written February 1997

Gabrielle had been sleeping in for the past month. Xena had pretty much settled into that routine herself. Instead of rising at dawn, she would grab an extra hour of sleep. Making love to her amazon bard was not only exciting, but exhausting as well. She didn't know someone as--compact as Gabrielle could possess so much stamina. It amazed her still after all these months. It was another reason she loved her so much. Gabrielle wouldn't rest until she pleased the warrior more than once. That's why they slept in now. This morning, however, she didn't get that. A noise on the perimeter of the campsite roused her. She was up immediately, grabbing her chemise and boots, she headed in the direction of the noise. She had just entered the copse of trees when she was tackled by Hercules. Iolaus just laughed out loud as Xena rolled back and flipped the demigod through the air. He slammed, backfirst, against a tree and slid to the ground with a thud. She kipped up into her fighting stance and glared at the man. She then realized her attacker was friendly and shook her head as Iolaus blew into a full laughing fit against the tree behind him.

"What are you two doing here?" She smiles as she tries to look threatening. Iolaus giggles even more as he helps the behemoth that is his brother-in-combat to his feet. Seeing she can't pull it off, she laughs as she joins in on the merriment. After they finish laughing, Hercules smiles as he hugs Xena tightly. She hugs him, but pushes him back, feeling uncomfortable. Herc looks at Iolaus who shrugs and walks up to Xena. "Hey! Where's Gabrielle? I've got a hug for her!"

Xena stared at him for a moment; "She's at camp. Why don't you wait by the boulders outside the perimeter and I'll wake her up? We need to get going anyway."

Hercules started to say something, but decided not to. They watched Xena go into the circle of their camp and he started to watch in earnest as Xena leaned down to wake Gabrielle. He then realized he shouldn't be watching and walked to the boulder where Iolaus sat.

At the campsite.

"Hey, Lover. wake up.." Before she could finish, Gabrielle leaned up and kissed her, a morning kiss that had become almost ritualistic. Gabrielle's kisses could intoxicate, her lips tasted so sweet. The inside of her mouth, even sweeter. Xena cupped her hand behind the bard's head and kissed her back, she loved this ritual. She pushed back a little harder than she should have and spoke. "Gabrielle? We've got company. Hercules and Iolaus are waiting by the lake outside the perimeter. Let's go. We both need a bath and need to get going." Gabrielle smiled and grabbed the bath supplies and headed to the lake. Once there, she dropped the supplies and threw her arms around Hercules and Iolaus, kissing them both on the cheek.

"I need to show up more often." Iolaus stated as he stepped back. "Well, you both look better than the last time I saw you."

Gabrielle winced at the mention of the time Xena was thought lost. Realizing he hit a soft spot, he smiled again. "Look, you two look like you need some privacy. We'll let you two have it." Iolaus grabbed Herc's arm and led him away. Disappointed, Herc walked on.

Gabrielle smiled as she started removing her clothes. After finishing hers, she started helping Xena out of the chemise. Xena gently pushed Gabrielle's hands back and removed it herself, diving into the lake and bathing. Gabrielle looked confused and stepped in as well. All her attempts at bathing Xena were rebuffed and Gabrielle was now feeling hurt. They got dressed and headed back to camp. Gabrielle watched as Xena walked into camp and Hercules hugged her again. She noticed that she didn't push him away and felt the pain increase. Iolaus watched as Gabrielle started packing things and didn't smile or even talk.

"We were headed in the same direction of you two when we saw Argo in the meadow and decided to join you. Is that alright?" Gabrielle just looked at him and smiled a little and nodded.

"So, how have you and Gabrielle been? I've heard about your adventures through the bards performing in taverns. You and Gabrielle make quite a team." Hercules smiles as Xena looks up to him.

"Yes. Yes we do."she smiled. Gabrielle listened to the conversation and became more withdrawn.

Iolaus just shook his head and walked on, taking Herc by the arm, he led him to the side. He made a motion for him to be quiet and whispered. "I don't know what's going on, but I think Gabrielle is upset. Try to get her to talk to Xena, they've dodged each other all day." Hercules looked up and saw Gabrielle walk past Xena and keep going. "Okay." Herc gives Iolaus the 'thumbs up' and walks over to her.

"We're headed to the masquerade at Dacratus. We were invited by Diana to the gathering. Gabrielle's really looking forward to it. Diana's cousin, Olander and an old friend of mine, Dreeza, are getting married." Dreeza, she'd taken Xena in when she had turned from her warlord ways. She thought she would never have a friend as good as her again. But then Gabrielle had entered her life. Gabrielle had done more than given her a place to stay. She had become her home. Hercules sees he's lost her and speaks again. "Well, we will part company tomorrow. That is if you don't mind our joining you at camp tonight?"

She looks at him and nods. "Sure, no problem." He points toward Gabrielle;"She seems a little upset, have you two been arguing? If so, we can leave and let you two talk." He smiles hoping she won't send him away. "No--No we'll say good-bye tomorrow." He smiles again as he hugs her.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to talk to Gabrielle." She left Argo with Hercules and Iolaus and ran to catch up with her.

That night they made camp and Gabrielle seemed a little happier. Iolaus was glad that Xena and Gabrielle had solved their problem and enjoyed the tales Gabrielle spun for all of them. Hercules and himself laughed until their sides hurt. Gabrielle then stood; "Look, it's bedtime, we've got a long day ahead and I'd like to get to the masquerade in time for the dancing." They all stood and headed for their respective bedrolls. Hercules and Iolaus watched as Gabrielle spread out her bedroll beside Xena's and made them into a pallet for two. She laid down as the two men shrugged and bedded down. Xena looked over to Hercules and Iolaus and back to Gabrielle. She headed over and pulled out Argo's blanket and lay down. This was the final straw. Gabrielle got up and walked over to Xena.

"What's wrong? Our bed is over there by the fire." Xena bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes.

"Gabrielle-- we- we have company. It wouldn't be---"
Gabrielle's hurt wells up and she loses it then, she nearly screams at Xena. "So!? You're ashamed to sleep with me? Is that it!?"

Hercules and Iolaus are wide awake and listening, "Gabrielle-- No--I just think--" Gabrielle waves her hand in an even motion and points at Hercules, "Look, if you want to be with him? Fine! Just stop being oblique with me."

She starts to turn away when Xena rests her hand on her shoulder. "Please, Gabrielle not in front of--"

Gabrielle shrugs her hand off; "What? Not in front of your two ex-boyfriends? Are you that ashamed to be in love with me?" Seeing she won't get an answer, Gabrielle presses on; "Look, if you love me? Say you do. If not? I'm gone." Silence. Gabrielle grabs her staff and walks off into the night, leaving a stunned Iolaus and Hercules to Xena.

Hercules looks over to Xena and tries to speak; "Xena? You and Gabrielle are--" He hoped he didn't sound condescending, but he failed miserably. Iolaus elbowed him and Xena turned, anger in her eyes. "What?! So what if we are?"

"Well, I just thought that--"

Xena isn't sure, but she could swear she hears a bit of ego in Herc's voice. "You thought what? You thought since you helped me see the light that I should pine away over Hercules, the son of the mighty Zeus!? You know what? I thought you were too good a man to be so-so infatuated with himself! Yes! Yes, Gabrielle and I are lovers! You may have helped me see the light, but Gabrielle was the one who led me into it! Kicking and screaming at first, but I've stayed my course because I LOVE HER!"

Hercules is struck dumb by the words she has said. "I'm sorry, Xena. I just wanted to beleive that there was a chance for us."

Iolaus walks up to them; "Look, the more you two argue, the further Gabrielle walks away, and out of your life. What will you do when that happens?"

Xena looks at them and starts to go after her. She looks over her shoulder and speaks softly; "I'm sorry, I never wanted to hurt either of you." With that, she saddles Argo and heads out.

Gabrielle has meanwhile caught a ride with a merchant going to the Masquerade. Her tears earn her many a concerned look from him. He decides to leave her to her pain. 'An amazon needs no one.' Or so he thought. Xena had rode all night,she new Gabrielle was headed for the masquerade. She was thankful for the fact that she had taken a ride with someone in a wagon. She knew there had been no fight. Gabrielle could handle herself well. She got to Dacratus and met Diana at the front gate of the castle in her cousin's province of Boetia.

Diana greeted her and led her to the southside entrance.

"Thank the gods you're here!"

Xena looks at Diana with a confused look. "Why? Is there something wrong? Gabrielle?!"

Diana silences her; "Yes, Gabrielle is here, but she hasn't left her room. She sits in her room, crying. She hasn't slept all night. I went to check on her once, and she kissed me! She apologized and started crying all over again. I don't know what has her upset with you, but I can tell she feels like she's lost your love. It's killing her."

Xena stares at her. "She's told you? About us?"

"NO,Xena. But a person would have to be truly blind not to see how much she loves you, worships you."

Xena feels her chest tighten as she speaks;"Where is she?"

Diana shakes her head. "No, the rules of the masquerade are in effect. I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait until midnight to see her."

Diana leads her to a room and points to the bed. "You're costume is over there. This way, you can be together and no one will know!" She starts to leave when Xena asks a question. "What will she be wearing?"

Diana smiles;"A white dress with feathered shoulders and a dove mask. Good dancing!"

That night, Gabrielle attended but wasn't in the spirit of the occassion. 'A surprise Diana promised. Well, I'm tired. I'm going to say goodnight and--damn! The rules! I can't leave until the dance is over. And Olander and Dreeza are the ones who say when.' Suddenly, a figure with black armour, a cloak, and mask walks up and bows to her. The knight points to the dancefloor and Gabrielle shakes her head. The knight's physical demeanor relays he feels hurt. Gabrielle gives in and lets herself be led to the dancefloor. She feels the knight's arms tighten around her. She's felt this strength before, with only one person. She closed her eyes and imagined she was dancing with her warrior princess. That's when she caught it, the smell of jasmine in the knight's hair, she looked up and saw those ice blue eyes and all her thoughts, anger and depression melted. They danced until the music stopped, and when that happened, Gabrielle sang. The wedded couple and the crowd watched as the amazon bard and her black knight danced. Then,at midnight, the wedded couple walked up and declared the masquerade done. Everyone unmasked and watched as the bard and the knight stared at each other. The knight threw the cloak off and stared down into the blue-green eyes of the bard. The knight then started to remove the mask, but Gabrielle put a hand to her cheek to stop. The knight then took her hand and kissed it. Gabrielle then watched in amazement as her knight removed the mask. The crowd cheered at the sight of Xena's beautiful face. Her black hair braided back. Gabrielle realized then that Xena was hers and always would be. She removed her mask and Xena kissed her passionately. She then took Gabrielle's hand and led her to her room. Before they entered, Xena leaned down and whispered in her ear. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry about last night. Seeing Hercules again really hurt me. He thought there was still a chance with me. I wanted to tell him about us, but old feelings came up and I had to weigh them with the feelings I have for you."

Gabrielle looked into her eyes, a hint of fear in her voice. "Who won?" Xena smiled as she kissed her bard once more. "You did. You always have. You always will. I love you then. I love you now. I'll love you forever." She let Gabrielle lead her to the bed and Gabrielle set about removing the armour and the pants until she got to the shirt. She shook her head; "You're so beautiful! It's a shame to hide you in all this--this!" She pushed Xena's shirt over her breasts and began kissing them as Xena began removing Gabrielle's dress.

"If mine comes off? So does yours." She started unlacing the younger woman's dress as she she pushed Gabrielle back onto the bed. Kissing her feircely as Gabrielle's hands roamed over the muscled body she loved so much. Xena looked at the floor and saw the two masks on the floor. She looked at the woman she loved and made a promise. "Gabrielle? No more masquerades. I promise. WE will face the world as lovers. I'm afraid it's going to be one more battle we face." Gabrielle heard the promise and felt her love grow tenfold for this woman who had fought so many battles and won so much. Lost so much as well. Gabrielle whispered a poem to her lover as she turned out the light:

Before you go into battle, hear me pray.
The enemy is powerful. Victory yours? I cannot say.
You fall to your knees, asking for release.
Let my love assauge you, give you peace.
I only want to guide you. Please understand.
Blood flows freely, covers your hands.
The rage is spent, the battle done.
You fall to your knees, asking"Have I really won?"
I embrace you, showing you love and caring.
I gaze at your face, and find myself staring.
My love is here for you, now and forevermore.
Let it give you strength, Justice is yours, that and more.

I ask that you love me, your hands gently caress.
I'll kiss your lips, Their love say "Yes".
My prayer is answered. The battle is done.
My love and passion? They whisper; "You have won."

The end

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