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 Changes of Heart Pt. iv


Disclaimers: These characters arenít mine. They belong to Mr. Tapert and Co. Iím just borrowing them to vent. Itís not a happy tale and it involves two women who once loved each other deeply. If either of these facts disturb you donít read this tale. Also it contains spoilers for the last few eps of season five.

This tale is set after "Motherhood" up until season six


TELLING TALES

"She is I tell you!"

A group of patrons at the tables of the tavern laughed louder the more August protested.

"Well if she is who you claim little girl," a man called out. "Perhaps the great bard of Poteidaia will favor us with a tale umm?"

Why couldnít she just let it go? Gabrielle thought. Her fingers worked their way through her growing hair as she sighed in frustration.

"Come on Gabrielle," August coaxed toward the stage. "Get up there and show Ďem."

Gabrielle looked to Eponin who tried to hide her grin by taking a quick swig of mead.

Reluctantly Gabrielle rose from the table and made her way to the stage as the man who had been teasing August began a round of applause.

"Give it up for the Ďbard of Poteidaiaí," the man teased as he clapped, certain that the young woman was pulling his leg.

The barkeep put a stool on the small platform, which was used as a stage. "Go on honey," he said warmly to the bard.

As Gabrielle looked out into the audience, judging the crowd, she wondered what kind of tale would do well with them. The longer she looked the more she realized something. Every tale she had was about Xena. Her Ďlifeís workí consisted solely of the warrior princess. Could she possibly pull of a tale of bravery and passion since she was so undecided about her former lover?

The longer Gabrielle sat the more hecklers joined in. She felt herself beginning to sweat. Stage fright. Youíve never had stage fright Gabrielle. Just calm down and take a deep breath. Think damn it. Think! . . . What the hell. Just do it!!

"I sing of Xena," Gabrielle said loud enough to be heard over the crowd. The boldness of her words brought the chatter to a halt. "Destroyer of Nations, Tigress of Amphipolis . . . the Warrior Princess.

I came to know the warrior known as Xena in my 17th year. I was an idealistic farm girl who craved adventure . . . something more in life than someoneís wife and mother . . . On my journeys with Xena I managed to become both . . . But this story, this adventure if you will, took place long before I took a bond oath, long before I had a daughter. Itís the story of bravery, heart wrenching decisions, pride of ones homeland and the power to change the world. That day came when the Persians landed at Marathon . . ."

Soon the words flowed from Gabrielleís mouth. It was second nature to the bard. All eyes and ears were fixated on the petite blonde woman telling the powerful, moving story. Women wept when hearing how torn the warrior felt for serving the Ďgreater goodí instead of the woman she prized. Men cheered as the listened to how Xena took on Persian after Persian unwilling to surrender. By the time Gabrielle finished the crowd was on its feet applauding the tale as the man who began the heckling came over to her.

"My apologies great bard," he said with a warm grin as he kissed her knuckles softly. "Thank you for the tale."

Gabrielle smiled in kind, "It was my pleasure."

Augustís grin was as wide as the staff she now carried as Gabrielle returned to the their table. Eponin however didnít look as pleased.

"Are you okay?" Gabrielle asked upon seeing her friendsí condition.

"Yeah I just need another mead," she said rising, going to the bar.

August and Gabrielle exchanged looks and August gave a shrug unsure of what was transpiring. "I thought it was a beautiful story," she said as Gabrielle rose to follow the amazon.

"Thanks sweetie," Gabrielle replied sincerely. "Iíll be right back so stay out of trouble," the bard teased.

"Who? Me?" August grinned, knowing full aware of the havoc that she could wreak.

Gabrielle gave a light chuckle but said nothing as she took a spot at Eponin's elbow at the bar.

"Come here often," Gabrielle teased as she wiggled her eyebrows.

That got a small grin to appear on the amazonís lips, "You know for a bard you have some lousy pick up lines."

"I should work on that area huh?" Gabrielle grinned. When Eponin did nothing more than drink from her mug Gabrielle pressed on. "So whatís wrong Ep?" the bard asked.

"Just feeling sorry for myself if you donít mind," Ep answered with a forced grin.

"Why?" Gabrielle asked genuinely confused.

"Because . . . you love her . . . and youíll always love her. And I know in my heart of hearts youíll never love me that way - or anyone for that matter."

"Ep-." Gabrielle tried to say as she sighed.

"No Gabrielle," Eponin said, cutting her off. "I saw it in your eyes tonight when you spoke of her. The emotion, the gestures . . . You still love her."

"And I will always love her," Gabrielle argued. "But that doesnít mean I wonít be able to love someone else."

Gabrielle would have continued but a man burst into the tavern, letting in what was left of daylight.

"Does anyone know where I can find Xena, the warrior princess?!" he asked loudly, short of breath.

Everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and looked at one another. In unison all the fingers in the tavern pointed back to the bar where Gabrielle was standing.

Oh boy, Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

The man rushed back to the amazon pair, still trying to catch his breath. "Are you Xena?" he asked Eponin.

Eponin shook her head at the irony of the comment. No but I wish I was she thought silently. The bard would be mine then.

"Iím Gabrielle. Is there someway I can help you?"

"Gabrielle? The bard of-."

"Poteidaia," Gabrielle finished in a bored tone. "Yeah thatís me. Whatís the problem?"

"Well my village sent me to find Xena but it looks like I might have found the next best thing," he grinned.

"Next best thing?" Gabrielle grinned to Eponin.

Realizing his error the man tried to make up for it. "A thousand apologies. I meant no disrespect. We would be grateful for your help."

Gabrielle put her hands up to stop his rambling. "Itís okay. Tell me whatís going on."

"An army is going to attack our village. Our elders sent four of us out to the four corners to find the warrior princess. Rumor has it that she still travels the countryside after all these years. It was a long shot but we thought if she did still live she could come to our aid."

Gabrielle nodded at the manís story and cleared her throat. "Well last I know Xena was babysitting the god of war. Iím not sure where she is but I think weíd be willing to lend a hand. Wouldnít we?" she added as she turned to Eponin.

"Iím up for it," the amazon grinned.

"Thank you so much," the man said as he profusely shook Gabrielleís hand; nearly making her whole body vibrate.

"Thatís okay," Gabrielle chuckled. "You look tired my friend. Why donít you grab a drink and some food? Rest for a few candlemarks and weíll head out before daybreak to your village. Okay?"

The man nodded and bellied up to the bar. "Weíll be forever in your debt Gabrielle. May I call you Gabrielle?"

"Yeah. Gabrielle, Gabby, Gabs - Iíll answer to just about anything," she teased as she patted him on the back. "Rest now and weíll head out in a bit."

As the man sat down to his stew, Gabrielle motioned Eponin toward the table where August sat. "Do you think sheís up for it?" Eponin asked, looking at August.

"Werenít you the one that said she needed a good dose of reality," Gabrielle teased.

"Touchť," Eponin answered. "But seriously, when the battle begins-."

"Youíll stick to her like glue," Gabrielle answered. "Donít confront anyone. Just watch our backs in case anyone gets by us. Okay?"

"So now I have to baby-sit?" Eponin teased. "Who knew Xena and I had so much in common?" she added in regard to Gabrielleís earlier comment.

"I promised Augustís parents I get her to Athens and I intend to keep my promise," Gabrielle replied. "So donít go in there acting the hero on me tomorrow. Keep the kid safe."

"Aye, aye captain," Eponin saluted as the pair neared the table.

August was already on her feet when she saw them approach. "What was that about?" she asked pointing to the man at the bar.

"Well August my dear," Gabrielle grinned. "Looks like weíre not going straight to Athens. Are you up for a little diversion?"

"Are you kidding?" August said excitedly. "You mean like a Ďrealí adventure? A mission of some kind?"

"You could say that but you have to promise me to stick by Eponin at all times, no matter what . . . Promise?"

August crossed her heart with her pinky. "Promise! . . . This is toooo cool!"

Oh boy . . .

CONFRONTATIONS

"Thereís two more!! Where in HELL are they coming from?!"

Eve kicked one away with the heel of her boot while striking another one down with her sword.

"We canít keep this up much longer," she shouted.

To say that Xena was in full warrior mode was an understatement despite the fact her arm is in a sling from the recent topple on the mountain. She parried a sword from an attackerís hand and gutted him before he had the chance to re-arm himself or flee.

"Donít tell me your getting tired already kiddo," Xena teased. "Ahhrrrrahh," the warrior grunted as she took out two more men approaching behind her with a quick swipe left and then right.

The men of the village took up arms for the battle as well. Xena looked over to find one solider from the warlordís army out fighting a group of villagers. The odds were purely in his favor because of his skill.

"Him," Xena pointed to the thug.

Eve didnít need an explanation. She knew what her mother meant. She had to take the man down and do it quickly to spare as many villagers as possible. As Eve left, Xena found that four men had worked their way around her.

And Dite said this would be easy. I gotta remember to never trust the goddess of love again. Xena considered sarcastically as she watched them with smirks on their face as they closed in. Xena let out a powerful war cry that bought her enough time for a distraction as she somersaulted over the soldiers. Her back was empty after she landed and she could fight them head on.

And fight them head on she did. One by one they met Xenaís blade and fell. As the last one tumbled to the dirt, Xena looked over to check on Eve. She had managed to take out the target and a few of his cronies it appeared. For the moment she was getting some of the walking injured inside to safety.

Xena didnít see the attack coming but she felt it Ė a hard blow to the back. She groaned in pain as she fell to her knees. Next she felt her sword knocked from her hand a moment later as she tried to get her breath. She ducked and rolled toward her sword but she came up inches short. As the man raised his sword Xena knew this was it. Eve wasnít there to back her up. Her time had come.

And I never got to see her again, Xena realized as she still struggled, reaching as far as she could to get a grasp of her sword. Her first reaction as soon as she hit the dirt was her chakram but the sling prevented her from reaching it in time or with any accuracy. It had to be the sword and she stretched with all her might, coming up two inches short.

She closed her eyes when she watched his muscles bulge, knowing the strike would come. When a moment passed and she didnít feel the blade upon her she quickly looked up.

A dagger appeared in the manís chest.

Xena took a more intense look and realized . . .

Thatís not a dagger. Itís a sai!!!

Xenaís head shot back for a brief moment to see the bard standing behind her. The momentary shock wore off as the man began to fall toward her. Xena rolled to avoid him and in the process put more weight on her injured arm than she should have. She groaned loudly and clutched at her arm but not before picking up her sword.

Behind Gabrielle, Eponin and August battled a man with an ax. When it looked like he was about to get the best of August, Eponin took him down with two quick sword strokes.

"Retreat!! Retreat!!"

The advancing army began to scatter and make their way back into the woods. The villagers began to cheer loudly in celebration of having defeated the army. Women and children started to come out of their hiding places. And all the while, Xena and Gabrielle locked eyes oblivious to the things around them.

Xena watched as the older woman and young lady came up to Gabrielle. Their arrival broke the eye contact as Gabrielle had a brief conversation and pointed to the local tavern across the street. The older womanís eyes met Xenaís and Xena could have sworn she saw a scowl on the womanís face as she departed with the young lady.

Gabrielle knew she had to go over. If not to offer her greetings, at least to retrieve her sai. Xenaís mouth suddenly went arid as the bard strolled over confidently. What do I say? What do I do? The bard was coming closer, watching her with every step. At least until she was near the fallen man.

"Gabrielle," Xena nodded. Oh yeah! That was real poetic warrior. Think of something before she just walks away!

"Xena," came the short reply, void of emotion.

She pulled the dagger from the manís chest and used his own shirt to clean the weapon off before putting it back in her boot. After all these months all she can say is my name? Of courseÖitís XenaÖWhat the Hell did I expect?

Gabrielle turned to catch up to Eponin and August in the tavern.

"Please wait!"

Gabrielle stopped her strides but took a deep breath before she turned around. Here it comes Gabrielle thought. She wasnít quite sure what Ďití was but she was certain it probably wouldnít end very favorable.

Xena still didnít know what to say as Gabriele turned around but it seemed a little gratitude might help.

"Thank you," Xena said once she had Gabrielleís attention. "You saved my life."

"Donít mention it," Gabrielle answered quickly. Just keep walking. Donít turn around again no matter what.

"Donít walk away. Not yet. Hear me out first," Xena pleaded.

Gabrielle paused. You stopped anyway didnít you? After you said you wouldnít huh? Damn it Gabrielle! Get a backbone!! Tell her that this is it. Tell her she canít play with your heart. Tell her itís over and move on.

Gabrielle had lots of answers to give but instead of voicing any of them she simply said, "What?"

"I want to talk to you," Xena said going on pure instinct. Act, donít react. Go with your gut. "Iíve realized quite a bit since youíve been gone and I want the chance to tell you."

Gabrielle chuckled in her growing misery. "Thatís just it Xena. Youíve been telling me things for years. Not talking to me but TELLING me. Iím tired of being preached to. When you decide you no longer want to lecture me, look me up."

Sadness was Xenaís first reaction but in the seconds that followed it became replaced with frustration and then anger. How dare she?! After all these months apart Ė after all the years together Ė she OWES me a real conversation about this. Sheís not just gonna walk away. Not again.

"Hey!" Xena called out as she began to jog after the bard. "We need to talk about things here. I gave you space," she added as she grabbed Gabrielle gently by the arm.

That was it. The bardís temper boiled over.

"And what are you gonna do if I donít Xena huh? Are you gonna drag me behind a horse? Fall for some Roman while I watch? Or perhaps youíd like to take the back of my head off with your chakram? . . . Oh wait," Gabrielle paused in her sarcasm. "Youíve done all those things already. What do I have to fear?" the bard concluded throwing her arms up in the air.

"Iíve been paying for my sins every day weíve been apart and I would spend my life making it up to you if I could but thatís a little tough when you wonít speak to me for more than 10 seconds . . . Besides there are other factors at play here that Iíve learned about. Things that you should know."

"Like what?" Gabrielle answered growing angry herself.

Like the fact Eve truly is YOUR daughter. No donít say it like that. Not when youíre mad. Xena took a deep breath. "Things that I think you should know . . but not discussed while weíre yelling at each other. Please let me talk to you. If you want to leave me and keep going your own way Iíll support that decision. Iím not your keeper. I never wanted to be your keeper. I only wanted to love you Ė the way you loved me. Iíve prayed to Eli that it isnít too late and that we can repair things but if you feel that isnít possible," Xena said feeling a lump form in her throat before quickly swallowing it down, "you can walk away and never look back . . . All I ask is that you talk with me first."

The sob in Xenaís voice almost brought the bard to tears herself. She didnít want to hurt Xena. She truly didnít. She was only looking out for herself and trying to avoid what had become a very damaging relationship Ė both emotionally and physically. Perhaps Xena was right. Perhaps this is something they both needed in order to Ďroll up the scrollí so to speak, a final chapter in the story of the warrior princess and her bard.

"Alright," Gabrielle sighed, trying her best not to sob as well. "Alright. Weíll talk but first things first. That army isnít going to stay away for long. These villagers are thinking they are in the clear but you and I know better. Theyíre gonna plan a counter strike."

Xena smiled as she nodded in agreement. Sheís good . . . Sheís grown up . . . Why on earth didnít I see it before. "True. What do you suggest?"

Did she just ask my opinion? Yeah I guess she did. Ha. "Well, weíll need to put some bucket brigades in place. Just in case he attacks with fire. And weíll have to put some scouts up high," Gabrielle continued as she looked up. "Those trees would be a good place Ė lots of limbs and plenty of leaves to hide behind to go unnoticed."

"Leave it to an amazon to take to the air," Xena teased. Gabrielle grinned slightly. "Iím just teasing. It sounds like a wonderful idea so far," Xena added when she reconsidered that her comment might be taken in the wrong context. "May I add something?"

Did she just ask me to give her opinion? Oh lord I think Iím gonna have a stroke. "Certainly."

"I noticed that his men arenít heavily armored. We could bring out more villagers to fight if we gave them something more solid to strike with. The staff is an easy weapon Ė no offense-."

"None taken," Gabrielle teased. "Iím sorry. Go on," she grinned.

Sheís grinning. This is a good sign. "Anyway, if we armed them with staffs, mallets, anything they can strike hard and fast with it might be enough to take the majority of the army out once they make it inside the village."

Gabrielle considered it. "Very true . . . Okay. Letís get some things in motion. Do you know who the leader is here?"

"Sure do," Xena grinned.

"Okay then. Letís get everyone to the tavern and tell them what we have planned so far."

"And as for the rest?" Xena asked

"Weíll do what we always do . . . make it up as we go along while trying to look brilliant in the process," she teased.

Xena laughed out loud heartily and Gabrielle found herself chuckling as well. Soon Xena cleared her throat and a perplexed look over washed over her face.

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena smiled and shrugged it off. "Nothing really . . . I just . . . I havenít laughed like that since youíve been gone . . . It felt good is all," Xena grinned warmly. "Anyway, Iíll find the mayor while you organize the tavern okay?" Xena replied becoming Ďstrictly businessí. Gabrielle simple nodded as Xena walked away.

As the warrior strode across the village street Gabrielle felt the tears well up in her eyes as she thought of Xenaís laughter comment. "For what itís worth," she whispered knowing the warrior couldnít hear her. "Neither have I."

BATTLEPLANS

Gabrielle made her way to the tavern to catch up with Eponin and August but she stopped mid-stride as Eve burst out from one of the buildings.

"Woooh," Gabrielle chuckled as she steadied Eve by the shoulders before they both fell to the ground in a tangled mess. "Slow down there," the bard teased.

It took a moment but Eve realized it really was Gabrielle in front of her. She proceed to lock Gabrielle in a bear hug that brought a chuckled of delight from the bard.

"I missed you too sweetie," Gabrielle smiled pulling back to see the brunette.

"The battle . . ." Eve commented as she looked around the village square.

"Itís over . . . for now," the bard answered. "How have you been Eve?"

"Good," her daughter grinned. I wonder if mother told her yet. "Have you seen mother?"

"Yes, sheís going to talk to the mayor so we can prepare for the counter strike," Gabrielle replied as she began to move to the tavern, taking Eve along by the arm. "Care to join me in rounding up some village elders and such?"

"Certainly," Eve replied with a growing smile.

Gabrielle looked different from the last time they had meet. Her hair was longer but something else, something more settled appeared over the bardís face. To Eve it seemed she Ďglowedí in a way she hadnít noticed before.

"Youíre looking good," Eve complimented.

"Thanks," Gabrielle answered. "You look as beautiful as your mother," Gabrielle added with a grin. "Speaking of . . . what happened to her wing."

At first Eve was unsure of what Gabrielle meant. Ohhhh her arrrrm! "She broke it."

"She broke it? How?"

"Ares said it was because motherís been too distracted by you," Eve grinned. "But she lost her footing trying to get to the Tree of Fieteus."

Gabrielle studied Eve a moment as they walked, "Sheís immortal now?"

"No, we went there for Ares . . . But he wouldnít eat the fruit once we got there. He thought he could win mother over as a mortal but mother laid down the law," Eve chuckled.

"And what would that Ďlawí be," Gabrielle grinned.

"She belongs to you," Eve answered honestly. "And you alone."

Gabrielleís grin fell and she was stumped for a reply. She wasnít as certain as Xena was in regard to their relationship. And in a way, she wished that she had such convictions.

"I love your mother," Gabrielle began. "I do Eve but-."

"But nothing," Eve stopped her and faced her. "You love her. She loves you. Whatís the problem?"

What IS the problem? Gabrielle considered. It should be easy. You love someone and they love you and you live happily ever after. Isnít that what itís all supposed to be about? Of course thatís not real and sometimes love just isnít enough.

"The past is the problem," Gabrielle answered. "There are a lot of things-."

"That are in the past. Weíve ALL done things in the past we regret and are ashamed of Gabrielle. Believe me I know . . . All Iím saying is that if you do love mother then tell her. Try looking at the future . . .because if the past is all youíre going to use as a judge I think youíre not seeing whatís happening here and now."

Gabrielle scrunched her eyebrows in examination of Eve. "Did she put you up to saying that?" Gabrielle asked.

"No," Eve grinned just as cocky as Xena. "Mother doesnít need anyone to speak for her. Sheís been doing a damn good job of that on her own lately . . . And if you could look beyond the past . . . You might see that yourself. I hope you do because it would be a shame if you missed it."

The two women looked wordless at each other and Gabrielle gave a deep sigh. Can I really do it? Can I look beyond the past? There was an unspoken plea in Eveís eyes that Gabrielle couldnít quite put her finger on. Why is this so important to her?

"No promises," Gabrielle firmly told Eve, who promptly broke into a grin, "She asked to speak to me later and I agreed. I donít know what will come of it but I will try my best to see things differently - not so . . . jaded."

"Thatís all I can ask mo-Gabrielle," Eve said changing her statement at the last minute. "Iíll round up the folks here in the east and send them to the tavern. Howís that?" Eve said hoping to change the topic.

"Okay," Gabrielle nodded. "Iíll see you there. And Eve . . . Itís wonderful to see you again."

Eve gave a bashful smile but still made eye contact. "You too," she replied in a shy voice. "Gotta go," she muttered as she turned away.

She looks a lot like Xena when she blushes.

Gabrielle grinned and stepped up her pace to the tavern. Once inside she saw the people lifting mugs in celebration.

"I wouldnít do that just yet!" Gabrielle voice boomed through the establishment. Everyone stopped to meet her eyes. "Allow me to introduce myself. Iím Gabrielle and your messenger brought me here to help defend the village. You all gave a wonderful front in the first attack . . . but note that I said FIRST attack. You can bet all your farms that this warlord, Siscerus, wonít give up that easily. Heís going to re-group and odds are heís going to return."

The silence that took hold as Gabrielle began her speech slowly crumbled as people nervously talked among themselves about the impending doom.

"Please listen!!" Gabrielle yelled getting the roomís attention again. "Xena is meeting with the mayor and weíre putting plans into motion as I speak but we need you folks sober if itís going to work. So put the mead and wine down and hear us out."

At that point Xena walked inside with the mayor of the town with Eve behind them.

"Iíve spoken with Xena everyone and we have lots of ideas to turn back this army but we all have to work together. Weíve come this far and we can go farther right?!"

A course of cheers went up in approval.

"In a few moments everyone is going to meet in the square and from there weíll put everyone on Ďpostsí - weíll tell you were to go and what youíll be doing . . .Is that understood?"

Everyone voiced their agreement as nods went around the room.

"Okay then, file out and weíll give you the orders once weíve set things up."

Chairs and table screeched along the wood floor as people got up, making their way outside. Instead of heading out, Gabrielle weeded her way through the departing traffic to Eponin and August who were now on their feet as well.

The look on Eponinís face was anything but approving.

"Did you speak to her?" were the first words out of the amazons mouth.

Gabrielle could tell Eponin was trying to be neutral but failing miserably.

"Yes I did. I told her we could talk more later," Gabrielle answered unable to look Eponin in the eyes.

From across the room Xena was taking in the unheard conversation with a great deal of interest. Who is that woman and why does she look so damn familiar? Xena considered. She also looks . . . irritated . . . And she certainly has Gabrielle fidgeting quite a bit. Perhaps I should walk over and . . .

"Xena," the mayor said gently tapping Xenaís shoulder, "The village is getting assembled outside so anytime your ready."

"Of course," Xena nodded, "Weíll be right out."

She watched the mayor give a nod and follow his constituents outside. What the hell? Go over and say hi, she thought with a smirk.

Gabrielle could Ďfeelí Xena behind her before she ever caught sight of her.

"Hi there," Xena said in introduction to the group. "Iím Xena and you are?" the warrior began as she extended her hand to the young woman first.

"Iím . . . Iím . . . pleased to meet you," August stammered. "Iíve read all of Gabrielleís scrolls and Iíve heard the tales about your adventures for years. I canít believe itís really you," the girl gushed. "Boy I can see why Gabrielle was so smitten." Reflexively August put her hand on her mouth for letting the last comment slip out. "Iím sorry," she quickly added offering her hand again for a more Ďformalí introduction. "Iím August. A poet. Gabrielle is helping get me to the Academy in Athens."

"Ahh, I see. Itís a good school," Xena complimented. "Gabrielle was accepted there once before. If youíre half as talented as she is then Iím sure youíll have no trouble fitting right in." Xena held her grin in place as she turned to the Ďtrueí reason for her arrival. "And you are?" she asked Eponin.

"Iím Gabrielleís . . . traveling companion . . . and former subject, Eponin . . . Itís been a few years Xena," the ex-amazon grinned as she saw Xenaís reaction to the term Ďtraveling companioní.

Stay gracious. Stay gracious. Donít take the womanís head off, Xena repeated in her mind as she shook the hand grasping hers. It would be so easy to ground this hand into powder and snap it off at the wrist. Traveling companion huh? Iíll show you traveling when I send you to the moon.

"And just how long have you been traveling with Gabrielle?" Xena asked. Everyone noted the way that Xena said the word Ďtravelingí and it left little to what Xena was trying to refer to with the statement.

Oh my gosh! She thinks Eponin and I are lovers! Gabrielle realized. I would never intentional mislead Xena however if her overactive imagination is playing out scenarios . . .

"About three, perhaps four, months now," Gabrielle answered before Eponin could.

Eponin picked up on what Gabrielle was doing by evading the subtle unspoken question as to the nature of their relationship. She decided to join in.

"Yeah thatís about right," Eponin agreed. "And itís been a wonderful ride. Gabrielle is really great to travel with." Eponin added, making sure to stress the word travel like Xena had done moments earlier.

Why you little . . . ."Well itís good that sheís had support. Not that she needs it but every little bit helps," Xena said instead. "The reason I came over was because the mayor is ready," Xena added. Yeah right, Xena thought to herself.

Yeah, right Gabrielle echoed in her own mind. Youíve come to check up on me and we both know it. "Okay weíll be out in a few minutes. Why donít you see if August can help with the water preparations?" Gabrielle suggested.

"Absolutely," Xena nodded. "Eponin," Xena said offering her forearm. "Nice seeing you again."

Like Hell. Eponin couldnít say the same so she only grinned and gave a friendly nod as she grasped Xenaís arm a little harder than necessary.

As Xena and August made their departure, August asked the warrior, "Can you show me how to use your Chakram?"

"Sorry kiddo," Xena chuckled. "That weapon is mine and mine alone. Only the most skilled warrior could use it. But I might show you a new move with that staff if we have time," Xena offered instead.

Once the duo had left, Gabrielle turned back to Eponin. "Traveling companion?" Gabrielle prodded.

Eponin laughed out loud, "Hey thatís what I am arenít I?"

Gabrielle sighed but she couldnít help but smile as she did. "Youíre bad," she chuckled.

Eponin wiggled her eyebrows but said nothing.

Oh boy. The battle is just beginning, Gabrielle thought . . . with Siscerusí army being the last thing on her mind.

CONVERSATIONS

Gabrielle crouched on a limb next to a young man high above the tree. He canít be much older than the boy from the village when Xena pit Caesar and Pompy against each other. So young and already getting a taste of war.

"See anything yet?"

"Not yet maíam," he answered politely.

"Well, keep watch. Iím sure theyíll be back before sunrise," she told him. "Just remember to release that yellow scarf when you first see them and the red one when they are within a league. Okay? The runner down there will take care of the rest."

"I will maíam," he answered confidently, proud with the trust the town was putting into him. His warning was key to the townís plan of defense.

"Gabrielle?" they both heard a voice call up. It was Xenaís.

"On my way," Gabrielle hollered down. "Youíll do just fine," Gabrielle commended the boy with a pat on the back before she scurried down the tree.

Moments later she was on the ground next to the warrior. "Everything okay?" she asked.

"Yes everythingís in place," Xena answered. "Now it seems we wait . . . I thought now might be a good time to talk."

Gabrielle felt a little knot in her stomach that came up unexpected. She knew that she promised to converse with Xena but she still was unsure of what to expect. "Okay," she said as carefree as she could muster. She didnít want Xena to see the depth of her nervousness. "Where would you like to go?"

"Letís go check on the water brigade and make sure things are in order," Xena suggested as they began to walk through the town. "Iím not sure where to start," Xena grinned. "I guess Iíve learned things that you should know . . . Iím just worried you might think Iím holding it over your head as a way to get you back. Itís not I assure you . . . but then again Iím not quite sure if my Ďassuranceí means anything to you," Xena said honestly.

Give her a break. "Look Xena, I spoke with Eve earlier today and I promised her Iíd try to look at things from a different perspective. Youíve kept your word to me on more occasions than not. Iíll just have to go on faith and say that whatever you tell me Iíll believe," Gabrielle interrupted. "So out with it . . . What have you learned?"

Should I just blurt it now or do I put a little scenario to it first? "Eveís your daughter." Well that ended that debate didnít it warrior?

"Yeah you told me that the last day we were together. ĎWeíve got OUR daughter back.í I-"

"No Gabrielle," Xena stopped her, giving a slight look of apology. "I mean sheís YOUR daughter. Your flesh. Your blood . . . Ares told me and although I donít put much faith in Ares as a god, he had no reason to lie to me as a mortal. Besides he didnít come right out and tell me," Xena chuckled. "I had my suspicious after spending weeks watching Eve. She reminded me of someone - then one night it hit me. That someone was you. I rousted Ares awake and threatened to rearrange his face if he didnít Ďfess up."

"So you threatened him until he told you what you wanted to hear?" Gabrielle asked, the condescension hung in her voice.

"No," Xena said quickly. "It wasnít like that," she added.

"It wasnít?"

"No it wasnít and if you were there youíd understand what I mean," Xena snapped.

Gabrielle released a sigh of impending frustration. "Yeah I know I wasnít there Xena. You didnít leave me much choice."

"I didnít leave you much choice?! Who left who here?" Xena countered. "Who was willing to talk about things and who tried to sneak away in the middle of the night?"

"Look Iím not gonna get into this now. We have an upcoming battle to face and-"

"And what?!" Xena replied getting louder. Both women looked around them when they noticed a few heads turning in their direction at the noise. "What else is going to come up Gabrielle?" Xena asked, her voice lowered again. "How many more things can we manage to put ahead of this relationship? If itís not this battle then it will be some other excuse . . . some other thing that needs your attention, everything except us," Xena hissed. "Well Iím sorry Gabrielle but Iím not buying any more of your Ďreasonsí. You want to blame me for all of this thatís fine but youíve got a fine list of sins too so donít you dare stand there and play the martyr for me. You might have moved on with Eponin but I need some kind of closure here."

"Look Iím not saying Iím perfect Xena."

"No Gabrielle youíre just saying Iím completely wrong . . . Thatís not much of a difference if you ask me."

Gabrielle didnít respond and she noticed that Xena was actually walking away. "Where are you going?" Gabrielle called out. "I thought you wanted to talk."

"Talk yes," Xena stopped as she turned around to face the bard. "Yell no. Iím not going to get into a shouting match and thatís where this is heading. Iím willing to take responsibility for the wrongs Iíve done Gabrielle but I refuse to be the only one here thatís to blame for our problems. Once we cool down then perhaps clearer heads will prevail. Until then Iím checking on the archers."

What the hell does she want from me?! Gabrielle screamed in her mind as Xena continued to walk away from her. Why does she do this to me?!

"Love," Gabrielle heard a voice say behind her. "She does it because of love. And as much as I hate to admit it, sheís right . . .I thought you were ready but looks like even the Goddess of Love still makes mistakes."

Gabrielle turned to see Aphrodite behind her, a pitiful look on her face.

"Donít torment me," Gabrielle groaned. "I have enough torment going on in my life at the moment."

Aphrodite cocked her head as she looked at Gabrielle standing defiantly, with her hands on her hips. "You reap much of the heartache that you sow with your shortsightedness."

Gabrielle shook her head trying to comprehend what Dite was saying. "Huh?" was all she managed to get out.

Dite chuckled. "Sorry let me put it in simple terms - you feel bad because youíre not looking at the whole picture which is partially your fault."

"Iím not looking at the whole picture?" Gabrielle challenged. "The woman took the back of my head off with her chakram."

"After you stabbed her daughter," Dite pointed out.

"I wasnít my doing Aphrodite," Gabrielle answered. "That was your sisters and her friends the furies, if you fail to remember."

"Yeah I know . . . but did YOU ever apologize to Eve or Xena for those events. Did you ever explain why? Iím sure they understand the situation. But did you ever voice your regret over it all . . . at least once?"

Gabrielle threw her hands up in the air. "I should apologize for Xena striking ME with HER chakram? Oh thatís rich."

"No," Dite answered. "You should apologize to both of them for playing a part in the stabbing . . . unintentional or not . . . Of course thereís more, much more, that you need to make amends for but weíll take it one step at a time Ďk?" Dite winked.

Why is it so hard to stay mad at her? Gabrielle thought as her anger began to give way to understanding.

"Because," Dite grinned. "Iím adorable. Admit it."

Gabrielle chuckled. "Yes Dite, you are adorable."

"Well at least we agree on one thing . . . Think you could give the warrior another shot before the impending battle? I donít think either of you want to go into this thing with all that Ďunresolvedí kid stuff. Do you?"

No I donít Gabrielle considered. In fact I never did really give voice to the news that Xena told me. Eve is my daughter - MY daughter . . . No OUR daughter. I gave a small smiled and took a breath to speak to the goddess.

"Save it," Dite told her. "Youíre welcome. Now go find that warrior of yours already?" she added with a shoo of her hands.

"Iím all over it," Gabrielle grinned as she began to jog toward the archers

Continue to Part V