Remember, Never to Forget

by Cindy Hart aka Sinful


Disclaimers: I would like to thank MCA/Universal for the use of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Eponin and Argo. I only borrowed them and when I do finally return them, I hope we are all better off.

I have also borrowed the character of Jadax from Jamie Boughen (from his stories Anger is My Shield and Valley of Hidden Fears) with his permission. I believe your stories should come from within yourself, but when you fall in love with someone else's character, you want to bring them back to life. Thanks Jamie, for all your stories and characters. Without your help this story would never have happened.

To my beta reader and patient editors: Thanks Laura & Jamie ... I have learned more than I thought I had ever forgotten.

The characters of Nazalon and Plaiertei are all my own, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did creating them. I ask that you not use them without my permission. Thank You.

Disclaimer: This story has graphic scenes of sex and violence. If you are under the age of 18 or it is illegal where you live, or the thought of sex between two women bothers you, get help, and don't read any further. There are plenty of other stories out there in the Xenaverse.

Time Line: Beginning of Season IV; following A Family Affair.

Feedback: Sinful@telus.net


Part 1

I watch you from a distance,

I wonder what could be.

If I told you that I loved you,

Would you say the same to me?

I ache to hold your body,

But I fear that you would leave.

If you knew the depth of my desire,

OH, what a tangled web we weave.

Prologue

Gabrielle rounded the corner of the stables and almost ran into the closed doors of the barn. She pulled one of the doors open with a mighty whoosh! Argo and Nazalon looked up at her. Argo's ears twitched as she recognized her owner's companion. Nazalon took a step closer toward Gabrielle blocking her view. As the Amazon had stepped closer, Gabrielle saw what no one had wanted her to see. Horror filled her face as she saw the sword ... the chakram ... hanging from Xena's bloody saddle. Gabrielle's scream could be heard all throughout the Amazon nation, and echoed in all their hearts.

Her world turned to darkness as the ground rushed up to meet her. Nazalon reached Gabrielle before she hit the ground. She held the limp body of the bard in her arms as she looked up at the frightened faces of Ephiny and Jadax. They knew Nazalon had been there to catch her falling body, but no one was there to catch her falling soul.

Chapter 1: Days earlier ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Are you alive?" Gabrielle looked at Xena.

"Yes."

Pause.

"Are you a warlord?"

"Nooo."

It was a game they played often but they hadn't played it in a long while. Their lives had been too busy being torn apart by the evil and darkness of Hope and the Destroyer. There had been no time for fun and games then, but they had all the time in the world now.

They had left Poteidaia days ago and were heading to the Amazon nation. Xena knew the rumors of Gabrielle's death had reached them and even though they had sent word that their Queen was alive, Gabrielle had insisted on a visit ... in person. Xena hoped the trip would brighten her bard's spirits.

The small blonde's face pulled into a frown. The frown changed to puzzlement as she walked beside her friend and companion. Running her free hand through her hair as she twirled her staff with the other, her mind concentrated on the game they were playing.

The tall raven-haired warrior was also deep in thought as she walked beside her bard, Argo's reins held loosely in her hand. It was nice to be on the road again. After all that had happened in Poteidaia, a peaceful stroll down a quiet road was what they needed.

"Are you a God?" smiling Gabrielle asked as she jumped in front of Xena.

"No." Grinning down at her, Xena lightly pushed Gabrielle aside and continued walking.

The warrior returned to the thoughts on her mind. Just one thought in actually. Gabrielle. With each sun's passing she couldn't believe how fortunate she was.

I have my bard back and all in one piece, thought Xena, although she could still see the haunted look in Gabrielle's green eyes. They had been through so much together. Britannia, Chin, Illusia, and most recently, the death of Hope and the Destroyer. Xena still couldn't believe Gabrielle was alive. The ache slammed her in the chest again. She couldn't shake the memory of watching Gabrielle falling along side her daughter Hope, nor the sound of her voice as she cried out Xena's name. All she could do was watch as her friend fell to her death into the river of lava. The image was still fresh in her mind like it had just happened and it tugged at her heart. Then she and Joxer had found Hope, alive and well, living in Poteidaia, posing as Gabrielle. Xena turned to look at her companion, she was thankful the real Gabrielle was back. Maybe not totally, but physically she was here.

Xena could see what the past had done to Gabrielle. She could see it in her eyes. The pain and darkness she saw, showed the violations to Gabrielle's soul. Xena hoped with time and compassion, they could repair all the damage that had been done. Together, they could begin to repair each another. Together ... they could do anything.

"Are you friend or foe?" Xena snapped back to the present. She looked down at the quizzical blonde. She had missed Gabrielle's smile. Her eyelids lowered as she answered her. "That was two questions," she slipped a muscular, bronze arm around the bard's neck in a playful jest. "You're cheating, Gabrielle. You lose."

"Oh, come on Xena. It's not like you never bend the rules," her voice was muffled as her head was still in the crook of the warrior's arm.

"Okay. For you I'll make an exception. I won't kill ya, and I won't even use the neck pinch on ya." Xena said with a smile. She still hadn't released the little blonde's head.

"No harm, no foul. Right, Xena."

"No fowl ... you want fish for dinner?"

"Xena!" Gabrielle screeched as the warrior princess ran her knuckles over the bard's blonde hair.

It was good to laugh and joke again. It had been too long since they just had some fun. They had both missed this and reveled in each other's company. It felt like old times. They were friends, and they were alive. For now, that was all they cared about.

They strolled along in silence enjoying the smells of the evergreens lining the roadway. The dense old growth muffled the sounds they all were making, the slow clip clop of Argo's hooves, the swirl of the bard's Amazon staff, and the mighty warrior princess chewing on her nails. The subtle sounds were suddenly broken by the loud grumble coming from Gabrielle's muscular stomach.

Xena looked over at the little bard raising her eyebrows. She opened her icy blue eyes even wider.

"What?" Gabrielle said in questioning embarrassment.

"I guess it's time to start looking for some dinner. We'll find a place to camp for the night. We're not due at the Amazon village for a couple more days, so why not stop a little early. Besides, with all the rumbling Argo is starting to get nervous."

Gabrielle wasn't sure whether to thank her for stopping early, or smack her for the comment about her stomach. It didn't matter, she was tired and it would be nice to stop early for a change. She was looking forward to her visit with the Amazons, but Xena was right, they could wait a bit. She smiled as she thought of her Amazon sisters and how much she missed them. Ephiny, Jadax and Eponin, actually she missed them all. She wanted to see them in person to let them know they were alive and well, despite the rumors to the contrary.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and hugged herself inwardly. Today was a good day. The sun was warm on her back and her warrior was by her side. Being with Xena and laughing, it had been too long since they had just had a laugh together. She knew it would take time for them to mend all that had happened, but it was a start, a good start. Add to it, the pending trip to the Amazons and Gabrielle felt a warmth growing inside her. It was a good day.

The warrior princess craned her neck to look farther down the road. The sounds of early summer rang in her ears. The birds and the bees were playing in the light wind. The evergreens swayed lazily scenting the air with the smell of pine and wildflowers. Xena knew of a river near by, and smiled to herself as she also recalled a hot spring. 'Definitely a good place to stop for the night, if she could find the path,' she thought.

"Are you a friend?" Gabrielle asked, resuming their game of questions.

"Yes. Me friend -You bard," Xena grunted, thumping her chest, then reached out the thump Gabrielle's.

"Funny Xena ... Ok, you are a friend. So that means you've never fought the great warrior princess then?"

"Wrong." Xena smiled slyly.

"Huh?"

"I said wrong."

"Let me get this straight. You are a friend, but you've fought them?"

"That's right."

The warrior spotted a break in the trees it was the small path she had been looking for. She nodded to it and turned off the road. Gabrielle was still thinking about Xena's answer as they traveled through the luscious, green, old growth forest. Xena easily picking her way through the trees until they came upon a small clearing, a little oasis of green grass amongst the tall stand of timbers. It was awash with the afternoon sun as the rays of light fought to get through the trees. It looked like the forest had opened its hands, flattened the ground and rolled out a carpet of green. Xena wasn't the only one who knew about the campsite, evident by the ring of rocks for the fire. Some weary traveler had pulled a log close to the fire pit to either sit on or snuggle next to.

They unloaded Argo of their supplies. Xena went to tend to her horse as Gabrielle began to make camp. Without thinking, the two companions had gone about their own duties. Without words they instinctively had gone back into their old groove of responsibilities.

Gabrielle unpacked the saddlebags and looked down at the leather bag holding her scrolls, parchments that held happier times. She had never written a word about the horrors leading up to Illusia, nothing about the lies and betrayals, which almost cost them their friendship and their lives. Gabrielle felt a pang in her heart. The guilt was gone, but not the pain of memories. Hope and the Destroyer were dead, but what they had done was unforgettable. Her heart ached for all the evil they had done. The misery they had inflicted was still evident on both of them. Gabrielle's thoughts went back to earlier on the road today.

Even when they were laughing, she could see the concern and worry on Xena's face. Gabrielle couldn't even fathom what Xena had gone through thinking she was dead. What would I do if something happened to Xena? Could I carry on like she did? Would I search the world for her? The known world and the underworld? Yes! The answer was loud and clear. Gabrielle knew she loved her and more than just as a friend. She would do anything for Xena, all the warrior had to do was ask.

Gabrielle placed their furs beside the log next to the fire pit and pulled out one of her scrolls. She unrolled the parchment and looked at the title Quest. She didn't have to read any further she recalled the story all too well. The memories of bringing a dead Xena back to the Amazon village was very clear in her mind. Gabrielle's face flushed and her lips tingled as she also recalled Xena's kiss.

The warrior's lips were soft and tender. The kiss was warm and compassionate, but too short. The euphoric feeling she had felt was quickly ended with the tickle of Autolycus's moustache. Nothing was ever said about the kiss. Xena had never mentioned it and neither had she, but that didn't mean she hadn't thought about it, or dreamed about it. Many a time she had looked at the warrior's lips and wanted to kiss them again. She fantasized about what it would be like to be one of Xena's lovers, to be held in those arms and caressed by those hands. Gabrielle felt a warm rush between her legs. She knew she was wet and she knew why. She was totally in love with the warrior, in every way possible. Gabrielle rolled up the scroll with a sigh. She loved Xena but she knew that Xena didn't love her in the same way. The word love was not in the warrior's vocabulary, at least not in the way Gabrielle wanted it. She reached for a new parchment and her quill. Maybe it was time for a new story.

Xena returned with an armload of firewood, and placed the wood next to the pit. She stopped and glanced over at Gabrielle. The little bard was busy with her scrolls. A warm feeling surged through the warrior princess. It looked like the Gabrielle of old, as she realized the little bard was writing again, something she hadn't done in at least a couple cycles of the moon. Xena couldn't help but watch the young woman write. She looked so poised and peaceful. Her fresh face had a tinge of pink to it, making her look even younger. Her blonde hair was tucked behind her ear and her head was tilted slightly to the side. The afternoon sun danced over the red highlights in her blonde hair. Xena smiled, it gave the bard an angelic glow. She had changed so much in the past three years, on the inside and out. Where once there was a soft young girl, there now sat a wiser, stronger woman. Her body had changed along with everything else. Xena's blue eyes traveled down Gabrielle's bare arm. There were strong muscles under that soft skin now. Her stomach showed the signs of hardened abs. Xena could hear the scratch of the quill on the bard's parchment. Her blue eyes traveled from Gabrielle's arm to the scroll on her lap, then focused on the cleavage next to it.

A sudden urge of desire went through her, tingling her senses that had been dormant for so long. She wanted to walk over and gather her up in her arms. To hug her, kiss her and tell her that everything was going to be ok. They were together, forever, and nothing was ever going to separate them again. She wanted to tell Gabrielle how much she loved her. How much she wanted to kiss her, to make love to her. To hold her gently in her arms ... Kiss? Love! The words echoed in Xena's mind. Kiss. She felt her cheeks flush as the blood rushed to her reddening cheeks. She hadn't thought of Gabrielle like that in a long, long time.

The bard felt the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. She knew she was being watched, and she knew by whom. She slowly looked up to see the warrior princess staring absently at her. Xena was crouched down, her hand still on the load of wood she had just placed next to the fire pit. The icy blue eyes continued to look at her. 'Not at me, but through me with a look of ... of what?' Thought Gabrielle. 'A look of ... want? No ... of desire!' The word flashed through the little blonde's mind. 'It can't be desire! I'm the one with the desires!' Gabrielle's mind was spinning. 'I'm the one who wants to climb into those strong arms, to nestle within the safety of my warrior. To lay my head on her chest, and to openly and honestly tell Xena I really love ...'

"Hey! ... Come on." Xena suddenly jumped to her feet, breaking through both of their thoughts. She walked over and took Gabrielle by the hand, and pulled her to her feet. Xena turned and led them through the forest. The little bard said nothing as she held tightly to Xena's hand, it was obvious Xena knew where she was going. They followed a small animal trail as it wound around rocks and fallen trees. The bard could smell the rich moisture thick moss that blanketed the forest floor, silencing their footsteps. Gabrielle could hear the sound of rushing water, her eyes searched through the trees for the source.

'One of us had to break that staring contest,' Xena was slightly unnerved by the thoughts which had gone through her mind. She wasn't used to the feelings of spoken honesty from her heart. She knew it was there but she hadn't thought of it in a long time. 'Not since ...' She forced her mind to change its direction. It did, right back to the want and desire she felt for the little blonde behind her.

Xena stopped as they came up to a large outcropping of moss-covered boulders. Gabrielle could smell a faint odor of ... rotten eggs? Xena saw Gabrielle's nose crinkle at the distasteful odor.

"I have a surprise for you."

Gabrielle was about to question the source of the smell when Xena turned to show her companion the hot spring tucked up against the mountainside. Some small pools of rolling warm water nestled between the cliff and the boulders. The moss-covered wall sparkled as water trickle down its green beard to dampen the large boulders below. Low hanging cedar boughs reached out to the steam as it rose skyward. The rocky moss wall captured some of it, and it would start its cycle back to the hot springs. Gabrielle's green eyes danced with delight as she viewed the inviting pool.

"Oh Xena! What a find. You knew this was here?" She could see by the smile on the warrior's face that she had.

"Why don't you hop in? I'll be back in a bit." Xena started to leave. "I want to get something for dinner before I enjoy the hot springs." Xena turned back to the trail and disappeared into the cover of the forest.

Gabrielle stripped off her clothing and relaxed her toned muscles in the heat of the water. Not wanting to bring back her earlier thought of the warrior, she returned her mind to the game they had forgotten about. In no time at all she could hear the movements of someone through the thick undergrowth. The swishing of low branches being pushed aside, and the muffled sounds of boots on a carpet of needles. Her face broke into a smile when the warrior held up her hand, proudly presenting a string of fish. Dinner.

"I know who you are!" Gabrielle said with a smile that lit up her face.

"That's good, ... I wasn't gone that long."

"No, I mean I know who you were ... I mean I know who you are. You're Hercules." Gabrielle looked into the blue eyes as a sly grin came across Xena's face.

"Very good, Gabrielle. You win." She laid the fish down and removed her weapons and armor.

"Yes, yes ... yes." Gabrielle continued to laugh as she danced her hands over the surface of the warm water. She was very aware of the movements of the undressing warrior. The bard concentrated on the water in her hands, desperately trying to keep her eyes off of the now naked body of the warrior. The beautiful, bronze, naked body of the woman she loved, was only a few feet away. Gabrielle swallowed as she moved her eyes in the opposite direction.

"Aahhhhhh," Xena moaned as she slid into the warm water of the hot springs.

The bard instinctively moved in behind Xena and began to slowly wash and massage her back. Running her fingers along the tight shoulders, she closed her green eyes and listened to the moans coming from the warrior. Gabrielle was again reminded of the feelings she had for Xena, her warrior, her savior, her hero and her friend. Her heart ached to include one more description ... lover. She floated in a euphoric state of bliss. The flesh she felt beneath her finger tips filled her with desire for more. She rubbed deeper, digging small circles in the knotted back of the warrior princess. Xena was right here. Naked and close. Gabrielle felt her heart pumping blood to all her senses. She struggled to control her breathing. Her tongue rolled over her slightly parted dry lips. If she could find the courage, all she would have to do was move her fingers ... just a few more ... inches and ...

"Oh Gabrielle, that feels so good. I had almost forgotten how good your fingers were." Xena's words brought the bard back to reality.

The moment was gone and Gabrielle's fantasy was over.

"Your turn. Come here." Gabrielle looked up as Xena stood. Her green eyes stopped at the water glistening off the warrior's breasts. They were just a hand's length away from Gabrielle's face. Her eyes followed the beads of water rolling down and dripping off the end of Xena's nipples. She watched as a single drop fell elegantly into the water below. Gabrielle swallowed hard and tried to compose herself. She closed her eyes as she felt Xena's naked body slid in behind her. If Xena had spoken a word, Gabrielle would not have been able to repeat it, her mind was too busy with trying to control her desires.

The warrior snuggled in closer as her parted legs closed in on the bard's hips, it was Xena's turn to wash and massage. Xena began the slow rubbing motions on her bards back. Her mind wasn't on her sexual desires. Her mind went somewhere far more frightening, as her icy blue eyes traveled to the two fresh scars on Gabrielle's back, scars that would forever haunt the warrior. Xena felt a chill go through her as the image of Gabrielle falling, came rushing back to her. The look on the bard's face had been one of regret ... and of ... goodbye. The warrior knew now it wasn't goodbye, but she didn't know what the regret was for. As much as she wanted to know she was afraid to ask. Xena tensed as her imagination started to run wild. Not with want and desire, but of what had happened to Gabrielle in the lava pit. She felt her own body physically jolt as she visualized Gabrielle bouncing off the pit walls, as molten lava spraying up at her, searing her once scar body. Xena could feel the twisted, pebbled skin beneath her fingers, the proud flesh of the new scars on her back. One was a molten lava burn, the other a tear, as Gabrielle's soft skin had hit the wall when she landed. The image replayed in Xena's mind. She never wanted to feel those emotions of separation again.

Xena's stomach dropped as she recalled the vision she had seen with Alti, a vision she didn't want to think about. She pushed away the snowy scene of death, only to have it replaced with the lava pit again. Xena struggled to bring her mind back to the woman in front of her. Trying to erase the horrors in her mind, she focused on Gabrielle. She loved her like she had loved no other. Gabrielle was her connected soul, someone who completed her as a woman, not as a warrior. No one had ever loved her as much as the little bard did. Xena knew Gabrielle hadn't thought about her own life as she tackled Hope and had taken them both into the pit. Xena didn't know how to deal with that kind of love and self sacrifice from her little bard. She was the warrior, she was supposed to be the protector. Gabrielle's protector. But she had just stood there when Gabrielle had risked her own life to save hers. Out of everything she had done, Xena knew the one thing that would haunt her the rest of her life, would be the one thing ... she didn't do.

Gabrielle knew something was happening. Xena had started out rubbing her back slowly. Gabrielle relaxed, it felt so good. To feel those strong fingers and hands again felt ... right. But just as she realized it felt so right, it began to feel so wrong. She brought herself out of her daydreaming haze. The fingers on her back were pushing too hard and it was starting to hurt. She pulled away slightly hoping to ease the pressure of Xena's strong fingers. But it didn't help, the warrior was now scrubbing hard ... right on her scars.

"Xena ... Xena that hurts," Gabrielle said lightly, not wanting to offend her friend. There was no response and now she was starting to feel real pain.

"Xena!" With the word, Gabrielle reached over her left shoulder, taking a firm grasp of the warrior's right hand and turned to her.

The look on Xena's face at first frightened then startled her. Gabrielle's heart dropped with concern. The normally breathtaking blue eyes of her friend were now red-rimmed and glassy. Xena's hand was still moving in a slow rubbing motion, even though she was only rubbing air.

Gabrielle let go of Xena's hand and cupped the warriors face in both of her hands.

"Xena ... XENA!" The bard saw the vacant eyes return. Xena immediately tried to pull away, attempting to wipe away any trace of tears and memories, but Gabrielle would have none of it.

"No running ... no hiding ... and no lying. I am here now. Talk to me. What is it? What could tear you up so much to bring you to tears?"

Xena lifted her head to look at the canopy of trees above her. The afternoon sun was beginning to fade. The sounds in the forest were starting to come to life as the night creatures began to stir. It all looked so peaceful on the outside, but on the inside the warrior was fighting for control.

In the smallest, quietest voice the mighty warrior princess could only say one word ..."You."

Fear tore through Gabrielle. In an instant her heart broke, her lungs gasped for air, and her eyes filled with tears. The admission shook her to her very core.

"Me," she said in a breathless response.

Xena knew immediately the word she had spoken had been taken all wrong.

"I'm sorry Gabrielle, that's not what I meant. I didn't mean you as in yourself. I meant you, being here now. No, not now, I mean ..." Xena quickly realized she was making a bloody mess of the whole thing. She lovingly and carefully took a hold under Gabrielle's shoulders. Picking up her bard, she placed her on her knee. She tried to repair the damage that had only been recently mended and reunited.

Lifting Gabrielle's chin with her finger, the blue eyes met green. Xena's thoughts rushed in.

'Oh, how I love this woman, with ever ounce of my being. More than life itself. All I want to do is shower her with kisses and love and hold her, until time runs out of sand.' All these thoughts were there, if she could only bring herself just to speak the truth. In a whisper of forgiveness, the warrior stated softly.

"Gabrielle, You mean the world to me. I need you. I missed you so much. When I thought you were dead, I wanted to die too ... I still can't believe what you did ... I don't understand you."

"Understand me?" the bard sniffed quietly.

"Yes, understand you. I was the one who should have killed Hope. It should have been me who took her back to the fires of Tartarus, but before I could do anything, you did it. You risked your life ... to save mine. Why?"

Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena's blue eyes.

"She was my daughter, Xena. My demon creation. You couldn't kill her. I had to!"

"But I stood there watching the woman I love ... sacrifice herself ... for me. Protecting me. It wasn't supposed to be you, Gabrielle. I'm the warrior, it should have been me."

"But it wasn't Xena. It had to be me who killed Hope, not you." The strength and conviction was returning to the bard's voice. The air was returning to her lungs. Her tears had begun to dry and her heart was beating ... strongly. Gabrielle had been listening, and she had heard Xena say, 'the woman I love'.

"It should have been me, Gabrielle. Your heart is too good, too pure for you to leave this life that way. Your light and hope shines too bright, for too many people. I'm a warrior. I've lived my life as a warrior. I've killed many people, Gabrielle, and one more wouldn't make a difference. It should have been me who killed Hope." Xena felt her voice beginning to break.

"You couldn't," Gabrielle argued strongly.

"Why not?"

"You couldn't. Don't you understand, Xena ... you couldn't kill Hope, or you would have died?" She screamed out the words as a shocked expression came over Xena.

"What!?"

Gabrielle wondered if she should've said that, but knew the truth had to come out.

"The favor I had with Ares. Well, he called it. He made a deal with the Fates. If you had killed Hope, the Fates would have cut your life line."

"Ares," Xena snarled out the name.

"No, not just Ares, Xena. It was my favor to get to Chin that started it. Hope was my daughter, and Sarafin was my friend. It should have been, and was, my decision. It wasn't a hard decision to make. You or her. I chose you, and I'd do it again."

"But Gabrielle, I just stood there ... and watched you fall."

"Because you didn't know what I was going to do. No other reason, Xena. I'm just sorry I put you through it."

The dark warrior, usually so strong and unemotional, began to cry. Gabrielle took her into her arms and tried to soothe the images out of Xena's mind. Before she realized it, the bard was crying too. They cried for all the losses they'd had. The trust, the friendship, their children, but mostly they cried for the loss of their time, time they should have spent together. The tears slowly subsided and the two women just held onto each another. They both knew it felt so good to be back, to be back in each other's lives and in each other's arms. Suddenly Gabrielle remembered they were both naked as she began to feel the perky erect nipples being held against her own chest. Gabrielle could feel her heart come right to the top of her throat as her breath began to shorten. She could feel Xena's curly pubic hair rubbing against her hip.

Meanwhile, the warrior was having some of her own lust filled thoughts, as her nose was buried in the blonde hair. It had the distinct essence of Gabrielle was on each and every strand as she felt the warm, nude body, being held tightly against her chest. A desirable thought entered her mind.

'What would Gabrielle do, if right now, I reached out and touched one of her breasts? Or took my tongue and run it over a nipple and enjoy the sensation of feeling it go erect and firm in my mouth.' Xena could feel the ache through her entire body. She felt Gabrielle's hip brushing her pubic hair. A desire so strong went through her inner core, she wondered how long she would be able to fight it. Her body and mind screamed with want and desire to touch this little blonde woman in the most seductive of ways.

Gabrielle felt the tremor go through Xena's body. She couldn't help it. There was nothing separating them, so she decided she better. Gabrielle pulled out of the embrace.

Xena immediately released her hold on the little bard and quickly searched her mind for something to say, preferably something that was safer to talk about.

"Callisto is dead!" Xena blurted out.

Even in the warm hot springs, Gabrielle could feel her blood run cold.

"What?"

"Callisto ... she's dead. I killed her after ... I killed her with the dagger, with the Hind's blood on it."

There was a long silence as the two went back to their own thoughts.

It was Xena who spoke first. "Do they hurt much?" She saw the look of puzzlement on Gabrielle's face.

"Your scars ... Do they hurt much?"

Gabrielle shook her head, "No, not anymore. The priest said all wounds will heal, if you don't pick at them ... or ... think about them too often."

They looked at each other and they knew it was time for them to let their wounds heal. To leave the past where it was and begin to look to their future. Only Gabrielle didn't know Xena had an idea what was in their future, and she had decided it would be better if the bard didn't know.

Chapter 2

Night had fallen but the oasis in the trees was dancing with the light of the campfire. There was still a coolness in the air. Summer was coming but it wasn't here yet. It didn't stop the crickets from making their music, nor the distant hoot of an owl, perched high in the shadows of the trees.

The fire crackled between their words as they sat around their camp talking, catching up on what had happened while they had been apart. Xena told Gabrielle about her travels to the Northern Amazons. She even told her about what happened years ago with Cyanne, and how she had betrayed them. She told her about Alti, and how she had released the Amazon's souls. Gabrielle said she'd known somehow, because she had felt a great release in her own soul. Xena told her everything, but couldn't bring herself to tell her friend of what she knew of their future. She thought Gabrielle would be better off not knowing.

The bard knew there was something else bothering the warrior. Something was gnawing at her all day. She put it down to Xena just simply regretting what she had done to the Northern Amazons, or what had happened with Hope. Gabrielle changed the subject and began to tell Xena about what she could remember of the temple she had been taken to. Of what she knew about how she got there. There really wasn't much to tell, she had said, only that the priest had taken good care of her.

Then one day she said she felt Xena's presence, and she knew it was time to go and look for her. The first place she had thought of was Poteidaia, the only permanent home she'd ever known. Gabrielle knew if Xena was looking for her, sooner or later, the warrior would go to her home, and she had been right.

Xena placed a caring hand on her shoulder as Gabrielle mentioned her home and her family. Xena knew the battle fought there had been very hard on her little friend, and not just the fight with Hope and the Destroyer, but the silent battle with her family. There was no love loss between them and Xena. They blamed the warrior for everything that had happened to Gabrielle. They wouldn't and couldn't, believe their daughter still wanted to be her friend. Xena knew it tore at Gabrielle's heart that her family wouldn't accept Xena for who she really was.

It was Gabrielle's decision to leave when they did. The warrior was happy to be away from the glares and snide comments. She didn't feel welcome there and Xena wondered if she ever would.

After a meal of fish, berries and some nuts, the pair started to settle down for the night. They sat sitting side by side in front of the campfire. Xena kept her eyes to the forest, away from the night-blinding flames. Their afternoon and evening talk had tired them out. Even the ever talkative bard had grown quiet.

Xena brought her eyes back to the sword she was sharpening. Gabrielle was leaning up against her shoulder, both finding comfort in the other's nearness. With every sh-wack of the wet stone, Gabrielle could feel the ripple of muscles in Xena's shoulder. The rhythmic motion had lulled the little bard to slumber. She snuggled and nuzzled closer to Xena's warm body.

The warrior princess had finished with her sharpening. Thinking Gabrielle was asleep, she slowly and quietly turned to put her sword and stone down. The bard had moaned in protest to the slight movement. She opened her eyes and began to stretch. Xena didn't see her start to move, until she felt the blonde's head come into contact with the hilt of her sword.

Crack!

"Oh by the Gods Gabrielle. Are you all right?" Xena quickly scrambled to hold the head of her little bard. Gabrielle brought her hand up to the lump she was certain she was going to have.

"Owww ... "

"I am so sorry, Gabrielle. I thought you were asleep," Xena cradled Gabrielle's head, gently stroking the blonde hair. The moaning and groaning began to ease as Xena gently feathered the bard's aching head with light kisses.

Gabrielle kept her eyes closed as a warm sensation went through her body. She wasn't sure if she could contain the thoughts that were ringing in her head. A familiar feeling began to creep into her stomach, like a million butterflies were trying to make a mass exodus. She knew what was causing it as Xena was still caressing her head. Just the sound of her lips kissing her head sent a wave through her body. A warm tremor went from her heart to her most private area. She could smell Xena's leathers as her face felt the softness of the warrior's chest. A moan escaped from her lips. She wanted to tell Xena not to stop, to keep kissing. She could hear Xena's heart beating loudly in her ear. Oh, how she wanted to reach out and touch her warrior. To kiss her ... to hold her ... to love her.

Xena continued to massage and kiss her head. Cooing words of apologize the bard was no longer even hearing. All she could fell was the warrior's voice vibrating her chest, the sound of Xena's heart mixing with kisses. Kisses Gabrielle wanted her to be placing elsewhere, anywhere, somewhere other than on her head.

The warrior felt so bad, but also felt so good. Holding Gabrielle's head next to her chest as she kissed and kissed. She had missed her so much and now she had Gabrielle in her arms. Oh, how she wanted to be kissing more than just her head. She wanted to kiss those green eyes, to run her lips over her neck. To find that soft hollow behind her ears where the skin was the most sensitive. To hold and caress those round breasts and those tight abs. Those stomach muscles turned her on. Her little bard now had quite the body. A body she wanted so badly. Xena felt her own body responding, the moisture building between her legs, the ache of her breasts to be held and caressed. Her longing and desires were telling her, no, screaming at her to take Gabrielle and make love to her, to satisfy the desires that she so badly had for the little bard. Her little bard. Her Gabrielle. Her blue eyes looked down at the body she was holding, as Gabrielle utter a low moan, the sound brought the warrior back to reality.

What was she thinking?

"I'm sorry Gabrielle," Xena said sincerely. She looked down at the face that she was now holding in her hands. Gabrielle's eyes were closed, and her face was flushed. Xena couldn't help but notice how beautiful she looked in the glow of the fire light. She had told herself if she found Gabrielle she would tell her how she really felt. How much she loved her and how much she wanted her. Xena began to slowly lean in.

'I have to kiss those lips. I want to kiss those lips. Just one good kiss ... right on those lips.' Xena tilted her head, bringing it closer, as Gabrielle's head started to rise up to her.

'STOP!' Xena's brain broke through her lust filled thoughts.

'What are you thinking? Gabrielle could have a concussion, and all I'm thinking about is kissing her.' Xena pulled back, Gabrielle felt the sudden movement and quickly opened her eyes

"I'm sorry," Xena stammered. Rising quickly to reach for a water skin, she took a quick drink. Without turning back to Gabrielle, Xena muttered something about getting some fresh water and a cold rock for Gabrielle's head, and then she was gone.

Gabrielle sat there blinking. Her eyes went from the path Xena had taken, to the fire and then back to the path again. All the time blinking. Her ears were ringing. Her heart was pounding. Her pulse was slamming against every vein. She rubbed her sweating palms against her shoulders.

'Xena was going to kiss me!' She was certain ... almost. She shook her head.

'It wasn't possible. Maybe I do have a concussion, or some kind of head injury,' she stood up slowly. 'Head injury my foot,' she thought. 'Xena was going to kiss me.' She started to pace, she was certain now. The warrior princess was leaning down to kiss her. 'Wasn't she? Maybe I'm wrong. No, I'm not. I know it. What had she said earlier in the hot springs, "the woman I love" That's what Xena said? She was going to kiss me, I know it. What if I'm wrong ... if I'm wrong ... I'll blame the concussion. She tried to kiss me, but she has kissed me before. Yeah, but it had taken me by surprise. Besides, it hadn't seemed like Xena. She doesn't have a moustache.'

Pacing back and forth, Gabrielle continued the conversation going on inside her head. Slowly the little bard began to skip with delight around the fire. She knew Xena had indeed been going to kiss her.

"I was going to kiss her. What was I thinking? Stupid, stupid, STUPID! You tried it once before, remember? How did that turn out? Nowhere, nothing, Gabrielle hasn't even mentioned it again ... By the Gods, she is adorable. So cute, so soft, so ... so vulnerable, you idiot," Xena continued her own conversation out loud all the way to the river.

"We haven't been back together for one full moon, and I'm trying to get her into my bed!" Xena, the mighty warrior princess was trembling, something she hadn't done since she was a child, well, if you didn't count all the times she trembled when she touched Gabrielle. The truth was, she was in love, and she knew it. For the first time, she was truly, honestly, head-over-heels in love. But what if Gabrielle didn't feel the same way? She knew Gabrielle loved her, but was she in love with her? Could they stay just friends?

'Yes,' thought Xena, 'they could. Yeah, right. I can't and won't risk my friendship with Gabrielle. But it looked like she was going to kiss me back?' She thought. 'Right? Wrong', she argued. 'I just cracked open her skull with the hilt of my sword.'

The warrior princess marched through the dense forest muttering and arguing with herself the whole way. She was thankful the river was a distance away, it gave her time to collect her emotions. Xena broke through the trees and stood on the rocky river bank.

The cold spray of the water cooled only her sweating skin, not the burning desires she held within. The glacier fed mountain stream cut through the old growth forest like a broad axe. Gigantic timbers lined both shores, their mighty branches reached to the opposite bank, keeping the stream hidden from the view from the Gods above There were only a few places along the fast-moving water's edge that held a deposit of rocks and boulders, giving her a small outcropping to stand on.

Xena tried to silence the thoughts rolling around in her mind. She reached into the ice cold stream with her sweaty hands and fished around the bottom for a couple of good rocks. They had to be smooth and flat so she could wrap them and put them on Gabrielle's head. The chore gave her a chance to clear her mind.

"That's it," she said aloud. She had found the rocks, and answers, she had been searching for. She filled the water skins and headed back for camp. Xena had decided she was going to tell Gabrielle exactly how she felt. She would tell her everything and then kiss her, all on one roll of the dice. Then she would wait for Gabrielle to tell her where they would go from there.

"Gabrielle, I love you! No. Gabrielle, I'm in love with you. It can't be that hard? Gabrielle, I love you, and I want to make love to you. Oh that's tacky. Gabrielle, I love you, may I kiss you?" Xena shook her head.

All the way back from the river she practiced and rehearsed. She searched for the right way to say how she felt, but the words weren't coming out right. Every sense the warrior had was jumping for joy. She was in love and she knew it. Now she just had to tell Gabrielle. How hard could it be?

Gabrielle was ready. She paced with sweaty palms clenched at her sides. She was going to face that blue eyed, raven haired warrior of hers, and tell her she loved her and she wanted to spend the rest of her life by her side.

Xena was getting nearer to the camp. "I'm in love with you Gabrielle."

Gabrielle paced by the fire. "Xena, I love you."

Xena felt her convictions growing. "Gabrielle, I love you with all my heart."

Gabrielle knew it was the right thing to say. "Xena, I'm yours, take me." ... 'Well maybe not,' she thought. How about, "Xena, I want to love you."

Just then Xena broke through the trees and entered the clearing. Both women ceased their movements and locked eyes, both firmly set on what they wanted to say.

"Gabrielle ..." Xena spoke first, but it didn't matter. For the first time in her life, the warrior had lost her nerve. All that came out was, "Gabrielle, I'm ... I'm sorry. Here." She held out the water skin and the cloth-covered cold rock.

Gabrielle looked from Xena to the rock she held out in her hand. Gabrielle felt her convictions begin to melt away. "Xena, ... I ... thank you."

The moment was gone and the two stood across from one another, both silent. Their mouths open to speak, but no words came out. Neither woman was willing to risk their friendship on what they thought were their own feelings. Xena closed her mouth and stepped forward holding out the rock for Gabrielle's head. The bard reached out and took it. Their hands touched for the briefest of moments and they felt the nervous energy the other was sending out.

Almost simultaneously they looked each other in the eye, and then turned away quickly. With their backs to one another, they silently undressed, changed into their sleeping shifts, and climbed into their bedding.

"Goodnight Gabrielle," Xena said quietly as she curled up into a fetal position.

"Goodnight Xena," the bard mumbled as she lay on her back, the rock gently placed on her head. Her green eyes were wide open as she went over what just happened. She looked to the sky for answers. She knew there could only be one explanation.

"Concussion," she whispered to herself, "definitely a concussion."

Chapter 3

"Good morning." Gabrielle heard as one green eye started to open. The bard stretched out under her bedding. She looked and saw Xena was sitting up and already dressed in her leathers. Her back was on the log they had slept against.

The second thing Gabrielle noticed was the fire was going. A rarity when traveling, especially when they had a destination to get to. The third thing she noticed was the happiness she felt, just from waking up next to her warrior again. The last, but definitely not the least thing that came to mind, was the pounding of her head. The memory of last nights events came rushing back at her, and with it, came all of the wants and desires. Subconsciously the little blondee put her hand to her head and rubbed it gingerly.

"I have something for that," Xena handed Gabrielle a cup of steaming liquid. "It's something I made up for you, it will make the headache I know you have, disappear."

Gabrielle reached for the cup and smiled as she noticed a plate of food. There was some cheese, bread and left over fish from the night before.

"A fire and breakfast, what's the occasion Xena?"

"Life," she said simply. "Besides, we only have one full day of traveling before we reach the Amazon territory. So, I figured why not two easy days, instead of one long one."

Gabrielle looked at her with a smile. She had missed this side of Xena. She hadn't seen it in a long time.

The two women ate breakfast in relative silence. Only an odd comment was exchanged between them. When the morning meal was finished, Xena stood and wandered over to the bag holding all of the bard's stories. She looked at it for a moment before coming to a decision. Reaching for the leather strap, she took the bag over and laid it down in front of Gabrielle. The bard looked up at her in question. Xena knelt down in front of her. The blue eyes looked back at Gabrielle. They were filled with love and compassion. Something she saw all too seldom in them. Xena smiled and then quietly asked.

"Will you read me one of your stories?"

Gabrielle felt her face begin to flush. Slowly a smile began to brighten her face as her eyes started to shine. She had waited almost three years for Xena to ask that question. She quickly and enthusiastically threw her arms around her warrior.

"It would be my extreme pleasure to finally read you one of my stories," she gushed. She rummaged through the leather bag until she found the first real story she had ever written. If she was going to read to Xena for the first time, it seemed only appropriate to start with the first one. She cleared her throat, and then began ...

"The Journeys and Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess by Gabrielle, the bard of Poteidaia - Sins of the Past."

"Top billing, I never knew that. Thank you," the warrior smiled. She tried not to think of how fitting the title was, Sins of the Past. Gabrielle had really nailed it on the head.

The bard began, she knew she was good, but this was a special audience. Not to mention the fact Xena had been there. Gabrielle tried to ignore the odd raised eyebrow that came up at certain parts of her story. The warrior was certain it wasn't exactly how this or that had happened. She smiled and sometimes even laughed aloud at some of the better exaggerations. Xena's heart fondly remembered the first time she had seen her tough, little bard. Gabrielle's face had said it all, the innocence, the naivete, and most important in the warrior's eyes ... the presence of her courage. Xena knew she had changed a lot since then. She had matured and grown, and none of it had been easy. Xena tried not to think of some of the hardships they had gone through, but she couldn't help it. A single tear began the slow descent down her face, and she just let it fall. Gabrielle was the only person she felt comfortable enough with not to hide the break in her emotional armor.

As the bard finished her tale, she laid the scroll aside and looked up at Xena.

"Thank you," the bard whispered to her audience of one. Gabrielle reached up with her left hand and slowly wiped away the falling tear on the warrior's face.

"I love you, Xena, with all of my heart and soul."

"I know Gabrielle. And I am who I am because of you."

"I could say the same, Xena." Gabrielle leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on the warrior's startled mouth.

They locked eyes for a brief moment, the passion they felt for each other was there. If only they could have seen it. It wasn't just of want and desire. It was a longing they didn't know how to deal with. Soulmates searching for the connection that would carry them together for eternity.

It was Gabrielle who blinked first this time. Then her green eyes rapidly fell to the parchment as she reached for it and rolled it up. Her heart was on her sleeve waiting for the warrior princess to respond to her kiss. Gabrielle's stomach lurched as she watched Xena quickly stand and begin to pack up the camp. Neither of them said a word but if they had it would have been the same word ... DENIABILTY.

Xena was no longer certain the recent separation with Gabrielle was what was causing her to lose control of her emotions. Feelings she had held in control for so long were exploding throughout her body. Her heart was pounding and her legs felt weak. She could still feel the warmth of Gabrielle's kiss on her lips and a throbbing ache between her legs. She cursed herself for not responding with more passion. Xena knew she had seen it in her green eyes and felt it in her kiss. It was the same as the longing in her own heart. A need to be closer than they had ever been before. Xena wondered if her own passions were something Gabrielle could handle

The bard questioned herself as to what she had seen in Xena's eyes.

'Could we both want the same thing?' The bard was trying to keep herself busy by rolling up their sleeping furs. 'What did I just do?' Her heart suddenly fluttered at the scent of Xena's body where she had slept last night. An all too familiar ache went through her body. 'Why didn't I say something? Why didn't Xena say something?' She knew by her body's reaction how she felt about the warrior. Now if she could just figure out what Xena was thinking.

Chapter 4

"Argo's all packed and ready to head out. Mind you, she was a little skiddish this morning. I guess she'll have to get used to the new happier me."

"The happier you?" Gabrielle said with a raised eyebrow.

"Why not? It's a beautiful day. The birds are singing, the sun is shining," Gabrielle's stomach dropped in disappointment. Xena continued, "and my bard of Poteidaia is with me again. You write very well Gabrielle." Xena kicked the fire apart and threw some water on it. She still hadn't looked the bard in the eye. It was something that hadn't gone unnoticed by Gabrielle. Her heart was racing.

'Xena's not upset. In fact she's ... happy. Very Happy.' An idea was beginning to form in her mind. A plan of action.

A little while later, the two women emerged out of the trail and back onto the road they had been traveling. Xena stopped and started to climb onto Argo's back. Pausing, she turned and extended a hand to Gabrielle. The bard hesitated, then shook her head no.

"You're right Xena. It's a beautiful day, I think I would rather walk."

Xena only nodded.

The closer they got to the Amazon Nation, the quieter Gabrielle became. Something was definitely on her mind. The warrior was pretty sure what it was.

Xena squinted as she looked up at the afternoon sun. The landscape had changed and the road was no longer shaded by the trees. The hot sun was now reflecting off of the grassy banks on either side of the road. Xena could feel the sweat rolling down her body. She glanced at the forest that was 10 paces off the road. She wished they were still in the cover of those trees.

Xena reined in Argo and slid off the mare's back. Gabrielle turned to look at her.

"What's up?" Gabrielle could feel her stomach tying up in knots.

"The sun. I'm way too hot with my armor on. I need to get out of it. Can you give me a hand?"

"Sure."... 'Is Xena ever going to say anything?'

The bard laid her staff on the road and reached for the brass body plate. She could see the sweat stains on Xena's leather. She closed her eyes as the smell of leather and Xena loafed in the air. She swallowed hard as she visualized the glistening naked body of the warrior princess.

"Thank you. That's much better." Xena took her armor from Gabrielle and tied it to her saddle.

"You should have done that earlier Xena. You wouldn't have gotten so hot." She said as she reached down for her staff.

'It could be snowing out and I would still be hot'. Xena thought as she watched Gabrielle start walking again. She quickly regretted the thought, as the snow-covered image of them on the cross, crucified her desires. A shiver went down her spine. 'Is our future changeable?' She climbed back onto Argo, cooler than she had left. Much cooler.

They had traveled on a few more candlemarks when suddenly Argo and Xena came to a halt. Gabrielle took one more step before stopping herself. She knew better than to ask what had stopped them. She heightened her senses and tried to pick up on whatever had brought them to a halt. Voices. Gabrielle could make out voices. From where though? Up ahead? She turned, but she couldn't make out what it was they were saying.

Then they heard a cry for help.

Xena looked down at Gabrielle, she was tempted to tell the little bard to wait, but she knew she couldn't do that. 'Besides, she probably wouldn't listen anyhow.'

"You ready?" Xena asked in a low tone.

Gabrielle nodded and they were off.

An elderly peddler and his young son were standing with their backs up against their wagon. The peddler was a small man in height, but not in size. His normally cheerful face was white with fear. He was no match for the four men who stood in front of them. His young son had his arms wrapped tightly around his father. He had never experienced any highwaymen in all of his 13 summers, and he was very frightened.

Their wagon seemed to be full of everything. Pots and pans hung down from overhead racks. The sides of the wagon were covered and filled with trinkets, jewelry, knives, ropes and clothing. You name it and the small peddler probably had it. That's what had attracted the rough looking highwaymen. They were looking to relieve the peddler of some of his finer items.

The largest of the four men, was also the ugliest, not to mention arguably the dirtiest. His body and close cropped hair held days of dirt and road grime. He was a big man, well over 6 feet, and he carried his weight with authority. Two scabbards hung from his hips. One was still occupied with a sword, the other empty as he held the weapon in his hand, playing with some of the items on the wagon.

"Come on old man, where's the rest of the gold and good weapons? I know they're here somewhere?" The sounds of the pots and pans being pushed aside echoed the stillness on the road.

"I told you. This is my traveling wagon. My good supplies are in my shop, back in town." The peddler tried to ignore the smell of rotting teeth that came out of the leader's mouth every time he spoke.

"I don't believe you old man! Tell me what I want to know ... or I'm going to start playing with your boy here ... with my sword."

"No, no please ... don't hurt him. Take what you want, take it all ... but please spare my son...Just take it all and leave us, we mean you no harm," the peddler begged.

"I don't see anything here worth taking, old fool. I know who you are ... Ollious. You're quite a blacksmith I hear, and you make fine weapons. I've even heard you dabble a bit with gold. So don't tell me you're out here traveling around with none of your finer wares. You have to have more here than just this garbage." He flipped his sword through the pans again, the sound made the young boy cry out in fear.

The ugly man turned to his brother, who may have bore a likeness to his bigger brother, but he had three more teeth, a fact he was quite proud of.

"Grab the kid, I've had enough of this," the ugly brother said.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you!"

Everyone turned to see who had spoken. There, astride a tall palomino, was a beautiful dark haired warrior dressed in dark leathers. To her left stood a smaller blonde woman, who had one hand on a staff, the other on her hip.

"You'd better listen to her," the blonde woman said with a sly smile.

The four men looked at each other, then to their leader, Ugly. He raised an eyebrow to the man on his right. The four muttered and mumbled, but neither of the women could make out what was being said.

Xena shifted her eyes left and right, scanning the thick forest for any other enemies. All she saw was more trees and rolling landscape. She shifted her eyes back at the men. She was certain they were alone. The four men turned to face them.

"Trouble," whispered Xena in an almost singsong voice.

As if by cue, the biggest and ugliest turned and yelled."NOW!"

In a matter of moments, several things happened at once. Three of the highwaymen charged at the women, who where still a good fifteen paces away. Xena, unarmed at the moment, grabbed both her sword and chakram from her saddle and flew somersaulting over Argo's head.

"Ayiyiyyiyiyiyiyiyi!" Xena landed in front of the charging men, sword and chakram at the ready. The remaining man, (Ugly's brother) quickly shoved the old man to the ground and reached for the young son by his hair. Gabrielle reached Xena's side, her staff held in front of her.

Xena's sword flashed to the right, stopping Ugly's sword in mid-motion. Kicking out with her left leg catching the second man square in the chest, he fell like a heap onto the dirt roadway. 'That should keep him out of the picture for a while.' thought the warrior princess. She turned her attentions back to Ugly. He was quite good and that surprised Xena. She had caught him off guard at first, he hadn't been prepared for a woman who could handle a sword. It was a mistake she knew he wouldn't make a second time.

Gabrielle had her own hands full with the third man. The two of them were going blow for blow, managing only to strike the other's weapon. She could hear the sound of swords clashing, as she defended and attacked with her staff. Spinning the weapon around her head she caught her adversary hard in the shoulder, rocking him back on his heels. Two quick jabs to his mid-section and Gabrielle was in total control.

Xena's sword was flashing left and right. She swung and turned, but still hadn't managed to find an opening. She noticed the man on the ground starting to rise. Bending her knees, she ducked one of Ugly's strikes and leaped into the air, her warrior cry escaping from her lips. Flipping behind Ugly, she sent out another kick at the man rising from the ground. Her foot landed squarely on his temple and he crumbled. 'One down' thought Xena. Her attentions quickly went on the big man with the swinging sword. He grinned widely at her as he drew his second weapon. The two warriors dug in for the real battle. Knees and fists missing and connecting, both knew they would be sporting bruises soon. 'He's good' thought Xena, 'really good'. She jumped to avoid a leg kick. As she brought her sword around, Xena heard the sounds of a struggle behind her. She knew Ollious and his son were also fighting for their lives. She knew his name, and she knew his son. He had made weapons for her when she had needed them as a warlord. Now he had something she wanted even more.

Ugly noticed a flash of concern in the warrior woman's blue eyes. He hollered loudly at his brother.

"Kill 'em, kill them both."

Xena stole a quick glance at the young boy. She saw the blade of the man's sword coming down on his throat.

The Xena felt the pain knife through her and she backed away. The quick glance to Ollious' son had cost her a rib or two, when Ugly had brought the full force of his knee into her unprotected side. She cursed herself for not putting her armor on. The sharp pain on her intake of breath told her it was time to finish this. Bringing her sword up and around, she reached for her chakram and let it fly. Spinning, the deadly arc bounced off a tree, the wagon and then off of Ugly's brother's neck. The chakram swirled back to the tree and back to Xena's waiting hand. Quickly she strapped it to her waist. Now, she put both hands on her sword and began her final attack on Ugly. Blow for blow and almost kick for kick, the two warriors fought it out.

She could hear in the distance Gabrielle was doing much better with her opponent than she was, as she could hear the sound of the staff hitting solidly against flesh.

Xena leaped and turned, giving her enough time to look over at her bard to ensure she was ok. Gabrielle was standing over the very still highwayman. Looking up the two women locked eyes, suddenly Gabrielle screamed.

"XENA!"

It was too late. Xena knew she had made a foolish costly mistake, something she had never done before. If it wasn't for her lightening fast, god like reflexes, it could have cost her life. Instinctively she had brought her sword up to cover her head just as Ugly was bringing his down. The blades clanged loudly as it missed its target, but the motion caused the hilt of Ugly's blade to smash into Xena's right hand. Her blade fell to the ground. Xena painfully dropped to her knees and scooped it up with her left hand. Standing again with her sword stretched out, she tried to ignore the pain in her side and the blood pumping from her hand.

"Xena? ... You're Xena, the warrior princess." Ugly said in fear and disbelief.

Xena smiled, giving him her best 'I'm a warrior, don't piss me off' look. Ugly looked from Xena to the blonde racing towards them, and then down at his dead brother. Left-handed not, he knew he couldn't beat her now. He held out his hands and dropped both of his swords onto the ground with a clang.

"I'm done. You win ... Xena."

Xena stood with her sword still out in front of her. She wasn't sure if she trusted him or not. When he made no further movements, she brought her sword down to her side.

Gabrielle arrived at Xena's side. She was startled at the condition the warrior princess was in. One eye was already starting to swell, and she wasn't standing very well. Gabrielle looked down at Xena's bloody hand. The flesh was split wide open and was bleeding profusely. The dry ground was already accepting the blood it was being offered. The bard turned to look at Ugly. Xena's appearance didn't look good, but she was definitely in better shape than him.

"Xena ... your hand?" The warrior ignored the voice of concern. She looked at Gabrielle and tilted her head over to the side at the body that was at her feet. The bard understood and knelt down to check on the fallen man. She slowly shook her head, no.

"He's dead, Xena."

Xena hadn't meant to kill him, only to keep him down. The warrior looked down at the dead man and then over her shoulder at the other body lying next to the wagon. 'Two more to add to my total. Is it ever going to end?'

The warrior princess saw the movement, but it was too late. Ugly had caught her off guard again. She swung her head back around to face him. Her eyes had been open wide so the sand he threw at her face did its job. As her head went down, Xena called out a warning to Gabrielle as she brought up her left hand. Still holding her sword she felt it cut into skin as she struck out to defend herself. Xena's sand filled eyes could barely open to see her opponent, but it didn't matter, she could hear Ugly's feet running away. He didn't feel like it was a good day to die like his brothers. Before Gabrielle could heed Xena's warning, the fleeing man had disappeared into the forest.

"Xena." Gabrielle placed a hand onto her warrior's shoulder, "are you all right?" The bard could see the blue eyes were closed tight, she didn't know if it was from the sand or the obvious pain Xena was in.

"Yeah, I think so. I just need some water. I'll be fine." She started to stand up straight as she could manage, but the pain in her ribs kept her slightly stooped. Gabrielle looked at her injured friend and wasn't so sure. She turned and raced toward Argo and pulled down one of the water skins and turned back, just in time to hear Xena mutter angrily ... "Bastard." Gabrielle could see the warrior was trying to look at her injured hand.

Ollious and his son gathered up the dead bodies and chained the third man to the back of their wagon. They said they would deliver him to the magistrate in the next town.

Gabrielle had only nodded, she had her hands full trying to clean up and mend an angry warrior. Xena's blue eyes were rimmed in red from the sand. Her right hand was now heavily bandaged. Xena had said none of the bones had been broken, but Gabrielle thought it should have been stitched. Her ribs, on the other hand, were making the warrior grimace with each breath, but breathing had to be done, painful or not. Xena mumbled and grumbled the whole time Gabrielle was trying to mend her.

The round peddler and his son came up to the two women, Ollious smiled at the grumbling warrior.

"Xena, I am so grateful to you both. If you hadn't come along when you did, ... and now you're hurt."

"It's ok Ollious. I'll be fine. I'm just glad you and your son are all right. I don't believe you know my companion. Gabrielle, bard of Poteidaia, this is Ollious, blacksmith and jack of all trades, from Bosswanna."

The two smiled at one another and Ollious smiled and winked at Xena. Xena said nothing and Ollious understood, immediately.

"Xena. I would like to thank you somehow, for all you have done for me and my son today."

"Your thanks is enough, old friend. I no longer work for a price or for profit. I'm just glad we were here to help you. Will you be ok from here?"

Xena wanted to get going, she wasn't in the mood for a bunch of chit chat.

"Oh yes, Xena. My brother lives in the next town. We will be fine. Thank you again, I hope to see you soon."

"You never know."

"It was very nice to meet you Gabrielle, take care of her." With a quick wink he was gone.

Gabrielle stood there for a moment. 'What a funny little man,' she thought. She turned and caught up to Xena, who too had already left.

The warrior said nothing as she walked silently between her horse and her companion. Gabrielle kept sneaking glances to be sure she was all right. The bard wasn't sure if Xena was quiet due to her pain or her anger.

'Or maybe something totally different,' she thought to herself. 'Maybe it was what had happened this morning?'

They stopped a good ways down the road, just long enough for Xena to climb slowly onto Argo's back. She still said nothing, but Gabrielle could now see the pain in her eyes.

Their progress was slow. Xena's mouth was set in a firm line, her lips were pursed tightly closed and her eyes were locked on the road. Gabrielle could see she was having a hard time breathing, and her right hand was now draped across her lap. They carried on slowly in the direction of the Amazon Nation.

Gabrielle didn't like the fact Xena hadn't spoken more than four words since they had left the peddler and his son. She had tried several times to start a conversation but the warrior remained silent. Gabrielle knew there was no way they were going to make it to the Amazon village by dark. She looked to the quiet warrior but Xena showed no signs of stopping for the night. The bard decided to call it for the day, herself. When she got no response from Xena, she wondered if she should have decided to stop sooner.

They were back into the thick forest, a requirement being so close to Amazon land. Gabrielle searched both sides of the road, all she wanted was a spot big enough and flat enough for the two of them. She noticed a small trail leading into the cover of the trees. Gabrielle looked to Xena, who had a better view. The warrior only nodded and turned Argo off the road. Fifty or so paces into the trees, Gabrielle found them a good place to camp for the night.

The road was still visible, but anyone on the road would not be able to see them past the trees and boulders. The tall thin pines would shelter them from the morning dew and dissipate any smoke from their fire. Gabrielle grabbed a fallen branch and quickly cleaned away some of the rocks and other branches, leaving behind a thick carpet of needles to sleep on.

She removed Argo's saddlebags first before trying to get her wounded warrior off the horse's back with as little pain as possible. Xena said nothing as she leaned against a tree quietly watching Gabrielle prepare their camp. The warrior gingerly pushed off the tree and started to collect some of the nearby branches with her left hand. A small bundle of wood fell to the ground as Xena cleared a pit for their fire. She tried not to notice the little blonde unrolling their sleeping furs. Those emotions she buried under her boiling anger.

With the fire now going, Gabrielle put her attentions to making dinner. She scouted the area around them.

"Veggie stew ok for dinner?" Xena only nodded. Gabrielle grabbed a bowl and started collecting the makings for one of her forest stews. It was one of the only things she could make without meat since Xena wasn't going to be hunting for their dinner.

With the stew on to boil, she turned and knelt down in front of her quiet, brooding warrior. She reached over and gently lifted Xena's chin and looked deeply into the dark blue eyes.

"All right! Out with it."

Xena looked back at her, but said nothing. Gabrielle searched her face for a clue to her problem. All she could see were the colors of a nasty bruise starting to form. She knew she had seen worse on Xena's face, so that wasn't it.

"Talk to me Xena, don't shut me out. Please ... "

Xena's blue eyes darted from Gabrielle to the fire and then to the darkness falling on the forest.

Gabrielle looked down at the soiled bandage on Xena's right hand. She took a deep breath and gathered her courage.

"Xena please tell me what's wrong?" As much as she wanted to ask if it was the kiss from this morning, she knew she didn't want to hear if it was.

There was a momentary pause before the warrior spoke out.

"I just got my ass kicked by a two bit, run of the mill, highwayman." Xena grumbled.

"Oh, Hera's tits, Xena. Is that what this is about?!?" Gabrielle jumped to her feet out of relief and annoyance. "You haven't said a word all afternoon just because you made a mistake?"

"Gabrielle, mistakes out here can kill you. I didn't follow my own rules, protect the people around you who can't protect themselves. I didn't do that. I didn't keep my eyes on him, and he got me ... twice." The warrior was fuming. Gabrielle saw her wince in pain as she drew in another breath. "Never mind the danger I put Ollious and his son in. What about you? If that Ugly bastard hadn't run away, I couldn't have even defended you." Xena said in disgust.

"Stop it, Xena. You're making me mad. Number one. Ollious and his son are fine. They're alive because of you. Second. You have always told me in battle, 'protect your own backside first', because if you get hurt, who's going to protect the innocent. And third, my wounded warrior! In case you have forgotten, this Amazon Queen can defend and protect herself! And in a pinch, could probably defend and protect her warrior too! Am I making myself clear?"

Xena had never seen Gabrielle take charge in such a manner before. Xena looked up at a red faced Gabrielle. Her face hurt, her hand was throbbing, and her ribs felt like they were tearing her insides apart. But her heart was beating madly for the angry woman in front of her. She stared at Gabrielle. Xena knew that she was right. A smile started at one corner of her mouth and slyly slipped across her lips. Xena reached up with her left hand and gently pulled. A still angry bard flopped down beside her. She looked into the fiery green eyes, Xena knew she couldn't hold back her heart's desires any longer. The warrior princess leaned forward carefully and placed a kiss on Gabrielle's lips. The angry bard stared at her in disbelief when they parted.

"You're beautiful when you're angry." Xena said in a voice husky with desire.

Gabrielle sat stunned at the kiss she had just received. Her mind was racing with so many things she wanted to say, but nothing would come out. This was not what she had planned, but it didn't matter, this was better.

Xena watched the green eyes changing as the little bard began to realize what had just happened. The warrior's chest was heaving with anticipation. Her emotions were sucking the air out of her lungs. She hesitated a brief moment, knowing she wanted to do that again. Her blue eyes left the green ones and traveled down Gabrielle's face until they came to her lips. Xena tilted her head making it easier to claim what she so badly wanted.

Their lips touched again, only this time, there was equal pressure from both willing and wanting parties. Gabrielle felt her body responding to the tender kiss of her warrior.

"Enough." Gabrielle said breathlessly as she pulled back from her warrior. She hadn't realized she had been holding her breath.

Xena licked her pulsing lips and gazed into the green eyes of her bard.

Gabrielle jumped to her feet, trying to compose herself. As much as she wanted it, she was also afraid.

"Food and sleep are what you need ... food and sleep."

Xena watched the shaking hands stir the stew on the fire. She could smell the aroma of wild onions, but it wasn't the stew she was hungry for.

Xena leaned back against her saddle, her eyes flickered with the pain from her ribs. She looked back and watched the nervous young woman dish out dinner. It was easy to see that Gabrielle didn't want to talk about what had just happened.

"Gabrielle?" The warrior spoke softly, hoping her voice wouldn't betray her own shaking nerves.

"Xena." Gabrielle put the spoon back into the stew and held up her hand. "Don't ... please." She closed her eyes and was thankful the warrior stayed silent. Gabrielle had spoken to Gods and Kings, she fought the power of the afterlife, and she had spent three years with the woman of her dreams, but none of it prepared her for what she was feeling now. Seasons of silence and mountains of pent up emotions were shaking her small body to its very core. Part of her wanted to turn around and fall into the arms of the woman she loved. But part of her had a bigger obstacle to get over ... fear.

Fear of the unknown.

'Where will all of this lead us? Is our friendship strong enough to be lovers? What happens if I can't? I was raised to love a man, not a woman.' Gabrielle turned to look at Xena. The warrior had her head back and her eyes were closed. 'Oh, Xena how I love you. But can I make love to you?' Gabrielle felt the ache climbing back into her body. She turned and looked into the fire. She brought her hand up to her dry mouth, hoping she could keep the desire she felt from becoming an audible moan.

When Gabrielle had raised up her hand for Xena to stay silent, the warrior knew the bard was scared. All she wanted to do was crawl over to her and hold her until they both stopped shaking. Xena knew where this was going and she knew she could no longer stop it. Postpone it, yes. Deny it any longer, no. She dropped her head back and closed her eyes. Her own body was struggling between the lust filled thoughts of her heart and the pain that came with every breath she took. She could also feel the fatigue of the day as her body began to relax into the softness of the pine needles, as the warmth and crackle of the fire soothed her mind of its thoughts. She could hear the deep breaths of the bard not far away. Xena could smell the hints of summer as the crickets began to play.

Gabrielle could also hear the sounds of the forest as her heart finally started to slow. She wiped her sweating palms on her skirt and turned to her warrior. Her mouth was open to speak but she closed it and just watched the rhythm of her breathing. She realized Xena had fallen asleep. She watched as the flames danced over the warrior's face. Xena's beauty still took her breath away, as did the love she had always felt for her warrior princess. Her green eyes drifted to the warrior's chest as she watched the steady rise and fall of her breathing. Gabrielle reached for Xena's bowl of stew and dumped it back in the pot. She sat down cross-legged and ate her dinner, hoping the food would calm her turning stomach.

It would be hours before she climbed in next to Xena. The moment their bodies touched she felt the warrior tense, and then relax with familiarity as she put her arm around Gabrielle's body.

Gabrielle immediately fell asleep as she nuzzled into the arms of her warrior. She felt safe, secure and loved. For the first time today Gabrielle felt confident in what she had done only that morning.

Chapter 5

Nothing was said about last night's kiss as the two silently ate breakfast. Gabrielle kept looking over at Xena, but the warrior wouldn't look at her.

"I've made a decision." Xena's head shot up as Gabrielle suddenly spoke. "When we get to the Amazon village, you're going straight to the healer."

Xena's eyes opened wide. Those were not the words she was hoping to hear.

"Your ribs and hand are hurting you more than you're admitting. I know. I watched you toss and turn all night. Every time you moved I heard you moan."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. She was definitely not used to being bossed around, but she knew Gabrielle had a point. She looked over at her bandaged hand. It had woken her many times through the night, but that wasn't what she had been moaning about.

"You're cute when you're bossy." Xena said with a seductive grin.

Gabrielle's concerned face lightened and then blushed.

"The river we have been following on and off is just over that small rise. Why don't we head over to it? We can clean ourselves up and change these bandages." Xena said as she laid her good hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.

They cleaned up their camp and packed everything away. As Xena was getting ready to put Argo's saddle on, she stopped. She put the saddle back on the ground. "Argo stay!" Xena commanded. "Gabrielle, I have an idea."

The bard's heart jumped, she wasn't sure if she was ready for Xena's idea.

"I thought it might be nice just to walk over. We'll be in the Amazon village in a few candlemarks, so this might be our last chance to be alone for a while. You know how much I hate to share ... especially you."

They shared a moment, their eyes held onto each other. Xena saw the mixed emotions on Gabrielle's face.

"Come on. Grab the medicine bag out of the saddle bags. I think we'll need it." Gabrielle retrieved the medicine bag and then picked up her staff and walked to Xena's side. She slowed for a heart beat when she saw Xena hold out her left hand. Gabrielle took the last two steps towards her and they intertwined their fingers. She had the feeling this was not going to be just a walk as they headed off in the direction of the river at a very slow pace.

The morning sun shone over the tree tops reflecting its rays off the early summer dew. The path they took off the road was wide enough for the two friends to stroll casually hand in hand.

"Are we going to talk about this or would you rather it hadn't happened?" Xena finally broke the silence.

Gabrielle kicked at a small stone in her path and watched it roll into the grass.

"I'm glad it happened. I know it's something you've wanted to do for along time." Xena stopped, raised her eyebrows and looked down at the little bard, her mouth hanging open. Gabrielle smiled shyly and continued. "You're good at hiding your feeling's Xena, but not that good."

Gabrielle started them walking again after Xena had loudly closed her mouth.

"But ... I heard a but in there Gabrielle."

"Not a but Xena, more like a ... "

"A what?" Xena felt her heart come to her throat and then drop to her feet.

"I'm afraid."

Xena pulled them both to a stop. Releasing her hold on Gabrielle's hand she cupped the bard's cheek.

"Afraid of what? Afraid of me?"

"No, afraid of me," Gabrielle said as she looked into Xena's eyes."I'm afraid of what it might do to our friendship. I'm afraid I'll lose you ... if ... "

Xena smiled as she finally realized what was bothering the little blonde.

"You're afraid I won't be happy." Gabrielle looked away and nodded.

"Gabrielle. If you know how I feel about you, how can you say that? All I have ever wanted was to hold you and love you. Sex is not the most important thing, being that intimate with someone is. To share your inner most feelings, to touch their very soul. I want to share that with you, but only when you're ready." Gabrielle could hear the compassion and desire in Xena's voice. It only made her butterflies dance faster.

The closer to the river they got, the thinner the forest became. Poplars replaced the evergreens as the sound of the river replaced the songs of the meadowlarks high in the trees.

No other words were said as they reached the bank of the river. It was the same river Xena had fished at two nights ago, but now it was wider and faster moving. The clear mountain water was 25 paces from side to side, with each bank sloping gently away. The lack of trees next to the water's edge had allowed the grass to grow high and thick, giving all the forest animals plenty of cover for which to drink from. As the two companions walked through the grass, Xena motioned them toward a large fallen cedar tree.

Gabrielle helped Xena remove her sword and chakram, then undid her armor. She laid everything down on the tree. Xena opted to keep her leathers on, after thinking about how difficult it would be to put them back on over a wet warrior's body. Not to mention the pain it would cause her ribs.

Gabrielle put down the small leather medicine bag that she had brought with them. Still modest about her nudity, and even more so now, Gabrielle quickly removed her clothing and headed into the mountain fed river. The sharp scream that came from the startled bard made both women jump slightly. Xena tried not to let the pain of her ribs show on her face.

"This water is freezing!" She said through chattering teeth.

"Of course it is. It comes right out of the mountains." She watched as Gabrielle splashed around, and then quickly washed her prickly pink body. She was surprised when the bard dove under to rinse her hair, her little bard had definitely toughened up. Gabrielle broke the surface, sputtering and gasping for air as she quickly rose and exited the water.

Xena looked forward to the icy cold water, she knew it would feel invigorating and it would cool her overheating desires. She eased her bruised and battered body into the river, and leaned back. She closed her eyes as the icy water tumbled over her body. It was cold, ice cold. Xena could feel the numbness taking over the aches and pains, and she welcomed it. Gabrielle came over to help wash the warrior's raven hair, then quickly returned to the shore. Xena rose out of the water, walked over to a large sun warmed rock, and sat down on it. She began to unwind the bandages that were on her right hand.

The swollen, dark purple mangled mess that was once Xena's hand, didn't look good. 'What a mess!' Xena thought to herself. She took a closer inspection of her wound. It was a good thing they were so close to the Amazon village and its very capable healers. She felt a hand come around her waist, all her thoughts vanished as she looked into Gabrielle's green eyes and smiled. Xena was happy to feel the close contact again.

"Let me see, Xena. They're not broken are they?" She looked closer at Xena's hand as the warrior shook her head no.

"No, they're not broken, but I think my thumb is dislocated. I can't tell with all the swelling. I probably should have stitched it last night." The warrior said disappointed with herself. "We could wait until we get to the village, but I would prefer to do it now." Gabrielle nodded.

"What did you do with the medicine bag you brought?"

"It's over there, I'll go and get it." She rose and walked back to the cedar tree.

Gabrielle went to get the little leather bag and Xena went back to the river to soak her hand. The warrior's eyes followed the little bard. She knew what she wanted to do and she was sure it would erase any doubts Gabrielle still had about their future together.

It took a few moments for the bard to locate where she had left the bag. She reached down for it and turned around to start heading back. She saw Xena wave at her to stop, and hollered at her to met her back at the tree. Gabrielle nodded and returned to wait for Xena to join her.

Though her body and leathers had been warmed and almost dried by the sun, her right hand was now almost numb but cleaned of any blood and dirt. As Xena walked to Gabrielle's side, she looked closer at her hand. The swelling had come down and she could see now her thumb was not in the position it should have been. She sat down next to Gabrielle, who leaned over for a closer look.

The bard didn't really see the dislocated thumb, all her eyes could see were the open wounds. There were two large splits between Xena's thumb and forefinger, where the skin had split under the pressure of the strike. The knuckle of one of her fingers was open and visible. Every inch of her hand was the color of an over ripe grape, and that was what it looked like, an over ripe grape that had been squished.

"Oh, Xena, it looks really bad."

"It will look better in a moment, once I get my thumb back in place and throw a couple of stitches on those splits."

Gabrielle swallowed at the thought of what Xena was about to do.

"Are you ready Gabrielle?"

"Me! ... I can't do this."

"Well you're going to have to. I only have one hand, I'll need two."

Gabrielle reluctantly nodded as Xena showed her what she had to do. Xena braced herself as she took a firm grip of her thumb.

"Xena, wait!" The warrior's head dropped forward, all she wanted was to get this over with.

"Xena. Why don't you put the pinch on your arm and that way you wouldn't feel it go back in? Then I can clean up the cuts and splits." Gabrielle said with a smile, as she thought she had just solved half of their problems.

"That's good Gabrielle. What happens if I pass out and can't remove the pinch. I am only mortal after all. Then what, I lose my arm or worse because I've blocked off the flow of blood."

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that. But Xena I don't know if I can do this. I don't want to hurt you."

"It will hurt me more if you don't Gabrielle." Xena said trying to be patient as the numbness was starting to wear off.

Gabrielle nodded again. She watched as Xena steady herself, the soft blue eyes changed to an icy blue, the stare of the warrior princess. Watching the metamorphic change, Gabrielle hadn't realized what Xena was about to do. The warrior took a firm grip of her thumb and gave it a quick and steady pull away from her hand. Gabrielle felt faint when she heard the stomach churning snap and pop. Xena had placed the knuckle back into its proper position. Gabrielle blinked and swallowed back down what was rising from her stomach.

The bard's wide eyes went from the wounded hand up to the warrior's face. She still saw the icy blue stare but also quickly noticed, the bronze skin had paled slightly. Xena smiled at her, but Gabrielle knew the smile had been forced.

"Oh that was pleasant." The bard muttered, but quickly followed with, "Oh shit, Xena!"

Gabrielle had just noticed the manipulation of Xena's thumb had caused the splits to reopen. They were now bleeding profusely down Xena's hand. Before Gabrielle could react, Xena reached for the bandages she had taken off earlier and applied them with pressure to the open wound. She looked up at her bard.

"You're going to have to stitch them." Xena tried not to notice the fear that had entered the green eyes.

"You have to Gabrielle. I can't. I'll go back down to the river and wash them off, and try to slow down the flow. Be ready with the needle and sinew when I get back."

When Xena returned, Gabrielle was ready. It took her awhile, but with a beating heart and shaking hands, she finally had Xena all stitched up. She knew she hadn't done a good job, it was going to scar badly, but she had done the best she could. She knew Xena would never complain. Gabrielle covered the stitches with a new clean bandage.

Gabrielle noticed the subtle changes in Xena's body. She could see her skin was a little paler, and there were tiny beads of sweat on her upper lip. But it was the eyes that bothered Gabrielle the most, they had yet to soften.

Gabrielle rose up and placed a soft kiss on the end of Xena's nose.

"All done," she said in a whisper. "I'm not the healer you are, and I don't have the knowledge you do, but those stitches should have been done yesterday. Now your going to have an even worse scar because you waited."

"It will be all right. Besides, we had to get the swelling down and clean it up. Thank you, I know that was hard for you." Gabrielle said nothing as she continued to look into the blue eyes. She saw Xena start to relax, and her heart said now or never.

She lowered her mouth and gently kissed Xena again, this time on the lips. She felt Xena's breath instantly quicken with the beat of her own heart. The bard leaned back and saw the desire in the warrior's eyes.

"Gabrielle?" Was all she could say. The bard leaned down and kissed her again. This time their passion flourished and Gabrielle heard the sounds of longing rolling through Xena's chest.

Slowly, and hesitantly at first, the kiss became kisses. They wanted more of each other, and they began to fill those needs. Gabrielle moved her body closer, no longer feeling the need for distance. She began to feel the pressure of Xena's tongue on her lips, a tongue that was looking to separate the bard's inhibitions. Gabrielle's whole body began to surge with warm emotions. Her chest ached, her heart thumped and her clitoris moistened and pulsed. The young bard let out a soft moan. Xena pulled her mouth away from Gabrielle's, their lips were now swollen as the desire they felt for each other continued to grow, almost uncontrollably.

Xena wondered if she could ever get enough as she pulled Gabrielle even closer. It was as if the warrior was afraid she might still lose her, even now. Xena began to shower her with kisses along her neck, down her throat, behind her ear, leaving no flesh unkissed. Gabrielle felt every kiss as if just the pressure of Xena's lips alone were leaving their marks on her, as she felt the quickening warm breath of her soon to be lover.

To Xena's surprise it was Gabrielle who began to lose her patience. She reached forward to pull off Xena's leathers. At the touch of Gabrielle's hand to her side, Xena let out a small cry. Gabrielle immediately pulled back.

"Xena. Your ribs?" In the heat of the moment she had forgotten the warrior's injuries.

They looked into each other's eyes. Xena smiled and reached to undo the bard's green top. Clothing she knew was covering the breasts she wanted so badly.

"Then we'll have to be very careful, won't we? I've waited too long for this to stop now."

Xena sat up slowly and Gabrielle removed her leathers, her last defense. A barely audible gasp escaped through the lips of the bard as she looked over the naked body in front of her. Yes, she had seen Xena's naked body many times before, but never had she been given permission to do what she had wanted. Her green eyes went to the large purple, mottled bruise on Xena's side. The warrior lifted her face to her own.

"I'll be fine." Gabrielle gazed at the woman in front of her.

"By the gods Xena, you are beautiful." Gabrielle watched a smile start in one corner of the warrior's mouth, then slowly begin to spread over her entire face. The warrior reached for the bard's hand and guided it to her chest.

"And very, very lucky to have someone like you." Xena's voice was low and husky, and Gabrielle could feel it vibrate through her hand on Xena's chest.

Gabrielle began to trace the full curves of Xena's breasts, cupping and caressing. Xena leaned her head back and sighed, she couldn't believe this was finally happening. Taking a slow, deep breath, she brought her head back and looked at Gabrielle.

Xena spoke softly. "I won't hurt you, Gabrielle."

"I know," came the whispered response.

Xena's eyes began to roam downward, finally coming to rest on the blonde's breasts. She had never really been give a chance to get a good look at them, unless she was doctoring a wound. Gabrielle was always quick to dress or to change her clothing. Modesty was part of who Gabrielle was, and that was just fine with the warrior princess.

Seeing the look of desire in Xena's face, Gabrielle reached up and began to caress the warrior's beasts. She slowly moved her fingers in circles toward their final destination. The moment she brushed past Xena's nipple, the warrior sucked in a breath with a wanting whisper. The bard watched as the nipple responded to her touch. Gabrielle began to kiss a trail behind her circling fingertips. The feather light kisses made Xena pull the bard in even closer.

Xena felt a lightening bolt go through her body, moans of desire echoed from her chest as Gabrielle's lips landed on their target. They both felt themselves starting to lose control. Xena wrapped her strong arms around the naked body of her bard and gently laid them down in the long grass. The warrior princess ignored the pain shooting through her side.

"I never thought I could feel such yearning again. I didn't know I could still feel this much. Oh Gabrielle, I want you."

"Then show me, my warrior," begged the little bard. Xena knew she couldn't wait and bypassed the build up. She dropped her head to Gabrielle's chest and collected one of her pink nipples into her mouth. Gabrielle gasped out a cry as she immediately felt a sudden sexual surge tear through her body, as she felt the flow of wetness between her legs. Gabrielle buried her nose into Xena's hair. She could still smell the scent of leather and pine.

The sounds of Xena sucking on her nipple increased her want and desires. Gabrielle began to wiggle her way under the body of her warrior, until she found what she was searching for ... the little white scar Xena had just above her right breast. What it was from, the bard didn't know, she had never thought to ask, and right now, it didn't matter. She ran her tongue back and forth across the smooth texture of the tight skin. She knew by the sounds coming from deep within Xena she had been right, the scar was overly sensitive.

Gabrielle's right hand began to search for the nipple her tongue had been playing with earlier. Gabrielle felt Xena's body move in a slow, deep rhythm. Instantly, Gabrielle felt her own body answer with its own movement.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Xena began to travel down, hunting for her final quest, the golden garden that held Gabrielle's private rose. Undoing the bard's skirt, it fell away freely and Xena saw the golden hairs glistening with moisture. The musky rich smell of desire filled Xena with an unstoppable lust. Xena started to move her muscular body and Gabrielle moaned in protest until she felt the long raven hair tickling her stomach. Xena moved further down, searching lower and lower. She heard Gabrielle's stuttered intake of air

A moment of panic gripped the bard and her body reacted, slamming her legs tightly together. Xena had been expecting this, she knew Gabrielle was still slightly frightened by the whole act of lovemaking. Married or not, Gabrielle was still sexually timid.

Xena knew she would have to be patient and caring. It had to be Gabrielle that opened back up to her. She slowly began to kiss the back of Gabrielle's knees, while circling her hand gently over the curly blonde hairs that held her desire. The more Xena kissed, the more she felt the muscles of her bard begin to relax. Then slowly the legs began to open and issue an invitation Xena was happy to accept. The warrior placed a gentle kiss right in the middle of the golden mound. She heard the intake of air come from her moaning bard. Xena began to nuzzle and search with her nose and lips, hunting down the elusive pink nub.

Gabrielle's moans became louder, her cries more passionate. A cry of pleasure erupted as Xena flicked with her tongue. She let her tongue go and she captured the very essence of Gabrielle's love.

The sexual path Gabrielle was on, was climbing higher and higher. Gabrielle felt herself floating, and then she began to fly. Wave after wave of sensations rocked through her body. Xena held onto her as Gabrielle felt her body exploding with a tingling warmth of her first orgasm. Her emotions overflowed as Xena held her tight and she continued to ride the wave of ecstasy.

Gabrielle realized the true depth and meaning of the love of a soulmate. She knew Xena had just made love to her soul. It felt so good, so warm and so right. Gabrielle felt as if her soul had finally returned to her, returned by the love given to her by her warrior. The little blonde began to cover Xena with kisses, anywhere she could find to kiss. If the warrior's body part was in reach, she kissed it, and then she began to suck it and nuzzle it. Xena moaned out loud and strong, and Gabrielle knew she was on the right path.

"I'm yours, all yours. My heart, my love, my life. Body and soul" Xena moaned out, just before Gabrielle cut her off as she captured Xena's mouth with her own. The little bard explored every facet of Xena's mouth and tongue, keeping her fingers busy curling the black hairs around them. She searched and explored the only area of Xena's body she didn't know, but soon would. She slid her fingers in past the curls and past the flow of Xena's excitement. Gabrielle knew she had found her mark when Xena's hips suddenly bucked upward wanting more of Gabrielle's touch. A growl seemed to travel all the way up the warrior's body, vibrating her chest. Gabrielle left her lover's mouth in search of the two bronze peaks she wanted so very much. Xena responded instantly to the feel of Gabrielle's mouth on her nipple. The bard smiled inwardly at the sounds that her warrior was making. Hers now and she knew it. Gabrielle felt her own body responding to the sounds Xena was making.

The warrior brought her hand back to the breast of her bard, sending a new wave of orgasm through Gabrielle just by her touch. Gabrielle responded by pushing her fingers in deeper. A loud cry broke from her warrior's lips. A cry so intense and emotional, it startled Gabrielle. She had never heard Xena sound like this before. Gabrielle smiled to herself as she realized she had never made love to her warrior before. It was an emotional side she had kept hidden even from her bard.

Suddenly, Gabrielle felt Xena's inner muscles tighten down on her fingers. Happily, the little blonde obeyed her lover's commands, and was rewarded with moans that matched the rocking and thrusting of Xena's hips. The usually quiet warrior began to cry out in her own ecstasy and rapture as her orgasm began to drive her body. The intense joy of sensations filled her very soul with a passion she no longer thought existed. A love she never knew she had inside her. Tears of happiness began to roll down her face as she threw back her head with wails of laughter.

Gabrielle looked at her in surprise and shock. Xena could only laugh. Years of sexual frustration washed away as the tall warrior continued to laugh and cry. The tension of desires finally released were shown in emotions rarely used by the warrior princess.

Gabrielle still wasn't certain she had done what the warrior had wanted. She only wanted to give Xena the same feeling that she had just given her. She watched in confusion as her mighty warrior laughed and cried.

"Xena, was that all right? I didn't hurt you did I?" In the throws of passion she had forgotten about Xena's injuries. With a frown, Gabrielle watched the warrior continue to laugh, her left hand was holding her side.

"Xena ... I wasn't sure what to do, or if I did it right. I'm sorry if I ... "

Xena cut her off as she gathered her little bard back into her arms.

"No Gabrielle, that wasn't all right. That was extreme. Beyond my wildest expectations. I never thought it could be this good." The bright radiant smile on the usually dark warrior was something new, even to Gabrielle, but she liked it a lot. She knew with a lot of practice it was something that she would like to see more often.

Gabrielle reached for Xena's leathers and helped the spent woman dress. Xena watched with delight as Gabrielle reached for her skirt.

"You don't have to do that, not for my sake anyhow."

"Xena, we don't have anything to cover ourselves." Her skirt on, she reached for her green top.

"Come here, I'll cover us up." Gabrielle smiled and let her top hang open as she climbed into her lover waiting arms.

"I could get used to this." Xena murmured into Gabrielle's blonde hair.

Wrapped tightly in each other's arms, the two lovers drifted off happily into the arms of another ... Morpheus. Their bodies, hearts and souls, finally bonding in an unbreakable meld that no gods or demons would ever separate. Soul mates, companions and finally ... lovers.

Somewhere, far far away, in a lonely dark temple, a god felt the pangs of defeat. The bard had won, and Ares had lost, and for once, the God of War knew it.

A while later, Xena began to waken in Gabrielle's arms. She smiled as she shifted her head to allow the green top to open again. Gabrielle hadn't laced it up. Her eyes followed the form of Gabrielle's breast until she was looking at the pretty pink nipple. Xena felt her body react. The flutter inside her caused the warrior's body to shudder, as a small moan vibrated in her throat. The hunter watched and began to stalk its prey. When she had waited long enough, she pounced on the defenseless nipple. Gabrielle's eyes shot open as she gasped for air. A surge of sexual desire went through both of their bodies. Gabrielle was reminded that she was a healthy woman in love, a healthy, horny woman. She moaned out loud as she lifted her chest toward Xena's sucking mouth. Gabrielle lifted her hand and began to run it through Xena's dark hair, pulling the warrior's head down harder on her heaving chest. She threw her head back as she heard Xena moan.

Suddenly, the warrior princess stopped and lifted her head off of Gabrielle's chest, much to the bard's unhappiness. Xena sensed something and slowly she moved away from Gabrielle. The bard looked at her warrior to see what had caused her to stop their lovemaking.

"Well, we shouldn't have been doing it ... " she stopped abruptly as Xena lifted her hand up. Gabrielle realized then Xena had stopped for a reason, not because she thought they shouldn't be doing that. She watched the eyes of her lover as they darted left to where her weapons laid ... too far away. Then her eyes went right, and then up.

Gabrielle frowned at the warrior when she looked down at her, and then lifted her blue eyes upwards. Gabrielle suddenly felt the presence of someone else. She tensed as Xena rose ... slowly. Gabrielle suddenly jumped up between her wounded lover and whatever enemy lay in wait. Quickly she knelt back down to grab her staff, and at that precise moment, Gabrielle remembered her free flapping breasts, just as she saw three pairs of boots land inches from her hand. Three pairs of Amazon boots!

Gabrielle quickly stood up straight and looked down into the smiling familiar face.

"Jadax!" She squealed, then instantly turned red. "Jadax?" She grabbed the front of her top, then took a quick step behind her grinning warrior.

Xena took a step forward to embrace their little Amazon friend. Jadax heard a catch in Xena's breath as she returned the hug.

"Congratulations," she whispered into Xena's ear.

"Thanks," Xena said shyly, quickly looking over her shoulder to see if Gabrielle had heard.

Jadaxious, or Jadax as she was known, was the smallest Amazon Xena had ever seen. But what she lacked in size, she more than made up for with her heart and courage. Jadax wasn't a warrior, but a forest scout, and she could move with the speed of the wind threw the tree tops.

Jadax's face was beaming with happiness and Xena was sure it had more to do with her being Ephiny's consort than their arrival. 'Or what she just saw,' thought Xena.

The icy blue eyes drifted over the other two women. One of them was a stranger but they at least looked like Amazons. The big, blonde woman's personality was showing through her bright smile.

"Hello Xena."

"Hello Plaiertei."

The tall, dark woman next to her was far more reserved. No emotion showed in her strong face as her eyes met the look of the warrior princess.

Nothing was said between the two dark warriors before Jadax motioned the two Amazons back into the trees, giving their Queen time to finish dressing.

Though the dark Amazon had never met the Queen and her warrior princess, she had heard many unbelievable stories about them. Nazalon had wanted an introduction but was quick to obey the little scout's command.

"I thought they weren't lovers?" The dark Amazon said to Plaiertei as they looked down from the trees.

"That's what I was always told."

"Obviously they are now." Nazalon said quietly.

Jadax looked from Xena to the still blushing Queen, she had thought it would be better if it was just them to find out what was going on. The little scout turned to ask Xena, when Gabrielle came around the warrior and threw her arms around her friend.

"Jadax, it's so good to see you." The Amazon returned the embrace. "What are you doing here? We're not on Amazon land."

"One of the sentries spotted your fire last night. Ephiny ... " Her eyes brightened at the mention of her Queen and lovers name, "she hoped it was you. I said I would go and check it out, and bring you in if it was. I don't get to leave the village much these days." She said as her smile widened.

"Anyway, I spotted Argo back at the clearing, so I didn't think you would be far, especially concerning the description of you, Xena. When Ephiny heard you were hurt she almost came herself. So we were tracking you when we heard you scream. So we came and found you and just waited until you, umm, woke up. So you want to fill me in on what happened to you?" Jadax said as she turned her attentions to Xena's injured hand. Then lifting her head up to look at Xena's face. "Nice bruises and did I hear sore ribs too."

Xena rolled her eyes and turned to look at Gabrielle.

"Ok, fine. Fill me in on that later." Jadax turned and asked Gabrielle. "So, did I see Xena checking you over for injuries?"

Gabrielle's face turned two more shades of red, her eyes looked down at the rocks she was kicking with her foot. Then she looked up and over at Xena before she made a response.

"No, I'm perfectly healthy in every way. Well almost."

"What do you mean almost?" Jadax said, she knew there was something going on, she had seen them from the trees.

"Well. It seems that I may have lost my heart, ... to one tall warrior princess." She gushed as she looked into the soft blue eyes of her lover. Xena couldn't help but blush slightly herself, as Gabrielle gently slid an arm around her waist. Xena leaned down and kissed the top of the little blonde's head. They only had eyes for each other and had almost forgotten they were not alone.

"Ephiny's going to burst when she finds out." Gabrielle looked at Jadax, and she wondered if the forest scout was going to burst herself, her face was one solid grin. "It is about time, you two. I've never seen two people so in love with one another and trying so hard not to show it."

The three sat down and talked a bit. Jadax couldn't help but notice the loving gestures and looks that continued between the two.

'Ephiny's going to bubble over with happiness and pride. She always hoped they would eventually find one another.' Jadax thought. The sentry had reported last evening that the Queen and her warrior princess had been spotted camped just off Amazon land. The sentry had been a little hesitant in informing the Queen of the condition of Xena, and of the positions she had seen them in. Ephiny had reacted with mixed emotions. First she was concerned as to what had happened to Xena. She wondered why they had made camp outside of the Amazon's land, considering how close they were to the village. But that answer may have been in the position of how they had been seen sleeping. Hope burned inside the Amazon Queen, the sentry had said they were wrapped up tightly in each other's arms. Had it finally happened? Had they finally found each other? Ephiny hoped they had. Everyone seemed to know they were in love, except for them.

The last time Ephiny had seen them together, Xena had broken her arm and had dragged Gabrielle off behind a horse. Ephiny had thought Xena was going to kill Gabrielle. She knew the whole story now, of what had happened that fateful day. She had spoken to both of them separately, and in detail. Gabrielle had explained and Xena couldn't stop apologizing. All had eventually been forgiven.

It had been moons since all that had happened, but she hadn't seen them in a long time. Then a month or so ago, stories started to reach the Amazons. Bad stories, horrible, impossible stories. They had heard Gabrielle was dead and Xena had lost her mind with grief and was crisscrossing the entire known world looking for her beloved Gabrielle. When word had come to Ephiny that the two were coming for a visit, Ephiny had collapsed with relief into Jadax's arms. It took the forest scout hours to calm her down.

When the sentry reported to the Queen, she had seen the two of them. Ephiny had reluctantly agreed to let her lover and fastest Amazon, travel off of Amazon land in search of the two. Ephiny had only agreed after the suggestion that Jadax could go with Plaiertei and Nazalon.

As all of this was going through Jadax's mind, she began to get anxious to get back to tell Ephiny all the good news.

With the smallest of gestures, Jadax signaled the women in the trees. Without a sound the warriors were standing next to the scout. Plaiertei smiled and bowed to Gabrielle and nodded at Xena. She was a little intimidated by the warrior princess.

Nazalon showed little to no emotion as she was finally introduced. She bowed to the Queen, and then looked the mighty warrior princess in the eye as the two dark warriors seemed to size each other up. It wasn't often they met someone of the equal height or similar silence. Without words they nodded and grasped forearms.

Jadax turned to the tall quiet warrior.

"Why don't you go back Nazalon and collect Xena's horse? You can catch up to us on the southern route to the village." The Amazon started to leave, but Xena quickly stopped her.

"Thanks Jadax, but she'd never get near Argo, nor would Argo let her near our supplies. I'll go back and fetch them." Xena stated as she nodded a thanks to Nazalon as well.

"Xena, why don't you let me go back. I can fetch Argo and our supplies." Xena smiled down at her bard and then gently placed a hand on her cheek.

"No, it's ok Gabrielle. With as excited as you are right now, you would probably spook her. No, you go with Jadax, I'll catch up." Xena had made the decision, and no one was going to change her mind.

Jadax directed Plaiertei and Nazalon to run on ahead and let everyone know they were on their way. She also informed the two not to tell their Queen anything that they had seen. They nodded their understanding and headed into the trees.

The two Amazon warriors left and then Xena asked Gabrielle to fetch her weapons and armor, leaving her and Jadax alone.

"Jadax, I have something I have to take care of before I leave for the village."

"Ok. I'll call one of the girls back."

"No, you don't need to do that. I don't want Gabrielle to know. Do you understand?"

"Are you sure? What if there is trouble, you're not in the best of shape right now."

"I'll be fine. I just have to get something for Gabrielle." Xena said with a smile and a wink.

"So, do you want me to stall abit, you know, go in a few circles keeping her away from the village."

"No, that's not necessary. Just keep her mind occupied. It shouldn't be that hard. She'll probably talk your ear off before you ever reach the village."

Both of them were laughing when Gabrielle returned with Xena's weapons and armor.

Gabrielle just smiled at them, as she helped Xena put her armor on. The three headed back up to the trail and back to the path that would split them apart, one going north and two going south.

The trio stopped, Jadax only paused a moment then realized they wanted to be alone. She slowly started to walk to the south to give them some privacy.

"Are you ok?" It was the first time they had a chance to speak in private. Xena was concerned by the look on Gabrielle's face.

"Yes. I'm better than ok. We'll talk tonight. Xena, be careful please. I wish you would have let one of the Amazons go with you."

"Gabrielle, I'll be fine. I'm just going to get Argo, not off to battle. I'll probably take the eastern route to the village though. It may take me a little longer, but it puts me on Amazon land sooner, and the trails aren't as rough. So I'll see you in the village. Don't let Ephiny embarrass us too much." Xena leaned down and set a strong passionate kiss on Gabrielle's waiting lips.

The two parted and walked in opposite directions, the grassy path muted their steps but not their beating hearts. Both looked back several times as they could feel the pull of their separation instantly.

"I plan to finish what I started earlier," called out Xena. Gabrielle's fair skin quickly took on a pinkish tone. Jadax smiled as her friend and Queen approached.

A few long moments passed before the forest scout spoke.

"I gather this is still kinda new?" Jadax didn't want to invade their privacy, but she wanted to get the bard talking.

"Yes." Gabrielle said absently. Her thoughts were on her departing lover, as Xena strolled out of sight.

Jadax knew how she felt. It had been like that for her and Ephiny in the beginning and basically still was. Only life and death problems ever separated them. Thankfully those times were few and far between. Her little day trip to find them had been a long enough separation for Jadax. She couldn't wait to see Ephiny and the look that was going to be on her face when she found out about the Queen and her warrior princess.

Jadax looked over at Gabrielle again. The pain of the separation was written all over her face.

Gabrielle couldn't believe the ache she felt when she could no longer see her warrior.

Jadax threw an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, just to let her know she knew how she felt. In a lively happy voice, Jadax gave Gabrielle a little squeeze and asked.

"So. Did the two of you become lovers before or after you were dead?"

Gabrielle couldn't help but smile at the question. She knew Jadax was trying to get her mind off of leaving Xena. She looked back one more time and then turned to Jadax.

"Actually, it all started when we found this group of worshipers in the forest. We thought at first they were followers of Callisto, but they turned out to be followers of Hopes ..." Gabrielle began the story of the return and death of Hope and herself.

Chapter 6

An Amazon village is a text book example of need and necessity, verses waste and luxury. Every building and hut had a multitude of uses. No space was wasted. Every building was placed with thought and design. The outlying area surrounding the lazy slope the village was set on, was carpeted in luscious, treeless grass. No one could approach unseen and there was plenty of grass for the livestock to graze on. The first building where the grass met the rise of the village was the barn and stables, that way there were few animals traveling up and down the dusty path leading to and from the main compound.

The next building was the second to the largest, it held the kitchen and dining hall. The proximity to the livestock was easier for the cooks and kept the stable hands on their cleanest behavior. The head cook would often grumble at having to catch the free roaming chickens and how she wanted them penned like the other animals. But morning egg hunts were a special delight to the small children, who had to earn their place in the collection game.

The kitchen was separated from the special ceremonial banquet hall by a smattering of old and new huts. The private dwellings were all made by their occupants. The newer ones were usually bigger as single Amazons coupled, and replaced their small hut with a larger one. Most of the thatch homes on the outer edges of the village, were occupied by warriors. They were the first line of defense in case of an attack. The old women and those not trained as warriors lived closer to the main compound or lined the wide path to the palace.

When Ephiny had chosen the new site for the village, it had been the lay of the land that had caught her attention. The gradual slope made for a great defense and the regent could over look the village from the steps of her palace.

The grand building sat on the higher slope of the large dirt compound. The wide stone steps led up to two solid double doors. The ten steps were usually a meeting and greeting place for women to sit and enjoy the warmth of the sun. The double doors of the palace opened to a landing, giving away to three more steps leading down into the common room. The large, open circle room had been Jadax's idea. The Queen had been pleasantly surprised at the small scout's architectural ability and had left the rest of the design to her. The center piece of the large room was a round open fire pit, circled with large fur-covered benches. It was the main meeting place for anyone who wished to speak to the regent, or for many of the casual discussions between the Amazons.

A normal palace was the residence and home of the Queen. But since this village had two Queens, it also held two bed chambers. The larger of the two was just of the left side of the common room. It was more regally furbished for the Queen and her consort. To the right was a hallway leading to the other royal chambers and the back door. The bedroom designed for Gabrielle and Xena when they visited was smaller and held two beds instead of one.

The large windows on either side of the double doors let sun light the room during the day as well as giving an excellent view of the village below. Ephiny had been sitting at the large desk next to the window. Her blonde curly head was hovering over a pile of parchment. She was trying to concentrate on her work, but the sounds of the village shared her own excitement.

The regent stood and wandered over to the window again. Her mind was not on the work but on the friends who were near. She smiled at the bustle of the village. Fifty-eight women and fourteen children made for a lot of activity.

The Amazon village was astir of excitement. Children were laughing and enjoying their rare afternoon of playtime, instead of their usual training and studies. Their mothers were too busy getting ready for their traveling Queen and her warrior. It was going to be their first visit to their new village and home.

The air was filled with the mouth-watering aroma of the feast for tonight's welcoming party. The chickens had been on the cooking fires since the news had found its way to the kitchen. Two younger women had been gathering wood for tonight's bon fire. They looked to the clouds rolling in and hoped it wasn't going to rain and spoil the night's festivities.

Everyone seemed to know their Queen and her tall, dark warrior were near, even though Plaiertei and Nazalon had gone straight to their Queen with the information. They had kept their word to Jadax, even when Ephiny threatened them, but it didn't matter. The more they refused to tell, the more Ephiny knew it had to be true. She was certain her friends had finally joined. Now every time she thought about it she gushed with joy and happiness. They belonged together. Ephiny left her perch at the window and wandered her way down the hall.

There had been a time when Ephiny didn't like or trust the tall, dark warrior. When she had seen Xena's dark side emerge, she was the first to admit it frightened even her. But she knew deep down, way deep down, that good and bad needed to balance one another. And that's what Xena and Gabrielle did, balance one another. Ephiny knew it was a match made by the Gods.

She had tried to busy herself waiting for them to arrive. Jadax had the fore thought to leave the arriving Queen's chamber arrangement to her. Gabrielle was only really Queen by name now. She hadn't been born an Amazon. She had turned the title and all its responsibilities over to her chosen, Ephiny. But the title of Queen was still used by almost everyone in the village when referring to Gabrielle. So it only seemed fitting when they built the new Queen's palace, the last one was destroyed by Velasca, that they built it with two Queens' chambers.

Ephiny stood in the doorway of the bedroom to be shared by Gabrielle and Xena. The only thing she really had to do was arrange for the two beds to be replaced by one large one. Ephiny smiled again as she looked down at the single bed. She lifted her head to the commotion coming from outside and she knew they had arrived. Taking one last glance around the room, she nodded to herself at the flowers, the many candles and the tray with nutbread and cheese. A slow grin spread across her face as she looked at the bottle of Amazon wine. 'All that is needed,' she thought 'is a Queen and her warrior princess.' Ephiny continued to smile as she quickly left the room.

As Ephiny reached for the door to the outside, the door flew open quickly. Smiles spread across the Queens' faces as the two royals hugged tightly.

"I've missed you Ephiny."

"Me too, old friend." The two broke their embrace, Ephiny looked to the door where only Jadax was standing. The two smiled at one another as Ephiny asked."Where's Xena?"

"She had to double back to get Argo. She should be here soon." Jadax winked at Ephiny and mouthed the words, "I'll tell you later."

Ephiny looked back at Gabrielle and the two embraced again. This time when they parted, Ephiny reached up and lifted Gabrielle's chin. Ephiny lowered her head slightly to look squarely into Gabrielle's green eyes. The bard blushed instantly, Ephiny started to giggle with delight.

"It's true, isn't it?" She didn't need an answer as Gabrielle began to glow. They hugged again, then Ephiny slid her arm over Gabrielle's shoulder and guided her into the common room. Gabrielle looked around at the new palace, Ephiny turned and motioned Jadax to join them with an outstretched hand. Jadax crossed the room and took the regent's hand into her own. Ephiny leaned over and pecked a kiss onto her lover's cheek.

The three sat down on the fur-covered benches in front of the fire pit. Though there was no fire in it now, it was what everyone gathered around, especially when they wanted to talk.

"I don't know where I want you to start. I can pretty much guess now, why the two of you spend the night outside of the village, alone under the stars." Ephiny didn't even notice the squeeze she gave to Jadax's hand. "But who did you two tangle with ... an army? I heard Xena had some injuries."

"Yes. But it wasn't an army, not even close." Gabrielle rolled her eyes. She decided not to correct Ephiny's assumption of why they had wanted to be alone last night.

"What I really want to know is, what finally drove you two into each other's arms? But first, I would like to know more about Xena's search for you." Ephiny asked as she leaned over closer to Gabrielle, taking one of her hands into her own.

Gabrielle smiled, but Ephiny could see the memories were still very fresh in her friend's mind. The green eyes held the pain as the bard's face paled.

"The rumors of my death were not exaggerated." Gabrielle tried to joke about it but she fooled no one.

"Just hold that thought for one moment." Ephiny stood and walked to the front doors motioning Jadax to follow. Whispering quickly, but quietly, Ephiny asked the whereabouts of Xena.

"I don't know. She just told me she had to get something for Gabrielle. Then she said she would be here."

"OK. Could you please have someone head down to the kitchen and rustle us up some food and something to drink? I don't want Gabrielle to see her room until Xena is here."

"All right," Jadax started to turn to leave but Ephiny grabbed her by the arm.

"I missed you," she whispered with a kiss.

"Not as much as I missed you. You should have come with me. You would have liked what you saw." Jadax winked and hurried out the door. Ephiny turned back to Gabrielle. Sitting down next to her, the regent took a hold of one of the bard's hands.

"Start at the beginning. I want to hear it all ... and I think you need to talk about it." Gabrielle smiled at her. Ephiny knew her almost as good as Xena did.

Gabrielle waited for Jadax to return to her seat and then she began at the beginning. It didn't take long for them to be engrossed in the emotional story, a tale of life, death, love and destiny. She didn't stop when the food and drinks arrived. She kept talking even when Ephiny offered her something to eat, (causing both Jadax and Ephiny to look at one another). The bard didn't even stop when Ephiny insisted on some herbal tea.

The story would have been unbelievable had it been anyone other than Xena and Gabrielle, but Ephiny knew them. She knew their love for each other, and she knew and believed in their destiny to be together. Ephiny listened with an aching heart, she couldn't imagine the grief she would feel if Jadax took her own life to save her's. The torment of it all must have eaten at Xena, at her heart, her soul and her mind. Ephiny knew then the stories they had heard about Xena would have been very close to the truth. The warrior princess probably had gone a little insane.

Ephiny suddenly wondered where Xena was.

As if hearing Ephiny's thoughts, Gabrielle stopped talking as she turned to look out the darkening window. Concern entered her face as she saw the sun beginning to set. She realized she had been at the village for more than three candlemarks, so where was Xena?

Gabrielle stood and wandered over to the window. Ephiny shot Jadax a look of concern as Jadax shrugged.

"I'll go look," the scout whispered. Quickly and quietly Jadax left the common room via the back door.

"She's probably down at the stables securing Argo for the night." No one had mentioned the warrior by name but there was no need to. The look of concern on Gabrielle's face only grew more intense. She turned and headed for the front doors.

"Jadax just went to go look for her, so why don't you just wait here ... Come on."

"I can't Eph.," she said as she took a step toward the doors. "Something is wrong!"

Ephiny saw the shudder go through Gabrielle's body and was quickly by her side.

"Come on Gabrielle, this is Xena we're talking about here. She can take care of herself."

"Normally yes, but she's hurt and she should have been here hours ago."

Concern began in a small corner of Ephiny's mind.

"How hurt are we talking about here?"

"I'm not sure. This is Xena." Gabrielle's voice was starting to show signs of strain.

"She's still not good at explaining, never mind complaining. All I can tell you is what I know. She had at least one cracked or broken rib, a black eye, a good bump on her stubborn head, and a badly smashed up right hand."

'No one had told me it was that bad!' Ephiny's mind screamed.

"Who in Tartarus left her on her own?" The regent said out loud as she heard Jadax return.

Ephiny shot the forest scout a look, but Jadax stood her ground. "Who in Tartarus was going to stop her? It was her decision to go alone."

Gabrielle hadn't realized Jadax had returned as she turned to look at the little angry Amazon. Jadax immediately tried to calm herself down. Only she knew why she had gotten so angry, as concern and guilty made their way into the pit of the scout's stomach. Jadax hesitated before telling Gabrielle what she didn't want to hear.

"She's not in the stables ... and she's not in the village ... anywhere." The last piece of information was not what Gabrielle, or Ephiny, wanted to hear.

The bard spun around and headed for the doors. Fear and self doubt were shaking her to the core.

"Gabrielle, stay here. I'll send everyone I've got out. We'll find her, don't worry. Maybe she just stopped for a rest." It was a weak attempt at best and they all knew it. A chill went through all three of them, they knew nothing would stop Xena from meeting up with Gabrielle.

The bard drew in a breath, pulled back her shoulders and tried to settle herself down. 'It's only been a couple of candlemarks, really. There's no need to become totally unglued,' she thought. She knew how upset Xena would get if she found out they all went nuts because she was a little late. But Gabrielle knew that wasn't it. It was the feeling she couldn't shake of the fear rising from the pit of her stomach. She knew something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.

Gabrielle waited with Ephiny, Jadax went out with the Queen's orders to the royal guards outside the doors. Gabrielle looked up as she spotted Eponin. The quiet warrior nodded a greeting and offered a smile. Gabrielle tried to smile back but wasn't very successful. Jadax gave Eponin the instructions to start the search and where they should begin. Eponin nodded her understanding. She too had a special place in her heart for the warrior princess.

Jadax turned back to Ephiny, "I'm going too."

"No, you're not. We need you here." Ephiny left Gabrielle's side and stood in front of her lover.

"Is that an order?"

"No, it's a request." Jadax looked up at her and Ephiny saw the look in her eyes.

"Let me go Ephiny. I'm the one who let Xena go on her own." The admission of guilt was clear in her voice. The little scout squared her shoulders and looked her Queen in the eye.

"I know where we left her and it wasn't even on our lands. I have to go. I'll take Eponin with me. We're your fastest and strongest, and that's what we need right now. We'll send a few warriors to the north and east, that was the way she said she was coming in."

Ephiny knew Jadax was right. Her little scout was needed in the search. The regent also knew now that Xena had left alone by her own accord and Jadax was not to blame. Ephiny looked down at her lover, regretting the accusation she had spoken earlier. With the heart and honor her lover possessed Ephiny knew Jadax wasn't going to forgive herself that easy.

"Ok, but you're going with Eponin. You're not a warrior, you're a scout. Remember that, and please be careful." Ephiny looked up at the quiet warrior standing in the doorway. Eponin nodded to the Queen's silent request. Coming home without Xena would be devastating, coming home without Jadax would be unacceptable.

As the front doors closed Ephiny turned and looked at Gabrielle. 'There is something more going on here'. The regent's thoughts were due to the panic look on the bard's face.

She sat down beside her. "Ok. We have searchers out looking for her. Now, do you want to tell me why? It's not like you to be so upset over a couple of candlemarks."

Gabrielle dropped her head in silence. Ephiny could see by the bard's body language she had been right.

The bard brought her head up.

"Gabrielle ... What's wrong?"

"Nothing ... I hope." Her words were quiet and without strength or conviction. "When Xena and I made love this morning ... " Ephiny watched her friend and waited for her to finish. " ... it was our first time."

The regent started to smile and then stopped. She closed her opened mouth as she now realized what was going on in Gabrielle's mind. Ephiny tried to think of something encouraging to say.

"And now you're thinking Xena had second thoughts about it?"

Gabrielle could only nod, not trusting her voice with the thoughts spinning in her mind or the ache pulling at her heart.

"What if Xena ... "

Ephiny didn't let her finish. "Don't! Don't even begin to go there Gabrielle. Xena loves you, and there isn't a person here who wouldn't agree with me. You two were bound to get together soon or later. So don't let her lateness cause you any doubt about it. I'm sure there is going to be a perfectly good explanation when she walks through the door." Ephiny was certain Xena had just been detained. She had no doubt in the love the warrior had for her Queen. The regent's eyes drifted to the darkness outside the window.

Another long and silent candlemark passed. Much to both their concern, there still had been no word. They had been lost in their own thoughts when someone knocked on the front doors, causing of them to jump. It was just one of the Amazon's there to light the fires in the palace. The longer they waited, the more Ephiny questioned her own convictions. She had to direct their thoughts elsewhere.

The regent knew they needed to do something to keep them both occupied. Ephiny coaxed Gabrielle into continuing her story. Ephiny sat beside her and urged her on. When she came to the difficult spots, the regent put her arms around the emotional bard. When Gabrielle got to the part where their love had finally united them, it was too much for her aching heart to handle and Gabrielle started to come apart. Ephiny didn't need any details, she really didn't want to know. She held her friend tightly hoping to comfort some of the worry away.

"I'm just glad you two have finally realized what we all knew seasons ago." Gabrielle sobbed out a laugh. "Now, fill me in on what happened to Xena. How did she get hurt?"

Gabrielle quickly went over what had happened that afternoon on the road with the peddler and his son. Ephiny listened intently trying to ignore the darkness outside.

Still looking out the window, Ephiny spotted some of the returning Amazons. She quickly noted the absence of Jadax, Eponin and ... Xena. Not wanting to upset Gabrielle any further, Ephiny excused herself muttering about having to relieve herself. She slipped out the back door, and quickly came around to the front. The first warrior she spotted was a tired looking Nazalon.

"Anything?"

"Nothing, my Queen. There is no sign of her anywhere. We followed her tracks back to her horse, and then ...

"Then what?" Ephiny's own mind was creating her own panic.

"Then the tracks moved away ... farther off Amazon land. She wasn't returning ... she was leaving!"

"NOO!" Everyone turned at the anguished cry from Gabrielle as she stood in the doorway of the palace. She had heard what Nazalon had said.

Two long steps were all it took for Ephiny to be by her side. Gabrielle looked at Ephiny.

"She's left me."

"We don't know that Gabrielle."

Ephiny took the little bard by the arm and guided her into the palace. She motioned for Nazalon to follow.

The rest of the Amazons were left waiting to hear further instruction. No one wanted to leave, they all wanted to help find the missing warrior princess. No one wanted to believe Xena had just left. They knew now their Queen and the warrior princess had finally joined as a couple, it hadn't been a secret for long. Their heart went out to their little Queen for her lost love.

Ephiny held her close, as Gabrielle was shaking uncontrollably. 'Has Xena really left me?' The thought almost consumed her. 'Had our declaration of love frightened her away.' Her head was pounding with the questions she didn't want to hear. Her heart was breaking. The pain of it tore away at the flesh of her chest. She knew something had happened. She wouldn't let herself think Xena had left her voluntarily. The thought ripped through Gabrielle like a swing of a broadsword. If Xena hadn't left her, then something bad had happened. She wasn't sure which thought caused her the most pain.

The Queen wrapped her arms around her friend. She could feel the tremors going through Gabrielle's body. She tried not to think about what was going on inside her mind. Ephiny quietly asked Nazalon to clean out Gabrielle's room.

'Especially the flowers,' she mouthed to the warrior. Ephiny called to one of the royal guards to take Gabrielle to her room when she saw Nazalon returning. The royal guard collected the little Queen in her arms.

"Don't leave her alone," the guard nodded.

Ephiny turned to the waiting warrior. "Fill me in on what you found."

"There's not much more to tell you, my Queen. There were no signs of a struggle, she just got on her horse and rode away. Jadax and Eponin are following the tracks to see where she went. They wouldn't let us go any further. Jadax sent us back to tell you what we found. She said to remind you of Xena's last words to her?"

Ephiny thought back quickly to what Jadax had told her, 'She had left to get something for Gabrielle.' But Ephiny also recalled the statement, 'Then she'd be here.' Well Ephiny knew she wasn't here, and a shiver went down her spine. Xena had said she would be here and it wasn't supposed to take long. Ephiny looked out the dark window. It had been well over half a day. 'Where in Tartarus is she?'

Nazalon stood silently waiting, wanting to do something.

"I want four scouts to watch all the northern trails. I want a small group of experienced warriors ones with experience of being off Amazon land. I want them to follow those tracks. Jadax and Eponin may need back up. The rest, break into small groups and begin checking all the trails from the west to the east. If a trail has even the slightest northern turn, I want it checked. And I want reports quarterly. Understood."

"Yes, my Queen," Nazalon slightly bowed and then departed. The regent's eyes went to the skies, there wasn't a star to be seen. She knew the last thing they needed right now was rain. Ephiny turned and headed to Gabrielle's room but not before saying a prayer to their chosen goddess.

'Artemis, help us find Xena,' she put her hand on Gabrielle's bedroom door. Ephiny had no idea what she was going to say.

Chapter 7

The voices were screaming at her. Xena's tracks were leading away from the Amazon Nation. 'Away!' The word echoed in Gabrielle's mind. Had Xena left her. 'NO!' But the screaming continued to see-saw in her mind. The tracks had led away. Gabrielle refused to believe it. But what if Xena couldn't handle their being lovers. She had left her, 'No!' Xena had left her behind once again. 'No!' Gabrielle, 'No!'

"Gabrielle."

"No!" She screamed into Ephiny's face as she bolted awake. Her eyes opened wide as she realized what she had done. Ephiny held her tight in her arms.

"What if she's left me, Ephiny? What will I do? All I wanted was to love her, and now I may have scared her off."

"I don't think so Gabrielle. I think we better wait before we start jumping to conclusions. We don't know what happened out there, but I do know Xena wouldn't leave you." Ephiny said sternly. She had already decided not to tell Gabrielle about Xena's last statement of where she was going and why. Ephiny felt the information would only cause more of a burden on the already unstable little bard. She felt another shudder go through Gabrielle's body. She knew if something had happened to Xena because she was doing something for her new lover, the guilt alone may send Gabrielle over the edge.

"Search your heart Gabrielle ...You know Xena loves you. You told me earlier she went to the ends of the earth to find you. Hold on to that and never let it go." Ephiny tried to instill some faith into her friend. "I know you won't eat anything, but why don't you at least have something to drink." Ephiny handed her a steaming mug of tea. She didn't tell Gabrielle that she had it laced with a herb that would help her into a relaxed sleep.

An uneasy sleep it was, thankfully Ephiny stayed with her the remainder of the night. Dozing off once and awhile herself, before being woken by Gabrielle's desperate plea for her lover. Whispering positive and reassuring words, Ephiny stroked her blonde hair, sending the little bard back to the care and comfort of Morpheus. Ephiny could feel her own heart aching for her friend as she wondered where Jadax and Eponin had followed Xena's tracks to.

Ephiny had started to doze off again when she heard the sound of falling rain. She felt her hopes falling with it. Rain meant water and water meant no more tracks. Without something to track ... She tried not to think about it as she stared out the window.

A candlemark later, Ephiny heard a light tap on the bedroom door. She lifted Gabrielle's head off her lap and rose to answer it. There stood a very tired and distraught looking warrior. Ephiny lifted her finger to her lips and Nazalon nodded. They left the stillness of the bedroom and walked silently into the common room.

"There's nothing so far. We've been out all night, and now with the rain ... " The warrior trailed off knowing she didn't need to say anything more. Ephiny wandered over to the window. The dark skies of night were beginning to lighten, and the late spring rain was falling even harder.

"Stay with Gabrielle." Ephiny commanded. She didn't want to leave her friend alone, but there was something she wanted to do. With long strides she reached the front doors.

"Don't let her see that look of hopelessness on your face Nazalon." Ephiny was out the door without waiting for a response from the tall warrior. Ignoring the rain and the looks she was receiving, Ephiny marched across the compound, up the three stone steps and straight into the temple. Directing the priestess and the temple guards to leave her, Ephiny knelt down in front of Artemis' alter.

The temple was made of timbers and stone. The fine handcrafted wood was laden with designs and symbols out of respect and adoration for the Amazon's chosen Goddess. The entrance way was open to the elements and to all who entered. Five paces in, was a large door leading into the main chamber of the temple. Rows of candles lined the wood and stone walls, allowing the flames to flicker off the high polished marble altar. Above the gleaming stone was a carved sculpture of Artemis.

"Goddess of the Moon, please hear me. I'm not asking for myself but for your chosen one, Gabrielle. Please Goddess, I need to speak with you." Ephiny waited and hoped for a rare appearance from their Goddess.

"She has suffered enough over the past seasons, we need to know. Artemis, her heart is breaking, I beg of you. She can't take much more." Ephiny cried out. She herself was beginning to feel the strain of concern and fear.

"We know," said a voice. Ephiny's eyes opened wide as a flash of light revealed a beautiful woman. Ephiny knew this was not Artemis, Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt. 'This woman looked like.' Ephiny's eyes followed up the beautiful woman in front of her, starting with the gold sandals, past the pink flowing gown, to her long white locks of curly hair. She had the face of an angel. 'It could only be ... '

"Aphrodite?" Ephiny questioned.

"In the flesh, Amazon woman." The Goddess grinned.

"But this is ... "

"Artemis' pad ... quite deary isn't it. This is definitely not my usual hang out ... like way too basic for my taste. Look, She called Me all right. See, I had something to do with this warrior princess and Amazon Queen fling. I mean it took forever for the warrior babe and that little blonde to figure out that like, they were meant for one another, ya know. I finally get them connected and then Artemis tells me one of them has split. And now that thick headed warrior babe is breaking the other one's heart. Like wow, what is it going to take to keep these two together? I mean, I can only do so much," Aphrodite pouted as she looked down at her buffed fingernails.

Ephiny looked speechless at the Goddess of Love. Doesn't she have any compassion?

"All I need to know Goddess, is ...Where is Xena?"

Aphrodite looked up at her. Her face had become serious. "We don't know!"

"What do you mean you don't know?" The regent was stunned and confused.

"I mean we don't know where she is either Amazon?"

"Then I have to ask this question." Ephiny swallowed, then taking a breath she held it. The regent wasn't certain if she really wanted to ask and wasn't sure if she could deal with the answer.

"Did Xena leave Gabrielle?"

"No. Like, no way. They belong together. I mean like they just figured that out. No. The warrior babe did not desert her true love. That much I do know. If Xena had left Gabrielle we would be able to find her? But we can't. Just so you know, they're like destined to be. Like night is to day, dirt is to water, like Tartarus is to the Elysian fields ... blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda." Aphrodite looked serious for a moment. "Without one, there is no other. That's why Artemis isn't here. She is trying to find Xena. Without the warrior princess ... They only exist together, without one ... the other will die." Aphrodite stared at Ephiny, then waved her hand and was gone.

Ephiny felt her heart jump start again. On one hand she felt relief, Xena had not left Gabrielle. She knew she hadn't but she had to ask just the same. On the other hand, they didn't know where Xena had gone, and neither did the Gods. That thought frightened her. 'Where do you go that the Gods can't find you?'

Ephiny stood up to leave the temple. The regent tried not to dwell on what Aphrodite had just said, but the words still echoed in her heart. 'They only exist together. Without one the other would die.'

Crossing the muddy compound after leaving the temple, Ephiny felt the cool rain on her face. It was as if the Gods themselves were crying. She tried not to notice the rain was falling even harder. She sighed heavily as she started up the stone steps into the palace. Ephiny had always liked the smell of an early summer storm as it mixed with the dried ground and the new flowers. She wondered after all of this, if she still would.

The regent opened the front doors and immediately saw the figure of Jadax curled up in front of the fire. The small forest scout was soaking wet. The closer Ephiny got to her lover, the harder her heart beat. Her mouth went dry when she saw the tears rolling down Jadax's face, her eyes staring into the fire.

Ephiny said nothing as she sat down beside her and held her lover close. She didn't have to ask what she already knew. They had lost Xena's tracks in the rain. Any chance they had of finding the warrior princess by her trail had all been washed away. And the regent felt her hopes go with it. Ephiny closed her eyes. Besides, if the Gods couldn't find her, what chance did the Amazons have. She rocked the quiet little scout and tried to think of something to say, but she couldn't think of anything. All she could think of was Gabrielle in the next room, her heart broken with fear. Ephiny's thoughts went to Xena, somewhere out there alone and hurt. Obviously the warrior had a plan and now something had gone very wrong.

Ephiny and Jadax heard the commotion at the same time. They jumped up together, hoping it was news about Xena. Somehow Jadax reached the front doors before Ephiny did. She threw them wide open to see a puffing Eponin coming up the steps.

"Plaiertei ... " Eponin gasped, "She went ... back to search ... for anything ... She found ... "

"She found what Eponin?!" Ephiny almost begged for the answer.

"She found ... Argo. Plaiertei found Argo. They are down ... at the stables."

Ephiny and Jadax were off and running through the mud and falling rain. They headed to the barn, hoping they meant their friend with her horse. Eponin was just behind them.

They all came around the corner and skidded to a stop.

There stood Argo, Xena's war horse, and she stood alone. The normally golden mare was soaking wet and covered in mud and leaves. But it wasn't the horse's appearance making their hearts sink. It was what was on Argo that frightened them. Xena's sword and chakram hanging from the bloody saddle.

No one said a word but they all knew what was in their hearts. Jadax reached over and put her arm around Ephiny's waist. The Queen turned to her and the two embraced. Holding on to one another for comfort, Ephiny reached out a hand to Eponin. The quiet warrior looked at her Queen, then turned and walked away. Ephiny knew she would deal with it in her own way.

The news traveled through the village like a wildfire. Everyone was shocked and heartbroken. They wondered what had brought down the mighty warrior princess. All their thoughts and prayers went to their Queen who was still asleep in the palace.

Ephiny and Jadax walked hand in hand through the rain back to the palace. Jadax looked at her Queen and quietly spoke.

"What are you going to say to Gabrielle?" Ephiny looked at her little scout and then looked away.

"I don't know? But I do know Xena didn't leave her, Argo just proved it."

Ephiny filled in Jadax on what had happened at Artemis' temple with the Goddess of Love.

"So they don't know where Xena is either?" Ephiny shook her head.

The regent felt her steps and her heart getting heavier. She knew she had to tell Gabrielle about Argo and what Aphrodite had said. It would tear her apart, but Gabrielle had to know, and Ephiny knew she was the one that had to tell her.

Chapter 8

It was well after noon when Ephiny entered Gabrielle's room. The little bard was still asleep, curled up next to Nazalon. The warrior herself had her eyes closed and her head back, her hand still resting on Gabrielle's shoulder.

Ephiny soundlessly stepped to the side of the bed as Jadax took the seat next to the window. Ephiny gently woke Nazalon and quietly told her about finding Argo. The warrior's face fell. She was heartbroken just like the rest of the Amazon village. Ephiny helped Nazalon off the bed and quickly took her place, Gabrielle continued to sleep. Nazalon said her goodbyes and left to find her own sanctuary. She had liked Xena and she felt her heart ache for Gabrielle.

Ephiny lay on the bed finding relaxation in stroking the bard's blonde hair. Her eyes shifted to the sleeping form by the window. She felt the tears finally come. If it had been Jadax, what would she do. She looked back down at Gabrielle. 'Why? Why now? Can these two go through anymore than they already have?' Ephiny knew the answer had to be yes. Every time she looked at the peaceful sleeping form of Gabrielle, the tears would start again. 'How am I going to tell her?'

She looked back at Jadax. She knew her little scout was broken up inside. No matter what Ephiny said, Jadax still felt somehow she was responsible. 'Oh my love. Don't do this to yourself,' she thought. The regent watched the steady rise and fall of the little scout's chest.

Jadax had loved Ephiny for so long, before Ephiny finally noticed the small, big-hearted Amazon. Their love for one another was almost as strong as Xena and Gabrielle's. They had been together now for more than five seasons, and their love had only continued to grow. 'Five seasons,' she thought. That was the last time their village had been torn apart to the very core of its existence. That too had involved Xena and Gabrielle.

Ephiny looked down at the woman she was holding. 'So much pain. So much pain and so much death.' Ephiny's mind was filling with memories. The first time she had met them, she hadn't really liked either of the two. She didn't trust Xena, and she thought Gabrielle talked too much. But Gabrielle grew on her and so did the warrior princess. Over time their friendship grew and strengthened.

She recalled the first time Xena brought Gabrielle back from death's grip. The warrior princess had fought the Fates and brought Gabrielle back to life. Her act of love and desperation had them all in awe of the warrior princess. It was then Ephiny knew just how much they meant to one another. To love someone enough to will them back to life. Xena had fought to save Gabrielle by blowing air back into her lungs. That was the love they had for each other. Then, not two full cycles of the moon ago, Xena had ridden to death's door in search of Gabrielle. There were rumors Xena had even confronted Hades himself in search of her friend's soul. Ephiny herself had heard that Xena had gone to the spirit world in search of Gabrielle. No, there was no better description of love than what Xena and Gabrielle had shared. Now all Ephiny had to do was tell Gabrielle her lover was gone.

Ephiny slowly faded off to sleep. Her dreams were filled with love and compassion, but soon turned to heartbreak and feelings of separation. She dreamed of Xena. She could see her, but she couldn't seem to get the warrior's attention. Ephiny called and called but Xena didn't even look at her. It was as if Xena wouldn't, or couldn't, hear her. Ephiny called louder, but Xena just stood there. Then suddenly, Ephiny saw everyone calling the warrior princess. But still she responded to no one. Then she heard Gabrielle calling out to her lover, and Ephiny saw Xena stop. The warrior turned and looked at the bard with puzzled expression. Gabrielle cried out her name again.

Suddenly Ephiny woke up. It really was Gabrielle and she was crying out Xena's name. The regent held her close as she looked over at a startled Jadax. Ephiny knew half the village had probably heard Gabrielle's agony. She cradled her in her arms as Jadax came over and rubbed her back. Jadax and Ephiny kept exchanging glances, neither of them wanted to say anything. Ephiny rocked the small blonde back and forth, shhing and cooing the entire time.

"Ephiny," Gabrielle said in a weak whisper.

The Queen pulled back so she could see Gabrielle's face. Jadax rose quietly from the bed and slipped soundlessly out of the room, leaving the two in privacy.

"What is it Gabrielle?"

"Tell me it's all just a bad dream, Eph. Tell me Xena is here, that she's just left for the hot springs or she's down at the stables." When Gabrielle mentioned the stables, Ephiny felt her chest go tight. She didn't realize she had made a sound, until ...

"Ephiny, What is it?" Gabrielle turned to get a better look at the regent. Ephiny tried to stop the tears, but the harder she tried, the more they squeezed out.

"Ephiny. Tell me whatever it is. I want to know the truth."

"First ... Gabrielle I went to speak to Artemis. I thought she might be able to help, but she wasn't there. She is out looking for Xena too."

"If she wasn't there how do you know where she was?" Gabrielle paused as she looked at Ephiny again. "Gods don't look for mortals."

"Well Artemis is looking for Xena ... for you, Gabrielle."

"No. I mean Gods don't have to look." She said looking straight into Ephiny's eyes. "They just know, and then poof, there they are in front of them."

Ephiny had thought of that, but she hadn't wanted to think what it meant.

"Where do you go that the Gods can't find you?" The second she said it out loud she realized her mistake. The look on Gabrielle's face said it all. Ephiny hung her head, she knew she had to tell Gabrielle the rest of what she knew.

"Gabrielle ... there's more. You asked how I knew Artemis was looking for Xena. Aphrodite told me."

"Aphrodite? What does she have to do with this?"

"The love you two shared, who did you think was responsible?"

Anger and contempt filled the bard's face.

"I am in love Ephiny, and until someone proves otherwise, don't speak of Xena in the past tense. Is that understood?"

"Yes. I'm sorry. I didn't mean ... It's just that ... Well I had to ask, for all our sakes. Gabrielle, Xena didn't leave you. Aphrodite said to remember how much Xena loves you. And you should know she would never leave you. You said it yourself Gabrielle. She rode to the ends of the earth to find you. There is no way, with that kind of love and passion," Ephiny made sure that everything stayed in the present tense. "That Xena would never leave you."

Gabrielle tried to hold her head up high, but it didn't matter. Tears began to gather in her eyes,

"And ... I heard 'and' in there somewhere."

"She told Jadax she had to go and do something, but she assured her she would be back to the village within a candlemark or two of you." Ephiny couldn't keep that information from Gabrielle any longer. At least now Gabrielle knew Xena had left with full intentions of returning.

She reached out and put a hand on the bard's shoulder.

"There's more." Ephiny said in a whisper.

Gabrielle brought her head up and Ephiny looked into the red rimmed eyes of her friend. She hesitated and took a deep breath. She wished she didn't have anything else to say, but she did.

Ephiny turned and looked out the window. In her mind she knew how much this was going to hurt her friend. Ephiny struggled with the word to say. She couldn't do it. She couldn't break her friend's heart that way. She knew when she told Gabrielle about Argo, the light that shined in her greens eyes ... would go out.

Gabrielle's eyes followed Ephiny's. She saw the rain and she knew what it meant. They could no longer track Xena. She felt the ache of desperation clawing at her heart. Gabrielle wiped away her tears and turned Ephiny's face to hers. There was something else and Gabrielle could see it in the regent's face. Something Ephiny didn't want to say.

"Ephiny ... tell me. Whatever it is, I need to know."

The regent didn't think she could do it. She tried to smile at Gabrielle as she reached over to wipe away a tear.

"Ephiny. Whatever it is ... Eph., you're scaring me." Gabrielle's voice broke to nothing more than a whisper.

Ephiny put her arms around Gabrielle and held her tight. Then reluctantly, the regent whispered in her ear.

"Argo is here."

She held on as she felt Gabrielle struggle to take a breath. Then she broke out of Ephiny's embrace. Gabrielle jumped so suddenly her head connected with Ephiny's chin. A rush of stars and pain went through the regent's head. It gave Gabrielle enough time to bolt from the room. She was out of the door and down the hall before Jadax could get to her feet.

"Catch her Jadax, before she reaches the barn!"

Jadax shot out of the palace with Ephiny right behind her. They saw no one close enough to stop the fleeing blonde before she reached the stables.

No one had been able to get near enough to the horse to remove the weapons or bloody saddle. They didn't know what to do with the wild, skiddish horse.

"Gabrielle ... Don't go in there!" Ephiny cried out. But between the distance and the falling rain, the words fell short of their target. They knew they wouldn't reach her in time.

Gabrielle rounded the corner of the stables and almost ran into the closed doors of the barn. She pulled one of the doors open with a mighty whoosh! Argo and Nazalon looked up at her. The mare twitched her ears as she recognized her owner's companion. Nazalon took a step closer toward Gabrielle blocking her view. The blonde just stood there as the blood began to drain from her body. As the warrior stepped closer and Gabrielle saw what no one wanted her to see. Horror filled her face as she saw the sword, the chakram and Xena's bloody saddle. Her world began to darken as the ground rushed to meet her.

Gabrielle's scream could be heard throughout the Amazon nation, and felt in all their hearts.

Nazalon reached Gabrielle before she collapsed to the ground. The warrior held the limp body in her arms as she looked up at the faces of Ephiny and Jadax. They knew Nazalon had been there to catch her falling body, but no one was there to catch her falling soul.

To be continued

In

Remember, Never to Forget Part II


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