Memories, Dreams and Schemes

part 2

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

Please see part one for all disclaimers.

Chapter 2


His realm shook with the force of his anger, as he brought his fist down on the stone table, one on each side of the scrying bowl, he'd just been looking into. A crack formed and spider-webbed across the surface from each point of impact. "Soon, my beautiful warrior princess, very soon," he mimicked in a high pitched voice. "Why you little bitch, I oughta..." He drew his right hand back...

"Ah-ah -ah," said a husky, feminine voice, as a lovely brown-haired young woman, clad in a skimpy deerskin halter, short loincloth and brown leather boots materialized across the table from him.

"YOU!" he bellowed. "Get outta my REALM!"

"Ooo, a might touchy today, aren't we, big brother?"

"I SA-AID GET OUT!!!" the god of war proclaimed, as he lifted the stone table and tossed it towards his half-sister, Artemis.

The patron goddess of the Amazons vanished briefly, only to reappear a safer distance away. "What a mess," she said, glancing around at the contents of the table, strewn across the stone floor. The assortment of knives, swords, shields, fruit and wine scattered round about, creating an impression of the aftermath of a warrior's feast - turned brawl. Minus the mortal casualties, of course. His scrying bowl was still wobbling on its round bottom; the liquid it had once held, mixing with the wine now seeping into the stone floor.

"YOU!!" Ares exclaimed, his face blood red now; jet black eyebrows quivering with the intensity of his anger. "You had something to do with THAT, didn't you?" He pointed at the bowl he'd just been looking into, then at her. "You meddlin' little..."

"Ah-ah-ah," Artemis warned with a wiggling index finger. "I wouldn't... unless you want dear Daddy to find out what you've been up to." She grinned with satisfaction, as he looked at his hand, obviously considering her threat. "And I don't think he'd take too kindly to how you manipulated poor ol' Morpheus into doing your dirty work."

Ares growled, dropped his hand to his side and pulled down on his silver studded, black leather vest. "And what would he think of what you did?"

"What I did?" the bronze skinned moon goddess feigned innocence.

"Oh, gimme a break! The way Xena's dream changed. And Gabrielle just happened to have a similar one. What did you do bribe Morpheus with..."

"Two can play at that game, brother dear."

"Half brother," he reminded, his voice a low grumble now. "So, what are you here for, to gloat?" He strode purposefully toward his throne, the large chair-like monstrosity shaped in the form of a gruesome human skeleton, in full battle attire. "There'll be other battles, my lovely naive little half sister." He sat down and threw his leg over one skeletal arm, as if unconcerned with her presence any longer; his temper quite under control.

"Not if I have anything to say about it."

"Which you don't," he said, matter-of-factly, rubbing his index finger and thumb down the side of his mustache and beard to smooth them.

"On Amazon land I do."

"Ah, but Xena wasn't on Amazon land. She was in Centaur territory."

"You were trying to send her onto Amazon land."

"Mere technicality my dear," he said, waving his hand, as if dismissing her words completely. "It was only a dream, anyway. What's the big deal?"

"Stop messing with Gabrielle!" Artemis growled, finally losing her temper, which was short indeed when it came to Ares. He was such a smug bastard.

"I didn't touch your precious Queen," he countered, swinging his leg back and forth from the chair arm.

"And don't mess with her mate, either."

Ares cut his dark eyes over at her. "She's mine!" he stated.

"Not anymore she's not." Amber eyes met dark brown ones; glaring with equal intensity.

"Xena will ALWAYS be MINE!" he growled, his temper showing once again.

Artemis smiled, knowing she'd made him lose control. "She doesn't serve you anymore, brother dear," she huffed, walking towards the center of the room. "Matter of fact, she doesn't even like you."

"Arr-r-r," he growled, coming up off his throne. "I'll get her back. You'll see!"

"All I see is my big strong brother... sorry, half brother... the all powerful god of war, making a complete ass of himself over a mere mortal woman."

"Look whose talking," Ares sneered, running his hand over the skeletal one carved into his throne. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but... I do believe you were the one who, once upon a time, got her knickers in a wad over a... mere mortal, now didn't you? And one of your own kind, no less. Boy, oh boy was dear ol' Dad ever hot over that one. Whew-wee! Not only did you take her to bed, you even made her immortal, as I recall. Big no-no, little sis. Yep, I think he's still a bit peeved about that one. How is Iphie, by the way?" he added, using a shortened version of her lover, Iphegenia' s, name which he knew Artemis couldn't stand.

The moon goddess lifted her nose in the air and cocked one dark brown eyebrow. "I wouldn't count on getting Xena back anytime soon, dear brother." She planted her feet, then crossed her arms. "No, she' ll be Gabrielle's mate, very shortly. The mate of an Amazon Queen, no less. Which puts her under my protection."

"That doesn't make her an Amazon and you know it," he argued. "She has to take the vow or... accept the right of caste. And Xena won't do either one. She'll never bow down to any god."

"Least of all you," she added.

Ares' top lip curled up in a sneer. "I'll get her back! You just stay away from her and outta my way!"

"Are you threatening me?" she growled, unfurling her arms and moving towards him.

"Oh yeah, I'm definitely doing just that," he glowered back, advancing towards her.

"CHILL!" A very feminine voice exclaimed, as Aphrodite, goddess of love, materialized between the two, holding them at bay. "All of Olympus can hear you two."

"Get outta my way, Dite!" Ares growled. "She's been asking for a good butt-whooping for a long time."

"You think you can do it. Then bring it on," Artemis countered, starting to lunge toward him, but being hindered by the love goddess' body blocking her path. "Hey, take your... love jugs elsewhere," she added.

"Ex-squeeze-me!" Aphrodite huffed, hands on hips. "Love jugs?" She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "As if you' d know what jugs were."

Artemis turned and glared at Ares who was chuckling slightly. That is, until Aphrodite turned around and gave him one of those "you better be quiet" looks.

Ares cleared his throat. "So, what are you doing here?"

"Breaking up a fight between you two hot heads, before it gets out of hand, obviously. As I said, all of Olympus can hear you. And Daddy Zeus wasn't too happy when I left him to come here and break this up."

"Don't look at me," Ares said, holding up his hands. "She started it."

"No, you did, when you gave Xena that..."

Ares moved towards Artemis, pushing the goddess of love. "Shut your big mouth, you little..."

"Make me," Artemis growled, pushing against the other side of her older sister.

"Hold it, hold it, HOLD IT!" Aphrodite screamed and zapped both of them with a love bolt.

Ares grunted and staggered backwards. "How'd you...?"

Artemis grabbed her face as if she'd been slapped. "You can't do...!"

"Daddy Zeus gave me permission to break this up. Now, shut up, both of you!" Aphrodite growled. "Before I zap you with some toxic love bolts, that'll leave you both goo-goo-eyed for days!" She glanced between the two, as both turned their backs on one another and her. "He knows all about your little deal with Morpheus, Air. And yours Art." Both spun back around. "Yeah, you're high on his list, brother dear. And you're running a close second, Art."

"Yeah well, I've never been his favorite," Ares grumbled.

"Neither have I," Artemis admitted, looking Aphrodite up and down. "Between you, his adopted daughter, and Athena, who sprang from the top of his head, as perfect as could be. Hmph... I never stood a chance."

"Well, at least they are gods," Ares interjected. "I have to compete with a half mortal."

"Oh-h just listen at you two. Should I have a violin playing in the background for your sad stories?" Aphrodite quipped. "Take it to Lachcrymose, he just loves listening to such tales of woe."

"Spare us the sarcasm, 'Dite, will ya?" Ares grumbled, resuming his seat on his throne. "What's dear old Dad suggested for our punishment?" He sighed heavily.

"Actually, he's decided to cut you some slack on this one," Aphrodite admitted. "But he sent me to warn you, both... especially you, Air. You better leave the warrior babe alone. She's looking pretty good to him here lately."

"He wouldn't dare!" Ares growled, straightening up.

"No, not that way. He's just beginning to like her a lot, is all. The way she's turned her life around. Despite your meddling, I might add."

Ares huffed and sat back, his leg going over the arm once again.

"I told you to leave her alone," Artemis added, sounding justified.

"And as for you, missy..." Aphrodite paused and turned towards her adoptive half-sister. "He's always been fond of the little bard, you know that. But... the attention you've been paying her of late, well... he's a bit concerned you're gonna offer her immortality like..."

"I had no such thoughts," Artemis interrupted, glancing away. "I'm only trying to protect her from his incessant meddling!" She pointed at Ares.

He merely shrugged and waved away her accusation, as if it were an annoying fly.

"The trip to Britannia... and then showing up in Chin, just as Xena was leaving," Art added.

"I didn't send Xena to Britannia," he objected, looking at his fingernails. "I had nothing whatsoever to do with that."

"Oh, pu-lease! Spa-are me!" Artemis drawled.

"I didn't." He looked at his older sister. "Can I help it if her little harlot queen goes off and gets herself knocked up?"

"THAT DOES IT!" Artemis shouted; her golden bow suddenly appeared in her hands; an arrow nocked and being loosed.

"ART, CHILL!!!" the goddess of love cried, as she zapped the arrow in mid-air, golden dust flying every which way. She then sent another love bolt in Artemis' direction, which knocked the young woman off her feet. "Go home, Art. Before you get in real trouble, please?" she pleaded.

Artemis scowled at her, then disappeared.

"Thanks for getting rid of that," Ares said.

"I didn't do it for you. Matter of fact, I did it because I needed to talk to you, alone."

"What now?" he grumbled. "Not another, I scratch your back, you scratch mine."

"No. But, Daddy s really pissed at you, Air. More so than I've ever seen him before. You're walkin' on thin ice, Bro'. What with the Furies thing and then that armor you gave what's-his-name... made of Ephestus' metal." She shook her head.

"Been there, done that, so what else is new?"

"Air, you gotta let this warrior babe thing go. It's not worth it."

"What would you know?"

"Hel-lo," Aphrodite drawled. "You are speaking to the love goddess here, remember. I know a few things. At least, a lot more than you do. Which is, I think what's got you so bummed out and acting crazy here lately. You're just not used to this love stuff."

"Love, smove... who said anything about love, anyway?" he grumbled, swinging his leg back and forth again.

"You didn't have to. It's written all over your face and... pretty evident from all your actions."

"You think that I... me, the god of war..." He touched his chest with both hands. " love with a mortal. Get real, sis."

"Okay, your jealousy will be your downfall. Can' t say I didn't warn you. Just don't come crying to me when you end being mortal again."

"Mortal? Is that what Dad's threatening me with... mortality again?" The fear was evident in his voice, as he quickly straightened up.

"'Fraid so, bro. If you keep interfering with the warrior babe... " She snapped her fingers. "There go the powers."

"For how long this time?"

"He didn't say."

Ares was quiet, as he ran his fingers through his thick, jet black, curly hair. Then he sat back on his throne, his hands in his lap. He was too quiet. His big sister grew concerned. She wanted to help her brother with this problem, but there was nothing she could do except try and reason with him to let Xena go. For, it was evident she was in love with the little blonde bard and there was no changing that, without getting into trouble himself.

"What is it, Air?" she asked. "You're too quiet."

"Just... thinking."

"That's obvious," Dite mumbled. "It's what you're thinking that has me worried."

"Just wondering why dear ol' Dad hates me so much?" Ares said, looking up at her, his head still lowered.

"Oh Air, he doesn't hate you. You just... irritate him, is all. Especially, with this fixation on wonder woman." She walked over to his throne.

"What does he care about Xena?" Ares ranted. Aphrodite breathed a sigh of relief, at the anger in his voice. This is what she expected from him. Ranting and raving, not quiet acceptance. "I don't get it," he continued, " I just don't understand... unless..."

"Air, I told you, it's not like that," she corrected.

"No, I wasn't thinking that." He got up from his throne and walked out into the center of the room and started pacing. "What I am thinking is... you remember how Xena suddenly changed. One day she's a warrior who wants to kill Hercules..."

"Thanks to you, I'm sure." His sister took advantage of the unoccupied seat by sitting down.

Ares paused in his pacing to frown at her. "And the next, she's fighting alongside him."

"After he kicked her butt and spared her life." Aphrodite put her hands on the skeletal ones, then shivered.

He merely waved her comment away. "Now how do you think she turned so quickly, hmm? Unless..."

"Unless what?" she asked, when he didn't continue.

"Unless dear ol' Dad intervened on behalf of his beloved half-mortal son, who... just happened to find the beautiful warrior princess irresistible?"

"Daddy wouldn't..."

"Oh, wouldn't he?" Ares countered, his dark eyes alive with the ideas running through his immortal brain. "His favorite son had lost his wife and children, thanks to Mother, remember? And maybe... just maybe... dear ol' Dad wanted to make up for that. And... giving his beloved son, the greatest, most beautiful female warrior the world has ever seen, to produce more... part human gods, could have been a great way to do it."

"Yeah, Air, but... Xena left Herc of her own free will and went off by herself."

"Well sure... I know that. But, maybe Dad didn' t want to interfere too much, ya see. Just enough to turn Xena's head and then... leave the rest to our dear half brother. Who couldn't quite pull it off, if you know what I mean."

"Hmm," his sister murmured. "I gotta admit, it sounds like a great plan... sounds just like something you'd do, but Daddy Zeus... I doubt he'd..."

"Someone had to interfere. Or else... why would she turn so quickly? I mean, I've always wondered about that, I just never... never could figure out who... or why." Ares finally paused in his pacing and let this statement hang in the air for a moment. "Yeah and maybe that's why dear ol' Dad doesn't want me interfering with Xena. He still wants her for his favorite son."

"I don't know, Air. He's cut you a lot of slack with her."

"So he wouldn't expose himself, yes. Don't you see?" He looked up at her expectantly, seemingly wanting her approval.

"Well, if that's so... he shoulda interfered with her and the little chatter box by now, don'cha think? 'Cause I know he's not thrilled by those arrangements, in general. Rather see them making more mortals to worship us, if you get my drift. And don't forget that little blonde is not the first female in your girl's bed. Which is probably why Herc couldn' t hang onto her. And you either, for that matter," she added.

He looked up at the ceiling. "Be that as it may... and I'm not conceding it is mind you, 'cause I've never had the chance my half-brother did." He paused and waved his hand in the air, then cleared his throat and resumed his pacing. "My point is this... Xena wouldn't be with the brat now if she hadn't changed.".

"I... don't know about that, Air. Love's a powerful thing, believe me."

"The old Xena would never have fallen for that irritating little blonde," Ares flatly stated. "Matter of fact, the brat would never have gotten that close to her back then. She woulda been too afraid of her. And the old Xena... HA, she woulda ate her for breakfast."

"Hmph, I'll agree with that... which is what I said about love being a powerful thing."

Ares stopped and frowned at his sister. "I didn' t mean it that way, Dite. I meant she'd kill her."

"Oh, well... I wouldn't know about that. But, you may have a point about the chatter box now. I'm not sure she could handle the old Xena, Destroyer of Nations. Whew, she was something else, wasn't she?"

"A work of sheer beauty and grace all rolled into one firm, sound..."

Aphrodite cleared her throat, interrupting him. "Um, yeah, well, you may have a valid point there, Bro', but... what good does it do you? Things are the way they are and... you're just gonna have to accept that."

"You didn't interfere with them, did you?" He turned and glared at her.

"Oh no, don't look at me. This is true love, bro . I'm not involved in this little love story."

"But, you agree, that if Xena hadn't changed, then they never would have... well, you know."

"Fallen in love?" Aphrodite supplied. Ares nodded rather quickly, as if he didn't want to think about it, much less say it. "I guess we'll never know," she added.

"We could find out." He cocked one eyebrow quizzically.

"Ump, no... don't wanna hear it." She jumped up from his throne. "I'm not falling for another one of your schemes again. I got reamed out but good for that scroll business. I had no fun rounding up those three naked chatter boxes, I'll have you know. Nope, not this girl. Uh-uh! And I'm warning you, you better keep your nose clean bro' , unless you like being mortal. Later!" The goddess of love then vanished in a flash of golden light.

"Umph!" Ares slammed his fist into his hand. "Thought I had her right where I wanted her, then... she slipped right through my fingers. Am I losing my touch? Nah!" He shook his head. "No way. And no way do I like being mortal either." He paused, thinking about Xena again. "Oh well, on to plan B. Ah, and what better way to avoid punishment than to involve the old man himself. Oh yeah, I'm good," he declared. "Piece of cake if I play my cards right. Ye-Yes... Soon my beautiful warrior princess, very soon, you will be mine, once again!" He let loose a low wicked chuckle.


"Yes, several scrolls and a bottle of ink," Gabrielle said later that morning, placing six dinars in the palm of Joxer's hand. "And Xena needs a new whetstone."

"You mean no one around here has..."

"Amazons are not in the business of trading, Joxer," Gabrielle interrupted, giving what she thought was a plausible explanation. "Stores in the village are. Now... you gonna do this for me or... you want Xena to do it?"

He closed his hand around the coins. "Xena in a village usually means trouble."


"And what do I get for doing this little errand for you?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and offered his cheek for a kiss.

"Whatever is left over when you get what we need." She patted his cheek. "So haggle a good price, hmm?"

"Hmph," he grunted, clearly dissatisfied.

"Besides you've been wanting to read my scrolls. I'll let you read the story I'm working on when it's finished."

"Hmm. Reading it to me would be better."

"Joxer, don't press your luck, hmm?" She patted his arm. "Better get going, you're burnin' daylight. And Xena's due back from the training grounds any moment now."

"I'm outta here. Be back before you even have time to miss me," he called over his shoulder.

"I hope not," the bard mumbled. Although I wish you no harm, Joxer, she thought, I do wish you'd make yourself scarce for awhile. And may the gods watch over you if you try and find us when you get back. Otherwise, I may be the one to throttle you myself!

The bard went back to the purification hut. As she reached for the door, a hand grabbed her arm. "Xena!" she exclaimed.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you. He's gone, isn' t he?" The bard nodded. "Good, then let's get our things packed. Ephiny gave me directions to the temple. Argo's staying here to rest. I rode her pretty hard to get here, ya know."

"Oh Xena, why'd you do that? You had to know where I'd go and that I'd be safe."

"In a village full of good looking women?" One dark eyebrow arched skyward.

"Xena, you can't.... Ah-h-h, you're teasing me, aren't you?"

"I'll show you real teasing later," Xena quipped. "Let's get moving."

It didn't take long for the two to get packed. And before the sun had progressed more than another mark on the sundial, they were well on their way to the temple.

"It is a... cave," Gabrielle acknowledged aloud, unable not to notice all the stalactites and stalagmites that covered nearly half of the ceiling and floor.

"And a temple," Xena nodded towards the far end, where they could barely make out the two large paintings, one on either side of a hole in the wall, with stone steps leading up to it. "Communion chamber, I presume," she offered, noticing the bard's gaze centered on the hole.

"I know the one on the right is Artemis," Gabrielle said, referring to the deerskin clad figure, wearing a skimpy halter and a short male loincloth; brown leather boots up to her knees. The goddess' long dark brown hair was all pulled over and hanging down across her left shoulder. "But, who's the other one?" This figure had long blonde hair, all of it pulled over and across her right shoulder. She was wearing a white multi-layered sarong; her burgeoning bosom pressed tight against the material.

"Iphegenia, I expect," Xena finally answered, noticing that the two figures were holding hands beneath the communion chamber entrance.

"King Agamemnon's daughter?" The bard frowned. "Oh yes... now I remember, she's the one that Artemis saved from being sacrificed to her, right?"

Xena nodded. "Ephiny told me the rest of the story, wanna hear it?"

"You... are gonna tell me... a story. Woah, that's a switch."

"Wanna hear it or not?" Xena arched one dark eyebrow.

"Oh yes, I'd love to."

"Then come on. Let's find a place to... get comfortable." Xena put her arm around her lover's shoulder, pulled her close and brushed a soft kiss across her ear.

"Hmm, I like that," the bard commented.

"There's more where that came from. Lots more."

"I can't wait."

They settled in a spot facing the paintings and spread out only one of the bedrolls on the ground, near two large side by side stalagmites they intended to use as backrests. The fact that they didn' t have to clear this place off, suggested they weren't the only ones to do so.

Gabrielle lit a candle Xena had brought along and set it in a niche- which appeared to have been carved for this very purpose- in one of the other stalagmites nearby. Xena sat down beside her, stretched out her long legs and pulled her lover into her arms, her back against the stalagmites.

"You gonna tell me that story now?" the bard queried, as Xena rubbed her right hand over her arm.

"Uh... oh yeah, I almost forgot."

"Uh-huh..." Gabrielle grabbed the hand as it was creeping towards her breast. "Story first," she countered.

"Okay, um... let's see..." The tall warrior relaxed. "You know the part about the sacrifice, right?"

"Yeah, but... tell me again anyway."

"Well, King Agamemnon wanted to join the Trojan war, but the seas were too rough for him to launch his ships..."

"Why'd he want to join? I forget. And whose side was he gonna fight on?"

Xena frowned. "This is not a history lesson, Gabrielle. I'm... just trying to tell a story."

"Okay, sorry, please... go on, I won't interrupt again."

"Uh-huh, sure."

"I won't, please... keep going. I love listening to your voice. You never tell stories, so I seldom get to..."

"I thought you said you weren't going to interrupt again?"

The bard shut her mouth; lips sealed tightly together. Then she nodded.

"Where was I? Don't answer that," Xena warned her. Gabrielle shook her head. "The seas were too rough to launch his ships, right?" A nod from the bard confirmed this. "So, a seer of the King's, told him that if he'd sacrifice his daughter, Iphegenia, to Artemis that she would calm the seas."

"Umph," Gabrielle grunted, but held her lips shut.

"But, when Artemis found out about this, she rescued the young girl instead and put a deer in her place. She then took Iphegenia to one of her islands and made her a priestess in her temple." Xena paused and cleared her throat. "Now the rest of the story, Ephiny just told me a little while ago.

"She said that over time Iphegenia became a very devoted follower of Artemis. And seeing such devotion, Artemis began to make personal appearances and spend a lot of time with her young devotee. Long walks... quiet talks... you know how that goes."

Gabrielle merely nodded and smiled.

"And well, Artemis fell in love with the beautiful blonde priestess." Blue eyes stared down into sea-green ones as Xena added, "Must be something about blondes that just turn a warrior's head, hmm?"

"And Iphegenia fell madly in love with Artemis, right?" the bard queried, forgetting her promise.

"Oh yes, most definitely," Xena answered, still staring into those blue-green depths she'd found herself lost in so many times before over the past few moons.

"And Artemis didn't ever want to be apart from Iphegenia, so the goddess offered her immortality, so that they could be together, forever," the bard said softly.

"How did you...? I thought you'd never heard...?"

"Lucky guess," the bard interrupted, smiling slyly.

Xena reached over and slowly lifted Gabrielle's chin. "I guess love makes you feel that way, huh?"

"Like you never want to be apart...."

"Never," Xena whispered, the words soft as a caress against the bard's lips. "I love you, Gabrielle."

"And I love you, Xena."

They sealed these words with a passionate kiss.

"Umm, I think we should take this part in there, hmm?" Gabrielle suggested, motioning towards the steps and the communion chamber, which was supposed to lie beyond.

"I believe that might be better." Xena helped the bard to her feet.

"I'll get the bedrolls if..."

"No, leave them," Xena objected. "Ephiny already sent someone over to prepare the chamber," she explained. "We leave these here, so that anyone who comes in will know that someone's here."

"Oh-h, I see. You and Ephiny... you talked a lot?"

"Enough." Xena grinned.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Gabrielle asked.

The tall warrior took the shorter woman's hand in hers, as they started up the steps. "Gabrielle, I..." Xena paused, after only a few steps. The bard looked over at her. "You know, I'm not good with words, but..." Xena took both of lover's hands into her own now. "Gabrielle, I... I commit my... life to you. To loving, honoring and protecting you."

Tears welled up in the bard's eyes. "And I commit my life to you, Xena. To loving, honoring and protecting you." She paused a moment and cleared her throat. "May the moon goddess, protector of the Amazons, bless our union and always watch over us. Guiding and protecting us, whether we are together or apart."

"Yes," Xena agreed, tears shimmering in her eyes now. "Um, you're so good with words. If only I could express what's in my heart...".

"You already have, Xena. Just by being here."

"Oh Gabrielle, I do love you so!" Xena whispered, tears easing from her eyes, as she reached down and scooped up her lover into her arms.

"Xena!" Gabrielle objected, her arms going around the warrior's neck all the same. "I... umph, even though this is wonderful... you can't carry me through there." She motioned towards the chamber entrance.

The proud warrior tore her gaze away from the vision in her arms and took note of the small opening, only large enough for one person and bent over at that. She frowned. "Well, then... I'll carry you as far as I can."

Gabrielle laid her head on her lover's shoulder, knowing there was no sense arguing with Xena when her mind was made up. "I see now what Ephiny meant about Phantes. He couldn't fit through there."

"Not.. hardly," Xena grunted, slowly taking one step at a time. "Good thing... you haven't... eaten much... lately."

"XE-NA-A!!" the bard exclaimed.

"Don't get.. me tickled," the strong warrior admonished. "Give me... strength."

"How am I supposed to..."

"The strength... of your kiss," the tall brunette supplied.

Tears sprang up in the bard's eyes again, as she obliged her lover's request. Xena paused for those few moments, then readjusted Gabrielle's weight in her arms. "Now, I can make it... to the top," she said, as if she'd just received her second wind.

"Ya know, you may not say a lot, Xena, but... when you do..." The rest was left unsaid, as they reached the top of the landing.

"After you," the warrior said gallantly, bowing to her lover. "My queen," she added, admiring the view, as the bard bent down slightly in order to enter the tunnel.

"Did you call me queen?" Gabrielle questioned.

"Uh-huh... keep moving." Xena placed her hand against the bard's rear end, pushing lightly. "Never considered the fact that I've been bedding a queen all this time. Kinda sounds... exciting."

"Oh Xe-na!" Gabrielle gasped, emerging from the tunnel.

"What? Didn't know that would be exciting for you too," the warrior mumbled.

"No, look...!" Gabrielle left the rest unsaid, allowing her lover to draw her own conclusions. Or admire her own handiwork. The bard wasn't sure which.

"Umm, nice," Xena commented, taking note of all the candles positioned around the room in their carved niches. A small fire was burning in a contained area cut into the wall, apparently complete with its own chimney, since no smoke was filling the small room. A large dark brown fur blanket was laid out on the floor and pulled back to reveal a soft looking stuffed pallet, covered with a light colored deerskin. The aroma of sweet grass incense, Xena's favorite, permeated the room.

"It's wonderful, Xena," the bard said, sounding very pleased indeed. "Did you have anything to do with...?"

The warrior was shaking her head even before the bard finished her question. "I guess this is... for their Queen," she offered.

"And her mate," Gabrielle added.

Xena grunted. "They seemed to have thought of everything," the warrior noted, her gaze landing on a large bowl filled with water, alongside an equally large pitcher, with two wash clothes arranged in front, all sitting on a wooden table, in the corner behind them. Also on the table, were several bunches of grapes and cherries, as well as, four apples, two bottles of port, two wooden cups and last - but certainly not least- a large platter with something wrapped in sack cloth upon it; the outline looking suspiciously like it contained cheese and bread.

"Sure did," Gabrielle acknowledged. "I'll have to remember to thank... whoever did this."

Xena grunted, suddenly feeling a bit awkward, out of place and just a tiny bit nervous, as she realized this was their wedding night. And the only one she had ever had. For, she'd never made a commitment to anyone else before in her life. At least, not about love, maybe about not making war. Those were the kind of commitments she understood.

"Xena, what's wrong?" the bard queried, seeing the strange expression on her lover's face.

"Uh, nothing... I... I'm just... looking around."

"You're not nervous, are you?" The bard was moving towards her.

"Nervous? No, of course not. What... would I have to be nervous about?"

"I don't know," the bard said softly, reaching out and placing her hands on Xena's waist.

"I'm not nervous, Gabrielle," the warrior assured, in the most convincingly soft tone she could muster at the moment.

"I am... a little," the bard admitted. "I mean... we've never been in... a place like this. Candlelight and incense... a soft pallet... a fire we didn't have to build ourselves and... it is our... wedding night, so to speak. But, even though I've been married before... I still feel a bit..."

"Shh..." Xena interrupted, bending over and placing her lips against her lover's.

"Umm," the bard murmured, as the warrior eased back. "Bath first, then bed?" she suggested.

"Um-hm," Xena agreed. "You go ahead and get started, I want to check around the temp..."

"Uh-uh," Gabrielle protested, grabbing Xena by her breastplate. "No need for checking on anything. I think we should bathe each other, don't you? Take our time and... truly enjoy this." Her hands were moving up to the hooks of the warrior's breastplate. "I wanna undress you, myself and..." Fingers were working loose the hooks now and headed for the straps on the sides. "...savor every moment of this. After all, we only get to have one wedding night."

Xena sighed at the feel of the bard's cool fingers against her skin. Her nerves had calmed down immensely and were being replaced by the hunger she'd lived with for nearly a moon now. She suddenly wanted to sweep her lover up in her arms and carry her over to the pallet and make love until they were both too tired to move. And yet, another deeper part of her, wanted to take it slow and easy.

She heard the breastplate hit the floor behind her. She leaned over, placing her face against the side of Gabrielle's head. She inhaled the sweet aroma that was the woman she loved, while feeling her leather shoulder straps sliding down her arms; cool fingers grazing her skin. Her own hands went beneath her lover's arms; her fingers seeking out the ties to the halter.

"Ga-brielle," she breathed; her lover placing a soft kiss upon her chest.

"I know," came the response.

It wasn't long before they were both standing naked as the day they were born.

"By the gods, Xena, you... are so-o beautiful," the bard whispered, her eyes taking in every inch of bronze flesh available to her view.

"Only because you're not looking at what I am," Xena suggested, her hungry eyes drinking in the creamy smooth skin before her; her fingers were itching to touch it; her mouth salivating to taste it.

"Bath," Gabrielle said, as if reminding her own self, while reaching out for Xena's hand.

The tall warrior allowed herself to be lead over to the table. "No soap," Gabrielle announced.

"What's in that bottle there? Behind the bowl?"

"Umm... smells good," the bard said, sniffing the open top. "Feels... oily though." She looked up at Xena.

"It's supposed to be. Wet the cloth, or your hand and... put some on it, you'll see."

"Soon the bard was running the wet oily cloth over her lover's body. The smooth bronze tones of Xena's skin began to shine and glimmer in the candlelight.

The warrior opted not to use the cloth; for, she wanted to experience the tactile sensation of moving her hands over the creamy white surfaces. She dropped to her knees in order to get to the bard s legs; her face only a breath away from where she longed to bury it. The slight musky odor acting like an aphrodisiac on her senses.

"Oh Xena!" the bard gasped, feeling a warm tongue stroke her inner thigh.

The warrior suddenly got to her feet and pulled her lover against her, almost roughly. "I can't wait any longer," she murmured, her voice so husky with need, the bard hardly recognized it.

Xena's hands cupped the bard's bare cheeks and lifted her off her feet. Gabrielle's arms flew around her neck; her legs around her hips. The warrior pressed her lips against the bard's shoulder and carried her over to the pallet. She eased down to her knees, then gently laid her lover back. She slid on top of the little blonde, the oil on their skins enhancing the slow movements of their naked bodies coming together.

"Oh great Zeus... and all the gods," Gabrielle breathed, as Xena eased between her thighs.

"They can't help us now," Xena mumbled. "Talk to me. Tell me what you want, love."

"You know... what I want. You!" Gabrielle hissed, feeling her lover's hips begin to move ever so slightly against her. "And only you!"

"That's what I wanted to hear," Xena said, her voice still very husky in tone; her hips falling into their slow hypnotic rhythm now.

"Oh yes, Xena... it's been... so-o long."

"Too long," the warrior agreed. "We start now, making up for lost time."

"Yes-s," Gabrielle hissed. "Oh yes-s!"

Continue to Part 3

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