Lost Innocence Part 1

by Paully Adams

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 not on the show are mine.

The lyrics of "Immortality" were written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (the Bee Gees) and is copyrighted to Gibb Brothers Music (BMI) and were adapted for this story.

This is a MAJOR REWRITE of the original, so it is a totally different story than previously.

SPOILERS: Some spoilers for season one and two. If fact, story takes place in Season three, before The Debt I&II. The basic premise: What if Xena and Gabrielle never went to Britannia? What can I say, I have issues with the whole Rift and the events that followed. So no cult, no Dahok, no Hope, no rift, no GabDrag or anything that deals with that:-)

SUBTEXT: Xena and Gabrielle are in love, deal with it. And yes, there is sex, but nothing to graphic; maybe PG or PG-13. I know the orginal had graphic sex, but I realized I'm not good at that sort of thing (at least on paper), so you will have to use your imagination :-)

VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER:

No more than what we see on the show.

HURT/COMFORT WARNING/DISCLAIMER: Some hurt, some comfort. Would you expect anything else from me?

ROMANTIC DISCLAIMER: Again, it's me. Of course there's romance!

Xena smiled as she looked at the empty place by the fire that Gabrielle had occupied. The Bard, feeling grimy after a long day of traveling, decided to head for the stream for a bath; leaving behind her scroll and plume.

*Wonder what new adventure she is writing about? One of these days we are going to get a second horse just to carry around her scrolls.* Even though she first hated the idea of Gabrielle keeping a written record of their adventures, Xena was now happy that Gabrielle did. *What did she tell me? She wanted to live the adventures and record them for future generations.* But Xena was happy that the stories not only told about their various adventures, but they also told the story of a friendship so deep that nothing could stand against it. *Not Bachae, not warlords, not even death.* Xena's body shudder a bit when she thought about the times when she almost lost Gabrielle. Every single time, Xena realized more just how much the little petite blond from Poteidaea meant to her.

Xena chuckled to herself. *Imagine me, the former Destroyer of Nations, being incomplete without my Bard.* Xena shook her head at the truth. She knew she was in love with Gabrielle, there was no denying it. And every time she was about to tell the Bard, something else got in the way.

First, it was the Bard's age. Gabrielle was barely seventeen summers when she ran away from home to follow the warrior; basically just a child who was following her dreams and Xena was certain that those dreams did not include her in the role as lover.

Of course, there were other differences that held the Warrior Princess back. Gabrielle was light, not only in her appearance, but in her attitude towards life and her idealism. Xena was a realist, pure and simple. Idealism had no place in her life, until Gabrielle. Now, she could never see herself without her light, her friend, and love of her life.

The warrior walked over the the scroll and picked it up, her cobalt eyes searching for its secrets. She soon realized that this scroll was not like the others. As she read the words, her heart began to sank:

I don't have a role for love to play, hand over heart I'll find my way. For in the game of love, happiness is wild And if you expect the same thing as a child, You will quickly learn that dreams don't come true

So now, I must follow the road that lies ahead, And I won't let my heart control my head. Over my heart my hand will stay For I don't have a role for love to play, Because I've learned that love can't last forever.

Unshed tears welled up in the warrior's eyes. Xena couldn't believe it; the woman who taught her to lower the guard around her heart and to let love in was now building a wall around her own heart; a heart that she wanted to possess and make one with her own.

"Hey, are you reading one of my scrolls?"

Xena quickly calmed herself down before answering, "Yes, it is the one you were working on this morning."

"Oh, just working on some poetry. Kind of boring actually. If you want to read something interesting..."

"This is interesting Gabrielle. What is this one about?" She turned and faced the Bard as she pointed to the poem she just read.

Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, that one. It's nothing."

"Nothing? Sounds like you don't believe in love anymore." Xena watched as green orbs darted away. "Gabrielle?"

A sigh exited from Gabrielle's lips. "I wrote that after Perdicus had died. I've been trying to finish writing it ever since but I just can't. I guess it is done. I wish I could say that I've change my mind or that now I feel differently, but the truth is- I've haven't. I have to face the facts, I live a dangerous life and there is no room for love in this lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change a thing about our life; but there is no room for love. I gave my heart away, only to have it returned in pieces. I can't do it anymore, the pain and heartache is too high of a price to pay."

"Perdicus wouldn't want you to seal your heart like this."

Sadness filled the bard's voice. "Perdicus is dead Xena. He was the last of a long string of people that I loved who are dead because of who I am and what I do. The sad part is that I wouldn't change a thing. I know that I am doing what I should be doing. But if I'm going to walk this path, I can't let anyone get that close to me ever again."

Xena's eyes glistened as she listened to Gabrielle's words. *So this is the cost she has to pay to travel with me; what she has given up in order to be with me, to learn with me, to change me into the person that I am.* Guilt coursed through Xena's veins as she blamed herself. *It was my fault, I let her follow me, I spared Callisto too many times, and I failed to protect Perdicus.* Xena walked toward the Bard and placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I hope that one day you will change your mind. You deserve all the happiness in the world and that includes being loved and loving someone." Xena turned and and grabbed her sword. She needed time alone, time to think. "I'm going to check the perimeter. Be back in a while, okay?"

Gabrielle nodded and watched Xena disappear from her view. She sat down and stared at the fanning flames. "Oh Xena, if you only knew, how hard it is to seal my heart, especially when we are together so much." She looked down at her scroll. "No, I won't, I can't. Never again." She rolled the scroll back up and placed it back into her scroll bag.

Xena walked through the woods as her thought plagued her. She now knew the truth; the young woman's heart had been crushed too many times, and now Gabrielle felt that love had no place in her life. At that realization, Xena wished she had the gift for words, but none came to her; nothing that could cause Gabrielle to change her mind.

When she made her way back to camp, the Warrior Princess found Gabrielle fast asleep. After making sure that the fire was well fed, Xena also went to bed, wondering how she was ever going to open up without her heart being crushed in the process.

*Another day, another wanna-be warlord defeated,* Xena mused as she sharpened her sword. The Warrior Princess looked down at her injured upper arm. Earlier in the day, one soldier got lucky, and managed to cut the former Destroyer of Nations. *Well, what can you expect, injuries are part of the job.* She glanced at her sword. It was clean and shiny, unlike its previous condition earlier that day. *And so is death, and that is exactly why she won't have anything to do with you Xena. Nothing but friendship.* Xena returned to sharpening her sword, taking out her frustrations upon the already sharp blade. Two months had past since Xena first saw the scroll and she was no closer to coming up with a solution for the dilemma which in she found herself.

Gabrielle laid on her stomach and nibbled on the end of her quill as she tried to come up with just the right words to describe the events of the day. Her hands became animate as she closed her eyes and pictured the adventure in her mind. Xena stole a look and watched as the firelight danced across the Bard's skin and the moonbeams mingled with her honey-gold hair. *I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing her like this.*

"Xena, what shade of red..." Gabrielle opened up her eyes and Xena could feel herself drown in the sea-green orbs.

Mistaking the look on her friend's face for pain, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, are you okay? How is your arm? Do you need for me to change your bandage?"

Xena reluctantly pulled her eyes away and looked at the injured upper arm. The cut was fine and the stitches held, but it gave her the out she needed. "Yeah, it is a little sore."

Gabrielle walked over to their saddle bags and dug around until she found the poultice and fresh bandages. As she approached Xena she stated, "Let's get that fixed up."

As the Bard applied the poultice and new bandage, Xena could feel every caress, every bit of healing warmth that came from Gabrielle's hands. It was sheer torture and pure bliss at the same time. At that moment, the Warrior Princess knew that friendship was not enough, not for her, not for the feelings that raged inside of her; and she realized what she had to do. "Gabrielle, do you ever think about life after we retire from the road?"

Gabrielle kept her eyes on her work. "Not really. Why?"

"We have been on the road for three years now. We can't keep doing this forever. I know that we both like making people's lives better, but we can do that anywhere. I just think it is time we stopped traveling so much."

Gabrielle smirked at the comment. "Sounds like you need a vacation."

"Yes, a permanent one. So if we are going to settle down, where would you like for us to be?"

The question caused the Bard to raise her head and look at her friend. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yes. So where would you like to go?"

Gabrielle tilted her head as she thought about her answer. "Well, definitely not Poteidaea. How about your home..."

"Don't even think about it. That would cause me to get back on the road. How about the Amazons?"

"Amazonia?"

"Yes, Amazonia. That way you could finally be the kind of Queen I know you can be. And I know that the trainees will keep me busy."

"Are you sure about this?" Xena could see the excitement in her eyes even as Gabrielle voiced the question. The Warrior Princess glanced at her injured arm and them back at the Bard. She knew there was no choice involved for her heart, body and soul wanted the same thing: A new life, one without the constant fighting and bloodshed, one without the specter of death hanging over their heads. And Amazonia was the place to make that new life. "I've never been more sure about anything in my life."

"So Caesar, what do you think of our fine city-state?"

Caesar looked around as he walked down the road. "Athens was the birth place of democracy. For that, it holds a special place in any Roman's heart. It is a great city, and that is why it should be united with Rome. It's destiny."

"Ah, perhaps so. But just because Athens joins with Rome, it doesn't guarantee that the other city-states will follow."

"I understand that Greece is made up of independent city-states, but if Athens join Rome, the others will follow their example."

"Not all will, Caesar."

An arrogant smirk appeared on his face. "Then we will have to make them...see our point of view. No one can stand up to Rome and Athens united."

"Don't be too sure. There are the Centaurs, the Amazons"

"Are you telling me that a bunch of woman and half-horses can stand against the forces of Rome and Athens?"

The official looked Caesar in the eye. "In a word: yes."

"Let me tell you something about women. They can be controlled by their heart. I know for I once tamed the greatest warrior woman. I broke her and I doubt if a whole nation of them will be any different. And as far as the centaurs are concerned, there is no need to keep them around."

"So my Queen, are you enjoying the festival in your honor?" Ephiny smiled at her young friend.

"Don't I always enjoy the festivals? There is always one thing I can be sure of; we Amazons know how to party!"

"Especially when we have a reason to celebrate." Ephiny leaned over towards Gabrielle. "Have I told you how happy I am that you finally decided to come home and stay? Now you are Queen, and that takes a load off of my back." Ephiny looked around. "So where is tall, dark and gruesome at?"

Gabrielle laughed. "You know how she feels about festivals Ephiny. She is probably at the hut."

Ephiny scanned the area one more time and finally spotted Xena, standing in a corner, looking at Gabrielle. *Gotcha!* "Excuse Gabrielle. I'll be right back." The Regent made her way towards Xena. "Hi Xena, having fun?"

"You know how I feel about festivals Ephiny. Why do you Amazons have so many?"

Ephiny held back a grin. *I think I'll just give Cupid a hand here.* "Do you really want to know the truth? The truth is that the number of festivals goes down once the Queen has picked a lifemate."

Xena eyes went wide. "What?"

Ephiny silently laughed on the inside. "That's right Xena. You see, as long as the Queen is unattached, the Amazons throw lavish festivals so that the Queen can get to know potential mates and vice versa." Ephiny could almost sense the underlining jealousy that Xena refused to display. "So when are you going to ask Gabrielle to dance?"

All she received for her suggestion was a glare from the Warrior Princess. "Fine, if you don't want to have some fun, then I will." With that, the Regent walked over to Gabrielle and pulled her off the throne and led her to dance floor. All Xena could do was watch and throw mental daggers at Ephiny.

Eponin saw and heard the whole conversation. She chuckled as she made her way to Xena's side. "Don't tell me the Warrior Princess is afraid to fight?"

Xena did not even look at her friend. "I'm in no mood to play games Eponin."

"Fine. Then let me give it to you straight my friend. If you don't stop being all stoic, you are going to lose her even before you get her."

"So, what Ephiny said is true?"

"Not completely. Yes, most of our Queens got to know their lifemates at the festivals. But that is not what the festivals are for. We just like to party. But my friend, you need to remember that once the coronation takes place, you won't have Gabrielle to yourself. You will have to share her with the whole Amazon Nation, a nation filled with women who are more than willing to show Gabrielle that each of them should be the one to whom she gives her heart. This isn't the road Xena. You have some serious competition here. Don't be surprise if someone puts the moves on her."

Xena looked at her friend. "Don't you think I want to tell her how I feel? Every single day I want to show her how I feel. But a part of her died when Perdicus was killed. She swore that she would never let anyone get close to her again. And I'm not her. I don't know how to break down those walls she has built around her heart."

"What walls are you talking about? Have you not notice the way she looks at you? Xena, when you two first walk into Amazonia, many thought that you were a couple. And if there were any doubts, they were erased when you had died. Gabrielle grieved as if part of her soul was missing. You are that other half Xena." Eponin looked out at her Queen and Regent. "And if you have any doubts, then see for yourself."

Xena looked at her best friend. Gabrielle gave her bright smile. Xena returned the same. Eponin shook her head. "I have yet to see anyone else who can make her smile like that. Face it Warrior, you two belong together."

"So are you ready for the coronation tomorrow Gabrielle?" Ephiny asked as she swayed her body to the music.

"Ready as I will ever be. I hope that we are doing the right thing."

"What is there to think about? You and Xena have decided to settle here permanently. Don't you want to be Queen?"

"Of course I do. It just that it is not like Xena to settle down in one place. Something must be bothering her." Gabrielle glanced over at her best friend, a worried expression gracing her face.

Ephiny shook her head. "Hey, you should know by now that Xena doesn't do anything unless she wants to do it. I thought you said that it was her idea."

"It was."

"Then stop worrying," Ephiny grabbed Gabrielle and spun her around, "and start dancing." With that she dipped the Queen.

The young Bard began to giggle. "As always you are right Ephiny."

"An honest admission Gabrielle." The Regent stood straight, bringing the Queen with her. "And since I am always right, when are you going to tell Xena how you feel?"

The smile disappeared. "Is it that obvious?"

"To everyone in the Nation it is, everyone that is, except for her. And I, along with everyone else, know that she feels the same. So what's the hold up?"

"It isn't that easy Ephiny. I use to believe that love could solve any problem and make life perfect. But it doesn't, in fact it can hurt like nothing else. Sometimes I think I am under a curse. It seems like every time I've found someone, that person is taken away from me." Gabrielle glanced over at the Warrior Princess. "I do love her. When Perdicus died, I swore to myself that I would never feel that way about anyone else again. Some how, my heart decided otherwise, but I can't, I won't go through that heartache again. I don't think I can survive it once more. I rather have her as a friend than not at all."

"Gabrielle, trust me, you're not under a curse. Remember when Xena had died? Even though you two were just friends, I never seen someone who showed as much sorrow or strength as you did. And you did more than just survived. Listen, I'm not saying that your fears aren't justified. The gods only know what your lives on the road were like. But if you let that fear take control, you will miss out on the best thing that could happen to you. Trust me, the regret of losing someone before you had a chance to express your feelings is much worst than the regret of loving someone and then losing them." Seeing the doubt in her friend's eyes, she reached up and caressed Gabrielle's face. "Just think about it, okay?"

Before the Queen could answer, Ephiny grabbed her hands and began to dance again. "Now on to less serious topics. Does Xena know about her role in the coronation?"

"As my Champion? Of course."

"Does she know about"

"No. I rather tell her in the morning- you know, when she is less tired and more sociable."

Ephiny shook her head and laughed. "I doubt that even you my Queen, can talk Xena into that."

"Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?" Xena lunged at Gabrielle, only grasping air, as the Bard side-stepped her.

"Now Xena, you can't wear your leathers." The petite blond looked down at the article in her hand. "As my Champion, you have to wear the formal attire for the ceremony. So stop arguing with me and change out of your sleeping shift into the formal attire."

Xena pointed at her leathers. "That is my formal attire Gabrielle. Now give it back."

"No."

"What did you say?" Xena arched her eyebrow and sneered at her best friend.

"That look may work on everyone else, but I know you better. So give it up. You are going to wear the deer skin attire."

Xena took a step towards the Bard. "Not if I catch you first."

For the next few moments, the Warrior Princess chased after the Amazon Queen in the hut that they shared. Xena would go left, Gabrielle would go right. They ran around the table, Xena on one side and Gabrielle on the other. Gabrielle made a bolt to the door, thinking that she was in the clear. But when she heard the ear piercing war cry, she knew she had made a mistake.

"AYIYIYIYIYIYI!" Xena flipped over the table and in front of the running Bard, causing a collision.

Xena caught Gabrielle in her arms, both of them coming face to face, each of them drowning in the other's eyes and in those few seconds of time, they saw eternity.

Xena slowly released her breath. "Gotcha."

Gabrielle's heart felt like it was going to burst out of her chest. She knew she was playing with fire, but at this point she did not care if she got burnt. "I guess you do."

Xena could feel the air as it caught in her throat. There was no mistake about it: there was no mistaking the charge in the air between them and the love that shone from those sea-green eyes, the love that was reflected in her blue eyes. She knew what she wanted, and at this moment, she wanted to kiss the Bard. She leaned her head forward...

"KNOCK KNOCK." The banging on the door broke the spell as Gabrielle raced to the door and opened it.

The young red-headed guard bowed. "My Queen, it is time for you to get ready for the ceremony."

Gabrielle tried to regain control over her raging emotions. *Damn it Gabrielle, get a grip.* "Fine." She turned back to Xena. "See you there?"

Xena gave her a small smile. "Wouldn't miss it for the world." After the front door closed, Xena released out a sigh of frustration. *So close.* She looked down at her garment that was in her hands as her mind replayed the events that just took place. "She loves me, I know she does. And now, I just have to get her accept it."

"So, how do I look? Is everything on right?" Gabrielle turned around so that Ephiny and Eponin could have a better look. The short chocolate brown deer skin bodice accented with beige swirl stitching hugged firmly; allowing her well toned abs to show. The matching skirt hung low on her hips and was also accented by beige stitching as well as blue and rust colored feathers and beads. And the forearm and upper arm gauntlets were made of similar materials and were connected to the bodice by silver adornments fashioned to match the swirling patterns on the bodice. A matching bracelet made from the same blue and rust colored feathers that adorned the skirt gently curved around the young Queen's throat, completing the look.

The Weapons Master let out a wolf whistle as she appreciated the view. "Everything is on right. Very right."

"Behave Eponin."

The Regent began to laugh. "Hey, one would have to be blind not to appreciate this. You look wonderful. Now don't be shocked if a number of your Amazons decide to ask for a dance tonight."

"Yeah, I just might do that," Eponin said with a smile. "So my Queen, what do you say?"

"Behave Eponin." Gabrielle glanced at the looking glass one more time. "Well, let's get this show on the road. Where is Xena?"

Ephiny peeked out to the dais. "Well, she should be standing by your throne, waiting for ... oh my."

Gabrielle turned to her friend. "Let me guess, she decided to wear her leathers." Gabrielle headed to the door and looked. The sight that captured her vision took her breath.

The Queen's Champion was dress in a one piece brown deer skin leathers that were adorned with tiny blue beads which brought out the warrior's eyes and were woven in a swirl pattern similar to the Queen's silver adornments. Her floor length cape was the same blue color and was attached to the leathers by brass adornments, with also decorated the matching forearm gauntlets.

Eponin nodded to the guard at the door to begin the processional, while Ephiny nudged Gabrielle forward. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"

"Huh, oh yeah, she is. But then again, I've never seen her any other way."

Everyone noticed the charge in the air as the Queen made her way to the throne. But most also knew that the charge was not a result of the special ceremony, rather it was caused by the two women who couldn't take their eyes off of each other.

As the three friends moved toward the dais, Xena kept her eyes on the Queen of her heart. Gabrielle wore her regal leathers only during special royal functions, so Xena was trying to memorize the vision that approached her. As the young Queen approached the steps, Xena offered her hand.

As she touched the warrior's hand, Gabrielle could feel her heart race. Never had she seen Xena so beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Xena looked Gabrielle directly in the eye. *After the ceremony, we talk.*

Xena stood behind the throne and watched as the Amazons, one by one, congratulated Gabrielle. She stared as the young Queen graciously accepted the kind words and tried to get to know everyone. Xena shook her head as the procession of people continued. *So this is sharing. It's still the same as it was when I was a child, way over-rated.* Finally the last person came through. As Gabrielle walked toward her throne, Xena grabbed her hand. "Dance with me."

As the two left the dais, they did not notice that three sets of eyes were watching them. Ephiny elbowed Eponin in the ribs and smirked at Solari. "Pay up you two."

Eponin counted out five dinars and handed them over to the Regent. "You won, fair and square."

"Oh, she won all right, but it wasn't fair and square."

Ephiny had a mock expression of shock on her face. "What are you talking about Solari? I said that those two would finally hook up by day two, and behold, it is happening even as we speak."

"Oh yeah? Well I saw you talking to Xena and Gabrielle last night. I just bet that you said something to get those two together. And just who picked out that outfit for Xena to wear to the coronation? And who moved up the ceremony by two days?"

Ephiny winked at Eponin. "Solari dear, I am Regent. Therefore it is my responsibility to make sure everything is taken care of for ceremonies. I was well within the boundaries of my role."

"Still feels underhanded to me." Solari looked out at Xena and Gabrielle, as their bodies swayed to the music. "But I'm glad those two are finally getting together. I guess it was worth five dinars."

The three friends continued to watch as the two danced together. While looking on, Eponin said, "You know what? We need to get lives. We've got to stop living vicariously through them. So Solari want to dance?"

"SHHHHH! Look at them, aren't they cute?"

Xena looked up and noticed the friendly stares. "Looks like we have an audience."

Gabrielle looked up at her friends and waved. "Why do I have a feeling those three are up to something?"

"Because they usually are. Come on," she reached out and held the Bard's hands, "I want to take you to a place with a little more privacy. We need to finish that conversation we started earlier."

Gabrielle arched her eyebrow, trying to think of the conversation as she walked with Xena. *Oh no, she must be mad about her outfit.*

The three amazons watched as the pair disappeared. "Should we follow them?" Ephiny and Solari eyed their friend. Eponin stared back at them. "What?"

"What happened to 'We need to get our own lives'?"

"We will- tomorrow." As Eponin attempted to leave the dais, Ephiny grabbed one arm and Solari the other. "No," Ephiny stated. Eponin looked to Solari, who promptly shook her head. Eponin sighed, *Oh well, I guess I could find out what happened later.*

Xena led Gabrielle away from the celebration to a secluded spot behind a row of trees. Xena rubbed her clammy hands on her Champion's outfit. *Stop being so nervous. It is only Gabrielle. You know she feels the same. So just tell her.* "Gabrielle, about our earlier conversation..."

"Say no more Xena," Gabrielle interrupted. "I know I should have told you about the outfit earlier. I'm very sorry, but I thought that waiting until the last minute was the best thing to do. Next time, I'll give you fair warning. By the way, you looked great. Well, that's that." Gabrielle turned to head back to the celebration.

Gabrielle was going so fast, that it took a moment for Xena to catch up. But when she finally did, she snapped to it. *Oh no, my little Bard, you are not getting away that easily.* She gently seized the Bard's arm, stopping her from getting away. "That is not the conversation I am talking about Gabrielle."

"Then what conversation?"

Xena smiled as she pulled Gabrielle closer to her. "Let's see, you ran into me, I caught you," she lowered her head until her lips were just inches away from Gabrielle's own, "and I think we were in the same position as we are right now."

Gabrielle swallowed as she felt Xena's breath on her face. She couldn't tell if the pounding in her ears came from the music or from her heart, but at this point she really didn't care. "Oh," she croaked, "this conversation."

"Yes, this conversation. And I think we need to finish it." Xena gently brushed Gabrielle's lips, barely touching them with her own. "Listen, I know that you think that love has no place in your life. But we are in Amazonia, safe among your people and nothing is going to happen." She gently outlined the curves of Gabrielle face with her finger. "We are starting a new life together. And one day, when we are old and gray, we are going to look back and see all the happy memories we built together."

Gabrielle looked directly into the sapphire eyes before her. "Xena, life doesn't always end with happily ever after."

"Maybe not Gabrielle, but I rather have a short life in which I told and showed all the love I have for you than to live a long life without our love."

Gabrielle slightly turned her head and placed a kiss on the warrior's palm. "I love you; you know that, don't you?"

"Giving us a chance?"

The young Bard sighed and nodded.

She gently kissed Gabrielle again, this time letting the caress last longer. It was then that Gabrielle' began to respond with her own gently kisses.

Xena slightly grazed her tongue over Gabrielle's lips. A low moan escaped Gabrielle as the Bard let Xena take possession of her mouth. Finally they pulled apart to get so much needed air into their lungs. It was then that they heard a loud cough and someone clearing her throat. "What do you want Ephiny?"

"Sorry, my Queen, but I need to speak with you and Xena. A rider just brought in a message from Athens." She stared intensely at her two friends. "Caesar is involved."

As soon as Ephiny shut the door of the Council hut, Gabrielle asked, "What have you found out Ephiny?"

"It seems that Caesar had expressed interest in Rome and Greece forming a union."

Xena sneered. "In other words, Caesar wants control of Greece for the 'glory of Rome.'"

"Maybe so, but Athens is seriously considering joining with Caesar. And if Athens joins with the Romans"

"Then other city-states will follow."

"That's right Gabrielle. And there is more. It seems some Romans were seen less than a day's ride from our borders. The group included two soldiers and some kind of official." The Regent looked at her Queen with regret in her eyes. "Sorry Gabrielle. Your first day and there is already a crisis."

A solemn look appeared on the young Queen's face. "Ephiny, I need a list of all the city-states that would follow Athens in becoming part of Rome, those who would fight to keep their independence and those who are most likely to wait and see."

"I'll have the list as soon as possible." Ephiny exited the Council Hut and made her way towards the library.

Xena silently fumed as flashbacks of her past echoed in her mind. M'lila, Ceasar's betrayal, the crucifixion- each image adding to the consuming rage inside. Even though it had been years, the sound of his name still burnt a hole through her soul. The physical wounds had long since healed, but Xena did not, nor could she ever forgive Caesar for what he did to M'lila.

However, with a single touch, the rage was forgotten. The Warrior Princess glanced down at the source of calmness that invaded her.

Gabrielle smiled at Xena. "Caesar?"

"Yes."

Gabrielle nodded her understanding. "I know that this will be hard for you, but I need for you to do me a favor. I need for you to tell the Council all you know about him."

"Consider it done."

"Thanks." She dropped her arm to her side. "I better get going. The Council should be here with a quarter candlemark."

Xena nodded and watched the Bard take off. *So much for retirement.*

Gabrielle sat upon her seat and looked out over the fifteen members of the Council as they sat at the rectangular table. All eyes watched her as she stood to address them. "My sisters, we have received word that Caesar intends for Greece to become part of the Roman Empire. Since we have had no dealings with him thus far, I've asked Xena to tell us about Caesar and what we can expect of him."

Gabrielle turned and nodded to Xena. The Warrior Princess stepped from behind Gabrielle's chair and to her side. She scanned the Council intently, showing the seriousness of the situation. "Caesar is a dangerous man. To him, there are only two type of people in the world: those who can be controlled and those who must be destroyed. If Caesar does not have you under his thumb, then you are a threat. It is that simple. Therefore, any decision that the Council makes must be made in light of this information."

Gabrielle nodded to Ephiny. Ephiny turned to face the other members of the Council. "In addition, we don't have much time to act. Already a delegation of Romans is heading our way. They should be here by tomorrow afternoon. It looks like they are a peaceful delegation, coming to talk to us about Caesar's desires for unification."

All eyes turned to Gabrielle, waiting to hear what the Queen had to suggest. "We must be precautions where the Romans are concerned. When the delegation arrives at our borders, they shall be tied and blindfolded. The Guard will walk them around in circles for a candlemark, maneuvering them to the cavern located on the northwest edge of our border. I will meet with them there. I think that is all we can plan to do until we hear what they have to say. Are the any objections?"

With no objections, Gabrielle dismissed the Council meeting. After the Council left, Gabrielle turned to Xena. "Well, what do you think?"

"Impressive."

"I learned from the best. Of course, I want you to be there when I meet with the delegation."

"Gabrielle someone might recognize me."

"That is why you are going to be inside one of the adjacent caves listening in on the conversation."

Eponin, Solari and five other Amazons swoop down from the trees and surround the three strangers. Solari turned her nose up in disgust as she saw that the three were Roman. "Why are you here Romans?"

The oldest of the three spoke. "My name is Gilmos, diplomat of Rome, servant of Caesar. I have been sent by my Lord to talk to your Queen about matters most urgent."

A non-too-friendly smile appeared on Epinon's face. "We have been expecting your arrival. If you wish to speak to our Queen, you must do as we say. If you don't..." The five Amazons drew their bows back. "Do you understand and accept?"

"Yes Amazon."

Eponin nodded to Solari. Solari blindfolded and restrained all three men and then motioned for the other five Amazons to take to the trees. Solari and Eponin lead their guests around in circles for a candlemark and then walked them into a cavern where Gabrielle was waiting with a squad of Royal Guards and Xena hidden in the adjacent cave listening in.

"Untie them," Gabrielle stated. The young Queen gave a small smile to Gilmos and the guards. "Please forgive the way you were treated, but I assure you that such precautions are necessary."

Gilmos did not return the smile. "I have a message from Caesar for your Queen and I will only give it to the Queen."

"Then speak."

"Where is she?"

Gabrielle sighed. Once again, her appearance hid the truth. "I am the Queen of the Amazons." She could see the shock and unbelief flash in his eyes. "Who were you expecting?"

"A warrior."

Eponin moved forward, ready to take Gilmos' tongue away from him, but the Queen held up her hand. Gabrielle smirked before turning to a guard and motioning for a staff. She then handed it to Gilmos, "Have you ever used a staff?" v "Why yes," his eyes opened wide as he realized her implications. "Surely you are not suggesting that I fight you?"

"Fine. Eponin and Chilipa, please give staffs to his guards. Surely they know how to use one."

One of the guards decided to be a smart mouth. "Real warriors use swords."

"Then use them."

Xena shook her head and laughed silently to herself as she listened to the clashing of hard wood with metal. In two years she learned at least two very important lessons about the Bard: First, never tell Gabrielle what she can or cannot do and second, never underestimate the Bard. In less than twenty candledrips, the sound of wood striking into flesh and bone rang through the caverns as Gabrielle knocked out the guards. *Looks like Gilmos have learned those lessons too. The hard way.*

The Queen gave the Ambassador an unfriendly smile. "What were you saying?"

Gilmos tried to gain his composure before speaking. "Nothing your majesty."

"Then state your business."

Gilmos looked down at his two fallen guards before continuing. "Caesar knows that you might have some concerns about the union between Greece and Rome. As one of the largest powers in this area, Caesar invites you and your escort to Athens to discuss these matters. Not only do Athens, but Caesar himself guarantees your safety as anyone who travels with you."

"Tell Caesar that I thank him for the offer, but I'm far too busy to meet with him in Athens. If he really wants to see me then he will have to come here."

"And just where is here?"

"Have Caesar meet us where you met the Border Patrol. Tell him that he will receive the same treatment as you and tell him not to worry." Gabrielle moved closer to Gilmos. "I personally guarantee his safety and anyone else who travels with him. Now it is time for you to leave."

"Is the blindfold really necessary?"

"Yes."

When everything grew quiet, Xena peeked around the corner and watched as Gilmos and his guards were escorted out of the cavern by the squad. A bright smile illuminated her face as she came into full view. "Congratulations Gabrielle, that was excellent."

"You are bias."

"I know."

"So how do you think Caesar is going to respond?"

"First he is going to be irate that you treated his diplomat and guards the way that you did. Then he is going to be indignant because you refused to see him in Athens. Finally, he is going to be intrigued by the idea of you. He will come because he will see you are a challenge. Think you are ready for that?"

"We shall soon see, won't we?"

"Arrogant isn't she?" Caesar stared down at his diplomat. "I sent you do tell her to meet me here, and instead you are here telling me to go there."

Gilmos looked at his siege. "She has every right to be. She took out both Selos and Argus in a matter of moments. And she was the smallest of them."

"Really?" *So, she wants to challenge me, does she? I do love a challenge.* "Prepare my escort, I shall see what this Queen is really like."