Standard Disclaimer - These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.

Specific Story Disclaimers:

Violence – Where there is Xena, there will be violence. It’s just one of those things. But this kind is not too graphic, and we avoid mentions of limbs being chopped off and used for kindling, or any description of eyeballs being gouged out by an errant chakram or anything like that.

Subtext – Subtext R Us. This story, as was the last one, and the one before that which flowed like a sargassum monster from my terminal, based on the supposition that it’s about two women who love each other a whole lot. Once again, there is nothing graphic, but the theme does wrap itself throughout the story, and if you can’t take this, go read some other nice piece of fan fiction. I will make my usual statement – if love offends you, drop me a note with your snail mail address, and I will send you some authentic, found in Southernmost Florida only, key lime pie. (Just the thing for hot summers.) Because I really do feel bad for you.

Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:


Bound – Part 3

By Melissa Good

Jessan rolled over, blinking sleep out of his eyes, and regarding the pre dawn sky outside with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Damn. He sighed to himself. Gotta get out of this hole I’m in. Wish I knew what was up with me. He heaved himself up out of his seductively warm blankets, and padded to the washing room, splashing cold water on his face and drenching his fur in an effort to wake himself up. Didn’t used to have to do this. He raked his fingers through the hair on his head and neck, and blinked at himself in the small mirror there.

And sighed, again, as he took in the weary look in his golden eyes. I need someone to kick me in the pants. He mused, then a half smile quirked his lips, and he Looked towards the healer’s cot. Ahh.. Awake. Now his lips curled into a full grin. Elaini had been cautiously optimistic when she’d checked on her patient.. he paused, then chuckled. Patients, last evening, estimating that morning would bring them both back out of their healing sleep. It had, he noted, and what he could sense of both of them indicated things were well, very well, indeed.

Well, he chuckled quietly. If you wanted a challenge, you got one, you pudgy has been. But he felt an excited chill travel up his spine all the same. Something about Xena just…maybe it was the air of danger that usually surrounded her. Or the way things happened in her vicinity that stretched the bounds of the possible. Or maybe it was that smile.

Or whatever. He was glad he’d been the one to break those rocks – but she’d kept herself alive by the force of her own will, and those rocks got moved at the end by her own momentum. I’d never seen that strong a life force before. It was scary. He mused, as he finished his washing up, and trudged back into his room, where he pulled on a pair of dark green trousers, wincing at the snug fit. Gotta do something about that, too. He sighed. Getting out of hand. Maybe he could start his morning runs again.

He heard the faint sounds of stirring in the rest of the cothold, and cocked his head. Mother was up, and.. Lestan as well, and in the conference room. Wonder what’s up so early?" He slid out of his room, and ambled down the hallway, shoulders brushing the woven mat walls on either side of him.

He turned the corner and poked his head into the conference room, and stilled – as he recognized whom his father was talking to.

Uncle Warrin.

The tall scarred forest dweller was slumped into the chair at the end of the conference room, and was watching Lestan as he examined a set of parchments.

"Ah. Jessan." Lestan muttered, glancing up. "Come in." He waved Jessan towards a seat across from him.

"Morning." Jessan muttered, reading the tension in the room. "Uncle Warrin." He gave the older man a nod.

"Jess." Warrin rumbled, propping his head against one hand, which was braced on the table. His shadowed eyes gazed at his nephew. "Hear you have a visitor."

He couldn’t suppress the quick grin. "Yeah." He answered, quietly.

Warrin nodded. "Heard she and the storyteller.." He hesitated, as he always did. On this subject.

"Yes." Jessan’s voice was very gentle. Warrin was that rare thing, a surviving member of a broken lifebond. His bondmate had died during a hunting accident – a freak chance – but there had been their tiny son to raise. A compelling reason, it was said, was needed for one bondmate to survive the other’s passing. That was.. for Warrin, compelling enough.

But it didn’t make him whole. Only death would do that, now. And he walked in darkness, for all his days, as an infiltrator, a scout, and an assassin.. Even Lestan didn’t know how many people had fallen to Warrin’s blade, and he probably didn’t want to. It was whispered about Warrin that he enjoyed the killing.. that he used the fierce emotion of the hunt to replace the gentler fire of his lost partner.

His son, Jessan’s cousin Alainis was a quiet boy, who had a touch of his father’s dark nature, but had a gentle humor about him that Warrin totally lacked. Alainis had tried, on any number of occasions, to break through his father’s bleak reserve, but he was always brushed off, kindly, but nevertheless.

"Odd." Warrin said, as s a shadow passed over his eyes. "Never heard of that in a human."

"None of us had." Lestan said, absently. "Well, we’re in for it." He sighed, and pushed the documents over to his son. "Secan’s scouting parties have pushed in again into our territory."

Jessan studied the maps, drawn in Warrin’s careful, precise hand. It was their territory, with the main village, and the six scattered outposts surrounding it. The river marked one boundary, the mountains another, and the coastal ridge the third. Warrin had marked in places where he’d spotted patrols from their neighbors to the north encroaching. Again.

Lestan sighed. "Secan has a real problem with my treaty with Hectator. Thinks I’m a traitor to our people, you know." He stretched, and showed his canines in a broad yawn. "I’ll have to send patrols out to watch for his patrols. Damn. We get things all settled with the humans, and now we have problems with our own people." Lestan scowled, and turned his eyes to his son. "Not a word about this to our guests, by the way. They don’t need to know we prey on each other just like they do."

Jessan glanced up from the map, and gave them both a strange look. "Waitaminute." He put the parchment down, and waved his hands. "Wait. You have.. oh.. only the warlord that conquered half of Greece right here, in this village, and you don’t want to ask her for strategic ideas?"

"Jessan, you don’t understand." Lestan growled, letting one fist down on the table with a thump.

"Sure I do." His son answered, not intimidated. "But what part of our nature do you think Xena doesn’t understand?" Those eyes, father, have seen more of death, and of darkness, and of evil that you, and I together will in all our lives. And still she smiles. And puts out her hand to help those in need. "She looked at me and saw a man, father, and I was never anything other in her eyes."

"You’re a fool, boy." Warrin sighed. "You can’t trust humans. I’ll tell you that, out of all my years of watching them. Tracking them. Killing them. Honor is not generally their strong suit. They have no grace in battle, no pride in fairness, no joy in the exercise of their art of war."

Lestan hesitated, then put a hand on Warrin’s arm. "You know I am no friend of humankind, Warrin, but not all of them are like that. Hectator is an honorable man. " He glanced at Jessan, whose eyes were snapping with flashes of anger, and whose body was tense with it. "And.. my son is right about one thing. Xena knows us, knows our hearts. She is an honorable person also."

Warrin shook his heavy head. "Fools." He shrugged. "Tell who you like." He continued, then stood, stretching his sinewy body. "I'll be gone after sundown tonight."

And he was gone, disappearing out the door into the growing light of dawn.

Lestan and Jessan looked at each other. Lestan shrugged. "He hates them, Jess.. they took his lifebond from him.. even though it was an accident, he’s never forgiven. Never forgotten." Lestan gazed out of the half open door. "I remember him before.. he was light, and laughter, and gentle good nature. Now.."

His son got up and walked around the table, stopping in front of the window and looking out. "It’s terrible, the breaking."

"Aye." Lestan whispered, then turned, as Wennid entered and put a plate down in front of him. "So, how are our guests this early morning?"

"Fine." Jessan replied, absently, then turned and greeted his mother with a hug. "Morning, mother." He sat down again, and rested his forearms against the table. "Elaini was right, I think."

Wennid walked over to him and brushed the fur off his forehead. "Are they doing well, then?"

Jessan turned his Sight towards the healer’s cot.

And blushed a shade of red more common to the rose bushes his mother cultivated in her small garden. "Uh. Fine." He squeaked. "Just fine. Yep. Uh.. they’re great."

Lestan and Wennid exchanged puzzled glances, then burst out laughing. "Oh…" Lestan roared, and tumbled back off his chair, hitting the floor without a pause in his laughter. "Better watch where you’re Looking now, Jess."

Even Wennid was giggling, pointing at her son’s still crimson face. "Oh dear. I’ve never seen that color before."

"Stop it."Jessan muttered, covering his face. He’d forgotten.. a cardinal sin in a people as sensitive as his own, that certain times of the day, dawn, twilight, moonrise.. it was better to keep one’s Sight to oneself. Or risk being embarrassed. "Come on..cut it out."

Wennid kissed his head affectionately. "It’s all right, dear. We’ve all done it on occasion." She patted his shoulder. "Let me get you some breakfast."

"Uh.." Jessan said, standing up. " .. I think..I have something to do. Bye." Maybe a run. Yeah. His mind raised an amused eyebrow at him. Try a dunk in the lake, better. Ares.. I can’t believe I did that. He shook his head, and broke into a trot, headed out past the village boundaries.

But the taste of it was still with him. It had been a very brief touch.. but the golden texture of what he’d Seen had been so powerful it had overwhelmed his senses for a timeless instant, and made him understand, for the first time, what his father and mother knew. And what Warrin had lost.

Warrin silently crossed the still quiet courtyard, and went down the leaf-covered path that led to his seldom-used cot. He entered the door, closing it behind him, and glanced around with idle curiosity. Never changed. The round cot had woven mat walls, and a wooden floor, a small room with ready water for bathing, a table, a chair, and in the room beyond, his bed. No personal items, no hangings on the wall.. it was a very impersonal space.

And I like it that way. He thought to himself. No strings. No emotional attachments. He'd learned, over the years, to cut off that part of himself, to keep from triggering his memories of what it was like before. He existed in a constant state of now.. going from situation to situation, battle to battle, keeping himself almost obsessively busy. Anything to avoid thinking. Or remembering.

Like now. He sat quietly, gazing out the lightening window at the dawn, and just went.. nowhere for a while, letting the beauty of the day just flow through him. Then he remembered why he was upset, and the peace shattered.

Humans. Knowing that gift.

He had nothing against them personally, he reasoned with himself. Had only met the storyteller for bare seconds, at Cirron, and not met Xena at all. But he felt as Wennid did - this was something that should be reserved for their kind only - to have humans know it degraded the gift. Degraded his memories.

For one long, aching moment, he allowed himself to remember what it felt like, suffering the emptiness that followed without complaint. Even after all this time, he missed it, and spending time around his own kind only made it worse, especially his sister, which hurt them both.

But.. he mused, leaning back and regarding the sunrise. They can't be right. Humans can't know this, can't sense it. They're Blind, and always have been. So.. either Lestan is mistaken, or these two are lying, or maybe they just don't know what's going on. Think I'd better go check it out.

He stood and stretched, giving himself a little shake to settle his fur, then strolled out onto the porch and into the sunlight now pouring down through the high canopy of leaves.

"That certainly got the kinks out." Gabrielle commented, with a sly grin, as she settled flat on her back and stretched her body out across the length of the pallet.

Xena just chuckled, and offered her a slice of apple, which she took and chewed thoughtfully. They had finished off a large piece of travelers bread and a couple of wedges of cheese between them, with Gabrielle watching closely to make sure Xena didn't give her the lion's share of the edibles, as was her habit.

"Hey, you get some of that too." She growled, poking the warrior in the arm.

"I am." Xena protested, holding up a slice in self-defense, and popping it in her mouth.

"Grr." Ares poked his nose under her elbow and sniffed at the apple. He blinked at them, then sighed. "Roo?"

Gabrielle laughed. "No.. no apples for you, piglet. I saw your mommy give you that big piece of bread and cheese." She gave Xena a mock glare. "When she thought I wasn't looking."

Xena raised an eyebrow at her, and took another slice of apple, cutting it in half and extending it. . "Relax. I've had plenty.. more than I should have, really, since I hadn’t had anything in there for two days" Her gaze softened. "But thanks.. for watching out for me."

Gabrielle grinned. "If I don’t, who will? " She got up off the bed, and crossed to their packs, pulling a towel out of hers. "The bathing room here has a really cool reservoir, gets warmed by the sun, then you let it trickle over you. I’m gonna try it."

"I’ll join you." Xena answered, swinging her legs off the pallet and onto the floor a trifle stiffly.

The bard got in front of her and held up a cautious hand. "You sure? You know, there’s nothing that says you have to hop right out of bed.." Like that’s gonna stop her. Right. Well, I have to try. "I'll be glad to give you a bath." This with a very wicked twinkle.

Raised eyebrow from Xena, who just shook her head and grinned. "Would you please relax? Gabrielle, I really am fine, OK?" And to prove it, she rose smoothly to her feet, feeling a good deal of nagging soreness, but nothing she hadn’t had to deal with a thousand times before. "Shall we?" A chuckle. "And besides, I still have granite dust stuck all over me. So c’mon."

Saw the look in Gabrielle’s eyes, and gentled her voice. "Come here." Extending an arm towards the bard, and letting it rest on Gabrielle’s shoulders when she drew near. "I am a little light headed after all that time lying down.. " she admitted. "Could use some support." Sometimes, sometimes, Xena, you need to cut the self-sufficient attitude back a little. She needs that.

"Sure." The bard smiled, winding an arm firmly around her partner’s waist. "I can do that."

They walked slowly into the bathing room, and Xena very quickly gave her approval to the water setup, as they stood under the reservoir.

"I like this." The warrior chuckled, letting the lukewarm water wash down her body. She picked up a piece of their soap, but Gabrielle forestalled her, and plucked it out of her fingers with a grin.

"Hey… you’re not supposed to be straining yourself. Here." And she set to work, scrubbing gently, then moving closer to get her arms around to Xena’s back. And found herself trapped in a pair of welcoming arms. She glanced up, and saw the smile. "What?"

"It’s almost like it’s raining." Xena teased, pulling her close.

"Mmm…yeah." Gabrielle agreed, circling her arms around the warrior’s neck, and pulling lightly. "Lemme make sure I remember what that felt like." Xena’s lips touched hers, and she was transported, for a brief disorienting moment, back to the Centaur Village.

"Warmer water." She mumbled, as they paused.

"No Centaurs." Xena replied, giving her a playful nip on the ear.

Gabrielle chuckled. "You still hungry?"

Got a low, deep laugh in return. "Don’t get me started."

Gabrielle let her eyes wander over her partner's body and sighed. "I guess we'd better go and be social, huh?" She put her head down on Xena's shoulder for a long moment, then glanced up. "I think I'm addicted to you." As though this was a new discovery to her. "Did you know that?"

"Yep." Xena said, her hands starting a slow massage of the muscles on Gabrielle's back. "Did you know it's mutual?"

"Unngh." The bard closed her eyes and went limp. "Thank the gods it is." She yawned. "I could do this forever." she mumbled happily. And heard, under her ear, Xena's heart stop for just a second, then restart at a faster rate. She picked up her head, and searched the quiet face above her. "What's wrong?"

I should say nothing. Right? It's been a really good morning, I feel a lot better, and it’s a nice day out.. don't ruin it. Xena quietly mused. Then she looked down into Gabrielle's eyes and somehow got lost there. "Just thinking." She finally said. "Come on.. " Picking up their towels, she slung one over Gabrielle's shoulders and started drying herself off.

Gabrielle hesitated, studying her. Come on, Gabrielle - back off a little for a while. She's been through Hades the last couple of days.. give her some space. "OK - it's about time for everyone to start waking up anyway." She managed a smile, and popped her lightly with the towel.

"Hey!" Xena barked, and snapped her back, causing the bard to yelp, and attracting Ares' attention. The puppy scrambled toward them, and grabbed the edge of Gabrielle's towel as she was preparing to retaliate.

"No fair!" The bard protested, tugging the fabric. "He's on your side!" She gave Xena a mock glare. "And you sure have enough of an advantage already."

"Grrr." Ares pulled enthusiastically, shaking his head back and forth and digging in his paws.

Xena laughed. "Good boy, Ares." She encouraged the puppy, who glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes and wagged his tail. The warrior wrapped her towel around her body and tucked the ends in, and strolled past the bard, leaning over and nipping her lightly on the back of the neck.

"Yow!" Gabrielle yelled, and dropped the towel, causing Ares to tumble backwards, and tangle himself in the suddenly loose fabric. She turned around and glared at Xena. "I'll get you for that."

She gestured at the puppy linen ball on the floor. Ares had a length of the cloth wrapped around his head, and was chewing contentedly on the end of it. "Now look!!" She put her hands on her hips and scowled.

Xena crossed back over, and removed her towel, settling it around Gabrielle's shoulders and using the ends to gently dry off her face. "There." She said, smoothing the damp hair out of the bard's eyes. "OK?"

Gabrielle felt her irritation dissolve away, and a smile edged her lips. She lifted a hand and lightly touched the still vivid bruise that covered her partner's midsection. "That looks like it still hurts." Eyes went to Xena's, to judge the reaction, and saw reluctant agreement there. "Thought so." She raised a stern eyebrow. "I want you to promise me you'll take it easy until that's healed."

"It's not.." Xena hesitated Would it hurt to promise? There wasn't any law that said I have to spend days in pain pushing through this, is there? Other than my own law, that is. Besides.. She sighed inwardly. I think I need some time to consider.. whether or not I want to keep doing.. this. "All right. I promise." She said finally, quietly.

That was too easy. Gabrielle's alarm bells started going off, but she put a lid on them, and smiled at Xena. "Anyway, if you start off slow, you can nudge Jessan along with you. He's..umm..."

Xena's eyebrow quirked, and she resumed her grin. "I noticed."

The bard put laid her hand flat on Xena's stomach. "Don't tease him." She gave her partner a knowing look. "He promised he wouldn't tease you about us."

The warrior laughed. "Deal." she replied, moving into the main area of the healer's cot and pulling out a fresh tunic. "In fact, I'll just relax out on the porch and restitch those leathers." She fastened her tunic, settling the fabric folds neatly around her long body. "Will that satisfy you, my bard?" And maybe take out my armoring tools and give a go at straightening out that armor..must be banged up to Hades. She sighed..

"Sounds like a good idea." Gabrielle agreed, slipping into a spare skirt and top. "I gotta get these washed.. " She indicated her usual set, and Xena's eyebrow rose as she recognized the stains.

"Blood?" She queried, moving closer.

"Nosebleed." The bard shrugged. "Banged my face on Argo's neck."

"Doing...?" Came the softly spoken question, as Xena gently grasped her jaw and tilted her face to the light, studying her intently.

Oh Gods..I forgot I haven't told her about any of that yet... "Uhm...well, there were these raiders."

Both eyebrows jerked up. "Raiders?"

"In the valley pass, yeah.. and I uh.. well, Argo really did it, I just sort of hung on, you know, and then when she landed, I banged my head."

Xena bit her lip to keep from smiling. "You jumped Argo. Over guys with swords?"

"Yeah." A long silence, as they regarded each other.

The warrior sighed. "You could have been......" Hurt. Killed. Damn.

"If I'd let them stop me, that's what I would have wanted to happen." Gabrielle blurted.

A long, intent stare from those blue eyes. "You don't mean that." Flatly. But I think she does.

Gabrielle's eyes snapped with anger. "Don't you treat me a like a child." She said, returning that stare intent for intent. "Yes I do mean that." she took a breath and released it. "I mean exactly that."

Emotions held in check for days were now bubbling to the surface, and she knew she wasn't going to be able to hold them back. "I know what it feels like when you die, Xena. " She paused. "I can't go through that again. I can't." Her voice broke. "I can't." she repeated softly, aware of Xena's tense, still form, one hand still cupping her jaw. "I don’t want to be here without you." That, in a whisper, as Xena’s hand left her face, and slid around her body, and pulled her tightly close.

"Gabrielle." Only her name, but it sang with an aching sadness that circled her heart and held it firmly.

"It hurt so much." In a hoarse whisper. "It was tearing me apart." Gabrielle let herself sink into the warmth and love that had become an essential part of her life, and floated in a haze of green tinged sunlight, and the scent of their soap, and the warm sun dried fragrance of Xena’s linen tunic, soft against her cheek. And spoke the poignant truth in her heart. "I can’t live without this anymore, Xena." And against her ear, she felt the strong pounding of Xena's heart, much faster than normal.

Xena stared sightlessly over Gabrielle's shoulder. I can't do that to her. I just… I can't. I close my eyes, and I hear that gods be damned sound that came out of her when she thought I was… And I remember what I felt in her after I died. How empty that was. No more. I need to stop this useless, dangerous attempt at making amends, and just.. keep her safe. That means keeping myself safe.

"Then we have to make sure that you don’t ever have to.." Came the unexpected answer, and when the bard looked up, she saw an unexpectedly lost look in her partner's eyes.

"What do you mean?" She asked, softly, trying to study pale blue eyes that wouldn’t meet hers, of a sudden. "Xena?" No answer. Gods.. what’s going on in there?

Finally, the warrior took a very deep breath, and let it out, and met Gabrielle’s gaze with quiet intensity. "Means I’ll have to find a way to keep us both safe, right?"

Gabrielle stared at her, warning bells going off again. "Mmm…right. But don’t you usually?"

Xena’s lips twitched with a faint regretful smile. "No.. I find a way to keep you safe. I never much thought about myself." She paused. "I can’t really – not and do some of the things I do."

"But.." the bard started, confused. "I don’t.."

Xena gave her a smile, and a squeeze. "Don’t worry about it for now, Gabrielle. Just something to think about. " She rubbed the bard’s back briskly. "Come on.. "

Gabrielle held her out at arms distance. "Talk to me." Green eyes as direct and clear as sunlight on a still pond. "What’s going on with you?" What’s going on that’s making your heart beat that fast, that hard? What’s making you shiver, you who fears nothing, and no one, and who stares death down with regularity?

Xena hesitated, torn between opening her heart, and the knowledge that Gabrielle wasn’t ready to hear this right now. That she wasn't ready to say it, yet. And knew one thing that would temporarily distract her partner. She let her eyes close, and swayed a little, grasping the bard’s shoulder for support.

Instantly, Gabrielle came in close, and wrapped a concerned arm around her. "Hey.."

"Sorry.." the warrior sighed. "Little light headed after all that enforced rest." She gave Gabrielle a tentative smile, and laid an arm across her shoulders. "It’s good to know you’re here."

A smile from the bard. "Always." She promised, with a squeeze. "Do you want to lie down?"

Xena took a deep breath, and shook her head. "No.. no..I’d really like to just go outside. It’s.." She glanced around. "I’d just like that."

Gabrielle understood. "Sure."

Xena stopped and picked up her battered leathers, and her repair kit, and they walked outside into the very early morning light, watching the sun creep through the village like silent hunter, burning off the pale gray mist, and waking the colors from dim blues and greens to vibrant life.

Across the central area they could see the morning movements of the watch, striding across the grass with loose limbed strides, and hear the nickers from the stableyard. Xena’s ears cocked, and she let out one low, vibrant signal. Was rewarded by a familiar neigh that brought smiles to both of their faces. "Gotta go visit." Xena commented.

"Sit down for a little bit, first." Gabrielle coaxed, getting an eyebrow raised in response, but watching in contentment as her partner did as she was requested, and settled back into the hewn wooden chair, slinging one leg casually over the arm and relaxing. "That’s better." And gave Xena a quiet smile.

"Yes mom." The warrior teased, "But do me a favor, and just check on her, OK?"

Gabrielle chuckled. "Sure.. I’ll be right back." She trotted down the steps from the high porch, and headed in the direction of the stables.

Xena watched her until she vanished into the structure, then sighed.

And stilled, as she sensed, in the edges of her peripheral senses, that she was being stalked

Warrin stood in the dappled shadows, his dark furred body blending in with the trunk of the tree he was leaning against. His eyes flicked over the compound, and noticed tiny details. A bird was making a messy nest in the roof of the healer's cot. The morning pit fire had too much green wood and was lifting fragrant smoke into the air. The ground under his bare feet was damp from the dew, which also glistened in the grass and beaded gently on the leaves surrounding his face.

Curiously, he licked one, and tasted the green tang of the leaf, scratchy against his tongue, and the faintly sweet taste of the dew. Then his eyes returned to the healer's cot, spotting movement in the doorway.

Ah. His eyes absorbed the sight of the two humans, as they walked together out onto the wooden porch, and into the sunlight. The smaller was familiar to his sight, and he remembered leaning over an assassin on the cool stone floor across from a pair of sea green eyes that had seemed to him to be uncommonly penetrating for one of her kind. A bard, she was, he remembered, but carried a quarterstaff as though she knew well how to use it.

And her body had backed up that impression, being slim, but muscular, and when she had moved, it had been with the calm assurance of one comfortable with handling themselves.

So here was the bard, again, looking out over the grass, the cool morning breeze blowing her fair hair over her shoulders as she glanced out, then glanced up at her companion.

So that was Xena. Warrin mused, studying her intently. Tall, for a human female, and well built, with long arms and legs and a way of moving even when injured that spoke to him.. His lip curled up slightly. Oh yes. She was one of Ares' children, no question there.

He heard her low whistle, and the responding answer from her mare, and the quiet speech between them, as the bard watched her seat herself, then strode off towards the stable.

I want a closer look at this human. He decided. I want to see if she lives up to the stories I've heard.. the legends they tell, though I know that can't really be possible.

He slipped from behind the tree, and moved silently forward, reaching the edge of the healer's cot and gaining a position where he could observe her unaware, pressing himself against the large oak tree in front of the building, and going very still.

Xena felt the eyes on her and consciously relaxed her body, laying the leathers out along her thighs, and removing the patching needle from her kit. Tuning her hearing in the direction she knew her watcher to be, she pulled out a length of fine gut from the small bag, and threaded the needle, then started to work on the tough leather.

Her senses focused tight, absorbing the sounds around her, and slowly eliminating the harmless ones. The soft rush of the wind, the rattle of the leaves in movement, calling voices from across the courtyard, all faded. She focused further. The faint creaking of the wooden building at her back, muffled sounds inside as Elaini woke and began her daily tasks, a bird rattling on the porch roof.. she let them dissipate, leaving the almost soundless pressure of her watcher's breathing, and the sense of him shifting, moving, the scratch of bark against hair.. she had him pinpointed as closely as if she'd turned around and looked, and she let a reluctant grin tug at her lips.

The skills.. I'll keep. For a while, at least, until people forget who I am, and I don't have to worry about them showing up on Amphipolis' doorstep. She glanced up, and regarded the peaceful scene in front of her. Besides, be honest, you cantankerous old goat, you enjoy showing off what all that hard work accomplished. She mocked herself, but knew it for the truth. Now I just have to figure out a way to broach the subject to Gabrielle.. wonder if she'll like the idea? Maybe she'll choose to... A smile tightened her lips momentarily. No.. whatever else, that choice is long past, and you know it. For you as well as her. But you know.. she just might.... She let her thoughts drift back to a quiet patch of grass under a fading sunset just outside of a place she could once again call home.

It had been a long, long walk after dinner through the fragrant woods, she'd mostly listened, as usual, as Gabrielle practiced one of the stories she was working on.

"That happened a while ago, though." Xena had commented.

"Yeah.." Gabrielle replied. "But I'm so backlogged - I could take off 10 years and not get caught up on all the stuff that's happened to us." She'd glanced up, and tucked her arm in Xena's. "No chance of that, right?" Half jokingly.

"You'd get bored." Xena had laughed. but wondered, since Gabrielle had slipped into the daily routine with an almost wistful ease, and went about her day with a relaxed smile that occasionally looked like relief to the watching warrior.

"Hmm... I guess you're right." The bard had replied, but her eyes had been thoughtful.

They'd ended up by the embankment over the small river to the west of Amphipolis, and settled down in the grass to watch the sunset, Xena leaning back against a convenient rock, with her arms clasped loosely around Gabrielle, who was tucked comfortably up against her chest.

Watching the light turn from deep golden to crimson, to purple, and change the landscape from brilliant colors to a dim blue haziness in which the night noises suddenly erupted and displaced the gentler sounds of day.

"Ugh." The bard had yawned, rubbing her stomach. "Your mother is going to be my downfall, you realize." Giving Xena a sheepish look. "I know I've more than made up for losing all that weight with the Amazons." she chuckled ruefully and plucked at her loose fitting tunic. "I'm afraid to try getting back into that skirt."

Xena had laughed, and reassured her. "You look healthy. Don't worry about it." And had given her a warm hug to back the statement up. Gotten a grin in response, as she felt Gabrielle's body relax against her contentedly.

"Pretty." Gabrielle murmured, wrapping her hands around Xena's. "This is a nice place to watch sunsets from."

"Mmm." Xena agreed. "I always used to come up here when I was little." She had looked down at her quiet partner. "You like it here?" Meaning Amphipolis, actually, and not the riverbank.

Gabrielle had understood the question. "Very much so." Her eyes had lifted to Xena's as she half turned in her arms. "Your family's made me feel part of them, Xena. I really like that. And I really like being here with you." She'd paused. "I've never seen you so.." She glanced up and smiled at the warm, dreamy look in those blue eyes. " Relaxed. It's really nice."

"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself." Xena had quietly answered. Then - Gods..I am at peace with myself. .. just when did that happen? "It's been a quick fortnight, huh?"

And Gabrielle had gazed at her for a very long moment, seemingly about to say something, but ended up just smiling and nodding agreement.

"Too short?" Xena had hazarded a guess.

The bard had swallowed, and quietly nodded again.

"We'll have to do it again sometime, then." The warrior had promised, with a tiny grin.

Gabrielle had let her head fall back against Xena's chest, and let her fingers idly play with a fold of her tunic. "I'd really like that." She replied, in a wistful voice.

"So would I." Xena had responded, and realized right then that it was the truth.

She tracked her watcher as he moved away from the large tree at her back, and slid silently closer. Not bad.. she admitted, detecting the soft scrape of his hand against the wood of the cot. Let's see.. foot up on the porch next. Bet it creaks.

But would Gabrielle agree with why she wanted to stop traveling, stop.. this never-ending series of fighting and struggling towards a far off dim possibility of redemption? Should she even tell her.. maybe she could just say this last injury did.. something. No. She didn't want there to be any secrets, not ones this important, between them. She'd tell Gabrielle exactly why, and then just see what the bard said. At least.. she mused sardonically I'm secure enough in what we have between us to assume she's going to care about where I end up after I have one fight too many.

Creak. Xena rolled her eyes. Amateur. Should have found the supports under the porch, and made sure he landed right on top of one. Her senses told her it wasn't Jessan, but they also told her that whoever it was wasn't attacking. Guess I'll just have to force the issue. She sighed, and spoke "Might as well sit down."

And turned her head, finally, to see him with her sight instead of her hearing. A scarred, dark furred face blinked quietly back at her. "Don’t' think we've met." She paused. "You'd have been better off staying by the tree."

Warrin was stunned. He'd sworn she hadn't detected him, not with the completely relaxed posture she'd kept, and the distracted, almost unseeing look to her gaze. He studied her face in silence, drinking in the sharp, angled planes and the chillingly ice blue eyes. So.

He seated himself next to her, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "My name is Warrin." He finally grunted, and waited.

Xena raised an eyebrow at him, not pausing in her mending. "Jessan's uncle."

Warrin nodded. They sat in silence, and he realized that was a natural state for her, as it was for himself.

Blue eyes flicking to his. "Did you get Ansteles?" Xena's voice was mildly curious. Knowing he had been sent to assassinate Hectator’s rival after the battle at Cirron.

The forest dweller peered at her, feeling a tickling interest poking its head up, despite his firm intentions. "Yes." He answered, then cleared his throat. "Didn't know you knew." He paused. "Nice work on Stevanos." The assassin that Xena had taken apart in her quarters that night. Whose jaw, and arm, and skull were fractured to a degree he thought only his kind were capable of, that showed a savage, brutal strength that had surprised him, coming from a human.

Xena just raised an eyebrow at him, and grinned.

That grin surprised him, in its feral familiarity. Then her gaze drifted across the village center, and he saw the sharp lines soften almost imperceptibly, and a certain warmth kindle in her eyes. He followed her glance and was not surprised to see the fair-haired bard approaching. So. But love between them did not a lifebond make, he reminded himself.

"Hi." Gabrielle turned her eyes to him as she climbed up the step onto the porch. "Warrin, isn't it? Jessan's uncle?"

He nodded, and watched her closely. Her attention was on him, but her steps drew her unerringly to Xena's side, and she rested a hand on the warrior's casually propped knee in unconscious possession, her fingers idly tracing smooth patterns on the tanned skin.

And now, with them together, he could See it without a doubt. His heart darkened. "Well, just saying hello." He said, shortly, and got up, leaving the porch without another word.

They looked at each other. Xena shrugged. "Don't ask me. He tried to sneak up here without me seeing him, then sat down and made small talk, then you showed up, and he left."

"Hmm." The bard mused. "Well, anyway, Argo's fine, but she misses you." She started to go to the other chair, but Xena patted the arm of hers, which was wide enough for a seat, and she settled down on the smooth worn wood slipping her arm around the warrior's shoulders and leaning her head against the high chair back.

The door to the healer's cot opened, and Elaini stuck her head out, peering around the doorframe with an inquiring expression. "Oh. There you are." She sighed, and edged the rest of her big body out the opening. "I’m going to stick my neck out, and assume you're pretty much OK. Right?" Her eyes scanned Xena from head to foot, and apparently were satisfied with what they saw.

"Pretty much." the warrior agreed. "Thanks, by the way." She leaned back, feeling the warmth of Gabrielle's arm against her neck. "Sorry I knocked you over that first night."

Elaini laughed and ambled over, settling herself in the other chair. "Thanks..for..what?" She propped an elbow on the chair arm, and gazed at them. "You diagnosed yourself, healed yourself, and even, it seems, fed and bathed yourself without any assistance from me. I wish all my patients were as considerate. Usually they hang about complaining of ingrown claws until I throw them out of the place." She yawned, showing her canines. "And I get tossed around occasionally, too - just wasn't expecting it, anyway. No problem."

Xena gave her a look, and shook her head. "I did have help." She elbowed Gabrielle, who tugged her hair in response.

"I realize that." Elaini grinned. "You both were out cold all day yesterday... bet you..." She winked at Gabrielle "Had some kind of backache, with that position you were in."

The bard's mouth quirked. "I did.. but Xena fixed that." Then she sobered, and cocked her head. "Was that because of this... connection thing?"

Elaini nodded. "Uh huh. But surely you noticed..." She blinked at them. "You sleep and wake together, right?"

They both looked at each other. "Well." Xena finally said, with a light laugh. "That explains a lot." Suddenly little things she'd been noticing made more sense. Like her sudden inexplicable inability to get up in the morning, after how many gods be blasted years? She shook her head, but saw that Elaini's attention was distracted, and curiously followed the forest dweller's gaze.

Jessan was making his way across the center ground, headed in their direction. Xena looked at Elaini watching him, then glanced at Gabrielle, who quirked an eyebrow at her.

The warrior looked at Elaini, then at Jessan, and now the bard's eyes followed hers, first curiosity, and then comprehension dawning as she interpreted the strange expression on Elaini's face.

They looked at each other, and grinned, needing no bond to share each other's thoughts.

"Morning, Jess." Xena drawled, as the forest dweller drew near, and returned his smile.

"Feeling better, I guess, huh?" Jessan asked, as he climbed up onto the porch and settled cross-legged at her side. He glanced up." Hey guys." Grinning at Elaini and Gabrielle.

"Hey yourself." Gabrielle responded, with a twinkle in her eyes. "Listen.. I have a really great idea." Now.. just go along with me here, Xena.. come on.. "I’ve gotten my friend here.. " A poke at the warrior, who gave her a look. "to agree to take it easy for a few days.. I was wondering if you guys would like to join us for a… picnic, this afternoon."

She felt the silent chuckle run through Xena’s frame, but not a twitch showed on her face. "Sounds good to me." Xena replied gravely, crossing her arms over her chest and the now finished leathers. "You should go. Gabrielle does great picnics."

Jessan looked at her, and then at Gabrielle, and hesitated. They’re up to something. Wish I knew what.. but they are definitely up to something. Oh well. No harm in a picnic, I guess. "Sure." He agreed with his sunny grin. "I love a picnic." His eyes traveled over to Elaini. "Come on.. you can take the afternoon off."

The healer raised both shaggy eyebrows. "Well, since my patient here seems to have recovered with no help from me, I guess I can." She chuckled. "And I suppose we’ll need some food to go with it. " She nodded at Gabrielle. "Can I introduce you to the community kitchen?"

Gabrielle grinned. "Absolutely." She got up, giving Xena’s arm a quick squeeze. "Be back."

Xena nodded at her, and watched them cross the central space, heading for a low, wide building near the stream. Then she turned her head, and she and Jessan regarded each other quietly.

"Think we’re about even now, my friend." Xena said at last, prodding him with the toe of her boot.

Jessan shook his head, and leaned forward, catching her boot. "We both know I didn’t get you out of there. How did you do that?"

"Do what?" Xena asked, gazing at him, arms still crossed. Then – "Don’t ask me that, Jessan. We both know I don’t know the answer, other than to just say I did what I did because I had to do it."

The tall forest dweller nodded slowly. "Know that." He patted her foot absently. "I thought.. " He swallowed. "I didn’t see how.. Xena, if it wasn’t for Gabrielle being convinced you were…" He stopped, and sighed. "I was so afraid you weren’t."

"Afraid?" Came the quiet question.

"For her." The honest answer.

Xena closed her eyes in acknowledgment. "I know.’ She drew breath and released it. "I couldn’t let that happen." She paused. "You were right, damn you." But she smiled as she said it. Right about what he’d seen between them, and the inevitability of it all.

Jessan’s eyes shadowed, and he put a hesitant hand on her leg. "Are you sorry I was?" Please.. Xena.. I have to know.. but Ares, I hope…

Her smile forestalled his thoughts. "No." A simple answer, to a hard question. "Not at all."

He felt relief cascade down him, lifting his fur in a happy shiver. "I’m glad." He grinned suddenly. "I promised Gabrielle I wouldn’t tease you about that." His golden eyes lifted to hers, and saw the twinkle there.

"Yeah… " She drawled, giving him a look. "I got that lecture too."

Watching him blush and roll his eyes. "I know.. I know.. I’m a little piglet." He patted his belly. "Not enough things to challenge me around here. I get lazy." He lifted his broad shoulders in a rueful shrug. And found unexpected sympathy in her eyes.

"Been there, done that." Xena chuckled. "I can be pretty bad if I don’t keep the pressure on."

"Really?" He asked, intrigued. "Never would have guessed."

"Yeah." She admitted. "But don’t tell anyone. It’s bad enough Gabrielle brings out that part of me in the worst way."

Jessan grinned, and slapped her boot. "Not a word" He promised.

They looked at each other in silence.

"It’s changed you." Jessan said, quietly.

A long expelled breath from Xena. "Yeah." But her face broke into a sudden dazzling smile.

Jessan held his breath, charmed by her response. Knowing that, whatever else this joining brought, it had brought her a measure of peace, and of happiness, and that soothed his soul with a wonderful warmth. "Ares, I’m glad." He breathed, returning her smile with one of his own.

They both glanced away, then back. "Me too." Xena chuckled, then unfolded her arms and patted his head. "Listen, I did promise her I’d take it easy for a few days.. wanna do some light drills?"

Jessan grinned, and showed every tooth in his mouth. "You bet." He sighed happily. "After this.. picnic." And now his gaze turned suspicious. "What are you two up to?"

"Us?" Xena hiked both eyebrows up in injured innocence. "Don’t know what you mean."

"Uh huh." The forest dweller nodded, not buying it.

"Really." Xena assured him. "It’s just a picnic. Gabrielle likes them. A lot."

"Uh huh." Jessan said again.

Xena just looked at him with a slight smile on her lips.

"Not going to tell me, huh?" Jessan sighed.

Silence from the warrior.

Jessan sighed again. "OK" He finally capitulated. "But it better be good."

A grin from Xena. It will be if Gabrielle does her part.. and if I know my bard… she already has.

Gabrielle strode along silently, stretching her steps a bit to keep up with the much taller Elaini, and casting her eyes around the compound. "Nice day." She commented, glancing up in appreciation at the cloudless sky. The warm sun drenched the grassy central area, and a gentle cool breeze stirred the leaves on the surrounding trees.

"Hmm.. uh huh." Elaini answered absently, then turned her golden head and looked at Gabrielle. "Sorry.. my minds a thousand leagues away from here… you’re right – it is a nice day." She smiled, showing her canines. "I’m glad your partner is doing better. I was.. " She glanced around, then back to Gabrielle, softening her tone. "I was a little worried about her yesterday.. that was a pretty high fever."

The bard nodded and chewed her lip. "I know. I was too." She took in a breath. "But she’s pretty tough."

"So I found out." Elaini chuckled good-naturedly. "Boy was I surprised. the way, for not listening to you." She gestured towards the larger cot that held the village’s communal kitchen. "Come on."

"Thanks." The bard responded. "And, no problem – I just try to make things easier for people around her.. especially when she’s not really sure of what’s going on. She reacts really, really fast."

Elaini nodded, as she pushed the door to the cot open. "Now I know." A curious glance down at the fair-haired human. "How did the two of you… I mean… it’s an odd…"

Gabrielle laughed. "That’s a long story, so I’ll tell you at lunch." She gave the forest dweller a sideways look. "I’m glad Jess said he’d come.. he looks like he could use a little cheering up."

Elaini sighed. "That’s true.. I’m not sure what’s bugging him lately." Her ears perked up and she put a hand on Gabrielle’s back to guide the bard into the cool storage area. "What do you bring for a picnic? I’ve never been to one." She glanced around, nodding a little at the well-organized room. The storage cot was dug down below the ground level, and held a coldness even in the hottest weather, keeping the provisions well stored on rough shelves around the packed earthen walls.

Gabrielle browsed around the supplies, and selected, first, a large basket. "Well, this is important – something to carry everything in." She grinned. "And.. let’s see.. " She selected a few items with a knowing hand. "These are good. You can put them together and make little snack rolls with them."

"Really?" Elaini replied, coming closer and looking over her shoulder. "Oh.. yeah, I see what you mean. Do you like those?"

"I do.. and so does Xena." The bard chuckled. "We’re lucky that way.. we mostly like the same things."

"Oh." The forest dweller mused. "Is she picky?" Her face creased into a mischievous grin.

Gabrielle snorted. "Gods no." She picked up several other items "She’d actually just swallow anything edible if she had to.. but I can always tell when she really likes something, and I try to work with that, because if she likes something, then I can sometimes get her to slow down and actually chew it before she swallows." She winked. "Getting her to relax and enjoy herself a little is a hobby of mine."

Elaini let out a low, rumbling chuckle. "Sounds like quite a hobby." Offhandedly, she picked up a piece of dried venison from the shelf and examined it. "So.. how do you tell if she likes something?"

Gabrielle hid a grin, and studied the selection of fruits stacked in small baskets against the back wall of the cot. "Well.." She reflected. "She’s a tough read, I’ll give you that. It’s that warrior know? That stoic, never admit to pain, never admit to having an emotion about anything kind of walnut shell they all have?"

"Oh yeah." Elaini nodded, and rolled her eyes. "Tell me all about it. Like if they let up for a candlemark the world would stop spinning."

The bard nodded. "Uh huh." She sat down on a convenient box and assumed a thoughtful expression. "Let’s see.. how do I know when she likes something.. well, she gets kind of this.. " her mouth quirked into a grin. "sparkle in her eyes." She paused. "Not that those eyes don’t sparkle all the time, all by themselves, mind you.. but this is different."

"Really." Elaini breathed, seating herself on a cask of cider.

"Yeah." Gabrielle confirmed. "And.. she kind of smiles, just a little bit, but almost like she can’t help it. " If she closed her eyes, she could picture the look. "She has a sweet tooth she won’t admit to, but I catch her with that sometimes." With a twinkle, she added a handful of honey and nut clusters rolled in powdered sugar to the basket. "You watch."

The forest dweller sighed. "You sound like you really enjoy doing that."

"I do." The bard responded. "Those walnut shells are tough.. but once you get them cracked.. " Her face relaxed into a smile. " Underneath all that, she’s the nicest, most gentle person you could imagine knowing. " She paused. "It’s worth the effort." Get my drift? Maybe…

Elaini studied her for a long moment, then gave her a wistful smile. "You’re in love with her."

Gabrielle smiled. "That’s pretty obvious, I thought." As obvious as you’re being.. but we won’t mention that, right? Right.

"Even without the bond you share, I think you would be." The healer mused.

"I was, a long time before we knew about that." Came the honest answer.

Elaini ducked her head closer. "How did you know?" Her eyes glinted "When did you realize?"

Ah. Good question. Gabrielle reflected. Now, how can I answer this so that I give her the information she’s asking for.. "Well, I’d known for a long time we were really close - I mean, when you go around the way we do, you kind of… come to depend on that other person. And I did. " She stopped then smiled a little. "I do. Anyway, but there are always things that drive you nuts, and she has a bunch of those things, too." She handed Elaini a pear, and took one herself, biting into it and chewing thoughtfully. "So, we’d had this fight."

And it had been a big one, Gabrielle reflected, looking back. She hadn’t spoken to Xena since that morning, when they’d had yet another in a series of arguments about why Xena never bothered to tell her what was going on, or where they were going, or…

Same old, same old. Gabrielle had thought, trying to come up with something to put down on the scroll that had been sitting before her blank since they’d stopped and made camp. I get treated like a child, I get mad, and she just pulls into her shell and stops communicating. Not that she communicates really well even on a good day. But this is like.. She glanced over at the closed, silent visage across the fire from her. I used to just get mad. Now I get mad, but it also hurts.. and it’s been hurting more and more lately. That’s weird. It’s like I don’t want us to fight.

A motion had attracted her eye, and she realized the warrior was no longer there. Great. She thought in disgust. Just run off, like usual. She’d known that Xena would probably just go work off her anger doing those never-ending drills of hers, and come back, like she did sometimes, tired and just kind of quiet.

Guess it’s cold stuff again for dinner. Not that Xena ever cared. The bard had sighed. Or complained, be fair - she would eat whatever you put in front of her, and never say a word. Though I wish sometimes… Gabrielle had felt the anger leaking out of her like water in a sand pile, being replaced by a wistful sadness that had become more and more common to her lately. I wish she’d notice when I really try to make something nice.

And realized with a funny kind of shiver that lately.. smiles, and kind looks, and the odd positive word from her traveling companion had become more important to her. Had become.. something she needed, something that filled a spot in her that was otherwise dark and empty. That felt very dark and very empty right now.

She had stared down at the parchment in somber reflection, trying to sort out her feelings, and using the end of her recently useless quill to brush the tears off the surface as they fell. She’d had no idea why she was even crying, and rubbed her face in irritation as she lifted her head.

To see Xena standing there, leathers damp with the water that was also dripping off her bare legs and lower arms, and off the shining fins of two large fish she had by the gills. Yellow tails, which Xena knew were Gabrielle’s favorite kind.

The bard had looked up, startled, into those deep blue eyes, and seen the slight tilt of that dark head, and the quirked eyebrow that was Xena asking for a truce. And the fish were a peace offering, if Gabrielle had a mind to accept them.

And suddenly, desperately, she wanted to accept them. Wanted things to be all right between them with a fierce longing that shocked her to the core. She had stood up, and walked over to the waiting warrior, and slipped her hands into the gills to take the fish, feeling her heart jump as their fingers touched, and listening at last to her body’s reaction to her nearness, and the warm, spicy scent of her leathers, and the look in Xena’s eyes as their glances met.

Realizing in that timeless moment that ‘best friend’ just didn’t quite encompass her feelings any more. And wondered what in Hades was the point in that?

Wondered until Xena, now relieved of her burden, dried her hands off, hesitated, and then lifted a hand up, and so, so gently brushed one of the recently fallen tears off her cheek. And let her fingertips linger a heartbeat longer than she needed to. "Thought you’d appreciate something other than bread and cheese." Was the offhand comment.

Thanks." She’d said, hearing the touch of strain in her voice. "Thought we’d be stuck with trail bars tonight." But her tone had been warm, and she’d seen the reflection of that in the grin that quirked unevenly across the warrior’s lips.

But she wanted more than that, so she let her feelings show, just a little, and braved the danger of their glances meeting. And was rewarded with a softening in those ice blue eyes, and a real smile, which she tucked into that lonely place inside her, letting the warmth spread out slowly. "Uhm… sorry I yelled, before." She apologized, letting out a long sigh.

"My fault." Xena had replied, putting a hand on her shoulder, and squeezing gently. "Sorry.. I.." She’d hesitated. "I hate when we fight." She’d finally admitted.

"Me too." Gabrielle had agreed, as she felt the tension drain out of her. She’d glanced at her hands. "These are my favorites." With a shy glance up, and reveling in the feel of the warm hand still clasped on her neck.

"Yeah. I know." Had come the quiet answer. "Mine too."

Gabrielle had felt a slow smile crossing her face. "Didn’t know you had a favorite." The words slipped out before she could stop them, and she blushed slightly.

Xena had just chuckled, though, and patted the side of her face gently. "I do." She’d drawled. "Just took me a while to get around to mentioning it."

Gabrielle grinned, remembering. She’d lain awake half the night, just looking up at the stars, and trying to figure out where her head was at. And finally, had lit a tiny candle stub, and settled down at her parchment, and wrote a poem that came as close as she could to painting a picture in words of what she saw when she looked across the dim, barely glowing embers of her campfire towards her companion. At last, satisfied, she’d sanded and blown off the scroll, and reread it, then rolled it up and tied it neatly, and stowed it away in her carry bag. Where it still was, a bit tattered but whole.

"I don’t.. " She glanced at Elaini, who was patiently waiting for an answer. "Well.. for me, I knew, when I realized that for all the danger, and all the bad things that happen to us.. " Here she smiled. "And all the times we fight about stuff, I’d still rather be with her than be anywhere else in the world."

Elaini sighed. "Wow."

"So." Gabrielle said, crisply. "What does Jessan like?" Ooo… Gabrielle, you are an bad bard. Bad Bard. Bad to the bone. Her eyes took on a mischievous sparkle. "Come on.. come on.."

Elaini blushed a deep crimson "How would I know??" She blurted, scowling at the bard.

Gabrielle summoned up her best Xena style raised eyebrow look, and dumped in on the hapless forest dweller.

It worked. The healer let her shoulders slump and put her chin in her big hands. "He doesn’t even know I’m alive." She sighed deeply. "He’s so cute."

Gabrielle bit her lip hard to keep from giggling. "I always thought so." She gravely agreed. "Now we just have to get him out of his shell." A quick grin. "So to speak." Oh..I’m gonna enjoy this.. and so is my ever so cynical, I’m too tough for my leathers partner. "Relax. We’ll think of something."

Elaini bit a section out of her pear, and looked up with embarrassed gratitude. "Nice to have an ally, anyway."

Gabrielle grinned. "Two of them." She picked up the basket, and swung it over her arm. "Come on.. we’ve got a picnic to go to."

"You mean.. she.. uhm…" Elaini spluttered. "I thought.. but.. she’s.."

The bard stopped at the flight of steps leading up from the earthen floor, and put her free hand on her hip. "When it comes to plans… " The green eyes glinted. "Nobody even comes close. "



Bound Part 3 Continued