Xena, Gabrielle, the Amazons, Ares, Callisto, Perdicus and Caesar do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance.

Bad Dreams

A group of bandits were hiding in a cave and discussing their last attack to a defenseless village.

"That last village we raided was the best one in a long time."

"Yeah, we were able to snatch some loot in addition to all the food we stole."

Two tough guys were standing side by side and guarding the entrance to the cave. Someone threw a rock at the other bandit.

"What?", he asked his bandit brother.

"What what?", the other asked in return.

"Why did you nudge me?"

"I didn't nudge you", the other replied.

"Never mind", the first one said. Another rock was thrown at the same bandit.

"What's the matter with you?", he asked furiously.

"I didn't do anything", the other said innocently.

"Why you liar!", the first one said and they started fighting. A suspicious figure entered the cave unnoticed. The bandits looked over the loot they had snatched and one of them took a beautifully decorated necklace and was showing it to the others when something flew through the air and made him drop it. Everyone was baffled about what had happened, when one of them pointed at the figure standing near the entrance and shouted:

"It was that guy!" The figure removed the scarf covering part of its face and a young warrior smiled at them and said:

"Sorry to spoil all your fun boys, but don't you know that taking something that doesn't belong to is wrong?" Someone recognized her and said to the others:

"It's that Xena's little friend. The boss has promised a reward to whoever catches one of them. Get her!"

Exl pulled the scarf to cover her face and ran out of the cave with the bandits right behind her. Even the arguing guards ran after her after realizing what was going on.

Running for a while Exl whistled three times and when most of the bandits were under two large trees, a large net fell over them trapping them. Hearing the infamous war cry of Xena, all the free bandits looked around them and saw Xena and Gabrielle jump down from the trees.

Xena stopped a bandit coming towards her and Gabrielle by holding out her and saying:

"Wait, wait a minute." The bandit stopped and waited for what was going to happen. Xena turned to Gabrielle and said:

"Gabrielle, how about a quick game of rock, scroll and sword?" Gabrielle nodded and after they simultaneously counted to three, they revealed their hands. Xena had one finger extended and Gabrielle held her hand out flat. Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders and said:

"Sword beats scroll, you win." Xena smiled and said:

"Sorry love." Then she unexpectedly punched the bandit who was still staring at them. The women smiled at each other and then ran in separate directions to fight the rest of the bandits.

Exl was face-to-face with a big ruffian who was at least two or three heads taller than her.

"I'll get a good price for your head, warrior", he said to her. Exl shook her said and said:

"You can't catch what you can't see" and with one quick move, she unwrapped the scarf around her neck and threw it over the ruffian's face. When he was trying to get it off, Exl introduced a fast spinning kick to his jaw. When he was counting stars, Exl took her scarf, shook the dust from it and wrapped it around her neck.

Xena saw from the corner of her eye that two bandits were about to corner Gabrielle.

"Exl, go and help Gabrielle!", she shouted to Exl. Exl saw the bandits and with a fast jump she was holding on to a tree branch and swung herself to kick the other bandit away from Gabrielle. Gabrielle saw this was her chance and made a run for safety.

She managed to get a bandit after her and she ran to the riverbank. She hit the bandit a few times with her staff and knocked him into the river. But unfortunately he grabbed her staff and pulled her into the water. She knocked him on the head and he was out cold.

Exl looked behind her and saw Gabrielle in the water and said:

"Gabrielle, this is not the time to take a swim." Exl ran to Gabrielle knocking a bandit unconscious on her way to help the bard. She offered her arm to Gabrielle and pulled her out of the river.

Three bandits were running towards Xena from different directions to attack her simultaneously. She jumped high up into the air and grabbed a tree branch. The bandits ran into each other and fell into a pit which was cleverly disguised with leaves and twigs.

"Now that's the last of them. I'm sure the good people of all the villages you've raided are very pleased to get back what's theirs. And you'll get to spend a long time in prison", Xena said.

She went to look for Gabrielle and Exl and found them by their campsite and Gabrielle was soaking wet.

"What happened?", she asked with amaze.

"Gabrielle fell into the river, as soon as I noticed it, I went to help her out", Exl replied.

"Are you okay Gabrielle?", Xena asked the shivering bard.

"Y… yeah, just a bit cold that's all", Gabrielle answered.

"I'll get a fire started", Exl said and went quickly to collect some firewood.

"You do that. Come on Gabrielle, let's get you out of those wet clothes", Xena said and fetched Gabrielle a dry set of clothes while Exl was lighting a roaring a soon roaring fire.

Soon Gabrielle was sitting by the fire, still shivering. Exl brought her a blanket and wrapped it over her shoulders and added some wood to the fire. Xena gave Gabrielle a cup of tea that smelled delightful.

"What is this Xena?", Gabrielle asked smelling the concoction.

"It's a special mixture of tea. It should warm you in no time and make you feel better", Xena answered smiling. Gabrielle drank the tea and it seemed to work. They were all tired and Xena suggested that it would be best if they would sleep side by side with Gabrielle between her and Exl, so their body temperature would help her over the night.

They laid down on their bedrolls and trying to fall asleep wasn't easy because Gabrielle was feeling very cold and she kept shivering. Exl placed her own blanket over Gabrielle and Gabrielle said to her:

"Exl, you can't give me this. You'll freeze." Exl smiled and replied:

"You need it much more than I do."

Xena thought Exl's gesture was kind and she wrapped her arms over her bard thinking everything would be much better in the morning.

But everything was not okay, because Exl woke up to the sounds of Gabrielle's moaning. She looked at Gabrielle and saw that she was in a great deal of pain. It alarmed her and touching Gabrielle's forehead was like touching a red hot pan. She was scorching hot. The call

"Xena!" and a quick nudge were all needed to wake the warrior. Exl's worried expression was the first thing Xena noticed.

"It's Gabrielle. She's burning hot and in a lot of pain!", Exl said and glanced at her friend.

Without touching her, Xena could see that Gabrielle had caught a very high fever.

"Get Argo and our things, hurry!", Xena said to Exl and started to examine her wife.

In the small town of Calydon the innkeeper of the Amulet and Club inn was woken by the loud knocking of the front door and the calls of help. She opened the door and was surprised to see the people entering the inn. Exl ran in and said:

"Please help us. We need a healer and fast!" Xena carried Gabrielle inside and laid her on an empty bed in a room the innkeeper showed her. The innkeeper told them where the town's healer could be found and Exl ran as fast as she could to get him.

Gabrielle was dreaming. She was in a dream world of some kind and she was startled by a figure that was her exact double, except she had completely black eyes and she wore a black robe.

"Who are you? Where am I?", Gabrielle asked.

"Why I am you of course. Well actually I'm your dark thoughts and dreams and the things you keep hidden deep down inside. And the answer to the question where you are, you're in your dreams."

"Why am I here?", Gabrielle wanted to know.

"Your body is struggling because of the high fever you've caught. Now I have a chance to show you your worst nightmares", the other Gabrielle said with a grin.

"No!", Gabrielle shouted and tried to run away from her dark double, but she couldn't get far.

"Did you think this was a true nightmare?", the dark Gabrielle asked and Gabrielle saw a flashback of the time when Callisto killed Perdicus.

"Or this?" Gabrielle saw another flashback about when Xena died in Nicklio's cabin and she was crying by her side.

"No my dear, what I'm about to show you is far worse."

Exl returned with the healer as fast as she could. The healer asked what had happened and Xena explained that Gabrielle had fallen into the river and now she had a high fever. The healer gave Gabrielle a potion that he said would make the fever go down quite soon.

But after a while there was no change in Gabrielle's condition.

"Why isn't anything happening? She's just as sick as when we arrived", Xena demanded to know.

"I don't understand. This potion has never failed before. It is the only way I know how to get a fever down. We just have to wait", he answered not understanding why nothing had happened.

"Can't you see that she's in a lot of pain? We can't just sit here and wait!," Xena was impatient and furious.

"Are you sure that this potion is the only cure?", Exl asked.

"There is another cure that will help in a situation like this. West from here, in the dark forest, lives a powerful witch. She has medicines and potions that can cure nearly anything. But she won't just give you the cure. Many have seeked her help but nearly everyone has failed. Many of them have never returned from there", he said.

Xena and Exl looked at each other and looked worried. There had to be a way they could help Gabrielle.

Gabrielle walked around in her dream world led by her double. They came to a familiar place and Gabrielle said:

"I know this place. This is Exl's hometown, her father's kingdom. Why are we here?"

"Look. This is something that could have happened if different choices had been made", her double said and pointed at a man.

"It's Zabor!", Gabrielle said and saw how Zabor was approaching someone and he said to that person:

"We've captured the Queen." The person he was talking to turned around and Gabrielle saw someone she recognized even with the person's back turned to her. It was Xena, but Gabrielle felt right away this wasn't the Xena she knew.

"Good work, bring her here", Xena said and Zabor went to fetch the person he had talked about.

A young woman was dragged in front of Xena and pushed down on her knees. Her hands were tied behind her back and her face was bruised. It was Exl and apparently she had been causing trouble to her capturers. Xena looked down at her:

"So you're the young Queen I've heard so much about. Exl isn't it?" Exl looked at Xena with a fiery gaze.

"I have also heard about you Xena. Destroyer of Nations, pirate and merciless warlord."

"You really put up a fight with my men didn't you? Not an easy catch", Xena continued.

"I'm delighted to hear that I was proven a challenge to the troops of the great Xena. So what do you want with me?", Exl responded.

"Nothing much. I've heard that here in the far north there are warriors who have honor and great skills. I want you to join my army, I could use a fighter like you. I've heard about your bravery", Xena said.

"I'd rather die than join anyone the likes of you", Exl refused.

"Be careful what you wish for. Be reasonable", Xena said starting to be annoying by the Queen's behavior.


Xena looked at Zabor and nodded. Zabor took out a knife and ripped the back of Exl's shirt so that her back was completely bare. Then he took a whip and started whipping Exl's back. With each strike Exl flinched of agony. Xena raised her hand and Zabor stopped. Xena took a step towards Exl and held Exl's face in one hand.

"Did that change your mind?", she tried to give Exl the chance to give her the answer she wanted. Exl looked straight into Xena's eyes and then she closed her eyes as a sign of refusal. Xena raised her hand and Zabor unleashed a strike with full power onto Exl's back. Exl couldn't help but shout, the pain was too intense. Xena asked once again:

"Are you still sure you want to say no?" Exl opened her eyes and answered:

"You can do what ever you want with me, but I'll never give in." Xena was furious and scratched Exl's face with a quick strike. Gabrielle could see that Exl now had the same scar as she had in real life and the wound was bleeding heavily.

"Let this be a reminder to you of the consequences if you say no to me", Xena whispered to Exl and pushed her to the ground. She walked to Zabor and said:

"I think a while as my personal slave will help her change her mind. It would be a shame to let her skills go to waste. Let her be an example to all those who dare to oppose me!"

Having said this Xena walked away and on her way out of town, she turned to look at Gabrielle's direction. Gabrielle was horrified of the scene she had just seen and when she looked at Xena, the person she saw was the Xena she never knew and never wanted to know. Xena's eyes were cold, they had nothing in common with the eyes of the caring, loving Warrior Princess except the sky blue color.

Xena turned away and disappeared out of sight. Gabrielle turned to look at Exl and saw how two men lifted her onto her feet and dragged her away. Exl's back was full of bleeding whip marks and the left half of her face was covered in blood. While being dragged away, Exl also looked at Gabrielle. Her eyes were just the same as in real life, but Gabrielle couldn't feel the same feeling of safety and warmth she always did looking into Exl's eyes.

Seeing all this made Gabrielle cry. This was horrible, the two people she loved and cared for most in the world were complete strangers and enemies.

"This can't be true", Gabrielle thought to herself.

In the real world, Gabrielle was sleeping soundly, but her fever hadn't gone down at all. Xena was sitting by her side waiting for her condition to get better. Exl entered the room and closed the door behind her.

"Xena, you should get some rest. You haven't slept a wink since we arrived." Xena turned to look at Exl with tired eyes as Exl sat in another chair next to Gabrielle's bed.

"But I have to be here when Gabrielle wakes up. She could come to at any moment."

"You go and rest for a while. If anything happens, I'll fetch you. I'll stay here by Gabrielle's side."

"Just like you did by the river with those bandits?", Xena said angrily.

"What?", Exl said not understanding what Xena meant with what she said.

"You know very well what I'm talking about. When we fought those bandits, I told you to help Gabrielle and because you didn't, she got in trouble and is now fighting for her life", Xena said and stood up. Exl looked at Gabrielle, then back at Xena and said:

"Xena I helped Gabrielle as soon as I noticed she had fallen in the river."

"But if you would have been with her when I told you to, she would be okay."

"Xena you can't blame me for what happened to her. You know I can't be in many places at once", Exl said standing up.

"You should have been with her! It's your duty to be there for Gabrielle and me in our time of need!"

It was then when Exl realized that what Xena said was true. She had been fighting those bandits and hadn't noticed that Gabrielle had needed her help. Exl looked at Gabrielle and said:

"I… I'm sorry. It was my fault." And she left the room in an instant. Xena sat down next to Gabrielle and took her bard's hand in hers. Tears gathered in Xena's eyes and she said quietly:

"I'm sorry too…"

Exl ran into the forest near town and stopped to sit down and think.

"Xena's right. I was supposed to be there to help Gabrielle, but I wasn't. It's my fault she's deathly ill. I have to do something to help her, but what?" Then an idea struck her:

"Of course, the witch the healer spoke about. I'll go and get the medicine for Gabrielle. When I do that, I'm sure Xena will forgive me." Exl returned to the inn to tell Xena where she would go and what she would do.

"Xena, I…", she started as she opened the door to the room where Gabrielle was sleeping, but she didn't find the tall warrior there. Exl thought Xena might have taken her advice and gone to get some rest. Exl sat down next to the sleeping bard and took her hand.

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry for what happened. But I'm going to make things right. I'm going to get you some medicine from a powerful witch and I won't return without it. Please, stay with us, I can't bear the thought of losing you. It would break my heart and especially Xena's. I love you."

She kissed the back of Gabrielle's hand, took her bag from the table and left.

In her dreams, Gabrielle was led by her double to an open plain where Gabrielle saw an army. The army wasn't very big and Gabrielle recognized some people amongst them. She saw her Amazon sisters but they looked different. They seemed older, not that much, but older than Gabrielle remembered. Then she heard someone blowing on a horn. Everyone turned their gaze to the hill on the far side of the plain.

Another army was approaching them. One of the Amazons ran to a figure shouting:

"Captain, captain! The enemy is approaching!"

The figure dressed in a very familiar outfit turned to look at the approaching troops and that's when Gabrielle saw her face. She had recognized Exl from her outfit, but she nearly didn't recognize her face. Exl too was a few years older, but the biggest surprise was the eye patch she had over her left eye.

Gabrielle understood that this was happening in the future, that's why everyone seemed older.

Exl looked at the enemy and then shouted:

"Sound the alarm, get to your positions!" She ran to a tent which Gabrielle knew was the tent of the commander of an army. When Exl got inside she said:

"Xena, the enemy is approaching very fast. I've commanded everyone to be ready and to stand their ground." Gabrielle walked inside the tent but neither of the warriors noticed her. When she saw Xena, she knew instantly that this was the real Xena. Not the bloodthirsty warlord, but the brave warrior she loved.

"Good. This time we're prepared." They left the tent and went to see that their troops were ready to face the enemy. They walked to the frontline and stood there side by side.

Xena drew her sword and chakram and Exl drew her axes as they watched the army come closer and closer. Their troops had their weapons ready and a determined gleam in their eyes.

Exl turned to Xena and said:

"Xena." Xena turned to Exl, who continued:

"For Gabrielle." Xena smiled and replied:

"For Gabrielle." She looked at her left hand and the two wedding rings on her ring finger. The other was hers and the other Gabrielle's. She kissed them and raised her sword up in the air and shouted her war cry. Hearing it their troops raced to fight the enemy. The battle was bloody, as everyone was fighting for their lives by all means. Xena threw her chakram at a bunch of men who were preparing to shoot their arrows at her. After their bows and arrows were cut in half and before they had a chance to draw their swords, Xena had struck them down. Exl was in close combat and swinging her axes in a fast pace at her opponents.

Gabrielle had seen Xena and Exl fight before, but never like this. It was like they said, they were fighting for her. But why?

The enemy troops were at first outnumbering our heroes' troops but they were starting to lose because the well-trained Amazons and other soldiers had more experience and they were determined to win.

Suddenly Xena heard Exl's call for help.

"Xena!", Exl shouted and Xena turned to look at her friend. Two hooded figures were standing behind Exl and one of them was holding a dagger to her throat.

"Exl!", Xena shouted back and was about to take a step towards her but the figure brought the dagger closer to Exl's throat. The other figure pointed at the commander's tent and Xena understood they wanted to meet her there. She entered the tent after the figures and Exl, and when she got inside, the figure pushed Exl to Xena.

"Are you alright?", Xena asked Exl and after she gave a positive response, they both turned to look at the mysterious figures. After they removed their hoods, two familiar faces were revealed to the warriors.

"Ares, Callisto, it's been a while", Xena said to the menacing duo.

"It's always a pleasure to see you Xena and your little friend", Callisto said back.

"Too bad the feeling isn't mutual", Exl replied.

"I have to say Xena, when you lost that bard of yours, you lost your touch", Ares said with that usual grin of his.

"Apparently that's not all they lost", Callisto said referring to Exl's eye patch.

"Gabrielle was my life, my entire world. My reason to live", Xena said with a tear in her eye.

"Losing an eye was nothing compared to losing Gabrielle. I would have gladly lost both my eyes to save her life", Exl said looking at both Ares and Callisto contemptuously.

"Like I always said, that bard and your feelings towards her were your weakness Xena", Ares said to Xena.

"Don't you even dare to speak about her like that!", Xena said furiously.

"So what was it like Xena? To have her die in your arms?", Callisto said annoyingly.

"Enough!", Exl shouted and took a few steps towards Callisto to hit her, but when she was just about to take a swing at her, Callisto made her move. She still had the dagger in her hand and she struck Exl with it. After realizing she had been stabbed Exl took a few steps back and held her hand on the wound but the blood was covering her hand as a sign of the intense bleeding.

Gabrielle was shocked, she ran to Exl's side forgetting for a moment that none of them could see her.

Xena caught Exl when she fell to the ground, she tried to keep Exl with her.

"Exl, Exl", Xena tried to call her friend as she was holding her in her arms.

"Xena, I feel so weak. It's so cold", Exl answered.

"Exl, I can't lose you too. You can't leave me", Xena said when she realized this was the end of her Guardian.

"Don't worry Xena, I'm going to a better place. I'm going to be with Gabrielle. We'll be waiting for you, on the other side", Exl whispered as she gave Xena her and a tear fell from her eye.

"This gives me such a feeling of déjà vu. Xena holding a loved one in her arms on their last moments on this Earth", Callisto said.

Xena felt how Exl's life slipped away as she took her last breath and her hand fell from Xena's. Xena pressed her forehead against Exl's and kissed her cheek. She said her last goodbyes to her Guardian.

"Goodbye my dear friend. With you by her side I know Gabrielle will be safe on the other side."

"Our work here is done", Ares said to Callisto.

"What about the battle?", Callisto asked the God of War.

"With their great commander in mourning over the loss of her faithful captain, we shouldn't have any trouble defeating their army. We'll crush them", Ares replied and after taking a last glance at Xena, Ares and Callisto disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Gabrielle could see Xena was in pain, apparently they had lost her earlier and now, she lost another member of her family. Gabrielle went to Xena's side and placed her hand on Xena's tear-stained cheek. Gabrielle felt the warmth and softness of Xena's cheek, but Xena didn't know she was there. All Gabrielle wanted was that this nightmare would end.

It was finally dawn and Xena had been on a walk thinking about everything that had happened. She leaned against a tree and said:

"Gabrielle, I wish you were here. You would smack me for being such an idiot. I can't blame Exl for what happened to you, I'm just as much to blame as she is. Protecting and helping you isn't just her responsibility, it's mine just as much. I have to find her and apologize, that's what you would make me do. Together we'll find a way to get you back, my love."

She returned to the inn and asked the innkeeper:

"Have you seen my friend, the young warrior?" The innkeeper answered:

"I saw her enter your room and then leave with her bag about half a candle mark ago. She said to tell you not to worry, she'll return with help." Xena nodded and went into their room finding Gabrielle still sleeping but her condition hadn't improved. She kissed Gabrielle's forehead and said:

"Exl, where ever you are, please hurry."

After leaving the inn, Exl had gone to see the healer to ask where exactly she could find the witch he had mentioned. Walking in a dark forest Exl hoped she would find the witch's cabin. It started to thunder and Exl increased her pace to get away from the storm. She saw a small cabin ahead and went to knock on the door. No-one answered so she decided to step inside carefully.

"Hello, is there anyone home?", she tried calling for the owner of the cabin. When she closed the door behind her, she heard a voice saying in the darkness:

"Come in, young warrior."

"How do you know I'm a warrior?", Exl asked.

"I had a feeling I would be visited by a warrior, so I knew to expect you. What is the reason for your visit?", the witch asked while lighting a few candles.

"I've come to get some help, for a friend. She is deathly ill and needs medicine. I heard you could help", Exl said stepping closer to the fireplace where a small fire was now burning.

"I understand. So what will your sacrifice be?", the witch said taking out a knife. Exl saw how the blade gleamed in the candlelight.

"What sacrifice do you mean?", Exl asked.

"So you haven't heard that in exchange for my help, a sacrifice must be made. So what will you give, a finger, a hand perhaps?" Exl shook her head and said:

"No." The witch was surprised and baffled.

"No? You are not willing to give anything in return for the medicine you need for your friend?"

"No, I am not going to give my hand to help Gabrielle. I'm ready to give my life", Exl said with proudly.

"What?", the witch couldn't believe her ears.

"I give you my word of honor. If you give me the medicine, I will take it to Gabrielle and when she has recovered, I promise to return and then, my life is in your hands", Exl said kneeling down on one knee in front of the witch.

The witch took a long look into Exl's eyes, and then she took a step back saying:

"You , you speak the truth. I can see it in your eyes." The witch went to her potions and started mixing them to make the medicine. She returned to Exl holding a bottle in her hand.

"For nearly a hundred years, many have come here searching for my help. They have promised to give me a lock of hair, an arm, even their eyes, but unfortunately most of them haven't been able to keep their promises. When it was time for them to keep their part of the deal, they tried to escape, but failed. No-one breaks a promise to me and gets away with it. I haven't only taken what I've been promised, but also their lives. Only those truly honest and brave have left here with their lives and the cure they've needed. For as long as I have lived, no-one has been as true and courageous as you and have been willing to give their lives for a friend."

Exl had stood up and was now face-to-face with the witch who seemed to admire her good heart.

"Take this, only a few drops of the medicine will help your friend, so there will be some left for later, if you happen to need it", the witch said and gave Exl the bottle.

"Thank you very much, you are a fair woman. I will return once Gabrielle has recovered", Exl said.

"If you ever need my help, just come over and I'll do what I can. You have proven yourself as a warrior with a good brave heart. But you don't have to return to pay back your part of the deal. I can't take your life", the witch said with a smile.

"Is there any way I can repay you?", Exl asked.

"Just hurry back to your friend, she needs the medicine", the witch replied.

Exl saluted her helper and when she was about to open the door, the witch said:

"One more thing warrior." Exl turned to see what the witch had in mind.

"This friend of yours, she must be extremely important to you that you would give your life just like that to save hers", the witch noted. Exl smiled and touched her pendant saying:

"She's more than just a friend, she's family. She means the world not only to me but another warrior.

Both of us would do ANYTHING for Gabrielle." The witch nodded and Exl left.

It was now heavily raining and Exl ran as fast as she could, every second was important.

Gabrielle was again following her dark self when she gathered her courage and asked:

"How long do I have to follow you and see all these horrible nightmares?"

"As long as your body is suffering from the fever, which means until you recover or die", her double said with a satisfying grin.

"I know Xena and Exl will do their best in finding a cure", Gabrielle said back to her dark self.

"That's what you think", was the reply she got. Suddenly the Sun's bright light shined in Gabrielle's eyes and when she could see again, she saw that she was amongst a huge crowd in an amphitheatre. It was the Colosseum, she was in Rome. She looked around her and in the blink of an eye she was standing right next to the Emperor's box and there she saw someone familiar. It was Julius Caesar himself, he was dressed in a gorgeous white toga and had a laurel wreath on his head. He stood up and announced to the people:

"Citizens of Rome! It is my great pleasure to bring forth two great warriors. They are enemies of Rome, but now they are each other's enemy." The people cheered and Caesar signaled to open the gates. Two gates where opened on the opposite sides of the arena. Two figures emerged and the crowd kept on shouting and cheering. After the dust had settled, Gabrielle could see the fighters. To her horror, she was watching how her two warriors were walking towards each other with wrathful faces. She turned to her double and asked:

"Why are Xena and Exl out there, why are they going to fight?"

"Because like in the real world, they are torn apart by what happened to you. This is your worst nightmare isn't it? Watching your dear family fall apart and your warriors fighting each other to the death. This should be an interesting battle", the dark Gabrielle answered.

Gabrielle looked at Caesar and saw how Ares appeared next to him.

Xena and Exl had stopped about ten yards from and they were looking at each other not saying anything. Then Xena said:

"Exl, what you did to Gabrielle was unforgivable. And now you'll pay for letting her down."

Exl shook her head and replied:

"Xena, you know it wasn't my fault that Gabrielle fell into that river. You can't blame me for what happened. You could have just as well been by her side to help her."

"Prepare to take those words back", Xena said and attacked.

She made a few flips and kicked Exl in the chest and when Exl fell she did a backwards somersault and kicked Xena in the back.

Soon they were both back on their feet and hitting and knocking each other in fierce close combat.

Both their lips were bleeding and they had scratches on their cheeks and foreheads. Xena kicked Exl's shin and when she winced, Xena made a flip back and drew her sword. Exl took out her axe and dodged Xena's strike quickly.

But Xena's experience was her great advantage. She turned and hit Exl's side with her elbow and when Exl's guard was down, she did another flip kicking Exl in the jaw making her fall on the ground on her stomach a few feet away. Exl raised her head and saw Xena approaching with her sword drawn.

Exl took some sand and threw it at Xena's direction. Xena managed to avoid the sand getting in her eyes, but she was distracted long enough for Exl to leap into the air and transform into her wolf form. She pounced Xena and was now growling and keeping her on the ground. She raised her paw and scratched claw marks on Xena's shoulder. Xena barely flinched and quickly took her chakram and slashed Exl's ear slightly.

The wolf got of Xena and took a few steps back and turned back into the warrior who was now holding her bleeding ear. The drops of blood fell from her ear to the dusty ground creating a small pool of blood.

As they were about to take a step towards each other, Gabrielle's heart was beating restlessly as she had been watching this battle of her loved ones. She shouted from her place:

"No, stop!" It was like a command to the two fighters because they froze in their places and turned to look at Gabrielle. Everyone watching the event wondered why the fighters had stopped and Caesar himself seemed pretty anxious about the situation. Xena and Exl turned to look at each other and it was as if their rage towards one another had disappeared. Ares looked at the warriors and said:

"Enough distractions" and with a quick move of his hand, he had fired a bolt of fire towards Exl and Xena. When it hit them they were flown many yards back and when they hit the ground, they didn't get up again, they didn't even move.

"No! Xena, Exl!", Gabrielle shouted and started to run amongst the people to get to her family.

Xena had been by Gabrielle's side for several candle marks when she heard a knock on the door. Before she could say anything, Exl entered, she was nearly soaked by the heavy rain.

"Exl, you're back", Xena said with relief.

"I told you I'd be back. Xena, I met the witch and she gave me the medicine that will help Gabrielle", Exl said taking the bottle from her bag and giving it to Xena. Xena took the bottle gladly and slowly poured a few drops into Gabrielle's mouth.

Exl took a seat next to the bed and said to Xena:

"Xena, I'm really sorry about everything. You were right, it was my fault Gabrielle fell ill. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

Xena looked into Exl's eyes and saw how sorry she really was. Xena sighed and replied:

"No, I was wrong. I can't blame you for what happened. I could have helped Gabrielle just as well myself. I can't always leave protecting Gabrielle to be only your duty and responsibility. Gabrielle is my wife and it is also my duty to be there by her side. Can you forgive me?" The warriors clasped arms as a sign of forgiveness. Exl smiled and said:

"I guess we're both right and wrong. But one thing we can agree on is that helping Gabrielle recover is the most important thing right now."

Then suddenly, Gabrielle's breathing started to be a lot heavier. Both Xena and Exl were startled by this and looked at each other with slightly frightened expressions.

"The medicine, it's probably starting to work", Exl noted.

Xena took hold of Gabrielle's right hand and Exl put her hand on the two clasped hands so they were both holding Gabrielle's hand. Xena whispered:

"Gabrielle, love, please fight. Come back to us, please."

Gabrielle had finally reached her wife and their Guardian who were still laying on the ground.

She kneeled next to them and tried to wake them up but didn't succeed.

Caesar had stood up and was making another announcement:

"Citizens of Rome! You have witnessed how these two warriors have destroyed each other like the animals they are. Once again, I, Caesar, have wiped out my enemies, the enemies of Rome!"

Gabrielle said with tears in her eyes:

"Xena, Exl, please get up. Please wake up, I need you. I love you, don't leave me." Finally she held her hand to her heart and then touched the chests of Xena and Exl.

All of a sudden, a bright light surrounded the family and the spectators watched this beautiful sight with amaze. When the light faded, Gabrielle realized that Exl and Xena were standing in front of her unharmed. All their cuts and bruises from the battle had vanished and they were smiling at her as a dim light was still around them.

"Xena, Exl, you're alright…", Gabrielle said as she was trying to understand the fact that they were really there.

"Of course Gabrielle, this is your dream and you can change it in any way you want. And because you wanted us to come back, we did", Xena explained.

"And also because in the real world we have put aside our differences", Exl continued.

Caesar couldn't believe his eyes, Exl and Xena couldn't be alive and where had Gabrielle appeared from? He demanded them to be captured immediately.

When Xena noticed this, she turned to Gabrielle and said:

"Gabrielle, you have to go back to the real world and fight the fever your body is suffering from."

"We need you in the real world Gabrielle. We have done all we can to help you, the rest is up to you", Exl said quickly.

"But the soldiers, we have to fight", Gabrielle noted.

"We'll handle them, don't you worry. Please hurry, there isn't time to waste", Xena said taking her chakram and sword. She and Exl stepped forth to keep Gabrielle behind them to let her escape. Gabrielle started to run from the arena and took a look at her fighting warriors. It somehow seemed that the glow around them had gotten brighter and that they were stronger than usually. The soldiers were no challenge to them and when they had defeated their opponents, they started slowly approaching the Emperor's box. Caesar seemed very frightened seeing the approaching warriors.

When Gabrielle continued her flee, her dark double appeared before her and said furiously:

"You can't just run away like that. You can't escape your nightmares." Gabrielle nodded and said:

"That's true, but I can do something about them." With a swift strike she knocked her dark self out cold. She started to feel a bit strange, it was like she was pulled back to reality.

Her eyes were closed and she realized she was lying on a bed of some kind. She carefully opened her eyes and looked at her surroundings. She was in a small room, probably in an inn. The candle on the bedside table had burned out and it was quiet except for the quiet snuffle next to her. Exl was sitting in a chair which was slightly leaning against the wall right next to her bed. And Xena had laid her head on Gabrielle's lap and was still holding her hand. Both of them must have fallen asleep waiting for Gabrielle to wake up. Gabrielle was happy to see her warriors by her side sleeping soundly.

Gabrielle carefully squeezed Xena's hand and ran her fingers gently through the tall warrior's raven locks. She silently whispered:

"Hey you…" Xena quickly opened her eyes and was greeted by her wife's loving smile.

"Gabrielle…", Xena said and raised her head. Exl woke from her sleep and was by her Couple right away. She smoothed the side of Gabrielle's face and said:

"Gabrielle, you're back." Gabrielle could only smile:

"I had to come back, my place is with you two." Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a long, passionate kiss and seeing this Exl said with amuse:

"Get a room you two." Her Couple smiled and Xena said to Gabrielle:

"Gabrielle, my love, you have no idea how afraid I was. I thought I might lose you."

Gabrielle softly stroked Xena's cheek and replied:

"I know love. I had a dream, well actually dreams, you were both in them and it almost broke my heart to see how you were nearly torn apart because of what happened to me."

Gabrielle told Xena and Exl about her nightmares with tears in her eyes.

"I'm just glad none of them could ever be true, that you two could hate each other for something that has happened to me", Gabrielle continued. Both Exl and Xena avoided Gabrielle's gaze and looked a bit ashamed. Gabrielle asked:

"Is there something you're not telling me?" Exl tried to explain what had happened:

"Well actually Gabrielle, we did have a bit of an argument earlier. It was about what happened with those bandits by the river." Xena put her hand on Exl's shoulder and continued:

"I was angry at Exl for not helping you fight the bandits and blamed her for what happened to you. I admit it. But I would never hurt Exl like in your dream, never." Gabrielle was a bit disappointed at Xena and said:

"Xena, that was very foolish of you. You know very well that I fell in that river because of my own misjudgment. Neither of you can always be there to fight for me."

"I know sweetheart, but Exl did a very brave thing. She tried to make up for what she did by going to see a powerful witch to get you the medicine you needed." Gabrielle looked at Exl and asked her:

"You did?" Exl nodded:

"Yes I did. I was even prepared to sacrifice my life in exchange for the medicine. But the witch is a kind woman and because she admired my devotion to help you, she said she couldn't take my life."

Gabrielle was touched by what she had heard. She looked at Xena who nodded and then back at Exl.

"Oh Exl", she said taking her Guardian's hand.

"Don't you forget, you're the most important things in my life. My life is nothing compared to yours", Exl said with a wink. Xena smiled and patted her friend on the back saying:

"You know that's not true. I would have done the exact same for you." Gabrielle laughed:

"It's a good thing I have two extremely devoted warriors in my family. What would I do without you?"

Gabrielle knew the answer in her heart, she couldn't live without them. They all agreed to stay put for another few days until Gabrielle was fully recovered, then they would get back on the road.

Going to sleep that night Gabrielle knew she would sleep peacefully in the arms of her beloved warrior with their Guardian right by their side. Even in her dreams, they would protect her.

End of "Bad Dreams"

The series will continue in: "The Sauna"

Please let me know what you honestly thought about the stories. I am happy and thankful for every feedback I receive, it will give me a chance to know what you think about my writing. Thank you all the feedback so far.

To send feedback, write to: exl.theguardian@gmail.com

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