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Xena & Gabrielle A Turn of Fate

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Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: The Warrior Princess, and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, are owned by MCA/Universal & Renpics. No copyright infringement is intended in the making of this epic tale.

Warning: This story contains strong language and violence on every level; whether it's mentioned, implied or acted out. It also has graphic sexual themes between hetero/homosexual men and women. If you are not of legal age, or if this tale is not your cup of tea, nor allowed in your country/state, you should go now. I'm positive there are other bards in the Xenaverse whom will appease you. Leave this story to the mature audiences only.

Additional Note (Please Read): This story's a companion with my other tale, The Conqueror & Ri: A Twist of Destiny. It's highly imperative you read it, too, that way the bigger plot won't become confusing later down the line. I know this interlacing of plots probably has never been done before in such fashion, but I promise your time will be well invested.

Xena & Gabrielle

A Turn of Fate

By Ahkiken


"I don't like the mist of spring." Gabrielle announced, walking adjacent to Xena atop Argo II.

The dark-haired warrior looked down at her with a perplexed expression. "Mist of spring?"

"Yes. Thanks to that rain pour last night, the haze it left shrouds the beautiful greenery this season has to offer." Gabrielle answered, and Xena produced an ephemeral chuckle, provoking her to query, "Are you going to let me in on the joke?"

"And here I thought you'd lost your bardic talents, but now I see there's still a bard in you." Xena teased.

"Well, it may have a lot to do with that lovely poem you gave to me from Sappho on my birthday." The cropped blonde smiled, caressing Xena's leg. "It may have awoken something within me."

Xena stopped Argo and bent down to stare directly at her soul mate. "What might that be?"

Barely face-to-face, Gabrielle stood on the tip of her toes, inches from capturing Xena's lips with hers. Choosing to keep Xena enticed, the warrior-bard enjoyed the lust filling in the older woman's eyes by denying her a ginger kiss.

She bestowed a cheeky grin, sauntering ahead, whilst saying, "You may never know."

"I'm positive if I wanted to, I could discover all of your secrets."

"Dream on, Xena."

Xena smirked, and straightened herself upright to start Argo moving again, catching up to her teasing companion.

While they traveled in comfortable silence, Gabrielle was thinking about her recent birthday two weeks ago; all of the practical jokes Xena played on her, and the one she scored in retaliation. Subsequent to aiding Genia's escape from religious zealots, then impeding a crazy marriage due to Aphrodite, the goddess of love's influence, the Amazon knew the blue-eyed beauty wasn't going to allow her to get away with the bucket of fish guts prank.

Little did she know Xena had a big surprise in stored for her. Not only did she secure a present for her, but before relinquishing the helmet of Hermes to King Thoas for his coronation, the Warrior Princess took Gabrielle on a flight around Thebes, thereon to the King's kingdom. Succeeding the acceptance of the divine object, he offered for them to stay the night as special guests.

Xena accepted once it was agreed she and her best friend would have their privacy. Gabrielle was reluctant to leave all their belongings at the campsite, howbeit her lover assured everything would be well; the kingdom's soldiers would safeguard their items and Argo.

That night, she treated Gabrielle like a bonafide queen; from serving her delicious dishes of food, bathing the bard's lithe frame with water and jasmine, to ravaging it sexually in the soft bed, till the younger female begged her ravenous partner to stop. It was a fantastic birthday, and one of the best days of her life since they'd awakened from their icy slumber. Xena made it even more joyous by giving her another gift, following their intense lovemaking.

'Who would've ruminated the great Warrior Princess would ever ask me? I was happy with the poem, and nothing beats birthday sex with her. But this!' Gabrielle paused the ecstatic musings to gaze at her index finger, a wide grin formed. 'Many happy returns indeed.'

Noticing her intended's features, Xena wondered what put Gabrielle in a happy mood. "If I had kissed you, it would've been good, but not that good to make you beam."

The statement brought Gabrielle's attention. "You do alright."

Negating the jest, Xena prodded, "Are you dwelling on your sister and niece? We can go back if you want."

They'd stayed in Potidaea for four days, helping around the barn, whilst seeing how Gabrielle's niece was coping after her direful experiences in Africa with the African warlord, Gurkhan, and his harem. Discovering the mother and daughter's damaged relationship was healing spectacularly, the soul mates easily adjusted to the loving atmosphere the reunited pair created.

Therefore sharing the blissful news referencing their forthcoming nuptial, Sarah was shocked with puzzled joy, as Lila simply huffed, ['Bout time.']

Their visitation had also served dual purposes for Gabrielle. Other than checking on her remaining living relatives, the item she purchased would be presented to Xena today.

"I had fun with my family... Our family." She corrected with a smile. "Whereas, unless we are settling down in Potidaea, I rather much be on the road alongside you."

The sentence evoked a contemplation to re-enter Xena's cognition; something she'd been deliberating off and on about. "When we get to Scione, there's an important matter I would like to discuss with you."

"Oh yeah? There's an imperative issue I want to partake in, too." Gabrielle concurred.

"Hmm, since we both have matters of importance at our destination, why don't you get up here with me." Xena professed.

"I don't think so. I'm doubting I'll keep my hands to myself. We'll never make it." Gabrielle saucily replied.

Xena galloped her warhorse to stand in front of the petite Amazon. "Who said I was asking."

She utilized the deep tone that used to scare Gabrielle in the early goings of their travels, nonetheless, now it caused her to shiver in delight. The young Amazonian Queen liked it a lot when Xena became demanding in this fashion, because it was occasionally fun to deny her, and thus many years in the bedroll, it was exciting to break her.

"See, moments like these, I really miss Horse." The blonde affirmed, making her way towards the Palomino's flank and its mistress, while ruminating on the mare she had nearly twenty-seven years past.

"Probably in the future we can get you one of your own again." Xena averred.

"Really?"

Xena reached down to lift Gabrielle up, setting the bard comfortably behind her.

'Damn, she's strong.' Gabrielle cogitated, tenderly touching muscular biceps to finally rest her arms around Xena's waist.

"No." Xena purported.

Gabrielle questionably repeated, "No?"

"You're not getting your own horse. I don't want to miss you being this close to me."

Leaning on a broad shoulder, Gabrielle playfully slapped Xena's side. "You'll pay for tricking me."

"Promises, promises." She retorted, kicking Argo into full speed down the dip.

{X&G}

A couple of hours into their travels, Gabrielle struck up a conversation anent to the alternative life they had, because Caesar's disruption of the Fates' loom caused him to become Emperor of Rome, she a renowned playwright, and her cherished Xena became his Empress, ruling beside him.

"I don't want to talk about that, Gabrielle. I'm simply jovial you fixed it, and brought us back to normalcy."

Feeling Xena's discomfort, Gabrielle tried explaining, "I agree it was a huge ordeal for us, Xena. That's why I purely wanted to discuss the time we spent together."

"If you recall correctly, I died." Xena expelled a breath. "And I would gladly die for you again if it meant saving your life."

Gabrielle hugged her lover tightly, resting her head on Xena's back.

"I know you would, and after you went to the cross, I felt you dying... It created an unbearable pain in me. Tenfold more than any of the times I'd ever lost you. I was so distraught, that even as the Fates warned I'd obliterate all of time by destroying the loom, I didn't care." Gabrielle squeezed tighter, continuing, "God damn the whole world if I can't have you, Xena."

Smiling, the Warrior Princess was speechless from hearing such conviction in the bard's words.

'You would sacrifice the entirety of existence for me. What did I do to deserve a devoted woman like you?' She quizzed herself, placing one hand on top of Gabrielle's that were reposed on her abdomen.

Gabrielle wasn't at all upset, nor baffled Xena didn't reciprocate an amorous comment to the solicitous declaration of their love, 'cause within her heart and mind, she knew the whilom warlord loved her equally, if not more. Notwithstanding, sometimes, just sometimes...

She wished Xena would evince her feelings further.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle." Xena spoke out, making the Amazon presume she read her mind.

"Why?"

"Here you were trying to have idle chat, and I had to somber the mood." Xena responded.

"True, you did." Gabrielle assented, causing Xena to pinch her arm. "I have a remedy for situations similar to these, though."

"Hmm, what might that be?" Xena was curious.

"Initiating the topic of our alternate lifestyles, I wasn't referring to the trials at all." Raising herself to Xena's ear, Gabrielle silently queried, "I wanted to know how long it would have taken you to procure my virginity?"

The warm breath that mixed with Gabrielle's voice made Xena quiver slightly, whilst she felt herself become aroused. "Virginity? You were a virgin?"

"Yes. And to be honest, I wanted to give it to you so badly." Gabrielle finished by kissing Xena's neck.

Sensations virtually forced Xena to steer Argo II in the wrong direction.

"Answer me. I'm sure you could sense our love, however, did you feel lust as well?" Her digits massaged the warrior's belly a tinge. "Come on, Xena. Tell me how long before you would've laid claim to my body?"

"Probably on that stage." Bringing Argo to a cessation, Xena twisted her torso to espy the short-haired blonde, proceeding closer to an inviting mouth. "But most definitely when you were on the balcony. I was seconds from summoning you to my most private chambers."

Gabrielle gasped, becoming enamored. "You were?"

"Mm-hmm." Xena murmured, and while the two women's lips touched, she apprised, "There, I would have taken your maidenhead, provoking you to scream my name."

No longer holding back, and cognizant of the licentious methods that could had impelled her deflowering, Gabrielle's mouth pressed harder against Xena's.

With each kiss, Xena whispered, "You would've blared it over...and over."

She darted her tongue inside the Amazon's mouth, and their tongues tangled together, as Gabrielle succumbed to Xena's dominating kisses.

Pulling away, Xena proclaimed a final time, "And over again."

Grasping Gabrielle with a single arm, Xena began sucking her pulse point, coaxing a low moan from the blonde, "Xena..."

The next sound came from Gabrielle's stomach, signaling food was overdue.

"Your greedy appetite reminds me of Alti; they both interrupted me from having you." Xena laughed lightly, turning to get her tan and creme-colored horse ambling once more.

Although Gabrielle had a hunger for something edible, it didn't compare to her sexual arousal.

"My fault, Xena. I should have eaten more than an apple before we left my village. If it matters to you, I'm way hornier than hungry." She admitted, laying on Xena's shoulder again.

"No doubt. I could make you hot in a snowstorm." Xena bragged.

"A snowstorm? That's possible. How 'bout a full-blown blizzard?" Gabrielle jived.

"Now you're desiring too much." Xena rejoined airily. "There's a clearing farther ahead. We could hunt some game and recline, or trek onwards to Mende. It's not a big town, nevertheless, we can buy extra provisions for our trip to Scione."

Not really contemplating the options Xena proffered, Gabrielle merely wanted to be close to her love, forgetting she'd spent majority of their dinars on the gift in Potidaea.

"Mende is fine with me." She asserted, administering a chaste kiss below Xena's earlobe. "I told you."

"Hmm?"

"I'd vowed I would make you pay. Now you're turned on, and can't receive release."

"What provokes you to surmise I am turned on?" Xena prompted.

A small hand grazed Xena's thigh, delicately rubbing the bronze skin. With fingers going higher under the Warrior Princess' battledress, Gabrielle relished the fact she was shuddering against her trim body.

"We both know the truth." Gabrielle placed a second kiss on Xena's neck, lingering for a short time to gently suck it.

"Mmm, fine." Xena conceded. "Cut it out 'fore I take you on top of Argo."

"Ooh, we've never done that yet." She cooed, whilst Xena swatted Gabrielle's exploring hands off of her.

Loud laughter filled the air, as the three females continued their journey.

{X&G}

An half-hour pass the clearing field Xena had mentioned, the trio were nearing Mende.

"We're almost there. I'm going to set Argo into a steady pace." Xena pulled the reins, invoking the mare to cease running, and to gait instead.

The bard took notice. "How far along are we?"

"Nearly there, Gabrielle. When we get out of these woods, you'll be able to descry the town."

"Good."

"Yea, I'm sure you are delighted."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle urged, indignantly.

"You are famished. Food is feasibly the sole thing on your brain." Xena verbalized.

"Well, you'd be wrong. Besides, if what you aver is true, why did you slow Argo down to a trot when we were making better progress at the velocity we were in?" Gabrielle questioned.

"We have been pushing Argo for a while, and I don't want her exhausted." Xena expounded.

"So I starve? That's a marvelous reply, Xena. I'm glad I am used to this."

"You are?" Xena pondered what Gabrielle was getting at.

"Like mother, like daughter; I came last to Argo, now I have to play second fiddle to Argo Jr." She kidded.

The Palomino who was the center of discussion let out a snort of understanding, compelling the duo to burst in merriment. After the chuckles died out, Xena spun to Gabrielle in the silence.

"Gabrielle."

Noting the serious tonality, she probed dutifully, "Yes?"

"What do you hear?"

Gabrielle had begun to quiet her cogitation, attuning herself to the environment they were occupying. Listening to the leaves on the branches of the trees, as they bristled from the wind, she could also hear a bird calling; a hawk certainly scavenging for unlucky prey. Withal the fog from earlier cleared, it didn't matter; the Amazon heard what she needed to.

Placing her forehead on Xena's armored-protected shoulder, Gabrielle started counting, "Five, four, three, two, one."

Thereby completing her countdown, as if on cue, five bandits dashed from behind the trees that littered the area.

Xena brought Argo II to a halt, taking a quick, detailed assessment of the men whom had the similarities akin to every run-of-the-mill, ragged robbers...except one. In lieu of them being a singular gender, it was a woman who stood in front of the four males, a right hand lied on the handle of her sword. She had long, auburn hair, a firm build that was covered by a sleeveless, red tunic, and dark-brownish trousers, with brown boots. Gazing at the sable-haired, lead rider, she seemed to be in command of the scoundrels.

"My, what a pretty horse you have." Casting a leer at Gabrielle, she went on. "Oh, and what a gorgeous little thing in back of you as well. She'll do fine for my men."

Xena ignored the troublemakers, and cocked her head to the side, whispering in Gabrielle's ear, "Nice job. You even enumerated all of them. I'm proud of you."

Her gracious partner couldn't curb beaming at the compliment.

"Alright, you know what this is!" The female yelled, getting the couple's assiduity. "So get off your horse, turn it, your blonde friend, money, and weapons over to us. I promise once you do, things won't go bad for ya."

"I don't 'turn' my girls over to anyone." Xena predicated. "And if you're offering some kind of payment to buy them..."

"We're not interested." Gabrielle picked up.

"Ha, would you look at that. Not one, but two mouthful whores. I can't wait to shove my cock in it to shut them up." A lewd goon threatened.

The auburn-haired leader's mien grew pensive. "You leave me no choice... Ready, boys!"

Her men unsheathed their swords, shouting in unison, "Aye, Xena!"

"Xena?" Gabrielle became as puzzled as the real Warrior Princess.

"Now you're scared, huh? Yes, I am the legendary Xena, infamous Destroyer of Nations, and you two will be added to the list of those I've conquered, including your tanned-horse, too, if you both don't yield." The imposter claimed.

The raven-haired warrior bellowed a condescending laugh, and dismounted Argo, feigning a plea, "Legendary Xena, please, don't harm us."

Drawing her sword free, she pointed it at the armored target, pondering why the irritating person looked familiar. "You mock me!"

"Of course, I am." Unleashing her blade also, Xena taunted her extra, "Heeey, aren't you a tad young to be the Destroyer of Nations?"

"And I always assumed Xena was a brunette." Gabrielle quipped.

The pretender released a shrill cry, whilst her sword connected with Xena's. The remaining four bandits trudged to Argo and the bard, as the Warrior Princess' swordplay against the imposter took them several steps away.

Gabrielle discerned her betrothed was playing with the other woman, then the man who made the earlier rude remark boasted, "We'll have you either way, so give up nice and easy. No one can defeat Xena."

"Hey, that's my line." She clarified.

Her ambiguous admission drove the men to become confused, and Gabrielle seized upon their morass moment. Flipping off of the saddle, the scarlet-clad Amazon kicked the mouthy thug in his chest, dropping him. Thereafter, she gripped the sais from her boots, twirling them to display her skills with the farmer tools that were very deadly, and effective to any foe who dared engagement.

A tall lout foolishly decided not to be chicken, and swung his blade at her. Catching the steel between her weaponry, Gabrielle quickly locked the longsword in its prongs, thereupon with a solid twist of her wrists, she snapped his weapon asunder. With the cheap metal broken, she swirled the sais' handles upwards, hitting the guy a couple of times in his throat, and he, too, had fallen.

'Just two remain. Excluding that fake Xena's fighting. I wish she would hurry and beat her-'

"You're one lucky piece of ass, girlie." Another unsightly bandit pronounced, cutting off Gabrielle's thoughts.

"But that's about to change." The other avowed, preceding their charge at her.

Gabrielle did a backhand flip, to a jumping backflip that could practically rival Xena's. She landed at the rear of Argo, and began traipsing backwards, while the two men slowly stalked passed the horse towards her. Using haste, she deposited the twin weapons back into their straps, and raised her arms in the air, broadcasting an insincere gesture of surrender.

The bandits halted, mystified by the bard's tactic, and when she emitted a whistle, they really were at a lost, until both thugs felt something incredibly painful hit their backs, launching them into the air to descend awkwardly on the forest floor.

"Good girl." Gabrielle cheered to Argo II for the double kicks of justice she dished out on the hooligans.

She patted the mare, whilst focusing on Xena, who remained fooling around in battle with the final ruffian. Becoming impatient, the Palomino neighed loudly.

"Don't fret, Argo. Let Xena have her fun. Soon she'll be done, and we can move on." Gabrielle elucidated, beforehand of jubilantly cogitating, 'We have new beginnings to sort out.'

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The mysterious warrior was on the offensive, swinging her sword, desperate for a direct hit. Her smirking foe continuously allowed the hectic attacks.

"You know." Xena started to say, descrying that her challenger was becoming winded with every strike. "You're going to tire out if you keep attacking me this way."

Taking another swing, the auburn-haired masquerader bellowed, "Shut up and fight back!"

Xena blocked the so-called Destroyer of Nations' slashes six times, expounding, "If I attack, I'll hurt you."

"You can't injure me." Her blade connected with Xena's again. "I am the Destroyer of-"

The tirade was cut short with a perfectly timed parry, and an elbow to her stomach, forcing the young female to drop on both knees.

"You held onto your weapon. That's a sign of a decent contender." Xena commented, sheathing her sword and snatching the weaponry out of the defeated warrior's loosened clasp.

Xena's downed opponent was coughing, trying to get her bearings and needed air into panting lungs.

"An adequate fighter." Xena went on. "But not of the caliber you claim to be."

"I am Xena." The pretender lied again.

"No, you're not." A voice impugned.

Looking up slightly, the breathless woman recognized the pretty, short-haired blonde walking towards her.

"You!" She sounded astounded. "Shouldn't you be...on your back somewhere?"

Suddenly, realization hit her.

'Where are my men? Little blondie couldn't have trounced them?' She thought, fear gripping her heart. "Who...are you?"

"My name is Gabrielle. This here, is the one and only Xena." The bard introduced herself and her companion.

'Is it possible? They can't be the Warrior Princess and the Battling Bard of Potidaea... No way!' She'd wrongly deduced. "Ridiculous."

Gabrielle stood beside Xena. "Show her what you can do."

"You want me to use the pinch?" Xena asked incredulously.

"No, silly. The chakram." Gabrielle clarified.

"Oh." Xena mouthed, as her hand let the yin-yang chakram free.

The charlatan watched the disc bounce on the barks of trees and split in two, ricocheting off other obstacles before finally becoming singular again, finishing its trek back into Xena's clench. Mesmerized by what she witnessed, the surprised spectator couldn't inhibit staring at the legendary couple, whilst Xena clipped the razor-sharp circlet on her right hip.

Raising a shaky finger in their direction, she stuttered, "You're Xe...Xena, and the bard Gab...Gabrielle."

"Yup. And the horse you wanted, her name is Argo." Xena replied.

"Impossible." The imposter muttered in amazement.

"Not unfeasible." Gabrielle chirped in. "That's Xena's original warhorse's mare; Argo Jr."

"I wasn't alluding to the horse. I..." She stayed mystified when Xena aided her onto unsteady feet. "There's rumors saying Xena...and her scribe are dead. Contrary to those whispers, close to two years ago... I heard that they were seen around the Chalcidice, traversing home after twenty-five years of their disappearance."

"Can you cease referring to us in the third person. We're alive, not deceased." Xena retorted.

"You both are so young." The warrior professed, regaining her breath and balance.

Gabrielle softly nudged Xena's ribs, joking, "Some of us are, more than others."

Allowing the playful quip from her soul mate to pass, Xena began appraising their would-be robber's features up closely.

'Definitely russet hair, light-brown eyes, and an undoubtedly young-looking face.' Her assessment completed, Xena articulated, "You look youthful as well. I would guess no older than twenty seasons."

"Nineteen, actually." She corrected, her eyes downcast. "Nineteen Autumns."

'Ahh, we're getting somewhere.' Xena mused. "Now that you're cognizant of who we are, it's your turn."

"And why are you running hither and thither claiming to be somebody you're not?" Gabrielle added, ignoring Xena's mild annoyance at using verbose, bardic words.

"My name is Tanya of Larissa in Thessaly." Her eyesight elevated to the Warrior Princess' visage. "Many people speak 'bout you, Xena. They'd tell anecdotes of how you were an evil warlord bent on bringing misery and death to anyone. With that reputation, it earned you the title: Destroyer of Nations."

"That was Xena a lifetime ago." The petite Amazon vented defensively.

"I didn't mean any offense." Tanya apologized.

"Yeah, 'cause roaming 'round pretending to be me isn't offensive at all." Xena chastised, folding her arms.

Tanya studied the ground. "Like I averred, many people talk, and that was a few of the things I've heard. Other voices... Majority of travelers whom would visit us in Thessaly would avouch tales of how you stopped the Thessalian Mitoans War."

Memories flooded Xena's senses with scenes of that fateful day more than three bygone decades. Beyond the fact that she was a skilled strategist and a magnificent leader when it came to tactical warfare, Xena hadn't taken a place on the frontlines of battle. Instead, it was her ability as a unique medic that helped end the strife.

Tanya went on elucidating, "They disclosed you'd saved numerous lives that day, and kept both belligerents' soldiers' souls from Hades' clutches."

"You shouldn't believe everything you hear." Xena responded.

Tanya's head shot up. "Not even from my own father? He told me you didn't just rescue lives, but had stolen back a spirit from the underworld god himself. An essence that was...is very special to you."

"Father?" Xena adverted to Tanya's parentage.

"Marmax." Tanya evinced.

"Your father is Marmax?" Gabrielle was befuddled, recollecting the angry, determined man who'd crossed her and Xena's path. "The leader of the Mitoans?"

"Yes." She made clear in advance of turning her focus fully on Xena. "Is it true?"

Xena went silent, while her greatest fear that day washed over her.


[I'm not quite certain how I got myself into this.

I mean, I am Xena. Once proud Destroyer of Nations. I could have been empress of Corinth, if not all of Greece right now. Not here, stuck between two opposing forces inclined on murdering each other because of different faiths.

Fools.

My sword hasn't killed a single person. In lieu of that, I'm inside this Thessalonian temple trying to save Thessalians and Mitoans alike. If my enemies were to detect what I've become, they would be laughing at me. The ones who are dead and buried would be turning in their unmarked graves, if they didn't suffer my frequent grotesque wrath. Otherwise, besides a grave, or a befitting pyre, their heads would be hacked off and rotting on pikes.

Speaking of disembodied individuals, there's one here whom I'd relish throttling. Galen... Argh, what a useless healer! Solely good for praying to a non-caring god, who I am positive doesn't give a damn. Deities are nearly as worthless as Romans; nothing but letdowns.

Believe me, I know.

I'm glad I took leadership over this hospice. Numberless soldiers had died already, but I'm sure if I hadn't taken command, lots of others would be ferried across the River Styx on Charon's boat, whereupon they wouldn't be amongst the living.

At least my life isn't completely negative.

I am not totally ungrateful to Hercules for setting me on this road; the path of the Greater Good. I'll be forever in his debt. Though I'm seeking redemption for my past misdeeds and helping a lot of strangers, I still wish for death sometimes.

That's what I deserve.

However, I been doing this Greater Good thing for almost a year and I'm growing accustomed to it. Besting warlords, gods, titans, and psychotic avengers, calms my inner turmoil. Saving maidens, couples, families, villages, and these warring men's lives, brings me a sense of...

Peace.

Especially now, whilst I hand Ephiny's Centaur baby to her. Such a shame what happened to Prince Phantes; to suffer a horrible demise. Funny how things work itself out; good people die and the bad mostly prosper. Albeit gazing at the facial expression on Ephiny makes me forget about conflicts and death. The pure importance here, is life. Gabrielle prizes moments like these. She would love being with her Amazon sister during this juncture right now.

Where is Gabrielle?

Gradually, I am aware of commotion going on behind me. Dashing to discern what's the problem, I scrutinize Gabrielle lying on a patient's gurney. How can this be?

What has occurred?

I hear a guy's reiteration of how his child got lost outside the temple, and Gabrielle volunteered to find him. Gods, she is so kind. So selfless and...

Stupid!

There's a war going on! She knows that! Why would she try traipsing through skirmishes!?

Naïve...

Yet, I can only be mad with myself. I brought us to this Tartarus-hole. All I can do is find out what's wrong and assist her.

Wiping down Gabrielle's perspiring skin, her body starts convulsing uncontrollably without warning, prior to becoming still.

"What's happening?" Marmax queries.

"I don't know! Gabrielle!" I shout.

"She's dead." Hippocrates declares sadly.

"She is not dead, I wouldn't let her." I snarl. "Come on, Gabrielle, wake up."

She's just sleeping. I'll shake her. She hates it when I do that.

"Come on, wake up. Come on, wake up." I repeat, shaking her. "Wake up, you're scaring me."

As I realize she's not breathing, nor is her heart beating, I feel an unknown pain within me.

"Wake up. Gabrielle, breathe. Come on. Come on, breathe, breathe." Becoming afraid, a rush of panic overwhelms me.

I ken these emotions, but this growing, pained sensation...

It's... I can't call it.

"Maybe she just needs air." I announce to no one in particular. "I need to get some air in her lungs."

Leaning, I place my mouth atop hers with the intent of breathing life into her.

"Come on, Gabrielle, breathe!" I blare, continuing my method of resuscitation.

"Please, stop it. She's dead now. She is in a better place." Hippocrates tries to force me to accept.

It simply makes me further determined.

"Get out of my way! You don't know anything!" I scream at him.

He backs off, and I return concentration on my main concern.

"Don't you listen to him." I beg her, knowing she's alive.

Hoping she will reveal those aqua irises for me.

"Come on, I know you're in there, prove it." I'm irritated, close to hysteria. "You can show him. Come on. Wake up and breathe."

I'm shaking her a bit roughly now. How dare she wiggle her way into my life merely to leave me. To die on me. It should be me lying here dying. This is to be my fate, not hers. Never hers.

This unsettling pain... It's surging...

"You never ran from anything in your whole life. Come on, fight!" I yell, hitting her chest hard.

Next, I hear Marmax's tonality, "Xena."

"Fight!" I pound her again.

"Xena! It's time to stop now." He asserts, grasping my attention. "Let her cross over peacefully."

"What do you know?" I snap, 'cause this bloody contention is all his gods be damned fault. "You've killed so many."

Marmax gazes at me, explicating very gently and concisely, "So have you. Let it go."

He is right. I was...am a killer. A murderer of thousands, whether innocent akin to Gabrielle, or guilty like Caesar. I've botched protecting her the same way I had failed Lyceus, M'Lila, Anokin, and...

I bring sorrow and sadness to the surface of my very carefully closed heart. Gabrielle is not them. She won't end up like 'em.

"No!" I roar, refusing to let go and see reasoning. "No. Come on, Gabrielle. Come on. Come on."

I'm holding Gabrielle in my arms, beating the Hades out of her chest. I've surpassed hysterics, while the tears roll down my cheeks unchecked. I don't care, I'm fond of her, and now she's trying to do the same thing she has done to me twice already throughout our journey together; abandon me. Except this time it'll be permanent.

"Don't leave me. Don't you leave me!" I am weeping openly, pounding her small frame, and silently daring for someone to interfere or disturb me so I can make Marmax's pronouncement veracious by killing everybody around me. "Don't leave me! Don't leave me! Wake up! Wake up!"

I need Gabrielle. I'm nothing without her support and belief in me. My pleading vocals must reach her...

It has to.

I hit her again, crying, "WAKE UP!"

Gabrielle's pupils open wide, her lips parting and gasping for oxygen. My eyes lock onto hers and something in my internal core click. Strange, I didn't think that painful feeling had anything to do with my heart.

"You're Asclepius!" The hack forcefully affirms to me, falling on his kneecaps. "You've come back to Gaia."

"Get up, Galen. I'm not Asclepius, you should know that by now."

Afterwards of glowering at the old fool, I peer into Gabrielle's greenish-blue irises.

"It's Gabrielle who performed the miracle." I kiss her forehead, grasping her strongly. "Didn't 'cha?"

I finally identify that clicking in my heart. My soul, if I truly have one, felt complete now that I've gained Gabrielle back.

It is love...]


A gentle palm rested on Xena's shoulder, evaporating the remaining memories.

"Xena." The bard became concerned anent to her soul mate's doleful countenance. "Are you alright?"

The Warrior Princess nodded that she was fine, and distinguishing Xena's appearance, Tanya believed she'd acquired her answer.

"It's true." Smiling from ear-to-ear, she gestured at Gabrielle. "It was her, wasn't it?"

"Yes."

Xena's short response provoked Tanya to guffaw, and the duo was thrown off by her outburst. "I can't believe this. You two are my heroes! But you, Xena... You saved my dad, rescued villages from terrorizing warlords and bandits. I've even overheard hearsay that you fought the gods and became a God Slayer. I knew you were familiar to me, but couldn't put my finger on why or how. I'd subconsciously recognized you from the description almost everyone described."

"Alright. All right." Xena tried to get the excited teenager to calm herself. "I'm confident Marmax apprised I am no longer a warlord. Notwithstanding, you try to steal my identity as the Destroyer of Nations. Why?"

Tanya blushed, explaining, "I didn't mean to. I wanted to travel, you know? See the world. A couple of years ago, some Larissians claimed to have seen you two in the areas of Stagirus and Argilus, heading to Amphipolis. I had implored my father to allow me to go, but he stated that the road was no place for a woman. Unfortunate perils can happen, caused by slavers, ruffians, anybody for that matter. I still wouldn't give up."

"So you left?" Gabrielle understood it was the wrong decision to choose, although it was the one she had selected. "And became what your father cautioned."

""Yeah, but no way did I pack up and leave. My father and I worked out a nice agreement first." Tanya proclaimed, seemingly happily.

Xena's head lowered to Gabrielle's ear, and she whispered, "Every farm girl isn't like you, my love. They cannot run off to follow dangerous strangers who'd protected them, their sister, and neighbors from slavery."

Gabrielle glared into her eyes, mocking, "It paid off, didn't it? Here I am with you after all these years."

Xena had gotten lost in the moment, placing a soft kiss above Gabrielle's golden crown. "Yeah, you are. I won't forget you'd also safeguarded my life when you followed me home and prevented the villagers from stoning me."

Tanya espied the pair with great interest. The manner that the dark-haired warrior stared at the blonde bard spoke volumes.

"Are you two... Um, it's none of my business, but are you both...lovers?"

She and Xena had shared a confidential intimacy for so long, Gabrielle didn't perceive how to reply. A handful of individuals literally knew, whilst others guessed, and in this case, quizzed.

Xena ignored the question, countering with her own, "So you and your father worked out something. What was it?"

Tanya decided to bow out from her investigation of the historic duo's relationship.

"We agreed if he trained me to wield a sword better than most, I could go out into the world. Extensive story short, I'd learned, but upon my arrival in the Chalcidice territory, I kinda..." Tanya's explanation trailed off.

"'Kinda', what?" Xena prompted.

Releasing a sigh, Tanya continued, "I ran into some men and kicked their butts. They were no match for me. I felt invincible by defeating them."

A triumphant grin formed on Tanya's mien.

"Did you kill any of them?" Gabrielle probed.

"No." Xena proffered her judgment. "She didn't kill anybody. Did you, Tanya?"

It was a rhetorical query, and they both acknowledged the forthcoming, truthful utterance, "No. They inquired who I was and how did I fight so diligently. So, I told them-"

"You were Xena." Gabrielle smiled, knowingly.

She could understand what it was like to crave mimicking an incredible combatant apropos to Xena's prestige. In a bygone period, the novice Amazon Princess impersonated the Warrior Princess, though it was for the Greater Good.

"I told them that I was Xena, but they chose to call me the Destroyer of Nations. I tried to thwart 'em from using the appellation, nevertheless, they kept on chanting it, and swore loyalty to me. It was so...intoxicating." Tanya admitted.

Xena knew all too well. "The power, huh? It'll compel you to do things you'd never surmised you would."

"That is exactly what happened. Soon, I was harassing townsfolks whom I'd deemed inferior to me. I've worked myself up to this point of trying to rob you and give Gabrielle to my men. This is the worse I had ever done in the fortnight I've been hanging with them." Tanya appeared gloomy. "Please, forgive me."

"No harm, no foul." Gabrielle noticed that Xena gave her a side glance because of the avowal. "What?"

Airily cutting her eyes at Gabrielle, Xena predicated eloquently, "No harm, Tanya, 'cause it was us you and your hooligans came up against. Nonetheless, it's a foul for leading these men on to such a destructive and bellicose course."

Tanya looked downward again in shame.

"Promise us something." Gabrielle verbalized.

"Anything." The younger teen was eager for a second opportunity to do better.

"Dispose your merry band of thieves to the wayside if they can't fight for the Greater Good." Xena proposed.

"Greater Good?" Tanya was unfamiliar with the term.

"Serving a purpose that's more than yourself. Like aiding others the way we do." Xena divulged, flipping Tanya's sword handle first, relinquishing it to her.

Tanya sheathed it at her hip, while Gabrielle informed her, "And halt using Xena's name."

"I will stop. Thanks for giving me another chance."

The two warriors beamed.

"You're okay, and tell your father we said hello." Gabrielle pronounced.

Tanya became troubled. "Well, I was hoping-"

"That bitch kicked me!" One of the men shouted, vehemently.

The three females turned to espy the outcry, and Gabrielle pegged him as the first man she'd attacked post flipping off of Argo II.

Thereon, Tanya began stepping to him. "Jargas, it's cool. I've made a terrible mistake."

"No error, Destroyer. Let's beat their asses!" He exclaimed, holding his chest.

"Here we go again." Gabrielle expelled a breath, gripping a single sai.

"No, Jargas. They're heroes." Tanya planned to reason with him, totally forgetting who she was pretending to be. "They are Xena and Gabrielle."

"Wait, I presumed you were Xena? Ain't that what you fucking told us?"

"I apologize, Jargas." She dithered. "I... I lied. I'm not Xena. My real name's Tanya, and I want to fight for what's right. I want us all to fight for the Greater Good."

Jargas' cerebration was steaming. Not only was this bitch not the Destroyer of Nations, but she made fools out of him and his friends for two damn weeks. Whereas, what could he do? He didn't want to get kicked in his chest twice. Slowly a faint, mischievous smile formed on his lips.

"That's the real Xena?" His inquiry was taken as a peace treaty, impelling Tanya to assent with a vigorous nod. "I would love to greet her and apologize."

"Really! You're not mad at me?" She was a bit mistrustful.

'Damn straight I am!' Jargas secretly ruminated. "Of course not. She's the spectacular Xena. Come on, introduce me. I want to fight for this Greater Good crap, too."

Tanya was giddy with joy. She really liked Jargas, and was happy that he was choosing to succor the helpless alongside her. Showing her back to him, and ambling forward to the tall and trim women, her excitement dwindled to dread once she took stock of the cropped blonde's facet.

Gabrielle warned, "Tanya, watch out!"

Spinning around quickly, Tanya saw Jargas, as he raised his dagger from his wristband to stab her. The teenager couldn't react fast enough and utterly accepted she was going to die.

"You deceiving bitch!" He accused with rage in his pupils.

The small blade was descending to impale Tanya between her breast-bone. Before she could comprehend what occurred, a sai was embedded into Jargas' striking arm.

"Shit!" He grunted loudly, gawking at the strange weapon that pierced his skin, making him drop the knife.

Tanya was too shocked to move, cogitating frightfully, 'He could have killed me.'

"Get away from him, Tanya!" Xena hoped to get her attention, but to no avail.

Jargas noted Tanya's pause, seizing the advantage by shoving her down with his good arm, and knelt slightly to pick up the dagger. Preceding his attempt to use it again, a sharp prong pierced Jargas' heart, and the last sight he scanned, prior to weary eyes rolling into their sockets, was a diminutive hand holding the hilt to another one of those peculiar weapons which protruded from his upper arm. Exhaling his final breath, he fell to the ground.

Xena ran over, lifting Tanya to her feet, while Gabrielle crouched to pluck her sais from Jargas' lifeless figure.

"Are you alright?"

Tanya's mind remained in a haze.

"Are you all right?" Xena repeated, jerking her shoulders to get the auburn-haired teen to focus.

"Yes... Yeah, I'm okay." She mumbled, viewing Gabrielle, whilst she cleaned the blood off of her twin weaponry on Jargas' shirt.

'Great. I have soiled my hands by taking a life again.' The velvet-clad Amazon was glum.

Reading her lover's deportment, Xena chimed, "There's a stream we can make use of to get cleansed, but it's farther from Mende."

"That's fine." Gabrielle consented, arising and depositing her sais inside the straps on her boots.

"Tanya?"

"Is he...he... I...I never spied a...a murdered corpse, Xena. I've seen someone unconscious. Hurt even, but not...not..." She babbled, gaping at her slain comrade.

"Do you have a horse or anything you need to take?" Xena interrogated.

"Yes."

"Well, grab them, we need to go." Xena commanded, strolling to Argo with Gabrielle trailing her.

Tanya spotted her deserted goons groaning on the ground. "What about them?"

"They'll keep, unless you want to stay here with 'em." Xena mounted her mare, and the bard settled behind her.

'They probably will try to kill me also.' Tanya feared, running into the bushes to her hidden steed, thusly gathering her personal items and saddling up.

Guiding her horse out of the foliage, she commenced getting on it, earning Xena's support.

"Good choice." Working Argo II into a slow trot, Xena queried, "Ready, Tanya?"

The reddish brown-haired teenager acceded, "Yes."

"Yah." Xena urged, coaxing Argo to gallop to their modified destination with Tanya shadowing as well.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Gabrielle stood in the shallow part of the stream. Its waters came just above her kneecaps, requiring the sole removal of her boots. Washing the remaining blood from her sais and hands, she wondered would the day for settling down ever come. Could a time occur when neither Xena nor herself would have to fight, let alone kill any longer?

The warrior-bard couldn't wait to get to Scione. She was hopeful they'd find a nice place to permanently reside, and work out a happy, perfect future.

'Maybe we can hang our weapons up for good.' Gabrielle thought, watching Xena take off her footwear, and Tanya repeatedly splash a youthful face with the cold water.

Completely cleaning everything off, and clenching the dual weaponry in a single hand, Gabrielle started using her thumb to trace the circlet on her index finger, once again reminiscing about the night in Thebes with her soul mate.


["Mmm, Xena!"

That is all I can moan and scream loudly. As a blast of stars fills the pitch blackness behind furrowed eyelids, the liquid from my orgasm is being lavishly lapped up by Xena. It's my third climax of the night and I've become highly sensitive. I need her constantly moving tongue to cease.

"Please." I groan, squirming.

Xena must have mistook the entreaty because she begins sucking my clit in earnest.

"Ah, Xe...please, Xena... Pease, I need you to... Oh, god, I need you to stop." I beg between rising pain and pleasure.

"What's wrong?" She caustically asks, halting her ministrations. "Let me give you one more and I'll stop."

Hence saying that, two of her fingers slips inside my succulent canal, making me cry anew. I grab Xena's long, moist hair, torn with indecision of wanting her to halt and allowing her to take my body again once elongated digits stroke me a few times, howbeit the sensitivity is too grand. When baby blue irises locks onto mine, I silently plead with them for her to relent.

Understanding my distress, Xena hastily withdraws from within me, causing me to yelp. Next, she brings the twin fingers that were inside me to my lips, slipping them into my mouth. Maintaining eye contact, I suck my essence off of them, sensuously. I used to find the taste of myself a bit awkward, but now I love to savor the sweet, tangy nectar that secretes out of me, almost as much as she does.

Still, I love the deliciousness of her even more, and whilst I gaze into Xena's eyes, I presume, for a second, she'll ride my face like she sometimes do. In lieu of that, Xena kisses an upwards trail on my sheening torso. Removing her digits, she plunges her tainted tongue into my mouth, giving me another helping of tasting myself. A soulful moan escapes one of us, but I don't care who it came from, for if we keep kissing passionately as we are, I'll soon do whatever she wants me to.

Pulling away to my growing disappointment, she whispers, "Happy birthday, Gabrielle. Was it enjoyable?"

I find myself panting and nodding in appreciation. "Yes, you were wonderful."

"I'm not making allusions to the sex." Xena smirks. "I know that was gratifying."

"You can be very cocky at times. I wasn't speaking about our coitus either."

She looks at me with a raised eyebrow, calling my small fib.

"Okay, our lovemaking blew my mind." Grasping both sides of her smug countenance, I expound, "Not only that. I've enjoyed everything you done for me today. The poem you presented has simply made me ecstatic."

Xena kisses my lips again, prior to laying back on the soft bed, rolling me halfway on top of her naked flesh.

Snuggling into my favorite spot below her chin and neck, I decide to recite the poetry, "'There's a moment I look at you. And no speech is left in me. My tongue breaks, then fire races under my skin. And I tremble and grow pale. For I am dying of such love.'"

My soul mate chuckles in advance of teasing me, "It takes a bard to echo another bard's work."

"Sappho's no mere bard, Xena." I feel her shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "Did you mean it?"

"Hmm?" She uses that sexy hum I adore.

"The poem, silly. Did you mean it?" I repeat. "Are you dying of such love? Do those words signify what's in your heart?"

Xena takes a long time to answer, causing me to believe she will not.

"No. I used to feel that way, but not anymore. I have no need to envy such love." Xena finally asserts.

My heart rate picks up, beating in haste, and I let the tears spill from my eyes. "Why? Because you've found it, or you'd given up on love?"

"I have found it. In you, Gabrielle."

"You are in love with me... You've always loved me, but why?" I lift myself off of Xena to see her entire mien directly. "Why'd you put us through so much for many years? You made me feel like I was purely good enough for your bedroll and not your heart."

The tears continue falling, while I initiate my tangent.

"Then you had hurt me terribly when we went to Egypt. Telling me you no longer desired me sexually, and that you undividedly needed me as a friend. The whole affair with Marc Antony...it appeared like you didn't care if I was there or not. And after our slumber, you blatantly told me I could sleep with Vir-"

In a flash, Xena tosses me over onto my back, our positions now reversed.

"I'm aware I've made horrible mistakes when it involves us. I also know it was stupid of me to take you as a lover and not have a monogamous relationship with you." She pauses, wiping the wetness from my cheeks. "I almost lost you numerous times, but I realize that pushing you in Virgil's arms is the last erroneous decision I'll ever chance in losing what we got."

Virgil...

I have to tell her the truth anent to he and I.

"Xena, me and Virgil... We-"

"I don't want to know." Xena interjects, somberly adding, "I never want to know. You are a benignant woman, Gabrielle. It doesn't take people long to see. You're lovely, intelligent... I could go on and on."

Becoming gleeful, I choose not to ruin our afterglow. "You forgot worldly, cute, talented."

"And full of herself." Xena jives, playing with the golden strands that's close to my earlobe. "Looks like I should've paid better detail in cleaning your ears."

"Are you bellyaching, Xena?" Prepared to protest, and raising slightly, I gasp when a solid, silvery circle graces my sight. "What is-"

"Can you be quiet, please. My belly doesn't ache, but it's tangling into knots already."

I draw in my upper and bottom lip to prevent laughing at Xena's misunderstanding of the word I'd vocalized. Placing my head on the pillow, I try my best not to get overly excited. It's just a ring. It could mean anything. Friendship ring. Lover ring. Bonding ring...

Calm down.

Grasping my left hand in hers, she avers, "Let me tell you a story of a warrior; my tale. A cowardly, yet, ambitious warlord named Cortese chose to raid a village called Amphipolis. I decided to rouse the Amphipolitans to fight back, but by winning, lots of the villagers lost family, friends, and my brother, Lyceus, was taken from me, too. In turn, I forfeited their respect, my mother's love, along with my home. For a period afterwards, I solely wanted to succor my hometown by raiding other villages that were in proximity to it, thereby becoming a pirate. In the duration of this occupation, I'd met and fell in love with Caesar, thinking we would rule the world together."

I bestow a sympathetic visage in recognition of Xena's turbulent past, which played a crucial role during her youth.

Xena hunches. "However, he spurn me. Taking my loving emotive and repaying me with betrayal, rage, death. I'd swore I would never give my heart to another living person. I took my frustrations and anger out on every breathing thing on this earth. I'd believed that I absolutely wouldn't accept love again, until Hercules changed all of that. He unchained my heart, and I started to love him for it."

Don't be jealous. Do not get jealous.

"I had separated from the son of Zeus to find my own way. When...Marcus died twice, I felt he was my mortal beloved. Notwithstanding, I was wrong regarding every one of 'em. Petracles, Hercules, Marcus, Borias, I loved them, but in unsimilar ways and for various reasons. Similar to how I loved M'Lila and Lao 'Ma in different ways. They all had aided me in one capacity or another, selflessly. Withal my heart was still shelled, till you."

It's taking extreme control to hold my emotions in check, hardly capable of awaiting Xena's peroration.

"As I found myself on the outskirts of Potidaea, I was ready to end my life. The sins of the past was eating me alive, but after I saw these villagers getting routed by slavers, and this strawberry-blonde-haired girl, who was inclined to take the abuse of slavery to save the others, something forced me into action. Whilst I'd stumbled into your aqua eyes, it left me defenseless. That's why I denied you from trailing me. You stalked me anyway and broke down the shell encasing my heart."

A tiny, visceral laugh erupts from me, and I pretend to pout. "I'm not a stalker."

"If you say so." She grins, prior to being serious once more. "We have been through scads together. Some events I don't care to remember, but throughout all of it, I cherish every moment we share, and I need you to know..."

Suddenly, she stops explicating and breathes in intensely. Come on, Xena, I am ardent to hear what you have to unveil.

"I am in love with you. I have been for so long that I can't pinpoint exactly when. Nonetheless, it frightened me. Perchance it'd begun in the Thessalian Temple all those years ago, if not the first night we had sex, and I was afraid to get hurt, or hurting you in return. That is why I put restrictions on us, and... It was the reason I'd turned to Ulysses the following morning."

Damn it, don't ruin the mood by bringing up his name. Post being shown new and satisfying intimacy from Xena, the next day she was in Ulysses' arms, caressing his lips with hers, proclaiming I'd taught her how to love, so she could love him.

Xena feasibly discerns my impassive expression for what it is, because she gently touches the side of my cheek with her right hand, eliminating the unnerving feeling within myself.

"Honestly, Gabrielle, none of them matter. Not Ulysses, Rafe; gods I don't know what the hell I was thinking with him. Nor Marc Antony; he merely reminded me of power and conquest. I didn't love any of them at all." She avows, profoundly.

"Ares?" I question, knowing full well he could eternally pose a threat to our relationship.

"He entices my dark side... I am his chosen. There's nothing I can do to change that. All I can profess is that Ares will never, ever coerce me from you."

"No one will break us apart?" I have to query.

"Nobody, Little One. I've kept my word to you thus far, haven't I?" Xena's tone turns a tinge glum, "At least since we came back to Potidaea and learnt what had happened to your family."

True, she has. Not without admonition, Xena was willing to allow me to avenge my executed parents and brother-in-law by killing Gurkhan myself.

"Yes." I agree, although I'm wary this fresh behavior of Xena's could be limited.

"Do you trust I will always love you, take care of you and your needs?"

"Yes." Hopefully no more nights spent rubbing my thighs together to ease sexual tension.

"Do you want to be with me forever in this world and beyond?"

"Yes." Without a doubt.

"Then bond with me. I will honor you, worshipping your body and soul. I'll be damned if this life ends without you as my wife." She kisses me softly. "Say yes, Gabrielle."

Even foregoing all the lies, pain, bliss, death, bloodstains and teardrops our journey had cast on us, my brain races with a single affirmation, "Yes!"

Xena's eyes glistens, while she commences kissing and sucking my left index finger into her mouth, preceding placing the silver ring on it. I scan the details of my newly bestowed band, noting that a jade stone is embedded in the middle, and has indentations surrounding it, too.

I read the four words aloud, "My Heart, My Love. Xena, it's... I do not know what to...I..."

I'm at a lost for any averments which will properly explain this momentous event. This can't be happening! It has to be a trick or some deluded dream, granting me Xena's complete, loving affections, simply for me to awaken and lose it. Okay, it's not a veracious tormenting fantasy. A suitable nightmare, but I surely don't want to wake from this, especially with Xena fondly claiming my stunned, muted mouth with hers. My hands grazes the Warrior Princess' dark nipples on her chest, and become entangled in raven tresses. I'm aroused again, and all I want to do is taste her.

Xena releases hush moans, ceasing our dancing tongues.

"You made me the happiest ex-warlord ever!" She exclaims with a huge smile, coaxing her azure irises to glow.

It induces me to yearn for Xena greatly, and I lick her neck, ending at an inviting ear. "Permit me the satisfaction of pleasing you more, my future wife."

Xena gets the hint and avidly climbs my petite frame, setting her wet pussy over my watering mouth. I listen graciously to the lilting sounds she produces, as I'm voluptuously tonguing her to an orgasm.]


Strong arms enclosed around Gabrielle's bare waist.

"Whatcha thinking?" Xena quietly quizzed.

Gabrielle leaned into the embrace. "I'm beginning to grow weary of the Greater Good."

Xena absorbed her lover's rejoin. "We'll talk, Gabrielle. I'm going to check on Tanya. See if she's alright."

The Amazon gave a nod of acceptance. "Okay."

Multiple steps away, Tanya ran her dampened fingers through her reddish-brown hair, replaying Jargas' death over in her head, whilst Xena trailed the stream to stand in front of the troubled teen.

"How are you holding up?"

Light-brown eyes tilted upwards. "I... I've never seen a person be killed. I haven't ever espied a dead body in my life."

"I ken how you feel. It's not easy being subjected to mortality, whether it's by natural causes, illnesses, or weaponries. This is what your father was trying to warn and protect you from." Xena predicated.

Quietness filled the atmosphere for a handful of seconds, 'til Tanya's eyes scrutinized her heroine.

"Some individuals announce that you are a goddess of death; not even Celesta could touch your deftness for taking lives. They purport that your presence can wear off on others, influencing them to be effective killers as well." Tanya uttered.

Xena's features became disgruntled. "Do you believe I am a progenitor for death and destruction?"

Tanya's head bent down again, and Xena captured the younger woman's shaken hands tenderly in her own.

Thereon, Xena reflected on the wise teachings of the Hindu god, Krishna. "Life can be difficult at times, no matter if you try to live it out peacefully, or as a warrior. Sooner or later this would have occurred. Those guys you've chosen to lie to and join with set you on a path that would've ultimately led to murder, if not your own demise after they'd discovered your deception. Your choice to manipulate has forced my friend and partner to take a life. Drawing lifeblood isn't easy for everyone. Certain ones find it hard to deal with, becoming traumatized by it. Others, like Gabrielle, abhors killing, but learns to cope with it. Very few think nothing of it at all. Kill or be killed, that is the Way of the Warrior."

Appearing to had retreated into her own world, Tanya viewed the scenery they were in. The stream's water seemed to run out into an unknown river and was deeper than normal streamlets. The trees' branches in the area were half-bare, though some showed renewed leaves that was strengthened by the season of rebirth.

"This clearing is splendid." Tanya affirmed.

Xena got annoyed, thinking the auburn-haired female was ignoring her. "Do you understand what I've expressed to you?"

"Yes." Tanya replied, bringing her irises to Xena's. "But you misunderstood me."

Becoming bemused, Xena prodded, "What?"

Recognizing Xena's perplexed features, Gabrielle waded over to the pair, standing beside her lover.

"What you meant, then, Tanya?" Xena was askance.

"You taught her, right?" Tanya pointed to Gabrielle.

"Yes. Gabrielle had other teachers also." Xena answered.

"Regardless, you would be creditable for most of her acquired skills." Tanya countered.

"What is this all about?" The bard butted in.

"The great Warrior Princess trained you, and I was hoping..."

"Hoping?" Xena encouraged.

"Please." Tanya threw herself into the water on her knees before Xena. "You have to take me with you. Teach me everything you know. I can cook. I've learned to navigate by using the stars. I can be invaluable to you. Please, take me with you two. You can't leave me here."

The soul mates glanced at each other, both acknowledging that some of those exact words spewed from a young girl from Potidaea many years ago.

Xena shook off the retention, lifting Tanya onto her feet. "I already have a partner, I'm not looking for a replacement."

Tanya pressed on in desperation, "I could travel with both of you. I have my own horse."

"No." Xena stated.

Momentarily peeking at Gabrielle, Tanya responded rashly to Xena, "Take in consideration I am a warrior, not a singing bard. I can learn from you and become better than her. I know it. You gotta give me a chance."

"You need to calm down, Tanya. You're being disrespectful." Gabrielle declared in growing discontent.

Xena shoved Tanya, impelling her supine body to land partially in the stream and dirt. Totally shocked by being pushed down, she sluggishly raised her eyesight to the towering, incensed female.

"Already you've proven that my love is a far better companion than you. You haven't thanked Gabrielle for saving your life, but instead try to insult her. You belied your true identity to pine for an unworthy title like mine as Destroyer of Nations, inveigling a band of bandits to do ill actions to the innocent. You have to accede to the responsibilities and consequences of your choices." Xena growled.

Tanya sat up on mushy elbows, whilst Xena moved to stand over top of her.

Xena's contralto voice snarled, "I won't teach you anything, Tanya. We will not be taking you with us either. Your choices are to return home or begin your trek in this world, seeking out your own destiny, because it's not with me nor Gabrielle."

While Xena crossed over Tanya to go back to her Palomino, the dismayed, former pretender watched her traipse away, oddly ruminating, 'She said 'my love'. 'My love'? What does she mean by that?'

She looked at the limber woman in question, who held her hand out to offer assistance.

Gabrielle helped Tanya to rise, imparting, "Previous to Xena changing his views on war and life, your father used to be a warmonger. He would be very disappointed in you."

"I don't need your ridicule." Tanya was deeply resentful.

The trim Amazon placed her left hand on the teenager's arm. "I'm not trying to antagonize you. Your actions would be below your father's expectations right now, but you have an opportunity to turn that around, becoming something of yourself, and making your father proud."

Tanya's head fell down in shame for what felt like the umpteenth time, musing morosely, 'If only you knew...'

Once Gabrielle withdrew contact, Tanya spied the silver ring on her finger.

Assured she'd elucidated her distinguishing fact, Gabrielle traversed towards Xena, hearing Tanya call out, "Thank you."

"You are welcome." She accepted, continuing onwards.

"Not exclusively for saving my life, but..." Tanya's meanness made her feel guilty. "Thanks for the chat, too."

"I know." Gabrielle stopped her footfalls. "No worries."

"Forgive me for my coarseness directed at you." Tanya felt an unnecessary need to go on explaining, "Both of you are my heroes, nevertheless, Xena's my idol."

Gabrielle had to relate. "She's mine as well."

Consequently, she was aiming to resume her footing when Tanya probed, "Are you married, Gabrielle?"

The short-haired blonde consciously zeroed in on Perdicus for a split second. Thereafter, her cognition shifted to Xena.

She twirled briefly, smiling jovially. "Not yet."

Ergo, Gabrielle trudged to her fiancée, and alone, Tanya muttered to herself, "More than just Xena's scribe."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Xena's fingers quickly finished brushing Argo and checked the mare's horseshoes for wear when her young lover came over.

"You handled that well." Gabrielle caustically announced.

"She'll get it together." The raven-haired veteran tossed the bard her boots. "You were amazing today, Gabrielle. You kicked ass and saved a life."

Gabrielle sat down, but hesitated putting her footwear back on. "I took a life today, too, Xena."

"I thought you were accepting your path as a warrior?"

The pretty blonde let the boots slip from her clutches. "I did... I do embrace it, but it gets difficult for me occasionally."

"Gabrielle-"

"Xena." Tanya interrupted without knowing, saddled atop her dark-brown steed. "I am on my way to Scione. Maybe I'll hitch a boat back to Thessaly. Either there or someplace else."

"We're heading in...ow." Gabrielle was cut off from Xena's faint pinch on her shoulder.

Tanya was saddened that the light and dark duo's destination wouldn't be disclosed. "I am forever grateful to have met you two and in your debt."

"You're most welcome, Tanya. May your travels be safe and full of kind wonders." Gabrielle replied.

"Safe ventures." Xena said casually.

Tanya yanked the reins to get her horse in motion, and moving passed them, she avowed, "I know you told me to find my own destiny, Xena, howbeit I'm sure our paths will meet again... At least I am hopeful it'll be so."

With that pronouncement, Tanya trotted off.

"Xena." Gabrielle mildly smacked her arm. "Why didn't you want me telling Tanya we were going to Scione?"

"She'll be fine. Besides, now that we're by ourselves, this is a good place as any for us to converse." The Warrior Princess moved closer to Gabrielle, grinning seductively. "Don't you want to talk, hmm?"

She pushed Gabrielle's boots aside, lowering herself in between the Amazon's legs.

"Forget 'bout putting those on. Matter-of-fact..." Xena had begun lugging at the straps of the blonde's halter. "Let's get naked and jump back into the water."

"You didn't have to be mean to her, Xena. Tanya is young and learning herself."

"She can learn herself somewhere away from us." Xena responded, her hands trying to peel the scarlet top off.

Gabrielle slightly jerked from her and walked over to the saddlebag on Argo. Taking out the item she desired to give to her soul mate, the bard made returning steps towards Xena. Noting the worried expression on Xena's face, she wanted to relieve her by slowly removing the red halter, the ornate silver belt, her skirt and undergarment, completely erasing the concerned look.

Indeed, Xena was eminently allured by the nude Amazon, whilst she watched her relax farther in the stream. Hence, she hastily unclothed, joining her best friend.

"What do you want to chat about?" Gabrielle queried, fighting back the minimal bloodlust.

"Are you alright?"

"No, I'm not." Closing the remaining space to Xena's sexy physique, Gabrielle asked, "Will you make it better?"

"How can I?"

"Taking a life is still something I am learning to deal with. I don't like it and, who knows, perchance later in our lives we can stop the bloodshed. The Greater Good is draining me. I just want to be with you, Xena. You are my family, my home. I love you." She proclaimed.

"I love you, too, sweetheart. That's what I needed to speak with you about when we got to Scione."

She tried to hold Gabrielle's hands, but the younger woman encircled them around Xena's lower back.

'That's even better.' She ruminated once Gabrielle's body pressed firmly with hers. "When we reach Scione, we'll go wherever you choose."

"Seriously, Xena. The choice is mine?" Gabrielle was taken aback.

"I wanted to surprise you, but like I said, what better place than here, now that we're alone."

Gabrielle kissed Xena's breast lightly. "You've been generous with surprises lately. You astound me... Who are you and what have you done with the real Xena?"

Xena chuckled. "I can persist being a tad gloomy and impassive. Nevertheless, the idiot who'd always tried to discard you is gone. You are the best thing to have ever happen in my life, and I am going to show you how much you mean to me. As long as breath course through my body, I will treat you like my Queen; the true ruler of my heart."

Next, their lips came together in a calm kiss, quickly becoming a storm of tongues fighting for dominance. Gabrielle was on the verge of losing grip on the small gift in her hand from the need to touch every part of Xena's skin.

"Xena, wait. Wait."

"What is it?" Xena questioned, her teeth marked a spot on Gabrielle's pulse, prior to licking it.

A hard moan shot out from her throat, but Gabrielle fought to regain control.

"I... Mmm... I wanted to...ahh, yes, Xena... I wanted to be more romantic when...mmm... I ask... When I ask you to marry me." The naked, cropped blonde barely groaned the words.

"This isn't romance?" Xena's snarky tongue made its trail back into the Amazon's mouth, withdrawing to tease, "We've done this already. I'd proposed to you, remember?"

Gabrielle unwrapped her arms from Xena, causing the tall warrior to become puzzled.

"Say yes." She demanded.

"Yes, Gabrielle. I will marry you." Xena did what was commanded of her.

Gabrielle grasped Xena's left hand, placing the gold ring on her index finger.

"Whoa, what's this? Where did you-"

The bard ceased her future wife's tirade with a kiss.

"You are my world." Gabrielle's lips were touching Xena's, while she began repeating what the Warrior Princess had divulged to her a fortnight ago. "We have been through a lot. Some events I don't care to remember."

"It takes a bard." She mocked the nervous Amazon, who wore a sheepish grin.

"Quit playing, silly." Gabrielle admonished her with a light kiss, then composed herself enough to seriously proclaim, "During the times when you absolutely needed me, I have not been my greatest. I've failed you sometimes as well. But I swear to you, Xena, from now till the end of my life, I'll be faithful to you, and you alone. I'll never put another above you. I will never abandon you. I'll be yours forever."

Surprisingly, Gabrielle's declaration coaxed a few tears of joy to spring from Xena's eyes.

"Xena, don't cry." Gabrielle wiped her soul mate's teardrops. "You'll make me cry, too."

"I... You didn't have to get me anything, but, thank you." Xena inspected the golden circlet, reading the words inscribed on it, "My Soul, My Life. Gabrielle...where did you get this? It must've cost you a lot of dinars."

If the query wasn't spoken in such a jubilant manner, Gabrielle would had found herself getting miffed.

"It didn't cost 'me' a lot of money. It cost 'us' a lot of money. What's mine is yours now, and vice versa." Gabrielle retorted with a gleam of mischief in her greenish-blue orbs. "It doesn't have any gems in it like the one you gave me. I hope that's alright."

"It's perfect the way it is. Plain is good." Xena confirmed. "You know I'm not a show off."

Gabrielle giggled, amazed her fiancée would emit such a comment.

"Okay. Maybe I'm a bit showy." Xena admitted. "That's because I have many-"

"Skills." Gabrielle ended the famous phrase. "You should pray I don't ever get tired of hearing you profess that."

Xena scooped the petite blonde up, allowing Gabrielle to wrap strong legs around her hips.

"You should pray I'll get weary of saying it." Xena shot back in advance of sharing a searing kiss with Gabrielle.

Their mouths opened, cohering as one, passionately tasting each other. Xena slowly began to grind the bard's moistened center against her stomach. The friction was incredible, and it genuinely presented Gabrielle with something fantastical to write about in her scrolls.

With her feet no longer touching the bottom of the stream, and being waist-deep in the water, Gabrielle kept her eyes locked on the Warrior Princess', imagining her as a sea goddess, sprung from the depths to take her. In her mind, Xena was a sole entity with the watery element that surrounded them, readying to take her body to pleasurable heights, which nobody had ever done, nor ever would do.

Xena's speed picked up moderately and Gabrielle knew she wouldn't last long.

"Xena." She mewled. "It feels so intense. I'm not...going to be able to hold out much longer."

"You shouldn't, Gabrielle." Xena stated, without interrupting the rhythm. "Let me pleasure you."

"But I want to make love to you also." Gabrielle protested.

"You're making love to me right now. Giving you pleasure, brings me gratification, too."

That was the last she heard of Xena's husky tone before the dark-haired beauty started sucking and biting her neck again. The dominanting female's tongue trailed to her pale, pinkish nipples, bringing Gabrielle sensual bliss. Loudly moaning uncontrollably, and soon realizing it was only her voice the whole time, she'd begun wishing she wouldn't hit her peak yet. Instead of muffling down, Gabrielle's tune got louder.

"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled when her orgasm approached.

The Amazon's hands wanted to be everywhere on Xena's frame, but her trembling digits had to find support, cuffed underneath the strong woman's arms and upper back. Xena continued licking Gabrielle's neck, carrying her into the deepest section of the stream, towards a well-crafted boulder that was embedded in its water. She laid the delirious female on top of it, and immediately feasted on the bard's nether lips.

Gabrielle screamed aloud, as Xena delicately tasted her hot sex. She tried rising up to gaze at her future spouse going down on her, albeit Gabrielle's strength was fading fast. Returning to a reclined position, she shut her eyes, and felt the wonderful things the Warrior Princess was doing to her.

A tongue passed over an engorged clitoris, thereby two fingers entered her, pumping in and out. Remaining busy at her finger-popping task, Xena ascended Gabrielle's lithe body.

"Gabrielle." Xena whispered, caressing the side of her fair visage with a free hand.

She opened hooded irises, her mouth continuously making erotic sounds. "Xena..."

"Watch me. Can you do that?"

"Mmm, yes."

Their tongues reconnected, and the fingers inside Gabrielle's warmth plunged deeper, faster, easily accepted by the silky wetness that flowed. Floundering, she looked on, whilst Xena bit and licked the hardened crest of her breasts. Her hands intertwisted in sable tresses, as the ex-warlord nipped at her chest, descending once more to her soaked core.

Internally vowing to curb her second climax, Gabrielle remained a spectator, taking in the sight of Xena's mouth moving in unison with her invading digits. Her clasp tightened on the raven mane when Xena started to moan, while sucking and stroking her saturated tunnel. The short-haired blonde couldn't suppress the imminent plateau anymore. She cried out the name of her betrothed, coming this time into the Warrior Princess' accommodating mouth.

After Xena was done licking her for good measure, she gently tugged Gabrielle into tender arms, kissing her softly. The bard was well sated, and wasn't sure she could reciprocate the same treatment to her lover, even if the warrior begged her.

'No, nothing could keep me away if she pleaded with me.' Gabrielle mused in a haze.

"I can see you're spent." Xena jested.

"Give me a moment... Or several. I will be back in top form, you'll see."

Xena glimpsed at the sun. "We got a few hours 'fore nightfall. That will be plenty of time for you to rest."

Anything having to do with reclining had propelled Gabrielle to stifle a yawn. "And you?"

"I'll be fine. In all the excitement of the day, we haven't eaten. I'm going to catch us some fish, cook 'em and feed ya. I told you I'm treating you like my Queen."

"That's great and all." Gabrielle snickered, wrapping her legs to encircle Xena. "Just don't burn the fish; I like my food edible."

Xena waded to the shore with her companion in tow, riposting, "Gabrielle, I have many skills."

{X&G}

Some time later, thereafter a small rest, a nice quiet meal, and getting freshened up, Gabrielle was contented holding onto Xena, traversing on Argo II to the port of Scione. The Amazon ecstatically looked forward to reaching the harbor so she could repay her blue-eyed soul mate for the lovemaking they'd shared.

'Maybe we'll push pass my limit and I'll have a fourth-'

"Have you decided on where we will spend our wedding and honeymoon?" Xena prodded.

"Um, actually my cognition is on another thought."

"Seems I've left an impression." Xena boasted.

"You're a decent lay." Gabrielle quipped, averring resolutely, "I'm not sure where I want us to go. I'm overwhelmingly excited anent to becoming your wife and...I can't wait to taste you tonight."

"Turnabouts are fair play, I guess." Xena affirmed airily, steering Argo onward. "You got to have an idea where you'd like to go. I wanna know before we get to the docks."

Silence stilled the air, while Gabrielle tried to think of a locale. She had the whole of Greece in her ratiocination; Attica, Daphne, Korkyra, Sparta, Phocis, Arcadia, Thasos, and Epidaurus.

All of a sudden, Gabrielle wasn't certain she fancied staying in Grecian lands. 'Perhaps some sights abroad. Rome is definitely out. The Celtic lands? Nah, too close to Britannia. Crete could be alright... No, the island is a part of Greece.'

"Sex can't be the main activity going on in that head of yours." In an effort to jolt Gabrielle's mental process, Xena expounded, "If you want, and keep in mind that this is totally up to you, we could go to the Amazons. Check up on them, make a home there. You could even claim your rightful place as Supreme Queen, and we can have an Amazon Bonding."

The Warrior Princess had a high, cheerful tone and demeanor, until she felt Gabrielle's arms clench her sides tightly. The blonde woman hadn't seen her Amazonian sisters since their grievous battle against Bellerophon. To Helicon and back, it was hell for everyone, including Gabrielle, if not more. The courageous Amazon-bard had usurped leadership from Varia, the former Supreme Amazon Queen, after a failed attempt on her life.

Gabrielle knew Varia had feasibly commenced facing charges for betraying the united Nation by trying to murder a fellow queen. When they returned to Amazonia, she'd left Cyane III as Regent, an opposite act compared to the entire tribe desiring for her to live amongst them and rule. Sadly, she just couldn't.

"You don't want to rejoin the Amazons?" Xena derived.

"No." Gabrielle uttered. "Not yet. Probably in the future if the actuality of seeking tranquility becomes boring."

Xena was thrown off by Gabrielle's reply. "Are you sure?"

"By joining the Amazon Nation, we'll be participating in one war or another."

Xena scoffed. "No matter where we end up, there will always be battles, Gabrielle."

"I assumed it was my choice, Xena." Gabrielle hid her irritation.

"It is."

Gabrielle sighed. "It's not purely war that concerns me. Being with the Amazons, there's always some type of contention, ranging from land treaties to reasonable prices for trade, thereon leading to a variety of debates. I want peace. We deserve some peace."

"Forgive me, Gabrielle." Xena proclaimed, dismayed with herself for trying to force her will on her beloved.

"All is fine." Gabrielle pecked Xena's shoulder. "I know troubles are infinitely capable of occurring anytime, anywhere. However, I don't want to be in a predicament where fights are common and we don't have a choice but to engage in it."

"And the Greater Good?" Xena wondered audibly.

Gabrielle took a moment to ponder the inquiry. "I don't have a problem helping others. Just not for a very long time... Is that selfish of me?"

Xena laughed, causing Gabrielle to titter. "No, it's not. We'll simply aid those who are in extreme peril. Alright?"

"Deal. But we avoid people's petty squabbles."

"You're point is taken. I will not forget it." Xena brought back their earlier ponderment, proffering a suggestion, "Hmm, how about Egypt?"

Gabrielle started ruminating on the subject. Their visit to the Land of Pharaohs wasn't the happiest time in her existence.

"We'll get married, therefore you and I will have a romantic experience there. No Greater Good, no quandaries, solely us. I promise." Xena averred.

"Okay, but I'll hold you to your word." Gabrielle agreed.

"I swear, it'll exceed any expectations you'll have. It will be paradise."

The blonde dwelled on the sexual acts Xena and Marc Antony partook in, whilst they were there. How envious she was of the Roman, as he had honey-coated strawberries fed to him; its juices kissed and licked off his lips. The memory didn't make her jealous now; he was dead, the Warrior Princess was hers. On the contrary, the memories enliven Gabrielle to higher extents, and her mouth absorbed the skin below her soul mate's ear.

"Do you know how much I want you right now?" Gabrielle urged, and she initiated a suction motion.

Xena brought a cessation to Argo II's ambling. Whirling in her seat on the Palomino, she captured Gabrielle's lips in a deep kiss. She knew her trim lover continued to be under the influence of battle-lust, and she'd grown to love it when they had sex with Gabrielle being ascendant.

They moaned together, as their souls became singular. Dainty hands groped all over Xena's attire, touching every inch of flesh that was available, prior to proceeding unbuckling the warrior's clasps on her armor unsuccessfully, while Xena started pulling the straps on Gabrielle's top down, grasping her breasts.

Gabrielle and Xena was so enthused with one another till distant noises caught both their attentions, coaxing them to cease their exertions at the same time.

"You hear that?" Xena and Gabrielle probed in sync, listening to the echoes of thundering hooves.

Xena twirled back in front of the saddle, grabbing the reins.

'Please. Not a ruined paradise.' Gabrielle feared, readjusting the straps to cover her exposed chest.

"Yah!" Xena shouted.

There was no need in being silently circumspect. The sun was slowly sinking from the sky, and whoever, or whatever caused Xena to feel that something was amiss, would be standing directly in their pathway. Finally looping the bend, she pulled Argo to a grinding halt, beholding three warriors doing the same atop their own horses, and were clad in different colored armor. Each was decked in elaborate helmets that covered their heads and faces, making it impossible to espy their identity.

Xena instantly pegged them to be Samurai from observing their accessories of Japian armor and weapons. One wore sunfire-yellow armor with an assortment of blades circling his hips; a wakizashi, a tachi and tanto. Another was wearing blue armor, a naginata on his back and a tanto. The third was donned in purple armor, a kusarigama chained to his left side, as well as a tanto. They all were equipped with a sword she swore she'd never see again.

Katanas.

"Reveal yourselves. Is it a fight you all want?" Xena quizzed, getting off of her mare with Gabrielle following suit.

"No." An accented vocal intoned, whilst the few Samurai shifted their steeds aside to allow a man dressed as a monk and armed with a staff to step forward. "Are you Xena-Sama, the Warrior Princess?"

'Xena-Sama?' The agile Amazon cogitated, cautiously prompting, "Who wants to know?"

The monk bowed in respect. "My name is Kenji. We've traveled all the way from the Land of the Rising Sun to seek her out. We are in a perilous situation and require her aid. She, who'd bestowed Xena-Sama's identity to us, imparted we would locate her here in Greek territory."

Xena became curious. "Who sent you for me?"

"The girl whom had asked a favor of you in the house of her father who was the Shogun of...Higuchi." Kenji had given his vague, disclosing answer.

"Xena." Gabrielle interpreted her discomfort from Kenji's avowal. "What's wrong?"

An astonished feature was replaced with a stoic countenance, while Xena asserted, "Akemi."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The sun had already switched places with the moon, as five horses made their expedition to Scione's seaport.

Xena was assiduous of everything in front of her; the four steeds, the three Samurais, and Kenji, the messenger who induced this mission. While she and Gabrielle trailed behind, the Warrior Princess thought of her impending return to Japa; the country she'd never wanted to go to again. A location that filled her with so much strife, sadness and failure. All stemming from one person.

'Akemi.'

A tap on Xena's arm had suspended her assiduity.

"Xena, what's going on?" Gabrielle queried. "You seem tense."

"Not now, Gabrielle."

The bard wouldn't relent. "Should we be following these guys when it could be a setup to ensnare us? And who is Akemi?"

"Gabrielle." Xena said in a recognizable tone that booked no room for an argument. "How about you try focusing on our surroundings so we don't get trapped, and stop with all the damn questions."

The perplexed Amazon didn't understand her soul mate's attitude towards her. Things were peaceful between them since the proposal in Thebes. They talked, shared their feelings, and made love more. They'd participated in sex like they were already newlyweds, even having coitus earlier in the afternoon of today, and not too long ago, was close to doing it again.

Removing her left hand off of Xena's waist to inspect the silver ring, she sadly wondered, 'Did I make a mistake?'

The blonde believed their love would blossom, but now she feared it would plainly be that way when Xena wasn't facing any type of adversity and was happy. Gabrielle wasn't positive she could put up with a fickle wife. No matter how dire the situation, communication should always be the key to providing a strong relationship. Regardless, she did what was told; tuning herself to the locale, whilst remaining quiet.

Effectively silencing her young fiancée, Xena continued her concentration. The steeds, which belonged to each Samurai, wore matching armor similar to their rider. Kenji's horse was the singular bare animal out of the rest. It had nothing on, not even a saddle.

'Fits his position as a monk perfectly.' Xena summed, staying leery.

The dark-haired woman prepared for a double-crossing. Anyone who'd dare pronounce the name of Akemi had to know of not just hers, but her entire family's fate. To declare she was alive wasn't simply foolish.

It was inconceivable.

By the time they'd arrived at Scione, it was midnight. Gabrielle looked at the closed trader-markets and merchant shops. If they'd made it early, and their original itinerary didn't get altered, she wouldn't had missed her chance to haggle with them. Then she realized they had little money because of spending majority of it on Xena's bonding ring. She avoided that small detail with Xena in the stream, yet knew she'd soon have to break the news to her lover that they were near dinar-less.

Not long after entering the port, the six riders approached a giant warship. Xena, once being a pirate of the seas herself, admired the gigantic ship, nonetheless, her uneasiness hadn't rescinded. She remained cautious, as Kenji and his companions dismounted their horses.

"When we are boarded, I will take your mare to the stables, and someone will show you two to the quarters you'll be lodging in until we reach Japa. The Shogun will probably speak with you at first light tomorrow, if not tonight." Kenji explained, walking over to take Argo's bridle, howbeit Xena pulled away from his grasp, confounding him. "What is the meaning of this, Xena-Sama? Are you to help us or not?"

"Tell me, Kenji." Xena stated, yanking the monk off of his feet, impelling him to drop the staff.

'What are you doing, Xena?' Gabrielle mentally prodded, but kept silent.

The Samurai adorned in sunfire armor went for his wakizashi.

"No." Kenji threw up his hand to halt the Samurai's actions in advance of addressing Xena, "What is it you wish to learn?"

"You and I both know Akemi couldn't have sent you to me. So you better start telling me the truth before everyone here has a really bad night."

"I am not lying to you, Xena-Sama. Akemi did send us for you." The bald foreigner replied, suspended in air.

"And she dispatched you directly to me? Uh-uh. How did you discern exactly where I would be? Greece is an enormous place for a sole individual." Xena affirmed, her grip tightening.

"Akemi told me not to venture farther than the Corinthian Sea. We were lucky to land in Scione when a younger woman pointed your direction out once we'd debarked our vessel. She avowed you were last seen between the middle of here and a town called Mende." Kenji answered.

'Must've been Tanya.' Xena deduced, lifting the poor monk closer to her face. "I believe half your story. Notwithstanding, I remain having a hard time accepting that a ghost asked for my aid."

'A ghost?' Gabrielle internally questioned.

"I swear by the sun Kami, Amaterasu, it's all truth. If you don't assist us, the daemon, Yodoshi, will consume more souls. He'll ravage all of Japa."

Anger spread across Xena's features, shouting, while throwing the monk to the ground, "They're all dead!"

Fortunately no bones were broken on Kenji, and he was free from major pain. He ruminated how much longer though, as Xena alighted the tanned-colored horse, unleashing her blade.

"I seen them die." Xena growled. "With my own two eyes."

Unsheathing their katanas in a synchronous fashion, the three Samurais felt they couldn't tolerate anymore of Xena's disrespect and eminent harm to Kenji. Gabrielle noted them immediately and jumped off of Argo II. Drawing her sais, she readied herself to engage the ironclad warriors.

Next, the short-haired blonde perceived the silhouette of a person standing at the top of the ramp that was connected to the warship.

"Enough!" The aged sounding voice yelled.

Instantly, the few Samurais obeyed the figure atop the ship. Sheathing their weapons, they genuflected, and Kenji picked himself off of the ground to do so as well.

Xena glared at the man who started to make his decline down the incline. Gabrielle kept her twin weaponry trained on the shadowy figure, even when the moonlight illuminated him. He was adorned in a crimson helmet and armor also, with two Japian swords equipped to both sides of his hip.

"We came a long way to find you, Warrior Princess. Surely we deserve better honor and respect." The mysterious male spoke.

From his tonality alone, Xena determined a couple of things; the man was old, and from the way he'd commanded the Samurai warriors, he was either a Daimyo or a Shogun. She, on the other hand, didn't give a damn.

"I want answers." Xena pointed her sword at Kenji. "This monk claims to have descried a dead female. He states that a beheaded man is absorbing souls. From such ludicrous intel, why should I step foot onto your vessel? Make me believe these dubious fascinations."

The red armored arrival moved closer. "Kenji, tell her everything."

"Yes, Shogun."

'So he's their commander-in-chief.' Xena mused, her sword tarried on the monk.

Kenji dusted himself clean from the dirt, thus beginning his account. "My friend, Gaija, and I are from the Shinto valley. We are monks who exalt the great Kami of the celestial sun, Amaterasu. All of Shinto is under the feudal protection of the Shogun, Harukata."

"That would be you?" Xena scanned the Governor, cutting in Kenji's story for a full confirmation.

Harukata nodded in response. "Resume, Kenji."

"Whilst we were traveling from the Asakura Shrine to get back to the Imperial Palace, we were caught in a drenching rainstorm and noticed a garden that outlined a surreal teahouse. It was strange, 'cause we haven't espied it during our trek to Asakura. My fellow companion became amazed by it, and decided we needed shelter from the rain. I advised him we should keep to our journey home. It was dark, and to be honest, I became uneasy concerning the miraculous appearance of the dwelling. It was all unnatural to me. Gaija ignored my words. He ran into the house, and I reluctantly followed behind him."

Xena grew impatient. "What occurred inside?"

He breathed in deeply to steady his nerves. "In its inner structure were three geishas. One was playing a beautiful melody from a shamisen. The other two were naked within a huge tub that was filled with water and lily pods. They flirtatiously beckoned for us to join them, but I held steadfast in my faith as a monk. Gaija...did not."

Kenji paused, and his facial expression was saddened, coaxing Xena into losing her composure. "I could care less about a monk's renouncement of his belief. Get on with your tale."

Gabrielle felt that Xena was grinding too hard on Kenji, who'd lost a friend easily to worldly vices.

Dispersing his morose comportment, Kenji recommenced the forthcoming, horrific recitation, "He stripped off his robe and splashed in the water. While they were frolicking, I turned my attention to the beautiful woman playing the lovely tune. Suddenly, she stopped, thereon telling me I was a good man and should escape. She pushed me out the back door, but I would not leave Gaija... I wish I had."

'He must have spectated something awful.' The petite Amazon opined, lowering her sais.

She glanced at Xena, and could see the stoic warrior showed no emotion.

"A strong gust of wind blew the front entrance of the teahouse open. I presumed it was from the storm, until I observed a super-sized snake with the head of a deformed man enter through the gaping entryway. The scene was terrifying...but I became scared stiff and watched it all happen."

'A fucking man-snake? Now that's not trite at all.' Xena caustically praised Kenji's narrative.

"The geishas had gathered themselves collectively to the side wall, as the snake's body transformed into some kind of fiend. I could hear and see my friend screaming, nonetheless, my mind wouldn't allow the muscles to react. The daemon expelled an icy wind from its mouth, freezing the water and Gaija. Then...then the evil spirit inhaled greatly, sucking Gaija's soul right out of his body. I viewed his spirit fighting to hang onto the ethers of the mortal plane prior to getting swallowed up by that monster." A teardrop cascaded down the monk's eye from the memory he'd described.

'This isn't plausible!' Xena deemed, unreasonably, that Kenji's story was becoming more incredulous.

"Once the daemon's nefarious glare perched upon me, that was when my feet carried me far from the demonic teahouse. The storm was at its worse and I fell into a pond. Climbing out of the pool, I gazed upwards at the exact geisha whom played the musical instrument and tried to warn me. She told me I needn't fear her, saying I had a compassionate heart, and that's why she'd spared me from suffering the same fate as my friend. She revealed to me that the daemon who'd took Gaija's soul was Yodoshi, Lord of the Darklands, and she, along with others, are forced to seduce souls for him to entrap. Giving me a katana, she'd bade me to go west, beyond the setting sun; there I would find Xena, the Warrior Princess." Kenji finished.

All was quiet, 'til Xena made an intemperate display of clapping her hands in mock applause. "Brilliant fable. But Akemi, Yodoshi, and her whole family tree is dead. I will no longer listen to drivel."

She spun on her heels to mount Argo when Harukata inquired, "You don't trust the word of a monk? How about the word of a Samurai?"

Xena knew Japa's military caste were bounded by their Bushido code of honor. Albeit on the contrary, every Japian fighter didn't live by it the way they should, and she'd been tricked before.

"I don't trust anybody I do not know." She professed. "I'm hardly trusting of the few whom I consider close to me."

"Will you trust this?" The Shogun withdrew one of the katanas, stabbing it into the dirt. "The blade she'd presented to Kenji."

"It can't be?" The bronze-skinned warrior whispered.

Xena walked towards the marginal curved sword to analyze it, hoping her eyes were deceiving her. It was the same Sacred katana Akemi had coerced her into locating all those years ago.

"It is, Xena..." His impatience won out. "Yodoshi is growing powerful everyday. Soon he will attack Higuchi. Thereafter, Shinto, then all of Japa. Akemi is not the single person whose soul needs your help. Many do, with me being one of them. My Samurais and I cannot handle the daemon by ourselves. If you come with us, you'll have my guarantee as a Shogun Samurai that you, and every possession you bring along, will be under my protection. No harm will come to it."

The Warrior Princess couldn't comprehend what was transpiring. How was it possible? Akemi was dead. She was more than sure of it, recalling her anguish at watching Akemi's ashes get scattered by the unforgivable, chilly breeze.

"Xena." The Shogun settled his hand on her stiff shoulder. "It is my destiny to destroy Yodoshi, but I can't do it alone. I am in need of your assistance. Please."

Her steely gaze abandoned the sword to spy the decorative helmet that covered Harukata's visage. Xena was hopeful he would honor the art of Bushido, and secretly, she desperately wanted to have faith she'd see Akemi again.

With a slight nod, she reluctantly acceded.

"We will be forever indebted to you. Thank you." A hidden smile sprouted on Harukata's lips. "Forgive an old soul, for I am tired. We will make formal introductions in the morning. Kenji will stable your horse for you. Also...keep the katana, Xena. Akemi meant for you to have it."

The Shogun whirled, traipsing to the ramp. He quietly chatted with the Samurai in blue armor, preceding his and the other two Samurais' ascension to the deck of the warship.

"Thank you, Xena-Sama. And you, too." Kenji showed gratitude to Gabrielle as well.

Scooping his staff in a single hand, and taking Argo's reins in the other, the monk led her up the gangplank. Reaching the top, Kenji emitted a shrill whistle for the remaining four steeds to follow in a straight line, and the Samurai, whom the Shogun had conversed with, lingered.

Gabrielle sheathed her weapons and Xena did the same with hers.

"Wow. I'm glad we got through that without a scuffle. Well, except for what you did to Kenji." The bard averred, not knowing what else to say regarding Japa's conundrum and their newest objective to quell it.

"Yea." Xena muttered a short remark.

Gabrielle looked in the lone Samurai's direction. "What's with him?"

"Let's find out." The ex-warlord asserted, tugging the historic katana out of the ground.

When the duo had gotten nearer to him, he inclined his head slightly. "My name is Zicalus. I am to escort you both to the cabin you'll be residing in."

Cerulean irises eyed the Samurai from top to bottom before she strolled up the gradient. Zicalus glanced at the Warrior Princess, while she ascended.

Trying to discern what to make of her, a wondrous vocal disrupted his observation, "Thanks, Zicalus. My name's Gabrielle."

Although it was dark, he could distinguish a pretty grin and greenish-blue eyes that sparkled. "Pleased to meet you, Gabrielle-San."

"Let's go!" Xena instructed.

They both had begun trudging the slope, and Zicalus silently probed, "Kinda bossy, isn't she?"

Gabrielle smiled. "You have no idea."

The cropped blonde detected the Samurai's accent wasn't quite strong in contrast to Kenji or Harukata's. Taking steps beside him, she imagined what his countenance consisted of underneath the mask.

{X&G}

They were lodged three tiers below deck. Their quarters were nice, specifically in comparison to the outdoors when the weather or area was unwelcoming. The wooden floorboards could be refurnished, but with that aside, the cabin had sufficient amount of space for Xena and Gabrielle. Foregoing Zicalus' departure, he did offer the Amazon her own room, and she rejected the propound proposal.

The cot was a bit smaller than she'd liked. Nevertheless, it would suffice for what Gabrielle had planned to do on it with her soul mate, even if it was simply to chat about the circumstances surrounding an island she never seen.

'Now I have to manage getting her on here to lay closer to me.' Gabrielle cogitated.

Since they'd occupied the abode, Xena took off her weapons and scabbard. Ergo, she sat on the floor with the Sacred katana in front of her to meditate, whilst Gabrielle removed her sais and boots to relax on the cot. That was nearly an hour ago with neither of them speaking during that time.

A light knock resounded on their door, breaking Xena's focus, to her agitation and Gabrielle's delight.

The bard quickly opened it. "Hello, Kenji."

"I understand it is late, yet I wanted to ask did you and Xena-Sama require anything?"

"Thanks, but we're okay for-"

"Wait." Xena interjected, arising to move towards them. "Where's my mare?"

"In the stables on the bottom fourth tier." Kenji proclaimed, wanting to put her cerebration at ease by adding, "She is being well taken care of."

"I'll be the judge of that myself." She retorted.

Kenji loitered a little longer, unaware of what to do next.

"You can leave now." Xena snapped.

Kenji speedily bowed, shutting the cabin's door.

"Xena." Gabrielle's pupils stared at her lover in disappointment.

The Warrior Princess purely gawked back before Gabrielle exited the room, shadowing the monk.

"Kenji."

Turning to face her, he prompted, "Have you changed your mind anent to wanting something?"

"No. I wanted to apologize for my lo-" Gabrielle caught herself. "For Xena's behavior. She's dealing with a lot."

"She is making a monumental sacrifice."

"Yes, she is." Gabrielle agreed, thinking solely of their shelved wedding and honeymoon. "Still, bad manners will always be improper. I'm sorry you're catching most of her vexation."

"All will be set right." Kenji apprised. "I accept your apology on her behalf."

Smiling sadly, Gabrielle commented, "I'm also sorry for your lost friend, Gaija. Sometimes a person believe in something greater than themselves, but succumb to foibles. Trust me, I know firsthand. In case you're upset with Gaija's final choice in life, don't think any less of him."

The Amazon was ruminating on her own learnings with Eli. She accepted the Way of Love to subsequently throw it all into the proverbial void to temporarily save Xena from the Romans. Gabrielle hadn't merely pushed it to the side provisionally, she'd cast it away permanently after being resurrected.

Kenji really studied the nimble female, and was ashamed he hadn't bothered to learn her appellation. "You are very generous to have shared that with me, and must be wise to be a close confidant of Xena-Sama's. Pardon me for not querying sooner, but what is your name?"

"It's Gabrielle." She announced, holding her hand out.

The monk happily shook it in his. "Thank you, Gabrielle-San."

"You are welcome." The blonde uttered, disengaging from him.

"Gabrielle."

The bard's head tilted to espy her fiancée standing in their shared threshold with an expressionless mien.

"Coming, Xena." She rejoined, prior to nicely saying, "Goodnight, Kenji."

"Night, Gabrielle-San." He exchanged, watching the scarlet, velvet-clad Amazon saunter into the room.

Finally his eyes connected with Xena's glower, chilling him to the bone. The monk wasn't entirely certain what he was feeling once Xena slammed the door. Whereas, if he was a betting man; his wager would be on relief.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The loud resonance of their cabin door getting shut with force had startled Gabrielle. "What was all that for?"

Xena eyed her sternly. "I don't want you hanging 'round that monk. The last thing I need is for you to conform and adopt his philosophies."

"Is that a dig of some kind, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, becoming agitated.

The dark-haired warrior sat crossed-legged on the floor again, replying, "You know how you can be. Meet a new person, discover their ways and, sooner or later, wound up becoming absorbed by whatever they avowed that intrigues you."

Cognition of Khrafstar, Najara, Aiden, and Eli, plagued Gabrielle's mind. Every one of them had entered her life at convenient times, offering some form of solace in what she was beginning to understand; a destructive world, merely to leave scars of their own on her very soul.

"Why are you speaking to me this way?" The young blonde was vexed now.

"I have a lot to sort out." Xena said, proffering a truce. "I don't want you changing on me when I'm loving the person you are."

Gabrielle smiled, her unsettling thoughts diminishing. Alas, the Amazon's fiancée missed her beaming mien, 'cause Xena's blue eyes closed so she could resume her meditation. Swiftly, she moved to the rear of Xena, and started massaging her strong shoulders.

"I am no longer that gullible, nor easily fascinated girl whom needed others to guide her. I'm who I am today because of you." Working out the knots in Xena's muscles, her massage leisurely turned into a caress. "You're the one who's always believed in me. Had faith in me to get things done, no matter the challenge. You've propelled me to exceed all my limitations."

Bending down, Gabrielle had begun kissing Xena's neck, while delicate fingers unbuckled the bronze armor, removing it to the side.

"Come to bed with me. I know we're not married yet, but allow me to be a wife to you." The trim Amazonian Queen whispered into the Warrior Princess' ear, extending her hand over a broad shoulder.

Xena grabbed it, and the duo lifted up onto their feet. Pulling away, Gabrielle lied on the cot, ardently descrying her best friend taking off dark boots. The bard's heart quickened at the sight of the leather-clad beauty traipsing toward her.

"I'll help you forget about the stresses of tonight." Gabrielle purred, hastily finding Xena's lips with a succulent mouth, as she laid beside her.

Xena was falling into her lover's euphoria, their tongues colliding together in a thorough embrace.

Gabrielle broke the kiss, saying, "I will aid you in momentarily leaving this Japa nonsense behind."

With that admission, the taller woman halted their intimate activity, much to Gabrielle's puzzlement.

"What happened?" She questioned, looking at the dissatisfied expression on Xena's face.

"Japa isn't nonsense. None of what has taken place tonight is balderdash." Xena answered, reclining on the cot.

Gabrielle nestled against her, placing her head atop Xena's chest. "Japa's affairs disturbs you this badly?"

"Yes. All of this alarms me."

"You trust the Shogun and everything he explicated to us?"

"For now, but I fear there might be more to it." Xena admitted.

Greenish-blue irises glanced up to sapphire ones. "Should I stay vigilant and on guard?"

"A warrior should always be doing that at all times."

Gabrielle snubbed the spiteful reprimand, musing, 'So long honeymoon in Egypt. Got to remember that's why Xena is irritable. She must be thoroughly disappointed we're going to Japa in lieu of where we'd planned.'

Noticing her stomach wasn't queasy, Gabrielle knew the vessel was stationary.

"Xena, we aren't in motion. If you want, we can jump ship."

"We remain docked, however, we aren't going to abandon this mission." Xena replied.

"You owe me big time for this." Gabrielle puffed.

"I'm sorry we have to postpone our bonding." She caressed Gabrielle's pouting expression. "I just have to know if Akemi is really there."

"And assist in stopping Yodoshi." Gabrielle added.

"Yea..." Pulling away, Xena assented in the manner of an afterthought. "That, too."

The way her soul mate responded sent warning signals inside Gabrielle. She recalled Xena's bewildered facial features when Harukata revealed that unique blade; the same sword which was lying on the middle of the floor.

"Who's Akemi?" The bard inquired again, a bit timorously this time.

Xena decided not to be reticent, predicating truthfully, "She was a poet. Something like yourself."

That got Gabrielle's full attention. "Akemi was identical to me?"

"Not exactly alike, but similar to you. She had a way with words, and a wonderful understanding of nature, being able to describe it poetically." Xena affirmed. "She quoted a handful of poems... I still can recollect some of 'em."

Gabrielle became slightly jaded from hearing this new information from an upbeat Xena. "She... Akemi recited poems to you?"

"One of them is short and sweet." Xena got lost in her reminiscence. "'Yesterday the moon took lodging on my sleeve. Today I have hope for even the brokenhearted stars'... She was truly alluding to me."

If Xena was being invidious, it'd gained hold of Gabrielle, making her highly envious.

Hiding it well, she wanted Xena to divulge further. "So beautiful. To say something like that, she must have liked you very much."

The light in Xena's eyes had gotten dimmer. "The truth is, Gabrielle...she broke my heart."

Internally outraged, Gabrielle ruminated, 'Xena said after Caesar, she'd never loved another person again in that fashion, even when she falsely assumed she did. She claimed it was I who'd broken the shell enclosing her heart! So how could Akemi break a shielded one?'

The petite blonde wouldn't accept what her soul mate evinced to her in Thebes was a lie.

She couldn't.

"When did you meet Akemi? It could not have been prior to Caesar, was it? Is she really a-"

"Gabrielle." Xena interrupted her barrage of inquiries. "Preceding our arrival to Japa, I should tell you everything that happened there last time."

'Finally, some disclosure.' Gabrielle cogitated.

The Warrior Princess expelled a breath to start her tale. "Many years ago, before me and Borias left Chin after Lao 'Ma exiled us from her kingdom, he apprised me about a girl who was kidnapped by a warlord there. She'd been taken from a mighty island that was farther east. The Land of the Rising Sun."

'Japa.' Gabrielle sardonically thought.

"We found her being held hostage by a loser named Kao. Akemi already knew who I was, and she had spirit. A fire I hadn't seen in a young woman, then. She informed Borias and Kao that I wouldn't let any harm come to her. Telling us she would become my student, and I would teach her everything I know." Xena chuckled softly. "Seems a lot of adolescent girls I meet have that in common; wanting me to train them."

'I'm nothing like Akemi.' Gabrielle put a superficial grin on her face for show, not forgetting the auburn-haired teenager who pretended to be the Destroyer of Nations either. 'Nor am I identical to Tanya, for that matter.'

"Akemi prophesied I'd fall in love with her. I was drawn to her by that prediction, and aspired to tame the Japian to prove she would be wrong. I offered fifty pieces of gold to buy her, nonetheless, Kao didn't care for my proposal. So, I'd done what I did best during those days." Xena insinuated.

"Kill them all." Gabrielle stated.

"Yup." Xena concurred offhandedly. "Once we departed Chin, all I wanted to do was use her to not only procure the ransom from her father, but to also get some kind of toehold in Japa, utilizing it to conquer every land between there and Britannia. Akemi was insistent I would be a great teacher, and if it wasn't for Borias' taunts, declaring, 'I couldn't teach a dog how to bark', I probably wouldn't have taught her anything. Instead, I did, and it was brutal for her."

"What did you do to Akemi?"

"I damaged her ribs."

Xena's averment shocked her lover, and she confessed, "I'm not amazed you can still astonish me by how cruel your behavior could be."

"Anyway." Xena continued, ignoring Gabrielle's mortification, "Borias broke off from us, reminding me he was entitled to half the money. Therefore traveling with Akemi to her island for the ransom, I was to learn my heart was seeking something else. My acquired captive had us traversing all over Japa, until we arrived at a gravesite. Notifying me that we had to receive her grandfather's blessing in order to succeed, I'd no clue what she was talking about. Whilst surmising we were heading to her father's estate, she was playing me for a fool. I had contemplated killing her there and leaving the corpse for the vultures. But, when she spoke of a weapon far superior to mine, or any other, I became enticed to have it."

"What was this weapon?"

Xena pointed, causing the Amazon's head to rise. Espying where the elongated, ring-adorned forefinger was directing, her gaze fell on the sword that rested on the floor.

"It's a Sacred katana. I had always called it the Grand katana, though. Akemi manipulated me into fighting her father's Sensei to obtain it."

Tons of questions were spouting in Gabrielle's brain, so she resolved on asking one, "If Akemi was conniving, why...how did you fall in love with her?"

"I didn't know it during the time, and I really craved having the blade. My ambition, in combination with Akemi's schemes, aligned perfectly for her plight. I was the tool she needed." Xena pronounced.

Gabrielle had various emotions for Akemi, from indifference to plain dislike.

Enmity began winning out. "She sounds like a bitch."

"Gabrielle!" Xena was disapproving her friend's uncharacteristic language towards a deceased person, let alone Akemi. "You have to discern it from her angle. I discovered from her that she wasn't kidnapped. Akemi's father sold her and she was used as a pleasure slave. Women, as you are aware, doesn't have many rights juxtaposed to men. In her country it is worse unless they are born to a caring father or married to a devoted husband whom has no desire to control them. Other than that, it's a woman's duty to honor and obey."

'She could have lied to you.' Gabrielle speculated mentally. 'Besides, what women go through in Japa does not sound much different than any other place, save for the Amazons.'

Xena could tell the last part of what Gabrielle was thinking by scanning her visage. "In Japa, women are more disfavored to a male. A father could kill his daughter without any grounds for arrest in almost every area of the country. He could whore her out if inclined to, invoking shame, which is a very significant blow to females' outstanding dignity. A woman cannot gain obeisance by becoming a warrior of any kind. If she isn't placed in a prestigious position, the best she can hope for to reap any form of reputation is becoming a geisha."

"Are they prostitutes as well?" Gabrielle queried.

"No. There are different types, but mostly a geisha is simply an entertainer, and doesn't have to sleep with another person unless she chooses to, which are notably their bona fide lover. They can become very popular, amass good wealth, including reverence."

Laying back on Xena, Gabrielle always became allured by the ex-warlord's vast knowledge of the world, professing, "Finish your story anent to Akemi."

Picking up where she left off, Xena imparted, "Thereon defeating them... Or you can say, murdered the Sensei and his retainer of Samurais, I stole the Sacred katana. While we were by ourselves, Akemi recommenced reciting poems of love. I did not want to hear anymore of it, 'cause she was slowly getting to me. She requested me to demonstrate how to do the technique I had done on Kao. I told her it was a sacred trust. She'd agreed, so..."

"What was the skill?"

"The pinch."

"You knew Akemi for a few weeks and you taught her the pinch?" Gabrielle arose once more, appalled. "Xena, in all the time I have accompanied you, you've purely instructed me on how to take it off. I can't believe this."

She distanced herself from Xena, but could only move a little, considering the small amount of space on the cot.

"Gabrielle, that was me long ago. I made a terrible mistake teaching Akemi how to initiate it." Xena proclaimed, sorrowfully shaking her head. "She used the pinch to kill her father, Yodoshi."

"Yodoshi is Akemi's father?" Gabrielle became dumbfounded.

Xena grew increasingly disconsolate. "That was her plan all along. To learn from me in hopes of enacting revenge against him."

Gabrielle made the short distance into Xena's arms. "I'm sorry Akemi misled you, Xena. Do...do you think she honestly felt anything for you?"

"I'm unsure. Notwithstanding, I was deeply in love with her." Xena confided the truth.

She been had confirmation her future wife wasn't wholly honest in Thebes, but Xena's candor didn't sit right with Gabrielle at all during this moment. The bard unwillingly came to terms that Xena already gave her love to a poet before their fateful meeting on the outskirts of Potidaea.

'Another deceitful person shattered Xena's heart.' Gabrielle really started to hate Akemi. "What happened next?"

"With Yodoshi dead, Akemi put the pressure point on herself, imploring me to restore her honor by using the Sacred katana to decapitate her. She insisted I place her ashes in the cemetery with her siblings and mother. I was seething in anger that I wouldn't get any riches, but I couldn't bring myself to hurt her. I saw in her eyes how intent and reposed she was on having it no other way. Thus giving her last entreaty, I ended Akemi's life." Xena elucidated without losing her composure from the tragic retelling.

"You killed Akemi." Gabrielle accepted the revelation. "Did you carry out her wish?"

"I tried to. Commencing my nightly trek to get there, word had spread fast, whilst I was cremating Akemi's body. The people of Higuchi knew what she had done and decreed that I shouldn't deposit the 'damned' ashes in her family's shrine."

"I don't comprehend, why would they care?" Gabrielle was perplexed.

"Yodoshi was the Shogun of the village. Although he was an atrocious family man, Akemi had dishonored herself by committing patricide. She slayed her father and their political leader. To hinder my travel, the crowd threw stones at me. One of them hit the pottery I was carrying her ashes in and shattered the jar. I was alone, broke, and in a drunken, dishevelled state. All I wanted to do was a simple selfless act, and idiots had to ruin it. In retaliation, I snatched a nearby torch that illuminated Higuchi at sundown, and with the remainder of my saki, I set the whole town village ablaze." Xena formed a gloomy smile of pride. "I left Japa, hoping never to return again."

Peeking at the sword, Gabrielle prodded, "What did you do with the Sacred katana when you had it in your possession?"

"I tossed it in the fire with Akemi. Obviously it didn't take, seeing it's here and in perfect condition, but I swore it melted. It was gone when the pyre's flames abated." Xena disclosed.

"Why did Akemi want vengeance in the first place?"

"Yodoshi supposedly had slaughtered Akemi's entire family. Her grandparents, her mother, and siblings; a sole brother, two sisters." Xena asserted.

"Do you..." Gabrielle hesitated. "You still love her?"

"Don't ask me that." Xena shot the inquiry down.

"I want to know, Xena." Gabrielle stayed firm, but a response wasn't forthcoming, so she played a different tact. "Do you look forward to beholding her again?"

"Yes."

"You do love her." The bard deduced.

"Because I want to see Akemi, doesn't mean I love her." Xena got annoyed.

"And it doesn't suggest you don't either."

"Gabrielle, I do not have the will, nor patience to deal with your jealous outbursts." Xena rejoined.

The Amazon went silent, deserving the comeuppance that was bestowed. She had no reason to feel jaundiced; Akemi was a ghost, a specter. It was no way feasible she could steal Xena away from her. Also, the Warrior Princess gave her a promise nobody would ever break them apart.

Nimble digits guided up Xena's torso to her raven tresses.

"Forgive me and my comportment, Xena." Gabrielle placed a gentle kiss above the cleavage her brown battledress accentuated. "I love you so much. I can't imagine my life without you in it."

Rosy-colored lips rendered moist pecks on her lover's upper chest and the hollow spot of Xena's neck, preceding nipping at her mouth, coaxing the blue-eyed beauty to open it to taste a wet tongue. Xena remained upset, albeit relented, as she grasped short, golden hair, pressing their mouths together rigidly. A profound moan escaped the confines of Gabrielle's throat, while their tongues were immersed with each other.

For unacceptable reasonings, Xena couldn't stifle her rumination of Akemi. She visualized a wintry backdrop, the feeling of icy wind encompassing her skin, whilst licking snowflakes off of hardened nipples. Succumbing to guilt, she tried to withdraw from the kiss, withal Gabrielle deepened it even more.

The younger female could feel Xena trying to cease her advance, though Gabrielle couldn't fathom why she was becoming seemingly diffident. Choosing to disconnect their mouths, the nubile bard crossed her arms, lifting off the halter top. Thereafter, she placed Xena's palms on both of her bare breasts.

"Make love to me." Gabrielle cooed.

That did it for Xena, and she jumped off of the cot, avowing, "I can't do this."

Becoming angry, Gabrielle inquired, "What the hell do you mean, you can't do this?"

Donning her footwear and walking to the door, Xena announced, "I need to clear my head. I'll be back."

"I'm lying here half-naked for you, begging for your touch, and you need to clear your head?" Gabrielle was seeing red. "You're doing it again, Xena! You are pushing me away!"

"I am solely going to check on Argo." Xena muttered, exiting the room.

As unambiguous as the sound of the closing door, so was Gabrielle's awareness that Xena wasn't returning tonight. Nightfall had reigned the sky for a long time, and the sun was some hours off from rising.

Getting up, she blew out the lantern, letting the darkness engulf her, while cogitating, 'She's going to go brooding over this. I'm not sure if it's concerning this undivided situation or a singular person. But who; the demonized father or his poetic daughter?'

Gabrielle rested on the cot again, bringing forth every detail Xena had expressed tonight by her words and actions, fearing the answer she came up with to explain the Warrior Princess' demeanor.

The cropped blonde really disliked the mist of spring, but was now positive she'd started harboring a hatred for the Japian more.

"Akemi." She declared aloud in disgust.

{X&G}

Looking for a way to get to the stables, Xena traipsed the long interior that was the third tier of the warship in a circle. She wasn't quite attentive to the environment 'cause her focus was preoccupied with trying to deny the happenstances which occurred in the cabin with her fiancée.

Looping around once more, Xena spotted one of the Samurais who was with Kenji. He remained wearing the purple armor and mask, howbeit rather than being accoutred with all the weapons he'd equipped earlier, only a katana was sheathed on his right hip.

"Hey." Xena called out, pacing at his heels.

He whirled to face her, a gloved hand gripping the handle of his sword.

"Don't get testy." Xena held her hands out to infer she wasn't provoking any disorder. "Simply wanted to ask you how do I get to the bottom tier? I want to inspect my horse, Argo."

Not uttering a sound, the Samurai walked passed her. At first, Xena derived he was silently rebuffing her, then made the decision to follow him. Coming to a cessation, the armored warrior knelt to release a latch to an inconspicuous section in the floorboards.

'That's why I missed it.' Xena fumed internally at herself.

The Samurai stood, gesturing with his index finger where she would find the stables.

"Thank you."

He nodded and trudged away, as Xena climbed down the ladder below. Finishing her descent, she observed the passage ahead of her that branched off into two walkways. Smelling the unmistakable scent of horses, she trailed the left path.

While touring the stables, the dark-haired woman descried Kenji's and the Samurais' steeds. Minus the monk's horse, the armor they once were wearing was disassembled, and she already knew how the Samurais denoted which one belonged to their rightful owner. Xena had a meritorious understanding apropos to the bonds between an animal and its human companion, utterly like her exceptional memory referring to people. Especially horses, whilst she viewed the dark-brown steed Tanya rode off on.

'Great.' Xena snorted in disbelief. 'She's on board, too?'

Argo's whinny from the neighboring stall had ceased Xena's grousing cogitation.

"Hi, girl. Did you miss me?" Xena quizzed, noting the fresh hay and water bucket. "Ah, I see they have taken very good care of your needs."

She reached into her saddlebag that were prone in the corner next to Gabrielle's inside the compartment, taking out an apple.

"But I bet they haven't fed you any of these."

Argo II let loose a joyous neigh when Xena fed the fruit to her.

"What am I doing, Argo?" She complained after several moments. "Gabrielle is everything to me. It's just... I miss Akemi, and I can't evince my feelings for another to my soul mate. She cannot conceive how imperative Akemi's wellbeing is to me, not excluding the importance of this objective to Japa. She'll get jealous and angry... I don't want that."

Whereupon the apple was consumed, Xena stroked the mane of her mare.

"Am I selfish? I did run out of our cabin when we were on the verge of making love. How can I tell her everything she was doing and the sensual affirmations prompted me to recall Akemi? Gabrielle will kick my ass for sure."

Xena's fingers aimlessly went through Argo's hair, as the retentive flashback of a winter background resurged.


["In a flurry of snow, two breaths of the wind unite, and become as one, then disappear into each other."

Her poems of love again. Enough is enough.

"Listen, Akemi, I don't want you to take this the wrong way. I really love this sword, and you're a nice kid, but I just came for the ransom."

"I don't believe that." She disputes.

Like I care what she believes. If she doesn't stop this foolish talk referring to eternal bullshit, I might strangle her.

"What do you hear?" Akemi inquires.

Here we go with this again. Fine, I'll indulge her silly game. I close my eyes, listening intently.

"Snow falling on cedar." I say mockingly, 'til I hear something else. "No. Your heart, beating harder than normal."

Akemi strolls to me, taking my free hand that isn't holding the katana into hers. What is she doing? Why am I allowing her to affect me like this?

"You're a master of war, yet you know no words to speak of love. And then you go and save my life. There's no greater gift of love a teacher can give a student than that." She avers.

I see it in her pretty, hazel irises she's sincere. Oh, how I want to drown in her. I perceived Lao 'Ma was the sole woman I had a sexual urge for, although she never took me up on the stimulating offer, and after what I'd done to the father of her child, I'm assured it won't ever happen. Nevertheless, I know Akemi will let me, while I catch a gleam in her dark eyes.

"I have another gift I must ask of you." She nearly makes me scoff.

Always something... People always want something.

"I saw what you did to kill that coward Kao."

The pinch? She wants to learn it.

"It's a sacred trust." I respond.

Akemi smiles. "I would be honored beyond words if you teach me that."

"All right." I concur, also smiling.

Jabbing four digits into the sides of Akemi's neck, I watch her fall onto youthful knees, desperate to breathe.

"You have thirty seconds to live." I taunt, leaning above her. "Is this the skill you wanted to experience?"

Blood flows from her nostril, and she gasp for air, croaking, "Yes."

I glare at Akemi, a part of me wanting to espy the life leave her, whilst the other half yearned to feel that exotic body.

Dropping down, too, I undo the violent pressure point. Her mouth makes a sibilant sound, wheezing for oxygen. I wipe the trickle of blood off of her upper lip and nose.

"Show me, Sensei." Akemi rasps.

"Do you desire me to be your master?" I coo, running my hand in her ebony hair that's shaded much like my own.

Gripping it tightly, she winces, but manages to convey, "You already are."

I refuse to contain myself any longer. I kiss Akemi's luscious lips, forcing my tongue into the cavern of her mouth, exploring it, desiring to take and taste every ounce of her. Her silent moans drives me on, as I hold sable strands in a vise-grip, plunging my slick tongue deeper down the Japian's throat unlike a savage.

Suddenly, I debar myself with that realization. I don't want to possess her identically to how she expounded Kao had done. Not like this, and not to her.

"Not like this." I repeat aloud, drawing away.

Her hands touch my cheeks delicately, impelling my pupils to look onto hers.

"Let me tutor you." Akemi predicates to me, gently kissing my lips. "I'll help you forget about the stresses of life. I will cure and succor you into leaving your shifting madness behind."

Hearing her false assertion, I conclude our kisses. I am not some sort of affliction that can be cured. Mine is power, and one day, every living soul will know my name to represent fear in all locations of Gaia.

Gazing at Akemi, she must distinguish something is wrong now; a miscalculation on her part. Ha, perchance she can hear it in my heartbeat because I'm ready to lay into her, and not with my fingers, but with the new Grand katana...

My katana, where is it?

I glance to the right of me, looking at its blade sticking into the snow-covered grass. Damn it, I'd dropped it carelessly when I put the pinch on Akemi. Turning back to my intended victim, she's divesting the furs that protects her from the cold. Untying the sash to the white kimono that's encircling her waist, she exposes erect, black nipples on ample breasts to my sight.

"Make love to me..." She gathers both of my hands this time, setting them on her bust. "I'll teach you, Sensei."

It is over.

She has won.

At this moment, I willfully fall into Akemi, and secretly understand, I wouldn't deny her anything.]


Xena's arousal stirred at the recollection of that salacious night with the temptress who instilled in her the art of sapphic passion. Her hand was frozen on Argo's cream-colored mane for numerous minutes, preceding restarting the rubbing ministrations again.

Emitting a dreamy sigh, Xena had spoken the appellation of the person she would forever love, "Akemi."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Beads of sweat slowly dribbled off Gabrielle's forehead and neck, pooling onto the sheets of the cot her body slept on. She was having an intense, lucid dream that seemed real. In it was Xena, who had raven and silver hair tied to the back of her head with only a few wisps hanging around her eyes. Her appearance was aged, but she still looked attractive, dressed in a sable tunic covered by armor the color of crimson that had golden chains interlacing from the front breastplate up to her epaulets, with a darkened cape connected to it.

Her legs were concealed in tight-fitting, black leather with intricate, thin embroideries that also complimented the same red shade as her armor, and ebony, knee-high boots. Equipped on her hips were two swords; one, the original broadsword she always wielded, the other, a gold, ruby-eyed, lion-headed hilt, and beside it was the dark chakram.

The elder Xena was leaning against the side railings on an average sized ship. She had the expression of being in deep thought about something that clearly incited happiness when a huge toothy smile formed on her lips, causing a man, whom was wearing purple armor, to stare at her in awe. So she turned away to hide her visage, and concentrated on the darkness.

It was nighttime, whilst the vessel drifted along the sea, a half mile from the docks of an unknown location. The area she and her small army of soldiers were in was surrounded by a bunch of shadowy trees, as if the body of water resembled a glade.

Something caught her attention in the woods, making her call out words, but the dialogue was muted. A blonde woman, whose long hair was tied in a ponytail, walked up to the older Xena. It was Glaphyra, and she wore purple armor like the other troops, too, except she had an emblem on her right chest plate, deducing rank. A shortsword was sheathed on Glaphyra's back, and many daggers encircled her waist, which was her custom.

Xena gave her an authoritative order, and Glaphyra quickly left to carry it out. Then, sapphire irises focused on whatever it was that provoked a cagey feeling within, till her subordinate returned, handing her a bow and an arrow. Using her index and middle fingers to nock an arrow between them, Xena's arm drew it back lightly on the bowstring. She mouthed more words prior to closing her left eye and waiting a few seconds. Afterwards, she took aim and fired, hitting someone in the dark.

As the mortally wounded figure keeled over, and was revealed to be a male styled in Roman armor, Xena shouted out orders.

The scene became terrifyingly un-deadened, while projectiles descended on the ship, causing everyone to find shelter behind either the thick mast, or below the railings of the vessel. A few targeted people were too slow finding cover, and received deadly points of arrows for their sluggish efforts. Xena searched out Glaphyra, and seeing her unharmed, she conveyed a couple of hand signals. Understanding, the long-haired blonde gathered six troops and trekked to the lower deck.

Xena was still concealing herself alongside the rails beside the man whom was watching her in adoration, preceding the raid. He was smiling sadly at her, 'til an arrow's tip went through the wooden barrier, and pierced his neck. His astounded leader gently eased the shaft out of him, as his body spasmed uncontrollably. With haste, she applied relieving pressure points on him, and tore both sleeves off her tunic to wrap it tightly around his wound, halting the bleeding.

Thereon, the vessel started sailing faster towards the pier, and Xena closed her eyes in meditation.

Another person crawled over to her and the injured male, whose muscles had settled from the intemperate convulsions. After he got to them, Xena's eyelids opened suddenly to catch a projectile moments from finding its kill. The horrified troop gawked at the arrow inches from his head, until she dragged him lower to the ship's floorboards. She pointed to the hurt man in advance of grabbing her bow and a few pre-owned arrows littering the area, whilst the soldier began putting pressure on the torn tunic that was wrapped around his fellow comrade's gash.

She moved along the railings of the deck, waiting for the barrage to have split pauses before taking quick shots with her arrowheads. Every bolt she fired landed on its mark, and Xena's last arrowhead had incredibly punctured three people. Finally, Glaphyra, among two of her compatriots, came back, carrying a bundle of bows and quivers of arrows. Xena stood up, catching another arrow out of the air that was about to hit her, while looking and yelling at her warriors. The whole army raised their hands in a cheer, as the vessel was ten feet from the waterfront.

Xena spun on her boots, doing an amazing frontward flip onto the dock, and her soldiers had begun returning fire with their weaponry. An enemy's arrow clutched in her hand, she shot it at the first Roman who'd charged her. Dropping the bow, she withdrew both her blades, decapitating the second one, slashing the chest of the third, and commenced engaging the fourth.

Glaphyra jumped on the landing pier once the ship got closer, running passed the dead Romans whom were killed by the crimson armored woman. She joined Xena, throwing two daggers into both eyes of an enemy. The blonde warrior tried to take down another man with them, but the Legionnaire dodged it, so she unsheathed the shortsword from her back, connecting it with his blade.

The Roman was bigger than her, and apparently stronger, using brute strength with every swing. Bringing a downward stroke with his gladius, he brought Glaphyra to her knees when she blocked it. Notwithstanding, the smug grin on his features melted into a pained mien, as a dagger was lodged into his gut, thereupon sliced across his midsection. His intestines hanging loosely, he fell to the ground, and the Roman's killer arose, delivering a retort with a smirk of her own.

By the time the rest of the Greek army disembarked to join the fight, many of their adversaries were already deceased, mostly by Xena's hand. Severing the arm of her opponent, 'fore thrusting the lion-handle blade into him, she pulled it out sideways, slashing through his abdomen and waist akin to heated butter. Thereby defeating all the Roman soldiers who'd tried to keep them from advancing beyond the wharf, more bombardments of projectiles showered Xena and her warriors again.

In defense, Xena's troops formed an aegis, shielding themselves, as well as the two women. With the assault of arrows ended, the second wave of Legionaries, whom were led by a couple of Centurions, marched from the woods, branding gladius', spears, and shields of their own. Forming a defensive line, the shield and spear bearers were in the front, whilst the other soldiers stayed behind them to seize their opportunity on getting strikes in if Xena, along with her army, got pushed back.

As the Roman mass progressed forward, Xena stated something, invoking her troops' facial expressions to show laughter. Next, she sheathed her two bloody swords, and gripped the dark chakram. Breathing in deeply, she threw it with such force that the circular razor tore asunder every shield the Romans had, killing scores of them, too.

The disc didn't ricochet back into Xena's hand, but it appeared she hadn't expected it to, while giving a command, coaxing the hoplites to pick up where their enemies were cut off; creating their own phalanx. Xena solely unsheathed her lion sword, directing it at the opposition, exclaiming a single word.

Her infantry proceeded onward, causing the Roman soldiers to take steps backwards, whereupon several toppled each other in fear. By the Romans' retreat becoming foiled by their own cowardice, the hoplites made short work of the second wave. Xena and Glaphyra glanced at each other momentarily before they both decided to re-enter the combat.

Xena flipped over the hoplites and Glaphyra sprinted around them.

Therefore, Xena's blade perforated flesh and bone, permanently disabling one soldier after another, splashing blood that camouflaged with her armor. When the purple armored woman got into the action, there were four men still standing. Sheathing her sword, she pulled out two daggers, throwing one in the carotid artery of her enemy, and the second found its way in the leg of an unfortunate other. Traipsing up to him, she took the embedded dagger out, slitting his throat with it.

Xena held up a fist, giving the sign for her forces to stop, whilst she glared at the couple of remaining Romans. The first man tried shaking off his nerves and, because of being outmatched, he practically leapt right onto the sharpness of her blade. At the sight of the lifeblood leaving his companion's body, the final Roman dropped his weapon.

The elder Xena calmly spoke something to him. Nonetheless, when the Centurion shook his head in the negative, she rushed over and put the pinch on him. Falling on shaky knees, she kicked his chest, forcing him to land onto the blood-soaked grass. Lastly, she positioned the sword atop his heart, as a person grasped her attention.

Walking away from the obscured shadows, which the many trees provided for him and the contingent of Roman troops, moonlight shined on his physiognomy. It was Brutus, and alongside him was another man with cropped, brownish hair.

Brutus raised both of his hands skywards, appearing to be explaining or offering her something. Locking eyes with him, Xena offered no reply, however, she smiled savagely, plunging her lion blade into the dying Roman's body beneath her.

Gabrielle roused from her slumber with a jolt, her upper frame lifting from the cot.

'God, what was that?' She mused, shutting her aqua irises, and wiping the droplets of sweat off her face.

The bard exhaustedly laid down again, placing the back of her left hand over sealed eyelids. The dream felt like reality, as if she was really there seeing, breathing. She couldn't differentiate whether it was a prophetic vision of the future; remembering the older appearance of Xena. Or the past; recalling Glaphyra, Brutus, and the dark chakram.

'It can't possibly be a bygone time period. I am certain none of those events took place in our lives.' Gabrielle justified. 'It cannot be an intended prospect either. Brutus is deceased. I've done the deed myself during the Battle of Actium. And Glaphyra would at least be old like Xena also.'

Rationalizing it was all a dream, the petite, short-haired blonde cast it aside for now. Opening her pupils, she saw that the jade on the ring Xena had given her was emitting a greenish aura. Gabrielle sat upwards and studied the strange glowing stone. In the two weeks she'd worn it, the gem had never became luminous.

Gabrielle rubbed her eyes free of sleep, thinking maybe she remained under the effects of tiredness; she and Xena had been extremely sexually active a lot lately, disrupting their normal sleeping pattern.

Espying the silver band once more, she saw that her gemstone returned to its dull color. Positive it could be the aftereffects of what she'd dreamt, she started to shake her head to dispel the war fantasy, and climbed out from underneath the furs of the cot. Gabrielle determined the sun was rising, as she noted its rays crept through the wooden boards of the cabin room's interior.

Scooping up her scarlet top and slipping it on, she saw a basin of water lying on the small table. She doubted her lover was the reason for it being there, and wasn't too keen on any strangers coming in while she slept, but was grateful, nevertheless. Dipping the clean cloth into the water, and rinsing the access liquid, Gabrielle washed her face, including all of her hotspots. Feeling refreshed, she put on her boots, preceding exiting the room to ascertain the whereabouts of her destined spouse.

{X&G}

Xena was brushing Argo II down, whilst having a one-sided conversation with her, "I want to tell Gabrielle everything, but I am sure of how she can be. She'll blow up on me. I should have more confidence in her than that. It's just, she doesn't know Akemi personally the way I do. She won't understand. Akemi's a good person who got the short end of the stick in life."

Argo snorted in disagreement.

"You've never met her either. Neither did your mother. Helping Akemi is the only consolation I'm getting out of stopping her soul-sucking father. And let me apprise you, Yodoshi deserves to be sent to wherever it is the damned go." Xena avowed with malice intent. "The things he'd done to Akemi and her family was cruel. She ended his life, and I'd failed restoring her honor for that action. So, it is my duty to bring peace to her and Japa by obliterating his absolute existence."

The Palomino softly nudged her collarbone, offering support of empathy.

"I knew you would be understandable, girl. I wish Gabrielle could be more perceptive."

Argo began nudging her harshly.

"Okay, you're right, Argo. I will talk to her." She assented, patting and brushing the toffee-colored mare who'd become pacified.

Regardless of that, doubts remained about the choice to converse with Gabrielle anent to Akemi and her own feelings. Xena knew the Amazon had a huge amount of compassion, but after Xena's sudden departure from their cabin, she became wary. The trim Queen already wasn't contented with going to Japa, and she didn't want to chance upsetting her more.

'All I want to do is repair a failing act on my part. Nonetheless, I should be doing this for the Greater Good, not for selfish purposes. I need to place my affections for Akemi back where I had it. I will restore her honor, though.' Xena cogitated, declaring aloud, "I owe Akemi that much."

"Who's Akemi?" A familiar voice inquired.

Xena kept her rear to the young woman, continuing the ministrations on her mare. "Hello, Tanya. How did you get acceptance to come aboard this ship?"

Taking Xena's question as an open invitation, the auburn-haired fighter strolled into the stall.

"When I arrived at the port of Scione, I asked around for captains who wouldn't mind me travelling along as a passenger on their vessel. I didn't want to go back to Larissa, so any destination was alright with me." She paused, and blew air out of her mouth in irritation. "I realized I'd left my dinars with Timon. He was the money holder of the squad that I was poorly leading up till now. Anyway, all deals fell through. No funds, no fare, unless I was willing to abase myself, which I wasn't. I'm not giving head to get ahead."

Tanya laughed at her own joke.

Seeing that Xena found no humor in it, she nervously coughed, and restarted recounting, "I was going to call it a day, until a monk queried about you. I was skeptical because of the armored warriors he had with him, but he told me they needed your help for an important matter. When he swore no harm would come to you, we made a trade; my information concerning your location, for a free ride on this gigantic ship. Well, not fully free. I do have to work the galley. Still-"

"The galley?" Tanya finally averred intel that piqued Xena's interest. "Do you know when we set sail?"

"Once the sun shines past dawn. It's twilight now, so it won't be long."

'Gods!' Xena was aghast. 'I spent the whole night away from Gabrielle? She's going to be furious.'

Tanya was unaware of Xena's dilemma, thus went on, "I'm up because the other galley workers woke me. I think they're slaves, and all of them are men. Also, they are foreigners like the monk who let me come aboard. I surmised they couldn't speak a single bit of greek, 'cause I had no idea what they were talking about, until some of them got the message that I was ignorant of their language, and started pointing at the oars."

The nineteen-year-old dwelled on the rude awakening the assumed slaves welcomed her to, and she released a light chuckle.

"They thought I was insane when I grabbed the oar and tried rowing. That's when one of them directed my attention to the sunlight we could see through the aperture of where the oars were inserted. He pantomined with his hands to vainly show me it represented sunrise. Then, he imitated propelling the oar. I remained at a loss, till another guy announced in broken greek what the demonstrator was trying to say. Thank the gods for him." Tanya halted for a moment to consider the Godslayer in front of her, and corrected her statement, "I mean, thank whatever gods remain. That's why I'm here now to check on Brownie before we row. I do not know when or how we'll get breaks, and I don't want him to miss me. He can become edgy."

"You named your horse Brownie?" Xena smirked.

She retorted back, "You named your mare Argo Jr?"

"It's Argo II." Xena clarified.

"Same difference. My horse was a going away present to me from my father. He is brown, and I happen to like brownies. There you have it." Tanya explained.

"I've never heard of brownies, but to each their own." The Warrior Princess conceded, putting the brush into the saddlebag, and discovering something amiss.

"Guess I was right, huh?" Tanya smiled.

"What?" Xena was still digging around.

"I apprised our paths would meet again. I'm more than assured our destinies are connected." She answered with confidence.

"Don't get coincidence confused with destiny, Tanya." Gabrielle pronounced, coming up behind her.

Tanya became surprised by the Amazon's sudden appearance. "Gabrielle, glad to see you again."

"Likewise." The bard responded, passing her to stand near Xena.

Xena could sense the displeasure for her pouring off of Gabrielle, and was not ready to face it. So the dark-haired woman pretended to keep searching for the additional currency she already knew was gone.

"Tanya, I want to be alone with Xena."

It wasn't a request, but an order, and Tanya abided by it. "I'm going to check on my horse in-"

"No." Gabrielle interjected. "I need you to leave the stables. You can see to your horse later. This won't take long."

"Yup." Tanya reluctantly agreed, spinning on her heels, and leaving the stall to return to the galley.

Xena stood onto her feet, and rushed to the left side of Argo, constructing a false barricade, while squinted greenish-blue eyes leered at her. "Purple Samurai told you where I was?"

The blonde head nodded once.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I didn't mean to stay here in the stables all night."

"Save it, Xena. I knew you wasn't returning to me. You are too absorbed by what's happening in Japa, and everything that's happened in your past there."

"You're angry with me?" Xena prodded.

"Not totally." Gabrielle replied, her disgruntled countenance was becoming somber.

Xena wasn't falling for the trap. There were many of times Gabrielle would appear to be forgivable, solely to snare her in for the bite.

"I had a dream, whilst I slept. It felt more like a vision than anything else. Identical to the ones I used to have all those years ago. You remember?"

"Yes." Xena was remembering the particular prescient when she held off the troops from Persia.

Prior to going one against an army, Gabrielle warned her 'bout the Persian with the double-edged sword.

"I'd awaken slightly disconcerted. I needed you. I'm trying to get it out of my head, but I can't." The Amazon looked down, and Xena instinctively moved towards her, as she professed, "The jade gem on my ring is usually darkened, but when I awoke, it was glowing very brightly. Then it stopped after I closed my eyes."

"It probably was your imagination running away from you." Xena insisted, pulling her lover into her arms. "I should have been there."

"Why did you leave me?" The muffled voice questioned against her chest.

'Damn it.' Xena fell for the ploy, and started feeling the entrapment.

If she gave a half-truthful response, Gabrielle would see through it, and fuss. Answering wholeheartedly, Xena could risk the bard not caring for what she was hearing, and fuss. The tall warrior could deny a reply altogether, and she'd fuss.

Expelling a sigh, she prepared herself mentally, hoping her beautiful, future wife wouldn't make her regret the precarious decision.

Disengaging from the embrace, Xena expounded, "This mission is causing mixed emotions in me. I want to help Harukata for the right reasons, but I find myself wanting to fulfill my own selfish desires."

Gabrielle inquired, "Are you upset our wedding will be put off?"

"No." Xena affirmed too vehemently for Gabrielle's pleasure. "If it were only that, this would be a piece of cake. I'd simply decline aiding the Samurais, and we would be heading to Egypt this instant."

"Why aren't we?" Gabrielle posed a different query, smothering the flame within her.

"Akemi is much more important than all of that." Xena proclaimed.

"Akemi's more imperative than our marriage!" Gabrielle felt the fire become an inferno.

"It isn't a comparison contest. Do not twist my words before I can finish them." Xena was halting her ire.

"I'm not twisting anything, Xena. You are the person who said it. I'm not blind, I can see."

Exasperated, Xena prompted, "What do you see, hmm?"

"You promised we would settle... We're not, and you don't seem nonplussed by it at all. I don't even know why I have the audacity to think you'd care!" Gabrielle exclaimed.

"Things happen sometimes and it alter plans. Don't misconstrue my caring for wanting to reinstate Akemi's honor as apathy for our love."

"You have done a terrific job of that yourself. You didn't even..." Gabrielle breathed in to find a sense of calmness, but didn't. "You haven't ask me if I wanted to take this trip to Japa. You made the choice, and I accepted it. You've treated me like shit since you'd heard the name Akemi, and I'd tolerated it. You left me last night on the brink of our lovemaking, and I was accepting it, until now, when you try to stand here feeding me garbage, purporting how you feel torn between helping Harukata for moral reasons or egoism. It all adds up to the same outcome anyway; me following your lead. I don't care about none of that, just honestly tell me why you're distancing yourself from me?"

"Distancing? This is the main purpose I didn't want to talk with you on this matter. I had expressed to you how my time in Japa affected me. I didn't elucidate on a grand scale, but that's what I am trying to do now, and you blatantly call me a liar, while I'm telling you how I feel." Xena was offended. "How dare you!"

"You are a liar!" Gabrielle blared, voicing her deepest pain out in the open. "Whilst we were in King Thoas' kingdom in Thebes, where you proposed, you confided to me you'd never fell in love with another person after Caesar. Clearly that isn't true... Far from it. You're so caught up with Akemi, the only moments I can get a reaction out of you is by mentioning her name. She's the basis of why you've forsook me last night. Admit it!"

Xena turned away from her in rage. She took umbrage with Gabrielle's accusation of falseness.

'I did not lie. I'd pushed the memory of Akemi to the far recesses of my mind, to the extent of casting her out. I allowed myself to forget her. I had evinced nothing but truths that night in bed with Gabrielle. I'd confessed my love, my soul. I had bared my all to the woman I'll marry... Would have liked to wed.'

Xena kept silent, keeping her ruminations where she felt they belonged; in her head, safe and guarded, for it served no benefit to expose them to Gabrielle, because she would continue to do exactly what the Warrior Princess feared.

Act pugnacious.

The dark woman's features were twisted in anger before replacing it with a stoic facade she perfected. Stepping over to the saddlebags to retrieve the handled-bristles once more, Xena recommenced grooming Argo, keeping her back to Gabrielle.

"Don't ignore this, and act like I'm not here. Say something." Her lover proclaimed.

She subsisted preening Argo II, so Gabrielle's hand touched her arm to spin her around, but the whilom warlord yanked Gabrielle off forcefully. Sucking her teeth, she tried to do it a second time, and Xena complied, then shoved her a few steps rearwards, shocking the bard.

"It would be wise if you refrain from touching me, little girl." Xena warned in an acerbic tone, facing the nimble female.

The cropped blonde couldn't believe Xena's bellicose attitude. "What have I done to evoke a drastic change in you?"

She received a snide response, "Don't touch me right now."

"Or what? You'll hit me... Again." Gabrielle refused to cower, adding salt to a catastrophic laceration. "With what this time, I wonder? Your fist or chakram?"

Another blow to Xena's heart, but she didn't let her apathetic mask falter. "Go for it, and find yourself thrown out of Argo's stall."

The velvet-clad Amazon was hiding her discomposure. She had no clue what her soul mate would do, however, she wasn't backing down due to stubborn pride.

"Xena-Sama, and, Gabrielle-San." Kenji's interruption was a godsend. "Good morning, and forgive my intrusion, but the Shogun awaits both your presences preceding breakfast."

Tense seconds felt close to being candlemarks, while the former Destroyer of Nations and Gabrielle stared at each other, both suffering from perceived injustices. Breaking their eye contact, Xena tossed the brush into the gaping saddlebag, and silently departed the enclosure behind the meek monk.

Quietly pondering to the compartment's resident, Gabrielle's glum irises watched her friend disappear, "Perhaps I've pushed her to the edge prematurely, Argo. Xena hasn't ever gotten this mad at me when she was wrong. Indifferent, but never violent."

With a heavy conscious, Gabrielle followed Xena as well...like always.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Three bodies made their way up the stairs to the first tier, onwards to the Shogun's conference cabin. The monk was at ease, knowing soon the curse of Japa would be ended, but the two females following him weren't content at all, as their minds battled with despair for each other.

'I shouldn't have spoken what I'd said to her.' Gabrielle felt annoyed at herself. 'It was wrong of me to throw our wicked past in her face. I've done hurtful acts that she could toss at me, too.'

Watching the raven-haired heroine walk ahead of her, and acquiescing she had to remedy the pain she'd caused, Gabrielle stretched out her hand to hold onto the tall woman's wrist.

"Xena, I didn't mean-"

"Yes, you did." Xena cut Gabrielle's apology short without turning her head or breaking stride. "You meant every word. We'll leave it at that."

Although the skin Gabrielle held was warm, it began to feel cold to her touch after Xena's interjection. With the relinquishment of her soul mate, Gabrielle's vexation at her own actions grew, while they approached their destination.

Kenji opened the door for the women, and when they entered inside, he had shut it, remaining outside in the entryway. The Warrior Princess and the bard saw Harukata, along with the trio of Samurais, sitting at a lengthy, rectangular table, still adorned in their full armor. The Shogun was seated at the end. The two, who wore sunfire and purple armor, sat spaced out on a single side together, whilst the blue armored Samurai was settled adjacent to them, alone.

"Good morning to you, Xena, and your companion. Please take a seat." Harukata greeted.

Xena observed the ironclad warriors in front of her with a purposeful eye, whereupon she'd noticed each of the Samurais' katanas were lain out on the table in arms reach of their owners. She immediately regretted coming to an isolated place without her sword. Cerulean irises glanced at Gabrielle to acknowledge she was entirely unarmed.

'I'd cautioned Gabrielle to stay on guard, and it would be like her to act blasé 'bout carrying her sais. Well, if they try anything, at least I have my breast dagger.' Though irritable; hating the fact she had no choice but to trust Harukata's oath that no harm would come to them, Xena smiled. "Morning to you all."

Therefore, Xena sat in the chair at the opposite end, across from the Shogun, so she could keep a view on everyone, leaving Gabrielle to sit in the last seat beside the blue armored Samurai.

"Morning." Gabrielle vocalized to the few men, before greeting the man next to her. "Good morning, Zicalus."

"To you, too." He returned.

"Thank you again, Warrior Princess, for deciding to assist us, and showing up to this gathering. Here we will discuss the issue of Yodoshi in detail, and our plan of attack, but first, introductions are in order." The Shogun announced, unclasping his crimson helmet to reveal an older man with long, grey hair that was tied to the back of his head in a ponytail.

The color of Harukata's protective headpiece and hairstyle flashed a memory in Gabrielle's mind. She closed her eyes to shake the images of the elder Xena and Glaphyra away.

Both Xena and Zicalus regarded her, but stayed quiet, as Gabrielle composed herself.

"You already know my name is Harukata, Shogun of Shinto in Japa." He professed, setting his helmet on the table.

He'd gestured for the other concealed Samurais to do the same, and the one wearing sunfire yellow armor removed his to show a Japian man in his late thirties with cropped black hair.

"This is Koska, my third-in-command." The Shogun affirmed.

Afterwards, the purple armored Samurai took his off to expose another Japian male with spiky brown hair. His face was badly disfigured by scars. Two of them prominently stood out, running diagonally from either side of his cheeks, meeting below damaged lips on his chin.

"That is Moku, my weapons expert."

'Looks like he met several of them personally.' Xena deduced.

Finally, Zicalus unmasked to unveil a young man who had the appearance of mixed ancestry, and medium length of ebony hair cascading around his light-green eyes.

'He's handsome.' Gabrielle cogitated.

"And this is the Samurai you've met last night, Zicalus, the newest member to join the elite Samurais under my direct command." Harukata disclosed. "Now that's out of the way, we all are aware of you, Xena, but what's the name of your travelling friend?"

"She can introduce herself." Xena replied.

The petite blonde wasn't certain if her lover was predicating out of courtesy, or spite.

"Her name is Gabrielle." Zicalus answered for her.

"We are grateful to you as well, Gabrielle-San."

"Thank you, Shogun. I'm hoping I can be of use to bring peace to Japa." Gabrielle responded with a tinged smile.

"We all learned each other's names. Let us move on." Xena had a touch of annoyance in her verbalization. "What about that information on Yodoshi?"

"Koska will provide the intel." The Shogun proclaimed.

A deep, gruff voice started speaking, "Yodoshi, Lord of the Darklands, is amassing an army using the souls he has acquired. His numbers surpass the higher thousands. The Daimyo will ensure his Samurais will try to keep Yodoshi's forces from destroying Higuchi."

"Whom's this Daimyo?" Xena inquired.

"Morimoto, and he is my second-in-command." Harukata clarified. "I left him in Shinto with a retainer of men, while we came to Greece for you. He will protect Higuchi until we arrive."

"He is the first line of defense?" Gabrielle probed.

"Yes, but he merely has five thousand Samurais with him. The remainder must linger in Shinto in case Yodoshi change tactics and attack it, or manage to defeat the Daimyo in Higuchi beforehand, which could happen. The daemon's warriors outnumber his." Harukata averred.

'Sounds like a recipe for disaster.' Gabrielle mused.

Xena crossed her arms beneath her chest. "Doesn't seem like the odds are in our favor at all, Harukata."

"You will address him as Shogun." Koska declared strongly.

Xena stared at the sunfire armored Samurai. Considering everything she went through not too long ago with Gabrielle, she was ready to release her pent up aggression on anyone, weaponless or not.

Koska glared back, trying not to let her ice, blue spheres intimidate him.

"It is okay, Koska. The Warrior Princess isn't fully aware of our procedures in customs. It's alright for her to break decorum." The Shogun tried to ease the tension. "Xena, you are correct. It would appear we are on the losing end, albeit you did not hear everything yet."

"Let's hear it. My patience is very thin, and I don't want to waste any seconds with idle talk 'bout titles. Preceding this mission falling upon me, I was engaged..." Xena paused, glimpsing at her soul mate.

Gabrielle's greenish-blue irises connected with Xena's, and for an instant, the bard saw warmth. Then it cooled into dispassion.

"I was engaged to a glorious affair." Xena was esoteric. "Although the possibility of that is falling apart, I can think of numerous places I'd rather be than here."

'What is she implying?' Gabrielle became fearful, her fingers unconsciously began twirling the silver band on her left index digit.

Zicalus noted the velvet-clad Amazon rotating her ring, and stored the knowledge for later investigation.

"Understandable, Xena." Harukata acceded.

"Why are you certain Yodoshi will raze Higuchi specifically?" Xena asked him.

"The daemon's cataclysmic activities leads a bloody pathway from Kyushu's ruins, and now he's been linked heavily around Higuchi's territory. Morimoto has five thousand warriors to defend it. I have twenty thousand Samurais in Shinto, and that's not including the eight hundred of the best men on this warship."

"It will take us a couple of months to reach Japa. In that time, if Yodoshi ravages Higuchi, he won't do the same to Shinto without a fight." Koska constituted.

"I'm puzzled by the timeframe." Gabrielle admitted. "You could have travelled in a smaller vessel instead of using an enormous ship. With haste being a grand factor to speed up our endeavor, won't it take us longer to get to Japa because of this ship's size?"

Harukata nodded his head.

Realization dawned on Xena. "You're either planning an attack, or anticipating one using this warship, aren't you?"

"Yes." Harukata avowed. "Nobody knows when the daemon will converge on Higuchi, nor anywhere else on the island. He attacks swiftly and effectively. We can simply be assured Yodoshi will rampage throughout Japa by the incursions he'd already done on minor villages before and after he caused the ruination of Kyushu."

"I presumed he'd just begun trying to destroy parts of Japa, and was beginning with Higuchi?" Gabrielle grew baffled. "How long has Yodoshi ran amok prior to you all coming for Xena?"

"Two months." Harukata confirmed. "I'd surmised we could handle the situation without voyaging to a foreign land, searching for a woman we weren't positive existed. I sent a garrison of men to guard Higuchi, but having days pass with no activity from our demonic adversary, I'd withdrew them. On their route back to Shinto, they'd seen activity in a nearby village, and engaged the belligerents, but they were crushed. Getting word of what happened, I sent one thousand Samurais to seek out the force responsible. An injured, sole survivor came back, telling me it was Yodoshi, and the Lord of the Darklands spared him to instill fear in Shinto, venting its inhabitants will have a fate worse than Kyshu, as well as Higuchi combined. It was then we embarked for Greece."

"Was there any importance to destroying Kyushu?"

"May I answer Gabrielle-San's question, Shogun?" Zicalus offered.

"You can." He assented.

"In Japa, there are three temples called the Tri Sanctuaries that are connected to the sun Kami, Amaterasu. Each of them has a specific significance, and are placed in three locations. The first is named Kashiko-dokoro, located in Kyushu. It is there citizens go in worship of their ancestors. The second is Korei-den, where worshippers go to receive aid from ancestral spirits, and it's in Higuchi. The final third is named Shin-den. Its locale being Shinto, it's where all the people of Japa attend to honor Amaterasu directly."

The bard was captivated by the young man's alluring storytelling, and became eager to learn more. "That's the cause of Yodoshi's invasion of Kyushu? To destroy its temple?"

Zicalus inclined his head in agreement. "Despite his evil resolve, we'd assumed he'd inadvertently destroyed Kashiko-dokoro, while multiplying his absorption of souls, whereas now we fear Yodoshi intends to obliterate all of Japa's temples. It's safe to say Higuchi will be next, ending with Shinto, then every area of Japa will fall easily."

Xena observed the interaction of Gabrielle and the blue armored Samurai. She didn't like it one bit, and it incensed her.

"How long ago was the Kashiko...dokoro sanctuary destroyed?" The short-haired blonde queried.

It was Koska who chose to respond, "A month after we set out on our voyage here."

"I'm not taking any chances." The Shogun pronounced. "I pray we make it to Higuchi 'fore Yodoshi does, but if we are too tardy, we'll launch a counter-strike from this ship."

"How did Yodoshi come back to life anyway?" Gabrielle was curious. "Xena apprised me Akemi killed him, prior to dying herself. Is it because their honors weren't reestablished?"

Post asking the question, Gabrielle looked over to her lover, seeing that Xena was unhappy with her decision to break discretion. The petite woman didn't need to be an oracle to discern she was making matters worse between them. Disgruntled with herself, she restarted twirling her jade ring.

"Kenji's interaction with Akemi wasn't precisely brief." Harukata decided to evince. "She told him Yodoshi's heart was so impure that the underworld rejected him. Somehow, he made a pact with an unknown entity to become an atrocious daemon, and a soul drinker. It seems Xena has further insight on how both father and daughter died. I've heard hearsay, nonetheless, to be honest, I rather learn the truth from a person who's an eyewitness."

Every optic turned to Xena, except for Gabrielle's. Hers were downcast at the table because of unintentionally putting the Warrior Princess on the spot.

"Yodoshi was the Shogun of Higuchi. I have no idea what kind of governor he was, or if his rule was just and fair. What I do know for certain is, he was an evil man towards his family. He murdered his parents, wife, three of their children, and sold his only living daughter, Akemi, to a warlord in Chin. It was there I'd discovered her, and brought her back to Japa.

I had sought out her father for my own means, and being reunited with Yodoshi, she committed patricide by killing him. With Akemi's obligation for revenge sated, howbeit knowing she had disgraced herself, she'd implored me to restore her honor by beheading her, and placing her ashes in her family's shrine. I succeeded in taking her life..." Xena stopped for a moment to gaze at Gabrielle, who kept her eyes down, but would glance upwards slightly.

It reminded Xena of when they were inside the prison of Ming T'ien's kingdom. Gabrielle would barely maintain eye contact with her there, too.

'After she betrayed me to the Emperor.' The dark-haired warrior bitterly remembered. "However, I had failed honoring her. That is the sole reason I am on this vessel now. I'm righting wrongs for a friend in need."

She expounded all of that, while staring at Gabrielle, hoping to convey how she truly wanted to fix an error from her past.

"(Not just wrongs for the patricide committer)." Koska mumbled in his Japian language.

Xena turned her focus on him before her oblivious soul mate did. "What do you mean by that?"

The Shogun crisply glowered at his third-in-command, coaxing the sunfire armored Samurai to feel chided. Koska didn't expect a Greek could interpret their dialect.

"We have covered enough for now. We'll eat breakfast, and convene later." Harukata expressed.

"I don't think so." Koska's futile attempt at making a veil statement provoked Xena's wary.

She already intuited Harukata wasn't telling her everything, and following what she'd found out this morning, it made some things unclear.

"What did your Samurai mean by his words?" Xena scrutinized.

The Shogun looked apprehensive, but yielded. "I want to discourse with the Warrior Princess alone. Tell Kenji to go down to the galley and hold off our departure, until he's notified."

Every one of his men stood up to bow, leaving their helmets and katanas, as they departed the cabin.

"I humbly insist on your leave also, Gabrielle-San. This is for Xena's ears solely." Harukata lightly enforced.

"No. I stay with Xena." The Amazon was determined.

"I don't want you here for this, Gabrielle." She uttered, causing the cropped blonde into feeling unwelcomed to remain by Xena's side. "Do what Harukata requests."

Stunned, Gabrielle slowly arose from her chair, and with leaden feet, proceeded to exit the room, ruminating, 'She's upset with me. Fine, I can tolerate the anger. Just don't push me away, Xena.'

The door opened and closed, thereafter Xena became earnestly stern, "Cut the shit, Harukata. You have thousands of Samurai warriors yourself to counter Yodoshi's. And don't insult my intelligence by saying Akemi wishes for me to be there in Japa. That isn't grounds enough for a Shogun to abandon his citizens, when clearly you didn't want to once Yodoshi launched an assault. So tell me honestly, why am I really here?"

"Do you remember the night you ventured taking Akemi's ashes to her family's shrine?" He deflected.

"You know I do. I've recently shared that disclosure." Xena was becoming perturbed.

"You recall setting the village of Higuchi in flames?"

Her pupils narrowed in uncertainty. "What are you getting at, Harukata?"

"After you set the village ablaze, a wind nourished it, coercing the fire to grow."

"I'd reckoned that. What does it matter?" Xena was on the verge of yelling.

"Xena, you are the cause of forty thousand deaths in Higuchi." The Shogun divulged.

"I couldn't have." She was troubled by Harukata's illumination. "I torched the town village... I knew there would be many casualties, but nowhere near the estimate you claim."

"As the fire grew from the wind, it'd not only engulfed the village, but almost the entire town." Harukata explained. "Save for its Korei-den temple, Higuchi's landscape was devastated."

'The air currents were powerful that night.' Xena recollected how it blew Akemi's remains away, but she commenced embracing denial. 'Regardless, it couldn't have made the blaze kill all those villagers.'

"Why did you torch the town?" The Shogun quizzed the silent ex-warlord.

"The townsfolk shattered the pottery I had Akemi's ashes in. I was drunk and vengeful at what they'd done."

"That did not constitute the right to burn them." Harukata rebuked her. "The citizens of Higuchi were justifiable for impeding you. Yodoshi wasn't singularly Akemi's father; he was their provincial leader."

"I was a totally different person back then. I didn't give a damn about those people." Xena truthfully confided.

"If you were capable of such ruthless acts in Higuchi, I can imagine how you treated others callously. You alluded you've changed, and I want to believe you..." The Shogun diverted the topic to another. "Is Gabrielle-San anything like you were?"

Xena's tone became ominous, "Say what you will of me, Harukata. Everything I have done immoral in this world can be laid at my feet, but don't you dare put Gabrielle in the same category as me. She is the complete opposite in any way you can fathom when it comes to being virtuous."

The Shogun noted there was adoration in Xena's tonality, whilst she described her friend, with a touch of something else. "So hanging around villians isn't in her nature?"

Xena's hands gripped the table, her brain set on violence.

The old Shogun raised a ceding hand. "I believe you. Gabrielle-San does possess an aspect of light and goodness."

Cooling her contentious attitude, Xena rejoined, "Prior to us digressing, and jumping all over the place anent to Gabrielle's uniqueness, let's get back on track. I've killed a lot of innocent people, while I was a warlord, and spent years trying to atone for the terrible deeds I'd participated in. This news of Higuchi saddens and enlighten me to no longer aid you for Akemi's sake, but for the people whom perished because of me, too. I will help for the Greater Good."

"In order to save Japa, what are you willing to do, Warrior Princess?"

"Whatever needs to be done. This is part of my atonement, and hopefully the forty thousand lives I've taken can find peace, whilst resting." Xena asserted.

"The forty thousand souls aren't at rest during this juncture. They are being utilized."

'Used?' The raven-haired woman became perplexed. "I don't follow. How are the souls being..."

Xena's query ceased, as a possible resolution struck her.

'The souls created Yodoshi, or provided an outlet for his undead resurrection. But how? Akemi informed Kenji a mysterious entity struck a deal with him, transforming the former mortal into a consumer of souls. He must've devoured the spirits of those villagers I'd unintentionally murdered in Higuchi. The souls...' Xena comprehended. "The souls are in Yodoshi!"

"Yes." The Shogun concurred. "Yodoshi can twist and use every soul he consumes for his own whims."

"Almost twenty-six thousand warriors against his forty thousand." She reflected.

"It's not forty thousand anymore, Xena. That's what Yodoshi started with. It is one hundred thousand now." Harukata corrected.

The Warrior Princess' ratiocinations succumbed to distress.

'What have I condemned Gabrielle to? There's no way we can secure a victory. Even if we do miraculously win, there will be great losses.' Sapphire eyes locked onto older dark ones. "I have many skills, Harukata, but not a copious amount to defeat a hundred thousand fiends."

"A battle for Japa's salvation will occur, notwithstanding, our main focus is the Lord of the Darklands. With him annihilated, all the souls he absorbed will find their rightful place in the afterlife. There they will await their cycle for reincarnation." Harukata claimed. "I'm blessed by Amaterasu to slay any type of soul I choose to. Once I encounter Yodoshi, I'll kill him, and send the daemon back to the nether realm where he belong, which I am ordained to do."

"By sheer numbers, Yodoshi will be well protected. How will we be able to get remotely close to him?" Xena prompted.

The time had come for the Shogun to expose the main purpose of why she was summoned. "Akemi need you in the spirit world with her. When you enter there, you and she can contain Yodoshi, so I can deliver the fatal blow."

"How do I get to the spirit world?" Harukata's visage was pensive, making Xena dread the unanswered inquiry, thus causing her to repeat loudly, "How do I get there?"

"It's a singular method, Xena." The solution made her pupils widen in fright. "You must die."

{X&G}

Gabrielle leaned on the wooden, double doors of a room around the corner from the conference cabin, while in deep consternation. 'Why did I have to argue with Xena when I should've listened to her? Oh, why did I have to open my big mouth, and tell the Samurais what she had entrusted in me?'

The trim blonde banged the back of her head against the door.

'Stupid, stupid, stupid. She's going to call it off, I know it. I can feel it in my gut she is going to break off our wedding.' Shutting her eyesight, and continuously rocking her skull on the door, Gabrielle chanted, "Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"Hey." A vocal broke Gabrielle out of her chagrin.

Her eyes popped open to espy light-green irises that belonged to Zicalus.

"What are you doing?" He questioned. "If you really want to let out frustration, instead of abusing your pretty head, you could go inside the armory behind you. It serves as our training room, too."

The bard was slightly embarrassed she was caught unaware in her predicament.

"Having so many warriors on board, should've figured you guys had a training room on this huge warship. I'll keep that in mind when I get frustrated again." Gabrielle chuckled to hide her anxiety.

Zicalus detected her dismay. "What's wrong, Gabrielle-San?"

"This mission to Japa has me in dire straits, but I'll be fine." She lied a tinge, straightening her body up and off the sealed threshold. "I pray Morimoto can hold Yodoshi at bay if we reach Japa late."

"Don't worry so much about that. The Daimyo is well suited to protect Higuchi." Zicalus presented a smile of confidence. "Besides, we have you and the Warrior Princess in addition to our ranks. I have belief Japa will be saved by Xena-Sama's presence alone, 'cause I got to admit, even without her armor or weapons, she can still intimidate."

"Yea, she can." Returning a grin of her own, she took in Zicalus' facial features.

He looked to be in her age range. The dark hair that dangled from the sides of both his eyes gave him a feminine flair. No doubt he was very attractive.

"Thank you for easing my conscience." Gabrielle bestowed her gratitude. "I do not want to delay you from your responsibilities or anything."

"Well, breakfast is getting dished out, and to be honest, I don't have a taste for raw fish wrapped in seaweed."

Gabrielle laughed. "It won't bother me none. I can get severe sea sickness, and have to apply a pressure point to oppose it. So I won't be able to taste a thing since the aftereffects numbs my tongue."

"That's a shame. I didn't want to eat my nut bread by myself, and wanted to share it with you on the deck." Zicalus proffered.

The bard's stomach rumbled. "Nut bread, you say?"

"I'd purchased a few loaves from a shop, whilst docked here in Scione." Zicalus avouched. "My mother made it for me in my youth, and I fell in love with it."

"I enjoy nut bread as well." Gabrielle's face beamed. "I might take you up on the offer. Perhaps I can get in a couple of bites before we begin sailing. I'm going to inform Xena so she'll know where I'll be."

"Okay." Zicalus smiled. "I will wait here for you."

Eagerly awaiting snacking on her favored dessert, the Amazon briskly traipsed to the cabin Harukata and her soul mate were in, but held off knocking, as she heard Xena's exclamation, "This is a trick!"

Concerned, Gabrielle overruled rushing in, and opted to secretly listen to the private conversation.

"It's true. Personally, I think it is your duty to do this, nevertheless, the choice is yours. I will not threaten, nor compel you. You've shown how adamantly you care for Gabrielle-San, and I completely understand your unwillingness to risk her life to the dangers of war. If you choose, you and she can leave the-"

"No!" Xena bellowed, interrupting the Shogun's sentence. "Gabrielle is important to me... She's... She always will be, but this situation is bigger than her, and too extreme to ignore."

The subsequent silence had given rise to harrowing thoughts, and Gabrielle deliberated on storming in to impel Xena to give a full explication.

Any action from Gabrielle vanished once Harukata prodded, "You'll do it?"

"Yes..." Xena conceded. "When the time comes, and Akemi calls to me, I will go with her."

Hurt and confused, Gabrielle blindly retreated from the closed doorway.

'Go with her? Akemi's more of an importance than me?' She cerebrated, whispering to herself, while tears emanating from her aqua eyes, "I've lost Xena..."

Spinning on her boots, Gabrielle ran, bypassing Zicalus who was left disconserted.

"Gabrielle-San?" He shouted for her to no avail, viewing the cropped blonde, as she maneuvered passed the ship's occupants. "Where are you going... What about the nut bread?"

The bard kept running, disappearing down the stairs of the first tier.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Slow, yet, steady steps felt like a temporary escape from a tragedy, as Xena headed toward the stables, whilst the ship readied its sail to Japa. Xena's ruminations were in disarray with everything she discovered from Harukata, including making the rash decision to die in order to stop Yodoshi, the daemon who fed off souls, and trapped the forty thousand inhabitants of Higuchi whom died by her hand.

'What have I done?' Xena mused, understanding the full ramifications of the bind she'd placed on herself.

Notwithstanding, the crisis did not purely concern her, but in turn, would affect the lissome Amazon to a greater extent. Xena wouldn't just be dead, she would also be with Akemi. Could she divulge that to her bard? Although they were going through an argument, and harmful words got stated, she didn't have the heart to cause her lover any form of pain. Either way, Gabrielle would suffer, unless the Warrior Princess changed her choice, which wasn't likely.

The spirits of Higuchi weren't the only ones Yodoshi captured. There were others as well, along with Akemi, and altogether they were prevented from going to their reincarnations. Akemi's father absorbed all of Higuchi's deceased souls before adding sixty thousand more, bringing his total of undead warriors to a staggering one hundred thousand.

Though Harukata's forces almost numbered twenty-six thousand, it was inconceivable to think victory could be won by combat on the battlefield alone. Their best effort to destroy Yodoshi coincided with what the old Shogun apprised:

The Warrior Princess had to die.

Xena became fully aware of her surroundings when she heard a loud yelp. Looking down, she saw the auburn-haired teenager she'd knocked over.

"Gods!" Tanya yelled. "You're in such a rush. Where's the fire?"

Flames was the spark to all the troubles that now centered in Xena's world. She wasn't in the mood for Tanya's banter.

"We are ready to leave port. You should get to the galley."

"I was on my way there." Tanya assented, holding her appendage up. "Will you give me a hand?"

She reached, pulling the teen on her feet, and Tanya noted the dark warrior's demeanor was colder than usual, as Xena stalked to the stables. "Are you okay?"

"Get rowing, Tanya, and stay to your own affairs." The answer came without a backward glance.

The younger female heeded the stern announcement, and went to where she was told.

Xena walked into Argo II's stall, and the Palomino whinnied in excitement.

"Hey, girl, I'm back." She spoke, rubbing the cream-colored mane.

Its tone reminded her of Gabrielle's white gold hair during the seasons of summer and winter. She would never see it that full shade again, and a deep sorrow gripped her very soul.

"Argo." Xena choked on tears. "I have to do something... Something of momentous proportions that will free many spirits in bondage. I know what I must do, but I'm afraid once it's done, it cannot be undone."

Droplets poured from Xena's eyes.

"I have to do this, Argo. Your mother knew most of my brutal past. How much I had to repent for. I must yield to what I'm obligated to do, even if it means to never see you, or..." Xena's voice faltered with her resolve, and she collapsed on quaking knees, cerebrating, 'I was supposed to get married. Live out the remainder of my days with my soul mate, and now, this happens.'

Sadness withered into an incredible tantrum when Xena's thoughts turned dark, as Argo neighed wildly from seeing her mistress in such distress.

'I finally had a chance at happiness. Real happiness. I deserve peace, and to be happy. Gabrielle believes that, and I do, too. Haven't I atoned enough for one lifetime? Haven't I!' Her fist pounded the hay straws in the stall, and she blared at the numerous victims she'd accumulated throughout her life, "Fuck 'em! Fuck them all!"

Xena sobbed, repeating the personal mantra over and over, until her enraged pupils softened at espying the golden ring her lover had given her yesterday. She consciously read the engraved words.

'My Soul, My Life.'

The tall warrior let out another soulful dirge. She knew what needed to be done, no matter how strongly she didn't want to do it. Xena accepted Japa's desolation would hurt the person she truly gave her heart to.

'Gabrielle, my love, this is going to break you.' She wailed inwardly with the acknowledgement.

Argo II bent her head, and gently jogged Xena, trying to offer some sort of comfort. The tender nudging put the tired, somber woman into a fitful sleep, while she was questioning, even in her dreams; what was a Warrior Princess to do?

{X&G}

The trim blonde sat on the cot in her and Xena's cabin with a tear-streaked face that was pressed against bended kneecaps. Gabrielle felt like her heart was in tatters after hearing the Warrior Princess' declaration of Akemi's importance compared to her.

'That using witch Akemi! Stealing what's mine. Xena and I belong with each other!' She mentally fussed with faith.

Gabrielle was no longer certain if jealously pushed Xena to want Akemi, or if her fiancée always wanted the Japian manipulator from the beginning of finding out, in a sense, she still lived. The bard disliked herself for her earlier comments to Ares' Chosen. A jealous lover wasn't one of Gabrielle's good qualities, particularly when it came to her.

Xena was the sole person whom brought out the most excellent, and worse in the Amazon.

'It's her fault I am like this.' She groused.

Anger swelled within her, whilst thinking of all the times she had to play second fiddle to others whom attained Xena's attention. Once they'd made love for the first time, the Warrior Princess always found a way to relay to Gabrielle they weren't committed exclusively to each other.

Regardless of how greatly she hated it, Gabrielle played along with her new lover's game of pretending not to have a sexual liaison in the world's view. It was gut-wrenching to watch Xena leave her to make out with other men, then come back whenever the need, and desire for the bard's taut physique was too great to deny.

Each and every time, Gabrielle would give in when she'd sworn she wouldn't. A look from smouldering sapphire irises, and she knew what was coming, as soon as they were alone. She revelled in the sensations that was visited upon her body. The dark warrior's compassionate tongue, affectionate touches, and loving fingers, which glided inside of her, always tore a scream from Gabrielle's throat before an explosive orgasm induced her to moan or shout Xena's name.

Rarely, even if someone was travelling with them, mainly Joxer, Xena would still take her, teasing Gabrielle constantly about staying quiet, which was a huge challenge, and seldom the petite screamer would fail, causing her talented beloved to smother the outcries with thorough kisses.

Xena, on the other hand, remained silent during Gabrielle's ministrations, whether they were by themselves or with company.

For a while, the Amazon feared she couldn't please the experienced Warrior Princess, but Xena assured the bard she did satisfy her. Nonetheless, Gabrielle continued having doubts, 'til she had her tongue on the older female's slick vagina, drinking Xena's climax, as it free-flowed into her mouth.

Albeit once Xena had grown pregnant with Eve, she'd gotten highly vocal, and Gabrielle really couldn't get enough of her blue-eyed lover. But being hunted by gods, plus dealing with the Greater Good, their sex life was sporadic at best, and following Xena's delivery of her newborn, it became a dry spell.

The attention the mother showered on her baby made the warrior-bard envious; envy for all the love Xena could show her daughter in public, but none for her. Profoundly desperate for Xena's acceptance of their lives together, the Amazon Queen tried to settle with the Northern Steppes tribe.

However, Xena wouldn't have it, so she started to plan her and Eve's exit. Under the threat of Olympian Gods, the raven-haired beauty, who'd recently given childbirth, was willing to abandon Gabrielle when all she wanted to do was keep them; her family, safe.

In the end, Xena decided to stay, but the cropped blonde became cautious of her soul mate's altering stance on living with the Amazons. She'd relinquished her title to Cyane II who was covetous of the position. Nevertheless, Gabrielle didn't care, she wanted to be with her Champion. Afterwards, they'd dropped Eve off in Amphipolis with Cyrene, and went on a sea voyage to the Land of Pharaohs to aid Cleopatra.

'Like multiple times, I gave up my throne.' Prior to rage stirring within her, a final teardrop cascaded from Gabrielle's eyes. 'I'd bestowed Eve with my Right of Caste, and how was I rewarded by Xena? She breaks off all sexual contact with me before we get to Egypt, and whilst in Alexandria, I got a front row seat to watch her practically seduce Marc Antony in every way imaginable. A Roman, cut from the same tree as Caesar. The same people who betrayed her, and had us crucified!'

Grabbing her sais from the cot, Gabrielle threw them both at the wooden walls of the cabin with all her strength, impelling the twin weapons to impale it all the way through to the hilt.

'I have every god-given right to be jealous. She claims on periodic occasions she loves me move than anybody, then she's kissing another.' Gabrielle ruminated.

Drying the wetness from her cheeks, Gabrielle began cogitating on why would Xena bother asking for her hand in marriage if she wanted someone else on a whim?

Gabrielle released a sigh. "Knowing how fickle she can be, why did I agree? Am I that dependent on her?"

Wondering over her precarious relationship with Xena, the bard mistakenly surmised she felt a bit nauseated from crying, preceding realizing the ship was moving. She applied the pressure point to her wrist to stop the inevitable seasickness, and closed her eyes, remembering the ending results of when another warrior entered the duo's lives. A spiritual fighter who'd wanted to take her from past pains, and coaxed Gabrielle to become desirous of a different path away from her secret lover as well.


[Kneeling by the creek to rinse the last trace of the rabbit stew out of the pot, I can't cease thinking how variant Xena's mood has been since giving Najara to the Phoenician authorities. Our ride on Argo through the forest was devoid of conversation, and awkward. Even at dinner, Xena said nothing the entire duration of it, until she'd finished her plate, telling me she was gonna feed Argo some fruit, and brush her down.

That was a candlemark ago. Now here I am, all by myself, unable to eat every bit of the tasty food, at least I believe it is, I'd prepared because of ruminating if she's mad at me for leaving her to be with Najara. I had to, though.

If I didn't, Najara would have...

I can't picture my life without the Warrior Princess. My best friend. My Champion. I would do anything for her. I'll assist her by becoming a trickster, a saboteur...a betrayer. I pray Najara will forgive me for my latest ploy, but what of her divulgence to me? Did Xena really cast me off on her? I'd quickly dismissed the claim, and Xena's actions proved otherwise once she came for me.

I give up. Pondering on the subject is getting me nowhere when it comes to Xena's state of mind.

"After Xena gets back, I'll talk to her." I announce silently.

"'Bout what?"

Startled, I look up to descry Xena leaning on the tree closest to me. Gods, I hate that she is able to sneak up on me. There goes the subtlety I needed.

With the cookware clean for another day's use, I sit it down before rising. "Xena, are you mad at me? Did I upset you?"

"No, Gabrielle. I'm not upset nor angry with you. Come. Let's get ready to sleep." She answers.

Pushing off the tree's bole, Xena moves towards the campfire, but her reply does nothing to quell me.

Walking over to the campsite also, I pursue the issue further. "If you have any misgivings apropos to me leaving you in the inn, it was because-"

"You don't have to explain." Xena cuts my explanation short. "I know why."

"You do?" I ask, relieved.

"Yes. Can we sleep now."

It isn't a question, and Xena commences unequipping her bracers. Accustomed to our normal routine, I reach to aid her, but she backs away.

"I got it." She gives me a false smile. "Why don't you lay down."

Something is wrong.

I'm not allowing her to placate me anymore. "That is it, Xena. Clearly you are hiding your true feelings. Don't deny it."

"Deny what? There's nothing wrong." Xena avers, appearing faintly testy.

Taking the last of her armored accessories off, she lies on her bedroll that is separate from mine.

Fine, I will be blunt on other matters.

"Really? Everything is okay? So why did Najara avow you wanted me to stay with her?" I inquire more harshly than originally intended.

Xena sits up on her elbows. Confusion is written on her face, and from Xena's reaction, I want to retract what I'd unveiled. I shouldn't have played the fool to Najara's fabrications. No way she would give me up to anyone.

The sentence out of her mouth destroys that notion, "Like you weren't all on her when she spoke 'bout the Light."

What?

Sitting up fully, Xena goes on, "Oh, and as she proposed opening a hospice, with the speed of Hermes, she became the Crusader of your heart."

My head's reeling. I did like Najara. Maybe too much, but she couldn't ever take me from Xena.

"You've claimed you knew why I left with Najara." Bending down, I cup Xena's chin, staring at her beautiful face. "Do you, though? Do you truly know?"

Xena nonchalantly moves from my grasp. "You were infatuated with her, and she was instantly allured by you, too. Who am I to interfere? I told her it was for the best that you remain beside her, and help run the hospice."

"You were going to leave me?" My query is barely audible.

"It's what you wanted." She retorts.

"How dare you!" I shout, jumping to my feet. "You're wrong. I went with her 'cause she was going to kill you. Najara had her blade directly above you, and if I hadn't done anything, you would be dead now. That's the real reason you awoke alone. I did it for you, Xena."

"Is that when you became an initiate of the Light?" Xena questions with indignation.

My facial expression has probably given me away already, whereas how bad can a small lie be?

No.

I'm over deceptions. Dishonesty took the life of Solan, Xena's son, and caused us to splinter. I will be truthful.

"I requested to join, whilst you were gone to capture Marat."

"Hmm, well, I stand corrected. You can still see her, Gabrielle. Make sure you jot down the visiting schedule for inmates on your scrolls."

Xena's dispassionate deportment brings my belligerent attitude to the fore. "You listen to me, Xena, and you listen good. I did that mostly because of the hospice. You of all people comprehend how I feel regarding lives."

I have to fight back the cursed memory of a bloody dagger in my hand from killing Meridian inside Dahak's temple.

"As for Najara... Yes, I'll admit, I was fascinated by her. She is an amazing warrior. She'd saved my life, and appeared to have a reverence for it. She had a charm to her. It made me willing to confide certain fears, mainly your dark side, but it isn't merely enough to sever our connection. You've no concept of what you do to me when I think of you, or when I'm near you. I'll surrender my all for you." I confess, wiping the foolish tears away. "Nonetheless, you've made it clear you do not share the same sentiment."

The comment causes Xena to rise, wearing a look of disbelief, which is covered quickly with the stoical mask that conceals her emotions.

"You're right." I launch my rhetoric. "Who are you? Who's you to me, huh? Who are you, Xena? Obviously, you're the person who's capable of living without me, and I'm tired of it all; the pretending, the sneaking around with you. Most of all, I'm weary of not feeling loved, or being able to openly show it. At least Najara didn't hide her intentions. She wanted me, and I had relished it. You know, I should be with her... I will be with her."

I head aimlessly into the woods.

"Where are you going?" Xena's tone Is neutral.

"Wherever I want. You're not my keeper, or lover." Locking eyes, I declare, "Not anymore. I belong to Najara now. The woman you gave me to."

Her stoic facade falls completely, and Xena seems livid. "You are mine."

I have no interest in being someone's token, not even Xena's. Ignoring her, I keep walking into the unknown, till she spins me around, and shoves me, not too roughly, onto the trunk of a tree.

"Xena." I lightly try to push the stronger female off me.

"I'm not letting you go."

She already did. "Why?"

"We belong together. I know it and so do you." She states.

Xena's hand travels downwards, slowly guiding up my skirt to more skin. The heat at my center is set ablaze in an instant.

Darn it!

How does she do this to me?

"Xena... Either talk to me, or let me go with the words you've already spoken."

Both of her hands are on me; Xena's right begins caressing my thigh, while the left covers my chest.

"Xena-"

My mouth becomes occupied by Xena's, and reluctantly, I open it slightly to receive her tongue, relenting further, as our pink muscles tastes each other's. A sough slips from my throat, and I fear with that knowledge, Xena feels in control. Squeezing my breast through the green halter top, I can discern she is influenced by battle-lust. I've felt its wrath just once, and I won't ever forget it. She's seen so much activity today; from fighting slavers, to getting defeated by Najara, and besting her. I'm positive it's boiling her blood.

I am curious if she will take me hard again akin to last time, whilst she unlaces my top, exposing one of my breasts to the cool night's breeze.

Xena flicks the taut nipple with her thumb, causing me to increase my moans. The hand on my thigh traverses to its primary goal, stroking my damp undergarment. She breaks the kiss, and lick my neck. Nipping it with her teeth almost sends me to the edge.

"Gods." I groan.

"Who do you belong to?" Xena inquires.

I respond to her with whimpering grunts, stalling the inevitable surrender, while feeling my sex become saturated by her probing fingers.

"Who?" She purrs at my ear, sending shock waves through me.

She wants me to enunciate her name, but I will not accede to it... Although I want to terribly.

No!

I will not give in.

Striving to hold my composure, I plead, "Talk to me."

Staring into my irises, Xena concedes, "Alright. Whilst I am talking, do not move, and I don't want to hear a peep out of you, unless I command it. Understand?"

Ceasing my aroused movements, nodding is all I can do.

Refraining hers as well, Xena continues speaking, "You recall when I told you about my journey to the Northern Steppes, so I could get to the Amazon Land of the Dead to see you after I thought you'd died with Hope?"

"Yes." I confirm.

Xena evinced to me what happened with the remnant Northern Amazons whom were nearly broken due to the aftermath of her betrayal of Queen Cyane I and its council leaders. As they were hounded by an expelled Amazon Shamaness named Alti, my Warrior Princess had to deal with her grief for me, also defeat her whilom mentor, and Alti's conjured Berserker, all while enduring adventures in the sin trade for her past.

"Alti gave me a glimpse of our future. That's how I'd learnt you survived the fall into the lava pit. All of that I went through... Continue to go through, and you think I would exit your life because I don't love you?" A few strokes between my legs punctuates Xena's question.

"No." I moan. "I... I...assumed-"

A stifle groan ends my own tirade once Xena shifts the soaked fabric to the side for direct contact with my silky clitoris.

"You seem to have forgotten the rules." She sexually chastise me by using her elongated digits. "I heard you say no, so you don't need to gab away, because I haven't commanded you to affirm anything else. You are a talented bard, however, now is not the time for your wordplay. Okay?"

Giving another nod, I suppress any kind of sound, but I'm losing ground with my hips, as they languidly gyrate.

"Everything I do, or have done lately, is for a purpose. You should get that by now, but I guess I'll have to show you what you presume about me is false!" Xena exclaims.

Attacking my mouth with hers, Xena's thumb and forefinger pulls my pinkish nipple, making wetness flow from the apex of my thighs, thus trailing down my legs.

Halting our kisses, she whispers, "I love you more than anyone. Toris, my mother... Even Lyceus."

"Mmm. Oh, Xena." I submit to her words.

Xena haven't ever proclaimed something this heartfelt to me in our history with one another, and the confession causes me to swoon. I hope she means it, and it's not the battle-lust confounding her.

She clicks her tongue. "You can't follow directions."

Next, her head descends, taking my breast into her mouth. My hands shoot upwards to hold her in place, whilst she sucks and bite it gently. Xena has paid more erotic attention to my twin mounds since they have grown in size after giving birth to Hope.

Placing a firm grip on Xena coaxes a repercussion in the form of her biting harder on the sensitive, pale skin. The reverberation forces me to groan, and I'm sure there will be additional consequences to follow once my hips buck for my core to be ravished.

"Enough, Gabrielle. You think I will tolerate your defiance." Xena glares at me, and for the second time tonight, it isn't an inquiry.

Her two fingers emphasizes what she meant by thrusting into my drenched sex.

"Xena!" I cry out, following with whimpers of pleasure, as she lunges in and out of my canal.

My hips oscillate with the invited fingers, breaking Xena's rule of non-motion. Her repeated thrusts slams me onto the bark, and it hardly resonates within that, in comparison to what's occurring below the waist, my back is taking an equal beating. Our eyes haven't parted, while I continue to defy. I don't intend to, but Xena always drives me wild, especially with her plunging deeper and faster, bringing my climax to the surface.

"I'm sorry." I apologize, offering my hand to her in hopes she'll forgive me for all my offenses this day and night.

Xena grabs it, pulling it down to my waist so she can stroke me thoroughly.

Sluggishly, I slide my leg along the outside of her thigh, and Xena quizzes me again, "Who do you belong to?"

A final thrust from powerful fingers coerces my orgasm to peak, putting Xena's inquiries to rest from my very loud response, "You, Xena!"

My gorgeous lover smiles in satisfaction, feeling my hot liquid coat her palm. I convulse, and recognize the double fingertips that's withdrawing from my pulsating vagina, missing them dearly.

"Only you, Xena." It's a struggle to keep my pupils from shutting, and I am dizzy from the lingering aftereffects of coming, muttering, "Always you."

Xena lowers me to the forest's bed of grass, kissing me soundly.

"Don't forget it." She demands in advance of standing, and traipsing from me.

I close my eyes to the sounds of her sucking my cum off of gleaming digits, whilst leaving me in my reverie.]


Back at the camp, Xena filled Gabrielle in on Alti's vision that plagued her. The bard couldn't believe their deaths were destined to come true, and tried to dissuade her soul mate from believing it as well.

'But we did die. It was foolhardy to think we could run from our fate.' Gabrielle ratiocinated, once her mind came back to the present. 'Am I being a fool now?'

She gazed at the silver band on her index finger, scanning the engraving.

My Heart My Love.

The words, at the moment, felt hollow, and meaningless.

'I should take it off and destroy it. Xena will never be mine wholeheartedly, although at every turn, she's resolute to remind me I'm hers. She can be-'

The door to the cabin opened, hence interrupting Gabrielle's mental carping. Upon watching Xena step inside the room, she became incensed, and determined to discover the Warrior Princess' motives.

Xena's eyes were red from severe tears, as she looked at the equally flushed Amazon on the cot. "We need to talk, Gabrielle."

"Yes." She eagerly agreed. "Let's talk."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The Warrior Princess saw that Gabrielle had red-rimmed pupils, suspecting her own were probably the same color from crying and tiredness.

Gabrielle looked at Xena to see her appearance was fatigued also. 'She looks worn out, and her eyes are colored like rubies. Must be from exhaustion after staying up all night thinking about Akemi.'

Xena bent down beside the cot, grasping Gabrielle's hands in hers, and surprising the bard, whilst kissing them.

"Gabrielle, in all the world, the most blessed poet couldn't sing of my love for you. They wouldn't be able to, because the level of passion I have for you is beyond words. I adore you with every ounce of my being. We said some..." Xena paused, correcting herself. "I'd threatened you, but you know I would never cause you physical pain ever again. I would destroy myself before I'd harm you. You're my light. My source. My Angel."

She kissed Gabrielle's hands once more, then placed her face on them to cease the tears that were forming, and the anger inside Gabrielle subsided. She tried to pull her extremities free so she could caress Xena, but the tall warrior had a lock on them, and wasn't letting go.

"What is it, Xena?" Gabrielle asked warily. "Tell me what it is that has you this way."

"Do you love me?"

The Amazon couldn't fathom why her lover would ask such a question. "You know I do."

"Speak it, please." Xena pleaded. "I need to hear your beautiful voice declaring what I swore was meaningless in my life. Please, say it."

Gabrielle hadn't ever seen Xena act like this in all their years together. She was feeling a mix of vexation, and astonishment at Xena's display of emotions.

"I love you."

Xena released Gabrielle's hands, and gazed into her aqua irises. "One more time."

"I love you, Xena." Gabrielle stated.

She raised up to capture Gabrielle's rosy lips with a powerful kiss that signified the vehemence their relationship always incurred, coaxing the little Amazon into wanting Xena in the most profound form of intimacy possible. Shoving everything she discovered earlier, Gabrielle had begun sliding the straps to Xena's battledress off her shoulders, while their tongues persisted engaging in what lovers been doing since the Titan, Cronus, gave his name to time.

Xena halted the amatory moment. "No, Gabrielle."

"Why?" She inquired, sucking the dark warrior's neck, as she spoke, "Your need for me matches mine. We're forever connected, and I hate it when we aren't on the same path. Now shut up please. I want to link with you, so we can shake off this incertitude."

Xena rose onto her feet. "Not yet. Come sit with me. There's something I want to show you."

She tugged on the bard's arms, causing Gabrielle to reluctantly stand. Bringing her to the middle of the cabin where the Sacred katana lied, they both kneeled in front of it. The petite blonde couldn't stand what the Japian blade represented, preferring the damned sword never appeared in their lives.

"Give me your hands." Xena adjured.

Gabrielle did, descrying Xena elevating them beneath her jawline.

"Alright. Here. Feel the surge of blood under the skin. Now, just behind-"

"Xena." Gabrielle got the concept of what she was doing. "You don't have to do this. I understand why you would never teach me the pinch."

"No..." The Warrior Princess knew Gabrielle was referring to Akemi, but it didn't alter her stance. "No. Today more than ever... I want you to know what I know. Please."

That word, uncommonly utilized in the former warlord's vocabulary, was uttered again, and Gabrielle caved in to her lover's will. Concentrating on Xena's direction, and feeling the pulse on her neck, she felt when the pinch was applied.

"Why are you doing this?" She questioned sorrowfully.

"Gabrielle." Xena wheezed, feeling the pressure build in her brain. "If I only had thirty seconds to live... This is how I'd want to live them... Looking into your eyes..."

"Stop this..." Seeing the blood trickle from Xena's nose, Gabrielle couldn't take viewing the suffering of the main person she cherished. "Stop it!"

"Always remember, I love you." Xena declared.

They removed the pinch, and Gabrielle wiped the crimson liquid off of Xena's upper lip.

"Why would you teach me this now?" Gabrielle hoped it had nothing to do with Akemi, 'cause she was weary of her. "I don't comprehend!"

"There's nothing to understand..." Xena replied, getting her breath back in control. "I simply wanted you to know everything I do."

The raven-haired woman kissed Gabrielle's forehead, who wasn't singularly quizzical, but wary, too. "This has nothing to do with Akemi?"

Xena briefly teetered. "No... Come to bed with me."

She caught the hesitation in Xena's tone, and standing up, Gabrielle accused, "You're lying! I'm certain you are. What, you wanted to get a final good fuck in, before you leave me?"

"That is absurd. What are you talking..." Xena stopped her sentence.

Her natural, keen instincts kicked in, as she concisely surveyed the room. Gabrielle's sais were embedded in the wall, and Xena derived they'd gotten thrown from infuriation. Mistakenly thinking the blonde's eagerness to engage in discourse was for seeking consolation, because of Xena's intentions to hurt her at the meeting with the Samurais, she would had concluded today's affairs took its toll on the Amazon.

Nonetheless, with Gabrielle's accusation of her leaving, all the pieces started to fit together.

'She knows?' Xena feared.

"What were you gonna say, Xena?" Gabrielle's fury was unleashing. "Were you planning on some other conjured lie?"

"What did you hear?"

"Enough to learn I'm not important to you!" Gabrielle yelled. "You could've spoken to me. You didn't have to tell Harukata!"

Xena stood on her feet, hugging her supposed future wife. "You're correct, Gabrielle. I should've talked to you first, instead of making an impulsive decision without your acknowledgement. I shouldn't have told you to depart the conversation between Harukata and I to begin with... But now that the truth is unveiled, you do conceive why I have to do this, don't you?"

Gabrielle's heart froze. After everything that recently happened; Xena's loving confession, and her plea for the bard's love, was it purely a prelude to emptiness? Gabrielle shoved Xena away with great force, almost knocking her down.

"This is a game to you, isn't it?" Xena's puzzled expression fueled Gabrielle's agitation, making tears well up. "I'm foolish, aren't I? I heard your declaration of Akemi's importance over me. Still, I was willing and ready to give myself to you. I decided to eject all I've learnt out of my mind, and allow you to use my body. I'm a stupid fool."

"I've never said Akemi was more important than you!" Xena shouted, wondering how things became so construed.

Gabrielle cleared the droplets off of her eyes in irritation, and held back a sob.

"Stop, okay. Just stop with the lies. I overheard you. I remember your words well. You'd explained to Harukata that I was and will always be important to you, but the situation is bigger than me... 'Too extreme to ignore.'" Gabrielle looked at Xena with a mixture of sadness and animosity. "When Akemi calls, you avowed you'll go to her. Did I get it right? Do you recall those statements made by you, because I do."

If the circumstances wasn't dire, Xena would had laughed at Gabrielle's misunderstanding. "What else did you hear?"

"Does it matter! Isn't that enough!" Gabrielle retorted loudly.

And here it was; the two-sided dinar to Xena's question of whether she should tell Gabrielle about her upcoming death, or keep it a secret. On one side of the coin; she could disclose all the details concerning Higuchi, as well as Yodoshi, and how it coincides with her demise. However, being so close to their homeland, the bard would beg for Xena to not go through with it, and she'd relent her justified duty.

On the other side; Xena could play off the Amazon's ignorance, letting her remain thinking she wanted Akemi. It was wrong by moral standards, and it'd hurt Gabrielle, but it would shield the short-haired blonde from learning she would lose a part of her soul also.

All she had to do was get the Shogun, including his Samurais, to swear an oath not to inform her lover about the events that was to unfold, and the plot could work. If the Warrior Princess played her role really well, she could cause Gabrielle to despise her, and return to Greece where she'd be safe from the battle in Japa.

A jarring verdict was in; Xena chose to keep Gabrielle in the dark.

"Why are you going to Akemi?" Gabrielle queried, not liking Xena's silence, although it gave her time to ruminate. "Have I misinterpret what you were saying? Is she the key to ending Japa's misery, that's the reasoning for summoning you, and the purpose for you to go to her?"

Xena remained quiet, causing Gabrielle to grab both her shoulders.

"Say something!" She yelled emphatically. "Tell me it's not what I think it is! Affirm I'm more imperative than her, and that our love is greater than all of this!"

'Forgive me, Gabrielle.' Xena mentally beseeched her amazing beloved, therefore sheltering her true feelings, and letting her stoic facade grace her features.

"Tell me!" Gabrielle screamed.

"You didn't misjudge anything." Xena's cold response shook Gabrielle to her core. "I loved Akemi before you, and now I have the opportunity to be reunited with her again. I haven't stopped loving her, so I'm seizing this lucky chance."

"You're lying! You don't mean that!" The Amazon began to cry uncontrollably, whilst her fist pounded on Xena's chest. "You can't, Xena!"

"I do. Akemi's my real soul mate. I realize that now." Xena purported impassively. "You know, I can recall all of her poems, but have a difficult time remembering yours."

Gabrielle's knees buckled, making her fall to the floorboards, continuously crying, as her arms enclosed Xena's boot.

"No! No, you can't abandon me! You can't! We've been through so much for one another! I'm sorry for what I said to you! I was jealous and angry! Please!" Her voice became softer, and she peered upwards to hard, blue optics, "We're to be married, Xena. It breaks my heart to watch you love others, because you are the only person I want and adore. Look at the ring I gave you. The words are right there for you to see. I meant them. You are my soul. You're my life. I'm lost without you."

"Speaking of rings. You've paid a large sum for this silly thing." The apathetic sounding warrior professed.

"Silly?" Gabrielle felt like she was in a lurid nightmare.

"Yes, and you wasted almost all of our dinars on it. We had one hundred and fifty-seven, but when I'd searched the saddlebags, I found five measly coins. We're damn near broke if you ask me, Gabrielle."

The Amazon couldn't believe her ears. In Potidaea, a few days ago, she haggled the merchant into selling the ring, and engraving it for one hundred and fifty-two dinars, rather than the three hundred he originally intended on obtaining. Either way, it shouldn't matter how much the band cost. Xena never cared about the amount of money they had. Furthermore, it was symbolic for their love and future union.

Xena's deportment became extremely bizarre to her. "Why are you doing this to me? I find nothing you say to be credible any longer."

"That's because you don't want to accept what I am saying." Xena bended down, and cupped Gabrielle's face, going for a different tact to be believable. "I'll be honest with you, Gabrielle. I did have intentions to marry you, but your jealousy, and disregard for me when sharing what I be telling you anent to my past with others, grates on my nerves."

"And you don't have flaws, Xena?" Gabrielle countered. "I've mentioned the concernment I had 'bout the dream that left me uneasy. There wasn't any inquisitions from you to show you cared. What of my scrolls I pour my all into? You take no interest in reading any further than the few you've already read. Also, sometimes it seems you're not interested at all when I bespeak of how much I feel about us, but it doesn't change the veracity of the fact I'm in love with you, and you know it. Tell me you don't love me anymore."

Xena barred Gabrielle's pronouncement. "What point will that serve. I'm going to Akemi. That's the end of it."

"If you honestly aver you're no longer in love with me, I'll...let you go." Gabrielle fabricated.

Still clutching the Amazon's wet face, Xena's sapphire irises locked on hers, while she falsely elucidated, "I love you, Gabrielle. I've told you that, but I don't share the same affection for you anymore. Guess I should reveal I can revive Akemi, and be with the person I'm truly in love with."

Instantly, Gabrielle jerked her distraught mien from Xena's grasp, and slapped the Warrior Princess hard across hers, wanting to erase the expressionless mask she remained wearing. Xena was unfazed, so she hit her again.

"Liar!" She sobbed anew, then smacked her once more. "Liar!"

Gabrielle's hand was aiming to attack a fourth time, but she abstained from doing it, and began caressing Xena's stinging jaw.

"I'm insecure of you, but I know you couldn't ever leave me. I sense it in my soul you are lying to me. Your actions when you came in here was-"

"A ruse." Xena coldly interrupted. "I felt sorry for you, 'cause of what I had to apprise... And you were right; I was hoping to get you in bed one last time."

Gabrielle was seeing red, and went to strike again, but Xena quickly captured her wrist.

"I allowed you to hit me enough." She squeezed the tendons painfully, making Gabrielle hiss, prior to shoving the Amazon to the floor.

Rising to her full stature, Xena picked up the Sacred katana. Next, she hastily equipped her entire armor, and weapons, as Gabrielle laid where she was pushed, holding her aching wrist, which nowhere near compared to the ache in her heart.

Splashing water on her face, Xena was hardly able to keep up the performance. Inside, she'd bled for what she was doing, and wanted to remit. Notwithstanding, the dark warrior knew she had to finish the deception.

Glancing over her shoulder at the prone blonde, Xena didn't like the scene, demanding, "Get up, Gabrielle. You look pathetic lying there."

Gabrielle did not respond. She was completely confused by her now, ex-lover. The happiness she'd always desired was within her reach. She and Xena were bound for a settling couple that would, sooner or later, find peace in their lives.

So she thought.

'It was all a childish dream.' Gabrielle cogitated regrettably.

Xena turned back around, her voice becoming menacing, "Get up."

"Why?" Gabrielle terminated her quietness. "I should have known you were breaking off our bonding. I fretted 'bout it, but I should've known. Akemi won, and you will shortly have what you want, too. How am I hurting you...or causing you any discomfort by remaining here where you have put me. Please, simply go, and leave me be. You freed me from this tenuous relationship."

Xena let her own envy play a role. "Well, at least you're free to be with that blue armor wearing boy. What's his name? Zicalus, isn't it?"

Gabrielle gazed at her sadly. "I trusted you, Xena. You promised I could trust you wouldn't hurt me... You're heartless. Go be with your body slave whore. You're both manipulative people whom deserve each other."

Xena smirked. "Your mouth isn't my favorite aspect of you. It's never quiescent."

"You could've fooled me. You don't seem to have a problem when I'm using it on you." Gabrielle affirmed, feeling dispirited from the analogy. "This is all my fault. You did warn me when I first tried to give you my heart. You'd confessed you would use and hurt me. That's why I married Perdicus. He loved me, and possibly was my true love."

"Yeah, maybe." Xena hid her dismay, removing the gold circlet off of her index finger. "You'll be needing this for whenever you choose somebody for the proposition of marriage, 'cause it won't be me."

Watching Xena set the ring on the table, Gabrielle started wailing, as the realization that she and the love of her life was finished. She placed her head in the crook of her forearm, and cried. The sound of Gabrielle's lament was making the Warrior Princess come undone.

Albeit Xena didn't falter, figuring perhaps she could talk her into disembarking the ship now. "Gabrielle."

The bard did not answer, but her wails muffled a bit.

Xena walked to her, coaxing Gabrielle's attention. "You don't have to journey to Japa with me. I can have Harukata steer the ship back to port. You can stay in Greece."

Gabrielle was hyperventilating, whilst she explicated, "You... Really want...to be rid of me... I could... Never...never leave your...side, Xe-"

"Don't you get it!" Xena became adamant, because she was worried for Gabrielle's life. "I don't want you by my side."

"How can you...be so cruel...to me, Xena?" Gabrielle asked dejectedly between whimpering sniffles. "It's so easy...for... You to let me go... It always been that way... It's probably a skill...you acquired from...Ares. However... The God I give my faith to... Is full of love. I couldn't nor wouldn't...hate you or... Hurt you...deliberately. Not anymore. But right now, I can't stand the view of you... So, get out."

"This battle will be dangerous. You could die. I'm trying to save your life." Xena proclaimed, bending to touch Gabrielle's arms.

"Go!" Gabrielle deplored Xena touching her, preceding announcing quietly, "I renounce you."

The young woman's predication pained Xena, but she didn't dwell on it. In lieu of pulling the somber bard into her loving embrace, she yielded on trying to impel Gabrielle's return to their Greek homeland, and straightened herself upright.

Upon traversing to the cabin's entryway, and opening it to exit, Xena bade her farewell, "Good-bye, Gabrielle. I won't ever bother you from this point, to the end of my days."

After the door closed, and Xena was gone, Gabrielle failed to lift herself off of the floor. She chose to ball up into a fetal posture, allowing the tears to fall silently.

"I'm okay." She fibbed to herself, sniffling. "I'm okay."

{X&G}

Xena trekked languidly to Harukata's conference room. Her resolve was falling faster than a landslide for what she done to Gabrielle. Alas, there was one other thing that needed to be taken care of in order to seal the plan she'd put in motion. Getting to her destination, she knocked on the door, then entered without waiting for an invitation. The only couple of occupants were an unmasked Shogun, whom was sitting and speaking to Koska, who had his helmet off as well.

Harukata's scathing stare fell on her. "By all means, Xena. Come in."

Xena ignored his sarcasm, and Koska's glare. Proceeding to move forward, the erstwhile Destroyer of Nations halted her steps once she was standing in front of the old man.

"I need an oath from you, and all of your Samurais, that no one will divulge to Gabrielle my fate." Xena decreed.

"Gabrielle-San is staying also?" He questioned. "I'd deduced you would be feasibly requesting we head back to Greece."

"Swear!" She bellowed. "On your precious Bushido code!"

"Who do you think you're talking to in this manner!" Koska rebuked, reaching for his blade.

Xena already held the Sacred katana in her hand, and brought it inches away from his throat. "Unsheathe that weapon, Samurai, and your head will be rolling before you used it."

Koska slowly raised his hands in surrender.

"Xena." The Shogun aimed for appeasement to dissipate the current situation. "You have my word none of my warriors, including myself, will avouch to Gabrielle-San what is to happen in Japa, relevant to your death. Now, remove your katana from Koska's neck."

Bringing the sunfire armored man relief by sluggishly lowering the sword, Xena proffered her gratitude to Harukata, "Thank you."

"You're welcome." The Shogun acceded. "I do believe it'd be for the best if you told her the truth."

"Stick with what you know, and so will I." Xena repudiated. "Gabrielle is relentless when it comes to getting her way with me... Lately, I've been aiming to do more for her than before in our past. If she discovers I am to die, she'll coerce me into jumping overboard just to escape it. I'm positive all of Japa would be under Yodoshi's thumb in a matter of no time, whilst I am living happily ever after in Egypt. There's no way your forces can prevail without me."

"True." Harukata acknowledged. "What of your companion? We aren't too far from Scione. Surely you want me to return."

"She won't leave, and I will not force her." Xena uttered. "I'll work out something to ensure her protection. In the meantime, one of my ideas is to inspect your men."

The Shogun was askance. "For what purpose?"

"To see how good they are in combat when it comes to individual and team battles." She confirmed. "Also, to find out if they can follow commands."

"They handle themselves well." Harukata became, somewhat, bothered.

"Under your guidance. Not mine." Xena announced tersely.

"You want leadership over my Samurai warriors?" He inquired defensively.

"No." Xena assured him. "I need to know Gabrielle is in safe care. I must be able to weed out the weak from the strong, and set her with your prominent Samurais. She will place herself in harms way to save lives, and I don't want her throwing away her life for anyone worthless."

"No man on this ship is worthless." Koska argued. "You are a woman, Xena. No Samurai will listen to you."

"Even with reluctance, they'll obey their Shogun if he order them to follow my commandments." Xena opined.

Harukata frowned, contemplating what Xena wanted.

That made her become unwittingly abrasive. "I train them, and witness what they are capable of, or I walk."

"We don't require you training anybody." Koska reaffirmed. "We need you to die."

Xena's temper flared. "I'm not dying to solely leave my best friend to be slaughtered by Yodoshi's forces, you dumb bastard."

"Fool." The third-in-command Samurai retaliated. "You must die, so the innocent people you've killed can be liberated."

Xena gripped the katana tightly. She was sure slaying Koska would cause Harukata to be highly pissed, and nothing more. According to everything she'd been through recently, what else could befall her; she was already irrevocably doomed.

"That is it!" The Shogun exclaimed. "You are dismissed, Koska."

Starting to protest, Koska thought better of it. Hence, he bowed, and departed the cabin.

Placing his focus on Xena, Harukata evinced, "Although he has a right to not tolerate disrespect, I do not like Koska's attitude. Nevertheless, you are very insolent, and pushing my limits of toleration, too."

"I am a dead woman walking." Xena didn't back down. "I'll push as far as I want."

Harukata expelled a sigh. "I will assemble a quarter of my warriors. You can instruct the first two hundred tomorrow, and so on, until you've viewed all eight hundred. Since it isn't adequate space inside the armory, they will be on the bottom deck waiting for you at noon. Consider this the concluding favor you'll get from me."

"Very well." Xena expressed, adding, "One other thing. I need another room. The cot isn't comfortable for me and Gabrielle... It's a tad small."

The Shogun glanced at her disapprovingly, yet conceded, "Kenji will find a cabin of your own."

"That will be my last request, Harukata." The Warrior Princess' visage was smug. "For today."

To Be Continued...

 

Chapter Text

A figure softly laid the dozing Amazon onto the cot, rousing her from slumber.

"Xena?" Gabrielle groggily questioned.

"No." The voice clarified, "I am not Xena-Sama."

Gabrielle adjusted her eyes in the dim, candlelit cabin.

Noticing it was Kenji, she sat up immediately. "What are you doing in here?"

"Pardon my intrusion, I didn't mean to wake you, Gabrielle-San." Kenji bowed. "I enter all the occupied rooms, attending everyone's necessity of clean water early in the morning if needed. When I walked into yours, I'd nearly tripped over something lying in the middle of the floor. Therefore igniting the candle, and seeing it was you sleeping there, I'd picked you up to settle you on your cot."

"Thanks." Gabrielle smiled sadly.

Her disposition towards Xena was still damaging, and she dreaded the remaining voyage.

"Are you okay?" Kenji queried. "I haven't seen you since the meeting with the Shogun."

"I'll be fine." Gabrielle replied, praying it would be true, and hating herself for asking, "Have you seen Xena?"

"The Shogun granted her request for new quarters. Once I'd shown Xena-Sama to her cabin, she stayed inside." The monk elucidated. "That was the last I saw of her yesterday."

Gabrielle wasn't sure how much her heart could take. It was becoming increasingly clearer Xena wanted nothing to do with her.

'She didn't waste any time getting another cabin.' Gabrielle thought bitterly. 'Maybe I should have gone back to Greece.'

"But this morning when I brought her water, Xena-Sama practically threw me out of the room." Kenji's confounded mindset made him tactlessly say, "She's probably thinking heavily on being reunited with Akemi."

'God! Does everybody know Xena's going to Akemi?' Due to perturbation, Gabrielle turned on the monk. "If that is all, Kenji, you can go."

"Yes, I am finished." He acceded, nebulous of Gabrielle's emotions. "I can bring you breakfast, and if you prefer, a wooden tub to bathe. The water will be tepid if I rush, but it'll be suitable to get you cleansed."

"Hunger has left me. I have no appetite for food."

"I have to come back anyway to give you another candle for your lantern, because the one inside is almost liquefied completely." Kenji pointed out. "I'll bring food, and you can decide from there."

"I'm not hungry." Gabrielle protested.

However, the monk was out the door before hearing Gabrielle's response. She wasn't in the mood to chase him down to argue, and sustenance would aid building her strength. Gabrielle hadn't eaten since Xena cooked them both the fishes she'd caught an evening ago.

'After she made love to me.' Gabrielle ruminated.

The remembrance of their coitus was maddening to Gabrielle's consciousness. She wanted to scream her anguish. To bash something, or a particular someone, until her sorrows melted into nothingness. Instead, Gabrielle opted to stare at the candle's embers, as its dying flame clung to oxygen for life, just like her soul wanted to cling to its other half in Xena.

The bard's chagrin became unbearable when the light extinguished to distinguish the darkness.

{X&G}

Xena tossed and turned, unable to reclaim the fleeting sleep that was snatched from her because of Kenji's creeping.

'Damn monk.' Xena cursed. 'I'll get my own water from now on.'

Waking up to discover Kenji with a smile on his face, setting a vessel of fresh water on the table, caused Xena to replace his cheerful expression with trepidation, whilst she yelled at his hastily retreating form to never enter her lodging again. Now she lied awake, and found herself cogitating on the woman she'd tried to destroy.

The Warrior Princess stopped her motions, giving up on sleeping, and swore no more tears could be created after the million she had already shed, while thrashing on the cot, till a light slumber ceased her actions.

She'd quit trying to meditate whether the decision to hurt her soul mate was correct or not. She knew it was the right choice to make, but why did it pain her so terribly? How come Xena couldn't find infinite solace in the fact she was protecting the Amazon from knowledge that would definitely break her? If the sandal were on the other foot, and Gabrielle decided to keep such a secret from her, could the former warlord accept it?

Xena had her answer, as she wiped the tears away, and arose off of the cot to walk to the table.

'I am selfish, and manipulative.' She conceded, splashing her face with handfuls of water. 'I'd be devastated if Gabrielle hid anything of this magnitude from me.'

The ratiocination compelled her to feel worse, but the damage was done, and there was no turning back. Having recollection of all that happened with Gabrielle yesterday, Xena almost lost her balance when she'd recalled Gabrielle's final statement.

['I renounce you.']

Though it was spoken in a softened tone, its announcement generalized a finality that cut Xena's spirit thoroughly. The droplets burned behind her pupils, but Xena kept them from spilling, whilst more of Gabrielle's words resounded in her brain.

['Liar!']

['I should have known you were breaking off our bonding.']

['You promised I could trust you wouldn't hurt me.']

['You're heartless.']

Xena started shaking her head, unsuccessfully halting the memories of Gabrielle's sentences, and one pedication stood out strongly.

['This is all my fault. You did warn me when I first tried to give you my heart. You'd confessed you would use and hurt me. That's why I married Perdicus. He loved me, and possibly was my true love.']

Xena gripped the table's edges hard, remembering the night she fabricated to Gabrielle about her affections. The night before Perdicus snuck into their campsite to claim the petite teen.

The night when a girl just wanted to have fun.


["Can I have the last portion?" Gabrielle asks me.

"You cooked it, so it's only fair you have it." I respond.

"But you did catch it, Xena." She grins.

"Do you want me to eat it, then?" I smirk.

Her grin disappears, and gets replaced with a mock pout. I roll my eyes, grabbing her bowl to fill it with the remaining venison stew. I taste a spoonful, before handing the dish back once Gabrielle's sullen countenance becomes overly exaggerated.

"Just teasing." I'm laughing. "I'd be crazy to devour all of it, and suffer your wrath."

"Darn straight." Gabrielle playfully glares. "You know I need my nourishment."

I chuckle, and watch her eat. She appears so happy, and content, as if our lives didn't almost end or change when we fought against Bacchus. I note my analysis of her body have shifted. I'm no longer studying the transformation the same way I used to. Gabrielle's firm abdomen, and the muscles on her arms, that were once covered in baby fat, have grown on me in different ways. Fascination changed into awe, and now, it's desire.

It isn't solely Gabrielle's well-defined physique, but her personality which brightens anybody's day also. No wonder every village boy is smitten by the young, pretty teenager's qualities. Her laugh...a melodious voice. That smile she's giving me right this moment.

Shit!

I divert my eyes from hers, hoping she haven't noticed me basically gawking at her. I rise up to retrieve my whetstone and sword. Next, I sit adjacent to the fire, a little distance away from her. Commencing my nightly ritual, Gabrielle scoots nearer to me.

"Hey." She starts. "I really like my food, but I love sharing with you."

She scoop some stew in the spoon, bringing it to my lips. Becoming hesitant whether to let Gabrielle cater me, or decline the offer, I decide to indulge her, opening my mouth.

Swallowing the delectable combination of seasoned meat and its tainted liquid, I make a comment, "So, this is what you wanted to do for me... You don't have to, Gabrielle. With Joxer gone, that's good enough."

Scooping more, Gabrielle feed me again, and I oblige, likewise. "No, Xena. Neither getting rid of Joxer, or feeding you, is part of what I have planned for you."

"What are you conspiring?" I query.

"You'll have to wait and see." Gabrielle teases, putting the utensil in her mouth, and pulling it out slowly, seductively.

Bacchus' effects must still be affecting me from being a bacchae, because there's no way she's implying what I think she is.

"Gabrielle, I-"

"I'll be right back." She interrupts. "You finish sharpening your sword. I'm gonna wash the pot, and our dishes."

Gabrielle has risen on her muscular legs, collecting our dishware, and, before heading for the creek, she takes her saddlebag, too. I begin using the abrasive tool once more, pondering what plans my bard is formulating.

My bard? Where did that come from?

Gabrielle isn't 'my bard'. She is my best friend. Closer to me than family, excelling beyond a sister. She's...

Incredible! Plus she is coaxing my libido to rise. How could I forget including her legs in my scrutiny. Those limbs she's built strong muscles in by walking on them. I can only imagine how thick her thighs would be wrapped around my head, while I...

"What am I doing?"

I put my whetstone and blade down. Standing on my feet, I pace back and forth, scolding myself. I cannot have her. I'm under the influence of what occurred earlier. It'll pass, and everything will return to normal.

Arms encircle my waist, momentarily startling me, until I recognize the scent of Gabrielle's strawberry-blonde hair.

"Did you miss me?" She inquires from behind me.

"You wasn't gone long." I reply.

I start to twirl in her embrace, but Gabrielle seem reluctant to move.

"Don't look at me yet... Allow me to hold you, and say what's on my chest, whilst I got the nerves." Gabrielle beseeches.

The tempo of my heart accelerates, and I have an idea why. Nonetheless, I fear it.

She breathes in deeply. "Xena, Warrior Princess... You're always there for me, saving my life countless times, and I never showed you how appreciative I am. I do thank you, but I don't think it truly bestows the gratitude you deserve."

I feel her small frame quivering, and it makes me nervous.

"You are my dearest friend, Gabrielle." I want her away from me, so I won't do anything stupid. "I'll be there whenever you need me."

"I know you will..." Momentarily, she timidly questions, "Xena, am I simply a friend?"

"You're closer than family." I reiterate what I've told myself recently.

"I'm in the sister zone?"

I feel Gabrielle's arms loosen, somewhat, creating a dichotomy to crave her warmth and escape it.

"You exceed that as well." I give her an honest avowal.

"I'm greater than a friend and family, Xena?" Her grip tightens. "What am I, then?"

I regret being truthful now. With her embracing me, I can't fathom what to tell her. I love you like no other? Too cheesy. You irritate me sometimes, but I'll slit my wrists if you left me? That's overly dramatic. I adore you as my friend, nevertheless, I want you naked in our bedroll, writhing underneath me? Spot on! Whereas all of these affirmations suffice for how I feel, it doesn't answer her inquiry.

What is she to me?

"I'll tell you what you were to me, and what you are now." Gabrielle professes.

"Go on." I assent, grateful to gather my thoughts together.

"You were my savior, and I'd hero-worshipped you. You're the most gorgeous, courageous warrior I've laid eyes on, and I wanted to be exactly like you. Then, you became my best friend, and the hero-worship fell away. You were placed on a pedestal in comparison to the gods themselves, but when we grew a bond, it allowed me to learn who you are beneath your stoic persona, and the altar lowered... To my discernment...you became human to me. By becoming mortal to my mind, I took in account of how real, and astonishing your feats truly are. You're flawed, moreover, extraordinary at the same time. I began to love you, and at first it was compared to sisterhood. As it grew, I realized I do not love you similar to the way I love Lila, my blood sister." Gabrielle draws in a breath, releasing it. "I'm attracted to you, Xena. You captivate me on an intimate level, and... I want to give myself to you."

It's difficult for me to get air into my lungs after Gabrielle's confession. She wants me to be her lover? Is she serious? She can't be... Gabrielle must be suffering from the remnant effects of Bacchus, too!

"Face me, Xena." Gabrielle whispers, letting go of me, and taking a few steps backwards.

I do what she requests, and is graced with a sexy sight. Gabrielle's green top, including her brown skirt, and boots are gone. She's proudly erect in front of me, barefoot, and adorned in a pure white shift, which I haven't ever seen. I could barely breathe before, now here she is breathtaking, leaving me breathless.

"I wanted to wear this to bed when...I lose my maidenhood... Do you see where I am going with this, Xena?" Gabrielle prompts.

My intelligence reach a crossroad. One trail leads me to throwing Gabrielle down, and losing myself in the enjoyment of sexual conquest. The second trail led to a pathway of disappointment, knowing I couldn't do this to her.

I have to restrain my lust, and deny my bard's gift. "Gabrielle, I totally acknowledge your meaning, and I'm highly tempted, but I can't be the person to make love to you."

Her pout is genuine this time. "I don't understand. You don't find me attractive?"

"Gabrielle, any person would be insane not to think you're attractive." I affirm.

"I'm not talking 'bout other people. My concern is you." Gabrielle asserts.

She is backing me into a corner. "You are a beautiful woman, but I believe you're jumping ahead of yourself."

Gabrielle looks puzzled. "What do that mean?"

"Can't you see we are suffering from Bacchus' power. He had the ability to cause extreme sexual propensity. Surely you felt it, while we were bacchae?" I prompt.

"I know Bacchus was the god of wine and sexual frenzy." Gabrielle proclaims, moving towards me. "I also felt his effects, along with you, but it was more than that, wasn't it?"

Gabrielle's movements become bolder, and she encloses her arms around my neck.

"Shut your eyes, Xena."

With her being near me, it's hard to do what she implores, albeit I begin shutting my irises.

"Remember the sensation when I sank my fangs into your skin. I don't have to ask if you were turned on sexually, 'cause we already know the answer. The real question is, out of everyone in Bacchus' cave, including the god whom granted us the potency of licentiousness, who did you want to make love to?"

Recalling every detail, truthfulness fly from my mouth, "You."

"Once I tasted your blood, you overpowered Bacchus' control. You were all I concentrated on, as your lifeblood coursed through me. That's how you killed Bacchus with me at your side. I wanted him dead, because I feared he was an obstacle preventing us from being carnal of each other... From loving one another." Gabrielle expounds.

I involuntarily shiver from the memory of her biting into my neck. It wasn't solely a lustful craving, but passion also, whilst eroticism's urge had surged within me for one person.

Gabrielle.

My eyes remained closed when a wet tongue traced the exact locale Gabrielle bit me.

"I can make it a hundred times better than when we were bacchae." She purrs. "I admit I'm inexperienced, but with you coaching me during our lovemaking, we'll both soar in ecstasy."

Her teeth grazes my skin, marking me the way she did in the cave; symbolizing me as hers. My eyes shoot open, and I grasp Gabrielle's shoulders, hindering her from continuing the erotic task on my neck.

"What is it, Xena?" She espy me with agitation. "You don't desire me now?"

"I would love to be swept away in this rapture you got going on." I utter. "If this was purely fucking, I'd be all for it, but you're offering me something precious. You'll never be able to get it back, and I'm not letting you make this mistake so callously because of what happened with Bacchus."

"Let me make this mistake?" I've made her mad. "This is my decision. You assume because I'm choosing to be with you romantically, it's based on callosity? I do not want to do that F-word you used... I want to make love, Xena. Don't dare purport you only want to sleep with me, and that's all."

"Sounds like you are bestowing your heart to me, Gabrielle. You aren't yourself at the moment. You're confusing lust for love."

Gabrielle backtrack out of my personal proximity, explaining, "This has nothing to do with Bacchus. I know what I feel. I felt lust and love on multiple occasions. Sex entered my cognition that time when I slept beside Phyleus, after I'd read the enchantment and freed the Titans. He was almost my first."

Thank the gods he wasn't.

"When you and Hercules saved Prometheus, I kissed Iolaus, prior to us parting ways with them." Gabrielle divulges.

She kissed Iolaus? He kissed her! I'm not sure how I feel about that.

"I probably would've married Talus if his fate wasn't connected to Celesta like death in chains." She avers gloomily.

"That sickly boy?" I query.

"His name is Talus." Gabrielle rebukes me. "Respect the dead, Xena."

My stupid mouth.

Gets me in trouble when I speak too much without thinking. "Forgive me, Gabrielle. His name is Talus, and he was brave... Are you finished, 'cause I'm really not interested in hearing of guys you could have-"

"Perdicus blindsided me." Gabrielle interjects, ignoring me. "I kissed him, while we were in Troy. Then, I lost him when the Trojans got duped by Greece's false surrender, losing their livelihoods and lives."

The Trojan Horse that finally yielded victory to Greece. Beware Greeks bearing gifts, indeed. Wait a moment... She kissed Perdicus? I start listening to her intently, as anger brew inside me.

"I would have returned to Potidaea by his side if he hadn't chosen to travel to another city alongside Helen. Oh yea, whilst we were hanging with Petracles, a fistful of dinars couldn't keep me from being infatuated. Kissing him was nice, but once it was over, I'd begun feeling guilty for doing it, because he was your ex-fiancé."

Petracles, too? Should've known! My blood boils over at the disclosure. Gabrielle's lips has been on Iolaus, and Petracles'. She'd not solely kissed Perdicus, but was willing to leave me for him, had he not decided to live a soldier's life. What am I? Her last option?

"Hmm, I wasn't aware you got 'round like that, Gabrielle."

"I haven't slept with any of them. Not the way you..." Gabrielle abruptly stop speaking.

"What?" I become intrigued. "The way I had sex with others?"

"Never mind, Xena." She murmurs. "This is going in a direction I was not striving for. I simply wanted to express to you I'm fully intuned concerning my choice to be with you in a sexual fashion."

"Perhaps you are right." I state, cajoling a triumphant smile to form on her face, but I'm eager to remove it. "We're going in a direction we do not seek. Let's turn in for tonight to shake off the remaining traces of being a bacchae, and get our emotions in order."

"Stop it, Xena!" Gabrielle shouts. "The events of today has heighten my attraction to you. I can discern the difference between Bacchus' magic of lasciviousness, and love. I'm knowledgable of which is which. I would have stayed with David, but he had a fiancée."

"David?" I am baffled again. "The Israelite?"

"Yes." Gabrielle concurs. "Being in his presence was amazing, and it aroused me to view how passionate he was about his Psalms. The second I started to kiss him, a girl walked in. She was named Sarah, and David introduced her to me as his betrothed, making me feel foolish. That's when I excused myself to find you."

"The night it was thundering?" I quiz.

She nods her head, and I'm crushed. Gabrielle had intentions on being with some boy, while I was veritably disturbed by Goliath's decision which ultimately routed to his death; killed by the same person whom Gabrielle craved. With my aid, he'd become David, the Giant Killer. I'm profoundly disconcerted that she came to me, 'cause she couldn't have him.

I am her last option.

"I'd premised you found me on your own accord to give me comfort."

"I brought you amenity, Xena."

"Yeah, after you couldn't place your mouth on David." I want to hurt her. "I think your preference is singularly for the male gender. I've heard everything you've disclosed, and not once was a female mentioned."

Gabrielle's visage displays shock. "I fell for men mostly because you're the only woman I like in that way."

"Well, I don't have time for being a test trial for you."

"Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle's despondency mirrors my internal dejection. "I'm giving you my heart, and you're rejecting it?"

"It seems you give your heart to anybody." I retort.

Her astounded expression alters to grief. "I'm an easy harlot? Is that what I am to you?"

"No. You are very dear to me, Gabrielle. That is all." I forcefully apprise her. "You probably aren't under any outside clout for prurience, however, I am. If you aspire to grant me your heart, with your body, I'll just use you, and hurt you later. Forget about today, and this night. You'll find your true mate in the future whom will sweep you off your feet. They'll be far deserving of your maidenhead when they've made an honorable wife out of you, and you'll be-"

"Save the crap!" Gabrielle's pupils are agleam with tears.

Gabrielle separates our bedrolls, preceding taking the undergarment off, revealing she had nothing on underneath it.

"You are correct!" Laying down under the furs, her tirade explodes, "Someone will come, and take me from you, Xena! We'll get married, and make euphoric love in our marital bed! All the whilst, you'll think back on this night, thus regretting it!"

Silence descends in our campsite, and as I imagine Gabrielle's dainty, nude body that's lying in her bedroll, I mumble, "I regret it already."]


'She did get that 'someone'.' Xena mused ruefully. 'The following night, Perdicus would come steal Gabrielle's heart.'

The Warrior Princess knocked the basin, containing water, off of the table in irritation of her past moronic judgment. Xena's constant obtuseness allowed Gabrielle to lose her virginity to Perdicus then, and her zeal shattered their relationship now.

Xena rubbed her eyes, vowing not to cry again, converting her sadness into superior determination. She decided on going to the armory to prepare herself mentally and physically for the noon's inspection. Once her workout was done, she would find out what the Samurais could do.

And Xena began looking forward to it.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Kenji made good on his word to bring a new candle for the lantern, food to eat, and a tub to wash in. She devoured a little of the breakfast, but recollections of making love to Xena in the stream yesterday, and knowing it would be their final time, impelled her to have strenuous moments washing up. When she was finished, fully dressed, and equipped with her sais, the petite Amazon couldn't abide staying inside the cabin she'd once shared with her ex-fiancée. Now, Gabrielle stood on the upper deck, breathing in the midday's breeze, pondering why over one hundred Samurais were converging on the main platform below.

'What is this all about?' Gabrielle mentally queried.

"Gabrielle-San!" Zicalus shouted, walking up the side steps to join her.

"Hey, Zicalus." She greeted him.

The Samurai wore his blue armor, carrying the helmet under his left arm. He was also adorned with weapons and held a platter in his right hand.

"Kenji said I would find you here." He professed. "You ran down the tier yesterday without saying anything. I was going to stop by your lodging, but I'd surmised you didn't want to be bothered. So, I saved you some of the nut bread."

Zicalus set his headgear, and the oval dish on the wide, wooden railing.

Gabrielle looked at the handsome man move the dark fringe of hair from his light-green irises. "I'm flattered you thought of me. Thank you...but I'm not hungry."

"It's nut bread, Gabrielle-San." Zicalus bit into a slice, and chewed. "You've claimed yourself that it's your favorite."

"It is." She replied. "Either way, I won't be able to taste it. I've already used the pressure point for my seasickness."

Zicalus didn't concede. "Your tongue may be numb, nonetheless, your tummy will enjoy it. Kenji told me you hadn't eaten much this morning."

The bard chuckled sadly. "What a tattletale. You know, I wasn't too fond of having anybody enter my cabin while I slept, but Kenji's politeness makes me okay with it."

"He cares for everyone and your health. As do I, Gabrielle-San. Come on, and eat a bit of this with me." Zicalus persisted.

With hesitancy, Gabrielle picked up a piece and ate it, then grabbed another, asking, "What's going on down there?"

"An inspection...for training, I think." Zicalus theorized.

They'd consumed the sweet dessert in silence, whilst gazing at Xena and the red-armored Harukata walk onto the bottom deck, which caused Gabrielle major discomfort from seeing her former lover.

The raven-haired overseer was in top form, and couldn't wait to get started. After her drilling session inside the spacious armory, Xena's mind was focused on the task at hand.

"Samurai warriors!" The Shogun addressed his two hundred men. "A great battle awaits us all in Japa! Our combat skills must surpass the numerous unworldly fighters of Yodoshi's! Xena, the Warrior Princess, will be instructing you today!"

"This woman?" A man called out.

"She isn't a Samurai!" Somebody else chimed in.

"What can a female teach us?"

Xena turned her back to the protesting men and blandly tugged Harukata in front of her.

"Tell them, and make 'em understand I will be their instructor." She demanded.

The Shogun wasn't fond of being told what to do by anyone other than his goddess, albeit what choice did he have? If Harukata didn't do what Xena requested anent to his Samurais, she threatened to repeal her aid, and he couldn't risk that.

Harukata inclined his head, and trod passed her to pontificate directly to them, "Xena is a woman, and she isn't a Samurai! Nevertheless, she's plausibly the finest combatant any of you will ever face! She will teach you all a lot!"

"She's the reason we're in this predicament!"

"It's her fault, to begin with!"

Disturbed by the truthful comments, Xena shut her eyes. She was the cause of the quagmire that plagued Japa and was compliant to be reminded every day, whether by her own accord, or others.

Now she had to lay down her life for it.

Observing the scene, Zicalus speculated, "Xena-Sama looks to be either their sensei or their contender. Possibly the latter, though. A woman has never trained a Samurai before."

"Why's that?" Gabrielle inquired, taking her eyes from Xena to descry Zicalus. "I've been apprised in Japa's culture, women are inferior to men. Is it true?"

"It's forbidden for them. They can defend their father and husband's homes, but they cannot become one of us."

"That's unfair." Gabrielle grew unsettled by the assertion. "Do you share those beliefs as well?"

Zicalus snatched the last portion of nut bread from the platter. "No, I believe women should be catered to and treated equally to their counterparts."

He brought his hand to Gabrielle's mouth to serve the baked snack, and she opened it, receiving the delicious bread which was tasteless. Zicalus liked how Gabrielle was accepting the dessert, while the cropped blonde wondered why she was letting him feed her. It remained true that the Amazon Queen felt hurt for what transpired between her and Xena. Taking comfort from Zicalus' attentiveness, she hadn't noticed her soul mate opening cerulean irises to espy them.

Xena was unprepared for the sight that graced her. Atop the upper deck, Gabrielle was partaking in eating from Zicalus' hand. Envious fury invaded her, as she looked upon Gabrielle's shy, smiling countenance.

The chunk of nut bread was perched on Gabrielle's insensate tongue once her eyes connected with Xena's. Withdrawing from Zicalus with haste, she accidentally closed her teeth on his fingers. To Xena's vision, it appeared like Gabrielle sucked Zicalus' digits.

"Whoa!" Zicalus exclaimed. "I'm sure you can't taste anything, Gabrielle-San. 'Cause you nearly chomped my fingers off."

"Forgive me." Gabrielle apologized.

That was all she could mumble, as her gaze locked with Xena's, until the tall woman broke it by whirling around.

"(You will obey her commands, and that's an order)!" The Shogun enjoined in their vernacular.

The two hundred men grumbled amongst themselves when an incensed Xena spoke, "I'm here to not only succor you all in liberating Japa of Yodoshi, but to cull out the best from the worse, too!"

"Who are you to decide?" A Samurai questioned irately.

'We'll do it the hard way, then.' Xena was going to enjoy herself, unsheathing her sword. "Step forward and discover for yourself."

As the querying Japian male unsheathed his katana, Harukata stalked farther away from the forthcoming action, concurring that examples had to be made.

"(Didn't think you would show)." He stated once Koska settled beside him.

"(I wasn't, but I knew you'd be here, and I wanted to apologize for my conduct yesterday)."

"(You're forgiven)." The Shogun responded. "(Is that all, or did curiosity bring you also)?"

Koska smiled at Harukata's knowing inquisitiveness, whilst Xena twirled her blade twice, and engaged the Samurai, making short work of him by sweeping his feet.

Without warning, another warrior entered the fray, swinging his katana towards Xena's neck, but she obstructed it, and swirled their joined blades, causing him to lose his grip. Unarmed and defenseless, Xena did a jump kick, knocking him down as well. Next, a third opponent stepped to the challenge.

"Xena-Sama is amazing." The blue-armored Zicalus peered over the top deck's railing, watching the Warrior Princess use a roundhouse kick to his fellow companion's temple. "I'm surprised he didn't fall from that attack."

Seeing Xena smack the sheepish man on his rear with the flat side of her sword, Gabrielle determined what she was doing. "She's toying with them."

"What? You're saying this isn't her limit?"

The lithe blonde shook her head. "No, it is not."

Thereby launching the Samurai in midair from a left hook punch, Xena wanted to have more fun.

'If this is all they can offer in battle, they're in trouble.' She descried the remaining Samurais, noting most of them were eager to fight her, coaxing a grin to form. "Is this it! The greatest Samurai warriors in the entirety of Shinto can't defeat a woman? I bet you all couldn't take me down together!"

With the challenging announcement spoken, every standing warrior tried to assail her at once.

"(What is she doing)?" Koska grew concerned. "(This is not training. It's a free-for-all)."

The Shogun stayed quiet throughout his men's trouncing.

Zicalus was getting excited, curious if he would do better than the Samurais on the lower platform. He was part of the Shogun's elite, so of course, his potential outweighed theirs.

But could he defeat Xena?

"You think I'd do well against Xena-Sama?"

Gabrielle hadn't heard Zicalus' question. She was dismayed by Xena's presence on the main deck, manhandling her challengers.

'What to make of the look that passed between us after Zicalus fed me? Was it disbelief? Envy? Jealousy? Is she blowing off steam by beating these guys up? Ugh! What right does Xena have to display any emotions for what I'm doing with him!' Gabrielle ruminated. 'She broke up with me. I'll do as I please.'

Eyeing the beautiful features of Zicalus, the short-haired bard wasn't attracted to him, although Xena accused her of it.

Finally, Gabrielle realized his lips were moving. "What was that?"

"You think I would do well against Xena-Sama?"

"I wouldn't try it," Gabrielle answered in a concise manner. "She'll probably injure you for spite of what we've done."

Zicalus became dumbfounded. "What did we do to cause her to be spiteful?"

"You fed..." Gabrielle halted her reply.

She was positive no one abroad the humongous warship had knowledge of her intimate relationship with Xena. Just like nobody was aware of its end.

"It's nothing, but Xena can be jealous of me sometimes." She conveyed, choosing to alter the subject. "You, the Shogun, and the other two men, who'd traveled with us, wear splendid armor unlike the rest of the Samurais I've beheld thus far. Are you of a higher rank?"

"We are." Zicalus pronounced proudly. "Myself, Morimoto, Koska, and my mentor are elite Samurais. I've been tutored by Moku since I came into his care."

"Really?" Gabrielle was intrigued. "Tell me more about your upbringing, if you don't mind sharing."

Zicalus became inflamed to talk of his life with the lovely bard. "My mother is Greek, and thirst for adventure. She left Greece, finding her way to Japa, and the Land of the Rising Sun yielded a special union. For it was there she'd met a Samurai warrior from Shinto. They fell in love, and I was conceived from their joining. My father loved her and me. We...we were happy."

'It's obvious Xena and I could never attain happiness, but would I've achieved marital bliss had my husband stayed alive? Would I have given him children, and lived happily?' Gabrielle's thoughts on her marriage to Perdicus ended, while she viewed Zicalus' visage.

His expression turned gloomy. "A skirmish erupted when I was ten... My father was sent to resolve it. The situation got solved, but my otõsan didn't survive. He was killed during the conflict, and my mother wasn't the same afterward."

"Otõsan means father in your native language..." Gabrielle placed her palm on his forearm, relating to losing a parent. "I'm sorry for your lost."

"It was a long time ago." He verbalized. "My mother understood that my father was doing his duty. She just couldn't understand why he had to die, and decided to return to her homeland. However, I wanted to stay."

"That had to be rough on you and her." Gabrielle inferred.

"Don't get me wrong, I love her, but I'd learned the art of Bushido, and craved to become virtuous, abiding by its principals. I begged and pleaded, yet she was reluctant to let me remain in Japa. To appease her, it took Moku's pledge to personally take me under his guardianship. She'd assented to the idea, mostly, because he was my father's closest friend, and she acknowledged my will to become a Samurai. Moku trained me excellently, and I haven't seen my mother since."

"Do you miss her?" Gabrielle urged.

"Everyday," Zicalus admitted. "Still, I wouldn't change my decision to stay in Japa for anything. Moku was content with me as his pupil. It wasn't 'til recently I was elevated to an elite Samurai. It's shameful that my advancement coincided with Moku's mutilation by the daemon."

"It was him?" Gabrielle gasped from the realization, removing her hand off of Zicalus. "The weapon master... Moku was the sole survivor."

"That's why he has those hideous scars on his face." Zicalus expressed. "They're not only there, either. The fiend made incisions all over his body."

"Yodoshi is a cruel monster. Hopefully, his end is near."

"I'm sure it is, Gabrielle-San. Xena-Sama's gonna repair everything. Although, it's a terrible price she'll have to pay." Zicalus implied.

'I don't want to hear anything concerning Xena... Wait a moment.' Gabrielle's interest rose. "What did you say?"

The Shogun made every Samurai swear on their honor not to inform Gabrielle of Xena's fate, and Zicalus became conscious of his error.

"The fact all of this is occurring is terrible." Zicalus speedily rectified. "Having you and Xena-Sama technically forced to help in Japa's affairs, must be a big price to pay, I suppose."

"But you solely mentioned Xena, not me." She pressed.

"A slip of my mind." Zicalus lied and quickly diverted the topic with an inquiry he'd kept since yesterday. "Are you married, Gabrielle-San?"

Gabrielle touched the silver band on her index finger; the ring Xena presented to her in Thebes. She caressed the engravings of primary words that were a foretelling of lies. Yet, why hadn't she removed it? Whilst she bathed earlier, the bard was rent with cogitations of taking it off or keeping it on until she'd discarded the circlet item out her head altogether.

"I was married... Once." Gabrielle avowed softly. "He died after our wedding night."

"Oh... My condolences." Zicalus wasn't ready for such an answer. "Pardon me for bringing it up."

"It's alright, Zicalus. It was a long time ago for me, too."

Xena's famous war cry sounded in the air, causing Zicalus to glance at the horrendous thrashing of the Samurais, and he chose to test his skills. It would give him a chance to reorganize a plan on how to approach Gabrielle for courtship also.

"I'm gonna go down there."

Gabrielle let loose a sigh. "Okay, but I did warn ya."

Zicalus gave her a heartwarming smile, prior to grabbing his helmet. Putting it on, he descended the stairs to his amazing opposition.

Xena lost count of the many Samurais she'd felled. She was in battle-mode, as her reflexes relayed the process of dodge, parry, counter, attack while refraining from maiming and wounding any of the men. Ares' Chosen became cognizant of the final man and got inside his personal space to smash him on the forehead with the hilt of her sword.

Then, there were none.

Koska was in stunned awe of how easy it seemed for the Warrior Princess to triumph over the two hundred Samurais, but Harukata didn't share his feelings. He was infuriated and took a step towards Xena to let her know, but seeing Zicalus traipse to the person whom his frustration was directed to, the Shogun stopped.

Xena had hardly broken a sweat from beating on the, inaccurately termed, best Samurais their Shogun proclaimed them to be. She pivoted on her boots when her instincts entailed that someone was approaching from behind. Briskly ascertaining who it was, she'd assumed she must have assuaged a vengeful deity; for standing in front of her was the source of Xena's great aggravation.

'Zicalus.' She mused with delectation.

To aver that Zicalus was nervous, would be an understatement. His palms were becoming clammy, and his legs felt weak, whilst his arms were growing heavy. He feared if he used his katana it would get knocked out of his sweaty hands. So, reaching over his shoulder, he drew the naginata.

Xena sported a huge grin on her lips, as she sheathed her sword and unclipped her yin-yang chakram, wielding it by the bar in the middle. She was uncertain whether to dally with Zicalus or hastily plant him on his back similar to the many Samurais who were groaning, and trying to get on their feet.

'I'll have fun with him, too.' Xena affirmed, temporarily showing her joyous smile to Gabrielle.

The Amazon knew the game Xena was anxious to get underway. 'God, she can be a bitch sometimes.'

She did advise Zicalus not to fight Xena. Now he was going to be dissected by her jaundiced ex-lover till she was bored of him. Gabrielle wanted to yell, 'Kick Xena's ass!', but she already could discern whom the victor was gonna be. Even if the blue-armored, elite Samurai was an adept fighter, his seemingly invincible foe was going to win regardless. The bard had no keenness to see him get humiliated. She simply prayed he wouldn't get bruised and hurt too badly, while both competitors charged each other.

Zicalus swung his metallic pole, missing Xena as she slid beneath it on her knees. Next, she executed a spinning slash with her chakram, slightly scraping the armor that covered Zicalus' torso area. Getting to her feet, their weapons clashed together repeatedly, causing the young Samurai to become more tenacious to land a blow.

Xena aimed a deliberate, sluggish, right kick to Zicalus' leg, becoming jovial once he moved it from harm, the way she'd planned. Using the same foot, she kicked his lower chest, forcing him backward. The attack was so fast, Zicalus didn't get an opportunity to perceive it. Centralizing his focus on a different offense, he rapidly thrust the base of his naginata at her, shaking off annoyance and adoration for how superbly the female warrior fluidly evaded each strike without blocking with her circular weaponry.

Choosing to aim a low jab to her waist, Zicalus got the result he wanted when she parried it downward with her chakram. Lunging forward to start her own offensive, Xena almost didn't see it coming, whilst he extended the long, hidden blade which was concealed within the top part of his pole. Swaying her head from being impaled, she performed a backflip.

'Playtime is over.' She cogitated, throwing her chakram while aerial.

Zicalus instinctively blocked it, making the singular disc divide. Perching on the deck, the Warrior Princess retrieved the returning two halves in both of her hands and rushed the bewildered Samurai. Her attacks were delivered with effective celerity, and all he could do was defend. Xena implemented a crescent kick, swatting the naginata from Zicalus' slippery grasp. Rendered disarmed, he swiftly unsheathed his katana to shield himself from Xena's continuous strikes with her twin weapons.

Xena could tell he was getting winded, and crouched to elbow Zicalus in his stomach. The shell that protected him, couldn't null the pain he felt from the hit.

'How did I allow her to penetrate my defenses?' He wondered, out of breath.

His appendages barely registered the notion to intercept one of the chakrams. As the projectile rebounded off his katana, Zicalus wasn't prepared to be dazed by the second half that ricocheted against his helmet. Whilst the yin and yang chakrams bounced off the warship's mast to unite again, Xena took advantage of Zicalus' disorientation.

Letting her battle shout ring out, Xena set her left foot on his chest-plate and propelled herself upwards, initiating a twirling heel kick, detaching the Samurai's protective mask off of him. Therefore landing, she seized the revolving chakram out the air, clipping it to her side.

The elite Samurai could hardly keep a grip on his katana, let alone stand. Xena relieved him of both tiresome options when she tackled him to the floorboards. To her, none of the Samurais were good, including Zicalus.

Evil ruminations ran through Xena's brain. 'You are a useless warrior, Zicalus. You want to seduce and fuck my bard, but you can't protect her!'

Forming a hard knuckle, she assaulted the vulnerable male underneath her.

'Presumed you could gain points with her by defeating me!' Xena bashed him a second time. 'Pretty boy, huh? Let's see if Gabrielle will think you're attractive after I break your face!'

Raising her fist to purely do that, a voice pulled her back to sanity, "Xena!"

Glimpsing around, she recognized the bellow originated from Harukata. Koska's impression of Xena had sour again, while he viewed her lifting up from the overwhelmed Samurai, and gait to them.

"If the rest of your warriors aren't better than these men, all of you are just as doomed as I am." Xena deadpanned.

"Koska."

"Yes, Shogun?" He questioned conscientiously, reverting to speaking Greek, and ready to inflict punishment on Xena.

"Get them on their feet. The ones that have dexterity need to help Zicalus."

Koska shook his head disapprovingly at Xena, before doing what was commanded.

"You call that training?" Harukata prompted.

"Nope," Xena smirked. "I call it making progress."

Harukata lost his cool. "You litter the deck with my warriors without giving them a positive, constructive instruction, and you declare it's progress?"

"They were going to give me a problem and I don't have the patience for that." Xena defended her methods. "Next time, everything will go smoothly."

The Shogun scoffed. "There won't be a 'next time'."

"We had a deal, Harukata." She snarled.

The wary Shogun hated the fact he needed Xena and, whereas he hadn't sworn on his honor to let her inspect his Samurais, he had faith she was striving to leave Gabrielle some type of protection by making the eight hundred Japian fighters a proficient battling force.

He relented. "Tomorrow I'll bring the second group of two hundred. Despite that, if you deviate from the purpose of training, we will have to work out another agreement."

Accepting she'd won another victory, 'cause of Harukata's complying disposition, Xena displayed a smug appearance.

Not caring for her pompous mien, he moved closer to her, threatening, "(And if you abuse them the way you did Zicalus, you'll have to swim back to Greece, because I will gratefully throw you off of my vessel)."

Thereafter, he went below deck without giving Xena a chance to retort. Rolling her eyes at his nugatory threat, the Warrior Princess self-righteously looked at the Shogun's Samurais. Majority of them were hardly standing, and several others remained on the floorboards in pain, whilst a few assisted Zicalus.

'Serves him right.' Turning her attention to where she'd last spied Gabrielle, Xena beamed brightly to gloat, but frowned once she eyed the higher platform.

The dark-haired man was desperately holding onto consciousness, deeply embarrassed by getting thumped, and terrified that the little blonde saw it happen. Light-green irises glanced at the upper deck as well, and Zicalus became delighted.

Gabrielle was gone.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

'My avidity for Xena grates on her nerves and causes my abandonment.' Gabrielle mentally groused. 'Yet, she can be jealous. Even when we are no longer committed to one another.'

Gabrielle would be damned if she was going back to her lonesome cabin and sulk over a love that wasn't returned. The bard hoped where she was headed, it was empty of Samurais, that way she could work up a sweat doing her drills without spectators. Zicalus stated the armory was also used as a training room, and she wanted to utilize it to its fullest.

'Zicalus.' Gabrielle spared the blue-armored warrior a pitying cerebration.

She knew he was either already defeated, or was given false courage by being toyed with. Nonetheless, the outcome would be the same for the young man.

Making it to her chosen locale and opening the double doors, Gabrielle became astounded by how expansive the armory was. Many different weapons lined the room's walls; which were Japian swords, maces, staffs, daggers, bows, arrows, and chained iron balls that connected to scythes, similar to what Moku had equipped when she'd first seen him.

Gabrielle continued to observe the entire room and saw that there were more than several other warriors occupying its space along with her. Two were using the sparring area, dueling with their katanas. A few looked at her like an intruder, whilst most continued with their own battle practice. She ruminated on leaving, but decided to stay, shutting the doors and finding an unoccupied section of the armory to herself.

Drawing her sais and giving them a couple of twirls, the short-haired blonde began her routine. After awhile, some of the Samurais watched her, amazed at Gabrielle's agile speed when she performed her somersaults and strikes. Notwithstanding, Gabrielle was in her own world as she released her frustration and energy in every fluid movement.

'I gave you everything, Xena!' She vented internally, doing multiple kicks. 'I loved you more than anybody ever has!'

Finishing a backflip, Gabrielle attacked the air with her twin weapons, imagining it was her ex-lover.

'You never loved me! How could I have been so dumb to think you did!'

All the Samurais' eyes were now on the Battling Bard whilst she trained. A woman executing a fury of flips, kicks, and strong thrusts with her weaponry was too much to simply ignore.

'Go to that Japian whore! See if she'll love and adore you with the amount of passion I did!' The velvet-clad Amazon's exertions slowed down. 'The passion and adoration I still have for you, Xena.'

Her celerity dwindled, but remained subtle. The way Gabrielle's body moved could be compared to a graceful, deadly dance, and the men were entranced by it. Once the armory's doors opened, it came to an end, breaking the spell. Gabrielle viewed the few warriors who'd walked inside, leaving a single door ajar. She instantly recognized them as the three Samurais whom initially challenged Xena.

"(She's not human)." One of them asserted.

"(Maybe you shouldn't have said anything from the beginning, Neji)."

"(And let that female have her way, Suzu)?" He countered. "(Besides, you fought her first, but our defeat is of no consequence because we'll have our revenge soon)."

"(You are crazy)." Suzu declared. "(I'm never fighting her again. Hiro and I got off easy, although my leg hurts a bit from when she clipped me)."

"(Yeah)." Hiro concurred. "(She disarmed me, and that was humiliating. A Samurai never drops his katana. I'm lucky if the Shogun doesn't enforce hara-kiri upon me)."

"(What are you two complaining about)?" Neji blared angrily, "(It was I who got kicked, spanked by her sword like a child, and punched in the face)!"

"(We should have just allowed her to instruct us)." Hiro felt rueful, compelling Neji's chagrin.

"(Backing you up was a mistake, Neji)." Suzu confessed. "(She still got her way by beating on our entire squad. And did you see what she did to Master Zicalus? Damn near pounded him into-)"

"(I saw)." Neji interrupted. "(I'm not implying we fight her. She's unnatural and belong with that spirit girl, Akemi)."

Despite being spoken in their Japian dialect, the last sentence garnered Gabrielle's attention because of an irritating name. 'Akemi?'

"(I'll personally honor Amaterasu with the sacrifice of my firstborn if I'm able to see her demise)."

Suzu noticed Gabrielle and remembered their oath. "(That's enough, Neji)."

However, he wouldn't cease his garrulity. "(I'm serious. That foreigner caused all of these problems in Japa. Every one of us is near death's grasp)."

"(All right, Neji)." Hiro whispered. "(The Warrior Princess' friend is in here. Don't forget what we are sworn to uphold)."

Neji looked at the petite bard and glared, before traipsing toward her.

"What are you doing in here?" He questioned indignantly in Greek. "This armory is for Samurai. Not your kind."

"Zicalus evinced I could train here." Placing her sais into the straps on her boots, Gabrielle chose to exit the room. "Perhaps I was mistaken."

"You was. It's time you left. This is for men anyway. Women aren't fit to be fighters."

Gabrielle was furious at Neji. The brash man insulted her in more ways than one. Not only did he initiate accosting Xena, but he'd set an attack on her gender as a whole.

Keeping her temper in check, the Amazon couldn't hold back a retort, "I think that kick and fist to your head, from a woman I'll add, has damaged your brain or something. It doesn't matter, though. I'm leaving."

"Silly girl," Neji replied out of vengeful spite. "Xena will get hers. You better trust that."

"(Stop, Neji)." Suzu tried to halt his fellow companion's hasty words.

Their relationship was ended, and Xena had pained her terribly, but Gabrielle felt protective over the Warrior Princess. "Don't threaten her, or by god, I'll hurt you worse than she did."

"You?" Neji became aghast by Gabrielle. "What can you do? You don't wield any type of sword, save for those gardening tools from Chin."

'This guy is a joke and a waste of my time.' She rationalized, beginning to stroll away.

"Maybe, all you Greeks are worthless." Neji chuckled. "Your wicked warrior will be with Akemi and you will never see her again."

Lashing out with both hands, Gabrielle applied the technique that was recently taught to her. Falling on numbed knees and straining his neck, Neji hadn't ever fathom such pain existed. Suzu and Hiro unsheathed their katanas, while the others espied the situation. They'd seen what the lithe fighter was capable of during her drills, and wasn't eager to take a chance getting beat on.

"What did you do to him?" Suzu asked.

Gabrielle neglected Neji's two companions and bent down to growl in his ear, "You have thirty seconds to live. If you don't apologize to me for all your disrespectful remarks, it will be the worse experience of your short life."

Neji tried to breathe, albeit it was very difficult, causing discomfort to do so.

"(Undo what you've done)!" Hiro panicked.

"Twenty seconds." Gabrielle taunted.

Blood trailed from Neji's nose, coaxing Suzu to exclaim, "Gabrielle-San, please!"

"Close to ten seconds. I'll allow you to die and won't give it another thought."

"I... I'm... Sorry...sorry..." Neji rasped.

"Louder." Gabrielle enforced.

"I'm sorry!" He complied.

"Good boy." She avowed, releasing the pinch.

Alleviated from the painful pressure point, Neji took in a huge gulp of air. "You're...insane. Like...that Xena. I'll get great satisfaction from her-"

"Shut it, Neji!" Suzu rebuked him.

"(No, let him continue)." Harukata announced, standing outside the half-opened doorway.

"Shogun." Neji was stunned.

The Samurais bowed to their leader as he entered the armory. He traversed to Gabrielle and the three men around her.

"(Are you willing to dishonor yourself, Neji)?" Harukata queried.

"(No, Shogun)." He answered.

"(Seems to me you were. For that, you are to scrub the top and bottom decks until I decide further)."

'It'll take me forever to clean both platforms.' Neji speculated bleakly.

"(Do you understand)?" Harukata questioned.

"(Yes)." Neji acceded, standing up.

"(All of you, depart the armory)!" Harukata commanded.

Every Samurai commenced bowing and did what they were told, whilst the short-haired blonde wondered what was happening.

"Was you training here?" He prompted.

"Yes."

"I was watching your interaction with Neji. You tried to walk away, but he kept provoking you. Would you've truly let him die if he didn't give you an apology?"

"I honestly don't know." Gabrielle averred. "I'm not in a friendly mood at the moment."

"Because of Xena?" Harukata inquired.

Gabrielle wasn't feeling up to talking about the pivotal issue pertaining to her soul mate. "Is Zicalus okay?"

"He has some bumps and bruises. Nevertheless, he'll live." Harukata confirmed.

"I warned him not to engage her. She wanted to hurt him."

The Shogun grew curious, "Why's that, Gabrielle-San?"

'Xena's right; I talk too much.' Gabrielle berated herself.

She wasn't ready to shed light on their relationship. The wound remained bleeding and nowhere near healed.

Gabrielle parried with a query of her own, "What is it that you want, Shogun?"

"I want to know how you are doing."

"You should already have that figured out." She spoke with concealed sorrow and vexation. "Xena's going to Akemi when the time comes and I will be alone. How do you imagine I feel?"

Harukata moved closer to Gabrielle, clasping her shoulder. "You love Xena, and she cares greatly for you. No matter what you may perceive."

Gabrielle recalled the final encounter she had with Xena. She knew the Warrior Princess' love for her had expired.

"Thank you, Shogun, but I'm certain that's a lie." Gabrielle professed, shrugging his hand off of her.

'What did you say to her, Xena?' Harukata pondered.

"I'm finished here," Gabrielle muttered, retreating from him. "I'm going to my cabin."

"Of course. Before you go, can I ask what weapons are you skilled with?"

Gabrielle became perplexed, but responded, "I'm a master with a staff, adequate with a sword, also an adept with my sais. Why?"

"Are you decent in CQC?" Harukata quizzed.

"What's that?"

"Close quarter combat." He disclosed.

"Yes." She affirmed. "I know martial arts. Xena...trained me well."

"How about Aikido; the way of the harmonious spirit?"

"No." Gabrielle gave a concise response.

An idea formed in Harukata's brain. "Wait a moment."

The bard watched the old man take steps to where an assortment of swords was displayed and grabbed a katana.

'What's going on?' Gabrielle was becoming thoroughly puzzled.

"Gabrielle-San." He pronounced, once he stood in front of her again. "Allow me the honor of teaching you the ways of the Samurai."

Gabrielle's cognition was floored by the Shogun's offer to her. "I've been profoundly informed that women cannot become a Samurai."

"It is true." Harukata consented. "You will be the first."

"I don't follow you," Gabrielle admitted, looking at the blade he held out to her. "Why do you wish to train me?"

"In our culture, Neji's manner would've resulted in a duel. Your deportment with him is a stellar testament to your character. I haven't been acquainted with you long, howbeit I'm positive you would make a powerful and talented Samurai."

The cropped blonde was at a lost, but wonderment made her consider the offering. It would be awesome to learn the ways of the Samurai and take her mind off Xena.

['You know how you can be. Meet a new person, discover their ways and, sooner or later, wound up becoming absorbed by whatever they avowed that intrigues you.']

'I won't prove Xena's accusation correct.' Gabrielle mused.

"What do you say to Samurai training, Gabrielle-San?" Harukata persisted.

"I'm deeply flattered by your proffer, but I have to decline."

The petite Amazon started to head toward the door when Harukata elucidated, "You have an unique ki that surrounds you, Gabrielle-San. If you change your mind and let me teach you, your keen senses will be heightened... You may even surpass Xena."

"Surpassing Xena?" Gabrielle was dubious. "I don't believe that's possible."

"It is." Harukata proclaimed. "Cogitate on it at least. Whichever decision you choose, I'll respect it."

Faintly inclining her head, Gabrielle left the armory.

{X&G}

High above the heavens, and perched atop a plateau that was overseeing the beautiful, vast plains, two Arch Angels' optics were downcast whilst Eli gazed through the portal to the mortal realm.

"What is he planning, Michael?" Raphael urged.

Michael was unsure exactly what Eli was ruminating. "I don't know. But it's safe to say it concerns the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle."

"Their destinies are set in stone." The dark-skinned Angel uttered. "You don't think he's trying to alter it?"

"I'll speak with him." Michael avouched. "Go back to Paradise, Raphael. I got it from here."

Nodding in agreement, Raphael's wings carried him upward.

"Eli, what is it?" Michael prodded aloud for him to hear from a distance.

The martyred spirit slowly directed his eyesight from the scenic gateway to Michael, stating, "The war is beginning."

"Yes, Japa is in turmoil. Yodoshi will be destroyed as prophesied...so will Xena."

"No." Eli shook his head. "A deity is at work... I can sense her. She is manipulating events."

"Impossible, Eli." Michael was baffled.

"It's not. Somehow she's acquired a stone of immense power. It is being used in this world and...another."

"The Kronos stone?" Michael probed incredulously. "Its destruction came by the hands of Callisto when she melted it. The remnant pieces were launched into the outta atmosphere by Hercules."

"A dissimilar kind." Eli clarified. "The Omphalos stone. A shard of it is on Gabrielle's ring. An additional piece is on her double from the other world...and it's activating."

"Different worlds?" Michael dispelled his mystification to inquire, "What will this stone do?"

"I'm not certain, but I foresee trials for Gabrielle."

"What Greek goddess could have the power to conceive such a plot? There aren't many left. Is it Aphrodite? I knew we should've never allowed her nor Ares to gain their godhoods back." Michael argued.

"It was necessary at the time, Michael. The balance of love and war was broken. It had to be repaired."

"Now look." The Arch Angel finally flew from the highland and landed adjacent to Eli. "One of them is possibly aiming to control time and space, using Gabrielle."

"It isn't Aphrodite." Eli defended the goddess of love and beauty. "It's someone else. Purely a master of sagacity could pull this off."

"Athena is dead." Michael pointed out. "Whoever is doing this must be aware of the Twilight; when only one god or goddess can remain from each pantheon on earth. They are aiming to achieve the status of being the singular deity, or bypass it altogether."

"By going to the other world." Eli summed. "Xena and Gabrielle have to be notified. If the Omphalos stone takes full effect, it could have dire consequences."

"You want to save Xena." Michael surmised. "She has to die so Yodoshi can stop attacking Amaterasu's temples, and the souls she'd killed may move on to the afterlife. It is her fate."

"I acknowledge that." Eli conceded. "Still, something has to be done. Whatever goddess that's setting this in motion, is draining power from the demolished Kashiko-dokoro temple in Kyushu and channeling it to the stone. Gabrielle could be in grave danger."

"What could happen to her?" Michael became concerned for the once trim Arch Angel.

"Her life's energy can be sapped. Or she could be transported to her double's world." Eli predicated. "Anything can befall her there."

"That would be a shame." Michael was feeling glum for the bard.

"Unless she is warned."

"That can't be done." He admonished. "We can't meddle in the affairs of humans anymore."

"Are we to stand by and let this happen to Gabrielle without giving her any sort of warning?" He posed the question, gazing at the blonde-haired, angelic being.

"You can't." Michael leered. "God forbids it."

Eli turned to the portal again, viewing his former acolyte wiping tears from her eyes, prior to laying down on the cot in the lonely cabin.

"I will submit to the rules of non-interference." Eli ceded in advance of locking eyes with his opposing subordinate. "But if Gabrielle prays to me, I fear I'll go to her."

"Even you can be severely punished for this, Eli." Michael cautioned.

The Avatar descried the portal once more with a stern visage. "I will take it up with our God."

Michael made no reply as his wings started to flap. Looking skyward, he ascended the higher heavens into Empyrean.

To Be Continued...