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Chapter 13 - End

by Dr.Bob


Xena, Gabrielle, and any other characters not of my creation are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story.

This story focuses on two women who love each other a great deal but are afraid to admit those feelings to the other. A consequence of this is a lot of pent up sexual frustration. There are some explicit scenes showing how they try to deal with this frustration. If this type of story is illegal where you live or you are under the age of consent, you really shouldn't read it. This story also contains scenes of strong violence and some adult language. If you feel any of these things would bother you, read no further.

[Author's note: I would, at this time, like to make a short blanket statement. In no way, shape, or form, do I now or have I ever felt that a woman NEEDS any type of phallic object for her own gratification. Okay. That's it. Call it......damage control.]

Chapter 13:

The clouds, visible only as faint silver silhouettes created by themoonlight, slowly drifted eastward across the night sky. The warm breeze carried the scent of jasmine over the hills as it gently stirred the sparse patches of heather. The wind dipped down into the shallow ravine holding the bandit camp, fanning the score of campfires. The droning of the nocturnal insects was spoiled by the cacophony of snores coming from below. Most of the bandits were asleep. Some, however, were awake and in various states of sobriety. One such group, gathered around a small fire, began an off­key chorus of some ballad only to be interrupted by a louder chorus of shouts demanding silence. A small make­shift corral, which held a few dozen horses, stood near the northern end of the camp. In the camp's center, sat a large, green canvas tent, its entrance flaps swaying gently in the breeze.

Wylan and Xena lay next to each other on the rim of the large gully looking down at the encampment. Wylan moved closer to her and whispered in her ear. "What kind of idiot leader have they got? Look where they put their camp. First heavy rain would flush the lot of `em out the other end."

Xena leaned closer and replied, "I'm sure they feel confident no one can find their camp in these hills. You see that tent? That has to be the leader. If we can get to him, maybe we can stop this fight before it starts."

"Sounds good, but we'd better hurry." Wylan tapped her lightly on the elbow.

Xena followed his gaze towards the southern end of the ravine. She could make out several of the villagers sneaking through the fringe of the camp, occasionally incapacitating a bandit, asleep or awake. Xena stood and carefully made her way down the hill with Wylan right behind.

Quietly, they navigated their way around the sleeping bandits.Luckily, there didn't seem to be any awake between them and the tent. They both froze as they heard a shout from the other end of the camp. Soon, a myriad of cries filled the air. Xena cursed as she looked up and realized they were still a good distance away from the tent. She looked around and saw that many of the bandits were beginning to revive and go for their weapons. She kicked the nearest one in the head and watched as he dropped back down to the ground. She turned and saw Wylan jab one of the bandits with the head of his mace as the man started to rise. She heard Wylan say, "You're having a bad dream," as the bandit slumped back down, unconscious. She tugged on his elbow. "We have to try and get to that tent!!" She took off running and heard Wylan reply, "Right behind you."

Wylan followed the woman, occasionally punching a groggy bandit that happened to be within reach. He spared a quick glance towards the other side of the camp, where the sounds of battle were the loudest. He noticed that most of the villagers were on the southern end. He looked back ahead and saw Xena nimbly hurtle a just­rising bandit. He adjusted his stride so that he'd be able to kick the man in the head as he passed over him. As he launched himself into the air however, the bandit spun and grabbed his legs with both hands. Wylan went down face first and used his free hand to break his fall as he cursed loudly, "Fuck!!"

Xena stopped and turned at the sound of her friend's shout. She saw the bandit she'd just jumped over hugging both of Wylan's legs around the knees. She ran closer as she saw several more bandits turning their way.

Wylan looked down at the man holding him. The bandit was too close for him to swing his mace effectively. He quickly unsheathed his dagger and slashed it viciously across the man's grinning face. The man screamed and let go of Wylan, clutching at his nose which had been nearly cut off. Wylan looked up and saw Xena standing over him. She parried a thrust by a nearby bandit and punched the man in the jaw. Wylan kicked the man's legs out from under him and quickly stood facing Xena. He was about to thank her when she pushed him aside and lunged, skewering the bandit that had been behind him. She pulled out her sword and turned up to him. His attention, however, was focused on the olive­skinned man running for Xena's back with a large curved sword. Realizing he probably couldn't bring his mace around in time, he threw his dagger in a backhand motion as hard as he could. As he watched the dagger sail off, he started to bring the heavy mace around, just in case the dagger missed its mark. It was unnecessary, however, as he watched the knife strike the man with a dull thunk.

Xena, still crouching at Wylan's feet, spun around and saw the bandit fall to his knees, feebly grabbing at Wylan's immense dagger, buried to the hilt in the his chest. She stood and thanked Wylan without looking at him.

Wylan grabbed her arm and pulled her sideways a few steps, away from the two bandits they were standing over. "Talk later, if we live through this!!" He looked around at the bandits coming at them from every direction. "Get back to back!!"

Xena complied as she waited for the first bandit to get close enough. She blocked the downward swing of his sword and pivoted slightly. In one quick motion, she kicked him first in the ribs and then in the head. The man fell backwards into the path of another oncoming bandit. She parried a lunge from a squat, round­faced brigand and then rotated her sword around in a tight circle, disarming the man. She rapidly punched three times in the face. He wobbled backwards a few steps, fell on his ass, and then fell over onto his back.

Wylan grabbed a bandit's wrist and squeezed with all his strength, causing the man to drop his sword and cry out in pain. The man was silenced as Wylan swung his mace around and connected with the side of his head, dropping him like a sack of flour. He brought the mace back up in a return swing, knocking another of them sideways a few feet. He looked up at the large bandit slowly approaching him. He was bald except for a short round patch of red hair on the center of his head. He wore only leather breeches and high fur boots. The man was easily as tall as he was and well muscled. He carried an immense twin­bladed battle axe. The man quickened his pace and raised the axe in both hands for a downward swing. Wylan trusted the iron haft of his mace to block any sword, but he wasn't so sure about the axe. Wylan wished for a spilt second he would be free to move around and get some swinging room. He quickly came up with an idea and gripped Painless in both hands, lowering the mace to his side. As the bandit brought the axe down, Wylan swung the mace up and across, squarely connecting with the head of the axe. Wylan felt the jarring shock travel up both arms as he watched the axe­head break and sail off into the night. The man dropped the now­useless stick he was holding and grabbed Wylan's mace with both hands. Wylan held onto the mace overhead as he stared face to face with the bandit. Wylan knew the man was stronger than him. It would only be a matter of time before the bandit would disarm him or another bandit would come in for an easy lunge. He looked down at the man's belt and saw a sheathed dagger strapped over his waist. Wylan quickly let go of the mace with his left hand and drew the bandit's dagger. With a flick of his wrist, he brought the thin blade deep and wide across the man's stomach just over his belt. With a look of shock, the huge man let go of the mace and staggered backwards, vainly trying to catch his entrails which fell out of him like a pile of bloody rope. Wylan had little time to savor his victory as he blocked the sword of another bandit. He quickly brought up the new dagger and embedded it in the man's throat. He watched as the man's eyes rolled over white as he slumped to the ground. He managed a split second glance over his shoulder to make sure Xena was okay.

With a high pitched shout, she brought her right foot up in a circular kick, dropping two more of the bandits. She brought her sword up in both hands to block the downstroke of a sword aimed at her head. She quickly adjusted her grip and slashed the man diagonally across the chest. She heard Wylan shout.

"Xena, the east ridge!!"

She turned towards the ridge they'd crossed over and saw four bandits with bows aiming towards the southern end of the camp. She drew her chakram and, after quickly judging distances and angles, let it fly. She then turned her attention to the bandit in front of her.

Wylan turned aside the man's sword with the mace and brought his fist up to connect with his nose. As he kicked the man in the gut, he looked towards the ridge and saw Xena's weapon strike each of the archers, dropping them like so much fresh cut chaff. He'd always been amazed how Xena could control that thing.

Xena blocked aside the bandits swing. She could see the chakram returning out of the corner of her eye. She briefly considered catching it. But after judging its trajectory, she decided to let it fly.

The short bandit watched as she lowered her sword. He looked up at her and sneered, "So, you decided to give up, eh?"

Xena just stood there smiling as the chakram came over her left shoulder and struck the man square in the face, knocking him senseless. She watched as a tall, lanky man with a club cautiously came towards her from her left. A sudden movement to her right caught her attention. She spotted a bandit with a pair of long dirks drawing towards her. She couldn't tell, however, if he was going after her or Wylan, or whether or not Wylan had spotted him. She quickly glanced towards the man with the club and, deciding she had time, lunged sideways towards the bandit with the daggers, running him through. She tried to bring her sword back around, but found that it was stuck. She quickly turned and saw that the ying bandit had grasped the blade in both hands and seemed intent on taking it with him. She looked back towards the man with the club as he drew closer and raised it over his head. In a split second, several options ran through her mind. She was off balance, so thereby, unable to kick the man. She could simply side­step the club, but it would probably strike Wylan instead. She could let go of her sword and tackle the man to the ground. This, however, would leave Wylan's back unprotected. She decided to try and catch the club, knowing it would sting like crazy. She wasn't prepared when her sword suddenly came free, throwing her off balance towards her left. She quickly raised her arm to block the descending blow. The club connected with her wrist. She heard bones crunch as intense pain traveled up her arm. She screamed with rage and brought her sword in a horizontal arc. She watched as the bandit's body fell to the ground. His head reached the ground a few seconds later and about seven feet away.

Wylan heard Xena's cry and managed to spare a glance in her direction, "Are you okay?"

Xena kicked an onrushing bandit square in the chest before replying"Couldn't be better!!"

Wylan swung the large mace sideways and broke several ribs of a nearby bandit. He glanced at the ground around them. The bandits were literally having to climb over their dead to reach him and Xena. He noticed there were a lot fewer of the bandits standing. He could also see several of the villagers fighting their way towards them. He looked past Xena's shoulder and saw a cloaked figure bolt from the large tent and run in the direction of the horses. "Xena!! I'm going for the leader!! Will you be okay!?!"

She shouted, "Yeah!", but he hesitated when he noticed she was cradling her left arm. She kicked a bandit across the face and turned to him and screamed, "Go Damnit!!"

He ran towards the corral as one of the bandits raced to intercept him. He dodged the man's clumsy thrust and brought the mace around to strike him in the base of the skull. He continued on and cursed as he realized the cloaked man would reach the horses well before him. As he continued to run, he stooped and picked up a flaming brand from one of the campfires. He watched as the man undid the strap from the hitching post and quickly climbed into the saddle. Wylan stopped, dropped the mace and grabbed the heavy torch in both hands. He leaned back and then heaved the fiery flambeau end­over­end with all of his might. The torch flared even brighter as it sailed through the air and then past the horse's muzzle. The startled animal reared violently, throwing the off balance rider to the ground. Wylan had already retrieved his mace and was closing in on the man.

Phylus stood slowly, trying to catch the breath which had been knocked out of him. He spun and saw the large man drawing near. He drew his sword and smiled wickedly. "Well, my large friend. It seems you bear me a grudge. Have we met?" He and Wylan warily circled each other. Phylus tried estimating the reach of the man's large mace. "Are you a mute, that you do not speak?" He shifted to the left and prepared to make a quick lunge.

Wylan brought the mace down to parry the sword. Seeing this, Phylus began to circle Wylan again. "I see you are a warrior also, not like the rest of these village sheep." He waved his hand towards the other end of the camp. "How would you like a position as my second in command?"

Wylan remained silent as he quickly evaluated the man. His stance indicated he was at least fairly adept with the long sword he held. The blade was thin and serrated on its rear side. He wore black ring mail armor and black leather gauntlets.

Phylus looked over the other man's shoulder. He could see the fight was going badly for his men. Several of the villagers were already heading in his direction. He stopped circling and brought his sword around in a vertical position. "I'm afraid I grow weary of this dance, myquiet friend. And you do seem to be between me and freedom." He made a quick feint for Wylan's shoulder, but then spun in place and slashed at the larger man's extended left knee. Wylan cursed loudly in pain as he grabbed his leg.

"Ahh, my friend. I see you can speak after all." He made a feral smile as he looked down at the blood spreading over Wylan's knee.

Xena still held her left arm to her side as she parried the sword of the man in front of her. She wrinkled her nose at the man's stench, realizing it was probably more lethal than his sword. She heard a shout from behind her and risked a quick sideways glance. From the corner of her eye, she could make out a vague form running towards her. She instinctually dropped down into a tight crouch while spinning in place. As the second man drew nearer, sword raised in hand, she quickly extended her leg and swept the first man from his feet. Once again, she felt the same stinging pain she'd felt in the village earlier that night. She brought up her sword and ran the second bandit through. She stood gingerly, cursing at the pain just beginning to fade between her legs. The first bandit started to regain his footing. Xena brought her sword down hard, knocking the man senseless with the flat of the blade. She turned quickly as someone shouted her name. She spotted Termanus and several of the other villagers approaching her.

"We've just about gotten all of them. Some escaped and some are surrendering," he looked around curiously. "Where's Wylan?"

Xena looked around and finally spotted Wylan near the far northern end of the camp. He was fighting someone in a cape. "Over there, C'mon!!" She ran in the direction of the corral with Termanus and the others following.

Phylus parried the large mace once again and followed with a thrust to Wylan's side. He only managed to rip a tear in Wylan's vest. "It appears, my friend, I may end up taking you apart piece by piece. Oh good, your comrades are arriving just in time to watch me finish you off."

Wylan swung the mace upwards, causing Phylus to lunge backwards a few steps. He quickly looked across at Xena, Termanus, and several of the others drawing closer. Keeping his eyes on Phylus, he shouted to them, "No!! Stay out of this!!"

Phylus feinted a lunge to Wylan's gut and then brought his blade up to the man's face. Wylan parried the sword, barely, and stumbled backwards a few steps. Phylus, still grinning, taunted him once more. "You seem to be tiring, my friend. People your age need to take it easy." He stalked closer to Wylan.

Wylan, breathing heavily, circled as Phylus approached. He knew he had to end this soon. He raised the mace up, partially leaving his side exposed.

Phylus saw the opening and lunged with his sword. Wylan parried the lunge and attempted to elbow the man in the head. Before he could connect, however, Phylus pulled back and kicked him hard in the chest, knocking the air out of him. Wylan reflexively bowled over forward. Phylus grabbed his shoulder and kicked his legs out from under him. Wylan fell sideways, landing on his stomach and heaving for air.

Phylus walked around behind him, laughing. "Won't you at least wheeze out your name so I'll know who I'm sending to the Gods?" He raised his sword to deliver the killing blow.

Xena raised her own sword and prepared to throw it like a spear at Phylus' back. She wouldn't let Wylan's pride cost him his life.

Phylus sneered down from behind Wylan, who was still on all fours. "You know what my friend? It's a young man's world." He started to bring the sword down.

Before Xena could release her sword, Wylan pivoted on his right knee and brought Painless around in a low horizontal sweep. By the time Phylus saw the blow coming, all his weight was on his front leg; he had no time to react. The heavy iron mace connected with his leg, completely shattering his knee. He dropped to the ground, bellowing in pain and clutching at his useless right leg. He could feel several pieces of bone jutting from the torn skin. He blinked away the tears in his eyes as he looked up and saw Wylan standing over him, bloody mace in hand.

"You know what? You talk too much." Wylan brought the mace around in a figure eight motion and then aimed it down at Phylus' head.

Phylus, still holding his ruined leg, closed his eyes and waited for the fatal blow to come.

After a few seconds, he opened his eyes to see the large head of the mace poised a few inches above his face.

Wylan leered at him over the weapon. "And I'm not your friend," he forcefully tapped Phylus on the head with the mace, knocking the man unconscious.

The crowd gathered around and cheered loudly as Wylan straightened. Xena came closer and pat him on the shoulder, smiling up at him with a crooked grin.

Wylan smiled back down at her. "What? You thought I was gonna kill him, huh?" He looked down at Phylus' prone form. "A few weeks in Milius' dungeon and he may wish I had." He noticed Xena was still cradling her left arm. "Hey, how's the arm?"

"How's the leg?" she replied, pointing to the large blood stain over his left knee.

He looked down and shrugged. "Can't even feel it." He removed her bracer and felt her arm and wrist, ignoring her protests. "It may be broken or strained. I'll need to set it soon. Till then..." He reached down and tore off a large section of Phylus' cape and expertly fashioned it into a sling which he put Xena's arm into.

Xena lifted her arm again and protested again. "Wylan, this isn't necessary."

He ignored her. "We'd better see who else is injured." They began making their way towards the center of the camp. Wylan noticed that Xena was walking a little funny. "You okay? You're walking funny."

Xena replied without looking at him, "I'm fine. I just have to remember to take care of something later."

Wylan just shrugged. He quickened his pace as he spotted one of the villagers waving at him frantically. He turned to Termanus. "Round up everyone that's healthy and start securing the prisoners. Come and find me when you're finished." Termanus nodded and headed towards the southern end of camp.

Wylan and Xena came closer to the cluster of villagers. Apparently, they'd gathered all the injured together. He could see four of them were lying on the ground. He asked Xena to take a look at the others as he kneeled over one of the unconscious men.

They spent the next hour tending to the wounded men. The worst had been run through the thigh with a spear. Wylan used his herbs to clean the wound and then finally cauterized it with a white hot blade. He was thankful the man had passed out from the pain. The majority of the remaining injuries were shallow cuts and bruises. One man had been hit in the shoulder with an arrow. He hadn't allowed Wylan to touch him till he had completely drained one of the bandit's wineskins. The man didn't even budge when Wylan pushed the arrow through and then broke it off. Lastly, he tended to his own injuries. Xena insisted they wait till they return to his home before setting her arm.

Twenty­three of the bandits were still alive. Most were capable of moving on their own. The slain bandits were piled into Phylus' tent whichwas then set ablaze. After waiting for the light of dawn, Wylan and Xena led the villagers back through the hills with the bound prisoners in tow. The villagers too injured to walk were placed on the confiscated horses. The bandits too injured to walk were aided or carried by their comrades. They eventually made it back to the village three hours later.

Chapter 14:

Wylan held the front door open for Xena. As they entered the hallway, Caspius, Trianna, and Gabrielle ran out of the kitchen to greet them. The children jumped into Wylan's arms, barraging him with a stream of questions.

Gabrielle came up and hugged Xena, not noticing her friend's arm was in a sling. She rested her head against the woman's shoulder and said softly, "Xena, I was worried about you." She hugged her a little tighter, but she let go when heard Xena take a sharp breath and grunt softly. She pulled back and finally noticed Xena's arm. She asked with concern, "Xena, what happened?" She hesitantly and gently grasped the fingers of Xena's left hand which hung from the side of the sling.

Wylan replied before Xena could. "She hurt her arm and she's going to let me look at it right now. Right Xena?" He put down the children and gave her a stare which made it obvious he wasn't taking no for an answer.

She let out a sigh of exasperation. "Fine, suit yourself." She walked passed them into Wylan's office. Wylan told the children to go change and then wait for him in the kitchen. He joined Xena and Gabrielle in his office. "Sit on the table."

Xena complied and Gabrielle hopped up beside her. Xena looked to Gabrielle and asked, "How's your arm?"

"It's a little sore, but I'm more worried about you."

Xena turned up to Wylan. "Don't you think you should check Gabrielle's bandage first?"

"I'll look at her arm after I've looked at yours." Wylan carefully removed the sling. Gabrielle gasped when she saw Xena's wrist. It had swollen badly and was now a dark blue color. Wylan looked up at Xena and said "This will hurt some." Gabrielle took Xena's right hand in hers. Wylan gingerly, yet thoroughly, examined the injury, occasionally asking Xena to try and move a finger. Finally he commented, "I think it's only a real bad sprain, but I'm going to treat it like a break anyway," he went to a drawer and pulled out a roll of bandages and a small box of pins. He went to the corner and picked up a long, flat piece of wood. Using the edge of the table, he broke off two short pieces. As he gently set Xena's wrist, he spoke to Gabrielle. "Pay attention Gabrielle. Knowing Xena, she'll take this off as soon as possible. It'll be up to you to put it back on." He looked up at Xena. "You need to keep the wrist immobile so the bones can knit, understand?" Xena just smirked at him.

Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand. "Don't worry. She'll behave herself or I'll break her other hand."

Xena and Wylan both stared at her. Gabrielle held her face firm and emotionless, trying to remain serious. The three of them burst out laughing. Xena shook her head. "Listen, I'm fine. I don't want either of you to start treating me like an infant."

Gabrielle hopped off the table and stood in front of her friend, still holding her hand. "You listen to me. For once in your life, you're gonna let someone take care of you and you're gonna do what Wylan tells you to."

Xena replied, "Yes ma'am."

Wylan, grinning from ear to ear, spoke up. "Gabrielle, why don't you go fix some hot water for Xena. I'm sure she'll want to clean herself up after I'm done. I'll check your bandage when you come back."

Gabrielle nodded and made her way to the kitchen.

Xena looked up at Wylan and asked menacingly, "What are you grinning at?"

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing." He was still grinning.

"You know we were lucky last night that none of our people got killed."

Wylan's expression became serious. "I know. I don't think we'd have been as lucky if those men were trained soldiers led by a competent warlord." He finished pinning the bandage in place. "Try to keep it dry. After two weeks, you can take it off for a little while every few days to flex the muscles. If you loosen the stitching on your bracer, you can probably slip it over the splint."

She stood back up and grabbed her sword which was leaning against a chair. "Thanks. I'm going check on the prisoners."

He quickly snatched the sword out of her hand and replied, "Oh no you're not. You're gonna go to your room, get cleaned up, and then you're gonna get some sleep."

She turned and headed for the children's bedroom, growling softly. As she entered, Gabrielle came out from behind the partition. "They have hot water in the basin and clean towels on the bench. I hung your robe up on the wall."

Xena smiled down at her. "Thanks Gabrielle." She sat on a chair and started to take off her boots with her right hand, with some difficulty.

Gabrielle came over and knelt in front of her. "Here, let me."

Xena looked down at Gabrielle's smiling face. She lifted her legs one at a time and allowed her to remove the boots and leather greaves. Gabrielle stood and went behind her. "Lean forward."

Xena did as she was instructed. Gabrielle undid the buckles holding the cuirass and the hooks holding the shoulder pads. She pulled off the metal breast plate and placed it on the small table. She slowly slid the straps over Xena's shoulders, feeling the warmth of the woman's skin under her palms.

Xena closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of Gabrielle's soft, caressing touch.

"Stand up."

Xena allowed Gabrielle to help her stand, even though she didn't need any. Gabrielle pulled down gently on the leather armor and started to slide it down Xena's body. Xena, suddenly deciding that Gabrielle undressing her was a bad idea, placed her hand softly over her friend's. "Thank you, Gabrielle. I can get the rest. Why don't you go and let Wylan check on your bandages."

Gabrielle smiled up at her. "Okay, I'll come back to check on you later," she headed into the hallway, shutting the door behind her.

Xena slipped out of the leather armor, letting it fall to the floor. She reached into the hidden fold of one of her greaves and removed the small dirk she kept there. She walked behind the partition and sat on the stool, placing the knife on the nearby bench. She playfully ran the fingers of her right hand through the patch of dark hair between her legs, remembering the stinging pain she'd twice felt the night before. She stared down at the surface of the water, momentarily hypnotized by the wafts of light steam rising into the air. She looked down at the splint covering her left hand. She shook her head and sighed. She hated being dependent on anyone for anything. Even though she was far from helpless, it still frustrated her. She dipped the washcloth into the warm water and then used it to wipe away the sweat, dirt, and grime from her face. After running her hand through her hair a few times, she decided to wash it. She moved the stool and then crouched near the wide basin. She unceremoniously dunked her entire head into the water, being careful not to wet her left hand.

Gabrielle looked towards the window as Wylan finished pulling off her bandage. She didn't want to see the ugly cut. She tried to think up some conversation to get her mind off of it. "Is Xena gonna be okay?"

Wylan wiped off the dried blood from around the wound. "She'll be fine. I figure her arm will be back to normal within a month. Provided she takes it easy. You'll have to help each other with your bandages. I want you to change yours once a day for the next week or until the wound stops seeping."

Gabrielle made a grimace and groaned.

"Oh c'mon Gabrielle. It's not that bad, really. Look for yourself."

Gabrielle reluctantly turned her head and looked down at the cut running across her upper arm. She blinked in surprise. "You're right, it doesn't look that bad." She looked at the neat row of small cris­crossed stitches. "When can I take the stitches out?"

"In a few weeks, I guess. Xena can decide when," Wylan began wrapping her arm with a fresh bandage. "I can give you something for the soreness if you want."

"No, it's okay."

Wylan pinned the bandage up. "There. All done. Why don't you go check on Xena, I have a few more patients coming over."

Gabrielle climbed off the table, hopped up and gave Wylan a light kiss on the cheek.

Wylan looked at her in surprise. "What was that for?"

"For taking such good care of Xena and me. Thanks again," she went out into the hall.

Wylan began picking up the scraps of old bandage. He said to himself, smiling, "Yeah, I'm a great guy."

Xena finished washing her legs. She finally felt clean again. Regardless of the image she portrayed, she didn't enjoy being covered in sweat and blood. Sometimes, it just couldn't be helped. She leaned over the basin and brought the washcloth up to her chest again, giving gentle and deliberate attention to each of her breasts, not that they weren't clean enough. She sat motionless when she heard the door open and shut quietly. The room grew silent except for the sound of the droplets of water which slowly fell from her body into the basin.

"Xena, are you okay?" Gabrielle asked softly.

Xena relaxed and wiped off some of the excess water from her chest. "Yes Gabrielle, I'm fine."

"Do you need anything?"

"No, I'm fine." She could hear Gabrielle climb onto her bed. "Did Wylan look at your arm?" She rung out the washcloth and draped it over the side of the basin.

"Yeah. He changed the bandage. He said we'll have to help each other when we change our own. You're going to follow his instructions, right Xena?"

"Yes Gabrielle," Xena picked up the short knife and spread her legs wider.

"You still have your splint on, right?"

"Yes Gabrielle," Xena tried using the knife to trim the hairs between her legs, with very little success. The way the splint was set, she hardly had any use of the fingers on that hand. She tried holding the dirk in her left hand, but to no avail. She knew it had to be done. Especially if she was going to be relying more on her feet until her wrist had completely healed.

"Xena, are you being careful not to get the splint wet?"

"Gabrielle, you're starting to sound like my mother."

"Well, get used to it," the bard replied.

"Great," Xena said sarcastically. She chuckled quietly. She was starting to like Gabrielle fussing over her. She tried again to flex her fingers and hold onto the dirk in her left hand. She dropped the knife into the basin as dull pain shot through her lower arm. She cursed loudly, "Sonofabitch!!"

Gabrielle hopped off her bed and ran behind the partition. "Xena, are you...okay?" She stammered as she came around and saw Xena, naked, sitting on the short stool with her legs spread open, facing her.

Xena, pulled the knife out of the water and shook it lightly. She looked up and saw Gabrielle staring at her, looking somewhat concerned. She closed her legs a bit. "Uh, Gabrielle, I...Uh." She tried figuring out how to explain what had happened without feeling anymore stupid than she already did. "Gabrielle, I...caught...myself when I was fighting last night," she pointed to her crotch. Still seeing the confused look on the woman's face, she tried to elaborate. "By the short hairs." Which turned out to be not so short, she thought to herself.

"Oh," realization dawned on Gabrielle. "Owww." She grimaced and clenched her legs together as she imagined what that must have felt like.

"Exactly. But, I'm not having much success fixing the problem," she held up her bandaged hand.

Gabrielle came closer. "Well, let me help."

Xena looked up at her skeptically, "Uh, Gabrielle...I don't know...I couldn't ask you to.."

Gabrielle interrupted her as she knelt in front of her friend. "You didn't ask, I offered." She place her left hand on Xena's knee and held out her right hand for the dirk.

Xena reluctantly handed over the knife.

"Okay, c'mon." Gabrielle gently pushed her legs apart.

The feel of Gabrielle's hand on the inside of her thigh caused Xena to blush a little. She could feel herself growing wet. She obligingly opened her legs farther apart. Knowing that Gabrielle was looking.....where she was looking, only made her more excited. She began breathing a little heavier. She could also feel herself growing wetter by the second. She closed her eyes and forced herself to slow her breathing.

Gabrielle looked down at the semi­thick patch of raven colored hair between Xena's legs. She hesitantly lowered her hand towards it. She'd dreamed of doing this before, but never with a knife in her hand.

When Gabrielle lightly ran her fingers through the hair over her vulva, Xena jumped slightly.

Gabrielle looked up towards her; she could see the woman was nervous. She placed her hand reassuringly on the woman's leg. "Relax Xena. I used to do this for my cousin all the time." A small harmless lie, she figured. She frowned down at the knife, turning it over in her hand, and then stood. "Don't move. I have an idea," she put the dirk back onto the bench and made her way to the door.

"Well hurry up. I want to go check on the prisoners after," Xena was just beginning to breathe normally again.

Gabrielle paused for a moment before leaving the room. Grinning mischievously, she stooped and gathered all of Xena's armor, her boots, and her chakram. She closed the door behind her as she left.

She walked down the hall to Wylan's office. As she entered, she saw that Wylan was bandaging a man's leg. Both men looked up and smiled. Wylan, noticing Xena's armor, asked curiously, "What's up?"

Gabrielle walked over and placed Xena's things under Wylan's desk. "That's the only way we'll be able to make her get some sleep."

"Oh, I think maybe I can come up with something a little more reliable than hiding her clothes," he flashed a mischievous smile of his own.

"Wylan, do you have any lady's slipper?"

"What do you need lady's slipper for?" he asked.

Gabrielle blushed slightly, hesitant to speak in front of the other man. "Well, I...need..I mean Xena sort of..uh.."

Wylan caught on instantly. He suddenly remembered that aside from its use as an antiseptic, women used the sap from the lady's slipper for `grooming' purposes. "I understand, but I think I may have something better. Follow me." He led her to his bedroom. He opened the bottom drawer of a large dresser and pulled out a small, flat wooden box. "This used to be Anna's." He placed it on the dresser and then unfastened the small latch on the side to reveal several compartments inside. He pulled out a cylindrical marble vial. He unstoppered the top and showed it to Gabrielle. "You take a little of this, and I mean just a little, and put it on that saucer," he pointed to a matching marble saucer in the box. "You mix that with some water and...well, I'm sure you'll be able to figure out the rest by yourself." He replaced the vial and handed her the box. "Let me know when she's finished and I'll see about getting her to sleep."

"Okay, thanks," Gabrielle took the box and walked across the hall and into her room.

Wylan closed the door to his room and stared momentarily at the door to the children's room, picturing what was going on in there. He shook his head and dismissed the thought, sighing loudly. He walked back to his office and resumed bandaging his patient.

Chapter 15:

"What are you doing?" Xena asked herself quietly. She sat on the stool, staring into the basin of water as if it were a mystic's scrying pool. "It needs to be done and you can't do it by yourself. So, just let her.." She cut herself off, shaking her head, and laughed softly. "When did you start talking to yourself?" she thought. "She's just trying to help. And you loved every minute of it." She closed her eyes and remembered the feeling of Gabrielle's fingers between her legs. She slowly slid her hand down the front of her chest. She lightly brought her fingertips over the top of the soft mound of...

"I'm back."

Xena straightened quickly as she heard Gabrielle shut the door. She came around the partition holding a small wooden box. "What's that?" she asked suspiciously.

Gabrielle sat on the small bench and placed the box next to her. "You'll see," she opened the box and pulled out the stoppered vial and saucer.

Xena picked up the vial and uncorked it. She took a small sniff of the powder within. It held a pleasant floral scent. She restoppered the vial and put it back next to the saucer. "Gabrielle, what is..." she stopped in mid­sentence and her eyes went wide as she saw Gabrielle remove and unfold the long straight­razor. She quickly stood and took a step back, finally realizing what her friend had in mind. "No! No! No! No! No!" she protested quickly, shaking her head. Her fear of sexual arousal quickly changed to fear of a very painful and equally embarrassing injury.

Gabrielle stood and scolded her friend, "Xena, you're being ridiculous. I told you I've done this before. Now, unless you plan on only fighting with your right hand in the near future..." she stood with her hand on her hips.

Xena still looked skeptical.

"Or, if you'd like, I can go get Wylan. I'm sure he'd be EXTREMELY happy to help."

"No, that won't be necessary Gabrielle," Xena conceded. She could picture Wylan trying to shave her, his hand shaking violently.

Gabrielle decided to press her advantage. "Of course, if you really don't trust me..." she let her sentence trail off as she pouted and looked towards the ground.

Xena smiled and looked down at her friend. "Does she really think I fall for this?" she thought to herself. She walked closer to the woman and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Okay, Gabrielle. What do you want me to do?"

Gabrielle's false melancholy disappeared as she smiled up at Xena. "Help me move the bench." She and Xena positioned the bench against the wall. "Okay, sit." Xena did as she was told. Gabrielle slid the basin under the bench and Xena. She then rolled the long sleeves of her robe tighter around her elbows.

"Gabrielle, why are you still in your robe? Where are your clothes?" Xena asked curiously.

She pulled the stopper off the vial. "The lady next door took them. She said she'd try and wash the blood stains out."

She watched as Gabrielle placed a few sprinkles of the powder onto the saucer followed by a palmful of water. As Gabrielle stirred the mixture with her finger, Xena watched it turn into a light greenish cream.

Gabrielle washed off her finger in the water and looked up at Xena. "Okay. Lean back a little and put your left leg up on the bench. Like this."

Xena allowed Gabrielle to position her like she wanted.

"Are you comfortable?"

Xena smiled and replied, "I suppose." She partially reclined with her left foot flat on the bench and her left arm draped over her knee. Her right foot remained on the ground. Her crotch protruded slightly over the edge of the bench and her legs were spread about as far as they could go comfortably. She suddenly felt as if she were posing for an erotic sculpture.

Gabrielle brought the stool closer and sat next to Xena and the basin. She could feel her heart beating faster as she quickly glanced over Xena's body. She picked up the razor and looked at it curiously, "Now, which side is the sharp side?"

Xena stared down with no sign of amusement. "Gabrielle!?!"

"Hey, just kidding," she replied with her familiar mischievous grin. She ran her finger though the dark hair, lightly plucking at them.

Xena, her eyes closed, savored the sensation of Gabrielle's touch.

Gabrielle used the razor to gently trim the soft hairs. Satisfied that she had thinned the patch sufficiently, she reached down into the water and submerged the clean washcloth. She brought it up and squeezed it over Xena's pubic mound, watching as the water soaked through the dark hair and then fell back into the basin.

Xena felt the warm water run over her labia and past her anus before hearing it fall back into the basin below. She then felt Gabrielle brush the towel lightly over her vulva.

Gabrielle realized this was the first time she'd ever seen her friend's labia itself. Besides her own, the only other one she'd ever seen had been her sister's; and it was nearly identical to hers. She had assumed they were all alike. She realized she had been wrong as she studied Xena's more closely. Whereas her inner lips were only small folds which curled in on each other, Xena's were large and rounded towards the top. They curled outwards slightly like the leaves of a hyacinth plant. She stared at Xena's clitoris. Even unstimulated, it looked huge. She felt the warmth growing between her own thighs. She looked up towards Xena, afraid she'd seen her staring. The woman had her eyes closed and her head slightly turned. Gabrielle suddenly felt guilty. This had to be embarrassing, especially for someone like Xena. She put the rag across the rim of the basin and picked up the saucer. She dipped her fingertips into the creamy substance and then gently began spreading it over Xena's pubic area.

Xena drew back slightly at Gabrielle's unexpected touch directly on her genitalia.

"Xena, are you okay?"

She looked down to see Gabrielle staring up at her in concern. "I'm fine. That stuff's cold. That's all."

Gabrielle continued to spread the sweet­smelling lotion until Xena's crotch was completely covered.

Xena closed her eyes again and concentrated on her breathing. Gabrielle's soft caresses, albeit unintentional, were almost too much for her to bear. She was glad of one thing, however. With all the gunk lathered all over the place, Gabrielle wouldn't be able to tell how wet she'd become.

Gabrielle washed her hands and picked up the razor. She placed her left hand protectively over Xena's labia. Using the right, she made a delicate, sweeping stroke from Xena's inner thigh towards her hand. She lowered the blade into the water and stirred it around to clean it. She concentrated on what she was doing, being very careful not to betray the trust Xena had placed in her. After finishing the left side, she started on the other. She adjusted her left hand and kept the razor in her right. She continued the slow strokes, occasionally pulling the skin tight to work closer to Xena's labia. She finished the right side and rinsed the blade once again. Using her left hand, she lightly ran her fingertips over both sides to search for spots she'd missed. She rubbed a little of the cream on one small area and gently ran the blade over it once more. She rinsed off the razor and decided to start on the top. As she placed her left hand over Xena's vulva again, she felt her fingertips brush against the woman's clitoris. She sensed the moisture increase once again between her own legs.

Xena kept her eyes closed. She could feel the wetness coalescing from Gabrielle's ministrations. She suddenly felt Gabrielle's fingers brush past her sensitive clitoris, causing her to inadvertently let out a low moan which she quickly forced into a cough.

Gabrielle looked up towards Xena as she washed off the razor once more. She still had her eyes closed and was biting her lower lip. Gabrielle continued her grooming and said reassuringly, "Relax Xena. I'm almost finished and I haven't cut you yet."

Xena barely heard what Gabrielle had said. She was too busy concentrating on not coming all over the girl's hand.

Gabrielle finished the last stroke and washed off the razor. Using the rag, she washed off Xena's crotch with a few scoops of water. She ran her fingers appraisingly over her work, "Well, all done."

Xena looked down between her legs. She was completely shaven except for a small tuft of hair in the shape of an inverted triangle at the top of her labia. She realized that she was much more sensitive now, feeling the coolness of the air against herself. She slowly ran the fingers of her right hand over the small section of hair and then down to her clitoris. She looked up to see Gabrielle smiling down at her. She quickly grabbed a towel and covered her lap. "Thanks Gabrielle. You do good work," she said sincerely.

"I told you to trust me," Gabrielle ran her hand lightly through Xena's long dark brown hair. "Xena, I have an idea. How would you like me to shave your head?"

"How would you like me to shove my chakram up your ass?" the woman replied jokingly.

Gabrielle raised both hands in a defensive position. "Okay, okay. Maybe next time." She cleaned and dried the saucer, and then replaced everything neatly into the wooden box. She bent and picked up the basin, struggling somewhat.

"You need some help?" Xena offered while drying herself.

"No, that's okay. I got it," she declared as she as she carried the basin towards the door. Xena, the towel awkwardly wrapped around her, opened the door for her.

Gabrielle made her way towards the front door which had been left open. As she passed Wylan's office, she noticed that he was looking at another man's shoulder. She walked behind the house and dumped out the dirty water. She then went to the cistern and washed out the bowl of thin bronze. After refilling it half­way with fresh water, she made her way back to the house. As she rounded the corner, she spotted the man with the injured shoulder leaving. She walked back in and paused by Wylan's office.

Wylan noticed Gabrielle standing there. "She done?"

Gabrielle nodded.

"I'll be there in a minute."

Gabrielle made her way to the children's room. She pushed open the door, which was slightly ajar, with her behind and backed into the room. She softly kicked it shut with her foot. As she carried the basin towards the partition, she noticed Xena was digging through one of the closets. She was wearing the blue robe she'd been using the past few days. She placed the basin down and heard Xena call her name.

She stuck her head out from behind the makeshift canvas wall and saw Xena facing her with her arms folded. "Yes?" she replied softly.

"Where are my clothes?" she took a few steps closer to the woman.

"Um...Hmmm? You see, there was this group of crazed satyrs and they barged in here and...uh.." she was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Come in," she hollered.

Wylan walked in and placed Xena's things on her bed. "Here, you can get dressed and help me at the warehouse."

Gabrielle walked over to him, "I thought you said you'd help me get her to sleep," she said accusingly.

Wylan looked down at her. "Gabrielle, you of all people should know better than to argue with Xena."

Gabrielle growled loudly and sat on her own bed.

Wylan looked down at Xena and handed her the cup. "Here, first drink this. It'll help with the pain in your wrist."

Xena continued unlacing her boots, one­handed, and waved off the cup. "I'm fine."

"Bull shit. The only way I'm letting you out of here without a fight is if you drink it. Doctor's orders," he offered her the cup again, which she took hesitantly. She smelled it and looked up at him skeptically. He stood there with his arms crossed over his huge chest. "Look, I give you my word. Drink it and I won't try to stop you from walking out of this room."

Gabrielle, playing with one of Trianna's stuffed toys, watched as Xena quickly swallowed the contents of the cup and went back to unlacing her boot.

Wylan took back the cup and said, "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" He put the cup down on the small table. "I figure the men we sent to Milius's stronghold should be back sometime today. Hopefully, Milius will send a small detachment of guards so we won't have to escort the bandits back to Sarjentrum ourselves. Then, we can be rid of the scum once and for all. After word gets out, I don't think we'll have to worry about bandits for some time."

"We still have to make sure the..." Xena started to stand, but collapsed into Wylan's waiting arms.

Gabrielle jumped off the bed and came over to Wylan's side as he gently placed Xena back down on her own bed. "Wylan, what's wrong with her," she asked with obvious concern.

Wylan placed her armor and boots on the floor near the table. "Relax, I just gave her a sedative. A very strong sedative," he added with a smile as he brought the sheet up to cover Xena. Gabrielle sat near the woman with her back to the headboard.

"You lying asshole," Xena cursed at him softly, "You gave me your word."

Wylan straightened and looked down at her. "You're absolutely right. I gave you my word I wouldn't try and stop you from leaving," he turned sideways and pointed towards the door. "Go ahead. Leave."

Xena tried to glare up at him as she felt her eyelids getting heavy. "I'm going to beat...the shit out of you," she threatened.

Wylan chuckled, "You're welcome to try, after you wake up," he leaned closer to kiss her on the forehead, but a feral growl made him think better of it.

"She'll be okay, right?" Gabrielle asked.

"Don't worry. She'll sleep like a baby. Well, a drugged baby anyway," he looked down at Gabrielle as the bard gently stroked Xena's brow, pushing the hair from the woman's face. He reached over and pulled the pillow from the other bed. He walked over and told Gabrielle to lean forward. He tucked the pillow behind her and pulled the blanket up to cover her. "I don't think a few more hours of sleep would do you any harm either."

"I can say the same for you," she replied, leaning back a little farther to get comfortable.

Wylan crossed to the window and drew the curtains shut. "Don't worry about me. I have somebody taking care of the kids till late this afternoon. I'm going to wash up and then I'm going to sleep the sleep of the dead," he picked up the cup off the table and made his way to the door.

"Wylan?" Gabrielle asked softly.

He turned back as he reached the doorway, "Yeah?"

"Thank you, for everything," she replied, smiling tenderly.

"Your welcome. Good night," he looked towards the faint daylight filtering in through the curtains. "Well, you know what I mean," he shut the door quietly and headed for the kitchen.

Gabrielle looked down at the peacefully sleeping form of her friend. She straightened the sheet over her chest "Good night Xena," she whispered. She leaned closer and softly kissed her on the lips. Smiling, she then leaned back and closed her eyes.

Chapter 16:

As usual, Xena awoke fully conscious and alert. She did not open her eyes, however. Her instincts, which had been honed from years of living around cutthroats and murderers, told her someone was very near. Slowly, she opened her left eye and breathed easy as she spotted Gabrielle lying by her side. She turned her head slightly, looking upwards towards the woman's face. She was partially reclined against the headboard, with her right arm draped protectively over Xena's right shoulder. Xena reached up and gently rubbed Gabrielle's forearm, feeling the small, feathery hairs on her skin. She enjoyed the moment, realizing that this was as close as she would get to waking in Gabrielle's arms. She looked across the room towards the curtained window. A small amount of orange light penetrated into the room from outside. She could not tell, however, if it was the light of dawn or dusk. She had no idea of how long she'd slept. That was why she hated falling asleep during the day. She felt Gabrielle stir slightly. Xena looked up as the woman slowly came around.

Gabrielle looked down at Xena, smiling affectionately. "Hey, how did you sleep?" she asked softly.

"Like a log. Whatever Wylan gave me did the trick," she noticed she was still lightly stroking Gabrielle's arm and stopped. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up."

Gabrielle held Xena's hand. "It's okay. I think we've slept long enough. How's your wrist?"

Xena held up her bandaged left arm. "It's a little sore, but it feels better than before," she looked back up to Gabrielle and smiled. "I don't know about you, but I'm starving."

Gabrielle smiled back down and kissed her on the forehead. "You read my mind," she started to get up but stopped as she felt a stinging pain in her neck. "Oww!"

Xena moved over and sat next to the woman. "Gabrielle, what's wrong?"

"It's my neck. It feels like it...Oww," she tried moving her head a little, but froze when she felt the pain flare up again.

"You probably pinched a nerve with the way you were sleeping. Here, turn around." She sat behind Gabrielle and moved the bard's hair around over her shoulder. She then began massaging the back of her neck with her right hand. "I just wish I could use both hands."

Gabrielle kept her head tilted forward as Xena continued her skillful ministrations. She could feel the pain slowly fade as Xena kneaded her muscles. They both heard a knock at the door.

"Come in," Xena said as she continued massaging Gabrielle's neck.

Wylan entered and stared at the two of the on the bed. "I'm sorry, am I intruding?" he slowly walked into the room.

"No. Gabrielle hurt her neck while she was sleeping." Xena watched as Wylan sat on the other bed with a grin on his face. "What? You think she needs your expert medical opinion?" she asked sarcastically.

Wylan smiled sincerely, "No, you're doing just fine. So, I assume

you slept well?"

"It's not like I had much of a choice," Xena replied. She stopped rubbing and looked down to Gabrielle, "Is your neck any better?"

The woman moved her head from side to side and then turned around to face her. "Much better. Thanks," she smiled tenderly at her friend as she held her hand.

Wylan watched the two women as he thought to himself, "Look at them. They don't even realize it. " He was more determined now than ever to talk to Xena about her feelings for Gabrielle.

Xena turned to Wylan, "Did you need something?"

"Uhh, Yeah. I was wondering if you both felt up for a celebration?" he asked cheerfully.

"What kind of celebration?" Gabrielle asked as she spun on the bed to face him.

"We're gonna have music, dancing, and a lot of good food," he watched Gabrielle's eyes light up as he mentioned the last word. "Everything's been cooking since this morning."

"What about the bandits?" Xena asked, walking over to window to draw the curtain.

"Milius' men arrived and took them away a few hours after you fell asleep."

"You mean after I was drugged, " she said, staring at him menacingly.

"Whatever. So, why don't you both get dressed and come outside to the market," he said as he rose and made his way to the door.

Gabrielle looked around, "I think I'm going to need some clothes."

"I almost forgot. I'll be right back." He went into the hallway and headed for the kitchen.

They both looked at each other and shrugged. Xena sat on the edge of her bed and began unlacing her boots again.

Wylan returned shortly with a dark green bundle of cloth and Gabrielle's boots which he handed to her. "Myra brought this over a few hours ago. I'm afraid she couldn't get the blood out of your clothes. But, this belonged to her daughter when she was younger. Myra never throws anything away. Anyway, she said she altered this a little to match your size. She hoped you'd like it. I'll let you try it on," he turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Gabrielle looked down to the bundle and then to Xena.

"Well, go ahead and put it on. I'm curious to see what it looks like," Xena said as she finished with her boots.

"Okay," Gabrielle said a little excitedly.

Xena stared as Gabrielle hurriedly slipped out of her robe. She had assumed the woman would have changed behind the canvas partition. She quickly turned her head away towards the other side of the room.

"Boy, it sure was nice of Myra to do this for me," Gabrielle said, still naked, as she lay the outfit on the foot of her bed.

"Well, she says you saved her life. I guess she wanted to...uh, thank you," Xena slowly looked back towards the woman as she spoke, not able to help herself. She watched as Gabrielle leaned forward over the bed and smoothed out the material of the skirt and wrap­around top.

Gabrielle ran her hand lightly across the skirt. "It sure feels nice."

"Uh­huh," Xena replied, not really having heard what her friend had said. She couldn't stop herself from staring at Gabrielle's body. She watched as the woman's firm breasts swayed slightly from her movements, her nipples partially erect. She saw the small patch of light freckles in her cleavage. She watched as Gabrielle pulled out a matching green pair of undershorts.

"Ooooo. Xena, feel how soft these are," Gabrielle stepped closer to Xena, holding them out for her to feel.

Xena reached up and rubbed the material. Her eyes, however, were focused just to the side on the silky blonde hairs between Gabrielle's legs. They were sparse enough that Xena could make out the top of Gabrielle's labia.

Gabrielle felt excited standing naked this close to her friend. She watched as Xena stared down at the pair of shorts. It seemed as if she were in a trance. "Well, what do you think?" she asked.

Xena shook her head slightly and then looked back down to her armor. "Very nice Gabrielle," she replied.

Gabrielle shrugged and returned to the foot of her bed where she stepped into the shorts and slowly pulled them up, enjoying the sensation of the smooth material as it brushed up against her skin.

While trying not to be obvious, Xena watched the green material slowly slide up the woman's legs. She giggled quietly as Gabrielle tried looking over her shoulder down to her rear. She followed the woman's gaze down to the pair of shorts. They were just tight enough to hug Gabrielle's buttocks snugly, showing every curve of the bard's firm backside. Xena could feel the familiar sensation of warmth flushing through her thighs as she became more aroused.

Gabrielle reached down and pulled up the skirt. She noticed that unlike the old skirt, which was just a piece of cloth wrapped and held in place, this one had a drawstring sewn into the waistline. She slid the skirt up to her waist, tied the drawstring into a slipknot, and then tucked it under her waistband. The hem of the skirt stopped a few inches above her knees. She crouched down a few times and stretched her legs apart slowly. While the skirt was a little tighter than what she was used to, the material stretched easily, allowing her a full range of movement with her legs.

Xena watched as Gabrielle, still topless, moved around in her new skirt. She stared as the woman's breasts bounced lightly as she squatted in place.

Gabrielle stood and picked up the top from off the bed. It was very much like her old shirt. She placed her arms through the holes and brought it down to her back. She reached behind her and pulled her hair out from under the material.

Xena watched intently as she crossed the two folds of cloth over her breasts and then around her back.

Gabrielle deftly tied the ends together into a simple knot and tucked it back under the material. She adjusted the deep neckline over her breasts. Like her old shirt, this one stopped a few inches above her navel, leaving her midriff bare. It was also sleeveless like her old shirt. She looked towards Xena. "Well, how does it look?" she asked, slowly spinning in place.

Xena stared up and down at Gabrielle's form. The first thing she noticed was that her new shirt revealed more of her bosom than before. "I think it looks very nice," she said sincerely. "Be sure and thank Myra when you see her."

"I will. By the way, what are you wearing?" she asked as she sat on the side of her bed across from Xena.

Xena looked at Gabrielle with a smirk. "What's wrong with my armor?"

"Couldn't you wear a dress just once? I'm sure you could wear..."

Xena took Gabrielle's hand lightly, cutting her off. "Look Gabrielle. You want me to be comfortable, right? Well, I feel comfortable when I'm wearing my armor. Okay?"

Gabrielle squeezed her hand gently. "Okay, whatever makes you happy. Stand up and let me help you get dressed." Gabrielle stood and started to pull on Xena's hand.

Xena remained seated. "Gabrielle, I'm not exactly paralyzed, you know. I think I can..."

Gabrielle tugged harder on her hand, interrupting her. "C'mon, I didn't ask for your opinion. I said get up," she said with a slight trace of annoyance in her voice.

Xena stared up at Gabrielle in mild disbelief. It made her feel weird to hear her friend speak to her like that. She complied and stood as instructed.

Gabrielle felt a rush of excitement as she began undressing Xena. She couldn't believe the woman was letting her. She untied the thin sash holding the robe closed and then slid it back over Xena's shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.

Xena could feel her heart begin to beat faster as she felt her friend's fingers, once again, against her bare skin.

Gabrielle walked behind Xena and picked up the robe, placing it on the bed. She took the leather armor and held it for Xena to step into. As she crouched down, she brought her face only inches away from Xena's newly shaven pubic area.

Xena placed her right hand on Gabrielle's shoulder to steady herself, even though she probably didn't need to. She carefully stepped into the armor. She could feel the moisture grow between her legs as she noticed how close Gabrielle was to her crotch. "Hurry up and get dressed!!" she thought to herself.

Gabrielle helped pull the armor up around Xena's waist and then carefully over the woman's large breasts. She helped Xena place her bandaged left wrist through the shoulder strap. Gabrielle then fastened the studded leather skirt around Xena's waist. Lastly, she helped Xena into the metal breastplate and shoulder­pads. Stepping backwards, she looked up to her friend and asked, "Well, feel better?"

Xena made a few slight adjustments and replied, "Much. Thanks for your help. Let's go get something to eat." She led the woman into the hall and then outside.

The village was brightly illuminated by a multitude of flickering torches and two large bonfires near the market area. They could see that Wylan had not exaggerated. Encircling most of the square, were a dozen long tables covered in a wide variety of food and drink. Festive music filled the night air, and several couples could be seen dancing merrily in a large circle in the center of the market. They finally spotted Wylan near the western side of the square, waving at them to come over.

As they made their way to the square, several people greeted them and inquired on how they were doing. As they reached the table near Wylan, he offered each of them a cup of spiced wine. "Glad you could make it." He stood on a nearby chair and hollered across the square, "Can I have everyone's attention!?! Hey, shut up!!" he looked around with a smile on his face as the crowd gathered closer.

Xena figured what he was up to and gave serious consideration to kicking the chair out from under him. Gabrielle just sipped more of her wine and eyed the food on the table hungrily.

Wylan waited until everyone had come within earshot. "My good friends, tonight we celebrate the end of the bandit's reign of terror over our village," he paused as everyone cheered. "Everyone here has a right to be proud of themselves. You all defended your village from those that would have destroyed it. Give yourselves a round of applause." Wylan paused once again as everyone cheered before he continued, "I don't think this would've been possible without the help of someone very special. Someone who arrived like a godsend just when we needed it most." He raised his tankard into the air. "Of course, I'm speaking of my good friend, Xena." He smiled down at her and said a little softer, "Who I'm glad has once again come into my life and who I can once again call friend." He spoke loudly, his voice booming across the market, "So everyone, raise a toast to Xena. She has our eternal thanks!"

Everyone cheered and hollered Xena's name. Gabrielle looked up towards her friend who was smiling graciously. She knew Xena hated this kind of attention, even if she did deserve it. She looked back up to Wylan as the man started to speak again.

"And lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning the bravery and courage of one other person." He smiled down at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle saved Myra's life, single­handedly defeating three armed bandits who were trying to break into her home last night. So let's hear it for our other hero, Gabrielle!!!"

Xena smiled as she watched the bard blush deeply as everyone cheered her.

Myra came up and hugged Gabrielle tightly, causing everyone to cheer even louder.

Wylan waited for the cheers to die down. "Okay, I know we didn't gather tonight to hear me talk. So, I'll shut up now..."

"Thank the Gods!!" someone yelled from the back, causing everyone to laugh.

Wylan stared in the direction of the unseen heckler. "Don't forget, I know where you live, Verulus," he said jokingly. "Everyone have a good time because you've certainly earned it." He stepped off the chair as everyone cheered once again.

Xena leaned closer to him and asked, "Have you ever thought about a life in politics?"

"You know I like the sound of my own voice," he replied, smiling back down at her.

They sat together at a nearby table as the small band of minstrels began their cheerful playing. Gabrielle served herself a small portion from each platter, not wanting to fill up on any one thing. She picked a few kinds of rolls and buns and then topped off the plate­full with a ladle of thick, dark gravy. She grinned as she tucked in her napkin and looked down at the large mound of food in the plate before her. She picked up her fork and suddenly noticed Wylan, Xena, Myra, and Termanus staring at her. She shrugged and innocently asked, "What?"

Chapter 17:

Xena watched amazedly as Gabrielle managed to swallow yet another mouthful of food. She figured the woman had eaten close to twice as much as Wylan had. She smiled as Gabrielle finally pushed her chair back and patted her stomah contentedly. Xena looked up as Myra sat in the vacant chair next to Gabrielle.

"I'm so glad you like the outfit. I'm just sorry I couldn't clean your old clothes," the older woman said.

Gabrielle smiled and grasped the woman's hand lightly, "It's very nice. I really like the colors, too."

"Myra, thank you for fixing the dress for her," Xena said. "But maybe you should've left her some room to grow," she added with a grin and a nod towards Gabrielle's now­empty plate.

Gabrielle slapped her playfully on the leg. "Stop teasing me. I was hungry, okay?"

Xena winked at her and walked over to a nearby table to get a fresh tankard of wine. Wylan had assured her that it was mild compared to the stuff they used to drink in the `old days.'

As she returned, several children, including Caspius and Trianna, came up and asked Gabrielle to dance with them. She took a sip of wine and stood to follow them.

Xena lightly grabbed her elbow and whispered into her ear, "Gabrielle, you just ate more than what Argo does in a day. Take it easy. I don't want you getting sick and throwing up all over these nice people."

Gabrielle looked up at her friend and said sarcastically, "Yes mom, and I'll be sure to wait a while before going swimming too."

Xena patted her lightly on the rear. "No one likes a smart ass. Go ahead."

Gabrielle smiled back at her affectionately as she went to join the children in the center of the square.

Xena stared after her and took a deep breath.

Wylan, who'd watched the whole exchange, stood and walked over to Xena's side. "Hey, how about taking a walk with me?"

"Sure," she took a final drink from her tankard and placed it back on the table. She turned and joined Wylan as they made their way towards the southern end of the village.

The two of them walked towards the lake. Xena could see thehalf­moon reflected perfectly off of the still water. As they came closer to the water's edge, Wylan sat on an overturned fishing boat facing the center of the lake. "Have a seat," he offered. "Anna and I used to come here at night when it was quiet. Sometimes we wouldn't even talk. We'd watch the night birds skim the surface of the water trying to catch fish." He seemed lost in thought for a moment, looking across the lake at nothing in particular.

Xena gently took his hand.

He snapped out of his trance and turned to her, smiling tenderly. "I want to thank you again for everything."

Xena raised her hand for him to stop. "Wylan, you've thanked me enough. I was just glad I could help."

"Can't you just ever say `You're welcome' and leave it at that? The whole village and I owe you and Gabrielle a great deal of thanks. You're both welcome here anytime."

"Thanks," she said with a gracious smile. "Wylan, I don't know if this means much, but I'm really proud of you. Everyone in the village looks up to you and respects you. And you're managing to raise two beautiful children on your own."

"It means a lot for me to hear you say it. I have to be honest. It does feel pretty good to have people look up to me instead of at me in fear. But, I'm sure you know what I mean."

Xena nodded and then looked down to the ground. "I used to think that if people feared me, that meant they respected me. I was wrong."

Wylan looked across at her and finally realized the weight of the guilt she must be carrying on her shoulders. He said reassuringly, "Xena, I'm proud of what YOU'VE done. You've turned your life around. You're fighting to protect people now instead of terrorizing them. Years ago, all you felt was hatred and a blinding need for vengeance over your brother's death. I can see the goodness that's in your heart now."

"The good I've done doesn't bring back all the people who've died because of me," Xena replied sullenly, still staring at the ground.

"This isn't a simple matter of sliding counters along an abacus, Xena. I don't know how much penance you have to do. That's between you, your conscience,....and the Gods, I suppose. With all my heart, I hope someday you'll be able to forgive yourself for your past. For now, take a good look at the faces of the people you help. Those are the faces you should remember."

Xena touched his hand again, finally looking up. "It's not easy Wylan, but I try. It helps to know I have friends who care about me like you and Gabrielle."

Wylan watched as she turned back towards the village. "It's now or never," he thought to himself. He asked her," Xena, will you answer a question honestly for me?"

She turned back towards him and smiled. "I suppose I owe you at least that much. What is it?"

"How do you really feel about Gabrielle?"

Xena's smile faded as she pulled her hand away. "What do you mean?"

Wylan sighed forcefully and asked, "Are you in love with Gabrielle?"

Xena laughed and looked back at him. "What ever gave you that idea?"

Wylan just continued to stare at her without saying a word.

Xena stared back for a while before finally turning her gaze across the lake. She spoke softly, "Yes, I'm in love with Gabrielle. What of it?"

"Why haven't you told her?" he asked.

Xena started to say something, but then looked back over the water. After a slight pause, she replied, "It's my problem. I'll deal with it."

Wylan stood up and walked in front of her, staring down. "Your problem?!? You don't know what I'd give to have Anna back here with me now. Love isn't something to be shrugged off as an inconvenience." He paced back and forth a while. "You don't even realize she loves you too, do you?"

Xena stared at him incredulously. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that Gabrielle feels the same way about you as you do about her," he replied.

Xena stood also, "Don't be ridiculous. Don't you think I'd have noticed. I'm with her every day."

"I think that's just it. You're too close to the situation. Either that, or you're afraid to see it."

Xena stared back towards the village and asked softly, "What would I be afraid of. I've had women lovers before."

"Yes, but you weren't IN love with any of them. I think there's even more to it than that. I think you figure you've lost so many people you've cared about, you're just waiting for Gabrielle to be taken from you. You may even think you deserve it. You're afraid of getting any closer to her. It's a real shame too. You're depriving both of you of something which could turn out to be very special," Wylan placed a hand on her shoulder.

She looked up at him and asked, "But what if you're wrong Wylan? What happens if I tell her and she just..."

Wylan squeezed her shoulder and interrupted her softly, "Xena, I'm not wrong. Trust me. It's probably obvious to anyone who watches the two of you for a while."

She stepped away from him and looked back towards the village. She thought she could make out Gabrielle dancing with a group of villagers. "I'd have to think about it. You are right about one thing. I don't want to lose her," she admitted softly.

"If you want, I can talk to her and..."

Xena spun around and cut him off, "No Wylan! I don't want you talking to her about this. Whatever I decide to do, it'll be my decision as to how and when. Promise me you won't say anything," she said stepping closer.

Wylan paused awhile and then placed his hand back on her shoulder. "You have my word that I won't mention any of this to her, as long as you promise to think seriously about what I've told you."

She looked up at him and smiled warmly. "I promise," she hugged him tightly. "Thank you for everything you've done for me and Gabrielle, and for still wanting to be my friend."

Wylan pulled back and smiled back down at her. "Your welcome," he leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "Let's get back to the others."

They walked back towards the village side by side. Wylan looked across to Xena and asked, "You sure that ya'll have to leave tomorrow?"

"Gabrielle has her heart set on going to the Spring Festival in Solanica. Why don't you and the children come with us?"

"I'd love to, but we'll start planting next week now that we don't have to worry about the bandits. One of the women in the village also asked if I'd help her see about opening a school for the village children." He looked around at the expanse of the village. "I tell you Xena. I have so many ideas for this place."

Xena looked at him and smiled. "I'm sure you can do pretty much anything when you set your mind to it."

As they returned to the market square, they saw that Gabrielle had gathered a large group of children, and many adults, near one of the bonfires and was spinning one of her fanciful tales. Wylan and Xena watched as her audience was spellbound by the girl's words and motions.

The group applauded as she finished her story and hollered for more. One of the young women handed her a cup of wine.

She took the cup and thanked her. As she decided on her next tale, she noticed Xena and Wylan watching from the back of the crowd. She smiled tenderly and winked in Xena's direction.

Xena smiled back as Gabrielle began her story of their quest for the fabled Sumerian Treasure and the Titan's Key. She turned to Wylan and her smile faded as she noticed he was staring at her with the same expression he'd used earlier at the lake. She smirked at him and said, "I think I've had enough merriment for one night. I'm going to turn in. Good night." She pat him on the back and then headed for his house.

Wylan watched as she walked away. He sighed again and turned back towards the fire. He listened intently to Gabrielle's story, wondering how much of it was true. He chuckled as he thought to himself, "Knowing Xena's lifestyle, probably all of it."

As Xena made her way to her room, she couldn't stop thinking about what Wylan had said to her at the lake. "Could it be true? Is it possible Gabrielle feels the same way?" She shook her head slowly as she began removing her boots. "Don't do this to yourself. Gabrielle loves you like family, no more. Be grateful. You're lucky enough to have her in your life at all." She managed to remove her armor with only minor difficulty. It was much easier to undo a buckle with one hand than to fasten one. After piling her armor unceremoniously on a chair, she grabbed the blue silk robe from off the closet door and made her way behind the partition.

She sat on the wooden bench and stared at the taut brown canvas. Her mind wandered as she recalled some of the adventures she'd shared with Gabrielle. She grinned as she wondered if years ago, she'd ever have believed one young woman could mean so much to her. Her eyes drifted up to Gabrielle's robe which was draped over the partition. She stood, reached over, and slowly pulled the robe down. Closing her eyes, she brought the soft cloth up to her face and inhaled deeply, taking in her friend's familiar scent. The smell reminded her of waking by Gabrielle's side earlier that evening, feeling the warmth of the woman's body close to her own. She remembered the touch of Gabrielle's skin against her fingers and the feel of her long soft hair as it brushed over her arm. She sniffed the robe again and felt herself growing wet. She stood and replaced the emerald green garment over the canvas. She slid the bench closer to the wall, as she and Gabrielle had done earlier, and sat back down.

Leaning back carefully, she placed her left leg up on the bench. She slowly slid her right hand down the inside of her left thigh. She reached her crotch and gently cupped her hand over her smooth outer lips. She moved her hand in a slow, circular motion with her palm pressed flat against her labia. She could feel her lips beginning to swell slightly as she became more aroused. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting her sexual passion take control over her.

Xena looked down at her bandaged wrist and cursed. "Another hand, or four, would be nice about now," she thought. She brought her hand up to her face and tasted the wetness which now covered her fingers, relishing the musky flavor. She lowered her hand under her right breast. Bending her head forward, she raised her breast to her mouth and lightly traced her tongue across the nipple. She sucked as much of her breast into her mouth as possible, feeling the nipple harden between her lips. She silently cursed again at her bandaged left arm. She leaned her head back once more and massaged her left breast with her right hand, rolling the hardening nipple between her fingertips. She moaned as she softly bit her lower lip.

She stood and pulled the bench away from the wall. Xena then lay back flat on the bench with her legs spread wide to either side. Closing her eyes, she lowered her hand down between her thighs and pushed two fingers into her. She worked them back and forth with slow deliberate strokes. She thought about Gabrielle changing into her new clothes. She pictured the woman's beautiful, nude body. She quickened the pace of her hand's movements as she continued to think about her friend. She remembered the feeling of Gabrielle's touch against her most intimate areas earlier that evening. She removed her fingers from between her legs and quickly placed them back in her mouth, once again savoring the taste of herself. She lowered her hand back down and began rubbing her enlarged clitoris with her fingertips using rapid sideways motions.

Panting heavily, she replaced her fingers inside of her. Turning to the side a little, she shifted her weight and leaned on her left elbow. She rapidly fingered herself; her mind still focused on Gabrielle. She let out a low lingering moan as she felt herself nearing a climax. She began bucking her hips in rhythm with the thrusts of her hand as she breathed heavily through her clenched teeth, rolling her head backwards. She felt herself shudder forcefully as she came; the intense orgasm causing her body to quiver.

Xena slowed the strokes of her hand as she felt the warm liquid seep out in small rivulets past her fingers, slide down over her and puddle on the bench below. She continued to stimulate herself while thinking of Gabrielle. She groaned loudly, well beyond caring if anyone would hear. Her body tensed again as she reached a second orgasm, her lungs pumping like a blacksmith's bellows. She rubbed her clitoris tenderly between her thumb and forefinger as she caught her breath. She brought her fingers up and into her mouth, rolling the thick salty fluid around with her tongue before swallowing.

Xena looked down at herself; a thin sheen of sweat glistened off of her muscular from, reflecting the light from the small lantern in the corner. She sat back up and grinned as she saw the small puddle she was seated in. She realized it had been several days since she'd gotten herself off. That, and Gabrielle's inadvertent fondling earlier, had caused her sexual frustrations to build into a torrential climax. As she stood, the creamy liquid ran down the insides of her legs.

She crouched over the basin and splashed a few palmfuls of water over her crotch and legs. She then took the cloth and proceeded to wash the rest of herself off. Feeling clean once again, she dried off and then carefully cleaned the bench and floor. She picked up the blue robe from the hook on the wall and put it on, tying the sash loosely around her. She carried the lantern back to the bedside table. She then walked over and lay out her armor, semi­neatly, over the back of the chair.

Xena returned to her bed and pulled back the covers. She drew the hood on the lantern closed most of the way, leaving the room only faintly lit. She lay down and brought the covers back up to her waist. She placed her right hand behind her head and her left over her stomach. As she stretched comfortably, she stared up at the ceiling.

She wondered again about the conversation she'd had with Wylan. She pictured what her and Gabrielle's lives would be like if they both shared and admitted the feelings they had for the other. "If," she thought to herself. She imagined sharing her bed with Gabrielle. She knew if they would get involved, it would be more than just sex. Everyday, she realized more and more how much her friend truly meant to her. She smiled warmly as she pictured the closeness the two of them could share. She realized, for the first time, that her love for Gabrielle was as strong as the love she felt for Marcus. She suddenly felt a little guilty as she remembered her last moments with Marcus, before he'd died the second time, before she'd had to plunge a dagger into his chest. She wondered what he would've thought about her feelings for Gabrielle. He'd probably tell her that he was dead, and she and Gabrielle were not. He'd also tell her to seize any chance at happiness that she could because life was just to short. She smiled as she realized that Marcus would give her his blessings.

Her smile soon slowly faded, however, as she remembered that her fantasy was just that, a fantasy. Gabrielle didn't love her that way; she would've noticed. She frowned and let out a frustrated growl. "Why do you keep hurting yourself like this?" she asked silently. She continued to stare up at the ceiling, wondering what she would do.

Chapter 18:

Wylan held the door open for Gabrielle and the children as he whispered to them, "Everybody keep it down, Xena's probably asleep. You two go get ready for bed," he turned to Gabrielle. "Let me change your bandage before you turn in."

Gabrielle nodded and slowly walked over to his office, momentarily bracing herself as she passed his door frame. It felt as if Hephaestus were churning a fire under her stomach. She managed to make it to a chair and sat down.

Wylan grabbed a roll of spare bandages and sat next to her. "Are you okay?" he asked as he began unwinding the old dressing.

Gabrielle spoke slowly, keeping her eyes closed, "I think I ate too much, drank too much, and danced too much. I thought you told Xena the wine wasn't strong?"

Wylan cleaned off the wound and replied, "It isn't...for HER."

Gabrielle hiccupped and then grimaced. "Can't you give me something for this? You're a physician, right?"

Wylan giggled as he rewrapped her arm. "The last thing I think we should do is pour something else into your stomach. I do have a suggestion, but I doubt you'll wanna do it." He cut the end off the cloth and pinned it in place.

"What?" she asked dubiously.

He stood and helped her to her feet. "Well, go outside, find a nice tree in the woods, crouch behind it, stick your finger down your throat as far as it'll go, and then puke till you see Poseidon."

Gabrielle cursed as she quickly brought her hand up to cover her mouth. After a few seconds she asked, "And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"Trust me. You'll thank me in the morning," he said as he guided her out into the hallway.

"I think I'll pass."

"Then get some sleep. Can you make it to your room?" he asked.

Gabrielle took a few steps and pressed her right hand against the wall for support and guidance. "I'll be okay. Good night," she headed slowly towards her room.

"Good night Gabrielle," Wylan said, smiling as he locked the front door. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of water, realizing how much he was going to miss Xena and Gabrielle when they left.

Gabrielle opened the door quietly so as not to wake Xena. She kept her eyes partly closed; for some reason it made walking easier. She slowly crossed over behind the partition and changed into her robe. She'd worry about washing in the morning. She made her way back to her bed.

Xena watched as Gabrielle shuffled across the floor. She seemed half­asleep, or drunk, she realized. She reached over and drew back the hood of the lantern. "Gabrielle, are you alright?"

The sudden burst of light nearly knocked her over backwards. She raised her hand over her eyes and replied irritably, "I'm fine, please put out the light."

Xena quickly complied and shuttered the lantern, leaving a minuscule crack which emitted only a faint glow.

Gabrielle slowly sat on her bed and pulled the covers back. She gradually opened her eyes. "Well, thank the Gods the room's not spinning anymore," she thought to herself. She then decide to sleep on top of the sheets as she lay back with her head comfortably on the soft pillow.

Xena stared across at her friend. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. "I'm fine. Really," she was in no condition for a lecture or an `I told you so' from Xena.

Xena lay back and stared once again at the ceiling. She had decided to talk to Gabrielle and try and see if she could pick up a clue as to how the woman really felt about her. Now was as good a time as any. "Gabrielle?" she asked softly.

Gabrielle took a few seconds and then replied, "Yeah?"

Xena mustered up the courage to continue, "I've been wondering about... I mean, I don't know if....we've ever talked about....Well,..."

Gabrielle interrupted her and asked softly, "Xena, can we talk about this later?"

Xena replied just as softly, "Yeah, some other time."

"Thanks. Good night," Gabrielle took a deep breath and promised herself she'd never drink that much again.

"Good night, Gabrielle." Xena replied. She then whispered, "I love you." She turned over on her side, facing the wall as a single tear rolled down her cheek. Maybe Wylan was right whether he knew it or not. Maybe she was destined to suffer and be denied happiness for the rest of her life as justice for the atrocities she'd committed. Maybe she deserved to be miserable. She brushed the stray tear from her face with the back of her hand while staring at the wall. She sniffed and giggled as she suddenly heard the familiar sound of Gabrielle's light snoring. She closed her eyes and soon fell asleep.

Gabrielle hung the last of the sheets across the line behind Wylan's house. She'd washed them and the robes with the children's help. She walked back towards the house. When she'd woke earlier that morning, her head felt as if Atlas himself were pounding on it. Wylan had given her an awful tasting cup of something to drink. It had helped, a little. She'd expected a speech of some sort from Xena this morning. Instead, Xena had simply asked how she felt and told her to get her things ready so they could leave. She hadn't said much of anything else to her or Wylan all morning.

"Hey, you feeling any better?" Wylan asked quietly as she entered his office.

She smiled and nodded. "Yeah, thanks. As Zeus is my witness, I'll never drink that much as long as I live."

Wylan pat her on the shoulder lightly and said, "Good, `cause you sure are a bitchy drunk."

"Hey!?!" she slapped him on the arm and the picked up her bag and staff.

Wylan picked up the small pouch and led Gabrielle outside towards the barn. As they entered, they saw that Xena was adjusting Argo's saddle. Wylan shook his head as he came closer. "I told you I'd help you with the saddle."

"Wasn't necessary," Xena replied curtly. "I'm not crippled."

"Fine, you're not crippled. No reason to bite my head off," he said with a slight trace of annoyance.

Xena closed her eyes for a moment and then looked up at Wylan apologetically. "I'm sorry," she placed a hand gently on his arm.

"It's okay," he looked across the barn towards Gabrielle who was petting the small pony. He looked back to Xena and asked softly, "You didn't talk to her?"

Xena stared past him at the woman and sighed. "No, I... It just wasn't a..." she stopped as she noticed him frowning at her. "I'll talk to her," she turned and began tying the water skins in place. She then said softly without looking at him, "I have to do something. I don't know how much longer I can go on like this."

Wylan put a hand on her shoulder and gently turned her to him. "Xena, just tell her."

She looked up at him as her eyes watered slightly. "I'm scared," she admitted softly.

"Hey c'mere," he pulled her closer and hugged her tightly. "Xena, just tell her how much you love her and everything will be okay," he reassured her tenderly.

Xena hugged him just as tightly with her head on his shoulder, wishing things were that simple.

Gabrielle watched as Xena and Wylan embraced. She knew it must be hard for the two of them to say goodbye after having rekindled their friendship. She crossed over to them quietly. "Hey, any room in there for me?"

The two stepped apart and Xena turned away to wipe her eyes. Wylan turned to Gabrielle and placed an arm around her. "Me and the kids are sure gonna miss the two of you." He grabbed Argo's reins and led Gabrielle and the horse outside. He looked back over his shoulder to see that Xena was following. He looked back down to Gabrielle, "Thanks for doing the wash this morning. You know, you can still take those robes with you if you want."

She smiled up at him. "No, they'd just get dirty. Why don't you hold onto them for whenever we come back to visit."

"I like the sound of that." He handed Gabrielle the small pouch. "There are some rolls of bandages in there for you and Xena. There's also a small jar of salve to put on your cut whenever you change the dressing." He turned back to Xena. "And remember what I said about your wrist. Two weeks before you even THINK about taking off that splint."

Xena smiled as she looked down at her bandaged arm. "You know, the swelling's all gone. I can even move my fingers..."

Wylan cut her off. "Two weeks," he said sternly. He looked around and asked, "Where are the children? I told them you were getting ready to leave."

"I saw them run into the house after they'd helped me by the lake," Gabrielle said, also looking around.

Wylan looked towards Xena, "Some of the villagers wanted to have a big ceremony for both of you, but I talked them out of it."

"Thanks," Xena said sincerely.

They both looked up as Myra joined them from across the road. She handed Gabrielle a small sack. "I'm glad I caught you before you left. I've made you some sweet bread."

"Thanks Myra, but you shouldn't have. We have enough food to last a week," Xena said, patting the large leather pouches hanging from Argo's saddle.

"I know. But I figured Gabrielle wouldn't mind a little more." She hugged Gabrielle lightly. "You take care of yourselves and be sure and stop back here anytime you need any clothes."

"I will, and thank you again," Gabrielle said as she placed the small sack in her bag.

Trianna and Caspius ran out of the house towards them. Gabrielle noticed Caspius was carrying a piece of parchment. They stopped in front of them, out of breath, and handed it to Gabrielle. "We made that for you and Xena."

Xena looked down at the light brown sheet. It was a drawing, albeit a rough one, of her and Gabrielle standing on a hill.

Gabrielle crouched down and hugged them both tightly. "Thank you. It's very beautiful," she leaned back and looked at them both. "I want you both to promise me something. I want you to take care of your father and not to cause too much trouble for him, okay?"

They both nodded and smiled.

Xena leaned down and kissed each of them on the forehead and said conspiratorially "You know, you don't have to be TOO good."

They both nodded and smiled.

She straightened and smirked at Wylan.

Gabrielle walked over and hugged him. "Thank you for everything you've done for us Wylan," she sniffled a little. "I hate to say goodbye."

He pulled back and smiled down at her. "Then don't. We'll see each other again. And soon, I hope." He looked back to Xena and extended his hand.

She smiled and locked forearms in the traditional handshake of warriors. "Till we meet again, old friend."

"Hey!? Who you callin' old?" he smiled tenderly and placed his left hand on her shoulder. "You take care, and remember what I told you."

"I will." She glanced towards Gabrielle and gave her a look which the younger woman couldn't quite read.

"I wonder what that was all about?" she thought to herself.

Xena climbed onto Argo and looked back down to Gabrielle. "Well, you ready? They're not gonna postpone the Spring Festival just for us."

Gabrielle nodded.

Xena lightly spurred Argo forward towards the northern end of the village as Gabrielle walked alongside. As they reached the beginning of the road, they turned and waved to the large group that had gathered. She and Gabrielle had left many villages after `saving the day.' But none had made her feel like she felt now. She couldn't explain it. She looked down to see Gabrielle smiling up at her warmly.

"Don't worry. We'll be back someday. I can feel it," the woman said.

Xena returned the smile. "I know. So can I," she turned Argo around and headed in the direction of the main road.

As they crested a small hill, Xena looked down to her friend. She wondered if she would ever have the courage to tell Gabrielle how she felt. She sighed quietly and looked around at the surrounding woodlands, admiring how the morning sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy and created a bright mosaic of colors along the forest floor. She could hear the chorus of songs made by the birds as they flitted from tree to tree, like handfuls of sparkling gems thrown through the air. She looked down again at her friend, noticing how the sunlight glistened off of her reddish­blonde hair.

"Yeah," she thought to herself. "Looks like it's going to be a beautiful day."

The End

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