AN: We're almost at the end of the story! This chapter is going to be the prelude for the finale, as the next chapter will be the last, and it will be much longer than any other. After that there will be the epilogue, and then we will see what's to come, as I have plenty of ideas for the future! (A sequel is very likely to happen). Now, I hope you'll enjoy this one, and be prepared for what's to come!

Chapter 18

One hero and his companion, a thief, a moron and two roman soldiers, this was the weirdest group she ever had the honor to travel with, Gabrielle thought, as she looked at the men surrounding the fire.

She smiled as she saw the way Macro, her bulky roman friend, was checking out his Greek counterpart. He had yet to decide, apparently, who would have the upper hand in a fight. She envied him in a way. As she watched, she realized he was happy, and that was something she couldn't wrap her mind around. There were seven of them against an army. Chances were, they would all be dead by the next day, yet there he was, wondering if he could beat Hercules in a fight. She must have been staring for too long, because the man caught her gaze and their eyes met for a moment. She quickly looked away, in all possible directions, but soon ran out of things to stare at, to pretend to be interested in. Instead she glared back at him, and found herself surprised when the man, still looking in her direction, gave her a supportive smile. Of course a moment later he was dumbly blinking at the girl, so she had to look away, partially embarrassed; although the smallest of smiles escaped her lips. She tried to remain serious but the thoughts of this man ridiculously blinking at her, trying to look sexy, was becoming funnier and funnier in her head, so she had to fight with herself to remain serious.

While Gabrielle was fighting her inner battle the rest of the group was finishing their lunch and chatting wholeheartedly between one another. It felt like a regular day for all of these men, but she knew what was coming and she couldn't block the fear in her heart. She remained quiet for the rest of the evening. Eventually sleep took over them, all but Gabrielle. They were a few hours away from Xena's camp and Athens, and by this time tomorrow everything would be over, one way or another.

Her line of thought was interrupted by a particularly loud snore from Joxer, she briefly considered kicking him, but decided against it. She had too much going on in her mind, with the Chronos stone gods knows where, and all the other things that could go wrong tomorrow, so she decided to get up and take a few steps into the woods, to be alone for a while.

She walked to a nearby tree and sat there, with her back against the smooth bark. Luckily the moon was providing enough light for her to see her surroundings. A couple of times she believed to have seen some sort of small animal moving around, but everything else was dead quiet.

So many things could go wrong, she hadn't even considered to make a list. Instead, her thoughts were lingering on the Warrior Princess. Part of her understood why she was doing this, this wasn't just the old Xena, she saw the reasons behind her acts, but she also saw all the collateral damages her actions were causing. Xena was going for Greece and its people, something snapped in her when her son died.

Then of course there's still that stupid stone, how was it stolen from under my nose! Why does Xena needs it. Where the hell is it, who took it. Why, how, wait I'm looking at this the wrong way. Ok, new question, who took it, and why. The gods knows where that stupid stone is! She almost screamed in her mind before calming down to think some more, but she was almost laughing in desperation before it clicked it.

The gods knows where is it.

She almost jumped to her feet as an idea flashed in her mind. She could ask Aphrodite to help her find it, maybe the Goddess wasn't so useless after all, and perhaps Aphrodite knew something about it. Suddenly excited, Gabrielle tried to focus her mind on the Goddess and spoke her name, but no one came.

She stood alone in the trees, all the excitement she had earlier vanished in the cold of night.

Gabrielle jumped as she heard a noise behind her, for a moment she hoped it was Aphrodite, but as the feeble light of the moon unveiled the figure walking towards her. She realized it was not the Goddess that had scared her, but in fact it was her brother, Hercules.

He smiled at the girl once he reached her, and then looked up at the starry sky. It was a beautiful night. He didn't speak, he didn't talk, he just stood there with Gabrielle, and she realized she was glad for it. There was no need for words in that precise moment, each knew already what the other was thinking, each knew their fears and hopes. Or at least Gabrielle thought so. She looked at this man and realized he was giving her strength, just by his sheer presence. He was giving her hope. She thought about it for a while and realized that it wasn't Hercules itself that was giving her strength, it wasn't his inhuman force, or overconfidence. In fact, Gabrielle discovered that night that it was their friendship the source of that unstoppable force she felt moments earlier, and it wasn't just about Hercules either, it was about Autolycus, and Joxer and all her other friends, when she thought about them she felt that same force grow in her. They were resting their hopes and trust in her and from them she took all the courage she needed. She realized all of that without one single word being spoken.

After a few minutes her silent friend decided it was time to sleep, and with a nod of his head, made his way back to his sleeping roll. But Gabrielle wasn't tired that night, and opted to remain awake for a bit more.

Gabrielle wasn't the only one awake that night, besides Hercules there was one more person who couldn't sleep, because her thoughts and doubts where keeping her awake as well, and she was furious about it.

Somewhere a few miles south from their camp the Warrior Princess herself was pacing back and forth in her quarters. She was livid, she just had an encounter with the God of War and that left her with a bad mood. She went out in the cold night, passing a few tents before stopping near the ashes of a dead fireplace. If everything will go according to plan by this time tomorrow she will have the whole of Greece under her command. She will not tolerate any form of animosity towards her. She will unify Greece under her rule, and she will put an end to the chaos that has plagued this land for far too long. It was so close, she could almost see it. There, somewhere south of her was Athens, the last and most important free Greek city. If Athens falls, a domino effect will take place, fear will spread across the country and by then nothing could stop her plan. She scanned the horizon as a new thought entered her mind; she looked beyond the many tents scattered around the surface as she almost expected to see Gabrielle pop up somewhere in the middle of it, but soon the monotony of her camp made the best of her and she headed back to her quarters. Xena knew Gabrielle would never stop fighting her, and that she would probably try to do something to stop her, but the Warrior Princess had the utmost faith in her plan, and knew even someone like Gabrielle couldn't do much to screw it up, because it was already in motion.

Often her thoughts went to the blond girl that night. Xena knew full well that this was the turning point, there would be no coming back after tomorrow. She hated to admit it but she missed Gabrielle, a little part of the warrior missed that girl. She tried to suppress that part of herself, but it was a lost cause. She wondered once again where she was, what was she thinking about, and what she was doing, but her mind was set for the day to come. Xena knew what had to be done and was ready to take all the actions needed if the girl showed up.

Gabrielle never understood her, that was her biggest regret. Her remorse was that she never made the Amazon Queen see things the way she saw them, not for lack of trying, but she was simply too stubborn to be reasoned with! And because of that she would pay the price, if it comes to that. She wished to be with her just one more time, just the two of them, no soldiers, or commanders, no wars or gods. Just the two of them. She hoped Gabrielle would see the greater good in her actions, and prayed to the gods that after what was to come the next day, Gabrielle will have the strength to forgive her, but she highly doubted it.

She walked inside her tent and peeked at the familiar map laid on her table, just one marker left on it, just one.

A light breeze was able to raise the curtain of her quarters just enough for Xena to see a portion of the sky above the camp. She quickly reached the entrance to seal it but stopped, when looking above, she realized she could a particularly bright star among the many others dotting the night sky. Instinctively she traced it, finding beneath it one more star, and another, and another again, until she completed the figure that had formed in her mind. Suddenly she felt like someone punched her, as this was reminding her of one of the most beautiful memories she had with Gabrielle; when the two of them would spend countless hours imagining shapes between the stars far above. She hastily turned her back to the sky, growing in her heart was the realization that no matter what she'll do she will never be able to completely let go of the Amazon Queen.

And for the second time that night she left her tent, only this time she didn't stop. Argo was her first destination. She kept walking more and more, she did not stop even when the guards at the gates of her camp yelled at her. Then she mounted on her horse and proceeded north, in the night, with no destination in mind.

She rejoiced in the cold breeze of nigh that messed her hair, while riding to nowhere. She halted her horse abruptly when suddenly the grass plane in front of her left their place in favor of a thicket. She hopped down her horse and took a few steps in the vegetation when her warrior senses started to tingle. Immediately her mind switched into fight mode, and proceeded carefully towards the trees. The minutes went by, but the only enemy Xena had found were the tree roots undermining her stability every now and then, but besides them not a soul was to be seen.

And why would it be… She sarcastically considered, but before turning back the slightest of motions took her attention. She immediately lowered herself and looked more carefully near a tree no more than thirty paces away from her.

Impossible

Her heart jumped in her throat, her breath become uneven and her hands were almost shaking from the pure boost of adrenaline she just had, for there, just in front of her, a short blonde girl was peacefully sitting under a tree. She stood there, frozen in time, for what felt like a lifetime, just watching.

She moved a few steps closer, her heart racing, her mind fighting over what she should do next. The girl moved, for a moment Xena feared she was going to see her, but luckily she just turned her head the other way.

But that was enough for her, the Warrior Princess wasn't going to take any chances. As silent as she could she went back to her horse, and soon after reached the military camp. Her mind was going at full speed with thoughts and emotions that she hoped to have lost months ago.

There must be no room for weakness.