Coming Home: Part II

by CN Winters

Disclaimers: As always Xena, Gabby and the gang aren't mine. They belong to MCA/Universal. This story is however mine and it's just for recreation. If the idea of two women in love (who show their affection explicitly and daringly) what are you doing reading my fiction work. Same rule applies if love is illegal where you live or if you're too young.

Please keep in mind this is the sequel to my story 'Homecoming'. It's not necessary to read it but you may enjoy it and gain greater insight on my take of the Xena/Gabrielle love thang.

A special thanks to Janet C for offering a godly idea for this story. I hope I live up to your expectations Janet.

Episode Disclaimer: There is a reference from Bitter Suite in here. If you haven't seen the episode yet you may want to postpone your reading.

Last point. As always, I love feedback so if you felt moved by these words (either positive or negative) drop me a line at : I look forward to non-homophobic constructive comments. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 15

"She should have never taken the mask," Xena whispered hostile.

Xena wasn't the only one with fine hearing. The regent picked up on it. "Well, I didn't see you stop her," Ephany shot back.

"Sorry," Xena replied sarcastically. "I had my own troubles. I was a little bit dead at the time."

The five women stood, sat or paced in the royal hut - Xena, Gabrielle, Ephany, Solari and Lila. There had to be something that could be done. Xena was never one to give up but a day had passed with no solution. They debated back and forth, trying to keep their voices down. Hearing argument now between their leaders would do no good to the already shaken villagers.

"Tell me again why I can't give the mask away?" Gabrielle replied after another exchange.

"You heard Artemis," Ephany answered. "She has chosen you. No one else. If you give the mask away who knows what she would do to you and this village."

Xena grinned inward. Gabrielle was ready to give up her throne for her, if need be. Her admiring thoughts, however, were broken by Gabrielle's voice.

"Would everyone please leave?" she asked softly. "I need to speak with Xena."

The regent and her guard looked at one another as Lila rose.

"Sure," her sister replied, making her way outside the hut.

Ephany added, "We'll be outside if you need us." Gabrielle simply nodded, studying the look on Xena's face.

Xena sighed uneasily. Gabrielle made a motion for the warrior but stopped herself. She was beginning to remember the physical pain the shock would bring as their bodies touched.

"I'm not sure how to say this," Gabrielle began with the weep heavy in her voice. "I never thought I would say this. . ."

At first Xena was unsure what the bard was conveying but realization began to take hold of her. "No Gabrielle. Don't say it. We'll find a way around this curse - together. We can-

"I can't Xena. . . because this is no longer about just us. The lives of every one of those women out there is in my hands. . .Please leave," the last words were spoken just above a whisper.

"And go where?!" Xena cried angrily. "And do what?!"

"I don't know!" Gabrielle replied just as fiercely. "All I know is if you stay here I run the risk of Artemis striking out at these women. . . The longer we wait the sooner Artemis will return. . .You saw what happened to Ephany."

"You're walking out on us just like that?" Xena asked, her eyes moist now with unshed tears.

Gabrielle met Xena eye to eye. "No. I'm saving my people," she whispered. "I'm not asking you to leave forever just . . ." Gabrielle didn't really know how long she would need so she changed her train of thought. "Just go home," she finally added.

Xena closed her eyes and the tears sitting there began to roll down her beautiful cheeks. "But you are my home," Xena answered. "Just like I'm yours."

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her chest and began to sob loudly. She wanted to reach out and touch the aching warrior. She wanted to show this woman just how much she did truly mean to her life. "Please Xena," Gabrielle cried. "Oh Gods, don't make this harder than it already is."

Xena was angry - no - hurt. As she roughly grabbed her saddle bag and began loading her belongs. She stopped and looked at Gabrielle. The bard began to speak. "I know you're mad -

"No," Xena cut her off, now crying as well. "I'm not mad. Not at you. . .I'm . . .I'm. . .heartbroken. . . My rage is with Artemis, not with you. I can see why you're doing this but I don't agree with it. . .We've handled everything together. . .everything. . ."

Xena trailed off as she stuffed her last night shirt in the bag, flinging it over her shoulder. Slowly she took a few deep sighs, gathering her nerves together before she faced the pack of curious amazon's outside. She waved casually to Gabrielle, "I'll see ya around," she whispered, trying to be a carefree as possible.

Gabrielle raced over. 'To Hades with Artemis' curse'. She pulled the warrior to her and planted her lips firmly on Xena's lips. Both women summed up all of their strength to induce the torturous pain the shock was sending through their bodies. When they broke away, they took a moment to regain their breath.

"Come back home soon," Gabrielle whispered. "I'll be waiting for you."

"Will you?" Xena asked. "I don't want to see you waste your life Gabri-

"Finding a solution to this problem will never be a waste, even if it takes my entire lifetime. Please come back. Promise me?"

Xena looked into the bard's eyes. The woman's love was true; the most genuine thing she saw in all her travels. "I promise," Xena whispered, beginning to tear up again. "I better go."

Without waiting for Gabrielle's reaction she left the hut. A few amazons watched as she strolled quickly to the stables. Minutes later she emerged upon the mare and was galloping out of the 'city'. All three women who had been in the queen's hut earlier watched as the warrior left.

"I'll go talk to her," Lila offered.

"No," Ephany insisted. "Let me. Solari could you please see Lila to the tailor for her new attire?"

"Certainly," Solari nodded. "This way Princess Lila," Solari nodded.

Lila had to grin. It was the first time anyone called her by a title. After a brief discussion the day when the trio arrived, it was decided that since Lila was blood to the queen, she was a princess.

Once the two women were on their way, Ephany walked over and knocked on the Queen's door.

"Who is it?" Gabrielle asked softly.

"Ephany. Could I please come in and speak with you Gabrielle? Please?"

Gabrielle could tell by the tone in Ephany's voice that Ephany was worried, perhaps sorrowful. Gabrielle knew at that moment that Xena had done as she was asked. The warrior princess left.

When Gabrielle opened the door and Ephany walked in, the bard burst into tears all over again. All Ephany could do was hold her and rock her. She knew what it felt like - losing a soulmate - and she knew she had no words to take it away. So the regent held her queen close to her chest and tried to squeeze some of the pain from her heart.

Chapter 16

"If I may be so bold princess, I'd say you look quite beautiful," the tailor replied, finishing a few stitches on the skirt.

"Thank you," Lila blushed. She turned and faced her escort. "What do you think Solari?"

The question totally caught the always alert guard 'off-guard' and she found herself fumbling. "I . . .I. . I think. . .she's right. I think you look beautiful." Now Solari felt herself blush and she quick reprimanded herself. 'Amazons don't blush. We are brave warriors. We don't allow emotions to interfere with our duties.' Slowly Solari's eyes traveled the length of Lila's body coming to rest at the deep blue eyes. 'Oh Hades, who am I kidding? She's gorgeous.'

"All set," the tailor interrupted. Both women broke eye contact to see the tailor.

"Thank you," Lila replied. "Should we go now?" she asked Solari.

"Certainly my princess," Solari answered giving a small bow.

Lila giggled. "Please don't call me that," she said shyly. "For some reason when you say that it feels. . .I don't know. . .funny."

"What would you prefer?" Solari asked.

"Lila is fine or hey you," she grinned. "I'll answer to just about anything."

"Anything?" Solari teased. The warrior suddenly felt a level of comfort and confidence with her young princess. The tailor shot the warrior a knowing grin before going to busy herself in the back room.

"I said just about anything," Lila replied with a coy grin.

Solari felt a boldness strike her deeply and she found herself closing the distance between herself and Lila. "Gorgeous? Would you answer to Gorgeous?"

Lila could feel a fear of the unknown creeping over her body. The warrior was getting closer by the second. She didn't want to do anything to scare Solari and she didn't want to put her foot in her mouth either.

"It depends on who was saying it - A drunk in a bar or a dark, beautiful warrior?"

Solari felt herself grinning now too. "How about a dark, beautiful, drunk warrior in bar?" she said trying to lighten the air surrounding them. Lila picked up on it but she didn't want this little seduction to end.

"Would you happen to be the warrior?" Lila replied boldly, surprising herself and her village chaperon. She watched Solari's eyes widened briefly before gathering her warrior strength.

"Would that make a difference?" Solari asked honestly, hanging impatiently for a reply.

Lila moved a little closer, locking eyes with the ebony-haired amazon. "Yes," she whispered huskily. "It would."

"Well," Solari smiled. "Since we're finished here, maybe I could take you to the orchards. We could get some fruits for your sister - a small token of some kind. And perhaps later I could escort you to dinner tonight?"

"That sounds like a wonderful idea," Lila grinned.

The gesture didn't last long and it was mostly for show. She wanted to know that although she did enjoy the idea of Solari's proposal, she felt guilty for feeling so happy at this moment when just across the village her sister was more than likely in tears. Solari noted the change that swept through Lila.

"Are you sure?" Solari questioned. "I wouldn't want to impose on your time here. You look a bit undeceive."

"It's not that," Lila reassured touching Solari's arm. Suddenly she felt distracted by the texture of the smooth skin and the harden muscles underneath. She removed her hand, almost in a jerking motion when she felt it lingering too long. "I'm worried about Gabrielle, that's all."

Solari smiled. "They are both very resourceful," the warrior complimented Xena and her queen. "I'm sure they will find some resolve to this problem. They've faced worse after all."

"What do you mean?" Lila asked.

Solari realized it would be best if she kept her mouth closed. She wasn't sure just how well Lila knew her sister and her many exploits with Xena. 'That's it' Solari said silently as she deduced an answer.

"Life on the road is, at best, difficult," Solari offered. "They've faced many. . .battles. . . I'm positive they will find a solution."

That answer pleased Lila and Solari sighed inwardly. "Well, maybe we should head to the orchard," Lila replied.

"Certainly," Solari said with a nod.

Lila scolded Solari with her eyes for the royal gesture. Solari quickly apologized and they both left the hut with a smile. Upon traveling to the orchard Solari grabbed a bushel basket and they heading into the trees. They picked cherries, apples and pears for their queen, making sure to grab only the freshest ones. The chatted about their lives - Solari spoke of her early childhood amazon customs and Lila told Solari about life in Poteidaia. Suddenly in mid-sentence, Lila stopped and clutched her hand as she yelped.

Solari, who was a few feet away, rushed to her princess' side. "What's the matter?" she asked concerned.

Lila showed Solari her right index finger. "Something bite me," she winced.

Solari examined the 'wound'. And she grew concerned. "You haven't been bitten," Solari replied, gently holding Lila's hand. "You've been stung. . .Have you been stung before?"

Solari watched a friend in childhood die from such an infliction unable to breathe. A warrior also died two summers ago and she was grown. Some people could fight the poison of the bee, others could not. And she was worried.

"Yes," Lila replied. "When I was a child, Gabrielle was playing in the yard when my mom made me fetch her for dinner. Damn thing bite me on the back of the neck."

Solari sighed and took Lila's hand more firmly. "I have to get the stinger and the poison out, okay? This may hurt a little," she warned.

Lila nodded quickly and held her breath. Solari maneuvered Lila's hand into the dwindling sunlight. As fast as possible she captured the singer between her fingernails and pulled it out. Lila groaned but kept her hand still. Next Solari raised the injured finger to her lips and sucked on the tip, trying to draw any poison that had settled there.

Solari's suction on her flesh, sent a shot to Lila's sex like quicksilver. She tried to focus on breathing again but the feel of the warrior's wet lips on her finger did nothing to help. The young princess' eyes were fixed on Solari and even when the warrior turned her head to spit out the poison, it looked sexy. 'Oh Lila', the young princess told herself. 'You are in big trouble if you find even that arousing'. Lila began to wonder what those lips would feel like on her shoulders, her lips, her breasts . . .her. . . other lips. The princess shook her head to get her attention back. The motion caught Solari's eye.

"Are you okay?" the dark-haired warrior asked. She still had hold of the princess' hand and lightly began to message the injured finger. Lila could feel her pulse raising as fast as her illicit thoughts.

"Yes," she croaked. She had to clear her throat before she continued. "I'm fine. . .It's just. . ." She was unsure of how much to reveal at this moment. 'What the Tarturus', she thought. "That feels really good. Maybe too good. Maybe you should stop now."

Solari grinned at the honesty. "Do you want me to stop?" Solari whispered. "You are my princess you know? I do as you order me."

Lila felt herself back into the apple tree as the warrior crept closer. "You do huh?" the 'new amazon' asked, trying to sound conversational.

"Oh yes," Solari answered huskily. She didn't want Lila misunderstanding her intent. "What would you like me to do?" Solari teased. "Should I work on extracting some more poison?" she asked. Without waiting for a reply, Solari took the fingertip in her mouth once more. But instead of sucking she let her tongue roll around the digit. Lila closed her eyelids and could feel her eyes rolling into the back of her head.

Now Lila wasn't a tramp. But she was no stranger to love either. There were a couple boys in the village she had dated since Gabrielle's departure. All the kisses and pecks she'd received felt nothing like this moment. 'So this is what Gabrielle meant by curling toes', Lila thought. She grinned at the conversation she had with her sister about why she loved Xena so much. Solari took the smile as encouragement to continue in her task.

"Is there anything else I can do for you my princess?"

It sounded more like a beg than a question. Lila opened her eyes to find Solari's eyes locked on her face, studying her lips. The warriors fingers came up and began to trace them. Something odd began to happen. Lila could feel herself grow wet and she had the overwhelming desire to feel contact, any contact, against the wetness. She moaned, trying to block herself from lowering her hand to her center.

"Oh gods," Lila whispered. "What's happening to me?"

Solari smiled at her innocence. "It's called desire," Solari replied softly. "It's called passion. . .It's called want."

Lila closed her eyes again and moaned, "Yes. . .Want."

"Want what?" Solari asked coyly.

Lila moaned again. "You," she whispered. "I want you to kiss me."

Solari pulled the young woman closer by the waist, crushing her against her. Lila eyes shot open but quickly closed again when Solari captured her lips. When Solari's tongue pierced through, stroking the inside of her mouth, the young woman seriously thought she was going to swoon. The warrior noticed the sway of her love's legs and offered her support. Lila took it by placing her hands on Solari's shoulders. Of course this gesture only left her weaker to stand as the desire between her legs grew stronger.

Solari's hands caressed Lila's sides gently, protectively. Lila, however, had other plans for the warrior's hands. She took Solari's forearm and guided her southward. She let her hand float down Solari's arm to her fingers. Both women moaned when Solari's fingers made contact with Lila's wetness.

The young amazon broke the kiss first and set to work on the warrior's neck. Solari tilted her head, offering her flesh to the hungry young woman. Her princess. The sister of her queen. With that thought Solari tensed and Lila felt it.

"What's wrong?" Lila asked breathlessly.

Solari disengaged herself from Lila as easily as possible. "I think we should slow things down a bit," the warrior answered sounding just as winded as her princess.

Lila looked at her feet, far away from Solari's eyes. "Did I do something wrong?" she asked quietly.

Solari looked surprised at first but she didn't want Lila to see that reaction. Once in check, she lifted Lila's chin with her fingertips. "You did nothing wrong," Solari smiled. "If anything, you did everything too right," she chuckled. "I don't know about you but I'd much rather make love some place more. . .romantic. . .or at least less dangerous. We could be spending the evening picking stingers out of each other's behinds."

Lila giggled and agreed. "Yes I could think of a better way to spend the night with you." The grin began to fade and the look of ardent desire returned.

"Oh no," Solari said holding up her hands. "Don't start looking at me like that. I just made a promise to take things slow here. You keep looking at me like that and you'll make a liar out of me," she added with a smile.

Lila smiled again too. "Come on," she said taking Solari's hand in hers. "Let's get these to Gabrielle. What do you say?"

"Anything you wish your highness," Solari grinned. "Anything you wish."

Chapter 17

Argo was tiring. Xena could feel the animal growing sluggish. She pulled the reins close to her bringing her mare to a sliding stop. Feeling the distress of her mistress the horse tried to change direction, heading back from where she just came, but Xena tightened her hold.

"It's okay Argo," Xena reassured. She could hear her voice betraying her words though. "It's okay," she whispered again.

Xena began to sob loudly and the palomino whinnied in response. The horse understood things were not okay. Her mistress was in tears and the short woman she had come to expect wasn't with them. She began to prance, growing upset herself.

Xena gave up. She dismounted and stroked the cream hued mane. "Let's take a break, huh girl? Does that sound like a good idea?" the warrior whispered. "Go on," she added pointing at a near by meadow.

She watched the mare take a spot, nibbling on some grass. The warrior was jealous. The animal could calm itself so easily. After a few moments, she fell to her knees and cried in agony. She ached, literally, for Gabrielle. Her stomach hurt, her head hurt, her lungs hurt. She felt like she'd been in another fight with a harpy . . .and lost. She started to wipe her tears away slowly but she suddenly shot to her feet, sword in hand.

"I told you this would happen but ya just couldn't listen could ya Xena," the God of War began.

"Get away from me Ares," Xena balked. "I don't have time for this."

He stood for a moment, studying the warrior. "YOU are a mess. Look at you. You're not a warrior . . .Any self respecting warrior of mine wouldn't waste this much time over a broken heart. Get over it Xena."

"First of all, I'm not your warrior anymore Ares. And second the only waste of my time is conversing with you."

"Oh come on Xena," Ares egged. "You're more mine now than ever. Think about it. You want Artemis' head on a platter right now. You'd kill her in a flash if you thought you could succeed. . .What if I told you I could help make that happen?"

Xena smiled. "You never give up. . .I will say this about you Ares. You are persistent. . . Thanks but no thanks."

Xena began to walk to Argo. "You're just going to go back to Amphipolis then?" The warrior ignored his comments. "Fine. Run back to Mommy. She'll make it all better right? What you need is revenge Xena! Don't let Artemis take away the only thing that truly mattered to you!"

Xena stopped and turned to face him. "How do you know what 'truly matters' to me? You've never known me Ares - Not the real me. . .Take a good look because here I am. I am Gabrielle's soulmate - not a destroyer of nations, not a warrior of justice. My one and only purpose in life is Gabrielle."

Ares grinned. "Yeah I heard your little declaration on Lesbo. . . To be honest, I DO understand at least ONE thing that you see in her." Xena noticed his eyes wonder off with his racing thoughts. She snapped her fingers to get his attention back.

"That happens to be MY wife you're daydreaming about," Xena warned.

Ares grinned. "Don't worry. You were in it too."

"Comforting to know," Xena smirked as she walked toward Argo.

Ares watched Xena for another moment before materialized beside her as she mounted the horse. The two warriors locked eyes. "You were my best," he said quietly. "I'm never going to get you back though am I?"

Xena shook her head lightly but the conviction was strong behind it. "No," she replied in a similar relaxed tone.

Ares nodded. "Okay," he began. "I'll do you a favor." Xena began to argue but Ares raised his hand to stop her. "For old times sake," he continued.

"No way Ares. I know that help from the Gods comes with a price. I'm not buying whatever you're selling."

"Trust me Xena," he said forcefully. "The answer to getting Gabrielle back lies in Amphipolis."

"Why should I trust you?" Xena replied getting annoyed.

"I asked you to trust me in Britannia and you didn't. Look at the price you paid for not listening."

"Jeez Ares," Xena said sarcastically. "I didn't think you cared."

"Okay. I guess I deserved that one," he admitted. "But know this Xena: If you want Gabrielle, do as she said. Go home."

Xena was torn. She wanted to believe Ares just this once. Maybe the answered did lie in her hometown. Then again, Ares was . . .well Ares. . .and it could just be another elaborate game he had planned. The God of War could feel Xena's conflicting thoughts and emotions.

"What's the worse thing that will happen? You'll see your mom and have to tell her the honeymoon's over. Give it a thought," he answered as he began to vaporize.

"Wait! Why? Why are you telling me this?" Xena insisted.

Ares returned to his brief form for a moment. "It's called a favor. I never repaid you and Gabrielle for giving me back my Godhood. . .Of course if it wasn't for the airhead of Olympus and that little do-gooder of yours with her scroll it would have never happened but. . .anyway. . .Just Go!"

With that the god vanished. "Come on girl," Xena said in better spirits to the mare. "We're going home - tonight," she nudged Argo and the two galloped away, leaving a trail of dust in their wake.

Chapter 18

Ephany crept into the hut to find Gabrielle lying on the bed, her back to the door. "Gabrielle?" she whispered.

The queen rose up and faced her regent. "What is it?" she asked in a monotone.

"I've brought you some dinner," Ephany replied, closing the distance, holding out the tray.

"I'm not hungry," Gabrielle answered, still devoid of emotion.

"You have to eat," Ephany gently begged.

Gabrielle lashed out, striking the tray out of Ephany's hands and across the floor. "I don't want it!" Gabrielle screamed.

Ephany flinched and held her breath. Gabrielle looked at the food and dishes scattered across the hut before she met her regents' eyes. Ephany looked shocked perhaps even a bit fearful. Gabrielle hung her head low.

"Gods, I'm sorry," Gabrielle cried sincerely. "I know you're only trying to help. And I -

"It's alright," Ephany answered, not letting her finish. "You're hurt and angry."

Gabrielle shook her head forcefully. "No. That's no excuse for treating you like that and I apologize."

Ephany smiled and pulled the crying woman into her arms. "Apology accepted. . . I'll just have to learn that no means no." she teased. "I was just lucky you weren't hold your staff at the time. I'd be rubbing my back side for a week." That made the queen grin and Ephany felt more relieved.

Gabrielle took a deep breath, gaining her composure again. "So how are things out there?" she asked.

"Would you like to come out?" the regent asked carefully. "We could go for a walk around the village."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Don't think I'm up to it tonight. Maybe tomorrow?"

Ephany smiled. "Okay. When you're ready," she answered, stroking the bards' hair behind her ear.

Gabrielle grinned. "My mother used to do that when I was upset," the bard replied regarding the physical gesture. "Speaking of family, how's Lila holding up? I saw her and Solari earlier today. They brought me some fruits."

Ephany smiled wide but tried to make it disappear quickly. Gabrielle quirked her eyebrow at the response.

"She's doing fine," Ephany answered. The smile began to come back to the regents lips.

"I have the overwhelming feeling I'm missing something here," Gabrielle grinned.

Ephany chuckled. "Wellllll," the regent dodged.

"Out with it," Gabrielle ordered.

Ephany moved to the bed with a pounce and patted the mattress. She waited until Gabrielle took a seat. "Rumor has it that Lila and Solari have been spending a lot of time together since her arrival two days ago. In fact, I hear they are inseparable."

Gabrielle felt her jaw hanging, her eyes widening. "You're kidding right?"

Ephany kept her lips tight and shook her head. "As a matter of fact, they spent the evening meal together and planned on taking a walk to the river afterward. They're probably on their way right now."

Gabrielle shot up off the bed. "I want Lila brought here now. Alone."

Ephany smiled. "Gabri-

"I mean it Ephany. Right now. And before you ask, yes I'm pulling rank."

Ephany realized her queen was quite serious. She swiftly went to the guards outside. A moment later she returned. "I've sent for her," Ephany said with apprehension in her voice. "But why?"

Gabrielle considered the question. Why did she send for her sister? What would she say once she had her? "Look,' Gabrielle replied. "I'm not sure my sister knows everything about the amazons and I KNOW that Solari does. Catch my drift?"

Ephany grinned. "Yes. But Solari is a very honorable amazon. She would never force herself on anyone."

Gabrielle sighed in frustration. What in particular frustrated her at this moment she couldn't tell. "I believe you," Gabrielle answered. "I have a very high regard for Solari. I just think my sister should know more about the birds and the bees before she taking moonlight walks with a woman like Solari."

Ephany wasn't sure why but she suddenly felt defensive about her best friend. "What do you mean a woman like Solari?"

"Oh Eph," Gabrielle answered the frustration rising again. "All I mean is Solari is an amazon - in every sense of the word - I just think that Lila should know what she's doing. This could be just an experiment to her and I don't want to see anyone get hurt. Not her. Not Solari. Not anyone . . Understand?"

Ephany smiled. Gabrielle's own love life - oh Hades, her own 'life' - was going to Tarturus in a handbasket but she still wanted to 'protect' others around her. Ephany admired Gabrielle in that single moment, more than ever.

"I understand," the regent whispered. The regent was going to continue but the guard arrived.

"Queen Gabrielle. Your sister has arrived," one replied formerly.

"Send her in," she replied regally.

As the guard left Ephany added, "I'll be outside, my queen."

Lila walked in and the first thing she noticed were Gabrielle's blood-shot eyes. "Are you okay?" she asked concerned. "They said you sent for me."

"Have a seat," Gabrielle said patting the quilt on her bed. "I asked them to bring you here for . . .you. . .not me. . .According to Regent Ephany you've been spending a lot of your time with Solari since you've been here."

Lila was a bit taken back by Gabrielle's tone. She sounded so 'queenly'. This wasn't like the late-night discussions when they cuddled together in one bed gossiping about boys and chores and village life. She didn't know how to respond so she simply nodded her head.

Gabrielle nodded in like fashion. "I like Solari. I trust her. And I trust you. . .I know you we're very curious about my life with Xena." Even as Gabrielle said the name it brought the familiar ache to the surface again. She paused a moment to regroup and Lila gave her that time in silence. "Anyway, I'm curious about your relationship with Solari. Is there anything you'd like to talk about? . . .Anything you'd like to ask?"

Lila smiled and giggled. "Come on Gabs can we just cut the royal stuff for a minute?" The regal tone of the conversation was getting to the bard's sister.

"No," Gabrielle said firmly. "Because you are the princess of this village. Everything you say, everything you do, will be closely watched by everyone. I don't mind that you're keeping company with Solari but you do have to realize, my dear sister, all eyes are on you now."

That was a fact Lila hadn't really considered. "Everyone is talking about me and Solari?"

Gabrielle grinned and nodded slowly. "Yep. Now do you see why I wanted you to understand how important you're actions are?" Lila nodded without comment. "Good," Gabrielle smiled. "Now we can cut the 'royal stuff' . . . and you can give me the scoop!"

Lila smiled and the two sisters climbed under the covers, giggling. After two hours of laughing; crying; Lila telling Gabrielle how she loved Solari's blue eyes; Gabrielle telling Lila how much she missed Xena's, the pair fell asleep in each others arms. Gabrielle was restless but she felt much better with Lila next to her once more. Thanks to her sister, Gabrielle managed to survive her first night without Xena.

Chapter 19

Xena opened one eye when she heard someone grab the handle of the barn door. As it creaked she moved to her elbows, slightly turning her head from the light.

"Xena?! What are you doing here? Where's Gabrielle?"

"Is mom up?" she asked ignoring the questions.

"Yeah. She's preparing breakfast," Taurus answered. "Gabrielle's okay isn't she?"

Xena understood that 'okay' really meant 'alive'. "She's with the amazons. . .I've got to talk to mother."

Taurus simply nodded and watched his sister walk toward the tavern. Once in the kitchen she found her mother making some sugarcakes, a favorite of Gabrielle's, and the warrior could feel herself choking up with the thought. Everything, it seemed, reminded her of the bard.

Cyrene felt the presence behind her. "Taurus?" she asked.

"No mother," Xena replied.

Cyrene turned sharply to find Xena standing alone. Her eyes were darkened for lack of sleep. Her hair was still wind blown from the ride in; her shoulders and back slumped in exhaustion. She looked like Tarturus but the fact that she was alone stood out more than anything.

"What happened?" her mother whispered. "Where's Gabrielle?"

Xena lost what little composure she had left as the tears began to cascade down her cheeks.

"Oh Gods," Cyrene said rushing to Xena, taking her in her arms. "Oh little one, what happened?"

Xena started to explain the story in between sobs; the words coming out like one long hiccup after another. Cyrene did her best to decipher just what Xena was saying. She understood that Gabrielle was alive and with the Amazon. There was also something about Artemis and Ares but she couldn't make that out.

"Here." Cyrene led Xena. "Have a seat. I'll get you some tea. Once you calm down, we'll start at the beginning okay?"

Xena nodded, like a small child and Cyrene couldn't resist kissing her on the forehead. After all she was a child - Cyrene's child and the older woman knew she would 'mother' this warrior for the rest of her life.

Once Xena calmed down, blew her nose and drank some tea, she began to relax enough so the conversation could be understood. Xena told about the events at the banquet and Artemis' curse. As she finished she looked into her mother's eyes.

"What do I do?" Xena plead.

Cyrene was angry. Xena could tell. The older woman took a deep breath and held up her finger. She went to the front door and shouted toward the barn for her son.


Upon hearing his name, he darted from the barn, sprinting to his mother. Knowing his sister was so distraught earlier, he didn't waste a second getting to his mom.

"What is it?" he asked breathless, once he was in front of her.

"I know you were on your way back to Athens today but could you stay and run the inn for a few more days. I have to go to Arborea with Xena."

"Sure. . .Is she going to be okay?" he asked concerned.

The older woman grinned, looking back at Xena who was listening to the exchange. "Yes. Come Hades or high water."

Chapter 20

A full day had passed since Xena's arrival back in Amphipolis. They were near the amazon border when Xena couldn't take it any longer.

"That's it," she sighed. "Why are we back here mom?"

"I told you. I'm going to have a little chat with Artemis. I think it's wrong what she's doing and I'm going to tell her."

"What do you think this little chat is going to solve?" Xena asked.

"Don't worry dear. . .I have many skills," her mom grinned.

Before Cyrene could add more the ropes fell from the trees. Solari once again was on duty.

"Xena! You're back already?!" Solari exclaimed. "I mean not that it's a bad thing. But it's only been two days. Did you find the answer?"

"No," Xena replied. Solari knew the warrior wasn't going to be adding more. "Solari this is my mom. Mom - Solari. She's a friend to me and Gabrielle."

Both women nodded to each other in respect before Solari motioned the runner.

Ephany had finally talked Gabrielle into a walk around the village. They were approaching the practice field when they saw the runner approaching.

"My queen," the runner said falling to one knee. "Xena and her mother are here." Just as she finished the sentence, Gabrielle could see them appear on top the small hill. Ephany couldn't contain her smile and neither could Gabrielle, who broke into a strong run.

Xena smiled when she saw Gabrielle take off. Cyrene watched her daughters' reaction and encouraged her.

"Go get her," her mother said, gently patting Xena's back, leading Argo. "Go on."

Xena gave her mother an appreciative gaze before taking off. The queen and the warrior ran a full speed and when they were close enough to see each other's facial features they slowed down almost coming to a halt. They moved gingerly toward each other, each woman wanting to feel the other.

Gabrielle grinned mischievously. "Are you ready?" she asked.

Xena smiled wickedly.

"Bring it on," she said opening her arms.

The pain was instant and constant but neither woman refused to break the lip lock until both were satisfied. The moans of pain sounded so similar to the moans of passion they expressed to each other. When they finally were willing to separate, they took a few moments to regain their breathing back to normal. By this time their traveling companions had arrived. After introductions to Ephany and Cyrene, the four women traveled to the village square.

"Well, let's get this over with," Cyrene said moving to the middle of the square.

Gabrielle, Ephany and Xena stood holding hands. Ephany offered herself as a link/translator between them. Each time Gabrielle squeezed Ephany's hand, Ephany would squeeze Xena's. The loving, helpful gesture was warmly accepted by the bard and her warrior. A few amazons surrounding them stopped to take notice as Cyrene took the platform stage.

"Artemis!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, her hands clinched in fists at her side. The amazons who weren't watching as she took the stage were certainly watching now. A large circle began to form. "Artemis I'm callin' you out!"

Nothing. Amazons from the huts now began to emerge - the cooks, the washers, and the carpenters. Every soul in the village had their attention on Xena's mother.

"Where are you Artemis? What are you afraid of?" she taunted. Amazon's turned to each other gossiping about the 'crazy' woman challenging their God. Their attention, however, still manage to stay focused on Cyrene too.

"You're a double-face, back-stabbing, piss-poor excuse for a goddess. You make Aphrodite look like -

Cyrene didn't have the chance to finish. The flash of blue light circled Cyrene, stopping dead in front of her. Artemis materialized in front of the older woman who refused to look intimidated.

"Who do you think you are?!" Artemis demanded.

Xena was ready to charge the stage. Both out of protection of her mother and her anger with the goddess. Ephany held tight and shook her head. "She's got a plan Xena," Ephany whispered. "Let her follow it through."

The regent felt Xena relax and she lightened her grip on the warriors well-muscled arm.

Cyrene paced around the goddess. "My name is Cyrene. My mother was Agena. . .Ring any bells?" she said sarcastically.

"Melosa's Aunt?" Artemis asked. Cyrene only nodded. "Cyrene? Cyrene? . . ." the goddess said searching her memory banks. Artemis suddenly grinned, "Cyrene! You're. . .old. . ."

Cyrene smiled and nodded. "Yeah it happens to us mortal. . .if we're lucky."

"You've returned to the village?" she asked hopefully.

"No. I'm here for my daughter. . .my daughter Xena."

Cyrene didn't add anymore.

Artemis looked to where Cyrene pointed. "Xena is your daughter?" the goddess asked.

"Yes. And she seeks the hand of your queen. And yes, she is of amazon blood. Royal amazon blood in fact."

Everyone in the village square fell silent. Artemis considered the situation. Gabrielle was all smiles. Xena was all shock.

"You left the village before she was conceived," Artemis argued.

"Once of amazon blood, always of amazon blood. You know that Artemis. Regardless of my marriage, me and my daughter are both amazon."

Cyrene turned to walk around the platform when a villager caught her eye. Before she could utter a syllable, the amazon she admired turned, making her way from the stage and through the crowd that had formed. Cyrene was on the verge of following but stopped and turned to Artemis.

"What do you have against my daughter? What would please you so she could have Gabrielle's hand?" Cyrene asked.

Artemis rested her bow down and met Cyrene's eyes. "She's a weak woman. She maybe an amazon. But I refuse to have my queen bond with someone as weak as Xena."

That was it. Xena couldn't be contained this time. "I'm weak?! I'm weak?!" she shouted as she took the stage steps two at a time. "I would challenge any one of your warrior's for Gabrielle's hand! I've fought Hades to come back to her! Tell me how I am weak!"

Suddenly Xena dropped to her knees and clutched her throat. Cyrene rushed to her side and held her. "What are you trying to prove?!" the warrior's mother yelled furiously.

"Just how weak she is," Artemis replied casually.

"She's not weak!" Cyrene insisted. "She's mortal!"

Xena fought unconsciousness with all her being, yet knowing she was losing. Artemis bent over and whispered, "Pick a God. There's only one that can save you now and it's certainly not me."

Ephany could have sworn she saw the warrior give the smallest of grins.

"Ah.. . .Ah," Xena said trying to say the name but only managing a croak.

Artemis released her grip. "Say it!" she screamed. "Who do you call on?!"

Xena took a deep breath while she could, settling her shoulders to yell. "Athena!" she screamed.

Artemis got wide-eyed and forgot about the grip she was going to restore on the warrior's throat.

A bolt of purple light flashed, knocking Artemis off balanced.

"I'd ask what's going on but I already know," Athena said scowling at Artemis. She was a lovely woman with flowing white robes, looking older than Artemis and not nearly as physically fit. "You are way out of line Artie," she added. Athena offered her hand to Xena, which the warrior took. "You'll be okay," she told the warrior.

Artemis was going to start to protest and explain her actions.

"I know you don't want your queen with someone who deals with Ares. And to be honest I don't blame you. But by harming this mortal I'm forced to inform Zeus." Athena was disgusted and she had to take a moment to regain her composure. "Let's just say you've got your answer Artemis. Xena belongs to no one but herself. All she seeks now is wisdom and truth. Give your queen's hand to her. She's earned it. . .and besides . . . I KNOW it's the right thing to do."

Artemis watched the other goddess and looked at her people. They seemed to be in agreement with Athena too.

"Alright," Artemis whispered in a voice so tiny, even those next to her barely heard her.

"I don't think they heard you in the back," Athena boasted sarcastically, pointing toward the mob.

"I said OKAY," Artemis replied throwing her hands up in frustration. "Xena can bond with my queen."

Xena and Gabrielle grinned ear to ear and rushed toward each other. The first time since the curse they didn't feel the sting of touching each other. And they enjoyed every moment of it. A group settled around them and congratulated them. Xena turned back to thank her mother and watched her slip off toward the mess hall. She didn't follow - in truth she couldn't - they were too closed in. But she's whispered in Gabrielle's ear. "Let's get outta here as quickly and politely as possible."

"What did you have in mind?" Gabrielle asked seductively.

"Finding mom," Xena replied.

Gabrielle lost the playful grin and nodded in agreement. 'Yes' Gabrielle considered. 'Looks like Cyrene has so explaining to do'.

Chapter 21

Cyrene crept into the mess hall where an older amazon was picking up lunch trays. Slowly, the warrior's mother approached her.

"Taria?" she asked softly.

"Hello Cyrene," the woman answered just as quietly. She refused to turn and face her.

Cyrene paused a moment but decided to press the reunion. She walked in front of the women. After a few resistant moments the warrior's mother was reward by seeing the warmest brown eyes she'd ever seen.

"How have you been?" Cyrene asked cautiously.

"Surviving," Taria replied coldly. She began to take the tray back to the kitchen area.

"Here," Cyrene offered. "Let me help you."

Taria pulled them away forcefully. "I don't want your help. . .I don't want anything to do with you. . .You made your choice years ago. . .Now go. Leave me!" she added as she raced away.

Cyrene sighed despondently. When she watched her daughter at the door. She knew Xena caught the tail end of the conversation. "Who is she?" Xena asked quietly.

Cyrene ran her fingers through her hair, hoping to tease the tension. Her mind grasped for an explanation. "Guess I should start at the beginning?" she asked walking over.

At that moment Gabrielle came in with Ephany. The queen asked her regent to post a guard outside, not letting anyone inside. Ephany nodded and went back out. The bard studied the warrior and Cyrene.

"Anytime you're ready," Xena instructed. Cyrene took a set at the nearest bench table. Xena and Gabrielle sat down next to each other and locked hands, waiting for Cyrene to begin. The older woman sighed and took a deep breath.

"It was during one of our 'raids' that I met your father. He was in an army in the northwest pasture that was resting after traveling. That night we 'attacked'. I spent hours talking to him and I realized I could love the 'enemy'. . . Your father asked me to stay with him that evening - leave the amazons - but I told him no; I had to return. When I realized my mission was complete and I was with child, I thought of him often. I was worried too. . .If I had a boy then. . .I would have to leave the child. And I couldn't bare the thought of leaving my son to die.

Taria and I were to be bonded that summer. She was convinced I carried a girl. I told her I wasn't sure that I could give the baby up if it were a boy. I was also honest about my feelings for your father. A few weeks later I accidentally ran into your father. He begged me to go home with him to his mothers inn. I told him I would consider it. After that I returned to Arborea. I spoke with Taria about my feelings. . . We made an agreement. I would go to Amphipolis and have the child. If it were a girl I'd return to Taria and we would raise her together. If it was a boy. . .then. . . Needless to say the child was Taurus. And I never came back. . .until today.

Taria hates me and I don't blame her. . . I did love her. I did. . .but I couldn't choose her over my child. . .I considered coming back after . . . well you know. . .but I knew they wouldn't accept me. Besides I still had Taurus and Lyceus. Things weren't the same back then as they are now. Ephany would have never been able to keep in contact with her son. She wouldn't have been accepted back into the tribe after her departure, let alone become the village regent. Funny how times change. Even within a lifetime."

The table fell silent. Xena covered her mother's fidgeting hands. "You never said anything," Xena observed. "When Gabrielle got the right of caste, when I told you about my friendship with Ephany, you never said one word. . . Why?"

"Ashamed. Embarrassed. Uncertain," Cyrene grinned bitter-sweetly. "There never seemed to be a very good time to tell you. . .Besides it was a part of my life I spent years trying to put behind me. . .We all have things that we look back on and say 'I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that'."

Gabrielle and Xena both knew exactly what the old 'amazon' was saying. They too had issues, moments, decisions they would have changed if given the chance. But what was in the past was in the past. There was nothing they could do and they tried not to dwell on it.

"What did you do here Cyrene?" the bard asked. "What position did you hold if you don't mind me asking?"

Cyrene smiled. The bard was always so gentle and compassionate. Not at all as forceful as her daughter, but just as effective.

"I was an instructor. I taught the younger amazons how to use a staff," she grinned knowingly at the bard.

Xena grinned. "And the subject of being an amazon never came up," Xena teased.

"Okay," Cyrene confessed. "Maybe I had a few times I could have mentioned it. . .like every time Gabrielle walks in my door . . .but it was so long ago. . .And I have a lot of feelings about it all that I've never resolved."

"Like Taria?" the bard inquired.

"Yes. Like Taria," Cyrene whispered.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. "Well, there's no time like the present I feel. . . I should write that down," the bard added making a mental note. "I mean it's like you said the past is over and that can't be changed. And you don't know what the future will hold. All you have is right here and right now."

Cyrene grinned. "She's bright," the woman complimented.

"She is," Xena beamed. "It's one of the things I love about her."

"Me too," Cyrene agreed nodding. "I think maybe I'll find Taria. . .Resolve this issue, once and for all."

As Cyrene began to stand so did Xena and Gabrielle. The three moved out from the table and joined in an embrace. "Go on," Cyrene insisted. "You two have a joining ceremony to plan."

Xena and Gabrielle watched Cyrene walk back toward the kitchen where Taria had darted to.

"Good luck," Xena called out with deep sincerity. "And thank you."

Cyrene looked back and gave a small nod. Xena wished there was something she could do to help her mother heal but she knew the road to healing ones heart was different than the body. For one, the heart can only be healed by the person who owned it. And two, the heart took much longer to heal. Xena silently prayed to Athena to give her mother the wisdom she needed for her healing. The warrior understood it was a long time coming.

She took Gabrielle by the hand and they left the mess hall. The guards began to walk with their queen and her betrothed until Xena stopped. She looked at them. That's all. She just looked at them and the pair began to walk again.

Xena turned her head just a tad and listened. They no longer followed, taking the subtle hint from the warrior. Xena grinned. 'That intimidation thing still comes in hand' she grinned to herself as they walked from the village into the nearby forest.

"Are you alright?" Gabrielle asked, noticing the uncharacteristic silence of the warrior.

The bard briefly reflected on a time when hours would pass with maybe 5 words spoken from the towering woman. In the last few months it seemed she was making up for lost time, chattering more than the bard at times. Gabrielle didn't mind, in fact she loved the change in Xena. She squeezed the hand that held hers, letting her admiration flow from her fingertips.

"Yes. I'm okay," the warrior answered, giving a squeeze of her own. "I'm a lot better now - especially since I can do this," she replied, holding up their locked hands.

"I mean your mother Xena. Are you-

"Upset that she deceived me for years? That I had more in common with her than I realized? . . .Yes and no. . .I'm glad she told me but I wish it would have been sooner. . .But I understand why she didn't. The most important thing is that we're together now."

Gabrielle smiled at the warrior's openness with her. "I never want to be away from you again warrior mine," the bard said stopping, pulling Xena closer by the waist. "I never thought I could love like this and when I thought there was no hope. . .

Xena put her fingers under Gabrielle's chin to pull the amazon's wondering eyes up to meet her steady blue. "Listen to me. As long as we believe in each other, trust each other and promise to do right by each other we can conquer anything. . .Do you hear me? . . .Anything."

Gabrielle pulled the warriors head down to hers. She kissed Xena softly, tasting the sweet and salty lips of the beautiful woman. The more connections her lips made the more forceful the kisses became. Soon she found herself twining around the warrior, her leg wrapped around Xena, her arm gripping her shoulder; her fingers buried in the ebony hair.

Xena wasn't without her explorations. Her tongue prodded into the bards mouth; her hands gently cupping and squeezing the amazon's shapely behind. Xena was very near taking the bard right then and there. The little whimpers Gabrielle was giving did nothing to help Xena's self-control.

Gabrielle was enjoying the taste and feel of her warrior when she suddenly felt Xena tense and pull back.

"What is it?" Gabrielle whispered as she watched her lover examine the trees over head.

"Shhh," she answered stepping back, placing her finger over her lips.

Suddenly a groups of young, 'young' amazons fell from the trees giggling. Xena figured them to be in their early teens, probably training to replace Solari and her crew someday.

"Who was on the right side?" Xena asked strickly. The harshness showed on her face. All four girls came to attention in front of the dark, dreaded warrior.

"Us ma'am," a weak voice announced.

"Stand up straight!" Xena answered. All the girls made the effort to stand taller. Slowly Xena walked over to where the young amazon stood. She tried, with all of her reserve not to smile. With Gabrielle grinning behind her it didn't make it very easy. She didn't see the bard grin but she could sure 'feel' it.

"What's your name warrior?" Xena asked formally.

"Icies ma'ma," the girl responded. "This is Ceterus," she added with a quick nod.

"You two were on the right?" the warrior asked.

The girl gulp nerviously. "Yes ma'ma."

"My name isn't ma'ma," Xena said proudly and intimidating. "It's Xena. Xena: Warrior Princess."

"Yes ma'ma. I mean warrior princess," Icies answered.

"Well, Icies I have to admit you did a pretty good job. I didn't know you were there until you fell. . .Your friends on the left however are as silent as a stampeede," the warrior teased.

Gabrielle couldn't hold it in any longer and she could bear to see the young girls trying so hard 'not' to begin shaking in fear. "Okay," she interupted. "You've scared four children today Xena. That's one over your limit. I think you should call it a day."

"Ya think so," Xena asked turning back to the smiling bard. Seeing her 'light' beam at her made Xena smile as well. "I guess your right," she sighed. "You're dismissed," she told the young girls. "And by the way," she added to them making them stop. "You did a wonderful job, even I almost couldn't tell you were there. . .almost." Xena smiled at the young women and watched relief float over their faces.

As the jogged away Xena could hear them chatting.

"Told ya she was totally cool," one said.

"Yeah!" another agreed.

"Queen Gabrielle sure is lucky to have a woman like that. Xena could be my personal guard any day," another commented.

Gabrielle could hear the exchange as well and rested her hand on Xena's shoulder. "I think you have a few young admirers," Gabrielle teased.

"Yeah. Who knows in another 10 years or so. . ." the warrior teased back, filling the bard with the illusion have perhaps have a dance card filled with beautiful young women.

"Don't EVEN think about it. You're my warrior. Got that?" Gabrielle threatened just as falsely.



Chapter 22

Taria was cleaning some trays when Cyrene tiptoed into the kitchen.

"Can I please talk to you?" Cyrene said softly.

Taria stopped her duties and turned to face the ex-amazon. "There isn't anything you could possibly say. You promised if you had a daughter you'd return and you lied to me Cyrene." Taria turned around again, going back to her work.

"Taria," Cyrene began, moving closer to her former lover. "My first child WAS a boy - Taurus. Xena was my second child. . .I had a third child Lyceus but he died many years ago after Cortese's men attacked our village."

Taria turned to meet Cyrene again. "Xena is your second?"

Cyrene nodded. "My husband was going to kill her when she was a child and I . . .stopped him. . .with an ax. . .I considered returning but I still had my boys. . ."

Cyrene paused to take a deep breath before she continued. "I know I made the right decision. My only regret was . . .you. . ."

"I'd hate to be the cause of regret for anyone," Taria said sarcastically, going back to her job at hand. "I'm sorry knowing me has caused you pain."

Cyrene bridged the rest of the distance between them and put her hands on the woman's shoulders. "My pain is not in KNOWING you. . .My pain came from being WITHOUT you. . . I truly loved you. But I also knew I couldn't leave a child I carried to die. . .That night when Taurus was conceived, I told you my reservations. Remember?"

"Yes I remember," Taria turned yet again to meet those deep blue eyes, her fingertips stroked the soft skin of Cyrene's cheek. "I also remember how you told me you fell in love with Xena's father," she added pulling away again, recoiling into herself.

"That's true," Cyrene confessed. "But the love I had for him doesn't compare to the love I had for you. . .He was like . . .a best friend-"

"And me?" Taria asked getting short. "What about me?"

Cyrene's blue eyes locked with Taria's brown. "You were the love of my life," she whispered.

Taria wept openly at the words, closing her eyes. She felt Cyrene's arms encompass her, drawing her near. It felt so warm, so natural as she let her arms slip around Cyrene's waist pulling her closer, burying her face in the thick, dark hair.

Cyrene stroked Taria's ash blond hair and she began to cry as well. The memories bombarded her as her fingers worked down the strains repeatedly. She remembered washing that long hair tenderly down at the river, brushing it at the dorms; feeling it cascading down her young, well-toned naked body. Taria's thoughts were as equally powerful and similar.

"I loved you too," Taria whispered. "I've spent years missing you."

Cyrene's lips found Taria's earlobe and captured it softly once. Then twice. Then three times.

"Taria? Can I kiss you?" Cyrene pleaded softly in Taria's ear, continuing with her short pecks.

Cyrene never got a vocal response. Taria seized Cyrene's lips with her own, muffling any further begging from the warrior's mother. After a few moments of delicate kisses, they became deeper and richer - their tongues searching each other's, fighting for control. With a labored breath Taria pulled back, the earlier look of desire chased from her face.

"You're going to leave me again," Taria realized, studying the older woman. "I'm sorry I did that."

"I'm not," Cyrene teased. "You're the best kisser in the world."

Taria grinned at the compliment but it didn't last long. Cyrene took the amazon's hand in hers.

"Yes," Cyrene admitted. "I am going home to Amphipolis but I'd like to take you with me. I know I still feel the same way as I did then. You are the love of my life. There's nothing stopping us from being together."

"I can't leave the village," Taria argued.

"Says who?" Cyrene countered. "Do you have a bondmate?"

"No, I don't," Taria grinned for a moment. "It's just that . . .this is my home. Like Amphipolis is your home. I just can't leave."

Cyrene stroked Taria hair behind her ear and caressed her cheek. "We finally have the chance to be together after all these years . . .please. . .I'm begging you. At least consider the possibility. . .Please?"

Taria grinned again. "We're different people now Cyrene-

"Did you feel your heart jump in your throat when you saw me today?' Cyrene asked. Taria giggled and smiled. "You did, didn't you?" she teased before she looked extremely serious. "I did too," she whispered. "We're not that different."

Cyrene picked up Taria's chin with her fingertips and laid a searing kiss on the woman's lips that made her whimper. She pulled away and waited for Taria to open her eyes again. When she did Cyrene whispered. "Think about it. That's all I ask."

Without adding more or waiting for a response, Cyrene walked out of the kitchen. Taria watched as her former lover strolled calmly and confidently outside. 'Maybe' Taria considered inwardly. 'Maybe'.

Chapter 23

After meeting in the royal hut, Ephany, Gabrielle and Xena discussed the bonding ceremony. The sooner the better they all agreed. Ephany and Gabrielle left to make preparation for the bonding feast as Solari and Xena went in search of materials for the wedding - royal attire, joining gifts and various odds and ends.

It was late evening by the time Xena and Gabrielle were together again. Xena entered the hut to find Gabrielle working on one of her scrolls. "What'ca writing?" the warrior asked, beginning to rid her body of her armor.

"A story," Gabrielle answered not looking up.

"What kind of story?" the warrior asked.

Gabrielle shot Xena her 'Don't bother me. Can't you see I'm working?' look.

"Okay," Xena whispered, placing her finger over her lips with a promise she would be quiet until Gabrielle finished her train of thought. Xena smiled mischievously as she studied the bard.

Gabrielle was lying on her stomach on the width of the bed. Xena couldn't help but admire how beautiful Gabrielle's breasts looked when the bard was on her forearms. Slowly she walked behind Gabrielle. As she pulled the leathers from her body she examined those long, well-muscles legs. Her eyes traveled from the bards ankles to the hem of the bards' skirt, which given her ever shifting position on the bed, was hiked up more than usual, barely covering her backside.

Carefully and quietly the warrior pulled her boots from her own feet. Not that the noise would break the bards' concentration. She was too wrapped up in her writing to notice her partners movements. Xena moved to her knees and started by kissing Gabrielle's ankles. It was only when Xena had reached the spot behind Gabrielle's knee, that the bard noticed what Xena was doing.

"Please Xena," the bard insisted. "I'm almost done," she added returning to the scroll.

Xena grinned and continued to kiss her way up the bard's leg. When she reached the hem of the skirt, the warrior pulled it up exposing the bard to her hungry eyes. But the sight that met the warrior surprised her. The bard didn't have on her underclothes. That fact fueled the warrior's desire even more. Her fingers wasted no time in finding the bard's center, searching for any wetness. The warrior was reward with a deep moan and a sweet slickness covering her fingers.

Gabrielle continued to lay on her stomach but she turned back just in time to watch the naked warrior, enjoying the delicacy on her fingertips.

"Delicious," Xena replied, going back for more. As the warriors fingers made contact again, Gabrielle's eyes closed and she moaned once more. The feel of Xena's fingers, the knowledge that her warrior was naked brought a second wave of wetness that dripped from her sex, soaking the front of her skirt.

After Xena had licked her fingers clean once more, she moved to her knees. Gabrielle began to move too but Xena put a loving yet forceful hold on the bard's shoulder. "Stay put," Xena whispered huskily. Gabrielle did as Xena commanded and settled back onto her stomach.

She could feel the warriors' hand still pinning her to the mattress. She wasn't sure what the warrior had in store for her but she shuttered with anticipation. She pushed the quill and the scroll away, letting them fall to the floor.

"I thought that was really important," Xena teased, the passion refusing to leave her voice.

"Not as important as this," Gabrielle answered with her own voice taunt with longing.

Xena loved the bards voice like this; so much richer and deeper than usual. All of the bards emotions could be found in the tone as she uttered her words. Xena's free hand made it's way to the bards triangle; this time entering her fully. Gabrielle tried to rise put Xena kept her down. Gabrielle realized what Xena wanted to do. She wanted to take her, control her.

They had done this once before since leaving Lesbo and they both enjoyed it thoroughly. Gabrielle remembered how the more she 'fought' Xena the more passionate the warrior became. Xena's fingers were now building a steady rhythm and Gabrielle found it difficult to fight against the luxurious feeling of Xena buried deep within her but she gave an attempt.

Xena realized Gabrielle had picked up on the game. "Remember -

"That's enough?" the bard asked, clarifying the codeword.

"Right," the warrior purred.

Gabrielle knocked Xena's hand off her shoulder and tried to push herself off the bed but the warrior was far too quick. She pinned her with ease, quickly going back to the task of working on her sex. 'Gods she so wet' Xena thought as she continued to stroke the young woman.

"Please don't," Gabrielle whispered, letting herself get lost in Xena's little role-playing. "Don't touch me."

Xena's pace quickened below and her grip got stronger on Gabrielle's shoulder. The bard moaned into the feel of being totally captured. "Oh gods," she whispered passionately. She tried to shake how wonderful it felt to be possessed by this beautiful blue eyed goddess behind her.

"Please stop. Let me go," Gabrielle said trying to fight again.

She didn't get very far. Actually she ended up lying back into Xena. The warrior saw a wonderful opportunity. Gabrielle saw it too and tried to hide her grin. After all she was supposed to be reluctant, right?

"You're not going anywhere," Xena threatened, pulling the bard beside her on the bed.

The warrior ripped open the green top, exposing the perfect cream colored breasts. She pushed them together and took both nipples into her mouth at once. Gabrielle pushed on Xena's shoulders but the warrior was too big to move. Gabrielle discovered the more she pushed, the greater Xena's suction became. 'This I can handle,' Gabrielle admitted silently as she continued to fight harder all the while enjoy the effects.

Xena could feel her arousal, slipping from her own sex, coating the bards upper thigh. Her skin was on fire and she could feel her bangs growing damp. Gabrielle really enjoyed these little games. She couldn't blame her. She remembered how it felt when she submitted to Gabrielle and how liberating it was for her being the submissive one.

Gabrielle's thrashing was making the bards' thigh rub rhythmically against her clit. The feeling was too good to pass up and both women found their bodies straining against each other. All legs spread; both hips rocking. Gabrielle gave up her fight and gave into the pleasure of Xena's body. The warrior grabbed Gabrielle by the hips as their grinding against each other quickened. Soon they were slapping against each other forcefully enough to make the bedposts creak.

The warrior's eyelids grew heavy. Gabrielle knew that look well. It was only a matter of moments before the warrior would tumble to bed in a heap of spent passion.

"Oh gods yes Xena. . . Come for me. . .come for me. . .Come. . .Come," Gabrielle repeated the words over and over in a whisper.

When the sensations rose deep within herself she was taken aback for a moment. She was sure the warrior would peak first but let the shockwaves ride through her body and into her soul. "Oh Xena. Yes. . .Yes. . .Yes. . ."

Watching and hearing Gabrielle, put her over the top. Xena's back ached as the waves of pleasure swept over her body. She studied Gabrielle's own quaking body - the beautiful sights and sounds filling her eyes and ears.

"Gabrielllllllllle!" she yelled, her fingertips glued onto the bards hips striving for all the fire she could possess. After a few moments she collapsed, next to the strawberry blonde; eyes closed and a huge grin.

Gabrielle giggled and stroked Xena's face. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time," Gabrielle commented snuggling into Xena's shoulder.

"Look who's talkin'" Xena answered kissing the bards' forehead.

After a few lazy moments, the bard shot up. Xena tired to rise as well, to see what startled Gabrielle but the bard tackled her to the mattress.

"It's my turn," Gabrielle demanded, the hunger and the intent evident in her voice. "You WILL see to my wishes."

'Thank the gods', Xena thought with a devilish grin. 'It's going to be a long night'.

Chapter 24

"Rise and shine everybody! Rise and Shine!"

Xena sat up with a jerk and eyed the regent, trying her best to look intimidating. The bard rolled over and reached for Xena and when she came up empty she noticed the warrior was sitting up.

"What's . . ." Gabrielle asked in a sleep voice. She looked at the entrance to see Ephany smiling at the pair.

"Making up for lost time, I see," Ephany teased the naked women. "What's it been three, maybe four, days apart?"

Xena ignored the comment and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Hand me my robe, would ya?' the warrior asked motioning behind the amazon.

Ephany reached back and tossed the garment to the warrior who promptly put it on. "I figured you would be hungry my queen so the kitchen is bringing something over," the regent remarked.

"What about me?" Xena asked trying to sound offended. "I'd like to eat to you know."

"We are going to the dining facility so don your warrior attire. You two are to be separated until the bonding ceremony tonight. . .Actually, you were supposed to be separated last night but I couldn't be that cruel." Ephany answer batting her eyelashes. "I'll be outside waiting for you Xena. Don't take too long."

Ephany walked out and Xena pulled Gabrielle up by the forearms. "Thank you for last night," the warrior smiled pulling the bard into a kiss.

"Thank YOU," Gabrielle replied, pulling away. "We should spend a few days apart more often," she grinned.

Xena studied the bards face intensely as she stroked her cheek. "I had doubts that I'd ever be able to touch you again. That's something I'll never take for granted."

"Nor will I," Gabrielle muttered as she began to nuzzle Xena's neck. "Let me touch you some more," she added mischievously pulling the warrior on top of her. The first kiss was slow, delicate but seconds later it deepened, with both women moaning simultaneously. Gabrielle's hands had managed to work the robe free from Xena's shoulders. The bard was about to move it down the length of the warriors' body when they heard a stirring at the door.

"Ahemm," Ephany began in a mock attempt at clearing her throat. "Today Xena. Please?" she prodded, tapping her foot.

Xena pulled away from the bard but not before Gabrielle followed the warriors' journey on the way up. Her arms latched around the warriors neck as the bard continued to kiss and nibble on Xena's face and ears. The sheet fell, giving the regent a full view of her queens body. She felt mesmerized as she watched Gabrielle hanging on the warrior. 'Damn that Xena is one lucky lady' the regent thought silently. At least she thought she said it silently. Xena and Gabrielle looked at Ephany with surprise and then at each other before they busted out laughing.

Ephany felt her cheeks flame up. "Did I just say . . .what I thought I said?" she asked in a weak voice. She couldn't contain her grin of embarrassment.

"Well, I'll tell you what," Xena began as she began to get into her leathers. "If you come to me tonight and tell me about some amazon custom that involves the consort sharing the queen with the regent I'd seriously doubt the validity of such a custom. . .but not the motivation behind it."

Ephany felt herself relax when Xena winked at her. She leaned over and kissed Gabrielle softly; affectionately on the lips. "I'll see you tonight," Xena whispered with a huge smile.

"You better not stand me up," Gabrielle warned, waving her finger.

Xena kissed the finger tenderly. "You know I'll be there."

Ephany still was unable to take her eyes off Gabrielle. Xena continued to smile and faced the bard once she was at the Ephany's side.

"For Gods sake Gabrielle," the warrior joked, "cover yourself or get dressed. You're driving your regent to distraction. Isn't that right Eph?"

Ephany realized she was being spoken to. "Huh?" she asked.

"See. Wadda tell ya?" the warrior teased the bard. "Come on Eph," she added putting her arm around the regent. "What do you say we get something to eat?".

"Great idea," the regent sighed walking out of the hut, avoid eye contact or conversation with Gabrielle. Xena blew Gabrielle a kiss. "See ya tonight beautiful," she whispered.

Once outside in the sunlight, Xena stretched and yawned trying to get more awake as she walked with Ephany. She had to be honest - Gabrielle had worn her out. Xena didn't say anything and Ephany wasn't sure what to make of the silence.

"Xena," the regent began. "I'm sorry about back there. I just-

"Been awhile?" Xena asked.

Ephany knew what that meant. Her sex life. Did she seem like a deprived woman? She wasn't sure.

"Come to think of it . . .yeah," Ephany replied. "I spend so much time keeping the nation in order I don't have time to really think about it. Except of course when the occasion does arise like this morning. . .I'm really sorry."

"No Eph'. You're really horny," Xena teased. "Do us all a favor? Find a young, beautiful amazon. Throw your royal weight around. Impress her with your tales of battle. . .then bed her 'til you can't see straight."

Ephany slapped Xena's arm. "Xena!" she exclaimed in disbelieve.

"Don't think of it as doing something for you. Think of it as doing something for your people. After all, a relaxed ruler is an effective ruler," Xena grinned.

Ephany laughed as they walked into the hall.

"Seriously," Xena continued. "Look at all these beautiful women in here. Which one would you chose?"

Ephany shook her head. "This is ridiculous!" she whispered.

"Na ah," Xena replied, shaking her finger in disapproval as the cooks filled her breakfast plate. "You tell me. Is there anyone in this village you have noticed in your 'spare time'?"

Ephany couldn't meet Xena's eyes, "Yes. . .her name's Diteria. She an archer."

Xena smiled slyly as they took a seat. Ephany looked up to see that smile.

"Oh no!" Ephany replied, shaking her head. "You wouldn't?!"

"Is she here now?" Xena asked, the smile getting slyer by the moment.

"Xena," Ephany begged, not offering any information.

"Well, there's one way to find out," Xena said beginning to rise and clear her throat.

Ephany grabbed Xena by the arm, pulling her down to the bench seat. "Okay! Okay! Yes she's here," she whispered. "Two benches back, directly behind me."

"The blonde or the brunette?" Xena asked looking over Ephany's shoulder.

"The blonde," Ephany whispered. Xena was still studying the women at the table until Ephany reached over and slapped the warriors arm. "Would you stop looking over there?" Xena jumped just tad as Ephany's hand made contact.

"So who's going to do it?"

"What?" Ephany asked totally confused.

"Who's going to go over there? You or me?"

Ephany dropped her grilled bread into her eggs. "You're serious!" she replied, absolutely stunned.

"Yep," Xena nodded confidently. "It's either you or me baby. So what's it going to be?"

"I don't believe this. I don't believe this."

"What's not to believe?" Xena prodded. "You need a date tonight right?"

Ephany knew there was no way out now. She knew she had to go over and talk to the young amazon. "I hate you," Ephany giggled.

"I bet later tonight you're thanking me. If things go real well you might not thank me until the morning," Xena replied wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. "Seriously, Ephany. . .you are an intelligent, brave and beautiful woman. Any warrior in this village would be blessed to have you in their company. Now go and ask her."

Ephany smiled and took a deep breath. She rose quickly but took her time getting to the table. Xena watched as Ephany asked if she could sit down. Xena couldn't contain her smile. The young amazon seemed in awe of Ephany and Xena had to giggle at the look of pure surprise on the archer's face as Ephany asked about the young lady's plans for the evening. Soon both women wore huge grins and Xena knew it spelled success.

Casually Ephany strolled back and took her seat across from Xena. "Don't say it," Ephany warned pointing her fork. Xena watched the regent a few moments longer with the same sappy grin on her face as Ephany began to eat. Ephany finally looked up and gave a grin of her own. "Thank you," she whispered to Xena.

"You're very welcome."

Chapter 25

"How are you doing? Nervous? Ephany asked as the handmaidens readied the warrior for the joining ceremony.

"Okay," Xena responded in a shaky sigh. "How's Gabrielle?"

"She's doing good," Ephany nodded. "Looks like you're all set," she added as she adjusted the amazon shoulder armor before resting her hand on it. "You'll do fine."

Xena smiled and placed her hand over Ephany's. "I wanted to thank you again."

"Hmm?" Ephany asked.

Xena's eyes met the regents. "After Solan died . . .and I came back. . .You could have marshaled me for what happened but you didn't. . .Thank you. You have no idea how sorry I am. I -

Ephany grinned. "I know exactly how sorrowful you are. Like I said then - All is forgiven. No permanent damage. See?" the amazon answered moving her arm around. "Come on warrior princess. Your amazon queen awaits."

Xena was positioned by the hut doors. Ephany smiled before she left and made her way to the center of the square. The regents' two personal guards accompanied her trip up the runway to the stage area, where Solari waited.

"Amazons," she spoke loudly for all to hear. "The village will now witness the joining of your queen Gabrielle with her soulmate Xena. Please rise."

As the amazons rose both hut doors were opened. Xena was met by the vision of Gabrielle dressed in crimson and gold. She was perhaps 200 steps away in the hut directly across from her but she could still she the jade of her eyes and the reddish tones in the honey hair. It reminded Xena of the outfit Gabrielle wore the day she took the mask of queenhood. But she never looked as beautiful then as she did on this day.

The guard nodded to Xena and the warrior began walking to the queen, who had begun her journey as well. When the were a few steps shy of touching, Xena unsheathed her sword and dropped to one knee as earlier instructed. She held the sword flat on her palms and offered it up to Gabrielle. The queen took the sword and cradled it across her forearm. Xena rose to her feet again and arm in arm they walked the runner to the stage. Once upon the stage, Xena bowed on one knee again. This time to the regent.

"Is this the warrior you have chosen as your consort Queen Gabrielle?"

The playful banter that Ephany gave during the joining announcement was no longer presence. She was strictly business and absolutely regal. Not that she feared Artemis' return. It was more for the respect she had for the institute Gabrielle and Xena were entering into, as well as Gabrielle and Xena themselves. She was honored they asked her to do the ceremony. And being an honorable women, she wanted to do her best.

"She is," Gabrielle answered proudly, handing the blade to Ephany.

The regent never held Xena's sword before and she was surprised by the weight of it but she tried not to let it show. She handed the blade to Solari, who was at her left, next to Xena.

"Do you choose our queen as your consort?" Ephany asked Xena.

"I do," Xena said softly, looking over at her bard.

Ephany held out her hands and Gabrielle and Xena each gave one of theirs to the regent. Solari pricked each woman's finger drawing a tiny amount of blood. She took a royal robe and got a dab from each woman. Then she ran the cloth up and then down Xena's sword.

Gabrielle glanced at her lover for a moment before turning away from Xena's admiring gaze. It still amazed Gabrielle how much Xena could convey by just a simple look - whether it be an enemy or a lover. Gabrielle had witnessed that look through both relationships and she was extremely grateful that the gaze she was receiving now was the latter of the two. She was also convinced it would stay that way forever. Nothing could drive them apart. Nothing. 'Not even in death' Gabrielle reflected briefly with a grin, remembering how comforting it was having Xena so close in her time of need.

As Gabrielle eye's briefly caressed the warrior's once more, she could see all the love and devotion the warrior held in her heart. And the warrior could tell her bard felt the same way. 'Her bard'. Xena considered that fact as she watched the woman she loved. Not an amazon queen. Not a small town girl. But Her Bard. Gabrielle was a storyteller above all else, except of course, for the fact that she was Xena's .

But even as Xena considered that she realized, she didn't possess Gabrielle. If anything, the young woman had her. Anything this woman asked for, Xena knew she would strive to do. The moon. The stars. No problem. The warrior would climb the highest mountain and bring them to earth if that's what Gabrielle wanted. All she had to do was ask and Xena knew it would be done. Xena couldn't contain the grin as she thought 'Yeah. You really are hooked warrior. . .And you know that's exactly where you want to be.'

"Please rise," Ephany motioned to Xena breaking her private thoughts. "And lock arms." The two women did as Ephany asked joining both forearms as they faced each other. As Ephany laced their arms with the joining ribbon she spoke. "Artemis has given her consent. Athena has given her wisdom. By the power of these beautiful goddesses, I present to you Queen Gabrielle and her amazon consort, Xena of Amphipolis."

Xena and Gabrielle looked at Ephany who grinned and nodded. She leaned over and whispered. "I know it's been 10 whole hours and you can't stand it any longer . . .Go ahead and kiss her."

Xena was going to make some comment to Ephany but Gabrielle pulled Xena's chin so they met eye to eye. "Argue later," Gabrielle whispered. "I got other plans for those lips now."

The kiss was passionate. . .and long . . .at least by conventional joining standards and the amazons made sure to provoke its duration even more with the whistles and cries of approval. Some cheered on Xena. Some cheered on Gabrielle. But both women knew they need air and they reluctantly pulled away.

They unbound their hands and Gabrielle gave Ephany the joining ribbon. As the couple turned to make their way, Solari sheathed Xena's sword carefully behind her back. Cyrene and Taria stood in the front row, both women all smiles. Lila stood next to them as well looking equally proud; every once in a while stealing glances of Solari up on the stage.

Afterward, Gabrielle and Xena greeted the amazons one by one, the tables were set and the feast was brought out. Finally, after what seemed like hours, they had a moment alone.

"It feels complete now," Gabrielle whispered affectionately. "It feels like we're truly joined, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It does," Xena agreed whole-heartedly. "And ya know what?"


"Ephany was right. I'm the luckiest lady in the world."

Chapter 26

It was late now but the bond-fire still roared and the wine still flowed. Gabrielle decided that another glass of wine couldn't hurt her this wonderful evening and Xena agreed. Right now Gabrielle would have the time of her life. Come tomorrow morning that would be a different story. By dawn the petite woman would feel the effects of too much celebration, like she did on Lesbo only a few months before. Xena had to grin at the woman she loved. 'Will she ever learn?' she wondered. 'Probably not. . .and probably for the best. . .I love her the way she is'.

Gabrielle was talking about the finer point of story telling with one of the royal guards - all the while doing it with a hardly noticeable slur. Xena watched Ephany in the distance with her young, admiring archer. The young woman leaned against a tree, with Ephany leaning in close. The regent's arm rested on the tree over the smaller woman's head. They made a nice couple although neither woman looked TOO comfortable. 'First date jitters' Xena figured with an appreciating grin.

"I must admit I was surprised when you asked me to accompany you to the queen's joining," Diteria confessed, meeting Ephany's eyes for brief moments at a time.

"So am I," Ephany quickly responded before back tracking. "I mean I didn't plan on asking you - no wait. That's not what I meant either-

"Look," the younger amazon said putting her hands on Ephany's shoulders to steady her. "Take a breath and start over, okay?"

Ephany smiled at the young woman. "I realize I'm not very impressive right now," Ephany answered giving into her growing self-doubt and allowing a nervous giggle.

"You're wrong," Diteria whispered. Her hands moved from the regents shoulders to cup her face. "You're the most impressive person I've ever saw. And on horseback you're beyond impressive. . .You're godly."

Ephany grinned. "You flatter me."

"No," Diteria counter. "I'm only telling you what I see. But anyway. . .getting back to asking me out -

"Xena put me up to it. I mean she didn't make me. She just - encouraged me. I don't think I would have had the guts to walk up to you if she didn't insist that I try."

"I'll have to thank her tomorrow," Diteria smiled seductively.

"Yeah," Ephany replied, her voice soft and gentle. The regent could feel the young amazon tenderly tugging her face toward her. "Me too," she added in a whisper as their lips met with feathery softness.

Ephany tried to keep her composure although the electricity was shooting through her body uncontrollably. She let Diteria lead and was slightly surprised when Diteria deepened the kiss. Ephany pulled back and studied the young woman. When she did, Diteria took a moment to play with one of Ephany's long, blonde curls.

"I love your hair," she replied twirling it around her finger. "I'd be lying if I said I haven't fantasized what it would feel like traveling down my body."

Ephany took the young woman's hand. "Listen. . .I love spending time with you and I'd be lying if I said I didn't wonder the same things but . . . I'm not sure if I'm ready to make a deep commitment to anyone right now."

Diteria grinned. "Again Ephany. . . I'm just being honest."

"Could you be just a little less honest? My heart is pounding in my eardrums and I can barely stand," she giggled.

Diteria joined her amusement. "Okay," she agreed. "But promise me this. Promise me we could meet again. I want to know the woman behind my infatuation. Who knows? It could turn into love."

"You got a deal," Ephany said putting her forehead on the young amazons before raising her eyebrow. "And there's no backing out."

Diteria licked her lips and studied Ephany's bright blue eyes, "I won't dream of it," she whispered.

Chapter 27

Taria was in the kitchen, starting to clean up what she could. Cyrene walked in carrying some more plates. As she sat them down on the counter, she moved behind Taria and put her hands on her shoulders.

"Don't think I'm prying Tar' but have you made any decisions?" Cyrene asked softly.

Taria grinned and turned to Cyrene. "The answer's yes. Yes, I'll leave with you."

Cyrene pulled Taria to her and kissed her gently on the lips. "Thank you. . .I don't know what to say. . .What made you decided?"

"The last day we've spent together," Taria smiled. "It's almost as if you never left. There's something between us I can't explain. Almost as if we were destine to be together. All the space. All the years between us. It hasn't changed. I'd still give my life for you. . .Those beautiful, blue eyes don't hurt either," she teased.

Cyrene laughed and pulled her close again. Taria pulled back slowly was the kitchen doors opened. Cyrene turned to meet the intruder.

"Thought I'd bring these in for ya," Xena said making her way to the counter.

Taria looked at mother and daughter. "I think I'll go round up some more," Taria offered. "Can you start some cleaning?" she asked the pair.

"Sure," Cyrene smiled.

Taria left quietly as Cyrene turned to her daughter. "It was a lovely ceremony. Where's your consort by the way?"

"Passed out on a table," Xena said nonchalantly.

Cyrene chuckled at the news. "Is she okay?" she asked.

"Okay? Yes. But far from sober," Xena grinned.

"How much did she drink tonight?" Cyrene asked concerned.

"Three glass of wine."

"That's it!"

Xena nodded as she began to scrub a pan. "Yeah. She's got a really low tolerance."

"I never would have guessed it," Cyrene smiled.

Xena started to chuckle, almost out of nowhere. Before Cyrene could ask, Xena offered her thoughts.

"She got loaded on nutbread once that was tainted with henbane," Xena remarked as she giggled. "She was in a cave and the rocks were talking to her. She said they told her to come find me even though I told her to stay put. . .She was so young then," Xena reflected with a bit of melancholy in her voice.

Cyrene put her hand on her daughters shoulder. "I knew you loved her for a long time."

Xena simply grinned. "Speaking of love, what's going on with Taria?"

"She's decided to come with me," Cyrene said flashing a similar smile.

"That's great!" Xena replied. "That's . . .great!"

Cyrene stepped closer. "You seem a bit . . .unnerved."

"No!" Xena answered sharply. "It's . . . wonderful. . .really. . .wonderful."

"Out with it now Xena. What's the problem?"

Xena sighed. "Have you considered that maybe you're moving a little too quick. I mean I'm happy that you're . . .happy. . .But have you thought this through."

Cyrene grinned. "Let me set a little scenario for you if I may. Let's say that Perdicus didn't die. He and Gabrielle moved back to a little farm community and you didn't see her for years. . .Then for some reason fate brings you together again. She's no longer married. You're also alone. And when you look at her you don't see the gray hairs or the wrinkles or the extra pounds. What you do see is the heart you fell in love with years ago. . .Now I ask you, if you had the chance to be with her again how quick would you move?"

Xena nodded. "Not fast enough," she whispered.

Mother and daughter studied each other a few moments. "This feels sooooo right," Cyrene commented softly.

"Well, then," Xena replied taking a deep breath. "You have my blessing. Not that you ever needed it," she added with a grin.

"I need it more than you realize little one. Respect and admiration go both ways."

"C'mere," Xena said pulling her mother into a warm embrace. "I'm glad you're happy. After all these years there's no one who deserves it more. . .No one."

Chapter 28

"Gabrielle?" Lila asked, leaning her head on the table to look at her sister. "Are you okay?"

"She passed out about an hour ago. Xena went in the kitchen and asked me to keep watch over her," a royal guard explained. "Is there something I could do for you Princess Lila?"

"Maybe we should put her to bed," Solari interjected.

The guard shook her head. "You better ask the queen's consort. If she comes out here and Gabrielle's gone I might met the business end of her chakrum. . .No thank you. But she'll be fine until Xena comes back."

Solari smiled and took Lila's hand. "Come on. I'm sure she'll be okay."

The pair began to leave the outlined area of the huts and traveled to the river. There was a chill in the air by the waters edge and Solari gave Lila her cloak as well so the princess would have double the warmth.

"Are you going back with Xena's mother tomorrow?" Solari asked breaking the silence.

"More than likely," Lila answered meeting Solari's eyes briefly before returning her focus on the water.

Solari played with the pebble that was in her hand for a few moments. "I'll miss you greatly," she admitted with a firm nod. "I've gotten kinda used to having you around."

"I wish I could say I got used to being here but I haven't. There's so much to the amazons; I haven't even begun to scratch the surface," she giggled nervously.

"Like what?" Solari asked to keep the conversation rolling.

The two young women locked eyes. 'Do it now' Lila told herself. 'The chance might never come again'. With that thought the princess pulled Solari to her, kissing her softly yet passionately. All her longing and quest for knowledge seeped into the kiss.

"Are you sure?" Solari asked, knowing what the young woman was silently asking. Lila positioned herself on Solari's lap so she was facing her.

"Yes," Lila whispered. "Make love to me Solari. I want you to be my first."

"I'm not sure if I'm worthy of this gift," Solari answered, staring into Lila's hazel eyes.

"Who should I share this with?" Lila prodded. "A husband I may grow to despise? Or perhaps a young man who will promise me heaven then drag me through Hades on my knees? . . .No. . .I trust YOU Solari. I want this first time to be joyful and safe. I feel both those things when I'm in your arms. . .Please say yes."

Solari's hands traveled the length of Lila's arms a number of times. Finally the amazon guard pulled Lila's eager mouth to hers, kissing her with gentleness and passion.

"Yes," Solari conceded as she pulled Lila with her to the earth below. "Yes."

Chapter 29

"Are you all set?" Ephany asked as she entered the royal hut.

Gabrielle was dressed but she was still on the bed. At the sound of the regents overly loud and obnoxious voice she stuffed her head in a pillow and waved her arms.

Xena put a finger over her lips, "Shhh," she instructed in a faint whisper. "Herbs haven't kicked in yet."

Ephany started to laugh but promptly stopped herself. Xena motioned the regent outside and the two women left.

"Give her about a quarter candlemark and a few grapes. Then she'll be good as new," Xena smiled. "Anyway, how did it go last night? Did ya get lucky?" Xena added wiggling her eyebrow up and down.

"Yes and no," Ephany answered evasively.

"And that means. . .?" Xena prompted.

"I think I met someone I could really fall for. I haven't felt this happy since Phantes," the regent paused. "It doesn't hurt to say his name anymore. . .I think I'm ready Xena. I'm ready to move on. . .So yes I got lucky. . .However, if you're inquiring about my sex life that hasn't changed. . .at least not yet," Ephany added giving a tiny grin.

Xena smiled at her friend. "I'm happy for you Eph'."

"I'm happy for both of us Xena. . . I think we've both grown up in the last few years. . .Take care of the lush," she teased pointing to the hut as she began to walk away. "Oh and when you're getting ready to leave let me know, I'll round up some amazons to help you load Taria's wagon."

Xena smiled. "What about you? Aren't you going to help?"

Ephany gave Xena a cocky smile. "It's good to be the queen," she smirked, 'polishing' her fingernails on her tunic before examining them in mock conceit. Finally she dropped the façade and waved, "I'll see ya later."

Xena offered her farewell and went back into the hut. Gabrielle was up and moving, packing away her scrolls. "How you feeling?" Xena asked softly.

"Much better, thank you," Gabrielle responded in a normal voice. "Did you finish the packing already?"

"Yeah. I got an early start this morning."

"Name a morning that you don't have an earlier start," Gabrielle observed.

"Well, there were a few mornings on Lesbo that I slept in. . .Of course I don't know if that would count as sleeping in. I didn't get to bed UNTIL sunrise!"

"Are you complaining Xena?"

Xena pulled the bard close, planting a passionate kiss on her consorts' lips. "Not in the least," she muttered.

Gabrielle rested in Xena's arms; her head on the warrior's shoulder. She reflected on how perfect they fit together.

"It's going to be a wonderful honeymoon," Gabrielle sighed.

"Oh yeah," Xena agreed in a slow, seductive draw. "You. . .and me. . .and mother. . . and Taria. . .and Lila -

"Cut it out!" Gabrielle said swatting at the muscular arm she was recently holding tenderly. "Come on. Let's get going."

When they arrived at Taria and Cyrene's hut they were surprised to see the wagon already loaded with Ephany standing by. Lila and Solari were locked in a tight embrace, oblivious to the world around them. Casually Xena strolled up to Ephany.

"What's this?" she asked.

"Told you I'd help," she grinned. "I didn't do it all myself. I had help," she replied pointing to ten amazon who now stood at attention.

"Thank you," Xena replied, hugging Ephany. "We'll be back soon. I promise."

"Good," Ephany answered as Gabrielle walked over. "Now you keep this warrior out of trouble understand?" the regent remarked as she pulled Gabrielle into a tight embrace. "I'll miss you," Ephany added with a whisper, her eyes beginning to tear up. The bard knew she meant every word.

"I'll miss you too," Gabrielle replied in a like tone.

"Okay. Enough of the mushy stuff," Xena said lightening the farewell. "Take care Ephany" she said offering her forearm. Ephany took hold of it soundly with her own.

"You too Xena," she added giving a shake.

Xena turned and looked at her traveling party. "Okay everybody! We're movin' out. Let's go!"

Taria said the last good-byes to her friends and Gabrielle walked over to Solari and Lila.

"Gabrielle," Solari said with a nod. "Take care."

"You too Solari. Thank you for looking after Lila," she replied with a knowing smile.

Solari nodded. "My pleasure. . .I wanted to ask if it would be alright if I visit Lila soon. I have to do some traveling and I'll be near Poteidaia. I'd like to have your approval."

Gabrielle looked at Lila and she could see the expression of hope in her sisters eyes at seeing Solari again soon. "Sure. That sounds like a wonderful idea," she nodded. "We're leaving soon," Gabrielle added to her sister. Gabrielle looked back at Solari and gave her a wink.

Solari and Lila hugged once more and Solari kissed her tenderly on the lips. "I'm not going to say goodbye," Solari said. "Because I'll be through in the next few moons. So I'll say I'll see you later okay?"

Lila stroked Solari's face tenderly, much like after their love making the night before. "I'll wait."

Solari smiled and pulled Lila closer once more. "Go on," she motioned. "They're waiting."

Lila made her way to the wagon and stopped to see Solari one last time but she had vanished - there one moment and gone the next. Much like their first meeting when she had suddenly appeared from the trees.

Lila hopped up next to Gabrielle who sat next to Xena. Taria and Cyrene took to the back of the wagon with Taria's last 20 years packed inside.

"Everybody ready?" Xena called out. "We didn't forget anyone did we?" she teased. "Everyone's with their designated buddy, right? We don't want to leave anyone behind."

Xena felt a pillow smack the back of her head and turned to see her mother's lover wearing a guilty smirk.

"I'll take that as a yes," Xena replied dryly.

As she put the wagon in motion, with Argo and Taria's mare in the lead, the villagers waved goodbye.

Once on the road, Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's shoulder. "What are we going to do for a honeymoon? Any ideas on where to go?"

"Oh yes," Xena smiled.

"Where?" Gabrielle asked. After a few seconds she could tell the warrior wasn't going to give any details voluntarily. "Are you going to tell me?"

"Oh no," Xena smiled again.

"Come on!" Gabrielle insisted. "At least give me a clue."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. "Let's play questions." Xena answered.

Gabrielle scolded Xena with her eyes but she began to play their favorite game just the same. After five turns and no luck, Xena turned seriously to Gabrielle.

"Give it up Gabrielle," Xena replied. "You're not going to get it," she replied with a tiny smile.

"What I wouldn't give to be able to do that pinch thing right now?" Gabrielle muttered under her breath.

"What's that?" Xena asked. She heard the bard loud and clear but she liked the feel of annoying Gabrielle just a little.

"I know you heard me," Gabrielle answered with a smile. "You can't play dumb with me warrior mine."

Xena reflected. 'No, I can't. You understand me like no one ever has or will. You owned my heart for the longest time. And now you own my soul.'

"You're right Beautiful," Xena replied as they traveled into the sunrise. One hand on the reins and one hand on her bards' thigh. "You're absolutely right."

The End

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