WARNING: While not sexually explicit, this story does contain mature themes and romantic situations involving two adult women. If that sort of things offends you, please read no further.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo are owned by MCA/Universal ajnixon@erols.comnd no copyright infringement is intended. jnixon@erols.com

A DAY'S AWAKENING

by Ryder
jnixon@erols.com
Copyright 1997

Courtesy of Ryder
http://xwp-altfic.simplenet.com/ryder1.txt

 

Chapter 1: THE MORNING AFTER

Xena could feel Gabrielle's quiet rhythmic breathing as she lay beside her. Her body still trembled from memories of their night together. Feeling Gabrielle's gentle caresses bringing her to such heights was beyond anything she had felt before. But now as the morning light played its way into the room, she was again lost in her guilt and sense of dread as to what she had done or could do to her best friend -- now her lover.

Before, she could live her fantasy harmlessly. Sure her fantasy did not even come close to how she had felt last night and how Gabrielle had made her feel. But in the cold light of day, fantasy had become reality and she didn't know if things could stay the same. If she could run into battle with Gabrielle beside her without being distracted by her fear of Gabrielle being hurt. She always worried about her in battle, but now she had far more to lose if Gabrielle were hurt. She needed time to think. There was nothing to think about as far as how she and Gabrielle loved each other. Words were lost to the feelings between them. But now how would they live their lives from day to day. She knew she still had much to do to atone for her past. She also knew that she was not good at "relationships."

Xena quietly slipped from the bed, pulling the covers around Gabrielle's shoulders so as not to waken her. She stepped into her shift and armor and silently crept from the room. Perhaps a little fresh air and a word with Argo would help her sort things out. As she took the stairs down to the tavern, she noticed that she felt so ALIVE. She felt every breath she took and the birth of a new day on her face. Whatever happened from now on, she had lived to the fullest last night and loved with all her heart and soul. Nothing, nothing could ever take that away.

As she walked to the stable for Argo, she noticed that the town was deserted. Perhaps it was earlier than she thought, because not even the fishermen were out in their boats looking for the day's catch. She could hear the ocean and feel the sea breeze coming in. Argo whinnied as she heard her friend come in. Xena smiled knowing that now she had everything, Argo and Gabrielle. Could life get much better? She quickly saddled Argo and just as she mounted, she noticed that she had forgotten her sword and chakram back at the room. Her momentary concern was replaced with an exuberance and the thought that she would not be gone long. Besides there had not been any reports that there was trouble brewing anywhere near this beautiful coastal town. She and Argo would be fine for the short time they would be gone. She mounted Argo and galloped off towards the ocean.

Gabrielle woke with such a feeling of contentment you could almost touch it. As she turned to look into those indigo eyes she started at Xena being gone. What time was it? Where was she? How rude that Xena had not even said goodbye. Gabrielle glanced
at where they had thrown their clothes last night and saw that Xena had left her weapons. Odd. She had never seen Xena do such a thing. Even when they bathed Xena made sure that she was just within a quick reach of their protection. But she was definitely gone. Her shift and armor were not in sight. Gabrielle smiled to herself. Well my lovely warrior, one night together and you have already put aside your need to arm yourself. That is what love is, risk and being vulnerable. Gabrielle turned and pulled the covers around herself again. She could catch Xena's scent as she lay next to where Xena had lain. Just that caused her legs to tighten and throb where Xena had focused her attentions the night before. This was new. She decided that she would delight in those feelings and wait for Xena to return. Then they would both explore these new sensations again -- and again. Just then she heard boots coming up the stairs. "Aha. I'll teach her to just jump out of bed the morning after. Just you wait Warrior Princess, you won't ever want to leave my side that quickly again!" Gabrielle smiled to herself.

Chapter 2: A WAKING NIGHTMARE

As Xena neared the shoreline, she pushed Argo on and they flew across the beach where the water met the shore. The spray made Xena feel even more alive. It was cold but burned as it hit her skin. Argo delighted in the run, stretching her muscles to their fullest and feeling the wind. They were one in each other. Just then Xena caught sight of the dark sails and flags of slaver ships. "When did they arrive?" She wondered. She was sure that they were not there yesterday when she and Gabrielle had entered the town from this same route.

Xena heard screams and cries from the holds of the ships. There were three, a fairly large contingent with at least 40 men. Xena didn't think they had been seen. She quickly turned Argo and headed for the closest dune so that she could watch and learn more. After she went over the rise, she dismounted and pushed Argo off further. She crawled to the top of the rise and watched. What she saw caused her to go cold inside. The slavers were bringing men, women and children from the direction of the town. That is why it was so deserted. The people of the town were either here, captives to the whims of their captors or they had fled, if they were lucky. "The Gods!!" Xena shuddered. "Gabrielle is still there sleeping!" Just then she saw a familiar figure being dragged down the path towards the shore. There was no mistaking her. Her golden red hair caught the morning sun and her spirited resistance was so different from the other townspeople. This was her heart and soul being taken to the sea. She must stop them!

"Curse the Gods! My Weapons! If I had not been so lovesick I would not have forgotten them." Xena scolded herself. She had no patience with others' carelessness and she was even more strident with herself. How could she have done this! What's more, how could she fight off at least 40 men with nothing but her hands? She might be able to subdue half that number but not all of them. She had to decide. She knew that if she left to return to the inn for her weapons the ships could leave, but she had to take that chance. That was her, no their, only chance. Xena let out a soft whistle and Argo ran up. Off they rode with too little time to spare, if any.

As Xena arrived at the tavern she vaulted off Argo so that she could hit the ground running and save time. Up the stairs she went as if her life depended on it. She rushed to the room catching her breath as she saw the door open and the bed empty. Although she did not expect any different, it still tore at her heart to see Gabrielle gone. She quickly ran over to the corner where she had put her weapons. "Where are they?" "I know I put them in this corner." Xena looked around the room carefully, looking under the pallet that just last night had been witness to their love. "Nothing," Xena cursed under her breath. The slavers must have taken them along with Gabrielle. Now how was she to recover all that meant anything to her? Xena would just have to be enough. If it was only with her bare hands, she would be sure she would take with her to Tartarus as many of these lowlifes as she could.

Xena turned and ran out of the room and out of the tavern, vaulting onto Argo and speeding away. Just as earlier she had felt so alive, now she felt that her life was slipping away. She had to reach the ships. She had to free Gabrielle. As she approached the shore her heart sank and her hands went limp in the reins. Argo slowed and they both stopped. The ships were just on the horizon heading west. Xena and Argo looked, their sun and light being taken from them. Where were they going? Xena had not recognized the crest on the flags. She was sure that the ships were not from any part of the country with which she was familiar. If she was to find Gabrielle, she had to first learn about her captors. She was sure she would find them, but would she find them in time?

Chapter 3: HIGH NOON

Xena sat on the shore looking out into what was now clear seas. The ships had disappeared a while ago, but she didn't know just how long. She blamed herself for her carelessness. She was afraid that this would happen: That her love for Gabrielle would cause Gabrielle to be hurt and it had come true. She promised herself that if she was able to rescue Gabrielle she would never put Gabrielle in danger again. Her personal desires and lust would never again hurt Gabrielle.

As she looked to the sea she prayed. She prayed to the Gods, she prayed to whoever or whatever could help her. She had no weapons and no idea where the ships were heading. Her desolation was complete until she felt Argo's breath on her back. Argo -- she was not alone. She had been alone before Gabrielle came into her life and still she had met challenges head on. Argo was with her then and together they moved forward. They could do it again. She stood and put her arm around Argo's neck and leaned into her. "Yes, girl, we will find her and together we will live again, all of us."

Xena then yelled to the sea, "You will not beat me. You will not take one more person that I love from me. You will yield to me and together we will sail home. This I swear." Xena was on fire with the challenge of her quest. As she stood there the ocean began to swell. The waves crashed angrily on the shore. A wall of water began to move, growing, shaping, until before her, was the power of the sea -- Poseidon.

"What mere mortal would challenge me?" Poseidon asked quietly. "Have you no respect for the power that I command?" His voice rising. "You will not beat me 'Warrior Princess' because you are nothing against my will. How dare you show such impudence in my presence!" he growled. "EXPLAIN YOURSELF before I make you one with the sea."

Xena recognized her mistake. Although she had been yelling at the slavers who had stolen Gabriel, there she was challenging the sea. She understood how Poseidon could misunderstand. Now she had one chance to explain and perhaps, if she was lucky, enlist Poseidon to aid her in her quest.

"Oh powerful Poseidon, God of the sea that gives the earth life, I humbly submit to your power and will. If you choose to make me one with the souls of Atlantis, I shall gladly yield to you. But my lord, I was not challenging you but rather cursing the garbage that spoils your clear waters and pollutes the life that your seas brings." Xena hoped this would start the ball rolling.

She was lucky. The waves began to recede a little as Poseidon looked at her quizzically. "And what do you mean by 'garbage that spoils' my clear waters? My seas are clear and the life within teeming. What garbage do you speak of?"

Xena supplicating herself to the God kneels. "Oh, Poseidon, the garbage that I speak of are men that use your seas to kill and maim the life that your seas bring. They are men that sail under dark flags to land on distant shores only to kill or capture all life there. That is the garbage my lord. They use your waters to enslave. Surely Poseidon who delights in the life within and without your waters would not wish them used to such a purpose?"

Poseidon ponders this paradox the mortal has presented. How could the waters of life be used to end life? That is truly the height of impudence and mortal impertinence. It could not be tolerated. "Tell me Xena." Xena keeps herself from smiling when the God uses her name. She knows now that the tide may have turned. "Who are these men? These rodents that would abuse my lifegiving waters?" "

I do not know my lord Poseidon. They came under the cover of night and before the sun was high on the horizon had captured all the villagers and sailed west. I saw them, but could not stop them. I saw them, but did not recognize them. But I would do your will oh Poseidon to teach them the errors of their ways, if only you could help me find them. But my lord, time is of the essence."

Poseidon was silent for what seemed like forever. "My child, I cannot intervene in the dilemmas of mere mortals. But I appreciate your offer and will gladly help to guide you in whatever way I can. As you know, although a God cannot intervene in mortal ways, within the sea lies a city of wisdom and peace. I will take you there and perhaps that is where you can find the guidance to bring to justice those that would pollute the seas with their wickedness. And, Xena: Be patient. I see a storm rising in the west." As Poseidon uttered those last words, a wave of such magnitude that it blocked the sun's light, rose up and crashed on Xena and Argo.

Chapter 4: EVENING APPROACHES

Xena heard a roar and then there was silence. When she could move again she discovered that she felt lighter yet more free in her movements. She heard Argo whinny nearby and jumped up to see to her friend. As she gazed at Argo she was amazed at how her companion appeared. Argo seemed younger, stronger, and her coat gleamed. Her muscles were well formed and she moved with an energy that Xena remembered from Argo's younger days. Xena walked over. "Hey girl, what's happened to you?" She and Argo were nuzzling each other when they heard a voice behind them.

"Father Poseidon has announced your return. We are honored to have you here."

"Return?" Xena was confused, she had never been here before, wherever "here" was. Just as Xena was about to respond the woman from whom those words flowed moved to Argo and began stroking her mane. Argo who ordinarily shuns those other than her mistress leaned into the woman s strokes, closing her eyes, clearly relaxed.

"Excuse me," interrupted Xena. "But that s my horse you seem to be possessing and just who are you?"

The woman looked up at her with such serenity that Xena regretted her tone. "I am Anemone of Atlantis. Poseidon has asked me to help Argo and you to cleanse his seas of those not worthy of its gifts."

"Argo AND me?" Xena was more confused. Although Argo had been with her for many years and had intervened on a number of occasions to protect her back from cutthroats, she never considered Argo as an individual warrior.

"Yes. Poseidon understands that since Argo has returned to the terrestrial world, you must be included in the plan, but he is very strict about how his creatures are to be used and treated by mortals." Anemone explained. "So I am here to guide you in that endeavor."

Then Xena understood. She really should have remembered, but her contempt for the Gods and their petty disputes distracted her from realizing that Poseidon was also the God of Horses. In fact, perhaps Poseidon agreed to her for Argo s sake, not her own. "Interesting, " thought Xena.

"What do you mean by Argo returning to the terrestrial world?"Xena asked

. Anemone responded, "Poseidon greatly respects the courage and loyalty of war horses. War horses are destined to charge into the fray and Poseidon revels in their ability to evade and remain calm in the midst of chaos. Poseidon sometimes rewards such equine bravery by allowing them to return to the earthly world after they have passed on to Poseidon s nether world of Atlantis. Argo in her previous life was the bravest, most loyal horse of Poseidon's earthly army. She was struck down in battle as she was protecting her rider from the onslaught of heathens intent on destroying Poseidon's temples. She came here to Atlantis and she was adored and cared for by us all. She was sorely missed when Poseidon granted her a return to the earth -- and to you."

"To me?" Xena was surprised. "Do you mean, that Poseidon specifically chose me to be Argo s next owner . . ." Anemone looked displeased with Xena s possessive term, ". . . umm, colleague when she returned to the world?"

"Yes, that is it exactly," Anemone responded.

"Why?" Xena asked.

"Because Poseidon was impressed with your bravery and that you had turned from your dark side to helping those who were most in need of your skills. Poseidon rewarded you for your strength and integrity by giving you Argo. And he rewarded Argo for her bravery and heart in battle by giving you to her. By the way, Poseidon is very impressed with how you treat her and care for her." Anemone added.

Xena thought that Argo was definitely going to be getting more apples and grain if they got out of this quest alive. She looked at Argo with new respect and adoration.

"Alright, so Poseidon wants to help Argo and me rid the seas of these mortal sea rodents. He said that Atlantis was the place to find that help. So, how do we do it?" Xena asked impatiently. With all that had passed since early this morning, she had not forgotten that Gabrielle was on a slaver ship and time was not on her side.

"Be patient Xena. The best plans are those forged with thought and care. To boldly go into battle unprepared is a fool s action. You are not a fool, are you?"

Xena had struck others for less when Anemone implied that Xena was careless and a fool. But then again, she had been foolish and careless in forgetting her weapons in the room. Perhaps there was more to this quest than met the eye, Xena mused. "No. Although I admit that there have been times when I have been less than, umm, prudent?" Xena conceded to the degree Xena could concede to anyone.

"You are here to learn to bend with the force of aggression Xena, not always to make it bend to your will. Here you will learn the wisdom of when to use force against a foe and when to use a foe s force against themselves. Together, Argo and I will teach you this skill, but you must set aside everything you know and be open to the lessons you must learn. Can you do that?" Anemone asked skeptically.

Xena, struck by Anemone s skepticism, rose to the challenge and strongly replied, "Yes. I am willing to do whatever it takes to protect Poseidon s seas and to have returned to me my heart and soul."

At the last words, Anemone smiled quietly and said "I know. Let us begin."

Together the three of them walked slowly into Atlantis. Xena was surprised at how lush and big the city was. The light here was soft and fell on all the structures with an undulating movement that gave life to everything, building and people alike. The people she passed smiled at the three of them and welcomed Argo openly. Argo for her part held herself nobly but bent to greet each offered stroke as if she had missed them as well. They stopped when they came to a pasture filled with goats. In the field was a small structure that clearly was used as shelter and for feeding. Anemone looked at Xena and told her, "Go and round up the goats into the shelter for feeding." Xena looked at Anemone as if she had just lost her mind.

"What?" Xena asked incredulously. "I don't think I heard you correctly. Did you just ask me to round up a pasture full of goats to feed them in the shelter? Have you forgotten? I am a warrior not a herdsman."

Anemone shook her head slightly, she had questioned Poseidon s choice of Xena, but her loyalty to her God overcame her doubts. "Yes, Xena, you are a warrior. A warrior without weapons. And a warrior who has asked the gods for help. Now do you want to do things your way, and I remind you that it didn't work out very well, did it? Or will you open your mind to the ways of Atlantis and Poseidon?"

Xena was embarrassed and furious with herself. "This pride thing has got to go," she thought. "I am sorry Anemone. I will do as you ask."

At that Xena vaulted over the fence into the pasture. She approached the first goat straight on only to have it run at lightning speed to meet up with four others. "O.K.," Xena thought, "if at first you don't succeed..." She now approached the five goats head on at a run in order to cut them off should they begin to run. Off they went in five separate directions. "Gods! What is this suppose to teach except that I'll greatly enjoy my next meal of goat." Xena stood looking at the dispersed herd counting at least 10 goats that she must move to the shelter. She glanced over at Anemone who was laughing quietly and at Argo who was nickering near Anemone s shoulder. "Not only do I have Anemone laughing at me, but now Argo is seeing how insane her mistress can be," Xena contemplated with humiliation.

As she stood there watching the goats and noticed how they moved to join each other and then together moved towards where the grass was thicker, Xena began to smile. If I can't beat them, I might as well join them. Xena started walking slowly and off to the side of the goats that had now gathered into one group. As she got within several yards of them she dropped to her knees and began approaching them on all fours. One goat or another would look up at her but would then return to their grazing because she appeared like one of them. Once she was in the herd, she began to move towards the shelter just as she had infiltrated the herd. As she moved, she noticed that the goats were beginning to follow. "Patience, patience," thought Xena. "I can't move too fast or too targeted to the shelter or they will scatter." So with catlike movements and stealth, she slowly headed for the shelter with the goats behind her. When she finally crawled inside the shelter with her goat contingent Xena stood up and quickly closed the door of the shelter. "There, " she said triumphantly, "all you little goats eat up."

She looked over at Anemone and Argo. They were even more animated and laughing. "Yes Xena, that is the way. You're learning!" Anemone shouted.

Xena looked at her perplexed. "I'm learning? What am I learning? How to humiliate myself in front of a stranger and my horse by lowering myself to all fours and leading a herd of goats to dinner?" Xena was not amused but she swallowed her pride and headed towards her little audience. "I'm learning? Is that what you said Anemone?" Xena asked.

"Yes. Wonderfully." Anemone replied. "Now Xena, what do you think was the object of the lesson?"

"That eleven goats are better than ten?" Xena replied sarcastically. She then noticed Anemone s countenance become dark. Xena tried again. "I'm sorry. I am trying. O.K., is the lesson perhaps that if you can't force something, encouragement may be the driving force?"

"Well, you are coming along, but you are clearly not there yet, Xena. Let's go. They walked on. All the while they walked Xena tried to see the lesson of the goats. She thought she had done pretty well with what she thought to be the lesson, but clearly it was not. "What is it I am suppose to see?" puzzled Xena.

They approached a building that Anemone indicated would be their shelter for the night. Xena was not happy with Anemone s indications that she would be staying here overnight. Time was running out and the longer Gabrielle was in the slavers hands, the more chance that she would be hurt. But she acquiesced to her teacher and headed for the door. At the door Xena noticed that it was made of ropes intricately woven to create the appearance of a solid door. She could not see any hinges with which to swing the door open. She looked to Anemone questioningly. Anemone directed, "Open the door, Xena."

Xena thought, "Great. Another lesson in the works." Xena turned towards the door. This time she took her time looking at the woven pattern. She concluded that the only way to open the door was to go through it, but that meant she had to make a large enough opening for herself and Anemone. She began to pull on various parts of the weave only to find that they tightened and knotted making it more difficult to create an opening. She quickly stopped before it became impossible to undo. She looked again. Out of the corner of her eye she caught Argo paying attention to what seemed to be her lead rope. She looked again and noticed that it was of the same weave and texture as the door. She bent down and said to Argo "Thanks, girl." She raised the rope up and examined its relationship to the door. With that she pulled and the woven door opened as if it were a curtain on a string.

"Well?" Anemone questioned. "Is there anything to learn here before we enter?" Xena smiled. She began to see what were the objects of her lessons. "Yes, Anemone. I think there is a lesson here. That applying force to a complex problem only makes it more complex. By contemplating how the problem is put together, we can see how to undo it by its own weight."

Anemone was ecstatic. "Yes, Xena! Yes. You are coming along quickly. But there is still a little more that you must learn. Let's go inside."

Leaving Argo to her own devices, they entered the building. Xena immediately noticed a lingering fragrance as if the most beautiful flowers in the world had been in the room a little while before their arrival. The lighting was subdued and warm. She was struck by a sense of security that she had not felt since she had been a child growing up in her home town of Amphipolis. Xena followed Anemone down a long hallway to a room that opened into a courtyard and garden. The floral aroma here was stronger and intoxicating and made Xena's head swim. She sat down with Anemone on a bench next to a pool.

Anemone said, "Xena, I want you to kiss me." Xena was startled from her growing intoxication and stood up. "Absolutely not! Is this the lesson Poseidon directed you to teach me? If it is, I will not be a willing student to this deception!" Xena cried. Anemone, always patient waited for Xena to vent and then be still. Xena quieted and Anemone continued.

"Xena, must you always have your own way, a way that is often dictated by your pride and sense of yourself? Have you ever considered that with everyone you meet and everything you do, there are lessons for you to learn so that you can grow and achieve the ends to which the gods intended? Must you always question your destiny?" Anemone spoke passionately and Xena listened.

Xena knew that it was as Anemone had said. Everything she did was calculated to reach the goal Xena set, not what anyone else had wanted. That was the way of Amphipolis. Although the villagers had wanted to surrender their town, Xena had thwarted their peaceful surrender by gathering up those few men willing to fight. Ultimately, they had won Amphipolis but the price had claimed her beloved brother Lycus. At Thessily, she had brought Gabrielle into a war zone so that Xena could bring a stop to the war. A noble goal but it was also to pay homage to Xena's pride that only she could bring a stop to the war. Thessily, but for the grace of the Gods, had almost claimed her most cherished companion, Gabrielle. And now here she was, after having tasted the blessed fruit of her love the night before, seeking help to find Gabrielle because she had left her warmth to think. Think about whether she, "Xena," thought it was good for them to continue as lovers. MY victories, MY pride, MY decisions. As these thoughts grew, Xena lowered her head and was racked with sobs. She had only intended to do good for others, to atone for her dark past, but her pride, as it had in her dark days, drove her to make decisions for others and act on those decisions unilaterally without honoring their desires.

Anemone sat quietly, understanding the anguish this lovely, loving woman next to her was feeling. Here, in Atlantis, this was not Xena - Warrior Princess, it was Xena the woman. A woman with feelings and heart. A woman who longed to fit into the rest of the world but who was tired from the effort. Here Xena could rest. She could explore who she really was, not what she thought she had to be.

Anemone whispered to Xena. "Kiss me Xena." Xena, beaten by her past leaned into Anemone. As their lips touched, Xena felt a passion only felt once before, when she was with Gabrielle just last night. With her eyes closed, Xena could almost imagine Gabrielle there with her now. She began to explore Anemone s body, slowly and softly, her hands sliding down her waist and onto her legs. She wanted so much to keep this memory of Gabrielle alive, but she stopped. "I can't Anemone. I know that I am to follow your directions for the lessons I am to learn, but as I kiss you, I can only feel and see my Gabrielle. Is that what you would really want from me?"

Anemone slowly smiled. She had been surprised that Xena had relented so quickly to her request. In fact, she even enjoyed the fire and passion burning in this beautiful woman. But Xena had learned the last lesson and now it was time. "No, Xena, that is not what I want. I admire your devotion to Gabrielle and for giving me the opportunity to choose. You did not make that decision for me and for that I am grateful. It is time Xena for you to recover your treasure and clean up Poseidon s seas!"

Anemone rose, holding out her hand to help Xena up. Xena took it and looked at Anemone with such admiration and thanks that it surprised even Anemone. Xena understood her lessons all too well. She was not sure what she would do when she came face to face with the slavers or with Gabrielle but she knew how she must approach the problem. Her approach must be different from any she had used in the past. She followed Anemone down the hallway and out to the street.

Argo pranced as she saw Xena and Anemone emerge from the building. She was enjoying her surroundings but she was also missing Xena and their adventures. Argo hoped that Xena had finally learned her lessons so that they could move on. Seeing Xena with Anemone, Argo knew that she had. She whinnied to her friend.

Anemone led Xena and Argo to the entrance of what appeared to be a cavern of some type. Anemone explained that they were to travel through the entrance and not stop until they could go no farther. At that point, Xena was to remember her lessons and she would emerge back in the terrestrial world. Anemone wished Xena gods speed, gave Argo a long and lingering hug, and bade them farewell. Xena looked at the entrance and turned back to ask Anemone one final question, but she was gone.

"Well, girl, I have to admit that I have learned a lot, but I'm not sure that I know how any of this will help me in stopping the slavers. I still don't know who they are, where they went, or how I can reach them from here. But, if Anemone says to ride until we cannot go any further, that is what we will do. Are you ready my godlike steed?" Argo threw her head back as Xena mounted and galloped off into the darkness of the cavern. Anemone looked from afar, with a knowing smile on her lips. Yes the warrior had learned her lessons. She was ready.

Chapter 5: AS DARKNESS FALLS

Xena held onto Argo as tightly as possible. Argo had regained much of her youthful speed and she was demonstrating it as she galloped through the dark. Xena had no idea how high the ceiling was -- or low, so she kept her head down along Argo s neck. Argo did not seem to mind the darkness or fear where she was putting feet. In fact, it seemed that Argo knew exactly where she and Xena were going. So Xena took a deep breath, relaxed, held on tight, and trusted Argo s judgment.

It didn't seem that they had been riding for very long, when Argo began to slow. When Argo stopped, Xena sat up and looked around her. There was an eerie light all about them. Not quite sunlight but not quite torch or candlelight. It was as though a thin veil were covering them allowing in just enough light for them to see. Xena looked around her. There was nothing but stone in front and to their right. To their left there was a pool. "Remember your lessons and you will emerge in the terrestrial world." Anemone had said. "My lessons. Gods, I hope that I learned them as well as Anemone thought I did," worried Xena. She looked around again. To go forward would require her to force the mountain. The same if she tried to go to her right. She looked at the pool. Anemone s voice came back to her, "You will learn to bend with the force ... you must set aside everything you know and be open..." Xena looked again at the pool, leaned forward and said, "Argo, this is your show, I have faith in you girl, take us out." At once, Argo dove into the pool with Xena hanging on for all she was worth.

Xena was prepared for the cold of the water and held her breath. But instead she felt warmth and sunlight on her face. There she was, standing with Argo in what appeared to be the middle of a field. The field was surrounded by forest yet she could hear the sea close by. "Let's go, Argo." Argo headed off to the east. As she rode, Xena noticed that many trees were down. It looked as if there had been a recent hurricane or tropical storm. The trail was littered with palm fronds and limbs. "Hmmm," Xena thought, "What was that Poseidon said before he did the wave thing? Oh yeah, he thought there was a storm brewing in the west." Xena smiled, "Yeah, sure, gods can't intervene on behalf of mortals. Well, even if you did this for Argo, thank you, Poseidon. I'm beginning to understand."

Xena could hear waves. As the sound grew louder, she knew they were approaching the shore. Argo began to slow and as the beach came into sight, she stopped. Xena quietly dismounted and crept closer. She could see the dark flags of the slaver ships, but there were only two. Her heart leapt into her throat. Where was the third ship and was Gabrielle on it? Her question was answered as she reached the perimeter of the beach while still concealed by the trees. There on the beach was what remained of the third ship. Apparently it had not survived the storm that Xena now knew had befallen the ships. It had been split in two. She was relieved to see that there were no dead bodies and that Gabrielle was not among those standing on the beach. But that also meant that Gabrielle was still on one of the ships and she had to come up with a plan for not only getting Gabrielle off the ship but rescuing the rest of the villagers. She looked at the destroyed ship and slavers, she looked at Argo, she raised her eyebrow and smiled and said out loud, "I was thinking the same thing Argo. Good girl! They are like goats, only disgusting. We will appeal to their instincts and lead them to their destruction."

Xena removed her armor and began walking toward the beach in only her shift. Argo trailed several feet behind her. As she neared the slavers who obviously had been sailing the destroyed ship, she heard a commotion. The slavers had seen her and were rushing towards her. She stopped as did Argo. A slaver in tattered clothes and certainly looking as if he had weathered many a storm, leered at her. He also appeared to be the leader of this rat pack. "Who are you, girlie, and what are you doing on this god foresaken island?"

Xena smiled sweetly. "It is not god forsaken, sir. In fact, I am here to welcome you to Poseidon s garden. It does not matter who I am, but rather that I am here to provide you with whatever you desire. There is just one thing, however, that you cannot have and cannot go near."

The slaver, intrigued but angry that any woman would imply that he had to obey her, replied "What makes you think you can make the rules, girlie? Me and my men can take what we want, as we have in the holds of our ships. In fact, I could take you here right now if I had a mind. But seeing as how you have come to us and offered yourself to us, just what can't we have or go near?"

Xena knew the plan would work, but she had to be patient and have faith that Poseidon would protect his beloved Argo. "Good sir, I do not know what you have in the holds of your ships, but my lord Poseidon instructed me to be sure everyone was fed and satisfied. But whatever you do, do not touch, go near, or in any way attempt to possess the horse behind me. If you do, there is nothing that can protect you."

The slaver looked beyond Xena to see Argo, standing quietly a few feet behind her. "We'll see about denying me something if I want it," thought the slaver. But first he and his men were hungry and thirsty. The storm that had raged throughout the day had tired them and many of the slaves were sick and hungry as well. They would not bring a good price if they were sick and could not lift their weight. He turned to Xena and said, "Girl, if that is why you are here, as leader of my men I invoke Poseidon's instructions and order you to bring to us food and wine for my men. We also need water and bread for the slaves in the holds. Go -- do it, before I bring Poseidon upon you for disobeying his orders!"

He watched as Xena and Argo walked off. "Tell me I can't have or touch your horse, girlie? I'll show you who you are dealing with. Wait until after we're rested and fed. Then it's my turn. Poseidon - Hah! I am the authority here and now."

As Xena and Argo walked into the forest, Xena frowned. Now what was she going to do? She had hoped that the slaver leader would immediately seek to possess Argo but she was wrong. Now what? How was she going to find food and drink for forty men and a village of people? She heard Argo and looked up. Although she had stopped just inside the forest, Argo had continued to walk and was now beckoning Xena to follow. In a few strides she caught up to Argo and followed.

Argo led them to a stream and nearby waterfall and stopped. Xena looked around her. She saw water bladders and barrels of mead and wine. She explored further. Behind the waterfall she discovered a cave which held all kinds of smoked meats and cheeses. As she looked around further she also saw a wagon that she could use to haul everything back to the beach. As she marveled in what surrounded her, her love and admiration for Argo grew. "I always knew that you were special Argo, but who would have thought just how special?" She quickly loaded up the wagon and hitched Argo to it to haul the feast to the beach.

As she was approaching the beach she noticed that the slavers had unloaded the villagers from the remaining ships. Apparently, there were leaks in the holds caused by the storm and the slavers had to repair them. It was not something that could be done with the villagers on board. Xena smiled, "Good, this is getting better by the minute." As she approached the villagers and slavers on shore, she was worried that if anyone recognized her it might ruin the plan. What Xena did not realize was that her schooling in Atlantis had left her looking differently. She no longer had the hard warrior demeanor and her face was free of the guilt she carried with her. She also must have forgotten that when she rode into towns, townspeople avoided looking at her for fear she might misinterpret their intentions. So even if Xena looked like the Xena who had been in the tavern the night before, no one was going to recognize her, Poseidon had seen to that. No one except Gabrielle that is.

Even from a distance she recognized her. There was no mistaking that flowing black hair and the stature of a goddess on the woman that spoke with the head slaver. She was curious that Xena was not wearing her armor and that she appeared unarmed. "What was Xena doing?" Gabrielle wondered. "And how in the world did she get here? We left the village this morning and sailed west for hours before the storm hit. Then we were lucky to find this small island with a cove large enough for the ships to seek protection from the storm. How did Xena know where we were going and how did she get here?" The questions flooded Gabrielle s mind. Finally, though, Gabrielle pulled herself together and knew the answers didn't matter. She would just watch and stay ready to act when Xena gave the word.

Xena pulled the wagon within a few feet of the leader. He stood there pleased with himself that such a beautiful woman would be at his command. He thought he would like this even better once he was fed. He ordered his men to round up the slaves and herd them to an alcove to the right of the beach. It would be easier to keep an eye on them and there was less likelihood that any would escape while the slavers ate and drank. His men lead the villagers to the side of the beach where there were cliffs rising up and dense woods to the side. Three guards remained to keep an eye on them. The leader and his men then went to the opposite side of the beach to enjoy their food and wine. "This truly is a safe harbor from the storm," chuckled the slaver leader. " And soon I will have a wild beauty and a horse that rivals any I have ever seen."

Xena stood staring at the slavers eat and drink, as if they were invincible. Behind her stood Argo. Xena casually gazed over at the villagers as if she was curious about them. Her pulse quickened as she saw who she was looking for. There stood Gabrielle in front of the villagers. Where the others were shrinking back away from the guards. Gabrielle stood in the forefront shrinking from no one. And then they were staring into each other s eyes. There was no mistaking it. As she saw Gabrielle, Gabrielle saw her. Even at this distance they generated the heat of their passion. Xena knew that Gabrielle stood ready to act on Xena s signal.

Having had his fill of food and drink it was time for his dessert, thought the leader. He sauntered over to where Xena stood. He looked past Xena at Argo. "So, girlie. You say that I cannot touch or go near your little horse, eh? Do you think you can stop me?" He leaned forward into Xena's face covering her with his foul breath. It was everything Xena could do not to head butt him into oblivion. But she stood firm. He backed away a little from her and edged towards Argo. He turned halfway towards Xena and halfway towards Argo as he continued to educate Xena about his commands and authority. "Girlie, no one tells a man of my power and authority what I can and cannot have. As you can see, I commanded you to bring me food and wine and you did. Even you are subject to my power as you will see a little later. But first, a man of my prowess and rank needs a steed of this stature. You see, THIS is MY HORSE. I will go near her and I WILL TOUCH HER!" He had reached Argo who had not budged since Xena had unhitched her from the wagon. He pulled harshly on Argo's bridle to lead the horse toward where his men were. Argo did not budge no matter how hard the leader pulled. The leader became incensed. He walked over to where a large piece of driftwood lay and picked it up. Xena became alarmed. "Oh, gods, what if I made a mistake about this. I can't let him hurt Argo!" Xena glanced over at Gabrielle who was standing there with her mouth open, dumbfounded that Xena was not doing anything to protect Argo.

Xena was readying herself to attack when Argo artfully dodged the slaver's swing only receiving a small scrape on her shoulder. The leader screamed, "If I can't push any sense into you, you dumb animal, I'll beat it into you!" and he moved towards Argo again. Xena raged to herself, "Enough is Enough. I will kill that slaver by the same piece of wood that he thought would break Argo." But before she could move there was a rumbling in the ground and a roar from the sea. The wind picked up and swept around the slaver and his group of men. The waves rose and crashed. A shadow on the horizon began moving towards the beach growing higher and higher as it got closer. Everyone looked up at a wall of water that turned the day into evening and saw POSEIDON.

"Puny mortal!" Poseidon roared. "You bring disgrace to my lifegiving waters. How dare you insult the power that is POSEIDON! HOW DARE YOU TOUCH THE LIFE THAT IS MINE AND CAUSE IT PAIN!" Poseidon looked down on Argo who had bravely stood her ground.

Xena ran over to Argo, tears streaming down her face. She loved Argo with all her might and felt terrible that Argo had been wounded protecting her, regardless of how superficial the wound was. Poseidon followed Xena's movement to Argo. He smiled and more gently said, "Xena, my child, you have learned. That it is not the size of an army or the strength of a sword that wins battles. It is the size of the heart of the gods' creatures, such as you AND Argo, that can bring peace to the world and to our souls. It is the sacrifice, large and small, that you make for those you love that measures your true worth. Argo has once again showed why she is my favorite through her devotion and courage. You, too, have made me proud of my decision to give her to you. Remember always that there are times when force is not the answer, that to bend is not to break, but rather to survive."

As Poseidon finished, he raised his hand and the wall of water rose higher. He then dropped his arm and with it the wall of water crashed on the slavers and washed them out to sea. The villagers stood there not knowing if they were next. Poseidon turned to them and said forcefully, "Go people. Sail away. The seas are calm and a strong wind blows to the east towards your home. Go and be well." and then he was gone. Xena turned to Argo and found that she was still looking youthful and now well, no sign of any injury. They nuzzled each other as the villagers came running towards them. Leading the rush was one very excited, enthusiastic redhead. Xena laughed and Argo pranced.

Chapter 6: A FITFUL SLEEP

Poseidon was true to his words. It was a strong eastward wind that carried everyone home. With the slavers gone, they could all fit in the two ships that survived the storm. Xena and Gabrielle made sure that Argo was fed her favorite foods and given proper lodging. They housed themselves in the captain s quarters. They knew that they needed to talk privately after all that had happened.

As the candlelight danced across their faces, Xena told Gabrielle of her lessons in Atlantis and about Argo being a gift from Poseidon. Gabrielle was entranced. Here was her warrior who had up to now told very few stories, if any, and she was enthralled with the tale of Atlantis that Xena was telling. There was a change in her best friend and lover and it was a change for the good. Xena stopped mid-story when she noticed that Gabrielle was just sitting there gazing at her saying nothing. "That s a change," Xena thought. "Gabrielle, is there something wrong? You are so quiet. What is it?"

Gabrielle moved closer to this newly made warrior, feeling a grace and strength emanating from her that was different. As she leaned closer her pulse quickened and she could not stop her hands from caressing Xena's face and neck. Xena held one of Gabrielle's hand in her own and moved it to her heart. "Gabrielle, this morning I left our bed because I was afraid that my loving you would bring you harm. I wasn't sure that continuing this way was what was right for us. I was prepared to stop us from repeating last night because of my fear."

Gabrielle took in a breath and held it. This was not what she had expected. She was not prepared to be reunited with Xena only to lose her again.

"But I was wrong." Gabrielle exhaled loudly and Xena looked up raising her eyebrow and smiling. "I learned today that I cannot make decisions for others. I can only share my feelings and leave the choices up to them. I have been arrogant and prideful in our friendship under the guise of protecting you. I was going to do that to you as a lover as well. But not anymore. Gabrielle, you must understand that today I bent with the forces of evil, but that is not how I will always be. I am still a warrior and there are still others out there who need my help. That will lead me and us into danger. If you can live with that, then so can I. But I promise you that no matter what your choice, I will love you always and will be faithful to that love. Well, what do you think?" Xena asked hesitantly.

Gabrielle took in all Xena had said. She looked deeply into those indigo eyes that made her knees weak. "Whew, Xena. For over a year you don't talk much and then you can't be still. Let me show you what I think and what I choose." Gabrielle leaned into Xena, brushing her breasts on Xena s and kissed her lips softly. "You are what I choose Xena, good or bad, safe or in times of danger. I am with you and will be there always faithful to our love. Now shut up and let's consummate our love with what we know best: Action!"

Gabrielle pushed Xena back onto the pallet and lay on top of her. Xena looking up at her with wonder, laughing playfully. "Is that all you think about, Gabrielle?" Xena laughed "Action?" They both laughed. "Oh, Xena, before I forget, are you telling me that Argo willingly sacrificed herself so that I could be freed?" "Yep, that's exactly what she did," Xena said with pride. "Gee, I didn't even think she liked me!" Gabrielle exclaimed. In the distance they both heard a playful whinny.

THE END

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