what had scared Gabrielle so bad that day at the hot pools. She had thought about mentioning it to either Jadax or Ephiny, but decided maybe she should keep it between her and Gabrielle.

She still hadn't recalled anything more about the men who had kidnaped and beat her, much to the unhappiness of some of the warriors in the village. It was no secret, neither Eponin nor Nazalon were going to give up on trying to find those men. Both warriors had been seriously reprimanded by the Queen for leaving Amazon soil without permission in search of the animals. It had been tough for Ephiny to do, to punish her two best warriors, especially knowing that if she didn't have the responsibility of being Queen, she probably would have joined them. Eponin and Nazalon were now confined to the village, a sentence they thought was too severe. When Ephiny stated if they ignored that direct order they would be confined to their huts, under guard no less, both Amazons knew their Queen was deadly serious.

Nazalon was almost going crazy. She hated not being allowed to go into the forest. She hated being in her own hut, knowing how close she had come, and how quickly she had lost, Gabrielle. She was happy for the two of them, which made her loss even more unbearable. Add to it the inability to find anything on the men that had taken and beaten the warrior princess. She was like a caged animal. It had been Eponin who had suggested the idea. And since the quiet warrior sometimes pulled Royal guard duty it had been easy for her to smuggle out the dark warrior's property.

Eponin herself had filled some of her time working with the recovering Xena.

Her leg had been healing fine, but much to Xena's unhappiness, the injured right hand and arm were pretty much useless. The hand couldn't even hold the sword itself, not to mention the fact that the arm could barely handle the weapon's weight. Xena had many a frustrating day down at the training ground. Try as she might, she was beginning to realize she would have to become a left-handed warrior. This, in itself, wasn't that hard as Xena had been an accomplished sword master with both hands. No, what had been difficult, was for the dark warrior to admit there were now things she no longer could do. On many occasions Eponin had been on the receiving end of Xena's anger and frustration.

Today had been no exception.

Eponin could see the anger building in Xena's eyes. The warrior princess leaned over to retrieve the dropped sword, again. Picking it up off the red soil with her left hand, she placed it into her right. Pushing the hilt tightly into the palm, then curling her stiff right fingers around the leather with her left hand. Raising her arm up, she tried again the simple maneuver of a rotating downward stroke. Eponin watched as the sword fell again.

Quickly walking to her side, Eponin grasped Xena's left arm before the sword could be thrown in anger.

"I think that's about it for today." Eponin said looking straight into the reddened face of the warrior princess. Xena looked down at the ground, trying to contain her anger and frustration before looking up.

"I still can't even hold the stupid thing," she said between clenched teeth.

"Xena, it hasn't been that long. You have to give it some time." The warrior princess just shook her head and pressed the sword hilt back into her right hand.

Five more attempts and five more times the sword dropped to the ground. Eponin had seen enough. She extracted her own sword off her back and approached the warrior princess. Xena saw her coming, and was astonished to see Eponin's sword at the ready.

Eponin stared into the raging blues eyes and lunged. Simple survival instincts took over the warrior princess. Eponin barely saw the sword switch hands but she felt the clash as Xena's sword struck back. The battle was on. Warrior against warrior, anger against compassion. Metal to metal, the clanging echoed around the training grounds. The ability was there to beat the Amazon, but it was dwindling as Eponin sapped the strength from the recovering Xena. It didn't matter. Eponin knew, if she continued, she could have beaten her friend and comrade, for the first time. But that wasn't the point of the exercise. Eponin slowly dropped her sword and the battle was over. Her point had been proven.

"With your left hand Xena, you could still take anyone in this village, myself included." The realization of those words was not lost on the warrior princess.

"Thank you, Eponin. I know what you were trying to prove."

"And with more time Xena, your endurance and strength will return."

"And my timing?" The doubt was evident in Xena's voice.

"Your timing, your moves, and I'm sure soon your kicks and flips."

The warrior princess stared deep into the Amazon's eyes and said flatly,

"Everything but ... my right arm!"

Eponin said nothing. She knew there was nothing to say. She could only watch as her friend limped from the training ground. The dejection was obvious by the unusual slump in her broad shoulders. Eponin hoped the warrior princess would once again return to the training grounds.

The two Queens were sitting on the front step of the palace enjoying their afternoon of leisure. Gabrielle had her head back and her eyes closed.

“I could get used to this, Eph.”
“The afternoon sun or lazing around in one place?” Ephiny said with closed eyes and a smile.

“Both. Traveling does get tiresome sometimes.”

“Maybe you two need to think about settling down somewhere.” Ephiny opened her eyes and looked over at her friend.

“I don't think so. Xena doesn't like to be in one place for too long.”

“But things are a little different now, are they not?”

Something caught Ephiny's eyes, and she tapped the blond's shoulder.

"That doesn't look good." Gabrielle opened her eyes to see her very dark, smoldering warrior princess heading into the back door of the palace.

"Where was she?" Ephiny asked to the rising bard

"Down at the training grounds with Eponin." Gabrielle had just opened the front door when she heard the crash come from their bedroom.

"It obviously wasn't a good day." Ephiny commented to Gabrielle's departing backside.

The bard walked into the bedroom and looked down at the shattered remains of the chair on the floor. She looked up at the fuming warrior.

"Did that make you feel any better?" Her hands rested on her hips as she looked up at Xena with raised eyebrows.

"Yes!" Xena said and picked up the other chair and threw it against the wall.

Gabrielle's arms crossed against her chest.

"Between you and Eponin, I don't know why we even bother to have chairs in here."

There was no comment from the raven haired women. Gabrielle could see she was still seething. Feeling the green eyes on her, Xena turned and limped toward the window seat. She sat down and looked out the window.

Gabrielle chewed on her lip pondering what to say. Xena's anger still frightened her and she knew it. There was always a chance one wrong question or statement could set off Xena's mean, dark side. But she knew she had to find out what had happened today.

As she took a step closer, she could see the shimmer of tears starting in the blue eyes. Her fear dissolved and was instantly replaced with compassion.
"Xena, what's wrong? What happened?" Gabrielle knelt next to Xena's pale leg.

No words were said as the warrior placed her hand on the blond hair.

"Xena?" she said softly.

Finally the silence was broken by a whisper

"What am I if not a warrior?" The simple words broke Gabrielle's heart.

She stood and wrapped her arms around her. Gabrielle said nothing at first. Then tilted her head and spoke into Xena's raven hair.

"You'll always be my warrior, Xena. My warrior, my lover and my friend." Xena said nothing. She just buried her head further into Gabrielle's chest.

"I guess your day at the training grounds was not a great success." There was no response.

"Xena, its going to take some time. You're going to have to learn some patience."

"I have many skills, but patience is not one of them." Gabrielle couldn't help but smile hearing Xena use one of her favorite comments about herself.

"Then tell me, many skills, warrior woman, is your sword only made for right-handed warriors?"

"No, You can use it for both hands!" Xena was irked at the stupidity of the comment.

"Have you not been working on your left hand with Eponin?"

The red eyed woman lifted her head, and smirkingly said, "actually, I kicked her butt left handed today. Well I was kicking her butt, but ..." Gabrielle cut her off.

"Then what's with all the chair smashing, and the 'What will I be if not a warrior'."

The cocky grin disappeared off Xena's face and she turned to look out the window. Gabrielle watched as the muscles in Xena's neck flexed as she worked her jaw back and forth. The blue eyes steeled before the warrior spoke.

"What happens if my right arm and hand never work again?"

"Then use your left.” Gabrielle said simply. “The only thing you need to use both hands for is to hold me ... and Xena, I have no complaints so far," she bent down and kissed Xena's on the lips.

"Is that all that's been bothering you?" Gabrielle questioned.
Xena took in a big breath and looked out the window.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking.”


"Obviously it was being a warrior that put me in this predicament. It was being a warrior that has gotten us into so much trouble." Xena turned her head back and looked into Gabrielle's eyes.

"Every time I've seen an image of you ... you're hurt and injured ..." The warrior swallowed and then continued, "or dead and dying in my arms. It has been because I'm a warrior."

"Xena, you are a warrior," Gabrielle spoke softly. "That's part of who you are. Just like your dark side, it's what makes you ... you. And all of it makes up the woman that I love, the person I'm honored to call friend."

Their faces only inches apart, Gabrielle could still see the pain and regret in Xena's eyes.

"I may not always agree with you, and I may not always like what I see." The green eyes left their hold on the pools of blue, and slowly traveled down the scar on Xena's face. "But all of it is you and I have to learn to deal with some of the things that I don't like. Underneath it all you are still Xena, warrior princess." Gabrielle leaned in and placed a soft kiss on the scar of her lover. Pulling slowly away she added, "and I love you ... all of you."

Lying snuggled under the blankets that afternoon. Xena's fingers were playing with Gabrielle's bangs. Out of the blue Xena asked,

"Who's Hope?" Gabrielle's universe came crashing down. Images began to flash in her mind of her child, her dead child, her demon daughter. Their lies and betrayals had almost cost them their lives, that painful day on the bluff when Xena had tried to kill her, and she had tried to kill them both.

Xena knew from the sudden stiffening of the body next to her, that this was not a simple question. She had not anticipated the answer that Gabrielle finally spoke.

"She was my daughter." Xena shot up in bed so fast it scared the little blond. The blue eyes were opened wide in amazement.

"You have a daughter? ... You're just telling me now that you have a daughter."

Gabrielle wanted to scream. She didn't want to live through this again, any of it. The memory of what she had done, of what Hope had done, and of what Xena had done to her. Her heart was beating so hard she was afraid it might burst through her aching chest.

She looked at the face of the woman she loved. Her mouth felt very dry as she tried to pull some oxygen into her burning lungs.

"I had a daughter," She studied Xena's face for any sign or remembrance. So far there was none.

"You had a daughter?" Xena struggled for a memory, but her mind was blank. She felt confused at the information just now being told to her.

Gabrielle slid from the bed and reached for her discarded robe. Xena watched her with a knitted brow.

"She's dead." Gabrielle's tears fell. She now knew what she had to do. Pandora's box was open and there was no way she could avoid the inevitable.

"I killed her." The statement hung in the air. A sob broke from Gabrielle's chest and Xena assumed it was for her lost child, not for what she was about to do.

Xena crawled to the edge of the bed as Gabrielle took a step away. She stopped and looked at her pretty blond friend, the confusion in her mind showed clearly on her face. Not knowing what else to do, she reached for her leathers and started to dress. She needed time to think about what Gabrielle had said. She could feel her body starting to shake.

Gabrielle watched her the whole time, waiting. Waiting for the explosion of memories and emotion, but so far the warrior was calm, confused, but calm. An unmistakable look of loss and puzzlement was on her face.

Xena finally finished dressing and turned to Gabrielle who was standing next to the window. The warrior was keenly aware of the distance between them. She took a step toward her friend and lover, and was startled to see the blond stiffen. Xena stopped in question.

"Gabrielle, I don't understand, I don't remember. Why did you have to kill your own child?"

A very nervous Gabrielle stood staring back at Xena. She knew she was playing with fire and anything she said could set it off. A word. A name.

"The first time or the second time?" Gabrielle said clearly as she waited. Nothing.

"A second time?" Xena was very unsettled. 'How do you kill someone twice?' She thought.

"The second time she was trying to kill you ... " The green eyes stared into the blue, but still there was nothing. Gabrielle's nerves were becoming a coiled spring as she waited for her life to shatter.

"Think Xena, ... Callisto! ... Ares! ... Dahak!" The simple mention of his name sent shivers down her spine.
Xena saw the shudder and noticed the goose bumps on Gabrielle's skin. The tall warrior shook her head. "Nothing."

Gabrielle swallowed hard, then quietly whispered, "please remember ... that I love you."

Xena's eyebrow's knitted with concern as she felt a tremor go through her body. She never noticed the hairs on the back of her neck were standing straight up.

Gabrielle could feel her chest tightening. She drew in a desperate breath and stated.

"Hope was a demon. Her father was Dahak, pure evil and darkness itself."

Xena felt something rising in her chest, something she wasn't sure of. Her breath was leaving her lungs as her mind began to clear.

"Why did you kill her the first time?" Xena asked hesitantly. The heat was rising from the pit of her stomach, as the agony tore at her heart. The warrior's insides were starting to churn and roll.

Gabrielle never felt the tears running down her face. She never heard herself whisper 'goodbye.' All that she would remember was the reaction from the woman that she loved when she finally said,

"Hope killed your son, Xena"

The entire Amazon village heard Xena scream out Solan's name.

oncluded in Part VI

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