Standard Disclaimer - These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.

Specific Story Disclaimers:

Violence –Oh yes.. there is violence. This is a combination story, and includes both Uber Xena sections, and Regular Xena sections. Regardless of time period, or current incarnation, our lovable Xena does tend to be a violent person. So, we have slicing and dicing, and crunching of bones… but no emasculation in this one.

I think.

Subtext - Subtext.. there's a debate going on at this point as to whether subtext is subtext or just plain maintext nowadays on the series. At any rate, this story does involve women who are in love with each other.. so if that puts your undies in a wad, please go choose something nice out of the general fiction area. There's lot's of good stories there.

And while we're on the subject, if you do read past the above warning, and are offended by the love described in the story, email me your snail mail address, so I can send you some German chocolate cake, OK? I feel horrible for you.

UberXena - Ok - this story contains characters of the Uber Xena genre. Some folks don't like to read that. There are sections of two characters that showed up in a previous story of mine (Bound) and they'll be mixed with sections involving our old friends, Xena and Gabrielle. Just want to warn you, OK? OK.

 Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:

Reflections from the Past - Part 3

By Melissa Good

"Oh." Gabrielle paused, scanning the text before her. "Not this one." She started to get up, but found a hand gripping her arm. "Xena.. this is the one from the tablet."

The warrior nodded a little. "Yeah… and?"

The bard gazed at the parchment, then up at her partner. "It's sad.. mostly." She paused. "I mean… we know the end, and its… well, it turns out ok, but.."

"Then?" Xena asked softly, closing her eyes briefly against a jolt of pain. The throbbing from her head wound was getting worse, and she cursed softly under her breath, then let her eyes reopen as she felt a gentle touch on her face. "Give me something else to think about."

"Bad?" Gabrielle asked in quiet sympathy, wincing herself at the brief nod she got in return. "Is there… anything I can do? Anything I can get you?" She bit her lip, hating the helpless feeling this always gave her. "Let me get you some water, at least." The bard rolled over, and snagged a full waterskin she'd left hanging from the bedpost, returning to her original position and working the stopper out of it.

Xena let out a tiny sigh, and braced her hands against the bed, pushing herself upright and immediately regretting it. A wave of nausea and vertigo swamped her and she dropped back down with a hastily bitten off groan.

"Hey… hey…" Gabrielle grabbed her shoulders, and eased her back into place. "Hold on there, tough stuff."

That got a faint chuckle from Xena. "Not very." She sighed, leaning back and taking a tentative hold on the water skin. "Gods… I wish I knew what happened out there." She took a cautious sip, feeling the cool liquid travel all the way down her throat and into her queasily rebelling stomach. For a minute, she thought it was going to come right back up, but after a momentary lurch, it didn’t, and she took another sip. "Gabrielle?"

"Mm?" The bard responded, watching her with a worried frown.

"Read. Please." Came the tired request. "This is a rotten thing to say.. but make me believe there were folks out there who felt worse than I do right now?"

Gabrielle winced. "You're right. That was rotten." She sighed. "Ok." She settled back against the headboard and studied the scroll for a minute, before she cast one last look at Xena's tense face and started to read.

Another tiny victory in a long string of defeats. We have food again tonight, but at what cost.. Elevown has had to fight off wolves for her kill, and her blood stains her garment and her eyes show her agony, though no sound of complaint passes her lips. She huddles in her corner, and I take the hard won meat and do my best with it.

My heart clenches – I bring Elevown her bowl, and with a look of quiet regret, she pulls aside her furs, and I see the hole the wolf has made in her. A grimace as she tries to smile at me, and pushes the bowl back towards my hands. Her meaning is clear. She has no use for food any longer.

I grieve. This strange, cold person has somehow entered my heart, and I do not wish to see her end her days here in this horrible place. I get bandages, clothes, hot water, and demand with gestures that she allow me to do what little I can for those terrible wounds.

At first she pushes me away, but her grasp is weak, and I persist, seeing the growing, dark stain about her middle, and the white paleness under her normally Northern pale skin. At last, she relents, and stops her fighting of me, lying back and letting her eyes close against what must be a fearsome pain.

Slowly, I push her hands aside, and move the tattered furs that cover her body, and close mine own eyes at the long, ragged slice that opens her guts, spilling blood over my hands, which tremble as I rip a remaining bit of my own shift up and press it close to stay the awful damage.

I tend her wounds, and, at the end, when I have done what little I could to ease her, her eyes open, and find mine own, and she makes a small smile at me. I smile the best that I can back, and she lifts a hand and brushes my cheek.

Oh.. my mother… I have heard stories told of one’s losing of the heart.. Aye, I never thought to feel that in my own self. But this day I do, and it goes with out so much as a by your leave to this rude and uncouth foreigner with so little effort, and so little warning that I feel myself lightheaded.

I touch her cheek, and her eyes show the beginning of her surrender to the darkness. "Niess." Her mouth shapes the word slowly, the first she'd said to me in a long stretch of days. Shamed. "Framganga." Ah. She speaks of the attack on my village. "Liedr."

Aye, yes, Elevown, it was hateful. But that was not how I wished you to remember our journey, for though it started in darkness, over these last months I have let go my anger, forgiven my hatred, and have come to regard you as someone who could be a friend.

So, "Blid." I call her, and see those icy eyes soften with what I feel to be regret.

She sleeps but fitfully this night, and her wounds pain her much, for I could see the stark whiteness of her knuckles as she clenches her hands. I do what I can, but ill humors ravage her with their sickly heat, and she knows not who she is, or who I am, but speaks softly, achingly in her harsh language, words that mean nothing to me. I let her grip my hand, and try to trickle water down her lips when reason took her, but I know I do little good.

We come together towards the dawn, and she rests quietly for a time, as I look down to see those gray eyes gazing at me with a look of.. I can not tell what.

Sadness, perhaps. Regret, I kenned that as well. She squeezes my hand with hers, though where that strength came from I know not, and so gently, touched mine fingers to her lips before her eyes close once again.

I am lost. I have never felt a force so fierce, a need so intense as I do this pale, cold day, as she fades further from me, her skin so pale I can almost see the light through it.

I pray to the Lady, to pass us by. I pray for her to not take this strange gift from me, but I know, from the paleness of her face, and the lightness of her breath, my prayers will go unanswered. She will go this day to her strange Valhalla, and sit with her breden, to break bread, and drink ale from their long, curved horns. I will see her no more.

I felt mine self shattering, and I knew, how well did I, that this cold winter will be both our ends, but I shudder to think mine would be last, and alone, bereft of even her silent presence. I will miss her tall shadow, mixing in the firelight with my own, and her strength.

My heart cries out in agony, and I feel that I, and not she, have taken a mortal wound the pain is so great. What is this terrible thing? I hurt, just looking at her face. I pray she opens her eyes just one more time, for I do not wish to bid her farewell just yet.

Now the end comes close, as I feel the cold hands of the Taker hover beyond her, and I do what little I can, which is gather her in my arms, and give her my life’s heat and what little strength I possessed to add to that which faded in her. I pray, one last prayer to the mother to take me quickly, for I wish not to know the empty solitude of this forsaken place.

So I close mine eyes, and let the darkness close over me, until the morning light creeps like a thief into my awareness, and, hating the thought, I let my sight rejoin me.

I think to see her quiet and still, and so I do, but under mine arm, her breath still comes, and the dark flush of fever is gone from her.

My heart leaps, and it is all I could do not to sing out my happiness, but still I stay, for now she wakes, and gazes at me, our faces so close we breathe each other's essence.

Lady, there be stories told around the firepits of our people of a kinship beyond blood, that which brings two strangers together and makes them family just as close as those we are born with.

Here I am with an enemy, whose people prey on mine own, whose tongue and mine are unknown to each other. There should be no close travel between us. And yet…

And yet. This Elevown is family to me in a way I cannot begin to understand.

"Ardwyn." Her voice, so weak.

"Ja." I answer, simply.

"Blid?" I hear a faint hoping in the word.

"Ja, blid." I hastened to assure her Yes, friend. .

"Auk." And her eyes closed again, but this time, into healing sleep.

Gabrielle was very quiet for a few moments after she stopped reading, her eyes going over the words again a few times before she sighed, and glanced up at her equally quiet partner. "A little different version."

"Mm." Xena agreed softly, taking a gentle sip on her waterskin. "More detail.. she probably had a chance to think about what to write this time." Another sip. "Language is a little different."

The bard nodded slightly. "I'm.. glad they got a second chance." She looked up as Xena's arm curled around her and put the scroll down, half turning to snuggle closer to her soulmate.

Xena studied her seriously. "I'm glad we did too." Then her lips quirked. "Bet they take less time than we did to figure it out."

That got a gentle snort from Gabrielle. "Hey.. speak for yourself, oh Warrior Princess of Cluelessness." She rolled her eyes. "It didn't take me that long." She idly played with a piece of the soft fabric edging Xena's nightshirt. "You were just too darn cute."

"Oh please." Xena laughed. "C'mon, Gabrielle…ow. Don't make me laugh." She winced and touched the bandage. "I'm a moody, unstable homicidal maniac with tendencies towards self destructiveness. That's not cute… ow!"

"Cut that centaur poop out." Gabrielle said crossly. "You are not any of those things."

One eyebrow shot up. "Gabrielle of Potadeia, you are not going to sit there and tell me I'm not moody."

A glare from the bard. "You're not moody, Xena.. you just have a limited number of moods. There's bad, and worse." She paused for effect. "And the occasional silly."

"Mmm…. " The warrior considered. "What about the self destructive part? I did just walk off a cliff."

" you remember what happened?" The bard trapped her neatly, with an angry edge to her voice.

"Um.. no.. I was just assuming." Xena relented. "I.. have no idea how it happened.. I just assume I was distracted and tripped or something."

Gabrielle felt her head. "You must be fevered. You, trip??? Xena, I've seen you cross a single strand rope bridge in a rainstorm while swordfighting three two headed monsters. You have the most amazing, most perfect control of your body that I have ever seen, or ever heard of in my entire life. The thought of you just, out of nowhere, tripping is so unlikely I think I'd take bets on Hercules birthing a three headed pig before I'd bet on that." Damn.. I hate when she does this, and she knows it.

Xena cocked her head slightly and smiled. Whoops.. went to far. Time to sooth a few feathers. "He'd be damned annoyed."

The bard glared at her. "Who.. Hercules or the pig?" She sighed. "Are you done trashing yourself?"

Blue eyes flicked to the covers, where the warrior's strong hands were worrying the fabric. "Are you done yelling at me?" She replied quietly, all trace of humor gone from her voice.

Long silence. Finally Gabrielle sighed, and lifted her hands, then let them drop to her thighs. "Sorry. That particular story always.. kind of gets to me." She swallowed. "And… you being.. it.. before… I … it brought back a lot of really bad memories." She laid her head against Xena's shoulder. "I remembered what it was like to lose you..and.. that still hurts."

"Hey.." Xena buried her face in the soft golden hair "Sorry.. thinking the worst of myself is an old habit that's hard to break." She dragged an arm around the bard and sighed. "Three headed pig, huh?"

Gabrielle smiled reluctantly. "First thing that popped into my head."

"Mmhmm." Xena considered this. "He could call the pig Porkules." She replied in a serious tone. "You know.. dress him in those cute leather pants.. teach him to make snide comments to Iolaus.." She felt Gabrielle dissolve into giggles against her chest and smiled quietly. "It'd be kinda cute… bet he'd follow Herc around… " She tapped the blanket with her other hand. "Trot trot trot.. snort…"

"Xena…" The bard gasped, laughing uncontrollably. "I'm gonna kill you for putting that picture in m head.. I'm gonna dream about it now." She let the giggles peter out, then paused. "Hey… if we were all animals..which would we be?" A glance up. "I always pictured you a panther, you know."

Xena cocked an eyebrow at her. "Yeah?" She thought about that a minute. "Hmm." Panther. Well, could have been worse. Could have been a donkey.

"What about me?" The bard challenged, waiting expectantly.

Oh boy. "Uh.." The warrior's brow creased. "I'm gonna get in trouble no matter what I say here, aren't I?" Lessee…dog? No. Horse? Uh uh. Bird? Uh.. no. Cat? She regarded Gabrielle's curled up form, nestled close to her own. Weeeell… no. Ah.. I got it… but she ain't gonna like it.

Gabrielle grinned. "I promise I wont' hurt you too bad."

"Uh huh." Xena sounded unconvinced. "All right.. a badger." Whack. "Hey!"

"A badger!!!" The bard looked stung. "Xena!!!' Oh brother.. they are ugly.. those little snub noses, and that bandy legged kind of… Her thoughts stumbled to an abrupt halt. Don't go there. I do not walk like that. "I do NOT look like a nasty old badger."

Her soulmate raised a hand in defense. "Wait..wait… give me a chance here…" She protested. "It's not bad… badgers are the bravest animals out there, Gabrielle.. they defend themselves, and their families, and almost no other animal dares to come near them.. they're tough, and a lot stronger than animals twice their size."

Green eyes studied her suspiciously. "Yeah?"

Xena smiled. "Yeah." Her eyes glinted softly. "And once they make up their mind about something, it never changes." And they've got the cutest little walk… nah.. better not go there.. that's definitely gonna make her self concious about that. Bad warrior.

Their eyes met. "Never, huh?" The bard tried to suppress a grin, but failed. "Are panthers scared of them?"

"Oh yeah." Xena confirmed softly. "Terrified." She gave the bard a quick grin, which became a grimace as a bolt of pain shot through her. "Damn." She tried to lift her head, then let it drop with a sigh. "Gods."

The room whirled around her, and she closed her eyes. "Dizzy." She heard a faint roaring in her ears, and realized she was on the verge of passing out, and concentrated on taking deep breaths, feeling the sudden pressure of Gabrielle’s hands against her face. Slowly, the buzzing faded, and she became aware of the bard’s urgent voice. "Ok..ok.."

"Xena, you’re white as a sheet." The bard was saying, her eyes anxious. "I’m going to go get Renas.. you hang on, all right?"

Then the bard was gone, and she was fighting a queasy chill, which traveled up her spine, and exploded into a white hot jolt of pain over her right eye. She locked her jaws grimly, and tried to think of something else, fuzzily aware of Ares’ anxious whine at her side.

Calm.. c’mon, think of something relaxing… breathe… ok. Slowly, reluctantly, the pain faded, leaving her exhausted, and drenched in a sudden cold sweat. Gods.. that.. wasn’t too good. She lifted a shaking hand to the bandage on her head, and probed gingerly, feeling a tight ache that shot another jolt of pain through her. Damn. Now the chills made sense. She forced her eyes open as the door shuddered inward, and Gabrielle strode across the floor to her side.

"Listen.. they’re sending someone for Renas, love." She put a hand on the warrior’s shoulder. "He’s out at one of the outlying cots." Her fingers slid up, and touched the bandage, then brushed against her partner’s skin. "You’re really warm."

Xena forced her vision to focus, and nodded. "Yeah.. listen.. we don’t.. " Don’t scare her. "Um… see, problem is he put in the stitches too tight… just need to loosen them a little."

The bard relaxed. "Oh.. ok.. well, that shouldn’t take him too long.."

The pressure built, sending another stab of pain shooting through her head. "Gabrielle.. get my dagger." She forced her voice to remain calm. "We don't’ have time to wait for him." She heard the sucked intake of air, and felt the bard’s grip tighten on her wrist. "Don’t panic.. just get the dagger."

A space of time that seemed like it lasted forever, and then the bard was back, her fingers touching her lightly. "OK.. I’ve got it." A pause. "I passed it through the candle..was that right?"

Outwardly Gabrielle seemed calm, but Xena could hear the shakiness in her voice, and made the effort to meet the bard’s eyes. "Perfect." She took a deep breath, and covered Gabrielle’s hand with her own. "It’s gonna be all right.. ok? You can do this." A nervous nod answered her. "Ok.. take the bandage off." The buzzing grew louder as the bard’s fingers carefully worked the linen off, and she lifted it clear, sucking in a breath in alarm. "Bad, huh? Ok… don’t think about it."

Gabrielle closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, then opened them again, and tried not to remember that the angry red and purple wound belonged to her soulmate. It didn’t work. "What do I do?" She asked in a bare whisper.

"T.. take the edge, and.." A long pause. "c.. cut the stitches." Xena’s chest heaved. "Its… gonna bleed.. that’s.. ok." The pressure was getting to her, and she closed her eyes, gripping onto the bed frame with one hand, feeling Gabrielle’s gentle touch on her jaw as the bard turned her head to get a better look at what she was doing. "Go ahead."

The steel blade felt ice cold against her skin, and she held her breath, feeling, and almost hearing the soft pops as the razor sharp knife severed the gut holding the wound closed. At once, the pressure relaxed, and she felt a warm flood as fluid coursed down the side of her face, and the sharp pain subsided. "Good job." She got out, prying an eye open to check on her too quiet soulmate feeling a touch of linen on her face as the bard washed the blood off.

Gabrielle’s face was a tight mask, her jaw muscles stark and evident against the skin of her cheek as she finished her task, and pressed a fresh pad of linen against the still draining wound. "Are.. is it all right now?" she finally asked, in a hoarse voice. I am not going to panic. I am not going to pass out. I have done this before... dammit, Gabrielle, just forget it's her, OK?

Xena lifted a hand up, and rested it against her belly, giving her a gentle rub. "Much better." She felt a wave of exhaustion travel over her and forced it down. "There’s.. um… in my kit, a parchment packet.. it’s. kind of bluish. " She watched the bard walk quietly over, and return with the requested item. "Yeah… kind of sprinkle that stuff on it." She winced as the pulverized herbs caused a stinging sensation to cover her head. "Good.."

They both looked up as Cyrene and Renas hurried in. "Take it easy." Xena drawled softly. "Gabrielle took care of things." The bard moved out of the way as the healer came close, and inspected the wound. "Just needed opening."

Renas picked up the packet Gabrielle had left lying on the table, and sniffed it, raising his eyebrows. "Interesting." He examined the sliced stitches and pursed his lips. "Wanted to give you an nice even one, Xena." His gaze turned apologetic. "Should have checked that." He turned to Gabrielle with a look of respect. "Good work."

The bard blushed slightly. "Don’t look at me… " She jerked her chin towards the injured warrior. "I had expert instruction." She moved off, and washed her hands, then started fiddling with the soup with her back to the room.

Cyrene gave Renas a look, and waited for him to distract Xena, then walked up in back of the bard and put her hands on the slim shoulders. "Honey?"

Gabrielle didn’t turn around. "Yeah?"

"You OK?" Cyrene felt the tremor go through her, and sighed. "Why don’t you come up with me to the inn for a few minutes, hmm? I have some dinner for you." She took the soup pot from the bard’s nerveless hands, and set it down. "C’mon."

Gabrielle stared at her hands for a minute, then let loose a long breath. "Yeah.. ok.." She cast a glance over her shoulder to where blue eyes were watching her. "Be right back."

Xena let her gaze follow them as her mother and the bard left, then turned her eyes towards Renas. "Not good, huh?" She watched his eyes study her head, and a pucker appear in the otherwise smooth brow.

The healer regarded her seriously. "No." He held up the packet. "What is this?"

A slight shrug. "Some stuff I picked up in Chin." A pause. "A long time ago."

The healer sighed softly. "All right." He gently probed her head, and settled the bandage lightly back into place. "You’re strong as an ox, Xena. Don’t let this take you down."

That got a tiny quirk of a grin. "Not if I can help it." The draining had helped, and she found herself feeling a little better, which was a good sign. Stupid of her not to thiink of that before, though. Damn.. Xena.. you really are slipping. She chastised herself. You know better.

She laid back gingerly against the pillow, and sighed, wishing a touch childishly that Gabrielle would get back, so she could see just how shaken up her partner really was. Bootsteps drew nearer even as she thought it, and she grinned softly as she pictured the bard's powerful, rolling gait. Just like a badger… she chuckled softly. Must be all that muscle, and all that determination. She'd enjoyed observing, in an academic way, of course, how the bard's movement had changed over the years.. as she grew into her body, and had gotten stronger, and more fit. Sometimes that Argo perspective definitely.. had it's points.

The door pushed open, and Gabrielle ducked inside, carrying a hefty sized platter of food, and Xena found that the enticing scents wafting from it actually sort of interested her. Good sign. She approved silently. Smells like some of my favorites.

Funny how she paid attention to that now.. Gabrielle had finally nudged her into an appreciation of what she was eating and ever since.. she sighed ruefully. Just one more insidious attack on her willpower that she’d been unable to resist. It had taken about forever for her to admit it, though.

"Xena." Gabrielle had sighed, and cast a glance over her shoulder to where the warrior was working on tanning a new hide for their sleeping rolls. Or to be more precise, for Gabrielle’s sleeping roll, because the bard had managed to lose hers in an accident involving a ravine, a bear, and a pot of jelly she’d been cooking.

"Huh?" The warrior had glanced up from her task, to see her companion glaring at her. "Oh.. sorry. You ready for dinner?" A drift of the wind brought the scent of whatever it was towards her, and to her annoyance, she’d found her mouth watering, even though it really hadn’t been that long since they’d stopped for lunch. Forcing patience, she put away her tools, and draped the skin out, before loping to the creek and washing her hands thoroughly.

She was in a good mood, for a change.. maybe it was the weather, which was cool without being cold, or maybe it was the bargain she'd struck to get Argo shod in that village.. or maybe.. it was getting off that damn ship of Cecrops..

Or maybe it was this little, strange, lighthearted feeling she kept getting unexpectedly… which seemed to be, for some unknown reason, centered around a certain bardicly inclined friend of hers.

Nah. She was just imagining that.

"Gonna make a good size bedroll." She’d commented, as she joined the bard near the fire, and accepted the plate Gabrielle held out to her with a half grin.

"Yeah." Gabrielle said quietly, as she dropped down onto a log nearby, and focused on her meal. "Listen..I’m.. um.. I'm sorry you have to go to all that trouble."

Xena had caught the tone in her voice, and stopped where she was, about to sit down on a log across the fire from the bard. She cocked her head, then changed course, crossing over to where Gabrielle was sitting, and taking a seat right next to her instead. "No trouble." She stabbed a bit of rabbit in the stew and bit into it, chewing and swallowing it with a sigh of pleasure. "This is really good."

Gabrielle stopped eating, and glanced at her. "What?"

Xena had eyed her. "This stew.. is really good. Thank you."

The bard had stared at her for a moment, then poked at her plate a little. "Yeah.. thanks." Giving her then the oddest of looks.

Something, Xena had realized at that point, was bothering her companion. "Um." Thinking furiously about that day, wondering what in the…oh. "That jerk still bothering you?"

No answer from the bard, just a vicious stab at a carrot. Bullseye.

A half drunken herdsman, who had laughed at her storytelling, and made several crude remarks about her body that had earned him some laughter from his mates.

And a broken jaw from Xena. "He was a jerk, Gabrielle. Forget about it. I guarantee he won’t do that again any time soon."

"Maybe he was right." The bard muttered softly. "Maybe I am a lousy storyteller."

Oh boy. Xena had racked her brains for instructions on dealing with depressed bards, and came up pretty empty, so she’d balanced her bowl on one knee, and draped her free arm over Gabrielle’s shoulders. "That's ridiculous, Gabrielle. You’re a great storyteller, and you know it."

That had gotten her a tiny smile from her young companion, who peered at her from under reddish blond eyelashes. "Thanks for trying to make me feel better." Then her good humor dropped, and she shrugged. "But you don’t have to do that."

Xena had sighed inwardly. "Look.. I’m not much into this nice stuff, Gabrielle. I told you that because it’s true, not because I wanted to make you feel better. You are a very good storyteller.. I love.. listening to you. And.. this is really good stuff. You’re a great cook."

Gabrielle remained looking at the ground. "How would you know, Xena? You never even notice what you’re eating."

Uh oh.. another sore spot. Xena had let out a sigh, and recited for her their joint meals for the last moon. Halfway through, she was aware of the bard’s baldly amazed look and smiled inwardly. "So. " She finished. "Yeah, I notice." A wry shrug. "I guess you've gotten me hooked on this stuff."

Now a faint sparkle showed in the depths of those green eyes. "Really?"

"Really." Came the slightly chagrined answer. "I guess I can stop pretending that warlordly indifference now, huh?"

The bard laughed softly. "Why didn’t you say something before?" She leaned against Xena a little. "Would have been nice to know.. I’d.. kinda been hoping.."

Why? Xena had sighed to herself. Because it’s so hard for me to admit just how important you’re becoming to me? "Just old habits, I guess." She admitted. "But you’re right.. I should have told you before now."

That got a full fledged grin from the bard. "Wow. Thanks." She paused. "So… um.. you have.. any particular favorites?"

Xena bit her lip and gave her companion a wryly guilty nod. "Well.. yeah. Now that you mention it." That in a mumble, which Gabrielle had to lean closer to hear. She’d known it was a slide down a path she wasn’t sure she could get back up, but at the moment, it just didn’t matter.

Gabrielle had chuckled softly, still within the circle of her arm. "You gonna share that information with me?" She’d had a warm, delighted grin on her face, and seemed to have forgotten completely about the jerk.

Good. "Mmm…I guess I could do that." Xena had answered, with a tiny smile.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. "Xena?" Gabrielle finally spoke up, as she ladled herself more stew, and, with a grin, did the same for her companion.

"Huh?" The warrior mumbled around a mouthful, and glanced her way.

"You.. uh.. went after that guy, didn’t you?" The bard asked, curiously.

Xena finished swallowing, and sighed happily. "Gods.. that’s good. Yeah.. I did." She took a sip of cold water. "Why?"

Gabrielle chewed a minute. "Well.. that’s what I wanted to know. Why?" She dunked a bit of waybread into the stew and popped it in her mouth. "I mean.. he’s entitled to an opinion, right?"

Xena thought about that for a minute. "No, he's not." She looked up and grinned. "Not a bad one, about my best friend, in front of me." She winked at the bard. "Sorry.. gotta live up to that reputation."

The bard turned her head, and looked full up at her, not bothering to mask the gentle love in her eyes even one small bit. 'Thanks." She said, softly.

The warrior had taken a moment, to absorb the sweetness of that smile, then gave one back. "That's what friends are for, Gabrielle. They stand up for one another." She pulled Gabrielle's head down and gave her a kiss on the top of it. "You're a great storyteller, and anyone who's got a problem with that is gonna have to take it up with me."

Xena's eyes now caressed her partner's body, as she set her burden down, and glanced towards the bed. "Smells great." The warrior offered, quietly.

Gabrielle's eyes lit up. "You want some?"

The warrior nodded cautiously. "A little." The throbbing subsided further, and she managed a smile as the bard carefully settled down at her side, and reached up, touching her knuckles to the side of the warrior's face.

"You have chills yet?" Gabrielle's voice dropped a little. "You feel pretty warm."

Xena shook her head. "Nope.. I'm fine right now." She captured the bard's hand in her own. "You, on the other hand, feel like ice." Very carefully she moved over, and lifted the edge of the blanket up. "C'mon in here."

The bard hesitated a moment, then set her bowl down, and crawled under the covers, sliding cautiously up against Xena, and letting out a little sigh as she felt the warmth of her partner's body steal over her. "Thanks." She smiled as Xena's arm curled around her, and settled around her waist. "Mm."

"Mom give you a pep talk?" Xena murmured in her ear, a teasing note in her voice.

Mist green eyes raised and studied her. "Yeah." Gabrielle's lips quirked into a rueful grin. "She's pretty good at that." She sniffed reflectively. "Told me not to worry..that you were.. um…too.." She paused, chewing her lip.

"Pig stubborn?" Xena supplied helpfully, with a wryly knowing grin.

"Er… yeah." The bard admitted. "More or less."

"Mmph." A shrug from the warrior. "Well.. it's true." She lifted a hand and brushed the errant strands of red gold hair back from Gabrielle’s face. "But that’s not why you shouldn’t worry." Her fingertip idly traced the bard’s jawline. "I have way too much reason to stick around here."

Gabrielle found herself drowning in her soulmate’s closeness, absorbing the warmth, and the gentle pressure of her fingertips, and the mesmerizing glint of her blue eyes with a sense of contented pleasure. "Oh yeah?" She whispered, closing her eyes and simply enjoying the moment.

Xena’s hand tilted her face up, and she felt the warrior’s lips gently start under her ear, and work their way forward, ending up capturing hers, sending spirals of warmth through her and setting her hands wandering over the muscular body next to her. "Mph.." She slipped her fingers under the soft fabric of Xena’s nightshirt, and traced her lean waistline, feeling the muscles tighten and slide under her touch. Reluctantly, she stilled her hands, and leaned back, trying to get her breathing back under control. "Hey.. you’re injured here."

A low, throaty chuckle answered her. "Yeah.. and this makes me feel a lot better." The warrior deftly unclipped the buckle on her belt one handed, and ran her fingers up under her loosened tunic, smiling as the bard leaned into the touch with a light gasp. "Though.." This with a regretful sigh. "Probably not going to be able to do a whole lot more." The dizziness had gotten worse again, in sync with her increasing heartbeat. "Maybe.. " She gentled her touch, caressing the bard’s soft skin in a light pattern. "We could just kinda…" Gabrielle snuggled closer, molding her body to her soulmate’s, and toning her own movements down to a delicate, gentle use of her lips. "Yeah."

"Like that?" The bard mumbled, contentedly nibbling on her ear.

‘Mmm… yeah." Xena sighed, feeling her heart settle back down, and the moment of vertigo recede. "Perfect."

Gabrielle indulged in a moment of quiet nostalgia, remembering the first time she’d felt her body respond to her partner’s. Not in the best of times, no.. but…

"Where is she?" She had demanded, from Autolycus, who had leaped off Argo, and strode halfway out of the clearing, obviously uncomfortable. "Autolycus…"

He’d seemed to be arguing with himself, she she’d stopped, and watched him, puzzled.

"No way.. " He said to a tree. "I told you.."

And then he’d turned around, his movements tense and jerky, to face her, with a strange, intent, expression. Even his voice had changed…

"Gabrielle.." And even though the timbre was male, and sounded nothing like her, Gabrielle’s ears heard Xena’s voice, sending shivers down her spine in breathless, tentative hope. Oh gods.. please let it be. Her heart was pounding so hard it was a wonder he couldn’t hear it. Please.

"Close your eyes and think of me." Oh.. that was easy… And so she’d closed her eyes tight, and pictured her friend in her mind.. then felt the world slip a little around her, and a gentle breeze stir her hair.

"Gabrielle." Now the timbre was right, and the voice was hers.. but she was afraid to open her eyes. "Gabrielle… " Again.. and now she had to. She let them open, and her vision focused, vaguely aware of the shifting, gray mists surrounding her.

Seeing only the tall, leather clad figure moving towards her out of the fog, whose eyes shone brilliantly, and filled her whole world.

What came out of her mouth was halfway between a gasp and a sob… as her body struggled to cope with the sudden relaxation of tense, tightly wound grief after all this time. It was her. Without thinking, she rushed forward, then stopped as Xena held up both hands.

"I"m not dead.. not entirely." The warrior had explained, but the look in her eyes… Gabrielle had drunk that look in, absorbing it.. letting it fill her soul with a completeness so unexpected, it stunned her.

But.. "Why did you leave me?" A question wrung from an aching heart. "I have so much I want to say to you."

And the look softened, to a gentle sorrow that begged for forgiveness, for understanding. "You don’t have to say a word." Xena had replied, softly. "We don’t have much time… we have to get to the ambrosia or.. I will be gone."

The hope scrambled to get away from her, and she held onto it with frantic fingers. "I can’t lose you again, Xena." And Xena had moved closer, her features shifting into a smile that became Gabrielle’s entire world.

Closer still. "Gabrielle…" Those eyes locking on hers. "I’ll always be here."

Arms slipped around her, and pulled her close, and before she realized what was happening, Xena’s essence was all around her, and she felt a ghostly pair of lips on her own, as a warm, tingling rush swept through her body.

It felt… so wonderful.. even when the cold air hit her again, and she pulled back, realizing it was Autolycus she was hugging, and seeing the stark startled look in his eyes that slowly eased from shock to studied contemplation of her. "I.. hope.. you two worked things out."

Gabrielle had stood there, with a what she was later sure was the dumbest grin on her face, caught somewhere between relief and bewilderment. "Yeah… " She’d felt soft laughter bubble up, feeling strange after so long. "We did."

Relief that had turned to tense despair, as she later watched Velasca climb triumphantly towards the opening, knowing there was no way she could stop her.

"No." A ghostly whisper tickled her. "But I can.. will you let me?"

No time even to consider what that meant. Just.. "Yes." And she’d closed her eyes, and felt… oh gods. It was like being filled with fire. It was a fierce tingling that filled her from head to foot, and a gentle warmth that wrapped itself around her like a cloak, that was friendly, and familiar.. and loving in a way that brought quiet tears to her eyes, even as she was feeling herself moving, gripping the chakram and leaping with a sense of unreal ease.

It was.. almost like flying.. her body moved with a fierce power, and precision, leaping from vine to vine without hesitation. Velasca’s attacks were parried, and deflected, and she watched the slightly bulging, mad eyes of the Amazon widen as she tried to knock what should have been an easy target aside, but couldn’t.

There was no thought involved… no fear.. just a steady sense of purpose and intensity that never let up. Never stopped.. never… gave up. Even when the ambrosia fell, her body shifted at the last moment to intercept it, and Gabrielle almost heard a gentle laugh as she felt some slip down her tight Amazon halter.

Then Velasca, out of control, was swinging towards her, and she felt the sudden powerful shift of well trained fighter’s instincts driving her body, as she dodged, grabbing the knife and slashing forward in one cruelly accurate cut, that severed the vine Velasca was on, and sent her plunging onto the stakes below.

Then it was over. And she was alone again, making her way down the vine on aching arms that barely held her weight, and entering the hallway, to see Ephiny’s sweating face, and the coffin.

One tiny bit of ambrosia. Would it be enough? She watched as the Amazons opened the lid, glancing uneasily inside, and clearing back to let her through.

In that instant, her whole world narrowed down to a wooden box, and the still, silent body inside it. Her breathing caught, as she knelt, and gently eased the cold lips open, and put the tiny bit of stuff inside, feeling it dissolve.

No change, and her heart settled in her gut, as she sensed the shift of the Amazons looking at each other. "Now what?" Ephiny’s voice broke the silence.

"I… I don’t know." Gabrielle had answered, in a small voice, and gently taken up Xena’s hand, clasping the cool flesh in her own. "Come back, Xena." It had sounded.. so crazy.. so.. hopeless. "If you can hear me.. please… come back." She could almost hear the pity coming from the Amazons, and she gazed at the warrior’s pale face with a growing sense of despair.

And then.. her eyes blinked, and blinked again, as she watched a flush of color wash over Xena’s face, and felt the chest beneath their clasped hands move.

Blue eyes, alert, and alive with intelligence fastened on hers, and they could have been alone, for all she’d cared, not in the middle of a circle of Amazons, in the damp confines of an old tomb. It was just the two of them, and she reached in and cupped Xena’s face, now warm, with both hands and just looked, and looked at her.

And never looked back.

"What’r you thinking bout?" Xena’s voice now curled down one ear, her breath tickling the soft hairs behind it teasingly.

"You." The bard kissed her. "How much I love you." Another kiss. "How much you mean to me." Sighing happily, she nuzzled the side of the warrior’s neck. "How are you feeling?"

"Huh?" Xena forced her eyes open, lifting herself out of the warmly drifting haze she was in. "Oh.. um… " That required thought. "Hurts.. and I’m a little… " A faint shrug. "out of it."

Gabrielle studied her. "Mm." She shifted a little. "Why don’t you get some sleep?" She started tracing a familiar pattern on the warrior’s belly. "Go on.. I’ll keep watch over you."

The pale blue eyes blinked sleepily at her. "If.. I start sweating… or you think I"m getting a fever.. wake me up, ok?" Not even a word of protest.

"I promise." Gabrielle assured her, as she watched her partner’s body relax. She kept up her gentle stroking for a while, as Xena’s breathing evened out, and deepened, then smiled, and picked up the scroll she’d set on the table, propping it on a raised knee and starting to read.

Lady, I have concluded that you have sent her to me to test my patience, and prove myself worthy to sit with you in the next world. Stubborn, she is, as the day is long, and thankfully getting longer.

Days it had taken her to fight off the ill humors of the wound the wolves had given her, days of her lying quiet, and bothering me not with her restlessness, but rather letting me tend her, and meekly taking in what small food my skills could gather us.

I ken she hates the weakness of it, more than anything, she who takes pride in her strength, and her mastery of herself and the things about her. When hardly I thought she should sit, standing she tries, and almost takes us both to the ground when her legs will not hold up under her.

Lady. I ask you… was it fair to tax my long patience with this wild creature? At least you bless me with a source of food in relative abundance.. for a flock of wild geese have sheltered in our alcove, and eggs I have taken, along with weaker birds, to make long simmering soups that warm us.

Tonight I sit quiet, so tired I can barely hold my head up from a day long spent in gathering what I could for us, and watch her, those pale eyes so restless as the walls here close in around her and cage her spirit unmercifully.

She stares at the fire with a dark angry glower, though progress she has made, and today walked outside for the first time since her wounding. The sun has done her well, and she is no longer wasting from her body’s fire, but the wound still pains her and she walks but slowly, and with much effort.

Lady, I am tired. I barely taste the soup before me, and my hands lack strength to raise the bowl, as I have spent my day fighting the river, standing in it’s fury and trapping what things I could in a basket woven by Elevown’s clever hands.

I close mine eyes for just a moment, and then look up, to see eyes like the sea’s fog close by, and feel her hand touch mine, where it rests on the bowl. So tired am I that I did not even hear her passing, though she seldom causes noise more than a field mouse.

"Ardwyn." Her voice is gruff, and harsh.

"Ja." I answer, wondering at her wishes.

She lifts the bowl to my lips, and glares, but I understand, and make to swallow my portion, keeping up until bottom I hit, and feel it’s warmth in me.

She watches, then sits beside me, saying nothing, just watching the fire in silence, but seeming content. I wonder what she thinks, behind those eyes that show so little… and then she turns to me, and it is as if I am seeing her for the first time, when that look is on me, and me alone as is her attention.

She picks up the bowl, and names it. Points to the fire, and names that as well, and I gather my understanding, and know that by her will, our silence is ending.

Till mine eyes were crossing we went, gathering meaning after thought, until the fire burned low and our minds fair exhausted. Half sleeping I crept into the gathered pine needles I used as my bed and settled, watching her still staring into the flames, sleepless.

"Ardwyn." Her voice again, rough with our usage.

"Yes?" Mine answer came quiet.

"Thank you." She rested her chin on her shoulder and turned her eyes upon me.

I answered her look, a warmth curling within me. "What for?"

A faint, faiery smile shaped her lips. "Surviving."

Gabrielle leaned back, and gave her partner a fond look. "At least we could always talk to each other." She paused, and her mouth twitched. "Sort of." Her fingers relaxed on the parchment, as she studied the sleeping warrior for a long, quiet moment. "You know.. you always did drive me crazy with one thing, though."

One hand reached out and snagged a bit of the stewed chicken she'd brought back from the inn. "Yeah.. I'd go on, and on.. and on… and you'd just ignore me.. and I'd think you never listened to a word I said." She pointed at the warrior with her chicken bone. "And then, a month later, you'd repeat something I'd said exactly." A sigh. "How do you do that?"

With a soft chuckle, she set aside the scroll, and pulled over the next one, never seeing the sparkling blue eye that briefly opened, studied her with a twinkle, then closed again.

"Yeah… " Gabrielle repeated softly, studying the next parchment and chewing her chicken. "You never lost the ability to surprise me, Xena." She paused, and smiled. "And I don’t think you ever will."

"What are you doing?" She'd ambled down to the lakeside, taking sensual pleasure in her bare feet, and the soft fabric of the shirt she'd slipped over her water cooled body, after their swim. Xena had flung herself down on a flat rock, and was gazing out over the lake, juggling a handful of thin, flat stones.

"Just thinking." The ex warlord had said, selecting a single stone from her handful, and whipping it across the water with a flick of her wrist. The stone skipped over the surface a half dozen times before it eventually sank.

Gabrielle took a seat on a smaller rock and wrapped her arms around her knees. "Oh." She glanced up over her shoulder and saw the introspective look on her friend's face. "About anything special?" No answer, and she'd waited a moment before going on. "About Ulysses?"

A soft scrape of fabric against stone as Xena shifted, and another rock skittered across the water. "No." But Gabrielle had felt the warrior's eyes on her, and she deliberately drew the conversation out, probing the sore spot inside her with relentless morbidness.

"I.. meant what I said before Xena.. you know that, right?" She'd squared her shoulders, and looked directly up at the warrior. "If you wanted.. to go be with him. Or.. with anyone.. it's ok.. you can just tell me that. I'll.. I have other.. options. You.. aren't.. obligated to keep me around." It was, in one sentence, the most difficult thing she'd ever done. But dancing in front of her eyes was a quiet scene, on a dusty road, and Xena's blessing when she'd chosen another path.

Could she, in good conscience, give Xena any less? She'd wondered, briefly, though.. if it had hurt Xena as much as this was hurting her.

An unfathomable expression in those blue eyes faced her, when she did look up. "He's.. um.. it's ok, Gabrielle. He's not really my type." Was what Xena said, after another rock went to it's watery grave. "He.. really didn't do anything for me."

Silence, as the bard assessed this. "Oh." A little furrow had appeared in her brow. "Well… Xena, I do… I want… you.. I want you to know that if.. you do meet someone who.. your.. type.. then..I don't want to." She stopped and swallowed, unable to meet Xena's eyes. "I don't want to "

A hand on her head stopped her again, and she glanced up, with a disgusted sigh. "I'm sorry.. I'm making a mess of this."

"Gabrielle." Xena's voice held a mixture of compassion and amusement. "That's ok..… see.. I've got this problem."

The bard eyed her curiously. "Problem?"

"Mmm.." Xena nodded. "Yeah.. see… I.. it would have to be someone who.. knew.. about me. About.. my past… and..could accept that."

Gabrielle nodded, seriously. "Ok.. yeah.. I could see that."

Xena pulled her lip. "And.. well, it would also have to be someone who could understand who I am.. and the fact that I'm not an easy person to get along with."

Another serious nod. "Yeah."

A smile crept onto the warrior's face. "And.. it would have to be someone I could trust.. with my life. Someone.. with a good heart, who was brave, and kind… all the things I'm not."

Gabrielle sighed. "I see your problem." She reached up and interlaced their fingers. "I.. I hope you find that person someday, Xena, I really do." And that had been the second hardest thing for her to say, because it.. put her own dreams firmly to rest.

The expression on Xena's face was.. indescribable. "Gabrielle.. it's not a question of finding them." The warrior had answered in a quiet voice. "It's.. whether or not I'll have the courage to tell them about it."

The bard gazed up at her confidently. "Xena, that's silly. You're the bravest person I know."

Xena had looked down, with a wistful smile. "Not in this, my friend. Not in this."

Silence grew between them for a time, broken by the soft rustle of the leaves in the warm breeze, and the far off honking of ducks heading past them. "Xena?"

The warrior looked up from their still intertwined hands, and smiled grimly. "Yeah?"

"Have you ever really been in love?" Gabrielle had always wondered, after, where that question had come from. For a long time, she though Xena just wasn't going to answer her. But the warrior finally pursed her lips, and took a breath.

"I.. used to think I had been." Xena answered carefully. "But… now.. I.. don't think I really was." She paused, clearly searching for the right words. "Not the kind of love.. where…you'd do..anything for that person. Go anywhere, be anything… where you looked at them, and.. and.. they became your whole world."

Gabrielle had felt every word of that, as though it was painted on her in bright colors. "Oh.. that.. um..kind." A swallow. "You'll.. find that.. Xena. I know you will."

Xena sighed. "I.. don't think I can inspire that kind of thing in return, Gabrielle."

It came out before she even realized it. "Oh.. you're so wrong." She froze, mentally slapping herself silly. "I.. I mean… I.. " She fell silent, staring out at the lake.

But Xena didn't even seem to notice. She flipped another few stones out across the lake, leaning back with a quiet, contented smile. "Mm… you.. got any plans for dinner?" The warrior finally asked, lightly.

Gabrielle's brow creased. "Oh.. sure.. me and uh.. Argo.. were gonna go compare dandelion clusters." A pause. "You have something in mind?"

A light shrug. "Oh.. I was thinking maybe.. a couple of those salmon out there.. a basket load of those berries. '" She pointed lazily. "A nice fire.. some stars… " Her eyes found Gabrielle's. "You interested?"

Gabrielle let a slow smile appear on her face. "Yeah.. um… that sounds great." She picked up one of Xena's rocks, and tossed it, without much success. "So.. Ulysses wasn't your type, huh?"

"Here." Xena slid an am around her, and took her hand. "This way." She moved the bard's arm with her own, and demonstrated the proper motion. "Like that." A pause. "Nah.. I was never much into that tall, dark and handsome thing."

"Really." Gabrielle murmured, very aware of the powerful arms circling her. "That's… interesting."

"Yeah.. " Xena went on casually, as she untangled herself from the bard. "I'm.. mm.. more partial to a lighter look, myself." She flicked another rock into the water. "What about you?"

"Mmmm.. I don’t' know.. I kind of like tall and dark." Gabrielle mused thoughtfully, as they walked back towards their camp.

They'd looked at each other, and grinned, and kept walking.

"Now, Ares, I look back at that, and boy do I feel stupid." She commented to the wolf, who had jumped up onto the bed and curled up on the other side of Xena. "It's like.. hello, Gabrielle? Anyone home???"

She chuckled softly and started working on another piece of chicken. "I try and try to get her to talk to me, and poof.. for once, she not only talks to me, she tells me EXACTLY how she feels. Do I catch a clue?"

"Roo?" The wolf raised his head, and peered at her, glancing hopefully at her chicken.

"Yep.. a clue." Gabrielle agreed, biting off a piece, and surreptitiously handing it off Ares. "Don't you dare tell your mom I did that, OK?"

"Arguhhffrrmm" Ares mumbled, while chewing.

Stifling a yawn, the bard turned her attention back to the scroll and settled down to read.

I make praise to the Lady this day, for Spring has come, and we have survived the dark Winter, to scamper like children in the newly green meadows below our rocky shelter. I race through the richness of the earth, glad at last to see the rebirth of the world, even in this forsaken land.

The plants I find are strange, but I make them friends, and soon am enhancing our meals with the bounty of the earth, which brings a smile even to Elevown's face, as she peers over my shoulder to see what things I have done with her hunting. I find our tastes to be somewhat similar.. though I am used to more spices in my foods than she is, and have had much fun in teasing her tastes against a suspicious, and reluctant will.

Today she is working on a project of her own, and shares nothing about it with me, warning me off with an imperious hand, and bits of bark thrown my way. At last, as the night's sweetness closes over us, and she comes to claim her share of our meal, she hands me a cup, and settles her arms about her, a smug look on her well angled face, whose planes and lines have become as familiar to me as mine own.

A rich scent of earth, and water, and the world rises to mine senses, and I take a sip, and feel the bright burn of ale as it makes a path through me. Ah.. Lady.. she has the talent for this, and I sigh in pleasure of it. "Ah." I say, but smile broadly, and she gives her thin, tight smile back. "Good."

We made merry that night, drinking of her ale until both mine eyes were swimming, and I lay back along my meager bed, gazing at her as she looks to the fire, her eyes now shadowed, and sad.

"What think you?" I ask softly, as her hands play at her carven cup, turning it this way and that.

Her eyes catch mine, in somber darkness. "Minding me of home." Then she fell silent again. "Thor's justice." This in a bitter, ironic speech that touched me strangely.

"Thor's Justice?" I asked, my curiosity pricked.

Her shoulders slumped, and she toasted me with her empty mug. "I took from you your home, he took from me mine. " Her voice is harsh, and full of anger. At herself? At me? I know not.

All I know is that I must answer. "Elevown." I speak her name, it's angles strange on my tongue. "Much as you believe it, I'll not be hating you." The ale frees my speech as few things other will. "The past is the past… we are here now."

"Never.. meant the slaughter." She whispered. "We'd beached the ships half moon since, and fought every minute of it." Her eyes found my face in tribute. "You Kelti hold to your own, ja?"

"Aye." I nodded, knowing the truth of it. "We do."

She let out her breath. "They came at us in darkness that day.. our blood was on fire from it."

My mind swam in darkness. Never had I thought for what reason the Northerners had for doing what they had done. Always I kenned.. it was because that was what they were. As we ourselves were, when the battle fire took us. "Did you.. send them for such terror?"

An empty, bleak look took her. "Ja." She said softly. "I told them kill all they found, save perhaps a few young we could claim as spoils." She stared into the fire. "My father's young sister was taken in the attack on our camp.. and split asunder for sport. " She paused. "Was her first battle." Her fingers traced the uneven wood. "My heart was on fire from it."

We are not a peaceful kind. As I sat there in silence I made truth to myself that there was, in honest belief, not much difference between her kind, and mine own. We Kelti find joy in battle, and spend much time in the waging of it, and in the telling of it's ways. Never in my life had I questioned that, and did not do so now, but understood what had driven her, and did not hate for it. "It.. is easy to do so when your enemy is faceless, I ken."

Her eyes search mine face, lingering long, and I felt the coloring of the blood as it crept up my skin. I wondered at her thoughts.

"Ja." She finally said, her gaze now firmly rooted in her hands. "Would that all my enemies have faces such as yours."

Aye, my Lady. It was as though fiery insects walked their path up my back, so unexpected was that speech to mine ears. It was, I told myself, but the ale speaking, through her regret for what lay between us. I had no speech in return.. for what could I have said to that?

The fire burned low that night, there in our small cave, drawing our shadows against the walls in dull flickers of reality. A spear of the Lady's moon crept from the entrance, and settled at last across Elevown's silent features, and mine eyes insisted to play tricks on my ale held senses to see wetness beneath her eyes.

Strange, how I seemed to find it so myself, as well.

Gabrielle smiled gently as she let her fingertip trace the letters, the emotions in the scroll triggering memories of her own. With a sigh, she settled the parchment against her legs, and turned her head, studying her sleeping partner carefully, searching for signs of fever.

Letting out a short breath of relief as she saw none, and a touch of her knuckles against Xena's face found the warrior to be cool. She lifted the bandage and winced at the raw skin, but noticed the swelling had gone down, and it seemed to be less red.

"That's good." She murmured, settling the linen back into place and smiling a little as the touch caused a fluttering of her partner's eyelids, and a quirking of one eyebrow over sleepy blue eyes. "You doing ok?" She stroked Xena's cheek lightly. "You feel nice and cool." And you're obviously a lot more alert to what's going on. Her mind added wryly.

"Mm. " The warrior considered this information. The pain had subsided to a dull throb, and with it the chills that had started, and now she mostly just felt.. sore. Her body had apparently just now realized she'd fallen off a cliff, and was deciding to protest. But it wasn't anything she hadn't dealt with before, and so she just tucked the annoying aches back into their usual places and sighed. "How long.. " Her eyes flicked to the window, where the sun's last fading rays were coloring the panes a deep purple against the dark blue of twilight that the fire was pushing against. "Ah."

Gabrielle put a bit of apple jam, sweet and chunky with bits of fruit on a piece of the thick, dark bread Cyrene had sent back with her, then offered it to Xena, watching with a grin as the warrior took it neatly with her teeth and chewed it. "Pretty good, huh?"

Xena swallowed the stuff gingerly, and waited, until she was sure her body wasn't going to take exception to the offering. "Mm." She nodded in approval, enjoying the taste of the cinnamon studded jam and the nutty flavor of the bread. They shared the rest of the loaf, and she felt a lot better for it, especially after washing it down with a large mug of hot tea, fragrant with herbs and honey that sent a gentle drift of summer into her lungs. "Y'know.. going back out on the road's gonna be quite a shock after all this pampering." She gave the bard a little squeeze. "We've both gotten pretty soft."

Gabrielle stretched, and let out a mildly aggrieved sigh. "Yeah... I know." She admitted ruefully. "I guess we'll cope, though. We always do." She gave Xena an affectionate look. "I'll try to keep you from getting too cranky."

A raised eyebrow. "Me?" The warrior snorted softly. "I'll remember that, when those complaints start rolling in."

Gabrielle blinked innocently. "Me? Complain? Xena, that bump must be affecting you." She patted the warrior's arm. "I never complain."

Xena rolled her eyes and laughed softly, letting her body relax into the softness of the bed. "Ok..ok.. whatever you say, your Majesty." She shot the bard an evil look. "But I'll remember that."

The bard grinned, and crossed her arms, leaning back against her partner's shoulder with a contented sigh. "I'm still looking forward to it." She admitted.

Xena placed a light kiss on her upper arm, and smiled. "Me too."

It would be.. different. Gabrielle mused, thinking back the scroll. What used to aggravate her the most about travelling with Xena was.. the constant uncertainty. Her mind had worked itself into a lather over the smallest things.. always trying to figure out what Xena's moods meant, if the warrior was getting tired of having her around.. what the future held.. now that uncertainty would be gone.

Not that she wasn't sure they'd find something to aggravate each other with, of course. She sighed. That just.. happened.. with them sometimes. Xena tended to keep her own council, and just.. do things without letting her know what was going on, and that drove Gabrielle nuts. She understood it.. how long did Xena have to depend on herself, and only herself? But it rankled her, and she.. well, she never was shy about letting Xena know that. Her mouth.. said things that she later thought back on and wished it hadn't.

Their fights were always sharp, and bitter, and now... oh gods.. now they hurt because they blocked off the warmth and gentleness that was there, that never used to be there. Or.. maybe it was, and they were so busy fighting their feelings, they'd just never seen it.

Yeah. That sounds about right. Gabrielle mused thoughtfully. That's why our letting that in was such a surprise to both of us.

A campfire, one of many, not long after they'd left Cirron. They'd spent the day helping rebuild a sacked village, mostly apart because Xena generally helped with the heavy stuff, and she did the organizational chores.. getting supplies back in order, putting the still shocked people to work, encouraging them.. telling stories... the.. uh.. sensitive chats that she was always accusing Xena of leaving her to do.

Which, of course, Xena most certainly did leave her to do, stating reasonably that Gabrielle was undeniably, much better at it than she was. This was a hard one, though, because the village had been hit right during their Harvest Festival, when they'd been celebrating the joining of three young couples, two of whom had lost their homes in the attack.

"But.. " She'd told them, almost losing her patience over their continued wailing about the wreckage. "You still have each other.. that's the most important thing."

"Yeah." The stocky elder standing braced at her side had interjected eagerly. "Listen to her.. look how happy she is.. and she has no home at all."

They'd all looked at her, and she looked back, nonplussed. Happy? "Um. right!" She answered, with a little, embarrassed laugh. What had they been seeing? She had.. she realized.. been smiling a lot lately. Things with Xena had been.. well, nice... for a while now... all warm, and kind of.. sweet.

She'd got them started, and stood for a moment watching, arms crossed, before the apple cheeked village elder cleared her throat. "Oh..sorry… we were going to check your food supplies, right?"

"That's right, honey.. and maybe you can get that nice, strong warrior of yours to help us lift those shelves back up, hmm??" The woman smiled at her, and winked.

My..nice…oh Hera's breastplate, she must mean Xena. "Um… she's..well, I mean, sure, I know she'll be glad to help, but she' not exactly… er.. mine."

Both the woman's bushy eyebrows had shot up. "No?" She laughed. "Are you sure?"

Gabrielle's brow furrowed. "What makes you think…er.. that she is?"

The woman clucked at her, and shook her head. "Oh, honey… it shows in your face every time you look her way."

Oh. "It does?" Hades.

"Mmmhmmm…" The woman chuckled richly. "Just like it does on hers." She'd leaned over, and given the bard a poke. "You can tell old Matre now.. hmm? She's a fiesty one, isn't she?"

And that.. had floored her. Just bam, speechless. For what seemed like candlemarks. Not that she hadn't realized they were growing closer..she had. But… she didn't think it was that.. obvious.

To other people. Whom they'd just met.

That thought had nibbled at her after they'd left, and were peacefully settled in their campsite, with her working over a scroll, and Xena...

Xena was just relaxing quietly over on her bedroll, half on her side, idly gazing up at the stars overhead, and Gabrielle had suddenly realized just how often she'd been doing that lately. Not drilling, not fidgeting, not sharpening her sword.. just.. kind of.. like she was thinking really hard about something.

Except that she'd noticed, lately, a few other strange quirks about her traveling companion.. like she was losing track of things... forgetting stuff.. nothing big, just little lapses that were really unlike her. Like forgetting that she'd already collected firewood. Twice.

Gabrielle glanced down, and tried to pick up her train of thought, which seemed to have wandered off somewhere. She studied the scroll she was holding, and her brow creased. I was just.. oh well. She shrugged, and put the scroll down, glancing up and across the fire at Xena. "Hey.. nice work today." The warrior had spent her time teaching the villagers some building tricks, and helped set up pens for their animals.

Xena's eyes jerked up and met hers. "Um." The dark haired woman's thoughts had obviously been very distant. "Oh.. yeah. Thanks."

The bard had gotten up, and crossed over to their bedrolls, dropping down on her knees and peering at her friend. "Hey.. you ok?"

Blue eyes had swept up and met hers, and she'd felt a gentle warmth flood over her. "Uh... " Xena had cleared her throat and rubbed her eyes with one hand. "Yeah.. yeah. I was.. I was just thinking." She looked back up, sheepishly. "How's.. the.. um.. story coming?"

Gabrielle sighed, and dropped onto her side, her shoulders brushing the warrior's knees. "I.. it just went blank on me." She admitted, with a small shake of her head. "I don't know what's wrong with me lately.. it's.. I just.. " She watched Xena's hand trace patterns against the sleeping roll with an almost hypnotic fascination, then shook her head. "I just keep losing it."

She glanced up, and found Xena looking at her, with a half grin. "Yeah.. me too." The warrior confessed. "Think it's the weather or something?"

Gabrielle leaned back, enjoying the warmth of Xena's muscular thighs pressing against her shoulderblades and shrugged. "I don't know." The bard felt a gentle tug as her companion's fingers tangled idly in her hair, and she stretched an arm out along the curve of the warrior's hip, tracing a finger along the line of Xena's biceps. Lately she'd been totally unable to resist her urge to touch her companion.. but that was ok, because lately Xena had developed an unnerving tendency to return the gestures almost absentmindedly.

No protest from the warrior, in fact.. Gabrielle had to look twice. She was gazing off into the fire again, a tiny smile tugging lightly at her lips. "Xena?"

"Hmm?" The warrior looked up dazedly. "Oh.. sorry.. did you say something?"

The bard's brow creased with concern. "Hey.. I'm getting kinda worried about you." She leaned against Xena's body and peered at her closely. "You keep going out on me.. are you getting sick?"

The warrior took a deep, deep breath, and chuckled a little. "Yeah..I... I think I am coming down with something." She stretched, and curled her body against the bard's, gently twitching the dun colored Amazon skirt into place with idle fingers.

"Hmm... is it serious?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly having a suspicion of what was ailing her friend, and that possibility sent a wave of excitement all through her.

Deep blue eyes captured hers. "It… could.. be." Xena admitted softly.

"Mm." The bard felt a giddy grin shaping her lips. "Xena?"

"Yeah?" Came the response, so low it was almost a purr.

"I think.. it's contagious." She solemnly advised the warrior. "I keep... I mean, I'll just be doing something, and then I'll get distracted.. " She let herself drift in that blue regard for a long moment. "Uh.. and I just.. " Blue again. "Lose it." She finally sighed, rubbing her eyes. "I.. it's getting kind of confusing." She finished, quietly.

Xena went still for a long moment, then sat up, and slid her arms around the bard, pulling her into a hug. "C'mere."

Gabrielle let herself become absorbed completely into that, giving in to her body's insistent craving with a blissful sigh. Hugs from Xena were always nice, but that she was letting herself slide down a path she'd kept a slippery halt on for so long, and was beginning to suspect Xena was on the same path... they filled her with a bubbly happiness.

I.. am... in.. love.

It felt so damn good to say that, even to herself, as she felt Xena's hand move slowly, comfortingly against her back in a random, gentle pattern. "Mmmmmmm." She let out a murmur, conscious of the soft leather under her fingertips, warmed with Xena's body heat, that moved with her breathing.

Gods, she smelled wonderful. Gabrielle let that mixture of leather, and herbal soap, and warm, musky skin flood her senses, concentrating on keeping her hands still… disobedient hands, that wanted to wander over Xena's warm body, and were only kept frozen by her own.. fear? Yeah. Even with this feeling between them, she was still afraid that one wrong move.. one wrong word…

And it would vanish, and they'd go back to just…well, she never thought they'd 'just' been friends. But she wanted this… worse.. she craved it She didn't think she'd be able to go back to what they were if this…

Time to step the intensity down a little. "You're really good at that, you know?" With just a little pat on the side, just under her ribs, where the curve of her waistline made a natural resting place for the bard's hand.

Xena released her, and sat back, ruffling her hair affectionately. "If you say so." Then she laid back down on her bedroll, legs crossed at the ankles, and patted the surface next to her. "In the mood for some star chasing?"

"Always." Gabrielle grinned, and scooted down next to her, somehow finding herself encircled by one powerful arm, and discovering that the most comfortable place to put her head was tucked neatly up on Xena's shoulder. "Hey look.. there's the swan."

Xena's head cocked. "Looks like a catapult to me."

"Xena…" The bard rolled her eyes. "Don't be so… so… "

"Violent?" The warrior inquired.

"Historically accurate. I'm sure you can find something more..uh… imaginative if you really tried." Gabrielle scolded her. "There.. what do you see there?" She pointed.

"A boat." Xena replied matter of factly.

More rolled eyes. "Xena…. " She sighed. "A boat, huh? Let me guess… with lots of bloodthirsty pirates on it."

"Nu uh." Xena murmured dreamily. "Nice boat.. small.. with bright blue sails…no pirates." Her eyes blinked a few times and she raised a hand to point. "See? Little sails, and there's the rudder."

Gabrielle looked up the length of Xena's long arm, and studied the pattern. "Yeah..ok.. maybe… but who's on the boat?"

Xena smiled a little. "Us."

A sideways glance. "Us.. as in you and me?"

A nod.

"Oh." Gabrielle felt a smile creeping across her face. "Yeah..ok.. I can see that."

The fire had crackled nearby, and the wind loosely scattered through their campsite, whisking errant leaves through it. But not enough to cover her answer.

"I'm glad you can."

"Y'know Xena.. you really were very subtle." Gabrielle mused, as she sorted through a few more scrolls, trying to figure out which ones to read first.

Long, dark eyelashes blinked at her twice. "Um… I.. Gabrielle.. I .. hate.. to be the one to break this to… 'subtle' is not something I am generally associated with." Xena advised her gravely. "But.. what.. specifically were you talking about?"

Gabrielle felt a slight blush creeping up her neck. Gods… I can't be embarassed about this.. I'm sitting here with her practically wrapped around me. We're joined. Get a life, Gabrielle. "Oh…well.. how well, when I started to catch on.. that um…" She chewed her lip, and darted a glance at the patiently waiting warrior. "Well.. that you.. I mean…you know."

"Oh." Xena "You mean, when you figured out I was in love with you."

The bard wrinkled her nose at the matter-of-fact directness. "Yeah."

Xena peered at her. "Subtle? Kissing you in front of half the Amazon Nation and an entire village of Centaurs you consider subtle??" She paused and waggled her eyebrows. "Wow."

Gabrielle let out a vexed sigh, and slapped her. "No.. before that."

Xena smirked a little, and rubbed her nose. "That.. wasn't subtlety, Gabrielle. "

The bard half-turned, and snuggled closer, abandoning her scrolls for a minute. "It wasn't?" She played idly with the neck closures on Xena's nightshirt, tugging the loose lying strings lightly and smoothing the fabric. "I don't think I was being very subtle." She sighed ruefully.

The warrior muffled a chuckle. "No.. not really." She gave the bard a playful tweak. "I was.." She glanced down. "More scared than anything else."

Gabrielle felt the silence. "Scared?" She finally asked, after swallowing a few times. "Of what?" She laughed a little and fastened her eyes on her hands. "You.. I mean, you weren't really worried that I didn't…um.. not after that whole… with Velasca, I mean… Xena you were…I know you.. knew.. how I felt."

A tiny smile. "Oh.. that…yeah." The warrior's eyes twinkled gently. "No.. I was.. Gabrielle, I never had a.. " A quirk of her lips. "A lover.. who was a friend first." She paused for a long moment, obviously collecting her thoughts, and the bard remained motionless, soundless. "Let alone a.. best friend." A deep quiet. "Wasn't much for friends anyway."

Gabrielle lifted a hand, and stroked her cheek gently. "Our friendship was.. is.. very important to me."

Xena nodded slowly. "I was.. afraid… I mean, Gabrielle.. things.. change, when two people… become intimate." Her brow creased. "I.. didn't want to.. gain a lover at.. the expense of losing.. " She stopped speaking for a moment, then went on. "Losing my best friend."

"Mmph." Gabrielle picked up a sweet cake Cyrene had sent back with her and bit it neatly in half, offering the other half to her partner. "I thought a lot about that too.. but.. I had a lot of time to do a lot of.. thinking about things when I was with the Amazons."

Xena fiddled with the covers a bit. "Y'know.. I thought I lost you then." She mumbled.

The statement stunned the bard, so much that she let her hands drop, flat against her partner's chest. "What?"

"I knew.. it would be.. something. Sometime. The Academy, you getting married, just deciding to settle down.. I figured the Amazons were a pretty good bet." Xena replied quietly. "Then.. when I was there.. in Amphipolis, it occurred to me that.. " She paused and swallowed, an audible sound in the quiet of the room. "I never really gave you any reason to stick around." She cleared her throat, still not looking at Gabrielle. "Made for some long nights."

Gabrielle let her head drop against Xena's shoulder with a thump. "Great Hera." She muttered. "Ironic.. considering that I did nothing for an entire month, all my waking moments.. and some of the sleeping ones.. except think about you." She laughed helplessly. "My concentration was so shot, I think Ephiny was convinced there was either something wrong with me, or I was drinking in my quarters at night." She gazed up into the shadowed blue eyes. "Xena…I needed you so bad."

Wonder if that was coming through that link too.. we were probably making each other twice as miserable. Xena realized, with a start. "Likewise." She admitted quietly, then cleared her throat again. "Got more scrolls?"

Gabrielle smiled at her. "Tired of talking mushy stuff?" She giggled softly at the mixture of chagrin and sheepish guilt on her partner's face. "You're wrong, by the way." She added, as she tugged a scroll closer, and balanced it against an upraised knee.

Xena poked around in the dish on the table until she found another cake, and shared it graciously with the bard. "Bout what?" She mumbled, trying to catch some of the flaky pastry on her lips.

The bard took care of the problem neatly, before consuming her share. "You.. regularly saved my life, you taught me how to be the person I am, you risked.. everything.. in my behalf.. and you came back from the dead because I needed you to.. Xena, what do you mean, you never gave me a reason to stick around? " She leaned forward, and kissed the warrior's lips gently. "What'd' you think I needed.. breakfast in bed every morning or something?"

Xena sighed, as they parted, and moved the hair back out of Gabrielle's eyes. "Safety. Security. A home." She gazed at the bard sadly. "Not having to worry about some warlord with a grudge sticking a sword in you."

Gabrielle snorted softly, and looked around, gesturing with her hand. "You got a problem with this as a home?" She pinned Xena with a stare. "And as for safety and security.. Xena, get real.. we don't live in the Elysian Fields, ok? This is a hard world.. no one's safe." She let her eyes drift over her partner's body appreciatively. "And.. in a rough place like this.. being protected by the biggest, meanest, baddest most booty kickingest fighter in the history of Greece… " She sighed. "Feels pretty damn safe to me." She settled down with a hugely contented sigh, and patted Xena's belly. "Mine."

"Gabrielle!" Xena's voice was outraged, but tinged with laughter.

"It's truuueeeee" The bard warbled melodically. "And you know it… name me someone better."

A pause, and Xena chewed her lip before taking a breath to answer.

"Ah ah ah.." Gabrielle shook a finger at her. "No Hercules. Not anymore.. did you know I won 50 dinars off Iolaus over that?" She gave Xena a smug look.

Silence. Xena scowled. Gabrielle chuckled. "Gotcha."

"Hmph" Xena growled, focusing her attention strictly on the scroll. The cabin was now lit by the fire, and the scattering of fragrant tapers about the room, and she studied the parchment for a long moment before sighing, and lifting a hand to rub her eyes. "Sorry.. still a little blurry."

Gabrielle pushed her head gently back down onto the pillow. "Just listen then, ok?"

With spring had come our need to wander, and see what there was to have in this new, strange land. The roads were few, and people fewer, but small villages there were, and we trod into them, where Elevown bartered her caught small game for coin, and a few supplies, and I did likewise, with mine herbs, and other things I gathered.

We found the land strange indeed, and the people stranger, driven by the need to serve their own gods, of whom they made speech as though mortal, and familiar. Elevown collects tales of Ares, the god of War, and makes small jokes of how he would be bested by her own Thor.

A day it was, and we were far east of our cave, and come to a small village. To it's market we wandered, picking up this thing, and that, Elevown trotting out grudging her small speech in this land's tongue, though relying on me for longer words.

A thunder I heard, and turned as the merchants scattered. In horror I saw horses riding, with armored fighters mounted on them, weapons flashing in the warm springtime sun.

They kill.. aye, My Lady, I see butchery again, before I am thrown to safety and feel a heavy thatch cover mine head. I struggled to see, but heard only yells, and screams of such terror, it made my blood cold in mine veins, and frightened the two village women who sheltered with me.

A yell I hear too, that fills me full with terror, so familiar is it to mine ears. Elevown is without, no doubt fighting as she loves to do, and braying her Northern war cry which rings out strange amongst the howls of the native kind, and unable to resist, I duck out from under the thatch and set my eyes to searching for her.

What I see chills me. She stands laughing, her axe cleaving the skull of a leather-clad man, scattering blood and bone over the surface of the muddy ground. Lady, I think I will be sick. I take no joy in the arts of war, that was my brother's battlefield.

A clatter, and it is over, and the horsemen are gone, leaving burning huts, and broken lives behind them. But to my own horror, I find these people accept this as part of their lives, and go about their business, picking up broken pieces, and burying their dead with little expression.

The raiders dead are stripped of weapons and armor, and also buried, in a shallow pit which shows signs of having been opened more than once. The smell.. haunts me. Darkness falls, and we are near no shelter, but the village yeomanry have taken to Elevown, and draw her in, offering ale and curious questions of her.

She speaks little, and I do a bit more, to satisfy their tastes, and we spend a pleasant evening, as the village gratefully thanks her for her help in their defense. In courtesy, they offer us a place to sleep for this night, and Lady, I thank them for it when upstairs I go, and find a bed more yielding than the rock floor, or the hard packed ground I am used to.

Oh, the softness of it. I sink down in bliss, and watch, from the corner of mine own eye as Elevown prods its surface with a suspicious finger. "It won't be biting you." I tell her, and she makes her sharp sound as sometimes she does, and lays her axe to the floor, sitting onto the bed as though it were a rocking ship in a storm, and she a seagull unsure of landing on it.

She settles back finally, her back braced against the rough-hewn headboard, her arms crossed over her chest, a fierce expression on her face. I make move to talk, but the image I see is of her laughing and bloody, and I ken that it shows on my face, for her eyes drop, and lose their spark.

A silence covers us. "I will not shirk my love of battle." She finally says, eyes of gray fog in startling coldness. "I hunger for it."

Aye, that she does, I see it in her. "My brother was kin to you." I finally say, knowing not what else to put forth. "I walked a quieter path."

She thinks about that. "Ja.. a milchmaid you will not make me."

"Brwydrwr.." Mine hand puts a gentle touch on her sleeve. "Never that."

Her eyes narrow, as they always do when I speak in mine own tongue. "You do not call me such."

"I call you but what you are, fighter." I laugh, seeing her scowl. "Tis no insult."

She grumbles, but settles down, glaring at the softly done sheets as though it were but a trap to snare her in. "I'll keep watch."

Aye, Lady. What a trial you've sent me here. She is but a petulant girl child, with the body of a berserker. As a stubborn donkey might, I must needs gently lead her to where she will not, in forwardness, go.

"D'you mind if I sing a bit?" I ask, placing mine arms behind my head and beginning to see patterns in the woodgrain above it. I catch her then, for she adores music, though admit it she will never do, and sits entranced, though thinking I don’t' know it, when I spend my time remembering the old songs, and bringing them forth.

And so I do, gentle tunes from my childhood, with words she understands not, but whose melodies ease her, and in truth I also, as the bring a bit of home back to me, long lost.

I see her eyes close, and her breathing deepen, and I finish my song and smile, as her body settles into the rare comfort, and I gently lay the covers over her, careful not to stir her anxious reflexes. In the dim candlelight I see her face, which in the softness of sleep shows her youth most clearly. Mine eyes see her as beautiful, and I tuck that thought back away in my heart, to bring it forth later, when it's poetry I'm laboring over.

I smile, and close mine own eyes, willing the peaceful stillness of the mists to steal over me, aware, in the quiet of the room, her breathing's gentle rasp. She moves for more comfort, her body betraying her mind's intentions and pulling the covers close, and I laugh softly at her false bluster. The morning's light will bring a merry jest to my lips, that I fairly know.

She stirs uneasy, and soft words escape her, and I start a gentle tune I know will coax her back to calmness. Often she does such, and I think she dreams of the shipwreck, for her brother's name I hear, and much else I know not. Surely she stills, but I start as warm fingers curl round my wrist, and lay to rest there

I fall to sleep, still her gentle captive, as peace lays over us both like a warm woven sheet.

Gabrielle glanced up, giving her sleeping partner a fond smile. "And I didn't even have to sing." She whispered softly then smirked. "Damn good thing, too." Of the two of them, Xena definitely had the better voice by far.. Gabrielle herself could barely carry a tune and didn't often try.

As to whether her once taciturn companion could sing…well, that wasn't something Gabrielle had truthfully ever wondered about. She'd taken it for granted, given Xena's general barely veiled tolerance for her stumbling attempts at performance arts, that it wasn't something the ex warlord chose to indulge her time in.

Then Morpheus had captured her, and taken her to his realm, intent on making a bride of her, and taking from her an innocence of the spirit that she hadn't really even had time to think about, so short into her adventures was it.

And, of course, Xena had found her a way out of it. As usual.. though Gabrielle hadn't found out until much later the awful risk she'd taken to search her friend out in Morpheus' realm. Or what demons she'd battled there in her efforts. Just… things worked out.

Except that Gabrielle couldn’t sleep for days afterward, her nights tormented by wispy dreams of Morpheus' seductive world, that kept her shivering and silent in her bedroll, her body aching from the tension and lack of rest.

Until the third night, when a hand on her shoulder nearly sent her leaping back into the darkness of the woods around them, and wrung from her a startled gasp that muted immediately when she saw Xena's familiar features crouched over her. "Gods… you scared me." She'd groaned, when she'd stopped shaking. "Xena, do you have to sneak up on people like that?"

The warrior's cool eyes studied her. "Why aren't you asleep?" In that brusque voice that always held a hint of impatience.

"Umm… no reason. Just.. thinking." Gabrielle had answered back. "That's allowed, right?"

Pale blue ice chips looked right through her. "For three days?" That's a little too much thinking." A slight pause. "What's the matter?"

Oh. Gabrielle had sighed, a little confused. Guess she noticed. Well, since she was asking.. "I.. um.. it's silly really.. just… bad dreams." She'd felt a blush come over her at the admission, and glanced quickly up at Xena's face, half expecting the exasperated look she often got from her.

Instead, the warrior sighed, and thumped down next to her, leaning against the rock her bedroll was placed near, and stretching her long legs out towards the fire. "Lie down."

Puzzled, she had, reluctantly setting her head on the pillow, and gazing up at the warrior seated behind her. "It's nothing… really, Xena.. just some silly dreams.. they'll go away." Then long fingers had touched her temples, and she felt a gentle tingle spread through her as Xena's knowing hands brought a soothing lethargy. "Oh.. wow.. " She'd breathed. "Never knew you could do that." Then, preempting Xena's speech. "I know.. I know.. you have many skills."

That had gotten a twitch of a smile from her silent companion, and a gentle sound filled her ears, a low, rich tone that riveted her immediately. "Hey.. are you humming?"

The sound had stopped, and Xena's eyebrow had risen. "No."

Gabrielle had screwed up her face and snorted. "Yes you were." She stared up in fascination. "Can you sing?"

Another dour look. "No."

But Gabrielle's face had cracked into a smile. "I bet you can." Her voice had turned softly persuasive. "C'mon.. Xena… it's nothing to be ashamed of.. I always wondered about that, cause your voice when you talk is… " She'd hesitated, seeing the look of disbelief on Xena's face. "It's so beautiful." She finally finished, with an impish grin.

"What?" Xena had rolled her eyes. "Gabrielle, you need your hearing checked."

She'd gotten serious, all of a sudden. "No.. believe me, Xena.. you don't talk often. I pay attention when you do." Unlike you paying attention to me, for instance. Her mind added wryly. She probably doesn’t hear one word in fifty. "Please? I'd like to hear you sing.. just a little… a chorus of something maybe.. not much.. maybe it'll get those weird chimes out of my head."

"Chimes?" Xena asked, her brow creasing. "From.. "

"Yeah." Gabrielle had agreed, averting her gaze.

A long-suffering sigh, and Xena's fingertips resumed their work. "All right. " She grumbled. "I'll see what I can come up with."

Gabrielle had grinned triumphantly to herself, and closed her eyes, willing herself to relax. Never expecting the rich, haunting voice that seemed to flow around her and invade every tiny space in her hearing. It captured her, as nothing ever had, resonating with her newly reawakened storyteller's soul and carrying her thoughts aloft.

Morpheus had no chance with her, not now, and she let the peace the music generated settle inside her, nudging her gently into sleep, where she was tormented by no chimes, faced no men with swords, saw no shadows, heard only Xena's voice, and felt only the soft weight of the warrior's hand come to rest on her shoulder.

Until the gray mists of a foggy morning had woken her, to find that hand still there, and Xena asleep, wrapped in her cloak, tucked against her rock. Seeing in the light of day what she'd missed last night, the dark smudges under the warrior's eyes that made her realize she hadn't been the only one not sleeping.

That brought a gentle, wondering smile to her face, as she settled her hand on top of Xena's, and drifted back off into a once again friendly space.

"You old fraud." Gabrielle whispered fondly, setting the scrolls down on the table and tugging the covers up over them both. She lifted a hand to carefully check her partner's forehead, relieved at it's coolness, then lifted the bandage to inspect the long head wound.

A gentle sigh. The edges had closed, and the swelling was way down, along with the angry purplish red color. "Magic." Gabrielle shook her head a little, but smiled, as she smoothed the linen surface down, and settled down to sleep, wrapping a protective arm over her soulmate.

Outside the darkness flowed, the night's sounds steady and uninterrupted, save by a faint rustle, spare and intermittent, which drew closer and closer to the cabin's walls. Eyes peered through the gloom, drinking in the wooden surface with satisfaction, and a dark smile crossed the scarred lips of the watcher.


Continued in Part 4