by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1997, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
Warning: The following story may describe a physical relationship with two consenting adult women. This follows the episode, "A Comedy of Eros".
Legal Disclaimer: MCA owns all rights and privileges, to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Argo & Cyrene. The new parts of the story are mine, so read, enjoy, but please do not steal.
Xena gripped Joxer's shoulder briefly, smiling encouragement at him when he looked up at her. He looked so sad and she could understand why, for she remembered all too well gradually falling in love with Gabrielle, only to have her marry Perdicas on a whim.
She turned away from the campsite to follow Gabrielle, catching up with her by the stream. Gabrielle heard Xena approach and stood up. "That was so strange, Xena. Cupid's son shooting everyone in sight, you falling for Draco, me for Joxer, Draco for me, just too strange. I'm glad things are finally back to normal, and I'm not in love with Joxer." She shuddered, remembering the unreal feeling of falling for the clumsy wannabe warrior.
"I'm glad to have you back," Xena agreed as she pulled Gabrielle into her arms. They stood like that for a long moment, then Xena stepped back and gently kissed her love. "We'd better get back to camp after you finish drawing the water. Oh, and be kind to Joxer, will you?"
Gabrielle looked puzzled. "Joxer? Why? Didn't Cupid change him back too?"
Xena picked up one of the water skins before answering. "He couldn't change what is real. Joxer was never shot with one of Cupid's arrows, in his heart of hearts, he has feelings for you." Xena stopped, trying to find the right words. She was no bard, so how could she explain what she had seen in Joxer's eyes? She felt Gabrielle's arm wrap around her waist as she tried to think. She draped her free arm around Gabrielle's shoulders then tried again. "I guess I'm just asking you to be gentle with Joxer right now. Despite his bumbling ways, he did stand up for Argo when I was in Callisto's body and he thought that I was Callisto coming back to kill Argo." Xena stopped and turned to face the bard. "I'm not asking you to be his best friend, just to be a friend."
"Anything for you, my dear," Gabrielle promised. They sealed the promise with a kiss. They wanted to continue from the kiss, but now was not the time, so they resumed their walk back to the campsite.
Joxer looked up as the two women walked to the fire and sat beside him. Xena seemed to be prodding Gabrielle with her eyes about something. Gabrielle caught the message and spoke. "Joxer, I'm sorry that I made fun of you, it was not very nice of me. I guess I sometimes forget to look beneath the surface. Xena reminded me of your bravery when you thought she was Callisto and you thought she was going to attack Argo. So, are we friends?" She held out her arm for him to clasp.
Joxer slowly reached out and clasped Gabrielle's arm, very gently. "Yes, Gabrielle, I'll remain your friend." As he let go of her arm, he commented wistfully, "It was strange at first, with you kissing me and calling me your man. I could have gotten used to it, but I suppose it will never be. But, I'll be your friend. You and Xena are the good to me, and I appreciate that. I know that I'm not really the best help in a fight, I wish I were a better warrior so I could earn your friendships." He stopped abruptly, fearing that he had said too much.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, then they each wrapped an arm around Joxer. He looked from face to face, overwhelmed by the kindness he saw there. He started sniffing, trying to keep the tears from rolling down his face but failed. Joxer cupped his face in his hands, shuddering as the sobs finally broke loose. The women held him until he stopped crying, rocking him gently. Finally, he sat up and said hoarsely, "Thanks, I think I'll turn in now if you don't mind. I'm exhausted."
After he rolled up in his blankets and started snoring softly, Xena motioned for Gabrielle to help her with her armor. She laid the armor at the end of her bedroll, then leaned against a tree. Gabrielle sat down between Xena's legs, pulling Xena's arms around her waist. They sat like this for some time, watching the fire and relaxing in the relative quiet of the night. Gabrielle finally broke the silence. "Xena?" she asked softly.
"Yes, Gabrielle?" Xena replied.
"Do you think that we could train Joxer to be a better warrior? You know, some sword training, defensive moves, stuff like that?"
Xena pondered the question for a long time, kissing Gabrielle's head and stroking her hair. She finally answered, "I think it is possible and could be a strategic advantage, given Joxer's real reputation. But, the question is: do you want Joxer in our camp for the next month or so?"
Gabrielle turned to face her lover as an idea popped into her head. "We could always go to your mother's and exchange work for room and board at her inn. That way we could train Joxer, have our privacy and get in a nice long visit with your mother. You haven't seen her in some time, you know and I know that you never write to her."
Xena rolled her eyes, then kissed the bard soundly. "Okay, my fair Amazon Bard Queen, whatever your majesty wishes." They kissed again, lingeringly. Xena sighed, saying, "We'd best get some sleep. It will take about a day or two to reach Mother's inn and you know how hard you are to wake up in the morning.
"Who, me?" Gabrielle asked innocently. Xena just sighed, kissed Gabrielle again, then got up to get ready for sleep.
The trio reached the inn in the mid-afternoon two days later. Cyrene was very pleased to see them and even more pleased when Gabrielle explained that they would trade work for room and board for the next month. Even though Cyrene kept up with Xena's exploits through traveling bards, it was not the same as getting to see her daughter in person. She noticed that Xena seemed more protective of Gabrielle than the last time they had visited and that Gabrielle had bloomed into womanhood. She also noticed the undercurrent of affection between the women, Xena even allowed Gabrielle to touch her without taking her head off. She showed them up to their rooms, then went back downstairs to supervise the cooking of the evening meal.
Xena was the first one back down, telling her mother that her gear was unpacked but that Gabrielle was taking a quick nap. "Oh, I see. Let me guess, you rode Argo and made Gabrielle and Joxer walk behind."
Xena smiled and hugged her mother briefly. "No, Mother, Joxer lost his horse, so we all walked. Which reminds me, I'd better exercise Argo in the morning, she hates walking for two days without a run." Xena sat down at one of the bar stools. "Do you have any ale? I'm pretty thirsty."
Cyrene pulled out a pitcher and poured a mug of ale for her daughter. "So, what really brings the three of you here? Don't tell me the story about trading work for a place to stay, even though there are lots of repairs to be made here. Why is Joxer here?"
Xena took a long swallow, then set her mug down. "Mother, I'm starting to get as bad as Gabrielle about thinking that I can change people. I am going to try to teach Joxer some fighting skills. His feelings were hurt pretty badly recently, and I think that the training would be an ego boost. It also doesn't hurt that people see him as comical and him being able to defend himself and others would be a great surprise someday. He has a good heart, but he is in love with Gabrielle and she is not in love with him."
Cyrene looked at her daughter for a long time and started to speak before being interrupted by the arrival of Gabrielle. "Hi, Cyrene, is there anything to eat around here?"
Cyrene laughed, saying, "I think I can pull something together. I'll see what I can find. In the meantime, Xena can pour you some wine--watered, daughter."
Gabrielle watched Cyrene's back as she disappeared into the kitchen. "What was that last crack about watered wine?"
Xena smiled at the bard, saying, "One night before supper, I forgot to water down Lycecus' wine. He was only twelve at the time and was very thirsty from playing all day. Anyway, he got very drunk and I was in a heap of trouble. Mother has never let me forget it since that time." She stood up and walked around the bar to get to the wine. "Plus, I think that some women just can't handle being drunk very well, whether on wine or nutbread." Gabrielle stuck her tongue out at the warrior as she picked up the wine mug. Xena laughed as she walked back around and sat next to Gabrielle, lightly touching her cheek.
Cyrene came back into the room in time to see Xena touch Gabrielle's cheek. So, she thought, my tough daughter does have a tender side and her name is Gabrielle. Could it be that Xena has finally fallen in love? She hoped so, she really enjoyed it with Xena brought Gabrielle for a visit. She spoke as she approached the bar. "I managed to find some bread, stew and fruit, Gabrielle. Do you think it will hold you until supper?" Cyrene asked with a teasing smile.
"Oh, maybe," answered the bard as she dug into the food. Xena just grinned and shook her head. That woman could eat anytime--except at sea.
"Parry, Joxer, parry! You have to meet my sword with yours." Xena stopped and walked over to Joxer. "Like this," she said, demonstrating. "Now, let's try it again." Joxer chewed his lip as he concentrated on deflecting the blows from Xena's sword. He knew that he was improving, but it was still hard to remember everything that Xena was teaching him. "That's enough for now, let's take a break."
As they sat down on a bench in the inn yard, Gabrielle appeared with a mid-morning snack. "Hey, thought I'd bring out some nourishment for you hard working warriors. Oh, Xena, your mother wants to know if you can repair the kitchen door today. It is sticking pretty badly, making it hard to open and shut."
Xena shrugged. "I guess so. Joxer, do you think that you will be ready for another round with Gabrielle this afternoon while I repair the door?" Joxer nodded, still too winded to talk. "Okay, we switch places after lunch. I work on the door and you work with Joxer on defensive staff moves." Joxer noted how Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. It suddenly dawned on him that he would never win Gabrielle over--how could he compete with the Warrior Princess? How could he be so dumb? Why were they being so kind to him? He had learned a great deal so far and had dreams of traveling with the women, doing good deeds. Now he was unsure, knowing that Xena was his rival as well.
"Joxer? Where are you?" Gabrielle waited in the yard, slowly twirling her staff. He was late for his lesson. After lunch, he had said that he needed something from his room and had excused himself from the table. Now, nearly an hour later, he had not appeared. Maybe he had fallen asleep or something. She debated whether or not to go check his room. Finally, she walked back to the inn and went up to his room. "Hey Joxer, did your forget our lesson?" she called through the door. She knocked and waited.
Xena heard the noise and went to investigate. Gabrielle explained quickly that Joxer had not appeared for his afternoon lesson. Xena put her ear against the door and announced, "I don't hear anything." She tried the door, finding it unlocked. The women carefully entered the room--and found that Joxer and his belongings were missing. "Damn!" Xena exclaimed. Why had Joxer left? Where had he gone? "Gabrielle, tell Mother that I'm going to look for Joxer--he can't be very far. I should be home in time for supper."
"But Xena, shouldn't we both go look for him?" Gabrielle asked anxiously.
Xena restrained herself from sighing. "Gabrielle, we have this argument every time. Please, let me go this one time without arguing. Besides, I think that Mother has been dying to chat with you alone. Warriors just aren't good with words, you know." As the two women talked, they walked back to their room and Xena started strapping on her weapons. She checked the saddlebags for medical supplies, then continued. "Hey, you also need to practice with your staff, don't you?"
"No, I'm already great with it," Gabrielle retorted sarcastically. Then, she sobered, saying quietly, "Please be careful, I can't afford to lose you. I love you."
Xena paused, leaning over to kiss Gabrielle. "I love you too, my Amazon Queen. Damn, I was going to fix the kitchen door this afternoon. Maybe you can help Mother with something else, like repairing the rugs in the dining room or something. I'll see you later." After another quick kiss, Xena bounded down the steps. Gabrielle moved over to the window so she could watch Xena and Argo galloping off in search of Joxer. She turned from the window and started putting the room back in order. She hated it when Xena left without her.
"Gabrielle? Where did Xena rush off to so fast?"
Gabrielle looked up to find Xena's mother standing in the doorway. "Cyrene, I didn't hear you come in. Please, have a seat." Cyrene came in and sat down at the table as Gabrielle sat down opposite of her, as she answered the question. "Joxer has disappeared and Xena went to look for him. She thought that they would be back by supper time."
Cyrene smoothed out her skirt, smiling. "I still sometimes have to stop and remember that Xena is no longer an evil warlord. I am so proud of her now, Gabrielle, so happy that her heart has changed." She reached out and placed a hand on the bard's arm. "I think she owes a lot to you, Gabrielle. Xena was always a handful and stubborn as a child, never really displaying any affection for anyone but her brothers and her best friend, Diana. But, I can see that she cares for you a great deal, more than for anyone I have ever known about."
Gabrielle covered Cyrene's hand with her own. "I care a lot for Xena, too. I can remember when she rescued me from the slavers, I just decided to tag along because I craved adventure. She wasn't thrilled at first, but for some reason, she put up with me and has allowed me to become her friend. No matter what I have done, like get married or go to the Academy of Bards, she has always been ready for me to come back to travel with her again."
Cyrene thought this over, then finally asked the question that had been on her mind. "Do you and Xena love each other? I mean as more than friends?"
Gabrielle stopped, not sure how to cross this bridge. She gazed into Cyrene's eyes, then finally answered proudly, "Yes, yes I do. I love Xena more than anyone."
Cyrene smiled tenderly relieved that her suspicions were correct. "Then, welcome to my family, daughter."
Meanwhile, Xena followed Joxer's trail, thinking she would catch up with him within the next few minutes. Then, she came across signs of a scuffle, with Joxer's footprints disappearing and several horses' prints appearing. Xena cursed under her breath as she spurred Argo on to follow the new tracks, but was relieved to find that the prints were still fresh.
About a mile later, she heard sounds of a large camp. She slid off of Argo, tethering the mare and then creeping forward until she could see the camp. She looked down the cliff to see a ragtag group of warrior wannabes, led by a former soldier of hers, Nicholas. Xena rubbed her temples, cursing silently again. Nicholas had always been a royal pain in the--well, he was a good warrior, but had a hair trigger temper and tended to dismantle carefully laid plans. Maybe she could turn this to her advantage.
As Xena crouched, surveying the camp, she noticed two burley men dragging Joxer into a tent. Xena's lip curled in a humorless grin, it appeared that Nicholas still could not plan well. The tent was on the outer edge of the camp, and only one of the men stayed to guard the tent. She crept back to Argo and led the horse closer to the tent.
Xena now stood directly behind the tent. She took out her breast dagger and carefully slit the stitches along the back seam until she had a hole large enough to go through. She stepped carefully into the tent, looking for Joxer and finding him bound and gagged, lying on the floor. To his credit, he stayed silent and still when he saw her, even as his eyes lit up with excitement. She quickly sliced through the ropes and gag, then helped him sit up. Joxer sat for a moment, rubbing his wrists, then let Xena help him stand up. She grabbed a hand to lead him through the hole in the tent when she heard something.
"Xena!" Nicholas roared as he stepped into the tent, seeing his former boss. "You will not deprive me of my prisoner!" Noting that they were holding hands, he grinned wickedly. "Oh, your latest conquest. Your taste in men has really declined since you were with Marcus."
Thinking quickly, Xena pulled Joxer closer. "So? I'll play with anyone I want to. He amuses me, so I keep him around." Please play along, she silently begged Joxer.
Joxer caught on and slid an arm around Xena's waist. "I am not her conquest, I am her partner and I do amuse her," he stated. "I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head around Xena."
Nicholas roared with laughter. "So, that's how it is now. Well, Xena, I have a proposition for you. You can keep this boy if he can defeat me in battle. I'll give you two a few minutes to discuss my kind offer. Oh, if I defeat him?" He chuckled evilly. "I'll kill him and take you for myself." He left the tent, still laughing.
"Joxer, are you up to this?" Xena asked worriedly.
Joxer looked into her eyes, comforted by her concern. "I will have to be up to this," he admitted, "do you have any advice for me on how to fight this ass?"
Xena thought a moment, then said, "Your best plan is a good defense. Look clumsy, but parry well. Nicholas is very impatient, so watch for openings--I'm sure he will give you one." She gripped his shoulder and said, "Kill him if you have to and remember all that I have taught you."
He nodded, then let Xena lead him out of the tent. They walked to the middle of the camp to a cleared spot to face Nicholas as raunchy cheers split the air. Xena took the cue and kissed Joxer soundly. As she pulled back, she whispered, "Good luck, Joxer."
One of the warriors handed Joxer his sword and sheath. Joxer quickly buckled his sheath, then turned to face Nicholas. He glanced over to the sidelines to locate Xena, knowing that he dared not fail this time. He then turned and deliberately held his sword at an awkward position, waiting for the battle to commence.
He did not have to wait very long. Nicholas screamed and swung mightily at Joxer's head. Joxer ducked, flinging his sword up to deflect the blow. Nicholas spun around and advanced again, this time thrusting at Joxer's heart. Joxer managed to deflect this blow as well. The fight continued in this manner, Nicholas thrusting and Joxer parrying as if by accident. Xena watched from the sidelines as Joxer defended himself, fear for his safety battling with pride for his performance. Finally, Nicholas lunged too hard and Joxer saw his chance. He banged Nicholas on the head with the butt of his sword, tripping him and knocking him down. He quickly assumed a stance over the prone warlord, the tip of his sword touching the other man's throat.
A hush quickly descended over the crowd. Joxer waited for a long moment, then told Nicholas, "Now that I have defeated you, you will let us go in peace."
Nicholas grunted. "Go ahead and kill me."
Joxer paused, then slowly sheathed his sword. "I do not kill in cold blood," he announced quietly. "Just don't cross my path again." With that, he turned and walked over to Xena, whispering, "Can we go now?"
"Yes," she replied. She hesitated for a second, then kissed him, saying, "You did well, warrior. Let's leave these scum." With that, she took him by the hand and lead him out of the camp to whistles and catcalls.
They quickly mounted Argo and Xena turned the horse back towards home. After a couple of miles, she stopped the horse and dismounted, motioning for Joxer to do the same. They sat down on a fallen log and looked at each other for a long moment, then Xena finally spoke. "Joxer, why did you run away? You showed today that you have made a lot of progress and I am really proud of you for that. So, why did you run?"
Joxer stared down at his feet, trying to figure out how to tell Xena his feelings. Finally, he simply said, "Because I realized today that you and Gabrielle love each other and I could never have a chance with her. When she came out this morning, I caught the look that passed between you, how soft and loving your eyes were and how glowing hers were. I could finish the lesson with you, but I could not bring myself to do the staff lesson with her. I suppose that sounds silly, especially since you once again risked your life to save mine because I was foolish and did not pay attention to my surroundings."
He looked up at the warrior princess, searching her face. "I have loved Gabrielle for a long time, but always assumed that I would never have a chance with her. Then, Cupid's son shot her with that arrow and she threw herself at me. I could barely believe my good fortune, but I could not bring myself to take advantage of it either. No matter how she kissed me and claimed her love for me, I could not do anything back with her, I respected her too much." He stopped, then said, "You may now beat me senseless."
Xena wished that she could speak like a bard, but knew she could not. She could see the agony in Joxer's face and wanted to soothe it. Finally, she said, "Joxer, we all fall for someone in our lives whom we can never have. I don't think Gabrielle ever knew how you felt about her. I can't help you with this particular dilemma, especially since you are right, Gabrielle and I do love each other very much. But someday, you will find your other half, probably when you least expect it. When you do, don't be a fool and lose her like I nearly lost Gabrielle several times. Cherish her and treat her as your equal, be her friend and her lover." She paused, then glanced at the sky. "We had better go so we can make it home in time for supper. Ready?"
"I suppose," Joxer said. "Are you sure you aren't uncomfortable with me around?"
"Joxer," Xena said as she stood up, "you have a good and faithful heart. You have proven yourself to be a good friend and a steadfast man. I think I can trust you, so let's get going." With that, she mounted Argo and then pulled Joxer up behind her.
Joxer and Xena arrived back at the tavern just as the supper hour was beginning. Xena sent Joxer on in so she could stable Argo and talk to Gabrielle for a few minutes alone. As she quickly brushed the horse, Xena said, "Gabrielle, Joxer ran away because he is in love with you. Now, before you say anything, I should tell you that he was brave and followed orders today." She summarized the fight and Joxer's refusal to kill Nicholas. "Only a brave man would turn his back on an enemy that way. Joxer showed that he had learned to fight and how not to kill senselessly."
"But I never saw that Joxer was in love with me. I thought he was just jealous of me," Gabrielle protested.
Xena put away the brushes before she replied. "Joxer realized that we are in love and he just panicked. I told him that someday he will find the woman for him and that when he did, to treat her as an equal, but to also cherish her." She pulled the bard into her arms, saying, "I think that sometimes I don't do very well with either."
Gabrielle just smiled and kissed her warrior, then said, "Oh, your mother has it figured out as well. She welcomed me into the family."
Xena grinned. "I knew she would. Come on, I'm hungry."
"You mean that you let Nicholas go?" the Amazon asked, shocked.
"Yes, I did. You see, I have traveled with Gabrielle and Xena and have noticed that they do not kill. Xena will if it is necessary, but Gabrielle refuses to kill. I am trying to live by their codes and to be an honorable warrior." Joxer answered.
Xena and Gabrielle watched this exchange from several tables away. "Look, Xena, I think Joxer found that woman."
"Looks like it. Here, do you want the rest of my apple dumpling?" Xena asked. She smiled as Gabrielle reached eagerly for the rest of the sweet.
Just as Xena and Gabrielle finished their baths, someone knocked at the door. Xena grabbed her sword, then asked, "Who goes there?"
"Your mother, Xena. Can I come in for a few minutes?" Xena laid down her sword, then went to open the door. Cyrene came in, saying, "I can only stay for a few minutes, but I wanted to thank you for fixing the kitchen door after supper. I know that you were tired after rescuing Joxer this afternoon."
"Well, Joxer did pretty well this afternoon himself, the training is paying off. By the way, I noticed Diana talking to Joxer," Xena mentioned, wanting to get her mother's take on the situation.
Cyrene smiled. "Yes, Diana went for Amazon training two summers ago and is home on a weekend pass to visit her mother. I'd say they seemed to hit it off pretty well, don't you think?"
"Yes," replied Xena, waiting for her mother to say what she was really here for. She motioned for her mother to sit down. "I'm sure you didn't come to chat about Joxer and Diana, so what's on your mind?" she asked.
Cyrene sat and smiled at both women. "Xena, a mother wishes the very best for her children, a good life, safety, and a good partner. Well, you don't have safety and I'm not sure of your life, but I think you have found the right partner. I never got to see any of my children get married. When you and Gabrielle are ready, will you consider having the wedding here in Amphipolis?"
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, then Gabrielle spoke up. "We'd be honored, Mother."
"Well," said Cyrene as she stood back up, "that settles that. I'll see you in the morning." She turned to leave.
"Wait-" said Xena, grabbing her mother's hand. Cyrene stopped and turned, waiting. "I..." Xena was at a loss for words, so she finally gave up and hugged her mother, then kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks for accepting Gabrielle--it means a lot to me."
Cyrene smiled up at her daughter. "You just remember that and treat Gabrielle like a queen--she is a very special woman." She reached up and kissed Xena's cheek, then went over and hugged and kissed Gabrielle before leaving the room.
Gabrielle walked over to Xena as soon as she locked the door, pushing her on the bed. "Wow, a wedding. Your mother is remarkable, some people wouldn't think of us needing a wedding." She grinned devilishly, saying, "Want to practice the honeymoon?"
"Sure," Xena answered as she rolled the bard over. "Practice makes perfect" she murmured as she started kissing the bard's neck.
Xena was starting to get restless.
She, Gabrielle and Joxer had been at her mother's inn for two weeks, fixing doors and windows, painting, trimming and teaching Joxer some pointers on sword and staff work. Originally, they had planned to stay for a month, but after Joxer's kidnapping, Xena was anxious to get back on the road. How could she convince both Gabrielle and her mother that it was time to go? She thought about this as she held the sleeping bard, watching the light grow stronger through their window. She gently kissed Gabrielle on the cheek, trying not to wake her, just wanting to kiss her. She finally started to untangle herself from the bard's grip when Gabrielle woke up. "Hey, I felt that!"
Xena smiled as she stroked Gabrielle's hair, saying, "Guilty as charged." She kissed Gabrielle slowly and thoroughly, running her hands down the bard's back. One thing led to another, and soon they were rehearsing their honeymoon again. After all, practice did make perfect.
"What a way to wake up," Gabrielle said in a sultry, sated voice. She slowly stroked Xena's face, then announced, "I'm hungry for breakfast. We need to bathe and go downstairs for breakfast."
Xena laughed at the bard. "So, you only stop thinking about food while you are asleep and during sex, huh? Okay, Gabrielle, let's bathe and go get some breakfast." She glanced at the window, commenting, "It is getting rather late, and Mother will be wondering what we are doing." Gabrielle made a face at her lover, then bounced out of bed to get ready to face the day.
Gabrielle smirked as she poured water into the wash basin and picked up the soap. "Xena, I have a feeling that your mother knows exactly what we are doing, no wondering about it."
The warrior princess agreed. "Yeah, Mom's no dummy, she has to know what we're doing." She stretched luxuriously, deliberately enticing the bard with a glimpse of her nipples peaking over the covers. "How hungry are you?"
Gabrielle weighed the hunger for food and the hunger for Xena, but this time, food won. "Enough to eat your breakfast and mine," she chirped. "Now get moving, warrior princess!"
Xena sat up, grinning. "Your wish is my command, oh Amazon queen!"
While they ate breakfast, Xena broached the subject of moving on to Gabrielle, sure that she would protest and complain about always moving on. Much to her surprise, Gabrielle agreed, but for a different reason than Xena suspected. "But let's wait until tomorrow morning, since that is when Diana will be going back to the Amazon village. You and Joxer and I can go with her since I should check to see how Ephiny is doing these days anyway."
"And?" queried the warrior.
Gabrielle smiled innocently. "It looks like Diana and Joxer are getting to be good friends, so a trip would give them a chance to get even better acquainted--with the proper chaperones, of course."
"Oh, but of course." the warrior agreed, amused. It would be good to have Joxer thinking about someone other than Gabrielle, she admitted to herself. Speaking of which, "Mother, where are Diana and Joxer this morning?" she asked Cyrene came to refill their plates.
"Good morning, daughters. They went fishing early this morning. Joxer doesn't really seem like the fishing type, but I have a feeling that he will be, at least for the morning. But don't worry, Diana can take care of herself." Cyrene laid the food down, then asked, "So, I gather that you are planning to leave tomorrow with Diana."
"Well, yes, if she doesn't mind." Xena answered.
Cyrene smiled at Xena. "I can see the signs, Xena, I know that you are getting restless. Just remember to come back for a certain ceremony," she said mysteriously. Xena rolled her eyes, answering, "Yes mother, we will." Gabrielle looked at the warrior for a long time, then turned back to her food. She couldn't let such good food go to waste, after all.
Joxer was really glad that Xena and Gabrielle would be traveling with him and Diana. He was really drawn to Diana, her dark brown eyes, bronze skin, sun streaked brown hair, beautiful laughter, he just soaked it all up. He dared to hope that Diana might at least consider him a friend and it would be easier to be friends with his other friends along. He had enjoyed the morning before, just sitting on the bank of the river, lazily fishing and swapping tales. He was glad now that he had heard so many of Gabrielle's best tales, even if he wasn't the best storyteller in the world. He even admitted that they were Gabrielle's stories, not his own, but Diana's eyes sparkled with laughter anyway. He was comfortable around Diana, something about her put him at ease. But, still, having Xena and Gabrielle along would force him to keep his eyes where they belonged.
The four started out early in the morning, loaded down with food from Cyrene. She hugged and kissed them all goodbye, telling them farewell. "Don't be strangers," she said, "and Joxer, you are welcome to come back any time, even without my daughters."
"Thank you, Cyrene," he said, hugging her back. "I appreciate your hospitality."
Diana hugged Cyrene, then turned to the others. "Okay, let's get this journey started." She swung her bag on her back, and started down the road.
"So," Xena asked a few minutes down the road, "which unit are you assigned to, Diana?"
Diana replied, "I haven't been officially assigned to a unit yet, Xena. I just completed my basic training this winter and have spent most of my time standing guard in the village." She walked quietly for a moment, then turned to Gabrielle and explained, "My mother was an Amazon. She was taken prisoner, raped, and escaped to Amphipolis. Our mothers were best friends, so I spend a lot of time at the inn, especially during the summers after school was out. Now I'm following in my mother's footsteps and doing my Amazon training."
The four walked along silently for a few minutes, then Xena finally said, "Those weren't good exploits to follow, Diana. I was not a good person back then."
Diana countered, "No, but Cyrene kept telling my mother and me that someday, you would lay down your anger and turn your skills for good, which you did." She smiled at her friend. "Anyway, when are we going to break for lunch? There is a good clearing about a half-mile up the road and Joxer and I could start gathering firewood."
Xena consulted with Gabrielle for a moment, then answered, "Okay, when we get to the clearing. But, with the food Mother packed, I doubt we will need a fire." She caught Gabrielle's eyes, then amended, "But there might be some berry bushes around here, you two could pick some for lunch." As Diana and Joxer left the road, Xena asked, "Better?"
"Yes. Some privacy, but not too much, just perfect." Gabrielle reached up and snatched a kiss from her lover. "Now that lunch is mentioned, I am getting rather hungry." Xena smiled at the bard, thinking, Always hungry, aren't you?
Meanwhile, Diana found the bushes and held the skin open for Joxer to drop the berries into. Joxer was happy just to be so close to Diana. Impulsively, he said, "Open up" and popped a berry into Diana's open mouth. She chewed for a moment, then opened her mouth again, eyes dancing mischievously. Joxer laughed and popped another berry into her mouth, then took one for himself. "These are good, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are." she replied. She looked into the skin, then said, "I think we have enough for lunch. Should we go join the others?"
"Oh, I suppose so, or Gabrielle will eat her lunch and ours as well," Joxer said. "I say that from experience."
"She does get hungry. I have never seen a woman that small pack away that much food." Diana expertly tied the top of the skin, then started walking back to the road. They walked in silence for a moment, then Diana asked, "Joxer, what will you be doing after we get to the Amazon village? Men can only stay for short visits, you know. Will you be traveling with Xena and Gabrielle some more, or go off on your own?"
Joxer thought for a long moment before replying, "To tell you the truth, Diana, I'm not really sure. I don't think I'll be traveling with Xena and Gabrielle, I'm not really a warrior like I hoped to be. I can always fall back on being a courier, I've done that before. Taking messages from town to town, pretty easy work, and you meet a lot of nice people." He stole a glance at Diana, moved by her beauty, wanting to cry out, I really want to be with you!
Diana lifted her head, listening intently for a moment, then said, "I hear them setting up lunch, just up ahead. Come on, I'm hungry!" She impulsively grabbed Joxer's free hand and pulled him along toward camp.
Xena was glad that her mother had packed plenty of food, for it seemed that Gabrielle and Diana were in a contest to see who could eat the most. The trip so far was uneventful, she thought as they made camp for the night. Gabrielle entertained everyone with her tales, bringing dark looks from Xena when she told tales of her favorite warrior princess. Diana laughed at the tale of Xena and her look alike, asking, "Joxer, did you really think that Xena was in love with you?"
Joxer squirmed, confessing, "Well, what you think if a woman who looked exactly like Xena threw you down and started kissing you? I don't think I'll make that mistake again, though." He suddenly grinned as a thought struck him. "Meg sure threw Gabrielle for a loop, tossing her in jail like that." He laughed, remembering Gabrielle's shocked face as her best friend's look alike had tossed her in the dungeon. "I was willing to bet that you could have chewed through the bars on the window, you were so mad."
Gabrielle snorted, saying, "Well, I hear that you had the audacity to pinch Xena's bottom, Joxer. Even I would not have that much foolhardiness." She broke off another piece of bread, then added, "It was pretty confusing for awhile. I was so glad when the real Xena came on the scene." She grinned at her lover, receiving a smile in return.
"Okay kids, let's hit the blankets so we can get an early start tomorrow morning," Xena said. "We should be able to reach the village by mid-morning if we don't dawdle," she added, looking at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle just put on her most innocent face, asking, "Me? Dawdle?"
Xena just shook her head and fondly gripped the bard's shoulder, shaking it slightly. "Yes, you, my sleepyhead."
Xena and Diana woke up at the same time early the next morning. Diana set about breaking down camp as Xena set out a cold breakfast for everyone. Diana motioned for Xena to follow her to the nearby stream. Curious, Xena followed. "Xena, you've known Joxer a long time, right?" Xena nodded cautiously. "Well, what is he really like? He has been so kind to me and makes me feel like I am the most wonderful woman on earth. Is he really as goofy as people say he is?"
Xena looked off at the distance, marshaling her thoughts. Finally, she answered, "Joxer comes from a long line of warriors and warlords, but apparently did not show any real talents as a child. His father cast him out when he was in his teens, so he has lived by his wits since. When I first met him, he was a pain in the rear, an arrogant fool who tried to believe that he was a great warrior."
She smiled fondly, thinking of Joxer's antics. "He can still be goofy and funny, but he has improved his fighting skills considerably. He has also started to learn how to think and plan, not to just jump in the midst of a situation. I think he is growing up and will make a fine man."
Diana grinned widely at the assessment. "I'm glad to hear that, Xena. He admitted that he had a crush on you, then on Gabrielle for the longest time, but--"
Diana's words were cut off by the sound of angry sounds of fighting from the camp. The warriors glanced at each other, then raced back to the camp to see what happened. When they arrived, they found five bandits attacking Joxer and Gabrielle. They quickly waded into the fight, swords flashing in the early morning sunlight. "Gods, it's Xena!" shouted one. The others stopped for a moment, then all five fled the scene, screaming like little children. Xena called out, "Is everyone okay?"
"Yes," said Gabrielle, "I'm fine. Joxer has a slight cut on his arm, however."
Xena walked over to Joxer, looking at the thin bloody line on his arm, then grabbed her bag and pulled out bandages and herbs to treat him with. "This will sting" she warned as she cleaned his arm, then bandaged it. Joxer gritted his teeth but did not make a sound. Diana came over to watch Xena take care of Joxer, then sat by him on the log.
Once Xena finished bandaging Joxer's arm, she went over to Gabrielle, asking quietly, "What happened, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle watched Diana talking to Joxer for a moment, then answered, "I had just come back from the trees when Joxer yelped. I grabbed my staff and started fighting. Joxer had his sword out and was doing well, but one of the bandits managed to cut his arm. Is the wound bad?"
Xena smiled as she permitted herself to stroke Gabrielle's hair for a moment. "No, but it will probably leave a thin scar." She signed, then commented, "Diana is interested in Joxer. She was asking me about him just before the ruckus started. What do you think of the situation?"
Gabrielle chewed her bottom lip before answering. "Well, she can't keep him at the Amazon village, but he can stay as a guest for a few days. By then, maybe she would know if they were compatible or not."
Meanwhile, Diana had sat down by Joxer to ask him what happened. He told her about the five bandits attacking and how he and Gabrielle fought them until Diana and Xena arrived. Diana nodded, commenting, "I saw some of your fighting--you were quite good."
Joxer signed, staring morosely at his arm. "Not good enough, Diana, Xena had to jump in and save me again."
Diana lightly punched his shoulder, saying, "Joxer, quit putting yourself down. Not many could have held off that many bandits until reinforcements arrived! You're lucky to come out alive, much less with a mere scratch!" He still stared at his bandaged arm, not acknowledging the compliment.
Diana grabbed his chin and forced Joxer to look at her. "Listen to me when I talk, warrior!" she exploded, eyes blazing. "Gods, can't you take a compliment?" She continued to stare at him, finally noting the pain of self-doubt in his eyes. Without thinking, she reacted to the pain by closing the space between them and gently kissed Joxer.
The kiss took them both by surprise, yet they continued it until they heard Xena saying, "Let's break camp, Gabrielle." Joxer pulled away so abruptly that he fell off the log. Diana laughed at him as she stood up and offered him a hand. He realized that she was not laughing at him, but at them, so Joxer grinned sheepishly at Diana, then took her hand, allowing her to pull him off the ground.
The four arrived at the Amazon village near lunch time. Diana shyly squeezed Joxer's hand before going to report in. Gabrielle arranged a guest hut for Joxer, then checked in to her royal hut, leaving Xena to unpack as Gabrielle went in search of Ephiny for an update. Xena quickly unpacked their gear, then went to find the mess tent for a bite lunch. She found Joxer in line, then sat down at a table with him. "So," she asked, breaking her bread, "Are you and Diana getting along?"
Joxer blushed while a silly grin swept over his face. "Well, yeah, Xena, Diana and I are getting along just fine. She is a really wonderful woman--nearly as good of a warrior as you, tells funny stories like Gabrielle, has the most beautiful brown eyes, just--wonderful." He blushed deeper as he spoke, then hurriedly took a swig of wine. Xena smiled at Joxer. He saw her smile and started to relax, asking, "How long have you known Diana?"
Xena swallowed her bread, then answered, "Since she was born. You've heard her mention that her mother was an Amazon?"
"Yes, and that her mother promised to bring her up as an Amazon," Joxer said.
"Well, her mother came to my village after being held prisoner in a war. I never heard the whole story, but Diedra, her mom, was pregnant when she escaped, and my mom sent her to life with Mom's best friend, Rebecka. Long story short, we became best friends, even with a six year difference. Diana was a cute kid, even though she was always getting into fights with the older kids." Xena grinned at a memory, then added, "and she usually won."
A few minutes later, Gabrielle joined them with a huge plate of food. "Hey, guys, sorry I'm late. This looks great!" she exclaimed as she dug into lunch. Xena shook her head indulgently as Joxer stared at the quantity of food. "I'm absolutely starving, fighting bandits does that, you know." Gabrielle commented when she saw Joxer's stare. Xena glanced up at the line, seeing Diana and waved at her. Diana made her way over to the table, sitting next to Joxer. Gabrielle asked, "So, did you get your next assignment? Are you attached to a company yet?"
Diana took a long swallow before answering. "I am now part of the village guard, which is usually considered a cushy job since only idiots would attack the village itself. I will start drilling with the guard tomorrow morning, since they finished their drills before we arrived today. I have the rest of the afternoon off--partly because I arrived with the Queen," she said, looking at Gabrielle.
"Oh, well, it was the least I could do." Gabrielle said royally.
"Thank you, oh my Queen," Diana replied, sketching a bow. She turned to Joxer, asking, "Do you want to go see the gardens this afternoon?" He nodded yes. "Good. Mother always said that the Amazon gardens produced the best wheat and rice in this part of Greece. In fact, they also have the best..."
That night, as Gabrielle crawled into bed, Xena asked, "Gabrielle, what do you think of our relationship?"
Gabrielle looked into the warrior's eyes, asking, "What do you mean?"
Xena grabbed the brush and motioned for Gabrielle to turn around. She brushed the bard's hair in silence for a moment, then answered, "Is this just one of a series of relationships, or do you think that you will stick with me for a lifetime?"
Gabrielle pondered the question for a long time while Xena brushed her hair. She finally answered, "Xena, I love you with all of my heart and soul, and I believe that we were destined to be together forever. Does this have something to do with your mother asking us to have our wedding in Amphipolis?"
Xena finished brushing the bard's silky hair, then laid the brush down. As Gabrielle turned back to face her, Xena slowly said, "I guess so. I've spent so many years not allowing myself to feel anything but rage and vengeance that sometimes I can't trust the more tender feelings. Don't worry, I love you with my heart and soul, but sometimes I wonder how good I am for you, Gabrielle."
The warrior reached up, gently touching the bard's cheek. "I guess I'm just terrified of making the final commitment." Gabrielle started to speak, but Xena put her finger on Gabrielle's lips. "It doesn't mean I love you any less. Gods, I would do anything for you, my queen. I guess part of it is that I have always seen formal ties as a signal to settle down and stop wandering and I am just too restless to settle down. At the same time, I feel like I need that formal commitment with you, or our relationship is not complete. Do you understand?"
Gabrielle smiled, taking Xena's hands in hers. "I do understand, Xena. Remember, I was the girl who tagged along with you when you rescued my village. I chose to leave because I had a restless soul, wanting to wander. I choose to wander with you, Xena, just as I choose to have Ephiny as my regent. I've even thought seriously about abdicating my throne so that Ephiny can take over as the queen, not just act as my regent."
Xena leaned forward to kiss Gabrielle, then pulled back. "There is one other thing, Gabrielle. When we get married, the Amazons will expect an Amazon ceremony, here at the Amazon village. My mother wants us to get married at home. How do we reconcile the differences? I don't want to disappoint Mother any more, not since we're finally back on good terms. But I'm not sure that we could have an Amazon ceremony at home."
Gabrielle thought for a long moment before answering. "I'll talk to Dorcas, the priestess, tomorrow morning. No matter what happens, Xena, I will always be at your side, not as your sidekick, but as your partner."
Xena's face softened as she pulled Gabrielle into her arms. "Who would have thought that the big bad warrior could be so thoroughly conquered by the little bard?" Gabrielle started to protest, but Xena shushed her with a long kiss. As she pulled back, Xena added, "I never thought that I could be this happy ever again. Even if you do snore."
Gabrielle shot up, grabbing a pillow to hit Xena with as she yelped, "I do NOT snore!"
Xena laughed heartily as she pinned Gabrielle down, blue eyes dancing. "I love feisty women!" she exclaimed as she looked down at the bard. "Just love to eat them up!" Gabrielle tried to scowl but failed as the warrior princess started licking her tummy...
Joxer and Diana wandered around the fields, hand in hand. Joxer could hardly believe his good fortune, praying that it would last longer than a few days or weeks. As he listened to Diana talk about different strains of vegetables that she had grown growing up, he realized that she had not mentioned anything about war or being a warrior. Come to think of it, he was getting tired of wandering around from town to town, barely earning enough to stay alive.
"Diana," he asked as they paused by the lake, "do you really want to be a warrior forever? I mean, this afternoon you have talked about crops and how to grow better food and have said nothing about your Amazon training or your new assignment as a village guard."
Diana sat down on a large, sun-warmed rock to gather her thoughts. As Joxer sat next to her, she took his hands in hers, looking at his sword callused hands. Finally, she answered, "I never thought about it, Joxer, but I have always been more interested in farming and the logistics of selling food than anything else. I've enjoyed my training here, but I can't see myself always being a warrior." She kissed his hands one at a time, then looked into his eyes, asking, "What about you, Joxer? You don't seem like the fierce warrior for hire that you pretend to be. What do you really want to do?"
Joxer dropped his eyes, looking at their hands, then answered softly, "I don't know, Diana. All I ever thought I wanted to be was a famous and feared warrior. Even though Xena and Gabrielle have taught me much about fighting and defending myself recently, I have lost my desire to fight." He reached up and gently stroked Diana's honey brown hair. "Right now, I just want to be with you, talking to you, stroking your hair, just being in the same place with you." He smiled at her, then said, "I've had crushes on lots of women, most of whom would never give me the time of day. But you are different, you tolerate me for some strange reason."
Diana leaned forward and kissed Joxer's lips lightly, then pulled back. "Joxer, you are different than many men I have met. You have treated me with respect, not as a trophy or plaything. Mom and Rebecka always said that the foundation of any relationship had to be mutual respect and I suspect that they are right. After all, they were together for nearly twenty years before Rebecka died of lung sickness."
Joxer nodded. "I never saw any respect between my parents. My mother was kidnapped when I was nine and my father did not even try to find her. He just found another wife as if nothing had happened." He traced his thumbs over Diana's hands, marveling at the texture of her skin, how the darker tan showed up against his pale skin.
He continued, "You know, I had a crush on Gabrielle. When Xena decided that I needed more training and took me to her mother's inn for intensive training, I was overjoyed, for I would get to see more of Gabrielle. But, after spending more time with them, I realized one day that it would never be, that they loved each other dearly. I couldn't stand it, so I ran away."
Joxer took a deep breath to steady himself. "I was so upset that I forgot to pay attention to my surroundings, which was the first lesson Xena tried to pound into me. So, I was kidnapped and Xena had to come rescue me. But the amazing thing, Diana, is that she did not seem to resent it, she did it out of friendship, not from feeling sorry for me. She even managed to manipulate Nicholas the warlord into fighting me for my freedom. At the time I thought she was insane, but instead, she showed that she trusted that she had trained me to be able to stand up to him and win. So, I fought him, but refused to kill him, something I learned from Gabrielle, who views all life as sacred. Xena was actually proud of me, which made me feel better about being stupid. I got to see the tender side of Xena, the side that cares deeply about her friends."
Diana smiled, saying, "Yes, Xena has always cared about people. Before the village was threatened by Cortese, I was playing tag in the village square with some friends of mine. I fell down and skinned my knee and was still young enough to start crying. The other children started laughing at me, taunting me that I was a crybaby. Suddenly, a shadow fell on us--it was Xena, arms crossed, saying, 'Just what are you laughing at? Pain is no laughing matter.' The other scattered and Xena scooped me up and carried me home. Rebecka was there and Xena simply said that I had fallen and scraped my knee, knowing that Rebecka would have told Mom and Mom would have hounded the parents for allowing their children to laugh at me. It made a big impression on me, her sticking up for me like that. She checked on me the next few days until she decided that I would survive. The other children never laughed at me again, but I never cried over a mere scrape again, either."
"That sounds just like her," Joxer agreed. They fell silent, watching the wind making ripples on the lake for awhile, then Joxer finally said, "We'd better head back or Xena may come find us." Diana laughed and stood up, pulling Joxer up with her.
Early the next morning, Xena and Gabrielle met with Dorcas, the priestess, to ask whether or not Gabrielle was obliged to have an Amazon wedding versus a simple village wedding. Dorcas thought for a long time, then finally answered, "For an ordinary Amazon, it does not matter. For an Amazon queen, it does matter. A queen must have an Amazon ceremony or the marriage can be called into question as to its legality. May I ask why this is such an important question?"
The women looked at each other, then Gabrielle leaned forward while answering. "Dorcas, I love Xena with my whole heart. It does not matter to me when or how we are married, but that we are married. However, Xena was not on the best of terms with her mother until very recently and her mother has requested that we get married in Amphipilas so she can throw the wedding party. I have grown to love Cyrene as another mother and do not wish to dishonor her. Xena is her only unmarried child and her only daughter. We simply wish to honor Cyrene by honoring her request."
Dorcas rubbed her chin thoughtfully before speaking. "Gabrielle, I can understand, but the law is clear on this point--"
Xena interrupted. "Then how do we change the law?"
Dorcas sighed. "Xena, it is not that easy. The law was passed many years ago to prevent secret alliances and weddings. The queen must be above suspicion at all times. I'm sorry, but I don't see any other way out."
Before Xena or Gabrielle could protest, a shout rang through the village. "Raiders! Posts, warriors!" Xena looked at Gabrielle, then ran out the door. Gabrielle paused, looking searchingly at Dorcas, then followed her lover into the middle of organized chaos.
Gabrielle grabbed Ephiny by the arm and ordered, "Report!" Ephiny pointed to the walls, saying, "Diana, daughter of Diedra, was at that post as a village guard. She has been shot down and taken off by raiders. My queen, I do not know if she is alive or not, but with your permission, I will go find her."
Before Gabrielle could say anything, Joxer interrupted. "Diana? Hurt?" He listened as Ephiny repeated her report, then he stared at Gabrielle. "I want to go with them, Gabrielle. I want to bring Diana home."
"Joxer, the party must be of Amazon warriors!" Gabrielle reminded him.
"You will let Xena go, I know it!" Joxer hurled at Gabrielle. "This may be the only chance for me to redeem myself--and I will die before I let Diana go." Gabrielle stared into his blazing eyes, then nodded her permission. As Joxer walked off to join the other warriors, Xena came back from the wall.
"Gabrielle," she began quietly, "I would like to go with the warriors' party to track Diana down and bring her back. However, after talking to some of the other village guards, I fear that it is Nicholas who took her. I'm not sure why, but I think he is trying to get back at both Joxer and myself. We humiliated him in front of his army--reason enough to get back at us." Xena signed, pulling her love close. "I'll be back soon, Gabrielle, I promise." She kissed the queen quickly, then strode off to join the other warriors.
One of the Amazon warriors caught sight of the trail immediately, and announced uneasily, "Diana has been hurt, I'm finding drops of blood."
Xena glanced at Joxer, asking, "Are you okay?" He nodded grimly, face paler than normal. "Good, because this will be rough going. It's much harder when you are rescuing someone you care about. Don't let your emotions overtake your common sense." He nodded again.
The Amazon party moved silently though the woods until Xena raised a hand. The warriors froze in place while Xena crept forward to the edge of a clearing. Several minutes went by before she returned, signaling for the warriors to retreat for a conference. "It's Nicholas," she announced quietly, "He has Diana tied to a tree--this time, he has more guards. She is wounded slightly in the upper left arm, but the bleeding has either stopped or slowed considerably." She looked straight at Joxer. "I think he may be trying to draw you out, Joxer. You humiliated him in front of his army, now he has a sure way of getting to you."
"He's damn right about drawing me out--" Joxer started.
Xena laid a hand on his shoulder. "No, Joxer, stay calm. This is only my guess. He could also be trying to draw away enough warriors to attach the village. I need two volunteers to go back to warn the village, just in case." Two women volunteered for the mission, listening to Xena's message. They repeated it back, then melted away to carry the message to Gabrielle. Xena looked at the remaining warriors and said, "I have a cunning plan..."
The two volunteers burst into the mess tent, going straight to Gabrielle's table. They started to bow, but Gabrielle stopped them, saying, "Did Xena send you?"
The taller woman answered, "Yes, my queen. She suspects that Nicholas is either trying to get his revenge on Joxer, or is using Diana to draw us away from the village."
"Hmm, yes," said Ephiny, "that sounds plausible. With your permission, I will arrange for our defense."
"Go to it, Ephiny. Warriors, thank you. Please assist Ephiny." After the three bowed and left the tent, Gabrielle sighed, looking at her half-finished lunch. How would she finish eating while monitoring the preparations? Inspiration hit and she piled sliced meat and cheese on a thick slice of bread, topping it with another slice of bread. "A convenient way to eat without sitting down," she murmured to herself. She walked out of the tent, munching her food.
Xena watched the camp warily as she discussed her plan with Anis, the captain of the unit. Anis had sent scouts ahead to see if anyone was leaving the camp, but so far, the camp looked full. Xena was now more inclined to believe that Nicholas was trying to get Joxer to come to the camp, especially since Diana remained in full view, not put away in a tent.
Anis finally agreed that Joxer should be sent in, but only if he were covered by her best archers. Xena agreed, then called Joxer over. Anis asked Joxer, "Joxer, we need to use you as a decoy. I know that his will be dangerous for you, but be assured that my best archers will be covering you." As Joxer listened intently, Anis and Xena took turns outlining Xena's clever plan.
Finally, Joxer answered, "Yes. The woman I love is in there and Nicholas is waiting for me. I'll be careful and bring Diana back alive. This time, though, I will kill Nicholas if I have to."
Anis nodded sadly. "You might have to do that, Joxer. Just give us the word, and we will cover you." She watched the camp intently for a moment, gauging the activity level. "Since it seems that many of the men are starting to drowse in the mid-day heat, this might be a good time." He nodded his assent, then clasped arms with Anis. "Please come back alive, Joxer. Good luck and may the gods watch over you." Joxer swallowed nervously, clasped arms with Xena, then slipped silently into the camp. "There goes a brave man, Xena," Anis observed. Xena nodded her head, agreeing.
Ephiny found Gabrielle walking the lines, finishing her meal. She suppressed a grin at Gabrielle's ability to concentrate on eating over the possibility of attack, then reported to her queen, "So far, we haven't seen any signs of any invaders, warriors or scum. But I still feel uneasy." She pulled off her mask, scratching at her sweaty head. "I'd like to stay on alert status until the guard unit comes back with Diana."
"I agree, Ephiny. Do we dare send the runners back to Xena and Anis, to let them know that we are safe so far?" Gabrielle questioned.
"I'm not sure. It would be good to let them know that we are safe, but I still have a feeling that something may happen. If this army is as large as Xena thinks, they may try to raid our supplies and not attack us unless provoked." She stretched, then observed, "At least you are safer here than with Xena."
"Yes, but what about Xena? What about Joxer? How safe will they be? Will they be able to rescue Diana?" Gabrielle sighed as she and Ephiny started walking again. "You say that I am safer here, protected by more troops. But in my heart, I want to be by Xena's side, regardless of the danger. I belong by her side, Ephiny."
Ephiny started to protest, but Gabrielle put a hand on her shoulder, turning to face her. "Ephiny, I have been thinking the last few hours. I am seriously considering giving up the throne to you and going back to just being a traveling bard, telling of Xena's marvelous adventures. I'm not really a queen here, since you do much of the actual ruling."
"Are you serious?" asked Ephiny, shocked.
"Yes. As I said, you are the real ruler since I am gone so much. The Amazons need to have a queen that they can depend on, not just an infrequent visitor." Gabrielle explained.
"So, what triggered this? You have never talked like this before, Gabrielle," the regent said slowly.
The bard sighed as she tried to find the words to explain her feelings. "It's the wedding issue and the fact that you are doing a terrific job here. It's not fair to you to just be my regent, you should be queen. Besides, if I stay queen, Xena and I have to get married in an Amazon ceremony, here at the village and Cyrene can't come to the wedding. Xena and her mother have just recently gotten back on good terms and I don't want to destroy that relationship over the wedding."
Gabrielle thought, then added, "And, to really be a good ruler, I should stay here and Xena cannot stay in one place too long. I have never been content to stay in one place too long, I like to see and do new things, find new material for my stories. I am a bard, Ephiny, not a ruler. Our destinies are different and I can't hold you back from your destiny, which is to be the true queen of the Amazons."
Ephiny stared at her queen for a long moment, then asked, "You would give up a throne for the love of Xena? For the good of the Amazon nation?" She looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes, seeing the truth shining in them. "You are a very brave woman, my queen. There's not many who would give up so much to follow their own heart's desires, to turn away from certainty for the uncertainty of the road. Just promise that you will come back to visit us."
"Oh, don't worry, I will. Now go and lead the troops, Ephiny." Ephiny saluted, hesitated, then pulled Gabrielle into an embrace. She pulled back, slid her mask back over her face and walked off to the troops.
Joxer snuck into the camp, moving as quietly as possible. He finally reached Diana, quickly knocking out the guards. She waited patiently while he cut the ropes, then rubbed her wrists gently. Diana whispered, "Joxer, Nicholas is running over here, sword drawn." He kissed her lightly, then whirled to face Nicholas with his own sword drawn.
"Aha! you came back to die like a man!" Nicholas screamed at Joxer. "And where is your good friend Xena? Did she finally tire of your clumsiness? Or is she scared of me?"
Joxer stood firmly, hoping that Diana would be able to sneak away while he confronted Nicholas. While waiting for Nicholas to make his first move, Joxer replied, "This is my fight, why should Xena come along? Besides, I parted company with her days ago and don't know where she is."
Instead of answering, Nicholas thrust his sword at Joxer, but Joxer parried easily. The two started circling slowly, occasionally thrusting and parrying, feeling each other out. Joxer still put on a bit of a clumsy show, but this time Nicholas was more wary, not as easily fooled. Out of the corner of his eye, Joxer could see Diana slowly inching away from them as Nicholas suddenly pressed in with a flurry of rapid thrusts, causing Joxer to drop his sword.
Diana nearly escaped but was caught by a guard who hissed at her, "please stay, lady, and watch your pretty boy die." Diana allowed herself to be taken back to the action, pondering her next move.
Meanwhile, Joxer recovered his sword and dropped the clumsy act. The fight escalated as Xena's training stood Joxer in good stead, allowing him to keep up with the angry warlord. Each had managed to blood the other, but neither gave a wide opening. Nicholas started to thrust, then feinted and managed to knock Joxer's sword away again. Joxer tried to recover it but was blocked by Nicholas' sword touching his throat. Diana and the hidden Amazons watched intently, trying to decide if they should interfere or not.
Joxer dropped his hands, saying, "Kill me if you must. If you are do dishonorable as to kill me unarmed, then do it. Just let Diana go."
Nicholas grinned crudely. "Okay, have it your way." He motioned for the guard to release Diana. "Come closer and watch your lover die," he gloated.
Joxer stood his ground, saying quietly, "May I kiss her one last time?" Nicholas nodded and Diana moved forward to kiss Joxer, slipping his knife from his belt. She retreated as Nicholas drew back his sword, then she suddenly launched the knife in the air, catching Nicholas in the throat.
Taking it as a signal to attack, the Amazons swarmed into the camp, rounding up the army into the center of the clearing. Anis congratulated Joxer and Diana on their courage and quick thinking. Xena walked up and commented, "That was a neat trick. We were ready to charge, but you two changed the plan. Congratulations."
Joxer smiled, putting his arm around Diana's shoulders. "Diana whispered 'trust me' and I did." He kissed Diana gently, then noticed her wound. "Um, could someone look at her wound?" he asked before fainting.
The village was never raided, now that Nicholas' former army was safely locked up in the Amazon jail. Gabrielle called for a celebration and feast in honor of Diana's return, which the Amazons gleefully agreed to.
Gabrielle danced with her tribe for a long time around the fires, then came back the table where Xena sat with Diana and Joxer. She plopped down in a chair, grabbing a plate of fruit, proclaiming her hunger. "So, Joxer, you and Diana are now heroes. What are your plans now?" she asked between bites.
Diana looked at Xena, who nodded slightly. She then answered, "My queen, I have been thinking long and hard about this. As much as I love my Amazon sisters, as much as I have learned at their hands, I am not cut out to be a warrior. I would like to go home and join my mother at her store, maybe buy some land. I would rather plant and sell than to track and kill. Joxer and I have been talking tonight, going over possible plans. We are both tired of fighting and want to try something more peaceful."
Gabrielle looked at the couple, then at Xena. "So, you have decided. I cannot keep you here, your happiness is more important. Joxer, what will you do?"
He squeezed Diana's hand before answering. "Gabrielle, I am going with Diana back to Amphipilos. I can work in the store, or hire out as a courier. Even though we have not known each other for long, I have asked Diana if she will consider being my wife." Diana smiled at him. "She has agreed to allow me to formally court her, and Xena has suggested that I live at her mother's inn until Diana and I marry. That's our plans, so what are yours?"
"Well, I have some ideas, but I need to talk to Xena first. You two go enjoy the party." The couple left, hand in hand.
Xena sat back in her chair, crossing her arms. "Well, what do you need to talk with me about? What plans have you come up with now?"
Gabrielle looked at the fires for a long moment, then turned to her lover. "Let's go back to my hut to talk, Xena. This is too important for interruptions." Xena merely raised her eyebrows, but nodded. She watched as Gabrielle got up and went around to several women, saying goodnight. Gabrielle finally came back to the table, holding out her hand to Xena.
Xena waited patiently as Gabrielle flitted about the hut, lighting the lamp, turning back the covers on the bed, then finally dragging up a chair to the table. "So, Gabrielle, what are your plans? What did you need to talk with me about?" Xena finally asked.
"Our plans, Xena, not just my plans," Gabrielle gently corrected. "We need to decide our future together if we are going to stay together." She waited for a response, but Xena just nodded slowly. The bard traced a swirl in the wood of the table for a moment, then said softly, "Xena, I would like to step down as queen and let Ephiny take my place. Before you say anything, hear me out."
"All right, I'll listen," Xena promised.
Gabrielle continued, "Ephiny has been ruling as my regent for months now. The village is back together, she has done a fine job of pulling everyone back together after Valesca's attempts to rule as both queen and goddess. I love my Amazon sisters, but I do not feel like this is my destiny. Like Diana, I am very proud of being an Amazon, but my path lies with you, Xena. My home is with you, Xena, not in one place or village. We are a team, like it or not, and I can't break up our partnership. If I were to stay queen, I would need to stay here longer and more often during the next few years. I can't do that, not and love you too. The Amazons need a leader who is here, not a regent. I need you, not to rule a nation."
She stopped, looking into Xena's blue eyes, trying to see what Xena was thinking. Xena held the stare for a long time, then finally smiled. "Gabrielle, you are amazing. Most people would love the chance to rule an entire nation, yet you turn it down to wander with me." The smile vanished as a look of worry crossed Xena's face. "Are you sure about this? I mean, chances are great that neither one of us will live to a ripe old age with this path. There are still men and women like Nicholas who would like nothing more than my head as a trophy. If you remain queen, we could settle down here, live in relative peace and luxury, yet still try to make life better for others. Are you ready to give up everything?"
Gabrielle answered, "Ready to give up everything? Xena, I gave up everything two years ago when you rescued me from slavery. Remember, I willingly followed you, even though you did not like me at first. As I said, you are my home now. I can't live without you, my love, and I would rather die young with you than to live to a ripe old age without you." She suddenly slipped out of her chair and knelt before Xena. "Xena, will you marry me? I cannot give you riches, but I will freely give you my heart."
Xena pulled the bard into her lap, staring into the woman's green eyes. "My dear, I will marry you. You have proven your courage time and again, and have proven your love for me." She kissed Gabrielle, then suddenly drew back. "Does this mean..." her voice trailed off as she swallowed, then tried again. "Can we get married at home, so Mother can be there? It would mean so much to her."
Gabrielle laughed as she stroked Xena's face. "Mean so much to your mother? Xena, I think it means more to you to get married at home than it does to your mother. Yes, we will get married in Amphipolis. We can have Joxer and Diana stand with us even. I love you, my warrior princess, to the end of our days." She kissed Xena, then commanded, "Take me to bed!" Xena stood up with Gabrielle in her arms, grinning wickedly as she obeyed.
"I was wondering if you would come to this decision," Dorcas said in the council chambers. "You will pass on the caste of rite to Ephiny, but wish to retain your citizenship as an Amazon." She then looked at the rest of the council members, then said, "This is most unusual, but we will allow it to proceed. Queen Gabrielle, I wish I could have performed your marriage to Xena, but it is not to be."
Xena caught the priestess' eye. "Dorcas, we would ask a favor of you. Even though we wish to be married in my hometown, we would like for you to preside over the ceremony. This way, we could retain elements of the Amazon ceremony and have the blessing of the Amazon nation. We talked about this last night and agreed to ask this favor. It would mean a great deal to us."
The councilors conferred for a long time, arguing the pros and cons of this approach. Finally, Dorcas announced, "It is agreed. I will preside over your ceremony, if you will allow us to come celebrate your marriage with you."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, then Gabrielle said, "We would be honored, my lady."
After they left the council chambers, Ephiny caught up with them and demanded, "Are you really leaving?"
"Yes." Gabrielle motioned for Ephiny to follow them to her hut. After the three women entered and sat down, Gabrielle continued. "I am a bard, not a queen. And to quell any rumors, Xena did not ask me to give up my royal status. In fact, she has tried to get me to follow a safer path several times, but I refused every time. She's stuck with me forever."
"If you are sure about it, then I will try to do honor to the Amazon nation. Gabrielle, Xena, you have blessed me many times, first by saving my life, then by helping me deliver my son." Ephiny looked at the happy faces of her friends, wishing for a moment that she could have a great love like theirs. She remembered her lover for a moment, silently offering a prayer for his happiness in the Elysian fields. "I love you both and look forward to attending your wedding. You have a tough road ahead, but remember that you always have a home here with us."
Xena leaned forward and squeezed Ephiny's hand. "We aren't the only ones with a tough road ahead. You will have a hard time as queen, but if you ever need our help, you have it." Ephiny squeezed Xena's hand back, marveling at how much Xena had changed since she had realized that she was in love with Gabrielle. From evil warlord to crusading warrior, setting wrong back to right, quite a change. She finally stood up, saying, "I had better be leaving, since the change of caste ceremony is in the morning. Good night, my friends." The other two women stood up as well, taking turns hugging Ephiny.
The ceremony went emotionally, but smoothly. Gabrielle cried as she told the Amazons farewell, but proclaimed that she could not live without Xena by her side. After a final lunch, they packed quickly, then after final good-byes, headed back to Amphipilos with Diana and Joxer. The four traveled quietly, wrapped up in their individual thoughts for much of the trip back. Xena thought about the permanence of what she was about to undertake with Gabrielle and was surprised to find that she was no longer scared. Gabrielle was just overjoyed at the thought of joining her destiny with Xena's and of the tales she could spin from their latest adventures.
Joxer was still amazed that any woman would find him worthy of her attention and looked forward to courting Diana properly, to settle down in one place. Diana was happy to go back home, but wondered what her mother would say about Joxer, and about her turning her back on the Amazon ways. She only wished that Rebecka were still alive, she missed her other mother so much, Rebecka had always been the one she went to for heart to heart talks.
"Mom?" called Diana at the door of her mother's house. "Are you home?"
Diedra stepped into the living area, answering, "Yes, daughter, I am here. Why are you here? I thought you had gone back to finish your training?"
Diana stepped into the house and sat down. "I'm not going to finish all of my training. I know enough for good defense, but I am not cut out to be a warrior like you. I want to work with you at the produce stand, save my money to buy a small farm. I'm better at growing things than at fighting."
Diedra looked at Diana for a long time, noting the recent wound and the stubborn set to the jaw. She knew that her daughter had finally made up her mind and would not be budged. Rebecka had always understood Diana better, oh, how she missed Rebecka at times like these. "Diana, you are wounded. How did that happen?"
"It's a long story, but to make it short, some raiders came to the village and as I was sounding the alarm, they kidnapped me. I was cut in the tussle, but my sisters and one brave man saved my life." Her eyes darkened as she told the tale, remembering the harsh march, the fight and Joxer nearly dying. "Mother, I had to kill a warlord. I had to kill him to save Joxer's life. My Amazon training prepared me to kill, but not for the feelings afterward." She stopped, her face haunted by her actions.
Diedra stared at her daughter with mixed emotions. She was happy that Diana was still alive, but sad that she would not be following in her footsteps. Wait, Joxer? "Are you talking about the same Joxer who is such a joke?"
Diana lifted her head to look directly at her mother. "Joxer is not a joke, he is a very brave man. Xena and Gabrielle took him in and taught him how to fight more efficiently. But, he too does not want to be a warrior. He would like to work with us and help me with my farm. Mother, I want for you to meet Joxer. Will you?"
Diedra waited a long moment before answering, trying to organize her thoughts and reactions. Finally, she said, "If Xena took the time to train him, then he must have changed. He is the same Joxer that was here with them recently?" Diana nodded. "I saw them work out several times--he was pretty good. All right, I will consent to meet him. When are you going to bring him over?"
Diana smiled for the first time since walking into the house. "At Xena and Gabrielle's engagement party tonight."
"So you're really going to get married here. Oh, daughter, you have made me so happy!" Cyrene cried out, holding out her arms. Xena smiled, closing the distance and hugging her mother tightly. They hugged tightly for a time, then Cyrene pulled back with a faintly puzzled look on her face. "But thinking it over, I realized that Gabrielle has to get married in an Amazon ceremony since she is their queen."
"Mother, please sit down," Xena said softly. The women both sat down, then Xena continued. "Gabrielle gave up her royal status. She passed the right of caste to Ephiny, allowing Ephiny to fully assume the mask of the queen. She did it for the Amazons, believing that they need a full time queen, but she also did it for me, which I don't deserve."
"She gave up the throne? Xena, you had better hold on tight to her, very few would give up so much for love." Cyrene grinned, reaching over and squeezing her daughter's hands. "So, when is the wedding?"
Xena laughed, saying, "Let's take it one step at a time, Mother. We would like to have a small engagement party tonight, here at the tavern, then have the wedding in a few weeks at the village hall. Gabrielle says that she doesn't care when or where we have it, but I care very much. I want you there, and I want everyone to know how much I love Gabrielle."
Cyrene continued to grin, shaking her head. "I never thought that you would ever talk this way about anyone--you never talked this way about your last fiance. At least I know that Gabrielle is a good woman and will make a wonderful partner for you. But what about her parents?"
Xena's face darkened slightly. "She is not telling them. Her mother and sister still don't like me, they think that I stole her away. But Mother, I tried everything to get rid of her at first. That woman is just like a burr, she sticks to you whether you like it or not!"
Cyrene laughed softly. "I'm sorry her family won't be invited, but that is a very interesting picture, Gabrielle as a burr. She sure got under your saddle blanket!" Xena blushed for the first time that Cyrene could remember in years. "I must be right!"
The engagement party was a huge success. Nearly the entire village turned out to see the famous couple. Cyrene even talked Xena into wearing a dress, saying that leathers and armor were not appropriate for engagement parties. Xena had made a face, but the look that Gabrielle gave her made it worthwhile. Toasts were made, then the couple mingled with the crowd.
Joxer, strangely enough, did not feel nervous about meeting Diedra. Diana had warned him that her mother thought of him as a clumsy oaf, but he felt sure that his love for Diana would win her over. Diedra finally appeared, spotted her daughter and walked over. "Mother, I would like for you to meet Joxer."
Diedra looked up at Joxer, inspecting him like a general inspecting a private. He merely stood quietly, waiting for the inspection to be over. "Diana says that you saved her life."
"Yes and no. I fought Nicholas to give her the chance to save her own life, then she saved mine by killing Nicholas. Diana is very brave." Joxer answered simply. "I would have died to preserve her life, ma'am." He looked Diedra over as thoroughly as she had looked him over. "I am honored to meet you, the Amazons still tell stories of your legendary prowess in battle. And, from what Xena tells me, you most legendary battle was raising Diana."
Diedra smiled unwillingly. Diana had been a handful, at least until she started tagging along with Xena. "Joxer, you are a brave man. Very few would refer to Diana's temper without her killing them on the spot. Welcome to Amphipolis, Joxer." He took Diedra's hand and bowed over it, kissing her fingers gently. Diedra smiled more broadly, saying, "You are a true gentleman, or a master manipulator. I like that in a man."
"Good," Joxer replied, "because I would like permission to court your daughter. Now I know that Amazons don't need permission for courting, but I would like to make an exception in your case."
Diedra looked from Joxer to Diana and back. "I grant you permission, but if you hurt her, I'll come after you personally!"
"Yes ma'am, I believe you would."
The day of the ceremony dawned bright and cool, absolutely perfect. Gabrielle had insisted that they sleep in separate rooms on their pre-wedding night in order "to preserve the mystery", she said. Xena pointed out that they had been sleeping together for several months and had traveled together for over two years, but Gabrielle was not to be deterred. Xena thought that she would not be able to sleep, but was amazed when she woke up just after the sun had risen, refreshed and calm. The wedding was set for early afternoon, with a late lunch following.
The time had finally arrived. Joxer arrived to escort Xena to the village hall, explaining that Diana had already escorted Gabrielle just a few minutes earlier. Xena looked at Joxer in amazement as she took in his black trousers, white silk shirt and beautiful multicolored vest. "Why Joxer, you are quite handsome," she murmured as they descended the inn stairs.
He smiled at the compliment, answering, "Xena, you are quite beautiful yourself." Xena was wearing a gown of deep blue with gold trim, making her eyes darker and more sparkling than usual.
They walked into the village hall, Joxer leading Xena to the front of the altar. Xena looked up in surprise to find Dorcas there. She looked at Gabrielle, who smiled innocently. Then she noticed Gabrielle's gown of deep green, trimmed in gold, making her eyes a deep emerald. Diana stood beside Gabrielle, clad in brown and cream, setting off her dark skin and hair perfectly. Xena's attention was dragged back by Dorcas, who was welcoming everyone to the ceremony.
The priestess lifted her arms as she started the ceremony. "We are gather here today to celebrate the joining of Xena of Amphipolis and Gabrielle of Poteidaia. These two women stand ready to pledge their love and lives to each other, in health, in illness, in wealth, in poverty. Will the representatives of the families please step forward?"
Cyrene stepped forward, placing her hand on Xena's waist. "I, Cyrene, represent Xena's family as her mother."
From out of the crowd, Ephiny stepped forward, placing her hand on Gabrielle's waist. "I, Ephiny, represent Gabrielle as her Amazon sister." Xena could barely control her eyebrows--two Amazons of high rank at an ordinary wedding. They must be bending some laws to be here.
Dorcas motioned for the wedding party to approach her. "Then do you, Diana and Joxer, stand by them, representing Gabrielle and Xena's friends, and to protect them this night?"
Each woman was escorted by her family and friend representatives, with the representatives placing their hands together, then symbolically stepping away from the couple. Dorcas spoke again. "Do you, Gabrielle, take Xena to be your spouse, to love and cherish always, in health, sickness, wealth or poverty? Do you promise never to forsake her, always loving her with all of your body and soul?"
"I do," she said firmly.
"Do you, Xena, take Gabrielle to be your spouse, to love and cherish always, in health, sickness, wealth or poverty? Do you promise never to forsake her, always loving her with all of your body and soul?"
"I do," Xena managed to get out.
Dorcas motioned for them to kneel facing her. "Then, as you humbly kneel before the gods and those gathered here, I ask you, do you swear that you love each other truly, not just for a day?"
"We do," they said together.
"Then stand and kiss each other as a sign of your commitment and joining." They stood and kissed soundly, finally breaking it off only when Cyrene started gently coughing. "May I present the happy couple, Xena and Gabrielle!"
"Gods, Xena, I'm still stuffed from the wedding feast. Aren't you?" Gabrielle asked.
"Mm hmm," Xena answered lazily.
"By the way, where are we going?" Gabrielle asked
"You'll see." Xena smiled mysteriously.
Gabrielle fidgeted for a moment, playing with the hand that Xena had wrapped around her waist. At least Argo was kept to a nice steady pace, she thought. She smiled as she thought about how beautiful Xena was, standing in front of the altar, waiting for them to be joined. Gabrielle smiled even bigger when she thought of how Xena had to be gracious about dancing with her, after all, the happy couple was supposed to lead the first dance! Xena had surprised her with her dancing skills, so smooth and graceful. Joxer and Diana had looked good together dancing, too. Gabrielle hoped that their relationship would strengthen and work out. "Xena, do you think that Diana and Joxer will get married some day?"
Xena kissed the top of the bard's head before replying, "I think they might. Joxer has matured lately. But it sure was funny watching Diedra practically eating out of Joxer's hand. He must have done something to impress her, for I don't think she had ever let any man near Diana before." She chuckled happily, then said, "okay, my love, we have arrived."
Gabrielle slid down, then grinned hugely. It was the same cave that they had first made love in, so tucked away that you had to know where to look to find it. "Xena, you are such a sentimental fool."
"Sentimental, maybe, fool, only for you." came the reply. They quickly unpacked their stuff and set a small blaze going in the cave. Xena finally proclaimed camp finished--they had extra blankets for softness, food for a week, and--what?
"Xena, this is massage oil."
"Yup. I thought that one of us might be tense and need a massage at some point." Xena explained with a straight face. Gabrielle laughed delightedly, pulling the warrior into her arms. Xena wrapped her arms around the bard, breathing in the scent of her hair, just enjoying the feeling of Gabrielle safely in her arms for eternity. "Gabrielle, I can't believe we're finally married."
Gabrielle pulled back slightly, looking into her love's eyes. "I can hardly believe it too. Just know that I love you, that we are joined now." Xena smiled at Gabrielle, her heart too full to reply with words as she leaned down to kiss her partner.
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