New Memories

by: C. E. Gray

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrene, Hecuba, Herodotus, and all others mentioned in this story (with the exception of Termis) are property of Xena: Warrior Princess, which is in turn property of USA and Renaissance Pictures, so on and so forth… I don't own them. (snaps fingers)

Sexual Disclaimer: This story deals with the idea of two women in love with each other (gasp!). If this bothers you, I suggest you read something in the 'General' listing. Nothing in here gets real graphic, as usual.

Sequel Disclaimer: This is the sequel to my story Memories. It takes place the morning after. If you have not read that one, I suggest you do so before continuing any further, as you may be confused. Yes, I know it's taken me a long while to make a sequel, but blame the muse! 

Author's Note: I'd like to thank my friend Amber for giving me the idea to make a sequel. I was not expecting to do one, but I'm always up for a challenge! grin Let me know what you think!

All comments or suggestions are welcome, any flames will be doused with the help of my dog. The bard doesn't bite, and responses are guaranteed.

Last One: The series may be over, but long live fan fiction!

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The woman with honey-hair awoke to the sunlight on her face and a pair of strong arms around her waist. Sensing that the warrior was awake, she turned in the bronzed arms, and was met by a pair of blue eyes staring back at her.

"Morning," said the warrior.

"Hi," replied Gabrielle, leaning forward so their foreheads touched.

Xena grinned; she loved being close to the bard. "So, I'm assuming you woke up because you're hungry?" she asked, and received a playful slap on the arm.

"Yeah," laughed Gabrielle, "you're right." Xena smiled, and then shifted her weight, rolling over so she was on top of the bard and supporting herself on her arms.

"Well, then, let's do something about that, shall we?" asked the warrior, leaning down to give Gabrielle a soft kiss on the forehead, before rolling away and getting to her feet. Gabrielle just smiled as she watched Xena prepare breakfast for her, and shook her head, when she realized how much she really cared for the warrior.

It's amazing, she thought, I never would have guessed that Xena felt the same way about me that I feel about her. And it took Ares to bring us together… Funny, considering the God of War has never really liked me much.

"Dinar for your thoughts?" offered Xena, raising an eyebrow as she handed Gabrielle the plate of bread, cheese, and fruit.

Gabrielle smiled. "Don't waste your money," she said. Xena's eyebrow went up even further, and Gabrielle sighed. "All right," she said, "I was just thinking about how we got together because of Ares."

Xena let out a deep sigh, and sat down next to Gabrielle, preparing herself for a long talk with the bard. "Gabrielle," she said, "granted, Ares had a part in it, but only in trying to hurt you. I refuse to give him credit for our feelings. Yes, he's the one who took your memories, but the Gods can't give us anything we don't already have deep down inside. The feelings were your own. And my own," she added, smiling.

Gabrielle grinned. "For a warrior, you're pretty good with words," she said, and Xena smirked.

"Yeah, well, I learn from the best," she said, causing a small flush to rise in the bard's cheeks. "So, where do you want to go?"

"What are my choices?" she asked, as she packed her bedroll.

"Back to the Amazons, Amphipolis, or Potedia," said Xena. "We're pretty much the same distance away from each."

"How about Amphipolis? That is, if you're all right with it," added Gabrielle. "It's been a while since we've seen your mother." Xena agreed, and hoisted Gabrielle behind her on Argo, nudging the horse into a slow trot towards Amphipolis.

"We'll be there in about a day," said Xena, and Gabrielle tightened her grip around Xena's waist as the warrior made the horse pick up her pace. Xena took her left hand and put it over Gabrielle's, so the bard felt safer, and Xena felt her relax into her back.

"Xena?" asked Gabrielle, gaining the warrior's attention after nearly an hour of riding in silence.

"Hm?"

"What do you want to tell your mother?" the bard asked, gently, and heard Xena sigh. She knew for the bard to be that quiet, she had to be thinking about something.

"I'm not sure, Gabrielle," said the warrior. "I want to tell her, but I'm not sure how to do it, or how she'll react."

Gabrielle smiled, although she knew Xena couldn't see her, and said, "Then we'll tell her, together."

Xena grinned, and her heart skipped a beat. It was amazing how the bard could put her fears at rest so easily. "Together," she agreed, and felt the woman give her a small hug from behind.

The two rode in silence for a while longer, each involved in their own thoughts. Suddenly, Gabrielle felt Xena stiffen, and knew something was wrong.

"Xena?" she asked, and the warrior's response was to unlatch Gabrielle's hands from her stomach.

"Get off the horse," she said, helping her friend slide from the saddle.

"What is it?" asked the bard.

Xena's low reply was "Archers." The warrior's keen hearing picked up on their movements through the trees, and knew that she was probably their target; Gabrielle would be safe if she wasn't near her. "Go, now," she said, but the bard didn't move.

"I'm not going to leave you," Gabrielle said.

Xena took a chance, and leaned over in her saddle, to whisper to the bard, urgently, "Gabrielle, go! Just go off to the woods, I'll meet up with you later!" Seeing the concern in Xena's eyes, and not wanting to be a distraction, Gabrielle headed off to her left, not looking back until she reached the safety of the trees.

As the bard watched, two arrows flew through the air in the direction of the Warrior Princess, who caught them both in one hand. Taking her Chakram, she threw it to the right, into the trees, and caught it as the archer fell to the ground.

Another arrow made it's way towards the warrior, who caught it just an inch before it penetrated her shoulder. Throwing it to the ground, she growled angrily, and was aiming her Chakram when one last arrow was released. The steel-tipped shaft hit true, entering Xena's right side. Resisting the urge to grab the pain-inducing arrow, she threw her Chakram, now that she knew where the last archer was, and managed to catch it as it faithfully returned.

Nudging her Palomino horse, she turned towards the woods, and met Gabrielle as she had planned. The bard helped Xena to her feet as she slipped from the saddle, and then lowered her gently to the ground.

"Xena," said the bard, "are you okay? How bad is it?" she asked, anxiously. One glance at the wound, and she knew the arrow had gone straight through - that was good. It meant she didn't have to push it through herself.

"I'll be all right," Xena reassured her, and tried to keep her face neutral as pain shot through her body, so she wouldn't worry Gabrielle. The woman was quick to remove Xena's armor, and try to make her as comfortable as she could, with as little movement as possible.

"I need you to do something for me, Gabrielle." The bard nodded, ready to help however she could. "You have to pull the arrow out."

"Oh, Xena, I don't know -" she began, but Xena cut her off.

"Come on, Gabrielle, it'll be okay," the warrior insisted, "I'll guide you through it. Just break the arrow head off, and pull the shaft back out." Gabrielle did as she was told, and winced when she saw beads of sweat break out on the warrior's face, as the woman tried to hold in her screams.

"Okay," she breathed, her voice tense, "take this, and start a fire. Heat it in the flames," she instructed, handing the bard her breast dagger. While the metal was heating, Gabrielle set up camp, and helped Xena over to one of the bedrolls in the hopes that she would be more comfortable.

When the small knife was hot, Gabrielle wrapped a cloth around the handle, and removed it from the pit. Doing as Xena said, the woman seared the entry and exit wounds of the arrow with the hot metal; the interior of the wound would have to heal itself. The warrior's response was to collapse in a heap on the blanket once it was done.

"Gabrielle," she said, beckoning to the young woman, who was by her side with a water skin in an instant.

"Here," said Gabrielle, helping the warrior woman sip carefully from the mouth of the flask.

"Thanks," said Xena. Seeing the concerned look in her bard's eyes, she sighed, and said, "It's not that bad, Gabrielle, really. I've had worse."

"I know," said Gabrielle, and Xena was startled to see tears forming in the beautiful green eyes she had come to love, "I just keep thinking that maybe if I would have just left when you told me to, you would have been able to handle the archers better."

"Gabrielle, don't blame yourself," said the warrior, sternly, and then softened her tone. "This isn't your fault, okay?"

"Okay," sniffled the bard, and went to work preparing the bread, cheese, and fruit for lunch. Handing some to Xena, she was glad to see the warrior eat something; she had to keep up her strength if she was going to stay healthy and fight infection.

"Xena?"

"Hm?"

"Are we okay here?" asked Gabrielle, unable to keep herself from running her fingers through the dark tresses she loved. "I mean, can anyone see us?"

"No, we're all right," responded Xena, very relaxed by the ministrations her lover had begun. She knew the girl was worried about the injured warrior being seen, because it would draw every bounty hunter from Greece to Rome, if they knew she was injured. "I should be up and around again in just a day or so."

"A day? Xena, are you sure?" asked the bard, surprised. She knew her warrior healed quickly, but - a day for an arrow injury? She hoped Xena wouldn't push herself too hard too soon.

"I should be fine in just a few days," repeated Xena, and Gabrielle nodded. "Come here," said the warrior, and held the girl in her arms for a while.

"I'm not hurting you, am I?"

"No, you're fine," replied the warrior.

"Xena, can I ask you something?" asked Gabrielle, after a period of silence.

"Sure," shrugged Xena.

"What did I do when I lost my memory? The last thing I remember is the fight, I don't know what I did until yesterday," explained the bard.

Xena sighed. "You thought you were my slave," she said, and winced when she felt Gabrielle's muscles tighten as the bard tensed. "The last thing you remembered was me saving you from Draco's men, so you figured that I must have saved you from becoming his slave to take you as my own.

"You acted the part, too," added Xena, with a half smile, but when she felt Gabrielle flinch again, her grin faded. "Do you really want to hear this?" asked the warrior, kindly.

"Yeah, I need to know," responded Gabrielle.

"Just tell me if you want me to stop, all right?" asked Xena, and Gabrielle nodded. "Okay. At any rate, you tried to do everything for me, and expected me to hurt you when you did something wrong. We went to the Amazons, because I thought it would help you regain your memories if you saw some familiar faces," said the warrior.

"Every once in a while, you would stop in your tracks, and clutch your head in pain. Each time an episode was over, you would remember something different," explained Xena.

"What did I remember?" asked Gabrielle, quietly.

"Well, the first time, you remembered… you remembered the Thessilian and Mitoan war," said Xena, and Gabrielle caught the edge in the warrior's voice that told her it still affected her friend to speak of the time. "Then," she paused a moment, thinking back, "you remembered the time Ares tried to trick me by disguising himself as my father, and you had to hit me with the pitchfork to get me to come to my senses; and the time you were high on henbane." Here, Xena chuckled, and she received a good-hearted slap on the arm for it.

"What else?" asked Gabrielle.

"Ulysses, and the time Callisto hit me with poison dart," said the warrior. Then, she paused, taking time to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat, despite her best efforts to dispel it. "Solan," she murmured, and Gabrielle grimaced. "And, finally, you remembered the time my spirit was in Autolycus' body," she finished, clearing her throat, and hoping she hadn't done anything to upset her bard.

"That's it?" she asked. "I just remembered those bad times?"

"Well," said Xena, not liking the shaken tone in the bard's voice, "they weren't all bad. I still think the time you were high on henbane is pretty funny," she said, with an attempt at humor.

Gabrielle shot her a look, but smiled a little. "You know what I mean," she said, softly. "If that's all I remembered, what did I do? If that was all I knew of my life with you, how did I react?"

Xena took a deep breath, and said, "You were okay with most of it, and I was able to explain, until Solan. You remembered the time I came into the Amazons and caught you around the ankles with my whip, and how I dragged you behind the horse until you were bloody and unconscious, and then tried to throw you off the cliff," said the warrior, her speech quick as she forced the words out.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, tears in the warrior's sad blue eyes at the remembrance of what she had done to her beloved bard.

Gabrielle looked up at her, and kissed away the one tear that fell, leaving a trail down the woman's chiseled cheek. "It's okay," she said, gently, "that's in the past. It's over. Just tell me what happened after I remembered that."

"You hid behind Ephiny, and told me to get away from you, saying that I tried to kill you, and that you hated me. Then you ran into your hut," said Xena.

"Oh, Xena, I'm sorry," said Gabrielle, knowing how that must have hurt her warrior. "What did you do?" It was frustrating to the bard that she had to make the woman repeat all of this just because she couldn't remember what happened. She didn't want to have to put Xena through the pain, but she felt like a part of her was missing, and it was a piece only Xena could fill.

"I went to Artemis' temple," said Xena, and seeing the look of exaggerated shock that crossed Gabrielle's face, added with a smile, "yes, I went to her temple. I spoke with her, and explained to her what was going on, and she told me it was Ares' doing."

"Then she said that the only way for me to regain my memories was if she convinced him to admit that he had done it," finished Gabrielle, remembering the explanation Xena had given her the morning before when questioned about their nakedness.

Xena nodded. "Yep," she said, "that's about it."

"How did we approach the subject of being together?" asked Gabrielle. Xena had told her about their first time together - she had even showed it to her since she couldn't remember - but the girl wasn't sure how they had gotten started.

"We didn't," corrected Xena. "You did. When you remembered the time my spirit was in Autolycus' body, you remembered the kiss, and asked me about it. I gave you some lame excuse about how it was Autolycus, not me, who kissed you," admitted Xena, "because I didn't want you to think that I loved you the way I do."

"Why?" interrupted Gabrielle, feeling the flush that had arisen in her cheeks, from knowing that she had been the one to initiate the topic, start to dissipate.

"I didn't want to frighten you," said the warrior, softly. "I was afraid that you wouldn't feel the same way, and I would only drive you away. I didn't want that. Anyway," she said, getting back to the main discussion, "you asked me if Autolycus was a nice man, and I said yes; he was the King of Thieves, but a good man nonetheless." The warrior remembered the conversation quite well - she doubted she would ever forget it.

"Then, you asked me if we were lovers," said Xena, and saw the corner of the bard's mouth go up in a small grin - she didn't know she could be so bold. "I about choked on my water," she said, finding it funny as she chuckled, "and asked you to repeat it. You did, and I said no. You asked me if I wanted to, and I said I just wanted you to be happy." She felt Gabrielle give her a small hug, and smirked.

"You said, 'And you think that means no?' and came around behind me to massage my shoulders. I was so relaxed, it startled me when I felt you kiss the back of my neck," said Xena, and watched as her bard turned a nice shade of pink. "I brought you around in front of me, after I thought I hurt your feelings when I asked you to stop. I explained to you that I didn't want you to do something you'd only regret."

"Silly," laughed Gabrielle, quietly, and Xena smiled.

"Yeah, I guess so," she said. "But I didn't know that then. All I knew was that my reserve was wearing thin, since you were determined to kiss me, and I didn't know how much longer I could hold you back." Another darker shade covered the bard's cheeks at the description of her unusual aggressiveness.

Hm, thought Xena, is my bard embarrassed? Let's see

"You asked me if that meant I didn't want you, and all I could say was I didn't want to hurt you. Then, you said, 'What if you're hurting me by turning me away?' Gods, that went straight to my heart," said Xena.

"That wasn't fair, and I think you knew that crumbled my wall. I made sure that you knew you didn't have to do anything you didn't want to do; all you'd have to do was say the word and we'd stop. That's it," she shrugged, and nearly laughed out loud at her bard's bright red face, but she bit her lip and controlled it.

Gabrielle glanced up at her, and noticed the look on her face. "You're laughing!" she exclaimed, and Xena couldn't help it - she burst out in a fit of laughter, despite the look of indignation that covered Gabrielle's face.

"I'm sorry, love," laughed Xena, not even noticing the word she had used, "I just didn't know anyone could turn so many shades of red." The warrior fell silent a few moments later when there was no response from the bard, who was looking at her strangely, her head tilted to the side.

"What did you say?" asked Gabrielle, and Xena looked confused.

"I said, I'm sorry," she repeated, and was about to continue, when she realized what she had called her bard: Love. Thinking quickly, hoping the bard didn't feel she was moving too fast, she said, "Gabrielle, I didn't realize -" but Gabrielle cut her off.

"It's okay," she said, smiling. "I like that you have a… a name for me. It just surprised me, that's all. I didn't think that you'd be the type to do something like that," she admitted.

"Oh?" asked Xena, her eyebrow raised. "Well, of all people, you're the one I'd expect to 'do something like that'. So, what's your name for me?" she asked, quirking a grin.

Gabrielle froze; she was caught. Shifting positions, she leaned over and put her forehead against the warrior's, smiling as she whispered, "My Warrior." Xena felt her heart skip a beat at the love that shone in the two bright emeralds she loved, and kissed her love gently on the lips.

She sat up a little, leaning forward to meet her bard with another kiss, when she gasped in pain, having moved in the wrong position for her injury. She could not hide the grimace, and Gabrielle was beside her in an instant, helping her to lie down on her bedroll, so she wouldn't have to move anymore, even if she wanted to sleep.

"Are you okay?" asked Gabrielle, anxious and worried. Xena nodded, but the bard wasn't convinced. "Are you sure?" she asked, putting her hand to the warrior's forehead, smoothing her jet black hair from her face, smiling a little as she tried not to look as frightened for the warrior's health as she felt.

"Yeah," murmured Xena, suddenly hit with a wave of fatigue as the adrenaline wore off and she was left feeling drained; emotionally and physically. "I'm just gonna rest for a minute. If you need anything, wake me, okay?" At Gabrielle's nod, the warrior closed her eyes, and tried to relax.

Gabrielle watched her warrior sleep for a moment, before clearing her thoughts and deciding it was time to make camp. Laying out an extra bedroll for a blanket, in case they got cold, the bard cleared room for a fire, and even got dinner ready. She didn't make it, however, since she figured she would wait until Xena was awake so they could eat together.

The bard let the warrior sleep as long as she wanted, and an hour later, the woman awoke. Noticing that the food was out, but had not been touched, Xena asked, "Gabrielle, why didn't you eat?"

"I wanted to wait for you," said the bard, giving the warrior a plate of fruit and bread.

"Thanks," said Xena, smiling. "You didn't have to, you know."

"I know." There was silence for a while, as the two ate, but it wasn't long before Gabrielle had to break it.

"How are you feeling?" she asked, and collected Xena's empty plate.

"Better," responded the warrior, to Gabrielle's delight. "Are you about ready to turn in?" she asked, and Gabrielle nodded. Motioning to the girl, the bard curled up next to her warrior, careful not to hurt her, and fell asleep feeling safe.

The next morning, Xena was the first to awaken, and smiled when she stretched and felt only a little pain in her side - it hurt, but it was bearable. Perhaps they could set out for Amphipolis later that day. Once her bard awoke, of course.

She knew the woman had stayed up much of the night, worrying about her, so she decided to let her sleep in as long as she could; the girl deserved it. That, and the warrior liked watching her sleep - she'd admit that to no one, of course.

The woman took a few pieces of fruit out for breakfast, since she couldn't ruin anything she didn't have to cook, and waited patiently for her love to stir.

The warrior didn't have to wait long, and soon sleep-filled green eyes opened to meet the day. "Morning," she croaked.

Xena smiled. "Morning, love," she said, making Gabrielle smile. "What do you say we eat breakfast and then head out to Amphipolis? We may make it by nightfall," she added.

Gabrielle agreed, after making sure her warrior was up to it, and made quick work of her meal. She could almost taste Cyrene's freshly baked nut-bread.

True to her word, Xena got them there by dusk. She had exhausted herself, and Gabrielle knew it, so the bard insisted that they get a room right away. There would be time for visiting and nut-bread later, once her warrior was feeling better.

"Come on, Xena," pleaded Gabrielle, "let's find someplace to stay for the night. It doesn't have to be your mother's. You just need to rest," she added, and the warrior was about to protest, but the bard took the woman's large hand in her own, and immediately dissipated any objections.

Xena sighed. "All right," she said, "but only for you." Gabrielle smiled, and had the urge to kiss her warrior, but didn't feel comfortable so close to town. "We'll camp outside the town limits, so we won't have to pay for a room."

Gabrielle agreed, and was soon setting out their bedrolls, one right next to the other. The warrior sharpened her sword for a while, before turning in beside Gabrielle, who was just finishing writing in her scroll.

Something was bothering the warrior - Gabrielle could tell. She didn't want to pressure her into talking unless she wanted to, but the bard didn't like it when Xena was upset.

"Xena, what is it?" asked the blonde, when the warrior sighed heavily as she lay down beside her.

At first the warrior said nothing, but, when Gabrielle took her hand and caught her gaze, she admitted, "I'm worried about what my mother will say."

Gabrielle nodded, and kissed the woman's forehead. "Does it really matter, Xena? I know your mother's approval is important to you, and it is to me, too. But, no matter what she says, we'll still have each other, my warrior," she said, softly, reassuring her warrior. "And that's what counts."

"You're right, as always," grinned Xena, pulling her bard into a strong hug. "Thank you," she murmured, into the blonde hair she loved. "Now, let's get some sleep, okay? We have a big day ahead of us," said the woman warrior, and her bard curled up into her side, falling asleep quickly.

Xena marveled at how the young woman in her arms could make her feel better so easily, and was even surprised at herself, at how easily she found herself expressing her feelings and fears to the bard.

We've both changed a lot since we started traveling together four years ago, thought the warrior. I was a stubborn, war-torn, brooding warrior, and she was a naïve, innocent, talkative young girl. She chuckled to herself. Okay, so I've changed more than she has.

I no longer kill for pleasure, and I don't work for Ares, and I care. I care about her, and I care about others, and I care about myself. She is no longer the innocent girl that followed me from Potedia. She's an intelligent, trustworthy, beautiful young woman.

And I'm in love, she finished with a smile, kissing her bard on the forehead before falling asleep.

The following morning, Xena awoke with a smile on her face, which only grew wider as she glanced down at the young blonde who was still sleeping soundly in her arms. For the first time in many nights, the warrior had made it through a whole night without a single nightmare.

Sleepy green eyes met blue ones. "Hi," said Gabrielle, yawning as she tried to curl back into Xena's side and go to sleep.

"Huh-uh, sleepyhead," said Xena, laughing. "Come on, now, its time to get up."

"No," pouted the bard, and Xena raised an eyebrow at her.

"No?" drawled the warrior, in a low voice that made Gabrielle open her eyes. "Well, in that case, I guess I'll have to eat mother's nut bread all by myself."

"Ha!" laughed Gabrielle, as she finally got up and began cleaning up the camp. "I'd like to see you try! That's a record only I hold!"

"Is that a challenge?" asked Xena, from her place behind the woman, leaning down to whisper in her bard's ear.

"Mmm," murmured the blonde, leaning back into the embrace, feeling safe, "I hope so." Xena laughed, before surprising the young woman by scooping her up into her arms, and kissing her softly.

"I never told you good morning," smiled the woman, as if to make an excuse for her unusual behavior.

Gabrielle smiled back at her, and leaned towards her, muttering, "Tell me again." The warrior woman obeyed, and when she began to get rather repetitious, she pulled back, and set the bard on her feet.

"Hey!" protested Gabrielle, looking a little hurt.

Smiling softly, Xena kissed the top of the small woman's head, and said, "Easy there, my love. You know there's nothing I'd rather do than stay here with you all day, but we need to have a talk with my mother. And I'm a little nervous," she admitted, purposefully not adding that holding the bard so long had put a slight strain on her side.

Gabrielle looked apologetic. "It'll be okay," she assured the tall warrior, and gave her a gentle hug. Xena nodded, and mounted Argo, offering a hand down to her companion, who grasped it tightly as Xena easily lifted her atop the horse. Looking much more confident than she felt, Xena nudged the horse in the direction of the town, the stoic warrior's mask falling into place.

A few minutes later, the Palomino mare carried her cargo safely into Amphipolis, hoping that whatever her mistress had to do she got done quickly, because the tall warrior's nervousness was obvious to the horse, who didn't like it anymore than the bard.

"I'll stable Argo in the barn," said the warrior, dismounting and helping her bard to do the same. "I'll meet you in the tavern in a few minutes."

Gabrielle shook her head. "We're in this together, remember? I'm not going in there without you," she said. Xena smiled, restrained herself from kissing the blonde's forehead, and walked to the barn, the bard not far behind her.

Once the two were inside, Xena removed Argo's tack, and made sure the mare had enough food. The woman proceeded to pat the horse's neck reassuringly, and Gabrielle came up beside her, putting an arm around her waist.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Xena?" she asked, softly.

Xena sighed, and put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, enjoying the closeness for a while before she answered. "Yes," she said, at last, "I'm sure. I feel like… well, I don't know what I feel like. Gods, this is all so frustrating!" fumed the warrior, disengaging herself from the bard's hold to sit down on a bale of hay, and think about what she was doing as she rested her head in her hands.

Gabrielle stood next to her, and put a hand on her shoulder. "Xena, we can do whatever you're comfortable with," she said. "If you want to wait to tell your mother, that's fine. Just relax, okay? Everything will work out fine," the blonde added, and Xena smiled a little.

"Thanks," she said, and took a quick glance around before stealing a kiss from her bard. Before they could get carried away, Xena stood, and said, "I guess it's time to go see my mother." Gabrielle took her hand, but released it when they reached the barn door.

"I'm sorry it has to be like this," said Xena, quietly, as they walked to Cyrene's tavern.

Gabrielle knew what her warrior meant; she was sorry they couldn't show affection in public, too. "I know," said Gabrielle, gently. Nothing more was said until they entered the tavern, and searched for the owner.

Cyrene found them first. "Daughter!" she exclaimed. "Gabrielle! How nice to see you both. I've missed you," she said, gathering both women into a loving hug.

"We've missed you, too, mom," said Xena, and Cyrene smiled.

"You girls must be hungry," she said. "Come, sit down, and I'll fix you both some warm porridge. How does that sound?" Xena glanced at Gabrielle, and the expectant smile on the bard's face was enough to make the warrior chuckle.

"That sounds great, mother. Thank you," said Xena, and Cyrene nodded, rushing off to the kitchen. As usual, the warrior chose a table where she could have her back to the wall, and still see the rest of the tavern in a glance. Not that there was much to see, as Cyrene's Tavern was quite empty, save two women in the corner.

"I guess we're the only ones here," said Gabrielle, sitting next to her warrior, who nodded.

"Well, it's no wonder," said Cyrene, sitting down across from the two. "I haven't officially opened yet."

The bard immediately looked apologetic. "Oh, I'm sorry, Cyrene! We didn't mean to make you start early!" she exclaimed, but the woman smiled, and shook her head.

"No, dear," she said, "it's all right. Its not often I get a chance to sit down and talk to you in my tavern without having to worry about my customers. So, what have you two been up to lately?" she asked, and Gabrielle innocently blushed at the way Cyrene phrased the question.

Xena hid a smile, and answered for her bard, who was closely examining the table in front of her, suddenly finding the plain wood very interesting. "Not much," shrugged the warrior, never one for words. "Just got back from a trip to see the Amazons."

"And how are they doing?" questioned Cyrene, kindly.

Gabrielle spoke up, when she was sure the flush in her cheeks had gone. "They're fine," she replied. "Ephiny is doing a great job as Queen in my absence."

The women chatted for a few more minutes, until Cyrene announced their breakfast was ready, and set it on the table - warm nut bread, cheese, fruit, and porridge.

"This looks delicious, Cyrene," complimented Gabrielle, beginning to put a large dent in her portion. "Mm, and it tastes even better!" she exclaimed, happily. Cyrene chuckled at the woman's enthusiasm, and glanced over at her daughter, catching her staring at the small bard with a small half-smirk on her face.

"Xena, dear, will you help me in the kitchen for a moment?" requested the woman, suddenly.

"Uh, sure," said the warrior, confused, as she rose up out of her seat to follow her mother into the said kitchen. "What do you need?"

Cyrene poked her finger into her daughter's chest, thoroughly surprising the tall woman, as soon as they were in the cooking area. "You, my daughter, are in deep trouble," she said, locking eyes with the warrior.

Now, Xena is the Destroyer of Nations, the Warrior Princess, the Lion of Amphipolis, and a beautiful woman with the ability to make grown men wet themselves. She's intimidated the Gods themselves, and even won a few battles with Ares, God of War. But when her mother gave her The Look, and talked to her in a tone of voice that said she was really in for it, the almighty Warrior Princess was scared.

"Me?" swallowed the warrior, perplexed.

"Yes," agreed Cyrene. "If you don't stop staring at that little blonde out there, the entire town will know you're in love with her. And if you don't do something about it soon," she said, raising a hand to stop Xena's interruption, "I will! I'm tired of seeing you pine over her, and she over you, with neither of you doing anything about it!"

Xena sighed. "Mother, you're right," she said, deciding to show her mother she did not like having her personal life meddled with, or even threatened to be meddled with, and Cyrene looked extremely startled.

"I am?" she asked, bewildered. That was too easy, she thought. My daughter does not have that much sense to listen to me like that, and give in so quickly. Hm…

"Yes," said Xena. "You're right. And I'll do something about it right now. Come on."

The warrior walked back out into the dining area, and caught the bard's eye, who seemed puzzled, looking to the woman for an answer as to what was going on. Xena grinned, and sat down next to the blonde, making sure Cyrene was close behind.

"Gabrielle, mother has threatened that she's going to tell you this if I don't, and I'd rather you hear it from me." The warrior gave the bard the barest ghost of a wink, and saw the woman hide a smile when she realized Xena was up to something.

"Gabrielle," she said, taking a deep breath, and looking every bit like she was going to do something very frightening, "I have a confession to make. I am madly in love with you, and I have been since the first time I saw you. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't go on any longer, hiding my feelings from you. I figured you had a right to know that I just can't live without you," she finished, melodramatically, and to her credit, the bard looked honestly astonished.

"Oh, Xena!" exclaimed the woman, breathlessly, and Xena had to hide a grin, realizing that the bard was not going to let it drop - she was going to play along until they gave in to their impending laughter. "I'm so glad you told me! I feel the same way. You're the love of my life, the light in my eyes, the sun in my sky, the spice in my nut bread," here the blonde lost it, and dissolved into a fit of giggles, in which the warrior joined soon after.

Cyrene raised an eyebrow. "All right," she said, "what's going on here?"

Xena recovered from her laughter first, and explained, "Mother, Gabrielle and I are together. We have been for several days now. It's a long story, but if you want to hear it, I'm sure Gabrielle could tell it much better than I," she said, casting a glance at Gabrielle, who nodded, as she wiped away the tears that had formed in the corner of her eyes from her mirth.

"So this was all a joke?" asked Cyrene, and Gabrielle nodded.

"I didn't know what Xena was up to until I heard her voice," the bard admitted. "Xena, I have never heard you talk like that! It was hilarious!"

Xena grinned. "Yeah, well," she said, "Mother seemed intent on getting involved with my personal love life, and I decided to let her know I can handle it fine myself." The warrior shot a glance at her mother, who smirked at her.

Gabrielle tapped her shoulder, and Xena turned to her, an eyebrow raised. "I don't mean to contradict you, my warrior, but wasn't I the one who handled it?" The growl that Xena emitted earned a squeak from the small bard, who took off into the kitchen, a leather-clad warrior not far behind.

The tall woman caught up with the bard easily, and tickled her mercilessly.

"Okay, I give!" cried Gabrielle, and Xena relented, helping the bard to her feet, from the place where she had collapsed to the floor under Xena's quick moving hands.

"What are you two doing in here?" demanded Cyrene, coming into the kitchen, finding Gabrielle in the arms of the warrior. "Never mind, don't answer that," she amended, and Xena chuckled.

"Well, I'm glad you two finally figured it out," said the woman. "Took you long enough."

"When did you know, Cyrene?" asked Gabrielle.

The older woman smiled. "Since the first time you came in here," she said. "When you saved her from the other villagers."

Both women's jaws dropped.

Cyrene laughed. "Yes, even back then I could tell that Gabrielle cared for you, Xena. And I knew you had to feel something for her, because you didn't rip her head off for following you. You even let her go with you to Lyceus' tomb," added Xena's mother. "I just didn't know it would take you this long to figure it out."

Xena shrugged. "I'm just glad it didn't get around," she said.

Here Gabrielle glanced down to the floor, and Xena raised an eyebrow at her. "Uh, actually, it did, Xena," said the bard, and the warrior encouraged her to continue with a look. "Most of the Amazons considered us lovers, even before I became Queen. And I think a bunch more people think the same, outside of Amazon Territory," she added, deciding not to continue with the fact that she'd done nothing to dispel the rumors. If the women wanted to believe the strong warrior was taken, who was she to stop them?

Xena shrugged. "No matter," she decided. "It's not like I'm ashamed of it, love; I'd shout it from the top of Mount Olympus if I knew it wouldn't get us in trouble," she grinned, and Gabrielle smiled at her.

"So, how did you two get together?" asked Cyrene, deciding to withhold opening her tavern until she could hear the story, uninterrupted.

The warrior cleared her throat, and gave the bard an evil smile. "Well, to make a long story short, Ares put a spell on Gabrielle, she lost her memories, seduced me - which, if I say so myself, was quite fun - regained her memory, and realized she loved me all along!"

"You're terrible!" exclaimed the bard, laughing as her face turned red.

"But it's true!" protested Xena, looking hurt.

Gabrielle faced her tall lover with her hands on her hips, and gave her the best intimidating look she could manage, which was pretty good. Xena returned the glare, and towered over the small blonde, arching an eyebrow, daring her to make a move.

Cyrene sighed. "Oh, all right, you two!" she called, and the two smirked at her. "I swear, you're worse than children! You can share Xena's old room, and you're both welcome to stay as long as you like," the woman smiled. Looking pointedly at her daughter, she added, "And don't start anything, because if you'll remember, that bed is not quiet."

The woman walked out of the kitchen to open her business, leaving a furiously blushing warrior behind her, and an amused bard.

"So, my warrior, when did you discover that small piece of information?"

Xena gulped. "Uh, it was, uh, it was a while ago," she stuttered, under the glare of her bard. "Let's go see how mom's doing!" she suggested, happily.

Gabrielle smirked, and shook her head, nearing the tall woman until Xena found herself backed into a corner - literally. "How long ago?" she asked, and the warrior averted her gaze.

"The last time we passed through here, two seasons ago," admitted the woman, praying the blonde wouldn't ask anything else.

The bard frowned, thinking back. "Xena, I didn't notice you with anyone while we were here," she said, curious. "And I paid close attention, believe me. What'd you do, sneak 'em into your room at night without me knowing?"

Xena swallowed, hard, and looked away, her face turning a deeper red. Gabrielle didn't think the woman could blush any darker. "No, I, uh, there was no one, I didn't… I was alone," she stammered, and Gabrielle snickered as she realized what the warrior was trying to say.

Taking pity on her warrior, she stood on her tiptoes and whispered into her ear, "So was I," before kissing her cheek, and smiling softly. Xena's blue eyes got wide, and then she raised an eyebrow at the bard as she grinned, and gave her a strong hug.

"What would I do without you?" Xena asked, wrapping her arms around the young woman.

"You'll never have to worry about finding an answer to that, Xena," the blonde said, gently.

The warrior pulled back, and looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes. "I hope not," she replied, kissing the small woman, deeply.

They were startled when a voice said, "Take that out of my kitchen, will you?" The two turned to see Cyrene standing in the doorway, looking exasperated, but there was a joyful twinkle in her eye, to see her daughter happy.

Xena grinned, and gave the bard one more kiss for good measure, before leading her out of the kitchen. Cyrene smacked her backside as she left, earning a wry look from the tall woman, while Gabrielle hid a smile.

"So, how long do you want to stay?" Xena asked, relaxing on the bed as Gabrielle sifted through her bag for her scrolls.

Gabrielle shrugged. "Until you're healed," she said, surprising the warrior. "Don't argue with me, I saw how easily you tired yesterday. Let me have a look, to make sure it isn't infected," she ordered, and Xena sighed, quickly stripping down to nothing.

"You could have kept your shift on," remarked the bard.

Xena raised a devilish eyebrow. "I know."

Gabrielle shook her head, and examined the wound, which she announced was healing nicely. "Just don't go overdoing it until you feel up to it, all right?" she asked, and Xena agreed.

"Okay," she sighed, and put her leathers back on, leaving her armor in a pile on the chair. "Do you really want to stay until I'm healed, because you know that won't be too long."

The bard nodded. "I know," she said. "I just want to tell my parents, and get it over with, is all. I think they have a right to know, and maybe my mother will finally stop sending me letters saying she's met the nicest young man and I just have to meet him," she laughed.

"So, who is this young man?" growled Xena, and Gabrielle laughed.

"Easy, Tiger," she smiled. "But, really, I think I should tell them about us." The blonde sighed, heavily. "I'm just afraid of what their reactions will be."

Xena sat down next to the bard, and wrapped an arm around her. "You know, somebody very wise told me that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, as long as we have each other, that's all that counts," she said, and Gabrielle smiled a little.

"Hm… somebody very wise, hm? That someone must be very wise, and talented, and a natural with words," she grinned.

Xena smiled, and flipped Gabrielle over onto her back, whispering into her ear, "You forgot beautiful, and caring, and loving, and the only woman to own the Warrior Princess' heart." The warrior kissed her, softly, and Gabrielle returned the kiss, passionately.

The bard ran her hands along Xena's muscled back, and the tall woman reluctantly ended the kiss, before they got carried away.

"We can't," she said, hoarsely.

"But," protested Gabrielle. Xena pushed down on the bed with her arms, and the cot squeaked, loudly. Xena raised an eyebrow at the bard, who agreed with a sigh. The warrior grinned, and put her weight on the bed again and again, making the noise louder.

"Xena, stop," urged the bard, in a hissed whisper, her face turning red as she realized what people would think. When the warrior refused, Gabrielle decided to have a little fun of her own.

"Ohhh, Xena," she moaned, quite loudly, and the tall woman immediately stopped, her sapphire eyes wide with surprise.

Both women jumped when the door swung open, and Cyrene poked her head in the room. "If you two don't cut that out, I'm going to give in to the numerous customers who have offered me money if I'll let them in!" she warned, before closing the door.

"Only if I get the money!" cried Xena, causing Gabrielle to smack her in the arm.

"Xena!"

"It's a good thing my mother doesn't accept bribes," said Xena, grinning.

"You are awful," accused Gabrielle, unable to keep the smile off her face. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but you're certainly in a good mood today," she commented.

Xena shrugged. "Nah," she drawled. "You just bring out the best in me." She smirked at the bard, having lost count of how many times the blonde had blushed since their arrival, and received a gentle slap on her arm. The truth of the matter was that she was relieved by her mother's acceptance, and the fact that she was able to be close to Gabrielle and not have to worry about upsetting Cyrene.

The two stayed for a few days, Gabrielle telling stories at night to help Cyrene's business, since the woman refused to accept payment for the room and food, and Xena fixing whatever needed to be repaired. The time went fast, with no incidents worth noting, and before Gabrielle knew it, it was time to leave.

"Thank you, Cyrene," said Gabrielle, giving the woman a strong hug. "It was great to see you again."

"It was a nice surprise to see you both," agreed the woman, giving both the bard and her daughter a long hug. "Don't wait such a long time before you come and see me, all right? And neither of you has to be hurt to pay me a visit," she added, and Xena shot a look to Gabrielle, who shrugged, as if to say "I didn't tell her".

"Xena, you're my daughter," chuckled Cyrene. "I know when you're injured. Be careful, both of you." The warrior nodded, and mounted Argo, offering the bard a hand up. Gabrielle waved to the woman as they rode out of town, until she could see her no more.

"That was a good visit with your mother," said the bard, and Xena agreed.

"It was," she said. "But, there's one thing I'm not going to miss."

Gabrielle frowned. "What's that?" she asked.

"Squeaky beds." Xena chuckled as Gabrielle laughed, hugging her warrior tightly.

"Well, I guess it's on to Potedia now, huh?" sighed the bard, and Xena glanced behind her.

"Gabrielle, we don't have to go, if you don't want to," she said.

"I know," said the blonde, "and I do want to go, I just don't know how I'm going to tell them. I mean, I don't think they know, like your mother did, and I have the sinking feeling that they won't have the same reaction, either," she concluded, quietly.

The two days that it took the pair to travel from Amphipolis to Potedia were spent in growing nervousness on the part of the bard. Each candlemark that passed brought them closer and closer to the dreaded meeting, and it was wreaking havoc on the poor woman's courage.

As they arrived in the town, and Xena led Argo to Gabrielle's parents' barn, the warrior felt the grip around her waist tighten to an almost painful degree. Sighing, she dismounted in the barn, and helped Gabrielle to do the same, before turning to face the young woman.

"Gabrielle," said the tall woman, "relax. We do this together, remember?"

"I know, it's just… I'm scared, Xena!" she blurted, and Xena pulled her into a strong embrace when she saw the first tear fall.

"Hey, now," she said, gently, wrapping her arms around the bard, giving her the support she knew she needed. "It'll be okay. If you get uncomfortable, we'll just walk out, okay? We don't have to stay here any longer than you want," she added, and Gabrielle smiled.

"Thanks," she sniffled, and Xena nodded, before placing her hands on the blonde's shoulders, and leaning down to deposit a light kiss on her lover's lips. The small bard quickly deepened the touch, needing to know the warrior was there for her.

Neither heard the barn door open, nor noticed the young woman who poked her head in.

Lila frowned; Xena was in the barn, apparently getting friendly with some town boy, that much was obvious, but where was her sister?

"Xena," she began, and started when the warrior spun around, only to reveal Gabrielle! Xena had been kissing her sister! But… why?

"Lila!" exclaimed Gabrielle, upon seeing her younger sibling, but didn't have the chance to say another word before the girl ran out the door, headed for the house to tell her parents that Xena was forcing herself upon her sister.

"Oh, no," muttered Gabrielle, taking Xena's hand as she followed behind her sister. When the two entered the house, they were met with three very angry people - Herodotus even had his ax in his hand.

"You dare show your face in my home, warrior bitch?" he shouted, and Xena drew herself up to her full height, her hand still in Gabrielle's. "Release my daughter!" he commanded.

Gabrielle took a step forward, not relinquishing her hold on Xena's hand. "Father, this isn't what you think," she began.

"Don't you defend her!" he cried. "She may have brainwashed you into believing what she was doing was right, but you're home now, and we'll take care of you."

"Come here, daughter," said Hecuba, opening her arms to her eldest girl.

The bard didn't move. "Mother, father, I didn't want you to find out this way," she admitted. "Xena didn't do anything wrong, and she would never do anything I didn't want her to do."

The woman took a deep breath - this was it. "Father, Xena and I are lovers."

"Because she forced you!" he insisted.

Gabrielle shook her head. "No, because I wanted it," she said. "And so did she."

Herodotus refused to accept it. "Release my daughter and get out of my house!" he demanded, stepping towards the tall warrior. "Go! Now!" When he made a move with the ax, the warrior's right hand went up to the hilt of her sword, but before she could release Gabrielle's hand, the bard pulled her out of the way.

To Xena's surprise, Gabrielle led her towards the door. "What are you doing?" she asked.

Gabrielle met her eyes, pleadingly. "Xena, I think I need to talk to them alone for a while," she said. "Please, understand."

The warrior frowned. "We're in this together, remember?" she asked, gently.

"I know," said Gabrielle, softly. "I just think it might be easier if it was just us for a little while. Please, Xena. I love you, but I need to talk with them alone. I'll meet you back in the barn in a few candlemarks, all right? Please," she added, and Xena sighed.

"Be careful," whispered the warrior, as she walked out the door.

Several candlemarks passed, while Xena laid in the loft of the barn, closing her eyes and listening to the rain that had begun to fall, as the drops rhythmically hit the roof. She was telling herself over and over that she needed to trust Gabrielle, that the bard had everything under control, but she couldn't stop worrying.

The woman was ready to go back into the house, ready to face an angry bard if it came to that, when she heard the barn door open. Looking to the ground, she jumped down when she saw the small blonde standing at the entrance, water dripping from every inch of her skin.

"Gabrielle!" she exclaimed, anxiously searching the girl for any injuries. "Gabrielle, what happened? Are you okay?" The bard's only response was a strangled sob, and the warrior gathered the young woman in her arms, holding her tightly, not understanding what was going on, but guessing that something had gone wrong.

"Gabrielle, are you hurt?" The woman shook her head, and Xena reminded herself to breathe. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, Xena," she cried, tears falling freely, as she shivered from the cold. "Xena, they hate me! Mother, and father, and Lila. They said I wasn't their daughter."

With a muttered curse, Xena urged her bard up to the loft, where she wrapped a blanket around her, in an attempt to dry her off. "Come on, Gabrielle," she said, trying to figure out how long the woman had been out in the cold rain. "Let's get you out of those wet clothes, and get you warmed up, okay?"

Gabrielle nodded, tears still streaming down her face, and numbly stripped down to nothing, before gripping the blanket tighter around her shivering body. She felt Xena put her arms around her, and sank into the warm embrace, sobbing.

Minutes later, all cried out, the young woman fell asleep, an occasional sniffle interrupting an otherwise peaceful sleep. Xena sighed as she held the slumbering young bard in her arms, having decided there would be time for details later.

"I'm sorry, my love," she whispered. "I'm sorry you had to go and love me. If it were anyone else, your parents would be thrilled. I've dragged you into danger and gotten you hurt so many times, I'm not sure I can blame them," she admitted.

"Sometimes I wonder if it might be easier on you if we didn't have feelings for each other," the warrior muttered to herself.

"You are such a mortal," came a sudden voice, and Xena leapt to her feet, drawing her sword and facing...

"Aphrodite," she stated. "Three Gods interfere in my life in a fortnight? What did I do to deserve so much attention?"

The scantily clad Goddess urged the warrior to sheath her sword, which Xena did, and then took a seat, pulling the tall woman down beside her.

"The love you and the little bard share is something special," began the Goddess, "and you would rather not have it?"

Xena glared at her. "I didn't say that," she said. "I love Gabrielle more than anything, you of all gods should know that. All I meant was that maybe it would be easier for Gabrielle if we didn't. I love her with all my heart," she said, gazing down at her lover as she spoke, "but I'd do anything to make her happy.

"Unfortunately, killing her father isn't on that list," she growled.

Aphrodite chuckled, wryly. "Listen, Warrior Babe," Xena shot her a look, which was ignored, "would you like to know what really went on?" Xena nodded, and the Goddess waved her arm, transforming a part of the wall into a white light, where the past was visible.

Xena watched herself walk out the front door of Gabrielle's house, and then watched the scene unfold before her...

"Now that she's gone you can tell us the truth," said Herodotus. "Just tell us what she did to you, daughter. We'll take care of everything, now. She won't hurt you anymore."

"Father," sighed the bard, "Xena didn't do anything. She's never hurt me! I asked her to leave because I thought it would be better if I could talk to you alone for a while. I wanted to be able to tell you in my own way, but I guess that's not an option anymore," she sighed.

"We're lovers; this is new to us, too," she admitted, deciding honesty was the best course of action, "but it's what we want. I want you to be happy for me - I love her."

"But, you can't!" said her mother, aghast at the idea of her baby girl with another woman. "We didn't raise you that way! And Perdicus..."

"Mother, I didn't love Perdicus," she said, and her father's gaze hardened. "Not the way a wife should. As for the way I was raised, you taught me when you love someone, it means you're happy when you're around them, and you want to make them happy. That's the way I feel, Mother," she added. "I love Xena, and she loves me."

"You're staying here, Gabrielle," the man ordered. "I won't allow that harlot to do any more damage. The things she's done, the horrible pain she's caused, it stops now. You are not permitted to see her again," he commanded.

"Are you listening to me?" demanded the bard. "I am not staying here; this isn't my home anymore. I'm a grown woman, Father, and you can't tell me what to do!"

"Then we are no longer your family," said her father.

"Father, I didn't mean --"

"Because of her, your husband was killed, you were raped while she stood by and did nothing, and gave birth to a demon child," spat Herodotus, and Gabrielle physically recoiled.

Xena winced as she watched the interaction, feeling the same pain at the words as her bard.

"And even before then, she dragged you into a war, and you were killed! You said yourself her dark side scares you - if you want to love that, so be it. But you will not be my daughter!"

"You would turn me away because I love a woman? Or is it because I love Xena?" asked the pained young woman.

"Both," spoke her sister, and Gabrielle turned to face her for the first time during the quarrel.

"Lila, what you saw in the barn, you have to know that I didn't mean for you to see that," she said. "I wanted to explain it to you in my own time, so you'd understand."

"I could never understand that, Gabby," stated the girl. "Two women... it just isn't right. And Xena..." the young woman said the warrior's name as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.

"Listen, none of you are thinking clearly," said Gabrielle, almost pleadingly. "I know this comes as a shock to you. I'll come back in a candlemark, to give us all a chance to calm down. We can discuss this more later," she said, nearing the door.

"There is nothing to discuss," said Herodotus, as he slammed the door in her face.

The vision disappeared, and Xena turned to face the deity, her blue eyes angry and sad at the same time.

"I was right," voiced the warrior. "It is my fault."

"Xena, you listen to me," ordered the blonde Goddess, and the warrior nodded, slightly. "It took me a very long time to get your two stubborn hearts together, and it is such a perfect love, I will not let you just throw it away. I can, however, show you how your lives would be different if you didn't love each other."

Xena raised an eyebrow at her, as memories came rushing back. "The Fates already did that," she said, with a small shudder.

"No, the Three Ladies of Destiny showed you what it would be like if you never picked up a sword, and therefore never met Gabrielle with the slavers and fell in love, not if you met but didn't share your love," corrected Aphrodite.

"Okay, I'll bite," sighed the woman. "Just so long as it's just a look - nothing here will change."

The Goddess raised her hand. "Not a thing," she promised, and snapped her fingers, transporting both her and the warrior.

Suddenly, Xena was presented with a flood of color. Lush green grass and clear blue skies took the place of the previous barn scene. The warrior woman and the Goddess stood on a hill, over looking the land.

"Where are we?" she demanded.

"Chill out, Warrior Babe! Trust me, okay?"

"And if Gabrielle wakes up?"

Aphrodite beamed. "Every minute we're gone out there is an hour here, so don't worry about it," she said. "The little one is fine. Think of this as a dreamscape," she suggested. "No one can hear you or see you." With that, the blonde vanished.

"Come on, Gabrielle, focus!" she heard herself say, and jogged down the hill to a clearing, where she and her young companion were seen practicing.

The young woman took a deep breath, and readied her staff. "I'm ready," she said, and the tall warrior became a blur, raining blow after blow at the young woman, who blocked and parried as best she could.

Xena was impressed with how long the bard lasted under the attack, but the warrior before her didn't seem to be very pleased at all when, a while later, she managed to get through the bard's defenses, and landed a hard blow that knocked her to the ground.

"Not bad. Keep your guard up at all times," she grunted, coldly, and took a long draught out of a nearby water skin, before tossing it at the bard, who was still seated on the ground. "Stand up and pack up the camp. We leave as soon as I get back." Gabrielle nodded, and the warrior took off, without a backward glance.

"Aphrodite!" called Xena, and the Goddess instantly appeared beside her. "What's going on? I acted like she barely existed!"

"You didn't love her, so you didn't help her do anything except fight," explained the Goddess.

"You said no one can see or hear me," mused the warrior, "can I be felt? I'd like to give myself a firm kick in the ass." Aphrodite chuckled. "If I treated her like that, why did she stay with me?"

"She stays because she's afraid of leaving you."

Xena almost fell where she stood. "She's... afraid of me?" she repeated.

"Yep," confirmed Aphrodite. "Still think it'd be better if you didn't love each other?"

"This wasn't exactly what I had in mind," admitted the warrior. "I meant more along the lines of just not admitting our love, so no one would know, including us."

"Oh, so you mean how it would have been if I hadn't given you a little nudge! No prob, Warrior Babe," smiled the Goddess, snapping her fingers again. The scenery didn't change, and Xena turned a confused look to the woman. "Watch," she urged.

"We'll set up camp here, Gabrielle," said the warrior, as she led her horse into the clearing, bard not far behind.

"Xena? Why are we stopping so early?" she asked.

The warrior paused - she couldn't say the real reason, which was because she knew Gabrielle was in need of a rest and would like the nearby waterfall. That just wouldn't do. So, she said, "We're a little ahead of schedule, and I told mother we'd be there around dusk tomorrow. I don't want to interrupt something she might have planned," she finished, weakly.

"Oh," said the young woman, smiling a little at the prospect of a rest, "okay. I'll start dinner."

"Thanks," smiled the warrior, and watched the bard for a few moments, before shaking her head and starting to take care of Argo, unaware of the green eyes that gazed longingly at her.

"By the Gods," exclaimed Xena, ruefully. "I think I want to go over there and kick myself, again. How could we have missed it?"

Aphrodite laughed. "I asked myself the same thing, believe me," she grinned. "Now, do you understand how special what you have really is?"

Xena nodded. "Thanks," she said, as the Goddess waved them back to the real present.

"Just don't doubt love again," said the Goddess of Love, disappearing in a sparkle of gold.

Curling up next to her bard, Xena wrapped her arms securely around the young woman, who snuggled into the embrace. "I promise," she whispered, kissing her temple, before falling into a light sleep, secretly wondering why Ares had yet to show his face after his spell was defeated. Not that she missed him, it was just unusual for the god not to make his normal blue-sparkle appearance and swear he'd get her "next time".

The next time Xena opened her eyes, it was daylight, and she was alone. Frowning, she looked down from the loft where she and her love had fallen asleep, calling for the blonde when she didn't see her anywhere.

"Gabrielle?" she cried, beginning to dress quickly, fearing the worst. It wasn't like the girl to leave without writing a note, and while Xena couldn't understand how anyone could have gotten to Gabrielle without her noticing, she wasn't ruling out the work of the Gods, either.

Just as she slid her sword into its scabbard, and fastened it to her back, a voice rang out, "Xena!" The warrior recognized the frightened tone with a sinking heart – it was Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle!" The warrior didn't bother to use the ladder, and jumped to the ground, racing towards the barn door. Throwing it open, her sapphire eyes narrowed when she saw what lay before her: Ares, holding the bard, a knife to her delicate throat.

"Ares…" she growled, stepping closer, as the thought passed through her mind that she'd just been wondering about his absence.

The god waited until the woman was only a few yards away, and then said, "Stop right there, Xena. That's close enough. Throw your sword on the ground."

Xena had drawn her weapon, ready for a fight, but paused for a moment. Was Ares bargaining for something? It was clear that he wasn't interested in a physical conflict with the woman, judging by the way he seemed to be using Gabrielle as a shield.

"Do it now, or she dies," he ordered, seeing her reluctance. When Xena tossed her sword away, he grinned, and mentioned to the disc that hung at her hip. "Your Chakram, too. And your boot daggers and breast dagger," Ares continued. "May as well get rid of them all."

"What do you want, Ares?" asked Xena, as she did as she was told. The fear mixed with trust in the green eyes she adored was enough to convince her to do anything, and Ares knew it. In fact, he counted it.

"It's simple, really. I want what I've always wanted – you. Now take off your armor." The God of War continued giving the warrior woman orders as he spoke, keeping a careful watch on Xena to make sure she obeyed. "Either you agree to come back to me, or she dies. Right here, right now."

Xena swallowed. She was stuck. If she went back with Ares, the small bard would never forgive her; if she didn't, Gabrielle would surely die as a result.

Looking directly into emerald eyes, which were begging her not to agree, the tall woman uttered, "I promised, Ares."

He shrugged. "Okay."

Sensing that he was really going to do it, Xena shouted, "Wait!" Mercifully, he stopped and looked at her. "Isn't there anything else you want?" She knew exactly what she was implying by that statement, and the fact that she was now clothed only in her shift didn't help, but she'd do whatever it took to keep Gabrielle alive.

Ares raised an eyebrow in her direction. "Why, Xena, I'm surprised at you. To willingly offer such a thing? Hm…" He contemplated the idea. "On your knees."

Her warrior's heart protested valiantly to the command, but Xena slowly sank to her knees, hard blue eyes never wavering. Ares' chuckle only enraged her further, but she forced the emotion away.

"So, what's the deal?"

Xena replied, almost feeling as though someone else was speaking, "Let her go, and you get… me, just for one night. Isn't that what you've really been wanting, Ares? Now's your chance," she enticed, hoping she was doing the right thing.

Ares seemed to consider it. "Let me get this straight, just so there's no misunderstandings. I let the blonde go, and you agree to spend one night in bed with me, doing whatever I want," he said, and Xena nodded, praying for her bard to forgive her. "I want your word."

"You have my word, as a warrior. Now yours."

"Oh, hey, no problem," the god half-grinned. "You've got my word. Well, now that I've got your promise, I just want one more thing."

The woman was becoming exasperated, as well as more and more nervous for the safety of her love. Ares was acting strangely, and she trusted him even less than usual.

"What else do you want, Ares? I've given you all I have, I don't have anything left for you to take!" she cried, and the god suddenly appeared beside her, using his powers to keep the knife against Gabrielle's throat, and to make it so she was unable to move.

Gently brushing a lock of her dark hair behind her ear, he cooed, "Funny you should say that. You see, I did want you in bed. But that was before that damned blonde ruined it all. See, the way I figured it, if she was out of the way, you and I could be together, and she got to live. But when you decided to stay with her, and she broke through my spell, everything went to Tartarus.

"If you would have just left well enough alone, we wouldn't be in this situation. And calling on my sister was not a bright idea, warrior princess," he growled. "I don't want you, now, so your promise means nothing to me.

"Oh, but back to what I do want." Kissing her cheek, he whispered into her ear, "I want your soul." With a flick of his wrist, he disappeared, and Xena watched in horror as the blade made its way across the bard's throat before it, too, vanished into thin air.

"No-o!" wailed Xena, rushing to catch her love as she fell to the ground, blood running from her wound. "Gabrielle! Gods, no, Gabrielle. Please, don't leave me, sweetheart."

"I…"

"Shh… Don't talk, baby," Xena pleaded, tears in her eyes as she knew she was watching the one person she loved most in the world bleed to death, and she was powerless to stop it. Rocking her young love in her arms, the warrior lightly stroked her cheek, noticing the gray tint already covering her skin.

Teeth red and blood trickling from the side of her mouth, Gabrielle choked out, "I… love… you. Keep… promise…" Emerald eyes clouded, and the girl fell still, taking her last shuddering breath as Xena held her in her strong embrace.

Lovingly stroking the short blonde hair, Xena placed a soft kiss on the woman's forehead with trembling lips, before clutching her to her chest. Not caring that blood seeped onto her shift, the warrior felt the tears stream down her face, and let out a scream of anguish that echoed through the valley.

Taking the limp form of her bard into her arms, Xena numbly walked to the barn, covering the body with a blanket, scarcely able to see for the tears.

"I'm sorry, my love," she muttered. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. Gods, I'm so sorry." The only thing that came to mind was to build a pyre, to give the woman the respectful funeral she deserved. Assuming her family wouldn't want to attend, and not wanting to see anyone, the warrior set about doing it herself.

It took the better part of the day to chop the wood, and Xena took her time with each branch she cut, whittling it until it was just right. She found herself pretending that she was making a gift for Gabrielle, rather than building her funeral pyre, because it was the only way she could trust herself not to turn her own sword against her.

As night fell, the pyre was ready, and the warrior realized that there was just one thing missing: the body. She didn't want to do it. Gods, she didn't want to do it. Taking Gabrielle's body to the fire meant admitting she was really gone, and the woman couldn't do that.

Not yet.

"I can still hear you call me 'your warrior'," Xena told the young woman's spirit, sitting next to the blanket that covered her body, having been pulled down to her chin to suggest she was only sleeping. "Gods, I love you, Gabrielle – I miss you, even now.

"It's my fault, and I know that. You're in a better place, now, my love. If you see Solan, tell him I miss him. I know I will never see you again, there's no chance of me making it into the Elysian Fields, but I have to believe you will be with me here. If I lose you here…" A soft breeze picked up, and the tears returned when Xena inhaled, recognizing the scent that was Gabrielle.

"I know what I have to do – you deserve a proper Amazon funeral, but I don't think I could bear to take you back to the Amazons. Too many people, and I think I need to grieve alone, but may Artemis be here to mourn your passing." The warrior wasn't big on gods, but when it came to Gabrielle, she wanted only the best for her, even if that did include the gods.

"I will always love you," she concluded, picking up the form and carrying it to the pyre, placing it on the platform. Kissing the woman's forehead, she stroked her cheek, unable to keep from crying as she tenderly kissed each digit of the unresponsive bard's hand, remembering how the green eyes she loved would light up whenever she did that.

Choking back a sob, she lit the torch and spread the flame to the intricately placed branches, and found she was unable to sing the burial song. She could barely speak, the pain and loss overwhelmed her so, but she was whispering it in her heart.

"Safe travel, Gabrielle. Even in death, remember?" If not for Gabrielle's final words, which echoed ceaselessly in her ears, Xena would have gone to find Ares instead of heading back to the barn. It didn't matter that he was a god; she would have ripped his immortal body limb from limb until it landed her in Charon's boat.

But the bard had reminded her of the promise she'd made not to become a monster, and she intended to keep it, not matter how much she hurt.

Climbing up to the loft, Xena didn't even realize she'd taken her armor and weapons with her until she got to the top, and dropped them in a pile in the hay. Stripping off her bloodied shift, the warrior lay down on Gabrielle's bedroll, sobbing at the remembrance of the woman she loved. For the first time since she was a child, Xena curled up into a ball, grasping tightly to anything that reminded her of Gabrielle, and cried herself to sleep.

Opening her eyes, Xena looked around, praying it had been a dream… but Gabrielle was gone and she was nude in the loft. The painful emotions of the night before coursed through her again, as if for the first time, and tears filled her blue eyes.

She heard the barn door open, but didn't care. Knees drawn up to her chest, head resting on her forearms as the tears flowed freely, Xena at first didn't respond when her name was called, until her brain registered who it was.

"Xena? Are you awake?" Gabrielle was startled when the woman leapt down from the loft and landed in front of her, but was even more surprised to notice she had been crying, and wasn't dressed yet.

"Gabrielle?"

Fair eyebrows were furrowed. "Yes… were you expecting someone else? Xena, what's wrong? You've been crying," the blonde pointed out, trying to figure out what could have possibly happened to make Xena cry.

"Oh, Gabrielle…" The warrior drew the startled woman into a fierce embrace, which was returned, once the bard recovered from her surprise. "You're okay," mumbled the woman. "I thought I'd lost you."

"What? Xena, what are you talking about?"

"It's nothing. I just had a bad dream, I guess," she shrugged, wiping at her eyes and feeling foolish.

Gabrielle was concerned. "Come on, my warrior. Let's get you dressed and then we can talk, okay?" the blonde offered, and Xena agreed, rather ashamed of her behavior.

She was reluctant to tell the bard about her dream, but when Gabrielle insisted, Xena gave in and told her everything. She assumed Morpheus had picked up on her worries about Ares' return, and had decided to torment her with a glimpse of a possible outcome. Xena knew nothing could ever hurt more than the thought that she'd lost Gabrielle.

The warrior then added in a soft voice that she wanted to know where Gabrielle was at all times, just for her peace of mind.

"Well, how about if I just don't go anywhere without you?" suggested the small woman, with a smile. "The reason I left this morning was to get us a spot at the inn for breakfast, but I don't have any plans that don't include you, my warrior. How does that sound?"

Xena grinned. "Wonderful. Thank you for not making a big deal about all this," she added, looking away. For a hardened warrior like herself to be caught in tears, no matter the reason, was a blow to her ego and pride, and Gabrielle understood that.

The petite blonde cocked her head, and placed a loving kiss on the warrior's forehead. "Xena, it is a big deal, because it obviously upset you. But you have nothing to be embarrassed about, all right? I love you no matter what, and I love you for being able to tell me about something that bothered you. I will never fault you for being mortal and showing a weakness," she assured the dark haired woman.

Xena sighed. "Thank you, love. That's why you're the bard." Glad to see a smile cross the face of the woman she loved, Gabrielle hinted at breakfast, and rather than face a hungry young bard, the tall warrior quickly headed towards the inn, the love of her life right beside her.

The tall warrior woman kept a careful watch on the other people at the inn, noticing the looks she and her bard were being given. As they sat at a table, far in the back, she sighed, "News travels fast in this town."

Gabrielle nodded. "Everyone knows, now," she said, quietly.

"Let them think what they will," urged Xena, not caring for the look of sadness that passed over Gabrielle's face. "We're together, and that's all that matters."

When nearly ten minutes had gone by, and they hadn't even been asked what they wanted, Xena began to get a little upset. Motioning to the innkeeper's young daughter, who was just on her way back to the kitchen, Xena stated, "We'd like to get some breakfast over here, if it's not too much trouble."

The girl's nose turned up at her. "We don't serve your kind here," she spat.

Xena was on her feet in a flash. "Listen, you little…" she growled, but Gabrielle grabbed her arm.

"Xena, please…"

"No, Gabrielle. I'm not going to just let it go this time. Where's the owner?" she demanded, and the girl quickly called for her father, who followed her back out to the main area, wondering what all the commotion was about.

"What's going on here?" he questioned, and the tall woman sneered at him.

"My friend and I have been waiting patiently for our meal, but we haven't gotten so much as an offer," she explained, tersely. "When I asked for some service, I was told you don't serve 'our kind' here. Now, either we get our food, politely, or I will get our food, and you won't like how I go about it," she warned, her intentions clear as she fingered her Chakram, itching to use it.

The man turned to his daughter. "Is this true?" he asked.

"But, papa, they're –"

"Paying customers!" he roared. "I've heard the rumors, and I don't care if they're true. This is one of the only inns in this town, and if I hear of anyone turning down any more business, they will no longer be working here, is that understood?" Several heads nodded, including his daughter's.

"I apologize for my staff's intolerance and rudeness," he said, turning to Xena, offering his hand in a firm handshake. "You will have your meal, without any further interruptions, and if you come through this town again, this inn will always be open to you both. Just ask for me; the name's Termis."

"Xena," acknowledged the warrior, and the man grinned.

"And Gabrielle," he finished. "I know who you both are. Please, have a fine meal… it's on me this time around. Now," he said, turning to his daughter as he lead her back into the kitchen, "I think it's about time you and I had that talk about your Uncle Linden…"

With a smile, Xena sat back down beside Gabrielle, who looked a bit happier. While the two were enjoying their breakfast of fruit, ham, milk, and other treats they hadn't had in a long time, the warrior looked up to watch Hecuba, Herodotus, and Lila come through the door.

"Terrific," she sighed, rolling her eyes. The bard followed her gaze, and let her eyes fall to her plate after seeing her family, a tear falling in memory of the night before. Not caring who was watching, Xena leaned over and kissed the top of the blonde's head, speaking softly to her, promising the woman that her family wouldn't hurt her again.

"I know what they said, love, and I'm sorry," the warrior murmured.

"How do you…?"

Xena gave her a half-smile. "We had a little visit from Aphrodite last night, and she showed me what happened after I left," she explained. "Let me go talk to them."

Gabrielle's green eyes widened. "Xena, please, don't hurt them," she requested, knowing the thoughts that were probably going through her warrior's mind.

"I won't," sighed the woman. "It'll be hard, but I won't. I promise, love. I'll be right back," she said, kissing the bard softly before getting to her feet, heading over to the table where the three sat, waiting for their breakfast.

"You!" hissed Herodotus, when he saw her shadow fall across the table.

"Yeah, it's me," confirmed Xena, placing her palms on the table to get a good look at all of them. "You're lucky Gabrielle is here, or I'd be removing your head from your body right about now," she growled.

"But, I just want to talk. I know what you all said to her last night, all the words you threw at her, and how you slammed the door in her face.

"If I would have been there, the population of this town would have three less people, believe me. That's why Gabrielle asked me to leave; she wanted you to have a fair chance to talk things out, but you didn't give that to her."

Herodotus interrupted her. "We don't have to sit here and listen to this!" Attempting to get to his feet, he found a strong hand on his shoulder, and Xena pushed him back down.

"Oh, yes you do," she stated, lowly. "Either you listen now, or I can take you outside and make you listen." Glaring at the woman, Gabrielle's father remained sitting, crossing his arms to show his anger.

"What do you see when you look at me, Herodotus?" she questioned.

"I see a heartless warrior bitch who's brainwashed my daughter into believing that she loves you," spat the man. "Someone who doesn't give a damn about her, and is just using her for a good fu-"

Xena held up her hand, silencing him. "Finish that sentence, and I guarantee you I will make your wife an early widow," she threatened. "I get your point. You would see that. And do you know what I see when I look at you? I see a cold, soulless bastard who can't possibly care about his daughter, because…"

"I do care about Gabrielle! That's why I want to get her away from you!"

"No! You don't care about her, because if you did, the only thing that would matter to you would be seeing her happy," the warrior snarled. "But, if I asked Hecuba that same question, she'd probably say you were the most wonderful man in the world."

"What are you getting at?" asked Hecuba, speaking for the first time.

"All I'm saying is, none of you see this situation for what it is; you see it for what you are," she sighed. "I love your daughter with all that I am, Hecuba. My only goal in life is to protect her and to see her smile."

Herodotus spoke up again. "You weren't doing anything of the sort back when that demon raped my child!" he reminded, harshly, and Xena nodded.

"That's true, and I regret that I didn't get there in time," she admitted. "But, the point is, when you love someone, their mistakes seem to fade away. Hecuba, you don't think of Herodotus like I do, and Gabrielle doesn't think of me the way any of you do."

"Why are you telling us this, Xena?" questioned Lila, and Xena sighed.

"I found Gabrielle in tears last night, because of what you'd said," she explained. "As much as I don't like any of you right now, I'm trying to make you understand that Gabrielle is still your daughter, and she still loves you. No matter who she is, or who she chooses to love, she will always be your daughter first.

"Like I said, I only want to see her happy, and right now, she is not happy, because she thinks her family hates her. We will be staying through today," she finished. "If any of you want to talk with her, you're welcome to it.

"And one more thing," she said, before she turned away. "You don't have to like that Gabrielle and I are together. You don't even have to understand it. The only thing I ask is that you tolerate it in peace; if not for me, then for your daughter. Acceptance is too much to ask from you people." That done, she returned to Gabrielle, and just shrugged at the questions the bard asked.

"It's not really that important what I said, Gabrielle," she told the blonde. "If it makes a difference, then I'll have done some good. If not… well, I tried."

Gabrielle smiled, and wrapped her arms around the warrior in a hug. "And I do love you for trying, my warrior. I know how much you don't like my parents," the bard said, lightly kissing the woman she loved.

"I couldn't care less about how they treat me, love. It's what they do to you that makes me mad," she explained, glancing up when she saw Lila standing over them. "Yes?" she drawled, raising an eyebrow at her lover's sister.

The girl didn't seem sure where to start. "Uh, Xena, about what you said… about Gabrielle and all…" she stammered, and Xena held back an exasperated sigh. "I just… I guess what I'm trying to say, Gabby, is I'm sorry. I see now that you're happy with Xena, and I guess if that's what you really want, then I'm happy for you," Lila finished, and Xena smiled as Gabrielle leapt up and swept her younger sibling into a hug.

"And you wouldn't have come and talked to us if you didn't love my sister, Xena," the girl continued, "or said any of those things you did. You take good care of her, okay?"

The warrior nodded, and took Lila's arm in a strong handshake. "I will do my best, Lila, I promise you that."

"I don't know how my parents feel about it, but… well, now that I look at it from your point of view, Xena, I see that you do just want to make my sister happy. And I can't very well be angry with you for doing that," Lila concluded, kissing Gabrielle's cheek, and Xena's, which thoroughly surprised the warrior, before going back with her parents to try to talk some sense into them.

"Mom, they're really no different than you and dad!" Gabrielle heard her sister say, and smiled fondly. "Okay, so maybe in the physical sense, but…"

"I guess that talk you had did some good after all, Xena," sighed the blonde, happily placing kisses all along the edge of Xena's jaw, no longer caring who was watching or what they thought.

"Uh-huh," muttered the warrior, pleasantly distracted at the moment.

"Thank you."

"Anytime, love."

"Xena?" questioned Gabrielle, moving to whisper in the warrior's ear, lightly nuzzling an earlobe, turning the tall woman's legs to jelly.

"Hm?"

"Can we go back to the barn, now? I'm not in the mood for breakfast anymore…"

Xena was out of her seat like it was on fire, taking her bard by the hand as they hurried out of the inn. "I thought you'd never ask," grinned the warrior. "Oh, Gabrielle?"

"Yes?" smiled the blonde, as her warrior picked her up in her arms and carried her the rest of the way to the barn.

"Unless you want to make a scene in Termis' inn, and have the townspeople thinking that I really do ravish you, don't ever do that again."

Gabrielle chuckled, knowing the threat in her lover's voice to be pure desire, and began lightly kissing her neck as she was carried.

"I'm going to drop you if you keep that up," warned Xena, however a bit disappointed when the woman in her arms pulled back.

"Xena, I've been thinking," began Gabrielle, and Xena half-paid attention to what she was saying as she held her close, feeling the bard's warm breath on her throat. "If that spell Ares had put on me was permanent, and I never got any of my memories back…"

Now Xena was alert, and she stopped on her trek to the loft, standing in the middle of the barn, bard still in her arms. "Please, don't say that, love," she urged, showing the woman how afraid she had been of that statement coming true.

"Let me finish, Xena," insisted Gabrielle, softly, placing her fingers over the warrior's velvet lips. "If that had happened, I could think of no better woman to create new memories with than you. You are my life, Xena, and even if I wouldn't have been able to remember our times together, I know there'd be no way I could forget our love. It would have been like falling for you all over again… I love you, my warrior."

Xena grinned, relieved. "I love you, too, Gabrielle. Now, what was that about falling in love all over again?" she growled, heading for the loft once more, knowing that the love she shared with the woman in her arms was strong enough to endure anything, be it intolerance, relatives, or meddling gods…

They were soul mates, as simple and as complicated as that. Whether they'd known each other for years or just met, their hearts and souls would always be connected, throughout time. And in each lifetime, they would have the chance to create new memories.

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