By Joseph Anderson

Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended with this fanfic which must contain all notice of copyright.

This is set somewhere in the sixth season. Thanks to Sarah for her feedback while I was writing this.

No warnings on this one for sex, language or violence.

"Xena, do you hear that?" Gabrielle cocked her head and smiled. "Shepherd's pipes."

"This is sheep country."

Gabrielle looked at her. "That's not the point. I mean it's lovely...and you know that and are teasing me."

Xena smiled. "Yeah, it's nice."

"Let's find him." Gabrielle set off leading her brown mare.

They spotted the flock of sheep first on the side of a hill. Then they saw an old shepherd in a wide hat playing a flute and a teen boy with reed pipes. The man would play a melody then the boy repeated it but added flourishes that made the man grimace. When the boy spotted the warriors the shepherd grabbed his crook while the boy readied a sling.

Gabrielle hurried to say, "It's all right!"

Xena held her hands out. They should be careful. She and Gabrielle looked like a couple of bandits. In the old days Gabrielle looked reassuring at least.

The shepherd smiled. "Welcome then and rest your weary feet. Zeus protects strangers." The women caught each others' eyes at the last words. "Boy, bring some wine and food. Don't you know the laws of hospitality?" The teen warily obeyed but Xena saw with approval he surreptitiously grabbed up stones for his sling.

Xena said, "Thank you but we won't be stopping."

"I'll be insulted if you don't," the old man said seriously.

"All right," Xena agreed simply.

"We just wanted to see who played so well," Gabrielle said smiling.

The teenage boy lugged a bag up. "Here it is but no he doesn't."

"Who doesn't what?" Xena asked.

"Zeus doesn't protect strangers. He's dead. There are no laws of hospitality either. How can you have laws when there's nobody to punish you if you break them?"

The shepherd sighed and looked at his two guests. "Excuse the boy. No manners. Thinks too much. Not like in my day. Besides, boy, Hermes is patron of travelers or have you forgotten?" The boy rolled his eyes when the old man wasn't looking.

Xena and Gabrielle both accepted pieces of cheese and squirted wine into their mouths from a skin.

Gabrielle said, "You should still show hospitality to strangers."

"Why?" the boy asked snottily and received a smack on the back of his head from the old man. Xena smirked.

"Because it's the right thing to do," Gabrielle said clearly.

The boy said sullenly, "If you say so."

"No! Because it's true. And not because you'll get hit if you disagree! Don't hit him again."

"Gabrielle," Xena said warningly.

The old man looked at Gabrielle. "You're my guest, eating my food, drinking my wine, and you tell me how to treat my boy?"

Gabrielle's face was red but she stood her ground. "You don't have the right to hit him like that."

"Mind your own business," the boy said angrily.

"Fighting injustice is my business!"

Xena sighed inaudibly.

The boy yanked the wineskin out of Gabrielle's hands then yelped as the old man whacked him sharply across the shins with his crook. "Never mind how she acts. You know better."

The blonde was about to excoriate the old man but stopped at the look on her friend's face.

The teen said to her, "My father is right." He held the wineskin out.

Gabrielle looked at Xena again then seriously accepted the wineskin back. She said in a small voice, "Forgive me and don't hold my bad manners against my friend." The teen was still red faced but the old shepherd made a dismissive gesture that it was unimportant. But it was important. He knew it, his son knew it, Xena knew it, and Gabrielle knew it. She remembered what he had said and poured a little wine on the ground. "For Hermes, patron of travelers and bringer of good fortune." The old man cocked his head and studied her.

Xena popped another piece of cheese into her mouth. The boy brought out bread and handed her a piece. She saw the way he was looking at her and let his hand linger a little longer than necessary. In the old days...but these weren't the old days. She smiled but shook her head slightly. He grinned and shrugged. the old days.

After they had eaten, the old man took the flute from his belt and the teen picked his reed pipes up. When they paused in their playing Xena started to sing making Gabrielle smile. Time passed more quickly than the women realized and it was starting to get dark when a howling made Xena and Gabrielle look around. But the shepherd and his son kept playing, nodding at each other as their tune wove in and around itself. They weren't acting like any shepherds Gabrielle or Xena had ever seen.

"That was a wolf," Xena said.

The father and son finished their ancient tune. There was a dancing light in the son's eyes that made Xena catch her breath. The old man had a bemused smile.

"No wolf will harm the flocks in this valley," the teen said and laughed. The sound made Xena's face flush. He stood up and stretched. "Though I should look to them. Come with me, Warrior Princess. We can run through the hills and take our rest in shady bowers. We can drink wine and dance and make love under the night sky on the sweet grass." He picked up the shepherd's crook.

Xena's head swirled as he spoke and she couldn't take her eyes off his handsome young face. She saw nobs erupt on each side of his forehead and grow into horns. His face became older and coarser as he sprouted a curly black beard, his nose lengthened and his ears pointed. He ripped his cloak off impatiently and flung it aside revealing shaggy legs that ended in cloven hoofs. He looked in Xena's eyes and extended a hairy hand. She reached to take it but Gabrielle leapt between them.

"Now that is just enough of that!"

With Gabrielle blocking her vision of the god Xena shook her head to clear it. She unsteadily stood up and avoided Pan's slitted yellow eyes. From the waist up he had the body of a man, muscular, hairy, dangerous. From the waist down he was like a huge male goat standing on his hind legs. Pan exuded a musk that Xena wanted more of; she wobbily tried to get around Gabrielle to reach him and his musk. She was brought up short by a hard slap and looked in Gabrielle's exasperated face. "Xena, get a grip! You don't want to run off with Pan! Think about it!"

"Yeah, yeah, you're right. I can't just...why not? Oh, I know. I have to atone...but Gabrielle...just for a minute..."

The blonde kept a tight grip on her friend. "She's not coming with you! Whatever you're up to, it didn't work!"

A garland of laurel leaves appeared out of nowhere and Pan placed it on his head. He laughed with an animalistic sound and Gabrielle supported Xena whose knees buckled. The god of shepherds and pastures, hills and forests caught Xena's eyes again and said seductively, "Another time, my love." He bounded away. They saw him scale a steep hillside leaping surely from rock to rock and disappear. Xena let out a disappointed sigh and leaned against Gabrielle.

The blonde had her arm around Xena's shoulder. Her friend seemed half asleep. She looked at the old man who smiled pleasantly at her as he absently twirled a thin branch in his hand. Gabrielle was quiet a moment then asked, "He's your son?"

"Certainly. Fine boy don't you think? Knows how to enjoy life. Not enough of that in the world."

"What do you want, Hermes?"

He got a sly smile and his wrinkled features melted into a handsome face, younger and more refined than his sensual son's. He still wore the simple shepherd's clothes except the wide traveler's hat now had small wings. Gabrielle also saw wings on his sandals. Hermes pulled the thin branch through one hand. As it emerged it stiffened into a wand which two snakes grew out of, twined around, and froze in place; the kerykeion, his herald's staff. "What I want you can't give me." He glanced in the direction Pan had gone. "Boy misses his grandfather. So do I."

Xena shook off her grogginess. This was no time to fall under a forest god's spell, not when an Olympian was sitting right there. Hermes had a reputation as a friend of mortals. But he was still a god and Xena had killed most of his close relatives. He wasn't sounding very friendly now.

Gabrielle said, "Xena didn't kill Zeus. And it was all forced on us. She was just protecting her daughter."

Hermes sat forward with his elbows on his knees listening attentively. He answered, "Hercules killed his own father for Xena. You think that's better? So now I've heard your side. Let me show you something."
Hermes raised the kerykeion. Xena and Gabrielle felt a swirling wind and they stood with the god in a familiar village.

"Thereís Ephiny!" Gabrielle waved but the blonde Amazon walked by. Other women came out of a hut. "Solari? Eponin?"

"They canít see or hear you," the beautiful god explained. Gabrielle saw herself dressed as an Amazon holding a little blonde girlís hand.

"Hey there!"

Xena and Gabrielle turned at the voice and watched another Xena approach the other Gabrielle.

"This isnít real," Xena said. A flower rose from the ground and floated toward the warrior who picked it out of the air to smell before placing it in her hair. Gabrielle couldn't breathe.

"Thank you, Hope."

"NoÖnoÖno." Gabrielle whispered.

Hermes went over to the happy little group. He removed his winged hat and gestured with it.
"This would have been your life, Gabrielle. Instead you abandoned her. Who should she have trusted, you or Dahak?" He looked quizically at her.

"Itís not real!" Xena spoke savagely.

"I swear by the River Styx this was your future." He placed his hat back on his head and flew the short distance to them, winged sandals fluttering.

Gabrielle walked forward and tried to touch the little girl but her hands passed through her. Xena's eyes filled with pain as she followed after.

"Then thereís Solan." Hermes pointed with the wand and Xena bit her lip as her son walked up and passed through her. She watched herself and Gabrielle hug the gawky boy, who then picked up Hope. The little girl twined her arms comfortably around his neck.

"Stop it!" Xena snarled.

"Shut up!" Gabrielle snapped back at her.

"Let's see what happens later."

Solan and Hope shimmered and then were both grown. They were holding hands and Hope was visibly pregnant. A stout Gabrielle and a graying Xena held a pair of toddlers.

"How sweet." Hermes said conversationally,
"Funny how Xenaís daughter can slaughter thousands of innocent people, can actually drink the blood of her tortured victims, and she gets a second chance. But your daughter who was just a baby doesnít. Hope never got a first chance. Donít you think thatís funny, Gabrielle?" The scene faded away.

"No, I donít think itís funny."

Xena said with anguish,
"Canít you see whatís heís doing?"

"He swore by the River Styx. No god can lie about that, especially Hermes. He conducts souls to meet Charon."

"He hates you! He hates me!"

"Why shouldnít he hate us?"

The god looked in Gabrielleís teary eyes. "Sacrificing for the greater good is fine as long as itís somebody else, even you. When itís Xena's turn itís a different story. But you stayed with her."

Xena sneered, "Do you think sheíll fall for that?" She looked at her friend and was stunned at the shame she saw.

Hermes said sadly,
"The 'battling bard.í How long has it been since you wrote anything?"

"Youíve made your point," Xena said.

"Not quite. Gabrielle, what Iíve shown you here: itís not Xena simply letting you keep Hope."

Gabrielle looked up at him. "Then what is it?"

"Itís your future if you had stood up to Xena for your daughter. She'd have backed down. But you didn't do that, Gabrielle. You betrayed Xena to Ming Tien for your own hurt vanity though. That's where you made your stand."

The small blonde threw her hands up and cried out involuntarily. Xena would have hugged her but Gabrielle moved away.

The former messenger of the gods studied the strickened women.
"You can decide between you who is to blame. Knowing you two it'll be somebody else. Gonna kill me next? All those innocents murdered by Livia; and let's not forget the Amazons slaughtered because you put Xena ahead of your people, Queen Gabrielle; my family that's gone; and poor HopeÖan actual hell goddess. She seem happy to you? As long as Xena didn't have to give up anything though, thatís the main thing."

"Shut up!" Xena snarled.

Hermes shrugged and flew into the sky until he disappeared from sight. The warrior princess reached for her friend's shoulder. Gabrielle looked at the hand and Xena let it drop. "It's not like that," Xena said.

"How is it?"

Xena looked away and Gabrielle knew she was thinking. Finally her friend said, "I'll work on Cupid while you keep Aphrodite occupied. If I can steal his bow I can trade Cupid, Psyche and Bliss to Lucifer. He'd pay anything to have three love gods in Hell. We'll have something to trade then."

After a long silence Gabrielle began to say, "Xena..."

"All love comes from Aphrodite...for Eli, Apollo, Odin, all of 'em. We'll make her cut 'em off until the Fates change everything. They must have a weak spot. Something secret the gods don't let mortals in on." Xena saw how her friend was looking at her. "I'll get'em out later. That's the whole point. Trade 'em back."

"What if the Fates can't be forced, Xena? Then what? Don't you think they'd do it themselves if they could? Maybe there's a good reason the gods don't."

"It'll work. Trust me. Have I ever been wrong?"

Gabrielle looked at her in disbelief. Could Xena hear herself? "Betray Aphrodite? You killed her husband, Xena. Even after that she saved Eve and me... because... well she's Love!"

"That's why it'll work. She'd never expect it." Xena said passionately, "Do you think I like this? We can make it all right. We can give Solan the life he deserves."

Gabrielle said slowly, "And Hope."

"And Hope."

Gabrielle pulled her sais and held them lightly pointing toward herself then reversed them to point at Xena. Her friend quietly watched her decide who to kill. Gabrielle flipped the deadly little weapons and slid them back into her boots. "It'll be better for everybody. It's not for us."

"You know me better than that. If I could trade myself I would."

"We're not far from a temple. I'll ask Aphrodite to help me with a makeover. Like spearing fish in a barrel." Gabrielle looked at the ground. "What'll Lucifer do to Cupid and Psyche? to little Bliss?"

The big woman brusquely said, "We can't worry about that now. I won't leave 'em there. What do you think I am?"

The smaller woman didn't answer.

"They can't die, Gabrielle."

"Yeah, even if they wanted to. Okay, Xena."


"I said okay!"