Been There, Done That, Revisited

by Catherine M. Wilson

Xena woke at cockcrow. There was nothing unusual about that. Xena always woke early. But for the last ten days she had awakened every morning to the same cockcrow she’d heard the day before, to the same day she’d lived the day before. Few things under the sun could disconcert Xena for long, and after the first couple of days, she’d found the situation more annoying than alarming. What did bother her was that she appeared to be the only one who was aware of this strange phenomenon. It gave her the uneasy feeling that it was she who would have to put things to rights.

She had, in fact, already put together almost all the pieces of the puzzle. The piece that was missing was the reason why the day kept repeating itself. Clearly this was the work of some god. Only a god could stop time, and that’s what made Xena hesitate. What she had suffered from the meddling of the gods made her reluctant to play even the smallest part in their plans until she was sure of their intentions.

So for the last few days, she’d been biding her time, holding the chaos to a minimum, knowing that the dead would be alive again in the morning and that any mistakes she made would be undone by the dawn. She couldn’t help but see the irony of the situation. There were so many other days of her life she wished undone.

Xena lay still, patiently awaiting Joxer’s arrival. She was aware, as always, of Gabrielle sleeping by her side. Every morning, even before she opened her eyes, she listened for the small sounds of sleep that reassured her Gabrielle was still beside her, and once awake, she would keep her restless body quiet for a while. It was a time when she could think of things she couldn’t allow to herself to dwell on at any other time, but those first few moments of the day were hers.

A hinge creaked. The heavy stable door swung open and Joxer’s head appeared. Before he could speak, Xena was on her feet. She bowled him over on her way out, causing the horseshoe dropped by the farrier to miss his head by inches. She pulled Casca from the path of a cart that would have run him down and halfheartedly stopped a sword fight or two, then ignored the rest of the general melee so that she could get back to the stable in time to keep Gabrielle and Joxer from venturing out into the brawl.

As she did every day, she tried to explain to them about the day repeating itself. They didn’t believe her. She had already tried as many ways as she could think of to make them understand. They never believed her, but still she kept trying. Even if she only succeeded in convincing them that she had lost her mind, at least it made any further explanation of anything she did unnecessary.

She kept them in the stable until the worst of the fighting was over and the dead and wounded had been collected by their relatives. Then the three of them ventured out together to find some breakfast.

Gabrielle looked around her at the deserted streets, the empty vendors’ stalls, the closed shutters of the houses. “Where is everyone?” she asked Xena.

“I told you,” Xena said. “Every day a fight breaks out, because of the feud.”

“So the people are hiding?”

“No,” said Xena. “The fight’s over. The people are binding their wounds and grieving their dead.”

“Oh.” Gabrielle frowned.

They passed a child huddled in a doorway, her face streaked with tears. Gabrielle would have stopped to comfort the girl, but Xena took her arm and led her away. “Don’t take it to heart,” she said. “Tomorrow the dead will all be alive again.” She saw a glimmer of something in Gabrielle’s eyes, as if perhaps Gabrielle had started to believe her.

They began to see more evidence of the recent carnage, and Xena watched Gabrielle become more and more upset by it. Gabrielle’s distress upset Xena, and in spite of her misgivings, she was tempted to renew her efforts to solve the puzzle and restart the wheel of time.

But even as she entertained that thought, a weariness came over her. She didn’t know who else to talk to, what else to try. She had already untangled so many threads of lives intertwined, of hurts and insults given and received. She had already followed so many false trails. The task before her suddenly seemed overwhelming.

Xena’s change of mood didn’t escape Gabrielle’s sharp eye. As worried as she had been about the plight of the town, now she was more worried about Xena. She kept glancing at her out of the corner of her eye. While they were having breakfast in the ruins of a tavern, she gave her a look of concern across the table that moved Xena almost to tears.

Xena wished she could make Gabrielle understand what had been happening to her. One thing that was beginning to bother her, she realized, even more than the predicament they were in, was that she felt so lonely. Ever since Gabrielle had come into her life, she had helped Xena keep at bay the terrible loneliness that had haunted her all through her warlord years. Now that loneliness threatened her again.

“What is it?” Gabrielle reached out and touched Xena’s brow, then her cheek. “Don’t you feel well?”

“I’m all right,” Xena replied, but she couldn’t bring herself to shake off Gabrielle’s touch or brush her hand away. It felt so comforting.

But Xena’s listlessness made Gabrielle worry all the more.

“I think you should take it easy today,” she said.

Xena started to object only to discover that she hadn’t the energy, which made Gabrielle even more insistent.

“Don’t give me an argument,” she said. “You may not be unwell, but you look exhausted. You need a few days of rest before we start traveling again.”

To her own surprise as well as Gabrielle’s, Xena didn’t argue, but agreed to spend the day resting in the stable where they had spent the previous night. Joxer didn’t care to stay indoors, and with only a little trepidation, Xena gave him a list of things to do that would keep him occupied. Most of the fighting was over, and even if something did happen to him, no doubt he’d be fine again in the morning.

Once she and Gabrielle had made their way back to the relative safety of the stable, Xena had to admit she found it restful. With the door securely barred, she could let her guard down, as she never could when they were camping out in the open. Gabrielle wanted her to lie down, but Xena would only sit up on her sleeping robes, her back against a post, her long legs stretched out in front of her.

Gabrielle sat down facing her. “Now what’s all this about the day repeating itself?” she said.

Xena shrugged. She was too tired to explain. “It just is.”

“So what happened yesterday?”

“Pretty much the same as what happened today,” Xena said. “Except that we didn’t spend the day here in the stable.”

“What did we do?”

“We walked around the town and talked to people, to try to find out what’s going on here.”

“Had you intended to do that again today?”

Xena shook her head. “I don’t know who else to talk to.”

“But won’t it all happen again?” Gabrielle asked her. “Won’t people die again tomorrow, just as they did today?”

Xena nodded. “They will. At least until the enchantment is broken.”

“Then you must break it.”

Xena couldn’t decide if she was annoyed with Gabrielle for assigning her that task or gratified that Gabrielle never doubted she could accomplish it. She sighed. “I’m trying, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle patted the back of Xena’s hand. “I know you’ll think of something.”

Gabrielle had tried to sound cheerful and reassuring, but there was no mistaking the anxiety in her eyes. Xena couldn’t tell if it was the town’s predicament that bothered her or if she suspected that Xena had lost her mind. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.

Whatever Gabrielle was thinking, this was the first day that Xena had allowed herself to feel discouraged, and she realized too late that her mood was having a strong effect on Gabrielle. Before today, Xena had been her usual self, taking command and making things happen, and as usual, Gabrielle had gone along with it. Today, Xena’s uncharacteristic malaise had frightened Gabrielle even more than her assertion that time was playing tricks on them.

When Gabrielle wanted Xena to confide in her, her first instinct was to mother her. Even though it seldom worked for long, it worked surprisingly well. Her tenderness disarmed the warrior as bullying or nagging never could.

Gabrielle got up, sat down next to Xena, and started to remove her armor. “You can’t rest properly with this stuff on,” she said.

Xena sat still while Gabrielle relieved her of the heavy breastplate. There was something so reassuring about having Gabrielle close to her, taking care of her in the small, intimate ways that made Xena feel truly cared for, that when Gabrielle had finished removing the rest of her body armor, Xena didn’t want to lose this closeness to her. On an impulse, she took Gabrielle’s hand in hers and held it.

Gabrielle could hardly have been more surprised. “What is it?” she said. She peered anxiously into Xena’s eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Xena gave her half a smile. “Other than the fact that I keep living the same day over and over?” she said, trying to make her voice light.

Gabrielle saw through Xena’s words. What she believed was the slight tremor of Xena’s hand in hers and the weariness in Xena’s eyes. “Please,” she said. “Let me help you. Isn’t there anything I can do?”

At that moment, Xena could think of nothing more wonderful than spending the day there in that stable as close as possible to Gabrielle. She wanted to rest her head in Gabrielle’s lap and listen to her tell stories, until she could forget that the wheel of time was broken and that she didn’t know how to fix it.

In a dark corner of her mind, Xena knew she was treading dangerous ground. On one of the repeating days, Joxer had gotten himself killed, and that night Gabrielle had mourned him in Xena’s arms. Sometimes Xena found herself wishing that Joxer would get killed again.

It was almost dark when Xena awoke. She couldn’t remember falling asleep. Had she nodded off while Gabrielle was telling her a story? Then she saw that Gabrielle was gone. She had a moment of panic before she managed to reassure herself that if anything had happened to Gabrielle, all would be well again in the morning, but that was small comfort to her. She thought about the day not long before, when Gabrielle had died. She never again wanted to live out another day with the terrible fear that in the morning she might wake alone.

Then the stable door opened and Gabrielle came in carrying a basket. She set it down and removed the cloth that covered it, and Xena saw that Gabrielle had brought some of her favorite foods—a joint of roast lamb, a salad of fresh greens, even the little dumplings that Gabrielle would sometimes make for her as a special treat.

After dinner, Gabrielle gave Xena an appraising look. “You look better,” she said.

“I feel better,” Xena replied. She sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t waste the rest of the evening.” She started to get up, but Gabrielle put her hand on Xena’s shoulder to stop her.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I should go to the tavern,” Xena said. “Maybe I can learn something more about this town.”

“Not tonight.” Gabrielle was already piling up straw to make a soft bed. “Tonight you’re going to get a good night’s sleep.” She spread Xena’s sleeping robes over the freshly piled straw and laid her own out beside them.

Xena gave in. She had to admit to herself that she rather enjoyed being taken care of. At least she enjoyed being taken care of by Gabrielle. Why haven’t I let her do this before? Xena asked herself. But she already knew the answer. She had been afraid that if she let Gabrielle come too close to her, she would be tempted to reach for more than Gabrielle could give her.

For a long time the two women lay on their backs in the dark, side by side, gazing up at the crisscross pattern of beams above their heads and talking companionably about nothing. Xena treasured times like these. Nothing mattered but that she was alone with her friend, both of them so comfortable with each other they felt they could say anything, reveal anything. Almost anything.

Xena yawned.

“I think it’s past your bedtime,” said Gabrielle.

“I’m not sleepy,” Xena lied. She didn’t want this time to end. She felt like a child begging to be allowed to stay up just a little longer, even while her head was nodding, her eyes were closing. Against her will, she drifted on the edge of sleep.

Is this how it feels to be a normal person? Xena was unused to the luxury of allowing herself to be so unguarded. For her, the world was always dangerous, if not to her, then to those close to her. The best thing about the day repeating itself was that for once, no matter what happened, her mistakes would have no consequences.

Xena felt Gabrielle pull their sleeping robe up around her shoulders, felt Gabrielle’s fingers caress her face, felt Gabrielle’s lips brush across her brow. She smiled. If only I could dream this dream every night.

Soft arms gathered her into an embrace. Soft lips pressed themselves against her temple, against her cheek. She turned her mouth toward them, and the next kiss found her lips. She felt her lover hesitate, but she wanted more. She pulled the woman close and returned the kiss.

I’m not asleep. Xena’s eyes flew open. Gabrielle’s face was inches from her own and wore a look of mild surprise.

“Gabrielle, I’m sorry. I thought I was dreaming.”

“So did I,” said Gabrielle.

“I didn’t mean—”

Gabrielle’s lips stopped her from saying more.

A small voice at the back of Xena’s mind whispered, This is wrong. She ignored it. How could this be wrong? This was not a seduction, not an act of force. Gabrielle was both sane and sober. She knew what she was doing. The fact that in the morning she wouldn’t know what she had done didn’t at that moment seem to Xena to be a problem.

Gabrielle’s body pressed against her. Small hands caressed her back. The kiss went on until both of them were breathless. Then Xena’s strong arms wrapped themselves around Gabrielle and pulled her into a tight embrace. Neither woman spoke. Xena’s heart pounded in her chest. She felt an intoxicating mixture of fear and joy and sexual excitement. Her mind refused to form a coherent thought.

Gabrielle moved in Xena’s arms. There was no mistaking her intent. Xena understood what Gabrielle was asking of her, and she gladly gave it. Nothing existed for her but the present moment. Her mind, her heart, were with the woman in her arms. The love so long denied possessed her, and Gabrielle opened her heart and her body to receive it all.

Xena woke at cockcrow. She felt wonderful. The memory of the night before came back to her in a rush, and her body bloomed with desire. Gabrielle lay beside her, no longer in her arms but within arms’ reach. Xena reached for her and pulled her into an embrace and gently kissed her lips.

“Ptah!” Gabrielle spat out a bit of straw and struggled into consciousness.

Just in time, Xena remembered. She let go of Gabrielle abruptly and sprang to her feet, while Gabrielle sat up and looked around her in confusion. Then Joxer appeared and the day began. For the first hour of it Xena was so busy she had no time to think about what had happened the night before, but the sweetness of the memory lingered around her heart.

Over breakfast Xena caught Gabrielle giving her strange looks across the table. Xena had been aware of her own unusual exuberance, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. An impish smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She had already heard herself giggle at least once, something she had never under any circumstances done before.

“I had the strangest dream,” said Gabrielle.

“What kind of dream?”

“I don’t remember much about it,” she said, “but it was wonderful.”

“I had a lovely dream too,” said Xena. “Perhaps we were both having the same dream.”

“I doubt that.” Gabrielle chuckled. “I was at home in Poteidaia and I was about ten years old.”

“Oh.” Xena fell back to earth. Her smile vanished. Suddenly she felt very much alone. What a fool I am, she thought. Perhaps it was just a dream. Not our dream, but mine alone.

“What’s the matter?”

Then Xena remembered that she had neglected to tell Gabrielle about the day repeating itself. She was about to launch into her explanation when she realized she didn’t have the heart to go through it all again. And besides, that wasn’t the real answer to Gabrielle’s question. “Nothing,” she said.

Gabrielle shrugged. She had learned long ago not to play this game with Xena. “So where are we going today?”

“Back to the stable,” Xena replied.

“To the stable?”

“Trust me.”

“I do.”

Under ordinary circumstances, those words from Gabrielle would have warmed Xena’s heart, but not today. Today, for some reason, those words made her uneasy. Now that her euphoria was gone, she noticed that, like a pebble in her boot, something unpleasant had been lurking around the edges of her consciousness. It was a vague discomfort. She couldn’t put her finger on its cause, but Gabrielle’s affirmation of her trust in Xena had a lot to do with it. Had she betrayed that trust?

As they walked back to the stable, Xena tried to put her uneasiness behind her, but it insisted on tagging along. This is wrong, her little voice had said. Now she suspected her little voice had told her the truth, but for the life of her she couldn’t understand what had been so wrong in what she’d done. And how could she have done differently? How could she have turned away from Gabrielle’s desire?

What’s done is done, she thought, but now everything was much too complicated. She had to think, to puzzle out what had happened between the two of them and what it meant. And she had to get away from the questions in Gabrielle’s eyes.

Xena left Gabrielle and Joxer in the stable with strict orders to bar the door after her and stay there. She gave no thought to the problem of the town feud. She spent the day in the darkest corner of a tavern, thinking about Gabrielle.

What had happened the night before had been no dream, she was sure. When she closed her eyes, she could still feel Gabrielle’s body in her arms, warm and alive and very real. Not even her most secret dreams had ever been so wonderful. And Gabrielle’s response to her lovemaking had told her that it had been just as wonderful for her.

Xena sprang to her feet and paced restlessly back and forth. She paid no attention to the puzzled looks of the other patrons of the tavern. She was preoccupied with following her train of thought. If Gabrielle had truly desired her last night, what could it mean? Xena was afraid to leap to any conclusions. The obvious conclusion was that Gabrielle loved her, but since that was what Xena very much wanted to believe, she regarded it with suspicion. She also feared it a little, in case she managed to believe it again only to learn for a second time it wasn’t true.

Any reasonable person would never have doubted the evidence of her own senses, but Xena wasn’t being reasonable. If there was even the smallest reason to doubt Gabrielle’s love for her, Xena was determined to find it. Once they were living in ordinary time again, she couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. She sat down, propped her elbows on the table, and put her head in her hands.

If Gabrielle didn’t love her, there must be another explanation. What else could account for what had happened between them? Had Gabrielle only meant to comfort her? Had she given Xena what she thought Xena wanted out of compassion for her loneliness? Had things simply gotten out of hand? How could she discover the truth?

The idea of asking Gabrielle about her feelings did cross Xena’s mind, but she discarded it immediately, just as she’d discarded it all the times she’d thought of it before. To ask such a question, she would have to reveal her own feelings, and that she was unwilling to do. What if Gabrielle didn’t want the kind of love she offered? There is a nobility in requited love, but unrequited love only makes the lover appear ridiculous. She shuddered at the image of herself holding her torn and bleeding heart out to someone who didn’t want it.

But even more than the humiliation of rejection, Xena feared the inevitable change in their relationship. So many of the things she took for granted in their friendship would be lost. Her imagination played out all her fears. Gabrielle would pity her, would tiptoe around her feelings so carefully that Xena would always be aware of it. Xena would have to watch everything she said, so that nothing would be open to misinterpretation. Her smallest gesture would be suspect. Rather than bear the pain of Gabrielle’s withdrawal, she would no longer risk even the most innocent touch. Nor would Gabrielle touch her. Xena saw how it would end. She would guard her words, her eyes, even her thoughts, until the barrier between them had grown insurmountable, until they could no longer bear to be together.

As wonderful as their lovemaking had been, Xena knew she would never risk the loss of Gabrielle’s friendship, even for the sake of making Gabrielle her lover. What had happened between them the night before would always be one of her most cherished memories, but her question would remain unasked. And unanswered.

Xena crossed her arms on the table in front of her and lay her head down on them. She could have burst into tears, but for the fact that she was in a public place. As it was, people had been giving her strange looks all afternoon. Of course even if she did make a complete fool of herself in public, no one would remember in the morning. The idea struck her so funny that instead of bursting into tears she laughed out loud. Heads turned. She ignored them. She’d remembered.

As long as she was stuck in this endlessly repeating day, there would be no consequences. She could humiliate herself in this tavern and tomorrow no one would remember. She could speak her heart to Gabrielle. She could ask her question. If the answer was no, tomorrow Gabrielle would remember nothing, and everything would be as it had been before.

And if the answer was yes …

Xena wasn’t ready yet to entertain that possibility, but she began to feel more cheerful.

By the time Xena returned to the stable, it was late afternoon. Joxer had grown restless and gone out into the town, but Gabrielle was still there, waiting for her. It seemed like an ideal time for them to have their talk, but Xena soon realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d thought it would be. Now that she was face to face with Gabrielle, the words stuck in her throat, and to make matters worse, Gabrielle peppered her with questions. Why had Xena left her alone in the stable? What was going on in the town? Why had there been so much fighting that morning? And how did Xena know so much about what was going on when they’d only just arrived there?

So instead of making a declaration of love, Xena explained once again the problem of the repeating day. Gabrielle didn’t believe her this time either.

“How many days has this been going on?” she asked.

Xena ignored the skepticism in Gabrielle’s voice. “Ten. Eleven. Something like that.”

Gabrielle thought that over. “And how much longer will it go on, do you think?”

“I don’t know,” Xena replied. “Probably until I figure out why it’s happening and how to stop it.”

“I see.”

Gabrielle was now too preoccupied to talk of other things. As one thought chased another through Gabrielle’s mind, Xena watched them all reflected in her face. How can the same day repeat itself over and over? What if it’s true? What can explain it and what does it mean? Surely such a thing is impossible. But Xena believes it. Why? Ever since the Furies had opened the door to madness and shoved Xena through it, Gabrielle had wondered if it might not be all too easy for Xena to find that door herself someday.

Xena had seen Gabrielle go through this process many times before, as many times as she had tried to explain the situation to her. She waited for Gabrielle’s confused thoughts to quiet down a bit before suggesting that they go find some dinner.

By the time they returned to the stable, it was late in the evening, and Xena had begun to doubt the wisdom of bringing up the subject of their relationship. She considered leaving their talk for another day, then chided herself for her cowardice. This endlessly repeating day, as infuriating as she often found it, had handed her a gift. To learn the truth of Gabrielle’s feelings without risking their friendship was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. If she didn’t take advantage of it, she’d never forgive herself.

Gabrielle was sitting on her bedroll, brushing her hair. Xena watched her for a while, then knelt behind her, gently taking the brush from her hand. She began to brush her friend’s hair, admiring the way it gleamed in the lamplight. Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes.

It took Xena several minutes before she found the courage to speak. “Gabrielle?”


“There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“What’s that?”

Xena hesitated. She had never felt so awkward.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and turned to face her. “What is it?”

Xena set the brush aside. She sat down facing Gabrielle and took her hand.

“Are you all right?” Gabrielle put the back of her other hand to Xena’s forehead.

“Fine,” said Xena. “I’m fine.” She struggled to find the right words, only to discover she had no words at all.

“Xena, what’s the matter?”

“I love you,” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle smiled brightly. “I love you too, Xena.”

“No,” said Xena. “That’s not what I meant.”

Gabrielle was puzzled.

“I love you as a friend,” Xena went on. “And more than that.”

It took a moment for Gabrielle to begin to understand. “More than that?”

“Much more.” Xena’s heart was pounding, harder than it ever had when she was on the battlefield. She waited for Gabrielle’s response. If Gabrielle loved her too, she might tell her with words, or with a touch or a caress. If not, Xena knew Gabrielle would be gentle with her. It was not in Gabrielle’s nature to be needlessly unkind.

But Gabrielle’s next words were completely unexpected. “Why are you telling me this?” she asked.

Xena stared at her in confusion. “Because it’s true. And because I need to know—”

“Know what?”

“How you feel.”

“But why now?”

“I—” Xena felt the situation slipping out of her control. Nothing was happening as she’d thought it would. She had declared her love, and now Gabrielle should either accept her or reject her. Instead she found herself being cross-examined. “It—it seemed as good a time as any,” she stammered.

Gabrielle sat looking at her, a strange expression on her face, as if she couldn’t decide whether to be hurt or angry. “As good a time as any,” Gabrielle echoed. “And what is it exactly about this particular time that made it seem like such a good idea?”

Xena was beginning to be annoyed. Why couldn’t the girl answer a simple question? “I just told you I’m in love with you,” she said, a little louder than she meant to. “Are you in love with me or not?”

“Am I in love with you?”

“Yes.” Why does she have to repeat everything I say back to me? “It seemed like a simple enough question to me.”

But Gabrielle was furious. “First you tell me that this day has been repeating itself over and over for days now, even though I can’t seem to remember anything about any of those days. Then you ask me if I’m in love with you!?!?”

Gabrielle got to her feet and paced back and forth, trying to control her anger, then turned to face Xena. It made Xena uncomfortable to have Gabrielle looking down at her, so she too stood up. The two women faced each other.

“What happens if I say no?” said Gabrielle.


“And if I say yes?”

Xena scuffed the toe of her boot against the ground. Images of the night before flashed through her mind, and she felt her face go scarlet.

“I see.”

Xena would rather have faced the heat of Gabrielle’s anger than this cold indifference. “You don’t understand.”

“Of course I understand,” Gabrielle said. “You thought that while you’re stuck in this endless round of sameness you might as well have a little fun, and poor little Gabrielle would never know the difference.”

“Absolutely not!”

“Then why ask me now?”

“I need to know.”

“Why?” Gabrielle insisted.

Xena said nothing, but Gabrielle read the truth in Xena’s eyes. Something had happened that had changed things between them—something she knew nothing about.

“You say we’ve lived the same day ten or eleven times now?”


“How many times have we been to bed together so far?”

“It’s not like that, Gabrielle.”

“How many?”

“Once,” Xena admitted. “Last night.”

“How could you?!?!”

Xena bit her tongue. Not for all the world would she have told Gabrielle that it had been her idea. At least Xena thought that Gabrielle had started it. Hadn’t she? Now she couldn’t quite remember.

Something else dawned on Gabrielle. “If we’ve already been to bed,” she said, “why is it that you don’t know the answer to your question?”

“We weren’t doing very much talking at the time,” Xena replied.

“You mean you didn’t even bother asking me before you—”

“Gabrielle! That’s enough!”

“Well!” said Gabrielle. “I hope you enjoyed yourself.”

Xena’s anger finally got the better of her. “As a matter of fact we both enjoyed it,” she growled. Immediately she wished she’d held her tongue. The pain in Gabrielle’s eyes almost broke her heart.

“We both enjoyed it?”

Xena nodded sheepishly.

“But you remember it, and I don’t,” said Gabrielle. “I would have liked to be able to remember our first time together.”

Hope fluttered in Xena’s breast, but the undertone of sarcasm in Gabrielle’s voice made Xena doubt her meaning.

“Now what?” Gabrielle asked her.

Xena shrugged, defeated. “Nothing. Forget I said anything.”

“According to you, that’s exactly what will happen,” Gabrielle replied. “I’ll forget everything, including how angry I am with you tonight.”

Xena woke at cockcrow. As she went through the motions that by now were second nature to her, she thought over the things that Gabrielle had said to her the night before. She tried to remember everything, to go over every word, so that she could make some sense of what had happened, but one image kept coming back to her—the look of pain in Gabrielle’s eyes.

Now Xena understood why her little voice had warned her. The wonderful night of lovemaking they’d shared, the first time they had been intimate with each other, was a memory that Xena would treasure for the rest of her life, but Gabrielle had lost it forever. Xena felt as if she had stolen something precious from her, which, in a way, she had.

That only matters if she loves you, said the voice of Xena’s cynicism. And you still don’t know any more about that than you did before.

It’s true, thought Xena. It had seemed such a simple thing to declare herself to Gabrielle, as she had dreamt of doing more times than she could remember. Yet the result was nothing like what she’d expected. Where had she gone wrong?

Once more she went back over their conversation, and this time what struck her was Gabrielle’s anger. Xena had felt it right away, long before Gabrielle had found out about their night together. Xena couldn’t understand where that anger had come from. It seemed an odd reaction to a declaration of love. One thing she remembered all too clearly. Gabrielle had suspected her of terrible things—that she had used her, played with her, made of her a diversion.

The more Xena thought about it, the more hurt she felt that Gabrielle could so misjudge her, and even though she knew better, she nursed that hurt until it festered into anger. Anger was an emotion she could deal with.

When Xena had finished her morning rounds, she returned to the stable and once again explained to Gabrielle and Joxer about the endlessly repeating day. Without giving them time to get a word in edgewise, she rattled off all the things she’d already tried to fix the problem, then hustled them out of the stable and over to the tavern.

Xena was still angry. She would have liked to have it out with Gabrielle over breakfast, but of course Gabrielle wouldn’t know what she was talking about. It was just one more frustration in an already much too frustrating situation, and Xena had seldom been so out of sorts. She gave short answers to Gabrielle’s questions, snapped at her for no reason, and was so unpleasant that at last Gabrielle, puzzled and hurt, retreated into silence.

Xena decided to spend the day dealing with the town’s problems. She wasn’t having any success at all in solving her own. She was only making matters worse.

When Xena returned to the stable, it was so late that she was surprised she hadn’t already heard the cock crow and awakened to another day. She’d stayed away much longer than she’d meant to. Even after she had all the information she needed, she had lingered in the tavern, eavesdropping on conversations, pretending she was looking for more clues. Finally she could hide the truth from herself no longer. She was ashamed of her bad temper that morning and of the way she’d treated Gabrielle, and she was in no hurry to face her again. As she slipped quietly through the stable door, she hoped to find Gabrielle asleep.

But Gabrielle was still very much awake.

“I know what the problem is,” Xena hastened to say, before Gabrielle could reproach her. “The feud is keeping two lovers apart. Their families are enemies, and they won’t allow the young people to marry, or even to see each other.”

A stricken look came into Gabrielle’s eyes. “What a cruel thing to do.”

“Worse than that,” Xena said, “the girl’s parents have been trying to force her to marry someone else. She was so distraught that this morning she drank a vial of poison. Tomorrow she will die, and that’s why tomorrow will never come.”

Xena was very proud of herself for figuring out that the girl’s lover had convinced Cupid to hold back the day of his beloved’s death until a way could be found to prevent it. She was silently congratulating herself and waiting for Gabrielle to ask her to explain her last cryptic statement when she noticed that Gabrielle wasn’t paying attention.

“How could their parents be so cruel?” said Gabrielle. “They should want their children’s happiness. How could her parents separate her from the one she loves and marry her to someone else?”

For a moment Xena was puzzled that Gabrielle was taking the young lovers’ predicament so to heart. It was certainly not uncommon for parents to make a marriage for their children, even against the children’s wishes. Hadn’t Gabrielle’s own family done the same to her?

Now Xena understood. That was why Gabrielle was so upset. Her own parents had tried to marry her to a dull, stupid farmer she didn’t love. Xena still remembered those words of Gabrielle’s. Of course Gabrielle had married the man anyway, but she’d done it to suit herself, not her family. Xena shook her head, to stop the memories, but not in time to stop the dagger-through-the-heart feeling she always got when she remembered that wedding.

Gabrielle caught the look of pain that crossed Xena’s face. “What is it?” she said.

Xena hesitated. In a few minutes the day would be over and everything that had happened that day would be undone. What harm could there be in speaking her mind, just this once? “That almost happened to you, didn’t it?” Xena said.

Gabrielle gave her a blank look.

“You were almost forced to marry against your will.”

Xena watched Gabrielle’s face as she made the connection. “It’s not quite the same thing,” Gabrielle said. “At least they weren’t trying to separate me from someone I loved, but I never did understand why my family didn’t think about whether or not I would be happy with a choice they made for me.”

“Perhaps they were wiser than you gave them credit for,” Xena said. “He was your choice in the end, wasn’t he?” The bitterness in her own voice surprised her.

Gabrielle had heard it too. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I never really understood it myself,” Xena said. “First you ran away with me to avoid marrying the man. Then you ran away from me to marry him.”

“A lot happened in between,” Gabrielle reminded her. “And I didn’t run away from you. You sent me away.”

But Xena wasn’t listening. “It was just a lark, wasn’t it?”

“A lark?”

“You wanted a little adventure before you settled down. Was that it? Was that why you came with me?”

Gabrielle’s eyes blazed with anger. “If that were true, why am I here with you now?”

“Sometimes I wonder,” Xena replied. “Why don’t you tell me?”

Gabrielle bit back an angry reply. She studied Xena’s face, seeing in it, Xena suspected, more than Xena wanted her to see. “What is this really about?” she said.

Suddenly Xena didn’t want to argue anymore. She was tired out, too tired to finish what she’d started. “Nothing, Gabrielle,” she replied. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. Forget it.”

“It’s too late for that,” said Gabrielle.

Xena had provoked this confrontation, and now she wished she hadn’t. Gabrielle’s marriage had hurt her terribly, and even after Gabrielle had returned to her, her resentment of it had been a burr under her saddle ever since. It was the marriage that made her doubt that Gabrielle had ever loved her, would ever love her. Now, if she pursued it, she could discover the truth about that. She could learn the answer to the question she’d tried to ask the day before. But now she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

“I’m exhausted,” she said. “We can talk about it in the morning.”

“In the morning?” said Gabrielle. “According to you, I won’t remember any of this in the morning.”

“Probably not,” Xena admitted.

“Then we’d better talk about it tonight.”

It was an argument Xena couldn’t counter.

Gabrielle went directly to the heart of the matter. “Why are you so angry with me?” she said.

Xena started to deny it, then changed her mind. What a relief it would be to tell the truth, she thought. To tell the truth just once. She took a moment to compose herself. Then she said, “I’m angry because you didn’t choose me.”

Xena sat down heavily on a bale of straw. All the strength had suddenly gone out of her, and at the same time she felt as light as air.

In the silence that followed, Xena didn’t dare to look at Gabrielle. Any moment now the cock will crow and I’ll wake up and begin this day again, Xena thought to herself. But the silence went on and on.

Xena’s words echoed in her head. That Gabrielle would be angry with her, she had no doubt. The more she thought about it, the more she saw that Gabrielle had every right to be angry. What a foolish thing to say. What an unkind thing to say. She should have brought to Gabrielle’s wedding sincere wishes for her happiness, not angry, jealous thoughts and a longing to change places with the bridegroom. For the first time Xena looked unblinking at her own selfishness, and it appalled her.

“Choose you?” said Gabrielle.

Let the cock crow, thought Xena.

“You’re angry because I didn’t choose you?”

Xena was too ashamed now to meet Gabrielle’s eyes. When Gabrielle came and stood before her, Xena sat looking down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap. Gabrielle touched Xena’s cheek, then tried to lift her chin, so that Xena would look up at her, but Xena turned her head aside.

Gabrielle refused to give up. She knelt down and took Xena’s hands in hers. When she spoke, her voice was soft. “You never offered yourself,” said Gabrielle. “How could I choose what you never offered?”

For a moment, Xena doubted the evidence of her own ears, but when she looked up and met Gabrielle’s eyes, she couldn’t doubt the love she saw there.

Xena woke at cockcrow. Sweet remnants of a dream drifted through her mind. She tried to follow them back into sleep, until she realized it hadn’t been a dream at all, but the memory of something that had really happened. At the same time she remembered that on the other side of town a young girl was about to drink a vial of poison.

Xena took every shortcut she could find to get to the girl’s house in time, but she dropped from the wall into the courtyard just as the girl was lowering the empty vial from her lips. Moments later, the girl’s lover appeared. When he saw the empty vial, his eyes filled with despair. Xena urged him not to give up hope. There had to be a way, and she would find it.

The idea of using her chakram as a last resort had occurred to her the day before, and she proceeded to put that plan into action. She was grateful now for all the tedious hours she’d spent studying with Pythagoras. It took her half the day, but at last she had calculated all the angles, measured all the distances. She had done all she could do. She would have to wait until morning to discover if it had been good enough.

Because Xena hadn’t bothered to stop any of the fighting, the town was still in an uproar, so she and Gabrielle took some bread and cheese and wine out into the quiet countryside. As they walked, Xena explained to Gabrielle about the repeating day and what she hoped to be able to do about it, and while Gabrielle ate her lunch and thought over what Xena had told her, Xena was at last able to go over in her mind what had happened the night before.

The cock had crowed before she could reply, before she could tell Gabrielle what was in her heart. That didn’t matter, though. Gabrielle wouldn’t have remembered it anyway. But Xena remembered everything. Most of all she remembered Gabrielle’s look of love, and she was amazed to realize she’d seen it often and never known it for what it was.

How blind I’ve been, she thought. How could I have been so blind?

At last Xena had no doubt that Gabrielle loved her as she loved Gabrielle. As if a veil had been lifted from before her eyes, she saw what she’d been searching for. It had been there all the time.

They spent a lazy afternoon together, sometimes in quiet conversation, sometimes enjoying in silence the beauty of the day. Xena alternately basked in her new awareness of Gabrielle’s love and worried at the troublesome question of how she could have missed it. She didn’t have to look far for the answer. Hadn’t her eyes always been on herself? Hadn’t she been thinking of her feelings, her desires, her loneliness, her fear? Not Gabrielle’s. Never Gabrielle’s.

If the last few days had taught her nothing else, they had revealed to her her own self-centeredness. Although she still couldn’t bring herself to regret their first night of love, she bitterly regretted that Gabrielle would never share the memory of it with her. Perhaps if she’d been thinking more about Gabrielle than about herself, she might have paid attention to her little voice.

But even if it had been wrong, Xena knew that what she’d done that night was done from love. She couldn’t say the same about what she’d done the following day. She blushed with shame at her attempt to ferret out Gabrielle’s deepest secrets. Why had it ever seemed like such a good idea? She remembered a certain scroll that Gabrielle kept at the bottom of her pack. Gabrielle had made it clear to her that its contents were private, and in spite of her curiosity to know if there might be something in it about her, Xena would not have dreamed of looking at it. To read it would have been an unforgivable invasion of Gabrielle’s privacy, yet how was that different from trying to induce Gabrielle to reveal her love for Xena when she wouldn’t remember having done so?

Xena wondered why she could now see herself so clearly when she’d been oblivious to all these things the day before. If she’d been more of a philosopher, she might have theorized that whatever had blinded her to Gabrielle’s love had also blinded her to something in herself she didn’t want to see. And if she’d been a poet, she would have said that her belief in Gabrielle’s love had given her the courage to look honestly at herself. But Xena was neither a philosopher nor a poet. Xena was a warrior, and a warrior knows that there is a time to put away the sword. Her battle with herself was over.

They lingered there until the sun had set and the cool air of evening made them shiver. Then they walked back into the enchanted town. As they walked, Gabrielle slipped her arm through Xena’s, and Xena left it there.

Xena woke at cockcrow. Moments after she sent her chakram on its carefully calculated journey, she arrived in the courtyard of the girl’s home. The vial lay broken where the girl had dropped it, its deadly contents seeping into the ground. All that was left to do was make peace between the feuding families, and since she’d had several days of practice, that was soon accomplished.

For the last time Xena explained everything to Gabrielle and Joxer. The young lovers confirmed her story, and this time her friends believed her.

The town invited them to a feast to be held that very afternoon, to celebrate not only the ending of the feud but the engagement of the young couple that would seal the peace. Xena stayed just long enough to be polite. Then she told Gabrielle she had a few things to do and slipped away. She found a bench in a quiet courtyard and sat there for a long time, thinking.

At last Xena stood up. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She knew what she had to do, and somehow she would find the strength to do it.

She found Cupid’s temple tucked away in a narrow alley. It looked neglected, but in a town that had for so long been full of hatred, that was not surprising. Nor was it surprising that, when she entered, she found the temple empty. The townspeople were all at the celebration, and Xena doubted there were offerings enough to support a priest.

Inside the temple it was dark. There was no oil for the lamps, but a shaft of sunlight fell across the altar. Not even the scurrying feet of mice disturbed the silence.

Xena approached the altar and called upon the god. She had brought no offering. That would be a bribe, and Xena never offered bribes. Nor did she expect an answer. She intended to make her request and leave. The god would grant it or not. That wasn’t up to her. What was up to her was to know the right thing to do and to do it.

Xena was never one to mince words when speaking with the gods. “I’ve done you a favor,” she said. “Now I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Name it.” The tinkling sound of the disembodied voice wafted through the temple like music. “Name it and it’s yours.”

A young man stepped out from behind a gilded pillar. With cheeks as round and red as apples, his beardless face could have been a child’s, but the eyes that looked out of it were as old as time. Older than time, yet there was a sweetness in his gaze. Golden curls framed his girlish face. If he had not been bare-chested, Xena might have taken him for a woman. But by his wings, beautiful beyond even the art of Daedalus, she knew him.

Even so, she asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am the son of Aphrodite,” he replied. “I am the child of Love.”

She stood silent for a time, gazing at his beauty.

At last he said, “What will you ask of me?”

“First tell me whether the enchantment has been broken,” she said.

“It has,” he said, and smiled. “Although it took you long enough.”

Xena found his smile annoying. “I had troubles of my own,” she said.

“So I noticed, but you got the job done in the end. Now I suppose you’re here for your reward.” He leaned casually against a pillar. “What would you have? Gold?” He held out his open hand to her, and on his palm was a small fortune in gold coins. “Ah, but I’d forgotten. You’ve had your fill of gold. Have you had your fill of music?” He closed his hand and opened it again, and a bird flew out of it and filled the temple with its song. “Tell me your desire.”

“Forgetfulness,” she said. She saw with satisfaction that her answer had surprised him.

“Forgetfulness?” He paused and considered her request. “There are ten years of your life I think you would be happy to forget, but even a god might have some difficulty taking ten years’ worth of memories.”

“Not ten years,” she said. “Ten days. The last ten days.”

“The last ten days? Whatever for?”

“My reasons are my own,” she said.

“But surely at least some of those memories are precious to you.”

Xena realized then that the god must have been watching her. He’d summoned a hero in answer to the young man’s prayer, and she was that hero. Of course he would have watched her. He must know everything she’d said and done. She blushed.

“Your body spoke to hers,” he said. “And her body answered. It was beautiful. Nothing to be ashamed of. Memories that precious should never be forgotten.”

Although Xena could usually speak to anyone about anything without embarrassment, she hesitated to speak about her intimacy with Gabrielle, even to the god of love. “The precious memories were ill-gotten,” she said.

“Most of the best memories are,” he replied cheerfully.

“And there are other things that give me pain to remember.”

“Are they so painful to you that you would sacrifice the precious things to be rid of them?”

“No,” she said. “That’s not why I asked for forgetfulness. I have memories she can’t share, and I’ve learned things I have no right to know.”

The young god smiled at her tenderly. “Whether you have a right to know them or not, she’s wanted you to know them for a very long time.”

“Then she’ll have to tell them all to me again,” said Xena stubbornly. “She’ll have to tell me when she too will be able to remember them.”

Cupid folded his arms across his chest and stroked his chin. “Ah, yes,” he said. “An oversight on my part. I should have thought of that.”

It was Xena’s turn to be surprised.

“Did you think I set this task for you only for the sake of those two young people?” he said. “Haven’t you learned anything in the last ten days? I went to a good deal of trouble for your sake.”

“For my sake?”

“When you aspired to be a warrior,” he said, “you called on the god of war. Now that you aspire to be a lover, did it never occur to you to call on me?”

Xena gave a mirthless laugh. “I’ve learned that calling on the gods is dangerous,” she said.

“Ares does have that effect on people,” he said. “But that’s because they eventually learn that war isn’t really necessary. Love is necessary.”

Cupid approached her, until he was standing only a few feet away from her. “Since you wouldn’t come to me,” he said, “I came to you. I was hoping I could teach you something about love. Haven’t you learned anything at all about yourself? Don’t humans ever learn from their mistakes?”

So many mistakes, thought Xena.

“They were mistakes made from love,” he said.

“And mistakes made from selfishness,” she said. “That much was made very clear to me.”

He didn’t disagree with her.

“I love Gabrielle with all my heart,” she said, “but it’s a very selfish love.”

“Selfish love is still love,” he told her.

“It isn’t worthy of her.”

“But it’s a start,” he said. “And for all its flaws, your love is what she wants. If I grant your request, how long will it take you to learn these things again?”

Xena knew he wasn’t thinking of the things she’d learned about Gabrielle. He was thinking of the things she’d learned about herself. She suspected that, left to her own devices, it might be a very long time before she saw herself as clearly as she did today.

In answer to her thoughts, he said, “That hardly seems fair to Gabrielle. She longs for you. How much longer would you have her wait?”

Xena chuckled at this new bit of irony. When she’d come to the temple, she had intended to make an unselfish gesture. She’d wanted to redeem herself a little, to put Gabrielle’s good ahead of her own for once, but now she saw that there had been selfishness even in her attempt to put things right.

“What do you suggest I do?” she said.

“I thought you’d never ask.” He turned to the doorway of the temple and said, “Come in.”

Xena turned and saw that Gabrielle was standing in the doorway. She entered the temple and stopped just inside the door.

“Come in,” said the god. “Don’t be shy.”

Gabrielle approached them. Xena wondered how long she’d been standing there and how much she’d heard. She found a little comfort in the thought that in the morning Gabrielle would remember none of it. Then she remembered that the repeating day was over and the wheel of time was turning as it usually did. For a moment she wished the floor would open up and swallow her.

“Shall I grant her request?” Cupid asked Gabrielle.

Gabrielle turned to Xena, who managed to summon the courage to meet her eyes. “I have a better idea,” said Gabrielle. “Instead of taking her memories away, perhaps you could restore mine. I’ve heard a few things mentioned here today that I think I might like to remember.”

Cupid turned to Xena. “Will you give her what she wants?”

Gabrielle’s request was, of course, the perfect solution, even though it meant that Gabrielle would remember things that Xena wasn’t very proud of. The thought of some of them still made her wince. Still, along with all of her mistakes, they would have again their first night, and she would have forever that first moment of clear sight, when she looked at Gabrielle and saw Love.