~ 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. 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 2

Lethara entered the healer's hut and breathed a sigh of relief. She had awoken early to check upon the queen. She found the two guards asleep outside that hut, again! This was the third night in a row.

"Sweet Artemis." She exclaimed as she rushed into the room.

Thankfully, she was met with a sight of a peacefully sleeping blonde Amazon queen. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Thank the Gods." Lethara said exasperated, yet relieved.

She then proceeded to wake the guards outside of the hut.

"Tara, Mayaric, WAKE UP!" Lethara yelled at the guards. The two amazons woke up quickly and stood up to attention.

"Wha÷whe÷" they both mumbled coherently as they struggled to become fully awake.

"Nice to see you both awake and alert." Lethara said sarcastically. Tara and Mayaric bowed their heads like scolded children. Tara spoke up.

"We're sorry Lethara. It was an accident. However, we accept the full responsibility for the offense." She said honorably as Mayaric shook her head in agreement.

"Relax, you're forgiven÷once again÷Gabrielle seems to be untouched." Lethara said warmly.

"Tara, weren't they supposed to change guards come night?" She asked.

"Yeh Lethara," Mayaric answered. "Usually a second shift comes around sunset. But, the past few days, Varia has had all guards on full alert and patrol in case Xena reentered the village." She finished.

"Has she?"

"As for as anybody knows," Tara spoke this time. "No. She hasn't been spotted by any of the guards anywhere remotely near here. Varia is taking off the extra patrol tonight, so there'll be no one falling asleep." She ended, blushing.

Lethara nodded, acknowledging their explanation and returned into the room. Xena didn't try anything÷Hmph. Somehow, Lethara didn't believe that for a moment. Of what Lethara had heard of the legendary Warrior Princess, she wasn't one to be kept from her bard. Especially a hurt bard. Xena had unrivaled persistence and determination. Oh yeh, she was here some time in the last few days. As far as we know÷hah!

Lethara looked around for any signs of the Warrior Princess from a possible meeting, but found none. Of course Xena would not leave traces. The healer then bent down to Gabrielle. The queen was wearing a pleasant smile in her sleep.

Must be dreaming something nice. Enjoy it little one, because when you wake up, that smile will quickly disappear.

When Gabrielle awoke, she found herself squarely on her back. She felt two hands lightly, but ever so painfully massaging her back. Her nose hinted a distinct scent in the air. It was neither bad nor good, simply familiar.

"Who's there?" Gabrielle asked.

"OH, youŪre awake my queen. Glad to see you as such. My name is Lethara. I'm the village healer." She replied.

"Nice to meet you Lethara," the bard said tilting her head to the side so she could catch a glimpse of her new acquaintance.

"I wish it could have been under different circumstances." Gabrielle retorted humorously with what Lethara could distinguish was either a snicker or a grimace.

"I feel as well my queen." Lethara agreed.

"Lethara, how long have I been asleep?"

"About two days Queen Gabrielle."

"Two Days! " Gabrielle exclaimed surprised. As if to react, she jumped up and quickly regretted the action. She howled in pain.

"My queen, are you alright?"

"Yeh," Gabrielle replied chipperly. "I'm fine, just a little surprised."

Lethara continued to tend to Gabrielle's wounds with the Oil of Gebru. The bard simply succumbed to the feeling, being silently subdued by the pain. After several more minutes, Lethara had finished. She removed her hands and corked the cream colored container Aphrodite had given her. She then began the daunting task of rewrapping Gabrielle's wounds. It took several minutes of contorting and twisting, but eventually she finished. Lethara helped Gabrielle to flip over on her back.

Once in her new position, Gabrielle got her first true view of Lethara the healer.

She was an attractive woman. The healer had deep features. Her skin was a light mahogany, which complemented her auburn hair nicely. She looked quiet a few seasons older then Gabrielle.

Her hair held wisps of gray which seemed to sparkle when the sun hit it correctly. She had several wrinkles around her mouth and eyes signifying years of a happy life. Although she hadn't seen the woman upright, from her shoulders and torso stature, Gabrielle guessed she was a good six feet tall. Just like Xena.

The most striking feature of Lethara was her eyes. When Gabrielle looked up in them, she was breathless. She had never seen anything like it. To match the rest of her physical feature ensemble, the healer's eyes were a deep deep brown.

In fact, they were looked like small chips of coal. Yet, those eyes held no evil or malice, as expected. Gabrielle realized Lethara's eyes were two of the most caring pair she'd ever saw. What a combination. Hard and intimidating, yet soft and caring. Just like Xena.

It seemed everything was reminding the bard of the warrior. Two days. She'd been out for a whole two days, and still no sign of Xena. Gabrielle's everlasting beacon of hope was rapidly disappearing.

Well, nothing she could do about that now, Gabrielle decided. She tried to occupy her time with some mindless chatter.

"So, I noticed that stuff you put on my back had a really strong smell. What was it?"

"Oil of Gebru."

"Oil of Gebru? ! How did you get that?"

Gabrielle was not a healer., but she knew what it was. When Xena was lucky enough to find some, she carried it in her healer's kit. Emphasis on if. The substance was almost impossible to find. Oil of Gebru was imported from Africa and was as expensive as gold, in Greece. It would help to heal her back faster and reduce the scarring.

"Well, actually you had a visitor."

Xena? Gabrielle thought hopefully.

"We got the oil from÷."

"None other then yours truly sweet pea." Aphrodite appeared suddenly in the hut. Gabrielle tried to unsuccessfully to hide her disappointment.

"What's wrong?" Aphrodite asked concerned.

"My back," Gabrielle groaned dramatically, trying to cover her previous reaction.

"Are you okay?" Lethara asked as she rushed to the queen's bedside.

"Yeh, I'm fine. It comes and goes you know. I'll be okay. Hello Aphrodite." The goddess smiled back in reply.

"Lethara, when am I gonna be able to get out of this bed? My legs need movement."

Instead of Lethara answering, Aphrodite chimed in.

"Now listen here warrior bard. You're gonna need at least a week on your back before you'll be good to go." The goddess said sternly.

"I÷..I÷.agree." Lethara stuttered in awe of Aphrodite's authority.

"Good." Aphrodite smiled.

The healer caught a quick glance at the Goddess and then at Gabrielle. Seems as if everyone has ›a protective streak when it came to the little one.

"Well, I'll leave it to you." Lethara said as she stepped out of the hut.

As soon as she left, Aphrodite moved to Gabrielle's bedside. She lifted her arm. A flash flight filled the room and a pink fluffy chair with hearts appeared behind the goddess of love.

"So, my little bard, how are we this morning?" Aphrodite had always had nicknames etc., but nothing so personal. Is she up to something?

"Wow, two visits by a Goddess in one week. I feel privileged. Are you sure you don't want something?" Gabrielle asked lightly.

"Exsqueeze me. I'm at your bedside. I brought you Oil of Gebru÷." Aphrodite fumed. Inwardly, she was again deeply wounded.

"Aphrodite." Gabrielle interrupted.

The goddess kept on venting.

"Aphrodite," Gabrielle yelled higher.

Aphrodite looked up, finally hearing her.

"What?" She said sternly.

"It was a joke." The bard said warmly.

"Oh." Aphrodite smiled sheepishly.

"So you're here to visit me, huh?" The bard asked coyly.

"You're to be my bedside companion." Gabrielle replied in a mock seduction. But, the mockery had jump-started the Goddess's heart.

"Yep, I guess." Aphrodite remarked, embarrassed.

Is she blushing? Gabrielle questioned herself. She IS blushing. Surely she hadn't embarrassed the Goddess of Love with a bit of playful flirting. Had I?

"Aren't you a little busy. I'd hate to keep you from any of your godly duties."

"Ah that, it can wait. I'm immortal remember. I got all the time in the world." Aphrodite said non-chalantly.

"Well, thank you for spending some of it with me." Gabrielle replied seriously.

"Oh, Gabby itŪs no problem."

"I'm afraid I'm not going to be very good company. All I can do is lie on my back." The bard said humorously.

"Well sweet pea, tell me some stories. You ARE the bard."

"I don't know. It's been so long since I've used that part of me. I wonder if it still exists." The bard dejectedly admitted. And it was true.

Her writing had always been her passion. Her travels with Xena had been the perfect story fodder. Combining the two, usually at a local tavern, resulted in stunning performances. She would wow the local audiences with her bardic abilities.

The muses had always been very kind to Gabrielle. She knew she was blessed far beyond most. Since childhood, life had never just been seen. It had been heard through the words that spoke to her soul. Stories and writing were second nature to her. Ever since she could remember, she'd wanted to be a bard.

Her dreams were simple. She didn't want train at the academy, although that was a welcomed and astonishing presented opportunity. She hadn't wanted the fame or the fortune that could accompany. She simply wanted to make people feel.

Life in Poteidaia wasn't really life; it was existence. Although Gabrielle had a pleasant childhood, she yearned for so much more. The small town was a dreary existence . Laughter and smiles were a rare occurrence. Emotions were felt, not expressed.

Gabrielle had always known she needed something more, that she was something more. She didn't accept the dun drum hand fate had given her.

Lila, Perdicus, Seraphin; they all had accepted Poteidaia. Although, some ventured out, they never questioned their lives there. They fully embraced the abhorrence of it. They displayed indifference to their boring lives. Gabrielle wouldn't stand for that.

She lived to speak the tales from her head. While most little girls asked daddy for a doll for their birthday, Gabrielle, every year, begged for a new parchment and ink set. And when those little girls started to grow up and spent most of their time on new dresses and prospects of marriage, Gabrielle was upon the hillside of her family's farm, perfecting her latest story.

Sometimes, she felt as if she'd missed something. That she had cheated herself out of a regular childhood. But, when she stepped upon the stage and was able to captivate the audience with her stories, her own stories. Ahhh, the feeling was inebriating.

With her words, she was actually able to touch people. To impact their lives, to grace their soul. The sheer prospect was invigorating. It made everything else worth it.

Gabrielle's stories were her gift, yet they were also her curse. Some days, the words would scream so loud, she had difficulty functioning. Creative impulses wracked her body and demanded release. Xena had always looked confused while Gabrielle explained why they had to stop÷.again, but she always indulged Gabrielle and tried understood. She's always been so kind to me that way.

Sometimes, there was just so much beauty in the world, Gabrielle had difficulty taking it all in. There were so much new out in the world for Gabrielle to discover. The prospect was so exciting and enhancing, it lit up her soul. Everyday she awoke to the feeling of innocence to the world and the desire of discovery.

But now, her creative impulses were few and far between. Overtime, she had learned to hold them back and hold them back. This is not the time to be writing, Gabrielle÷÷Wait till tonight, the do it÷.Its really not that amazing÷.She had thrown away her own gift.

Gabrielle had trained her soul to stop listening to the words that once defined her. ItŪd been ages since she'd had the thrill to perform in front of an audience. At first, she convinced herself that she had better things to do tonight, or she was too tired. Now, she was so out of practice, and terrified to even think of doing so. I don't think I even know how to be a bard anymore.

The words had stopped pushing, because they had been crushed.

Gabrielle couldn't remember the last time she had taken time aside just to write. It didn't have to even be anything just free association. She was terrified. Afraid that if she tried, nothing would come to her. The prospect of that blank parchment reeked havoc on her soul. And although she complained of the fact that the muse had left her, Gabrielle wasn't truly ready to face that reality.

Many still, Aphrodite and Xena included, referred to her by bard. Earlier, it had seemed so appropriate to her. It was who Gabrielle was. She had been the Bard of Poteidaia. It had been how she'd defined herself. But now÷..now she didn't know. "Who am I?"

The bard had been unaware she had spoke the last words aloud.

"What Hun?" Aphrodite looked at her confused. She had witnessed the bard transform from playful to mournfully thoughtful in a matter of seconds. What'd I say?

"Gabby, if you don't wanna tell a story, that's no prob. We can just chat or something."

"No Aphrodite, itŪs not that. Sorry, I just÷.never mind. I'm sure you don't want to hear about my problems." Gabrielle shrugged.

"Ah, but I'd love to little one. Now, why the long face?" And it was the true. Anything that brought the Goddess closer to the little queen was highly welcomed. She'd love to know what made her tick.

"Are you sure, I really don't÷" Gabrielle was interrupted by a flash of light. The pink chair Aphrodite had been sitting on transformed to a longer, lazier fuscia couch. The Goddess settled down to get more comfortable.

"Now bardy, tell me what's on your mind?" Aphrodite said with mock seriousness.

"Mmph." Gabrielle let out a prolonged sigh. "If I only knew."

Aphrodite smiled understandingly and allowed the bard time to come to it on her own.

"You see÷."

"It's like÷."

"Ahhh! Even now!" Gabrielle exclaimed frustrated.

"Even now what?" The Goddess inquired calmly.

"I had always thought of myself as a bard, right. That's who I was. Gabrielle: Bard of Poteidaia. But now,"

"Are we back to the writer's block thing again. I thought we fixed that."

"Ahh÷If only it were that simple." Gabrielle wiggled around, painfully, and waited for her body to find the right spot and got comfortable. "I thought I fixed it too. But, when you left, I just started at that blank parchment for hours."

"What happened?"

"At first I thought I just wasn't ready to write. But, its more then that." Gabrielle said sadly.

"Well what is it?" Aphrodite was fairly confused. Writing, stories, she enjoyed other's work, but personally they were not her forte.

"Before, I used to define myself as a bard. It's been so long though. So long since I've written a story, told a story, even thought a story. I'm afraid my gift is gone. Lately, every so often, people will ask me to tell a story and I shrug them off. I use my own petty excuses. But, the truth is, I'm terrified at the idea."

"What if I go up there and there's nothing. My stories are gone. I'm not ready to face that, I'm not strong enough." She admitted.

"Sweet pea, you just survived a monster lashing. I don't think you're as weak as you picture yourself."

Aphrodite said reassuringly.

"No, I wouldn't be strong enough to face that. I mean, the lashing, that was physical pain. I can handle that. But, finding out that I'm no longer a bard. That's a loss of my identity. A loss of my soul. I wouldn't survive." She, suprisingly calmly, stated.

"So you're going to live your life not knowing? Excuse me for saying so Gabby, but isn't that cowardly." Aphrodite said in a small voice.

"Cowardly? What?" Gabrielle asked, flabbergasted.

"I mean, if you're not the bard, you gotta face that. You can't keep dancing around the issue. You can't stop pretending to be something your not. Saying you're a bard for self-security reasons is cowardly. You have to face who you are." Aphrodite said with true sincerity.

"And what if I do that, and I don't like what I find out. What if I was right, and I'm no longer a bard. What then?" Gabrielle pleaded.

"Then we'll go find out who you truly are." We, Aphrodite had made a slip of the tongue. I hope she didn't notice.

"Besides, despite your fears, I still think there's alotta muse left in you. Trust me, I'm a goddess, I know these things." She laughed.

Aphrodite's humored sincerity was having a calming effect on the bard. She desperately wanted to believe the goddess; believe that the muse was still with in her. She was also struck by Aphrodite's words of cowardice. Gabrielle realized how true they were. She had taken the Coward's way out by avoiding the truth. Now she was ready to face it, but how?

"Ok Aphrodite, I get your point. I've gotta face who I am. But, how do I do that? I couldn't, even if I wanted to, go up in front of a bunch of people and tell a story. I'm terrified at the prospect."

"You don't need a big audience. I think we should return to my original suggestion." She said in a I-told-you-so tone.

"And what would that be?" Gabrielle questioned lightly.

"Tell me a story." Aphrodite leaned in closer to the bard.

"I guess I could. But, Aphrodite, I don't even think I know any stories. It's been so long." She sadly admitted.

"Well then, DON'T tell me a story. I haven't seen you much this year. Why don't you tell me a little about what I've missed." She said coyly.

"Ok, I can do that. Um÷this year÷lets see÷" The bard stuttered as she thought of how to begin.

" Eve, Xena, and I had finally reunited. We were Coming Home. The serenity of it seemed all too perfect and a mist of chaos was in the air÷.."

And so it began.

*****

The words flowed like water. Gabrielle had begun hesitantly, but soon fell into her natural bardic rhythm. She spoke of Eve, and Xena, and the Amazons. She told Aphrodite about what had happened with Brunhilda and the Valkries. She spoke of Ares sad attempt at a farming life, at which point Aphrodite had to take a quick break.

The Goddess had fallen on the ground in laughter and complained of feeling "all grody". Gabrielle wasn't in the mood for another bathtub episode, much to Aphrodite's dismay. She poofed herself out to quickly wash up and then returned to complete the evening.

Day after day, they spent together in Gabrielle's hut. When the bard had run out of recent adventures to tell, Gabrielle resorted to opening up to Aphrodite. She told the Goddess of her childhood, of leaving to join Xena. Gabrielle told Aphrodite of her hopes and dreams and the Goddess patiently listened.

At heart, Aphrodite was thrilled. Gabrielle was letting her in. She now knew more then ever about the bard. Before she had known Gabrielle for the person she'd seen her to be, now she knew Gabrielle for how she saw herself. And, everyday, every hour, every minute, Aphrodite found herself falling deeper and deeper in love with the bard.

Gabrielle, however, was oblivious to Aphrodite's state. She appreciated the friendship the goddess was willing to give. It gave her comfort in a world of sudden chaos. For now, she filled the void that Xena left.

Aphrodite, for the most part, had kept the bard so entertained, she was able to ignore the sadness in her heart. But, at night, when she was alone, she silently cried herself to sleep. She missed Xena terribly. Morpheus put up the most endearing fight, and when she finally fell victoriously into his realm, Xena haunted her.

"Goodbye Gabrielle." Xena's parting words replayed over and over through her head. She couldn't fight it, she couldn't stop it; Gabrielle feared the night.

One week. It had been one week since the entire episode. One week since she had cheated death. One week since she had seen Xena. One week.

Aphrodite's magic oil was healing her body, while the goddess's open ears and calming presence was healing her soul.

The wound was no longer raw. It had dried and scabbed. Sometimes it itched like crazy. During those times, it reminded her of the foot rot incident.

That had been an interesting day. Their whole bout with multiple sicknesses had occurred only several days after Gabrielle's sudden return. At first, when they had met up at the forest, Xena had been so vulnerable.

She had displayed her emotions so clearly. She cried tears of joy, matching Gabrielle's, at their reunion. Gabrielle had been so touched by her companion's heartfelt actions. But, later in the day, Xena had returned back to her stoicism.

When they had gone after Argo, it was as if Gabrielle barely existed. Xena tried to quickly fall back in to their previous routine. Too quickly.

Gabrielle had been hurt. She barely missed me. The bard thought. She hadn't expected Xena to be with her every second, proclaiming how much she loved and missed Gabrielle and how glad she was to have her back. Alright, maybe just a little bit. But, she had expected Xena to show a little more appreciation of her presence.

That was not the case, and it hurt the bard deeply. The time saving Argo, Gabrielle felt a hurt in the pits of her heart. But, she held her head up high and tried to hide it.

That night, she'd went to bed, quietly crying herself to sleep. She didn't want Xena to see her tears. Just as slumber was about to claim her, she heard a sniffle from behind her.

Gabrielle turned up to look at Xena. The blue eyes were drowning in salty tears. Xena, noticing her presence quickly wiped her eyes.

"The fire. Smoke got into my eyes÷I÷" She had stumbled into her lame excuse.

"Xena." Gabrielle spoke ›in a tone that said I-know-you-to-well-to-believe-that. "What's wrong?"

"It's just, I don't know. I'm the big, strong Warrior Princess. I'm not supposed to cry am I?"

She said in a morose form of inquisition.

"Xena, tears lighten the soul. What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked calmly.

"ItŪs just, I've been holding it in. Trying to pretend that everything is ok. But its not is it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Gabrielle, I almost lost you, for good. I almost had to live my life without you. I've been trying to act like everything is normal, but its not. I don't know what I would have done if you didn't come back."

Both their eyes glistened with tears at Xena's sincere admission.

"When you were gone, I kept on. But it wasn't÷.I don't know how to explain it. It was like I was living, but I wasn't breathing, you know. I got up every morning and went to bed every night, but it wasn't living. I simply existed. There was no meaning, no motivation, no beauty. It was nothingness. You, you're my air, my soul. I'm just so scared." She finished darting her eyes to the fire.

Gabrielle was unsure how to react. Xena's words had touched her deeply. Despite her warrior faŃade, she was quite vulnerable with her emotions.

"The mighty warrior princess scared." Gabrielle replied sarcastically. She had been trying to lighten the situation with a humorous off hand comment, but Gabrielle realized she was wrong as Xena jumped up and headed into the forest.

Gabrielle turned and chased after her.

"Xena wait." She grabbed her by the arm.

"Listen to me, I'm sorry. That wasn't the right thing to say." The bard apologized. She led Xena back to the fire and sat her on a tree stump. She then knelt down in front of the warrior. Gabrielle took Xena's face in her hands and looked squarely at her. Green bore deeply into Blue.

"Xena, I will never leave. I promise you. I will always be here. Where you go, I go." She said concretely.

Xena stared at her for sometime and allowed the certainty of her words to sink in. Then she scooped the bard up into a massive hug and didn't let go until morning.

Ahh, well÷that had been a lovely memory. Gabrielle turned to feel her back, it was rough from the scabs, but with Aphrodite's help, there would be no scarring. Aphrodite, she had done so much for the bard.

This last week, she had helped to heal Gabrielle's back. But, in the mean time, her earnest ears and soothing presence had helped to heal Gabrielle's soul.

She had been able to tell the Goddess story after story. Gabrielle discovered that she was still a bard. The revelation warmed her heart. She had yet to write or perform in front of an audience, but the realization that the muse still lived with in her, was an incredible feeling. The way she felt, Gabrielle wanted to tell her stories in front of a crowd of people, but that would come in time. Have walk before you can fly Gabrielle.

The bard looked again at Aphrodite who was, again, checking her hair in her little mirror.

"Aphrodite."

"Yeh, sweet pea." The goddess said without looking up.

"Aphrodite, I have to thank you for what you've done for me."

"What's that?" She asked honestly, putting her mirror away.

"You helped me to discover myself again. I still am the Gabrielle: Bard of Poteidaia. The words still live with in me. But, I also know, that I'm so much more then that. That you for helping me find my stories." She said with sincerity.

"Hun, it was no problemo." Aphrodite said nonchalantly. Truthfully, she was deeply touched by Gabrielle's gratitude.

"Are you sure you're not a muse too?" The bard asked humorously.

"Well÷" She said arching her eyebrow up like a certain warrior princess. " I do have many skills." Aphrodite professed jokingly.

The comment had a duel purpose. Firstly, she was trying to keep up the level humor with the bard. But, more importantly, she was trying to gouge a reaction from the bard about the comment. Would she burst into laughter or into tears?

The glorious sound of roarous giggles filled the air. Several days ago, that remark would have sent Gabrielle into a fit of sobs. But, she was stronger now. I truly am healing.

*****

Xena, however, was not fairing so well.

The warrior looked up with sullen eyes. She had developed permanent dark circles underneath her blue orbs. Her face was as pale as freshly fallen snow. Her leathers hung loosely upon her body. Her mouth was contorted in a melancholy grimace.

Xena couldn't remember when she last slept, actually slept. Every night, after hours of crying and self-pity, she'd finally fall asleep. But, as soon as she entered Morpheus's realm, she quickly exited. Gabrielle would come to her in her dreams. She haunted Xena with the warrior's guilt. Xena would wake up with a start.

Every night, the same routine continued. Days weren't much better. Her consciousness was constantly plagued with images of the bloody bard. She'd lost her focus. The cut on her side was evidence of that.

Eve and her had stopped at a tavern for the night. Some drunk had heard that the 'Legendary Warrior Princess' was around, and decided to press his luck.

Xena and her daughter had come down for drinks. Eve was talking to group of several young adults, preaching the ways of Eli. Xena was off on her own little guilt trip, day dreaming of Gabrielle. She hadn't even heard the drunken man come up behind her. He unsheathed his knife and ran for Xena.

When Xena finally heard him, it was too late. She couldn't stop him. Luckily, the amazing auditory skills seemed to have been hereditary. Eve had heard the man approaching from all the way across the room.

She was able to thwart the plans of the drunk to kill the Warrior Princess. But he left his mark in the form of a finger length cut on Xena side. Although not very long, it was respectively deep. Eve had to stitch up Xena that evening.

In her week separation from Gabrielle, Xena was deteriorating. She barely slept, her warrior skills were suffering, and she ate minimally. The warrior just possessed no appetite.

Eve had taken over Gabrielle's culminary place. Surprisingly, she wasn't half-bad. Every night, Eve cooked adequate meals for herself and the warrior. They were good, but they weren't Gabrielle. To Xena, nothing tasted anymore. She ate simply for the nourishment to sustain life. But, even that desire was severely lacking.

Although, the past week hadn't been completely horrendous.

Xena had never spent so much time alone with Eve. She was truly getting to know her daughter.

Every night, Eve spoke to Xena about her life. She told the warrior about her childhood with Octavian. It had been pleasant, but she had always known something was missing.

"It was you." Eve said matter-of-factly to her mother. "You were missing."

The admission had brought them both to tears.

Eve spoke of being Livia. Actually she spoke OF Livia. As if she were an entire different entity on her own. Xena found it sadly ironic how their two lives mirrored so closely.

Days were spent side by side traveling. They hadn't truly come upon a crisis, as of yet, to respond to. But, they reveled in each other's company. Xena found Eve to possess a dry sense of humor which highly complement her own.

Under any other circumstances, Xena believed she might have been happy. But she couldn't be. She didn't have Gabrielle. The bard was the light to her darkness. The method to her madness. The calm to her storm. She missed her terribly.

Everyday Xena awoke with the same thought in her mind: Amazonia. Everyday she fought an internal battle over returning. Her practicality always won out. She would tell herself, no matter what, this was better for Gabrielle. This is the only way to keep her safe, I can't live with more of her blood on my hands. Xena's wild protective streak would over ride her empty heart and everyday she continued on, further and further from Amazonia.

Although she convinced herself she was doing this for Gabrielle's safety, she knew a level of cowardice was involved. To go back, she would have to face Gabrielle and what she had done to her. What if she can't forgive me? What if she tells me to leave? Xena wasn't ready to face that as reality. Those questions were to terrifying to be answered, so instead she continued on.

One week down, a life time to go.

*****

The bard stealthily crept from her bed.

It took a huge amount of effort, but she was slowly able to bring her legs around. Gently, she lightly applied pressure to each side. Although Gabrielle hadn't been injured in the legs, she hadn't used them in over a week and muscles were starting to atrophy and were very weak.

She reached her hand over to the nightstand beside the bed Gabrielle slowly shifted her weight to one side as she straightened up a leg. She then placed her hand on the bed and shifted her weight to the other side and straightened her other leg.

The bard in took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. She pushed herself into a standing position. Gabrielle held it, barely. So far so good. She lifted up her foot, as to take a step as fell flatly on her face.

Lethara was gathering herbs outside when she heard a series of crashes and clangs from with in the healer's hut.

"The queen." She whispered to herself.

The healer then broke into a rampant sprint towards the hut. Her body, sensing her urgency, let the adrenalin flow as Lethara began to move even faster. She burst into the hut, completely out of breath.

She was met with the sight of Gabrielle's body, face down on the floor, unmoving.

"By the gods, she's dead." Lethara exclaimed exasperated. A silent tear fell down the side of her cheek.

"Don't I only wish." A voice said from the ground. Lethara ran down to the queen quickly and picked up her face to make sure what she had heard wasn't just a product of her own wishful imagination.

"My queen?" She questioned as she lifted the blonde head.

"Sadly, yes." Gabrielle sarcastically answered.

When Lethara finally was face to face with Gabrielle, the queen wore the deepest shade of crimson Lethara had ever seen on a patient.

"My queen, are you alright?" Lethara inquired sincerely.

"Yeh, I'll be ok. Pride's a little sore though." Gabrielle admitted humorly.

The healer placed an arm around Gabrielle waist to help her up. The bard shrugged it off. She began to crawl over to her pallet.

"One must learn to crawl before they can walk. And walk before they can fly."

She reached the bed and hoisted herself up.

Lethara was now thoroughly confused.

"Queen Gabrielle, wh÷." An out of breath Gabrielle quickly interrupted Lethara.

"How many times have I told you. Call me GAB-RI-ELLE."

"But, you are a queen. You deserve the right to be addressed so." Lethara pleaded.

"Lethara, the past week you've been at my side many times. Remember, you've been the one who has had to practically drag me to the chamber pot to relieve myself. You've seen me at some of my weakest points. Hades, you just watched me crawl across the dirty cold floor to my bed. "

And I admire you all the more, QUEEN Gabrielle, Lethara thought to herself.

"I think we can be on a one-name basis." Gabrielle said, but Lethara still looked a mite weary.

"Please, don't make me pull rank." Gabrielle pleaded.

"As you wish Que÷I mean Gabrielle. I shall try my best."

"Well, that's all I can ask of you isn't it." Gabrielle said with a smile.

"Now, GAB-RI-ELLE." Lethara humorously emphasized. "Would you care to explain how you ended up face down on the floor, OFF your bed." She ended with a suspicious eyebrow arched.

"Magic?" The bard offered a humorous excuse.

"GAB-RI-ELLE!"

"You know, you don't have to emphasis it like that every time. Any way, I was trying to walk. Emphasis on was. I was able to stand up partially steadily. The second I lifted my foot, though. TIMBER." Gabrielle made a gesture with her hand of tipping over and eventually falling to the ground.

"Pretty pathetic huh." She said sheepishly.

"Not at all." Lethara automatically responded. Her respect for the woman, who although had gone against her healers orders, had risen another notch. She truly is incredible.

"But, Gabrielle, I told you that you need more time before you can walk. Your muscles have atrophied and aren't used to such strenuous activity." Lethara explained.

" I know that Lethara, but it was time for me to get up. The longer I lie on my back, the more tempting it becomes. The more of the world I watch pass me by." She revealed. "Today, I'm going to walk."

"Well, then we'll do it together. I'll help support you and I÷"

"No." Gabrielle interrupted." I have to do this alone."

"Alright, then I'll stay in the room at watch you if you need my help." Lethara suggested.

"No, please understand. I have to do this alone." Gabrielle stated seriously.

And, Lethara did understand. For Gabrielle, it was a matter of pride.

Lethara slowly lifted a closed fist to her heart and bowed her head and a symbol of ultimate respect to one of the most amazing women she'd ever know. Gabrielle smiled back at her with newfound determination.

Lethara quickly left the hut and returned to her herbs, leaving the queen to her business.

Not long after, she heard another loud crash.

*****

"Varia!" Gabrielle called out loudly.

"Varia! Come in here, QUICK!" The queen yelled out.

Both Varia and Lethara rushed into the hut. They had heard the screams of Gabrielle and had thought the worst. They stormed into the hut to Gabrielle's aid.

"What is it?" Varia asked, out of breath as she rushed ›in. When they both entered the room, they found Gabrielle unharmed, sitting on her bed. Hardly a cause for alarm.

"Geez, it wasn't that big of an emergency. I didn't mean for you to kill yourselves getting here." Gabrielle smirked humorously.

"Well÷.we÷.thought÷you÷.might÷.be ÷in trouble." Lethara gasped out as she gulped for air.

"Me, trouble, Hah!"

"Whatever." Varia said, rolling her eyes.

"You know, you two have to loosen up. You shouldn't always expect the worse." Gabrielle advised seriously.

"So, my queen, why did you call us in so urgently?" Lethara questioned.

"Because of this." Gabrielle slowly stood up. " Now, watch this."

The bard began to take tentative steps forward. Then, she broke into a more concrete stride around the room.

"Very impressive Gabrielle." Varia said with a smile on her face. And, it truly was. Walking that fast after a beating that bad, what an amazing woman.

"See, I'm healed." Gabrielle stated hopefully.

"I wouldn't say that my queen." Lethara said, folding her arms across her chest.

"Lethara, for last time, CALL ME GAB-RI-ELLE!"

"I'm sorry, I just feel I have to out of reasons of respect." Lethara admitted.

"Ahh come on, you're my friend. I expect my friends to call me by my first name. Besides, it's practical. With Varia, myself, and half the other queens from the nation here, calling them all 'my queen' is going to be confusing. Please." Gabrielle begged.

"I will try harder." Lethara said, bowing her head.

"Thanks."

"Wait a minute," Varia interceded. "You never call me queen, Lethara."

"Yes well÷I have a hard time calling a person queen who I previously helped change their nappies." Lethara exclaimed smugly.

As a response, Varia's face turned a budding crimson as she looked squarely at the ground so her embarrassment was not detected.

"Any way," Gabrielle chimed in. "I'm almost completely healed. "

"Almost" Varia reminded her.

"I 'm walking now. "

"Barely." Lethara made note.

"I feel great."

"You don't look it." Varia said.

"Sooooo÷÷." Gabrielle built up her question.

"Yesssss÷÷." Lethara and Varia exclaimed in unison.

"How long before I can start sparring?" Gabrielle innocently, like a child asking to go play.

As an answer, both women shook their head and headed out the door.

"Come on you two, wait. Please, I think I'm ready. Hey, WAIT!" Gabrielle pleaded.

"Well that is NO way to treat a woman you just called queen." The bard yelled after them.

Ah well, who needs them. Gabrielle was in the mood for more endearing company. Plus, she still had one more person she had to show her new skill to.

"Aphrodite." She said raising her voice. During her duration at the Amazon camp, Gabrielle had not ever called upon the goddess to appear. Everyday, Aphrodite had simply showed up. Now, Gabrielle was perplexed on how to get her attention.

Before, she had always just went to one of the goddess's temples and busted a few vases in mock clumsiness. But now, there were no temples to Aphrodite in all of Amazonia; they were all dedicated to Artemis. And even if there were, Gabrielle wouldn't do anything like that to Aphrodite's property, not anymore. They were friends now, real friends.

So, she resorted to calling out to the goddess in hopes she was listening.

"Aphrodite." She called again.

The regular approach didn't seem to be working, so Gabrielle opted for a more formal form of recognition.

"Oh great Goddess of Love, your humble servant beseeches the." Gabrielle proclaimed regally.

She waited several seconds, yet no avail.

"Maybe I need a sacrifice?" She thought out loud. Then, suddenly, the goddess visualized in the back of the hut.

"Oh no, don't do that." The goddess managed to say through her laughter.

"What's so funny?" The bard asked.

" Oh goddess of love, your humble servant beseeches the?? Where did you come up with that?" Aphrodite giggled.

"I don't know, I thought I needed something more formal to get your attention. Calling your name didn't seem to be working."

"Ah, Gabby, if you ever need me, all you have to do is ask." Aphrodite said sincerely, too sincerely. The goddess was beginning to wear her heart on her sleeve. Gabrielle still seemed oblivious to Aphrodite's means. The goddess shrugged it off for now and continued.

"Now, what was it you needed me for?"

"Watch." Gabrielle said enthusiastically. She, once again, stood up and began to strut proudly around the room. Once she had made a respective lap around the inside of the hut, Gabrielle returned to her bed. Aphrodite began to wildly applaud.

"Bravo bardy. Cool Gabby. I'm so proud of you." The goddess said smiling.

"Thanks, I'm pretty proud of myself too." She honestly admitted.

Aphrodite would have loved to stay all day with the bard, but she was needed elsewhere. Earlier, upon Olympus, her and Ares had gotten into a little spat. She heard Gabrielle call her and she made a quick exit before putting in the last word, and she always got the last word.

"Well Hun, I'd love ta stay, but I gotta jet. Don't get too overamourous, ok. Baby steps." She advised warmly. Gabrielle simply nodded her head, acknowledging the goddess's words.

"And remember, if you ever need me, just call and I'll be there."

"Always?" The bard questioned humorously.

"Always." Aphrodite answered firmly.

*****

" I can't believe it!" Eve exclaimed. "It here, it's really here."

"It's beautiful Evie." Xena agreed.

The commune had been like many they'd both seen before. It was a settlement completely devoted to the ways of Eli. Followers lived in a secluded community where they could commit full devotion to learning the path of love.

In the morning they ate in silence. Then after meal, work was to be done. The men left to the fields to tend to the crops. The women were to stay at home and cook and clean. This gender-based work angered Eve, but she kept quiet. People only accept change so far. If that was the price paid for them to accept the way of love, so be it.

They met again in the afternoon for a small meal, which was also silent. After lunch, people would divide into their families and go home to read and memorize scripture in a means to understand it. Understanding was the key to love and through love comes understanding.

Dinner was the only spoken affair. Every night, it was as a celebration. People gathered together, ate, and were merry. They would speak of the scriptures they had read and memorized that day and what insights had come from it. After dinner, the people gathered to sing psalms together; praising Eli and his God.

After the joyous dinner activities, the members gathered together in a makeshift temple and silently meditated. They tried to become ultimate vessels of love. They prayed to Eli and to the one God. After several hours of holy vigil, the people would return to their homes and rest for the next day.

It was a simple life, dedicated to community, family, and, above all, love.

Settlements like these had flooded the countryside. By Xena guess, there was at least two dozen, in Greece alone. It seems the brilliance of love appealed to more people then imagined.

Eve systematically visited every 'Realm of Eli', or so they were called. Her methodical visitation reminded Xena very much of her warlord days and she suspected Eve had learned to do so from her. By visiting each community, not only was she able to check in on their spiritual prosperity, but it was also a form of boosting moral.

To see the actual messenger of Eli, it was the closest living thing to God itself. Eve came to the villages and gave inspiring speeches about the way of love. The power it has to change lives. Her words moved them immensely and only helped to strengthen their beliefs.

Eve would often socialize with her people as well. This too was reminiscent of a warlord's ways. This way, the followers would see that she was only human. That Eve was a normal person just like themselves. It gave them hope. Because, if someone like them could reach that stillness, it was possible for them to do it themselves.

This trip was a mission to visit the Caracellian Realm of Eli on the western shore. Xena hadn't wanted to accompany Eve on the trip. She truly didn't feel right about it. In her past, there was so much unlove.

She had been a vessel of evil and hatred so many times. Xena was the contradiction to every thing Eve taught. The warrior felt unworthy of such a divine journey. She felt wrong accompanying someone who preached of love, when she had destroyed almost all remnants of it in her life.

But, Eve had a fiery persistence that matched the warrior's own. She had begged and pleaded with Xena to come. When that hadn't worked, she had played the one ace left in her hand.

"Mother, I need you to protect me on my journey. I know I will be the target of much calamity and I don't know if I'll be able to insure my security." She worriedly told Xena.

That had sealed it. Xena had agreed that night to escort Eve to Caracella.

Eve hadn't truly needed her mother's presence. She didn't even want Xena's protection. Eve knew that would mean violence. And, violence was the epitome of everything she fought against. Eve had begged her mother to come with for Xena's own safety.

She was terrified at the prospect of Xena, alone. Her mother had been falling to pieces. Over the last month, Eve had watched Xena fall from bad to worse. She went from barely sleeping, to not sleeping at all. From barely eating, to not eating at all. Eve didn't trust her mother alone with herself.

Although she had not witnessed Xena in her earlier years, Eve was not ignorant to them. She had heard many stories of her mother's erratic behavior. Gabrielle had been the one true thing in Xena's life, she was her mother's anchor. Without Gabrielle, Xena was severely off balance. She couldn't be trusted alone.

"Just look at it Mother. Its amazing isn't it." Eve exclaimed in awe of the structure in front of her.

"Yeh, I can't believe they built it so fast." Xena stood amazed.

At the entrance was a huge statute of Eli. The stone fit the man well. The coldness of the material wasn't able to thwart Eli's bright likeness from shining through. His granite eyes still glistened with ultimate, endearing love. His arms were spread open, as if to give a lost soul a hug.

Breath and blood were about the only two things that separated the statute and Eli. It looked so real.

"That's incredible." Xena thought aloud.

"It is isn't it." Eve agreed nodding her head. "Mother, is that what he looked like. I mean really looked like." She asked like a fascinated little child.

"Yeh Evie, it's a perfect likeness. How is that possible?" Xena asked.

"One of the older artisans in the commune, he had met and knew Eli when he was upon this earth. He supervised the creation." Eve explained.

"Well, my congratulations to him on a job well done." Xena said as a trickle of nostalgia crept up into her heart. A tear quietly fell down her cheek as she thought of her fallen friend.

"It looks so real. It's almost as if he's still here." Xena exclaimed.

"Oh, he is mother. He is."

*****

When Eve and Xena had entered the commune, they were greeted with open arms. The followers had honored them with a series of songs and a delicious meal. Later in the day, Eve spoke to the people. She preached of the beauty of love. Of the power it has to praise lives. She spoke of Eli and the importance of his message.

Xena had then found her uncomfortably in the spotlight. An old man stepped up from the back of the crowd.

"I remember you." He said pointing his finger quivering at Xena.

"Me?" Xena asked in semi shock. " I don't think so, I'm not from around here."

"Neither am I. And, I remember you." He said sternly.

Xena leaned over to Eve and whispered into her ear.

"Who is this guy?"

"That's Farion. He's an original." She whispered back.

"An original?" Xena repeated, in an inquisitive tone.

"An original, meaning he was one of the first followers of the way of love. He knew Eli, he was in the very first settlement. He was there the day Eli died."

"So was I." Xena said coldly.

"I know." Eve responded, eyes meeting with her mother's. They held each other's glaze until the trance was broken by the original.

"I remember, you were there. The day he died. You, you were too late." He said convincingly.

Xena hung her head and shrugged at the memory.

"Yes, I was too late." She agreed in a whisper.

"That blonde woman, she let him die. She's as much a murderer as Ares." Farion yelled above the crowd. He stood up and waved his first in protest. Many others started to join him.

Xena could take the blame for Eli's death, in some round about way it was probably her fault. It usually is. She had an infinite amount of experience with guilt. Her shoulders were plenty broad to carry the weight of it. But, she could never and would never stand for someone blaming Gabrielle.

Xena had not seen her soul in a month, but she still felt the protective of the bard whom she loved and missed more then life itself.

"You forget yourself. You have no idea what you're talking about old man." Xena spouted angrily.

"Oh yes I do," He answered back. " I saw her turn her back to him and allow Ares to stab Eli. She had the weapons in her hands, but did nothing. "

"I SAY SHE'S A MURDERER." He yelled to the crowd, who backed him with a series of yells and hollers.

Eve watched her peace loving people turn in to rabid dogs, scanning the terrain for a fresh piece of meat to pounce upon. She would not stand for it.

"Stop this, all of you. This is not the way of love. This is the way of ugliness, of blame, of hatred. Is this how Eli would want you to remember his death." She scolded them.

Xena, however, wasn't finished.

"Oh, so you were there and know everything old man. Did you know that Eli begged her to turn around? Did you know he knew his fate and accepted it? Did you know it was the only way? Did you know that Gabrielle cried straight for three days at her actions? She let misplaced guilt eat away at her, but it wasn't her fault. "

"It was no ones other then Ares. She's no murderer. Gabrielle was the epitome of everything you people aspire to be. She is an ultimate being of love. Instead of honoring her, you condemn her. So this is your way of love old man?" Xena vented furiously.

The rioters looked as if they had been burned. No one said anything. The silence was like a hand, choking the inhabitants of the crowd. Though no words were spoken, the apology was clear in their eyes. They all held similar looks of regret. Finally, the old man spoke up.

"I'm sorry, I never knew." He admitted.

"I did."

"You knew Eli, didn't you. Not just the man he became, but the man he was." One of the members questioned.

"Yeh, I knew Eli before he found the path of peace. But÷" Xena hesitated.

"Please, tell us of him. Any insight you can prove would be brilliant." Another chimed in.

" I don't think I sho÷I mean, I don't÷know..wh" Xena sputtered for an excuse.

"Please." Several members of the crowd begged in unison.

Xena still tried to rebuke their efforts.

"I really ÷don't know÷I 'm ju÷" Xena stopped as a hand touched her shoulder.

She turned around and was face to face with her daughter. Eve possessed an earnest look upon her face.

"Please mother." She asked calmly.

Xena let out a huge sigh. Who could resist that? Not me. The warrior turned to the crowd. She wrung her hands as a way to release her nervous energy.

What do I say? I'm not a bard÷÷that's Gabrielle. Xena thought sadly. Another tear fell slowly down her cheek.

The warrior in took a deep breath. Ahh, well here goes nothing.

"It all began in India."

*****

Gabrielle inhaled deeply.

"Alright, give your best shot." The little queen said, Sais poised. Gone were the ways of the bard, replaced with the determination of a Warrior.

"Now, come at me." She commanded to the other Amazon. The woman began to charge, but stop as soon as she heard a voice from high.

"STOP!!" Varia yelled from upon the hilltop. She began to race down to the training field. Luckily, the hunting party had returned earlier then normal. Just soon enough to see Gabrielle try to undo over a month's worth of healing.

She reached the sparring circle in record time. Instead of berating to Gabrielle, she turned to the other Amazon.

"Chanla, just what in the name of Artemis do you think your doing? Attacking the queen?" Varia accused, although she knew it to be untrue. It was more a way to flush out Gabrielle. She knew the bard wouldn't let Chanla be blamed. Hopefully, I won't have to say I told you so.

"Queen Varia, I would never attack the queen. She brought me here, she said wanted to spar. I'm sorry." The Amazon bowed her head in submission.

"And you listened to her?" Varia exclaimed with adequate anger. " The queen has been through a horrible ordeal and is not of sane mind to make those kind of requests."

Excuse me, did she just say not of sane mind? Why that little÷

"Hello, I'm still here." Gabrielle said, waving her hands before the two. " How dare you say that to me."

They both continued on, adequately ignoring the aggravated blond.

"I'm deeply apologize my queen. "

"Oh no you don't, don't you dare apologize to her." Gabrielle fumed.

"You're apology is duly noted, but you still must be punished."

"Don't you dare. This whole thing, it was my idea. It's my fault÷."

"Exactly!" Varia interrupted.

"Look Varia, youŪre not my mother. I feel well enough to spar. Besides, Lethara said after a month."

"First, you're right. I'm not your mother. But, I am your queen. And, as your queen, my duty is to protect all my subjects, even if it means from themselves. Secondly, you don't look even close to sparring form."

Gabrielle squinted her eyes in silent protest to Varia after the last remark.

"And, lastly, Lethara did not say you could spare after a month. She said you could begin practicing after a COUPLE of monthssss." Varia emphasized the ending sound of the last word to further her point.

"Hmph," Gabrielle pouted. Geez, she's almost as bad as÷.Xena. Gabrielle forced herself not to think of the tall warrior÷.it hurt too much. Well, this isn't working. I believe a new approach is in order.

"Varia pleeeeaaaseee. It'll only be a short match. I promise we'll go easy on each other."

"NO." Varia answered sternly, but her resolve was weakening.

"PPPllleeeaassseee!" The bard said, ending with her best puppy dog impression.

Varia let out a long breath.

"Ohhh, fine."

"Yes!" Gabrielle exclaimed, wrapping her arms around Varia in a quick show of gratitude. "Thank you!" the bard enthusiastically whispered into her ear.

The gesture innerved Varia in ways she wasn't ready for. What is it about her? Varia silently asked herself. But, as she saw Gabrielle pick up her Sais in preparation for the attack, her mind was diverted elsewhere. She quickly jumped in between the two.

"Nope, na uh. I don't think so." She said shaking her head.

"What?" Gabrielle asked exasperated.

"No Sais."

"Huh?" The bard again asked, this time confused.

"I said no fighting with Sais. Gabrielle, you're lethal with them, but you're also not in top form. If you to battle it out, no matter at what pace, one of you is libel to be killed." Varia explained.

"So what do you suggest, Oh mighty queen?"

"Well÷" Varia said as she strolled over to the weapons rack. There were many different types of weapons. A mace, sword, chobos, bows, etc. Hmmm, what to choose, what to choose.

"How bout÷" Varia voiced as she circled the rack again, looking for the perfect ones. "Let's use÷."

"Staves." Gabrielle finished for her.

"Staves?" Chanla asked with a smirk, they were her best weapon after all.

"Oh, I don't think you want to do that Gabrielle. Chanla's weapon of choice is the staff. There is almost no one better. You'll only end up hurting yourself." Varia warned.

"I believe I earned the right. And if I do hurt myself, so be it." If÷.

Varia wanted to order them off the practice field right away so that this stupid fight would be null and void. But, Gabrielle words were true, she had earned the right. And if that included embarrassing herself in front of the entire village, so be it.

"Fine, Gabrielle. Fight. But, I don't wanna have to say I told you so."

"Don't worry." Gabrielle said smugly. " You won't."

Varia threw a staff to each woman.

Gabrielle caught the stick with little effort. It had been a while since she'd handled a real staff. She caressed the wood. Feeling the weight of it in her hands. It felt familiar; it felt good. She quickly did a few practice swings motion, just remind herself. It's still there.

They began to circle around each other. Each woman waiting for the other to move. Gabrielle loved the defensive, and was inclined to wait for Chanla. Luckily, she didn't have to wait very long.

The big Amazon lunged at her, striking her staff in a move Gabrielle easily blocked. They began a sort of dance. Fighting together in an intricate pattern of body movement. Lead changed hands several times.

But, one fact was plain to see: Gabrielle possessed the superior skill. Chanla was a very formidable opponent. But, Gabrielle's staffmanship was immaculate. She anticipated every move Chanla made before she made it.

As the dance continued, many of the villagers flocked to the training field to watch the match ensue. Many were amazed. Almost all had admired Gabrielle for her courage, but most had no conception of her astounding fighting skills. They watched in awe.

The sparring had turned into an all out battle. The lazy pace has strengthened to a fevered momentum. Each blow contained more power. Each block appeared faster. But, it was obvious Chanla was no match for the queen. While the Amazon looked thoroughly out of breath, Gabrielle looked barely phased.

They continued on until a crucial moment. Gabrielle spotted her opening. Chanla had charged her, swinging her staff in a full arch. But, she had missed Gabrielle, so she was knelt with her back to Gabrielle.

I could give her a hard whack across the back and she'd have to surrender. But, Gabrielle was weary. Since her beginning use of the Sais, Gabrielle had developed more arm strength to accompany its intricate moves. Before, she had known how much strength she had behind and blow and the relative damage it would cause. Now, she was unaware. The bard hesitated.

Chanla, with her warrior's instincts, sensed Gabrielle's hesitancy and capitalized. With out thinking, she brought her staff around and gave the small queen a hard hit to the knees, removing Gabrielle's legs from with under her. The bard fell squarely on her back.

The moment the bard made contact with the ground, she yelped in pain.

"Ahhh!" She called out. Although the skin on her back had healed immensely well, it was still quite tender. The fall had pained her more then she wanted to admit.

Several amazons rushed quickly to her side.

"Queen Gabrielle, are you alright?" They all asked in concerned unison. Varia dispersed the crowd and helped Gabrielle up.

"I'm fine, I'm fine." Gabrielle reassured them. She quickly turned to Varia. "Don't say it."

"I'm so sorry, Queen Gabrielle." Chanla said, in tears.

"I hesitated, it was my fault Chanla."

"No my queen. I knew you hesitated, I took advantage of your weakened state. I made an attack on the queen." She sobbed.

"Chanla, you know the punishment for that is death." Varia spoke up.

"Yes Queen Varia, I know, and I accept that fate." She said dutifully.

"Well I don't." Gabrielle interceded. "Isn't an alternate form of punishment allowed if suggested by the victim."

"Yes." Varia said.

"Well÷.." Gabrielle began. "Chanla, as punishment for making an attempt on the queen's life÷." She spoke authoritatively.

"I hear by sentence you÷."

Chanla bowed her head.

"Tooooo÷..come eat dinner with me and the others in the dinning hall. You've simply have to tell me where you learned that last move." Gabrielle said warmly.

"Oh thank you my queen, thank you." Chanla cried tears of relief.

"Wait a minute." The Amazon halted in her tracks. "There are some stipulations to this agreement. "

Of course, Chanla thought. I should have known I wouldn't get away that easy.

"You will have to keep up a conversation with me. And I do mean more then the usual 'yeps' and head nods. Got it."

"Absolutely my queen."

"Good." Gabrielle smiled. "Now, let's go eat."

Varia came up behind the relieved Amazon.

"Just between you and me" She said loud enough so Gabrielle could hear. "With the way this one talks, I would have chosen death."

*****

Her brow cringed in silent determination. Her eyes lightly closed. Her body in a sitting position, but her spine was completely straight. Sweat lightly dripped down her face.

Every pore of Eve's body was entrenched in her meditation. She sat in the middle of a human circle. The other followers surrounded her, so as to make a circle of peace. Eve being the centerpiece.

Today's focus was to find the stillness within one's self. This feat, for Eve, was simple because she had done so many times. But for most Eligians, was near impossible.

Like a yoga master, Eve was an expert at her craft. Reaching a state of complete love was, for her, easily obtainable, but highly out of reach for many of her followers. That was part of Eve's mission.

She had to teach them how to obtain a complete state of love. Earlier she had spoke to them, preaching of the stillness. Advising them on how to reach that place within themselves, a place she knew existed in all of us.

Listen, that was the key. In order to reach that place, you must listen to your body. You must listen to your mind. You must listen to your heart. Eve began each meditation with open ears, detecting every iota. Sometimes, she heard Eli. Sometimes, she heard the voices of her past. And sometimes, she heard nothing.

Today, a new voice was introduced to her. She faintly recognized it. It was not a cement recognition; it was not a physical recognition. It was more of spiritual connection. A voice she didn't know, but somehow knew she should.

It rang serenely in her ears, in her mind, in her heart. Eve's eyes flutter open. She knew what she must do.

*****

Xena, for her part, had made a stealthy exit.

Eve's prayer and meditation made the warrior very uncomfortable.

It was not that she was against Eve's path. No, no Xena supported her fully. She was very proud of Eve's new journey of peace and love. It was as it should be. It was not EveŪs constant need for prayer and mediation over her action, Xena envied her deep insight.

What made Xena so uncomfortable was the fact that here she was, in a location dedicated solely for the purpose of love, and she had swords in her hand. It felt wrong.

Xena would never understand the fates. Eve, she was XenaŪs gift. The warrior loved her daughter deeply. But, sometimes, she doubted if she was worthy of her.

Eve was a messenger of peace. Xena was the embodiment of violence. Ironic, yes. But is it right?

There were so many other's who would have been a better mother to her Evie. In a different environment, Eve would never have had to be Livia. She could have began her pathway to peace so much sooner. It seems everyone is better off without me, Xena thought as she stood alone in the grass.

She had retreated to the area outside the Realm to practice sword drills. It was a blasphemous contradiction to what was occurring inside the gates, but it was Xena's meditation. When she did her drills, she reached into a place within herself where there was no confusion, there was no room for it. She was in a sort of Zen trance where everything faded away.

But, when she ended the drills from sheer exhaustion, the world quickly flooded back.

All the pain and chaos quickly returned. Xena was scarcely able to deal with it all. Gabrielle. She tried as hard as possible not to think of the bard, it was her way to prevent pain. But, of course, she thought of Gabrielle more then anything else.

A month÷.its been over a month since I saw her last. A tear fell down Xena's cheek. A month, and it still felt as if it were yesterday.

Every night, Xena dreamed of Gabrielle's broken body as she cowardly said goodbye. Everyday, she would turn around expecting to see the bard there.

Although, Xena had enjoyed her time with Eve immensely. They were now truly mother and daughter, that still was no replacement for what she had lost. Xena was without a soul.

Her life was a pathetic existence right now, and forever. Without Gabrielle, there was nothing. No love, no beauty, no sites, no sounds, just existence.

Sometimes it hurt so badly, Xena nearly doubled over in pain for the loss. She didn't want be strong, she didn't want to continue the way things were, she just wanted her bard back. But, Xena knew that would never be.

Rather then continue into her self-pity, Xena decided to return to her sword drills. Although, she had barely the strength to do so. The warrior continued on pure will alone.

Just as she was about to jump into a series of complicated flips, Xena heard footsteps. She readied her sword for attack and put her senses on full alert. The sight of Eve running towards her, however, but Xena's defenses back down. But, her worry shot up when she saw the urgency on Eve's face.

*****

"You guys go ahead. I'll catch up with you later." Gabrielle yelled to the group of retreating Amazons. She had business to attend to.

Gabrielle walked calmly through the village. With all the violence and chaos that had occurred in the past few months, the bard was amazed at the serenity that it retained. She felt truly at peace here.

She was happy.

Well, as happy as she could be÷÷.without Xena. Gabrielle missed the warrior terribly. Everyday she would turn around only to be met with nothingness, swearing she had heard Xena's voice. Every night, she'd dream of Xena kissing her and professing love to her.

Sometimes, it seemed so real that Gabrielle had deemed herself at least half-crazy. But, amongst all, she had survived. The silent question she had always harbored in her heart had been answered: Could she live without Xena?

Yes, she could. Not only was she living, Gabrielle was thriving. She was a successful queen, and she had become Varia most trusted advisor. She held the respect of nearly all the amazons. And, on a personal note, she was okay.

That didn't mean that she preferred her life. Every night, Gabrielle prayed that Xena would come back to her. But, even a bard, could define fantasy from reality. She knew she had probably seen the last of Xena.

Even if she did meet up with the warrior again, things would never be the same. A level of trust and love that had been a foundation in their relationship, was severely cracked. Gabrielle wasn't even sure what she'd say to the Warrior Princess.

One side wanted to just go up there a kiss her squarely on the lips, but the other was still very angry and hurt at Xena's abandonment. But, with no Xena, it was a dead issue.

Gabrielle finally reached her destination. She entered the hut and found Calia hard at work on a set of Amazon leathers. She was so enthralled in her task, she didn't not hear the queen come in.

The bard walked forward and tapped Calia on her shoulder, trying to break her trance. The woman jumped up, startled and turned to wide eyed Gabrielle, but not before she had a chance to knick the bard on the cheek with her sewing needle.

"My÷.my que÷ee..en÷." Calia stuttered out.

Normally, Calia was a very gentle hearted older Amazon. Gabrielle had met her over dinner earlier in the week and found the woman to be supremely pleasant. But, she didn't remind the bard of the type of person who becomes an Amazon.

Calia was not a warrior, she was the town's seamstress. She made and repaired leathers for the villagers. She didn't wear the type of Amazon "bikini" as Aphrodite so quaintly put it. She wore a modest, well modest for an Amazon, tunic and medium length skirt. Her built was not the muscular, hard, type that was very typical for an Amazon. No, she maintained a more fleshy, somewhat doughy, exterior that reminded Gabrielle of her sweet Aunt Helia whom she used to visit in the summer.

No, Calia was more suited to be a housewife than an Amazon, Gabrielle thought as she felt the blood running down her cheek. She lifted a hand to wipe it off when she heard a gasp from the older woman.

"Oh÷Queen Gabrielle÷.I'm so so sorry. I didn't mean to÷" She rambled off an apology.

"You should choose your weapons more wisely Calia. A needle would be no use against any other form of attack." Gabrielle said trying to lighten the situation. But, by the sight of the woman sobbing at her knees, she realized it hadn't worked. Amazons!

"Calia" She tried to get her attentions, but the woman's sobs were covering her voice. "Calia! Calia stand up." Gabrielle commanded.

This time, the woman heard and shot up.

"Now, listen. I understand what happened was an accident. It's ok Calia. I'm not going to die, there's not a problem."

"YOU mean I'm spared?!" She asked hopefully.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

"Yes, you're spared." Geez, Amazons!

"Oh thank you my queen." The woman said with innate cheer as she threw her arms around Gabrielle, hugging her tightly.

"Calia÷..Calia÷.CALIA! I ÷can't ÷breathe." Gabrielle choked out.

Calia dropped her arms as if she had been burned and stepped back.

"I'm sorry Queen Gabrielle. I forgot myself." She looked at the ground.

"It's quite alright. All's forgotten." The bard remarked warmly. Calia lifted her head up and looked, smiling, at the queen.

"Now, I am here for a reason."

"What can I do to be of service Queen Gabrielle."

"Well, I wanted to commission a pair of leathers for a friend." Gabrielle remarked coyly. "How long would that take?"

"What size is your friend, your majesty?"

"She's about my size. SheŪs a bit taller and less muscular."

"About your size÷." Calia repeated absently. She was already busy calculating figures in her head. " Hmm÷.if I hurried I could have it done by midday tomorrow."

"Then it's settled." Gabrielle said smiling.

"I will begin immediately my queen. I assume you want them in a traditional Amazon style."

"Yes, yes of course." Gabrielle answered. " Oh, and one more thing÷is there anyway they could be pink?"

*****

"Mother." Eve called out loudly to Xena.

Xena closed the distance quickly between her and her daughter running up to Eve.

"What wrong Evie?" Xena asked concerned.

"I know. I know what I have to do. It's so clear now." Eve rambled.

"What Eve, what's clear?"

But, Xena intervention made no break in Eve's confused state.

"The voice, it told me. I know where I have to go. I must spread the message of Eli to them. I know where I must go."

"Where Evie, where must you go?"

Eve's trance broke and she turned to Xena solemn faced.

"Chin."

*****

Gabrielle and Varia exited the Queen's hut.

They had spent the day on negotiations of trade routes with the nearby village and both were mentally tired.

Gabrielle and Varia had developed a deep bond of friendship. Of course, it was nothing near her and Xena's, but Gabrielle was very grateful for the camaraderie that it provided. Varia, on the other hand, had never felt to close to someone in her life. She knew she was falling in love with the bard. She knew, and she fought it.

"So Gabrielle, will you be joining us this evening?" Varia asked with a raised eyebrow.

Tonight was the festival of the full moon. Artemis, along with being the goddess of the hunt, was also the goddess of the moon. Therefore, every month, one night, the full moon was celebrated. There was singing, dancing, drinking÷..LOTS of drinking. And, of course, the one thing that was never absent at an Amazon bash: Sex.

Actually, Varia was hoping to entice the other queen to the party in hopes of obtaining the last goal. She believed that possibly her feeling for Gabrielle were of a sexual infatuation. The bard was, after all, a stunningly gorgeous individual. She hoped that if she slept with Gabrielle, these growing feelings would cease.

The bard had not answered her question, so Varia pressed again.

"Gabrielle, will you be joining the festival of the moon?"

"The what?" Gabrielle asked innocently.

"The festival of the full moon." Varia repeated.

"Oh÷" Gabrielle voiced in recognition. "You mean the drunken Amazon orgy."

Varia cringed her face, and I thought her innocent?!

"It's celebration of worship to the Goddess Artemis."

"It's an excuse for the horniest Amazons in the village finding÷..release." Gabrielle remarked matter-of-factly.

"It's sacred." Varia said in a mocking tone, as if she'd been wounded.

"It's sacrilegious." Gabrielle remarked.

"Minotaur, Mynotaur. Besides, you are one of our queens. How would it look if you were not at one of our formal worship celebration." Varia said in a thoughtful tone.

"Oh÷alright." Gabrielle said, defeated.

Secretly, she had already determined she was going to attend the ceremony. She was actually excited÷and very curious. Her exposure to Amazon decadence was surprisingly limited.

When she was crowned princess, Melosa deemed her too young to attend the "after" party. When she was crowned queen, Veleska had interrupted the ceremony. Her stint of howling at the moon had been just that. And Varia coronation and been broken up barely after it began.

Varia smiled widely. She was very pleased at Gabrielle's choice to attend.

"Gabrielle, could I ask one more thing of you?" She asked quietly.

"Sure."

"You are a world-renowned bard. Tonight could you share your gift with the tribe."

"I÷don÷I'm not sure if I could."

"Please." She begged. " Honor Artemis with your gift."

Gabrielle sighed deeply. She took a second to contemplate her answer.

"OK, sure. I'd love to."

"Great!" Varia exclaimed enthused.

"Well, I do have some arrons to run before tonight. I will see you at the ceremony." Gabrielle said as she walked off.

She, at first, was a little surprised at her own answer. She really didn't think she could say yes to Varia's bardly request. But, the more she thought about it, the more she knew was ready. The bard smiled to herself as she made her way to Calia's hut. This time she entered loudly.

"Hello Calia."

The woman looked dup and smiled, stopping her work.

"Hey, don't point that thing at me." Gabrielle remarked, gesturing to the needle. " It's dangerous."

Calia laughed and moved over to a chest and removed and white package.

"Here you go, one set of pink Amazon leathers." Calia said as she handed her.

"Thank you very much, Calia." She said and began to walk out the door.

When she left, Calia released a deep breath.

"Wonder who those are for?" Calia thought out loud.

"What kind of Amazon wears pink?!"

*****

Aphrodite appeared with a flash.

"You called little one?" She said with a smile. Any time spent in the bard's presence made her heart glow.

"Yeh, you said all I had to do was ask, right."

"That I did. Now what can I do for you."

"Actually its more what can I do for you." The bard said cryptically. Aphrodite looked at her, confused.

"I just wanted to tell you how incredibly thankful I am for you Aphrodite, and what you've done for me." Gabrielle began her heartfelt confession, Aphrodite was already fighting tears.

"I mean you stayed with me, you healed me. Not just my body, but my soul. You gave me my muse again. YOU gave me back my identity. I owe you so deeply." She said seriously.

"Ahh, it was no big deal." Aphrodite said trying to lighten the mood.

"Yes it was. For me, it was. Tonight there's an Amazon celebration. They asked me to perform and I actually said yes. I wouldn't have been able to have done that without you Aphrodite. I'm forever in your debt."

Aphrodite simply smiled at the bard because she didn't know what to say.

The bard reached behind her back and produced a white package with a pink bow.

"Here. I know it's simple and probably unworthy of a goddess, but it was the only thing I could think to give you."

Aphrodite was shocked at the gift. She slowly unwrapped it to find a gorgeous set of light maroon leathers. IN most cases, pink leather would be tacky. But the leather on the outfit was smoothed and decorated with deep red beaded hearts in honor of her. They were truly beautiful. And, Aphrodite was beyond words.

"Do you like them? Are they ok?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly. She was unsure what type of reception her present would receive.

Aphrodite nodded as an answer because she could not find her voice.

"Another thing. I wanted to ask you if you would join me at the Festival of the Full Moon?"

Aphrodite's voice returned for a snide comment.

"You mean the drunken Amazon orgy?"

"Yep that's the one. I need someone to protect me from all those horny Amazon advances."

Gabrielle said humorously. But, Aphrodite realized the true practicality of her words.

" I would love to go Gab." There was no way any of them were laying a hand on her bard.

"Great!" She said excited. " Well, I guess I'll leave you to change then." The bard said as she exited.

When Aphrodite was alone, she looked again at her present.

She was moved to tears.

This was the first time anyone had actually gave her a present. Sure, she had received many things in the form of offerings. But never, had she been given something without the expect of a return. She smiled through her tears.

It was Aphrodite's first gift.

*****

It was their first night on the ship.

Xena had wanted to wait until they had reached Athens to board a ship, but Eve was nearly as stubborn as she. She demanded they catch the first, nearest ship leaving for Chin. This way, Xena had no time to scout out a decent crew and get a feel for the voyage. She simply had to deal.

Altogether, the boat they had chose wasn't terribly bad. It was a nice size with modest accommodation. The crew was respectable and the Captain even likable. It was probably a better choice then anything they would have found in Athens.

Still, Xena could fight the uneasiness with in her stomach. Something just didn't feel right. But, with such innate emotions, Xena had a hard time distinguishing between instinct and sentiment. The warrior was not sure if her feelings were a result of the ship, or the fact that they were traveling to Chin.

Chin held far more bad then good memories and just the thought of returning always made Xena's skin crawl. She had been tempted to let Eve go alone, but her motherly instincts had won out. She could not leave her daughter on a several month voyage alone, unprotected. She had to come alone to ensure Eve's safety.

Xena sat on the corner of the deck , eating her rations. She was keeping a close eye on Eve who was across the deck, talking to some women about the ways of Eli. Well, she gets started right away doesn't she.

However, Xena's vigil was only half hearted. Her consciousness was being plagued with images from the night before.

Last night, Morpheus had cooked up a very erotic menu for the Warrior. Xena had several dreams of Gabrielle. Taking her in several different ways.

The Warrior Princess had woken up severely aggravated, a tad grumpy, and very sexually frustrated.

The continual images of Gabrielle, naked, beneath her, weren't helping the situation any.

Xena's eyes scanned the boat when she caught a pair of eyes starring deeply at her. As soon as her voyeur saw he was caught, he quickly turned his eyes away. But, not before Xena caught a glimpse of the unbridled desire he held.

Well, he's not to bad looking. Nice, sailor's body÷..I am in need.

Xena walked over to Eve.

"I'm think I'm going to head in for tonight. Will you be alright here?" Xena asked.

Eve lifted her head from her conversation and smiled.

"Yes mother, goodnight." She said as she gave Xena a light hug and returned to her conversation.

Xena turned and sauntered over to the sailor sitting on the steps, eyeing him voluptuously. He was of muscular build. He had sandy blond hair, and deep green eyes. He reminded her of÷÷Gabrielle.

When she reached him, she bent down to his ear and seductively whispered in it.

"Follow me."

He shot up, wide eyed and stood behind the Warrior Princess and she led him by his necklace below deck.

Thankfully, Xena and Eve had gotten separate rooms. Actually, the Captain had offered the two and extra room for no extra price because he knew "how young ladies needed their space." Xena would have declined, but this way Eve was allowed to meditate without her interruptions or intrusions. Also, Xena would be spared the uncomfortably.

She slammed the door shut and pushed the sailor onto the bed. He mouth began to move, but Xena quickly shushed him by placing a finger over his lips.

"Ah ah ah. I don't want you to speak. I don't want to know your name÷." Xena said moving over to the nightstand and quickly blowing out the candle leaving the room completely dark.

"Just your body." She finished.

*****

Gabrielle gave her final bow as she tried to exit off the stage. Emphasis on tried! Every exit she went to, she was mobbed by Amazons.

The bard had already received a five-minute long standing ovation for her oratory skills. She had intended not to tell any Xena stories, but that was her fiber as a bard. Because every one of those adventures had her in them, she had experienced them.

Gabrielle began with the story, in honor of Aphrodite, of her first true bonding with the Goddess, when she had enchanted Gabrielle's scrolls. Reluctantly, she even left in the part about the three naked Gabrielle's which had earned quite a few catcalls and hollers.

She then proceeded to tell a more touching story of when Xena had died and Gabrielle had become queen of the Amazons. She told of courage, persistence, and above all, love. She told the story of Ephiny, the Amazon legend. Gabrielle, like most of the audience, had been reduced to tears several times.

She decided to finish on a happy note. Gabrielle told the story of her and her friends' incident with baby bliss. Except, she changed the fashion of the story to reflect a more Amazon audience. That had earned her several more hollers and even a couple leather tops thrown on stage. One, landing squarely on Gabrielle face.

Finally, two guards helped the bard off the stage and back up to the platform on the other side of the room where royalty and their guests resided. Gabrielle took her seat between Aphrodite and Varia.

"Great stories Gabrielle. Your reputation is well deserved." Varia complemented her.

"Thanks." Gabrielle said, uncomfortable with the amount of praise at some level. But, she was also glowing. She had performed and the audience now adored her. It felt sooo good!!

I've still got it! She realized smiling.

Aphrodite turned to her.

"Gabby, sorry bout the way I treated you." The Goddess said sheepishly.

"What are you talking about?"

"You know, when I enchanted your scroll. I was kinda a bitch to ya. I'm sorry."

"Aphrodite, forget about it. Besides, I probably deserved it. I was an annoying kid back then." Gabrielle smirked.

"Gabrielle," Varia interceded. " You are still an annoying kid."

"Look who's talking, I'm probably older then you."

"Bet not!" Varia said, rising to what she believed was a challenge.

"Fine how old are you?"

"24." Varia answered smiling.

"Hah, I win then!" Gabrielle said in victory.

"Oh really, how old are you?"

"50." Gabrielle said smugly, watching Varia spit out the wine she just drank.

"50, how is that possible?"

"Well, actually that's being technical. If you subtract the 25 years Xena and me were frozen and the year I was asleep in Brunhilda's fire, I'm twenty-four."

"That sounds better." Varia said, relieved.

"We're still the same age."

"Ah, well, I still think you're an annoying kid."

As a show of maturity, Gabrielle opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue at the remark.

Dinner was served. The food truly was a feast fit for a queen÷.or queens. Gabrielle made no pretense about her appetite, which in itself was legendary. She ate three full plates before she claimed she'd had enough÷..for now.

Aphrodite had simply giggled through her wine and Varia watched in amazement. Where did she put it all? But between bites, they both exchanged quiet glances of competition unseen by Gabrielle. They both knew they were competing for the same woman.

Gabrielle, however, was quite oblivious to any of those on goings and focused completely on her food. Since the only thing to drink was wine, Gabrielle had already downed a few cups and was starting to feel the effects. The bard had never been much of a drinker . She much preferred cider to port. She could count her experiences being drunk on one hand÷.and none had been pleasant.

But tonight, tonight was a party and the bard decided to embrace the spirit of it all. Secretly, she wanted to prove to herself that not only could she be happy, but she could have fun without Xena as well.

The table was quickly cleared away as the music began. It was a seductive beat with a sultry melody.

Dancers began to cloud the floor, moving to a very sexual rhythm.

So I guess this is when the orgy begins! Gabrielle sighed with raised eyebrows.

Varia was lead out onto the floor by a very beautiful blond Amazon. She put up some meager resistance at the gesture, but eventually graced the floor. Her opposition had been genuine though.

Varia had not wanted to leave Gabrielle alone with Aphrodite. She feared she would miss her chance with the bard. But, the calling of the beat was too much to fight, and she willingly accepted defeat.

Gabrielle, for her part, was fascinated just by watching the dance ÷÷and more then a bit aroused. She had been enthralled by the seductive and openly sexual displays before her. Her face was covered in a blush and she felt a bit like a child stealing candy.

She would love to go out and dance. But, dancing was not one of HER many skills. Well..atleast not that kind of dancing. Gabrielle, in truth, loved to dance. No one could stop her from embracing a fast beat.

But, at this point, she was mildly inebriated. She also doubted her ability to dance like THAT. To be that openly sexual, that just wasn't her.

Aphrodite noticed the bard's lost look and furrowed brow.

"Gabrielle?" She whispered into her ear.

The little queen snapped back to attention.

"Huh?"

"Aren't you gonna go out and dance?"

"Me?" The bard asked shocked. " I can't dance like that."

"Sure you could." Aphrodite assured her.

"No I couldn't. I'd go out there by myself and just end up looking stupid. I don't know how to dance seductively like that." She said, hanging her head.

"Ah, sweet pea. Its easy."

"For you, you're the Goddess of Love."

"Here," Aphrodite said taking Gabrielle's hand. "Let me show you."

The goddess of love led an unwilling bard out onto the heavily populated dance floor.

"Now," Aphrodite instructed. "Look deep into my eyes."

Gabrielle's two green emeralds bore deeply into Aphrodite's with a matched intensity.

"Okay, now just let it flow." Aphrodite said swinging her body seductively back and forth.

"Just feel the beat, let it take you. Its much like fighting, but with the melody. Match every note it gives you."

Gabrielle began to mimic the goddess's actions and let the music overtake her. She looked again into Aphrodite's eyes and let the rest of the world fade away. It was just them.

They began a seductive step. Their bodies meshing into each other without touching. Every move one made, the other counter acted with an even more provocative sway.

Gabrielle's mind lost control of her body and the bard's hands flew to the Goddess. Slinking up her sides. Aphrodite's soon followed suit.

Their fingers were all over each other. Discovering one another in musical foreplay. They were both fully encompassed by dance.

Neither noticed when the music had stopped, but everyone else in the room did.

All other dancing had ceased so as they could retain a better view of the queen and her companion. Varia had even stopped her sultry sway with the blonde Amazon to watch Gabrielle.

What she saw at first aroused her, but when she realized what she was actually watching, she was enraged. The Goddess was taking away her chance! That was supposed to be me.

She had to stop them.

"Gabrielle!" She called, but the bard swayed on.

"Gabrielle!" Varia again called with added fury.

"GABRIELLE!!" She yelled this time, successfully waking the bard.

Gabrielle stepped back, as if she had awoken to a dream. She then became very aware of the loads of Amazon stares at her. A bright crimson coated her cheeks.

"Gabrielle," Varia said more calmly. " The music stopped."

"Oh." The bard said embarrassed. She looked up to the goddess, expecting to find a matching level of embarrassment. But, Aphrodite held none. Instead she beamed with a glowing smile.

"Well," Gabrielle began, very much flushed. " I think I've had enough fun for one night. Goodnight everyone÷..don't have TOO much fun." She said raising her eyebrows.

The bard headed towards her tent with Aphrodite quickly following her.

Damn! Varia's mind cursed. There went my shot to be with her. That stupid blond excuse for a goddess took advantage of Gabrielle÷..it should have been me.

Varia, again, was furious. She turned to her dancing partner.

Well, she's blonde. She's kinda short. She's about the same height as her. I forgot her name anyway, so tonight, it'll be Gabrielle.

*****

Trippingly, Gabrielle entered the hut. She was now starting to fell the full effects of the wine she had had earlier.

"That was fun 'dite" Gabrielle said, giggling.

"What did you call me?"

" 'Dite? I thought is was a cute nickname . Isshat okay?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yeh," Aphrodite said smiling. "Yeh, I think it is. I've never had a nickname before, but I think I like it."

"Well, now you do!"

"I guess I do. Now, what did you say was fun?" She asked.

"Dancing. I had such a fun time dancing with you." The bard said honestly. " I wish I could do it som' ore."

"You can."

"But, there's no music. How we gonna dance?" The bard asked a little hazy.

"Close your eyes." Aphrodite commanded and the bard obliged.

Aphrodite lifted her hands to the side of Gabrielle's ears. Instantly, she heard the same seductive beat.

"Now, we can dance."

And they did. The goddess and the bard began where they had left off. Their hands roamed each other's bodies freely. In her slightly intoxicated state, Gabrielle was free of her inhibitions. She moved even closer to Aphrodite and upped the intensity.

Aphrodite was a mass of feelings. She was ecstatic at the road this was going. But, she felt guilty because the bard, clearly, was not completely in control. She was anxious to where this might lead, but nervous of its implications.

But, when their eyes met, there was no question. Aphrodite bent down her head to Gabrielle's and allowed her mouth to descend upon the bard's. The moment of contact was electric.

A shiver raced down the goddess's spine as she lightly kissed the bard on the lips. She began to pull away, but the bard moaned at the loss of contact.

To prevent it, Gabrielle reached her hands up around Aphrodite's neck and deepened the kiss. She brought her tongue to the goddess's lips and demanded access. Aphrodite, for the most part, simply enjoyed the sensation. This was the fulfillment of every one of her fantasies. It was pure heaven.

Gabrielle's hands moved from the goddess's neck to her body. Feeling, touching, caressing, demanding contact. Aphrodite, out of instinct, returned the actions. When her mind caught up with her body, she quickly pulled away.

Gabrielle, again, moaned at the loss.

"Gabrielle wait." The goddess pleaded as she dodged the bard's demanding lips.

"Gabrielle please."

The bard stopped and looked hazily at Aphrodite.

"Are you sure you want to this?" The goddess questioned hesitantly.

"Of course I do. I want you so bad." She said, her hands animating along Aphrodite's body.

"No wait÷.wait! Gabrielle, if we, you know, do this. You might regret it later." She said worried.

"I don't care about later. All I care about is now, and what I'm feelin'. 'Dite, I wanna feel good. You're making me feel good."

As much as she wanted to resist, Aphrodite simply couldn't. She bent down and again tasted the sweet flesh of the bard's lips. And later, much else.

During that night, Gabrielle was brought to the height of pleasure several times. And, when the moment of pure ecstasy was upon her, she lost all tangible control over anything. In her thoughts, it was not Aphrodite who brought her to the level of release. It was another. It was another's name she screamed as she reached the pinnacle of ecstasy.

"OH XENA!"

*****

"OH GABRIELLE!" Xena screamed as she reached her coveted release one last time.

Tonight, the nameless sailor had been Gabrielle. It had been Gabrielle who had made love to her. Gabrielle who she made love to.

She rolled over off the blonde soldier, who was thoroughly exhausted.

He had expected a quick roll in the sheets, not some all night marathon. But, it had been very good.

He rolled over to kiss Xena deeply.

Xena barely responded, too enwrapped in her fantasy. Her eyes where closed imagining Gabrielle's lips upon her.

The soldier bent to whisper in Xena's ear.

"See ya again tomorrow night?" He said in an arrogant tone.

With that, her spell had been broken. She was brought back to the present and reminded of her actions. Another night of cheap, meaningless fucking. Xena: Warrior Princess, no. Xena: Warrior Whore.

She patted him on the back.

"I don't think so. This was a one-time deal."

"Damn. Well, it was great. Goodnight ma'am." He said as he gathered his clothes and walked out the door.

Xena felt dirty. She had done it again. Allowed her frustrations to get in the way of her common sense, never again. If I have to spend all my nights lonely, still never again.

The anonymous encounter only made her yearn for her bard all the more.

Oh Gabrielle.

Continued in Part 3.


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