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Disclaimers: Characters Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Callisto, Ares, Draco, etc. are the property of Universal/Renaissance Pictures/Studios USA. I merely borrowed them for the purpose of this story. Characters Charis, Allmar, and Sanshee are my own.

This story contains explicit scenes of two consenting adult women making love. If you find this offensive, I recommend that you refrain from reading any further (and also that you at least consider seeking some form of professional guidance). This story also contains a rape scene, graphic violence, as well as mature situations and some language. If you’re under 18 or if this sort of material is illegal where you live and you read this anyway, don’t blame me if the dung hits the fan. You’ve been advised.

This is my first attempt at fiction, not to mention fan fiction. I hope you enjoy it. Please send any comments to: Much appreciation to my partner, Crimson Blade, for her creative input and editorial assistance.

(c) 1999 Not intended to infringe on the rights of the owners of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

The story is meant to take place following the episode, "Maternal Instincts."


When Friends Collide
by AztecAmazon

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

Part II

Gabrielle joined Ephiny and Charis next to the fire. "I’m so sorry," she offered her condolences to Charis who was leaning against Ephiny, the pain of her loss revealing itself on her face.

"She was an extraordinary woman. A proud Amazon. That’s how she would want to be remembered," Charis responded, burying her head in Ephiny’s chest as her tears began to resurface.

"You should get some rest," Ephiny suggested as she held her mourning friend.

"I know. I will...Thank you both," Charis answered, her lips meeting Ephiny’s in a fleeting kiss, before she turned and walked away, glancing over her shoulder at the fire which enveloped her sister’s body.

"Have you seen Xena?," the bard turned to address the Amazon, a puzzled look on her face.

"Not since before the funeral...," Ephiny’s eyes widened as she took off running toward the prisoners’ hut.

"Ephiny! Where are you going? What’s the matter?," the bard called out as she ran behind her.

"Gods! I knew it!," the Amazon exclaimed upon discovering the now damaged, empty hut. Pacing back and forth she began talking to herself. "Where in Tartarus did she take them? Why couldn’t she have just waited until tomorrow?"

"What’s tomorrow?," the befuddled bard inquired. "And where’s Xena? Ephiny?," she placed her hands firmly on the Amazon’s shoulders, looking her squarely in the eyes, "What’s going on?"

"Gabrielle, I need you to prepare yourself for what I’m about to tell you," Ephiny directed the bard as she guided her to a barrel, motioning for her to sit. "Gabrielle," she continued. "I sent out a search party weeks ago with orders to find Draco and Allmar." The bard winced at the mention of the two men’s names. "We were holding them captive in this hut until tomorrow when..."

"They were here in the village?!," the bard was now visibly shaken. "Why didn’t you tell me?! Why didn’t Xena tell me? Ephiny, I deserved to know."

"We were going to tell you tonight after the funeral. We didn’t want to upset you, Gabrielle. We both know what a difficult time you’ve had dealing with...what happened."

"Are you sure Xena has them? What am I saying? Of course she has them," the bard thought aloud. "What do you think we should do about it?"

"That decision is rightfully yours to make. I’m only acting on your behalf. You’re still our queen." The bard stood and walked to the back of the hut, peering through the hole into the woods. "Let her have them. If we go after her, we’ll only kill them ourselves tomorrow. They’re going to die either way."

The Amazon found satisfaction in knowing that Xena would avenge the attack on her queen. There was no doubt in her mind that it would be done. She only wished that she could get a crack at them. The skin on her back began to crawl as she remembered the way she found Gabrielle that day in the cabin. She despised those men for what they had done to her love. The scars on the bard’s back and arm were constant reminders, serving to exacerbate the Amazon’s hatred of the men who had put them there. Though her wounds were almost healed, the fire in Gabrielle’s eyes had yet to return and Ephiny loathed the warlords for robbing her of that flame the same way she loathed the God of War the role he had played in the attack.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The bard lay awake in her hut, the first entire night she would spend alone since the incident. Worried about the warrior and needing time alone to think, she had assured Ephiny that she would be fine on her own. She knew Xena was more than capable of handling herself against the warlords, but still she couldn’t help being concerned. She had always worried about her when she was away no matter what she was doing. And tonight, like every other night she had spent away from her love, she prayed to Artemis for her safe return as she told herself she would send out a search party if she didn’t return soon enough.

As she lay there in the dark, the bard’s mind was flooded with thoughts of the warrior. She reflected on the time they had spent together, trying to pinpoint the exact moment she had fallen in love with her. As the images progressed, she began to think about the recent weeks since Xena’s return. Though she loved her more than ever, she found it increasingly difficult to convey her affection. She had seen the hurt look in the warrior’s eyes when she, sometimes literally, pushed her away. She realized that she had been cutting their embraces short, walking away when she reached for her, making up excuses when Xena asked her why.

The bard honestly didn’t know why or exactly what it was that she was feeling. She only knew that, right now, she couldn’t allow herself to be too close to the warrior for too long. At the same time, she longed for her love. She yearned to feel her arms around her, the sweet sensation of her caress. But each time she was given the opportunity, some unknown force from within seemed to tear her away. Her guilt was beginning to gnaw at her insides. Xena didn’t deserve to be treated this way. Why was she denying the warrior over and over again when all she really wanted was to spend eternity lost in her eyes?

"There is a curse on your head," Ares suddenly appeared. "And as long as you remain with her, Xena will share in your misfortune. Maybe you aren’t aware of this but, though she tries to hide it, she finds you revolting. The idea of spending the rest of her life with a tramp turns her stomach. Why do you suppose she’s so determined to get rid of Draco and Allmar? Do you think she’s doing it for your sake? The truth of the matter is that she can’t stand knowing that your former...let’s just call them admirers...might have actually brought pleasure to your body, pleasure you consistently withhold from her."

"Go away! Find someone else to torment!," the bard loudly protested as she threw her pillow at the god. She had intended to get up and retrieve her staff, only to find that she had no strength in her legs. The agony she had experienced during Draco and Allmar’s assault came back to her, tormenting her body. She felt everything they had done to her as sharply as if it were happening again at that moment. Finally overpowered by the pain, the bard screamed in agony so loudly that Ephiny, sound asleep in her own hut, was awakened by her cries. The Amazon ran barefoot across the dusty ground, sword in hand, hastening the god’s departure as she entered Gabrielle’s hut. "What’s going on?," she anxiously asked as she sat next to the bard on the bed, pulling her tearful queen close to her. "What’s causing this, Gabrielle? What’s happening to you?"

"It’s nothing," the bard’s physical pain had vanished as quickly as it had originated. "Just a bad dream," she tried to regain her composure.

"I know you better than that. There’s something you’re not telling me," the Amazon placed her hands on the bard’s tearstained cheeks. "Gabrielle, I can’t help you if you won’t let me."

"Don’t get involved, Ephiny. I have to deal with this myself. I caused it. I have to be the one to take care of it."

"Caused what? Gabrielle? You’re not blaming yourself for what happened?"

"Ephiny, don’t you get it?! I’m a whore! I have nothing to offer Xena or you or anyone! I wanted to love her! I wanted her to love me, but I can’t even hug her without...," the bard’s ranting suddenly gave way to an eery calm. "I’ve been fooling myself...and Xena. I thought I could make her happy, but I realize now that I can’t. I can’t even make myself happy. I’ve become a different person. A dark person with a dark soul. I can’t expect Xena to settle for that. Ephiny, I’ve lost my purpose." Crestfallen, she looked into the Amazon’s eyes only briefly before moving from the bed to a chair by the window.

"You’re strong enough to overcome this, Gabrielle. You..."

The muscles in the bard’s face and neck tightened as she stood to face the Amazon, cutting her off before she could finish her sentence. "They held me down--took turns with me. Laughed when I bled." The bard gritted her teeth as her rage began to pour from her body. "They made me do things...say things while they tortured me."

Tears now made their way down Ephiny’s cheeks as she listened to her queen. "They used their daggers, their swords, themselves...and all I could think of was Xena. All I could do was lay there, hoping I would survive and praying to the gods that, if I did, Xena would never find out what happened inside that cabin." The bard ran her forearm across her eyes, angrily swiping at the tears on her face.

Ephiny, still wrestling with her own tears and unable to speak, reached for her queen. "No! Don’t touch me!," the bard’s words resounded as she slapped the Amazon, the intensity of the blow forcing her head to one side. Stunned, Ephiny began to back away, soon finding herself backed against the wall, the bard delivering blow after blow to her chest. Raising her hands only to protect her face, the Amazon remained silent as her queen spun out of control. Gabrielle’s frenzy continued as she pummeled her friend, tears soaking her face as she yelled at the warlords--though they weren’t there to hear it.

When her furor finally subsided and she realized what she was doing, the bard stood paralyzed, staring at her confidant. "The gods. What am I doing?" Clearly as startled by her behavior as Ephiny seemed to be, she leaned forward, wrapping her arms around the Amazon, apologizing to her again and again.

After calming the bard, convincing her that she needed her rest, Ephiny remained awake for the rest of the night, keeping vigil over her queen as she slept.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Thank you for staying with me," the bard said upon waking to discover the Amazon sitting in a chair by the window. She then softly placed her hand on Ephiny’s back, her regret of last night’s events showing in her eyes. Noticing the bruise on the Amazon’s face, she whispered, "Can you forgive me?"

"Gabrielle...," she guided the bard into her lap, placing her arms around her chiseled waist. "You don’t owe me an apology. I’m just glad I was here," the Amazon gently kissed her cheek.

The bard rested her head on Ephiny’s shoulder, burying her face in her neck. As they sat, holding each other, she began to wonder why this felt so right. Why did she feel so comfortable in the Amazon’s arms? Why did she recoil from the woman she loved? Why was it so easy to confide in Ephiny, yet recently, so difficult for her to talk to Xena? She had always relied on the warrior for everything. Relished in the moments they spent in each others’ arms. Longed for her embrace. Desired her kiss, her body, her heart, her soul. Even now, wrapped in the arms of another woman, she yearned for her return . She ached to tell her of the love she felt for her. But what if it was too late? What if Xena had grown weary of her evasiveness? What if she remained unable to convey her true feelings to the warrior?

"Gabrielle?" Ephiny’s voice interrupted her thoughts. "I know this is a stupid question, but are you hungry?," she grinned.

"Actually, I’m not hungry...," the bard seemed miles away. "I was just..just thinking about Xena." The smile on the Amazon’s face slowly dissipated. "I hope she’s ok. Ephiny, I haven’t told her how I feel about her yet. Every time I try, I get tongue-tied."

"I’m sure she’s fine. And, when the time is right, you’ll find the words to tell her. I have faith in you," her heart sank as she was reminded that moments like this between her and her bard would soon end. Upon Xena’s return, Gabrielle was certain to tell her of her love for her. And she knew that eventually, the two would leave the village to resume their travels. Though she wished most for her queen’s happiness, the thought of being away from her, the thought of her loving and being loved by someone else hurt the Amazon deeply.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Good morning, boys," Xena addressed the warlords when they woke, squinting as the sun glared in their tired eyes. The warrior’s teeth revealed themselves, her crooked smile making the men uneasy. "I thought we would spend the day together. You’re not busy, are ya?," she slowly circled the cage as she spoke, a tiger ready to pounce on its prey.

"What do you want to say, Xena?," Draco yawned, stretching the muscles in his arms. "Because I do have better things to do than watch you prance around and gloat."

"I thought I’d do a little hunting. Great day for hunting, don’t you think?"

"Stop entertaining yourself and unlock this cage, woman. I’m not interested in your games!," Allmar erupted.

"You will be soon enough," Xena responded.

"Xena, you might be able to hold your own with me, but taking on the two of us together? Not one of your more rational plans, even if we are unarmed," Draco informed her.

"Yes, you are unarmed...can’t have that," she stated as she tossed two swords into the cage.

"Now I’m a chakram, a whip, a dagger, and a horse ahead of you---but then," her expression grew harsh. "Considering the advantage you had over my friend when you raped her and beat her into oblivion, I’d say we’re even." She removed her chakram from her waist, sending it slicing through the bars on the cage. The men, as she had expected they would, immediately charged at her. The warrior drew her sword from her back and engaged the two warlords, toying with them, drawing blood but making sure she didn’t cut too deeply. She wanted this to last.

After a while, she grew bored and threw her sword to the ground. "Ayiyiyiyiyiyi!," her warcry rang out as she flipped backwards through the air, landing behind the two warlords. With one smooth sweep of her foot against their ankles, the men found themselves lying face down in the dirt. Another leap landed the warrior on their backs where she stood until she had secured both men with the rope she had stuffed in her boot. She then led the two back to the cage, tying them on the outside of the bars. Holding her dagger against Draco’s throat, she snarled, "This one’s for Gabrielle."

"You’re pathetic," Draco looked the warrior in the eyes. Disgusted by her sentimentality, he attempted to spit in her face. When he missed, he added, "Your reflexes are better than your friends’. I didn’t miss her."

"You worthless bastard," the warrior snapped, slicing Draco’s thigh. "When I’m finished with you, you’re going to wish you’d never laid eyes on Gabrielle."

"I already do," Allmar interjected. "She wasn’t very good," he smirked. "All that screaming and crying..."

"You shut your hole," the warrior was as close to his face as she could get. "Or I’ll shut it myself."

"Speaking of holes...," Draco laughed out loud, not bothering to complete his sentence, his laughter ceasing when he realized that the warrior was holding his tongue in her hand. "No more talking for you," she quipped as she tossed it aside.

"Go ahh harrrara," he attempted to speak.

"Go where? I didn’t quite catch that," Xena grinned, turning to Allmar. The warrior sliced through his shirt, revealing his bare chest. "What color are her eyes?," she asked.

"Whose eyes? What are you talking about?"

"What color are Gabrielle’s eyes?!," the warrior demanded, drawing blood as the point of her dagger pierced the warlord’s neck.

"Blue! Like yours," Allmar guessed.

"Wrong." Xena’s eyes narrowed as she placed the dagger against his chest, cutting off his right nipple. "Next question," she continued as the warlord writhed in pain. "What village is she from?," she folded her arms over her breasts and began to tap her foot on the ground, clearly expecting an answer.

Allmar, hoping to keep the rest of his body parts, blurted out, "Amphipolis!"

"Wrong." Allmar’s left nipple fell to the ground. "One more question...and there’s a lot riding on this one so I’d think about my answer carefully if I were you." She lifted the warlord’s chin with her blade, insisting that his eyes meet her own. "Why did you butcher my friend?," her eyes reflected the animosity she had harbored for weeks.

"I...I didn’t...," the warlord began and then fell silent again.

"Why?!," Xena refused to allow the tears building up behind her eyes to surface.

"Because I knew she’d enjoy it!," his words tore into the warrior.

"Wrong again!," the warrior’s response collided with Allmar’s eardrums as his audacity began to falter. "You didn’t listen to Gabrielle’s cries for help. You refused to hear her pleading. You didn’t listen to her when she begged you to stop. Did you? Did you?!," Xena continued without bothering to wait for an answer. "No. You didn’t listen. And now, I refuse to listen to you." Allmar was horrified when his tongue met the same fate as Draco’s.

Reaching behind her, the warrior picked up her sword and slashed the warlords’ clothing until there was nothing left on their bodies. First one and then the other, she stripped the warlords of their remaining weapons. The weapons they had used against Gabrielle. The weapons that had robbed the bard of her virginity. The weapons that still haunted her love in the night, shredding her soul as they had shredded her flesh that day in the cabin.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Amazon and the bard had spent most of the afternoon alone in Gabrielle’s hut polishing off more than one wine skin. "She should be here by now," Gabrielle’s concern was evident in her voice.

"Xena can take care of herself. She’ll be back for you. You have to be patient," Ephiny attempted to reassure her queen.

"I know...she’s fine. I just worry..."

"Give her some time. She’s been though a lot," the Amazon reminded her.

"Yes...she has," Gabrielle agreed. "I just wish I had talked to her before she left."

"You’ll get your chance," Ephiny moved closer to her. "Now...what were you getting ready to ask me?," she inquired, referring to the question the bard was about to ask before her mind had been distracted by thoughts of the warrior.

"If this is too personal, you don’t have to answer. I was just wondering...What I wanted to ask was...It’s really none of my business, but..."

"For the sake of the gods, Gabrielle! Just ask me!," the Amazon was amused by the bard’s stall tactics.

"Well...I was just wondering who...I mean, when you lost your virginity..."

"Charis, Gabrielle. I lost my virginity to Charis," she confided. "We were both very young and..."

"Charis? Really?," the bard was clearly surprised.

"She was my first love...and I was hers. We were out hunting and one thing led to another..."

"Was it special to her?"

"Yes...honestly, it was wonderful. I wouldn’t change anything about it even if I could," the Amazon confessed, her mind wondering back to that day in the woods. She hadn’t thought much lately about the relationship she and Charis had once shared. Young and madly in love, they had spent every possible moment together. Learning the Amazon ways during the day, ravaging each others’ bodies in the darkness of night. Noticing the forlorn look on the bard’s face, she quickly added, "It was a meaningful experience, just as it will be for you..."

"But I’m not...they..."

"Gabrielle, what they did to you has nothing to do with what you wanted. You’ve never given yourself to anyone. When you do surrender yourself completely to Xena...," Ephiny reluctantly inserted, "it will be one of the most enchanted moments of your life."

"Ephiny?," the bard hesitated. "Can I tell you something?"

"You know you can. Anything."

"I’m afraid."

The Amazon placed her hand on the bard’s chin, gently lifting her eyes to meet her own. "What are you afraid of, Gabrielle?"

"I’m afraid of actually being with Xena. I mean, I want to be with her. I want that more than I’ve ever wanted anything...but I’m scared...of what I might feel," the bard admitted, the look of hopelessness on her face tugging at the Amazon’s heart as she longed to take her queen in her arms and chase away all of her doubts and fears.

"Gabrielle, you are one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met," her words were marked with an undeniable earnestness. "I knew that from the first time we met, when I saw you put your life on the line for my fallen sister, someone you didn’t even know. And since...," Ephiny paused briefly before continuing. "Since that time, I’ve grown to respect you, to admire you, to love you more than anything I could say will ever express. You’re one of the most selfless, compassionate, genuine, beautiful women I know and anyone you choose to love should feel honored."

"You really feel that way about me?," the bard, visibly overwhelmed by the Amazon’s words, uttered. Unable to speak through the lump in her throat, the Amazon nodded her head as she gazed at her queen through teary eyes. The bard placed her arms around her, pulling her body close, feeling her breath on her cheek. After praying silently to the gods that she wasn’t about to make the biggest mistake of her life, she covered the Amazon’s mouth with her own. Their kisses were deep as their tongues began to delve into their surroundings, taking in everything, until the bard pulled back without warning. Still in her arms, Gabrielle muttered an apology. "It’s ok, Gabrielle." Ephiny reinforced her hold on her, longing to revive their kiss, but leaving the choice in the bard’s hands.

Gabrielle gently brushed her lips against Ephiny’s as though they were some forbidden delicacy. Just as the Amazon was certain she would die from the torment of her love’s inadvertent teasing, their mouths once again merged. Lost in the moment, Ephiny’s breathing grew rapid as her hands made their way over the bard’s form. "Wait," Gabrielle suddenly blurted out, her body beginning to tremble. The Amazon bridled her passion and placed her hands on the bard’s face, gently caressing her cheeks with the tips of her fingers. She was aware that her queen’s emerging apprehension was based on the fear she felt. Fear of being the object of another’s desire. Fear of what was happening to her body, to her mind as her own fervor began to surface. "Gabrielle...I’m not going to hurt you. I want you to trust me." The Amazon’s words swept over the bard, somehow managing to soothe her.

"I’ve never felt...this before," the bard confessed, not sure how to describe what she was feeling.

"I know," Ephiny whispered, gently kissing the bard. "Don’t try to go through this alone anymore. You don’t have to."

"Ephiny?," Gabrielle uttered before growing silent.

"What is it?"

"I keep seeing their faces...hearing their voices," tears fell from her eyes.

"I know. And you will...until you can find a way to separate yourself from what they did to you. I know it’s hard. I know you’re angry and you have the right to be angry...and frightened." The Amazon, not wanting to push the bard, gently and reluctantly tore herself from her embrace, took her hand, and attempted to guide her over to the chair next to the table.

"No...," the bard froze in her tracks. After remaining still for a moment, she squeezed the Amazon’s hand, leading her in the opposite direction. When they reached the other side of the room, she kissed her again, pulling her onto the bed next to her. "Gods, Ephiny. Help me get them out of my head...please," the bard pleaded, her speech beginning to slur from the effects of the wine. The bard’s reluctance resurfaced only once more as their kisses became more desperate, the Amazon again succeeding to quickly dispel her queen’s uneasiness.

Ephiny began to loosen the strings on the front of the bard’s tunic, only to realize that she was unable to go through with removing it. Images of the warrior invaded her mind as her conscience began to admonish her. She hadn’t intended to take advantage of her queen’s vulnerability, yet she felt that to let this go any further would be to do just that. As much as she wanted to believe it, she knew this wasn’t what the bard wanted. Gabrielle’s heart belonged to Xena. They were meant for each other...destined to walk through life together. Though she had fantasized many times of making love to her, she couldn’t allow her love to submit to her out of fear and certainly not out of drunkenness.

"Ephiny,?" the bard had sensed her hesitation.

"I love you, Gabrielle," the Amazon whispered as she buried her head in the bard’s neck, tracing a path to her ear with her tongue. She realized that she was in over her head. Gabrielle was already uncertain of herself. Ephiny was afraid her love might view her reluctance to continue as blatant rejection. She didn’t want to hurt her and the last thing she wanted to do was magnify her feelings of inadequacy. Sensing the bard’s growing frustration, she searched her cluttered mind for a solution, relishing Gabrielle’s kisses in the meantime. "Gods, Ephiny...," the bard’s voice sounded desperate as she writhed beneath her.

The Amazon’s heart skipped a beat when she saw the dazed look in Gabrielle’s eyes as she stared up at her, wondering why her own hand was between her legs. "Ephiny? What...," she looked confused.

"Gabrielle...who better to confront your passion than you?," she stated, pleased that her words made at least some sense.

"I can’ front of you?!" Her reaction nearly sent the Amazon into a fit of laughter.

"I did it in front of you...well almost" struggling to contain herself, Ephiny couldn’t hide the huge grin on her face.

"I guess that’s true...but we’re talking about me!," the bard was obviously giddy from overindulgence.

The Amazon kissed her again, taking in her sweetness as it mingled with the taste of wine. Within moments the bard was, once again, ready to erupt. Ephiny reached down, loosening Gabrielle’s undergarment to allow her access to herself. Gabrielle managed to ask between explosive kisses, ""

"Gods, yes, Gabrielle. Yes," the Amazon forced herself to breath as she spoke, her mouth consuming the bard’s.

Gabrielle slowly moved her hand between her own legs and underneath her clothing, hesitating when she realized the Amazon’s eyes were focused on what she was doing. "Ephiny...I don’t think I can..." The Amazon pushed her thigh between Gabrielle’s and gently rocked back and forth against the bard’s hand until it began to move uncoerced. As her passion heightened, the bard moved her mouth down Ephiny’s neck until her tongue found its way to the tops of her breasts, the Amazon’s clothing hindering her efforts. Her mind clouded by the combination of desire and wine, Ephiny fought to resist the urge to take the bard. "I can’t let this happen. This can’t go any further. She doesn’t know what she’s doing," she thought as she moved down, pulling her breasts away from Gabrielle’s hungry mouth.

The bard welcomed each kiss, pushing her tongue deeper into the Amazon’s mouth as her fingers explored their surroundings, making her insane. Ephiny, straddling the bard’s leg, watched as Gabrielle’s undergarment moved in unison with her hand. The movement slowed without stopping as the bard spoke, "Ephiny...let me." She reached for Ephiny’s undergarment, having noticed that her thigh was soaked with the Amazon’s desire. Refusing to allow herself to give in to her own craving, the Regent reached between her own legs, letting out an almost inaudible moan as her fingers sought to provide relief.

Feeling the bard’s body become tense, she tore her mouth away from Gabrielle’s. "Look at me," she spoke through ragged breaths, "I want to see your face." The bard reached her limit, frantically pushing her hand into herself again and again, throwing her head back in ecstasy. As she began to descend, the Amazon sat up and strattled her again. "Not yet," she gasped, her hips moving against her own hand, the friction driving her wild. Gabrielle pressed against herself one last time as the two simultaneously exploded, their cries of pleasure escaping into the air.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The bard woke to find that she was alone. Her head pounding, she grappled with the blankets and stumbled out of bed. Just as she discovered the tray of food on the table, the door to the hut slowly opened. "Morning!", Ephiny nervously blurted out.

"Good morning," the bard croaked, her voice raspy. "My mouth feels like it’s covered in moss."

"I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up. I was out searching for cider. Got it!," the Amazon exclaimed, holding the skin full of cider in the air.

"Bless you. And the food looks wonderful...except for whatever that is," the bard pointed to something slimy.

"Snails, Gabrielle. I didn’t figure your stomach would be able to take them this morning, but with you, one can never be certain," she smiled uneasily as she sensed the bard’s discomfort.

"Thank you," she leaned over the table and gave the Amazon a peck on the cheek before pouring two mugs of cider.

"’re welcome,." Ephiny’s mind flashed to the night before as she sat down next to the bard for breakfast. The two ate in virtual silence. Sitting back in their chairs after scoffing down everything in front of them, the tension between them was so thick it was nearly visible. "So...," the Amazon spoke first. "Read any good scrolls lately?" With that, the women burst into laughter, their nervousness finally getting the best of them. When they had laughed so hard for so long that their stomachs began to ache, a knock on the door demanded their attention.

"Come," the bard managed.

"Yeah, gods, by all means. Come in," the Amazon said flippantly, nearly rolling on the floor by this time.

"Am I interrupting something?," Charis inquired upon entering the hut. "What did I miss?"

"Noth...nothing," the bard struggled, unable to gain control of herself.

"I’d offer you something to eat, but as you can see, we were really hungry this morning...for some reason," the Amazon, finally rid of her laughter, winked at the bard.

"Actually, Ephiny, I came to ask if you’d like to ride with me while I check the parameters," Charis requested, tickled at the sight of her queen holding her head in pain, still overcome with laughter.

"Yes, I’d like that," the Amazon responded. "Can I meet you shortly? I need to talk to Gabrielle for a moment first."

"Yes, I think somebody needs to talk to her," Charis teased. "I’ll saddle your horse. See you later, Gabrielle!" The bard laughed even harder, tossing her hand in the air in an effort to wave goodbye.

"Gabrielle?," the Amazon tried to keep a straight face as the bard continued to laugh herself into oblivion.

"Hmmm?," she attempted to gain control of herself.

"I want to talk to you later..."

Detecting a hint of concern in her voice, the bard attempted to ease the Amazon’s mind. "Ephiny, everything’s alright." The look in her eyes melted the Regent’s heart as the two embraced, their lips meeting in a tender kiss before she made her way out the door. When she was out of sight, Gabrielle gathered her things and headed for the springs to soak, hoping that the warm water would ease the throbbing pain in her head.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Argo moved at a leisurely pace, carrying the warrior back to the Amazon village. After ridding the warlords of their manhood with a stroke of her sword, she had stood glaring into their eyes, watching the life drain from their bodies. Upon decided that she had avenged Gabrielle’s ordeal to her satisfaction, she picked up her dagger and slit their throats, finishing them off. She then mounted Argo and headed into the woods to set up camp. The days she had spent alone in the forest had been time well spent as she was finally able to make the decision that she knew would permanently alter her way or the other.

For so long the warrior had been certain of her love for Gabrielle and she knew in her heart the bard loved her. What she didn’t know was whether or not the bard loved her enough to commit to spending the rest of her days by her side. The question burned inside her, blistering her insides, her future residing in the bard’s response.

Xena knew that she was going to have to reveal her heart and soul, the essence of her being, to Gabrielle. She understood the significance of her decision and it terrified her. She had never been one to lay all of her cards on the table and, for that reason, she had rarely been defeated. But the bard had managed to get inside her, somehow scaling the fortress she had built around herself, embedding herself in the very core of the warrior.

As she tried to rationalize what she was about to do, she kept telling herself, "She can only say yes or no. Either she’ll share my feelings or she won’t. If she turns me down, she turns me down. Life will continue." Only the warrior wasn’t exactly sure how the latter would be possible. Deep down she knew she was going to be crushed if the bard rejected her love. Yet she was intent on taking the risk. She had to know in any case. Filled with hope, Xena headed toward her destiny.

As the trees grew still, the gentle breeze abruptly disappearing, Argo’s demeanor shifted. "What’s the matter?," the warrior addressed the animal as she reached for her sword. Looking down at the smoldering branch which had fallen just in front of them, she demanded, "Show yourself, Callisto!" The goddess surfaced next to Argo and immediately started in on the warrior. "My, my, Xena, I almost didn’t recognize you with that blood all over your hands."

"If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black," the warrior retaliated before instructing Argo to keep moving.

"Leaving so soon? I haven’t even had a chance to tell you my fascinating news?," the goddess smirked as she trailed along behind the warrior.

"Not interested. But thanks for thinking of me." Her heals nudged Argo’s sides, putting some distance between herself and the goddess.

"Since when are you not interested in Gabrielle?" Callisto, in an instant, repositioned herself in front of the warrior.

"What about her?," Xena half-heartedly asked, not in the mood for the goddess’ nonsense.

"Do you have any idea what she’s been doing while you’ve been away?"

"I’m sure you’re going to tell me," the warrior yawned.

"Let me just say that Gabrielle’s home fire no longer burns for you. Seems somebody snuffed that little flame right out," the goddess snapped her fingers for effect, seemingly exhilarated by her own words. "How I wish you had been there to see them. It was positively...carnal. And I didn’t know the little bard had it in her."

"What are you talking about?," though she tried to conceal it, the look on Xena’s face exposed her concern.

"Why don’t you ask that naughty Amazon friend of yours. What’s her name? Ah yes...Ephiny. I’ve never known dear Gabrielle to call on the gods so many times in one evening." She tossed her head back as she taunted the warrior, "Oh Ephiny! Oh the gods! Yes! Yes! Yes, Ephiny!" The goddess bared her fangs as she added, "Give it to me. Do me. Yadda yadda yadda. I’m sure you get the point."

"You’ve got to be the biggest bitch the world’s ever known," the warrior’s voice dripped with disgust as she coaxed Argo into a full gallop.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The two Amazons rode side by side, the wind whistling through their hair. "Not this time!," Charis called out as her horse pulled ahead of Ephiny’s. "You actually beat me," Ephiny sounded surprised as the two women climbed down off their horses.

"I knew sooner or later I’d find a horse that could outrun yours," Charis laughed.

"Don’t get too cocky. When we get back, we’ll do staffs," the Amazon joked, referring to the fact that she was always able to get the best of her friend when it came to the fighting staff. They tied their horses to a nearby tree and trudged to the top of the hill where they found a place to rest in the shade. Passing a waterskin back and forth, the two continued their conversation. "One of these days, Ephiny, I’ll beat you at staffs the same way my horse beat yours just now," Charis grinned.

"Yeah, yeah," the Amazon shook her head.

" are you, Ephiny? I haven’t seen you much lately?"

"I’m doing well. The question is, how are you?," the Amazon gently brushed her hand across Charis’ forearm. She could tell by the look in her friend’s eyes that she was having a difficult time dealing with the loss of her sister.

"I’m managing," she paused to reflect. "I’ll always miss her. I know that. But I also know that, with time, I won’t miss her in quite the same way that I do now." Abruptly changing the subject, Charis inquired, "Is Gabrielle almost ready to reclaim the mask?"

"I honestly don’t know that she will ever reclaim the mask, Charis," the Amazon sighed. "She’s been through so much...and I don’t think resuming her position as queen is foremost on her mind right now."

"That’s understandable. I was really worried about her for a while, but she seems to be coming around."

"Yes, I think she’s starting to. Gabrielle’s one of the strongest people I know. She’ll pull through this."

"You’ve been spending a lot of time with her," Charis pointed out.

"She needs me right now," the Amazon instinctively attempted to conceal her emotions.

"I’m sure she does," Charis agreed, growing momentarily silent before adding, "I’ve seen the way you look at her."

"What do you mean?," Ephiny’s voice grew soft as she averted her eyes. She had never been able to keep much from her perceptive friend.

"Come on, Ephiny! You don’t have to be an oracle to see that you’re crazy about her!"

"Gods, is it that obvious?," she didn’t bother trying to elude her anymore.

"Maybe not to everyone, but I know you. So how bad is it?," she teased.

"I’m going insane!," the Amazon shouted through laughter as she allowed herself to fall onto her back.

"Sounds serious. Maybe we have something in the medicine hut that will make it go away?," she joked.

"I only wish we did," Ephiny’s tone grew serious as she placed her hands behind her head and stared up at the blue sky.

"But you two always look so content together?," Charis pressed.

"Looks can be deceiving and, in this case, I assure you that they are...Gabrielle’s heart belongs to someone else."


"Yep. She’s always loved her...and she always will," Ephiny resigned.

"I can relate," Charis slipped as she blushed crimson. Ephiny gave her a sidelong glance as her friend continued. "You’re not going to fight for her?"

"Charis, Xena’s my friend. And, although she doesn’t assume the title, she’s an Amazon at heart..."

"But I’ve never known you to shy away from anything?"

"She saved my son’s life. She saved my life. And she’s saved Gabrielle’s life more than once and in more than one way. I love her as though she were my own sister. And I can’t betray her. I won’t," Ephiny maintained, tears welling up in her eyes.

"What is it, Ephiny? What else is going on?," she inquired, noticing the distraught look on her face.

"I have to talk to her," the Regent appeared to be far away as she stood and headed back down the hill. "You coming?," she called out to her friend who was still seated in the grass.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"All alone? I thought you’d be playing with your little friend," Callisto sneered upon materializing seated on the table in Gabrielle’s hut.

"Get your bogus goddess butt off my grapes!" The bard’s audacity temporarily stunned the goddess.

"Do you ever stop eating?!," Callisto was clearly irked as she attempted to wipe the grape juice off her backside.

"Do you ever stop acting like a yahoo?," the bard scoffed, popping another grape into her mouth.

"Is that any way to treat a guest? After all, I only came to check on the lovebirds."

"You came for the same reason you always do, Callisto. To annoy me. Well, it’s not going to work anymore. Talk until your face turns blue, but I’m not sticking around to hear it," the bard declared as she grabbed her staff and headed for the door.

"How long do you suppose it’s going to take Xena to find out about your little tryst, Gabrielle?," the goddess unveiled her toothy grin.

Without saying a word, the irate bard turned her staff on the goddess, landing a ferocious blow across the back of her neck. Callisto’s laughter rang out as her indestructible form deflected the attempt, sending a powerful jolt through Gabrielle’s body as the goddess made her exit.

The bard sent her staff sailing through the air toward the door as she began to rant. "That...that...that thing! What in Tartarus does she want with me?! Doesn’t she have anything better to do?! If she shows her face here again, I’ll break her scrawny neck!"

"Umm...Gabrielle? Who are you talking too?," Ephiny asked upon entering the hut.

"No one. I was just practicing my moves," she attempted to conceal the truth as she spun her staff behind her back, knocking the candle off the table.

"Did those grapes attack you?," the Amazon pointed to the smashed fruit covering the table.

"Uh...the grapes...yep. They can be nasty little suckers sometimes," the bard laughed nervously.

"Gabrielle...," she fought to maintain a serious look. "Please tell me what’s going on."

"Well...I’ve been...," the bard delayed. "I’ve had some unexpected visitors lately," she finally told her.

"Visitors?," the Amazon raised an eyebrow.

"Yes. Ares and Callisto."

"What do they want?," her eyes narrowed as her suspicion emerged.

"Since Draco and Allmar’s attack, Ares and Callisto have been harassing me. They’re just trying to get to me, Ephiny. I know that...and I guess I let them for a while. But I’m ok now. Really. I can handle them."

"I can’t say that it surprises me that they’d want to rattle your cage. After all, what better way to get to Xena?," the Amazon tripped over her last statement.

"Ephiny...," the bard began reluctantly. "Can we talk about something else right now?"

The Amazon’s stomach started to churn. She knew what she wanted to discuss and, though she’d tried to prepare herself, she wasn’t quite ready for this conversation. "Actually, Gabrielle...I wanted to talk to you too," she heard herself proclaim.

"Last night...," Gabrielle suddenly found herself at a loss for words.

Sensing her wariness, Ephiny picked up where her queen left off. "Yes, Gabrielle...last night. I...first of all, I want you to know how much last night meant to much it will always mean to me..."

"It meant a lot to me too, Ephiny," she reached for the Amazon’s hand.

"Gabrielle, I’m going to make this easy for you," the Amazon’s heart ached as she spoke. She had no choice but to let her off the hook so that she could be free to be with Xena. Though the passion they had shared the night before would be forever emblazoned on her mind, as she sat looking into her love’s eyes, she thanked the gods that things hadn’t progressed any further than they did. "Gabrielle, what happened between us was beyond wonderful...," she sank deeper into the Queen’s eyes.

"I feel that way too," the bard promptly interjected. "But Ephiny...," she was talking fast, trying to get to her point. One question had been on her mind all day. Even though she knew she probably shouldn’t bring it up, her curiosity got the best of her. "Ephiny? Why didn’t you...I mean, why didn’t we..."

"Why didn’t I give myself to you?," the Amazon completed the question for her. Ephiny had spent much of the day hoping for the chance to explain to the bard why she hadn’t surrendered to her. She feared that Gabrielle would feel unwanted, undesirable, maybe even disappointed. She had to make sure that her love understood.

"Yeah...why did you hold back?"

"Gabrielle, I’m about to say one of the most important things I’ve ever said in my life. You have to know something," the Amazon seemed desperate.

"I’m listening," she squeezed Ephiny’s hands.

"Gabrielle...I want you to know that I had to restrain myself last night...and it wasn’t easy. The truth is that I did want you. I wanted to make love to you, to please you, to give myself to you...completely." Tears formed in the bard’s eyes as she focused on the Amazon’s words. "I wanted to show you love like you’ve never known before. But then...I realized that I couldn’t." Ephiny’s eyes grew glassy. "Gabrielle, I just couldn’t do that to you...or to Xena. She’s the woman you love, the woman who fills your soul. And I couldn’t stand in the way of that."

"You were trying to make sure I saved myself for Xena?," the bard uttered, almost as though she couldn’t believe what she was hearing,

"Yes," the Amazon whispered as she rested her head on the bard’s chest. "I knew you would regret it if you didn’t and I couldn’t let you do anything you’d regret."

The bard fixed her eyes on the Regent’s before she spoke. "I want you to know that I don’t regret what happened between us, Ephiny," her tone indicated that she meant what she said. "But...," she searched for a way to say the words without hurting the Amazon. "But thank you for not letting me...," she faltered.

"You’re welcome, Gabrielle," Ephiny assured her as she gently pulled herself away from the bard’s embrace. She took in a deep breath before continuing to speak. "Gabrielle, I told myself I was going to tell you everything today," she struggled to express herself. Turning to face the bard, she unlocked her soul, at long last setting the words free. "I’ve loved you for so long...wanted you for so long...needed you for so long. And part of me will always feel that way. I don’t expect you to say anything or do anything about it. I just wanted you to know the impact you’ve had on me...on my life."

"Gods, Ephiny. I didn’t know," the bard spoke through tears. "I didn’t mean to hurt you..."

"No, Gabrielle," the Amazon gently placed her fingers on the bard’s lips. "You haven’t hurt me. You’ve shown me unconditional love. So don’t feel bad about this. I want you to be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Gabrielle, you have to tell Xena how you feel about her. Don’t miss the opportunity. And don’t you dare worry about me. You’ll always be a very important part of my life. That will never change."

Overwhelmed by the Amazon’s words, the bard leaned toward her until she felt her lips touch her own. "I love you, Ephiny," she said in a hushed tone, before taking her in her arms. Ephiny surrendered to her kiss one last time, dwelling on every sensation. She was aware that her love was kissing her goodbye. And at once, the Regent felt sorrow and joy. Love and despair. Regret and redemption.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Ephiny? Mind if I have a word alone with Gabrielle?" The warrior fought to hide both her shock and her pain as she stood in the doorway, dumbfounded at the sight of her bard kissing the Amazon.

"Xena, I...we...," Ephiny attempted to explain.

"Ephiny," the warrior wrestled with her emotions. "Excuse us...please."

"Xena, I...," the Amazon tried again.

"Just go!," the warrior snapped as she pointed toward the door.

Once Ephiny was outside, the bard began to speak. "Xena, it’s not what you think."

"Gabrielle, I came here to tell you something." The warrior looked as though she might collapse. "I came here to tell you that...that I love you. I’ve loved you for...forever it seems." The words liberated themselves before she could stop them. "But I can see I’m too late. My pride, my fear, or whatever it was cost me what I wanted more than I’ve ever wanted anything." Realizing that she had said too much already, she cut herself off before she could go any further.

"Xena," tears rolled down the bard’s cheeks. "I..."

"Don’t, Gabrielle. Don’t," her face was expressionless. "I didn’t come here to make you feel guilty. I just wanted you to know how I feel about you. I’m sorry my timing is off. you know." The sight of her love quickly becoming more than she could bear, the warrior headed for the door.

"Xena," the bard grabbed her arm.

"Just let me go, Gabrielle," she choked back her tears as she spoke.

"Xena! Don’t leave!," the bard called out to no avail as the warrior walked into the night.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Xena?," the Amazon’s voice rattled the warrior.

"Ephiny, you would think you’d know that yours is the last face I want to see right now," she spoke without raising her head. The Amazon cautiously entered the stables and made her way toward Xena who sat alone in the hay, her back against the wall.

"I need to explain..."

"Ephiny, drop it. I’ve lost Gabrielle. And, as much as I’d like to blame you, I don’t. I blame myself. So don’t worry about me getting in your way. She’s made her choice and I love her too much to make her feel bad about it. I’ll be gone by sunrise tomorrow. Until then, just leave me alone."

The Amazon couldn’t help but notice the warrior’s tear stained cheeks. "I didn’t mean to...," she tried again.

"Didn’t mean to what?," Xena’s voice grew louder. "Didn’t mean to kiss her? Didn’t mean to hold her? Didn’t mean to make love to her?!"

Taken aback by the last remark, Ephiny threw the sword she held in her hand as a precaution to the ground. "I didn’t touch her!," she shouted in an attempt to be heard by the stubborn warrior.

Xena looked flustered as she sat down on a bale of hay. "This I’ve gotta hear," her sarcastic tone sliced through the Amazon.

"I can’t tell you that nothing happened between me and Gabrielle," Ephiny began.

"Well, that’s about as obvious as a snow storm in the spring."

"If you’ll be quiet and listen, I’ll explain everything," the Amazon was obviously growing more agitated.

"Go on," the warrior insisted, her patience beginning to dwindle.

"Gabrielle has been tormented by what Draco and Allmar did to her." She paused, wondering whether or not the warrior had taken care of the two warlords. But, in an attempt to avoid averting her attention, she decided not to ask until they had straightened this out. "First, you should know that Ares and Callisto have been badgering her," she continued. "That’s why she kept having those sudden outbursts. You also need to understand what Gabrielle’s been feeling. She finally opened up to me last night, after a couple of skins of wine. Basically, she told me she felt undesirable, helpless, frightened..."

"Why? Frightened? Of what?"

"She’s afraid of you, Xena."

"Me? Ephiny you’re not making any sense," the confusion the warrior was experiencing was evident on her face.

"Xena...," she grew still as she weighed the consequences of what she was about to say. "Gabrielle loves you. The same feelings you have for her, she has for you."

"No...she...," she looked at the Amazon in disbelief.

"It’s true, Xena. But she’s afraid of what will happen if the two of you...," her voice began to shake as she spoke. "She doesn’t want to hurt you and she doesn’t want to let you down. She’s afraid that what happened to her will manifest itself at the wrong moment."

"I thought maybe...but I wasn’t sure...and then when I came in and saw the two of you...," the warrior, reminded of what she had seen moments before, interrupted her own thoughts. "If Gabrielle loves me so much...," her tone grew harsh, "what in Tartarus was she doing with you?"

"I’m getting to that. This part’s a little harder to explain," the Amazon said nervously. "When Gabrielle told me all of this, as I said, we had been drinking...a lot. She was vulnerable and hurt and..."

"So you thought you’d comfort her? Ephiny, don’t hand me that ‘we were drunk and it just happened’ rubbish. At least try to think of something original."

"It wasn’t like that, Xena. Her sense of self was all but destroyed. She had lost all hope. All hope of being whole again. And all hope of sharing a future with you. And she ended up kissing...w...we...ended up kissing," the Amazon stuttered.

"And rather than stopping her, rather than putting her to bed to sleep it off, you..."

"Xena, if I had turned her down flat, how do you think that would have made her feel?"

"I don’t know, Ephiny. How did it make her feel?," the warrior exposed her bitterness.

"She was hurting. She felt worthless, unlovable, abnormal..."

"So you decided to make it better by making love to her?"

"Xena, I never touched her."

"Don’t take me for a fool, Ephiny. I saw the two of you."

"Gods, Xena! Would you shut up and listen?! Yes, I kissed her! Yes, I held her! And, yes, Xena--Gabrielle reciprocated. And, when I realized it had gone too far to stop...," the Amazon hesitated. "I saw to it that her needs were met...all of her needs. Xena, I wasn’t about to let her go to sleep in the state she was in...drunk, afraid, hopeless. But believe me when I tell you that I didn’t touch her...not like you think."

"So...," jealousy resounded in the warrior’s words. "What did you get out of all of this? Just how noble do you expect me to believe you are?"

"Xena, I’m not about to tell you that I did nothing. I took care of myself...just as Gabrielle did, if that’s what you’re hinting at," the Amazon reluctantly admitted.

"Why don’t you just face it. You used Gabrielle to your advantage. You waited until she was down and you pounced on her like a wolf in heat!"

"I wanted her, Xena!," the Amazon snapped, spilling her guts at the warrior’s feet. "Gods, I wanted her! But I couldn’t get you out of my head! Every time I reached for her, there you were! Thanks to you, the only person I got that intimate with last night was myself!"

"Yourself?," the puzzled warrior thought aloud. "Wait a minute. Are you telling me that you...that she...together? Gabrielle? In front of you?"

"Yes, Xena. That’s exactly what I’m telling you," the Amazon tried not to blush. "And, just so you’ll know, we never even took off our clothes."

"You were dressed? The entire time?," the warrior probed, still attempting to grasp the reality of the situation.

"The entire time," Ephiny, amused by the warrior’s reaction, tried not to smile

"And how do you explain what I walked in on earlier?" Xena remained skeptical.

"What you walked in on was a final kiss..."

"Yeah, I guess you two had to try to squeeze that in before I got back. You gotta do better than this, Ephiny." The warrior was fed up.

"Xena, I had just finished telling Gabrielle that I’m in love with her when you walked in," the Amazon forced herself to reveal the whole truth.

"Well, that’s just great. We’re back to square one." Xena threw her arms in the air as she paced back and forth across the stable, trying to comprehend everything the Amazon was telling her.

"Let me finish," Ephiny insisted. "I told Gabrielle that I love her. She reaffirmed her love for you. And then she kissed me. That’s when you came in." The Amazon lowered her head to hide the tears in her eyes.

The warrior could tell by the look on Ephiny’s face that she was telling the truth. In an instant the fates had turned. Xena looked at the broken Amazon sitting on a bale of hay, her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking as she wept. The sight of her, sitting there heartbroken as she mourned the loss of her love, invoked the warrior’s compassion. Empathizing with her plight, Xena knelt before her, placing her hand on her knee. "I understand," she said softly.

The Amazon, already crying so hard that she couldn’t speak, began to cry even harder when she heard the words. The warrior’s heart ached for her friend. Only moments before, she had been the one sitting there, weeping for her lost love. Though she was overjoyed by the news that of the bard’s feelings for her, she couldn’t help but feel compassion for Ephiny. She wrapped her arms around her as she assured her that everything was alright.

Moment after moment passed as she held the grieving Amazon in her arms. "Xena?," Ephiny finally raised her head as she began to speak. "I swear I didn’t mean to hurt you." Her sincerity was apparent to the warrior.

"I know you didn’t. And I didn’t mean to be so...cold."

"I understand though. After all, I love her too," the Amazon managed a smile. "But, Xena...I also love you. You and Gabrielle have my blessing. I want you to understand that."

"I do, Ephiny. You think Gabrielle will still have me after tonight?," the warrior chuckled to herself.

"You won’t know until you ask her. And this time...," the Amazon grinned, "try giving her a chance to answer."

"Yes...I suppose I’ll try that this time. Are you going to be alright?," the warrior asked her as she prepared to head back to Gabrielle’s hut.

"I’ll be fine," she assured her.

"Wish me luck."

"You won’t need it." As the two women latched the stable doors, Ephiny inquired, "Draco and Allmar?"

"Dead," Xena bluntly stated.

"Good. I’m just sorry I wasn’t there to help you."

"So am I," she told her, placing a hand on her shoulder before the two headed in opposite directions.

"Ephiny?," the warrior called out as she walked away.

"Yes?," the Amazon looked back over her shoulder.

"I love you too, ya know," Xena smiled. The Amazon returned the warrior’s smile before turning away. She had decided to take a walk to clear her head, leaving Xena and Gabrielle to reconcile.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"You scared me half to death!," the Amazon exclaimed after literally bumping into Charis. "What are you doing roaming around so late?"

"Couldn’t sleep," Charis answered. "What about you?"

"Let’s just say it’s been an incredibly long night."

"Want to talk about it? I lend an excellent ear," her friend reminded her.

"Actually, I really need to be alone for awhile...but thank you," she looked down at the ground.

"Are you sure?," Charis asked, noticing the distraught look on Ephiny’s face.

"I’m sure," she insisted, giving her a peck on the cheek before resuming her solitary walk.

"Tomorrow?," Charis called out after her.

"Yes, tomorrow. Goodnight. And, for the sake of the gods, get some sleep!," the Amazon responded, trying not to let on that she was currently in the midst of one of the most trying times of her life.

Before Ephiny realized it, she was standing on the edge of the riverbank, staring across the dark water. She shivered as the night air chilled her bones. Though she tried to fight it, she found herself beginning to break. She had known the time would come when she would have to let the bard go, but the reality of it had left her shattered nonetheless.

The images of the time she had spent with her love danced in her head, flooding her mind. At that moment, Ephiny remembered everything. The flippant remarks the two women had exchanged during their first days together. The day the young girl from Poteidaia became an Amazon Princess and, later, an Amazon Queen. She remembered handing the bard her first fighting staff and the satisfaction they both felt as she held it in her hands for the first time. She recalled bursting with pride the first time Gabrielle matched her blow for blow in a sparring match. Tears returned to her eyes as her thoughts drifted to the afternoon they had spent together in the valley, when they had shared their first kiss. And then, last night. Only a short while ago, she had held her in her arms. Kissing her. Holding her. Loving her. Yet tonight, the bard would be in the arms of another.

To be continued...

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

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