by Nene Adams

The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact...
...And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend such joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush suppos'd a bear!
--- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

''Oh, yes! YES! By all the gods, Xena, YES!''

''Gabrielle, you're getting loud again.''

''I don't care! Ohhhhhhhh, Xena! Harder! Faster!''

Iolaus stopped dead on the forest trail, head cocked to one side. His wide blue eyes widened further still when he recognized the voices he'd been hearing for about a quarter of a candlemark. Xena and Gabrielle? Were they... Could they be....

Nah, must be another explanation, he thought, shaking his head, and took another few steps forward when another of Gabrielle's screams rang through the forest.

''That's it, Xena! That's the spot! Right there! Ohhhhhh, YES!''

The warrior princess' voice sounded amused. ''Right here, Gabrielle?''

''Mmmmmm... YES! Do it harder! Faster! Oh, Zeus!''

Iolaus gulped and his face flushed a bright red, a huge embarrassed smile creeping over his face.

By the gods, he thought, they ARE! Automatically he glanced around to see what his friend Hercules thought of all this, then remembered that the big guy had made a detour to help mediate a dispute between two cattle breeders in the Massinian Valley. The two men were traveling to Erosia-By-The-Sea to attend the Festival of Aphrodite held yearly in that coastal town, and had agreed to meet in the Alustrian Forest before continuing their journey.

''Ohhhhhhh... Xena! Keep it up! Don't stop now!''

''Gabrielle... Calm down. It's not a matter of life or death.''

''It is to me!''

The compact blonde warrior shook his head and sat down on the trail, trying to make up his mind about what to do. Normally, he'd just waltz into the two women's campsite, sure of his welcome. But now...

And there was no use in trying to go around them. Xena's preternatural warrior senses might alert her to his presence. And I shudder to think about how mad she'd be if I... interrupted anything. He gulped again and ran a shaky hand through his hair. There would DEFINITELY be Hades to pay then.

He brightened. From the way things sounded, it didn't look like he'd have to wait long. Then he scowled. What if Xena hasn't... He could be stuck on this trail for candlemarks!

Just then, the amazon bard let out a scream that echoed throughout the forest:


The silence that followed was practically deafening. Iolaus screwed a finger into one ringing ear and shook it vigorously. Gods, but she's loud for such a little woman. Maybe she takes declaiming lessons from Demosthenes.

He waited a few more moments, then sighed and rose, dusting off the back of his breeches with both hands. The only sounds he could hear were those of returning wildlife. He hoped it was safe; he'd have to do a little discreet scouting... and hope that if Xena caught him, she'd let him live long enough to do some quick explaining.

Keeping an ear cocked, he moved as silently as he could through the forest, tiptoeing towards the small clearing he'd heard all the commotion coming from.

Gabrielle sighed, a small, satiated smile spreading across her face. ''Oh, Xena,'' she murmured into her bedroll, ''That felt soooooooooo good.'' She was absolutely limp and loving every minute of it.

Xena looked down at her best friend from her vantage point above and smirked. ''Of course. I have many skills.'' She laughed softly when the bard smacked her hard muscled leg. ''Now, since you're all taken care of, I take it I can go and catch us some dinner?''

Gabrielle rolled over and began straightening her top. ''Fish would be nice,'' she said.

''Fish it is. You build up the fire and slice some roots; I'll be back with enough fish to satisfy even your appetite.'' The warrior rose and walked silently out of the camp, leaving Gabrielle alone with her thoughts.

The little bard stretched luxuriously. Gods, that felt good! Better than good... It was Grrrrrrrrreat! She giggled a little, remembering how exasperated Xena had been, and how desperate she'd felt before.

The strawberry-blonde amazon had woken up that morning with an excruciating itch just below one of her shoulderblades. She'd contorted herself into impossible positions and nearly dislocated both shoulders trying to scratch it. That failing, she'd rubbed on trees, rocks and even Argo, much to the warhorse's disgust and Xena's undisguised amusement. She knew she'd been wriggling around enough to make a temple prostitute blush but that itch had kept getting worse as the day wore on.

Finally, the warrior had agreed to stop early and make camp, just to keep the dancing, writhing and complaining bard from driving her insane.

Gabrielle giggled again, then rose and threw more sticks on the fire. Xena had drawn out the torture as long as she could, making every excuse in the scroll to keep from scratching the begging bard's back for as long as she could. Finally, she'd thrown Gabrielle down on the ground, straddled her, and, pushing up her top, scratched the amazon vigorously, digging strong fingers into the other woman's back until Gabrielle had screamed with relief.

Boy, do I have another itch she could scratch, Gabrielle thought, then blushed. Watch it, bard, she might read your mind and then where would you be? But I do love her... with all my heart.. I just wish I had the guts to tell her.

Her silent reverie was interrupted when she caught sight of Iolaus walking into the camp, eyes swiveling back and forth, a sheepish grin on his face.

''Iolaus!,'' she squealed, running over and throwing her arms around the blonde warrior, giving him a hard hug. She frowned when Iolaus gave her the briefest of embraces and danced away, hands out at his sides.

''I'm, um, glad to see you too, Gabrielle. Where's Xena?,'' he asked nervously. Gabrielle tried to put an arm around his waist but he quickly moved away, keeping a good arm's length from the bard.

''Iolaus, is there something going on? Some danger we need to know about? And where's Hercules?'' Gabrielle couldn't understand why, all of the sudden, the blonde warrior she had come to consider her friend shied like a spooked pony everytime she touched him. I'll get to the bottom of this, she vowed.

''Hm? What?'' Iolaus had been distracted from the bard's words by his search for the formidable warrior princess. He was getting a headache behind his eyes and his stomach felt as if he'd swallowed a Greek chorus. It was rumbling so loud he was surprised that Posieden hadn't showed up to find out where the earthquake was. ''Gabrielle, where's Xena?''

Gabrielle sighed. It was obvious that Iolaus wasn't going to answer her questions until she answered his first. ''She's down at the stream catching some fish for dinner. She should be back in a minute. So tell me,'' she said, gently drawing the sweaty Iolaus into the camp by a damp hand, ''where's Hercules?''

''Oh, he had to go and settle some stupid land dispute with a couple of cattle breeders over in the next vally. He's supposed to meet me here tonight; in the morning, we're going over to Erosia-By-The-Sea for the Festival of Aphrodite.''

''Really? That's where Xena and I are going, too.'' Gabrielle quickly got Iolaus seated, put a wine skin in his hand and kept chattering, hoping to relax him. He doesn't look good, she thought, resisting the urge to lay her hand on his forehead. I wonder if he's sick...

Iolaus took a pull on the wine skin, feeling some of the tension leave his body. He'd stalked around in the bushes for a while, feeling seven kinds of fool, before gathering enough courage to show his face at the women's campsite. With Xena nowhere in sight, he was beginning to relax a little. After all, she probably won't kill me right in front of Gabrielle.. and maybe she doesn't know how long I've been lurking around in the bushes.

He kept his blue eyes on the beautiful woman in front of him, looking for changes since they'd last met. Surely there'd be a sign or something... then he rolled his eyes, feeling like a fool again and almost slapped his forehead. Gods, Iolaus, what'd you expect, a big tattoo on Gabrielle's forehead in Xena's handwriting saying: ''Hand's off, she's mine!''

Suddenly, the sound of Gabrielle screaming in agony snapped him out of his trance and he wrenched his thoughts back to the present. What the Hades...


Iolaus rushed over to Gabrielle, who lay prone on the ground, clutching one leg with both hands and gasping in pain. He thudded to his knees beside the prostrate woman and prayed inwardly, Zeus, give me strength...

''What wrong, Gabrielle? Snakebite? A scorpion? Stray arrow?'' He anxiously pried her hands away from her leg, grimacing at the thought of the bard being seriously injured. He searched for marks but found none. ''What's wrong, Gabrielle?,'' he asked again, this time a little more forcefully.

Raising her head, green eyes glazed with tears, Gabrielle gasped, ''I've got... a Trojan horse in my calf... Gods, Iolaus! It hurts!''

Iolaus almost wept in relief. Thank the gods she wasn't badly hurt! A cramp he could deal with. ''Um, do you want me to try and massage it out?''

''Please,'' the bard gritted through clenched teeth. Iolaus briskly rubbed his hands together to warm them, then began digging strong brown fingers into the lightly tanned flesh of Gabrielle's calf, trying to soothe the convulsing muscle.

A tiny part of his mind insisted on noticing how much the amazon bard had filled out and firmed up during the time he'd known her. Zeus, he thought, she's really built! Then his common sense kicked in and he told his libido sternly, Down, boy. She's taken!

The firm muscle in Gabrielle's calf was as tight as the Gordian knot and Iolaus began to exert more strength. Soon, the pretty amazon bard, who felt like a white hot dagger had been thrust through her leg, began to give vent to her feelings... loudly.

Xena looked with satisfaction at the string of fat fish dangling from one hand. Hmmm... eight, nine, ten... looks like I've beaten my old record.

Her keen warrior senses alerted her to the presence of someone directly behind her. Without hesitation, she whipped the string of fish up and back, connecting solidly; hearing a muffled grunt, she whipped around, drawing her sword in one smooth motion, ready to strike... then lowered the blade and smirked.

Hercules stood there, rubbing his nose, fish slime and scales dripping from his forehead. ''It's good to see you too, Xena,'' the handsome demi-god grumped. ''Of course, I could do without your ever-so-unique greetings.''

Xena's pale blue eyes lit up with suppressed laughter. ''You should know better than to sneak up on me like that, Hercules,'' she purred. ''You could have gotten yourself killed.''

Hercules sniffed. ''I have faith in your judgement. So, how's things been with you?,'' he asked, crossing his arms and trying to ignore the nasty smelling liquids running into his eyes.

He looks so ridiculous, Xena thought, standing there covered in fish juice and trying to look as dignified as an Athenian judge. ''Never better,'' she replied, returning her sword to the scabbard strapped to her back. She turned back in the direction of camp and waved a hand.

''C'mon. I expect Iolaus finally stopped lurking in the bushes and made it to the campfire by now. Gabrielle can whip up enough dinner from these fish to feed three hungry warriors and an insatiable bard, so there'll be plenty to eat.''

Hercules abandoned his pose of injured dignity and laughed. ''Sure. Mind if Iolaus and I share your fire, too?''

''Only if you keep to your own side of the blankets,'' Xena replied. ''But wash your face, first. You look like the son of Poseiden instead of the son of Zeus.''

Hastily, Hercules washed his face in the stream, gasping at the icy temperature of the water, then scrambled to catch up to the long-legged warrior princess.

When he caught sight of Xena standing stock still in the middle of the tiny trail, he rushed over to her. One look at her pale face and he knew something was up. He said anxiously, ''Xena? What is it? What's wrong?''

For answer, she raised a finger to her lips, motioning for silence. Then he heard it too.

''Oh, Iolaus! Gods, it huuuuurrrrts!''

''If you'd keep still, Gabrielle, it wouldn't hurt nearly as bad.'' Iolaus' voice had a touch of exasperation in it.

Silently, eyebrows raised, Hercules thought to himself, Gabrielle and Iolaus? Recognizing the dangerous glint in Xena's ice blue eyes, he barely managed to keep her from drawing her sword.

Lowering his mouth close to her ear, he whispered, ''Just wait. Wait! Maybe it's not what we think...''

''Iolaus! Would you hurry! I don't think I can stand it much longer!'' The bard's voice was ragged and to his shock, Hercules thought he detected a note of genuine pain.

On the other hand, if Iolaus was... doing something she didn't want, wouldn't Gabrielle be screaming for help? Screaming for Xena? She wasn't gagged, that much was obvious. And besides, the hero honestly didn't think Iolaus would ever violate a woman against her will. But the real question was, would Xena believe?

He turned to look at the silent, dark haired warrior beside him. Her face might have been carved from stone for all the expression it showed. But the look in her eyes... he'd hate to be on the receiving end of THAT. If you could bottle that look, he thought, you'd have a more potent weapon than Greek fire.

''Ohhhhh... by the gods, Iolaus! I think it's getting better!''

''I hope so,'' the blonde warrior breathed grimly to himself. Gabrielle's cramp had proven to be quite stubborn, and the way she'd been yelling her head off, you'd have thought he was sawing through her neck with a dull blade. Where did she learn to throw her voice like that? Trumpet lessons? The Alexandrian Light Opera?

''Iolaus! Iolaus! Rub it harder! HARDER!''

With a grunt of effort, Iolaus bent his arms and brought the strength of his shoulders to bear, practically crushing Gabrielle's leg in his grip. Finally, the bard let out a long, drawn out, incoherent wail and collapsed, panting.

Iolaus rubbed the leg a moment longer, though not quite as strenuously, then wiped the sweat from his brow. ''All better now?,'' he asked with a lopsided grin.

Gabrielle grinned back, ignoring the strands of strawberry-blonde hair sticking to her face. ''Much,'' she said, sitting up and straightening her short skirt before rising carefully. After testing her weight on the sore limb, she said, ''Thanks. A lot. I don't know how much more of that I could have stood. It felt like harpies were gnawing on my bones.''

Iolaus ran his hands through his touseled hair. ''Yeah, cramps can be painful.''

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. ''No kidding.''

Iolaus pondered briefly what the bard might have meant by that, then shrugged. ''Sure you're better now?''

''Yes. Thanks again.''

''No problem. Anytime. That's what friends are for.'' Iolaus knew he was grinning like a fool, but he just couldn't help himself. Maybe there are special amazon lung building techniques, he thought.

''Yeah, well anytime you get a Trojan horse, Iolaus, just let me know. And I'll recommend your technique to anybody, anytime.''

Iolaus followed Gabrielle to the fire. His stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him, so he thought, that it had been a long time since breakfast. ''So, when's Xena coming back from her fishing expedition?,'' he asked. ''I'm starved.''

The bard looked at the gnarled roots in her hands and decided to bury them in the ashes for breakfast in the morning. No use trying to cook them now; even sliced, they'd take more candlemarks to cook than the fish. We'll have olives and some of that nice flatbread I bought in that village yesterday, she thought. With Xena's catch, it would be a good meal. Turning to Iolaus, she answered, ''I'm starving, too. My stomach thinks my throat's been cut. I hope Xena shows up soon, or we'll have to eat those fish raw.''

Iolaus smiled. ''Raw fish! Yuck! What kind of barbarians would eat raw fish?,'' he said, then turned his head at a sudden rustle in the bushes that ringed the campsite. He smiled more broadly, jumping to his feet to greet his friend Hercules... who was stalking back to camp, a grim-faced Xena at his side. The demi-god's glower would have done an angry Zeus proud.

Iolaus' broad grin faltered. What in the name of Olympus had he done now?


The rumbling in Iolaus' stomach became more insistent, and other feelings became urgent as well. Oh, gods, he thought, not again... and especially not now!

When he and Hercules had split up, Iolaus had passed through a tiny village on his way to the forest. While there, he'd had the bad judgement to eat a handful of spiced sausages sold by a disreputable vendor; others in the marketplace had given him veiled and suggestive warnings, but where his stomach was concerned, Iolaus simply had no control. He was hungry, there was food, so he ate it. And he'd been suffering from Echidna's Revenge ever since.

Now his stomach, and other parts of his internal anatomy, were demanding relief, and right now! Iolaus knew he had no choice; as confused as he was about why his best friend and the fierce warrior princess were staring at him like he was the choice cut on a haunch of venison, he knew he'd have to make his excuses and make them fast!

''Um, guys... I'm going to... uh... take a walk before dinner. Yeah, that's it. A nice, long walk. My, my, but those bushes are interesting. I'll be back,'' he said over his shoulder as he walked hastily away. His stomach howled as he picked up the pace and practically ran for the safety of the thick scrub.

Xena and Hercules exchanged a puzzled glance. Hercules shrugged his massive shoulders. ''Don't worry, Xena,'' he said softly, ''I'll go have a talk with him. You talk to Gabrielle.'' With a gentle shove, he pushed the silent warrior towards the figure of the bard and hurried away to catch up to Iolaus.

Xena approached the fire slowly, trying to think of what to say. Gods, she thought, my poor Gabrielle. My poor little bard. Did he really hurt you so?

Without a word, she sat down beside Gabrielle, looking at the petite amazon with a touch of sadness in her pale blue eyes as the other woman began to shove fish carcasses on thin, green sticks and prop them over the coals, licking her lips in anticipation.

She certainly seems to have taken no harm by it, Xena thought, her rage diminishing ever so slightly.

Xena had thought her heart would burst from her chest and lay convulsing in the dust when she'd heard her beautiful bard screaming someone else's name... first in pain, then in pleasure. It had been all she could do not to draw her sword, run screaming into camp and chop Iolaus into dogmeat. Her hard won self control and Hercules' strong presence beside her had been all that saved the blonde warrior from certain death at a raging Xena's hands.

She wasn't sure why Gabrielle had been in pain; that she had been was clear, just as clear as the moment she'd finally found release in another's arms. Xena's ears hadn't stopped ringing yet. Maybe her honeymoon with Perdicus hadn't gone well; after all, Gabrielle had never talked about it and Xena had never asked. Yet another example of the big, strong warrior at work, Xena thought savagely, hating herself.

Xena listened with half an ear to the bard's inconsequential chatter as she bustled about, preparing dinner. Maybe it's better this way, the warrior mused. The gods know I could never offer her any kind of life and at least, being married to the best friend of the son of Zeus would have some advantages. Still, it hurt. It was difficult to imagine life without her sweet Gabrielle, but she'd have to grit her teeth and withstand the pain, taking some small comfort in the bard's happiness... even if it was with someone else.


Finally, Gabrielle settled next to Xena, unconsciously humming a tune under her breath. The dark haired warrior resisted the urge to bury her nose in Gabrielle's strawberry-blonde hair and inhale the unique, special scent until her lungs burst. Why can't I tell her, she thought, then quickly dismissed the notion. She would never do anything to hurt her bard, but equally, she felt that the beautiful woman beside her could never return her love, not the way Xena craved. And the warrior never wanted anything to spoil the special friendship the two women shared. She especially couldn't bear thinking about the awkwardness that would develop, the strange, suspicious looks... no, it was definitely better to keep silent about her true feelings.

Xena hated herself; the selfish way she'd kept Gabrielle at her side; the myriad times her past had intruded on the bard's life - on a number of occasions, almost costing her that life. She knew that she'd hurt Gabrielle's feelings with some of the things she'd unwittingly (and, let's face it, deliberately) said or done; what amazed her was that the woman continued to think of Xena as her friend and stuck by her, no matter what. Xena blamed herself unmercifully; every time Gabrielle had gotten hurt, the warrior had lashed herself with the whip of guilt until her heart's blood ran. She'd carry the scars until the day she died.

Such loyalty, the warrior thought. Such beauty, such strength, such honor... what did I do to deserve this woman? Sometimes on cold nights, when the two women snuggled together in a bedroll, Xena's arms wrapped around the bard, the warrior thought that Gabrielle must have been sent by some vengeful god to punish her, for surely Tartarus could hold no punishment more severe than having the only person in the world the warrior wanted so close, yet so unattainable. She'd envied Tantalus. Those dark thoughts would vanish in the morning, however, when dawn's pale rays glinted in those glorious red-gold tresses, and Xena was free to feast her eyes freely on the woman she loved so much.

In moments like those, Xena's heart swelled with love, though she was careful not to show it. She'd rebuffed Gabrielle's casual embraces often enough; the gods alone knew that a woman could resist temptation so far, especially a strong-blooded warrior like Xena, and she could imagine Gabrielle's horrified reaction at her ''best friend's'' lustful thoughts. It's a good thing she can't read minds.... And that I still have "sword hand marriage" when the need gets too strong.

Having concluded that the best thing to do would be to get things in the open - and get it over with - Xena draped a muscular arm around the bard's shoulders. Gabrielle, who had been talking nonstop, was shocked into silence. Xena rarely ever touched her, and when she did, it usually meant that the warrior thought the amazon needed comforting. Gabrielle just wished she'd do it more often, and not strictly for comfort, either.

''So, Xena... ,'' Gabrielle said, ''Do you want to travel with Hercules and Iolaus in the morning? I know you're not eager to get to the Festival, but you've told me often enough in the past that the more numbers in a traveling party, the better your chances at reaching your destination safely.'' Oh, great, Gabrielle... now she'll think you're a total wimp!

The warrior stared thoughtfully into the fireplace,wishing with all her heart for the eloquence of a bard. She ignored Gabrielle's question, feeling fresh pain that the bard seemed to think it so necessary to hide what was really going on. Finally, Xena steeled herself, muscles jumping in her jaw. She'd never backed away from a challenge before, and even though it would break her heart - again - the warrior knew she'd have to tell Gabrielle that it was okay for her to... go.

''Gabrielle, there's something I need to tell you.''

Gabrielle raised one eyebrow in her best Xena impersonation. ''Really? The warrior princess confesses all? Should I send a message to the Athenian Times? Quick! Summon Hermes!''

''I'm serious.''

Gabrielle stopped kidding and looked deeply into Xena's ice blue eyes where she saw... something. Whatever it was, whatever wild emotion made the warrior's eyes burn like the heart of a candleflame... it made her own bard's heart contract.

''Yes?,'' she said shyly, burrowing closer to the warrior, tucking her face against the armored breastplace, so temptingly close to the soft flesh she longed to touch. Maybe she's noticed, the amazon thought wildly, maybe she's going to tell me... but she shied away from that. Better not get my hopes up. She might just be going to tell me that we can't go to the festival because Medusa's been spotted in Upper Thrace turning shepherds into statuary.

But part of her glowed, incandescent as a temple flame. She wants me...

Xena licked suddenly dry lips and silently commanded her heartbeat to slow down. ''Um, Gabrielle, you know I'm not very good with words, but I just want you to know that.... well, I know. And it's okay. In fact, I couldn't be more pleased.''

''You know... what?'' The bard was breathless in anticipation. Half of her - Hades! all of her - wanted nothing more than to hear that Xena returned Gabrielle's love, and she felt that this time, the warrior was close to the breaking point.

Gabrielle wanted to dance around the fire, wanted to press herself so close to the woman she loved that they'd never be parted, longed and ached to hear that she wasn't crazy, that she and Xena would at last take the first step on a journey of love that would last a lifetime and beyond. So Gabrielle schooled herself to patience, although it was hard. Wait for it, she counseled herself. You're a professional bard, girl. You know how to draw out the suspense for an audience.

But when she herself was the audience, it was hard.

Xena suppressed the urge to wipe her suddenly sweaty brow with the back of her hand. Why had she supposed this would be easy? ''I mean, I know... about you and Iolaus.''

''Me and Iolaus... what? W-w-what did you say?'' Gabrielle was confused and not a little hurt. She'd been flying higher than Icarus a moment ago, and like the winged son of Daedelus, felt the sudden, sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach that came just before a fatal crash.

''We heard you, Gabrielle. Hercules and I were coming back from the stream and we heard the two of you... you know... so I just wanted you to know that whatever you decide to do is okay I know you two will want to settle down and hey, who wants an old broken-down warrior hanging around anyway so don't worry about me I'll be fine,'' the warrior finished in a rush, her nervousness getting the better of her. And if you ever hurt her, Iolaus, Xena vowed, you'll be praying for Zeus' own lightning to strike you down before I get hold of you.

For a long moment, silence reigned.

Gabrielle was struggling with her emotions, torn between weeping, screaming in rage, or striking Xena dead on the spot. How could she? How could she think...? And she realized that Xena didn't want her, the warrior was pushing her away again. Just like when I married Perdicus... The pain was nearly overwhelming. Then she heard Xena clear her throat and say in an overly casual tone, ''I can take a look at it, if you want. If it still hurts.''

The amazon bard turned her face away, positive that the expression on it could scare a Gorgon to death. ''And just what would you like to look at?'' Her voice dripped poisoned honey.

Locked into embarrassment, heartache and oh, the gods only knew how much pain, Xena said tightly, ''Gabrielle, I heard you hollering, so I thought... well, speaking from personal experience, Iolaus may be a gifted warrior, but he's not all
that gifted in certain areas - he's not a god, if you know what I mean, and you sounded like you were in pain. You're not very experienced, and sometimes, even if the other person doesn't mean to, there can be... damage. You're really small, after all. If you're... bleeding or anything, I'll take a look, just to make sure you're all right.''

Gabrielle drew a deep, shuddering breath, then pulled herself away from Xena and fought for control. She thought her head was going to explode, or her chest, or her head, and the crushing disappointment she felt was so great she didn't trust herself to speak.

Xena mistook the bard's distress; thinking it from another cause, she pulled the shaking amazon into her embrace, not noticing how rigid, how tight the small body was. ''Oh, Gabrielle,'' she breathed gently, ''did he hurt you that much? Maybe I'd better look anyway... I won't hurt you, I'll be very careful.''

Inside her soul, Xena was torn between crying her eyes out and running into the forest to pound Iolaus into the ground like a tent peg. That unfeeling, selfish pig, she thought furiously, leaving Gabrielle hurt, just walking off like a typical, arrogant warrior, never thinking...

She was silently running through the list of their dwindling medical supplies, trying to keep her mind off images of spitting Iolaus like a sacrifical swine, praying that Gabrielle was alright, when the bard abruptly pulled herself out of Xena's embrace.

Tears traced a silvery course down her face but Gabrielle wasn't crying from pain. ''I don't need your help, thank you very much,'' she spat at the astonished warrior, green eyes sparkling with pure rage. ''For your information, nothing happened between me and Iolaus. Nothing!''

''But Gabrielle...,'' Xena began, and the furious bard stopped her. ''It was a Trojan horse, Xena! I just had a cramp in my leg and Iolaus massaged it out. We didn't... he didn't... oh gods!,'' the bard wailed, ''All I ever wanted was you!'' She scrambled up and stumbled into the forest, weeping madly.

For a long moment, Xena sat frozen in shock. Then, rousing and cursing herself - again - the warrior ran into the forest after her beloved bard.

Next Scroll ~~~~~~~~~>

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