Disclaimers: You already passed that part. BUT…Nope, I don't own them. They owned me for quite a while, however.

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Stranger Paths

Part 2


Xena was grateful for the opportunity to bathe in hot water for a change. Since she had been on the road there had been no chance for such luxuries. It had reminded her of the time that she and Gabrielle had traveled together. Where ever they were together was a luxury to the mighty warrior. The bath water didn't matter. The fact that they were together was the important thing. Lakes, springs, Minyas bath, it made no difference. Now that she was in Amphipolis working at the inn she was spoiled.

*Too bad I don't have anyone to share this with. The dead hear our thoughts so, if I think of her is she here with me? Ah Gabrielle, I would love to be able to have one more bath with you. If I had known that the last one we took was to be the last I would have made it the most unforgettable bath ever. Candles, flowers in the water...Well you know. I miss you Gab. I hope that you are happy and I hope that one day I can move on. Not that I don't love you, I always will, but I am lonely. If you are coming back, please hurry.*

She open her eyes to find them filled with tears. She knew that coming here would bring back memories that she had never faced. *Maybe I need to deal with this so I can move on. Who knows.* She sat back and brought to her mind the last few days that she and Gabrielle had spent together. The memories were racked with grief and pain. The great warrior had been reduced to a crying child. Gabrielle was burning up with fever and knew that her time of coherency was growing short .She had words to say and struggled to get them out. The bard had proclaimed for her the undying love that Xena knew was, and always had been, for her alone. She had told the older woman to be strong and do the right thing on her passing. Xena had not wanted to listen to any possibility that *her* bard may die but knew in her heart that it was going to happen. The healer had done all that she possibly could. There had been no more tricks of the trade and no miracles in the bag for Gabrielle or for her. *The right thing? I never knew what that meant. *yes you did* Yeah, don't turn to the darkness even when it came to seduce me.* It would have been so easy but Gabrielle taught me in the time that we did have that NOTHING is ever easy. Fight to be right. How trite! And Gabrielle said I wasn't a bard.* She finally let out a healing laugh as she remembered the beautiful woman as she was when they traveled together and made love passionately. She was magic. *To find another that even comes close to you is going to take and act of the Gods.*

Little did she know that is exactly what had taken place.

Xena stepped out of the bath now grown cold and wrapped a long robe about her tall frame. She realized that it was getting late and remembered she had promised Ephiny that she would attend the gathering. *I swear these women party more than my armies ever did. It's a wonder that they get anything done.* Xena knew that these types of gatherings only took place once a month or so but it seemed like more. *Solstice this and harvest that. How do they keep it straight. Oh and the unions. One of these days they will all be married off and that will be that. In like... never. They keep having children. Gods* She hurried back to her hut and was passed on the way by a streak of blonde and a smaller streak of white on four legs. She had a strange feeling and turned to look at the passing figures but they were lost in the shuffle of women on their way to the center meeting place. *That was odd. Huh.*

The tall dark warrior decided that battle gear was not appropriate attire for the evening. Something casual. *I hate this getting ready stuff. It takes so much time.* She chose an electric blue silk pant and tunic set that her mother had picked up for her from a traveling merchant. It was comfortable and, she knew but didn't want to admit, it set off the color of her eyes and complexion. *The Amazons are gonna love this*. She had secretly always loved teasing them. *They are so easy. O.K. Throw on some sandals and off I go.*

She walked slowly to the large clearing in the center of the community. There was a pit for the fire that was now blazing and benches arranged around the fire. There were wide aisles, and in the center a stage set opposite to the fire-pit. When she reached the clearing the women were sing a rousing rendition of a song she had never heard before, but it amused her:

Little boy walking with a tiny sword today

Thinkin you wanna be a warlord some day

Got mud on your face big disgrace

Were gonna walk all over your face singin......



She laughed as she listened. She saw Ephiny and Senar across from her and was going to wave to get their attention when she was shocked to inaction. Sitting next to them was a small compact blonde woman with a small white dog on her lap. She stopped where she was and watched her for what seemed to be an eternity. The woman moved and laughed , it seemed, in slow motion. *Who is THAT? Breathe. Breathe. O.K. I wasn't ready for this. She looks and moves like Gabrielle. Well at least I know I have a "type" now. Short little blondes. Irritating I am sure. And hungry let's not forget that. Indecisive. Add that to the list. Alright! Get a grip. I haven't even met her yet and I have her being Gabrielle. Do I want to meet her?............hummm................YEP!*


Candace had arrived at the festivities just in time to join in on the rambunctious song she had taught them just a few days ago. It was great!

*The new Amazon Theme Song. Listen. New verses. I love it!!*

*I hope you are proud of yourself.*

*It's perfect* "WE WILL WE WILL ROCK YOU!" *Very cool!*

Candace felt Gabrielle tense in her mind. *What's up?*




She was sitting with Ephiny and Senar laughing with the women around her. She had reached a new status today and she was reveling in the celebrity. It was nice having people actually recognize her.

The song ended and Ephiny stood to speak.

"Welcome Amazons! Peace to you this night. What a day it has been! First a small amount of business and then on to the entertainment and merry making. As you know a petition was put before the Regent Senate that our visiting sister, Candace, be given Amazon status. There were many questions as to the quality of her abilities. Those questions were more than answered today in the Challenge that was put before her. It is with great pleasure and honor that I bestow Candace with the Amazon status of Warrior. Candace?"

The women erupted in unabashed cheering.

Candace stood and looked around her at her new sisters. Tears began to fill her eyes and she waved for the others to quiet. As the noise abated she spoke:

"My friends. My sisters You have bestowed upon my head and in my heart a great honor. May the faith that you have placed in me never be tarnished. Thank you all!" She hugged all the women that were within her area and returned to her seat.

Attention returned to the Queen as she spoke. "Candace, being a new member of our community, you must share with us a gift. Please sing for us?"

"With pleasure." The short woman bowed to the queen then picked up her guitar.

As the small woman stood to move up to the stage, Xena was still in shock. *THIS was the one that had caused such a stir today? Warrior status! She must be unreal. This is not connecting to my brain.* She shook her head trying to clear the thoughts taking hostage of her brain. Then the woman began to sing and Xena knew her heart was in deep trouble.

Candace stepped to the stage guitar in hand and spoke a few words. "This is a song I wrote this afternoon. Bear with me if I mess it up."

She cleared her throat and began to sing:


I have listened to the sound of a lonely night

Gone a thousand miles through a storm filled sky just

looking for some light

Never dreamed of turning back but faced the wind instead

cause I knew somewhere you'd be waiting there

Down the road ahead............


Xena was mesmerized by the song and the singer.

Candace sang ...." You'd be waiting there. Down the road ahead" ....and then her gaze was caught in that of a blue eyed goddess. The power that passed between them was almost tangible. To all those who were watching the magic was unmistakable. The minstrel almost forgot to sing.….

*Candace!! The rest of the song. NOW!*

Staring intently into those blue eyes she continued and made the song just for her, the dark haired stranger:

All through the longest night your burning love did shine

Like little bits of lightning

Lighting up the whole world with your flame

Everyday to make it better

Strong enough to carry the weight

Your love became my saving grace

Like little bits of lightning

Shining through the rain...........

Candace moved off the stage and walked directly up to the very tall beauty, still singing.....

If I should ever lose my way.

Find the strength in me is gone

I won't worry what to do,

'Cause darling I know you

Will come and take me home.......

Xena was surprised by the words of the song. She had tried in the past to explain to Gabrielle how her love lit the way of her life and these were those words. She had no idea what to think or how to feel so she stopped thinking and tried to ignore her feelings.

As Candace finished the chorus for the second time the song ended and there was silence for what seemed an eternity. Without thinking the singer slung her guitar onto her back and moved as close to Xena as she could. With one hand she reached up and placed it on the back of the warriors neck.

Xena stopped breathing when the small woman put a hand behind her neck and she offered no resistance as she was pulled downward.

Candace pulled the stranger to her and hesitated only for a second before she placed her lips on the woman's own. Her lips were as soft as rose petals and as sweet as any wine she had ever tasted. The woman offered no resistance to her as the kiss deepened.

Xena was lost in the feeling of this moment. She ran her tongue lightly over the smaller woman's lips and with a moan the incredibly soft lips opened to invite her in. Both of her hands went to the back of the singers head and Xena pulled her closer.

Candace suddenly came to her self and realized she was kissing a total stranger in front of most of the Amazon Nation.


*Big red truck, Candace.*

She broke the kiss and looked into the incredibly blue eyes of the stranger and knew she was lost.

"Uh.. I uh..I...ummm."

Xena smiled and said, "Yeah, me too."

"I am so sorry. I'm not sure what I was thinking. I don't think I was." Her hands were sweating and her heart threatened to beat a path through her ribcage.

"Are you sure you're sorry?" Xena was almost disappointed by the statement.

"No. I 'm not sure of anything. Excuse me. I have to go." She pulled away and turned quickly.

"Wait!" Xena tried to grab the woman's arm before she could leave but missed by a millimeter.

Candace ran away from the festivities with thoughts raging through her head.

*Did you do that?*

*Nope! That my friend was all you!*

*What was I doing? She is going to think I'm crazy!*

*I don't think so. She reacted to you.*

*What do you mean?*

*She would never let anyone get that close to her, let alone kiss her.*

*Maybe but girl, the pull you two have on each other is almost tangible. I know you're supposed to hide it from me, but you draw her to you. I can't explain it better than that. But Good Lord! She is gorgeous. And she just let me walk right up and lay a big ol' wet one right on her. Life is good. Complicated but good.*

*Want to go back to the party?*

*No way! I need to calm down and get a grip on this. She has got to think I am some sex crazed nut. Oh but those eyes. *



All Xena could do was stare after the woman that had just stolen a kiss and her heart in one fell swoop. *By the Gods! What was that?!*

"Xena. I see you have met Candace." Ephiny couldn't help but let out a laugh and smiled at her friend's predicament.

"Candace, huh? You knew didn't you?" Xena shook a knowing finger at the monarch.

"Knew what?" Ephiny batted her eyes and smiled at her friend.

"Ephiny don't play innocent Amazon with me! You know as well as I that that woman looks, acts, and.....well...kisses like Gabrielle." Xena looked in the direction the blonde had sped. She was debating on whether or not to follow.

"I know she looks a bit like her and acts a lot like her. As for the kissing, I will leave that to your judgment." Ephiny smirked and cleared her throat. The Queen was getting a huge kick out of Xena's confusion. "I will be honest with you my friend, I thought it might take you by surprise. I did not know that she would kiss you like that. My, that was a kiss now wasn't it? Anyway, what do you think of her?"

"What should I think? So, she acts like her, huh?" She crossed her arms and contemplated the happenings.

"In many ways. Some ways more......."characteristic" than others." Eph waved her right hand in the air.

"Won't shut up."

"Not for a second."

"Uh huh. Hungry, too I'll bet" The picture was beginning to clear.

"The hunting parties say they have had to up the kill to double." Xena looked at the Queen in feigned astonishment. "I'm kidding!! She does have an appetite, though."

"Thought so. What is it with small women and food??"

"I don't know, Xena. You know, she is like Gabrielle in some ways, but is different in many others. Make sure you don't confuse the two."

Ephiny knew that Xena had to fall in love with the woman Candace was and not the Gabrielle in her. Yes the two were together and for all purposes the same in heart, but Candace was not Gabrielle.

"Right. She is not Gabrielle. But.......I can't do this. I need to think. I am going to turn in. Good-night."

Xena turned and strode back to her hut. The Amazon Queen watched the Warrior walk away. *Well, my friend, the plan is in action. The rest is up to you. Gods help you figure it out.*


Kayla watched in shock as the woman to whom she was so drawn kissed the Warrior Princess with utter abandon.

*This is the other woman???!!! Damn! Just my luck. By the Gods! Can I get a break here? That Xena will just hurt her. I have to figure out a way to stop this. That bitch! She just walks in here and thinks she can have any Amazon she wants. Well, not this time! Not this time!!*

The brooding Amazon called to her side several of her closest friends. Perhaps they could come up with a plan.

"Kayla. Don't do this. Maybe they belong together. Who are you to decide their fate? Come on, just let it go. There are other women in the nation that can satisfy you. Many other villages with many Amazons." Sherina plead to her friend with passion. The other women nodded their heads in agreement.

"NO!! You don't get it do you? I love Candace. I can't sit by and watch that WOMAN steal her away from us. She took Queen Gabrielle away and now this."

"When Gabrielle came to us, she and Xena were already together. Gabrielle wasn't even an Amazon then. You can't use that as an excuse for your own jealous behavior."

A sudden look of realization hit Kayla's face. "That's it! Thank you Sherina! You gave me the answer I was looking for! I have some studying to do!" Kayla turned excitedly and strode away.

"What? What did I say! I take it back, whatever it is!!! KAYLA!!" She shouted after her friend, but the stubborn warrior kept on walking.



Candace returned to her hut with a very heavy mind and heart.

*I sooo blew that. I am never going to be able to show my face in public again.*

*Don't be so hard on yourself. I know Xena better than anyone. She would never have let you kiss her if there weren't some kind of feelings there. *

*Yeah. Lust feelings. I always invoke that in people. She likes the way I look. That's all.*

*Stop it! Attraction is half the battle. If she likes the way you look all the better. Now you have to dazzle her with your personality!*

*Oh great. We are in trouble. BIG TROUBLE! Now, Ms. Song Writer, wanna tell me about the little ditty that had your Warrior Princess all a twitter?"

*Xena told me one time that my love for her was like little bits of lightning that lit the stormy skies of her life. That light helped her find her way no matter the storms we went through. Very romantic for a hardened warrior. ^sigh^.*

*YOU SET ME UP!! You knew she was here!*

*Yes dear. You were set up Ephiny started it.*


*Get some sleep!*


The young musician's sleep was not the most sound she had ever had in her life. Tossing and turning seemed to be the order of the night. It was almost daylight when she decided that enough was enough.

"I need to clear my head."

She got up, washed her face and quickly dressed. Taking only a towel and water flask with her, she strode out of the hut with purpose. First off to relieve herself and then to find a secluded spot to work off some of the frustrations she was suffering.

Lyceius was not having any of that "getting up early" stuff. His mistress had never before had such odd habits but those strange beings were always changing. He snorted his disapproval at having been tossed from his comfortable spot turned around a few times and plopped back down in a huff. The hour was not fit for man nor beast; well, not this beast anyway.

Candace walked to the far north end of the village and found the path she was looking for. The well-worn path lead to some of the practice fields used in battle training. The one she had a particular interest in overlooked the entire camp and yet was shielded from direct view. She reached the pinnacle of her climb and looked east. The sun was just beginning to light up the morning sky. Nature had decided to paint the clouds with an intense pink and orange hue this fine morning. She was beginning to feel better already.

The small warrior stretched her muscles in practiced moves. Her breathing became controlled and her focus intense. She began with the slow movements of the First Yang form. One hundred and eight moves in all. She had loved Tai Chi from the first moment she had begun to learn the basics. She had taken to it like a duck to water. It was not as aggressive as the Tae Kwon Do she had a second dan black belt in, but its mental aspect pulled on her. As she continued her moves she became aware of a figure moving next to her. She had not looked to see who it was that had disturbed her privacy when she noticed that the person was mirroring her every move. When she realized this, she decided to test her visitor and changed to a different form right in the middle of the one she was doing. She switched to Chen style and started with the opening move and then to "Shoot the Tiger With Bow". Her imitator followed her without missing a beat. She still refused to look over and see who had joined her, but she knew. *All right Warrior Princess, try this on for size!* She reverted to what she called her competition form; 73 quick patterned moves. Open, Scissors Hand, Single Whip, White Crane....she intensified her moves to test the skill of the one who joined her. She ended in what could be considered a flurry in terms of Tai Chi. ...Step up, Deflect down, Parry Slash Right Hand, Retreat, Close-up and End. She held her position for several moments before she stood down. Walking a few feet away she retrieved her towel and water. She didn't even turn to meet the gaze of the woman she knew was standing behind her.

"Good morning, Xena"


"Did you follow me up here?" She turned to face her visitor.

"I was here first."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize. I hope I didn't disturb you." *I can be such an idiot sometimes.* *Yeah*

"No. I just came up to think and watch the sunrise. This is the best place in the territory to do that."

"I see we had the same idea. Listen, about last night......"

"Candace, let's not worry about it, O.K.? I was flattered. Really. I think you may have broken more than one heart with that move."

"Flattery was not my intention."

Xena raised an eyebrow at this statement. "Oh? Then what was your intention?" The sultry tone of voice was not lost on the blonde musician.

Suddenly the Candace was at a loss for words. "Uhh..I...uuuumm. AAAAHH! There were no intentions! I just couldn't... help myself. Don't ask why. I don't have an answer." She was frustrated.


*This is what I wanted to get away from and here it is in my face*

*Candace, calm down! Everything is fine. She likes you. She wouldn't tease you if she didn't*

*O.K. Calm.*


"Hey! It's alright. I don't need answers. I need breakfast! Hungry?"


"I've heard."

The two warriors turned and walked down to the compound together. Candace noticed the tall dark haired woman hadn't even broken a sweat.


*Man! How does she do that?*

*It's amazing isn't it. I only know of one thing that makes her sweat.*

*What's that?*

*Figure it out.* (long pause)

*Oh. Gabrielle!*


"So, you have studied in Chin?"

"Chin?...... *Gabrielle? Help...What is Chin?* *China.* ........Well, I will just say I didn't go to Chin. Chin came to me. An old priest lived near my village. He was a wonderful instructor. I miss him terribly."

"You are very good. What other skills do you have?"

Xena was using her seductive grin and sultry voice on the younger woman and it worked. Candace felt a slight blush come to her cheeks. The singer was not unfamiliar with flirting, however.

"I'm not telling. Those you will have to figure out on your own."

"I see. That could be interesting." Xena bumped the smaller woman with her shoulder and led the way to the encampment and into the eating facilities.


The rest of the camp was just beginning to wake up when the warriors made it to the eating hall. It became strangely quiet as the two entered together. The blonde and the brunette exchanged knowing glances and rolled their eyes in unison. The women in the camp certainly thought that the two had somehow ended up spending the night together.

"Women! They just can't keep to themselves can they?"

Xena grinned and nodded in agreement.

The taller of the women was not surprised by the amount of food the other piled on her plate. It was an endearing quality that was familiar to her. *What is it about you, Candace. You are so like her and yet completely different. What am I doing? It's like I can't help myself.* The warrior admitted defeat in her own mind and gave into the warmth of the company she was keeping. Things would go the way they were meant to go no matter what she did. She chose not to put up a struggle..... yet.

Queen Ephiny entered with Senar and Regent Trèsha. The inhabitants of the facility rose in unison to show respect. After the party was seated the rest of the subjects were free to do so. Xena smirked at the pomp and let out a giggle. It was a quality the Candace thought the other didn't posses. *Giggling! A Warrior Princess giggle. Good Lord! What's next?*

Candace kicked Xena under the table at Gabrielle's behest. "Stop that! You'll get us in trouble! I've mucked enough stalls for a lifetime. Thank you very much!"

"Ow! Since when do you think you can get away with kicking me?"

"Since you can't seem to control yourself!"

The ribbing was serious in a good-natured way and it felt good to the raven haired woman to have a companion that would dare to try to keep her in line. Xena was shocked at her own response to the blonde. *I let her kick me. I let her kiss me and then I let her KICK me!! Good God's what's next?* She was about to find out.

When they were almost finished with their meal, they were approached by Trèsha.

"Candace, you have been assigned to sentry duty today. Please meet Julisa at the east weapons hut and pick up your sword. She will assign you to your detachment."

"My sword?"

"Yes, all warriors carry swords. You were supposed to have gotten it last night but you, uh.., left early."

The Regent gave Xena a knowing glance.

*Too bad you don't really know anything .* Xena kept her thoughts to her self.

"A sword, huh."

"Aren't you familiar with the weapon?"

"Very much so. I was just hoping not to have to use one."

"No one said you had to use it. You must carry it though. You never really know when you will need it."

"Alright. I'll be over in a few minutes. I need to change clothes and feed Lyce."

"Very well. Enjoy your first day as a warrior." Trèsha smiled and returned to the Queens table.

"Damn it! A fricking sword!" Candace was truly dismayed at the notion of having to use a blood letting weapon.

"Problem there, Tiger?" Xena was taking quick inventory of her eating companions emotional state. It confused her.

Candace flinched at the familiar pet name. Her older brother had called her "Tiger" up until the time she was 19 and he had been killed by a crazed drunk driver. Calvin Eastaue. What a menace that one had been. Two felony convictions and 3 DUI's and still the man was on the street. It was aloft like some evil power kept him out of jail.

*That or a good attorney. Same thing in my book.* *You know Callisto?* *What?* *Cal Eastaue. It's gotta be...*What are you babbling about?* *Never mind. We'll talk later.* They would talk later, but Candace had already added two and two and come up with an irritating blonde.

Gabrielle knew with a sickness in her heart that this man and Callisto were one in the same. *Evil never dies, it just changes form. Candace had to live with that pain the same as Xena and I. We are more connected than I thought. Huh.*

"Candace. Hello???"

"Huh? Oh God, Xena, I'm sorry. My brother used to call me that. It brought back some memories."

"Brother, huh. Where is he now?"

"He was killed a few years ago. Callisto."

The warrior felt a sudden pang of guilt grip her heart. She had made Callisto and that creation had destroyed more than one life. "I am so sorry. I didn't mean t....."

"Xena, it's O.K.. Look I need to go. I'll catch up with you later. May be you can show me some staff moves. I hear you're "the bomb"."

"Yeah, sure, I'd love to. Are you O.K. with the sword thing?"

"Like Trèsha said, I don't have to use it. I don't think I could. Not yet anyway."

"You've never killed before have you?"

"No, and I don't plan on starting. There are better ways to resolve conflict."

The small woman turned to make her way out of the dining hall. Xena watched her with her jaw dropped almost to her chest.

"You are going to catch flies if you're not careful, Xena."

The blue eyes shone with confusion and wonder all at the same time. "Ephiny. WHO IS SHE? I don't get it. She says things that Gabrielle has said to me and yet she has an edge to her that throws me off balance."

"Xena, she is just who she is. Don't make her into Gabrielle. I am afraid you will be disappointed."

"How could I be disappointed in her. By the Gods she has everything. Looks, intelligence, battle skills, looks.... Did I mention looks?...she can sing and she has a sense of humor. This is too much. I'm not ready to fall in love again."

The Queen smiled sweetly "Who said anything about love? You haven't even known her a full day yet, but, if you weren't ready for love, the thought wouldn't even have crossed your mind."

"I can't Eph. What would Gabrielle think, and what if she comes back and I am with someone else?"

"Xena, the love that you and Gabrielle shared can never be replaced or duplicated. Remember how loving and forgiving she was? She wanted nothing for you but your happiness. If it would make you happy to move on with your life no one in existence would be happier for you than Gabrielle herself."

Tears began to form in the eyes of the bard's love. "I think that is what I am afraid of. If I love someone else will that taint the love we shared?"

Ephiny reached out and took Xena's hands into her own. "Sweet woman, don't you know the love you share with others is a testimony to what Gabrielle did for you. She taught you how to love. She taught you that someone could love you for no reason other than you being you. She showed you love unconditional. If you can love now, it will prove that her love for you was true. That love saved you. Let what it taught you save you again."

The Amazon leader got up from the table and left her friend to contemplate the things they had shared.

Several moments later Trèsha approached the table where Xena was sitting. She was still deep in thought when the Regent spoke to her.

"....and I was hoping to...Xena?"

Xena looked up with a start. "Trèsha. What can I help you with?"

"I have a favor to ask. Could you...." The Regent lowered her voice so as not to be heard by those around her.

The tall woman perked up at the description of the favor she was being asked. *This could be fun.*

After the two women had finished their discussion about the plans for the afternoon Xena opened the floor to discussion of a less import. "Trèsha. Can I ask you something?'

"Sure Xena. What's up?"

"What does it mean to be "the bomb"?"

"Who called you that?" Trèsha knew quite well WHO it had been and was very amused.

"Candace said she had heard that I was "the bomb" when it came to the staff."

"I see. Well, she does have an interesting way with words. It means that you are the very best at.... whatever, or the best looking , best ...best. Wonderful, awesome, not to be equaled.

"Huh. I'm the Bomb. I think I like that." The thoughts and feelings of dismay dissolved in to the activities of the day and she began to settle into her newly reclaimed emotions.


Candace trod to her hut and changed into her Amazon clothes. The morning had turned out quite nicely she thought.


*I think that you meeting up with her was a great stroke of luck. I'd think it was planned if I didn't know better.*

*You are with me all the time. I had no chance to make plans.*

*Ha ha. I didn't mean by you, I meant by the Fates, or some such.*

*I swear, it's that draw thing. You just draw her to you. It's quite a fascinating position to be in. She is drawn to the you in me and I reap the benefits.*

*What do you think of her?*

*Gabrielle, it's hard to say. She is stunning, there is no denying that, and quite charming to boot. I am sure she can be quite intimidating too. It's strange though, I almost feel as if she knows me--not the you in me, but ME. She will look at me in a certain way and I swear she is looking into my very soul. It is very disconcerting.*

*I felt the same way when we began to realize for feelings for each other.


Lyceius was up and raring to go. Candace smiled at the excitement the little guy showed. *One big wiggle, that's all you are.* "You know, little guy, I think you could be quite an asset on patrol. Think you can be a huntin' dawg for a day? I wonder if these Amazons have ever used dogs for hunting? Huh? Let's give it a shot . Worst they can say is no."

The compact woman finished pulling on the uniform that had been left for her. *Lord, what kind of protection do they think this gives? My mid-section is open as well as my back. I have to do something about this.* "O.K., Lyce, let's go." The two strode to the weapons hut and found a very muscular, very tall and intimidating warrior. Her size brought to mind poetry about trees.

"Excuse me. Are you Julisa?"

Her gaze was met by the most intriguing eyes she had ever seen next to the Warrior Princess. They were like the eyes of a cat and were a green the color of light jade. If the color had been any lighter they would have disappeared. Her brown hair hung slightly in those eyes. The color combination reminded Candace of chocolate mint ice cream. When the woman spoke she jumped having forgot that she had asked a question. *Damn those distractions.*

"Guilty. You are Candace. A little small to be a warrior, aren't you?" The tall woman looked her up and down.

"Size is not always the best way to judge qualification. Just ask Kayla."

"Well said. I saw the Challenge yesterday. You were very impressive. I'm sure council was correct to give you a Warrior position. It is necessary though that you be a mentally as well as physically prepared. Be ready to take your share of questions and challenges. There are some who think you attained your status due to your odd connection with Queen Ephiny. I myself have questions about that. However, I am sure the proof of your having earned the assignment will come in time. Do you have any questions right now?"

"Just one. How do I address you? Do I call you Commander Julisa, or just Commander?"

"When we are on patrol or in a battle situation you call me Commander the rest of the time I prefer you call me Jules. I think my mother was making a joke when she named me."

"Oh? And why is that?"

The large woman wrinkled her nose in a very un-warrior like way and stated, "It's kinda, ya know, girly."

Candace contained her laughter with great effort. Pissing off the Commander on her first day would be a Major mistake. "I see.", was all she could muster.

The patrol marched out to a perimeter post to relieve the previous watch. Candace was given instruction on how the pulley system operated. The weights and balances system was relatively easy to understand. The problem was going to be how to figure the calibration for her weight. Compared to the women around her she was quite light.


*Gabrielle, have you ever done this?*

*Nope. I was the Queen. I didn't do the warrior thing. I never pulled a patrol. I guess they either thought I wasn't cut out for it or it was too dangerous. I like to think it was the latter*

*Alrighty then. I guess I figure this out on my own.*


The small singer turned warrior picked up her companion and pulled the rope lever. With her foot wrapped around the counter-balance rope she was able to slow her ascent. She reached the platform that was to be her look out position. It was perfectly placed.


*These Amazons are amazing. My dad used to take me hunting with and his blinds weren't even this good. I can see all of the perimeter and all of the other look out posts.*

*You know I didn't appreciate what I had here. If I get back I am going to dedicate many scrolls to the history of these women.*

*If you get back? Do you doubt my abilities? You know you can write through me if you want. You have an incredible way of thinking.*

*Maybe. Right now you need to be keeping a watch!*



The sounds of the forest around her filled her head. She strained to become familiar with what was a sound that belonged and what was a sound that didn't. Gabrielle helped her out some with the sounds of the animals moving. She was beginning to make sense of the Amazon birdcalls when Lyceius perked his ears and raised his head. Candace motioned to him to remain quiet. As she stilled her movements and stilled her heart she felt a stirring in the aura of the trees around her. She knew without a doubt what that stirring was. She made the small chirping sound of a chipmunk to get the attention of the next post over. It wasn't a birdcall but she had demonstrated it to the others earlier and they knew it was her. With their attention turned to her she began to make a series of simple hand gestures that symbolized herself, looking around, sound or hearing, walking and flank. The others were at first confused by some of her gestures but soon caught on and were impressed to discover, through her movements, she had a plan to catch a would be intruder. She wanted them to go north and see if they could find the trail and track back around to come at the person from the front in full view. She would go south and hopefully have a surprise encounter. If all went according to plan they would all have a great story to tell at the dinner table tonight. Candace picked up Lyce and traveled down the rope that was hidden from view. She had used camouflaged paint on herself before ascending and so was virtually invisible on descent. She sent Lyce to the other patrol party as they went in the opposite direction. Candace had learned some tracking skills from her father but Gabrielle was in charge of this part of the little hunt. They found the trail easily and started to follow it. Candace stopped in her tracks.

*This is too easy and it doesn't feel right.*

*Doesn't feel right?*

*I'm going the wrong way.*

She turned around and tracked back to where the trail began. Looking around she found a well swept over trail. The only thing that gave it away was that the brush marks were fresh. The dirt hadn't dried yet. In 10 or 15 minutes that trail would have been cold. Candace slowly and silently crept along the forest floor. She somehow knew that Xena would feel her coming.

*She knows I'm here.*

* How do you know that?*

*I just know.*

*You sound like me. I can tell when she's within miles of me. But you... Is it me that you're feeling?*

*No. Your draw to her is different. It's a strong pull. This is just a knowing. I know she's there. I can feel her.*

*Do you think she knows ? She can tell when things around her change. She may not know it's you and may not have even figured it out yet. She's kinda slow that way.*

*Only one way to find out.*


Candace made a point to walk heavier and with longer steps. With any luck Xena wouldn't turn around thinking it was the Commander and not some novice tracker.

Xena crouched low in the trees in front of a clearing. It was the only clearing at the end of the trail she had left. The patrol had to end up there. She had covered her other tracks so well even she couldn't see them. Suddenly the air around her changed and she knew she had been found. By the sound of the steps it had to be Jules. She didn't turn around to investigate. Instead she put a hand to silence the woman's approach. When she heard a much more silent advance she put her hand down.

"Good job finding me." The Princess whispered. All she got in reply was a grunt. A slice of apple on a knife appear in front of her and she accepted it. She was hungry. *It'll be nice to get this over with and get back to the village and eat.* She didn't mind doing Trèsha the favor today. It was a good way for her to hone her skills and give the Amazons a run for their money. She was disappointed that she had been found but it didn't surprise her that their leader had tracked her down. Julisa was a great and commanding leader as well as an expert tracker. She was accepting another piece of apple when she heard the "trying to be stealth" group enter the clearing. She saw Candace's little dog first and was anxious to see his owner. The dog was followed up by four other warriors none of whom were the small singer. There was one more behind the fourth. As she came into Xena's view she was shocked to see a tall brown haired, green eyed Commander who was looking very confused. In disbelief the bested warrior slowly turned only to be met by a smug look of satisfaction in mesmerizing green eyes.

"Hi honey! Gotcha!"

"How...where.....you....I....but I hid...but..*sigh*" All the warrior could do was shake her head and stammer.

"Last time I saw you, you were able speak in full sentences. Has something happened since then that I should know about?"

"How did you do that?"

"Do what?" Feigning innocence was not her strong suit especially not in this situation. It was way too funny.

"You know very well what." By this time the search party had heard the conversation and was closing in on the area.

"You mean, how did I find you while the others were all going the wrong way?"

"Yeah, that."


"Well, I sent them in the opposite direction to find your trail. Looks like they found the one I found first. BUT, the dirt on the trail brush-over hadn't dried yet. I'll tell you later how I did the rest. It's kind of personal." The blonde woman whispered the last part of the sentence to the taller woman just as the others came upon them.

Julisa spoke first with obvious pride in her voice. It wasn't often that any Amazon got one up on The Mighty Xena. "Well done, Candace! I have only been able to track her once in several attempts. You are most assuredly making it clear that the bestowing of your status was a wise decision. I have a feeling that you will be in a hunting party soon. How are you with bow and arrow?"

"I have drawn my share." Her father was an avid bow hunter. She didn't like to kill anything but she was an awesome shot. *There's a first time for everything, and here hunting is a necessity.*

"All right, back to your posts. I need to talk with you Candace if you don't mind." The small group of women each congratulated Candace with pats on the back and "Way to go" comments as they left.

Xena wanted time with the little warrior also, but she would patiently wait her turn.

Candace looked at Xena and motioned for her to wait not knowing that the raven haired woman wasn't about to leave without an explanation.

"Of course I don't mind. What can I do for you?"

"I want to know about those hand signals you used. They were very useful. We have some hand signals but those you used communicate thoughts and actions quite effectively. They would be of great use in the field. Where did you learn this technique?"

"It's called sign language and it's used to communicate with deaf people. I learned it in my homeland. I can teach you if you like."

The leader of the Queens Guard stood in silence. Tears came to her eyes and she could not speak. Her jaw tightened as she struggled with her emotions.

"Jules, what's wrong. What did I say?" She looked to Xena for any explanation. The warrior shrugged. She had none.

After a silence that seemed eternal the other green eyed woman spoke:

"Can you teach my daughter and myself?"

"Of course." The small woman thought she finally understood the emotional response of the hardened fighter.

"Your daughter is deaf, isn't she?"

All the woman could do was nod in agreement.

Candace put her short arms around the woman to embrace her as best she could. Her arms didn't even reach half way around the solid frame, but the compassion that flowed from her was more than enough to make up for it. Jules put her arms around Candace too and cried tears of frustration. Candace had seen this many time before -- parents unable to communicate with their children, and children angered by the isolation. In the lives of Julisa and her daughter, all of that was about to change.

"She can be of no help to the nation if she can't communicate. She is intelligent and intuitive but her behavior is such that I can't handle her anymore. They are tempted to lock her up or send her away, but I have refused to let them. It's like she in a world all alone. I want so to help her. She can sometimes understand what you say if she is looking at your lips but she has no way to answer back. She tries to use gestures and pictures but people can't or don't want to take the time to understand her. She becomes angry and frustrated."

"Jules, I have heard all of this before. Pictures and gestures are fine if all you need to do is communicate a need or or a desire. Language allows people to communicate ideas and concepts. Language promotes imagination and desire to learn. If we can give her, all of us really, a language things will change. I promise I will do my best to help both you and her. If anyone else is interested in learning have them see me tonight in my hut after dinner. It's going to work. You'll see."

The warrior walked away with a bounce to her step she hadn't used in a long time. If this woman was as good at teaching her daughter as she was at everything else she did, her family's life was going make a huge turn-around.

Xena stood looking at Candace with her eyebrow as far up in her bangs as it would go.


"You know what. How in the name of the gods did you find me?"

"I told you. I started to follow the false trail and it didn't feel right. I found it too easily. The real trail hadn't dried yet. I was lucky. Well, sort of."

"It's the "sort of" that I want to talk to you about. I hid all of my tracks. There is no way you should have found me."

"Xena, I know. Now, what I am going to tell you is weird but it's true."

"Weird? What does that mean?"

"Strange, bizarre, odd, unusual..."

"OK. I got the point." *Just what I need is another one that knows all the words.*

"No way to say this but to just say it. I could explain all of the karmic teaching I have had and that might make it clearer to you, but then again......."


"Right. Out with it. O.K. here goes. I felt you."

"You "felt" me."

"Yeah. I could tell where you were just by the feeling. I can't explain it. It just is."

Now it was Xena's turn to be silent in front of the blonde. She seemed to have that effect on people.

"Well?" Candace wasn't sure by her warrior friend's face what was going on in her mind.

"You're right."

"I'm right? About what?"

"You're right. I can feel you, too. Huh! That's weird. I like that word by the way."

"What does it mean?"

"Ya know, strange, unusual, bizarre.."

"NOT that smart ass." Candace paid Xena back with a playful slap to the shoulder grinning all the while.

Xena grimaced playfully and answered truthfully. "Don't know. We are connected in some way. I don't know how. I wonder if it was that kiss that did it."

"I don't think my kisses have that kind of power. Thanks for the compliment though."

"Come here."


"No, the deer over there. Yes you."

"I want to test something."

"What are we testing?"

"You'll see."

The short blonde walked three steps and was standing very close in front of the blue eyed beauty. Xena slowly bent her head to the smaller woman. Candace looked up and couldn't believe what was happening. She just closed her eyes and let it happen. When Xena's lips touched hers the connection was almost tangible. Lips pressed harder into each other and the women did likewise. Candace wrapped short arms around the strong neck of the warrior while one of Xena's hands caressed the back of her head and the other caressed her back. Lost in the moment and the electricity Candace's tongue demanded entrance to Xena's mouth. There was no resistance. Their tongues fought for position, each wanting to taste the other. Some of the passion subsided into a desire to softly explore. Tongues slowed to a gentle sliding, and tips flicked across one another like butterflies to flowers. A soft moan fell from the throat of the short blonde and she knew she was in trouble. Not wanting to end the moment, but knowing that duty called and if she didn't withdraw now she wouldn't be able to, she drew slowly away. Her hands reached up and embraced the well defined face of her warrior.

*My warrior? Where did that come from?*



She drew her back for one more soft sweet kiss.

"I think that answers that question."

"I need to get back to work."

"Uh, yeah. Work. Candace, you and I need to talk, I think. Strange for me to say that. I hate talking, but I have a story I need to tell you that will let you see into the person I am now and the person I used to be. The person I used to be is a big ugly dark thing that still haunts me. But I there was someone who changed all of that, and I want you to know who she was."

"Alright. I have a meeting tonight after dinner that should last a candlemark or so, after that I'm all yours. I...I mean I'm free."

"I liked the first one better. I'll see you later then." The tall warrior bent one more time to steal a kiss and then was gone.

*Oh man! Gabrielle! How are you doing with all of this?*

*I suppose I should be jealous but I'm not. It's very strange. I am in here watching you kiss my wife. But it's all right. You and I are technically one person. I can feel all the touches and feel all the emotions but I'm disconnected. I can't wait to hear what she is going to say about me.*

*God Gabrielle! She loves you. She will always love you. That is quite a reputation to live with. You were, are, her soulmate. Anyone else in her life is going to be second best. If you weren't here with me I wouldn't even bother. She's not completely emotionally available and never will be. I could fall for her hard. It's her we need to worry about.*

*I hope not, but I think you may be right.*


The rest of the watch went off with no further excitement. The next watch relieved them and the group headed back to the compound. The warriors were having a great time laughing at the way they had gotten one up on the mighty princess. Even though only one had discovered her it was a group victory. Most of the group would celebrate for a better portion of the night, Candace, however, had work to do. When she arrived at her hut she took only enough time to wipe off most of the camouflage paint and change into my comfortable attire. Then she got out quill, ink and scroll and began to draw. Sign language was different in every culture and country. What signs didn't work here they could change to make them fit. The alphabet was going to be interesting to say the least. They might just have to skip it until she could try to work something out. Diction would be another issue. The American Sign Language that she had studied was unique in is complexity and simplicity both. Single signs for many different words all defined by sentence content and context. Sentence structure was different from spoken English in that the main topic came first then descriptive or comment words and pronouns last. Such as, "Horse brown have I." To get a group of Amazons to try to understand the reasons for this was going to be a challenge, but if they were eager to learn she was eager to teach. She would let Jules' daughter determine how she wanted to communicate with the others. It was going to be her language after all. There would have to be some compromises but over all it would have to be up to her. The real challenge was going to be to get through to the girl.

She worked on the pictures and words for a long while. She was lost in thought when her stomach reminded her she had not yet eaten. Odd for her to forget but this was important. She wanted to make sure also that Ephiny knew what she was proposing. She would track down the Queen right after she quelled the uprising that was taking place in her stomach. She put down her writing utensil and headed to the dining hall. She encountered on her way a woman she had seen but never met.

"Candace, I know you don't know me but I'm a friend of Kayla's. My name is Sherina." The woman offered her hand and Candace took it.

"It's nice to meet you. Are you headed to the dining hall?"

"I am"

"Well, dinner is always better with a friend. Join me?"

"Where's Xena? Shouldn't you be eating with her?"

Candace looked at the woman with an amused look. "Why do you think I should be eating with Xena?"

"Well, the whole camp knows."

"The whole camp knows what?"

"That you two, well.....you know."

The smart blonde and the one within her realized that the other woman was grasping for information.


*God Gabrielle! Is that all these women do? Gossip?*

*That and play matchmaker.*

*How did you live with it?*

*I wasn't here that often.*

*Lucky girl.*


This particular Amazon was going to be sadly disappointed.

"Sherina is it? Sherina, my personal life is just that. Personal. It is not up for discussion or debate. If you would like to talk about fishing, hunting, bowling or how the Broncos did in the Superbowl last year we can do that, but what I do in my hut and with whom is my business. K?"

"OK. Sorry I said anything."

"No problem. Dinner?"

"Yeah, but answer me this, what are broncos?"

Candace let out a huge laugh and led the still confused woman to the dining hall.


Ten rugged warriors and one young girl showed up at the hut of the songstress after a well deserved meal. Candace took the young deaf girl aside and looked her directly in the face. She wanted to be sure that the girl understood that this was for her but that she wouldn't put up with misbehaving no matter the excuse. Candace looked back to Jules and asked her daughters name.

"Mikaya. Mik for short."

She decided it would be best to just speak to her as she was used to seeing the others speak to her. Using basic signs she spoke and signed to Mikaya at the same time. Pointing to her eyes the signer said. "Look at me. Mikaya, I want to teach you to speak with your hands. I will teach the others, too. All of you will learn to speak together." The girl started to look away and Candace touched her chin and gently brought her head back around. "Please, don't turn your head. Look! You want to learn to speak with your hands?"

The girl shrugged and then nodded. She was apprehensive, but willing. Candace figured she had to be bright too. No one got as far as she had on her own without a sharp mind.

The class went well and longer than they had expected. Xena showed up while they were still working on basics and sentence structure. You, me, my, we, your, I, sit, sword, staff, Queen. Possessives, have, yours, own, mine and of course food and home. The list was growing too long for one nights worth of learning but the group was excited and acted as sponges for what was being taught. The dark warrior stood in the back unnoticed and observed the teacher in her element. She was at a loss for words. *This is exactly the kind of thing Gabrielle would have done. Take the challenge of one child and make it her own.*

Candace looked up and saw the blue eyes that followed her movements and smiled. She wasn't sure what she saw in those eyes, but it was pleasant and she didn't see the need to know.

"That's all for one night guys. I'll draw copies of some these for you to take with you. You'll have to share until I can figure out a way to get materials to y'all."

The group looked at her in a way that they had become accustomed. "Y'all? What does that mean?" Jules spoke up in amused confusion.

"Sorry. Mom's from the south. It means all of you. So...Y'all. See?"

"Uh..... Sure." They were getting used to the very strange language the woman spouted and went on with the conversation without missing a beat. "You know you could just hang the pictures up on the wall of the teaching center. Hey! We could ask Karshi if we can use her class room at night."

"Great idea. I'm putting you in charge of the details." A classroom. Perfect. She had OK'd the classes with Ephiny for once a week. This was going to be cool! "Goodnight! Remember ....PRACTICE!"

After all of the women had left the singer turned teacher fell into the nearest chair and released all the air that was left in her lungs. She had almost forgotten that the tall warrior was in her hut until she felt the electric charge of her presence.

*Did you ever get used to that?*

*I relied on it!*


"Hey there Blue Eyes. Enjoy the show?" The blonde spoke without turning

"I'll tell you, I think you have changed the lives of the people here in an amazing way. How...where did you ever learn such a skill?"

Candace wasn't sure how to answer her question.


*Tell the truth just don't tell it ALL.*

*Right. You're the bard, go for it.*


"Xena this is hard to explain. I came from far away land. One I don't think you have even heard of. It is far across the big ocean."

"There is nothing beyond the big ocean."

"Yes there is. If there weren't, I wouldn't be here. My family was on a ship traveling to a new place to farm when we were caught in a huge storm that sucked us under the water. There was enough air inside that most of us survived. We floated like that for a very long time until we ended up here. Anyway, I learned sign language from a teacher there. There were many deaf people and I wanted to learn how to talk to them so I took classes much like the one I am teaching now."


*Gab, girl you out did your self that time.*

*It's close to something that happened to us once. She'll buy it!*


"Hummm. You become more interesting by the minute. Do you have anymore surprises I should know about. I mean it's not like coming from an unknown land isn't enough."

"No. No more surprises. Please don't tell anyone. They think I some kind of barbaric heathen, Celt woman. It's not the worst thing I have ever been called in my life, so let's just let it lie. So to speak."

"Does the land you come from have a name? Or is that confidential, too?"

"As long as you are keeping things to yourself. It's called America."

"America. I like that. It sounds strong."

"It has it's moments, good and bad."

The tall warrior nodded and pulled a wineskin off of her shoulder and sat in the chair next to Candace. "Thought you might need a little relaxation after the day you've had. After I left you, I spent the rest of the day helping Eponin and Marska with the older girls weapons training. I am stiff in places I had forgotten I had. I think I deserve a draught myself. Join me?"

"I'll have a bit but I hope I don't fall asleep on you. Wine does that to me. Lightweight. Don't try to get me drunk either. When that happens I giggle a lot and tend towards the silly side."

"Well, I'll do my best to keep you...... under control." A seductive grin shone from Xena's face.

"Riiiight. I don't think I like the sound of that."

"It's not that bad." It was obvious by the tone that they were no longer talking about wine.

"Can we change the subject?" Candace blushed a bright red and dropped her eyes.

Xena let out a laugh and realized that she had reached the singer's threshold of bawdy conversation It hadn't taken long. *Good Gods! She's shy! Coulda fooled me.* The memory of the kiss they had shared that afternoon still burned on her lips. She was still not comfortable with falling for anyone but she enjoyed the company of this diverse woman.

"Sure. Sorry. I get carried away sometimes. Gabrielle was the same way. Do it, just don't talk about it."

"XENA! Do you mind? I really don't think I need to hear about anyone "doing it" or talking about it. Especially not about you." Candace winced knowing that she had just given the warrior way too much information.


*Oh you walked into that one.*


*You, my friend, are on your own.*

*Thanks. I'll remember that.*


"Why not about me?" Xena was pushing and she was well aware of it.

"Please. Can we change the subject?"

"Not until you answer the question."

*So you want to play the 'blatantly honest game huh? All right. Try this on for size, Smarty Princess!* Candace stood and strode over to where the raven haired woman was sitting. With a purposeful movement she placed her hands on the arms of the chair and leaned in towards the warrior. "Because, Xena, I find you attractive -- make that very attractive. Getting visuals of you doing ANYTHING makes me.....uncomfortable. When your lips touched mine last night I thought I was going to pass out. Then it happened again this afternoon and I couldn't think for the rest of the day. You have an affect on me that I would just as soon keep under control as best I can. So unless you want to be wearing 'Eau du Little Blonde Warrior' home tonight you should change the subject." The shorter woman stood straight up returned to her seat and sat back down, waiting for a reply.

Xena couldn't believe the words she had just heard come out of "The Little Blonde Warrior'. She was serious. *Well at least I know I still 'got it'. Then again maybe she's 'got it ' and that's why I'M here. And oh my!* Xena raised both her eye brows and realized she had been chastised and put in her place quite well by the strong willed woman before her. It seemed this was a sensitive subject with the smaller woman. Xena took in all the information she had been given in a very short amount of time and analyzed it. Candace was a passionate woman to say the least and her emotions were nothing to be trifled with. Xena had pushed and the envelope had flown wide open. She would definitely watch her tongue around this little one. *Not afraid to speak her mind. That's for sure. But what got her so upset? Suggestive talk. I think not. No this has to do with me in particular. But I'm not asking why.*

"Aaallright. Let's change the subject. But just one question.....Can one buy "Eau Du Little Blonde Warrior', or must one earn it?"

"Earn it. Definitely earn it."

"I thought as much."

For the next several candle marks Xena told Candace all that she could about her former life as a hated warlord. The details were some that even Gabrielle had not even heard. The warrior wanted to be sure that Candace truly knew who and what she was so that there was no pretense between them. Gabrielle had followed Xena on blind faith and didn't know the Xena that could do to her some of the things that she had done. She had lost such focus on reality at one point that she had wanted to kill her own beloved Gabrielle.

"How could that happen?"

"Blame. Guilt. Anger.. I knew that Gabrielle would never have gotten pregnant if I hadn't let my obsession for Caesar control my actions."

"Xena, that's too much of the blame. You could never have known that Dahok would rape Gabrielle. You're not a prophet. Are you?"

"Prophet? Me no way."

"Gabrielle knew that you two lived with danger and expected things to happen to the both of you. She followed you because she wanted to be with you, not because you made her."

"You speak as if you know how she felt." Xena looked at Candace with suspicious glance.


*Watch it Candace!*

*Damn! That slipped.*


"I know how I would have felt. That's all I mean." *Good job!*

"You're right. She told me afterward almost those very words. I blamed her for Solan's death when really it wouldn't have mattered if Hope had died or not. She came back anyway. Yeah, Gab lied to me, but I lied to her, too. My Gods! She lied to save her DAUGHTER. I lied out of pride. I didn't want to look bad in Gabrielle's eyes. She thought I had changed, and there I was killing again. I couldn't let her see the real me. Yes, Solan died, but Gabrielle didn't kill him. Hope did. At the time I couldn't see any of those things. The pain was so great in me that I couldn't see beyond myself. Vengeance was all I sought, and it didn't matter that it was Gabrielle's blood that I wanted. I wanted it!"

"Sounds to me like you played the blame game. She did this and you said that and she said this. Too much anger floating around to accomplish healing let alone forgiveness."

"That's how we ended up in Illusia. Now THAT was weird."

"Sounds like it. If I didn't know you, I'd say you were on high drugs at the time. Trippin' man."


"Ya know freaking out. Stoned. Wiggin." She was met with more confused looks. "Wait. Let me think. OK...go get waaaaaaay drunk and then drink some of that white powdered stuff they have in the healers hut to put you to sleep."

"That would tend to make one 'freak out', yeah. I was high all right. High on anger, rage and blood lust. I came in here like I had every right to claim Gabrielle's body as if I owned it. She had wronged me, and by the gods, she would pay! What a nightmare." Xena hung her head in shame. It still hurt to think and speak of the things she had done.

"Xena, those things are well in the past. It does you no good to carry the guilt nor does it pay respect to Gabrielle's memory. Times of anger poison many peoples lives. The question is, do we release it and move ahead having learned or do we hold it and let it destroy us from the inside out."

"I guess the truth is that I lost her just as we were truly beginning to overcome and settle into happiness. I never made it up to her. Not in my eyes anyway."

"You married her, didn't you?"

"Well, yeah, but...."

"No buts. With that one gesture, you proved to her your commitment and love. Don't you think? For a person like you to commit your life to love showed her your heart. Stop beating yourself up. It's time to move on."

"I don't want you to get the impression that I sit around and mope over this. I don't. Talking about it just brings up the feelings again."

"I understand, but it's all right there. The depth of your love makes the guilt sit right at the surface. Please, Xena let it go. If Gabrielle was who you say she was, your love was well placed, as was hers. She forgave you. You forgave her. It's time to forgive yourself, for a lot of things."

Xena lifted her head and peered into emerald green eyes. *You don't know what your asking.*

Candace could see in the warriors eyes the difficulty of that action. The blonde reached out a hand and placed it over the larger hand of Xena. "Xena, you're not the evil warlord you used to be. I know Gabrielle must have had a tough time with you over this same issue. You're a kind, strong, gentle soul. If the old Xena was in control or had any influence at all, I think you would have reverted to the old ways with Gabrielle's passing. You didn't. You kept your promise to her. The threat of those old ghosts is gone. Forgive and move on."

Blue eyes closed and a raven head bowed. She heard the truth of the words but could she ever make them apply to her? Would she ever possess the power to not live in the regrets she held so close to her heart. She didn't know the answer. She did know she had a desire to let past mistakes go and that was a larger step than she had ever taken before. *One step at a time 'old girl'. One step at a time.* She opened her eyes and took in the words that had been spoken for her benefit.

"Well, Little One, you are wise beyond your years. Is there any skill you don't possess?"

"I suck at video games."


"Never mind. Xena, I am no more wise than anyone else. We see things differently because I wasn't privy to your past. I only see what is before me now. You are a caring, loving person with the heart of a lion. I would be honored to call you friend. You should try it yourself. You might find that you are worth liking."

Xena lit up the room with a bright and genuine smile. This woman warmed a soul that had been cold for a very long time. It made her feel good just to be in the same room with her. A peace settled over her that had not been in place for the last three years.

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"I can't say. Just, thank you."

"Well, your welcome for whatever."

"Next time let's talk about your past, O.K.?"

"I don't have much of one, but I'll share with you the excitement of it all."

"Great. I look forward to that time. I need to go. It's late."

"Yeah. I am with the early morning hunting party. Bright and early." Candace paused before she spoke again. "Xena?"

The warrior was standing and making her way to the door. Turning she answered. "Yeah?"

"This is kinda hard to say." Candace looked timidly up at the taller woman.

"I have found that honesty is the best policy."

"Right. Honesty. I don't want to make a complete idiot of myself here, but hey, it's what I do. I know that I have a major attraction to you....." The blonde hesitated, searching for the right words.

"But...." Xena almost panicked without realizing it.

"Not but. O.K. but....." This wasn't coming out right.

"Go on..."

"I don't know how you feel but I want anything that may develop here to go nice and slow. Ya know?"

Xena grinned and was more than relieved. *Thank the Gods.* "I hear you."

"I mean you are a great kisser and it's not that I wouldn't like to kiss you again, it's just that, well, I really would like to kiss you again but that's as far as I want it to go. Ya know? Well, not as far, but far enough for now. 'Cause, you see....."

The blonde was silenced by soft lips meeting hers. This kiss was soft and full. There was no hint of desperation or passion involved. It was a gentle sweet moment that comforted both parties. Xena pulled slowly away from Candace and put her fingers to her chin.

"Slow is good." She placed a peck on the blonde's forehead turned and headed out the door.

Candace pushed back the cloth to the entrance and asked the retreating woman, "Does this mean that something is happening here?"

Xena turned with a smile, and was now walking backwards. "Maybe. Night!" She spun around and continued her trek to her hut.

"Good night."

She walked back in and sat on her pallet. She picked up Lyce and stroked his head. He gave her a quick lick on the nose in response. It was the one that all dogs know they can get away with and not get in trouble for.



"Yep. Wow. I really like her. I mean I really like her. She has a wonderful heart but she is so hard on herself.*

*She always was. Sometimes it was worse than others but she was so afraid that if she gave in and let herself rest the 'bad Xena' would return with a vengeance.*

*The bad Xena almost did. She tried to kill you.*

*You have to look at the circumstances though. Her son was killed by my daughter. A mother's loss of a child can lead to any number of reactions. Even a peaceful person can be driven to anger and hatred. Just ask me.*

*You are right.*

*So, do you like her enough to fall in love?*

*Little soon to tell, but if I were the type to fall, I'd do it with her.*

*Good answer.*

Continued - Part 3


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