~ Dyo Zoi ~
by Destacain


Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Solan, Hope, Ares, Varia, Dahok and all other characters tat have been previously mentioned on Xena are property of Ren. Pics. Any other characters are owned by me and are the property of my own twisted little mind. I own this story and it is copyrighted to me, thank you very much.

 

Content: There's a little of everything, but nothing explicit.›For the sake of those offended by such however, let's call this alternative. Sorry, but that's just not my bag. If you're lookin for a good roll in the hay, its not to be found here. Read accordingly. There is violence, but not anything graphic.

 

I appreciate any comments. Please use constructive critism. This is my first fanfic endeavor so please be kind. And no flame or hate mail please, lets be mature. Thanks dctalk2me@hotmail.com

Enjoy the Show.


Part 1

"Guilty." Gabrielle voiced, in a tone barely more then that of a whisper. Guilty. In one word she had jeopardized everything that was anything in her life. She had endangered her happiness, her love, her life, her Xena. This was the only way. Eve would have been found guilty with or without her vote, that much was inconsequential. But, the fact stood that Gabrielle had taken an active role against her. She had to, it was the only way... .this was the only way to save her.

Her sea green eyes glistened with still forming tears. She wanted to turn around, to face Xena, but her body wouldn't let her move. To face Xena would mean facing her heartbroken expression, and Gabrielle couldn't handle that. The look on her face, I can just imagine it.

Imagining is all she would care to do. It was more then enough to make her stomach sick with guilt and her heart broken in despair. Xena's face would be the look of Chin. The look at Solan's funeral. The look when Gabrielle had stopped her from killing Hope. It was the embodiment of all she feared. It was the look of disappointment.

Since beginning her travels with Xena, Gabrielle had grown in leaps and bounds. She was mature and wise beyond her years. She embraced the heart of a saint and the skills of a warrior. But, deep down, in her soul, she was still the insecure little girl from Poteidaia. She still thrived on Xena's acceptance and approval. It was like air to her. She breathed it in; it was life sustaining.

She couldn't handle Xena's disappointment. It had almost killed her before, this time she knew it would. More then anything, she wanted Xena to believe in her. She wanted her to be proud of Gabrielle. She had disappointed Xena so many times over their travels together. She had hurt her so much. Gabrielle couldn't stand to do it again. But this IS the only way!

Why did this have to happen now? The past few months they had been so close. The twilight and the betrayal it brought on both their parts had been forgotten. Xena had finally accepted Gabrielle as a true equal in their relationship; it had taken so long to get this far. They were so close they practically read each other's thoughts. So close sometimes, it was almost as if they were one. Xena had also accepted Gabrielle as almost a surrogate mother to Eve. Their bond was so strong...nothing could break it..... nothing until now.

No! No, Xena will understand....she HAS to. But, deep down Gabrielle knew she wouldn't understand. Xena would perceive her actions as betrayal; betrayal was something Xena would never tolerate yet alone understand. She never did, not in Chin, not with Solan, not with Hope.

Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity, Gabrielle's body finally obeyed her mind's commands. Slowly she turned her body to face Xena. Her eyes, like her fists, were clenched tight in anticipation. Her heart beat so loud she was sure it could be heard on Mt. Olympus. Perspiration lightly coated her brow. Ever so slowly she opened her eyes to face Xena.

Gabrielle was treated with a sight more heart wrenching then the look of utter disappointment she had expected: that of the warrior's back as she stormed out of the hut. Gabrielle took a second to compose herself, then she quickly raced after Xena.

*****

"Guilty."

Guilty? No, she hadn't just heard that.....Gabrielle hadn't just judged Eve guilty.... Had she? Yes, she had. Xena was the barer of many skills. One of them was her inhuman auditory abilities. She could hear a twig break a league away. She could distinguish the sound of a struggle amongst the hustle and bustle of Athens. And, she could recognize Gabrielle voice in any dominion, heaven or earth. Yes, Gabrielle had just handed over her verdict.... Guilty.

How could she do this? Why did she do this? Xena was struggling for some semblance of understanding, but it evaded her grasp. She based her entire life on control and now it was running from her like a thief in the night. Her head ached, contemplating this newly processed information.

Her soul ached more so. For so long, Gabrielle had BEEN her friend, her way, her life. It felt as if someone had stuck their hand in her chest and pulled out her still beating heart. The pain....oh the pain. How could you do this Gabrielle? How when I love you so?

Silent questions reeled her mind and plagued her heart. Questions for which only Gabrielle had the answers to. Her brain raced through a million thoughts a second; each appearing and disappearing before she could make a true lucid connection. Only one thought remained coherent in her mind and branded on her broken heart: Betrayal.

She betrayed me. I trusted her and she betrayed me. It hurt. Hurt so much, that while standing there, Xena's knees became weak underneath the weight of her broken soul. But it didn't just hurt, it hurt MORE.

More then anything she had ever experienced. It hurt more then Chin, more then Hope, even more then Solan. Those incidences had caused tremendous pain. But the pain was raw, it was new; so new. What she felt was so familiar, the heartbreak fit like a noose over her soul. Before, it was Gabrielle's first betrayal. Forgiving her was much easier then the warrior had suspected it would be. But now.... she had done it again. Xena wasn't sure what hurt more: that the bard had broken her trust a second time, threw away the second chance Xena had never before given anyone, or the fact that this time, Xena didn't know if she could forgive Gabrielle.

With that final revelation, Xena's head began to spin. The room suddenly seemed so hot, the walls so close. She couldn't breath. She knew all eyes were on her, anticipating her reaction. They're waiting, waiting for me to explode. Xena felt like a caged animal on display. She had to get out.

Xena knew, although not facing her, Gabrielle was awaiting her reaction. I can't face her. Not now, it's too raw, I'm too raw. I'm not ready for this. The walls closed in further and further. I HAVE to get our of here!

Piercing blue eyes scanned the hut for a method of escape. Xena spotted the door situated behind her, guarded by two amazons. She quickly turned around and roughly pushed the two guards out of her way with such determination and fury, she was almost positive she could feel Ares smile. She then proceeded to sprint out of the hunt. Leaving without even taking one last look at Gabrielle.

*****

"Wait! Xena wait!" Gabrielle chased after her swiftly.

In times before, catching up with the warrior would be an impossible task. Xena was almost six feet tall; with long spider-like agile legs, that when provoked could move with the speed of Hermes. Gabrielle, although very swift on her feet, had been dealt a less advantageous body structure by nature. Her legs were short and muscular. And, although they contained power and speed, were no match for Xena's.

But, fortunately for Gabrielle, or rather unfortunately, Xena was heavily distracted by her anger. She didn't notice Gabrielle's hastened steps rapidly catching up to her. Within several seconds, Gabrielle had reached Xena. She latched on to her back and unconsciously let her steps fall in synch with the warrior's.

"Xena wait. Listen to me!"

Xena's back tensed automatically to the unexpected contact. She had been so consumed with her feeling she didn't hear Gabrielle come up behind her. Her thoughts had taken over the warrior's consciousness. The rest of her body operated automatically, allowing Xena's senses to be encompassed by her thoughts. When Gabrielle's hand grasped her, the trance was broken. Her ears quickly tuned to the sound of Gabrielle's hapless pleas.

"Xena please listen to me. There wasn't another way." Gabrielle begged with renewed fury now that she knew she had Xena's attention. "Xena I had to judge Eve guilty, it was the only way to save her."

Xena wanted to respond verbally, but she had lost all tangible control over her voice. Instead she reacted with a series of hand gestured and facial expression to hopefully reveal what she wanted to say.

Gabrielle noticed Xena's lack of words and was immediately heartbroken. She doesn't know what to say. No.....she doesn't know what to say to ME. It hurt. It had taken Gabrielle so long to break through Xena's stoic, silent, facade. Words were second nature to Gabrielle, being a bard. But for Xena, they were carefully calculated and reserved for those whom she trusted and valued. So long to get her to express her feeling with words. Now, she remained silent. No....I won't let this happen...not again. Gabrielle's determination rekindled her fire to defend her actions.

"Xena, I had to do it. I had to judge Eve guilty. The council would have found her guilty anyway."

Xena responded with lifting her arms up in desperation.

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" She replied with a hint of sarcasm, trying unsuccessfully to cover the true hurt voiced in the retort.

"No, but Xena you don't understand. If I had judged Eve innocent, they would have thrown me off the council." Gabrielle began to spin her explanation. Xena's ears perked up at what seemed to be an explanation. Please, please let her believe me. Please, let her understand.

"Xena, if I had been through of the council, there would be no hope for Eve."

"Oh...how so?" Xena asked in a tone enriched with emotion...and.... was that hope?

" A sentence of death must be made unanimous by the council. With me still there it won't happen. Don't you see, this was the only way I could save her life." Gabrielle concluded in added desperation.

Those words... those words should have been like music to Xena's ears. They explained Gabrielle's actions perfectly. It coincided perfectly with who Gabrielle was. In spite of everything, trying to do what was best. They should have soothed her soul.... but the don't! Gabrielle still had not offered her absolution for Eve's crimes. Xena still ached from the pain. Somehow it still felt like...like... .like betrayal.

She should have seen that Gabrielle's actions were based solely on her love for Xena, but she didn't. She saw betrayal. If we had done things my way, this would have never happened. We would be long gone from Amazonia; Eve would be free. She sided with the Amazons against my daughter. Gabrielle sided with the Amazons against me. NO....her heart answered back. No, Gabrielle loves you, loves Eve. She was only doing what she saw as the best solution for the situation. She only trying to save Eve.

Her mind was racing through a thousand ideas at once. Xena was waging an internal battle between her heart and her mind. Her mind furiously vented betrayal, while her heart rapidly requited of love. She needed to be alone. Alone to sort out her thoughts.

For a split second, it's seemed as if the warrior did understand. Her face displayed expressions of comprehension. Then just as suddenly as it appeared, it vanish; only to be replaced by Xena' stoic mask. No Xena, don't do this. Please understand. Don't shut me out. Gabrielle reached out for Xena, needing to make physical contact with the warrior to replace the dwindling emotional one.

"Xena please..." Gabrielle pleaded.

NO...I just can't deal with this right now. I have to get away...alone. When Gabrielle grasped on to her again Xena spun around to meet her.

"I just can't talk to you right now." Xena retorted sharply. Too sharply. But, honestly, she was not in the mood to care if she hurt Gabrielle. She was fuming. Her face contorted in angry grimace and her eyes clenched until they were merely slits.

She looks like Mt. Vesivius about to erupt. It wasn't often Gabrielle was witness to this type of Xena's rage. Less likely when the anger was directed towards her. She was very aware of the beast Xena kept channeled within. The warrior was a woman of control, but sometimes even she could not harness it. Only a fool would provoke it, and Gabrielle was no fool. I should just walk away, give her some time to regain control.

Please, please let her walk away. I net time to regain control Please Gabrielle, leave. Leave before I say something we both regret.

I should let her be. Gabrielle's mind told her all Xena truly needed was time, but her heart would not comply. I just can't leave things this way between us. Not with all we've been through.

It hurts too much.

"Xena, why can't you understand?" Gabrielle asked the question that had been swimming in her mind for what seemed like an eternity.

She could no longer hold it back. Every muscle in Xena's body twitched in agitation, in anger. She had to respond.

"Understand what? That Solan wasn't enough for you. You have to destroy both my children?!" Xena harshly replied. Although, it was less of a question, more of an accusation.

Did she just say that? Gabrielle's mind asked.

Did I just say that? Xena questioned herself, though she knew the truth. Yes, I did.

Yes, she did.

For several seconds, time stood still. The rest of the world faded away. All that remained were Xena and Gabrielle. Everything was silent except for the whispering of the wind and the sound of their breathing.

Blue eyes locked to sea green as they exchanged glances. Their mouths remained motionless, but a symphony was playing through their eyes. Xena's was fevered, yet remorseful. Gabrielle's sad and morose.

After several moments, the true sting of Xena's harsh words sunk in. It began to seep into Gabrielle like poison; pumping through her blood. Taking her over, encompassing her with pain, incredible pain. It flowed through her veins and returned back to her heart.

Gods, I never knew it would hurt this much. After all this, she still blames me. She still doesn't trust me. It was like a knife slicing up her gut, inching towards her heart.

Xena saw Gabrielle react to her words. The look on Gabrielle's face made Xena ill. Why did I say that, I didn't mean it.....did I? To Xena, it didn't matter either way. Now matter what, Gabrielle didn't deserve to be treated in such a manner. She didn't deserve that, especially for me. Besides, who was Xena to judge. I should apologize immediately before this gets too big, I didn't mean it. Gabrielle will forgive me, she has to.

Gabrielle was still reeling from the blow Xena had dealt her only minutes earlier. Maybe she didn't mean that, it was just an accident. Gabrielle tried to convince herself. But, in her heart she knew it was all in vain. Xena would never say something she didn't mean, least of all to Gabrielle.

Their relationship was so close, Gabrielle would expect nothing less then the absolute truth. Xena was also above all, a warrior. Every step, every move, every word was closely calculated. She really feels that way, she doesn't trust me.

The realization shook Gabrielle to the core. If it was possible, she hurt more. She could feel her heart crush under the weight of Xena's words. The earth grew silent as she heard the sound of her soul fall slowly to the ground. All she was left with was the pain. A tremendous amount of pain. I can't deal with this. I'm not strong enough. She wanted to let go, of everything, of hurt, of pain, of feeling: everything.

Xena had faced hydras, banshees, and a wild assortment of other bizarre creatures. She had stood toe to toe with Zeus, Poseidon and Hades without flinching. And, on a regular basis, she dealt with Ares, the God of War. All these, she endured without a grain of fear. Yet now, now the Warrior Princess was trembling. Trembling in fear, for before her lay the frightening sight she had ever laid eyes on: Gabrielle's face.

Gone was the expression of her loving soul mate. It had been replaced with a mask. A mask that mirrored the stoic one Xena often wore. Gabrielle's beautiful blue green eyes, on a usual occasion, shone with the light of her soul. They glistened like the sun on a cloudy day. But, Xena wasn't looking into those eyes. Instead, she was faced with a blank sea of green: devoid of feeling, on emotion. The light in her face was gone.

It was too much for Xena to bare. The light, her way, the only thing in this world that had ever seemed constant, was gone. No, please no. Not Gabrielle.

Xena prayed once for the light in her eyes not to go out, for she couldn't bare the darkness that followed. Truer words were never spoken. Xena could not remain here, seeing Gabrielle's fleeting spirit. The emptiness was like a vice grip of her soul. She could stand no more. Xena quickly turned around and stormed off, leaving Gabrielle alone.

As she staggered off, Xena's uncanny hearing picked up Gabrielle's parting words.

"Goodbye Xena."

If only she had seen her face, Xena would have realized the true finality of those words.

*****

As soon as Xena left, Gabrielle broke her mask. Gabrielle was a woman of feeling. The emptiness is worse, she told herself. I don't know how Xena does it.

Xena.

"Oh Xena, no Xena" Gabrielle cried aloud.

She was gone. She had really left

"NO, I'm sorry Xena. Please come back." The bard pleaded exasperatedly to the wind.

In truth Gabrielle, had never really believed the warrior would leave. On the other hand, she hadn't expected Xena to apologize either. What have I done?

Gabrielle immediately scolded herself. You didn't do anything. You only did what was right. The bard instructed. It was the only way.

"It was the only way." She repeated aloud, as if to make herself believe it.

Gabrielle had been so consumed with Xena's feelings that she had neglected her own heart's reactions. She hurt me...purposely. Xena knew those words would wound me, she did it intentionally. To this, Gabrielle was unsure to act.

Part of her wanted to chase after Xena. Wanted to catch up to the warrior, get down on her knees, and apologize profusely. I'll let her know how sorry I am. I'll make her understand. I will remind her how much I love her, how much WE love each other. Yes, that half of her soul screamed, that would make everything OK.

But, there was another side. The other retorted with equal fury. Don't do it! Don't you dare go crawling back to her. It shrieked to her. Gabrielle was no longer the feckless little girl that followed Xena around like a lapdog. She was an accomplished bard, a battling bard at that. Dammit, she was an Amazon Queen. She can't treat me this way. I don't deserve it. Not just because of who I am, but because of who we are to each other. I deserve better. We deserve better. Gabrielle's mind furiously vented.

There she stood: fighting an internal battle. Her emotions were conflicting between a mixture of guilt and sadness, and anger and fury. She was so confused. The small queen didn't know what to feel. The only decision she could make was that she DID want to feel, feel something. It simply hurt to badly not to; the emptiness was unbearable. The war waged on within her. What do I do next? How do I react?

Suddenly Xena's voice was present in her ears. She remembered a question she had asked before.

"Act, don't react." Xena's voice whispered into her ear.

Realization covered her like a warm blanket. I've been reacting to what Xena said to me. That was not the pressing issue at the moment. Eve. The council still had to pass judgment on Xena's daughter.

I have to do something, Gabrielle thought. This was the one situation she had some control over. I have to help her. Not because I love Xena, but because I love Eve.

Gabrielle raced back to the village.

*****

Xena's whole body was filled with warmth that radiated up from her stomach. She reached her hand down to grasp the source.

She was met with the powerful hand of Ares. Its masculine fingers were molded to the curve of Xena's stomach. He began to seductively, soothingly make small circles on her stomach. It felt....good...Sooo good. It took away the pain in her soul.

Xena could feel Ares hot breathe against her ear. He leaned in and whispered to her.

"And you know what the Scorpion said?" He asked.

OH gods, his voice! It's intoxicating. All of a sudden everything fell into the background. There was only Sensation. Xena interlaced her fingers with his.

She then proceeded to move their hands up her body. They traveled up her well-muscled torso until they reached the top of her breastplate. Xena leaned back into Ares to complete the contact. She seductively answered his question.

"Because that's what I do."

"That's right." Ares answered smiling.

He was ecstatic, not to mention fully aroused. He hadn't perceived Xena to respond so fully to his seduction. No matter her reasons for doing so, Ares didn't care. Xena is here, and she's here with me. The additional benefit was that Xena was almost as excited as she was, less he missed his guess. And, for Ares that was almost an impossibility; he was a god after all.

Oh my gods, do I want him?! Xena's mind reeled at the possibility.

What they had had, it'd been, well incredible. He was a god after all. But, their relationship, it had been empty. There was only sensation, there was no emotion. No, I don't want him. I want the way he makes my body feel.

Ares would take away the pain in her soul. She wouldn't have to think, she just had to feel. No emotions were needed. Xena craved that nothingness.

Ares moved in even closer. He ran his tongue along the outline of Xena's ear.

"I saw what happened earlier between you and Gabrielle. You were right Xena. She was after Eve. She wanted to hurt you, hurt your daughter the way you did to hers. But Xena, you did it out of necessity. She acted out of spite. Xena, you were right." Ares finished.

His voice was hypnotic and Xena was falling under his spell.

"I was right." She answered back, dazed. I was right, her mind repeated as if trying to make herself believe it.

Ares began feasting on Xena's earlobe. He continued suckling on it, tantalizing it, and Xena loved it. All she wanted was more.

" Xena, I know the pain you feel. Incredible pain, isn't it?" Ares asked innocently, although they both knew it wasn't a question.

"Yes, incredible pain." Xena echoed in a tranced voice.

She gasped out loud as Ares' hand reached on to the swell of her right breast. He began to sensuously massage the pillowy flesh.

"Xena, do you remember the way we used to be. Not the fighting, the battles, or the conquests, although those were good too." Ares smirked.

"No Xena, remember US; the way we were. It was passion, it was ecstasy. It was everything. Remember Xena?"

It had been passion, all encompassing desire which goaded every action she took. It had been incredible ecstasy, dancing around the fine line between pleasure and pain. Gods, it HAD been everything. And Xena remembered.

Ares stared deep into those piercing blue orbs. Xena didn't have to reply, he could tell by her gaze she remembered. It mirrored his own rapidly rising ardor. Xena wanted it. She wants me.

Xena's resolve was vastly evaporating. Any tangible control on thought was all but lost. Only raw feelings remained: pure carnage, animal magnetism, blinding desire. Just as the last morsel of Xena's restrain slipped from Xena's grasp, a thought bayed entry into her mind.

Eve. What about Eve?

"Ares, what about my daughter? You sent Varia after her Ares. Now she's facing death. That's your fault." Xena said grimacing.

" Eve was guilty Xena, you know that. All I did was give Varia a little motivation. Besides, as I already told you, its what I do. You know, it's your precious Gabrielle you should question." Ares said smirking. "Although, I guess you've already done that."

"She's the one who proclaimed Eve guilty, it's her fault." The god finished demandingly.

Gabrielle. With the mention o f her name, Xena's pain only increased. But, even a hurting, weakened Xena, was no fool. Ares was at some fault in this. She needed his reassurance that he would right things, that Eve would be safe.

"Ares." She growled with a venomous tone that hinted at a deeper level of hidden desire.

Ares saw his hold on Xena begin to fracture. The trance was breaking.

Damn, I should have known she wouldn't give in so easily. Ares had been hoping for a quick victory. Who was he kidding. No I wasn't. Her feistiness only turned him on more....if that was possible. Ares need to act fast before he lost Xena at her weakest moment.

"Oh Xena Xena Xena. Always the skeptic. As annoying as it is, you do wear it very sexily. Varia was nothing to me. This war I was creating, really it was only a starting point. I was never going to support her any way. I just had to get the ball rolling." Ares explained with disgusting enthusiasm.

"A war's a war. The Amazon venture was completely replaceable. I simply chose Eve and the Amazons, well, for sentimental value." He smiled. "If it's a choice between this war and you. Xena, you know me well enough to know I obviously choose you." Ares said, the ending sentence coming out more endearing then he'd planned.

"Assurances Ares. I need assurances." Xena spurted out. Her mind traipsing between coherence and chaos.

"Xena, I swear to you, by the head of Zeu....Can't do that, you saw to that. Let's see, can't do Poseidon, or Hades either. All right, I got it." He said holding up his index finger.

" I swear by the head of Aphrodite that no harm will befall Eve. Varia will hear the truth from me. Swearing by the head of an other god is the most sacred trust on Olympus." He paused for dramatic effect.

"You know I'll keep my word."

Ares flipped Xena around and ran his tongue along the length of her collarbone.

"Now Xena, do you want me?" Ares asked, his voice drenched in unsatisfied desire.

The movement of Ares tongue caressing Xena's body sent tingling sensations down her spine. Xena gasped at the contact. Chaos won out. Control was nothing more then a memory. It took all the concentration left in her body to nod yes to Ares question.

"Do you need me?" Ares emphasized the last two words.

Again, Xena rapidly nodded her head.

"Then let me take your pain away." Ares leaned down.

His hard mouth was brought on to Xena's supple lips. At contact, all was lost. Nothing else existed, there was only sensation; brilliant sensation.

In the back recesses of Xena's mind lay doubt. At heart, she never truly believed what Ares said. The only way she continued was because she was able to push the doubt so far back into her mind that it wouldn't interfere. Little did she know that no harm would befall Eve and there would be no war. Ares knew.

Their passion began to unfold. Xena was engulfed by desire; she was oblivious to all else. But Ares, due to his godhood abilities, distinctly felt the presence of two eyes keenly watching them.

Ah well, Ares thought, Enjoy the show.

*****

Gabrielle ran through the Amazon Village with reckless abandonment.. She pushed her way down the road, bumping into many an Amazon on her way. But, even in her state of recklessness, Gabrielle still had the good graces to apologize to her victims. One thought echoed through her mind: Eve, I've got to save Eve.

Gabrielle continued her quest for the queen's hut.

I can't be late. They can't have started the sentencing meeting without me....could they?

Gabrielle was well versed in Amazon customs, but joining of the whole nation was previously undocumented. As a result, few rules existed. Please, don't let me be too late.

Sea-green eyes befell upon their desired destination. She raced into the hut, bypassing the two Amazon guards at the door. Viewing the queen's speed and determination, they quickly moved out of the way. Gabrielle whizzed past the hut's doorway, storming into the council room.

Upon her entry, the other queens stood up. It was custom, acknowledging her mask as queen. Gabrielle noticed everyone was accounted for except Varia.

"I hope you didn't start the sentencing without me."

The darker Amazon queen arose and spoke.

"This is not a sentencing Queen Gabrielle. It is simply a discussion of Eve's punishment."

Her ebony skin glistened in the firelight. Her high cheekbones gave her both prowess and exotic beauty.

"And, no we haven't begun."

"Besides," The red headed queen spoke up. " We can't begin without Varia."

"Where is she?" Gabrielle asked sincerely.

" When you stormed off after Xena, she followed you two." The red head spoke again. "She said she'd be right...."

"Back, which I am." An arrogant voice answered from the back of the room.

There stood Varia. With her minimal leathers and her necklace signifying her rank, she was the ultimate embodiment of an Amazon queen. Her face held a determined, hard beauty. Her hair was a deep brown, almost raven. It was sparsely coated in leaves which in itself was nothing uncommon: Amazons were known for their stealth in trees. Her body was muscular. From her well-defined calves to her strong shoulders, she radiated of power.

"Now that I'm back, shall we begin?" Varia asked nonchalantly.

Everyone sat down in their designated seats. Gabrielle stared at the fire in silent determination. Nothing is going to happen to Eve. I'll make sure of that.

Varia had other plans in mind. She'll pay. Livia will be punished.

I will have my vengeance!

Varia had heard what Ares had said. True, it had changed things. There would be no war. The only reason she had entertained the idea was because she believed she had Ares backing. Ah well, he did bring the nation together.

Varia hadn't intended to be privy to a private peep show. She had simply followed Xena after she left Gabrielle to see what would ensue. Then, when Ares appeared and began to speak, she had no choice but to eavesdrop....for the good of the nation. Or so she told herself.

But, the sight of Xena and Ares practically inhaling each other's faces had made her ill. Once the talking had been replaced with moaning, Varia had made a surreptitious exit.

I wonder if I should tell Gabrielle. Gabrielle and Xena were incredibly close. Everyone had their own idea about the two's special relationship. Varia, having witnessed them together, would stake her last dinar that the two were lovers.

Gabrielle had seemed so hurt by Xena's words and actions earlier. Poor Girl, Varia thought. A revelation like this would probably destroy her. Gabrielle was weak, she most likely couldn't handle this. I best be quiet.....for her sake, Varia told herself. Little did she know, Gabrielle was anything but weak.

Ares was wrong about the second part of his prophecy. Eve would not get away with this free of punishment. I'll make sure she pays.

Varia yearned for retribution. She wanted the blood of Livia, Eve, or whatever she called herself, to flow on her hands. Either way, it didn't matter, she would have her revenge.

Vengeance, her mind screamed, will be mine!

*****

Deliberation continued on for hours. Gabrielle had never felt so alone. It was her against an army. An army of Amazon queens no less.

She adamantly spoke in Eve's defense. She consistently brought up examples of Eve's spiritual transformation. Even the fact that she had come to Amazonia in hopes of peace.

But, for every incidence of good Gabrielle presented, she was shot down by an equally crippling example of Livia's deeds. Varia spoke of the senseless murder of her sister, then a small child, by Livia.

Gabrielle sensed that some of Varia's anger towards Eve was misplaced anger with herself for not being able to protect sister, but she remained silent. No one spoke of how Livia had massacred her whole village, even after they had surrendered, simply for sport.

In several hours, they had gotten nowhere. The council was still deadlocked.

"This is pointless. Livia must be sentenced to death for her crimes. She must repay the Amazons for her deeds." Varia voiced.

"All in favor?" Hands lifted to the sky, the room filled with hands raised high. Everyone's hand was up, except Gabrielle.

"Varia, you know that won't happen. I might not be an Amazon by birth, but I am very knowledgeable in Amazon law. A death sentence must be unanimous. With me partaking in the council, that will not happen." Gabrielle said firmly.

"And what if we throw you off the council?" Varia retorted in a tone saturated in annoyance. Her patience was wearing very thin.

"You know as well as I do that is an impossibility."

"True Gabrielle, but there are no such stipulations for alternative forms of punishment." Varia smirked evilly. "I simply need a majority vote."

Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest, but she couldn't. There was nothing to contest, Varia was right.

There was no way to prevent a majority vote. Try as she might, none of the queens would side with her. Eve was now at the mercy of the council. The simple thought of that made the hairs on the back of her neck prickle.

"What do you propose Varia?" One of the members asked.

"I say sentence that bitch to forty lashes to be carried out immediately. All in favor?"

Again, all except one hand shot up.

"Then it's settled." Varia smiled smugly. " We will reconvene in one hour for sentencing." She concluded.

Varia had won. Livia was going to pay dearly for the crimes she's committed. True, she had not actually sentenced Livia to death, but it was a means to an end. No one could survive forty lashes. Not even the bitch of Rome. Once again, Varia smiled to herself.

Vengeance will be mine.

Gabrielle's stomach inverted at Varia's arrogant smile. She sentenced Eve to death anyway, or so she thinks.

The bard truly loved Eve as if she was her own child. She would do anything to protect Eve, even if it meant going against her tribe, or the entire Amazon nation. Gabrielle knew what she needed to do. Even if it means death, I'll do it.

She would give the ultimate sacrifice if need be. I'll do it for Eve. And in her heart she knew, I'll do it for Xena as well.

*****

The sun beat down on the Amazon Village. A cool breeze was in the air , whisping the scent of spring throughout the settlement. The echo of little children's voices could be heard. The sounds of their adolecent banter was like a beautiful symphony which coated the village. It seemed the epitome of pleasantry, but the faŃade was broken by the sight of a young woman in shackles.

Eve stood under the blistering sun. The heat was causing her to perspire heavily. She was already drenched in anticipation of her sentence. Her body had developed a light coating of mud due to the previous night.

The guards had proclaimed to her that "The bitch of Rome was unworthy of even the worst Amazon hut."

Instead, she had been brought outside to a huge oak tree at the outskirts of the village. There they'd proceeded to tie her to the tree. Strangely, they left her unharmed. Eve had expected to be beaten, but she remained untouched.

Later in the night, a bigger Amazon had approached her from behind. She had a ceremonial Amazon staff in her hands, raised, poised to hit Eve squarely across the face. With both hands and feet tied to the tree, she was utterly defenseless. The Amazon's blow began to descend upon Eve when suddenly a hand reached out to catch the deadly staff. A shadowed figure spoke.

"Queen Gabrielle ordered her to remain unharmed until after sentencing." She spoke in an authoritative voice.

"I don't care what that half-breed ordered. That whore murdered both my sisters. I deserve my revenge." The big warrior shouted.

The shadowed figure stepped out from the dark. Her body was illuminated by the moonlight. Immediately, the other Amazon dropped to her knees.

"Queen....Varia...." The Amazon sputtered out "...I'm...sor..."

"The most sacred codes of the nation are trust and loyalty. Today you broke both." Varia began. She watched as the other Amazons cowered in her presence. It's good to be queen she thought.

"Gabrielle may not be Amazon by birth, but she is an Amazon none the less. Time and time again she has proved her worthiness to the nation." Varia ended on a high tone, as if the last statement was a question.

"Yes, Queen Varia, she has." The big warrior answered, terrified. Fear flooded her body for she knew breaking the sacred code was a formidable offense, punishable by death.

"I may not agree with Gabrielle's opinions, but I respect them. Not just because she is a queen, but because she is Amazon. She has done nothing to deserve any less."

"Yes, Queen Varia." MERCY, the Amazon's thoughts shouted. Please let her show me mercy.

"I also understand how consuming the need for vengeance can be. That is why you will be pardoned for this first offense. But, shall you disobey Queen Gabrielle's orders again, you will be severely punished." Varia concluded, putting added emphasize on the words Queen and punishment.

Varia had merely intended to scare the Amazons into listening to Gabrielle's order, but she found her words striking a cord within herself. As the monologue developed, she realized the truth of her of them. Even though Gabrielle had sided against her, Varia still respected her for her convictions. In fact she liked them because Varia loved a challenge. Maybe she's not as weak as Varia thought. Her train of thought had been broken by the sight of the Amazons still on her knees, waiting to be dismissed.

"Cepami, sister, I understand how dangerous this need for revenge can be if in remains unsquelshed within. I know Queen Gabrielle ordered against physically harming her, but no one said we couldn't have fun." Varia smirked.

At the last sentence, both Cepami and Eve's ears had perked up. What did she have in mind, they both thought.

Without further hesitation, Varia quickly untied Eve from the oak and stood her straightly up. Then without warning dragged several feet into the forest.

"Kick her legs out Cepami." The Amazon quickly obeyed, kicking Eve in the leg, hitting her in the back of her knees. Because both of her feet were still tied, Eve was without a method of defense or balance. She quickly fell flat on her face, deep into the unseen puddle of mud before her.

The sick, joyous laugh of Varia and Cepami could be heard throughout the forest. They then began to take systematic turns at standing Eve up then kicking her into the mud. Or, sometimes they simply left her face down in the mud. Then they began hurling both clumps of mud to her body and insults to her soul.

After several hours, they had finally had their full. Varia and Cepami drug Eve back to the tree and chained her up. They left her to sleep in her filth, both figuratively and literally. She was tired. She was dirty. She was humiliated.

In some ways, she would have preferred a beating. That was physical pain; it would pass. But, the things they had said about her, the way they had humiliated her, those would not be so easy. They had injured her soul, and those wounds were slower to heal.

But, she had survived the night. It had been possibly her last night ever. She was covered head to toe in a thick coating of mud. She was dirty, sweating, filthy, and hurting. And as the sun beat down on her, burning her body, yet she held her head up high.

It was time to face destiny.

*****

The hut was dark, illuminated by only the light entering through the door. The luminosity existent was only enough to light the faces of the room's inhabitants.

Eve was drug into the darkened room. In the blackness, she could see nothing but the faces of her accusers. They were the faces of her sentencers, the faces of her destiny.

Even upon her knees, Eve maintained the courage to face her sentencers squarely in the eye. Most wouldn't make such an arrogant move, but for Eve, there was no superciliousness in the gesture at all. It was a matter of pride.

The Amazons knew bowing to an enemy was the ultimate form of submission, of humiliation. Eve would not give them the satisfaction of that victory. Submission, humiliation, failure, defeat, They were all things that would have destroyed Livia, but Eve took them in stride. She slowly began to rise.

Gabrielle was wringing her hands. She was so nervous. What if this doesn't work? She thought. What if it does? She was minimally prepared for this situation.

Xena, it would be so much easier if Xena were here. She'd know what to do. But she wasn't here. That fact unnerved Gabrielle to the core. Surely Xena wouldn't miss the sentencing of her own daughter.

Under normal circumstances, Gabrielle might not have been very worried, but these were anything but normal circumstances. Gabrielle was still unsure how to react to Xena. She hadn't had time to examine her feelings. Honestly, she didn't know what to say to Xena if she did show up. Everything was still too raw.

There were advantages to her being gone, though. Xena possessed a rampant protective streak. It would never allow Gabrielle to do what she knew she must. Ah well, it'll be much easier if she's not here.

The room was silent except for the steady, rhythmic breathing of the inhabitants. All council members were dressed in ceremonial cloths of their respective tribes. Gabrielle had adopted a short set of light tan leathers. Each wore a beaded necklace upon their breast.

The necklace was a symbol of their queen hood and their authority. They all varied in color, depending on that, which was most native to their tribe, but they all were the same shape and size. The symbolized the individuality of the tribes while still respecting the authority of one another.

Varia strode into the room, behind the prisoner. She sauntered behind Eve and stopped just short of touching her. She wanted to be only a hairsbreadth away. Varia wanted Eve to hear her, without actually seeing her. Then, on her way out, face Varia, face her destiny.

Varia stood to full height. She wore the ceremonial robes of all Amazons, for they were all her tribe. Her necklace differed from the others. Instead of painted wood, Varia's shone of pure silver.

The chain was a series of feathered and wooden charms, met occasionally with silver beads that glinted in the sunlight. In the center, lay a medallion with a carving of Artemis: the patron god of the Amazons. Varia was the embodiment of intimidation, she had wanted to be. Not for the benefit of her companions, but for Eve. I want her to be scared of me.

Eve could feel Varia breathing behind her. She knew what Varia was doing. She's trying to intimidate me, to scare me.

Let the enemy know you know where they are, but remain hidden.

A scare tactic she knew well, leading an army. Old hat, dear. Eve thought, but it WAS working. Eve's stomach was doing butterflies and her palms were sweaty and clammy. I am scared.

Varia sucked in a deep breath and began.

"Here before us lies Livia. She is being charged with many an offense against the Amazon Nation. Many in this room have stepped forward with their accounts of her cruelty. She has been charged with stealing Amazon lands, the murder of several Amazons, and more. In fact, her true crime is Genocide, for what she has done should be viewed as so. She tried to completely obliterate the Amazon Nation. For this, she will be punished." Varia paused for strategic effect. I want her scared witless.

And she was. Eve was trembling with fear. The whole room was holding their breath. All eyes remained on Varia. She continued.

"The deliberation committee reached a consensus for these crimes. Livia, as queen of the Amazons, I hereby sentence you to forty lashes to be evoked immediately." Gasps echoed throughout the room, one, which was Eve's.

Die, I'm going to die was the thought that sounded through her head. Why not just sentence me to death? Forty lashes was in fact a death sentence for it was impossible to survive such a beating. Mother, where are you? Xena would know what to do, she would save her.

NO, that would be wrong, Eve realized. She had come into Amazon land freely. Eve has come to make amends for her past indiscretions.

This is retribution for my crimes. It was fair punishment. Life for life. Though Eve knew in her heart this would only perpetuate the cycle of violence, but if this would give them peace, so be it.

Eve slowly turned around to face Varia. She saw the face of her sentencer, her accuser, and her destiny: death. It was wearing an arrogant face. She thinks she won. Eve sighed. No one truly won.

Her train of thought was broken by a voice.

"I evoke the Dyo Zoi." Gabrielle voiced to the council. It had taken all her courage to finally say it, knowing what it meant.

A series of gasps, again, followed her revelation. Eve turned to Gabrielle with a look of utter confusion, then back to Varia. The arrogant smirk was vastly being replaced by a morose frown.

"Gabrielle, you can't do this." Varia objected.

"According to Amazon law Varia, I can and I will." Gabrielle retorted sharply.

"Please Gabrielle don't, she deserves this." Varia pleaded.

"No Varia, she doesn't. She made mistakes, just like Xena. Eve has turned her life around."

"So that's why you're doing it, to make amends with Xena." Varia said as if wounded.

"No." Gabrielle answered quickly.

"This has nothing to do with her. I believe everyone deserves a second chance. Eve deserves a second chance to make things right." Gabrielle said sincerely.

"Gabrielle, I'm giving her a chance to make things right."

"No Varia," Gabrielle continued. "You're giving her no chance at all. This is the only way."

"Fine, Gabrielle." Varia said angrily. " Guards prepared her. Everyone else, out of here."

Amazons began to file out of the hut. The guards grabbed Gabrielle and then reached for Eve.

"NO, leave the bitch here. I'll take care of her myself." Varia smiled.

They nodded and exited the hut.

"I hope you're happy." Varia said to Eve in the darkness.

Eve was no longer facing Varia, she had long since sat down, soaking in the previous events. I'm sentenced to forty lashes. Gabrielle evokes the Dyo Zoi and is taken off in chains. What's going on? Eve was completely confused. In her deep thought, she had missed Varia's words.

"What?" She asked.

"I said, I hope you're happy Livia."

"Happy about what?" Eve questioned confused.

" You had Gabrielle evoke the Dyo Zoi." Varia spoke condemningly.

"What's the Dyo Zoi?" Eve asked again honestly.

"The Dyo Zoi is a right reserved solely to an Amazon Queen. As a queen, Gabrielle is believed to be Dyo Zoi: Two spirits. They are the living embodiment of Artemis, our patron goddess. Therefore a Queen is said to be made up of both herself and Artemis." Varia finished.

Yet, Eve was still left confused. The picture was getting clearer, but it still didn't make sense.

"So what does that have to do with anything?" Eve questioned.

"Amazon queens are bound by sacred duty to uphold justice under all circumstances. If they strongly believe a wrong verdict has been issued, they may evoke the Dyo Zoi. This way, bringing the punishment upon themselves. But, since they are believed to be made up of two spirits, two people, only half the punishment is issued. Half times two equals the original punishment."

"When Gabrielle evoked the Dyo Zoi, she set you free from punishment, but she insured hers. She will receive twenty lashes for you crimes. I hope you're pleased with yourself." Varia concluded, disgusted.

Oh no Gabrielle, no, Eve's mind reeled. No, she doesn't deserve that. They were her crimes, her responsibility.

"Well, she has to take it back. Can't she take it back?"

"A Queen's word is her bond. To go back on it now would be questioning her honor. And that, above all, is most sacred to an Amazon. No, she cannot. Besides, even if she could, do you think Gabrielle would change her mind? I doubt it."

"Oh no Gabrielle." Eve muttered under her breath. Above her, Varia snickered.

"What's so funny?" Eve asked.

"Nothing funny," She replied. "Actually, kind of ironic. Even now, on your path of peace, you're still destroying lives."

*****

They took Gabrielle back to the hut. There a hot bath was prepared for her. As Queen, she was allowed the luxury of attending the lashings clean.

This served double purposes. First, she was cleaned to prevent immediate onset infection. Also, she arrived cleansed as a symbol of innocence. Showing she was clean from all wrong doing.

Gabrielle entered the warm bath. Her attendants systematically began to clean her body, scrubbing every inch of skin so it gleamed with cleanliness. She exited the bath and was perfumed with lilacs upon her request. They were Gabrielle's favorite scent. They were Xena's too. Ahh well, something sentimental to give me strength.

She was then dressed in the traditional prisoner's garb. She was given a small leather loincloth. As a prisoner, this would have been all she was allotted. As a queen, she did not have to forgo the humiliation of exposing herself to the tribe.

Gabrielle was given a simple piece of cloth that tied around the neck and lower waist. It adequately covered her chest. Yet, it still left her back perfectly exposed for the lashings.

Gabrielle was surprisingly at ease. She was about to face possibly her own death, yet she felt a sense of peace about her. Eve is safe. And that was truly all that mattered. No matter what happens, she would be safe.

Death, she didn't fear it. Of course, she didn't welcome it, but if it came she'd embrace it. Most of her loved ones were dead anyway. The most important relationship in her life was in shambles. And, even if Xena did forgive her, she didn't know if she could do the same.

What Xena had said stung Gabrielle to the core. Not only the meaning behind them, but the intention as well. Xena knew that her words would hurt Gabrielle and she purposely chose to do so. It was malicious, it was strategic, and to Gabrielle it was possibly unforgivable.

Earlier, Gabrielle had been sad and depressed. But with each new breath she took, anger began to rise.

She was angry with Xena for hurting her. She was angry with Xena for not trusting her. And she was angry with Xena for not being here for her, when she needed it the most. It was so reminiscent of Britannia, it burned. This time Gabrielle was unsure of a happy reunion and reconciliation.

But Eve is safe, and that was truly all that mattered.

*****

Sweat coated the two bodies mingled together. Their series of moans and screams echoed the height of their pleasure. Their bodies mirrored their fingers: interlaced, holding on tightly. They were oblivious to the rest of the world. To them, there was nothing else.

The two bodies began to animate. Their fluid motion was reminiscent of a dance. Foreplay had outlasted its usefulness. It would not squelch the urgent need that existed inside either one of them .

Inside. Xena wanted him to be inside. In her mind, in her body, but never in her heart. That would put emotion behind it. That would put meaning behind it. She didn't want to feel regret, not now, not ever. She just wanted pleasure.

Not even pleasure. Pleasure was a welcomed extra, but it was never the goal. It was much more raw, more animalistic, more carnal. They needed release.

Release from the pain. Release from the responsibility. Release from the pressures of the world.

When it was over, she knew she'd curse herself for letting it happen. Curse him for taking advantage of her during her weakness. Curse herself for having a weakness. She would have to face the consequences of her actions. All together, it would most likely result in more pain then she had before.

But, Xena didn't care about that right now. Reality was worlds away. There was no room for regret. There was only enough space to feel. As a warrior, a margin of safety was a necessity. As a warrior her first instinct was to use her body. Today she felt with her body, not her heart. It was always safer that way.

Ares pushed up against her: harder, faster, wanting more.... too much.

Several times he had began whispering in her ears. He begin spouting a soliloquy of lust and pleasure and.....love? Every time, Xena had quickly silenced him with a kiss. She didn't want his heart, she never had, not even before. Love would've made them both weak. No, she had never wanted his heart.

I want his body.

She wanted the things his body had once made her feel. She wanted to be without words, in the throws of pleasure. She wanted to be so consumed with lust it burned. She wanted to feel worshipped like a Goddess. And, most of all, she wanted to feel release. Ares gave her that.

Fuck now...worry later, her mind told her and she was inclined to agree. She bent her head back and let her body be taken over. Her limbs began to tremble as release washed over yet again.

*****

They drug Gabrielle out of the hut to face her punishment.

She had been spared the embarrassment of exposing herself. However, the same humiliation could no be spared by chains. Gabrielle was made to wear thick restraints around her wrists and ankles. Even though she was queen, she was still a prisoner.

Gabrielle walked down the path towards the scaffold. A whipping was not a common day occurrence, especially that of a queen. The whole village had turned out for the event.

As Gabrielle walked past them, they remained completely silent. Nothing could be heard but the whistle of the wind yet, they spoke volumes with their eyes.

Some held looks of confusion, some of disgust, but more stares at Gabrielle were of silent admiration. Even Varia, who was enraged at Gabrielle's decision, admired her courage. It took a true Amazon queen to willingly accept such a punishment for something they believed in. Perhaps I misjudged you Gabrielle.

Despite her calm exterior, the peace Gabrielle had found was rapidly fleeting. It was quickly being replaced with fear. But, Gabrielle knew this was right, was what she had to do. With her travels with Xena, Gabrielle had experienced many things. A lashing had never been one of them. Add to that the number was twenty, she was internally trembling.

Then Gabrielle caught a glimpse of Eve's face. The peace once again washed over her. Because no matter the price of the pain, it would be worth it. Eve will be safe.

Gabrielle reached the platform and began the trip up the stairs. When she reached the top, she was met with Varia. Still dressed in her queenly attire, she had added a new addition: a long, black, single strap whip.

Gabrielle's gaze met Varia's eyes. They held a mixture of sadness, fury, and....was that admiration? Gabrielle held her chin up as Varia began to speak.

"Livia was charged with Genocide and sentenced to forty lashes. Queen Gabrielle believes in her innocence and has therefore evoked the Dyo Zoi."

"No." Gabrielle interrupted, " I believe in Eve's innocence. I believe in giving Livia a second chance to make amends for her mistakes."

"Whatever the case may be, you evoked the Dyo Zoi, thereby taking the punishment upon yourself. As queen, you are the embodiment of Artemis and yourself. Therefore your sentence is to be twenty lashes, carried out immediately." Varia stepped closer until her lips were inches away from Gabrielle's ears.

"Gabrielle" She whispered. "You can still get out of this. Allow Livia the punishment she truly deserves. No one would think any less of you." She pleaded.

"Yes, they would." Gabrielle said. " Besides, I'd think less of me. This is the only way Varia. Please continue." Gabrielle finished coldly. Varia stepped back as if she had been burned.

"Fine." She whispered then began to continue.

"Queen Gabrielle, as queen you have the right to make any request before the sentence is carried out. Do you have any final requests?" Varia asked.

"Yes Varia, I have requests." Gabrielle again spoke coldly, her voice devoid of emotion.

"First, I want safe passage for Xena and Eve out of Amazonia. They are not to be harmed." Gabrielle said authoritatively.

"Secondly," Gabrielle began. "I want you to show no nepotism in your blows Varia. Deliver your lashes as if I was a prisoner, not a queen."

Varia simply nodded her head. Internally, she was at odds. Varia was actually scared. She witnessed many whippings, but she'd never actually done it herself. As Queen of the Amazons, she had to be the epitome of strength, but I don't think I'm that strong.

Gabrielle's final request was that she show her no leniency in her blows because she was queen. How right she was.› That's what Varia had intended to do. Now she couldn't, her honor prevented her from not following Gabrielle's wishes.

Damn, I definitely underestimated her.

The guards grabbed Eve to lead her out when Varia stopped them.

"No." Varia commanded. " I want her to witness the consequences of her crimes. She'll see a small glimpse of the pain she caused. Leave her." Varia said.

The guards immediately let go of Eve. Eve's stomach dropped. Secretly, her mind was begging her to leave. She loved Gabrielle and she couldn't bear to see her in pain, especially pain she'd caused.

Eve slowly turned to face Gabrielle. Her heart sank. Gabrielle looked back at her and gave Eve a reassuring smile. It only served to sicken her to her stomach.

She's trying to protect me, to see me safe. If Xena had done the same gesture, she wouldn't have felt so bad. Like Eve, she had done many things she was not proud of; things she deserved to be punished for. But Gabrielle, oh Gabrielle. She was an innocent. She didn't deserve any of that. Mother where are you?"

She was nowhere to be found. Eve knew that her mother and Gabrielle had some sort of fight. She also knew she was the cause of the conflict. The revelation only served to make her feel, if possible, even guiltier.

She hadn't eaten since she'd been arrested, and barely slept. She was exhausted, starving, but all she felt was the pain of guilt. This is all my fault.

Varia nodded to the guards. They began to chain up above her head and between her legs. Gabrielle's body contorted so that with her spread limbs, her body formed a giant X. The wind whistled on and the sun beat down on them.

Varia took a deep breath and raised the whip back. I'm not ready for this.

A breeze hit Gabrielle's exposed back. All eyes focused on her. Their faces mirrored the terror in her soul She closed her eyes so as not to face it, them. She had to be brave. I will be brave. She took a deep breath. I'm not ready for this.

Varia's hand began to move down in an arching motion, and so it began.

*****

Ares thrust into her again with endearing passion as once again she was pushed over the edge.

"Ohh Gods." Xena screamed aloud. Xena's body was racked with yet another mind-blowing orgasm.

Ares continued to move in and out of Xena until he was hit yet again with the sheer brilliance of release. He stayed inside her for sometime. They both laid their, covered in sweat, simply enjoying the feeling of each other. Enjoying the feeling of body to body, breath to breath, skin to skin. The reveled in each other.

Ares was in Illusia. In his arms, here was the woman he loved. Xena, he was here, inside her. There was nowhere else in this world he'd rather be. He did truly love her. Why don't I just tell her that?

Why indeed? Because he knew, he knew what telling Xena the truth would mean. She would see him as weak. Ares was a god, he wasn't supposed to have weaknesses. Ares couldn't bare Xena's pity or her disgust.

Xena, for her part, was simply enjoying the sensation. The world had slipped away. She could only feel. That was all she cared to do because the moment she returned to reality was the moment her pain returned. She just wanted escape. Ares was deep inside her and it feel good, very good.

Almost too good. It was so tempting to return back to that, back to him. It would be easy, so good. Turning back to Ares, that meant leaving Gabrielle. And, as upset, as hurt, as confused as she was about her, Gabrielle was still her soul.

She loved her more then words. I love her more then anything in this world. I should tell her that. Not that Gabrielle would listen. Why should she? After the things I said to her, I'll be surprised if she ever forgives me.

Gabrielle. The thoughts of her brought more pain into Xena's soul, pain she wanted to block out. Xena began rocking her hips against Ares. Forget, I need to forget. Xena tilted her head back and waited for coveted passion to take her over.

*****

The whip bit down into her back again.

"Seven." Varia counted.

Gabrielle was in an unimaginable amount of pain. In all her fear, she had never imagined it would feel like this. Seven. She had survived through seven lashes. Gabrielle wasn't sure how many more she could last through.

Her body was slowly dieing. She was in so much pain, she would almost welcome the release death brought. But no matter the pain, she wouldn't give up, she wouldn't give in.

Throughout it all, the bard refused to scream out. She would not let them know her pain. With every strike, she bit harder down on her lip. So hard were her bites, blood now caked her chin. A mixture of dried blood and newly seeping blood as well painted her face.

Consciousness was quickly escaping her grasp. Darkness was calling to her, begging her to give in. It would be so easy. She could just pass out, take an escape from her pain. No, Gabrielle was stronger then that. She was an Amazon queen and would act as so. She had to be strong for her tribe, for Eve, for herself.

Varia was trembling. Never had she seen the consequences made by her hand. She'd seen death and injury she'd cause her enemies, but the exposure had lasted only several moments. Now, she had a constant view of the pain she was causing. It was too much.

Gabrielle please pass out. Varia silently prayed to Artemis for Gabrielle to give into the pain. Please pass out. But she didn't, and she wouldn't.

Gabrielle's back tensed in gentle defiance. Her breathing became very shallow, yet she remained: ready to face the pain. Varia was having a hard time continuing. She felt like a coward. Attacking someone from the back. Not only that, but attacking an innocent. With every strike, she felt less and less a queen and more and more pusillanimous. She had to continue on though. Varia raised the whip up high and brought it down with a thunderous "WHACK!"

*****

Her eyes were hazy. Her lips were completely parched. They were covered with a series of teeth imprints and blood that had spilled down her chin. Her face was heavily coated with a thick layer of perspiration. Her hair was plastered wetly to her scalp.

The once dry, clean, makeshift shirt was now coated in a mixture of blood, sweat, and tears. Dry streamlines covered her face. Some the product of beads of sweat falling down her face, but most were the trails of unchecked tears that had been released from her eyes.

Her back was covered with lash marks and blood. Blood was everywhere. Blood coated her face, her shirt, her back, and had rolled down the backs of her legs. Her body hung limply, silently swaying in the breeze. She was being supported by the chains alone because control of her limbs had long since left her. Her mind resounded one thought: Pain.

Pain was everywhere: in her body, in her mind, in her heart. Gabrielle was constantly fighting the pain. There was no denying it, of course, because it most certainly existed. She fought its effect to control her, to have her give in to its seductive temptation. She wouldn't allow it.

She sharply in took a breath and prepared for the next blow, the final blow.

Varia now felt sufficiently sick to her stomach. She had been driven to the point of physical illness. Being Queen of the Amazons was supposed to be powerful, prideful, challenging, but never this. Never had she felt such shame upon herself.

She had used an innocent as an instrument of revenge. Yes, Gabrielle had volunteered for the punishment, but it was Varia who let her. It was Varia who excepted her challenge. Varia who delivered punishment.

Now, here was Gabrielle, right in front of her, near death. Throughout it all, she had yet to scream out. Although barely coherent, she remained fully conscious through the whole ordeal, which Varia knew was by choice. While Gabrielle was trying to protect Eve, she was also gaining the respect and loyalty of all the Amazons present. She was setting an example of courage, of strength, of what an Amazon should be.

Varia forced the bile rising up her throat back down as she rose her arm again for the final blow.

Eve, however, made no attempt to hide her disgust. She had already vomited thoroughly twice thru the duration of the event. Her heart bursted as she looked up at the bloodied mass that was supposedly Gabrielle.

Here she is, up there dieing for me. I should be the one up there. I should be punished. I should be dying. As she watched Varia raise her hand for the final lash, her stomach rolled again.

Varia let her hand sharply descend upon Gabrielle. A loud "WHACK" could be heard throughout the village.

"Twenty." Varia said in a morose tone.

The entire village released a sigh of relief, Varia included, as she concluded the whipping. Gabrielle still hung by the chains as Varia stepped back on the scaffold. She nodded to the guards, acknowledging them to approach the platform.

"Release her." Varia commanded.

Two guards bent down to Gabrielle's ankles. They began to release the restraints, yet she didn't move. The sight of her chained ankles was replaced, once the chain was removed, by pink raw flesh.

The guards moved to her wrists and began to remove the restraints. When they touched Gabrielle, she awoke as if out of a trance. She became aware of her surroundings. She felt the pain, of course, but besides that, she felt more. She could feel the soothing breeze upon her back. The bard could feel her trembling legs beneath her.

Above all, though, Gabrielle could the weighty stare of those surrounding her. What was once a mixture of emotions, disgust included, was now a unified expression of admiration and respect. Its over, and I survived.

The guards released her arm restraints. Gabrielle quickly crumpled to the ground. Only then, did she allow herself to succumb to the pain. The second she hit the ground, she passed out cold. Varia signaled to the guards to pick up Gabrielle. They lifted her up and waited for further instructions.

"Take her to the healer's hut." Varia said. They began to turn around and head towards the hut.

"See that she is given the best of care." Varia yelled after them.

The two guards quickly turned around to face their queen. They raised a clenched fist to their hearts and bowed their heads as a symbol of respect and understanding. The guards then continued their journey to the healer's hut.

As they walked down the path, all eyes followed them. Eyes filled with respect, loyalty, and admiration. In their eyes, Gabrielle was every bit as much a queen. All words of her not being Amazon by blood were quickly forgotten. Today, Gabrielle was truly an Amazon Queen.

As they strode out, the sun hid behind a cloud. The wind, out of respect, had ceased its whistling motion. Stares followed the limp body of the queen as she was brought to the healer's hut. All was silent. The only sound that could be heard were the noises of Eve's retching behind a tree.

Varia watched the procession. She too was one amongst the many stares which beheld approbation for the blonde queen. And, although, she felt an overwhelming amount of shame, she was still proud to have witnessed such an incredible display of Amazon courage.

Varia had certainly underestimated the small woman. Weak, I actually thought her weak. I'm the one that's weak. Varia thought. She's the most courageous person I've ever met. Varia's mind echoed in newfound respect.

As she looked out at the wilted body that was Gabrielle, she was reminded of her actions. Gabrielle still isn't safe yet. She could still very well die, the practical section of her mind said. Please be all right, please!

Oh Gabrielle.

*****

"OH GABRIELLE!" Xena screamed at the height of her passion.

Earlier Xena had been able to hold it back, but this last time had been too consuming. When the earth-shattering orgasm hit her, she had lost all corporeal control over her body. She had vocalized what her mind had been thinking. She couldn't take it back, it was too late now. Xena wasn't sure if she wanted too.

Through the whole day, Xena had been fantasizing about Gabrielle. Xena had had no previous outlet to her sexual frustration. When Ares appeared, he allowed her to embrace her fantasies.

Ares had offered to take away the pain and he had done that. But, in the heat of passion and pleasure, he had transported her to another plane of fantasy. There, all was forgiven, Eve was safe, Gabrielle hadn't betrayed her, and Xena hadn't hurt her. There, Xena was happy.

There, Ares was Gabrielle. Every time he touched her, she felt Gabrielle's fingers electrifying her skin. It was Gabrielle's lips upon hers. Gabrielle's tongue caressing hers, leaving hot trails up her body. And, in her fantasy, it was Gabrielle's fingers not Ares' hot shaft entering her repeatedly. Gabrielle bringing her to the heights of exstacy.

She had achieved her so desired release. Xena had no wish to return to the real world, but she knew with her vocal slip, she must. She knew her accidental cry of passion would bring her once again pain, but she accepted it.

Oh Gabrielle? Had he just heard right? Had Xena just called out that little blonde's name? Ares was a god; he had incredible hearing capabilities. Yes she just called out her name. She was with me yet she still wants her.

The revelation hurt more then Ares was willing to admit. Xena, thankfully, was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to see a single tear trickle down Ares' cheek. He quickly stifled any others that would have followed; gods don't cry.

She used me, Ares thought, and it hurt. The pain he had sought to give her release from had now landed squarely on his shoulders. The logical part of his mind counteracted to his hurt. What did you expect? He'd offered her his services no strings attached. He should have anticipated this. Still, it hurt. It hurt more then Ares wanted to realize.

The tears began to flow freely now. Ares quickly looked for a method of escape. He stood up rapidly, unlocking himself from Xena's crushing embrace. His eyes began to frantically search for his clothing. Ares had to leave before Xena saw his tears; he'd rather die then have her see his weakness.

He found his gauntlet and pulled up his pants. Then he proceeded to assemble the rest of his outfit. When that was completed, Ares vanished and made his way back to Olympus. He left behind a very naked, very confused Xena.

Xena wasn't sure what had just occurred. She knew Ares would have been offended by her calling out Gabrielle's name, but she'd never thought he'd leave.

"What just happened here?" Xena asked aloud in the midst of her confusion.

"Why did Ares leave me like that?" She posed again.

Ah well, it was the last of her worries right now. She could honestly care less about Ares' feeling, they were of little consequence. All she cared about now was that without him, she had no distraction from the pain. She felt it overtake her again with full force. He had left her to suffer.

She felt hurt, she felt lonely, but overall, she felt an overwhelming sense of empty. The emptiness engulfed her mind, and tugged at her soul. She felt hollow.

Now she remembered why she had parted ways with Ares. Whenever he left her, she was reminded how meaningless what had just transpired was. Because sex with Ares was just that: sex. He had always left her thoroughly satisfied, yet hollow. She yearned for some type of meaning, some comfort. Xena wanted to find something more, but she never did.

Sex with Ares had always been incredible. It had been mind blowing, in fact. They would have orgasmic marathons. Each trying to wear the other out; testing each other's stamina, testing each other's threshold for passion.

It didn't mean anything though, it never did. It was empty. It left her empty. She felt dirty, cheap, and hollow.

*****

"Blahhhhh!"

Eve thoroughly emptied the contents of her stomach onto the ground for the fifth time. She couldn't stop the scene from replaying in her head. She saw Gabrielle, bloodied and beaten, being unshackled and crumpling to the ground in sheer exhaustion and pain.

Guilt clouded all her thoughts.

"This is all my fault."

Everything that happened. Gabrielle being whipped, Xena and Gabrielle's fight, her mother being a no-show, it was all her fault. If only she had the courage to take responsibility for her actions. If only she had stayed away from the Amazons. If only I hadn't been born.....If only.

There was nothing to be done now. Her mother was gone. Gabrielle was lying in a healer's hut, a hairsbreadth away from death. And she, she was free. Through all this, I still get away free.

With the revelation, insurmountable guilt overtook her. She bent her head over to vomit again. Having since emptied the contents of her stomach, she was reduced to dry heaves. Eve saw it as a small form of penance for what she'd done.

Varia strutted up behind her.

"I never figured the bitch of Rome to have a weak stomach. I take it you didn't enjoy the show?" Varia said, projecting far more confidence then she actually felt.

"Please Varia, I apologize for everything I've done to you. It seems The Divine has deemed me not to pay for my transgressions physically."

"No." Varia interrupted. "NO, Gabrielle ordained you not to be punished. She took a deathly beating for you Eve." Varia sarcastically emphasized the name.

"Seems you're always making others pay for you're crimes. I'm sure that makes your god happy. Does it make you happy?"

"Please Varia," Eve pleaded. "Just leave me alone."

"I'd love to. I wish in fact I'd never met you and I curse everyday spent in your presence. And, after today, I intend never to spend another moment in it again. But, Gabrielle, being the misguided soul that she is, requested your safe passage out of the nation. After the courage she displayed, she earned a huge amount of loyalty and respect. I won't break that by letting my hatred of you get in the way. I will take you to your mother and then you are to leave." Varia finished.

She grabbed Eve by her wrist chains and pulled her up to her feet. Varia then bent down and unlocked her ankle restraints. Eve's limbs began to more at the freedom. Varia› led her towards a horse and helped her up, placing her in the front part of the saddle. She then took her place behind Eve and spoke in her ear.

"I'd ask you if I could trust you enough to unlock the wrist manacles, but I'm no fool."

"You can trust me." Eve spoke hopefully.

"I'm sure Gabrielle did too." Varia remarked coldly, yet in a matter of fact tone.

They rode out of the village to find Xena.

*****

Xena sat huddled below an old willow tree. Its limbs curved and contorted into the shape of a giant hand. Xena was sat directly below the palm. Her body was continuously convulsing as it wracked with sobs. Tears spilled over her eyes. The sounds of her cries could be heard throughout the forest.

Xena felt empty. She also felt the pain and sadness of before. She knew she should collect herself and go after Eve and Gabrielle. But, right now, she honestly wasn't ready.

She didn't want to be a warrior. She didn't want to be a protector. She didn't want to be Xena: Warrior Princess. She just wanted to be taken care of, to have the whole situation go away. Most of all, she wanted to reverse, take back everything that had happened: Ares, Gabrielle, Eve's trip to Amazonia.

Eve. The name resounded in her mind. I have to find Eve. I've got to protect her.

What if she was too late? What had her indiscretions caused? Gods, how could I have been so careless, so selfish? Her body was once again overcome with sadness. She bowed head and welcomed the tears.

*****

Varia rode on in her search for Eve. The ride so far had been made of silence: Eve in front, Varia behind. Her eyes wracked back and forth for sight of Xena. She kept her senses keen for any sign of her. Her eyes quickly picked up the sound of a cry. It seemed almost inhuman. Then a serious of animalistic wailings could be heard. Varia followed the noises.

The sounds echoed throughout. Varia kneed the steed to hurry its pace. Her head searched back and forth for Xena. The sobs seemed closer then ever.

The milky colored horse tramped on towards a large willow tree. Varia knew the place well. It had been a sort of relaxation spot; the perfect sport for one to collect their thoughts, and it seemed Xena was definitely in need of that.

To Varia, Xena was a pathetic site. Her hair was disheveled. Her body was lying on the ground, in open abandonment. Her eyes were puffy red from crying. The customary warrior princess leathers were only half on Xena, and the rest of her armor was scattered around the area.

"YAH!" Varia yelled at the horse to speed up. The stallion began to quicken from a trot to a rapid gallop.

Xena had been something of a mentor to Varia. Seeing a woman Varia heavily respected in such a sad state was pitiable. Varia called over to Xena.

"Xena." Varia yelled.

Xena's ears perked up at the sounds of an intruder approached. She grabbed her sword, poised ready in her hand and faced Varia.

Varia stepped down and pushed Eve behind her so Xena couldn't see her.

"What do you want?" Xena asked maliciously.

"Xena, don't bite a gift horse in the mouth. I come bearing gifts." Varia spoke sarcastically. Without warning she reached behind herself. Xena prepared for the attack. Instead, she was met with the vision that was her daughter.

"Eve? Evie, is that you?" Xena questioned hopefully. Eve ran into her mother's arms, stuttering with each step.

"Mother." Eve answered as she finally reached her. Xena held on to her tight as she embraced her in a hug. Eve was safe. Xena whispered soothing words into Eve's ear as she tried to calm her daughter.

Eve settled as her mother's tranquil presence began to wash over her. She took a deep breath and embraced the serenity. Then her mind caught up with her. She quickly remembered Gabrielle and what had happened.

Words flooded her mind as she strained to find the right ones to say. The train of thought arrived so quickly, she struggled to vocalize them. Suddenly the exhaustion, the pain, and the guilt all caught up with her.

"Gabri...Dyo.....She...hit..." Eve sputtered out words from the events that had just happened. Her body gave into the exhaustion and she thoroughly passed out in Xena's arms.

"What did you do to her?" Xena asked angrily.

"Nothing. She hasn't eaten since she was captured and I'm sure she hasn't slept well either." Varia spoke.

"How dare you....." Xena began.

"Xena, she was a prisoner. She simply passed out." Varia spoke plainly.

Xena began to mutter a series of curse words as Varia interrupted her venting.

"We didn't hurt her Xena, if that's what you're worried about." Varia said. " Gabrielle saw to that." She muttered under her breath.

Xena had an uncanny amount of hearing. She ›had caught Varia last remark. What had she meant by that? Before Xena had a chance to voice her thoughts, Varia again spoke up.

"I've been ordered to provide you and Eve safe passage out of Amazonia. I suggest you gather you're things so we can continue. If you left anything at the village, I will retrieve it. Is there anything?" Varia asked.

"No, just Gabrielle." Xena said.

She says that so casually Varia thought. Just Gabrielle. The more time that passed, the less adequate that assumption seemed to Varia.

"Xena, I was ordered to provide passage for you and Eve. Gabrielle may come to later, but right now she is unable to join you." Varia had avoided the mention of the Dyo Zoi because she was unaware of how Xena would react.

"We must leave immediately Xena."

"Fine, but I'll be coming back for Gabrielle." Xena said demandingly.

"No, you won't Xena." Varia commanded sternly. Xena began to protest. Varia quickly stopped her.

"Xena, it was Gabrielle's request that you be allowed safely out of here. This was against the wishes of the council. There are many that wouldn't bat an eye if I disobeyed her. But I, I respect Gabrielle."

Xena nodded understandingly.

"I know you two had a fight, but I don't know details."

"You're right, you don't." Xena replied angrily.

"But I do know that whatever happened, she doesn't deserve any of it. She's an Amazon and I'm her queen. I'm bound to protect her. I think the best way to do that right now is to keep you far away from her. So Xena, as soon as you are off Amazon territory, you are not to return....ever. Or, until I deem you able. Shall we go?" Varia asked.

"Varia, don't do this. Don't make me your enemy." Xena said coldly.

"I don't intend to. I'm simply doing what I believe is right."

"You can't keep me from Gabrielle, Varia. I'd never hurt her again. I love her. Its my job to protect her, not yours." Xena voiced.

"Really, I don't recall you saying anything of that nature to Ares." Varia said convictingly.

At the mentions of Ares name, Xena's head shot up.

"Now, leave Xena. Take your daughter and get the hell out of here." Varia said.

Xena looked once more to Varia. At heart, she didn't want to leave. But, Gabrielle had ordered her passage out, meaning she didn't want Xena there. She's probably angry, angry and hurt. Maybe this is best for now. Xena picked up Eve and settled her up on Argo. She then jumped up behind her.

Eve, Varia, and Xena rode out into the sunset.

*****

Lethara had seen many things in her years as a healer. She'd seen years of war wounds. She'd seen years of death. She seen several victims of whippings. Lethara had seen many things in her years as a healer, but never had she seen someone so badly beaten yet still be alive.

The little one was bloody from head to toe. Her back was completely raw. There were visible whip marks over her back. Much of the topical skin had been taken off by the whip.

Poor girl. Her back, once healed, would be a mass of ugly scars. Such a shame for one so young and beautiful.

Lethara had not witnessed the lashing delivered. However, the guards who had brought in Queen Gabrielle had given a lengthy account of the ordeal. Their voices were filled with respect as they retold the story.

To volunteer to take a punishment of twenty lashes just to spare one that you loved from the pain of it, she was very impressed. She'd rather like to speak to such a brave queen, when she wakes up. If she wakes up. Lethara, truthfully, was not sure if the small queen would survive.

When they had brought Gabrielle in, Lethara had been astonished that she had survived that long. Such fury within this one, she thought. She had placed Gabrielle on her stomach so she could begin working on the Queen's back. Lethara had thoroughly washed and cleansed it so as to prevent infection. Her hands were coated in the blood of the young bard, seeping out from her back wounds.

She had been stable for several hours. The missing change in her condition was both positive and negative. On one hand, she had not gotten any worse, which in her case could be fatal. But, on the other hand, Gabrielle had yet to improve. She just stayed in a coma like state, oblivious to the world around her. At least she doesn't feel the pain...Anymore.

Lethara had also heard the tale of Gabrielle's stamina. The guards had also told her how the queen had held onto consciousness until the last strike. Lethara had never heard of anyone remaining awake through a full twenty lashes.

Often victims pass out as a way to escape the pain, but Gabrielle remained strong and lasted. This gave Lethara hope that Gabrielle would survive. If she was able to remain awake during twenty lashes, she'll be able to survive this. I hope she will.

Gabrielle unconsciously in took a deep breath. As she released it, her body shook from the pain. Lethara moved down to Gabrielle's side, thinking possibly Gabrielle was coming out of it. Disappointingly, Gabrielle the returned to her inadimacy.

Come on little one. Lethara yelled to the guards outside.

"Bring me some heated water."

They brought hot water into the hut. Lethara again began to clean Gabrielle's wounds profusely. In truth, it was futile. The chance of infection with wounds that raw was incredibly high no matter what the circumstances, but she had to try.

She also washed them fervently because it was the only protection against scarring. A little one like that, she doesn't deserve that. She took out the clean cloth strips and began to bandage Gabrielle's back.

Lethara had devoted her last few hours solely on Gabrielle. She finally took the time to look down at herself and saw she was covered head to toe in the bard's blood. If I don't keep myself clean, I won't be able to do the same for her, Lethara thought.

"Tara." Lethara yelled. One of the guards walked in.

"I'm going to go bathe, watch her. If there is any change, come get me immediately." She said as the guard nodded her head. Unbenounced to her, Gabrielle was already being carefully watched.

*****

Eyes in the back of the room focused quietly in on the Gabrielle. Invisibility hid her from the inhabitants of the room. She had kept a steady vigil on the patient since she had arrived. In fact, she had been watching her even before.

Aphrodite's eyes had been watching Gabrielle for some time. The vibrant blonde queen had always held a part of Aphrodite's heart. Gabrielle was her chosen after all. She was a being utterly consumed by love. Gabrielle becoming Aphrodite's chose, however was a recent development.

The Goddess of love had always had a soft spot for the battling bard. She was whip-smart, had warrior's skills, and possessed a heart the size of Mt. Olympus. Gods and Goddesses, surprisingly enough, have little say in the choice of their chosen ones. The fates often deal with that aspect of godhood. However, a god or goddess can speak to the fates and request a chosen. Just as Ares had done with Xena and as Aphrodite had done with Gabrielle.

On rare occasions, the fates grant the requests. But, in truth, one can never know if it had already been predestined to do so. The fates had granted the opportunity unknowingly to Gabrielle to become Aphrodite's chosen. One would think it was that simple, but with the gods, it never is.

In order for Xena to become Ares chosen, she had to fully embrace and be overtaken by the hate, fury, and rage that is war. In order for Gabrielle to become Aphrodite's chosen, she had to fully embrace love. During their trip to India, Aphrodite presented Gabrielle with that chance.

The trip itself had been Gabrielle's idea. Aphrodite played no part in that. Xena and Gabrielle's meeting with Eli, now that she took credit for.

Aphrodite was already well aware of Eli's path, most of Olympus was for that fact. He was to turn the masses towards the message of the only true way: Love. Aphrodite had simply arranged for Gabrielle to have an urge to visit the market that day, therefore running into Eli and setting events into motion.

It was Gabrielle's choice to accept Eli's way. Throughout India and after, she kept close tabs on the pair. She was watching as Gabrielle threw her staff into the river. She was watching when Gabrielle again met up with Najara. And, Aphrodite was watching high on Mt. Ymarro when Eli and Gabrielle were meditating.

When Gabrielle had reached the stillness, she had become Aphrodite's chosen. During that stillness she didn't only become an ultimate vessel for love. Gabrielle became love. And, by accepting that into her life, she had also accepted the position of Aphrodite's chosen.

Gabrielle still didn't know of her esteemed position. Directly after Gabrielle had become Aphrodite's chosen, she had been crucified.

Gods and their chosen share a special link. During the crucifixion, Aphrodite has felt every iota of Gabrielle's pain, but there was nothing she could do.

Deities are only allowed to help their chosen if asked to do so. Gabrielle, unaware of her new status, had spent her last few thoughts before and during the crucifixion on Xena. There was nothing Aphrodite could do, her hands were tied.

After the crucifixion, Aphrodite had all but avoided Gabrielle. At least physically she avoided her, but everyday, Aphrodite checked in on her. She hadn't told Gabrielle she was her chosen because she was ashamed.

Aphrodite was ashamed because she hadn't been able to help the bard. I couldn't save her then, and I couldn't say her today. Aphrodite thought. No, this time would be different. This time, she would tell Gabrielle she was her chosen and she would do anything to help her.

Aphrodite was in the small hut, watching over Gabrielle not only because she was her chosen, but also because she considered her a friend. Over the years, the two had spent adventures together and through time had developed a special bond of friendship.

Aphrodite had always thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Gabrielle. While Ares always referred to her as "the annoying blonde," Aphrodite had found her company quite pleasant. Although Aphrodite was a goddess, she truly envied Xena.

Being able to spend time with Gabrielle around the clock. Possessing Gabrielle's complete love and devotion., must be great. Aphrodite thought to herself. At least she thinks of me as a friend.

Be honest with yourself, Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love should recognize the signs. In truth, Aphrodite had found herself quite captured by the blonde queen. In fact, she had come to the realization that she was completely in love with Gabrielle.

Me, in love with a mortal. How did that happen?

But, Aphrodite knew exactly how it had happened. By first sight, Gabrielle had intrigued Goddess of Love. From then on, slowly by slowly, inch by inch, Gabrielle had wiggled her way into Aphrodite's heart.

She had such quiet strength and such gentle grace. Not to mention the fact that she was completely beautiful. Gabrielle possessed a gorgeous frame that Aphrodite couldn't get enough of. Why do you think when Gabrielle was having writers block, Aphrodite suggested a tub. Anything for a sneak peak. As if the outfit wasn't revealing enough. And those eyes. Aphrodite could stare into Gabrielle's blue-green eyes all day. They were the window into the bard's soul and the voice of her heart. Oh yeh, definitely love those eyes.

During Ares' brief stint as a mortal, he had petitioned to Xena a life together. Aphrodite now knew how he felt. During her even briefer mortality, she had considered the same fate. In fact, she would have loved nothing more then to have asked Gabrielle in Rome to stay with her.

She even had hope that Gabrielle would answer yes by the comments she had said earlier in Caligula's palace. Gabrielle had assured Aphrodite that her words of friendship were for real. Aphrodite had questioned it because of her actions earlier.

Specifically her actions after the party. Most of the time, Aphrodite had been under Caligula's influence. She didn't remember much of anything. However, she did remember leaving the party and Gabrielle following her.

Perhaps it was Gabrielle's stunningly small blue-bikini outfit. Or, maybe it was Gabrielle's sign of devotion and caring when she followed Aphrodite outside the party and trying to reason with her. Whatever it was, something got through the trance.

Aphrodite came to realize where she was, toe to toe with the most beautiful mortal in the world, the woman she was in love with. Yet, for a goddess, she possessed little courage. She began to speak endearing words.

"He makes me sooo happy."

"I love him sooo much."

Except the "he" Aphrodite spoke of was actually a she. The Goddess of Love hadn't the courage to actually tell Gabrielle upfront her feelings. Instead, the words thought to be for Caligula were actually the vocalizations of Aphrodite's heart.

She had maintained her faŃade until her eyes caught a close glimpse of Gabrielle's lips. She couldn't restrain herself; control was but a memory. She leaned down to taste of them. Oh were they sweet. Then Gabrielle quickly brought her back to reality. And, after Caligula had kissed her, it was all pretty much a blur.

Aphrodite was in the hut to watch over her chosen, the woman she loved. She was determined to make up for her previous failures. This time, I will do right.

Tara had been given extra instructions by Lethara as she left. She called out Mayaric, the other guard came in. Since Lethara had bandaged the Queen's back, the two guards were supposed to try to turn the young queen upon her back.

Mayaric entered the hut.

"Help me move her." Tara commanded to the other guard.

Mayaric bent to help Tara turn over Gabrielle. They picked her up and then gently placed her on her back. Tara lifted up the queen's head and placed a pillow underneath it. They then moved back to their positions: Mayaric outside the hut, Tara in the corner standing watch over the queen. Several minutes of silence passed by.

Suddenly, the air was filled with the crackling noise of a moving bedroll. Tara ran down to the Queen's bedside. Gabrielle's body began to move around as consciousness began to sweep over her respective limbs. The queen was awakening.

"Mayaric." Tara yelled out. "Get Lethara . I believe she's waking up." Tara then turned into a dead sprint out of the hut to help Mayaric find Lethara. She left with a smile on her face. Lethara will be pleased, the queen will survive.

Once the guard left, Aphrodite visualized from her previously invisible state in the back of the room. She ran to Gabrielle and knelt down by her face. Aphrodite lifted her hand to caress the bard's cheek. At the contact of skin, Gabrielle's eyes flew open to meet Aphrodite's, who had never seen a more beautiful sight.

"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle questioned in stuttering awareness.

"Yes, little one, it's me." Aphrodite spoke soothingly.

"I've come to watch over you." She moved closer. " I've come to protect you." Aphrodite whispered.

"Everything is going to be okay now sweet pea." Aphrodite bent her head down and placed a kiss on Gabrielle's forehead. She continued to massage her cheek as she whispered into the little queen's ear.

"I'm here."

*****

Xena, Varia, and Eve reached the edge of Amazonia. The ride had given Xena time to think. Even an angry Gabrielle wouldn't have kicked her out. Something must have happened in the village. Xena wanted answers.

Varia dismounted off her horse.

"Xena, here you go. You spend the rest of the journey on your own." Varia spoke authoritatively, much more so then I feel.

Actually Varia was consumed with fear. Xena had taken her commands much too easily. Sure, some was attributed to the reunion of her and her daughter, but Varia was till waiting for a reaction.

"Varia, what happened?" Xena asked. "I know something's up."

Varia exhaled a deep breath she didn't know she'd been holding.

"Xena, what's done is done. It doesn't concern you." Varia replied.

Now Xena was ultra suspicious. Something had happened in the village. Xena was fuming. What's done is done?

"What do you mean by that?"

"Xena, its no longer any of your business. Ask Eve, she should know." Varia muttered under her breath. "It was her fault."

Again, with her uncanny hearing, Xena had picked up the last sentence. She decided to let it pass...... for now. Xena would simply asked Eve later.

"Fine Varia. I'll stay away for now. But, if I find out anything happened to Gabrielle and you had any part of it, look out. As I said, you don't want me as an enemy.""

"And you don't want me as one either. Please keep yourself and your daughter away from her. It's for the best." Varia pleaded.

"Goodbye Varia."

"Bye Xena.Ó

Varia watched as until Xena had disappeared into the sunset. Please, don't come back. Varia thought as she rode back.

Varia had made an elementary mistake by leaving. Xena had waited until she left. Then Xena began to double back. She wasn't stupid enough to camp in Amazonia tonight. She would be too visible, too vulnerable. Xena did know of a small cave right outside of Amazon boarders.

From there, Eve would be safe. Also, Xena would be able to infiltrate into the village. Maybe she could reason with Gabrielle, or apologize. Do anything to forget the events of the day.

Argo trotted silently back while her mistress scanned the perimeter, preparing for the attack. As far as Xena senses could tell, none were in the vicinity. Good, Xena wasn't really in the mood to deal with Amazons tonight. She had to get Eve to safety first, that was top priority.

Xena spotted the cave up ahead.

"YAH!" Xena kneed Argo to pick up speed.

They reached the cave. It was covered by several trees. Good, better protection. The warrior began set up camp. She brought Eve down off Argo. Xena set up a bedroll to lie Eve down on. A good rest and a good meal and she'll be fine. Xena then went to hunt for that good meal.

Amazon territory was legendary for its hunting grounds. Good game wouldn't be a problem. "CRACK!" Xena's senses perked as she heard the sound of an animal nearby. Xena's eyes quickly scanned the landscape. She spotted two rabbits by a tree. "SHING!" Her chakram sliced through the air efficiently killing two rabbits with one throw. Xena grabbed them and headed back to camp.

The rabbits were left at camp as Xena returned to further duties. The warrior began to collect firewood to cook the food. After several minutes, Xena had collected a sufficient armful and headed back to camp. She began to skin the rabbits. Eve was now asleep and Xena was alone in the silence. In these times, especially, she truly missed Gabrielle's presence.

The young bard's chatter was often the highlight of the camp night. Sometime during their travels, Gabrielle's words had transformed from a mild annoyance to a necessity. A silent tear fell down her cheek as she thought of her green-eyed companion.

It had only been a couple of hours, but Xena truly missed Gabrielle. Even though they had fought, even though they had hurt each other, Xena wanted nothing more then to make up with the bard.

Eve was safe. No matter the reason, Ares or Amazon, it was of no consequence. Her daughter was okay. Now all Xena wanted was the same fate for Gabrielle.

Xena began to put the food onto a spicket to cook. Well, I miss Gabrielle now, and Eve will definitely would miss her when she eats this. Xena was renowned for her many skills, but culinary was not one of them.

She had simply never learned any true domestic skills. Gabrielle had always dealt with the laundry, the cleaning of camp, etc. And, of course Gabrielle always did the cooking. Ah well, at least it will be edible.....I think.

Xena let the meat roast for an adequate time. She then sprinkled a pinch of salt over it. It was a warrior's attempt at seasoning. Well, I couldn't make it any worse., Xena thought. She checked on Eve again, lightly slumbering and then left to go fill the water skins and take a quick dip in the nearby stream.

Xena returned to the cave, she went to Eve's side. She then proceeded to gently shake her daughter awake.

"Come on Evie." Xena said. Eve began to wake up slowly. Her eyes fluttered open.

"Mother?" Eve said questioningly.

"Yeh Eve," Xena replied. "Can you sit up for me? We need you to eat something ok." Eve simply nodded and raised her upper body into a sitting position.

"Here you go. Drink up okay." Xena said as she offered Eve the water skin. Eve gulped earnestly. Xena moved over to the meat spicket. She lifted it off the fire and blew coolly over the food. The warrior reached to remove the meat off it and placed it into a nearby bowl. Xena walked over and offered the food to Eve. Eve took it into her mouth and chewed hungrily.

"Sorry about the taste."

Eve smiled through her full mouth.

"I tried my best. I'm sure Gabrielle could have done better." Xena would have continued, but she heard Eve gulp down her food and let out a remorseful sigh.

"Gabrielle," Eve whispered.

"Eve, what happened to Gabrielle? Where is she?" Xena asked sincerely.

"OH no, oh Gabrielle." Eve fell into a fit of sobs in the warrior's arms. Xena cradled her and sang sweet words in her ear, desperately tying to calm her child. Much like she had done when Eve was a baby.

"Shh, it's all right. Everything is going to be fine." Xena continually whispered into Eve's ear with false security. Inside, Xena was trembling with fear. What's happened to Gabrielle?

Eve finally composed herself. Xena asked again.

"Eve, what happened to Gabrielle?"

"It's all my fault." Eve said remorsefully. "Mother, its all my fault."

"Evie, it's okay. I'm sure it wasn't your fault. Now what happened?" Xena asked supportively.

"When you left, Gabrielle returned to the Village really upset. " Eve began. Xena rested back against a wall to listen to Eve's tale.

"Varia quickly followed after. She looked enraged as well."

That little sneak, Xena thought. She must have seen me and Ares. Xena wondered if she had told Gabrielle. Maybe that's why she's upset and keeping me away, Xena's mind reeled. Jealousy maybe? NO, Gabrielle has never seen me in that light.

Eve continued.

"I was chained outside to a tree, so I didn't have a good view of what was happening." They went into the council room. They remained there for several hours. Throughout the course of that time, arguing could be heard in the village. Several voices were raised. I couldn't make out their words, but I could identify the two most frequent ones: Varia and Gabrielle."

That's my bard. A battle of words was so much more like Gabrielle.

"The meeting dispersed and the members went their separate ways. Varia left with this smug look of victory on her face. Gabrielle left with a look of defeat. That was the first time I've ever been really scared, Mother." Eve said seriously.

Xena went to her and reached an arm across her shoulder. She then brought Eve in for a warm hug. Eve continued her story while she was embraced in the hug, whispering the words into Xena's ear.

"I was so scared, my hands were shaking." Eve moved out of the embrace.

"A couple candlemarks later, some Amazon guards brought me into the hut. Apparently it was time for my sentencing. As I looked around at their faces, mother I was terrified. I just knew I was to be given a death sentence. Then my face met with Gabrielle's. She had this small smile on her face that, I don't know, it lightened my heart. I was more at ease."

Xena inwardly beamed at the comment. Gabrielle's smile had long since had the power to warm even the blackest of souls, including hers.

"Varia spoke up and relayed my sentence: forty lashes." Xena's smiles disappeared from her face.

"Forty lashes mother, I was sure I was going to die. I began saying my prayers to Eli. Asking him to forgive my sins and to watch over those I loved and had harmed. Then Gabrielle spoke up."

Xena had been fuming mad, ready to pounce upon the Amazon Army herself. But the last sentence halted her in her tracks.

"She spoke to the Council and told them she evoked the right of Dyo Zoi." Eve said.

"What's the Dyo Zoi?" Xena asked confused.

"From what I learned, the Dyo Zoi is a way for queen's to over rule judgment. By evoking the Dyo Zoi, the queen pronounces that she believes in the prisoner's innocence. They evoke it and the prisoner goes free."

Xena smiled. That's my Gabrielle. I shouldn't have doubted her. Oh gods, I'm so sorry Gabrielle. For the things I said, for the way I acted, I'm so sorry. Xena silently apologized to her companion.

"So then you were let go and came here?" Xena asked.

"No, not exactly." Eve said hesitantly.

"What do you mean not exactly? " The warrior questioned.

Eve took in a deep breath. She tried to raise the courage from her heart.

"Mother, the Dyo Zoi is a way for the prisoner to escape punishment, but it is therefore placed on the queen. Except, since she believed to be of both herself and Artemis, she only must endure half of the punishment."

"Twenty lashes?" Xena said furiously.

"Gabrielle took on twenty lashes?" Xena questioned in disbelief. Oh gods, this is all my fault. She did it to protect me. I'm so sorry. Xena knew why she had. Forty lashes was a death sentence, twenty lashes was possibly livable......possibly. Oh Gabrielle.

"What happened after the meeting?"

"Varia took me back to the tree. Gabrielle was taken and prepared for the lashing. She later was brought out and I brought to the platform, where she was to be whipped."

Whipped, the word shook Xena to the core.

"Varia asked her if she had any requests. She had two. First, that we were allowed safely out of Amazonia. Secondly, that Varia whip her as if she were me." Eve said coldly.

Of course she would think of me first. She's always been so loving and honorable like that. Of course she would make Varia treat her as any other prisoner. Gabrielle was just that moral.

"Varia began the lashing. She had me stay and watch, to see part of the pain I'd caused. Mother, it was terrible. Each struck as hard as the last and there was nothing I could do but cry and vomit." Eve said helplessly.

"Well what happened. Is she okay?" Xena asked helplessly.

"I....I don't know." Eve stuttered.

"What do you mean you don't know." Xena sarcastically questioned.

"I was only there during, I didn't see her after. Varia had us leave immediately."

"Well, what did you see while you were there?"

"Oh Mother, she was in so much pain. Even from the beginning, I could tell how much she was hurting. But, she didn't want to be weak. Not in front of Varia, or the council, or the Amazons, not in front of anyone. Throughout the whole thing, she kept her head up."

Gabrielle, Xena thought. No one would have thought you weak.

"She didn't scream once, mother. Not once throughout the whole thing. Not a scream, not a peep, nothing. She just bared it."

Xena felt perversely proud at the admission. She was always the strong one.

"But the most amazing thing was that she remained awake throughout that whole thing. She never lost consciousness. She felt every strike, every blow." Eve ended dramatically.

Xena was truly amazed. She had survived several lashings, one's she had and one's she administered. Never had she heard of someone remaining awake throughout an entire twenty lashes. It was impossible, well, apparently, almost. To possess that sort of will power, it was incredible. But, that was Gabrielle. Actually, I really shouldn't be that amazed should I.

"Did you see anything else?"

"Well, right after they unchained her, she finally passed out. It was no matter though, no one thought the less of her. Gabrielle's body was brought to the healer's hut. That was all I saw. When I left, she was still fighting." Eve concluded.

Her last words had given Xena hope. Gabrielle was still alive. The entire story had left Xena with a immense sense of guilt. It's not your fault Eve, its mine. My fault for taking Gabrielle on a path she was never meant to walk.

Without Xena, there'd be no Eve, no Callisto, no Hope or Dahok in her life. She wouldn't have met the Amazons and she wouldn't have had to endure the whipping. If I had just listened instead of being defensive, maybe both Eve and her would be safe. Look at what I've done. I might have killed my best friend.

Remorse took after her soul. She had caused this tragedy, now she had to try to fix it. Xena had to see Gabrielle. She had to make sure she was alright.

I have to say goodbye.

*****

Aphrodite continued to smile down onto the little bard. Looking deeply into her eyes as if to tell her everything would be alright.

"Aphrodite what are you doing here?" Gabrielle asked hazily.

"Hey sweet pea, I had to check in on my favorite mortal. Specially when she's hurting." Aphrodite said.

"Me? I'm sure I'll be just fine. You don't have to stay." Gabrielle said more sternly then she had wanted.

"Wow sorry, didn't meant to disturb. I'll be outtie in a sec then." Aphrodite spouted angrily. The anger however was a cover to hide the true hurt she felt at Gabrielle's words.

"No." Gabrielle said, reaching for Aphrodite's arm. She grimaced from the pain the sudden action had caused. Aphrodite fell to her bedside. "no, I didn't mean it like that Aphrodite. I love your company." Gabrielle said hoarsely.

Aphrodite's face lit up like a candle at her words.

"What I meant was that I AM just a mortal. You're the Goddess of Love. Don't you have much more important things to do then play bedside manner to me?"

"Oh no, little one. Right now, there is nothing more important in this world the you." Aphrodite said accidentally speaking her thoughts. She hurried to cover up her mistake. "I mean you're not just a mortal, you're my friend. Remember?"

"Absolutely." Gabrielle said reassuringly. She then reached her hand over to Aphrodite's. Taking her pinkly she then linked it with the goddess's.

"Best friends."

Gabrielle smiled through the pain. She had honestly been touched by the Goddesses presence and she wanted to reassure Aphrodite of it. But, all this awareness, it was draining her reserves. The bard was vastly falling back into the blackness.

"Aphrodite." She called.

"Yeh sweet pea?" Aphrodite answered back.

"I don't want to offend, but I don't think I'll be able to keep up my end of the conversation for much longer." Gabrielle said truthfully.

"Oh of course Gabby. I didn't mean ta overwhelm ya hun. I'll letcha fade back to black in a second, but first there's something I gotta ask you." She said honestly.

"What?"

"Little one, do you want my help. I can't heal you, but I can help." Aphrodite said. Please, I wanna make this right.

" Of course Aphrodite. I'd love your help. Anything you could do would be appreciated. Thank you." The little queen said sincerely.

"Okay little one. But, for now, you should rest. " Aphrodite said lovingly.

She lifted her hand from Gabrielle's cheek and rested it over the bard's eyes. They then closed shut and Gabrielle's head turned to the side. She fell fastly asleep.

"Guards." A voice yelled from behind.

*****

Varia had returned from taking Xena out. She silently prayed that Xena would stay put and resist further conflict, but she knew if was wishful thinking. When she had left the Warrior Princess, Varia was aware she was very upset. As a result, Varia had set up extra patrols by the boarder. Hopefully, they were superfluous.

She had passed Lethara on her way back to camp. Varia had questioned the healer on Gabrielle's condition. She informed Varia that Gabrielle's condition had been stable and that she was rushing to camp because one of the guards told her Gabrielle had awoke.

Varia then lifted Lethara onto her horse and they rushed to the hut. During the rise, Lethara had spoke highly of Gabrielle's perseverance and courage. It seems everyone is quite taken by the little queen.

When they had gotten to the village, Varia had been the first into the hut. She had entered stealthily, leaving her undetected by the two. Varia had entered at the end of the encounter. She was confused by the blond woman beside Gabrielle's bed.

True, she was very beautiful, but she didn't look Amazon. The blonde woman was dressed in pink from head to toe. Definitely not Amazon. Varia saw her reach over and Gabrielle's quick retreat to unconsciousness.

Varia reacted quickly. Someone had just made an attack against the queen.

"Guards." Varia yelled.

Tara and Mayaric rushed in followed by Lethara. The guards pointed their spears at a surprised goddess.

"Exsqueeze me?! Guards?" Aphrodite said flabbergasted.

"Arrest her." Varia said to the guards.

"Hun, I don't think so babe. Call off the dogs. Do you even know who I am?" Aphrodite questioned angrily.

"Why should we care? You were attacking Queen Gabrielle and you're in Amazon territory. That's a crime punishable by death. You're our prisoner." Varia said authoritatively as the two guards nodded their heads behind her.

"Babe, the name is Aphrodite."

"Aphrodite?! " Varia asked.

"Yep." She said smartly.

"As in Aphrodite the Goddess of Love?" Lethara asked.

"The one and only. And for you're information, I wasn't trying to kill her. I simply let her have some rest."

The two guards and Lethara simply stood opened jawed in awe of the presence of a Goddess. Varia seemed to be the only one not under her spell. Not only was she not tranced, Varia was highly suspicious.

She was no stranger to godly encounters. Varia knew the gods meddlesome ways and wasn't so quick to accept his one. She suspected her intentions to be more the pure good will.

"So, you know Gabrielle? You're her friend? " Varia asked sarcastically.

"Know her? Gabrielle and me. Hah! We're like this." Aphrodite said, holding up two crossed fingers.

"Really," Varia began. "So, if you're so close, why didn't you stop her? Why didn't you help her?" Varia asked seriously.

Aphrodite's heart dropped down to the ground. The guilt that had been suppressed by Gabrielle's admission of their friendship returned with a vengeance. Her anger was replaced with remorse.

"I ...tri...I mean have you met Gabrielle? Trying to stop her is like..."

"Impossible. " Varia finished.

"Yeh, impossible." Aphrodite said tear-filled. "I couldn't help her"

"So do it now. You're a goddess. If you really are her friend, heal her." Varia said pleadingly.

"I wish I could. Really, I do." Aphrodite said sadly. " But, I can't."

"What do you mean you can't? You're a damn goddess. You can't. You mean you won't." Varia said.

"NO! I mean I CAN'T." Aphrodite retorted angrily. " Gods and Goddesses are given the permission to heal by Athena. When the twilight occurred, Xena killed Athena. With her gone, now no god is allowed to heal. You see I can't heal her."

"I'm sorry." Varia voiced, ashamed. "I didn't mean to accuse, I was just surprised at your appearance."

"Its ok, I guess."

"Can they PLEASE put those away." The Goddess requested pointing to the guard's weapons.

Tara and Mayaric awoke from their trance and quickly rested their weapons on the ground.

"Now, Lethara, how is she?" Aphrodite asked earnestly.

"Honestly, I'm not sure. I think she will be ok. She was awake and semi coherent which leaves me hopeful. But, it's still very early, anything could happen. It is a shame though." The healer ended in a lower tone.

"What is?" Varia asked.

"For one so young and beautiful to have those ugly scars. I've been washing the wounds continually and applying clean bandages, but there is really nothing I can do." Lethara admitted hopelessly. Varia inwardly grimaced at the admission.

"Well," Aphrodite chimed in." There I can be of some service."

" According to the rules," the goddess made quotation mark gestures wither her fingers around the word rules. "I can't heal her. But, I can help."

Aphrodite raised her hands up in the air. A flight of golden light filled the room. Suddenly Her hand produced a medium size jug.

"What is that?" Lethara asked confused, pointing to the cream-colored jug.

"That," Aphrodite said tossing the container to Lethara," is Oil of Gebru. It's a sacred Ethiopian healing substance. Its been used for centuries."

"Yes, I know of it. It's impossible to come by."

"Maybe for a mortal. But for a Goddess like yours truly, it's no problem. You use that and when you need more it will magically refill thanks to me." She said proudly.

"Excuse me, I had to interrupt, but what does Oil of Gebru do?" Varia questioned confused.

"Oil of Gebru works from the root of the skin and heals outwards. It will speed up the healing process immensely ad will reduce the scares. She explained.

"No." Aphrodite interrupted. "If applied everyday, it will eliminate the scares, period. " She finished with a smile filled with pride.

"Thanks" Varia said with a manageable amount of sincerity.

"I don't want your thanks, warrior. I did it for Gabrielle. We're....friends. If anything ever happened to her....I don't know what I would do." The Goddess ended sadly.

Varia stepped up.

"We feel the same way." She voiced.

"Well I must be goin'. I'm outtie." Aphrodite said happily, but it was a false security. Her true reason for departure was so no one would witness her burst into tears, which she was on the edge of doing.

She went over to Gabrielle and bent down to her bedside.

"Goodbye little one. Rest now and you get better. I'll be back to visit soon." Aphrodite uttered her heartfelt promise.

She knew she shouldn't. Not surrounded by Amazons. But, and unconscious Gabby was too much to resist. Aphrodite bent over Gabrielle's head. She placed her lips lightly on the bard's forehead. She savored the intoxicating taste of the young woman's skin and then disappeared.

*****

After hours of constant sobbing, Eve had finally succumbed to Morpheus. It had taken her mother's soft lullaby to put her to sleep.

Xena sang as she held her daughter in a soft hug, gently rocking her to sleep.

The warrior waited until her daughter was soundly asleep. Then, Xena got up to scout the perimeter. I have to make sure she's safe this time. After she was sure the area was sufficiently safe, Xena returned to camp and gathered her armor and weapons. She hopped on Argo and left for Amazonia.

She reached the border in record time. Xena slipped off Argo and gave her an adequate slap in the rump. The steed retreated back to camp. The warrior continued the rest of her journey on foot so as not to be detected.

As she scaled the terrace, she saw several Amazons on full alert. Varia, I didn't give you enough credit. Extra patrols. Very nice. Of course, they'd be no problem for the Warrior Princess, just a minor annoyance. Xena suspected Varia already knew that as well.

The goal, however, was to leave them all untouched. Xena had caused quite enough trouble and didn't want to add several broken, bloodied Amazons to her list. Well several MORE broken bloodied Amazons.

With the cloak of night, the warrior's stealth was at its peak. She made sneaking into a heavily guarded Amazon fortress looked like child's play. Xena crossed down the path into the village. Her eyes scanned the huts until she found one with the two guards Eve had described outside. Now here is where we get sticky.

Getting the guards away without physically touching them might be a bit of a problem. What to do, what to do. Xena thought.

I could always. Use the whole "throw the chakram, create a diversion" routine. Although, it's quite the old hat. Xena was a stickler for originality. It was a burr in her side to do the same thing twice, but she honestly couldn't come up with a better plan. Well at least a better plan that doesn't evolve hurting them. She snickered at her own sarcasm.

She arched her arm back in its prone chakram position. Xena aimed out towards the forest at a big tree several hundred feet in to the forest. That'll keep em busy enough to let me sneak in. Xena raised her hand to catch the returning projectile weapon.

Both guards' eyes darted to the noise. Then they headed after the sound. Too easy, the warrior mused. She tiptoed over to the hut and slipped inside.

Xena hid in the darkness as the guards returned. The taller one entered the hut. She quickly searched for any signs of intrusion. Finding none, she returned to her post outside. Xena loudly exhaled a sigh of relief.

"Yep, just too damn easy." She whispered.

With the immediate scare of discovery thwarted, Xena turned around for her first glimpse of Gabrielle.

The bard looked very much the twenty lashes she'd received, even from the front. Her face was a pale white, lightest Xena had seen since Thesssaly. A shiver ran up through the Warrior's spine as she recalled the memory.

That was my fault, just another time I caused her pain. Xena looked over to the exhausted body. "This is all my fault." Xena cursed under her breath.

Gabrielle forehead was lined with traces of blood. Although it looked as if someone had already taken the time to wash her body thoroughly, little reminders, like the blood, still remained. Xena lifted her hand to the bard's forehead and whipped away a whisp of the strawberry blonde's hair.

As she came in contact with the skin, she felt the heat of it. Fever. Gabrielle's body was already furiously fighting the effects of the lashing. That's a good sign. Xena told herself hopefully, but she had yet to see the true wound.

Xena reached over to lightly turn Gabrielle over. She had to see the marks herself, to know their severity and if they had been properly taken care of. Carefully, cautiously, she turned the small woman over and placed her head down. Xena quickly tilted Gabrielle's head to the side so she could breathe with ease.

Gabrielle's back was covered with blood stained bandages. Xena began to carefully unwrap the little queen who was tightly bound as if she was a mummy. Slowly, the layers began to fall until only one remained. Xena cautiously removed the last layer.

Upon the vision of Gabrielle's wounds, Xena doubled over in pain. She felt physically ill. Her warrior training kept her in physical control of her body; she was able to push the bile surfacing in her throat back down. One thing she couldn't control was the magnitude of her heart. With every beat, Gabrielle's name wrung longer in her heart. The guilt was overwhelming.

She forced herself again to look at Gabrielle's back. As a healer, Xena's eyes told her Gabrielle was receiving the best amount of care. Her wounds had been cleaned and bandages changed several times already, from what Xena could tell. A light herb poultice had been applied to fight the infection during the night. There wasn't anything else she could do. Xena was perversely pleased. At least she's receiving the best care.

Xena lightly rebandaged Gabrielle, reapplying the poultice underneath. She then gingerly flipped Gabrielle over on her back in the position she had previously taken. The solemn warrior tucked in her companion one last time. As she did so she thought how futile her efforts were. Gabrielle was racked with fever and more then likely to toss the covers off during the course of the night, but ah well.

Xena's hand again flew to the bard's forehead. But, this time, the gesture proved to be more of a caress. Surprisingly, a hand clamped down on Xena's arm and brought it down from her face. Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open.

"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle asked hazily.

Aphrodite?! Xena's mind questioned loudly. Then, practicality reigned. She's delirious Xena, hello!

"NO Gabrielle." Xena paused. " Its Xena."

"Xena." Gabrielle repeated. In her fever state, she truly didn't grasp the magnitude of Xena's return. She simply acknowledged it. Gabrielle started to sit up as to respond to Xena's presence, but quickly winced in pain from the action. As a reaction, the bad felt two strong hands clamped on her holding her down.

"Gabrielle, don't try to get up. You'll only end up hurting yourself, ok?" Xena questioned, emphasized it with the raise of her eyebrows.

Gabrielle, as if understanding, scotched down into her previous place. Xena lifted her hands from Gabrielle's shoulders. One hand dutifully returned to her side, the other reached up and began to stroke the side of the young woman's face.

"Gabrielle, listen to me okay." Xena pleaded lightly. Gabrielle's eyes hazily focused in on Xena, as if trying to concentrate on her words.

"You'll probably won't remember any of this when you wake up, but I have to tell you at least once before I go." Xena took a deep breath and began.

"Gabrielle, I love you. I love you so much it hurts. You're the bard, words are your gift. But, being a bard, you also know there's a point in your life when there are no words. Some things are just that amazing, that incredible, that important. That's what you are to me. That's the only way I can describe it. It's the only way I can explain the way I feel about you, how much I love you."

"In a person's life, there's always someone who just is...I don't know....MORE. More important, more loved, more everything, in their life. That's you. I love you more then a friend, more then a soul mate, more then a lover. Nothing will ever change that."

"I'm sorry, so sorry Gabrielle. What happened to you, that was my fault....it always is. Britannia, Hope, Dahok, even Solan. They were my fault. All caused by my rage, my irreverence for life. I'm so sorry for what I said earlier, I didn't meant it. I know Eve is as much your daughter as she is mine. I said that to hurt you. It was a vicious, maniacal thing to do. It was cold, calculated, strategic,.....typical of me. "

"Please know, from the depths of my heart I'm sorry. So sorry for all the times I've hurt you, let you get hurt, caused you to get hurt. Things like this." Xena sniffles as she pointed to Gabrielle's back. She no longer tried to stifle her tears. She let the flow freely down her cheeks.

"You didn't deserve that. You don't deserve any of it. I can't let you keep paying for my mistakes Gabrielle."

Xena leaned over and kissed the young woman's cheek.

"Goodbye Gabrielle."

Xena had meant for that to be the end of it. The second Xena's lips touched Gabrielle's skin, she lost control. The salty taste of the sweet flesh was intoxicating. It was addictive. Xena needed more.

Of its own mind, her lips moved from the cheek to rest right above Gabrielle's sweet supple, rosy lips. The velvety mouth looked so irresistible, so inviting. Resistance flew out the door. Xena simply rode the whim. She brought her lips down upon Gabrielle's soft mouth.

As so the kiss began.

The kiss was very reminiscent of years back. A kiss Xena had stole in lucky Auto's body. Then Xena had loved Gabrielle, but she was not in love with the young bard....or at least not conscious of it. Xena was however, a woman with renowned sexual prowess.

Of course she had entertained the idea of her and Gabrielle. Autolycus presented her with a impassible opportunity. Xena didn't know if she was going to survive, and missed opportunity was the Achilles of any warrior. She leaned forward and soundly kissed Gabrielle.

After Xena had returned, the whole dynamic of their relationship had changed. Feelings weren't simply felt, they were spoken as well. Both Xena and Gabrielle realized the true gift of each other and appreciated every moment together. The kiss was never spoken of.

A difference did arise from that one and this. The first kiss, Xena had believed, hopefully, Gabrielle had been so in shock that she hadn't responded.. Xena had kissed Gabrielle, but Gabrielle hadn't kissed Xena back. This was one of the reasons Xena had never acted further upon her feelings.

Despite it all, inside Xena was a mass of insecurities. She couldn't tell Gabrielle's true reaction to being kissed by her. The possibility of Gabrielle having no attraction to her would be impossible to overcome, with her warrior's pride. Also, Xena couldn't face Gabrielle if she didn't accept the idea. It would destroy their friendship.

Their relationship had always had a loving comfortability that Xena couldn't live without. If she lost that, she lost everything. So she had kept quiet and forgot about the encounter. This time was different. This time, Gabrielle kissed her back.

The first kiss, years ago, have been incredible. Even with Gabrielle's lack of participation. But this, this was mind-blowing. Ares has nothin' on you Gab. Xena thought as their lips met with added pressure.

Again, Xena thought it would end at that, yet her tongue seemed to move of its own will. It began to caress Gabrielle's lower lip. Moving back and forth seductively, baiting Gabrielle to open her mouth. It then moved up between Gabrielle's two pursed lips.

Xena's tongue added extra pressure as it begged for entry. Gabrielle's mouth opened invitingly, accepting the tongue with matched fury. Upon entry, Xena began caressing Gabrielle's teeth, the sides of her mouth, every where. Xena enjoyed the feeling.

Two blue eyes shot up at an intense new feeling: Gabrielle's hot, wet tongue. It began dueling with the warrior's. It was sweet torture and Xena was all too happy to admit defeat. She retreated as Gabrielle's tongue began to lay conquest to her mouth. The two continued the oral dance for what seemed like an eternity, although not nearly long enough for Xena.

They finally came up for air. Xena moved her head away as Gabrielle shut her eyes and returned to her fevered slumber. The warrior watched, horrified. I just took advantage of my best friend. Guilt poured over her like a raging river, drowning her with regret.

She was fevered and delirious, and I took advantage of it to act out some sick fantasy. What kind of a monster am I? What will she think when she wakes and remembers.....if she remembers. Gods please don't let her, I couldn't bare MORE of her hate, more then I already have.

Any doubt about leaving Gabrielle immediately erased. Not only do I constantly hurt her, I can no longer control my urges around her.

Xena had fought her feelings for feelings for Gabrielle for some time. The warrior had earlier thought of Gabrielle to be too young, too na‘ve to understand or accept that kind of love. None of those excuses applied now. Gabrielle had grown into a beautiful, mature, young woman.

She was no longer a little girl. And, wish as Xena might, she no longer possessed the youthful innocence and naivety she had when the bard first met Xena. Of course, she was very proud of the woman Gabrielle had become. But, sometimes, she sorely missed the wide-eyed kid Gabrielle had been. She missed the constant questioning and innocent fascination of each new experience.

Xena was a warrior with a hefty sexual appetite. On more the one occasion, she had fought down the urge to simply ravish the young queen at night by the fireside. And, the kicker was the fact that Xena knew Gabrielle, out of her love for Xena, would go along with it, even it wasn't what she wanted. She would let it happen because she loved Xena that much. No, that hadn't stopped her. The one thing that kept the tall, dark warrior in check was a simple word: rejection.

She didn't fear physical rejection. Xena was almost certain if she sexually pounced on Gabrielle, the bard would immediately submit, even if she was against it. Xena didn't fear rejection of the idea of two women together. Gabrielle was a very open minded individual.

She was a Queen of the Amazons. The bard knew of the possibility of love between two women. Gabrielle was also a very smart individual. Although Xena had never literally defined the relationship she shared with Lao Ma beyond master and pupil, Xena was sure that Gabrielle knew they were lovers.

Not only did she know of it, the bard accepted it. No, it wasn't that type of rejection that made her tremble. Xena feared the rejection of the heart.

Xena was terrified that she would admit to Gabrielle the way she felt only to have the bard voice that she didn't feel the same way. She feared she would tell Gabrielle how much she loved her, how she loved her, and Gabrielle would tell her she didn't love Xena as much or that way. The warrior doubt she would survive such an ordeal and knew their friendship would not.

Things between them would change drastically. Xena's relationship with Gabrielle had been the one constant thing in her life. It had been a continuous source of love and support throughout. Or at least it had been, until I fucked it up.

Xena couldn't bare that sense of formality and awkwardness from that would arise from Gabrielle. It would kill Xena. Well, I've already done that. Today I destroyed the best thing in my life. A tear trickled lazily down the warrior's check. She bent over to Gabrielle's ear.

"Goodbye Gabrielle. I'll always love you." Xena whispered through her tears.

She moved from the bed to the door. She quickly peeked through to see the guards outside. Both Amazons had fallen deeply asleep. Asleep protecting Gabrielle. Bitches. But, she didn't have time to embrace that right now. Xena stealthy exited the Amazon Village.

Only when she reached a safe distance into the forest, did she begin to cry.

*****

Gabrielle awoke with the sunrise. She yelped in pain as she took account of her injuries.

Her head hurt like Hades. Her stomach felt like it had banshees dancing in it. Her throat was incredibly sore and dry. Her legs felt like jelly. Her back, well her back was a plethora of pain; ranging from stinging pain, to sharp pain, to searing pain.

Gods that hurts. Gabrielle didn't even want to imagine the amount of scarring that would result from her injury. Ah well, nothing I can do about that. I should focus on healing first. Despite all the wounds she received, even the incredible pain in her back, nothing could compare to the aching in her heart.

Xena. She missed the warrior terribly. She's probably long gone with Eve now. She wouldn't stay if she could no longer trust me. Gabrielle knew.

Of course, she was still very angry with the warrior for her spiteful words. But, more then anything, she was hurt. Not only by Xena's words, but her actions as well. She must know what happened. She knew and she didn't care.

The warrior had yet to make and appearance. She still might, Gabrielle old herself. I'll give her some time. Gabrielle knew the possibility was slim, but she remained hopeful.

She had dreamt of Xena....again. It had been a dream of Xena's return. She'd came to see Gabrielle, to check in on her, to make sure she was alright. The warrior went to Gabrielle and professed undying love to the young bard. She had told her that Gabrielle meant everything to her.

It had been a heartfelt admission. One which the warrior had cried through. Xena then proceeded to apologize profusely for everything that had happened, the words she's said. She never meant them. Xena still loved and trusted Gabrielle as much as ever. The little queen's heart had softened at the memory.

The dream then took an even more pleasant turn after. Xena then bent over and kissed her. Not just kissed her, but Xena KISSED her. Not like a best friend, not like a sister, but as a soul mate, as a lover.

Gabrielle had long since had deeper feelings for Xena. In fact, she loved her as a lover, without the act of doing so. Gabrielle's touches and hugs had always been ways of communicating her feelings. When Xena had finally learned to accept and reciprocate those actions, Gabrielle had been thrilled.

It became something they both participated in. A shoulder pat here, a hug there. Soon, it became an institution in their relationship. As Gabrielle's feelings began to develop and she became more aware of them, those little shows of affection had become an outlet for her feelings.

The bard knew she was not a complete Sapphic. She had long since been attracted to men, still was actually. A LOT. But, as her travels with Xena unfolded, she discovered many things. Through the Amazons, she had been introduced to the ways of Sappho. Her stern upbringing had taught her that it was wrong. But, when Gabrielle was involved in an accepting community, she realized her true self.

She wasn't full Sapphic. She enjoyed the attraction to both men and women. And, though she'd acted on her urges with the male persuasion, encounters with females were uncharted territory.

Gabrielle had never acted on those feelings for a simple reason: Xena. She was quite in love with the warrior and had been for some time. Gabrielle had remained virginal in the female sense because she had always imagined Xena being her first women. Though, with each passing day, that fantasy seemed further and further from her grasp.

Naivety used to define Gabrielle, but no longer. She was not blind. The bard was well aware of Xena's legendary, large appetite. Though she wasn't certain of the details, she guessed tat Xena and Lao Ma's relationship stretched further then friendship. Gabrielle was well aware Xena was attracted to both women and men. This made Gabrielle's dreams all the farther.

Never once had Xena laid a hand on her in that way. She had learned to accept Gabrielle's physical affection and ever returned it sometimes, but never with the intensity Gabrielle prayed for. Xena never returned her affection with the intensity of a lover.

The only thing Xena had ever did to show interest was several years back. The kiss. It had been incredible. Gabrielle had been so surprised by Xena's actions, she didn't know how to respond. She feared if she returned it, Xena would remember herself and the kiss would end.

Altogether, Gabrielle wasn't even sure if it had been Xena who had kissed her. The bard knew it could have easily been Autolycus taking advantage of her and Xena's weakened state. Her suspicions were only strengthened by Xena's indifference and silence towards the occurrence.

She had never once said anything. Nothing to assure Gabrielle that she had instigated or even remembered it. Nothing.

A lonely existence. Gabrielle had earlier accepted it. Obviously, Xena didn't find Gabrielle attractive. Gabrielle accepted that and feared pushing the issue. Their relationship was so right now. They shared every aspect of each other. They truly acted as soul mates. Gabrielle loved Xena completely with everything that she was, and she knew Xena reciprocated fully.

The only thing missing was the physical. If that was the price she had to pay for her relationship with the warrior, she was willing to pay. Their relationship was everything, it was perfect. Well, WAS being the operative word. Gabrielle didn't know what they were to each other anymore, or it they could ever fix the damage done.

Once Gabrielle had accepted a life with Xena, a life of chastity, the dreams had began. What she could not experience awake, she lived out in Morpheus's realm.

In her dreams, she and Xena made love by the campfire for hours. Xena was an attentive lover and could never quiet get enough of Gabrielle. The bard, in turn, reciprocated the feeling. Each time was like their first. They spent hours discovering each other over and over again.

When they were sated, actually they were never really satisfied. When they were finally exhausted, the two women collapsed in each other's arms and reveled in the closeness as they fell asleep. Her dreams were so passionate and interactive, Gabrielle feared she would physically vocalize some of its happenings. But, when she awoke, Xena never had said anything. Not that she would.

Her previous dreams had been incredible, but they hadn't held a candle to the one she had experienced earlier. It had been so lovely, so perfect, so REAL. That visit to Morpheus had mirrored very closely to reality. Gabrielle could close her eyes and almost feel Xena's lips upon her, kissing. She could almost see Xena's piercing blue eyes, misted up as she professed love to the bard. Almost see the tears that fell down Xena's checks as she bid the blonde queen goodbye.

Almost. Gabrielle rested her head back and tried to re enter Morpheus's realm. Maybe I'll dream it again. She silently wished as she fell asleep.

*****

Xena hadn't reached the cave until just before sunrise. Every few steps she'd falter, then fell to her knees in a fit of sobs. Then, after several minutes, she'd stand up, try to collect herself and continue on. She'd take another several steps, then a thought of Gabrielle would pop into her head. Her steps would falter and again she'd collapse into desperate tears. It was a sorrowful cycle that continued itself throughout the trip.

Once she reached the cave, she found her daughter deep in slumber. She looks so peaceful. Xena was envious of such tranquility now. She'd had achieved that once, but only through Gabrielle. Without her, even trying was hopeless. Never again.

The warrior crouched down by Eve. She lay her bedroll next to her daughter. She then placed her arms around her daughter.

Xena craved some sort of contact, some source of love. She embraced the sleeping Eve tighter and began to cry.

Tears of pain, of hurt, of despair, or finality raced down her checks. Nothing would ever be the same. Her warrior instinct demanded consistency, dependability, a source. Gabrielle was hers. What will I do without her? Despair took over the warrior as she silently tried to answer the question.

Continued in Part 2.


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