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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story is written by WarriorKym@HotMail.Com and helpful comments are welcome. This particular story is based on an episode I have never seen, but in my mind, this is where it all starts, so be kind and ignore and inconsistencies that exist.

By WarriorKym

The evening stars were out in all their glory and shining benevolently down upon the Earth. In their glow the forest seemed tranquil and beautiful. In a clearing a few feet from it's beauty, two women were setting up camp. One was unsuccessfully trying to start a fire with damp wood, while the other was grooming a golden horse. Each time the first managed to get a flicker going, an errant drop of rain would fall, putting it out again.

"That's it!" she yelled finally, throwing the flint into the unlighted pile. "I defy Zeus himself to start this thing!"

"Bad idea." a sensuous voice warned from across the camp. "He might decide to light you instead." Xena said in a calm voice.

"I don't care!" Gabrielle yelled. " It can't be worse than...Xena? Did you, Queen of seriousness, just make a joke?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.

"I was serious actually." Xena said walking over and pulling the flint from where it was flung.

"There! You did it again! Praise the Gods, I better write this down. It'll never happen again!"

"Was that so hard?" Xena said smugly as the wood caught and tendrils of flame began to work their way into a full blown fire. Gabrielle's answer was a tongue stuck out as she laid out the bedrolls.

"I still don't see why we couldn't just stay at the Inn where we ate." Gabrielle complained after a few minutes.

"Because we are in a hurry and I have enough trouble getting you out of a bedroll, let alone a big soft bed." Xena stated.

"Yeah...a big, soft, fluffy, warm bed..." Gabrielle mused. "You know how long it's been since I've slept in a bed?"

"There are beds in Potedia." Xena said dryly.

"Xena." Gabrielle sighed starting an 'I thought we talked about this/ I'm not leaving' speech.

"Don't start! I take it back!"

"Good!" Gabrielle answered. "You're just in a bad mood over that whole Titans thing. They weren't that bad and you know you enjoyed being the only one able to read those scrolls." Gabrielle rambled, filling the silence.

"I'm just...I miss Mother." Xena lied.

"Oh..." Gabrielle said, embarrassed she had overlooked that factor when it was so obvious. "Well, if you want to talk-"

"I don't" Xena interrupted.

"About it," Gabrielle continued, walking over to Xena. "You know I'm here." She reached out to touch Xena's arm, but Xena flinched and moved away. "Sorry, I forgot...Um, Xena?" Gabrielle asked uncomfortably.


"I ...Um...thanks for saving me today." Gabrielle said awkwardly and laid down quickly on her bedroll.

Xena stared at her with an open-mouth expression and suddenly regretted lying to her best friend. "You've been too hard on her." her mind chided her. " he's not that bad...if only she's talk a little less." she thought with a slight grin pulling at the side of her mouth. "I'll make it up to her tomorrow." she thought, easily squashing the smile and laying down across from Gabrielle.

"G-night" she ventured quietly.

"Goodnight Xena!" Gabrielle said, happily turning to face her, "Sweet dreams!"

"Gabrielle! Wake up!" Xena's scream echoed through Gabrielle's dreams. "Huh? What?" she said groggily, sitting up. "Whoa!" She ducked just in time to avoid a sword aimed at her head. Xena was immediately beside her and running her sword through the would be killer. "Damn!" Gabrielle thought, watching Xena easily take out three men with a roundhouse kick, then spin around to backhand the last man standing.

"Had enough?" she teased with a feral smile at the men who were groaning, crawling, and stumbling away. One man turned to try again, but catching her smug smile and shining sword, quickly changed his mind and ran after his comrades. Gabrielle was just barely coming to Earth by the time Xena was walking smugly towards her. Much to Gabrielle's disgust, she wasn't even breathing hard.

"We gotta stop waking up like this!" Gabrielle said irritably, dropping back onto her bedroll. She was about to lay back down when she noticed Xena was packing up camp.

"XENA! It's not even dawn yet!" She yelled.

"We're up aren't we?" Xena asked, continuing to roll up her bedroll. Camp was completely demolished and Xena was ready to go by the time Gabrielle was dressed and walking back from the stream.

"Xena," she said exasperated when Xena swung up on Argo at her arrival. "We haven't even had breakfast yet!"

"Yeah well...I, Um...thought maybe we could eat at town, it'll be hot." Xena said, carefully inspecting each rein as she talked.

Gabrielle fell in sync with the now moving horse, astonished Xena had actually listened to her when she had muttered about cold food. The short trip to town was a quiet one since Xena was mentally scolding herself for this delay and Gabrielle was still in shock. She had recovered by the time the waitress arrived and was in full bardic mode when the food came.

"So where to now?" Gabrielle asked once they were back on the road, stomachs full.

"We were headed for Thrasa, but I don't think we're going to be getting there."

"Why?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

"Those men didn't attack us for nothing."

"Oh yeah, I forgot about them," Gabrielle said unconcernedly. "Wanna hear my new story?"

"You know, I would just love to." Xena said sarcastically. Gabrielle ignored the tone and began her tale, not finishing until a candlemark later. She'd actually begun another when Xena shushed her.

"What is it?" she asked, concerned by the look on Xena's face.

"Someone's coming. Hide."

"Xena..." Gabrielle began patiently. "Please?" Xena said (not without her pride smarting)

Gabrielle walked saucily into nearby bushes much to Xena's relief. "Gods, " Gabrielle thought from her hidden position, " All she has to do is say please and off I trot like a dog. Does she even know how much she affects me?" she grinned slightly remembering their latest adventure. "She was jealous of him. I don't care what she said. I'm getting to her...Oh, what am I thinking?! she doesn't even...and I shouldn't-"


Answering Xena's call, Gabrielle walked out and was surprised to see the men still conscious, and talking to a dismounted Xena none the less.

"We're going to Layon." Xena stated. Before Gabrielle could ask why, the head man spoke up.

"We'll escort you princess." he said gallantly as he took her hand and kissed it. "He wouldn't want you hurt."

Gabrielle felt slight anger burn in her at the kiss, but quickly dismissed it.

"Uh-uh. No thanks." Xena said pulling her hand away. She climbed up on Argo and turned to look at Gabrielle. "We need to hurry." she said holding her arm out.

"Do I have to?" Gabrielle groaned at the thought of riding all the way to Layon. A raised eyebrow from Xena warned her not to push it further, so she took Xena's arm and found herself on back of the horse.

"Stay out of trouble." Xena commanded as she left Gabrielle in the tent. Gabrielle turned angrily to retort, but a smile on Xena's face clued her she'd been joking and she smiled back instead. She watched Xena walk off, then turned to get a drink. A familiar blonde head in the crowd attracted her...

Xena was starting to get annoyed. She had been searching for almost ten minutes now with no results. Just as she decided she was going to "pinch" the next person she saw for information, a well-known voice stopped her.

"XENA! Over here." it called.

"Hercules?! It's about time." she said that last part under her breath. That breath was quickly drawn in as she turned and took in the sight before her. The sunlight illuminated the half-god, making him almost glow. A dazzling smile of white teeth and twinkling blue eyes so close to her own greeted her. His muscles flexed and rippled as he walked towards her, causing Xena to force herself not to stare.

"Xena, Hi. Long time no see. " he joked kissing her cheek gently. "You made good time."

"Don't I always?" she teased, feeling her irritation melt away with his warm lips.

He laughed heartily at the private joke and linked his arm in hers, leading her away. "Iolaus is in here," he said pointing to a nearby tent. "Let's get him and then I'll tell you why I asked you to come."

Xena slipped on through the curtains, knowing in advance where Gabrielle would be.

"XENA!" Gabrielle called excitedly as she caught sight of her friend and moved over to them.
"This is Iolaus. Guess who he knows?!"

"Hercules." Xena stated flatly, trying to hide a smile.

"You're so good!" Gabrielle said in awe just as the bearer of the name stuck his head in.

"What?" he said.

"Not you, I was...nevermind. Hercules, this is Gabrielle, Gabrielle, Hercules." Xena finished with a wave of her hand.

Much later after introductions were made and past history explained, they all sat together sheltered from the storm that had started raging outside out of nowhere. Hercules explained it as Hera's doing. Iolaus sat opposite Xena, obviously keeping an eye on her, Gabrielle was beside him and Xena and Hercules sat close together on the opposite side, a little too close for Gabrielle. Hercules had already started his explanation.

"So," he finished. "He has to be saved. I don't hold any particular love for the Titans, but this definitely affects humans. Prometheus isn't that bad anyway."

"Yeah, I agree. So what's the plan?" Iolaus asked.

"Don't quite know yet. I thought with Xena's amazing brain," here a knowing smile was aimed at Xena causing an eyebrow raise, " We could figure something out. How about it?" Hercules asked.

"Sure." came Xena's usual response.

"Yeah, sure. But we're not going anywhere for quite awhile." Gabrielle stated looking out at the downpour.

"I am. Argo needs tending." Xena said, always happy to contradict Gabrielle. She rose up and Hercules immediately followed.

"I'll help." he explained when she turned to look at him. The two heroes left their " sidekicks" and ran through the blinding rain to the stable. Xena noted with anger that Argo's saddle hadn't even been taken off.

"I'll be talking to that stablehand." she muttered.

Getting to work, Hercules picked up a currycomb and a rag. "I'm glad you're here Xena."

She looked up surprised. "Oh...uh...yeah, well. Couldn't let Gabrielle pass up a chance to meet the legendary Hercules." she said with her usual sarcasm after a minute.

"Don't change the subject Xena."

Sighing, Xena put away the grooming tools, trying to figure out exactly what to say. "Hercules-" she began, standing up to find him right beside her. She grinned slightly and started again. "Herc-" She didn't even get his whole name out before he stooped and gently kissed her. She half-heartedly tried to back up, but his strong arms around her waist stopped her.

"They've sure been gone a long time." Gabrielle commented, looking out through the door flap.

"They'll be back soon." Iolaus answered as he fed the fire. "Not even Xena and Herc can pick up that fast."

"Huh? Pick up what?" Gabrielle asked innocently.

"Where they left off." he said dryly.

"Iolaus, can I ask you something? Personal?"

"Shoot." he said calmly.

"I know Xena and Hercules have a "thing", but didn't...?" She paused searching for the right words.

"Xena and I have a thing first?" he finished for her. "Yeah, we did. She used me to get to Hercules. To kill him."

Gabrielle sensed the pain and bitterness in his voice and moved to his side. "I'm sorry." she said quietly, "But Xena's changed..." she started.

"I know that Gabrielle. But the wound is still fresh...and it will take time to heal." he interrupted her. Just then Xena and Hercules walked in. Gabrielle caught a movement and watched as Xena tried to pull the hand he had obviously been holding away. Hercules held on with a grin however, winning a look of exasperation from Xena. Gabrielle colored and turned away asking, "Are we staying in here tonight?"

"Yup." Xena said managing to pull away from Hercules and hand Gabrielle her bedroll. "Our stuffs in here." she continued, patting the saddlebag she shouldered.

The night passed without incident until a few candlemarks after midnight. Gabrielle got up to answer nature's call and noticed Xena and Herc's bedrolls empty. She followed a sound and found them outside kissing passionately. Embarrassed, she quickly ducked back in and pulled her blankets over her head. After a minute, she felt a hand touch her blanketed arm.

"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered. "Gabrielle, I know you're awake."

Gabrielle sat up and pulled the blanket down. "So I'm up, so what?"

Slightly taken aback by the harshness of Gabrielle's voice, Xena just said quietly, "I just thought you might need something." and got in her own bedroll without another word.

Gabrielle instantly regretted her words and touched Xena's arm. Pleased Xena hadn't flinched, she whispered, "I'm fine. Goodnight Xena." and went to sleep.

"Great, just great. Now what!?" Xena's mind screamed at her. She paced back and forth angrily, contemplating what the Orb had just told her. Gabrielle came looking for her friend and found her behind the stables.

"Xe-?" she started.

"Gabrielle! Good." Xena said coming towards her. "I have something need to do, stay here with Hercules and Iolaus okay?" she said quickly.

"Um, okay." Gabrielle said following Xena into the stable and watching her saddle up Argo. "Where are you going?"

Xena turned and looked at her, thinking about the answer she should give for a minute. Deciding on the truth, she answered her." I'm going to get the sword of Hephestus from Mt. Vulcan." she said bluntly and swung up on her horse.

"O.K., be careful huh?" Gabrielle smiled up at her, not quite understanding. Xena smiled back and Gabrielle swore she could detect a hint of sadness in her eyes.

"SHE WENT TO DO WHAT?!!" Hercules stormed. " h this is so typical of her. I'm going to kill her!" he stopped suddenly, realizing what he'd just said. "I'm going after her." his voice left no room for argument. "Stay here." he ordered and headed off.

"That was interesting." Gabrielle commented. "What is it with these warrior types?" she joked, trying to cover up her worry. "STAY HERE." she imitated.

Iolaus laughed wholeheartedly at the impression. Usually, he hated being left behind, but with Gabrielle here, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. She was kinda cute...

Hercules made his way up the mountain, his anger dissipating into concern. He hadn't mentioned to Gabrielle and Iolaus all the dangers the cave containing the sword held. Not to mention what would happen if Xena did what he thought she was planing to do.

"ARG!" he groaned aloud. "The day started out so well!" he thought. A good breakfast sitting right next to her, holding her hand all morning, the leisurely walk in the woods. He smiled slightly at the memories. "I've missed her so much." he admitted to himself for the first time. "And now I've gone and called her here and gotten her into danger, all for my own selfish reasons! Why does it always have to work this way?" he thought. " hy couldn't we just meet, fall back in love, settle down, get a few little Xenas running around?"

He grinned at the images, but it soon evaporated as he realized by the time he got up the mountain, it might be too late. He turned his thoughts away from those imaged to pleasanter and more encouraging ones. Xena's laughter, her smile, her lips, her hands, her...

Exhausted Xena emerged from the cave. The sword was in her hands, signaling victory, but her mind and body were a long way from feeling it. She was worn out and in pain from battling the caves defenses. "I got it. The only sword that can break the chains." she thought, trying to ignore her aching heart. Visions of Gabrielle, her mother, Argo, ...Hercules. "Oh I don't wanna die," she groaned, "but this has to be done." She thought and stood up straight, banishing any 'weak thoughts' from her mind. Unbidden, an image of Hercules sprang up again. She tried to push it away, but still, there he was, walking towards her. She suddenly realized that he was actually there.

"Give me the sword Xena." he said calmly.

"No." (very flat)

"Xena, I won't let you do this. I won't let you die." he said sternly holding out his hand.

"And I won't let you." she said equally as stern. They stood facing each other at a standstill. Neither would let the other commit suicide by breaking the chains of Prometheus.

"Let's go back to Iolaus and Gabrielle. we'll figure something out, all right?" Herc offered. Xena stood stock-still, weighing the proposal, wondering if he was simply trying to save her. Reading her indecision, Herc said, "We won't do anything until we talk to them OK? I promise." he held out his arm.

Thankfully she took it and shook, then allowed herself to be pulled into his arms. She felt the strain melt away and didn't pull her hand away as they untethered Argo. Hercules sat with Xena behind him and turned to kiss her deeply before they started, chasing any lingering doubt or fear away.

"So that's pretty much the long and short of it." Hercules ended after a tediously long explanation of what had already happened and what needed to be done.

"Yeah," Xena nodded, "So, in the morning I'll leave."

"No, I'll go." Iolaus corrected.

"No, I will." Gabrielle and Hercules said at the same time. The four sat and looked at each other, each determined not to let a friend die.

"We're obviously not going to come to a decision tonight." Xena said after a long pause. "How 'bout we get some sleep for now?"

Everyone sighed, relieved, and stood up. Hercules stopped them suddenly, saying, "First, everyone agrees not to play hero and sneak off with the sword on the middle of the night, deal?" He said sticking out his hand. Gabrielle and Iolaus laid theirs on top, then all three stared at Xena who was glaring at Hercules, who innocently smiled. "Oh fine!" she said and joined their pact. After she did and pulled away, she wavered slightly. Gabrielle immediately started forwards to catch her. When Xena fell into Hercules' arms, she felt a stab of pain run through her, but covered it up quickly.

"I'm just fine." Xena protested as Hercules lowered her onto her bedroll.

"Uh-huh." he said and continued his ministrations. He took the cup of tea Gabrielle brought, leaned Xena up against him, and began helping her sip.

"Gabrielle, How about a story to help clear our minds?" he asked charmingly. That was the last thing in the world Gabrielle wanted to do right then, but she smiled.

"Sure, which one?"

"Why not the one about Pandora?" Xena said, never removing her eyes from Hercules' face.

"Oh fine, warrior princess, that's how you want to play it?" Gabrielle thought. " I can play too." With that thought still prevalent in her mind, she walked over and sat very close to a very surprised Iolaus and started the story. They were holding hands by the end and she looked over to find Hercules beginning to unbuckle Xena's armor.

"All right, that's a bit too much!" Gabrielle thought and headed over to where they sat. "I can do that Hercules." she said sweetly.

"No, I've got it." he said, just as sweetly and they engaged in a battle of stares.

"Uh, guys?" Xena interrupted. "*I* can do it."

"Yeah Herc, come on." Iolaus said quickly, judging Gabrielle's affection for her friend by the look he had seen cross her face earlier when Xena fell into Herc's arms and not hers. " He's getting in the way of her best friend's attention. " he thought with a grin. " Let's get ready for bed huh?" he finished causing Hercules to follow him outside, not without a backward glance of jealousy at Gabrielle.

"At least it's not raining anymore." Hercules joked as he pulled his shirt off. "Iolaus? ...I need to talk to you." he waited until his friend stopped undressing and looked up at him." I know how I feel about Xena right?" he asked, "She's always been the one for me. I guess I've always known that even if I wouldn't admit it. You're my best friend Iolaus, But I know..." Not quite meeting Iolaus' eyes here., "I know you and Xena have some issues. I wish you could work them out...she's changed Iolaus." he finished.

"I know Hercules." Iolaus answered. "I...I almost didn't want her to have. Then I would have a good reason not to try. But she has, she is different. I'd try for you anyway buddy. Who knows? Maybe I'll even enjoy it!"

"I knew you would!" Hercules said slapping him on the back and nearly knocking him down." you're going to love her. You'll see." he smiled.

"Only if she can fix broken spines." Iolaus groaned rubbing his. "But seriously, she seems nice now. And she's not exactly bad looking either. Not that she ever was..."

"Hey!" Herc said turning around. Realizing Iolaus was only kidding, he added. "I thought you had a thing for Gabrielle."

Iolaus blushed and finished undressing. "Yeah...well..."

After the men had left Gabrielle undid Xena's buckles out of habit. Xena took off her leathers and pulled her sleepshirt over her head. She was about to hand Gabrielle hers, when Gabrielle suddenly whirled around on her.

"You were just going to walk out and kill yourself!?" She demanded angrily. She advanced on an astonished Xena and pointed accusingly at her. "you didn't even warn me! No hints! No, 'Gabrielle, I've decided to murder myself!'" Gabrielle yelled. "what if Hercules hadn't found you? You would've just gone and done it wouldn't you?!" she turned and stood silently, back to the warrior, while Xena tried to recover.

"Gabrielle..." she said hesitantly, stepping towards the staunch figure before her.

"DON'T! DON'T make up some 'I had to' bit!" she yelled vehemently.

"FINE! I won't!" Xena bit back and sat down angrily. They were like that for what seemed like an eternity before Gabrielle turned to face her.

"Xena, you hurt me." she admitted quietly, tears streaming down her face.

"I didn't mean to." Xena said awkwardly. "Gabrielle, I thought this was what I'm supposed to be doing."

"Killing yourself isn't part of it." Gabrielle answered, moving to sit by her friend. "I'm sorry Xena. I know you were just trying to do what you thought was right, but do you realize how much I'd miss you?"

"We fight everyday. I could be killed at any time." Xena pursued stubbornly.

"That's different. Xena you're my best friend. I don't want to lose you." Gabrielle said, leaning her head on Xena shoulder.

"You're my best friend too." Xena admitted quietly and leaned her head against Gabrielle's. "Here," she said after a minute. "Better get your shirt on." a gentle smile accompanied the shirt and made Gabrielle want to cry. Just as she pulled it over her head, a masculine voice boomed through the doorflap:

"Everybody decent?"

Xena and Gabrielle grinned at each other and called back, causing the two well-built man in boxers to enter. They walked to their bedrolls, not without a few stares in the direction of the women in only thigh-high sleepshirts and a lot of shameless flirting on both sides.

Dawn filtered onto Gaea and illuminated the sides of the tent. Gabrielle rolled over automatically when she felt it, ready to ignore a Xena telling her how late it was, but no complaint came. Surprised, she opened her eyes to find herself in a tent.

"O-h yeah." she yawned as she remembered. she looked around to find Xena since her bedroll was empty, but only succeeded in finding a loudly snoring Hercules. She stood up and stretched, noting, interestingly enough, Iolaus' bedroll was empty too. Slight alarm filled her, but was silenced when her eyes caught hold of the sword still in its place in the middle of the area they'd slept in.

"He actually said that to you?" Xena asked incredulously as she bent over the water trough.

"Gushed it actually. You should've seen him, all flushed and dreamy-eyed." Iolaus teased.

Xena's response was to douse him in water, then ask: "Why didn't you just tell him we talked before I left?"

Iolaus sputtered and wiped away the water from his face before answering. "I think he was enjoying being the peacemaker, why take that away from him?"

"True, But still-"

"HEY GUYS!" Gabrielle called, pleased she'd found them. "Ew, Iolaus, you're all wet."

"Yeah, I noticed," he said sarcastically, then feeling bad, added: "Thought you were a late sleeper?"

"Hmm, wonder where you got that idea." Gabrielle muttered as she poked Xena's arm, then instantly regretted it as she nursed the sore digit. " OW! I think you broke my finger!"

"Me?" Xena said defending herself. " *You* poked *Me*!" That discussion probably would have turned into a full fletched bickering session, but at that point, a yawning and confused looking Hercules showed up.

"Here you all are. I woke up and everybody was gone!" he said coming over to the water.

"Maybe it was your snoring." Iolaus sniggered, causing a ripple of laughter to go through everyone.

"I don't see what's so funny." Hercules said in an almost pouting tone. Xena composed herself and walked over to him. "You weren't *that* loud," she comforted trying not to smile. She couldn't help it though and a slight grin surfaced. Hercules reached down and covered her smiling lips with his own, effectually drowning it. Gabrielle and Iolaus coughed and muttered something about finding breakfast. They didn't get much of a response from the entwined pair except an uninterested good-bye wave from two hands that quickly moved to other tasks.

"Well, that was fun..." Gabrielle commented as they walked away through the camp. Iolaus moved closer to her when several leering looks were aimed their way. Gabrielle was still in her sleepshirt. A meaningful look stopped the comment from the cook who was slopping out...well, slop.

"This looks good." Gabrielle said sarcastically as they procured four bowls full.

"Warrior camp." Iolaus explained, "What'd you expect?"

They soon arrived back at their tent, only to find it empty.

"I'm not going to find them!" Iolaus said backing off and waving his hands at Gabrielle's look.

"Oh come on Iolaus! It hasn't been *that* long, they can't be... Just get them, it's gonna get cold." Seeing his unconvinced look, she leaned right up in his face batting her eyes. "Please?"

"I'm going to hate myself in a minute." Iolaus predicted with a groan as he headed out. He returned rather quickly, his face a peculiar shade of red. " They're coming." he grinned.

"Got everything?" Xena asked as she hung her chakram on her belt.

"Yeah. I still don't see why we can't bring Argo along." Gabrielle complained as she finished stuffing the basics in to a bag.

"Yes you do."

Gabrielle's comeback was cutoff mid-sentence, when the boys came in.

"So what exactly are we going to do?" Iolaus asked.

"Let's just get there first. Things will fall into place by themselves." Xena stated picking up the sword.

"Sooo..." Gabrielle started, trying to fill the silence. " Anybody know any good stories?"

"Isn't that your forte?" All three asked at once.

"Hey! No ganging up! I was just trying to give someone else a chance." Gabrielle defended.

The four of them trudged up Prometheus' mountain, none quite sure what they would encounter. Gabrielle prattled on with stories of Xena, while Xena staunchly downplayed everything she said. Candlemarks passed as they wound their way through the caverns. Xena unexpectedly shushed her and listened intently.

"RUN!" she suddenly screamed pushing them ahead of her. The ceiling behind them collapsed in a huge cave-in. Dust settled on everything and small rocks skidded to stops at their feet, eerily reminiscent of their much larger counterparts that came so close to squashing them.

"I hate how you can do that!" Gabrielle said. " wish..Iolaus? Are you all right?" she asked concerned as he leaned against the wall bent over. " Xena?" she called.

Xena and Hercules had been discussing the cave-in's origins, but Xena hurried over when she heard the note of worry in Gabrielle's voice.

"Lay him down..Oh Iolaus, how long have you had this?" Xena asked concerned. Iolaus only groaned, so Gabrielle answered for him.

"He got it in the last battle he was in, Herc?"

"About a week ago." Hercules answered, worry creeping into his voice now.

"You knew about this?!" Xena directed this at Gabrielle.

"I asked... her to Xena." Iolaus groaned.

"Iolaus why? This is serious, you can't go any further. Not without risking permanent damage." Xena admonished, bandaging him as well as she could. Then she stood up. "You two take him back down, I'll finish this." An arm caught her as she started to walk away.

"No Xena."

"Hercules! He needs you! This is perfect!"

"Perfect what?! Death?!"

"Perfect justice." She stated flatly. " t's a good way to go. No one will miss me." she finished keeping her face impassive.

"I'll miss you, So many would miss you. I won't let you do this Xena. It should be me."

"No. It shouldn't. The world needs Hercules. And," she took his hand and gestured to Iolaus. " SO does he."

"The world needs Xena too." Hercules said taking her other hand and kissing it tenderly.

Before Xena could argue back, Gabrielle spoke. "You're both right. The world needs Hercules *and* Xena. I'll stay with Iolaus."

Xena And Hercules looked at her, then at each other, fighting an internal battle. "All right." Hercules said grudgingly. He knelt down next to Iolaus. "Thank-you for being my friend. hang in there huh buddy? Gabrielle's going to stay here with you, Right Gabrielle?" He looked pleadingly at her. With her nod he moved back. "Don't do anything I would huh?" he tried to grin.

Xena then knelt. "Thanks for forgiving me, Iolaus. Don't go anywhere." she said to the outstretched man, flashing him a rare genuine smile. Then her eyes moved to Gabrielle, since she was sure she wasn't coming back , the words were hard for her to find. "Gabrielle, thank-you for always being there for me. You kept..keep me on the path. Take care of him and Argo huh?" she asked, careful with the tenses of her verbs. Gabrielle squeezed her hand and she squeezed back, then stood up to join Hercules. As they walked away, Gabrielle called after them.

"Hurry back! BOTH of you!" she added threateningly. Two bittersweet smiles turned to her, then disappeared to the darkness. Gabrielle watched them go and turned her attention to Iolaus to prevent her worry from taking over..

"Tell me a story?" he coughed.

"Not much further now." Hercules said, causing Xena to jump at the first words said since they left their friends.

"Good." she answered, her voice sounded way too loud in her ears.

"Xena," Hercules said as they reached the end of the caverns. He turned to her and couldn't help but sigh. The light from the open exit played in her hair, making dancing highlights in the ebony river. He looked at her, memorizing her full lips, perfect cheekbones, bronze skin, and those crystal blue pools. "If I could pick any way to die, it would be drowning in your eyes, not like this." he said quietly, lifting her face up. "Xena, no matter what happens, I love you. We'll get through this." As he kissed her, Xena felt like her heart was going to burst. The walls cracked further, letting his love enter in.

"Oh gods, why now?" she thought trying to build them back up.

"Well," he said pulling back. "here we go!" And they turned to face the streaming light.

"That was a beautiful story Gabrielle. Where did you learn it?" Iolaus asked.

"I don't really remember." Gabrielle said. "Do you have anyone in your life like that?"

Iolaus looked up in surprise at her question. "I'd like to." he said suggestively. That touched Gabrielle's heart and she leaned over and kissed him softly.

"Feel anything?" he joked.

She smiled and leaned back, apparently pleased. her mind was racing. "Yeah I did." she thought, "and it wasn't what I thought it would be..."

Eerie silence followed the two as they stepped from the darkness of the cave. Everything on the mountaintop had a peaceful serene look to it, but the total silence clued then that something was imminent. Moments passed making Xena more and more uneasy with each second.

"Xena! Over Here!" Hercules called.

"What is it?" she asked pairing back up with him.

"Look," he said pointing up. "What *are* those?"

"They look like...eggs..." she said confused. Hercules never got to say his piece because just as she finished, the side of the huge eggs cracked open. Xena's sword flashed out with an almost inaudible hiss , while the tops fell off and six giant lizard men crawled out. Three headed for Xena and three for Hercules.

"AI YI YI YI YI!!!" Xena's famous war cry echoed as she flipped towards them before they reached her. Patience had never been her strong suit. She landed behind them grinning and kicked the legs out from two of them with a low spin kick. They recovered so quickly she almost didn't have time to duck when they lashed at her with their swords.

Hercules was also having a little trouble. All three had rushed him simultaneously. One managed to slice his arm before being flung away. Hercules started punching them over and over, but when they kept coming back, apparently unharmed, he pulled the sword of Hephestus off his back and started hacking. He was having an effect and they moved off, two with large wounds. The third took Hercules by surprise leaping from his standpoint onto him and knocking the sword away.

It landed close to where Xena was fighting. one of the attackers lay dying with her chakram in its chest and one was seriously wounded, but she hadn't been able to so much as scratch the third. It was coming faster than before, sword flying. She circled him parrying, searching for a weak spot. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the sword knocked away from Hercules. She quickly backflipped from her last villain picking up the sword as she went. " Ha!" she yelled drawing it across the backs of two necks. They immediately clutched their wounds and moved away snarling. Hercules easily took down the third and turned to face Xena and the surviving lizard thing. To his surprise she was nowhere to be seen! The last and strongest lizard man attacked him then, giving him little time to ponder her disappearance.

Xena had been caught up in the claws of a gigantic eagle as she tried to help Hercules. She writhed and squirmed trying to get free, but the Eagle only held her tighter, crushing her bones. From this vantage point she could see where Prometheus lay chained. Hercules had found him too and was climbing up with the lizard in hot pursuit. Herc ran to cut the chains, but realized too late the sword wasn't with him.

"HERCULES!!" Xena shouted and threw the sword, her last chance at escape from the eagle, towards him.

Hercules looked up just in time to see the sword flying out of nowhere towards him. " I won't leave her!" he thought wildly. Suddenly, he thought of something. he moved the chains to an exact spot and Wham! The sword cut them in two without human hand touching them. Prometheus rose up from his prison and used the sword to cut his chains. At the sight of the huge Titan, the last lizard man turned and fled.

"Hercules I presume." a deep voice boomed.

"That's me." Hercules said uninterestedly, "XENA?!"

"I think I see your friend." Prometheus laughed as he plucked the bird from the sky like bug. He unbent its claws with ease to release a fuming Xena. He set her down beside Hercules and stretched.

"AH! Feels so good to be free! Xena, Hercules. I owe you!" He said and started to walk away.

"Yes you do!" Xena called after him. "And I'm calling in that debt right now!" Prometheus turned around and bent right down in her face. "My friend is sick. He needs help." she said calmly looking at him with arms folded.

For a minute, Hercules thought he was going to step on her, but instead he threw back his head laughing heartily. "Not shy is she?" he laughed. "Keep this one Hercules!"

"I plan to." Herc said quietly taking her hand.

"Well then, lead on!" Prometheus boomed.

"Have they freed him yet? Which one did it? Does she love him? Is she leaving me for him? What will happen now?" These and other thoughts ran through Gabrielle's head as she sat watching over Iolaus with his head cradled in her lap. A voice and movement interrupted her thoughts.

"Gabrielle," Iolaus said, trying to sit up. "I suddenly feel much better. Prometheus must be free, they freed him!"

Both suddenly realized what he had said and sat numbed and speechless. Noises from the tunnel brought them back from their frozen state of mind.

"Here we go..." Iolaus whispered and they both held their breath in fear.

In came Xena and Hercules...and an extra.

"Xena!" Gabrielle called joyously, running to her. " I'm so glad.." She said quietly, unsure what to do after an outburst like that. With anyone other than Xena, hugging was obviously needed, but...

Xena answered her unsaid question and pulled Gabrielle to her. Not a long hug, but still, a hug! Gabrielle grinned from ear to ear as she stepped away.

"Oh, nice to see you too Hercules." she said politely.

"Awwww." an ear splittingly loud voice cooed. "How sweet! Now where's your friend?" Prometheus smiled.

"I'm thinking that would be me." Iolaus said weakly.

Prometheus walked over to where Iolaus lay. Humming slightly to himself, he touched the wound and laid his hand across Iolaus' forehead.

"That oughta do it." he grinned and walked in to the darkness, still humming as he evaporated. They watched him go, then turned to say something and found themselves back camp.

"Well, that was...unique!" Hercules said with a smile.

"Huh-uh! No! I'm not going to do that! You can do your own dirty work!" Gabrielle protested, backing against the wall away from Hercules.

"Oh, come on Gabrielle! Just slip it in and then ask her! It's not that hard. She'll think the first part happened by accident! Please Please! Don't make me beg." Herc pleaded.

"I'm going to regret this, I know!" Gabrielle said annoyed, but signaling defeat. Just then Xena and Iolaus walked in, both dark red.

"Hey guys, Are you okay? You're kinda red." Hercules said.

"Yeah, what were you doing?" Gabrielle joked.

"We...uh...yeah, so..." Iolaus stammered. " red...because, because of the sun."

"yeah..uh, the sun...who's hungry?" Xena agreed a little too quickly as she set a food tray down loudly, spilling some of the drinks. Iolaus ran to help her while Herc and Gabrielle looked out the window at the evening darkness, then at each other. Dinner passed with Gabrielle and Hercules providing most, if not all, the conversation.

"Xena? Xena! Hello!?" Gabrielle said, waving her hand in front of Xena's face.

"Huh, What?"

"I asked if you were finished picking at your food."

"Oh...yeah." Xena murmured.

"Me too." Hercules said, heading for Xena.

"I'll take the dishes back!" she said loudly, grabbing then and running off. A few minutes later, she was back at the tent standing outside the door. " Chill Xena." she told herself, " Come on breathe!" she took a few gulps of the icy air and ducked inside. Gabrielle looked up from where she'd been absently staring at the wall.

"Hey Xena." she said smiling. "Oh, they're down at the stream bathing." Gabrielle explained at Xena's search of the room. " We're next." she added.

"Oh good." Xena sighed, dropping onto the bedrolls. " That we're next, I mean." she said when Gabrielle looked at her strangely.

"Uh-huh. Are you okay Xena? Honestly?"

Xena fought an inner battle for a minute, then decided on a half truth. " My sides just hurt, that's all."

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" Gabrielle admonished her. "Take it off," she said tugging on Xena's leathers. "Let me see." Knowing it was of no use to argue with her friend when she was concerned about a 'hurt', physical or spiritual, Xena stood up with a groan and let Gabrielle undo her armor. She reached back and undid the complicated ties of her leathers, then let them drop carelessly. She was about to slide her shift off when Hercules and Iolaus strolled in.

"Don't mind us." Hercules grinned while Iolaus sheepishly looked down and started folding his pants meticulously.

"Ha Ha." Gabrielle said. "Come on Xena. We can finish this down at the stream." Xena picked up their gear and followed without a word of her own. Walking through the camp in only her shift probably wasn't the smartest idea. As the two women made their way to the stream, catcalls and whistles followed them the whole way.

"All right, Lemme see." Gabrielle commanded once they were safely away from prying eyes. "Oh Xena! What in Hades happened to you?!" Xena's ribcage was covered in dark purple bruises from her shoulders down to her lower back.

"Big Bird." She grinned and plunged into the stream.

"Xena! Get back up here."

"No. it's just bruises. They'll heal, so hop in!" Xena remarked carelessly.

"You drive me nuts, you know that?" Gabrielle muttered as she walked in beside Xena. "UGH! This water is freezing!" she screamed. Needless to say, they finished quickly and hurried back to the tent once again ignoring the shouts and groans. Hercules and Iolaus were already in bed when they slipped in. Thinking they were asleep, the women dressed for bed and hopped in. Herc was sound asleep and stayed that way until dawn, but Iolaus was up most of the night with images he couldn't chase away.

"Gabrielle..." Xena whispered." Gabrielle?.." she shook her gently. " Huh-uh." Gabrielle muttered into her pillow.

"I know it's late, but come on Gab, wake up?" Xena asked shaking her harder and pulling the blanket back. Gabrielle muttered something into her pillow again." Oh please Gabrielle?! I need to talk to you...Didn't you say if I needed to talk to you, you were there?"

"That was a low blow Xena." Gabrielle said thickly as she sat up. "O.K., what?"

"Shh! Not here, come on." Xena got up and handed Gabrielle her cloak as she walked out silently.

"Xena, it's freezing out here, Hurry up." Gabrielle said tightly, immediately regretting it as pain flashed through Xena's eyes.

"Nevermind. it's not important." Xena said quietly, turning to go.

"No Xena wait! I'm sorry hon, I'm just tired. Please, what did you want to talk about? Sit down."

After they were seated outside, Gabrielle out an encouraging hand in Xena's shoulder. Ignoring the flicker of something that flew through her at the touch, she comforted and pushed Xena forward. "Talk to me Xena. What's it about?"


Iolaus sat up with a stretch as a ray of sunlight brought him back from the three brother's realm. He grinned at his still sleeping friend, then sat quietly for a minute trying to wake up. He idly followed a stream of gold across the floor. The rays streamed and mixed with a pool of black. Xena's hair was thrown back from her sleeping form and flowed across the floor. He felt a sudden longing to touch and caress that stream of black and so forced himself to get up and away. At the noise he made, Xena stirred and shifted, giving him a better view. Pulling his eyes away guiltily, Iolaus headed out for a cold dip in the stream and breakfast.

Back at the tent, Gabrielle and Xena were still asleep. Hercules, however, was not. He was sitting over Xena drinking in her beauty. Gabrielle woke up because of a funny feeling in her stomach. She sat up to see Hercules leaning over Xena.

"Hi." she said quietly.

"Oh, Hi Gabrielle," He said quietly, never taking his eyes off Xena.

"What are you doing?" she whispered.

He finally looked up at her. "Appreciating a work of art."

Gabrielle smiled slightly embarrassed. "Well, you're lucky she hasn't woken up and thrown you across the room yet! She has a tendency to do that you know. She doesn't like to have people that close, especially when she wakes up."

"Oh yeah? Watch this." he grinned. He leaned over Xena's sleeping form and kissed her slowly. Xena's eyes flew open, but instead of knocking him unconscious, she kissed back, much to Gabrielle's astonishment.

"Hi." she whispered with a smile after a minute and she wound her arms around his neck.

"Good morning." he said smiling back. He bent his neck to do it again, but Iolaus chose that moment to push in with a tray.

"Hi guys! I-um..." his face went red, " Did I interrupt something?"

"No, Hercules was just waking up Xena." Gabrielle said sarcastically. "Oh good, food! I'm starved." She said as she bounced over.

"When aren't you?" Xena asked getting up herself. Gabrielle's response was to make a face and select a bowl.

The sun shone down brightly, covering everything in its warm glow. A little too warm perhaps.

"By the gods! I think I'm going to melt!" Gabrielle complained.

"Why do we have to do this now? We could eat lunch first." she said hopefully.

"Gabrielle, we need to finish before they get back. Hand me that saddlebag."

"Don't you ever get hungry?" Gabrielle asked, bending down to get the bag. Picking it up she suddenly gasped loudly.

"What? Gab, are you okay?" Xena asked concerned, as she ran over from where she was loading up Argo.

Gabrielle looked up at her startled. "I'm O.K...I just forgot...I mean, I see Hercules coming."

"Huh? Where?" Xena asked turning around. "Oh, there they are. Good eyes Gabrielle!"

"They are? I mean, of course they are." Gabrielle covered quickly. Waiting until Xena's back was turned, she slipped a small parcel into the saddlebag she held.

"Xena! Hey, sorry we took so long." Hercules called, waving happily. Xena walked over to him with that slow deliberate gait of hers.

"No worries, you can't hurry some things." she said trying to catch his attention.

"Gabrielle, what are you doing?" Iolaus asked innocently, watching her strap their bedrolls on Argo. She didn't hear him since she was busy swearing at a purposefully moving Argo. Hercules did though, and looked at Xena.

"Xena...are you leaving?" he asked.

"Oh you noticed." she joked, not looking at him. "Yeah, well. Hades has a problem and needs some help." she said, trying to sound casual as she walked over to where Gabrielle was still valiantly trying to attach the saddlebags. Argo immediately stopped moving when Xena came over and easily flung the bags over her.

"Great, give Iolaus and me a minute to pack and we're off." Hercules said, misunderstanding.

Xena coughed and Gabrielle cleared her throat.

"You're uh, not coming." Xena stated.

"What?! Xena, you can't leave me." he protested taking her hands in his. Gabrielle and Iolaus each remembered something important they'd forgotten and moved out of earshot.

"Hercules, I have to." she said squeezing his hands. "I'll be back, I promise. I'll find you." she whispered with all her heart, while she looked into his eyes. " Xena-" he started, but was hushed when she laid her finger to his lips, he instead kissed her finger, then her hand, then her wrist...

"Ahem, Xena?" Gabrielle interrupted apologetically. "We need to go..." She tactfully left the rest unsaid.

"Yeah, ok," Xena said, tearing herself away from Hercules. They finished loading up Argo, the boys helping. When no one could find anything else to do, they turned to face each other. Xena and Hercules engaged in a passionate kiss, while Iolaus and Gabrielle said good-bye more formally.

"Iolaus..." Gabrielle said quietly, unsure how to start.

"Yeah," He smiled, " know. I understand. I felt it too, but we're still friends right?"

"Right." she breathed a sigh of relief. "Always." she said as she hugged him. Xena and Hercules were still together, so they both coughed loudly.

"Hey, what about me?" Iolaus joked after they separated. Xena took him by surprise and planted one on his lips. Everyone had to laugh at the expression on his very red face as he blushed. "Good-bye Iolaus." she smiled.

"Bye Xena. See ya later huh?" he gasped.

"Huh-uh Herc! Don't look at me like that!" Gabrielle admonished as Hercules grinned at her and puckered. she shook his hand instead. "Good-bye Hercules. Nice to meet you."

Xena and Hercules said 'good-bye' again, then Xena turned quickly and the two walked away leading Argo. Iolaus and Hercules watched them go.

"Gorgeous, isn't she? Check out that butt." he joked, watching her go.

"Yeah..." Iolaus said dreamily as he stared.


"uh...I ...uh, he he, you told me to look. " Iolaus laughed, then broke into a run as Hercules took after him.

The End

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