"I do love that sound."Xena grinned as she shook her hand to ease its connection to the guy's nose. "C'mon."Grabbing Gabrielle's hand, she laughed. "Let's make a fastbreak before more of them get here."
"Where are we going?"The bard was barely able to keep up with what seemed to be a marathon run.
"5th Avenue over."Xena zig zagged quickly through the crowd. "There's a great place to watch the fireworks."
Another explosion of light covered the sky right in front of them.
"You were right."Gabrielle watched the lights twinkling. "Oh, look! I like that starburst pattern."
"Of course I was right."Xena grinned from her perch on the swaying crows nest. "I like the fireworks too, but they make me see dots afterward."
Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle could feel the chuckles rumbling through the woman holding her. "The others will be quite upset that we took off."
"They'll live."The Warrior Princess laughed. "They shouldn't be such slo-pokes."Her laughter morphed into snickers as she thought of their companions trying to keep up.
Gabrielle laughed. "You are just one big hunk of mischief."
Xena squeezed the woman in her arms and sighed. "Ah well. Still got those gold coins we won from Midas?"When Gabrielle nodded, Xena shrugged. "Then we'll be able to make it up to them for Solstice."She didn't think the guys would be too upset anyway, she had, after all, warned them.
Green eyes widened. "YOU, want to go shopping for Solstice?"
"Oh."The warrior wrinkled up her nose. "I was just thinking we'd give 'em the money."
Gabrielle snorted and turned to face her companion. "Boring."
"Hey!"It wasn't far from the truth though. Solstice shopping was not something she cared to do, at all. "I'm sure Ephiny and Eponin would appreciate the practicality of it."
"Uh huh."Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's shoulder. "Joxer would just spend it on some kind of weapon and kill himself trying to learn to use it."
They both went very still for a moment then laughed. "Nah...."
They suddenly asked each other, "So what do YOU want for Solstice?"
Gabrielle indicated their position and answered. "This is kinda good."
An eyebrow raised. "Hugs?"
"Yup."Squeezing the warrior playfully, Gabrielle's voice took on a soft tone. "Kisses are good too."
Xena's voice dropped to a sultry tone as well. "Really."Her forehead wrinkled and she looked confused. "You want me to find someone to kiss you?"
Gabrielle growled a warning, "Xena."
"I guess I could always get Joxer to kiss you."
"Hmm?"The side of Xena's mouth twitched in an attempt not to smile. "I suppose Autolycus would help us out... or maybe Iolaus?"
Sighing at that, the bard shook her head. "Shut up and kiss me."
Xena moved forward to comply and muttered. "I'm just a sucker for you, sugar lips."
Gabrielle pulled back. "What did you just call me?"
"Never mind, won't happen again."Xena shook off the sudden sugary nickname urge and moved again. "Let's just do this now."
"And later?"Gabrielle's thoughts of later were momentarily stopped as Xena's lips met her own. "Wow."
"Now *that* is what I call fireworks."Xena brushed some wisps of hair away from the blushing bard's face.
"I think we need to go."The fireworks had stopped and now activity on the ship was beginning to increase. "Seems like they're getting ready to shove off."
"Yeah, the captain said they'd be leaving tonight."Xena looked up at the dark sky. "Too bad. The stars are much prettier than the fireworks."
"Hmm... yeah, they are."Gabrielle closed her eyes and swallowed hard as she became aware of the ship's swaying motion. "Maybe we can find a nice sno-cap mountain somewhere. A nice solid mountain."
"Ahhh... but if we're up on a mountain somewhere, we'll miss the rest of the Solstice celebration."Xena tapped the bard's nose, then grabbed her wrist and pressed the pressure point there. "This should hold you until we get back to solid ground."
They climbed down quickly and thanked the captain for the use of his ship.
"So whadda ya think?"Xena patted the arm looped around hers. "Back to the Inn?"
"The Inn?"Gabrielle questioned. "I thought you wanted to see the rest of the festival?"
"Yeeeessss... I do, but, I thought maybe the others had gone back there for a drink."Xena grinned down at the woman walking with her. "Since that's where I said we'd meet them if we got separated."
"Oh,"Gabrielle laughed then redirected her attention. "Ohhh.. Xena look. A magician."She started to walk toward him when Xena's hand on her shoulder stopped her short.
"Wait a minute."She looked sternly at the bard. "Last time we saw one of those you got turned into one of those whatchamacallits."
"It was a Devi."Gabrielle sighed. "And I'm fine now Xena. You were a life saver and rescued me, again."She patted the hand on her shoulder. "That wouldn't happen here."She gestured to the man on stage. "Look, he's just a regular guy doing tricks."
Xena watched as the magician passed his hands over a box that had been empty a moment before.
"Abba-Zaba."The magician said, then reached into the box and pulled out a plump rabbit.
"See?"Gabrielle tugged her companion closer.
"Couldn't we go to the archery competition instead?"
"Archery?"Gabrielle scoffed. "Xena, it's dark!"
"Right."The warrior nodded. "Makes it harder to see the Bull's eyes"
Gabrielle was incredulous. "How is that fun to watch exactly?"
"They light the arrows."Xena steered the reluctant woman toward the shooting field. "The extra weight from the pitch for the fire sticks adds another level of difficulty to the competition."
"I'd rather go to the bard competition and listen to them."
Xena stopped dead in her tracks. "Gabrielle, look around this community. Farmers, every one of them. If you want to go listen to cow tales then go ahead."She gently pushed the girl in the right direction. "I'll meet you there after the archery is over."
"Xena, those things take forever."Gabrielle laughed. "The stories will be over first."
The warrior shook her head. "Ohhh.. no. Most of the men we know are warriors, they don't talk much. I know how long boys can talk about something they like, I had brothers remember?"She was confident. "Mine will be done first."Besides, she thought, I can look for a few things without Gabrielle seeing. "Why don't we just meet back at the Inn?"
"Okay."Gabrielle shrugged. "If I get done first I'll meet you there."Besides, she thought, I can look for a few things without Xena seeing.
"Yup."Xena nodded and only looked back once as they went their separate ways.
"Here she is. Xena, I've found her! Up here."Joxer gestured to the others before he bent down to shake the bard. "Gabrielle, where ya been? We waited at the Inn for hours. Gabrielle wake up."
A doubled up fist shot up from the sleeping form and laid Joxer out flat. He looked up accusingly from his position and gently jiggled his jaw.
Xena laughed. "Hey, why do you think *I* didn't do it?"She offered her hand to help him up. "You're lucky she didn't use her elbow."Xena dusted him off. "She's a jawbreaker with that."
Joxer whined. "Well how do YOU wake her up?!"
Glancing at the curious members of her group, Xena grinned. "Depends on what mood I'm in."The others laughed as she sat down next to the sleeping woman. "I mostly just let her wake up on her own."The warrior shook her head, glancing up at the sky. "Bar anything major, like an attack, she probably won't wake up now for several hours. Even if there was an attack I might have to squirt a skin of water in her face."
"So?"Autolycus was curious. "Now what?"
Xena sighed and scooped the smaller woman into her arms. Standing easily, she began walking. "We take her back to the Inn and wait."
Gabrielle stretched luxuriously on the bed and sighed. Then her brow furrowed and she searched with her outstretched hand, finding nothing. Opening her eyes, she propped herself up on her elbows and looked around the room. "What the..."
"Good morning to you."Xena turned from stirring the fire and picked up a tray from the table. "Have a nice nap?"
"Breakfast in bed?"The woman looked at the tray. "What did I do to deserve all this?"
Blue eyes twinkled, and Xena laughed. "Well, hugs and kisses are good presents but breakfast in bed is kinda nice too don'tcha think?"
"Ohhhh... definitely."Gabrielle looked over the tray. Strawberries, orange slices, toast with jelly, and even a few watermelon slices. A mouth full of food made her mumble. "U-No, thse frmrs told some whoppers last night."
"I'm surprised you remember."Xena grinned and snagged a bite from the tray. "I wasn't sure when you fell asleep."
"Sorry about that. I really just meant to take five winks and then come to meet you. You carried me back here didn't you?"Gabrielle shook her head. "I'm never gonna live that one down."
Shrugging, Xena leaned back on the bed. "It's not like you're chunky or anything and it was that or let you keep beating up Joxer in your sleep, or stay there guarding you all night."The warrior winked. "Which, I would have gladly done."
"Well, at least you didn't drop me."
"Hey!"Xena waggled her finger. "I'm no butterfingers, I leave that to Joxer."
"He does seem to drop things fairly often doesn't he? What's up with that?"Gabrielle chose a plump red fruit from the tray and sucked on it.
Xena watched the strawberry disappear into the bard's mouth then cleared her throat. "Mm, mystery to me."Standing quickly she indicated the tray. "You done? Because we are supposed to meet Ephiny and Eponin at their camp for that big Amazon thing."
"Oh yeah."Gabrielle rose and brushed some crumbs off her shirt. "It won't be the same in the middle of the day though. Amazon dances are much better enjoyed at night."
"True."Xena winked. "I doubt the goobers around here would understand the traditions behind a true Amazon celebration. It would probably scare them to death."
"Yeah, they'd turn into screaming yellow zonkers."
Both Xena's eyebrows disappeared under her bangs. "Zonkers? You do make up some weird words, my bard."She tilted her head. "Why yellow?"
"You know, like chickens."Gabrielle hated explaining some of her made up words. Sometimes they didn't actually have any meaning behind them at all. They just sounded good.
"Chickens are white, Gabrielle."Xena held the door open and gestured her smaller companion out the door.
"Not the baby ones."She reminded the warrior. "You know the little fuzzy ones that go peep peep?"
"Peeps don't mean they are scared."
"Arrrgh! Zagnuts! Never mind."Twirling swiftly, Gabrielle quickly placed her hand over Xena's mouth. "And don't ask me about THAT one either!"
Pushing the hand away, Xena agreed. "Fine, just watch where you're going. This is a rocky road."
"Long day eh?"Ephiny smiled and refilled her friend's cup.
"You ready to mamba?"
"Noooo."Gabrielle looked a little dazed as she watched the dancers twirling around the fire. "I was right. The dancers this morning were good, but it just always seems more....intense... at night."
"True."Ephiny spent a few moments appreciating the dancers.
Gabrielle hummed low in her throat at the sight of a few couples exchanging gifts.
"So what'd ya get her?"Ephiny bumped Gabrielle's shoulder, sloshing the liquid in both their cups. "C'mon. You can tell me."
"What did you get Eponin?"Gabrielle had fond feelings for the Amazon next to her, but she wasn't sure how much of their personal life Xena would like to share, even with a friend.
"Mostly practical things."Ephiny crossed her arms over her chest and continued watching the dancers. "A new set of leathers, a couple of throwing knives... normal stuff."
"Yeah, same here. I kinda, well, went on a bit of a spree yesterday."Gabrielle shrugged and sipped her ale. "Xena is not the easiest person to buy a gift for."
Laughing at that, Ephiny nodded. "I'll bet not."With a sly grin she nudged her friend again. "So what treasures do you think she got you?"
"I got breakfast in bed this morning."
Ephiny whistled at that. "Whew, that is sweet."
"She's like that."The bard smiled. "We don't always have very many extra coins, our paydays are fairly few and far between, but she always makes things special."
"She's lucky to have found you and she knows it."Ephiny smiled at the woman next to her. She downed the rest of her drink and picked up the wine skin next to them for a refill. "Not many here wouldn't trade places with her."
"Everyone here would trade places with me."Blushing as she realized what she was saying, Gabrielle murmured, "Probably."
"Definitely."Ephiny refilled her companion's cup then her hazel eyes tracked past the fire and locked on the dark form approaching them. "Most definitely."
"Hey you two."Xena flopped gracefully to the ground next to Gabrielle. "What's up?"She noticed Gabrielle's red cheeks. "Get too close to the fire?"
With a growing buzz from the ale, Gabrielle grinned. "I play with fire every day."
"Uh huh."Xena studied her friend's eyes then smiled and reached for the full cup. "I'll just take that."
"Take anything you want."
Two sets of eyes widened at that.
"Okay, that is my cue to leave."Ephiny stood and brushed off her hands. "There's a tent set up for you over there."She looked at Xena. "They moved Argo's tack and your kits from the stables."
"Thanks Eph."Xena waved to her absently, since studying the bard took up most of the warrior's concentration. She tapped her finger against Gabrielle's nose. "You, my friend, need to go to bed."
"Gonna carry me?"
"Do I need to?"Xena tilted her head, waiting for a response.
"Nah..."Gabrielle's eyes didn't quite stay focused. "I just wanted to make the chiclets jealous."
Xena turned to see a group of young amazons watching them. "Ah."She grinned and turned back to whisper to Gabrielle. "If you wanna make the runts really jealous, I could just kiss you right now."
"Ha!"Gabrielle smiled lazily and reached up to tangle her fingers in Xena's dark hair, her sultry voice matching her deep green eyes. "If I wanted to make them REALLY jealous *I* could kiss *you*."
Scooping the drunken bard up into her arms, Xena took a deep breath as Gabrielle nuzzled her neck. She felt skittles of warmth shiver down her spine. "Hold on now."She wasn't exactly sure if she was talking to Gabrielle or herself. As she approached the tent Ephiny had indicated, she grunted to herself. Amazons weren't as picky about their shelter sites as she was. They weren't able to pound the stakes into the hard ground very far, so some smarties came up with the idea to secure the supports with mounds of rocks. It was nice to know they weren't all complete air heads.
Xena looked at the small space and then chuckled. "Not much room to sleep here."The space was barely big enough for Argo's tack and their sleeping fur, if they slept VERY closely together.
"I guess I can deal with it."The gods knew sleeping closely with Gabrielle wasn't exactly a burden, but she'd been looking forward to seeing the stars again for a while, too. "Maybe we should sleep outside."Setting Gabrielle on her feet, Xena looked at the sky. "Doesn't look like rain. It should be warm enough if we build a little fire and snuggle."
"Sounds good to me."Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's middle as much to steady herself as for the comfort.
"Well, it's not a mountain."Xena squeezed the smaller woman. "But the stars are still pretty nice."She released Gabrielle and gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Have a seat here on this rock and let me just get things set up."
"Hmmmm... this is nice."Gabrielle snuggled down into the furs and next to Xena. "Very comfortable."
"Glad you like it."Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. "Look... shooting star. Make a wish."
"What could I possibly wish for?"The bard sounded wistful. "All my dreams have already come true."
"I was pretty lost when I met you. Didn't know exactly where I was headed."Xena swallowed loudly. "I'm glad I met you along the way."
"Life is unpredictable sometimes."The bard chuckled. "If anyone ever told me I'd be traveling with you one day, I'd have laughed in their face."With a slow smile, she looked up at the woman next to her. "But here we are. Both on the same path."
"I'm glad."Xena breathed deeply. "I wouldn't have anyone to enjoy the stars with, without you."
Gabrielle nodded and admitted a truth. "I wouldn't enjoy them at all without you."She knew without the warrior she would have never even considered looking up at the night sky. "Have you ever noticed that... path... in the sky?"Her hand swept across the sky, following the line of light.
"Yeah... it does kind of look like a road, doesn't it."Xena studied the stars. "Or maybe a river."
"It's a way."Gabrielle decided and went into full bard mode. "A milky way to the stars."
"Maybe one day we can travel there, too."Xena's eyes scanned the twinkling sky.
"Well... if we do.."Gabrielle snuggled in and started to doze off. "We'll do it together."
"Of course."Xena looked down at the sleeping woman in her arms and whispered. "Of course."
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