Disclaimers: Xena: Warrior Princess belongs to Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures, and my heart. No infringement on these rights were intended. This is strictly non-profit fan based fiction.
Subtext Disclaimer: In case you haven't noticed, subtext is maintext now. I tried to keep all the characters true to their depiction as in the show. However, I couldn't help but insert a bit of sexual innuendo between women.
This story is just another adventure for our female heroes somewhere after season six (Finale? What season finale?). I've rated this story NC-21, for nudity, sexual content, and violent content. Yes, there is violence, just like in the show. If you are under the age of 21, you might want to consult with a parent or legal guardian before reading this or maybe it's best that you don't read this at all.
Written by: Allyson Heisey, email@example.com
Many thanks to my Beta Reader, Kimly.
Two Parts of the Whole
The large boat rocked gently from side to side and there was a salty breeze in the air. The sound of waves lightly lapping at the sides of the boat could be heard. A lone seagull soared overhead and let out a cry. The waters of the expansive sea were tinted amber from the rising sun just beginning to peek over the horizon. As the sun rose higher, gold and amber clouds streaked across the sky, and chased the darkness of night away.
A tall figure stood alone at the stern of the ship. Her long raven hair lifted and twirled about softly in the breeze. Her feet were planted solidly on the rocking deck and her hand curled around a thick hemp rope that ran from the top of the mast at the center of the boat down to the railing at the stern beside her. Her other hand rested on her hip just above a shiny round disk attached to a hook on her belt. Her face was beautifully sculpted and a strong jaw accented the height of her cheekbones. Her blue eyes shone brightly but with a touch of sadness. She had the look of someone revisiting the past. An image of herself, many years younger, with coarse long black hair, and dressed in pirate attire floated before her.
Her hand caressed the ivory handle of her scimitar which hung from her belt, while her male companion stood by her side. He followed her gaze out into the ocean to a speck of land on the horizon. The tails of his coat flapped behind him and the salt air tingled his skin. His dark hair flowed back from his head and danced around his shoulders. His brown eyes sparkled and his smile widened into a feral grin framed by a dark goatee. He curled his arm around Xena's waist from behind and pressed her tightly against him.
"We can have it all, Borias!" She shouted excitedly from their position at the bow of the ship. Her hair whipped about wildly as the boat rapidly cut through the water of the vast ocean before them.
"You always want it all, Xena." His voice rasped slowly, heavy with a middle eastern accent.
"That's right. I want it all!" Her face shone with fierceness. It bubbled up unbidden from her dark soul.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha." Borias laughed and then leaned into her ear. "Xena, there will never be enough to satisfy your appetite!"
"You should know." She tossed him a look from over her shoulder and parted her lips suggestively.
"Ah!" He grunted and walked away.
She returned to the present when she heard a sound from behind and a smile formed on her face. She blinked away the remaining ghostly tendrils of her past and turned to face her soul mate.
"Hi." She said.
A small blonde woman approached with her arms folded across her middle. She looked exhausted and weak. She was dressed in amazon clothes, a suede skirt with trim, a matching halter and belt adorned with silver conchos. An amazon sword in a leather scabbard was draped across her back. A pair of sias, knives of a pitchfork design, were tucked securely to the outside of her boots.
"Hi." The woman paused. She swallowed visibly and then rubbed the back of her neck with her hand.
She walked up to the tall warrior and stood beside her. The tall woman draped an arm affectionately around the shoulders of her smaller companion. They watched the beautiful sunrise in companionable silence. Another seagull appeared and glided by on the breeze. The blond woman lifted her head and followed the bird's flight across the brightening sky. The sunrise washed her skin a rosy color, belying the paleness underneath caused by her frequent bouts of sea sickness. She swallowed again and her tongue darted out of her mouth to moisten dry, pale lips. The tall warrior turned her head to glance down at her friend.
"Have you tried the pinch again?" She asked.
"I have, but it's not working." Her friend replied.
"Looks like you've become desensitized to it." She brushed an errant lock of hair from her companion's brow.
"It's all right, Xena. And, no, I don't want another dose of your potion right now." The blond raised a hand in protest.
"All right." Xena, the tall warrior answered.
Over her shoulder a sleek gray form lifted itself out of the water. Xena turned her head to observe.
"Gabrielle.." She whispered.
Gabrielle turned her head and followed Xena's line of sight. Several more sea creatures lifted themselves from the water and then gracefully dove back under.
"Dolphins. They're beautiful." Gabrielle said in awe as the graceful creatures swam along, keeping pace with the speeding ship.
In the distance a speck of land appeared and loomed larger as the ship glided towards it.
"Ahoy!" A sailor shouted from his lookout in the masthead above them.
Xena shifted her gaze back to the horizon and said to Gabrielle, "look, we're almost there."
Gabrielle turned her head and shaded her eyes against the bright light of the sun with her hand. She breathed an audible sigh of relief. Xena chuckled and rubbed her friends back comfortingly.
Deck hands moved quickly about pulling on ropes and folding the sails. The ship slowed and moved silently towards the coast. Palm trees dotted the edge of the city of Alexandria and small figures could be seen moving about on the dock of the large port. As the ship moved closer, buildings and statues made of white limestone, and dozens of awnings in a rainbow of colors came into view.
Finally, to Gabrielle's relief, the ship docked. Deck hands tossed mooring ropes and fastened them to the stout wooden posts on the boardwalk. A long wooden plank rolled out and thudded down on the dock. Xena picked up the saddle bags at her feet that contained their belongings and followed Gabrielle across the deck, down the plank and onto the boardwalk.
Without hesitating they turned and walked down a busy street. People passed by, chattering with each other sharing the road with rumbling wagons and braying mules. Xena's gaze lingered at a stall piled high with bales of sheer silk. She snuck a sideways glance at Gabrielle and smiled. Gabrielle was tired and her eyelids drooped, but she smiled when Xena took her hand and guided them down the street. When they reached their destination, a sprawling manor, they paused inside the doorway and Gabrielle closed her eyes.
"Are you all right, Gabrielle?" Xena inquired, concerned.
"Yes. I just need to lie down and rest." Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled wanly at Xena.
"Come on, let's get a room." Xena wrapped gentle fingers around Gabrielle's arm and guided her inside.
The interior of the manor was shaded and cool. Potted palms and fig trees were scattered about and a small fountain splashed happily nearby.
"Can I help you?" A feminine voice inquired.
Xena turned towards the voice. A young woman dressed in a light blue silk wrap smiled back at her.
"Yes. We need a room."
The woman gazed at them a while longer and then recognition lit in her eyes.
"You're Xena, aren't you? And Gabrielle, right?"
"Yes." Xena answered.
"We are." Gabrielle added. Gabrielle looked again at the young woman. She looked familiar, abet older and then recognition dawned.
"Shiana!" Gabrielle said in surprise.
Gabrielle stepped forward and the two woman hugged one another affectionately. Shiana looked at Xena over Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Come, I'll take you to your rooms." She said and motioned for them to follow her.
Xena raised a brow when the young woman took Gabrielle by the hand and led them out through an entry way and into a large courtyard filled with ornamental trees and shrubs, exotic flowers such as poppies, daisies and lotus, with birds that tweeted and flitted about. The trees almost completely shaded the courtyard, except when a gentle breeze blew in and sunlight peeked in through the whispering leaves. Square stepping stones set in crushed gravel traveled off in various directions. A stream of water flowed smoothly from a three-tiered square fountain into a small pond populated with fish.
"You're not at the palace anymore?" Gabrielle inquired, glancing around and enjoying the beauty of the garden.
"Oh, no. I guess you could say I'm retired now." She answered over her shoulder.
"Who's in the palace now?" Gabrielle asked and Shiana stopped. The woman turned and looked sadly at Gabrielle.
"I loved Cleopatra." Shiana whispered.
"I know." Gabrielle said softly and she glanced at Xena out of the corner of her eye.
"Even though you avenged her death, by killing those roman bastards, I still feel that it wasn't enough. She didn't deserve the fate she was given." Then her face clouded. "At first the Romans were kind and Octavius was a fair emperor, but then he became afraid that Cleopatra's son, Caesarion, would gain popular support. He had him killed. This once proud kingdom is now falling apart under Roman rule. A roman by the name of Galba rules this kingdom. A man by the name of Bararia Maximus governs this city and has seized property from many of our citizens. We are suffering under heavy taxation and it has been reported that the his soldiers are becoming restless." Shiana stopped and looked around for eavesdroppers before continuing in a whisper.
"Galba doesn't care how his governor's get the money as long as he's paid. It is rumored that the governors are fighting among themselves for control over trade routes and commerce." She whispered in disgust.
"If they gain control over our trade and our commerce, we might as well be slaves." She continued and her voice lowered in anger.
"Perhaps we can help." Gabrielle said and Xena sighed.
"Perhaps. A lot has happened over the past twenty-six years." Shiana replied, glancing at both Xena and Gabrielle before turning around and leading them the rest of the way through the courtyard. Gabrielle turned to Xena and they shared a knowing glance before moving forward and following their friend.
"How can I get in touch with this governor?" Xena asked.
"It takes weeks to get an appointment to see him." Shiana replied.
"Oh, I don't think so." Xena grinned at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle laughed. "Oh, no, no, no, no."
"I'm going to be the roman noble, and you're going to be the slave this time!" Gabrielle said.
They walked up a short flight of steps, and down a hall. Their foot falls were tempered by a long woven carpet that ran down the middle of the floor. Vases stuffed with fresh flowers sat on small tables against the wall. At the end of the hall was a window with billowing curtains that let in filtered light.
Shianna stopped and opened the door to their room. She turned to Xena and Gabrielle with a smile.
"You are my guests and I will get you whatever you desire." She said.
She walked into the room and they followed. Xena leaned into Gabrielle's ear.
"I already have what I desire." Xena whispered. Gabrielle's mouth curved upwards into a smile and a flush spread across her cheeks. She cleared her throat, stepped away from Xena and into the center of the room.
The room was large and curtains over the balcony window fluttered in the breeze. In one corner there was a sunken bath and a tall screen woven with colorful reeds afforded the bathers some privacy. The water in the pool was clear and flower petals floated on its surface. Behind it, was a balcony bordered with intricate iron railings.
In the other corner of the room was a low platform bed covered with black silk sheets and overflowing with pillows of all sizes and colors. Oil lamps sat on small tables that stood against the wall on either side of the bed. Two large crossed fans of ostrich feathers were hung on the wall above the bed. Egyptian paintings of sacred animals such as crocodiles, hippopotamuses, scorpions, sphinxes, and falcons fashioned a colorful border along the walls.
Off to the side was a small table and a wicker chair. The floor was checkered with black and white marble and thick animal furs were strewn about. A large ornamental rug with long tassels adorned the very center of the floor beneath a long low table framed with overstuffed pillows. Tall bronze braziers stood in each corner of the room
Gabrielle sighed and without hesitation, walked over to the bed and sat down. She lifted her legs up on to the bed and laid her head down on one of the overstuffed pillows. Within minutes she was asleep.
When Gabrielle awoke the sun was low in the sky. She sat up and glanced around. Stretching her arms above her head, she yawned.
"Xena?" She called out, but there was no answer.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. Stifling another yawn with the back of her hand, she walked over to the sunken bath and her eyes widened in surprise. Draped over the screen was a sheer silk wrap. Gabrielle walked up to the screen and touched the silky material. The material was soft and slid smoothly across her fingers. With a satisfied sigh, she loosened the ties to her halter top, lifted it over her head and draped it over the screen. She bent down, removed the sais from her boots and set them on the edge of the tub before removing her boots. She unbuckled her belt, and unfastened the leather ties to her skirt. The skirt slid down her legs and she plucked it up and settled it over the screen as well. She stepped forward and dipped a foot experimentally into the sunken tub. The water was cool and the scent of jasmine floated up to her. She stepped gingerly into the tub and sat down on a ledge.
Her body tensed at a sound.
"Hello? Gabrielle?" A voice called out.
Gabrielle twisted and grabbed her sais from the ledge as her feet found purchase on the bottom of the tub.
"Yes. Who is it?" Gabrielle asked from behind the screen.
"It's Shiana. Xena told me to come by with some food for you. She said you would probably be awake around this time."
"Thank you." Gabrielle replied and her stomach rumbled in agreement. "Perfect timing, Xena." Gabrielle mumbled as she sunk down into the water leaving her arms draped over the side, still gripping her sais.
Shiana stepped into view, smiling, and set a silver tray laden with fruit, cold meats, and a water flask on the edge of the tub.
"How's the room? The water okay?" She inquired and knelt down at the edge of the tub.
"Yes, it's wonderful." Gabrielle replied.
"I'm glad. You're a bard, yet you hold weapons in your hands." Shiana looked pointedly at the sais.
"I only use these when I have to." Gabrielle answered and set the sais back down within reach.
"Where's Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"I think she said something about shopping." Shiana replied and Gabrielle snorted.
"Xena shopping? Okay." Gabrielle drawled, shaking her head, bemused.
Shiana stood up and gazed down at Gabrielle admiring the small compact form of her friend. Gabrielle noticed the stare and a slight blush crept into her cheeks.
"I'll take leave of you now." Smiling, Shiana turned and disappeared when she stepped in front of the screen.
Gabrielle heard a soft 'clink' when the door latch fell back into place. She waded over to a ledge and sat down. The water pooled over her shoulders and she leaned her head back to rest on the stone edge. Turning her head she glanced over at the tray of food before reaching out and selecting a morsel of fruit. She brought it to her mouth and bit into it, the sweet juice tantalized her tongue. Her stomach grumbled again.
A breeze swept into the room and several strands of her golden hair lifted from the back of her neck. Gabrielle stuffed a piece of cold meat in her mouth and shifted her gaze to look at the balcony behind her. The long sheer curtains billowed again as another breeze swept in. She inhaled deeply the scent of jasmine and closed her eyes. She ducked under the water and ran her fingers through her hair. She rose from beneath the surface and slicked her hair down, squeezing out the water. Gabrielle waded forward and stepped out of the tub, wrapping a linen sheet around her.
After drying herself off, she took the silk wrap from the hanger and slipped it over her head and belted a green silk sash around her waist. The garment was sheer and covered her body like a mist. Gabrielle looked down at herself through the silk. The material softened the shadows that caressed her breasts, smoothed her muscles, and lightened the hair at the apex of her legs. She turned, glanced into a long mirror and smiled at her reflection. Her sides were left bare. The material fluttered down to her ankles and the breeze blew it over her leg to reveal a naked thigh.
With an ivory comb she combed her hair and braided several strands with jewels that she retrieved from one of her bags.
As she was finishing, the door swung open and Xena stepped inside.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called out as she closed the door.
When Xena turned around, her mouth fell open at the sight that stood before her. Gabrielle's body was half turned and Xena's eyes roamed appreciatively over her partner's form. Gabrielle was as stunningly beautiful now as she had been the first time Xena saw her so many years ago. As if paralyzed, Xena dropped the scabbard and saddle bag that she held in her hand. Gabrielle looked down at them with an amused expression. She walked up to the stunned warrior and with a finger under Xena's chin, closed her gaping mouth. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's neck and gazed into clear blue eyes that blazed and sparked with desire. She smiled at the unspoken compliment.
"When I asked Shiana where you were, she said you went shopping. Did you?" Gabrielle asked.
When Xena didn't answer, Gabrielle quirked an eyebrow, and Xena found her voice.
"Going to tell me what you got?" Gabrielle asked.
"Nope." Xena replied. She lowered her head and kissed Gabrielle as she wove her fingers through Xena's hair.
Xena explored her partner's mouth with her tongue and wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist. Xena broke the kiss and nuzzled Gabrielle's neck, nipping the skin and then brushing across it with her tongue. Gabrielle's hands raked through Xena's hair while a small sound vibrated in her throat. The warrior untied the sash and held it loosely in her hand. She slipped her hands beneath the silk and shivered at the feel of Gabrielle's skin.
Immediately her fingers explored moist folds causing Gabrielle to gasp, her knees weakening. Xena lifted the silk garment over Gabrielle's head, tossing the wrap away from them, the material drifting to the floor.
She pulled Gabrielle to her and they slowly sank to their knees. As Xena moved forward, Gabrielle leaned back onto the soft furs. Xena shifted her body downward and kissed the smooth, sensitive skin on the inside of Gabrielle's thighs. Her lips brushed through the soft mound of hair and she breathed in the scent of her partner. Xena's tongue left a wet trail from Gabrielle's firm stomach to the valley between her breasts.
Gabrielle shivered when the cold metal of Xena's breastplate pressed against her skin. Nimble fingers unhooked the clasps and pulled the armor over Xena's head. She removed the chakram from it's hook at Xena's waist and laid it to the side. Her hands reached up and once again, threaded themselves through Xena's thick hair.
Xena pulled Gabrielle's hands from her hair and held them over her partner's head. While exploring Gabrielle's mouth once more, she tied the silk sash around Gabrielle's wrists, binding them together. Xena's tongue moved down to travel lightly over Gabrielle's breasts and she felt her partner tremble beneath her. She covered Gabrielle's mouth with her own and moved to Gabrielle's rhythm, her tongue seeking.
Gabrielle moaned low in her throat, her skin was on fire. Her body moved with wild passion and Xena matched it with her own. Their bodies glistened in the waning light of the setting sun. Xena continued to move with her partner, never resting and never tiring.
Just before the sun disappeared below the horizon Xena sensed Gabrielle's urgency. She released her grip on Gabrielle's wrists and moved downward. Gabrielle's breath caught in anticipation and her eyes closed as the warrior fulfilled her desire.
Xena held on to her tightly as the muscles in Gabrielle's body tensed. Gabrielle let out a soft cry and dug her fingers into the silk binds.
Although she was sated, the fire still burned within Gabrielle. After Xena untied the sash, she pulled the warrior to her and kissed her deeply. Gabrielle rolled over, taking Xena with her and pushed her hips against her. Xena responded by slipping her arms underneath Gabrielle and pushed back. Their bodies moved in unison, allowing Xena to find her release.
The moon shone brightly into their room and covered Gabrielle in its silvery light. Xena rose up on an elbow and rested her head in the palm of her hand. She gazed down at her partner. With a single finger she traced a line from Gabrielle's jaw down to her stomach. The blonde moaned slightly, but didn't wake. Xena pulled the silk sheet up and over her partner's nude torso.
Sighing contentedly, Xena slipped quietly from the bed and donned her leathers. Being a night owl, Xena decided to take a stroll through the city just to check things out. She walked across the room and picked up her armor
She opened the door and stepped quietly into the hall. After one last look at her sleeping partner she closed the door and ambled down the stairs, through the courtyard, past the manor entrance and into the deserted street.
Xena turned into a wide street bordered with fountains, temples, libraries, and exclusive manors. She ducked into the shadows when a roman soldier stepped into view. She followed him quietly and paused when he entered a temple. Piqued, she followed him and slipped behind one of the marble pillars inside the temple. The roman's boots echoed hollowly on the marble floor. He stopped at the altar where the light from the moon shone down upon him.
"Helos!" He spoke loudly as if giving an order.
A man in a white toga stepped out from the shadows and brought forth from under his wrap, a bag that bulged with coins.
"Here is your payment. I want five more slaves and a levy placed on my competitor." He said.
"Lycos?" The roman inquired.
"Yes. I want complete control over his trade route from here to Rome." The man called Helos answered.
"Very well. You shall have it." The roman promised.
"I think not." Xena stepped out from behind the column and drew her sword. The moonlight winked on the shiny surface of the blade.
"Xena!" The roman breathed in surprise. "But- " he began.
"Yeah, I'm still alive." Xena answered the unspoken question on his lips and smiled.
"You're supposed to be dead!" The roman exclaimed and the hiss of steel was heard when he pulled his sword from the scabbard at his waist. The roman citizen backed away hastily in fright, turned and ran from the temple.
"Supposed to be." Xena answered and glided forward.
Sparks flew when their sword clashed and the roman growled into her face. Xena took the opportunity to look him up and down, taking in his uniform
"A centurion, huh? Now what's a guy like you doing in a place like this?" Xena drawled.
"This is my city and my temple!" He snarled, pushing from her.
"You know what I see when I look at you?" Xena taunted.
"I see a petty warlord in a fancy roman uniform." Xena's brows rose and she smiled wickedly.
He spun and attacked.
In the midst of the conversation, the roman miscalculated his move, her sword slipped under his guard and pierced his belly. The roman's eyes bulged and his mouth opened in a silent scream. Disgusted, Xena pulled the sword from his body and the lifeless form slumped to the floor.
There was a flash of bright light and Xena quickly shielded her eyes with her free hand. Suddenly, something seized her body and she stiffened in shock. Her mind raced and she struggled to move her limbs, but somehow, she was helpless against whatever was in control. The light pulsated and she jerked several times involuntarily. Her memory was probed and images of her dark past flash by and her eyes widen from the intensity of it all. Her mouth dropped open when the old, familiar dark feelings came crashing to the surface. Her body jerked and twitched with each new surge of energy. And then, a deep voice, captivating and virile, spoke to her in her mind.
"Xena. The Protector of the Faith." The voice echoed with anger and disdain.
Images flashed by: a sword thrust into an innocent villager; his cry echoing in her brain as his eyes watching as he wrapped his hands around her blade. When she withdrew the sword, it was covered with his blood. This was Xena, the warlord Xena, holding the blade. Her intense blue eyes gazed at the sullied blade wickedly.
"You dare enter my temple!" The voice boomed and Xena gasped in pain. Her head felt as if it were in a vise and she pressed her hands against her temples. More pain lanced through her and she fell down to her hands and knees on the temple floor.
"Then you shall suffer my wrath!" The godlike voice continued after a brief pause.
A bluish fog descended from the ceiling of the temple paralyzing the warrior. It enveloped her, the feeling of white hot fire cursed through her veins. Her head snapped back in agony, and she screamed.
The morning dawned bright and the skies lightened with the rising sun. Xena had returned to their room and slipped into bed after the incident in the temple. When Xena awoke, Gabrielle was stifling a yawn and staring out through the curtains of the balcony to the street below. The warrior sat up, leaned back on the soft pillows and watched her for a few minutes.
"Hey." She said and Gabrielle turned to look at her.
"What?" Gabrielle responded with a smile.
"C'mere." Xena gestured.
Gabrielle walked over to the bed and took Xena's outstretched hands. Xena pulled her in and leaned back, cradling Gabrielle in the crook of her arm. Gabrielle threw an arm over Xena's stomach and sighed contentedly. Xena tilted her head and kissed the top of the blonde head, relishing the sweet smell of her partner's hair. Gabrielle shifted and lifted her body over Xena, resting her weight on the palms of her hands. She lowered herself and kissed Xena softly on the lips. Xena responded and wrapped her arms tightly around Gabrielle's waist.
Suddenly, Xena's body jerked and her eyes clouded. When they cleared they were the color of ice. Her hands flew up and snatched Gabrielle by the wrists. In one swift motion she swept Gabrielle underneath her and pinned her wrists over her head. Gabrielle winced when Xena tightened her hold. A frown wrinkled her forehead when she gazed into Xena's eyes, she didn't like what she saw there. When Xena tried to force her legs apart with a knee, Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and she looked up at her partner in concern.
"What the " Gabrielle began, but Xena silenced her by lowering her mouth and kissing her deeply and with a roughness that Gabrielle was not familiar with and was not particularly enjoying. When Xena lifted her head, their gazes met, and the dark look in Xena's eyes alarmed Gabrielle.
"Xena! Xena, stop!" Gabrielle struggled to break the grip Xena had on her wrists, but Xena merely smiled down at her with a pair of hooded eyes. Gabrielle inhaled and narrowed hers.
"Xena! I mean it! I don't know what 's going on, but you don't do this to me!" Gabrielle clenched her teeth in anger.
"You got that right." Xena lowered her face and traced Gabrielle's upper lip with her tongue. Gabrielle resisted the temptation to bite it, and jerked her head away instead. Xena's grin only widened.
"I'm tired of that part of me, that old dishrag. This now this is much more exciting." Xena said in a low, sultry voice.
"What? By taking me forcefully?" Gabrielle said, outraged.
"Why not? You like it." Xena replied, nonchalantly.
"Not like this, I don't" Gabrielle retorted. "Now let me go!"
"No." Xena said flatly.
"Xena, please please don't make me do this." Gabrielle said softly.
"Do what?" Xena said, testily.
Gabrielle slammed her forehead into Xena who released her hold on Gabrielle's wrists. Before Xena could react, Gabrielle twisted around and kicked out, sending a surprised warrior off the bed and crashing to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. Gabrielle bounded off the bed and raced for the door, but before she reached it, a hand snagged her ankle and she fell.
"Oh, no you don't." Xena purred from her position on the floor.
With her free leg, Gabrielle kicked Xena in the face and twisted out of her grip. She scrambled through the door, down the hall and out the window. She landed lightly on the ground, turned and ran down the alley and into the stables. She threw a saddle over the back of her horse, buckled it and quickly tied down the rest of her tack.
"Oh, Gabrielle?" Xena said in a sing-song voice and wiped a drop of blood from her nose with her finger.
Gabrielle jumped in surprise and looked over her saddle. Standing at the stable entrance was Xena, smiling wickedly from ear to ear. Gabrielle swallowed when Xena walked towards her. She darted her eyes about, spotting a platform of loosely bound hay bales suspended from the roof by long chains. There was the sound of nails creaking when she pulled a long wood slat from the stall. She lifted it over her head and heaving with all her strength she sent the board towards the shelf of hay. The wood plank thudded against the shelf, sending it into motion. When it swung back, the bales of hay slid off the shelf and down on top of Xena. Gabrielle jumped into her saddle, bolted past Xena and galloped out of the stables.
People scattered out of her way as her horse ran down the street. Gabrielle turned her steed and sped down another alley and stopped unexpectedly at a dead end. Cursing under her breath, she dismounted and ran to one of the two story houses adorned with a trellis and flowering vines. She climbed the trellis and pulled herself up to the roof of the house. She crouched down and looked carefully around her for any sign of Xena.
Still in the stables, Xena wiped a strand of straw from her face and stood up with a lopsided smirk on her face.
"Ooh. I like it when things get interesting." She chuckled.
She plucked a piece of straw from under her breastplate and flicked it away. She knew that Gabrielle wouldn't leave the city. For starters, she saw only one water flask on Gabrielle's saddle, and it was an awfully big desert out there. No, the little blonde would hide, gather supplies, and then make her escape when it got dark.
"Smart girl." Xena murmured.
Xena strode out of the barn and into the street. People were still muttering angry protests and she smiled. Xena walked down the street and stopped at a fountain so she could wash the blood from her face. She dipped her hands into the cool water and sipped the liquid from her cupped palms and then splashed the remainder on her face. When she dropped her hands she stared down at her rippling reflection in the pool. Mesmerized, she stood there for a long minute before she blinked her eyes. Suddenly, her body spasmed and she steadied herself with both hands on the fountain's stone rim. When her vision cleared, she turned and surveyed her surroundings. She brought a hand to her head, looked around her, and tried to gain her bearings.
Gabrielle carefully ran across the tiled roof and leapt to a roof of another house. She moved to the edge and stopped. She looked below and then dropped onto her stomach. She observed Xena from her position, her brows crinkled when the warrior's body twitched, and saw clearly, the confusion on her partner's face.
Deciding to take a risk, Gabrielle launched herself into the air from the rooftop and landed softly on the dirt packed street. Xena turned at the sound, and Gabrielle walked towards her friend warily.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said softly.
Xena smiled faintly and shook her head as if trying to clear it. Gabrielle rushed to Xena's side and grasped her arms, peering into her partner's eyes with concern. Xena looked down at her, clearly unsettled by the predicament she was in.
"Gabrielle how did I get here? I don't remember- " Xena closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against her temples. Her head was throbbing. It felt as if someone with a cudgel was banging around inside.
"You don't remember anything?" Gabrielle asked.
"No. The last thing I remember was snuggling with you. In bed. In our room." Xena opened her eyes.
"Oh boy. This is not good." Gabrielle said. She brought her hands to her face and shook her head.
"I've got the worst headache." Xena mumbled and rubbed both of her throbbing temples.
"I'll bet you do." Gabrielle muttered. "Wait here, I need to retrieve my horse, and then we'll go back to the manor."
"And you'll explain, right?" Xena asked her hopefully.
"Right." Gabrielle answered.
Back in their room Gabrielle was washing blood from Xena's face.
"You pack quite a punch." Xena kidded, but Gabrielle merely grimaced.
"Xena, let's back up. Where did you go last night?" Gabrielle's face was serious.
"You knew I snuck off? Boy, you won't let me get away with anything." Xena said in a light tone, trying to soothe her partners raw feelings.
Gabrielle put the cloth down and looked Xena full in the face.
"I've always known when you wake in the middle of the night. I know that sometimes you need to be alone, meditate, or do whatever it is you do. I don't expect you to be with me all the time."
"Sometimes, I think you know me better than I know myself." Xena commented.
"Sometimes." Gabrielle replied.
"I remember waking and then going outside. When I rounded a corner I saw something moving in the shadows. It was a roman soldier, a centurion. He went into a temple and I followed him. He met with a man named Helos, a roman citizen, and took a bribe."
"What was the bribe for? And what temple?" Gabrielle asked.
"He wanted control over the trade routes from Alexandria to Rome." Xena answered.
"Let me guess. So he could profit from it. No, not only that, but he would have a monopoly over all the merchants in the city. " Gabrielle added. "Haven't these people suffered enough? If that happens, the most basic essentials such as food, would be too expensive to purchase. The people would starve."
"But not the romans." Xena whispered.
"This IS bad. Okay, then what happened?" Gabrielle prompted.
"In the Temple of Set, he picked a fight with me." Xena shrugged.
"Naturally." Gabrielle commented.
"When he died, there was a flash of bright light." Xena paused. "That's all I remember. Then I woke up this morning next to you."
"Xena, I think your alter ego is running loose."
"Kinda scary, huh?" Xena said dryly.
Xena curled her fingers around Gabrielle's wrist attempting to pull her down to the chair next to her, but Gabrielle winced. Xena's brows furrowed and her eyes widened when she saw the bruises circling Gabrielle's wrists. She lifted Gabrielle's arm and anger flashed in her eyes.
"Who did this?" Xena asked through clenched teeth and Gabrielle's eyes softened.
"You did." She whispered and Xena's face froze. Gabrielle reached up and cupped her partner's face in her hands.
"Its all right, Xena." Gabrielle soothed.
"No! It's not!" Xena hissed.
"We'll figure this out." Gabrielle said.
"We? No, Gabrielle. You know what I'm capable of, what my alter ego is capable of. You need to go somewhere safe. Away from me." Xena got up and walked to the balcony. Her knuckles turned white from gripping the railing so hard.
"No. You know I won't go. My place is with you, and always will be. We'll get through this. Together." Xena threw Gabrielle a look over her shoulder. Gabrielle walked up to the warrior and wrapped her arms around the slim waist. She rested her cheek against Xena's back and inhaled the familiar smell of leather.
"Gabrielle, the last time we fought I was evil, I defeated you, and I almost condemned you to an eternity in Hell." Xena said painfully. She closed her eyes as the heat from Gabrielle's body penetrated her leathers.
"I know." Gabrielle breathed softly, remembering.
"I'm not aware of what my alter ego is doing and vice versa." Xena turned and gathered Gabrielle into her arms.
"We need to find a way to use that to our advantage." Gabrielle replied. "You said you were in the Temple of Set when all this happened?"
"Set is the Egyptian god of chaos. He murdered his own brother, and attempted to kill his nephew, Horus. Horus, however, managed to survive and grew up to avenge his father's death by establishing his rule over all Egypt. He castrated Set, and cast him out into the lonely desert for all time."
Gabrielle paused for a beat and then continued.
"The people had a great respect for Set, however, and over time was seen as a great god once more and re-grew the parts that Horus removed. He restrains the fierce winds of the desert and protects Egypt from foreigners. It is rumored that he chooses mortal women to bear his descendants and they all have red hair."
"That roman I killed had red hair." Xena said thoughtfully.
"Xena, I don't think it's possible for a roman to be a descendant of Set."
"You never know." Xena said and Gabrielle glanced at her sideways.
'True." Gabrielle relented and Xena smiled.
"What?" Gabrielle said.
"I love you." Xena whispered.
"I love you too. Both of you. All of you." Gabrielle said honestly.
"I'm sorry for hurting you." Xena looked pointedly at Gabrielle's wrists and then met her gaze somberly. "I'm afraid to ask what I did."
"We'll talk about that when this is over." Gabrielle patted Xena's arm reassuringly.
"All right." Xena let the matter drop and with a gentle hand on Gabrielle's back, steered them out of their room and in the direction of the temple. "Let's see if we can get some answers."
They entered the domed temple. Gabrielle looked around while Xena walked up to the altar. Their boots echoed on the green marble floor and Gabrielle's nose twitched form the strong incense. Hieroglyphs were carved into the support columns and colorful paintings adorned the walls. The center portion of the temple ceiling was open to the sky. Small statues of jackals braced pieces of armor and weapons against the walls. Brass braziers stood in each corner and blazed brightly. At the altar was a life sized statue of Set covered with gold and semi-precious gems. Tall braziers flamed on either side, and a spear lay at its feet. On the altar was a linen wrapped body. Behind the altar was a view of a square pool surrounded by ornamental trees.
"Soul mate of Xena." A voice echoed.
Gabrielle frowned and her eyes darted about, searching for the voice.
Xena unsheathed her sword and twirled her body as she moved back towards Gabrielle.
"You, I have no use for." The voice intoned.
There was a rush of air and Gabrielle was swept of her feet, her arms flailing in the empty air.
"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted and watched helplessly as her partner was swept out of the temple and dumped unceremoniously on the stone steps outside.
"Now, you I have use for." The voice rumbled and Xena spun around, searching. There was an evil presence, something vaguely familiar.
"You have taken my son!" The voice cracked like a whip.
"What?" Xena said.
The temple doors shut with an ominous sound and Xena spun towards the noise, her sword poised.
"Xena." The voice droned.
Xena whirled back to the altar.
The air shimmered and the god, Set, materialized. He was tall and dark skinned and his face was shaped like that of a greyhound. His long ears were erect and clipped. His chin rested on his chest. His arms were crossed, one hand held a scepter, and the other a mace. A short, pleated yellow skirt fanned down from his hips and he wore leather sandals adorned with gems on his feet.
He raised his head slowly and eyes as black as onyx gazed coldly at her. He opened his arms and pointed the scepter at the linen wrapped corpse.
"My son." He whispered.
"The roman." Xena surmised.
The god's lip curled and he pointed the mace at her. He waved it, and Xena vanished. Set bowed his head, crossed his arms and shimmered out of existence.
Gabrielle scrambled quickly to her feet. She rushed up the steps, across the short atrium to the closed doors of the temple. She pulled on the gilded handles, but the doors wouldn't budge.
"Xena!" She shouted and tugged on the handles again.
"Argh!" She exclaimed and slammed her fists against the doors in frustration.
A man in priestly robes, holding a scepter in his hand approached her.
"My child, what is wrong?" he asked. He looked first at Gabrielle then to the doors of the temple.
Gabrielle turned and stared at him. Her eyes traveled from the sandals on his feet to the jewel encrusted turban on his head. He shifted his gaze from the doors back to Gabrielle.
"Why are these doors closed?" He asked in a soft voice.
"I don't know. I " Gabrielle tried to explain.
"Do you wish to enter?" he interrupted.
Before she could answer, he reached out and grasped the door handle. He pulled, and the door opened effortlessly
"Come, Set welcomes you." He swept an arm across his body and bowed slightly.
"Really?" she muttered under her breath. Gabrielle stepped forward and the priest ushered her into the temple. The temple was quiet, and empty.
"Xena?" She said tentatively. Her eyes swept across the room and rested upon a form swathed in white on the altar. Her hand flew to her mouth and she took a few steps forward towards the mummified body.
"Who " She began.
"Balaria Maximus, son of Set."
Gabrielle swung a quizzical look in his direction.
"He said that Set appeared to him and gave him great power over his enemies. So powerful was he, that everyone feared him."
Gabrielle shook her head in despair, and raised her hands to her face.
"Oh, not to worry, child. Set will seek vengeance and punish those responsible for his death."
Gabrielle dropped her hands and looked up to the ceiling.
"That, I did not need to hear." She mumbled.
Gabrielle paced across their room, then walked out to the balcony for some fresh air. She leaned back against the cool stone and watched the activity on the street below.
"Xena, where are you?" she whispered.
She raised her face to the heavens and prayed.
"Eli, please, help me. Give me a sign."
The sound of marching feet reached her ears and she looked down. A group of roman soldiers came into view. The red plumes on the top of their helmets bobbed stiffly and their robes fluttered behind them in the light breeze. Clustered in the center and bound by chains were a group of people that she recognized as Eli's followers.
"Oh, no." she said in dismay and chewed on her lower lip.
Suddenly, it all made sense. "Of course. It happened in Greece, and it can happen here." She whispered to herself. With that thought, Gabrielle pushed herself from the wall and stepped back inside the room. She took her sword from the peg by the door and slung it over her shoulder. She left the room, jogged down the hall, trotted down the stairs and sprinted across the courtyard, into the street.
She paid no attention to the shouts from merchants when she walked by their stalls, her eyes were focused on the Temple of Set.
Gabrielle marched up the steps and into the temple. She walked across the smooth marble floor and stopped directly in front of the altar.
"Set, hear me." Her eyes searched the statue of Set.
"Tell me what you want. Tell me what needs to be done to free Xena." She said, trying to compel the deity to answer.
"Please." Gabrielle whispered.
Gabrielle became aware of another presence, cold and evil. The air shimmered and she blinked in astonishment when Set appeared. She took an involuntary step backwards when he lifted his face and his dark, soulless eyes bore down on her.
"Speak, little one." He said mockingly.
"I understand why you are doing this, but please stop this, I beg you." Gabrielle pleaded.
"Begging, is a weakness that I abhor." The god said disapprovingly. Gabrielle drew herself up and narrowed her eyes.
"I would willingly give my life for her. Is that a weakness?" Gabrielle snapped and Set raised one dark brow in amusement.
"You carry weapons, yet you do not look like a warrior. Nor do you act like one." He surmised. The god glided forward without the use of his limbs and Gabrielle stepped back quickly in surprise. Set lowered his head, and stared into her eyes, into her soul. She felt his evilness and she shuddered with revulsion.
"No, you were not born to be a warrior. Your spirit thrives on the play of words. You are a bard, and a well respected one. Your soul is loving, void of the taint of pure hatred." The god's chin lifted and looked down at her.
"I have hated." Gabrielle admitted.
"And you have forgiven." Set replied, annoyed.
"My son is dead, and his death must be avenged. If you want to free Xena from my power, then you must kill her. I shall have my vengeance!" He snarled from between clenched teeth.
"Vengeance? This is about the new God, isn't it? You're afraid!" Gabrielle shot back.
The Egyptian god's mouth curled into a small smile that was cold and cruel and then he shimmered into nothingness, and left her standing there, fuming, his maniacal laughter echoing all around her.
Gabrielle walked out of the temple and paused on the terrace. She raised a hand to her eyes to shade them from the sun and walked down the steps, into the street.
She glanced around and frowned. Something wasn't right. Her surroundings were different. There were many more roman citizens and soldiers milling about.
"Move it maggots!" A voice bellowed and she stared in shock as the group she recognized earlier as Eli's followers shuffled by. An entire roman regiment escorted the group down the street and Gabrielle followed at a discreet distance.
They marched out the city gates and to a military compound in the distance. Row upon row of tents were spread out across the desert. Banked campfires split the camp down the middle and sentries marched up and down on either side of the divide. Several soldiers carried water from an oasis nearby and a large tent with a pair of roman banners was situated under the shade of the palm trees.
Gabrielle crept silently from tent to tent, avoiding the guards and following the group of prisoners. At the edge of the camp, the captives were ushered into a small fenced area like cattle. When the soldiers secured the compound and walked away she crept up to the fence.
"Hey!" She whispered.
Startled, several captives turned around and then one man spoke.
"You best leave, before you get caught!" He whispered in warning.
"Don't worry about me. Are you all right?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes. They came to our homes and took us, our children too." He said sadly.
Gabrielle patted him on the arm. "I'll be back."
When Gabrielle turned to move away, a soldier spotted her. When their gazes met, she darted behind a tent, bent down and pulled her sais from her boots. With a sai she sliced downwards into the tent, tearing a rent in it. She stepped through the opening but stopped short.
"Uh, oh." She mumbled.
The soldiers in the tent drew their swords. She hopped out of the way of a downward stroke from one blade and a soldier stepped through the hole in the tent behind her. She danced out of his way and sliced another hole in the canvas and dove through it.
The commotion caught the attention of a tall figure on a raven horse that had just marched into the camp. She raised her arm and the group of men behind her stopped. She tilted her head and her eyes sparkled with amusement.
Gabrielle rolled to her feet and sprinted away. She turned and ran in the opposite direction when a pair of soldiers blocked her route of escape. She skidded to a stop when two more advanced towards her. She looked right, then left, waiting for one of them to strike her first.
She crouched into a fighting position then the soldiers on her right attacked, their swords swinging. Expertly, she sidestepped one strike and blocked the other with her sais. She kicked out to the side and hit her attacker in the chest. He went flying backwards into a tent. She hit her second attacker in the groin with her knee and he doubled over screaming in agony. With a strike to his chin, his body snapped backwards and he landed into one of the banked fire pits. His shirt caught fire giving him another reason to continue screaming. As a soldier ran to his aid, two more men attacked her from her left side. She blocked both of their swords with her sais and then swept the knives under them, knocking them off their feet.
She pivoted on the balls of her feet to the sound of creaking leather. A tall rider on a black gelding trotted towards her and stopped. The horse whinnied, danced sideways and then shook his head. The rider wore a full faced black helmet with red ostrich plumes. Raven hair with several narrow braids intertwined with gold cords curled over her shoulders.
She wore a black leather battle dress adorned with bronze conchos. A short bronze breast plate covered her chest. Matching bracers circled her upper arms and wrists. A jeweled ring sparkled on one of her fingers.
Above black leather boots, a pair of tattoos wrapped themselves around her thighs.
Gabrielle immediately recognized the cool eyes that stared at her from the narrow slit in the dark helmet.
"Xena!" Gabrielle whispered, stunned and confused. She was hit from behind and her unconscious body fell to the ground..
Xena squeezed her knees against the horse's ribs, and the spirited gelding stepped forward. Xena pulled on the reins and gazed down at the motionless form.
"She fights good." The tall warrior commented, clearly interested in her new captive. "But how does she know some of those moves. Those are my moves!"
Xena dismounted and knelt by the small motionless form. She looked closely at the young face with a puzzled look. Sighing, she stood up and rested her hands on the pommel of the sword at her waist.
"Bring her!" She instructed and walked towards her tent. Two soldiers picked Gabrielle up under the arms, her feet dragging through the sand, and followed their commander.
Gabrielle moaned and stirred. When she opened her eyes she found a pair of blue eyes staring down at her. She brought her hand up and massaged the back of her head and winced.
"What's your name?" Xena asked.
"My name?" Gabrielle sputtered. "You don't know me?"
"No, I don't." Xena's expression didn't change.
"You're an Amazon. And you're dirty." Xena observed, her gaze flickering over Gabrielle's attire. Gabrielle was indeed dirty. Smudges of dirt coated her skin, her scalp itched, and her clothes were dusty from rolling around in the sand.
"Set changed the timeline." Gabrielle whispered to herself. "I haven't changed, but the world around me has. Interesting."
"What are you talking about?' Xena demanded.
"Um, nothing." Gabrielle gave her what she hoped was a disarming smile.
"Guards!" Xena shouted.
The flap to the tent lifted and two guards stepped inside and snapped to attention like pillars of stone.
"Fill up that tub." Xena ordered with a jerk of her head towards a bronze tub behind a curtain in the corner of the tent.
The guards bowed stiffly and exited the tent.
Xena rummaged around on the table and pulled out what she was looking for. She studied the paper while the guards made several trips with pails of hot water for the tub.
"That's enough." She said.
When the last pail was emptied, Xena impatiently instructed the soldiers to stand guard outside and quickly dismissed them.
"Take off your clothes." Xena demanded and Gabrielle blinked in surprise.
"No." Gabrielle replied, indignant.
"Fine. I'll strip you of them myself." Xena said and stepped forward. Gabrielle quickly changed her mind and stuck out her arm, stopping Xena's advance.
"All right." Gabrielle relented
"Good girl." Xena smiled.
Xena turned her back to Gabrielle and walked back to the table littered with maps and sheets of paper. She lifted a flask and slowly poured herself a drink. She turned around and leaned against the table, took a sip from the goblet and watched as Gabrielle began to undress.
Gabrielle turned away from Xena's gaze, untied the leather lace at her back and lifted the halter over her head.
"Bring it to me." Xena ordered.
Gabrielle turned around slowly and steeled herself to meet the warrior's gaze. Xena's eyes sparkled with admiration when Gabrielle met her with a steely resolve. Gabrielle walked up to Xena and handed her the top. Xena snatched it out of her hands and took another sip from the goblet. Her tongue darted out and licked her lips, leaving a trail of moistness.
"The skirt next." Xena said, and held Gabrielle's gaze.
Gabrielle lifted her chin as a subtle move of defiance and Xena chuckled. Gabrielle unbuckled her belt and untied the leather lace on the back of her skirt. The garment slid over her hips and down to the floor. Xena shifted her gaze to the garment on the floor and then back to Gabrielle's face. Gabrielle gasped when Xena grasped her jaw with a firm hand. Xena leaned forward and explored her face with piercing eyes. Smiling coyly, she released her grip, and let her eyes roam over Gabrielle's naked form.
Gabrielle's heartbeat quickened when she felt small tendrils of fear mixed with excitement creep into her belly. She wondered what this warrior had in mind for her. She thought of defending herself and escaping, but timing was crucial. This Xena was much stronger and more powerful, so she must wait until the time was right before making her move.
"Pick up the skirt and bring it to me." Xena ordered and Gabrielle crouched down and picked up the skirt. When she stood up, Xena plucked the soft garment out of her hand.
"The boots." Xena raised her brows.
Gabrielle bent over and unlaced her boots. She hesitated when her hands brushed over the cold metal of her sais, and wondered why they were back in her boots.
"I wouldn't." Xena warned and Gabrielle pulled off her boots and held them in her hands.
"Boots, over here." Xena pointed to the chair beside her and she set them down.
"Now, undress me." Xena said softly and took another sip of wine before placing the goblet on the table behind her.
With steady hands Gabrielle unclasped the breastplate and set it down on the floor. Sometimes Gabrielle was afraid of the dark, hard, and violent side of Xena. She had seen and experienced it firsthand. As time went by, Xena changed in the face of Gabrielle's love. At least the Xena she knew.
Suddenly a burst of cool air rushed into the tent and one of the guards entered. He gaped at the scene before him. Snarling, Xena vaulted over Gabrielle and delivered blows to both sides of his neck with her fingers.
The soldier sank to his knees and gasped for air. Xena wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled him up. Blood ran from his nose and he wheezed. She dragged him outside and dropped him in front of the other guard.
"I don't want to be disturbed." She warned in a low voice and the guard gulped.
Xena rolled her eyes and walked back into her tent and stood once again before Gabrielle.
Gabrielle stared until Xena raised a dark brow and Gabrielle went into motion and unbuckled the sword belt at her waist. Xena inhaled the jasmine scent from the blonde's hair and smiled when she set the sword on the table. Gabrielle stepped behind Xena and began unlacing the dark leathers she wore. Xena reached for her goblet and took a sip from the cup and set it back down. When Gabrielle was finished unlacing, Xena shrugged out of the garment and let it fall. Xena turned around, faced Gabrielle and stepped out of it. Muscles bunched up across the warrior's shoulders when she placed her hands on the blonde's smaller ones for balance. Gabrielle stared at Xena's naked body in admiration, and swallowed.
Gabrielle lifted her face and looked into clear blue eyes that sparked with a hint of desire and Xena's mouth curved into a sensual smile. Xena reeked of power and sexuality. Her body trembled, she wasn't sure if it was from fear, excitement, or both.
"Pick it up." Xena pointed with her eyes. Gabrielle did as she was told and picked up the discarded garment. She draped it over the back of the chair.
Gabrielle watched as Xena stepped into the tub and sat down.
"Come." Xena directed.
Gabrielle walked to the tub and stepped into the water. Xena grasped her arm and turned her around so that her back was facing her.
"Sit." Xena commanded.
Gabrielle sat down and felt the brush of hair on her backside. Xena wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her in. Gabrielle felt the firmness of Xena's breasts as they pressed against her back.
Xena lathered her hands with a bar of soap and then proceeded to wash Gabrielle's neck and shoulders. Xena's fingers caressed and massaged, relaxing Gabrielle. The warrior's hands roamed down over Gabrielle's chest to her soft breasts. Gabrielle's eyes closed against the stimulating touch of Xena's fingers but her body betrayed her. Her breathing quickened and her heart hammered against her chest.
"Hmm, nice." Xena murmured as her fingers stroked and teased.
Xena let her hands glide down Gabrielle's arms and then to the undersides and across her stomach.
"So, which Amazon tribe are you from?" Xena asked and Gabrielle snapped her eyes open. "Your attire tells me that you're not from around here."
"I don't really belong to a tribe, per se." Gabrielle answered.
"That doesn't answer my question." Xena clasped her hands across Gabrielle's stomach.
"Okay, let me explain it to you this way. I traveled with a warrior, and in doing so I gave up my titles as Queen of the Amazons and as Queen of the Northern Tribe." Gabrielle explained.
"No wonder why you fight so well. Excellent training." Xena's eyes narrowed and she became thoughtful.
"Tell me about this warrior, what's his name?" Xena spoke into Gabrielle's ear.
"She's dead." Gabrielle said flatly. It wasn't exactly the truth, nor was it exactly a lie. To Gabrielle, in this timeline, the Xena she knew didn't exist.
"I see." Xena's eyebrows rose and she decided not to pursue the topic.
Xena pushed Gabrielle forward and tilted Gabrielle's head back so she could wash her hair. Using a pitcher, she carefully poured the water over Gabrielle's head, using her hands to rinse out the soap and to keep it from getting into Gabrielle's eyes.
"Okay. Get out and dry off." Xena said. She sipped her wine and watched Gabrielle lift herself from the tub. The blonde was acutely aware of the eyes that watched her every move. After drying off, Gabrielle wrapped the towel around her and met the dark warrior's gaze.
Xena rose from the tub and Gabrielle's eyes roamed over the warrior's body. Her skin was the color of bronze and its smoothness was marred by many scars. Gabrielle's gaze shifted back to the warrior's eyes.
With a lopsided grin, Xena walked over to a chest and pulled out a long shirt which she tossed at Gabrielle. The warrior walked back and picked up a towel. She dried herself off while she moved to her bed and got dressed. When she finished she turned to Gabrielle who was just finishing the buttoning of her shirt.
Xena went to the tent entrance and spoke to her guards. She moved to the table, refilled her goblet with wine and sat down. She waved the goblet at the empty chair across the table.
"Please, join me."
Gabrielle seated herself and the guards brought in a dinner of stew with bread and fruit. After Xena poured her a cup of wine she began eating and spared a look across the table at her captive. The blonde had a voracious appetite and beat the warrior in finishing the meal.
The warrior placed her napkin on the table and looked at Gabrielle with a curious expression.
"You never told me your name."
"You fight well. You learned this from the Amazons and from the warrior you traveled with?
Gabrielle swallowed her mouthful of wine and glanced at the warrior warily.
"I would have loved to have met this warrior. I saw some of the moves you used and I know you didn't learn them from the Amazons."
Gabrielle merely stared at the warrior, saying nothing.
Sensing the woman's reluctance to elaborate on the subject, Xena stood up and stretched lazily. She strode to the tent entrance and lifted the flap. Gabrielle glanced past her and saw that the sun had set and the stars were already shining in the night sky. The warrior inhaled the night air deeply and then spun around when she heard Gabrielle push her chair back.
A wary look crossed over the warrior's eyes and Gabrielle froze for an instant before Xena relaxed and moved to her bed.
"Gabrielle, come over here and sit on the bed." She told Gabrielle.
Gabrielle walked over to the bed and did as she was told. In the blink of an eye, Xena had the blonde manacled to the bed post.
The warrior smiled with amusement. "I need to go check on my men, don't go anywhere."
Gabrielle lifted a manacled arm and stared at the iron cuff. Belting the sword at her waist, Xena turned, and left the tent.
Gabrielle sat there for a while shaking her head. She looked around at her surroundings and her eyes fell upon a gold circlet of laurel leaves that hung haphazardly on a clothes stand. Brows furrowing, she gazed at the crown for a moment. She shifted her eyes down to the bed and brushed the soft blanket with her free hand. She sighed, lifted her legs onto the bed and lie down. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds outside of men shouting orders and muted hoof beats of horses passing by.
She was almost fully asleep when she heard a rustle at the entrance. Through slitted eyes she saw Xena step into the tent.
While removing her weapons and armor, Xena glanced at the still form on her bed. Her eyes moved up the young woman's bare legs to the swell of her breasts underneath the shirt.
The warrior walked over and peered down at Gabrielle with a thoughtful expression on her face. There was something about her that had Xena mesmerized. She wanted to take Gabrielle and ravish her like she had with many others, but to do that to this woman seemed wrong. Gabrielle was full of fire and passion, yet she was gentle and patient. Her heart was full of goodness and love, something that Xena wanted badly, but as the fates would have it, there was no room for those qualities in this life. Xena felt a connection with this young woman, but didn't understand it. They were two completely different people, yet she was curious. What would it be like to be loved by someone like her?
She reached out and almost touched Gabrielle's hair. Gabrielle saw the emotions that played across the warriors face and almost reached up to her. But Xena stopped, and reluctantly withdrew her arm, turned and walked to the table. Pulling out a chair, she sat down, lifted her legs and crossed them on the chair in front of her. Shifting her body slightly, her head resting on the tall back of the chair, she closed her eyes.
Gabrielle awoke to the smell of bacon. She opened her eyes and breathed in the delicious aroma. She stirred and when she turned over on her back, Xena was standing there, staring down at her.
Wordlessly, Xena reached over and unlocked the manacle that chained Gabrielle's wrist to one of the tent posts. Gabrielle sat up and rearranged the long shirt she wore and ran her fingers through her disheveled hair.
Xena tossed Gabrielle's clothes into her lap.
"Get dressed." Xena said before she walked over to the table and shuffled through a heap of papers.
Gabrielle ran her hands over the soft suede material of her skirt. She looked up at Xena in surprise.
"My clothes have been cleaned." Gabrielle whispered.
"Yeah, so?" Xena shot her an annoyed glance before turning back to one of the many maps scattered about on the table.
When Gabrielle finished dressing, an iron collar snapped around her neck and she gasped in surprise. She spun around and glared, tugging at the collar in protest. Xena leaned nonchalantly against the table and hefted the chain connected to the collar. The woman Gabrielle saw last night who allowed her emotions to surface was gone.
"I'm not taking any chances with you. C'mon." Xena pushed herself from the table and pulled on the chain. Gabrielle had no choice but to follow her new master.
When they stepped out of the tent, the two soldiers standing guard snapped to attention. Xena led Gabrielle to a secluded area where she could relieve herself. Before they could return to the tent, a soldier approached and saluted.
"Empress, we have more captives." He said.
Gabrielle's eyes widened in surprise and the blood drained from her face.
When Xena nodded, his men brought forth a group of people that were manacled and chained together.
"Good, we'll take them in shortly. Get the men ready." Xena ordered and Gabrielle stared at her in shock.
Xena tugged the chain and Gabrielle fell in to step with the Empress.
"Xena, what's going to happen to them?" Gabrielle grasped Xena's forearm with both hands and pulled back, forcing the warrior to stop. Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the chin and gave her a dark look.
"What? Them?" Xena shifted her gaze to the group of captives and laughed.
"Those are Eli's followers. They are enemies of Rome. I get rid of them." Xena replied arrogantly and squeezed Gabrielle's chin.
"From now on, when we are out in public, you will address me as the Empress. You got that?"
When Gabrielle nodded, Xena dropped her hand and shoved Gabrielle forward, towards the tent. The blonde stumbled and when she righted herself Gabrielle glanced over at the group of people being herded away like sheep to the slaughter.
They began their trek into Alexandria where the captives were to board a ship to Rome and await their fate. Gabrielle sat upon a steed that was tethered to Xena's saddle horn. Her wrists were manacled and with a finger she scratched an itch underneath one of the iron cuffs. The horses plodded through the streets of the city towards the seaport and her eyes fell upon the Temple of Set.
She glanced over at Xena and their gazes met. When Xena shifted her attention back to the street in front of her, Gabrielle gathered the chain from the cuff around her neck, vaulted from her horse and landed on the steps of the temple. Xena immediately brought her company to a halt, dismounted and ran after her.
Gabrielle sprinted up the stone steps and into the temple with Xena practically on her heels. Xena skidded to a halt when Gabrielle twirled the chain from her manacles in a circle in front of her. Xena's eyes followed the links of metal and then she leapt.
Xena snatched the chain and Gabrielle stumbled, but she recovered, spun and delivered a kick into Xena's ribs, sending her tumbling to the floor. Gabrielle pulled the chain from the warrior's grasp and twirled it over her head. When Xena jumped up, Gabrielle threw the chain and wrapped it around Xena's waist. Gabrielle yanked the chain and Xena spun up into the air. When Xena came crashing down, Gabrielle jumped on the warrior and jabbed two fingers into her neck. Xena twitched in surprise and then her body went still, and her eyes closed.
Set materialized in front of them and fixed Gabrielle with his dark gaze. She stood up and stared back at him, her nostrils flaring.
"I've done as you wished. Xena is dead." Gabrielle said from between clenched teeth.
"Good." The god replied and smiled darkly down at Gabrielle.
"Now that she's dead, free her from your grasp." Gabrielle demanded.
"As promised. She may go wherever her soul was destined to go." Set uncrossed his arms and waved the mace.
"Thank you." Gabrielle breathed and then with a sly smile she lifted her head and gazed at the evil god.
"Her soul was destined to be with mine, and so it shall." Gabrielle knelt down by her friend and the Egyptian god stared at her, his black eyes devoid of any emotion.
Gabrielle jabbed her fingers into Xena's neck and the warrior's body jerked. A ragged gasp came from Xena's throat and she opened her eyes. A weak smile formed on her face when she saw Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle." Xena whispered hoarsely.
"You tricked me!" Set bellowed and pointed his scepter threateningly at Gabrielle. His white canine teeth gleamed when he growled and he fumed and steamed when words failed him. Snarling with rage he winked out of sight.
"Come on, let's get out of here." Gabrielle said and draped Xena's arm around her shoulders. They stood up and walked out of the temple.
Xena stood on the balcony and looked up into the heavens. The moon was half full and a million stars in the dark night sky winked down at her. She rolled up the scroll that she had just finished reading.
Gabrielle sat at small table absorbed in the tale she was inscribing on the last scroll. She had been busily writing for most of the day, putting all of her emotions and experiences of the past few days into words.
"With Set's son dead, the trade routes are no longer in danger." Xena said.
"For now." Gabrielle agreed without pausing in her writing.
"Until someone else takes his place." Xena added.
"Greed and power. They corrupt and warp the minds of men." Gabrielle quoted and put down her quill. They smiled at each other and Xena lifted the scroll in her hand.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry you had to go through what you did. I don't remember any of this."
"I've been through worse." Gabrielle commented calmly.
Xena merely shook her head in admiration at her friends courage.
"I take it I wasn't very nice." Xena said.
"Actually, you were much nicer than I expected." Gabrielle paused for a beat. "If this had happened during the first year of traveling together, I probably would have freaked out a little." Gabrielle smiled.
"I fail to see the humor in this, Gabrielle." Xena's face fell.
Gabrielle got up and walked up to her friend. She reached up and cupped Xena's face in her hands. Warm green eyes met sad blue ones and Xena saw the concern in her partner's eyes.
"Xena, this is who you are. I've accepted that, and yes, your dark side does scare me sometimes, but I've learned to deal with that."
Gabrielle pulled Xena's face down and kissed her softly, tenderly.
"We were meant to be together, we both know that. I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle, 'til the end of time." Xena smiled and hugged her soul mate to her chest.