DISCLAIMER: See part one.

By romansilence


Chapter Six: Learning Curve

Samantha and Janet came to their room after a slow walk through a peaceful and idyllic scenery. They consciously took the long way back to the guest palace, giving Samantha the chance to think about the evening's revelations and what she just had consented to.

They were holding hands, and every once in a while the brunette squeezed the bigger hand. She wouldn't have been able to explain it, but a big part of her was convinced that this day somehow had changed their lives – and more than just by openly showing what they felt for each other in front of their team mates.

When they had closed the door to their quarters, Samantha finally broke the silence. "So, what do you think about this special training?"

Janet smiled at the blonde, having anticipated this question since they left the Queen's hut.

"If it really can help with your nightmares, it could be worth the risk – and to be honest, I'm kind of intrigued by what they told us. I like spending time with Gabrielle, and I'd really like to learn from her."

"So, we'll do it?"

"It has to be your decision, Sam. What do you want?"

"I want to make love to you, Janet Rebecca Fraiser."

"This is serious, Sam; please answer my question."

"I'm perfectly serious, Jan. Yes, we'll do it, and yes, I want to make love to you."

The sparkle in Samantha's eyes was more than the small brunette could resist. So, she stepped closer and unbuckled the belt of Samantha's trousers. She slowly and sensually slid it out of the belt loops and let it drop to the ground. The taller woman tried to pluck Janet's T-shirt out of the waistband of her BDU's but two smaller hands gripped her wrists.

"Stand at ease, my major, and don't move. I only see you naked when you're injured and your clothing has to be cut off. I want to savour this moment. I want to discover your body with a lover's eyes. Please, indulge me!"

"Your wish is my command, my Janet. My love. – It's so strange to finally be able to say it out loud. The nights I spent at your house, I always dreamed of tiptoeing over to your room and just snuggling down next to you."

Janet looked up from her task of unbuttoning Sam's AF trousers with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "So, even your dreams about me are rather chaste. Should I be disappointed?"

"There's no reason for that. Taking you in my arms was only the beginning. You would wake up after a few minutes and shrug out of your nightshirt. Your brown eyes would pin me to the bed. You'd ordered me to get out of my boxers and …." She was silenced by a kiss and with a little help the smaller woman pulled Sam's black T-shirt over her head, leaving her in a black military issue sports bra, her nipples straining against the soft material.

Janet's hands trailed down the sides of Sam's body, repainting the contours with tender fingertips, barely touching her but still sending tingles down her spine. The rather rough cloth of her trousers was peeled over her hips and with the same movement she got rid of the socks and slippers. Starting with Samantha's left knee she began to kiss her way upwards, pleasantly surprised by the strong scent of arousal. She then slid the breeches down and found herself facing a neatly trimmed tuft of blond hair. It was hard but she resisted the temptation and kissed her way down to the right knee.

Sam stepped out of her underwear, got rid of her bra and pulled Janet up to stand in front of her. Their eyes held each other for endless seconds before their lips met. This time there was no gentleness, no exploring. The kiss was feral, hungry; both of them trying to put all their pent-up energy and passion in this single kiss.

When they came up to breathe, Sam said with a catlike purr. "You're way overdressed, my Jan. Let me help you out of this cumbersome clothing."

"No, chance, my love. Go and get on the bed. I'll strip for you."

Janet began to sway her hips in a sensuous rhythm that alone would have made Samantha's heart beat faster. And though Janet wished that she was wearing a long, flowing skirt instead of her functional training's attire, she made the best of it. She first pulled her T-shirt over her head, revealing a pink sports bra. She then turned around, still swaying her hips. The bra swiftly followed the shirt. Samantha's breath paused at the sight of the play of muscles the simple movement made visible. She always had thought of Janet as the soft, feminine type – but she should have known better, at least since their first encounter with Hathor. The small woman hauled the bodies of marines two and three times her weight around on an almost daily basis.

All thought fled the blonde when Janet made a half turn and began to slowly unlace her combat boots. She took her time with standing to her full five foot two inches in height. Another half turn brought her to once again face the bed. Sam's hungry eyes were all the encouragement she needed; but she stuck to her plan and kept up her slow seduction. One after the other the buttons of her trousers were opened, revealing the upper edge of pink panties. Together they landed on the floor. She stepped out of them directly into Sam's waiting arms.

"You're so beautiful, Jan. It's still dark outside but in this room the sun just rose. Looking at you, feeling your skin on mine, makes me happy. I'm at home, finally at home."

The blonde's hands were roaming all over her body and Janet closed her eyes to memorise the feeling. She then stood on the tip of her toes and whispered in Sam's ear. "You're the one who's beautiful, my brilliant warrior. You don't know how much of a turn-on it is to feel the hard muscles under your soft skin. I also feel at home in your arms. Please, make me yours."

"Beautiful, inside and out." Sam murmured while nibbling Janet's ear, pulling her closer, and carrying her to the bed. With hands and mouth they explored each other, slowly, savouring the texture of the other woman's kin, internalising her scent. Finally, Samantha was on top, mindful to keep most of her weight on her hands and arms and off of Janet. Their hips were moving with the same sensuous rhythm the smaller woman had held while undressing. They were in perfect sync; grinding against each other, pelvis touching pelvis. They came together in an explosion of energy neither of them had ever experienced before.

Still panting, Samantha rolled on her back, pulling the brunette with her, enveloped in a strange and yet eerily familiar sense of togetherness. Minutes passed without either of them moving or talking, and then both said. "Thank you, my love."

Blue eyes found brown and they burst out laughing. Some time later, Janet had manoeuvred herself in her usual spot at Samantha's side, her head pillowed on the taller woman's shoulder, she asked. "Why did you thank me, Sammy?"

"Because for the first time in my life I understand what all this talk about sex, about making love is about. You're the first to make me feel this way and I hope you also will be the last." Samantha answered almost in a whisper.

"The first?"

"The first, my Jan. Don't get me wrong, I've had sex before, but now I know that I've never made love before. It's the most wonderful feeling. For the first time I don't feel like I have to prove something or that you'd expect me to react in a certain way. I didn't know that it could be like this."

Janet kissed the side of Sam's breast and chuckled at the immediate reaction the almost innocent touch provoked. "Yes, Sammie, it's the most wonderful feeling." She whispered and continued her exploration of the soft skin in front of her. Her efforts were rewarded with a low moan. Her lips found an already taut nipple and she began to suckle like a hungry child. With her left knee between Samantha's thighs they once again were on their way to Cythera, paying tribute to Aphrodite.

A couple of hours later, someone was banging on the door. They had only been asleep a few minutes. Relying on years of crisis management, they instantly were awake and Samantha remembered that she should have been at the training grounds half an hour ago. Janet sent her to the bathroom, slipped a robe over her naked body, and opened the door.

"Master Niva, please come in and have a seat. Samantha will be with us in a few minutes. We sort of overslept."

When Niva saw the piles of clothing strewn on the ground, she pretty much guessed what really had made them late. She simply couldn't pass this chance up. "Would it be wrong to presume that you had a hand in Samantha Carter's sudden, uncharacteristic forgetfulness, Janet Fraiser?"

"One could see it that way, weapons' master. Actually, I most certainly did. I accept full responsibility".

"No, she doesn't." Samantha said while closing the bathroom door. "What will my punishment be, Master Niva?"

"For once, I accept extenuating circumstances, warrior; so, I'll let it go with another extra candlemark of drilling at the end of today's session. Now, go and start with your warm-up exercises. I have to speak with the healer."

Samantha walked towards the door, but was called back by Janet who closed the distance between them and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Now, you may go." She closed the door behind her and then turned her attention towards the weapons' master. "I'm really sorry, Master Niva. Please, don't be too hard on her."

"Do not worry, healer. I remember what being in love feels like." The taller woman answered with a hint of sadness in her voice and a knowing grin on her face that made Janet blush. "But now, back to business. Consort Xena informed me that I would have to attend the whole session of the Great Council. So we will have to reschedule your training. I'll leave it to you. We can just do two sessions tomorrow or we can do it now."

"Now, please!"

"So be it. I want you at the training grounds half a candlemark after sunrise. Enough time to take a long shower and clean up the room. Don't be late."

Five hours later, a freshly showered and very tired Major Samantha Carter stepped through Athena's Ring and onto the platform in the Gate Room of Cheyenne Mountain. Her official report didn't take long; and she easily was granted that her team should stay on longer than initially planned. She argued that they made good progress, and that it would be counterproductive to bring in new people right now.

Shortly after the debriefing she left the base, officially to fetch a few things for Janet and herself, which she did. Her true purpose, however, was to privately meet with General Hammond. Leaving his office she had slipped him a message. It said. 'We have to talk, Uncle George.' Followed by two eyes in a circle.

Samantha had just finished packing the worn UCLA sweat shirt Janet had asked for in the big gym bag she intended to bring back to Gaia when the General arrived. She made some coffee, and then began to tell him about Gabrielle's and Xena's immortality and the fact that Egeria was living on their planet.

George Hammond listened without interrupting. He manifested no anger, disappointment, or surprise at her decision to keep it out of her written report. In fact he seemed relieved.

"I'm glad that you told me, Sam. There was a message from the high council of the Tok'Ra, warning us about them. Doctor Jackson also has some suspicions. Perhaps… Yes, call him and ask him to come over. He's better able to explain."

While they waited for Daniel to make the twenty minutes' drive to Janet's house, Samantha talked about Gaia and the Amazons; for once not reigning in her fascination and enthusiasm by coating it with scientific objectivity. To Hammond, it was as if a part of the carefree child she once had been, before her mother's death, had finally returned.

A few minute later, Daniel Jackson arrived with Teal'c and O'Neill in tow, and Samantha gave them a short version of what she just had told the general.

"Damn it! She was right all these years – and I won't be able to tell her."

"Tell whom?"

"A friend, Doctor Sabrina Levinson. She's a research assistant in Washington. She's brilliant and would be at the head of her own department by now, if not for this stupid, insane theory that she simply refused to denounce after it accidentally got published. And now -- to know that she was right."

"Danny-boy, calm down. Start at the beginning, would you? Without the rather cryptic message from the Tok'Ra, I would have a hard time accepting Carter's story. I know you already know what Daniel has to say, Sir, but I'd really like a chance to understand better."

"Doctor Jackson only told me about his suspicions, not how he came to develop them. I'd also like to hear it, Colonel," the General answered.

"The message the Tok'ra sent said that the High Queen of the Amazon Nation and her Consort are, and I quote, 'older than most, cunning, and quick to stick their fingers where they're not wanted'. End quote. It was their names that triggered my memory. When I was working with Professor Jordan, Sabrina was one of his junior assistants. She has an innate understanding of languages, Egyptian, Greek, Arabic, Aramaic... You may think that I am good with languages but compared to her I'm nothing but an illiterate babe in the woods. Even the most ancient dialects are no problem for her."

"She would be a worthy candidate for the Stargate Project, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

"Yes, she probably would, but she hates the military and, as far as I know, never would work within our command structure. Anyway, she wrote a highly-applauded thesis about the trading routes between Egypt and Greece in the centuries before the Roman occupation. But her real interest lay elsewhere. Her grandmother died when she was still in highschool. Among the things she left her was a diary and three old scrolls, story scrolls in Ancient Greek. These scrolls are the reason why she made a double major in Archaeology and Linguistics.

"They told about the adventures of a great warrior woman named Xena and her companion Gabrielle. She tried to prove that they really had existed; it was like an obsession. She found their names in the ruins of an Artemis' temple in Thessaly, hints in Britannia, and even in China. She even was able to find two more scrolls. One of them told how Cecrops, the mariner cursed by Poseidon, was set free and the other one was about a trip to India, and how the demon, Indrajit was defeated by Xena. She didn't have the intention to go public but it somehow happened and she refused to distance herself from her theories. She still does.

"Though the authenticity of the scrolls couldn't be denied, no one wanted to see more in these scrolls than products of an overactive imagination. It ruined her reputation but she never gave up.

"We spoke at Professor Jordan's funeral, before this whole mess with Osiris happened. She told me that she had found three more of the scrolls, one of them telling a strange story of this Xena living as a slave among the Amazons. She is certain that they are authentic, but she also harbours a great deal of bitterness."

Daniel now looked at the General. "I know that this has the potential to endanger the Stargate Program but if there is one thing in this world I trust it's her integrity and reliability.

"I really would love to tell her that she was right the whole time. – Sam, do you think you could speak with the Queen on her behalf?"

"I'll try Daniel, but I can't make any promises. Now, if you all don't mind, I have to get back. I promised not to be late for the party."

"Another party? What are you doing out there, working or enjoying yourself?" O'Neill grumbled.

"Oh we're working hard, as our reports should prove abundantly, but the Amazons as a rule don't forget to also enjoy the other side of life. They know how to have a good time – and in their eyes this opportunity is just too good to pass up. Today the Regents of the other villages on Gaia and from the other planets belonging to the Amazon Nation are holding their annual meeting. They call it the High Council; they are talking the whole day and in the evening they relax. Hey, even I enjoyed myself last week and that's no small feat. Besides, our hosts would be disappointed were we not to attend, sir."

"This is so unfair," Jack whined.

"That's enough, Colonel O'Neill," George Hammond's deep voice retorted sharply. "Back to business. Major Carter!" Samantha immediately stood at attention. "Let Queen Gabrielle know that the story you told me and the data she gave to you will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Only the President himself will be informed. There will be no trace of it in Area 51 or any other database. And now, go, call Cassandra before you return."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Concerning Cassie, Colonel O'Neill, she will stay at summer camp for another two weeks. With the General having approved of a prolongation of our stay, Doctor Fraiser will not be back in time. Could you take her on a fishing trip or something 'til the end of the holidays? She would be thrilled to spend to some time with you."

"With Doctor Jackson doing the cooking and Teal'c actually catching some fish, it could turn into a good trip for the girl." Hammond said with a smirk. "Consider yourself on recruiting duty, O'Neill."

"General, I'm hurt. You have to know I'm a magician with a grill." O'Neill answered, sporting a grin himself. "Yes, Carter, I'll do it. It will be fun to have the little sprout for a few days."

'Little sprout'! Cassandra would have a major fit had she heard him, Samantha thought. She was quickly becoming a hormone-driven, typical American teen; the Colonel would have his hands full with her. She was always ready to break the rules, test her boundaries, and drive her parents crazy with worry and doubt. No one would have thought that she had been born on an alien planet and to a totally different social structure. Samantha knew it wasn't exactly fair but instead of dampening Jack's enthusiasm with a dose of reality she simply said. "I'm sure you all will have a lot of fun, sir. – And now let me call and break the news to her. See you at the base in about an hour."

Samantha made it back in time for the big party, but Janet and she only stayed as long as necessary not to arouse any suspicions and then retired to their room where they spent the night exploring each other's body and making love.

The next day there was to be no training or other activities scheduled due to the expected general hangover. They had explicit orders to enjoy this day off and to stay out of shouting range of the infirmary and the laboratories. So, Samantha led her new lover to a secluded spot a candlemark's walk to the North of Athena's Ring, an hour North of the Stargate, she corrected herself – in both cases far away from grumpy Amazons with killer headaches and the temptations of work.

According to Xena it was one of the most romantic sites on the whole planet and perfectly suited to 'celebrate the joining of a soul and the union of two bodies'. That's what the Consort had called it, but Samantha had been too busy with blushing to really think about her words.

The Consort had been right. They had followed a sun-speckled path through the forest; in deference to Janet's aversion against heights they took the long way and stayed on the ground. It was basically the same setting as the spot where the four women had had their picnic a few days ago with the added bonus of a thirty foot waterfall and a miniature beach with fine white sand. They were mesmerised by the tiny rainbows the cascading water let dance on its surface, and for a long time they simply stood still and soaked up the peaceful atmosphere surrounding them.

The spell was broken by a hunting hawk's cry; and at first Samantha thought that it was Xena announcing her arrival, having learned that the hawk was the birdcall used to identify the Consort, but then she saw the animal in question circling high above their heads. She studied the elegant creature for a long moment, brought back to more interesting things by Janet intensifying her hold around her waist and snuggling closer in her embrace. Her brown eyes were twinkling when Sam looked down to an open invitation the blonde was unable and unwilling to resist.

They spent the day making love on the beach, with and without the benefit of a blanket. Both vowed they never again would do something this stupid, though the task of removing the grains of sand from the other's skin and from places sand really wasn't meant to be in the nearby pond turned out to be a very pleasurable experience. They slept a little and ate. They made love in the water with Janet clinging to Samantha's taller frame, and they made love standing under the waterfall. They let their bodies do all the talking, and basked in the ever-growing feeling of belonging together.

When afternoon turned into evening, they regretfully returned to the guest palace to keep their dinner date with the other members of the research team. They had to tell them that Samantha would be out of reach for the next three days. They still hadn't decided if they should tell them the truth, but when Samantha saw their expectant faces she found that they deserved to know as much of the real reasons for her training with the Consort as she was able to communicate. The others seemed to be content with her explanation.

She still couldn't shake off the feeling that there was more to the special training and getting in contact with Jolinar than the Queen and Xena had been willing to tell. And though Gabrielle only this morning, before their picnic, had tried to give her a clearer picture of what would happen; it still boiled down to one simple question: trust. Did she trust both of them enough to do what was asked of her without really understanding why?

For the soldier in her, it should have been very simple. She only had to accept Xena and Gabrielle as her commanding officers – and following orders was something she was well accustomed to do. It would be easy to follow their orders, very easy but the soldier in her always had been at war with the scientist who wanted to know the why and how of an order, who wanted to know the reasoning behind it – and over the years this part of her had been getting stronger and stronger.

Before Janet joined the Stargate Project Samantha never had acted on her feelings alone, but now she felt it was the right thing to do – not only regarding this training's schedule, but also her relationship with Janet. It still was slightly disconcerting for her not to question her emotions but instead to comfortably rely on them.

"Let's go for a walk, Janet Fraiser!"

The tone of the Queen's voice left no doubt that it wasn't a question or an invitation but an order. And Janet knew why – and she also didn't miss the almost pathetically grateful expressions of some of the infirmary staff. She had been prickly and on the edge since Samantha had left with Xena that morning. The rational part of her mind knew that her lover was in no physical danger, and she also was well aware that before the end of the first day she would be a nervous wreck if she kept this level of tension up.

They walked in silence and finally came to the Queen's house in the forest where they sat on the comfortable chairs on the back porch. "I'm sorry I lost my temper, Queen Gabrielle."

"It's understandable, Janet. They all know why you're on the edge. It's all right."

"But I'm a doctor. I should have more control," the brunette answered.

"I have news for you, Doctor," Gabrielle answered with a smile, "being a healer, a doctor, doesn't make you any less human, my friend. In fact being human is what makes you such a good healer." The brown eyed woman blushed slightly.

"Healer, I like the word. The first few times Master Niva used it I thought she wanted to make fun of me. A healer is so much more than a doctor, someone who not only cares for the body but also for the souls of their patients – No, I don't think, I'm a healer, Gabrielle."

"A healer knows that there has to be a balance between the body and the soul. You care for your patients, Janet. You never forget that they are human; you respect their feelings and their fears. You never let them wake up alone in the infirmary not knowing what is going on. You are a healer – but you also are a woman in love, worrying about your beloved-one. Don't disregard your feelings."

"Rationally, I know, your Consort will take good care of her, but…" There was a long period of silence.

"Let's try something. Do you trust me, Janet?" The other woman nodded. "Do you see the mobile at the other end of the porch?" Janet once again nodded. "Look at it, closely, as closely as you can. Nothing in the world exists but this mobile and my voice. Breathe, in and out, in and out. See the mobile sparkling in the sun. See how it's slowly turning. Breathe in and out. Look at the mobile. In and slowly out. Your eyelids are starting to drop. Don't fight it. Continue to breathe, slowly. There's darkness surrounding you, but very far away there's a tiny point of light. Breathe. The light slowly gets bigger, in rhythm with your breathing. In and out. It gets bigger as if you were walking towards it. Concentrate on the light. That's all that counts. Concentrate on the light. My voice is fading away. Concentrate on the light. It's getting closer and closer."

Gabrielle fell silent. Janet no longer needed her guidance.

Some time later brown eyes reopened and a happy smile graced her face. "Thank you, Gabrielle. Now, I know that she is all right. – How did you do it?"

"You did it, Janet. I only showed you the way; that's all."

"I saw Sam. Sam was the light. I could feel her love for me. I knew what she was feeling, but I still don't understand."

"It's the most simple and the most amazing thing all in one. You feel her love for you because she is a part of you, part of what and who you are. She is the light in your darkness, just as you are the light in hers."

"It's that story you told: one soul in two bodies. What Xena said to Sam, celebrate the joining of a soul." Gabrielle didn't answer but she also didn't deny the other woman's words. "It makes sense, in a weird sort of way. Sam and I felt drawn to each other almost from the beginning. I never had a best friend before, but Sam and I, we became friends almost from the first moment. I know when she enters a room without even having to look. Yes, it makes sense. She completes me. We're soulmates. Wow!"

"Yeah, wow! This is only the beginning. Soon, you will have no need to close your eyes to know what Samantha is feeling and in time she will know what you are feeling. It is a great gift, but it also can be a curse. You not only will feel positive emotions but all emotions. And if one of you is in turmoil, if you are angry with each other, it will be hell. There's nothing more hurtful than this; believe me, I know."

"You knew about us from the beginning, Xena and you, right?"

"We suspected from the first mission report we read about the two of you, about P3X-759, what Doctor Jackson called 'the Broca divide'. Don't be alarmed; the signs were too subtle for your superiors to see and interpret correctly. We know about your strange regulations.

"It was more what was not in the report that let us know, well at least suspect. Janet, you were in Samantha's cell for more than four minutes before she was hurt by a new arrival. She didn't harm you in any way; she didn't see you as an intruder in her territory like the other woman."

"You're right, she didn't attack me. She was gentle and caring before the SF's brought in this ensign. I could feel that woman's eyes on me and Sam shielded me with her body and disabled her, not without being hurt herself in the process.

"Put like that," the small doctor continued, "Sam only was trying to protect me when she attacked the other female.

"Oh god, I never before thought of it this way. It should have been so obvious, even this early. I could kick myself for all the precious time we lost."

"Hindsight, Janet! Hindsight always is 20/20, but that's not what this is about. You have two lifetimes to find out what you want, yours and Samantha's.

"We knew, since we first saw you together, but you had to find out on your own. It's not something that can be forced. Your souls always will be calling to each other. Letting them meld together has to be a conscious decision.

"I was fascinated by Xena the first moment I saw her, but it took us more than two years before we acknowledged our mutual feelings."

"You said that Sam 'in time' will be able to feel my emotions. Why only then? Why doesn't she react to our connection as I do?"

"She will. She just needs more time. – Samantha is a very complex woman. After her mother's death, her father didn't have the slightest idea how to raise a girl, so, he brought her up as a soldier. A soldier never cries, a soldier never shows fear, a soldier never admits to pain, a soldier always obeys orders – and Samantha became a very good soldier. But she's so much more. She could easily combine being a soldier and being a brilliant scientist, but that's not all there is to her. She had her feelings locked up for such a long time; it's hard for her, very hard."

"And having Jolinar's memories to deal with didn't make it any easier, I suppose."

"Yes, Janet. That's where you come in. It's hard to believe and we still are not able to come up with a scientific explanation. We're not only talking about Jolinar's memories or her knowledge. What Jolinar left behind, would more exactly be described as the shadow of her personality and her soul. It usually only happens when the symbiote leaves the body of the host of its own free will – and even then it has to be a conscious act from the symbiote."

"I don't understand," the doctor answered, but her voice clearly betrayed how uneasy she still felt about the whole incident. "Jolinar let Samantha go because she had no other choice."

"No, Janet, you should know better. Jolinar consciously yielded to the Ashrak's torture to save Samantha; only half a minute later and …. Anyway, it was a conscious act. If she hadn't let her go, Samantha would be dead by now. It's hard to explain, Janet.

"Usually, a host has no recollection of its symbiote, even if it surprisingly does survive. Not because there's nothing left of the host, but because they have nothing in common."

Janet wanted to voice an objection.

"The fact that Sam has been able to tap into even a small part of Jolinar's memories is a sure indicator.

"Until now, Samantha has tried to control Jolinar by ignoring her as best as she could. She has her tucked away in a dark part of her mind – hoping she simply would disappear. But it's not as easy as that, Jolinar keeps on popping up in her nightmares.

"All Xena can do in these three days is to open the door, but it will be up to Samantha to decide what to do with these new possibilities. She can try to return to the way it was before. She can try to only use the factual knowledge Jolinar left behind. She can try to accept Jolinar as an integral part of her own soul, relying on her as one would upon a friend. She can try to fuse Jolinar's shadow with her own mind.

"It cannot be done in one step or two. It's a rather slow process. And it will be your job to give her the strength to make the right decision. You will be her guiding spirit, her beacon of light."

"How? How can I guide her when I don't have the slightest idea which of these options would be the best of her?"

"That's not the question. You will guide her by giving her strength. You will guide her with your belief in her, with your trust in her. You will guide her with your love – but whatever happens, it still will have to be her decision, and hers alone.

"As for the how! – That's why we are here. That's what I already have started to teach you. It's hard to explain but easier to do."

There was a faint knock on one of the support beams of the porch's ceiling. Gabrielle turned her attention to the young Amazon standing on the steps and fidgeting nervously.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, your majesty. The record keeper sent me. She wants to archive this week's disciplinarian report."

"Oh, yes. Thanks for reminding me. I promised to see to it this morning. It's on my desk in the study, go and get it for me, please. I'll have a quick look; then you can take it to your mistress."

The girl nodded, disappeared into the house, and was back mere heartbeats later. She knelt in front of the Queen and presented her with a short scroll.

"Sit down. This will take a few candledrops."

"If you don't mind, my Queen, I'd prefer to stand," the young woman said quietly.

Gabrielle studied her for a moment and asked. "Will I find your name in there, Hilaria?"

The girl blushed and stammered. "Yes, my Queen."

The blonde immortal read. "Only five offences on the whole planet. That's not bad. – Tell me, Hilaria, what made your mistress triple the usual sentence for disrespect?"

The young woman's blush deepened; her voice was barely audible when she answered.

"I made out with my girlfriend instead of working. It got a bit heated and we somehow crashed against one of the scroll cases and it toppled over, spilling its content on the floor.

"I deserved it, your majesty. I volunteered for double shifts to make it up to Mistress Raina."

"Have the cane marks been treated?"

"Yes, your majesty. The record keeper escorted me herself to the infirmary."

"Have you been forgiven, Hilaria?"

"Yes, my Queen, and I promised that I will keep my private life out of the archives from now on."

"That's good to hear. Do you like working with the record keeper? Raina can be very demanding."

"At first I didn't. I thought it was dull and boring but then I began to listen to what Mistress Raina was telling me. I began to learn things about our traditions and our history I never would have thought possible.

"I plan bon staying on after the end of my community service, my Queen. Raina said that she needs an apprentice." The young woman said softly, "My mother will be furious but I'm prepared to stand her wrath."

"Your mother is a very proud warrior, but I'm sure that she will approve of your heart's decision, Hilaria. Niva didn't follow in her own mother's footsteps, so she can't expect it of you. I'm here if you need someone to lend you a willing ear."

"Thank you, my Queen." She answered, bowed deeply, and disappeared between the tree trunks.

Janet was intrigued by what she had heard, but she still didn't really understand. The whole idea of corporal punishment made her more than uncomfortable, but she didn't want to ask about it outright. So, she asked. "The girl spoke of community service, Gabrielle. What did she mean?"

"Oh yes, we never talked about our educational system. Young Amazons do community service after they have finished with school and after basic weapons' training. The work in the kitchen or the dining hall, the playpen or the infirmary, the archive; wherever help is needed. They rotate every couple of weeks and gain a better understanding of how our society works, and they get the chance to decide what they want to do with their life. With the help of the SGC spending time on Earth soon will be part and parcel of this time."

They sat in silence for a couple of minutes and then Janet said pensively.

"There's something I don't understand, Gabrielle. The punishment, corporal punishment; I don't understand why you didn't abandon it centuries ago. It doesn't seem consistent with everything I've heard about you and everything I've seen of you. It just doesn't make any sense to me. You have the soul of a healer, a philosopher. How can you condone harming your people this way? Sam tried to tell me that it's a spiritual thing but…"

"I know how you feel, Janet, believe me. I needed a lot of time to accept it, to understand it. It's not easy to explain. When I became an Amazon Princess I slowly learned about their rules and traditions. Queen Melosa was on a journey to a neighbouring village when I first was confronted with the penal system of the Amazons. Then there was no choice between spiritual or corporal punishments. A young Amazon had been found guilty of disobedience and cowardice. She had been late for her guard shift at the outer edges of their territory. She was to be whipped, twenty strokes with a cat-of-nine-tails; by modern standards this would be considered barbaric.

"I spoke with the girl and the weapons' master, her commanding officer. They all were convinced that it was a just punishment, and that it would be right for her to wear the marks of her shame for the rest of her life. The decision had been made before I arrived at the village. I wanted to change the sentence but Xena convinced me that there was nothing I could do without disrespecting their culture.

"I got Xena to treat her back to keep it from scarring, but I still had nightmares even weeks after. In my eyes, the young Amazon had been nothing more but a child. It revived some dark memories. My father always had been the master of the house. He regularly beat us, my sister as well as my mother and me. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why I was so eager to leave the village.

"In your terms, what my father did was child abuse, and that's what I thought was happening in the Amazon village. As it turned out, I was wrong. Even then, no Amazon would ever have raised her hand against a child. I misjudged the situation. Ephiny tried to explain it, but then I didn't want to understand. When I took the mask, I had resigned myself to 'their' ways; but to me it had nothing to do with me, with my life, with my character. Then, I didn't see myself as an Amazon.

"After the crucifixion, my view of the world changed. I suppose you know about our trip to India and what we found there."

Janet hesitatingly nodded. Yes, she had heard Jessica telling stories about Xena finding the way of the warrior and Gabrielle trying to follow the path of love – but she never had taken them seriously. It seemed that once again she had been wrong.

"I killed trying to save Xena's life, and it changed my perspective. I learned the hard way that sometimes violence is needed to stop violence. You know this and you accepted it, otherwise you never would have joined the Air Force or stayed on after the first patient died in your arms."

"But there's a difference, Gabrielle, between accepting violence as a necessary evil and to condone violence as a tool to keep one's people in-line. I don't want to insult you or the Amazon Nation, Queen Gabrielle, but in my book that's dangerously close to tyranny."

"I'm not offended, Janet. It's what I said to Xena and my first Regent, Ephiny when they tried to make me understand. In a way you're even right. The mostly unquestioned power an Amazon Queen or even a Regent has over their subjects can easily be abused and turn into tyranny. It has more than one time in the past; power tends to corrupt and poison a person's soul.

"Our penal system, however, is about something else. It has a lot to do with the mindset of the Amazons as a whole, their core identity, so to speak. Over the centuries, I learned that regardless of how much their lives change and vary, regardless of how many changes there are; there is one thing that never changed.

"Amazons are warriors at heart, even if they spend all of their adult lives working in the infirmary or the archives. However, from the beginning of their existence they never have been warriors just for the sake of fighting, a few exceptions not withstanding. They fight to defend their homes and their families. They fight to protect the innocent, the community, and the individual. That's what they all are convinced they were born to. That is what Amazon honour and Amazon justice ultimately are all about."

"So, any shortcomings would be regarded as a threat to the stability of the community as well as the individual. And because warriors are rather hands-on, using corporal punishment is the easiest way for them as well as for society to regain the lost balance."

"Yes, Janet. That's how I learned to see it. There's more to it, especially considering warriors as proud and honour-bound as Master Niva, my stubborn Consort, and a certain astrophysicist. An only spiritual answer would not be enough for them to get it out of their system. If you want we can talk some more about this tomorrow.

"For now, I want you to once again conjure up the light of Samantha's soul with your inner eye. Feel free to use the mobile as your starting point. I'll get us some tea."

Janet's eyes followed the Queen's graceful movement until the door to the hut closed behind her. She still had a lot of questions but for now she would have to take the Queen's words at face value.

She obediently turned her attention towards the mobile though she doubted that she would succeed without the blonde woman's help. But surprisingly it worked. – And more surprisingly Samantha was having fun, lots of fun. She and the Consort probably were chasing each other through the treetops. She concentrated on the feeling, and a few heartbeats later it was as if she were taking part in whatever her lover just did. It was more than just great. It was a feeling of completeness, of fulfilling, of home – and she never wanted to lose it.

Then there was another presence in her mind; a presence clouding her view and slowly bringing her back to reality. She reluctantly opened her eyes, and found herself face to face with Gabrielle's green orbs. "Are you all right, Janet?"

"What happened? I was with Sam – and then there was a barrier between us.

"Why did you do this, Gabrielle?" The small doctor asked still slightly confused.

"What's the last thing you remember, Janet?"

"I remember you telling me to try and make contact with Sam. No, you told me to search for the light of Samantha's soul in my mind."

"Yes, I did, but that was more than three candlemarks ago. You were lost in Samantha's emotions.

"It can be a blessing, but also a rather confusing experience. It's very tempting, but you shouldn't be ready to experience it, yet."

"What are you talking about, Gabrielle?"

"We didn't know that your connection with Samantha was already this strong. We didn't take into account that the two of you were so intimately connected before becoming intimate. – I'm sorry!"

"Don't! -- It felt great but I'd really like an explanation. I presume that I'll need a certain level of distance to be able to help Samantha."

"Yes; I'll teach you how to maintain this distance and a few other things – but not now. It's long after lunch time, and I'm hungry. We will talk after grabbing something to eat."

The cook provided them with a leisurely late lunch. Janet never ceased to be in awe of Gabrielle's interactions with her subjects. Regardless of what they asked of her, how inane or superfluous their questions seemed to be; she answered them all with dignity, patience, and humour. It was almost like magic seeing these proud and strong women eager to please their small Queen.

They returned to the Queen's hut, and Janet once again settled on the swing of the back porch. "When a soul joins its other half…"

It was more than two days later and Janet was pacing. The sun already had gone down; Samantha should have been back by now. She was getting worried, more and more every minute. Gabrielle had told her that her lover probably would be exhausted after spending two days and two nights in a sweating hut, and that otherwise she would be okay. Janet wasn't convinced.

It was one hour after sunset when the blonde finally came through the door. Janet took in her slightly slumped shoulders and the missing sparkle in her eyes and she immediately knew that she was more mentally exhausted than physically. So, she did the only thing she could think of, she took her in her arms. Samantha didn't answer the fierce hug with one of her own; after a few minutes, however, she began to relax into the embrace and let herself be guided to the couch.

"Lie down, my love, get some rest!" Janet sat down and cradled Samantha's head and shoulders in her lap. Thanks to Gabrielle's training, she could easily feel that her lover had been wounded by the experience. She still was very tense.

The brunette began to hum while stroking Samantha's hair. She began to sing, an old lullaby she usually only used to chase one of Cassandra's nightmares away. They had been a regular occurrence in the beginning. Sam gradually relaxed and they slipped in a comfortable silence.

"I talked to her." The tall warrior said after some time. "She was so angry. She said that I would kill her bit by bit every day by ignoring her. She said she regretted giving her life for me. She was so angry, Janet, so angry." There were tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know what I was doing to her. I wanted to tell her, but she didn't listen. I know how it feels to be trapped; no one should feel this way."

"Don't be too hard on yourself, baby. You only tried to protect yourself as best as you knew how. Talk to her. Tell her now."

"Xena said I shouldn't risk the sweating hut on my own." Samantha knew that she was just making excuses.

And Janet didn't let her get away with it. "You don't need to, Sam. Just close your eyes and talk to her. I know you can do it."

"I'm afraid, Jan."

"Don't be. She's a voice in your head. She's dead now, Sammy. She is dependent on you. Setting her free was the right thing to do. However, it's only the first step. It will have been basically in vain if you don't use what she has to offer." Janet said calmly.

"Help me!"

"That's what I'm here for. I'll be with you the whole time, my love."

Samantha snuggled closer and obediently closed her eyes, using what Xena had taught her in the sweating hut. Janet gently rubbed the small of her back in a soothing rhythm, conveying to her a sense of belonging and security. She then closed her own eyes and called upon the light in her own soul. Instead of melding with it, she maintained a certain distance, ready to come to her assistance whenever needed.

They spent the whole night in this position, shifting slightly every once in a while but never losing contact. Janet had to make closer contact with Samantha's soul a few times, reassuring her, calming her. A couple of hours before dawn they both drifted off to sleep.

To say that all was well from this night on would have been an exaggeration but it did go better than either, Xena or Gabrielle, had anticipated. Janet began to feel Samantha's emotions as an ongoing presence in her mind, just like some kind of background noise -- and thus knew whenever the blonde needed her. And Samantha was slowly gaining more confidence in her conversations with Jolinar's ghost who in turn was step by step getting over her accumulated animosity for the human.

Samantha still had her training sessions with the weapons' master in the hours before and just after dawn. She then worked for a few hours on acquiring new knowledge, and the afternoon and early hours of the evening were dedicated to her lessons with the Consort.

Sometimes Xena only repeated and deepened what Master Niva had tried to teach her in the early morning candlemarks. Sometimes they were meditating. Sometimes they discussed wormhole physics and more convoluted technological and theoretical issues Samantha would have rejected as pointless speculations only weeks before. Sometimes Xena took her for a ride.

Samantha knew that every time they were together she learned something or had found something to think about but it never felt like lessons or training. It was more like spending time with an older friend, a friend she grew closer to every day.

Janet followed a similar schedule. She was with the Queen from the early morning hours until midday, then worked with Niva to get rid of some pent-up tension and finished her workday at the infirmary. The two couples usually dined together at the Queen's house in the forest or with the rest of the research team in the communal dining hall.

Part 7

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