The warm bath water felt nice after a long day out on the dusty road, but not nearly as nice as the soft body that rested against her. Xena took the soap and began sliding the fragrant bar over her partner's body. She reached Gabrielle's defined stomach and paused a moment.
"Xena!" The bard cried out between laughs as she tried to wiggle away from the taller woman.
"What?" The warrior replied, putting on her most innocent face." I was just checking your belly button for fuzz."
"Uh huh. Sure you were." She held her hand out for the soap. "Your turn." Xena handed over the soap and moved so Gabrielle was now behind her.
The bard began washing Xena's back. "I'm glad we'll get to spend Solstice with Eve this year."
"Yeah. The last time we were all together for it, Eve was in baby booties. I still don't know what I should get her."
"I'm sure she'll love whatever you give her, Xena." Gabrielle tried to assure her partner."Now let's get out of this water, it's starting to get a little cold."
Xena grinned wickedly. "I know a way to keep you warm."
Gabrielle smiled. "I'm sure you do."
"What do you get the Warrior Princess and the Queen of the Amazons for Solstice?" The dark, wavy haired woman asked her friend as they sat outside under the night's sky.
"Matching crowns?" The Amazon joked and then saw the warning look on her friend's face. "Come on Eve. You know Xena would be happy with a bouquet of daisies as long as they came from you. And Gabrielle's the same way. "
Eve sighed. "I know, Varia.It's just I want to get them the perfect gift, you know?"
The Amazon warrior placed an arm around her friend. "I know. We'll think of something. Okay?"
The troubled woman nodded. "Okay."
The pair sat there a while longer, enjoying each other's company as they gazed at the stars above.
The sun had been up a few candle marks when Xena and Gabrielle decided to start off again towards the Amazon village. They'd traveled a few hours when a village with a decent sized market place came into view.
"Gabrielle. Do you mind if we stop here for a few minutes, there's a trader I want to see."
"Are you actually asking my permission to shop?"Gabrielle joked with her shopping phobic companion. "Of course I don't mind. There are a couple things I need to pick up as well. Meet you back here in a little while?"
The warrior nodded. "Stay out of trouble." She teased.
"Xena, it's not like I try to get into trouble." The bard reminded her partner.
"Oh yeah, that's right. Trouble just seems to find you." Xena bumped Gabrielle playfully with her shoulder.
The blond rolled her eyes dramatically. "Okay. Point taken, I'll be careful. Just make sure you do the same."
"You have my word Gabrielle." Xena paused a moment and gave her a rogue grin. "I'll keep out of trouble."
The Warrior Princess soon found it was going to be difficult to keep her word. It seemed there were still people out there who wanted to test themselves again the great Xena. So far, 3 men had tried picking fights with her as she walked towards the area she remembered Wren's booth being, and her patience was growing thin.
"If it isn't Xena, the Warrior Princess."A man's voice announced behind her.
"Look, buddy, I don't want any trouble" She began as she turned around. She stopped and a half smile appeared on her lips when she saw the tall man. "Hey Wren. Just the person I was coming to see."
"Oh, is that so?" The red haired man inquired. "And why exactly would that be?"
"Relax. I'm just doing some shopping. Do you still have a booth?"
"Sure. It's just over here. What are you looking for?" The man led Xena over to where his son was watching over the merchandise.
"The perfect gift."
Gabrielle picked up a few supplies and was browsing the merchants' wares to see if anything caught her eye. She stopped in front of a display of jewelry. The pieces were well crafted. She was about to pick up a bracelet that had an intricate design, when she felt a hard tap on her right shoulder.
She turned her head and found a short, stocky man who was wearing really ugly purple suspenders standing there. "Yes?"
"You that Battling Bard?" He slurred out, his tongue thick from consuming too much mead. "You don't look so tough."
Gabrielle's nose wrinkled at the smell coming from the man's breath and she moved away from the drunken man. She was reminded of Xena's words about trouble always finding her. Why was she always right about these things?
"So, you her or not?" The man persisted as he took an unsteady step towards her.
"I'm Gabrielle. What do you want?" The bard shifted herself into a more defensive stance.
"I'm going to kick your ass." He threatened.
"I don't think so." A deep female voice announced.
Gabrielle smiled at the man's reaction to Xena's voice. She watched in amusement as he looked up and up until he met the set of icy blue eyes.
"UhI was only kidding" The man back peddled frantically, looking as distressed as a Siamese cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Then, as Xena took a step forward, the man turned and escaped through the crowd that had formed.
The warrior glanced around at the crowd of people who were still waiting for something exciting to happen. "Hey, go on, this isn't a Xena convention." The tall woman announced and the group began to disperse.
"I thought I told you to stay out of trouble." Xena commented to Gabrielle as she put an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders and steered her back towards the horses.
Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. "You know, Xena. For some reason trouble is drawn to me like a dog to a dog biscuit. I don't know why it's that way, but I'm glad you're there to watch my back."
"I'm here to watch your back, and every other part of you as well."The warrior pulled the bard closer and kissed the top of her fair head.
"Varia, Xena and Gabrielle are approaching the village's border." A young Amazon reported excitedly as she tucked a stray piece of honey blond hair behind her ear.
"Thank you for the report, Kai. Now go make sure everything is ready for the celebration."
A quick nod of her head and Kai was away to make sure all the arrangements for the Solstice party were ready.
Varia walked to Eve's hut where she found the woman pacing back and forth nervously. She laughed softly and Eve turned. "Are they here?" The Amazon nodded. "Let's go meet them."
The pair exited the dwelling and stood hand in hand awaiting their guests. Varia glanced over at Eve and saw the brilliant smile that brightened her features when Xena and Gabrielle exited the woods that surrounded the village. She couldn't help but smile herself.
"Mother, Gabrielle!" Eve called out as she ran to the women and embraced both of them in turn.
"Eve, it's so good to see you again." Gabrielle announced as she released the woman.
"I'm so glad you could make it." Eve told the women. "We've planned a bit of a Solstice party, with food and games, but uh, you don't have to play if you don't want to and."
Xena smiled. "Sounds great, Eve."
"Why don't you show Xena and Gabrielle to their quarters, and they can put their stuff away." Varia suggested. "And then we can start the festivities."
Eve led Xena and Gabrielle to their hut. "Here you are. I hope it's okay." She remarked as they entered.
"It's fine." The bard squeezed the young woman's shoulder reassuringly. "Right, Xena?"
"Okay. Well let's get your stuff settled inside." Eve took hold of the pack Gabrielle was carrying, but the item slipped from her grasp and fell to the ground. The clank of metal echoed through the room as a pair of handcuffs slipped out of the canvas bag and landed on the floor.
Eve's eyes went wide at the sight of the implements. Gabrielle quickly picked the handcuffs up and stuffed them back in the bag. "Um, sometimes we uh, run into bad guys and we have to restrain them with those."
Xena couldn't help thinking how cute Gabrielle looked when she blushed. "Yeah, not everyone out there is happy to see us. Sometimes we have to take a prisoner."
"Oh. Okay. Well I'll let you guys finish putting your stuff away. Just come to the meeting room when you're finished." Eve hurried out of the hut.
"You know, Gabrielle. Maybe we could just stay here and play or own games." Xena waggled her eyebrows seductively at the bard.
An appreciative grin spread over Gabrielle's face. "Well. If you play nicely with the other kids now, maybe later we can occupy ourselves with our own set of games."
"Okay. I think I can play nice for a little while." Xena decided.
"Good." Gabrielle stood on her tiptoes and gave the warrior a quick kiss. "Now let's get this stuff put away."
When the bard and warrior entered the appointed room, the party was just starting. Varia made her way over to the pair. "Great, the guests of honor are here. Are you ready to play some games?"
ňI don't know." Xena began cautiously, knowing the Amazons' reputations for interesting ceremonies. "Exactly what kind of games are we talking about?"
"Oh, nothing that requires handcuffs." Varia replied smirking, then she quickly backed up when the warrior began advancing on her.
Gabrielle took hold of Xena's arm and the taller woman stopped. "I think we're ready to kick some butt." The blond informed her host.
"Great." Varia's attention was drawn to a figure coming towards them. The Amazon took a moment to appreciate how the black, leather pants clung to the woman's form.
Xena noted the expression on Varia's face as the woman watched Eve walk over. She'd seen that look before. The Warrior Princess observed her daughter closer and was somewhat surprised to notice a small tattoo on Eve's left shoulder that hadn't been visible in the woman's previous attire. A quick once over of Varia revealed the dark haired Amazon had a matching one.
"I think we're ready to begin the challenges." Eve announced to the women, interrupting Xena's thoughts. "We're starting with the dart contest, if you want to enter."
Xena smiled mischievously. "I'd love to. What about you Varia? Wanna test your skills?"
"You bet, Xena." The Amazon answered with a sense of youthful cockiness.
The dartboards were set up outside, nailed to a set of trees. They were round pieces of wood with circles and numbers painted on. Each set of contestants was given 3 darts to use.
Varia motioned for Xena to go first. The warrior stood at the line that had been drawn in the dirt and concentrated. She threw the first dartbullseye. The second and third throws resulted in the same. "Okay, kid, your turn."
The Amazon toed the line as she waited for the scorekeeper to remove Xena's darts. A bullseye was the result of her first dart. The second one also found the center of the target. It looked as though Varia would tie Xena's score, but the young woman snuck a glance at Eve and lost her concentration, the dart missed its mark.
"42." Called out the Amazon who was keeping score. "Xena wins."
Varia muttered something as Eve came over to console her friend. Xena smiled at her victory. "Okay, what's next."
"The greased watermelon relay." Eve replied as the group made their way around the other dart throwers and over to the table that held the oval shaped, green fruit. "This is a two person game, so you and Gabrielle can be on a team and Varia and I will be on another."
Kai stood there in awe, she couldn't believe she was sharing space with Xena, Warrior Princess, and Gabrielle, the Battling Bard. It took her a moment to realize someone was talking to her. "Huh?"
"I was saying why don't you explain the rules, Kai." Eve told the young Amazon smiling. Sometimes she forgot the effect her mother and Gabrielle had on people.
"Sure. Uh, there are pens over there." She pointed to an area about 50 feet away from where they were standing. "One person will pick the watermelon up off of the table and walk it to the half way mark, where they will hand it over to their partner, who will then carry the watermelon to the pen and drop it in. The first team to get 3 watermelons in their pen wins. Any questions?"
The women shook their heads. Gabrielle and Eve took their positions at the half way mark while their partners prepared to grab the slick melons.
"On your mark, get set, go!" Kai yelled out and Xena and Varia were off. Holding onto the greased watermelons proved easier said than done, but the women were eventually able to get the fruit to their other halves. Varia's handoff to Eve was almost seamless, while Gabrielle had a little more difficulty receiving the burden from Xena. This was going to be a close contest.
In the end, it was a daring dive by Eve, to put the third watermelon in the pen, that won the game. Varia picked Eve up and spun her around. "Woo hoo! We won!"
Gabrielle shrugged at Xena. "Sorry, I know how you hate to lose. But how about I help you scrub that gunk off?"
"That sounds like it could be fun." She still hated to have come in second, but her partner's plan would take a little sting out of the defeat. "Maybe after one more competition." She couldn't end on a losing note. " What do you say, Varia?"
"I think we can probably find something." Varia acknowledged as she and Xena walked away, leaving their partners standing there.
"I bet if you had a set of dumbbells they'd see who could do the most repetitions." Gabrielle sighed as she mimed doing bicep curls.
"Yeah." Eve agreed. "But it would be nice to check out their muscles." She paused a moment. "I didn't just say that out loud did I?" Her face turned red with the realization she had.
"Yep, you did." The bard laughed. "But you're right on target with your comment. Now let's go see what the two of them are up to."
What the pair was up to, was an egg eating contest. Bowls of peeled, hard boiled eggs were set up in front of the women, who were shoving the items into their mouths as quickly as possible, without choking, as they chewed as fast as they could. Gabrielle and Eve looked at each other and shook their heads, this could get messy.
13 eggs later, and both women were slowing down. It appeared as though Varia's stomach was about to expel all the eggs she'd forced down. A pained expression filled her face.
Eve leaned over and whispered something in her ill friend's ear. Varia nodded and put the egg in her hand down. She then stood and raced away, holding a hand to her mouth.
Xena finished chewing and swallowing the last of her egg, her face showed the strain it took to do so. The judge announced her the winner and Xena slowly stood and turned away from the table.
"I think you'd better see if the healer has some pepto root." Gabrielle told Eve. "I think those two are going to have some upset stomachs later."
"I can't believe I ate that much." Xena complained as she drank the concoction Gabrielle had made to settle her stomach. She then rested back on the bed.
Gabrielle gently rubbed her companion's tummy in small circles. "Yeah. But at least you managed to keep them all down. Poor Varia, I don't think she'll be eating eggs for quite a while."
A small smile crept over Xena's lips. "True, but I think Eve will take good care of her of her though."
Gabrielle appeared reflective for a moment."And what do you think of that?" She knew Varia had caused a lot of trouble, Hades, the Amazon had tried to kill her. But Gabrielle wasn't one to hold a grudge, life was too short for that, and if she made Eve happy.
"I'm not sure." Xena replied honestly. "But I trust Eve's judgment, and she of all people should know how much a person can change."
nodded. No one would have believed that Livia,
The next morning found Xena feeling much better. She leaned over and gently kissed Gabrielle into consciousness.
"Hmmm. I guess someone is feeling better." Gabrielle murmured sleepily as she stretched and then curled her body against Xena's and closed her eyes.
"Uh huh. And I guess if you're going back to sleep, that means you don't want your present." The warrior teased and got the desired effect when one of Gabrielle's eyes popped open.
"Present?" The blond asked in a childlike voice.
"Yep. But if you'd rather sleep, maybe I'll just give it to someone else."
Gabrielle quickly pounced on her warrior. "Gimme my present." She warned.
"Or what?" Xena answered knowing full well she could easily displace the smaller woman.
"Oror I'll tickle you!" Gabrielle threatened and wiggled her fingers menacingly.
"Oh, I'm scared now." The dark haired woman said mockingly. "Please, someone save me from the terrible Gabrielle."
Just then, there was a knock on the door. "Looks like the cavalry heard you." Gabrielle joked as she rolled off her companion and went to answer the door. Upon opening it, she found Eve and Varia standing there.
"Happy Solstice, Gabrielle." Eve hugged the woman and then handed her a small box wrapped with a red ribbon.
ňThank you, Eve. Won't you two come in. I think your Mother has something to give you."
"We don't want to intrude."
"You're not." Gabrielle assured them and they entered the room.
Varia acknowledged Xena with a nod. "Congratulations on last night."
"Thanks. But I don't think I'll be doing that again anytime soon." Xena conceded.
Eve handed Xena a wooden box. "Happy Solstice, Mother."
Xena smiled lovingly at her daughter. "Thanks, Eve. You know you didn't have to get me anything, just being able to be here with you is good enough for me."
"I know. But I wanted to." Eve replied as she watched Xena open the box. "Do you like it?"
Xena removed the necklace from the box so everyone could see it. "Does a penguin like ice?"
Eve glanced over at Varia for the answer, but received a shrug in return. Gabrielle stepped in. "Yes, she loves it, Eve. It's beautiful. They both are." She showed off the necklace she'd received from the women. It was the twin to Xena's.
"What she said." Xena agreed as she pulled the other women into a big group hug. "Happy Solstice everyone."
More gifts were exchanged, along with laughter and happy tears. This would be a Solstice they would always remember.