Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: I do not own Xena Warrior Princess and certain characters but the plot is all mine.

Notices: This story may have violence, language, and sexual content for a mature audience.

Summary: Xena and Gabrielle head home from the Norse lands after returning the Ring to the Rhein Maidens. Xena takes them on a shortcut through the highest mountain in the Norse lands. It has been a long time since Xena traveled the mountain passage and loses the path just before the sun sets in the cold lands.

AN: As you may notice, this is a very old story that I started over six years ago. It was about eighty percent complete and has been sitting around on my hard drive. I decided to work on it in between my self-publishing work. It was a nice outlet when I needed to just write. In the meantime, I should be updating a TSCC story that has been sitting too long. Thank you and enjoy this leisure story!

Website: www . redhope . net

Started: February 25, 2007

Ended: January 4, 2014

Series: One Shot


The Little Short Cut

by Red Hope

"I swear to gods, this is the last time we take one of your short cuts, Xena."

The Warrior Princess silently chuckled but reached behind her neck and popped the wooly collar to block out the cold better. "Stop fussing and come on."

Gabrielle shot a dark look at her partner's back. She adjusted her brown deerskin gloves but diligently followed her partner on the snow covered mountain pass. "We really should have taken the horse."

"Winged horse," Xena reminded and glanced back with a smirk. "First, you don't like horses and second you don't like heights."

"Okay so," Gabrielle ranted, "Maybe a winged horse is my biggest fear but I'm starting to think it'd been safer than this." She took a few large steps through the snow that were almost hops for her. She caught up to the warrior's side. "It is beautiful though." Her features softened as she gazed over the glorious view of the Norse lands.

The warrior glanced over at the incredible view too and slightly smiled. She then turned back to her partner and felt that Gabrielle surpassed nature's beauty. "We'll be through here soon."

The bard lifted her eyes to the skies above just as a snowflake came down and rested on her nose. She sighed and rubbed the flake off with her gloved hand. She adjusted the pack on her back. For once, she wished she had her long hair again even though she preferred it short.

"Maybe you should have waited to cut your hair until we got back to Greece."

"I was thinking the same thing," Gabrielle muttered. Her short hair in question she ruffled then lowered her hand back to her side. "Switch sides with me."

The Warrior Princess arched a suspicious eyebrow at her partner, yet she could tell Gabrielle wanted to see the view better. She went on the inside of the steep, snowy path while Gabrielle took the outside, closer to the edge.

Gabrielle scanned the beauty of the snow covered trees far below and spotted lakes here and there. "We don't have anything like this in Greece."

"Mmmm." The warrior adjusted her pack too then her thoughts about their recent trip in the Norse lands flooded her.

Gabrielle sensed the mood change so she quietly asked, "What is it?"

Xena shook her head then softly replied, "You realize we slept away twenty-five years, we wake up, and I'm still chasing my past anyway." She then shook her head and mentioned, "Now we lost another year because I put the ring on."

"Xena." Gabrielle reached over and took her partner's gloved hand into her own. "Come on, you're looking at the wrong side of the coin." At the warrior's dubious expression, she sighed and explained, "You forget when we woke up from those ice tombs that a lot of people saw you as a legendary hero."

"Us," the warrior corrected.

The bard squeezed the larger hand in hers. "And it was just a year we lost." She saw Xena's dower look so she quickly added, "It wasn't another twenty-five," she argued, "and we're here, together again." She offered a smile in hopes to lift her partner's spirits.

Xena desperately tried to keep brooding but Gabrielle's smile caught her. "Damn it," she growled then Gabrielle's laugh made her smile brightly.

"Besides," Gabrielle continued, "you have to admit it's pretty amazing you beat the ring's affects."

"We did," Xena argued again.

The bard chuckled at Xena's persistent support of their partnership. There use to be days when she never heard that but now it was the only way she heard it. "Our connection beat that curse." Her nose crinkled up. "It's pretty neat." She squeezed Xena's hand again. "The Rhinegold is back where it belongs, Grinhilda is a Valkyrie again, and the stars aligned."

Xena laughed at the smart remark. "You bards are so dramatic, I swear."

"It got you to laugh though," Gabrielle teased happily. She broke her focus from the steep walk and twisted her head up to Xena. She absorbed the rare, beautiful smile on her partner's face.

"Gabrielle, watch whe-"

"Wooo!" Gabrielle yelped and her boots decided to glide over some hidden ice in the snow. She slid down the pass and to her right, to the edge of the pass. Her right foot went over the edge, knocking snow off, and what kept her balance from going over was her locked hand with Xena's. "Xena!"

The Warrior Princess was quick in her movements as she pulled her partner back, away from the ledge, and her left hand grabbed the bard's body. When she had Gabrielle far away from the ledge, she wrapped her arms around Gabrielle, and held her tightly. "I gotcha."

Gabrielle's heart pounded wildly against her chest. She dropped her head against Xena's shoulder then closed her eyes. Her hands locked over top of Xena's, and she clung tightly to her partner for support. When her heart stopped pounding in her ears, she whispered, "I rather fight ten men alone than do that again."

Xena had her face buried her partner's neck. She lifted her head and kissed Gabrielle's head then whispered, "You're staying on the inside."

"Oooh no," Gabrielle teased in a breathless gasp, "please let me skate down the ledge." She sighed deeply then inhaled until her chest was full of cold air. "Come on, let's see what other fun I can get into while going down this mountain."

"Let's not say you did," Xena murmured. She carefully released her partner and let her walk ahead again. Xena took her spot again and made the bard walk on the inside of the pass.

Gabrielle brushed her hair back in slightly nervous motion because of earlier. She noticed that the snowfall was growing heavier. "Xena, in your bag of skills can you control the weather?" She squinted at how she could only see about a hundred paces ahead of them.

"You know I'm still working on that skill," Xena complained with a faint grin. She knew the snowfall was getting heavier too which didn't settle well with her.

"The Warrior Princess can kill gods, do backflips, use every weapon known including things that aren't weapons such as my frying pan, defy time and space, and she can sew." Gabrielle smirked at her partner and teased, "Just can't control the weather."

Xena sighed and shot a smug look at the bard. "I know another skill I'm still learning."

Gabrielle mimicked her partner's lifted eyebrow technique.

"How to control you."

The bard laughed and shook her head. "Fat chance on that… you'll have better luck with the weather."

"Oh I know," Xena murmured.

Gabrielle chuckled but made no other comments. Then pain suddenly flashed across her face, and she stared down at her legs briefly. She ignored it though and kept walking down the pass that kept winding and turning every which way.

Xena did not much like their current situation. However, she had to admit that she was glad how she and Gabrielle were connecting. It'd been a long time since she'd felt this way with Gabrielle, and she often blamed herself for that. The past year had not been easy on Gabrielle.

At first, Xena was briefly angry that Gabrielle had followed her to the Norse lands but she should have known her partner would come for her. She berated herself now for leaving the bard behind on one of her missions. In another respect, she was also proud of Gabrielle and how Gabrielle managed to track her so easily. Then even deeper still Xena was grateful for Gabrielle's constant dedication.

Gabrielle cleared her throat then casually asked, "So you were jealous of Brunnhilda?"

The warrior's thoughts shattered, and she oddly glanced at her partner. "No."

Gabrielle wickedly grinned. "That means yes."

"Gabrielle," Xena warned, "I just didn't like her."

The bard's lips pressed together tightly until they thinned. She considered what Xena had said that day when she showed up with Brunnhilda. "You thought she believed in exactly what you use to believe in."

"Yeah," Xena drew out in a challenging voice, "So?"

Gabrielle rubbed her nose with her deerskin-covered fingertips. She shrugged as her hand fell to her side. "If I recall right, she's the one that protected me until you could come for me."

The Warrior Princess ticked off a back molar with her tongue.

"You were jealous of her," Gabrielle finally declared.

"I was not," Xena shot back hotly.

Gabrielle smirked but a shot of pain quickly rid of her look. She disregarded it and focused on the topic. "The few and rare times somebody falls all over me, you get jealous."

"I do not," Xena snapped quite defensively. She then shot a glare at her partner and hotly whispered, "And like you don't get jealous."

"I do," Gabrielle relented, "but I can at least admit it."

The warrior self-consciously shifted her heavy cloak around on her body and not because it needed it. "What if I do get jealous?" She shrugged and coolly stated, "It's perfectly fine if you have people that… like you." She had to spit up the prickly words.

"Yeah it is," the bard softly agreed. She stepped closer to her partner and slipped her arm through Xena's. "It's also perfectly fine if you get jealous." She peered up into curious blue eyes above her. "It's kind of cute actually." Her nose crinkled up to give her that innocent face that made her look years younger.

The warrior lifted her head and sighed. "I couldn't be cute if I tried."

"You're cute… in your own right." Gabrielle squeezed her partner's arm then she quietly asked, "So were you?"

"Gabrielle!" Xena felt the squeeze on her left arm so she let out a dramatic sigh, which showed in the air. "Yes, I was jealous of Brunnhilda and her little crush on you." She sighed again when there were a few giggles from below her. She shook her head but her smile would not hide anymore.

Gabrielle's leg flashed with pain for an instant then stopped. Gabrielle clamped her jaw tightly then cleared her throat. She squeezed her partner's arm and quietly asked, "Maybe it was a big crush."

The warrior groaned and replied, "It was a little crush."

"Is this another backward crack on my height? Am I only allowed to have people with little crushes?"

Xena laughed at the twist of the subject. "Not in this case," she answered, "because nobody has a crush larger than mine."

Gabrielle had a smile at the sweet comment from her partner. "Now see? That was cute, Xena."

"Please," Xena muttered in an irritated tone.

The bard prepared another smart remark but the sudden hot pain in her leg came to life again. She abruptly stopped because the pain would not fade out. Her right arm slipped out of Xena's, and she bent forward. Her eyes closed, and she waited to see if it would subdue.

Xena had gone another step or two but she stopped and gazed back up at her partner that was slightly higher up on the path. "What's wrong?"

Gabrielle shook her head then straightened up. She bit the inside of her right mouth to ignore the pain as she approached her partner. "It's okay now." Xena gave her a suspicious look, and she rolled her eyes then kept walking down the steep pass.

"You know," Xena started, "if you're having a little problem, you should mention it." She saw her partner's shoulders uplift from annoyance.

Gabrielle suddenly stopped, bent forward, balled up a handful of snow, and turned back to her partner. She threw the snowball at Xena then hotly threatened, "You're gonna have a little problem soon."

Xena just ducked under the snowball then she grinned evilly. "Is the little problem named Gabrielle?"

The bard growled then kicked the snow back at her partner. She quickly regretted it as her kicking leg snapped her with sharp pain and almost caused her to lose her balance.

The warrior reacted quickly when she saw the unsteady motions in the bard. She slid down the pass for the few paces it would take to get to Gabrielle, and she grabbed the small hips next to her. "What's wrong?"

The bard's irritated features met Xena's, and she murmured, "My right knee is acting up again… I think from that slip earlier."

Xena frowned. "Let me look at it."

Gabrielle brushed off the older woman and mentioned, "Nothing is going to help it right now." She took a larger hand off her hip and pulled on Xena. "Come on."

"Gabrielle-"

"Just come on," Gabrielle urged. "We need to get down this mountain before it gets any later."

Xena stole a quick glance at the western sun that she could see through the snowfall. She sighed as her worries filled her about the mountain passage she had picked out. She then noticed Gabrielle's walk was turning into a slow limp and that it frustrated Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, let's stop for a minute."

Gabrielle pointed at the deep pass ahead of them that was blanketed by the snowfall. "You see how far we have to go? No? That is because the snow is coming down and it is falling heavier. We need to get down before it gets worse or the sun sets." She then narrowed her eyes at her partner. "Since somebody had to take this short cut." Her arm fell to her side, and she dropped her head after realizing how she snapped at Xena.

The warrior stepped closer and murmured, "I know and I'm sorry." She took Gabrielle's covered hands into her own. "Let's just stop for a minute." After Gabrielle's nod, she guided Gabrielle over to the ridged mountainside of the pass where some of the snowfall lessened due to the overhang of rocks.

Gabrielle was drawn into her partner's warm body once Xena leaned against the solid rock wall. She slipped her arms around Xena and held tightly, the side of her face on Xena's covered chest. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"It was only a little snap," Xena teased. After she felt Gabrielle's huff, she softly asked, "How bad is it?"

The bard considered her knee before answering. "Bad enough." She moved her head a little then described her knee's condition better. "It only hurts when I put weight on it but not when I'm just bending it."

Xena sighed deeply and murmured, "And a downward descent isn't the best thing for it either." She dropped her head back against the cold rock. Her thoughts raced about what to do, and when she opened her eyes, her view was well blocked by snow and the white sky above. She freed a hand and brushed the snow off her face before lifting her head up. She studied the low western sun and tried to estimate how many candlemarks they had before darkness. She recalled the sun set much faster here in the Norse lands compared to in Greece, which did not bolster well for them.

"We're not going to make it off this pass in time, are we?" Gabrielle muttered in worry.

Xena released a sigh and decided to be honest with Gabrielle. "No, we're not."

The bard swallowed and tried to remain calm while she asked, "So what's plan b?" She received silence so she lifted her head. "Please tell me there's a plan b… you always have plan b, Xena."

The warrior grumbled for a beat. "Plan b was to sleep in a bed tonight down in the mountain village."

"Okay, what's plan c?"

The Warrior Princess glanced down at the pass, and she seemed to be trying to recall something. Her eyes narrowed and her brow wrinkled over slightly. "If I remember right, the last time I came through, there was a little alcove along here."

"How little is little?" Gabrielle tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. "Like your version of little or my version?"

Xena slightly grinned at the attempted joke. "The version where we'll both be able to tuck into it for the night."

"I hope so." Gabrielle then peered over her shoulder and noticed the thickening snowfall made it even heard to see down the pass. "We should really go, Xena." She started to break away from Xena.

"Wait." Xena stopped the bard by pulling her back in. "There's a catch to us making it there before sunset." When Gabrielle shot her that inquisitive look she explained, "Your limp is going to slow us down, and we won't make it in time."

"And we're burning sunlight just standing here and talking about it," Gabrielle declared, "so let's go." She started to move away but Xena stopped her again. That annoyed look swept over her face. "Xena-"

"Just hear me out." Xena waited then after a silent beat, she explained, "If I can carry you then we'll move faster and get there in time."

"Uuuuh, no." Gabrielle tried to move away but was jerked back, and she hotly stated to Xena, "You can't carry me and watch where you're going at the same time. It's too dangerous."

The warrior arched an eyebrow at the setout challenge the bard gave her.

Gabrielle knew that look too well, and she pointed a gloved finger at her partner. "No." She stepped away but quickly regretted it because her knee was even worse. She hissed and Xena's presence secured around her and steadied her body. She sighed then her shoulders slumped as she leaned back into Xena. "We both don't need to be going over this ledge."

"We won't," Xena promised. "Just trust me."

The bard slowly nodded her head and asked, "How we going to do this?"

"I'm so glad you asked." Xena's voice was deep and husky in a way that Gabrielle loved. "Lean against the wall for me."

Gabrielle limped over and did as she was told.

Xena unexpectedly slung her pack off, dropped it, took her cloak off and had Gabrielle hold it. She then removed her gloves, tossed them to the bard, and reached behind to unhook her sheathed sword. She gave that to Gabrielle then took her gloves first and after getting them on; she flung on her heavy cloak again.

"You know if you ever fall in the water with that cloak on you'll sink straight to the bottom."

Xena smirked. "That'll really suck for you since you'll have to fish me out."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes then signaled the heavy sword and scarab in question.

"Take my sword out, set it against the wall, and take your cloak off."

Gabrielle's lips puckered as she debated whether she wanted to get cold or not.

"Hurry, sunlight is burning."

The bard sighed, pulled out the heavy sword, and propped it against the rock wall. She dropped her pack near Xena's then had Xena hold her cloak but she asked, "Now what?"

"Get the strap out and hook it to the scarab so you can carry it on your back."

The shivering bard quickly worked to do just that then when she had the scarab on her back; she pulled her cloak back on happily. "Next?"

"Your pack first then put mine on your back last."

Gabrielle was quite dubious about her partner's plan, but she did was she was told then she waited for the next step.

"Push your back against the wall as much as you can then I'm going to back up into you."

The bard smirked and teased, "Xena, it's been so long." She then lost her smirk when she saw her partner's distraught features from her remark that wasn't at all funny to Xena. She cleared her throat then asked, "What then?"

"Get your legs around my waist and your arms over my shoulder."

Gabrielle nodded as she now understood the warrior's plan. She backed up carefully until her back was into the wall but she tried not to overly smash their supplies. She then said, "Go on."

Xena walked over, turned around, and came as close as she could then she knelt down until she felt she would be in the right position.

The bard easily wrapped her legs around her partner's waist then hooked her arms over Xena's shoulders and got comfortable. "Okay."

The Warrior Princess first stretched out her right hand, grabbed the sword by the hilt but kept the blade facing down, and she slowly rose up to her tall stature. She walked into the center of the pass and started carefully down the decent. "Try not to move around too much or you might break my balance."

"Alright." Gabrielle watched as Xena used the sword as a walking stick to check for any ice in the snow. She glanced off to the right and saw the very long drop they would have if Xena made the wrong step. "Well, if we fall at least we'll both go over."

"Not funny, Gabrielle."

The bard slightly grinned at her partner's annoyance about the joke. "Well you know how I like to do everything together."

Xena merely sighed and kept trekking down the mountain pass.

The bard carefully rested her chin down on her partner's shoulder. "This is great; I don't feel so little anymore."

Xena rolled her eyes then gruffly mentioned, "You don't feel so little anymore."

"Now what's that suppose to mean?"

"It means you've gotten heavier since I last carried you like this."

Gabrielle's features darkened considerably. "Now that wasn't cute."

Xena tried not laughing, but she shook with a few chuckles. "It was a compliment though," she explained, "because you obviously haven't put on weight."

The bard slightly calmed and now dazzled a proud smile. "Just call me Little Hercules."

"This is really going to be a long trek," Xena muttered in a very exasperated voice. "The gods save me."

Gabrielle patted her bard's chest in sympathy. "They can't now since you've killed them all." She knew she would not get a response so she waited it out in silence for a little bit then her voice lightened as if she was younger again. "Are we there yet?"

"This is my punishment for making you come on this pass, isn't it?"

Gabrielle snickered then kissed the warrior's temple. "I'll stop."

There was a long, drawn out silence other than the occasional ping of Xena's sword tip meeting the rocky pass beneath them. Xena then heard that noise that meant Gabrielle was thinking up something. Gabrielle tended to chew on her lower lip and make a very faint sucking sound. Xena could clearly hear it since it was near her ear now.

"How about now?" Gabrielle whispered. She then yelped when Xena suddenly stopped.

Xena dropped her head back and closed her eyes as she tried to gain her composure. Her frustration leveled back out and she continued walking down the pass quite calmly.

Gabrielle's light voice then broke the silence again. "Don't you sometimes wish you could choose your soul mate?"

"Right now that would be a miracle," Xena shot back. She then felt Gabrielle silently laugh so she released a dramatic sigh.

Gabrielle grew smug then she gently teased, "You'd pick me anyway."

The Warrior Princess ran her tongue along her teeth. "Don't fool yourself." She then stopped walking when her sword cut through ice. She carefully maneuvered around it and continued back down.

"I'd pick you," Gabrielle decided aloud then there was pause, and she casually added, "If Brunnhilda was already taken."

Xena's jaw went set and it showed visibly. "She's not tall enough for you."

"Yeeeah," Gabrielle drew out then she made an official decision. "Nor does she have the right… skills for the job."

"That whole ring of fire didn't impress you enough?"

Gabrielle pretended to really consider it. "Yeah… no… I wasn't impressed." She lifted her head up from Xena's shoulder. "I prefer somebody that can throw one of those round thingys. I think that's pretty sexy."

The warrior could not help a few laughs. She cleared her throat of the cold air she had deeply inhaled then carefully continued walking. She went serious though and quietly commented, "It's been awhile since I've heard you say something like that… even jokingly."

The bard knew it was a sore topic her partner was stepping into, and she admired Xena for doing it. "It's been a long time since I've said a lot of things." She slightly pulled her head away so that she could study the warrior's profile. It was easy for her to read Xena's features anymore. She clearly saw the distraught written across Xena's profile.

"I don't blame you either," Xena murmured.

Gabrielle leaned her head in again and gently kissed her partner's head. She then whispered, "And I don't blame you… so neither should you."

"And you know how I feel about that."

Gabrielle truly did, but she had still said it anyway. She sighed and gently reminded, "Well if you don't let it go then we won't be able to fix our relationship." She then brushed her cheek against Xena's head and softly promised, "You know I'll still be here no matter what's going on between us."

The warrior's eyes burned, and her throat tightened from her emotions. She lifted her left hand to grasp the strong leg around her waist. "I know… thank you."

Gabrielle withdrew some then decided it was best to ease her partner. "Sssso… are we there yet?"

Xena sadly smiled at Gabrielle's continued effort to help her through anything no matter how small. She squeezed the leg in her left hand.

The bard scanned their current situation, and she saw the sun was quite low in the horizon. She then realized the snowfall had grown heavier during their chatting. "Xena, I can't see much further beyond my nose." She peered up at the white sky then lowered her head. It was as if somebody lowered a white veil around them. Gabrielle was almost sure she could hear the snow actually falling around them. "This is kind of creepy."

"We'll be fine."

Gabrielle briefly listened to Xena's blade tapping the rock underneath. She peered down and realized the snow was higher on Xena than earlier. Whereas the snow started out at Xena's ankles it now was well over her calf, which meant it'd be just under Gabrielle's knees. The bard licked her dry lips and couldn't calm her concerns.

Xena's next step leveled out for several paces then the pass changed once Xena came around a sharp turn.

Gabrielle felt her weight tilted back instead of forward, and her eyes slightly widened. "Xena, are we suppose to climb up?" She definitely noticed the incline now.

"It could have changed," Xena offered.

"And so can the weather," Gabrielle joked, but she did not laugh. "How much further do you think it is to this alcove?"

"Not much longer," the warrior plainly answered. She held back her concerns so it wouldn't frighten her partner.

"Not much longer my bad knee." Gabrielle squeezed her partner tightly then loosened up. "It's been pretty much thirty years since you've come through here. The mountain is the only one that knows where this alcove is and decides whether we'll live through this."

"Stop." Xena felt the bard hold her words back. "We'll make it fine." She reassuringly squeezed the strong leg around her waist then stated, "I didn't survive Grinhilda, that ring, and the Valkyrie just to die up here on this mountain."

Gabrielle chewed on her inside, lower lip. "You forgot the little crush too."

"How could I forget?" Xena mumbled.

The bard glimpsed at the very low sun, and she calculated they had about half a candlemark or so before it became real dark and real cold. "Xena, can you stop the sun?"

The Warrior Princess glanced at the low sun too then ignored it as she tried hastening her steps up the mountain to wherever it would lead her and Gabrielle. She studied their surroundings and would not admit aloud that the pass no longer looked familiar to her as it did so long ago. She reminded herself that it could have changed since it had been roughly thirty years ago. She had also taken the pass when it was summer time, which would have made things seem different. Still it did not rid of the knot in her stomach.

Gabrielle kept silent and buried her cold face into her partner's wool covered shoulder. She closed her eyes and fought her fears, yet she could sense all of Xena's through their connection. She knew Xena would not voice them, and Gabrielle realized this wasn't good.

After some time, the bard twisted her head to the right and over her shoulder and Xena's, she watched the last of the sun's great setting in the Norse land. Gabrielle had to admit it was a beautiful song of colors, but it was a sunset she truly did not wish for right now. When the sun finally sunk below the tree line of the distant mountain, she turned her head and buried her face back into Xena's shoulder. She slightly shivered in anticipation to the future coldness that would come for them.

"Gabrielle?"

The bard lifted her head from the dark shoulder and realized there was very little light her eyes had to adjust to now. She could feel the snow actually coating them like a blanket. "Yeah?"

"When we get off this mountain I want to teach you something."

Gabrielle leaned her head against Xena's then softly asked, "What's that?"

"I want you to learn how to use my round thingy."

The bard blinked, and her eyebrows met because she never expected that from Xena. "Why?"

"Because it's time… you're ready now."

Gabrielle withdrew her head and tried to see Xena's profile, but it was very hard in the dim surroundings. "How do you know that I'm ready? How do you know that I won't go back to the way of love again?"

"Will you?" Xena countered. She'd been hoping the conversation would distract her partner as she continued the trek that was growing more dangerous for them. She just needed a few more minutes, she just knew it.

"I don't think so," Gabrielle replied.

"You don't think so?"

Gabrielle slightly shook her head but not much so she wouldn't hit Xena. She freed her left hand and played with her snowy hair. She got the flakes mostly out then clung to Xena again with her hand. "I really doubt that I will because I realize now that I can't really walk beside you." She then slowly started to frown. "I just think all of that was because of what happened with Dahak… a rebound."

"That's what I realized after some time too," Xena revealed, "but I somewhat hoped you'd stay on that course. Maybe that you'd go on your own so you could practice it."

"So I wouldn't be around you to get hurt?"

"Yes."

Gabrielle rested her chin down on her partner's shoulder, and she considered that year when her life was turned upside down. "This is who I've always wanted to be," she finally explained. "That's why I followed you out of Potidaea so long ago. I wanted to be like you and follow your footsteps."

Xena knew what her partner meant because it wasn't so much Gabrielle wanted to follow Xena's darker path, the warlord. Gabrielle wanted to follow the warrior and the greater good that would combine into one. Xena had become quite proud at how Gabrielle could balance many aspects of her life so well from being a bard, to a warrior, to a friend, and a peacemaker. There were some things Xena could not do and never would, but she would rely on Gabrielle to do it for them.

The bard noticed the long silence so she gently asked, "Do you think I'm meant for this?"

Xena broke away from her thoughts then she considered the question carefully. She squeezed the muscular leg in her hand and honestly replied, "Yes."

Gabrielle smiled at her partner's confident affirmation. "Then I want to learn how to use your chakram… the round thingy."

Xena grinned, but it slowly slipped away once she came back to their current situation. She'd noticed that the snow was now beginning to crunch under her feet like ice.

"Xena, you think I should walk?"

"No," replied the warrior, "it's better this way with the extra weight." She hoped it would help her break through the snow that was crusting over with ice now.

"We're still going up," Gabrielle observed. "That can't be good."

Xena did not comment on it but instead focused on her steps. It was becoming increasingly harder to see where she was going now that there was hardly any light. If there was a moon tonight then it wouldn't shine for them because of the thick snowfall. Her steps became slower as she grew more cautious.

Then Gabrielle tensed when Xena came to a complete stop. "What is it?"

The warrior extracted her sword from the snow and it slid through ice. She bit her lower lip as she stepped to her left once then inserted her sword; it was ice again.

Gabrielle stared ahead and a faint glint caught her eye on the path before them. "Xena, its completely iced." She realized what little light was left just reflected the sheet of ice to her.

The warrior bared her teeth when she realized what was happening and very quickly. She carefully turned around and that's when she felt the wind that'd be following them through the pass.

Gabrielle dug her face into Xena's neck because of the awful cold.

The warrior sunk her sword into the pass they'd already crossed. She was stunned to find it iced already and mostly likely from the wind helping it along.

"Oh my gods," Gabrielle breathed in fear, "we're trapped."

"Just calm down," Xena urged. She carefully considered their options. "We're going to have to keep going."

"Xena, it's a fucking sheet of ice," the bard hotly reminded. "We'll slide right off. I don't mind me going off but-"

"Stop talking like that," the angry warrior snapped. "Just stop."

Gabrielle lowered her head into her partner's shoulder and calmed her irrational thoughts. She swallowed hard when her eyes slightly stunning, but she reminded herself she needed a clear mind or it would get far worse. She lifted her head after she had better control. "Why don't I just walk with you, and we can hold hands in case one of us slips."

Xena was silent as she scanned their locked surroundings that were only getting worse from the dropping temperatures and wind. "No."

Gabrielle decided it was better not to argue. She started thinking of something else and allowed Xena to do the same.

"We're just going to have to keep going here." Xena set her mind to it but then she moved her left hand on Gabrielle's thigh. She fished around until she found the sai, and she held it up to Gabrielle. "Take this."

The bard did not ask questions and took the weapon then waited to hear what Xena had in mind.

"I'm going to walk along the wall, as close as I can, and if you feel me slipping you need to ram your sai into the wall and hold tightly to me with your legs. Hopefully between your sai and my sword we'll prevent any anything from happening."

"Give me my other sai, Xena." Gabrielle knew there would be no way she'd be able to hold her and Xena's weight with just her left arm. She would need both her arms' strength to accomplish it. "Wait," she said when she realized another key problem. She took off her right glove, tucked it in her jacket pocket, and repeated the process with the other glove.

"Gabrielle-"

"I can't grip the sais otherwise. I rather have a little frostbite than have us end up dead."

The warrior sighed at this logic, and she merely handed up the last sai as her agreement. "Okay?"

The bard gave her weapons a quick spin until the blades faced out. She sensed her fingers already slightly chilled. "Yeah."

Xena extracted her blade then she sent out a prayer that they would survive. She tensed her right arm muscle as she drove her sword into the ice in front of her. She then carefully made her way across the ice. She nudged up against the wall finally, and she could feel Gabrielle's new tension by how the muscular legs gripped her more.

Gabrielle kept her body at the ready. She also carefully listened to Xena's sword going through the ice then Xena's boots moving on the ice. Then her body read Xena's balance to make sure everything was correct. Gabrielle had not felt her body this alive in some time because she knew her and Xena's lives were at stake.

Xena was quiet as she cautiously worked them forward, but she really could not see much. She wished more than anything that she could get their bearings, yet she could not without any source of light. She merely had to walk forward and pray it was leading to some form of safety.

Suddenly there was a loud, sharp chime when Gabrielle's sai drove into the rock wall. Then everything went quiet.

Xena finally exhaled as she gingerly gained control over her feet again. Gabrielle's grip faintly relaxed but not by much. She withdrew her sword then drove it into the ice ahead of her then moved forward.

The bard extracted her weapon and continued to detect anything. She noticed that Xena stopped. "What's wrong?"

"We'll stop for a minute. I want you to tuck your hands under my arms."

The bard understood what Xena was trying to do. She spun her weapons until the blades tucked under her wrists then she slipped her hands under partner's arms. Her cold hands quickly started to warm.

The Warrior Princess grasped her sword's hilt with both hands and kept them steady. She mentally reminded herself to stay calm and that she and Gabrielle would get through this safely.

"I'm okay now," Gabrielle promised as she pulled out her hands. She spun her sais back out.

The warrior withdrew her sword then moved forward as she drove it. She could slightly sense her right arm was growing sore because the ice was so incredibly thick and strong. That didn't comfort her at all. She continued forward for another quarter of a candlemark or so. Then she switched to her left hand and arm to drive her sword.

Gabrielle noticed how her partner was having a hard time with the ice. She then whispered, "Let's stop again."

Xena did not argue and stood between her sword so that they would be safe. She then sensed Gabrielle's cold hands between her arms and sides. She squeezed hard in hopes it would help transfer her body heat better.

The bard sniffed against the chill and she knew she would likely be sick by the time this was all over. She then realized that the snowfall had actually stopped. She lifted her head up and was surprise to see the clouds were parting and the stars were peaking through. "Thank the gods."

Xena gazed up and sadly smiled at seeing the stars again. Then she squinted when the full moon broke through the snowy clouds and shined over the couple. Xena blinked and lowered her head.

Gabrielle did the same, and she stiffened when she now saw what surrounded them. Her mouth slightly hung open as she scanned around and realized they were no longer on the pass but on a pure, thick sheet of ice that tilted downwards. "We walked out onto a…"

"Glacier," Xena softly finished. Her eyes rested on the deeply ridden crease through the ice that marked the glacier's end and start of another one. She then stared down at her sword and knew that if she drove it into the wrong spot that they could have serious problems.

Gabrielle clung tighter to her partner then lowered her face into the back of Xena's neck. She clenched her teeth as she tried to stop her surging emotions. She then whispered, "Maybe we should just go back."

Xena didn't reply but hung her head down. Her eyes closed and locked tight as her anger attacked her. She gripped her sword hilt with all her strength then did everything she could not to scream.

Gabrielle sensed the build in the warrior, and she hastily tried to think of something to calm her. "Xena, come on… don't do this. We'll be fine." She lightly kissed the warrior's cold neck and murmured, "Come on, I need you here with me, please." She pulled out her right hand then with her index fingers that she did not need to hold her weapon she was able to touch Xena's cheek. "We've been in plenty of tough spots before and this is no different. We can do this. Please… I really need you with me."

Xena slowly lifted her head and she released her right hand from the sword. She took Gabrielle's hand away from her cheek and signaled her to tuck it back between her body and arm for the warmth. Then her body considerably relaxed compared to earlier and she inhaled sharply.

Gabrielle relaxed too when she felt the shift. She kissed Xena's head again then lifted hers up. She noticed how the moon now completely shined over their surroundings. Gabrielle craned her neck more when something caught her eye. "Xena, I think… I think we found your alcove." She pulled out her right hand and pointed to it.

The warrior's eyes narrowed at the opening of the miniature cave that would soon be their safe harbor. She estimated it had to be a hundred paces away. "You ready?" She hoarsely asked.

Gabrielle pulled out both hands and replied, "Let's go."

The couple carefully made it across the distance to the low entrance of the alcove. Gabrielle's earlier fears slightly settled at the prospect of being out of the cold, wind, and off the ice. She could tell though that Xena was still angry about her earlier mistake. She decided she needed to help the warrior's mood.

"So, I wonder if the others will be in the alcove…?" Gabrielle had a faint grin, and she waited to see if her partner would catch on to her joke.

The warrior hesitated in her next step because she tried to understand what the bard was rambling about.

"I bet those altos are still flat," Gabrielle complained quite well naturedly.

Xena's lips curled into a smirk now. "Well, you'll have aaaall night to practice with them."

The bard laughed, and she smiled but more at the fact her partner was following the old joke.

"And who knows," Xena went on, "what these rocks will say to you tonight."

Gabrielle had every urge to smack the warrior's side, but she had to stay focused on her job. "Ha. Ha."

The warrior's voice has considerably lightened into her playful tone. "You started this."

"I think I prefer it when you were brooding," the bard joked.

Xena stepped up to the alcove entrance and drove her sword through the ice then steadied them. She sensed Gabrielle moving her arms and brought the sais down. The warrior silently accepted them, one by one, and tucked them into the bard's boots.

"How you wanted to do this?" Gabrielle inquired.

"You climb off and go in first. You need to use my body to steady you on the ice."

The bard responded by moving carefully. She gently eased off her partner's back then when her weight met her knee, she gritted her teeth. She then carefully moved on the ice, gripped Xena, and ducked into the alcove, which had a gravel floor. She turned back around, slightly bent, and mentioned, "The altos are definitely flat… I can tell already."

The Warrior Princess merely rolled her eyes. Then she focused on how she was going to free her sword and step into the alcove without falling.

The bard quickly caught on so she bent lower and extracted her sais. She stretched out her right arm as far as she could go. She then ran her sai's blades through the ice until only the handle was left. She quickly repeated the process with her other sai but placed that sai closer to the entrance. She then stood up, and her head brushed the alcove ceiling, but she backed up.

Xena tilted her head at her partner's quick thinking. She grinned at the bard's smug features and was quite pleased with the idea. Her right foot came forward, and her heel pressed back against the right sai, and she extracted her sword.

Gabrielle watched the warrior use the sais as a form of foot holding. She then chuckled at how the warrior had to duck into the alcove and remain slightly bent because it was so low. "Sometimes it pays to be vertically challenged."

"So you admit you're challenged?" Xena dangerously drew out.

The bard scolded at her partner. "Get my sais."

Xena chuckled then held out her sword to the bard.

Gabrielle accepted the weapon then walked back into the alcove more. She discovered a higher ceiling spot so she mentioned, "You might be able to stand upright here."

The warrior held the sais in her right hand as she carefully went deeper but her steps were slow. She could not see too well, and she wondered how Gabrielle managed.

"You know, you're blocking out the moonlight," the bard complained.

Xena had a smirk but she stood up straight in the spot her partner had found. "No mountain lions in here, or anything?"

"That's not funny, Xena." Gabrielle brushed past the taller woman and went back to the entrance where the moonlight was brighter. "No fire tonight."

"Mmmm," Xena merely agreed. She then came up behind the bard and proceeded to remove the packs. "We'll stay closer to the entrance." She then glanced around and decided it was not too bad. "Are you hungry?"

"You still need to ask that question after so many years?" Gabrielle joked. She then traded weapons with Xena, but she had to quickly take off her cloak and get the scarab. Once she gave Xena the sheath, she put on her cloak and closed it tightly against her body. "Brrr."

The Warrior Princess sheathed her sword and set it against the alcove wall. She then bent down and busied with getting things prepared.

Gabrielle neared the mouth and stepped up to the edge where the gravel met the ice. She studied the dramatic, shining features of the glacier then the peppered stars in the night sky. She almost swore that the stars seemed closer and brighter here in the Norse lands.

The warrior silently neared her partner's back. She gingerly rested her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, and she studied the dangerous beauty beyond the alcove's mouth.

"It's amazing, isn't it?"

"When we're not walking on it, yeah," Xena muttered.

Gabrielle sadly smiled then softly questioned, "How's your back?"

The warrior moved her shoulders about as if testing things. "I probably wouldn't be sore if you'd weighed a little less." She then sharply sucked in her breath when Gabrielle hit her stomach lightly. She grinned then squeezed the strong shoulders under her hand. "I'll be fine."

"Thank you for doing that." Gabrielle twisted her head up; her appreciative features showed to the warrior.

Xena's old memories jumped back to Gabrielle's earlier joke so she huskily teased, "No, no loved every moment of it."

Gabrielle sighed quite dramatically, yet she chuckled and shook her head. "Why do I put up with you?"

"That's because you can't have Brunnhilda," Xena jabbed.

The bard clicked her tongue then her head bobbed. "I guess so… I just had to settle for second best."

Xena faintly cringed then muttered, "Ouch."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes then leaned her head against the entrance of the alcove. She released a deep sigh that was easily heard.

"Come on," Xena ordered. "We need to eat and get you off your knee." She emphasized her point by squeezing the shoulders under her gloved hands. She let the bard go first then she hunched over and quietly followed.

Gabrielle was pleased to see their things already set up for the night. She could tell that Xena had every intention to see them stay close physically since their bedrolls and blankets were lumped together. She and Xena quietly ate together, and the dinner consisted of jerky meat, some feta from Greece, and some heavy bars from one of Gabrielle's recipes that she would make when she and Xena traveled without Argo. After the meal, the couple maneuvered about until they sat on a bedroll, Gabrielle in between Xena's propped up legs, and tucked deeply into the warrior's warm body. Then their blankets completely enclosed them to keep the body heat trapped. They faced the silver mouth of the alcove and quietly sat for some time.

Xena shifted some as she was still not quite comfortable. She had removed her armor mostly and only remained in her leathers but her heavy cloak was somewhat annoying. She even had on her gloves still much like her partner.

"Okay?" the bard murmured.

"I think so." The Warrior Princess shifted around again because she still was not settled.

Gabrielle quietly giggled, but she straightened up and let Xena get adjusted. She then leaned back into her partner once she was still.

"I meant to mention something to you," Xena started then when she noted Gabrielle turned her head sidelong she continued speaking. "We can't sleep tonight."

The bard blinked and asked, "Say that again."

The warrior knew this was not going to go over well, but she carefully explained, "If we sleep, with how cold it is, we might not wake back up."

Gabrielle groaned then argued, "We're plenty warm."

"I know, but it's not safe." Xena had her arms around the smaller woman so she gave a gentle squeeze. "I'm sorry… I know how you like your sleep."

Gabrielle merely grumbled then went quiet. After a beat, a thought occurred to her, and her voice filled with mirth. "That means we have to keep each other up."

Xena's right eyebrow lifted at the context of her partner's deceleration.

"I guess we're going to have to talk all night, Xena."

The warrior now was the one grumbling.

Gabrielle patted her partner's right knee under the heavy blankets. "Let's do some girl talk." She knew what response she would get from that, and she received it.

"What?"

"I said-"

"Huh?" Xena waited a beat then repeated, "What?"

Gabrielle laughed and shook her head. She then sank deeper into Xena's warm body. Then between a yawn, she mumbled, "I really can't sleep?"

Xena bowed her head down closer to Gabrielle's. "It's not a good idea."

The bard sighed then rested her head against Xena's chest. She wiggled around and tried to get comfortable too. "This stinks. The first time we snuggle in forever and we're bogged down by our cloaks and gloves."

Xena studied the bard and considered her words carefully. "It's been awhile for a lot of things, hasn't it?"

Gabrielle kept her head down because she knew that if she made eye contact with her partner it may drive her away. "It has," she murmured then asked, "When did we have sex last?"

Xena had an arched eyebrow, yet she was doing the calculations in her head very rapidly.

"Just before we found out you were pregnant." Gabrielle nibbled on her lower lip. "I can't believe it's been a year."

"Does that include the twenty-five years in the ice tombs?"

The bard groaned at Xena's words. "How about the year we lost from the ring?" Gabrielle adjusted the blankets over their bodies just to gain some thinking moments. "I'm almost a virgin again," she joked, but neither she nor Xena laughed. She noticed the long silence between her and the warrior, yet she did not need to be a mind reader to know what was going through Xena's head. After six years, Gabrielle had her partner mostly figured out, but the surprises were still there on occasions. This yearlong celibacy between them happened to be one of the surprises, which Gabrielle was not happy with but understood.

"We'll get there when it's time," Xena promised.

Gabrielle sat up some then honestly stated, "By the time you're ready, Xena I'll be too damn old to have sex. Plus I'll probably will have forgotten how to spell it much less do it."

Xena dropped her head back some then stared up at the alcove's ceiling. She inhaled deeply so that her body pressed tighter against the bard's then she slowly released her breath.

"I'm sorry," Gabrielle murmured, and she squeezed the tension tight leg next to hers. "I have been patient and understanding, but I also realize the fact that there are just some things you won't let go, Xena."

The warrior kept her head up, yet her eyes closed when her deeper emotions bubbled up.

"You won't let go of your past then that trickles into our relationship. You make a mistake in our relationship then you hound yourself for the rest of your life about it then our relationship gets halted."

Xena swallowed then lowered her head down finally, next to Gabrielle's. "I know," she whispered.

"I know you know." Gabrielle dipped her head down and stared at the blanket's weaving. "I'm glad you know too, I just wish you'd do something about it."

"I am," Xena argued.

"What have you done?" Gabrielle challenged. "I mean look what just happened now. You disappear on me in the middle of the night, trek all the way up here to the Norse lands, and fight your past alone. I should be angry at you, I really should be but I'm not going to waste my time doing that with you again." She shrugged then mentioned, "I just find it ironic you try so hard to make everything about us… it's our partnership, it's our stuff, it's our adventures, it's our lives but then something like this comes up and it's all thrown into the wind. And all I can say is, 'Well, at least I have the skills now to tail her without Ares's help.'"

The warrior slightly cringed at the old, stinging memory from years back. She sighed then murmured, "I guess I'm good at saying one thing and doing the other."

"No," Gabrielle argued, "It's not that, Xena. You just…" She stopped and composed her words properly then honestly explained, "If you're not protecting me from external threats then you're protecting me from you. I can't think of a bigger wedge in our relationship than that. You've always done it, and I can only hope you'll stop doing it." She shook her head but continued to stare out of the alcove's mouth. "You can't seem to understand that I already know about your past and that I accept your past."

"I do understand," Xena fought back, "But I won't let you pay for my mistakes in my past."

"So you rather set me aside instead of letting me help?" Gabrielle's voice deepened from her surfaced emotions. "Tell me you understand how that hurts me?"

"I do, but I rather take that than have you get killed."

"I rather be killed," Gabrielle hotly snapped. "I rather that than have my relationship with you ruined … because of your past." She shook her head then muttered, "I guess your past still wins after all. Your next quest will be atoning for your mistakes with me."

Xena swallowed hard then lowered her head until her right cheek brushed against the side of Gabrielle's head. Her eyes closed tightly, and her emotions hammered her.

Gabrielle felt her partner's upset so she sighed. Under the covers, she quickly took her gloves off because she did not care anymore, and she soothingly ran her hands up and down Xena's muscular thighs. She would not apologize for the truth, however she'd always comfort the warrior.

Then it happened, Xena's tears broke free, and she tried to hide by burying her face into Gabrielle's neck. Her arms now tightly clung to Gabrielle as if Gabrielle were going to disappear any heartbeat.

Gabrielle felt her tears come to life too at hearing her soul mate's quiet sobs. She slipped her left hand out of the blankets and pressed it tightly against Xena's head. She turned her head some then murmured soothing words.

Xena slightly calmed but her emotions were still dark, and her thoughts wild.

"You know," the bard soothingly spoke, "despite we're stuck up on this mountain I couldn't be happier because you're here with me." She cleared her throat to help rid of her emotions. "Brinnhilda's little crush certainly wouldn't have carried me through the pass and kept me warm."

Xena swallowed then choked out, "Or got you stuck on a mountain glacier."

The bard huffed, but she grinned. "Well I guess she could have melted it with her ring of fire thing." Her nose crinkled up. "But then that wouldn't have been a challenge, and you know how I like a good challenge." She kissed her partner's forehead and stated, "That's why you're my soul mate."

Xena grunted at the honest remark. "Lucky you."

"I am that," Gabrielle sincerely agreed.

The warrior lifted her head then sadly smiled when her partner carefully wiped her tears away.

Gabrielle admired how Xena's eyes tended to glow brightly whenever she was being emotional. She rarely saw it and despite how beautiful Xena's eyes could seem, she never liked having the warrior upset. Typically she knew the ground under Xena's feet had to be dramatically shaken for her to become this upset and display it.

"You okay?" Gabrielle uttered.

Xena simply nodded. Then from under the covers, she pulled on Gabrielle's left elbow.

The bard understood the signal so she pulled her arm back under where it was much warmer. She solemnly smiled at how Xena couldn't stop watching after her in the smallest of ways.

"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena whispered in a hoarse voice.

Gabrielle's eyes stung at the warm sentiment from her partner. "I love you too, always." She found Xena's gloved left hand and squeezed it.

"Get your gloves back on."

The bard considered it, shrugged, and stated, "Nah."

The warrior glowered at the bard's seemingly imprudent decision. She then let out a dramatic exhale then proceeded to take her gloves off too. Slowly and carefully, her fingers laced through smaller ones, and Xena watched how Gabrielle's smile showed.

"You know," Gabrielle started, "your pregnancy really kept nagging at me. Even after we found out, it still bothered a part of me."

"I know," Xena murmured. She then shifted some then pleaded, "I wouldn't cheat on you, Gabrielle… you know that."

"Exactly." Gabrielle turned her head sidelong to her partner. "That's why it bothered me so deeply because I utterly believed you wouldn't, but the facts were in front of my face."

Xena sighed then whispered, "Then it was one thing after another."

"It was," Gabrielle agreed. "And we never went back to where we were before it all happened. Not that we can now."

Xena was quiet for a bit but then she decided, "I think it's time I finally let the past be the past, and we move forward."

"Can you do that, Xena?"

The warrior truly considered it then answered, "Yes. If my choice is either sitting in the past, destroying our relationship, and I thinking I'm protecting you when I'm not. Or letting it go so that I can be with you and hopefully find some peace. Then I know my choice." She waited a heartbeat but promised, "I'm ready to make the right choice in my life, for once. It's what's best for us both."

Gabrielle smiled at her partner's long awaited insight. She squeezed Xena's laced hands. "I'll be there every step of the way."

"Even if we have to go through another mountain pass?"

Gabrielle laughed and shot back, "You're pushing your luck, Xena."

The warrior smirked. "You couldn't tell me no anyway."

The bard rolled her eyes then quickly thought of a smart remark but it fell silent on her lips. Instead her focus was drawn to the alcove's mouth when a beautiful white light captured her attention. "Xena… look…" Her breath caught as she face was swept over by awe. "By the gods."

Xena had craned her head over Gabrielle's, and she smiled.

The streams of light in the dark sky continued to flow and brightly shine over the mountain. Then several rays poured into the alcove and washed the soul mates in pure white from the heavens.

Gabrielle breathed sharply then whispered, "What is it, Xena?"

The warrior had seen these beautiful lights in the sky before in her past travels in the Norse lands. She'd been impressed by them back in her younger years, and she was still today. "The Nordics call the lights the norðurljós."

"It's so beautiful," Gabrielle's voice was laced with wonder. Her spirit suddenly lifted higher as she never felt so moved and alive.

Xena sensed her soul mate's amazement, and peace flowed through Xena as she absorbed the gorgeous lights from the sky. Her chest filled then held while her heart slowed.

Suddenly the white lights faded away and withdrew from the alcove then it was gone as if it was never real. The soul mates remained still for several more heartbeats then Xena remembered how to breathe again. Gabrielle shook away her daze and tried to come back to herself.

"I was told once," Xena mentioned, "that the norðurljós come from the Valkyrie."

Gabrielle's bard side instantly came to life upon hearing a story of any kind, especially from her partner.

"It's said when a Valkyrie rides on their winged horse to carry out their errand, their armor sheds a strange flickering light, which flashes up over the northern skies." Xena went silent then lowered her head back down. "I saw the norðurljós before I became a Valkyrie… it was the norðurljós that inspired me to become a Valkyrie. I only became obsessed with the Rhinegold afterwards."

"You never mentioned that," Gabrielle murmured.

Xena shrugged then considered it more carefully. "Not many people would believe that I can be inspired that way… especially in those days."

"You've always had a heart, Xena… you just chose not to listen to it in those days."

"Maybe so," Xena murmured. She then kissed the bard's temple. "Now I have all the inspiration I'll ever need."

Gabrielle slightly flushed but brushed it off by saying, "Don't get all gooey on me."

"We wouldn't want that, now would we?"

The bard laughed because she recalled that line from so long ago when Xena had been poisoned by Callisto's dart. That felt like a lifetime ago for her. "This talking thing is becoming one of your skills, isn't it?"

"Mmmm," Xena simply replied.

"Or not," Gabrielle joked, which made the warrior chuckle. She then sensed the change in Xena that she had not felt in a very long time. Her stomach suddenly dipped then shot back up and her body sparked with heat. She followed her body's needs as she slightly turned to her left then she dropped her head back when Xena's hand touched her right cheek.

Xena slid her fingers through Gabrielle's hair, behind her neck, and she lowered her head down.

Gabrielle instantly whimpered upon feeling her soul mate's lips after so long. She held onto Xena's side for support, yet she became absorbed in the deepened kiss. Then she felt that exhilarating, alive feeling again, much like earlier, but on a greater scale simply because it was Xena. She'd miss the feel of Xena's lips and tongue upon hers.

Xena released a moan just like Gabrielle when their tongues met between the kiss. Her controlled desires for the bard could no longer be stopped, and she embraced it again. She withdrew in a gasp for air similar to Gabrielle's.

Gabrielle breathed quickly then urged Xena back for another needed kiss. Her next kiss was feverish as if she tried to make up for the year in one try. Her lips moved across Xena's while her tongue played against Xena's in a hungry dance.

Xena ended the kiss all too early in the bard's opinion. Xena heard the groan of annoyance, which made her grin, but she reminded, "We are up on a mountain."

"Did you have a point?" Gabrielle urged hotly who was prepared to continue their earlier actions.

"We've waited this long, we can wait until tomorrow night."

The bard's eyes widened. "Yeah it's been this long, and I'm just slightly needy here, Xena." Her voice was rather deeper than normal and her words contained a sexual edge.

Xena's lips creased into a leering grin. "Granted nobody will hear you from up here, but you might start an avalanche."

Gabrielle's features darkened considerably. "You're really killing the mood."

"Good."

Suddenly the bard got angry so she tossed the blankets off her boiling body then started to climb to her feet while complaining, "You're such a-"

"Ah, ah, aaah. Don't say anything you'll regret tomorrow night." Xena cut off then grabbed her partner's sides. She hauled the small yet boiling body back down into her lap. "Stay here."

Gabrielle became a kid and pouted then flopped back into her spot between Xena's legs. She proceeded to grumble, yet she picked up the blankets and fixed them back over their bodies. "I won't survive."

"Sure you will."

The bard whined and slumped back into Xena's body. "Aphrodite is probably laughing her head off right now at me. The bard got shot down."

The Warrior Princess chuckled, yet she leaned in closer, and her lips brushed over the bard's neck. "Tomorrow night, I promise." She lifted her head slightly higher so that her lips brushed over Gabrielle's soft ear. She lightly purred, "All night tomorrow night."

Gabrielle's sexy grin shaped her lips. "How many nights are we staying in this mountain village?"

"Mmmm… however long you want," Xena murmured. Her warm lips traced up the rim of the bard's ear. "We do have a year to make up for."

The bard's heartbeat increased so she lightly patted her pounding chest. She cleared her throat then reminded, "If you don't stop now, Xena then I'm going to add in the twenty-six years."

Xena softly laughed then slowly withdrew so that she wouldn't drive Gabrielle anymore crazy. She quieted for a bit like Gabrielle, and she considered a lot about what's happened recently. She tilted her head at a thought.

Gabrielle seemed to sense it and asked, "What?"

"Thank you," Xena gently offered.

The bard was confused so she twisted around a bit. She had a side view of Xena's open expression, which showed bitter-sweet. "For what, Xena?"

The warrior lowered her head closer and murmured, "For following me up here... for loving me that deeply."

Gabrielle's features twisted tighter, and she shook her head. "Xena, you should know by now." She squeezed the warrior's knee, just above the padding. "I won't stop. I look into your soul, Xena, and I find something worth dying for... over and over."

Xena lowered the head the rest of the way and leaned it against the bard's temple. She had her eyes closed, and she whispered, "I don't see it."

"You don't have to." Gabrielle shut her eyes.

"You're right, I should know by now... but knowing it and believing it are two different things."

The bard had a heavy heart at the dim words, but she promised, "You'll believe it."

"I think I'm starting to. You prove me wrong each time around." Xena nuzzled her soul mate then continued to speak. "I always fear my past and my darkness will someday chase you off."

"Has it?" the bard countered.

"No." Xena let out a deep breath at being able to honestly say it and discuss it with Gabrielle for the first time. She again nuzzled the bard and softly asked, "What's that something you see worth dying for?"

"Xena, I'm a bard and I couldn't tell you, but you outta know what that something is anyway."

The Warrior Princess slowly grinned and teased, "Because I'm so irresistible?"

Gabrielle laughed and withdrew from their closeness. "Oh you can be resistible when that damn grumpy mood of yours shows up. I much rather walk on hot embers than deal with your crap."

Xena acted offended and a shot a dark look. "Like your moods are much better," she needled. "I rather listen to Callisto's shriek all day than put up with your moods."

Gabrielle crinkled up her nose and checked, "Really? I mean that's pretty bad." She was not about to let Xena get the best of her by pushing her buttons.

The warrior arched an eyebrow. "No kidding. I remember the time-"

"That you used my frying pan years ago? Oh yeah, I do recall that morning... boy I was pissed."

"Apparently you still are," the warrior jabbed.

Gabrielle smirked. "I noticed how you never bought a new whip."

"Get off it, Gabrielle," Xena snapped. She sighed at Gabrielle's growing smirk, and she knew she had lost that little battle. She really missed her whip that she had had for many years prior to Gabrielle's trade with Minya. She just could never find a replacement for it that was decent enough.

"Isn't this nice?" Gabrielle started in a cheerful voice. "It's just you and me... and all this ice." She sighed contently.

"Yeah... great," Xena muttered. She smiled when her soul mate patted her knee then rubbed her thigh.

"So, where to once we get home?"

The Warrior Princess seriously thought about it. "Do you mind checking in on Ares?"

"Naaah." Gabrielle shrugged.

"He's probably bored with chasing off assassins and warlords."

The bard shrugged at the comment. "It does become a chore after awhile."

Xena grinned because it was true. Then her grin faded, and she seriously offered, "Why don't you get some rest?"

"But I thought you said..."

The warrior drew Gabrielle in closer to her body. "I think it'll be okay if one of us sleeps. You need it more than I do."

"Xena..."

Xena checked the blankets and softly insisted, "Go ahead."

Gabrielle decided not to argue, and she had to agree that she required more sleep than Xena. She could function better tomorrow, and it would give her ankle time. Therefore, she snuggled back into her soul mate and sunk into the warmth.

Xena nuzzled her partner's ear then whispered, "I love you."

The bard closed her eyes and murmured, "I love you too." She did not take long to drift into sleep.

The Warrior Princess stayed awake throughout the night. She listened to Gabrielle's deep breathes then the occasional whistle from the breezes outside the cave's mouth. She watched the gradual shift of the stars in the sheer black sky. And she wondered, about everything.

By the middle of the night, Xena became chilled, and she feared that they could freeze. She pulled the blankets closer then rubbed Gabrielle body. "Gabrielle, you need to wake up."

The bard did not respond, but she did have a shallow breath.

"Come on." The warrior gently shook the bard.

"Another minute," Gabrielle grumbled.

Xena felt some relief at the muttered words. "Come on, Gabrielle." She was glad when the bard stirred in her arms.

Gabrielle shook some and complained, "Why is it so cold?"

"We are on a mountain, love," the warrior gently teased.

The bard shook again and mumbled, "That would... explain it." She gave a brief yawn then tried to pull away from her sleepiness. "How long 'til sunrise?"

"We're at the coldest point now... it won't be much longer."

"I hope we make it out of here safely," Gabrielle confided.

Xena worried about that too, but she had no idea until daylight. She gazed out of the cave's mouth, and she squinted at the bright light.

Gabrielle noticed it too. She shielded her face from the light. "What is that?"

The warrior turned her head to the left so that she wasn't directly hit by the bright, blinding light. "I think the norðurljós lights."

"It's so bright," Gabrielle gasped. She peered past the shadow of her hand and studied the beautiful, white light. "By gods... it's so close."

Xena turned her head back. She could withstand the intense light better. "It's beautiful."

The sheer beauty astounded Gabrielle. She felt a streak of emotions flash through her.

Xena sucked in the cool air once the light faded away. "It must have been right above us."

The bard came out of her trance. She blinked a few times. She had nothing to say, but she snuggled into her soul mate's body. She and Xena tried to remain warm. Together, they struggled to keep warm as the temperature hung at its lowest point.

Xena considered how many more candlemarks sunrise was, and it was too far in her mind. She could feel how the cold was slowing every part of her body, including her heartbeat. Each breath frosted in the air. She continued moving her hands across their bodies.

Gabrielle moistened her blue lips then muttered, "I hate the north." She shook her head and cleared some of the fog from her head.

"How about Egypt when we get back?" Xena clenched here teeth, her jaw starting a chatter.

"You mean a boat ride across the sea?" Gabrielle puffed and moved her hands to Xena's legs, rubbing them.

Xena shrugged. "A horseback ride then?"

Gabrielle softly grinned. "Have horse, will travel." She rested her head against Xena's shoulder. "I'm so sleepy."

The warrior glanced sideways at her partner and reminded, "We can't sleep anymore." She enjoyed Gabrielle's low grumble.

"Tell me a story then," the bard ordered.

Xena goggled a little and countered, "Me?"

Gabrielle peered up at her soul mate. "I've told you plenty... your turn now." She rested her head against Xena's shoulder. "How about one from your childhood... you and Lyceus."

Xena huffed. There were plenty of good stories about her and her brother. "Where do I start?" she muttered.

The bard grinned and suggested, "From the start."

For a moment, the warrior considered how far back her memories went from her childhood. Finally, a moment settled into her mind, and she started the first story. "Lyceus and I use to play down by the Strymon River a lot. It kept us out of mother's hair."

Gabrielle chuckled and continued listening while images of a young Xena danced through her mind.

"Most of the time we played with wooden swords." Xena drifted into her memories, a sad smile in place. "One day, Lyceus was fed up with being the bad guy. So I played the bad girl one time."

Gabrielle gave a low grunt and now smirked.

"I was a good at playing the bad girl," Xena admitted aloud.

Gabrielle let out a low snort of amusement and chuckled again.

"But Ly didn't much appreciate my skills." Xena grinned, wickedly. "I had cornered him against a tree trunk, and he still wouldn't surrender. So he climbed the tree, and I went after him."

Gabrielle considered where the story was headed.

Xena's grin slipped after Lyceus's frantic cry for help echoed in her mind. "I chased Ly out onto a branch." She felt Gabrielle tense in her arms. "The branch couldn't handle both our weight, and it snapped under Ly's feet."

"Oh gods," Gabrielle murmured. She knew he survived, somehow.

"For better or worse, he went into the river, but it had a pretty strong current and swept him away." Xena pursed her lips. "I scrambled down from the tree and chased after him." She shook her head and mentioned, "He didn't much like to swim."

"He made it out?" Gabrielle prompted.

"Barely... before he was worn out." Xena lowered her head closer to Gabrielle's shoulder. "I had to help him ashore." She chuckled and added, "It was a long walk back home." She tilted her head. "We never told mother... but she probably knew."

"Your mother knew everything," Gabrielle teased.

Xena nodded a few times. "And then some." She then looked at the bard's profile. "What about you and Lila?"

Gabrielle sighed and stared hard out the cave's mouth. "We were good kids."

"I'm sure," Xena drew out sarcastically.

Gabrielle laughed and swatted her soul mate's thigh. "I didn't go around beating my sister with a sword."

Xena laughed and defended, "Ly wanted to be beat."

"Oh I'm sure." Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "He was just trying to keep up with big sister."

Xena could not deny that her brother idealized her. She stayed quiet and drifted into her memories about Lyceus.

Gabrielle let the conversation go. Her mind was too fuzzy to retain much more. She simply hoped that the sun would be up soon. Several times, she almost drifted off and often Xena would shake her. However, when the first fingers of daylight crept across the sky, relief filled the bard.

"Now we just have to get down the mountain," Xena murmured. She was thankful for the sunrise.

"That's if we don't fly off that sheet of ice outside."

Xena grumbled once before she promised, "We'll make it."

Gabrielle shifted under the furs. "Should we start now... or wait?"

The warrior considered their options and nearly replied until Gabrielle's stomach cut her off. "Maybe breakfast first." She reached for the rucksack next to them.

"If it's not frozen," Gabrielle muttered. She received several sticks of jerky and heavy bread.

"We'll eat a nice meal tonight," Xena promised.

"By the gods I hope so." Gabrielle ripped the hard jerky with her teeth. It was better than nothing. As she considered their day, she wondered what the best route off the mountain was. "It looks like the snow stopped."

"We're in luck," Xena agreed. She toyed with a bread piece in her hand, in hopes it would soften it somehow. "How do you feel?"

The bard tilted her head. "Exhausted... hungry... cold..." She twisted her head and added, "I've been better, and I've been worse too."

Xena smirked. "That's the spirit." She and Gabrielle finished their meager breakfast then decided to stand up. Xena sighed when she remained hunched in the alcove.

"Do you want me to take the bag?"

"I got it," The warrior wiggled it onto her back. She attempted to free her sword, which had frozen into place overnight. "Damn."

Gabrielle was slightly hunched and managed to turn around. "What is it?" She noted her friend's struggle with the sword. "Stuck huh?"

"I should have left it unsheathed last night." Xena berated herself for it. Her mind was foggy thanks to the cold weather.

"It's alright. I have my sais." Gabrielle displayed them in the hands. "Let's get the Hades off this mountain." She started for the mouth until a sure grip on her shoulder caught her.

"Wait." Xena drew her partner back. "How's your knee?"

Gabrielle demonstrated by flexing it. "I think the cold air has helped the swelling go down."

"Not for long." Xena frowned and knelt down. She gingerly inspected the temperamental knee. "You're going to hate me for this knee when you get old."

"If I live that long," Gabrielle joked. She rolled her eyes when Xena glared at her.

The Warrior Princess rose up until her head brushed the alcove's ceiling. "Let me go first." She scooted around Gabrielle, who grumbled at the tight space. Her body's natural reaction to Xena's closeness was rather apparent. It had been a long time since they had been together, but Gabrielle remembered every detail, which caused a flush on her cheeks.

Xena poked her head out of the alcove, oblivious to Gabrielle's arousal. She scanned the glacier outside and checked the surroundings to the south and north. She recalled they came from the north and were turned around later. Now they faced the east. She sighed and took a step outside the alcove.

"Wait here," Xena ordered. She carefully maneuvered alongside the cliff and on the glacier. She attempted pin pointing their location better. They had to be close to the original path that Xena use to follow back in her old days.

Gabrielle clenched her jaw and ignored the cold air that nipped at her flushed cheeks. She then heard scraping so she poked her head outside. She sighed at the warrior climbing the snowy, icy cliff side. "See anything?" she hollered. Her voice carried much further than she intended it.

Xena craned her neck and smiled at what she thought was a familiar ledge. "I think so." She came down and carefully found her footing on the glacier. "It looks like the path is above us."

"Great." Gabrielle slowly came out and neared her partner. "How exactly do we get up there?" She folded her arms to keep the warm in her long jacket. She dropped her head back.

"Climb," Xena answered. She received a glare. "Do you have a better idea?"

Gabrielle glanced around Xena and frowned at the glacier that eventually sloped off. It most likely went down and down until it hit a nasty bottom. "You don't think we should go back and retrace the path?"

The warrior pointed up. "It's right up there."

"What if it's not?" Gabrielle challenged.

Xena slotted her eyes.

Gabrielle raised her hands in the air. "Fine." She surrendered to Xena's wishes. "This little short cut has been your idea the whole time anyway."

"I thought you liked spending time together?"

Gabrielle pointed a sai's handle at the warrior. "Not like this." She lowered the weapon. "I prefer it in a warm bed." She was amazed by her partner's red cheeks; an unexpected perk to the joke.

"Well... let's get to that bed." Xena turned to the cliff side and debated their path. She cleared her throat once. "I think your sais will help us."

Gabrielle had a soft grin at the warrior's uneasiness. She liked it, a lot. "One at a time?"

Xena thought about it then nodded before she looked at Gabrielle. "You think you'll be okay?"

The bard gave a nod. "You want to go up first?"

Xena shook her head. "You first." She wanted to catch the bard if she lost her grip and fell down.

"Alright." Gabrielle approached the cliff side and faced it too. She looked upwards and wondered where Xena saw the path. "How far up?"

"See that rock protruding out?" Xena pointed at it. "Just above it is the path."

Gabrielle blew out a breath, which frosted in the air. "Alright." She spun her sais a few times.

"Take your time," Xena insisted.

Gabrielle flexed her hands against the sais as she gathered herself. She looked at the warrior. "Good thing I'm not that silly village girl anymore." She studied the iced cliff side. "I'd never be able to do this otherwise."

Xena grinned. "You were a cute silly village girl."

"Thanks," Gabrielle deadpanned. She spun the sai blades out. "You were a cute brooding warrior back then."

"Oh is that what got your attention?"

Gabrielle slammed a sai into the thick ice. "No." She started with the second sai and hauled herself upwards. She used the protruding ice pieces for her feet. "It was the leathers." She continued upwards, at a slow pace.

Xena stood at the bottom and bit her tongue from coaching Gabrielle. She had to let her partner learn on her own. Xena had spent many years teaching Gabrielle how to be warrior, survivor, and problem solver. A thin smile crept across her features as the bard went higher up.

Gabrielle drove the left sai in then climbed up higher. She used her right sai next and worked the side of her left boot onto wedge of icy stone. She slipped slightly but regained her balance. She huffed and looked up towards the large rock Xena had shown her.

"Go to your right some," Xena advised, her voice boomed upwards.

"I know," Gabrielle hollered. She clearly saw her route to the top.

"Sorry," Xena muttered, to herself. She chuckled and tucked her hands into her jacket's pockets. Even though she looked calm, she was ready to grab her partner if she fell down.

Gabrielle saw the top and was relieved because it was indeed a path. She hauled herself over the top, her hands nearly frozen. She rolled onto the path and breathed out loudly. She stared up at the beautiful blue sky and smiled. "Not so bad." She cupped her hands over her mouth and breathed on them.

Xena tapped her boot against the ice. She tried not hollering up to her partner.

Gabrielle rolled onto her right side and reached over the ledge. She tore sais free then popped onto her feet. "I'll throw them down."

Xena shifted closer to the alcove so that Gabrielle had plenty of room. She smiled at the two weapons that hit the glacier in front of her.

Gabrielle remained squatted on the ledge and smiled as the Warrior Princess climbed up to her. She put her hands into the leather pockets of the jacket. "Go to the right... your right." She smirked at Xena's glower. "Oh... to the left... no no no... to the right now."

Xena grumbled at the bard's smart attitude. She shook her head and did her best to ignore Gabrielle's calls.

"Wrong left... to your left!" Gabrielle called down. She tensed when Xena indeed lost her footing and grip.

Xena dangled from one sai. She growled and swung around to get the second sai again.

Gabrielle bit her bottom lip and stayed quiet. She stood up just before Xena popped up onto the path.

The Warrior Princess was breathing hard but stood beside the bard. She held out the two weapons to Gabrielle. She was thankful the climb was over, and they were back on the path.

"Nice job." Gabrielle knelt and put her sais away. She enjoyed the warrior's headshake.

"Let's go." Xena started down the path and kept Gabrielle on the inside track.

The bard followed alongside and considered how they went off the path. "Yesterday you thought the path was below us."

"Apparently I was wrong," Xena confessed.

Gabrielle goggled at the warrior, who rarely admitted to being wrong. "That was a big 'I was wrong' back there."

Xena shrugged and glanced at the bard. "Nobody is perfect."

"Next time..." Gabrielle pointed at her partner. "We are taking the long cut."

Xena leaned closer to the bard. "Next time... let's just not do this."

Gabrielle smiled. "I like that idea better." She ran her fingers through her hair. "What's the village at the bottom of this mountain?"

Xena spoke the town's name in the native tongue.

"What?" Gabrielle asked. She was a bard but terrible at languages besides Greek. She picked up enough, but her partner was a master at any language.

"It's basically means Winterhold in Greek."

"Winterhold?" Gabrielle chuckled and nodded. "Well done." She peered up at the warrior. "We are planning a couple of days there, right?"

"It'll take that long to defrost," Xena agreed.

Gabrielle seconded it. She moved closer to her partner. "Thank you, by the way."

Xena was confused and glanced at the bard.

"For getting us out of this mess."

"I got us into this mess," the warrior reminded.

Gabrielle nodded. "That is true."

Xena smiled and chuckled. "We're not off this mountain just yet."

Gabrielle gazed past the warrior and admired the beautiful, snowy landscape that stretched out to the horizon. "It's amazing though."

Xena walked slower and admired it too. She nibbled on her bottom lip. "The Throat of the World."

"What?"

"Divkjematsstðir," the warrior spoke in Nordic tongue. She looked at her partner. "The mountain's name translates to The Throat of the World."

Gabrielle softly hummed at the unusual name.

"It's the highest point of these lands," Xena explained.

"And we're walking around it," Gabrielle muttered.

The warrior chuckled and reminded, "But it is beautiful."

"It is." Gabrielle now noted they were headed downward, thankfully. "How much further you think it is from here?"

Xena shook her head because she was unsure. "Maybe a candlemark or two."

"I'll take it." Gabrielle watched her footing on the way down. She and Xena continued in relative quietness on their way down the path. She was concerned that a wrong slip could make her knee worse, and they were moving slow enough.

Xena narrowed her eyes after a particular scent came under her nose. She inhaled deeper and smiled to herself. Just after they rounded another corner, a wonderful sight greeted her and Gabrielle.

"Thank the gods," Gabrielle whispered. She smiled at the town nestled at the base of the mountain.

Again, Xena breathed in and was thankful to smell the smoke coming from the homes' chimneys. "Come on." She grabbed the bard's shoulder and pressed forward.

Gabrielle tried not hurrying or she would make a mistake. She reached up and took Xena's hand into hers. Already the air was starting to warm up compared to the frigid temperatures on the mountain. Only a thin layer of snow coated the lands and small village.

"I'll treat you to lunch and dinner," Xena teased.

"A bed too?" Gabrielle challenged.

Xena chuckled and nodded. "A hot bath even."

Gabrielle was excited, especially as the path grew less rugged and trees started around them.

"We should be able to pay for rides back to Greece," Xena mentioned.

The bard peered up. "I'll let you handle that since I don't speak Nordic."

Xena chuckled. She reached behind and tested her sword, which was now free from the low temperatures. She and Gabrielle entered the quiet town. The locals nearly looked the same: blue eyes, blond hair, and large built.

"At least I fit in," Gabrielle muttered.

Xena rolled her eyes. "I don't think your tan counts."

Gabrielle laughed and squeezed her partner's hand. "Where's the tavern and inn?"

"This way." Xena vaguely recalled the town's layout. She smiled at the sign that showed a bee hovering over a quill on their sign. "It's called the Bee and Bard."

"Seriously?" Gabrielle laughed and entered the inn after Xena. Shortly, they were eating a hot meal and had a room saved for afterwards. She planned to sleep the rest of the day, through the night, and get up refreshed in the morning. She hoped Xena had the same plan.

On the short walk to the room, Gabrielle patted her full belly. She caught the warrior's low laugh. She ignored it and instead went into the room, which was pre-warmed for them by the innkeeper.

Xena took off the rucksack and put it on the table.

"I'm going to bathe first," Gabrielle announced. She started for the washroom, but Xena stepped into her path. She was startled and looked up at the warrior.

"I'm sorry about the... little short cut."

Gabrielle dropped her shoulders at Xena's regretful expression. "Why?" She raised an eyebrow, a technique she learned from Xena ages ago. "Because it made us talk about stuff?"

Xena detected it was an honest question and not a smart remark. She sighed and took Gabrielle's hands into hers. "Because I almost froze us."

Gabrielle nodded a few times. "We made it," she offered, but she could tell Xena was still unhappy.

"You were right," Xena finally admitted aloud. "My past is my past... I can't let it come between us anymore."

Gabrielle sadly smiled and squeezed her partner's hands tightly. "It's our past now, Xena."

The warrior mirrored the smile and returned the firm grip.

Gabrielle realized that somehow the old Xena was left behind on the top of the Throat of the World. She came off the mountain with a different Xena, and she wished the old one goodbye. Her smile went from sad to a bright happiness.

Xena chuckled and leaned down. Her lips sealed against soft yet slightly chap ones that still burned into her soul. She moaned when her tongue met Gabrielle's after so long. Every loss they had suffered paled against what their souls were meant together. The electric shocks slowly calmed after Xena withdrew from the kiss. She brushed her lips across Gabrielle's forehead.

"I love you," Gabrielle sincerely whispered.

"And I love you," Xena hoarsely replied. She closed her eyes and smiled, lips pressed against Gabrielle's warm ones. She drew Gabrielle into her arms, and they held each other close. The little short cut had been worth it after all.

The End