"You're sure I can't convince you to stay longer?" Ishalia asked hopefully.
Looking over at the older woman. whom she had grown to care deeply for over the past several days, Xena chuckled. "Ishalia, I'm afraid not. It's time for us to be moving on."
"Well, you can't blame me for trying," the older woman said with a grin, as she handed a small bundle to Gabrielle. "This is for you," she added, shooting a quick glance at the warrior.
"For me?" Gabrielle asked curiously while she unwrapped the package. "Nutbread!" she exclaimed. "But how? I can't believe I didn't smell this baking," she said happily.
"That's because we made it at a friend's house so that it would be a surprise," Ishalia told her, a wide grin on her face.
"Well, Xena helped a little," Ishalia said in a conspiratorially whisper. "She actually can cook you know. You just have to push her long enough."
"All right you two that's enough. Come on, Gabrielle. We need to get moving, before Ishalia tries to tell us it's too late in the day to be starting out and that we might as well stay one more night." Although she spoke firmly, she couldn't quite hold back the smile that tugged at her lips.
Gabrielle nodded. "Good-bye Ishalia," she said, as she hugged the woman. "And thanks for everything."
"You're welcome dear," Ishalia replied, smiling warmly, before turning to look at Xena.
Xena hesitated for several seconds, uncertain what to do and feeling unbelievably awkward. "I uh...well...good bye Ishalia," she finally stammered. "It was nice meeting you," she finished lamely, feeling like a complete idiot.
Ishalia looked at the tall woman kindly, understanding the difficulties she was having. Finally deciding to throw caution to the wind, she moved closer and wrapped her arms around the warrior, hugging her tightly. She smiled when she felt Xena's arms slowly move up to embrace her. Pulling back, she looked up at the warrior and smiled gently. "Good bye Xena. I'll miss you."
Xena nodded. "I'll miss you too Ishalia," she said softly.
"Promise me that you two will come back and visit." She tried to speak sternly, but her smile belied any semblance of harshness in her words.
"We promise," Xena said, returning her smile.
Moving out of the other woman's embrace, Xena walked to Gabrielle's side. Taking Argo's reins, she swung up onto the horse and settled in. Turning back to Ishalia, she smiled and waved, before nudging the mare into a slow walk, knowing that if she didn't leave right away she would be sorely tempted to accept Ishalia's offer to extend their stay.
They traveled for several minutes along the road leading west out of the village, before Xena leaned down towards the young woman walking beside her. "Here," she said, as she extended her arm to Gabrielle. "Come on up here."
Gabrielle considered the offer briefly before shaking her head. "No, I'll just walk for awhile," she replied, not really wanting to be up on a horse at the moment.
Xena hesitated for a second. "Please?" she asked quietly. Startled, Gabrielle turned to look at her friend, confused by Xena's request. "I just want to hold you," the warrior admitted.
Gabrielle's heart melted at the look in her lover's eyes. Nodding, she silently took Xena's arm and allowed the warrior to pull her up into the saddle in front of her. Moving slightly to get comfortable, she sighed when she felt Xena's arms wrap around her to hold her tightly. They rode along quietly, both absorbed in their own thoughts, until Gabrielle finally broke the silence. "I'm glad we stayed as long with Ishalia as we did," she said softly.
"Why's that?" Xena asked, her breath warm against the bard's ear.
"Because it made you happy," Gabrielle replied simply. "She'd never heard of you before and had no preconceived notions about you. You were able to relax and just be yourself," Gabrielle said, as she lightly caressed Xena's forearm. A wicked grin spread across the bard's face, before she twisted in the saddle to look at the woman sitting behind her. "And because you finally took time off to fully recover," she said, thumping the warrior lightly in the chest.
Xena grinned back at her lover. "Trust me, Gabrielle. I'm fully recovered. And I intend to prove that fact to you repeatedly," she said, before leaning in to capture the bard's lips with her own.
They traveled without incident for the next few days, finally reaching Amazon territory early in the afternoon of the third day. Gabrielle had agreed to ride on Argo again that morning to speed up the journey. She figured that it was worth it to reach the Amazon village before nightfall, and enjoyed the added bonus of having Xena's arms wrapped around her. However, after they had ridden through the forest for quite some time without seeing any signs of Amazons, Gabrielle began to grow restless. "How much longer do you think it will be until we see some of them?" she finally asked.
Xena chuckled softly at the young woman's growing impatience. "I'd guess when they decide to stop watching us and show themselves to us instead."
"Watching us! You mean they're watching us now?" Gabrielle asked, as she twisted to her right and left, peering into the surrounding trees but still seeing nothing.
"Yup. They have been since right after we entered the forest."
"Then why haven't they come out to meet us? Do you think we need to give the peace symbol?" she asked in a concerned voice.
"Gabrielle, I doubt they think their queen has come to attack them," Xena replied with a wry grin. "Most likely they're keeping an eye on us to make certain we're safe. They'll reveal themselves when they're ready." They rode for awhile longer before Xena began to sense a change in their unseen escort. "Okay, time to get off the horse," she told Gabrielle as she helped the young woman dismount, before jumping down from Argo to land beside her. Grabbing the reins, she and Gabrielle continued towards the Amazon village, while Xena carefully tracked the women who had surrounded them.
They hadn't been walking for long before thick ropes began to fall out of the trees around them. Within seconds, they found themselves surrounded by the numerous masked warrior women who had descended from the trees. Out of habit and protocol, both Gabrielle and Xena performed the traditional Amazonian symbol of peace, as they watched the women remove their masks. Gabrielle, however, had already recognized one of the masks and was rapidly moving forward to embrace the woman who was wearing it. "Ephiny," she cried in a happy voice, as she hugged the Amazon tightly. "I didn't expect you to come out to meet us," she said, before stepping back to look at her friend.
"The Amazon Queen returns and you think I'm just going to wait around back in the village for her?" Ephiny asked with a grin. "It's good to see you both," she said as she extended her arm to Xena, smiling as the warrior clasped it firmly in greeting.
"Ephiny," Xena said, smiling in return, "It's good to see you too."
"Come on. Let's get you two back to the village. Everyone's getting ready to celebrate the return of the Queen. It wouldn't do for you to be late for that, would it?" Ephiny asked. She signaled to the surrounding warriors, who melted back into the forest, and then turned to lead Gabrielle and Xena to the village.
"How have things been going Ephiny?" Gabrielle asked, as soon as they were on their way.
"Good. Peaceful as a matter of fact. No problems with warlords or centaurs. No desperate attempts to find ambrosia in time to revive a corpse. No insane gods torching the village. It's been a rather pleasant change of pace," she said solemnly. She looked Gabrielle and Xena over carefully, before continuing, "And let's try to keep it that way for once, okay!" she said with a smirk.
In no time at all they had reached the camp. Xena led Argo to where the Amazons kept their horses, handing Gabrielle a couple of the saddlebags before she left. Ephiny escorted Gabrielle to the hut that had once belonged to Terreis. It had become Gabrielle's, when she had received the dying Amazon's right of caste, the year before. "We got your hut ready for you as soon as we saw you enter the forest," Ephiny said as they entered. "I assume Xena will be staying here with you again?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes, she will," she replied. Despite her best efforts, she felt herself beginning to blush. She quickly turned away, hoping that Ephiny hadn't noticed, and began moving around the room to study the various objects it contained.
Ephiny watched Gabrielle curiously for a few seconds, before a slow smile began to spread across her features. "So how long are you going to be here?" she asked.
"I don't know; we haven't decided yet. Probably at least a week though," Gabrielle replied.
"Well, in that case, I'll have another bed moved into the hut. There's no reason for you two to have to share a bed for that long, when we can easily get another one in here."
"Oh that's not necessary," Gabrielle protested, as she turned to face Ephiny. "We don't mind...." She stopped when she saw that Ephiny was doing her best not to laugh. "I mean, one bed...." She stopped again, still not certain what to say and feeling her cheeks growing redder by the second.
Ephiny allowed herself to enjoy Gabrielle's obvious discomfort for several more seconds, before finally taking mercy on her. "So I take it that you two finally got around to admitting you were in love with each other," she remarked in an amused voice.
"How...how did you know?" Gabrielle stammered in amazement.
"How did you not know Gabrielle? You and Xena were apparently the only ones who didn't." Ephiny smiled as she changed the subject. "As long as you're going to be here for awhile, you should dress as an Amazon, and you'll also be expected to act as the Queen while you're here."
"All right...but are you okay with that?...I mean, I don't want to step on your toes here," Gabrielle said hesitantly.
Ephiny placed a reassuring hand on the young woman's shoulder. "Gabrielle, I told you when I accepted the mask of the Queen from you that I was only holding it in your absence. I want you to act as the Queen while you're here. It's your duty and your right. Besides, this way I get a vacation."
"I didn't know Amazons took vacations," Gabrielle said with a grin.
Ephiny shook her head with mock sorrow. "Obviously we're going to have to spend more time teaching you our customs, Gabrielle. I hope you weren't planning on a vacation when you came here. We're going to work you 'til you drop."
"As long as I get a chance to spar with Eponin first, you can do whatever you want to me. I've been looking forward to this rematch for quite awhile now and I want to be at my peak," Gabrielle replied, a determined glint in her eye.
"I think that can be arranged. Oh," Ephiny said, as a new thought occurred to her. "Do you want me to get something for Xena to wear too?"
Ephiny shrugged. "I just thought that since you were going to be dressing in Amazon clothing, she might prefer to wear something besides her usual armor too. After all, you're going to be here for awhile."
Gabrielle thought about it for a second before nodding her head. "Yeah, that would be great, if you can find something to fit her."
"Shouldn't be too much of a problem; I'll find something and have it sent over, and I'll get a couple of women in here to help you with whatever you need. Once you're dressed and settled in, come find me and we can talk about what's been going on around here while you've been traveling."
"Sounds good. I'll see you in a little while," agreed Gabrielle, as she watched Ephiny leave.
Gabrielle had nearly finished changing into her Amazon clothes by the time Xena returned. Looking up as the warrior entered, she smiled gratefully. "Am I glad to see you! I told them that, for once, I wanted to dress myself. Now I can't get these straps tightened to save my life," she said, as she pointed to the armor she was wearing on her right shoulder, before focusing again on the leather bracer on her left arm.
Xena simply stared at Gabrielle for several seconds, completely captivated by the vision before her. She swallowed several times and reminded herself to breathe, but watching Gabrielle was making even the most mundane things seem difficult. She dropped the rest of their things by the door and crossed the room to stand near Gabrielle, forcing herself to examine the shoulder guard that was giving Gabrielle so much trouble. 'Goddess she's beautiful,' Xena thought to herself. 'Thank the gods she doesn't dress like this when we're out on the road. I don't think I'd be able to manage rational thought if she looked like this all the time.' "Going Amazon on me huh?" she finally managed to ask with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded. "Ephiny told me she thought I should, so I figured what the heck. It looks pretty nice don't you think?" she asked, as she reached for the other bracer.
Xena nodded as she sent silent thanks to Ephiny. Finally figuring out how to attach the shoulder guard to the rest of what Gabrielle was wearing, Xena quickly tightened the laces and then straightened it slightly, before stepping back to look at her lover. Gabrielle looked magnificent, every inch the Amazon Queen. "Very nice," she finally managed to say in a low voice, before moving closer to take Gabrielle in her arms.
Gabrielle sighed as Xena lightly caressed her cheek and then leaned into the warrior to kiss her softly on the lips. Pulling back to look into Xena's eyes, she hesitated for a moment before speaking. "Xena, I sort of told Ephiny about us."
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "And?"
Gabrielle sighed in relief. "I just didn't know how you'd feel about that. I mean, you don't usually like talking about these kinds of things...and I know you don't like everyone knowing the details of your life. I was worried you'd be irritated."
Xena leaned down to kiss Gabrielle once again. "If you hadn't told her she would have figured it out soon enough. I have no intention of spending the next week pretending we aren't lovers," she said with a grin. "Especially if you're going to be dressed like this!"
"Oh, that reminds me," Gabrielle said, as she pulled out of Xena's embrace. "Ephiny sent over something for you to wear too." She crossed the room to a table, picked up several items of clothing, and brought them back to where Xena was standing.
"For me? I don't need anything to wear," Xena replied guardedly.
Gabrielle grinned. "Well neither did I when you come right down to it. But as long as we're going to be here for awhile, why don't you just try wearing these," she said. She handed the clothes to Xena, anxious to see her lover in the things Ephiny had found.
Xena shook her head. "No thanks. I prefer what I have on," she said firmly.
"Xena," Gabrielle said in an exasperated tone. "You wear that all the time. Try something a little different for a change. It won't hurt you to dress like an Amazon for a couple of days. Besides, I'd really like to see the way you'd look in this," she said, as she deliberately lowered her voice to speak in a throaty whisper. "Come on, let's see what kind of Amazon you'd make," she said with a grin.
As Gabrielle watched her lover, she was momentarily taken aback by the strange expression of rage and frustration that crossed Xena's features. "Gabrielle, I said no and I meant it. I'm comfortable in what I'm wearing. Now just drop it all right?" Xena said harshly.
Gabrielle stared at the warrior in shock, hurt by Xena's response. Her pain was quickly replaced, however, by her rising anger. "Xena, what in Tartarus is wrong with you? It was just an idea."
"There's nothing wrong with me Gabrielle. I just don't want to wear those stupid clothes. If you want to dress like an Amazon, that's fine, but don't expect me to do it too. Don't try to change me Gabrielle."
Gabrielle stared at her friend in disbelief. "'Change you?' I'm not trying to change you. I simply suggested you try on some different clothes. Look, if you don't want to wear them that's fine," she said as she tossed the clothes onto a table. "This has got to be the dumbest fight we've ever had. Why are you acting like this?"
"I'm not 'acting' like anything." Xena took a deep breath as she collected herself. "I'm going for a walk. I'll see you later tonight."
"Fine, I have to go talk to Ephiny anyway," Gabrielle replied as she pushed past her friend. Grabbing her staff, she stormed out of the hut before she said something that she would only end up regretting.
Hours later, Gabrielle found herself in the middle of one of the biggest parties she'd ever seen, as the Amazons pulled out all stops to celebrate the return of their Queen. There were countless tables covered with food and the sound of drums and a variety of other musical instruments filled the air. Everyone was in fine spirits. The peace of the past few months had been a blessing after the tumultuous period that had preceded it. The position of Queen had changed hands rapidly, going from Melosa to Velasca and then to Gabrielle. The rift that had developed when Gabrielle and Velasca had struggled for control of the hearts of the Amazons had caused even more troubles and Velasca's ascendancy to godhood, after eating ambrosia, had nearly resulted in the destruction of the entire Amazon village.
But all that was behind them now and, even though Gabrielle had passed on her duties as Queen to Ephiny, she was still the official leader of the tribe. It was obvious that the women of the village were overjoyed to have her back amongst them. As the evening wore on, Gabrielle laughed and talked with dozens of women, all of whom expressed their happiness at seeing her again. To her surprise, Gabrielle realized that she felt more comfortable and more welcome in the Amazon village, than she had ever felt in her home village of Poteidaia. For once she wasn't considered the odd ball, the one that didn't fit in. Here she was respected and, if it weren't for one small detail, she would have been having the time of her life.
The problem was, that one small detail was Xena. The gulf that had suddenly come between them, had only widened since the celebration had begun. Both women were determined that the other would have to make the first move. Thus, they deliberately ignored each other, even when they had been sitting right next to one another during dinner. The worst part about all of this was that Gabrielle didn't even understand why they were fighting in the first place. All she knew was that Xena had been completely unreasonable about the clothing issue and she wasn't quite ready to forgive the warrior for yelling at her.
Xena kept mainly to herself, while she wandered around the party. She managed to keep a close eye on Gabrielle at all times and, despite her irritation with the bard, she was glad to see Gabrielle was getting the attention and recognition she deserved. It was obvious that the women truly accepted Gabrielle as their Queen, despite the fact that she had not been born an Amazon. It was equally obvious that they had missed the young woman while she had been apart from them. Xena acknowledged to herself that it really wasn't surprising. Gabrielle tended to have that effect on people. She was the kind of person that you wanted to be around.
Xena sighed to herself. This was definitely not how she had pictured spending their time together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle had been right; that fight earlier probably was the dumbest one they had ever had. Xena had reacted badly and she knew it; it was no wonder Gabrielle had gotten so angry with her. However, that still didn't mean that Gabrielle needed to keep this up any longer. The bard had made three pointed remarks during dinner about clothing, all of which Xena knew had been directed towards her. It was obvious that Gabrielle wasn't going to give in anytime soon, but Xena had most definitely had enough. She still had no intention of changing her clothes, but she could at least make the first move. It wouldn't hurt her to be the one who gave in first for a change.
Straightening her shoulders, she walked over to where Gabrielle and another young Amazon were standing. "Gabrielle, would you like to dance?" she asked with a smile, holding her hand out towards her lover.
Gabrielle looked up from her conversation to gaze calmly into Xena's eyes. "No thanks. I don't know this dance," she said flatly.
Xena's eyes narrowed slightly but she maintained her smile. "I can teach it to you," she said patiently.
Gabrielle appeared to consider her words, but then shook her head. "No. We both know I'm not very good. I'd probably just trip you up. You'd fall down and get your clothes dirty, and then where would you be?" she asked innocently.
Xena gritted her teeth as she glared at the bard. 'Another stupid crack about those clothes,' Xena thought to herself. 'All right, it's time to give her something to think about besides what I'm wearing.' "Fine," she said tightly. "I appreciate your concern." She turned to the striking young woman standing next to Gabrielle. "How about you, Talia? I'll bet you're an incredible dancer." She extended her hand to the young woman as she added, "Join me?"
"I'd love to," Talia purred, as she reached out to take Xena's hand, allowing the warrior to lead her away.
Gabrielle stared at the two in shock. She couldn't believe that Xena had asked that woman to dance. 'Fine. She can be that way if she wants. I'm not going to give her the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me,' she swore to herself. 'There are plenty of people around here I can spend time with. I don't need Xena to enjoy myself.'
Looking around, Gabrielle saw that Eponin was standing off to one side with several women she knew. She forced a smile onto her face and walked over to join them, deliberately standing with her back to the dancers, in an attempt to resist the temptation to watch Xena and her new 'friend.' She tried her best to join in the conversation with the others, and it wasn't long before they began telling stories about the first time they had met her, when she had just become the Amazon Princess. Finally, after several stories, including one about Gabrielle's less than stellar attempts at dancing, one of the young woman grinned at her Queen. "So Gabrielle, are you going to be dancing for us while you're here?" she asked, a teasing glint in her eyes.
Gabrielle blushed slightly at the question, as images of Xena and Talia began to rush through her mind once again. Forcing a smile onto her face, she replied casually, "Well, I don't know about that. We'll have to wait and see," she finished, hoping that no one had noticed the tightness in her voice.
"Maybe she should have Xena give her some lessons," said another of the women. "She certainly looks like she knows what she's doing out there," she continued, as she nodded towards the dancers.
Unable to resist, Gabrielle turned and looked for Xena. After a few moments, she caught sight of her dancing amongst the others. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw the gracefulness of her lover, while she moved in time to the music, but then they narrowed when she caught sight of Talia. The two women seemed oblivious to everyone around them and, even from this distance, Gabrielle could recognize the look of desire plastered across Talia's face.
Several of the women in the group laughed, as they began discussing the couple. "Talia always does end up with the most beautiful woman, doesn't she?" she heard one woman remark. Gabrielle continued to watch Xena and Talia dance while she listened to the others discuss the pair. Half of the women were convinced that Xena was out of Talia's league, while the other half appeared to be convinced that, before the evening was over, they would end up in bed together. To Gabrielle's growing irritation, however, no one seemed to be aware of the fact that Xena was not available; no one seemed to consider that Gabrielle might be the one Xena would choose to be with.
Xena smiled warmly at Talia as they danced together, but she continued to keep watch on Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. Xena had had it with Gabrielle's refusal to drop the clothes issue. She had tried to make the first move to apologize, but all the bard wanted to do was play silly little games. Well if that's the way she wanted it, then that's the way they would handle it. Xena knew all about diversionary tactics. She would give Gabrielle something else to think about and pretty soon the bard would be more than willing to forget about something as ridiculous as Xena's choice in clothing.
Xena knew she was making Gabrielle jealous by dancing with Talia and it was rather interesting to see this side of the young bard. More than anything, though, the warrior wanted Gabrielle to forget how harshly she had spoken to her earlier that afternoon. She had even surprised herself with the force of her outburst and she'd regretted it almost immediately. But while she didn't want to hurt her lover, she also wanted the matter of clothing to be dropped once and for all. It was time they moved on to more important issues.
When the music stopped, Gabrielle saw Xena say something to Talia and then watched as the young Amazon laughed, placing her hand on Xena's arm in a familiar manner. Continuing to hold the warrior's arm, Talia leaned in close to speak directly into Xena's ear, her breasts pressing intimately against the warrior's arm as she did so. As Gabrielle watched, Xena smiled and nodded her head, before moving to take Talia into her arms as the next dance began. Gabrielle observed them for several seconds before she had finally had enough. "Excuse me," she said tersely to the women who were standing around her, before making her way to where Xena and Talia were dancing.
Reaching the two women, Gabrielle placed her hand firmly on Talia's shoulder, drawing her attention away from Xena. "May I cut in?" she asked politely, but with a hint of command in her voice that indicated that 'no' would not be an acceptable answer. Talia bowed her head slightly as she acquiesced and then moved away, casting one last appreciative glance towards Xena as she did so.
Turning towards Xena, Gabrielle moved into the warrior's arms, refusing to give her a chance to protest the change in dance partners. "So now you want to dance?" Xena asked, her eyebrows arched perfectly.
"I actually know this one," Gabrielle pointed out as she began following Xena's lead. "You did go to a lot of trouble to teach me these steps, so I figured I should put that knowledge to good use," she finished calmly, determined not to show the warrior how much seeing another woman in Xena's arms had affected her.
Xena just shrugged. Gabrielle was finally thinking about something other than those damn clothes and, with a little more work, she'd have the bard right where she wanted her. "Well you're doing fine," she said casually, acting as if everything was normal between them. "I'm glad to see the time and effort wasn't wasted."
Gabrielle nodded silently. They continued to dance without speaking for a minute or so before Gabrielle finally looked up at her friend. "She's very attractive."
"Who?" Xena asked, feigning ignorance.
"Talia, who else? Or is there someone else around here you've been dancing with?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Oh yeah, Talia. Yeah she's attractive...beautiful really," Xena replied absently.
Gabrielle scowled slightly at Xena's words but hastily covered her reaction. "She's a good dancer," she said calmly.
Xena nodded her head in agreement. "Uh huh...one of the best I've ever seen," she said matter-of-factly.
This time, Gabrielle was unable to keep the glare off of her face as she looked up at her partner. Xena's face, however, was the picture of innocence, as she continued to dance with the bard, seemingly unaware of Gabrielle's growing ire.
As the music ended, Gabrielle began a hasty retreat, determined to put some distance between herself and Xena. Knowing that she had pushed the bard far enough, Xena reached out quickly to grab her arm, pulling the young woman back to her side. "Talia is beautiful....," she murmured into Gabrielle's ear. "But she can't begin to compare with the woman who holds my heart."
Stepping back slightly to look up at her lover, Gabrielle's heart warred with her mind. "Do you really mean that?" she finally asked.
Glancing around and noticing how many others were nearby, Xena stepped forward and looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes. She leaned in and, in a throaty whisper that only Gabrielle could hear, said, "I couldn't care less about Talia or any other woman here." Reaching out, she caressed Gabrielle's cheek with the back of her fingers as she moved closer, continuing to hold Gabrielle's gaze. "I want you. I want you in my arms, naked, moaning, calling my name, begging me to touch you, telling me you want me as much as I want you."
Gabrielle's face flushed when she heard her lover's words. Her breathing grew uneven as her heart began pounding wildly. "Then let's go back to our hut so that you can prove it," she finally managed to say, her mouth suddenly dry.
"Lead the way, your Highness," Xena replied, her eyes dark with passion. "I'm right behind you."
Gabrielle nodded and began leading her lover towards their hut, stopping only long enough to tell Ephiny that she was retiring for the night. The moment they stepped inside the hut, Gabrielle moved into Xena's arms. She pulled the warrior to her tightly and kissed her passionately, groaning when she felt Xena's body pressed against her own. Forcing her tongue past the other woman's lips, she probed deep within her lover's mouth, moaning low in her throat as their tongues thrust and parried with one another. Her hands began moving across Xena's back, stroking the warrior as she sought to draw her even closer. It wasn't enough, though, to touch Xena through her armor. She tugged at her lover's leathers helplessly, trying to remove the offending garments that were keeping her from touching the woman standing in front of her. "Off," she finally growled against Xena's lips, pulling on the leathers one last time. "Get these off. I need to touch you," she said throatily.
Stepping back slightly, Xena hastily complied, while Gabrielle began rapidly removing her own clothes as well. Everything was quickly tossed aside and then the lovers were back in each other's arms, naked skin rubbing against naked skin. Xena reached down and lifted Gabrielle into her arms, bringing the bard's breasts up to press against her own. As her mouth hungrily captured the younger woman's, Xena began slowly maneuvering them towards the bed. Carefully depositing Gabrielle on the pallet, she joined her an instant later, laying her body over the bard's and glorying in the feel of her lover's skin against her own.
Xena's hands moved across Gabrielle's body rapidly, rubbing, teasing, and caressing, before finally moving to cup the young woman's breasts, lightly brushing her thumbs across the nipples. Gabrielle groaned loudly and reached down to cover Xena's hands with her own, arching into her lover's touch. "Don't" she said, her voice laced with passion. "Don't tease. I want you too much...I need you too much for that," she begged hoarsely.
With a satisfied grin, Xena began stroking her lover's breasts more firmly, manipulating the nipples between her fingers, as she began running her tongue along the line of Gabrielle's neck. Leaning down, she followed the line of her shoulder to the spot that the bard's "Amazon" armor would normally cover. Biting down and then sucking firmly on the tender flesh, Xena marked the young woman as her own, while her hands began moving more insistently against her lover's body. Pressing Gabrielle's breasts together, Xena moved down to take both nipples into her mouth at once, swirling her tongue around them and sucking hard, while the bard's moans of pleasure filled her ears.
For several minutes, Xena continued to lavish her attention on her lover's breasts and then slowly moved down Gabrielle's body to position herself between the younger woman's thighs, her face near the bard's heated center. She used her thumbs to stroke her lover, before parting her labia. Moving forward, she hesitated momentarily as she looked up at the bard. "Gabrielle," she said softly, her warm breath a soft caress against Gabrielle's skin. "Do you want me?" she asked huskily. "Do you really, really want me?"
"Gods Xena yes," Gabrielle gasped, as she thrust her hips towards the warrior's face, moaning when she felt Xena's tongue plunge into her. Reaching down, she buried her fingers in Xena's thick mane, guiding her head and holding her securely in place while she arched against the other woman. She felt Xena's tongue moving in and out of her, and she thrust her hips against her lover's face, matching her rhythm. Her breath was coming in ragged pants and she began to shake, as a delicious warmth began flooding through her, spreading outward from the point where Xena's tongue was caressing her heated flesh. The warrior shifted slightly to drape Gabrielle's legs over her shoulders and then buried her face even deeper into the young woman's soaking wet center. Reaching upwards, she captured the bard's breasts once again and began stroking them firmly, bringing her lover closer and closer to the edge. Trailing her tongue through Gabrielle's cleft, Xena moved upwards to reach her swollen clit and sucked hard on it as she drew it into her mouth.
With a low moan, Gabrielle arched against Xena's mouth one last time and then went rigid; her heels digging into the warrior's back as she climaxed; her fingers clenching and unclenching spasmodically as she continued to hold Xena's head. As she slowly came back to reality, she felt Xena's mouth moving against her once more. Groaning loudly, she moved her hips helplessly against the warrior, unable to resist her lover's touch. It didn't take long to reach the edge once again and, with a soft cry, she surrendered to the raw passion that filled her body. Her head slammed back against the bed, as her fingers curled into the blankets and shuddering sobs escaped from her throat.
As Gabrielle's breathing gradually returned to normal, she felt Xena's tongue beginning to stroke her again. "Gods Xena, wait," Gabrielle begged weakly. "Let me catch my breath," she said, before pulling the warrior up to kiss her. With a smile, the warrior slowly slid up to face her lover, moaning with pleasure when she felt Gabrielle's wetness against her skin. Lying face to face with the young bard, Xena leaned in to kiss her, delighting in the feel of Gabrielle's breasts pressed against her own. Gabrielle eagerly returned her kiss, loving the taste of herself on the warrior's lips. Xena stared down at her lover for several silent seconds, feeling the connection between them that she'd never felt with anyone else in her entire life, before slowly pressing her hips against Gabrielle's. The bard's eyes widened when she felt the other woman's wetness pressed against her own, and then began responding in kind. Reaching down to grab Gabrielle's hips, Xena began rocking against the young woman, grinding her sex into her lover's. Xena groaned loudly when she felt the bard's legs encircle her waist and lock behind her, drawing her closer still, and she began thrusting harder and faster against the young woman beneath her.
Seeing Gabrielle biting her lip, as she struggled not to cry out, Xena shifted slightly to move her hand between them. Drawing her fingers first through her own wetness and then the bard's, she brought them up to her lips and began sucking on them, savoring the taste of her essence mixed with her lover's. Reaching down again, she brought her fingers up once more, this time offering them to Gabrielle who eagerly took them between her lips. Xena groaned softly when she felt Gabrielle's tongue moving over her fingers. She hastily removed them from the bard's mouth and replaced them with her tongue, as she covered Gabrielle's lips with a fiery kiss.
Moving her hand back down, she began stroking the younger woman once again, as her hips continued to press against the bard's body. Gabrielle whimpered softly when she felt her lover's fingers caressing her and, after several seconds, she tore her mouth from Xena's to look up into the warrior's eyes. "Please," she begged, her voice trembling with need. "Take me now," she moaned, as she moved helplessly against Xena's hand.
Unable to deny herself or her lover any longer, Xena drove her fingers into the bard, shuddering when she felt the warm wetness that surrounded them. Moving her hand rapidly, she thrust deeper and deeper into Gabrielle. The young woman clutched the warrior's back, pushing her hips forcefully against Xena's hand, as a slow fire began coursing through her veins. Xena shivered when she felt the bard's fingernails raking across her back. She shifted to straddle Gabrielle's thigh and then groaned when the younger woman pressed her leg hard against her center. She rocked against the bard's leg, matching the movements of her hips with that of her hand, while she watched Gabrielle's sweat covered body twist and writhe beneath her.
"Harder," Gabrielle pleaded as she strained against the other woman's hand. "Oh gods," she moaned, as Xena began thrusting harder and deeper inside of her. "Yes, please, more," she gasped, as she frantically moved against her lover.
Seeing Gabrielle struggling once again to stay quiet, Xena leaned down and began running her lips across the younger woman's breasts. "Let me hear you Gabrielle," she said softly. "The hut is set off from everyone else's...No one else will hear you...Let go," she said, as her lips moved to capture a nipple. Swirling her tongue around it, she began stroking Gabrielle's sex in the same pattern. "Tell me Gabrielle; I want to hear you," she coaxed one last time, before moving to the other nipple and giving it the same treatment.
Gabrielle's voice came out in a choked sob. "Gods Xena, that feels so good," she said as she clutched the warrior to her tightly. "Yes...gods yes," she groaned loudly, as Xena bit down lightly and tugged on her nipple.
Xena moved her hand harder and faster, as she felt Gabrielle nearing the edge of her limits. Rising up slightly to gaze down on her lover, Xena reached up and caressed Gabrielle's cheek. "Come for me Gabrielle," she whispered throatily. "Come for me now," she urged.
Gabrielle's last bit of restraint vanished when she heard Xena's words. Her body bucked against the warrior's hand once more, her fingernails digging into Xena's back. She clutched her lover's shoulders, powerless to do anything else, as waves of release swept through her body. Xena ground her hips against Gabrielle's leg and then allowed herself to slip over as well, moaning loudly when she heard Gabrielle call out her name, and then collapsing against her lover.
After several minutes, Xena finally found the strength to move once again. Shifting her weight off of Gabrielle, she rolled onto her back as she gathered the young woman into her arms. "Well," she finally said after a few more minutes had passed and she had regained the ability to speak. "Did that prove it to you?" she asked with a grin.
Gabrielle lifted her head to look down on the warrior. "No, it didn't," she replied, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips.
"Oh?" Xena asked, arching an eyebrow at the bard. "So what do you want?"
Gabrielle grinned wickedly as she leaned towards her lover. "I want you in my arms...naked...moaning...calling my name...begging me to touch you...and telling me you want me as much as I want you," she said, punctuating each phrase with a lingering kiss.
Xena sighed in mock resignation. "All right. If that's what it's going to take, then I guess I'll have to agree," she said, before she pulled Gabrielle in for a kiss.
When Xena woke the next morning, Gabrielle was sound asleep in her arms. Moving carefully to avoid disturbing her lover, Xena leaned on one elbow and looked down at the young woman lying beside her. She savored every one of these opportunities; the peaceful quiet of the morning when the rest of the world was still asleep and it seemed as if she and Gabrielle were the only ones alive. Reaching her hand out, she lightly traced the lines of Gabrielle's face, trailing her fingers down across her neck before moving back up to touch her hair. The young woman's eyes remained closed, but she smiled as she reached up to capture Xena's hand in her own. Bringing it to her lips, she brushed a kiss across the palm, before opening her eyes to look at her lover. "Good morning," she said softly.
"Yes, it is," Xena agreed, before leaning forward to kiss Gabrielle gently. Breaking away after a few moments, she propped herself up on both elbows to gaze down on the young woman and smiled at her. "And a busy one for you if I overheard correctly...your rematch with Eponin is this morning?" she asked.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yup. I'll finally get to see how much I've learned with my staff," she replied.
"Well my money's on you. When's the match?"
"Sometime this morning, whenever we get around to it...but I don't want you there."
"Why not?" Xena asked in surprise.
"It'll just make me nervous, and if I lose...I don't want you to see that," Gabrielle replied as she looked down.
Xena caught her chin, forcing the bard's gaze back up to meet her own. "Gabrielle, if you don't want me there, that's fine. But losing isn't anything to be ashamed of. I've lost my share of battles too you know, and I'm not going to think any less of you if Eponin beats you. You're still going to be the one I want with me, watching my back, the next time I go into a fight."
Gabrielle smiled gratefully. "Okay...but I still don't want you around. For some reason I find it difficult to concentrate when you're close by. Surely you'll be able to find something to occupy your time, with while I'm busy with Eponin and all the 'Amazon training' I'll be doing over the next several days," she said with a teasing grin.
"I'm sure I'll find something to do," Xena replied. "So you're busy all afternoon?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Ephiny was generous enough to give me the entire morning to myself but after lunch they're hitting me in full force.
Xena smiled lazily as her fingers began to trace circles across Gabrielle's stomach. "But you have the whole morning to yourself? Nothing scheduled but the match with Eponin?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Nope. Nothing scheduled for this morning."
"And your match?" Xena asked, as she leaned down to trail kisses along Gabrielle's jawline. "You said your match with Eponin was just 'sometime this morning," she murmured, before reaching up to cup one of Gabrielle's breasts in her hand, rubbing her thumb lightly across the nipple.
"Anytime this morning," Gabrielle agreed. "And late this morning will be just as good as early," she said, before burying one hand in Xena's thick hair and pulling the warrior down to kiss her, effectively ending any further conversation between the two of them.
The next several days passed by quickly for Gabrielle. From sunrise to sunset she was involved in learning about the Amazons: their culture, their traditions, their laws. When she wasn't learning about Amazonian intellectual pursuits, she was being trained in the art of warfare; not only in the use of her staff but also in tactics and strategy. Nearly every opportunity was taken to educate the young Queen about her adopted people, and Gabrielle was a willing student, wanting more than anything to be worthy of the great honor she had been given. The only real problem was the fact that she wasn't able to spend as much time with Xena as she would have liked. The only free time she had was in the evenings, but even that was often occupied with various celebrations or meetings. Only her nights were really her own. Fortunately, she and Xena made good use of this time and made up for being apart during the day.
Gabrielle wasn't quite certain how Xena felt about all of this. On the one hand, the warrior was obviously more relaxed and at ease than she had been when they'd first reached the village. The fight they had had on the first day had been put firmly behind them, although Gabrielle still wondered about it. She found it hard to believe that Xena could have gotten so upset about clothes. It was more likely that something else entirely had been bothering her friend, but whatever it was seemed to have been forgotten, and Gabrielle was in no mood to remind Xena about it. The warrior had grown decidedly more open and affectionate over the past several days, and had even started acting that way when they were around Ephiny and the other women they were closest to. Gabrielle wasn't about to start a fight again when Xena was in such a good mood.
However, she could also see that Xena was getting restless. There was very little for her to do while Gabrielle was occupied with all of her lessons, and the warrior was obviously getting bored with so much time on her hands. She knew that Xena was more than a little frustrated by the fact that they were getting to spend so little time together, which probably helped to account for her increased attentiveness when they actually were with one another. The problem was, even when they did get the chance to be together, there was almost always someone else around, keeping them slightly apart.
This evening was a perfect example. Instead of getting to spend the time alone or with just a few of the women they were closest to, they were going to be attending another celebration. It would be one more evening where Xena would have to share Gabrielle with the women of the village and, since she was the Queen, Gabrielle didn't have the option of skipping the party or leaving it early.
Gabrielle looked up as Xena entered from the other room. "Ready to go?" the warrior asked.
"Almost," Gabrielle responded, as she slipped on one of her bracers and then reached for the other. Xena stepped forward to help her friend tighten the laces, and Gabrielle smiled slightly. "This certainly is a switch isn't it? You helping me with my armor."
Xena chuckled. "Well, we have to be flexible, don't we?"
Gabrielle looked up at Xena thoughtfully. "Xena...I'm sorry about all of this," she said suddenly.
"Sorry? Sorry about what?" Xena asked, genuinely confused by Gabrielle's abrupt statement.
"About being so busy with all this Amazon stuff...for leaving you by yourself all this time. I doubt this is what you had in mind when you suggested we come here, and I can see that you've been bored senseless."
Xena started to reply and then stopped, wanting to consider her response carefully. "Gabrielle," she finally said. "You're right. This isn't what I had in mind, but I should have realized that this is what was going to happen. I knew the Amazons would want to spend time teaching you their customs...I just didn't realize how much time they were going to take up to do it."
"So you're not upset?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.
Xena shook her head and moved forward to take Gabrielle into her arms. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bored, and I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't rather have you all to myself. But I know how much you mean to the Amazons, and how much they mean to you. You need to learn about them and this is the best way for you to do it," Xena said with a resigned sigh. Reaching up to caress Gabrielle's cheek, Xena smiled down at her lover. "I also know how important it is to you that you follow Amazon customs and traditions and that makes it important to me too. We'll spend as much time here as you need to. Eventually I'm bound to find something to do to keep myself busy," she finished with a grin.
"You're sure? It will probably be at least another week before they start letting me having my life back again," Gabrielle warned her friend.
"Well, I'm not going to wait around here for the next year and a half while you learn Amazon folk tunes," Xena said, smiling broadly at the woman in her arms. "But it's not going to hurt me to stay a little longer. Just remember, the Amazons can have your days, but your nights belong to me."
"Don't worry warrior, I'm not about to forget something as important as that," Gabrielle promised, as she drew her lover in for a kiss. Breaking away, she smiled ruefully as she looked up Xena. "Come on, let's go get this over with. We have to get through this evening so that we can get to the night," she said, as she led Xena out to join the celebration.
The party that night was pretty much like all the others had been. Lots of food, music, dancing, laughter...everything necessary for a good time. Despite the fact that Gabrielle would have preferred to have simply spent a quiet evening alone with Xena, she had to admit that she was enjoying herself. The only damper on the evening was the continued attention that so many of the other women kept paying to Xena. It wasn't that Gabrielle didn't trust her lover, it was the fact that she was beginning to find the whole thing a bit demeaning. It was one thing to see someone casting an appreciative glance in Xena's direction, but it was quite another for someone to come up and make a play for the warrior right in front of her. It was obvious that the majority of the women in the village assumed that Gabrielle and Xena were still just friends, and that Xena was fair game. Logically, she admitted it made sense. All the times they had been in the village before they had just been friends; there was no real way for the women to know that their relationship had finally changed. Unfortunately, logic didn't help much when gorgeous women were fantasizing about the woman she loved.
"You okay?" Xena's soft voice interrupted her thoughts. "You're being awfully quiet."
"Yeah I'm fine," Gabrielle answered, as they continued to walk through the crowd. "I guess I'm just tired," she said truthfully. "It's been a long day."
Xena nodded and started guiding Gabrielle around the women who were dancing near them. "Maybe we should find someplace to sit down then," Xena said with a smile. "It wouldn't do for the Queen to drop over from fatigue."
Gabrielle smiled back at her friend and started to reply, before noticing Talia approaching them, a determined look on her face as her eyes moved hungrily over Xena's tall form. Gabrielle frowned slightly before reaching out to grab Xena's hand, lacing her fingers with the warrior's as she pulled Xena closely to her side. Talia hesitated momentarily as she observed Gabrielle's actions and looked at the bard more closely. Seeing the haughty stare directed at her, the Amazon wisely decided to move on to another target, one that wouldn't involve direct competition with her Queen.
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief before glancing towards Xena. To her surprise, Xena was struggling to keep a straight face and she could see the laughter in the warrior's eyes. "Nice move. This 'queen' stuff really seems to agree with you."
"It's good to be the Queen," Gabrielle replied calmly.
"You know, I only danced with her because you turned me down. I told you, I'm not the least bit interested in her."
Gabrielle blushed slightly. "I know. But I'm getting a little tired of every woman here thinking she can just walk up and start fawning all over you right in front of me. No one here seems to realize that we're finally together. They think we're still just friends."
Xena shrugged. "I told you the first day we got here that I didn't care who you told about us. If it bothers you, then just tell everyone the truth."
"Oh sure...I'm supposed to just go up to everyone here and say 'Hey, Xena and I are a couple now'," Gabrielle said sarcastically.
Xena pretended to consider her suggestion. "No, you're right. That would take too long, and you'd probably just miss someone anyway. I have a better idea," she said, before pulling Gabrielle to her tightly and kissing her passionately.
Gabrielle was so stunned by Xena's sudden action that for a moment all she could do was stand frozen in Xena's arms. A few seconds later, however, she melted into Xena's embrace and returned her kiss with equal passion, while she pressed up against the warrior's body. She moaned softly when she felt Xena's hands caressing her back and she wrapped her arms around her lover to hold her close, completely ignoring the crowd that was surrounding them.
After several timeless moments, Xena broke their kiss to look down onto her lover's face. "There. I think everyone should get the point that you wanted to make," she said huskily, as she reached up to lightly caress Gabrielle's cheek.
"And then some," Gabrielle agreed with a smile.
For several more seconds, Xena held Gabrielle in her embrace. "Come on," she said softly as she started to lead Gabrielle further away from the dancers. "There has to be some place around here that's a little less crowded and a little more quiet."
Gabrielle nodded as she began following Xena away from the dancers. Noticing Eponin trying to get her attention, Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand gently and told her she would catch up with her soon and then moved to join Eponin. Xena nodded and continued on to where Ephiny, Solari, and a few other women she recognized where standing. Reaching the group, Xena leaned back against a large rock that formed a natural chair and turned to face the crowd. Noticing Ephiny smirking at her, Xena returned her gaze steadily, arching an eyebrow in silent question. "That was unexpected," Ephiny quipped lightly. "Do you and Gabrielle have any more entertainment planned for the evening?" she asked innocently.
Xena shrugged. "Nothing's planned. We'll play it by ear," she deadpanned.
The others laughed at her comment before drawing Xena into a conversation about her most recent exploits. After several minutes had passed, Gabrielle joined them as well, moving to stand beside Xena. Xena, however, caught her arm when she drew near and pulled the bard close to her, kissing her gently. Seeing Gabrielle's questioning look, Xena smiled before leaning close to speak directly into her ear. "Just in case someone missed our earlier demonstration," she murmured softly, smiling when she felt Gabrielle shiver in her arms. "Hope you don't mind," she finished as she leaned back. Turning Gabrielle in her arms, Xena shifted slightly, before pulling the young woman back against her chest and wrapping her arms around her. Reaching down to capture Gabrielle's hands, Xena interlaced her fingers with her lover's. She smiled when she heard Gabrielle's sigh of contentment, as she settled herself more comfortably against the warrior.
They remained that way for the next couple of hours, while they talked to Ephiny and her friends. The conversation was lively but, as time passed, Xena could feel Gabrielle beginning to drift off in her arms. She wasn't surprised that Gabrielle was so tired. Between all of her lessons and the responsibilities of being Queen of the Amazons, the last several days had been exhausting ones for her friend. Gabrielle struggled to stay awake and listen to the stories that were being told. Eventually, though, her slow, even breathing told Xena that she had finally fallen asleep. Xena continued to hold her for several more minutes, enjoying the luxury of simply having Gabrielle in her arms, an experience that, lately, she hadn't had nearly as often as she would have liked. Eventually, though, she leaned in close to her lover. "Gabrielle," Xena whispered gently into her ear. "Gabrielle wake up," she whispered again when the bard didn't immediately respond.
"Hmmm?" Gabrielle finally asked as she yawned and stretched.
"Time for bed. I think you'll be more comfortable sleeping on a bed than standing up out here," Xena said, straightening up and moving them away from the rock she had been leaning against.
"I don't know," Gabrielle murmured, stepping back into Xena's embrace. I was pretty comfortable where I was you know," she said softly. "But you're right, a bed would probably be better...certainly it would be more private," she said with a grin. Turning to face the women who were still there, Gabrielle smiled before wishing them all a good night and then started to walk towards her hut, Xena following closely behind.
"Xena...I need to talk to you for a minute," Ephiny called, as she looked up from her conversation with Solari.
Xena looked at Ephiny curiously for a moment, before turning back to Gabrielle. "Go on. I'll be there as soon as I talk to Ephiny," she told her and then leaned down to kiss the bard. Gabrielle nodded and watched Xena make her way to where Ephiny was standing, then turned and wandered back to their hut.
It was almost an hour later, before Xena finally made it back to the hut she was sharing with Gabrielle. The lights had all been extinguished and Xena could see the young bard sleeping in the bed. Sighing to herself, she acknowledged to herself that, considering how tired Gabrielle had been, she really couldn't have expected her to be waiting up. Quickly getting undressed, she slid into bed next to her young lover, resigning herself to just holding Gabrielle in her arms for the night. As she slipped her arms around the young woman to pull her close, however, she was startled to discover that Gabrielle was completely nude, and she groaned slightly at the feel of Gabrielle's naked body in her arms. Gabrielle opened her eyes sleepily, whether from Xena's touch or the sound of her voice the warrior was unsure, and then smiled and moved closer to her lover. "What took you so long?" she asked, as she began pressing soft kisses along the line of Xena's collarbone.
"It took Ephiny a while to finish talking to Solari," Xena replied, swallowing hard. Gabrielle noticed and moved her lips to Xena's throat, sucking gently at the base and leaving a small mark while her hands began roaming over Xena's body. "And then after I got done talking to Ephiny, there were a few other women who wanted to speak to me about various things....," Xena continued, finding it more and more difficult to concentrate as Gabrielle's hands efficiently removed the shift she had worn to bed.
Gabrielle nodded. "And what did Ephiny want to talk to you about anyway?" she asked, before leaning down to capture one of Xena's nipples between her teeth.
Xena groaned and arched against her lover's mouth, before reaching down and pulling Gabrielle up to face her. "Nothing that can't wait until later," she gasped, before covering Gabrielle's mouth with her own as her hands began an exploration of the Amazon Queen's body.
Gabrielle woke up slowly, smiling when she felt the security of Xena's arms wrapped around her. As she began trailing her fingertips across her lover's arms, she felt Xena stir behind her. "Morning sleepyhead," Xena whispered into her ear.
"Morning," Gabrielle replied, before turning around and kissing the warrior. "Have you been awake long?" she asked, as she hugged her lover tightly.
"Not too long. Just been lying here thinking."
"Trying to come up with something to do while I'm busy?" Gabrielle asked with a smile.
"Actually, I already found something to do, assuming you don't have any big problems with it," she replied.
"It's what Ephiny wanted to talk to me about last night. She's decided that since your lessons are going well, she's going to go visit Tyldus and the centaurs for the next couple of days. Xenon is over there at the moment and Ephiny thought I might want to go along with her."
"You want to go visit the centaurs?" Gabrielle asked, the surprise in her voice obvious.
Xena shrugged. "I want to see Xenon. I've only seen the little guy once since I helped bring him into the world; I'd like to see how he's doing. And I wouldn't mind seeing Tyldus again. We were enemies for a long time and it's hard to patch up those differences with just the few short meetings we've had. Besides, I think Ephiny would feel a lot more comfortable with someone else along. Even if Tyldus is her father-in-law, I doubt she's at ease being the lone Amazon in a centaur village."
Gabrielle nodded. "How long would you be gone?"
"Not sure, a few days anyway. Ephiny wanted to leave today. I told her I'd think about it and let her know if I wanted to go."
"I'll miss you," Gabrielle said as she reached up to caress Xena's cheek.
Xena smiled. "And I'll miss you. But we'll only be across the river and we'll be able to get back right away if there's any trouble."
Gabrielle nodded again. "What time were you planning on leaving?" she asked, as her hands began moving across Xena's back.
"Ephiny said she wanted to leave sometime this morning," Xena said, a slow grin beginning to spread across her face.
"'Sometime this morning' huh," Gabrielle said as she began nibbling the line of Xena's jaw. "So I guess late this morning would probably still count wouldn't it?" she asked, while her mouth began to move down Xena's throat.
"Late this morning will be just as good as early," Xena agreed throatily, before she rolled Gabrielle onto her back. "And very late would be best of all," she said as she leaned down to trail her tongue across Gabrielle's breasts.
It had been days since Xena and Ephiny had left the village, but despite the fact that Gabrielle missed her lover terribly, she wasn't particularly concerned. As Xena had said, they were only across the river; the Amazons would hear about any problems over at the centaur village soon enough. Still, she was looking forward to Xena getting back as soon as possible.
Taking a break from her studies, Gabrielle took her staff to a quiet location and began practicing with it. Slowly moving the staff in intricate patterns, Gabrielle closed her eyes and 'listened with her body', the way Xena had taught her. It was good practice and it helped her focus her mind and relax, something she needed to do after the intensity of the past few days. As she continued to sharpen her senses, she became aware of a presence sneaking up on her from behind. Quickly whirling around, she swung her staff at her unknown attacker.
Xena caught Gabrielle's staff just before it struck her in the face. "You're getting good at this," she told the bard. "It's no wonder you beat Eponin. But," she added with a grin, as she released the staff, "I almost got you that time."
"You got me a long time ago Warrior," Gabrielle said with smile, before she wrapped her arms around her lover. "Gods I missed you," she said emotionally, as she pulled Xena down to kiss her. "When did you get back?" she asked happily, stepping away but still remaining within the circle of Xena's arms.
"Just a few minutes ago," Xena replied, smiling as she looked down at the young woman in her arms. "And I missed you too," she said softly, before she kissed her lover once more. Breaking the kiss but still maintaining her hold on the bard, Xena smiled down at Gabrielle for several moments before speaking again. "Tyldus sends his regards. He wants us to stop by there after we leave the village so that he can pay his respects to the Amazon Queen himself. I told him we'd do our best," she said, while her hands began caressing Gabrielle's back.
"Fine with me," Gabrielle agreed, as she smiled and leaned towards Xena. Stopping as a thought crossed her mind, she looked at Xena curiously. "Did Ephiny come back with you?"
"Yup. I don't know where she went though."
"I should find her. The tribunal wanted to have a meeting tomorrow. She should be there since she's back," Gabrielle said, as she began to pull out of Xena's arms to go off in search of the Amazon.
Xena pulled the bard back against her chest. "You can find her later," she said, her voice soft and low. "At the moment I have other plans for you."
"What sort of plans?" Gabrielle asked with a sly smile.
Xena leaned close until her lips were brushing up against Gabrielle's right ear. "Plans that involve slowly driving you insane until you're out of your mind with passion," Xena said in a throaty whisper, before her tongue flicked out to trace the outline of her lover's ear. "Interested? Or would you rather go look for Ephiny?"
"No," Gabrielle gasped, her legs becoming decidedly unsteady. "Your plans hold more interest for me at the moment," she agreed as she allowed Xena to lead her towards their hut, grateful for the arm the warrior wrapped around her waist. "Definitely, much more interest."
Finishing her meeting with Ephiny and the tribunal, Gabrielle wandered around the village for several minutes, enjoying the feeling of peace and contentment that filled the air. Eventually she found herself standing apart from everyone else on a short rise overlooking the village. It was hard to believe that just a short time ago the Amazons had been divided into two factions; the wounds from that split appeared to have healed completely, and Gabrielle was glad she had been able to help. As she continued to look over the village, she caught sight of the spot where Xena's sarcophagus had once sat on a funeral pyre and, despite her best efforts, her mind wandered back to that terrible time when Xena had died, and she had felt more alone than she would have ever thought possible.
She heard someone walking up behind her and knew, without looking, that it was Xena. She smiled when she felt her lover's arms wrap around her and sighed contentedly when Xena pulled her back against her chest. She covered Xena's forearms with her hands as she leaned back against the warrior, loving the feel of Xena's embrace. "I've been looking all over for you," she heard Xena say softly. "I saw Ephiny, so I knew you were through with your meeting."
Gabrielle nodded. "It seemed like it went on forever. I had to stretch my legs after sitting down for so long. Not quite sure how I ended up here," she said with a smile.
"You looked like you were deep in thought. What were you thinking about?"
Gabrielle hesitated for a moment. "I was just thinking about the last time we were here...when you were...when you were dead. I was thinking about the moment I had to signal them to light your funeral pyre," she finished quietly.
Xena felt Gabrielle shudder and pulled the bard to her tightly. She held her securely for several moments before turning her in her arms to cover her lips with a kiss. Pulling back slightly, she caressed Gabrielle's cheek with her knuckles. "That's all in the past," she said softly before pulling Gabrielle close once more, resting her chin on the top of the young woman's head.
"I know...I just can't help thinking about it sometimes. And Velasca...the things she said and did." Gabrielle chuckled to herself. "You know, it was really bizarre meeting Velasca the way I did. She made the strangest comment about you when we first met."
"What's that?" Xena asked, as she began to trail kisses across her lover's collar bone.
Gabrielle sighed softly when she felt Xena's lips and had to concentrate for a second before she could answer. "Oh, she just made a comment about you being a true Amazon even though you denied it. I remember wondering....," Gabrielle stopped abruptly when she felt Xena go rigid. "Xena what's wrong?" she asked as she looked up at her lover.
"Nothing's wrong Gabrielle," Xena replied, feigning a lightness she definitely did not feel.
Puzzled, Gabrielle tried again. "Xena?" Getting no response and growing worried by Xena's white face and the wild look in her eyes, she tried one last time. "Xena what's wrong?" Seeing that her friend had no intention of answering her, Gabrielle quickly reviewed the conversation they had been having. "Xena...did Velasca know something I don't know?" she finally asked.
"I'm sure she knew a lot of things you don't know Gabrielle. We should probably be getting back. Ephiny will likely be looking for us," she said as she started to turn and leave.
Gabrielle reached out to grab her arm. "Xena, did Velasca know something about you that I don't know?"
Exasperated, Xena rolled her eyes but deliberately avoided making eye contact with her friend. "Gabrielle, how am I supposed to know what Velasca did or didn't know about me? I had never met her in my own body until she showed up at the village after her fall."
"Fine. Was she right? Are you an Amazon?" Gabrielle asked, as she began to grow angry.
"Gabrielle...I grew up in Amphipolis. Remember, my home village hates me? Besides, you've met my mother, you know she wasn't an Amazon."
"You still haven't answered my question, Xena." Gabrielle looked her friend directly in the eyes before asking, "Are you an Amazon?"
Xena stared back at her for several endless moments. "Yes I am," she finally answered quietly. "I received the right of caste from an Amazon warrior a long time ago."
Gabrielle stared at her in shock for several seconds. "Why didn't you ever tell me about this?" she finally demanded furiously.
Xena shrugged. "It never came up."
"It never came up?" Gabrielle asked in disbelief. "It never came up? Not when I received my right of caste and we talked about what it meant to be an Amazon? Not when we talked about my decision to give you an Amazon funeral, even though you weren't an Amazon?" Gabrielle paused for a second as things finally fell into place. "Not when I suggested you try on the Amazon clothes so that we could see what kind of Amazon you'd make?" she demanded, her voice as cold as steel. "I can't believe you've been lying to me about this!"
"I never lied to you about this," Xena protested.
"No? What about when you were teaching me all those Amazon rituals and I asked you how you knew so much about them. You said it was because you'd had some in your army."
"That was the truth. I had Amazons in my army and they taught me a lot of their customs."
"And it never dawned on you at that time to mention that you were an Amazon too?" Gabrielle asked sarcastically.
"Look, I don't want to talk about this."
"Too bad because I do. Who was she?"
"Don't treat me like a fool. Who was the Amazon who gave you her right of caste? One of the Amazons in your army?"
"No, Kaylana was never in my army."
"Kaylana. So who was she?" Gabrielle asked, knowing the answer already by the expression on Xena's face.
"She was my lover," Xena replied evenly. "When she died she gave me her right of caste."
"How did she die?"
Xena's expression suddenly reflected a mixture of pain, anger, and fear unlike anything Gabrielle had ever seen before. "I don't intend to discuss this issue any further," she finally ground out. "I'm sorry I didn't mention it before, but frankly I don't see the big deal. It has nothing to do with you."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply but was interrupted by the calls of an Amazon approaching them, informing her that Ephiny needed to speak with her. "I'll be right there," she replied, before turning her attention back to Xena. She studied her friend for a moment, knowing by the way she was acting that there was something Xena wasn't telling her, something she was trying to hide from her. "We'll talk about this later," she said as she turned to leave.
"No we won't...because there's nothing more to talk about," Xena shot back.
"And after the feast is over....Gabrielle are you listening to me?" Ephiny asked impatiently.
"Huh? Oh...I'm sorry Ephiny. I guess my mind is somewhere else," Gabrielle said apologetically. "What were you saying?" she asked, as she tried to focus on Ephiny's words.
"Gabrielle, is something wrong?" Ephiny asked, a note of concern in her voice.
"No, nothing's wrong." Gabrielle replied. Seeing the look Ephiny was giving her, she shrugged slightly as she admitted, "I just had a fight with Xena."
"You could say that. I just found out she's been lying to me for months now," Gabrielle said heatedly as her anger resurfaced.
"Lying to you?" Ephiny asked in surprise. "That doesn't sound like Xena."
"Well...maybe not actually lying to me," Gabrielle relented. "But she's been deliberately misleading me, and there's not much difference."
"Uh huh...So what has she been 'misleading' you about?"
Gabrielle hesitated, unwilling to reveal Xena's secrets, despite the fact that she was still furious with her. "About something from her past," she finally said. "Something she should have told me."
"Gabrielle," Ephiny said cautiously. "You don't think Xena has told you everything about her past do you?"
"No, of course not. I know she doesn't just volunteer information. But this was different. She should have told me. Certain people...things...shouldn't be kept from me."
"People?" Ephiny asked, watching Gabrielle carefully.
"A former lover," Gabrielle replied. Seeing the look on Ephiny's face she shook her head. "This isn't about jealousy...Okay, okay. Maybe I am a little jealous, but that isn't what this is about. It's about trust...and the fact that Xena still doesn't trust me enough to tell me the truth. Even now she's still hiding something from me...I can feel it."
Ephiny had no desire to get in the middle of a fight between the Amazon Queen and the Warrior Princess. "Maybe you should just give her some time Gabrielle," she finally suggested.
"I'll give her time Ephiny, but I guarantee that this is one time Xena is not going to get away with the silent routine!"
Gabrielle avoided Xena for the rest of the day, knowing that, in the mood she was in, she would only yell at Xena again if she tried to talk to her. Of course, the task of avoiding Xena was rather simple since it was obvious that Xena was avoiding her as well. Except for one or two brief instances, Gabrielle didn't see Xena for the rest of the day.
At the party that night the pattern continued. Gabrielle caught a few glimpses of Xena as she wandered around talking to others, but the warrior didn't come within 20 feet of her during the entire evening and was clearly ignoring her presence. Xena vanished long before the party ended, leaving Gabrielle to wonder where she could possibly have gone. Unfortunately, as Queen, she didn't have the luxury of leaving early, so she was unable to try to find Xena and attempt to work out their problems. However, without Xena there with her, Gabrielle really wasn't able to enjoy herself, no matter how hard she tried and, as soon as she was able, she excused herself and retired to their hut. She wasn't particularly surprised to see that Xena wasn't there when she returned, and she decided to wait up until the warrior got back. After a couple of hours had passed and there was still no sign of her, however, Gabrielle eventually drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Gabrielle woke the next day to find Xena had already left the hut and wondered briefly whether she had actually even slept there the night before. Refusing to let her thoughts follow that direction, Gabrielle got up and went out to face the village, hoping to be able to speak with Xena before much more time had gone by. Soon she found herself involved in the countless little duties and discussions that came with being queen, and the hours quickly sped by.
She was relieved to see that, although Xena was still avoiding her, she was at least still in the village. Time after time Gabrielle tried to catch the warrior's eyes, but Xena was still intent on ignoring her. Finally Gabrielle had had enough and, after excusing herself from the conversation surrounding her, she deliberately approached Xena to try to talk with her.
Xena saw her coming and, for a moment, Gabrielle was certain that she was going to try to get away from her. After several seconds of indecision, however, the warrior straightened her shoulders and watched silently as Gabrielle approached. "Hello," Gabrielle said simply, as she reached Xena's side.
"Hello," Xena replied stiffly.
"So, are you ready to talk about this yet?" Gabrielle asked with a determined look in her eyes.
"I told you I didn't want to talk about this," Xena replied brusquely. "Look Gabrielle, it doesn't have anything to do with you. It's in the past. Kaylana is part of my past."
"Did you love her?" Gabrielle asked, gazing unflinchingly into Xena's eyes.
"Not the way she deserved to be loved."
Gabrielle's fury exploded around her. "Xena...could you please just answer the question directly? No evasions...just give me a yes or no answer!"
"No...I didn't love her," Xena said tightly. "Frankly, I don't think I was even capable of that emotion at the time I knew her."
"Was she the first woman you were ever with?" Gabrielle finally asked, after several long moments of silence.
"No, although she was the first woman I was ever with more than once."
Gabrielle took several deep breaths while she struggled to control her jealousy, knowing that it was completely irrational to feel that way about someone Xena knew so long ago. "How long were you together?"
"For several months," Xena sighed. "Gabrielle, it was a long time ago. My relationship with her is no threat to you...or to us."
Gabrielle looked at her appraisingly. "Then why have you been keeping this a secret from me? What aren't you telling me?"
Xena looked at her in amazement. "You mean you want me to make a list for you of every one of my past lovers?" she asked sarcastically.
"No of course not. But when the subject of one of them specifically comes up, I do expect you to at least be honest about it."
"Gabrielle, it's nothing...."
"No! Damnit Xena, don't try to tell me it was nothing. If it was nothing then you would have told me about this a long time ago. I know you don't just hand out information about your past, but the subject of Amazons and the right of caste has come up too many times between us for you to have never said anything about this."
Xena glared at Gabrielle silently, her face like stone, giving no indication as to what she was thinking. "Gabrielle...leave it alone," she finally said, her voice dangerously soft.
"No," Gabrielle replied, refusing to back down. "You do this all the time and I'm tired of it. You're always keeping things from me and I only find out when the issue gets forced. It's just like with Solon. You never trusted me enough to tell me you had a son for Zeus' sake, and if he hadn't suddenly reappeared in your life, I still wouldn't know about him. I'm fed up with the way you're always hiding things from me. It's time you started to trust me Xena. I don't know what's going on here, but if you don't have more faith in me than this....," Gabrielle's voice trailed off as she calmly looked up at Xena's face.
"Then what? What are you saying?" Xena asked in a confused voice.
Gabrielle simply looked at her for several long seconds, before shrugging and walking silently away.
The two spent the rest of the day apart, neither one willing to back down on the issue. Gabrielle spent the evening with Ephiny and several of the other warriors, trying to pretend that everything was fine, but knowing deep down that she wasn't fooling anyone, least of all herself. For once she found herself to be the quiet one at a gathering, as several of the women told tales about Amazons they had known. The warmth and affection of the Amazons for one another, and their obvious pride in who they were, never failed to impress Gabrielle, and she again wondered why in the world Xena would want to deny the fact that she was an Amazon.
As the hour grew late, Gabrielle reluctantly returned to her hut, knowing that Xena wouldn't be there waiting for her. She tried once again to stay awake until Xena returned, but eventually fell asleep, exhausted and frustrated, and certain that Xena would not be there when she woke up the next morning.
Xena got up the next morning long before Gabrielle and left the hut without waking her. If she could have managed it, she would have slept anywhere other than in Gabrielle's hut but, as it was, she was already on the receiving end of more than a few stares and sidelong glances. She didn't see any need to give the Amazons any more to talk about than they already had, especially when Gabrielle slept so soundly that she could easily get in and out without waking her.
Xena had no intention of discussing her right of caste with Gabrielle. She knew that the young woman was upset and acknowledged that she probably had a right to feel the way she did. But that didn't change anything. Xena had done her best to put her Amazon right of caste behind her and she didn't want to start thinking about it now. She certainly had no intention of discussing it with Gabrielle. To tell her lover the truth about the caste would mean that she'd have to tell her things about her past that would destroy the bard's love for her completely; there was no possible way Gabrielle would be able to accept the things she had done.
Damn Velasca! If she hadn't made that stupid, meaningless comment in front of Gabrielle, then none of this would have ever happened. Xena had never lied to Gabrielle about being an Amazon. She'd ignored comments the bard had made and she'd misled her, but she'd never actually lied. All right, that was a shaky distinction at best, but it was still there. She'd been safe as long as Gabrielle had never asked her a direct question about being an Amazon. Now thanks to Velasca, she'd had to admit something she had tried her best to forget.
But this was as far as it was going to go. She was not going to discuss the matter any further with anyone, least of all Gabrielle. The bard would get over this soon enough and it was better to have Gabrielle temporarily angry at her, than to tell the young woman the truth and have Gabrielle hate and despise her forever. All she had to do was avoid Gabrielle for another day or two and the whole thing would blow over.
With this plan in mind, Xena spent the rest of the day avoiding her lover, spending little time in the village and instead going hunting with a few of the women. When they returned several hours later, Xena quickly looked to find Gabrielle and was relieved to see that she was busy talking with several women. It was much easier to avoid Gabrielle when she was occupied with other concerns.
Xena was so focused on watching what Gabrielle was doing that she almost failed to hear the sounds of someone approaching her. Looking up, she saw that Ephiny had nearly reached her side. Sighing with resignation, Xena sat down with her back up against a tree and looked up to study the Amazon. "So, are you going to start in on me too?" she asked sarcastically.
Ephiny raised an eyebrow at her question. "Would it do any good?" she asked.
Ephiny shrugged. "Then I won't bother," she replied, as she sat down next to Xena. "I was curious, though, as to how much longer you were planning on staying. This is certainly the most time you two have ever spent here."
"I don't know...Hadn't really thought about it," she answered, as she turned to watch Gabrielle thoughtfully.
Ephiny studied her briefly, before glancing over to where Gabrielle was standing. "So will Gabrielle be going with you when you leave?"
Xena quickly turned to face Ephiny. "Of course," she replied, her shock at the question evident in her voice. "Why wouldn't she?"
Ephiny shrugged once again. "I was just thinking that if that's the case, then you two may be here for quite awhile."
"Why?" Xena demanded suspiciously.
"Because apparently you aren't going to tell Gabrielle what's going on...and Gabrielle is not going to let the matter drop. As mad as she is, I'd be pretty surprised if she was willing to go anywhere with you at the moment. So it looks like I won't have to deal with the responsibilities of leadership for quite awhile. This vacation is turning out to be a lot longer than I ever thought possible."
"You're not funny Ephiny," Xena said tightly.
"I'm not trying to be. As a matter of fact, I'm being perfectly serious."
Xena shook her head. "Gabrielle will get over this. In another day or so this will all blow over and she'll forget about it."
"Are we talking about the same Gabrielle here?" Ephiny asked, her tone clearly mocking the Warrior Princess. "You don't honestly believe that she's just going to forget about this do you? I've never noticed Gabrielle to be the type who really just 'drops' anything, let alone something that she is so obviously upset about. If waiting around for her to forget about this is your plan, Xena, I'd suggest you come up with something else," Ephiny said as she stood up.
Dusting herself off, Ephiny looked down at the warrior. "I don't know what's going on between the two of you, but I can see that whatever it is, it's more than just some minor disagreement." Ephiny sighed as she looked back over to where Gabrielle was standing. "Xena, I'm telling you this as your friend and as someone who cares about both you and Gabrielle. I don't think Gabrielle is going to give in on this matter. In her mind, it's become an issue of whether or not you trust her, and I think we both know how important that is to her." Glancing back down at Xena, she cocked an eyebrow at the warrior before continuing. "I guess you just need to decide whether keeping your secrets is worth the risk of losing Gabrielle," she said and then turned and walked away.
"That's just it Ephiny," Xena said softly, as she watched the Amazon's retreating form. "Keeping my secrets means I risk losing her...Telling her means I'll lose her for sure."
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