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Reflections Of The Heart

by Rebecca Weiner

Now that Callisto was dead it seemed as though Xena and Gabrielle's worst nightmare was finally over. If that were only true, thought Xena sadly. Sitting alone by the fire and watching her best friend turning restlessly in her sleep by the edge of their campsite, Xena felt the familiar ache of melancholy that had tugged at the innermost chambers of her heart since the day she had watched Callisto die. It was hard enough dealing with that guilt. What was even more distressing was the rift that had developed afterward between Xena and Gabrielle, turning them into virtual strangers. Their time spent together, normally filled with pleasant interludes of light banter and Gabrielle's endless stream of stories, had become strained and awkward - the voice of the bard stilled by bitterness and grief.

Callisto. You did it. You won in the end, the untimate victoryŚmy soul, thought Xena bitterly. For, in truth, that's what Gabrielle had become to Xena, an extension of her soul inspiring her to forge through the darkness that encased her heart, in search of the goodness that resided within. And now, she and Gabrielle were headed for a confrontation that could end their friendship. It has to come, thought Xena. We can't go on this way.

Xena, who had experienced more than her share of personal tragedies in her own life, understood Gabrielle's need for withdrawal for she, too, dealt with pain in a similar fashion. But it was Gabrielle's rejection and scathing remarks directed at Xena that had her upset. Why is Gabrielle turning against me? She asked herself over and again. What have I done?

As baffled as she was by Gabrielle's coldness toward her, Xena was even more troubled by the feeling of insecurity that had begun to haunt her, a foreign emotion to one who was so supremely comfident as a warrior. That's what I get for allowing Gabrielle into my heart, she reflected sadly. As Xena settled down for the night, she closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep, determined to force the issue with Gabrielle in the morning. .

"You know, I think I finally got all that sand out from my clothes and hair from chasing Callisto." said Xena casually, as the two sat down to breakfast the next day. "Great." retorted Gabrielle, picking at her rabbit stew. "You've been at it for several weeks now, dunking in the lake at every opportunity, so it's about time. Don't you think?"

"Gabrielle," said Xena, ignoring her friend's sarcasm, "We need to talk about what happening between us. Don't you think?"

"Does it really matter what I think?" she asked sharply. Xena put down her dish and turned to Gabrielle, placing a firm hand on her friend's shoulder. "Look. I know what you're going through." she said, her tone benign. "I can help, but you keep shutting me out. Why?"

"I don't want anything from you, Xena." snapped Gabrielle, pulling away from her friend. "Haven't you done enough already?"

Xena frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle glared at her best friend. "As if you didn't know."

"Enlighten me, please." said Xena, working hard to control her rising anger. "Look. I've tried to be understanding and supportive with you about your grief. How do you think I feel - watching Callisto sink to her death in that quicksand? It may have been the right thing to do but it feels rotten inside. And then I've watched you bury yourself in your pain and you either ignore or insult me depending on your mood. Talk to me, Gabrielle." implored her best friend. "I want to help you."

"You can't." Gabrielle blurted out. "It's your past. It just gets in the way. You know, Xena, I never understood it when we ran into villagers who feared you, or old enemies who wanted you dead. But now I've experienced your past first hand, thanks to Callisto and ...I hate you for it!"

Xena looked at the loathing in Gabrielle's face and felt as though her best friend had just stabbed her in the back with her own sword. "Are you blaming me for Perdicus' death?" she asked incredulously.

"Yes, Xena." said Gabrielle harshly. "Callisto may have struck the blow but you could have stopped her. Now you deal with that guilt. I'm going home to my family." Gabrielle walked over to Argo and gathered her staff, some fruit and the rest of her belongings from the horse's saddlebag. Xena just stood by and watched, too stunned to move.

As Gabrielle turned to leave, she studiously averted Xena's gaze. "Goodbye Xena. I can't be near you right now. It's just too painful."

Xena watched the bard walk away, stifling the impulse to call out to Gabrielle and ask if she was coming back. As hard as it was for her to accept, she knew Gabrielle was right. The two of them needed time apart from eachother.

As her friend's figure grow smaller in the distance, Xena found herself gripping Argo's reins for support. "Oh, Gabrielle. You have no idea how much I'm hurting for you." she said softly.

Gabrielle walked alongside the road heading for Potodeia, relieved to be away from Xena. She had tried so hard to still those horrid thoughts of Xena being responsible for Perdicus' death that had churned inside her heart since the day Callisto had murdered him. Somehow, though, Xena's dumb comment about the sand in her clothing had enraged her enough to confront her friend with her true feelings. And now, as she continued on her way, Gabrielle felt a strong need to find a quiet spot off the road to communicate with her dead husband. Though it was to be a one way conversation Gabrielle knew Perdicus was listening. Hadn't he always been attentive whenever she talked to him? Why should now be any different?

"Perdicus." she said softly, her hand gripping his sword hanging by her side, "I know I hurt Xena. But if it weren't for her, Callisto would have never killed you and we could have lived happily together as husband and wife. Instead, I'm a widow missing you with all my heart. Help me deal with your death. Please." Feeling a little better after confiding her thoughts aloud with her beloved husband, Gabrielle resumed walking, eager for a reunion with her sister, Lilla.

As daylight turned to dusk Gabrielle felt overcome by a sudden wave of fatigue, not surprising, since she hadn't slept much since the day Perdicus had died. With thoughts of sleep and a warm fire, Gabrielle turned off the road and headed for the woods, in search of a good spot to set up camp.

Xena turned off the road to make camp for the night, not sure where she was heading. As she laid her traps and gathered fire wood she found herself worrying about Gabrielle's safety, knowing how soundly Gabrielle slept while she dozed lightly each night, her well honed senses ever on the alert for signs of danger. Watching the fire crackle insistently before her, its embers glowing brightly in the darkness, Xena found herself remembering the first night she and Gabrielle had spent together many months ago. It was after Xena defeated Draco in her village, Amphipolis. Gabrielle, a fresh faced, innocent, young farm girl had doggedly pursued Xena, searching for adventure in her life. Xena had worked hard to discourage the girl but she was persistent, eventually reaching Amphipolis in time to rescue Xena from a vengeful mob of villagers angry at Xena for having led so many of their young kinsmen to their deaths in the battle against Cortiz. On her last night in Amphipolis Xena sat alone in her campsite contemplating an uncertain future, when the young girl appeared before her, shivering and hungry. Though she agreed to let the girl spend the night, Xena wanted to send her home in the morning. But the girl insisted her place was with Xena. And she was right. Though Gabrielle had seemed annoying at first, Xena soon found herself captivated by the young bard's unwavering loyalty, genuine bravery and pure heart.

In time, Gabrielle gained more experience and maturity, her acts of courage and smooth tongue helping them to overcome some of their more dangerous predicaments. Then, there were the times when those very traits were responsible for some of their worst plights, recalled Xena with a smile. But that's what gave their escapades such a refreshing aura, particularly in the aftermath, when the two friends basked in the afterglow of their adventures, sharing insights filled with humor, wisdom and, at times, pain.

As Xena settled down by the fire preparing herself for one more night of restless sleep she wondered one last time how Gabrielle was faring alone.

Gabrielle slept soundly by the fire awakened only once by the sound of rustling twigs by her side. Grabbing her staff instinctively, she watched with some amusement as a rabbit scurried harmlessly past her. Whew. How does Xena do it, recognize the dangerous rustling from the harmless intrusions? Luckily, in Potodeia, sleeping in my room at home, I'll no longer have to work on this skill.

The next morning Gabrielle prepared to set out on her journey, finishing the last of the fruit from Argo's saddlebag. Warmed by the knowledge that she would be in Potodeia by late afternoon Gabrielle anticipated a sumptuous gourmet meal prepared by her sister. With Lilla's love for cooking and Gabrielle's passion for eating the two sisters complemented one another perfectly.

After several hours of walking Gabrielle decided it was time to rest her aching feet and catch a ride. As was usually the case when she was travelling back home Gabrielle's attempts to wave down several wagons proved futile. Just as Gabrielle was about to give up, she spotted Garulius, that same tradesman who had twice before given her a lift to Potodeia. Despite his gruff manner, Gabrielle really liked the old man, a good soul who, like the bard, enjoyed spinning a delightful tale.

"Hey, Gabrielle." shouted Garulius merrily from atop his wagon. "It's been a long time. Climb aboard." "You mean you're not going to give me a hard time as you usually do?" jested Gabrielle. "Nah. I could use the company."

Gabrielle climbed up quickly beside him before he could change his mind. "How's the baby?" he asked, noting that she had been "pregnant" the last time he had picked her up. "To tell you the truth, my husband just died and I'm going home. This time for good." she said, avoiding his question. "I'm sorry for you, Gabrielle. A young lady like you shouldn't have such pain. You should be having adventures filled with love and happiness. Know what I'm saying?"

"Yes." said Gabrielle, her voice trailing. "Love. Happiness. Adventure. That's me. I'm sorry Garulius but I'm not much in the mood for talking." slowly

The old man slowed the wagon and looked over at Gabrielle. "I understand. " he said, stroking his big white beard, thoughtfully. "Me. I lost my wife and kids to the plague ten years ago. Still hurts to think about it. So I don't really."

"That's not how I feel," said Gabrielle. "I'll think of Perdicus always. I don't want to forget."

"You won't. Your young man will be in your heart like my family's in mine. Comes a time, though, when you won't have to think of your young man to know he's a reflection of your heart."

The two drove along silently for awhile. Then Gabrielle felt the sudden urge to ask Garulius a question that had been plaguing her for awhile now. "How come I always seem to run into you when I'm on my way back home?" she asked curiously. Garulius smiled. "No mystery, Gabrielle. I drive through these parts most every day, so the chances are good you'll run into me and," he added, his brown eyes twinkling, "I'm glad you do."

"Truth is, you remind me of my late daughter, Cornelia. That girl had a spark to her, loved stories and yearned for adventure. Never did get pregnant like you, though." Gabrielle began coughing uncontrollably, her usual reaction when she was feeling guilty about something. Garulius gave her a look of concern, which she waved away, knowing it would stop when she made up her mind to `fess up the truth. Gabrielle inhaled deeply and held her breath, her coughing spasm gradually subsiding. "Garulius." she began. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you that might make you really mad at me and you might even throw me off your wagon." said Gabrielle, her cheeks burning a bright shade of pink. "What is it?" he asked softly.

"Contrary to what I made you believe, I was never pregnant. I faked it to get a ride with you." she confessed. Garulius roared with laughter. "You don't say. I'd have done the same thing myself to get a ride. Though I couldn't get away with claiming to be pregnant." They both laughed.

Garulius relaxed his grip on his horse's reins and gave Gabrielle a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder. "Now you listen up, Gabrielle, and let me tell you a story about Sisephus I heard on my travels since we met last. It'll take your mind off your troubles."

For the remainder of their trip Garulius regaled her with amusing tales of Sisephus and Hercules, much of which was the product of his imagination, but Gabrielle found herself enjoying them, nonetheless.

When they reached the crossroad to Potodeia Garulius stopped his wagon to let Gabrielle off. "You take care, Gabrielle. Remember what I told you. With time, your memories of your husband will become a reflection of your heart." Gabrielle smiled and waved goodbye to her new friend. Then, swinging her staff , the young bard strode confidently toward the woods.

As she approached her village, Gabrielle felt her heart pound with excitement. Everything about Potodeia seemed so familiar. Nothing had changed. Watching the women and children scurry about doing their work, Gabrielle felt as though her life with Xena was a distant memory.

When Gabrielle reached her house she saw her sister, Lilla, bending over and picking big, beautiful, ripe vegetables from their garden. "Hey, Lilla. It's me." said Gabrielle quietly behind her.

Lilla jumped up in surprise. "Gabrielle! What are you doing here?" One look into Gabrielle's woeful eyes and Lilla knew that her sister was in trouble. Without another word she steered Gabrielle into the house and sat her down by the table, setting a plate of freshly baked nutbread before her.

"What's wrong, Gabby?" You look awful and not just from travelling. I can tell." Gabrielle buried her head in her sister's shoulders and felt a surge of relief as she poured out her grief to Lilla. Through her tears she related the whole story, ending with her final confrontation with Xena.

Lilla, who had always felt uncomfortable with the extensive role Xena played in her older sister's life, felt inwardly pleased that she, not Xena, was the one Gabrielle was turning to in her time of need. As she listened to Gabrielle berate Xena Lilla bit her tongue, careful not to criticize the warrior princess. It was fine for Gabrielle to be angry but Lilla realized she must maintain an even handed approach to make inroads with her sister.

When, at long last, Gabrielle finished, Lilla reached out and pulled her sister close to her chest, feeling the cool moistness of Gabrielle's tears through her blouse. "Gabrielle. You're home now - with your family," she said wiping away her sister's tears. "Don't you worry I'll take care of you." Then she insisted Gabrielle rest for awhile before supper. "Roast chicken and wild rice, your favorite." she said with a grin. "and I didn't even know you were coming."

Gabrielle smiled through her tears and allowed Lilla to lead her to their bedroom and into her bed where she slept fitfully for the next few hours, enjoying sweet dreams of a loving Perdicus.

Having purposely chosen a lightly travelled path in the woods, Xena wandered aimlessly alone for three days, craving the need for solitude to gather her thoughts and assess her situation. Much of the time her thoughts dwelled on her relationship with Gabrielle, reliving their adventures, recalling key conversations they'd had, and drinking in the pleasant sensation she had so often felt while under the influence of Gabrielle's company. Finally, on the third day, Xena felt she had experienced enough solitude. It was time to move on.

I've got to stop this or I'll go crazy. Gabrielle needs time alone and so do I. There's no purpose in reliving the past. "Is there Argo?" she asked aloud, nuzzling the horse's neck. Argo whinnied. Xena tightened her horse's saddle, patting her reassuringly. It's done, thought Xena, mounting the horse. Gabrielle is gone and there's no turning back.

There was however, one nagging thought Xena kept pushing aside. Was Gabrielle right? Was I responsible for Perdicus' death? I did everything I could, she argued with herself, and I have to believe that to be true. If I think about it too much I'll begin to doubt myself and as a warrior I can't afford that or I'll die. And that's how Xena resolved to think of herself, mentally shutting down her heart to Gabrielle, as a warrior, not as a friend.

When Xena made camp that night she spent a long time sharpening her sword, craving the action she knew she would find as she headed toward Corinth the following morning.

The days passed quickly with Gabrielle settling into a predictable routine, much of her time spent in solitude in the woods. With each new day she found herself feeling more content, relishing the quiet life of Potodeia, in contrast to the constant uncertainties she had faced in her past life on the road with Xena. And I would be sharing this life with Perdicus, she thought angrily, were it not for Xena.

While Gabrielle felt satisfied she was coping with her grief, Lilla was not so sure. Gabrielle had changed, becoming more remote and lethargic, her willful spirit for adventure and excitement, withered away by life's disappointment and sorrow. Lilla felt herself wondering if, given the chance, Xena might not have been the right one to guide Gabrielle through her grief.

One day, about two months after Gabrielle had come to Potodeia, Lilla suggested to Gabrielle that they set out to the lake for a picnic lunch. The afternoon was warm and sunny, leaving the two sisters in a carefree mood. Gabrielle lay down alongside a tree, allowing the sun's warmth to bathe her while Lilla sat nearby, content to observe her sister relax and enjoy nature's serenity all around them. It's now or never, Lilla thought, gearing herself up for the difficult task ahead.

"Gabrielle. There's something bothering me and I need to ask you about it." she began.

Gabrielle sat up and rubbed her eyes. "What is it, Lilla?" she said, moving closer to her sister. "You know you can ask me anything."

"Even about Xena?" her sister inquired cautiously.

"Yes." answered Gabrielle, her tone firm. "I'm over that period of my life. I'm never going back to Xena." Lilla shook her head in frustration. "Why Gabrielle?" she asked. "What changed that you could hate Xena so much?"

"She killed Perdicus, the man I loved." spat out Gabrielle. "Isn't that enough?" Lilla leaned in close to Gabrielle and draped her arm around her sister's shoulders. "Gab, listen to me. I'm no great fan of Xena, you know that, but I can't help feeling she's taking the blame for something that's not her fault. Callisto is the one you should be angry at, not Xena. Not after all the good she's done for you."

"No, Lilla," said Gabrielle, frowning. "Xena's no friend of mine. She could have saved Perdicus but she didn't."

"I don't believe that." protested Lilla. "Xena cares too much about you to spoil your happiness."

Gabrielle stood up suddenly and brushed herself off, her crystal blue eyes blazing in anger. "That's enough, Lilla. Thanks so much for spoiling this pleasant picnic."

Lilla, who was several inches taller than Gabrielle, rose up to face her. "Now you're blaming me for bringing up a sore subject? Look at yourself, Gabrielle." Said Lilla gripping her sister firmly by her wrists. You're drowning yourself in your grief and you're taking it out on everyone around you, especially Xena."

Gabrielle pulled away from Lilla and the two sisters eyed eachother dubiously. "Gabrielle. You're scaring me." Lilla cried out desperately. "I don't know who you are anymore. What happened to the old Gabrielle?"

"She's dead, Lilla. Or haven't you noticed?" Gabrielle observed bitterly.

"She's not dead." Lilla insisted. "Just hiding from her pain. You're not being fair to Xena, and deep inside, Gabrielle, you know that."

Gabrielle covered her ears, trying to shut out the excruciating pain of her sister's words. "Stop it. Leave me alone." she yelled, turning away from her sister and running off into the woods. Lilla followed, reaching her sister just as Gabrielle stumbled over a tree stump and fell to the ground.

Lilla helped Gabrielle up and led her to a nearby boulder, large enough for both of them to sit on. "If this is how you were acting with Xena before you left her, I admire the warrior princess for her great restraint because right now I feel like throttling some sense into you." she said angrily.

Gabrielle started laughing and crying at the same time. "I'm sorry, Lilla. But I could probably beat you up at this point. Xena's an excellent teacher."

"Yes, she is." admitted Lilla, "and you're lucky to have her."

"And even luckier to have you as my sister. Don't you forget that, Lilla. Ever." said Gabrielle emphatically.

Lilla reached over and gently stroked her sisters strawberry blonde hair with her fingers. I love you, Gabrielle, and I can't bear seeing you so happy."

Gabrielle stood up and slowly walked over to a nearby tree, staring hard at its bark. "I don't know what to do." she said, pounding her fist into the tree. "Nothing's working for me right now. I thought returning to Potodeia was the answer but maybe it isn't."

Lilla came over and joined Gabrielle. "Talk to Xena." she said quietly. "Trust her as you trust me." Gabrielle looked at Lilla, mulling over her words. Then she smiled and wrapped her arms around her sister in a tight embrace. "Thank you, Lilla. I don't know how you did it but I'm feeling a lot better now." Lilla smiled, feeling a lot better, too.

"I'm thinking of camping out here for a few days, so don't worry about me." said Gabrielle, the sparkle returning to her eyes. Lilla nodded and kissed her sister on the cheek. "I'll be home if you need me." The two sisters exchanged smiles and Lilla went on her way.

Xena urged Argo on. In a short time she would be in Potodeia and she was feeling anxious about seeing Gabrielle again. They needed to resolve their differences and only then could they decide whether or not to go their separate ways. Since leaving Gabrielle, Xena had been very busy, indeed, helping to rebuild a village that had been destroyed by a fire, assisting in a rebel uprising against a greedy king, and turning an enemy cyclops who had terrorized a village into a guard for that very same village. Through it all, she realized she was capable of managing her dark side without Gabrielle, a comforting thought. Still, with Gabrielle gone she felt a great void within her soul. As she rode into Potodeia thinking of Gabrielle, it became clear to her just how much the warrior needed her best friend.

In a short time Xena found herself face to face with the tall, dark Lilla, a somewhat quieter version of her older sister. Lilla welcomed the warrior into the house and offered her a tall drink of cool cider which Xena drank down gratefully. After exchanging a few pleasantries the warrior carefully broached the subject of Gabrielle.

"She needs to speak with you." shared Lilla. "You're the only one who can help her and I think she's coming around to that."

Xena smiled. "That's no doubt thanks to you, I'm sure." she said, placing a hand amiably on Lilla's shoulder. Lilla looked away, overcome by the overpowering presence of the warrior princess. Sensing Lilla's anxiety about her, Xena attempted to make her feel at ease. "Gabrielle talks about you so often I feel as though I know all about you." she said pleasantly.

"Then you know how uncomfortable I've been about your closeness to Gabrielle." she admitted, eyeing Xena warily.

Xena nodded. "I don't blame you. I'd feel the same way if Gabrielle were my sister." The two women looked at eachother. "Gabrielle loves you, Lilla." said Xena kindly. "I'm no threat to that love. Believe me."

"I know that now." said Lilla softly. "Watching Gabrielle these past two months I realize how important you've been in her life. Without you, she's become a shadow fighting for survival. I've done what I can for her, but now she needs you."

"Where is she?" asked Xena, looking around. Lila filled Xena in on Gabrielle's whereabouts and she warrior immediately set off to find Gabrielle.

Gabrielle settled down by the fire, a sturdy makeshift staff by her side. Not that she expected any trouble. Still, it paid to be prepared. Gazing up at the stars on this clear night, Gabrielle welcomed the solitude of her campsite. Lilla's earlier comments had shaken her and she needed to sort it all out in her mind. As she had done so often since Perdicus had died, Gabrielle decided to talk it out with him. shaken

"I miss you, Perdicus." said Gabrielle aloud in the darkness. "You're a part of me forever and ever and I swear I'll never forget you. But now I have to go on with my life and I'm not sure which direction I'm headed. I need to leave Potodeia. I know that now. I'm just not cut out for village life. Maybe I could become a travelling bard. Not that I'm any good at it right now but with time I hope I can do it again. Then there's Xena. I realize now she's not to blame for your death. Callisto's your murderer. I hurt Xena so badly. I regret that with all my heart. How I wish I could find Xena and tell her that. She's..."

"Right here behind you." rang out a familiar voice. Gabrielle turned in disbelief. "Xena!" she cried. "Is it really you?"

"Here. Touch me and see for yourself." said Xena, climbing out from behind the trees. Gabrielle ran up to greet her and the two friends embraced warmly.

" You missed me, huh?" asked Xena, joining Gabrielle by the fire.

"I guess so." said Gabrielle, still feeling the shock of Xena's presence beside her. "Though I didn't know how much until now."

Xena noticed how much better her friend looked since the last time she had seen her. Even in the dark she could see that Gabrielle's coloring had restored itself to a healthy glow and her eyes, though still pained, retained some life to them. "You look good, Gabrielle, better than the last time I saw you." observed Xena.

"I'm okay." her friend answered. "Considering you just shocked ten years off my life. How come I didn't hear you?"

"Probably because it's been two months and you're out of practice." Xena said with a grin. "Then again, I'm very good at sneaking up on people."

Gabrielle laughed, a welcome sound to Xena's sharply tuned ears. "So what are you doing in Potodeia?" asked Gabrielle nonchalantly.

"As if you didn't know." she answered, her sky blue eyes twinkling. "I've missed you---a lot and I wanted to tell you that personally. Also---I was hoping you were ready to join me on the road again."

Gabrielle was genuinely surprised. "I thought you'd never want to see me again after the way I treated you."

"You were pretty unbearable." said Xena, fixing Gabrielle with a hard stare. The bard looked away unable to face Xena's wrath. "I'm not angry." said Xena, trying to put her friend at ease. "I was willing to tolerate anything from you after Perdicus died if it meant helping you with your grief. But faulting me with his death, Gabrielle, that was too much to bear."

"I was wrong to blame you." admitted Gabrielle. "If anything, I should have understood how difficult it was for you to take care of Callisto for me."

"I'm okay with that." stated Xena firmly. "She got what she deserved." Then Xena leaned over and held Gabrielle's hands in her own, forcing herself to look into her friend's saddened eyes. "Gabrielle. I know you think I'm this invincible warrior who always comes to your rescue and I disappointed you when I couldn't save Perdicus." Xena paused and swallowed hard. "I'm sorry. But I'm only human. You have to accept that."

"I do." said Gabrielle.

But Xena wasn't finished. "Your happiness is most important to me and you were so sad after Perdicus was killed, it ripped me apart inside. Don't you think I would have saved Perdicus if I could have?" implored Xena.

Gabrielle felt a huge lump rise in her throat as she realized how badly she had hurt her best friend. "Xena, I ..."

"No." insisted Xena. "Let me finish. It needs to be said." Gabrielle sat back nervously watching Xena, wondering what she was going to say next.

Xena stared into the fire, a faraway look in her eyes. "After I rode up and saved you from Callisto's sword she taunted me that she was going to kill the friend of my life." said the warrior, her voice trembling. "Gabrielle. She came so close to killing you. It terrified me." Tears came to Xena's eyes and she closed her eyes, forcing herself to continue. "As I was fighting Callisto I could only think of protecting you from her madness. When she went after Perdicus it was too fast. I didn't see it coming." Gabrielle started to rise toward Xena, her face reflecting the pain she felt in her heart for her friend's agony, but Xena shook her away. "I failed you, Gabrielle." said Xena, turning away from her best friend, a tormented soul.

Gabrielle responded in the most natural way she knew how, by hugging Xena. The two friends held eachother, each absorbed in her own thoughts. As they parted Gabrielle was the first to break the silence between them.

"Xena." she said quietly. "I can't let you do this to yourself. I was wrong to place such an impossible burden on you. When I joined you in friendship I knowingly placed myself in danger. I have to take responsibility for that. Perdicus dying was not your fault and I regret with all my heart how I tortured you with that guilt." Gabrielle buried her head in Xena's chest and began to sob. Xena put her arms around her friend to comfort her. "I'm all right with it, Gabrielle." she said softly. "As long as you are, too." Gabrielle looked up at Xena and nodded. A look of affection passed between them, linking the two women, once again, in spirit and friendship.

With their friendship restored, the intensity of their mood lightened considerably.

"Xena, if we're to travel again, we need to clear some things up." said Gabrielle firmly. "First, I'm not that innocent little girl anymore. I'm a woman training to be a warrior and as my teacher, you're much too overprotective of me. Second, from now on I plan to take responsibility for my actions. No more running away when things get tough between us."

"Wait, Gabrielle. This is getting good." said Xena casually. "Maybe I should have you write this down. Xena and Gabrielle's Bill of Rights."

"Very funny." said Gabrielle with a smirk.

"It is actually." confessed Xena. "Considering I've been a total grump these past two months without you to lighten me up.

"Even Argo couldn't do it?" suggested Gabrielle with a laugh.

"Poor Argo is ready to disown me," reported Xena. "She's so desperate to see you again she even promises to like you!" They both laugh.

"Argo talks to you? Xena! You're really in trouble!"

"Wait." declared Xena with a straight face. "You haven't heard the worst of it."

Gabrielle laughed. "Go on. This is getting interesting." Xena looked at Gabrielle and let out a deep sigh. "When it comes to fishing barehanded in the lake, Argo's just no substitute for you." she said, rolling her eyes.

"Xena. That's pathetic," snickered Gabrielle.

Xena smiled broadly. "I know."

Gabrielle raised her hand to stop her friend. "Okay. Enough." she said, giggling aloud. "There's nothing you can say that could possibly top that last one."

"You're probably right," said Xena, with a wide grin.

"For your first stab at lighthearted humor you did rather well." observed Gabrielle. Xena bared her teeth and growled at her best friend who playfully backed away from her while clutching her own neck in mock terror of the warrior. The two friends looked at eachother and laughed.

The two friends sat back down by the fire. Xena retrieved a stick and began poking at the embers. Gabrielle watched her, feeling a deep sense of contentment at how happy and relaxed her best friend seemed. "So, you really missed me, huh?" observed Gabrielle. "Yes. I did," admitted Xena.

"Well then, when do we leave?" asked Gabrielle, starting to rise and ready for action. "Not so fast," said Xena, pulling her friend back down beside her. "You'll need some time to prepare Lilla with the news."

"You're wrong, Xena. Lilla's the one who's been urging me to go back to you. I guess she can't keep up with my growing appetite."

"Gabrielle. You're not..."

"Oh, no." laughed Gabrielle. "It's just that all this inaction makes me so hungry all the time."

"You're always hungry, even on the road. Or has it been so long you've forgotten?" teased Xena.

"Oh, yeah." said Gabrielle. "Which reminds me, if I'm to join you I want to eat out more at the local inn. Rabbits or squirrels every night just doesn't do it for me."

"That depends on how much you earn as a bard. You are planning to return to that, aren't you?"

Gabrielle stared thoughtfully at Xena. "I don't know," she said. "I feel so sad inside. It's better than it was when I first came here but..."

Xena placed a comforting arm around her friend and turned to face her. "It's going to take some time but I promise you that with each passing day you'll feel more like your old self again. You'll gradually laugh more, tell jokes like you did tonight and as a bard, you'll find that your stories will be filled with more of life's wisdom."

"And our relationship, Xena. What will happen to us?"

"We'll be fine, Gabrielle. Especially now. We'll continue to have our adventures and our differences. That's for sure." said Xena, raising her eyebrows. They both laughed. "And," she continued, "neither of us will hide anything of significance from the other. Right Gabrielle?" she said looking squarely at her friend. "Right." Gabrielle answered meaningfully.

"Communication and honesty between two strong minded women who know how to relate to eachother." observed Xena, summing up her feelings. "That's what gives our relationship such balance."

"And fireworks," added Gabrielle, with an impish grin.

"That, too," drawled Xena. Gabrielle yawned and nestled her head cozily on Xena's shoulder. "Go on." urged Xena, nudging her friend. "Get some sleep. We'll talk more in the morning."

Gabrielle stretched down on the ground and lay on her side. "I'm sorry, Xena. It's just that seeing you is the most excitement I've had in two months."

"That's pathetic." said Xena, clucking her tongue. Expecting some kind of retort, she looked down at her best friend. There was no answer except a gentle snore. Gabrielle was fast asleep. The warrior with the heart felt a sense of inner peace. For now, her soul was restored where it rightfully belonged. Too bad, Callisto.


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