SUMMARY: After leaving the warrior princess to sort out her feelings, the bard of Potidaea returns home after freezing in the middle of a fight. Xena follows her, and notices someone from her past among the crowd. Someone that intends to destroy the small village. Shortly after admitting their feelings for each other, Gabrielle is pulled into a different reality. One where Xena is still the Destroyer of Nations, and Gabrielle her bard, and the only one who knows the truth.

Setting: This story is an entirely different spin on the episode THE PRODIGAL. You'll find no Maleager here!

RATING: NC-17 ***There's a slightly graphic attempted rape scene, but fear not! I wouldn't let anything terrible happen to the characters!*** Also, there is lady loving going on in this story. If that offends you, I would suggest you not read on. If it is illegal where you are...MOVE!

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. Xena, and all related characters belong to Universal Television, Renaissance Pictures, and Rob Tapert.

A pair of sea green eyes looked at the blanket of stars over head, as she pulled the blankets to her chin, and used her fingers to tuck strands of strawberry blonde hair behind her ears so the breeze through the window would no longer cause them to graze across the tip of her nose. Across from her, her sister slept placidly, completely unaware of the turmoil alive and well in the depths of the bard's mind.

I don't understand why I just froze like that. That has never happened to me before, Gabrielle thought to herself. She rolled to her left side, curling herself tightly under the covers as she gazed at the stars littering the horizon just past the roof of the tavern. I like the fighting part, and I'm starting to get really good with a staff. I could have taken on those guys, and definitely could have side-stepped that cart in plenty of time. If Xena hadn't been there... her thoughts quieted down.

Xena. She'd left her best friend to travel Greece alone. To sort her through her feelings and thoughts about her life on the road with the warrior princess, the woman who struck fear in nearly every warlord in Greece. Gabrielle's mind raced back to after Xena had rescued her from the grasp of Morpheus, God of Dreams. The two had sat near a lake, and Xena had given the young blonde the smallest insight into her past. She'd talked to Gabrielle about how she was calm at one time before her wild warlord days, and Gabrielle liked to think of herself as Xena's anchor. A portion of her worried what would become of Xena without her there to balance her.

I shouldn't have left her like that. I'm her friend. I'm her family, and I just left. What was I thinking? There was so much pain in her eyes, and I caused that. She'll never take me back now, the inner monologue continued.

“Back?” she whispered to herself in the darkened room. “I want to go back.” She was surprised by this discovery. She'd been in Potidaea for a total of three days, and she had thought she'd vegetate until she died in this little farming community. No. I'm just missing her because I'm thinking about what life on the road was like with her. No parents to listen to. No chores. She sighed heavily and got out of bed, crossing the short distance to the window silently, so as not to wake Lila. She gaze out among the tiny village. Every house was dark, all signs of living extinguished with the lamps that kept the window alight during the late evenings. The familiar glow from the tavern down the road caught her attention. She knew that it hadn't been busy recently. In fact, Lila had said there hadn't been one guest in Potidaea for nearly two months now.

Her eyes scanned the familiar layout of her parents yard, the place she and Lila ran around and played when they were younger. A soft smile touched the left corner of her mouth as her mind called her back to a time when she and her sister were laughing and chasing each other around the horse barn clutching the hands of their rag dolls tightly.

As she looked toward the horse barn, she could have sworn that she'd caught sight of a shadow. Just a little patch of blackness that seemed to be darker than all the others. She squinted, and then she saw the movement, letting her know that she wasn't imagining things.

Tilting her head to the side questioningly, she grabbed for her night robe, tying the string of the threadbare garment loosely around her slender waist. Being cautious, she avoided shifting her weight to a creaking floorboard, and hoisted herself up onto the window ledge, and swung her legs to the other side, landing on her feet silently on the dusty ground. Creeping around the outside of the house, she caught the movement again, this time moving around the grain silo. She squinted her eyes in confusion, watching as the shade seemed to vanish into thin air. Suddenly, the air surrounding her felt cold, and almost cruel as the wind whipped her night dress around her tightly.

She still felt as though someone was watching her through the thick blackness of the night-tide. It was a strange sensation, almost as though she was being pulled to cast her gaze in the direction of the tavern again. She turned in the direction of the towering building, scanning it for anything out of the ordinary, but she saw nothing. Her eyes came to rest on the very top of the roof, as if expecting some specter to rise from the gable, but none came. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, even though the chill had been replaced by a feeling of warmth. She cautiously turned from the building and walked back in the direction of her parents house.

A narrowed pair of glacier blue eyes followed the small blonde's retreating back. She'd been concerned for a split second that she would be spotted, when Gabrielle's gaze had fixed itself onto the roof of the tavern for a couple of long moments, almost as if sensing that something was amiss. Lifting her chakram, Xena stood from her crouched position on the rooftop. Her boots fell lightly over the slanted wooden tiles covering the inn, so as not to wake any of the other guests, before she grabbed the overhang and flipped neatly into the room that was serving as her shelter for however long Gabrielle decided to stay in Potidaea.

She would eventually let the bard know that she was there, but for now, she just wanted to keep an eye on things, and make sure that the blonde was okay after her freeze with the thugs and the cart while they'd been on the road. She knew the young bard needed to be able to work through what had happened on her own, and while she didn't want to crowd her, she didn't want any harm to befall the storyteller either.

“I wish someone would invent something so I could see things up close,” Xena murmured to the empty room. She took her breastplate off, muscles breathing a sigh of relief at the weight being lifted from them. She was sore from the last attack, she'd hit the ground pretty hard when she'd kicked the Amazon's legs from underneath her so the cart could pass over them safely, and now, she was feeling it.

Moments before Gabrielle had stepped out of her parents house, Xena had sensed a darkness surrounding the village of Potidaea, something she hadn't felt in a long time, but just a few moments ago, the sickening feeling filled the pit of her stomach. The warrior princess couldn't help feeling like some terrible omen was heading straight for them, and she desperately needed to be ready when it reared its head. For her sake, and for Gabrielle's.

She pulled a sitting chair across the floorboards, cringing as the feet of the object squealed across the floor in protest. She took a place at the window to look across the shadowed town, her guard rising as she attempted to sense any danger looming. She settled back in the seat, satisfied when she felt no danger. Still, the feeling she'd experienced earlier left her unsettled. Something was trying to surface in the back of her mind, but she was unsure of what.

I can put that out of my head for now, she thought to herself. The important thing is that Gabrielle is safe. She felt her eyelids begin to sting a bit as exhaustion began slipping in. Slumping down in the chair slightly, she rested the base of her skull against the back of the chair, looking at the home that her best friend had grown up in. She saw the white material of the curtain being picked up by the breeze. Her mind drifted to the bard, and her favorite activity while they traveled the road together. After the long treks across countless miles, and trading blows with warlords who crossed their paths, the warrior princess's favorite part of the day would be when the two of them settled down on her bedroll at night, with Gabrielle's body inches away from hers, and the blonde would tell stories. A lot of the time, it would be Gabrielle's spin on the different adventure they had shared, and sometimes it would be the myths of old, but the best part of the stories for Xena was the lilt to the bards voice as she told one of her favorites. Gabrielle's voice was captivating when she was in the middle of a narrative, and that was the best part of their travels...other that just being around the younger woman.

The latter was a surprising change. It wasn't that she hadn't cared for the girl, but Xena had become accustomed to a quiet life, and Gabrielle had joined her journey and turned it entirely upside down. The warrior princess had resisted a bit at first, but now she found that she missed the company of the bard, almost more than she was willing to admit to anyone, herself included. Still, the feelings that she'd been dealing with since before the bard became an Amazon princess were surfacing a great deal more than she'd like for them to. She had thought that with Gabrielle going home it would allow her to push the emotions that she'd been experiencing back into the cage where she wanted to have them locked away. To her surprise, it had done exactly the opposite, and the fervor had blasted the bars of her overly guarded heart. She held the hope that if she saw Gabrielle happy in her life back home that the feeling would go away entirely.

Directly down the road, Gabrielle was lying on her worn feather mattress, still wondering about the pull she'd felt toward the tavern. She turned over, her back facing the window, as she attempted to get comfortable. The mattress was sparsely filled, the feathers becoming crushed under years of use and tossing and turning, and at one point, Gabrielle wondered if sleeping on the ground, near Xena, was more comfortable. She felt a delicious warm feeling extended throughout her body as she thought of the warrior. She missed Xena, more than she'd missed her own family since she'd been away from Potidaea. She had told Xena that the missing her family part hurt less when she was with her, but the missing Xena part wasn't hurting less when she was with her family. She felt as though a portion of her identity was lacking, and she couldn't even begin to find it.

Things with Lila had been so tense that she had tried hard to just fit in again. She wasn't even doing some of the things that she'd enjoyed before she joined the warrior princess. She'd stopped studying stars and maps because her sister had thought her doing so meant she was planning to leave again. Telling stories was out of the question, since most of them were about her feats with Xena, which, in Lila's mind, meant that life in Potidaea was much to dull for the likes of Gabrielle. Lila didn't understand the lessons that those events had taught her, but the bard, unwilling to argue with her sister had just decided to keep her storytelling a tacit event. Her father had always told her that she wasted her life on tales of fancy, and her mind would be better suited learning how to cook, keep house, and sew. She was working hard on conforming to her family's wishes for her, but in her mind, she knew she wasn't whole. She knew she wouldn't be whole without being at Xena's side, but she couldn't risk freezing up in a fight again. She couldn't allow the warrior princess to risk her life for her again the way that she had a few days ago. Plus, it wasn't like Xena had come charging into Potidaea to bring her back. Maybe the separation was in both of their best interests.

Gabrielle turned back onto her other side, looking at a dimly lit room in the tavern as she continued her musings. I don't think I've even been content here since I've returned, she thought to herself. With Xena, I was happy. I was whole. Here I'm just...what? Another young woman being groomed as nothing more than a human incubator when Father finally decides to marry me off to the next dull and stupid guy with a kind face? A smile graced the corners of her lips as she thought of her exchange with Xena about Perdicus upon her first conversation with the warrior princess. She'd felt drawn to Xena, even then, and whichever Fate it had been that encouraged her to follow after the bronzed woman, she sent thanks to daily. Xena had been the one thing, the one decision in her life, that she had been completely certain was the right one. Journeying with her had brought Gabrielle happiness, humor, and of course, a healthy dose of fear every now and again.

She has no idea what she means to me, the young bard thought, tears welling and spilling over her bottom eyelid. Having to say goodbye to her was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. She turned her head to gaze over at her sleeping sister, torn between her sense of duty and her sense of need. She needed to be with Xena. She knew that, and she worried about what had become of the six foot tall woman every minute of the day. She also missed having her sister to talk to. Xena wasn't exactly one for girl talk, and Gabrielle missed that sort of thing. However, she and Xena talked about more meaningful things. Things that were teaching Gabrielle how to become a better and more intelligent person, and in return, Gabrielle had been teaching Xena how to accept companionship, and how to accept being loved by someone, regardless of what hideous things had happened in the warlord's sordid past. The two made quite a pair, and Xena was always there when the bard needed her.

And I ran out on her when she needed me, the blonde thought, tears coursing her cheeks silently, dampening her pillow. I might as well forget going back. Once she's realized she's better without me there, that she doesn't have to babysit me anymore, she'll be better off.

<

The city came alive with the beams of the first ray of sunlight over the horizon as its inhabitants began milling about the village. Gabrielle was among them, crossing the dirt pathway leading to the shop to retrieve some flour.

“Gabrielle! Wait up!” a breathless reply chased her down the road.

The bard paused in her steps at the voice. Turning on her heel, she met the owner of the voice with an expectant gaze.

“Geez, you sure walk fast!” Lila said, a smile brightening her face.

Gabrielle giggled a little. “Well, when you get used to walking behind a warrior and her horse...” she trailed off, remembering her audience.

The smile fell from Lila's lips as quickly as it had appeared. “Oh, that's right. You had to keep up with the woman wonder.”

“Look, Lila. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking when I said anything,” Gabrielle apologized, feeling instantly guilty for bringing up her life with Xena.

“Now you can't talk to me about anything?” her sister asked, eyes widening.

Gods, I can't win for losing, Gabrielle groaned silently. “It's not that. I just know that my leaving is a sore spot for you. I want us to have a good time together. I don't want bickering. I don't want fighting either; I've had enough of that,” the blonde said, touching Lila's shoulder gently. “Okay?”

Lila nodded, eyes on the ground as she accepted Gabrielle's words. “You mean before you leave again,” she asked the blonde softly.

“What? Lila, no,” Gabrielle replied, touching the brunette's shoulder gently. “I'm not going anywhere.”

“We're just simple people here, Gabrielle. We're nowhere near as exciting as life on the road with a warlord.”

Gabrielle removed her hand from Lila, taking a step back, and allowing her voice to betray her irritation. “Xena is not a warlord, Lila.”

“Hm. Well, you certainly can't tell that from the line of bodies that she's left trailing from here to Corinth,” Lila pointed out.

From across the way, Xena was taking in the spectacle. She'd seen Gabrielle's looks enough to know when one meant she was angry, and from the looks of things, the body language she observed from both women meant that Gabrielle was a little more than angry. She was steaming.

The warrior princess stood from her chair, shifting to get a better view, and wondering what the cause of such a heated argument between the siblings. She half giggled as she watched the younger of the two look to the dirt with a red face, clearly heated from embarrassment. She could help but wonder what the bard had said to her sister to cause that type of blush to cascade across her features.

Strictly out of habit, she scanned over the people of the small town, a smile still on her face as she watched Gabrielle and Lila arrive safely, albeit tensely, at miller's shop. She had to stop herself from reacting when she saw a tall, slender woman nearly mow the bard down as she passed by her. She also didn't miss the look of annoyance as the blonde turned and fixed her with a glare. A look of smugness crossed Xena's features as she recognized Gabrielle settling into a fighting stance before catching herself.

Good girl. She can take care of herself, she said to herself, smile widening as she settled back down in the chair. The smile, however, was short lived as her gaze moved to get another glimpse of the woman that nearly plowed the bard over. She stood quickly, the chair behind her falling with a crash on the floor.

The high set cheekbones served as the crest of two chestnut colored eyes, framed with a thick layer of char, more than likely from an extinguished twig from a tree. She watched as the woman drew to a stop in front of the tannery, and even though she couldn't hear what was being said, she knew that it was being said in a deep, raspy voice that held the slightest bit of charm to get what she wanted.

“Alti,” Xena whispered, fighting with every bit of strength she possessed to not leap from the tavern window and crush the shamaness with her bare hands, but she couldn't risk the crone associating her with Gabrielle. She needed to find a way to tell the blonde, but she didn't know how. Gabrielle wouldn't even know who she was, or what part the older woman had played in Xena's life, before her path to penance.

“I can't blow my cover,” the warrior princes said aloud, raking her hands through her dark ebony tresses in a frantic movement. “If Gabrielle thinks I followed her to keep a check on her...she can't know. I'll just have to lure Alti out. Somehow,” she spoke to the empty room, eyes trailing to find Gabrielle in the crowd.

Gabrielle was still fuming at the rude creature that had nearly knocked her down in order to pass.

“What happened to the people of Potidaea?” she asked her sister. “They used to be hospitable and civilized. I guess that went out the window.”

“You miss a lot when you leave,” Lila said simply, grabbing an onion and placing it in her basket, her eyes never offering to meet Gabrielle's.

“Look,” Gabrielle began. “For what I said, I'm sorry, but Xena's my best friend, Lila. I know you don't get along with her all that well because of my choice to leave, but you could at least respect my feelings.”

Lila narrowed her eyes at her sister, trying to read into her, but only seeing a stranger looking back at her. “I respect your feelings, Gabrielle, but it doesn't mean that I have to like them.”

“Gods, you sound just like Father!” Gabrielle growled, throwing her free hand into the air in frustration. “No choice. Never any choices. You're born in Potidaea, and you're going to die in Potidaea. Don't go visit any faraway lands. You don't need to learn anything. Stay home like your mother and learn how to tend to the house,” the bard said, voice deepening to imitate the patriarch.

“Father,” Lila squeaked.

“Yes, Lila. Father. You sound just like him,” the bard said, finally lifting her eyes to look at her sister.

Lila lifted a shaking hand, pointing it just past Gabrielle's shoulder.

The blonde turned, cringing internally, looking up into the eyes of the man who was fifty percent responsible for her birth. A quick smile glided across her face. “Father! It's so good to see you. Here. Out. In town. Potidaea,” she said, searching surreptitiously for words. She lifted her hand to scratch the back of her neck. “Um...how long have you been standing there?”

“You're going to die in Potidaea?” Herodotus said, the hint of a smile tugging the corners of his mouth.

“I...I meant that in the most endearing way possible.”

“I've no doubt of that, daughter,” the man responded. He turned to face his younger child. “Lila, your mother is wanting you home to help with shelling the beans.”

“Yes, Father,” Lila replied quickly, scurrying off to the house as quickly as her feet would carry her.

“Sure seemed like she was in a hurry,” Herodotus commented.

“Yeah. No grass is growing under her feet,” Gabrielle smiled crookedly. She turned her attention back to her father. “Were you looking for me too, or just Lila?”

“I almost forgot,” he said, extending his arms out. “I fixed this for the smithy. He's got a horse waiting to be shod that I'm sure would like a saddle to go back with it. Can you take it to him? I'm overrun with repairs at the house.”

Gabrielle took the repaired chunk of leather from the lanky man. “I'll trade you,” she smiled. “You take this meal back to mother, and I'll be home in a while. I think I'm going to take a walk by the stream for a bit before I come home and start helping with lunch.”

“That will be fine,” he nodded. “Thank you for taking care of the saddle,” he said, dipping his head and turning to walk back in the direction of the house.

The bard watched her father's retreating form for a moment before turning to head in the direction of the smithy. She smiled a greeting as she walked in and saw a hairy, rotund man striking a piece of iron with a hammer, sparks forming and spreading with each blow.

“Hi there,” she greeted.

“That goes in the stable,” the man said simply, looking at her, one eye lazier than the other.

“Right,” she said. “Can I use this side door, or if you prefer I could go around,” she offered.

“It doesn't matter to me. Use whichever.”

She pursed her lips together and did her best to muster a polite smile for the man. Turning, she chose the side door, and was met with the sweet smell of hay, and the not so sweet smell of horses.

“Saddle...saddle...saddle. Who do you belong to?” she said thoughtfully.

A familiar whinny touched her ears.

Her gaze with the saddle broke as her eyes lifted to scan the crowded stable. Her eyes lit on a glistening black mare, that she would have to have a death wish to even attempt to mount. A dappled gray followed after, and after the dappled, staring at Gabrielle with keen eyes, was an intelligent looking, light blonde mare who began tapping her hoof gently.

“Argo?” Gabrielle whispered, smiling slightly as the horse dipped its head gracefully in response. “Argo!” she exclaimed throwing her arms around the beast's neck. She knew that she wasn't the mare's favorite person, but at this point in time, she felt they were both happy to see one another. “What are you doing here, girl? Where's Xena?” she asked looking around.

Argo let out a dignified huff, as if she expected her fellow blonde to understand what she was saying.

“Want an apple?” she asked, reaching into her apron pocket and retrieving the fruit that she hadn't finished at breakfast.

The horse accepted, smashing the bright red orb between its teeth and nuzzling gently into the palm of the bard's hand.

“Xena must have dropped you somewhere safe while she went on to somewhere...less safe,” she finished as she noticed the horse begin to shuffle its hooves nervously. “I wonder what she's up to,” Gabrielle trailed off.

>

Dinner had moved much more swiftly than it had the last few nights, the conversation ebbing and flowing comfortably. Gabrielle had been happy to see Argo earlier, but there was no way that she'd tell her family that. Now she was curled up in her small bed, attempting to bid herself to enter the land of slumber over the cacophony of her sister's snoring. A strange sensation flowed through her, this time different than the one from the night before. She felt warm, cared for, and protected. Even the breeze that blew through the window seemed warm for this time of the year.

“Psst!”

Gabrielle sat up in bed, searching the room for the sound.

“Psst! Gabrielle!”

The bard turned in the direction of the open window, but saw nothing.

“Gabrielle!”

This time she knew it came from the window, and whatever invisible being was deciding to play tricks on her. She stood, crossing the floor, swallowing her nerves down in her throat. She wasn't prepared for the start she got as a hand shot inside the window and clamped over her mouth, anymore than she had been prepared for the strong arm wrapping around her waist and lifting her over the window ledge.

She began to struggle against the offender, who only tightened the grip.

“Sh! Gabrielle, it's me! Sh!” came the urgent whisper.

Gabrielle spun away. “Xena?” she whispered, eyes widening. “What are you doing here? Not that I'm not happy to see you.”

“I wanted to make sure you made it safely,” the warrior princess said quietly. “Let's go talk in the barn. I don't want to risk anyone overhearing us.”

Gabrielle nodded, following her best friend a ways away from the house.

“Have you enjoyed seeing your family?” Xena asked once they were inside. She smiled, softly at the younger woman.

Gabrielle tilted her head to one side for a moment, contemplating her answer. “Yes...and no.”

“What's wrong? Did something happen?” the warrior asked, immediately going on alert.

“No. No. Nothing happened,” she paused for a moment, looking into worried blue eyes, whose sapphire hue still managed to glisten in the moonlight sifting through the slats in the wood. “I've...I've just. I've missed you, Xena. I miss you,” the blonde said honestly.

Blue eyes softened, looking tenderly at the bard, touching Gabrielle's arm gently, but remaining silent. She graced the young woman with a grin.

A smile broke across the younger woman's face, and she wrapped her arms around the warrior princess, yelping a bit as her face came into hard contact with the brass breastplate. “Do you always have to wear that thing around?”

The tall raven haired woman couldn't hold back a laugh. “I don't have to, but it really helps when someone's trying to run a sword through my chest.”

Gabrielle cringed, not liking the image put into her mind in the slightest. “Okay, I get your point. Wear it all the time.”

“Well, it's uncomfortable when I'm trying to sleep.”

The bard smacked Xena's shoulder lightly. “Xena. I'm serious. What are you doing here?”

“I was serious too. I wanted to make sure that you made it safely to your family. Then, when I got here, I noticed the way things felt. The whole town seems dark.”

“I've noticed the same thing. What do you think is causing it?”

“I don't think it's a what. I think it's a who,” Xena answered.

“A who?”

“Someone from my past,” Xena said softly, head dipping in shame.

“From your past?” Gabrielle echoed, grabbing Xena lightly by the arms. “Who, Xena?”

“It was a long time ago. My army had been divided down the middle, and I was angry. The need, the raw want for power consumed me like a flame, and I became lost in it. I hungered for it, until one day, it wondered into my army's camp. A shamaness from an Amazon tribe asked for my help, and in return, she promised to make me a Destroyer of Nations,” Xena began her narrative, voice low and hesitant, seeping with remorse.

“Why would you...oh. You wanted to rule Greece,” Gabrielle said softly, answering her own question. “You wanted to be a tyrant.”

“I did,” Xena nodded, tears making her eyes gleam as they hovered but refused exit. “I didn't just want Greece. I wanted the world. Known and unknown. I was cruel, and the people of Potidaea would have been kindling for the fire. I had planned to make slaves of peasants so that they could earn their worth.”

“Me,” Gabrielle whispered. “You would have enslaved me.”

“I would have,” Xena replied. “That Xena is long dead, Gabrielle. I need you to know that.”

“I do,” Gabrielle said softly. “I know that. I've just never heard you say it. I didn't think it would affect me the way that it did.”

“You never have to worry about that now,” Xena smiled tenderly, caressing the young girl's face. “But we do have to worry about that shamaness. Her name is Alti, and she's here, living among the villagers. I don't know what her plan is, but I know the outcome will be catastrophic if she succeeds.”

“She's in Potidaea?” the bard's eyes widened.

“Yes, and I don't know what she has in mind for Potidaea,” Xena replied, voice urgent .

Gabrielle looked at the ground for a moment before flicking scared green eyes to the warrior princess. “My parents. My sister. We have to get them out of here,” she whispered. “Xena, we have to.”

“I won't let anything happen to them,” Xena gripped her shoulder gently. “We can't move anyone yet. Alti is smart, and she has these unearthly senses. She's a shamaness, and she can sense things when they aren't normal. You've got to act like everything is exactly the same as it was before.”

“Xena-”

“I promise I'll protect you. And your family. Gabrielle, look, I need you to trust me. Alright? Can you do that?” the warrior princess entreated.

The blonde looked up, taking a long look at her best friend. “You know I trust you, Xena,” she answered softly. “With my life.”

“I will never let anything happen to you, Gabrielle,” Xena said firmly. “Ever,” she said, caressing her best friends cheek gently.

<

Gabrielle slipped back into her bedroom window, relieved to find her sister still sleeping. Seeing Xena had brought the feelings she'd been fighting with up again, and they weren't being shaken easily. Something, deep within her being told her that they would never be shaken. The warrior princess had invaded every space within her heart, and she knew that. She also knew that she was going to have to fight with all her might to leave those feelings in Potidaea when she returned to the road with Xena.

The two had decided that they would meet at Xena's room after Gabrielle had done her morning charms and helped her mother with breakfast. The blonde felt fear rising within her as the conversation between herself and Xena was called back to her memory. She didn't know this Alti that Xena referred to, and from the sounds of it, she didn't want to. One thing she was certain of, if Xena was worried enough about it that she slipped out of hiding to warn Gabrielle, then it had to be serious.

“Why was she hiding anyway?” Gabrielle whispered to herself in the darkness.

“Why was who hiding?” a groggy voice came from the bed across the room.

“I'm sorry, Lila. I didn't mean to wake you. I saw something beside the barn, and when I went out to look the dog was hiding. Whatever it was must have spooked her, but it's gone now,” she said, amazed at how easily she was able to lie to her sister. However, when it came to Xena, nothing should have surprised her.

“It's alright,” Lila said, rolling over and turning her back to her sister. “Goodnight, Gabrielle. Again.”

“Goodnight,” Gabrielle said softly, burying under the covers and returning to her musings about the warrior princess. Sleep crept upon her, and before she knew it, a rooster crow informed her that the sun had decided to rise from its slumber.

The blonde hurried through her morning chores, eager to return to Xena's side, and figure out what their plan to take down this Alti woman was going to be. After making an excuse of wanting to walk around the town, Gabrielle was on her way to meet with the blue eyed warrior, hoping that no one caught a glimpse of her entering the tavern.

“Hey,” a voice said, startling her from the hall as she topped the stairs.

“Hey,” she smiled, her eyes lighting on Xena, who looked like she'd been awake for hours now.

The warrior princess's eyes were bright, and a smile graced the contours of her lips as she looked at the young Amazon princess. “How did you sleep?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow at the disheveled looking blonde.

“I haven't slept well since I left,” she answered honestly, looking to the floor.

A moment of silence settled around them like a blanket, each woman glancing, almost shyly at the other before Xena took a step back and gestured for Gabrielle to enter her room. The blonde looked around the modest room. Aside from a bed, a straight back wooden chair, and a small table, the room was virtually barren. She took note of that the chair was positioned at the window.

“You've been watching me,” Gabrielle said, a hint of suspicion in her voice as she cut her eyes at the warrior.

“Guilty,” Xena smiled innocently. “Look, I wasn't trying to spy on you or anything. I just wanted to make sure that you were safe. Then, I saw Alti, and knew that I needed to tell you.”

“It's okay, Xena. I'm glad you're here,” the blonde said, placing a hand on Xena's arm.

“You are?” the ebony haired woman asked.

“Of course I am,” Gabrielle said softly, looking tenderly at the other woman.

“I've missed you,” Xena said quietly. “A lot.”

Gabrielle smiled, looking at the ground before her twinkling eyes met Xena's. She knew it had taken everything the warrior princess had to be able to make that simple admittance. “You know you're going to have to take that thing off before I hug you again, right?” she asked, pointing to the metal armor.

“Gabrielle...” Xena said warningly.

“Come on, Xena,” Gabrielle teased, running her fingers lightly under the clip that anchored the metal against the warrior princess. “I really want that hug. Please?” she asked innocently.

Xena rolled her eyes, trying to shake the feelings running through her body as the back of the blonde's fingers touched the skin underneath the clip. “Okay,” she replied, grabbing Gabrielle's hand gently and reaching for the clip herself. She hung the metal piece on the chair, and found herself being crushed by the Amazon the second she turned around. She hugged her friend in return. “Alright, that's enough. We have a plan to hatch,” she said, gently extracting herself from Gabrielle's embrace.

“Right. So, what can you tell me about this Alti?”

“She's evil. What else do you need to know?” Xena shrugged.

“Do you wanna give me a backstory or something?”

“Nope.”

“I think it might help if I know what we're up against,” the bard said honestly, her hand finding Xena's forearm as she searched the other woman's face.

“She's bad. She's a bad person. She can do these crazy things with her mind that most warriors can't even do with their hands,” Xena said. “I don't want to concentrate on what she can do. I want to concentrate on what we can do to defeat her. Gabrielle, if I can't get the jump on her...it's not going to be good.”

“Xena, we can get my parents and Lila out of Potidaea tonight after everyone is sleeping. You and I can fight Alti.”

“I told you, we can't risk moving them. Gabrielle, if we do, and Alti notices, they're missing, they're as good as dead, and so is the rest of Potidaea.”

“Xena, I can't fight knowing they're in danger. I'll be distracted, and I'm not that great at fighting anyway. I mean, I'm still learning, but I can't use this time to learn. I mean...”

“Gabrielle...”

“I need to be prepared. I'm not a warrior like you. I'm a bard...”

“Gabrielle...”

“I mean, I'm decent with a staff, but the thought of something happening to them, and I can't even...”

“Gabrielle!” Xena said, grabbing the now pacing blonde by the shoulder.

“I'm sorry. I just-”

“Shh...it's alright. I know exactly how you feel. I feel that way every time I go into battle with you by my side. Sometimes, it's hard to concentrate when the person you care about is at risk. But sometimes, it helps the fight. With you by my side, it makes me fight that much harder to make sure that you're safe. I won't let anything happen to your family. I promise you,” Xena attempted to soothe her for the second time.

“I know you won't, but Xena,” Gabrielle paused, becoming angry with herself for the tears springing to her eyes, “I'm scared.”

“I know,” Xena said quietly, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman. She rested her chin lightly on top of the bard's head. Guiding her across the room, the two sat on the edge of the bed. “I wish I could keep you from all of this.”

The blonde lifted her head. “I don't want you to keep me from it. I want to be next to you. Fighting. I want to help.”

“I know you do,” the warrior princess replied. “I wish I could send you somewhere you would be safe, but I think the safest place for you, right now, is with me. We can't be seen together. If we are, Alti will know that you mean something to me, and I can't risk anything happening to you. I don't think your sister would be too thrilled with us spending time together either.”

“She'd get over it, but whatever you think is our smartest plan, that's what we'll do,” Gabrielle said, snuggling against Xena's shoulder.

“Tired?” the warrior asked.

“Mmmhmm,” Gabrielle murmured, eyes growing heavy. “I told you. I haven't been sleeping that well.

“Come here,” Xena encouraged softly, shifting so that she was laying against the pillow, the bard fitting perfectly into the cradle of her arm. “Maybe we could both use a rest,” she said, kissing the top of the golden head.

Gabrielle's arm found its way around Xena's waist as she snuggled closer, her mind drifting to their nights sleeping near the fire when they were on the road. She felt sleep begin to claim her as Xena's hand rubbed gently over her arm.

The shift of the sun woke both women up a few candle marks later. Xena smiled as she watched the sunlight move behind the stirring bard and turn her hair to gold. “How did you sleep?” she asked with a grin.

“So good,” Gabrielle murmured, voice still holding notes of sleepiness as she stretched against Xena, wrapping an arm around the leather clad waist.

“I'm glad,” Xena said softly, tightening her hold lightly around the blonde.

“What time is it?” Gabrielle asked.

“I dunno. A little after lunch maybe?” Xena said, fingers finding their way into Gabrielle's hair as she played with the strands.

“After lunch?” the Amazon asked, eyes suddenly wide, her whole body lurching into a sitting position.

“Yeah.”

“Oh no. No. No. No,” the panicked voice rose as the blonde pulled her boots onto her feet.

“What? What's wrong?” Xena asked, sitting up, confused, as her eyes trailed the frantic movements of the other woman.

“My parents. My parents expected me back in time to help with lunch. I don't know how I'm going to explain this to them,” the worried tone confessed.

“Gabrielle, just listen. Tell them that you fell asleep by the stream you like to walk beside. Tell them you were coming up with a new story and just nodded off. Calm down,” she soothed.

“You're right. I can do this. I can,” the blonde assured herself.

“Yes, you can,” Xena said, placing a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. “Go on,” she encouraged, voice low and gentle.

“I'll be back to see you tonight,” Gabrielle promised, caressing Xena's cheek gently. “After everyone falls asleep, I'll sneak out.”

“Don't do anything to get yourself in trouble with your family,” Xena warned.

“Who? Me? Xena, it's like you don't even know me,” the blonde said innocently.

>

“I told you, Lila. I fell asleep by the stream,” Gabrielle said, setting her coin purse on the small table near her bed.

“Gabrielle, I know you didn't. I'm not Mother and Father. Just tell me where you were,” the brown haired girl said.

“I was by the-”

“I went to the stream looking for you. I know you weren't there.”

“Lila...maybe we just missed each other. Did you think of that, or are you so set on picking as many fights with me as you can that you can't consider that there's a second explanation?” Gabrielle demanded, becoming irritated at her sister.

“Gabrielle, I'm not trying to fight. I just want to know you're alright.”

“I'm fine,” Gabrielle softened. “Lila, you don't have to worry about me. I'm more than capable of taking care of myself.”

“I know that, but Gabrielle, sometimes you get a little in over your head before you realize it,” Lila pointed out.

“I know. I know that can happen, but it was just a new story developing. Maybe I was a little further down the path than you were,” Gabrielle suggested.

A hesitant smile graced Lila's mouth. “Yeah. Maybe so,” she conceded, realizing that Gabrielle wasn't going to reveal what she was actually doing.

Gabrielle smiled in victory. “Do you want to come with me to the market? I need to get a couple of things for dinner.”

“Do Mother and Father know you're going to the market again? Things are getting so expensive. We usually only go once every couple of weeks. What are you bartering?” her sister asked curiously.

“I still have some dinars left from..” she paused, “telling stories. Sometimes I'd work at storytelling in a tavern for practice. Every now and then, the patrons would give me money,” she explained, finding it difficult to explain this part of her life without mentioning Xena.

“Oh,” Lila said softly, catching everything that Gabrielle was saying, and not saying, at one time. “Xena was with you, right? I mean, she wouldn't let you go into a place like that alone, right? Not with all those drunks.”

“She was with me every time. Well...most times, but she'd never leave me in one where there was any chance that I could be threatened or harmed in any way. Any time I told stories, she was there. She likes-liked my stories,” Gabrielle said, catching her slip.

Lila bit her tongue, attempting to quell any bitterness from gliding out in regards to the woman wonder and her sister.

<

A pair of golden eyes watched the hooded figure enter the inn. A couple of beats later and the tall warrior woman that was in one of the upper level rooms, passed by the window, allowing the hooded figure entrance to her domain. The eyes caught sight of the warm embrace between the two women, and the way the blue eyes sparkled as they gazed lovingly at the blonde.

“Well, Xena. I never thought of you as a farm girl type. I guess we all have our little secrets, I can promise that you'll never figure mine out,” a raspy voice chuckled from the exterior of the inn. Passing by the towering building before the warrior princess honed her senses and discovered her.

She knew that she'd have to act quickly to keep Xena from discovering that she was in Potidaea. She'd hoped that the sleepy town was an ideal place for her to lay low and gather her strength, but no doubt, Xena passing through shut that theory down. She knew that she'd need to move on, but she was going to rid herself of the ebony haired pest once and for all.

>

“Are you clear on the plan?”

“Plan? Xena? What plan? Because all it sounds like we're doing is waiting to die, or until Alti decides to...brain suck us, or whatever she does!” Gabrielle paced.

“She doesn't suck brains. Gabrielle, just...” she stood, holding a hand up to the blonde. “She destroys souls.”

“Well,” the bard faked a smile, accompanied by an exaggerated shrug, “that brings me much more comfort. At least now I can be a soulless ass with a brain.”

“Soul sucking as in she kills you.”

“So I don't even have the luxury of being an ass! Xena, we have to stop her!”

“And we will, Gabrielle. I promise you,” Xena said, grabbing her hand. “We're going to wait. I know Alti, and she'll make a move soon enough. If we move first, it'll be suicide, and I can't lose you. She'll destroy you, Gabrielle. Don't you understand that?” Xena asked.

“The village is full of people. She's not going to target me,” the blonde said, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Yes, she will,” Xena growled through gritted teeth.

Gabrielle shrank back a little at the tone of the, suddenly, angry warrior. “Why? Why me?”

“Because I love you,” Xena snapped, turning sharply to the bard. “Alti will sense that, and she'll take pleasure in extinguishing any remnant of light in my world. Because you mean everything to me. That's why you.”

Gabrielle held her hands up in surrender. “Alright. Alright,” she agreed softly, taking Xena gently by the shoulders. “So what's our plan? There is a plan, isn't there?” she asked, eyeing the warrior curiously.

“Not exactly,” Xena answered, dipping her head.

“There isn't even a plan?”

“Look, I told you. We wait until she makes a move. Once she does, I'll fight her,” the raven haired woman shrugged.

“Why don't you fight her before she...gathers her power or whatever she does?”

“Because I don't know how strong she is,” Xena replied.

“But she's going to be stronger!” Gabrielle said, voice nearing a whine.

“Gabrielle, I'll handle it. I've fought her before.”

“But did you win? Because, Xena, it doesn't seem like you did.”

“So, what? Winning equals killing now?” Xena asked, stiffening quickly, and trying to fix a cold look in her eyes instead of the hurt that she was feeling.

“Of course not,” Gabrielle replied, feeling instantly contrite. “But warlord Xena, yes. Killing equaled winning,” she said, taking the other woman's hand.

“Alti was different,” Xena said softly, not meeting the blonde's eyes.

Gabrielle craned her head to the side, trying to decipher what the warrior princess was saying, but she was drawing a blank. “Special how?” she asked, feeling a hint of jealousy twinge deep within her chest.

“I couldn't kill her. That's about it.”

“You couldn't kill her, or wouldn't kill her?”

“What difference does it make?” Xena asked.

“Believe me, Xena, it makes a difference,” the bard answered.

“A little of both, maybe.”

“Why?”

Xena looked at Gabrielle, already hating herself for the admittance that she was going to have to make to the blonde. “I think a part of me has always held onto Alti.”

“Oh,” Gabrielle said softly, pulling her hand away from Xena's.

“No. No,” the warrior princess said gently, retrieving the bard's hand. “I don't mean like that, Gabrielle.”

“Then, how did you mean it, Xena?” the blonde asked, voice barely a tremble.

Xena tugged Gabrielle gently, the two crossing the floor to sit on the edge of the bed. “I guess the warlord, the part of myself that I'm always having to fight, has held onto her for all of these years. At one time, Alti offered me the one thing I craved more than anything in the world. The thing that I wanted the most. Power. It's hard to kill that power, when at one time it was all you could think about.”

“You don't think about it anymore?”

“I do,” Xena said softly, “but it's not as much as it used to be. Sometimes, when something's gone wrong, or when you've been captured, some part of me wishes that I had it.”

“Please, never wish that on my account,” Gabrielle replied.

“Then, stop getting captured. I swear to the gods, Gabrielle, it seems like you get captured every week,” Xena said.

“Yeah, usually by some big, smelly guy trying to even the score with you, warrior princess,” Gabrielle jabbed, poking a finger into Xena's chest, and yelping as the metal poked back.

“Serves you right,” Xena smirked.

“So you think about the power, and not Alti?” Gabrielle asked, leaning against a bronzed shoulder.

“Gabrielle, only one person consumes my mind, and it's not Alti,” Xena said quietly, leaning her head against the bard's and inhaling the clean scent of her hair.

Gabrielle lifted her head, green eyes searching brilliant blue ones for answers. “Xena?” she asked the now silent warrior princess.

“I love you, Gabrielle. I'm pretty sure that I have every since you demanded for me to take you on the road with me,” she admitted, smiling at the memory.

“You told me no,” the blonde pointed out, tears brimming her eyes at Xena's admission.

“If I could take that back, I would. I'm glad you followed me to Amphipolis,” the warrior princess admitted softly. “You taught me how to love, Gabrielle, and you taught me what it mean to be accepted and loved, despite my past. Now I want to love you for my present and my future,” she finished tenderly. She felt her palms begin to sweat as the blonde studied her features silently. The silence finally started getting to her, and she began fidgeting. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-” she found her words silenced as two soft lips pressed against her own, firm, but tentatively at the same time.

Gabrielle broke the kiss gently. “I love you too,” she whispered, tilting her head and resting her forehead against Xena's.

“What do we do now?” the warrior princess asked quietly.

“What do you want to do?” Gabrielle asked, eyes meeting Xena's as their foreheads continued to rest together.

Xena felt a heated blushed spread up her neck. “I meant with you here, and me...not here.”

“Oh, there's no way I'm staying in Potidaea now,” Gabrielle replied firmly, wrapping an arm across Xena's waist.

“I'm glad,” Xena admitted.

“Good. Because I was afraid I'd have to follow you again, and I'm pretty sure that blind cyclops wouldn't be too pleased with me if I returned without both of your legs,” the bard answered.

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Gabrielle said.

“What do you mean if you came back without both-” she found herself cut off a second time as the bard's lips found hers again, this time a little more eager and forceful. Xena broke the kiss, “Don't try to distract me.”

“Shut up, and kiss me,” Gabrielle breathed, wrapping her arms around Xena's neck, and kissing the other woman deeply, and pressing her body against her.

The warrior princess ran her fingers through the bard's hair, growling lightly at the clip holding the tresses to Gabrielle's scalp before tugging it loose gently, and throwing it over her shoulder.

“This has to come off,” the bard said, unclasping the metal from the warrior.

Xena took the breastplate from the blonde, tossing it to the floor. Wrapping her arms around Gabrielle's waist, she lowered the blonde to the bed gently, scooting Gabrielle up until her head rested on the pillow. Bending to capture the waiting lips again, Xena deepened the kiss, tongue slipping gently against Gabrielle's full bottom lip, the blonde not disappointing her as she allowed the muscle to slip into the warm mouth. She smiled a little as she heard a soft, throaty moan escape from the back of the bard's throat as she slid a hand over the light blue shirt, massaging lightly over the blonde's stomach before caressing gently over the curve of her breast, thumb rubbing lightly over the stiffening flesh.

“Xena!” Gabrielle gasped, breaking the kiss to catch her breath, as the warrior's finger played over her chest. She moaned again as Xena's lips kissed lightly over her neck before sucking gently.

“Do you want me to stop?” Xena asked, breath ragged and deep.

“If you do, I'll hit you with my staff.”

“Again?” Xena teased, lifting the hem of the blonde's shirt, revealing the creamy flesh below, her lips teasing over the fabric covering the bard's chest before kissing over Gabrielle's lower stomach, nipping gently around the belly button before lightly dipping her tongue in and continuing her way back to the bard's lips. She pulled back, looking into dilated forest green eyes. “I love you,” she said softly.

“I love you too,” Gabrielle responded, breath catching in her throat as she looked into the warrior's intense gaze. Without breaking eye contact, she pulled her shirt over her head. “I need you,” she whispered.

“I'm right here,” Xena breathed, eyes shifting from Gabrielle's and taking in the beauty of the top half of the bard's body before her eyes found their way back to green ones. She leaned down, kissing the blonde longingly, hands roaming over the curves of her body. Sucking lightly at the pulse point on Gabrielle's neck, she freed the blonde's legs from the rust colored skirt. Her lips left trails of fiery kisses in their wake as they crossed the pale skin of her chest.

Gabrielle felt her body heat ratchet up, and just when she felt as though it couldn't possibly increase in temperature again, she felt the warrior's tongue lave softly over her nipple before sucking the hardened peak into the warm mouth. “Gods!” she breathed, head throwing itself back against the pillow of its own accord. Xena grinned around her new toy, glancing up and seeing the euphoric look on Gabrielle's face. She released the dusty pink bud, replacing her lips with her fingers, squeezing gently, as her mouth sought out the other one.

Gabrielle felt as if her entire body was set ablaze by Xena's mouth and touch, and her head was cloudy. No matter how good of a bard she was, she'd never be able to put what she was feeling in this moment into words. She felt a strong hand move steadfastly over her bare thigh, fingers tickling the inside as the digits stroked, edging their way further and further to the blonde's center.

“Xena?” Gabrielle finally managed to choke out, she moaned with slight disapproval when the warrior's lips left her breast, but she had no complaints when they went to work across her rib cage. She felt a finger trace over the slit of her lower lips tentatively. “Xena!” she jumped, lifting her head from the bed and looking into the surprised face of the warrior princess.

“What's wrong? Do you want me to stop? I can,” Xena said quickly, removing her hand from between the bard's thighs.

Gabrielle clenched Xena's hand before it had a chance to escape. “Don't you dare,” she said softly. “It's just...well...I've never done this before.”

“I know, Gabrielle,” Xena said gently. “And that's fine. If you're not ready...we can take this as fast or slow as you want to,” the warrior finished tenderly.

“I'm ready,” Gabrielle answered, voice certain. “I want this with you. I want you to be my first...and my only.”

Xena's chest felt tight with emotion, and the warrior princess found herself unable to respond. She kissed the bard tenderly, her lips saying everything that her words couldn't. She allowed Gabrielle's capable hands to rid her body of her leathers. Little expressions of pleasure escaped each of their mouths at the feeling of the skin on skin contact. Xena grinned as Gabrielle's body began shaking uncontrollably. “Cold?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“No. I'm very not cold,” Gabrielle responded, willing the trembles within her body to cease.

Xena chuckled a little. “Wow. You are a virgin, aren't you?” she teased.

“Be quiet,” the bard shot back good-naturedly.

“Not another word,“ Xena promised, resting her finger lightly on her lips. Removing the digit, she kissed Gabrielle again, working her way down her body, tantalizing every inch of flesh she crossed, illiciting pleas and 'by the gods” from the younger woman. Xena's finger again came to rest against the blonde's lower lips. She looked up, checking for any hesitation or unwillingness from the bard, but Gabrielle's eyes were closed in pleasure.. Slipping the digit through the folds, she stroked the tip of her finger lightly over the nerve center, sensing that the blonde's body might not be ready for everything that she wanted to give her. Right now, she was content listening to the sounds of pleasure coming from Gabrielle's throat as she played over the tight bundle. She paid close attention to her companion's breathing, and when it hitched and came in quick short bursts, she removed the finger from the soaked lips.

“Xena!” Gabrielle growled, clearly unhappy with the warrior's actions.

“Wait,” the warrior princess said quietly.

“Wait?” Gabrielle yelped as the bronzed woman began kissing the insides of her thighs.

“Yes, Gabrielle, wait. Hold the line,” she teased.

“Xena! You don't understand how good it felt.”

“Yes, I do. Now, I want to give you something that feels even better.”

“I'm pretty sure it was about to get even better,” Gabrielle said, taking note of her breathing evening a little, but her entire body felt engulfed in flames. “I mean what could possibly- oh!” she exclaimed, feeling Xena's tongue begin to flick lightly over the bundle of nerves at her center, bathing the swollen piece of flesh with the muscle over and over, beginning slow, and working her speed to a moderate pace, the bard's entire body humming with pleasure. She felt her temperature spike as a thin sheen of sweat began to cover her, feeling hot and cold all at once.

Xena concentrated on bringing Gabrielle pleasure, her mouth keeping a steady rhythm against the bard's churning hips, seeking out additional contact. Pressing two fingers against the blonde's entrance, the warrior bit back her own moan at the heat and wetness coming from her partner.

“Xena?” Gabrielle whispered hoarsely as her body began to tremble.

“I'm here, baby,” the warrior said between more firmly placed licks before sucking the swollen button into her mouth.

“By the gods! Xena!” Gabrielle tried again, trying her best to stop her body from trembling as the ache deep inside her throbbed, pulsating within her lower abdomen.

“I love you,” Xena whispered, panting heavily as she began licking quickly again, feeling the smaller body under her begin to shake and grind her hips against her. She quickly slid two fingers deep inside the blonde.

A scream tore from Gabrielle's throat, moments before a sharp pinch within her body took her to an even higher plain of ecstasy as Xena carried her into womanhood. The warrior brought her down lovingly, stroking slow within her body, as she kissed her way to her lips, murmuring words of love as the blonde's breathing evened out and the trembling subsided.

“You alright?” Xena asked, kissing the blonde head gently as she wrapped her arms around Gabrielle.

Gabrielle giggled, almost drunkenly. “I tingle,” she managed.

“Yeah, that happens,” Xena chuckled, running her fingertips lightly along the pale skin.

“It was perfect,” the blonde said, stretching against the warrior princess. “Just like I've always imagined it.”

“Oh?” Xena quirked an eyebrow in surprise.

Gabrielle's face blushed a bright scarlet as her own admittance filled her ears. “Hush,” she said, placing a finger against Xena's lips. She smiled softly as the warrior kissed the digit gently. “You know, for someone that can kill with your bare hands, you aren't that tough.”

“I can fix that,” Xena offered, glaring playfully, tapping the tip of the bard's nose.

“I'll bet you can,” Gabrielle said, stroking the ebony hair. “One thing's for sure.”

“What's that?” Xena asked, voice low.

“I couldn't free the Titans now, if I tried!” Gabrielle chuckled, flipping a surprised Xena onto her back, fully intent on showing her exactly how much she loved her.

<

“I should have never gone back on my word, Xena. Never gone back on my promise to make you the Destroyer of Nations. What a pathetic creature I've turned you into because of my past misdeeds,” Alti muttered into the cracked mirror in her dwelling place. “I'm sure we could have reached an agreement,” she consoled herself, pulling one of the glass shards from its wooden framed prison.

Reaching the shard heavenward, she focused her gaze, eyes transfixed far beyond the stars. “Hear me, elements of the earth!” she commanded, drawing the blade across her palm, sending a thickened trail of brownish red from her veins. “As my blood cries out for the once great Xena, Destroyer of Nations, now let the blood of many know her greatness once again! Make her reborn! Make all as it could have been, if the known world had a leader to fear and honor!” she shouted.

>

“What was that?” Gabrielle asked, sitting up quickly in the bed and clenching the sheets tightly against her bare chest. “Xena? What was that?” she repeated, looking beside her.

“Just a storm,” an irritated voice said from beside her. “Now go back to sleep.”

Gabrielle nodded. “Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you for nothing,” she said gently, kissing the other woman's temple.

“Mm,” came the muffled response against the pillow.

The blonde laid her head onto her own pillow, willing herself to go to sleep. “Xena?”

“Huh?”

“Does something feel strange to you?” she asked.

“Look, I told you to shave it, and you didn't,” came the irritation again.

“What?” Gabrielle quirked an eyebrow. “No. I don't mean that, I mean-”

“Just go to sleep.”

“Xena, but we-”

“Sleep!” the other woman barked.

“Gods! Alright!” Gabrielle said, throwing herself against her pillows. Pillows. There was only one pillow, the bard thought to herself. “Xena?” she said timidly.

“What?” the raven haired woman growled.

“There was only one pillow,” she said softly.

“Don't be stupid. There's never been 'only one pillow,'” the other woman said, sitting up. “Did I beat you too hard the last time?”

“Beat me?” Gabrielle asked, confused. “Xena? What's my name?” she asked, placing a hand gently on her lover's shoulder.

“Alright, now you're just talking like you're nuts,” Xena said, sitting up.

“What's my name?”

“Gretel? Gracie?”

“Gabrielle?” the blonde offered.

“No, that's not it,” Xena waved her off. “Look, you can't expect me to remember every slave that I capture.”

“Slave? Xena, I'm not a slave. I'm your best friend, and now I'm your lover.”

The warrior let a cold laugh slip through her lips. “Lover? Oh, sweetheart, the things that you and I do to each other? There's no love in that,” the darker woman replied, trailing a finger suggestively over Gabrielle's body.

Gabrielle hated her body for responding with a now familiar throbbing sensation, when she knew the touch should have made her skin crawl. “Stop it,” she said, voice firm, even though she was ready to melt into Xena's embrace again.

“How dare you give me commands in my bedchamber!” Xena said, eyes flying open, and hand drawing back. She watched the girl ready herself for the slap, but something in her face caused her to lower her hand without striking.

“Xena, please. I need you to remember, please. Last night, we made love, and it was the first time for me. You were loving and gentle. You loved me. I need you to remember that,” the bard begged softly.

“Do you know what I remember? I remember you being the only person that I allowed to survive at that pathetic little academy in Athens. I remember thinking you'd be good in the sheets, and you didn't disappoint me. Your storytelling, however...maybe I should have kept that Socrates guy around. He could have probably taught you how to be a real bard,” she said thoughtfully.

“I am a real bard,” Gabrielle replied, getting irritated at the attack on her craft.

“I'm not saying you're rotten at it or anything,” Xena said defensively. “Just that you could be better.”

“Xena!” she raised her voice.

“And what is it with you calling me by my name this morning? You'd better not do that in front of the others. They already think that I've chosen favorites,” the warrior rolled her eyes.

“Others?” Gabrielle asked meekly.

“Yeah,” Xena shrugged. “This place doesn't take care of itself, Gabrielle. You know I have to have servants. I'm terrible at cooking.”

“I know that,” the bard agreed. “So you have servants?”

“What is wrong with you? It's like you don't know who I am, or who you are for that matter.”

“I think it's the other way around,” the blonde stated. “I don't think you know who you are.”

“I know exactly who I am,” the woman growled, glaring coldly into puzzled emerald eyes. “I'm Xena of Amphipolis. Destroyer of Nations, and ruler of the known world.”

“Destroyer of Nations?” Gabrielle whispered, mind spinning through past conversations with the warrior princess. “No,” she breathed. “Xena, no. This isn't right. You're mixed up. I'm your best friend. Remember? I joined you in Potidaea? Well, technically, I joined you in Amphipolis at the tomb of your brother. You were setting out on a quest of redemption. Don't you remember?”

“Redemption?” Xena howled with laughter, the sheet falling and uncovering her breasts, which Gabrielle's eyes couldn't help but gravitate towards. “What in Tartarus do I have to need redemption for? All of the world, even the gods themselves, bow to me. I am sorry for nothing.”

“Nothing? Not the countless people you and your army have slaughtered? Mercilessly. I know you better than that. Remember!”

“You're crazy,” Xena said, wide eyed as she watched the blonde's animation.

“Is there no part of you left in there?” Gabrielle asked, searching her friend's face.

“Guard!” Xena called, amusement turning to annoyance.

“What about all the women and children that you've killed?” Gabrielle heaved.

“I never killed women and children!” Xena's voice boomed, eyes becoming wild.

“I know that. See! Part of you is still in there,” Gabrielle said.

“Guard!” she tried again.

“Tell me, Xena,” Gabrielle badgered. “Does Cyrene know that this is the life you've chosen, or did Lyceus die in vain in her eyes?”

Xena silenced, and froze in her spot.

“Yes, majesty?” a guard called upon entering the room.

“Leave your post, and be certain that no one comes within the vicinity of my chamber,” she said, eyeing the blonde in her bed curiously.

“As you wish, majesty,” he responded, dipping his head respectfully. He'd expected to be commanded to remove the woman's bed mate, but upon seeing that it was the bard, he knew that wasn't the reason. In fact, the bard had been the only person not commanded to leave Xena's bedchamber. He exited the room and continued down the hall locking the massive door leading to the ruler's wing behind him.

“How did you know my mother's name?” Xena asked quietly, eyes meeting Gabrielle's as the question left her lips.

“You introduced us. Remember? When the villagers realized that you were on the good side, after you bested Draco in Amphipolis? She'd been angry with you so long about your brother, but that wasn't your fault, and she finally saw that. Remember, Xena?”

The warrior was quiet, her heart softening a little. “I wish I could. It sounds like a lovely memory,” she commented, voice thoughtful and faraway.

“It's one of your favorites,” the blonde offered.

“How can it be, if I can't remember it?”

“You can't remember?” Gabrielle asked, watching as Xena shook her head. “Any of it?” The warrior princess shook her head again. “It had to be Alti. She must have figured out that we knew she was up to something,” the bard said, eyes coming alive with fire.

“Alti is just a helpless old crone,” Xena waved dismissively. “She's an excellent healer.”

“Oh no. Xena, no,” Gabrielle breathed. “You can't be serious.”

“What?” she asked, staring blankly at the younger woman.

“Alti is a shamaness. Remember? She's bad, bad, very bad people,” Gabrielle insisted.

Xena chuckled, amused by the bard's description. “Alti?” she asked, stomach shaking in all out laughter. “That old woman couldn't be bad if her life depended on it!”

“Oh really?” Gabrielle shot back. “How did you meet her, Xena? How did the two of you become such good friends?”

“I rescued her,” Xena blinked, surprised at the irritation in Gabrielle's voice.

“Rescued?”

“Yeah. The people that lived here had tied her and left her for dead. She'd been beaten. Starved. Tortured,” Xena explained.

“What people?” Gabrielle asked. “That lived in this stronghold?”

“No. The stronghold was built over the city. Well, what used to be the city,” the warrior explained.

“What city?” Gabrielle asked.

Xena stood, allowing the sheets to slide slowly down and off of her body, smirking a little as Gabrielle blushed taking in her unclad form. She pulled the lone curtain back, and extended her hand for the blonde to join her.

Gabrielle's body moved toward Xena of its own will, joining the bronzed woman at the window. Her stomach lurched at the ominous sight before her. Crosses stretched out before her like massive picket fences, some of them with half decayed corpses left on them. Turning her head to the side, she saw soldiers practicing, working parries against each other. Looking in the other direction, she found what appeared to be a freshly built horse stable, and charred areas of ground spattering the vast landscape, and all enclosed within a massive stone hewed wall looming in the distance.

“Where are we?” she asked softly.

“This, my bard,” Xena began, wrapping an arm around Gabrielle's waist, “was the city of Potidaea,” she finished, pulling the smaller naked body against her own and kissing the top of the blonde head and working down the column of her neck.

“Xena, stop it,” Gabrielle insisted, moving her head in such a fashion that Xena's lips lost the contact with the bard's neck. She felt sadness overtake her, and instantly began attempting to fight off the tears she felt pricking her eyes.

“What is wrong with you?” Xena growled, shoving the blonde away, Gabrielle losing her balance and falling to the floor.

“This is my home!” Gabrielle shouted at the angry warlord. “You destroyed it. Where are mother and father? Lila? Where are they, Xena?”

“How should I know?”

“Because they should have been here when you invaded.”

“You were with me when I invaded,” Xena said, giving Gabrielle a surprised look.

“I was?” the bard asked quietly.

“You don't remember?” Xena asked, extending her hand to help the blonde to her feet.

“I don't remember any of this, Xena,” Gabrielle said, tears cresting over her lower eyelids.

“What you said earlier, you were serious?” a dark, shapely eyebrow quirked.

“Yeah. I was completely serious,” Gabrielle sniffed.

“So you think we're in a different dimension?”

“Or reality. Something's happened. I don't know what Alti did, but I know that she's behind this. Not Alti from this timeline, but the other one. The real one.”

“The one where you're my best friend?” Xena asked.

“Yes,” Gabrielle breathed, smiling that the warrior was finally understanding.

“You know that I could have you killed because of madness, correct?”

“I'm pretty sure you're ready to kill me anyway.”

“You're not wrong,” Xena shrugged.

“Just...don't. I need you to trust me, alright?” Gabrielle asked, holding her hands up in surrender.

“Trust a slave?” Xena snorted. “Please. You'd slit my throat the second I got comfortable,” she said, pushing past the blonde bard.

“No. No, I wouldn't,” Gabrielle said, stepping in front of Xena again, and placing her hands on her shoulders.

“Look...whatever your name is-”

“Gabrielle.”

“Fine. Gabrielle. Let's say that I did allow myself to believe you about this whole Alti thing that you're so desperately trying to get me to believe. What's it going to help?”

“Maybe, if you can remember the way things were, we can get the real reality back.”

The chuckle began deep in the back of Xena's throat, before filling the hollow sounding room.

“What?” Gabrielle asked puzzled.

“I guess this means that if this reality isn't really real, then I really didn't kill your parents because your really real parents are in the other real reality, so you can't really be mad at me. I mean, really. Right?” Xena asked.

“You're every bit as weird as the real Xena, but I guess you have a point. But if we can't get back to the way things are supposed to be, then forgiving you is going to take a very long time,” the blonde said, poking the tip of her finger into the warlord's chest. “Of course, you may have me put to death but-”

“Stop,” Xena said softly, grabbing Gabrielle's wrist gently. “Stop it. I wouldn't have you put to death. I can't put my finger on it, but something about you does seem familiar. Intimate. And it isn't just because of the things we've been doing. I can't explain it.” the warrior gave up.

“Because, most of the time, our lives, mine and yours, can't be explained,” Gabrielle answered, touching the other woman shoulder gently.

“I guess that remains to be seen, doesn't it?” Xena replied. “Because my life is perfectly normal.”

“Xena, you haven't been normal since I've met you. That's why we're such good friends. Weird things just seem to happened to us.”

“Like what?” the Destroyer of Nations asked curiously.

“So many things. Finding the baby in the stream. Unleashing the Titans. Freeing Celesta from King Sisyphus,” Gabrielle's voice came alive with excitement.

Xena sat on the edge of the bed, gesturing for the blonde to join her. “Tell me,” she commanded softly, brushing the stray hair from her servant's face. “I want to know about this other side of my life. I want a reason to fight for something good,” she finished softly.

Gabrielle held her breath for a moment, seeing, for the first time, a warlord that yearned for something better. “Let's call this one... Sins of the Past. One day, you were riding along a wooded path...”

Xena leaned back, closing her eyes as the younger woman's words painted a vast landscape in her memory, and she quickly realized that the girl before her was not the same bard from the night before. Now, she didn't have a choice but to believe her, even if it was against her better judgment.

<

The warlord couldn't figure out the change in the bard. Gabrielle was somewhere midways through the Xena from the other reality's first season with the blonde, and yet it felt like she'd just begun her tale. The Gabrielle that she knew before this new little treasure came into her life told stories that were dull and halfhearted. This one told stories that were vibrant and full of life, and unless Xena was mistaken, the young woman's eyes held a flicker of love burning deeply within them. “We are different, aren't we? I mean, we may be two sides of the same dinar, but we're completely different. Your Xena and me.”

“You are, and yet you aren't,” Gabrielle said gently, resting a hand lightly on the arm of the empress. “I know you're different, but I see everything under the surface,” she said, eyes holding steel blue ones. “Your hard. War has made you that way. The need for power, the thirst for blood, it's chipped away at your soul. It's carved you into its likeness. I can see what's underneath. I've seen it. I've seen the Xena that has come from the blood lust, and she is magnificent, and a lot more powerful than you are now. You're better than this, Xena, and the good Xena makes everyone tremble in fear.”

“No one is more powerful than I am,” sapphire eyes ignited in fury as they narrowed into slits.

“The other you is. Someone who can command war or peace outranks a commander of war,” Gabrielle said wisely.

“How dare you speak to me that way,” Xena snapped, crossing the floor quickly, and drawing her fist to strike Gabrielle, who, to her disappointment, didn't even have the decency to flinch.

“I'm speaking the truth. I'm not scared of you, Xena. I know you feel a tug from the other side of your soul when you look at me. I know you can't bring yourself to hurt me, and I think that, deep down, you know the reason,” the young woman spoke bravely.

Xena felt the bard's words reach deep into her heart, and she was quick to catch herself. “I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about,” came the low toned response. “And I don't think you do either” she added.

Gabrielle walked closer to her captor. “Tell me that you don't feel it too, Xena. Tell me that you don't feel something for me,” she said gently, taking the warlord's hand in her own and placing it over her heart. “Tell me that your heart doesn't pound like mine does when I get close to you,” she whispered, face nearing Xena's..

Xena felt a slight pounding begin in her chest, followed by the lower recesses of her body. “I don't feel anything,” she responded, voice breathless.

“Try saying that a little more convincingly,” Gabrielle teased, guiding the warlord's hand to the curve of her breast. “Tell me, Xena. Tell me that I don't mean anything to you.” Her voice was barely audible in the otherwise silent dwelling. She stood on tiptoe, lips a hint away from those of the raven haired woman. “I love you Xena,” she said, claiming the warlord's lips with her own in a gentle kiss.

“Gabrielle?” Xena asked as they broke apart. “What's going on?” the warrior asked, eyes searching the bard's.

Gabrielle shot a surprised look at the woman before her. “Xena?” her voice broke, eyes becoming clouded with tears. She reached to touch the warrior princess's cheek softly. “Is it you? The real you?” she asked.

“Of course it's me. What's going on?” the taller woman asked.

“What is my mother's name?” the blonde asked, looking cautiously at the warrior princess.

“Why are you being so weird?”

“Xena, please. I need you to answer me,” the bard said, tears beginning to course down her cheeks.

Xena took Gabrielle tenderly into her arms, hugging the younger woman against her. “Hecuba. Your mother's name is Hecuba,” she said softly, kissing the top of her head.

The dam within Gabrielle busted as she felt strong, comforting hands begin rubbing her back. “I didn't think I'd ever get you back,” she breathed, arms wrapping tightly around Xena.

“Where did I go?” Xena smiled. “You were just dreaming.”

“Look around you, Xena,” Gabrielle said, pulling back slightly. “Does any of this look familiar to you? It wasn't a dream. It's real, and it's still happening.”

“Where are we?”

“We're in Potidaea. It's some kind of alternate reality. You're mean, and you rule everything. You keep calling yourself 'Destroyer of Nations'. I'm your slave, and your bard. You think you kidnapped me from the academy in Athens, and we have no idea where my parents are.”

“Destroyer of Nations. So I'm the bad guy in this dimension. Great. Alti,” she spat. “I'm going to send that bacchae straight to Tartarus when I get my hands on her.”

“I get the feeling that you don't treat me very well in this timeline.” Gabrielle admitted. “You're very short tempered, and twice now, you've raised your hand to smack me.”

“Gabrielle, you should have ran. The second you heard the words Destroyer of Nations, you should have gotten as far away from here as you could. I was a monster, and you have no idea-” Xena stopped herself as her voice became almost violent. She softened it to complete the sentence to the blonde. “You have no idea the things that I would have done to someone like you,” she finished quietly, blue eyes falling to avoid the searching gaze of the bard's.

“Xena,” Gabrielle began gently, cupping Xena's face in her hands, “you haven't done anything to me. I don't think you ever could.”

“That part of me, Gabrielle...that part of me would.”

“I don't believe that. I believe in you, and that person isn't you anymore. You're not the same woman anymore. You aren't angry at the world anymore, or dark.”

“Because you're my light,” Xena said earnestly.

A gentle smile graced Gabrielle's lips as she kissed the other woman tenderly. “You're mine,” she responded, tilting her forehead to meet Xena's. “At least you're back now, and we can figure this whole thing out together. I may not be afraid of the you from this lifetime, but she's not exactly the most gentle person I've ever met. I'm sore all over. I didn't realize it until I got up and started moving around,” Gabrielle admitted.

“What hurts?” Xena asked, voice concerned, yet holding subtle tone that Gabrielle could quite distinguish.

“Everything,” the bard replied. “My neck, especially around my throat. My shoulders, chest, wrists, stomach, breasts, and...just everything,” she answered.

“Oh, that's just where I had my way with you last night,” the warrior's voice said silkily. “If you'd only complied without having to be...convinced.”

“What?” the bard asked, pulling away.

“Sometimes you just need a little bit of a push to get into the mood,” Xena shrugged.

“A little extra push? Xena, last night was the first-” she began, breaking off and taking a good look at the woman before her, watching a sly smile tug the left corner of the other woman's face up. “Last night wasn't the first time...” she realized softly, hurt filling her eyes. “It was for me, but not for the other me.”

“No, sweetheart,” the voice said coldly. “Not by a long shot. You're trained very well,” came the supple reply as the other woman looked the lithe frame of the bard up and down suggestively.

“How long have you been listening,” Gabrielle asked, swallowing hard as fear pricked her spine as the woman approached her, stalking her as a lion does its prey.

“I'm yours?” the warrior princess said, lifting an eyebrow in amusement. “You see? This is what I mean by feelings making you weak. Now your fragile little feelings are hurt because I upset your reunion with your girlfriend.”

“We were trying to figure out how to fix this. Then, Xena and I can live our lives as we were, and you can go back to...killing things,” Gabrielle sputtered.

“I don't know how I feel about that,” the Destroyer of Nations replied.

“What do you mean?” the blonde asked curiously.

“If everything goes back to normal, I'm back to having that boring dishrag of a servant servicing me every night, and telling her pathetic rendition of ancient myths. I like your stories better, and I'm certain that your other talents are equally as good,” she winked.

“I'd rather be put to death,” Gabrielle shot back.

“I can have that arranged. After I track your family members down, and torture and kill them in front of you first, that is,” Xena waived.

“No!” Gabrielle raised her voice. “I thought you understood. I thought you wanted something good to fight for?”

“And I have it,” Xena said, pulling a sword from a scabbard that Gabrielle hadn't noticed was in arms reach. “You,” she said, holding the point of the blade to the blonde's throat. “Mind, soul, and body, and you will bend to my every command and desire.”

“And if I refuse?” stuck her chest out indignantly, refusing to believe that the monster before her was Xena's former self. She believed that if she called the warrior on her bluff that the woman would chuckle and make fun of her as she had earlier, but this time, the warlord was looking at her menacingly with desire flushing her features as she back Gabrielle towards the bed.

“Then it just makes it more fun for me. You may not remember how much I love to hear you scream in pain, but it isn't lost to me at all,” Xena said coldly. “I know you won't remember how much I love it when you struggle to get away from me, only to be broken anyway, but I do. So, you see, Gabrielle, was it? I want you to refuse me,” she grinned icily.

The bard's mind raced quickly, trying to think of a way out of this web. “I won't refuse you, Xena. I love you, or at least the other you. Go on,” Gabrielle said bravely, holding her arms serenely at her side. “Take me.”

“Smart girl,” Xena grinned, keeping the sword point focused on the blonde's neck. Shifting the blade lower, she sliced neatly through a cream top that the bard had managed to find and slip on. Her smile broadened as she watched the younger woman fight to not covered her exposed chest. “You are beautiful,” she said softly, running her hand roughly over the girl's bare stomach as she closed the gap between them. “And I love the way you taste,” she continued, nicking the smooth neck with the tip of the blade and licking the small trickle of blood away.

Gabrielle closed her eyes, willing the woman before her away. Her neck stung from the prick of the blade, and her heart raced in fear as the warlord stood over her, lowering her lips to hers. She gagged as she the metallic taste of blood touched her taste buds when Xena's tongue traced over hers. The other woman abruptly pulled away.

“Blood,” Xena gasped, eyes wide as she took in the blonde's appearance. “By Ares,” she growled.

“Please, don't bring him into this,” Gabrielle said, clamping a hand over Xena's mouth.

“I didn't...did I...did we...” Xena couldn't bring herself to finish.

“No,” Gabrielle said softly. “As always, you came to my rescue just in time,” she smiled.

“But not soon enough,” Xena acknowledged, running the pad of her thumb lightly over the tiny wound on the bard's neck.

“I'm alright,” the blonde promised, taking her hand.

“I don't understand what's going on. One minute I'm here, and the next I'm...” Xena trailed off.

“You're what?” Gabrielle asked, eyeing the woman curiously.

“Nothing. It's probably some weird dream,” the warrior waved it off.

“I feel like I'm in a weird nightmare, so we're even. Talk to me,” the bard encouraged.

“When I'm not here, I'm still sleeping in the bed next to you in Potidaea. The other Potidaea, but something's strange about the room. It's changed, and there's this cistern in the middle of the room with this bright light surging around it. It burns to the touch, and I can't see the bottom of the cistern. It's driving me nuts that I can't see what's inside,” Xena finished.

“Maybe that's the key,” Gabrielle offered.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember how you told me that when you were in the dream passage that you had to find the key to get to me?”

“Yeah,” Xena shrugged. “But this is different. I'm not facing off against my old self.”

“But you had to find the key to get to me. Maybe you have to find the key to bring me back to you? Maybe the key to solving this riddle is in the bottom of that cistern.”

“Or maybe it's something much worse,” Xena pointed out.

“Xena? What could be worse that not being together?” Gabrielle asked.

“This,” Xena gestured around the room. “Knowing that you're here with the demon that I was in the past. Knowing what that woman is capable of,” she answered, looking at her hands. “And knowing that, even at my worst, I'd still have been attracted to you because of your light, and your goodness. I seek you out just to destroy it,” she closed softly.

“But that isn't going to happen,” Gabrielle encouraged.

“Wake up, Gabrielle. It's already happened. That's exactly what I've done in this reality. I found you, and I murdered every ounce of hope, faith, and light in you. Now, that the old me has found you again, she's going to try to do the same thing.”

“Xena, she has to be able to be stopped,” the blonde answered, clasping Xena's arm gently.

“But how? I can't exactly help you figure it out, since I never know if I'm going to be here or there,” Xena pointed out.

“Oh, you mortals are so simple minded!” an amused voice said cheerfully.

Gabrielle jumped. “What's that?”

“Me!” announced the voice as a woman with golden hair stacked upon her head shimmered into view, sheer pink nightie visible, even within the darkness of the room.

“Who are you?” Gabrielle wrinkled her nose.

“Who am I? Well sweet cheeks,” the blonde said, pinching Gabrielle's cheeks as approached her, “I'm Aphrodite, and I'm here to make your life so much easier.”

“Really?” Gabrielle quirked an eyebrow.

“Oh totally!” the goddess replied nonchalantly.

“Aphrodite. So you're the goddess of love,” the bard stated.

“Uh huh,” the honey haired woman smiled.

“No offense, but I think we may need the goddess of wisdom at this point. Is Athena busy?” Gabrielle asked.

“Well, look, if you don't want my help-”

“No! I mean, of course we want it. If just don't understand why the gods would send the goddess of love to help out in this kind of a jam,” Gabrielle explained.

“Yeah,” Xena agreed. “We need to find a way out of this, and quickly, before I get shoved out of this reality again.”

“Oh, that's an easy one, warrior babe,” Aphrodite giggled.

Babe? Gabrielle mouthed disbelievingly at Xena, who shrugged wide-eyed.

“Just don't lip-lock with your gal pal here, and you'll be fine,” the blonde goddess waved, smoothing her hair in the reflection of the mirror hanging in the mostly bare room.

“I'm sorry, what?” Xena asked.

“Oh, you mortals!” Aphrodite groaned, taking each woman by the hand. “So, here's the skinny. That shamaness from Xena's bad girl days cursed you, so that little Gabby here would be sucked into this dimension and her life thread eventually cut by Atropos, Fate of blah blah blah. Alti was hoping for the blonde to die at wicked Xena's hand because it would hurt you, good Xena, more. You'd blame yourself, and become someone she could team up with to take over the world because of your anger. In the other reality, not this one. But, Alti tried to infringe on my jurisdiction.”

“Your jurisdiction?” Gabrielle asked.

“Totes! So here's the deal. You two are so incredibly in love,” Aphrodite chuckled. “So, every time Gabrielle plants a kiss on bad Xena, good Xena pops up. Unfortunately, it works both ways, so if the two of you get lippy with each other, whamo! Destroyer of Nations comes back even worse because she's drawing energy from Alti's essence. That big, magical jar your were talking about,” Aphrodite pointed to Xena.

“So it is a key!” Gabrielle crowed.

“Settle down, little bit, I'm almost finished,” Aphrodite said, placing a hand on top of Gabrielle's head and pushing her to sit on a chair. “I work alone.”

“So how do we get back to our time?” Xena asked.

“You beat the bad guy. Duh,” the goddess shrugged.

“How?” Xena asked through gritted teeth.

“You'll have to find Alti in this dimension, bind her, and then destroy her essence in the other dimension. The shiny cord around that jar can only be severed if it's struck down by one of Artemis's arrows.”

“And how are we supposed to get one of those?” Xena demanded.

“I have one!” Gabrielle cried out. “In my bag at my parents' house. It was passed to me by the Amazon's when I took the right of caste. It's supposed to follow Artemis's chosen queen.”

“Very good! Someone did their homework!” Aphrodite said, impressed with the young bard.

“It's too easy,” Xena stated. “What's the catch?”

“There is one little thing,” the goddess answered, a grimace coming over her beautiful features.

“Go on,” Xena folded her arms.

“Well, you may be here for now, but eventually the other you will start trying to butt back in. You can hold her off for so long, but she'll eventually win over. If she takes over for the long term, you'll be lost. It's, like, a huge gamble for you to stick around and help Gabby try to find the shamaness.”

“Well, I'm not leaving her to fight her alone,” Xena countered.

“Then, you're risking a lot, warrior princess. This Alti doesn't want to be found, and your senses can't hone to her the way they can in the other reality. It could take you days, which you don't have. But hey, what does the blonde know?” the goddess asked, snapping her fingers and disappearing into a glittering pink mist.

“Xena?”

“Don't say it,” the warrior princess warned.

Gabrielle touched the other woman's shoulder gently. “We're going to have to split up, and you know that.”

“Maybe I don't want to know that,” Xena grumbled.

“Just because you don't want to face something, doesn't make it go away.”

“I know,” Xena responded with a faraway voice. “You stay here. I'm going to go find Alti in this dimension.”

“Xena! You can't do that. You don't have the time.”

“I've got to!” Xena snapped. “I'm not letting you go against her. She's too dangerous, and the gods only know what she has in store for us here.”

“Then take me with you,” Gabrielle suggested.

“No,” the raven haired woman replied, pushing past the blonde.

“Think about it, Xena. You know this version of yourself. Would the old Xena do anything without a servant around?” Gabrielle pointed out.

“You aren't a servant,” Xena said flatly. “You're a bard. It's two different things,” she stated, turning to walk away from the bard.

Gabrielle took a step toward Xena, fire burning under her flesh as she wrestled within her body to say the words to her best friend. “I am your slave, Xena. You've been using me, every since you took me from that academy, as a sex slave at your every whim, regardless of what I wanted. Believe me when I tell you that I am more of a slave than a bard, and that your guards would think little of you taking me with you, instead of leaving me here.”

Xena's eyes slipped closed as the bard's words washed over her. She knew Gabrielle, her Gabrielle, hadn't suffered at her hand, but the fact that the blonde knew the fear was enough.

“What if something happens and she comes back?” the blonde asked. “What if she's too strong to not come through, and then she comes and finds me?”

“I won't let that happen.”

“You can't control it,” Gabrielle said sharply, causing the warrior princess to whip around to face her. “Didn't you hear Aphrodite? You can't hold the other Xena off forever. This is her dimension. Her timeline. Not ours. You don't know what's going to happen from second to second.”

“Get dressed,” Xena grumbled, rolling her eyes.

“Why are you acting like you don't want to be with me?” Gabrielle asked, shedding the slit shirt and grabbing another, that was a couple of sizes too big for her from the drawer. She tucked it carefully into the rust colored skirt she'd found, and even that garment, brought no familiarity of the one she'd worn when she'd first joined the stoic warrior princess. “It's not like you.”

“Gabrielle, I'm going to have to contact a part of myself that I never wanted you to see. I have to so none of the guards think something is off. I don't want you there for that.”

“Xena...”

“You can come with me, but know that the person you're going to see isn't me anymore.”

“I know,” the bard replied, confused, as she saw a strange look come into Xena's eyes. “Are you alright?” she asked, placing a hand on the firm bicep.

“No,” Xena choked out. “And I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for what I'm about to do.”

>

“Majesty!” the guard snapped to attention, clenched fist held tightly against his chest in a salute. “Would you like me to rid this creature from your sight?” he gestured to Gabrielle.

Xena fixed a frigid smile to her lips. “Thank you for your offer, Hector, but this...whore has displeased me greatly,” she said smoothly, taking note of the tense reaction from Gabrielle at being referred to in such a manner. The bard looked to the floor, almost in shame, and the warrior silently chastised herself for speaking so graphically about her companion. However, she knew that it came with the personality swap, and had to take solace in that.

“I'll have her lashed thoroughly,” Hector said at once, grabbing the blonde's wrist roughly, and yanking Gabrielle toward him.

“You won't touch her,” Xena said icily. “Have you learned nothing?” she asked, grabbing Gabrielle and jerking her back to her side. “You do not touch what is mine, unless I order it.”

“Forgive me, majesty. I just assumed-” a loud crack spattered throughout the hall, as the warlord's hand connected with his face, silencing him immediately.

“Don't assume, Hector. It could get you killed,” Xena warned. She looked a bit further down the hall. “Nelos?” she called.

“Yes, majesty?” came the prompt response.

“Take Hector to the stock yard. Bind him, and give him two hundred lashes with a nine tail. Leave him for forty-eight hours to set an example,” Xena said, tone indifferent and businesslike.

“Yes, majesty,” came the quick nod as the older man took the the younger roughly by the shoulders. He turned and began walking away.

“And Nelos?” Xena called. She watched the man freeze and turn to face her. “Don't spare your arm,” she said with a smile.

With a quick nod, the duo of men were gone, leaving Gabrielle in the presence of a Xena that she didn't know, or understand. “By the gods, Xena,” the bard whispered.

“What?” came the hushed reply.

“Are you my Xena? Or have you changed again?”

“It's me, Gabrielle. I haven't changed. I'm just trying to put on a good show.”

“Well, you're very convincing,” the blonde acknowledged.

“Look, you're the one that wanted to come,” Xena hissed.

“I know,” Gabrielle responded, holding her hand up in surrender. “I just didn't expect you to portray the role so well.”

“What can I say? It's like it's a part of me,” Xena answered.

Gabrielle ignored the latter statement. “Two hundred lashes seems like a lot.”

“Don't let him fool you. Hector may look young and innocent, but he was one of the most brutal of all my men. He'd have taken you, done what he wished to you, and then had you lashed. Plus, two hundred lashes will keep all of the guards in the stock yard for a couple of hours at least. We're going to need that time to look for Alti.”

“Xena? I hear there's a show to be seen in the yard?” a man approached, kneeling at Xena's feet.

“Dagnine,” Xena said silkily. “I'm afraid that Hector put his hands on my property,” she said, voice like honey, as she wrapped an arm possessively around Gabrielle.

“He must not value his life,” the man responded.

“Evidently,” Xena replied.

“Where are you off to?” Dagnine inquired, taking a look at the two women.

“As I was telling Hector, this slave hasn't satisfied my...urges,” Xena said with a smirk.

“So you'll be discontinuing her services?” Dagnine asked, licking his lips.

“No, you idiot,” Xena snapped. “I just need to get her trained. To do that, I want to get her away from here. You think I want lewd guard hanging about outside of my bedchamber listening to her screams and pleas?” Xena barked at the wide-eyed man. She snatched Gabrielle by the scalp, trying her best to be gentle but appear not. “Those sounds are for my pleasure. Not yours.”

“But where will you go, Xena? Surely you can tell me that,” the right hand man stated.

“You're trying my patience, Dagnine.”

“I most humbly apologize, but majesty, isn't it better for someone to know your whereabouts, should something threatening approach our walls?” he asked.

Xena released Gabrielle, approaching the man slowly, her menacing frame coming close to his. “Perhaps you're right. We'll be traveling to Thrace,” she replied.

“Thrace,” Dagnine smiled, looking evilly at the blonde bard. “My advice for you, little one, is to listen and not struggle when Xena tries to break you. The establishment in Thrace holds more horrors than her bedchamber here ever could. I've had to pick up a few dead bodies in that city. All by Xena's hand. Don't become another one.”

“I don't think I want you picking her body up dead or alive, Dagnine. You'll not be coming to Thrace,” Xena said, voice cold as a sinister gleam came to her eyes. “In fact,” she began, jabbing two fingers into either side of his neck, “you'll not be going anywhere, ever again,” she finished, watching the man until the convulsions subsided and his body lay limp and lifeless.

“What did you do?” Gabrielle whispered.

“What I had to,” Xena replied simply. “He'd have followed us, and I can't have that.”

“You're scaring me, Xena,” came the soft voice.

“Then, I'm playing my part right,” the reply said, hushed and hollow. “Gabrielle, look, I don't mean to scare you, but like you said, we're on a time crunch. Dagnine is unnecessary, and is more of a problem than a help.”

“I get it. You're playing a role. I just didn't expect you to be so good at it,” the bard remarked.

“I told you. The Destroyer of Nations lives inside of me all the time. I just choose to fight her,” Xena said simply. “I don't like this anymore than you do,” the warrior princess admitted.

“I know,” Gabrielle said, rushing to keep up.

“Gabrielle, I need you to play your part right too,” Xena said gently.

“What do you mean?”

“You're too confident for a slave. For one, you should never meet one of my soldier's eyes, or mine in front of one of them. You need to act like you're angry at me, but too afraid of me to be able to do anything about it. Remember, I killed your parents, and your sister, for all we know. You should hate me.”

“Xena, I could never hate you,” Gabrielle answered, brushing the back of her knuckles lightly down Xena's cheek. “I don't even hate the you from this reality.”

“You don't?” Xena asked.

“No,” Gabrielle shook her head. “How can I? She's a part of you. She just hasn't made the same choices that you have.”

“And if this is Alti's doing, then she never will,” Xena pointed out. “We've got to find Alti before the other me comes back. Gabrielle, the things she could do to you-”

“Shh,” the blonde hushed her softly, placing a finger lightly over the lips of her lover. “I don't want to think about that. Last night with you was so wonderful...I just want to hold to that memory for a while.”

The warrior nodded. “Alright,” she agreed. “But if she...I...if either of us try to do anything to hurt you, you fight. You fight and you run. If I know myself well enough, there should be a secret door that leads to a subterranean level. Find it, and keep going until you reach the end.”

“It won't come to that,” Gabrielle soothed.

“Promise me,” Xena commanded, pulling the bard to a stop.

“I promise,” Gabrielle whispered as Xena's fingertips traced lovingly over her cheeks. She leaned close, her lips nearing the other woman's, but the warrior princess pulled away abruptly.

“Remember what Aphrodite said. I can't kiss you. If I do, the other me will come back, and we'll have no way of finding Alti.”

Gabrielle nodded, wrapping her arms around her own frame. “Where should we start?”

“This is Potidaea, right? Alti was hiding among the villagers in the other reality. Maybe it's the same way here” Xena offered.

“Maybe,” Gabrielle agreed. “The way you...the other you, referred to her, it doesn't seem like she's very powerful in this timeline. She shouldn't be much of a threat.”

“In my current state, no. I don't suppose I should be much of a threat, should I?” a raspy, elderly voice spoke from behind them.

Xena turned in the direction of the voice slowly, her gaze lighting on an old woman that was hunched over, gnarled, arthritic fingers clasping themselves around a roughly carved wooden cane.

“Hello, Xena,” a familiar smirk sifted through the the toothless cavern of a mouth.

<

“Alti,” Xena breathed.

“Alti?” the bard echoed. “But Xena, she's so old,” she whispered.

“I'm not quite as old as you think,” the crone's eyes narrowed.

“But you're powerless?” Xena asked.

“In a manner of speaking, in this dimension, yes. You see, I've sacrificed my powers in this reality to a soon to be powerful ally,” she smirked, pausing to look at the warrior. “You.”

“That's never going to happen, you bitch,” Xena spat.

“Not with this precious little blonde in the way,” the woman said, grabbing Gabrielle's chin roughly with a gnarled hand. “But you and me, Xena. We could take over the world. We could bring back all of the great war heroes. They could fight for us,” she said excitedly. “We could bring back Borias,” she enticed.

“He's dead, old woman,” Xena snapped. “For me he died long ago, before his spirit was even vanished from this earth.”

“Think of it, Xena. We made an unconquerable team once,” the shamaness reminded.

“Those days are over,” Gabrielle said evenly, reaching to take Xena's hand. “Xena and I, we're the unconquerable team now,” she informed. “And we're going to send you straight to Tartarus.”

“Big talk for someone so fragile. So breakable,” Alti said, eyes widening.

Gabrielle cried out as all of the pain she'd felt when the Destroyer of Nations had disclosed what her nightly fate was came flooding back. She doubled over as a paralyzing pain filled her body.

“You're such an unconquerable team? You are fodder for the greatness of Xena, Destroyer of Nations. You are little more than the property of the Conqueror. That pain you're feeling? She caused that,” she said, jerking her head towards Xena, who seemed frozen to the spot. “In this dimension, pretty girl, she doesn't love you. The only thing that she loves about you is that you're powerless. She can do what she wants to you, and you can't do a thing about it. Next time she's forcing her ways upon you, you can think about that, you stupid, pathetic farm girl,” she finished with a sneer.

“This conversation is boring me,” the warrior spoke up, stepping towards Alti, each step more threatening than the one before. “Whatever you did, undo it.”

“Xena?” Gabrielle whispered, face twisted in anguish as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“I've got you,” Xena said comfortingly, never taking her eyes from Alti.

“Xena, it hurts inside,” the pitiful voice whimpered.

“I know, sweetheart. I'm so sorry,” the warrior princess soothed.

“'Xena, it hurts inside. Boo hoo,” Alti mocked the bard, moving closer to Gabrielle. “Honey, you haven't felt anything yet.”

“Alti, no!” Xena yelled, a nanosecond before a bloodcurdling scream tore from the blonde's throat as her entire body shook in torment.

The old form of the shamaness began laughing evilly. She loved this game. She didn't have to raise a finger. All she'd had to do was rouse the part of the bard's subconscious mind that was suppressing the abuse her other-worldly self had taken at the hands of the warlord. The glee she felt was cut short as she felt her concentration break, along with a few bones within her body.

Xena stood over Alti, grinning maniacally. Her smile faded as she rushed to take Gabrielle into her arms, the bard collapsing in a pile as tears overwhelmed her. “I've got you.”

“Xena!” she wept. “I felt everything,” she gulped between breaths.

“I know,” the warrior said, rubbing her back. “I know. I'm so sorry, Gabrielle. So so sorry,” she whispered, kissing the blonde head tenderly. “I wish I could take all of it away.”

“We've got to get back to the other dimension,” Gabrielle sniffled. “I can't spend my life wondering if she's going to surface and...do all of those things to me.”

“I am going to keep you safe, Gabrielle. I promise,” Xena said gently, curling her index finger gently under the bard's chin to make her look at her.

“How do we bind her?” Gabrielle asked.

“You let me handle that,” Xena said, casting a menacing smile in the direction of the suffering woman on the floor. “She won't get away with what she's done.”

“What did you do to me?” Alti rasped.

“One thing that you forgot about me, Alti,” Xena's voice was short. “I'm very good with pressure points. You won't be able to move until I either release the touch from you, or you die a petrified mess. Gabrielle...my room. There should be some rope, probably in a chest near the bed. I need you to get it.” Xena smiled gratefully as the blonde nodded and rushed off. “You know, Alti. I know my former self pretty well. I was her. I should-” she was cut off by an unpleasant feeling that caused her to have to shake her head to clear it. “I should let her come back and do her worst to you for touching her property.”

“I didn't touch anything,” the shamaness argued.

“Ah, but you did. You touched the path of Gabrielle's life, which means you kept something very good from happening to the Destroyer of Nations. Your punishment should be death. So what is it that you did to avoid dying? How is it that you survived when an entire village was decimated, and you were there. What did you do to convince her to allow you to keep your life?” Xena asked.

“What does it matter?” Alti growled.

“Oh it matters. In fact, it's one of the primary factors for your survival.”

“I cursed myself. I wanted her, Xena, to see me as a weak, helpless old crone, and she did. She commanded her army to spare me.”

“But I wouldn't have killed you anyway. I still don't understand how I wiped out an entire village. Was there a fire?”

“No. Silly girl. There was just a decent amount of you being gullible in the presence of an old woman. I told you that the villagers had slaughtered your mother in your absence from Amphipolis. That they brought her here and killed her, on this very spot where your stronghold stands,” Alti smiled wickedly.”

“And Gabrielle? How does she fit into this?”

“You should know by now Xena,” came the gravelly response. It was met by a blank look from the warrior princess. “She's your soul mate. I needed to kill that in this timeline. So, I told her that a young bard by the name of Gabrielle led the search party for your mother, then fled to Athens.”

“That's the reason I attacked the academy?” Xena whispered.

“Yes. Unfortunately, you were instantly attracted to her, so you couldn't kill her. But, you wanted your revenge, so you brought her here to live as your constant play thing. She hasn't been away from your bedchamber since she arrived. You killed everything within her, except for her life force. She hates you.”

“Gabrielle could never hate me,” Xena whispered, desperately needing to believe the bard's words to her earlier.

“No. This one couldn't, but this one will eventually have her spirit and heart crushed by you.”

“Never,” Xena growled.

“She will. As soon as your other self takes over, that's going to be it for her. Nothing I've recalled to her memory will be anything compared to what the Conqueror will put her through,” Alti promised.

“Then I won't allow my other self to take over,” Xena declared.

“You won't have a choice.”

“Bullsh-”

“Xena,” Gabrielle's voice was soft, little more than a whisper throughout the hall. “She's right. You won't have a choice.” She extended the hand that held the rope Xena had asked for. “We need to get her tied up. Somewhere, out of sight from the Destroyer of Nations. Then you have to go back.”

“I'm not leaving you,” Xena said stubbornly.

“Xena, it's the only way!” Gabrielle said vehemently. “Listen to me, and do as I ask. Please? For us?” she entreated, forest green eyes pleading with angry sapphire depths. Xena grudgingly agreed.

“Go to my parents' house, and slip in through the bedroom window. Careful that Lila doesn't see you. The arrow is wrapped in a scroll inside of my bag.”

Xena nodded. “I'll hurry,” she said, tying the shamaness and closing her in one of the cupboards in the hall.

“Please,” the bard said softly, brushing the back of her hand down the warrior princess's cheek. “Now, give me a kiss. The quicker you leave, the quicker you can come back to me.”

Xena took the smaller pale hand in her bronzed one and planted a soft kiss on it. “I'll miss you every second,” she said softly.

“I love you, Xena,” Gabrielle said tenderly.

“Xena's not here right now,” an angry voice growled from the back of the warrior's throat.

“But...” the blonde searched for words as the Xena she loved disappeared completely from view, and was replaced by the heathenistic woman that she feared.

“You should have known that my weaker self couldn't keep me at bay forever,” she barked, clearly angry to have been out of her element for so long. “Enough of this!” she yelled, grabbing the bard roughly by the hair, clenching the blonde locks and wrapping them around her wrist. She dragged the younger woman in the direction of the bedchamber. “No more playing nice,” she said through gritted teeth.

>

Xena started when her body sunk into the other realm of her existence. She felt something change, and knew that something wasn't the same as it had been the last couple of time that her body had jumped. She looked at the sleeping form of the bard in the bed beside her, but she knew that it wasn't her Gabrielle. It was the Destroyer of Nations' Gabrielle, and the young woman had suffered unspeakable fate at the hands of the cruel warlord. Xena felt an overwhelming hatred of herself overtake her as the memories of the other Xena flooded into her thoughts. She knew now why Gabrielle had doubled in pain as she had when Alti stirred her mind. She hated herself for it, even though she knew that she wasn't exactly the one to blame. She also hated the realization that she had come to. The Gabrielle beside her would be summoned back to the reality with her former self, and that was a bitter tonic to handle.

She thought for a moment, taking her sword from its position against the wall, and pressed the blade against the throat of the sleeping Gabrielle, holding the blade flush against the smooth bruised skin. She swallow hard, pressing the blade more firmly against the throat of the blonde. “May the gods forgive me, for I will never forgive myself,” she whispered, tears falling hot and thick from her eyes, before her lids slid closed.

<

“Xena, stop it! You're hurting me!” Gabrielle yelled, trying to wrestle her wrists away from the iron grip of the other woman.

“Then, I guess that means that I'm doing something right,” the cold voice responded.

“Stop!” Gabrielle shouted again as a very cavalier hand grabbed roughly at her left breast. She seized the moment of freedom the moment the warlord let go of her wrist, landing a hard punch to the center of Xena's forehead, causing the woman to fall back long enough for Gabrielle to break from her hold.

The bard scrambled away, breath coming quickly as panic set in. Suddenly, the full weight of the Destroyer of Nations tackled her to the ground.

“You little bitch!” Xena spat. “I'll teach you a lesson that you'll never forget,” anger radiated from her voice.

“Let go of me!”

“Shut up!” the warlord shouted, catching Gabrielle's hair again, and yanking it so hard that the young bard's neck popped, followed by a cry of pain. “Dammit!” Xena cursed herself, hearing the audible pop, and hoping that it hadn't damaged her favorite servant. “Can you feel this?” she asked, digging her nails into the back of bard's thigh and breaking the skin, blood dotting the skirt where her nails had been. The cry of pain from the blonde told her that she could feel, and she grinned immorally, pressing against the flesh again.

You fight me, and you get away, Xena's words echoed through Gabrielle's head. She began kicking her legs, trying to turn her body under the other woman's so that she could use her hands, but it was no use. The Conqueror had her pinned. She felt Xena's weight lift, and breathed a sigh of relief as the angry woman got off of her. Panic set in once more when she felt the onyx haired woman lift her from the back of her shirt and skirt and toss her onto the bed, as if she weighed nothing. In her surprise at the quick movement, Gabrielle could turn over quickly enough. Xena's body was once again pressing against hers from behind as the warrior ripped through the bard's top and skirt. She felt firm fingers needing into her her hips. She swallowed hard, the memories of the other Gabrielle's fate that Alti had stirred within her mind earlier making her painfully aware of what the warrior had in store for her.

“Xena?” she whispered brokenly. “Please?” she begged as tears fell from her eyes.

A loud crack resounded in the room as a stinging pain on her back made the bard cry out.

“You will not address me by that name,” the voice commanded. The Destroyer of Nations leaned against her prize, biting down on the shell of the bard's ear, enjoying the pain filled cry coming from the blonde. She drew the whip back again, this time landing the thin strip of leather between the blonde's shoulder blades, a smile gracing her lips as the smaller woman clenched the bed sheets in her fists to keep from crying out. “Come on,” Xena spoke sweetly. “Let me hear you,” she enticed drawing the whip and snapping it again, landing a perfect line directly on top of the previous one. She watched as the blonde followed the same pattern, refusing to cry out. “Fine. I can find other ways to make you scream.”

Gabrielle's back was stinging as if it had been sliced by tiny glass shards. She took a deep breath as the weight lifted from her a little. She felt Xena move further down her body, no doubt drawing the whip back again. She wasn't prepared, however, when she felt the stiff leather handle of the whip press between her cheeks, and poise over her back entrance. “Xena,” she began pleading again. “No,” she said, tears entering her voice as true fear of this woman overtook her. She knew what the warlord was planning to do. It had been done to her other self before, and she had the memories. She began squirming.

“Got your attention now, didn't I? Let's see you ignore this,” she whispered into the blonde's ear, voice husky with desire. She pressed slightly against the tight opening as the bard began screaming. “Oh shut up. I haven't even done anything yet,” she grumbled, attempting to keep balanced on the girl's bucking hips.

Gabrielle closed her eyes in fear, the anticipation of the pain that she knew awaited her fueling her terror all the more.

The warrior grinned at her prize. “All at once, alright?” she asked, just before her signature war cry tumbled from her lips. She bent her elbow to drive the shaft of the whip into the blonde, but lost her balance. Shaking her head to clear it, she tried again, but the same thing happened. “Be still!” she barked smacking the back of Gabrielle's head.

“Get off of my girlfriend, you bitch,” a voice hissed menacingly, grabbing the irate ruler by the hair. The seething warrior princess wrapped the thick raven locks around her hand until her fist was flush against the warlord's scalp. She yanked with all of her might, effectively pulling the other woman off of Gabrielle. She focused the sword on the other version of herself. “Are you alright?” she asked the bard over her shoulder.

“I' am now,” Gabrielle replied, wrapping the sheet around her tightly.

“Good. Stay behind me,” Xena said, moving in front of the bed as she eyed the angry woman rising from the floor.

“So, this is what happens to me in my little bard's reality,” the Destroyer of Nations spat, eyeing Xena with hatred. Her eyes flicked to Gabrielle, whose eyes were barely visible as she hovered close to the warrior princess. “You must be one Hades of a lover,” she appraised, voice taking on a suggestive tone.

“Hey!” Xena snapped, pressing the tip of the sword against her reflections throat. “Keep your eyes on me!” she growled.

“You? Please. You don't even compare to me. We may look the same, sweetie, but we are nothing alike,” acid dripped from the cold voice.

“I've fought you before, and I've won. I'll do it again,” Xena said confidently.

“When have you fought me?”

“My former self,” Xena elaborated. “Saving Gabrielle from Morpheus. You were the key. I had to face you before I could get to the one thing I loved the most.”

“How sapphic,” the warlord spat.

“Don't get in my way,” Xena warned, pressing the tip against the bronzed neck.

“You know what makes you weak, Xena? You know what gives me more of an edge than you'll ever have?”

“What's that?” Xena played along.

“I've got years of battle strategy that you don't, since you left this way of life.”

“Don't be fooled,” Xena said simply.

“I have an army.”

“Well, they aren't here right now, are they?” the warrior princess asked, voice like molasses.

“But the biggest thing that makes us different, the one thing that makes me stronger,” the warlord spoke deliberately, pressing her palm against the blade of the sword and pushing it away from her neck. “I'm stronger, because I have no morals,” she finished.

“Funny,” Xena said, twirling the sword in her hand before jabbing it through the chest of her doppelganger. “Neither do I,” she whispered, looking straight ahead as the limp corpse of the Destroyer of Nations fell at her feet. She felt a tear trail down her cheek, unwilling to let the blonde see it. “Get dressed, Gabrielle,” she said quietly. “We've got to get out of here.”

“Are you alright?” the bard asked, placing a hand gently onto the stoic woman's shoulder.

“I'm fine,” Xena said flatly. “Just get dressed,” she instructed, voice disconnected as her gaze fell on the corpse in the floor. “I'll be outside.”

Gabrielle watched as Xena walked out of the room without another word. The bard rifled around the room, seeking out some sort of clothing that would fit her. Everything the Destroyer of Nations had owned had seemed much too big for her. She looked warily over her shoulder at the fallen warlord, her blood running cold at the thought of the things the woman had wanted to do to her. Xena would never have been so cruel, or so cold. At least, she hoped that she wouldn't. She could sense a change in the warrior princess, and wanted to press her for what had shifted. Unfortunately, time seemed to be of the essence. Grabbing a pair of trousers the warlord had undoubtedly taken off one of the corpses that she'd strewn from Greece to Chin, the bard slid them on, securing them with the whip the other woman had so eagerly used upon her tender flesh. She winced as she pulled on a deep blue top that was a little roomy on her, but it fit well enough that her torso wouldn't become exposed in an unexpected scuffle.

Eyeing the body on the floor again, she shook her head, feeling sorry for this piece of Xena. The piece of Xena that haunted the warrior princess nearly every minute of every day. She usually kept the warlord side of herself under lock and key, but every now and again, in the heat of battle, the bard had seen traces of the cruel ruler in the other woman's eyes, but Xena had never given over to it. After meeting her other half, she sincerely hoped that she'd never see that side take residence in her best friend.

>

Xena looked up briefly as Gabrielle exited the room, glad the bard had found something to wear so quickly.

“Alright. We need to get moving,” Xena informed her, not meeting her eyes. “There's a wading pool on the lower level of the stronghold. Alti's powers opened the portal up just after I severed them, but it's only a matter of time before they seek out their mistress. We can't have any of the guards interfering, so you need to act as my slave. Understand?” Xena rattled out quickly.

The bard nodded, and it was rewarded by a tight smile when Xena happened to glance up and back down just as quickly.

“Great. Let's get moving,” Xena said, ushering Gabrielle ahead of her, clamping a hand around the back of her neck. She felt the blonde jump a little and caught herself having to hide a smile at the younger woman's fear. “Easy,” she said silkily. “We've got to make this believable, right?” she reasoned.

“You don't think that maybe this is a little too believable?” Gabrielle spoke up, swallowing hard.

“Actually, I don't think it's considered believable enough, should we run into someone. You have no idea what I was like, Gabrielle. None,” Xena bit out.

“Xena, what's wrong with you?” Gabrielle asked, concern in her voice, although her head stayed focused straight in Xena's vice-like grip.

“Nothing. I just need to get out of here is all,” she mumbled, eyes darting around the halls. “The door is here,” she said gesturing with her free hand, wiping the perspiration from her palm on her leathers.

“How did you know this was here?” the bard asked, finding herself suddenly realizing that every time the warrior princess had been in the stronghold that she'd been in her presence.

“Gabrielle, we don't have time for this right now. We need to go,” Xena informed her, tone coming out terse and impatient. Her grip tightened around the back of the blonde's neck.

“Xena, you're hurting me,” Gabrielle protested, trying to wrench away from the other woman's grasp, but the warrior's hands were as solid as iron bars, and there would be no escaping them. She allowed herself to be pushed through the door, and her eyes lit on the wading pool, shimmering and swirling before her. A portal, just as Xena had said. “What about Alti? She's still tied up.”

“Don't worry about the old woman,” Xena commanded, slipping her arms around Gabrielle's waist and pulling her close. “I have you. Now, are you ready to get back to where we belong?”

The bard nodded, something still making her feel ill at ease, but she threw caution to the wind, and stepped into the churning water with her warrior princess.

<

Gabrielle felt a wave of nausea cause her throat to constrict sharply as the two women lurched back into the realm of their reality. Xena was still gripping her tightly around the waist, but as they stepped forward, the young bard found herself pushed quickly to the side. She watched as Xena grabbed a small scroll, that had been tied neatly, and move quickly to the bed. Gabrielle took note of her own slumbering form in the bed, bruising, redness, and scars that hadn't been properly tended visible on face, neck, and arms. Gabrielle's heart went out to the young girl, forgetting for an instant that it was her.

Xena turned to look at Gabrielle. “All bruised, scarred, and beaten, you are still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen,” she said sincerely. “I have to take her back,” her voice was quiet.

“Back? There? Xena, her life, my life, has been terrible there. How can you turn her back over to that terrible world?” Gabrielle's brow creased from not understanding.

“I have to, Gabrielle.”

“Why?” the blonde asked, placing a halting hand on her lover's arm. “How can you be so cold?” she asked softly.

“I'm not being cold, Gabrielle,” came the stiff reply.

“Xena-”

“I don't have time for this!” the warrior princess flared. “I have to get her there, and then I have to get back before the portal closes.” She yanked her arm away. Crossing the floor purposefully, she gathered the sleeping woman into her arms. She stirred, but remained sleeping. Xena cast a weary look at the alert Gabrielle. “I couldn't kill her,” she admitted, a lump welling in her throat. “I watched her sleep, and I was staring at you. I pulled the sword. I prayed to the gods. I couldn't. I couldn't hurt you, and I couldn't understand how the Conqueror part of me could. Even at my worst, I still had some semblance of compassion. It was just gone. I felt it,” Xena swallowed hard. She looked at the precious cargo in her arms. “The least I can do for her is take her back for a fresh start,” she whispered, disappearing into the portal with the slumbering bard and the scroll.

To Gabrielle, it seemed like Xena was gone for hours, especially when she noticed the portal seeming to grow smaller and smaller. “Gods, Xena, hurry!” she whispered. She let out an audible cry of relief as the warrior princess somersaulted through the portal, which snapped shut behind her.

“She's safe,” Xena said softly, resting a hand on the bard's shoulder. “No one will harm her,” came the gentle expansion. Her blue eyes widened as the blonde threw her arms around her.

“Thank you,” Gabrielle choked out, tears filled her eyes. “I thought I'd lost you. When you didn't come right back, I thought I'd lost you.”

“I'm sorry,” Xena said, stroking the blonde hair softly. She rested her cheek against the tresses. “I'm here,” she reassured her. “To be honest, I think you did almost lose me,” she admitted.

“What do you mean?” the bard asked, lifting her head slightly in order to look into Xena's brilliant blue eyes.

“When I was there with you, after I...did what I did, I felt like something in me was trying to change back into that side of myself.”

“I don't understand.”

“When I was there, in that dimension, I had to fight myself to not become that way. To not give into the Destroyer of Nations.”

“Did you want to hurt me?” Gabrielle asked, brushing Xena's hair away from the warrior's shame creased face.

“Yes,” Xena confided, voice low, remorse keeping it from reaching full volume. “Not the same way that she tried to, but I looked at you, and I became so angry. I don't know why, and I don't know how, but I felt her spirit bearing down onto my soul. I couldn't get away.”

“That's why you wouldn't let me go,” the blonde said, understanding in her voice. “Why you wouldn't let go of my neck.”

“I think so. I had to work really hard to be able to keep my wits.”

“But you did.”

“I did,” the warrior princess agreed. “I fight that side of myself everyday, but this time was different. She was stronger. It was harder to fight her, but I had more of a reason to fight her this time.”

“Oh?” the question flowed slowly from Gabrielle's lips.

“You,” the voice was hushed as Xena's eyes met the bard's. “I love you, Gabrielle, and I will fight for you until my dying breath. I was so close to losing myself again, but the second that I thought of you. How much I care about you. How wonderful you are. When I thought about how much you mean to me, everything became so clear.”

“Xena,” the blonde whispered touching the taller woman's cheek. “I'm so glad that it's over,” she admitted, wrapping her arms around the warrior.

“Over? As if!” a bright voice interrupted the tender moment. “Oh, tiny bard. You have no idea what's been happening on this side.”

“What are you talking about, Aphrodite?” Xena growled.

“When you severed the connection between the dimensions, it would have contained the shamaness,” the blonde goddess explained. “But you, warrior babe, decided to play judge, jury, and executioner. Now, don't you remember me telling you that Alti was funneling her essence into your evil twin?”

“Yes,” came the answer through gritted teeth, her arm tightening around Gabrielle's waist.

“Well, you,” Aphrodite said in a peppy voice, tweaking Xena's nose, “you killed the Destroyer of Nations. That means...” the goddess trailed off, gesturing the warrior to complete her sentence.

“That the essence returned back to Alti,” Xena whispered, eyes widening and flicking to the blonde. “Where is she?”

“She's near here, and she's got the little Amazon queen's sister,” Aphrodite replied, backing away slightly as the angry warrior princess stepped towards her.

“Lila?” Gabrielle breathed, eyes flying open with worry. “Xena...we-”

“I know. Where did she take her?” she demanded, grabbing the goddess by the shoulder.

“Hey!” Aphrodite squealed. “This is pure lace! It was crafted by the Fates themselves!” she whined.

“I don't care is Zeus made it,” Xena spat, clenching the delicate fabric in her fist. “Where is she?”

“Geez! Okaaaay!” came the whine. “She has her somewhere in the woods heading out of Potidaea. Now let me go! Honestly! Mortals. Ugh!” the goddess commented, disappearing from sight.

“We need to think,” Xena said quietly.

“I know those woods like the back of my hand,” Gabrielle spoke up, touching Xena's shoulder. “We need to get going. If we get there after nightfall, there won't be any point in going after Alti. The darkness is so thick that you can't see a pace in front of your face.”

“Good. You knowing the woods will help. We still have plenty of daylight left. We need to put a plan together.”

“Plan?” Gabrielle asked disbelievingly. “Xena, the plan is that we go and rescue my sister. She's probably terrified.

“We will, Gabrielle, but we need a strategy,” the warrior said evenly.

“No, we don't,” the bard said stubbornly. “We need to get out there, and get Lila. End of discussion.”

“Well, I have something to say to you, Miss 'end of discussion' We can't fight Alti without a strategy. Especially not if we want to win. We'll end up getting Lila killed.”

“I am not going to be bullied by a washed up shamaness from my tribe,” Gabrielle hurled. “I am not going to waste another minute because I'm too busy planning for the inevitable. We need to move. Now.”

“Gabrielle, we're not going anywhere right now. Now you listen to me, and do as I say,” Xena said, growing impatient at the bard.

“Do as you say? I have a reality check for you, warrior princess. I'm not your slave in this reality. I don't have to 'do as you say',” Gabrielle volleyed back. She attempted to push past the taller woman, only to find her arm gripped in a vice again.

“Yes, you do,” Xena said. “I'm not going to give Alti the satisfaction of killing you.”

“Let go of me,” the bard commanded, shooting daggers at Xena with her eyes. She lowered her gaze to her arm, watching as the other woman released her.

“We need weapons,” Xena explained gently.

“My staff is at mother and father's,” Gabrielle's tone softened.

“We can pick it up on the way. Now, we need a plan.”

“Xena, we don't have time,” the blonde said. “We can think of something on the way to get my staff.”

“It takes more planning than that!” Xena snapped.

“She has my sister, Xena!” Gabrielle shot back.

“I know,” the warrior replied.

“Then you know that I'm telling you. Not asking your permission,” Gabrielle challenged, pushing past the woman she loved, and opening the door.

“Gabrielle, you have to listen to me,” Xena growled, grabbing the bard by the shoulders and giving her a hard shake. “Alti is too powerful. She's not like any of the warlords we've fought. You don't understand her powers.”

“Aren't you forgetting that I'm the one that she stirred the memories in?” the bard asked, eyes meeting Xena's, angry at herself for not being able to conceal the fear in her eyes at the warrior princess's hands clamped around her shoulders. She saw the look of recognition in Xena's eyes, and swallowed hard in relief as the taller woman removed her hands. “I understand that she's powerful, Xena. I understand that she can control my thoughts, but Xena, I have to try. For Lila. Do you understand?” she finished gently.

Xena's gaze fell to the floor as shame filled her. She'd seen the terror enter the bard's eyes when she'd put her hands on her. Gabrielle's voice suddenly seemed far away, and the warrior princess found herself nodding on auto-pilot. When she came back to her senses, the bard had disappeared, and from the looks of the lowness of the sun in the sky, it was around lunch time. Xena felt her blood run cold. She quickly realized that it had been nearly an hour since she'd interacted with the blonde.

“Gabrielle?” she called into the empty room. “Gabrielle!” she yelled again, voice carrying down the empty hall. Grabbing her sword, and sheathing it over her shoulder, the warrior ran full tilt out of the room, door slamming behind her.

>

Gabrielle's eyes flicked nervously around the dense wooded area, searching it for any sign of movement. She didn't know what had been going through Xena's mind, and she'd be lying if she didn't say she'd been surprised by when Xena had nodded her agreement of her going ahead to find her sister. She found herself shaking away the memories of her other self, terrified of what else the shamaness would be able to recall to her memory.

Creeping as silently as she could, she quietly chastised herself for not learning to traverse the treetops with her Amazon sisters. Ephiny had trained her in the basics of combat, and Xena was continuing with her training when they had spare moments, but running the tops of the trees hadn't been something either woman had shown her. Maybe she would ask Xena when they returned to the road. “If I make it out of this alive,” she muttered.

Her head whipped to the right as a familiar crop of brunette hair came into view. “Lila,” she whispered, stepping toward the bound woman.

Her younger sister's eyes widened as she shook her head quickly, becoming frustrated when she couldn't speak around the gag in her mouth. Giant blue eyes flew around in fear.

“It's alright,” the bard whispered, removing the filthy piece of material from her sister's mouth.

“Gabrielle, it's a trap,” Lila said, tears springing to her eyes as the blonde began working the knot around her left wrist free.

“What do you mean?” Gabrielle whispered, glancing quickly into Lila's eyes. The mousy girl didn't even have to respond. Gabrielle felt the wind rush from her lungs as the familiar pain from earlier doubled her over. Her legs collapsed as she grabbed her lower stomach, her insides feeling as if they were getting ready to explode from her body. “Ah!” she cried out. Tears rolling hot over her cheeks.

“You're a fool!” the raspy voice hissed, hovering close to the fallen bard. “You think you're a match for me, little girl?”

Gabrielle lifting hate filled eyes to see a woman, girded in animal skins. She was younger than the hag the bard had seen in the other reality, but the cruelty in her eyes was still there.

“Where's Xena? Did she leave her little bitch to face me all alone?” the throaty voice came again. Extending her hands, and holding them in the air.

Gabrielle screamed as she felt her body rotate of its own accord as a set of invisible hands shoved her body over the hard ground.

“Xena may have killed her counterpart in my universe, but I assure you that I can bring her back to you. You two could live out an amazing story together. Like this,” came the growl as a fresh memory, more painful and terrifying than the rest filled Gabrielle's mind. Alti laughed as she watched the bard begin screaming and writhing on the ground in pain. She'd sought out the most painful thing that was buried in the recesses of the blonde's mind, things that she had remembered as the other Gabrielle, but had suppressed in this her mind.

A path away, the warrior princess heard her lover's scream pierce the uncharacteristically silent forest. The cry seemed to come from every direction at once. She attempted to sense out the danger, but it was no use. She ran a hand through her hair helplessly as the scream changed pitch to an even higher tenor. “Yah!” she urged the blonde mare beneath her, nudging Argo's sides lightly. “We've got to find Gabrielle, girl,” she said, steering the horse to the left.

Argo rejected Xena's direction, attempting to turn the other direction.

“Argo, stop it. We need to go!”

The horse continued fighting against the bridle as her mistress attempted to turn her in the other direction. Breathing a puff of irritation, Argo reared onto her back legs, careful not to toss Xena off violently.

The warrior woman landed on her feet, attempting to grab the reins, a move that the mare effectively dodged. “I need you, Argo! I can't get to Gabrielle fast enough without you. She's in danger!” Xena shouted.

Closing the space between herself and the warrior princess, Argo got close enough to allow Xena to grab the reins. When she felt the strong grip, she took off in the direction she'd wished to go, dragging Xena's feet.

“We need to go the other-” Xena's voice stopped as she saw the trio of women getting closer. Argo had been trying to get her to Gabrielle. She lost her grip, and slid off of the mare who never lost speed.

Argo narrowed her eyes at the sight of the bard trembling on the ground in agony. Chocolate colored eyes looked to a woman the horse quickly identified as an enemy. As the shamaness extended her hands to hover in the air over the bard, Argo reared back, landing a heavy hoof center of Alti's back.

Alti felt the air rush from her lungs as blinding pain coursed through her body. She fell to the ground, inches away from Xena's soulmate. She watched as a hoof attached to a blonde leg came to stand in the path between her face and Gabrielle's. She took note that the bard's screaming had ceased, but the tears were still coming between gulps of breath.

Xena ran swiftly to her companion, gathering Gabrielle in her arms and soothing her while the shamaness continued to groan in pain. “Are you alright?” she asked, smoothing the bard's hair from her face.

Gabrielle nodded. “We've got to get Lila out of here,” she whispered.

“I'll get her,” Xena rose, working the knot around Lila's other hand free. “Run, Lila, and don't stop until you get home.”

Lila nodded, eyes wide and fearful. “But Gabrielle-”

“Go!” Xena shouted. Watching as the brunette ran away quickly, she spared her eyes to look at Gabrielle, but the ground was bare.

“Oh, Xena,” Alti's voice rasped from the other side of the clearing, causing both warrior and horse to look quickly over. The shamaness held the bard around the shoulders, a ceremonial dagger to her throat. “You see, I will have, Gabrielle life's blood. I need it to make the world what it should be. My world won't be perfect until she's dead, and there's no hope of redemption for you.”

“Your world sucks, Alti,” Xena spat, her words acerbic. She attempted to move forward, but found her feet suck on the grounds.

“Xena,” Gabrielle sobbed brokenly. “Help me. Please.”

The warrior tried again to move, but to no avail. “Let her go, Alti.”

“I will let her go Xena. Straight into Hades' domain, and then he can judge her life,” the shamaness traced the blade across the bard's throat. “I'm sure you'll be sent straight to the Elysian Fields,” she mocked. Her ears perked as the blonde's voice whispered something that she couldn't make out. “What was that?”

“I said I'm an Amazon Queen,” Gabrielle said, forcing her tears to stop. “Hades doesn't take Amazons.”

“Then, it's the Amazon Land of the Dead for you,” Alti sneered. “You see, the thing with the Amazons, they can keep their ceremony, and they can keep their tribe safe, mostly. But they spend all of their days praying to a goddess that has no interest in them. A goddess that deserts them every time they need her. Their lands, your lands, are ravaged because of a goddess that doesn't care.”

Suddenly, a loud thrum broke the sound waves of the air, causing Xena to duck, eyes flicking to Gabrielle, who was suddenly free of Alti's grasp. The latter, was crumpled on the ground, blood spilling and pooling from her body. Glancing around quickly, she caught sight of a young woman. Her hair was a deep rust color with a olive colored tie securing it in place. She watched as she lowered the bow, taking note of the matching garments that were covered with every type of leaf that grew in the known world, as well as a few Xena had never seen before.

Gabrielle stared across the woods at her rescuer, suddenly feeling brave, fearless. “Who are you, so that I might thank you on behalf of the Amazon Nation?” her voice rang clearly.

A smile graced the porcelain like beauty's face. “Your faith in me, little one, called me to you. I am Artemis.”

“Artemis?” Gabrielle whispered, voice surprised.

“Yes,” the being smiled.

“By Olympus,” the bard exhaled.

The smile on the goddess's face widened as the blonde bard amused her. “You are my chosen, Gabrielle,” she informed the young woman. “I know you have a long road before you,” her eyes flicked to Xena then back to Gabrielle. “And you have a difficult decision to make now. Although, I'm certain you're already aware of your choice. I will be watching,” she said moments before a shower of green and gold flecks glittered around her, whisking her back into the deepest recesses of the forest.

Xena walked slowly to her best friend's side. “Hey,” she said softly, eyes looking at the ground.

“Hey,” came the monosyllabic response.

“Look, Gabrielle...I'm sorry that you got dragged into all of this.”

“Xena...”

“No. Let me finish. I know I keep certain parts of myself hidden.”

“Xena...”

“Gabrielle, please!” the warrior princess said, voice growing in irritation. “I just mean that there are things about me that you don't know. What I'm saying is that I would understand-”

“Xena!”

“What?”

“Just kiss me. I just need to be kissed by this Xena. The one that loves me. Now, will you please stop talking, and just...kiss me,” she spoke, voice low as red rimmed eyes searched the depths of the ice capped blue ones.

Xena took her bard into her arms gently, bending her head until her lips brushed over Gabrielle's again and again, both women's knees going weak with longing. Pulling away for air, Xena held the blonde close against her. “I love you,” she said quietly, caressing her hands over the blonde's back.

“And I love you. All of you. Even the scary parts of you.”

“That's good, because there are a lot of those, and they get worse without you.”

<

Gabrielle walked into the house she'd grown up in, taking a peek around the room. She was certain that her mother and father were just up the road in the weekly village meeting, where she could imagine them rambling about the upcoming Solstice meal among the townspeople.

“I've got your things ready,” the voice was barely audible.

“Lila,” Gabrielle whispered, turning to face her sister who stood holding her saddle bag.

“I put some bread, cheese, and fruit in there for you too,” the brunette admitted, passing the bag to the blonde. “Just promise me you'll write more this time. We hardly knew where you were, where you were going, or if you were safe. No family should have to have that kind of worry.”

“I'll miss you,” Gabrielle said softly. “I didn't plan this, Lila,” the bard continued, unable to meet the gray blue eyes.

“I know you didn't, but Gabrielle, sometimes things just work out like this.”

“You knew all along, didn't you?” Gabrielle whispered.

“That your place is out there in the world with Xena? Of course I did. You're my sister,” Lila said, feeling the tears finally spill from her eyes. “I love you,” she said as her older sister wrapped her in a comforting hug.

“I love you too,” the bard responded gently. “I promise that I will write more. Don't worry about me. Xena will take good care of me.”

“I know,” Lila sniffled, blushing slightly.

“Huh?”

“I saw the two of you at the inn through the window. Why couldn't you just tell me?”

“I don't know. Part of me wanted to, but you've been so angry any time I mention her. I finally just stopped mentioning her.”

“I thought she was trying to take you from me, and I guess in a way she is. It's just not in the way that I thought.”

Gabrielle laughed. “Lila no one can replace you as my sister, and I can assure you, Xena's interest in me is far from sibling like.”

“No, it's not sibling like at all,” the warrior princess spoke from the doorway wrinkling her nose. “That's just wrong.”

The brunette stiffened quickly in the presence of the raven haired woman.

A smile touched Xena's face. “Lila, I promise you that I will never let anything happen to her if I can help it.”

“I know. I pity the person that tries to touch her in any way that isn't kind,” Lila's eyes grew.

“Me too,” the warrior and bard said in unison. Catching each others eyes, they chuckled, both feeling their body temperatures ratchet.

Gabrielle felt a blush tint her cheeks, and Lila must have seen it because she turned an even deeper red than the bard. “We, uh,” she swallowed hard, “we should really be going.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Xena agreed, feeling a thin bead of sweat coat her upper lip. “Lots of...ground to cover.”

“Yes. Miles to go before we sleep,” Gabrielle agreed, backing away, her body jolting to life as Xena's hand touched the exposed skin on her back. She whimpered softly, clamping a hand over her mouth.

“Lila,” Xena nodded, a tight smile on her lips. Her hand moved down Gabrielle's back, resting it on the small of it. “We'll see you as quick as we can,” she promised.

An amused smile graced Lila's features. She may be unmarried, but she was completely aware of what was happening in front of her. She had to admit, that it was amusing to watch Xena sweating to get out of the house to be alone with her sister. “Be safe,” she waved, barely containing her laughter until both women were out of her sight.

“I was fine until you touched me,” Gabrielle whispered to the warrior., face flushed.

“Well, I wasn't,” Xena hissed back.

“You're just insatiable, aren't you, warrior princess?”

“Oh you have no idea, Amazon. You have no idea.”

< The End...or is it? >

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