We Need A Little Solstice
by Cath, Bard
Yes. It occurs between two women. If this is illegal in your area or not to your tastes, skip this tale.
Possibly for Series Finale (Season 6). This tale follows my answer to the series' finale, titled A Friend, In Deed, wherein Gabrielle decided to bring Xena back souls of Higuchi be damned. That tale has been posted at Lynka's and MaryD's sites.
Jappa lay far behind them. They had journeyed back through Chin and India, seeking news of Eve. After several weeks' search, they found her in a small village near the Ganges, tending to the injured and ill; spreading Eli's message of love through her actions, rather than preaching. In turn, she was learning much from the villagers about compassion, self-forgiveness, and community. Xena and Gabrielle spent a joyful month with their daughter, then parted tearfully on a morning in late summer. Eve promised to meet them in Athens two springs hence.
And now, the Warrior Princess and Battling Bard were coming home to Greece again. The voyage across the Pontus Euxinus proved taxing. Gabrielle's seasickness struck with a vengeance. Coupled with the stresses of the past year, it left her weak and underweight. They stayed in Byzantium another month while she regained her strength.
Xena played healer, and Gabrielle knew her companion enjoyed every minute of it. This was the Warrior's way of thanking the Bard for dumping those damned ashes in the fountain -- defying destiny to free her from her debt to the souls of Higuchi.
Gabrielle hated feeling helpless, but the more she fought the fever and nausea, the worse they became. Finally, she gave in, surrendering to Xena's care; basking in the warmth offered by her Warrior. When she allowed herself to be pampered recovery came quickly, but the experience left her with a nagging guilt that she could never do enough to repay the dark woman who loved her.
They traveled afoot now, still a week from the Amazon village where they had planned to spend the Solstice. Gabrielle's illness delayed them long enough to oblige another special occasion spent on the road.
"Once, just once," the Bard groused silently, "I'd like to be home for this celebration. I can't remember the last time..."
"Gabrielle, you're mumbling."
The blonde looked over at her companion and smiled sheepishly. Caught.
"A dinar for your thoughts?"
"They aren't worth that much, Xena."
"OK. How about a nice backrub when we reach the next inn?"
"Now there's an offer I can't refuse." The sheepish smile turned into a full grin.
"You know, it's almost Solstice again. We could do some shopping if the village has a market."
It was Xena's turn to grumble.
"Oooohhhhhh, Xena. This feels so good. Yes. Soooo.... good."
The sheer pleasure in Gabrielle's voice elicited a shiver of remembrance from the Warrior Princess. She fought to control the heat radiating through certain parts of her body.
Eyeing the weaver, Xena caressed the soft lamb's wool shawl with an expert hand. She nodded in agreement. It was an exquisite piece of work.
"How much?" she asked the wizened man behind the table in the marketplace stall.
"Hmmmmm..." Xena studied the garment closely.
Gabrielle recognized a telltale tic at the corner of her companion's left eye. This was Xena's "I-wish-I-could-buy-it-for-you-Gabrielle-but-we-don't-have-the-dinars" twitch.
However, the Bard hadn't intended the shawl for herself.
She wanted to give the Warrior something extraordinary this Solstice; something Xena wouldn't dream of buying for her own comfort -- luxurious, but useful. The shawl fit all specifications, except for price. Gabrielle's funds were limited too. Still, she knew quality when she saw it, and figured she could negotiate, if she could find a way to send Xena elsewhere. Otherwise, it wouldn't be much of a surprise.
"Thank you." Gabrielle offered her politest tone as she handed the shawl back to the merchant. She gave him a look that said, "I'll be back." He nodded.
"C'mon, Xena, let's check out the other stalls."
They had arrived in Abydus late that morning plenty of time to do some last-minute Solstice shopping, then find an inn for the night. The Bard had almost forgotten her irritation at spending another festival on the road. Xena promised her a good meal, soothing backrub, hot bath, and warm bed, but just being with her Warrior was enough.
"Sometimes home is a person, not a place." Gabrielle had spoken these words long ago. She still believed them.
On the pretext of examining a frying pan, Gabrielle lingered at a cookware display while Xena wandered to the next booth. As soon as she saw that her partner was distracted, the Amazon slipped back to the weaver's table.
"You're obviously a lover of fine food."
The very old woman who spoke these words now stared up at Xena from behind a pile of brown, cake-like objects. She winked.
"I know my way around a meal," the tall woman responded warily.
"I didn't mean your weight, dearie."
Xena almost laughed.
The old woman thrust a tray of brown chunks toward the Warrior. The chunks resembled bread, but for mysterious red and green pieces spread throughout.
Normally, Xena avoided free food samples a cautious carryover from her days as The Destroyer of Nations. But she reasoned that all her old enemies were probably dead, or at least toothless and clawless. Besides, she was hungry.
The day was warm, and her mood was light. She plucked a chunk from the proffered selection and sniffed. An essence of strong spirits assailed her. She recognized the scent. With a mixture of trepidation and anticipation, Xena took her first bite.
Her eyes watered. She hadn't tasted anything this delicious in years (with the exception of a certain Bard). If Warrior Princesses could be said to smack their lips, then Xena did just that. Candied citron, pistachios, and powerful, unnamed liquor overwhelmed her tastebuds. Only her warrior's self-control kept her from moaning aloud.
"MmmHowmuch?" she mumbled as she chewed diligently on the delightful stuff.
Xena licked her fingers and subtly pried a sliver of candied fruit from between her front teeth. "What do you call it?"
"I'll take two."
"By the gods, Xena! What do you have in here? New shoes for Argo?"
A slightly sweaty Bard dropped the bundle on a low pallet that served as the bed in their tiny room.
"It's something for later," the Warrior Princess replied mysteriously. She arranged the rest of their gear as best she could in the cramped space.
While Gabrielle unpacked what they'd need for the evening, Xena built a fire in the pit that filled one corner. A hole in the ceiling drew the smoke up and out.
"Not exactly King Gregor's palace, is it?" Gabrielle wrinkled her nose, summarizing her assessment of their quarters.
"Hey, it's warm, dry, and we can afford it."
The Bard sensed a little defensiveness.
"Actually, it's not a bad room. Clean and safe. That's the main thing, right?"
"Not really." The Warrior Princess moved close, resting a warm hand on the smooth skin of the smaller woman's sturdy shoulder.
"The main thing is that we're together. I'm alive. You're feeling better. And we are here, tonight, sharing this room."
Gabrielle looked up into shining eyes now glowing blue-black in the firelight. The next thing she knew, she was kissing soft, inviting lips, then teasing entrance, gently, with her tongue. The Warrior welcomed her. They forgot everything but each other for a very long moment.
"I'm feeling sooooooo.... much better," Gabrielle purred as she broke from the embrace. Xena's wicked smile told her the Warrior agreed.
Tempting as it was to remain in that smile's glow the rest of the night, the Bard knew she had only a little time to hurry back to the wool merchant. Much surreptitious haggling, Gabrielle's natural charm, and the addition of an ornate bracelet she'd purchased in India finally convinced the old man to part with the shawl for 30 drachma. By then she couldn't just carry it back to the inn without Xena seeing it. He promised to hold it for her until sundown.
When Xena turned to stoke the fire, Gabrielle saw her chance.
"Where's the bath?" she asked.
"Down the hall and to the right," came the Warrior's preoccupied reply.
"I'll just go check it out. Be right back."
"Don't be too long. I'm starved," Xena called after the departing Bard.
"A perfect plan, perfectly executed," Gabrielle whispered as she slipped out the side door of the inn and walked rapidly toward her goal.
But perfect plans have a way of going awry.
In mere minutes, Gabrielle retrieved her parcel from the weaver and headed back toward their lodging. She noticed that a wind had come up and the sky was darkening. The day's warmth had given way to a chilly evening. In fact, it was getting downright cold. The Bard shivered a little; her plan had forced her to leave their room without a coat.
When she came to the inn's side door, she found it locked. Now, she had the choice of going through the front door, or finding a way in through the back. Something about the adventure compelled the Amazon to locate a rear entrance and avoid any chance of encountering Xena.
Gabrielle had just reached for the latch to the rear door when a rough hand clamped down on her shoulder. It was a large hand. Very large. And strong. She controlled the instinct to whirl and lash out.
"Hold on there, missy."
The gruff voice fit perfectly with the ham-like appendage now pinning her in place near the wall.
"Whaddaya think yer doin' there?"
"Remove your hand and I'll answer that." The Bard took a calming breath, turned, and studied the giant. She shrugged off the hand. "Who are you?"
"Local militia. Lykomedes by name. Don't make me ask again, girl. Why are you trying to break into the inn?"
"Break in? To the inn? Ha. Not a bad joke... has a certain ring to it." Gabrielle smiled and reached for humor to avoid reaching for her sais. "Believe me, this isn't what it looks like. I'm staying here and just trying to get back to my room."
"Looks to me like you're sneaking around." He eyed her suspiciously. "Why not use the front door?"
"Good question! You obviously take your job to heart." Gabrielle attempted an even broader smile. "Honestly, I have a friend staying at the inn and I need to get back to our room before she sees me. I bought this Solstice gift for her. It's a surprise...."
With that, she showed Lykomedes the weaver's package. Before Gabrielle could object, he snatched it from her.
"Probably stolen goods. Been a rash of thefts around here lately, and you look pretty shifty."
Gabrielle would have laughed at the absurdity of the situation, but she was shivering with cold. Maybe logic could prevail where humor failed.
"Look, if I was a thief would I be running around out here without a coat? I mean, it's practically a blizzard, and I...."
" You could be a coat thief. Tell it to the magistrate." He gripped her forearm.
The Bard spun from his grasp and backed away. She willed her voice to remain calm.
"I don't want to cause any trouble. Let's just go find my friend. She can tell you who I am, then we can have a drink and forget all this."
"Resisting arrest and trying to bribe an officer, huh?" He advanced on the small woman.
In a flash, the Bard reached for her sais. She had them at the ready before Lykomedes blinked. But he kept coming.
"I'd think hard about fighting me, little woman." He smirked and took another step toward her.
"This is all a big mistake." The Bard felt her anger rising.
"And you're the one making it, missy."
Lykomedes rushed her. She sidestepped neatly, crouched in one fluid motion, and swept his legs out from under him with a low kick. His momentum carried him forward, face first into the mud. The big man came up sputtering.
Gabrielle turned to him, sais at the ready. Wary. Waiting. But not enjoying it one bit.
"Let's call this off right now. I don't want to hurt you. I just want to find my friend."
His pride wounded, Lykomedes rose from the ground, determined to capture the young troublemaker. He circled her, seeking an opening, yet not drawing the huge sword at his waist. Gabrielle took this as a good sign, but she erred in judgement and relaxed a moment too soon.
Suddenly, Lykomedes shouted, "Get her!" and looked past the Bard. She glanced quickly over her left shoulder. By the time she turned back, his fist connected with the bridge of her nose. A universe of stars exploded in her head. She sprawled in the dirt, dazed. With amazing speed for a big man, he seized her weapons, then towered over her.
"Oldest trick in the book and I fell for it," the Bard scolded herself.
The next instant, two other men in uniform rounded the corner.
"Oh that's better," she thought, "there really were others." She felt like laughing and crying at the whole spectacle.
"What happened to you?" one of the men asked Lykomedes, noting the mud on the big man's tunic.
"Never mind. I caught our thief. Take her to the cell."
Strong arms hauled the Bard to her feet. She wobbled, but managed to stand on her own as the smaller of the two men tied her hands behind her.
"Save it for the magistrate," Lykomedes snarled. He tucked Gabrielle's package under his arm and gave her a shove.
Gabrielle winced at the pain in her nose and the discomfort radiating though her arms and shoulders.
"Well, here we go again," she mumbled.
Three officers escorted the Bard none-too-gently away from the inn.
"How am I gonna explain this one to Xena?"
Darkness had fallen by the time Lykomedes untied Gabrielle's hands and shoved her into the single cell of the Abydus jail.
The militiamen had ignored her pleas, protestations, and threats as they led her through a maze of streets and alleyways. One of them had the audacity to call the Bard insane when she mentioned that her friend waiting back at the inn was none other than Xena, the legendary Warrior Princess. In days of old, that name might have struck a chord of terror. Now the militiamen rolled their eyes and teased Gabrielle about being friends with a long dead myth. That hurt. But Gabrielle consoled herself with an image of the pain Xena would inflict when she finally came to the rescue.
The Bard let her eyes adjust to the dim light provided by a single candle on a table in one corner of the cell. She rubbed her wrists and arms to restore circulation. Other than the table, the cell was bare. A slight motion near the table caught Gabrielle's attention.
"Hello?" she whispered.
By the candle's glow, the Bard made out the face of a woman, but found it difficult to discern whether she was old or young.
"What're you in for?"
"Definitely a young voice," thought Gabrielle. Then she replied. "They think I tried to break into the inn. But I'm innocent."
"That's what they all say." The voice sounded exhausted, almost flat.
"Why are you here?"
"Stealing food. And I'm guilty." Now, the voice contained an edge of cynicism.
"Mind if I join you? My head hurts and I really need to sit down before I fall down"
"Suit yourself. There's not a warm spot in this godsforsaken place, but you're welcome to help me hold up the wall over here."
Gabrielle stumbled to the corner. She leaned back against cold stone and slid down to the dirt floor.
"You're right. It's cold." The Bard wrapped her arms around herself, trying to warm up as best she could. But she had begun to shiver again.
"Hey, you're shaking like a wet dog. Here..."
The other inhabitant moved toward Gabrielle, but when she came within a foot or so, a strong body odor overwhelmed the Amazon. She drew back, involuntarily.
The other woman pulled up short. "Too ripe for you?"
"Uh, no." Gabrielle forced herself to edge closer.
"Sorry. Two weeks in here has kind of affected my personal hygiene." She offered Gabrielle half of a dirty blanket.
"What's your name?" the Bard asked, trying hard to ignore the scent and appreciate the woman's generosity.
"Lila." The familiar name echoed in Gabrielle's head. She gasped.
"What?! First you don't like how I smell. Now you have a problem with my name too?" The indignant young woman pulled away.
Gabrielle hurried to make amends.
"No...no... Lila is a beautiful name. It was... is....my sister's name. You just caught me by surprise that's all. Sorry."
The other woman relaxed. Both prisoners sat quietly -- close enough to share the tattered, dirty blanket and find a bit of warmth. Finally, the Bard spoke.
"Hey, Lila. How long will they keep you here?"
"Don't know. They told me the magistrate has to decide, but I haven't seen him yet, and it's been almost fourteen days. Mostly they toss me some food now and then, and leave me alone."
"They haven't tried to...." Gabrielle sought a gentle way to ask the tough question.
"No. None of that." Lila almost smiled at the other woman's gallant attempt at tact.
"Maybe Xena can figure a way to get you out of here when she comes for me."
"Xena? You have a friend named after the Warrior Princess?"
It was Gabrielle's turn to smile.
"My friend is the Warrior Princess."
Lila shook her head.
"That's impossible. Xena has been dead for years."
The Bard sighed at the familiar argument.
"No really. She's alive, and she is gonna get us out of here."
"But if Xena's alive, that means you must be... Hey, you said your name was Gabrielle... the Amazon Bard?" Lila studied her cellmate, wide-eyed. "Hmmm... that would explain the totally impractical clothes." She grinned. "But how?"
"It's complicated." Gabrielle shrugged.
"Hey, I got nothin' but time."
"OK. First, though, I want to hear your story. How did you wind up here?"
The candle flickered lower. Lila shared a sad tale of capture by slave traders near Corinth, and the loss of her family in the raid that claimed her. After two years as slave to a wealthy merchant who traveled between Greece and Byzantium, she escaped, and had been living by stealth for over a year. During that time, an older man befriended her, teaching her to survive as a thief. His name was Autolycus.
Gabrielle had been listening intently, but she almost yelled when Lila mentioned that name.
"Autolycus? Where? When?"
"Hey, you can let go of my arm any time."
"Sorry." The Bard took a deep breath. "I know him well. He's a good friend, and a good man."
"Yeah. He was also a good teacher, but he decided to stay closer to Greece when I moved east for greener pastures."
The women studied each other until Lila broke away to stare down at her hands. When she spoke, her voice was low and sad.
"Gabrielle, do you have a problem with my being what I am? A thief, I mean?"
The Bard scratched her head. But for Xena, she could easily be the young woman sharing time in a lonely cell.
"I don't think so. Autolycus became a thief to avenge his brother's murder; you became one to survive. We do what we have to, don't we?"
"Yeah. I guess. I don't like stealing, but it beats being hungry and cold. I hate the cold most of all." Lila pulled the blanket tighter around her body. Gabrielle began to move her part of the covering to Lila, but the woman grasped her forearm.
"No, Gabrielle. We share." She pushed the blanket back. "Your turn, Bard. Tell me how a long-dead legend -- make that two legends -- winds up in Abydus on a cold winter evening."
Gabrielle entertained Lila with tales of their adventures long into the night and early morning. She felt the thrill, as she always did whenever she told of her life with Xena.
"I guess it must be love," she thought.
"You really love her, don't you?" Lila echoed her musing.
"With all my heart and soul. Why? Does it show?"
"Oh, yeah. And you're so lucky."
"I know." Gabrielle held back the tears by clearing her throat and taking command of their situation. "All right. We both need to get some sleep. C'mere."
With that, the Bard cradled Lila's head against her shoulder.
"Xena's lucky too."
Soon, the young woman snored softly, while Gabrielle kept watch and pondered the amazing events of another Solstice eve.
Did the sunlight creeping through the slit in the thick wall awaken the Bard? Or was it the familiar growl of a certain Warrior Princess?
"Unlock it and get her out of there. Don't make me ask twice!"
Gabrielle opened her eyes just in time to see Lykomedes stumble toward the cell door. He bled from the nose and a bruise mottled his left cheek. The militia bully looked like a chastised puppy.
Lila stirred as well, lifting her head from the Bard's shoulder.
The door groaned on its hinges. With a snarl that told Lykomedes not to try anything, Xena entered and knelt beside her Bard.
"I can't leave you alone for a minute."
The muscular blonde started to stand, trying to shake off the stiffness.
"Don't move," Xena ordered.
The words were tough, but her tone and the gentleness in her touch revealed Xena's deep concern as she examined Gabrielle's injuries.
"Nasty cut on the bridge of your nose, black eye. The usual." Xena sighed as she rose. Gabrielle grinned up, took the offered hand, and felt the awesome strength in the arm that lifted her.
"Lykomedes and the Abydus militia apologize for this mistake." Xena fixed the man with a fierce gaze. "Don't they?'
"Y...yes. A mistake," he stammered in reply while rubbing his swollen nose. "Your friend explained it all. Sorry."
The Warrior began to lead her friend from the cell. Gabrielle pulled back and turned toward Lila, who had remained sitting against the wall.
"You're coming too, aren't you?"
The young woman struggled to her feet, clutching the blanket about her.
"Hey, she's not going anywhere." Lykomedes let duty override his better judgement. Gabrielle ignored him.
"Xena, this is Lila. Lila, meet the Warrior Princess."
The women studied each other, but exchanged no greetings.
"Wonder what that's all about?" Gabrielle thought. Then she realized Xena had probably seen Lila sleeping on her shoulder. "Oh boy. I'll have to explain that one...later."
"What did she do?" Xena asked Lykomedes.
"She stole food from two vendors in the market."
"Lila has already been here two weeks," Gabrielle interjected. "She paid her debt."
"That's for the magistrate to decide." Lykomedes shrugged.
Gabrielle looked at Xena - just the hint of a plea in her expression. The Warrior nodded.
"I'll take responsibility for the girl and see that the vendors get paid back. She's coming with us. Now."
The big man stepped aside as the three women walked past.
Gabrielle paused in front of him.
"I believe you have a package that belongs to me," she stated, trying to control the anger in her voice. She even managed to thank him when he handed her the parcel and her sais.
"Let's get out of here, Xena. We have a Solstice to celebrate."
The Bard led the way. Her companion followed, smiling broadly at the Amazon's spirit. Lila brought up the rear.
None of the women spared another glance at the jail.
Part 9 -- Conclusion
The Bard stumbled into the tiny room and sprawled on the pallet.
"Whew! I thought we'd never finish. Those guys drove a hard bargain. But you convinced them....as usual."
Gabrielle gazed at her companion in awe. Xena strolled in and nudged the door closed with her foot.
"No big deal, Gabrielle. Lila can work off her debt and move on." The Warrior paused for a moment. "But I doubt she'll hang around long enough to pay them back."
"Xena, she was hungry. All she took was food."
"There's something about her I just don't trust..."
"Hey, are you jealous because we slept together in that cell?" Gabrielle's emerald eyes flashed sparks of wickedness. "That's it, isn't it?"
"You know I'm not," Xena protested.
Xena reached down and covered the Bard's mouth with her hand. Without warning, soft lips replaced the hand.
The kiss took Gabrielle's breath. Any notions of argument vanished, along with all other thought. When Xena drew away, the Amazon followed instinctively, craving more.
But a firm hand against her chest brought her crashing back to reality.
"Eeeewww! A night in jail has left you... shall we say... a little less than fresh." Xena grimaced.
"Oh sure, kick a Bard when she's down....aroused...ready..."
"I'm ready too, love, but you really do need a bath."
"Guilty as charged," she admitted. "Join me?"
"Thought you'd never ask."
The Warrior perched on the edge of the sleeping pallet. She was brushing her hair when the Bard padded in, wearing only a drying linen, knotted at the front. She carried an armload of clothes and bathing implements.
Xena had exchanged her leathers for a sleeping shift. Gabrielle noted how the simple outfit highlighted her companion's beauty and femininity. "So hard, yet so soft," she mused, then set about storing the clothing and bath supplies in their proper places.
Ice-sapphire eyes tracked the muscular blonde as she worked. The Bard knew she was being watched; her body tingled with anticipation.
"I still say it was sweet of you to trade that shawl to the vendor to pay off the rest of Lila's debt."
"We needed to save drachmas for our own food and lodging." Gabrielle sounded glum. "If there had been another way...or we had more money. It was your Solstice gift..."
"Gabrielle, you are my gift." Xena held up her hand to stave off the young woman's customary protest. "All I could ever want, even if I don't deserve it, is you beside me, happy and healthy."
The Bard paused -- a look of deep contemplation on her face. The moment drifted by. Then came an impish grin, followed by a nod and subtle lifting of eyebrows that...tempted...nay, promised...
She watched Xena's eyes narrow and darken. The Warrior ran her tongue sensuously over her lips.
Gabrielle captured her soulmate's gaze. When she spoke, her voice was low, husky.
"OK, then. Maybe it's time to unwrap your Solstice present."
The Amazon advanced until she stood before her target -- clean, slightly damp, and smelling pleasantly of soap.
Wordlessly, the Warrior reached for the knot that secured the drying linen, and tugged.
"Happy Solstice, Xena, with all my heart."
Xena licked the crumbs from her fingers, then from Gabrielle's. With her tongue, she proceeded to dislodge a sweet, sticky bit of candied fruit from the tender spot just above a delectable breast.
"Tell me again what they call this stuff?" the Bard asked, taking another bite. She emitted a soft, contented groan as Xena moved lower.
"Ugh. It's heavy enough to qualify as a deadly weapon."
"Hey, I like it."
"You would, Xena."
The delighted Amazon felt a teasing nip at an already sensitive part of her anatomy.
"Then again, maybe we could eat it only on special occasions."
Xena was too busy nibbling to rise to the challenge.
Gabrielle smiled. "Fruitcake..."
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