Disclaimers: Not my characters...(well, most of them are not) and I only use them for the fun of writing this story. I put them back where they belong. One of these days....I will....really.... J

Violence: Yes. Might get a little graphic, too. But nothing too gory.

Subtext: Yup! Rather subtle at the beginning but I'm getting there...<smile>

A Final Note: Okay....again, this isn't what one might consider a 'typical' alternative X/G story. Seems I have a lot of fun coming up with alternative universes (Or xenaverses <smile>) So, don't go looking for similarities with events in the show. They might be here but I gave them quite a twist so please consider yourself warned! And this isn’t a light piece, either – please, be aware of that, too.

Summary: A young Amazon Queen who can’t remember her past. A former warlord trying desperately to leave her past behind. And a secret that can destroy them – or save them.

If you like to comment on the story, you are welcome to do so: gritjahning@hotmail.com


Distances – part 2

by Grit Jahning


I've been down this road walkin' the line
That's painted by pride
And I have made mistakes in my life
That I just can't hide

Oh I believe I am ready for what love has to bring
Got myself together, now I'm ready to sing
I've been searching my soul tonight
I know there's so much more to life
Now I know I can shine a light
To find my way back home

One by one, the chains around me unwind
Every day now I feel that I can leave those years behind

Oh I've been thinking of you for a long time
There's a side of my life where I've been blind and so...

I've been searchin' my soul tonight
I know there's so much more to life
Now I know I can shine a light
Everything gonna be alright
I've been searchin' my soul tonight
Don't wanna be alone in life
Now I know I can shine a light
To find my way back home

Baby I been holding back now, my whole life
I've decided to move on now
Gonna leave all my worries behind

Oh I believe I am ready for what love has to give
Got myself together now I'm ready to live

I've been searchin' my soul tonight
I know there's so much more to life
Now I know I can shine a light
Everything gonna be alright
I've been searchin' my soul tonight
Don't wanna be alone in life
Now I know I can shine a light
To find my way back home

*"Searchin' My Soul" written by Vonda Shepard


- 6 -

A short breath and then pale blue eyes opened. Blinking into the darkness of the room. The tall frame didn't move for a long moment. Just laying there listening.

Three sets of breathing.

The fading scent of candles.

The scent of rain coming from outside.

A deep breath.

She slowly, ever so slowly sat up. Taking a few more breaths. Trying to calm her heartbeat and to dispel the images of her dream.

The fading memory of death...

Running her hands through dishevelled dark locks, she got up and quietly walked to the window. Pale eyes tracing the silhouettes of night guards. Barely visible a small fire near the entry of the village. The wind carried pieces of a whispered conversation to her and she closed her eyes.

All those years that she had spent raiding and killing. The friends and lovers she had lost. The pain she had caused. The pain she had to endure...

Where had it taken her?

A soft sigh.

Pale blue eyes blinked open. Her gaze strayed to the Queen's hut. The dimmed glow of light shining through closed shutters.

She couldn’t explain what it was that draw her to the small blonde. It was something almost desperately profound. It scared her.

And it took an awful lot to scare her.

Releasing a slow breath, she stepped out of the hut into the deafening quiet of the night. The air heavy with dampness. Mist translucent layers of pale grey drifting passed the blurry outlines of the village. Barely noticeable the slow movement of the night guards.

Closing her hands around the railing of the porch, she simply stood quietly. Hoping the calm of the night would calm her restless mind.

Again, she found her eyes drawn to the large hut set apart a little.

Dark brows wrinkling in an unconscious frown.

To find Gabrielle’s small frame curled into a tight ball. And then the look in those green eyes. So filled with panic and pain. A look she’d seen so many times – and always directed to her. And yet –

It was different with Gabrielle.

That look.

It had been...

She straightened. Her lower back straining a little.

It had been frighteningly familiar. And it drove her insane that she couldn’t place this strange sensation. It drove her insane that the whole village seemed to be wrapped in a secretive silence that was so obviously grating against every single of her instincts it was maddening.

More so when she admitted that she had no right to question any of them.

Whatever had happened here. Whatever had led to Melosa’s and Terreis’ death – it was something the Greek Amazons very obviously had no desire to share.

Pale eyes narrowed and then the tall form got very still, blending into the darkness with almost frightening ease as muted footsteps became audible.

Then hushed voices.

"And Xena saved her?"

"Yeah." An almost awed whisper. "Isn’t she amazing..."

"She’s a warlord."

"Not anymore."

A snort. The footsteps stopped and the voices came from somewhere only an arm length away from a line of shadows.

"Right. Do you really think she has changed? C’mon...you heard what Gloria told us about those villages near Corinth."

Pale blue eyes closed.

"That has been five years ago." A little silence. "And she did safe Queen Gabrielle."

Again silence. And then soft chuckles.

"Who knows, maybe she’s interested in her."

"Oh...do you think? Huh...I always thought, maybe Ephiny and...."

"Ephiny? No way...she would never approach her. Terreis and she were best friends."

The tall, quiet shadow moved ever so slightly.

Breathing. Subtle rustle of leather and weapons.

"She misses her a lot, doesn’t she?"

"Mmh." A slow breath. "They were supposed to be joined during the festival."

A long moment of silence. From somewhere the eerie, lonely cry of an owl echoed through the quiet. The whispering voices of leaves. Faintly the crackle of a bonfire. Accompanied by the hollow sound of dripping water.

"Do you think the whole thing is over? Ephiny has us still on double shift duty."

"I hope it is. We lost so many."

The voices moved again. Slowly fading as muted footsteps headed forward.

Xena took a hesitant step forward. One hand brushing through dampened strands of dark hair. She swallowed. So, Gabrielle and Terreis had been lovers. The tickle of....what? Jealousy? was very annoying and she kicked one of the logs supporting the porch roof.

And then she turned as she became aware of another presence. Looking into the shyly smiling face of Klarissa.


It took her a moment but she managed to wrestle a stoic expression on her face. Lifting a dark brow, she crossed her arms in front of her chest.

"Can’t sleep?"

Obviously encouraged by the fact that she wasn’t immediately brushed off, the young woman took a few steps forward. Coming to stand next to the tall, silent form. Shrugging. "Not really, no."

Pale eyes spots of light in the dark studied the younger woman for a long silent moment. Then a quiet breath.

"How much did you hear?"

Klarissa cleared her throat sheepishly. Avoiding Xena’s gaze. "Um...everything...I guess."


"Is...is it true?"

Xena released a slow breath and dropped her arms. Her gaze reaching somewhere far way. Ever so slowly returning to the Queen’s hut.


Hesitant movement from the smaller woman. Tugging at a short strand of her red hair, she swallowed. Trying to make out the expression on Xena’s face.

She admired the taller woman ever since she was allowed in her training class for Royal Guards. Working twice as hard as her friends to make sure that she deserved the trust Xena had shown in her abilities. She admitted that she had a little crush on the taciturn woman but she was also mature enough to know that it wasn’t more than that.

And she had heard all those rumours about Xena’s past. But she never had wanted to believe it. She couldn’t even imagine Xena being the ruthless warrior those stories described.

"You’re not like that anymore." Almost innocently serious.

A soft laugh and she felt a large, warm hand ruffle her short hair.

"Thanks, Klarissa.....now, go back inside. Or do you want Amares to find out about your little night trip?"

Klarissa swallowed audible. For a moment wondering if it was a joke or if Xena was serious. Then a flash of white and she giggled. "Better not let that happen. Gonna get extra rounds on the exercise course for two moons."

Pale eyes watched the young woman walk to the door. Pausing before entering. "Xena?"


"Is Queen Gabrielle going to be okay?"

A brief silence. "Of course. Don’t worry."

With that Klarissa disappeared in the hut. Xena closed her eyes for a long moment and then sighed. Not quite sure why she stepped from the porch and headed across the village square.

Her tall form within seconds swallowed by damp layers of mist.


Ira jerked awake with a hoarse groan.

"Gods...I'm too old to fall asleep in a chair." She slowly sat up and groaned yet again as stiff muscles protested their abuse. "Ouch."

Giving her body a moment to ease cramped muscles, she then got up. Taking the time to stretch a little to get the blood circulating again. "Ooh...definitely too old to fall asleep in some stupid chair."

Still grumbling, she took a few steps towards the bed Gabrielle slept on and checked her forehead. No unusual warmth...so the fever had broken. Good. That was good.

The healer walked over to a table were she kept most of her herbs and started to prepare something to drink for the queen as she became aware of someone watching her. Swallowing, she got very still.

She was about to reach for a small dagger she kept close as a low voice drifted through the quiet room.

"Easy...I didn't mean to scare you."

Ira released the breath she had been holding and turned around. Scowling at the tall, dark form standing a few feet away from her.

"Don't you go and scare an old woman like that! Gods..." She chuckled. Her dark eyes dancing in amusement as she saw a small twinkle in those pale eyes watching her.


She waved her off. "No harm done." Taking a few steps towards the other woman, she tilted her head. "Is there something you need?"

Xena released a slow breath and looked away from a pair of inquiring eyes. Now that she was here it didn't seem to be such a good idea anymore.

"Um....I just....I couldn't sleep and wanted to see how Gabri...Queen Gabrielle was doing."

"Oh." Ira turned to hide her smile and busied herself with mixing a few herbs together. "Better. The fever has broken and I can't hear anything strange in her breathing. So with any luck, she didn't catch a cold."

Now she met guarded pale blue eyes. "Thanks to you."

Getting a slight shrug as an answer as the taller woman took a step towards the small form sleeping on the bed. Youthful features completely relaxed in sleep and Xena suddenly found herself wondering what her skin would feel like.

Soft, she was sure.

Clearing her throat, she turned back to Ira. "How are her ribs doing?"

Dark eyes blinked at her in obvious surprise. "Her ribs?"

The dark head nodded and pale eyes studied the older woman closely. "Yup. Some of them had been broken. Still gave her some trouble when I found her."

Ira licked her lips and then shook her head. Chuckling a little. "There isn't much that escapes your attention, is there?"

Another shrug. "Not much, no."

A moment of silence as the two women studied each other. Ira already guessing what the next question would be.

"What happened?"

Ira took a deep breath and slowly sat down. For the first time she avoided Xena's eyes and instead looked at Gabrielle's sleeping form.

"What did she tell you?"

"Nothing. That's why I am asking."

The older woman nodded silently and brushed a few grey strands out of her eyes. Debating with herself what and how much she could...should tell the other woman.

It really wasn't her place.

"This really isn't something I have the right to talk about, Xena. It is up to Gabrielle if and when she will tell you what happened." A slight frown. "The parts she can remember anyway." Soft, barely audible.

But Xena caught them nevertheless and frowned herself. Hades, what was going on here? "I just want to know if she is in danger."

Ira turned and raised a surprised brow. "Why?"

Why, indeed. The taller woman released a slow breath. Without conscious thought she started to pace around in the small space of the hut. Why? She couldn't really explain where this strange need to protect the small blonde came from.

Not like it was any of her business. Right?

The older woman studied the former warlord and shook her head a little. An amused smirk playing around the corner of her lips. The Fates certainly had a strange sense of humour.

As Xena still hadn't answered the healer cleared her throat and decided to change directions a little. Maybe there was a way to find out more about the dark woman without giving away too much herself.

"How long have you been with Cyane's tribe?"

Pale blue eyes blinked at her in surprise and silent acceptance of the change in topic. "A little over five years. It was...." A slow breath. "...time to change...things." A faint shrug.

"Mmh." Five years. Ira frowned in concentration as she counted. Mmh. Interesting.

"Why Amazons?"

Despite herself, Xena chuckled and leaned against a support. Amused at Ira's forwardness. Not many people had the courage to do that. Especially if they knew about her past.

Pale eyes flickered to the small frame an arm length away.

"Didn't really have that many choices."

Ira nodded and smiled. Admitting to herself that she actually liked the tall woman. She most certainly wasn't the monster from the all the stories she had heard. She just wondered how Gabrielle and she were connected.

"Why did you leave Greece? From what I remember you were close to taking over Corinth. I'm sure Athens would have been only a matter of time."

It was almost frightening the shift of emotions on those chiselled features. The small smile disappeared and pale blue eyes lost their twinkle and became cold and guarded again. The small room immediately filled with an air of danger.

Ira swallowed despite herself.

"Nothing I want to talk about." The low voice was cold.

The healer lifted her hands in a placating gesture. "Hey...easy tiger, it was just a question. I didn't mean to offend you."

Xena's face remained still and set in an almost angry expression. She wanted to kick herself for even allowing Ira's question to hit as hard as it had. Being back in Greece just had stirred too many memories. And that day...

Pale eyes blinked and she straightened. "Sorry for waking you up. I just wanted to check on the Queen."

Ira cleared her throat. "Oh...that's okay. She'll be fine. Weak for a few days but fine."

The dark headed nodded briefly and the older woman watched as the tall frame walked towards the door. But she paused and turned a little. Her face hidden within shadows. Only her eyes eerie spots of light in the dark.

"She wasn't born an Amazon, was she?"

And just how did she know that? Ira mused and shook her head. "No...no, she wasn't." And watched in puzzled silence as Xena left the hut without another word.


It was the scent of smoke that woke her.

The scent of smoke and her mother's voice. Screaming.

She sat up and looked around. Still half asleep....trying to get her bearings. "Wha.." Barely suppressing a cry as she felt her sister's cold hand on her arm.

"They're attacking us."

She blinked into the darkness. Trying to make out her sister's face. "Attacking...who?"

"I don't know but they're burning the village. Da's gone to fight them."

They dressed as quickly as possible and hesitantly made their way into the kitchen. Their mother was nowhere to be seen and the girls swallowed as they heard horses canter by. Husky voices and loud laughter drifted into the house.

Then a rustling thud on the roof and moments later the yellow glow of flames lit up the dark room.

Her sister screamed and then raced to the door. It took her a moment to shake off the shock and run after to her.

Only to freeze again at the sight before her.

A dark, leather-clad man on a horse smiled down at her. The tip of his sword protruding from her sister's throat. Her body still jerking as an ocean of red pooled around her. Still smiling at her he twisted the blade and in painful slow motion she watched as her sister's head tipped back.

Her dead eyes starring at her. The wound on her throat like a wide, bloody smile...

That's when she started to scream.

She tried to run but the man caught her within seconds. Pulling her on top of his horse. His hands rough and violent. His low voice a warm breath on her skin. "Now let's have some real fun."

And then she was swallowed by darkness and pain.


- 7 -

The mist was slowly dissolved by the first, tickling rays of sunlight that hesitantly peeked through treetops. Thick beams of a yellow glow cut across the village square. The damp earth steaming ever so lightly as the warmth of the sun gained in strength.

The cold wind of the night had died down and it was almost eerily quiet. Now and then birds announced their presence by darting out of the trees, chasing through the village to disappear in the woods again. Chirping loudly and agitated.

A gentle smile and Gabrielle wrapped her blanket tighter around herself.

It was going to be a beautiful day.

She shifted a little and almost immediately the pressure on her chest lessened. Pale brows wrinkled as she wondered how long it was going to take for the ribs to heal completely.

That, for some reason, reminded her of Xena.

Green eyes closed and she concentrated on something else. Not entirely comfortable with the feeling that had warmed her inside with the mere thought of the tall woman.

A soft sigh.

Her life was in turmoil already....she didn't need to add to that by ---

By what?

Frowning, she got up and was about to enter her hut as soft crunching announced someone's approach. Despite herself she smiled as she imagined the expression on Ephiny's face. Without turning she said: "Can we go inside for that? I really need to lay down for a moment."

A huff and she felt Ephiny move closer. Entering the hut with her.

Releasing a trembling breath, she sat down in a chair. Her head felt a little dizzy but she suspected it was from lack of food than anything else. Finally she looked up and met Ephiny's angry face.

"You could have died out there!"


"No, Gabrielle! There is no excuse for what you did yesterday! By Artemis...what are you trying to do? Get yourself killed?"

Ephiny watched as green eyes blinked at her in surprise. Mixed with the faint trace of hurt. She sighed and tried to relax a little. She hadn't meant to yell but....

"I'm sorry."

Gabrielle got up and stepped closer. Ducking her head a little to make eye contact with her friend. "Don't. Don't apologise. I know I shouldn't have disappeared like that but...." A little silence. Then: "....I needed to get away, Eph. It was getting too much."

Her friend looked up.

"I haven't slept very well and..." Again her mind turned to Xena. "...I'm confused and...and knowing that the festival comes up tomorrow isn't helping, either." The last was barely above a whisper and green eyes turned away.

Ah. Ephiny nodded silently. She had wondered when or if Gabrielle would talk about it. Even after all these years...there were times when she wondered how well she really knew the young woman. As open and warm as she seemed....there were parts inside her no one was allowed to see.

She wondered if Terreis had known about them.

"I understand, Gabrielle but....you are still our Queen. And you have duties that come with that title. And you accepted them when you accepted the mask." She gently reminded her silent friend.

"I know." Green eyes met hazel and Gabrielle actually smiled. "And I'm grateful to have you as my friend Eph."

The smiled at each other for a silent moment. Both lost in memories. Then the taller woman cleared her throat. Ever since Xena had carried Gabrielle into the village she had wondered what had happened out there.

"You were lucky that Xena found you." She tried to sound as casual as she could.

Frowning as Gabrielle turned away. Her hands trembling a little as she sorted through pieces of clothing. "Yeah....I guess I was..." It was a vague answer at best.

Mmh. Ephiny moved and tried to study Gabrielle's face as she continued. "Although I wonder what she was doing out there."

This got a reaction from her smaller friend and green eyes looked at her in slight confusion. "What do you mean?...oh Eph, do you still think, she's...." Blinking green eyes as Gabrielle fell silent. Not finishing what she was about to say.

Husky whispers. Touches. Laughter....and pain.


Ephiny grabbed shaking shoulders as she watched in worry the way Gabrielle seemed to be caught in some sort of daze.


Very slowly green eyes turned to look at her. And just as slowly recognition returned. The small frame swaying unsteadily. "...gods...." A breathless whisper.

"What? What happened?" Although she wanted to know Ephiny was almost as afraid as to what it was. Sure it had something to do with Gabrielle's past.

"It was like...I don't know....like I remembered something but..." She released a slow breath and turned away from her friend. Was she going crazy?

Felt a hesitant but comforting hand on her shoulder. "Maybe it's all the stress. We could ask Cyane to postpone the treaty for a while. Give you the chance to heal."

It was tempting.

Awfully tempting.

The chance to just close her eyes and not worry about anything. To finally grieve. To accept everything that had happened. Everything she had lost...

Her gaze travelled to the window. The village was bathed in sunlight. A deep golden glow that was like a gentle smile and she had to swallow against tears she felt burning her eyes.

She knew she could say yes....

But also knowing she would never do it.

She was the Queen. And she had accepted everything that came with that title. Hoping her voice wouldn't betray her, she said: "No. I'm fine....maybe I just need something to eat." It was a weak attempt at a joke but she got a affectionate chuckle from her friend.

"Melosa would be very proud of you." A small silence. "So would Terreis."

Silent tears traced down her cheek. Warm on her suddenly chilled skin. She swallowed and wiped at her eyes. "Thanks, Eph."

The warm hand on her shoulder gave her a light squeeze.

It took another moment before she felt comfortable enough to turn around and face the taller woman. The curly head titled a little and Eph reach out with one hand to wipe at a last teardrop.

"If you need to talk...."

A shaky smile. "I know, Eph. Thank you."

"Okay....did you have anything to eat, yet?" At the sheepish shake of blonde locks, Ephiny chuckled and nodded. "Let me get you something.....oh yeah, Eponin is waiting outside to have a word with you. And the elders would like to talk with you about the joinings tomorrow."

Gabrielle nodded. Almost grateful for the distraction....it would take her mind off of....Already pushing down the thought, she smiled and sat down at the table.

Amazing Ephiny yet again, how she managed to resume this aura of aloof grace and serenity within a blink of an eye. Only seconds ago a young, hurting woman stood before her and now...

Now she was looking at a Queen of the Amazons.

She wondered briefly what price Gabrielle had to pay for being able to hide her true self so completely.

With a last smile, she left the hut and met Eponin's anxious eyes. "She's waiting for you." Although she knew that she was being irrational, she was still angry with her friend for letting Gabrielle just disappear.

Eponin grabbed her arm. "Eph...."

"Not now, okay?"

The dark-haired woman sighed and nodded then turned to knock at the door. Entering as a soft voice called out.


Shuffle of hooves. Soft, eager neighs.

"Yeah, yeah....just give me a minute here, okay?"

The heavy scent of warm bodies and dry hay. Mixed with the sweeter smell of apples and fresh water.

Solari shook her head and started to fill the trough with the cut fruit. Pushing eager heads away. "There is enough for everyone." But she was smiling. Scratching a young foal on its nose.

Finishing, she leaned against a pole and watched the horses feed. The barn was quiet and she took a deep breath of its scent. Her smile broadening.

The door creaked softly and she turned a little to see Eponin enter.


Her friend looked up and smiled weakly. "...hey..."

Solari frowned and pushing away from the pole, walked towards Eponin who had simply dropped down on a pile of hay. Sighing audible.

"What's wrong?"

The smaller woman shrugged. "Nothing."

Solari chuckled and sat down next to her friend. "Right. That's why you are hiding in here."

Eponin shook her head. "It's...just....still could kick myself 'cause of yesterday."

Ah. Solari nodded in understanding. "Not your fault, Pony."

The dark head shook in stubborn denial. "It's my duty to protect the Queen...and I just let her waltz off to where ever." Their eyes met. "You know damn well, that if Xena hadn't found her or..." She didn't finish the sentence.

Her friend had listened in silence and now released a slow breath. "Eph's giving you a hard time about it, huh?"

A short nod.

"Mmh....and Gabrielle?"

For the first time Eponin smiled and rolled her eyes affectionately. "You know her....said I should stop blaming myself. After all, she had asked me."

Solari chuckled again. "Yeah...and she is right, too....Geez, I don't think any of us would have said no if she would have asked. You know that." A small silence. "I think it's her eyes...one look and...you'd jump off a cliff."

Again they looked at each other and slowly Eponin nodded. "Mmh..." She worried her lower lip and then exhaled softly. "Terreis once told me that if Gabrielle would ask her to give her the moon...she would. Not that Gabrielle would have done such a thing...but....you know..."

"Yeah...I know."

A wistful silence dropped between them. For a long time there were only the crunching of apples and soft neighs audible. Mixed with the soft rustle of hay. Faintly the squeak of mice.

Solari cleared her throat. "Well...thanks to Xena everything turned out all right."

"Wonder what's up with that, though."

Dark brows wrinkled in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Eponin shrugged. "I'm not sure...but....there is something between them. It's almost palpable when they're together." An almost frustrated breath. "I don't know how to explain it."

"Huh...do you think Gabrielle remembers her?"

"Good question." Eponin got up and stretched a little. "I don't know. But then again...we were never sure if Xena had anything to do with..." She waved her hands in a vague motion.

This time the silence was almost uncomfortable and they avoided each other's gaze.

It was Eponin who finally broke the quiet. "You're leaving tonight?"

"Yup....hate to miss the party but the outpost at the western border keeps reporting about some strange things. And I really want to check this out....We don't need another ambush."

Silent anger was obvious in her voice and Eponin nodded. And then a small smirk played on her lips. "Do you have any plans before you leave?"

Her answer was a low chuckle.


The pale grey of the early morning had broken into a clear blue. Only thin layers of clouds made their way lazily across the smooth surface.

The sun had risen fully by now and bathed the village in golden warmth.

Thick beams of light were caressing worn wooden boards. Tiny flakes of dust tumbling within. Stirred by soft gusts of wind. Trembling....to slowly, hesitantly settle back down again.

Watched by green eyes.

The hut was silent after the last question and the present elders looked at each other in quiet sympathy. There were four Amazons in their late forties that had been part of the tribe even before Melosa became Queen.

They had watched their tribe grew with each year and even though it had been a big step for them they had accepted Gabrielle as new Queen. Eventually admitting that the young woman's gentle approach to problems actually worked.

After all, there had been first, tentative talks with the centaurs about a peace treaty.

Now, four pairs of aged, knowing eyes studied the small form standing in front of the window. Arms crossed tightly in front of her.

They watched as Gabrielle swallowed and ran her hands through her blonde mane. Releasing it from the hold of the leather tie at the back of her neck. The soft breeze coming through the window immediately tugging at stray strands playfully.

"We should at least consider it." The low comment came from Vera, the leader of the elders. Three heads nodded in silent agreement.

Gabrielle turned around slowly. Green eyes blinking at the older women. A slow breath.

"We never had an opportunity to mourn properly. The families of those we've lost already agreed." A moment of silence. "We understand that this won't be easy for you....but I think it would be good for all of us."

Green eyes closed for a brief moment and then the pale head nodded ever so slightly. "I agree....please arrange everything."

"Of course." Taking the words as an unspoken request to end the meeting the elders started to leave the hut. Vera was the only one who stayed. Silently watching Gabrielle.

"Not what you had planned for the festival, was it?" The soft voice was trembling and Gabrielle had to take a deep breath.

"Death is never something you plan to happen. But no....it's not what I had hoped to start the festival with."

The older woman bit her lower lip and took a few steps forward. Her hand reaching out to cup Gabrielle's face. "It was supposed to be the happiest day for the two of you."

Green eyes misted with silent tears and Vera swallowed. "She loved you very much, Gabrielle."

It took all of her strength to keep from breaking down. The older woman saw it in the way the small frame went very still. Pink lips trembling with silent sobs.

Part of her was amazed at the willpower of the young woman but a larger part was worried. From what Ira and Ephiny had told her Gabrielle had been too composed. Obviously suppressing any grief and hurt to be able to go through every new day.

She wondered how long Gabrielle was able to go on like that. Having the Eastern Amazons here, including the puzzle that was Xena, most certainly didn't helped any.

She waited for a silent moment until teary eyes met her gaze. "And it is all right to cry, Gabrielle."

A hitched breath. "I...I know."

Vera nodded. "Good...I'll see you tomorrow."

Gabrielle watched the older woman leave and with a choked sob dropped onto her bed. Her entire body cramping with the force of the silent sobs shaking her. Her bruised ribs adding to the pain and she forced herself to calm down.

Not knowing where she took the strength from.

From outside cheery laughter drifted her way. Mixed with the sound of preparation for the festival tomorrow.

She swallowed. Her throat hurt and she consciously tried to relax. It was just too much at once. And after the treaty was finished she would have the time she needed to hurt, to mourn....

To fall apart.

Right now she was a Queen of the Amazons. With duties to take care of. Including the mourning ceremony for Melosa and....Terreis....as well as the joining of two couples.

Everything else.....again her mind turned to Xena.....everything else she would close away for as long as she needed to.


The air was heavy with warm steam. Curling with the slow movement of a small form getting out of a wooden tub.

"Stop leering." The soft voice gently scolding.

A low chuckle and the sound of water slashing against wood. And a slightly taller frame coming to halt behind the smaller woman. Slowly brushing long, wet locks to one side. Warm, gentle fingers tracing soft skin.

"Most of them are gone....or fading."

The light touch stopped at a rather prominent mark. And then disappeared to be replaced with warm lips.

"Remind me to thank Ira...again."

The smaller form turned. Green eyes a curious mixture of sadness, remembered pain...and deep affection. A soft smile. "I will."

A small hand reaching out to touch a cheek in a slow, light caress. Trembling as Terreis turned her face to place a kiss on her palm.

"I love you."


- 8 -

"It's important that you keep your upper body even. See?"

A shift of dark leather and body.

"This way you don't give your opponent any openings and it enables you to attack from a defensive stance."

Eager eyes followed as a tall form finished a move with a staff.

A lot of eager eyes, Xena noticed wryly. What had started out as a staff lesson for Klarissa and Larra had quickly turned into a 'public' lesson. Within minutes half of the village had shown up and shown interest in her teaching.

Another wry smile.

Shown interest, anyway.

She met Klarissa's eyes and saw the young woman roll her eyes at the group of women surrounding them. Chuckling softly, she handed her staff to Amares who only shook her head.

"Okay." She put her hands on her hips. Surveying the circle of women. And met cold hazel eyes. "Anyone interested in hand-to-hand combat."

Quite a lot of the Greek Amazons took a step forward but halted as Ephiny stepped onto the dusty ring used for weapon training.

"Yeah....let's find out if you're really as good as all the stories say."

The excited whispers of the other Amazons died almost immediately and a heavy silence dropped over the two women studying each other.

Xena sighed silently. Funny, it always came down to her knocking some sense into them before they believed she really had changed. Made it kinda difficult to believe it herself. Maybe she was fooling herself.

She might not be raiding villages anymore but to most of them she was that warlord who had held Greece in a firm grip of violence and death.

The dark part inside her chuckled even as she studied the Amazon in front of her.

She could feel her hands curl into tight fists even as the familiar rush of warmth and prickling sensations set her body on fire. Every nerve ending alert to the slightest movement from Ephiny.

She could kill her within an blink of an eye.

Tilting her head, she smiled.

And saw the flicker of doubt in Ephiny's eyes.

As good as the stories say? Oh, she was much more than those stories. Taking a step forward, her smile broadened. "Fine. Let's find out."

Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Cyane who came to a halt next to Amares. Frowning at the sight of her friend obviously preparing for a serious fight. Their eyes met and she shrugged.

Saw Cyane's chest move with a deep breath and got a brief nod. Turning back to the Greek Amazon, she loosened her muscles and took a slow breath. Well, might as well get this over with.

"You know, you could juggle apples instead. Would be a lot more fun for us to watch." The gentle voice came from somewhere behind her and she turned ---

--- to run straight into a pair of twinkling green eyes.

And found herself swallowing against her suddenly dry throat.

Outlined by a beam of sunlight stood Gabrielle. She was again, unlike the rest of the Greek Amazons who seemed to favour rather revealing leathers, wearing a short-sleeved shirt - reaching the top of her skirt. Her long blonde hair was loose and danced around gentle features.

Pale eyes watched in eerie fascination as the smaller woman reached up to brush a few strands behind an ear.

The blonde head tilted and then smiled at her.

And she couldn't help but smile back. Again, swallowed by the unnerving feeling of losing control. But at the moment not giving a damn.

Gabrielle took a few steps forward. Casually touching her arm in passing before she came to a halt between her and Ephiny. Her skin immediately alive with prickling sensations.

"Mmh? What do you say? A juggle contest? We could include it in the festival."

Soft chuckles drifted through the air as the watching Amazons relaxed. Ephiny bit her lower lip and met gently scolding eyes. She shrugged and kicked a small rock in an almost adolescent gesture.

Gabrielle laughed and poked her belly. Causing her to chuckle despite herself. "Sure. I'm game."

As if on cue all eyes turned to Xena's tall frame. Not that she was aware of anything but Gabrielle. Or the soft scent that seemed to surround the small blonde. Or the way the slightly upturned nose wrinkled at its very top every time she smiled...

"Um..." She had to clear her throat. "Yeah...fine...juggle contest. Why not." And then she smiled. Just because she could and because she knew...somehow knew....that Gabrielle would smile back.

The younger woman felt something flutter inside at the way that simple smile seemed to transform those chiselled features. She swallowed and turned away. Needing a moment to collect herself.

How could Xena do that to her with a simple smile?

She met Ephiny's questioning gaze and shook her head in a silent nod. The rest of the Amazons had started to leave the training ground and eventually even Ephiny left. But not without a last look back.

Cyane debated with herself if she should approach the two women or not. Deciding against it as she studied her friend. She'd never seen her like this. And it felt good to see her smile. Something she did seldom enough.

"I'm sorry for the little scene." The low voice sounded almost sheepishly and Gabrielle smiled.

"Don't be....I'm sorry that Ephiny started this. She's my best friend but she can be difficult."

They started walking. Slowly making their way towards the river that lined the village at its back. The sun had risen to its highest point and the air seemed to hum with heat.

"She's trying to protect you. Not that I can blame her."

The blonde head tilted in a questioning gesture and Xena shrugged. "I'm sure you've heard all the stories about me."

Gabrielle stopped and released a slow breath. "I have." A small silence as she turned away. "I have." Softer this time. Barely above a whisper.

Xena watched her for a long moment. Not sure what to make of this but willing to give Gabrielle all the time she needed. Aware that this was the first time they were alone and really talking and not trying to avoid each other.

She hoped it was a good sign.

Gabrielle came to a halt next to a tree and lifted a hand. Resting it against the warm, rough surface. Her fingers tracing lines and valleys.

"It seems that's what my whole life is made of.....stories....." The words were soft and Xena wasn't even sure if they were directed at her.

Then Gabrielle turned around and she was face to face with a pair of green eyes holding so much sadness and hurt it touched something inside.

Something that was almost familiar....

"May I ask you something?"

The blonde head tilted slightly. "Of course."

"Are you afraid of me?" Okay, so that's not what she had meant to ask but somehow it was important to her that Gabrielle didn't see her as some kind of threat.

Those green eyes blinked at her for a painfully long moment. And she found herself dreading the answer.

Afraid? Pale brows wrinkled in serious thought. Thinking about the first few days when Xena's mere presence had seemed to....disturb her. The way it had brought back images from her nightmares.

But also aware of the moment as they shook hands the morning Cyane's party had arrived - gods, it had felt...

She shivered a little as she remembered the feel of the large, warm hand in her own. The first time they had touched and it already had felt familiar. That's what really had been disturbing. This eerie sensation of knowing Xena.

And the evening when she fell asleep in the forest. And the taller woman had to carry her back to the village. She didn't remember much of that but -

- but she did remember the feel of the warm, muscular body holding her. Remembered the distinctive feeling of being safe.


And the blonde head shook in a negative gesture. "No...no, I'm not afraid of you." The soft voice sounding surprised.


Cyane watched the two women and smiled. If she didn't know better she would say......Nah. Couldn't be. Could it?

She shook her head. Oh my. Who would have thought that a simple trip to finalise a treaty could get so interesting. Noticing Ephiny, she sighed.

And complicated.

The Greek Amazon had noticed her, too and after a moment of hesitation walked over to her. Her eyes for a moment straying to Xena and Gabrielle. The muscles in her jaw moving with silent emotions.

"Why do you hate her so much?"

Hazel eyes blinked at her in surprise. "Hate her? I don't...." Ephiny didn't finish the sentence and released a slow breath. "It's complicated."

Cyane chuckled. "I'll say. Ever since we arrived you have been starring daggers at Xena. And somehow I've got the impression that this is personal.....Is it?"

Ephiny didn't answer immediately. Personal? Again her eyes flickered to Gabrielle's small frame. Swallowing as she saw her smile at something Xena had said.

"I'm only trying to protect her."

"From whom? Xena?" Cyane looked at her in confusion. This wasn't really making sense. "She saved her life yesterday. Remember?"

And was suddenly at close range with angry hazel eyes. "She....gods, you have no idea what you are talking about! Saved her life?....yeah, maybe yesterday she did."

Dark eyes blinked at her in obvious confusion and slight annoyance. "What do you mean?"

Ephiny sighed. Noting that Xena and Gabrielle had disappeared in the woods. Probably making their way to the river. One of Gabrielle's favourite places.

Tired of pretending, the Greek Amazon took a few steps forward. Close enough to feel Cyane's breath on her skin.

"You can't save what you already took away...now, can you?"

With that she turned and was about to walk away as a surprisingly strong hand pulled her back. Looking at the hand on her upper arm, she slowly lifted her head. Waiting for Cyane to release her grip.

Anger was very obvious in her face and she released a short breath. "Do you mind telling me what exactly you mean by that?"

Ephiny laughed. A short, cold bark. Knowing that she was doing the wrong thing but unable to stop now.

"Don't ask me.......ask your friend back there if she remembers a village named Potedeia."


"You're not?"

Gabrielle looked as surprised as her words had sounded. "No. I'm not." The blonde head tilted at her. Green eyes looking at her with a strange expression in them.

Causing her to swallow.

"But they're true, aren't they?...Those stories."

Xnea exhaled softly. "Some are true. Some things are worse than the stories. A few never happened. Not that it matters." She closed her eyes for a brief moment and was about to turn away as a small, warm hand touched her arm.

Pale blue eyes looked down. Idly noting the contrast of the pale skin on her own darker. Very aware of the warmth spreading through her body. The hand squeezed her arm lightly and she looked up.

How can eyes be so expressive?

She blinked.

How can a simple smile make you feel this way?

"But you changed." It was a statement. Not a question. Said in a gentle, certain voice.

Had she? She thought of the last five years she'd spent with Cyane's tribe. The things she'd done for the tribe. What it meant to her to see friendship and respect in the eyes of her friends. And compared it to her life as a feared warlord.

Changed. She smiled and shrugged. "I'd like to think so, yes."

It was the first time she had ever admitted it to herself. Losing control, huh? Oh yeah...most certainly.

Gabrielle's smile broadened. Sitting down on a fallen tree trunk, she motioned Xena over. "So...tell me about your tribe."

Just liked that. Xena released a slow breath. Just like that....like old friends meeting for the first time after a long separation. Was it really that simple?

Playful rays of sunlight hit green eyes. Turning them into an ocean of colours. Green blending into blue with just the slightest hint of grey. And within the depths golden flecks.

Soft skin wrinkling with a gentle smile.

Xena smiled and sat down next to the smaller frame. Feeling something inside settle with a peaceful sigh of relief.

Just like that.


- 9 -

It was late afternoon. Already the clear blue of the sky gained a deeper tone. Caressed at its very edges by a soft, orange glow. Hinting at the slow descent of the sun.

The forest started to settle down. The cheerful voices of birds got quieter. Their songs almost wistful as the light slowly crept away. Very noticeable cutting the ground in parts of dark and golden light.

Soft murmurs from the river drifted through the air. Now and then mixed with a splashing sound when a fish touched the lazily moving surface.

Or a small rock rippled its flow.

They had fallen silent some time ago and now sat in surprisingly comfortable silence next to each other.

A large, tanned hand fiddled with a couple of small, flat stones. A quick movement and one fluttered across the water...two, three times to disappear with a low sound.

A small smile.

Pale blue eyes turning to study the quiet form next to her.


Gabrielle might be small but she had a very well proportioned body. Giving her a compact but also very capable appearance. The soft bunching of muscles in her arms and thighs certainly a fact that she indeed knew how to fight.

She had her hair pulled to one side. Allowing pale eyes an unhindered view of her profile.

Soft. Gentle. And yet mature.

Beautiful. Xena frowned and turned away. Flinging yet again a rock across the river. This one sinking immediately. Of course.

She turned back to the small blonde - and swallowed.

Met by a gentle smile and twinkling green eyes.

"That's the first."

Xena shrugged and chuckled a little. "Well...can't win 'em all, right?"

Gabrielle laughed. A soft, impossible light sound. Reaching out and inside her with frightening ease.

They looked at each other for a long moment.

Green eyes first to turn away. A slow breath and Gabrielle pulled her knees against her chest. Deliberately ignoring the brief flash of pain in her ribs. Resting her chin atop of them, her gaze reached somewhere far away.

Very aware of those pale eyes watching her.

It was unnerving. In many ways.

Especially the fact that it didn't bother her as much as she told herself it should.

Amazing how comfortable one can be with a virtual stranger. Here they sat. And even though they hadn't talked in what seemed to be hours....she felt no need to fill the silence with idle chatter.

"How are your ribs?"

The low voice tickled her senses and she took a deep breath before turning her head a little to look at Xena.

How can eyes be that blue?

"Fine. I still can't work out as much as I'd like but Ira said in a week or so they should be healed completely." She shrugged a little and turned her head forward again. "About time, too."

A moment of silence. This time humming with unspoken questions.

The soft sounds of moving leather. An ever so light scent of warm body drifted her way and she closed her eyes. Wondering if Xena would ask or not.

"What happened?"

Still not turning, she bit her lower lip and exhaled slowly. "I tried to save her. But...." Her voice trembled and she blinked away tears. "I'm good with a staff but...they...they were better. And faster."

Xena took in the soft words. Aware that Gabrielle deliberately left out whoever had attacked them.

The small frame had gone very still. Almost as if she was afraid of the next question.

The taller woman leaned back against a tree. She wanted to know what happened. But she also had no desire to add to Gabrielle's obvious pain and so she simply nodded. Taking a look at the sky, she slowly got up.

"We should head back."

Green eyes looked at her. And she could almost see the slow shift from a deep blue into a misty green.

Again those eyes stirred some old memory. She pushed the disturbing sensation away and offering a hand to Gabrielle, smiled. Gods, I smiled more in those few hours than I did in five years.

A small, warm hand fitted itself into her own and she gently pulled the smaller woman to her feet.

"Thanks." A soft whisper. Carrying more meaning than a simple thank you.

"You're welcome."

And then they became aware that their hands were still entwined. And again it was Gabrielle who pulled away first. With an almost embarrassed smile she turned to the narrow path leading towards the village.

Xena watched her for another shocked moment. Her entire body alive with prickling sensations and a warmth so new and yet, eerily familiar.

She swallowed and then, hesitantly followed the smaller woman.


It was getting dark by the time they entered the village. Torches were already burning all around the square and animated voices and soft music drifted to them from the food hut. In the very centre of the square a platform had been set up and a few of the younger Amazons were busy decorating it.

They were giggling and whispering. Now and then throwing pieces of their decoration at each other.

Gabrielle smiled at the sight and slowed her steps a little. "Their first time at the festival." She said to the silent, tall form coming to a halt behind her.

"Mmh....they seem to be looking forward to it."

A soft chuckle. "Oh..I am sure, they are."

But then the amused smirk disappeared and Xena saw green eyes cloud over with.... oh, right. Terreis and Gabrielle were supposed to be joined tomorrow. Despite herself, she felt her jaw move with silent emotions.

Gabrielle exhaled slowly and then turned away.

They made their way to the Queen's hut in silence. Two Royal Guard immediately coming to attention as they recognised the two figures approaching.

"My Queen."

Gabrielle smiled at them and then looked at the dark form beside her. "Thank you for the afternoon."

The tall form shrugged noncommittally. "My honour, Your Majesty."

Green eyes blinked in surprise at the sudden formal sound of Xena's voice. But then she smiled and turning, entered her hut. Taking one last look at the dark frame standing at the foot of the steps leading to the porch before closing the door.

The tall form didn't move for another moment...and only did so because one of the Guards cleared her throat to get her attention.

Confused and not sure of anything Xena made her way back to the hut she and Cyane stayed in. Losing control? No, I don't think so. This was far worse than losing control.

And a lot more dangerous.

She entered their hut and leaning back against the closed door, released a deep breath. She closed her eyes and hoped to find a moment of peace to settle the turmoil inside her mind.

"Xena? You okay? What's wrong?"

Cyane's worried voice drifted her way and she almost - almost laughed out loud. Wrong? Everything was wrong. I'm falling in love and I don't know how to stop it.

Pale blue eyes opened.

And the smile on her lips froze as she noticed Ephiny and Ira sitting next to Cyane. She felt her entire body stiffen and focused now cold and questioning eyes on her friend.

"Am I interrupting something?"

Cyane swallowed but didn't break their gaze. "Sit down...please. We need to talk."

Now every single instinct inside her told her that this wasn't good. Pale blue eyes shifted to the silent Greek Amazons. And from the looks of it would get ugly real soon.

"About what?"

Cyane exchanged quick looks with Ira and Ephiny and then sighed. She hated to confront her friend like that but if what she had been told was true....

"What do you know about a village named Potedeia?"

For a moment she felt herself falling. Fast and out of control. Into an abyss of darkness and violence. Of images and memories better left buried.

A cold, cynic chuckle left her throat. Redeem myself? Right. Obviously not in this lifetime. Crossing her arms in front of her chest, she lifted a dark brow in an almost mocking gesture.

"What do you want to know?"


Her hand touched his chest and she trailed one finger down his torso. Feeling his breathing catch for a moment.

"You now Draco...." She shook her head a little. "I really am a little angry with you."

She stepped away from him and walked over to the bed again. Grabbing a corner of the blanket covering the small, whimpering form, she pulled it off.

"You disobey my order just to fuck some peasant whore?"

The young woman curled tighter against the headboard. Her whimpers cut off as a strong hand grabbed her chin and her bruised face was forcefully turned to meet cold, pale blue eyes.

Tracing along the naked body a saucy smiled played on red lips.

"Was she at least worth it?"

Draco swallowed and started to stammer something.

But she didn't hear him. Because her gaze was caught by a pair of eyes whose colour suddenly, slowly changed from a deep blue into a misty green as a beam of sunlight lit the room.

She blinked and let go of the girl.

Slowly she turned back again "Mmh, Draco? I asked you a question." She took a few steps towards him. A mocking smirk playing on her lips.

He was about to say something but all that left his mouth was a surprised groan and a thin line of blood as her dagger plunged deep into his chest.

"Was she worth dying for?"

His lips moved but all he was able to utter were hoarse groans as his knees gave in and his own weight caused the dagger to slice through his chest. A soft hiss audible as the blade tore through his lung.

His body jerked and one hand reached for her.

With a cold smile she stepped away and with an almost impatient gesture threw him onto the bed. His bloodied body covering the eerily quiet girl who didn't even try to get away.

Xena shook her head and wiped the blade at a piece of cloth. Pale blue eyes looking at her hands that were covered in warm, red liquid.

She shrugged and was about to leave as she stopped once again. Rustle of cloth as the girl started to move. Soft, barely audible whimpers.

From outside the husky voices of soldiers echoed through the air. The sounds of horses and the loud crackle of flames. The heavy scent of smoke and burned flesh.

Releasing a slow breath, she returned to the bed.

Rolling the dead, heavy weight from the small form underneath, she was again caught in an ocean of colours.

And suddenly she felt tired.

So tired...

Looking around, she grabbed a few pieces of clothes and threw them at the girl. "Wait til we're gone."

Those eyes blinked at her. And for a moment she thought that the girl would say something but then the small form curled away from her. Small, trembling hands clutching at the ripped cloth.

Without another word or look back she left the room and the building. Outside she was met by her men. Cheering at her.

But she didn't hear their voices. All she heard was the crackle of fire. The soft sighs of wood surrendering to hungry flames. Mixed with the soft whimpers.

The road leading through the village was covered with dead bodies. Some simply sliced open...others burned. Their bodies frozen in bizarre gestures of pain.

Pale eyes flickered back to the inn.

Grabbing the halter of her horse, she motioned to her men. They looked at her in slight confusion.

"Break camp...we won't stay here."

A low murmur rose up. The men hesitantly moving. Not sure what to make of this.

"I said, we are moving out." Her low voice was calm but icy. Pale blue eyes studying the leather-clad bodies with a look that got them moving without argument.

The sun was warm against her back and she closed her eyes for a brief moment. Only to open them as a pair of eyes formed in her mind.

Gods, she was just so tired...


- 10 -

"You ran." It wasn't a question.

Xena released a slow breath. Her fingers curled tightly around the window sill and she dropped her head. Her shoulders aching as yet another weight settled upon them.

Had she? Had she been running? She looked up. Pale eyes getting lost somewhere in the darkness settling outside.

Well...everybody had thought she killed Draco because he had disobeyed her orders. And that's why she had done it. Wasn't it?

The hut was very quiet. Only the breathing of the three women behind her audible. She felt their gazes burning in her back.

It had been a good enough reason as any. But yes, yes she had been running. From a pair of eyes that she just couldn't shake. All the years of killing, torturing...and she never - never had been as affected by a mere look as she had been that day.

She had killed him because of what he had done to the girl.

Days later she had left Greece. And she had been honest enough with herself to admit that she was running. She, Conqueror of Greece, running from a pair of eyes.

The tall frame slowly straightened and she turned around. Her eyes meeting Cyane's dark ones. She shrugged.


Again a heavy silence settled.

Ephiny swallowed. Her hands gripping a cup of ale with almost painful force. "It was Gabrielle, wasn't it?"

Pale blue eyes turned to her. And as guarded and cold as they always seemed....now they were filled with so many emotions it was difficult to name them all.

The tall frame seemed to lose in height as Xena leaned back against the window frame. Her gaze returning to the darkness outside even as she took a slightly trembling breath.


The Greek Amazon jumped up. Her cup clattering to the ground with almost eerily loud sound. "You bitch...how long did you know that?"

Xena didn't even look at her. "I realised it this afternoon....but I felt something from the first day."

"Xena..." Cyane's voice.

Ephiny shook her head. Her hands curled into tight fists, trembling with the sheer force of the anger coursing through her body. By Artemis, she knew it! Hazel eyes took in Xena's silent form. She was about to move as she felt Ira's gentle but firm touch on her arm.

The older woman had got up, too. Her dark eyes asking her to give her a moment. Turning to Xena, she took a slow breath. "And Gabrielle?"

Pale blue eyes met her gaze. "I'm not sure." The dark head tilted a little. "She doesn't remember anything that happened then, does she?"

"No. After Terreis and Ephiny found her in the forest, they were attacked and Gabrielle severely injured. When she finally regained consciousness again..." The healer shrugged a little. "She didn't remember anything.....thankfully."

Pale blue eyes turned away again.

Cyane exhaled. Gods this was....Brushing slightly trembling hands through her hair, she looked at her friend. It was one thing to know about her past - and another to be confronted with it. Dark brows wrinkled in an unconscious frown as she turned to Ira.

"She didn't remember anything? Nothing?"

Ira shook her head. "No. At first I thought it had something to do with the head wound she received but I think....the mind has a way of protecting itself. After what had happened in Potedeia and what...he did to her....her mind refused to remember."

"How did you found out where she was from?"

"It wasn't hard to track Xena's army." Ephiny's cold, angry voice broke in. "And Potedeia was one of the last villages burned to ashes before we found Gabrielle."

Cyane turned to her friend. "What are we going to do now?"

"She has to leave! Or by Artemis, I swear...." Ephiny took a few steps toward the still silent form.

Stopped by a pair of icy, blue eyes. "Or what?"

Cyane stepped between the two women. "This isn't helping, Ephiny. Please.."

The Greek Amazon huffed and sat back down again. Her jaw moving with silent anger. Her eyes never leaving Xena.

"I think she remembers."

Everybody turned to look at Ira. The healer bit her lower lip and nodded her head in a slow, thoughtful gesture.

"Maybe not details but the memories are coming back. We all noticed the way she behaved around Xena the first few days." Dark eyes turned to Xena. "How come you recognised her this afternoon? What happened?"

Alarmed Ephiny sat up but was silenced by Ira's look.

Xena swallowed. This afternoon....Gods, she had never felt so peaceful in her life. Sitting there at the river. Gabrielle's silent, strangely comforting presence. Her smile. The brief, friendly touches...

"Her eyes. Something in her eyes...."

Ira tilted her head. Studying chiselled features very closely. Then she turned away and sighed. Oh yeah...the Fates had a very strange sense of humour. Cruel, really.

"What do you think we should do?"

Xena let the voices roll over her and leaning back against the window frame, looked outside again.

She hurt.

It was...this feeling she had had the very moment Cyane had mentioned the trip to Greece. She had known that something was to happen.

Not that she had expected anything like this.

Fool! How could she have seriously thought things had changed? She had changed. That she knew....but it didn't erase all the wrongs she had committed. It didn't erase the memories of all those she had hurt.

Pale eyes drifted to the Queen's hut.

Falling in love....Right. She was sure the Gods were laughing their heads off up on Mount Olympus.

The tall frame straightened and she turned. Ira, Ephiny and Cyane were still arguing.

"She is my friend....not to mention the head of my Royal Guards. You are not throwing her out of the village like some common thief!" Cyane leaned forward. Angry dark eyes starring at Ephiny.

"She is far worse than a common thief. She is lucky if we don't put her under arrest for what she did to Gabrielle!"

"Gods, she didn't rape her!! It was Draco! And she killed him!"

"It was her army!"

Both women had raised their voices and so it took a moment before any of them became aware of the soft sound near the door. It was Ira who turned first - and had to swallow a curse.

Gabrielle just stood there and looked at them. Her face was still wet with tears. Her hair dishevelled from sleep.

She took a few slow, hesitant steps forward. Not aware of anything but the tall frame near the window. The image so perfectly matching the one from her dream.

When she spoke her voice was soft...barely above a whisper. Hoarse as if she had been screaming.

"You were there."


To be continued in part 3

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