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 –Why does anyone ever disclaim violence in a Xena story? Of course, there's violence. Do you think we'd put out a story that consisted of pages and pages of Xena just.... fishing.. or something? She is a Warrior Princess, not a Mary Kay consultant. (no insult intended - some of my best co workers are Mary Kay consultants, and I purchase from them regularly) And Gabrielle is no slouch with that staff, either. So, yes - there is violence.

Subtext - C'mon. Even the show has subtext. Heck, sometimes, it's not subtext. Sometimes, it's maintext. But anyway, this is an alternative fan fiction story. That means, it's based on the premise that Xena and Gabrielle are more than just best friends. If that's not your cup of mint tea, there are many, many talented bards out in the Xenaverse who post general fiction, which does not follow this premise. Go find them. Enjoy them.

This is, of course, PG13 level involvement here, no more.

So - having read this lovely disclaimer, if you then read the story, and are shocked that Gabrielle and Xena are kissing each other, I can't help ya. If you're offended by it, send me your address, and I'll send you a bushel of citrus. We like to send that from here - we have to get rid of all of it somehow.

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


Promises Kept - Part 6

By Melissa Good

Xena became vaguely aware of something tickling her ear, and she started, sucking in a surprised breath as she blinked a heavy sleepiness out of her eyes. It was very dim inside the stable, and a cool breeze blew in, rustling the straw. Argo took a step back, having succeeded in her aim of waking her rider, banging her nose against an empty water bucket with obvious intent.

"All right.". Xena mumbled, freeing one arm from its secure grip around Gabrielle’s dozing body and rubbing her eyes. "Hold on.. "

Ares raised his head at her whisper, and licked his chops, letting his pink tongue hang out. "Agrrrrrr".

The warrior blinked again, then felt her eyes droop closed against her will, as the warm comfort of their nest tugged her back towards sleep. With an effort, she resisted, prying her eyelids open and shaking her head a little to clear it. "Wow". She gently rubbed the bard’s back. "Hey… sleepy head…"

Gabrielle stirred, then one green eye peeked open, regarding her resentfully. "Shh."

Xena chuckled, and stroked her hair, petting her gently. "C’mon… it’s almost dark… I wanna go inside, and get this grime off me."

The bard nuzzled the skin of her neck, and took a nip at it. "Do I hafta?" She complained, nestling closer. "It’s real, real comfortable right here, Xena."

The warrior let out a wry chuckle. "Thanks… but yes, you have to." She patted the warm back. "Come on… you can go back to sleep up in the castle, all right?" She paused. "Unless you’re more interested in getting some dinner."

The green eye rotated and studied her. "Dinner?" She mused, in a speculative tone. "Hmm."

They got up, and Xena filled Argo’s water bucket before she padded to the door, and peeked outside. "Stopped raining." She commented, running a hand through her dark, and much disheveled hair.

Gabrielle trudged up next to her, and rested her chin on the warrior’s arm, which was braced against the doorjamb. "Nifty." She yawned. "Can I admit I really don’t want to sit in that huge hall tonight and listen to people babble at me?" Her eyes went to her soulmate’s face. "I have a bit of catching up to do on my diary.. and I’d love to spend some time scrubbing a certain warrior princess I know."

Xena grinned, then shrugged. "Sure.. I’ll grab something for us from the kitchen.. and tell Garanimus he’ll have to play with himself tonight." She paused, and winced. "Um… that didn’t come out right."

Gabrielle giggled. "Oh… yes it did." She snorted softly. "Are you sure, though? I could force myself to wake up a little if you think we should make an appearance."

The warrior took a deep breath of the cool, wet air. "They can just… " She bit off her words. "Yes, I'm sure." She flexed her arms. "To tell you the truth.. I think I overdid it a little… my body’s not used to that all day stuff anymore."

The bard rolled her eyes behind her partner’s back. Xena, Self-pitying warrior martyr of Amphipolis. "How about a nice backrub then, huh?" She patted the bodypart in question, and pushed the door open a bit further. "You poor thing… let’s get you inside before you rust."

One dark, well-shaped eyebrow curved neatly up. "I think I'm being condescended to." Xena accused.

Gabrielle blinked innocent, misty eyes at her. "By me?" A thumb pointed at her own chest. "Would I do that, to you?" She tucked a hand inside the taller woman’s elbow. "Shall we?"

Xena shifted, and settled her armor, then led the way out into the courtyard. She left Gabrielle to head off to their assigned quarters as they reached the inner hallway, and she herself ducked through the small side door that she remembered led into the kitchen. She could hear the faint clatter as servants set up the hall for dinner, and she was, suddenly, swamped with a grateful feeling that they were going to give the company of Garanimus a miss. What she really wanted was to spend some quality time just… being with Gabrielle, and talking to her…so much had happened since that morning, she was aching for some space just to… absorb it.


A low, gravelly voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned her head. "Hello, Gramma." She cocked her head, sensing the old woman’s agitation. "What’s wrong?"

The cook took her arm, and pulled. "Come w’me."

The warrior allowed herself to be led into a small, cramped storage area, whose closeness pressed in on her uncomfortably. "What is it?" She repeated, pressing back against the wall, and gazing at the older woman in some impatience.

"Look ere." Gramma licked her lips, and looked around her. "Don’t you be trustin that little blond tart."

Xena went still, and her brows knit. "Little blond… you mean Gabrielle?"

Nervous flick of the eyes. "If that’s her name.. aye.. the girl what travels w’ye." She leaned closer. "Just mind me, little sprout…she’s out t’do ye wrong…watch yer back."

Xena sucked in several breaths, shoving a feeling of fear down deep. "You’re wrong, Gramma." She lowered her voice. "She’s not like that."

A soft snort. "Ye young things.. ye’ve got the sense of chickens, ye do…I'm telling ye, she’s no good fer ye…and she’s blossomin, the little whore, to boot."

All of a sudden, the room seemed far too small. Xena felt her hold on her temper slip, and she jumped forward, catching Gramma by surprise and pinning her against the opposite wall. "Don’t you ever… say that about her." Xena let loose a low, angry growl.

The old woman’s eyes widened, but she said nothing.

"I know about your plan." The warrior clipped her words. "If that’s what you mean about… Gabrielle… working against me."

"Y… ye know?" Gramma squeaked. "She told ye?"

The warrior released her, and stepped back, struggling to control herself. "I know." She repeated quietly. "She told me everything."

The old woman gazed at her in pensive silence for a bit. "Ah. Are ye going to stop us, then?"

Xena glanced down. "I'm going to wait to meet this other warlord." She said, slowly. ‘Then I’ll decide what to do." A breath. "He may be playing you all for a fool."

Gramma sighed, and leaned back, raising a shaking hand to her head. "I'm… sorry… I .. I didn’t know what ta do… my loyalty’s here, y’see, but… " Her faded eyes glanced up. "Fer yer mother’s sake… I.."

The warrior closed her eyes. "Gramma… thank you for thinking of me. I'm sorry if I scared you." She said quietly. "I'm a little sensitive about her.. she means a lot to me."

"Aye." The cook looked at her. "Any idiot could see that." She pursed her lips. "Didn’t want ye to get hurt, like." A sigh. "She’s all right then? Ye do know, then.. that’s she’s quickening?"

A weary smile crossed the warrior’s face. "Oh yeah.. I know." She nodded twice. "But.. how did… " She gave the woman a puzzled look. "It’s only been a week or so."

Gramma laughed softly. "Ah…. Gods, little sprout.. I've been round long enough to know what I'm lookin at…woulda thought it was more than a week, though." She gave Xena a furtive look. "Uh… "

Here we go. Xena sighed inwardly, reconciling herself to a long stretch of answering this particular question. "The father’s my brother Toris."

Gramma coughed. "Ay… that annoying bit of a brat?" She shook her head. "Bigods."

"He grew up all right." Xena assured her. "Listen.. can I get some stuff to take upstairs… it’s been a long day.. I'm gonna give the circus in there a skip."

Without a further word, Gramma led the way out of the storeroom, and into the main part of the kitchen. Xena was aware, from her peripheral senses, of silent watchers that melted back into the darkness of the hall after they passed.

Gabrielle felt the door close behind her with a sense of relief. The room was cool, and dimly lit, and she sent Ares trotting ahead of her as she went to the table, and lit the candle there. A few steps took her to the fireplace, and she stirred it, adding wood to the center to build up the heat. "She’s gonna get a warm bath this time, Ares." She told the wolf solemnly. "With lots of bubbles.. just the way she likes it." The thought of spending the evening alone with her soulmate was bringing a smile to her face. "I'll wash her hair.. and give her that backrub. You think she’ll like that?"

Ares cocked his head.

"I think so." The bard decided, with a grin, as she pulled out a fresh, soft, clean shirt for her partner. She lit a few more candles, and settled at the desk, picking up her quill and pulling her diary out from her saddlebag. "Let’s see if I can get an entry done before she comes tromping up here."

Where can I start? The one thing I was so worried about is now about the mootest point I could possibly imagine. It started this morning – when she woke up sick to her stomach, and I realized all the goofy things she’d been doing, and the stuff she’s been experiencing the past week really wasn’t her. It was me.. and I had to tell her that because she was really starting to freak out a little.

She even mentioned the Furies.. so I know she was starting to lose it. The thought of going through that again scares her, and to be honest, me too, because it was the start of a very long, very dark part of my life. So, I had to kind of give her enough hints to where she got it.

I didn’t know what kind of reception that was going to get, but boy, did I find out . I have never seen her that happy… it was like… I just didn’t expect that. I ..knew she'd be glad for me.. I guess I wasn't expecting her to be so glad for herself.

Does that make sense? I hope so. I have this page marked so I can go back and read this entry again, because it marks a very important moment in my lifetime. I know I'll remember the look in her eyes this morning.. just forever, because I know that I put that look there.

I did. That was so awesome. So awesome. It felt wonderful.

Now I can be happy too…it feels fantastic.. like I weight about the same as a flower.. I'm just floating around. I think I'm happier about how she reacted than I am about the whole thing in the first place.


I can say it now. I'm going to have a child.

I have no more proof than I did last night, but somehow… I know. I feel it.. just kind of this, tickly feeling deep inside me.. Xena said that my body’s busy creating new life, and that’s why I'm so darn tired, and thinking about what’s going on in there is so weird.

Like.. does it start out as a miniature, tiny person, and just grow bigger? How does it breathe? Does it breathe water? Is it swimming in there.. like I swim in a lake? Is it a boy, or a girl… what’ll it look like.. I can’t help but sit here and just wonder about it.

Nine months is a darn long time, you know that? How long will it take before I can feel it moving around? Xena probably knows.. I think I’ll ask her when she gets back.

I hope it has Toris’ looks.. that dark hair, and those eyes… I don’t want it to look like me.

That’s horrible, isn't’ it? But Hope did. Even Xena said so.. at the very beginning. She said the baby looked just like me.

I don’t want this one to. I want this one to remind me of Xena and Toris.. not of myself. Or Hope. Xena says there’s a good chance of her having dark hair a least.. she gave me this little lecture on horses with dark manes, and tails, and baby horses… she lost me halfway through it, but the gist of it was that she thinks a child between us would have dark hair rather than my color. Between us.. it was funny when she said that.. almost like she meant us, as in me and her, and not us, and in me and Toris.

I wish. But I think it's going to be okay.. based on her reaction this morning, anyway. I swear she's more excited than I am.

Xena says she’d like the baby to have my eyes. She said she really likes them.. likes the color and all. I don’t’.. really see that myself, and I think hers are much prettier, but… I guess there’s no point in arguing about that.

It’s so exciting to talk about the possibilities. I can feel a sense of intense expectation.. and I’m sitting here wondering how I’m going to last the nine months.. I'm gonna go nuts waiting. I keep thinking.. I'm not a patient person.

Xena’s a lot more patient than I am.. even if she doesn’t realize it. I was daydreaming today while we were in that goofy bath.. imagining her rocking a baby.. singing to it.. with all her toughness, it still wasn’t hard to do. She looks at small, helpless things, and she just melts…..she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it, but she gets this little smile, just at the corners of her mouth, and her eyes twinkle a bit.

Her voice.. is so beautiful. I can’t believe she just started singing that herding song to me before.. she does that so, so rarely.. it still surprises me when I hear her. I could listen to her sing for hours.. but I know all I’ll ever get are just minutes.. it’s almost like she has a limited amount of that ability.. and she doesn’t like to use it a lot. I’ve asked her about that.. she says.. she just has to feel a certain way before she’ll sing, because singing opens up a part of her soul that she’s not really comfortable dealing with.

It’s too bad. I wish everyone could hear her. They’d be amazed.

I can’t wait to see Ephiny’s face when I tell her she’s going to be an aunt. Twice over.. if Xena’s right about Granella, and she probably is. I think I'm going to like having someone at home going through the same thing.. I know Xena’s going to be supportive, but that’s different.

Supportive… yes, and now I have to figure out a way to keep her from brooding over me like an overage hen with a single egg the whole time.

That’s probably a lost cause, huh?

Familiar footsteps caught her attention, and she glanced up as the door opened, admitting her soulmate, whose arms were full. "Xena!" Gabrielle scrambled to her feet, and trotted forward, grabbing a basket from the taller woman’s fingers. "What is all this?"

"Oh." The warrior put down the rest of her burden, and chuckled a little. "Um… Gramma.. kinda made a.. little mistake, and she was just.. I guess she wanted to make up for it." She surveyed the bounty. "Should be enough for us."

Gabrielle poked the bundles. "Maybe." She gave her soulmate a mischievous grin, and patted her stomach. "I'm pretty hungry.. or should I say.. we’re pretty hungry." She chuckled. "This is pretty neat.. now I have an excuse for being a piglet."

Xena raised both eyebrows playfully. "You ever needed an excuse?" She ducked as a piece of linen came winging her way, then she dodged around the chair between them, and caught Gabrielle as she tried to escape, lifting her up and swinging her around. "You listen here… " She gently kissed the bard. "Be as piggy as you want, my bard… I don’t’ want either of you hungry."

Gabrielle circled her neck with both arms, and drew her head back down, tasting her lips with sensual pleasure. "I think I can handle that." Her body pressed against Xena’s, greedily wanting the contact, and she felt the arms cradling her tighten in pure reflex. "What mistake?" She paused, and peered up.

Xena gave her a wry look. "She was.. um… warning me about you."

Blond eyebrows scrunched. "About me???" Gabrielle’s voice took on a bewildered tone. "What did…" Then she remembered. "Oh." She let her head drop forward and rest against her partner’s collarbone for a very long moment before she looked back up. "What did you tell her?"

Peaceful blue eyes regarded her. "The truth."

Gabrielle’s breath caught. "Was that smart?"

Long pause. "I didn’t think about it." Xena admitted softly. "I just couldn't let her think that about you." She stroked the bard’s hair. "I think it’s ok.. she took a huge risk just trying to warn me.. I think she’ll keep that to herself." The edge of her lip quirked. "She kinda likes me."

You couldn't let her think that about me. Gabrielle sighed to herself, feeling a pang of sadness. Couldn't let her think that’d I’d betray you.. that hurts too much, doesn’t it?

Xena caught her change of mood, and her brow tensed. "I.. I really think it’s ok, Gabrielle… I told her I was going to wait to meet this Framna before I decided what to do.. I.. I think she hopes I’ll just side with them. " She explained hesitantly. "She remembers me from when I was a kid .. I.."

Gabrielle took a deep breath, and lifted a hand to put two fingers against her partner’s lips. "Xena.. relax.. I'm sure you’re right." A pause. "I… hadn’t thought about how that would make people think of me.. and now that I am, it’s bothering me." She gave the taller woman an unhappy look. "I used to not have to think about that, because I… knew… you’d know how impossible that was." Her jaw clenched. "And… now I can’t take that… for granted."

Xena gazed at her. "Gabrielle.." The warrior’s voice was quiet, and sad. "I will always believe in you.. and trust you… because it hurts too much to do anything else."

"But.. " Fingers touched her lips this time.

"No buts." Xena shook her head. "No. Don’t ask me to give up that faith. I can’t."

Gabrielle swallowed hard, realizing for perhaps the first time just how dangerous their relationship had become for her quiet soulmate. It was a grave vulnerability that Xena seemed to have accepted, a price the warrior was paying for their continued closeness. It both frightened, and reassured the bard. "I would never ask that." She replied softly. ‘I will never ask that." The second statement she recognized as a solemn vow, and it dissolved some of the tension within her.

Xena produced a smile, and touched her forehead to the bards. "Thanks." She exhaled. "I'm gonna go take a quick bath.. you want to get started on this stuff?"

"Nope.’ Gabrielle shook her head, and knotted her fingers into the straps holding on her partner’s leathers. "Gotta make sure you don’t drown in there." She guided the amiable Xena into the bathing room, and unstopped the cistern, letting the fire warmed water to run into the large tub. As it filled, she took her time in stripping off the armor and leathers from the silent warrior, noting the minor cuts and bruises under them. "You were busy today, weren’t you?"

Xena glanced down, then shrugged. "Yeah… I started off with a kind of free for all, I guess.. just had em come at me all at once, then we went into squad drills… groups of six or eight, then one on ones… worked on individual skill types.. sword tricks.. that kinda thing." She replied offhandedly.

Gabrielle paused, and looked up at her. "You had fun, huh?"

The warrior muffled a sheepish grin and scratched her jaw. "Been a while." She acknowledged. "Yeah.. I did.. it felt really good to get all the kinks out… I really haven’t had a workout like that in a long time. " She paused. "Didn’t know if I still had it in me."

A knowing smirk from the bard. "Let me guess… you do."

A faintly gleeful look put a glint in those blue eyes. "Yeah." Xena chuckled wickedly. "I kicked their butts."

Gabrielle grinned, noting the familiar cocky set to her partner’s shoulders. "I can’t believe I missed that… I got stuck listening to adolescent romantic mooning." She poked Xena in the ribs. "In the tub, o warrior princess of butt kicking."

Long fingers slipped up, and unknotted her belt, freeing the soft fabric from around her body. "Only if you join me." Xena informed her, tracing a fingertip down her now bare collarbone.

Gabrielle giggled softly. "That’ll make three baths today." She protested, but stepped closer, and rubbed her body gently against the taller woman's. "But I think I'm gonna like this one the best." Her skin seemed very sensitized, and the slow movement of the warrior’s hands up her sides felt like trails of fire, especially when her lips were taken over, and she felt the brush of dark hair against her bare shoulders.

The warm water felt wonderful, slipping up over their joined bodies, and Gabrielle felt around for the sea sponge they used and started a slow, teasing scrub of her soulmate’s body, running the slightly rough surface over her skin as the muscles just under it surged in reaction. She was foggily aware of an insistent craving, of a gnawing need for Xena’s touch, and she uttered almost a cry of relief as the warrior’s hands found familiar, sensitive spots, and the bubbly water suddenly evaporated between them.

It took, the bard mused, longer than usual to catch her breath, or at least it seemed that way. She floated gently in Xena’s grasp, watching tiny islands of glistening bubbles drift past her nose. She blew gently against one little raft, and watched it bump against the warrior’s chest.

Xena lifted her head from where it was resting back against the edge of the tub, and opened her eyes as she felt the warm breath tickle her skin. "Are you a dried grape yet?" She inquired.

"Raisin." The bard corrected dutifully. "And I’d check, but that would mean I had to move, and I'm way too comfortable to do that."

The warrior rolled her head to one side and observed the smaller woman. Gabrielle was curled up against her, one arm thrown across her waist, the other wrapped around her back, with her head resting against Xena’s shoulder, and with her muscular legs wrapped around the warrior’s own. She lifted a hand and ran it across the bard’s hip, tickling the smooth skin playfully. "Nope… not yet."

The bard splashed her. "Stop that."

"Stop what?" Xena continued her advance, slipping her fingers around the back of the bard’s thigh, to a particularly ticklish spot she had.

"Xena." Gabrielle muffled a helpless giggle, and splashed harder.

"Yes?" The tickling continued, as she ran a light touch up and down the back of the bard’s leg. "Something wrong?"

"Arghh…. " Gabrielle reciprocated, curling her arm around and getting Xena in a vulnerable spot just below her ribs, then anticipating the warrior’s move, reaching down and capturing the back of her knee, which was by far the most sensitive spot she’d found for a tickle torture on the long body. "Oooo… .I gotcha… "

"Grph." Xena bit her lip, as the bard’s fingers found a weak point, then gave up and burst into laughter as the bard sensed victory, and added a sudden attack on her navel. "I give.. I give.. you win." She yelped, as Gabrielle gave a triumphant, low chuckle.

"Heh… " The bard nibbled her way up her partner’s neck and ended up kissing her. "Don’t you mess with me, you overgrown puppy."

Xena nipped her on the ear. "Grrrr." She grinned, and pulled her into a hug. "C’mon… I can hear your stomach growling."

The bard sighed ruefully, and dropped a hand to the surface in question. "I can see where I'm not gonna be wearing that Amazon outfit much longer. " She traced the taut muscles with an idle finger. "These’re going to disappear real fast if my appetite keeps up."

Second time she's mentioned that. Xena analyzed. Uh oh. Better get this conversation over with right now. The warrior settled her arms gently around the bard, letting her hands come to rest against her belly. "Does that really bother you?" She asked quietly, watching Gabrielle’s face as the younger woman considered the question.

"It shouldn’t." The bard finally answered. "I mean… I know it shouldn’t."

"But?" Xena prompted knowingly.

Silence, until Gabrielle dabbled a finger in the water. "I don’t know…is it completely vain and selfish to say that I like the way I look?" She finally admitted. "I feel like I shouldn’t even be thinking that… I mean, what a stupid thing to worry about, right?"

Pale blue eyes studied her with wry understanding. "Maybe.. but it’s also completely natural to feel that way, Gabrielle." She reassured the troubled bard. "I've never known a pregnant woman who thought they looked attractive when they were carrying."

Green eyes peered at her uncertainly. "Really?"

"Mmhmm." Xena assured her. "And.. I’ve never known anyone who’s been in love with a pregnant woman who hasn’t thought they looked absolutely beautiful."

A snort. "You’re trying to make me feel better." Gabrielle accused.

A charming smile met her eyes. "I’ve also never known anyone to believe that statement." She kissed the bard’s nose. "But it’s true.. you’ll just have to take my word for it."

Gabrielle squinted at her. "Xena, I’ve seen pregnant women." She paused meaningfully.

Her soulmate regarded her with a twinkle. "Were you in love with any of them?" She asked, raising a brow.

Fingertips drummed on her chest. "Well, no.. but.. "

Xena smiled. "No buts…. Listen, remember when you came into the stable today?"

The bard was thrown off by this sudden change of subject. "Uh… yeah, but what.. ."

A hushing finger. "You came right in, marched across the barn, and practically smothered me in a hug."

Gabrielle blinked at her, confused. "Yeah.. so?" She answered. "What’s wrong with that?"

"Nothing.. except that I’d been fighting big, sweaty, muddy guys the entire day, I was covered with muck, and animal dung, and a dozen different kinds of dirt, and I smelled like a three day old pile of centaur poop." Xena stated. "I gotta believe I was about as attractive at that moment as a pig in a sty."

Green eyes blinked again. "Um. " The bard’s face scrunched. "I didn’t notice." She peeked at Xena. "I guess that was your point, huh?" She lifted a hand, and let it fall. "I don’t usually think about what you look like… "

"Thanks." The warrior chuckled. "Good thing."

The bard slapped her lightly. "That’s not what I meant… I mean, sometimes I.. like at Lila’s wedding. When you came in, all dressed up, and everybody about coughed up one of their lungs…then I look at you and just kind of go… wow."

Xena blushed lightly. "Like I did last night, watching you up there." She rallied, with a smirk.

Gabrielle’s turn to blush a little. "Um… thanks." She muttered. "But most of the time, when I look at you, it’s to catch little clues about what you’re feeling, or thinking… I don’t.. think about what… you look like."

Xena waited to make sure she was finished. "So.. what makes you think it’s any different for me?" She asked, reasonably.

"Well." Gabrielle gathered her courage, now that they were talking, and on a subject she’d been thinking a lot about lately. "First, let’s get outta the water." She disengaged herself from the warrior and stood, smiling as Xena stood with her, and gently caught her elbow to help her over the edge of the tub. They dried off, and got into shifts, then settled down with the impromptu picnic.

"I noticed. " Gabrielle nibbled on a bit of cheese. "That you tend to get involved with cute people."

Xena paused in mid sip, and looked at her, amused. "That’s very true." Her blue eyes twinkled. "And I like to believe my taste’s gotten better over the years."

The bard grinned, and glanced down, before clearing her throat. "I… just never… I mean, I didn’t know just how important that was to you." She took a breath, and looked up. "The fact that you…um.. " A pause. "Ever found me attractive kind of surprised me." A longer pause. "It still does… sometimes… at least a little part of me it does."

Xena paused, in mid chew, and just stared at her. "You’re joking, right?" She finally spluttered, swallowing hastily. "You’re not serious about that, are you? Gabrielle, check a mirror out sometime…you’re a very good looking piece of humanity." She moved around the table she’d been standing at, and sat down on the low padded couch next to the smaller woman. "But to answer your question, not at all." She lifted a hand and traced the bard’s cheek with the backs of her knuckles. "Not with you." A faint smile crossed her face. "I think.. when they say love is blind… that’s what they’re talking about."

Finally, Gabrielle smiled back. "I think you’re right." She exhaled. "Thank you… for listening to my kinda goofy insecurities." She fell silent.

Xena put an arm around her shoulders. "You scared?" She asked, gently.

The bard looked right up into her eyes. "Yeah.. a little."

The warrior hugged her. "So was I." She confessed. "You get over it after a while."

Gabrielle leaned against her, and sighed. "Thanks." She finished her cheese, and started on some cold lamb. "Wanna hear a new poem I thought of?"

Xena leaned back, and pulled the bard into a comfortable spot against her. "Sure." She offered the smaller woman a cherry, which she took with neat white teeth.

She didn't remember falling asleep again. Just a quiet, foggy twilight which descended on her, and on the already dozing bard as they faced the open window, and felt the cool, damp breeze gently waft in.

Xena felt very relaxed, except for a nagging stiffness in her shoulders, brought on by her day's labor, she suspected. The noises of the room kept fading in and out, gentle crackles of the fire, and the soft rasp of the wind moving around Gabrielle's parchment. Ares was curled around her splayed legs, his muzzle resting on her foot, and she could, barely, feel the warmth of his breathing against her skin.

A new sound should have pricked her instincts, but she listened dazedly, as the clicks she heard translated in her sleepy mind to be the door opening.

Footsteps approaching. She tried to be worried, but the insidious lassitude seemed to wash over her, keeping her peacefully in place until the sound of soft laughter, and steel rasping against leather forced a bolt of warning even through the fog that surrounded her.

Drugs. She felt her heartbeat increase, and she knew a moment of utter panic, as she realized her body wasn't responding to her commands, even though she could sense the knife raising, and knew she had bare seconds to prevent it.

Sheer will alone forced her arm up, to intercept a cold blade intent on her chest, and she felt the hot fire as its point pierced her forearm, a pain which sliced neatly through the haze and provided her with ammunition to battle the herb's chains.

Her fingers closed on cloth, and she clenched her hand, throwing her body weight off the couch and hearing the choked yell of surprise as her attacker found himself on the ground, battling with a half paralyzed, but still dangerous woman who was getting angrier, and more mobile by the second.

He squirmed, and wrenched himself from her grasp, and scrambled away, just evading her lunge after him, as he bolted for the door at top speed and slammed it behind him.

Xena felt her heart hammering out of control, as she forced herself to stand, grabbing onto the couch for support, as she sucked in panicked lungfuls of air, feeling more and more out of breath every time her chest pumped. In desperation, she stumbled for her saddlebags, falling halfway there and feeling a lancing pain shoot through her ribcage, as she reached out and grabbed for the bags, dumping their contents in front of her blurring vision.

Her healer's kit… and two pouches… somehow she got them open and poured the herbs out, mixing a pinch from each together, and shoving them into her mouth, sucking up all the moisture she could to swallow them down.

The taste was disgusting, and almost caused her to throw up, but she grimly held on, until the pulsing lights in her vision began to slow, and her racing heart steadied.

The smell of blood came to her, and she slowly opened her eyes, blinking until the fogginess receded, and she could focus on the red stream coursing down her arm. Damn. She thought weakly. Then. In the food… A feeling of sick disappointment flooded her, as she realized what that meant. I guess Gramma didn't trust me after all.

No time for that, she decided, testing her arms and pushing off the ground with them. She got herself to her knees, then looked around, seeing the sleeping forms of Ares and Gabrielle peacefully undisturbed. She slowly got to her feet, swaying a little, and grabbed the back of the chair to steady herself.

Close. She ran a shaking hand through her hair. Too close. Her knees started to buckle, and she leaned against the furniture, swallowing hard. She looked around, dismissing the water basin as a possible additional poisoning suspect, and grabbed a waterskin they'd had in their gear, unstopping it and sniffing cautiously. After a tentative sip, she sighed in relief, recognizing the distinctive scent and taste of home. She drained half the bag, then stood quietly, until her body was more responsive, and the foggy haze surrounding her faded back.

A trail of blood was running down her arm, dripping off her fingertips and onto the marble floor, and she flexed her hand, scattering droplets of red around her. A quick dig into her healer's kit found a bandage, which she wrapped around her arm and tied off.

She gathered the herbs up, and put them into her cupped palm, studying her soulmate speculatively. Can't give her these… but she's gotta get that stuff outta her so… She put one set of herbs down, and dug into the pack, pulling out a different set. She's gonna hate me for this.

With a sigh, she mixed them with some water from the skin, and went to her partner's side, kneeling down unsteadily and turning her face towards the front. She opened the bard's mouth, and poured a good quantity of the mixture in, triggering her swallowing reflex, which almost made the smaller woman cough. Grimly, she gave her another dose, and was rewarded by the fluttering of pale eyelashes.

Green eyes dazedly tracked to her in confusion. "Xe?" The bard's voice was soft and light.

"Shh.. yeah, it's me. Listen.. we're in big trouble, love… the food was poisoned." Xena told her gently. "Some guy tried to knife me… but he got away."

"Gods.. ah. " The bard clutched her stomach. "I.. .I don’t' feel.. .really well."

Xena sighed. "I know.. it's my fault.. I need to get that stuff out of you."

A wince. "Oh.. gods… you didn't."

"Yeah, I did." Xena picked her up, swaying a little, then moved towards the bathing room, where she'd seen a large basin. "It's not gonna be fun… but I couldn’t give you the antidote." She set the bard down, and, feeling the sudden convulsions, held onto her as she emptied the contents of her stomach into the basin. "That's a girl." She wearily dropped to one knee, and circled the bard with an arm, steadying her, and ignoring her own discomfort. "Easy.. easy.. I got you."

At last, Gabrielle let her forehead rest against the cool stone, curling her fingers around the edge as she sucked in deep breaths. "Gods." She whispered softly.

Xena hugged her gently. "I'm sorry… I couldn't think of any other way." She apologized, sitting down hard on the stone floor, and resting her head against the wall.

The bard pushed herself upright. "What about you?" She cleared her throat and winced.

The warrior closed her eyes and shook her head. "Took a combination of things… it'll be ok." She rubbed her chest and coughed. "It's kinda hard on your heart though… and you can't take it if you're pregnant."

A small hand suddenly warmed the skin on her chest, and she forced her eyes open, to see Gabrielle's very concerned eyes. "You're white as a sheet, Xena." The hand shifted and touched her forehead. "And you're cold… but you're sweating."

A faint nod. "It's the herbs.. it'll be okay." She leaned back and counted heartbeats, uneasily. I hope. Eventually the pounding slowed, though, and she let out a soft sigh. "This just sucks Amazon butts."

Gabrielle huddled against her. "I thought you said Gramma kinda liked you." She looked up at her soulmate, who was gazing at the opposite wall grimly. "Maybe it wasn't her." She chafed her partner's hand, which was warming slowly. "Maybe someone else put something in the food.. and she just gave it to you… your stopping by there wasn't planned."

Xena nodded a little. "I was just thinking that." She flexed her hand a little. "Whoever it was expected the stuff to work, though… I know I surprised him." Slowly, a dark glimmer was growing in the pale blue eyes. "If I move fast, I might even catch them setting his shoulder. "

A whine caught their attention, and the turned to see Ares stumbling in, looking very unhappy. He swayed as he walked, and his pink tongue hung out in distress.

"C'mere, boy." Xena held out a hand. "Lucky you didn't get much tonight, huh?" She gathered the wolf in as he approached, and hugged him. "Just a little of that lamb… the spices must have masked the taste."

"Now what do we do?" Gabrielle asked quietly.

"Find out who it was." Xena answered, just as quietly, but her eyes glittered.

"I told ye twas a damned idiot thing te.. " The low voice hissed, then stopped , as shuffling footsteps were heard. "Gwan to bed, Gramma… just getting us some scraps we are."

The old woman limped around the corner, and stood, hands on hips, surveying the scene. "What foolishness is that?" She held a candle up, to see Jaras, the castle foreman seated on a low stool, holding his arm and grimacing. "Wha happened t ye?"

Jaras didn't answer, he just gritted his teeth, as the older man next to him worked to set the fracture in his upper arm bone. "Had an accident." He finally growled, then gasped. "Damn ye.. watch that.. "

The cook peered from one man to another. "All right.. ye scumwags.. what trouble did you start now?" She spotted a small bag tucked into the older man's belt, and she darted forward, surprising him, and snatched it out. "Thisn be Delagos'.. he was lookin fer hit.. " She brought the bag to her wrinkled face and sniffed it. "Bigods… what have ye here?"

The older man glared at her. "Gimme that back.. and go t bed ya old goat."

She backed up a step, into the open doorway. "Not till ye tell me what's been goin on .. and what happened to ye… we're supposed to be in this together, remember?"

"Not since you decided to side w' that bastard woman, we're not." Jaras spat at her. "So's it's none o your business… get gone, ya old bitch." He stood, ignoring his arm, and lunged for the bag, which Gramma held up out of his grasp. "Damn ye!"

A hand closed over hers, and took the bag from her clutch, and she turned with a gasp. "Oh… "

Silence dropped over them, as the two men stared over her shoulder, at the tall, dark haired woman who stood holding the small pouch, a dangerous look in her eyes. Those sharp, icy flints glanced her way. "Move." Xena's voice was low, and vibrant, but had a touch of hoarseness to it.

Gramma slid out of her way, and pressed her body against the wall, confused. Her eyes fell on the bandage that wrapped the warrior's arm, and then on the bag. "Bigods.. " She breathed, glancing at the two silent, fearful men. "You didn't do somethin that stupid."

The warrior stalked forward, until she towered over the seated Jaras. She held up the bag. "You responsible for this?" Her eyes flicked to his arm, and a faint, mocking smile curled her lips.

He swallowed. "You're… unnatural… tha shoulda put you down so far.. "

She backhanded him against the wall in a sudden, violent strike, then pounced on him, and lifted him up, slamming him back against the wall so hard the walls shuddered, and pottery clattered down onto the floor. "You have no clue what I am." Xena's voice rumbled at him. "You know what I do to people who try to poison me?"

He was shaking so hard his teeth were rattling audibly.

She moved closer, shoving him harder against the wall. "Do you know what I do to people who hurt my friends?" A growled inquiry. "Suppose you tell me what you thought you were going to accomplish in there tonight?"

The older man answered. "Get rid of you."

Xena looked back over her shoulder. "And you think that's a good thing?"

He just stared at her, confused.

"Garanimus is not a friend of mine." The warrior stated flatly. "Figure out who your enemies really are before you try killing them. " Turning back to Jaras she let him down, then shoved him onto the stool, and jabbed an expert finger into a pressure point. He gasped, as his arm went numb. She tore the rest of his sleeve off, then studied the fracture. With a soft curse, she grabbed his elbow, then pulled hard, and rotated her wrist, snapping the bones into place. "Wrap that." She snapped at the older man, watching him as he did, eyeing her warily. When he was done, she released the pressure point, then stepped back. "Don't try that again." She warned softly. "I know what your little plan is… and I have no intention of getting in the middle of it if this warlord's what you think he is."

They looked at her, round eyed. "He's a good man.. and he's right fair on our princess." The older man muttered.

"We'll see." The warrior replied. "Maybe I'll work out a deal so nobody has to get hurt." She gave them both warning looks. "I catch anyone of you around me again like that, there'll be blood all over this damn castle. You got me?"

They stared at her stubbornly.

Xena surveyed them again, then ducked outside the door, and leaned against the wall briefly to regain her strength before straightening up. Gramma had followed her outside, and was watching, concerned. "Hades of a night." The warrior remarked, with a weary sigh, glad, in an obscure way, that Gramma hadn't been involved.

"You doing all right, sprout?" The old woman asked softly. "Ye look a might pale."

"I'm fine." Xena assured her. "Teach me to let my guard down." Her voice held a hint of self disgust. In the distance, she could hear the sounds of music from the main hall. "Do you have any hawthorn?"

Old, wise eyes peered at her guardedly. "Aye.. a bit… " She put a bold hand on the warrior's wrist, and felt her pulse. "Great Artemis.. what have ye done to yerself?"

A faint shrug. "I didn't have time to measure the antidote." Xena stated quietly. "I think I over did it a little."

Gramma clucked worriedly, and bustled to a small cabinet, throwing the doors open and pawing through a series of small leather bags. "No.. no.. no.. where is th.. ah." She pulled out a pale cloth bag, and opened it, then sniffed the contents. "Aye.. here it be." She handed it to the warrior. "D'ye need an infusion, then.. "

Xena shook her head. "I'll take care of it.. thanks." She pushed off from the wall, and headed back out to the main corridor. At the doorway, she turned, and met the old woman's eyes. "I don’t' want to hurt anyone, Gramma. Tell them not to try that again, all right?"

The gray brows knitted. "I'll be telling them, sprout.. but you g'wan up there and get yerself to bed, afore you be decorating me hall floor here."

The warrior nodded briefly, then turned, and made her way across the hall. She was about to mount the stairs when a voice called her name, and she cursed softly under her breath. Impatient, she turned, and leaned against the wall, folding her arms across her chest. "What is it, Gar?"

He strode across the flagstones and stopped in front of her. "You're not joining us?"

"Not tonight." She answered, shortly. "I'm sure you can manage to entertain yourself."

His pale head cocked to one side, as he studied her. "Something I said?" He ventured. "I thought we got along okay for a change earlier."

Xena sighed inwardly. "Nothing you said… I'm just not in the mood for company tonight."

"Except for your pretty friend… I get it." But he smiled, to take the sting out of his words. "Listen.. I been meaning to tell ya - she's been getting pretty chummy with the ice princess… she oughta watch it.. those blue bloods can be nasty.. don’t want her feelings getting hurt."

Xena gazed at him, then let out a soft chuckle. "Thanks.. but Gabrielle can take care of herself." She assured him quietly. "They're the ones who'd better watch out." She felt a sudden urge to tell him what was going on, but swallowed it. "Have a nice dinner." She turned, and started up the stairs, very aware of his eyes watching her.

The bend of the staircase was very welcome, and she was glad to get around it, stopping to catch her breath a little before she continued upward. As she got to their room, she heard voices inside it, and her senses struggled to a pained alertness as she focused on the words.

Damn. She cursed softly. The princess. She debated briefly as to whether or not to let the dialog continue, then realized there was a real possibility of her passing out right in the hallway and she pushed the door open with grim determination.

Gabrielle was seated at the small desk, her body tense, and she stopped speaking as the door opened inward . Her eyes went immediately to Xena's face, and widened, and she stood in a pure reflex motion that made the warrior realize she probably didn't look so good. The bard was a little pale, but otherwise seemed all right, and she could see Ares grumpy looking but mostly alert head poised behind Gabrielle's knee.

"Silvi… I'll um… I'll come to see you in a little while, okay?" Gabrielle glanced at the princess, who was watching Xena with frosty dislike. "After dinner."

The girl lifted her chin. "Very well." She gathered the edge of her gown and glided out, with a watchful eye on the tall, dimly lit form standing just inside the door.

The wooden surface closed with a solid bang, then Xena was aware of another, softer bang as the chair Gabrielle had been sitting on hit the floor as she jumped past it and bolted across the marble surface. "Sit down." The bard's voice had an urgent, nervous tinge as she let herself be pushed backwards, and felt the bed's soft surface behind her thighs.

She was about to protest, but her knees chose that moment to give out, and she collapsed back, as the sounds of the room began to echo weirdly. Very warm hands cupped her face, and she fought to focus on the green eyes boring into her own, responding to the panic there. "Hey… it's okay.. "

"No it most certainly isn't okay." Gabrielle answered tightly. "What's wrong with you Xena.. come on.. you have to tell me what to do."

It was hard to concentrate. She could feel a tightness in her chest that was making it hard to breathe, and the erratic thumping of her heart was giving her a headache. Knitting her brow, she forced her arm to move, and held out the small pouch. "Tea."

The bard stared at her, very obviously torn between grabbing the pouch and not wanting to let go. After a split second, she released her hold, and took the sack, turning and running across the chamber to fire. "You're lucky.. I was already boiling water." Gabrielle called back over her shoulder. Her hands shook as she put some of the herbs in a cup. "How much?"

No answer.

"Xena… how much!" Panic was edging her voice, and she knew it, but one look at her soulmate's face as that door opened had nearly stopped her heart from beating.

"Handful." The warrior finally answered quietly.

She poured the amount in, then topped it with the water, cursing at its slow decent. A sharp, bitter steam rose, and she waited for it to steep, her whole body trembling with impatience. "Hang on, tiger.. almost there." She'd rested a little while after Xena had left, then had trudged over to the desk and sat down, which felt better than lying flat. Silvi had arrived a few moments later.

Counting silently under her breath, she stood, cradling the cup and headed back over to the bed, where Xena was lying, her eyes now closed, and her breathing faint and rapid. Gabrielle forced herself to stay calm, and put the cup down, then grabbed her soulmate's shoulders, and shook them. " Xena!"

No response. She shook harder.

Nothing. Steeling herself, and gritting her teeth hard, she released her right hand, and pulled it back, then brought it smartly against her partner's pale cheek, the resounding slap echoing in the chamber and in her heart.

A throne room in Chin revisited her, mockingly, and as the blue eyes fluttered open in dazed shock, she saw a shadow of the same nightmare deep inside them.

No time for that now. "Come on…. Please… you gotta drink this." Gabrielle slid gently onto the bed, and circled her partner's shoulders with an arm, supporting her as she held the wooden mug to her lips. She could feel the wild beating of Xena's heart under her fingertips, and she felt her own panic rising again as the warrior took a hesitant sip of the herbs. "More.. that's it."

Half the cup was gone before she felt the erratic drumming begin to steady, and the warrior's heaving breaths start to slow. Xena wrapped her hands around the container then, and drained it, gripping the wood tightly with trembling fingers.

Gabrielle felt her panic subsiding, and she rubbed her partner's upper arm gently. After a long moment of stillness, Xena relaxed a little, and let her head rest against the bard's shoulder. "Stupid." She whispered. "Real stupid."

The bard felt a wave of relief pass over her, and she leaned her head against her soulmate's. "You all right?" She asked in a shaky voice, feeling the surface under her cheek move in a tiny nod. "You just scared me half out of my wits, Xena."

Ares timidly poked his head over the edge of the bed, and licked the bard's knee, then flicked his eyes to his mistress's pale face and whined.

Xena released the cup, letting it fall to the bed surface, and straightened a bit, taking in a deeper breath. "Sorry… " She muttered, leaning back against the pillows, and putting her fingers against her pulse point. "That's better." Her eyes slid around the room, grateful that the throbbing colors had receded, leaving only the candlelit shadows. Finally she turned her head, and let her gaze fall on the tense, pale face next to her. "Thanks."

Fingers rose to hesitantly touch her cheek. "I'm sorry I hit you." Gabrielle uttered softly. "I was j..just scared."

Xena's lips tensed into a tiny smile. "It's all right." She replied quietly, capturing the bard's hand and kissing it, then chafing the cold fingers. "You did the right thing." Her eyes looked up into Gabrielle's, and she knew they were both remembering a different time. A different place.

A tear slowly trickled down the bard's face, and her jaw shook as she fought back an intense emotion. Xena could feel it, both in herself, and through the connection between them. Deliberately, she tucked the bard's hand against her heart, and leaned against her in gentle trust.

Because in that long, dark instant in Chin, behind all the hurt, and anguish, and horror, behind the betrayal… had come the single, glimmering bit of knowledge that despite all the anger, and the estrangement… Gabrielle had been there. She had crossed an ocean, battled her way into Ming Tien's graces, and taken a stand. Staked her claim to a heart she had no idea whether she even had a piece of anymore. Fought against the memories of an unknown love, and stood squarely in her path, stating boldly. "You are part of me. And I am not giving that up without a fight."

No one else in her life had ever done that. And in that moment of utter shame, and total desolation of her soul.. she'd loved Gabrielle more than the bard would have ever dreamed possible.

Gabrielle finally took a shaky breath. "What happened?" She sniffled a little, and picked up the empty cup with her other hand. "What is this?"

The warrior sighed, and shifted, but didn't release her grip. "I didn't… measure the antidote very carefully. I took too much." She admitted. "I should have done what I did with you… but I was…in too much of a rush, I guess.. and I didn't think my body would react as badly as it did." She glanced at the cup, held in the bard's fingers. "That stuff fixed it."

A faint nod. "Are you okay now?" Gabrielle asked, hesitantly. "You were so pale… and cold." She dropped the cup and touched her partner's face. "You're a lot warmer now."

Xena leaned back against the pillow, feeling very washed out. "Yeah.. I'm all right." She reassured the smaller woman. "The antidote…speeds up your body so it counteracts the sleeping drugs.. but sometimes that gets outta control, and.." She rubbed her chest, a disturbing thing for the bard to watch. "It was like I wasn't getting enough air."

"Gods." Gabrielle felt her heart skip. She paused, and thought hard. "Is that the same stuff you used after we… I mean, in the river? During the flood?" The warrior had come close to drowning, and had been in a dazed, chilled shock.

The warrior nodded faintly. "Yes." She pried her eyes open and looked at the bard. "Maybe it was the combination of the two drugs.. I don't know." She paused. "That was a rough day, too." Her brow quirked in memory.

Gabrielle smiled. "Rough.. and wonderful." She reminded her soulmate gently, surprised to see a look of deep sadness cross her angular face. "What?"

A day of terror, and possibilities, Xena recalled. They'd almost drowned saving a family in a raging flood river, then somehow had been washed downstream. Gabrielle… had been alright, but she…. She had let herself fall underneath the bard, so that her body had been above the water during the rush, and…

Death had come very close. Close enough for her to see what lay on the other side, and know that other side wasn't Tartarus.

But that was then. That was before she'd gone mad, and gone after Caesar, and killed Ming Tien… and lost a son. Almost lost the other half of her soul. Before she'd seen Gabrielle lose her innocence, and have her trust shredded beyond repair. Before Hope.

That was then. This was now, and now… she knew, deep down, that the one, brief chance she'd seen held out to her, bright and shining… no longer existed. That knowledge hurt.. it would have almost been better to have never seen the possibility at all, because Tartarus and her… she'd always expected that.

"Xena?" Gabrielle had leaned very close, and was cradling her face, staring into her eyes with growing alarm. "What's wrong?"

So why did I get a second chance at this? Caprice of the gods? Or just one more thing for them to take away from me? She covered Gabrielle's hand with her own, and let her body relax a little. Well, they're gonna have to fight me tooth and nail for this one. "I'm all right.. just remembering, that's all." She managed a smile. " You know, I still don’t remember how we got out from under that tree."

Mist green eyes captured hers. "I don't either, but I know you got us out of there somehow." She replied quietly. "Like you always do." She settled at Xena's side. "Like you always will."

Always. That was a word curiously like forever. "I do my best." Xena admitted, then took a deep breath, and reflected on more recent happenings. "It wasn't Gramma."

That got a relieved smile from Gabrielle. "Good." She gently disengaged her hand, and unclipped Xena's armor with experienced fingers. "Duck your head." She pulled the plates off, and let them drop at the bedside, then started unlacing one of her bracers. "You.. are going to stay right here." She finished one bracer and pulled Xena's other arm over, unlacing the other one. "I don't want any arguments out of you, either." She looked up into meek blue eyes as she pulled off the armor, then moved further down the bed and reached for the buckles that held on her leg plates. The surface under her fingers jerked, and she glanced up sternly. "Hey!"

Xena bit off a weary grin. "That tickles." She explained sheepishly.

"Oh." Gabrielle patted her knee apologetically. "Sorry." She finished removing the armor and unlaced the warrior's boots, sliding them off and letting them drop haphazardly. She stroked the soft skin underneath, feeling the warmth starting to return to it, then she turned and moved back up the bed, settling herself at Xena's side, and taking the quietly watching woman's hand in hers. "Did you find the guy that did it?"

The warrior nodded slowly. "Yeah… but I'm not sure I convinced them not to try it again." She let her head roll back and regarded the ceiling. "I'll go out tomorrow.. get us some supplies. No more eating from that kitchen." She laid a hand on her stomach and regarded the bard tiredly. "My fault.. I shoulda realized something else was going on here… I don't know what's wrong with me lately."

Gabrielle edged over, and laid a hand over her shoulder. "I.. think I probably have something to do with that." She admitted wryly. "You've had a lot on your mind."

Xena considered that for a while in silence, then exhaled. "Yeah." She finally confirmed. "You may be right." She looked up pensively. "That's dangerous Gabrielle… it almost got us killed tonight."

They looked at each other quietly.

Xena's face twitched, then she shrugged. "Guess I'll just have to be more careful." She concluded, then pushed herself upright. "Maybe I'll.."

Two hands firmly wrapped themselves around her shoulders, and she found herself pressed back down by the bard's full weight. "No, you won't." Gabrielle objected, seriously. "Not right now." She waited to make sure the warrior wasn't going to move, then she released her, and crawled into bed, snuggling up against her body. "I don't know about you, but I'm still shaking inside."

The warrior hesitated, then folded long arms around her. "What did the princess want?" She inquired quietly.

Gabrielle would have thumped her head if she'd had a free hand. "Gods… she's expecting Framna to sneak in here early tomorrow.. before his army gets here. She wanted me to meet him." She cleared her throat. "Actually.. she wants me to write a poem about him.. she really liked one of the ones I read to her the other day."

A pause. "Which one?" Xena asked, mildly curious.

The bard coughed slightly. "The one about the oyster." She muttered, rubbing her temple.

"Ahhhh…. " Her soulmate smiled at her. "Does she know what that one's about?"

"Um." Gabrielle blushed slightly. "I doubt it." A longer pause. "I really, really doubt it." She looked up accusingly. "And you know that's not what I meant when I wrote it." Her brow knit. "It didn’t even occur to me until you … um. .." Her eyes lifted. "Stop smirking."

Obediently, Xena did. "Bet you still have those pearls tucked away somewhere, doncha?" She teased gently.

A soft giggle. "Umm…. yeah… I do." She admitted, with a half grin. "Do you want to come along… kinda get this whole thing settled.. when I meet him?"

"No." Xena shook her head. "If Garanimus gets wind of all this, he's liable to react… I'd like to avoid bloodshed if I could." She considered. "We'll stick to the plan… I'll work with the army tomorrow… you can meet him.. kinda get a feel for what kinda guy he is. Then we'll let the confrontation go as scheduled.. my guess is, he'll stall for time.. leave his army outside the gates and wangle an invite to stay in the castle tomorrow night. Then they'll execute the coup."

"What if he's legit… will you just let it happen?" Gabrielle asked, watching her face.

She nodded. "Gar's not… suited… to run a place like this.. the only thing is, I wanna do it so no one gets hurt."

A nod. "What if he isn't? What if he's just planning to take over the city?"

Xena smiled tightly. "Then he'll have a fight on his hands."

Gabrielle studied the tanned, angular face in the dim candlelight. "I thought you said you weren't going to get involved in that?" She commented, then patted Xena's chest as the warrior turned to her in surprise. "Don't get me wrong.. I agree with you." She paused. "I've never seen you back down from a fight."

The blue eyes turned their focus inward. "I guess I did say that, didn't I?" She mused. "I don't know.. maybe it's just that I got to know some of them.. they're not bad people.. just badly led ones." She reflected soberly.

The bard traced a line down the muscular shoulder she was leaning against. "Not anymore." She stated quietly. "And I think they know that." Her eyes searched the silent profile. "You won't abandon them." Even after only two days, she marveled, having walked through the exiting fighters on her way into the stables yesterday, hearing the comments, and the excited whispers cascade around her. Xena did something to them.. touched something inside of them that ignited a loyalty the bard could sense rising.

Her soulmate's pride would not allow her to simply lie down and leave a battle, not without a dire, compelling reason. Even with Framna's forces outnumbering theirs… theirs? Gabrielle had to laugh gently at herself. Even with that, Xena would find a way to win. But hopefully, Framna would be what Silvi thought he was, and that would be that.

A love poem. Gabrielle sighed. It was kinda hard to write one of those for someone else. Maybe Framna would help her out by being really cute. Or at least heroic looking.

I watch the sky above me

Clouds and air, blue and clear.

High above, a bird soars, wings outstretched.

Supported only by his own strength,

And the belief that he can fly.


Then I look into your eyes

A clearer blue than any sky there ever was.

And I soar, wings outstretched,

Supported only by love,

And your belief in me.

Gabrielle sighed, and bit down on her quill, regarding the words. Nope. Four love poems, and not one of them suitable for anyone but her. She let her glance slide to her right, where Xena was ensconced on the low couch, her light cloak wrapped around her, looking out the window at the stars.

Ares was lying next to her, his head in her lap, and she was stroking his fur rhythmically. The starlight reflected in glints on her eyes, and as the bard watched, she blinked twice, a bare motion of dark lashes against the gloom.

She'd' tried to coax the warrior to get some rest, but Xena told her going to sleep with all that.. as she put it… garbage.. in her system wasn't a good idea. So the warrior was sitting up, keeping her a quiet company as she fiddled with her poetry, and composed her journal entry.

Gabrielle herself wasn't feeling all that wonderful.. her throat hurt from having to throw up so violently earlier, and she kept getting stomach cramps, spasms more from the herbs Xena had given her than the original poison. She kept quiet about that, though.. because she didn't want to make Xena feel bad.. and she knew the warrior would. Even though she really hadn't had a choice.. and Gabrielle would much rather have been sick to her stomach, than go through what Xena had.

Or done something to hurt her baby.

That thought kept occurring to her, as well. That Xena had thought quickly, and realized there was a problem, and what to do about it. She wondered how the warrior's mind worked.. she seemed to keep track of details in a really amazing way.. like that, for instance. She had this list of herbs in her brain, like a library.. and she always knew the right one to use. Now.. it was like she'd run down her list of herbs, then tossed in the knowledge that she was pregnant, and it made her go to a different list. Incredible. "Hey, Xena?"

The dark head slowly turned, and she could see flashes of her own candlelight reflected in her partner's eyes. "Hmm?"

"Boy or girl.. whadda you think?" It was a question calculated to perk the warrior's interest, and it worked. Xena eased over to the other side of the couch, and leaned on the arm, peering at her. "Well?"

"Tough question." Xena drawled. "It's a little early to guess… but after a while, there are a couple of theories…" She paused. "Does it matter to you?"

A positive shake of the head. "Nope." The bard leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and lacing her fingers together. "It'll be easier on him if it's a boy, though."

An intrigued look crossed her soulmate's face. "Why do you say that?" Xena asked, curiously.

Gabrielle chuckled. "Come ON Xena… what kind of expectations do you think there'll be for a girl growing up with US as parents?" She gave the older woman a smile. "Amazon Queen, and Warrior Princess?"

White teeth flashed in an answering smile. "Hadn't thought about that." Xena admitted. "I guess that could end up being a little intimidating."

The bard nodded. "Well, if she's anything like you, that won't bother her any."

Xena looked up, and her brow lifted slightly. "Anything like Toris, you mean." She corrected gently.

Green eyes met hers. "Yeah. That's what I meant." Gabrielle agreed amiably, then changed the subject. "How are you feeling?"

The warrior's brow creased a little, as she studied Gabrielle in puzzled silence for a long moment. "Better, thanks… how about you?"

Gabrielle waggled her hand. "A few cramps." She told her, dismissively. "And my throat hurts a little."

Xena stood up, dislodging Ares, who grumbled a complaint, and walked over to her kit. "Why didn't you tell me before?" She accused.

"You were half unconscious." Gabrielle replied, wryly. "It didn't seem that important."

The warrior shot her a look over her shoulder, and stood back up, tossing her a small packet before she continued on towards the fire. "There… suck on those."

Gabrielle neatly fielded the bag, and tugged at the leather thongs holding it closed. "What…" She got the bag open, and poked an inquisitive finger inside. "Mmm… smells like honey." She upended it, and spilled some of its contents into the palm of her hand. Small, golden globes twinkled in the candelight, giving off a delicious smell. She selected one, and popped it into her mouth, rolling it around with pleasure. "Thres ro gratpf."

"Glad you like them." Xena responded, as she mixed something into two cups.

"Youf bk uftstnd mx?" Gabrielle's eyebrows jumped.

"Of course." The warrior assured her. "You always express more with your tone of voice, than with your actual words." Pause. "Gabrielle." Gently knowing blue eyes regarded her with a twinkle.

"Amfusfing." The bard sucked on her treat.

"Thanks." Xena replied, walking over and handing her a cup. "That'll help your cramps."

"Urf mu." Green eyes watched her, expectantly.

"I love you, too." Xena brushed her fingers over the bard's pale hair. "Whatcha writing?"

The bard obligingly turned her parchment towards the circle of candlelight and moved her arm aside to reveal the words. Xena's hand fell lightly to rest on her shoulder as she read, then tightened briefly. "That's beautiful, love." She murmured. "But I… I think you've got it the wrong way around."

Gabrielle tucked her sweet into one side of her mouth. "If you want it the other way, you gotta write the poem." She grinned cheekily at the warrior. "It's my poem, and you're my wind."

Xena sat down on the bench next to her, and propped her head up against one hand. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." They floated in each other's regard for a time.

"Want to go sit outside?" The warrior asked, gently. "It's nice out on the balcony."

Gabrielle felt a warm wash of joy sift over her. "Yes, I do." She responded, standing and taking her partner's hand, as they walked out under the night sky, which spread a blanket of twinkling lights to the horizon. Xena spread her cloak down on the flagstones, and sat, bracing one foot against the stone railing. The bard settled next to her, and leaned back, as a long arm wound around her protectively.

They looked up. "I think that's a swan." Gabrielle pointed at a soaring pattern.

Xena smiled up into an eternity of stars. "I think it's an eagle."

"Here she comes." Bennu hushed them, as he spotted Xena striding across the large, noisy dining hall. This was the common room all the soldiers ate in, and at this time of the morning, it was plenty busy. A hush traveled over the room, however, when Xena's presence was noted, and she let her ice blue eyes flick over them as she moved in the direction of the rear table.

On instinct, Bennu stood as she approached, wincing a little at his stiff muscles from the previous day, and noting that his commander seemed not to have the same problem. She'd been… ye gods, they'd talked about her the whole night long, all of them that had been there, telling those that weren't, until the tales had gotten so incredible, they were almost as good as the truth had been.

"Morning." Xena nodded briefly at him, then she turned, and faced the room, whose attention was fixed on her with vivid intensity. "Tonight, we're expecting a visit from another army." She let that sink in, and saw the exchanged glances.

"What happens will, in a large part, be dictated by how this other army perceives our skill, and our readiness to be."

Our. Us. We. Xena sucked in the heady air of command, and felt the impact her own personal charisma was having in the room. "They outnumber us six to one." Her face suddenly twitched into a smile. "Now.. personally.. I've got no problems with those odds."

Those men who had fought against her let out low chuckles of agreement.

She allowed herself a chuckle too. "But it'll be better for everyone if they decide just to back off." She paused a moment. "That's what I'm gonna try to convince them to do."

Towards the rear, a tall, thin soldier stood, and hooked his thumbs into his belt, taking a breath to speak.

Xena waited.

"Xena." The man cleared his throat, and glanced around, obviously a spokesman. "What's your interest in all this?"

The warrior propped a booted foot up on the bench before her, and rested her hands against it. "I owe Garanimus a favor." She replied. "Why?" She could sense it coming, though… a tug at the old strings that sent a delicious jolt down her spine. Their eyes gave it to her.. gave themselves to her. They were hers, if she wanted them.

"We were.. I mean.. I was just.. wondering… " He took a breath. "How long you're gonna be… around?"

Xena's arm hairs lifted in response. "You looking to get rid of me?" She smiled lazily.

Dead silence. Then, "No." The man answered, bravely, looking around, and getting nods of agreement. He raised his eyes to Xena's. "No."

A thrill of anticipation ran across the room, as the eyes all turned to her. They weren't so bad.. she mused. Raw talent, some of them… I could put that together in a month.. maybe two… make em into something. Not a big group, no.. but they'd be a nice, mobile army.. good striking force.

I could. Power's insidious tendrils curled around her, reminding her of what it was like back when. I could do it. I could take them.

Her eyes closed briefly. And do what with them, Xena? Run a circus? Start a rampage all over half of Greece again? Get real.

She let her glance flick over them, and a faint, sexy smile crossed her lips. She felt the reaction to that, a wave of animal energy that flowed around her like water. "First things first." She spoke quietly, letting her voice carry out over them. "Let's get past this obstacle. " A brief nod. "The guard has to be very tight today, and I need at least two patrols in the woods outside the town. " Her eyes went to the still standing Bennu.

"I'll take care of it." The tall soldier rumbled.

Xena glanced down at the table, whose occupants were gazing at her in anticipation. "Mind if I join you for breakfast?" She asked mildly.

A place was cleared for her so fast it was a wonder splinters didn't fly off the table. She seated herself between two archers, who watched her with big, round eyes, like children at Solstice. "Pass the cider?" She hid a grin, as three hands reached for the pitcher at once, and almost pulled the handle off.

Utter respect. The mystique of command. She'd almost forgotten just how good it felt.



The bard looked up from her cup of cider and focused on the princess. "Gods.. I'm sorry… what were you saying?"

"Are you all right?" Silvi gazed at her in some concern. "You seem so distracted… did you not sleep last night? I was quite frightened for you when that woman came back.. you looked very upset."

"Um.." Gabrielle rubbed her temple. "I.. um.. I couldn't sleep last night, no… not until pretty late." She took a sip of cider gingerly. "I.. wasn't feeling well." She patted her stomach.

Actually, she vaguely remembered being picked up, and carried inside, after a long, wonderful evening of star gazing and gentle involvement, and tucked into bed next to a warm, affectionately snuggly warrior princess.

Xena had, of course left at first light, but when she'd woken a little later, she'd found a beautiful rose lying on her pillow, and a small sack of the round sweets, in assorted flavors. And a note.

I'm ok.

Take it easy, and be careful.

Think of a good one to tell tonight.


But the best thing.. the most amazing thing was, alongside the note, weighing it down, in fact, was the biggest, freshest, sweetest smelling apple you could imagine.

Coincidence, right?


"Well, I hope you're feeling better now." Silvi stated, politely passing the bard a plate of sliced fruit. "Please, help yourself."

"Um… no thanks." Gabrielle smiled at her. "I had an apple for breakfast." She glanced around, noting Vasi's brooding silence at the end of the table. "So.. what's the plan?"

The princess slipped into the seat next to her. "Elanora went to the market… she'll be returning shortly, and he'll be in her escort. No one will notice.. isn't that clever?" She looked up at approaching footsteps. "Oh.. here they come now." Her voice fairly sang with anticipation.

The door swung open wide, and Elanora swept in, followed by two ladies, and a tall man in livery. His eyes flicked around the room until they found Silvi, then his face lit up. "Your highness!"

Gabrielle let out a soundless sigh. He was a tall man, taller than Xena, even, and had fiery red hair, which matched the scattering of roan freckles scattered over his well proportioned, but not beautiful face. His shoulders were broad, and he had long arms, with the thick wrists of a swordsman, and large hands.

He knelt before Silvi, and took her hand up, kissing it lightly. "It's been too long."

She smiled delightedly. "Not after this evening, it will no longer be." She took his hands and raised him up. "Framna, come meet the person I was telling you of." She led him over to the table, and Gabrielle stood as they reached it. "This is the bard Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked up, meeting polite gray eyes that watched her carefully. She extended an arm and gave him a smile. "Hello… it's nice to meet you."

He took her grip hesitantly, then with more assurance when he felt its strength. "And the same, Gabrielle." His voice was surprisingly soft for so large a man. "Your name is known to me." He paused. "My cousin knew your late husband."

The bard took a breath. "Is he from Potadeia?" That could throw a monkey wrench into things, if he'd been home recently.

"No." Framna shook his head. "He knew him from the Trojan campaign." He hesitated. "He said he was a good man.. my condolences to you."

It seemed… so ridiculous. "Thank you." Gabrielle replied graciously.

"So." The tall man gave the princess a smile. "Her highness tells me you're to be our ace in the hole, is it?" He looked at her respectfully. "You have a lot of guts to do this.. Xena's reputation is known far and wide across the country.. it's a big risk for you."

"Not really." The bard answered in an even tone. "She trusts me."

He studied her, and a glint of admiration shone in his eyes. "You're a brave woman." He turned to Silvi. "I do believe you've saved us… from what my man tells me, she would have made the difference, your Highness.. even with the other soldiers out cold."

Silvi's eyes widened. "Really.. just one person? With all your nice, big, strong men?"

Framna shook his head. "She's not just one person… she's a demon, Silvi… Ares' Chosen champion… one of my soldiers saw her fight once, at Cirron."

The princess covered her mouth, and stared at the black wolf that was seated patiently at Gabrielle's heels. "His name is Ares!" She pointed.

"Roo?" The wolf glanced up, and panted.

"He spies on her!" Silvi accused, clutching the warlord's arm. He patted her hand comfortingly.

"Easy there, your Highness." He peered at the wolf. "He's just a beast."

"Grrrrr.." Ares responded, lifting his ruff. Gabrielle dropped idle fingers to his head and stroked him.

"I have to get back to my army." Framna said, reluctantly releasing Silvi's arm. "Tonight then.. after the dinner. " He glanced at Gabrielle. "Do you know how much you will need for her?"

Gabrielle studied him. "How much would I need for you?"

His eyes widened. "Two packets."

She nodded. "Double that." As long as we're enhancing your reputation, my love.. why not go all the way? "I'll need a large pitcher of port… she won't taste it in that."

"Good thinking." Silvi agreed breathlessly. "Tonight then!" She escorted the tall man to the door, and they slipped outside it, leaving Gabrielle alone with the silent Vasi, and the still growling Ares. She sat down, and took a sip of her cider, watching the tall, dark haired boy speculatively. "You don't like him."

Vasi started, and glared at her. "Is it your business?"

She chewed a piece of melon reflectively. "He seems like a nice guy."

He looked up. "Common as dirt."

"Ah." Gabrielle picked up another piece of melon, and took a bite. "You don't want him to be king, is that it?"

The boy scooted nearer. "He hasn't the training." He told her, glancing around. "He wasn't born to it… how could he govern the city?"

The bard dusted her fingers off, and regarded him. "I thought you agreed to this plan?"

Vasi stared at the table top in disgust. "And what good would it do to protest?" He asked rhetorically. "But… no, the city needs a true leader."

Gabrielle took two goats, and added them to two sheep, and got a centaur. "Let me.. guess. If something happens to Silvi.. you wouldn't happen to be her heir, now would you?"

He glanced at her furtively. "Yes."

"Ah." Gabrielle nodded to herself. "Xena's right."

His back stiffened at the name. "About what?"

She sighed. "Nothing I get involved in ever stays simple."

Vasi gave her a suspicious look. "What does she mean by that?"

She was saved from answering by Silvi's reappearance. She was flushed, and her hair was in some disarray. "Isn't he wonderful?" She gushed at the bard, whisking over to her and sitting down. "Don't you think?"

Gabrielle laced her fingers together. "He's really cute." She assured the princess. "And he's got nice eyes."

Silvi pressed her hands together over her heart. "The Bard of Love says it's so."

The bard in question winced. "Is… are you going to see him before dinner?"

The princess glanced both ways with excessive caution. "Hush… perhaps." She giggled softly. "He said he will bring me a flower to wear… isn't that romantic?" She glanced down. "Perhaps like that beautiful rose you've got." She gazed at the bloom. "It's lovely."

Gabrielle smiled. "Thanks." Maybe your true love, and my true love can compare floral choices, she mused irreverently. Bet mine wins. "Did you say you wanted to go down to the market today?"

Silvi smiled happily. "Yes… " She giggled. "He's been so sweet.. I wanted to get him a little something for him to wear tonight.. in secret… " She took Gabrielle's strong hand in hers. "Gabrielle.. you know warriors.. can you help me pick something out?"

The bard grinned, and patted her hand. "I sure can."

There, Xena. She considered, as they prepared to be escorted down to the courtyard. That's safe... what can possibly happen to me while I'm shopping?"

Continued in Part 7