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Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle and Argo belong to those wonderful people at Renaisance and Universal. So do some of their story lines referenced briefly in this fan fiction. I take no credit for them.

Violence: There's a little bit, nothing serious though. More implied.

Subtext: I've tried to keep it on the same level as Season 1 and 2. It's there if you want it, if not then they're just good friends. It is most definitely Rated <G> though. Whether or not I've been successful in this I'll let you be the judge.

Setting: Prior to the India Arc - while Gabrielle still has her staff.

A Usual Day

By Xena's Muse

Chapter 1

"You know Xena, it's not one of 'your many skills', something that you really need to work on, one of the few things that you aren't brilliant at. That and chit-chat of course." The blond woman chuckled up at her friend.

Xena hadn't really been paying attention and realized that she had absolutely no idea what her bard was talking about. The tall raven haired warrior cast a surreptitious glance at her companion hoping for a clue. Gabrielle was looking at Xena with exasperation and Xena knew she'd been caught out. She glanced at Argo but the horse snorted and turned her beautiful head as if to say 'don't drag me into this'.

In an effort to change the subject and distract her companion Xena resorted to the one subject she knew could coax the bards attention from her current topic. "There's a creek over the next hill, how about eel for lunch, now you know that IS one of my many skills."

Gabrielle grimaced, remembering the time she'd been thrown an eel whilst trying to convince the latest victim of her friends potent magnetism that Xena had no intention of settling down and marrying. The feel of that writhing, wriggling thing was enough to turn Gabrielle off eels for life!

"Only if I can chop it's head off with your Chakram" Gabrielle shot back, remembering how long it had taken for the fishy smell to leave her friends trademark weapon.

"You wouldn't dare!"

The two grinned at each other and continued up the dusty worn track over the hill.

Whilst Xena went fishing in the azure creek Gabrielle readied the camp-ground. A fire was built, Argo settled into a nice glade of lush grass and Gabrielle sat down to work on her scrolls. The sunlight highlighting her golden head like a halo. Crickets chirped and the scene was tranquil.

Suddenly she froze. "BY THE GODS XENA, YOU DID IT AGAIN" the little bard bellowed. The crickets stopped chirping and a flock of birds took flight in fright, squawking their indignation at the interruption. Xena, standing knee deep in the creek froze, realizing the bard had discovered the diversion. It was one of the things that drove her best friend to distraction. Whenever Xena didn't want to discuss something she would change the subject and distract the little Amazon Queen. She found that the promise of food usually did the trick. The tall warrior also knew though, that it was only a temporary reprieve. "At least" she thought ruefully "I will be able to figure out what it is she thinks isn't one of my many skills".

Xena caught sight of the blond charging towards the river bank out of the corner of her eye. "She really is beautiful when she's angry" the warrior thought, preparing herself for the onslaught. "Actually given a choice I'd rather fight the harpies than Gabrielle in this mood". Xena sighed and decided that the best defense was to agree with the bard and schedule the conversation for after lunch. "Maybe something will happen by then" Xena thought optimistically. "A band of marauding bandits, a two headed Gorgon monster - anything".

The tall woman stood up and looked straight at Gabrielle, who was preparing to let fly with a torrent of emotion.

Xena arrested her with the calm announcement "You know Gabrielle, I think we should talk about what you were saying before, but after lunch, what do you think ?"

Gabrielle glared at her companion. "How does she do that ?" she muttered to herself. "That is how she managed to lead an army, always one step ahead".

"I bet you're hoping to be side-tracked by bandits or monsters by then aren't you ?" Xena had the grace to flush guiltily at her friends accurate accusation. "Do you even know what I was talking about ?"

Xena stammered "That thing...... you know..... not one of my many skills ?"

Gabrielle looked at her with a mixture of disgust and hurt and said "Sometimes Xena, I really don't know why I try so hard. I really wish you'd give both of us a break and believe in us just a little" The blond turned abruptly and stormed back to their camp.

Xena knew that she had hurt her friend but was mildly annoyed that after all this time Gabrielle still didn't realize that Xena's tolerance for deep talks and critical self evaluation was very limited and a conversation of this type was guaranteed to make her mind wander after a while. She knew that Gabrielle was only trying to help and do and say what she thought was in Xena's best interest but that didn't stop her from tuning some conversations out after a while. Xena decided she had caught enough fish for lunch and headed back to where her friend was waiting.

Gabrielle was uncharacteristically quiet during the preparation and eating of the meal. Xena's attempts to amuse the bard and earn her forgiveness were failing. Gabrielle wasn't going to be that easy to mollify this time. Xena decided to bite the bullet and with her characteristic bluntness confront the issue.

"Look Gabrielle, you've known me for a long time now and you know that soul searching and scrutinizing things isn't my strong point, you also know that long deep chats aren't really my thing either. Usually I really do try to stay focused but sometimes my mind wanders. I don't do it to hurt you, it's just I seem to reach an overload point and then I can't take in anymore. I'm sorry." Xena waited for Gabrielle to speak. Usually the bard was much better at putting emotions into words than Xena was. Gabrielle stared at the warrior for a long moment weighing up what her friend had said. It was true. Xena usually did try.

"You're right. The only reason I keep on about things, Xena, is that I worry about you. You are so hard on yourself." Gabrielle paused eyeing her friend "You have no idea what it is that I think isn't one of your many skills, do you?"

Xena looked Gabrielle straight in the eye. There was no avoiding this. "No".

"Forgiveness Xena, Forgiveness"

The warrior looked concerned and confused "Forgiveness? Who haven't I forgiven? What has brought this up? I thought we'd settled most of this in Elusia?" The panic was evident in the warrior's voice. What had she done? What had she missed?

"Not me, Not Ares, Not Caesar, Not even Ming Tien, Xena - You, You You - you need to forgive You !" The tiny bard was now in full lecture mode and nothing was going to stop her saying her piece. Not even the stunned expression on her best friends face. She punctuated her point with a jab of her finger in her friends chest.

"You have done so much for so many, you have saved so many lives. You have even redeemed some as you were redeemed, and that, Xena is an accomplishment! Even when you thought that I was dead, you didn't return to the monster you were! You worked for the 'greater good'. You helped people. You put other people's needs ahead of your own happiness and desires. You Xena, are a good person and you deserve some peace! You have to forgive yourself so that you can continue to grow as a person. You have to forgive yourself! I don't know of any other way of saying it Xena. We keep travelling down this road and we always hit this wall. Your poor opinion of yourself as a person. It hurts you, it hurts me and it hurts us".

Gabrielle brushed the tears flowing down her face with the back of her shaking hand. Xena still hadn't moved. Gabrielle grabbed her trademark staff and stormed off though the dense foliage.

Xena's analytical mind firstly tried to pinpoint the reason for this outburst. As far as she could ascertain there was no trigger. She couldn't think of a single thing that would have brought this on. Xena decided that she would think about the content of the discussion later, after she made sure that her bard was going to be ok. Xena set off in the direction Gabrielle had taken. She hadn't gone more than a few paces when she heard the sounds of Gabrielle's unabated fury being taken out on a tree. "Why does she always pick on trees?" Xena wondered abstractly.

"Stubborn" ...whack... "infuriating" ....whack... the tree shuddered from the onslaught "self defeating" ...whack.....

"Self defeating ?"

Gabrielle spun around and confronted the person she was furious with. "I'm running out of names". Xena tried to hide her smile but wasn't quite fast enough. Gabrielle's fury abated a bit and she leaned against her staff, watching Xena as if she was a new species of interesting bug.

"Look Gabrielle, maybe it would help if I understood where all this was coming from. I understand what you are saying about forgiveness on one level, but I really don't understand what has you worked up like this. It isn't as if this is a new conversation. But it hasn't come up recently, that I'm aware of anyway, so what gives ?"

"I'm tired" Gabrielle snapped irritably. "You know that if I don't get enough sleep I get irritable"

Xena looked confused again. "Why haven't you been getting enough sleep, you always turn in before I do, and you aren't exactly a morning person but we haven't been getting up any earlier. I don't understand".

"I haven't been getting enough sleep because some Warrior Princess keeps screaming in the middle of the night because she has nightmares. And the reason she has nightmares is because she will not consider, for even one moment that she is a good person and has gone so far towards making up for her dark past that she is entitled to a decent nights sleep!!" Gabrielle snarled through clenched teeth.

Xena was speechless. She'd had no idea that her companion had any idea that her sleep was plagued with nightmares or that she actually screamed and awoke her friend. They had been worse lately, since they'd traveled through an area that was close to Cirra. That place always made Xena feel worse about herself than practically anyplace else in the known world. Now she also felt guilty at causing her friend and companion this much pain and grief.

Gabrielle must have seen this in Xena's face because she came over and put her arms around her friend's unrelenting body. "I'm so sorry Gabrielle... I had no idea. I'm sorry..... I don't know what else to say".

Gabrielle stepped back from her friend with a heartbroken look on her face. "No Xena, I don't want you worrying about my sleep, I want you to take it easier on yourself. I want you to be a bit nicer to yourself. I don't want you to feel guilty now because of me too".

The two women stood and looked at each other. Both reading what the other was feeling and knowing intuitively that there wasn't anything else to say right now. This intuitive knowledge often helped their friendship over the rough patches. It certainly confused some of their friends who could tell that the two women had an entire conversation with one look while they and everyone else felt like an outsider. "Come on, if we want to get to the next village before nightfall we'd better get going"

Chapter 2

The two women walked down the road - side by side in companionable silence, an uncommon state between them. It wasn't a strained silence. The two women were engrossed in their own thoughts and while they were aware of each other they didn't feel the need to fill the silence with noise. This seemed to be upsetting Argo the most. The beautiful mare was not used to this. Since the first time the bard had been swung onto her back the days and nights had been filled with chatter and noise. Even when the bard wasn't with them the mare was used to Xena filling the silence by talking to her.

The silence, unfortunately, did not last long. As they breasted a small hill they could hear the sounds of fighting, women and children screaming and swords clashing. Argo tensed as Xena leapt onto her back and she galloped ahead with a surge of power. Argo knew the drill, get to the fight - fast. Xena's warcry should have scared off any miscreants but most, she was finding, were slow learners. Gabrielle sprinted after her friend. Her staff held in front of her and ready. As she ran she scanned the area, checking for any traps or bandits hiding along the path in the tall grass, or even injured villagers. This action was so ingrained by now that she was almost unaware she was doing it.

The small village was being attacked by masked bandits. "Great" thought Gabrielle "This is all Xena needs, reminders of the masked raiders of Cortese" even though the masks themselves were more reminiscent of The Black Wolf's than those of Cortese. She noticed one of the band standing off to the side, unsure of what to do. "Amateur, scared" Gabrielle thought with disgust. She knew however that this was no guarantee that the bandit would not join in the melee at any moment and probably be very dangerous because he was unpredictable and trying to prove himself. Keeping her warrior friend in her peripheral vision as always Gabrielle scanned the area to see which of the villagers needed her help. The sorting of the bandits she left to Xena, attacking only those who were injuring the villagers and children whilst she rallied them all to safety.

Xena plunged into the middle of the village with a maniacal grin on her face. "Gods I love this" Xena thought to herself, a distant part answered "Yes, that's what makes you evil and unforgivable". Xena plowed though the bandits trying not to kill any but to give them enough punishment to make them decide to leave. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a sight that made her blood freeze. One of the bandits, the leader as far as Xena could tell, was rushing towards a small child, sword raised, murder the intention. With no regard to anything else Xena unsheathed her lethal chakram and sent it spinning in a deadly trajectory towards it's target. The bandit's leader fell in a bloody heap on the dirt at the petrified child's feet.

The blond curls shook as the angelic looking girl stood rooted to the spot unable to move, unable to scream. A tall big boned woman scooped the child up covering her face with kisses. "It's alright, everything's going to be alright, Mommy's here". The petrified child finally found her voice and let out a scream that froze the rest of the bandits in place and caused them to notice finally that their leader was dead.

Xena caught and re-sheathed her deadly weapon. As one the masked bandits decided to leave and ran for their horses. Xena watched them as they galloped away. "I would have hoped that one of my men would have at least tried for my body when I was a warlord" Xena thought absently.

Gabrielle noticed that one still stood rooted to the place she had first seen him. One of the villagers was approaching him and Gabrielle prepared herself for trouble. The villager, Gabrielle noticed, was one of those big and burly farmer types. Small on talking, big on working with his hands. His arms had that well muscled tanned look that spoke of hours toiling in the hot summer sun. The blond hairs gleamed in the sun like gold. "Gabrielle, get a grip" Gabrielle chided herself "This farmer is about to brain this person". Gabrielle ran over just as the farmer grabbed the bandit. "Sir, please, we need to take him to the town jail, he needs to have a fair trial"

"What for ?"

"Well Sir, I know that under these circumstances it may seem a bit absurd but Sir" here Gabrielle paused for effect "we can't allow ourselves to turn into the animals we hunt". Gabrielle felt quite pleased with herself for this analogy, feeling that a farmer would appreciate it.

The farmer looked at her and grimaced. "You're right" he spat in disgust, whether at her, himself or the situation Gabrielle was not quite sure. He jerked the bandit towards the center of town where Gabrielle was certain they would find the town jail. Roughly he shoved the smaller man against the wall and growled "Let's see what you look like" as he ripped the mask from the silent face. Gabrielle and the farmer gasped in unison. "You're just a boy" they exclaimed. The farmer looked ill, realizing how close he had come to killing this child.

"What of it ?" snarled the younger one.

The farmer and Gabrielle looked at each other and shrugged. The boy was frog-marched into the jail without further comment from either Gabrielle or her new friend. When he returned the bronzed man extended his arm in the warriors handshake and grasped Gabrielle's forearm. This was the first time this had happened to her, it was an honour usually reserved for her impressive friend, but she returned it none the less. "Name's Petralyse, I usually try to keep up our defenses seeing that I served in an army or two, but we had no warning. Most the other bands around these parts make demands before raiding. If I'm not mistaken your friend over there would be Xena and that would make you Gabrielle, the bard."

Gabrielle was almost speechless. Her friend and mentor was quite often recognized, the closest she usually came was being called Muriel. "H-h-how did you know that ?" She stammered with no signs of her usual bardic verbosity.

Petralyse laughed a soft deep laugh that seemed to dance all the way up Gabrielle's spine. "Aren't you used to being recognized ?" he quipped, his eyes dancing merrily, "You're used to your friend being the famous one huh ? Or are you just surprised that a humble farmer would know about a bard, any bard?" He raised one eyebrow in an unconscious imitation of Xena. Gabrielle felt like she usually did when she was on the wrong end of that particular look, flustered.

She did however have the grace to admit "Well, usually the farmers we meet don't get to see many bards, just the ones that travel through, and it's not as if I'm famous or anything. In fact I haven't really been doing a lot of storytelling in public lately. So how did you know who I was?"

"Ah well, that's going to be my little secret" and with a twinkle in his eye Petralyse went to help his neighbours and friends. Gabrielle shook her head in exasperation "Honestly, he's as bad a Xena, I wonder if they're related".

Chapter 3

Xena strode over to the dead leader of the bandits and ripped the mask off. The world seemed to tilt at a crazy angle and Xena had the uncanny feeling of having been in this position before. She blinked her cobalt blue eyes to clear them to make sure that she really did see what she thought she saw. Looking again she was saddened to see that the view hadn't changed. Before her on the ground lay a young girl. No more than 15 or 16 winters. Xena felt like looking around to see if the Fates would give her a chance to take it back. "No." The strangled denial was wrenched from the warriors heart. "No". It seemed in that endless moment that all her sins, her entire past, was summed up in this one lifeless body. This dead child who was playing at being a warlord. The guilt crashed over her in waves. To an onlooker she looked as lifeless as the girl at her feet. Still as the grave and as pale as a ghost.

The big woman with the child in her arms approached her timidly. She wanted to thank this awe-inspiring stranger for saving her child but was afraid. She didn't believe that the warrior would turn on her but she knew that she was approaching a lethal person. She approached slowly, as she would a strange snarling dog.

"Thank you for saving my baby. That murderer killed my other baby and you saved my Geanie. I can never repay you but anything I have is yours. Even my life" A strangled sob escaped the woman as she finished this speech.

Xena was confused for a moment thinking that the woman was calling her a murderer, then she realized that the woman was talking about the corpse at her feet.

"I should have done something else, I shouldn't have killed her, She's barely more than a child herself" The warrior looked into the woman's compassionate eyes.

"No. No you couldn't. I saw it all, the Gods know it will be imprinted on my mind for the rest of my days, you could have done nothing else. That killer left you no choice. To save my baby you had to kill her. You positively had no choice and I for one would stand on Mount Olympus and swear to that in front of all the Gods and Goddesses, even Zeus himself. You saved my baby. I will always owe you more than my own life."

Xena looked at the woman appreciating her words but not quite believing them. "Thank you" she responded absently. Xena looked around searching for Gabrielle and Argo. She saw the familiar blond hair gleaming across the town square helping the villagers clear up. Gabrielle seemed to be fine. Xena whistled for her horse. "Would you mind telling my friend" Xena gestured towards the bard, "that I'll be back later on". She leapt onto Argo not waiting for the woman to respond and galloped out of the village.

Gabrielle watched her friend ride off with apprehension. Something was very wrong. Moving towards the place where she'd watched Xena talk with a woman Gabrielle's mind tried to sort out what could be upsetting her friend. The woman intercepted Gabrielle half way across the square. "Your friend said she'd be back later. I think she's upset because she killed that girl."

"What girl ?" Gabrielle inquired, thinking that an innocent villager must have been accidentally killed and Xena was feeling guilty that she was unable to prevent it.

"That murdering hussy that killed my boy and tried to kill my little girl" here the woman held the beautiful child out for Gabrielle's inspection. "Why she should feel bad about that I don't know. My names Muriel by the way."

An amused look crossed Gabrielle's face momentarily at the mention of that name but she quickly dismissed it. "That bandit leader was a woman ?"

"Not a woman, a girl, very young, she should be at home somewhere, not going around looting and murdering children."

Gabrielle thought she understood why her friend felt bad. She'd had the same shocking feeling when she and Petralyse ripped the mask off that boy. She walked over to the fallen leader and looked at her. In death the girl was beautiful and innocent looking. She was also very young. Gabrielle knew her friend would take some time to deal with this. There wasn't anything Gabrielle could do to help her right now.

Chapter 4

The stars twinkled coolly overhead. The fire crackled cheerfully, invitingly warm. However the atmosphere around the campfire was frosty. Xena had her I'm-The-Big-Bad-Warlord-So-Don't-Mess-With-Me armour on so Gabrielle was trying to give her some space. This was always hard for the bard, who's immediate reaction was to discuss whatever was upsetting her. When she'd first started travelling with Xena it hadn't taken her long to figure out that if she was going to stay with the ex-warlord she had to respect that Xena didn't deal with things the same way. The warrior seemed to be exuding more ice than the fire was exuding warmth and Gabrielle was trying to figure out a way of reaching her friend without getting either frostbite or yelled at.

"I'll catch something for dinner" was thrown over the raven haired warriors shoulder as she stomped out of the clearing. Gabrielle sighed with relief, briefly hoping that her friend would work out some of her demons with physical exercise, then deciding that if an afternoon of hard riding hadn't done the trick then catching something for dinner wasn't going to do it either. Argo looked exhausted. Xena must have ridden for miles. Gabrielle didn't enquire about it and Xena didn't offer any details.

Gabrielle set about preparing what she could while the warrior was gone.

After a strained dinner the two heroes decided that an early night was probably the best thing. In exhaustion the Amazon Queen and Warrior Princess laid down by the fire, side by side as was their usual custom, and fell asleep almost at once.

It seemed like only a candlemark had passed before the bard was jolted from her sleep by her friends horrific cry. She sounded like a tortured soul in Tarturus with no hope of release. Gabrielle sat up, her heart pounding in her chest. The other cries had been bad but this was totally different. She worried for her friends sanity. She shook the warrior awake, wondering if maybe the Furies were at work again. Xena gasped and grabbed her friend as though she were drowning.

"Gabrielle, you're alive, you're alright" she gasped.

Gabrielle cradled Xena in her arms saying "I'm ok - I'm right here Xena everything is alright" until the warrior calmed down.

"I dreamed that I ripped the mask of that girl and it was you. You weren't trying to kill that child but rescue her and I over-reacted and you were dead" the wild-eyed woman panted breathlessly. "It was your face and I'd killed you"

Gabrielle started rocking Xena in her arms again. This was a rare moment for Gabrielle as the warrior usually didn't let anyone get this close to her nightmares. She knew she had to be careful in what she said or the warrior would clam up and keep everything inside. It was so hard sometimes to get into her heart, beyond the armour. Gabrielle continued rocking the warrior until she fell into a restless sleep.

Chapter 5

The brilliant sunshine was dazzling the two women's eyes as they took a well earned bath in a nearby river. Argo stood on the shore gleaming where she had been groomed by her mistress for an hour. She was drinking contentedly and sampling some of the vegetation on offer.

The splashing sounds coming from the river sounded normal and cheerful. The two women were bantering back and forth as was their custom. "Come on Gabrielle, you can find it" The blond head disappeared beneath the surface and Xena shrieked with laughter.

The golden head appeared above the water again shortly and Gabrielle spluttered "I can't find it Xena, are you sure you haven't got it ?"

"Why would I hide the soap from you Gabrielle ?" Xena tried unsuccessfully for an innocent chagrinned look.

"You do have it, I'm going to get you !!" The bard was true to her word and launched herself at the warrior in an attempt to procure the soap. Shrieking with laughter they both wrestled playfully for possession of their prize. Both women reveled in their strength and flexibility that the horseplay and laughter allowed them to enjoy. Moments like this always stripped away the small tensions in their relationship and mended the smaller quibbles.

The taller stronger woman easily overpowered her smaller younger companion and flipper her over in the water. The Amazon Queen was quite used to this and was ready with a counter move. As her legs came over she pushed up from the bottom catching her tormentor by surprise. Xena managed at the last minute to deflect the bards momentum and save herself from getting dunked.

"I've got to remember not to get too predictable" the stunning woman laughed.

"Oh I don't know" Gabrielle shot back "you always seem to come out on top" Xena responded by splashing water at her.

A water fight ensued that was guaranteed to scare away any fish from that part of the river for at least the next few days.

Later as the pair were laying in the sunlight drying off and relaxing Gabrielle suggested they go back to the village and talk to the boy in the prison and get some food. Not necessarily in that order.

Chapter 6

Walking down the dusty road together Xena and Gabrielle were talking about the bandits who attacked the village on the previous day. "I can't help but feel that I should have done something else Gabrielle, I just can't figure out what."

Gabrielle sighed. She knew there was nothing she could say to help her friend through this. It was something that Xena had to work through on her own. It was fine for Gabrielle and Muriel to tell Xena that she had no choice but until she came to that conclusion on her own, then this would continue to haunt her.

"I just can't believe how young that girl was, or the boy who is in the jail" Gabrielle mused.

"I was probably about the same age when I started" Xena mused "but I was with my own villagers, defending my homeland at that time. The ...... other came later. This one started early. I wonder what her story was. That's what I try to do now Gabrielle, I try to remember that everyone has a story, even the bad people. That helps me to pull back in the heat of the battle and not kill, just stop them. But sometimes it can backfire like now. I know rationally, in my head, that she had to be stopped. But my heart keeps saying over and over 'She was a child'" Xena fell silent. Gabrielle was grateful that her friend was finally starting to deal with the girls death. She knew that eventually her friends head would win the argument with her heart.

They walked into the village shortly after. The reminders of yesterdays events were still evident. Broken planks and doors still adorned some of the buildings. One building was a wet soggy heap where it had been ignited and then extinguished with water. The strong sunlight showed the ravages in a harsh brutal way.

"Xena ? By the Gods it is you!" Xena and Gabrielle spun around to confront the owner of the deep resonant voice.

"Pythagoras ?" Xena asked "I haven't seen you for many seasons. Are you still working on your mathematical problems ? Gabrielle this is Pythagoras, probably the most brilliant mathematician in the known world. Pythagoras, this is Gabrielle" Having conducted the introductions the warrior stood back and scrutinized the old man while he and Gabrielle shook hands and looked at each other in confusion. She seemed satisfied with what she saw because she stated "You really are looking well. What are you doing here ?"

"My nephew, Petralyse, said that you helped out yesterday with some bandits. Well that was something I just had to see for myself. I'd heard the rumours, of course, but I wanted to see for myself that you really were a changed woman. Although speaking for myself you were always fair with me and my villagers." Gabrielle looked even more confused. She couldn't comprehend how this old man, who was an academic according to Xena, could have been on good enough terms with her friend when she was a warlord, for her to remember him so fondly. She always pictured her friend in those days alone and friendless. Sometimes though they ran into someone who remembered her with some fondness and that confused Gabrielle's notions of who Xena had been.

"Pythagoras helped me devise strategies using mathematical formulas in return for my leaving him and his village in peace. He taught me about angles and how to figure out the trajectory of my chakram" Xena explained to Gabrielle. This cleared things up a bit. He had been useful to Xena and so she had forged a friendship with him. "I used quite a few of his formulas when that day kept repeating over and over, remember that ? You asked how I could figure out how to hit all those things and where my chakram would end up with such precision. Your eyes glazed over when I tried to explain it to you though" Xena chuckled at the memory of her friend trying to understand the concepts that Xena herself had trouble verbalizing. "Well Pythagoras devised those formulas and taught me" Xena turned back to the old man "What are you working on these days ?"

The old man chuckled "Formulas for working out statistics" he darted a glance to the smaller woman who looked confused "I'm trying to explain how certain patterns emerge in mathematics." The trio walked towards the jail with the old man trying to explain statistics and mathematical anomalies Gabrielle. At the door the old man departed from the women after extracting a promise that they would dine together for lunch.

"I like him Xena, although he doesn't seem to be the usual 'friend to the warlord' type, if you know what I mean. And I think I'm beginning to understand what he's talking about. I mean it makes sense doesn't it ? Have you ever noticed that in life there are patterns too ? So why would mathematics be any different. At school, though, I didn't like doing mathematics and was quite often in trouble for day dreaming when the teacher was talking about it. He makes them interesting though, doesn't he ?" Xena waited until she was sure that her friend had stopped talking before attempting to answer.

"Yes, he's a great teacher and a brilliant man. I'm really glad that in those days he was useful to me and I got to know him. Don't doubt Gabrielle, that if he hadn't been useful I may very well have killed the finest mind of our time. How he can remember me from that part of my life with any fondness is as mysterious as some of his formulas. He once told me that I challenged him and drove him to do better than he would have otherwise, so maybe that's why" Xena moved towards the jail entrance and said "Let's get this over with"

Chapter 7

The jail cell was like most other jail cells Xena and Gabrielle had ever seen. A thick wooden door with a small barred window kept the prisoner inside. The walls were all stone with one small barred window set too high up to give a view. It's purpose was more functional. These cells needed fresh air, otherwise they stank even worse than they did now. Xena and Gabrielle had been in quite a few cells in their travels but more often they were escorting a bandit, murderer or thug to their temporary home whilst they awaited trial. The boy was sitting on the mattress that served him as a bed. It was sitting on a ledge in the wall. The hay was spilling out of some splits in the side and there was only one old horse blanket for warmth.

"Well" Xena started "Good thing it's summer. You'd be in trouble with that blanket in winter." As an opening gambit it had the desired affect.

"What do you know ? I don't feel the cold anyways ! I'm not a baby ! I've lived through worse !" Xena raised one eyebrow and favoured him with a sardonic grin. The affect was instantaneous. The boy stopped talking and glared at the warrior, daring her to contradict him.

The grin was joined by a mocking "Really ?" as the warrior picked him up by the scruff of his neck and moved him so she could take his seat. Xena sat there idly looking at the boy, grinning and playing with her chakram. She never once removed her eyes from his. Gabrielle usually liked to jump right in and fire questions but she had seen Xena use this technique before and knew that it worked. Pretty soon the boy was going to start babbling, just to break the silence and stop Xena looking at him like that. Gabrielle gazed at him with a solemn look on her face so that when he shifted his gaze to her he would know that they were both focused on him. Gabrielle's seriousness was a good counterpoint for Xena's grin and relaxed manor. Xena could keep this up for hours Gabrielle knew, but she would soon get the giggles if it went on too long. When Xena was doing this to a hard-bitten warlord Gabrielle stayed outside.

The boy started fidgeting. A good sign, it meant he was uncomfortable. "What do you want anyways ?" he demanded with all the churlishness of a spoilt child.


"Well, go away then. I don't want you here. I didn't ask you to come !"

Xena's grin hardened just a little, enough to give the boy pause, and then she said "This isn't your home, you don't have any authority to tell us to go away. I'm thinking that we," Xena indicated her companion, "might just hang around for a while."

The boy looked aghast at this pronouncement. He knew that he couldn't keep up his tough act for long and he didn't want to cry in front of anyone, least of all two women, even if they did look pretty tough themselves. The tall one looked like she knew how close to tears he was. The other one looked like she'd be more understanding. He decided a different approach might work. "Thanks for stopping that guy killing me yesterday" he directed towards Gabrielle.

"Everyone should get a fair trial" Gabrielle responded neutrally. Xena snorted at this. Gabrielle's eyes started to water a tiny bit where she was keeping her mirth under control. She felt ridiculous trying to intimidate a child that should be put over someone's knee and given a good spanking. "You didn't seem to be doing much. Just come for the entertainment ? Or were you planning on joining in the festivities at some later stage?"

Gabrielle could see Xena out of the corner of her eye change colour ever so slightly as she also had to stop herself from bursting into great gales of laughter. Both women knew that if they made direct eye-contact there would be no stopping them. The sarcasm in Gabrielle's voice was not lost on the boy. The shame flooded back over him. Slowly he hung his dark head and let his tears stream down his face. He tried to kid himself for a moment that neither of the women knew what he was doing. It didn't work.

Gabrielle softened her tone "What were you doing with them ? Where are your parents ?" This question unleashed a fury that was totally unexpected by the duo and removed any desire to giggle.

"Dead" he screamed "Where were you ? You can save these people but where were you when those men killed my whole family ? Nowhere, that's where ! Well I can tell you this" he paused to take a breath. They looked on in astonishment as this child berated them. "I am not going to be next. I will kill everyone I need to. Nobody is going to get to me. Nobody." With this final pronouncement he turned his back and glared at the wall.

"So, you think that because someone killed your family, that gives you the right to kill other peoples families ?" Xena's sardonic mask was back in place and the question was asked in a slow drawl, guaranteed to irritate and intimidate. "How many times have you been out with this band ?"

The child mumbled something incomprehensible in response to this.

"I think this is his first time Xena, he just stood there"

At the mention of the warriors name the child spun around astonished. He looked as though he'd just figured out he'd been playing with a deadly snake. He probably figured he had been. "X.. X... You're Xena ?" he stammered.

"So ?" the dark eyebrow arched again.

"I... I... uh I've heard of you." Xena wanted to squirm under his awed gaze but knew that would be counterproductive. Her face was an immobile mask that gave none of her thoughts away. She was hoping that he would be easier to deal with now.

"Now if I remember correctly" here she gave a sardonic laugh with no mirth at all in it "New members to a band have to go through some form of basic training first. Is that what you've been doing ?"

"Yes, this was the first time they'd let me come. I didn't think it would be like that but" Here he lifted his chin defiantly "you either have to kill, or be killed. Take or be taken. Any weakness can be exploited and used against you" He recited this speech like a mantra. Xena knew that he believed what he was saying and that it was only a matter of time before he joined up with the same bandits or another group and actively participated in the burning, murdering and looting, convincing himself that he was protecting himself and his new friends. Sadly she recognized younger self.

"He hasn't taken that first irrevocable step yet though, maybe I can still get through to him" she thought, "What would have appealed to me in his position" Quickly tactics ran through the warriors analytical mind and were either discarded or kept for further evaluation. Her face belied no hint of the rapidity of the working of her mind. Her eyes did not shift focus at all. The boy started to squirm again.

Finally Xena decided that the best tactic was the brutal truth. Nothing less would suffice because that was all she herself would have had any respect for. She hoped that this child wasn't as stubborn as she had been. "People in pain don't listen to reason very well" she cautioned herself.

Chapter 8

"Gabrielle, could you find us a couple of chairs please ?"

If Gabrielle was surprised by this request she knew better than to show it. Quickly and quietly she left the room to do as she was bid. She nearly stumbled over Petralyse in the corridor. He'd obviously been listening to what was going on. He volunteered to get the chairs. "May as well make it 3" Gabrielle quipped. Petralyse had the grace to look embarrassed to be caught eavesdropping.

"I feel like he's my responsibility, I wanted to know what makes a kid join a band of murderers. I can't even begin to imagine what he's been through." Petralyse said by way of explanation.

Shortly all four people were sitting in the prisoners cell. Xena had made no comment on the addition of Petralyse except her trademark eyebrow raise. Petralyse raised his own and looked back at her the same way. A fleeting smile crossed the warriors face before she turned back towards the boy. She had never been on the receiving end of one of her own looks.

"What's your name ?"


"Well Darion, here's how it is. I'm going to tell you a few facts of life and you are going to listen, and listen well. I'm not a bard, that's my friends job, but you will listen none-the-less. I was like you. My village was attacked. I lost friends and family, then proceeded to sully their memories by becoming a blood-thirsty warlord"

Xena continued to narrate her dark past. Not glorifying any of the battles or victories. Always telling how her soul kept getting darker and darker until she didn't think there was any other way for her. Then she told of meeting Hercules and how she turned her life around with help from the famous hero. Her meeting and travels with Gabrielle were told next.

Then Xena told of her nightmares. Gabrielle sat very still. She could not believe her friend was opening up to this boy, telling him of pain and horror that she never shared willingly with anyone. She had never realized how deeply some of those horrors and nightmares went. She wanted to put her arms around her friend to comfort her but knew that wasn't what the warrior wanted. Petralyse looked haunted and Darion looked like he was going to be sick. Xena was relentless. She continued until Darion looked like he was going to have nightmares for weeks himself.

"Gods" thought Gabrielle "I'm going to be waking up screaming for a while now"

They had the trial the following morning. Darion pleaded guilty to being with the bandits and intending to loot the village. He didn't look like he had slept at all well. Xena was pleased. Petralyse got up in the courtroom and spoke on Darion's behalf, offering to have the boy live with him.

Darion was sentenced to help re-build the buildings that were damaged and help replant crops.

Chapter 9

Xena, Gabrielle and Argo were camped only a few hours away from the village. A blazing fire was throwing light and warmth over the two women. Their dinner plates were set close to the fire to dry off after their evening meal had been scrubbed from them.

"I liked Pythagoras" Gabrielle mused "He is such a sweet man. And I really learnt a lot from him" an impish grin crossed her face "I even learned a bit more about a certain warlord." Xena and Gabrielle had eaten a late lunch with Pythagoras after the trial and he had told stories about Xena's past that Gabrielle had never heard before. It always amazed Xena that people remembered good things about her. He told of how she had set up a hospital in his village. The hospital admittedly was for her own troops but she had trained some of the villages in healing techniques. This knowledge had helped the people for years. The sick had come from all around the area to consult with the healers helping the villages economy. "Good thing I didn't know" Xena mused "I would have wanted all the profits for myself".

Silence descended again as both friends followed their own thoughts. Presently Gabrielle realized that her friend was upset. "You're thinking about that girl again, aren't you Xena?"

"Gabrielle, she was so young. I know I had no choice but that doesn't make it any easier to live with. I wish that there had been some other way." Xena punctuated her point by throwing a stick savagely into the fire.

Gabrielle was pleased that at least Xena had recognized that she had no choice in killing the young murderer. "That's got to be a step in the right direction"

"I've been thinking about something that Pythagoras was saying Xena. Now I want you to listen to me without interrupting for a minute. I want to you focus and not let your mind wander, just for a little while I promise." An argument had been wandering through the bards mind since her discussion about patterns and statistics with the mathematician. Gabrielle believed that maybe something un-emotional and logical would appeal more to her friend.

"OK ? You ready ? You keep focusing on how many you've killed over your life. I think that you should also be thinking about how many you have saved as well. Sort of like a counter balance. Now Xena, that is a hard number to figure because only the Fates could know for sure" Gabrielle paused to see if her friend was listening.

"Yes Gabrielle, but nothing I do now is going to bring those people back. And I have been responsible for the deaths of a lot more than I have saved. That's a fact."

"No Xena. This is what I've been thinking." Gabrielle took a deep breath "How many people did you save by what you did in that village?" Xena looked like she was about to answer when Gabrielle continued "We don't know. We can't know. By saving one boy from becoming a murderer and killing one girl who had slid all the way down that path you have saved untold number of people." Xena looked at Gabrielle as though she had lost her mind.

"Have you been eating Nutbread again?" she enquired.

"No. Listen. Lets just say that people who turn into murdering bandits kill 20 people in their lives - would you think that was a reasonable number?"

Xena conceded that it was probably a bit low but would agree for the sake of the argument.

"Alright then." Gabrielle was going slowly because she knew she'd only get one shot at this. "Lets say that out of the 20 that Darion would have killed, two of their family members would have in turn become killers and murdered 20 each. So far Xena you have saved 60 people. The 20 from Darion. And the 40 from the 2 killers he created. Then out of those 40 victims 4 killers were created. They each killed 20. That's another 80 that you've saved. So far we're up to 140 peoples lives you saved by changing that boy. This goes on and on Xena !! Out of those 80 8 killers could have been created and they would have 160 victims between them ! I'm working on 1 in 10 victims would have a family member that would become a killer as a result. Would that be reasonable do you think?"

Xena stared at her friend. Dumbly she nodded and shrugged.

"And out of their 160 victims 16 may have become killers with 320 victims !!! So far we're up to" here Gabrielle paused considering.

"600" Xena supplied with no effort.

"So by saving 1 boy and killing 1 warlord you have saved at least 1200 people 600 each. Probably more because where would it end? You've probably saved as many people since you changed as there are stars in the sky!" Gabrielle finished her speech triumphantly. She waited to see what her friends reaction would be.

Xena was looking at Gabrielle consideringly. Gabrielle realized that Xena wouldn't suddenly forgive herself totally but she knew that Xena was going to think about what she had said. Dropping the subject now seemed like the best thing.

Silence again fell around the campfire. Gabrielle took a new scroll out of one of their saddlebags and prepared to record their adventure.

"Uh Xena?"


"Never tell me again that you wouldn't make a good bard because I won't believe you!"

The End

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