by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: email@example.com
Disclaimer: Xena and her family belong to MCA/Universal/USA Networks or whoever runs the network these days. I am merely borrowing the characters and will return them no worse for the wear. The other characters are the product of my vivid, over-active imagination and I claim copyright to them and their actions. For those who wonder, yes, women love women here.
"So, if we get the contract, we'll nearly double our business. Dad, do we have enough runners?" Rebecka Diedra asked Joxer as they looked over some papers.
"Not here in Amphipolis, but I can hire additional runners in outlying towns. Rebecka, I'm very proud of the way you negotiated this morning, I think we will get the contract." Joxer looked at his sixteen year old daughter with love and pride. Not only was she picking up the nuances of his courier and delivery service, but she also was learning the grocery business as well. "So, do you think we should open an office in Athens?"
Rebecka pulled out another sheet of parchment and played with some figures before answering. She finally looked up at her father and replied, "If we can find a good manager, we should. We are getting more business to and from Athens, and I think we could use Athens as a jumping off point to grab some of the import/export business to and from Corinth." She heard the bell at the front door. "Dad, we have customers. Mom's still at Xena and Gabrielle's and Agathon is too hoarse to talk."
"Right," answered Joxer. "I'll go see who it is." Joxer left the office and went to the front of the store where Agathon, their store clerk, was already trying to talk to the woman who had just entered. "Good morning, I'm Joxer. How may I assist you?"
The slim blonde woman answered, "I need food. Or, rather, I need someone to cook food for a funeral. I just came back, my mother has just passed away and I am trying to make the arrangements. Can you help me?"
"Well," Joxer mused, "we usually don't do any catering, but I can send Rebecka with you to the inn. Xena and Gabrielle do catering, banquets and other entertainment. Who was your mother?"
"Cleo. My father was Alexander, the blacksmith. I wasn't able to return for his funeral and I fear that I am the only child left," she explained.
"Oh, Cleo, right. I'm so sorry, ma'am, Cleo was a wonderful woman. She made all of my wife's and daughters' clothes until this winter when her eyes got too bad. Please accept my condolences," Joxer said.
"Thank you, sir."
Joxer replied, "I beg your pardon, but I didn't catch your name. My name is Joxer, this is my daughter, Rebecka. My wife is Diana, the daughter of Diedra and Rebecka."
The woman ran fingers through long blonde hair, saying, "I should have said so in the first place, I'm a little frazzled right now, Joxer. I am Lis, I married and moved away many years ago, when Diana would have been eight or nine. I doubt that she remembers me, though." Lis hesitated, then asked, "Is Xena the daughter of Cyrene?"
"Yes," said Joxer, "and one of the godmothers of Rebecka here, and Gabrielle runs the catering." He turned to his daughter and said, "Rebecka, take Lis over to the inn and set her up. Things are pretty slow right now, so if you have relatives or friends coming for the funeral, I'm sure that they can set you up with rooms."
"Right. Thank you Joxer." Lis looked around the store, then finally turned to Rebecka. "I suppose the next stop is the inn."
Rebecka nodded politely, motioning for Lis to follow her. "Yes, ma'am. Follow me, please."
"Gabrielle! Customer!" Rebecka called out as she entered the inn with Lis. Gabrielle came out from her office, motioning the serving girl to bring over wine, water and food. She walked over to a table as Rebecka continued, "This is Lis, the daughter of Alexander and Cleo. She's here for Cleo's funeral and needs some catering for the service, and Dad said to bring her over."
"Thank you, Rebecka," Lis said.
"Well, I've delivered you, Lis, so I'll go back to the store. Gabrielle, could you ask Xena when we can go fishing again?" Rebecka asked eagerly.
Gabrielle smiled at her older goddaughter. "I can't speak for Xena, you should know that by now. Scoot along, we'll see you tonight at dinner. Don't forget to tell your parents that we need more grapes." Gabrielle briefly hugged Rebecka, pausing a moment to notice that Rebecka was now taller than she was. Gods, Rebecka is nearly a woman now, she thought before turning back to the matter at hand. "I'm Gabrielle. Xena and I run the inn, but I do all of the catering. How may I help you?" Gabrielle indicated the plates that the server had set down. "Would you like any food or drink?"
Lis sat down at the table, loosening her cloak. "Yes, please." She watched as Gabrielle expertly mixed water and wine, handing her a mug. She took a long drink, then spoke again. "I'm Lis, in town for the funeral of my mother, Cleo. Her younger brother, Xan, and his family are coming, and maybe some friends, but she outlived most of her friends and my brother and sister are already dead." Lis selected a piece of fruit and ate it before continuing. "I think we'll have about thirty people in all--can you handle that?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Sure, no problem at all. Xena just finished overseeing the addition of five rooms last month. Did you grow up here, Lis? I think I heard Xena mention a friend named Lis once in passing."
A veil dropped over Lis's eyes as she answered, "Yes, I knew Xena, we were friends before I married Paul and left Amphipolis for Corinth. This is the first time I've been back home since I moved."
Gabrielle noticed the change in voice and decided not to push the topic. It was obviously a sore point of some type. "So, do you have the other arrangements made? Do you want a full meal or light snacks?"
The older blonde tapped her fingers on the table for a few seconds as she thought about the question. She finally answered, "Full meal, supper I think. The funeral will be in the afternoon, so, yes, we'll serve supper afterwards," Lis replied.
Over the next half hour, Lis and Gabrielle went over the details, then she paid in advance before saying, "I'll be at my mother's house, cleaning up and sorting through everything before the funeral if you need to get in contact with me." She stood up to go.
"Thank you for your order, Lis. Please accept my condolences." Gabrielle stood up as well, walking Lis to the door. "Cleo was a wonderful woman and a good friend of ours. I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, Gabrielle." With that, Lis slipped out of the inn.
Later that evening, Xena came back from the Amazon village, where she had been delivering horses the Amazons had ordered. She stopped by Diana and Joxer's first to buy some apples for Argo, Jr. before she went on home. Little Cyrene, their eight year old, bounded into the room and jumped into Xena's arms. "Xena! You're home! Tell Rebecka that you have to take me with you when you take her fishing!"
Xena hugged the small girl, then set her back down. Cyrene had dark red hair, blue eyes and pale skin, unlike anyone else in her family. Her father, Joxer, had salt and pepper hair, light skin and dark brown eyes, while her mother Diana had honey brown hair, dark skin and brown eyes. "Fishing? Who said anything about fishing?"
"I did!" declared Rebecka as she hugged her godmother. "I telling Cyrene here that I wanted to go fishing with you, and I think she decided that since you taught me how to fish when I was her age, that she could go with us. Oh, we can't go until next week, though. Cleo's funeral is tomorrow afternoon, her daughter came into town to make the arrangements."
"Cyrene, sweetheart, please ask your mom and dad when they are coming over for dinner tonight." Xena asked the younger girl. When Cyrene bounded out of the room, Xena turned her full attention to Rebecka. "So Lis came home for the funeral?" she asked warily.
Rebecka answered, "Yes. She came in this morning and I took her over to the inn. Gabrielle is arranging the catering and the rooms for the family and friends." She watched, puzzled, as a cold mask fell over Xena's features. The last time she had seen Xena's face like this was when she had been kidnapped nearly nine years ago, just before Xena and Gabrielle's tenth anniversary. "Xena, did I say something wrong?" she asked uneasily.
Xena shook her head, relaxing her features. "No, sorry, sweetheart, you didn't say anything wrong. It's just that I knew Lis when we were children and our parting was not good. We'll go fishing the day after the funeral." A sly smile crossed her face. "That is, if Gabrielle will give me the time off." She squeezed Rebecka's shoulder affectionately. Rebecka smiled back at her, knowing the joke that in matters of the inn and tavern, Gabrielle was the absolute boss and Xena gladly let her rule.
Little Cyrene walked back in with Diana, who hugged Xena briefly, then said, "I think we're supposed to be over in another hour. The shop will be closing soon, but I need to talk to Agathon a few minutes before we can leave."
"Okay, see you there. Bye girls, see you in a bit." Cyrene ran back to Xena and hugged her fiercely. "Hey, I'll see you soon, little one," Xena protested as the child did her best to hug the living daylights out of her.
Cyrene grinned up at her beloved godmother. "I know, but Gabrielle says that you can always practice hugs." Xena rolled her eyes as she unwound herself from Cyrene's grasp, then waved to everyone as she left for the inn.
After supper, Xena steered Gabrielle into their office. "Rebecka tells me that Lis came by," she said casually.
"Yes, she did, to plan the supper after Cleo's funeral, gods rest her soul. You know, the name sounds familiar but I just can't place it. Did you know her? She seemed to have known you," Gabrielle commented.
Xena played with a quill from her desk for a moment, then answered flatly, "She was my friend until she left town with Paul, her husband."
"Was?" Gabrielle's ears perked up at the tone, sensing much more to the story. "As in former, as in you had a falling out?"
Xena tossed the quill aside and stared at her wife, half frustrated, half bemused. "Gabrielle, you seem to read my mind." She leaned back, rubbing her neck muscles with one hand. "Let's just say that the past is better left in the past. Change of subject: any objection to my taking Rebecka and Little Cyrene fishing the day after tomorrow?"
Gabrielle knew she would eventually get the whole story, so she said, "No, no objection, Xena. We have a pretty good staff now, so I don't need your immediate assistance." She suddenly remembered a message for Xena that had come in earlier in the day. "Oh, one of Joxer's couriers brought word that you mother is coming home tomorrow. I don't know if she heard about Cleo or not, but I'm sure that she'd fill in for me for a few days."
Xena stared at her partner for a few minutes, trying to pick up where she lost the thread. "Gabrielle, what does Mother have to do with anything?"
Gabrielle smiled. "I thought I'd tag along and make sure that you actually caught fish, not threw fish. Remember tossing those fish at me when we ran across Hower?"
Xena groaned, rubbing her face. "Yes, dear, I remember. It's been, what, at least eighteen years or more and you still haven't forgiven me for tossing a little fish at you?" She peeked out from under bangs, making a note to herself that she needed to get her wife to trim them before the funeral.
"Little?!?! That was a big fish AND a stupid eel! Why should I forget or forgive that?" Gabrielle huffed as she swatted Xena's arms with a rolled up parchment.
Xena threw up her hands in surrender. "Point made, love. I promise not to toss any fish at Little Cyrene or Rebecka."
"And?" Gabrielle prompted.
Xena smiled impishly. "Okay, no fish at you either." Gabrielle smiled. "Only eels." Gabrielle frowned and walked over to Xena's desk menacingly. "Only small eels?" asked Xena innocently. Gabrielle pretended to choke Xena for a second, then tumbled into Xena's lap and kissed her soundly. "Remind me to threaten you with eels more often," Xena purred after the kiss. She looked into those green eyes that she knew and loved so well, then homed in to the delicious lips...
The next day, Gabrielle drove her staff to make sure that everything was perfect. She realized late in the morning that Xena had successfully changed the subject and never did explain why she and Lis had broken their friendship. She decided to pursue it with Xena's mother when she came in, Cyrene always answered her questions about Xena's childhood.
Cyrene appeared shortly before lunch, talking about Solon, Xena's son, his wife Julia and their daughter, Telesilla. "Gabrielle, you should see Telesilla. She's not quite eight, but is already swinging a wooden sword. She looks like the spitting image of Xena, down to the black hair and blue eyes. She has Xena's temper, too." Cyrene smiled, thinking about her great-granddaughter. "They will come to Amphipolis this summer, gods willing. What's been going on here while I was gone?"
"Mother, Cleo died a few days ago. Her funeral is this afternoon, in a few hours. Her daughter Lis came back to see to her funeral and we are catering the supper afterwards," Gabrielle said gently.
Cyrene rubbed her chin, the vitality draining from her face. "Oh, Gabrielle, many of my generation are dead already. I hope that Lord Hades has prepared a good place for Cleo. Lis came? Gods, I hope that Xena hangs on to her temper."
"So what happened?" Gabrielle asked, relieved that she didn't have to bring it up herself.
Cyrene looked off into the distance through the office window before answering. "Xena should be telling you this, as I don't know the details. All I know is that Xena and Lis were good friends, perhaps best friends for most of their childhood. If I remember right, Lis was a few years older than Xena, but it didn't make much difference."
"I thought Diana was her best friend," Gabrielle interjected.
"They were, but remember, there was a six year difference in their ages, and Lis was Xena's best friend who was closer to her age," Cyrene explained.
"I apologize for interrupting, pLease continue, Mother," Gabrielle said.
Cyrene picked up the tale. "The summer that Xena turned fourteen, she and Lis spent all of their spare time together until Lis's parents made a match for her, a young man named Paul. Paul was apprenticed to Alexander in the blacksmith shop and was nearly ready to go out on his own. Lis and Xena went out on a picnic one day and Xena came back, muddy, angry and tight lipped. A few weeks later, Lis and Paul married and moved away. Xena never would tell me what happened, she just spent more time with her brothers and Diana after that. She went to the wedding, but left right after the ceremony, claiming that she was ill. After they left, Xena's good humor was pretty much restored, so I didn't think much about it. As I said, if you want the real details, you'll have to ask Xena, but I'll bet that she refuses to answer."
Gabrielle nodded, she knew how stubborn Xena could be. After all, it took her nearly twenty-one years to tell her mother that Solon even existed, and it was after he was married and Julia was expecting Telesilla. "Thanks anyway, Mother. I guess I'd better get moving or I won't be ready in time for the funeral." She stood up and walked with Cyrene to Cyrene's room. "I just hope that things work out for the best."
They stopped in front of Cyrene's door. "I do too, daughter. Would you have someone wake me in an hour? I'm really tired and need to take a nap."
"Sure." Gabrielle hugged her mother-in-law, then turned to go to her own room to get ready. As she expected, Xena was already there, bathing.
"So, did Mother get in safely?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes, she did. I'll send someone to wake her up in an hour or so. Can I join you?"
Xena grinned wolfishly, answering, "Do we really have time for that?"
Gabrielle snorted as she shucked her clothes. "Xena, I swear, after all these years you always have sex on the brain. Not that I mind, you understand, but I'd like to take a quick bath then make the last minute preparations."
"Oh, all right, get in and I'll scrub your back. Did Mother say how my granddaughter is doing?" Xena asked eagerly.
"She has your skills and temper."
Xena groaned. "May the gods grant Solon and Julia much patience."
Gabrielle was surprised at the number of people at the funeral. Not only were there the immediate and extended family, but much of the townfolks of Amphipolis attended as well. She worried that there would not be enough food if most of the attendees came to the inn afterwards, but knew that there was nothing she could do about it right now. She did not know Cleo as well as many did, yet she found herself moved to tears by the beauty of the service. As the priest and priestess lit the pyre, she felt Xena's arms circle around her, comforting her. It was ironic, she thought, that she was the one crying when Xena had know Cleo all her life, yet was comforting Gabrielle.
She should not have worried. After the funeral, many did descend on the inn, but many also brought food and barrels of wine and ale. Cyrene helped out with the serving, over Gabrielle and Xena's protests. People milled around, nibbling and talking, until everyone had eaten. Finally, Cyrene stood up on the stage and called for attention. "As you know, my daughter-in-law is much better at public speaking than I am, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share my memories of Cleo and encourage others to do the same."
Cyrene looked around the room and took a deep breath. "Cleo and Alexander married just a few years before I did, and Alexander started his smithy around the same time that I opened the inn and tavern." Cyrene went on to describe her friendship with the couple and how Cleo could always whip out the perfect clothes for any occasion. "Of course, I think Xena was her greatest challenge for a time, especially when Xena was growing so rapidly. Until Diana finally grew up, I think Xena was the tallest woman that Cleo had ever fitted. I just wish that she could have sewn for my great-granddaughter, Telesilla." Cyrene stopped to swallow, then asked, "Who's next?"
As people took turns standing up, Xena wandered around the room, taking away plates, refilling glasses, generally filling in as a server. She avoided Lis, but Lis finally caught up with her in the kitchen. "Xena, we need to talk."
Xena looked down at the small, blonde woman, anger smoldering in her eyes. "I told you thirty years ago, I have washed my hands of you." She turned to leave, but Lis grabbed her by the arm, turning her around.
"Xena, I just wanted to apologize," Lis said urgently.
Xena shook the hand off. "Sure you do. I need to get back, Gabrielle might need me." She stalked off, leaving Lis to stare after her.
Diana had come into the kitchen to hear the tail end of the conversation. She watched Xena storm off, wondering just what they were referring to. She saw Lis and went over to her. "Lis, what's with Xena?"
Lis turned her red-rimmed dark green eyes on Diana. "I'm trying to apologize for how I hurt Xena in the past, but she won't let me. I was hoping to clear the air, but I'm afraid that it is impossible now."
Diana was still puzzled, but answered, "Sometimes Xena can surprise you. But, I agree, forgiveness is not one of her strong suits. Gods know I was pretty hurt when she left Amphipolis and became a warlord. That's right, you left several years before that, before Draco turned our lives upside down."
"I've heard the tales, Diana, about how Xena lost it and then found her way back. I understand that the bard, Gabrielle, helped a lot," Lis said.
Diana nodded, picking up the strand. "Hercules helped Xena initially, but Gabrielle was the one who kept her on the path to redemption. Did you know that Gabrielle gave up her title as Queen of the Amazons just so she could marry Xena here at home?"
Lis's eyes widened. "I had no idea. I heard that she traveled with a bard and that they were lovers. Tell me more, Diana."
Diana looked around, then guided Lis to Gabrielle's private office. Once they were seated, Diana continued. "The whole story is too long for one sitting and Gabrielle could tell it better, but basically, Xena and Gabrielle fell in love. Well, to backtrack a bit, after Xena decided to try for redemption, she ran across Gabrielle's village, where slavers were trying to steal young girls. Gabrielle was fighting back and Xena jumped into the fray. Gabrielle decided that this was her chance to escape village life, so she tagged along."
Diana stopped for a moment to catch her breath, then plunged back in. "Along the way, Gabrielle tried to save Queen Melosa's life and received the right of caste, entitling her to be Queen of the Amazons. Some time later, she and Xena were visiting the Amazon village--Ephiny was ruling as regent at the time. Anyway, I was taken prisoner in a fight, and my then future husband Joxer, Xena and Ephiny saved me. I still don't know the details, but after I was returned, Gabrielle relinquished the right to her title and passed it to Ephiny. Shortly afterwards, Gabrielle and Xena married, then I married Joxer the next year."
Lis soaked in the story, then asked, "So who is the great-granddaughter that Cyrene was talking about?"
Diana smacked her forehead lightly. "Oh, I knew I was forgetting something. When Xena was still plundering the countryside, she got pregnant by a warrior named Borias, who was killed in a battle. Xena decided that she could not bring up Solon safely, so she left him with the Centaurs, and did not acknowledge him for many years. She and Gabrielle met up with him when he was nine or ten, but Xena refused to tell Solon that she was his mother."
"She didn't tell her own son that she was his mother?" Lis asked.
Diana made a face. "She thought it was for the best, but she did finally confess many years later. Xena and Gabrielle ran into Solon and Julia, his wife to be, in Athens. To make a really long story shorter, Solon and Julia had their daughter Telesallis about the time that Joxer and I had Little Cyrene. Xena and Gabrielle are the godmothers of both of our children, Rebecka and Cyrene. In fact, Xena wound up delivering Rebecka."
As Diana recited the events, Lis was aware that she was proud of Xena. Maybe their friendship had shattered those long years ago, but Xena had turned out to be a wonderful person. She sighed to herself, wishing that she could have shared some of the events with Xena. When Diana finished, Lis thanked her for filling her in, then rose to leave. "I appreciate your spending the time, Diana, but I am tired and will take my leave. Thank you."
Diana watched Lis walk out the door. She vaguely remembered when Lis and Xena were great friends, but had parted shortly before Lis married Paul. Xena had started being more protective of Diana after that, she remembered, but never knew why. She pondered the past for a few more minutes, then got up to rejoin the crowd.
"Come on, Xena, I've got a picnic basket and everything!" Lis called out to her friend. Xena walked into the now quiet dining room of the inn where Lis was waiting. She smiled, remembering that they were going on a picnic today. "I have all of your favorites. I've already talked to your mom, she said that we can be gone all day if we want to." Lis lowered her voice. "I know of a nice spot near the river that is secluded."
Cyrene walked in just then. "Girls, remember to be careful and come back before dark."
"Okay, Mom, we will. See you tonight." Xena kissed her mother on the cheek, then turned to leave with Lis.
As the two girls walked along, Xena stole glances at her best friend. She had known Lis all of her life, and now marveled that an older girl was her best friend. Lis was sixteen and Xena had just turned fourteen. Lis was taking Xena on a belated birthday picnic, and the day promised to be beautiful. Sunny, warm, but not hot, just right for a picnic by the river. Xena had to admit that Diana probably felt the same way, since Xena had always been a good friend to her. But Diana was just eight, and was not old enough for the type of girl chatter that she and Lis indulged in. Besides, Lis was engaged now to Paul, who was now opening his own shop in Corinth. He would come back for Lis in another month and they would get married.
Xena wondered if Paul knew what a beautiful woman he was marrying, for Lis had positively bloomed since Paul had left. Her hair was long and golden, eyes deep green, skin a golden sun-kissed color, and her figure had matured in just the past few months. Beside her, Xena sometimes felt like a dark ugly duckling, for she was still flat-chested and short, having just barely caught up with Lis in height.
The two girls finally reached the spot that Lis had found earlier in the year. It was in a hollow by the river, protected from the wind on three sides, invisible until you nearly fell into the hollow, yet big enough to spread a large blanket and lay down side by side with the basket. Lis teased Xena that she was surely about to start growing by the size of her appetite. Xena grinned bashfully as she stuffed another piece of pie in her mouth. Xena was supremely happy, for it was an idyllic moment in life. She finally announced, "Lis, I can't eat another bite. That was wonderful, thanks."
Lis just smiled as she repacked the dishes and empty food containers. "I'm glad you liked it, Xena. I made this especially for you, dear friend."
Xena laid back, stretching, enjoying the sun on her face. She peered through half-closed eyelids at Lis as Lis repacked, occasionally leaning over and giving Xena a view of the valley between her breasts. Xena didn't know why she enjoyed this view so much, she just knew she did. As Lis pushed away the basket, she caught Xena looking at her and laughed.
Xena blushed, startled and a little scared, but Lis just reached for her and pulled Xena into her arms, leaning against the side of the hollow. Xena gradually relaxed again, safe in the arms of her dear friend. Sometimes, when they were alone like this, Lis liked to hold Xena, and Xena enjoyed it. She felt Lis reaching up to stroke her hair, gently trailing fingers through the raven tresses, lulling her into a half-sleep.
This went on until Xena felt Lis shifting until she faced her. Lis gently kissed her forehead, the way she had seen Diedra kissing her partner Rebecka's forehead. Without thinking, Xena rolled her head unti she met Lis's lips with her own. The kiss was gentle and sweet for a moment, tender and questioning. Xena could feel Lis starting to apply more pressure and Xena felt a strong tugging in her gut, excitement glimmering with a shade of fear. She pulled back abruptly, heart pounding, seeing a strange look in Lis's eyes.
"Don't fight it, Xena. I'm your friend, I just want to show you how much I love you." Lis purred. Xena relaxed again, Lis had never done anything to harm her in the past. Lis pushed Xena until she was laying comfortably on the ground, then leaned in for another kiss. This time Xena responded more, enjoying the feel of Lis laying on her, her lips claiming Xena's lips, fingers gently tracing Xena's jawline. Time seemed to stop as they kissed, heat starting to build.
Lis finally broke off the kiss and sat back up. Xena suddenly felt chilled without the weight of Lis on her body. She reached up for Lis, suddenly aching to have Lis on her body again. Lis smiled mysteriously, saying, "What? You want more?" She laughed freely, then started slowly unlacing Xena's dress, running her hands over Xena's small breasts, sending shivers of delight throughout Xena's body. Lis stopped, then quickly unlaced her own dress, pulling it off and laying it aside.
Xena sat up and managed to get her own dress off, then pulled Lis back on top of her, needing the warmth of Lis's body next to hers. This time she initiated the kiss, not sure what else to do, needing to satisfy the craving that was building in her body. Lis broke off the kiss again, only to slide down Xena's body until she stopped at Xena's nipples, taking one in her mouth and sucking fiercely. Xena cried out, half in pain, half in pleasure as she felt a warm dampness between her legs. Lis continued to suck her nipple, then suddenly switched to the other one, alternating sucking and just swirling her tongue around Xena's whole breast, hands starting to roam freely over Xena's entire body.
Xena felt her heart racing, her breath growing ragged. Gods above and below, was this what lovers did? the thought raced through her mind. She cried out when she felt a finger stroking her wetness, intensifying the strange feelings that were gathering in her belly and nether regions until she felt like the entire universe exploded. Xena shook and shivered, crushing Lis against her until the feelings slowly drained away.
They laid there quietly for a time until Xena finally gathered the strength to roll Lis over and started mimicking the actions she had experienced earlier. She could feel Lis starting to tighten like a lyre string underneath her as she stroked between Lis's legs until Lis suddenly screamed out in delight, grabbing Xena and clutching her close, sobbing into her neck. Xena tried clumsily to soothe her friend, not understanding what happened. Had she hurt Lis somehow? "Lis?" she whispered hoarsely, "did I hurt you?"
Lis slowly regained control of her emotions, answering softly, "No, no, baby, you did not hurt me. It was just so intense...I cried for sheer joy." Lis pulled Xena into her arms, kissing her repeatedly. "I love you, Xena, I really do." She started touching Xena's breasts again, with Xena moaning as she gave herself over to the pleasure again until she came in an explosion. As the aftershock slowly faded, Xena reached for Lis--
--but had her hands knocked rudely away. "Lis! What in Hades' name are you letting this girl do to you!" cried a deep male voice. Xena tumbled back, seeing Paul looming over them. "Here you are, rutting like a damned dog with this girl!"
Lis stood up slowly, assessing the situation, knowing she had to say something to throw him off track. "Paul," she purred, "I was so lonely for you and I thought you would never come back. I had to satisfy my cravings somehow, and you just weren't here and Xena was handy."
Xena's head whirled with conflicting emotions. Lis said she loved her, but now she was acting like Xena was little better than a prostitute! Xena grabbed her clothes and dove into the river, swimming away from the scene as quickly as she could. She encountered a deep pool with soapweed growing nearby and stopped to bathe herself, scrubbing herself raw.
Finally, she pulled her dress and sandals back on and ran home, heedless of the nettles that tore at her or the mud puddles that she ran through. When she arrived home, she raced up to her room, oblivious to her mother's questions, locking the door behind her, flinging herself on the bed and giving herself over to wracking sobs.
Xena sat up in bed, breath coming harshly. The room was nearly the same, just older. She could still feel the anger and shame racing through her body, the betrayal of friendship. She glanced at Gabrielle by her side, slumbering peacefully. Xena crept out of bed and dressed in her now preferred clothing of loose trousers, short boots, blouse, and tight leather vest. She stealthily made her way to the stable, sneaking into Argo Jr's stall, taking down his combs. Maybe the rhythm of grooming her horse would calm her down, she decided.
As Xena worked on his coat, she felt another presence. She whirled around, ready for attack, coming face to face with Lis. Lis calmly hung her lantern on the wall, then turned back to face Xena. She looked up at the other woman, noting how beautiful Xena had turned out, even though she had to be close to fifty, for Lis herself had just turned fifty recently. The raven hair had liberal sprinklings of silver threads, but it just added to Xena's beauty. Lis pulled her thoughts together and said quietly, "Xena, we must talk."
"About what?" Xena spat harshly.
Lis sat down on a nearby bench, motioning for Xena to sit beside her. Xena slowly walked over, stiffly sitting down, seething with anger, waiting for Lis to explain. Lis looked into those beautiful blue eyes, nearly losing her courage. She took a deep breath, found her courage and started speaking.
"Xena, thirty-four years ago, I led you astray. Before you cut me off, let me explain. Paul was chosen for me to be my husband by my parents, which seemed like a good idea to all, since he was working with Father at the time." Lis paused, swallowing hard, then continued. "Since we were engaged, Paul and I would kiss and play around sometimes, but he never would let it go very far. I was frustrated and horny, my hormones starting to rage, and I wanted release. Paul was older and had been with other women before, but failed to tell me that I could finish on my own, so to speak."
Xena's eyes narrowed, but she still listened. "Go on," she said.
Lis pulled in another deep breath, scared, but needing to clear the air. "I never meant to hurt you, Xena, you've got to understand! I just thought that if I played around with you, I would relieve this terrible desire that was building inside of me. I thought that since we were friends, it would be okay, after all, I loved you dearly, but I misjudged the situation badly. Just before Paul interrupted, I realized that what I felt with you was far different than what I had experienced with Paul, more natural, more real. My heart was bursting with love for you at that moment, but I was also afraid. Afraid that if it went further, then we would be whispered about, they way that Rebecka and Diedra were sometimes whispered about. Then Paul appeared and I saw my way out."
She paused, then admitted, "I betrayed you to save myself." Xena stared silently at her, waiting for her to continue, face a frozen mask of fury.
Lis took a deep breath, no longer able to meet Xena's eyes. "We married as quickly as possible, a few months later. Paul was still angry at me and sometimes was very forceful in bed, I suspect to get all images of your body out of my mind. I stayed with him, but later carried on affairs with other married women who felt the same way. I was miserable and wanted to come home and apologize to you. Paul was killed by a horse he was shoeing years later, but I had already heard that you were a warlord of great repute, so I decided that I could not take up with an evil woman, not recognizing that I was just as bad. I kept playing around, married again, but divorced him later when we could not produce a child. By his time, I had heard tales that you were with Gabrielle and decided that there was no hope."
Lis held her head back up, staring straight into Xena's incredible blue eyes. "Will you forgive me? I never found anyone like you, woman or man. I avoided ever coming home, even missed Father's funeral, but had to come back for Mother's funeral."
Xena stared steadily into Lis's eyes for a long, silent moment, anger and resentment melting away. She finally reached out slowly, tracing the line of Lis's cheek, then pulled Lis over into her arms. She could feel Lis sobbing, and her own dam broke. Tears slid down the warrior's cheeks as she rocked the older woman in her arms, finally speaking. "I forgive you, Lis. If I can't forgive you, then my whole relationship with Gabrielle is a lie, for it is based on forgiveness and love."
Lis finally stopped sobbing and pulled reluctantly out of Xena's arms. For a brief moment, she knew what it was like to be Xena's lover, to feel the comfort of her strong arms. She expected to feel cold and empty now, but felt curiously warm and happy. She leaned over and kissed Xena's cheek, then leaned her head against Xena's shoulder for a moment. She felt Xena gently stroking her hair. She could never have Xena again like that day so many years ago, but maybe she could still have Xena as a friend.
Xena finally pulled back, saying, "I'd better get back to bed and get some more sleep. Will you be okay here?"
"Yes. Thank you, Xena," Lis said quietly.
Xena smiled at Lis, then left the stable. Lis sat there for a long time, thinking. She finally got up and went back to the inn, nearly running into one of the village women. "Pardon me, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going," Lis said.
The other woman just smiled. "No pardon is necessary. I'm Thea, by the way. I was a friend of your parents, well, sorta. Your mother babysat me when I was a child." The woman turned bright blue eyes on Lis and tucked her hand companionably through Lis's arm. "It's nearly breakfast time and I don't see so well. Could you guide me to the dining room?"
"Sure. What was Mother like as a child?" Lis asked as they walked along, the woman's perfume tickling her nose.
Several days later, Lis prepared to leave Amphipolis. She found Xena and Gabrielle going over plans for another large dinner party in Gabrielle's office. She knocked at the doorframe, waiting for them to look up. "Lis! Come in!" Gabrielle called out.
Lis walked in but did not sit down. "I'm taking my leave now, going back to Corinth. I just wanted to thank you for all the help during this difficult time."
"Oh, no problem, we're old hands at rescuing people," Gabrielle assured her as she came from behind the desk and went to Lis. "Glad we could help."
Lis hugged Gabrielle briefly, whispering into her ear, "Take good care of Xena, okay?"
Gabrielle pulled back, smiling. "Oh, always," she replied.
Xena walked toward Lis, taking her arm. "Gabrielle, I'll be back in a few minutes," she said. She steered Lis into her own office and shut the door. "No hard feelings?"
"None," Lis affirmed.
Xena smiled, her face relaxing. "If you're planning to travel alone, don't. Joxer and Rebecka are going to Corinth to set up another office, you can travel with them."
"Thanks, but I already have a travelling companion," Lis said.
Xena stood, hands on her hips. "Who?"
Lis grinned shyly. "Thea. She knew Mother as a child and we've been talking the past few days. I really like her, Xena."
Xena grinned wolfishly. "Go easy, friend." She glanced around, then abruptly kissed Lis soundly and thoroughly. Lis felt like she would faint, but recovered quickly. "That," Xena said smoothly, "is to make up for the good-bye kiss I never got from you."
Lis pulled her wits back together, reaching up to smooth her hair. "Gods, Gabrielle must be well satisfied then."
"Yup, she is." Xena led Lis back out of the office and waved as she went into the dining room. She watched as Lis took Thea's arm and led her out to the loading dock, then turned back to Gabrielle's office.
Gabrielle looked at her lover curiously, catching a satisfied look in Xena's eyes. "Everything go okay?" she queried.
Xena smiled as she went back to the desk. "Yes, it did. Let's just say that the ghosts of yesteryear have finally be laid to rest." She looked at the sheets spread out around the desk, then back at Gabrielle. "Aren't your eyes getting tired?"
Gabrielle looked puzzled, "No, but...ahh, yes, they are," she gasped as Xena slowly unlaced her blouse, leaning her breasts inches from Gabrielle's mouth. "And what a sight for sore eyes," she crooned.
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