14

"I'm glad some things never change." Xena whispered against the blonde head her check was resting against.

"What?" Gabrielle pushed herself up so she could look down at her human pillow.

"That stomach of yours. It's growling." Xena smirked and gave Gabrielle a gentle pinch to her side.

"Hey…stop it." Gabrielle laughed as she slapped the offending hand away. "I'm hungry. I don't remember the last time I ate." She frowned as she looked down into light blue eyes filled with a playful twinkle.

"Like I said, some things never change." Xena grinned.

Dropping back down, Gabrielle returned to her earlier position and knocked the wind from Xena in the process. The over exaggerated whoosh of air caused her to raise an eyebrow in question before she settled back down to rest her head against Xena's chest.

"This…," Gabrielle murmured against the warm skin at the base of Xena's throat. "This is what I've missed."

"Yeah?" Xena lifted her head up so she could look down at Gabrielle and ran her fingers through short blonde hair. "Me too."

"I think I need a haircut." Gabrielle snuggled closer to the body beneath hers.

"I could do it for you, but this time without the chakram." Xena laid her head back down and sighed.

"You remember that?" Gabrielle popped up again so she could see Xena's face.

"I guess." Xena furrowed her brow as she tried to recall an image of Gabrielle with long hair. The image flittered in the back of her mind and she closed her eyes to try to conjure up a more detailed picture. Suddenly and without warning, she sucked in a breath of air and gasped as she released it. "She was going to kill you." Pushing herself up on her elbows, she dislodged Gabrielle from her resting place. "Who…, who was she? The woman trying to kill you?"

Closing her eyes against the memory of Alti and their battles, Gabrielle let out a heavy sigh. With a shaky hand, she pushed her bangs away from her eyes and bit down on her lip trying to decide where to start. Her attention came back to Xena when she felt the body beneath hers shift slightly and she looked up to find uncertainty in those blue eyes she loved so much.

Letting out a heavy breath, Gabrielle was silent for a minute as she tried to decide where to start. "Where should I start?"

"From the beginning." Xena sighed in frustration.

"I don't think I can. That my love, is a story only you can tell." Gabrielle reached up to touch Xena's face to smooth away the frown that appeared. "But, I will try to help you make sense of your new memories." She moved to lay alongside Xena and rested her hand against a broad shoulder. "Tell me what you remember."

"I'm not sure. I don't really remember any one thing per say, it's more like a feeling." Xena scrunched up her nose as she tried to concentrate, instead she just looked like she had smelled something bad.

Laughing, Gabrielle shook her head and smiled. "Don't try so hard. Just relax and tell me what you feel, maybe the images with come to." She twisted a finger in long, dark hair, enjoying the silky softness against her skin.

"Okay, I'll try." Xena tried to settle back against the pillows behind her. It wasn't easy though. Having Gabrielle in her arms again was distracting enough but watching slender fingers play with her hair was making it nearly impossible.

"Well?" Gabrielle glanced up to see that Xena was staring at her with a look of deep concentration on her face. "What?"

"What do mean, what?" The scowl was playful and so was the light pinch to the side. When green eyes, the color of a meadow on a summer day looked up at her in confusion, Xena let out a heavy sigh. "You're distracting me."

"And how, pray-tell, am I distracting you?" Gabrielle furrowed her brow in uncertainty.

"These…" Xena took Gabrielle's hand in her own and intertwined their fingers. Moving their intertwined hands away from the hair they had been toying with, she flexed her fingers against Gabrielle's.

"Sorry…" Gabrielle gave a bashful smile and her cheeks colored slightly. "I guess old habits die hard." She allowed Xena to hold her hand.

"Don't get me wrong, my love. I have always enjoyed your wandering fingers…it's just…" Xena hesitated briefly before continuing. "It's just that it's really hard to relax when all I want to do is kiss you…among other things." She winked in a suggestive way.

"Speaking of other things," Pushing herself up to hover over Xena, Gabrielle had a serious look on her face and only continued when she got a raised eyebrow in question. "I'm going to need to take things slow. It's been a long time, Xena…" she looked away from light blue eyes, afraid she would see disappointment.

"Gabrielle…"

The feeling of a hand cupping her cheek caused Gabrielle to close her eyes as her face was turned so they could look at each other. When she finally opened them, all she saw was care and understanding gazing back at her.

"I'm sorry…" Gabrielle tried to smile but it was weak at best.

"You mean everything to me and whatever you need…I'll give you." Xena ran the backs of her fingers over the soft curve of Gabrielle's cheek before running her fingers through short blonde hair. "Now…where were we?" She wrapped her arms around the smaller body now pressed against hers and held tight.

"Well, you were accusing me of being a distraction." Gabrielle snuggled against Xena's chest, resting her head against Xena's neck just below her chin.

"How about I just hold onto this…" Xena took Gabrielle's hand in her own, stilling the wandering fingers from continuing their exploration.

"Fair enough." A heavy sigh laced with fatigue escaped from Gabrielle's lips. "Maybe now you can tell me what you're feeling."

"Okay, I'll try again." Xena closed her eyes and willed the images to come to her. As she slowed down her breathing and relaxed as much as she could, the memory of Alti materialized behind her closed eyes and she shivered.

"You're remembering, aren't you?" Gabrielle held tight against the shiver that ran through Xena's body.

A slight nod was all Xena could muster against the memory that was causing her to free fall into the unknown. Scattered images of an old woman and a young man battling Alti flitted through her mind but it was the realization that she was the old woman and Gabrielle the young man that took her breath away.

"You were a man!" Xena's eyes popped open and she looked down to see Gabrielle watching her intently.

"So, you do remember." It was a statement, not an accusation.

"And I was an old…really old woman. How is that even possible?" Blue eyes widened in question as Xena waited for an answer.

"You were Arminestra…the great Peacemaker. And I was Shakti…"

"A heroic warrior." Xena laughed at the sheepish grin on Gabrielle's face.

"When Naiyima taught me the Mehndi and sent me through the Karmic tunnel to warn you…I didn't expect to end up in the body of a man, but you recognized me immediately." Gabrielle gave Xena's hand a gentle squeeze. "I think that was first time I realized how much our Karmic cycles are connected."

"But we came back…?"

"We did, and we weren't alone." It was Gabrielle's turn to shiver as the memory of Alti came to mind. "Alti was hell bent on killing us both. It was the designs of the Mehndi that we painted on our bodies that kept us alive."

Looking at her hand, Xena could almost see the intricate patterns painted along her skin and Gabrielle's as well. And then a feeling of exhaustion came over her like a wave, just like it had that day. "Where did we get the energy to do it?" She asked.

"We almost didn't. Alti used the pain and suffering of future lives against us and when she grabbed me by the hair…" The green in Gabrielle's eyes darkened as the memory of something she wasn't ready to share yet flashed through her mind. "That's when you used your chakram…and this happened." She ran her fingers through her hair. "I guess it's just easier to manage so I've kept it this way."

"That's not all though, is it?" Xena had seen the way that Gabrielle's eyes had dimmed as she described what had happened. "But you're not going to tell me…yet."

"That time will come soon enough. Let's just deal with getting through this first." Gabrielle had a sad, far off look on her face.

"Okay, but we will come back to it." Xena punctuated the word 'will' so Gabrielle knew she was serious. "So, how did we do it then? How did we defeat Alti?"

"Naiyima gave us the encouragement to reach deep down to gather the last of our strength and use the Mehndi. You managed to conjure up two chakram's. Alti disappeared in an explosion when you hit her with both." The pride in Gabrielle's voice was evident as she glanced up to smile. "And that is when we were told that we will walk a path together…"

"And will be connected…forever." Xena finished Gabrielle's statement with a grin. "I remember that. Isn't that when you tried to walk the path of peace and light?" The grin turned to a playful smirk.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and let out an impatient huff. "Okay, okay…" she waved a hand in the air. "So, that didn't work out too well…but I had to try."

"I know, my love. That is why I stood back and let you walk that path, but you were never alone. I was always one step behind you just in case you needed me." Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle's head.

"I always have and always will need you." Gabrielle moved up to place a gentle kiss along Xena's jaw before moving higher to soft, waiting lips.

"Gabrielle…" The long, slow drawl sounded more like a growl as Xena accepted the kiss. Her heart raced at the pressure of Gabrielle's mouth against her own and she moaned. "I've missed you so much." Her hands framed Gabrielle's face and held her in place. "So, very much."

Xena's words sent a thrill along Gabrielle's skin but before she could respond in kind, a knock at her door interrupted them.

"Ugh…never a moments peace…" Gabrielle pushed herself off Xena and away from lips that sought to stay connected.

"Ignore it." Xena pulled Gabrielle back down so their mouths could meet again. When Gabrielle didn't pull away, hands began to wander along the curve of a hip and along a ticklish rib causing them both to laugh. But then the knock came again, this time it was more insistent.

"Gabrielle?" Came a familiar voice that had them both scrambling to sit up.

"It's Eve…" The knowledge that Eve was standing outside her door caused Gabrielle to blush crimson red.

"I've gathered." Xena smirked. "But you shouldn't be embarrassed. She's always known about us."

"Yes, she's always know about us…when you were Xena." The panic in Gabrielle's voice was evident as her tone elevated. "But…" she waved her hands over the body beneath her own. "You aren't you…or at least she can't see you." Pushing herself up from the bed, she looked down at the look of confusion on Xena's face. "When she comes into this room, she'll see Leia…and…" she hesitated before letting out a heavy breath. "And she'll see me and Gods knows what conclusion she'll come to."

"Would it really be awful for her to think that you've moved on." Xena pushed herself up on her elbows to get a better look at Gabrielle.

"Yes!" Gabrielle's eyes widened in panic. "I can't have her thinking that I've forgotten you."

"But you haven't, my love." Reaching out to grab Gabrielle by the arm, Xena pulled her towards her but met with some resistance.

"I can't have our daughter thinking I've moved on with…" Gabrielle paused as she pulled her arm away from Xena's grip. "She sees you as a young woman…younger than her. I just can't…"

"Okay, okay…" Xena held her hands up in surrender.

Eyeing the door with trepidation, Gabrielle turned to Xena with a look of panic. "I don't think I can do this." Her voice faltered.

"It'll be okay." Xena took Gabrielle's hands in her own and squeezed gently.

Gabrielle took a deep breath to center herself and gave Xena a quick nod as the knocking got louder.

"She is insistent…I'll give her that."

"Just like her mother." Gabrielle quipped.

"Which one?" Xena shot back causing Gabrielle to laugh.

"Touché…"

"You'd better answer the door before she breaks it down." Xena moved to sit on the edge of the bed, dangling her long legs to the floor.

Taking several long strides across the room, Gabrielle stopped at the door and took another deep breath. With a shaky hand, she reached for the door and pulled it open to reveal a concerned and somewhat impatient Eve standing with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face.

"Really? About time." Eve huffed as she pushed past a flustered Gabrielle.

"Don't you think you're being a little over dramatic?" Xena couldn't stop herself from interjecting, her blue eyes flashing with irritation. It was the stern look from Gabrielle that had her clearing her throat and apologizing. "Um…sorry…"

Eve's eyes went from Gabrielle to the young woman sitting on the edge of the bed back to Gabrielle. She had noticed Gabrielle's flushed cheeks but had thought nothing of it until she noticed the flushed pink of Leia's cheeks as well. Furrowing her brow, she turned to Gabrielle and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Did I interrupt something?"

"And that would be my cue to leave." Xena pushed herself up off of the bed and moved towards the door. She couldn't stop herself from reaching out to touch Gabrielle as she passed her, nor could she stop the silly grin that appeared on her face. "We'll finish this later."

Gabrielle only nodded her understanding as she stood mute and watched Xena leave. Letting out a heavy sigh, she turned her attention to Eve and the questions she was sure would come next.

"No, you're not interrupting anything." Gabrielle placed her hand on her forehead and pushed her bangs away from tired eyes. "Or…I don't know…maybe…" she let out a frustrated huff.

"She's young…" Eve dropped down on the edge of Gabrielle's bed, crossing her legs as she settled in for a long conversation. "But that's not why I'm here. Varia said you needed to talk to me."

"I do." Gabrielle sat next to Eve and took her hand. "Things are moving pretty fast and I've got to make some decisions about what we're going to do." Her eyes met Eve's and she was again reminded again of how much they resembled Xena's. "I plan on going on a diplomatic…mission…if you please. One to unite the Amazon sisterhood against Ares and I wanted to ask you to join me."

Eve was silent for moment as she studied Gabrielle's tired eyes. Her heart broke for the woman who was just as much a mother to her as Xena had been and she would do anything that was asked of her…if Gabrielle was doing the asking. Dropping her gaze, she couldn't stop herself from asking the question that was burning a hole through her. "Do you love her?"

The question took Gabrielle by surprise. She tilted her head in that way she did when she was pondering something and she frowned. "I always have…"

"Leia…do you love Leia?" Eve pushed. "I've only seen you look at my mother the way you just looked at Leia when she left."

Taking a deep breath before expelling it slowly through her teeth, Gabrielle took a moment of pause as she thought about her answer.

When Gabrielle didn't answer right away, Eve reached out to cup her cheek and used her thumb to wipe away the tears that had begun to fall. "You deserve to fall in love again. She'd want you to go on with your life." Eve continued to stroke Gabrielle's wet cheek as she spoke. "I won't lie though and say it will be easy to watch, but you have my support."

Reaching up to cover the hand holding her cheek, Gabrielle tried to smile but the effort seemed to hurt her heart. She couldn't explain how complex her relationship with Leia/Xena had become. When she looked at Leia, she saw Xena but everyone else saw a young, cocky amazon…that wasn't Xena.

"Thank you…and I wish I could explain what was happening between Leia and myself but it's…" Gabrielle paused as she thought of what to say. "It's complicated," was the only thing she could think of as she watched Eve's expression soften.

"I sorta figured it was." Eve smiled and pulled Gabrielle into a hug. "Oh, and the answer is yes…I'll join you. Am I to presume that Leia will also be joining us as well?"

Gabrielle gave a shy smile and nodded. "I think you should ask Ainia. She will keep an eye on you when I can't."

"I don't need a babysitter. I can take care of myself if need be." Eve tried not to pout but her lower lip poked out anyway.

"I know you don't need a babysitter, but please, humor me. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you." Gabrielle took Eve's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Eve gave a reluctant nod and accepted the silent plea in Gabrielle's voice. "I'll ask Ainia. Who else do you plan to ask?"

"Well," Gabrielle rubbed her forehead as she mentally went through her list. "You, Ainia, Elle, Eponin, and Leia." She counted the names off with her fingers.

Eve looked thoughtful for a moment as she contemplated the list of people she knew Gabrielle trusted with her own life. "I'm sure Varia isn't happy about this." She let out a heavy breath.

"She'll be okay. She understands how important her presence is here…her leadership…" Gabrielle tried not to frown as she recalled the conversation her and Varia had had earlier.

"Yeah, but she doesn't like it, does she…"

"No, she doesn't." Gabrielle smirked at the understatement.

"Okay. I'll go find Ainia, as long as you promise to get some sleep. These…" Eve touched the dark circles under Gabrielle's once vibrant eyes and frowned. "are not attractive."

The laugh was unexpected but Gabrielle was grateful for Eve's light hearted comment. "I promise. But I do have a few more things to do before I can. I still need to talk to Eponin and Elle."

"And eat." Eve's eyes widened when Gabrielle's stomach growled. "Glad to see that some things never change." She sounded so much like her mother that her comment left Gabrielle speechless. "What?" Her expression turned serious and full of concern.

"Nothing…" Gabrielle shook her head and smiled.

"I guess I'd better go find Ainia while you find Eponin and Elle." Eve stood up and reached down to offer Gabrielle a hand to help her.

Taking the offered hand, Gabrielle stood and then pulled Eve into a hug. "Thank you." She whispered into Eve's ear and they both knew it went deeper than accepting Gabrielle's invitation to join her on this upcoming journey.

"If she hurts you, I'll kill her." The look in Eve's eyes meant business, but then she smiled. "Well, maybe not kill…but it won't be pretty."

"You would give up your path of peace and light for me?" Gabrielle pretended to be surprised.

"Why not? You did." Eve shrugged her shoulders.

"Yes, well…my situation was different."

"How so? You did it to save someone you loved." Eve wasn't going to be put off so easy. "I love you…"

"And I love you. But I was never meant to travel that path." Gabrielle tried to explain.

"Gabrielle, I want you to know that if I had to make a choice…I choose you." Eve said without hesitation.

"I appreciate the sentiment but I will do everything I can so you don't have to make that choice."

"And I appreciate that as well." Eve smiled as she stepped closer to the door. "I'll see you tomorrow and we can go over the details."

"I have the council meeting tomorrow." The idea that she would have to get approval from a group of out of touch women making judgments on her future made Gabrielle sick.

"Then I will be by your side." Eve took a defensive stance. "It is my right." The fire in her eyes matched that of her mother's and Gabrielle smiled.

"I would expect nothing less."

"Okay…I'll leave you to finish up your business but I expect you to get some sleep as well." Eve gave Gabrielle a stern look.

"Yes ma'am." Gabrielle gave a salute before pulling Eve into a hug. "I love you sweet girl."

"I love you too." Eve held Gabrielle tight and let out a sigh when they finally let go. "I'll see you tomorrow." She gave Gabrielle one last squeeze before heading out the door.

When Gabrielle stepped outside, she wasn't surprised to see Xena across the way, watching and waiting and she smiled. Knowing that she was loved and wanted would be the one thing that would get her through the council meeting and hopefully help her defeat Ares once and for all.