Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and the other Xena characters are the property of MCA and company, I'm just playing in their sandbox for awhile.

*This story takes place between Lifeblood and Kindred Spirits

A Warrior's Nightmare

Icy winds cut through the warrior's broken body. The course material wrapped around her torso did nothing to stop it. Beneath her cold, hard wood worked to sap the last of her body's heat. It took all of her strength and concentration too stay awake. How easy it would be to simply close her eyes and slip into the warm, waiting arms of sleep. Forcing her eyes open she shook the thought away. 'No'. The sleep of death would be upon her soon enough, there was no need to rush to it. Besides, she would not abandon Gabrielle to a lonely death.

'Gabrielle.' Tears glistened in the warrior's eyes at the thought of her friend. Once more the young woman was suffering because of their friendship. Why had it come to this, she had fought so hard to spare Gabrielle from this fate, yet here they lay. The one person she loved most in the world was about to be executed and she was helpless to stop it. Frustration and despair joined in the assault on Xena's battered spirit.

It seemed the Fates took get joy in destroying all the warrior held dear. For all of her strength, skill and courage she had failed time and again to save the people she loved most. Her brother, her son and now her friend all had died because she had failed to protect them. 'No, no they won't have Gabrielle too, not this time.' Raising her head she focused on lifeless legs willing them to move. Gritting her teeth against the cold and pain she strained harder. But powerful legs, which had carried her through many a battle, would fight no more this day. Falling back to the cold wood she screamed silently at her weakness. 'No, no tears Gabrielle's last image of me will not be of a broken spirit.' Reining in her emotions Xena summoned the strength to force a smile before turning to say goodbye to the figure laying next to her.

As their eyes met the warrior found not the emerald eyes she knew so well, but instead blue one, which mirrored her own. The fear in them caught her off guard. A girl of less than twenty summers lay where Gabrielle should have been. Though she was a stranger there was something familiar about the child.

Realizing she had the warrior's attention the child tried to reach for her. "Mo..th..er..." she stammered through chattering teeth.

Xena's blood ran as cold as the falling snow. "Eve?" she whispered in disbelief. Slowly she tried to reach out to the trembling girl.

A soldier knelt between them blocking Xena's view.

"Eve..."

"Mother..help me..." came a timid voice.

More soldiers gathered around them setting about their deadly task.

Xena swallowed hard trying to hide the fear she felt. "Evie...ugh." One of the soldiers jerked the course rope encircling her wrist, causing it to bite through exposed skin.

From behind the soldiers Eve screamed as the ropes tightened against her wrists.

"Get away from her!" screamed Xena as she struggled to free herself. In her weakened condition she could not budge the ropes. Again the girl screamed.

"EVE!" cried the warrior clenching her fists in despair.

A fist clipped her chin. "Lay still, woman." growled the soldier.

Exhausted the warrior slumped into silence. Closing her eyes she tried to drown out Eve's terror filled sobs. Feeling a small piece of wood brace against her palm Xena could not stop the tears slipping down her cheeks. She knew what was about to happen and worse she knew there was nothing she could do to stop it. "I'm sorry Eve." she whispered softly.

"MOTHERRR!!!" cried the child just as the first hammer strike drove a nail completely through her hand.

As her daughter's pain filled screams filled the air, Xena began to sob.

"Nooo...." whispered the warrior, then she felt the nail penetrated her hand.

Sitting straight up Xena gasped trying to force herself to breath. Suddenly she realized icy cold air no longer burned her lungs. Blinding snow had been replaced by the dim light of a fireplace. Holding up a hand she was amazed to find it unscathed.

"Xena?" called Gabrielle from her bed. "Are you alright?"

Ignoring the question Xena leapt from the bed and charged to Eve's crib. Her heartbeat began to slow as she stared down at the sleeping infant.

"What's wrong?" asked the younger woman as she stood by Xena's side. When the warrior did not answer Gabrielle placed a hand upon a board shoulder. "You're trembling." she whispered in disbelief.

"I had a ...dream." answered the warrior. Leaning against the crib she ran a hand though sweat-drenched hair.

"Want to talk about it?" asked the younger woman.

"It was about the..." as her eyes met Gabrielle's she stopped in midsentence. It was bad enough she was reliving the nightmare did she really want to put Gabrielle through it again?

"What?" pressed the Amazon.

Bowing her head Xena continued. "I was dreaming about our execution."

Gabrielle swallowed hard as imagines of that faithful day flooded her memories. She placed a comforting hand on her friend's back. "It was just a dream Xena. We have nothing to fear from that vision anymore. It's over."

"Are you sure?" she hadn't meant to snap at her friend.

Gabrielle was taken back by the hostile respond. "Aren't you?"

Xena struggled for the right words. "The cold, my wounds, the soldiers it was all so real. I could feel everything."

"Xena" the younger woman slipped an arm around board shoulders. "don't do this to yourself. It's over."

"No, no it's not." insisted the warrior pulling away from the comforting embrace. "I...I turned to look at you, to say goodbye. But you weren't there."

"You were alone?" gasped the Amazon.

"No." she paused for a heartbeat. "There was a young girl in your place."

"Who was she?"

"I didn't recognize her at first." as she spoke Xena ran a finger down Eve's cheek. "Then she called me Mother and I knew."

Gabrielle paled. "It was Eve?"

"Yes." whispered the large woman, still caressing the baby's cheek.

"Are you sure?" asked Gabrielle forcing herself to breath.

Xena finally met her gaze. "Yes."

Gabrielle looked to the sleeping infant. She had to fight the urge to sweep the child up in her arms. "Do...do you think it was a vision?"

"I don't know." sighed the warrior.

"You've been so worried about protecting Eve maybe your fears are just mixing with your memories." suggested Gabrielle hoping to convince herself as well as her friend.

"Maybe," answered the warrior. "I just felt so helpless. I couldn't move, I couldn't fight, I couldn't protect her. I couldn't..." her head dropped as her voice trailed off.

"Xena you would never let anything happen to Eve. You'll protect her."

The warrior looked Gabrielle solemnly in the eye. "I couldn't protect you."

"That wasn't your fault. You did everything you could."

"It wasn't enough."

"Stop it. You're a good friend and a good mother. Eve is going to be fine." she pulled Xena into a tight embrace. "We won't let anything happen to her. I promise."

Xena wrapped her arms around her petite friend. "Thanks." she replied as her lips brushed against blond hair.

They remained there for several moments neither willing to let go.

Finally Gabrielle pulled back and smiled up at large woman. "Why don't you lay down? You need to get some sleep. Eve will be up soon and you know how loves an audience."

"True." laughed Xena. "You go on I can't sleep."

"Oh yes, you can." insisted the bard. "Come on." taking an arm she began to pull Xena toward her bed.

"What are you doing?" asked Xena suspiciously.

"Trust me." Gabrielle dropped on to the bed yanking on the captured arm she nearly pulled the large warrior down on top of her.

"Gabrielle I..."

"Hush." ordered the younger woman. "Lay down. That's an order from the Amazon Queen."

"I'm not an Amazon." the warrior reminded her with a raised eyebrow.

"Maybe not but your in the Queen's hut so you have to follow the Queen's rules."

For just a moment the warrior considered objecting, then thought better of it. Slowly she stretched her long frame out on the small bed, there was barely enough room for both of them.

Gabrielle slipped an arm around Xena's shoulders. "Come here." she pulled the warrior's head onto her shoulder.

Xena made no attempt to resist. Shifting she turned to face the small woman and slipped an arm around Gabrielle's waist. At first she found the position a bit awkward. Normally Gabrielle was using her for a pillow. Thinking back on it the last person she could remember holding her this way had been her mother. A pleasant smiled crossed her face that the memory.

Gabrielle began to slowly stroke the warrior's long dark hair. "Do you remember how you took care of me after we left the temple at Thessayla?"

"If you're trying to cheer me up that's not the best story."

Gabrielle chuckled softly. "Do you remember the nightmares I had during that first week?"

"Yes." answered the warrior as she thought back on the young woman's sobs for help as she dreamt of the attack, which had nearly killed her. Without realizing it Xena's grip tightened on the bard.

The action was not lost on Gabrielle as she continued to speak. "That first night I remember waking up screaming and you were there holding me, telling me not to be afraid that everything was going to be alright. You held me till I stopped crying, but even then you let me cling to you the rest of the night."

"I remember." answered Xena, there was a soft, thoughtful distance in her voice. "You squeezed my arm so hard it left a bruise."

"I did?" said Gabrielle surprised by the revelation. "I never knew that."

"It's alright." assured her large friend. "I've had worse."

"Yeah I guess you have." answered the bard gently stroking raven hair once more. "I remember that was the first time you shared your bedroll with me. Before that night you had always been so careful to keep your distance."

"Yeah, well it was cold and you didn't seem to mind the company."

"It wasn't that cold." chuckled the young woman. "And you're right I didn't mind the company. I'll never forget that night it was the first time since leaving home that I had felt so warm, so safe. What make you do it?"

Xena rose up to look the bard in the face. "The truth?"

Gabrielle nodded.

"I realized how close I came to losing you and it scared the hell out of me. For the first time in a long time I was afraid of losing someone I cared for."

Tears glistened in Gabrielle's eyes at this revelation. Smiling she kissed the warrior on the forehead. "Thanks."

"For what?" asked Xena.

"For being honest." Laying back she pulled Xena's head to her shoulder once more. "I've been working on a new story, would you like to hear it?"

"Of course."

Clearing her throat Gabrielle slipped into her best bard voice. "I sing of Eli, man of peace, mentor and friend."

"I like it already."

"I thought you would."

As the bard continued her story Xena's focus turned from her friend's soothing voice to the steady beat of the young woman's heart. That strong, steady sound helped to drive away the last of the warrior's fears. Content Xena allowed the steady beat to lull her into a deep, peaceful sleep.

The end

Onora

Hope you enjoyed the journey.