See For Better or Worse (Part 1) for the complete disclaimer statement and other notes from the author.
The streets of Thaysa were bustling with all types...farmers, merchants, travelers, sailors and soldiers, much to the chagrin of the Warrior Princess. Too many opportunities for trouble. Just too many people to keep an eye on, the warrior worried. How easy it was for an innocent looking group of travelers to waltz up, ask for directions one moment and attack the next, Xena considered. Her eyes darted suspiciously through the crowd. Gabrielle can be too trusting sometimes, Xena eyed the bard, who was in an animated discussion with Meleager. Yet, Xena remembered bitterly that a few days ago, it wasn't Gabrielle who let her guard down when Gabrielle got hurt. The Warrior Princess would not allow that to happen again, she promised herself. The bad mood lingering a few paces behind Gabrielle and Meleager was not about to get in the bard's way of enjoying the sights. Watching all the different characters who filled the wonderfully busy streets delighted the bard. So many opportunities for a bard to find her next story, she smiled. She glanced to Meleager, thankful he at least was able to share his enjoyment with her. "Look at that guy." Meleager pointed to a very tall farmer towering over his horse which he made look like a pony. "He'd make a GREAT lookout," Meleager added "Unless he is blind as a bat," Gabrielle countered. "Picky, picky," Meleager muttered, making Gabrielle chuckle. "Alright...I guess you might say eyesight is kinda important in a lookout," Meleager admitted. The amused bard turned to the Warrior Princess to find her still eyeing the crowd suspiciously. Gabrielle sighed. As the three made their way through the crowd towards the stables to pick up Meleager's horse, Meleager became distracted by a few trinkets. Xena groaned, not at all pleased with the delay. However, Gabrielle was quite interested in Meleager's fascination with some jewelry. "Hmmm..." He picked up a pair of earrings and carefully inspected them. "Get them, they go with your outfit," Gabrielle joked, squeezing his shoulder. Embarrassed at being watched, he quickly returned the earrings to the table, as if they were hot coals. The bard chuckled at his uneasiness. "Perhaps you're right not to go with the earrings, but that necklace...it's so you," she suggested, pointing to the hideous bobble on the table. "Funny," he blurted with irritation, causing her to chuckle again. Gabrielle's buoyant mood attracted the attention of two young men, who slowed as they passed to better appreciative the bard. That was, until they noticed the threatening glare of the Warrior Princess, which successfully discouraged their further appreciation and helped them remember they needed to get somewhere...fast. "I wish I knew what to get her," he sighed, looking very perplexed as he eyed the wide variety of earrings, bracelets and necklaces. "Sarah already has what she wants Meleager," the ever-romantic bard responded, placing her hand on his forearm and giving him a warm smile. He couldn't help but smile back. "Thanks," he patted her hand gratefully. "But you're no help," he added bluntly, shaking his head and generating another laugh from the bard. "Whatever you get, as long as it is from the heart, it will be perfect," Gabrielle informed him, patting him affectionately on the back. "Although, I'd stay away from that necklace." Gabrielle grimaced at the hideous bobble, causing the two to chuckle. The merchant came over with a huge smile, feeling a big sale within his grasp. When affectionate couples shopped together it usually meant good business, the merchant greedily mused. "She WOULD look lovely in these earrings," the merchant purred, picking up the same pair Meleager had hastily put back. "I can let you have them for a VERY reasonable price." He eyed the two, and winked at Gabrielle. "10 dinars," he offered warmly. "Huh?" Meleager looked at the merchant then Gabrielle. "Ten dinars! You're joking right? I could possibly see two dinars and that would still be a stretch," Gabrielle responded, unable to refrain from an economic battle or teasing Meleager. "Isn't that right...dear?" She added, batting her eyelids. "What?" Meleager looked at Gabrielle then the merchant. "Surely sir, with your great experience, you can appreciate the real value of this fine jewelry for your young inexperienced wife. Look at the workmanship...it is well worth the..." The merchant eyed an unconvinced Gabrielle and sighed. "...EIGHT dinars I am asking for." He focused his efforts on Meleager, knowing the young lady would not be as easily sold. "Huh?" Meleager looked at the merchant then Gabrielle. "He's talking to you...dear." Gabrielle grinned with amusement, squeezing his forearm. Meleager looked at her with wide eyes when he realized what was going on. "Gabrielle!" He blurted with exasperation, peeling her hand from his forearm. "You never get me anything anymore!" Gabrielle pouted as she picked up the earrings. "I DO so like these. They go so well with my eyes." Gabrielle grinned, holding them to her ears, then turned to their other traveling companion. "What do you think Xena, don't ... you...?" Gabrielle looked around, finding no trace of the Warrior Princess. "Xena??" Gurda barely broke a sweat sparring with Raiz, who was gasping for air. She took one final sweep with her staff, felling her opponent with ease. "Ooof." Raiz hit the ground hard. "Hey, are you trying to kill me?" Raiz looked up from the ground with annoyance. "If I were, you'd be dead," Gurda responded melodically, whirling her staff around playfully, considering it more of an amusement than a serious weapon. Suddenly, she swung the end of the staff towards Raiz's head, stopping it within an inch. A more than adequate demonstration of her capability to inflict a fatal blow with this stick. Raiz stared at the wooden weapon next to her head. "Point taken." Raiz picked herself off the ground and dusted herself off. "You know, you really should be practicing the sword...Ephiny will choose the sword you know." "Yes, Ephiny's preferred weapon IS the sword," Gurda acknowledged, whirling the staff around with a smile. As they entered the stables, Gabrielle curiously eyed the Warrior Princess who was waiting for them. "Your horse is ok Meleager," Xena nonchalantly informed him as she brushed Argo. "Good. We'll make much better traveling time." He smiled and went to settle up with the stable owner. "What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked Xena, who silently dismissed the question with a shake of the head and continued to brush Argo. "Xena," Gabrielle said softly. "Tell me," Gabrielle encouraged her warrior, touching her forearm. Xena glanced towards the hand on her forearm then around the stable, spotting a stableboy busy saddling a horse. "SORRY...I forgot...not in public," Gabrielle blurted with exasperation also spying the boy and retracted her hand. Xena sighed. "Gabrielle, we've discussed..." Xena's response was interrupted by a sound of sword fighting in the street accompanied by men yelling. Xena started out the stable but stopped when Gabrielle started to follow. "STAY!" Xena barked, then quickly left the stables, leaving the stunned bard with her mouth wide open. Xena had just done something she had not done in a long time. It was something Gabrielle had never expected her to do again...order her to stay out of the way. The bard stood, unconsciously clenching her staff in a death grip as her anger grew. It was then when her wound on her forearm started to ache. It was then when she realized why Xena did what she just did. It was then the bard's heart dropped...Xena had lost confidence in her. A few moments later, Meleager came over to Gabrielle and Argo with his horse in tow. He looked around for Xena then heard fighting and her battle cry. He was amazed the bard was not in the midst of the excitement. "Why aren't you...???" Meleager started to ask when the bard looked up at him with a lost look. "Gabrielle?" He asked uneasily. "Are you ok?" He placed his hand on her shoulder. After quickly remedying the situation in the street, Xena returned in a much better mood. Meleager looked at her curiously. "Just some bullies with swords...a couple axes...a few cross bows...and some spears," she explained with a shrug before he asked. "They won't be bothering anyone for a while." Xena grinned. "Well, perhaps we should go see about getting that egg now." Gabrielle smiled politely at Meleager and Xena, then headed out the stables. She paused a moment at the doors, then turned back. "Well? You two coming?" Xena grinned. "I've learned it's not wise to keep her waiting," Xena remarked to a confused Meleager. "Uh...yeah."
Sustra and Solari stood in the waiting area of the impressive Castle feeling a bit uncomfortable. "So this is Walsas?" Sustra blurted, looking out the window then around the waiting area. She nonchalantly glanced over at the two unimpressive guards at entrance. "Not too shabby." She smirked at Solari. "I think I could be comfortable here." "Remember what Melosa told us...be careful of what you wish for," Solari relayed bluntly, also well aware of the two guards, now looking at them. "Queen Sarah will see you now," a young soldier informed them with a warm smile. The Amazons looked at each other, amazed at how the Queen of Walsas was making time for them, especially considering how busy they heard she was. "There's really no need to bother your Queen. As we have said, we could simply leave a message for Queen Gabrielle," Solari relayed, feeling very uneasy about the meeting. Sustra continued her critical assessment of the Castle's defensive features, considering them impressive but not impenetrable to a typical Amazon force. "Queen Sarah is most anxious to meet you. Please...follow me," the guard informed them, politely holding his arm out in the direction he wished them to go. Sustra looked at Solari. "Why not," Solari responded with a shrug. Riding on a narrow trail to the caves in search of a Furry Wegget, Gabrielle quietly sat in front of Xena, staring at Meleager's back. Ever since they mounted in Thaysa, Xena could feel the tension in Gabrielle. Xena had hoped the ride would be a pleasant distraction for the bard, for it certainly was for the warrior. However, the tension she hoped would go away after a few miles, unfortunately didn't. "Gabrielle," Xena spoke softly in her ear, gently squeezing the bard around the waist. "Hmmm?" Gabrielle responded. "You're still mad at me for snapping at you back in the stables, aren't you?" Xena asked, prepared to argue her case. Gabrielle took a long breath. "I'm not mad Xena." Gabrielle exhaled thoughtfully. "You're not?" Xena relayed with surprise. "No," Gabrielle relayed, looking at her forearm with sadness in her heart. "I understand why you did that." "You do?" Xena asked, amazed to find the bard so reasonable. "You don't want me to get hurt," Gabrielle responded. "You wanted to protect me." "You DO understand," Xena relayed, still amazed Gabrielle wasn't mad. The warrior sighed guiltily, knowing she still shouldn't have been so insensitive with her sensitive bard. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry I snapped like that ...but....I," a lump in her throat stopped her well thought out explanation. Overtaken by a wave of emotion, Xena pulled her into a tighter embrace. "You know how much I love you?" Xena whispered desperately in the bard's ear, as if she needed to convince the bard. Gabrielle turned in the saddle to look Xena in the eye. "I have never questioned that for a moment Xena," Gabrielle responded with fierce conviction and a gaze so direct and sure, it pierced through Xena's insecurity and grabbed her heart, with no intention of letting go. The warrior's uneasy breath caused the bard's deadly serious gaze to soften with a warm smile of satisfaction. Reaching up, Gabrielle tenderly traced her fingertips along the side of the Warrior Princess' face. Needing no more prompting, Xena gently kissed her bard. Small grins emerged on their faces before the gentle kiss became two...then three, then a fourth not-so-gentle kiss, and a fifth not-so-gentle-at-all kiss, which was not about to become a sixth kiss anytime soon. Argo's loud snort successfully divided their undivided attention. Reluctantly, they broke apart, their breathing now ragged. Remembering their traveling companion in front of them, they both eyed the warrior, noticing Meleager still focused ahead, obliviously looking out for the caves. Their eyes refocused on each other. Unable to witness the intense desire she found, Xena shut her eyes with a heavy sigh. Their foreheads touched as they sadly admitted defeat in this passionate encounter. "Soon, I promise," Xena relayed softly to her bard, smiling when she felt her head nod and heard her disappointed groan. Facing forward and trying to think of discus throwing, Gabrielle gasped when the warrior's arm resumed it's position around her bare midriff, fanning her flame of desire into a full bore forest fire. "Uh," Gabrielle coughed. "Maybe I should walk," she offered, patting the warrior's forearm, motioning to get down. Her arm not budging from the bard's waist, Xena took a deep, calming breath before trying to respond. "You don't have to walk," she croaked. "Fine, then maybe YOU should walk," Gabrielle countered, finding thoughts of javelin throwing no help either. The Warrior Princess raised her eyebrow and leaned over to look at the ground then the bard. "I don't think I can," Xena responded dryly. Meleager the Oblivious scratched the back of his neck. Yep, none of my business. When Solari and Sustra entered the throne room, they were immediately greeted by Sarah, the Queen of Walsas. "Welcome to Walsas! Come, come." She smiled warmly, motioning them in. Both Amazons were surprised by her strong resemblance to Gabrielle. "Your Majesty, we appreciate you taking the time to see us personally," Solari relayed while subtly encouraging Sustra to stop her impolite gawking with her sharp elbow. "But we could have left a message for her that we were here to see her with your guard. We really shouldn't be taking up any more of your valuable time," Solari added. "NO!" Sarah blurted. "Uh, I mean...it's no bother at all. Please sit down. Take a load off. You two must be tired from your trip." The Queen motioned to the Amazons to sit down. Sustra and Solari looked at each other, amazed at the incredibly personable, if not slightly quirky, manner of this woman. Then they grinned. She WAS Gabrielle's sister after all and apparently not just similar in appearance. They sat down, appreciating the hospitality and the break. Sustra scanned the room. She noted with surprise there were no guards or attendants. Not very wise for a Queen, especially for one who was not skilled as a fighter. "Would you like something to eat?" Sarah offered, seeing Sustra eye the plate of dates on the table. "No thank you your Highness," Solari responded just as a hungry Sustra started to reach for them, causing Sustra to throw an annoyed look her way. "Please, call me Sarah." Sarah smiled, pushing the plate towards a grinning Sustra who happily grabbed and inhaled a few dates. "Your sister also dislikes the formal titles," Solari noted, trying to ignore Sustra's embarrassing behavior. Sarah smiled. "I'm sorry she's not here right now. She's expected any day. My fiancÚ has personally gone to get her and I gave him strict orders to bring her back immediately," Sarah informed them. "Is everything alright?" Sustra asked with concern. They have absolutely no idea, Sarah thought to herself. "Well...we just need her help with my wedding preparations," Sarah relayed unenthusiastically with a forced smile. Sustra and Solari looked at each other, then the Queen. "Congratulations," Solari and Sustra responded flatly. Sustra grabbed a couple more delicious dates, drawing another sharp look from Solari. "Yes...well...I hope everything is alright with the Amazon nation." Sarah relayed, obviously curious about the visit. She has absolutely no idea, Sustra and Solari thought to themselves. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Sarah offered, surprising the Amazons. "Uh...no...thank you," Solari blurted. "We have a message we must relay to Queen Gabrielle," Solari relayed cryptically. "Perhaps you could give me that message and I could pass it on to my sister as soon as she arrives," Sarah offered warmly, causing Sustra to swallow funny. Her eyes widened and she started to choke. "Oh gods is she alright?" Sarah asked as Solari swatted Sustra sharply on the back, successfully dislodging the date. "I'm fine," Sustra wheezed, then coughed and took a few slow breaths. Solari rolled her eyes. "Sarah! There you are!" Sarah's mother barged in, startling the three. Solari and Sustra turned towards the older woman with their hands instinctively on their daggers. "Oh, you do have visitors!" Sarah's mother seemed pleased. Solari and Sustra eased their hands from their weapons as polite smiles crossed their faces. "You must be Gabrielle's little Amazon friends, aren't you!" She smiled broadly as the polite Amazon smiles disappeared. "MOTHER, I'm in the middle of a meeting with these Amazons WARRIORS," She relayed with great irritation and embarrassment. "We were just..." Solari offered, considering retreat prudent. "NO!" Sarah blurted, not so subtly stopping the retreat by grabbing Solari's arm. "I mean, no...please stay." Sarah added, immediately letting go when she saw the tense look on the warrior's face. "Mother, we will discuss the wedding plans after my very IMPORTANT meeting with these women," the Queen informed her mother, mustering her best commanding tone. Solari and Sustra glanced at each other. "Yes dear," her mother sighed. "But we have much to discuss and time is not standing still you know. It's flitting away as we speak. Your wedding day will be here before you know it and I don't want you to regret wasting time in your preparations. If you don't spend more time planning now, you'll regret it later. You mark my words." Sarah's glazed look as her mother lectured did not go unnoticed by the Amazons. "Yes mother," Sarah replied with a sigh. "You haven't even made a list yet have you? We've got the dress, the guest list, dinner menu, the musicians and music...and gods only knows if Meleager will be able to get all the Traditional items," the Queen's mother rattled off. "He'll get the damn items," Sarah responded curtly, causing her mother's brow to furrow. "Excuse me your Highness, our meeting?" Sustra interrupted, feeling sympathy for her Queen's sister. It was the least she could do... considering. Solari stood helplessly by as Sustra opened her big mouth. "Yes of course! I apologize for this interruption," Sarah responded with relief. "Later mother?" Sarah eyed the older woman. "Later, daughter," her mother cooly responded, nodding to the warriors, giving Sustra a cold glare that made even the fierce Amazon uneasy.
The three Furry Wegget hunters were crouched down behind a boulder just inside the mouth of the cave - waiting. They had waited for over an hour with no sign of a Wegget. The Warrior Princess' patience was in short supply. "Are you sure this is where these Weggets live?" Xena asked, turning and sitting down with her back against the rock. "This is where my father said he got his egg," Gabrielle responded with slight irritation as she kept watch over the entrance, just as her father said he did so many years ago. Xena sighed pulling out her Chakrum and inspected it. Could use some polishing. "I don't see why we don't spread out," Xena suggested and started to rock the Chakrum on her index finger like a pendulum. "Xena, that's NOT how my father caught the Wegget," Gabrielle responded with annoyance. "And your father said he had better luck catching it by waiting for it, like this, in a group?" Meleager asked, torn between Xena's good idea and a proven plan. "Yes," Gabrielle relayed, continuing to eye the entrance of the cave. "They waited...just like we are doing," the bard repeated, getting tired of the questioning of her father's hunting tactic. So like warriors to want to do things their own way, the bard sighed with irritation. "So this Wegget is furry," Meleager asked, carefully peeking over the boulder. "Can't miss it right?" "All I know is what my father told me," Gabrielle exhaled for the hundredth time. "And it's furry." She added flatly. "We could spread out," Xena offered again, drawing a sharp look from Gabrielle, who's eyes narrowed at a bored Xena now rocking the Chakrum on her pinky. It was a very good thing she loved that warrior woman so much. "He said it was the about the size of a chicken," Gabrielle relayed the information to Meleager, trying to ignore Xena and her Chakrum. "Hmmm. Shouldn't be too hard to get once we spot it." Meleager considered. "We could probably spot it quicker if we spread out," Xena relayed nonchalantly, successfully balancing the sharp edge of the Chakrum on her finger tip and drawing another annoyed look from the bard. "Well, actually they said it was very quick and hard to catch," Gabrielle relayed, struggling to ignore Xena's comments, her patience nearing an end with her warrior. "How long did you say it took your father to get it?" Meleager questioned with concern, starting to show signs of impatience like the Warrior Princess. "Two weeks." "We are NOT sitting behind this rock for two weeks!" Xena barked, getting up and resuming her position next to the two lookouts. She eyed her bard, who sighed heavily. "You know, we could spread..." Xena suggested again. "Xena!" Gabrielle finally snapped, turning towards the annoying warrior. "Would you just..." Gabrielle paused just noticing the slightly raised eyebrow accompanied by small, yet effective, curl tugging at the corners of the Warrior Princess' mouth. Gabrielle swallowed hard, torn between doing the right thing, helping her future brother-in-law in his noble pursuit of a Traditional Wedding item, or cruelly abandoning him for an incredibly selfish moment of pure passion. "Uh... actually, that idea does have SOME merit," she relayed to Meleager. Xena turned to Meleager and nodded helpfully. "Huh? I thought you said your father and his hunting party stayed close...that it was the best way to catch the Wegget," Meleager blurted with frustration. "Well, yes...my father did mention that. But it is obviously not working for us now. Besides, as Xena pointed out, none of us is interested in sitting behind this rock for two weeks," Gabrielle explained as Xena nodded thoughtfully in agreement. "A new tactic couldn't hurt," Gabrielle added with a shrug. "Yeah, I guess so," Meleager relayed. "Ok, then." Xena got up with renewed enthusiasm. "Meleager, you stay hear while Gabrielle and I spread out." "Just how long should we give this new tactic a try?" Meleager asked, looking back into the cave and scratching his head. "I would say a couple of hours," Gabrielle relayed, glancing at the warrior, who appreciatively looked the bard over from head to toe. "Three...minimum," Xena announced, making Meleager frown as he turned towards them. "Well, they say good things come to those who wait," Gabrielle relayed wisely to Meleager, making Xena grin. "Patience IS a virtue," Xena threw in her two dinars then looked at Gabrielle. "Can we get going??" Meleager's eyebrows furrowed as he opened his mouth to respond. "You want to get the egg right?" The bard interjected, quelling his objections before spoken. He nodded and sighed. "Ok then," Gabrielle responded as the two walked over to Argo. "We'll meet back here in about three hours," the bard relayed as she mounted. "Maybe more," Xena added as she mounted behind Gabrielle. Before Meleager could say anything, Xena shouted "Hiyaaaaaa!" The two left in a cloud of dust. "Three hours..." Meleager moaned. The Warrior Princes rode Argo hard, quickly putting distance between the caves and them. When she found an appropriate spot far enough away, Xena stopped and dismounted Argo. Looking up to her bard, the warrior watched Gabrielle smile in appreciation as she surveyed the area. Xena smiled, amazed at how a simple gift of a smile from the bard could so easily lift her spirits, not they really needed any lifting at this moment, the warrior's smile turned into a sly grin. The bard's eyes were drawn to the wonderful stream which flowed lazily by. Xena curiously eyed the bard, then the water, considering a dip together not such a bad idea. She smiled broadly returning her gaze to the bard, who's eyes were now drawn to the comfortable looking grassy patch next to the stream. Xena glanced over to grass and a crooked grin emerged. The dip could definitely wait. With a raised eyebrow, she eyed the bard, who was now gazing up, appreciating the natural canopy of branches over the grassy patch which provided excellent shade from the sun. Xena's smile faded into an unamused grimace as she looked up at the trees then impatiently back to the bard. Gabrielle took a long, deep breath...appreciating this spot, this wonderfully ro.... "Ack," blurted the bard as she was pulled off the horse. Finding herself within the protective circle of the Warrior's arms, she looked up into a face more beautiful than Helen of Troy's. A face that grinned at the bard's initial look of surprise. The grin slowly faded as the warrior fell into the bard's eyes, which no longer reveled surprise, only desire. "I promised we'd be together soon Gabrielle," the warrior uttered softly with a small smile. Gabrielle's incredibly witty response about patience almost made it to the bard's lips. However, the response was quickly forgotten as her lips became otherwise engaged. Meleager stretched behind the damn boulder for the thousandth time. Staking out the mouth of a damn cave waiting for a damn furry Wegget was not exactly what he expected to be doing in the name of love. He wondered why the damn egg was considered to be so damn lucky anyway. Perhaps it was because it was so damn hard to get - that you'd have to be damn lucky to get one, he considered. He sighed looking at the entrance of the damn cave again, hoping he'd get lucky soon. Get lucky, he snorted a laugh, willing to wager a month's pay his traveling companions were not hunting for Weggets at this moment. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, an exhausted warrior closed her eyes, appreciating the simple pleasures. The feel of the dozing bard's sweat-soaked body draped over her's, the rapid beat of the bard's heart which just started to calm...or was that her own heart, she wondered, unable to distinguish the two. Before Gabrielle, she would never have imagined that the moments after could ever have been as pleasurable as the act itself. Yet, these moments were. Well...they were very very close, she considered with a sly grin. She took another deep, satisfied breath. The warrior knew these moments were so special because what they shared was more than a mere physical act...they shared their hearts and made love. Xena shuddered involuntarily, overwhelmed by that staggering truth. Gabrielle instinctively shifted within her arms, tightening her embrace around the warrior. Xena smiled, knowing if she were inclined to thank the gods for anything, it would be for the gift of Gabrielle. A scurrying noise came from inside the cave. Meleager tensed with anticipation, perhaps he would get lucky. He listened intently, hearing the scurrying noise again. Meleager panicked. Now what? "Xena?" The bard asked softly when she finally stirred from her nap, leaving a slow trail of kisses along the warrior's face, down her neck. A content smile crept over the Warrior's face as she enjoyed the tingling sensation the bard's soft lips so easily generated. "Hmmm?" The warrior responded lazily, feeling the bard's smile against her neck. "We probably should think about going back," Gabrielle whispered softly in the warrior's ear then kissed it. "Ughhh," Xena groaned, not quite ready to admit the bard was right. "If we don't get the egg soon, it will have to be on another trip. I was supposed to get back to Walsas quickly," Gabrielle relayed. "Hmmm," Xena responded with her eyes still closed. The warrior smiled and sighed happily, enjoying the thorough attention the bard's gentle lips. Her smile turned into a slight frown when her roaming hand was caught. Her smile returned as the bard entwined the distracting digits between her own. "You know how mothers are." Gabrielle kissed the warrior's brow and squeezed the warrior's hand. "Mmmmm," Xena relayed with a knowing nod, squeezing the bard's hand back. "If you disappoint them, you never hear the end of it," Gabrielle noted as she kissed the warrior's cheek. The warrior softly chuckled in agreement. "Don't you think your mother will be disappointed, if she finds out you didn't visit her when you had a chance?" Gabrielle spoke softly. Xena's eyes popped opened. "What??" Xena blurted, sitting up and staring at the bard. "Your mother," the bard repeated also sitting up. "...will be disappointed." "I know what you said Gabrielle, I just can't believe you said it," Xena relayed in amazement, shaking her head in disbelief and disappointment as she stood up. "I'm going to wash up," Xena said curtly as she headed towards the stream. "What are you so mad about!" Gabrielle asked, following the annoyed warrior to the stream. Xena eyed her coldly as she stepped into the even colder water. The warrior was too angry to gasp. Gabrielle entered the water, not too angry to gasp. "Gggggods!" "What am I so mad about? You want to know what I am so mad about?" Xena snapped. "YYYes!" Gabrielle shuttered from the cold. "You...how DARE you try to manipulate me like that," Xena blurted, rinsing herself with the frigid water. "Oh," Gabrielle relayed. "I sssee." "You see? YOU SEE?!? Is that all you have to say?" Xena stood in the cold stream, dumbfounded, watching the bard leave the water. "What is there to say? There are certain skills of yours you don't want me using," the bard spoke nonchalantly, drying herself off. Still standing in the cold stream, Xena's mouth dropped. "One of MY skills???" "Of course Xena, just another skill of yours I have tried and have, yet again, demonstrated my utter incompetence," Gabrielle spoke with venom and hurt as she put her clothes back on. "But you have EVERY right for being upset," the bard added with surprising diplomacy, immediately defusing the Warrior Princess' question about just what in Tartarus she was talking about. Xena's eyebrow raised curiously at this admission from the now dressed bard, who was tying her boot laces. "I know how disappointing it is when I flounder at a skill you are SO adept at. Don't worry Xena. I'll just leave that skill in your more than capable hands," Gabrielle blurted, grabbing her staff and bag. "Like usual," the bard muttered and stormed off to the cave. After a moment, Xena's mouth finally closed, though she still wondered what in Hades' name was Gabrielle talking about. Xena angrily waded back to dry land. Why was Gabrielle so mad when it the warrior who had every right for being mad, Xena fumed. Gods, why is EVERYTHING always so difficult with her, the Warrior Princess thought as she angrily dried herself off. How could she possibly try to turn around the warrior's justifiable anger like that, Xena wondered, stomping over to her clothes and quickly dressing. After a few moments and a few deep breaths, her anger settled and her curiosity grew. Xena looked down the path the bard marched away on, wondering why Gabrielle was so mad. And more importantly, why didn't Gabrielle want her to go to Walsas. When Gabrielle arrived at the cave after her calming forced march, she was concerned when she didn't see Meleager. "Meleager? Meleager??" Gabrielle called out then noticed footsteps on the ground from the boulder towards the interior of the cave. She followed them to the cave entrance and hesitated entering. "Meleager?" She called again, with no response. Concern outweighing her uneasiness, she followed the footprints into the cave until they disappeared into a wall of darkness. Hesitating a moment, she took a confidence building deep breath. Lifting her staff to the ready position, she advanced past that wall and was quickly engulfed by the blackness. She walked slowly, carefully listening for everything. She couldn't see even the staff she gripped tightly in her hands. Gabrielle shivered as a cold breeze blew from the depths of the cave, like an icy exhale. She progressed further through the blackness, calling out for Meleager again. Only her own voice was heard, reverberating through the caverns. She reached out, feeling for a cave wall and finding none. Her heart pounded, feeling the unnerving emptiness of this dark and cold space. Just beginning to question the wisdom of entering the cave without a torch, the bard tripped over something. "Oooff." She tumbled to the ground. "Ughhh," moaned Meleager the Something she just tripped over. "Meleager, Meleager!" The bard called out as she crawled over to and shook the warrior, getting no more response. "XENA!!" Hearing the faint cry of the bard, the Warrior Princess' head snapped up from her thoughtful stare of the trail before her. "Hiyaaa!" She ignited Argo's trot into a blazing blur. Arriving at the cave moments later, the Warrior Princess dismounted, immediately unsheathing her sword. "Gabrielle?!?" She called out scanning the area. "In here," the bard's voice escaped from the mouth of the cave. Xena's eye furrowed as she entered the cave, slowing to a stop when she was enveloped by the blackness. "Gabrielle?" Concern filled her voice. "Are you all right?" "Xena, over here. It's Meleager...he's unconscious." Gabrielle called back. The bard's voice brought a sigh of relief to the warrior, who carefully proceeded towards it. "What happened to him?" Xena asked, advancing carefully through the darkness, listening for any sign of danger. "He hit his..." Gabrielle heard a dull thunk, then a muffled and very annoyed "damn it." "...head." Gabrielle relayed with a grin, but wisely refraining from giggling. "I see," Xena relayed flatly, rubbing her forehead. "Keep talking Gabrielle...there are many caverns connecting to this cave and I'm not in the mood for exploring." "Really?" Gabrielle blurted loudly, shuttering at the thought of getting lost. Her voice echoed again. "Really....Really....Really?" Gabrielle repeated, suddenly finding the echo amusing. "Really," Xena softly whispered in her ear. "Ah!" the bard jumped, and the warrior grinned. "You do realize how foolish it was to enter this cave without a torch?" Xena asked calmly, reaching down to find and gently shake Meleager, who was still out cold. "Good thing YOU brought a torch then," Gabrielle snapped back. Xena sighed heavily. Meleager moaned. "Let's get him out of here," Xena relayed.