Standards Disclaimer's: Ok let's get the legal stuff out of the way first. I do not own the rights to Xena, Gabrielle any of the Amazons or the Gods and Goddesses of Olympus. I just borrowed them for a little while.

Subtext warning: Yes it is in here, if the idea of two people being in love and showing it when both of them just happen to be women bothers you. Then I suggest you read something else.

Authors note: This story was originally written long before Ephiny's death or any of the events at the end of season 4 or season 5. As a result it follows it's own time line.

Death's Shadow

By Marion D Tuttle

"She can't die Ephiny, What am I going to do? This is all my fault!" The pain that was in Gabrielle's voice was almost tangible as see looked at the still, pale form of the Warrior Princess.

"Gabrielle, none of this is your fault, Xena would have been injured whether you were there or not."

"No she wouldn't have, she was protecting me. If it hadn't been for me there would not have been an attack or an injury." The young bard felt the twist of guilt to her very core. She knew that her friend and co-ruler of the Amazon Nation was just trying to make her feel better. But in her heart she knew that she was the cause of this in more ways than one.

Xena had wanted to dispatch the attempted assassin to Hades when the first attempt on Gabrielle's life had been made. Her heart had been in her throat as she snatched the arrow out of mid air, mere inches before it plunged into her lover's chest. The would be killer had been found and wrestled to the ground before she had a chance to get off a second shot. The warrior had been ready to break her neck right then and there, but Gabrielle intercede on behalf of the woman that had just tried to kill her.

Xena had put up an argument. "There is no way I am going to let her live Gabrielle. If she tried to kill you once what's to stop her from trying again until she succeeds?"

"Xena she's so young, besides don't you think we should try and find out why she was trying to kill me? What if she wasn't working on her own? Or what if someone sent her to do the job? Don't you really think we should know these things?"

As much as she wanted to Xena could not argue against the things her bard had said. Everything she had pointed out had made perfect sense, in the midst of everything that was going on Xena felt a small sense of pride that Gabrielle had learned one lesson well from her 'Act don't react.' If she had given in to her first impulse to twist this young woman's head off her neck they might have lost the chance to gain some valuable information. "Alright, I'll admit you make some good points but at least order her locked up and heavily guarded until we get to the bottom of this."

That night as they lay in their bed, Xena held Gabrielle as if she were afraid to let her go. When she thought of how close she had come to losing this woman, it shook her to her sole. The warrior couldn't seem to get enough of Gabrielle as they made love that night. It seemed like she was trying to absorb the bard into her own being. Her touch was like fire every where on Gabrielle's body.

Gabrielle sensed the urgency in Xena's touch, instinct told her that her warrior needed this connection tonight. She gave all she had to give and then gave some more. If she had know what was going to happen the next morning she would never have let Xena out of bed.

The prisoner had escaped and no one had been able to find her. When the morning guard came to relive the night watch, she found the woman dead. She was laying in a pool of her own blood, her throat slit from ear to ear. An alarm had been sounded but an extensive search of the area had yielded no results. Xena had been wild when she heard the news, her one and only concern was protecting Gabrielle. She wanted to get the bard out of there as quickly as possible, but the young Queen adamantly refused. "I am the Queen Xena, I can't run away from this!" She tried to gentle her rebuff of the warrior's suggestion. "If it were you, you wouldn't run."

Once again Xena was struck by the bravery this young woman displayed. But that didn't really surprise her, Gabrielle had always had a brave heart. If she hadn't she never would have followed an old warlord out into the wilderness and become the guiding light that had kept her on the right path. "Gabrielle, I'm worried about you. Whoever is behind this is serious." But even as she tried to present her argument, she knew she was going to lose this one. As they left the Queen's pavilion a knife sailed towards Gabrielle. Xena's reaction was not fast enough to catch the blade, all she could manage was to push the bard out of the way. Unfortunately in so doing the blade pierced her own flesh. The blade had embedded itself in her chest above her armour, just missing her heart. there had been a lot of blood, more than Gabrielle could ever remember having seen before. When Ephiny extracted the blade she caught the faint scent of the poison that had coated the metal. Xena had not regained consciousness since. That had been over a week ago, and they attacks had ceased as suddenly as they had started, with no apparent reason why.

The pale visage of her lover scared the very breath out of Gabrielle. She had not left Xena's side since her injury except to take care of her own unavoidable needs. She had her meals brought to her in their hut as well as her baths. On the rare occasions when she did need to leave to attend to her own personal needs she made sure someone was there to watch over the warrior. A fever had set in and Xena babbled incoherently, Sometimes Gabrielle recognized the nightmares Xena was reliving in her delirium. Other times Xena's fevered ravings made no sense at all. She spent most of her time applying cold compresses to Xena's burning skin and trying to spoon broth down her throat in an effort to get some nourishment into the warrior. For the first few days she had stayed at vigil non stop doing everything for Xena. But Ephiny had finally convinced her that she needed help. "You will be useless to Xena if you collapse from exhaustion." She had finally relented but she still insisted on being the only one that took care of Xena's more personal needs.

Ephiny had gone in search of her own lover, Epinon. "I'm worried about Gabrielle." The Regent told her. "If she tries to keep this pace up much longer we're going to lose them both."

A disbelieving look came into Epinon's eye's. "What are you saying?"

The strain of having to say these words was showing, but Ephiny had decided that it was time to start preparing for the worst. "I think it's time we accepted it, Xena is going to die....The poison...the amount of blood she's lost. There's just now way she can survive this."

Both women were startled to hear the door thrown open with such force that it nearly came off the hinges. "How dare you even think that!" Gabrielle was standing in the doorway, fury clearly evident on her face. "How can you say that Ephiny?"

Trying to calm her overwrought Queen, Ephiny placed a hand on Gabrielle's arm. "Listen Gabrielle, we all know you love Xena. We love her too, she has been a wonderful friend to the Amazons. And everyone knows how strong Xena is, but even she can't survive this." Seeing the tears that were forming in the younger woman eye's she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. Gabrielle was not only her Queen but she had become a friend and Ephiny knew the pain she was going through was the worst kind. "I don't want to be cruel, but the truth is she has already lasted much longer then I would have thought possible. It's just a matter of time."

Gabrielle was just about to tell Ephiny in no uncertain terms that she had no idea of the depth of the Warrior Princess' strength when a young Amazon the bard did not recognize cleared her throat to gain the three women's attention. "Queen Gabrielle, I was sent to find you....Xena's gone."

The cry of "Nooooo!" that was ripped from her throat sounded like that of a wounded animal. As she collapsed on the floor, Ephiny was at her side in flash pulling her back. "Gabrielle! Wake up! You can't fall apart now, what would Xena want you to do?"

"Oh Gods...Xena I can't believe it....she can't be gone...take me to her, I want to see her, I need to say goodbye."

"Gabrielle maybe you shouldn't...not right now..."

"I said I want to see her!"

The young Amazon Queen knelt by the body of her lover. She looked so at peace, as if she were only sleeping. The tears ran openly down Gabrielle's cheeks, but she didn't care. Her heart had just been shattered beyond repair, and there was nothing in this world that could help her put it back together. "Xena how could you leave me?" She was suddenly overcome with the unfairness of it all. She howled towards the sky "By the Gods!! Why did you let this happen? Artemis, if your listening, as your choosen Queen I demand an explanation!"

She was greeted by a flash of blinding white light as the Goddess materialized before her. "Gabrielle, calm down."

"Calm down! The woman I love is laying here dead because she tried to protect me. And you the patron Goddess of the Amazons, you who is supposed to watch over this nation did nothing to prevent it. And all you can say is calm down!"

The Goddess did her best to try and keep her voice at an even level. "If it were anyone but you Gabrielle you would already be dead for being so impertinent as to demand an explanation. Much less launching into a verbal assault."

"Do you think I care? Strike me down if you want to. I have nothing left to live for now."

Artemis could see the pain her young Queen was in and it tore at her heart. Mortals usually meant less than nothing to the Gods but The Moon Goddess had always held a special place in her heart for this young woman that led her nation. "Gabrielle I am here to help you. You may not belive that right now, but if you will listen for a moment I will tell you how I can help you and Xena."

"How can you help Xena? She's dead!"

"Not necessarily."


Walking over to where the warrior's body lay on the bed she placed her hand over the closed eyes and whispered. "Come back Xena, you still have work to do."

Gabrielle's legs threatened to give way under her when Xena sat up and opened her eyes. She threw herself into Xena's arms and kissed her, uncaring that Artemis was standing right behind them. "Xena I can't believe it!" She said between kisses.

Holding the bard in her arms Xena was a little curious as to why she was getting such an intense response just for waking up. "If I had known I would get this kind of greeting when I woke up I would have started taking naps long ago."

"Naps! Xena you were out of it for over a week, and then you died....The knife..."

Sitting up to try and get a better look into Gabrielle's eyes Xena tried to make sense of what was being said. "Knife? Dead? What was she talking about?" She started to ask. "What?...."

Artemis reached out to get Gabrielle's attention. "Look under the bandage."

For the first time Xena's attention was drawn to the bloody bandage on her chest. Slowly lifting the dressing Gabrielle looked at the smooth expanse of skin before her. There was no sign of the fatal wound. "But how?"

Xena was growing more and more confused with each passing moment. "What is going on here?"

"Now will you give me a chance to explain?" Artemis asked.

Both warrior and bard sat listening to the unbelievable tale being spun out by the Moon Goddess. She told them of the ill fated plan to remove Gabrielle from power and bring the entire Amazon Nation, including the Warrior Princess under the control of her brother Ares. The God Of War had recruited one of the most ruthless warriors that had ever been born into the known world. His plan had been to kill Gabrielle, thereby crushing Xena's spirit and leaving the village vulnerable in their grief for an attack.

"Why I'm I not surprised to find out that Ares had a hand in this." Xena remarked dryly.

"But if I was the target, why did the attacks stop after Xena was hit?"

"Ares little helper had an agenda of her own, that's where the confusion comes in. No one on Olympus knows who she is or what she wanted other then Xena's death."

Gabrielle felt she had to ask. "Where is Ares now?"

Artemis answered. "When Zeus found out what Ares had done he was furious. He banished him from Olympus until such time as he comes to understand that just being a God does not give one the right to abuse power." Turning to Xena she added. "You still have a lot left to do in this world before you leave it."

Misunderstanding what the Goddess was referring to Xena lowered her eyes. "I know....My past."

"Has nothing to do with this Xena, you have more than made up for the crimes you committed as a warlord. I am talking about the good you are doing now, this world needs you Xena."

Gabrielle couldn't control the anger that was starting to course through her blood "Then why did you let it go this far? Why would you let her suffer like that?"

"As you can see Gabrielle, Xena is feeling no ill effects. It's as if it never happened, no wound, no pain."

"But why did you wait so long?"

"If I had brought Xena back too soon the Assassin would have heard about it and come back to finish the job. At that point there would have been no saving her."

Xena who had remained relatively quite throughout this entire exchange felt the need to speak up. "There still seems to be some big pieces missing from the picture here. For starters has anyone been able to track this would be assassin?

Artemis looked disgusted as she gave this explanation. "That's a good question, we think Ares got help from someone that is not a mortal." The Moon Goddess continued on. "Ares thought if he could bring Gabrielle down and cause her death he would be able to seduce you back to his side Xena. What he didn't count on was his crony trying to kill Xena instead."

Still not convinced that it was her and not the Amazon Queen that was the intended victim Xena asked. "What makes you so certain that it was no accident that I was hit. After all I pushed Gabrielle out of the knife's path, if I hadn't she would have been the one to get hit."

"All I can tell you the only accident was that it didn't hit your heart and kill you instantly, but make no mistake you were the intended victim. Ares admitted that much although he refused to name who was aiding him. Perhaps he fears further retribution if he says something."

Xena nodded her head, she could understand that. Ares liked to keep his bases covered and he knew if were to revel this information it could put him at an unfair disadvantage in many ways. Maybe he was even still trying to enlist this person's help.

Gabrielle looked between her warrior and Artemis. "What do we do now?"

"Well everyone, even the Amazons is going to need to believe that Xena is dead, at least for a little while longer. Xena will come with me right now and stay out of sight, and you Gabrielle will stay here and play the part of the grieving lover."

Artemis sensed Gabrielle's objection before she even voiced it. "I know that you hate the idea of being left behind, and under normal conditions I would agree with you. However it is essential that everyone believe that Xena is dead, until we get to the bottom of this. If the assassin were to find out she were alive they would come back to finish what they started, if that happens I will not be able to bring her back again. This was a one time deal with Hades, and he is not likely to repeat it."

Xena thought about what the Goddess was saying. It made sense but there was still one little detail that bothered her. "Don't you think people will get suspicious if they come in here to prepare the body and there isn't one?"

"Look behind you."

Both women turned to find what appeared to be a lifeless body laying on the bed that Xena had occupied just moments before. If Gabrielle hadn't known better she would have sworn that it was Xena laying there. "But how?"

Artemis rubbed here fingers together, despite the gravity of the situation they were in she couldn't resist a bit of humor. "Gabrielle your Warrior Princess isn't the only one that possess many skills." She rose from her seat. "We don't have much time, if we're going to pull this off we need to move quickly. Zeus has banished Ares for the moment he has him locked up in Tarterus for his interference. But he won't stay there for long and once he's out all bets are off." She turned her attention to Xena "We have to leave now Xena, it won't be long before Ephiny comes to get Gabrielle and start to prepare your body for the funeral."

Xena cast one last look over her shoulder at 'her body'. "Seems kind of creepy to see yourself laying dead" she observed. She reached out and drew Gabrielle into a tender embrace, their lips met, holding the promise of things to come when they got out of this. "I love you Gabrielle, stay safe and I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I love you too Xena, find this killer and come home to me soon."

Watching the exchange Artemis felt a small lump in her throat, rarely had she ever been in the presence of a love this deep. Gently placing her hand on Xena's shoulder, she pulled the two lovers apart. "I hate to rush such a tender moment. But we really do have to leave before someone comes in." They saw Ephiny coming towards the hut.

"We can trust Ephiny..."

"Absolutely no one can no that Xena is not dead Gabrielle! Do you understand me?"

She nodded her head, she was not going to question the Goddess that had restored her love back to life. "I understand Artemis."

"Good, now we really do need to leave."

"Gabrielle watched as Artemis took Xena by the hand and the two of them disappeared. A mix of emotions ran through her. Relief that Xena was back, fear that she would not be able to be convincing enough to pull this off. And worst of all a cold dread that they would not be able to find the assassin before she figured out what was going on and struck again.

When Ephiny entered the hut she was met with the sight of Gabrielle bent over Xena's body. Her shoulders shaking with deep sobs. As gently as she could she pulled her Queen away. "Gabrielle, come on, it's time to start the ceremony. We must proceed with Xena's funeral. You have to let her go now."

"No Ephiny I will never let her go!"

Ephiny hoped that this was just a reaction to the grief and that with time Gabrielle would come back to herself. She had heard stories of people losing their hold on reality and never regaining it after the loss of a deep love. The truth of the matter was Ephiny admitted to herself, she had never before seen two people as in love as Xena and Gabrielle were. "I know Gabrielle part of her will always remain with you."

The bard had to bite her lips to keep from telling Ephiny the truth. She did not like deceiving their friend, Ephiny was in pain from Xena's death too, it didn't seem fair. But she remembered what Artemis had said, no one could know that Xena was alive, she knew she had to play her part. "Your right of course Ephiny. It's just so hard to imagine my life without Xena."

Moving to comfort her friend Ephiny brushed an errant tear away from a reddened cheek. We will find out who is responsible for this Gabrielle, and we will avenge Xena's death."

Artemis and Xena sat, plotting how they were going to uncover the identity of the assassin. The Warrior Princess was used to being in the thick of things, she did not like the feeling of being helpless. A feeling that was growing by leaps and bounds. "Tell me again how we are supposed to bring this person out into the open when I can't even show my face."

"Did I say you weren't going to show your face?"

A look of confusion passed the warrior's features. "But I'm supposed to be dead...We know now that it was an inside attack..."

"Which is why it is so important for everyone to believe that you are dead."

Xena felt her frustration growing and she knew that she was in danger of completely losing it. Damn the Gods! Why did they insist upon talking in riddles? "Alright Artemis, let's quit talking around in circles. Everyone thinks I am dead, I can't be seen. But yet I am supposed to go back to the Amazon village to flush out my would be killer. Would you mind telling me how I am supposed to pull that off?"

"Why Xena, your going to haunt them."

The full moon cast a warm glow over the village, the funeral fire that had committed Xena's body to the flames was just a small pile of glowing embers. Gabrielle had gone to her hut after the funeral dismissing the guard at the door with strict instructions that she was not to be disturbed. Ephiny had tried to talk her into staying with her and Eponin. "You shouldn't be alone tonight Gabrielle. Why not come and stay with us for a few days?"

"No, thanks Ephiny I need to be alone to collect my thoughts.... I have a lot of memories...I just think I need to be alone to say my goodbyes to Xena in private." The truth was she just had no more strength to keep up the facade. To give her friend some reassurance she added. "If I need anything I'll send for you."

"Alright, but take care of yourself. I'll stop by in the morning." The Regent headed for her own home, but she was still deeply worried about her friend and Queen. Gabrielle seemed to be detached, almost like she was still in a state of shock and had not quite accepted the truth that Xena was in fact dead. She made up her mind to keep a close eye on Gabrielle.

The Guards on patrol were talking among themselves in a small cluster. "Why is it nothing ever seems to happen on our watch?" One of the younger trainees asked.

"Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it." Solari admonished the younger woman. "Guard duty isn't all about glory and excitement. Most of the time it is as boring as Hades. But it is also one of the most important jobs in the entire nation."

The younger woman wasn't convinced. "How can standing around doing nothing all night long be important?"

Solari sighed in exasperation, she had been trying to teach these young hot heads that action and excitement were not the things the made a great Amazon. Although she never would have admitted it, Xena was so much better at keeping the young trainees focused than anyone else. She used to claim that the only reason she had such success when training new recruits was that they were dazzled by all the stories Gabrielle told them of the great Warrior Princess. She brushed an stray tear away at the thought of her friend. Xena would be greatly missed, she felt anger again and renewed her vow to find the person that had done this. "You aren't just doing nothing." She tried to explain. "You are standing at the ready to defend the village if that need should arise. The training you go through, weapons, tracking, moving through the forest without being detected. These are all things you may need some day."

Just as Solari had finished explaining the fact to these young ones that they might hold the safety of the village in their hands she noticed a slight movement in the bushes to her right. She held up her hand for silence, using hand signals to direct her young charges, they surrounded the area of the disturbance. They formed a circle around the place their Captain had indicated. "Show yourself." was the steady command that came from Solari.

There was nothing at first, Solari thought she might have imagined the movement. Or perhaps it had only been the wind in the branches that had caused them to move. Just as Solari was starting to relax her stance, another movement brought her back to full alert. She stood, mouth agape as the figure before her slowly stood to it's full height. It was clear to her that what was standing before her was not of this world, but it was also familiar to her, too familiar. She looked around her to see that the color had drained from the faces of her young troops.

"Solari." She was surprised at the calm manner in which the spector addressed her. "I have a message I want you to take to the village for me."

Sedera poked Falia in the ribs and whispered "Still think guard duty is dull?" This earned her a return poke and a deep scowl

"What is your message?"

"My death will not go unpunished, I will find the guilty party and exact justice if I have to destroy the entire nation to do it!"

Feeling a lump form in her throat, Solari knew this was no idle threat. Xena had been an amazingly formidable opponent for anybody in life. If her spirit was intent on bringing the Amazon nation to it's knees to find her killer then she had no doubt that it would happen. "Is there anything I can do to help?" She asked.

"There are very few people in the village that I consider to be above suspicion. Aside from Gabrielle, you Ephiny and Eponin are the only ones I can really trust. I want you to let it be known that I will not rest until the guilty party has been properly punished." with out another word the vision of the Warrior Princess disappeared.

Returning to the cave where she and Artemis had been staying Xena took a second to get her bearings back. Traveling through space and time by the powers of a God took some getting used to, even for her. "You guys on Olympus are really big on the special effects aren't you?" She couldn't help but shake her head at the look of shock that had been on Solari's face when she had first seen her. "I hate having to do this to my friends, not to mention the strain this is putting on Gabrielle."

Artemis was reminded again, as she had been so many times in the past few days what made this mortal stand out above so many others. She had seen so much destruction and devastation and had been responsible for most of it. But even with all that, her choosen Queen had found in this warrior a heart that would go to any lengths to protect those she loved. "I know this is hard on you Xena, but it must be done this way trust me. And Xena in case I don't get the chance to tell you this later I am very pleased with you and Gabrielle. When we bring this to an end I would like to preside over your union and personally give my blessing."

A look of astonishment passed the warriors features "How did you know that I planned to ask Gabrielle to join with me?"

The thought of making some flippant remark about being a God and thus knowing everything passed her mind for the briefest of seconds, but she decided on the truth. "How could I not know? I may not have known the exact time and day you planned to ask. But I did know it was just a matter of time. Anyone with half a brain could look at the two of you together and see that."

The warrior was taken aback at the genuine response. It had been her experience that the Gods never did anything unless there was something in it for them. But here was the Moon Goddess, seemingly bending over backwards to help her, she didn't want to seem ungrateful but she had to know. "Why is this so important to you Artemis? After all it's not like you have anything to gain from helping me."

"That's where your wrong Xena. The Amazons are my choosen people, Gabrielle is my choosen Queen. You are the one that Gabrielle has choosen to spend her life with. If anything were to happen to you, it would devastate her and as a result of that the nation would collapse. By helping you, I am helping the entire nation."

Surprised by the candor with which Artemis had answered her question she nodded. The two of them had reached an understanding, the truth of the matter was the both wanted the same thing, Gabrielle's happiness. Satisfied that there was no ulterior motive behind Artemis' actions Xena asked her next question. "What do we do now?"

"You have made your presence know, now we wait."

Gabrielle laid on her bed feeling the emptiness inside herself. She what she felt was a longing...a need to have Xena hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright. She needed to touch her warrior and remind herself that this nightmare they had been plunged into would be over soon. The waiting had been torture for her, in the span of a little more then a week's time her happy life with Xena had been turned inside out. It had only been two days since Xena's 'death' but to her it seemed like months had passed. When she first heard the voice whispering her name she thought she must be dreaming of Xena calling her "Gabrielle."

She shook her head to clear it. 'This is starting to get to me' she thought to herself. But she soon heard it again, a little louder this time. "Gabrielle." She looked to see her warrior standing in the shadows of their bedroom. "Xena!!!" She flew into her arms.

"Ssssshhh love we have to be careful, I can't stay here very long, it's too dangerous."

"Xena... I need to.."

"I know love, I need to be with you too, meet me by the waterfall." And giving her a soft sweet kiss she was gone as quickly and silently as she had come.

Gabrielle gathered her quaking emotions together to head for the waterfall. The sun was already at the line of the horizon, it would be dark soon but she didn't care. Her one and only concern was getting to Xena. She had been to the waterfall so many times she was not worried about finding it in the dark. Going to the stables she began to ready the saddle for Argo, she knew that the warhorse would get her there much faster then if she were to walk.

The young Amazon tending the horses in the stables raised a quizzical brow at the fact that her Queen was taking Argo out. It was a well known fact within the nation that the Queen was not overly fond of riding. Seeing the questioning looks that were being cast her way Gabrielle simply shrugged. "I thought I might feel a little closer to Xena if I took Argo out for a ride. She said. "Besides, I can't let her just sit here and get fat and lazy. Xena would never forgive me..."

"I can exercise Argo for you your highness."

Gabrielle could see this was not going to be as easy as she had hoped. "Thank you but no. Like I said, riding Argo makes me feel like Xena is still here with me."

"At least let me get an escort for you. It's going to be dark soon."

"No I'll be fine and I want to be alone." With that she mounted Argo and nudged her forward. She headed in the opposite direction of where she wanted to be, once she was out of sight of the village she doubled back to where she knew Xena would be waiting.

Arriving at the clearing she was not really surprised to find a full camp set up with a welcoming fire already built. Leave it to Xena to see to all the little details. She looked around to find her warrior standing by the stream. "Xena!"


They came together in a bone jarring embrace, their love making was generally a long drawn out affair, each taking their time with the other. But tonight there was an urgency neither woman had ever experienced before, not even their first time. They kissed each other fiercely, feeling like they were being engulfed in flames. Xena swept Gabrielle's legs out from under her, carrying her to their bed rolls. "I need you so much Gabrielle."

Lost in the feelings Gabrielle responded "Hold me Xena...Please take me I need you just as much."

Xena lowered them both to the ground holding the bard as if her life depended on it. Her lips found their way to the tops of Gabrielle's breasts. Her fingers worked to unlace her lover's shirt while her tongue moved lower still on the exposed flesh. "I love you Gabrielle...I can't take being away from you...."

"Xena don't talk about that right now..just love me please."

"I want nothing more." The warrior moved her hands down her lover's body to unwrap the skirt from her hips. Moving Gabrielle's legs further apart she cupped a very wet mound. "Gods woman your hot."

"Only for you, my warrior love."

Xena knew that Gabrielle was close, she could already feel the stirrings of her orgasm starting as she plunged her fingers in and out of hot, wet flesh. "Bend your leg for me Gabrielle."

Xena straddled her lover's thigh, bringing her own wetness in contact with firm muscle, she worked her hips in a frenzy until she was on the edge of her own climax. Leaning down and whispering in the bards ear she told her. "Let go for me Gabrielle... I want to feel you come with!"

"Yeeess Xena!"

They collapsed into each other's arms, spent but happy. "We can't stay here for long. As much as I would love to spend the night in your arms it isn't safe."

Gabrielle pulled herself closer to Xena. "I don't want to go back. I want to stay with you."

"I know, I don't want to leave you either. But I will not place you in jeopardy. For whatever reason someone wanted me dead, and until we find out who or why it isn't safe for you to be around me." She kissed her bard lightly on the top of her head. "I promise you, that when this is over we will never be apart again."

They kissed again and then Xena gentley pushed her head down onto her shoulder. "Just lay here and let me hold you for a little while before you have to head back."

Both women laid in each others arms, praying in their own way for an end to this madness. Their tender embraces and wild passion had not gone unobserved however. The shadowy figure stood in the trees, dumbfounded by the sight before her. The proof was clearly right there, but it was still hard to believe. The warrior bitch was still alive!

She made her way back to the village, Leaving Xena had been difficult, and even though she knew it was necessary that didn't make it hurt any less. The moon had reached it's crest in the night sky, casting the inside of her hut in shadows. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, maybe her senses were just on overload but she seemed to sense the presence of some one in the room with her. Wielding her staff she turned to meet the intruder. "Show yourself, I know your there."

A woman stepped out from the shadows. Gabrielle relaxed when she recognized her friend. "Ephiny? Why are you here?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

A sinking feeling hit her in the stomach. "Tell you what?"

"That Xena's not dead."

For some unknown reason the bard had a prickling sense of danger. "What are you talking about Ephiny? You were at the funeral, you saw Xena's body on the pyre yourself."

"I also saw you with her tonight, you had been acting strangely so when you left the village I decided to follow you, for your own protection of course. I saw for myself that Xena is alive, but she won't be for long!"

Xena hear scratching noise from the cave, she had been on the way back from the clearing where she had just spent most of the evening making love to Gabrielle. Her initial plan had been to go and make a few ghostly appearances to try and gather some information. The plan had been to wait for results, but the warrior was not one for waiting around. At first Artemis had tried to argue against her going to the village at all. She had told the warrior the risk was too great, but when she saw the determined set of Xena's jaw she knew argument would be futile.

Her intention had been to just quickly tell Gabrielle that she was in the village so that she would not be taken unaware. She had planned on it being a quick visit, just a few quick kisses to reassure her lover that this would all be over soon. But the second their lips had touched all thoughts of haunting or anything else were gone on the wind.

Pulling her mind back to the sounds she was hearing she moved along the cave wall. The light was dim, but she could make out the form of some one struggling against their bounds. She moved closer to the bound woman reaching to remove the gag, her face registered shock when she saw the captive womans face clearly. "Ephiny!"

"Xena we have to get to Gabrielle, it's Callisto!"

Gabrielle looked at the woman that had been her co-ruler, her friend and Xena's friend. "What is this about Ephiny? Why are you acting like this?" The young Queen's heart was pounding wildly in her chest. None of this was making any sense at all. She was desperately trying to keep a tight reign on her mind and thoughts.

"This was almost to easy." An evil laugh brough her attention back to the words that were being said. "Your so trusting and so willing to believe that there is good in every one that you still can't even see the truth, can you?"

Suddenly the door burst open. "Get away from her Callisto!" The blonde imposter turned to see Xena and Ephiny standing in the doorway. "Xena welcome my dear. Your just in time to see me take your little bard here to the other side. And when I'm done with her I will finish the job I started with you, and this time I will make it stick!"

Ephiny threw a knife that pinned Callisto's shoulder to the wall. "When you decided to assume my identity you should have just killed me."

"Too bad I didn't have more time." She sneered "Or I would have done just that."

Xena grabbed the woman watching fascinated while the face before her turned into that of her arch enemy. "When are you going to let this go Callisto? I have told you countless times I was not there when your village was burned.. My men acted on their own and against my orders. I am sorry for your pain and I don't claim total innocence, I was a brutal warlord. But even with all that I never murdered woman and children."

"What a pretty apology! Too bad I don't believe a word of it." She pulled the knife out of her shoulder, throwing it to the side. "That fool Ares had plans of his own when he rescued me from that pit of lava you dumped me in Xena dear, but as you know I always do things my own way. I didn't care a bit about bringing down the Amazon nation, or your precious little Queen. Unless of course it would cause you pain, that's way I decided to take sweet little Gabrielle out first. I know that would drive you crazy. It's even better that you will be here to watch it. But don't worry dear, you won't suffer from the lose for long, as soon as I'm done with her I am going to finish my business with you."

Throwing her chakram, she sent a shower of dirt up into Callisto's eyes, temporarily blinding her. "You know Callisto, that's your problem. You always did talk too much." Xena taunted. She lunged at Xena with her sword drawn, Callisto being the attacker explained a lot. For instance why no one seemed to recognize the assassin when she had been captured and jailed. As well as how she had been able to escape and slay a seasoned guard without a bit of disturbance. With the powers of a God, like the ability to change her outward appearance who could know how long she had been among them and what kind of information she had access to. It was all starting to make sense now, the problem was with Callisto being a God there was no way Xena could kill her.

Xena fought like a woman possessed, she had to find a way to stop Callisto. She was terrified of what the mad woman might do to Gabrielle just to cause her pain. She knew that she only had one hope...Artemis. The Warrior Princess did something that she had very rarely ever done, she called on the Gods for help "Goddess me in this battle!"

The room was suddenly filled with an intense light, The Moon Goddess stood before the woman in the hut. "Callisto you have gone too far this time! Not only have you caused general mayhem in the Amazon nation, reason enough for me to take action against you. But you have attempted to take the life of one of my favored warriors as well as my choosen Queen. That is unpardonable."

"Artemis you forget I am a Goddess too and your equal. You can't kill me, you can't even hurt me."

"That's true, I can cause you no physical harm." Pulling a blue stone from beneath her tunic she held it out. "But I can imprison you, this is Zeus' crystal and holds the power of Zeus himself. it is his judgement that for your unwarrented interference you shall remain locked within the confines of the stone through the end of time. A blinding flash filled the room, when the smoke cleared and their vision returned to normal Artemis stood holding the now blackened stone in her hands. Callisto was nowhere to be seen.

Handing the stone to Gabrielle she said. "Guard this stone well Gabrielle. Make sure that no one with an evil heart touches it. That is the one thing that could free Callisto."

"Why not keep it on Olympus where no mortal could touch it?"

"Unfortunately Zeus would not allow that because of the evil essence within." Turning to Xena Artemis added with a wink. "Remember your promise to me."

Placing the stone in the hands of her Regent Gabrielle instructed her. "Please seal this in the Crystal Caverns. No one should be able to ever touch it there."

"Gladly" Relief flowing through her she turned her attention to the warrior. "I didn't get the chance to tell you this before, but it's good to have you back Xena."

"It's good to be back Ep."

Backing towards the door Ephiny asked. "Is there anything I can get for you two?"

Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms "I have all I'll ever need or want right here."

"Me too."

Ephiny just shook her head and chuckled. "Why am I not surprised."

The End?????

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