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How long they sat together, neither could really say. As the windmill continued its cycle behind them, they were lost in the relief and comfort of finally, finally being together, safe (for the time being, anyway), and able to sit in the stilled quiet following yet another soul-draining dilemma. Eventually, the ache and weight of great fatigue, both physical and emotional, drew them to their feet and propelled them towards Gabrielle’s childhood home.

In the weeks that saw them separated, not knowing if, let alone when, they would again meet, neither Xena nor Gabrielle easily found sleep, and even then it was restless and haunted by visions of the recent past.

As they neared the rustic building, Xena’s arm draped over Gabrielle’s shoulders, both eagerly anticipated finally finding a few much-needed moments of peaceful rest – together.

Lila was at the front door as they entered the home. “Gabrielle! Finally! I was starting to wonder whether you’d ever come inside.”

“Frankly, I’m exhausted. I know we all have so much to catch up on, but right now all I want – all I need – is sleep.”

Gabrielle glanced at Xena, who gave her a small return smile, though she immediately felt the level of tension in the room due to her presence. It appeared Gabrielle’s parents still were not keen to forgive her for taking their precious daughter from them, much less welcome her into their home for the night.

As Gabrielle started towards the bedroom she had shared with Lila in her childhood, gently pulling Xena to follow her, her father cut into her movements as he stepped slightly into her path. “I don’t think there’s enough room in there for all three of you…”

“But father, of course there is…. We’re used to making due when it comes to sleeping arrangements, believe me.” Gabrielle said. “We’ll be fine. We just need some sleep”

“I’m sorry, daughter. Xena will have to find somewhere else to stay.”

“Father! After all she’s done to –“

“It’s okay, Gabrielle.” Xena said softly. She had felt this might be the issue as soon as they had walked in. “You go ahead and get your rest. I’ll go check on the horses and take care of myself. I really don’t want to intrude.”

“No, Xena, please…” Gabrielle looked almost pleadingly first to Xena and then to Herodotus. “Father, this is ridiculous! How could you turn her out after everything that happened today?”

“It’s precisely BECAUSE of what’s happened to our family, our home, to YOU that I say she cannot stay here. I’m sorry, daughter, but I won’t allow it.”

Tears glistened in her eyes as she looked in disbelief at her small family. All silent and looking slightly away from her after her father’s words.

“Really, I’m just going to go. No need to make a big fuss.” Xena said a curtly but with the attempt to smooth her words for Gabrielle’s benefit. Placing her hand briefly on her shoulder, she parted with “I’ll see you in the morning. Get some sleep.” After a final glance at Herodotus, she walked out the door and made her way towards the nearby barn.

Lila quickly crossed the room to Gabrielle and took her arm, gently directing her towards the bedroom. “Come on, Gabrielle. It’ll be so nice to have you back in our old room! You’ll see.”

She was nearly in a state of shock over her father’s behavior. She couldn’t understand how they could all stand by and treat her best friend this way, particularly after all she had risked and sacrificed to rid the family and their town of Hope and her monster. She also couldn’t believe that they had finally found each other, only to have to spend their first night again separated. But when she looked at her sister’s face, she saw such genuine warmth and happiness at having her back in their home that she ultimately allowed herself to be steered into the room and towards her childhood bed.

For several long minutes, Lila chattered along happily, filling Gabrielle in on the local town folk. People Gabrielle used to know and watch, wondering often how she would ever fit into such a world, or often, wondering why she felt she didn’t. As Lila slowed and eventually drifted to sleep, Gabrielle lay still and stared at the ceiling. Then her eyes fell to the shuttered window above her bed, and an idea sprang to her mind, and heart. A slow smile soon grew across her weary face.

---

As Xena trudged her way towards the large barn that currently housed the horses she and Joxer had borrowed for their journey to Potedia (Joxer had been mysteriously absent for past few hours, but Xena knew he had a penchant for public houses), she couldn’t help the niggling thought that, ultimately, Gabrielle’s father wasn’t really wrong.

It was because of her, her influence, her lifestyle, her endless quest to atone for her vicious past, that Gabrielle was ever put in such circumstances that led to their separation, her near death, to Hope…

She was certainly no stranger to these moments of self-loathing, try as Gabrielle might to convince her to discard such thoughts. She knew Gabrielle was her own person, and a fiercely stubborn one at that, who was fully capable of discerning what she wanted and what she wanted to do with her life. Still… the doubts remained.

So it was that she entered the barn and started the well-known ritual of caring for the horses. The next task of finding her beloved Argo would be the next step towards rebuilding her own warped sense of normalcy. For now, she begrudgingly fell to her task and tried to stem the ache of facing yet another night without the presence of her bard. Now intimately familiar with the layout of the building, thankfully well-stocked with fresh hay and with walls well-built to stave off the chilly night air, she climbed a steep set of ladder-stairs to the loft above the stables and set to making her bed for the night.

Some time passed and Xena, despite her urgent need for sleep, found herself still staring at the ceiling. To come so far, to be so close to the one person who gave her a sense of home and belonging and sincere devotion…. Tears threatened her eyes as she mired in the despair she felt.

“I’d be better off sleeping under her gods-damned window…”

Xena ruminated on that thought for a couple seconds more before resolutely rolling to her feet and bundling up her bedroll. Descending from the loft, she made her way to the entrance of the barn and started her way back towards the house.

As she approached what she believed to be the window to the bard’s childhood bedroom, fully intending to spread out her bedroll under its eaves and there attempt sleep, she suddenly noticed movement and slowed her gait. The shutter to the window inched almost imperceptibly outward. She then saw a leg creep out, and soon her friend was sitting on the sill of the window, still looking inward into the room, likely testing to make sure Lila remained asleep.

A smile crept onto Xena’s face as she moved in closer to the bard. Gabrielle turned her face and started when she saw Xena’s form in the dark yard, surely not expecting to meet anyone out at this time of night. Their eyes met and held for a long moment. Gabrielle then returned Xena’s slightly abashed grin and silently dropped her feet to the grass below.