~ Dyo Zoi ~
by Destacain

Disclaimer: See Part One.

Part 5

Xena held Gabrielle until she passed out. Either from sorrow or exhaustion, she was not sure. The warrior didn't know why Gabrielle was crying. She didn't know where she came from or why. She just knew that the bard was here.
That was enough.
The tall, dark haired woman lifted the smaller blonde into her arms and hoisted her up upon the horse. She cradled Gabrielle in her arms like a baby, covering her in a dry cloak she'd retrieved. Every fiber in Xena's being screamed to head back to Amphipolis. They could forget Amazonia, they could forget everything, and simply start anew.
But, as much as she wanted to, Xena knew she could not. They had to return to the Amazons. It's what Gabrielle would have wanted. The warrior feared that upon their imminent return, things would go back to the way they were.
Back to the coldness, back to the indifference, back to the pain. Xena prayed to whoever was listening to save her from that. It would be the cruelest twist of fate.
She slowed the horse down as they reached the Amazon borders. The warrior didn't want to be seen as a threat. She moved at a steady pace, fast enough to suit her needs, but slow enough so the guards saw her and had time to report back to Varia about her return and her precious cargo.
The rain began to lift, but it left behind an ominous fog. Through the haze, Xena was able to make out the village ahead. What she didn't see was the accumulation of Amazon guards appearing.
As she entered the village, she was met with Varia backed by nearly two dozen guards. Not good odds……..for them. Although the guards looked everything other than friendly, Xena was not in the mood to fight. She was not about to destroy the one chance she had at getting her life back. Xena dismounted gently, still cradling the bard in her arms with immense care.
"Xena." They acknowledged each other in disdain. "What have you done to her?"
"I brought her back."
"Dead." She accused.
"No, we met on the trail. She passed out from exhaustion."
"So you say." A sarcastic tone drenched in disbelief spoke.
"Look, it's your choice whether you believe me or not, but Gabrielle needs to see a healer. And if you're not worried about her condition, I am." She said, her eyes turning to ice.
"Worried?! You?! This is probably you're fault anyway. You probably did this. So, what family member did she speak out about this time?"
It was like a punch in the face. The words had stung, they were meant to. Xena had swore off actually fighting, so a psychological battle began to take place.
"Well, when she comes out of it, are you going to force her to marry you again? Tell her you won't heal her unless she says I do. That's probably you're best bet."
Varia was taken aback by the ferocity of her words.
"Touché." She said in compliment.
"Look, we can argue semantics all night. But, that's not what's important." She looked down to the precious bundle within her arms.
Varia nodded at two guards on her left to go and retrieve Gabrielle. They slowly took her from Xena's arms and headed to Lethara's hut. Varia nodded to two other guards on her right and they moved in on Xena.
"Arrest her."
"For what?" Xena asked.
"For attacks made against the queen."
"You know I didn't hurt Gabrielle."
"No." Varia spoke in a very certain tone. "No I don't. And until I do, you're under arrest Xena. Please don't make this get violent."
Now Varia wished she had brought more guards. She knew, if Xena wanted to, she could defeat all the Amazon guards. A threatened Xena was dangerous. A Xena separated from her bard was deadly. But Xena seemed surprising complacent as the guards took her to the holding cell.
That scared Varia even more.

A warm hand came around Varia shoulder, she turned to meet her comforter and found Lethara smiling down at her.
"How is she?" Varia asked with both hope and dismay.
"She's fine. It's like Xena said. She passed out from exhaustion. All she needs is a few days rest and she should be fine." Lethara paused. "She wasn't attacked."
"We can't be sure." Varia spoke almost as if it was a question.
"Yes." Lethara answered concretely. "We can."
"I'm not convinced. I'm going to hold Xena until I hear the words from Gabrielle herself."
"Why delay the inevitable?" She spoke in a softened tone. "Varia, you know Xena could never hurt Gabrielle."
Varia opened her voice to protest, but was quickly silenced by Lethara.
"Varia…you know." She stretched the words out to emphasize their meaning.
Varia simply shook her head. She knew the words were true. It had been wishful thinking to hope Xena had attacked Gabrielle…..Wishful thinking, hah! It would have been a damn miracle. It didn't make it hurt any less, to know your dream is gone.
"Varia, why are you doing this? I know you better then anyone. I was your mother's bond mate. I know you have good heart, and right now it's misguided. But, you can't do this. It's not fair to anybody."
"But I love her." The queen voiced the protest in the tone of a small scared child.
"I know you do. But, if you do this, you'll never have her love. At least not the way you want it. She'll never be happy Varia."
"But…..but …I" She struggled through her tears. " But I could make her happy."
"No, you can't" Lethara looked down to the woman she had helped raised. Now, she looked nothing more then the child she had been years back. It killed Lethara to see her in pain, but lessons had to be learned….no matter how old one is. "She won't be truly happy with you. And she'll never be truly happy with anyone else but Xena. Deep down you must know that. They're soul mates Varia. Can't you see that?"
"I know." She admitted, breaking down into tears. And for the first time in years, Varia cried into Lethara's arms. Just like she had down when she was a child. Just as she had done when she broke her arm and Lethara fixed it. Just as she had done when her mother died.
Lethara held her with tenacity, refusing to let go until Varia was finished. When she finally was done, they disengaged and Varia walked off.
She arrived at the prison and took the keys from the guard's hands. She walked over to Xena's cell and quickly unlocked it. The warrior looked up at her in confusion.
"Go to her."
Gabrielle fluttered her eyes open to the most gorgeous sight she'd every seen.
There Xena was, kneeling beside her, holding her hand much the same way she had done to Lila. Her raven hair shining in the sunlight which entered the room from a window. For a moment, it was too much for Gabrielle to take silently.
"You are beautiful." She remarked in a daze.
Xena's ears perked up to her words and saw the bard looking at her. Not in anger, not in fear, but in love. Love's eyes…..She'd never seen anything so exquisite in all her life.
"So are you." She responded in kind.
Gabrielle became more and more aware of her surroundings. She was, once again, in Lethara's healing hut. But this time was different. This time she wasn't alone. This time Xena was standing dutifully by her side.
"You're here."
"And I always will be."
The words comforted the bard's soul. Always. What a tremendous word.
"She's dead, you know." Gabrielle spoke unceremoniously.
Xena was taken aback by her words for a moment. Both because of their content and their timing.
"Who's dead?"
"Lila. She was sick…..Ares he told me. I had to go, I had to see her. She's dead."
"Oh Gabrielle, I'm so sorry." She brought the bard's hand to her lips and kissed it to offer support.
"It's ok. I'm ok. I mean, at heart I'm not…..I won't be for a long time. But, she went in peace and that's a comfort. She made me realize something."
"What's that?" Xena feared the answer.
"We don't know how long any of us has. It's not worth it to spend precious time unhappy. Xena," She looked deeply into the Warrior's softened eyes. "I love you. I love you so much sometimes it hurts. I don't want to be mad. I don't want fight. I just want to be with you. You're the other piece of my soul, you are my life."
"Everything else that's happened, it doesn't matter. I just want us to be together."
With the bard's words, the weight of the world was lifted off Xena's shoulders. She squeezed the bard's hand and leaned over and placed a kiss on Gabrielle's nose.
Everything was going to be ok.
They say time heals all wounds. And, it seemed to be true.
Weeks had passed by and slowly but surely, Xena and Gabrielle's relationship had improved. Not only had it improved, it had flourished. They now spent every available moment together. They sparred together, they ate together, and on a few rare occasions, they even bathed together. Those were delightful experiences filled with playful actions and banter.
It felt so good….for both of them.
The only thing that remained semi separate was nights. Every evening, the bard and Xena would usually curl up by the fire, or take a walk outside and just talk. They would talk about anything and everything, but when it drew time for bed, Gabrielle went to her hut and Xena to Lethara's.
They had come a long way, but they weren't home yet.
Their relationship had also added new dynamics. They were much more comfortable with each other physically. Both were much more open with their touches, and more physical with their emotions. Xena and Gabrielle more aware of the sexual tension that existed between them.
Instead of shying away from it, they embraced it. Allowing themselves to be much more free with their affections without the fear of repercussions. Everything was perfect….almost.
Today had been particularly gorgeous. Xena had decided to surprise Gabrielle with a picnic. She knew with the bard's great love of nature that the gesture would be greatly appreciated. Xena strode over to the council room and quietly entered.
There she found the bard enwrapped in a scroll….how characteristic. Once Gabrielle was into a scroll, she was oblivious to her surrounding. It wasn't a good trait for a warrior, but typical for a bard. Xena quietly tip toed up behind Gabrielle and whispered into her ear.
"Good reading?"
"Ahhh!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she jumped into the air, startled.
The bard's reaction was simply too funny. Xena didn't even try to hide her amusement, letting out hearty laugh. Gabrielle gave her a sharp look and tried to maintain a look of anger. But resistance was futile, and soon she joined the warrior in he laughter.
"So, was it?" Xena asked, trying to stop her giggles.
"Was it what?"
"Good reading?"
"Oh yes," She answered sarcastically. " Amazon treaties are real page turners. I love the one about agreement between our tribe and the north one the distribution of wool. Kept me up all night."
"I'll have to borrow that some time." Xena remarked in matching mockery.
"Hmmm….that's if I trust it out of my sight." She smiled.
"Well do you?"
"Do I……?"
"Trust me?"
The words were said in jest, but the answer meant everything. It was a test. A test to see whether or not they had truly moved on. Whether or not they could ever truly go home. Xena's life held in the balance, holding on to the hope of the answer.
Gabrielle, too, was aware of the weight of her answer. She took a moment to fully examine the question. Do I trust her? When Xena and Gabrielle had reunited after Lila death, Gabrielle had said that everything was forgiven and forgotten. But, she knew it wasn't true. There was no quick fix to what had happened. And although they had been and were still on the road to recovery, Xena tried to prove herself every second of the day.
Things had been so good between them. And with every passing day, every passing hour, every passing second that they were together, Gabrielle was more and more sure that the second chance was well spent. Do I trust her?
"Yes." She said surely. "Yes Xena, I do trust you.
The Warrior Princess couldn't contain her contentment. A bright smile blazed across her face. We're almost home.
"Well, then I have somewhere to show you……buuuttttt it requires your trust."
"Ok. Let's go."
"Alright, but I need you to close your eyes."
Gabrielle looked at her with skepticism but gently closed her eyes. Xena saw the trust and vowed never to break it again. The warrior opened her arms and swooped the bard into them. Holding her like a baby. Gabrielle gasped, startled but kept her eyes closed.
"Xena what are doing?!"
"I said I have to show you something." She began to exit the hut and walk out of the village. "Well, it requires us to go a little distance."
"I can walk on my own." The bard protested.
"Yeh yeh, but its too much hassle to keep you from running into things. Just hold on, we'll be there in a moment."
Gabrielle could feel the wind on her face and knew that she was now outside.
"Xena," she scolded. "People are probably staring."
"Ohhh, nobody's looking. Calm down, just a little bit further." Gabrielle gave herself over to Xena's advice and held on tighter to the warrior neck and waited in anticipation.
It took Xena only several moments to reach the sight. She had already previous prepared the place for a picnic. She had set out venison, cheese, grapes. She had even stolen a bottle of wine from a pantry in the kitchen for the occasion. The centerpiece of the whole ensemble was a big, warm, loaf of nutbread.
Xena took a seat down next to Gabrielle.
"Open you eyes."
Green orbs slowly open to a gorgeous view. She was sitting on a cliff, covered by kindly by trees, looking out upon the Grecian countryside. As she became more aware of her surroundings she saw the beautiful picnic prepared for her. Lovely food and Gabrielle spied a wonderful centerpiece.
"Nutbread!" She squealed with delight. Gabrielle reached over and picked up the loaf. In an unusual manner, the bard began sniffing the bread.
"What are you doing?" Xena asked.
"Well, you can never be too careful. I'm checking for henbane." She remarked humorously. The comment earned her a throaty laugh from the warrior. The musical sound of her glee, Gabrielle was sure was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard in her life. She could not wait to hear it again.
"Oh, don't worry about that. I made it myself." She beamed with pride.
"You made this?" The bard questioned in disbelief.
"You mean you cooked?!" Gabrielle said in a slightly frightened tone. She began to slowly lower the nutbread back to its center plate. The warrior caught the action and was instantly offended.
Gabrielle immediately swooped the loaf up and took a huge bite.
"Just kidding! Hah, I finally pull one over on the mighty Warrior Princess." She munched on, her cheeks full of the delicious delicacy. "Mmmm. Xena this is so good. Thank you!" The bard giggled and suddenly jumped over to give Xena a genuinely thankful hug.
Xena had been taken off balance by the action and fell backwards. The physical contact held for a second. Xena looked up into the bard's eyes. They were so close. It would be so easy….just a couple more inches and I could kiss her.
The bard, as if sensing her actions, regretfully pulled up and off the warrior. Xena sat up in kind.
"I'm glad you like it."
Gabrielle simply smiled as an answer, for her mouth was much to full to speak. She gave herself several seconds to chew and swallow then picked up the loaf again. But instead of shoving it into her mouth, she brought it up to Xena's.
"Want some?"
"No thanks. It's your favorite."
"Oh come on Xena. If I eat this whole, I won't have any room for anything else."
"Somehow, I doubt that."
"Oh ha ha! Well, you better try it. It's probably the one time you'll be able to eat your cooking and live."
"Oh haha!"
Gabrielle picked off a bit size piece and held it between two fingers. She slowly brought it up to Xena's lips.
"Please." She tempted. Xena was too weak to resist. She descended her mouth upon the food and the fingers holding it, taking a prolonged minute to taste the salty skin. She brought her face back and closed her eyes to savor the bread and the contact.
Gabrielle began to blush and Xena's actions. With her eyes closed in delight, Xena looked absolutely beautiful. The warrior's touch had left her far too bothered and far too unsatisfied for Gabrielle's tastes. She began to turn an even deeper crimson.
Xena opened her eyes to a site that left her breathless. There was Gabrielle lazily staring upon her. The sun kissed her bronzing skin. Her checks coating in a light flush. And her beautiful green eyes sparkling at her with trust, with love, and a hidden emotion……could that be desire? It was simply too much.
"You are beautiful." Xena unknowingly spoke aloud. Gabrielle picked up the nutbread again and began inspecting it more thoroughly in a humorous manner.
"Are you sure this loaf is drug free?"
Xena instantly awoke from her trance and became aware of her words. She began a blush that rivaled Gabrielle's color. They both looked at each other and fell to a fit of giggles.
After they regained their composure, both women finished the meal in a comfortable silence. Xena had quietly cleared away the picnic, replacing the half eaten meal into the basket and bringing it over to the horse. She returned to find Gabrielle looking out over the ledge. Xena took her spot next to the bard and joined her in admiring the view.
"I miss it." She said sadly.
"Miss what?" Xena asked, concerned.
"That." Gabrielle said, pointing out to the countryside. "Here in Amazonia, I mean I'm happy. But, I miss being out there. I miss traveling. I miss telling my stories to whoever would listen. I miss not knowing where I am, and not caring. The freedom of it all, it was intoxicating."
"I love the village. I love what I'm doing now. I'm a part of something. But I miss being out on the road. I know I help people here, but I miss the random faces in peril. I miss their expression of gratitude out of sincerity, not out of respect to authority."
"I miss just sleeping under the stars."
Xena quietly listened to the bard's words.
"Here in Amazonia, I know I'm a part of something. But, when I was with you, fighting the good fight. I always felt like I was a part something bigger, you know?"
"Yeh, I do." Xena admitted honestly.
"I miss it."
"I miss it too." Xena sorrowfully admitted.
"Is that selfish and ungrateful? Right now, I have everything but it's not enough." A lone tear fell down her cheek. Xena saw the bard in pain and was torn apart. She, not thinking about her actions, but her arm across the bard's shoulder to comfort her. Gabrielle fell back into the touch.
"You could never be selfish Gabrielle. You have much too pure of heart." Xena smiled as she felt the bard relax into her. "Gabrielle, let's do it."
"Do what?" She asked confused.
"Let's get away. Let's sleep under the stars. We could leave."
"I can't…" She stuttered out.
"I know you have responsibilities here. I accept that and I understand that. And, I am willing to stay and wait her as long as you feel the need. But why don't we get away, just for one night. Forget our responsibilities. Forget our pasts. We don't have to be the mighty Warrior Princess and The Amazon queen. We can just be Xena and Gabrielle."
"That sounds wonderful Xena. But, the question is, with everything stripped away, is just Xena and Gabrielle enough for you?"
The warrior turned and looked deeply into the bard's eyes.
"All packed?" Xena asked the bard as she hoisted the saddle bags over the horse.
"Yep, how bout you?"
"I'm ready to go." Xena assured.
"Well then, let's ride." Gabrielle smiled.
"I still think this is unfair that I don't know where we're going." Xena protested.
"It's your turn to trust me. Besides, it's a surprise." Gabrielle scolded.
"Mmmmhmph." Xena pouted, but admitted defeat.
The ride had been taken at a delightfully leisure pace. They had no commitments of the day and no where to be but on their own. The ride had been filled with mindless ideal chatter that both delighted in.
Gabrielle fell into her previous rhythm of small chat about anything and everything. It was like a breath of fresh air for both. It had been months since Xena had heard that beautiful voice for a prolonged period. She was addicted to it, she craved it, and openly welcomed the experience.
Xena took turns in the conversation. Sometimes, to Gabrielle's delight, she was fully participatory in the dialog. She could even be down right chatty. Other times, she was content to simply listen to Gabrielle's soothing voice and let it wash over her like a fresh spring rain.
They stopped on the way for a short lunch. It had been nothing but meager trail rations, but Gabrielle had looked upon it as if it was a feast. Xena had been tempted, but reserved to keep the extra loaf of nutbread she had made in her pack as a surprise for later. Gabrielle always loved surprises.
As they got further and further away from the village, Xena became more and more curious to their destination. Every time she asked the bard, Gabrielle simply turned up her lip and remarked she didn't want to ruin a great surprise.
"I could always beat it out of you." Xena off handedly remarked. Then, she quickly realized the hidden implication of her words and silently kicked herself in regret.
Gabrielle saw the distraction in Xena eyes, and felt sorry for the warrior. She decided to lighten the mood with humor.
"You could do that, oh tall one. But, you'd have to catch me first." Gabrielle teased and kicked her horse into a fast gallop. It took Xena a moment to process the bard's actions, but, once she did, she was off following the bard at a furious pace.
Gabrielle circled around a tree and doubled back in the opposite direction and suddenly stopped. It took Xena but a moment to catch up.
"Ah hah! I gotcha." Xena proclaimed in triumph.
"Please," Gabrielle let out an exaggerated sigh in friendly banter. "You got that close because I let you get that close."
"Might cocky aren't we. Well then tell me, oh battling bard. Why did you stop?"
"Because we're here." Gabrielle exclaimed pointing upwards to the structure above.
There lay a giant cave. A cave both were all too familiar to both. Xena looked on it with mixed emotions, but was willing to do anything to make the bard happy. She quietly followed Gabrielle up into the cave.
The climb took only several minutes before they had reached the mouth of the cave. There was an odd familiarity on both sides.
Xena began to unload the horses and without thought, both fell into their routine. Xena unpacked the food and blankets and went out to collect fire wood. Gabrielle laid out the bedrolls, again, unconsciously side by side.
When Xena returned, she smiled at what she found. The campsite was overwhelmingly nostalgic of days before. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the two bedrolls lined together. It was as if no time had passed. She handed the firewood over to Gabrielle who began to prepare supper.
The meal consisted of bread, cheese, and a stew Gabrielle had created with surrounding ingredients. It wasn't much, but it was Xena's turn to look upon a feast. She gobbled it up with in seconds and hungrily asked for more, a request the bard was all too happy to grant.
The meal was spent in small talk between bites. The moments passed by much too quickly for both. They were savoring the time together. After the plates had been meal had been cleared away, Xena reached into her bag to unleash her surprise.
"Gabrielle." Xena called.
"Yes." The bard looked up from the fire.
"Close your eyes." Xena asked and the bard automatically complied. Xena reached down and picked off a small piece from the loaf. She brought the food up to Gabrielle's lips. The bard took a second to inhale the smell, then quickly ate from the warrior's fingers. But instead of simply feasting on the nutbread, she allowed her tongue to outline the Xena's finger, unconsciously.
Xena let out a soft groan and Gabrielle awoken from her trance. She brought her mouth back and smiled.
"Good." She purred seductively. Xena gave another uncharacteristic blush.
They continued on, feeding one another. Both knowing what might come next, but neither speaking out, afraid to scare the other off. Once they had devoured the nutbread, they spent several seconds in silence. Gabrielle decided to speak up.
"Thank you."
"For what?" Xena asked honestly.
"For everything. Thanks for suggesting we go away. I really did need this. Thank you for agreeing to come here, I know it doesn't hold fond memories."
"What do you mean?"
"I know this is where you brought Eve….afterwards." Gabrielle finished with a lowered head.
"How do you know that?"
"I came here, with Varia. When we went to spy on Ares, we camped here. It was so strange. I could feel you here. It had been so long since I had seen you, but I could recognize your presence anywhere. At first, I thought you might be here. I went looking for you around the cave, but to no avail. But, I did find this." She reached into her bag. " And I knew you'd been here."
She removed a delicate black sack with gold lettering and stitching. It was Xena's bag.
"I must have left it here earlier." Xena explained with amazement.
"I know. When I found it, I hid it. Kept it in my bag. I took it everywhere with me. Every night I slept with it under my pillow. You know why? Because it was yours. Because it let me feel close to you."
"Xena, I've missed you so much. I don't ever want to be without you. You're the only thing that matters to me. I love you." She made a tear filled admission.
Xena opened her mouth to respond, but was to overtaken by emotions to speak. It was all she could do to stare into the bard's eyes, and let her blues hopefully express the words she could not. Gabrielle seemed to understand as she leaned forward towards the warrior.
The warrior opened her arms, ready to accept the small bodies. But, Xena was unprepared for what transpired. Instead of two arms wrapped around her, she found two soft lips on top of hers. Gabrielle was kissing her.
It took the warrior but a moment to realize what was going on, but her body automatically responded, kissing Gabrielle back. She tasted so sweet. Xena was lost in her touch. She wanted to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming, but as she felt a warm tongue demand entry, she knew she was not.
Gabrielle was reeling. She hadn't meant to kiss Xena, but it was as if she couldn't stop herself. Her hopes for a friendly hug had turned into a lover's kiss. The bard had tried to pull away once she realized her actions, but felt to strong arms wrapped around her; holding her close. She felt two warm lips kissing her back. Xena is kissing me back. It was almost too much.
The bard let instinct take over and deepen the kiss by plunging her hot tongue into Xena's mouth. The kiss went on and led to roaming hands. Years of denial had thrown their actions into warped speed. Things were moving much too fast. Xena had to stop before she took the bard right here. She had to be sure that was what Gabrielle wanted.
Slowly, Xena pulled away from the bard, ending the kiss. Gabrielle opened her eyes to Xena's retreating expression and instantly mistook her actions. She quickly fell into a stuttered apology.
"Xena…I'm so sorry….I don't know came over me. It was an accident. It won't…."
The warrior silenced her by placing her lips over the bard's once again for a quick kiss.
"Don't you dare apologize. I'm not sorry it happened."
"You're not?" Gabrielle asked hopefully."
"No, I'm not. I've been wanted to kiss you for as long as I can remember."
"You have?"
"Then why did you stop?" She asked, moderately hurt. Xena sensed her pain and instantly wanted to take it away. She tried to heal the situation.
"Because we were moving too fast. I want this, I want it more then anything I've ever wanted in my entire life. But, I don't want you to regret it. You have to be sure."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked straight into Xena's eyes, straight into Xena's soul.
"I'm sure. I want us to be together more then anything."
Xena rejoiced in her answer, but still felt the need to relax things a bit. She reached over and took Gabrielle's hand.
"Come on, I want to show you something."
Gabrielle was a bit confused at her actions. First they were kissing and now……She said she wanted this. I guess I'll just have to trust her.
"Ok." She agreed hesitantly.
Xena took the outstretched palms and lead Gabrielle towards the back of the cave. She grabbed a torch in the other hand and walked back as far as possible into the cave. Gabrielle just watched in confusion. When she had looked for Xena of the cave, she had gone all the way into the cave and not found anything. She was brought out of her thoughts as Xena stopped at a jerking halt.
Xena and Gabrielle were faced with a stone wall. Gabrielle remained confused as Xena looked around for something.
"Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise." Xena turned around and grinned. "Follow me."
The warrior found what she was looking for. A giant loose boulder which she, with a bit of effort, pushed slowly out of the way to reveal a small tunnel. Xena headed down the hall rapidly as Gabrielle followed behind at a more hesitant pace.
The further they went, the smaller the tunnel got. Gabrielle was bending almost completely over and Xena was practically crawling. But still, they marched on….well, crawled on.
"We're almost there Gabrielle." She assured.
They went only a few more seconds when Xena stopped suddenly. The bard, not paying attention, kept right on walking and ran straight into the warrior's derriere. Xena let out another loud laugh at Gabrielle's antics.
"Anxious are we?"
The bard was thankful for the darkness because it saved her the embarrassment of the bright flush that was coating her cheeks.
And then Xena was gone. All of a sudden the warrior was no where to be seen. Gabrielle began to panic. She brought her head around to all directions, but in the darkness it didn't do much good.
"Xena." She called out. "Xena!"
"Over here." An echoed voice spoke up. Gabrielle looked around to see where exactly "over here" was, but still found herself alone in the tunnel.
"Where is that Xena?" Gabrielle asked, frantic.
"Down here." A closer voice spoke. Gabrielle followed the sound. " Look down here."
The bard crawled a bit forward, to where Xena had previously been. She looked down and found two beautiful blue eyes looking up. There before her, was a hole just the perfect size for someone to slide through.
"Ah, I see you found me." Xena looked up and smiled. "Now jump down."
"Are you crazy?!" Gabrielle asked with much too much sincerity.
"I'll catch you."
"Oh really."
"I promise. Trust me?"
There were those words again. Gabrielle knew the answer to the question. She put her feet through the whole and let them dangle for a moment then pushed the rest of her body through. She free fell for only several seconds before she found herself securely in a certain Warrior Princess's arms.
"I told you I'd catch ya." She winked as she put down the bard, only to find Gabrielle staggering back into her arms. "Hey, are you ok?" Xena asked concerned.
"Wow!" Gabrielle exclaimed. She had been physically faltered by the beauty and serenity before her. There she was in the middle of the most beautiful little cavern she'd ever seen.
The walls were covered in glowing crystals, sparkling in the light. There were white. There were blues. There were greens. And several purples. The rock floor was flat, but in the middle lay a pool of water. It glistened and only added to the serenity. A reflection of the moonlight played on the water.
Gabrielle did a double take and looked confused. We're in the middle of a cave, how can there be moonlight? Xena, as if sensing her confusion, put an arm around the bard's shoulder and pointed up.
Gabrielle followed her finger to the ceiling. There, in the middle of the top of the cave, was a hole. Through it, the light of the stars and the moon shone down upon the cave. Coating all that the eyes could see in glorious moonlight.
"And those," Xena pointed to the walls. "Are natural crystals formed by the earth years and years ago. And that," She pointed to the water. "Is a natural spring. The water is heated from the earth."
"Xena, it's beautiful!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Good surprise?" She asked.
"Very good surprise. This is so serene."
"I know. How bout a swim?" Xena inquired with a raise eyebrow. As an answer, Gabrielle quickly stripped off her clothes in abandonment, letting them fall where ever they pleased. Then she made a big jump into the water. It took Xena only a second to follow suit and entered the water in a flash.
Gabrielle made a quick splash at Xena. Not to be outdone, Xena splashed Gabrielle with even more water. The bard fought back and before she knew it, a water fight took place. The battle went on for several seconds before Xena decided to end the match. She went under the water and pulled Gabrielle's legs down, dunking her.
The bard came up sputtering and spurting out water as Xena laughed at her predicament. Once she had regained her composure, Gabrielle became very aware of her position. She was only inches away from Xena. She could feel the added heat of the warrior's body.
Xena, too, was very aware of the closeness. She looked in to the bard's eyes and let blue mesh into green. They stared at each other for several seconds. Both eyes held gazes of desire, of lust, of need, but mostly of such unequivocal love. Both knew what would happen next. They swam closer together. Doubt loomed Xena's mind.
"Are you sure?" She asked sincerely. Her heart hung in the balance at Gabrielle's answer. As a response, Gabrielle moved in and kissed Xena deeply. The warrior had her answer.
That night was the first time Xena ever made love.
The two held each other tightly in exhaustion. It had been like they'd always dreamed. The night, the afterglow, each other; everything had been perfect.
"That was…." Xena began, but didn't have the words.
"I mean…." Gabrielle tried to help her out, but found herself a bard without words. Except for one.
"Wow!" They said in unison. Both began to laugh as their shared expression. Xena pressed her forehead onto Gabrielle's and they shared a smile. They spent several moments in silence, just looking at each other before they disengaged and laid back flat, both looking at the sky.
"They're beautiful, aren't they." Gabrielle remarked.
"Yes you are." Xena said openly.
"I meant the stars, Xena." She scolded.
"Well, I meant you, Gabrielle." She teased, nipping the tip of the bard's noise with her teeth.
They spent another moment in silence, looking up at the stars.
"Can I ask you something?" Gabrielle spoke suddenly.
"Its stupid question, but….where were you? When I was getting…..you know. Where were you? Ares was implying something, which probably meant nothing but….I just wanted to know."
At the mention of Ares name, Xena's skin turned cold. No, not now. Not when everything was going absolutely perfect. If I answer the truth, I could lose her.
"Gabrielle…I…um….." She stuttered to answer.
"Nevermind." Gabrielle tried to stop her partner from any uncomfort.
"No, I don't know what he said, but it doesn't matter. When you were….you know, where was I? Not where I should be. And I never intend to make that mistake again." She said whole heartedly. "I'm always going to be here for you."
The warrior moved in and kissed Gabrielle gently. The kiss was more of love then lust. It was not that their passions had run out, they were merely exhausted and needed to rejuvenate. The kiss was for comfort.
"I love you Gabrielle."
"I love you too, Xena."
They held each other tightly and reveled in their love. Gabrielle rested her head on Xena shoulder and Xena let hers rest on Gabrielle's blonde head. She placed a light kiss on the bard's head and sighed with content. They looked up to the stars again. Neither could recall a more beautiful night.
Xena's heart had never felt so complete. Here she was, with her soul mate, together. She could smell her hair, she could still taste her skin. They were so close, Xena couldn't tell where she ended and Gabrielle began. It felt inebriating and Xena wished it could always be like this. She needed it to always be like this.
Brought her lips down to the bard's ears and whispered lightly into them.
"Marry me."
"Ohh sure." Gabrielle answered sarcastically, giggling.
"No, I'm serious. Marry me." Xena spoke in an honest tone.
"What?" Gabrielle asked, amazed.
"Gabrielle, I love you. You're my heart, you're my life. I've never been so happy before. Being here, with you. It's everything. I can't live without it. "
"You are everything to me. You're my air. You're the earth, you're the sky, you're the stars. Everything. My life didn't begin until I met you. And the day I left, it was put on hold until I returned. There is no life without you, just a miserable existence."
"I love you so much it hurts. And I can't bear another day of uncertainty, knowing that it could be my last with you. I want it to be forever. I need it to be forever. So…" She picked Gabrielle up and stood her straight. Then Xena got down on one knee and looked up at Gabrielle with such love, it was almost too much to take.
"Gabrielle, will you marry me?"
Gabrielle was beyond words. She'd never been so happy. She was so elated, so perfect, it was almost as if it wasn't real. Gabrielle needed it to be real.
"Are you sure?" Gabrielle asked the same question Xena had voiced earlier that night. As a response, Xena stood up and kissed the bard deeply. The kiss lasted for several moments, then Xena pulled away.
"Marry me." Xena whispered lovingly.
"Yes, Xena. I'll marry you."
The End.

Or is it? Sorry about the length. Finally, done huh! Thanks for sticking with it. If you want more check out the Epilogue.

Continued in the epilogue.

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