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By R. Bornstein

The characters Xena and Gabrielle are owned by MCA/Universal Pictures and have been used here without permission. All other characters and the story are mine. . . mine mine mine, heh heh. Special thanks to my editor, Jessica. This fictional piece includes graphic descriptions of sexual activity between two consenting, adult women, three guesses as to who. If you are below 18 years of age, or if you are offended by this type of material, please come back when you're older or when you've lightened up.

The scorching rays of the mid-afternoon sun beat down mercilessly against the warrior's exposed back. The dark leather covering the rest of her body had already heated up to a near unbearable degree and was uncomfortably clinging to her sweaty skin. Her metal armor was also absorbing the extreme heat, burning into her flesh like fire. Xena disregarded her own discomfort and instead focused on her companion's condition.

Gabrielle's face was red with sunburn and beads of sweat were making their way down her flawless face, as was the sweat on her chest making its own path downward. As she followed Argo on the beaten down trail, she occasionally stumbled on loose rocks or protruding tree roots. She'd regain her balance, lean on her staff for support a moment, and continue on without a word of complaint.

"Gabrielle, why don't you ride up here with me. I'm going to see if I can find somewhere we could rest at for awhile." Xena smiled as she saw the girl's face light up at the thought of getting out of the heat, even if it meant getting on the horse. Gabrielle pulled herself up behind Xena on Argo's back and secured her staff on the side of the saddle.

"Thank you," Gabrielle said, slightly out of breath.

Argo started forward again, but much faster than before. Gabrielle wrapped her arms tightly around Xena's waist to keep herself on as the ride began to get bumpy. She grinned to herself when she heard Xena's contented sigh at being wrapped in her arms. Gabrielle nuzzled the back of Xena neck and felt the tough warrior relax in her embrace. Gabrielle brought her legs up from behind Xena to gently entwine and caress the warrior's muscled thighs. Her own white thighs contrasted with Xena's olive tone

As soon as Xena felt Gabrielle's head rest against her back and knew she was safely in place, she brought Argo off the trail, doing her best at maintaining balance on the saddle while Gabrielle showed her "gratitude." She felt Gabrielle loosen her burning armor and heavy breastplate from behind and gently remove it. A light breeze immediately passed over Xena's bare back and her skin prickled at the sensation. "Thanks, Gabrielle," Xena sighed as she felt the bard lightly blow on her overheated back, "that feels so much better."

Gabrielle leaned towards Xena's ear and murmured in a low, husky voice, "Well, I can make it feel even better." Xena turned her head slightly to look at Gabrielle over her shoulder, her blue eyes not hiding her amusement and arousal.

Xena tore her eyes from Gabrielle's mesmerizing gaze with some difficulty and guided Argo in the direction of a far off rock formation she had noticed earlier which would probably lead them to water. After a few miles, they came upon a meadow with a stream running through it and enough trees to make adequate shade for the three. Xena dismounted and helped Gabrielle down, then removed the saddle from Argo-letting her cool down a little before heading back out.

When Xena turned around she saw the back of Gabrielle as the girl jumped, clothes still on, into the stream. The warrior sighed and made her way towards the raised bank. "You're not getting on my horse if you're dripping wet."

Gabrielle giggled and dove back under the water. Xena's eyes searched the water, trying to find some indication of where her friend was under the crystal depths. As she kneeled down for a closer look, Gabrielle emerged directly in front of her, wrapped her arms under Xena's and pulled the startled warrior head first into the stream with her.

Xena surfaced instantly and found herself footing in the waist deep water before looking up for Gabrielle. She caught the bard's eye and glared at her, taking a few steps forward as a mock threat.

Gabrielle grinned and put her hands up in an attempt to keep Xena back. "Now, Xena, the rest of your armor needed to be cooled off. You have no idea what some of that stuff was doing to my arms," she began. As a reply, Xena continued to stalk forward, eyes taking on a menacing gleam. Gabrielle closed the distance between them, deliberately pressing her body into the warrior's. "And besides, I like the feel of wet leather," she purred in a low voice. She ran her hands slowly up and down the front of Xena's leathers, making pleased sounds deep in her throat.

"Gabrielle," Xena said in a low voice, doing her best to keep control, despite their closeness. Her eyes trailed down the bard's body, seeing her green, water-soaked top clinging tightly to her breasts and under the water her skirt was holding onto her curvy hips; all of which made control nearly impossible.

"Mmmm," Gabrielle moaned in answer, moving her lips to Xena's collarbone. She lightly nipped at the skin there, then ran her tongue over it, placing lingering kisses above and below the bone.

"You're not making this very easy. We have to get go-" she began, her words and trail of thought being cut off and suppressed as Gabrielle reached her neck. She moaned and her knees gave out for a moment when she felt Gabrielle's hot breath against the sensitive skin next to her ear.

Gabrielle smiled at the reaction she was getting from her warrior. They had crossed the boundary between friends and lovers so recently, yet she learned almost immediately what drove Xena crazy. She reveled in the emotions she could get Xena to express. Most people thought of Xena as a cold, unfeeling warrior. Gabrielle grinned devilishly, little did they know.

Xena moaned again and decided to give the bard a taste of her own medicine. She wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's waist, lifting her slightly, and tilted her head down towards Gabrielle's warm, inviting mouth. Xena gently ran her tongue over Gabrielle's lower lip before pressing her own lips against the poet's. When the kiss finally ended, Gabrielle continued to run her hands up and down Xena's leathers. The warrior looked at her clothing and made a face. "How am I going to get all this dried?" she murmured into Gabrielle's forehead.

"Well," Gabrielle began between kisses and light bites on Xena's bare neck, "you could take them off and lay them out in the sun while you're in here with me bathing."

Somehow I don't think it's bathing you have in mind, Gabrielle, Xena thought wryly to herself. "And trust you to behave yourself?" Xena's bright blue eyes opened wide in mock horror. She smiled and narrowed her eyes seductively, grabbing the fingers that had been slowly creeping up her thigh under the water.

Xena arched an eyebrow at her lover, who laughed nervously and innocently asked, "Now how did those get there?"

"Uh huh," Xena murmured softly, keeping eye contact as she slowly sucked on each of Gabrielle's fingers. She softly ran her tongue over the callused tips, then circled the entire finger, slowing each time she heard Gabrielle whimper. Once she saw her lover's eyes glaze over and her mouth open slightly, she released her hand. "Gabrielle," Xena began, her voice returning to it's normal tone, "I'm still recovering from the last time you had your way with me. I don't think I could handle any more role playing for awhile. What possessed me to tell you to 'do anything you'd like' I'll never know."

"Xena it wasn't what you said, it was -how- you said it," Gabrielle giggled, then smiled-the one that made her look like a little girl. Xena was about to ask exactly how she said it, when she was distracted by it. Her heart melted every time she saw that smile and was momentarily unaware of Gabrielle slowly pulling at the straps of her leather clothing.

Rolling her eyes, Xena moved one of her legs underwater to go behind one of Gabrielle's. She swiftly brought it forward, causing the bard to fall backwards into the water with a yelp of surprise. "Come on miss water nymph," she called over her shoulder once Gabrielle surfaced. Xena pulled herself out of the stream, not an easy task with her water-soaked leather, and walked back to the temporary camp. "Finish up in there then dry off." She smiled and shook her head to clear out all thoughts, albeit pleasant ones, of what she could do to "help" Gabrielle dry off. She made a mental note to remember a few of them for later when they weren't so pressed for time. The sloshing of water behind her and footsteps approaching distracted her from her fantasizing mind.

Xena turned and wrapped a blanket she had already set aside around the wet girl's body, hands lingering on her exposed, flat abdomen. She placed a light kiss on the top of the bard's wet head, then went to the saddlebags. She fished around inside, finding the armor Gabrielle had removed and some bread. Xena tossed a piece of bread at Gabrielle, and took another for herself. "Take off your boots. I'll see if I can dry them out."

Gabrielle smiled seductively and whispered, "I'm not wearing them."

Xena looked down and saw Gabrielle's bare feet. She arched an eyebrow and let her gaze wander towards the bank, seeing the boots Gabrielle had tossed aside before diving into the water. She gave her lover a sideways glance as she removed her own sopping wet, leather boots. "If these shrink, Gabrielle, start running," Xena said in the best threatening tone she could muster under the circumstances. She took them and tied them to one side of Argo's saddle, figuring the heat would be enough to dry them. "Ready?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest and turning towards Gabrielle.

"Ready!? Xena, it's been, what, ten minutes?" the girl asked, aghast.

"I want to get to Empruvia before dark," Xena said, strapping the saddle back on her horse.

Gabrielle sighed in defeat and finished drying her hair and body with the blanket. She then tossed it at Xena and began eating her lunch, grumbling under her breath about impatient warriors.

Xena sat on a fallen tree, trying her best to strap her armor back on with one hand, while trying to eat with the other. Gabrielle finished the last of her lunch, wiped her hands on her skirt, and sat behind Xena. "Let me do that," she said, grabbing the armor out of Xena's hand before she had the chance to say otherwise.

Gabrielle fastened her shoulder armor on first. As she began to hook the chains connected to the breastplate to it, she moved a hand down to cup one of Xena's breasts through the leather. "Gabrielle," Xena warned.

"All right, all right, " Gabrielle sighed resignedly. She removed her hand and connected the chains, then connected to that the armor across her back. Finished, she lightly kissed Xena's neck and got up as a sign she was ready to go. Xena rose as well, refilling one of their water bags and grabbing Gabrielle's boots. Within minutes, both were back on their way.


The two travelers reached Empruvia at nightfall exactly as Xena had planned. It was a fairly small village, which in a way reminded Xena of her own home-everyone knew and were curtious towards each other. The Empruvian king had summoned her days earlier saying he had an urgent message for her.

They made their way through the city watching the merchants seduce potential customers into buying their merchandise, the people gathered in circles talking about new events in their lives and the latest gossip, and the bakers as they set out different exotic pastries to entice the dessert crowd. Xena had to literally throw Gabrielle over one shoulder and carry her to get her away from those carts. They finally stopped at an inn located at the center of the village, having decided earlier that they'd visit the king first thing the next morning.

"So who exactly is this king, Xena?" Gabrielle asked outside their room. "I mean, what kind of message would he be carrying for you?"

Xena studied the room carefully from the doorway, examining every corner thoroughly for signs of danger before entering. "I'm not sure how he knows me, and I'm almost positive I don't know him."

"So you think this is a trap?" Gabrielle asked cautiously, surveying the room as well like she had seen Xena doing.

"It might be." She looked down at her companion, wrapping a strong arm around the younger woman's waist. "But I doubt it. Still, it's a good idea to keep your guard up." Gabrielle nodded and yawned, eyeing the large bed. Xena smiled. "Why don't you get some sleep it's been a long day."

She leaned into Xena's side, resting her head against the warrior's shoulder. "Aren't you coming, too?" she asked softly, green eyes lazily looking up into blue.

Xena arched an eyebrow, "Gabrielle, if I go into that bed now, neither of us is going to get much sleep."

"Hmm, true," Gabrielle conceded. She looked back up at Xena with a tired smile, and kissed her on the cheek before curling up on the bed. Within minutes the girl was asleep.

Xena sighed, looking longingly at Gabrielle and the soft, feather bed. She shook her head, there'd be time for that later. She sat back against the cold, stone wall facing the door listening intently for any sort of disturbance.

After a few uneventful hours, Xena rose to stretch her stiff muscles. She glanced over towards the bed and saw Gabrielle shivering. Xena removed her chakram and sword, placing them beside the bed, and laid herself down next to her beautiful lover, putting an arm around her and pulling her closer. Gabrielle stopped shaking and slowly woke up. She looked up languidly into Xena's eyes, the moonlight causing them to sparkle, then laid her head upon her friend's chest-draping one arm over the warrior's stomach. Xena sighed as she heard the girl's breathing slow and deepen indicating she was asleep again. She closed her own eyes, planning on a short rest to be fresh for the morning.

Xena awoke to the thought of being on a very uncomfortable and lumpy mattress. It wasn't until she felt movement underneath her that she woke completely. She shifted slightly when she heard words muffled by the front of her shoulder. Xena looked down and saw Gabrielle frantically trying to push the warrior off of herself. They were stomach to stomach, with Xena's left arm draped across Gabrielle's mouth and her head directly next to the bard's on the pillow. Xena momentarily contemplating leaving her arm where it was, but thought better of it when her eyes focused and she saw the warning look on Gabrielle's face.

"Xena, no offense, but gods you're heavy," Gabrielle breathed when Xena finally moved off of her.

"Thanks," she said sarcastically, giving her lover a sideways glance.

Gabrielle sat up on the bed to face Xena again. "Next time you want to use me as a mattress-and, heh heh, under most circumstances I wouldn't quite mind that-I'd appreciate it if you took off your breastplate first," she grumbled, rubbing her sore ribcage.

Xena raised her head, wincing as she felt her protesting neck muscles. She rubbed the tense and stiff cords at the back of her neck as she looked out the window at the side of the bed, momentarily ignoring the girl. By the position of the sun, she could tell she had slept longer than she would have liked. She mumbled a curse to herself.

"Excuse me?" Gabrielle asked, doing her best imitation of Xena's arched eyebrow.

Xena looked down to face Gabrielle, surprised she had said that out loud, and shook her head dismissively. "Nothing. Come on, get dressed." She noticed the eyebrow imitation and broadly smiled, bent down, and leisurely kissed the red marks on Gabrielle's ribcage that her breastplate had caused. She loved it when Gabrielle tried to imitate her. The girl tried to be so serious while doing it and Xena could never help herself but to get excited. Yet another power Gabrielle had, Xena knew, that made her so irresistible to the warrior.

"Mmm, that feels nice," Gabrielle sighed. She ran her hands through Xena's hair, giggling as she made some of it stick up. "So we're going to see King Whatshisname now?"

"Tyberus. And, yes, we are. It's later than I'd like it to be." Xena reluctantly moved off the bed and picked up her scabbard and belt. She adjusted the belt to fit snugly above her hips, with her chakram on her right side within easy reach. She pulled the scabbard across her back, the butt of the sword also facing towards the right. Turning, she saw Gabrielle sitting on the edge of the bed, lacing up her boots, her staff already at her side. Xena was impressed; usually Gabrielle was less than eager to get out of bed and get moving so early, especially as of lately. She grinned mischievously to herself with knowledge of the reason why.

Xena let her eyes trail in wonder over the body in front of her. Her unwavering devotion was something Xena marveled at. Oftentimes, she'd wonder to herself how anyone could trust her to that extent-trust a former bloodthirsty warlord with their life and so much more. For that trust, Xena loved Gabrielle, she was the best friend Xena had ever had. Though at some point, the love Xena had changed over from friendship to something very different-true love. She could only guess at the moment when that happened, could it have been the night in front of the campfire before they faced Callisto for the first time when Gabrielle had eased the pain of her own tormented soul, or Gabrielle's little "confession" in the cave when she had been intoxicated by henbane. Or maybe it was when she had almost lost Gabrielle forever to Hades; she had realized how much the bard meant to her then. Xena bit her lip for a moment in deep thought. No, she hadn't fallen in love then, it was long before that. Maybe it wasn't at a particular moment, though. All the times Gabrielle would scream her name when she was in trouble, maybe it was the bard's smile-it was definitely something that made Xena's heart melt every time she saw it, or maybe it was the way she'd look at. . .

"Xena?" Gabrielle said, breaking into the warrior's thoughts. "Are we going or are you just going to stare at me for the whole day?" She stood in front of Xena, one hand holding her staff, the other on her hip, watching the warrior impatiently.

"There'll be time for both," Xena mumbled to herself, turning towards the door, then said louder, "Come on."

"I'll hold you to that, you know," Gabrielle stated cheerily as she strode by the warrior's right side.

Xena raised an eyebrow. The girl always managed to hear everything she ever said no matter how low her voice was. It was a wonder that Gabrielle couldn't read her mind, she thought wryly.

Argo was waiting outside the stable for her mistress and neighed happily when she saw her walking up. Xena picked up the saddle and strapped it snugly back on her horse, scratching her neck affectionately. She mounted the horse and brought her up to the front of the inn where Gabrielle was waiting. Without saying a word, Gabrielle followed at the Argo's side for the few miles they were from the palace.

The palace guards noticed the women from afar, but already had word from their king on who they were, or at least who the tall, dark haired one was. The leader, a tall, muscular man, stood in front of the gates with two other male guards. "Xena," he said, not even questioning the woman's identity. He had heard enough stories to recognize the warrior princess when he saw her. "King Tyberus is expecting you. Leave the horse out here and follow him," he gestured towards the guard on his left.

Xena's blue eyes shot quickly from the guard in front of her to the one he had indicated, then back. They narrowed to slits, but she didn't question him. She brought Argo over to the closest tree to the path they were on and tied her reins loosely on the lowest branch so that if there was trouble the horse would be able to break free with little effort.

Gabrielle began to follow Xena up to the main gates, until she felt a hard fist thump against her chest.

The guard pushed her back roughly. "Who are you? She goes alone," he bellowed. He leveled his shoulders and flared his nostrils to look more intimidating to the girl.

Gabrielle's lip raised in disgust and she tried again, using her staff for a little more leverage against the guard. The guard wasn't showing any signs of backing away and practically flung Gabrielle away this time.

Xena stepped in between the two before the girl got up the energy to make another charge or the guard did something stupid enough to make her do something which would make him regret being born a man. "Gabrielle, stay here and watch Argo. I'll be fine."

"Yeah, but-" she began in protest, but stopped when Xena gave her a warning look. She remained silent against her better judgment and did as she was told, sitting against a tree by Argo-listening for any signs of danger from within the palace walls.

The sun was beginning to set, and Gabrielle was worried. All the king had to give to Xena was a message, it couldn't possibly take this long. She had been sitting alone for hours, chattering absently to Argo about Xena. All her attempts to inquire about her to the lead guard resulted in the receiving of more bruises. Just as she was about to go in for yet another confrontation, the palace gates opened and Xena walked out.

She rushed past the guards, gave a quick glance over of Gabrielle to make sure she was okay, then mounted Argo and started back on the way they came hours earlier. Gabrielle knew better than to question Xena now by the mood she seemed to be in and the deeply irritated look on her face.

The two stayed quiet for the trip back, even though Gabrielle could hear Xena's sharp intake of breath every so often indicating something was wrong and a few colorful words the warrior mumbled between those sharps breaths. She didn't press it further because Xena could get very annoyed and unpleasant if she was pushed into talking about something; she knew that from past experience.

Gabrielle waited until she and Xena were settled back in their room at the inn before even attempting to probe her about the issue. "Xena," she began a little unsure of the response she'd receive, "is-is everything okay? What happened back there?"

Xena was silent for a few moments longer, and made her way slowly across the room to lay on the bed. She groaned and rubbed her sore and stiff muscles caused from a bad sleep and leaning over charts and maps for hours at the castle. "This has not been a good day," she finally mumbled in a voice more tired than angry.

Gabrielle followed suit and sat next to her, gently unbuckling some of her armor and leather. She ran her hands down Xena's back then began massaging the muscles, starting with her neck, pleased when Xena moaned as the built up tension was released.

"There is war going on across the sea on a small island between King Tyberus and a warlord named Dryseus. I knew him a long time ago-Dryseus," Xena paused for a moment and let out a groan. "Lower." She sighed as Gabrielle's hands moved to loosen the requested muscles.

'A long time ago,' Gabrielle knew what that phrase meant-during her days as a warlord. "And that's what took the day to tell you?" Gabrielle winced at the tone of voice she had taken; it sounded harsher than she would have liked.

Xena grimaced into the pillow as Gabrielle encountered a tender spot on her shoulders. "Well, the king is losing-probably already lost in fact-and most of his soldiers are over fighting in the war." She paused to close her eyes in pleasure as Gabrielle began concentrating on the muscles around her shoulder blades. "Dryseus is a very vengeful person, once he defeats all the troops on the island, King Tyberus believes he'll track them back here; since there's no one to defend the village, it'll be taken." Xena moaned again as Gabrielle's masterful hands loosened another tight muscle. After a few more long minutes of the bard's wonderful rubbing and kneading, she lifted her head to face Gabrielle. "Where'd you learn to do this?" she asked with an amused smile.

"What, you think you're the only one who can give a decent massage?" she asked sarcastically, but when she saw Xena look away with a slightly hurt expression on her face she admitted, "I remembered what you did to me when I'd get sore muscles after a fight. My favorite part of a fight might I add."

Xena chuckled. She always wondered why Gabrielle seemed so happy to have sore muscles. "Well," Xena said, reluctantly sitting up and rebuckling her armor, "I think the student has surpassed the teacher." She flexed the muscles in her back, pleased with the lack of tension and soreness. "Anyway, since I know Dryseus, I can be of some help here. I threw him out of my army pretty early on because I caught him brutally torturing and killing some of the captives we had. It was like nothing I'd ever seen done, and was just something I couldn't condone." Xena paused for a moment and made a face, mumbling quickly, "That and he was one of the few people who could match me in skill with a sword."

"He what?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes opened wide in disbelief, momentarily ignoring the other equally terrifying quality of the man. "Xena, if this guy is even half as good as you are with a sword and has an entire army behind him-"

Xena put up a hand to silence her. "Yes, but Dryseus is also a perfectionist."

"And you're not?" Gabrielle asked innocently, raising an eyebrow.

Xena ignored that comment and continued, "That's something we could use against him if he indeed follows the plan the king thinks he will. There's a chance he may not, though. Dryseus is very organized, he doesn't do things at the last minute so we should be able to have some time to prepare just in case."

She stood up and walked over towards the door, leaning against it before turning her attention back to Gabrielle. "I have to head back over to the castle and talk with the king about where to place his remaining soldiers. I would have stayed earlier, but there was something he had to attend to and I needed to talk this over with you."

Gabrielle got up and stood in front of her, staff in hand. "Great, lets go then. I could use more of that fresh air and exercise."

Xena shook her head and sighed as she explained her predicament. "You remember what happened earlier when you tried to come with me?" She put her hands up in front of her again when Gabrielle opened her mouth to keep the bard quiet a few more moments, "Well that's because the remaining soldiers' orders are to protect to king since the army is down to only a few handfuls. Tyberus only gave them clearance for me to enter, they didn't know-"

"They didn't have the slightest idea who I was," she stated simply. "It's okay, Xena. I'm used to it by now. Everyone knows of Xena, the warrior princess, and no one has the foggiest idea who I am. To them I'm Lariel, the faceless tag along." She folded her arms across her stomach and turned away scowling.

Xena rolled her eyes, though involuntarily smiled at a few memories that went along with that name. She shook herself and looked at her companion, feeling some of the pain the young bard was trying to hide. "Gabrielle," she started sternly, "you know why everyone knows of me. I envy you for not having to deal with a past and old reputation that cannot be escaped and continually reappears to haunt."

"You envy me?" her eyebrows furrowed in confusion and surprise as she turned to face Xena.

Xena reached around the bard's waist with both arms, pulling her closer. "Yes," she whispered. She started to finish her earnest admission, but her mouth was covered by Gabrielle's.

"I love you," Gabrielle breathed into Xena's ear, frowning when she realized Xena made her completely forget about her anger. She sighed and dismissed it as Xena kissed her back, parting her mouth slowly with her tongue to explore her mouth. Gabrielle felt Xena's hands ascend up her back, over her shoulders and down her chest to cup a breast in each hand through the material of her top. She moaned softly deep in her throat as Xena moved to nibble on her earlobe.

Xena's hands moved back around Gabrielle's waist and picked the bard up, bracing the girl's back against the wall. As she felt Gabrielle's legs wrap around her waist to hold on, she reclaimed Gabrielle's mouth in a long, deep kiss.

Gabrielle pulled her mouth away from Xena's and began to concentrate her efforts on Xena's neck. She slowly kissed her way up Xena's throat, and lightly nipped at her chin. Gabrielle smiled seductively and tilted her head to slowly trace Xena's jawbone with her tongue.

Moaning deep in her throat, Xena closed her eyes at the pleasure Gabrielle was giving her. She gasped for a moment and her eyes snapped open in surprise as Gabrielle's tongue plunged into her mouth, slowly and passionately kissing her. Xena returned it, but then forced herself to pull away from Gabrielle's wonderful mouth.. "Gabrielle, I have to go now. I'll be back in a few hours." Her voice was huskier than she would have liked it to be. She began to absently play with a lock of Gabrielle's red hair, "Why don't you get some dinner?" At the bard's grumble of protest, she said, "I'll make it up to you-later." Xena flashed the girl one of her seductive smiles to seal the promise.

Gabrielle's mouth went dry at the thought of what later could entail. "Okay," she whispered in a breathless voice. She felt Xena lower her back down to the floor, then watched her warrior's retreating form as she walked out the door.


When Xena re-entered the inn, she heard a familiar voice coming from the bar. She walked into the room, and couldn't help but smile. Gabrielle was sitting in the middle of the room, on a raised platform, telling the story of Daedalus to a roomful of entranced patrons. With the exception of a small group of drunken men at the bar, everyone seemed to be paying rapt attention to the bard. Xena slowly walked up to a bar stool and took a seat, shooting a warning glare towards the men who were beginning to get louder. Each one immediately quieted himself at Xena's look.


". . . and after Daedalus gave his son, Icarus, the warnings, he bent to kiss him-a kiss that was destined to never be repeated." Gabrielle paused dramatically, that was one of her favorite lines of the story, she loved the impact it had on an audience.

She opened her mouth to continue, but saw Xena walk by and take a seat, smiling up at her. Gabrielle smiled back and her heart skipped a beat. Taking a deep breath, she moved on in an even more animate voice than before, "He raised his mighty feathered wings and began his decent across the water, fear for his son burning a hole in the pit of his stomach. Icarus indeed heeded his father's warnings and flew a similar pattern. Soon the two were far from the prison Crete had become to them. Icarus began to rejoice and flew ahead of his father. He flew higher and higher driven by an eagerness for the sky."

Gabrielle paused again, she had the audience right where she wanted them, a few in the front were biting their bottom lips and all were on the edge of their seats in anticipation. She stole a quick glance towards Xena, who was smiling at her again, but it was the smile she had used back in their room earlier. That was all it took for her. She began to tremble in anticipation. As she finished the story, she realized nothing was coming out of her rapidly moving mouth. She cleared her throat and tried again, this time speaking as fast as she could get her mouth to go, "And, like Daedalus said they would, the wax on the wings melted from the sun, Icarus plunged into the icy water and died, and Daedalus landed in Sicily where he lived a safe and happy life, the end." Gabrielle jumped off the chair she was on, and practically flew from her platform to Xena.

The audience members looked at each other. They reluctantly began clapping as they stared at the bard, utterly confused. An awkward silence followed, and a small ensemble of musicians began playing to try to take the patrons' minds off the strange rendition of the story.

Xena caught Gabrielle as she landed in her lap. "Hey," she said beaming, giving her bard a lingering kiss on the forehead. "Interesting story."

Gabrielle blushed. "Well, I uh. . . I wanted to um-" she began, noticeably flustered.

"Uh huh, I know what you wanted," Xena answered in a low voice, playing with the bard's nervousness.

A heat was building in Gabrielle's ears, and her face was beginning to match the color of Xena's wine. "How'd everything go with the king?" she asked, trying to change the subject. She moved off Xena's lap and onto the stool next to her so that the warrior could finish the dinner she had been given.

Xena noticed the subject change, but ignored it. "Fine. A few messengers came back tonight. Dryseus does seem to be interested in obtaining this area. They're pretty certain he's going to bring his army in. We do still have a good three days to figure out something before he will come within range of here. I did talk with Tyberus's remaining troops, but they don't seem to want to trust me much," she said with a shrug, taking a bite out of the piece of strange looking meat on her plate. She made a face and pushed the plate aside. Not even Gabrielle would be able to eat that, she thought.

"Why wouldn't they trust your judgment, though? If they knew you dealt with this guy before-" Gabrielle began, confused.

Xena reached forward on the bar and covered Gabrielle's hands with her own, looking into her eyes sadly, "Remember what we were talking about earlier?"

Gabrielle's forehead furrowed in thought, then her mouth opened slightly, understanding. "Well, it's their own faults, Xena, not yours. You're a good person, and if they can't get over your past and see you for who you are now, then that's their own problem and it's nothing for you to feel guilty over."

Xena eyes were distant, she was only brought back by a squeeze on her left hand. She looked down and saw Gabrielle watching her worriedly. "Come here," she whispered hoarsely, gathering Gabrielle back into her arms and on her lap.

The young bard rested her head against the crook of Xena's neck while the warrior wrapped her arms possessively around Gabrielle, reveling in the feel of the younger woman within her embrace. They sat like that, serenely, for a few minutes listening to the mellow music and content just to be with the other. "Do you want to go?" Xena whispered in her ear, sucking on the bard's ear lobe.

Gabrielle's eyes widened, and she smiled warmly up at her warrior. "Yes," she breathed, although the hungry look in her eyes alone, would have been enough of an answer. Xena got up and lowered her off of her lap, instead taking her hand and leading her back up to their room.

A few patrons watched the two women leave with some curiosity. The men grumbled sullenly that the two attractive women were taken, and the women sighed and smiled at the love the couple so clearly expressed.

Xena opened the door slowly a crack, listening for any strange noises, then opened it all the way and let Gabrielle through. She looked around the corridors for any sign of trouble outside, then entered the room herself. She closed and locked the door, but as she began to turn, she felt Gabrielle leap into her arms, wrapping her legs around Xena's waist. The force of it caused Xena to stumble back against the door in a moment of unbalance.

She steadied herself again and rested one hand on the small of Gabrielle's back. With her other hand she reached down and quickly took off her belt and chakram so the girl didn't cut her legs on it, which Gabrielle had a tendency to do when she tried to be the aggressor. Tossing the items aside, she brought her hand back up to join the other on Gabrielle.

"Make love to me, Xena," Gabrielle whispered huskily, kissing Xena intensely before she had a chance to answer.

Xena returned the kiss with just as much fervor as Gabrielle had, growling deep in her throat in affirmation of Gabrielle's request. She carefully maneuvered the two of them to the bed without breaking any contact. Xena gently laid Gabrielle down and climbed on top of her, still managing to keep their lips together. She quickly brought her hands up to unstrap her scabbard, and tossed that aside as well.

As they kissed, Xena brought her knee up to spread and rest between Gabrielle's thighs. She felt the breath catch in the girl's throat as she began rotating her knee in circles, gently grinding it against Gabrielle's center.

Gabrielle moaned deep in her throat, and thrust her hips against Xena's knee. Xena moved her mouth to wrap around her lover's lower lip. She sucked on it, running her tongue lightly across the sensitive top. Xena released her lip after a few moments and returned to Gabrielle's mouth while rubbing her knee harder.

Gabrielle looked drunkenly up into Xena's eyes as she broke off the kiss and began to move away from Gabrielle's mouth, down towards her chest. Xena slowly unlaced Gabrielle's halter top and slid it down her shoulders until it was free from her body. She took in the sight of her lover, and languidly lowered her mouth onto first one breast then the other. Xena slowly sucked on each, marveling at their softness and warmth. While she sucked on one, she used her free hand to caress and knead the other. Gabrielle moaned and ran her fingers through the warrior's raven hair, arching her back so Xena could have better access, but that wasn't what her warrior lover had in mind just yet.

Xena moved away from her chest, much to Gabrielle's frustration, and let her cheek rest against her stomach. She rubbed Gabrielle's tight, flat abdomen with the side of her face, closing her eyes as a few sensitive muscles in that area twitched. Xena placed wet kisses along her stomach then moved even lower to the leather belt of Gabrielle's skirt. She removed the belt, and very slowly began to pull the skirt down.

Gabrielle's hands rushed down to try to rip the unwanted garment off of her body, but Xena grabbed the girl's hands in her own and pushed them back. With a groan of frustration, Gabrielle brought her hands back up and allowed Xena to continue her work.

After a few excruciatingly long moments for both, Gabrielle's skirt was off. Xena sat up to lovingly devour the sight of her lover's naked body before bending back down to trace her tongue from Gabrielle's right ankle, along the contours of her tight calf muscles, and back behind her knee. She lightly blew on the sensitive skin on the back of Gabrielle's knee, causing the bard's breath to catch. Xena kissed her way up the insides of Gabrielle's thighs, stealing a seductive glance at the bard before burying her face between her legs. She let her tongue and lips slowly tease Gabrielle's sensitive bud until the young bard was writhing in pleasure, moaning and wrapping her hands in Xena's hair trying to push her further. Once Gabrielle's hips began to buck forward in a synchronizing rhythm with her mouth, Xena thrust her tongue as deep as it would go, causing Gabrielle to deafeningly scream her name in pleasure.

Xena's lips quirked and she looked up at the girl with a bewildered expression on her face. "Where did -that- come from?" she asked with a stifled giggle, beginning to blush at the thought of being heard by everyone else at the inn.

A small, abashed smile creeped onto Gabrielle's lips. Xena shook her head, now just grinning. "Who knew someone so small could be so loud," she mumbled, laughing again as she received a pillow hurled at her face. She tossed it aside, and with a predatory expression on her face, dove up Gabrielle's body to meet her mouth and cover her bard in a barrage of kisses.

Gabrielle giggled and wrapped her arms around Xena's neck, perfectly content with the warrior's "attacks." The kisses soon slowed and became longer and more passionate. Gabrielle felt Xena's tongue glide against her own and tasted Xena's mouth, a mix between wine and her own juices. Xena moved her hand down her lover's body, inserting two fingers inside of her. Her free hand moved down to Gabrielle's chest and lovingly caressed and her breasts, running her thumb across the hardened nipples. She then broke away from the bard's mouth and replaced her hand with her mouth on Gabrielle's chest, sucking and lightly biting on first one nipple then the other. With each pass of her tongue over them she was met with a whimper and moan from Gabrielle.

After minutes of careful, slow administrations, Xena felt Gabrielle's impending climax. She quickly brought her mouth back down to Gabrielle's center, giving her a few more strokes with her tongue and fingers. Xena felt Gabrielle tense and the poet's nails run up her back as Gabrielle exploded in a wave of ecstasy. She moaned and screamed Xena's name over and over as the warrior continued to stroke Gabrielle's most sensitive parts with her tongue. When her climax finally subsided Gabrielle fell back into the bed breathing heavily. "I love you," she whispered as soon as she remembered how to speak again.

Xena lifted one of Gabrielle's limp arms and lightly kissed her forearm, wrist, and palm. "I love you, too," she murmured. Xena lifted herself up and laid herself on one side of Gabrielle, resting her head on the girl's heaving chest. She looked up at her lover's face and smiled. Gabrielle had closed her eyes and the corners of her mouth were slightly raised in a small smile. Xena reached up with one hand and brushed away a few tendrils of damp hair that were in Gabrielle's eyes then kissed both corners of her mouth.

The bard's eyes opened instantly at the new contact. She gave her warrior one of her endearing smiles as Xena began to lightly blow on her warm face. "Mmm," she moaned and closed her eyes again. Xena looked down at her own still clothed body and began to start off of the bed to undress without disturbing Gabrielle.

Gabrielle felt her moving and quickly wrapped her legs around Xena's waist, flipping them both over so she was on top of the warrior. "Where do you think you're going?" she asked huskily. "It's my turn," she whispered in Xena's ear, nipping it playfully.

The final sound heard that night above the moaning, which continued for hours to come, was the clank of a metal breastplate and the thud of leather clothing hitting the floor.

Xena woke up before Gabrielle in the morning. She lay passively playing with locks of Gabrielle's loose red hair along her bare back. Gabrielle was still asleep, her right arm draped across Xena's body and her head resting against Xena's neck.

The young bard would be dead to the world for another few hours, if Xena ever allowed her to sleep that long. She had worn the girl out the night before, though, and decided to give her a little while longer. Xena smiled mischievously in memory. She and Gabrielle always made the most out of having a bed instead of being outside in their bedrolls. Xena was certain that if they weren't on a soft bed, with the things they did, one of them would definatly have ended up with a concussion.

She watched the sun begin to rise out of the corner of her eye, and reluctantly thought back to the real reason they were there. She needed to decide on a plan for what to do about the village. She supposed, if they had affable relationships with each other, the king could get neighboring armies to help fight if she couldn't execute a less risky diversion.

Gabrielle suddenly shifted and moaned something in her sleep, interrupting Xena's thoughts. By the way she was moving, Xena could tell the girl was having a bad dream. She wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's body, hugging her closer to her own. Gabrielle instantly stopped moving, and nuzzled Xena's neck-still asleep.

Xena shrugged off the disturbance and continued to think, tracing the freckles on Gabrielle's back in concentration. She looked closely at the pattern she had made, and suddenly her eyes widened with an idea. She squirmed out from underneath Gabrielle and went in search of her armor and leather scattered recklessly about the room.

Once in her body suit, she sat on the edge of the bed to lace up her boots, gently shaking Gabrielle to wake her up. When she heard the younger woman grumble about being awake, Xena got back off the bed and picked up her bracers, belt, and weapons. She buckled her remaining armor and secured her scabbard across her back. Looking back over to the bed-still seeing the motionless lump under the blankets-she let out a subdued battle cry and jumped on top of her.

Gabrielle yelped in surprise and hopped up off the bed into a defensive stance. She quickly grabbed her staff and poised it, prepared for an attack. After seeing they were still in their room, quite alone, she gave Xena a confused look, then glared as the warrior tried her best not to show how amused she was at Gabrielle's reflexes.

"Get dressed and meet me outside," Xena smiled, tossing her the clothes she had been stripped of the night before. "By the way, Gabrielle, I think that's a creative new technique we could use in a fight." At Gabrielle's confused expression she continued, "You jump out completely naked and I flatten them while they're stunned and leering." Xena laughed and quickly ducked out of the room, just narrowly avoiding the pillows hurled towards her.

The younger woman begrudgingly got herself dressed, eyeing the inviting, warm bed one last time before leaving the room to try to get a quick breakfast before finding Xena. The innkeeper had given her and Xena a free dinner the night before as compensation for telling her stories. She immediately spotted him wiping down the bar, and she headed over to him.

"Gabrielle!" he called, shrinking back a little as he realized most of his other customers were still asleep. "I put together some breakfast for you and Xena." He pushed a bundle forward on the freshly cleaned counter.

"Thank you, Engus," she said, smiling at the considerate man. "The room was great. We love that bed." Engus looked back down at the counter, his face had turned red with embarrassment although he was smiling faintly. Gabrielle frowned and replayed her words in her mind. It was her turn to blush when she realized how he had interpreted it, even though it was true.

"Should I get a dinner together for you two for when you come back?" he asked, his face still slightly flushed.

The bard bit her bottom lip for a moment in thought. "Uh, no, that's okay, Engus. We might not be back by then and I don't want to put you out. I better go catch up to Xena before she leaves without me. Thanks again." She picked up the bundle, carefully felt it, then tossed a few dinars onto the counter. She quickly rushed out the door before he was able to refuse the money.

Gabrielle opened the bundle and was pleased to see quite a few small biscuits and some dried fruit. She picked up a dried apple slice, but wrinkled her nose when she saw something that looked suspiciously like the same dried meat Xena had rejected for dinner the night before. Popping the apple slice in her mouth, she went in search of the Amazon warrior, spotting her shapely form outside the stable with Argo walking at her side.

Gabrielle hurried to catch up. "Xena!"

Xena turned and gave her bard a greeting smile. "That was fast. We're going back to the castle. You made me think of something that may prevent some unnecessary risks."

"I did?" she asked, brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Hey, wait. What about yesterday morning when I went with you? I'm not in the mood to get more bruises," she said, taking her usual spot at the other side of Xena.

"Don't worry. I had a long talk with the king," she said, mounting Argo. Xena glanced down to make sure Gabrielle was looking at her. "He sends his personal apologies," she said, raising her eyebrows for more of an effect. "Is this breakfast?" she asked, yanking the bundle from Gabrielle's hands while the girl was thinking about her former words. "Thanks." Xena grinned and brought Argo into a trot away from the bard.

Gabrielle shook her head, not hearing Xena's later words. She looked down to see her empty hands, then up to see Xena hurrying off in the opposite direction. "Hey!" she yelled, running off after the warrior.

Xena threw herself in front of Gabrielle, tackling the girl and bringing them both to the castle's hard, cold stone floor. The archer's arrow whizzed by the bard's left ear just barely missing her. Xena rose from the floor first, drawing her sword. She stood over Gabrielle and engaging two swordsmen at once.

Gabrielle rolled out of the way of the sword fight and took on her own group of ruffians. She neatly dodged three quick slices of the blade towards her head, and brought her staff down to crack against the man's back. He stumbled and grunted in pain, then let out an angry war cry as he ran towards her again. The soldier's sword came down in a straight line with her head, but was blocked from its target by her staff. Gabrielle took advantage of the man's bad placement and aimed a forceful jab of her staff into his mid-section, causing the man to bend over for a moment clutching his gut. Gabrielle held her staff with both hands and jumped up, bringing one foot up to meet the man's face. He fell backwards and moaned in pain as he hit the floor.

Her second attacker was much larger and clumsier than his friend and was only able to swing his sword once before she knocked his feet out from under him with a sweep of her staff. He hit his head hard on the stone and did not get back up. She turned to see how Xena was fairing, but was unaware of a third assailant taking aim at her with his crossbow. Just as he moved his hand to pull the trigger, a sword came down ruthlessly upon the weapon, splintering it.

Both Xena and Gabrielle stopped fighting to look upon this newcomer to the skirmish. The swordsman looked at the man holding the crossbow with disgust as he raised his arms in defeat. "Melek!" he called loudly, his assertive voice reverberating throughout the castle's corridors.

Another young man came running into the room, his bloodied sword at the ready, looking around with great apprehension. "Melek, here's another scum. Put him and anything else that moves in with the others," he growled, reaching down to grab the man by the collar of his uniform and shoving him towards Melek.

Xena smiled and sheathed her sword, looking down for Gabrielle's attention. "Gabrielle, I'd like you to meet King Tyberus," she said simply, turning her smile towards the king.

Gabrielle's mouth opened in shock. From the descriptions and stories she had heard of him while at the inn, she had expected him to be much older just by all he had accomplished in his life. The man before her didn't look much older than Xena and was just as tall. He was sans his royal robes, instead dressed in dark leather pants and a dark vest looking more like a warrior than a king. His hair was short and dark, but what caught her attention were his eyes; they were grey like the ocean during a terrible storm. Gabrielle had to admit that he was a very attractive man. She didn't catch herself staring at him until Xena cleared her throat. Gabrielle quickly bowed her head slightly and tried to get out a formal greeting, but Tyberus cut her off.

"Xena, we have trouble," he growled, striding between both her and Gabrielle, leaving the girl slightly dumbstruck. He reached down to one of the bodies, pulling it up by the uniform. "See the insignia? They're Dryseus's people. They stormed the walls not too long ago. Most of the ones that are still alive are in jail. These scum must have come in just before you." He dropped the body in anger and paced about the room, kicking fallen objects as they came into view.

"Well, I knew something was wrong when the guards weren't up front. Dryseus could be attacking in waves. These men could have been sent ahead to weaken your forces," Xena conceded, "but it doesn't fit well with him. Do you mind if I talk to some of the captives?"

Tyberus turned swiftly to face her. "I suppose so. I'm going to stay back here and clean some of this stuff up," he grumbled.

Xena nodded and gestured for Gabrielle to follow her. As she reached exit of the room, Tyberus called out from behind her. "Xena. Thanks for showing up when you did," he said, from what Xena could tell, sincerely.

"Well, that was fun," Gabrielle mumbled sarcastically as they entered the long spanse of corridors. Xena gave her the look, but Gabrielle wasn't facing in her. "He could at least have said hello."

"Cut him some slack, Gabrielle. It's not everyday a warlord makes it his lot in life to destroy all you've worked for," Xena paused for a moment, thinking back to her past and shivered.

"All right," she mumbled, gripping her staff tighter as they rounded a corner-a reflex instilled on her by Xena. Gabrielle slowed her pace slightly when the sound of painful moaning and cursing reached her ears. She didn't even need to ask Xena, she knew they were just outside the jail cells. A few paces closer and she could smell the stomach turning stench of sweat, blood, and damp, stagnant air.

The room consisted of three cells all on the left side, while on the right side there was only a small table for the jailers, now only occupied by one jailer. Melek, the king's guard ran up to meet the two. "Hello, Xena. I can't get any of these guys to talk. The best I could tell is the guy in the first cell with the grey tunic is the leader." He looked questioningly at Gabrielle, but did not pursue that train of thought before Xena whisked past him, grabbed the key, and headed directly for the cell.

She roughly jammed the key in the hole and unlocked the door. Holding it tightly shut with one arm she held her other hand up for Gabrielle to stay where she was. Xena took a deep breath of the revolting air and walked into the cell, bringing both fists up sharply at her sides.

The two men at either side of her cowered back, whimpering and clutching their now broken noses. Xena's lip raised in disgust, her eyes scanning the room, daring the other men to try something similar. She nodded sharply with her head for Gabrielle to follow, watching carefully as the bard made her way to her side.

Only when Gabrielle was with her did she look for the man in question. He was in the corner of the cell, standing with his arms folded across his chest. His long, dark hair was neatly tied back, and his hazel eyes were on Xena, watching her like a mouse watches a snake-knowing it's going to attack, just a matter of when.

In a beat Xena was in front of him, fingers on his neck. He crumpled to the dirt floor of the cell, face contorting in pain. Xena scowled at him and murmured, "I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain, you'll be dead in less than a minute if I don't release you. Now, what's your name?"

He grunted something unintelligible and finally gave up resisting. "Tegner, second lieutenant of-," he began but trailed off as his vision blurred and blackened and he could no longer feel his limbs. He fell forward into a boneless heap.

Xena muttered a curse under her breath, quickly bending down and releasing him, feeling for a pulse. It was strained, but it was there. She stood up and gave him a few moments to revive. Once he began moaning, she flipped him over onto his back, and his eyes flew open in shock.

As Xena started forward to begin questioning again, she heard a cry from Gabrielle. Grabbing her chakram in her right hand she looked up just in time to see the bard's staff come crashing down on another soldier's nose. Xena cringed slightly at the audible crunch of bones. She opened her mouth to give a warning to the rest of the men, but instead heard a threatening voice growl, "Get back and behave." It took Xena a few beats to realize that she had not said that. Looking up she saw Gabrielle's lips curled in a snarl as she kept her staff poised at the other men. Xena's mouth opened slightly in shock, then she smiled in admiration of the woman she loved.

Tegner began moving, trying to crawl away as Xena was distracted. "Oh no you don't," she said, right hand darting forward and landing squarely on a pressure point between the man's shoulders. He yelped in pain and fell down again. "Now, Tegner, I trust you know who I am, yes?"

The man nodded furiously, fear overwhelming him now. "Good," she said slowly. "You're in Dryseus's army?" Tegner nodded again. "Where is he? He loves fighting too much to let his army do it for him."

Tegner licked his dry lips and let out a shaky breath. "He sent us ahead of him to wear down the army and get rid of as much of the opposition as possible. He wants this conquer to be quick and simple," he mumbled, looking at Xena with wide, fearful eyes. "He's coming at dawn tomorrow, by then he figured everyone in the village will be sleeping and the soldiers here will be too busy taking care of their wounds and damage around the castle to notice him entering the area."

"Dawn." she repeated in a low voice, eyes narrowed. Tegner nodded again, then tensed as Xena got up unexpectantly. "Gabrielle," she said as she walked past the jailed men and out the door. The red headed staff wielder kept her guard up and slowly backed out the room, following the warrior.

Xena locked the door again and tossed the keys back to the guard. "Thanks," she said, walking by him again and back the way she came.

Melek followed for a few paces and grabbed her arm. "Wait! What'd he say?" he asked, agitated. As she turned around, he promptly removed his hand at the disapproving look on her face.

"I want every soldier in the castle brought together and in the king's briefing room in less than an hour, can you do that?" she asked. Not waiting for an answer, she looked over the man's shoulder and said, "C'mon, Gabrielle."

The girl walked by Melek, giving him a small, polite smile. He ignored her and turned back down towards the cells. He walked up to the guard and gave him the job Xena had asked of him, taking over the jailer's duty. Melek sat down at the table and began to clean the blood off of and sharpen his sword.

"They gone?" a man whispered from the corner of the cell.

"Yeah," came the answer from the vicinity of the door. The soldier looking out the bars at the top crouched back down and stumbled towards a bench near the wall.

Tegner got up from the ground, brushing the dirt off his tunic. He rubbed his sore neck and the point between his shoulders Xena stabbed with her fingers. Movement to his right caught his attention. "Well?" he asked with a forced smile. He lightly ran the back of his hand across his forehead to rid it of the grime and sweat that had settled there.

A hooded soldier stepped forward, pushing the hood back to reveal a handsome man underneath. His blonde hair was tied back in a similar fashion as Tegner's, but it was shorter and cleaner and his eyes were a deep green. The only thing that set this man apart from being an object of perfection was a large scar running from his right ear down to his chin. "Tegner, you never cease to amaze me. A truly gifted thespian," he said sincerely, making his way to the man's side. He pulled off and threw the hooded cloak against the stone wall and fixed his dark tunic and shirt cuffs. Tegner looked away, grinning at the compliment. "After all these years, Xena still hasn't lost her, ah, touch," the man said with a smile, gently touching the red marks at the side of Tegner's neck.

"I was prepared for it, but it hurt like Hades. I have no idea what she did to my shoulders, but they're all numb. I better be made first lieutenant for all that," Tegner grumbled.

The man eyed Tegner for a moment and reached inside his open tunic. "Tegner, thespian yes, but solider-well, you tried your best," he said, a slightly pained expression crossing his face. As Tegner looked at him, confused, his eyes opened wide in pain as the man ran a concealed dagger into his heart. "Great father of Zeus! He's dying!" the man screamed. "Guard!"

The other men echoed the cry for the guard like they had been told earlier, yet watched in fear as their leader held the dead Tegner, careless of the blood which dripped down from his ripped open heart.

Melek grumbled in annoyance at the cries from within the first cell. "Now what?" he mumbled to himself as he picked up his sword and the key.

King Tyberus stood at the head the conference floor, watching the proceedings uncomfortably. He wasn't used to taking orders and not giving them. He looked over to Xena and scowled to himself. She was standing with her back against the wall watching as soldiers made their way into the room, some helping their wounded friends limp slowly in as well. He turned his attention to Xena's red-headed companion. She was saying something Tyberus could not make out, but assumed it was humorous as the stoic warrior smiled every so often.

The last of the soldiers pushed into the room and the heat from the sweaty bodies caused the temperature in the room to rise, stirring up agitation among the group. "Everyone," Xena shouted above the side conversations, "I want you to listen for a few minutes, all right?" She didn't wait for an answer and continued, "Now this attack today caught you all by surprise, I know. However, you did a tremendous job of fighting them off. After interrogating one of the captives, we learned that Dryseus is indeed planning an attack." A few groans of frustration from the band of men caused her to pause. "A full fledged attack should be expected by dawn."

That last statement caused an uproar. The men began yelling, arguing with each other, and the room was in bedlam until Xena yelled out again. "I know what you're thinking. We're going to be outnumbered, we barely survived this attack. Well, I do have a plan. It's not very sportsman like, however Dryseus cannot be allowed to simply kill and conquer as he pleases."

"Unlike you?" one soldier coldly called out from the back.

Xena looked up, suddenly forgetting what she was about to say next. That comment struck her off guard, and hit her painfully hard. "You got a problem?" another voice from the door grumbled. Xena looked farther to see the king's guard, Melek, holding the man in a headlock. The man flailed his arms about as his air supply was instantly cut off. "Now apologize." The soldier nodded and with the last of his air muttered an apology. Melek let him go, and he fell to the floor, face purple and gasping for breath.

"Anyone else have a comment to make?" he asked threateningly. The soldiers all fell silent and looked away or at the ground. "Good. Sorry I'm late," Melek said casually, making his way up towards the king, "there was some trouble in the jail." Xena looked at him for a moment. Over his head was a chain mail coif, leaving only his eyes exposed. He was unrecognizable except for the insignia on his uniform identifying him as the king's personal guard and his voice seemed raspier.

She watched him for a moment longer before returning to her speech. "Our main objective is to protect King Tyberus and disable as many soldiers in Dryseus's army as possible without casualties to our own army. Now, if there aren't any questions, I'll proceed with my plan." Xena looked around for any inquisitions. She took a deep breath and prayed to whatever god listening that she wasn't leading these men into a blood bath.

Gabrielle quietly walked around the corridors, peeking into the open rooms and awing at the lavish decor. The bedrooms, which she counted ten so far, each had a huge feather bed against one wall. The beds all had overstuffed velvet pillows at the head and were enclosed by deep purple silk drapes. A full length embossed gold mirror with intricate designs carved into it was always somewhere in the room, along with at least two fancy wooden tables. However, from the attack that morning, the tables were broken and busted apart, mirrors were shattered, and beds were slashed, feathers scattered throughout the room. There were even some flecks of blood scattered here and there that had either never been spotted or no one bothered to clean.

After a few closed doors, Gabrielle came to another open one. Peering in, she saw a tall, dark form looking out the window. They were in the front of the castle now, so from that window the village could be seen as well as miles beyond that.

She immediately recognized the figure and grinned wickedly to herself. She took her staff in both hands, and quietly stalked forward. Gabrielle stopped when she was just a few feet away, quite proud of herself for not making a single sound. She took another step, but shrieked in surprise as Xena turned around suddenly, and with lightning speed, snatched her up and sat her down on the window ledge.

"Hello, Gabrielle," she purred, purposely trying to irritate the bard.

Gabrielle grumbled in anger, giving Xena that satisfaction. "How long did you know I was there?"

"Not very long. You had me for awhile. I didn't hear you breathing until you were close," Xena conceded, playing with the laces on Gabrielle's green top.

"Oh yeah? It could have been someone else. How were you so certain it was me, hmmm?"

"I think I know what your breathing sounds like," Xena whispered, entwining her fingers in the laces and pulling the young poet closer with them. She slowly moved her mouth from Gabrielle's chin over to her ear, making sure to lightly exhale hot breath on the girl's skin the entire way there without actually making contact. Once she heard a low, throaty moan from Gabrielle, and saw her close her eyes, she lowered her voice and seductively whispered, "Besides, no one else is stupid enough to try to sneak up on me." Xena grinned as she saw Gabrielle's eyes snap open, annoyed, and felt two small hands on her shoulders pushing her away.

Gabrielle hopped down from the ledge. "Very funny," she hissed, jabbing Xena lightly with the butt of her staff.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," Xena said, pushing the staff away with one hand to fend off further attacks. She closed the distance between them and wrapped one arm around Gabrielle's waist. "Did you check on the progress downstairs?" she asked, all amusement now gone.

"Um, yes. Lets see, before I was banished from the vicinity of the kitchen, I saw that they have five cauldrons of water boiling steadily and one of tar with another few on the way."

"Banished?" Xena asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It's a long story. Just because I ate a couple pieces of fruit doesn't mean it's the end of the world," she mumbled half to herself.

"Uh huh, a couple?" The warrior knew her short companion's appetite just a little too well.

"Well, may not just a couple," Gabrielle conceded with a small smile. "And besides, you stole my breakfast," she accused.

Xena did her best at an innocent, shocked look at the accusation, causing Gabrielle to giggle at the demeanor change. "All right, why don't you stay up here then. It won't be dark for another few hours, and we're going to need you fully rested before dawn. I'm going to go down and see what I can help with," Xena said, releasing the bard from her hold reluctantly. She kissed her lightly on the top of her head, then once more on her forehead. As she turned to leave, she felt two hands grab onto her forearm and pull her back.

Gabrielle pulled her down to meet her own lips, wrapping one of her arms around the warrior's neck as she kissed her passionately. The intensity surprised Xena, a part of her loved the bard's tougher side, and she was caught off guard. Her knees buckled at the initial shock and her body now was only being held up by Gabrielle's arms.

Gabrielle finally released Xena after a few moments with an audible separation of both pairs of lips. "Ah. . . I. . . got. . . you," she panted, smiling up at her stunned warrior.

"Mmm, now that I could definatly live with," Xena replied, surprised that she was out of breath as well. She ran both hands down the sides of Gabrielle's bare midriff slowly, waiting for her vision to focus again. Xena slowly turned Gabrielle to face the bed and bent down to whisper, "I'll wake you up an hour or so before dawn, okay?" Gabrielle nodded, and walked over to the bed that surprisingly was still in one piece, which was more than she could say about the rest of the room. She carefully parted the drapes and crawled onto the soft sheets.

Xena turned to look at her just before she left the room. The drapes prevented Xena from seeing Gabrielle's actual face, but did show the warrior a beautiful profile. She looks just like a goddess, Xena thought to herself as she watched Gabrielle slowly creep under the blankets. The warrior smiled sadly to herself and left her lover to relax in the land of Morpheus.

King Tyberus nervously paced back and forth in his quarters. He carried his sword in his right hand and occasionally parried at imaginary assailants in front of him. "I don't know, Xena, I've never tried these sort of tactics before. I just hope you're right about this because I've been in enough wars to know that my men cannot possibly survive another direct assault like the one this morning."

Xena got off her chair and walked to the side of the king. She placed her hand over his on the sword and slowly brought it down. "I know," she said softly. She paused until she saw the king's shoulders go slack then continued in her normal voice, "This is a last resort tactic I learned awhile back. It's how peasants and villagers are able to defend their homes against a bigger, skilled mass. But if it doesn't work," she paused and gripped her chakram in one hand, "we might as well take a few of them out with us."

Tyberus nodded slowly, remorseful. "I love this village, Xena. I'll do anything to protect it and my people."

"Good," Xena said, putting a hand on the man's shoulder, "you may just need to." With that she turned and left the his quarters.

Hours had passed since Xena sent out a few soldiers to scout the perimeters of the village to try to spot Dryseus's army before they got too close. The men had not returned yet. That either meant nothing was happening out there, or Dryseus found them before they found him. Neither guess sat well with her, though. The remaining soldiers were split between sharpening weapons and sleeping. She wanted everyone to be rested so that they'd be alert and useful because every second of lagging would give Dryseus that much of an advantage over them.

She would have to guess it was a few hours after nightfall. Gabrielle should really be woken up she thought to herself. She and King Tyberus were busy assigning soldiers to different positions in and around the castle. Xena leaned close to the king and murmured her request in Tyberus's ear as the noise level in the room was painfully high. He shook his head and said, "Let Melek do it, I need you here." Xena bit her lip for a moment then finally nodded. "Melek! Could you go wake up Gabrielle? She's on the second floor, third bedroom to the right!" he yelled above the noise. Melek, now wearing a bulky battle helmet-like the rest of the soldiers-instead of the coif, nodded and left the room. Xena watched him with narrow eyes, but was brought back to the task at hand by a loud soldier asking her a question about the tar he was supposed to be in charge of. She sighed and went back to the prepping work.

An hour later, three soldiers came roaring upon the castle on their horses screaming, "Open the gates!" The guards opened the two heavy wooden gates, allowing the soldiers entrance.

"They're coming!" one soldier yelled, wiping blood away from a large cut on his chin. On the back of the soldier's horse was the dead fourth member of the scout team.

"Go tell Xena," the lead guard said. The soldier nodded. Jumping off his horse, he scurried into the castle. "All right, brace the doors," the guard called to the rest of the men. The remaining soldiers quickly lifted huge, thick boards to wedge against the gates, effectively locking it. The brace wouldn't hold long, but it would give them some more time. "That's fine," the guard said after a few minutes. "Good job, now lets get inside."

Xena watched as the meager army took their places, dragging and hoisting large cauldrons with them. A few were on the catwalk above the front gates, others were positioned outside windows at the front of the castle. A thought suddenly occurred to Xena and she looked around her, surprised when the sight of a small red headed warrior didn't reach her. She looked around for Tyberus and took him aside. "Have you seen Gabrielle or Melek?"

Tyberus's forehead wrinkled in thought. "Ah, no. I haven't seen Melek for at least an hour. Where is he? He should be out here with the army."

The warrior's eyes narrowed. "I'll be right back," Xena said slowly, running in the direction of the stairs and not stopping until she reached room she had left Gabrielle in. She choked in a deep breath when she saw it was closed, which was not how she had left it. Xena drew her sword and counted to herself. On three, she kicked open the door and entered the room, scanning it quickly. To her relief she saw Gabrielle still in bed, blankets over her body, and lowered her sword.

As Xena walked closer, she noticed Gabrielle's arms were over her head and at a strange angle. Xena's hand tightening instinctively around the handle of her sword as she came closer. A voice from beside Gabrielle and startled her. "Stay right there, precious." Another person sat up and threw away the blanket covering him and Gabrielle. With a quick swipe of the hand, he ripped the drapes away so that Xena could see both Melek and Gabrielle perfectly. He reached over and lightly stroked the bard's face. Xena's eyes narrowed and followed his hand. They widened suddenly and her nostrils flared in rage when she saw the beginnings of a large black eye and the painfully deep cut on her face from a blow that must have knocked her unconscious. The rest of her face was littered with a few bruises and some minor scrapes and cuts. Her arms were tied to the ivory headboard by the sheets of the bed which had been shredded into strips.

"Don't touch her," Xena seethed, just barely keeping her rage in check. Melek sat up and laughed. He was in a shadow but Xena was able to see his outline perfectly. He removed his helmet and tossed it over to Xena then leaned forward into the light. "Dryseus," she stated in the same threatening voice.

"Glad to see you've remembered me after all these years," he said cockily, continuing to stroke Gabrielle's face and play with her hair.

Xena glanced back and forth from Gabrielle to Dryseus. "Where's Melek?"

Dryseus grinned and snickered as he picked up a dagger he had laying on Gabrielle's chest. "In about thirty pieces down in the jail." His smile faded as he began tracing Gabrielle's face with the dagger. "Oh, along with your friend Tegner. Pathetic, naive, little man."

"You were there the entire time?"

"Yes. Now I'm done answering your inane questions. Shut the door, Xena. And while you're at it, drop the sword and chakram." Xena slammed the door shut and threw away her sword, but kept her chakram in her hand. "Xena, don't try my patience," he growled, pressing the dagger's tip into Gabrielle's prone neck, a small drop of blood escaping as the metal punctured her skin. She mumbled a curse and tossed it away as well. "Who'd have thought the mighty warrior princess has a weakness," he said grinning. "She means a lot to you doesn't she?" Xena stayed silent, watching him like a mad dog. "Think you'd be able to live without her?" Another silence. "Well, we'll soon find out." Dryseus cackled and cut the material binding Gabrielle to the headboard. He carefully lifted her and braced her up against the headboard into a sitting position.

Gabrielle moaned in pain, beginning to come back to the world of the living. "Oh, and you can stop giving me that look, Xena. I don't touch girls," he paused and looked Xena up and down ferally. "Now women on the other hand. . . ."

Gabrielle's eyes slowly fluttered open and rested on Xena. "Xena?" she called hoarsely.

Dryseus grabbed her by the hair causing her to yelp. He ignored her feeble protests and brought her head back, repositioning his dagger so that it was over her throat again. "Get up," he growled. Gabrielle complied and slowly rose to her feet, whimpering as the dagger bit into the base of her throat. He kept one arm firmly around her waist, while the other held the dagger. Slowly, he backed the two of them to the window.

Yells of combat came from outside as well as screams of pain and agonizing death. Dryseus gestured with his head. "My army," he stated simply. He looked away from Xena for a moment and watched as a pot of boiling water was dropped on a group of five of them, rendering all of them helpless. "Well, not all of it," he corrected himself, returning his gaze to Xena. "Only about half. I wasn't going to come, but once I heard my friend Xena was here, I just had to change my plans to say hello," he grinned satanically. Gabrielle whimpered again, and Dryseus slapped her twice across the face roughly. "Quiet."

Xena clenched her fists, relying on all the self control she had in her body to keep her from running forward and beat Dryseus to death with her bare hands. "Let her go," she managed, "take me if that's what you want."

"Oh believe me I will," he drawled, "but first I want to slowly strip away from you and destroy everything you hold dear." With that said he began to lower his head slowly to Gabrielle's ear. "What do you think of that?" he whispered, softly running his lips over it.

Gabrielle turned her head slightly before the dagger stopped further movement. She bared her teeth at him and murmured, "I hope that after she kills you, Hades will inflict on you the same pain and torture you inflicted on others." Dryseus arched an eyebrow, an action that reminded Gabrielle of Xena. She shuddered at that thought, no one so evil could possibly be compared to her Xena.

Dryseus looked back up at Xena. "She has a lot of energy," he said then leered at the warrior, "but then again I don't need to tell you that, do I?" The warlord watched with satisfaction as Xena seemed to tremble with anger now and involuntarily started towards him. He stopped her with another grunt of pain from Gabrielle as he tightened his already vice-like hold around her waist. Just as he began to move his head to lick the side of Gabrielle's face and make Xena suffer further, the door to the room opened slowly. One of Dryseus's soldiers walked in, immediately poising his sword on Xena defensively.

"Sir, my men are taking a beating," he said, not taking his eyes off of Xena. "You said there wouldn't be much of an army here to deal with, but so far out of the men we brought only ten including me have gotten past the forces so far. You have to call a retreat."

Dryseus shook his head. "If you got through the outside defenses, there's nothing else stopping you. The tar and water could only be dropped on the outside, the rest of these pathetic soldiers can't do anything to stop you on the inside. Xena would have been a threat, but I think she's got her hands full at the moment, right dear?" He grinned again, hopeful at another blow towards the warrior, noticing for the first time that Xena's eyes had never left Gabrielle's.

"Wait a minute," the soldier began carefully, "you knew? You knew what was going to happen here and you didn't warn us?" Dryseus shrugged dismissively, causing the dagger to painfully raise on Gabrielle's neck. "So you let these men get killed just for this?" he asked, gesturing towards Xena and Gabrielle.

"Get back out there and fight, Quarren. This is my kingdom now."

"Wasn't Syrian enough for you?" he asked amazed. "No."

"No what?"

Quarren moved his sword off of Xena and pointed it towards Dryseus. "I'm not taking orders from you anymore. These men did not deserve to die for your greediness and petty vengeance plans. I'm calling a retreat and taking them out of here."

Dryseus snorted. "Mutiny? Well, you'll have to kill me first to get my army."

"If you insist," Quarren snarled. He slowly neared Dryseus, then ran forward, holding his sword like a joust stick and aimed towards Dryseus's stomach.

"No!" Xena screamed, "Gabrielle!"

Dryseus easily dodged it, bringing Gabrielle away with him. Quarren swung his sword for another attack, but Dryseus grabbed his arm with the hand that had been around Gabrielle's waist. His dagger was still at her throat, as he gripped Quarren's wrist, twisting it quickly. The soldier dropped his sword instantly, clutching his sprained wrist. Dryseus caught the sword in mid-air and ran it through Quarren's lungs.

Gabrielle locked eyes with Xena a moment. Xena shook her head fiercely when she recognized what the poet was silently trying to tell her, but it was too late. With Dryseus's arm stretched out, she quickly pushed his dagger hand away from her neck and fiercely elbowed his unguarded chest. Dryseus staggered backwards momentarily, but it gave Gabrielle enough time to free herself from him.

The warlord quickly grabbed Gabrielle from behind by her shirt to slow her and with the other hand, blindly stabbed into the front of her shoulder with his dagger. He only had enough time to let go of both before he felt two hands around his neck and saw two very irate blue eyes staring down into his own.

Xena squeezed the man's neck as hard as she could, not opting for the pressure points out of sheer carnal rage. Still holding his neck, she rammed his back as hard as she could against the stone wall. She raised him higher so that he was above her head and repeatedly hit him against the wall.

Through the fear in his eyes, Dryseus whispered with the last of the air he had, "I knew you hadn't changed."

Xena suddenly realized what she was doing and the control came back. She dropped Dryseus to the floor and took a few steps backwards. She looked down at the hands that had betrayed her and slowly took a deep breath. A whimper from Gabrielle brought her out of her shock and she quickly walked towards her, kneeling down beside the fallen girl. She gazed over her shoulder for a moment, and saw Dryseus sprawled out on the floor. He wasn't moving, but Xena didn't care. She brought up one of her hands to gently caress one of the girl's cheeks, each having a large, deep red hand print from where she had been slapped. Xena was both hurt and surprised when Gabrielle pulled sharply away from her touch. Immediately, realization that Gabrielle had closed her eyes hit her an she softly identified herself. "Gabrielle, it's me."

Gabrielle opened her eyes and turned her head slowly. "Xena," she softly said, choking back a sob. She cried out as the pain from the stab wound hit her.

"It's okay, it's okay," Xena murmured, slowly pulling the dagger out of her shoulder. Gabrielle cried out again as it was removed. Xena felt her stomach lurch and heart ache at the sound of her lover's anguish. She lowered her hands to the bard's top laces and loosened them enough for the green top to loosely fall over her shoulders and slightly down her arms.

Xena stood up and paced back to the bed, grabbing the shredded sheets that had formerly kept the girl bound to the headboard. She returned to Gabrielle, using one piece to try to stop the bleeding while she used her free hand and teeth to unknot the other pieces. As she wrapped the cloth around the wound she silently thanked the gods that the wound wasn't as serious as it could have been. Dryseus was a well trained warrior and assassin, she momentarily wondered why he had struck so blindly and poorly, but quickly pushed those thoughts away. She lightly stroked Gabrielle's hair until she heard another whimper. Xena pulled her hand away and was surprised to see droplets of blood. She gently parted some of Gabrielle's hair near her scalp and shivered when she saw the cut there. It wasn't very deep or serious, but it was probably painful and she removed her hands. Xena gently put a hand under the girl's chin, as that was one of the few places she wasn't badly bruised or cut. "Did he hurt you?" Xena asked, hoping Gabrielle would find the underlying meaning in her words.

Gabrielle shook her head slowly, then tears welled up in her eyes and she nodded. "I'm so sorry, Xena. I-I thought it was you," she began hoarsely, then collapsed into Xena's arms as the warrior came forward and gently hugged her.

Xena placed her head next to Gabrielle's temple and whispered, "Tell me what happened," dreading the answer. She kept her arms around the bard's small body mainly for her to feel protected.

"I was sleeping and he came in and began kissing and touching me. Xena, I swear I thought it was you," she pleaded, the tears streamed down her face as the recent memories came back to her.

"I know you did," Xena whispered in her ear, running her hands up and down her back lightly.

"After awhile, though, I knew it wasn't you. It was so much more violent and fierce, it wasn't soft and loving. I threw him off of me before I opened my eyes. Then when I finally saw him. . . Xena you should have seen his eyes. They were so. . . so cold and hateful and deadly," she said with amazement. Xena shivered, knowing that once her eyes had been that same way. "I didn't have enough time to grab my staff or move before he was in top of me again. I did my best at fighting back against him. I think I may have blinded him in one eye because I stabbed him pretty hard with my hand like you had taught me." The edges of Xena's mouth raised in a slight smile at that. She had practiced with Gabrielle for an entire day once on close combat techniques if she should ever lose her staff while fighting. Gabrielle hadn't quite perfected the pressure points, but had taken a liking to a certain move that would stun an attacker or if enough force was used, blind him. That must have been why his aim was so bad, Xena thought to herself, his judgment of distance was off. "But he was just too strong and after a few bad hits I must have been knocked out," Gabrielle finished. "I-I'm not sure if anything happened after that," she said slowly, turning her head to see Xena's reaction. "I don't think anything did happen, though," she quickly added as Xena began to survey her body for further abuse. She sighed as a look of relief passed over the warrior's face.

Xena leaned back and lightly traced Gabrielle's lips with her fingertip. "Listen, I'm very proud of you for what you did," she placed two fingers across Gabrielle's lips as the bard opened her mouth, "you saved your life when you blinded him," she said, dropping her eyes to her wrapped wound so that Gabrielle would pick up the meaning.

"Yeah, but you-you," Gabrielle began, stuttering as she tried to concentrate despite the ringing in her head.

"I would have been too late," Xena conceded. Gabrielle opened her mouth, but closed it again and smiled slightly, shaking her head. She reached around to the back of Xena's head with her good arm and began to pull her closer when she heard an uncomfortably familiar voice.

Xena snarled and Gabrielle's eyes widened as she cowered into Xena's body doing her best to pull her top back up with one arm to cover her exposed breasts. "How touching," Dryseus mumbled from behind them. Xena looked over her shoulder to see Dryseus sitting on the same window ledge she had perched Gabrielle on hours earlier. He had his sword in his hand and was rubbing it carefully with a piece of cloth torn off his tunic. "Too bad I'm going to have to kill one of you," he said, then snorted, "then again maybe I'll kill both of you so you could be together."

Gabrielle felt Xena turn on her heels so that now her back was to Gabrielle and she was facing Dryseus. A thought suddenly struck Gabrielle, and she quickly looked around for Xena's sword. She sighed as she found it only inches from her foot. She was about to alert Xena, but it was too late. The warrior stood up, hate exhuming from her pores. "I believe you overestimate your skills. You obviously don't remember the last time we came to this."

Dryseus laughed and rubbed his scar unconsciously, "Oh please, Xena, that was years ago. I think you'll be surprised at my skills." With that he lunged forward with his sword.

Xena's hand reached for her scabbard, her eyes widening when she came back with nothing. "Xena! Catch!" Gabrielle cried, kicking the sword up to Xena's hand. Xena caught it just in time to block Dryseus's attack.

Dryseus quickly made two more attacks in quick succession, Xena blocking each one. She diverted her attention momentarily away from him and noticed that they were both uncomfortable close to Gabrielle. Xena switched from blocking to attacking to back him up away from Gabrielle. She got him to raise his sword over his head to block her, then kicked him in his unprotected stomach.

Dryseus grunted as he swung his sword level with her head and was rewarded with a swift chop of her hand against his ribs after she ducked. He scowled and swung his sword fiercely at hers, missing by an embarrassing distance. Xena laughed menacingly. "You're blind in one eye, you stupid piece of sh-" her sentence was cut off by a sharp punch to her mouth. He closed his bad eye and swung his sword again, this time deliberately trying to get Xena to block it, hoping that the force would cause her to drop the sword. He was rewarded with the clang of metal hitting the floor and Xena's muttered curse. Dryseus thrust forward to drive his sword through her, but she ducked and rolled out of the way.

Xena rose to her knees and saw something close by sparkle. She crawled closer and reached out for it, but stopped as she heard Dryseus making another attack. She quickly fell to her stomach just as his sword pierced the area she had been in seconds ago. Xena reached up and held Dryseus's sword arm outstretched, then brought her foot up to forcefully kick his mid-section, causing him to stumble backwards and turn around.

Dryseus held his injured area, but then noticed his position and a grin spread across his face. Xena got back to her knees and heard Gabrielle shriek. She turned and her heart nearly stopped as she noticed the man's position as well. She suddenly got a flash of a blonde warrior impaling an innocent man on her sword, and her trying to do something to stop it even though it would mean loosing Gabrielle. But she was not fast enough and was unable to do anything to prevent the death. Not again she thought and grabbed the object she had sought earlier: her chakram. Without even taking enough time to accurately aim it, she quickly threw it.

The round, metal disk ricocheted off of Dryseus's sword just as he was about to push it through Gabrielle's heart. Xena didn't bother to catch it and quickly threw herself on the man's back, knocking away the sword with her hand. Dryseus reached around to knock her off but she was already down, and wrapping her arms around his from behind. She easily pulled him backwards, but as soon as his feet touched the floor, he flipped her over his head. As she landed, he brought his elbow up and hit her nose. Once Xena's head swung back at the force, the warlord aimed a kick at her stomach, but forgot about adjusting his aim because of his eye. His impaired aim caused him to kick her hip joint by mistake. Dryseus smiled as he did more damage than he had originally intended to.

Xena fell to one knee, her face contorted with pain. Dryseus swung one long, strong arm against her face causing her to fall to her back. Xena tried to get back up, but grimaced as she felt a large piece of glass cutting into her back. Dryseus grabbed her by her shoulder armor before she could remove the glass, and threw her against the wooden bed frame. Her shoulder hit into it head-on, effectively dislocating it. She slumped against the frame, holding her shoulder.

Dryseus scowled as he approached her. The dead body of Quarren was at his feet and he bent down to retrieve the sword still embedded in the man's chest. He swung it with his hand a few times and made a run towards her.

Xena watched him with fearless eyes. Her hand touched something hard and wooden under the bed, she gripped it tightly as she watched the warlord approach. Once he was only a few feet away, she quickly brought her hand up from under the bed and swung Gabrielle's staff. The staff blocked the sword from slicing into her head. Xena laughed evily and brought her foot up, kicking him in the groin. When he doubled over from the pain, she hit him with the staff across his back, causing him to topple over onto the bed groaning. Xena released her hold on the staff and crawled away from him, over broken shards of mirror glass. She slowly staggered to her feet, doing her best to keep most of her weight off her bad hip. She carefully felt her dislocated shoulder, and held her breath as she popped it back into the socket.

"Xena! Behind you!" Gabrielle shouted from across the room. Xena turned and instantly ducked as the angered warlord swung a sword-size piece of glass at her. She quickly kicked it away before he could make another attack. The glass hit against the wall, shattering into a million tiny pieces.

The two warriors were now engaged in a close contact hand to hand battle. Both threw and blocked punches, kicks, and prevented the other from picking up another weapon. Xena had stopped her ariel fighting immediately after her first attempt at a landing caused waves of pain from her hip. Her back stiffened as she felt a cool wind blow against it. She knew they were nearing the window. Dryseus knew this too and used it to his advantage. He blocked a punch and brought one of his own into her stomach, just below the protection of her armor. Xena doubled over as the wind was knocked out of her and she gasped for air. "Now you know how it feels," he growled fiercely. Xena coughed and wrapped her arms around his waist. She used all her strength to throw him behind her. They were closer to the edge than she had realized and she had thrown him a little too high. Dryseus hit against the ledge hard, then fell out of the open window.

Xena's mouth opened slightly in surprise and she cautiously neared the edge. Below she could see a few scattered soldiers moaning in pain at their burns, and a couple more engaged in futile sword fights, but she couldn't see a body. Suddenly she felt a muscular hand clamp down on her wrist. Xena growled at herself realizing she fell for one of the oldest tricks there were. The hand pulled her out the window, and she quickly flailed around for a holding on the outside of the castle as she fell. Luckily there were a few stones that protruded past the flat ones, enough for a hand hold, but that was all. She was surprised when Dryseus didn't try for another attack. Xena looked around and saw him a foot lower than her, six or so feet away and hanging on for dear life.

"Nice," Xena mumbled at him, trying to pull herself up to reach the ledge. She finally gave up that approach, realizing there was no way she'd get up by herself, only down. She shivered at that thought.

"Well," Dryseus muttered angrily, "we now get to die together. Ironic in a way. I hate you, and likewise I'm sure, yet now we have to spend an eternity together." Xena gave him a sidelong disgusted look.

Gabrielle suddenly appeared from over the ledge. "Xena!" she called, both relieved and started to see the warrior's position. Her soul had screamed out when she saw Xena go over the edge and despite the dizziness in her head, she raced to the window, praying to the gods that Xena was all right. "Xena, give me your hand."

"Gabrielle, you can't pull me up with one arm. I'm too heavy for you. Go get some rope. I'll climb up," Xena said, though not too sure of her own reasoning. It was getting harder to keep herself from falling holding onto only that little piece of rock. Her arm that was dislocated only minutes ago was beginning to throb from holding her body weight up.

"Xena, you can't possibly be able to hold on much longer," she said echoing Xena's own thoughts. Xena slowly nodded, the motion causing her fingers to slip slightly. Gabrielle took a deep breath, and reached down with both hands. She began to see black dots before her eyes as the pain from moving her wounded shoulder hit her. "Reach up, Xena." Once she felt the warrior's strong hand grasp hers, she leaned back and with all her might began pulling, screaming as the pain became too much to bear. Gabrielle felt Xena's other hand on her forearm and she lifted the warrior higher. She ignored the blood running down her arm and tears of pain streaking down her face, and just concentrated on getting Xena up and inside. Xena released one of her hands from its hold on Gabrielle as she reached the ledge. She used that hand to grab onto the cement window ledge and pull herself up to help Gabrielle. Gabrielle released the warrior's hands once Xena got her entire body back in the room. Xena rolled off the ledge and onto the floor, breathing deeply.

"Gabrielle?" Xena called, suddenly realizing what her lover had just done for her.

"I'm fine," came a weak whisper a few feet away. Xena followed the voice and saw Gabrielle laying on the floor near the bed. "You don't mind if I pass out though, do you?" she asked.

"Are you bleeding?"

Gabrielle looked over to her shoulder and immediately wished she hadn't. "Yup."

"Then don't even think about closing those beautiful eyes," she said in a low voice, slowly getting up. Gabrielle grumbled.

"Xena?" came a shout from outside. "Xena, help?"

Xena rolled her eyes and looked over the edge, keeping her hands at a safe distance this time. "Dryseus. Still hanging around?" she asked with a slight grin. She heard Gabrielle snort from behind her.

"Please, Xena! I can't hold on!" his voice had gone high pitch now and he was near panicking.

"Why should I help you? You tried to kill Gabrielle, me, and take this village and castle by ruthless killing. What makes you worthy enough to have another chance at life?" Xena asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm sorry?"

"Right," she scowled. She reached down and grabbed his wrist, helping to pull him up. Once he cleared the ledge, she gave him a hard punch to knock him out. "Sorry," she said with a snort. "Gabrielle?"

"What?" she groaned from the floor.

"Think you can get up and walk?"

"Maybe. Give me a second though, I feel kind of sick. Unless you want to carry me?" she asked, the familiar lightness back in her voice.

Xena smiled. "If you carry him," she said, holding the unconscious Dryseus up.

Gabrielle groaned again. "Great. Just who I wanted to see."

Xena walked over to her, gently relacing her top, but keeping it loose enough so it wouldn't hurt her shoulder. She sat next to her lover and grasped her hand, tracing patterns with the tips of her fingers over the back of it, waiting until Gabrielle's sick feeling passed. She slowly looked into Xena's eyes after a few moments and nodded. The warrior carefully helped her up, doing her best not to hurt the girl. She went over to the bed and grabbed Gabrielle's staff from where she had left it and gave it back to Gabrielle to lean on. Finally she hoisted Dryseus over one of her own shoulders and led Gabrielle back down the stairs.

Halfway down they saw a furious fight going on on the main level. Tyberus was fighting three men for his life and by the way he was staggering it didn't seem like he'd walk away with it. Xena quickly tossed away Dryseus, took her sword in one hand, and let out her battle cry as she jumped from the step she was on, down to just a few feet behind the king. Only after she landed did she remember her hip, and she grunted as she quickly stabbed at a few points near her hip-numbing it.

One soldier looked up, startled by the cry of the warrior, and was rewarded for his effort by a sword in his stomach. Xena took one of the remaining soldiers as the king easily fought the other. She ducked two clumsy swings, then kneed him in the stomach. As the man doubled over, clutching his stomach, she quickly chopped on a tender muscle with her hand at the back of his neck. He fell to the floor unconscious. Xena looked to see how the king was fairing, and was surprised to see him staring back at her. The man he'd been fighting was sprawled out a few feet away from him.

Xena raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Good. How many more are there?"

Tyberus let out a sigh, then coughed, holding a wounded area on his chest. "Nah, those were the last that got through. The others are retreating" He looked at Xena with pleading eyes, "Xena, I'm ashamed of myself that I ever doubted you. My kingdom is still mine because of you. Thank you." He bowed his head.

"Well, I can't take all the credit. You have a brave bunch of men. And take a little credit yourself," she said with a slight smile. It soon turned into a scowl when she gestured over her shoulder, "That thing up there is Dryseus." She reached back down to her hip and released the points she had activating, shuddering as the pain returned.

The king looked up to the mass at the top of the stairs next to Xena's friend and back down to meet Xena's eyes again. "Yeah, that's what I was afraid of after I saw the mess in the jail cell. I was just coming to see if you were all right when I found these three."

Xena nodded and turned to go back up the stairs and bring him down, hurrying her pace when she Gabrielle begin to sway. She gently placed a hand around the girl's waist. "Lean against me," she murmured against her ear. Gabrielle nodded and let Xena support most of her weight. With one arm around the girl, Xena looked down to Dryseus and shrugged, giving him a hard kick so he rolled down to the bottom of the stairs. "I need some supplies for Gabrielle. She's hurt pretty badly. Where would I be able to find those?" she asked, slowly bringing the two of them down the stairs. She shivered every time Gabrielle involuntarily made a little sound caused by the pain of movement.

"I'll show you," he said, then shifted his gaze to the man laying unconscious at the foot of the stairs. He reached forward and grabbed him, coughing again and wincing.

"Are you all right?" Xena asked, raising her head from where it had been by Gabrielle's ear to look at him.

The king shook his head. "Yeah, I'm fine. Someone just hit me a little too hard in the chest."

"All right. Then I'd suggest putting some shackles on him or you won't have anyone around to persecute."

Tyberus nodded. "I think I have the perfect cell for him to await trial." His lip raised in disgust and he shook the man. Tyberus looked back up at Xena, his eyes becoming serious. "She doesn't look too good. I'll take care of him, you go ahead and take care of her. I saw my healer a few halls down, she'll be glad to help you with what you may need."

"Thank you," Xena said and helped Gabrielle walk in the direction he had pointed. As Xena passed by a window, she noticed the sun was just coming up. The sky was red and orange above it. The light of the new day would gradually reach the still-sleeping village, which was unaware of the horrors that had just taken place.

The crispness of the morning air reached Xena's nose as she left the castle for the first time in days. She had seen Dryseus's execution two days earlier and watched over her bard as she slowly recuperated. The two would have left earlier, but Gabrielle had lost much more blood than Xena had thought, as well as torn muscles when she had helped her climb back into the castle. Moving her earlier would have risked her death or would have at least permanently paralyzed her arm.

Now, three days later, Gabrielle was ready to leave and Xena was more than delighted at the prospect. The healer hadn't been very keen to the idea of Xena sticking around Gabrielle's bedside at every waking moment and often threw her out so that the girl could rest.

She walked to the stables and brought Argo out, even though she seemed reluctant to leave her new luxurious environment where she had been pampered by the king's stable hands. "You're almost as bad as Gabrielle," she whispered affectionately to her horse, scratching her neck and back behind her ears.

The king was at the front gates to meet her, fully dressed in his deep purple royal robes and wearing his crown. Now he looked more like a king than the warrior she had seen rise out during the battle.

Xena shook King Tyberus's hand and let him kiss her lightly on the cheek. "Thank you, Xena. I owe you a debt. Please feel free to take me up on that should you ever need it."

"All right," Xena said smiling, knowing she'd never take him up on his offer. She waited patiently as Gabrielle slowly limped up from behind Tyberus to her side. The girl still wasn't recovered fully, but Xena planned on taking a short vacation from their travels, maybe stay with her mother in Amphipolis for a few days. She always complained about not seeing Xena and Gabrielle enough anyway. Xena decided to discuss the idea with Gabrielle later, and brought her thoughts back to the present.

King Tyberus extended the same thanks to Gabrielle, even bowing to give the girl a slight thrill of royalty. Xena rolled her eyes playfully and extended her hand for Gabrielle to take. She helped her love up onto Argo, and mounted the horse behind her, wrapping her arms loosely around the bard so as not to hurt her still bruised body. Gabrielle rested her head against Xena's chest and closed her eyes as a cool breeze lightly wisped over her.

Xena brought Argo away from the castle and village, not looking back. She opened her mouth to ask Gabrielle what she thought about her idea of a vacation, but saw that her lover was fast asleep already. Xena nuzzled her chin against the top of Gabrielle's head. With the sun rising to start the new day, the birds chirping happily, and her beautiful, red headed warrior in her arms asleep, Xena, for the first time since entering Empruvia, felt a sense of peace.



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