Disclaimers: Not my characters...(well, most of them are not) and I only use them for the fun of writing this story. I put them back where they belong. One of these days....I will....really.... J

Violence: Yes. Might get a little graphic, too. But nothing too gory.

Subtext: Yup! Rather subtle at the beginning but I'm getting there...<smile>

A Final Note: Okay....again, this isn't what one might consider a 'typical' alternative X/G story. Seems I have a lot of fun coming up with alternative universes (Or xenaverses <smile>) So, don't go looking for similarities with events in the show. They might be here but I gave them quite a twist so please consider yourself warned! And this isnít a light piece, either Ė please, be aware of that, too.

Summary: A young Amazon Queen who canít remember her past. A former warlord trying desperately to leave her past behind. And a secret that can destroy them Ė or save them.
 
 

If you like to comment on the story, you are welcome to do so: gritjahning@hotmail.com
 
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Distances Ė part 1

by Grit Jahning

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Donít try to call
There are some bridges that burn
Beyond recognition, beyond repair
Donít say youíve changed
There are some forces that turn
Beyond recollection beyond my stare
When I feel the cold in the dark
I know youíre there

Long ago I was a woman in pain
A woman in need
I ran to you
Long ago I did not understand
You were making me bleed
I ran to you
When I feel the cold in the dark
I know what you do

<chorus>
I will crawl through my past
Over stones, blood and glass
In the ruins
Reaching under the fence
As I try to make sense
In the ruins

I know your heart has held its own fear
Itís perfectly clear
What they did to you
In my heart itís the screaming I hear
I wonít let them come near
Since my love knew you
When I feel the cold in the dark
I remember you

<chorus>

Night after night
I am carving it out

I will carry it down to the waterside
Night after night
I am hearing the sound
Of wings that come beating
I will not hide
When I feel the cold in the dark
I will know why

<chorus>

But if I am to heal
I must learn to feel
In the ruins
I will crawl

"Ruins" written by Melissa Etheridge

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 


Prologue

The dark of the night slowly surrendered to the first hesitant rays of sunlight. Caressing the sleeping village nestled within a valley. Sheltered by woods and a river. Wrapped in an air of innocence in the soft pink glow of a new morning.

Trees swayed to the silent music of the wind brushing through their leaves. Stirring them for the briefest of moments. To get caught in the wavy manes of horses.

Lots of horses.

Waves of dust obscured the sight of the village as the army came to a halt on top of a hill overlooking the valley.

Muffled neighs of the horses mixed with the subtle noise of armour and weapons. Husky voices. The air filled with the heavy scent of warm bodies, leather and the smoke of torches.

"I still think we should wait."

A tall man turned and dark eyes narrowed at the young man next to him. "And why do you think that?"

"She said to wait with the attack until she gets here, Draco. This would be a direct violation of her orders."

The dark-skinned man pursed his lips in a thoughtful gesture. He actually turned back to take a long look at the outlines of the village laying before them.

Thin lines of smoke fading into the retreating grey of the sky. Faintly he could hear the sound of sheep and dogs. The soft murmurs from the river.

"You're right." Draco looked at the young man and smiled. Urging his horse a little closer. Close enough to touch. "She would be angry, wouldn't she?"

Light-brown locks moved as the young man nodded in relief.

"Mmh." Draco released a slow breath. With one quick move he pulled a small dagger from his boot and plunged it right into the young man's chest.

A soft, wet sound as its blade pierced warm flesh. The air immediately filled with the scent of warm blood.

The boy uttered a groan. Green eyes blinking in shock as Draco slowly, ever so slowly twisted the dagger. "Only one problem....I don't follow orders very well." The taller man leaned closer. Watching with a small smile as the gaze in the boy's eyes broke. "And I love when she gets angry."

The slim body dropped from the back of the horse. Hitting the dusty road as a lifeless mass of bloodied flesh. The dry earth hungrily absorbing the warm liquid. Steaming ever so lightly in the early morning cold.

Turning to his men that had watched the interaction without any real emotion, he shrugged and smirked. "Let's go....we have a village to raid."

A wave of leather-clad bodies slowly moved forward. Rolling into the valley.

Draco turned to one of his lieutenants. "What's the name of this village anyway?"

The bearded man thought about that for a moment. "I don't know. Something about potatoes."

Draco laughed. "Whatever...."

They had reached the first huts of the village and were greeted by panicked screams and alarmed yells. Men armed with pitchforks and makeshift clubs stepped into their way.

Drawing his sword, Draco smirked at the sight of a young woman trying to free herself from the grip of one of his men. He licked his lips as dark eyes took in smooth, cream-coloured skin.

"Let's have some fun."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

She hurt.

Moving hurt but she knew that she couldn't stop.

She had to get away.

From them. The touches. The voices.

The pain.

A branch hit her side and she uttered a hoarse cry. Her belly the source of waves of hot pain that branded through her entire body.

Another breath. Her throat dry and sore. Had she been screaming?

Her skirt caught in undergrowth and she froze for a long moment. Scared that they had caught her after all. It took a moment for the panic to subside and then she tugged the hem of the skirt free and rushed forward again.

Not caring where she was going.

Just away.

Away....

From the scent of burning skin....desperate screams.....the heat of the fire and...

And...

Twigs and branches were reaching for her. The cold of leaves caressing her overheated skin. Whispered voices. Laughter.

She stumbled again and fell.

For a long time she didnít move. Couldnít move. She just lay there. Her eyes tracing the sky above. Peeking through the roof woven by leaves.

The pale blue of the sky.

Pale blue...

The heat of her body settled somewhere in her mind. Blinding in its darkness. Whispering. Reaching. Was she screaming again?

"...please..." A hoarse whisper. Dying on a gust of wind before it even left trembling pale lips.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
 


- 1 -

 


The view of the sky was obscured by thick tree tops. Deep green leaves weaving a carpet of whispering life. Hesitant rays of the sun were an ocean of green-tinted light as they tickled a dusty road and softly swaying blades of grass. Somewhere the rustle of small creatures carried through the chilly air. Echoing faintly through the otherwise quiet forest.

"I don't like that, Terreis."

The low voice was all but a whisper but the young woman crouching next to a very alert form caught it nevertheless. Brushing red locks from her eyes, she released a slow breath.

"I know. Something's not right." Pale eyes looked around trying to make out anything in the thick foliage surrounding them. "Anything from Solari?"

Ephiny next to her shifted a little and shook her head in a silent gesture. Her eyes never leaving the dusty path ahead of them.

"I'm sure they are here. The sentries we found last night were killed not far from here. They couldn't have got far. At least one of them is wounded."

Before Terreis could respond a sound alerted them. A twig bursting eerily loud in the quiet. Then a muffled voice. More rustle and then a form stumbled onto the path. The two Amazons hidden in the undergrowth frowned.

"A girl?" An incredulous whisper from Ephiny. She scowled at the small form standing in the middle of the narrow path. Looking around in obvious confusion. She wore a long rust-coloured skirt and a pale blue shirt. Both ripped and torn. Her long, blonde hair flowing in long waves down her back. Leaves and twigs tangled in the long tresses.

The two women watched as she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her stomach. Looking around, pink lips muttering something too soft for them to catch.

"What are we going to do?" Ephiny turned to her friend. Red brows wrinkled in thought as Terreis studied the young woman. Frowning as she noticed a few dark bruises and fresh scratches on her face. Then she looked at the silent blonde next to her. And smiled.

"Oh no! Come on Terreis we don't have time to help some peasant girl find its way home! Her family's probably already looking for her so no need for us to get involved."

The red head in front of her tilted ever so slightly.

Ephiny scowled and looked at the girl again. By Artemis this sucked! "Okay. Fine!"

Terreis chuckled softly and straightened. Walking towards the small blonde but keeping alert to her surroundings.

"Hey."

A high-pitched cry and the girl jumped around. Big green eyes looking at her in shock and undisguised fear. She stumbled a few steps back. Stepping on the hem her skirt, she lost her balance and fell. Nevertheless trying to get away from the...green eyes widened still....half naked woman carrying a sword heading towards her.

"I...I...my husband is just....he'll be here any minute now, really and...he is very good with his...sword...and so you better....I mean...." The soft voice was trembling and strangely hoarse. Almost too weak for them to catch the words.

Terreis couldn't suppress the smile and she came to halt. More to put the frightened girl at ease than anything else. Not fooled by the story of the 'husband'.

"Easy. I won't hurt you."

The girl fell silent and looked at her. Those frightened green eyes never leaving her face. Terreis smiled again. Holding out a hand to help her up.

Just then Ephiny stepped up behind her and the girl swallowed audible. The redhead could only imagine what look her friend had on her face. Shaking her head a little, she crouched in front of the young woman. Still offering her hand.

"We won't hurt you."

Green eyes shifted to Ephiny.

"Really....maybe we can help you. Did you get lost?"

She watched the girl swallow again and then the blonde head shook. Mmh. Raising her brows in a questioning gesture, she looked at her hand and then back into green eyes. Her answer a shy smile as a small, trembling hand took it.

Pulling the girl to her feet, she chuckled a little. "My name is Terreis...and this is my friend Ephiny. We are Amazons."

How can a face be so expressive? Without even saying a word the girl managed to express shock, surprise and awe just with the shift of emotions on her face.

"...Amazons?..." A breathless whisper.

"Yes." The somewhat gruff answer came from Ephiny and the girl took a step back. Dropping her head.

Terreis turned and scowled at her friend. "Ephiny!" Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the small blonde in front of her. "What's your name?"

Shy green eyes blinked at her. "...Gabrielle..."

A smile. "Well Gabrielle....where are you from? Maybe we can help you find your way home."

Gabrielle was about to answer when suddenly voices broke through the forest and a group of seven women dressed in leathers and carrying swords and crossbows broke through the undergrowth and came to a halt in front of them.

Their leader, a tall dark head woman took a few deep breaths. "They attacked us and are headed this way!"

"Great." Ephiny draw her sword and already scanned the forest. "We need to find cover and quick!" Her eyes shifted to the girl. "Looks like you'll be staying with us for the moment."

"What? No, wait..." But before Gabrielle could protest Terreis grabbed her hand and pulled her along. Missing the lock of pain on the her face but just in time to avoid an arrow whirling past them. Hitting a tree with a loud thud.

She was pushed behind a fallen tree. Another wave of pain branding through her already hurting body and she bit her lip to suppress a cry.

"Stay there!"

And then green eyes looked on in shock as the air was suddenly filled with arrows. Closely followed by a group of men attacking the Amazons. She watched in horror as one of the women was practically sliced open by a short sword. Thick, red blood pooling around her fallen body.

"...oh gods...not again...."

She watched as three men attacked Terreis and without even thinking about it she jumped from behind her hiding place and rushed towards the redhead. She had no idea what she would do when she got there---only driven by the need to help the other woman.

She crashed into Terreis just as one of the men hit her with the hilt of his sword. Knocking her down. Throwing her small frame on top of the Amazon, she blacked out as something heavy and painful connected with her head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It was dark.

That was the first thing she became aware of.

The darkness.

And the painful throbbing inside her head.

She felt like floating. In an ocean of muffled sounds and prickling pain. Her body felt numb and even thinking hurt as she tried to remember what had happened.

Then voices infiltrated the heavy mist of numbness.

"She saved your life?"

"Yes!...One minute this bastard was knocking me down and the next thing I knew she threw herself over me. His blade hit her instead of me..." A pause. A slow breath. "He could have killed her. With all the blood I was sure he did..." A soft whisper.

"Who is she?"

"I don't know. She just stumbled into our way."

Silence. Breathing. The shuffling of feet. The scent of leather.

Leather... The throbbing pain intensified.

"Okay. She can stay...at least until she is fully healed. Then we decide what we'll do next. Tell the sentries to keep their ears open if someone is looking for her. Maybe she is from one of the small villages to the north. There have been some attacks by Draco lately...maybe she got away."

"Draco?"

The name sparked another lance of pain in her mind and she tried to move. Tried to hide from the memories and images the name carried.

"Yeah..." Footsteps. "He joined Xena's troops and they've been raiding quite a few villages and small towns on their way to Corinth."

She screamed. At least in her mind she did. All she heard was a hoarse croak. Hurting her dry throat. Her mind alive with glittering steel...pale eyes and a smiling face as the scent of warm blood seemed to drown her.

And then that was gone, too as the darkness mercifully wrapped its comforting arms around her again.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Terreis moved as she heard a soft moan. Crouching next to the cot the blonde girl was resting on. Pale brows wrinkling in obvious distress as the small frame stirred.

"Ssh, Gabrielle. You're safe." She brushed blonde bangs to one side. The soft skin damp with sweat and hot from a fever that had its hold on the young woman for almost four days now.

Behind her stood her sister Melosa and their healer Ira.

"How bad is it?" Melosa turned a little to look at the older woman next to her.

A slow breath as Ira ran her hand through long, greying hair. "The head wound is pretty deep but luckily healing nicely.....As for the infection...its almost completely gone and I hope the fever will, too in another day or two. I have no idea how long she's been in that condition but it was close. Very close."

Dark eyes turned to the small frame. "Will she remember what happened to her?"

Ira shrugged. "Hard too say. For her sake I hope she won't.....she is so young."

Terreis, who had been listening in silence, dropped her head a little. Her eyes studying the youthful features of Gabrielle. Tracing her fingers ever so lightly across her cheek. Soft, downy skin.

"What if she is pregnant?" Her voice was barely above a whisper but the other two women caught it nevertheless.

Ira took a deep breath. "We have to wait. Won't know for another two or three moons."

Melosa nodded. Crossing her arms, she took a few steps forward and put her hand on her sister's shoulder. "She'll be okay, Terreis....you need to get some sleep yourself."

"I know." The younger woman got up. Her back aching a little from staying in one position for too long. "You let me know when she wakes up?"

Ira nodded. "Of course."

With one last look at Gabrielle who had calmed down again, she left the hut with her sister. Ira sighed and sat down on a chair. Her eyes never leaving youthful features that even in sleep carried the last traces of fear.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The water was warm enough to be comfortable as it brushed along soft skin. Blurring the sight of pale scars. Long blonde hair fanned out around youthful features. A small smile playing on pink lips.

The rustle of wings. Birdsí voices a soft music in strange harmony with the husky murmur of the lake. The rhythmic movement of waves.

The sun a bright spot of light in a deep blue sky. Thin layers of clouds chased across the smooth surface by playful breezes of the wind.

Footsteps. Rustle of leather.

"Youíre pruning."

For the briefest of moments the small form froze but almost immediately relaxed. Green eyes blinked open and she turned on her stomach. Swimming towards the shore until her feet touched sandy ground.

"Am not."

Affectionate chuckles. "Oh yes, you are. Solari said youíve been here for hours. So, Iíll bet youíre skin is all wrinkled. Gonna look funny."

Gentle laughter. Followed by the splashing of water as the small form made its way to a bundle of folded up clothes. Wrapping a towel around herself, Gabrielle turned to Terreis and smiled as she noticed how her friend kept her eyes on the ground. An ever so light blush barely visible on her face.

Holding out her arm from within the warmth of the towel, she said: "No wrinkles. See?"

Terreis cleared her throat and her eyes flickered to the soft skin so close by. "Um....yeah...I see. Um...Melosa would like to talk with you."

The pale head tilted ever so slightly as Gabrielle finished getting dressing. "Why?"

This time Terreis face her friend squarely. Able to make out dark lines underneath those amazing green eyes. And although Gabrielle was smiling, her eyes didnít. They looked tired.

Lost, somehow.

"The nightmares are back, arenít they?"

The smaller woman got very still. Holding the questioning gaze of her friend until she dropped her head. Wrapping her arms around herself in an unconscious gesture, she shrugged. "Iím fine."

A warm, gentle hand on her face and she barely kept herself from flinching. But Terreis noticed it and was about to pull her hand away as a smaller one reached for it. She could feel the trembling and without a word she wrapped her arms around Gabrielle.

"Hey....ssh....why didnít you tell me?"

Gabrielle swallowed against tears burning her eyes. "I....I thought....I didnít want to bother you with...."

And was face to face with worried hazel eyes. "Bother me?! By Artemis, Gabrielle!! If something bothers you I want you to tell me! Donít ever think you....gods....how long?"

Green eyes dropped. "A week...maybe a little longer. Since Ephiny returned from the trip to the villages. "

Terreis released a slow breath. She was about to say something but Gabrielle took a step away. Brushing damp strands behind an ear, she sighed.

"Itís driving me insane, Terreis! I....there are all those images in my head and I donít know what they mean! I try to remember but....every time Iím close to touching one of those memories itís like...itís like Iím running into a wall. And I donít know why!" The soft voice was trembling with silent tears.

"Sometimes itís better not to remember."

Gabrielle turned to her. "Do you think? Terreis, I donít even remember my family...my parents."

"Do you want to leave us?" The taller woman swallowed against the dryness in her throat at the very thought but she knew that it was Gabrielleís choice. And yet...

"Are you happy here?"

Those green eyes looked at her for a long, silent moment. And then the small form took a few steps closer. One small hand touching her cheek in a light, gentle caress. "I am happy...here....with you." The last words were all but a whisper.

"Then you have a family."

Silence.

Two sets of breathing.

And then a soft, almost shy smile. "Yes. Yes...I do."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
 


- 2 -

 


5 years later
 
 

At heart you're an Amazon, Xena... whether you believe it or not.

Right.

A soft snort.

Crackling of a bonfire nearby. The hushed voices of the night guards. Rustle of leaves stirred by a chilly breeze. From somewhere the eerie cry of an owl. And faintly, almost blending into the soft carpet of sounds the rush of a river.

Then a slow breath stirred the quiet.

The shift of leather as a tall form moved against a tree. Pale eyes starring up at a sky covered with countless spots of light. The full moon a bright circle bathing everything in a silvery shine.

And yet, here she was.

But what was really surprising Ė she was content.

Not that the darkness inside had retreated. Nor had the tickle of excitement every new battle brought but...

But this inexplicable need to conquer and possess had faded. Now when she fought she did it to protect the tribe and to make sure the new generations would have a world to live in. And as strange as this may sounded Ė fighting for a good cause wasn't as ridiculous as she had always thought.

Look at yourself...Conqueror of Greece and here you are....trying to do what? Redeem yourself?

Was she? Maybe.

When she came here it had been because she'd been tired. So tired. Of death. Of war. And Borias' death....

A slow breath.

It had made her think. What was it that she wanted? To conquer the world, she once thought. And then? Cyane's offer had given her a second chance. And if she learned anything in all this time it was that you don't always get a second chance.

So she had agreed.

Not that she had any other place to go.

Borias was dead. Her army scattered to the winds. And she couldn't return to Greece. It was a compromise. Stay with the amazons for a while...give her body a chance to finally heal....to just be alive without having to worry about assassins or the next battle.

Rustle of wings as a bird brushed past her. Large, yellow eyes meeting hers for a brief moment just to dissolve into the darkness again.

By the Gods....she was happy. For almost five years she had made herself a home with the tribe. And it felt good to see respect and friendship in the eyes of her fellow amazons.

Not fear or panic.

Or hate.

Redeem myself? Maybe there was a chance to do that, too. As impossible as it may have seemed years ago.

"Can't sleep?"

The sudden sound of a soft voice didn't seem to startle the tall form. Only causing a slight smile on red lips.

"Something like that, yeah."

Footsteps and then a woman stepped into the silvery light thrown across a patch of grass. Highlighting long, blonde hair and a slim body covered in dark brown leathers.

"You're worried." This time is wasn't a question.

Xena chuckled a little and then turned to Cyane. "Worried? I don't know...." A shrug of broad shoulders. Then she turned away again. "But I don't think it's a good idea for me to be part of the escort."

"Mmh." Cyane crossed her arms and tilted her head a little at the now silent form next to her.

Who would have thought that the untamed and violent creature she had met five years ago would one day be one of the most respected warriors in her tribe? That is not to say that Xena was tamed now Ė or any less violent. But she had found a way to deal with this dark side inside her. Had found a new way to channel all that energy that seemed to make the air around her crackle.

"Five years is a long time, Xena."

No response. Just a slight shift of the tall frame.

"Long enough to forget....and forgive."

Pale blue eyes, almost grey in the moonlight, turned her way. Dark brows furrowed. "Forgive?....Cyane, it takes more than time for anyone to forgive me for what I have done to Greece."

The Queen of the Amazons was about to answer but decided against it. She did understand the amount of guilt Xena carried. Having met her at the darkest time of her life and yet she never doubted that within all the darkness there was light. A light so bright and strong....

And for some time she had thought, hoped if she was honest enough, that she could be the one to bring that light into the open but she had never got inside.

Xena and she were friends, yes and she knew that the taller woman respected her and yet....

Even in the tribe Xena really had no one she was close to. Although she had more opportunities than one to get 'close' to half of the women. She always kept an aloof air around her. She had friends of course....and the others respected her. But no one ever got to the place inside her that caused this lost, hurting look in those amazing blue eyes. Maybe it was part of the guilt inside her that kept her from opening up to anyone.

Her brows wrinkled in thought.

"Maybe....", she finally responded to Xenaís remark. "...but as head of the Royal Guard it is your duty to protect your Queen...." The expression on those chiselled features didn't change. "...and as a friend I ask you to accompany me."

Unreadable pale eyes looked back at her. Then the dark head dropped and Xena released a deep breath.

"Xena....this meeting is really important for our tribes. If we can settle on a joined border patrol our chances against the Roman Army will be a lot better. We can't do this alone, you know that."

"I know." The low voice was soft.

"You told me that you never attacked Amazon country. So you don't have to worry about them carrying a grudge against you, right?"

Pale blue eyes peeked at her through dark bangs. "No." Xena draw out the word. A slight smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Cyane straightened a little. Her eyes sparkling with teasing triumph. "So it's settled then, right?"

Xena brushed her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath. Releasing it slowly, she nodded. "Guess, it is."

The blonde Amazon chuckled. "You'll see, it'll be fun. The western tribes are known for their festivals. You could enjoy yourself once in a while."

A dark brow rose.

"Or not."

Cyane laughed and poked Xena's side. "I'm kidding....you just keep up that 'ice won't melt in my mouth' attitude and finalising this treaty will be the easiest thing to do."

The dark head shook and Xena straightened. Turning her steps back towards the village.

Dry leaves and small twigs crunching underneath her feet as the two women walked down a narrow path. The huge fir trees lining the path were all but pale grey shadows next to them as the mist from the river slowly, lazily moved into the valley.

"What do you know about their Queen?"

"Melosa?...Um...I heard she is a very fair Queen. Had her share of battles especially with the Centaurs in that region. Actually, I am really looking forward to meeting her."

"Mmh."

Xena listened as Cyane kept on talking about the Greek tribe they were going to meet but the strange tingling sensation in the pit of her stomach wouldn't let her relax. It was an eerie feeling of trepidation that she just couldn't shake.

And all her instincts told her to be careful.

And they hadn't failed her before.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rain was pelting down in thick, heavy drops. Exploding with noisy thuds against leaves and rough barks of trees. Drowning a dusty road in pools of water. Washing away the remains of footsteps.

The sky was a solid wall of grey even as the light gained in strength. The only hint that a new day was dawning.

The village lay quiet.

Wooden huts darkened by the rain. The worn wood groaning as it strained against its restraints. Then a soft creak as feet stepped onto a porch.

Small hands coming to rest on the railing. Tracing a few drops of rain. Leaving thin lines of dampness.

A chilly breeze tugged playfully at long pale locks. Caressing them along gentle features. A small hand reached up and brushed a few stray locks behind an ear. Then the pale head tilted a little as green eyes disappeared behind closing lids.

A deep breath.

A heavy scent of wet wood and earth was lingering in the air and a small smile played around pink lips. Then a shiver shook the small form and green eyes blinked open. Wrapping her arms around herself, the small blonde sighed.

Very aware of the two silent forms standing only a few steps away from her.

"...morning..."

"Good Morning."

She heard one of them clear their throat and then the sound of footsteps getting closer.

"You shouldn't be out here."

Smiling, she turned and tilted her head at Ephiny. Long blonde curls framing a face that at the moment held a very stern expression.

"Why not?"

Ephiny rolled her eyes but couldn't quite suppress the small smile on her lips. "Because the healer said you need your rest. And because it is still early...why are you up anyway?" Affectionate amusement dissolved into worry. "Are you okay?"

A small, warm hand came to rest on her arm.

"I'm fine, Ephiny. Just...." Green eyes turned away. Tracing a small bird struggling through the heavy downpour. Its small body soaked and pitiful dark eyes met hers for a brief moment before it disappeared underneath the porch.

"Go back inside. Please?" Ephiny took a step closer. Resting one arm on a small shoulder. Trying to make eye contact. "I'll get something to eat for you. How's that?"

Those green eyes studied her for a long, silent moment. A soft sigh. "Fine." The small form turned but stopped short before entering the hut again. "Oh Ephiny...any word from the border, yet?"

Blonde curls moved as the Amazon shook her head. "No. But Solari said they expect the party any time now."

A nod and another smile and then the small frame disappeared inside. Ephiny released a slow breath and shook her head again.

"She still looks tired." The low voice came from Eponin who had been silent until now.

"I know. And I don't like that one bit." Pale brows wrinkled in an unconscious frown. "And the next days are going to be busy. The treaty. The Festival...."

"She'll be okay."

Ephiny met the gaze of her friend and a weak smile appeared. "I hope." Then she turned and headed towards the food hut to get some breakfast.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"I hate this." A gruff statement.

"So? Tell the rain to stop, then." A snappy comment.

"You talking to me?"

Pale eyes watched in amusement the group of Amazons huddled together under the wide arms of a tree. Already drenched and therefore in a really bad mood. They were all scowling at each other and two of them actually started pushing the other.

A dark head shook. Drops of rain caressing along high cheekbones. Slowly, quietly Xena moved and turned back to the small outcrop Cyane and the rest of their party were waiting for her.

"They are obviously waiting for us. A group of five. All armed...." A low chuckle. "...and really pissed off."

One member of her Royal Guards snorted. "Surprise there. This weather sucks and I can only hope they have dry huts ready for us."

The others nodded eagerly.

Cyane smiled and lifted her backpack. "Well let's get going then."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It had stopped raining, Ephiny noted in relief as she stepped out of the food hut and carried a tray across the courtyard. Greeting other Amazons that had just got up.

The sky slowly dissolved into a pale blue. Only thin layers of clouds lingering. Well, maybe it was going to be a nice day after all. She hoped it would. Then they could sit outside and not have to be cramped together in a stuffy hut.

Mounting the steps that led to the large hut, she balanced the tray on one hand as she knocked.

Frowning as she got no response. She bit her lower lip and contemplated knocking again or just entering. Mmh. Coming to a decision, she put down the breakfast tray and opened the door while knocking again.

The hut was bathed in a soft twilight. The corners hidden in shadows and only a candle spent some light. The flame flickering as a gust of wind coming through the open door hit it.

Its yellow glow caressing along gentle features relaxed in sleep.

Ephiny closed the door softly and took the few steps towards the bed the small form lay on. An affectionate smile playing on her lips. She dropped to one knee next to the bed and released a slow breath.

Just looking at her sleep one wouldn't be able to tell all the changes she had gone through since they first met five years ago.

"Terreis would be so proud of you." A soft whisper.

Who would have thought that the small slip of a girl stumbling into their way all those years ago would turn out to be....

Ephiny shook her head a little. A small, wistful smile played on her lips. She reached out with one hand and brushed a few stray, blonde locks to one side. Lingering a moment on warm, soft skin.

"Bet you never saw yourself ending up here with a bunch of half-naked, cranky Amazons, huh?"

This time the small blonde stirred but still didnít awake. Ephiny chuckled softly and got up. Frowning as she heard strange sounds outside. Walking to the window, she opened the shutters and looked outside. Releasing a slow breath at the sight that met her gaze.

There was a group of women clearly not part of their tribe surrounded by Solari and her sentries. Ahead walked a tall blonde dressed in dark-brown leathers. A short sword strapped to her back and narrow strips of leathers braided into her light-blonde hair.

Her entire attitude....the look on her face....the way she held her body clearly indicated that she was used to giving orders and being obeyed. Leaving no question as to who she was.

Ephiny narrowed her eyes. Cyane. Mmh.

Behind her was a group of women she figured to be her Royal Guards and....

Strong hands curled around the window sill. The old wood groaning in surprise at the pressure.

What the Hades...

Just walking out of the shadows thrown by the tall trees surrounding the village square a tall, dark form stepped into the first hints of the sun. The soft glow caressing along long, midnight dark hair...clearly shaped features. Highlighting a broad, muscular figure and although she couldnít make out her eyes Ė she knew exactly what colour their would have.

"What are you looking at?"

A small, warm hand on her back and the soft voice so close to her ear made her jump and she barely suppressed a surprised squeak. Turning, she looked into amused green eyes. That slowly lost their amusement as Gabrielle noticed her expression.

"Ephiny?"

Before she could say something the small blonde took a step closer and looked outside. Ephiny studied her face very closely...looking for any signs of....what? recognition? Fear? Panic?....but seeing nothing but surprise and then the slightest trace of confusion.

"Thatís Cyane, isnít it?"

Gabrielle turned to her. Questioning green eyes swallowing her for a brief moment. Making it difficult to compose herself again.

"Um....yeah....do you want me to lead them to their quarters first?"

"No...no, let me fresh up a little and then we greet them together. Gods...." Gabrielle looked down at herself. "I look like a mess, donít I?" Chuckling, she headed to the back of the hut where a small bath chamber had been set up.

Ephiny watched her and then released a slow, almost painful breath. Not sure if she should be glad that Gabrielle still, very obviously didnít remember anything that had happened five years ago.

There were only very few people who knew the real circumstances that led to Gabrielle living with them. She, Eponin, Solari and Ira.

Melosa and Terreis of course but....

Ephiny swallowed against the wave of grief.

And they all had agreed that as long as Gabrielle wouldn't remember what had happened to her they wouldn't tell her. Not that they knew that much to begin with.

They still had no idea where she had come from but had narrowed it down to the small villages surrounding the Amazon country. The villages that had been raided and destroyed by Draco and his army.

They only knew for sure that Gabrielle had been raped and somehow got away. Stumbling through the forest to end up saving the life of their Queen's sister.

Almost getting killed for her effort.

And she never remembered a thing. When she woke up finally after what seemed forever....she had remembered nothing. Not how she had got here nor where she had come from.

Back then they had agreed that it was the best for her.

A slow breath stirred the quiet air.

Ephiny turned to the window. Her eyes tracking the dark frame standing in the middle of the square. But now...now she wasn't so sure anymore.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Xena walked a few steps behind Cyane and her pale eyes took in their surroundings with casual intensity.

After they had met up with the party waiting for them....it had been....her jaw moved a little....awkward to say the least. But, surprisingly, not hostile. Some of the Greek Amazons seemed to recognise her but other than curious stares she hadn't received any negative reactions. That had been, she was honest enough to admit at least to herself, a nice surprise. Only their leader Ė Solari, was it? seemed a little more distanced towards her than the rest of the women. She wasn't sure yet if it was hostility or just natural caution.

Thankfully the rain had stopped halfway to the village and the mood of her group and the Greek Amazons had lightened considerably. There actually had started a low conversation between two members of her Royal Guards and two of the sentries and cheerful laughter drifted towards her now and then.

She watched Cyane turn to her and a small, teasingly smug smile played on her lips. The taller woman simply wrestled a scowl on her face and lifted a dark brow.

The smile only broadened and then Cyane turned back as Solari said something.

"Not long now. The village is just behind the next hill....east to the mountains." Her dark eyes flickered for a brief moment to meet pale blue and then turned away just as quickly.

Dark brows wrinkled for an entirely different reason and Xena made a mental note to keep a closer look on the dark-haired Amazon.

"It seems rather quite around here. Have you had any trouble lately? We heard that you have some quarrels with the Centaurs around here."

The Greek Amazons exchanges long looks and then Solari shrugged. Her voice carefully even. "Yeah...we had some run ins with them but other than that...." Another casual shrug. "It's been quiet."

Cyane only nodded and looked at the head of her Royal guard. Clearly reading on those chiselled features that Xena didn't buy that story either. Mmh. Okay...so something was up they very obviously had no desire to share. Well....they would have to see what would happen.

"Mmh...." Trying to keep the conversation going, Cyane took a few steps closer to their lead and asked in a conversational tone: "I really am looking forward to meet your Queen. Melosa is a well-known name among the Eastern Amazons."

A brief shadow of grief danced through Solari's dark eyes. "Queen Melosa is dead."

The blonde Amazon wasn't quite able to hide her surprise. "Oh?" So, news certainly travelled slow after all. "Um....who's your Queen then?" Hopefully this change in circumstances didn't change their plans for the treaty.

They entered the village and Cyane noticed Xena move a little closer. Those pale eyes looking around in serious intent.

It wasn't big. A dozen huts. A large village square with a place for a bonfire just slightly off centre. The huts placed in a circle around the square. Sheltered to all sides by tall, massive trees....providing a nice shade from the sun that had by now risen fully. Cutting the square into dark and light.

Solari motioned them to stop. She hadn't answered Cyane's question yet and the tall blonde wondered for a moment if she hadn't heard it or chose to ignore it.

Then a motion caught her attention and she turned to a large hut set apart a little. Three steps led up to a wrap-around porch and just as she turned the door to the hut opened and a small form exited. Followed by another taller figure.

"Huh..." Cyane watched in honest surprise a small blonde not older than perhaps twenty summers walk down the steps to be joined by a second Amazon. Making it quite obvious who she was. Unlike the other Amazons, she didnít wore a short top but a short-sleeved shirt that allowed a brief glance of her belly every time she moved.

There was a certain grace to her small frame and Cyane wasn't quite able to suppress a small, astonished smile as she turned a little to Xena. Blinking at the strange expression on those handsome features.

"Xena?"

The dark-haired woman visibly shook herself from where ever she had drifted off to and turned to her Queen....raising a brow and shrugging.

Cyane made a mental note to question her friend later and turned her attention back to the surprising puzzle just coming to a halt in front of her.

The Greek Amazons dropped to their knees in greeting and Cyane watched in growing astonishment as the small blonde rolled her eyes at the official gesture. A broad, warm smile literally lit up those gentle, youthful features and offering her hand, Cyane was amazed to hear a warm, steady voice.

"I am Queen Gabrielle. It's my honour to finally meet you Queen Cyane."

It took her a moment to tear herself away from an amazing pair of green eyes and she shook the offered hand. She actually had to clear her throat a little before she was able to respond.

"Queen Gabrielle....the honour is all mine. And I'd like to say that I heard so much about you but I am afraid I can't."

Gabrielle laughed at that. A warm, gentle sound and Cyane couldn't help but join it. Although she notice that one of the woman standing behind Gabrielle's small frame kept scowling at her and....her blonde head tilted....the dark, towering form to her left. Mmh...interesting.

She felt Gabrielle release her hand and take a step to the side to join her. In the process backhanding the woman with the long, curly hair casually on the stomach. Getting an outraged look she studiously ignored.

Cyane bit her lower lip to keep from smiling and followed the smaller woman.

"I know this is probably not what you expected and I promise to tell you what happened but I am sure you're tired and hungry. There are huts prepared for you....I will send someone to show you the bathing as well as the food hut." Smiling green eyes. "And than we can catch up. How does that sound?"

"Great. I admit that some rest and food will be the best for now. Thank you."

Gabrielle smiled. "You're welcome. Let me know when you are settled in and I'd be happy to join you for a little small talk."

Cyane nodded and watched in amazement as the young woman greeted every one of her party with a warm smile. Which only faltered for a brief moment as she shook Xena's hand.

Then she motioned to two Amazons that had been standing near them and they were led towards two huts only a few yards away from the Queen's hut.

Ephiny waited until their were out of hearing range. "Why did you hit me?!" Her voice was obviously angry and Gabrielle sighed.

"I'm sorry Eph but you were scowling so badly I was afraid you're skin would get creases. Besides, I don't want to start off on the wrong foot with them.....why were you hostile anyway? They seem nice enough."

They started walking back to the Queen's hut. Eponin following with a small amused smile on her lips.

Ephiny sighed silently. Avoiding questioning green eyes. "Just....we need to be careful. I didn't want to take any chances."

Gabrielle stopped and turned to look at her. Her eyes serious. "You don't think that...."

"No, no not really but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be careful."

"Mmh....you're right. Okay...let me eat something real quick and then we check on how our guests are settling in."

She mounted the stairs to the porch and disappeared inside the hut. Leaving behind Ephiny and Eponin. Both standing next to each other for a long silent moment.

"She really doesn't remember, does she?"

Blonde curls shook in a silent nod.

"What if...."

"Don't!" Ephiny released a slow breath. "We better pray to Artemis that she won't because it is bad enough to have that bitch here in our village without being able to do anything! I don't even want to imagine what it'll do to Gabrielle if she suddenly starts to remember."

The heavy silence settle again. Only broken by the soft sighs of branches overhead.

And hurried footsteps heading their way.

They turned in time to watch Solari come to a halt in front of them. Taking a moment to catch her breath. "Tell me you recognised who just walked into our village."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"A girl?!"

The somewhat incredulous whisper came from the eldest member of her party. Rian, one of her advisers and well past her forty summers sat down on one of the cots provided for them and shook her head.

"Their queen is a girl, I don't believe it."

"Now, Rian...we all know that looks can be deceiving. Let's not judge her before getting to know her."

Cyane released a deep breath and turned to the silent form standing at a window. "Xena?"

It took a moment for the tall frame to show any movement but then she slowly turned. Her face holding the same strange expression Cyane had notice before. A strange mixture of surprise and pensive remembrance.

"She may be young but her eyes tell a different story."

Cyane nodded. So her friend had notice it too.

"Let's get settled, cleaned up and fed.....and then we talk to Queen Gabrielle. After all, this is about the survival of both our tribes. That's what we should be concerned about."

A low murmur of agreement and after a long moment even Rian nodded.

"Okay then.....everyone pick a cot."

Xena watched as her friends got themselves situated in the hut that was big enough to provide comfortable space for four people. The rest of their party stayed next door.

Then she turned back toward the window. Pale eyes fastened on the hut nearby. The strange feeling of foreboding that had bothered her ever since they left getting more intense.

Overwhelmingly so as Gabrielle had shook her hand.

She didn't know what to make of it but it kept her off balance in a very unnerving way. Straightening, she motioned to Cyane. "I check on the others."

Dark eyes studied her for a silent moment and she knew this look too well. There was to be one of those talks sooner or later.

"Okay." Cyane smirked. "Behave."

A low chuckle as Xena closed the door behind her. For a moment just enjoying the still chilly air. She took a deep breath, tasting the last traces of rain on the back of her throat.

A few steps and she mounted the stairs that led her to the hut that housed the rest of their party. Two more members of the Royal Guards and two young Amazons Cyane had chosen to accompany them on the trip.

She heard their excited voices and paused a moment. Listening with a small smile playing on red lips.

"She's cute."

"Yeah...but so young, isn't she? I didn't know there were so young queens."

A low snort that was Arames, one of her Royal Guards. "Queen Cyane is young."

A brief silence.

"Well, yes....but Gabrielle is our age."

This time Arames chuckled. "Goes to show you where you could be if you work really hard."

At the comment Xena bit her lower lip to keep a chuckle from escaping. Arames was the appointed 'caretaker' for the two young women and although she tended to be pretty strict she was a fair and very good teacher.

She heard the annoyed groans of the young women and some good-natured laughter from the older women.

Another silence and then, hesitantly a soft voice. Dark brows wrinkled a little. From the sound it was Klarissa. Rather shy but with a lot of potential.

"I heard them...talk about Xena. Is it true what they said?"

There was the shuffle of boots. Then Arames again. "What do you mean?"

"They said Xena used to be a .... a warlord. That she did some pretty awful things."

The dark form seemed to lose in height for a moment. Pale eyes clouding over with deep sadness. Funny, how her past seemed to have a way of always sneaking up on her. No matter what.

Then she stiffened as she noticed the soft sound of footsteps.

"Spying on your own people?" The cold voice came from somewhere at her back and she slowly turned around.

Ah, Curly, should have expected that.

Leaning against one support of the porch roof, she studied the other Amazon. She was smaller than she herself with a mane of thick, blonde and wavy curls. Her short leather provided a nice view of a fit and toned body.

Lifting her eyes, she met pale ones that looked at her with open hostility.

"And you would be?" Her voice was just as cool and she lifted a teasing almost mocking brow for good measure. She hadn't spent half of her life as a feared warlord to be brow-beaten by some Amazon with an attitude.

The woman took a few steps closer. "Ephiny. I am the head of the Royal Guards of her Majesty."

Xena chuckled and stepped from the porch. Towering over the other woman. "Well....one thing we have in common then. Can only get better now, don't you think so? Oh by the way....my name is..."

"Xena. I know you."

Pale blue eyes narrowed. Okay, so than this seemed to be personal. "Surprise there."

Ephiny fumed and stepped closer still. "I don't care who you are now or what they think of you...but you better cause no trouble here or I swear..."

"You'd do what?"

"Five years is a long time, Xena...but not everybody has forgotten your name or what you have done. Better be careful."

The taller woman actually smiled at that. Cold and without any humour. "You threatening me?"

And then a strange thing happened. Ephiny's anger seemed to vanish to be replaced by....Pale eyes blinked. She wasn't sure what it was replaced with but it wasn't hate. She watched in surprise as Ephiny stepped back. Taking a deep breath.

"Just an advise, Xena."

And with that she turned and walked away. Not even looking back.

Xena shook her head in confusion. What the Hades was this all about? She turned and froze as her eyes strayed to the Queen's hut for a brief moment. There on the porch stood Gabrielle....and for a moment it seemed as if she was looking at her.

The unnerving feeling of losing control was back.

Xena swallowed and then walked back towards the hut she stayed in. Trying to suppress the strange feeling in her belly.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Gabrielle closed the door behind her and leaned against the cool wood. Green eyes disappearing as she closed her eyes. Her knees close to shaking.

She was confused.

Of the feelings inside her and her reaction to one of the woman that had been with Cyane.

It was a weird sense of knowing her. It had almost...

Green eyes opened.

Almost felt like one of her dreams.

Those dreams she woke up from screaming and drenched in sweat. Her body wrapped in the memory of pain.

She never remembered images. Only the feeling of utterly helplessness and the pain. And faintly, like a gust of wind, touches and voices.

The nightmares had lessened in the last two years and so it unsettled her to be remembered of them by someone she had never met in her life.

She wasn't even sure what it was that had prompted the memory.

Maybe Cyane mentioning Melosa.

A soft sigh as the small frame sat down on the bed. Graceful fingers tracing creases in the blanket. She took another trembling breath. Pulling her knees up, she wrapped her arms around them and closed her eyes.

"....Terreis....I really need you....."

Silence. Only her breathing and the soft hiss of the candles placed along the walls.

For a moment she allowed herself to be drowned by a wave of grief and fear. Swallowing her for long, dark seconds. Numbing the pain inside and giving her a moments relief from the emotions and impressions branding through her mind and heart.

She needed a clear head for this.

The treaty was important. She couldn't fall apart now.

Not now.

Or all the work Melosa had put into this would have been in vain.

Hurting green eyes opened and blinked at a ray of sunlight slowly crawling towards her. Flakes of dust dancing to a silent music.

She got up and straightened her small frame. Using all her willpower to push down all the unsettling emotions and actually managed a smile by the time she stepped back outside.

Scanning the square and noticing with a confused frown Ephiny who walked, rather angrily, away from....

She swallowed.

The tall, dark woman who was part of Cyane's party. She watched her turn and for a brief moment she had the strangest feeling of looking her right into her eyes.

But the feeling faded and the woman disappeared into the hut they had assigned to the visiting Amazons.

Leaving her even more confused then before. It was going to be a long week.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
 


- 3 -

 


Waves whispering softly as they brushed onshore. A constant rhythm strangely soothing. Overhead leaves giggled as a warm breeze caressed through them. Stirring them for brief moments.

Although late spring the water was still chilly and small toes wiggled a little in an attempt to get warm.

The clear liquid leaving traces of goosebumps in their wakes as the caressed along the soft skin. Splashing as a small form moved and pulled the legs out of the water. Warm hands rubbing the cold skin.

The wind tugged playfully at long, blonde strands. Tickling gentle features.

Gabrielle released a slow breath and brushed a few stray strands behind her ears. She had been sitting at the riverbank for some time. Just needing some time alone. To relax.

To think, really.

Three days had passed and so far things looked very good.

The treaty was about to be signed tonight and Cyane had agreed to stay for the upcoming festival. Everybody was in a good mood and after the first awkwardness between her tribe and their visitors everybody had started to get along really well.

Actually....a small smile.....Ephiny had told her that she surprised one of the younger Amazons with one of Cyane's Royal Guards. Obviously everybody had a good time.

Well...

The smile disappeared and green eyes closed.

She still hadn't figured out what was disturbing her so much about Xena.

Xena.

Cyane had introduced her advisers and guards during their first session and the dark-haired woman's name had surprised all of them. They had, of course, heard about the infamous Xena but she had been gone from Greece for over five years and many people had thought her dead.

She very obviously wasn't.

Green eyes blinked open and watched as a huge fish swam dangerously close to the surface. Bubbles rippling the otherwise calm surface as it exhaled. The light from the sun hitting its body in tiny sparkling highlights.

It had been a close vote whether they should allow Xena to stay in the village or ask her to leave. Although, she had never attacked Amazon country she had destroyed many villages that Amazons had relatives in and especially the older women of her tribe had been arguing against Xena's stay.

It had been Cyane that had finally ask her to let Xena stay.

Telling them about all the good the former warlord had done while with the Eastern tribe. Cyane very apparently believing in Xena's change.

Could someone as ruthless and violent as everybody said she was really change?

Gabrielle wanted to believe it.

What was really bothering her was that although she didn't even remember Xena's name, she had the strangest sensation of knowing her.

She knew that a lot of her memories were blurry at best and that she barely remembered how she had come to live with the Amazons - so why did she seem to remember Xena?

A frustrated sigh as the small frame leaned back against the warm but rough bark of a tree.

How could she forget eyes that blue? She had never seen eyes that blue. They seemed to hold a light of their own. Reaching right inside her.

And always bringing back the images of her dreams.

That was the real reason she hadn't been able to sleep properly in the last few days.

The dreams had been back with almost overwhelmingly clarity and more often than not she woke up barely able to keep the scream from escaping. She knew that Ephiny suspected something but her friend was concerned as it was and she didn't want to give her any real reason.

But the lack of sleep and the stress of the last three days was weighing on her and it got difficult to concentrate.

Just seeing Xena caused this instant reaction of fear and panic inside her that was almost impossible to ignore. She didn't know what was happening to her and it frightened her.

Having to tell Cyane what had happened to Melosa made matters worse. Even though, she had agreed with Ephiny to let a few details out....it had been....

Another deep breath.

It still hurt.

Losing Melosa and ---

Terreis.

Gabrielle swallowed and wiped angrily at her eyes as she felt the beginning of tears.

Things had happened so fast she barely had any chance to grief the loss. And she felt the control she tried to keep on her emotions slipping. Knew that she was close to falling apart....and she had no idea how to stop it.

"....please, I need some help...." Her voice was all but a trembling whisper as she finally gave in to the avalanche of emotions and cried.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"It triggers something."

Ira's husky voice was somewhat muffled as she crouched down to get a few pots of herbs from underneath a chest of drawers.

"You noticed it, too, huh?"

Ephiny sat down on one of the empty cots in the healer's hut. Brushing a hand through dishevelled curls to get some kind of order to them.

"Yeah....I'm not sure if it is anything specific but I'm afraid sooner than later she'll remember."

"I need to talk to her, then."

Ira straightened and turned to the younger woman. Her dark brows wrinkling in thought. "Maybe."

Pale brows rose in surprise. "Maybe?....Ira, we have no idea what role Xena plays in those memories but if it comes even close to our worst scenarios she better shouldn't be here when it happens. Because if I find out that she...." Ephiny hands curled into tight fists. "I don't know what I would do."

The healer released a slow breath and took a few steps towards the blonde woman. "We don't know if she has anything to do with the rape."

"What if she does?"

Ira swallowed. "I don't know." She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against a roof support. "From what I've seen of her in the last three days.....she is nothing like those stories I heard. And her tribe, not to mention her Queen, seems to think a lot of her."

Ephiny's face turned cold. "So? She killed enough Greeks to deserve several eternities in Tartarus."

"She changed."

Ephiny jumped up. "By the Gods Ira! Why does everybody see her as some kind of hero! She is not! She is a murdering bitch who has...." Her voice lost in strength. ".....maybe has something to do with what happened to Gabrielle."

The blonde woman sat down on the cot again. Taking a few deep breaths to calm herself. Watched by knowing dark eyes. Sitting down next to the younger woman, she put a hand on her arm.

"Everybody deserves a second chance, Eph."

For a long moment there was no reaction but then pale eyes lifted to look at her. Brushing the hand off, Ephiny got up and headed to the door. She didn't even turn around as she said: "I don't think so."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Cyane wrote down a last note about the treaty and released a satisfied sigh.

This was looking good.

Gabrielle had agreed on the joined border patrol....although they still had to iron out some numbers and times but at least they had agreed that in order for their tribes to survive they would have to stand together. And with any luck other tribes would join in.

She looked up.

They might really stand a chance against the Romans.

The soft creak of the door made her jump and she scowled at the dark form entering the hut.

Getting a confused scowl right back. "What?"

She chuckled and closed the scroll she'd been writing on. "Nothing. The others do okay?"

Xena sat down on her cot and shrugged. Her fingers fiddling with a piece of leather on her bracelets. Cyane frowned. Her friend had been strangely absent for the three days. Which was very unusual for her.

"You're still uncomfortable about being here? Xena, they seem to like you."

Pale blue eyes looked up. Guarded....allowing no guess as to what the tall woman was thinking. Something that certainly wasn't unusual. Cyane sighed silently. Wondering what it would take for Xena to open up to anyone.

"Well, it's all right so far. I'm not too sure about the 'like me' part, though."

"Oh, you mean Ephiny, don't you?"

"Yup."

Cyane turned fully. "Mmh....yeah, she seems to be not too happy about you being here." She chuckled a little. "But I think Gabrielle told her to back off."

Xena got up and turned away. Busying herself with rearranging a few cups sitting on a narrow shelf.

Feeling that it was time to change the subject, the blonde woman leaned back in her chair. "What do you think about what they told us about Melosa?"

It took a moment but then Xena turned around. A thoughtful expression on her face. "I believe that she was killed in a battle. I am not too sure about the rest, though. Thugs attacking Amazon country.....no mentioning of a warlord or anything. It did sound...." A shrug of broad shoulders. "I think there are a few things Gabrielle didn't tell us."

For example what happened with Melosa's sister Terreis. And what had caused that pained look in those amazing green eyes. Xena took a deep breath.

"Mmh....I got the same impression but it's not really any of our business, is it?" Cyane got up as well. Taking a few steps towards Xena. "What do you think?"

The tall form leaned back against the wall. Crossing her arms over her chest, Xena shrugged again. Pale blue eyes turning towards the window. Reaching somewhere beyond the confines of the hut...or the village.

"I heard some of the Greek Amazons talk about some trouble they had with some of their own people. Nothing specific....there is always someone around who makes them shut up, so I didn't hear anything that would make real sense but something is up. Did you notice the security?...They have a double guard shift during the night."

Surprised dark brows rose. No, she hadn't noticed than but then again....leave it to Xena to figure out this sort of thing.

"And I heard the healer say something about Gabrielle's health." Again, blue eyes turned away. But Cyane noticed the way her jaw moved with silent emotions.

"Do you think we're in trouble?"

Those chiselled features finally turned to face her and she saw a small smile on red lips. Putting her at ease a little.

"Nah. Whatever's up....seems they've got it covered." The tall frame straightened. "And as you said: not really any of our business."

The blonde Amazon nodded silently and walked to the window. Dark eyes surveying the square and the few Amazons that were around. Some headed towards the training fields others to the food hut.

It was late afternoon and the heat of the day was slowly retreating as the evening lazily settled on the village. Everybody seemed to be in a high mood and looking forward to the festival in two days.

Cyane smiled. Admitting that she was looking forward to it herself. Making a mental note to ask Gabrielle a few more questions regarding the party.

Gabrielle.

She really liked the young woman.

Even though she presented quite a puzzle.

What she had told them about how she had come to the title of Queen of the Amazons had seemed to make sense. That she received the right of caste from Terreis and after Melosa's death....naturally....had taken over. And yet...

Dark eyes watched in idle curiosity as Ephiny, Gabrielle's head of the Royal Guards, left the healer's hut and headed over to the Queen's hut.

There were a lot of questions left unanswered. Partly because Gabrielle hadn't addressed them at all....partly because she had answered others rather evasively. And as open as the young blonde had seemed through all their interaction - at those times she had very obviously closed up. Even avoiding eye contact.

The only other times she did that was when...

Cyane turned and looked at Xena. The dark-haired warrior busy polishing her sword. Seemingly oblivious to her scrutiny.

After some discussion Xena had relented and agreed not to be present while she was in negotiations with the Greek Queen. She had been present only the first time and of course in the evenings when they would sit together talking about differences in their tribes traditions.

And at those times Gabrielle had been just as ---

Cyane frowned. Looking for the right term.

Distanced. In a way. Smiling a lot less and avoiding quite noticeable any eye contact with Xena. And those few times Xena had asked her a questions - there had been this strange confused and searching look in her eyes. Those expressive features a curious mixture of....

Another frown.

She had looked like someone who was trying very hard to remember something.

The blonde head tilted. Mmh.

She was about to address her friend as Xena got up and slid her sword back into the scabbard on her back. The air seemed to crackle with nervous tension and she watched as the taller woman released a frustrated sigh.

"You okay?"

Those pale eyes turned her way. And for a moment it seemed as if Xena was about to say something but then she brushed her hand through the dark mane and shook her head. "I'm fine....um.....just need some fresh air."

And with that she left the hut again. Followed by worried dark eyes.

Cyane turned around to look out of the window. Watching the unmistakable frame disappear in the wall of trees surrounding the village.

Something was up - and it had everything to do with Gabrielle. She felt it. Did they know each other? It almost seemed this way. But how?

Again questions.

Movement to her right caught her attention and she noticed Ephiny again. Storming from the Queen's hut....another Amazon following her obviously trying to placate her. She couldn't hear what was said but Ephiny seemed really angry.

Taking a deep breath, Cyane came to a decision and left the hut. She wanted answers - and she was determined to get them. One way or the other.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"What do you mean she's not here?!"

Eponin swallowed and straightened to make eye contact with the furious woman in front of her.
 

"She said she needed some time alone. She asked me to give her a few hours."

Ephiny very obviously forced herself to calm down. She took a few deep breaths and released them slowly.

"When was this?"

Eponin shifted uncomfortably. "A little before lunch."

Silence as pale eyes turned very cold and the taller woman took a few steps closer. "You better pray that she fell asleep somewhere." Ephiny's voice was low and chilly. "How could you agree to that?!"

Now her friend got a little angry herself. Because she knew exactly that she shouldn't have done it but...

"She hasn't slept for three day, Eph! She looks awful and very obviously needed to get away. And she isn't a helpless maiden! She can take care of herself.......you should know that by now." The last was all but a whisper.

It took Ephiny off guard. Throwing her right back to those awful days a few weeks ago as....Pushing down those memories, she sighed and dropped her head. "I know. Sorry....but...."

Felt Eponin's hand on her arm. "I get a few people together and we look for her, okay? She is all right."

A long breath. "Yeah."

They turned together and headed to the food hut as Cyane stopped them half-way. "I need to talk to you."

Ephiny was already on the edge and she had no patience left to socialise with their guests. "Not now! We're busy."

And was face to face with determined dark eyes. "Now."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A hiss of air as a blade of well-used metal cut through it.

A tall, muscular form shifting. Turning. Another hiss of air. Accompanied by a high-pitched sound. More movement. Long dark hair dancing around chiselled features dampened by sweat. Dark bangs clinging to a forehead wrinkled in an unconscious frown.

The heavy scent of a overheated body mixed with wet leather. Dry grass. And the faint trace of the sweet smell of flowers.

Pale blue eyes hidden behind tightly closed lids.

Another turn. The surprised rustle of bark splitting from a tree.

The small clearing was quiet and even the sound of birds had stopped as the tall dark form had started its drills.

Encompassing a confused, hurting soul in silence.

Where there was only her heartbeat. Her breathing.

And the voices in her head.

A forced breath and every movement stopped.

For a long moment she didn't move at all. Just stood there. In the middle of the clearing trying to calm her breath and heartbeat. Feeling pleasantly exhausted.

The nervous energy that had made her restless for the last few days finally retreating to a point where she could tolerate it.

Ignore it.

Blue eyes blinked open.

For the first time taking in the sleepy beauty around her. The sun had started its slow descend and the forest was bathed in a warm glow of golden light with the slightest touch of pink.

A soft breeze was brushing through whispering leaves. Chilly on her overheated skin. Making her shiver for a moment.

A deep breath.

I knew I shouldn't have come here! She dropped down on a fallen tree trunk. Resting her forearms on her knees. Hanging her head between her shoulders. Feeling the slight strain of tired muscles in her back.

And as always when she allowed her mind to wander an image of eyes a curious mixture of green and blue formed before her. It was driving her insane.

What the Hades was it about that woman?!

They had hardly talked in those three days. Barely looked at each other and yet---

They always seemed to find each others eyes. Even in the food hut that seemed to be crowded no matter the time of day....they gazes met. Briefly. Only long enough to acknowledge each others presence - just to do anything to avoid further contact.

What she couldn't figure out was why?

They had never met before. She was sure of it. Wouldn't forget a face like that. Or those eyes.... Right?

Dark brows wrinkled in a deep scowl.

And what bothered her the most was the fact that Gabrielle seemed to be afraid of her. She'd seen this kind of look too many times not to recognise it. And again: why?

Releasing a frustrated sigh, she got up. Whatever it was....they would be leaving in two days and then she could put all that behind.

She turned and headed towards the river that circled the village to its back. Knowing that she would come out somewhere close to the Queen's hut.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"With all due respect, your Majesty...this really isn't the time for talking."

Cyane tilted her head. "Why?"

Ephiny was debating with herself how much to tell. She was torn between going out there and looking for Gabrielle....and knowing that she indeed could take care of herself. But damn it, she was exhausted, still not fully healed and it was her duty to make sure the Queen was all right!!

She briefly wondered if anyone would think her insane if she'd scream right now.

Forcing a pleasant expression on her face, she turned her attention to their guest. "What is it that you want to talk about?"

"I want you to tell me what really happened when Melosa was killed. And I want to know why the head of my Royal Guards who also happens to be my friend and your Queen seem to be on the verge of running every time they meet.....What in the name of Artemis is going on here?!"

The last part she almost yelled but Cyane didn't really care. The entire atmosphere in the village was weighing on her nerves. No matter how friendly everybody seemed to be - there was always this strange sensation that they only told half of the story. Deliberately leaving parts out.

Ephiny swallowed. She knew that Eponin who stood next to her was watching her very closely. Turning a little, she met her friend's eyes. Hoping to find easy answers there. All she got was a shrug.

Right.

"I don't think that any of it is your business....your majesty."

Cyane blinked. So there was something between Xena and Gabrielle. She noticed by the look on Ephiny's face that the Greek Amazon just realised what she had said.

"Look Ephiny..." Cyane took a few steps forward. "I know this probably isn't my business but any fool could tell that you guys have a problem and I only offer our help if you need it.......as for Xena.....I know you don't like her", She raised a hand to stop any response from the other woman. "...but she is my friend and something is very obviously bothering her. And it has something to do with Gabrielle. Doesn't it?"

The Greek Amazon dropped her gaze. Running one hand through already disordered blonde locks. Taking a slow breath, she finally looked up again.

"It's a long story."

Cyane smiled. "I have nothing else to do at the moment."

"I really don't...." Ephiny's voice faded into a choked gasp and Cyane turned in confusion to see what had caused this reaction.

"By Artemis...."

From the twilight of the forest a dark form stepped into the last golden rays of the sun. Highlighting a smaller form held in a protective embrace.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
 


- 4 -

 


The dark head tilted ever so slightly.

Pale blue eyes taking in the small form. Curled into a tight ball. Fast asleep underneath the wide arms of an oak. The chilly breeze of the evening rifling playfully through long, blonde strands.

Caressing them along gentle, youthful features still showing last traces of tears.

Xena released a slow breath.

Unsure of what to do.

She dropped to a knee next to the sleeping blonde. Reaching out with one hand. Noticing the slight tremble with a annoyed frown.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

....the voices were back.

The voices and the touches.

And the scent of burning flesh. High-pitched screams. The rumble of horses. Husky laughter and the sound of swords.

And the pain.

Another scream.

Was that her voice? Was she fighting?

Was she still alive?

Another wave of pain.

Oh Gods....please.....

And then there were those eyes. A sparkle of light within an ocean of darkness that threatened to swallow her. Eyes so blue...

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Her hand touched chilled skin. And dark brows wrinkled in an unconscious frown.

"Your Majesty?"

The small form stirred but Gabrielle didn't wake up.

"....Gabrielle...." She tried again. Leaning a little closer.

And ran straight into a pair of panicked green eyes.

Pink lips moved with silent words and in one motion Gabrielle sat up and scrambled away from her. The small frame trembling less from the cold as from whatever dream she was caught in.

"Your Majesty....it's okay. You fell asleep....it's okay." Xena tried to soothe the younger woman but instinctively kept her distance. Not wanting to add to the panic she saw in those green eyes.

And yet wondering what had put that look there.

And almost in the same second wishing she could take it away.

She watched Gabrielle blink at her for a long, silent moment. And then the smaller woman slowly, ever so slowly relaxed.

It took another long moment until she saw Gabrielle swallow. And then the soft voice broke the silence between them. "...you scared me..." A trembling whisper. Followed by a weak smile.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to....I just....I'm sorry...."

The blonde head tilted a little. Blinking green eyes. "It's okay. It's my fault anyway. I can't believe I fell asleep."

Looking away from intense blue eyes, Gabrielle slowly tried to get up. Biting her lower lip at the instant pain in her chest. Hoping that the pain didn't show on her face.

"You okay?"

Obviously it did.

"No...cramps...," she lied. Making a show of bending her legs as if to get the feeling back into them. It took a moment but the pain in her chest subsided and she straightened as much as she could.

Very aware of pale blue eyes looking at her.

"Can I help you?"

Gabrielle actually laughed at that. And for the first time a real smile showed on her face. Amazing Xena by the way it lit up those gentle features.

"Well, you could carry me back to the village." She meant it as a joke but as she looked up again she had to swallow. Frowning a little as she noticed the way Xena looked at her. "It was a joke. I'm fine."

"I wouldn't mind." Xena's voice was low. And very obviously serious.

Gabrielle blinked at the taller woman. A little unnerved at the way that low voice seemed to tickle something deep inside her.

"Xena, really....I appreciate the offer but..."

"You have broken ribs that aren't healed completely yet. I am sure they are causing you quite some pain at the moment. I don't know how long you have been out here but your body is very chilled and from the look in your eyes I would say you're coming down with a fever within the next candlemark or so.......if I carry you, we'll be a lot faster."

Green eyes met pale blue for a long, silent moment.

"How did you know?" A soft whisper.

"It's in the way you move. And breathe."

Gabrielle released a trembling breath. This was ridiculous. She was very much able to walk by herself. And she didn't feel weak or feverish and....

And....

The dark head in front of her tilted ever so slightly.

And she allowed herself to be lifted into a pair of surprisingly strong arms. Suddenly close to a very warm body.

Aware of how safe she actually felt.

A brief look of pale blue eyes.

But also painfully aware of how the images of her dream lingered in the back of her mind.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
 


- 5 -

 


She remembered running.

Running.

And that she needed to get away. Away from....Blurry images and whispering sounds filtering through the misty haze of her mind. A soft moan and the she felt a warm hand on her skin. And a soothing voice close to her ear.

"It's okay, Gabrielle. Sleep."

Sleep?

The haze got thicker again and she fought it only for a brief moment. To weak and tired to resist the promise of peace offered from within the misty darkness.

Ephiny watched with a silent sigh of relief as Gabrielle seem to settle down again. Taking a deep breath, she slowly got up and turned to the people behind her.

Her eyes cold and angry as they settled on Eponin.

Her friend swallowed and dropped her head. Crossing her arms in front of her chest, she took a few steps back. Avoiding anyone's gaze.

Ephiny released a slow breath and turned to Ira. "How is she?"

The older Amazon bit her lower lip in a pensive gesture. "She had a fever and most likely will come down with a cold. She's prone for that sort of thing. With any luck it won't be as bad as two years ago. I gave her some herbs....that's why she's still sleeping. Her ribs are fine. Bruised but other than that okay."
 

She looked up and met Ephiny's inquiring gaze. "She's lucky Xena found her, though." Noticing the subtle movement of muscles in the guard's jaw.

"She shouldn't have been out there in the first place."

Eponin looked up. Meeting Ephiny's eyes for a long, silent moment. Then she turned and left the hut without a word.

Beata, a young Amazon who would join the Royal Guards this summer took a hesitant step forward. "Um...." Her eyes flickered to Ira. "Queen Cyane asked me to let you know that you still have a conversation to finish."

Ephiny shook her head. "Not tonight. We all need some sleep." She looked at Gabrielle and then left as well.

Ira sighed and looking at Beata shrugged. "Go on. I'll stay here."

The young Amazon smiled and followed Ephiny.

The healer took a chair and placed it next to the bed Gabrielle slept on. Reaching out to brush a few strands of blonde hair to one side. Unconsciously checking if the fever was getting worse.

The grey head tilted a little as she studied youthful features flushed from the fever. Then she leaned forward ever so lightly. Her voice all but a whisper.

"You are starting to remember, don't you?"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Callused fingertips touched cold skin. Closing a pair of green eyes starring unseeing into a clear blue sky. Youthful features still holding an expression of shocked surprise and pain.

A brush of wind carried the scent of smouldering wood. Burned skin. And faintly the sound of a battle. Husky yells. High-pitched screams.

A tall dark form straightened. Midnight-dark strands dancing along chiselled features as pale eyes narrowed at the smoky silhouettes of the village ahead.

"Well, well, Draco....thought, I told you to wait." A low whisper.

The tall form moved and mounted a pale horse. Without any haste riding into the valley. From the looks of it the battle was almost over anyway. Several soldiers already in the process of preparing camp.

Makeshift tents had been built to one side of the road and a soft murmur accompanied the passing form.

Most of the buildings in the small village were on fire. The air stuffy from the smoke. The square was covered with dead bodies. The dirt a deep crimson colour. Thin lines of blood a macabre roadmap covering the road.

A soldier was busy searching a dead body for anything valuable as a cold, low voice made him freeze. He swallowed.

"Where's Draco?"

It took him a moment until he found the courage to look up. But unable to form any coherent sentence he pointed towards the back of the village.

Pale eyes turned this way. The inn.

He watched the dark form move this way and swallowed again. Dropping the arm of the dead villager he had been holding, he stumbled away. Wanting to be anywhere but near Draco right now.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

She had stopped fighting. Good.

White teeth bit down on already bruised skin and a small whimper stirred the air.

Draco groaned and then rolled away from the prone body underneath him. Taking a few deep breaths to calm his heartbeat. A cold smirk playing on his lips, as he watched the small frame curl into a tight ball.

And jumped as the door to his room burst open.

Reaching for his sword, he jumped from the bed. "What the Hades....!" And fell silent as he recognised the tall form entering the room. Despite himself swallowing against a suddenly dry throat.

He cleared his throat. "Xena."

Pale eyes looked at him for a long silent moment. Straying over his naked body. And then flickered to the bed.

Taking a few steps forward, the dark head tilted a little as pale eyes took in the curled up form there. Then returned to him.

"Draco, Draco, Draco...."

He saw a small smile on her lips and relaxed a little. Dropping his sword, he shrugged and put on a charming smile. "Can't blame a man for trying to have some fun, now can you?"

The small smile got bigger.

As well as colder.

And he watched in slight puzzlement as she stepped to the bed and crouched in front of it. Pulling away the edge of the blanket covering part of the young woman. Pale eyes twitching ever so lightly at the some of the marks she saw.

Then the small form moved and she was face to face with a pair of pained, pleading eyes.

It took all her willpower to break their gazes and she got up....actually had to take a few steps back. Needing a moment to collect herself. Turning back to Draco, she raised a dark brow. And walked towards him. Slowly. Pale eyes tracing his naked body again.

He smirked as her low voice brushed his ear in a gust of warm breath.

"No, guess I can't."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

To be continued in part 2
 
 

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