"Xena?" Gabrielle asked as she pulled two apples from her bag. "Are you sure this is the right place?" gesturing around at the dilapidated building that had all the appeal of a haunted house. "This just doesn't seem like the kind of place to be having a Solstice celebration. It's quiet as a graveyard."
"Hmm? Oh, thanks," the warrior replied, taking the proffered fruit from the bard's hand. "I know it doesn't look like much, sweetheart, but I promise you with a little cleaning, it will be perfect."
The bard looked around again dubiously. She saw the bats nested in the rafters, and heard the distinct chittering of squirrels coming from the fireplace. Then she noted the hopeful blue eyes turned in her direction. Xena needed this... *they* needed this. She would make this work... for both their sakes. She finished her apple, and threw the core into the dormant fireplace. She gingerly sat in a rickety chair, and pulled a quill and a sheet of parchment from her bag. "Why don't you start a fire while I make a list of things we need to do this?"
Xena moved to collect some firewood even as Gabrielle started writing and muttering to herself. "A broomstick, a bucket...." She glanced around again at the dirt and cobwebs freely littering the place. "Some really strong soap. Hmm, looks like a shopping trip may be in order here. Hey, Xena!" she hollered, only to run into the warrior just coming in with an armload of wood. "Sorry," she muttered, steadying them both from the collision.
"You all right? the warrior asked with concern. "You seemed to be in an awful hurry to get out of here. A ghost scare you or something?" Xena's expression remained stoic, but her eyes twinkled in gentle teasing.
Gabrielle laughed, taking some of the wood out of Xena's arms. "No, you goof. Ghosts would be afraid of us, I think, given our history. But I need to go shopping. We don't have enough supplies to clean this place properly, and if we're gonna celebrate the holiday, we are going to do it right."
"You want me to go with you?"
The bard considered it, until she remembered there were a couple of treats she wanted to pick up for Xena for their private holiday time together. "Um, actually, if you don't mind getting started here, it won't take me very long." Xena cast Gabrielle a look of sheer disbelief. The bard took all of five seconds to look offended before she burst into laughter. "I know, I know, but I mean it this time. We can *really* shop AFTER we get this place looking respectable again." The warrior rolled her eyes at this pronouncement but nodded her head agreeably.
"I'll see about getting the squirrels out of the chimney and the bats out of the rafters while you're gone."
"'k... I'll be back before you're done. Anything special you want me to bring back for dinner?"
"Yeah, see if you can find a pumpkin pie, will you? And we need some more cider."
"Got it." She brushed a kiss across the warrior's soft lips. "Be back shortly."
She snatched up a basket and headed for town.
The cool weather made Gabrielle walk briskly the short distance out of the hidden dell into town. She shivered in reaction when the cool breeze became a cold wind, and she looked up as though looking for a forecast. The cold increased her pace until she reached the outskirts of town and was brought to an abrupt halt. She was stopped by a mass of townsfolk lining either side of the street. She was too far back to see anything, so she tapped the shoulder of the woman who stood in front of her.
"Excuse me? What is all the commotion about?'
"Amazons. They're parading through town in those skimpy costumes supposedly looking for their Queen. Now I ask you... don't you think we'd have noticed if the Amazon Queen was around?"
There wasn't a response Gabrielle could think to make to this question, so she simply maneuvered around until she came to the shop where she could find most of the things they needed. She caught Ephiny's attention, and the Regent moved quickly to catch up to her Queen and enfold her in a long hug.
"Gods, Eph, it is so good to see you. What are you doing here?" She noted that the Amazon was in her winter leathers, and wondered why the woman had been complaining about skimpy costumes.
"You look wonderful, my...." breaking off at the almost imperceptible shake of the blonde head. "Gabrielle. Actually, Xena asked us to come for Solstice. We thought we'd come early, and see if we could help with anything."
"Oh, you are a godsend." Then she drew back. "You sure? It's a lot of grunt work."
"Like we don't do that everyday? C'mon, Gabrielle. We're family. Let us help."
The bard smiled. "Thanks, Eph. We appreciate...."
"Anytime, my friend. We were glad to come when Xena asked. Now come on. From the looks of that list in your hand, we need to get busy."
Gabrielle laughed in joy and relief. "Yeah, we sure do. I'd better pick up some extra pies and cider, though."
It was quite a parade of amazons that the bard led back. Eponin and Solari had their arms full as did many of the sisters who followed them. They stopped and stared slack-jawed in amazement as they caught their first look at the old building. They looked at one another, then without a word, got down to work.
Xena stepped from through the doorway with a smile on her face, only to be greeted by an armful of Gabrielle. The warrior held on tightly, returning the hug fiercely before she felt the bard pull back just slightly. "Thank you for inviting them."
A dark brow rose into Xena's hairline. "Who says I did?"
"Ephiny. I don't think she knew I didn't know."
"Well, let me go say hi, and smack the back of her head for opening her mouth," the warrior mock-growled before Gabrielle grabbed her hand.
"Be nice. They are helping."
Xena lifted the hand to her lips before gently squeezing and releasing it. "Yeah, I know. Let me see what I can do to help."
The warrior reached the Regent, and they exchanged a firm handshake before Xena accepted a brief hug somewhat reluctantly. "You were supposed to be a Solstice surprise," she muttered.
Ephiny looked slightly chagrined. "Sorry, but it looks like it's a good thing we came a little early."
Xena looked around at the disheveled yard and droopy buildings. "Yeah, it is," she said softly. "I didn't know it was going to be so complicated."
"We'll be ready. I got a note from Yakut, and they expect to be here tomorrow. And Hercules and Iolous should also. They were stopping in Amphipolis to pick up your mother."
"Good," Xena nodded briskly, her warrior façade resuming its place. "Let me go get started on the roof."
"C'mon... I'll help. I wanna hear about how you found this place."
Gabrielle watched Xena and Ephiny move toward the barn before she entered the dwelling. "First things first," she mumbled. She hid the few small gifts she had gotten for Xena, along with the bit of chocolate she had found. She smiled at the memory of the one other time they had shared the confection, then she took up the broom and swept out the dirt and the orange, yellow and brown colored leaves that were strewn all over the floor. She jumped slightly at the sound of ladders hitting the side of the roof. The solid footsteps that caused bits of debris to fall all over her neatly swept floor did nothing for her peace of mind.
Amarice came in with Solari and the two lifted the old table and moved it out of the room. Chilapa stepped in and took out the two rickety chairs, and she was followed by Eponin and Varia. "My Queen," the weapons master intoned, "Can you direct us to the bedroom?"
Blonde brows rose into her bangs, wondering what had happened, but she merely pointed in the direction of the bedroom. It wasn't long before the sounds of grunting and groaning could be heard, but almost immediately it was replaced by the thud of hammers on the roof. Another moment passed, and the two amazons came struggling through the small bedroom door with the unwieldy mattress. Gabrielle opened her mouth and then closed it again. Some things she was better off not knowing.
By the end of the day, everything was in a state of unfinished repair. Both the barn and the house had partial new roofs. New furniture was being built... the wood had been cut, but not formed. A new woodshed was in place waiting to be filled. The yard was clean and waiting for the arrival of spring and flowers. Solari had found some tulip and lily bulbs that they could plant. With the coming of darkness, the group sat back around the campfire sharing dinner among them. It was fun and relaxing, but everyone was tired from the days' efforts, and it wasn't long after the meal that the group broke up to get some rest.
Gabrielle and Xena trekked the very short distance to their domicile, where the bard had set up a small indoor campsite. A necessity, considering their mattress was waiting to be restuffed. Xena reached for the buckles on her armor, only to have her hands gently slapped away as Gabrielle matter-of-factly took over.
"You know, Xena, I think we need to have a party. I mean, I know we're gonna have a Solstice celebration, but everyone has worked so hard. Do you think we could give these kids some fun?"
Xena gazed indulgently at her bard, her blue eyes lit with teasing mirth. "I dunno, Grandma... you think us old folks will be up to it? Listen to you calling the Amazons kids. Most of them are older than you are, sweetheart."
"Only in age, not in experience." It was said lightly, but it caused a shadow to cross the warrior's features. "Besides, you know otherwise they're gonna be asking you about your secret warrior tricks."
"Secret warrior tricks? Did I miss a scroll somewhere?"
"Yeah, you know... blowing fire and catching arrows and the Ihavecutofftheflowofbloodtoyourbrain thing."
"Oh, those secret warrior tricks."
"Um hmm." Xena settled into her crimson robe, and looked admiringly on Gabrielle in the pink lace lingerie Aphrodite had given to her bard in one of their gossip sessions. She smiled when Gabrielle climbed into the little nest she had made of their bedrolls and cuddled up into the warrior.
"I'll tell ya what... I will take out a hunting party and see if we can catch a few turkeys for this feast you're planning on cooking up. We'll start the Solstice celebration a day early."
"Oh, that sounds like a good idea. Melinda wants to try stuffing the turkeys with some of the fruits and nuts she brought with her. And I know the Amazons brought a couple kegs of the new harvest wine. Ephiny was really excited about how well it came out."
"I thought maybe we could take a hayride, maybe have some games. There is something I saw in one of my early travels I would like to try."
A blonde brow rose. "What's that?"
"It was called a piñata, and you fill it with toys and trinkets and candies." She yawned widely, and felt the bard's breathing even out and deepen in sleep. Xena kissed the top of the blonde head and joined her.
Before sunrise the following morning, the group was up and moving. They knew the sooner the work was done, the quicker playtime would arrive. The scents of fruit cake and nut bread wafted across the yard, and the Amazons were happy to partake of the warm breads for breakfast.
Shortly after the morning meal was finished, the women split into several small groups to complete the various tasks they had set for themselves. At midday, they were joined by the Northern tribe. And by evening, the homestead was completely unrecognizable from what it had been a mere two days before.
The buildings now sported new roofs, and the new woodshed was filled to the brim with freshly split cord wood. The yard was spotless, as was the house, and a few of the younger women had taken it upon themselves to decorate the interior for the holiday celebration. There were two holly wreaths with red berries that Amarice had crafted and hung over the fireplaces. One of the other women had placed cedar tree boughs along the mantles, tying red bows on either end. Unlit candles stood sentinel in the middle. The effect was quite charming.
Eponin had built a strong table and a new desk, and Varia had carefully constructed several sturdy chairs. Otere was a surprisingly gifted seamstress, and with a little instruction to some very raw recruits had managed to make cushions for the chairs and the couch that Cyane and Yakut had crafted. Chilapa had topped them all... for in the bedroom near the large stalwart bed with its freshly washed and stuffed mattress sat a large, deep tub waiting to be filled.
Xena's commission for the day had been to get the bard out of sight so she had naturally taken Gabrielle shopping. The bard looked at her with suspicion until she explained herself.
"We need things for the piñata, and I thought we'd try to find a little something nice for everyone. I invited them as a surprise for you for Solstice. I didn't know they were gonna be working so hard for it first." Not the total truth, but Gabrielle would find that out soon enough.
They got into town, and Gabrielle's attention was immediately caught by the most beautifully woven bedspread she had ever seen. She looked longingly at it, then reluctantly turned away. With a look and nod of her dark head, the warrior made her intentions known to the shopkeeper, and a nod from her sealed the deal.
The couple meandered slowly through the street that housed the merchants. Gabrielle enjoyed the browsing almost as much as she did the actually bartering and buying process. They had made it through all the shops on one side of the street when a loud conversation caught their attention.
"Look old man, I said give it here!" The sound of heckling ensued, and was quickly followed by the sounds of bone hitting flesh.
The two women exchanged glances. "Some things never change, do they?" Gabrielle asked her companion. "Even at Solstice." They charged into the fray.
It didn't take long. The hecklers were half a dozen young punks feeling their oats for the first time. Bruised and bleeding, it was easy for them to reach the distinct conclusion that honest labor would be a wise alternative for them to follow.
Gabrielle took Xena's arm, and led her to the town's only inn. "Two," she motioned to the barkeep as they made their way towards a back table. The bard was a little concerned over the warrior's suddenly subdued demeanor. "You okay?"
Xena took a deep draught of the port that had been set in front of her. "Yeah." A sigh. "Sometimes I wonder about what the Indian woman Naima said while we were pilgrims there."
"Which part?" Gabrielle reached a hand out and lightly clasped Xena's hand. The warrior squeezed the hand affectionately. "Will we ever get to share peace in this lifetime?"
"Even if it's only a day at a time, yes, I think we will."
No one was paying them any attention, but right at that moment, Xena wouldn't have cared if the whole world was watching. "I love you," she said quietly, lifting their joined hand and placing a kiss on Gabrielle's finger. The bard's smile lit up the room.
"I love you too."
They finished their drinks. Xena slapped the dinars on the bar as they walked by, and the two stepped back out into the market place, only to find it had started to snow. Gabrielle sighed. "Well, it had to start sometime. Looks like our hayride may have to be a sleigh ride. C'mon. I think I saw some scented candles that the Amazons might like."
Xena had stopped at a merchant's table that had the tiniest bells she had ever seen strung together. She lifted it up with a tinkling sound and held up the string. "What are these for?"
"Ornaments. Decorations for Solstice."
"Uhhhh huh," Xena drawled.
"Aw c'mon, Xena. They're cute," Gabrielle teased.
"Yep, and all that ringing would make me nuts in a matter of hours. No thanks. Next."
The bard chuckled and led the warrior to the next shop.
It was almost nightfall when the pair finished up and headed back toward the homestead. "That wrapping parchment idea was great. Thanks!"
The warrior shrugged nonchalantly. "I figured it was the best way to keep the stuff a secret, because we sure can't hide all this," gesturing to her laden arms. She spent a moment wishing they had brought Argo to carry the load, then nearly dropped everything when Gabrielle bumped hips with her.
"Look, Xena... a shooting star! Make a wish!"
Xena didn't bother to look up, but instead gazed into the bard's twinkling green eyes. "I have everything I have ever wished for right here."
Robbed of speech, the bard captured her warrior's lips for a timeless moment. "C'mon," Gabrielle said breathlessly when they separated. "This is not where I want to be when we finish what we are starting."
Xena laughed and they continued on their journey.
Their arrival back was heralded loudly, and the Amazons were quick to draw Gabrielle into the barn where they had established a mini-camp. It was warm and dry, and much better than being out in the snow.
Xena had taken the things the bard had been carrying promising to be right back once she'd had the opportunity to put the things away for Solstice. She nudged the door open, then stood staring at the transformation that had taken place while they'd been gone. She smiled as she looked around in delight. She noted the scented candles Chilpa had left around the tub. Then Xena put the packages away, and moved to join everyone in the barn.
The sound of laughter could be heard through the closed door, and then Gabrielle squealed. Xena opened the door to find the bard wrapped up in Cyrene's arms with Lila and Sarah hovering nearby. Hercules, Iolous, Salmoneous and Autolycus hailed the warrior as she crossed the threshold, though the demi-god was the only one with the courage to actually enfold Xena in a hug.
"Hey, Aunt Gab," Sarah whispered in the smaller blonde's ear. "Who's the stud?" glancing in Iolous' direction.
Gabrielle smiled big. "A friend. You wanna meet him?"
"Um, no. Not right now. He sure is cute though."
"Yes, he is. And he's a nice guy besides."
"Gabrielle," Lila cut in, "This is great. I've never realized before you'd made so many friends."
"Autolycus at your service, madam," brushing a light kiss across Lila's knuckles. She giggled like a schoolgirl before Gabrielle slapped his arm lightly.
"Tread carefully there, Autolycus. She's my sister."
He grinned his most debonair at the dark haired woman then. "In that case, I am enchanted."
The sisters rolled their eyes in tandem and chuckled. Then Gabrielle turned to greet everyone else, slowly making her way to her warrior's side. She stopped short when she reached Ephiny, looking at the array of good things spread out to eat.
"Ya'll didn't have to do all this, Eph."
"We didn't. Cyrene and Lila got here shortly after noon, and they and Melinda decided to get creative."
The bard looked around at the barn. "Are ya'll gonna be comfortable here? I know there isn't enough room in the house, but...."
"Don't sweat it, Gabrielle. We've already got everything worked out. The guys are taking two stalls, and the rest of us will be in the haylofts on either side. Trust me. Even the most stringent among us is okay with this. It's a special occasion."
Xena came up then, and wrapped her arms around the bard's middle while looking at Ephiny. "Yeah, it is," she agreed with just a hint of a smile and a twinkle sparkling from her eyes.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly as old friends and new came together in celebration. It was quite late when Xena and Gabrielle crossed the small space between the house and barn.
"Gabrielle?" The bard was tucked into the curve of Xena's neck, trying to keep her nose warm.
"Hmm?" she mumbled, unwilling to move from the embrace they were locked in as they walked.
"What did you wish for? What do you want for Solstice?"
"Can't tell my wish... it might not come true." She stopped them at the door and turned in Xena's arms. "But like you, I have everything I have ever wanted right here."
The warrior swooped Gabrielle up in her strong arms, and bumped the door open. "I have a surprise for you." Xena had seen Chilpa disappear shortly before the party had broken up, and the Amazon had returned and given her a nod just as she and Gabrielle were saying their goodbyes. So she walked in carrying the bard fully expecting everything to be ready.
Xena stopped just inside the door, kicking it closed behind them, and allowing Gabrielle the chance to see what had happened in the interim they had been in town together. The warrior felt the gasp, and looked down into shocked green eyes.
"Ho... whe... wh... bu... Um, Xena?"
"I never expected them to do so much work. I just figured we'd get it cleaned up for Solstice, and work on it a bit at a time when we got to stay here. But Ephiny and the rest were quick to inform me that they would handle everything, as a Solstice surprise for their Queen."
"I think they more than earned that chocolate we got for them."
The fire was lit and providing gentle lights as well as warmth through the small cabin. Gabrielle took in the new roof, the scrubbed walls and floors and the new furniture with wide eyes and an open mouth. No other sound had emerged. Xena looked down at the woman she still cradled and smiled before moving through the doorway into the bedroom.
The large fireplace serviced both rooms, and the room's warmth was enhanced by the scented candles now lit around the bathtub and the wisps of steam floating up between the mountains of bubbles.
Xena tenderly set Gabrielle on the bed, and knelt to gently begin loosening the laces of the bard's boots. Gabrielle wondered about the blush that crawled up Xena's face, and heard the warrior swallow hard before she cleared her throat and began to speak softly. "I thought you deserved a little romance. I, um... I... when...." She sighed. "Whenever we visit the Amazons, you have so many responsibilities to take care of. And that is only right... you are their Queen."
Xena removed the first boot and went on to the second. "When we go to Amphipolis or Poteidia, there is always something that we need to take care of. That's where our families are, and that is only right too." She slipped off the second boot and looked up at the bard with a smile. Gabrielle smiled back encouragingly. Xena took a deep breath and continued.
"This was my grandfather's place, and while it is close to town, the Amazons and our families, it is also far enough away that we can have a little privacy... just the two of us."
"Oh, Xena," the bard breathed, then leaned forward and captured the warrior's lips fervently for a long, passionate kiss. Her hands wandered to the ties of Xena's tunic, and she began to pull them loose. "I think that is a wonderful idea." Gabrielle pulled back as a thought occurred to her. "But Xena, why did you invite everyone here? You weren't planning on them doing all of this."
The warrior blushed again, as much from the warmth Gabrielle's touch was eliciting as her uncertainty now that the moment had arrived. She shrugged out of the tunic, even as her own hands began to undo Gabrielle's top.
"I want to make us official, love. Aphrodite and Cupid have already given us their blessings. If you are willing, I thought we would give our friends a joining for Solstice. Marry me."
Gabrielle launched herself at Xena then, knocking the warrior flat and landing firmly on top of the longer body. "Yes," was all she said, before words became unnecessary between them.
The water had cooled considerably, and the bubbles were mere wisps of memory when Gabrielle emerged from rinsing her hair and resumed their conversation. Xena lathered the sponge and began scrubbing the bard's back, smirking just slightly at the shiver of sensation her touch continued to cause. She shivered in turn when Gabrielle turned to face her, and lightly ran her fingertips up Xena's ribcage.
"Honey, did Aphrodite and Cupid really bless us?"
"You bet I did, sweet cheeks," the goddess answered as she materialized nearby. "Ooo, nice visual," then backed off and took a seat on the bed when the Look was turned full force in her direction. "Ahem, anyway. I have something for you both." She opened her hand, and in her palm lay two matching rings. "I had so given up hope on you two, when out of the blue Xena asked for my blessing on your union. I was like, totally blown away." She waited, then seeing that the couple was not making an effort to join her, "Oh fer cryin'...." She zapped them clean, dry and dressed to stand beside the tub. Aphrodite extended her hand towards them again.
"How, beautiful," Gabrielle whispered, reverently lifting one of the bands to examine it closer. "Diamonds? But those are...."
"They were happy tears, girlfriend. To know that your hearts and souls are finally of one mind...." The goddess shivered and held her head. "Whoa, that was deep. Look, babes... I gotta split." She stood up and shimmied her gown into place. "I'll see ya tomorrow. I plan to be dancing at this wedding. Later." Dite snapped her fingers and disappeared.
The two crawled into bed and snuggled up together comfortably. Xena kissed the top of the blonde head, and smile into the darkness when she felt Gabrielle return the kiss on the top of her breast. "Xena?"
"This is what I wished for," Gabrielle whispered. "I wished for you to be able to enjoy peace, even if only for a little while." She took a breath, and held a hand to the warrior's lips to forestall any comments. "I know this won't be forever, or even for very long, but I think we have both earned a chance to rest and dream now and then."
Xena was quiet then, for so long that had the bard not been intimately familiar with her breathing patterns, she might have suspected the warrior had simply fallen asleep. Instead, she waited patiently for Xena to speak.
"When I was younger, my most cherished dream was to be a warrior. A Conqueror. I thought my destiny was going to be to rule the world. And I did everything in my power to make that real. I could have, but somewhere along the line, it lost its appeal. Until you came into my life, I hadn't realized I had given up dreaming. Then I knew that my most cherished dream was you. Everything else is secondary. I have everything as long as I have you."
Gabrielle couldn't speak for long moments while the tears streamed down her face. Then she raised her head to catch Xena's eyes with her own, and gently cupped the strong face. "Forever, warrior."
"Always, my bard."
"Ya know, Cupie," Dite commented to her son as they both turned from the scrying bowl to give the unknowing lovers a bit of privacy. "It is so nice to see love win out over everything. Especially soulmates who are bonded so deeply. I can't wait to watch these two through the ages. They will always be home to one another, and that is a beautiful thing."
"Yeah, Mom. Love rocks!"
Solstice eve dawned clear and cold, with a fine layering of snow dusting everything. Xena rose first, tucking the bard in and stirring the fire back into flame. Then she took a small piece of parchment and jotted a short note on it. The tea water was hot by then, and she poured it to steep while she moved to wash up and get dressed. By the time she was done, and the tea was ready, sleepy green eyes were twinkling at her from the bed.
"You're already up and dressed," the bard pouted just slightly, even while accepting her cup of tea.
The warrior leaned in and gave Gabrielle a leisurely passionate kiss. "Yeah, I am," she agreed as she pulled away somewhat reluctantly. "I need to get the hunting party out there, so we can feast tonight and tomorrow."
"All right," Gabrielle commented, setting her nearly full cup on the small bedside table, and sliding out from the covers. She felt Xena's eyes burning her bare skin, and lifted her gaze in the warrior's direction. Her skin flushed as the warrior's possessive gaze raked her from head to toe. "Problem?"
"Nothing three feet of snow won't cure for now," Xena grumbled. "But first...." She stepped up next to Gabrielle, and took the bard in her arms. "Something to remember me by while we're apart today," and proceeded to kiss the bard thoroughly before turning and leaving the room. Gabrielle stood in place with her eyes closed for a minute longer before slowly opening them.
"Whoo," she murmured to herself. "Don't think that'll be slipping my mind any time soon." Then she dressed and moved out toward the barn, missing Xena and Ephiny's conversation by mere minutes.
When night fell, sounds of laughter and scents of good food filled the homestead. Those who had not gone hunting had split up, with part of them, including Ephiny going shopping, and the rest staying behind to start the festival preparations. Gabrielle thought it odd that her Regent had chosen shopping, but didn't have long to dwell on it as the prep work got busy quickly.
When the hunters returned around mid-afternoon with their dressed kills, the six turkeys, two wild boars and the single deer were put in to slow roast overnight. The shoppers arrived in the midst of the mayhem, and Ephiny was easily able to get Xena's gift to Gabrielle into the bedroom.
The rest of the evening was spent in games, dancing, laughter, and stories.
Snow crunched beneath their boots as Xena and Gabrielle walked the short distance back to the cabin. "I like dancing with yoooouuu," the bard commented, being swept up in the warrior's arms and twirled around before she could finish her sentence. "My goodness, but you're in a mood," she chuckled, delighted to see the huge grin that the warrior was sporting, as she slid down Xena's torso.
Xena shrugged sheepishly. "Yeah, I am. I'm happy."
Gabrielle's smile was suspiciously tearful, and she pulled the dark head down until their lips were a hairsbreadth apart. "Me too."
Xena guided them into the cabin, stopping when she spotted Senticles in front of the fireplace tying gold bows on stockings stuffed with... well, she couldn't see what they were filled with, but it was clear they weren't empty. It was also clear that Salmoneous was driving the other men to distraction.
"Look, friend," Senticles growled, "I already told you...."
"You don't understand the opportunity you're missing here. Xena, tell him. We could do so much with this."
"Yes, Xena?" backing away toward the door she and Gabrielle had moved away from.
"Leave Senticles alone."
"Yes, Xena," he answered as he scampered out the door. Senticles chuckled.
"Just a little something for the two of you for Solstice," the man commented before he too disappeared through the door. Warrior and bard looked at one another and just chuckled.
Xena made her way to the mantle to remove the stockings while Gabrielle made her way to the bedroom. And stopped dead in the doorway as she saw their bed covered in the beautiful quilt she had admired he day before.
"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle turned in the warrior's arms, and lost herself in their embrace. Then she pulled away slightly, and looked up lustily into Xena's blue eyes. "I have some chocolate. You wanna see about making a few more dreams come true tonight?"
In answer, Xena growled and scooped the bard up into her arms, closing the door firmly behind them.
"Are you ready for this?" Hercules asked Xena. He was probably the only one who could tell aside from Cyrene, but the way she kept rubbing her hands along the front of her tunic was a sure sign the warrior was nervous. She pinned him in place with an icy clear gaze.
"Yes. I want the world to understand what she means to me." The demi-god smiled at the vehemence in her tone.
"I think he got the point, Xena. Look around at the gods you have on your side." Hercules waved a hand in front of the warrior's face, and suddenly she saw a number of the Pantheon lining the walls.
"You are both highly favored."
Xena swallowed and nodded, not knowing what to say. When Hercules nudged her, she glared at him until a jerk of his chin drew her attention to concentrate on Gabrielle.
The bard was talking to Lila when they stepped from the bedroom, and as though feeling the weight of Xena's stare, looked up and met her gaze. Xena walked back to where they waited, and glanced at Lila briefly before focusing solely on the love she found shining back at her in Gabrielle's green eyes.
"Lila?" seeking permission.
"Take care of her Xena, and love each other well."
They both turned to her and smiled. "We do, Lila," Gabrielle replied softly. "Thank you," kissing her sister on the cheek.
The crowd parted to allow them through, then closed the circle behind them as Aphrodite appeared in their midst. "Can I say how like, way cool this is?" Everyone chuckled at her enthusiasm. Then she shifted her demeanor and became serious.
"I waited a long time to see these two acknowledge the truth that has always been between them... a truth the rest of the known world could see so clearly." She blinked her eyes and cleared her throat and resumed speaking though her voice was suspiciously husky with tears. "Xena, Gabrielle...." She took their hands and joined them, holding them in her own. "Two halves of a single whole become one today to form a new stronger whole together. Together you can overcome anything... you have overcome everything. It is so wonderful to see you acknowledge publicly what your hearts and souls have always known." She motioned Cupid over with a nod of her head.
The god of love took a silver arrow from his quiver, and placed it into their joined hands. He looked at them both intently before pushing it through. Aphrodite flinched, but Xena and Gabrielle never waivered their attention from one another. The goddess gently squeezed the hands she still held, and waited. Xena took a deep breath.
"I was waiting for you, and never knew it until I found you. You are my most precious dream realized, and I promise to love and cherish and protect you. In this life and in all the lives we share together that follow. You are my heart and soul, and I love you."
Gabrielle couldn't speak for a minute, overcome as she was by the simple truth and beauty of the warrior's words. Xena reached up a hand and wiped the tears, and the bard turned her head slightly to kiss the fingertips on her face. Aphrodite cleared her throat rather loudly, and the entire room tittered.
"Oh, um," Gabrielle smiled. "We have been through so much, good and bad, but no matter what, we have always been together and that has made all the difference for me." She looked down at their joined hands, then back up into Xena's eyes. "I'll walk with you in the sunshine, and stand with you in the rain. I will share your burdens to make your load lighter. I'll care for your injuries, and heal you when you are sick. I'll share my warmth with you when you are cold and my laughter when you are sad. I promise to love and cherish and protect you through this life, and those to follow. I love you only and always."
Gabrielle threaded her free hand into the dark hair, and Xena brought her hand up to cup the bard's smooth cheek. The warrior's thumb gently brushed along the cheekbone.
"Ahem," the goddess cleared her throat, and Xena and Gabrielle slowly and reluctantly turned their attention her way. "Can we finish this please? The smell of that ham cooking is making even me hungry." The room chuckled again, and even the warrior and bard smiled. "Now, where was I? Oh yes...." finding the intense blue stare suddenly focused on her to be a little more than she expected.
"It is a rare and precious gift for two soulmates to come together. Cherish what you have. Care for one another more than yourselves. Protect and shelter one another above all else. Love one another long and well. You have my blessing, now and forever." She paused. "You can like, kiss now."
Xena and Gabrielle let their focus narrow completely to one another. Their souls exchanged promises for a long moment before they moved in tandem towards each other and their lips met.
Hercules turned to Ephiny, Iolous and Cyrene. "They make you appreciate the beauty of love, don't they?"
"Yeah, they do," Cyrene answered. "Now come help me. We have a lot of things to celebrate today." Xena and Gabrielle slowly separated. "What a Happy Solstice!"
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