DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures; just borrowing for this story. The rest of the story and other characters are mine. Please contact me before using any of my stuff. Thanks.

SERIES DISCLAIMR: You will need to read Nightmares from the Past and Pain of the Present Story I & 2 of Sins of the Father to understand what is going on. You may also want to read Sophia's Family and Sophia's Choice.

SPOILERS: None that I can think of.

SUBTEXT: Xena and Gabrielle are in love, but nothing too graphic happens in this part of the story.

VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of physical and sexual violence and their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

HURT/COMFORT WARNING/DICLAIMER: This story deals with issues of sexual, metnal and physical child abuse, specifically, Gabrielle's anguish and recovery. It is melodramatic and can be classified as a hurt/comfort series. If you are sensitive to this subject please don't read.

I can be reached at padams1@xmsg.com  Please feed the bard. I promise not to bite.


Healing For The Future

By Paully_A


Xena traveled throughout the day and night to reach Amazonia, stopping only to tend to Gabrielle's wounds. As she reached the border, she stopped Argo; cradling Gabrielle as she crossed the border.

Six Amazons jumped down from the trees as they recognized the warrior princess. An older Amazon warrior with short brown hair and stocky built approached. As she quickly assessed the situation, she turned to one of the younger amazons, "Go! Get a litter quickly, our Queen is hurt!" The young amazon raced back to the village as Eponin ran to Xena. "What happened?!?"

Xena did not divulge any of the details. "I'll take her to the healer's myself." She nudged Argo, and the horse headed toward the village, with Eponin following.

As they reached the village, a small crowd had gathered around the healer's hut. Up front was Chilapa, the acting queen and regent of the village. As Xena got off of Argo, Chilapa ordered the royal guards to keep back the crowd.

Chilapa opened the hut's door and followed Xena inside. Garona, the lead healer of the village came into the room as Xena laid Gabrielle on the bed. Garona looked at the young queen and then at Xena. "What happened?" Xena shook her head. Garona turned her attention to Chilapa. "My regent, please send everyone but Xena out of here. They will be in my way." Chilapa nodded. Even though she wanted to know what had happened, she also knew that she would eventually find out. She escorted everyone out of the hut.

Garona returned her attention back to Xena. She could tell that exhaustion was taking its toll. "Xena, I don't need two patients right now, please have a seat." As Xena sat in one of the chairs, Garona turned her attention back to the unconscious Gabrielle as she questioned Xena. "We are alone now, warrior. Tell me what happened."

Xena lowered her head as she told Garona about the kidnapping and how she found Gabrielle. She left out the fact that it was Herodotus, Gabrielle's father, who had done this. As Xena told her the events, Garona looked over the stitches and bruises.

"You did a fine job, Xena."

"Then why isn't she awake, Garona? I saw the blows to her head. They are bad, but not bad enough for her to be unconscious for this long."

"Her body needs time to heal. This may just be the way her body is reacting. She will come out of it." She walked over to Xena, "And I suggest that if you want to be awake when she comes out of this, you need to rest. I'll tell the guards to prepare a hut..."

"No, I'm not leaving her side."

Garona gave Xena a smile. "I suspected as much. You can stay here, as long as you get some sleep. The minute I think that you are keeping a vigil instead of resting, I'm sending you out of here and into a hut. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Xena nodded. "Good. Get some rest." Garona took her leave as Xena laid in a bed next to Gabrielle's. She reached out and touched Gabrielle's cheek.

"Please come back to me my love." Morpheus finally came and laid claim to Xena's mind and body.

Loud shouts broke the silence of the day. Xena woke up, rose from the bed and looked at her best friend. After two days the bruises and cuts were healing nicely, and most of the swelling was down, but Gabrielle remained unconscious.

After giving her a kiss, the warrior princess walked toward the door to find out what all the commotion was about. As Xena exited the hut, she noticed that Chilapa stood talking with a number of warriors. "What is going on?"

"Xena, Garona told me what happened. Eponin is leading a group to find the man and bring him to justice."

Xena grabbed Chilapa by the arm. "Chilapa, we need to talk. There are some things you need to know."

"What is there to know?!?" Eponin interjected. "The scum brutalized our Queen. He will have a fair trial, and then he will die a very painful death."

Before she could continue, two bright lights appeared before them. One was gentle and glowed. The other flickered three times. As the lights disappeared, Artemis, Ares and Sophia came into view.

The Amazons bowed to their knees. "There is no need for the Amazons to search for him." Sophia looked at Xena as she spoke. "He is dead." Artemis motioned for the Amazons to stand. Chilapa looked over Sophia. "Who are you?"

"I'm a friend. My name is Sophia."

"Well Sophia, the Amazon nation owes you a debt of thanks."

"No thanks necessary." Sophia sighed. "The bastard killed himself before I could get to him."

Artemis motioned for Xena, Ares and Sophia to follow her as she walked into the healer's hut. Gabrielle still lay motionless in the bed. Xena walked to her side and held her hand. She really couldn't stand him, but she knew she had to allow him here to do what he had to do. "Ares, do what you came here to do. Then leave."

Ares nodded and then walked over to the Warrior Princess. "Xena, I do believe that Sophia took something that belongs to you." He placed his hand on her shoulder, and gently sent her darkness back into her. "Don't ever let my daughter do that again." Xena thought she could see genuine concern in his eyes. But just as quickly it disappeared. "I guess I'll be going now."

Sophia cleared her throat. She raised her arms and held up her splinted and bandaged hands before her face. "What about these? Aren't you going to heal them?"

"No, you need to learn your lesson. Just think of those as reminders. Besides they will heal. Good-bye daughter." The light flickered and he was gone.

"Good-bye, Father."

Artemis looked over at her niece. "You need to let the healer look at those hands."

Garona came into the room and Artemis introduced her to Sophia. Garona looked at Sophia's hands."What did you do child, ram them into boulders?"

"No, into a tree. Trust me, the tree looks worse."

Garona unwrapped the hands, check them over and re-wrapped them. "They will be fine. They are healing very quickly."

As Garona looked over Sophia, Artemis walked over to her chosen one. "How long has she been like this Xena?"

"Since we first found her. She hasn't made a sound or move. I've never seen this before."

Garona looked down at the Queen of the Amazons. The physical bruises that she found could not explain why Gabrielle was in this state. "For me to treat Gabrielle to the best of my abilities, I need to know exactly what happened." She waited for Xena to tell her, but Xena continued to look at her love. She sighed as she continued, "Nothing that I've seen could cause this. She should have been conscious yesterday, last night at the latest. Please, for her sake, tell me. Maybe I can help."

Xena sighed and realized that Garona needed to know the cause of Gabrielle's condition. As she continued to look at her love, Xena told Garona, "It is not only what happen to her, but who did this." Garona did not say anything, knowing that Xena needed time to gather her emotions and thoughts before she could continue. Xena's voice was barely a whisper. "Herodotus did this."

Garona gasped as the new knowledge rocked her being. "Her father? By the gods." She reached down and touched Gabrielle's hand. She looked over at Xena. The warrior stared at the floor, her head and shoulders lowered. For a few days, she had held her emotions in check, making sure that Gabrielle received the best treatment possible. But now, the burden was just too much for her to handle.

Xena's chest moved up and down in an erratic pattern, as her breathing became uneven. Everyone knew Xena needed to be alone; not wanting anyone to see her break down and cry, so they quietly left the room, leaving Xena with her grief.

Sophia and Artemis stood outside of the hut. Even though the sun was bright and high in the sky, a dark shadow hung over the guardian. *How many chances did I get? I could have protected her. But no, I tried to do the noble and right thing. I let the man live.*

Artemis looked at her niece with concern in her eyes. Even as a child, Sophia took on too much responsibility for the happiness and safety of others. It was her determination and love that made her a great guardian. But now, Artemis could only sense guilt and rage. "Sophia, listen to me..."

"WHERE WERE YOU?!? ISN'T SHE YOUR CHOSEN ONE?!?" Sophia eyed the goddess. "Couldn't you have done something?"

"No, I couldn't. No matter what humans like to believe about us, the gods are not all-knowing or omnipotent. I could not stop this from happening, but I can help now." Artemis was about to tell her when Sophia's head snapped up, noticing something else.

"Sophia! Did you and Xena find her?" Lila came running up to Sophia, a couple days of travelling dust clung to her skin and dress. "Where is she?"

Sophia's eyes never left Lila's eyes. "We found Gabrielle. Right now she's in the healer's hut." Sophia looked around Lila. Lila knew exactly for whom Sophia was looking for.

"Don't bother, she did not come. I tried to convince her to come with me, I even stayed there for a while, hoping that she would change her mind, but she didn't. I guess she did not want to face the truth." Taking her eyes off of Sophia, she looked at the hut, "Is she alright?"

Sophia swallowed hard before shaking her head no. "I won't lie to you; she's been through hell. She's been unconscious for a couple of days now. I don't know... She just lays there.... Maybe if she heard your voice..."

Lila looked into Sophia's eyes, seeing only reflections of loss and confusion. Dreading the worst, Lila ran into the hut.

Sophia looked at the sky, but did not really see it. Her mind was filled with confusing thoughts and conflicting emotions and her heart felt like it was going to break through her chest at any moment. "You know, sometimes I wonder why I even bother? Humans can be so cruel."

Artemis reached out and gripped Sophia's shoulder. "Sophia, you have seen the greatest evil people are capable of, but you have also seen the depth of goodness as well. Don't forget that."

Sophia shook her head as she wiped away tears that she did not know had fallen. "Right now, evil has won." She turned her back to Artemis and walked off into the woods.

Artemis watched as her niece disappeared from her sight. Part of her wanted to go after her niece, but she knew that Sophia needed to be by herself so that she could think.

"Aphrodite, show yourself!" Sophia yelled as she stomped through the woods.

Light and glitter sparkled as the goddess of love appeared. "Sophia you need to chill. I know you are upset..."

"So you know, huh? Tell me auntie, which of the great and powerful gods doesn't know?"

"Sophia, you must calm down. I know you..."

Sophia raised a bandaged hand. "You don't know what I feel, so stop pretending that you do." Sophia paced back and forth in front of the goddess. "She's going to die."

"You don't know that."

"LIKE TARTARUS I DON'T! I've seen too many children broken and battered. I've seen people who start out in love, only to watch them grow to hate one another, or worst, not feeling anything towards each other. I've seen too much... too much..." She stopped pacing and stared right through the goddess. "Gabrielle once told me that love was the most powerful force in the whole world. I think she really believed that love could even stop a war." She smiled at the memory as the tears rolled down. "You know what, you should have made Gabrielle your guardian when you had the chance. But you didn't, you chose me."

"I chose well."

Sophia shook her head. "You didn't choose well enough." Ignoring her pain, she lifted a hand to her silver chain and amulet that identified her as a guardian and ripped it from her neck. She watched as it fell to the ground. "I can't do this anymore."

"Sophia, please."

Sophia shook her head. "I don't want to hear it. I failed them. I failed her. You know, I stopped believing a long time ago, but every time I thought that I should quit being a Guardian, I would remember Gabrielle & Xena, and the love that they share. Just thinking about them gave me hope that love would win." She lowered her head, "But that hope is gone."

"No, it's not. Xena and Gabrielle have never let anything keep them apart. Their love is so strong; not even death has been able to separate them. Xena will not give up Gabrielle without a fight. I know she won't." She stooped down and picked up the necklace. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. Father needs a new warrior. Or maybe I can cut a deal with Chronos and get him to turn back the hands of time and change things. Or maybe Hades needs someone to torture the souls in Tartarus on a full time basis. I don't know what I'm going to do. But I know what I can't do." She pointed the necklace in Aphrodite's hand. "I can't keep pretending to believe in something I don't." She turned and started to walk away.

"What is it that you want Sophia?!? You want some type of guarantee that Gabrielle will be her old self? That things will work out?!"

She spun around, her eyes flashing in anger, "Yes, damn it! That is exactly what I want. I want to know that all this pain and suffering is for a reason. I want to know that things are going to work out. I want to know that Gabby will be the same Gabby that we have known and love."

"Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there are no guarantees. I wish I could say that there is a reason for all of this, but I can't because I really don't know if there is one. I wish I could tell you that things will work out, but I can't do that either. And no, Gabrielle is never going to be the same; things will never be the same for those two ever again."

Sophia lowered her head and began to cry. Aphrodite walked over to her and embraced her. "I know that you are afraid and are having doubts. You are tired, and you feel like you are fighting a losing battle out there. I know how you feel. I feel it every time love is crushed, destroyed or abused. But I also feel it every time love wins; when love is born, when it changes and grows deeper. I sometimes forget that my guardians only get to see most of the negative stuff. Let me show you what I mean." She placed her hand over Sophia's heart.

Bright color lights invaded Sophia's sight as her body and mind adjusted themselves to the new sensations she was experiencing. It was like she became a being of total emotion; she could feel the love pouring out from a mother and a father as she gave birth to a son and as he held the child for the first time; she could experience the rapture of a young couple as they took their vows, and she joined in the celebration of a couple's love who have been together for 40 years. And each experience seemed to have it's own light and energy. She could physically see the bonds of love grow stronger and brighter in each situation.

She then focused her thoughts to find one particular bond. She gasped when she found that bond; for in spite of the fact that Gabrielle was unconscious, the bond between her and Xena was overpowering. The love between them flowed back and forth; never ceasing, and seemed to grow stronger.

Aphrodite smiled as she shared her daily experience with her niece. "See what I mean?"

Sophia shook her head in disbelief, "I never knew."

"Isn't it rad?" As Aphrodite removed her hand from Sophia's chest, she noticed a solitary tear rolling down Sophia's cheek. "Are you okay?"

Sophia did not answer the question. "I guess I better get back."

Aphrodite smiled. "Give them my love. And Sophia," she held up the necklace, "when you are ready, this will be waiting for you."

Sophia looked at the amulet. Without saying a word, she turned away and walked back to the village.

Sophia entered the Queen's hut. "Garona told me that you moved her here."

"Yes, Sophia. We thought that when she comes to, she would be more comfortable in her own place." Sophia nodded at Lila and looked around the hut. The hut was larger than most of the hut, with thicker walls. On the walls hung several weapons that belonged to previous queens and a smaller replica of the queen's mask. In the far right corner of the room was a huge shelf, and on each level were various scrolls.

"Good idea. Any improvement yet?"

Lila squeezed her sister's hand. "Not yet. But I know she will get better. She has too." She looked at her sister's face and shook her head. "Why? I don't understand; why did he treat her so mean? Why did he do this?" A flood of tears ran down her face as she cried for the loss of her father and the state of her sister and family.

Without being sure of the truth, Sophia kept Herodotus' words to herself. "If you are looking for a justifiable reason, he didn't have one."

"I know that this may sound dumb or naive, but he was my father and I still love him. I remember him giving me pony back rides. It is still hard to believe that those same gentle hands that picked me up are the same hands that did this to Gabrielle. Which one was really him?" Lila looked up at her friends, hoping that someone had an answer. Sophia looked at the ground, avoiding her eyes while Xena seemed lost in thought. "Excuse me, I need some air." The young woman gave her sister's hand a final squeeze and left the hut.

Sophia sat down by the bed. "How are you doing Xena?"

"How do you think I'm doing?"

Sophia studied Xena's face. Gone was the stoic mask that the warrior princess wore normally and it was replaced by bags underneath her eyes from lack of sleep and her eyes were red from the tracks of fluent tears. "You need to rest Xena. Remember what Garona said..."

"I can't, I want to be the first one she sees when she regains consciousness."

"If she wakes up, she is not going to be happy..."

"When she wakes up."

"Xena you have to prepare yourself for the worst. The longer she remains unconscious, the less likely she is ever going to come out of this." Sophia sighed as she looked at Xena. "Gabrielle is a fighter. She has cheated death so many times and these injuries are nothing compared to others. But remember, I was there when we found her. She lost her will to live. She needs that will, that determination to make it through this."

"She may not have that will, but there are too many of us who love her. I know she can feel that. That love can give her the strength to fight back."

"I wish I had your faith." Sophia rose to her feet. "I'm going to check on Lila. I know she is being torn apart by all of this."

Xena looked up at her friend. That is when she noticed the missing amulet. "Sophia?"

Sophia raised a hand to stop Xena's questions. "It is a long story. I promise to tell you later, but for now you need to keep sending your love to her. I know for a fact that the love you two share is something very, very special. Your love might be enough."

Just then they both heard a moan. Together they both looked down at Gabrielle as another moan came from her.

"I'll go and get Garona." Sophia ran from the hut.

Green eyes fluttered open. "Where am I?"

"Amazonia, in your hut. My Gods...You are a sight foor sore eyes." Xena stretchedout her hand to caress the bard's cheek. Before she could make contact, Gabrielle winced and pulled away; fear setting her eyes ablaze, "Don't touch me!"

"Gabrielle you have to eat something."

"Why should I. I'm not hungry and besides it doesn't stay down anyway."

For seven days, the Queen of the Amazons had been awake from her coma. During that time, nightmares had kept her from sleeping and nausea had her stomach doing somersaults whenever food came near her.

Xena placed the food tray down on the table. "You are not going to get better without eating. I know that it is hard, but..."

"You know what I really want?" Gabrielle interrupted. "I want a bath. Lila, can you send a couple of guards to ..."

"No Lila don't." Xena gripped Lila's upper arm to stop her."Gabrielle, you have had thirteen baths in seven days. Besides, Garona is going to be here soon."

"Xena, I am fine." A knock came from the door and Lila went to open it."I don't need a healer, I can take care of myself."

"Let me be the judge of that." Garona smiled at Lila and Xena before returning her attention to Gabrielle. "Have you ever heard the saying 'A healer who has herself as a patient has a not so wise patient?'"

"And have you ever heard that the Queen's word is law?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm, "And since I am Queen, I say that I don't have to let you examine me."

Garona took a deep breath to calm down. "That is true Gabrielle. But for your sake I hope you do change your mind. You could have an infection and it is best if we catch it as soon as possible."

"If I had an infection, I would have a fever. But I don't have a fever, so I am fine. And now, if you will excuse me," she stood up "I'm going to go and take my bath in the hot springs."

"Fine my Queen. If that's the way you want it but I will be here later." The three women watched as Gabrielle left the hut.

"Lila, go with her." Lila nodded and followed. Garona turned and looked at the warrior princess. "You look like a couple of wagons decided to use you as the road. Want to talk about it?"

"I don't know what to do Garona. I feel so helpless. She is in so much pain and there is nothing I can do to help her."

Garona took a seat and motioned for Xena to have one also. "Tell me."

Xena told Garona about Gabrielle's nausea and lack of food consumption, the lack of sleep caused from both nightmares and her trying to sleep sitting up, and Gabrielle's refusals to let anyone comfort her. "It's like she is shutting off herself from everything and everyone around her. Whenever any of us gets near her, she pulls away from us. And I don't know what to say to ease her pain. She is slipping away and there is nothing I can do to stop it."

"Xena, the only thing you can do is to be there for her. Right now, the pain and the memories are too fresh. It is going to take time for her to open up; even more time for her to allow anyone to comfort her physically. And she is going to push you away. The only thing you can do warrior is to be patient; with her and yourself. This is just the beginning of a very long healing process for her."

"I understand and I know that you are right. It's just that she has always been the talker, the emotionally open one. You always knew what she felt because she told you or because of the way her eyes would light up. To watch as she traps her emotions inside herself is one of the most painful things I have ever experienced and I know that those trapped feelings are partly to blame for her physical condition."

"They are partly responsible, but it will only harm her if you push her to share her feelings too soon. I can give you some herbs to help with the nausea. I suggest simmering the herbs in a broth so she won't be able to taste them and broth may be the only thing she will be able to keep down. As for her lack of sleep, it is best if she takes nothing. The sleeping herbs will not stop the nightmares, it would only make it harder for her to wake up from them and that may cause more harm than good."

Xena swiped her hand through her hair in frustration. She was out of her element; she did not have control of the situation and the warrior princess did not like it one bit. Of course, she was never ever fully in control when it came to her bard.

From the first day Xena and Gabrielle met, Xena lost control andshe knew it. She tried to keep the young girl from following her, but Gabrielle merely suggested other alternatives. Xena tried to send her back home but that didn't work. And somehow, the young girl became a young woman, a woman who had broken down the walls around Xena's heart and had made herself a home in it. In fact, they were each other's home. But now it seemed that they were being taken apart, brick by brick, because of Herodotus' cruel actions. *I won't let you win. I won't let you destroy her.*

Garona could feel the energy and the determination flow from the warrior princess. "Let me give you one more piece of advice. You need to take care of yourself as well. It won't do either of you any good if you get ill. You have tons of people here who are willing to help. If you ever need to talk and get out your frustrations, remember that Sophia and Lila are here too. You don't have to do this by yourself." Xena nodded. "I'll come back later. You get some rest."

Gabrielle rubbed her skin until it was raw and red, but she still could feel and smell him. Lila watched as her sister tried to wash away the memories. "Gabrielle, don't you think that you've been in there long enough?"

Gabrielle lifted her head to glance at her sister. "You don't have to wait for me."

Lila stood and walked to the edge of the tub. As soon as she came near, Gabrielle moved to the far side. "Gabrielle, what is happening to us? I thought we would always be there for each other, that we could tell each other anything." Gabrielle averted her eyes and stared into the warm water. "Gabrielle, you barely speak to me. I know you are in pain. Please let me help."

"You can't help me, no one can."

"Don't do this! Don't shut me out Gabrielle."

"There is nothing to say. I just want to be alone, okay? Now leave me."

Lila rose, never taking her eyes off of her sister. "Gabrielle...."

"GO!"

Tears swelled her eyes as Lila swallowed her words and ran from the bath-house.

"How is she?" Green eyes looked at the radiant form before them.

"She's doing as well as can be expected." Looking at the sky above him, he remembered the day he told the one woman who meant everything to him good-bye.

He could still smell the scent of her, how she fit perfectly in his arms, and how he could sense the new life in her. His heart told him to hold on to them with all his might, yet his head warned him of the dangers that would face her and their child; especially since his enemy would not rest until she destroyed everything he loved. Ignoring his heart, he told her, and they both decided that it would be best if he had nothing to do with her and the child. He knew it was for the best, or so he thought.

*How did things get like this?* Regret filled his voice, "I only wanted to protect the both of them."

"Hecuba knows that. It wasn't your fault."

"Yes it is! Look where my good intentions led them!"

"Listen to me!" She made sure his eyes were on her before continuing, "Both of us know that she would have killed both of them before the child was even a day old. You did the right thing."

"There was no right decisions; just varying degrees of wrong decisions. And right now, I feel like I made the worst choice." He snapped his reigns and the horses pulled his chariot away.

"Please stop, I'll be good." Another stinging slap found it's way to her face. "I'll be good I promise!" she screamed in-between her sobs, but he wasn't listening.

"You will never be good." Another slap. "You are evil. You will never be anything." He pulled her up by the hair. "You are nothing!"

Xena watched as Gabrielle tossed and cried out; the tentacles of another nightmare holding her close. All she wanted to do was run and hold her love. Xena got up out of her bed and headed over to Gabrielle, when a final scream burst forth from the Amazon Queen's lips. Eyes wide opened and sweat pouring from her pores, Gabrielle looked around the room.

Lila ran from her room, "Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle did not respond. Instead she began her new ritual. She got out of bed, placed on her leathers, grabbed her sais and walked out of the hut. Without missing a step, the royal guards followed their Queen. Lila looked at Xena. "How much longer is this going to go on?"

"I don't know." Xena walked to the front door and watched as Gabrielle entered the training circle and began doing drills.

"Well, I know for a fact that practicing with those sais are not helping her. She needs to talk, not fight."

"Doing drills can have a calming effect, trust me."

"Xena, I mean no offense, but drills may be good for you, but we are talking about Gabrielle. She is not a warrior." She turned her attention back on her sister. She watched as her sister moved with grace and power. Her jaw dropped as she watched Gabrielle throw both sais into a post. Lila could not pull her eyes from her sibling as Gabrielle practiced her kicks. "When did she learn to do that?"

"As you can see, Gabrielle is a warrior and a good one at that."

Indeed, Gabrielle had changed much since the first day that Xena and her met. Gone was the overzealous teen who dreamed to become a warrior and a bard. The child had grown into a very capable woman; a woman who had fulfilled her dreams and in the process had made Xena's fantasies come true. Even though Apollo's chariot had barely broke through the horizon, Xena felt a warm sensation fill her and she knew that the source of that heat was the love that she and the bard shared. That love had seen them through previous challenges; and it will see them through this one as well.

Xena looked at Lila and notice a frown upon her face. "What's wrong?"

Lila continued to look at Gabrielle as she spoke, "I'm just realizing how different she is now. I guess I really don't know Gabrielle anymore. When we were kids, she always looked out for me. She would always lay in the bed with the covers on after Father would beat her. I would go into our room, crawl into her bed and start to cry. And you know what she did? She would wrap her arms around me and tell me a story. No matter what, she made me feel safe. We were so close, I thought that nothing would separate us. I even thought that after she and Perdicus were married I would move in with them." She lowered her head and stared at the ground. "But then, she started to push me away. I was so jealous of Sophia because she would spend all her time with her. And then you came along. She told me that she was going to follow you and become a warrior. I was so upset that I wanted to hurt her. So I did two things that I never done before, I laughed at her and then I pushed her down. When I looked at her eyes, I thought I saw something died.

The last time she visited us, I was mad because she was fulfilling her dreams without me while I stayed home and I wasted a lot off time fighting with her. Andnow, she is pushing me away again, at a time when we need each other the most. Is it unfair of me to want my sister back, to want our relationship like it was?" She looked back at her sister. "She is the only family I have right now.

I've come too close to losing her."

"You won't lose her. We will make it through this."

Lila glanced up at the warrior. Xena sounded so sure about the situation while Lila wasn't sure about anything. Lila wondered how Xena could be so certain, but then she saw it. It shined through her crystal blue eyes as Xena watched Gabrielle. Lila thought back to the visit at the farmhouse and realized she saw the same looks between the two. "You really love her don't you Xena?"

Xena looked at Lila, trying to gauge if she was ready for the truth. But Lila decided to plow full speed ahead. "And don't try to deny it. I've seen the way you look at her. And you want to know what I think?" She waited to see if Xena would say anything, but she didn't. "I think it is wonderful. You love her and she loves you. You really believe that love can conquer all huh?"

"I did not believe that until I met your sister. She believed that love could do it all not matter how I disagreed with her. And you know how stubborn she can be...especially when she knows she's right." Lila chuckled. They continue to watch Gabrielle in silence. Gabrielle practiced one last set of kicks and punches and headed towards the hot springs bath house.

"So basically all we can do is watch and wait."

"No, we will be here for her. If she presents us an opportunity for us to talk, then we should take advantage of it. But we can't force her to talk about it; she will only push us further away."

"Okay, we play it your way."

"This is good, thanks."

"Your welcome. Want some nutbread to go with that?"

"Sure." Gabrielle eyed the cup of broth she had been sipping on. "So, what kind of herbs have you been feeding me Xena?"

Xena smirked as she cut off a slice of nutbread. Over the past few weeks, some things had improved. Even through Gabrielle famous "bottomless pit" appetite had not returned, she was eating and better yet, it was staying down. She even started taking over the responsibilities of being queen that didn't involve too much physical contact with others. And she no longer openly flinched when someone came near her. Yes, some things had improved.... "And how do you know that I put herbs in there Gabrielle? How do you know I didn't come up with a new recipe?"

"One, you don't like cooking so you would never come up with a new recipe. Two, my stomach hasn't been doing flips. Three, you've been feeding me this broth at least three times a day, every single day; always before I eat."

"The herbs came from Garona, so you have her to thank."

"So I can get them from her?"

Worry etched itself on Xena's face. "What's wrong? Is the nausea coming back?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "It's just that I wanted to know where to get the herbs after you leave."

"LEAVE?!?" ....and some things had not improved. Gabrielle was still pushing everyone away from her. No matter of much space Xena had given her, it did not seem enough. They were sleeping in separate beds and Gabrielle still wouldn't let anyone touch her, not even when her nightmares racked her body, mind and spirit. And because of the nightmares, Gabrielle would fight off Morpheus as long as possible. She had become very stoic, some might even say cold; her emotions kept under tight control. At times, Xena wonder if she would ever be able to break through the ice wall that Gabrielle had placed around herself. "Why do you think I would leave?"

"Come on Xena, you've been in this village for a while now. Your wanderlust is going to take hold and you will want to move on pretty soon."

"I would think that you would know by now that we are a team. I will stay here as long as you are here."

"What happens if I decide to stay here Xena? After all I am Queen and maybe it is time I take my role more seriously. I can't be a good queen if I'm too busy travelling with you."

Xena's normal stoic look was nowhere to be found as her eyes opened in shock and confusion, "So, do you want me to leave?"

"That's up to you Xena. I just don't want you to think you have to stay here if you don't want."

Xena ran a hand through her hair in frustration. "Gabrielle, you are the most important thing in the world to me. I would never dream of leaving this village without you." Xena kneeled down in front of the Amazon Queen. "I know that it is going to take time for you to feel safe again. We don't have to rush anything because we will stay here as long as you want, okay?"

*And what will happen if I never feel safe again?* She could feel the anger, pain and frustration as they started to churn inside. "I've got to go. I promised Eponin that I would give a sai demonstration."

For a moment, Xena could see the emotions in her eyes, but all too quickly the ice wall came back up. "I'm sure that Eponin could keep the trainees busy for a while without you. You look like you need to talk."

"There is nothing to talk about Xena." She quickly stood up and walked to the door, hoping that Xena would drop it. "Now, if you will excuse me."

Xena's stubbornness decided to show itself. "You can't keep running Gabrielle. You need to talk about your feelings. They are eating away at you."

"So now you can see inside my mind and know that I need to talk. Is this another one of your 'many skills?' Besides, talking is not going to change things Xena."

"It can't change the past Gabrielle, but talking can help you deal with the past; it can help you heal. You don't have to talk to me. You can talk to Sophia, Lila, Garona or anyone else of your choosing."

"Xena...I just can't deal with this right now. I'll think about it, okay? I've got to go, Eponin is waiting." Without another word, she walked out the door and headed to the training grounds.

"Hi stranger."

Sophia looked up. "Hi Xena."

"Where have you been? We miss seeing your ugly mug around."

Guilt ran through her veins as she realized that it had been a number of days since she last visited her friends. "Sorry I haven't been around much. I just figured that Gabby had enough mother hens fluttering around her. Besides, you guys don't need me."

"That's not true. If it wasn't for you, I'm not sure she would have told me about the abuse in the first place. I was hoping that you could talk to her."

Sophia raised up her eyebrows and waited for Xena to continue. "She still won't talk to anyone about what happened. And she keeps pushing all of us away."

"Xena, you need to understand the dynamics between children and parents to help Gabrielle. Parents are gods to their children. A child will do anything to fulfill the expectations of the parents. For example, a parent who constantly tells a child that they can't sing or dance will wind up with a child who believes that they can't sing or dance. And no matter how much others may compliment that child, there will always be a little voice telling that child that he or she can't sing or dance."

"So Gabrielle has a voice talking to her; but I still don't understand what it has to do with the way she is behaving."

"Herodotus' voice is telling her that she is no good and she's not worthy to be loved; that somehow she is responsible for what happened to her. Hecuba's voice is silent; which only confirms that Herodotus is right. One of the reasons she is pushing everyone away is that part of her believes she shouldn't be loved; that she somehow deserves the pain in her life. She is also afraid; the two people in her life that should have loved her unconditionally caused great harm to her and that has taught her that you can't trust people just because they say that they love you."

"If that is what she has learned and believed why didn't she show signs earlier? The only signs were the nightmares."

"That's not true Xena. A young girl runs away from home into the arms of a warlord who was known as 'the Destroyer of Nations', a woman whose reputation made the gods look like prudes. One could argue that home was worst, but why jump from the frying pan into the fire? And look at her stories Xena. She leaves no detail out when she describes the trouble that she gets the both of you in, yet she never mentions herself as the hero, you always manage to save the day without any help from her. She never sees herself as we see her; she doubts herself and her choices."

"So how do we silence Herodotus voice?"

"I don't know," *especially since I'm trying to silence his voice inside my head.* Their last conversation still echoed in her mind, "Have you ever noticed something different about her Sophia? Look at me. Now think about Hecuba and Lila. Now think about her."

"She's not yours, is she?"

"No."

Since then she had kept silent about his confession, fearing that it was just a last attempt to hurt Gabrielle further. *But what if it is the truth? I guess there will be time later to deal with this...after Gabrielle get better.* "I don't think the voices ever go away Xena, people learn how to ignore them and move on with their lives."

She looked over at Xena with concern in her eyes. "Xena, the only thing you can do is to take every opportunity to tell her and show her that she is good enough to be loved and appreciated. I've seen the love you two share and it is one of the most powerful things I have seen in my entire life. Rely on that love to get the both of you through this present darkness."

Gabrielle stood in front of the trainees, holding her sais and performing complicated movements. Every muscle flexed and moved perfectly together as if they were in a dance. Lila sat with the other trainees, her eyes never leaving her sister. In the mornings, when she watched Gabrielle practice from afar, she was impressed; but now, watching her elder sister up close, Lila was mesmerized by the sight. Gabrielle had managed to deflect all the arrows and throwing knives. She then finished her demonstration by throwing both sais into the post.

The trainees admired their Queen with applause and cheers. Eponin raised her arms to silence the group. "Are there any questions for our Queen?" A young red-head raised her arm. Eponin shook her head.

Tali was one of the better fighters in the group and she knew it. The trainee was in her seventeenth summer and she loved showing herself off to anyone who would watch and/or listen. Of course, Tali did not need to showoff to be noticed, with her fiery head of hair and her statueques height everyone knew who she was.

Eponin looked around hoping to find someone else to call on, but no one else had a question. "Okay Tali, what is it?"

"My queen that was quite impressive. But what can those sais do against a sword?A sword's reach is longer?"

"Trust me Tali, these are very effective against a sword."

"Well, can you demonstrate this? I just don't see how it would work." Eponin looked over at Gabrielle. Gabrielle stood silent for a moment than nodded. It was her responsibility as Queen to make sure the trainees were well prepared, and since she was the only Amazon who knew how to use the sais effectively, she couldn't say no.

As Tali pulled her sword and walked into the circle, Eponin grabbed her arm and whispered, "Remember, this is YOUR QUEEN. Don't do anything stupid or I'll be all over you." She let go of the trainee and took a seat next to Lila.

"Why do I have a feeling that this was not a good idea?" Lila whispered to Eponin.

"Don't worry, I already warned Tali not to do anything stupid."

Tali seemed to have taken Eponin's warning to heart and pulled back on her swings. As the demonstration continued Tali became more and more agitated; her strokes became harder and faster, yet Gabrielle still anticipated every one of her moves. Gabrielle then switched to offense and Tali found herself being forced back, even though she could tell that Gabrielle was holding back on her kicks and punches. There was one thing that Tali loved more than showing off and that was winning, and her need to win was over-riding her common sense.

Eponin could see the frustration on Tali's face. *Don't do anything stupid.* Eponin was one of the few who knew the full truth. She watched as Tali became more aggressive. Eponin stood up, anticipating trouble.

Tali backed up to the post and swung her sword. Gabrielle easily caught the blade in her sais. Using her superior strength, Tali reversed their positions and pressed Gabrielle into the post. Leaning against her captive she was about to ask, "Do you give my Queen?" but the words never made it to her mouth.

Gabrielle screamed in terror and anger. She pushed Tali off of her and attacked. After a series of kicks and punches, Tali fell to her knees. Gabrielle stood above her, one sai against her throat, the other held above her head quickly descending towards the trainee.

Eponin managed to block the sai before it reached its target. The weapons master looked at Gabrielle and saw her eyes were glazed over.

"My Queen. I think you proved your point." Gabrielle looked up at Eponin and looked at her own hands which still held the sais. Without saying a word, she turned and walked away. Eponin helped Tali up off the ground.

"Go see the healer and let her check you over." Her eyes became slits as she let her anger show, "Then go to my hut and wait for me. We are going to talk about obeying orders."

Lila ran after her sister. "Gabrielle wait!" Gabrielle continued on. "Leave me alone Lila."

"No. I won't leave you like this. We need to talk." Gabrielle didn't say anything, but kept on walking. Lila reached out and grabbed her shoulder. "Please..."

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" Gabrielle swung around and before she knew it, her backhand connected with Lila's face. Lila fell to the ground. "Lila?"

She laid there motionless. A few amazons heard the commotion and ran to where they were. Chilapa and Eponin were among them. As Eponin checked Lila, Chilapa looked at her queen. "What happened Gabrielle?" Gabrielle looked down at the unconscious form, slowly took a couple of steps back and then ran into the woods.

Xena and Sophia were stilling talking when an Amazon came running up to them. "Xena, Sophia come quickly."

"What's wrong?"

"The queen's sister has been hurt."

"Lila? Is she okay?" Both Xena and Sophia ran to Garona's hut and entered. Lila was sitting up in the bed.

"Where is she? Xena have you found her?"

"Slow down Lila. Are you okay?"

"Don't worry about me. You need to find Gabrielle."

"Where is she?"

Lila and Eponin told Xena and Sophia what happened during the training. Eponin then said, "She ran into the woods about half a candlemark ago. No one has seen her since."

"Sophia, I want you to stay by our hut, just in case she comes back there. I'm going out to look for her."

Sophia nodded and wished her friend luck. As she left, Xena prayed to any god listening that she would find Gabrielle safe and sound.

She stared at the lake as silent tears flowed down her face. She had no idea where she was or how long she had ran; she just kept going until it was too painful to continue. She then sat on a boulder and watched the perfectly calm lake which did not reflect the turmoil that was in her soul.

The crickets and frogs played their music, but the only sound she heard was the sickening thud as her hand slammed into her sister's head, *I almost killed Tali and then I struck Lila. He was right about me. He was right.* As numbness started to work its way into her limbs, she hoped that it would find its way into her soul as well; easing the pain, fear, and anger she could feel rising in her. For too long, she ignored the emotions that ate her insides, for too long she buried them, and now they were fighting their way out. But she refused to give in, refused to give them release. Instead she swallowed them down; and she could feel herself drowning, her mind being swept away in the waves of torment as numbness overtook her.

Xena followed Gabrielle's trail. Luckily the bard wasn't thinking about covering her tracks. The warrior princess recognized the place to where Gabrielle ran. It was the lake that they discovered when their love was still new:

They had decided to just get away for the day so that Gabrielle could have a break from council meetings and Xena from trainees. With a basket of food and a blanket, they walked to the lake that they had heard about from Ephiny.

The lake was just as she described; glassy and peaceful, a place where they could think, talk and express the new facet of their love for each other.

*Should have known she would come here. Those were happy times.* Xena did not want to frighten the bard, so she called out.

Gabrielle did not respond. Xena walked around her so that she could face her. Dark gray-green eyes did not take notice of her presence. "Gabrielle?" No response came forth.

Darkness never felt so inviting to the bard. She knew she was surrounded by it; its numbing appendages holding her tight. She can almost feel it as she reached out her arms to embrace it. But something is trying to breakthrough. She tightened her grip on the darkness, ignoring the new presence.

"Gabrielle, don't do this!" Xena knelt in front of the bard, making sure she did not come into contact with her. "Do you remember the promise that you made to me? You promised me that you would lean on me, that you would remember that you were not in this by yourself. I'm holding you to your promise Gabrielle."

Darkness still engulfed her, but the new presence will not give up. It reached out to her, and she felt its warmth as it tried to envelope her in its arms.

"You have always been my light and anchor. When I wanted to give up, you wouldn't let me. Please let me be there for you. I want to share your pain, your fears and burdens. I understand how the nightmares torment you. We can fight them together, just as we always had before."

The comfort the darkness promised had become cold and distant. As the voice grew louder the colder the darkness became. She no longer wanted to stay, nor did she want to return to the pain. A solitary tear rolled down the bard's face and Xena knew that she was breaking through.

***

"No matter how hard you push Gabrielle, I'm not going to let you out of my life. Of all the people I know, you are the most special that I ever had met. Your love and compassion touches everyone you come into contact with. If it wasn't for you, the centaurs and amazons would still be at war, but instead they live in peace with one another. If it wasn't for your bravery and insight, Valesca would have became Queen and destroyed this nation. And if it wasn't for your love, the darkness in me would have taken control again."

**

Other tears flowed from her eyes. She closed her eyes as she tried to hold back the emotional tidal wave; but the ice wall cracked and was beginning to melt. Sobs began to rack her body. She leaned into Xena and cried.

*

"It was your love Gabrielle that has changed this warlord forever. You are a gift from the gods. Don't ever doubt that. Herodotus couldn't destroy you while he was alive. Don't let him destroy you now."

"I just want it to stop. I want all of it to stop."

Xena gently raised her hand and began to stroke Gabrielle's hair. "One thing I can promise Gabrielle is that the nightmares will become less and less. And the pain and fear will ease. Just remember, you are not doing this alone. We are here for you."

"Lila? Is she alright?"

"She is fine. In fact, she is probably arguing with the others that she should be out looking for you."

They stayed there, in their present positions for a candlemark. When the sobbing turned into breathing, Xena looked down at her partner. "Are you ready to head back?" Gabrielle slowly nodded. Once they were standing, Xena held out her hand.

Gabrielle looked down at the hand and slowly took it. They walked back to the village; silently realizing that an understanding had been reached.

After much apologizing between the sisters, Xena and Gabrielle finally left the healer's hut and headed back to their own, walking hand in hand. Even though they had missed dinner, neither of them were hungry, just tired. They both got ready for bed in silence. Gabrielle looked at her bed and her fear of nightmares ebbed into her.

"Xena? Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure. What is it?"

Gabrielle sighed as her eyebrows furrowed together. The words got stuck in her throat and she had to force them out, "Can you hold me tonight?" She quickly looked down at the floor.

Xena walked over to the Queen of her heart. "Of course. I'll hold you for as long as you want, okay?" They both laid down in the small bed, facing each other. Xena wrapped her arms protectively around the bard and soon they both fell asleep.

She couldn't see him, but she knew he was near, watching her. She began to run, his voice screaming for her to come back. She ran, dodging trees and limbs, until she tripped. He was coming closer and closer...

Gabrielle tossed in her sleep; her body reacting to the nightmare her mind was living. "Gabrielle, it's alright. You are safe. He can't hurt you any more. I'm here. It's alright love, it's alright." Xena spoke as she continued to stroke Gabrielle's head.

Gabrielle settled down and continued sleeping. Each time a nightmare tried to take hold, Xena spoke, her words calming the sleeping bard. As the sun sent its warmth upon their faces, the warrior woke up. Even though she spent most of the night soothing Gabrielle, she knew that she was willing to do that for all of eternity if it meant that she would see the spark in Gabrielle's eyes again.

The bard yawned and realized two things. First, this was the first time in a long while that the sun had beat her out of bed. Second, she felt safe when she awoke. She looked up at Xena. "Hi."

"Hi there. How did you sleep?"

"Okay, I guess. How about you? I didn't keep you awake all night did I?"

"No you didn't." She looked at her bard. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For sharing with me. I know it took a lot of trust on your part to let me hold you."

Gabrielle did not respond and they laid there in silence. Xena finally spoke, "So what are your plans for today?"

"Talking. I know you are right Xena. I do need to talk about this. And there is no one I trust more than you." She looked away from the cobalt blue eyes. "But there are some things I'm not sure I can talk about, even with you."

"Tell you what, I'll send one of the guards to get us breakfast. After we eat, we will talk for a little while. We'll take it slow. If there are things you need to get off your chest, but you can't speak about them, write them down on a scroll. But don't keep things bottle up inside, okay?"

Gabrielle nodded and closed her eyes, falling asleep once more. *Well so much for breakfast,* Xena thought as she smiled and followed her partner's example.

Sophia smiled as she saw her favorite couple walking together hand in hand towards the lake. Almost two weeks had past since Xena found Gabrielle and things were slowly getting back to normal; everything that is but one--Xena and Gabrielle seemed stronger now than ever before. And Sophia couldn't be happier.

She visited Gabrielle yesterday and remembered how the bard teased her aboutSophia's infrequent visits -- "You are just too busy playing match-maker. So who are you matching yourself with?" Sophia laughed at the memory. *I wish I was busy finding my soulmate.*

Even though she was no longer a guardian, Sophia still acted like one; helping others with their relationships and love probblems. *Aphrodite is probablylaughing at me right now. Still taking on the responsibilities without any of the French benefits.* "Speaking of benefits, I wonder if my soulmate is here in

Amazonia?" Sophia looked around at the Amazons as they passed by. It was true that a few of the Amazons had shown an interest, but Sophia did not bother pursuing. She knew what soulmates were, and did not want to settle for anything less. As she scanned the area, she saw Lila heading her way. 'Oh great, just what I needed.'

"Hi Sophia? Have you seen my sister?"

"Yeah, she and Xena were heading off somewhere. I think they wanted to be alone."

"Oh." As Sophia looked at Lila, her gut sank lower and lower. She realized that Herodotus may have told her the truth, but the only person who knew for sure was in Poteidaea and Sophia had no intentions of seeing that woman. Sophia was so busy thinking, she did not notice the constant chattering coming from Lila.

"...even though Mother and Father said that was wrong, seeing them together, I can only hope I find someone to love me like that. Do you think that I will find my love?"

"Huh? Oh sure, it will happen."

"Cool. So I can move in with you right?"

"WHAT?!?!??!!" Sophia's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as her jaw dropped to the ground.

"Haven't you been listening? I said that Xena and Gabrielle are soulmates and are very good for each other, and I know that they have been getting real close and all, and I know that it is difficult having me living in the same hut, I was thinking about staying with you, you know with them being in love and all that even though Mother and Father..."

"Okay I got that part." Sophia was looking for an escape route, "You know, I was in the library the other day, looking over the laws and customs of the Amazons, and I think I read that Amazon princesses get their own hut." She was lying through her teeth, but at this point Sophia was willing to chew through an arm to get out of this conversation.

"That's nice. What does that have to do with me?"

"Since you are the Queen's sister, you are technically an Amazon princess. Now to become an official Amazon, you will have to go through the necessary training and rituals. But you still get your own hut."

Sophia quickly scanned her surroundings and saw an Amazon walking close by. "Now if you will excuse me, I hear someone's heart breaking." With that she walked up the Amazon and offered an arm to her, "I'll explain later, let's just keep walking, okay?"

Gabrielle leaned back against the warrior and stretched her legs in front of her on the blanket. She rested her arms on Xena's bent knees as the pair studied the clouds in the sky. "That one looks like a pouncing cat."

"That was good. See that one to the left? I think it looks like a chakram."

Gabrielle squirmed around to look Xena in the face. "You think everything looks like a chakram," she turned back around and leaned back into Xena before continuing, "or a target."

"That's not true." Xena pointed to another cloud. "That one looks like the pyramids in Egypt."

"Where?"

"There."

"No way. That is a mountain range."

"How can you say that looks like a mountain range? It is the pyramids."

"Mountains."

"Pyramids."

"Mountains."

"Pyramids."

"Mountains."

"Must we argue over clouds too? You would think we were talking about the stars or something."

Gabrielle grabbed the bunch of grapes that was next to her and popped one into her mouth. "And I was right about it too. It was a bear."

"No, it is a dipper."

"Oh shut up and eat your grapes." With that she turned and shoved a grape into the warrior's mouth. The look of surprise on Xena's face caused her to giggle.

"Are you laughing at me Gabrielle?"

"No, I would never laugh at you." Xena's eyebrow quirked upward."Okay, I may be laughing at you just a little bit." She reached out and tucked Xena's hair behind her ear. "But the main reason I'm laughing is because I'm happy."

"I'm glad. There is nothing that I want more than for you to be happy.... Sometimes I wondered if we would find this type of happiness again."

"I did too." She caressed Xena's cheek. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For fighting for me even when I gave up. For so long, you told me that I was your light; but now, you are mine. You are my rock and shield." She bent closer to Xena, "and I love you for that." She lowered her head and their lips barely touched. Xena knew that Gabrielle needed to be in control, so she sat back and let Gabrielle dictate the kiss. The kiss deepened as Xena let Gabrielle gain entrance into her mouth. The kiss wasn't demanding, but it was passionate.

Gabrielle pulled back and turned back around, wrapping Xena's arms around her.

Once she caught her breath, Xena spoke the first word that popped into her mind, "Wow."

"My sentiments exactly."

Xena kissed the top of the bard's head. "I love you bard."

"Love you too warrior."

Sophia smiled as she saw Gabrielle blush. "Yep, you got it pretty bad."

"Sophia, stop teasing me."

"Okay, okay. So I take it that you are happy, no?"

"Yes, very happy." The smile on her face could light up the sky.

"Xena's been so patience, so giving, so loving." She lowered her eyes to the ground. "I just wish that she would let me show her how much I love her."

Sophia furrowed her brows. "What happened?"

Crimson painted itself on Gabrielle's face and neck as she talked to Sophia. "Last night, I wanted to, you know, make love to her. But then she stopped me. She told me that she wanted to make love to me and asked if I was ready for that."

"And you said..."

"No."

"Good."

"Good? What's good about that?"

"You were honest with her, and that is good Gabby. So how did she take it?"

A small smile came upon her face. "She said that the next time we make love, she wants us to do it together, not just me making love to her or vice versa. I didn't know whether to cry or to kiss her."

"Let me guess, you did both."

"Yeah, I did." Her voice turned serious, "Sophia, what if I can't let her make love to me? I still get scared just thinking about it. What if..."

"Gabrielle, don't deal with what ifs. They will only make you crazy. Instead of dealing with what ifs, deal with facts. Fact number one, you have come a long way. Do you remember when you first woke up? You wouldn't let any one near you, much less touch you. And now, listen to yourself. You are talking about making love. Fact number two, Xena loves you with her entire being. She will not rush you in doing anything that you aren't ready for. Therefore, don't rush yourself. You two have plenty of time to rediscover that part of yourselves. Fact number three, when the time is right, you will know." An evil smirk grew across Sophia's continence. "And when that time comes, please do the rest of us a favor. Go to your hut, lock yourselves in, and place a parchment that reads 'Do Not Disturb' on the door okay? We don't want an angry Xena throwing her chakram at us because we knock at an inappropriate time." Both of them started to laugh. "But seriously Gabby, you will know when the moment is right. Trust me."

Gabrielle nodded. "Thanks Sophia. Now let me give you some advice." She grabbed Sophia's hands and gave them a squeeze before continuing. "You my dear friend, in your heart you are still a Guardian, and whether you like it or not, it is who you are. Maybe you should consider becoming one again."

Sophia smiled at her friend. She knew Gabrielle was right. Ever since Aphrodite let her see the power of love, she had felt her doubt slowly but surely melt away. She was no longer the guardian who naively believed that love could conquer everything, but she was no longer as cynical either. And she knew that balance would allow her to become the best guardian she could be. But there was still one loose string she had to take care of, one that could wait. "I'll think about it. If I do become a guardian again, the first thing Aphrodite is going to do is ship me off to somewhere else. And right now, I'm having too much fun here."

"You are not corrupting my Amazons are you?"

"Gabrielle, your Amazons are corrupting me. I was filled with purity until your Amazons got a hold of me. Now, I will never be the same." Sophia tried to look wide-eyed and innocent. Gabrielle just laughed.

"That was some excellent fertilizer that just came out of your mouth. Now why don't you go spread it somewhere else, because I have a council meeting to go to."

"Council meeting? Is it something serious?"

"No, just planning the Fall Harvest Festival."

"You mean the After the End of Summer blowout but before the Winter Solstice Celebration Party."

"You know, you are starting to sound a lot like Xena. You don't have to come you know."

"And break all those hearts? Never! After all, I have my reputation to maintain."

"Oh brother." Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "See you later." Gabrielle headed toward the council hut, shaking her head all the way there.

Xena smiled at the sight that greeted her when she opened the door. At the table was Gabrielle furiously writing; her brow furrowed as her quilt speedily went across the parchment.

Gabrielle grinned as she wrote yet another line. It was then that she noticed Xena. "Hi Xe. How did training go?"

Xena took off her scabbard and armor. "Fine. The young ones are going to be fine warriors." Xena walked over to Gabrielle. "What are you writing?"

"I promised some of the children that I would have a story for them at the Fall Festival." Gabrielle then told Xena about the story. All the while, Xena noticed the twinkle in Gabrielle's eyes, the twinkle that had been missing so long. It was just one more indication that her love was going to be alright. "I'm glad you are writing again. And speaking of writing, can you do me a favor?"

Gabrielle returned to her writing. "It depends. What is it?"

"I was wondering if you could rewrite some of your stories?"

Gabrielle frowned. "Why? Don't you like my stories?"

"I do. But don't you remember that promise we made to Loki? Well, I wanted you to rewrite the old stories, making sure you include the great deeds that you did."

Gabrielle lifted up her head and eyed Xena. Her instincts told her something was up, but she couldn't place her finger on it. ""So you want me to rewrite mystories so that Loki won't be disappointed? What's the catch?"

"No catch." Gabrielle arched her eyebrow and waited to hear more. "Okay, maybe one small catch. Today, during practice, one of the trainees gushed about my 'skills' as a warrior. She started to recite some of your tales. Gabrielle, do you know that you have some people believing that I can do the impossible like fighting off 30 soldiers single-handedly. Now if I remember right, you took out at least ten of them yourself."

"Well, sometimes facts don't make a story as interesting Xena. It is called poetic licensing."

"Call it whatever you want. But I think your Amazons would find it much more interesting if they knew that their Queen was a great warrior as well." Xena threw up her hands. "Just trying to give you advice that's all."

"And when did you become interested in barding?"

"Hey, if you can be a warrior, then I could be a bard."

Gabrielle held back a laugh as her hand dropped her quill. "Oh really?"

"Yes really. I think it is only fair that we learn from each other." Xena saw doubt written all over the bard's face. She walked over to where Gabrielle was sitting. "For example, I taught you how to fist a fish, how to track, and hunt." She reach out and gently took Gabrielle's hand, pulling her out of her seat, "And you taught me how to enjoy the stars, how to see the good in others and most importantly how to see the light inside of myself."

"Xena, I didn't teach you those things, they were already inside of you."

"Maybe, but you help me discover them. And I want you to discover the hero that you have always been. So what do you say, you help me discover the bard in me, and I'll help you to see who you are. Is it a deal?"

Gabrielle lowered her head, for she did not want Xena to see the tears that were forming in her eyes. If she did not love the warrior already, she knew that at this moment she would have fallen head over heels. She looked up and instead of answering Xena's question, she kissed her; and in that one kiss she tried to express all the love that she felt for her champion. As the kiss continued and deepened, Gabrielle decided that a kiss wasn't enough to show Xena her love.

"I think...that we have...talked about stories enough..." Her lips move across Xena's jawline to her very sensitive earlobe. "What do you think...my warrior?"

Xena took a breath, hoping that it would cool down the heat that was rising in her. "Um...Gabrielle?" The bard ignored her as she suckled on the lobe. "I think...um...I think," *I can't think!* "Um...that you should," *continue,* "behave yourself."

Gabrielle raised her head and looked Xena straight in the eyes. "So, you are not going to let me seduce you?" She lowered her head and delivered a kiss that Xena could feel in her toes. She pulled away and waited for Xena's answer. Xena did not trust her voice at this moment, so she shook her head no. Gabrielle smiled as she noticed the effect that her kisses had on the warrior.

"Fine. See you later." She walked right out of their hut. Xena's body felt the loss immediately. Once she was sure that her knees wouldn't buckle, she put back on her armor and scabbard and headed to Eponin's hut. She knocked on the door hard. Eponin yanked the door open.

"By the gods Xena, what's the big.....HEY!" Xena grabbed her and dragged her to the training circle. The warrior released the Weapon Master and pulled out her sword. Eponin swallowed hard as she noticed the intensity that flashed in the cobalt blue eyes that saw her every move.

"Um, Xena, are you mad at me or something?"

"No, I just need to work out some...frustration."

After an intense workout and a cold bath, Xena returned to the hut to find Gabrielle already in bed. Narrowed eyes met smiling eyes.

"Tell me one thing Gabrielle, are you going to behave yourself?"

Gabrielle snickered. "I promised, no funny business."

"Good." As she began to remove her armor, she could feel Gabrielle's stare on her. She decided to give retribution to Gabrielle for her little game. She slowly removed her armor and leathers, then stretched out her body as she let her sleeping shift slip over her body. As she crawled into bed, Gabrielle had one word to say to her, "Tease."

Xena laughed as she pulled the bard near. "Love you."

"Love you too."

"Are you sure?"

Gabrielle's eyes twinkled as she thought about the preparations."Positive."

Sophia grinned and then laughed. "Oh, this is going to be fun."

"You think you can pull it off? Are you going to need any help?"

"Oh please. You are talking to Aphrodite's former number one Guardian of love here. Leave it all up to me."

"So you want us to forget about the traditions of the Amazons?" Artemis stared at the warrior as they stood in her temple. "There are several things that stand against you Xena."

"Artemis, I know what I'm asking for is unusual..."

"Highly unusual," she interrupted. "Tell me warrior, why should I grant your request?"

"Artemis, you can see inside my heart and you know it is filled with her. If you asked me a few months ago if I thought it was possible for me to love her more than what I already do, I would have answered you no, but now even with," Xena paused trying to find the right words, "correction, because of the pain and suffering we have gone through, every single day, I love her more than the day before.

Beside Artemis, all of this is a technicality. Because what I'm asking for today has already taken place in our hearts, and even if you tell me no, it would be too late."

Artemis smiled to herself. She knew that she would give permission to Xena, but she did like to see the warrior squirm.n"It seems that you have already made up your mind warrior. If this is just a

technicality, why come to me?"

"Even though I don't need your blessing Artemis, I know that Gabrielle would want it. And I would do anything to make her happy, even if that includes asking a god for permission to propose to the woman I love." Xena kneeled down in front

of the goddess and lowered her eyes. "So, I am asking you, Artemis, goddess of the Amazons, may I ask Gabrielle to be

my bondmate?"

"Xena, I do know what is in your heart, and I know what is in my chosen one's as well. So let me get this little technicality out of the way." She cupped Xena's chin and raised her head, making eye contact with the warrior. "Go warrior, you have my permission."

Xena stood and bowed, thanking the goddess before leaving.

The drums slowly pounded out their rhythm as the crowd awaited the arrival of their Queen and Regent. Everyone stared in awe as the two women made their way to the daises. Both were dressed in their ceremonial leathers and masks & both looked truly regal.

Chilapa looked over to Gabrielle, awaiting her signal to begin. The Queen nodded and Chilapa began. "We have come here to celebrate the bountiful blessings that have been bestowed upon us by Artemis and Demeter. Let us thank the goddesses of the hunt and the grain." The crowd cheered and yelled as Gabrielle walked to a giant pile of wood and started the bonfire.

"Let the celebration begin!"

Both women returned to their thrones. "I want to thank you my Queen for allowing me to officiate with you tonight."

"Chilapa, we have gone through this a million times, please call me Gabrielle." She smiled at the regent. No matter how much Gabrielle talked to her, Chilapa was determined to follow protocol. "And there is no need to thank me, Ephiny and I always shared in officiating duties for the festivals."

"Nevertheless, it was a great honor for me."

They chit-chatted for a few moments until Sophia made her way to the daises. Sophia did not say a word, for she did not need to; the giant grin and 'two-thumbs up' signal said it all. After she gave the sign she took off.

"I'm afraid to ask, but what was that about?"

Gabrielle started to blush. "Oh, it was nothing. Sophia can be a bit unusual at times."

"So, how did you and Sophia meet?"

"We grew up together in Poteidaea." Both watched as Sophia flirted with yet another Amazon. "You know, I really need to talk with her about corrupting Amazons."

"She is a big flirt." It was at that moment Sophia looked up and caught both of them looking at her. She smiled and waved. Chilapa smiled and waved back.

As she looked at the two, an idea popped into Gabrielle's head. Chilapa needed someone to help her unwind and Sophia needed someone who wouldn't be putty in her hands.

"You know what she needs Chilapa? Sophia needs someone to dance with. Why don't you go and dance with her?"

"Why me?"

"Because as Regent, she won't turn you down. Besides, this is a night of fun, so go have some. Don't tell me you planned on being up here all night?"

"And how about you?"

A smile broke across her face. "I'm saving all my dances for someone."

Chilapa shook her head. Everyone in Amazonia knew about the deep bond between Xena and Gabrielle, most long before the two of them realized it. The couple was the talk and envy of many of the Amazons.

"And where is Xena anyway?" A frown showed itself upon the Regent's face. Proper protocol had been broken once again. "As your champion, she should be up here with you."

"Trust me, Xena is never too far away." Gabrielle didn't have to look up, for she felt her warrior princess' eyes on her. "She is standing to the left, near the pavilion, in the far corner."

Chilapa looked up to the area that the bard had described and Xena was standing right there. Chilapa looked back at Gabrielle in astonishment. "How did you do that?"

"Practice." Gabrielle looked at her warrior and smiled; liking what she saw. The warrior princess had her usually brass armor and dark brown leathers. But both had been thoroughly cleaned and oiled. One had to be either dead or totally oblivious (like Joxer) to not notice the charge in the air between the two. They did not take their eyes off of each other as Xena made her way towards the daises.

Chilapa was so enthralled with what was happening on her left, that she didn't noticed that someone had managed to sneaked up on her right side.

"You know, if someone could bottle up the chemistry that those two have, that person would be a very rich and happy person." Sophia grinned as she realized that Chilapa was taken completely off guard. Chilapa soon recovered.

"Of course, if true love could be bottled, it wouldn't be worth much, guardian."

"Ah-ah. Former guardian." They watch as Xena extended a hand towards the Queen, and after she had taken it, led her to the dance area. "I don't know about that. True love, even if it could be bottled up, it would still be very rare." She looked at the Regent, giving a dazzling smile, "As rare as someone with your beauty and your power."

"Tell me guardian, do lines like that usually work?"

"Sometimes. But I can see that it didn't work with you, so let me cut to the chase." She extended her arm. Will you please dance with me?"

Chilap shook her head. "No. You see, proper protocol states that I, as Regent, get to chose my dance partners." She extended her arm. "So will you dance with me?"

Sophia threw her head back and laughed. "I would be honored."

Sophia linked her arm with Chilapa's as they headed towards the dance area.

"Are you okay Gabrielle?"

"Yes, why?"

"You are so quiet."

"Well, I had a busy day today." Busy was the word for it, as Gabrielle made plans for tonight; plans that did not include staying at the festival all night long. "I guess I'm a bit tired."

"Yeah, me too." Xena thought about all that she haad done today to make tonight perfect, and the perfect night did not include staying at this festival. Xena looked around at the Amazons. "Do you think that they would mind much if we cut out early? You know how I feel about festivals."

Gabrielle looked around and spotted her regent dancing with Sophia. "I don't think so. It looks like everyone is having fun, so they shouldn't miss us."

"Good." They walked back to the hut hand in hand. Before Gabrielle could open the door, Xena stopped her.

"Gabrielle, I need to ask you something." Hoping that her surprise wasn't spoiled, Gabrielle turned around and asked, "What is it?"

Xena had rehearsed all afternoon what she was going to say, but now, looking in the eyes of the woman she truly loved, she knew she needed to speak from her heart. "Do you remember when we first met? I did everything to push you away. Do you know why?" Xena asked her love while tenderly caressing her right cheek.

"I did it because I knew from the moment I first saw you, that you were able to touch me in places I feared to be touched. You managed to get in my life and in my heart. I have no idea when I fell in love with you, but the moment I realized I had, I knew it was for always. Although we are one soul, and in our hearts we are already joined that is not enough for me."

Xena then reached into her boot and pulled out a pouch. She opened it and pulled a bracelet from it. The bracelet was made up of two metal bands, one silver the other brass, that intertwined with each other. On each band was carved a pattern similar to the pattern on Xena's armor and where the bands crossed each other sat a small blue-green stone.

Tears welled in both their eyes as Xena slipped the bracelet over Gabrielle's hand and onto her wrist, "I know that the Queen is suppose to chose a Amazon to be bonded with, but I have already asked Artemis and she has given me permission to do this so. Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons and of my heart, will you be my bond-mate?"

Tears flowed freely from the pair of sea green eyes that had seized and conquered the former destroyer's heart. "Yes." Gabrielle returned, wrapping her arms around Xena's neck and kissing her. "Yes." Another kiss. "Yes." They stood there, holding each other and looking into each other's eyes, as time halted.

Xena finally broke the silence, but not the magic. "You have made me the happiest woman ever."

Gabrielle smiled. "Come on, let's get inside."

As they opened the door, Xena gasped in surprise. The air in the hut was scented by both potpourri and lit candles that had resigned the darkness to only the furthest corners of the hut. On the table was an array of fruit, cheese, bread and wine. Gabrielle turned and wrapped her arms around Xena.

"I wanted to surprise you." She whispered, claiming the warrior's lips with her own. The little queen then pulled back and gazed into blue eyes, eyes that reflected the passion she was feeling. "Xena, I want us to make love tonight."

"Are you sure?" Xena searched into the sea-green orbs for any sign of fear or doubt. Physically the warrior wanted oh so badly to express the love she felt in her soul for her bard, but only if Gabrielle was ready. What she found in her queen's eyes was passion and undeniable love.

"Yes." Gabrielle silkily returned.

Slowly they undressed each other, every new area of exposed skin was treated with a kiss. They walked to the bed hand in hand. Their lovemaking was slow and passionate; their bodies and words expressed what was in their heart and soul. After riding waves of ecstasy together, the bard and the warrior fell asleep, cradled in each other's arms.

The sun's rays streamed into the hut and shined upon the couple. Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled as she saw her partner and the memories of the previous night danced in her mind. Love welled up in her heart for the woman laying by her side, as tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to blink them back, hoping that Xena did not see them. Xena silently watched as Gabrielle tried to hide her tears.

"Do you have any regrets about last night?"

Gabrielle shook her head.

"None what so ever. I love you so much Xena." With those words spoken, she kissed Xena, and did not break the kiss until she was sure she had proven her point. "So love, what are your plans?" She asked.

"Long term or immediate?"

"Both."

Xena smiled. "My immediate plans include snuggling with you for at least the next few candlemarks." Her face became serious as she spoke the next sentence. "My long term plans center on one thing; to show you everyday for the rest of my life how much I love you." The smile returned to her continence. "And how about you?"

"My long term plans are the same as yours--to show you everyday how much I love you. My short term plan is very simple. I'm planning on starting my long-term plan right now." She pulled Xena's head down and kissed her and their passion for each other flared again.

The knock at the door interrupted them. *Of all the things to forget, Sophia forgets the Do Not Disturb parchment,* Gabrielle thought to herself. The thought was quickly removed when Xena's lips found a very sensitive spot on her neck.

They both ignored the second pounding upon the door, but alas, the third rap caught their attention.

"You wait here, Gabrielle. I'll get rid of them." Xena climbed out of bed and placed on a shift. Gabrielle could hear whispering, but she thought that Xena was just giving the intruder a piece of her mind. She closed her eyes and pulled the covers snuggly around her. Xena climbed back into bed and wrapped her arms around the bard tightly. Gabrielle could feel the tightness in Xena's muscles and knew that something was amiss.

"Xena, what's wrong?"

Turmoil and anger raged in Xena's mind. It seemed like someone was determined to snatch away their happiness. She knew she could not hide the truth.

"That was one of the guards. It seems that the border patrol found someone coming across the borders. They are escorting that person to the village as we speak."

She took a deep breath before she continued. "Gabrielle, it is your mother."

***

Daughter finally confronts her mother; the truth is revealed; and too many bridges may have been burnt for there to be a happily ever after ending. Stay tuned for the (hopefully) conclusion of "Sins of the Father."

Oh yeah, FEED THE BARD. Please.

Written and (c)Copyrighted by: Paully Adams

August 1, 2001