~ Lines ~
by WarriorKym

Disclaimers: Well, it's pretty long, but I guess that isn't a required warning. There's some violence, nothing too bad, but it involves some rough treatment, so be don't read farther if that bugs you. Implications of sex exist in this one and loving and sharing of two women. Helpful comments welcome. :)

Penname: WarriorKym
E-Mail: WarriorKym@Hotmail.com

     " I'm really not that hungry Xena."

     " Sshh!!"

     " Why don't we just eat when we get there?"

     " Ssshhh"

     " I'm really not in the mood to cook. Why don't-?"

     " Shhh. I'll cook it. Quiet."

     Gabrielle gave up and walked over to Argo leaving Xena standing in the waist high water. " Your mistress is almost as stubborn as you." She told the horse as she pulled her pack off, then rubbed her nose affectionately. She settled down and pulled her journal out. Not a lot had happened lately, action wise anyway. Still, she mostly wrote her feelings and worries and dreams so it didn't matter much. She got very into her writing and jumped, sending a line of ink across her scroll, when Xena marched triumphantly into camp with a string of fish.

     She was about to set them in front of Gabrielle when she remembered her promise to cook them. She sighed and gutted them, the part she knew how to do. Her brain was running in circles trying to think how to cook them the entire time. When she finished the last one, she still hadn't hit on a plan yet. She knew Gabrielle was watching her without looking up, so she clattered the cooking things to make it looked like she was starting.

     Gabrielle meanwhile pretended to be writing, but she was actually watching Xena and waiting confidently for the questions about where things were and the eventual admission she couldn't cook them.

     Xena blundered through the dishes for a bit, not knowing what half of them were for. Those she did know what did, she wasn't sure how to use. "Great" she thought, " Innkeeper's daughter and I can't cook a fish. I'm going to have to admit it to her, and she's going to gloat mercilessly." Suddenly she remembered something. A childhood memory surfaced and she quickly quartered two of the fish. The others she'd let dry for on the road. Xena picked eight large thick leaves and went to wash them in the river.

     Gabrielle watched her go out of the corner of her eye and looked at the quartered fish with curiosity. When Xena came back carrying leaves, she quickly started pretending to write again. She couldn't concentrate on the words, so she leaned back and openly watched Xena. She'd folded half the leaves into a curious shape and Gabrielle watched while she did the same to the rest. They now looked like small rectangles. Xena put a quarter of fish in each and laid small strips of a shredded plant she had beside her on top. Then she closed each one into a neat package and skewered the top flaps shut with peeled twigs. Each packet was placed around the edges of the flames, and Gabrielle watched, expecting to see them catch fire, but they never did. After a few minutes, Xena turned their direction with the tip of her sword, then pulled them out and announced loudly even though she knew Gabrielle was watching, " Lunch's ready!"

     Gabrielle took her packets with a lot of trepidation having tasted Xena's cooking before, but not to be outdone, she followed Xena's example and began to unwrap hers. " Xena's idea of lunch." she thought sarcastically, " only fish, and probably half-cooked at that!" She lifted the fish to her mouth conscious that Xena was watching her intently.

     " No no. You leave those on." Xena instructed when Gabrielle reached to pull the shreds of leaves off. Gabrielle raised an eyebrow in imitation of Xena, but took a big bite. Much to her surprise, it was delicious. Unique, but delicious. Tender, hot, and it had a flavor she couldn't quite identify.

     Xena watched her happily and silently thanked her Uncle Argolis for that little secret.

     " Please Xena?" Gabrielle requested yet again. She was sitting behind Xena on Argo and running her fingers through Xena's thick black hair.

     Xena shook her head. Again. She was enjoying this. " She just can't stand not to know something!" she thought

     Gabrielle sat back and pouted for a minute, then tried again. " I'll make dinner every night!"

     " Gabrielle, you make dinner anyway. No."

     " I'll wash the dishes for a moon...and...gather firewood."

     Xena paused for a moment, then "No."

     " Oh Xena! Come on!" Gabrielle whined pettishly and dropped her head against Xena's rock hard back. " Ow!" she muttered and rubbed her forehead. " Oh! I know!" she said as inspiration struck. She moved Xena's hair to the side exposing her bare neck and blew gently on it. Xena squirmed and Gabrielle grinned, then rubbed her cheek against the now goosebumpy flesh. " What if I-?" she kissed it gently, " did-" she kissed it again, " this?" she asked leaving a trail of wet kisses along Xena's neck. She felt Xena lean into each kiss and knew she had her. " Hmmm?" she asked

     Xena stopped Argo and turned to face her. " That wasn't fair at all Gabrielle." She scolded, running a finger down her nose. " You know what happens to people who don't fight fair?" she asked running the finger along Gabrielle's lips. She leaned in and rested her hand on the bard's neck. " They-" she kissed Gabrielle's cheek, " Get-" the other one, " punished." She grinned and hovered millimeters from Gabrielle's lips.

     " XENA!" Gabrielle yelled in frustration when Xena pulled away and turned back around, and urged Argo forward. Xena herself probably would've gotten punished for that little maneuver, but three Amazon jumped in front of them, eliminating all chances of speedy revenge.

     "Whoa!" Xena said, holding her arm in the peace sign.

     " Xena?" a familiar voice asked. " And Gabrielle! Amazons, on your knees." it ordered. All three immediately bowed to their princess.

     "Get up guys." Gabrielle said embarrassed.

They stood up and the leader took off her mask.

     " Eponin!" Xena greeted her with her arm outstretched. Eponin took it and pulled Xena down off the horse into a hug. " Thought that sounded like you." Xena said flustered and pulled away from the excited Amazon.

     " Eponin, So good to see you again!" Gabrielle said, sliding down and hugging her.

     " Princess Gabrielle, we didn't know you were coming! If only you'd told us we'd-"

     " You'd have had escort teams and a lot of fancy parties and the like. That's *why* you didn't know." Gabrielle said patting Eponin's shoulder. "let's go. I want to see Queen Melosa." Gabrielle stated and started forward. Eponin nodded to her companions and stared with exasperation at Xena who shrugged,

     " You try and stop her!" She grinned.

     " All right, All right! I give Xena!" Eponin yelled from her position at the edge of Xena's staff. " help me up jerk." she ordered holding her hand up to the smug warrior. Xena grinned and took the hand and pulled her up.

     " I warned you." Xena said in that 'I told you so' voice. She turned to stare into the distance and lean absently on her borrowed staff. " When is Gabrielle going to be out? She's been in there all night and it's almost noon now."

     " They have a lot to catch up on. It's been awhile since you guys have been here you know." Eponin answered rubbing her tush. Xena was staring distractedly at the Queen's tent and Ep saw her chance. She swung her staff taking out Xena's knees. Xena saw her a second too late and tried to jump, but only succeeded in throwing herself onto her back when the staff hit the back of her knees. Before she could recover, the butt of a staff was at her throat pushing gently and Eponin was grinning at the top of it.

     " Got ya Warrior Princess." she said smugly.

     " Oh yeah?" Xena's eyebrow arched and Eponin felt the staff pushed to the side of Xena's neck. Then the other end which had been safely tucked at her side under her arm acted like an imprisoning bar and went behind her back pulling her down on top of the warrior. She found herself face to face with a very self-pleased Xena with the staff on her back pinning her in place. Xena's hands held both ends of the wood and she was most definitely stuck despite her struggling.

     " Show off." She said after a minute and ceased struggling. She looked into the woman's eyes intending another smart alec remark, but the remarkable shade of those eyes silenced her. " Never noticed how beautiful she is..." Eponin thought as their bodies lay pushed together.

     " Xena?" a voice called. " Where are you? Has anyone seen Xena?" Gabrielle asked the guards at the door.

     " Last time I saw her, she was with Eponin down at the training grounds." One guard answered.

     " Yeah," the other guard agreed. "poor Ep made the mistake of telling your warrior she was better with a staff."

     Gabrielle ignored the possessive adjective added to warrior and headed towards the grounds. " Poor Eponin!" She thought, " Xena's gonna-Whoa! I better not be seeing what I think I'm seeing!" From her position of advancing on the area, she was seeing Eponin laying on top of Xena and they were staring at each other with interest.

     " Hi guys!" She called loudly, trying to keep her voice calm. The women scrambled to their feet quickly. " H-Hi Gabrielle!" Eponin croaked. " We were just...fighting? Yeah, so, talk to you later. I have sentry duty now. Bye!" she called with a hasty exit.

     " Sooo..." Xena started, leaning down to retrieve their staffs and thus avoiding Gabrielle's eyes. " How was your talk with Queen Melosa?"

     " Not as interesting as your with Eponin."

     " Hmmm, funny that. What'd you talk about?"

     Gabrielle gave up after the second subject change and answered her. " Turns out it's a good thing we're here. The Amazons have been having a lot of trouble with a group of men."

     Xena looked up, interested now, and waited for more.

     " That's why I'm out. Melosa is calling a full-fledged meeting of the head people because it's getting worse and...well, because we're here." Gabrielle grinned. "She thinks Artemis sent us. But first, you and I are going to get some lunch. I'm starving!" Gabrielle stated grabbing Xena's hand.

     " When aren't you?" Xena asked as she was pulled away.

     " When she's asleep." a familiar voice answered. Xena whirled around. " Ephiny!"

     " Xena." Ephiny responded taking Xena into a big hug and kissing her. " What are you doing here?"

     " Hey Whoa!" Gabrielle called, coming over quickly at the kiss. " Eph, hey, when did you get back?"

     " Get back?" Xena questioned.

     " I've been heading a hunting party for the last week." Ephiny clarified. " Just now Gabrielle, How are you?" she asked turning.

     " I'm great, you hungry? We were just going to get lunch."

     " Starved, let's go." the tall blonde answered, taking both their arms and leading them off.

     About half a candlemark alter, the three women were sitting in the Queen's tent. Solari, Eponin, Melosa, and Falca were also there. They'd already greeted each other and reminisced for as long as the Queen would allow. Both Gabrielle and Xena were good friends of most of them. Ephiny had lately been promoted to head of the royal guards, Eponin was in charge of security, and Solari controlled the hunters. They were the only department heads involved in this, so the group was small. Xena hadn't seen Solari in quite awhile so they were talking amiably. Xena was very fond of the light-brown haired woman. She was very passionate about everything she did and quite a smartass, but everyone loved her and she and Xena got along perfectly. Melosa coughed and all eyes turned to her. The meeting was starting and Melosa had the floor right now

     " It started the day you left Ephiny. The first to disappear was Moni, that very morning. She was out hunting alone, then two more women vanished without a trace. We've tried to track them, but the prints always disappear at the same spot. We know they were taken against their will. There was evidence of a struggle and drag marks each time. All the women have been warned not to go out alone, but nine more Amazons have been taken." Melosa finished and sat back down from where she'd been worriedly pacing in front of them.

     " So that's twelve in all?" Ephiny asked. Melosa and Solari nodded in unison.

     " Were they taken alone or in groups?" Xena asked.

     " Both. Sentries have been taken from their posts, scouts have disappeared, hunters alone or in groups too." Melosa answered. " The last attack was on a group sent to track the victim. Falca?"

     The unknown woman stood up. She had fiery red hair tied up in a knot and was very muscular if not very big. " I was in that group. Three of our members were taken."

     " Why are you here?" Xena asked with a note of suspicion in her voice. Solari elbowed her and gave her a reproachful look that Xena ignored.

     Falca blushed and looked ashamed. " We were drugged with darts, all seven of us I think. When we woke up, Simila, Erin, and Megera were gone. We traced them to an area in the woods and there the tracks stopped."

     Gabrielle stood up and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. " Don't be ashamed, it could have happened to any of us. You're friends don't blame you. No one does."

     All the warriors in the room nodded and Falca looked very relieved. Melosa made a dismissal motion with her hand and the young woman stood with a pleading look around at the gathered women. " Please help them." she said simply and she exited.

     Everyone looked at each other for moment. " She feels responsible." Ephiny commented, causing nods to circulate.

     " So why do you think it was men who did this?" Gabrielle asked, taking her seat again. Eponin spoke up from where she'd been quiet. " The tracks are big and heavy. The width and depth suggest men, plus there's a ...renegade group down by the Sinner. Our main river." She explained at Gabrielle's look of confusion.

     " They've been encroaching further and further lately." Solari added. " They're not of any town or nation, just a bunch of macho jerks nobody wants around."

     Melosa smiled, but looked worried. " The problem is, the warlord Convergious supports them. The last thing we need right now is a war." She sighed.

     " Convergious?" Xena asked, wrinkling her brow with thought, " Never heard of him."

     " He's new, but powerful." Solari said. " Ares' latest toy..."

     " Ares is behind him?" Xena groaned.

     " 'Fraid so." Eponin confirmed. " According to him and his men anyway. Who knows if it's true, but better not to push and find out the hard way."

     " Agreed," Melosa said, " But we cannot let our women be taken. So, now what?"

     " First thing's first. I'll go and see where the tracks are disappearing." Xena said standing up purposefully.

     "NO!" Four voices screamed suddenly, startling Xena and Ephiny.

     " Why on Earth not?" Xena asked.

     " I don't know if you noticed Xena, but Falca is a redhead."

     " Uh-huh." Xena said raising an eyebrow.

     " Her three companions were blondes." Eponin continued. Xena didn't respond, just looked around for an answer. Solari stood up and walked over to her, finished with this beat-around-the-bush manner.

     " Xena." She said looking directly in her eyes. " The only women being taken are brunettes. Dark brunettes."

     Xena stared at her in surprise. " All?"

     " All." Eponin confirmed. " We have twenty-three darks, counting you and the Queen. Twelve are missing. We have eleven left currently."

     " So, you cannot leave camp." Melosa stated, shaking a lock of Xena's long black hair in her face to emphasize her point.

     " That's ridiculous!" Xena protested, shaking her head and whipping the hair from between the Queen's fingers. " Your hair is dark!" she argued to Melosa.

     " That's why *I* am in my tent." she responded and sat back down. Gabrielle stood up and walked over to Xena who was walking up and down the length of the tent.

     " I'll wear a hat! I'll put it up inside it!" she yelled in annoyance. " I'm not staying here!"

     " Xena, that won't work and you know it." Gabrielle said setting a comforting hand on Xena's arm. " I'll go check it out okay?" she asked wrapping her arms around Xena's waist.

     " I am not staying here while you go!" Xena hissed in more frustration than anger. " I'll cut it off!"

     " That would be a crime to the world." Gabrielle grinned. " Besides, I *love* your hair." She crooned pushing it off Xena's flushed cheeks. " You will not cut it." She ordered, leaving her cool hand on Xena's cheek.

     " But Gabrielle...!" Xena started much quieter, and was silenced by a finger on her lips.

     " No. Stay here. We'll be back." Gabrielle said motioning to Eponin and Solari. She leaned into Xena's face, but was stopped by an apologetic cough from Ephiny.

     " I'll stay with Xena." She offered.

     Gabrielle didn't really like that idea, but Queen Melosa would be there...

     " All right. Thanks Eph. I'll be careful." She told Xena and walked out with Eponin and Solari in close pursuit.

     " You'd better!" Xena called after her, then flopped down with disgust down into a chair. " WHAT!? she threatened the smirking Queen and Ephiny, then stared annoyed at a strand of her black hair that had strayed across her eyes. " Stupid hair." she muttered, to Ephiny's and Melosa's amusement.

     Several candlemarks later found Ephiny and Xena outside the tent for the first time. Melosa had agreed that as long as Xena stayed inside the main village, it would be fine. Xena was mute with indignation and hadn't said a word since Gabrielle left. Ephiny tried yet again another attempt at conversation.

     " Xena, you hungry? It's almost dinnertime." Xena didn't say a thing and Ephiny decided she couldn't take it anymore. " Fine! Don't say anything, but you have no right to take this out on me! It's not my fault your hair is black!" she yelled.

     Xena turned on her with blazing eyes. For a split second, Ephiny thought she was going to hit her. Instead, Xena whirled around and kicked the closest wagon in half. " Sure, let's eat." she said simply to an astonished Ephiny.

     " Eat, uh, yeah, heh, this way." Ephiny stuttered leading the way and glancing at the wagon. The cook was serving and looked at Xena with surprise.

     " Haven't seen any girls with that color hair in awhile now. Black was the first to go." She commented. Xena gave her a slight smile with confusion and sat down.

     " People are staring at me." She said carefully, keeping up a smile and nodding at the women.

     " Well," Ephiny said, " Look around, like she said, black was the first to go."

     Xena did look around and saw to her surprise, Ephiny was right. There were plenty of blondes, redheads, and light browns, even plenty of medium browns, but only a light sprinkling of dark browns and one other black. She turned her attention back to her food and ignored the stares.

     " So Xena. You and Gabrielle are a thing now?"

     Xena choked on her bite at the unexpected question and dropped her fork.

     " Well, that scene in the Queen's tent suggested it." Ephiny responded to the questioning look Xena gave her. Xena took the clean fork someone handed her and preoccupied herself with poking the potato on her plate. " We're dating." She said after a minute.

     " Is that so?" Ephiny inquired." So, you're seeing other people then?" she asked coquettishly.

     " I guess so." Xena answered, mashing her food diligently.

     " Great." Ephiny said sweetly. " Later, so you want to go get a drink or something?" Her brain kicked her for such an predictable line, but she ignored it.

     "Oh um, I probably shouldn't. What with Melosa, and Gabrielle, and the disappearances and all." Xena said uncertainly.

     " Come on Xena. It's just a drink." She considered adding something about Gabrielle owning her, but decided she didn't want to get a date that way. Plus, Gabrielle *was* her friend.

     " Well, ok. Just a drink." Xena smiled to Ephiny's enjoyment. Just then who should walk in, but Gabrielle, Solari, and Eponin.

     " Xena! I'm so glad to see you When you weren't in Melosa's tent, I-I,...Hi." She wound down when Xena touched her arm.

     " Hi." Xena grinned. Turning serious, she asked " What'd you find?"

     " Nothing!" Solari flopped down. " Absolutely nothing!"

     " If you'd let me go, maybe I could find something." Xena said.

     " No way." Eponin said. " Come on guys. We'd better go tell Queen Melosa the news." They filed out, none holding a whole lot of optimism right then. The Queen was waiting for them and looked relieved to see Xena.

     " Thank the Gods! I thought the worst when Gabrielle came raving in here, then left! What's the news?"

     " I didn't rave" Gabrielle muttered while everyone sat down.

     " We didn't find anything new, all we did was lose Rachana!" Solari answered, obviously angry. " She just, disappeared!"

     " You know," Xena said, " maybe I could-"

     " No!" Eponin said and shook Xena's hair in front of her threateningly. Xena groaned and sunk to the floor. Ephiny sat in the chair behind her and started running her fingers through her hair. Xena relaxed her head back against Ephiny's knees and let her stroke the hated black mane.

     " And then there were ten." Solari said sarcastically.

     " So now what? This is beginning to get ridiculous!" Melosa said.

Gabrielle stood up and walked back and forth on the floor. " She's right. People don't just evaporate like this." she said watching Ephiny begin to rub Xena's shoulders.

     " Maybe we're not dealing with people." Solari offered up.

     " We are so, there are footprints." Gabrielle answered testily as she'd just heard Xena's almost inaudible groan.

     " I could-" Xena started.

     " No!" Five voices screamed at her. Xena made a face and leaned her head forward allowing Ephiny better access to her neck.

     " What we need is some sort of...test." Queen Melosa said.

     " No offense my queen, but won't they just drug the others like they did before?" Eponin asked.

     " But this time, we'd be ready." Gabrielle answered for her. " Maybe, I don't know, no exposed flesh? Or...some kind of antidote? A hidden party behind them? There must be something we can-Ephiny! Will you stop that?!" Gabrielle yelled at the end. " I mean- uh.." She blushed as every pair of eyes turned to her. " So Xena can concentrate." she explained, not fooling one person. Ephiny removed her hands and left Xena leaning against her legs.

     " Gabrielle's right. We need to do something!" Solari grinned.

     " Yes, we do. But, it's late. Tomorrow morning we'll try some more. In the meantime, post double guards and warn everyone again." Melosa instructed and they started to leave. " Oh and Eponin?" she added to her security leader, " All blondes, huh?"

     Eponin grinned and nodded as she left, running after Ephiny. Gabrielle headed for her tent after Ephiny reluctantly went to talk to Eponin and arrange security matters with her. The Princess of the Amazon's hut was rivaled only by the Queen's and was very comfortable. Xena came a bit later. She had been escorting (along with the royal guards) the Queen back to her hut. When she walked in, Gabrielle already had their things unpacked and laid out.

     " Your guards won't leave me alone." She commented.

     Gabrielle smirked at her. " They're under orders Xena." She explained. " Here." She held out Xena's sleepshirt to her.

     " Oh, uh, I...kinda, I'm going out." Xena said sheepishly

     " Where?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.

     " Just out. I'll be back-"

     " Before midnight." Ephiny finished for her. " Sorry I didn't knock. Figured you'd be waiting. Let's go Xena."

     Gabrielle wanted to scream, jump around, and break things, but managed a smile instead. " Not seeing only each other!" she screamed at herself. " You're being silly! And ridiculous, what's the matter with you?" she chided herself. She sat quietly on the edge of the large bed until she felt she had her temper in check. " I'm calm, I'm cool..." She told herself. " I'm...I'm going to kill Ephiny!!!" she growled.

     Gabrielle sat angrily shredding a scrap of parchment, well, as well as you can 'shred' parchment. " They've been gone candlemarks!" she thought. Queen Melosa's entrance startled her and she bowed quickly.

     " Queen Melosa! What brings you here?" she asked politely.

     " I came to talk to Xena, but I don't see her."

     " She's out on a date with Ephiny." Gabrielle growled.

     " Ahh, I see." Melosa said and sat on the edge of the bed. " And this is a problem, yes?" she asked, guessing correctly. " Xena and you are involved now?"

     Gabrielle sighed and sat down on the floor in front of her. " Yes, we're dating. Not exclusively." she added quickly when the Queen began to say something. " I mean, we haven't even kissed yet! We've only been on like five, six dates. It just...drives me crazy to see her with anyone else!" she prattled on, letting more slip out than she meant to.

     " I understand." Melosa said calmly. Sit down Gabrielle." She ordered. " you care deeply for her and that's what makes you so...possessive. No, don't argue, listen. You and I both know Xena has a tendency to attract people, and Ephiny has always had a thing for her. More so right now when she has a young child. She needs to prove to herself that she's still attractive and capable of getting what she wants. At the same time, she is your friend. She's in a difficult time right now."

     " So you're saying I should just let her pull my Xena away from me without a word?!" Gabrielle said angrily.

     " No. I'm saying you need to be understanding and a good friend. Also, you need to realize this is not going to be the only time this is going to happen. You and Xena are both young and beautiful, and if you're not seeing each other exclusively, I can assure you people will come along. Even if and when you do narrow it down. Until then, you're just going to have to suck it up and deal with it."

     Gabrielle sat and looked at her dumbfounded. Very slowly she seemed to accept the Queen's words. " You know, you're right...but...I'm still going to kill Ephiny."

     Queen Melosa laughed and patted her head. " Enlist Eponin, she'll help. She also has a bit of a crush on your Warrior Princess." Gabrielle groaned loudly, but Melosa continued thoughtfully. " Of course, now that I think about it, pretty much the whole Amazon Nation likes Xena or you, those who have seen you two anyway." Gabrielle groaned louder and fell backwards dramatically onto the bed making the Queen laugh again. " Get ready for bed princess. " I'll be sending your warrior, minus one blonde Amazon, in soon."

     " Gabrielle, hey Gabrielle." Xena said, calling her out of her slumber. "Time to get up sleepyhead." she smiled at the confused bard. Gabrielle sat up groggily and looked around.

     " Where are we? Oooohhhh yeah." she groaned and fell back as Solari came in.

     " Good morning your highness, Xena. Solari nodded to each. " Two more women disappeared last night." she said bluntly, never being one to work her way up to things. " And then there were eight." she added. " Ouch, lookin' good Xena!" she commented looking at Xena's very short sleepshirt. "oh, that reminds me, here." she said handing Xena a bundle of clothes. " Eph thought you'd need them. The queen says to meet her for breakfast." she tossed the words over her shoulder as she walked out.

     " What are the clothes for?" Gabrielle asked, prying herself out of the bed with an effort.

     " My leathers got...damaged last night." Xena said and started to pull her shirt over her head.

     " How?" Gabrielle asked, picking up her own clothes.

     " We, uh, decided to go swimming last night." Xena said reaching for the pile of clothes left by Solari. Gabrielle pulled them out of reach.

     " In your clothes?" she asked.

     " We were a little tipsy." Xena explained, causing Gabrielle to giggle. " Oh give me those!" she sighed. " unless you'd really like me to go out naked." Xena threatened preparing to pull her shirt completely off.

     " Keep it on Xena. Let's go bathe in the springs." Gabrielle suggested, keeping the clothes in her arms.

     " We're already late. They're probably waiting for us."

     " Please Xena?" Gabrielle pleaded, leaning up against her suggestively. " It'll feel good, they're nice and hot."

     Xena sighed, pretending to be very reluctant. " Let's go."

     Solari, Ephiny, Melosa, and Eponin sat waiting in Queen Melosa's tent. Eponin was drumming her fingers and Ephiny was almost asleep, while Solari was absently twirling her knife.

     Voices outside the tent got everyone's attention... well, almost. Solari had to nudge Ephiny who had fallen into a stupor. Xena and Gabrielle walked in, oblivious to their lateness it seemed. Xena was dressed in typical Amazon style. A light fawn colored skirt reached almost to her knees with slits up the sides and a darker belt with her chakrum hooked on it holding it up. Her stomach was exposed and a sleeveless matching color top barely wrapped around her breasts and tied in a know just below them, light leather armbands and her sword secured on her back completed the outfit. She was barefoot since Solari thought it a good way to ensure she stayed in camp. The others had agreed and all footwear was kept away from her. The silver anklet she always wore set off her long legs beautifully. Both women's hair was wet giving a definite clue as to where they'd been.

     Eponin whistled loudly and Solari joined her. Xena ignored them and sat down while Gabrielle shot them looks that silenced them. " Sorry we're late. We needed a bath." Gabrielle explained simply and sat down next to Xena.

     " Ok." Melosa started, annoyed at herself for staring at Xena. " Anyone had any ideas yet?" she asked.

     " I could-"

     "NO!" Everyone cut Xena off and she slumped pettishly in her chair and proceeded to ignore all further questions directed at her stubbornly.

     By lunchtime they hadn't gotten much further than that. Xena still refused to talk, Gabrielle was bust trying to soothe her, Ephiny obviously had a hangover, and Eponin and Solari were watching Gabrielle's efforts with amusement. Melosa gave up with a wave of her hands.

     "Break for lunch. Everyone of you back in one, hear that? ONE candlemark, and ready to work this time!" she said sternly.

     Xena walked up to her as the Amazons filed out grumbling. " Queen Melosa, if I could just-"

     " No!" Melosa said effectively ending the discussion. Xena turned annoyed to go as the Queen's word was final in her mind. " Xena, really, this is just for your own safety. What would we do without you?" Melosa asked, her voice sounded very tired.

     Xena's eyes softened slightly and she sighed. " Thank-you for your concern." she said whole-heartedly, " but I really can take care of myself." she smiled with perfect teeth.

     Melosa suddenly looked much older than she was. She glanced at Xena and rested her head in her hands. She stayed like that, staring at the floor until she heard Xena's steps. Xena waited until she lifted her face, then took both hands earnestly in hers and squeezed encouragingly. " Please let me go, my queen. I'll be careful. I just want to look." she pleaded intently looking at her.

     Melosa lifted her tired eyes to Xena's young, excited ones. She searched them thoroughly, then groaned with a smile, " Gabrielle's going to kill me."

     Xena gave her a full dazzling smile, squeezed her hands again, and ran out the door.

     " Hey Gab." Ephiny said walking slowly over to where the princess stood outside Melosa's tent. Her face looked green, but Gabrielle ignored the easy shot.

     " Hi Eph. I'm just waiting for Xena." All Gabrielle's anger towards her friend had dissolved in the warm spring water with Xena that morning.

     " Hey speaking of Xena." Ephiny started, trying to remain nonchalant. " I, um," she paused, unsure how to continue, but then her anger took over, " Who the hell is Kathryn?!" she exploded. " Ow," she muttered when her outburst brought her headache back.

     " Kathryn?" Gabrielle gasped, then grabbed Ephiny's shoulders," She's not here is she?!"

     " Huh? No no. Xena called me Kathryn last night." Ephiny grumped, folding her arms over her chest. " Apparently," She said sarcastically, " She has perfect ears."

     Gabrielle couldn't help a giggle. " Maybe this won't be as bad as I thought. At least I'll have someone to complain to that I know understands!" she thought.

     "it's not funny Gabrielle. She may have had a bit too much to drink, but I'll eat my staff if it isn't a real person." Ephiny complained, rubbing her stiff neck annoyed.

     Gabrielle took her arm and led her sick friend to the lunch area, knowing Xena would find them there when she was finished with Melosa. " I know she's s real person." She said. " You see, what happened was..."

     Xena waited until Gabrielle led Ephiny off, then headed out of the grounds. Judging by the end of the conversation she'd overheard, she knew she was going got be in deep with Gabrielle when she got back, but this had to be solved. She winced as her bare foot stepped on a rock, but kept going. As she left the outer perimeter of the village, she picked up a discarded hat and stuffed her long hair up into it. Better safe than sorry...

     " She really should be here by now." Ephiny commented.

     " Yeah, it's not like she has anywhere else to go." Gabrielle snickered. Their candlemark long lunch break was almost over and Xena still hadn't met up with them.

     " She could still be talking to Queen Melosa." Ephiny offered, she was in an excellent mood. Gabrielle's been telling her the story of their latest adventure with a Captain Janeway and her sickness was finally gone. If it wasn't her best friend, Ephiny would've been inclined to believe she was telling a drunk story. It was definitely outrageous, but then, most of her and Xena's adventures were.

     " Good point. Let's go check. We'll just be a little early for the meeting." Gabrielle agreed and stood up.

     " Yeah, like that's not suspicious." Ephiny quipped sarcastically, but followed Gabrielle to the tent. Solari and Eponin were standing outside arguing over some trivial thing, and followed them inside, thinking it was later than they thought. Melosa was inside, rubbing her temples, but no Xena was to be seen.

     " My Queen, have you seen Xena? She didn't meet us for lunch." Gabrielle asked, walking over to her.

     " I let her go." Melosa said in a low voice.

     " Go where?" Gabrielle asked, not understanding.

     Melosa sighed and stood up to her full height to face the rage she knew was coming before responding. "To investigate where the disappearances occurred." she said calmly.

     "WHAT!!!?" Gabrielle shouted. Melosa set her features stonily and waited for the first wave to flow. " I can't believe you! What were you thinking?!" Gabrielle ranted.

     Queen Melosa waved Eponin and Ephiny, who had jumped to her side when Gabrielle waved an angry finger in her face, down. Ephiny grabbed Gabrielle's shoulders and tried to calm her down. " GABRIELLE! Calm down. I know you're upset, but you cannot act that way towards the Queen!" She reminded her.

     Gabrielle shook free angrily and stood taking deep breaths, then turned back to Melosa. " You had no right!" She hissed. " Xena is not one of your warriors, she is under my command!"

     " And you are under mine." Melosa stated firmly, " Thus Xena is under my authority also. You are overreacting Gabrielle." She added in a softer tone, " Xena is very capable of taking of herself."

     " That's not the point! The point-" Gabrielle stopped when she felt a familiar pair of strong hands on her shoulders. She whirled to come face o face with a worried looking Xena.

     " What's going on?" she asked with concern.

     " XENA!" Gabrielle gasped. " Don't you ever do that again!" she threatened, pushing her backwards. " Never, Never, Never-" she had Xena up against the tent wall and was right in her face. She realized her hand was resting on Xena's breast and the other a mere inch from her lips. " Do-" she faltered

     " Do-...what?" Xena asked evilly.

     " Xena." Gabrielle said, trying to steady her heart. " You know exactly what I mean."

     " You're right, as usual, I do." Xena responded and kissed the tip of the finger that still dangled in front of her. A throat being cleared pulled their attention back to their audience.

     " Find anything?" Melosa asked, fighting a grin.

     Xena turned with reluctance from Gabrielle. " I searched that whole area. The footprints were still there, and there was a fresh set."

     " Solari, take a count." Melosa ordered, causing her to run from the room, " Continue Xena."

     " There's really not much else to say. You're right Eponin, they're men's tracks. The only strange thing is the tracks get heavier right where they disappear. That suggests they had a wait each time for something. I checked the trees above. No evidence of ropes or hidden places, nothing up there at all. No scuff marks so their lookouts must be on foot."

     " The men who drugged Falca and the others also." Ephiny added, " That's good. They're all probably on the ground. "

     Xena nodded in agreement.

     " How does that help us?" Gabrielle asked, feeling left out of this little secret, since everyone seemed to understand.

     " It just gives us an idea where they'll be and what to look for. You know, you can't forma plan without the basics." Ephiny answered.

     " I'm thinking Gabrielle's plan from last night is going to be our best bet." Xena said, " One person to lie in wait and watch what happens. The problem is to get them there without being noticed. The men will already be there looking for women so a distraction is needed. We'll need someone to be caught."

     " I dislike putting any of my warriors in jeopardy." Melosa said, " Any other ideas?"

     Solari ran up just then. " My Queen, two more have been taken! This is insane! They have half the camp now!

     " And then there were six." Eponin said fro her.

     " WHAT!?" Xena asked, " You didn't tell me that many had been kidnapped!" She ran out then with Solari in hot pursuit.

     " Dismissed." Melosa said sardonically.

     " Who did you talk to?" Xena asked, just a few feet ahead of Solari. They were at top speed, running from the tent to the hospice. Time was essential if Xena was to catch them. She ran in to find the healer bent over two redheads and a blonde.

     " There," Solari panted, " On the end. She'd the only one who's back to consciousness." she explained as Xena ran over to her.

     " Where did they disappear?" Xena asked, wasting no time.

     " By the kissing tree." The woman said fuzzily, " Just gone.." she mused

     " Kissing tree?" Xena asked with a satiric eyebrow raised

" I'll show you. " Solari said pulling Xena after her. " Quickly, follow me." she ordered and ran out of the hut. Xena obeyed and stayed right beside her as they made their way through the forest.

     " This is it." she said stopping in front of a huge tree. It towered over most of the other trees in the forest and its leaves cast large areas of shade. There was a thick carpet of grass underneath and under any other circumstances, it would have been very romantic. " hence the name.." Xena thought as she explored the nearby area. She found footprints and evidence of where the Amazons had fallen. " Hades!" she cursed when she followed the prints and drag marks to the exact same spot by the river. " We're too late, they're long gone." she announced when Solari came up. Solari sighed angrily and kicked the nearest tree.

     " Did you find anything?" Gabrielle asked eagerly when the two returned. Everyone was waiting and several women cursed when Solari and Xena shook their heads sadly.

     " Nothing!" Solari spat out and walked away angrily. Eponin looked apologetically at everyone and took off after her. The rest of the women looked towards Xena and Melosa for instructions.

     The Queen looked exhausted and she leaned on Xena, who took her back to her hut. " For now, NO ONE lave camp." she said sternly to the gathered women when she emerged. " We're working on a plan, we'll get them back. I promise." She said solidly. Her dark head stood out like sore thumb and seemed to enhance her promise. The Amazons looked relieved even with their sadness and the group broke up. Most of the women thanked Xena and stroked her hair before going back to duty.

     " You look tired." Gabrielle said, coming up to her.

     " I'm not." Xena said, but the reproachful look in Gabrielle's eyes made her lessen the lie a little. " Maybe just a bit stressed." she grinned.

     " Easily taken care of." Gabrielle said, " Come on, Ephiny's working out her frustration in the practice arena, we'll join her."

     Ephiny was there all right, but didn't see them coming. She was engaged with another woman who was beginning to regret her offer to spar with her. " Princess Gabrielle!" she called in relief when she saw them, " No bad news I hope." she said heavily as she leaned against a post.

     " None you've not heard already." Xena said flatly. " You can go, I'll finish Eph off for you." She offered to the woman's enjoyment.

     " If you're going to take my partner, you'd better be ready to replace her." Ephiny mock-threatened.

     Xena smiled ferally and pulled her chakrum off her belt. " Of course." She said sweetly and pulled a suitable length staff from the selection. Ephiny took a defensive stance and Xena lunged at her. Gabrielle sighed and picked up Xena's chakrum. She sat twirling it while the women battled furiously.

     " At least she's being kept busy!" she grinned after a few candlemarks. She'd just finished what was a spectacular poem in her mind and she wanted to write it down before it disappeared. Ephiny and Xena were still at it and neither showed signs of slowing down. She watched them fight with interest. Watching Xena in action was as entertaining as any play or story. It was obvious how much she enjoyed it. The physical workout, the way her body responded, her speed, the invention of new techniques, defeating the opponent, it all professed she was in her element here. Gabrielle watched the now setting sun glissen off of her muscles as they ripples and moved under her bronze skin. It was difficult to keep up with how quickly she moved. Her eyes were never watching the same place; always looking for the slightest weakness, then letting her body exploit it. Gabrielle saw a wisp of darkness float over her face from its captivity where the rest of her dark hair was bundled back. " It's so beautiful." her mind mused, " and yet, that's what has her in danger now, how ironic." she thought and added another line to her poem.

     " Ha! Gotcha!" Xena's triumphant yell reached her ears and she turned back to see Xena astride Ephiny holding her arms back with the staff. For a second, Gabrielle thought maybe they were finished, but from there it turned into a wrestling match. The discarded staffs were embedded with deep groves from the previous battle and Gabrielle was very glad she wasn't in this particular fight. They obviously had a lot of pressure to release and she didn't regret that none of it was being released on her. She ignored them for a minute while she talked to Solari who had come to invite them to dinner at the Queen's cottage. They were discussing how Eponin was helping the cook and how it might be safer to dine in the common room, when Solari interrupted her.

     " You know, four more were taken just a bit ago. Then there were two," she smiled sadly shaking her head, then grinned and added. " You might want to keep an eye on your warrior."

     "Now why would I want to do that?" Gabrielle said carelessly, thinking Solari meant because of the kidnappers.

     " Well, Ephiny and Xena got a little...rambunctious in their date last night."

     " Too much information Solari. I trust Xena and what she does is none of my concern." Gabrielle said snobbishly.

     " Oooh, ok-ay. So it wouldn't concern you to know they're kissing over there, right?" Solari grinned

     " No it- WHAT?!" Gabrielle asked, flipping back around quickly to see Xena underneath Ephiny with their lips about a micron apart. Solari laughed when Gabrielle went running to interrupt and headed for the Queen's shouting something about meeting them there.

     " Why can't we just eat at the common with everyone else?"

     " Xena, stop complaining. It's an honor to eat with the Queen." Gabrielle informed her. " Besides, I think she wants to keep an eye on you."

     Xena muttered something Gabrielle wasn't able to discern, but she followed her in. Eponin and Solari were sitting at the table and Ephiny was talking to Queen Melosa at the back of the room.

     " 'cuse me Xena. I have some words for Solari." Gabrielle muttered and headed in that direction. Eponin saw the glare the princess was giving Solari and quickly excused herself.

     " Chicken! Deserter!" Solari hissed after her. Eponin laughed and walked over to Xena. Melosa started dinner before Gabrielle got much said to Solari, but the annoyed bard sat right next to her making it a very uncomfortable meal for the head of the hunters. She began to wish she hadn't when Eponin and Ephiny sat on either side of Xena, but they behaved themselves pretty well...after a few pointed stares from their princess.

     " Hey Xena. You don't think maybe someone is purposefully after you, do you?" Eponin asked. " I mean think about it. All brunettes at the time you just happened to be here."

     " T'yeah right Ep. Remember that whole blue eyed, long-haired warrior gig? Xena's not exactly hard to pick out of a crowd." Solari grinned.

     " Thank-you Solari." Xena said sarcastically. " But seriously, Ep, how would they know I'd be here?"

     " Stop! No more." Melosa ordered. " We are going to have a nice dinner, and there will be no more talk of the disappearances." Everyone paid particular attention to their food for a moment, with no conversation at all. Melosa cleared her throat. " Not quite what I meant. You can talk about other things."

     More silence

     " O-k. Um, Solari, how are you and Rachi doing?"

     " Who?" Solari asked, looking up, " Oh. We, uh, broke up."

     "Ahh," Melosa said, " No help there. Ephiny, anything interesting happen on your hunting excursion?"

     "Nope, Sorry my Queen."

      Melosa sighed and everyone ate quietly for a minute. " Oh! I know! Eponin! Tell that story of the new bunkhouse."

     " Right! Xena and Gabrielle haven't heard it yet." Ephiny supported.

     " Ok! So our latest bunkhouse we've been building fro the trainees right? Get this, it's haunted..."

     The evening went from there to be a success. Everyone relaxed and despite Eponin's help, the food was delicious.

     " All right everyone. Get some sleep and we'll meet tomorrow and take action. Ephiny and Xena, you two especially. Go back to your own huts and rest." Melosa said.

     " Why do you suppose she singled us out?" Ephiny asked after they were outside by themselves.

     " Well, we did sing outside her window last night until the guards came and kicked us away." Xena grinned. " Plus, you've already had a little too much wine tonight."

     " I have not!" Ephiny protested.

     " Walk in a straight line Eph," Xena ordered. Ephiny made a face and walked an unsteady path around the corner.

     " Told ya!" she said pulling Xena to her. " Now, where's my prize?" she asked and covered Xena's lips with hers.

     " Come one Ephiny. Let's get you home."

     " Home? Good ides. You wanna come in?" Ephiny asked seductively once they reached the Amazon's hut. " Come on. You know you want to Xena." She pushed, running her hands along Xena's forearm, then kissing her deeply.

     " Eph," Xena said, pulling away. "You're right. I do. But if I do, I wouldn't know if it was because you were drunk or...whatever. Plus, Gabrielle's waiting for me."

     Ephiny sighed and leaned her head against Xena's chest. " I know, I'm sorry. I'm moving a little fast huh?" she asked and kissed her again. " Tomorrow then. Good-night."

     Xena walked away rather warm. " This is beginning to get ridiculous!" she thought. Dating Ephiny and Gabrielle was no big deal, but being with one before the other would be. Plus, sharing a room with Gabrielle was a little awkward. Not to mention a drunk and horny Ephiny was not easy to resist. " Not on the second date." She grinned and headed for the Queen's hut where she'd left Gabrielle.

     " Hi Xena!" Gabrielle called and waved from where she stood. " How'd it go with Eph?" she asked, coming over.

     " She had a little too much, she's safely at home now." Xena said

     " Speaking of home," Gabrielle yawned, " we should be getting there too, come on." They headed across the camp with hat.

     Morning dawned bright and cheery, waking Gabrielle from slumber. She stretched out an arm for Xena when she didn't feel her against her. Nothing there. She sat up alarmed and dressed quickly. She was cursing and annoyed and on her way to Melosa's tent when she bumped into Ephiny. Actually *ran* into Ephiny since she wasn't looking where she was going.

     " Have you seen Xena?" she demanded, pulling away.

     " Sssh!" Ephiny groaned, holding her head. " She's at the common."

     " Sorry Eph," Gabrielle whispered and made her way to the common eating room. From where she was coming, she felt her fears dissipate when she saw one dark head bobbing among all the lights. " Sticks out like rose in a weed garden." Gabrielle thought and headed over. As she sat down, Eponin apologized for taking Xena so early. She'd needed help with Argo who'd decided to be stubborn. Gabrielle wasn't really listening as Eponin explained the least she could do was get Xena breakfast. She was preoccupied with the women who kept coming and stroking Xena's hair. Finally she couldn't take it anymore. " What in Hera's name are they doing?!" she asked Solari.

     " It's the latest thing." Solari giggled. " Everyone thinks it's good luck since she's the last brunette... well, other than Queen Melosa and although I personally would rather take my chances with the Queen, they've decided Xena. And then there were two. " Solari finished with ominous music.

     " Thanks for keeping us up to date Sol, " Xena said sarcastically. " And on the hair thing, I might just add that Xena isn't enjoying it." She said obnoxiously.

     " Right, uh-huh. A whole camp full of beautiful women stroking your hair and falling all over you is just horrible right?" Eponin teased. " You know, it's a commonly known fact Amazon's prefer dark hair and they all miss their lovers, so, take your pick!" she finished with a grin.

     Xena was about to make a nasty comeback when she noticed the crowd of women around her staring. Gabrielle was obviously perturbed by them and she, being Xena, decided to rub it in. " Yeah, " she said, apparently talking to Eponin. " it's a commonly known fact-" she leaned right up into her face to emphasize her point, " that brunettes make the most amazing lovers." she whispered to her sensually.

     Gabrielle heard fully half the camp pull in their breath deeply and starred annoyed at Xena. " She did that on purpose!" she thought, " oh, she's going to pay for that later."

     Eponin cleared her throat several times and looked at the warrior calmly eating her porridge, suddenly very self-conscious. " Yeah, uh, ahem, is that so?" she said nervously. Xena grinned saucily, crossed her legs, and leaned back.

" Sure is."

     " Unfortunately, this particular brunette is taken." Gabrielle announced loudly and pulled Xena to her feet. " Come on Xena. Melosa, who I also believe is a brunette," she said loudly, " is waiting."

     Xena let herself be pulled along and whispered so only Gabrielle could hear, " Jeez Gabrielle, why don't you just pee on me and get it over with. No one will be treading on your territory now..."

     " Xena! This is unacceptable! I mean, there are lines you just don't cross! Line number one!: leaving me alone in the morning so I wake up and panic! Line two: Flirting with the whole flipping Amazon tribe at once! Line three: Asking Melosa to leave and not me!

     Xena was standing by the main well right after breakfast with Gabrielle yelling at her. She knew she deserved every bit of it and so was letting the princess chew her out royally before she said anything. Gabrielle was just beginning to wind down when a woman came running up to them.

     " Xena? Xena! Please, I need to talk to you now."

     Xena avoided looking at Gabrielle as she followed the woman away. She could feel fuming green eyes searing holes in her back and flinched as she heard the words hurled at her back.


     " Gabrielle, it's been almost a candlemark. When is Xena coming?" Queen Melosa asked impatiently.

     " She'll be here. She just wants to see how much she can annoy me." Gabrielle responded from where she was sitting pouting with her arms crossed.

     Solari and Eponin grinned at each other and were just about to make a nasty comment when Ephiny came in followed by another woman. " Princess Gabrielle," she said formally since a stranger was in the room. " This is Annai, she has a message for you."

     " Your highness." the blonde woman bowed.

     " Get up Annai." Gabrielle said kindly. " What's the message?"

     " It's from your...uh...it's from Xena." the woman started, covering her mistake immediately. Gabrielle felt her heart jump and Solari whistled an ominous duh dun dun tune.

     " Shut up Solari. What is it Annai?"

     The woman licked her lips and shifted nervously from one foot to another. " I talked to her this morning. My lover was one of the last ones to be taken and she wanted to know all bout it. Then she, well, it seemed like she thought of something and asked to borrow my sandals and tell you she was going to have to break Line three." Annai stopped and looked with confusion at her princess. Gabrielle's face went white as she remembered Line three. " Damn that woman!" she thought and flew out the door calling to the women to follow her. Ephiny and Melosa looked after them with concern and confusion and further interrogated Annai as the other ran for the forest.

     " Fan out!" Gabrielle ordered once they got there. " Find Xena! She's gone after the men!"

     " Ugh," Xena sat up fuzzily. Her body seemed to weigh a hundred tons. She tried to focus in her surroundings, but was unable to make out more than fuzzy shapes. She let herself back down trying to remember. "Po-pokipsky." she said aloud, then tried harder to make her mind work. " Think think. I was...I was in the forest.. Right! And I saw the tracks, then I realized they must be underground! So how did I get here?" she wondered. Her neck ached and she rubbed it, surprised to feel bumps there. " Ooh yeah. Those damn darts!" It was all too familiar a situation for her. " Three of the flipping things hit me! By the time they came after me, the drugs were taking effect and I couldn't even throw my chakrum...I know, I tried!"

     She was getting less and less confused, when one of the shapes moved. " Capt'n! She's coming around!" the man's voice sounded strange and muffled. The answering voice from another moving shape sounded the same. Slow and fuzzy, like underwater.

     " Keep her out you idiot! Completely!"

     " But Capt'n, she's in no position to do anything."

     " You don't know Xena like I do. This woman could kill a man in her sleep. You keep her out!"

     " It's dangerous to give her anymore." a deeper voice said.

     That appeared to make the man angry. He moved closer to her so she could almost see a face and grabbed her arm. She felt a slicing pain down her inner elbow even through the numbness and a throbbing sting when something was thrust in the cut. " There you chickens! Wrap that up tight and keep those drugs on it! No consciousness, you hear?!"

     Xena tried to fight it, but the drug, now in direct contact with her bloodstream quickly lapsed her into a heavy sleep.

     " She's ok, she's ok, she's ok." Gabrielle told herself while pacing up and down the forest floor. Her Amazons were searching the area carefully, " She's just teaching me a lesson for yelling at her. She'll turn up and she'll have already found the men. She will, she will!" Gabrielle thought, fighting tears and ignoring the claw tearing at her heart.

     " Princess..." Eponin walked over to her and unable to find words, held out an object to her.

     " No..." Gabrielle whispered, taking Xena's chakrum from her. " oh no...no, please no..." she whispered and hugged it to her chest. No tears fell, she just stood there hugging the metal disk and whispering those words.

     Solari shook her head and sadly whispered, " and then there was one..."

     " How long has she been like that?" Melosa asked.

     " Candlemarks now. She won't cry, she just sits there holding that chakrum and rocking back and froth." Eponin answered. They stood outside Gabrielle's hut in the doorway and watched Ephiny try to comfort her.

     " Well," Melosa said decidedly, " That solves that. We'll put Xena's plan into action now. We still have plenty of daylight left."

     " Queen Melosa we can't. Xena was the last brunette. We have no way to...oh no...you can't be thinking, I mean, my Queen! We can't let you do that!" Eponin gasped as she realized.

     " Don't have a choice do you? I'm the Queen. Assemble a small team and our best.. um, er, spy I guess. The best tracker anyway. We only get one shot at this."

     " Stick her in with the others."

     " But the Capt'n said to keep her separate!"

     " I don't care what the Capt'n said. I don't see any point in taking up two rooms and dividing our guard for one woman! Do as I said."

     " Yes commander."

     Xena came to consciousness as she was thrown roughly into a room and she felt her arm run through with a blazing pain. Many women rushed forward to help her immediately.

     " Nice to see dark hair." she tried to smile

     " Hush now." an older woman said. " I don't recognize you. Are you Amazon?" she asked.

Another woman spoke up, " Don't be silly Erin! That's Xena. Don't you know anything?"

     " Xena?" the first woman, apparently Erin, gasped. " Oh my. That explains why they're feeding the knock-out drugs right into her system. We've got to get this off," she said pointing at the bandage.

     " Tour-tourniquet." Xena gasped, trying to stay conscious without much success " Don't take off, they'll know. Just cut off blood flow."

     " What'd she say?" Rani, the second woman, asked. " A tourniquet? Megera! Hey, commere, you know how to do that."

     The next time Xena came to, she could make out faces, not just blurry images. She tried to sit up, but couldn't move her legs.

     " Calm down Xena. You have more drugs in you than it would take to keep a giant down. Don't move." Megera told her. Xena focused on the woman above her. Dark brown curls fell over her shoulders and dark eyes peered worriedly at her.

     " You're the missing Amazons?" she croaked just for form, since she knew the answer.

     The women around her nodded and looked hopefully at her. She realized they were waiting for some brilliant plan from her, so she tried to understand more. " We're underground right?"

     More nods.

     " Ok, so let's figure a way out of here huh?"

     " All right, Let's go." Queen Melosa stated. She was standing in a circle with Ephiny, Eponin, and a warrior named Kayota.

     " WAIT!! Your highness, wait!!" Solari's voice called. She came running breathlessly over to them with a young boy in her arms. " This-this is Jacob." She panted. " He was in the woods this morning. Tell them what you told me Jacob." She encouraged and set him down.

     He stared at Melosa with a mixture of wonder and fear on his small face, but didn't say a word. Melosa knelt down and gently touched his arm. " Don't be afraid Jacob. Can you tell me what you saw?" His eyes grew bigger, and he backed up to Solari.

     " Now what?" Melosa asked straightening up. " What did he tell you Solari?"

     " Well... I didn't quite get the whole thing, and now he's frightened. I don't know why." Solari sighed.

     " Maybe I can help." Gabrielle's voice reached them. The four women turned in surprise to see the Princess coming. She bent down by Jacob. " Hi Jac, remember me?" the little boy nodded and grabbed her legs. " Hey, it's ok. Jacob. I need you to tell me something all right? It's important." she said scooping him up in her arms. He smiled and looked at her expectantly. " O.K.," she started. " You were in the woods this morning. Did you see Xena?"

     He looked at her with confusion. " Remember the tall woman with blue eyes I introduced you to last time I was here?"

     He nodded and grinned and whispered something in her ear. Gabrielle's eyes filled, but she smiled back. " Yes, she does have pretty eyes huh? Did you see her?"

     He smiled and used his voice for the first time. " She was looking for something. I could tell. I was in the tree, but she didn't see me."

     " Ok, then what happened?" Gabrielle encouraged.

     " She walked around, then she kneeled down, like this." He demonstrated. " Then she lifted up the ground, like this!" his arm raised with pretend earth, " She must be very strong. I can't lift the ground."

     " ARG!" Solari hit her forehead, " Of course! An underground tunnel! We're so stupid! Then what Jacob?"

     He looked at her and decided to trust this pretty woman who was hitting herself. " She stands up and starts walking back to here." he continued to demonstrate. " Then she grabs her neck and then her arm and then her leg. She looked mad and throwed something on the ground. Like this!" he happily threw nothing on the ground, then put his hand on his hip. " Then she pulled a shiny thing out, you know, the one she throws?" he looked around for comprehending, " But big mens grabbed her before she could throw it." He said sadly, " and they taked her down into the ground. I didn't help, I ran and ran and ran and hide, 'cause I was cared." He admitted and stared at the ground.

     " I found him in my closet, " Solari grinned.

     " Thank-you Jacob. You've helped a lot, and don't worry, everybody gets scared. Tell you what, you go with Eponin and she'll take you home ok?" Gabrielle asked. The boy smiled and took Eponin's hand.

     " This changes everything." Ephiny said as they walked away. "Your highness, I have a suggestion."

     " Yes Ephiny?" Melosa asked.

     " Now we know how they're disappearing and where. We just need to look for the drag marks. I say we attack it with a team of warriors, there obviously aren't a lot of them or they wouldn't be doing it this way."

     " I agree." Gabrielle said. " Let's get the warriors together and go now. I'm going." She finished solidly when Ephiny and Melosa opened their mouths to argue.

     " Of course she's going." Solari supported, taking Gabrielle's arm. " It's her...uh...Xena we're talking about here." She grinned.

     Eponin came running up then and they filled her in. She agreed with Solari , so Ephiny and Melosa reluctantly agreed and they got to work.

     " No way Xena. We're not leaving you behind." Erin said decisively.

     " Don't be ridiculous Erin. It's the only way this plan will work. It's not a big deal, you guys go, bring the Amazons back. I'll still be here. I can't go with you in this condition and I'll only slow you down if you try to carry me." Xena said flatly.

     " Speaking of your condition Xena. That tourniquet has to come off soon or your arm will die from lack of blood." Megera said.

     " I'll take it off as soon as you're all out." Xena said. She sensed another argument coming, so she quickly changed the subject. " Any ideas why you were all taken?"

     " Oh yeah. Those jackasses over there blabbed it all the first day. We're being sold to a king up north, somewhere in Macedonia. He has fondness for dark hair and Amazon's have a reputation for being...um...the word isn't coming to me, so I'll just out it bluntly, the best lovers." a woman said with a grin.

     Xena smirked at her and laid back observing her surroundings yet again. She ran the plan again in her head. These men weren't stupid. They knew not to let the Amazons have the slightest chance to get near them. They didn't even open the door to give them food and water. It was shoved in through a slot in the bottom. The only time the solid oak door was opened was when another captured woman was being hurled in and four guards were there, not to mention the fact an unconscious body was in the way. There were only ten men total and Xena knew even without weapons the Amazons could easily take them, if only they could get out. The walls were made of dirt, but any attempt at digging out would take too much time. The traders from the North were coming to meet and escort them to the King the next day. She needed to get this done now, her body was completely numb and she was going fast. Even with the tourniquet, far too much of the drug was in her blood and she knew if she didn't pull the plan off soon, it wasn't going to happen.     

     " Rani," she said weakly, " We need to do this now."

     Rani looked reluctant, but stood up and walked over to the door. " Hey guard! Get over here!" she called.

     He walked over without much interest. " What?"

     " She's dead! You killed her." Rani said sadly. His face changed quickly as he peeked through the bars and saw Xena's white outstretched body. " Damn! Commander, get your butt over here now! I told you! I told you to leave her where she was." he blubbered and started unlocking the door, terrified of what the 'Capt'n' would do to him now.

     " You idiot! Don't-!" his commander yelled rushing over and trying to stop him. It was too late however. The women pushed the now unlocked door and it swung open, crushing the first man. The second rushed them while calling for the other men who came running with weapons raised.



     The sun was beginning to set and it's last feeble rays shone on light hair as the women marched for the trap door. Their faces were grim with worry over what might have already happened to the captured women. They were approaching the spot where the tracks always disappeared, when suddenly the ground lifted up and a huge hole appeared. They stood glued to the spot as the brunettes poured out. For a second neither parties moved, then screams of joy filled the air and every pair of arms was filled. Everyone was laughing and crying and chattering wildly. Gabrielle searched the group anxiously, then felt her heart drop when her own hark haired warrior didn't appear. " She saved them, as always, but where is she?" Gabrielle thought and scanned the women again.

     Solari was also scanning for Xena. She pulled Eponin away from the embracing Amazons and headed down the hole. Gabrielle's jaw set and she followed them down trying to hold her heart and courage together. The other Amazons caught wind of what was happening and also filed silently into the tunnel.

     Xena watched the warriors flood out and heard the quick battle take place. They did exactly as she had asked and proceeded up the stairs away from the danger. Xena lay waiting for what she knew was going to happen. She hadn't told the Amazons, because she knew they'd never leave if she did, that she'd seen another tunnel before losing consciousness and heard the sounds of at least thirty men coming from it. That was why she'd wanted them to go so quickly, before those men realized what was happening. Her fading hearing caught the sound of them coming just after the women ran out. They were very angry and cursing and kicking the fallen guards.

     They finished their quick survey and started after the escaped women. Then, much to her surprise, she heard the sounds of another battle. At first she thought with dismay the escapes hadn't gotten as far as she thought, but the nature of the sounds quickly persuaded her the rest of the camp was coming. The noises came closer and closer and she began to make out familiar voices. A glimmer of hope grew in her and she, with an effort, pulled the tourniquet off. She hadn't seen a point in doing it earlier since she was just going to be killed.

     She could tell the Amazons were winning only by the sounds, her vision had cut out long ago. Her senses suddenly became aware of another presence in the room and she could tell it wasn't a friend.

     " Well it must be my lucky day, look what I found." her limited hearing picked up a deep evil voce. " Xena," it continued, " I should've known you were behind this."

     She sensed a sword held at her throat, but had no way to avoid it. She couldn't even feel most of her body.

     " Convergious I presume." she croaked.

     " Correct as usual Xena." he smirked.

     " Thought so, I could smell ya from here." she said, managing to voice a last sarcastic remark.

     " Oh ouch. So much fire, hate to kill you, but you're not worth much in your present condition. So, good-bye Xena."

     " Sorry, don't think so." A voice called from behind him. He turned quickly, only to have a fist come smashing into his face. He reeled backwards unconscious, narrowly missing Xena.

     " Xena! Xena! Can you hear me?" Eponin asked worriedly, cradling Xena's head in her lap while Solari hopped around holding her fist.

     " Took you long enough." Xena groaned.

     " OW OW OW! You owe me Xena! Big time!" Solari complained shaking her hand and jumping around. Xena managed a grin somehow.

     " So noted, help me up?"

     " Help you up?" Eponin croaked with annoyance, " Try- Carry me! Gods, you've got such an ego! Solari, get over here and help me. You wimp."

     " Wimp! Wimp?" Solari protested, wrapping one of Xena's arms around her shoulders as Eponin did the same. " *You* didn't just break your hand on that goon's face!" she muttered as they half supported, half dragged Xena out between them.

     Gabrielle knocked the man she was fighting out cold when she saw them and came running. " Xena!" she screamed, coming in front of them." I can't believe you- don't you ever- if you even-" she sputtered angrily as tears poured down her cheeks. " Xena..." she sobbed and leaned her forehead against hers, " Xena, line five?" she asked tenderly cupping Xena's chin in her hand. Xena looked at her, what she thought was her anyway, trying to stay conscious. " Never leave me behind again." Gabrielle whispered, wiping the tears that started to flow down Xena's face at that. She lifted Xena's face up hers and Xena leaned forward and kissed her for a minute, then collapsed back into Eponin and Solari's arms that still held her.

     All the Amazons were embarrassed at being present for this touching moment, most of all Eponin and Solari who were holding Xena the whole time. Ephiny supported the now freely crying Gabrielle and walked behind Eponin and Solari while the rest of the women tied up and dragged the men after them.

     " Well?" Gabrielle asked. The healer, Sheryl, sighed and wished for the umpteenth time she could kick the princess out. Luckily for her, Melosa came in then and removed Gabrielle.

     Outside Gabrielle promptly started to complain. " My queen, I really want to stay with Xena. I should be by her side."

     " True enough." Melosa agreed leading her away, " But you haven't eaten a thing all night or gotten any sleep and-" she said before Gabrielle could argue, " you're driving the healer crazy."

     Gabrielle looked at her with a mixture of annoyance and humor fighting in her eyes. " But-"

     " No buts." Melosa smiled and motioned for Ephiny and Eponin who were standing talking to a group of brunettes. " Ephiny will take over for you and Eponin will take you to relax, all right?" It really wasn't a question, it was a command. Gabrielle sighed and turned to Ephiny.

     " If she wakes up-" Gabrielle left the sentence unfinished.

     " You'll be the first to know." Ephiny smiled. " Wild hydras couldn't keep me from coming to get you. Go on, pony'll take care of you." she encouraged. She'll be fine, you'll see. Go on." She hugged the bard, pointed her in Eponin's direction, and pushed. Gabrielle went reluctantly and Ephiny and Melosa headed into the healers cottage.

     " Your highness." The healer kneeled, but looked upset.

     Melosa smiled, " What's wrong?"

     "Well, uh, could they, uh, wait outside?" she asked, motioning to the guards that accompanied the Queen everywhere she went.

     " Oh, of course. My apologies, sometimes I forget they are there. Wait outside." She commanded. " Now, how's she doing?" Melosa asked.

     " Honestly, not so good." Sheryl admitted. " They pumped enough drugs into her to keep half this camp down. Her arm is broken too. Erin tells me they threw her in the cell roughly. My concern is this stuff running through her system. It can cause paralysis, brain damage, organ trouble, blindness, hearing damage, and that's if she wakes up at all."

     " She's in a coma?" Ephiny asked with worry.

     " No, just unconscious, but she may never come out of it. There's just no way to tell, they overdosed her so much."

     " What happened here?" Melosa asked, touching the huge gash on Xena's other arm.

     " Apparently it was too much trouble for them to keep injecting her with the darts or they really wanted her out cold. They sliced her skin and bandaged the narcotics right to it. It soaked directly into her bloodstream. Notice how pale she is." Sheryl said.

     Ephiny and the Queen looked at Xena worriedly and then back at each other.

     " The Queen said eat, not pick at." Eponin grinned as she watched Gabrielle push the oatmeal around with her spoon.

     " And *I* said I wasn't hungry." Gabrielle retorted.

     " You have to eat something."

     " Come on Ep, Have a heart." Gabrielle said, looking over her table at her, " I'm not in an 'eating'' mood. Would you be?"

     Eponin sighed and pushed her hair off of her forehead. " No." she admitted, " I guess I wouldn't." she sat turning her cup in her hands, then asked slowly, " So, how is she?"

     Gabrielle sighed also. " Not good. The healer, Sheryl is it? says she has too much of the drug in her and.. she probably never wake up."

     Eponin heard her voice crack and watched a tear work its way down her friend's face. She climbed over the table making Gabrielle half sob, half laugh and wrapped her arms around her, letting her cry on her shoulder.

     " Sshh, hey, it's ok. She'll be ok. Xena's strong." she soothed. " She's lived through more than most people have even imagined. You think a little sleeping drug is going to keep her down? She's just getting a little extra sleep. You know Xena, always has to be near death to allow herself to rest."

     Gabrielle grinned at her, " You think so?" she sniffed.

     " I do. Come on, you get some sleep and I'll stay with you."

     " Sleep? Oh no! I forgot! I need to be with Xena." Gabrielle said suddenly standing up.

     " Why?" a very confused Eponin asked, holding her in place.

     " She has nightmares if I'm not there." Gabrielle said, trying to pull away.

     " Well, uh," Eponin said unsure how to respond to this new problem. She *had* just told Gabrielle Xena was sleeping. " Gabrielle, Xena needs to rest if she's going to get better."

     " I'm not going to sit on her Ep! I just need to be there so she *can* rest and get better," Gabrielle persuaded.

     " Gabrielle, I can't let you make yourself sick. You have to go to bed first. Ephiny's there." Eponin said solidly

     Gabrielle stopped struggling and looked at her with disdain, " Ephiny does *not* have the same effect I have." She said coldly.

     " Not what I meant and you know it. As soon as you get some sleep you can go to Xena." Eponin bargained.

     " Then I can stay with her, you promise?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.

     " I promise princess, now, just please come with me." Eponin begged and led the exhausted woman to her hut. " Thank the Gods." she whispered when Gabrielle fell fast asleep on the bed with Xena's shirt as a pillow.

     " How long has she been out?" Solari asked, looking down at the sleeping princess.

     " Since lunch. This is really hard for her." Eponin answered.

     " It's hard for us all. Xena is as much a part of the Amazons as... well Gabrielle is. They're like sisters!" Solari pushed.

     " Terribly attractive sisters." Eponin added as Gabrielle shifted in her sleep.

     " No kidding." Solari grinned, " But seriously, what do you think about Xena? If she goes...I mean, not just Gabrielle, but what will the world do without Xena?"

     " Not thinking about that Sol, don' t you either. It's bad karma. Come on, Xena's strong. I swear she just does things like this to make us appreciate her."

     " Yeah, knowing her. Still...I think- whoa! Hi Gabrielle!"

     " Hi Sol," Gabrielle said sleepily, " What are you doing here?"

     " Just talkin' to Eponin. How you doing?"

     " I'm...oh! Is Xena awake?!" she asked excitedly and stood up. "She's ...she's not, is she?" she asked after looking at their faces.

     " No Gabrielle. She's not." Eponin said sadly.

     Gabrielle nodded and sank back down on the bed with her heads in her hands for a minute, then shook her hair back and started pulling on her boots. Neither Solari nor Eponin had to ask where she as going; they just stood up and followed.

     Ephiny was sitting with Xena when they came in. She tactfully moved and Gabrielle took her place.

     " No change?" Solari asked in a hushed voice as she approached them Ephiny shook her head and went with them to dinner, leaving Gabrielle alone with Xena. She sat for a minute, just looking at her. Then she took Xena's hand in hers.

     " Oh Xena. You really must be sick, your hands are cold," she whispered, breaking down, " Your hands are never cold..." she sobbed, resting her head on Xena's pallet. She got a hold of herself after a few minutes and stroked Xena's hair out of her face. " Such beautiful hair." she said quietly. " never thought hair color could cause such a problem. You know, all then women you rescued are doing fine. Everyone's so happy to see them. They all wish you would hurry and wake up so they could thank you. Queen Melosa is going to throw a big party when you do. I know you hate them, but you'll come right? For Me? Or with me should I say. That counts as me asking you by the way, so you can't go with Ephiny or anyone...Ephiny sat with you for awhile, sorry I couldn't stay, they made me go get some sleep. I hope you didn't have any nightmares...I know how bad they get, but don't worry, 'cause I'm here now and I'm not leaving...don't you either...I'll um...I'll tell you a story ok love? You know you like 'em even if you won't admit it." Gabrielle kissed Xena's cold forehead and began to pull back, but then smiled a little. " I can do this now Xena." she said as she kissed her lips, " Hmmm, not quite the same." she said with a feeble attempt at a joke, " You always do things dramatically, don't you? Our first kiss in front of the entire Amazon nation, well, almost the entire Nation. So, what was I doing? Oh yeah, a story. All right, let me think..."

     " You think we should go in?"

     " No, let's just leave 'em alone for awhile longer."

     " You know, I truly believe Xena is going to come out of this."

     " That's sweet my Queen, but you know what Sheryl said."

     " Healers don't know everything. I have a gut feeling ok?"

     " Far be it for me to disagree with your gut. Tell you what, you go with your feeling and I'll lie afterwards and say I went with whoever was right, you or the healer."

     " You're such a smartass Solari."

     " Thank-you."

     " Let's go in. I don't know how much more of you I can take."

     " Gabrielle, wake up. Come on hon, you fell asleep." Solari was shaking Gabrielle who sat up with a start and looked at Xena, then back to Solari.

     " Wh-What's wrong?" Gabrielle groaned.

     " Nothing hon. I'm here to take your post for a while. It's after midnight. Actually, it's almost morning. Go get some sleep."

     " Oh. No thanks Sol. I'd much rather stay here. I'm more comfortable being with Xena. You understand?"

     " Yeah, I do. I'll just go grab you some food huh?"

     " That'd be great." Gabrielle said as she walked out. " She's sure being nice huh?" she said to Xena. " She's worried about you, we all are. Everyone's been coming in to see you. But of course you know that, you're here. Ephiny's sure taking this hard, and poor Melosa. You know how responsible she feels? You need to hurry back and set her straight. Erin and Rani have been coming remember? Oh! And Megera, remember her? She's the healer's assistant and she's very worried about you too. Eponin wants to send word to Cyrene and to some of your... our friends. I don't think we should worry them, do you? Besides if I know our friends, they'll all just come charging to the rescue and Sheryl would go nuts trying to keep all out."

     " That's the truth." Solari said, coming back in. " She's been kicking my butt out of here for the past two days. Oh, sorry, did I scare you?"

     " Uh, just gave the ol' heart a kick huh?"

     " Yeah, I think your heart's been working overtime lately. Here, not cooked by Ep, I promise." Solari said handing her a tray. " You owe me for this you know? It's not easy to get a tray of hot food at this time of night/morning, whatever it is."

     Gabrielle took it and started eating ravenously. " Uhm, thank-you. Indebted for life now huh?"

     Solari smiled and pulled up a chair. " No, just kidding. The cook was more than happy to make a meal for her valiant princess Gabrielle. She said to say hi to the last dark-haired one by the way. Gimme that." she said, picking up a piece of meat and folding her legs underneath her.

     " I didn't know Xena knew the cook."

     " Met her a few days ago. Want some company?" Solari asked as she got comfortable.

     " Love some. She's not talking much, you know?" Gabrielle tried to joke, but found herself squeezing Xena's hand tighter. Solari stretched out an arm and covered both their hands, " Yeah, I know..."

     " I think we should give her nightshade your majesty."

     " No."

     " It's been four and half days! She's not going to wake up!"

     " No."

     " But Queen Melosa, even if she woke up now, she would be so brain damaged, no one would recognize her!"

     " No. Dismissed."

     " Princess Gabrielle would never know if that's what you're worried about. It'll be much easier on her this way. She'll think she died in her sleep."

     " No. Dismissed."

     Sheryl growled and stalked out, muttering loudly. Ephiny walked in right after her. " Jeez, who spit in her porridge?"

     " Sheryl thinks we should kill Xena." The Queen said, sounding very old and tired, her face was drawn and pale.

     " You can't really be-!?"

     " No, of course not. But you know how Sheryl gets." Melosa sighed.

     " Maybe...it would be prudent to put Megera in charge of Xena." Ephiny suggested slowly. Melosa nodded.

     " Just what I was thinking. I'll go speak with her." Melosa stood up and headed once again for the cottage. She left the guards outside and was pleased to see Sheryl wasn't in attendance, instead Megera was already there. Gabrielle looked after them numbly when she called her away.

     After she finished instructing Megera, Melosa walked over to where Gabrielle sat with Xena. " Is it just me or does she look like she has more color?" she asked hopefully. Gabrielle stared up at her with blank bloodshot eyes.

     " They got some broth down her this morning." she said emotionlessly. Melosa stroked Xena's hair and patted Gabrielle's shoulder.

     " I need to talk to you Gabrielle." she said slowly.

     Gabrielle stared down at where Xena still lay not moving. " Xena." she whispered. " Sheryl wants to... kill...you. She says it's been too long. You wouldn't know me...I know that's not true, but...if you're not...coming back...please just go, don't make me watch them kill you...No! No, I didn't mean that, don't go anywhere! You come back here this instant! You're-you're breaking Line five!" she sobbed. " Please..." she whispered, " please come back to me Xena. I miss you so much, so much...I'll cook the fish, all the food, I'm sorry I made you do that, I won't yell or be so jealous anymore...please Xena. I need you, don't leave me,...I miss you...By every god that exists I need you! Come back to me...please... " Gabrielle choked and laid her head down, falling into a heavy sleep.

     " Look at her. This is killing her, She won't eat anything, she won't even leave this cottage, she just sits there." Ephiny said.

     " Let's go try and talk to her, maybe we can get her to come to lunch with us." Eponin answered. They walked over to where Gabrielle held Xena's hand diligently. Gabrielle was talking to her as they approached.

     " -but don't think she believed us. Lila is probably the worst liar in Greece...Oh, hi guys. Xena, Eponin and Ephiny are here."

     " Hi Gabrielle, we came to check on you guys and see if you'd like to have lunch with us." Eponin asked.

     " Oh fine, so I'm not invited?" a familiar, if scratchy voice asked pettishly.

     "XENA!? XENA!!!" Gabrielle squealed. " By the Gods! You jerk! You wonderful wonderful jerk! How long have you been awake??!!!" Gabrielle sobbed happily.

     " Xena! I'm so glad to see you!" Ephiny gasped.

     " Praise Artemis! You had us so scared." Eponin laughed and tears rolled down her cheeks.

     " Since you started your story Gabrielle. Oh, no no, don't cry, please don't cry. If I could move my arms I would hold you. Please don't cry. I'll go back to sleep, just please don't cry." Xena begged.

     Gabrielle put a hand over her mouth, trying to hold in the sobs. " That's not funny Xena." she sobbed. " I'm just so happy! I missed you so much. No! Don't try to move, if you hurt yourself again I'll kill you." Gabrielle sobbed and pushed Xena's shoulders down. " Xena...I thought...I thought you were going to ..." she left off trying to control her emotions and let the tears slip unheeded down her cheeks. " I..." she gave up and covered Xena's lips with her own trying to express what she felt.

     Xena wanted to wrap her arms around Gabrielle and comfort her, but she couldn't, so she just kissed back and deepened the kiss tenderly. Gabrielle's hands cupped her face and neck and it felt like time stopped for hours until their lips parted. Xena breathed for a second, looking up into pools of liquid green and kissed away the tears that still flowed, then brought their lips into contact again.

     Ephiny and Eponin coughed and excused themselves, each a deep shade of red when they realized this wasn't going to be a quick peck. They ran outside and quickly began spreading the word: Xena was awake!

     " No no no! You can't all come in!" Megera pleaded. Almost the whole camp was outside the healer's hut trying to see Xena. " Please! *I* haven't even seen her yet!"

     The Queen stepped to her defense. " All right everyone, calm down. You all will get a chance to see Xena. For now, only the closet friends right Megera? How many?"

     The grateful healer nodded and threw out a number.

     " O.K., Megera says six. Gabrielle is obviously already in there. Then I make two. Ephiny, you'll be wanting to come yes? Thought so, now who else?" Melosa asked. Solari and Eponin stepped forward and no one argued their right. Then to the chosen five's surprise, Annai stepped forward solidly.

     " It's my fault Xena is hurt. I wish to see her." she stated.

     Many looks were exchanged, but Melosa nodded and everyone followed her in. Gabrielle was still bent over Xena, just talking now however. As they came in, she leaned back and greeted them with a brilliant smile. " Wondered how long it would take you guys. Hey Xena, the cavalry's here." She grinned.

     Xena grinned back. " Hi guys, what are you all doing here?" she asked innocently. No one got in a retort because Megera stepped over to Xena then.

     " Hello Xena. Remember me? I need to see how you're doing." she said as she gently unwrapped the cut arm. " Hmm..." she said as she looked at it, " oh, well hmm..." she said and other such mutterings that drive patients nuts while she checked her over. " So you can't move anything?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

     " Nothing below my neck." Xena answered. The tension was almost palpable as Megera kept working. " Ahh, uh-huh, ok...this is important Xena. Please concentrate ok? Can you feel when I do this?" she asked as she touched Xena's hand gently. Xena nodded and Megera smiled, thus letting the women in the room draw a breath. " Tell me when you can't." Megera ordered. She gently touched Xena's upper arm, neck, other arm, chest, stomach, thigh...

     " Can't feel it." Xena said.

     Megera moved back up to Xena's hip. " Feel that?" she asked. Xena nodded and Megera smiled again. " That should do it, want the prognosis?" she grinned at Xena who nodded.

     " All right. You still have tons of that drug in your system. Good news: your broken arm is healing quickly and you have sensation in your limbs. That means your body is working to heal itself, you should, in time, be able to move everything again. Bad news: It will take time. I can't give you an exact figure, that stuff has to work its way out of your system. Also the narcotic that was out in your other arm is interfering with its closure. With luck, there is just some residue and your skin is rebelling against it. We'll clean it out again and see what happens. So, overall. Drink lots and lots of fluids. The faster you can flush it out, the faster you regain mobility. Keep trying to flex the muscles in your hands, not in your upper arms. You'll open the wound on one and unset the bone on the other. Get a lot of sleep, let your body heal. What's so funny?" Megera asked the snickering women.

     " Xena has a tendency...uh, *not* to stay in bed." Solari sniggered.

     " But she's going to this time, right Xena?" Melosa stated, not asked. " Because if she doesn't, I will be more than happy to assign guards to hold her."

     " And I volunteer." Ephiny grinned and the other women nodded and tried to look stern.

     " No worries Melosa." Xena grinned." With such beautiful nurses, I'm not going anywhere soon."

     " Xena!" Gabrielle said in exasperation and everyone else broke into laughter.


     "Xena, hold still."

     "No! I can feed myself!"

     " Yeah right! What are you going to do? Put the bowl on your face and lick it out?" Gabrielle sighed. " Now hold still and open your mouth before I hold it open." she threatened. Xena was about to refuse again, when Solari walked in.

     " Hey Xena!" she called. "I'm here to replace Gabrielle."

     " Good." Xena muttered.

     " Hey!" Gabrielle said, " You can have her, I'm going to be with people who appreciate me. Nah." she said, sticking her tongue out and the flouncing off.

     " What'd you do?" Solari grinned

     Xena ignored her question. " So, how's everything going?"

     " Oh, you know, this and that. You and Princess Gabrielle are quite the local gossip topic."

     " Gee, can't wait to get out and hear those." Xena groaned. " Any progress? Here, open your mouth." Solari asked while she mixed something in a bowl.

     " No.....what is it?" Xena said beginning to argue, but smelling the difference between it and the mush Gabrielle had been feeding her, or trying to anyway.

     " Vegetable soup." Solari grinned. " Thought you might like some real food. I know what they've been feeding you. Don't tell, or I won't sneak any more in." She threatened.

     " It's a deal. I take it you've been here before?"

     " I got real bad concussion last moon. I was a horrible patient. Sheryl won't talk to me anymore. No big loss there. She drives everybody nuts. Such a pessimist. Thank your lucky stars you have Meg. So how are you?" Solari blabbered while feeding her.

     " Not much. It's only been a day and a half though. Megera keeps telling me to be patient, not to try too hard."

     " Hmmm, I seem to remember my instructions being more like hold the hell still and sleep damn it! But that was Sheryl. Open."

     Xena laughed and took the offered bite. " You always cheer me up Sol, you know that? Thanks for sitting with me."

     " No prob, just remember, you still owe me fro breaking my hand on that guys face. I will call it in, 'o Warrior Princess." Solari grinned.

     " Hey So-!"

     " Shh! Stupid, she's asleep. What are you doing here?"

     " Sorry." Eponin said sheepishly. " I wanted to stay with her. You can go."

     " I thought Gabrielle called this shift Ep."

     " Yeah, well." Eponin grinned, " She's uh, occupied right now." She said walking over to Solari and dumping her out of the seat. " Go eat or something."

     " What did you do to her? There is no way in Tartarus you just convinced her to give you her shift." Solari said suspiciously.

     " Go figure huh?" Eponin grinned, not convincing Solari in the least. " I think I'm in trouble when she finds out what I did to Gabrielle." she whispered to Xena, quite pleased with herself as a still suspicious Solari left. " Don't be mad at me Xena. I just wanted some time alone with you and Gabrielle doesn't like that, Ephiny's no help either!"

     Solari left determined to find Gabrielle. She didn't appear to be anywhere though. Finally Solari sat in the middle of the village looking at the stars.

     " Hey Solari! What are you doing? It's almost midnight."

Solari jumped and looked at one of the night guards who was approaching. " You startled me, actually Eponin just kicked me off 'Xena watch' and I was looking for Princess Gabrielle."

     The guard grinned and sat down next to her. " Last I saw her, Eponin was talking to her, then she headed into the woods with her guards. How's Xena doing?"

     " Well, she was asleep last I was with her. She's bored and frustrated, but no real physical change. " Solari gossiped. " You know, I'm going to go check o Gabrielle, I think Eponin played a trick on her." she mused.

     " Yeah, and that's your job right?" the guard laughed and started walking back to her post. Solari stuck her tongue out and went after Gabrielle. She saw her from quite a distance and had to stifle a giggle. The Princess was on the ground, feeling around and her guards looked half asleep leaning up against trees. She was going to call out, but an evil thought strayed across her mind and she walked very quietly up to them as only Amazons can.

     " BOO!" She screamed, jumping out. The guards almost fell against each other in surprise and sprang to defensive poses over Gabrielle with wide eyes. Solari almost fell down laughing in their faces.

     " Damn you Solari!" they cursed, realizing it was only her. " That was not funny!" they yelled in embarrassment.

     " If you'd seen it from this angle, it would've been!" Solari gasped between peals of laughter. " Sorry guys," she said finally regaining some composure. " You looked asleep, I was just making sure you were properly guarding the Princess!"

     " You're such a smartass." Gabrielle groaned from where she crouched on all fours. " You know it's a crime to assault your princess?" she asked mockingly.

     " What are you doing Gabrielle?" Solari asked, ignoring the comment.

     " Well, Eponin said Xena lost her breast dagger during the fight and Xena loves that thing, so, here I am." she explained as she shifted her hands through the leaves.

     " Oh, uh-huh yeah, like say, this one?" Solari asked, spinning it in her fingers in front of Gabrielle's astonished face.

     " Where's you find it?" she asked, grabbing it. " I looked everywhere!"

     " In Xena's leathers, well, no, that's a lie. It was actually in the river. Xena lost it when they decided to take that dip in it the other night. Eponin and I found it this morning."

     " But she said-!"

     " Yeah, you're gonna love this, she wanted your shift with Xena."

     " Why that little...!" Gabrielle growled and set off for the camp.

     " So I guess that about sums it up. Don't tell Gabrielle ok?"

     " Why don't you want me to tell her Ep? She'll find out eventually anyway. You should just tell her." Xena advised. " Speaking of Gabrielle, where is she? I haven't seen her in awhile. She's not *really* mad at me just because I wouldn't eat that mush is she?"

     " Um, not that I know of. She's out looking for your breast dagger." Eponin answered, avoiding Xena's eyes.

     " My dagger? It's in the river." Xena told her, slightly confused.

     " Really? hmm, imagine that." Eponin said. " So where are you two off to after this?" she asked quickly.

      "I'm going to find that king that wanted to buy the Amazons." Xena answered. " Gabrielle will probably want to stay here. I figure I'll be outta here in a week, maybe less."

     " A week? Think again." Gabrielle's voice told her. " Eponin, I need to have a word with you."

     Eponin detected the warning note in the Princess' voice and said almost desperately, " Uh yeah, hey guess what! Xena show her what you can do!" she begged.

     Xena raised a critical eyebrow, but glanced at the bard and could see the anger in her eyes. " Sure, watch Gabrielle." she commanded and wiggled her fingers at her.

     " That's so great Xena!" Gabrielle beamed, running over and moving the torch closer, " Do it again!" she requested and out her fingers on top of Xena's. Xena obligingly moved them again. " Wow! Yea ! That's wonderful!" Gabrielle gushed while Eponin slipped silently out with a wink at Xena.

     " Where've you been?" Xena asked, once it was safe for Eponin. " You're not mad at me just because I wouldn't eat that crap, are you?"

     " Don't be ridiculous. No, they just kept me busy all evening. Speaking of which, what are you doing up? It's still candlemarks until dawn."

     " Just thinking." Xena lied.

     " Oh, well, you get some sleep ok?" Gabrielle asked, sitting in the nearby chair and stroking her Xena's hair off her face. " Hey Xena?" she asked quietly playing with a stray lock that had drifted onto Xena's shoulder.

     " Yeah?" Xena's voice sounded tired and her eyes were already closed.

     " Nevermind." Gabrielle sighed, " Go to sleep."

     Xena was too tired to argue and quickly slipped off. Her hands started moving once she fell asleep. At first Gabrielle thought it was a nervous habit she'd never noticed before, but there seemed to be a definite pattern to it. Almost like...she was communicating or something. Gabrielle shook her head, laughing at herself. " I must be more tired than I thought." she grinned and watched Xena sleep for a moment more, then laid her head on Xena's shoulder and drifted off.

     " Hi Xena. How are you doing this morning?" Queen Melosa whispered. Xena was awake and carving holes in the cot with one hand which held her dagger. Gabrielle was asleep on her shoulder and Melosa grinned as she came closer.

     " You needn't whisper. She can sleep through a hurricane." Xena stated flatly. She was glad to see Melosa, but she'd been up since the crack of dawn and was restless.

     " You want me to move her?"

     " If you want to, she'll probably wake up if you try."

     " I dunno Xena, she looks pretty out of it. Still, we'll wait. How are you feeling?" Melosa asked, touching Xena's arm. " Gimme that." she stated, removing Xena's dagger.

     " 'fraid of Sheryl?" Xena asked with a hint of a grin pulling at her lips.

     " Vaguely, and you should be too. Once she finds out you did that, you will be." Melosa smiled and motioned to the guard who was peeking in. " Take Princess Gabrielle back to her room and stay outside until she wakes up." Melosa ordered.

     The guard obeyed her quietly and smiled at Xena.

     " So, uh, you're staying with me?" Xena asked after she left.

     " Sure am, you get the pleasure of my company. No wise cracks allowed." Melosa smiled.

     " None were forthcoming. Actually, I'm glad you're here, help me up will ya?"

     " Are you allowed to?" Melosa grinned, but Xena's raised eyebrow erased her doubts here and she put her hands under Xena's armpits and lifted. " Are you okay?" she asked worriedly when Xena groaned.

     " Super, no worries." Xena grunted through clenched teeth. " Oh, much better." She said when she could. " If I had to stare at that ceiling much longer, things would have gotten ugly. I hate not being able to see."

     " Me too, now what? Everyone except me has been into see you, sorry, I've been busy. So what do they do when they're here?" Melosa asked as she sat down.

      " Most of them just talk, anything on your mind?"

     " Hmm, well, let's see. The trial for the kidnappers is tomorrow, feel up to testifying?"

     " Oh yeah, definitely." Xena grinned. " Should be on my feet and doing cartwheels by then." Megera came in just then and noticed Xena sitting up with shock.

     " In my defense," Melosa started, " She made me do it!"

     " Chicken." Xena laughed.

     " Wow! That's really great Xena! I defiantly did not think you'd be up by now. Any pain?"

     " Eh. Nothing I haven't dealt with before."

     " Xena, seriously, where does it hurt?" Megera asked. " I can't help you if you won't tell me where it is."

     Xena sighed, " Ok, if you must know, my arm hurts."

     " Which one? No! Don't lift it! A simple answer would've sufficed." Meg scolded. " By the Gods Xena!"      " What?! What's wrong?" Melosa asked anxiously.

     " Wrong? Nothing's wrong, but look! You saw this yesterday! Now check it out!"

     Xena glanced down at the arm they were staring at. It had almost completely closed during the night. Megera picked her jaw back up from the ground and re-bandaged the gash.

     " You never cease to amaze me Xena." Melosa stated.

     " What'd she do now?" Gabrielle and Ephiny asked, coming in.

     " Nothing bad. She healed, that's what she did." Melosa grinned.

     " Now be careful Xena. Very, very slowly." Megera ordered.     " No Gabrielle, let Eponin and Falca steady her. Don't pout, they're taller, you want her to get hurt? Slowly, Slowly! O.K.! Any pain Xena? None?"

     Xena shook her head. She'd just stood up for the first time in a long time now and was being supported on both sides. In actuality, her legs were killing her, but she was afraid if she admitted that, it would be forever before they let her try again. She took a few steps while Megera yelled, realizing what she was doing, then fell back into the chair, exhausted. Everyone immediately moved to her with concern.

     " I'm ok! I just need to rest for a minute. Chill." She comforted them

     " Xena, please don't overdo it!" Gabrielle begged. " Please!"

     " I won't Gabrielle, help me up? I want a bath."

     Gabrielle looked to Megera for approval. " If she can make it, it would be good for her." Meg confirmed. Just keep her arm covered."

     "Eph, help me here?" Gabrielle asked, " I'm not used to supporting six feet of warrior. Xena, springs or the bath area or our room or what?"

     " Don't care." Xena gasped, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. They headed for the hot springs on Melosa's recommendation.

     " Thanks Eph, could you grab us some towels and stuff?"

     " You're getting in too?" Ephiny asked while setting Xena down.

     " Somebody has to make sure she doesn't drown." Gabrielle joked. She watched Ephiny go, then turned her attention to Xena. " Ok, let's get you out of those." She said, reaching for Xena's clothes.

     " Uhm that's ok Gabrielle, I can do it." Xena said, shying away.

     " Yeah right." Gabrielle snorted, " Don't be silly, we bathe together all the time." She said as she reached for Xena again, surprised when she moved.

     " Yeah, but things are a little different now." Xena tried to explain and pulled on the knot of her shirt. Gabrielle stared frustrated at her, unable to think of what to say. Xena fidgeted with the knot for a minute, avoiding her glance. " Maybe Ephiny could help me." Xena said.

     " Get real." Gabrielle said quickly. " Xena," she sighed, " I realize you're trying to do this right, but you're being silly. Think about it, how many people have you slept with the first time you met them? This is just a bath."

     " Hey! I'm ignoring that last comment for now little bard, but Gabrielle," Xena said earnestly, taking her hands. " This is different, this is us. I don't want to mess anything up." she mumbled, avoiding Gabrielle's eyes on the last part.

     " That's so sweet Xena. No I mean that, look at me." she urged, pulling Xena's chin towards her. " Its-...ok, how do I put this? I want to be with you more than anything, but...I don't want to mess anything up either. Like I've said before, this is totally at your own pace. We'll go slow ok?" Gabrielle said looking deeply into Xena's eyes " Hey, I don't want to lose you ok? Even if it means I never get to be with you." She grinned. Xena's answer was a gentle kiss.

     " Now *you* get real." she laughed.

     " Tell you what, you get undressed and get in, then I will ok? I'll do your hair and your back. Just like normal." Gabrielle smiled, " I promise no peeking, you want me to do that knot though?"

     " That's be great. My dexterity isn't quite back to par yet." Xena said with slight annoyance. Gabrielle reached and started to mess with the now dirty know. No one had been able to put clean clothes on Xena as they were fearful to move her, so she still wore the ones Ephiny'd lent her before the whole adventure happened. Gabrielle was trying to keep the warmth down that resulted from her hands being about an inch below Xena's breasts. " Maybe I should take a cold bath." she thought as temptation flitted through her mind.

     " There you go, here comes Eph, I'll be right back." Gabrielle said, standing up and going to intercept her friend. By the time she got back, Xena was in the water relaxing against the rocky side. She looked almost asleep, so Gabrielle threw the sponge at her. Xena jumped and picked it up with a wry expression in Gabrielle's direction.

     " Here." Gabrielle said, getting in and handing Xena the soap. " Turn around and I'll get your back. One thing I love about being here with the Amazons," she commented as she lathered up the sponge, " Their soap smells so good. Don't you think? Lean your head forward." She added and scrubbed Xena's neck. She watched with slight anxiety when Xena went under to remove the suds, afraid she might not some back up, but Xena emerged after a second and started on Gabrielle's neck and back. She rinsed the suds off, then kissed a trail along the base of her neck. She was afraid she might have conveyed the wrong message before and was determined to correct it. " Gods, her skin is so soft." she thought, making her way from tanned skin to white. Solari and Eponin's arrival removed the temptation she started to feel to break her own newfound guidelines.

     " Hi guys." they called, stripping off and jumping in with a splash. " Xena! So good to see you're alive. Megera sent us to check on you, so we figured we'd join you." Eponin said.

     "Yup, see, then they'll have to send someone to check on us." Solari grinned, " And she'll stay and so they'll have to send another and so on and so on, until eventually we should have the whole tribe up here!"

     Xena laughed and threw the sponge at her. " You just want everyone to see how much weight you've lost!"

     Solari proceeded to pose and set everyone laughing again. The nearby nymphs shook their heads and chuckled at how strange humans were.

     A knock on the door brought Gabrielle back to ground. She glanced over at Xena who was fast asleep, then sighed and stood up, scattering scrolls and ink as she did. " Come!" she called quietly.

     Ephiny came in with two women behind her carrying trays of food. She pointed and they left them in front of the fire, close to Xena, then exited. " Thought you might like some dinner." she smiled. " What are you doing?" she asked nudging a stray quill.

     " Oh, just catching up on my journal. It's been a while since I wrote in it and I have some time this evening. Thanks for the food. Sorry we didn't come to the banquet tonight. After that party all of yesterday and today, Xena is just exhausted although she wouldn't admit even if you tortured her. Doesn't look tired at all does she?" Gabrielle smirked, pointing to where Xena lay stretched out in front of the fireplace with her armor under her head. Her left arm was outstretched and her fingers were twitching, causing her leg to move slightly and the firelight to glint off her ankle bracelet. She made quite pretty picture.

     Ephiny smiled, " Oh no, not at all. Why didn't she get into bed?" she asked, even though she already knew the answer.

     " Because, 'she's not the least bit tired.'" Gabrielle mimicked. " It was actually really interesting to watch. I suggested she sit on the bed, so of course she sat on the floor. I pulled these out." Gabrielle rattled her scrolls, " and she watched me for a minute. Then I guess she figured she'd fall asleep if she didn't do something, so she started cleaning her armor. I was watching her lean over more and more and her eyelids flutter. She'd do stubborn, just kept pulling herself back awake and polishing that silly thing. Eventually she laid down to finish and I knew I'd won when she did that. After a while, her eyes didn't open again."

     " Sounds like her, you want me to put her in bed? She's going to wake up with swirls on her cheek that way." Ephiny grinned.

     " No, I want her to eat. She barely touched her food the whole party. Did you notice?" Gabrielle asked as she stretched.

     " Yeah, I did. I think she's pushing herself too hard, but then, that's Xena for you." Ephiny commented watching Gabrielle walk stiffly over to Xena. " So what did that woman want to talk to her about?" Ephiny asked jealously.

     " What woman?" Gabrielle yawned and looked down at the sleeping warrior with tenderness.

     " With the blonde hair, she came to her and pulled her away. You remember, she was there when Xena tried to walk."

     " Oh right. I remember. She was the one who convinced Xena to go to that hide-out the other day. She had told Xena some sob story about her girlfriend and Xena acted like Xena and was determined to figure out how they were disappearing. She just wanted to apologize. I don't think she realized Xena would march off all by herself. Her name's Annai. Xena," she said and gently roused her, " Xena honey, come on, wake up." She cooed.

     " I-I wasn't asleep." Xena mumbled groggily. " I was just resting my eyes." she rolled over onto her back and blinked up at Gabrielle. " Oh,... Hi "

     " Hi." Gabrielle smiled. " Hungry?"

     " Huh-uh." Xena stretched, " Oh, Hi Eph, didn't see you."

     " Hey Xena. Don't sleep on the floor in my clothes, " she grinned, " Why don't you get up on the bed."

     " Ha Ha, very sneaky Ephiny." Xena said and sat up. " You can have your clothes back, too skimpy for me."

     " Right, like your usual ones are all-covering."

     " They suit my purposes. Easy to move around in, but cover all the vital areas." Xena stated as she stood up.

     " Personally, I think you look great Amazon style." Ephiny teased, knowing Gabrielle was watching her. " You have a great bod though, you look great no matter what you're wearing." " or not wearing." she silently added.

     " Thanks, I think." Xena said dryly and get a drink off the tray. " However this," she gestured to the dress Ephiny had loaned her for the celebration, " Is not quite my style."

     Ephiny was about to make another observation, but she could feel Gabrielle's eyes burning holes in her, so she stood up herself. " Well, it's late. I'll see you two tomorrow. Don't forget Xena, we're going hunting. Bye!"

     " Xena, do you really think it's a good idea to be out hunting so soon?" Gabrielle asked and handed Xena her sleepshirt. " It's only been a week since you woke up and four days since you've been able to walk. I don't think it's prudent to be out chasing after things in the forest."      " You don't think it's prudent for me to be out chasing things or you don't think it's prudent for me to be out chasing things with Ephiny?" Xena asked as she pulled the hated dress off and her shirt on with a lot of maneuvering because of her broken arm.

     " Both." Gabrielle stated, slipping her arms around Xena's waist

     " Hmm, but I already said yes Gabrielle." Xena said leaning her forehead on Gabrielle's. " You wouldn't want me to break my word now would you?" she asked pettishly. " Gabrielle?" she asked after a moment when the Princess didn't respond.

     " I'm thinking, I'm thinking."

     Xena laughed and pulled away, kneeling down by the food. " Amazon fare huh? You know I love it." she said sarcastically and started eating. Gabrielle joined her after a minute. Xena ate pretty well with a lot of pushing from Gabrielle, then stood and stretched.

     " Well now, if you don't mind, I am going to bed. I hereby admit, I, Xena of Amphipolis, am exhausted."

     Gabrielle grinned and held out her arms to be pulled up out of habit, then thought better of it and stood up of her own power. " So noted." she grinned and put out the torches. They let the fire burn down of it's own accord since it was summer. Gabrielle climbed in after Xena, mindful of the broken arm and snuggled up against her. Usually they slept with Xena's arm draped over Gabrielle and the other holding her close, but two wounded arms will get in the way of that. Instead Gabrielle wrapped her own arms around Xena and buried her face in her hair.

     " This is so right." she thought as she drifted off, " One gods forsaken week of sleeping without her and I wasn't comfortable one night. Everybody should have a warrior to keep them warm." she smiled and increased her hold on Xena who was already asleep. " Got mine!" she thought and then fell happily into Morpheus' world.

     " Oh, do you really have to go Xena?"

     " Yeah, don't you think it's a little soon?"

     " Defiantly not. I leave in the morning." Xena announced. Ephiny, Solari, and Melosa and her guards were standing in a circle next to the river.

     " Have you mentioned this to Gabrielle?" Melosa asked.

     " Mentioned what to Gabrielle?" Gabrielle asked coming up.

     " That Xena's leaving you here tomorrow." Solari said nonchalantly flipping a rock with her toe. Looking up she could see three pairs of angry eyes staring at her. " What?" she asked with a shrug. " Oooh, right, oops." she grinned.

     " Xena, I need to talk to you." Gabrielle said quietly through clenched teeth. " Right now!" She said grabbing Xena's shirt. The Amazons tried to keep straight faces as a desperate looking warrior threw them disparaging glances.

     " Oh, *she's* in *trouble*." Ephiny snickered. " Hey! Sol , where are you going?" she asked as Solari slipped off after them.

     " Shh! I'm going to listen." she hissed, waving Ephiny away when she tried to follow.

     " Solari! You can't do that! That's an invasion of their privacy! They're our friends!" Ephiny whispered. Solari ignored her and followed Gabrielle and Xena. " You're highness! Stop her!" Ephiny pleaded, but Melosa was following Solari.

     " I'm the Queen, it's my job to...uh, watch over my subjects." Melosa grinned. Ephiny watched them open-mouthed for a minute, then followed. They snuck behind the pair all the way into the woods. "She's going to kill us!" Ephiny groaned. " Xena'll hear us! You know her ears!"

     " Not if you shut up!" Solari hissed, putting a hand over her mouth and pulling her behind a tree. The angry words of their princess easily reached their position and they could see Xena rolling her eyes and pursing her lips.

     " I can't believe you! After all we've been through Xena! Were you even going to tell me?!"

     " Yes!" Xena protested.

     " When?"

     " Tomorrow morning." Xena answered, not looking at her.

     " Gee, before you left or after?!" Gabrielle demanded.

     " I just thought you'd be happier here. It's not like I wasn't coming back! I just didn't want to put you in any danger or uncomfort!" Xena said finally.

     Gabrielle sighed and flexed her fingers in the air, trying to gain control of her temper. " Xena," she said finally, " You need to understand. I *want* to be with you." she said turning to her, " through the good and the bad, through it all!" she shook Xena's shoulders very gently to get her point across.

     " But Gabrielle, this might be really bad. I have no idea what the conditions will be." Xena protested.

     " I don't care." Gabrielle emphasized. " Now you listen to me Warrior Princess and you listen good," Gabrielle commanded mock-threateningly. " I-stay-with-you. Understood?" she asked, punctuating each word. " Line five stands. Permanently." se said, and gently took Xena's hands in her own.

     " Understood." Xena acknowledged and brought Gabrielle's hands to her lips. " I gotta admit," She said kissing them softly, " I'm glad Solari's such a big mouth."

     " HEY!!" Solari grumbled.

     " Ssh!" Ephiny and Melosa hissed.

     " Because I would really miss you." Xena continued as she barely brushed Gabrielle's palm with her tongue. " Really, really miss you." she whispered caressing the princess wrist with her tongue, then her lower arm. Gabrielle's breath quickened and she brought Xena's hand to her mouth. As she kissed the palm, she wrapped her arm around Xena's waist and pulled her much closer.

     " Why do you think I'm coming?" Gabrielle grinned and kissed the tip of each finger, then ran her tongue across them. Xena groaned slightly and pulled Gabrielle close. Gabrielle pulled Xena's mouth to hers and sucked Xena's lower lip in softly, and ran her fingers up and down Xena's back. " Have I mentioned how much I like Amazon clothing on you?" she teased as she hooked her thumbs in the waistline and brought them around front to rest on Xena's firm abdomen. " It so much more, hmm...revealing." she grinned and floated her hands up and down Xena's sides.

     " Is that so?" Xena mumbled into Gabrielle's lips. She pulled away from her lips getting a sigh of discontent from Gabrielle and nibbled a path to her ear to make up for it. She whispered something into the brad's ear that made her gasp and move her hands to the knot on Xena's shirt.

     " What'd she say?" Solari whispered, " I can't hear a thing."

     " Uh, it doesn't matter, but I think we should leave." Melosa muttered when she realized this was turning into more than simple necking. Gabrielle's fingers were fumbling with the knot and Xena was working her way down the princess neck to her collarbone. Melosa could hear the gasps and moans from where she stood and started ushering her citizens away. Ephiny was slightly distracted, however, and stepped on a branch, causing a loud crack. The three held their breath, praying for a miracle.

It didn't come.

     " Who's there?!" Xena called loudly and stepped protectively in front of Gabrielle. " Show yourselves!" she commanded, causing three sheepish looking Amazons to emerge.

     " Uh, it's just us Xena." Queen Melosa said, looking anywhere but Xena.

     " Yeah, we er... got lost." Solari supported.

     " Damn you Solari." Gabrielle cursed to herself, very flustered as the women came forward.

     " How, uh, how long have you been there?" Xena asked, feeling a flush coming to her cheeks.

     " Oh not long." Ephiny lied quickly, then began to chuckle. " That's a nice color on you Xena." She sputtered watching a deep red steal across Xena's face. " Are you, Xena, destroyer of Nations, blushing?!" she laughed.

     " No!" Xena retorted, " it's just, hot out here!" she said and stomped off back to the village.

     " Thanks a lot guys! She'll never do this again, you know that!" Gabrielle groaned and took off after Xena leaving the Amazons rolling in the leaves.

     " We-we are in so much trouble!" Ephiny gasped between laughs.

     " She's going to kill us!" Solari agreed, holding her sides.

     " Yeah, if Gabrielle doesn't get to us first!" Melosa laughed. If she was a normal Queen, this would have disgraced her, but Ephiny and Solari were her friends and even a queen has to let go sometimes!

     " Anytime. You both know you're welcome here anytime. If you need assistance, be sure to send word, you will won't you Xena?" Melosa asked. The formal farewell was over last night and it was only Eponin, Solari, Ephiny, Jacob, Annai, and Queen Melosa...and Argo. They all stood at the edge of Amazon territory wishing Gabrielle and Xena a more friendly type good-bye.

     "I will Queen Melosa. And no worries, I'm sure we'll be back soon. Argo likes the treatment here." Xena stated.

     " I still wish you'd let some of us go with you to help." Eponin whined again.

     " Too many Amazons spoil the ambush." Xena grinned.

     " Where do you get those?" Solari laughed. " You've got to teach me some. Your one-liners are almost as famous as mine. But seriously, bye Xena. I'll miss you, hurry back, and Gabrielle?" she said, hugging them each in turn, " Don't do anything I wouldn't do...not that that really limits you or anything." she added.

     Eponin stepped up next with Jacob on her leg. " He wanted to say good-bye too." she smiled. The little boy walked over and hugged Xena and Gabrielle with a whisper in their ears.

     " Bye Jacob. Thanks for all your help. You know I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you." Xena said.

     " Yeah, we'll bring you something when we come back." Gabrielle smiled and tousled his hair much to his delight.

     " Good-bye Xena." Eponin said, hugging her tightly. Ephiny was hugging Gabrielle, so she took the opportunity to whisper in Xena's ear. " Don't tell her ok? Even if she tortures you...or," she smiled knowingly from Solari's account, " uses other methods of persuasion."

     " Very funny Eponin. No worries, I won't tell." Xena said as her and Gabrielle exchanged friends.

     Ephiny'd finished briefing Gabrielle on seducing warriors and said good-bye, so she turned to Xena. " Hey missie. I'm really going to miss you. Keep her safe huh? Take care of those arms, not to mention yourself. No silly risks. And when you get back, I believe we still have a date you missed to make up for." Ephiny reminded her and pulled her into a kiss.

     " Bye Princess. Hey, I'm sorry about tricking you huh? It was kinda an emergency. Take good care of Xena. Make sure you bring her back in one piece...or at least all the important pieces." Eponin grinned to Gabrielle.

     " Definitely, we- whoa!" Gabrielle said catching a glimpse of Xena and Ephiny over Eponin's shoulder. " Break it up you two."

     " Xena, one more time, I apologize." Annai said. "If I'd had any idea...-"

     " Stop worrying about it! I'm fine. You go home and enjoy your girlfriend. We'll see you later huh?" Xena stopped her.

     " Xena," Melosa smiled and wrapped her in a hug. " You be careful. No tripping off to sacrifice yourself, promise?"

     " I promise my Queen." Xena said gallantly and bowed formally making Melosa laugh.

     " Seriously Xena, you both take no chances. Us dark-haired women have to stick together eh? You're supplied for a long time, plenty of dried food. May Artemis favor you and keep you safe." Melosa smiled.

     Xena smiled back with a rare and full smile. " Trust me Melosa, Artemis and I know each other quite well." she laughed as she climbed onto Argo with help from Gabrielle to avoid using her arm. Melosa looked surprised and confused.

     " What's that supposed to mean?"

     Xena laughed again and watched Gabrielle pull herself up behind her, unable to help. " Ask Ephiny, she knows!" she called and started Argo at a loose canter. Ephiny giggled and whispered something in the Queen's ear.

     " YOU DID WHAT WITH ARTEMIS!!?!?" Melosa yelled after her, Xena smirked and set Argo to a gallop, while the Queen gaped after them.

     " Xena," Gabrielle asked curiously, " What did you do with Artemis...?"

The End

The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive