Chapter 36

Ares was staring at his hand, or more precisely, visualizing the object he wished were in his hand. "Ahh Xena, Xena, Xena, what would you give to have the Scepter of Helios?" He pondered aloud. His laugh was deep, and evil, stemming from his rotted soul.

"Funny you should ask," came from beside him.

Ares lurched forward and spun around. "How did you . . ."

"I have many skills…" Xena nearly giggled as she stepped up onto his alter. "So let's talk a deal, shall we?"

Ares was dumbfounded. By Xena's question, the God of War quickly realized that his Warrior Princess believed he was in possession of the scepter. How delicious! Perhaps this day wasn't a total loss after all.

"Other than me joining you and leading your armies, what else do you want?" Xena sat in his chair, pretended to clean her nails with her breast dagger.

Ares smiled slowly, reveling in his newfound position of power. "Hmmm…" He pondered that thought a moment. "No leading armies? No hop in the sack for old times sake? No, I didn't think so…" He laughed when Xena vehemently began shaking her head. "I don't suppose sicking the Furies on you again would work?" Still, Xena shook her head. "Should have known that was out of the question too." The War God wrinkled his brow as he thought some more. "I know," Ares bellowed, a single finger pointed to the sky, "let me get Discord back, and see what she would do with you."

Before Xena could react, he snapped his fingers, and a very angry Discord appeared. Ares held up a palm to her reddening face before she could start screaming at him.

"Discord, nice of you to join us. Xena and I were just discussing a deal, and I was wondering what ideas you could supply us with?"

Discord's confusion was evident in her narrowed stare. "What deal?" She stalked away, as far as she could, from Ares.

"Xena wants to 'borrow' the Scepter of Helios." Ares walked confidently to the middle of his throne room floor. And I've been offered something in return. Now she's already flat refused to be my Warrior Princess again, plus a few other things. Frankly, I'm all out of ideas…"

"He means he's all out of evil tricks to pull on Gabrielle and me," Xena chimed in, smiling for Ares' benefit.

His face lit up with smugness. "Oh that isn't quite true, but I'll save those for some other time. No, for that little trinket, I need something of value from you, Xena, something you cherish deeply." He flashed her a saber-toothed tiger like grin.

"So, Xena wants this." Discord made the scepter appear and held it up for them both to see. The Goddess of Retribution already had a twisted idea spiraling through her sick head, and before either of them could do or say anything, Discord's eyes lit up neon purple. A column of lilac light flew from the almond-shaped orbs and headed straight toward Xena.

Ares stared in disbelief at the empty chair where Xena had been seated a split second before. The God of War whirled around on the goddess and demanded, "What did you do?"

"Oh, I think you're going to like this one, dear Ares." She looked at the scepter and in an instant it was gone. "Ta ta," she said and evaporated. When it was over, Ares stood there alone, rage boiling through his godly veins.

* * *

"She's been gone an awfully long time," Dari said, scanning from her spot by the fire, over it, and back at Gabrielle. She hadn't spoken the last word when something fell from the rocky ceiling and onto her pillow sack. She jumped and looked down at the object, her eyes rounding out. Then she looked up at Gabrielle. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yeah, and what a price I paid for it." Xena stated calmly, only her words were exiting through the lips of her Bard, Gabrielle.

* * *

Dari was pacing circles around the cave. "But I don't understand, why would Ares just give us the scepter?"

It was Gabrielle's body shaking her head, but it was Xena who spoke. "It wasn't him, it was Discord. It was obvious that she was angry with Ares. I guess this was her way of getting back at him." Xena shook her newly acquired blonde hair. "But she doesn't know how wrong she is. This will only infuriate him more." She stood, not quite used to Gabrielle's height, or lack thereof.

"And what about stuffing the two of you into the same body?" Dari watched her; not quite believing Xena's self was in there with Gabrielle's. "I thought you said that Ares never liked to pull the same trick twice? Are you sure you're not playing with my head?" It looked and talked like Gabrielle, but there was a slight change, an air about her now, more haughty than Gabrielle could ever muster willingly.

"We have the scepter, let's just think about that. I'll figure out what to do about this… problem, afterwards."

Ares shimmered into the cave, with Discord in tow, literally. He had her by the back of the neck, holding her an easy 15 inches above the ground. "Undo it!" He thundered, and dropped her.

Discord nearly crumpled to the dirty cave floor before catching herself by using her Goddess powers. She stood herself upright on a cloud of air as she tidied up her clothing. Then she huffed and wiggled her hand at Gabrielle. Suddenly Xena began to slowly form from Gabrielle's flesh, until only Xena's body stood where Gabrielle's had a few moments earlier. "There! Are you happy now?" She sidestepped Ares before he could grab her again and popped from sight.

"Well, at least she put you back to normal." Ares gazed at Xena, then took a glance at Dari. Oh those plans he had for her… He nearly sighed. Instead he vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

Dari ran over to Xena and hugged her, then stepped back and cleared her throat realizing what she'd done. "Sorry." She expected a whack, but instead, Xena smiled at her. "Glad to have you back." Dari mumbled and went to the far side of the fire.

"Well, almost…" Gabrielle's kindness and sweet disposition still could be heard even though it was now being spoken with Xena's voice.

Chapter 37

At the break of dawn, Xena was up and down at the lake. She figured she'd get an early bath without waking Dari, or hopefully Gabrielle. The sun was warm on her shoulders as she ran her hands over her body, going through the morning ritual of cleansing herself. She shivered a bit at the early morning cold and her nipples rose. She glanced around and then ran her hands over them, feeling a momentary surge of pleasure course through her chest and down her abdomen. The fire she'd just created crept down her thighs and settled into her feet, burning the soles. 'Well that was a new experience,' she mused. 'It's been far too long . . .' she didn't continue with that line of thought.

She laid back and let the water be her bed as she floated. It was too early, Dari wouldn't be up for a while, and most times Gabrielle, even in her own body, couldn't be awakened if you danced on her head. Xena closed her eyes and leaned her head back further into the water, a strong chin to the early morning dawn, and smiled. It was a fine morning, and would be an even finer day. She had begun to appreciate the never-ending lightning that had, evidently, been a constant presence since Dari's arrival. And this time of aloneness was just what she needed to un-kink her tired body and mind.

Her hands seemed to have a will of their own as they roamed over her body like never before. She arched a brow during her reverie, You're just spooked, that's all, Xena, she told herself. Share the same body with another being and you think the whole world's watching you bathe. Well, technically not bathing, she'd already been over her skin twice, cleaning it…

This time it was a more pleasurable touch, a touch she gave herself only when completely alone, and in dire need of it because she couldn't muster enough bravado to bring forth her feelings for Gabrielle, and share those intimate touches with her.

Xena finally stood in the waist high water and thought she caught a glimpse of the reflection of her best friend in the ripples. She froze, not wanting to disturb the glassy image. The warrior didn't care if it was only a hallucination. "I've wondered for so long what it would be like to touch you . . ."

Xena cupped her own cheek, stroking soft lips with her thumb. She could swear she saw green eyes pleading with her to continue the exploration; Xena was unsure as to whether the need was the Bard's or her own.

Strong fingers stroked a slender neck, stopping momentarily to feel the quickening pulse. Xena ran the back of her hand over taut nipples, almost audibly moaning. She had to stop . . .this was crazy, but even as she reasoned with herself a hand slid down a sculptured stomach until it reached the warm, soft, safe place that Xena had been dreaming of. Her body shuddered as familiar fingers explored velvet folds. A ripple of desire ebbed through Xena, unlike any she'd ever known.

She wanted to make it last, draw out the inevitable, but it was impossible. Her hunger for friction grew unbearable; the more she succumbed to this need, the worse it grew. Xena could no longer withstand the delicious torture; her body arched back, involuntarily; spasms began to pulsate from her very core, each one more intense than the last, until with one final soul-searing climax, Xena called out in a throaty groan . . . Gaabbrriieeeellllleee…

Her mind drifted off on its own as she began to float on the lake's surface, oblivious to her surroundings, to the water, to the sun as it rose higher, even to the world. In her cosmos of pleasure there was only Gabrielle.

"Good morning, Xena," whispered Gabrielle in Xena's mind. It was as if their lips had brushed and Xena jerked upright, opening her eyes. She fully expected to see Gabrielle standing there, but then everything came rushing back to her and she flushed. Gabrielle was inside her, inside her body… inside her mind. Had she been awake the whole time? Xena wondered and the flush grew hotter. Thank the stars she couldn't see our face.

"Morning, Gabrielle." She felt her tone was a bit too stiff so she forced herself to relax. Like we've never seen each other naked, Xena berated herself. And we both know what the other does sometimes when alone. A woman does have her needs. I'll be adult about it if she should ask, she finally concluded.

Gabrielle had already decided she wouldn't put Xena on the spot and bring up what she'd just experienced inside Xena's body. She didn't know if she even could explain it, or if she would want to. She thought it had been a dream, a wonderful dream. But now, sensing Xena's reaction to her unexpected awakening, she wasn't sure. "The lake is freezing, how can you stand it?"

"Thick warrior skin." Xena laughed and knew Gabrielle laughed with her. It wasn't so bad, having Gabrielle inside her. It was kind of nice actually … warm and comforting. At least no harm will come to her while she's in me.

She sighed and started out of the water. Ok, so she hadn't seen or heard anything, Xena realized, and felt a huge burden roll off her shoulders. She must have arrived afterward, or she would have said something about it. Gabrielle was the inquiring kind, and most things didn't go unmentioned by her Bard.

* * *

"I don't know how she does it." Gabrielle said. She had been less than her normal talkative self. Her mind was still spinning.

Dari was on the shore watching Xena in the water, but knew it was Gabrielle that spoke from her. "It's easy once you get the hang of it." Dari replied, still only getting it right half of the time when she guessed about who was talking to her.

When Gabrielle had arisen that morning, she was still rather disoriented from the previous night. The shock of being in Xena's body was overwhelming. One second she was talking with Dari by the fire; the next she was reborn.

All she remembered was a feeling of emergence . . . awakening. When she opened her eyes, she knew her view of the world had changed. Perhaps it was instinctual, but Gabrielle's senses were heightened. She was seeing the world through someone else's eyes, literally.

And then the experience with Xena, in the lake . . .

"Will you two pipe down before you scare the fish away?" Xena didn't let on how awkward it was, at that moment, having Gabrielle inside her. What if she did know her thoughts, her wants, and her needs? Son of a Bacchae, she never considered that part of it. For the few minutes she was inside Gabrielle she never attempted to read the bard's mind, but Gabrielle had been in her all night, there was no telling what kind of poking around she'd done. Xena would never ask, not if Gabrielle didn't bring up the subject. She already knew Gabrielle could "sense" things through her: consciousness, hunger, but how deep did that connection go? Could she think through her as well?

As Xena contemplated the possibility, she went to change her footing in the water. Her right foot came down upon the edge of a flint rock embedded in the lake bottom. As the flint pierced the sole of Xena's foot, two voices let out a howl of pain. Internally, Gabrielle grabbed her right foot, as Xena began to limp to the water's edge.

"Are you all right?" Dari asked, casting a concerned look at Xena or Gabrielle, whoever. "OK, what just happened? Am I hearing things or did both of you scream?"

"I cut my foot on the lake bottom and Gabrielle felt the same pain." Xena waited for some kind of affirmation. It was strange, in the years of traveling with Gabrielle, all Xena had to do was glance into those limpid, green pools to know whether her, and her Bard, were in agreement. But now, the cool reserve that had taken Xena a lifetime to perfect was putting a wall between her and the woman that meant more to her than life itself.

Sharing one body . . . and Gabrielle was farther out of reach from Xena than she had ever been.

Gabrielle, momentarily blinded by the pain she felt, sensed the confusion and hurt in Xena. "Let me see." Xena sat on a boulder, placing her consciousness into a semi-meditative state to allow Gabrielle control so she could examine her, correction, their foot. "It's a slight cut, not too deep."

Gabrielle reached past Dari to a patch of herbs growing under the tree she was leaning up against moments ago. While turning back, Gabrielle pulled some moss loose from a long fallen branch. She took a clean piece of cloth from her bag, placed the herbs on the moss, and wrapped the poultice around Xena's foot with the cloth. "This will stop the bleeding and prevent any blood poisoning." She explained to Dari when she saw the questioning look the cop was giving her.

"Where did you learn to do that?" Dari asked, fascinated by Gabrielle's fast action and expertise.

"I'm not completely sure," was Gabrielle's reply, but both she and Xena knew that wasn't quite true.

Chapter 38

Aphrodite smiled euphorically at the turn of events. This whole Xena in Gabrielle, Gabrielle in Xena fiasco was turning out to be anything but.

"Perhaps this is just the incentive they needed." The Goddess of Love practically giggled with glee. "Maybe I won't turn Discord into a snake-haired Gorgon after all. But then again..."

* * *

Dari plopped down on the grass. She could get used to the peaceful life if she had to. But she didn't want to. Something inside told her, urged her to find her way back home. After all, her mission here was nearly complete. That thought stunned her. What mission? she wondered. Now there was a new word for her. Maybe it was all this time she was spending with Gabs and Xena. I'm starting to think like them, she mused. That had to be it. If she did possess any inside knowledge as to why she was here, she sure wished it had come to her sooner.

Xena glanced back at Dari, recalling what had happened the last time they were at the lake, what Alti had done. "You ok back there?"

"Yeah fine, just thinking. How's the foot?"

"Much better, thanks to the quick thinking of my friend in here." Xena tapped the side of her head with the flat side of the knife blade she was using to clean the fish with; just then her cheek began to tingle, as if it had been gently stroked.

Please don't let Gabrielle be able to think my thoughts, Xena desperately hoped.

Gabrielle read her warrior's plea as clearly as she could her own. If she were in her body, a smile would have spread across her soft face. When Xena had been inside her for those few minutes before Discord interchanged them, she wasn't able to read much from the experience. But now, she was Xena . . . her thoughts, her mind, her feelings, her dreams…. and her desires.

Finally, all her questions had been answered, all her doubts laid to rest; with just one thought, her hopes and dreams had come true. But there was that nagging feeling, actually it was a nagging fact . . . Xena was scared, so scared of admitting it to Gabrielle that she decided to hide it away, lock it in the far recesses of her mind where she could pull it out now and again and savor it, then store it back in its hiding place so no one was the wiser. Gabrielle intended to bring that desire out into the light. She had confirmation now, she knew how Xena felt, knew what Xena wanted. All she had to do was get Xena to freely admit it.

Chapter 39

"Goody, Goody, Goody." Aphrodite could no longer contain her joy. "Like, it's about time." Gabrielle finally knew what was in Xena's heart of hearts.

"I guess I have to give the 'Princess of Punk' her due." Even though it wasn't intentional, Discord did help. "Wouldn't she turn the most putrid shade of puce if she knew she had a hand in bringing those two even closer together?" Dite' laughed at the idea.

Just then a hand gently laid itself atop the Goddess of Love's bare shoulder. "Care to share?" was the Warrior Princess's inquiry, upon seeing Dite' nearly beside herself out in the woods by the lake.

"Hi there, Xena; or should I say, Gabs? Guess I'm busted." Aphrodite shrugged. "I knew it would happen sooner or later. I've had a heck of a time honing in on you guys. Seems that perpetual lightning display up there" she snubbed a petite nose skyward, "has my God senses all screwy."

"And just why were you looking for us?"

"Had to make sure my plan was working, didn't I?" Dite' acted as if Xena's question was utterly ridiculous. She turned back toward the lake as if she was about to do a fade-out, but Xena grabbed her arm and pressed on. "What plan, Aphrodite?"

"Mortals, you're so slow on the uptake." Dites' curls bounced as she shook her head. "Have a seat, Sweetie, and I'll explain . . .what I can." Xena found herself being coaxed into sitting on a tree stump. Suddenly, Aphrodite knocked soundly on the top of Xena's head. "Gabs, you with us?"

"Hey!!" Xena sounding more like Gabrielle, bellowed. "We're both here. Now what's going on?"

The lace-clad goddess, one arm across her waist, the other draped across her chest, began to pace. She stopped where she had begun, both hands on her hips. "Now don't blow your top, either of you." She began to pace again.

Xena was not liking the sound of this; whatever this turned out to be.

And so Dite' commenced with her tale . . .

After spinning her yarn, Aphrodite blew a heavy breath. Then she waited.

"So let me see if I got this. You zapped Dari out of her time, sent her here on some mission, which you refuse to tell us about, and then in order to keep us off your PINK POWDER-PUFFED TRAIL, YOU INVADE DARI'S DREAMS, and FINALLY HER WAKING HOURS, WITH VISIONS OF ALTI! Have I got that right, APHRODITE?!" Xena now stood, her eyes two pale sapphire beams cutting the Goddess of Love into puppy-sized bits.

"Yeah, that about says it all."

"Gods, they never cease to amaze me," Gabrielle stated out loud; Xena was too angry to speak any further. Xena/Gabrielle began to walk back to the cave where Dari was waiting, but Aphrodite wasn't quite finished with the Warrior and her Bard.

Chapter 40

Dari spotted Gabrielle/Xena squatting near the water's edge and went to her. "Hey." She knelt down beside her. "I thought you were coming right back to the cave after you visited the little girl's bush? I was getting worried."

Azure eyes moved from the still water of the lake to Dari. She shook her dark head. "Lost in thought…" She sighed and tried to smile for her next words… "Today's the day," she said slowly and deeply.

"What do ya mean?" Dari was hesitant at asking.

"I mean, that you can go home."



The shock was too much; Dari stood there openly gaping, tears forming in her eyes, spilling down onto her leather jacket. There should be questions to ask, but none formed in her mind. It didn't matter. None of it mattered. She was going home . . . to Sondra.

Xena explained what was about to happen, the hows and such. And the reality of the word began to sink in . . . HOME. Dari sat beside her friend(s) and pulled on her arm so she'd join her. She smiled and brushed a black strand of hair across that high, noble forehead. And even though the outer appearance looked like Xena, Dari saw Gabrielle.

"I wish we'd had more time together, if that makes things any better."

"You could do a lot of good here, Dari, if you remained with us." She made one last attempt to persuade Dari.

"And have Xena throttle me eventually." She laughed.

Xena shook her head slowly. "No, that wouldn't happen. You two are a lot alike, the same values, the same needs, the same bumbling bard hanging on your every word…"

Dari looked lovingly at her. "That's not true, don't say that, Gabrielle. You're more to her than that, and to me. Traveling with you, and with Xena, I've learned so much, learned more patience, more from you than anyone. So don't cut yourself short, ok?"

"Then stay, Dari, for me, and for… Xena."

Dari smiled sadly and caressed the warrior's check with a nervous hand. "I can't. Please don't make this harder. I have a life to return to."

"I know. It was selfish of me to ask. It's just, Xena's been, oh I don't know, different with you here, more settled, less afraid to leave me to my own devices. I know I've proven myself to her, as a fighter, even as a warrior to fight by her side, but there's that feeling in the back of her mind that she still needs to protect me. I guess it's the same for me as well."

They shared the morning for a while without further words. There were a couple of swans out on the lake, and they took great joy in watching them, unnoticed.

As the minutes wore on, Dari knew her final goodbye had to come. "Listen, Gabrielle, if this works, what's to stop you and Xena from coming to my world at some future time?"

Xena was shaking her head. "Can you see the two of us in your world, Dari? I can't. No, we belong here."

"And I belong there…"

Again she shook her head. "No, I don't think you do. Remember, everything has its purpose. There was a reason you came to us."

"To get you and Xena together; at least Aphrodite thought it would." A smile lit Dari's eyes, but didn't quite make it to her lips, not knowing how they would react to her insight.


"I had the strangest thought suddenly pop into my head the other day." Dari looked into confused eyes. "I had the realization that my mission here was almost complete." She waited for the meaning of the words to be absorbed. "At first I thought it was just the influence of traveling with the two of you. But then I… knew that wasn't it. Don't ask me how I knew. I haven't got the foggiest. I just knew that I was sent, or brought here, as a guide, to lead you both down the path toward one other. And when you informed me of what Aphrodite had told you; that was the last piece of the puzzle."

"I don't believe this."

"Believe it. The Goddess of Love takes no prisoners." Dari's smile finally reached her mouth, and it was worth the wait.

Xena returned it. "Well, the two of us sure got together a lot more than anyone expected." She gestured to her body and laughed. "Maybe you did lead us to a path, and maybe we would have eventually reached it ourselves, even without Aphrodite's meddling." The last part of the sentence was spoken a little louder in case of prying Olympian ears. "I just can't seem to let you go." She put her hand over Dari's, blue eyes cradling even bluer ones.

Dari lifted a hand to her cheek and leaned foreword. The warrior's eyebrows rose and her eyes rounded. The lids dropped slowly though as Dari drew closer and she let Dari's lips brush hers gently. Dari leaned in again and the kiss lingered the second time, her lips a soft, coaxing caress, conveying her need for deeper exploration.
Upon reaching that deeper connection, they were both flooded with each other's memories, past, present, and future, all intertwined. They broke apart harshly, visibly shaken, and slightly unsteady.

"What the hell was that?" Dari asked, but somewhere in her mind, and more importantly, in her soul, she already knew.

Xena knew as well; she had felt the same blinding flash before. "The mother of peace," she whispered under her breath.

"There you two are!" Suddenly, from behind them came the real Gabrielle's voice, and following it, was the bard's body. Dari, already stunned, was nearly catatonic at the sudden appearance of Gabrielle. To confirm that she wasn't hallucinating, Dari glanced from the real Gabrielle to Xena still sitting beside her.

Xena lifted a brow and with a secret smile she stood, extending her hand down to Dari and hoisting her up. Apparently Xena was much more resilient when it came to a past life experience than Dari. Perhaps it was because it wasn't a past life experience for Xena, but a future life one instead.

"Gabby? You got your body back!" Dari's surprise was evident in her face. Dari embraced Gabrielle, but she avoided Xena's gaze the entire way back to camp.

"Yes, after Aphrodite explained what she'd done, she decided it would be best to undue Discord's handiwork; if she wanted to stay on Xena's good side, that is. Didn't Xena tell you?"

"I figured it would be better if you surprised her."

Dari worked up a smile and whispered, "Surprise," so just Xena heard her.

* * *

"So it was you asking me to stay?"

"Yeah. I'm not good with words." Xena let the sound of her voice hang in the air. Then taking a seat, she glanced up at Dari. "But the meaning was true. Your calling is here, with us. If you find things to be different when you return, would you consider coming back?"

Dari glanced at her. "Maybe… one day." Dari moved closer and stooped over. Smiling, she kissed Xena softly on the lips. "I won't forget you," she whispered against her mouth and drew back at last.

Xena just sat there, staring off in the distance. Finally, when she knew Dari was expecting something of her… she said, "That's good enough for me. Now, go to Gabrielle."

"You stay here." Dari smiled at her and turned to leave.

"Oh, hey thanks for the jacket Dari," Xena called at her back. "Guess I'd better get used to wearing it…" They shared a common knowledge, and a smile.

* * *

"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked as Dari was peering deeply into her eyes. They walked side by side along an old rutted path through the woods behind Aphrodite's Temple.

"Oh just makin' sure…" She grinned and took Gabrielle's hand. "How do you feel without all that extra body to lug around?"

"Lighter." Gabrielle joined her in a laugh. "I miss being that close to her though." She instinctively wrapped her arms around her own waist. "And the warmth."

"Sounds like you learned a few things…" Dari hoped.

"Yeah. I did." Gabrielle coyly agreed, taking a sideways glance at Dari when she wasn't looking. If I kiss her, I'll know for sure, she thought to herself. Will she let me kiss her? Would she want to kiss me?

Dari knew the goodbyes had to come. She saw a formation of rocks and decided she'd do it there. She led Gabrielle towards the pile and sat beside her when they reached it. She took a deep breath and started. "I've already been through the ringer of guilt with Xena about my leaving, and I guess there'll be no less with you."
"I don't want you to feel guilty, Dari… You have to go; I think I understand that and am more accepting now than I was at first. At least now we know Aphrodite was the one who brought you here, and not 'Fate.'"

Dari disagreed. "Well I think 'Fate' had a part in it. After all, what drew the Goddess of Love to me?"

Gabrielle nodded. "I guess…"

"If you get the chance, would you come visit me?"

"In a New York minute!" Gabrielle whooped.

They laughed, and while Gabrielle had her chance, she took it and pulled Dari's head to her own, "You treat that Sondra right or there'll be heck to pay, Ms. Redmond," she whispered, tears clearly audible in her words.

Dari kissed her. It wasn't at all like it had been kissing Xena; there was no flash of lifetimes displayed for them, no unsettling jolt that tore them apart. It was warm; it was comforting; it was right.

* * *

Aphrodite could clearly see them from her vantage point and decided to leave them be. A little kiss wasn't going to hurt anyone, she decided. "What's one kiss?" She hugged herself in pleasure. Besides, it was so cute.

In another room of the temple, Xena watched them from a heart shaped window, teary-eyed. These tears weren't of pain, or loss, they were of love. She loved the person that was Dari as much as she could love herself. And she loved Gabrielle, more than she could love anyone in the world. She just hoped her Bard could let go once Dari was gone…

And even though it wasn't the present-lifetime Xena that Gabrielle was kissing like that, it was still ok, because it was her, a future her.

* * *

Dari had to apply a little force in pulling herself away from the kiss, and she smiled gently as she watched the bliss appear on Gabrielle's face, waiting for her eyes to open. "Now do that to Xena and you'll have no worries, my Friend." The smile widened and finally Gabrielle opened her eyes, but dipped her head down so Dari couldn't see the blush lighting up her face, or the desire clouding her eyes.

Every cell, every pore in her body was on fire. Gabrielle needed distance. Needed to be away from such close proximity to Dari to get her bearings back. She stood on shaky legs and moved away from her. "We'd better get back before Xena starts to worry."
Dari frowned. "She knows we're saying goodbye." Dari didn't move closer, sensing Gabrielle's need for space.

"Just the same, we should get back." She didn't wait for Dari to agree. She heard Dari following behind and quickened her pace a bit to put even more distance between them. She came up short when they reached the temple and she saw Xena looking at her from the window. Had she seen? she wondered. Of course she had. Xena misses nothing.
Gabrielle bowed her head and averted her gaze, striding directly into the temple to search out Aphrodite. The faster they got Dari back to the future, the quicker her up heaved life could return to order.

Dari saw Xena, too, and smiled sadly. And when she entered the temple a few minutes after Gabrielle, Xena was there, taking her arm and leading her in the opposite direction Gabrielle had gone.

"Sorry, I guess I shouldn't have went and kissed her…" Dari tried to apologize.

"It's ok, I'm not freaked about it… Gabrielle however…"The worry was evident on Xena's face, in her stance, gleaming from her eyes. "I think she's really fallen in love with you."

Dari's color paled even more than normal. She swallowed hard. "But you said…"

"I know, and normally she gets over it. But this time, I'm not so sure."

Chapter 41

Dari was there with them one moment, and the next she was gone in a blaze of color and light. Aphrodite clapped her well-manicured hands with excitement. "Well, that was easier than I thought it would be." She turned triumphant eyes toward Xena and Gabrielle, bouncing the Scepter of Helios in one hand. "Much simpler than the first time." Dite' looked up at the still lingering lightning. "Now if I can just figure out what to do about that." The Goddess pursed her lips together. "That's gonna cause problems, I can just feel it." She shrugged a bare shoulder. "Oh well, tomorrow is another day."

Gabrielle stared at the spot where Dari had been standing for a long minute then turned and went back to the temple. Aphrodite's excitement didn't rub off on her apparently. Xena watched her go, clearly saddened herself at Gabrielle's pain, and Dari's departure.

"Oh, come on!" Aphrodite whined. "I finally made good on my blunder! And this is the thanks I get?" With that and a final dainty snort, the Goddess of Love poofed out of sight in a billowy cloud of candy-cotton colored smoke.

Xena just shook her head and followed in Gabrielle's wake. She had to do something for her Bard, but what? Maybe she should tell Gabrielle what she learned when she and Dari kissed. Oh yeah, that's brilliant, Xena. Send her right on over the edge, why don't you? Well she didn't have to tell her about the kissing part; just that Dari and Xena were the same person . . . or at least the same soul.

But would that make it any easier on her? she wondered. She didn't think so. Gabrielle had fallen for Dari. Knowing Dari was Xena reincarnated wasn't going help, at least not right now.

* * *

Ares sat with one leg slung over an arm of his throne. He never got what he wanted, at least not when it came to Xena or anyone connected with Xena. The pouting God of War bounced a fireball off one of his throne room walls. But if the Warrior Princess thought this was over . . .

* * *

"Stop worrying Xena," Gabrielle said, not looking at her companion. "I'll be fine. I just need some time to get used to her being gone." She hated lying to Xena, and she wished she didn't have to, but she knew she must or Xena wouldn't let it go. And she couldn't stand the thought of her best friend feeling helpless to her pain. She could blind a Cyclops, kill giants, even go through Hell and back, but there was nothing Xena could do to fix things this time.



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