Home Sweet Home Part II

Written by CN Winters
Poetry by Meluu

Disclaimers: As always Xena, Gab and the gang are not mine (but I sure have fun playing with them). There are scene of love and scenes of misery scattered throughout this fiction work. If any of these elements are unappealing or illegal where you live, please go read someplace else. And if you're too young, go away and come back later if you're so inclined.

Authors note: This is the third story in the 'Homecoming' series. I behoove you to read the first two in the proper order before proceeding into this one. I must warn you this story is unlike any in the series so far. This one is definitely a 'cookie and hot chocolate' story but I'm hoping it will be worth the ride.

A special thanks to Meluu for her poetry. I'm not a poet and I wanted our lover's thoughts to be on paper for the reader to see. She makes a wonderful Gabrielle and/or Xena

As always e-mail any comments to me at cnwinters@hotmail.com. I refuse to answer 'hate mail' of a prejudice nature but I will reply to any and all constructive comments. As always, thanks for reading.

Chapter 11

"How many men does Zagreus have?" Xena asked.

"Scout says about 200, maybe 250," Ephany replied.

"I should've killed that bastard in Laurel years ago," the warrior berated herself.

"What's our defenses look like?" Gabrielle asked moving to her lover, locking around the warrior's powerful arm.

"3 to 1," Ephany answered in military fashion.

"And our best and bravest are outta town huh?" The warrior rolled her eyes and gently shook off her bard. The women watched as Xena paced; considering a strategy.

"We've sent word," Ephany offered. "With any luck they are already on their way home. The scouts will tell them the situation to speed up their return."

"No offense Eph' but our luck doesn't look real good at this moment," Xena snapped. "So let's not count on it."

Ephany only nodded, as they watched the warrior deciding on a battle plan.

"Okay, here's what we'll do," Xena began. "We have to keep the fighting away from the village so we'll make our first strike out at the tree line. Put the archers in place in the trees. We'll put a sword Calvary together toward the north. That's the quickest way into the village and knowing Zagreus he'll take the shortest route. Chances are he doesn't know I'm here and that will work to our advantage. The guy's a gutless coward but with an army that size. . .Let's just say it doesn't look good. I should, however, be able to guess his troops movements. Ephany I need you to stay with the archers at the tree line. I'll head the north Calvary-

"Xena," Terris interrupted. "I only have two assistants here with limited healing knowledge. I need another hands on healer."

"What about Kelodites?" Xena asked

"Yes she's a healer but she's also one of our leading staff warriors. . .She's with Eponin at King Licieus kingdom."

Xena sighed in frustration and turned to Ephany. "I don't believe this," she chuckled in misery.

"Your skills are need here in the village Xena, not the battlefield," Terris insisted. "You'll save many more amazons by helping me."

Xena considered Terris' words and reluctantly agreed. "Alright but who will lead the north Calvary?"

"I will," a voice called from the hut entrance.

Solari walked inside and stood next to Ephany. "I'll lead the sword Calvary," she announced.

"Lila will have my head," Xena argued.

"I've sent her to the caves with the young, as well as six royal guards." Solari replied firmly. "Rations are being sent now as I speak. And as for your head Xena," the warrior grinned briefly before looking serious again, "she knows I'm volunteering for this battle and she supports my decision."

Ephany stroked her best friends back in support.

"Okay then," Xena sighed. "Looks like we've got a plan. Ephany; Solari, get your troops ready. Chances are Zagreus won't be here until tomorrow but see that they are set and assembled. . .if that's alright with our queen," she added softly.

Gabrielle nodded in agreement to everyone in the room. The two amazons bowed in respect and quickly left to see to their duties. Terris moved as well, getting to get her medical supplies in order.

"What do you want me to do?" Gabrielle asked, once she and Xena were alone.

"You're going to the caves with Lila," Xena announced firmly, not wanting a debate.

"No," Gabrielle replied. "I'm staying in the village."

"No. You're not," Xena argued. Terris could hear the exchange and bent an ear to listen.

"Yes I am," Gabrielle insisted. "Now I can help you here or I can fight next to Solari but either way I am not leaving this village!"

"Zeus be damned Gabrielle!" Xena shouted. "This is no time to argue with me. I'm not going to lose you the way I . . ."

Xena didn't finish. She didn't have to. Gabrielle knew what she was going to say. "I'm going to do everything in my power to see that neither one of us loses each other," Gabrielle replied, a calm settling in her voice that, in turn, steadied the warrior.

"I don't want to take that chance," Xena answered.

Gabrielle moved and took the warrior in her arms. Xena returned the gesture, planting a soft kiss on the top of her head.

"Don't you realize by now that I feel safest when I'm near you?" Gabrielle whispered. "In light of everything. . .you're still my champion."

Xena closed her eyes, savoring the words; tightening her grip. "Okay," she returned in a similar tone. "Help me here. You've become a pretty good healer yourself," she grinned.

"Thank you. . .I'm going to see Lila now. I wanna. . .I want to make sure she's okay," Gabrielle replied as she slowly pulled away.

"You're going to give it to her now aren't you?" Xena asked, knowing the bard would comprehend.

Gabrielle sighed as she turned back around. "I'm sure I'll be fine I. . .I want to insure that the amazons have a leader. . .just in case. Giving Lila the caste now will ease my mind Xena," the bard answered. "I won't be gone long."

Gabrielle blew Xena a kiss and walked out of the healers hut before Xena could respond. Terris walked over and put her hand on Xena's shoulder. "Come on," she coaxed warmly. "We have preparations to make."

Chapter 12

Lila was in a corner tending to a frightened child who was perhaps 3 summers old. When the guards came to attention she turned to find Gabrielle behind her.

"How ya holdin' up?" Gabrielle asked.

Lila tasseled the girls' hair and gave her a cookie. After the child smiled she rose and walked the short distance between them.

"Solari's joining the battle," she replied softly.

"I know," Gabrielle responded. She didn't want to add the fact that Solari wasn't just joining, but actually, leading the battle. "She's a wonderful warrior. Quick and smart. And believe you me, I know my warriors," the bard added with a smile.

Lila seemed coaxed by the words. With that Gabrielle motioned three of the guards over to them. "I realize you're the princess of this village but I need to make things official Lila. In case I don't make it through this battle, I'm giving you my rite of caste." Gabrielle turned to the guards. "I need you to witness this in case there's a problem." Gabrielle then turned back to her sister again. "I would still like Ephany to rule as acting queen until you're comfortable with the role. This is my last request Lila so please see that it's carried out."

"Gabs don't talk that way," Lila insisted. "You'll be fine."

"I believe you, however, I also know that anything is possible. . .I want to insure that the nation will go on, alright?"

Lila nodded without argument.

"Now where's that little niece of mine," Gabrielle grinned as she looked around. She spotted the young one- cookie muck covering her beautiful face. Gabrielle smiled larger at the sight and walked over.

"That sure looks good," Gabrielle said kneeling down to her nieces level. "Think I could have a some?" the bard asked, acting like she was going to take a bite. Reflexively, Ruth pulled the treat away with an odd look on her face. Gabrielle had to laugh.

"Better learn now Ruth. Hide your food when Aunt Gabby's around," Lila said walking over.

Gabrielle leaned back and smacked her sisters shin playfully. "I wouldn't steal cookies from a baby. . .a baby sister yes. . .but not a baby," Gabrielle smiled. She picked the toddler up in her arms. "She's so beautiful," Gabrielle commented, before trying to tickle the girls belly. When Ruth let out a giggle, the bard giggled as well.

"You'd make a wonderful mother Gabrielle," her sister commented as she watched the two.

"Maybe," the bard began. "But that's never going to happen. . .I'm never going to have a child."

The words stung. It brought up the painful memories of years past. But it wasn't just memories that caused the ache now. It was also expectations that would never be met. She loved the idea of having kids. 'In fact,' the bard reflected silently, 'I didn't really think about it until Ruth came along. . .Ruth. . . About a year ago. . .BY THE GODS!'.

"Are you okay?" Lila asked. In the course of a few seconds she watched her sister go from joyous cooing to total shock to . . .realization? Lila couldn't quite put her finger on the change that overcame her sister. "Gabrielle?" Lila prodded when Gabrielle didn't reply. "I said are you okay? Maybe you should sit down?"

"It can't be that simple," Gabrielle muttered to herself.

"What?" Lila asked in total confusion.

Gabrielle looked up, coming back from her thoughts as she met her sisters eyes. "I want a baby," she whispered.

"Then have one," Lila replied.

Gabrielle handed Ruth back to her sister. "It's not that easy. There are other factors to consider."

"Like what?" Lila asked.

"Like Xena for one. I mean honestly, can you see her with kids?!"

Even as she spoke the words she could envision it. Xena, nervously trying to steady a small bundle in her big hands. Xena draping a toddler over her shoulder while they both laughed. Xena teaching the finer points of self defense to a pre-teen. Xena inspecting prospective suitors seeing who she could intimidate the most. Yes. . .Gabrielle could honestly see Xena with children. But whether the warrior could was a different story.

She decided to hold her tongue until this mess with Zagreus was settled. She realized the warrior didn't need any more pressure right now. Announcing that she wanted kids was not the time or the place now.

"It's getting late and I need to help Xena prepare," Gabrielle told her sister, giving her a hug.

"Take care Gabrielle," Lila said firmly holding on. "I'm glad you're here and although it isn't going to be necessary," Lila grinned. "I will do as you've requested."

"Thanks Lila. You don't know how much that means to me," Gabrielle replied. "Until later than."

"Later," Lila answered.

Gabrielle wasted no time and walked swiftly out the door. Lila realized, as did the rest of the village, it would be a long, restless night.

Chapter 13

Xena stood over a wounded amazon, tending a broken arm, when Gabrielle rushed over.

"What's that noise Xena? Is it thunder?" she asked.

Xena listened carefully. "The archers didn't stop them," she whispered.

Xena, Gabrielle and Terris all raced outside and the warrior turned to the healer. "How are you with a weapon?" Xena asked with concern. She saw the approaching troops - about 150 men on horse back.

"Fair," Terris admitted.

"Go find the other villagers and set up a guard around the huts. Judging by those touches," Xena grinned. "He's going to try to touch the village. . .but he won't succeed. I won't let him."

Terris took off finding her two assistants. After brief instructions all three headed in different directions. "Now what?" Gabrielle asked nervously.

Xena could feel her pulse pounding in her head, her heart thumping in her chest. She loved the feeling. With a wry grin she replied, "We wait. . .And then we fight."

Gabrielle ran back inside grabbing her staff. When she returned she watched the first melee between the sword Calvary and the warlords army. Solari was quick; fast - just like she told Lila. She took out three soldiers and went back for three more. When more and more men got closer to the village she pushed the defenses back until both sides were deep into the village. Gabrielle looked over to find Xena already engaged in sword play.

A solider thought Gabrielle would be an easy target but he ended up on his back side. Soon two more suffered the same fate. She worked around them but they were stronger than she imaged. The blows to the head she gave them weren't enough to break their spirit. For a brief moment she became distracted by Xena. Her warrior fell to her knees; an open gash, sliced across the upper legs. Gabrielle tried to rise upon being struck to the ground but she got shoved back down by the men who 'playfully' kicked her in the ribs and stomach.

The new location gave her another perspective now. This time her attention fell on Solari. She watched helplessly as her sister's mate was attacked from behind, a soldier driving his blade deep and long through her back. She was gone instantly. Gabrielle watched as the life suddenly vanished from her body, toppling to the ground like a rag doll as he withdrew his sword.

Gabrielle could feel her rage exploded. She shot up, taking one of her attackers swords. She twirled, slicing all of them across the chest. Two men charged her in anger. She kicked one and sent the blade through the other. When the remaining two came back for some more action, she handled it in a like fashion. In a matter of seconds all three men lay dead at her feet.

"Xena!" she yelled as she watched the warrior laying motionless in the dirt. The attackers were gone and Gabrielle prayed that Xena was only faking - trying to throw them 'off guard'. But the bard knew the truth in her heart of hearts. . .

She walked over and pulled Xena up to her. When she did, the warrior's head fell back far - the only thing keeping the warriors head attached was her spinal cord. As the head fell, it covering the bard in blood. All Gabrielle could do was scream. . .and scream. . .and scream.

Gabrielle felt strong hands on her shoulders. Strong, sword callused hands. Hands she knew well; intimately. Her eyes shot open.

"It's okay," Xena whispered. "Whatever it was, it was just a dream," the warrior added, giving a light kiss to the bards sweaty forehead.

Gabrielle moved slowly to a sitting position. Gabrielle shook her head forcefully. "No. . .No. . .I want you to go the cave tomorrow. You and Solari both.."

The bard was shaking now, coming down from the adrenaline rush as she rested her head on the warrior's shoulder. Xena held her tight.

"It was only a dream Gabrielle," Xena insisted once again.

"Remember when the Persians came," Gabrielle asked, a pleading expression on her beautiful face.

"Of course," Xena grinned. "But it didn't happen. I was okay."

"Xena," Gabrielle argued. "It happened just the way I saw it. He fell from the ceiling. He was ready to strike. . .but you moved remember? You changed your position and it changed the outcome."

"Then tell me what happened in the dream," Xena whispered, lying back down taking the bard in her arms. "Tell me everything so tomorrow we'll be prepared okay?"

Gabrielle began to weep at the words and understanding nature of her warrior. Xena simply held the bard tighter, not entirely sure of what to do or say. "It's okay," Xena reassure her again. "We'll talk it out tonight and we'll one up on Zagreus tomorrow. Bet he doesn't have an oracle in his corner," she grinned.

"It's not just the dream," Gabrielle replied in a whimper. "It's you. The way you're treating me right now." The warrior started to look concerned and began to rise. "No," Gabrielle said quickly. "That didn't come out right." Once she felt Xena relax, she continued. "People. . .in my village always laughed at me when I spoke of things that would come to be. They looked at me oddly, making comments. When I was around 12 summers I had a dream about my house burning, my neighbors. . .everyone. When the town caught fire because some drunk knocked over a lantern at the tavern people no longer laughed at me. . .They shunned me. I was a freak. My friends no longer associated with me because their parents didn't approve. . .No one ever considered what I have as a gift. . .Not until tonight," she finished beginning to sob again.

"Everything about you is a gift to me," Xena replied as the bard snuggled closer. "Please don't forget that."

Gabrielle was close to disclosing her recent revelation about wanting children. She wanted the warrior to know she was beginning to find the answers they sought. At the last moment, however, she changed her mind.

"I love you Warrior Mine," she whispered instead.

The term of endearment that Xena thought was long since forgotten brought a smile to her lips and a tear to her eye. 'Gods how I need this woman,' she thought silently.

"I love you to Beautiful," she replied softly. "I always will."

Chapter 14

Ephany sat in a tree, stoic as ever, as Diteria approached.

"Dinar for your thoughts?" Diteria asked.

Ephany smiled at her lovers gentleness. "Just wishing Eponin was here," she said softly. "We could really use her now."

Diteria placed her hand over Ephany's. "We will be triumphant today." she said confidently.

"But at what price?" Ephany prodded. "We're heavily outnumbered. Casualties will be high. . . Why did I send so many to King Licieus' Kingdom?" she added belittling herself.

"You did it because it was the right thing to do. He needed the help and you gave it. Just like when we need his help. If I die today-

"Don't say that," Ephany whispered. "You're going to be fine.

Diteria disregarded the objection. "If I die today, I die knowing you made the right choice. You did right by helping King Licieus and I don't want you to think otherwise."

Ephany smiled. "Thank you," she replied sincerely. "For the last twenty four hours I've been beating myself up over this. . .a two minute talk with you and I'm better. . .much better."

"Next time don't wait twenty-four hours. Come see me sooner Eph'. You don't always have to be the brave, strong one. Sometimes the bravest and strongest thing to do is tell someone how you feel. Remember that?"

Ephany leaned over and kiss Diteria, lightly; lingeringly on the lips. "I really love you."

"That's wonderful because the feeling is very mutual," she smiled.

Their eye contact however was disrupted by horse hooves - many, many horse hooves.

"Here they come," Diteria whispered, taking her position.

Ephany shouted the first orders to her troops. Everyone stood ready, high among the trees; their bow strings taunt just waiting for the arriving troops and their queens signal.

About 50 men charged toward the tree line, toward the 30 women waiting their arrival. When Ephany could see Zagreus' emblem on their armor, the regent swiped her arm. The gesture sent 30 arrows flying through the air. Ten men dropped instantly with arrows through their necks, attacking the main artery. The next on-slot of amazon arrows arrived as Zagreus' archers began to return blind fire into the trees. Ten more of Zagreus' best men met their fate.

"Pull back!" Ephany heard a captain yell. "Regroup! Regroup!"

She knew she had to try to hold them off though the next wave. She knew they would bring more soldiers up-front and she wasn't sure if she could hold them off again. She ordered her amazons to change their locations with a bird call. Quickly she looked over to check on Diteria. She found her pinned to the tree by one of Zagreus' arrows.

"Oh sweet Artemis," she whispered. She leaped over in two fluid movements to sit next to her lover. She began to shake as she took Diteria's hands.

"We're goin' get you outta here love. We'll get you back to Xena. She's really good ya know."

"Saved you and Xenan. I know. Told me quite often," she replied with a warm smile, not quite able to give her full sentences. From the pain throbbing in her side she knew she wasn't dead. This hurt way too much to be death.

A scout leaped next to Ephany. "Zagreus has pulled back from the tree line," she informed Ephany. "We've got three others hurt as well. We've got to move quick and get them to the village."

"Get the others down," Ephany replied quickly, "and to the litters. . .This is gonna hurt love," Ephany warned Diteria. The regent broke the arrow head to free her lover from the tree. The archer, bit her bow. She didn't dare make a sound. She wanted their locations to remain secret. 'Always the warrior', Ephany thought when she realized what her lover was doing.

Two amazons readied to take Diteria down. "Be easy on her," Ephany instructed. It was an order; an instruction because Ephany was their leader. But her voice didn't sound very regal. It was scared; pleading. They nodded in agreement. Not as soldiers but as people who also had lovers they want to see come nightfall.

As quickly and gently as possible Diteria was on the ground. Soon she was strapped down to one of the litter, that was recently in hiding behind some overgrown bushes.

"I'll take the reins," Ephany told the driver.

"No," Diteria insisted weakly. "Stay."

"I have to make sure-

"Defend the village," Diteria said, struggling with her words. "To help me, you must stay."

Ephany felt her eyes grow watery. She knew Diteria was right. There was nothing she could do for her. . .nothing except stop as many of Zagreus men from reaching the village.

"For you," Ephany whispered, placing a gentle kiss on her lovers lips. "For you."

Ephany nodded to the litter driver. "Go," she instructed. "Like Hermes! Go!"

The litter took off carrying Diteria to the village, to Xena. 'She'll know what to do' Ephany sighed, trying to reassure herself. 'And I know what I have to do', she added in her mind. With that she turned to her second in command.

"Zagreus will pay dearly," she told her commander. "And make sure everyone knows - I want no prisoners. Do you got that?. . .He wanted this fight. So he's gonna get it."

Her commander was a bit taken back by the regents order and killer mentality but she nodded just the same. Once all the litters were gone, the remaining ground amazons took to the trees once more. 'Come on Zagreus', the regent thought silently in her growing rage. 'I'm waiting.'

Meanwhile Solari was getting her infantry in line and conversing with Xena. The consort was pointing toward the horizon and back toward the village when Gabrielle left the healers hut. Without comment she walked up, trying to pick up on the nature of the conversation.

"Sounds like a good idea," Solari told Xena. "But do you think the older amazon will be able to defend the houses."

"Their main priority is to get those touches out and defend themselves. We'll. . .I mean. . . you'll be able to then strike the offensive at that point."

"But how do you know he'll try to torch the village?" Solari asked. "Do you know him that well?"

Xena grinned wickedly, glancing at the bard briefly, before come back to Solari's eyes. "Let's just say I have some inside information."

Solari released a chuckle. "I'll take your word for it."

Nagen rushed up to the trio. "We've got all the water in place," she said breathlessly. "Now what Commander?"

"We wait," Solari replied placing her hand on Nagen's arm in compliment. "Go join your formation."

"What?" Xena asked. "Her formation? She should be in the caves with the children."

"I'm almost 21 summers old," Nagen replied. "I don't belong in 'the cave'."

Xena could tell the girl was quite offended but before she could reply Gabrielle spoke up. "She's not that young Xena."

"What are you kidding?" Xena replied looking at her bondmate.

"What?!" Gabrielle answered. "She's older than I was when we started traveling together."

"Get outta here? Really?"

Gabrielle simply nodded.

"You were never THAT young!" the warrior answered.

Now the bard looked offended. 'Just great', Xena mused. 'It's not too late. Perhaps I could open my mouth and offend Solari too. Just to make things complete.' Two women boring holes into her flesh with their adamant stares as Solari tried to cover her growing smile with her hand. Before Xena could speak the bard cleared her throat.

"And just what does that mean?" Gabrielle asked a bit miffed.

Xena knew Gabrielle wanted an answer. "You just look old, that's all," the warrior replied, spitting the words out quickly. . .and regretting that fact as soon as she heard the sentence float to her ears. She closed her eyes and heard Solari let out a groan. Quickly she opened her eyes again. "What I mean is you. . .you . . .

"I'm sorry," Solari chuckled, "but this is just too painful to watch. Xena take my advice now. Don't explain. Just apologize and shut the Tartarus up. You're just digging yourself in deeper. . .Trust me on this one."

The warrior began to giggle and soon she looked at Gabrielle, who was trying her damnedest to not look amused. . . yet failing miserable.

"As you can see Solari," Gabrielle smiled. "Interpersonal communications is not one of Xena's many skills and if it HAD been a major requirement, I would have left her years ago."

"Impersonation Communities? . . .What did you just say about me?" Xena asked the bard. Gabrielle began to laugh and the warrior turned to Solari. "Call me crazy but I think I was just insult and I don't even know how?"

Gabrielle hugged the warrior around the waist and Xena rested her arm on Gabrielle's shoulder protectively. "You know I love ya don't ya?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena felt a flood of awareness wash over her. The bard was joking with her, smiling with her. "I do. . .Love ya too," she answered kissing the bard on the forehead.

Solari just shook her head. She was going to make a smart comment about the mushy love display before her but she never got the chance. The sight over the warrior's shoulder made her squint. The warrior and the bard turned to see what caught the dark warrior's attention. Four litters, coming their way.

"I'll get Terris," Gabrielle said, taking off into a sprint to the healers hut.

"Give us a hand?" Xena asked, although knowing the answer.

"Xena!," one of the riders yelled loudly. "Here! Xena!"

'Oh gods,' Xena thought silently. 'Ephany!'

Chapter 15

Xena rushed up to the litter and locked eyes with Diteria. "Ephany says you're good," the archer joked in a shallow breath.

Xena could see the arrow and the blood surrounding it, coating the litter where she lay.

"I'll do my best Diteria," Xena replied. She motioned two Calvary guards and they carried her inside. Xena followed behind but not without commenting to Gabrielle who was checking on the other arrivals. "Are you okay out here?" Xena asked the bard as she walked.Gabrielle nodded as she went to work prepping the other patients before moving them.

Diteria was placed on a long table as Xena tore through the amazons clothing. "You made her stay didn't you?" Xena smiled to Diteria, trying to keep the archer focus on other things aside from the pain.

"She wanted to come. Wouldn't let her," Diteria grinned.

"This is going to hurt," Xena told Diteria as she reached for the arrow. Swiftly she pulled it out and the assistant instantly cauterized with a hot poker.

After a few moments, Xena took her hand and brushed the ash blonde locks from the archers face. "Aside from the pain," Xena asked, "how are you feeling?"

"Dizzy," Diteria answered. "Tired."

Xena stood a moment summing up her ghostly pale patient. "You've lost a lot of blood Diteria. That's why you feel so disoriented. . .I'll be honest, there's not much more I can do. I think we've stopped the bleeding but. . .it may already be too late."

"Then tell Ephany," Diteria struggled. "Tell her 'I' said you did everything you could. Okay? Promise me?"

"I promise," Xena answered with a comforting grin. "Rest now. Alright?"

Xena knew Diteria chances were low but a thought occurred to her. It was a gamble but the odds were not in Diteria's favor at this point without some kind of action. Judging by her color loss the warrior figured Ephany's lover would be dead by sundown. . .Unless. . .

Xena walked over to Terris after the archer closed her eyes. "Does Diteria have kin in the village - mother, sister, cousin, anyone."

"By the Gods," Terris whispered fearfully. "Is she gone?"

"No not yet."

Terris thought a moment. "She has a cousin in the village."

Xena smiled but quickly it left. "Is she here or is she with Eponin?"

"She should be with Solari's team," Terris offered.

Xenas' smile returned. "Finally something has gone right so far. Have an assistant go get her now."

Terris didn't ask any more questions she simply nodded and called the nurse over.

"What did you have in mind?" Terris finally asked once the cousin was sent for.

"A procedure. It's risky but Diteria's odds look rough now. I don't think she'll live to tomorrow morning with all the blood she's lost on the trip in. Her cousin is going to give her some of her blood."

Terris looked at Xena as though she had gone mad. "How is she going to give her blood?"

Xena began to look around the office. She found a small hollow reed on the table. "This," she said holding it up. When the other assistant walked over Xena handed it to her. "Take this," she instructed. "Divide it into two pieces. Widdle the end to a point and hollow out the top here at the tip." Xena went on giving perfect instructions for the needle the assistant would be making.

The warrior went back to searching for supplies with Terris looking on. "Now what do you need?" she asked, trying to help.

"Something flexible. Something hollow," Xena said looking around.

"A vine perhaps?" Terris offered.

"Where?" Xena asked quickly.

"Out back," Terris answered. "I'll go get some while you look and see if there's anything here alright?"

The warrior nodded and continued her search. Gabrielle came up and tapped Xena on the shoulder. "What?!" the warrior answered shortly.

"Sorry," Gabrielle replied.

Xena turned to find her lover looking hurt. "I'm sorry Gabrielle. I didn't know it was you. How's it going out there?"

"We've lost two. The third should be alright. Arrow through the leg. The bleedings stopped. . .Who's over there?"

"Diteria," Xena replied. "Doesn't look good but I've got an idea. I've only done it a few times. It worked twice."

"Can I help?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena smiled. "I think she needs a familiar face now more than anything."

Gabrielle returned the gesture. "I can do that," she said confidently. As she made her way over to Diteria, the bard watched two amazons rush through the door.

"This is Sileece," the assistant informed Xena.

"I wish this meeting could be under better circumstances," the warrior offered.

"Where is she?" Sileece asked.

"Over there but I need to speak with you privately for a moment."

The assistant got the warrior's hint and wondered off finding some rags to clean.

"What is it?" Sileece asked.

"Diteria will die if I don't get blood into her - your blood. I could use someone else but sometimes putting the blood of one person into another can cause death to the wounded. I can't even guarantee that you won't be harmed. But I noticed when I use people's kin the odds of surviving are much greater. . .With that said, I need to know - will you help me?"

"Of course," Sileece answered.

"You understand that this puts you at risk too?" Xena asked.

Sileece nodded. "Whatever it takes, I'll do it. . .Will it hurt?"

"Briefly," Xena replied. "I have to tap one of your veins and tap one of hers. The blood from your body should flow into hers. She's lost a lot so I'm going to put you on bed rest for two days after this operation understand?"

Sileece nodded. Xena yelled for the assistant. "I need a pail of drinking water for Sileece please." Sileece looked bewildered. "Fluids," Xena replied. "You'll need to be making more blood for yourself once this procedures over. . . Are you ready?"

Sileece nodded. "Yeah. Can I see her now?"

"Sure," Xena answered. "She's with Queen Gabrielle. I'll be along shortly."

The first assistant returned, followed by Terris. "Will this work?" she asked, handing the warrior the reeds. Emotionless, Xena examined them closely.

"Fine job," the warrior complimented with a smile, after inspecting them.

"How about this?" Terris asked, handing over her item. Xena gave Terris one end, holding the other up to her eye.

"A clear shot all the way through," Xena smiled. She took the vine back and inserted the needles into each end. "Are we ready?" she asked rhetorically.

Xena instructed Sileece to lay down next to Diteria.

"Gabrielle, tie off her arms here," she replied showing the bard.

"Now what?" Sileece asked.

"Lay back and relax," Xena instructed. "Breathe deep and steady."

Sileece closed her eyes and did as she was instructed. After a few moments she opened her eyes. "Are you done?" she asked.

"Yep," the warrior replied with a grin. "Wasn't as bad as you thought huh?"

Sileece grinned. "How long do we stay like this?" she asked, looking at their 'joined' arms.

"A while," Xena replied. "So just lay back and don't move. You may upset the flow. If you need anything yell and we'll get it okay?"

Sileece nodded. "Thank you Xena," she said sincerely. "I'm sure Queen Ephany will be grateful."

"We're not in the clear yet," Xena warned. "but our odds just got better. . .thanks to you."

Xena stroked Sileece's arm and motioned Gabrielle to follow her. "Keep a close watch on them both," she whispered after they stepped away. "If blood seeps from the vine, or anywhere, get me immediately." Gabrielle nodded in agreement.

"How long will they stay that way?" Gabrielle asked.

"I'm not sure. Watch their skin color. When Diteria looks pinker and Sileece starts getting whiter, let me know. And make sure Sileece drinks fluids, at least a glass every half candlemark okay?"

Gabrielle nodded in agreement. She was going to ask another question but a sound from outside the hut distracted her. "Sounds like thunder," Gabrielle thought aloud.

"Well, there ain't no storm clouds out today," the warrior said dreadfully.

Xena bolted to the door with Gabrielle on her heels. Both women stopped and watched Zagreus' army approach. Approaching fast.

Chapter 16

Solari sat proud atop Argo, her sword raised high. When Zagreus men hit the last small valley before entering the village she gave the signal. Thirty amazons rushed forth in a fury of war cry's and hoof beats. Zagreus army would have to ride uphill now. The warrior women would be coming down. The amazons had the terrain advantage which would give them more speed.

"How many men you say Xena?" the bard asked.

Xena took a moment. "About 100," she grinned slightly. "Looks like the archers took out half."

Xena turned back to Gabrielle, placing her hands on the bards shoulders. "Go check on Diteria. I'll be back."

"No," Gabrielle insisted, the fear showing in her voice. "You said you wouldn't join this battle."

Xena smiled. "And I won't," she replied. "I'm going to the look out to see if any more wounded are coming in. . .Okay?"

Reluctantly, Gabrielle nodded as Xena began to make her way to the tower. Only when she watched the warrior begin her climb did she turn back to go to the healer's hut.

Once Xena reached the top she had a full view of the battle. Solari's troops were engaged but they were being pushed back. Xena's mind screamed. She could see them beginning to get surrounded. "Pull back", Xena whispered aloud. "Pull back".

Almost by sorcery, Solari heard the words and issued a retreat. Xena watched as the amazons fled back up the hill. Wounded laid scattered across the meadow from both sides - but it appeared to be more Zagreus men than amazons.

Xena started her descent back down when she noticed the remainder of Ephany's troops bringing up the rear. Xena, in a single back flip, landed on the ground. She raced to a nearby mare and mounted the horse as it galloped. She tore through the amazon retreat and Zagreus' army, moving as swiftly as possible to the archers. Xena felt a sigh of relieve as she watched Ephany approached. She stopped until the regent could join her.

"Diteria." It was the first word from Ephany's mouth.

"She's still alive Eph'. I want to get these wounded to the hut before you aid Solari's troops. Double up the litters if you have to," Xena instructed.

Ephany nodded quickly. In a matter of minutes the archery team was heading to the village racing past Zagreus' men. Xena followed suit but a sight caught her eye. It was Zagreus himself, looking as wide-eyed as a doe. "You're dead," Xena mouthed to him before casting a menacing grin. She kicked her heels sending the horse toward the village again.

"Wasn't going to join the battle huh?" Gabrielle said with her hands on her hips as Xena rode in.

"I don't have time to explain myself to you right now," Xena barked, leaping from the animal. "Help get these women inside."

Gabrielle knew Xena meant business. The warrior princess mode was certainly up and raging today. Obediently, Gabrielle helped take the women inside - 15 in all. A few were walking wounded and Gabrielle sent them to a special corner.

Ephany raced in and looked frantically for Diteria. She found Sileece who waved her over, being careful not to move too much.

"Diteria?" Ephany asked coming down to her knees to be face to face with her lover.

Diteria opened her eyes and promptly started to cry upon seeing Ephany.

"What's wrong? What hurts? I'll get Xena to get you something; anything."

"You," Diteria whispered. "All I need is you. I didn't think I'd see you again."

Ephany moved to take Diteria in her arms but Sileece warned the regent. "Don't!" The demanding voice startled the regent and she stopped. "I'm sorry Ephany but Xena said she needed blood, my blood, so she can't be moved okay?"

"Isn't that dangerous?" Ephany asked.

Sileece only nodded. "Maybe you should talk to Xena or Gabrielle."

"I'll be back love," Ephany whispered, before placing a tender kiss on Diteria forehead.

Ephany spotted Gabrielle, instructing the group of walking wounded on how to care for themselves. "Sorry it interrupt," Ephany announced to the group.

"Ephany! I didn't see you! Thank the gods!" she said hugging the regent.

"What's going on with Diteria?" she whispered.

Gabrielle led the regent away from the group by her arm. "Perhaps you should sit down," the bard began, motioning to a nearby chair. Gabrielle kneeled before Ephany. "Diteria lost a lot of blood by the time she made it to the village. Xena didn't think she would make it by nightfall unless we tried this procedure with Sileece. And even that's not a given Eph'. As Xena said, it doesn't look good but her chances are better since Sileece offered her blood."

"She still may die?" Ephany asked, not really needing an answer.

Gabrielle nodded. "But Xena's been doing everything she can -

"I know," Ephany replied, putting her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I know she's doing what she can. . .You're a lucky lady to have her. I hope you realize that."

"Now more than ever," Gabrielle whispered. They spent a few moments looking at each other in silence until Gabrielle rose. "We could really use your help in here," the bard offered. "Could you dress some wounds for us? Your mind's not ready to go into battle anymore Ephany. You'll be close to Diteria too. . .What do you say?"

Ephany smiled. Her friend knew her well. It was one of Gabrielle's traits she admired - always the caretaker and always good at reading the needs of others. "Bring on the bandages," the regent grinned.

Chapter 17

Diteria's procedure had recently come to an end and the vine removed when the door of the healers hut burst open. Two of Zagreus men stormed inside. Gabrielle was closest to the door, holding a tray of bandages. With a mighty swing she knocked the first man square in the face. When the other solider swung his sword, the bard vaulted backwards. Instead of the bard, his intended target, he hit his fellow solider burying the weapon deep in his stomach. Gabrielle kicked the soldiers arm free of the blade.

She pulled it from the now dead man and shifted to face the remaining opponent. As he charged, the bard raised the sword burying it deep in his chest. She pushed the man off the blood soaked weapon, letting him drop lifeless to the ground. Terris yelled for Xena who was bringing out more rags. Xena watched as Gabrielle sliced right; then left as two more soldiers tried to enter.

She yelled to the bard but it was as if Gabrielle couldn't hear her. Helplessly she watched her lover start to leave the hut, heading into the raging battle out front of their door. Xena leaped over the tables, landing on one of the dead men, losing her balance.

"Get them outta here!" she yelled to Ephany as she picked herself off the floor.

Xena looked around and watched the bard taking in the scene. A few huts had managed to catch fire. The remainders of Zagreus' troops were wearing the amazon troops down, not with skill but by being outnumbered. Gabrielle watched as a solider crept up and slit an amazon warriors throat from behind. When the man began to laugh of his deed, something snapped inside the bard.

The way she walked; the way she carried the blade in her hand, worried Xena. This was not her Gabrielle. This was herself - many, many moons ago. Xena drew her sword and tried to find an opening to get to Gabrielle. She watched as the bard buried the sword in the laughing man's back, casually kicking him off her weapon once it served it's purpose.

Another solider came up behind Gabrielle. Xena knew the bard couldn't sense his approach but before she could scream a warning, Gabrielle thrust the sword behind her, driving the sword high and deep inside him. Xena, released a sigh and speeded her efforts to finally make it to the bard.

"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled as she ran up to her.

Gabrielle swung out of instinct and Xena deflected in reaction. The bards raging eyes registered the face as her lovers although it took her a moment.

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked unsure of her present state of mind. She began to look around at the bodies on the dirt road; the huts burning as orange as the now setting sun. "Look at what they did Xena."

"It's okay," Xena said softly, sheathing her sword. She pulled the bard close. "You'll be okay," she added gently.

"It's not okay!" Gabrielle yelled, pushing away. "Look what he's done to my people! I swear by any god you name, Zagreus will die at my hand!"

Xena held back her tears and grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders, giving her a strong shake. "Listen to yourself! You're letting your hatred get the better of you. Your people need a strong leader, not a vengeful woman!" Xena pulled the bard back into her arms, her words softening. "I know what I'm talking about Gabrielle. I've been there and I refuse to watch you start down the path I followed."

The bard understood the warrior. She let the sword fall from her hands and began to shake as Xena's words sunk in even more. "What have I done Xena?" she pleaded between sobs. "Look at what I've done."

"Come on," Xena said picking the bard up in her arms. "Let's get inside."

As Xena carried Gabrielle back to the hut she looked to her right. Solari was approaching on horseback from the south.

'Wait a minute,' the warrior thought. 'That can't be right'.

She took a closer look as the formation spread out and spread out and spread out again, with more and more amazons. "Eponin," Xena muttered.

Gabrielle started to fidget in the warriors arms upon hearing the name and Xena put her down. The bard wiped her tear stained face. "Thank the gods," she sighed.

Eponin and her best and bravest ripped through the village. She brought her mare to a skidding halt and leapt from the saddle.

"Time to kick a little warlord ass!" she screamed, taking down two of Zagreus men in the process. She let out a fierce battle cry and slaughtered any enemy foolish enough to take on her blade. Quickly she worked her way to Solari who was now surrounded.

Gabrielle held her breath. The scene. The scene from her dream was unfolding before her frightened eyes.

"Xena?" she whispered as the soldier readied himself to deliver the death blow.

He never did. Eponin saw him first and sent a flying boot dagger into his back. As Solari finished off the two foes in front of her she ran the distance to Eponin. And the warrior and the bard both sighed in relieve as they watched them embrace.

Zagreus' men began to retreat. At least they tried. A few managed to slip through the wall of amazons now surrounding THEM, but the majority came to realize the error of taking on the Amazon nation. It was an experience they would never live to learn from.

"Get those fires out!" Eponin yelled. "Now! Or the whole damn village is gonna go up!"

In an orderly fashion a team was assembled in seconds. Just minutes later the first hut was extinguished as others followed.

"I need thirty amazons to go get those bastards!" she shouted. Eponin counted women and they began to line up behind her. After she had her total she ordered Zagreus to be captured alive. As for the men in his army. . .well. . .that was up to each warriors discretion.. The troops took to their horses, tearing out of the village as fast as they came.

"What the Tartarus?" Ep told Solari looking around. "I leave the town in your hands and look what happens. . .You're grounded young lady!" Solari managed a weak smile and hugged her friend again.

Xena shook her head as she and Gabrielle walked over. "She's nuts," the warrior chuckled to the bard. "A real loose catapult."

"Hey!" Eponin exclaimed upon finally seeing the duo. "Long time no see," she added.

"Would've been nice to see ya sooner," Xena remarked with a grin.

"Got here as fast as I could," Ep smiled. "Seriously, I'm glad you're all okay. . .How's Eph?" she added softly.

Eponin could be a real joker but she also knew how grave the situation really was. In front of her troops and to outsiders she was reserved, emotionless and quiet. To her friends she let her guard down, being more 'herself'. Gabrielle had noticed after a few visits that the warrior not only had dark features like Xena but many of the same character traits as well.

"Diteria's been hurt bad," Gabrielle offered after all three women examined each other unsure of what to say. "But Ephany hasn't been injured," she added.

"She gonna make it?" Eponin asked concerned.

"It's hard to say at this point," Xena replied.

"Are they inside?" she asked pointing to the healers hut.

Xena and Gabrielle both nodded.

"I've got to get to the caves," Solari said excusing herself.

"Of course," Gabrielle realized. "I think it's safe to bring them back."

Solari acknowledged Gabrielle with a nod and turned to Ep. "I'm glad you're back," she said offering her forearm, which Ep took firmly.

"It's good to be home," she whispered. "Now go get your princess," she teased Solari.

As Solari left, the remaining three women went into the hut. Ephany was sitting next to Diteria, just stroking her hair when Eponin spotted her. Ephany was lost in her own thoughts and didn't notice her friends approach.

"Eph," the dark haired warrior whispered loud enough to get her attention, yet leaving her unstartled.

Ephany turned and thought for a moment she might cry. She rose slowly and they embraced for a long while. Finally Ephany pulled back.

"How's she doing?" Eponin asked, looking at the sleeping archer.

"She's been asleep for the last candlemark," Ephany softly replied.

Upon recognizing the new yet familiar voice, Diteria opened her eyes. "What brings you to town?" she asked Eponin.

"I heard there was an amazon in here that might need some cheerin' up," Eponin remarked with a grin. "Just thought I'd lend a hand," she added, stroking Diteria's arm.

"Is Zagreus gone?" Diteria asked.

"Oh yeah," Eponin replied with a sly grin. "But don't worry. We're bringing him back." Diteria was fully aware of what Ep meant. Zagreus was going to pay. And dearly.

Xena excused herself as she stepped between the ladies to come to Diteria's side. "How ya feeling kid?" she asked casually.

She felt Diteria neck and forehead. She was getting warm but not too warm. That was a good sign. Her skin tone had actually improved too and the warrior felt optimistic although she dare not mention it to anyone there. The last thing she wanted to do was fill Ephany with false hope.

"Have you been drinking your fluids?" the warrior asked Sileece. The cousin nodded. "When's the last time you had a cup?" Xena asked.

"Half a candlemark.," Sileece answered.

"Have some more," Xena instructed. "Do you think you can stand?" Sileece nodded once more. "Good. After you finish go for a walk around the room - not far and not fast. Understand? And make sure someone goes with you for support. You'll feel quite dizzy I can assure you."

Xena pulled Diteria's blankets down to her waist. "I want to keep her uncovered to see if her body is steadying her temperature or if it's the blankets. Okay Ephany? Make sure she stays uncovered for now."

Ephany nodded. Whatever Xena said she was sure was for the best. "Thank you for doing everything you could," Ephany whispered. "Not for just Diteria but for every amazon. I'm sure our casualties would have been much higher if not for your planing and medical skills. . .Thank you."

"This is my home too Ephany," the warrior grinned. "I was just trying to save my village. . .but I thank you for the compliment. . .I'll still always think there was something more I could have done. I . . ."

The warrior began to think of the young swords woman who was brought in moments before she had to chase down the raging Gabrielle. The girl couldn't have been more than twenty-some winters old. Xena did everything she could but the warrior didn't feel it was enough, especially when the young woman died in her arms. Too many women in fact. Now that the 'high' from the battle was wearing off she felt a growing uncomfort.

"Xena," Ephany said pulling the warrior back. "I watched you work. Many amazons will be forever be in your debt. . .Myself included."

Xena pulled Ephany close. "Don't ever think that you owe me anything?" the warrior whispered, choking on her words a bit. "You're one of the greatest friends I've had. . .Lay down now. Get some rest," the warrior recommended to the regent.

"I think I'll take you up on that. . .Might not be a bad idea for yourself," Ephany added.

"I think you're right but I can't. I've got to check on the wounded."

"Let me," Eponin jumped in. "I've got the healing experience and if something major starts to happen I'll call for you."

Xena smiled. "I'll never need my mother again. I've got tons of them here," she joked.

Eponin grinned. "That's right. And don't you forget it sweet cheeks. Go grab your bard queen and get to bed."

Xena took Eponin's advice. She walked over to Terris and told the healer to go get some rest because Ep's team was now on duty. After that she stepped over to the yawning Gabrielle. Ephany and Ep watched them walk out arm and arm.

"Ya know," Eponin said standing back on her heels. "They really make a cute couple," she reflected upon watching the warrior and the bard leave.

"Developing a romantic streak are we?" Ephany teased.

Ep lost her grin and put the 'warrior mask' back in place before turning to Ephany. "Don't EVEN go there," she warned forcefully. After viewing Ephany's sly grin a few more seconds she smiled herself. "Lay down and go to sleep," she ordered briskly.

Ephany continued to smile and crawled under the covers next to Diteria. "Say what you will," Ephany began. "But I always knew you were a big softy at heart."

Ep leaned over Diteria, who was once again asleep. "We'll just see who the softy is next week on the practice field," she teased.

"I relish the challenge," Ephany smiled. Eponin waved her off as she walked away. And Ephany snuggled as close to her lover without too much contact. Moments later, sleep began to claim the regent and she prayed that the longest day of her life had come to an end.

Chapter 17

"Mind if we call it a night?" Xena asked. She and the bard now wore clean shifts after washing the grim of the long day from their bodies. "Terris wanted us to do our exercises but I'd really just like to hold you if that's okay."

The bard smiled and snuggled into the warriors shoulder. "Will this do?" the bard sighed.

"Perfect," Xena purred. The warrior could feel the bard smile against her flesh and tightened her hold. After a few moments of silence, the warrior stoked Gabrielle's hip. "Today was . . . different," she said softly.

"In what way?" the bard asked.

Xena paused a moment, contemplating what to say. Gabrielle gave her the time. She knew her warrior would tell her when she was ready.

"Do you know how I managed to be such a great healer?" Xena asked.

"I assumed it was caring for your army," Gabrielle replied.

"Not caring," Xena answered. "Experimenting. Everything I know about healing came as a result of trying different procedures. I didn't care if they died. They were expendable. There would always be more men willing, and sometimes unwilling, to follow me. . .Of all the battles, of all the people I've treated. . .today was the hardest. . .because I cared."

Gabrielle reached up blindly to stroke her warriors face, offering her support. She was slightly surprised when her fingers came back wet. She hadn't even realized the warrior began to cry.

"That girl died in my arms today," Xena continued. "I did everything I could but she died anyway. . .I failed her. I failed this village. I failed you," the warrior added in a whisper.

"Listen to me," Gabrielle responded by sitting up. "You have not failed me or this village. And as far as the amazon who died today . . . you said it yourself, you did everything you could to save her."

"But it wasn't enough," Xena countered.

"Bad things happen Xena. And you can't put the weight of this village, or the world for that matter, on your shoulders alone. . .The only person responsible for any amazons dying today was Zagreus. . .And in truth, without you in the healers hut a lot more amazons would have died. You know I'm right," the bard insisted.

"C'mere," the warrior grinned pulling the bard back to her, squeezing her tight. She loved the way the bard could turn her spirits around by the storytellers shear force of will. Gabrielle could be very determined when she wanted to be. And today she valued the bards determination to make her feel better. "You are the best thing that ever happened to me. Do you realize that?"

"Yes I do. And I hope you realize that if I had it all to do over again I would still chose this life with you," Gabrielle confessed softly.

"Then why all the fighting?" Xena asked sincerely, with no judgement. "Why are we at each others throats for days on end?"

"I thought we've been doing rather well lately," the bard remarked.

"We have," Xena sighed. "But sooner or later it's going to end again and we'll be bickering as before."

"Maybe not," Gabrielle replied with a giggle. "Maybe I found the answer. . .Actually I know I found the answer."

Xena sat up. This she had to hear. "Well what is it?" she asked with urgency.

Gabrielle smiled but she couldn't look Xena's way just yet. "I think we should wait. Until we speak with Terris."

Xena started to shake her head. "No Gabrielle. I have to know. I have to know now. "

Gabrielle chuckled at the warrior. The warrior however was not amused. "Look Xena," the bard began, "I'm not sure how you'll react when I tell you and . . . in truth it might be the end of our relationship if I do," she added, turning very serious herself.

"Gabrielle," Xena pleaded, "tell me. I promised you forever and whatever it is we can work it out together. I told you I would do anything for you. I would give you anything you ever wanted."

"You can't give me EVERYTHING I want!" the bard said getting defensive.

"Yes, I can!" Xena insisted. "If I had to I'd. . ."

The warrior stopped as she thought of the bards words. She could give the bard anything she wanted, everything except one thing. When Xena began to understand what that one thing might be, Gabrielle began to shy away.

"It's late," Gabrielle replied, rolling away from Xena. "I'm tired and I don't want to argue anymore. Not after today-

"How long have you known?" Xena asked, not letting the bard ramble.

"Known what?" Gabrielle asked evasively, her back still to the warrior.

Gently, Xena rolled Gabrielle over and they locked eyes. "How long have you wanted a child?" she asked softly.

Gabrielle closed her eyes. She didn't want Xena to know. Not yet. Not until they could speak with Terris. She didn't want to know she was going to lose the warrior; then be all alone without a shoulder to cry on. At least Terris would give her that. Gabrielle didn't have the chance to respond.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," the warrior added.

She could hear the warrior smiling in her voice so Gabrielle opened her eyes. Sure enough. Xena wore a big ole grin the size of Zeus' ego.

"Do you really mean that?" Gabrielle asked in reaction. "Of course you do," she added quickly. "I don't often see a grin that huge."

"A boy or a girl?" Xena asked excitedly.

Gabrielle laughed and held her hands up. "Just slow down Xena. In all honesty I haven't really thought past the 'being a mother' aspect. . .I haven't even thought about conception either," the bard added in afterthought with a frown.

"I do have many skills," Xena remarked playfully.

Gabrielle let her laughter roll through the hut. "I don't think that's on your list warrior mine. Grant it. The list is quite long but impregnation I'm sure isn't on there."

"We could try," Xena smiled slyly. "It would be a lot of fun I'm sure."

"Oh I don't doubt that for a second," the bard said rising up and giving the warrior a long, promising kiss. "Not for a second."

Suddenly, Xena didn't feel so tired anymore. She went back to reclaim the bards lips but a pounding at the door stopped her.

"Queen Gabrielle," someone called out urgently.

"What is it?" she asked, almost dreading the news.

"Zagreus has been captured," the guard announced.

"We'll be there shortly. Inform Regent Ephany."

"Yes your majesty. Right away."

Both women got out of bed and got dressed. As they walked up to the square they found Zagreus shackled. He was alive - barely. Solari, Lila, Ephany and Eponin all stood by as the queen and warrior walked up.

"Hello Zagreus," Gabrielle smiled. There was every bit of friendliness and good will in the statement but Zagreus knew it was a cocky display. "Bet you don't remember me. We met years ago in Laurel although we were never formerly introduced. My friend Minya kicked your butt."

Realization washed over his face. "You're that irritating blonde that travels with Xena."

Ephany charged at him but Gabrielle held up a single hand that brought her regent to a halt. She grinned at the blonde warrior behind her. "You thought the same thing once Eph'," the queen smiled. "Don't be hypocritical," she teased. Ephany's outrage cooled at the bard's gentle, good natured ribbing.

"That's right," Gabrielle told Zagreus still keeping her smile in tact. "I'm also queen of this village," she added proudly. Suddenly the happy expression fell from her face. "Lock him up until the trial tomorrow," she said harshly.

As Zagreus was led to the jail, a few amazons began to bicker and shout obscene comments - some comments directed toward the queen in her reluctance to kill him on the spot.

"Enough!" Gabrielle yelled. "I will have unity in this village!"

Everyone stopped talking at once. Gabrielle had their full attention. And she took advantage of it.

"I want that man guarded until the trial! Any amazon found torturing or killing that man will be ordered to death! Is that understood?!"

A few women looked ashamed; a few defiant. Other such as Ephany and Lila appeared to be in full agreement.

"He will have a trial based on the evidence we have. Then and only then will his punish be carried out if he is found guilty. . .I will not accept vengeance! This society is one built on civilization and in being such we will act accordingly. Is THAT understood?!"

"Perfectly!" Ephany announced. She needed her subjects to know that the two most powerful women in the village agreed on this procedure of justice. "If I may Queen Gabrielle," she offered, "I suggest we all get some rest. It's been a long day and it will be a busy day tomorrow as well."

"Agreed," Gabrielle nodded, acting just as regal. "Everyone is here by ordered to . . .go to bed!"

Gabrielle turned quickly and walked away. Her group followed behind her.

"Go to bed?" Ephany chuckled. "Boy did that sound. . .regal."

Gabrielle started to laugh herself and she punched Ephany playfully in the arm. "Shut up!" she countered. "It's late and I'm tired okay? Bed is the only thing I can think about right now."

Ephany put her arm around Gabrielle giving her a light squeeze. "You know I know longer think you're irritating," she whispered in her ear.

"That's good," Gabrielle grinned. "Or otherwise I'd have to get my big, bad bondmate to beat you up."

Xena smiled as she listened to the two of them banter back and forth. Ephany looked over at Xena and frowned. "Who her?" the regent remarked. "You mean the one I gave a shiner too."

"Get off it Ephany," the warrior menaced. The regent only laughed as Eponin spoke up.

"I was wondering how she got that?" Ep said putting in her two cents worth. "But you realize Eph if you were any kind of warrior, like myself, you would have given her two black eyes."

"Can we drop the eye business?!" Xena exclaimed as she stopped in front of the healers hut. "I have to go on rounds now." Both Ep and Eph put up serious fronts, nodding agreements, looking orderly - mocking Xena without a single word. "Smart asses," the warrior muttered, going into the hut.

Ep and Eph both smiled as they walked inside. Xena went straight to Diteria and Ephany was the first to lose her grin as she followed the warrior/healer.

Xena felt Diteria's forehead and neck once more. She was just as warm. Her skin tone was even better than earlier in the evening. This time Xena couldn't hide her pleasure of Diteria's recovery and she felt herself smiling.

"Does it look better?" Ephany asked, still not quite sure what the warrior would say.

"It looks good Eph," Xena answered holding her smile. "It looks real good. We won't be certain though until a couple of days alright?"

Xena thought the amazon would begin crying at any moment. Softly Ephany whispered, "I really am sorry about your eye."

Xena could hear the deep sincerity in the statement and the amazons' gratefulness of still having her future bondmate alive. Xena pulled the regent close, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.

"I know," Xena whispered in return. And she did - she understood everything the regent was trying to say with the one statement. 'It's a warrior thing,' the consort thought silently. "I know," she uttered once more.

Chapter 18

Gabrielle sat high upon her throne in the village square - her consort to her left; her regent to her right. She was dressed in her regal attire of leather and suede which fit her just as perfectly as the first day she wore them, many years before.

Zagreus was shackled as the amazon guards dragged him unwillingly toward the stage. The same stage where Gabrielle took the queen mask, the same stage where she bonded with Xena and the same stage that she would decide a man's fate.

"The village has heard the evidence against you Zagreus," Gabrielle announced as she traveled down the steps; only stopping until she was inches in front of him. "Is there anything you would like to say in your defense before I pass judgement?"

Zagreus met Gabrielle's eyes. The bard watched him snarl once before spitting in her face. Xena tightened her hold on her chair, stopping herself from bolting down to the warlord and carrying out the sentence herself. Gabrielle simply smiled and wiped her face with a cloth a guard handed her.

"Handsome AND charming!" Gabrielle shouted loud enough for all to hear.

Many of the amazons laughed along with the smiling bard as she made her way back to her throne. "In light of the evidence which has been given today the amazon nation finds you guilty of crimes against our state. . . And the punishment is death."

Zagreus didn't seem quite as cocky. "I apologize for my behavior today. I meant no disrespect-

"This decision wasn't reached in the last five minutes Zagreus. It is not based on my 'wounded ego'. In fact, I don't feel my ego is wounded. You've only proved the point that should be destroyed for the good of my people; if not the world in general. . . My sentence stands. However, I will give you the choice of execution - hanging or beheading."

After a few moments Zagreus didn't say anything and Gabrielle knew he finally understood this was very real. He would die.

"Would you like me to chose?" Gabrielle asked.

Zagreus heard all the stories of the peace-loving bard that traveled with Xena. She didn't even carry a sword, just that stupid stick. She didn't have the guts he told himself. "Yes Queen Gabrielle. Chose," he answered sounding so self-confident, the regent thought she would be sick.


She didn't even pause to take a breath. She didn't even think twice. Gabrielle gave a slight wave of her hand and the chopping block was brought out. The bard watched as the warlords eyes widened at the sight. He tried resisting again as the guards moved him into position. "Don't do this to me?" the warlord pleaded, looking at the queen, as he was tied down.

Gabrielle locked eyes with the man, thinking what a waste his life had been. "Zagreus," the queen answered. "You did this to yourself."

The sack went over his head and Gabrielle watched - elbows on the chair arms, her fingertips touching, forming a triangle shape as she rested her lips on her index fingers. As the executioner raised the ax, the bard closed her eyes. The sound of metal breaking flesh and bone and the cheer in the square told her the deed had been done.

She turned her head toward Xena. Then and only then did she open her eyes. Emerald green searched sapphire blue looking for some peace of mind in her decision. "You made the right choice," Xena whispered.

Gabrielle gave the weakest of grins. Her chest felt lighter. Her mind a little clearer. Without looking at the body she turned quickly to her regent. "See that his body is disposed of," she ordered.

"Yes my queen," Ephany answered. Her voice also conveyed acceptance and admiration.

She knew the queen's reputation would skyrocket as an effective leader based on the incidents today but she said nothing. She knew Gabrielle would never want glory as a result of her decision to see that another life was taken. For lack of a better word, Ephany felt proud to call Gabrielle 'queen'. Not just because she delivered justice but because she also felt remorse in doing so.

Gabrielle stood, still unwilling to look at Zagreus' lifeless body. The rest of the stage came to attention too. Xena offered her arm to the queen, which Gabrielle took immediately. With as much confidence as she could muster she walked down the steps and Xena lead her on the quickest route from the square.

Once a safe distance away, and away from the eyes of the nation, the warrior stopped; turning the bard into her strong, protective arms. All the queen could do was cry into her warrior's bosom until the warrior's tight grasp freed her torturing thoughts.

Chapter 19

"It's been some week hasn't it?" Terris asked as the trio walked outside, behind the healers hut.

Xena and Gabrielle nodded in unison. "This looks someone has a picnic planned," the bard remarked as they got closer to their destination.

"It's a nice day," Terris remarked. "Besides the hut is still full for the time being and I thought it was important that we get together today. Do you mind?"

"No. We don't mind; it looks lovely," the warrior answered honestly.

Terris smiled. "Talking in 'we's' again," she teased. "That's a good sign," she added.

Xena began to blush but managed to fight it down so it went unnoticed. At least Terris didn't notice. Gabrielle could see it but said nothing as they all took a seat on the spread-out blanket.

Terris smiled when she watched the warrior and the bard chose their positions - side by side, shoulder to shoulder. "Are you sure you two don't want to sit a little closer? I can still see a crack of daylight between you," the healer commented with an ornery grin.

Gabrielle giggled and threw a grape playfully at Terris. Xena picked the bard up and promptly set her on her lap. "Much better," the warrior answered as the bard snuggled in. "Thanks Terris." Gabrielle continued to try to get comfortable and the warrior warned her, "You keep wiggling on my lap and I won't be responsible for my actions."

Unlike Xena, the bard couldn't hide her blush which shot from her cleavage to her hairline. "Xeeenaaa," the bard replied, amazed that the warrior would be so forward in front of Terris. "Cut it out."

"Cut it out?!" the warrior replied acting total shocked. "You're the one doing the dance of the three veils on top of me and I have to cut it out."

Xena didn't think it was humanly possible but the bard managed to get even redder. She buried her face in her hands for a few moments before turning to Terris. "I apologize for Xena's uncouth manner."

"Don't apologize for me because I'm not sorry," Xena replied with a wink to Terris that went unnoticed to Gabrielle. Xena patted the bards leg once and then the blanket. "Sit here for a moment and let me get the scrolls," the warrior added.

With a frustrated sigh, Gabrielle did as instructed as Xena got their scrolls in order. "Would you like to go first or should I?" the warrior asked again.

Terris was all smiles today. She realized she didn't even need to be there actually. The warrior and the bard were doing just fine on their own. She was relieved. Events that had happen in the last week could make or break a relationship and it was obvious to Terris what path the couple was on.

"You could go first. That is if you want to," Gabrielle replied.

"Okay," the warrior answered as she began to unroll her scroll. Suddenly she remembered something, or more to the point, someone. "Is that alright Terris?" Xena asked politely.

"Absolutely!" Terris exclaimed. The healer had a permanent grin on her face as she watched the couple, who was now smiling at each other. Xena cleared her throat and began.

"I promise you this. . .
To lead the way for you
To protect you
To pledge you my unending love.

When our paths grow dark
And out battles turn bloody
Your lovelight never fades
And we endure.

I would die for you
But better this. . .
I will live for you
. . .I promise you. . ."

Xena nodded to the smiling bard, her lashes wet from unshed tears of joy. She knew she dragged the warrior through Tartarus on her knees but the warrior still loved her - lived for her. Without comment the bard cleared her throat and began.

"My champion
You lead and I will follow
That has been our way
And as it should be. . .

No battle, No fear
No anger, No separation
Will divide our love
That is our strength.

We have faced much.
Trust me to be there
I promise you. . .
You lead and I will follow"

Xena smiled for a moment and Terris watched as the warrior began to frown. "What are you thinking?" the healer asked.

"I don't think that's true," the warrior answered honestly, still contemplating the bards words.

"What isn't true?" Gabrielle asked urgently. "I will always be there for you," she added firmly.

"I know that," Xena replied smoothing the bards arm up and down in an affectionate gesture. "But I don't think I should always lead. I think there will be times when I should follow you. And even more times when we walk together, side by side," the warrior stated, trying to make her point clearer.

"Like this child you desperately want," the warrior continued. "I think it's time we walk together. Are we going to settle or stay on the road? I think those kinds of things should be a decision we make together."

"You want a child?" Terris asked. "I'm sorry to interrupt. It's just news to me," she added quickly.

Gabrielle nodded. "About a year ago when we came to visit Lila and Ruth, I had a wonderful time. Not long after we left Arborea, I started to feel empty and angry but I couldn't understand why. Xena didn't do anything so what could I say. . .Nothing. . .So instead of talking to her I started to shut her out; finding fault with everything. . .And believe me with a woman as skilled as Xena it wasn't easy," the bard joked, trying to relieve her growing tension. But soon her face grew serious again.

"So I shut her out. And I hurt her. And I hurt myself. . .And I almost lost the one thing in my life that ever meant anything real. . .When I was a child, I had dreams like most little girls. I would find someone brave and strong. Someone who would love me, feed me, cloth me. . .It took me a while to realize it but I found that person. And when I realized just how much Xena truly meant to me I vowed to never let her go . .She was with me all along although I never saw it. . .But I found her. And she found me. .And because of my lack of understanding I almost lost her. . .I'm so sorry Xena," the bard whispered as she started to cry.

"Shhh," the warrior whispered, stroking the back of the bards head tenderly while they held each other. "We know why you've been unhappy and now we can make things better. Like I've told you many times, what's in the past can't be undone so don't worry about it. What we do have is the future, okay? You've spent years telling me the same thing Gabrielle," the warrior grinned.

Gabrielle wiped her eyes and smiled too. "Nice to see you've been listening," the bard teased.

"You may not believe it but I hear every word you say Beautiful. . .I do."

"Stop it or you're gonna make me cry again," the bard giggled.

Xena reached for the grapes. "Here," she said trying to lighten the mood. "Don't cry. Have a grape instead," she answered popping it into the bards mouth gently. "Good?" she added. Gabrielle nodded with a grin as she chewed.

"A baby huh? An heir to the throne perhaps?" Terris asked thinking of the concept. "Next month a raiding party is going down to the next valley. It's customary for the queen to take the village leader as a mate if she so desires. Have you thought about how to conceive?" Xena shifted uncomfortably. "What's the matter Xena?"

"Huh?" the warrior asked, pretending that she didn't hear. Gabrielle was fully aware that the warrior heard every word.

"You seem uncomfortable. . .suddenly. . .when I brought up conception," Terris replied.

"I know that she has to . . .ya know. . .I just. . .I don't know how comfortable I am with . . .sharing her."

"Doesn't sound like you're very comfortable at all," the healer remarked. "But I could be wrong. Would you like to talk about it?"

"I just . . .I wanna be there when it happens but I . . .I don't know if I can watch someone else touching Gabrielle. I keep having the visions of her in bed with a man and . . .I think about my mother."

"Excuse me?!" Gabrielle asked with a giggle. "I don't mean to be insensitive by laughing Xena but . . .you're mother?"

Xena smiled and giggled a bit herself. It did sound a bit ridiculous the way she had said it. "What I mean is that my mother left Taria for my father. . .What if. . ."

"Xena," Gabrielle sighed. "I wanna have a baby. Not a husband. And if I have a boy then I'll simply give Lila the throne. She has the birthright and a precious princess to boot. . .But under no circumstances will I leave you. . .I promise you that."

"You would do that?! You would give up the throne," Xena asked surprised.

"Would you?" Gabrielle asked, knowing that Xena would see her point.

The warrior understood. Yes. She would give up anything for Gabrielle.

"Well, let me say I hope you have a girl Queen Gabrielle. . .Does this put your mind more at ease Xena?" the healer asked.

"Yeah it does," Xena smiled. "But I still might strangle our donor if he tries to kiss you," Xena added to the bard. "Touching just to keep his 'mood' alive is fine but if his lips go anywhere near you're body I might have a problem."

"Okay. Well noted," Gabrielle nodded. "I'll make it perfectly clear it's not his lips I need."

Xena started to nod in agreement but she stopped as she realized just what the bard would be after. Terris and Gabrielle chuckled at the warrior's reaction. "Very Funny," the warrior answered in intimidation before cracking the faintest of smiles. "Very, very funny."

Chapter 20

Night had fallen in the amazon village. Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed, her back to the entrance, rolling her head back and forth. The bards motions and the dark green silk robe she wore stopped the warrior in her tracks as she walked through the front door. Xena was helpless. Erotic thoughts zipped through her mind. She couldn't see her bard's hands and just wondered where those hands might be based Gabrielle's movements.

"Are you starting without me?" Xena commented, turning the bards attentions.

For a moment, the bard looked confused. One moment she was trying to work the kinks out of her neck, the next the warrior was standing behind her. Then she realized what the warrior could be thinking and smiled warmly.

"Absolutely not!" Gabrielle replied, putting on an air of offense. "How could you think such a thing? I'm not that kind of girl," she added defiantly.

Xena had no choice. She laughed out loud. "Ohhhh, I know what kind of girl you are Gabrielle," she said walking over. She leaned down and planted a slow, smoldering kiss on the bards lips that made Gabrielle whimper. As she pulled away and began to disrobe for her bath she added, "And I wouldn't have it any other way."

Gabrielle released a staggered sigh as she watched Xena turn and climb into the tub. "I'm glad you like me the way I am," Gabrielle whispered, making her way over to the edge of the tub, as the warrior soaped up her body.

"You know I love watching you touch yourself," Xena remarked; her growing arousal evident in her voice.

"Oh yeah," Gabrielle smiled. "What else do you love?"

"Let's see," the warrior answered, carefully considering the question as she rinsed herself off. "I love the way that robe always brings out the color of your eyes. I love the way you sigh hungry and deep when I kiss that spot on your neck right below your left ear. I love the way your small hands wrap themselves around the back of my head when my tongue's buried far inside you. I love-

"Okay. I get the picture" Gabrielle nodded. She could feel the wetness between her legs growing.

"Don't stop me Gabrielle," the warrior teased. "I could go on and on."

"Don't have to tell me that. I know first hand," the bard grinned as she remarked on the warrior sexual stamina.

The pair studied each other for a few long moments, saying nothing. Finally, Xena glided to the other side of the tub until she was just inches away from her bondmate. The smiles left both of their faces the longer they studied each other. It was replaced by want and desperate need.

Without a word, Xena rose and picked Gabrielle up, bringing her into the tub - robe and all. The bard didn't protest. Gently, Xena set her down; the water making the garment cling to all the bards peaks and valleys. The sight made Xena shudder. Gabrielle could feel her warrior's trembling hands on her cheeks as the warrior brought her in closer for a delicate kiss.

She could tell the warrior was trying to hold back; trying to be gentle. She knew what Xena wanted and needed. And Gabrielle decided that after months of fragile touches it was time Xena got it - time that they both got it.

Gabrielle swept the warriors hands away and turned her; pinning the mighty warrior princess to the tub wall. Her tongue plunged into the warriors mouth relentlessly, twining with Xena's again and again. Xena began to protest after a few moments of Gabrielle's forceful nature.

"Please," Gabrielle whispered, in the warriors ear, sending goosebumps across Xena's entire body. Gabrielle felt the bumps as well - her hands never resting on Xena's flesh, touching every part of skin that was excisable to her. "How long has it been since we've done this?" she asked breathlessly. "How long has it been since we've really taken each other. How long since we truly gave ourselves to each other? . . . I trust you Xena."

Even as she said the words her mouth never stopped for an instant - tongue licking, teeth nipping at the warrior's ear. Xena replied by suctioning her lips to the bards neck, sucking forcefully, knowing that it would bruise; knowing the village would see it. The thought only aroused the warrior further. 'Mine' she thought as her lips repeatedly captured the spot. 'All mine'. Then suddenly it happened and Xena couldn't continue. She smiled instead.

"That's it," she whispered in Gabrielle's. "That's the sound I'm talking about. Gods Gabrielle! Do it again please."

When the warrior returned to the spot, it was automatic for the bard. She gave the warrior just what she wanted. And not by choice. Her body no longer was just her own. It belonged to Xena as well. "So sexy," Xena murmured against Gabrielle's skin, her hand reaching for the bards center. "So incredibly beautiful."

Xena finally reached her destination but not before Gabrielle helped by thrusting her hips forward. "Oh Gods!" Xena exclaimed at the feel of the bards overflowing excitement - so much that she could feel it underwater. It made the bard all the more alluring. It never ceased to amaze Xena how hot the little red-head could get her at times like this.

"Yes Xena," the bard whimpered in encouragement at the warriors' stroking. "Gods. . .Take me."

With that, Xena plunged her fingers deep between Gabrielle's soft folds, letting her thumb play with the sensitive nub outside. Gabrielle's erect nipples which stood out from under the wet robe, quickly met Xena's mouth. The fabric rubbed against her skin as Xena's mouth continued to explore her mound. The feeling was torture and pleasure all rolled into one. When she could no longer stand it, Gabrielle's wandering hands ripped the robe from her body, exposing her nakedness to the hungry warrior. Both women sighed passionately in unison as Gabrielle's hand claimed the back of Xena's head returning her to her breast.

The bards movements and continuing whimpers told the warrior she was close. Reluctantly and despite the protest Xena took her loving hand away. Gabrielle groaned as the hand departed. She was teetering on the edge of the hardest orgasm of her life and Xena stopped. Suddenly she felt herself being lifted and laid out on the small deck adjoining the tub. She smiled as the warrior submerged herself under the water, only to emerge again between her dangling legs.

"I need to taste you," the warrior explained in a husky breath.

She didn't wait a moment longer. Her tongue lapped at the bard as her fingers returned to their task, driving in and out; in and out. Xena reached up for only a moment to grab Gabrielle's hands; to lead them to the bards' breasts. Gabrielle grinned down at the warrior watching her - the warrior who still continued to love her with her mouth. With understanding of what Xena wanted Gabrielle rested her head back squeezing her breasts together and pulling at her nipples.

Xena groaned in delight, yet wished she could be a two places at once. The warrior held onto the bards hips drawing her closer, deeper onto her probing tongue. Gabrielle's hand shot down to the back of Xena's head, pushing her onward. But unlike the neck reaction of earlier, Xena didn't smile. Her desire was far too great. Her need to taste, to see, to hear Gabrielle's pleasure was overwhelming. Nothing would break this connection she had to her bard at this moment. Nothing. And she felt herself growl in determination of the bards satisfaction.

Gabrielle heard the noise and understood it's meaning. 'She wants me to come', Gabrielle's mind told her. 'She wants me to come with her mouth all over me. She wants to taste my excitement. Oh Gods. . .' All rational thought left the bards head; her body now controlled her. She grunted and bucked against the wet, velvet softness of Xena's mouth, riding the warrior for all she could.

Xena could see Gabrielle's chest rising and falling rapidly. And she couldn't contain herself at the sight. Her own hand shot down to her own sex - vibrating, racing against her nub in back and forth motions as well as circular ones. 'Look at what she does to you', the warrior told herself silently. The observation did nothing to stop the warriors efforts to please herself however. In fact it only added fuel to the fire and when the warrior watched the bard arch and shudder, riding a wave of pleasure to the height of heights, she thought that she herself might explode as well.

With as much energy as she could muster Xena sprang from the waters, kissing her way up the bard until their lips met and their tongues connected once more. Gabrielle took her time, exploring the warriors mouth, tasting herself on the warriors lips - and in doing so feeling her arousal build all over again.

"You love the way you taste, don't you?" the warrior asked between kisses. "You are delicious. . .Keep it up," the warrior insisted between more pecks and probes. "Keep tasting how delicious you are."

The taste of herself was no longer satisfying to the bard upon hearing Xena's words. She rolled the warrior over and stared deep into her eyes. "I'm gonna taste you."

Xena was sure of the tone in Gabrielle's voice. Desire. Determination. All out lust. She could hear the undying want in the bards words. When she quickly felt the bards tongue she knew she was dead-on accurate. She couldn't contain the moan as she watched Gabrielle's hand shoot under the water - mimicking her same actions that she herself did moments before.

The feel of the bard loving her and the sight of Gabrielle pleasuring herself again was too much. She closed her eyes against the onslaught of erotic sights. It still did nothing to stop her sense of hearing which was acute. She could hear the bards labored breathing, the licking noises from her sex, the small splashes cause by Gabrielle's hand working madly between her own legs as she pleasured Xena.

"Oh Gods Gabriellllllllle."

The bard always loved the sound of her name on Xena's lips and it never sounded more sweeter than times like these - Xena's legs and soul wide open for her, Xena's body shaking from the satisfaction only she could give her. Watching her warrior crest was all the bard needed. She parted her mouth from her love as her head fell back.

"Oh yesssss," the bard hissed as her second orgasm ripped through her well-fit body, shaking her, making it difficult to kneel on the tub bench. Xena watched a moment, still not trusting herself to move, as Gabrielle came down from her high as well. Feeling more confident that the blood flow had returned to her limbs again, Xena scooted back down into the water to hold her bard.

"You're an incredible lover," Gabrielle sighed, snuggling closer to the warrior.

"A lover is only as good as their partner," the warrior answered still fighting for air. "I'm very fortunate that you make me look so good," she replied honestly.

Gabrielle began to relax even more but Xena could not. Someone was there. She could tell they had been there awhile. But still she couldn't see them. After a quick survey of the room she had summarized it must be just her imagination. With all the events of the week, her nerves were still a little edgy - that's all.

"Let's get to bed," the warrior said giving the sleepy bard a little tug.

Gabrielle had trouble opening her eyes but she did and Xena helped her from the tub. She dried the bard with loving care before seeing to herself. Then she carefully picked the bard up and carried her the few feet to the bed.

"I can walk you know," the bard teased as she lay in the warriors arms.

"I like holding you," the warrior replied softly.

Gabrielle smiled and tightened her grip. "I like being held," she responded as the warrior put her down. Quietly, both women climbed under the covers and into each others waiting arms. After a few moments of silence the bard spoke. "This has been the best and worst week of my life," Gabrielle remarked.

Xena opened her eyes. "Why?" she asked opening it up to debate.

"Well, Zagreus' attack. . .His execution," the bard offered.

"You made the right choice Gabrielle," the warrior insisted again. "And as far as the attack it could have been a lot worse. I've come to except the fact you were right. . .I mean I did do a lot to save the village. I saved Diteria. And as a result maybe even Ephany."

Gabrielle snuggled closer. "And we met our original goal. We found out what's been tearing us apart. . .and as a matter of fact, I've never felt closer to you than I do right now. . .I didn't think it was possible to feel closer but I do."

Xena grinned. "Right back at ya," the warrior answered with a yawn.

"I'm sorry," Gabrielle replied.

"For what?" Xena asked.

"For keeping you awake. You're tired."

"Gabrielle, you can talk to me anytime, anywhere, anyplace with anybody. Please don't be sorry for telling me how you feel. Okay? Because no matter how tired I am, I'll always listen."

"Well, let's sleep now and we'll continue in the morning. Deal?" the bard asked.

Xena smiled. "Deal," she replied firmly.

With that, both women closed their eyes. Tomorrow they would talk - about their past, about their present and about their future. Xena smiled as she pulled the bard closer; tighter. The future. She actually cared about the future with a need she never felt before. But not just THE future. THEIR future. The life they would build together, passing down all they learned to the next generation. Xena felt her smile grow larger at the idea of parenthood.

'Yeah', the warrior thought as sleep began to claim her 'Life as a parent could be very good.' She snuggled one last time into her bard - the light of her life and someday the mother of her children.


The End

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