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Part 3 of Bound Part 5

They passed Elaini in the outer room, as she was arranging some items on a tray. She looked up as they approached, and gave Gabrielle a wink. "You were right about the twinkle." She said, with a little grin.

The bard smiled. "Go for it." She advised, then leaned over and whispered something to the healer, which made her giggle. "Try it. Trust me."

"Ok." Elaini agreed, and gave them a nod, carrying the tray into the inner room.

ĎWhat was that all about?" Xena asked, as they descended the stairs off the porch and headed towards Lestan and Wennidís cot.

"Proper Care and feeding of Warriors, 101." Gabrielle answered innocently, shooting her partner a wicked glance.

Xena snorted. "Oh.. so weíre so hard to deal with, thereís a class?"

"Oh yeah. Itís a whole special wing at the Academy." The bard assured her. "The details... how to pick the right leather, how to polish armor, you name it."

They walked on in silence for a space, then: "You seem to have passed with flying colors." Xena remarked, with a slow grin.

"I had a private tutor." Came the immediate answer. "The best."

Xena chuckled, then felt her senses come alert, and she moved closer to the bard, sliding a protective arm around her shoulders. "Keep walking." She muttered, feeling Gabrielle tense under her arm. "We're being watched."

"Think itís Warrin?" The bard asked in a very soft voice.

Xena shrugged, and kept moving, pinpointing their watcher just to the left of Lestanís porch, as instinct had her shift slightly so her body was shielding Gabrielleís. As they got closer all her defensive instincts rose up, and she could feel the nape hairs on her neck prickling, and the tension sing with deliberate speed through her muscles.

Closer, and now her hearing was picking up the watcherís slight sounds.. the breathing, and the faint scratch where the tree branch the watcher was behind caught wiry fur, and tore slightly. "Theyíre cocking a crossbow." She said calmly to Gabrielle, who merely nodded, and let her eyes rest on the leader's cot directly ahead.

Heard the mechanism clink into place, and the watcher fit a quarrel to the weapon with a faint snick of wood on wood.

A piece of silence, and Xena could clearly picture the watcher pausing for aim. Six feet of me, and in a light colored tunic, too. Nice target. Her mind mused idly, as she prepared to let her instincts take over. Her eyes flickered briefly to Gabrielle's face. She's not even a bit concerned.. gods..does she trust me that much? Do I?

The scratch of the tight wound cord on the crossbow. A faint click as the mechanism cocked. She felt her shoulders tense, and the smaller muscles of her forearms and wrists What if I miss?í The thought oozed into her mind. Then Iíll probably have a crossbow arrow sticking out of me. Her practical mind answered, but she felt a twinge of unease. Just when did I start doubting my ability to do this? Thatís very dangerous, Xena.

Feathers in the wind, a faint shredding sound as the quarrel passed through foliage, then her right arm was almost lazily lifting up , the long fingers closing about a smooth polished shaft. Unmarked. A commotion in the underbrush and yelling voices told her that the crossbowman had been discovered, and as she watched, a tangle of forest dwellers tumbled into view, three of them obviously subduing a fourth.

"Guess I forgot to tell any of the stories where you catch arrows." Gabrielle remarked wryly, giving her back a little rub. "Nice catch."

Xena examined the arrow thoughtfully, twirling it between her fingers and smiling a little. Guess that particular skill is intact.. Thatís.. a good feeling. And she felt a tingle of her customary confidence returning. "Thanks." She remarked, flipping the quarrel around a few times in her hand. ĎLetís go see who our friend is."

"This isnít a negotiation, Lestie." The tall, silver furred visitor remarked, in an amused tone. "In fact, I havenít any idea why Secan sent me over here, instead of just getting it over with and trashing this place." Kelten turned around and regarded Lestan with a bored look. "Just give him what he wants, all right?"

Lestan tilted his head back and gazed wearily at the ceiling. "Iíve told you twice, Kelten. Sheís not mine to give."

The taller forest dweller stepped up behind him and pitched his voice low, in a menacing tone. "What is it with you... I knew you went soft, but harboring a human? Lestan, they slaughtered half your home clan, and would have done the same for this one.. how could you bring a human in here?" He paused. "And one of us has been killed. Does that mean nothing to you?"

Lestan took a breath, and studied his hands thoughtfully. "Your precious Elusha decided to take bare steel to an unarmed human female. What honor was he hunting with that, Kelten? Was the human supposed to stand and be spitted like a pig?"

"Why not?" Kelten spat. "itís all theyíre good for." He turned and walked to the window, putting one hand on the sill and staring outside. "Stop stalling, Lestan. I want her. Let me get what I need, and get out of this stinking dung heap."

Lestan stood, and moved in back of him, glancing out the window and seeing the two forms approach. "Kelten, youíre an idiot." He remarked quietly. "For the last time, sheís not mine to give." He motioned with his jaw out of the window. "There."

Kelten peered out, spotting the two humans approaching and studying them with interest. Both women, he noted, one smaller, with pale hair the color of his sisters, who had a compact build and a confident way of moving. The other... his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Tall, almost as tall as one of their own, dark haired, with the shoulders and arms of a sword wielder, and long, muscular legs. And a way of moving that said she was no farmer or merchant. This.. his nostrils twitched. Was a hunter. And he knew why Secan wanted her.. because this hunter had no business sleeping in Lestanís nest of grazers.

"Iím taking her, Lestan. Do yourself a favor and stay out of it, hmm?? " Kelten chuckled. "And maybe Iíll tell Secan to let your pathetic little dung heap here alone for a while." He watched as the warrior human put a friendly arm around her smaller companion, oblivious to his crossbowman hiding just outside the perimeter of the village, with orders to take the human females down like deer in the woods. Except the quarrels held a poison to bind them, and the bowyer was skilled enough to put the shaft into a non-vital part of their bodies. Thatís it.. he crooned silently to the two. Closer now, just a little, you blindlings..

And watched in shock as the tall dark haired woman, in a flickering movement that his eyes barely caught, snared the quarrel out of mid air, and flipped it over in the air. Ares balls. He breathed. I canít have seen that.

"Be careful what you ask for." Lestan drawled nearby. "You could find it burrowing under your cot." He watched the guard drag the archer from his hiding place, and move in their direction. "Get out of here." He ordered, quietly. "Tell Secan weíll meet him where we agreed."

Kelten tore his eyes from the human with difficulty. "Not without that human.í He stated flatly. "Thought I could save you some trouble, take her out of here asleep, but no matter. We can do things the hard way." He moved to the door and onto the porch, where the guard was bringing his still shocked looking archer. Idiot. He sighed to himself, and then went still as the two humans mounted the stairs and came within his striking distance.

Eyes bluer than the sky pinned his for a moment so long he forgot to breathe. He saw her face twitch, and the set of her shoulders change as she marked him, and shifted to put her body between him and the smaller human with such smooth instinct, he had to believe she wasnít even conscious of doing it.

"We have a blood debt with you." He said, watching her face. One eyebrow rose, and the lip on that side of her face quirked upward.

"How could you?" The woman answered, in a low voice that tickled his ears. "I broke his neck, no blood."

Kelten felt his blood begin to burn. "You think thatís funny, human?" He let his fur bristle, and showed the tips of his canines in a feral smile.

She smiled right back, and moved towards him. "No. What I find amusing is that you send your armed raiders out against unarmed villagers, and then get mad when one of them dies.. " Her own smile turned feral, and her eyes glittered. "because he picked the wrong victim."

Silence all around them. Only the rustling of leaves overhead, and the faint settling creak of the floorboards, as even the forest creatures held their breath and waited. For him to decide, to follow the screaming demands of his honor and tear into her with fangs and claws and long, powerful arms. Or to listen to the ice cold warning his instincts was hammering him with; that this human was more than she seemed. That if he chose to attack, heíd better be prepared to.. lose? No. His mind coldly rationalized. He was what he was, and she was merely a human, and a female.

Keltenís arm moved faster than thought, claws extended, in a arc that took in her neck. One swipe... would be all he needed. Secan had said alive... but no matter. He tensed for the blow, already feeling the eviceral sensation of his jagged nails tearing through her soft flesh.

And found his arm gripped. And stopped, throwing him off balance. Then a hand was curled in his chest fur, and he was being forced backwards, slamming against the wooden support post of the porch with a shudder, pushed by a strength that shocked him into stillness.

"Now you look." Xenaís voice was angry. "Iím not in the mood to wipe the floorboards with you. So you go back to your little leader, and tell him.. from me, that if his little boys canít defend themselves, itís not my problem." She leaned forward, getting right into his face, and daring him to snap at her. "Got that??"

No answer, but he didnít move either. "Oh yeah. " Xena continued, taking a better grip on his fur and pushing hard against the support post. "And if I get any more arrows shot at me , I just might skin you and make myself a new rug. Got THAT?"

Kelten felt his resolve fading, as he looked into those eyes, and realized in sinking moment that he was playing with a fire that could burn him to cinders all unknowing.

"I got that." He said quietly, and started breathing again when she released him, and stepped back, not taking her icy gaze off of his face. He dropped his eyes, then glanced around, absorbing the silent attention focused solely on her, from the forest dwellers, form his archer. From the other human, who alone was smiling gently, and whose gaze held a brilliant range of emotions . Then those green eyes flicked to his, and he stopped breathing again as he felt the power they held.

"If I were you.." The younger human said, almost conversationally. "Iíd take off. And you know, you might want to think about learning to control your temper."

This got a snort of laughter from the tall warrior, who relaxed a little, and gave her companion an amused look. "Gabrielle.." That low voice sounded the syllables with a loverís gentle attention, and Kelten realized thatís exactly what they were. Then his Sight showed him they were something again more than that. And he decided he needed to get out of this village, and get back to his own, to take his lumps, and relate his news, which would probably offset each other nicely. She was the one factor Secan was worried about, and he knew now his leader had nothing to concern himself about.

"All right." He sniffed, trying to recover his bravado. "Until we meet, Lestan, when all this becomes... irrelevant." He made a disparaging gesture. "if you can even muster enough fighters to show up with." He turned and sauntered down the steps, grabbing the equipment straps of his archer and tugging. The villager holding him didnít let go, but instead glanced up to Lestan.

The tall forest leader cocked his head, then gave a short nod. "Go on." He paused. "And Kelten?" Now his own smile showed all his teeth nicely. "Weíll be there."

They stood and watched the pair disappear into the forest . Silence reigned, until Lestan sighed, and the door opened to reveal Wennidís tense face. "Ah, my love." He said, holding an arm out to her. "Allís clear now." His eyes turned to Xena, and he chuckled. "Wow."

Xena shrugged, and ignored the poke from Gabrielle, who had moved closer and was now leaning against the post, with a grin on her face. "The young are easily intimidated." The warrior stated, in an offhand tone. "Can I ask who that was?"

Wennid snuggled tight against Lestanís side, and rubbed his belly. "I think his name used to be Kelten." She mused, giving Lestan a tweak.

"Used to be?" Gabrielle asked, pushing off the post and cocking her head in puzzlement.

"Itís mud, now." Wennid remarked, getting a round of chuckles from the surrounding forest dwellers, whose attention was still fixed on the tall, dark haired woman standing casually in their midst. "A rug?" Jessanís mother chuckled against her will.

"Well.." Xena admitted, with a sly glance towards Gabrielle. "I try not to use the same threat twice. Itís kind of a game we play. Gabrielle keeps track."

This got a real laugh, and now the tension dissolved, and they started to move away.

Xena took a deep breath, and mentally shook her head. Damn... she grudgingly admitted to herself. That was pretty impressive, wasnít it. Maybe Gabrielle is right.. and itís all in my head. She looked up, to see the bardís gaze fixed on her. "Hey."

"Hey yourself." Gabrielle responded, sliding closer and putting a hand on her arm. "Did I ever tell you just how guilty you make me?"

"What?" The warrior replied, her brows contracting in a puzzled scowl.

"Mmm." The bard said, linking an arm through hers, and giving her a nudge towards the doorway, where Wennid was waiting for them. "I love watching you do that. And I know, as the peaceful, gentle, bardly person that I am, that I really shouldnít."

"I see." Xena murmured, as they entered the leaderís cot. But the confidence she felt in the bardís glance kindled a warm glow inside of her that she hadnít expected. And she felt the uncomfortably dark memories recede a bit further. "I'll have to keep that in mind." She finished mildly, and smiled at the bard, who smiled back.

Lestan kept the conversation light, through most of dinner, which consisted of huge portions of meat and bread, with a sparse scattering of vegetables in deference to what Wennid thought her guests might enjoy. Xena was touched and amused, though she was perfectly happy with the meat which would provide her still healing body with a good supply of energy. Gabrielle, on the other hand, cheerfully consumed the vegetables along with the rest, and kept depositing odd ones onto her partnerís plate, and poking her until she swallowed them in self defense.

"So, " Lestan sighed, as they finished eating, and settled back with steaming mugs of mulled cider and a plate of Wennidís nut cakes. "You see that weíre not so different from your kind after all, eh?" His eyes ruefully met Xenaís. "Much as we pretend otherwise."

The warrior sat back, and crossed her arms over her chest , raising an eyebrow thoughtfully. "People are people, Lestan." She exchanged glances with Gabrielle. "They seem so much more violent than your clan is, though... why?"

Wennid spoke up, resting her chin on her hands. "When we combined our villages." She paused, giving her bondmate a smile. "Mine was a very peace oriented one. Lestanís was more like Secanís in its outlook. We decided to try and meld the two philosophies, and this is what we came up with" She shrugged. "Some say itís neither one nor the other, and therefore loses strength because it lacks a real identity. I think it takes the best from both extremes, and meets somewhere in the middle. "

Gabrielle nodded, and rested her forearms on the table, nibbling a cake. "So.. your village isnít typical of your people."

Lestan shook his head. "Not really."

"So.. whatís Secanís goal here?" The bard asked. "Whatís his point.. if he defeats you, will this village become like his?" She turned a puzzled look on them. "I donít see what he gains in all this."

Xena gave her a little grin, which the bard knew meant sheíd asked a good question.

"I donít know." Wennid sighed. "Sometimes I think he just does it because he can, and because he likes fighting and killing."

A small silence fell around the room, and the scent of the mulled cider drifted across the table like a morning fog.

"That can be a very compelling reason." Xena finally said, studying her hands.

Wennid felt her breath catch, as she realized what the warrior meant. "Can I ask you something?" She said, leaning forward a little, and putting her hands on the table.

Xena looked up, and regarded her quietly. "Sure." Gabrielleís hand closed gently on her knee beneath the surface of the table, and brought the faintest hint of a smile to her face. How does she do that, I wonder? She always knows when I need that support.

"Do you know a small village, called Reclon, in the next valley?" Jessanís mother asked, her pale eyes fixing on the warriorís face, now lit by the surrounding candles, and the glow from the fireplace.

"I do." Xena answered, her eyes shadowing in memory. "Small place, mostly farming."

Wennid took a breath. "I saw it destroyed."

Xena nodded grimly. "So did I."

Gabrielle stirred, and glanced at Xenaís still face. "I donítí..."

A quick glance from the warrior. "You werenít there." In a very quiet tone. "You were at home."

"Oh." Gabrielle responded, her gaze turning inward. Home. That meant... "When I left.."

Xena nodded. "Yeah." She turned her attention to Wennid, who was waiting silently. "Rigus was an old.. adversary.. of mine. He gave the village terms.. give him everything or heíd burn it to the ground."

"He did." Wennid whispered. "They slaughtered those people like sheep." They. You already know it wasnít her, donít you.

"I heard the screams." Xena answered, with a far off look in her eyes. "I was.. " she stopped and stared at her hands. "Anyway, I heard the noise, and rode into the village. Too late, though. To save them."

" But not too late to avenge them." The forest dweller said softly, with the beginnings of a smile.

A slight shrug from the warrior. "As you say." And I always wondered.. if it had been Draco, or one of the warlords Iíd been friendly with, would I have joined them? She sighed inwardly. I didnít hear them because I was too busy trying to convince myself just how lucky I was to be on my own again. That Iíd gotten rid of my little tag along. She snorted at herself. How lost I was, those couple of days. "I was sorry it happened."

Wennid studied her, the golden candlelight catching the faint highlights in her dark hair, and reflecting off her pale eyes, and sighed. "I thought you were one of them, you know." She remarked, into that still quiet. "I didnít realize until just recently that Iíd seen as many raiderís dead as villagers. "

Gabrielle felt the tension under her hand, and she gave Xena a little squeeze. What was going on in that head, then... she never did tell me what she did while I was gone. I wonder if she felt.. She closed her eyes, and remembered. Wonder if she knew that leaving was the hardest decision Iíd ever had to make... or that the further I got away from her, the closer I got to home, the more my heart was telling me it was a bad one.

"Not an unreasonable thing to think." Xena sighed, but kept her gaze level. "Itís what I was."

Another silence fell, broken by the snapping of the burning logs in the fireplace.

"Not anymore." Wennid finally said, not even needing her Sight to tell her that. She gave the warrior a small smile.

Xena felt the tension that had been building ebb, as she understood what the forest dweller meant. "No." She returned the smile. "Not anymore." Do I believe that? Really believe it? Xena looked inside her heart for a very long moment. You know.. I think I just might be starting to. "At any rate, for whatever reason heís doing it, Secan is intending to attack this village. Tell me about your fighters, Lestan."

They talked long into the night, as the candles burned down and guttered, and Xena got an idea of the strengths and the weaknesses of Lestanís forces. And the strengths of Secanís, who outnumbered theirs three to one.

"Damn, Lestan." Xena sighed, examining the scouting reports spread out all over the council table. "This doesnít look good."

They were alone, since Wennid had gone to check on her son, and Gabrielle had elected to join her. "I know." The forest dweller said, rubbing his face with his good hand. "I donít see any way out, Xena." His mahogany eyes met hers, and he let his despair show.

The warrior stood, and stretched muscles stiff from sitting so long. "I can think of one possible solution." She said softly, putting her hands on her hips and looking at him.

"No." Lestan said, with a ghost of a smile. "You canít. Your lifebonded." He walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Not that I donít..." he sighed. "appreciate the offer, Xena." He glanced down. "And, it has to be one of us, a member of my clan."

"Why are you eligible, Lestan.. youíre lifebonded too." Xena asked, quietly.

The man shrugged. "Comes with the job. Iím the exception.. I knew that when they elected me." He smiled grimly. "But with this arm.. I have no chance. And.." His eyes met hers, honestly. "Even with two good arms, Iím not his match."

"Am I?" Xena asked, giving him a level stare.

Silence. And a flare of his nostrils, as he drew in a deep breath.

"Yes." His face grimaced. "You have a skill with the sword that I have never seen equaled." He paused and studied her. "I would have said he had the margin in strength, but after watching you stop Kelten... Xena I really donít know about that." He smiled at her diffident shrug "But he wonít accept you as a legitimate challenger, and besides, you canít. We donít allow lifebonded to challenge."

Donít you. Xena mused to herself. Unless you happen to be the clan leader, hmm? "So.. his clan is a lot more violent.. I guess thatís how he got elected, huh?"

Lestan breathed a sigh of relief at Xenaís apparent willingness to drop the subject of challenge. Not, he thought for the thousandth time, that he didnít harbor a closely held, secret wish to see her just.. take him. "Uhm... well, sort of. He wasnít elected. He chose the other way of gaining leadership among our kind." He smiled grimly. "He forced the old leader to yield in front of the entire clan, then cut his head off."

Xenaís eyebrows shot up. "Nice." She muttered. "Reminds me of the Amazons." She smiled at his look of astonishment. "Yeah, they do death challenges for the queenís mask."

Lestan blinked. "Really? " He let out a short laugh. "Well, Secan didnít have to kill Urtus. He just had to force him to yield. But I guess he wanted to eliminate any possible competition."

Click. And that was the steel-trap mind of an ex warlord snapping shut on all the essential details needed for a plan. "Nice guy." Xena shook her head. "Well, Iíll do my best to teach your troops some tactics, Lestan. But thereís not much time.." She paused, and looked at him. "Would he call off this attack if I gave myself up to him?"

The question came from around the corner, and hit Lestan so hard and so suddenly that he answered it without thinking. "Yes." Then he realized what heíd said and his eyes widened. "But not for long." He added quickly, seeing the look in those blue eyes. "And... by Aresí hands, Xena, I will chain myself to you if you even think about doing something so stupid."

A raised eyebrow. "Stupid? Why is saving lives stupid?" Xena asked, in a reasonable tone.

The forest dweller sat down on the chair next to her, and leaned forward, resting his weight on his elbows. "Xena." His voice was very gentle. "I want you to listen to me, all right?" He took a breath. "I know no one of us has talked to you about this yet, because a human with our gift is so rare, we hardly know what to say to you."

Xena remained silent, but leaned forward to match his stance, and waited. I donít know that I want to hear this. Her mind echoed quietly. But I think Iíd better know now.

"Xena.." Lestan looked down at his hands, which were knotted together tensely. "My brother Warrin."

She nodded. "I know.. heís very resentful of us. He..." Her eyebrow quirked. "I forgot to tell you, in all the excitement. He tried to shoot us with darts before we headed over here. Had some kind of drug on them, knockout stuff I think."

Lestan stared at her. "All the more reason for you to hear this, then." He blinked. "Wennid and I love Warrin. He was... very much like your Gabrielle, when he was younger. All laughter, and full of stories. " He swallowed. "He had a joy in life that made you glad to look at him. " Can you see where this is going, my human friend? Do you understand the risk? "When his lifemate was killed, we thought he was going to die."

Xena swallowed, and looked down.

"Maybe it would have been better if he had." Lestan went on quietly. "I know I would have wanted to, if something had happened to my Weni." He could see the shadows on her face move, as her jaw muscles tensed. "Do you understand what would happen to Gabrielle, or to you, if your bond is broken?"

Xena studied the floor, idly tracing the wood grain for a long time before she answered. "Gabrielleís already had to face that once, Lestan." She looked up and met his eyes, forcing herself to just answer the question, and not think about the subject. "It would be... really hard.. for her, but sheís a very strong person. Sheíd survive... and go on."

The tall forest dweller swallowed audibly. "And you?" He asked quietly. "Warrin was bonded only a few months before his lifemate was killed, Xena. How long have you and Gabrielle been together?" He hesitated. "After a certain point...."

"Two years and some." The warrior replied. And allowed herself to imagine, for one very long and very agonizing moment, the possibility of life without the bard. Then admitted consciously what sheíd known in her guts for a very long time. "Iíd never survive." No.. Iíd crawl off, somewhere dark, somewhere alone.. and just wait.. wouldnít take long, I donít have a lot of reserves. I'd just.. go to sleep and not wake up. End up in the flames, and maybe.. just.. damned.. maybe, Iíd look out across the sheet of fire, and see her looking back at me.. from the Fields. Her throat tightened. And.. sheís so stubborn, sheíd find a way to wherever I was, just so she could yell at me for doing something so damn stupid. And I'd love every word of it.

They studied each other in silence for a time. Then Lestan sighed. "Neither would I." He smiled a bit. "I thought you understood.. but I had to make sure. You can see why putting yourself at risk like that isnít an option."

And she looked at him, with a shadow in her blue eyes he didnít understand, and patted his hand. "Right. Makes sense, Lestan."

Except that you canít live your life in fear. She felt the knowledge settle quietly onto her shoulders. And hiding in the shadows when lives are depending on who I am and what I do is worse than dying. Gabrielle taught me that. "More cider?" She said, raising an eyebrow at him. " I think I hear Gabrielle and Wennid coming back. Hope Jess is feeling better."

Lestan looked warily at her. At her calm, interested smile, and casual conversation. She appeared to accept what heíd said, accepted the limitations that all his kind lived with, those who were bound together. And yet.. He smiled inwardly. She lives by her own rules, and not ours. And... Iím not sure those rules allow her to stand by and watch death come hunting. A shiver of excitement lifted his fur involuntarily. "Yeah, thanks. I think I hear them too." He returned her smile, and they both relaxed, as the door opened, and Wennid lead the way in, and Gabrielleís clear voice followed her, in the middle of some story or other.

"Lestan, Jess needs some of his paints to make the time pass. Can you help me find them in that rag pile he calls a room?" Wennid rolled her eyes, and shook her head. "Please?"

Lestan rose, and stretched, chuckling. "Surely." He took Wennidís arm and led her out the door an down the hallway, and their voices trailed back. Into the room in a fading cascade.

Gabrielle closed the door, and crossed over to Xena, seating herself on the edge of the conference table and sighing. "Did you get the lecture?"

Xena smothered a grin. "Uh huh."

They regarded each other. "What did you think?" The bard asked, idly playing with a lock of Xenaís hair.

The warrior examined her knotted fingers closely. "Iím wondering if you still think this is so awesome." There was quiet resignation in her voice. "And if you donít... Iím sorry, Gabrielle. I never meant to ..." She stopped, leaving the thought unfinished.

Dead silence from the bard, and then a faint rasping noise as she slid off the table, and dropped to her knees on the wooden floor, folding her hands around Xenaís, and gazing up into the painfully shuttered eyes. "I need to know something. Would you change this, if you could, Xena?" Her voice was steady, and she patiently watched shadowed face for a response.

A deep breath, and a slight shake of the head. "No."

"Good thing." The bard whispered, leaning forward and touching her forehead to Xenaís. "Because if youíd said yes, I was going to have to hurt you." She tilted her head and kissed the warrior. "Yes, I still think itís awesome. " Another kiss. "No, I wouldnít change a single thing, either." A third . "Donít ever bother asking me that again. Ok?"

"OK." Xena responded, with a low chuckle..

"So." Gabrielle sighed contentedly, rubbing her cheek against the warriorís. "How are you... " she stopped. "How are we going to get them out of this rotten situation?"

Continued in Part VI


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