Disclaimer: The story is a product of my over-active imagination. It is for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to infringe on the copyrights of MCA and Universal.
This story involves the love found between two women, if this would bother you, please find another story to read--there's got to be something out there you like. If you are underage, leave this place, and go buy ice cream at the mall.
Xena opened her eyes against the sunlight, squinting in annoyance for it's rudeness. She turned her face away from it only to come nose to nose with Gabrielle, who slept with her head next to hers on the pillow, her arm resting over Xena's stomach. The Warrior smiled and turned to her side in order to look at the sleeping woman next to her, while trying not to dislodge the arm. Gabrielle squirmed in her sleep and tightened her hold around Xena's waist before settling back down again.
Xena reached out her hand to softly brush away the reddish strands of hair that had fallen over her lover's eyes. A gentle smile warmed her features as the hair refused to be tamed and fell once more into Gabrielle's face. She left it in place, and snuggled closer. She hooked a long leg behind Gabrielle's knees, and her arm around the Bard's shoulders. The other arm, she slipped under her pillow, and drifted off to sleep.
Xena woke to the feel of soft warm skin covering her body, and a sweet mouth nibbling along her jaw.
"Good Morning," she said.
"Yes it is," Gabrielle said with an impish grin, "Though it would be better if they'd go away."
Xena was too lost in the sensations caused by the wandering lips to really understand what she was saying.
"Hmmm? If who'd go away?" she asked breathlessly as she raised her chin to give the Bard better access to her neck.
"The two women sent to wake us up. I could hear them arguing over who had to do it. Apparently, someone's reputation for morning grouchiness has them nervous about knocking on the door.
Xena moaned loudly, aggravated over the idea of an interruption.
The two Amazons stood poised at the door, one with her fist raised and about to knock. A moan vibrated through the door, and she quickly backed away.
"Forget it!" she hissed, "Its not worth dying over. If Henara wants them to come see her, she can just fetch them herself!"
Her sister nodded in agreement, and they both hastily backed away from the door.
"I guess we ought to get up and see what they want," Xena said with little enthusiasm.
"Well, they haven't knocked on the door yet, so maybe we can linger in bed for just a little longer?" she asked hopefully. She continued her journey along Xena's collarbone, hoping to change her mind.
"Gabrielle, you keep that up, and we'll never get out of this bed."
"That's what I had in mind," she murmured as she placed a kiss on Xena's mouth.
They strolled slowly towards Henara's hut, walking hand-in-hand.
"Xena, what I don't understand is why no one ever approached us at Melosa's village."
"I was--once," she grinned.
"By who?" Gabrielle asked in outrage.
"Better watch it--that green-eyed monster is showing again. It's not important Gabrielle." The Bard looked unconvinced. "Look, if you want to know why, I'll give you my opinion."
"Okay, let's hear it."
"Because they're not blind. They knew it was just a matter of time before we admitted it to ourselves and each other. They stayed away because they respected you, and feared me. But after that little display of yours the other night, I think it should be the other way around."
"You're not going to let me live that down, are you?"
"Nope," she smiled wickedly and placed a quick kiss on her mouth before knocking on the door to the Queen's hut. Jerrisa opened the door.
"Good morning. Please, come in." She motioned them inside. "Queen Henara has been waiting for you. She's had breakfast prepared for you, if you're hungry that is." Jerrisa's smile was teasing, but without malice. She led them to the table, and promised to let Henara know that they had arrived. She left the room.
"Come on, you can tell me who it was--I promise not to do anything to the woman."
"Not in this life time. This is a case of what you don't know, won't hurt her."
"Hush, the Queen is coming," she warned. Gabrielle dropped it for the moment, and smiled at the approaching Henara.
"Good Morning. I'm glad you could see me this morning. I wanted to thank you both again for your help yesterday. My scouts tell me that what little that remains of Hextius' army has moved out of the area. We'll keep a lookout just in case, but this threat to our lands seems to be over." she informed them as she led them to the table. Two women brought in platters and bowls and left them alone to serve themselves.
"We were glad to help, Queen Henara," Gabrielle said. "I just wish so many didn't have to die over this."
"Many good Amazons died to protect these lands. I don't think they died in vain. It will be a long time before another army has the courage to attack."
She noticed neither had taken any food. She had forgotten that in some places, it was considered impolite for guests to begin before the hostess, and she took a serving of honeyed melon onto her plate. Gabrielle and Xena followed suit, filling their own plates.
"Are you planning on staying with us for a while, or are you moving on?" she asked.
"Uhh..we haven't thought about it, in all honesty," Gabrielle said. She looked to Xena who shrugged. It didn't matter to her. "I think we'll move on tomorrow morning. We were originally heading for Amphipolis to visit Xena's mother on our way back from Ealusis."
"We'll hate to see you leave--so, tonight, we'll have a small feast. Our way of saying good journey to both of you."
"I ate too much," Gabrielle complained.
"You didn't have to eat everything. You could have saved room for the feast tonight," Xena chided.
"Don't worry, I'll be starving by then. I'll just skip lunch today. In the meantime, I just want to lay around and be lazy."
"Think you can summon enough energy for a little walk?" the Warrior asked.
"What did you have in mind?"
"Jerrisa told me about this secluded little glade. It has a tiny pool and waterfall, and best of all, a signpost that is used to tell others when it's occupied, so you're not interupted," she said wickedly.
"They think of everything." Gabrielle smiled.
Xena flipped the post to the 'taken' position, and smiled at Gabrielle. "It's all ours. Ready for a lazy afternoon?"
"I think this spot was intended for uses other than sunbathing, Xena," she teased. They had agreed to just lie in the sun and rest.
"Well, if for some reason you find some excess energy, I won't be in any condition to fight you off," she grinned.
"You are incorrigible, Xena! And here I was, convinced you invited me with innocent intentions," Gabrielle said while trying to keep a straight face.
"Gabrielle, if you really believed my thoughts were pure..." she trailed off with a naughty grin.
"Oh! Just shut up and kiss me you idiot!"
Xena leaned over the sleeping Bard, kissing her softly on the lips. Gabrielle stirred and lazily opened her eyes. Feeling just too relaxed and sleepy to keep them open, she allowed them drift shut once more. Xena smiled at her and placed another kiss on the corner of Gabrielle's mouth.
The Bard moaned weakly.
"We need to go to the feast, Gabrielle. Wake up."
"Uh uh," She rolled to her side, trying to avoid getting up.
Xena went from pecks to nibbles along her ear, teasing the woman awake.
"Not fair..." she said with a pitiful moan, squirming under the series of ticklish kisses.
Xena chuckled and rubbed the Bard's back, trying to rouse her. "Wake up sleepyhead. Don't make me use force," she threatened.
The Bard didn't reply, she had fallen asleep once more.
"You asked for it," she said ominously. Xena grabbed the ends of the blanket they had slept on and pulled it a few feet to the edge of the water. She then stepped over the slumbering woman and took a new hold on the wool. She yanked hard, and Gabrielle rolled into the pond.
She came up sputtering and mad as a hornet. She glared at Xena and promptly began delivering a series of colorful and creative insults. Xena found this hysterical and laughed, dropping to one knee when her legs could no longer support her. Xena should have backed away first, because Gabrielle shot out a hand and grabbed the Warrior by her arm and pulled her into the pool.
The Bard felt a smug satisfaction when she caught a glimpse of surprise on Xena's face just before she hit the water. The Warrior landed in the pool with a mighty belly-flop, soaking Gabrielle once more. The water wasn't very deep, so Xena was able to quickly get to her feet. The look on her face told Gabrielle she was dead. She backed out of the pool, trying to escape while keeping an eye on the stalking and very peeved Warrior.
"You aren't escaping me this time, Gabrielle."
"Xena, don't! Remember, *you* started this!" she said desperately.
"I know. And I intend to finish it as well," she purred.
Xena rushed forward and locked her arms around Gabrielle, who closed her eyes tightly, awaiting the unknown. The Warrior just held her in place, then loosened her grip, a tender smile on her face. She bent to put a hungry kiss on her lover's mouth, nibbling on her lower lip. Gabrielle moaned and raised herself to her toes, leaning into the kiss. The fire began anew.
"If that's the way you'll always punish me, remind me to misbehave more often," Gabrielle whispered into Xena's neck.
"You get into enough trouble without me encouraging it," she teased.
"Do not," she protested.
"Do...Xena, this conversation is getting silly." She got up and offered Xena a hand.
The Warrior grabbed it, and was surprised by the smaller woman's strength as she easily pulled her to her feet. "I think all that working out with the staff is paying off. I don't think you could have done that when we first met."
"Think so?" she asked with a pleased grin. She made a tough face and made a show of making a muscle with her arm.
"You're such a ham," Xena said with an indulgent smile.
"Yeah, but it's fun being silly with you. You don't show that side of yourself very often," she said while moving closer. She wrapped her arms around the Warrior's waist and gave her a quick hug.
Xena felt her heart melt, and she kissed Gabrielle on her brow. "Come on, let's find our clothes and get to the feast before they send out a search party." Xena released her and bent to pick up an article of clothing that had landed in the bushes. "How did that get there?" she mumbled.
"Somewhere between the statements of 'To Tartarus with the feast!' and 'Do we really need to be there for the first coarse?', you tossed my clothes over your shoulder.
"Oh, yeah, now I remember," she said as a smile spread across her face. Xena looked at Gabrielle's smug grin--one of great personal satisfaction, and put on a more somber expression. "Hold that thought and let's get dressed. We've already given them enough to talk about for weeks."
They had hoped to get there before the meal began, but they were too late. The Amazons had already gathered and were sitting around the large table. They attempted to quietly join the party without being noticed, but hadn't counted on the humor of Queen Henara after she's had a few cups of strong wine.
"I was going to send out a search party for the two of you, but it seems none of my people were willing to go. Apparently, my *Warriors* would rather take on a an angry bear unarmed than look for you. Xena, you really must do something about that temper of yours!" the Queen chided.
Gabrielle hid her smile with her hand because she had seen several heads nod in agreement behind Henara while she spoke.
"I'll do my best," Xena said dryly.
"Good. Now sit down and join the party," she commanded with a smile.
They sat at the end of the table in their honorary spot and began filling their plates. Xena reached for a bowl of fermented vines that was known for its pungent flavor and smell. The look of disgust on Gabrielle's face was clear.
"Xena, if you eat that, I'm sleeping outside tonight."
"Huh? Gabrielle, this is one of my favorites---you know that," she said with annoyance.
"I'm not telling you that you can't eat it. I'm telling you that I won't sleep in the same room with you if you do. They reek--and so will you if you eat them."
Xena considered her choices only briefly, and returned the bowl to the table.
"It's not like you gave me much choice. Besides, how can I sleep if I couldn't hear you snore?" she teased.
"I_do_not_snore!" she hissed.
Xena smiled tenderly. "Yes you do, but it's a dainty snore, and I find it comforting at night." She brushed a strand of reddish hair from Gabrielle's face in a loving gesture.
The Bard felt the annoyance leave her. How could she remain angry when Xena disarms her with such simple and loving words? She placed her hand on Xena's forearm and gave it a squeeze.
Gabrielle and Xena headed for the guest hut, strolling side by side. the taller woman had her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, lost in thought.
"You've been extra quiet tonight. Is something wrong?" Gabrielle asked Xena.
"Not really. I was just thinking."
"About what? Us?"
"Hmm. Gabrielle, I know that you had wanted to take this slowly, but..."
"You're wondering if we took it too fast?" Xena shrugged, unable to explain her feelings. "Xena, I don't have any regrets. You didn't rush me into anything I wasn't ready for. If anything, *I* should be the one who apologizes. I'm the one who had asked for advice on how to trip you---remember?"
"Do you really think you could have forced me into something if I didn't want to do it?" she said with a grin.
"No, but I did try to manipulate you. I thought perhaps I was imagining things between us, since the advice she gave me didn't seem to work. So I had pushed my feelings into the back of mind, choosing to be just friends again. So, the question is--do you regret what has happened between us?" she asked a little fearfully.
Xena stopped and turned, pulling Gabrielle gently towards her. "No Gabrielle, I don't regret it at all," she told her sincerely. She tucked the Bard under her chin and hugged her close before releasing her. She nodded towards the hut, and they continued walking.
They reached the hut, and went inside. They undressed absent-mindedly, and crawled into bed. Both felt the need to continue with the conversation. Xena piled the pillows against the wall, leaning up on them, then holding out an arm, allowing the Bard to snuggle against her shoulder. The Warrior held her close before she spoke again.
"How long have you felt this way?" Xena asked.
"I don't know for sure. It was gradual really. I hadn't even realized things had changed all that much when I did notice. I've always loved you in some way or another. At first it was strictly hero worship, then friendship, and somewhere along the line--I fell *in* love with you as well. Once I did realize it was there, it felt as natural as breathing. And you, Xena, when did you begin seeing me in a different light?"
Xena turned her head slightly, pressing her cheek against her friend's forehead. She tightly shut her eyes, trying not to see that moment when she both lost and found her heart.
"When you died."
Silence filled the room as Gabrielle heard those anguished words. Memories came crashing in on her, about her death and brief visit to the Elysian Fields. How she was pulled back to the living and found herself in the tearful embrace of her friend.
She recalled how Xena had become a gentler person after that moment, contributing it to Xena's being overprotective because of her injuries. She had fussed over her to the point that Gabrielle had lost her temper. Gabrielle had apologized, but the damage had already been done. Xena had retreated back into her shell, losing the ground they had so carefully made. It had taken weeks for the Bard to coax the Warrior into a smile again.
And now with hindsight, Gabrielle finally understood.
"You've loved me all this time, yet never said a word. I didn't have a clue you had felt that way." Gabrielle mulled over everything that had happened to them in the last year, seeing little hints that were over-looked. Then something else occured to her. "You even let me marry Perdicus. Xena, I ...arrrgh!"
Gabrielle removed herself from Xena's arms and got out of the bed, pacing back and forth angrily. She stopped suddenly, then faced the shame-faced Xena.
"You are either the biggest fool or the most cowardly person I know!" she snarled, and began pacing once more. "Maybe you *like* being some kind of martyr since you just let me walk right into the arms of someone else. Did you tell yourself that it would be for my own good to settle down? Or maybe that my marrying him would make your own feelings just go away? How could you..."
Gabrielle stopped her tirade when she looked at Xena's tear-streaked face. The Mighty Warrior Princess was weeping silently, eyes closed, her own arms wrapped around herself in misery. Feeling as though her heart was being ripped from her breast, Gabrielle rushed to the woman she loved. She straddled Xena's lap and cupped her face with her hands.
"I'm sorry, Xena! I was just hurt and angry, and was just striking out. Please, don't shut me out. I can't understand what's going on with you if you don't talk to me."
Xena removed Gabrielle's hands from her face and held them within her own, staring at them. She tried to gather her thoughts, hoping Gabrielle would understand.
"Until you died, I didn't know how I felt about you. I cared more for you than anyone else I've known, outside of my family, and knew that I would do anything for you if it was within my power. But until you died in that Thessalian temple, I hadn't realized how much you had become a part of me. I knew then that I loved you. And that's when it happened."
"Fear. A fear so strong that I was willing to see you marry Perdicus if it would keep you out of harm's way," she said with shame.
"You were afraid to see me die again. Xena, I thought we worked out this worry of yours when we first met. You know I'm willing to risk harm in order to travel with you."
"My head knows it, but my heart is terrified. I want to protect you--even if it means losing you."
"I don't agree with you, but I do understand. Xena, don't you understand? It works both ways. I've watched you die twice, but I'm not willing to walk away just to avoid seeing you killed. Whether I'm with you or not--I'll always be scared of losing you to Death again. When you died last time, I learned that as much as it hurt--I'll never regret loving you. You have to come to terms with it too. If you don't, your fears could destroy us."
"I'll think about what you've said, but this is something I have to come to terms with in my own heart. Let's get some sleep."
Gabrielle and Xena had joined the Queen for one last meal before leaving, and had thanked her for hospitality. They were just leaving her quarters when they saw that a small group of Amazons were waiting for them outside Henara's hut, wanting to say goodbye.
Some came forward boldly, insisting on hugs, while others hung back shyly. One of the shier types was the unfortunate woman who had incurred Gabrielle's wrath, Kelana. She had wanted to apologize before they left, truly sorry that she had stepped over the bounds, even unknowingly.
Xena spotted her, and discreetly tapped Gabrielle with a finger to get her attention. She indicated with her eyes the fretful young woman. Gabrielle looked at her, then back to Xena, her eyebrows raised, pretending ignorance. Xena signed in exasperation and leaned to whisper in the Bard's ear.
"Go say goodbye to her--nicely, or I will--and you won't like it!" she threatened. Gabrielle shot her a look that could only be described as barely contained outrage. She then gave Xena a sweet smile before heading for Kelana.
The woman wrung her hands together nervously, afraid of the visiting Queen. As soon as Gabrielle was within hearing distance, she started to blurt out her apologies, stumbling over her own tongue and on the verge of tears. Gabrielle listened to Kelana babble and felt all her anger and jealousy wash away. The young woman was genuinely sorry, and Gabrielle stepped forward, grabbing the hands of the terrified woman.
"It's Okay, Kelana. I'm not mad any more."
"Nope. And in all honesty, *I* should be the one who's apologizing. You see, when we first got here, Xena and I weren't..." Gabrielle smiled to herself, still reeling from the impact of their new relationship, "...lovers yet. We had just decided to give a romantic relationship a try a few days earlier, and we were taking it slow, but when I saw so many of you flirting with her..."
"You got jealous," Kelana teased mildly.
"I got jealous. You just happened to be the one that received the dirty end of my temper. I'm sorry."
"That's okay. I understand. She's pretty awesome, and I'd probably have been the same way. I think the two of you make a great couple. I hope everything works out for the both of you."
"Me too. I've loved her for a long time, and can't really believe this is happening. It's like a dream to me. She's so self-contained, and it took so long to get her to open up to me."
"A big, bad warrior who didn't need anybody?" Kelana said while watching over Gabrielle's shoulder, seeing the tall Warrior approaching.
"Uh huh. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to convince her to let me just tag along with her."
Xena walked up behind her, hearing the last sentence. She slipped one of her arms around Gabrielle's shoulder, her forearm resting on top of Gabrielle's breasts. The other, she wrapped around her waist as she whispered loudly into her ear. "But you were so damned cute, I couldn't say no."
"Xena, if you don't want a set of lumps, you'll avoid the word 'cute'," she warned playfully.
"Oh, I'm really scared," she grinned. "The one time you actually tagged me, you felt guilty for days. You're so damned soft-hearted, that it's just an idle threat."
"Soft-hearted? She seemed pretty intimidating to me the other night!" Kelana piped in.
"She's so tender-hearted that I have to do all the hunting. She can't bring herself to kill her own supper. She'd rather starve," Xena informed her.
The Amazon laughed, amused and warmed by the love now shown by both women. Xena kept her arms loosely around Gabrielle, her cheek against the Queen's hair. Gabrielle was leaning backwards, letting the taller woman support some of her weight. The Queen had her hand on the arm that embraced her middle, running a lazy thumb over the tanned skin. They looked so incredibly comfortable with each other. It was almost hard to believe that they had just begun this side of their relationship just a few days earlier.
"Could I ask a personal question? You don't have to answer if you don't want to," said the Amazon. Neither woman said no, and curiosity shined in the younger woman's eyes. Kelana felt encouraged to continue.
"Have you always been this close--I mean, even before you became lovers?"
"Do you mean affectionate?" Gabrielle asked. Kelana nodded. "Well, *I* was. Xena was a little on the skittish side," Gabrielle teased. The Warrior retaliated by lightly tickling the smaller woman's ribs with her fingers for a few seconds, making her squirm and giggle.
A wide grin spread across the Amazon's face. "You mean you had to domesticate her a little first?" she said, getting into the spirit of the conversation.
"Yeah, you could say that. She *was* somewhat of a barbarian."
"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered against her ear.
"Yes?" she giggled.
"Say goodbye to your friend."
"Uh huh. You see, I'm going to take you out of this village and drag you behind a tree somewhere and..."
"And?" she said eagerly, her heart pounding from what her wild imagination tried to bring forth.
"You'll see," she promised.
Xena reined Argo to a stop inside a small clearing. She looked around at the secluded spot and smiled. She hopped off the horse and joined Gabrielle on the ground. The bard still insisted on walking beside her, rather than riding.
"So, what did you have in mind?" Gabrielle asked with a grin.
"This." The Warrior grabbed the smaller woman and pinned her wrists behind her back, holding them with one strong hand. The Bard didn't fight her, but Xena could see her racing pulse throb at the base of her throat, showing that she had been startled. Gabrielle looked up into her eyes, her green eyes asking what was going on.
Xena knew that Gabrielle trusted her, but she wanted to give her a bit of a scare. This was her way of getting a little even for that barbarian remark. Xena felt her own excitement heat her blood as she thought about what she was going to do. The Warrior grinned ferally and pulled out her breast dagger. She used it to slowly and lightly trace the bones on Gabrielle's shoulders and between her breasts, before taking a tighter grip on it to slash the lacings that held together her green top. The halves parted, exposing the pale flesh they had concealed.
The smaller woman gasped and she felt the cool air hit her heated skin. She looked up at Xena, seeing her give one of her crooked smiles as she looked down at her naked breasts. Gabrielle didn't have to look down to know that her breasts had reacted to the colder air in a manner that pleased the smug Warrior.
"Now what? I'm at your mercy," she whispered.
"Now I show you what a barbarian can do."
Xena chuckled briefly, actually, it was all she could manage. Gabrielle had her full weight sprawled on top of her as she recovered from their love making. The Bard's head was resting on her shoulder with arms hanging limply over on each side of her.
"You've said that three times already."
"Because I can't think of anything else to say. You've driven all the words right out of my mind and left me so...hmmm," She said with a happy sigh.
"I'm glad you approved of my little demonstration," Xena said with a wince, "Gabrielle, I love you with all my heart, but could you please move over to the side--I can't breath!" she said with a wry laugh, bouncing the Bard slightly as she did so.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and decided she would move, but not in the way her best friend wanted. She spread her thighs in order to straddle her and then braced both hands on the ground to each side of the Warrior's head. She lowered her mouth to Xena's and did a little ravishing of her own.
She pulled her lips away after several satisfying moments and grinned.
"Aha! I knew you had them hidden away somewhere!" she exclaimed.
"Huh? You want to say that in plain Greek? You lost me with that one."
"You stole my breath and words and I found them hidden in your lips. Now I've got to steal them back," she said as she lowered her mouth once more.
Xena wondered briefly who was stealing whose breath, but then decided she really didn't care.
Gabrielle woke, thirsty and hungry. Xena was still sleeping peacefully, so she slowly untangled herself from her arms. She walked over to Argo to remove the water bag, taking a long drink, she half drained it. Argo nickered oddly and the Bard glanced at her.
The horse stared back at her and Gabrielle could almost swear the horse had rolled her eyes and was laughing at her. The young woman stood before the horse, hands on hips.
"Don't look at me in that tone of voice!" She chided.
Argo just shook her head and returned to her grazing, seemingly bored with the whole conversation.
Gabrielle just grunted and took the saddle bag containing the food and the water bag over to where Xena was sleeping and sat down. She looked down at the Warrior's face and smiled. She looked so much younger when she slept this deeply. Gabrielle could tell that no nightmares (or would it be daymares?) bothered her this afternoon. Her face was free of stress and her breathing was slow and gentle. The young Amazon forgot about her hunger as she got lost in the study of her lover's features.
She reclined next to the taller woman and leaned onto one elbow, resting her head on her palm, staring at the woman she had come to love more than life itself.
Xena opened her eyes as she finally drifted awake. Every muscle felt like melted wax and she really didn't want to move. Focusing on what was around her, she saw the green eyes of Gabrielle looking down into her own, a soft smile upturning her lips. The expression on her face confused the dark-haired Warrior and she reached out to stroke a soft cheek.
"What are you thinking?" Xena asked in a soft whisper.
"That every time I look into your eyes, I fall in love with you all over again," Gabrielle said simply then she kissed the hand that was stroking her face.
Xena felt like her heart would burst from the love she felt for this small woman and she reached up to pull Gabrielle to her. Guiding the Bard onto her back, Xena gave her a kiss that spoke the words she didn't have to give, but so desperately wanted to say.
The kiss was slow and loving, meant to be lingered over and savored without needing more. It was complete within itself. Finally, Xena drew back the barest amount and whispered hoarsely, her lips brushing against Gabrielle's as she spoke.
"I love you Gabrielle."
"I love you too."
They say all good things must come to an end. The Bard pondered those words, wondering why that was so true.
A few days earlier they had been so happy. Xena, with their newfound relationship, had become a different person. She had been carefree and playful, delighting in just being silly. It was as if with their new relationship, the Warrior had opened the door to the wealth of love she had hidden away, no longer afraid of rejection.
True, their focus had been on their sexual desires--it had been suppressed for too long, and they were trying their best to make up for lost time--but the intimacies they had shared throughout the days and nights had been equally sweet.
Sleepy kisses, brief touches, and loving smiles shared had become a part of their lives as well, once they had gotten past the first faltering step. To think, it had begun with a just a simple touch on the cheek. And why has it ended?
Gabrielle walked silently, her heart and thoughts in turmoil. Ever since they had left Amazon territory several days ago, Xena had become more and more withdrawn. The Warrior was tense and stand-offish to the point that the Bard wanted to scream.
*What's wrong? Did I say something to hurt her feelings?* she wondered. Gabrielle kept her thoughts to herself, afraid she would only make matters worse. Xena was barely speaking to her, and her attention was constantly focused on their surroundings. She had asked once if she had sensed something out there, but Xena had only grunted. She wouldn't talk about what was wrong and the Amazon Queen was terrified that Xena somehow regretted their relationship after all.
No longer did they make love. Every attempt on her part was met with rejection from the stoic woman. Even the small touches had disappeared, leaving her feeling cold and alone. The only thing that gave the Bard any hope at all was the fact that her Warrior pulled her close at night to kiss and cuddle before drifting off to sleep. But that wasn't enough anymore. This was worse than when they first met. At least back then, she didn't have any knowledge of what Xena could be like when she was relaxed and affectionate.
Now that she knew what she was missing, it was pure torture. She wanted her Xena back--the one that smiled and laughed. The one that teased her and ruffled her hair. The one that kissed her for the joy of it and made sweet love to her--not this indifferent woman that acted like a cold stranger. The Bard couldn't take it much longer.
Xena woke in the middle of the night, knowing something was wrong. She felt cold and empty--Gabrielle was gone. She sat up quickly, looking around. The Bard was no where in sight. Heart pounding in panic, Xena stood up and gazed around her, her ears straining, hoping for a clue. Nothing could be heard. Looking around, she spotted a dark shadow next to a boulder. The Warrior headed for it. As she drew closer, she saw that it was indeed Gabrielle, hunched into a ball--crying.
Walking silently, Xena walked up to her and knelt, placing a hand on a quaking shoulder. Gabrielle yelped at the unexpected touch.
"It's okay. It's just me." Xena raised her hand to wipe away a tear from a soft cheek, feeling her heart twist painfully. She knew without being told that the tears were her fault. Her behavior of late had been stiff, she knew, but she was too proud to explain it. Maybe she had done this all wrong, but how did she explain her fears without making her dearest friend angry? Xena didn't know what to say.
"I'm sorry," The Warrior managed to say.
"For what exactly? For my tears? Our relationship? What?" her voice angry and hurt.
"No! I told you I don't regret our being together. I meant it. I'm sorry for making you cry."
"Sorry enough to tell me what's going on? I need to know because I can't go on like this." Gabrielle's voice was filled with frustration.
"I know. Why don't we go back to the fire? It's too chilly to be sitting on the ground," she suggested.
Gabrielle nodded and allowed Xena to help her up. She almost started crying again when she felt Xena's warm arm circle her shoulders to pull her closer as they walked.
They sat by the fire in silence. The Xena sat cross-legged next to Gabrielle, staring at her fingernails. She didn't know how to begin, terrified of how this would be taken. She let the silence stretch out, the only sounds penetrating the darkness were the snap of the fire and the crickets chirping in the bushes. The Bard waited, but the quiet was grating her nerves.
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong? It's not fair to leave me hanging like this," Gabrielle said softly.
"I know," was her whispered response. The silence continued.
The young woman sighed, her patience at an end.
"Fine. I'll go visit Ephiny. You can come find me when you're ready to talk. And Xena? I won't wait forever." With that, she reached for her bedroll and dragged it to the other side of the fire. She didn't see the tears that streaked her love's face.
The Warrior woke at the sound of someone moving within their camp. She opened her eyes and saw Gabrielle stuffing her belongings into her satchel, a look of misery and anger on her face. Xena stood and walked over to the smaller woman, the need to be near her too great to ignore. She stood close, not quite touching. They looked at one another, seeing the blood-shot eyes and fatigue of the other. Neither had slept well. Xena tried to summon a weak smile, but it was beyond her at the moment, her heart and hopes were in shreds.
Gabrielle lowered her eyes and felt herself lean forward, her arms still at her sides, to rest her cheek against the cool skin of Xena's shoulder for a moment, before withdrawing and pulling her bag over her shoulder. She picked up her staff and walked away, never looking back.
Xena sat at the empty campsite, her mind numb from the events that had just happened. Gabrielle had left her and she was alone. Nothing else mattered. The pain inside sat like a cold lump upon her heart, driving everything else away. What made it even worse was the fact that she brought it on herself. She didn't know how long she had sat there in a daze of self-pity, but when Argo nudged her impatiently, she got up and mounted the horse, an action in mind. She knew she wasn't ready to face Gabrielle just yet, and more than anything in this world, she admitted to needing a caring hug. There was only one place to go.
Gabrielle saw the warning sign indicating the border of the Amazon territory. As she entered, she could almost feel the eyes of the border guard on her, but since her face was known, she also knew that the guard would probably let her move on without interference.
The Amazon Queen heard several bird calls and she knew that the word was being passed on about her arrival. Gabrielle grinned to herself. Even the messenger god himself would have a hard time competing with the Amazonian grapevine. As she neared the village, several women ran up to greet her. Among them were Ephiny and Solari.
The Queen's regent smile disappeared when she noticed the haggard look on Gabrielle's face.
"You look like crap! What's wrong?" Ephiny said without as so much as a hello.
"Thanks for the compliment," Gabrielle said dryly, "It's good to see you too."
"I'm sorry, but what do you expect when you walk in here looking like you've been run over by a herd of Centaurs? And where's Xena?"
"Do you mind if we talk about this later when we have more privacy? Besides, I'm exhausted and I haven't eaten all day," she complained.
"Of course. I'll escort you to your quarters." Ephiny turned to her lieutenant, "Solari, could you make arrangements for a bath and meal?" The dark-haired woman nodded and rushed away.
Ephiny placed an arm around her Queen's shoulders, sensing that she needed a friend to talk to. They walked slowly and silently towards the building. The tall blond didn't know what was going on with the Bard and Xena, but she didn't think the Warrior was dead. If she had been, Gabrielle would be in tears by now. All she could think of was that they had a fight of some kind.
There was so many questions the Regent Queen wanted to ask. Like-- did Gabrielle ever try to approach Xena--or did she chicken out? If she did, then what happened? Was Xena pleased or embarrassed? Ephiny sighed quietly. Hopefully the Bard would satisfy her curiosity as soon as she was rested.
They walked to the door and it opened as they reached it. Several women were leaving, empty buckets in their hands. Another approached from the right, a large cloth-covered platter in her hands. The Amazons hadn't wasted any time fetching the requested items.
The taller woman smiled and dismissed the remaining women. She placed her hand on Gabrielle's back and gently led her inside. She shut the door and they were alone. That's all it took. Gabrielle burst into tears. Ephiny pulled the small blond into her arms and held on tight as Gabrielle sobbed her heart out. She attempted to talk, but it was useless. All the Regent Queen could hear was 'Xena" and 'stupid'. Ephiny vowed that if she ever saw Xena again, she'd break her nose. She felt protective of the wandering Queen and she didn't like seeing her crying like this.
Sometimes Xena could be such an idiot! Didn't she know that she was damned lucky to have Gabrielle? If Xena was too stupid to see what was right under her nose, then she deserved to lose her. Ephiny bent down to place a kiss on the Bard's temple as she continued to cry. For a hundredth time, Ephiny wished that she had been the one to meet Gabrielle first. She knew deep down that even if Xena was out of the picture, that she still would never be able to win the Queen's heart. Her heart would always belong to the Warrior Princess.
Xena looked down into the valley, staring at the distant Amphipolis. An early morning mist covered the village, but the sight of it was still welcoming to her battered spirit. She had pushed Argo all night, never stopping to rest. The poor mare was lathered and exhausted from being pushed too hard. Xena finally noticed, but couldn't stop herself. She had to get home. Xena murmured to Argo, prodding for her to go a little further. The horse nickered softy and continued her downwards trek.
With each passing step, Xena felt something building within her. She didn't know what to call it, but it felt like a giant pressure inside, building and growing, with the final results yet unknown. The closest name she had for it was helplessness.
Xena passed the smithy shop, noting old Krasis wasn't yet working. It was still too early for most people to be up. Now past the house of Phildian, and she felt a giant moth flutter inside. She was almost there. The Warrior stopped in front of the railing which stood in front of her mother's tavern.
She dismounted, her eyes never leaving the sight of the building. She tied the reins loosely to the rail and walked inside. The tavern was empty of course. The customers had long gone home. Xena knew her mother would be asleep until late in the morning.
Xena tried to walk quietly, but in her exhaustion, she stumbled over a chair. The racket it caused echoed within the empty room. She bent to pick the fallen chair, pulling it upright.
The Warrior spun around at her mother's voice. The older woman was holding a large club in her small hands, apparently ready for trouble. She was dressed in her night shift, her feet bare.
"Xena, what are you doing here?"
Cyrene watched as Xena shrugged. Her daughter looked terrible. Large circles were under her eyes and strain etched her strong features. Xena hasn't looked this miserable in years. *What happened to her?* she wondered. Then something dawned on her.
"Xena, where's Gabrielle?" she asked fearfully. Cyrene saw her daughter crumble in despair. She sunk to her knees, sitting on her heels. tears began pouring down her face. The older woman knelt down, and put her arms around Xena to comfort her.
"I lost her, Mother. She went away," Xena said, barely above a whisper.
Cyrene didn't say or ask anything. Xena was in no shape to play twenty questions. She soothed her tall child for several minutes until the tears began to subside. She then pulled Xena to her feet, leading her to her old, empty room.
She managed to remove the armor and odd pieces of leather Xena wore. She ordered her to take off the leather outfit and then helped her into a shift. She tucked Xena into bed, who fell to sleep almost immediately. Cyrene looked down at the weary face of her daughter, wondering what had happened between her and Gabrielle. She would have sworn that nothing could have ever separated those two. All she could was wait.
Gabrielle woke in the darkened room. Her head was pounding and her body felt stiff and sore. She sat up slowly, trying to get her bearings. The Bard wracked her brain, then recalled how she got there. She remembered sobbing all over poor Ephiny, who then tucked her into bed.
She pushed the covers off of her. Her bladder was screaming for mercy. Gabrielle swung her legs to the floor, only to gasp and let out a small scream at the feel of a body beneath them.
"Huh? Wha..Ughh. Gabrielle? You okay?" It as Ephiny's husky voice.
The Amazon Queen placed her hand over her wildly beating heart.
"Ephiny? What are you doing on the floor?"
"Watching over you. I didn't think you'd appreciate a stranger staying with you all night, so I camped out on the rug."
"The rug? I bet you feel stiff as a board then. Can you do me a favor and light a candle? I gotta, well, you know--and I can't see a thing."
Gabrielle listen to her Regent stumble around in the dark, then heard a thump and muffled curse. Ephiny probably stubbed a toe. She then heard the sound of something being knocked over and more cursing. In spite of bad she felt, Gabrielle had to smile at Ephiny's clumsiness.
Gabrielle's eyes began adjusting to the dark, and she could see Ephiny walk towards the fireplace, kneeling before the embers of a dying fire. She held a candle to a glowing coal and soon had it lit.
"I was lucky the fire hadn't completely died. I forgot to bank it better before falling asleep," Ephiny commented. The tall blond found a few more candles and lit them, illuminating the room. "Better?"
"Yes. Thank you. Now if you'll excuse me for a moment..." Gabrielle said with a grin. She headed for the small room in the back, then returned a few minutes later.
"Ephiny, why don't you go back to your own room? There's no need to watch over me. I'm OK--really."
"Tell me another bedtime story. You walk in, looking like a Tartarus reject, and say you're fine? Something is tearing you up. Why don't you tell me about it instead of putting on a brave face?"
Gabrielle sighed and sat down on the bed.
Ephiny joined her, putting her arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. "Come on Gabrielle! It's not like you to keep it all walled up inside. You know I'm you friend. Tell me."
"It's Xena. She..." The Bard began crying once more.
Ephiny swore under her breath and pulled her into her arms. *What did Xena do?* she wondered, *It must have been pretty horrible to..*
"Gabrielle? Xena didn't...hurt you, did she? I mean...damn, well, I know you were trying to seduce her and...well, I was wondering if maybe she..." she stopped, unable to word her thoughts. That maybe Xena had raped her.
Gabrielle had to decipher the Regent's words, but she finally got an idea of what Ephiny was asking.
"By the gods, no! Eph, I guess I should tell you what happened from the beginning, huh?"
Ephiny relaxed. At least she didn't have to hunt Xena down and punish her--yet. "Okay, tell me about it."
"Well, I thought about your advice, and I did my best to drive her crazy like you said, but she has an iron will I think. It didn't seem to work at all, so I gave up. I was thinking maybe it was all in my imagination. Then one day, we were swimming and...she touched me. Nothing earth shattering. It was just a simple touch on my cheek. Oh, she fought it. She threw ups some huge walls, but she couldn't pretend it didn't happen. We finally talked about it--with her fighting it all the way until I told her I was willing. We agreed to take it slow..."
"So you don't have any idea what in Hades's domain is bothering her?"
Gabrielle shook her head. She glanced at Ephiny, who looked just as confused. The Bard tried once more to send her friend to her own room.
"Nope. I'm staying right here. I think we could both use a night of snuggling, so get back under the covers."
Gabrielle didn't argue. She crawled back into the bed. Ephiny got in next to her, then pulled her over, onto her shoulder. It felt odd at first. She had gotten used to the feel and scent of Xena. This wasn't unpleasant--just different. She felt a light kiss on her forehead, and she closed her eyes, wishing it was her Warrior beneath her cheek.
Gabrielle woke once more, confused. *Why was it still dark?* Surely she couldn't have slept for more than a day? The Amazon Queen lifted her head from Ephiny's shoulder. The room was barely lit, the candles burnt nearly to stubs. She crawled from the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping Amazon. She walked over to the door, swinging it open. Bright sunlight poured into the room, stabbing at her dark-accustomed eyes. She quickly shielded them with her hands and blinked rapidly, her eyes tearing.
"Ugh! Gabrielle, shut the door! It's getting drafty in here," Ephiny complained from the bed.
"Sorry. Is there a window or something? It's just too dark in here."
"Over there" The Amazon pointed towards a thick tapestry that hung on the wall. Gabrielle parted the material and exposed a window. Sunlight lit the room. Ephiny buried her head under the pillow.
"Not a morning person either, I see. Come on! It's got to be near high day! Time to get up," the Bard teased. She giggled as a rumbled groan came from her regent. Ephiny grumbled and went silent. *Now I know how Xena felt every morning.* Gabrielle ran a hand over the sleeping Amazon's back, coaxing her awake.
Ephiny felt a warm hand on her back. The touch was soft and arousing. *Not good. If she keeps that up, I'll end up doing something to jeopardize our friendship. Remember--she loves Xena!* The Amazon turned over and Gabrielle withdrew her hand. Ephiny's new position wasn't any better for her peace of mind though, because now her hip was snug against the small Bard. Gabrielle bent over, propping her hand on the other side of her.
"Are you okay? You look a little flushed."
"Uh...I'm fine. You look better. Ready for a meal? You never got the chance to eat last night." Ephiny watched Gabrielle shrug indifferently. The sadness her friend displayed almost rivaled the time when Xena had died. *What happened between them?*
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked gently.
"What's there to say?" her tone defeated.
"Gabrielle, you know better than that. What happened? You know I'll understand." Gabrielle remained silent. Ephiny decided on another approach.
"Gabrielle, did you and Xena ever...? I mean...you know? Did you ever become lovers?" The tall blond watched as her friend turned pink, and a telltale smile reached her lips.
"Yeah, finally. About two weeks ago."
"It took you long enough! "
"She was a tough nut to crack. Remember? I told you last night that I tried what you suggested. I touched her more, undressed in front of her and so forth. She acted indifferent. I thought maybe it was all my imagination, so I gave up. I resigned myself to just being friends.
"You told me a little last night, but not all the details." Ephiny asked indirectly. Gabrielle understood and explained.
"We were being playful, just goofing off in a pool on a hot day. You know how it is," Gabrielle saw Ephiny nod encouragingly, "and she touched me."
"How?" her curiosity overriding politeness.
"She just a finger along my cheek." The Bard demonstrated, touching Ephiny's face in the same way Xena had touched hers. The Amazon did her best not to shiver from the soft caress.
"Xena was appalled. She couldn't get out of the water fast enough." Gabrielle looked towards the roof, grunting with a self-mocking laugh.
"She wouldn't say a word to me for the rest of the day. I just kept staring at her, all my old yearnings coming back. Xena hates being stared at, and finally snapped at me. Told me she didn't want to talk about it. I accused her of being a coward."
"I bet that went over real well."
"Hmmph. It worked pretty well, to tell you the truth. We started talking. She was scared that it would destroy our friendship, so that's why she never..."
"Came on to you," Ephiny finished for her.
"Yeah. You should have seen the look on her face when I told her that I wanted to give it a try. I understood her fears, so I said we'd take it slow. It was nice. She let me touch her without flinching away, and she touched me too. Just little things. Hugs and little touches, you know what I mean," Gabrielle said with a bashful smile. Ephiny found herself smiling back. The idea of Xena being tender and shy was sweet. Gabrielle deserved it.
"Sounds like you were very happy. The two of you eventually became lovers though?"
"Yes." Gabrielle's smile disappeared, as tears returned to her eyes. Ephiny felt her heart drop to the ground, anger ripping through her.
The Bard saw the fierce expression on her friend's face and misunderstood why she was so angry.
"No! Ephiny, it wasn't like that! I think I had better explain before you go hunting her down with a war party." Gabrielle watched as Ephiny struggled to control her temper. Once she was satisfied that the Amazon was ready to listen, she continued.
"It was wonderful, Ephiny. You'd think from looking at her that she would be...dangerous, but she was gentle, almost like she thought I would break. I felt like I was being worshiped our first time together." Gabrielle giggled like a maiden and winked at Ephiny.
"I had to be the one to show her I wasn't made of glass. You should have seen the look on her face when I...Never mind," The Queen blushed when she realized what she was going to say. Ephiny grinned in spite of herself, letting her imagination run wild.
"Okay, I'll assume that part of your relationship is good. So what happened?"
"That's just it. I don't know! The closer we got to Amphipolis, the more distant she got. It was like going back to the time when we first met. She was hiding behind her warrior mask. The only time we touched was when we slept. The night I decided to leave, I had tried getting her to talk. She admitted we needed to...but she wouldn't or couldn't. I told her I was leaving and staying here until she could find the words. I also told her I wouldn't wait forever."
"And so here you are, confused and hurt with Xena wandering out there alone."
"I didn't know what else to do Ephiny! We couldn't go on like that anymore. Maybe she regretted what happened. She said she didn't, but I don't know what to think. I just want to..."
"I think Xena is a fool. She better not keep you waiting for long, that's all I have to say." Ephiny snarled and stomped out of the room, leaving a very confused Bard behind.
Xena woke up in her old room. Feeling groggy, she looked around listlessly, not quite able to grasp why she was there. She stumbled out of bed, her feet finding the cold floor. Shivering, she pulled the cover off the bed, wrapping it around herself, and left the room. Zombie-like, she padded through the tavern with no particular destination in mind. She walked into the kitchen.
Toris sat at a table, eating a meal of stew and bread. He looked up as she entered the room. He gave her an odd look, but she was too numb to care why.
"Are you okay?" her brother asked.
She shrugged. *How else was she supposed to feel? She was alone once more. Nothing new. She was always alone--even among crowds of people.*
Toris looked at who had to be the most wretched person in the world--a warrior having a pity party. He had been told by Cyrene that Xena had arrived just before dawn, a miserable and crying wreck. All their mother knew was that Gabrielle was not with Xena. Toris also had orders from Cyrene not to grill her--or else. Mother was funny that way. probably figured Xena a needed a woman-to-woman talk.
*What's the big deal? You're either friends or not. If things don't work out--find a new friend. Nothing hard about that.* He shrugged. Maybe it was a woman thing he didn't understand.
"You look like crap."
"You were always knew how to turn a girl's head," she said sarcastically.
"If you can't be honest with family..."
Xena remained silent. He offered to fix her something to eat, but considering his cooking skills were even worse than her own, she declined. She grabbed a piece of bread, but crumbled more of it with her restless fingers than was eaten.
Toris became uneasy with her silence, wishing Mother was here to take the burden away. Then, as though she had heard, she entered the room. She looked at her towering son and ordered him out with a jerk of her chin. He gratefully left.
"Okay, now we talk," her tone saying there would be no argument.
Xena stiffened and looked away, saying nothing.
"Xena, one way or another, we're going to talk this out. I don't care if I have to knock you across the room with a piece of firewood--you're talking."
"I don't want to. Just leave me alone."
"No, I won't. Leaving you alone brought on your becoming a warlord. I won't do that again."
Xena looked up, startled, by her mother.
"What are you talking about?"
Cyrene sat down and faced her daughter. "Xena, after Lyceus was killed, you needed to talk to somebody, but I was so caught up in my own grief, that I left you floundering without guidance. If I had paid more attention to your pain, you might not have gone off to form that army in the first place. I failed you by not listening. I won't do that again. Talk to me. Tell me about Gabrielle--please?"
Xena sat there, stunned. She couldn't believe that her mother took the blame for her past. The Warrior sat silent for long moments, letting her words sink in. She and her mother had much to talk about.
"Gabrielle left me," Xena managed to say.
Xena stood up, not sure where to begin. *Do I tell Mother that Gabrielle and I became lovers? Or do I lie and tell her only half the story?*
"Xena, did the two of you argue?"
"Not exactly. Something was bothering me, and I refused to talk. I couldn't. The words just stuck in my throat and I couldn't say anything. Gabrielle left the next day. She told me she'd stay with the Amazons until I could find the words."
"What are the words you couldn't say?" Cyrene asked.
"That I'm afraid of losing her again. To Death."
The older woman mulled over the words, trying to find all the meanings behind them. She had known about Gabrielle dying in the Thessalian temple the year before.
"Did something dangerous happen to her lately to make you afraid?"
"No. Not exactly." Xena said, emotionless.
"Damn it Xena! You keep saying that! What *exactly* did happen?" she said as she spun her daughter around to face her.
Xena met her eyes. "I fell in love with her."
Gabrielle dressed and left the guest hut, heading for the communal meal building. She wasn't all that hungry, but considering that she felt a little light-headed, she thought some food would help. Entering the building, she was the recipient of several open stares, but no one said anything. She approached the cook, who handed her a plate containing the same food the other Amazons were eating. The cook had dealt with Gabrielle before, and knew that she didn't like special treatment.
The Queen took it with a grateful smile and nod, then turned to find an empty chair. She spotted one next to Solari (who had asked her companion to make room just moments earlier) and joined her.
"Good afternoon, Solari."
"Good afternoon to you too," the dark-haired woman smiled.
Gabrielle picked up her spoon and fiddled with her food, not eating much.
"Is something wrong with the meal?" Solari asked.
"No, I'm just not very hungry." She put her spoon down and gave up all pretense of eating. She caught her companion staring at her worriedly, and she tried to smile.
"Don't worry. I'm sure my appetite will return later." Gabrielle knew Solari wasn't happy with her answer, but she remained silent. The Bard gazed at the Amazon, and wondered in the back of her mind how someone could look both tough and sweet at the same time. Solari managed it, and it matched her personality. The woman could knock the stuffings out of you during a practice match, then turn around to gently treat your wounds. She was a lot like Xena in some ways.
"Why don't we go for a walk? Maybe that will make you feel better," the Amazon suggested. Gabrielle agreed, and they walked out of the building. They headed away from the village, wanting to avoid people. Once out of sight of everyone, Solari turned to Gabrielle.
"My Queen, I know this isn't any of my business, but I'm worried about you--and Xena."
"Solari, I appreciate your concern, but I really don't feel up to explaining it all again."
"I already know from Ephiny. I am her lieutenant after all. I think I can be more objective. Ephiny cares too much sometimes. Maybe another point of view would help?"
Gabrielle sighed. Who else could she talk to? "Okay, what do you want to know?"
"Well, when did Xena start acting differently? Did you have any disagreements on anything at that time?"
"She started pulling away. It got worse, the closer we got to Amphipolis. No, we didn't argue," the Bard said tiredly.
"Did the two of you discuss if or how you would tell your families about your...new relationship?"
"Not really. Do you think that she was afraid to tell them?"
"Ummm, I...no. I can't imagine Xena being the type to be ashamed or embarrassed about who she loved. She might find it hard to explain, but I don't think she'd try and hide it from those who know her." The dark-haired Amazon watched as Gabrielle relaxed.
"I didn't think so either, but what else could it be?" she asked with frustration.
"I don't know. Did the two of you have any heart-to-heart talks since you became lovers, or have you been just enjoying yourselves?" Solari asked with a wicked grin, watching her Queen blush.
"Enjoying ourselves, mostly. We had one serious discussion. When we talked about when each of us realized how we felt. She was told me, for her, it was when I...Oh, sweet Gaia, no! It couldn't be!"
"What? Don't leave me hanging like this!"
"Xena realized she was in love with me when I had died during that Thessalian conflict. She told me that she had been terrified for my safety ever since then."
"And now you are an even larger target. Once her enemies realize...Oh Gabrielle, she must be scared spitless!"
"I've got to find her. We have to talk about this before the fear takes complete control over our lives. I'll get my things. Could you have some food packed for me? I don't want to take the time to hunt for my dinner--even if it is only berries." Gabrielle took off, not even waiting for an answer. Solari ran to Ephiny to warn her.
"You fell in love with Gabrielle?" Cyrene asked, stunned. She thought it over, getting used to the idea. *I knew they were best friends, but I never considered them 'in' love.* She thought about how they acted with one another. Caring, attentive, playful, and...happy. *Okay, it's not that far-fetched.*
Xena kept her eyes locked on her mother, trying to decipher her feelings on this piece of news. She didn't look angry or appalled at least. *I think she's okay with it.*
The older woman looked up at her daughter and said with a serious face, but a twinkle in her eye, "So, what did you do to the poor thing?"
"Me?!!? What makes you think that I...Alright! If you've got to know, I kept pulling away from her. All I could think about was watching everything around me, terrified that if I dropped my concentration for just a split second, that something would happen."
"So you went from a loving woman to a cold warrior on her. If I was Gabrielle, I think I would have hit you over the head with my staff. Maybe I should chase you with that firewood in her behalf," her mother teased.
"Hmph, why would you want to ruin a perfectly good piece of wood on my head?" Xena said dryly.
"True, I'll keep it handy though. So, are you going to go find her, or are you going to stand there all day?"
"I guess I had better go to the Amazon village. Maybe if I..."
"XENA! You better get out here--quick!" Toris hollered in a panic as he ran into the room. "I don't know what you did, but there's a small army of Amazons heading this way--and they don't look happy!"
"Why do I get blamed for everything?" The Warrior mumbled under her breath. She headed for the door.
"Xena! Are you going outside like that?" Cyrene asked. Xena looked down at herself, barefoot and wrapped in a blanket. She shrugged and kept going.
Gabrielle couldn't convince the Amazons to stay behind. They had stubbornly stuck beside her, refusing to allow their Queen to travel unescorted. The reluctant Queen finally threw up her hands in defeat and just let them come along. Ephiny had offered her a ride, which was accepted. Gabrielle was in a hurry, and as much as she hated riding, she wanted to see Xena more.
The small troop rode into Amphipolis, looking neither right or left. The women ignored the open stares of the villagers and followed their Queen as she led the way to the tavern.
Gabrielle peeked around Ephiny as they neared Cyrene's establishment and her heart skipped a beat. Waiting patiently outside was Xena. Gabrielle drank in the sight of her. Her Warrior stood unmoving, a bed cover wrapped around her. The Bard hid a smile when she saw Xena's long toes sticking out from beneath the cloth. Xena looked as though she had little sleep, but the circles around her eyes only made the blue of her eyes stand out all the more. Gone was Xena's usual stoic expression. In it's place was a yearning wariness, both hopeful and afraid.
Gabrielle slid off the horse and walked slowly over to her tall warrior, her eyes never leaving Xena's. Gabrielle kept her face blank, not allowing herself to hope too much. She stopped an arm's length away. For long moments, they gazed into each others' eyes, where the truth and yearnings could not be hidden.
Then slowly, Xena spread her arms, holding open her blanket, inviting her best friend and lover to come to her. Gabrielle took that step forward, her arms circling Xena's waist. Xena enveloped her within her arms and held on tightly.
After Cyrene fussed over them, making the two lovers eat a meal, she told them to go to Xena's room and talk--away from all the prying eyes. Xena winked at Gabrielle and led her to the small room in back. Snuggled within the Warrior's long arms, Gabrielle asked Xena to explain herself. She stumbled a bit, then finally expressed all her fears. Gabrielle understood them, and they talked for hours.
Finally, when all their words ran out, they fell silent, just relishing their closeness. Xena stroked Gabrielle's hair, and held her closer, letting out a sigh of relief. She turned her head and placed a soft kiss upon the Bard's mouth, only to not have it returned. She peered closer, then rolled her eyes. Gabrielle was sound asleep.
"Some things never change," she whispered with a smile.
THE END--for now.
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