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Disclaimer: The characters that appear on the show Xena Warrior Princess (Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Salmoneus, & others made mention of from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hercules, Iolaus & Autolycus) are the copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters and the original story idea, are my own and I reserve the rights to them. If you like some of my original characters and would like to use them in one of your stories, that would be great, but please do not do so without my permission. This story was written for the sheer joy of creating a story that everyone could enjoy and because I am a big fan of Xena Warrior Princess, but mostly it was written for my sister, Sam, who is an even bigger fan than I am.

Content: Could be classified as a Hurt/Comfort story. Moderate language. The story centers around a war/battle and does contain what some may consider extreme violence (PG-13), but it is not described in graphic detail. There is a level of subtext in this story, but I’ve tried to be as faithful to the series as possible, so there is no more subtext than what you would see on the show.

Spoiler Warning: Takes place between "The Debt I & II" and "Maternal Instincts" episodes of Xena Warrior Princess. You may want to watch the "The Deliverer," "Gabrielle’s Hope" and "The Debt I & II" episodes if you have not already seen them, since several aspects of these episodes are directly dealt with.

Acknowledgements: This story would never have been possible without the help of my sister, Sam, whose thankless job (at least, that’s what she thinks) it was to advise me in the ways of the Xenaverse. Since I am not as well scripted as she in all those simple little quirks of Xena and Gabrielle’s, she chose to stick her nose in and nit-pick my entire story. But, if truth be told, if Ididn’t have her to nit-pick my story, to urge me on and to be there when I call late at night just to ask: "Sam, does this sound right?" "Sam, do you think Xena would do this?", I wouldn’t have a story to begin with. So, I need to take a moment here just to say: "Thanks, Sam." I would also like to thank my Dad, who is an excellent writer in his own right, for his great editing work and ideas that really pulled my story together and made it work.

I would love to hear from all Xena fans out there and am willing to take a little objective criticism, but please take into consideration that I am quite fragile and could crack under pressure. Drop me a line at

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)


The Hunter

By Jennifer Lawson

Part I: Xena Warrior PrincessSoulmates

i’m going hunting
i’m the hunter
i’ll bring back the goods

-- "Hunter", Bjork

Chapter Five (cont'd)

One Week Later

A cold wind blew into the cave, making Gabrielle shiver. She propped herself up on one elbow and stared at the ashes left of their fire the night before. . Winter must be coming with cold air like that, she thought. But, she liked the way the air felt. It began a cycle that seemed to renew the earth. Things would die, but come spring everything could begin anew. She longed for that time, as the last couple of weeks had been very hard on her, and Xena. Speaking of Xena, Gabrielle turned to check on her. As she did, her mind began to review the last couple of days.

Xena had begun to do much better since yesterday morning. But, during the week, she’d suffered immensely with fevers, nausea and terrible headaches. Gabrielle had suffered right along with her. Thank the gods, though, that there was a healer among the Phestian people. Otherwise, Gabrielle didn’t think Xena would have made it. Xena had taught her some medicinal skills, but not enough to deal with Xena’s wounds.

Salmoneus had been ecstatic to see Gabrielle and Xena the afternoon they had returned to the cavesbrought Xena to the caves. More so Gabrielle, because apparently Greeger had apparently told everyone that she had died in the battle at Phestia. She could never remember being so excitedly received as she was by Salea and Salmoneus. It had been a tearful and joyous reunion followed by tales of the escapades they had encountered. Out of all the things that Gabrielle loved, she believed that homecomings were one of the best.

Xena had remained unconscious from the moment she passed out in the clearing to well into her healing process. . Only yesterday morning had she returned to what could be called "real" consciousness. The days before she had been in and out, her speech incoherent. That afternoon, Xena had been well looked after. Many of the people in the cave had a hand in getting her cleaned up aAfter the healer, named Hymenaus, had taken care of herXena’s most serious wounds, like her broken ribs and the gash above her eye, Gabrielle had wasted no time in getting her cleaned up. Though many of the people offered to help, GabrielleThe spent the rest of that afternoon looking after Xena herself,y carefully cleaneding the dried blood from herher face and the dirt from her body.

For some time, she had noticed aOne young girl sitting off to the side, simply watching as Gabrielle took care of Xena . At the time, Gabrielle had just assumed the girl was curious about the woman who many of the villagers were now praising for her actions on their behalf. However, when Gabrielle took a small break to get something to eat and drink, she returned to find the girlthat Gabrielle didn’t recognize a trying to wash the dirt and grime fromctually washed Xena’s hair. Gabrielle’s first instinct was to stop her, her mind thinking, on a more primal level, ‘Taking care of Xena is my job.’ She realized, only later, that what she felt at that moment was something akin to jealousy. She knew it was ridiculous to be jealous of the girl. She was only trying to help out, Gabrielle guessed. But, the girl was not the one who lied to Xena, was she? Because of Gaelen … no … because of herself, Gabrielle now had to face the possibility that Xena, in her anger, would turn against her. It was a real possibility that Gabrielle could barely stand to think on. Would Xena ignore Gabrielle and show more favor to this young girl, all because Gabrielle had been untruthful? It was hard to imagine. Hadn’t Xena forgiven her for her betrayal in Chin? If Xena could forgive her then, Xena would forgive her now. If not, then all they’d fought for was lost and Gaelen had won.

Gabrielle had knelt down next to the girl and tried to talk to her.

"Hello," she said softly. The girl, though, didn’t look at her or respond. It made Gabrielle feel very uneasy, but she pressed on. "My name is Gabrielle, what’s yours?" Her only response was to dip a cloth into the bucket of water Gabrielle had been using and use it to wash out the dirt from Xena’s long hair. It was as if the girl didn’t even see or hear her. Gabrielle placed a hand on the girl’s arm and asked, "Are you all right?" The girl cringed from Gabrielle’s touch, her face a mask of fear. Strangely, the girl still did not acknowledge her presence and Gabrielle quickly withdrew her hand. As if the danger had passed, the girl calmly went back to washing Xena’s hair.

Seeing Salea, Gabrielle went to her for answers. Gabrielle questioned Salea as to who the girl was.

"Salea, who is that girl?" Gabrielle asked, indicating to her where Xena lay unconscious. "I don’t think I’ve metever seen her before."

"Neither had I. I don’t believethink she’s from Phestia. From what I can gather, Greeger said he found her in the woods on the night after the battle. He said she looked dazed and he couldn’t get her to speak. Still hasn’t spoken a word since that night." Salea squinted her eyes and walked closer to the girl.

"I tried to talk to her," Gabrielle told Salea, "but I don’t think she heard me. It’s like she’s somewhere else. And she was terrified at my touch."

"Yeah," Salea said absentmindedly, watching the girl. "Yeah, she’s been like that ever since we found her. Won’t talk; won’t let nobody touch her. I don’t even know her name. So, I’ve been calling her Gabby."

Gabrielle smiledlaughed at the kind gesture, but said nothing and and continued to watching the girl.

Salea asked, "What’s she doing?"

"Washing Xena’s hair. "I don’t know what it is, but she seems to be quite taken with Xena."

"Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too," Salea said, smiling. "Hasn’t taken her eyes off her since they brought her in."

Afraid to frighten the girl, Gabrielle had let her"But who isn’t, huh?"

"Greeger," Salea said matter of factly. Gabrielle nodded in understanding, but said nothin stay and help. She had been quiet the whole time, but that hadn’t stopped Gabrielle from talking to her, though. She’d spent the rest of the afternoon telling the girl about her many adventures with Xena.g. Meticulous in her work, the girl had Xena’s hair gleaming by the end of that evening.

There was also a young boy, about the age of five, named Kyleus. According to Salmoneus, the lad had stuck to him like glue practically from the first moment he laid eyes on him. Kyleus seemed to annoy Salmoneus at times, but to Gabrielle he was a riot. She delighted in hearing his heroic tales of how he helped Salmoneus to "beat up the bad guys.". Salmoneus had introduced them soon after they arrived.

"He made me tell him all I know about you and Xena," Salmoneus laughed. "Now he can tell the stories better than me." Kyleus had impressed Gabrielle because of his genuine concern for Xena’s recovery. He’d given Xena a kiss on the cheek and told Gabrielle: "That’ll make her get better." He was a sweet boy and an interesting storyteller. Gabrielle thought that he would probably make an excellent bard someday.

Had Xena been conscious during all this, she probably wouldn’t have appreciated all the attention nor for so many people to see her so weak. However, these people appreciated what she had tried to do and what she had finally accomplished. Before long the people slowly began to leave and go back to their village. When news of Gaelen’s defeat had reached the caves, the people had cheered with happiness. Greeger had decided not to tell them of Gaelen’s disappearance, just that they had defeated Gaelen and his army had scattered. A day or two of checking and making sure that Phestia was safe had passed before they began gathering their belongings to start their pilgrimage back to their home. Salea and Salmoneus had offered to stay behind to help Gabrielle with Xena, but she declined. Hymenaus would stay with her for a while, until Xena was well enough on her own. Xena’s fever had finally broken the previous morning, and Hymenaus had decided to leave before sundown once he was sure that Xena’s fever was definitely gone. . Ever since then, Xena had been doing much better. Gabrielle marveled over Xena’s ability to heal so quickly. She just wondered how long it would take for Xena to heal herself emotionally.

Gabrielle sighed over those memories, as she turned over to check on Xena, glad now that it was all over. To her surprise, Xena was no longer beside her. In fact, she was no longer in the cave. Looking around, she saw that Xena clothes and armor were gone as well. Having an idea where Xena may have gone, Gabrielle grabbed a blanket and left the cave to find her. Working her way through the brush, she soon came to a small lake just a couple of miles from the caves. Just as she thought, Xena was there. Her clothes and armor were spread out on a couple of tree branches nearby. She was bathing, as if washing herself clean of the things that happened.

Relaxing in the cool water, Xena sensed a presencea presence behind her. Turning quickly, she noticed that it was only Gabrielle standing at the edge of the lake. Gabrielle smiled softly and said, "I woke up and you were gone. I figured you might have come here. I’ve been here a couple of times myself. How do you feel?"

Xena didn’t offer any smiles to Gabrielle, which hurt her. She guessed in a way she probably deserved it, but it didn’t stop it from hurting. "Better. Thanks," was all she said.

They were the first words she had spoken since the previous morning. She had regained consciousness for a short while but spoke only to inquire about Gaelen. Having passed out before it all happened she was still in the dark. It was hard for Gabrielle to have to tell her that Gaelen had simply disappeared and was nowhere to be found. She wasn’t sure if Xena heard or understood her correctly. She had seemed confused and then had slipped into unconsciousness again. "I brought you a blanket to towel off with when you’re ready to get out," Gabrielle said, but there was no response. "I’ll just leave it right here," she said, sadly and turnedgot up to leave.

"No, don’t go. I’m coming out," Xena said, turning toward the bank. Her wet hair was slicked back and clinging to her back as she stepped out of the water. She crossed her arms across her chest, shivering against the cold air. For the first time, Gabrielle saw the damage she had suffered. Though they were beginning to fade to a brownish-yellow color, bruises covered Xena’s body. Gabrielle covered her open mouth with her hand and looked in shock up into Xena’s eyes.

Xena froze at the look on Gabrielle’s face and suddenly felt very self-conscious, something she didn’t usually feel. "Stop staring at me, Gabrielle, and give me the blanket before I freeze to death," she said firmly.

"I’m sorry, Xena." Realizing what she had been doing, Gabrielle quickly wrapped the blanket around Xena’s shivering frame. "I didn’t realize how badly…I’m sorry…Are you sure you feel okay?"

"I’ll be fine. I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold this morning." Xena’s legs felt weak, so she sat down on a downed tree log and wrapped the blanket tighter around her. Gabrielle sat down beside her. Xena looked over at her and saw that her expression hadn’t changed. Gabrielle was horrified at the sight of what Gaelen had done to her. Xena spoke reassuringly and said: "Gabrielle, I’ll be fine. They’re just bruises. They’ll go away."

Gabrielle softly touched Xena’s side where her ribs had been broken and asked, "What about your side? How does it feel?"

"It’s feeling much better. It’s just a couple of broken ribs, Gabrielle. They’ll heal. I’ll live. Stop making such a fuss over me. You know I can’t stand that."

"I’m sorry. I just want to make sure that you’re okay."

"You don’t have to be sorry," Xena said tolerantly, raising her eyebrow with a sideways glance at Gabrielle.

"Then you don’t hate me?"

Xena closed her eyes and hung her head. One sentence ran itself through her mind: "Gabrielle never threw that child down the gorge." She felt that old familiar anger ignite in her, so she tried to snuff it out. She wouldn’t respond to Gabrielle’s question, because it didn’t deserve an answer. Xena decided to stand up and walk a ways from her before she said something she would regret. She began toweling herself off with the blanket, then reached for her clothes.

Gabrielle didn’t know how to take her silence. That scared her. She had to have clarity. Silence would only drive her mad. "Xena…" she said imploringly.

Xena slipped on her tunic before putting on her leathers. "I don’t want to talk about it, Gabrielle. Drop the subject," she said briskly.

Xena wasn’t surprised when Gabrielle stood and said, "No, I will not drop the subject. We have to talk about this, Xena. There’s no point in bottling it up and acting like it never happened."

Turning to face her, Xena grabbed her leathers, met Gabrielle’s eyes and asked, "Why not? That’s what you did."

That felt like a slap in the face, but Gabrielle accepted it. "You’re right. That is what I did. I should have told you, Xena, instead of letting it go for so long. I know that. The gods only know what could have happened. But, I was afraid of losing you, Xena. I still am. The longer it went the harder it became to say anything. The possibility of having our friendship crumble because of grudges, anger and hatred was more than I could bare."

"I don’t hold a grudge against you, Gabrielle," Xena said with a sigh, the look on her face serious. "I heard what you said out there. You only did what you felt you had to do and I don’t resent you for that. It’s just that…" She turned away from Gabrielle, facing the lake.She had been trying desperately to hold back her emotions. Now, she could feel them coming out. She was tired of not being in control of herself, tired of this weak feeling inside. In an attempt to hide those things, Xena turned away from Gabrielle and faced the lake. "I trusted you and you lied to me." There was a trembling of emotion in her voice that Xena didn’t want to hear.

It was time for Gabrielle to hang her head. Gaelen was right. She had betrayed Xena’s trust in her. It was a horribly selfish thing to do and that wasn’t normally like her. "I’m sorry, Xena," she said with a quivering lip. "There’s nothing else I can say, but that I’m sorry. I know that no words can ever change what I’ve done or erase the hurt that I’ve caused you. I don’t expect them to." She couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. They rolled from her eyes and down her face. "I am so sorry," she sobbed.

Xena turned to face her and saw the tears streaming down her face, and the sadness in her eyes. The look on Gabrielle’s face jerked at Xena’s heart and she could feel tears forming in her own eyes. She recalled that day in Gaelen’s encampment when one of Gabrielle’s tears had rolled off of her face and onto Xena’s sword. . More than anything in the world, Xena knew that Gabrielle had never meant to hurt her. There wasn’t a vindictive or mean bone in Gabrielle’s body. . How could she not forgive her?

Hold out a hand to Gabrielle, Xena was relieved when she took Xena’s hand with both of her own. With compelling tenderness and compassion, Xena took Gabrielle into her arms and held her tighter than she ever had before. Hers were the eyes filled with tears now. Leave it to Gabrielle to bring out the sap in her. . Kissing the top of her head and dropping tears in her hair, Xena said tenderly, "Oh Gabrielle, I will never have a truer friend than you, you know that. I’m the one who should be asking for your forgiveness anyway."

Still holding onto Xena, Gabrielle sniffed back her sobs, looked up at her and asked, "Why do you say that?"

"Because if it weren’t for me, Gabrielle, you would never have had that child. Those things that happened to you would never have happened. And you would never have felt that you had to lie to me."

"You know, Gaelen tried to lay the same thing on me. He tried to tell me that all the bad things that happened in my life would never have happened if I hadn’t left my home to travel with you. Maybe…in a way…that is true, but I chose my own path, Xena. You didn’t choose it for me. I shudder to think what my life would be like if I hadn’t chosen to follow that path."

"Probably pretty boring, huh?" she smiled, always feeling a little awkward when Gabrielle became mushy.

"Yeah, Yyou can say that again," she agreed, smiling through her tears.

Xena’s expression once again became serious. . Gabrielle’s confession deserved a confession from Xena in return. Coming to that conclusion was easy,; it was going about it that was difficult. "That’s not the only reason I need your forgiveness, Gabrielle,." Xena said. Gabrielle watched Xena trying to formulate the words in her mind and form them on her tongue. "I stand here accusing you of betraying my trust … when I’ve done the same. Gabrielle … I … "

"You don’t have to do this, Xena. I know."

Xena’s mind suddenly flashed back to her ordeal with Gaelen that first night in the tent. He had filled her mind with visions that weren’t real. Gabrielle had been among those visions. Something Gabrielle had said now echoed in her mind: "I’m not as stupid as you often think I am, Xena. I figured it out all by myself."

"What do you mean, you know?" Xena asked, curiously. "Know what?"

"About Ming T’ien. I know what happened after I left."

Xena broke from Gabrielle’s embrace and backed up, suspicion in her eyes. Could this all be another vision, or the remnants of one? What was going on? "How do you know about that?" she demanded, her eyes full of suspicion, her expression hardening.

Gabrielle didn’t quite understand what to make of the strange expression on Xena’s face but she hoped to keep things calm by keeping her voice soft and compassionate. "It was Gaelen. I still don’t know how he did it, but he made me see things. He made me see in my own mind what happened."

Having experienced the visions Gaelen was capable of,of and knowing Gabrielle had also been under his power, she knew what she was about to hear. . Though her heart seemed to be melting within her, the expression on her face softened and she asked, "What did you see?"

Gabrielle cleared her throat, and said uneasily, "I saw you … kill … Ming T’ien." The look of shame on Xena’s face broke Gabrielle’s heart. She would rather have taken a beating worse than Xena’s than to see her humbled this way. Moved with compassion and wanting to ease the pain she was seeing, she said, "I think he thought showing me that would make me hate you. But, I could never hate you, Xena."

The shame on Xena’s face turned to anger. She remembered how Gaelen had used her own memories against her. He was able to read her mind, though she could not understand nor explain how. What kind of power did this man have that he could pick up even her past memories of what had actually happened between her and Ming T’ien and place them in Gabrielle’s mind. Xena shook her head in frustration and turned to slip on her leathers.

Gabrielle, unsure of what her silence meant asked, "Xena? Are you okay?"

"It just enrages me, Gabrielle. Why is he doing this? Every warlord I’ve ever been up against always wanted something. With Gaelen, there seems to be no reason for what he does. Why is he moving east and slaughtering villages on his way? He’s moving east for a reason. What’s his destination? What is he trying to accomplish? The real question is what does he want? What does he want from you and from me?"

"I asked myself the same questions," Gabrielle said thoughtfully.

"What he did to you is almost the same thing he did to me. He somehow read my mind and used my own memories against me. He made me relive all the horrible things that I’d done. Just like you, he made me see things. I still haven’t been able to figure out whether the whole thing was a dream or a halucinationhallucination or … I don’t know what. But, you were there, Gabrielle. You were trying to make me kill you, taunting me. There was such hatred in your eyes and in your words, it made my blood run cold. I realize now that it was Gaelen making me see those things, but it was so real. He wanted me to hate you…to kill you."

"Why?" Gabrielle asked Xena in confusion.

"He wanted a monster. Someone he could control to do his slaughtering for him. I guess he thought that if I could kill you at command, then I would kill anyone."

Gabrielle thought back to the night of the battle in Phestia. She hadn’t understood why, out of all the people there, had Gaelen singled her out to live to be his prisoner. Xena’s last sentence made her understand Gaelen’s game plan and how he expected things to play out.

Xena saw the perplexed look on Gabrielle’s face and asked, "What is it?"

"He knew everything about me before he even laid eyes on me…"

"From me,. A at least, from my mind. I never once spoke of you."

"He knew my name, Xena. He knew about Callisto, about Perdicus and about Hope. He kneows about how close we are. Xena, he said that he sensed we are soul mates and that we were meant to walk the earth together. That’s got to be why he wanted me to hate you, and why he wanted you to hate me. He knew that if he could break that bond between us, he could get you to kill me. I was his test subject. I was bait."

"Gabrielle, I don’t understand. Why does that surprise you? Didn’t you realize that’s what he was trying to do?"

"No. I mean I knew he was up to something—showing me those things about you, wanting you to live a life of war and death. And he scared me with those things, Xena. He terrified me. But…he reached out to me…" She saw confusion and suspicion in Xena’s eyes. "I know how it sounds, but it’s the only way I can think of to explain all the things that happened that night. He exposed a part of himself that I don’t think anyone has seen for a very long time."

It was so like Gabrielle to look beyond a person’s evil and try to find a reason behind it, but Xena could not see the point. The man was a cold-hearted murderer. What more could you possibly need to know? "Gabrielle, every word that comes out of his mouth is a lie. You shouldn’t believe anything he tells you."

"That’s just it, Xena. He told me nothing. It was the things that he did, not the things that he said. Did you know that he has the ability to heal?"

"Heal? ? What do you mean?"

"During the battle, I fell from the stone wall, through the roof of a building and broke my leg." Gabrielle watched Xena look at her legs in confusion. She could just image what was going through Xena’s mind. "It was badly broken. The bone had broken through the skin. I was bleeding. I know I would have lost my leg ,… but Gaelen healed it. All he did was touch my leg and he healed it completely."

Xena wasn’t one who believed in many of the fanciful tales that some people dreamed up. Not that she didn’t believe it was possible for someone to be healed in such ways. Lao Ma had proved that to her when she healed Xena’s damaged leg. Nevertheless, there was something about Gaelen and healing that just didn’t fit. On the other hand, who was telling this story? It was not a story Xena would have accepted from many people, but she knew this was not something Gabrielle would make up. Besides, tThe conviction in Gabrielle’s eyes was all too familiar. This wasn’t something she’d just make up. It was amazing though, considering the trouble Gaelen went through just to hurt people. "I’m sure it must have been an extraordinary experience, Gabrielle, but believe me, he didn’t do it to be kind. It was a means to his own ends."

"I know that. Except there was more. WIt happened when I could no longer feel anger towards him, and I began to pity him. That infuriated him. He did not want my pity. I tried to understand what could cause someone to have such evil in their heart, because I told him no child is born like that. Not even Callisto was born evil. She was eaten up with revenge and hate. I wondered if something similar had happened to him. He tried to trick me by telling me some sob story about killing his father when he was a boy because his father had killed his mother. But, behind his lie, a saw a truth. When I tried to push the issue, he lost control." As Gabrielle remembered, a shiver ran through her. " I thought he would kill me."

With concern Xenashe asked, "What did he do?"

"He tried to choked me to death. I really think he wanted to, but for some reason he couldn’t do it."

"He wouldn’t do it. Like you said, Gabrielle, you were bait. He couldn’t afford to kill you." Xena faked a deadly look, when she added: "And he knew that if he did, he wouldn’t have seen the morning."

Gabrielle smiled and was relieved when Xena smiled back at her. . "Well, whatever…I’m just glad to have you back." Gabrielle went to her and they hugged again.

"It’s good to have you back, too. You have no idea how hard it was trying not to think of you. That was worse than all the bruises and the broken ribs." They separated from their hug and smiled at each other. Xena turned and began putting on her armor. "It’s good to have my armor back, too! I’m assuming I have you to thank for that."

Gabrielle proudly holds her arms out in a gesture of presentation and said, "Who else?" Xena returned the gesture with a nod and a gracious smile that suddenly faded and became a deadly warrior’s glare. In a flash she had drawn her sword and made it ready.

In cold terror, Gabrielle spun around expecting to see Gaelen standing behind her. To her surprise and great relief, it was only Greeger.

"Oh, Greeger. . It’s you," she said, placing her hand over her heart. "For a moment there, I thought…..…" She stopped, puzzled by the look in his eyes. She had seen a look like that the day that she first met him, an old anger burning in his eyes. He’d never told her the details behind his hatred for Xena, only that she’d defeated his army many years ago. From the way they were glaring at each other Gabrielle feared that those old feelings may result in a confrontation between two people she cared very much about.

Considering what she had just been through, no one could blame Xena for being over cautious, but she didn’t know this man. ThoughBut obviously, Gabrielle did. She gave Gabrielle a quick sidwayssideways glance and asked, "Gabrielle, you know this man?"

Gabrielle opened her mouth to introduce them, but Greeger interrupted her. . "Of course, she knows me. The question is, do you?"

Xena looked curiously at the tall man standing before her, and no, she didn’t know him. Yet, she expected that somewhere along the way, she had touched his life like she had so many others. "Should I?" she asked.

"By your code? Perhaps you shouldn’t," he said, his voice cold. "My people were nothing more than an obstacle in your way, just like the people of Phestia were to Gaelen."

This had to be someone from a past battle, but she didn’t like the comparison. At her worst, she had never been as ruthless as Gaelen. "What are you talking about?" she sneered.

Gabrielle feared a confrontation, so she stepped up and laid a hand on Xena’s arm. "Xena, this is General Greeger of the Phestian army." She could see that Greeger’s statement had not gone over well with Xena and her sword was still raised in his general direction. So, she added, as she gently lowered Xena’s sword with her fingers: "And my friend."

Xena allowed Gabrielle to lower her sword, but not without first giving her a stern look of warning. There was a hatred in this man’s eyes that Gaelen would have relished, but it only made Xena angry … and sad. She’d seen that look in people’s eyes before, people she had hurt in so many ways. People like Iolaus, Callisto, her son Solan, Boadicea and now this man named Greeger.

"Does the name ring any bells?" he asked, contemptuously.

"I’ve battled with hundreds of Generals in my time," she said, sheathing her sword. "What makes you so special?"

"Maybe the name Lotheria will jog your memory."

Xena’s rigid expression softened. . She remembered that battle all too well, one of her most brutal raids on the villages surrounding her homeland of Amphipolis. It was at the time when Xena had begun to loose sight of the reason she had become a warrior in the first place. When she conquered simply to conquer, to gain the power and wealth that would enable her to move on to bigger and better conquests. Lotheria had been a small city, much smaller compared to Phestia, but they had an excellent and well-trained battalion of soldiers and they had fought well. Of course, in the end, Xena’s army had won out. She and her army had killed every man in the regiment. There wasn’t a man standing after it was over. At least, that’s what she had thought. "You commanded the Lotherian army?" she asked, though knowing what the answer would be.

Greeger nodded, pride gleaming behind the anger in his eyes.

"They were excellent warriors. They fought well."

"Yes, they did," Greeger said, his voice is quivering, barely containing his anger. "But you slaughtered them anyway."

Putting up her defenses again, she said through clenched teeth, "It was war."

Greeger didn’t buy it. He shook his head, disagreeing. "It was carnage," he said calmly, but his lips were in a sneer.

Xena pursed her lips together in anger. She wanted so much to respond and defend her herself against this accusation, but deep down she knew there was no excuse for the horrible things she had caused to occur that day. In frustration, Xena turned away from Greeger.

Gabrielle watched Xena with concern. She knew Xena felt remorse for all the horrible things that she’d done in her past, but Greeger didn’t know that. . Gabrielle didn’t expect Xena to plead her sorrow or beg forgiveness. . She reserved those moments for people she was extremely close to, like her mother and Gabrielle. But, if she didn’t say something, Greeger would never be able to accept her for who she was now, a good person who had risked her life for the lives of his people.

It had taken much courage for Greeger to approach them this way. A week ago, when the battle with Gaelen had finally ended and Xena had been carted unconscious to the cave, Greeger had kept his distance. He’d only gone back to the caves at Gabrielle’s insistence, not because he really wanted to. Back at the cave, Xena had been all anyone could talk about. It was Xena this, Xena that. They took care of her, looked after her,her and made a general fuss over her. He was lucky he got a plate of food that day. . So, it wasn’t long before he’d gathered up a couple of men and headed back for Phestia, telling Gabrielle he was going to survey the damage and begin taking care of the dead. What he couldn’t tell her, was that he could no longer stand sharing the same space with Xena. He could sense, though, from her expressive eyes, that she knew his real reasons. From that moment, he hadn’t set foot back in the cave. He’d come back mainly to check up on Gabrielle since the healer had returned to the village. He wasn’t sure of Xena’s progress, but he was determined in his heart to confront her. She had changed to some degree, that much was obvious. It wasn’t only Gabrielle’s words that made him believe, it was the things he’d seen and heard about her, what she’d done for his people. It was in the story of one young girl.

Xena couldn’t shake her hatred of being humiliated this way, but then she could not honestly deny any of it. Still she was a warrior and was suffering injured pride. That, of course, was a damaging attitude and no one knew it better then she. Giving way to stubbornness she spun around and faced Greeger. "So, what? You come all this way to kill me or something?"

"That was the idea…"," Greeger said, watching Gabrielle’s wide-eyed look in his direction, so he quickly amended his statement and added, "…at first. But, on the way over here, I decided it would probably be safer for me not to make an enemy out of Gabrielle." He watched Gabrielle’s look of shock quickly change to a half-smile and a ‘You-can-say-that-again’ expression. "So, I changed my mind."

"Well, if you didn’t come here to kill me, what did you come here for?" Xena asked angrily, hands on her hips.

"For years, Xena, I’ve hated you. I’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to think of ways to hunt you down and kill you."

"Well, that’s good. I know a hundred more right behind ya’. Is that all you have to say?"

"No!" he said, his nostrils flaring in anger. "If you’d shut your trap long enough, I might be able to get the rest out!"

Xena’s eyes closed to half slits and she approached Greeger with deadly determination. Greeger didn’t flinch. There was no hint of fear as he met her steely gaze with his own fierce scowl. Gabrielle stepped forward and put a hand on each of their shoulders, calming them both with her fearful, concerned eyes. "Okay, you two," she said. "Stop this. You’ll never resolve your differences by fighting. You have to talk. Shouting, hollering and threatening each other is not be the best way to go about it." She glared at the two of them until Xena’s steely gaze and Greeger’s scowl began to melt away.

"Gabrielle’s right," Xena said, backing away. "Say what you have to say."

"Yes, Gabrielle is right. I’ve come to trust her like I would one of my best soldiers."

Xena could tell from their expressions that they shared a mutual respect and admiration for one another. It didn’t cause Xena to feel jealous, as if Greeger were taking her best friend away, and Xena didn’t sense any feelings of romantic love between the two. . Rather it seemed to Xena that Gabrielle had gained a big brother. If Gabrielle could trust and admired this man, then he must be a good man, a man Xena could trust as well.

After so many years of hating, Greeger found it hard to find right the words. "That’s why I believe her when she tells me that you’ve changed," he managed to say. "You’re not the blood-lusting warrior I knew twelve years ago. If you were, you would have killed me way before I ever had the chance to tell you to ‘shut your trap’. But, I admit, it ’has taken me some time to see that. That’s why I sort of felt the need to test your resolve first. The Xena I used to know would have rammed a dagger through my heart just for saying that, or at least tried too," he said with a teasing grin. Xena thought it best not to reply verbally. She knew her eyes were saying enough. Greeger continued, "I didn’t want to believe Gabrielle at first. I didn’t know her then as I do now. She told me you were here to help the people of Phestia, but when you disappeared I began to believe that you were working with Gaelen. I realize now that wasn’t true. I came here to say that I was wrong about you, Xena. Before, where I saw a murderer and a butcher, I now see a courageous warrior, willing to give her life for the sake of others."

Gabrielle smiled, happy that Greeger was able to put away the past and face Xena as his equal and not his enemy. Xena, on the other hand, seemed uncertain of how to react. She was cautious and reserved as she said, "So, you’ve suddenly had a change of heart, is that it?"

Greeger’s expression became serious again. . "Don’t misunderstand me, Xena," he said, meeting her eyes squarely. "I will never forget the day you wiped out my army. I still wake up in a cold sweat every now and then when I dream about it. I’m sorry, but I’ll never hold a special place in my heart for you; but I can put those days behind me and learn to respect you for who you are now. So, call it ‘a sudden change of heart’, if you will. Over the last several days, all I’ve done is try to begin rebuilding the city and think long and hard about you and what you did for Phestia and for its people. At first, all the praise you got from the people enraged me, because I had failed so miserably trying to protect the city. . I realized, of course, how pointless that was after a while. It suddenly hit me, that a womanwoman, who had once nearly taken my life, now saved it along with a hundred others. I owe you my life, Xena." Greeger pulled his sword from its scabbard and placed the blade in the ground at Xena’s feet. "Our fight with Gaelen is far from over. I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to stand with you and fight."

Xena looked down at the sword at her feet, then back up at Greeger. She was stunned at this man who had once hatred her enough to want to kill her, and now wanted to fight at her side. She was not one who easily put aside such feelings,; so she could not believe after all she’d done to him that he would want to have anything to do with her. She didn’t deserve this from him. She did not deserve this man’s respect. "Pick up your sword." She paused for a moment as Greeger retrieved his sword, a frown of concern sweeping across his face. "There are a lot of things in my past I’ve done that I’m not proud of. The battle at Lotheria is one of them. I know I can never bring back the lives of those men and that no words could ever replace them, but … I regret that it ever had to happen. I would have been honored to fight along side those brave men. They fought like true warriors."

Greeger nodded his head, silently accepting Xena’s apology for the incident. "Are you willing to accept my offer?" he asked.

"If Gaelen returns we will need all the help we can get. . He’ll use this disappearing act as a means to gather a stronger army together. I’ll need the force of an army to defeat him the next time we meet."

"I can gather enough men to make up the beginnings of an army, but we will need to recruit more."

"Once the word about Gaelen begins to spread, I’m sure the surrounding kingdoms will send in the recruits. But, for now this will have to do."

"So, what do we do now?" Gabrielle asked.

"Now, we help the Phestian’s bury their dead and start their lives over," Xena responded, as she looked at Greeger, a hint of apology in her voice.

Greeger nodded in acknowledgement. "We’ve taken care of most of our dead and some families are already starting to rebuild. The good thing is, we still have our crops. We’ll have plenty of food once winter sets in."

Gabrielle spoke up, "That’s wonderful. At least no one will go hungry."

"The only thing left to do is take care of the nomad village," Greeger added.

Gabrielle suddenly remembered the nomads. Their bodies were still lying out on the ground in their burned-out village. She felt terrible having left them like that, but she and Xena had been so rushed, at the time, to get to Phestia and warn the people that they didn’t have time. She remembered Xena saying that they would have to come back to take care of the dead. What a horrible task that was going to be.

"We can build a funeral pyre for them," Xena said.

"That reminds me of another reason I came, Xena," Greeger said. "There’s a young girl back in the city who has been asking to see you."

"She made it," Xena smiled.

"Yes. I found her myself, in the woods. It was the dead of night and I thought she was an intruder."

"Who?" Gabrielle asked.

"How is she?" Xena asked Greeger, temporarily ignoring Gabrielle’s question.

"She wasn’t talking for a while," Greeger said, "but you can’t shut her up now. I made the mistake of making some unsavory comments about you, and if her mouth had been a lethal weapon I’d be dead."

"Excuse me!" Gabrielle asked annoyed. "Who are we talking about?"

"Your nick-namesake," Greeger grinned.

"You mean the girl Salea was calling Gabby?" Gabrielle asked and Greeger nodded in response.

"Actually, her name is Tianna," Xena said, smiling.

Gabrielle looked at curiously and asked, "How do you know her?"

"I wasn’t the only one Gaelen was holding captive. She belonged to one of the nomad families. I don’t know why he took her or what he planned on doing with her. All I knew was that I had to get her out of there."

Gabrielle thought back once again to her first meeting with the girl … Tianna. That’s why she had connected with Xena so quickly. Xena had saved her life. "How did you free her?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena stared off into the distance as she remembered what she had to do that night. "I had to pretend to kill her by pinching a nerve that made her unconscious, at the same time, making it look as if I were breaking her neck." Xena saw the shocked look in their eyes and nodded her head. She’d hated even to have to pretendto pretend to kill a child. It disgusted her as much as it shocked them. "I know. It’s a lot easier to say than it was to do."

"Tianna will be okay now," Gabrielle said, placing a hand on Xena’s arm. "She’s with people who’ll love her and take care of her."

"But she’ll never have her family again," Xena said sadly.

"I wouldn’t worry about her," Greeger said coolly. "She shed her tears, but she’s strong ... and a big help. She’s been helping outhelping taking care of the children while the women work. They’ve readily accepted her into the community."

Xena nodded, but still felt sad for Tianna. She wished she could have gotten there in time to stop Gaelen. If only they had gotten up a couple of hours earlier. If only they had not decided to make that stop for breakfast that morning. If only. If only. So many if onlys.

"Well, I’ll lead the way back to Phestia, if you two are ready to go.," Greeger offered.

"Don’t worry about us," Xena said. "I can find the way. Gabrielle and I will be right behind you. I’m sure you’ll want to get started on the journey to the nomad’s village as soon as we get there."

"Okay, fine. Whatever. Just don’t be too long. Got somebody else over there who wants to meet you so bad, she can taste it."

Xena wondered, by the time they got there, if she wouldn’t have gobs of people crowding around just to meet her. Actually, it kind of worried her. She didn’t like that kind of attention. "Who?", Xena asked.

"Ah, just a friend of mine. Her name’s Salea." He heard Gabrielle snickering, so he asked curiously, "What are you laughing at?"

"Nothing," she grinned mischieviouslymischievously. Greeger eyed her suspiciously, not trusting her answer, but turned around anyway and left.

"What was all that about?" Xena asked, after Greeger had left.

The grin having not left her face she said, "Greeger and Salea are a lot more than friends. It just kills me the way they don’t admit it to each other. It’s all innuendo with those two."

"Huh … love," she said, shaking her head. Gabrielle smiled, but Xena could tell her mind was already on something else. Xena sat back down on the log to put her boots on. She looked up at Gabrielle and waited for the question.

"Xena? Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot," she said, smiling to herself.

"There’s something I just don’t understand. You told me Gaelen can read our minds. If that’s true, then how is it you were able to deceive him and make him think you were going to kill me, or make him believe you killed Tianna?" She pointed a stern finger at Xena. "And don’t say you have many skills!"

Xena laughed, then looked up at Gabrielle, her face sober. "It’s an old trick I learned from Lao Ma. The human mind can be a very powerful organ if we allow ourselves to use it to its fullest potential. Gaelen has a very powerful mind. I don’t know where he gained this power, but he knew nothing of Lao Ma’s techniques. She taught me how to clear my mind … to shut it off from everything and everyone. I simply closed my mind off to him."

"But what about Tianna? Couldn’t he have read her mind and realized that she wasn’t really dead?"

"I’m sure he could have, but she had basically shut her own mind down, in a way. And too, he was so centered and focused on me, on my mind being closed off to him, that I don’t think he even noticed. There were times when I could feel him trying to get back in, but I pushed him out. I guess I was lucky he never figured out what I was doing. I think if things had been allowed to go on long enough, he would have eventually figured it out. Despite his other rather obvious flaws, he has a remarkable mind. That’s why I know he’s not finished here. We’ll be seeing Gaelen again."

"If we do, I’m sure we’ll be ready for him next time," Gabrielle said confidenlyconfidently.

"I’m sure we will," she said with a small smile, trying to mirror Gabrielle’s confidence. Xena was quiet for a few seconds. Then she looked back up at Gabrielle, her face and eyes taking on more personal expressions. "Once this is all over, Gabrielle, we’re going to have to sit down and have a long talk."

Gabrielle nodded in understanding and said, "About Hope. I know. I know, Xena." Gabrielle was sad that it had to be brought back up, but she knew that Xena would eventually want to resolve the issue.

Slapping her hands on her knees, Xena rose to her feet, wincing a little at the pain in her side. It was almost as if that small bit of conversation had never happened. "Well, let’s get moving. There’s a lot to do before Gaelen does come back."

"When do you think that will be?"

Looking off in the distance as if looking for him, Xena said, "I wish I knew." She turned back to Gabrielle and smiled, "Come on. Let’s go to Phestia. We have a lot of cleaning up to do." They set out on foot back to the cave to gather their things, before heading back to Phestia. "Speaking of Phestia…I thought I told you to leave there before Gaelen’s army attacked."

Gabrielle smiled, nodded her head and wrapped her arm around Xena’s waist, "Yep, it is definitely good to have you back."

They walked along a wooded path spotted by dots of the brightly shining sun. A cool breeze blew through the trees and the birds sang. Gabrielle smiled happily as she walked with her staff in her left hand and her right hand at Xena’s waist, taking in the clean scent of the air.

"Are you going to answer my question or what?" Xena asked.

The End

For Now

Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship was not as badly damaged in the creation of this story.

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)

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