A New Day

By Phalkon


Disclaimers:

Legal: Xena, Gabrielle, and Najara are owned by MCA/Universal, Renaissance Pictures and are used without permission. I'm just borrowing them in order to fix something that I felt was broken. All other characters I pulled out of the air.

Violence: Oh, yes.

Sex/Subtext: There is defiantly subtext here, in fact, it's more maintext than subtext. If a story about two women loving each other is illegal where you are, if such a topic bothers you, or you are underage find another story to read.

I have included two separate endings. The second alternate ending gets a little steamy but nothing graphic (sorry, maybe next time).

It seems everyone was unhappy with the ending of the show, myself included. This idea has been rattling around in my head for a while now and I had to get it out before it drove me nuts. This story takes place after A Friend In Need II.

This is my first fanfic. Any comments or constructive criticism are welcome at Wendy@Kojo-inc.com.

Okay, enough yada yada. On with the story.


The dark warrior strode purposefully across the decimated village. Looking around her she saw her army slaughtering every living thing they could find and torching the buildings. Screams of the dying filled the air. This was not the plan at all. She found her second in command, Glaucus, across the fiery inferno of the village. She marched up to him with a demeanor that let him know his head was going to roll.

"What is the meaning of this?" She hissed. The large, sinister man merely shrugged.

"I don't understand. You said you wanted the village leveled," he said evenly. He knew his commander too well and was not afraid of her.

"The women and children were to be spared,"› she argued.

The man shrugged again before he spoke, "They mean nothing. Why should they be spared?" The menace in his voice caused the woman to shudder. It was that very trait that the warlord made him, her second, his heartless bloodlust, but things had changed.

The warrior was growing more exasperated at the man's ignorance and callousness.

"If no one is left alive who will spread the word of my dominance over this land?" She reasoned. The man's face remained expressionless and unreadable.

"I apologize for any confusion." He spoke the words with a lack of sincerity. The tall woman pressed her face into his, her eyes as cold as his attitude.

"Let us not have this understanding again." Turning, she shouted for her soldiers to stop the attack and mount their horses. They obeyed her at once. Unlike Glaucus, they were afraid of her power.

With a shrill whistle a jet black mare appeared from nowhere and stood patiently beside her mistress. The woman mounted the horse with a quick, smooth movement and shouted to her troops, "Move out!"

She waited until the last of the men had rode off into the woods then she looked sadly around at the carnage around her.› Broken and bloody bodies, human and animal alike, lay everywhere she looked. All of the buildings were burning in a sorrowful effigy, choking the air with a sickening smoke. Not one thing moved, but her senses told her that there was someone hiding in the forest. "I'm sorry," she whispered and with a defeated shake of her head, she guided her horse to where her army had disappeared into the forest. As she rode off a pair of eyes followed her. When she was no longer in sight the figure took off in a dead run in the opposite direction.

The heat of the day was wearing Gabrielle down as she walked down the dusty road. She didn't know where she was going and it didn't really matter. Since Xena's death, her own life no longer seemed to have any purpose. She has spent the past few months wandering aimlessly across the countryside, getting into scraps along the way. Xena's spirit occasionally came to visit her. At first it was a blessing to Gabrielle to have her soul mate still so close, but over time she began to almost resent the disturbance.

›Today she was alone with her thoughts when down the road a young man came charging towards her. Gabrielle quickly took up a defensive stance. He approached her with his hands up. "Please, you must help." He was out of breath and obviously in great fear of his life. Gabrielle relaxed her pose.

"What is it?" Her voice sounded tired.

"A woman and her army burned down our village." He began to cry. "They killed everyone. I hid in the woods. I would have fought against her but I was too afraid." He dropped his head, ashamed of his cowardice. Gabrielle put her arm around his shoulders to comfort him.

"Do you know who it was?"

"It was Najinn." He noticed her bewildered expression. "She's a fearsome warlord. Her and her army have been raiding villages all over Greece."

"I've been away too long," Gabrielle muttered under her breath. To the young man she said, "It was very brave of you to escape. There is another village not far from here. Do you think you will be able to get there on your own?" The man nodded.

"I have family in Telos. I can stay with them." Gabrielle felt relieved. At least he wasn't alone in the world. ŚUnlike me,' she thought bitterly.

"Great. I am going to find Najinn." He looked at her in disbelief.

"You can't go by yourself. She's dangerous and has an entire army," he protested.

"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing." The man still didn't look convinced but seeing the weapons she carried and the look of determination on her face, he thought twice about arguing with her any further. Instead he took off in the direction that the strange woman came from. He had taken several steps and then he stopped and turned back around.

"Good luck," he said nervously. Gabrielle just smiled and waved to him as he trotted away.

Xena materialized next to her partner. "Looks like we might have quite a fight on our hands."

Gabrielle glared at Xena. "I can handle this. When are you going to stop treating me like a child." Xena looked confused and hurt.

"Gabrielle, I..."

"Xena, I'm a big girl, besides, I was trained by the best. I can handle this."

"Like you handled that band of thugs in Thebes?" Gabrielle winced at the memory. "Gabrielle, you almost got yourself killed."

"But I didn't," Gabrielle snapped. "What do you care anyway? You're already dead."

"I care because I love you."

"Xena, I'm doing this and with out your help."

Gabrielle stormed off and headed in the direction of the sacked village. Xena looked sadly after the woman she loved but did not make a move to follow her, but she decided that she would stay close, just in case she was needed.

When Gabrielle reached the village she searched desperately for survivors, but was disheartened when she found none. She spotted the trail that the army had taken and with a grim expression she set off to track them down.

›Darkness had fallen over the army camp. Glaucus had secretly gathered several men. At the far side of the camp he held a brief meeting.

"Najinn has grown too soft. We must band together and fight against her." Glaucus told them. One of the men was looking unsure.

"But she has powers," the man stammered. Glaucus looked at him with amusement.

"She is not as powerful as you think. I have a plan." The men gathered in closer.

Najinn left her tent and walked through the camp. The meeting Glaucus had had not gone unnoticed and she had plans of her own. Suddenly, her attention was drawn to the woods. She knew that the camp was being watched. She approached several soldiers who had just gotten off guard duty and were standing close by, chatting amongst themselves.

"There is a woman out there." She looked out into the woods again. "No, there are two women. I want you to bring them to me." The men immediately headed out to follow through with her orders.

Much time had passed before the men finally marched back into camp with a short, well-built blonde woman. They nervously presented her to Najinn.

Gabrielle studied the imposing warlord standing in front of her. She wore leather boots reached almost to her knees, black leather pants that were laced on the sides and a black, silk shirt. Her long, dark hair framed her tanned face. Her brown eyes were looked right through Gabrielle into her very soul. If it weren't for the current circumstances, Gabrielle would have found the woman attractive, in fact, she reminded her of Xena.

With trepidation one of the men announced, "She was the only one we could find. We searched everywhere for the second woman but she seems to have escaped."

Najinn was unconcerned about the news. "No matter, we will find her eventually." Addressing her prisoner, "Who are you, little one?"

The blonde held her head up defiantly. "I'm Gabrielle."

Najinn looked bemused then broke out in a fit of laughter, her men joined in her merriment. "Gabrielle? You're the battling bard of Potedia?"

"That would be me," Gabrielle stated proudly.

Stifling her laughter Najinn continued, "I expected..." looking the woman over, "more."

Gabrielle stood up taller, daring the warlord to make a move.

"So, Gabrielle, why are you here?"

"I'm here to stop you," Gabrielle stated confidently. This caused another fit of laughter from Najinn and her men. Najinn was amused at the woman's bravado.

"And how do you plan to do that?"

"Any way I can."

Najinn looked at her seriously. "Go home, little girl, before you get hurt."

Gabrielle fumed at the statement. "Not until I see you dead." Her voice was venomous.

Najinn was impressed with the small woman's gumption, but it was time to put her in her place.

Najinn drew her sword and indicated to the men holding Gabrielle to let the woman go.

"I suggest that you arm yourself." Gabrielle had been stripped of her weapons and Najinn nodded to the man carrying them. He handed Gabrielle her katana and stepped back to a safe distance.

By now, news of the confrontation had spread across the camp and the men gathered around the two women to watch the show.

The warlord lunged, but Gabrielle easily deflected the blow. Najinn pressed another attack, which was also easily defended. This time Gabrielle took the offensive with a flurry of blows, which Najinn fended off. The men were shouting and cheering as the women exchanged several more blows.

Najinn was finally gaining the advantage but as she swung her sword for a disabling blow, Gabrielle dodged out of the way and countered, catching the warlord off guard. The katana caught Najinn in the arm but it was only a minor flesh wound.

"I'm most impressed." Najinn was genuine in her compliment. She didn't realize the small woman could hold such fury.

Both women had taken a step back to reassess their opponent. Just as they were about to tangle again Xena made an appearance next to Gabrielle.

I told you I could handle this," Gabrielle whispered hoarsely to Xena.

"I thought you could use some help."

›Najinn blinked in surprise at the new arrival.

"You must be Xena," she exclaimed.

›"The one and only," Xena replied dryly.

›Najinn's men looked to where their leader's attention was drawn but they could not see whom she was speaking to.

Gabrielle forgot her anger momentarily, shocked that the warlord was able to see her soul mate.

"I heard you lost your head in Japa," Najinn stated mirthfully.

"Then I guess you heard wrong."

Both women grinned and charged each other. They exchanged a flurry of blows. The soldiers looked frightened as they watched the their leader fight an unseen apparition.

"I see death hasn't slowed you down, Xena."

"Hey, I've been dead before."

They jumped into another exchanged. Najinn was finally gaining an advantage over the warrior princess when Xena suddenly disappeared. Confused, Najinn looked around frantically for her opponent. When she was nowhere to be found she returned her attention to Gabrielle who was still livid over Xena's interference.

"Take her to my tent," Najinn commanded. The man who gave Gabrielle her katana took it back. Two other men grabbed her roughly and pushed her towards the tent.

When she was out of sight, Najinn scanned the forest line. Xena was gone.

Najinn marched back to her tent. Two guards were posted outside to keep the prisoner from escaping. As she passed them, Najinn ordered them to leave. With knowing smirks the guards moved off to a safe distance.

Gabrielle's possessions were sitting just outside the tent. Najinn grabbed them and pushed her way into the tent with purpose.

She looked over at Gabrielle sitting on a cot; her hands had been tied behind her. Najinn took a seat in a chair across from Gabrielle and carefully looked over each of the items she carried in, a pair of sais, a katana, a couple of daggers, and the chakrum. As she inspected the items she absentmindedly asked Gabrielle, "where is your...friend?"

"She's around."

A small smile played on Najinn's lips. She knew that Xena was nowhere near them, she would have sensed her presence if she was.

"She can't exert herself too much, can she?" It was more a statement than a question.

Gabrielle just watched the woman warily, refusing to answer her question.

Unfazed, Najinn continued, "She can appear in the physical form, but it's only temporary. She tires and has to go off to wherever it is she goes to recuperate."

Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably.

"It must be hard for you," she remarked as she regarded a dark urn from Gabrielle's bag.

Gabrielle bowed her head despondently. After several moments, she raised her head and asked, "How can you see her?"

Najinn smiled bitterly. "I just know things."

Carefully setting the urn aside and picking up a dagger, Najinn slowly got up from her seat. As she approached the bound woman, she stated, "So, you're a bard. Tell me a story."

"I don't tell stories anymore." She watched the warlord intently as she approached. She reigned in the fear that was threatening to overwhelm her.

›"Why is that?"

"I just haven't had it in me lately," Gabrielle answered dejectedly.

"That's too bad." Najinn leaned over and was now face to face with Gabrielle. Reaching her arms around Gabrielle, she stated, "I may have to find another way to entertain myself." Gabrielle shivered then suddenly realized her hands were free as Najinn used the dagger to cut her bindings. Najinn backed away and Gabrielle pulled her hands forward rubbing her wrists to regain circulation. Najinn dropped the dagger on the cot next to Gabrielle, turned her back to the woman and casually strolled across the room. Gabrielle eyed the dagger momentarily then returned her attention to the warlord who was still turned away from her.

"You said you came here to stop me. Why is that?"

"You slaughtered all those people, including women and children."

Najinn's face dropped. "That was an unfortunate misunderstanding." Regaining her composure she added, "you have you chance to end my career."

Gabrielle looked quickly from the dagger back to Najinn. "I don't kill in cold blood."

Najinn smirked as she turned around to once again face the smaller woman.

"I had always heard that you are so full of virtue and forgiveness."

"It seems that you are full of hatred and vengeance."

With a lightning fast move Najinn pressed her face into Gabrielle's, her eyes as cold as steel.

"You know nothing about me." Her voice was cold and her expression menacing.

Just as quickly as she was on the smaller woman, Najinn stepped back and racked her hand through her hair, in an attempt to regain her composure. When she felt she had gotten control of her anger, she stated calmly, "you had better get some rest. We ride before dawn." With that she slipped out of the tent to leave Gabrielle confused over the encounter.

Najinn stalked through the darkness over to the mess tent. When she arrived her men had already gathered waiting patiently for her. These men where the ones she most trusted in her army. The men she trusted to follow her orders without question.

Standing in front of the men, she looked them over carefully. "Tomorrow before dawn we will ride east. There is a gully less than half a day's ride. It will be the perfect place to set up an ambush against that traitor Glaucus. He and those loyal to him will surely follow us. The gully is narrow enough that they will have to pass through single file. We will be able to pick them off one by one. Just beyond the gully is a clearing. We will finish them off there. When we have defeated them, we will rebuild and continue with our conquest of this land." She looked sternly across the tent. "Are there any questions?" No one answered. "Then let's get ready. Tomorrow will be a long day."

The men waited for their leader to take her leave before they did. A lone man left the group and silently, under the cover of darkness, hurried to Glaucus' tent, unnoticed by the others.

Najinn returned to her tent. She was not surprised to see that Gabrielle was still there, not taking her opportunity to escape. She sat down in the chair and tried to relax. She knew that sleep was out of the question; she was too wound up for that. Instead, she studied the woman in front of her. Najinn found her intriguing and wondered how much of her was real and how much was legend.

Gabrielle feigned sleep. She had heard Najinn walk in and sit down. Her heart pounded in her chest. Not of necessarily fear. Earlier, Najinn had the opportunity to kill her but didn't. When Gabrielle looked into Najinn's eyes she didn't see hate, instead she saw fear, regret, and something that she couldn't put her finger on. Gabrielle noticed that she had been left alone, her weapons had been left, and the guards were not re-posted outside the tent. There was more to the warlord than met the eye and Gabrielle was compelled to find out what she was up to.

Sleep finally took Gabrielle and almost immediately she was tormented by nightmares.

Najinn watched Gabrielle's fitful sleep. She wanted to comfort her but thought better of it. Sweat broke out all over Gabrielle's body and she cried out Xena's name. Najinn thought that her heart was going to break. ŚDamn, I am getting soft,' she thought to herself. Maybe it was her fighting skills, or her courage, Śor her gorgeous green eyes,' Najinn mused, but somehow the beautiful blonde was getting to her.

The nightmare finally past and Gabrielle settled down and Najinn breathed a sigh of relief.

It was still dark when the warrior shook Gabrielle from her sleep. Groggily, Gabrielle looked up and her heart jumped in her throat as she realized where she was.

"Get up," Najinn said sternly. "It's time to go." Tossing Gabrielle's possessions onto the bed next to the sleepy woman, Najinn turned to exit the tent. "And hurry up, you ride with me."

Gabrielle exited the tent and found Najinn was already astride a large, black warhorse and waiting for her. She moved over to the warhorse and Najinn held down her arm for Gabrielle to grab on to. She did so, almost without thought, and Najinn hauled her up onto the horse behind her. Without a word they rode off followed by half of Najinn's army.

The sun was high in the sky when they reached the gully. They began to ride through the narrow passageway when they were met with an assault of arrows. Many of the men fell off their horses and were running around frantically. Najinn realized that she had be deceived and shouted out to her men for order. She encouraged them to charge through the gully as quickly as possible to reach the open area on the other side knowing that was their only hope. Most of Najinn's army had fallen, but those who survived the ambush faced the enemy bravely when they finally had the room to fight. Gabrielle dismounted the horse and wielded her sais more in defense of herself then to help the cause. Najinn also dismounted drawing her sword standing beside Gabrielle. Together they took down several soldiers who attacked them.

Najinn glanced to her left just in time to see Xena make an appearance.

"Nice of you to join the party."

"I never could resist."› Xena glanced over at Gabrielle who gave her a quick smile.

Shoulder to shoulder the three women fought off assailants and the odds were beginning to even out. Bodies of soldiers lay everywhere in the chaos while the remains of her army fought with all of their hearts and souls against all hope.

The battle was beginning to slow down and Xena, overwhelmed from her exertions could no longer stay to help out. Only a few men remained and fought in small groups. The others lay dead or had abandoned the fight altogether, running terrified into the woods.

Najinn and Gabrielle had been separated during the fighting and Najinn felt that something wrong, searching desperately for the other woman. Gabrielle had just taken down another attacker and Najinn ran at for her with all her might. Gabrielle saw the woman coming and raised her sais to defend an attack, but Najinn pushed passed her. As she did, a crossbow bolt hit her in the right shoulder. Najinn fell to the ground in a heap, her face contorted in pain. If she had not gotten in its way, the bolt would have been on target to kill Gabrielle. Gabrielle suddenly realized what had happened and kneeled down next to the injured woman.

With tremendous effort and great pain, Najinn sat up, placed her fingers to her lips and whistled shrilly. Her warhorse made an appearance out of the confusion of the waning battle. With Gabrielle's help Najinn struggled to her feet then she pushed Gabrielle towards her steed.

"You need to get out of here," Najinn demanded.

Gabrielle just stood her ground. "No." She was not about to leave Najinn behind.

"I don't have time to argue with you. This battle is lost. Please, save yourself."

She shoved Gabrielle harder. Reluctantly, Gabrielle mounted the horse looking back at Najinn. She wanted to stay and see the fight to the end but she had no choice.

"Get out of here!" Najinn screamed and slapped the black mare on the hindquarters causing her to bolt away with Gabrielle hanging on for dear life.

Turning her attention to the tree line Najinn shouted, "Glaucus! Show yourself you coward!"

Glaucus walked out of the tree line laughing. He strode confidently over to Najinn.

"So, who's in command now," he sneered. "No more playing second to a weak looser like you."

Najinn tried in vain to wield her sword but the pain in her shoulder was too great as she dropped the weapon and fell back to her knees.

"I've waited a long time for this Najinn. I waited for the right moment and now you've played right into my hands. Didn't see this coming, did you?" He sneered.

Najinn scowled at him then lowered her head. "Just get this over with."

›"Oh, I plan to, but I want to savor the moment."

Slowly he raised his sword and Najinn braced herself for the inevitable. Without warning the top of Glaucus' head was cleaved off and he slump dead in front of her. Najinn looked up in shock and searched for the source of her salvation. In the distance was Gabrielle, still mounted on the warhorse. The chakrum flew back to her and she caught it with ease. She the rode back over to Najinn and grabbed her arm pulling the wounded woman up behind her. All Najinn could do was hang on as they rode away from the scene of the battle.

Najinn guided Gabrielle through the woods to an area she knew was safe. It was beginning to get dark as they stopped at a clearing. Najinn fell from the horse, landing with a thud. Gabrielle quickly dismounted and helped her over to a fallen log to rest. Without a word, Gabrielle quickly gathered up a stack of wood and had a fire going just as darkness had settled in. She purposefully placed a stick partway in the fire for the end to get hot.

Najinn finally broke the silence. "Why did you save me?"

Kneeling in front of Najinn, Gabrielle responded, "You saved my life. I thought it was only fair that I return the favor."

Gabrielle contemplated the bolt sticking out of Najinn's shoulder. With a grimace she stated, "It didn't go through. I'm going to have to push it."

Najinn shook her head. "No, the bone stopped it." She calmly regarded Gabrielle. "It's going to have to go out the way it went in."

Gabrielle grimaced in horror.

Najinn took Gabrielle's hand to comfort her and gazed compassionately into her eyes. "Just brace yourself and give it one firm pull."

Gabrielle's expression changed to one of uncertainty.

"I trust you," Najinn reassured her.

With that statement Gabrielle took a deep breath and gathered her courage. She gave the shaft of the bolt a firm grip with her left hand while bracing her right hand against Najinn's body. Najinn nodded that she was ready. Gabrielle took a deep breath and pulled with all of her strength. Najinn grimaced and grunted but did not scream out as the bolt came out cleanly. She took a deep breath in relief, as did Gabrielle.

Najinn smiled weakly. "Now comes the fun part."

"Are you okay?"

Najinn shrugged. "I've had worse. Let's just get this over with."

Gabrielle retrieved the burning stick from the fire and approached Najinn. The warrior once again nodded her readiness and with a grimace Gabrielle pressed the burning wood into the wound to cauterize it. This time Najinn cried out as her flesh was seared by the burning wood. Gabrielle tossed the stick into the campfire and pulled a nightshirt from her bag and ripped into long pieces. She took the pieces and carefully bound the wound.

Najinn marveled at her handiwork.

"You could have been a valuable asset in my army."

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked absentmindedly as she finished tending the wound.

"You're an amazing fighter and a talented healer as well. You could have been a great help to me."

"Except that I only fight for the greater good."

"Ah yes, the greater good. I've read all about it in your scrolls."

Gabrielle was astonished. "You've read my scrolls?"

Najinn grinned. "I've read all of your scrolls. I guess you could say I'm a big fan of yours." Gabrielle smiled and blushed deeply.

She looked meaningfully at Gabrielle and sighed deeply. "I guess I finally understand my mother." She stopped and contemplated her next words. "I always hated her, but now, at least understand something about her."

"What is that?" Gabrielle asked expectantly.

Najinn's brown eyes captured Gabrielle's green. "Her love for you."› Gabrielle looked confused and a bit uncomfortable. "She was so much in love with you."

"Who was your mother?" Gabrielle asked softly.

"Najara." The name was spoken as a curse.

The revelation stunned Gabrielle. "But she..."

"...Was left in the care of some women by you and Xena. Yes, Gabrielle, she recovered. Apparently well enough to have me, although I never learned who my father was. She was crazy about you though. She talked about you all the time. I could never fully understand her obsession with you until now. You are a very kind and good person. It would be very easy to fall in love with you." Najinn turned away suddenly embarrassed by her confession.

Gabrielle approached and placed her hand on Najinn's good shoulder. "What happened to her? Is she still...?"

Najinn held up her hand. "She's gone to her precious light." She bitterly spat the words out.

She placed her hand over Gabrielle's wincing from the pain in her shoulder. She gazed into Gabrielle's eyes as if pleading for forgiveness. "You have to understand, it was her or me." Gabrielle studied Najinn's face. Brown eyes silently pleaded for forgiveness. Gabrielle caressed Najinn's shoulder, urging her to continue

"She said that I was evil and she wanted to send me to the light. I had no choice. It was her or me. I had to do it." The pain on Najinn's face touched Gabrielle. She knew in her heart that this woman was truly tortured by what she had done. Gabrielle gently wiped a tear from Najinn's cheek and wrapped her arms around Najinn who gratefully returned the embrace.

Najinn muttered, "her and her jinn. Nothing more than the insane ramblings of a mad woman."

"I can see the family resemblance."

"Xena." Najinn was obviously not happy about seeing the spirit of Gabrielle's partner. Gabrielle guiltily pulled herself free from Najinn. "I thought you would be out of it for quite some time. You put up such a fight. By the way, thank you."

"Don't mention it." To Gabrielle, "can I speak to you?"

Like a child about to be punished, Gabrielle followed Xena to a distance out of earshot.

"What do you think you are doing?" Xena fumed.

"I was trying to offer comfort."

"I want you to be careful with her. She's dangerous and she's trying to get to you."

"So what if she is. Xena, you keep forgetting that I can take care of myself. Besides, she's not that dangerous." She glanced over at Najinn who was still sitting on the log intently watching the conversation. "There's good in her."

"That's what you said about her mother."

"I make my own decisions, Xena, just like you did in Japa. Except I'm the one who has to live with it."

The words stung Xena and the intensity in her blue eyes softened. "Gabrielle, I just worry about you."

"Well don't. That's not your job any more. Now, leave me alone." The words came out more harshly than Gabrielle had intended but she meant them. It hurt her too much to keep carrying a torch for Xena. Dejectedly, Xena turned and without looking back she disappeared into the woods.

Najinn arched an eyebrow as she watched what had transpired. Gabrielle stormed back to her.

"Lover's spat?"

Gabrielle glared at the taller woman.

"I'm sorry. Care to talk about it?"

Gabrielle shook her head angrily. "She always treated me like a child and she still does."

Najinn gently grabbed Gabrielle's hand, pulled the distraught woman down next to her and gathered her in her good arm. Gabrielle buried her head in Najinn's shoulder and started to cry.

"Gabrielle, she just wants to protect you. She loves you so much and she doesn't want you to get hurt."

"She should have thought of that before she got herself killed. She wouldn't even let me save her. She just left me." Her tears came with more vigor and Gabrielle clung tightly to Najinn for comfort.

The two women sat together, Gabrielle's sobs were the only sound to break the peaceful quite of the forest. When her tears finally subsided she pulled away and apologized.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me." She pulled away wiping the tears from her face and tried to compose herself.

Najinn smiled gently. "It seems to me that you have been needing to do that for a long time."

Gabrielle grimaced. "It's been so hard living without her."

"I understand." Their eyes locked. Both Gabrielle and Najinn felt their hearts skip a beat.

Somehow finding her voice Najinn said softly, "we haven't eaten all day. You must be starved."

"I suppose I should try to eat something," was the murmured reply.

Without breaking eye contact, Najinn carefully reached over to Gabrielle, placed her hand down the red velvet top, pulled out a breast dagger and tossed it into the woods. The women then heard the sound of an animal screaming.

"How about rabbit?" Najinn smirked. Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and grinned.

Najinn insisted on cleaning and cooking the rabbit. "Gabrielle, you've done so much. I want you to relax."

"But your shoulder..."

"My shoulder is fine. You did a great job." Najinn reached over to brush an aberrant lock from Gabrielle's forehead. Gabrielle's breath hitched from the contact. "You're too tense," Najinn remarked.

Najinn sat Gabrielle down, took a seat behind her and began massaging her shoulders. "Your muscles are all knots. No wonder you're so tense."

ŚYou don't know the half of it,' Gabrielle thought to herself. She melted under Najinn's ministrations. "That feels incredible," she murmured.

"Imagine how good it would feel if I could use both of my hands. A moan was her answer.

Gabrielle had become a puddle reveling in the Najinn's warm and gentle touch.

Najinn worked diligently until she couldn't feel any more tension in Gabrielle's muscles. Satisfied that Gabrielle was thoroughly relaxed, Najinn got up to finish preparing the meal. Gabrielle immediately missed Najinn's touch but resigned herself to watching her work

They ate in relative silence. Najinn finished her bowl of rabbit stew but Gabrielle had only managed a few bites. "I know my cooking is bad, but you could at least try to pretend it's edible." The remark caused Gabrielle to smile.

"Your cooking is fine. I was just...thinking."

"About?"

Gabrielle was torn between her rapidly developing feelings for Najinn and her loyalty for Xena. As angry as she was at her soul mate, she knew that they were destined to be together again. She wasn't sure if she wanted to talk about all this to Najinn. "It's not important, "she finally answered.

Najinn knew that was not true but she didn't want to pry. "Well, if and when you're ready to talk, I'm here."

"Thank you." Gabrielle was both astonished and pleased at Najinn's willingness to talk yet willing to give her the space she needed.

Najinn cleared her throat. "Gabrielle, about last night, I want you to know that I wouldn't have hurt you...and I would never have forced you or anyone else to do anything against their will."

"I know," Gabrielle stated simply.

"I just wanted to apologize for my behavior."

"Apology accepted."

Najinn took Gabrielle's bowl from her. "Let's try to get some sleep." Gabrielle nodded in agreement.

They placed their bedrolls next to each other by the fire and settled in. Both women lay on their backs and stared at the stars. Gabrielle asked hesitantly, "What are you going to do now that you don't have an army?"

Najinn contemplated the question. "I don't know. It's a relief actually. After...when my mother was gone, I had changed. My anger and bloodlust just left me. I kept on with my conquest because I didn't know anything else and I had a reputation to maintain. All that doesn't matter any more. I suppose the ambush was a blessing in disguise. It has freed me to move on."

Gabrielle studied the woman next to her. Najinn's features had softened making the woman look young and vulnerable. She looked very different from the warlord Gabrielle encountered the previous night. Najinn gave her a sidelong glance and Gabrielle smiled bashfully realizing that she had been caught openly staring.

"Something on your mind, Gabrielle?"

Embarrassed, Gabrielle settled back into her bedroll. "I was just admiring the scenery," she mumbled.

It took a long time for Gabrielle to fall asleep. When she finally did, she was tormented by nightmares of Xena's naked, lifeless body hanging in front of her. She tossed and turned violently in her sleep.

Najinn watched her vigilantly and when she saw Gabrielle's distress she stroked her head gently and spoke to her in soothing tones to comfort the tormented woman. The nightmares finally subsided and Gabrielle fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Najinn sensed a presence watching them. She got up and wandered into the woods.

She softly called out. "Xena."

On cue Xena made an appearance.

"I thought you left." Najinn kept her voice low. She did not want to wake the sleeping bard.

"I like to stay close to her when I can."

Unsatisfied with the answer Najinn pressed the issue. "Why are you really here?"

Xena looked sadly over to the form of her sleeping partner. "I love her so much, I can't leave her," she admitted.

"So that's why you follow her?'

Xena nodded.

"You're pathetic." Najinn spat.

Xena's expression turned to one of anger.

"You did leave her," Najinn almost shouted and quickly lowered her voice again so as not to wake the sleeping woman. "You died for your so called Śgreater good' and Gabrielle pays the price. She gets to wander around the word haunted by the one she loves most. How wonderful for her." Najinn's voice was dripping with sarcasm.

"I had to die to save those souls."

"You did not have to die. I hate to tell you this Xena but you were lied to. Those souls were saved when you destroyed Yodoshi."

"What I did was for the greater good. Gabrielle understands that."

"You sound just like my mother and her precious light. Do you even understand what you were fighting for? Do you know what the greater good is?"

Xena looked confused. "I had to do the right thing."

"You're a fool! Look at her! She's dying inside because of your decision. Is that what your greater good is all about, destroying your best friend?"

"You don't understand."

"I understand more than you realize."

Xena's expression was one of total defeat. In her heart she knew that Najinn was right; her decision was hurting the woman she loved.

Najinn's voice softened. "There is a way."

"What are you talking about?" Xena was suspicious. She still didn't trust the dark woman.

"There is a ritual that could be performed. The ritual of Hiuta."

That sounded familiar to Xena. "I've heard of it once a long time ago." Realization crossed Xena's face. "In order to bring someone to life, another life must be sacrificed."

Najinn's steely expression bore into Xena. "I'm willing to die for her happiness. The question is, Warrior Princess, are you willing to live for it?"

This statement set Xena back on her heels. She wanted desperately to be with Gabrielle again, but she wasn't completely convinced that her death was in vain.

Najinn continued, "The site of the ceremony is near a cave two days ride from here. I'll see you there at sunset on the second day, unless you are too proud to admit that you are wrong. Think about it." She walked away returning to the sleeping bard.

Xena watched her leave and lay down next to Gabrielle. She was filled with jealousy. Then she was angry with herself. After all, she was no longer there for Gabrielle as she was when she was alive. It was only a matter of time before she got on with her life and found comfort in the arms of another. The thought caused her jealousy to rise up again. If Najinn said was true, she could have another chance with her partner, but then would it be right to let Najinn to die because she selfishly wanted to be with Gabrielle again. Xena's head was reeling. "What am I going to do?" As much as she hated to do it, she resolved to stay away from the couple until she decided what to do.

The morning sun broke through the canopy of trees. Najinn had already been up and started heating up leftover rabbit stew. Gabrielle smelled the food and slowly came to. She rolled over with a sleepy smile on her face. It felt good to not wake up alone. She had missed the companionship.

Najinn looked over at her with a smile of her own plastered on her face. "Well, good morning, Sunshine."

Gabrielle stretched and rolled on to her back with a moan, waiting for the cobwebs to clear.

"I hope you're hungry."

Gabrielle forced herself out of the bedroll. "I might be able to eat something."

"Great. Then we need to hit the road."

Gabrielle frowned. She had hoped to take a couple of days off and rest. It would have been the first time she stopped moving since Xena's death.

Noticing the change in Gabrielle's mood she added, "I have a surprise for you."

Gabrielle immediately perked up. "What is it?"

"If I told you then it wouldn't be a surprise. You'll find out in two days."

"Two days," Gabrielle whined.

Smirking at her disappointment she motioned for Gabrielle to join her at the fire and handed her a bowl of steaming stew. "The sooner we get going, the sooner you'll get your surprise."

Grumbling, Gabrielle realized that her appetite was beginning to make a comeback and, much to Najinn's relief, she ate the entire contents of the bowl.

Like a well-choreographed dance they broke camp. Najinn, with no apparent ill effects from her injury, lifted herself onto her mare then held her arm out for Gabrielle who grabbed it and settled in behind her. Najinn's stomach did a flip-flop as Gabrielle wrapped her arms tightly around her waist and pressed her body against Najinn's strong back.

They talked for nearly the entire ride about almost everything, carefully avoiding more painful subjects. Gabrielle even felt her heart lighten and laughed with ease.› Najinn was feeling better than she had in her entire life but she still felt a slight ache in her heart. If things went as planned she would loose Gabrielle to Xena. Knowing that it would bring Gabrielle happiness did little to dull the pain.

It was late in the afternoon when they arrived at the thriving town of Altus. They rode to the blacksmith to stable the horse. Gabrielle gave Najinn a look of uncertainty.

Najinn answered the silent question. "I thought that you might like to sleep in a real bed tonight and maybe eat something edible rather than my horrific cooking.

Gabrielle smiled at her warmly. "I told you that you are a great cook."

"Well, none the less, I thought it would be a treat."

She handed Gabrielle a pouch of dinars. "There is an inn just down the road from here. How about you get a couple of rooms and then you can wander the marketplace. Go ahead get anything you need. I'll meet you back at the inn at sunset."

Gabrielle started to protest and hand the money back, but before she could utter a word Najinn turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Najinn wandered the marketplace getting much needed supplies and a new shirt to replace the torn and blood-soaked one she still wore. She suddenly stopped at a booth and admired the silver trinkets the merchant was selling, but what had caught her eye was a necklace. The silver pendent hanging from it was the form of an Amazon headdress. Najinn couldn't resist and purchased the item stowing it away safely. She hoped that Gabrielle would like it.

The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon as Najinn finished her shopping and headed to the inn. When she stepped inside she immediately noticed that the room was silent except for one soulful voice. The attention every patron in the in the room was riveted to a certain blonde bard. Gabrielle was standing on a stage and told a tale of love lost and found with such passion and enthusiasm that she couldn't help but draw everyone into her spell. The crowd was hanging on her every word. Najinn took a seat in the back and listened intently to the story. A barmaid walked up to her table and asked for her order. Najinn ordered two mugs of port and two orders of whatever smelled so wonderful from the kitchen. The woman looked at Najinn sitting by herself, gave her a skeptical look than headed off to the next table.

The port arrived as Gabrielle finished her story. The audience showed its appreciation, clapping and cheering loudly. Gabrielle blushed and smiled her gratitude to her audience. She had seen Najinn walk in and she slipped her way through the throngs of appreciative fans to the table. Najinn rose in Gabrielle's presence. She walked over to the chair opposite hers and pulled it out for the storyteller.

"Thank you." She sat down and Najinn returned to her seat.

"I thought you didn't tell stories anymore."

Gabrielle smiled sheepishly. "I guess all I needed was inspiration." She blushed more deeply and turned her gaze from Najinn to the crowd. ›When she regained her composure she turned her attention back to Najinn. "The inn was full and I could only get us one room. I hope that's okay."

"That's fine." Najinn's heart skipped a beat. "I hope you have your appetite."

Gabrielle's smile returned brighter than before. "I'm starved!" To her surprise she really was.

The food came to the table and Gabrielle ate with gusto. Najinn watched in amusement and said, "I'm glad you're feeling better."

"Me too." The women locked eyes. They both smiled nervously and finished their meal.

They each drank a second mug of port and relaxed, enjoying each other's company. Throughout the night, they would gaze appreciatively at each other only to timidly look away.

It was getting late and Gabrielle stifled a yawn. Najinn took one last swig of her port to calm her nerves. Sharing a night together under the stars was one thing, sharing a cozy room at the inn was quite another. Najinn nearly jumped out of her seat when she felt a warm hand covering her own. She didn't notice that Gabrielle had gotten up and was standing next to her looking at her expectantly.

Gabrielle took her by the hand and led her to their room. Najinn took a quick look around. She noticed that there was only one bed in the room and she didn't know if she should laugh or cry. Deciding to do the honorable thing and laid out her bedroll in the middle of the floor as Gabrielle plopped unceremoniously on the bed. She rolled on her side and propped her head up watching Najinn. She struggled a moment with her feelings of disloyalty to Xena, but she wanted to feel the comfort of Najinn's warm body next to her. The thought of sleeping in a cold bed alone was too much for her especially with an incredibly attractive woman only a few feet away.

She gathered up her courage before she spoke. "It's okay if you want to share the bed with me. I mean...there's no point to your sleeping on the hard floor." Najinn looked at her trying to keep her emotions from boiling over.

She didn't know what her expression was but it caused Gabrielle to giggle. "It's okay. I don't bite."

Najinn gave her a skeptical look. "That's not what I heard." This caused both women to break out in a fit of laughter.

There laughter subsided leaving only a nervous tension that filled the room like a thick fog. Gabrielle looked at Najinn hopefully and against her better judgment Najinn gave in. With her warrior training she knew she would be able to control herself, but it would prove to be an uncomfortable night. She made a move for the bed and Gabrielle quickly scooted over to make room. With a heavy sigh, Najinn lay down next to her.

They both tried to settle down for the night, but Gabrielle kept fidgeting and after several moments she asked tentatively, "could you hold me?"

Trying in vain to control her trembling Najinn wrapped her arms around the smaller woman who eagerly cuddled up to her resting her head on Najinn's chest.

"I missed this so much," Gabrielle murmured and within seconds was fast asleep.

Najinn swallowed hard. She couldn't help but enjoy the feel of Gabrielle in her arms. She just wished she knew what Xena was going to do. She felt that her gift was failing her; first the ambush and now Xena's impending decision. She just couldn't see things the way that she could before. Perhaps that was a blessing. It wasn't always easy knowing everything that was going on around her.

She placed a soft kiss on the sleeping woman's forehead. "I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered into her blonde locks. Gabrielle shifted in her sleep snuggling closer to Najinn, a slight smile playing across her lips.

It had been several days since Najinn had gotten any sleep. She tried to ignore Gabrielle's breath softly caressing her breast and her strong arms wrapped around her waist. Despite the circumstances, she nodded off into peaceful slumber.

The morning sun filtered through the window and crept across the room, eventually shining directly on Gabrielle's face, gently waking her. Feeling too relaxed to open her eyes; Gabrielle was content to listen to the strong and steady heartbeat of the woman who was serving as a comfortable pillow. The sound was comforting and almost lulled her back to sleep. When she finally opened her eyes she saw Najinn contentedly watching her.

"Sleep well?"

Gabrielle smiled sheepishly and nodded.

"I noticed that you didn't have any nightmares last night."

"Nope, not a one."

"I'm glad to hear that."

Reluctantly, Najinn untangled their limbs and got up, pulling Gabrielle with her

Gabrielle protested. "Just a few more minutes."

" Has anyone told you that you are a bear to get up in the morning," Najinn teased. She heard a growl in response. You want your surprise don't you?"

Gabrielle had completely forgotten. In an instant she was on her feet and waiting by the door. Najinn had to chuckle at her enthusiasm.

"What are we waiting for?" Gabrielle asked impatiently. "Let's go."

Ending 1

They arrived at the cave just before sunset. The smell of rain hung heavy in the air and dark, foreboding clouds were beginning to roll in. Gabrielle went inside to start a fire before it got too dark. Najinn unsaddled her horse and gave her a quick brush down before letting her loose to explore on her own. The storm hit with full ferocity as she scanned the tree line and sensed Xena's presence.›

Najinn felt uneasy but she knew what she had to do. At least she wouldn't be around to have her heart broken.

Najinn entered the cave. She gazed at Gabrielle across the warm fire.

"It's pretty bad, huh?"

"What's that?" Najinn was shaken from her thoughts.

"The storm. Looks like we got here just in time."

"Yeah, just in time," she echoed.

Gabrielle busied herself setting up the bedrolls and making herself at home. While she was distracted Najinn slipped over to the back of the cave and reached behind a large rock, pulling out a jewel encrusted dagger. Slipping it under her shirt she then walked over to Gabrielle's bag. Gabrielle was still distracted with her own tasks and Najinn quickly reached in and pulled out the urn that contained Xena's ashes. This she tucked under her arm and headed for the cave entrance, hiding the urn from Gabrielle's view.

Not looking back she stated, "I'm going to get more firewood. Just in case."

"Be careful." Gabrielle called after her, wondering why Najinn was suddenly acting so strangely. Perhaps it had something to do with her surprise, she mused.

Out in the ferocious thunderstorm, Najinn made her way into the forest to a small clearing where an altar stood. She knelt down in front of the altar and placed Xena's ashes in the center of the stone table. Then she pulled the dagger from her shirt and held it up to the turbulent sky.

"I call upon the gods and goddesses to come to my aide on this day. I hold the dagger of Hiuta before you. I ask that you trade my life for that of Xena, Warrior Princess." Before she could finish her chant a large bolt of lightning struck, shattering the altar and scattering Xena's ashes. Najinn was thrown clear and into a large tree with enough force to be knocked unconscious.

The lightning strike that knocked Najinn out lit up the interior of the cave. Gabrielle worried about Najinn's safety. She jumped to her feet and ran outside in search of her.

›It did not take Gabrielle long to find Najinn's prone form lying on the ground. Gabrielle's heart jumped in her throat as she quickly ran over to the fallen woman's side.

She was horrified by what she found. Najinn was bleeding from her head and was no longer breathing. Gabrielle cried out, "not again!" Pulling herself together, she knew she had to work quickly. She pressed her mouth against Najinn's to breath for her. After several moments she had no success. Tears streamed down her face mixing with the freezing rain. "NO!" Desperately she tried again. This time she had success as she could see Najinn's chest rising and falling on its own. Relieved Gabrielle broke down and cried both out of fear and joy, holding Najinn tightly. When she calmed down she moved her hand over to the head wound. With another wave of relief she discovered that the wound was minor and Najinn would recover. A thorough inspection of the rest of her body revealed no other injuries. She hoisted Najinn up and with all of her strength pulled her out of the rain back into the safety of the cave.

She gently placed Najinn next to the fire and grabbed a blanket to put over the soaked and now shivering woman. Gabrielle gently caressed her face and pleaded, "Please, wake up."

Najinn felt a warm drop fall on her face and she pulled herself from the hazy darkness that engulfed her and opened her eyes. Her vision was blurry at first, but as it began to clear she saw Gabrielle's tear streaked face over her. Najinn felt her heart break as her own tears began to fall.

"Oh, Gabrielle, I am so sorry. I tried, but I failed you."

Gabrielle gently stroked Najinn's face. "Failed me? How did you fail me?"

Najinn knew it was time to come clean and confess why she had brought Gabrielle to this place.

Before she could utter a word, a dark figure stepped into the cave. Both Najinn and Gabrielle looked over at the intruder and their eyes went wide. Xena was standing at the cave entrance, naked and soaked to the bone.

"Xena?" Gabrielle was too overwhelmed to say anything else; instead she grabbed a second blanket and ran over to wrap it around Xena's shoulders and escorted her back to the fire.

Najinn's jaw almost hit the floor. "But how...? But I..."

Xena smiled slowly. "You had to die to bring me back. You did and Gabrielle brought you back."

"Very clever," Najinn mused.

Gabrielle looked back and forth from one woman to the other, confusion written on her face. "Will someone tell me what is going on here?"

Najinn sat up holding her head. She was getting one wicked headache. "I'm going to gather some firewood...for real this time."

Both Xena and Gabrielle gave her worried looks.

"Don't worry. I'll stay close. I think you two need some time alone." Before she left she told Xena, "In the saddlebags there is something you might need."

Najinn fled the cave. She had to get away. Although she was glad that all had ended well, she wondered what she was going to do now that Xena was back and she survived the ritual.

Gabrielle held tightly to Xena, not believing that she was alive. "So, are you going to tell me what just happened?"

"Of course, but first I want to tell you that I'm sorry and I will never take you or your love for granted again. I love you, Gabrielle, with all that I am."

"I love you too, Xena."

The women embraced and their lips met in a passionate kiss, reaffirming their love and lives together.

Najinn had gathered an armload of wood and was shivering with cold, pacing back and forth near the cave entrance, debating whether or not to intrude on the reunited lovers. She finally decided that she would rather not freeze to death. Taking a deep breath she hoped she was not interrupting anything as she loudly announced her entrance.

She found Xena and Gabrielle sitting close together by the fire. Xena was wearing the leathers that Najinn had stowed in the saddlebag for her. Both Xena and Gabrielle looked deliriously happy to be together again.

Najinn dropped the wood next to the fire to dry.

"You two work things out?"

"Yes," Gabrielle answered. "Xena explained everything to me."

She walked up to Najinn and gave her a hug. "I can't believe you were willing to do that for me. Thank you"

Najinn somberly regarded her. "I would do anything for you."

Xena cleared her throat, breaking the connection. Najinn and Gabrielle shuffled nervously.› Najinn stepped away, grabbed her bedroll and placed it on the opposite site of the fire from Xena and Gabrielle. The couple snuggled up together and Najinn turned away, pain etched on her face.

The next morning the storm had blown past and the sky was clear. The three women were standing on a dirt road saying their goodbyes. Najinn strode up to Gabrielle and they embraced. As the parted, Najinn brushed her lips briefly against Gabrielle's and pressed the silver necklace into her hand. Xena jealously looked on but she controlled herself, she had to trust her partner. She had another chance and she was not about to blow it.

When Najinn stepped back Gabrielle looked at the necklace. "It's beautiful," she exclaimed.

Najinn grinned. "I saw it and thought of you."

"Thank you," Gabrielle whispered and looked over at Xena, "...for everything."

Najinn nodded and stepped over to Xena. They clasped forearms. "Najinn, I don't know how to repay you."

"You can start by taking good care of her." She glanced briefly over to Gabrielle. When her gaze returned to Xena, it was stern. "And if you ever hurt her, I will know about it, and I will be there."

"I promise," Xena vowed, taking Gabrielle's hand in her own.

Najinn turned and pulled herself onto her horse.

"What will you do?" Gabrielle asked after her.

Najinn shrugged. "I don't know. I hadn't planned farther than last night, but I'm sure I'll find trouble somewhere," she joked.

"You could travel with us for awhile," Gabrielle offered.

Xena shot her a look and Najinn quickly answered. "No. That's okay...I'll be fine." The last thing she wanted was to be a third wheel.

"You two take care." With a wave, Najinn rode off.

"Do you think she'll be okay?" Gabrielle asked as they watched Najinn gallop away.

"She'll be just fine." Xena put her arm around Gabrielle as they watched the former warlord disappear into the distance.

Ending 2

They arrived at the cave just before sunset. The smell of rain hung heavy in the air and dark, foreboding clouds were beginning to roll in. Gabrielle went inside to start a fire before it got too dark. Najinn unsaddled her horse and gave her a quick brush down before letting her loose to explore on her own. A vicious storm blew in as she scanned the tree line. Xena was nowhere to be found.

"Coward," Najinn muttered.

She entered the cave as storm hit in force.

"Pretty bad, huh?"

ŚYou have no idea,' Najinn thought to herself. Out loud she said, "Yeah, looks like we got here just in time."

Gabrielle wondered what her surprise was, and to keep her mind off of it, she busied herself setting out the bedrolls and making herself at home.

They sat together by the fire in contemplative silence, each involved in their own thoughts. Finally, Gabrielle couldn't stand it anymore and she burst out, "so, what's my surprise?"

Najinn froze; thanks to Xena there was no surprise. Thinking quickly she got up and grabbed an apple out of her saddlebag, tossing it to Gabrielle.

Catching the fruit, Gabrielle gave her a look of disappointment. "This is my surprise?"

Smiling, Najinn closed the distance between them, grabbed the apple out of Gabrielle's hand, and tossed it over her shoulder. "Okay, so you don't like apples."

Gabrielle looked stunned. "I like apples...it's just that I was expecting...more."

Najinn laughed, her words spoken to Gabrielle when they first met having been thrown back her.

"Okay, I'll give you your real surprise, but first you have to close your eyes."

Gabrielle looked at her doubtfully.

Wiping the smile from her face, Najinn repeated her request. "Close your eyes...trust me."

This time Gabrielle complied. Najinn waved her hand over Gabrielle's face to make sure she wasn't peeking. Satisfied, she reached inside her shirt and pulled out the silver necklace that had been safely tucked away between her breasts. Her hands trembled as she placed it around Gabrielle's neck. When she was finished she took a step back.

"Okay, you can open your eyes."

Gabrielle did so, and immediately looked down at the pendent. She picked it up to get a better look at it. Her breath was taken away. "It's beautiful," she exclaimed.

"So are you." Embarrassed by the words that fell unbidden from her lips, Najinn suddenly found the cave floor interesting as she shuffled her feet. Gabrielle closed the distance between them and placed two fingers under Najinn's chin forcing the taller woman to look at her.

Najinn was overwhelmed by the passion she saw in Gabrielle's eyes. She wet her lips that felt parched. Hesitantly she spoke. "Gabrielle, I know that your heart..."

Gabrielle pressed her fingers to Najinn's lips, silencing her.

"I need to get on with my life. I know she would want that."

Slowly, Najinn lowered her head and kissed Gabrielle softly. The kiss was tentative at first, but Gabrielle put her hands around Najinn's head pulling her in closer. The kiss deepened and became more passionate. Gabrielle was shocked at her own boldness, but she knew what she felt and was compelled to act. She felt her knees go weak as Najinn returned the embrace, wrapping her strong arms around her.

Reluctantly they broke the kiss, both women gasping for breath from the intensity.

Najinn's brown eyes were captured in Gabrielle's green, which had darkened with desire.

"How's your shoulder?" Gabrielle's voice had lowered and octave and it caused Najinn's heart to beat faster.

"Feeling no pain," Najinn replied breathlessly.

"Good." Gabrielle grinned wickedly and led Najinn over to the bedrolls.

Najinn was more than happy to let Gabrielle have full control over the situation, and she allowed herself to be lowered to the blankets on the ground. Gabrielle lay on top of her and their lips met again in another searing kiss.

When they broke the kiss, Najinn's expression grew concerned. "Are you sure about this?"

As an answer Gabrielle kissed her again possessively and any doubts she may have harbored were taken away. Knowing she was doing the right thing she began to undress the woman underneath her. Her hands explored the battle scared body and she reveled in the warm, silkiness of Najinn's skin.

Najinn forced herself to remain still under Gabrielle's scrutiny, but she was reaching the end of her self-control. She tugged gently at Gabrielle's top. "Not fair. I want to play too."

Gabrielle undressed slowly, giving Najinn a show before laying back down covering the former warlord with her body.

Gabrielle woke up feeling better that she had in a long time. Without opening her eyes, she reached over to the bedroll next to her. Finding it empty, she panicked. Her eyes flew open, and she saw Najinn sitting next to the fire, sipping a cup of tea. Gabrielle's heart was racing and she was trembling.

Najinn looked over at her and saw the consternation on Gabrielle's face and in an instant was by her side. She wrapped her arms around her frightened new lover and held her close. "Are you okay?"

›Gabrielle fiercely returned the hug. "For a moment, I thought you had left."

"Oh Gabrielle," Najinn breathed, " I will never leave you."

"I've heard that before. It seems that everyone I love ends up dead."

"You won't be able to get rid of me that easily. Besides, I have you to protect me.

The remark elicited a giggle from Gabrielle.

"Of course you realize that I'm old enough to be your mother," Gabrielle quipped. Najinn laughed warmly and pressed the smaller woman back down to the bedroll.

"For an old woman, you look incredible."

Gabrielle playfully swatted her on the arm.

"And feisty too."

Gabrielle curled closer into Najinn's embrace, nuzzling her head in the crook of her neck. "We don't have anywhere we need to be, do we?" Her voice was muffled by Najinn's flesh.

"When you are ready, we can go anywhere you want."

"Good. In that case, I think you're overdressed." She began tugging at Najinn's shirt.

"I don't remember hearing about this side of you."

"I'm just full of surprises." Gabrielle smiles seductively.

"That sounds promising."

Without the knowledge of the two women, Xena's spirit smiled affectionately upon the couple, bestowing her blessings on the union. Turning to leave, she knew that she and Gabrielle were destined to be together again.

The End


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