DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielle and what ever other names in here that will ring a bell with you are trademarks of MCA/Universal. Everything else is just my own personal fantasy.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is for someone I care about a great deal, even tho we no longer share lives, we share a past. I would also like to take the time to thank the entire creative team of Xena: Warrior Princess, without whom, this story would have never been. I would also like to acknowledge all of the brilliant fan fiction writers for inspiring me to do this. I hope that I can honor you with this.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Moral Dilemma
By sHaYcH


"Xena! No...!" The vision played over and over again in my head as we traveled down the dusty road. I could see it all over again: the little girl standing in the middle of the path, frozen with fear, the warrior priest grabbing the hidden rope and severing it with his blade, the tree trunk flying down from overhead, Xena, knocking the girl aside, and Xena taking the full force blow of the tree-trap. Mostly, I remembered the hole that erupted in my soul when even after my monumental trek to Mt. Nestos, I had watched in stunned agony as my best friend had just given up. The Warrior Princess, the woman of Many Skills gave up and let death take her. I remembered being huddled over Xena's lifeless body and knowing with absolute certainty, that Xena was gone from my life forever. And I remembered how raggedly harsh my own voice felt as it scraped over my throat in a primal howl of denial. My Xena had died, and left me alone to face my true feelings.

"Gabrielle?" a gravel on silk voice snapped me out of my reverie, "Gabrielle, are you all right?"

"What? Oh. Xena. I'm sorry. Yeah, I'm ok." Somehow, Xena had managed to escape Tartarus and come back to Greece, and I silently admitted, me. But I still could not shake the image of Xena's lifeless face from my mind. Nor could I purge the feelings of absolute loneliness from my soul.

"You are unusually quiet these days, Gabrielle. Are you sure that you are all right? We could take a break from the road if you'd like. Maybe visit Poteidaia?" I felt warmed by the tone of concern that crept into her voice.

"No, no. That's not necessary Xena. I'll be ok. I just need to do some thinking. Unless, of course, you'd like me to tell you a story..."

"No, that's ok Gabrielle, if you need time to think, then don't let me interrupt. I wouldn't want to be responsible for you burning out your brain." 'Ha! That Xena, always a kidder.' Actually, I figured that I would get such an answer. My warrior friend may have been the subject of countless tales, but she did not like to hear them. She sighed softly. "I was going to ask if you'd like to ride for a bit. I've noticed that the road is dustier than normal today, as well as it being Hades-hot and...well, it occurred to me that if I was uncomfortable, you might be too."

Honestly, I hadn't really noticed the weather. My own thoughts were distraction enough from the now very obvious blazing heat. Besides that, an offer to ride with Xena only came every so often, and I dearly loved to be close to her.

"Are you sure that it won't be too much for Argo?" It would never do for Xena to catch on that I was actually beginning to like riding. Goddess forfend! Then she might decide to buy me a horse, and I'd never get to be close to her.

"Of course not, she is a warhorse." Xena's pride was evident as she patted Argo's neck affectionately. Leaning over in her saddle, she offered me a well muscled arm. Taking her sword calloused hand and setting my foot into the stirrup, I let Xena pull me up in front of her. Xena slid my staff into a loop on the saddle behind her as I settled into position. A sun-bronzed arm wrapped itself around my waist and I swallowed a sigh of pleasure. 'If only I had the nerve to tell her how I feel. How she has been making me feel. If only I could tell her that when she had taken over Autolycus' body and kissed me, my heart had almost burst from wanting her.' I closed my eyes and bit back the words before they tumbled out.

My thoughts warred back and forth as Argo's strong legs ate up the miles. 'I know that she and not Autolycus kissed me, but was it just a kiss of friendship, or was there something more?' Oh, how I wanted it to be something more. Sweet Goddess, Xena made me feel things I had never felt before. Not even Perdicus had aroused me the way Xena could with just a glance. Perdicus. I sighed. I hadn't thought about him in, oh, months.

Poor, sweet Perdicus. The childhood friend turned soldier had done something for me that I could never thank him for. He had opened my eyes and heart to love. I married him, because that is what he wanted and because that is what I thought Xena wanted. For a short moment in time, I had peace. Then Callisto stole that peace from me in her quest to destroy Xena's soul. In my anger and loss, I had almost lost my own soul to the same darkness that had consumed first Xena then Callisto, but it was Xena herself who saved me. I think it was then that I realized that, although I had loved Perdicus, I was in love with Xena. Then and there I made the decision to stay with Xena, no matter what, no matter if she never returned my feelings. Because with her, I was complete. Without her, nothing.

About mid-day my stomach decided to make itself known. GGGRrrrAAhh

"Sounds like it's lunchtime." Xena quipped, pulling Argo to a stop.

I blushed. "I'm sorry, I can wait, if you want.."

"Gabrielle, you know that I would never begrudge you a meal. Besides," she added, with an amused glint in her eyes, "there's a stream over there where we can fish." She pointed to a line of trees about two miles distant.

"Only if you don't use my face as target practice again, Xena. Fish scales HURT!" She grinned and my heart flip-flopped.

"I promise, if you promise not to ask for what I can't give you." A sharp lance of pain went through me. Sweet mother of the gods, did that mean what I thought it meant?

My heart weeping silently, I answered softly, "Don't worry, Xena, I won't make that mistake again."

We reached the tree line and stream just a few short minutes later. Only the stream wasn't a stream, it was a raging river.

"Xena, of all your many skills, understatement has got to be one of the finest." I stated flatly. "This is not a 'stream' Xena, this is a river."

Xena just grinned. "C'mon Gabrielle, you know you love to get wet with me."

I blanched. Was I that obvious? My heart in my throat, I replied, "Yeah, I guess I do."

"Gabrielle?" The humor left her voice. "Hey, I was just kidding. You don't have to go in, I can get both of our lunches today, if you're not feeling well.."

"N..n..no, Xena, I'm fine. Just a little hot and light-headed, is all." I quickly regained my composure. We both stripped off our clothes and jumped into the icy water. I hissed softly at the chill of the water, then swam downriver aways and concentrated as Xena had taught me. 'Steady... listen... feel... there!' I plunged my arm down into the water and was rewarded with the slick feel of scales between my fingers. Quickly tucking my fingertips into the gill slits, I launched the wiggling, squirming mass shoreward. The fish flopped around for a few minutes, then lay still.

Lunch caught, I dove into the river to enjoy a swim. I swam back towards Xena to see how she was doing and quietly gasped when I saw her, lying on the shore, naked and gleaming in the sunlight. The warrior's scar-laced body was enough to steal my breath away and start a small inferno in my lower abdomen. "Sweet Apollo, she is beautiful!" I whispered to myself. "Give me strength.." I muttered and swam back to retrieve my lunch.

Lunch eaten, we returned to the road. I attempted to make up for my earlier reticence. I began to recite a poem.

"Alone in the darkness
She reaches for light.

A cry of madness
Gives her a fright.

The fear of loneliness
Sends her astray.

Her heart and mind embattled
To this day."

"That was nice, Gabrielle." Xena commented, a faraway look in her eyes.

"Thank you." I looked at my hands, unsure of what else to say. Again, we traveled in silence. Was I imagining things, or was Xena's hand slowly trailing up and down my midriff? I shook my head to clear it, 'nah, she wouldn't be doing that, not after what she said at the river.'

"Gabrielle, are you getting tired already?" Xena's breathy voice caressed my ear like a lover's touch. And her fingers continued their unconscious exploration of my midriff. 'Oh yeah...this could be distracting.'

"Um," I yawned hurriedly, trying to hide my nervousness "yeah, a little. But don't worry about me, I think I'll just doze against you, if you don't mind?"

"Ok, but if you get too tired, let me know and I'll start looking for a place for us to camp." She then surprised the Tartarus out of me and began to hum a lullaby.

"Mmm." I murmered and snuggled up against her. 'Must remember to ask her if her breasts are as uncomfortable to fall asleep on as her armor...' I thought as I began to actually drift off to sleep.

I was rudely awoken by the impact of my butt meeting hard ground. I stumbled to my feet and shook myself into some semblance of consciousness. Xena had unceremoniously dumped me when six poorly armored men materialized from the bushes lining the road. Dropping into a low crouch, I put my back to Xena and Argo, waiting to see what would happen next. The extremely filthy men began to circle around us, Xena drew her sword, the steel making a hissing sound against the well oiled leather of its sheath.

"Gabrielle, catch!" She tossed me my staff. Whirling it around with tight, controlled moves, I made to attack one of our foes. He had a dark brown beard, a foul odor to his clothes and a lazy eye. And, he didn't take me seriously. I really hate that.

"Well, well, little girly, looks like you wanna play with sticks. C'mon girly, why don't ya lets ol' Wilius 'ere show ya 'ow its done? Then y'kin play with Wilius' stick." For an answer, I cracked him in the skull with one end of my staff and kicked him in the groin. He dropped to his knees. Clubbing him with just enough force to knock him out, I turned to face my next enemy. At that same moment, I heard Xena's distinctive war-cry.

"AIYIYIYIYIYIYIAH!" She was poetry in motion. I stared in silent appreciation as she jumped up onto the saddle (amazingly, Argo stood stock still) and then flipped, spun and threw her chakram all in one smooth, feline motion. She landed in front of what appeared to be the leader of the group of road-ruffians. He brought his sword up in an attempt to defend himself, but she easily disarmed him and then punched him in the jaw, kicked his feet out from underneath him and watched him fall to the ground, unconscious. Her chakram did its normal devastation among the remaining bandits. Xena spun around to catch her returning disc, but, for the first time since I'd known her, she miscalculated its return direction, and it glanced off of her temple, sending her reeling to the ground.

"Xena!" I screamed and ran to her. The weapon that had felled her, her own chakram, landed on the ground a few feet beyond her prostrate form. Going to my knees beside her, I inspected her wound. A large goose egg was rapidly forming on the right temple. "Xena, don't you do this to me again." I growled. "Come on Xena, open your eyes, look at me. Damnit Xena, you promised that you wouldn't do this to me." Panic was beginning to rear its ugly features in my voice.

The bandit leader moaned and was starting to awake. "Oh, no you don't." Anger and fear driving me, I stood up and gave him a swift kick to the back of his skull. "And stay down!" Turning back to Xena, I pondered how I was going to get her someplace safe. Argo walked over, nosed Xena's foot and whickered softly. I thought and thought until..."Of course!" I slapped my forehead. Xena had once told me that head injuries were very unpredictable and that people who had suffered them shouldn't be moved, or if they had to be moved, that their head/neck/back should not be jarred. I had to make a travois. First, though, I had to make sure that the unconscious bandits, who would not remain that way for long, could not interfere. Taking some rope from Argo's saddle and Xena's dagger, I cut several short lengths. Then I tightly bound each of the ruffian's hands and feet.

"There," I muttered, rubbing my hands together, "that should hold you." Gathering up the rest of the rope, I started to look for things that I could use to make a travois. I found two long, fairly straight tree branches and several smaller ones. I took some of the rope and lashed the limbs together to form a ladder-like platform. Then I laid out our bedrolls on top of it to provide some cushioning. "Well, here goes nothing." I dragged my make-shift travois over to Xena's still unconscious form, and as slowly and gently as I could, lifted her onto the blankets. 'Xena, you weigh a ton.' I winced inwardly. My muscles were strained to their limits, but I did it.

She moaned once as I finally got her settled in, but made no other sounds. I used what was left of the rope to tie her down and to make leads to Argo's saddle. "Ok, girl," I said, patting Argo on the neck, "go easy now. We wouldn't want to harm your mistress any further." With a soft whicker and a nod of her head, Argo slowly began to walk down the road again. I walked back to the travois to keep my eye on its progress and to make certain that Xena didn't fall off. In this manner, Argo and I travelled for about four more hours.

Toward sunset, I began looking for a safe place to camp. I spotted what appeared to be an abandoned temple. Laying my palm on Argo's flank and instructing her to stand, I went and checked out the ruin.

The ruined building had to have been several hundred years old. The stone columns were cracked in places and the walls were all but disintergrated. However, there was still roof on the inside. Making sure that there were no traps, pits of doom or even just plain rats, I then had Argo bring the travois and Xena, inside. After unhitching the rapidly crumbling travois from the saddle and feeding Argo, I set about making a fire. I had just gotten the tinder to catch fire when I heard Xena croak, "water."

"Xena?" Immediately I was at her side. I dribbled some water into her dry, cracked lips. Her mouth worked slowly at first, then she greedily drank everything I gave her.

"Whe...where am I?" she finally managed to get out.

"Shhh. You're safe, Xena. I'll take care of you." The light of the now steadily burning fire allowed me to see that the lump on Xena's head had gotten much bigger. I reached out my hand and gently touched the wound. Xena flinched and tried to roll away from my probing fingers. "Now, now, Xena. You know that I have to check this out. I know that it hurts, and I promise, I'll try to be gentle." The skin in the area of the contusion was purple and black and very swollen.

"Hurts..dizzy. Feel sick.." Xena whined. This is when I knew something was very wrong. Xena never and I mean never whines.

"It's ok, Xena." I soothed, caressing her face. She leaned into my touch, groaning softly. 'Think, Gabrielle, think. What did Xena teach you about caring for head wounds.' I wracked my brain and pounded the dirt next to me. 'Ok, number one: don't let her sleep for at least twenty-four hours. Hmm, already blew it on that one. She slept most of the way here. Ok, lets see, give her plenty of fluids. Got that.' "Oh, I know!" I exclaimed aloud, "willow tea. That should help with the pain at least." I jumped up and grabbed the pot and quickly filled it with some water and set it to heat on the fire.

"Where am I?" Xena's voice cracked again.

"You're in an abandoned temple." I answered absently.

"Who are you?" My head snapped up at that question.

"Who am I? Who am I? Only your trusty sidekick, Gabrielle. Xena, don't play games, you've a nasty bump on your head and this isn't the time for silliness." My voice raised an octave as my nerves were clearly beginning to deteriorate under the stress of the day.

"Gabrielle? Is that your name? Who is this 'Xena' you keep referring to? My name is Lillith." There was mild irritation in her weak tone.

"Xena, come on, stop this." I was starting to get annoyed. I mean, Hera's teats, here I am, trying to figure out a way to get her all healed and she's playing silly games.

"I said my name is not Xena, it's Lillith!" With this statement, Xena sat up and, by the look on her face, immediately regretted it. "Oh, my head. I must have drank a bit too much. Be a dear and get me some wine?" She wheedled plaintively.

"Wine? You want wine at a time like this? Xena, I really wish you would pick some other time to test me on how much I've learned from you. This "Lillith" thing isn't funny." I said through gritted teeth.

"Listen, you little tramp, I'm NOT XENA! I AM LILLITH!" Xena yelled. Then clamped her hands to her head, reeling slightly.

"Tramp? You're calling me a tramp? Xena, I don't know what the hades has gotten into you, so I'm just going to humor you for now. Now, lay down and I will get you something for that headache." Although I was truely concerned, I just wasn't sure of how to deal with this so I got Xena's herb bag out of the saddle bags and dug around until I located some willow bark. Xena or "Lillith" laid back down in our bedding and made impatient noises.

"Hurry up with that headache stuff. I feel like Hephaestus himself is using my head for an anvil. And, I'm really very sorry about yelling." That last comment was almost a purr. My pulse raced at that sound. Calming myself by making the promised cup of willow tea, I mentally took stock of the situation. 'Hmm, it appears that the head wound has affected her personality some.' I looked over at Xena who was lying in what could only be called a seductive position on the blankets. Hoping that the fact that I was perspiring like a horse didn't show, I handed her the tea. 'Ok, so the bump has changed her a lot.'

"Hey, Gabby, help me get out of this most uncomfortable leather-thing." Xena/Lillith said after downing the pain killing draught.

"Um, sure." I settled myself in my customary position behind her and began unbuckling the bronze outer plates. Then I unlaced the leather dress. Xena/Lillith stood up and wiggled her hips, letting the armor fall to the ground.

"Ah..much better." She turned and held out her arms to me. I unlaced the vambraces and pulled them off as well as removing the bronze and leather arm cuffs. Xena/Lillith stretched like a cat and I couldn't help but watch as the flimsy cotton undershift slid up her body, revealing parts of Xena I usually only imagined. My breathing escalated when she sat back down and pulled off the boots and knee guards and extended her legs out to stretch the muscles. "So, Gabrielle, who are you?" Xena/Lillith turned and looked me directly in the eyes.

"Well," my voice cracked, "normally, I'm your, I mean Xena's trusted sidekick. I'm also a Bard errant." I managed to get my voice back under control.

"I see. I hope that you won't be offended by this, but I haven't got a clue who you are. The last thing that I remember was that scum Caesar ordering my legs broken. And now, I look down and see that my legs are no longer broken. I am, you must imagine, most confused."

"Oh, boy." I sat there in stunned silence. 'What am I going to do? I am way out of my league here. WhatamIgonnado? Idon'tknowwhattodowhatamIgonnado?' I was panicking now. My hands flew up to cover my face. I began hyperventilating. I must have been fairly obvious in my distress, because Xena/Lillith suddenly reached out and put her hand on my shoulder in an all too familiar gesture.

"Hey, there now, there's nothing for you to get excited about. I'll be just fine. I'm sure that I'll remember what I'm doing here and how I got free of that cursed crucifix." Her hand went to the back of my neck and started to gently massage the area. 'That is exactly what I'm afraid of,' I thought to myself. 'What if she returns to her warlord ways? What will happen to me? I love her for Zeus' sake. If she becomes the murderous power hungry villain that she was before, I'll have to, gulp, kill her, or at least help kill her.' At just that moment the mundane reasserted itself. Suddenly I was intensely aware of three things. One, I had to find a bush. Two, I was starving, and three, I was bone-weary. Almost regretfully, I pulled away from her disturbingly wonderful touch.

"Um, Xe-Lillith, I'll be right back, I, um, have to answer a call of nature. When I come back, I'll fix us something to eat."

"Tcha, young one, you go on and take care of your business, I'll make us something to eat. Just point me in the direction of the fixin's." I showed her where the food was kept and then hurried outside to do my thing. On the way back inside, I stopped to gaze at one of the walls. In the last light of the day, I saw a set of glyphs picked out in one of the stones. Kneeling down to get a better look, I reached out my hand to touch the wall. The stones were cool and smooth, almost silken under my fingertips. The glyphs were like none I had ever seen before. Almost nausiating to look on, actually. They seemed to writhe through the stone. I shuddered involuntarily and made to rise and return to the fire and to the puzzle of Lillith. 'I wonder who "Lillith" really is? It's obvious that she is a part of Xena somehow, but why isn't she just saying that she's Xena, the old Xena?' I mused.

Next to the panel with the glyphs was another carved stele and this one was in a very ancient form of Greek. Since I was not yet ready to face Lillith-Xena, I took the time to translate the words. As my fingers traced the letter-shapes, I mouthed the words. "Here...forever...is...buried...the...demon-spawn. Be...warned... ye...who... would... walk... here." Not happy news. 'By the gods, what have I gotten us into now?' A faint scent of cooking food reminded my stomach that I was procrastinating. With a sigh and a heartfelt prayer that the stele was just a hoax, I walked the rest of the way back into the temple.

Lillith was now sitting by the fire, stirring a pot of something that smelled wonderful. My stomach growled its appreciation of her skills.

"Yum, that smells great." This was definitely weird. Xena really doesn't cook all that often, and when she does, its never really very good. We ate in silence and then I started to get ready for bed.

"Gabrielle? I was wondering, would you like to share blankets with me? Two bodies are warmer than one." Lillith looked at me and I saw something in Xena's eyes that I had thought that I would never see. Passion. For me. I felt my knees go weak and my breath caught in my throat. 'Oh, goddess. How can this be happening now? This has got to be some cruel joke. I want her so much, but not this way! I want Xena, not this, this, this shadow of her.'

I coughed. "Lillith, I ah, I, well, um," just then a cold wind blew through the building, causing me to shiver uncontrollably. I couldn't possibly say that I wasn't cold now. "Yeah, ah, sure. We can share the blankets." So saying, I quickly fixed up a sleeping place for us. Lillith slid into the bedding next to me and wrapped her arm around my waist, her fingers beginning to draw small circles on the inner part of my right thigh. Clamping my teeth down on my lip, I pretended to be asleep. 'Oh, why couldn't this be Xena doing this? How could Xena not have known how much I wanted her? Especially after she shared her soul with me? I know that I couldn't have been that successful at hiding how I was feeling when she was inside of my body. Hades, I probably could'nt have hidden it from her much longer anyways.' The hand that had been on my leg now moved to my abdomen, raising gooseflesh in its passage. Unbidden, a small sigh escaped my throat.

"Ah, so you are not as asleep as you appear." A low, throaty growl murmered in my ear, causing me to twitch slightly. "Good." There was definitely a purr in her voice now. "Gabrielle, do you really think that I'm blind to your looks of half-hidden desire?"

"I, I don't know what you're talking about." I stammered.

"Oh, but I think you do." She breathed seductively as she rolled me over to face her and then, then she kissed me. The heavens exploded with that kiss. Surely they must of felt it on Mt. Olympus, for it rocked me to the core. 'NO!' My head and heart screamed in unison (for a change). But my body was either not my own, or not listening to the commands of its owner, for I found myself reaching for her, kissing back with almost as much desire as she kissed me.

Lillith's hand trailed slowly down my spine and settled on my rear, grabbing the tender flesh there and pulling me even closer. I could feel her breasts against mine, her hard nipples making mine turn into small circles of molten rock. Every nerve was on fire. I found myself kissing her neck, biting and nipping at the curve of her jawline, my hands were all over her, touching, teasing.

Then she rolled on top of me and lowered her mouth to tender flesh above my breasts and bit me so hard the pain was pleasure. 'Artemis, guardian of all amazons, help me! What am I doing? This is not what I want! Please, goddess, please help me.' I silently entreated as Lillith began to unlace my bodice. Lillith's mouth reclaimed mine as her hands slid up my sides to push the fabric of my bodice aside.

:Took you long enough to ask, my favored one.:

"Huh? Did you say something?" I broke off kissing Lillith.

"No, shhh, no need for words.." her mouth was making a trail of fire down my neck, to my now exposed breasts.

:No, but I did.: A ripple of air, a slight gust of wind, and a woman more beautiful than I had ever seen was standing in the entry to the temple. Breaking away from Lillith hastily, I grabbed my staff.

:Gabrielle, you won't be needing to defend yourself from me. Put your little toy down.: The loud clatter of my staff hitting the floor broke the silence. Guiltily I jumped and blushed to hide my fear. My knees chose that moment to give out on me. Sinking back down to the bedding, I noticed that Lillith was apparently asleep. 'Well, that's one less thing I have to worry about.'

"Ah, ah, who are you?" I squeaked.

:You don't know?: An amused eyebrow raised. :You called me, my little bard. I am Artemis.:

"Artemis? Wha..wait, I called you? How?"

:I think it went something like 'Artemis, guardian of all amazons..':

"Oh, um, yeah. I didn't expect you to answer..."

:Ah, my sweet little Gabrielle, how could I not but answer when my favorite amazon bard called upon me? Especially when it took you so long.: Now the eyebrows dropped into a more stern position. Under that unflinching gaze I collapsed into myself, sobbing.

"I just didn't know what to do and then she, she, she started to answer my every desire, but it wasn't really her and I couldn't, I just couldn't take advantage of her like that when I KNOW that she really doesn't want me." Artemis gracefully sat beside me and enfolded me into her strong arms.

:Well, my favored one, let me see how I can help you. First of all...I'm sure you've guessed that Xena's not quite Xena right now.: At my vigorous nod, she continued. :This...temple...used to be a place of great power, in a time when man worshipped beings that followed a much more heathenistic way of life than we of Olympus do. Lillith was one of those gods...or demons, depending on your perspective. When we of Olympus came to Greece, the old gods fought us and lost. Lillith was bound to her temple...we thought she would vanish eventually. Obviously, this is not true. I suspect that she's been feeding off the life energies of unsuspecting travelers...using them like she is using Xena. You see Gabrielle, Lillith is a demon of sensual pleasures...she thrives on the energies released by lust. But her powers cannot match mine.: With a gesture, and a twinkle of sparkling light, the uncomfortable aura of the temple vanished. :There, she has been sent away for now, she will trouble you no more. However, you should know that Xena does want you. To be honest, I don't know how many times I've heard her entreat the gods for strength to keep from touching you.:

I was silent for a long while, absorbing all this information. Finally, I gave up trying to wrap my mind around the "Lillith" concept and just blurted, "You must have made a mistake. That was me asking for strength, not her. What could Xena possibly need strength from the gods for, she is the strongest person I know."

:Only in the area of physical things, Gabrielle. In matters of the heart our warrior princess is as weak as a newborn babe. Now, what is it that you desired so much that you wished for my help?:

"Well, first of all, Xena was injured and I don't know how to fix it. Second, I want her to be the way she was. I would rather have the Xena I know than this," I pointed to the sleeping woman on the floor, "this sham. As much as I enjoy the ah, attention I was getting from her, I really can't in all good conscience accept what she offers. And..." I slowed down just enough to catch a glimpse of Artemis smothering a laugh. "...I guess you fixed that part, huh?" She nodded.

Blushing slightly, I continued. "Thirdly," I took a deep breath, "if you can, I would like the memory of this night taken from me, I know that I can live with my love for her knowing that she'd never return my affections, but, knowing how close I'd come to my dreams tonight, I'd slowly go insane."

:For a such a young woman, you have an incredibly strong sense of morals. Too bad they're so misplaced.: The goddess smiled sadly. :I have already banished the Lillith entity, and healing Xena is easily done, but I will not take your memories Gabrielle.: She held up a hand to forestall outburst that was forming on my lips. :Yes, I could take your memory from you easily, but, you see, we gods and goddess' have morals too. Some of us even follow them.:

"I hardly believe that." I said flatly. "But I suppose I'll have to take what I can get. Ok, please do what you can for us, for me?"

Artemis's face softened and she laid a single finger on Xena's face, tracing the area around the wound very slowly. :There, your warrior's wound, the physical one that is, is healed. She should be just as cold and hard as you remember her. It is up to you now.: The goddess took my face in her hands and kissed me softly. She stood up and turned to go. As she walked away, her form seemed to dissipate, like sun warmed fog. Just before she was completely gone, she turned and looked at me one last time. :Little Bard, if ever you should need me, know that you are most dear to me and will come when you call...: and then she vanished.

"Well, what an incredible night this has turned out to be," I said to no one in particular.

"What is that, Gabrielle?" asked a familiar voice next to me. "And why am I almost naked?" Xena looked at me, searching my eyes and face for answers I wasn't sure I was ready to give.

"Ah," I choked a bit, "well, it all started when we were attacked earlier today. Do you remember that?"

"Yes, I seem to remember something of that nature. Go on."

"Well, ah, you, um, missed catching your chakram," I started to fill her in on some of the more, innocent details of the night. I sat up and drew my knees up under my chin, continuing with my story. "...So after I got you here you kinda woke up and ate and then you fell back to sleep." I neglected to mention anything about Lillith or the visit from Artemis.

"And this was incredible?" She did not look the least bit convinced.

"Yeah, I mean, how often does the warrior princess miss catching her chakram?" I said with a somewhat forced grin.

"Oh, Gabrielle. For the gods' sakes, please. I am not perfect. I am allowed to make a few mistakes, aren't I?"

"Hmmm..I need to think about it. Hey, what are you doing?" With my last statement, Xena rolled over and grabbed me by the waist, beginning to tickle me in a tender spot.

"I refuse to stop until you say that I'm allowed to make mistakes, AND that you swear never to tell anyone about this." A playful grin teased the edges of her mouth.

"I swear, I swear!" By that point, I was laughing so hard I was crying.

"Good. Wait a minute, Gabrielle, what happened to your neck?" The grin disappeared to be replaced by a look of concern.

"What do you mean, Xena?" There, I said her name.

"I mean this," she reached out and laid the tip of her finger on one of the bite marks that I had gotten from 'Lillith', "Gabrielle, you're not telling me everything. I know it."

"It's nothing, Xena. I mean it. I must have scratched a bite or something." I smiled weakly.

"Oh, it's a bite all right, but you didn't scratch it. Those are human teeth marks." The concerned look vanished and anger now ruled her face.

"Xena, really, it's nothing." My thoughts were in turmoil. There was no way that I was going to tell her that she was the cause of it.

"Gabrielle if someone hurt you..."

"I said it's nothing, Xena."

"Right. Whatever you say. Get some sleep. We still have a lot of ground to cover before we reach Thrace." She laid down, anger still very apparent in her motions and pretended to sleep.

"Good night, Xena." I said softly and laid down, as far away from her as possible and still being able to share the blankets. 'Great, how am I supposed to sleep with the memory of her lips still on my skin?' I shivered, but not from cold. My body was still aflame from what she, as Lillith had been doing. As surreptiously as I could, I relaced my bodice. 'It's a small blessing that she didn't notice this,' I thought as I tied off the laces.

The next morning Xena was painfully quiet as we gathered our things to go. I tried to pack as quickly as possible without making too much of a mess. Even though I'm sure she didn't think that I noticed, I saw Xena cast accusatory glances my way. I ignored them as best I could, and shortly I was ready to go. She didn't bother to offer her arm to me and I was happy to let that go, I didn't think that I could handle being so close to her so soon.

The day was muggy and uncomfortable. Only a few hours after travelling, I was drenched in sweat. Xena was absolutely silent, not even her breathing could be heard. I still ached from the memory of her touch. 'I am never going to be able to look at her the same way again.' I thought to myself. 'What the hades am I going to do? If I leave her, it will destroy her. If I stay, I will go insane.'

At high sun we came to a small lake and I was almost prostrate with thanks to whichever god who had decided to take pity on us.

"Xena, look, a lake. Could we, please go swimming?" I asked the warrior tentatively. She sighed and swept her hands through her ebony black tresses. The sunlight caught the flaming highlights and I gasped audibly at how, even after half a day in the heat the warrior princess was so incredibly beautiful. I must have been loud, because Xena's head snapped down to look at me.

"What is it, Gabrielle? And yes, we can go and swim. It's hot and Argo needs a rest."

"You're beautiful." I answered simply, not quite believing that I was saying it.

"So you've told me. On numerous occasions. Is this one special? Or have you found another cache of 'special' nutbread?" Laughter played about the corners of her eyes. We continued on towards the lake. 'Why does it always seem that we get our closest around water?' I wondered silently.

The lake was calm and looked very inviting. I dropped my staff with an audible sigh. My pack and clothes soon followed my staff and I walked into the cool, clear waters reveling in the silken feel of slight waves against my sun warmed skin. Xena followed me in after making sure Argo was comfortably nibbling on the grasses near the shore. With just a few short, yet powerful strokes she was beside me.

"This feels entirely too wonderful." I commented as her head broke the surface of the water next to my shoulder.

"I agree whole heartedly."

"Xena, I...I'm really sorry about the way I behaved last night. You didn't deserve that."

"Nonsense Gabrielle, I shouldn't pry into your private life." Her eyes looked everywhere but into mine. 'I can't handle this anymore. This ends now.'

"No, Xena, you have every right to pry. Especially in this instance." Taking a deep breath for strength and praying that by the time I was finished talking Xena would still want to be in the same country as I was, much less naked and in the same lake with me, I began to tell her the truth. The whole truth.

"Xena, last night, actually yesterday, when you got hurt, something happened, something that I'm ashamed to admit that I actually enjoyed."

"Gabrielle, you don't have to do this."

"Yes, I think I do. If I don't, I don't think that I'll be able to live with myself or you."

"All right then, go on."

"Well, when you woke the first time, you were not yourself. You kept claiming to be someone else."

"Really? Who did I say I was?" Her interest peaked, she started to tread water.

"Ah, well, you claimed to be a woman named Lillith and that your last memory was of Caesar ordering your legs broken." I let the words just spill out of my mouth. "At first, I thought you were playing a game with me, testing me, if you will..but then I realized that this was no game. You really did believe that you were Lillith."

"Really? Huh." Her left eyebrow, always very expressive, didn't let me down. It shot up, trying to become one with her hairline.

"Yes. That's not all. You see, you cooked last night's dinner. I must say it was about the tastiest thing you've ever made, too."

"Thanks, I think."

"Let me finish. Anyways, after we ate you ah, asked to share blankets with me." I couldn't stop myself, I blushed right to the roots of my hair.

"Gabrielle, I don't see how sharing a bed with you is a blushing offense. We often share a bed or sleeping arrangements." There was a wry smile on the warrior's lips now. "I don't see why you didn't tell me this last night."

"I'm not done. It's what happened after we attempted to go to sleep that is causing me such a moral dilemma that I haven't been able to get it out of my mind."

"Moral dilemma? What do you mean?" She cocked her head to the side, a questioning look occupying the features that I found so breathtaking. My warrior wasn't making this any easier for me.

"Xena, you," my voice caught and I looked at my hands, "you kissed me. Passionately. And I, I wanted you too." Tears started to leak out of my eyes and I turned away to hide my shame. "But I didn't want you to then, you see. So I was praying really hard for help and then Artemis appeared and she told me that you were being possessed by some demon..." I continued to tell her of the previous evening. My tears made little plinks as they hit the water, and through the whole story, Xena was silent. "Anyway, so after Artemis healed you and left you woke up and I just couldn't face what had happened...I couldn't face my feelings."

"Oh." Then silence. A deathly long silence.

"Xena," I sobbed unable to hide my tears, fears or feelings any longer, "I love you. I want you. I need you. I have for a long time." I turned to face her, not caring about anything anymore. I just wanted to get my heart's agony over with. "All I want to know, all I need to know," I asked, my voice barely above a whisper, "is why did you kiss me when you were in Autolycus' body?"

Silence. Still nothing but silence. My soul shattered. My heart died. I hung my head. I turned to wade away. Then, "Because I love you more than I am willing to admit, even to myself." Xena's voice was a croak, but it was the sweetest sound I'd ever heard. I spun around, my warrior was standing in the water, waves lapping at her breasts, tears trickling down her face and a look in her eyes I had never seen before. Fear. Absolute fear.

"Xena.." I took a step towards her, "you... love me?" I tried very hard to keep the hope from overwhelming me.

"Yes. Gabrielle, I do. You are my heart, my light, my soul. Everything. You are everything I am. Everything I need. Everything I want. And I was too blind to see, no, I can't say that. I knew that you loved me. I knew it and I was still too, too afraid to do anything about it." She looked up and met my eyes, the love written there for me to see for the first time. "Can you forgive this old warlord for being a complete ass?"

"Oh, Xena. I would forgive you anything, if it meant that I would still be able to be with you." I reached my hand out to her. Tentatively she took it and drew me, ever so slowly to her. The water felt like a million kisses, but it was nothing compared to the one kiss that Xena and I shared, standing there naked, crying and open to each other for the first time ever in our long time together. Her lips were soft, yet strong. Her arms came up around me, and held me, supported me, protected me and I melted. 'I never want this moment to end.' However, it did. And then she kissed me again. This time it was a kiss of fire. I felt its heat flash through my body and I knew that never again would I sleep cold and alone. My warrior princess was truely mine.

We broke apart and I laid my head on Xena's shoulder, sighing in utter contentment.


"Yes, my love?"

"I heard somewhere that once, people believed that the air was magical and that when two lovers kissed, their souls became one. Do you think that's true?" I lifted my head up to look into her sapphire eyes.

"I don't know. What I do know is this, before you, I was a woman with half a soul. Now, I am complete." Her lips once again captured mine and her strong arms lifted me up and carried me to the shore.

'Thank you Artemis.' I whispered in the silence of my heart.

:My pleasure, little bard. Just remember, the truth of love will always outshine the lies of lust.:

The End

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