STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, et al are property of Renaissance Pictures, MCA, Universal and whoever else has the legal documentation to back up their claim. No infringement is intended. They are borrowed only.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER: This story contains scenes of love between two consenting adult women, with graphic sexual content. Also, seeing as one of the women is a sword-wielding ex-warlord and the other is a staff-wielding Amazon Queen, it is safe to say there will be violence in this story, although not violence against each other. (Didn't we have enough of that at the beginning of Bitter Suite?)
Also, this particular Xenaverse does not acknowledge the third or fourth season, meaning there was never any rift, any lies, any Hope, and--although not in this story--Callisto and Solon are still alive.
This is the first piece of published fanfiction I ever wrote and I wrote it around 1997. Please take that into consideration with any criticism you might wish to share with me.
OTHER NOTES: Please feel free to e-mail me constructive criticism, comments, etc. at
THANKS: To Stacey: Thank the gods I have an editor like you who asks the right questions, probes the right weak spots, encourages the right plot turns, and generally makes me feel like the luckiest Bard around to have found someone like you who not only understands my Muse and her sadistic ways, but who knows how to get the most out of what I write… Do you realize that two seconds either way that night in the Palace chat room would have meant we would never have met? I just love those Fates!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


Something More Than This
By Bardzlife
aka DiNovia


Part III

I followed Gabrielle down the stairs, biting my lip to keep from gasping as torturous jolts of lightning zinged up and down my sides. I tried to concentrate on my breathing but that only made it worse. Instead, I contented myself with studying Gabrielle who preceded me down the stairs, something decidedly different about her.

I puzzled over it for a moment, suddenly realizing that all her gentleness had disappeared and with it, her vulnerability.

She held her head higher and her shoulders straighter. Her gaze never wavered and there was tension humming in the easily defined muscles beneath her skin.

Regal, I thought. She looks regal. My gods! She is every inch a princess in this!

I straightened my own shoulders in response and adjusted my stance slightly, falling in behind and slightly to the left of her. If she could play the part of royalty, I would damn well play the part of her guard.

I coiled the muscles in my arms, preparing to fight, and let a snarl creep its way onto my face. In my mind's eye I was nothing but a pathetic impersonator of the bard's real protector, but I would play the part even if it killed me. Which I thought it just might do, considering the pain I was in.

The guards that had fetched us led us to a table near the hearth where Phorcys sat, smiling evilly, like a panther sitting down to a meal of raw princess meat.

"Won't you join me, ladies?" His question was civilly asked and promptly ignored. He waited for only a moment before the grin slid off his face and he gave a sharp nod. Gabrielle and I found ourselves slammed into chairs.

"That's better." The smile was back. It did not reach his eye, bone-blue in the shadows that also brought the jagged scar meandering from his temple to his jaw into sharp relief.

"What do you want, Phorcys?" asked Gabrielle haughtily. Her eyes flashed an indignant emerald green in the firelight and I could easily read impatience and irritation in them. What I couldn't see was hesitation and that bolstered my own confidence. I scowled.

"I want you to tell me where she is," he said, his voice low with menace.

Ah, I thought. Worried that your prey is long gone, are you?

"I have no idea," said the bard softly. And that was so very true. I could hear the valiantly battled sadness in her voice.

The back-handed smack came so quickly I don't think either of us expected it. The vicious blow knocked Gabrielle right out of her chair and across the floor. I bolted out of my own chair only to find two pairs of strong arms clamped around me, struggling against my violent pitching. I didn't care about the pain or the danger anymore. I wanted to kill them all.

Phorcys glanced at me for a brief moment then returned his gaze to Gabrielle who, if at all possible, looked haughtier and more regal sitting on the floor wiping blood from her chin than she had walking down the stairs. I fought harder.

"Call your Amazon off before I have Jirkar rip off her arms."

My eyes jerked to Phorcys who still sat in his chair, looking bored and unconcerned. He gripped a mug of something dark in his hand and took an absent swig from it.

Her Amazon?? What in all of Gaea's goatherds was he talking about??

I stopped struggling in Jirkar's arms, partially from confusion and partially from Gabrielle's sudden wide-eyed glance at me. She finally found her voice, the distraction in her eyes disappearing quickly. The princess returned, her eyes cold and fearless.

"Taren, I'm okay. Please return to your seat."

Jirkar slammed me into my chair with such force that my teeth rattled. I nearly doubled over from the excruciating pain that started in my chest and radiated outward in a white-hot web. Tears I could not stop began in the corners of my eyes. Until I saw Gabrielle rise.

With more poise and grace than I had ever seen in any woman, Gabrielle rose from the floor, dusted off the front of her shift, and returned to her chair. Her eyes never left mine and she reached out to lay her hand on my arm.

Phorcys clenched his teeth. "Stop playing-"

"Wait!" hissed the bard, not taking her eyes away from mine. Phorcys obeyed the unbelievable order. I'm not sure who was more stunned by that at the time, him or me.

Gabrielle reached out her hand and gripped my wrist with gentle fingers.

"Are you all right?" she asked intently. I knew she knew I was in real trouble here. Her concern washed through me like clean, clear water, making the pain a little more bearable for the moment. I nodded once and let my eyes harden as I reached out to brush away a trickle of blood snaking down her chin.

"I will kill him for you, M'Lady," I whispered. I was no longer playing a part and I knew it. It was a solemn vow from a willing servant. The stink of his rotting flesh would be the sweetest of scents to me.

A burst of laughter shattered the moment as Phorcys regained his senses.

"Oh she's a ripe one, little one! I'm going to enjoy watching Jirkar and Yrjo disembowel her!" He gave another of his sharp nods and I felt myself lifted out of my chair.

If looks could kill, Phorcys would have been flayed alive.

"Don't you dare!" A muscle in Gabrielle's cheek twitched under the pressure of her clenched jaw.

Phorcys slammed his mug on the table and leaned forward. "Then you had better tell me where she is, BITCH! Or not only will I force you to watch them gut her, I will make you wear her entrails! WHERE IS XENA??"

"I DON"T KNOW!!" shouted the bard, slapping both her palms on the table with a sharp crack. "How many more times will I have to tell you that? How many languages would you like to hear it in? Can I draw it on the wall for you? Would pictures help?!"

She was simply beautiful. I knew it was stupid to be thinking that while sitting in my chair, with broken ribs, waiting to be killed by two smelly raiders. But it was just so true. With her nostrils flared in rage, with her eyebrows plunged into a deep V over her eyes…and what eyes… Clear and strong, with tiny thunderclouds in them, complete with flashes of lightning. She was absolutely gorgeous.

Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who noticed.

A gamut of emotions flickered across Phorcys face. Shock at the outburst was quickly replaced by what I could only describe as hesitation. He glanced at the inn door for a moment then looked at his leather-covered fists for a longer one. The black leather creaked in protest as he clenched his fists tighter and tighter and I briefly thought the seams would simply split, dropping the gloves to the table in a little, useless heap. Just before the first stitches snapped, his hands stilled. I looked up to see that panther's grin back on his face.

He stood and strolled around the table, his smile never wavering. Gabrielle stood and took a step back and for the first time since we'd walked downstairs I saw doubt clearly etched into her muscles.

"No matter," he said softly, gently brushing the back of his hand down her cheek. She flinched at the contact and tried to take another step back, her path blocked by a table. "After all, I did say I wanted her to come to me this time, didn't I?"

My eyes darted from his to Gabrielle's. A sick feeling began in the pit of my stomach and I could feel my arms go weak with dread. I had an awful, awful feeling about this. He was being too sweet. He was being too pleasant. And evil simply rolled off of him in waves.

"My mistake before was trying to ensnare her with brute force. I should have realized it wouldn't work. She's too smart, you see. Too careful for that." He paced in a half circle around Gabrielle, letting his one eye graze down her body every so often.

"I should have realized what needed to be done the instant I saw you, little one," he continued, absently reaching out and lazily drawing a finger down her bare arm. Gabrielle's hesitation bloomed into fear. I could almost smell it. My heart pounded in my ears.

"I mean, she's like a mother bear with you, isn't she, cubling? She killed fifty of my men after you took those bolts and then she simply…disappeared. Into thin air. We searched and searched but we never found where she had taken you." He stopped and placed the tip of his finger on Gabrielle's bottom lip.

"She was worried about you, wasn't she?"

I saw the tremors run up Gabrielle's spine and I began to rise out of my chair. I felt no pain…only a roaring, buzzing desperation that nearly deafened me.

"Yes," admitted the bard.

"She takes care of you, yes?" His finger slid over her chin and down her throat, sliding further still until reaching the swell of her breasts under the fabric of her shift. She tried to move away but the damn table was right behind her! Bile rose in my throat and I thought I might vomit right there! This couldn't be happening. It just couldn't!

Gabrielle didn't answer him. She locked her eyes with his in a last ditch show of confidence that I could tell she didn't feel.

The bastard changed the direction of his wandering finger and drew it down her side until it came to a suspicious halt at the curve of her hip, the rest of his fingers fanning out to join in as he clamped his hand on her waist. He repeated the motion much more slowly with his other hand and Jirkar snickered behind me.

"If I were to kill you, little one, how long do you expect I would live?"

Gabrielle snickered just a little and Phorcys grinned.

"That's what I thought. And I can't go around dying before I get what I want, now can I? No, what I need is something that will bring her to her knees. Something that will make her crazy enough to make a mistake. And I know just what might do that."

His right hand clamped down on her waist and he lifted Gabrielle off her feet, hurling her onto her back on the nearest table with a loud smack.

"NOOOOO!!" I screamed as my guards grabbed me and tried to hold my desperately writhing form. Gabrielle began to scream as well, struggling to get a foothold on the table so she could kick the bastard. Phorcys pinned both of her hands above her head with one massive arm and swept her feet off the table with the other.

Gabrielle fought him with everything she had, tears streaming down her face, her screams battering me like blows. Her terror was agony to me. Worse than the most horrid and painful of deaths.

"I love an appreciative audience," laughed Phorcys as he pushed Gabrielle's shift up around her waist and forced her kicking legs wide open.

Then he unbuckled his leathers.

Xena prowled along the edge of the inn, worming her way to the back where she hoped there would be less activity. The front door was gone and there were too many soldiers around it, watching something inside the building that obviously interested them. She knew she could take them. None of them were even remotely aware of her presence. But the risks were too great.

No. Her tactic here had to be surprise. Gabrielle's life was at stake and it was the one thing she never took chances with. Never.

She slipped around the corner of the building and smirked. As she thought, only two guards had been assigned to the back door and neither of them were doing any actual guarding. In fact, they were both staring in the window, snickering at whatever it was that they saw. Snippets of their conversation floated to her on the night breeze.

"Yup, there he goes…"

"Smooth… Did ya see tha'?" The round one shoved the taller one affably.

"…right up to the table…good move…"

Xena suspected a contest was being fought. A skills combat maybe? Her men had indulged in similar things after a victory. She stretched her senses outward, letting them roam like tendrils around her. She heard no sounds of combat, even mock combat. Only a low male voice and the muffled click of boots against boards.

What is so damned interesting, she wondered, discarding the idea of a competition. No one fought that quietly.

"Lookit…the other one's ancy now…" The taller guard leaned closer to the window, licking his lips hungrily. The round one just grinned a sick little grin, his eyes becoming narrow slits in his obvious pleasure.

Xena suddenly became edgy, her blood surging like a river through her body. Her mind slid pieces of the puzzle into place, the picture becoming clearer and clearer. Then, wafting on another gentle breeze, the last puzzle piece slammed home. The rancid tang of male lust filled her nostrils.

"That bard won't be able to stand-" Their conversation ended permanently as Xena's sword sliced through both their necks in one powerful swing. She bolted for the window just as screams erupted from inside. Horrified, she saw Gabrielle spread-eagled on a table, under a leering Phorcys, while Taren begged him to stop, to take her instead.

Xena unchained her rage and let its unconquerable power slick through her like an inferno, fed by the dark and slippery oils of anger and hatred. She took two steps backward, then surged forward, exploding through the window in a shower of glass and wood. But it was her bloodcurdling battle yell that really announced her presence.

The two guards holding the sobbing, wildly jerking chestnut-haired innkeeper were the first to recover and they abandoned their captive, charging at the warrior. Taren-suddenly free-hurtled her screaming body at Phorcys, who had gone completely white at the sight of Xena launching through the window. He was still fumbling nervously with the buckle on his leathers when the innkeeper blindsided him, the two of them falling to the ground in a vicious tangle.

Xena gutted the pig-faced guard as he came into range, catching his weakening follow-through swing on her bracer and shoving his lifeless body out of her way. The toothless giant managed only slightly better, his sword actually clanging against hers once before her she split him from stomach to snarl with her dagger. His hot blood slithered down her arm for a moment as she held his massive body upright on the point of the smaller weapon, then she jerked her hand back and twisted away, letting the dead weight hurtle past her and into two soldiers trying to flank her.

Her eyes darted around the room, noting more raiders descending upon her. She dismissed them for the moment, her eyes wanting and finally finding Gabrielle in the chaos. Xena grinned as the bard, using a discarded broom as a makeshift staff, swung the weapon in a complicated series of moves, disarming two men and dumping another on his backside. She was making her way determinedly toward the battle raging on the floor, fiercely discouraging the men who sought to help their fallen leader.

Xena's grin vanished, though, when she saw a glint of steel on a small point aimed for the bard's heart. She snatched her chakram off her hip and launched it without thinking, the hissing metal disk cleaving the crossbow and the crossbow-wielder in two. She barely had time to catch the weapon on its return flight before eight raiders bore down on her, their swords glittering in the firelight.

Xena leapt straight up with a ululating cry, tucking her long body at the last second and flipping almost lazily. She dropped like a stone onto the fastest soldier's head, snapping his neck like a dry reed. She pushed off as he dropped beneath her feet and delivered a flurry of face kicks to stunned men who were pulling hard on their speed in an effort to back up.

Xena let the force of her descent carry her almost to the floor, her knees bending low to the ground, sending her into a crouch. A bristling meathead, incorrectly assessing her move as a fall, watched as his sword and his sword arm both clattered to the floor, neatly sheared off as the warrior woman surged upward again. Her backflip dropped her behind three stunned warriors who failed to turn or even duck before her sword found its deadly mark on each of them.

She caught the corpse in the middle before it fell and rushed forward with a piercing shriek, using the dead flesh as a shield against a fresh batch of zinging blows that were not particularly well-aimed to begin with. Ducking under the last group's defenses this way, Xena sliced and stabbed her way out of the melee without so much as breaking a sweat.

When the blows finally stopped, she tossed what was left of the disintegrating body at the last of Gabrielle's attackers, distracting him long enough for the bard to knock him unconscious with a sharp crack to his thick skull. That left the warrior only one last thing to do.

She turned to find Phorcys and Taren rolling together on the floor amidst frustrated screams and hissed curses. Taren, using her momentum as she rolled, ended up on top of the warlord, straddling his chest with her knees. Startled, the warrior realized Taren had a knife and was desperately trying to force it downward, her hands blocked by the warlord's iron grip. She was growling like a mad dog, tears dripping off of her face, dotting Phorcys' leathers in strange patterns.

Xena took two steps toward the pair, intending to end the struggle once and for all, when she saw Taren go absolutely rigid.

Frothing at the mouth, the lanky innkeeper snarled at Phorcys and Xena watched something in the girl snap.

"You evil…one-eyed…fucking…sonova…WHORE!!"

On the last word, Taren unexpectedly pulled the knife upward, out of Phorcys' hands. His one eye widened as he watched the girl tip her head back and howl, the sound so pained that even Xena was startled by it. As the inhuman wail crested, Taren drove her arms down with every last ounce of her strength and plunged the dagger into Phorcys' one remaining eye…and through the back of his head, pinning him to the floor.

Xena and Gabrielle stared at the incredible scene, the deafening silence broken only by Taren's sobbing and the soft, liquid sound of Phorcys' blood pooling around him. Xena finally took a step toward the girl, who's hands where still desperately clutching the hilt of the dagger.

"Die…die…die…die…die…" Taren's eyes were clenched shut and she whispered the mantra over and over. Xena set her gore-encrusted sword on the floor quietly and reached a bloody hand out to the girl.


The battered woman flinched at the touch, leaning away from the warrior and keeping her eyes firmly closed.

"It's okay, Taren," she said in a low voice, halting Gabrielle's quick approach with a raised hand. "It's over now."

She raised her tear-streaked face and opened her hazel eyes. Gone was the girl struggling to find herself. In her place sat a woman and a warrior, her eyes now painted with the grim knowledge of her calling and her nature.

"I couldn't let him do that to her," she whispered evenly.

Xena gave her arm a gentle squeeze of understanding.

"Or to you," she continued. "I couldn't let him destroy you like that."

"Let go of the dagger, Taren," said Xena softly, blinking tears out of her vision.

Gabrielle couldn't wait anymore and she rushed over, dropping to a knee next to the innkeeper.

"She's injured, Xena. I think she has broken ribs."

Xena pulled Taren to her and cradled her there, looking up into deep sea-green eyes filled with concern and fear. She reached out to touch the bard's cheek, a single mutinous tear slipping down her face.

"Are you okay?" she whispered.

Drowning in the flame-blue eyes now so open to her, Gabrielle could only nod, holding the warrior's hand to her cheek with trembling fingers. A whimper from the injured innkeeper reminded them that they had work to do and Xena's hand dropped slowly away from the bard. A silent agreement passed between them and they both took a deep breath and stood, the warrior easily lifting Taren in her arms.

With efficiency born of experience, the bard and warrior set about transforming the bloody inn into a makeshift healing center. Once-imprisoned townsfolk, finding themselves rid of their captors, began pouring into the inn, either to seek medical attention or to find loved ones from whom they'd been separated.

Xena assigned three women to attend the wounded and asked two sturdy young men to keep a promise she had made, giving them directions to the meadow where she'd left Annis. Gabrielle formed a cleaning brigade, assigning several men the task of ridding the inn floor of its gruesome litter.


She stopped them before they could begin, sending an interested gaze around the room. Blood and bodies were everywhere but she didn't see them. She was much more fascinated by the weapons, flung askew where their wielders had dropped them in their deaths…

Each blade unsoiled and glittering in the firelight.

Sometime after dawn Xena trudged upstairs and silently opened the door to her room, not wanting to disturb the bard who she knew would still be asleep. Her eyes flicked over the unmade bed, widening when they didn't find what they expected to see. She turned to the left and almost sighed out loud when she found the bard's familiar outline framed in the open window, sunlight streaming in around her.

Gods, she's beautiful, came the unexpected thought. But the warrior couldn't deny it. Gabrielle was beautiful standing there in the window with wild honey, ginger, and peach fingers of light caressing her and giving her the burnished look of a bronze sculpture. Her hair reddened and glowed in the sunshine, spilling sensuously down her back, and Xena found herself thankful that the bard wasn't asleep, even though she knew she must be exhausted. She was glad for the opportunity to let her eyes drink their fill of her, letting her still luminescence soothe her memories and scrub her insides clean of the dark, gritty filth caked there. She was glad, too, that she could do this unnoticed and unseen.

"How is Taren?" asked Gabrielle softly. Xena closed her eyes, suddenly regretting those endless days spent teaching the bard to use all her senses.

"She'll be fine. She's sleeping now."

Gabrielle nodded but did not turn around. She was dressed in an old shirt that she sometimes slept in, the bottom of it brushing her muscular thighs. The whisper of the rough fabric against the bard's skin made Xena swallow convulsively and suddenly all the things she wanted to say to her-that she had been practicing over and over for candlemarks-evaporated in the searing heat of her insecurities. She decided, instead, to fall back on the only other speech she had practiced.


"Don't." The word was soft but final.

Xena paused for a moment, confused, then took a breath to start again.

"I mean it, Xena," said the bard. "Don't you dare."

Each word dropped like a stone into the pit of Xena's stomach and her heart nearly broke on the sharp words until Gabrielle gathered her courage and let the rest of her admonition tumble out of her mouth in a rush.

"Don't you dare apologize for giving me my dream."

Silence. A silence so deep Xena could hear Gabrielle's rapid heartbeat and the conspicuous absence of her breath. Her own heart raced as the bard's words washed through her, filling her with a feeling that was sparkly and entirely unfamiliar, like she had swallowed drunken fireflies. She slowly walked up behind the younger woman and slid her arms around her waist.

And waited.

Gabrielle stiffened at the first warm touch then relaxed, molding her body blissfully to the warrior's. Xena brushed her lips across the top of the bard's head then nuzzled her, drawing the sunny scent of her deep into her lungs.

"Are you gonna turn around?" she asked, her voice low and sultry.

Gabrielle giggled nervously. "Um…not yet. Is that okay?"

Xena tightened her arms and drew her closer. "Yeah, that's okay."

The two of them spent long, languid moments watching the sunlight ooze across the town square and puddle between the buildings. Gabrielle trembled from head to foot.

"Are you scared?" It was just a soft breath tickling her ear but Gabrielle felt her knees go weak and her belly jump. Her eyes fluttered closed and she crossed her arms over Xena's, thinking to steady herself. Instead, the feel of soft skin and smooth, strong muscles beneath her fingers added lightheadedness to the list of her symptoms.

"Yes," she breathed, tilting her head up and biting her lip when she felt the warrior's intake of breath next to her ear. The clean scent of leather and healing herbs and salve assailed her, not unpleasantly, and she leaned her head closer to Xena's mouth unconsciously.

"Me too," came the startling admission.

Gabrielle held her breath and silently made a decision. She turned slowly in the circle of the warrior's arms and looked up into intense indigo eyes.

"Of this?" she asked innocently, winding her fingers into dark, silken tresses and pulling Xena down, meeting the warrior's warm and tender lips with her own…

Gods save me, thought Xena as the light and heat of a thousand suns burst through her soul. She pulled Gabrielle closer and felt the bard's lips part in unbelievable invitation. Xena groaned and deepened the kiss, sinking into the incredibly sensuous sensations, craving this touch like no other. When she finally pulled away, they were both breathing raggedly. A beautiful-if-feral smile tugged at Gabrielle's lips until she saw something amiss in her warrior's eyes.

"What is it?" she asked, a frown creasing her brow. She reached up and brushed a lock of hair from Xena's eyes.

"I'm not sure I…" Xena took a small breath to calm her wavering voice. "Not sure I…deserve…this."

"Deserve what? Being loved?"

Just a nod and sadness in her eyes.

"You do. Xena, listen to me, you do deserve this." Gabrielle cupped Xena's face in her hands, her green eyes glittering with little watery diamonds.

"And even if you didn't, it wouldn't matter. I would still love you." She brushed her lips over Xena's, her eyes fluttering closed again with the power of what she was feeling.

"I will always love you."

Their lips met again, this time more demanding as those words freed years of frustrated passion. Heat shimmered around them and through them and when they parted, they were both trembling.

Never taking her eyes from the cobalt blue that widened in anticipation, Gabrielle covered Xena's hands where they rested on her shoulders and guided them to the ties on her shirt with gentle, insistent pressure. Her hands remained on Xena's as the warrior untied each tie slowly and when they were all undone, she guided Xena's hands to the collar, folding strong, warm fingers around the fabric, gently helping her to draw it apart.

Xena didn't breathe. Or rather, couldn't. Her heart pounded inside her chest and even her lips trembled. The feel of Gabrielle's small, soft hands guiding her own coarse ones-gods, she felt like she would pass out. It was so profound an offering, so tender and trusting a gift. Xena knew she would spend the rest of her life trying to become worthy of this one moment.

The shirt finally fell open, baring Gabrielle to her warrior's loving eyes. She wanted to grin as the raven-haired woman let her eyes drift shyly downward. She did grin when they fluttered closed helplessly, accompanied by a small whimper. She set the warrior's hands on the move again, across her collarbone and then downward, feeling hot tingles in the wake of her touch. She moaned, causing the warrior's fingers to jump beneath her own.

The two sets of hands continued their tormenting trek until Xena felt Gabrielle's fingers tighten as they neared the swell of her breasts. She tried to slow down, thinking that's what the bard needed, but she found her hands guided firmly. She forced herself to relax, wondering if Gabrielle felt the tremors she desperately wanted to hide.

She hissed when she felt her palms placed over beautiful breasts, the hardened nipples pressing against her. She opened her eyes and tried to focus on Gabrielle, finding the younger woman staring at her intensely, her hair burning fire-red in the golden sunlight.

Gabrielle lowered her arms to her sides and shrugged. The shirt slid off her shoulders and landed at her feet with a sigh. She reached up and began to pull pins and catches on Xena's armor, letting each piece drop heavily to the floor until the warrior stood before her in just her leathers. Then she took a tiny step back from the warrior and raised eyes made dark by her arousal.

Xena felt like she was falling and flying all at once, embraced by the deep, shoreless green of those eyes. Suddenly the whole world shifted and the light became brighter and everything became a little clearer.

This was more than just an amazing, incredible feeling that she had never felt before. This was more than just love…

This was completion. This was wholeness. This was tender desire and fierce need. It was hopeful and trusting and healing and terrifying. It was silent and loud at the same time and it took up all the space inside her, pouring out of her eyes and smile. She was acutely aware of wanting what was best for the bard and in return, wanting what was best for herself. And that had always, always been Gabrielle…

…who had almost died without knowing that.

Xena's smile faded like a dream as the sickening memory of Gabrielle lying helpless under Phorcys cut through her mind and soul. She raised a shaking hand to the healing wounds on the bard's shoulder, remembering again the anguish and the fear that had burned in her belly day in and day out while she waited for the antidote to the cruel poison to work. And she remembered the hollowness she felt inside when she thought she had lost the woman she loved to someone else.

The change in Xena was palpable and Gabrielle looked up into agonized indigo eyes. Hot tears slid down the warrior's cheeks and Gabrielle hurried to brush them away.


Xena mouth opened as if to protest and the bard covered it with gentle fingers.

"It's over now," she whispered, running one finger over Xena's bottom lip. "It's over. Let me bring you home…"

The dam walls holding everything inside her collapsed at those words and Xena groaned, her mouth laying siege to Gabrielle's, invading and conquering the tender flesh with abandon. She lifted the bard in her arms and growled when she felt strong legs wrap around her hips. With one arm braced along the bard's spine, her hand wound in strands of honey-gold, and the other along her waist, fingers splayed on her muscular backside, they fell against the wall, their mouths never parting.

Eventually the kiss began to slow, desperate passion giving way to gentle longing. Xena pulled away from Gabrielle's mouth and let her lips brush across her jawline and then down, nipping and teasing the sensitive skin along her throat and above her pulse point.

The bard let her head fall back, biting her lip to keep from crying out with joy. After a long moment, she became aware that the kissing had stopped and she opened her eyes…to find herself floating in a sunny Aegean Sea. She let her lips curve into that smile that was Xena's alone, reserved solely for the warrior who had captured her heart.

No words were needed.

Their mouths were drawn together in a long, sensuous exploration that ignited a liquid heat inside them both, sending it washing over them in breathless waves. Gabrielle's hips began to rock against Xena, her back arching away from the wall in an effort to get closer to the warrior, strong thighs tightening, bare feet locking, holding on. Before she realized what she was doing, Xena began to rock back, the connection of leather and bare skin driving them both mad with need. They moaned into each other's open mouths.

Gabrielle pulled her kiss-roughened lips away reluctantly and suddenly Xena's whole world narrowed to two small hands. Hands that tugged insistently on the straps of her leathers. Hands that slipped underneath that last physical barrier between them, creating fire and storms in her blood. Hands that untied the knots of restraint inside her and removed the choking strands of bone and death from around her heart. Hands that made her free.

Xena was utterly lost, caught in a tempest so powerful and so exquisite she could no longer stand. She fell into the bed with Gabrielle, their mouths crashing together in a kiss deep enough to drown in. Xena welcomed that fate.

Gabrielle rolled like the sea underneath the warrior, flipping them both over so that she was on top. She tipped her head back and growled as Xena's long fingers closed around her waist, steadying her as she began to move against hips still deliciously covered in leather. Never ever had she felt anything so right, so perfect.

Shuddering, her face flushed and smiling, she reached for one of Xena's hands, bringing it to her lips. She kissed the warrior's open palm and then grazed it with her teeth, delighting in the shivers she felt all along her thighs, some her own and some Xena's. Inspired, she took two long fingers inside her mouth, curling her tongue around them, suckling them, running her teeth along their sensitive ridges. She was rewarded with a strangled gasp from beneath her.


Gabrielle let the warrior's fingers slip from her mouth slowly. Then she set about stripping her of her leathers and boots. She wanted bare skin against her, wanted to feel that heat and passion she'd been dreaming of. She kissed every inch of bronze skin as it was revealed, her tongue skating in little searing patterns that rendered Xena deliriously helpless.

The warrior's hands slipped through the bard's hair and down her back, kneading and clutching, unstillable in the face of this erotic assault. She reveled in the tremors she felt in the play between solid muscle and infinitely soft skin. And when they wandered lower, slipping over Gabrielle's lovely backside, a hiss of pleasure and the instant capture of both her wrists startled her.

"Not yet, my warrior," breathed the bard, imprisoning Xena's hands above her head. "You first." Her mouth hovered above one dark, hardened nipple that ached under warm breath. "I need you first."

Xena arched upward, wanting to feel that silken mouth on her skin so badly she would have done anything the bard had asked. Anything. She whimpered when the bard teased her for a long, tremulous moment, keeping her hot, wet mouth just above the throbbing flesh. Then she cried out, silky warmth enveloping her, Gabrielle's tongue circling and finally tugging on her nipple. She gasped as nimble fingers mirrored the sensation on her other breast.

Xena bit her lip and her hips surged upward, legs opening of their own accord. Her need had become desperate. Her aching, pulsing core demanded besiegement, hungered for invasion.

"Gabrielle, please…" she begged, a small space of her mind marveling at the ease of that action.

"Please what?" rasped the bard, her mouth now ministering to the other breast with equal enthusiasm. Her voice was deep and rough with her own unsated desire and it rumbled through Xena's sternum like a drove of wild mustangs.

"Gods…take me…or kill me…please…" She writhed under the bard's torture, her hips bucking harder. The white-hot pounding in her loins was both excruciating and unimaginably wonderful.

Gabrielle stilled over the warrior, gazing at her until unfocused cerulean eyes opened and gazed back at her, filled with fear and hunger.

"Don't hold back, my love. I want everything you have to give. Promise me."

Xena licked her lips and nodded.

"Good," whispered the bard, tipping her head and touching her lips to Xena's. At the first gentle touch, Xena responded slowly. But then Gabrielle's kiss became more demanding, her tongue begging entry into the warrior's mouth, battling for control once inside. As the kiss once again deepened beyond anything she had ever experienced before, Xena groaned and three long fingers plunged into her hot, slick center.

"By the gods," breathed Gabrielle, plunging again into the warrior's slick depths, feeling the shock of the sensations even in her own aching center. She dropped her forehead onto Xena's taught, straining abdomen to steady herself, her mouth absently kissing and licking salty skin.

"You are so beautiful…oh, Xena…so sweet…" Her tongue dipped into the warrior's navel, eliciting another strangled cry. Her lips traveled further down, tasting every flavor, learning every texture until they were close to the source of the raging waters that poured over her hand.

She dove in, her tongue finding the throbbing nub she sought, driving against it over and over. She drank the thick honey that flowed beneath her lips, wondering if she could get drunk off of it. She certainly felt drunk from something.

She plunged her fingers deeper into the warrior and harder, feeling muscles tighten beneath her, feeling the surging, rising tide nearing its crest. She knew it wouldn't be long now…for either of them. Her own center throbbed in time with the pulsing beneath her fingers.

Xena couldn't see, couldn't breathe, couldn't hear… Her blood crashed in her ears with a deafening roar and she saw only exploding stars behind her eyelids, rationally aware that she was starved for air. She didn't care. She was close, so close…

Please… Oh gods, please…

Her hips drove upward and her hands gripped the slats of the headboard so tightly her knuckles were white with the strain. Then she felt it, felt the tide beginning to crest inside her.

"Yes…" breathed Gabrielle against her wetness. "I love you so much, Xena."

Every muscle in the warrior's body became rigid as the two of them waited that small measure of time between the crest and the crash of a tsunami…

One more plunge into her depths and Xena released her soulcry, the battered slats cracking as her hands clutched against the power of her orgasm.

Gabrielle groaned as the flood waters raged beneath her mouth and her tongue danced in the deluge, drawing out the warrior's release as long as possible. She finally pulled her mouth away, leaving her fingers inside, and cried out as she slipped the fingers of her other hand between her own legs. Her concurrent release denied, she was determined to finish the job herself.

Strong, corded fingers grasped her wrist.

"No," said Xena hoarsely, still breathless. She flipped the bard onto her back and covered her writhing body with her own, pulling hard nipples into her hot mouth.

Gabrielle cried out with ecstatic frustration and opened her legs wide, crossing them over grinding hips, trying to force Xena harder into her. The warrior moved her lips close to her lover's ear, one hand sliding between their bodies.

"Please take me inside you," she breathed. Her heart hammered inside her and she felt herself rocking in time with the young woman, their bed becoming the bowl of earth to contain their churning, turbulent sea.


The bard folded her fingers around Xena's and guided them to her core. With a desperate cry, she pressed the long, long fingers inside her and Xena sank into her depths as helpless and inevitable as stone. Her hand, wrist still grasped by slender fingers, dove deeper and deeper as thunder shook them and her bard-sea crashed against her again and again.

The bard's body was on overload. Her breath came in gasping sobs and she growled with every plunge inside her. She felt herself losing control and she never wanted this feeling to end.


Xena obeyed the order of the mistress of her heart and slipped another finger inside, driving into Gabrielle with all the power of her love, releasing the lightning bolts caged inside her…

Gabrielle screamed as the power of the released lightning coursed through her, shaking her to her very core. She continued to press Xena's hand inside her over and over and she felt her own slick juices on her fingers, renewing her hunger.

"Don't stop," she hissed and Xena, slightly startled by her bard's raging sexual need, hesitated for only a moment before groaning and plunging inside again with renewed strength. She kissed and sucked on the bard's pulse point, which fluttered beneath her lips like a hummingbird's wings.

"Sweet gods!" cried the bard, feeling the almost painful nip of teeth on her skin.

Xena's last defenses capsized and she let go, thrusting deeper and harder, pressing her mouth against the bard's collarbone until she tasted the familiar metallic tang of blood. She pulled her lips away, gazing at the purple mark blooming on the bard's skin with feral pride.

"Come for me, Gabrielle…come hard…"


Gabrielle's entire body arched and her core pulsed powerfully around Xena's fingers, keeping time with both their pounding hearts.

Xena collapsed against her love, struggling for breath, her fingers still and deep inside her. She rested her head on Gabrielle's heaving abdomen, feeling her heart overflow with emotion after emotion, never wanting this moment to end. She cast herself adrift in their gentling waves until much, much later she found herself washed upon the bard's shore.

Xena opened her eyes to a room bathed in amber light, an evening breeze dancing through the open window. The smoky, rich scents of cooking fires and of freshly plowed earth came in on the breeze and she propped herself on one elbow and looked out the window, watching as solemn villagers went through the motions of their evening rituals.

She realized the smell of plowed earth meant new graves and she felt a momentary pang of guilt that she wasn't out there helping to rebuild this tiny, battered village that had suffered so much at the hands of her enemy. But the guilt disappeared quietly with the sigh that issued from the slightly open mouth of the woman spooned against her.

A small smile edged Xena's mouth and she ducked her head, kissing Gabrielle on the temple. One question strolled lazily through her mind…

Why did we wait so long for this?

Looking back after such an incredible morning, it was hard to remember the depth of her fears. Had they really clutched at her heart, making it hard to breathe? Had they really had the power to block out even the stars, keeping her in darkness all that time? It seemed ridiculous now. And so far away.

A bigger grin broke across the warrior's face as she contemplated the soft curves of the bard's sleeping features.

I can't believe I was ever afraid of loving you, she thought, dropping her dark head to deliver another tender kiss. A hesitant knock at the door interrupted her.

She looked up, annoyed, and toyed with the idea of saying nothing, knowing Annis-whose footsteps she had heard all the way down the hall-would not be likely to barge in on a sleeping Warrior Princess. Instead, she tugged a blanket over herself and Gabrielle and entwined her long legs with the bard's shorter ones in an impulsive possessive display.

"Come in."

The plank door cracked open the tiniest bit, two big brown eyes peering in nervously. Xena rested her head on one hand and motioned for Annis to come in-quietly-with the other. The door opened wider to reveal the blushing girl and the basket she carried.

"Something wrong? Is it Taren?" Xena was having entirely too much fun watching the girl try to keep her interested eyes from roaming all over the bed. Her face, already red, deepened a shade or two as Xena laid her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.


The girl jumped. "Oh…um, no. She's fine. Um…resting. She…uhh…sent food."

The warrior could barely keep from laughing. She was in a really great mood and for some reason teasing this girl only added to her mirth. She began to run her fingers slowly up and down Gabrielle's arm. The sleeping bard purred with delight and Annis' eyes widened to the size of dinars.

"You can leave it on the table," said Xena, directing the girl with a tilt of her head. "We'll eat later," she added wickedly.

Xena thought the girl might faint right there. She rushed to set the basket on the table and whirled around, almost knocking a chair over as she ran from the room. The door shut firmly behind her.

The warrior shook her head, her whole body shaking with silent laughter. The hand that had been caressing Gabrielle's arm lay forgotten on the bard's side.

"Hey," came a sleepy mumble. "Who said you could stop?"

Xena wondered for a moment what Gabrielle was referring to, then chuckled and ran her fingertips over smooth skin.

"Oh you like that, do you?" she asked, nuzzling red-gold hair.

"Mmmhmmm…" A sweet smile curved rosy lips, but green eyes stubbornly refused to open. For a long moment Xena thought the bard had gone back to sleep. Then, so softly she almost didn't hear it, Gabrielle whispered, "I am so in love with you."

Unexpected and very unwanted tears flooded the warrior's eyes and she shut them behind clenched eyelids, willing them away.

"And I love you, my bard," she said, kissing the top of the red head tucked snugly beneath her chin. "I'm sorry," she added. "I'm so sorry that I never told you that."

"You're doing just fine now. Keep up the good work," smiled Gabrielle. When she didn't hear the chuckle she expected, the bard forced her eyes open and craned her head to see Xena's pained expression.


The warrior opened stinging eyes. It was all crashing down inside her and she couldn't stop it, couldn't fight it, couldn't make it just go away.

"He was going to…gods, he would have…" Her voice cracked and she was unable to finish, the very words unutterable.

"No, Xena," said Gabrielle, turning quickly in Xena's arms, putting her hands on either side of the warrior's grief-stricken face, her thumbs caressing away tears as fast as they fell. "Shhh…you stopped him. It's okay…it's okay now…"

"Taren stopped him!" said Xena fiercely. "I made him! I tortured him until he became a monster! Before that night in the camp he was just another captain, just another soldier. He never raped! He never even took the willing girls that flocked around the other men like flies. Don't you see? It's my fault!"

Gabrielle tightened her lips, realizing that she had to choose her next words very carefully.

"Perhaps…you did make him, Xena…" She winced seeing the deep hurt in those tearful blue eyes. "…but not by torturing him. I think he…broke…inside before you ever laid a finger on him."

"What?" The warrior's tears trickled to a stop and her brows knitted in confusion. "How?"

"I think he loved you."

There, she said it. Now she could only wait for the aftermath, whatever that would be.

It turned out to be incredulity.


Gabrielle let out a breath she wasn't aware she was holding. Remembering the story Xena had told her after the ambush, she tried to explain.

"Think about it. Okay first, he never raped and he never took the willing girls. He wore your colors even after you ordered him not to. You said he even stayed with the army after you humiliated him, demoted him, and whipped him. Why? Why would he do that?"

Xena didn't answer, her eyes far off, remembering small things, tiny things that suddenly had new meaning.

"And didn't you tell me," continued the green-eyed woman gently, "that he slit the throats of the others he killed that night?"

A distracted nod was her answer.

"But he aimed for your heart."

He had, of course. Xena had never thought about it, more concerned that her soldier had tried to kill her, more concerned that he be dealt with. Could Gabrielle be right? Had Phorcys loved her? Had it been a wish to cut her unresponsive heart from her body instead of revenge for her cruel treatment of him that had motivated him to kill that night?

She sighed. "I never-"

"-even thought about it," finished the bard. "I know. Thank the gods some of us sufferers of unrequited Warrior Princess love still have our blood innocence. Otherwise the line to see Hades would be very long right now." Her eyes gleamed with unrepentant humor.

"Oh really?" chuckled the warrior as the bard turned again and snuggled backwards, pressing her smaller body along the length of her lover's. "And how many would you have sent to Hades without your blood innocence to protect them?"

"After three years of wanting you so bad even my hair hurt from the tension? Are you kidding? At least four thousand. Maybe five."

Xena laughed, the joyous sound filling the room. She wrapped her arm around the bard's abdomen and pulled her closer, nuzzling her neck and placing soft, delighted kisses along the muscles of the shoulder beneath her.

"What did I ever do to deserve you?" she asked wonderingly.

"Oh, the usual," whispered Gabrielle, enjoying the way Xena's mouth felt on her body. "You were born."

"That's all?" The warrior whispered that in the bard's sensitive ear, following up with a gentle series of nibbles on the lobe. Gabrielle's hand reached up to cup Xena's face, strong fingers tangling in generous amounts of dark hair.

"Pretty much, yeah," she whispered, her pulse fluttering beneath the warrior's roaming lips. "Though it helps that you're incredibly…mnmm…yummy."

The bard froze in the warrior's embrace the instant the words left her mouth. Then she buried her head in her hands, blushing crimson from head to foot.

"I can't believe I just said that," she squeaked.

"Neither can I," growled Xena, fingers darting to ticklish places on pale skin.

"NO! NO! NO!" squealed Gabrielle, wriggling wildly. "Stop that! Do what you were doing before!"

"What? This?" Xena brushed her fingers up and down the bard's side in slow, soft strokes, her lips finding a tender bit of skin behind her ear.

"Yeah…that…" breathed the redhead, a contented purr rumbling throughout her body. Her eyes closed in reflex to the wonderful sensuality she was experiencing.

"I have a better idea," murmured Xena. Long, elegant fingers slid down Gabrielle's smooth side, over the curve of her hip, across her taut belly and down…to a certain…spot.

Gabrielle's eyes snapped open.

"Ohhh," she moaned as the warrior dipped a fingertip inside her flooded cleft, exploring gently. She cried out when the sensation stopped and arched her back, seeking more of that touch. Xena's hand slipped lightly up the outside of her thigh and then lazily downward to fondle the sloping, muscled curve of her backside.

Gabrielle felt the warrior press up behind her, noting how very hot her skin felt against her own. Then a glorious request came from cranberry lips.

"Tuck your knees, sweetheart."

The bard, still lying on her side, did as asked and pulled her knees up towards her chest. She felt Xena's fingers on the backs of her thighs and was blissfully aware of the almost unbearable ache that consumed her core. Hot, wet lips trailed across her collarbone and up her throat.

And just before she cried out in desperation, two incredibly long fingers slid inside her silken center.

"Better?" asked Xena. Gabrielle could feel the hammering heartbeat behind her and she arched her back, trying to force the fingers further inside.

"Much…much…better," answered the bard, struggling for breath as fingers slowly and softly plunged deeply into her. Her breath caught as a third exquisite finger was added. Then suddenly the pace was far too slow to match the raging flows of lava coursing through her.

"Faster," she breathed. "Please…"

"Oh gods, yes…" was the warrior's only answer as she willingly surrendered herself to the bard's desires.

Later-much, much later-after the pair had eaten, bathed together, and finally snuggled back into bed, entwined around each other so closely that space enough for a breath of air to pass between them did not exist, Gabrielle pulled away from a deep and lazy kiss and looked up into Xena's eyes which flickered almost silver in the firelight.

"I'm worried about Taren," she said simply.

"She's strong, Gabrielle. Her ribs-"

"No, it's not that. I'm sure her ribs will heal in no time. I'm just worried about what will happen to her when we leave. She's apprenticed to her brother and-"

"Her brother's dead," said Xena quietly, silver eyes darkening to deep gray. "The smith found him sometime before dawn. I told Taren. Thought it would be better for her to hear it from me."

"Gods! What will she do?" Sadness filled the bard's eyes.

"Keep the inn, I guess. It's hers now."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No, she hates this inn. She would never be happy here."

Something in the bard's voice indicated that she had other ideas. Other ideas she had probably puzzled over long and hard. Other ideas she was dying to tell Xena all about.

"And do you know where she would be happy, my bard?" asked the warrior, brushing full lips across brows knitted in thought.

"Well, I've been thinking," began Gabrielle, making excited hand gestures against Xena's strong, muscled back as she explained her plan.

Xena grinned and let the bard's silky voice unfold around her, winding herself in words and inflections that were like a fluid music that she could actually feel on her skin and in her blood. The plan was unimportant, really. Xena knew the bard's idea would be a good one. They always were.

No, the truly important thing was that her body was wrapped around the woman she loved. And the voice that for so long had cradled her heart in its warm tones from across every campfire they had ever shared now drifted to her waiting ears from less than a hand's breadth away.

Thank the gods.

They stayed for four more days.

Four days that I spent sequestered in my room while they learned about each other in ways I tried very hard not to think about, out of respect. Four quiet days that showed me more of the gentle healer in Xena and more of the talented storyteller in Gabrielle as they both visited me regularly to keep me from jumping out of my own window from boredom.

Four days that earned them a place in Galasia's history and heart forever.

Takis came to me one evening after dinner and told me some of the most amazing stories. Stories about Xena rebuilding my inn's door and digging my brother's grave, dismissing any offers of assistance with a diffident grunt. Tales of a pair of legends visiting every household in the village to see what aid could be offered to end suffering or mend damage.

Most of the families declined the offers out of pride. But a few let the warrior and the bard help mend what they could-an uprooted fence here, a broken leg there. I suspected those who accepted the help did it more because they wanted to ease whatever feelings of guilt the women harbored about the attack than because they actually needed the help.

It worked quite well.

At dawn on the fifth day, the day they were to leave, I had had enough of the sick bed and I sneaked down to the stables. My ribs were more bruised than broken and I had been cooped up for far too long. Not even Gabrielle's stories of the Amazons, whom she insisted she really did know, could dispel the utter stillness of that boxy little plank-walled pit.

Besides, I needed to be the one who readied Argo for their journey. I didn't know why exactly, just that I needed to do it and that seemed to be enough of a reason.

It was warm, even at such an early hour, but a cool edge to the breeze that tickled me warned that summer was nearing its end. I grinned as I dipped the bucket in the water barrel, thinking of the fall and harvest time and of new possibilities. Thinking of traveling north towards a thread of destiny I was only now becoming aware of.

I kept that thought with me as I entered the stables.

"Hey, girl," I whispered in response to Argo's whickered greeting. "Thirsty?"

The horse tossed her head and snorted amiably and I held the bucket for her while she drank her fill. When she was done I put the bucket at my feet and presented two apples I had pilfered off my dinner tray the night before. As she munched, I set about making her ready to ride.

It took me the better part of a candlemark to brush her down, primarily because I shamelessly procrastinated. I joyfully spent more time than necessary on her mane and tail, making them gleam in the dim light now creeping into the stable. I briefly thought about braiding the long strands of coarse, silvery hair but thought better of it. Somehow I knew Xena wouldn't be amused, even in light of the new yet quiet playfulness that seemed to be tentatively poking its head out of a recently cracked shell.

I finished currying and tossed a saddle blanket across Argo's back, smoothing and centering it carefully. Then I had an uneasy moment with the bit and halter, feeling a definite twinge in my side as I reached up to settle them. I took a deep breath and braced myself in preparation for lifting the saddle, knowing the twinge would become full-fledged pain but not really caring. Just before I committed my muscles to the job, however, two incredibly long arms appeared on either side of my own, strong hands grasping the saddle and lifting it neatly onto Argo's back.

I kept my back to Xena and willed her not to say anything. I just wanted a moment more to pretend. To believe that today wouldn't be the last day I would ever see them. I sighed, realizing the futility of it, and a hand clasped my shoulder in silent understanding.

"Just tell me one thing, won't you?" I turned, forestalling whatever the reticent warrior might say, hoping my rueful grin hid the tears I could feel stinging the corners of my eyes.


"What is it about her that makes us leap between her and the danger that seems to follow her everywhere? I just don't understand it." I rubbed my side to emphasize my point.

A snort of startled laughter and a twinkling of blue eyes were my only reward.

They headed south.

After Annis and I had fed them and loaded them down with whatever we thought might be useful to them, that is. And after Gabrielle had hugged me with a fierceness that I suspected would be burned in my memory for the rest of my life.

"I'm going to write a story about what you did, Taren. You know that, right?"

"For doing my duty, M'Lady? A waste of parchment," I teased, noting the oddly pleased look she favored me with. It was gone an instant later, replaced with a smirk.

"I don't think you ever once called me 'Gabrielle'. Not the entire time we've been here."

"And why would I when calling you 'M'Lady' pleases you so?" I answered in my best sycophantic tone, grinning mischievously. The bard rolled her eyes and laughed.

"Yeah, right."

I turned to Xena and smiled. The warrior clasped arms with me in farewell, still grinning at the playful exchange.

"Take care, friend," she said evenly, eyes intent.

"You too, friend," I replied, nodding slightly in response to the silent look that said so much more. "You both are always welcome here."

"Thanks," she said, gratitude warming the simple word.

Then they were gone. Just like that.

And I was alone again.

It wasn't long, however, before I ended up where it had all begun, the tall tree swaying in the gentle wind with a definite air of knowing something I didn't. And as I climbed just a few branches into the rustling canopy, I found out why.

A small sack hung just above the leaf line, impaled there by a dagger.

Hesitantly, I fingered the knife, recognizing it instantly as the blade that I had used to kill Phorcys. His own favorite chiseled bone dagger. That I had thought burned with his body. I shuddered.

Leaving it alone for the moment, I opened the sack and reached inside, pulling out several objects. The first item was a small square of parchment, neatly folded. The second was a scroll, sealed with wax, an unfamiliar sigil used to mark it as official in some way. The third item was a small leather pouch heavy with brightly jingling coins.

I started with the folded parchment, surmising correctly that it was a letter from Gabrielle. It read:


I thought you should know that there is another reason why I will be writing your story. I was serious about that, you know. And not just because I'm a bard.

It has something to do with why calling me 'M'Lady' made me so uncomfortable too. You see you weren't really off the mark there, though I'm still trying to get used to it all. And titles make me a little nervous.

I'm rambling, aren't I? I'm sorry. I have a tendency to do that. Anyway…

I'm an Amazon Queen.

Okay, it seems really strange to write that down, like it makes it all somehow more real. And I would explain it all to you, but it is a very long story and Xena is giving me that look, like 'Hurry it up, will you!' So I guess I should just get to my point.

I don't know what you want out of life really but I know it isn't your brother's inn. I had an idea about this. You remind me of the me I was a long time ago. Waiting for the chance to get out of a small village and into the real world.

Xena gave me my chance. I think it is only the right thing to do to give you yours.

The sealed scroll is a letter to the Amazon Regent, Ephiny. It recommends you for initiation into the Amazon Nation. I don't know if that is something you'd want, but if it is, they will welcome you. I really think you would be happy there. And you certainly have the skills.

If you decide to go, remember what I told you about approaching the border and be sure to give Ephiny a hug from me. We won't be up there again until Solstice, I imagine.

Well, I'd better go now. Xena is looking at me like I have lost my mind.

Thank you for everything that you did for us, Taren. We will never forget you. And neither will the Nation, no matter what you choose. The story I write will be part of the official histories and kept in the scroll library there.

Take care, my friend, and I really hope we will see you at Solstice.


I blinked.

I blinked again.

I ran my fingers over the seal on the scroll, seeing for the first time the Shield of Artemis pressed into the dark green wax. It all made so much more sense now. Everything settled with a little click and the threads of my destiny instantly began to dominate the fabric of my life.

I looked back down at the letter with round eyes and saw something I had missed. A hastily scrawled note at the bottom. It said:

The dinars are what we owe. I won't take them back. So don't try it, okay?

The knife is yours by rights.

Thank you.


I headed north.

After Annis had fed me and loaded me down with whatever she thought might be useful to me, that is. And after I hugged her with a fierceness that I suspected would be burned in her memory for the rest of her life.

But before I went, I buried that hateful dagger-that was mine by rights, yes, but that I never, ever wanted to see again-in the brand-new door of my brother's inn and set the place on fire. Watching, with a heart finally free, as flames consumed the little dark building in the lemony light of dawn, destroying it utterly until it was nothing more than a heap of charred bones and fading memories.

Then I settled my bow and my pack over my shoulder and started for home.

The End

Note from the author:

The title of this story comes from the song below. It is really Taren's song, but I see a little wisdom for Xena and Gabrielle in it too.

I started this story more than a year ago and it has changed in so many important ways from the scratchy notes in my tiny notebook that I hardly recognize it. One thing I do see is that it is better, much better than it was before.

Something More Than This by Julie Flanders & Emil Adler
© 1995 October Project Publishing. All rights reserved.
From the album entitled "Falling Farther In"

In the shadow cast as you were leaving
In the beauty of the ending day
There is always something to return to
Something you allow to slip away

In the empty corners of the evening
In the vacant beauty of the wind
There is always something to remember
Something to remember, to begin

I need no shelter
I need no guide
I'll be alone on this long, dark ride

    Whatever you fear
    Whatever you hide
    Whatever you carry deep inside
    There's something more than this

    Whatever you love
    Whatever you give
    Whatever you think you need to live
    There's something more than this

In the shadow cast as you were leaving
In the beauty of the ending day
There is always something to believe in
Something…as I watch you slip away

I need no shelter
I need no guide
I'll be alone on this long, dark ride

Whatever you fear…

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