The Gift Of Gab

By Enginerd


 Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Index


Dismounting Argo to more closely inspect the tracks, Xena noted that Liberus may have stolen the bard's Gift, but he certainly did not take her intelligence. Gabrielle would never have left such a careless trail of broken branches and poorly hidden footsteps, she considered as she assessed Liberus' performance.

"Tsk...Tsk...Tsk...and you had SUCH a good head start too." The Warrior Princess smirked. Her smirk melted into a cold, hard gaze as she eyed the trail. This was his second mistake, she noted. His second and last, she promised.

Remounting her horse, Xena noticed Argo was a bit skittish.

"Come on girl." Xena coaxed Argo, surprised when the horse wouldn't budge. "We've been on worse trails before" Xena noted with mild amusement, eyeing the varying terrain and narrow trail that made navigation with the large animal difficult.

Argo snorted.

"Come ON girl." Xena repeated with growing annoyance. Argo snorted again.

"COME ON!" Xena snapped. "What is WRONG with you??" She yelled, beside herself with anger.

Not about to waste any more time dealing with Argo's bizarre temperament, Xena angrily dismounted and headed down the trail, alone.

The footprints left the rocky trail and headed through the dense forest. The softer dirt of the forest floor easily captured his footprints, which were now deeper and further apart. He was finally in an all out sprint, she concluded with satisfaction. Some signs of intelligence after all, she mused. She picked up her pace, feeling she was very close to the thief. A shift in the wind confirmed that feeling. She could now hear him.

The frantic sounds of gasping and breaking branches, made her heart race with the thrilling anticipation of a hunter, closing in on the kill. She paused, almost overwhelmed with that powerful feeling. Her eyes closed as thoughts of Gabrielle filled her mind. The terror in her eyes. A terror he caused. But she had to take this thief back to Verbinia, ALIVE, she reminded herself.

Taking a slow and deep breath, Xena continued the pursuit.

Gabrielle looked out the window, waiting for Xena. Her morning headache, which unfortunately caused Xena her victory in the morning argument, was finally gone. Gabrielle was ready to comb the streets to look for the attackers. She just needed Xena to be there when she did. She sighed, waiting for Xena.

With each passing moment, Gabrielle's concern grew. Soon, that concern grew into fear. A fear not for herself, but for the Warrior Princess. Unable to bear it any longer, Gabrielle's instincts took over. She reached for her staff.

The Warrior Princess caught up to her prey and somersaulted over his head letting out her war cry. She landed in front of him, blocking his path. Liberus skidded to a stop and tried to run the other way, but tripped and stumbled to the ground.

Xena eyed the thief coldly. "I'm taking her Gift back." She spoke evenly as the fearful man scrambled to get up.

"NO! It is MINE! I'm NOT going back!" He responded vehemently.

"I'm taking" Xena repeated slowly and deliberately, struggling to maintain control of her rage.

Back on his feet, he proved her wrong by making a third mistake - pulling out a dagger.

The Attendant lunged and swung his dagger wildly at the Warrior Princess, who easily stepped out of the way of this untrained fighter. He didn't immediately catch on that after each wild swipe of his blade, the Warrior Princess would respond with a powerful punch.

She knew there was only one way to ease the rage within her, but she had to bring him back... ALIVE, she reminded herself.

Growing tired of this skirmish, she easily grabbed his wrist after his final brutal attack of the air. Her crushing squeeze caused him to drop both his dagger and jaw.

She hurled him against an unsuspecting tree. He made a pleasing thud when he hit, and a more pleasing moan when he collapsed to the ground. She watched the thief get up with difficulty. Apparently she broke his wrist, she noted unsympathetically.

Physical punishment of this man gave her no second thoughts. Liberus had stolen something very precious and hurt Gabrielle. It was not a matter of whether she would hurt him. It was only a matter of how badly.

When he finally stood up, he leaned against the tree and looked over to her defiantly. "I'm taking HER gift back," Xena repeated. Her icy blue eyes sent shivers through him.

"No," he answered. Expending every last ounce of energy he had, he made a mad dash for the forest. A thin smile formed on her lips.

Within three strides, she once again stopped his attempt at escape. Her fists seemed to have a mind of their own. She didn't think as her fists repeatedly found their target. With each strike, she felt a satisfying release of her anger. Nowhere near complete satisfaction, she watched as the bloodied body could no longer support his own weight and crumble to the ground.

She towered over him, trembling. She wanted to hurt him more. Hurt him for the pain he caused Gabrielle. Hurt him for stealing a part of Gabrielle, such a special part of her, that she may never get back. Hurt him for making the Warrior Princess helpless.


Almost collapsing from running so hard, Gabrielle thought she was delirious when she found Argo alone in the road. The horse lifted her head and neighed, hearing the familiar woman approach. Gabrielle wondered why Xena would have left Argo behind. She stared a moment at the horse, then at the trail that left the main road. There was something about Argo's neigh that gave Gabrielle a bad feeling.

When Gabrielle finally caught her breath, she headed towards the narrow trail. Argo neighed again with a different sound, stopping her in her tracks. Gabrielle turned slowly and eyed the animal. She could have sworn Argo was inviting her to ride.

Gabrielle shook her head no, concluding the trail was better traveled by foot. Argo shook her head yes and neighed louder, surprising the woman of no words. Gabrielle shook her head no and gestured that she would be walking the trail. Argo shook her head no, neighed, and this time, stomped her foot.

Gabrielle couldn't believe she was having an argument with a horse.


"Xena! Xena!" A familiar voice called out to the Warrior Princess. Out of nowhere, Joxer came to her side.

"He has her Gift..." Xena spoke hollowly, still staring at the thief.

"The have searched the scrolls Xena, they haven't found any on how to return the Gift. Xena...without that, none of the Attendants can help you... poor Gabrielle." Joxer's news hurt more than any physical pain she ever endured.

"There must be a way..." She turned to him with a weak voice.

"I'm so sorry Xena. If only the price wasn't so high..." He added.

"What PRICE...what are you talking about??" Xena blurted with confusion, starting to get angry with her friend.

"Talea told me there is only one way to return her Gift to her and I know you can't do it...I just wish.." Joxer spoke sadly.

Hope filled her eyes. "I can return it to her??? I thought only an Attendant...." Xena's heart pounded. GODS let it be possible, she prayed.

"Tell me what I have to do...I'll do anything...ANYTHING!" She grabbed Joxer with her bloody hands, utter desperation in her eyes.

He shook his head. "Xena can' would have to kill him, it would be cold blooded murder." Joxer mildly protested.

Without another word, the Warrior Princess unsheathed her sword and stood over to the bloody heap named Liberus.

She understood what she had to do to return Gabrielle's Gift. Without her Gift, the bard would slowly die inside. He caused Gabrielle unimaginable physical and emotional pain. For that, Xena would never forgive this worthless flesh. For that, Xena could not allow him to live.

Gabrielle clung to the reigns tightly as she let Argo follow Xena's trail. Despite her fear of riding this treacherous path, she was actually glad for Argo's company. Seeming to sense her need, Argo responded with comforting neighs.

Gabrielle stared down at the ground where there were still traces of a trail. The footprints were further apart, she noted uneasily. Another neigh caused the woman of no words to look up from the trail, just in time to see the low hanging branch wack her in the face.

Liberus' confused eyes had no affect on the Warrior Princess except to give her the satisfaction that he would be awake to see his death approaching. Without reservation, Xena slowly raised her sword. Clenching the hilt with both hands, she pointed the tip of her weapon towards his heart.

Her only wish was he would taste true terror. A Terror like she saw in her bard's eyes. That wish was granted, for gazing up at her were wide eyes of terror. Savoring this look, like a fine wine by a discriminating connoisseur, a slow and satisfied smile crossed the Warrior Princess' face. Her appreciation of this situation served to make his fear grow and, in turn, her smile.

"No, please," he whimpered before fainting. She couldn't help but laugh at this pathetic sight as a magnificent feeling of power washed over the Warrior Princess, an incredible aphrodisiac.

This ironic twist of having to kill this pile of worthless flesh to help the love of her life was not lost on the Warrior Princess. She was doing the right thing AND enjoying it. Such incredible control. Such exquisite power, she mused. Such familiar power. Poetic justice that a bard...would appreciate.

The amusement in Xena's face rapidly drained away. She thrust her sword downward with incredible strength, letting out a primal scream. She collapsed to her knees, her hands still fused to her sword hilt.

Joxer grinned until he realized the sword was stuck in the ground between the Attendant's arm and body. "You missed???" He questioned with annoyance.

Xena lifted her head and stared across the unconscious body at Joxer. "YOU BASTARD!" Xena cried out with incredible rage.

Joxer shook his head and smiled. "I really thought you'd do it Xena," He relayed casually. Xena's anger made her speechless. "You were SO could taste it couldn't you? That sweet taste of revenge."


Before her eyes, Joxer transformed into another familiar face. The God of War looked at his hands and body. "MUCH better," he relayed with relief. "You just don't appreciate what I will DO for you." He added with a shudder. He smiled and cautiously approached her, sensing her vulnerability.

"You hurt her." She spoke evenly, yet her eyes betrayed weakness with moisture.

"Oh Xena, I wish I could take all the credit...but I can't. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," He spoke nonchalantly, easing closer.

"I have to admit, an opportunity like THIS doesn't come twice! Even for a GOD" Ares laughed. "I don't even think I could have conjured up a plan so Those wonderfully twisted Verbinians." He smiled, looking down at the Attendant.

"I'll have to find a way to thank them." He added thoughtfully stroking his goatee. A grin suddenly crossed his face. He knelt down on the ground across from the Warrior Princess. Showing his appreciation, he patted the unconscious man lying between them on the head. Ares took a deep breath as his hand lingered on Liberus' forehead. " Liberus!" Ares laughed with great amusement. Now he had everything...well, almost, he considered, eyeing the Warrior Princess.

"GO. You DISGUST me." Xena blurted, her weary eyes staring through the God of War.

"If you really want me to," he sighed, not budging. "But I thought you would have wanted to help that bard…oh," he blurted with feigned sympathy, and leaned towards her. "...I guess she can't be called that anymore, can she?" He relayed softly, his words emotional daggers.

"Such a shame. Despite her...unflattering portrayals of me, I was actually fond of her story telling. She could really CAPTURE an audience. Her voice was... well...beautiful."

Ares relayed his strategic compliments.

"Yes...beautiful." Xena whispered.

"Such a shame..." Ares purred. "To never again hear her soothing words of encouragement when you need to hear them," He sighed sadly, observing the Warrior Princess' strength crumble before his eyes.

"To never again hear her say 'Xena, I love you.'...after it took you two SO long to realize you loved each other." Ares was enjoying this torment, though careful not to enjoy it too much.

A tear escaped from the Warrior Princess' eyes. Then another.

"To never again hear her call out your name during the height of passion...oh..." Ares almost laughed. "I'm sorry've never HAD that pleasure, have you?" Ares feigned sympathy. Her head dropped against her forearms, her hands still clutching her sword hilt.

"Such a shame." Ares purred. "She'll probably feel she's a burden to you now." The words rang of truth to Xena. "Unable to help you out of a jam with her clever words. I wouldn't be surprised if she decided it was best for you if she left you." He sighed again, shaking his head with feigned sadness.

Xena winced.

"She would be doing it for YOU...because she loves you." He offered. "If only you loved HER as much." He whispered.

Xena lifted her head from her arms and looked him squarely in the eyes. "I love her with all my heart." Xena declared with such strength, it surprised the God of War.

"Sure you SAY that, but Xena... what are you willing to DO for her?" He challenged her. "I love her." Xena repeated weakly, desperately holding on to that source of strength.

"Of course you do Xena," Ares responded condescendingly. "But how much?" He softly challenged. "What if I asked you to ... kill yourself, to get her Gift back." He asked, knowing the answer.

"Would you do that for her?" Xena asked with a glimmer of interest.

"Would YOU??" Ares eyed her.

"Yes." Xena softly admitted.

"Hmmm." Ares responded, stroking his chin. "But Xena, you would die for many just causes now...wouldn't you?" Ares asked.

"Yes." Xena admitted wearily.

"So that really wouldn't show how much you loved her... would it?" He questioned her, not expecting an answer.

"" She responded, barely audible. Tears freely flowing from the Warrior Princess' eyes.

He paused, considering that right now, he could be called the God of Bards. The Gift was very powerful indeed, he mused. But she looked so weak, Ares noted with disappointment. Not the Warrior Princess of old, he thought sadly. However, with a little practice in raiding and pillaging villages, Ares was confident he would rekindle that good ol' Warrior Princess spirit in her. She was, after all, Xena.

Surprising the God of War, Xena looked into his eyes. "Can you give Gabrielle her Gift back?" She asked with her remaining strength.

"Of course I can." He said softly. "But what will you give ME for returning her gift?" The God of War asked, struggling to contain his joy of this sweet and certain victory. Xena looked at him, knowing what he wanted, knowing the price.

A sound of hoof beats and an Amazon yell interrupted her answer. The God of War turned his head towards the commotion to find the woman of no words charging him with her staff. Before the shocked God of War could act, he felt a powerful whack under his chin, toppling him on his backside.

"NO!" The woman of no words barked to the God of War, becoming a woman of one word.

Xena bolted to her feet, not sure which surprised her more, Gabrielle attacking the God of War or her utterance of a word. "Gabrielle..." Xena called out in amazement.

Busy with a God at the moment, Gabrielle kept her attention towards Ares. "No." Gabrielle repeated her word, angrily eyeing Ares. She gripped her staff firmly, ready to use it again. "No," she repeated slowly, with conviction.

The attack greatly improved Ares' opinion of the former bard. "Impressive," Ares responded, rubbing where she hit him. He stood up and sighed. Slowly brushing himself off, he felt not angry but rather, put upon by the inconvenience.

"Trust me Xena, you will get tired of hearing NO all the time." He informed Xena smugly.

"You should know." Xena responded dryly.

Ares looked up with surprise at the Warrior Princess, who found new strength. The bard did it again, he realized, growing concerned. "You still can get her Gift back Xena, her Gift for your allegiance...just say the word." He offered.

"NO." The woman of one word repeated, having a feeling it was still an appropriate response to this particular God.

"That's the word...NO." Xena responded, drawing a look of relief from the woman of one word. Seeing the smile the former bard, and her word, put on the Warrior Princess' face, Ares realized this battle was lost. The God of War groaned angrily and raised his hand to the former bard, who did not cower from Ares' imposing presence or the impending blow.

"Ares!" Xena called out, drawing his gaze from the bard.

"Yes Xena?" He asked in a pleasant voice, knowing he still had some control.

"Don't...please," Xena asked sincerely. Ares knew Xena was not bargaining. She was simply making a request. Ares paused a few moments as he debated with himself. Sighing heavily, the God of War lowered his hand.

"Don't you DARE tell anyone I showed mercy to someone who hit me in the face. You just don't appreciate what I will DO for you." Ares shook his head.

"Thank you." Xena responded sincerely. Ares sighed, shaking his head.

"You know Xena, she's your greatest weakness," he relayed, eyeing the former bard.

"Your wrong Ares, she's my greatest strength."


"HEY!" Texius blurted out for the millionth time. They ignored him, continuing their monumental task of reading through thousands of scrolls to find a scroll that might not exist. "No, I really mean it! READ this!!" Texius rolled out the scroll on the table for the other Verbinians to read.

Verbis reluctantly got up and eyed Texius skeptically. "Read!" Texius prompted him. Sighing heavily, Verbis began to read. "My Gods," He blurted, his head snapping up. "there IS a way."

With Liberus snugly tied to Argo, the women headed back to Verbinia. Every time the Xena would check on Liberus, Gabrielle noticed the warrior cringe. There was no mistaking the evidence, Xena had severely beaten the man. And now she was struggling to deal with that, Gabrielle observed. How could she help her warrior without her words, Gabrielle wondered with a sinking heart.

Finished checking on Liberus, Xena reached for Argo's reigns to continue their trip back. Surprising the warrior, Gabrielle took Xena's hands in hers and inspected her knuckles. Xena pulled her hands back, but the Amazon would have none of that. As Gabrielle firmly held onto the offending hands, Xena's head sunk in shame.

"No," Gabrielle uttered her word. Xena hesitantly looked into Gabrielle's eyes, afraid to see them full of disgust for her loss of control. Yet, the warrior found no such look. Instead, Gabrielle's eyes met hers with an unflinching gaze of love. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the stiff warrior, evoking a heavy sigh from Xena. A long moment passed before Xena finally returned the needed embrace.

"XENA! XENA!" Joxer called excitedly as he ran towards them.

Gabrielle pulled away from the embrace with a furrowed brow. "No, No, No, NO!" The bard blurted.

Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer returned to Verbinia with the unconscious Liberus. As the soldiers lifted Liberus' body off of Argo, Verbis eyed the beaten thief, then Xena. Xena took a deep breath to prepare herself for his comments.

"I don't think I could have stopped." Verbis admitted and abruptly left. Xena stared numbly at the brother of the man she killed, as he followed the soldiers to the Ceremonial Hall.

"Come on you guys!" Joxer urged them.

As they entered the Ceremonial Hall, Gabrielle became visibly agitated. Instinctively, Xena placed her hand on the bard's shoulder as they entered the Alter Room. While the thief was being lowered to the altar by the soldiers, Xena noted the entire counsel of Elders observing anxiously.

Talea nervously reread the scroll of instructions. Texius tried to quiz her on the steps. "Would you MIND?" Talea snapped at the lead Attendant, who's actions made her more nervous.

"She is only the Fourth Attendant." Loquus relayed with some concern. "Are you sure you can do this?" Loquus asked Talea.

"Talea is the best choice Loquus," Texius responded. "She's the quickest study of ALL the Attendants." Texius announced proudly.

"Lucky me," Talea muttered as she reread the scroll one last time. "OK...Let's get on with it." Talea announced.

Talea took Gabrielle's hand to lead her over to the Alter. Gabrielle looked back at Xena uneasily. Xena nodded, encouraging her to follow Talea. Gabrielle swallowed hard and followed the Attendant to the head of the Alter. Texius stood next to Gabrielle, holding the scroll open for Talea, in case she forgot what came next.

"Shouldn't she be lying down?" Joxer asked.

"It's harder on a person to give than to receive Joxer," Talea replied. "She'll be fine STANDING," Talea blurted. "Ok then," Talea exhaled loudly, ready as she was ever going to be.

"What will happen to Liberus?" Xena asked, surprising everyone. Talea looked to the Lead Attendant to field that question.

"We don't know." Texius admitted. "If he still has his gift, perhaps nothing...or perhaps... he'll die." Texius added. "We just don't know."

After an uneasy and quiet moment, Talea exhaled impatiently. "Everyone ready?" Talea asked, eyeing the Outsiders. Joxer and the Warrior Princess nodded quietly.

Talea looked at Gabrielle, who shifted uncomfortably. "The Gift of Gabrielle belongs with Gabrielle." Talea announced formally, beginning.

"It is because of this, we are gathered here." Talea looked around the room. "With the blessings of the Elders, the Gift of Gabrielle shall be returned."

Talea raised her hands and held one over Liberus' forehead head and the other, beside Gabrielle's temple. "In Liberus, lies the Gift, unjustly. By the powers of the Ancients, I take back this Gift to right a wrong." Talea touched the two.

"Ugh," Gabrielle moaned, her eyes fluttered. "NO!" She blurted, recoiling back abruptly, almost falling.

"Gabrielle!" Xena called, immediately moving to her side. "What happened!" Xena snapped, looking coldly at Talea.

"I ...I ...don't know." Talea shook nervously. "I followed the steps...I ...I don't know what happened," Talea added, fearing she did something wrong and hurt Gabrielle.

A laugh filled the room, a familiar laugh to the Warrior Princess. "I'll give you a hint." Ares offered, appearing next to Talea.

"He doesn't have it anymore," He whispered loudly in Talea's ear, making her jump. He laughed as he walked around the nervous Talea. His eyes were fixed on the Warrior Princess who eyed him back. "Oh, he has HIS meager gift, but not hers...I'm taking care of that now." He gently touched his temple and grinned. "hmmm...I guess that really wasn't a HINT, was it?" He crossed his arms and tapped his cheek thoughtfully.

"Why are you doing this to her?" Xena said bitterly.

"Xena, don't you know? I want you back. The Gift for your allegiance" Ares shrugged. "It's that simple"

"NO!" Gabrielle yelled out, moving to stand between Ares and Xena. Whatever he had to say, 'no' was likely a good response, Gabrielle considered. She realized when Talea touched her, her Gift was lost. She wasn't about to loose another precious thing in her life, the most precious.

"PLEASE Xena, take my offer," He urged her, rolling his eyes. "this NO thing is getting really old."

"No Ares." Xena replied weakly, painfully aware of what her answer meant for the bard. "No deals."

Ares eyed the two a moment, considering it just a matter of time. "We are not done, my Warrior Princess." Ares informed her and disappeared.

The uneasy silence in the room was interrupted by the moan of a waking Liberus. "Get him out of here." Verbis blurted with contempt. As the soldiers took Liberus away, Verbis took a deep breath. "We should all get some's been a long day." He sighed.

The Alter room slowly cleared, as the sad eyes of soldiers, Attendants, and Elders alike, awkwardly glanced towards the two numb women. Joxer lingered behind, in case they would need him for something. He watched the two stare into the empty space, previously occupied by the God of War. He waited patiently, then reluctantly left the two alone. The foot steps of their friend echoed in the almost empty stone room.

Xena didn't know how long they stood just staring, but she did know it was time to leave this vile room. She stepped along side of Gabrielle, finally seeing the drained expression on her face. Xena placed her arm around the Amazon and guided her out.

That evening in the soldier's barracks, Joxer, Bass and Talea sat behind a table with a large pile of scrolls. As they handed them out to the long line of soldiers, Bass kept looking around for Elders or Attendants.

"Are you sure the Elders won't mind we are doing this?" Bass signed nervously.

"Nope," Talea said flatly, continuing to hand out another scroll to a soldier with a warm smile. The soldier signed 'thank you' and moved on.

"Oh," Bass blurted uneasily. "Where did you get these?" He signed, then handed out a scroll.

"Where do you THINK?" She responded, shaking her head. She handed out another scroll and another smile.

"Oh," Bass blurted uneasily. "What if they get mad...order us to stop or ...worse?" He signed to her.

"Bass, this is right. If they get mad, tough! If they order us to stop...well...tough! How can we teach them well if we don't have the materials?" She signed with a passion that made him smile.

"Oh," he responded with a wide smile, not so uneasy anymore. That was, until Thesaurus surprised them.

"What's going on here, what are you DOING?!?" He asked loudly. The line of soldiers started to quickly disburse and Bass was considering retreat himself.

"HALT!" Talea ordered, surprising the scattering soldiers who complied. The soldiers stood frozen in place waiting for their next order. "I am handing out scrolls to them to help them to read." Talea informed him boldly, ready for an argument.

"I see," Thesaurus responded with a raised eyebrow, looking at the stacks of scrolls yet to be handed out.

"It IS a really good idea..." Joxer interjected.

Bass was praying he would only be assigned extra guard duty at the front gate for this.

"Do you need any help, assistance?" Thesaurus asked with a grin, making Talea smile brightly and Bass very relieved. Joxer handed him a scroll.

Not long after the soldiers reassembled and the scrolls were once again being handed out, Xena entered the barracks. She walked briskly towards the table of scrolls, passing the long line of soldiers. The stares she received were not out of fear this time, but sympathy. Xena wasn't sure which was worse.

"Xena! How's Gabby?" Joxer asked, bolting up out of his seat, making her wince.

"Sleeping." Xena responded flatly.

"You know if you need anything..." Joxer offered, interrupted by Thesaurus.

"We are here for you my child," Thesaurus informed her.

"Yes, whatever you need..." Talea offered, interrupted by Bass.

"Sorry ...about...Gab," Bass relayed sincerely, which was the last straw for Xena.

"Her name is not GAB. Her name is not GABBY. Her name is GABRIELLE. She may not know the difference, but I DO," Xena snapped.

"I'm sorry Xena." Joxer cringe as the Verbinians wisely backed off, giving her a much-needed wide berth.

"Joxer..." Xena exhaled heavily and paused, not knowing how to being. "I need your help." She finally blurted, shifting uncomfortably. Joxer looked back at the Verbinians, wondering whom she was talking to. "Joxer," Xena blurted with frustration.


Through the night, Gabrielle slept soundly, thanks to a healthy dose of Xena's tea. Her peaceful form gave the illusion that all was well, nothing had changed. What a wonderful illusion, the warrior considered. Soon dawn came, and the morning rays of light spilled into the room.

"Gabrielle?" Xena gently shook the sleeping Amazon, who pushed the warrior's hand away and rolled over. "Gabrielle" Xena tried again, shaking the bard a little more with no effect.

Some things didn't change, the warrior noted.

"Gabrielle." The warrior shook her again. The sleeping Amazon continued to resist the warriors attempts at waking her. Xena shook her head and sighed. She could easily extract the Amazon out of the bed by force, Xena considered, but she didn't want to have to live with the consequences. Being the good warrior that she was, she quickly came up with another plan.

Gabrielle slightly stirred as she felt a cool breeze over the back of her neck. She stirred more when that cool breeze turned into a warm breath. Gabrielle's eyes popped wide open when she felt soft kisses trailing up her neck. Gabrielle quickly closed her eyes as those kisses found their way to her ear. As Xena started to nibble on her ear, Gabrielle let out an obnoxious snoring sound and rolled on her stomach.

"ACK," the Amazon blurted, suddenly no longer on the bed. Within one fell swoop, the warrior had extracted the Amazon using the original plan - force. The Amazon struggled half-heartedly in the warrior's arms, since being in the warrior's arms wasn't all that bad. Looking up at Xena's face, Gabrielle saw a smug victory grin. The Amazon had the incredible desire to wipe that grin off her face. There was only one thing left for her to do.

As Gabrielle leaned and kissed Xena, there was a loud knocking at the door.

"" Gabrielle weakly cried as her forehead plopped against the Warrior Princess' chest. Xena grinned as she kissed the Amazon's head.

"Come on in Joxer." Xena called out, still holding the Amazon in her arms.

"Good morning!" He came in happily.

Gabrielle recognized the annoyingly cheery voice. "AAAHHHHH"

"Gods, is Gabrielle all right?" He asked with concern. "Should I come back later?"

"No. We should get started as soon as possible." Xena responded. She looked at Gabrielle with a raised eyebrow and shook her head no, which diffused the Amazon's temper tantrum. Gabrielle exhaled loudly, making her annoyance very clear to the Warrior Princess.

Xena pointed to herself, Gabrielle then the chairs. Gabrielle sighed and followed the warrior, eyeing Joxer the entire way to the chairs. She plopped down and sighed, looking to Xena with an annoyed smile.

"Ok Joxer, go ahead." Xena sat down.

"Xena, I don't want you to get your hopes up..." Joxer relayed nervously.

"You'll do fine, go ahead." Xena encouraged him, her eyes fixed on him.

"Uh...ok...why don't we start with 'things', I think they will be easier to" Joxer replied seeing half his class looking straight up at an apparently fascinating spot on the ceiling. Either that, or she was counting the wood planks, Joxer guessed.

"Gabrielle!" Xena blurted and slapped her arm, drawing Gabrielle's attention away from the fascinating ceiling. Xena gave Gabrielle a scolding look and pointed to Joxer. Gabrielle sighed. "Go ahead," Xena repeated with a firm nod.

"Ok..." Joxer raised his hand, then noticed half his class was still distracted by other things. Gabrielle found her nails in horrible condition and was tenaciously digging at the dirt beneath them.

"Gabrielle!" Xena blurted again. Gabrielle cringed at the noise and looked up with annoyance. She did, after all, want to keep her nails nice. With a heavy sigh, Gabrielle finally focused on their visitor.

Joxer showed them the sign for cup and pointed to the cup. "Now you sign 'cup'," Joxer instructed them. Xena signed it perfectly and looked to Gabrielle to make sure she wasn't off counting floorboards. Gabrielle was not counting floorboards, or tending to her nails, or mesmerized by the fascinating spot on the ceiling. She was looking at the Warrior Princess with tears in her eyes.

"Gabrielle's not ready for this Joxer." Xena blurted nervously. "You should go," She added, feeling horrible for rushing the lessons.

"Oh...ok, Xena. Maybe later then," he replied and headed for the door.

"NO!" Gabrielle blurted in a panic. Within a blink of an eye, the Amazon grabbed him, turned him around, pushed him back in place, picked up the cup, slammed it into his chest, and sat back down. She exhaled heavily and lifted up her hand to sign 'cup'.

"I guess she IS ready for this," Joxer rubbed his sore chest.

"We shouldn't... disappoint her then," Xena responded softly, words catching in her throat.

Joxer nodded and started to sign cup again but noticed that now, his entire class was distracted by other things. "It would REALLY be easier if you and Gabrielle looked at ME instead of each other..." Joxer complained, wondering if he really was cut out for this teaching thing. Xena slowly turned back to him with a raised eyebrow. "I didn't mean...I mean...not that there's anything..." Joxer blurted nervously.

"Go ahead Joxer," Xena interrupted her nervous friend. "Teach us."


Xena waited for Gabrielle to come back from one of her long walks, which seemed to be getting longer each day they stayed in Verbinia. Xena paced the room with frustration. When they spend time together, it seemed to be either in the company of Joxer, who continued to teach them sign language, or with an exhausted Gabrielle, who wanted to sleep.

Xena sat down annoyed and tapped her fingers on the table. She couldn't blame Gabrielle for being so exhausted, considering everything she had been through and how hard she was working to learn sign language. They had been at it for over a week, and Gabrielle had learned so much, so quickly, the warrior thought proudly. Her tenacity and drive were incredible, Xena considered.

After a short moment, Xena stood and walked over to the window. She gazed down at the alley, letting out a long sigh. Xena wondered what ever possessed her to encourage her partner to take a break from their lessons and suggest nice long walks. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Gabrielle was working so hard and needed a break, Xena recalled. Of course, that idea didn't go over that well at first, Xena remembered. Must have been that incredibly annoyed look on her partner's face that tipped her to that conclusion, Xena cringed at the memory.

Though, after much effort to convince Gabrielle she should go for a walk, her partner finally agreed. Xena had intended they go for a walk together, but it didn't exactly turn out that way. The incredibly annoyed Amazon finally told her that she needed a break and would go - alone. Since that first walk, Gabrielle continued to go alone, Xena sighed. Now these walks were taking an incredibly long time, Xena considered with growing concern.

Once again, Xena sat down at the table and tapped her fingers on the table. Gabrielle should be back by now, the warrior considered. "This is ridiculous," Xena blurted and left the room in search of Gabrielle.

Ares emerged from a dark corner of the room, eyeing the door and waiting.


As Xena passed people in the street, she asked if they had seen the redhead. After having no success with the first eight people she stopped, she finally found someone. "Oh yeah Xena, she's in the Ceremonial Hall." An attendant informed the surprised Warrior, who nodded.

As she walked to the Ceremonial Hall, Xena couldn't understand why Gabrielle would want to be there. That place had brought Gabrielle nothing but pain and to be around so many scrolls she couldn't read, could only bring her more, Xena considered.

Entering the Hall, Xena noticed how many soldiers were there. "Xena," Verbis came up to her with a smile.

"Have you seen Gabrielle?" She asked, looking around.

"Yes, she's in class right now," Verbis informed her.

"Class?" Xena questioned.

"Yes, come" He relayed, escorting her to the classroom. "Her dedication is amazing." He informed the confused warrior. "Verbis, what class?" Xena asked.

"Reading and writing, of course," Verbis relayed, a little confused at her question.

They stopped at the door and peaked into the class in progress. Talea was instructing a diverse class, from children to old soldiers, with an ex-bard thrown in. In the front row Gabrielle sat with a quill in her hand, in the middle of a writing exercise.

Talea held up the letter Kappa. The class repeated "Kappa" and started to write the letter on their parchment.

"This is the beginning class. They are learning the alphabet, how to recognize, say and write the letters." He informed Xena quietly, not to disturb the students. "Talea is an excellent teacher." He smiled appreciatively.

"She's been coming for a week...." Xena said hollowly.

"Yes...Oh, they are almost finished." Verbis informed her.

Xena waited outside the room as the students exited the room slowly.

"Xena," Talea emerged from the room. "She's in there still, like usual." Talea smiled. "Practice, practice, practice...." Talea laughed softly.

"Talea, I need to talk to you when you are done," Verbis interjected. Talea looked at Xena who nodded.

"What's up?" Talea asked.

"Come, we have much to discuss about the school," Verbis informed her.

Talea smiled, feeling almost giddy. "I'd thought I would never hear an Elder discussing a school." Talea relayed with enthusiasm.

"You may not think that such a good thing after you hear the ideas Thesaurus has," Verbis relayed, wiping the grin off of Talea's face.

Xena watched as the Amazon continued to work on her letters. The intense look on her face as she diligently copied the letters made Xena remember happier days, when the bard was working on perfecting a poem or story. Now she was simply copying letters, Xena sighed, a little louder than she intended.

Surprise filled Gabrielle's face. She sighed and looked to the ground, not up for another argument about pushing herself too hard. "Gabrielle..." Xena uttered sadly, pulling up a chair and sitting beside her partner.

"I am sorry," Xena signed to the Amazon, surprising her. Gabrielle gazed in the warrior's eyes a moment then stoked her cheek. She smiled and signed something.

"Big Shield???" Xena uttered in confusion. Her shrug caused her partner to sign again. Xena stared at her a moment then understood. "Oh," Xena softly laughed. "You said over protective was sweet," Xena signed to her with a raised eyebrow, making Gabrielle's eyes roll.

"It's a pain in the..." Gabrielle signed.

"Gabrielle!" Xena blurted, interrupting the Amazon's next gesture. "Be nice," Xena signed.


Another week passed and Gabrielle noticed her warrior was slowly being driven insane by the boredom. As Gabrielle practiced her letters, Xena stared out the window. Xena must have every inch of that alley memorized by now, Gabrielle considered. She put her quill down and walked over to the warrior, touching her gently on the shoulder.

"You are ready to leave," Gabrielle signed.

"We will go when you are ready, " Xena signed back.

"I am ready to leave," Gabrielle signed, surprising the skeptical warrior.

"You have much more to learn," Xena signed. "We will stay."

In the morning, Xena and Gabrielle stood at the Verbinian gates saying their good-byes to their friends. Talea hugged the Amazon. "I want to thank you for all that you've done." Talea signed to her. "Your words helped us change," Talea relayed.

"I read what was written." Gabrielle signed back and shrugged. "I am glad I had that chance." She added, sadness in her eyes though a smile on her face. "Have you talked to Loquus? He had some ideas about your school," Gabrielle signed. Talea groaned, considering all the wonderful help she was getting from the Elders.

Verbis and Xena stood awkwardly next to each other. "I..." They spoke in unison, then softly chuckled.

"I am sorry about your brother, Verbis." Xena looked him in the eye. Verbis nodded, quietly accepting the apology.

"If someone told me a month ago, I'd be standing and chatting with the Warrior Princess, I would have told them they were crazy." Verbis relayed with a half laugh. His eyes glanced over at the former bard, causing the warrior's eyes to do the same. Talea and Gabrielle were signing furiously to each other.

"Gabrielle's works were celebrated because they were a breath of fresh air, Xena, like the woman herself." He saw Xena shift uncomfortably, but he had to continue. "She has showed us that words alone are not enough." He informed her what she already knew. "Verbinians will always be grateful for that lesson. But we will always be sorry the price of that lesson was so high."

"Xena! Gabrielle!" Joxer rushed up to them.

"Are you ready to go?" Xena asked, grateful for the interruption. Gabrielle sighed.

"Uh Xena...I'm staying here for a while." He announced and signed. "To teach?" Xena asked.

"Yeah. I figure if I can teach you two to sign, I can teach anybody ANYTHING," Joxer relayed. "Uh I didn't mean that you were difficult...uh....I meant...the way you two....uh .....not that there's anything wrong....uh," Joxer nervously added.

"Joxer...." Xena interrupted. "I owe you a great debt. You are a true friend." Xena relayed honestly, making Joxer smile broadly.

"Thank you," Gabrielle signed.

"Don't think anything of it, I am glad I could help." He smiled warmly as he signed.

"You were my best student," Joxer signed to Gabrielle, then glanced over to Xena, who shook her head. "Uh...not that ...what I meant was...." Joxer's nervous explanation was interrupted by a kiss to his cheek by his easily distracted, best student.

"Thank you," Gabrielle signed to the now blushing Joxer.


Xena and Gabrielle were relieved to finally be traveling away from Verbinia. They rode for most of the day, making good time to a destination Xena had not picked yet. She didn't care. She was just content traveling. They both were. It felt almost normal.

"We should make camp, it'll be dark soon," Xena announced, Gabrielle to turned in the saddle and looked back at her curiously. Xena sighed, silently scolding herself for relying only on words. Xena simply pointed to the clearing. The bard nodded.

They went about their chores, finding a little comfort in the familiar routine. As Gabrielle collected wood for the fire, she found a large bush of berries that would make a nice dessert. She came back to camp with a smile at her discovery. It quickly faded, however, when she realized she would have to wait to inform the Warrior Princess. With her arms full of wood, she couldn't talk.

"What's wrong?" Xena signed, seeing the perplexed look on the Amazon's face. Gabrielle eyes glanced down at the wood and unceremoniously tossed it into the pit.

"Nothing," Gabrielle signed and exhaled loudly as she stacked the wood in the pit.

"I'll get some fish," Xena signed to her after unpacking. She left camp before Gabrielle could tell her it wasn't necessary. The Amazon wasn't very hungry.

Gabrielle sat and poked at the fire with a stick. It seemed that Xena was taking an awfully long time catching a lousy fish she really didn't want, Gabrielle considered, poking at the fire again. Looking at the stick in her hand, Gabrielle decided to make use of this time. Gabrielle wrote the letter alpha in the dirt.

After going through the alphabet a few times, Gabrielle started to get worried. She reached for her staff and stood up, just as the warrior returned. "Where have you been?" Gabrielle signed with a worried look on her face.

Xena just shrugged and showed her the fish.

After they ate, Xena was going to attempt some small talk. They didn't have any chores to make it difficult, and that was what they would normally do after dinner. Actually, it was what the bard would do after dinner, the warrior recalled the usual one-sided conversations.

The Amazon had other plans. Gabrielle picked up her stick and went back to her writing exercise in the dirt. In addition to fire building, unpacking, and tending to Argo, Xena found it was also extremely difficult to converse with someone who was practicing writing in the dirt. Xena sighed as she pulled out her sword and sharpening stone.

The next day, the two were abruptly woken by sounds of fighting. Xena immediately left camp to investigate the commotion. The Amazon followed closely behind. The two tracked the sounds to the main road, where they found a man fighting to protect his wife, small child and loaded wagon from four robbers. Xena jumped into the fray, wielding her sword with a flourish. Her eyes narrowed at the attackers.

Ares stood by a tree watching with a grin, always pleased to see Xena use her skills with the sword. This ought to perk her right up, Ares thought as the invisible spectator circled the fight.

"I suggest you" Xena spoke cooly. The four looked at each other, seeming to consider her words, much to the God of War's dismay.

"No you don't," Ares muttered when the four started to back down. With a new surge of energy, the robbers attacked with more vigor. Xena sighed and easily blocked the attackers' blows. Gabrielle moved to the wagon, fending off attacks to the family. Xena quickly disarmed the robbers, who ran away.

Xena sighed, eyeing them as she sheathed her sword. "I don't know who you are but THANKS!" The father blurted wiping the sweat off his brow. "We were on our way home from the market in Sensuria and these guys come out of no where....the roads just aren't safe anymore." The father blurted more than he intended.

Gabrielle turned and smiled warmly at the young girl who clung to her mother. "Thank you." The mother spoke to the Amazon, who guessed they were saying thanks and signed back "Your welcome....glad to help."

"What is she doing?" The young girl blurted nervously, clinging to her mother tighter.

"She said your welcome" Xena explained.

"Don't be frightened honey, she's just an idiot." The mother informed her child matter-of-factly, causing the Warrior Princess to recoil.

"She is NOT an idiot!" Xena snapped.

"We meant no offense...I'm terribly sorry," the father apologized nervously, quickly moving to his wagon.

As the family rode away, Xena noticed the bard staring blankly at the ground. When Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, she turned to the warrior. "The child was scared," Gabrielle signed. "Scared of me," She added, slightly cringing. She went back to camp and quickly made herself busy, packing up their things.

Xena tried to sign to her, but Gabrielle wasn't looking. Xena turned the Amazon to face her. "They didn't understand," Xena signed to her. Gabrielle nodded weakly, and returned to packing. Xena sighed, not knowing what else to say.


When they stopped for lunch, Xena sensed something wrong. Gabrielle could feel the warrior's body tense and instinctively slipped down off of Argo, knowing something was going to happen. She wasn't disappointed. Out of the dense foliage came seven armed men. Xena and Gabrielle quickly glanced at each other and sighed heavily.

Ares stood grinning, watching the Warrior Princess unsheathe her wonderful sword. "There you go Xena, some more entertainment for you," the invisible spectator mused. Then caught some interesting action from the Little Amazon. "Ouch!" Ares recoiled seeing the Amazon strike the attacker in a sensitive area without hesitation.

"Oh that WAS cruel..." He laughed at the attacker's expense. "Oh NICE follow through!" He added, seeing the crunched over attacker's feet swept out from under him. He fell to the ground with a heavy thud.

Ares looked over at Xena who was easily besting the attackers, yet, without the enthusiasm he had hoped to see. Ares sighed and returned his attention to the entertaining woman of one word. "YES! TWO down...nice block....Oooh good hit!" He blurted, surprising himself. The attack was quickly over, to the disappointment of the God of War. The Little Amazon had fire in her, he mused appreciatively. He watched the Warrior Princess sheathe her sword and shook his head sadly.

That evening they made camp and once again, Xena offered to go catch something for dinner. Her quick departure from camp surprised the Amazon, who still wasn't that hungry. Gabrielle sighed and sat by the fire, poking at it with her stick.

Xena found she had wandered miles from camp in her half-hearted attempt at catching something for dinner. She hadn't intended to go that far, it just happened. She sat down on a felled tree and stared off into the trees.

"Are you expecting your prey to come to you?" Ares asked smugly.

"Go away," She said weakly, still staring off into the trees.

"Xena, you look so sad. Where is that spark of fire in those beautiful eyes of yours?" He relayed, eyeing her. He shook his head sadly.

"What ever happened to that Warrior Princess who took glorious satisfaction in winning a battle?" He asked.

Her eyes slowly shifted to meet his gaze. She stared cooly at the God who obviously was using Gabrielle's Gift. A weapon less dangerous now that she recognized it.

"What ever happened to that Warrior Princess who took pride in her amazing skills and delighted me by showing them?" He asked, recalling fondly the battles of not so long ago.

"That Warrior Princess died." Xena informed him bluntly. His eyes narrowed. That damn bard did it, he fumed silently. That damn bard she loves so much. Extreme situations call for extreme measures, the God considered, pondering his next move. Why must things be so complicated, he sighed.

"I know something that should put that spark back in those eyes Xena." He stood with a smile. "How fast can you run?" Ares challenged her with a grin and disappeared.

"NO!" She blurted fearfully. She bolted up and sprinted with all her might back to camp.


Gabrielle was done poking the fire, practicing the alphabet in the dirt, and had now moved on to pacing. She was running out of things to do while waiting. Why did Xena have to insist on hunting for dinner, Gabrielle sighed.

Ares suddenly appeared in front of her, blocking her from continuing on her well-worn path.

"Do you know what have you DONE to her?" Ares asks her accusingly. Jumping back with surprise, Gabrielle glanced over at her staff, which was too far away. Not that it would help against a God, she considered. She caught her breath and eyed him coldly, wishing she had her staff, if not just to lean on.

"She's a PATHETIC excuse for a warlord! You have turned an amazingly powerful woman into a pile of ...of MUSH" He spit out distastefully, his loud sounds made the Little Amazon cringe.

"Over YOU," he spurted out in disbelief. "YOU and your damn words... DAMN IT!" He pointed at her accusingly. "How can I get the old Warrior Princess back with her in this condition?? I throw a little skirmish here, a fight there and NOTHING! She has no spark left!!! Because of YOU." He angrily blurted to the underminer of his perfect plan, who winced at each loud sound, but stood her ground.

"YOU!! You keep RUINING everything!" He barks. The look of confusion the former bard's made him groan. "Of course I'm wasting my time YELLING at you...because YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME!" He yells up to the sky with a frustrated laugh.

He sighs heavily and turns his gaze to the woman of one word, still standing her ground. Ares nodded appreciatively at this bold mortal, making Gabrielle more nervous. She was actually more comfortable with his display of temper.

"Well it's about time," Ares grinned, hearing Xena approaching.

He looked at the Little Amazon. "I almost forgot why I was here...there is that little matter about being WACKED in the face," he relayed with annoyance, swinging the back of his fist towards the Amazon.

"NO!!!!" Xena yelled out as she ran towards them, too late to stop the attack. Ares' back hand contacted the bard under her chin with such force, she was propelled back a few feet. She landed on the ground with a thud.

"GABRIELLE!!!" Xena yelled out, rushing to her side.

"I owed her one." Ares grinned smugly.

"You BASTARD," Xena blurted, nervously checking the unconscious Amazon for a pulse. There was one, Xena exhaled, briefly closing her eyes with relief.

"I've been called worse" He grinned, pleased to see at least some spark left. "Until next time my Warrior Princess..." He disappeared.

Xena laid the unconscious Amazon down carefully on her bedroll and proceeded to put a cold compress on her jaw, knowing it would ache when Gabrielle woke. She was lucky it wasn't broken, Xena considered, closing her eyes with the unsettling memory of Ares striking the one she loved. She sat staring at the red headed woman, who didn't deserve all the pain she was living through. Pain Xena felt responsible for bringing her.

Gabrielle stirred from her unconscious state. "Gabrielle..." Xena uttered softly, gently caressing her partner's forehead, then cheek.

Gabrielle sat up slowly. "Ugghh," she blurted, holding her head.

"This should help...." Xena remarked, handing her a cup of tea. Herbal tea was something Gabrielle had needed a lot of lately, Xena thought sadly.

Gabrielle nodded slowly and took the cup.

"Thanks." Gabrielle remarked, rubbing her sore jaw.

"Your wel...come." The Warrior responds, staring at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle gulps the entire contents of the cup and rubs her temple. "Ugh...I've got SUCH a headache."

Xena eyes widened in disbelief.

"Gabrielle??" Xena asked cautiously.

"What?" Gabrielle responds, still rubbing her temple. "What??" Gabrielle asks again, becoming a little annoyed when Xena doesn't answer. Just like her to say something and not complete...a...thought. It finally hit the bard.

"XENA!" Gabrielle blurted, grabbing her partner's arm. "I've got a HEADACHE!!" Gabrielle repeated with great excitement. "Ow.." She cringed at the sound of her loud voice. "Xena say something to me...please..." Gabrielle pleaded, looking to the Warrior Princess, who was too afraid to hope, to speak.

"Please Xena, say something to me..." The bard pleaded again, fearing this was a trick or dream.

"Gabrielle," Xena uttered, her voice catching. "Gabrielle, I love you..." Xena pulled the bard into her arms and held on to her tightly.

"I love you! Oh Xena, I can understand words!" Gabrielle laughed with shear joy.

"Beautiful, glorious, wonderful, fabulous, extraordinary, amazing, stupendous, marvelous, incredible, fascinating, wonderful...oh...I've already mentioned wonderful... but they truly are! So are you! And in case you have been wondering...I... love... you, I love you, I love you, I love you." The bard blurted, hugging her warrior tightly, and sighed with relief.

The Warrior Princess cried, desperately holding onto her bard. After a moment waiting for the Xena to say something, the bard pulled back and looked her in the eye. She gently wiped the stream of tears from Xena's face.

"Those had better be tears of JOY Xena." Gabrielle remarked flatly, causing Xena to give her the precious gift of a smile and a laugh.

"Do I get a moment to think about that?" Xena asked, causing the bard's eyes to narrow.

"Sure Xena, I can be PATIENT," Gabrielle responded.


After dinner, Xena attempted some small talk. "How's your jaw?" Xena asked, getting up from the opposite side of the fire.

"Fine," the bard responded bluntly, noticing the warrior moving closer.

"Your head?" Xena asked, casually stopping at Argo, giving her a scratch on the neck.

"You know my headache was gone, then all of a came back, funny isn't it?" Gabrielle relayed with amusement.

"Hilarious," Xena muttered. "I could get you some tea for that," Xena added helpfully.

"No thanks, I am SICK of tea," Gabrielle blurted honestly. "I could go for some wine..."

Xena was immediately at her side with a wineskin.

"...if you have... any." Gabrielle eyed the wine and innocent look on the warrior's face. "Thanks," Gabrielle took the wine and a sip.

"Nice weather we're having..." Xena offered, sitting next to the bard.

"What?!?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.

"It's NOT nice weather?" Xena asked, looking up at the sky.

"You are incredible!" Gabrielle blurted with frustration.

"Thank you. You're pretty amazing yourself," Xena responded, smiling warmly with a playful twinkle in her eye.

The bard looked blankly at the Warrior Princess. "Xena, for someone who is fluent in four languages...." Gabrielle responded.

"Five, if you count Greek." Xena interrupted her with a grin, noting the bard made the same mistake at the Ceremony Dinner.

"I AM counting Greek," Gabrielle stated flatly.

"Ouch," Xena laughed and shook her head. The bard was back and she was not pulling any punches, Xena thought, not wanting it any other way.

"I've missed this," Gabrielle relayed.

"Verbally abusing me?" Xena asked.

"No, your fascinating discussions on the weather," Gabrielle stated flatly. "Sure, some people might look up at the moon and become romantically inspired...but not the Princess of Practical." Gabrielle noted with feigned appreciation, as she turned to face the Warrior Princess.

"Sure, some people might notice how beautiful, let's say for argument's sake...your hair is, in the moonlight." Gabrielle relayed, gently touching the raven hair in question.

"For argument's sake...I'm with you," Xena responded, intently focused on the bard.

"Of course you would point out that the lack of clouds in the sky precludes the need to seek shelter from the elements." Gabrielle relayed flatly.

"And your point is...?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle eyed the warrior and sighed.

"Some people would notice how the moonlight makes your eyes sparkle with such...breath...taking... beauty, the stars in the heavens are put to shame..." Gabrielle gazed into the eyes in question.

"For example," Gabrielle added bluntly.

"For example...of course," Xena inched closer to the bard.

"You, however, would point out that the moonlight makes traveling at night easier...unless you were interested in moving undetected in the forest, whereby moonlight would be a disadvantage," Gabrielle relayed.

"An important consideration Gabrielle," Xena responded thoughtfully.

"But, there are some people that might even say... that the moonlight embraces your enchanting face, creating a magnificent aura, which only pales in comparison to your own natural radiance," Gabrielle said, slowly tracing her fingers along the enchanting face in question.

Xena swallowed hard.

"And what would I say?" Xena whispered, feeling the warmth from the bard sitting inches from her.

"I'm not sure..." Gabrielle responded, her heart racing. "...perhaps that romantic words are wonderful...but... not enough."

Xena slowly leaned towards the bard. When their lips finally met, they both pulled back abruptly and scanned the forest for interruptions. With small chuckles at their common apprehension, their gazes returned to each other.

That night, there were no interruptions.



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